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  #11  
Old January 24th, 2016, 11:45 PM
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Pig laughed too. "Control acknowledges, rondevouz with recovery gig three hours, report at jump point."

"Dainty Flower acknowledges." She asked Adam, "What is recovery gig?"

"To pick up our standby charging module when we're done with it. Standard procedure with a new boat exiting atmo. And don't acknowledge something you don't understand," Adam replied pleasantly.

"Acknowledged. I use toilet before jump plot."

"Ok." Adam sat up and lined up on his panel, scanning the interior indications and exterior tracking. All normal. "I have the conn."

"You have the conn." Natasha eased out the bridge.

The Flower was slowly laying on vector as it lifted out of Karin's gravity well. Adam eased up the maneuver drive to 5% overload, watched its behavior and decided it could sit there until jump point. "Chief Laseiag, over 5." The chief acknowledged. He scanned the externals then watched Karin fall away. Such a pretty place, shame to ... stop.

He linked. "Ladies and gentlemen yet another successful lift, or at least no reports of casualites have caught up with us. Exiting atmosphere, jump point in three hours or so. All hands be on the lookout for leaks, air or otherwise, until then just enjoy the scenery."

Adam lined up the sensor suite to see what it could do. "Oh yeah." Spectral, predict, review, comp ... this was much better than he was used to. He felt as if he'd been flying blind before. He tried out the scope on the local moon. He was shocked to see so much of the mining operation there, he even could make out the vehicle depot and the off-road tracking leading to it. Could track a person with this, if you knew where to look. He'd have to remember that. He checked the local nav charts and lined up on the next planet out. Green and red and gold terrain, looked like a burning tree ....

"Lowering air pressure aft cargo bay," announced the computer.

"The what?" asked Adam. The computer started to repeat itself but Adam spoke it down and typed up the internal displays. Oh, the garage. Dropping fast, can't get there before it's too low for skin. "Chief Laseiag, Helga, we have an airleak in the garage, please take care of it, you'll need vacc suits." They acknowledged.

He remapped the ship's internals display names while listening to Helga and Laseiag deal with the leak, donning vacc suits and cycling the attic air to enter the garage. The expected was a leaking air gasket, and though it took them a while eventually they found exactly that. A stray wire between the ship's hull and the garage hatch gasket. They reseated it and returned to engineering.

"Local pressure indications good," Laseiag reported.

"Looks good up here too, how's everything else back there?"

"All normal." Adam had hoped Laseiag would be more gabby but he seemed to think his report was sufficient. Adam left it at that, and watched the systems as Laseiag lined up the charge module to replace the lost air.

Natasha returned and started jump preps. Adam remained on the conn to let her focus. Adam could jump navigate, but only by charts and formulae - he could get the ship in-system, somewhere, and that was it. Natasha pulled up the standard charts but also a math-graphic holodisplay of the launch and destination systems, backed by a display of the ship's jump drive itself. She began manipulating the system depictions mathematically and graphically, letting the computer do some of the work but calculating it mostly by herself. He understood it all conceptually but had no idea how she actually was proceeding.

She started cycling between the ship's jump tech manual and a particular set of graphics. "Chief Laseiag, what is actual diameter of second ring points?"

".0025", he responded.

"Actual," she again requested.

".0025 actual," he answered, "verified all rings myself this morning."

Natasha seemed about to answer back, but reconsidered. "Very well." She announced to Adam, "Jump pre-calculations completed. Do you wish to review?"

"No. I could go through the motions but you obviously know more about it than me. Which is why you are here." He wanted to ask more but he decided to save it for jump time. "I'll be in my cabin for a bit. M drive is at 1.05."

"I have the conn."

"You have the conn."

He eased off the bridge and stepped down the corridor and into his cabin. He sat on his bunk for a while, head in his hands. "Yeah, she can do it." He almost fell asleep - must be a good sign.

You know this is wrong.

Not yet. It'll be OK.

He started ordering up his cabin. Things off the floor, clothes put away, personal stuff in the module boxes, passkeys and ammo in the lockbox. His own revolver was in the ship's locker. Should have used an issue scout revolver, but sometimes their condition was poor and he felt better with his own.

He cycled through the ammo. Mostly nothing special, a box of heavy and a box of light, a pair of speed loaders. Also a set of practice laser dot cartridges, he could practice laser-firing and observing the "hit" all he wanted any time. He'd become quite good at it, the smallarms course had taught him well. But at one time he also had put in a request for some laser bursts, and had been issued a little box of 12. Instead of propelling a lead or copper bullet they emitted a laser burst sufficiently powerful to penetrate most forms of armor. Single use, expensive. All 12 were still here.

Still have your ammo. Don't have your friend, but still have your ammo ....

He put them in the lockbox. Better get this under control or it won't work.

He felt the ship move. The internal inertial grav compensators worked as well as any others, it was just that when you lived in them you learned to feel them adjust. He stepped back out of his cabin and eased back into the bridge. "What happened?"

"I dodge incoming debris. I believe it was a rock," answered Natasha. "No threat."

"Huh. Check 0 then cease delta and 180 please, I'll scope it," said Adam.

After double-checking sensors forward she swung the ship's butt to vector. She was much better at the controls now and reversed the boat almost smoothly. "Track," he asked. She put it up in the scope's view. He set the scope to auto-compensate for the large vector recession, to keep the object constant-size. He found it and gazed at it for a moment, then laughed.

