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The Cleon Memorial Library For discussion of Traveller fiction, both official and fan-written. Fan-written drafts are explicitly welcome.

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  #11  
Old October 20th, 2016, 07:01 PM
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VIII.
I am sure that the Hathaways might criticize my glossing over the defenses options that I found in the T^5 book and not mounting at least one. But as I am the architect and they are flying the drafted ship, I felt that they could always bolt in a defense if they truly desired and could afford one. For the time, I decided that if the new ship did come under attack, the three gunners I had met the day before could conduct point defense on incoming missiles as a defense. If the Hathaway Group has to defend itself, it should already be at maximum acceleration away from the fight. I heard somewhere that the tactic was called ‘kiting’ or some such non-technical term.

The other deterrent I found to adding defenses to the draft was that, like weapons, each defense installed would require a control panel. Since the ship’s total of control panels was mounting rapidly and the Hathaway Group consisted of only eight Humans, I did not know if they could handle that many boards to be interfaced to their consoles or portable consoles.

Moving on to life support systems, I had to consider the Humans of the Hathaway Group and all whom they might take on-board the new vessel. Since it was a given by now that the ship would have to help pay for itself in times that the Human crew had a lull in adventures, I had to accept that they might take on passengers for fare. Since this was Gvurrdon Sector’s Rimward subsectors adjacent to the Spinward Marches, there was much room for taking on passengers of more than one race. The adaptable life support system and the luxury life support package would allow the 300dT vessel the variable complement of crew and passengers that might grace an adventurer class starship. In times of great need, a potential dirtside passenger will take any crate they can board. Marking down the allotment of two tons of life support packages, adaptable and luxury, I moved on.

“Hey, man, that is smart,” said the future steward and purser of the Hathaway Group. He had been watching me from over my shoulder and gazing at my selections from the T^5 book as I kept flipping back and forth between system selections. I turned and looked up at the long-hair, sandy blonde braids of the Human male.

The man’s name was Phillip Hawkins. He did not look like the stereotypical kiss-ass steward I had become accustomed to in the Marches. If fact, he looked homely or rural. His dress was relaxed, his features relaxed and – well, he was just relaxing. The more I looked at him the more harmless he looked. Someone in my past called them ‘hippies’ or ‘dudes’. We shook hands, his being soft and, again relaxing. He was not lanky but tall and a medium build. Rather than sitting in a chair in the lounge, he took a cross-legged seating position on the floor and took my questions. I had to confirm that the Hathaways would take on passengers, their level of passage and other components to be installed later if there was tonnage remaining. Phillip on the Downport carpet floor took the interview well and I began to think that nothing in the universe could get to this man.

I noted a reminder that the fuel tonnage was to be set at 119 tons even though only 118.8 would actually be used in a single, Jump-4 transit and a month of operations. That last 0.2 ton would be a safety measure in case Regera, the chief engineer, forgot to check the fuel efficiency. Philip saw this and nodded, pursed his lips and said nothing. He did more listening than responding. It felt like anything I decided was a doable thing to him. I liked him already. This was the crew member that, for me, clinched the addition of the portable consoles, laptop computer size, for the ship. It would allow them to move through the vessel and still be able to jack into any cabin’s port and work from the galley, stateroom, cargo bay or elsewhere aboard.
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  #12  
Old October 21st, 2016, 05:56 PM
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Okay, caught up. I have to admit, the idea of a story based on drawing up ship design was a surprise. It's enjoyable because the dialogue and interactions are varied and interesting. Nothing in the style really bothered me.

There doesn't seem to be a lot at stake with the story so far. Are you mostly looking at it as an exercise?

Conflict or not, an enjoyable read!
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Old October 21st, 2016, 07:00 PM
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IX.
“I can handle more control panels than just the two on assigned to this console, Scout,” said Regera the next day. With him was the Vilani SensOp, Ms. Khiimginiim. She too was acting like her skills were underrated. The two were trying to influence my distribution of Control Panels to their assigned Consoles. I felt that my choices were sound based on the number of systems and the task-load each would have on any one crew member of this new vessel.