"It's an equipment box."

"What!"

"It's an equipment box." He secured the scope. "Re-zero and re-scan, resume delta, we'll tell the recovery gig."

She realigned the Flower to vector and scanned sensors again, but left off delta. "This vector is good."

"OK."

Natasha started to ask a question but was interrupted. "ISS Dainty Flower Gig 99 on overhaul you done with our module?"

"99 Flower, yes we are, sorry to disturb your recreation gentlemen, but we're on a Really Important Mission don't you know?" answered Adam.

"Yes we do Flower and thanks for the interruption I was losing a card game."

"And 99 we had an encounter with a spaced equipment box, maybe you can pick that up too. Track data," he waved to Natasha, "on the way." Natasha started lining up a comm tran. "Maybe you'll star in an episode of "'Unsolved Mysteries Between The Stars'."

"Track data up," 99 replied, "and looks like you're approaching 100d, anytime now."

Adam scanned compartment air pressures once again. All good. "On the way." He linked out, "Crew, bridge, cycling main airlock from the bridge, all hands sing out."

"Here," Natasha quietly said rotely. "Helga, in cabin." "Chief Laseiag, in engineering."

"Cycling airlock." He operated the controls, and the main airlock outer hatch indicated open, the charge module disconnected - all valves seemed to seat properly - and the launcher pushed it out of the airlock into open drift. He shut the airlock, cycled the air systems, and it all looked normal. "Cycle complete. Module is out 99, all yours."

"99 acknowledges. I have a friend on the Purdue, bring her home Flower."

Adam hesitated. "Will do, 99."

Natasha announced, "100d, shall I commence?"

Adam asked, "Any last requests?"

Helga answered, "I think I left stove on in barracks."

"That's what fire extinguishers and insurance are for. Jump."

"Aligned," Laseiag sang out.

"Commencing." Natasha line up her navs, then ran up the jump drives. Adam could feel them through the deck and hear them through the link, the double harmonic coming up to speed. People said you could hear voices in it. Natasha fished around in the math, and found what she was looking for. Her hand hovered over the breach point, then hit it, fully confident and no hesitation, and then the fuel feed. The stars in the window jerked and dimmed, one could hear and feel the jump fuel being forced out of the tanks and directed into the breach, and the harmonics became solid.

Adam heard the voices. He looked down.

Natasha made some adjustments to the math ... and all the stars disappeared.

Last edited by flykiller; January 24th, 2016 at 11:56 PM..
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  #12  
Old January 30th, 2016, 10:31 PM
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Default Thanks for your inspiring story! <enjoy the flask>

Great story you got going, it inspired me some, no harm no foul intended. Thnx! and enjoy the flask! I hear tell there may be droyne half LS breathing Gunners, maybe there's one on the station lol. Probably a Warrior caste, and (sigh) you know how they can be, evacs in Combat Armor, and really, I mean, wings, armored, in space, in vaccuum?! Sheesh. Droyne.
P.S. Maybe you just got Traveller's Aid somehow? It never hurts to ask around, lotsa good ffolks at the station.
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Old January 31st, 2016, 10:57 AM
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Requesting mods move Maccat's story into it's own thread.
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Old January 31st, 2016, 09:57 PM
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The fuel emptied and the pumps stopped, and the jump drive rotors spun down. She scanned her panel one last time. "Successful breach. On course. 50% at .1 Au," she reported, clearly not happy with that last data point.

He looked up. "It gets the job done," he answered her. He shut down his panel. "We'll see when we get there. Good work." Looking over he noticed she was shielding her eyes from the ... "view" ... outside the window. "Jump space bothers you?"

"Is better to avoid it." She shut down her panel and slid out of her seat and was easing aft off the bridge.

"Yeah. So, any jump plans?"

"Study. Train. The holobooth will be of great use."

"Yeah." He gazed out the window. It was gray out there, but much more ... he remembered dreams from decades ago ... he heard his friend laugh and he jerked his eyes back. "Sounds like the booth will be popular. We'll set up a roster, take turns." He linked Helga and Laseiag. "Ladies and gentlemen, a successful jump entry by Natasha, we'll be arriving 496 in a week, in the meantime play nice and the bar is open."

Natasha didn't answer, and he didn't hear the hatch cycle. He turned around and saw her motionless, half turned forward, staring out the window like a cat watching a mouse. "Hey! Natasha!" She didn't respond, she was slowly assuming some kind of combat stance towards the window. He lurched up to her and put his hand over her eyes. She didn't react for a moment, then all of a sudden she put his arm in a lock. She was fast, she was so smooth and practiced, it was a good lock, he could feel his arm stressing again ... he could see her wedding ring scar on her finger, her eyes were on his, distant, they were cold and hard like some .... "Hey hey hey!" Loud command voice. He put his other hand between her eyes and the window. "Hey, easy! Ease off!"

The hatch opened and Helga crowded in, taking in the scene and puzzled. She started to grab Natasha, Natasha's shoulder and elbow disappearing in Helga's big hands. "No, stand between her and the window," Adam hissed, trying to relieve the pressure on his elbow. Helga understood immediately and pushed past them and put her back to the view, looking at Natasha.