“Three-hundred tons has an Engineer complement of two, not one, Chief,” I began to explain. “This is not a typical Empress Marava. Specs demand a second Engineer. You will have to share the duties with another.”

“Oh? And who will that be?” asked Regera. “And since when do Vargr go by the book these days?”

I decided the first question was valid and the second was part of Regera’s past talking again. A 300dT starship has to have a minimum of two Engineers in shifts. The Chief was angry that I had split the four major systems of Life Support, Power Plant, Maneuver Drive and Jump Drive down the middle. One engineer would use his console to monitor and adjust the Life Support and Maneuver Drive while the second engineer would be the Power Plant tech and be the one to charge up the Jump Drive when called upon to do so. Regera did not like my preferences. Daakiam just crossed her arms and glared at me during the exchange.

“Chief, I am rated in Power Plants, Maneuver Drives and Jump Drives,” I tried to lay out my credentials beyond just an architect. “I have split the duties evenly so that no one engineer can become fatigued by the workload. You, as the Chief Engineer will have first pick of which you prefer, but this assignment stands unless you wish to take it up with Gentleman Jason Hathaway. He has told me that he rated in Engineering and will be on the Bridge when his sister sits at the Helm."

“But the fixed Console, according to your design sits back in the aft of the ship. How’s he supposed monitor the drives from the Bridge?” It was a fair question and it told me that not everyone on the crew were talking to each other at the end of the day. Perhaps Regera did not like Philip Hawkins, the steward and purser.

I switched my computer from the draft of the ship to an online catalogue of the portable, laptop-sized Consoles. These would be able to interface with the ship’s computer from anywhere there was a line jack, which was everywhere, in every cabin and commons. If they so desired, and I pointed such to the two Humans, the portable Consoles could be given antennae to use wireless interfaces to deck routers. I personally frown upon such as those can be pirated by the right hacker. Regera looked at the options.

“Costly, Vargr,” said Regera. “You really think that this crew can afford eight portable Consoles in addition to the stationary ones?” His voice was getting tight and he reached for another amber ale to take in the specs of the portable Consoles.

“It could mean the ability to survive a direct hit to the hot-spot because you, Chief are not there. Ms. Khiimginiim would be able to utilize the sensors from her Stateroom or the cargo hold if the vessel is taking in mined ores and the like. A Bridge hit would not mean the deaths of everyone seated there.” I tented my hands before me, my claws crossing for emphasis, as Regera passed the catalogue to the Vilani woman.

“You did not answer Regera’s question, Scout Cannagrrh,” countered Ms. Khiimginiim.

“I think that adventurers will find a way. This craft is worth the 800,000 credits for portable consoles.” Even if the ship went on a mortgage, the crew would not go crazy looking at each other in the same cabins. They could move about quite a bit with long cables and work where they wished, varying up their time with each other. Work and off-duty time could be mixed and matched with such an option. The portables took no ship tonnage and were fully compatible with the onboard ship’s computer which could devote Cells to aid them in individual tasks. With the computer I had in mind, to be included next, each could split the Cells down as long as the ship was in peacetime operations. Even then the Cells could be rerouted for the gunners as a violent situation of last resort needed.

“You play with our credit accounts much, Gevaudan Cannagrrh,” warned Regera with his voice rather than directly. He emptied his ale and left my computer on the table between us. Ms. Khiimginiim stood and followed the Chief Engineer.

As the Vilani SensOp departed, she drew up her Psi-shield cowl and thus was hiding her thoughts as she spoke with Regera on the way out. I pretended not to notice and retrieved my computer to continue working. The ship’s computer was next. Yet there was a nagging nervousness in the back of my head as I began looking at lists of Models and their ratings and options. This crew was starting to show cracks. Were they all that cohesive?

Better still, was my past in the Spinward Marches catching up to me?
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  #14  
Old October 22nd, 2016, 01:21 PM
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X.
With my psionics, I can’t see the future. And only one person I have ever met, rated in the ultra-rare precognition branch of clairvoyance, can. The ability to look into the future’s potential tracks or to look back and determine past causes is the purview of precognition. The only precog I would ever have the luck to know sat next to me the following day. We were seated on a soft couch that I would have termed vampiric such was its comfort.

Uthka Varzeekh was another Vargr like myself and my sister and from the Dzeng Aeng Kho, the Society of Equals. And that is where she began to differ. The middle-aged Vargr female was an Unequal. She, in her youth, decided to limit her career choices by not taking the examinations and tests to become an Equal with all the full rights of such esteemed citizenship. She was quite older than me and was timber wolf colored, a dark gray and white ventral. Her eyes were graying from their original pale blue. Uthka wore a purple velvet robe all the time, two sash-belts of an orange-gold color she termed orich. One of the sashes was tied in a simple knot at her waist to hold closed her deep hooded robe. The other sash was gently wrapped about her muzzle and its ends draped about her neck ruff at the shoulders. It made her look like she was protecting her face from the lounge’s air conditioning but I knew better.

Being an Unequal meant that Uthka Varzeekh had turned her back on full citizenship in the Society of Equals. It closed many doors of opportunity career-wise and judicial equality for her. But the price for taking the tests and failing meant that the failing Vargr consented to having their canines removed. In our home polity, the long fangs of the Vargr are a symbol of racial pride and polity patriotism. By refusing to take the tests, Uthka protested the ‘brutal’ and ‘barbaric’ mutilation and avoided risking such in one fell protestation. Thus, she was Unequal, an unspoken caste below Qithka and I but still a civilian of the Dzen Aeng Kho. This of course is the big, ironic joke other polities of Vargr throw at us repeatedly. The society of supposed equals that has differing levels of caste and rights.

Today, the sash was being used by Uthka to remind her to keep her mouth shut when it was not called upon to speak. I knew of a deeper reason for the sash. On the surface, the sash belt and sash-muzzle were required to mark a protesting Unequal. Below such, the sashes meant that Uthka was just coming out of quietus, a period of keeping to oneself. Uthka Varzeekh had been burned by Cassandra’s Conundrum.

When you can see or at least sense somehow the future and its most probable forking paths, do you advise, encourage or warn those around you of the important decision gates? This is Cassandra’s Conundrum. It is named after some ancient Terran legend of a seer who advised a king during some famous siege campaign. In Uthka’s case she had warned me and my compatriots in the Artemis Group of danger. Later, we broke half of her warnings and took fate into our own hands. Her predictions had failed her though she was quite accurate about the situation at hand. And even later, her powers of foresight pushed the wrong buttons in the people about her, outing her as a Psion in a polity that distrusts and even despises psionics. Being burned by the inability to keep one’s mouth shut when it is time to do so is an example of Cassandra’s Conundrum. Uthka burned herself and then went into quietus, a period of self-introspection, to reflect on the mistakes and internalize the lesson learned.

Today, she sat next to me at my request. Her woven cloth, lady’s shoulder bag sat between us on the couch. In my lap I held my computer and the draft of the new ship for the Hathaway Group. The next task was to select a suitable computer Model and accompanying options. Then once selected, I was to place the ship’s computer somewhere in the deckplans. This is easier said than done and I had gone through four or five layouts before asking Uthka Varzeekh’s advice. I didn’t say to her my true reason for asking her advice. I wanted her to read me - that precognition thing she does.