Natasha came back slowly. She looked confused, then deeply angry at herself. She released Adam, a little carelessly, and cursed at herself quietly in her own tongue. It sounded ugly. He held his arm across his chest protectively. She straightened and faced him squarely. "Lead Warren, I apologize, this will not happen again."

"Yeah," he answered, grimacing and flexing his arm casually, "yeah, you're pretty dangerous!" he grinned. "Don't worry, it happens with some people, we'll work it out. It's alright. Helga help her off ... help her out, OK? I'll secure the bridge." He backed up so they could get the hatch open, and Helga shepherded Natasha out.

He flexed the elbow very carefully, then hesitantly put the arm through the full range of test motions he had learned. Sore, but no damage. He stood up straight. "No injuries," he said to himself, determined. He glanced out the window again, and suddenly remembered a dream about a waterfall, massive, 400 meters high, angel overhead, floating going over, wondering if he was going to fly ....

He turned off most of the bridge indications and systems and closed the bridge window blinds. A little late. "Flower, voice interactions through ship internal intercom system." "Acknowledged." He stepped out.

Helga seemed to be in Natasha's cabin with her. Laseiag already was in the lounge, drinking another coffee. Adam removed his comm link and tossed it into his cabin then sat at the lounge with him. "Engineering secured, power plants on-line, no issues," Laseiag reported. Eyes raised.

Adam sat and pointed to Natasha's cabin. "A little jump psychosis, no big deal. I'm surprised no-one's in the holobooth yet."

Helga popped open Natasha's door and stepped out. "I am first on booth!" she announced happily down the corridor.

"You're slow!" he replied. He leaned out and pointed back up the corridor to Natasha's cabin, looking at Helga.

"She is good. No further problems. And she is second in the booth!"

"It seems you are slow," Laseiag said to Adam while nursing his coffee. Adam was curious, Laseiag was being positively chatty. Well. "Plenty of time," he replied.

And there was.

Four cabins, one corridor, one lounge table, one holobooth, bridge, engineering, coffee, food. Seven days. Everyone found their own space and routine. Helga spent her time prepping for 496's survey and in the booth, apparently mountain-climbing on Porozlo or something involving opera. Natasha reviewed her jump studies on the bridge, and seemed to be studying for her next scout service exam some years away yet, when not practicing fighting techniques in the booth. Laseiag seemed to read more than anything else, and engaged in 3d historical enactments of ancient vilani plays and cultural events, a dedicated traditionalist.

Four cabins, one corridor, one lounge table, one holobooth, bridge, engineering, coffee, food. Seven days.

Adam had to make a concerted effort to do anything but stare at the walls. Sometimes he would shiver back into alertness and realize he hadn't moved for an hour. Just move, anything, a book, a 2D vid, sidearm and laser trainer, weights and running in the booth, running, running ... his holy day came and went, he spent it praying for the mission, the service, his family back on Trin, the Purdue, the Emperor, the Emperor's pet dog, anything he could think of. He was supposed to spend the day doing as little as possible, an easy task, and reading the old text, almost impossible ....

Hypocrite.

No. Just ....

On the second day he found Laseiag laying on the deck next to the lounge. He had vomited all over himself and passed out, empty bottle laying next to him. Ah, the picture came a little clearer. Well, everyone has their issues. Alcoholism had played its role in the collapse of the Vilani Empire, one the Vilani never admitted - Adam remembered hearing in school about the whiskey blockade runners - and though there were genetic immunizations against the condition itself the culture was still vulnerable to the drug.

Explained why a member of such an illustrious family was serving in on a scout engineering deck. Not that such service was low status or anything, just not applicable. To his family he would be ... not a non-entity, more like the embarassing uncle in the back room.

Natasha spoke to him about it when Adam was on the bridge. Angrily. Controlled. Pretty without any makeup or formal dress at all, he noticed. He double-checked the bridge blinds. "Our engineer is drunk and passed out in the corridor. We are in flight. This is entirely against regulations."

"Are you sure he's just passed out? Did you check his pulse?"

"What! No. I grow up with many drunken men, I know what I see."

"You're our medic, you need to start thinking that way."

She left, and returned, wiping her hand. "He is fine," she reported icily.

"OK, then he's fine," replied Adam. He immediately regretted it.

She got right in his face. It was so like her, and yet unlike her. She was becoming part of the team, in her own way, without realizing it. "You manipulate me."

He sighed. "Yeah, you're right, I deserve that, I'm sorry. Look, the engineering plant is stable, hey it's brand new, he can't be on duty 24/7, and it doesn't harm any of us, so I'm trying to let it go. But ... yeah, you're right too, we're in flight. I'll speak to him when he's back up." She started to say something else, but he held his hand up. "I'll. Speak. To him. Now. Please drag him into his cabin, Helga can help if you need it." She glared at him. "I didn't say you had to do it gently," he added.

She stalked back down the corridor. Adam peeked out the hatch, watching her. She kicked open Laseiag's door, rolled the man over, grabbed him by one arm, and dragged him into his cabin. Smoothly, expertly, almost one motion. Adam turned back to his pilot's seat. He could hear something crash down in Laseiag's cabin, and Laseiag saying something. Natasha glowered, "Clean up! I will not clean up for you!" She slammed Laseiag's door shut.

Excellent.

You like her.