When she does Look, and I have seen her do it before, Uthka Varzeekh makes some deceptive stage performance of spooling up her psionics. She reads tea leaves at the bottom of a drained cup of her favorite teas. Uthka Varzeekh loves her tea. She also used to read crystal tarot placards before they were shattered by those she had enraged. As I spoke of my issues with the Hathaway Group, the middle-aged Unequal laid out the hexagonal casting plates of pure monadium, the mysterious and unfathomable Droyne Coyns. The Coyns were a gift from a female Psion of the Zhodani. I had heard rumor that the reptilian Droyne used the flat plates in a honeycomb of ‘castings’ to determine the life-path, or caste, of their race newly of age. Now, Uthka used it as a stage work-up of her powers of foresight. It presented a surface vision of an eccentric fortune teller dressed in an outcast’s robes and trussed in sashes and bangles. A madwoman who hid her true power behind her eyes. That is where I kept my attention for I knew her ploy. As precognition is an offshoot of clairvoyance, of a higher order of magnitude to be sure, I had my own tricks to con her in return. My synesthesia is just as easily hidden.

“Gevaudan,” Uktha began after laying her third, seemingly random-drawn Coyn out on the table and building a honeycomb of monadium, “be careful. Not only do you stand to make much money off these Hathaways, but at least one future shows you hurt or dying.”

That got my attention. Uthka’s con was one of a concerned ally. Though my Sister-Dame’s attaché, a lady in waiting or some such, the middle-aged Psion was not to be underestimated. “Their folk have been hurt by the War and still hold it against us, the Swordies and the Zhodani of the Outworld Coalition. Even the Dzen Aeng Kho sent a few ships to add to the Coalition though you, the Dame and I were in the Marches at the time. Step more carefully, son.” At her sixth Coyn cast and fitted on the table before us, Uthka stopped drawing the plates.

I clenched my fists together in a single, laced ball. Danger. But it came not from Uthka. My sniffer doesn’t lie, but I can misinterpret it sometimes. Ever stepped into a greenhouse or arboretum? So many different scents from flowers, scented plants, trees and the plethora of flora. Now. Can you name all of them and pick them out? A lavender here or a pine conifer there, maybe a Douglas fir. It is like that for me and worse that I am Vargr. Our olfactory sense is inherited, according to the Solomani Hypothesis, from acute senses of Terran canines and lupines thanks to the workings of the Ancients for whatever reason they refuse to keep to themselves. I haven’t met a Bishop of the Church Of The Chosen Ones, (all capitalized of egotism of course), that can put forth a plausible reason for the Ancients’ actions upon raising and evolving the Vargr. That’s why it is a hypothesis and not some religious truth in my book. Find me an Ancient and let us ask them. Until then, I try to improve my interpretations from my synesthetic nose.

“And the computer for the ship?” I managed to ask through my teeth.

“Pfft. Flip a coin, Gevaudan,” she answered and picked up her I (heart) Tea mug. She had been sipping a mint tea. She drained it and began to collect her items to put into her shoulder bag. “You are far better at architecture than I.”

Did I mention that seers can be cryptic as a matter of self-preservation too?
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Old October 23rd, 2016, 12:05 PM
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XI.
It was an eventuality that in making my next decisions concerning the AFT-CS44 Fast Far Trader that I would require the entire crew of the Hathaway Group before me. The next day, they sat arrayed around me in the lounge of the Starport. Some sat in the comfy chairs and sofas we had pushed in a semicircle about me. This got the attention of the lounge staff, but they were soon busied by our food and drink orders. I was beginning to enjoy some clout with the bartender since my fixture in the lounge was drawing more folk into the establishment to purchase from his menu.

“The payload of a starship is the breadbasket of its existence,” I began once those before me were seated or at least attentive. The Hathaway siblings were on the sofa. Hawkins again sat on the floor in some meditative pose though instead of meditating, he was sipping a cider of some fruit. Regera sat in the Darrian chair to my left and the SensOp, Ms. Khiimginiim perched on the chair’s arm, between Regera and the sofa. The three gunners sat in barstools that they had dragged over from the bar and were behind and above the sofa.