Yeah ....
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  #15  
Old February 1st, 2016, 04:44 AM
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Requesting mods move Maccat's story into it's own thread.
Done. Please, tho, next time, request it via a Report Post - because then it won't get missed.
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Old February 1st, 2016, 10:21 AM
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Done. Please, tho, next time, request it via a Report Post - because then it won't get missed.
Read and understood.
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Old February 7th, 2016, 08:57 PM
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Some hours later looked out his cabin into the lounge. Yep, there was Laseiag, waiting for him. The man was sitting with his eyes shut, cleaned up, pressed duty uniform, arms and hands flat on the table, wearing a personal sound link. Probably vilani opera. Adam slid into the bench seat and looked at Laseiag, waiting patiently. He didn't respond immediately, must be a dramatic scene in the music.

Adam became aware that Natasha was in the holobooth immediately across from the lounge, practicing an apparently strenuous combat routine. The booths were sound-damped but not sound-proofed by any means and she was having at some virtual enemy.

After a few minutes Laseiag slowly opened his eyes and looked at Adam, removing the sound link. He too suddenly heard Natasha grunting and kicking some holograv-target and his eyes twitched just slightly across the corridor before returning to Adam.

"A little too much alcohol, Chief Laseiag," suggested Adam.

"I neither endanger the ship nor harm anyone," asserted Laseiag, unmoved.

Oh now this was different. "It seems unprofessional. And I had not thought that of you." Something occured to him. "Are you immunized?"

"Yes, I have been treated for that particular terran affliction so there is no problem. And I have seen many terran-heritage engineers drunk many times over unconcerned for any notion of professionalism. In fact they seemed proud to be drunk engineers, parading their hangovers as they crawled on the deck lighting off a plant. While I am ashamed to be fond of this terran vice," he actually looked ashamed, a very rare vilani facial expression, "I am fond of it and I see no reason not to pursue it."

Adam looked down, nodding, as if considering this deeply. "Neither do I, as far as that goes. But ... did you ever see an engineer drunk on duty?"

He saw the man's eyes barely withdraw. Ah. "I saw them drink, both serruptitiously and openly, many times, I saw them so hung over they could barely stand, many times, while standing over an operating plant. This is no secret anywhere. I do nothing wrong."

Four feet away Natasha was really giving it her all, yelling with each rapid blow, apparently beating some computer algorithm opponent to death.

"Yeah, it's common to drink. But did you ever see an engineer actually drunk. On. Duty. In. Flight."

"Yes," Laseiag answered angrily. Whoa. Not with raised voice or waving arms, but with his vilani manner and aura, all the more shocking.

"And what happened?" Adam pressed very firmly.

Laseiag's eyes withdrew again. After a moment he replied, "They were relieved."

Adam relaxed. "Yes. That is the professionalism. Not that they drink and get drunk and man engineering anyway, but that they don't let their drinking affect their work.

"Our engineering systems are stable," Laseiag replied, fully professional.

"I'm sure it all is, right now, but we are in flight, and if a problem occurs, well," Adam waved his hands around the tiny ship, "there's no-one but you to deal with it, and you can't deal with it if you're comotose. I told you that one of the ships with our new configuration is missing for unknown reasons. Did you forget this?"

"No," Laseiag answered firmly. After a few seconds he added, "And ... yes."

"OK. We need you and we're counting on you. She ...." Adam started to point to the holobooth but the doors suddenly popped open and Natasha stood out. Or rather shuffled out. She was panting and dripping with sweat, her eyes wandered a bit, and her arms were shaking slightly. She had stress-load weights strapped to each wrist and ankle. Stepping back to her cabin her foot caught on the closing holobooth door and she stumbled forward. Adam caught her left hand and supported the length of her forearm with the length of his, keeping her from falling all the way to the deck. She recovered and leaned on his arm for a moment, then seemed to realize what she was doing and pushed it away exhaustedly. She started back to her cabin again, walking slowly.

"Such strenuous effort is not good for a female," Laseiag called to her.

She stopped and gazed at the overhead, arms hanging limply at her side. "Many things are not good for females," she answered, not turning around. "This is not so bad." She staggered into her cabin, almost tripping on that door too.

Laseiag faced Adam again. "She ...."?

"Well, she's in a good mood," Adam mentioned, then continued, "We need to be able to count on you. She, we, when we see you passed out, don't believe we can count on you. And that," he emphasized, "that harms the crew, and affects the mission, Chief Laseiag." Adam stopped there, knowing Laseiag would realize that the subject of mission lead was next.

Laseiag was about to answer when Helga popped excitedly into the corridor and headed for the holobooth. "I am next!" she announced happily. She was wearing light gym clothes and carrying a handheld holoprojector. "Today I join great wild hunt!" She waved the projector overhead as if it were a spear - which it would be in the holobooth. "Ah, Lead Warren, you speak with Chief Laseiag. Very good. When he is unconscious he is so cute I have maternal feelings, I want to take home and burp him and dress him like infant and imagine great things for his future as I rock him to sleep." She smiled and toussled Laseiag's hair.

Her belly was only sightly below Adam's face. It was ... slightly rounded? No. Yes. No. How am I supposed to know? I don't want to know.

She hefted herself eagerly into the booth and shut the door. She burst into song, a robust opera-style call to dark Lunion battle - she had a beautiful powerful voice that could fill a concert hall with no electronic enhancement, in fact the louder she sang the more beautiful it was - which soon was joined by the echos of hunting horns and the thunder of hooves and the baying of savage hounds and the cries of those caught up in the Wild Hunt.

They both were staring at the holobooth door. Laseiag turned back to Adam. "I will restrict my alcohol consumption to acceptable levels, Lead Warren." Readily, no reticence or hesitation, none.

Adam almost laughed. "I have every confidence in you, Chief Laseiag."

Within the hour Laseiag had placed two bottles on the lounge table, a vilani way of making one's behavior accountable to a family. One was nek Deneb whiskey, a brand from Karin, Adam had heard it was very good. The other was a large jug of White Mountain Cabernet - the lable said it was from Bantral. It took Adam a moment to remember where and what Bantral was, and he was awed and puzzled. The wine was at least 700Cr, probably more, not something a scout would get drunk on and certainly not on a scout's pay. Adam had thought he had learned why Laseiag was in the service, but now the mystery not only continued but was deepened.

Well, now dinner would be more interesting.
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Old February 15th, 2016, 11:14 PM
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Maybe a little too interesting.

One of the necessities of dealing with jump time was the evening meal with the entire team. There was no formal requirement for such assembly, it simply was a natural human rhythm that most scout crews fell into, had fallen into for a thousand years of jump. Crew who did not adhere to the practice always were regarded with some level of doubt and suspicion.

Laseiag placed his glass across from Helga, and she filled it with some of the Bantral cabernet. Half-way. He accepted it without comment or expression. Helga freely looked at everyone, seeming to seek every word and motion as they were presented to the group and readily contributing her own. Laseiag looked at those he spoke to, and otherwise turned his head aside to listen. Adam tended to gaze at each person as if seeking clues to their behavior. Natasha seemed to keep her eyes down unless addressed, her hands about her tray, as if subservient. She held her fork oddly, as if equally prepared to stab some food or the person next to her. Probably was.

Adam never had cared for alcohol, but the Bantral was very intriguing. He noticed that Helga after serving Laseiag had taken none herself. "You should try it," he motioned to her.

"Ah no, I have report outlines to prepare, and I wish to practice cultural contacts later in the booth."

"She is pregnant," Natasha announced, almost contemptously.

Helga had a sly yet oddly open look on her face. "Yes. I have small Lunion citizen." She beamed.

"Small?" Adam asked. "Who's the father?"

She drew herself up. "'Who'? By guidance of Lunion Church Directorate I am paired to Helmut Goering von Muensch!"

"Uh, I ... had no idea, I'm sorry, I never saw you with him, or, anyone," Adam sputtered.

She continued happily, "He is engineer assigned and transferred to Lu Hao before you leave hospital. We scheme and connive to ensure that when it passes by I am assigned forward to it and back to him."

"Well. What's he like?" Laseiag looked up at that towards Helga. Natasha was glaring at her food.

"Ah, he is big man, very big, can lift power plant flask access cover plate. Makes big sons. Needs big woman!" She looked around smiling. "Hah!"

"He certainly has the right woman, I salute the judgement of the Lunion Church and contratulate you," Adam answered. Laseiag set down his utensils and placed his right arm across his chest and bowed slightly.

Natasha was not pleased. "And the medical test before assignment here?"

"This assignment was rapid, medical authority receives test results next week I think," Helga grinned.

"So, you are less than forthright with the scout service," Natasha started.

"I deceive no-one," Helga responded factually.

"... and we are assigned a burdened and distracted woman, and the senior team members," Natasha looked at Adam and Laseiag, "congratulate you."

Adam looked Helga over, as if in thought. "If she were six months along she might be burdened and a burden, yes. But at this point she's not."

"Not just physically. Her condition will distract both her and both of you from the mission," Natasha said pointing at the men.

"Maybe. We'll see," Adam asserted. It was a dismissive answer and for Natasha's sake Adam realized he'd better continue. "There are 100 billion people in the Spinward Marches, and they all had mothers, and they all had to have their children sometime, and they all had them when they had them."

"And her, here and now?"

"There are better times and ways," Laseiag spoke up. "But terrans attempt to run too many things in parallel ..."

"Yes," Helga interjected, "parallel!"

"... and despite the wreckage here and there one should not deprecate their overall success where it occurs," he concluded.

Adam continued, "As for the mission, women always have the secondary mission of children ..."

"Primary," interjected Laseiag.

"Parallel!" insisted Helga.

"... parallel mission of children," continued Adam, "and if women are present then there will be children and not always conveniently. Besides, that's the way it has to be or we're not here. It's a role all women play," he finished, indicating Natasha.

"I am not pig to be plowed and harvested."

"It's not that you're a pig to ... be ... plowed," answered Adam, trying to sort through the mixed metaphors. "It's just what they do," he tried to remember what he had been taught, it had seemed so obvious ....

Remember what she is.

Oh.

Uh oh.

Some lead you are.

Helga had been thinking, and she spoke up. Quietly, for her, looking down, not a good sign. "On Lunion we are one people. We share culture and history and thinking. We believe each other and our church and our leaders. We have future. Our children are our future." She looked at Natasha. "I am not plowed pig. I am citizen."

"My family moves forward from nine hundred and seventy generations," said Laseiag. "Our women made this possible. We remember all our history and our accomplishments and our share of empire, and our women remember these as well as the men. It is an unbroken chain of family and one feels a part of time. Even if you have no knowledge of your own family, your presence is the end of an unbroken chain that reaches back to the first women of terra. Are you not inspired to become a part of that?"