“Passengers and cargo, right?” asked Jason Carson Hathaway. I could now peg with certainty that this man would be their starship captain with his sister as the first officer.

“Yes,” I answered and continued with, “and how much tonnage of each you decide upon will make or break the economy and comfort of a vessel.” I had the starship draft laptop flat on my thighs but turned around so display the design so far sculpted. The ship was sound. Sections in gray were the unused internal displacement that has was remaining to be claimed. “Some of this area will be your staterooms and living areas.”

I scanned each of the crew and inhaled through my synesthetic nose as I panned my clairvoyance at them. I would get their con in one breath as I pointed to the gray areas on the display with my stylus.

The mullet-haired Vilani woman, Ms. Khiimginiim nearly started at the vibrating unit on her hip. Perhaps she was getting some haptic feedback notification, an e-mail or some pre-set alarm. I noted it but glossed over her as I settled on Hawkins passive on the floor. In one motion, Daakiam pretended to shiver at the cold lounge air conditioning, drew up her Psi-shield cowl hood from her shoulder scarf with one hand. With her second hand, she silenced the vibrating notification.

I mean, c’mon. I know that her device wasn’t some notification. Most Humans like their haptics and alarms to ring out some jingle or tune, a few bars of a song often. No, the Vilani woman’s device was an alarm. The kind from a device that detects for psionics. I’ve seen them and I know what they do.

A psionics detector, sometimes nicknamed a psi-squealer is a device that can passively scan a limited area for psi-waves, the brainwaves of a sophont who is using psionics. While the squealer can’t point out the culprit in the detection area, the device can alarm when psionic Talents are in use. Daakiam apparently had hers set to give a silent but haptic feedback, vibration. I knew that it was an alarm when it did not immediately shut off. It was an alarm and would alert the user until acknowledged. The Vilani woman was both aware of psionics and prepared to hide her thoughts. Her reaction was the clincher for the squealer to me. For while she silenced the vibrating as I displayed the available tonnage of the payload, her surprise was what tipped me off. Coupled with her act to cover her cranium made it as surety.

I had tripped that alarm with my sniffer. Though Daakiam could not be sure that I was the Psion in the room – and I am not a Psion. I pretended that her e-mail notification was just that and continued by pointing out the position of the available payload.

“The original Empress Marava Far Trader was designed around its payload,” I said and attempted to smile like a new vehicle dealer. It was my sniffer that was really talking to me. For while none of those Humans before me were conning as enemies, as a danger to me, I could tell that there was some aggressiveness emanating from Regera and Daakiam to my left. Since I was not the focus of their hostility, despite their outward guarded and pretense of attention to my display, the two were enemies to the others. My tail stopped wagging. Damn my body language.

Celesta Hawthaway spotted it. My tail’s inert lack of wagging. But to her credit, the pilot did not interrupt as I continued. “Eighty-seven tons of payload and here is where I split it. The crew gets 23.5 tons for staterooms and amenities. There will be three Low Berths, as many as I could fit on an afterthought. Never know when a Low Berth can be useful in a pinch in commerce and emergencies. Here you can see that I have allotted your future passengers twenty-seven tons for their four Luxury staterooms and commons. With this and the adjustable life support system, you can make changes to the cabin pressure, temperature and gravity so as to adapt to the needs of High Passengers as well as Middle Passengers.”

Hawkins on the floor smiled at the change from gray payload areas to gold color for the passenger areas and silver for the crew accommodations. Medic over Celesta’s shoulder nodded, not really approving but acknowledging the bright blue zone, small as it was, indicating the Medical Console would be installed. Chappy had no reaction, but Cookie smiled at the yellow area lighting up for the ship’s galley. Everyone was happy to see my placement of the three, no-cost, airlocks placement port, starboard and ventral to the hull, (an escape hatch really to the ground or tarmac below a grounded starship).