"They had no choice. No, I have not inspiration to join that." She looked at Adam. Adam gazed back. "And what say you? That it is the will of God?"

"Me? No, I wouldn't say that. I would let our five billion women say that." He shifted. "But they wouldn't. We force no-one, least of all them. A citzen," he pointed to Helga, "is so much more than a servant. The women who say no to children vanish from our culture, and the ones who say yes carry it forward. We started that process a thousand years before Trin was founded, and you see what it is now."

"I ... have heard what Trin is."

"And I have heard what Aki is. What block gang were you with?"

She looked to one side. "Yasuka." Hatred, pride, resented memory. Helga blinked.

Adam cocked his head. "They take caucasian women?"

"At street they take whoever has value."

Adam seemed to realize something. "And you chose them."

She looked down. "When I could."

"Because they had access to the port."

She said nothing.

"And you didn't simply walk away, did you. They never would have allowed that."

She looked ready to ....

Adam took her glass and held it over towards Laseiag. The man lifted the bottle of Bantral and poured half a cup, and Helga took it and set it before Natasha. Laseiag poured half a cup for everyone, and they held it to her.

"I. Need. No. Sympathy." Barely contained.

"That's good, because this isn't sympathy," replied Adam. "It's celebration. Congratulations. You made it out. You're free."

She stood up and faced away from the table. Everyone waited for her.

Eventually she turned around, and seemed to see her glass. "We are to drink together?"

"If you wish," answered Laseiag.

She picked it up and drank. They drank with her.

She set it down, then looked at each of them in turn, clear-eyed. She stepped away and into her cabin.

After a moment Adam sighed and looked up. "What's for dessert?"

Laseiag said, "Well at least I got a full cup out of that."

Helga glared at him and snatched the Bantral out of his reach.
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Old February 22nd, 2016, 01:38 AM
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The setting red sun filled the dull sky. A stiff wind blew sand in his face. He pulled the shroud up from his neck and looked into the rock formations all around.

Trellain sat with one leg up and across the back of his camel, looking nonchalant as always. "You know, I think they don't want us to find them."

"Let's give it a few more hours," Adam answered. He patted his own camel on the neck. Wrong move, the animal didn't like it and swung its head around at him.

Take the camels they'd said, you'll look more natural they'd said, the natives are more likely to approach you they'd said.

The natives probably were laughing somewhere up in the rocks.

"We could just say we made no contact," Trellain suggested.

"You're just thinking about that new girl in camp," Adam answered. "Let's give it a good honest effort."

"Honestly we're not getting anywhere here, and honestly I could be getting somewhere there."

"You'll pay for your sins, Moran. Is that why your women send you out into the Marches, to get you to settle down?"

"This one is from Mora."

"Uh-oh, that's different. Officer on deck?"

Trellain smiled. "Doesn't work that way."

"Oh, you want her to be an officer on deck. Commando officer uniform, riding crop. Maybe she'll make an honest man of you, bring you home, prodigal son."

"I ain't broke yet." Trellain looked around. "Seriously, it occurs to me we haven't seen any water for a while. Can you use your wilderness skills and find some water? That might find these cave dwellers for us."

"It might." Adam swung his head around, trying to get a feel for the land. God please guide. He wasn't sure but he settled on a direction. "OK, that way." He kicked his camel, it didn't move. He swatted it with the stick, it shuffled sideways a bit and stopped.

"Here, you," Trellain smacked his animal good and hard and wrenched its head around. The animal protested. "I said move, Humps!" He smacked it again and the beast ambled generally in the right direction. Adam's animal followed out of habit. Adam keyed his comm link hidden in his desert robes and spoke quietly. "Backup, point, moving ... north I think, trying to find an oasis, we'll give this one more hour then head back down the hill."

Long delay. Adam tapped the device, that was the extent of his comms repair knowledge. Finally, "Copy point, standing by." Bored.

"Backup, our only defense out here is spitting camels, please be ready to go."

"Yeah, we're ready." Adam could hear someone playing a video game in the background. Better than sleeping, it would have to do.

The beasts ambled slowly down the gully, then into the larger valley. Their feet padded sofly in the sand.

"Where did you learn about uniforms and riding crops, Trin?" Trellain suddenly inquired, grinning from ear to ear.

"From being around you. We're not monks. Least not most of us. Why do you follow your women? It's not natural."

"Of course it is," Trellain asserted. "Genetically and biologically females are the baseline phenotype. Males are entirely derivative, genetically and biologically and chemically, and they just don't have tribal feelings like women do. You can't build an entire society based on men, it has to be based on women," he said pleasantly.

"We seem to have done alright on Trin," Adam answered confidently.

"Oh yeah, you have the males out front making noise and giving commands, but in the background it's the females holding it all together," Trellain replied equally confidently. "Really, you should let them step up. They will. They'll pull it all together, they already do, it's what they do. Let them be free to be what they are. Then you can be free to go where you want, do what you want, be what you are." He took a deep breath as if savoring it, and relaxed, looking up at some of the brighter stars that shown through the dim light of the red sun. Then, "Well, at least after we find these cave people." He grinned.

The animals padded on.

They rounded a rock formation, and there it was, a small bubbling spring. The pool was deep but the water trailed away into the sand after a few dozen meters.

Lots of footprints. There would be a trail nearby, leading up into the rocks.

They brought their animals to a halt, and Adam slid down clumsily to the ground. "Act normally, talk," he told Trellain. He stood at his camel's head, holding its bridle.

Trellain was alert, looking up at the rocks. "She has black hair."

Adam looked at him.

"Black hair and bright blue eyes. It's so unusual."

The stone hit him in the right arm, breaking it and knocking him off the camel. He hit the ground.

"Displace," the combat school instructor had said. Adam stepped aside, a stone landing where he had been. "Check threat," the instructor had said. He tossed off the robe and drew his revolver, scanning the rocks above. Trellain was getting up, trying to draw his own weapon, right-handed, he couldn't. "Get backup," the instructor had said. The comm link was in the robe. He saw movement and fired off a round, weaver point aim. He knew he hit the target. Trellain was cursing like a wounded bear. One of the natives suddenly appeared racing around a rock, naked, hair done up in animal fat to form a crest, long stick in hand. Trellain seized a stone and hurled it at him left-handed, hitting him in the center of the chest and knocking him down. Another rock from overhead hit Trellain in a knee and he dropped, filling the air with obscenities. Adam saw the trail and ran for it, revolver up, single-handed to maintain his way. He started up and collided into two natives coming down, he dropped both with center-of-mass hits one each, he couldn't hear his weapon but he could hear more natives above. He ran the trail, switchback, a stone clattered next to him, he swung his weapon up and scanned but saw no target. "Address the threat," the instructor had said. Adam charged up the trail.

And stopped, listening. Maybe this would work. Yes. He could hear them talking, knew where they were. He glanced around and saw an alternative way through the rocks. He eased quickly between them, saw the native above him, and aimed a shot through his torso, blood spattering him, the man falling almost on top of him. Finally. He'd never been this far before. He clambered up the rock and saw another native running away. He shot him in the back and advanced forward, dumping his cylinder and dropping in a speedloader at a walk as he approached the rude stick and grass huts. He checked above and flanks, weaver stance and shuffling gait, crouched down and aimed into the hut into the face of some female and two kids, they were screaming some ugly native tongue and he was snarling and pulling his trigger ....

... some kind of vast distance ...

"Do what you want," Trellain said.

The weapon was cocked, aimed right at the kid's center of mass. He was maybe seven, uneducated face blank of everything but animal fear. Adam couldn't think. He tried to decock the revolver.

"Safe the weapon," the combat school instructor had said. Adam pointed it down, got control of the hammer, and cycled it down. He backed up, and the female and two kids burst out the hut and ran up the hill.

He just stood there.

"End," he said.

It all disappeared. Nothing left but the gray walls and the holograv projectors in each corner, and his personal revolver, empty, in his hand.

He looked up. Through the booth overhead, through the ship's hull, into space, past all the stars, a vast distance ....

He stepped out into the corridor. Natasha was sitting at the lounge table, watching him, hard eyes.

"What was his name?"

He glanced at her, and looked down. "Marcus Antonio Trellain."

"Did you save him?"

He stepped into his cabin.
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Old February 28th, 2016, 11:15 PM
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"Precipitation alert," Dainty Flower announced over the internal comm system.

In the lounge they glanced up from the table. Adam checked the clock. Eleven hours early. "Ok Natasha, not bad. Flower, estimate ...," Adam started to ask. The computer interrupted him. "Estimate four minutes to precipitation."

They lurched out of the lounge, dropping plates and cups, moving fast and deliberately. Adam pointed to Helga and Natasha, "Suits," then at Laseiag, "Drives." Laseiag already was moving to engineering. The women crowded to the locker and pulled out their vacc suits, Helga helping Natasha first. Adam grabbed his comm link from his cabin then pushed past them onto the bridge. Taking his port seat he lit off both panels and lined up the sensor suite. Still in jump space all readings were pegged high or low or null or drifted meaninglessly. He saw the maneuver drive coming on-line and warming up. Fuel, good, power, good, collapsing jump field, good ....

"Estimate three minutes to precipitation," Flower updated.

"Ok ladies and gentlemen, looks like a firm estimate, pick up your comm links and double-check your settings," Adam announced over the ship's internals and then put on his own comm link. He could hear the ladies weren't overly excited and were donning and checking suits in good order. At least two people had their comm links on, he couldn't yet differentiate who. The women finished and Helga headed aft to assist Laseiag while Natasha stepped into the bridge and slid into her starboard seat.

"Got your comm link?"

"Yes."

"Don't touch maneuver yet."

"Yes I know."

"Making sure." Adam headed back to the locker to don his own suit.

"Estimate two minutes to precipitation," Flower updated.

He slid easily into his own suit, old habit. Step through the collar, each foot slid home and set, each arm slid home and set, gloves available and attached, align straps, set collar, helmet available, check cuff gaskets, check collar gasket, hey, done, no problem.

"Estimate one minute to precipitation," Flower updated.

"Engineering up and secured," Laseiag announced.

"Excellent, Helga check all hatches."

"Yes."

Adam slid back onto the bridge and into his seat smiling. "Don't think I've ever heard an unaltered precip countdown, looks like you really were the top of your class," Adam said to Natasha, sliding open the bridge curtains on his side. "It remains to be seen how close we are," she answered rationally. "Announcements silenced, precipitation imminent," she linked to the crew. He popped on his gloves and helmet, checking seals. All good.

"Internal protocol set," Helga announced.

He glanced out the window at the last of jump space. He remembered his mother telling .... "I have the conn," Adam announced. "You have the conn," Natasha responded. He lined up the maneuver drive controls and sensor reads. He took a deep breath and relaxed, his eyes reading everything peripherally, his hands ready to act.

They waited. It took about five seconds beyond what they expected, but suddenly the stars spiralled in and brightened before settling down to their normal luminescence. The bridge window dimmed against the local star.

"We're down." Maneuver up. Sensors, scanning, Adam and Natasha trying to see everything, one second, two seconds ....

"Rock, 022-097-334- ... 009, -.7v," Natasha announced.

More seconds ticked by.

"And clear, no hazard." Natasha announced.

Adam relaxed, shutting his eyes for a moment. "Verify."

Natasha checked other readings. "System 895-496 achieved." She looked at a few other numbers, then leaned forward and pulled back the curtains on her side of the bridge. "There," she pointed. She was not exactly proud, but close. 496 was visible, a bright blue crescent dot near the dark yellow K0 star. Coincidentally a comet was coming in-system, and though opposite the system was well within aspect of the view, it's tail trailing above 496.

Adam was impressed. "Well, not only portentious, what is that, 200d?"

"221." She managed to control her pride and display only professionalism.

"I like!" Helga piped up.

"I'll have to include the comet in my evaluation of your performance."

Natasha frowned. "The comet is frivolous." But she looked at it again.

Adam smiled. "Ok ladies and gentlemen, no hazard, stand down, normal in-system protocols, looks like about five hours inbound."

"Good. I forget to pee before donning suit," Helga said.

"Natasha I'll get out of suit first, begin laying on inbound vector and keep up with positive hazards and scan for any sign of the Purdue ... you can do both, right?"

"It is no problem."

"And I'll return in a minute. Helga this will be your chance to verify system predicts, we'll have room for you soon, no rush."

"Yes."

He slid out and removed his suit, Helga doing the same next to him. "Comet?" she asked. "You'll see," he grinned. "I add new observation to inventory!" she beamed. She hurridly dropped her suit and hanged it in the locker and popped into her cabin.

Adam finished and returned to the bridge. "Any sign?" "No significant transmissions," Natasha answered, "at this range." She slid out, casting one last look at the view of 496 and the comet. Adam smiled behind her back, "Frivolous, is it?" he said to himself, then scanned the sensor indications before looking at it again. 496 shown bright blue, even at this distance he could see clouds on it ....

Something ... his mother ....? He couldn't remember.

A small asteroid showed on sensors. No approach vector, just drifting on its way.

He checked the maneuver drive. "Chief Laseiag, pushing up to 1.05 for inbound, plan on a few 0G orbits before dropping down." "Concur," Laseiag answered. Adam eased the drive up to 1.05. Save a few minutes ....

Helga slid onto the bridge and stood looking at the comet tail hovering over 496. She didn't say anything for a while, she just gazed. Natasha slid back in, Helga looked at her and waved to the starboard seat, Natasha nodded and Helga eased into it, adjusting the chair back considerably so she could fit in. She began consulting the sensor readings, then the controls, transferring raw data to her data base.

"Two gas giants, three worlds, fourteen moons, several dozen major asteroids, one rogue kuiper ...." She aligned tracking for all expected and commenced a search for any new observation tracks. The comet showed up immediately. "The comet is not associated with this system. It is visitor."

"Will it exit?"

"Likely. Unless it evaporates."

"Any inbound hazards?"

"No, except 496's moon. It is low and fast. The tides on 496 may be significant."

"Roger that. Natasha what about any comms from the Purdue?"

She looked over the ongoing systems reports. "There is nothing at this time. Our communication systems are at 43%, and this does not include any systems degradation on the part of the Purdue. It will be necessary to be fairly close to say definitively that there are no signals at all. Will we need to search any other system element?"

"I was told their only concern was 496, but since we don't know where they are then we don't know where we will have to look."

"I desire to include atmosphere survey and sample and laser study of 4-4," Helga said.

Adam looked at the developing system depiction and frowned, seeing how far out it was. "If we start traipsing about the entire system that would take a long time, especially at a maneuver rating of 1. Would the Purdue have gone there?"

"It is possible," Helga answered. "The atmosphere is biologically active and in flux, perhaps because of its biomass. If it is an ecosystem transition it is greatly worthy of study. Even Zhodani and Vargr will request visas to come and observe it."

"Well right now we're going there," Adam pointed at 496, which already seemed larger, "so let's see how far we get with that first. If the Purdue is there will we know?" he asked Natasha. He scanned the sensor systems for hazards again.

"Probably but I cannot be certain. Much will depend on their own systems."

"Ok, we'll move in and complete a few orbits first for a general survey, see what we see, Helga you'll just have to squeeze in whatever survey data you can accumulate while we're searching. Probably be the same thing. Actually," he suddenly was struck with an idea, "review your data and see if you can come up with a list of where they might have gone. That could really narrow our search."

"Yes," she answered brightly and nodded vigorously.

Laseiag slid onto the bridge and, smiling, faced the view of 496 and the comet as if he were facing a coronation. "That is a good sign."

Adam seemed surprised. "I've never heard a vilani talk about portents before."

Laseiag shrugged. "We used to. We still do if we have reason." He pointed to the sight.
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