“Note that while the crew will have to share the freshers, the four Luxury Staterooms will have freshers of their own.” I continued as I secretly analyzed the con of the crew. While everyone but Regera and Daakiam were all one big, happy pack, those two were brightly ‘lit’ up to my senses. And they were trying to hide it. Especially the Vilani woman now that I had tripped her alarm with my clairvoyance. I continued to gloss over her subtle state of alarm with my display. “And here, still in gray is the bread-winner of the ship – 34 tons of cargo space.”

The crew looked to Jason, with concern on their faces. Could the AFT-CS44 make a true living off four Passengers, High or Middle and just 34 tons of available cargo payload? I had to assuage them quickly. Jason continued to stare at me. His face was confident still. Either he was a good merchant, a charismatic smooth-talker, or had the know-how to make this work. He was not at all displeased at my allocations. His mouth crooked in a half-smile at me, prodding me to go on.

An ally, said my ‘sniffer’. His con was brightening at my work. Jason’s sister was less bright, but Runetha take me, were they cognizant to their crews’ variable range of loyalty? It hurt my heart to know and not be able to say what was on my mind. Regera and Daakiam Khiimginiim were enemy to Jason and Celesta. Their aromas were not aimed at me, yet their displeasure, their irritation at the Hathaways was evident to my olfactory synesthesia. In a deceptive gesture, I scratched my own ear in the same place that Celesta had days before. I continued by flipping a virtual page to display some figures in a bar graph on the laptop.

“Shown here is the estimated Demand, crew Comfort, ship Ergonomics (or livability), Pricing based off Demand, Tension projections and finally the safety margins against Mishap.” It took more than a breath to say all of that and I was again pointing my nose down into my work. Regera and Daakiam seemed to relax a little though she as still cowled for all the good it did her against telepathy and not my tactical awareness. “The Demand is in the positive and shown in green,” I explained each bar on the graph. “It shows that your future ship will have a boost to its draw of customer Passengers above and beyond what you as a crew will be able to advertise. Once a Traveller sees your ship specs and the layout, the Demand represents how much to your advantage you will be able to sell passages both High and Middle. It does not affect steerage or Low Berth passages sadly.”

I moved the stylus as my sniffer concluded its synesthetic awareness. I was no longer conning the Hathaway Group. Daakiam’s hood stayed on her head however as the Humans listened to my presentation. Again, I ignored her and smiled at Celesta with my silly lolling tongue like some pup with, “Here you will see that we broke even with the crew Comfort. Twenty-two tons split by five crew comes up flush, so long as the Gunners don’t have much to do. When in times of alert, the Comfort drops by two notches – here.” I pointed to the sub-bar. The ship would become less comfortable with three Gunner-whatevers moving about the ship on a regular basis. “And that is to be expected. On vessels like this, most don’t even hire gunners on such small trade vessels. Fine and all, but you are asking for an ‘adventure class starship’, yes?” I did not look up for their reactions.

Moving on down the graph, I pointed to the vessel’s future Ergonomics rating and reassured the nervous crew with, “But it gets better. Note that you allowed me a Bridge. By allocating space for the Consoles, putting Helm, Sensors, Purser and the dorsal turret on the Bridge, you gave me a leeway for the free space which is divided by the total Consoles on the ship. Some Consoles are back in Engineering and at least two are on the upper deck. Spreading them out like that in addition to the Bridge has given us a flush rating in Ergonomics. Congrats on that, Humans.”
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Old October 23rd, 2016, 12:09 PM
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Everyone seemed to half-smile or sigh a relief. All except the Steward-Purser, Phillip Hawkins. He was every flexible and serene as usual. His con was the most relaxing and it felt good when I had pointed my muzzle and nose at him in my sniffing. I winked at him.

“These last three are Pricing, Tension and Mishap variables,” I went on without interruption. “They’re mostly variable on a daily basis, so try to stay out of each other’s’ way. This is the main reason why I included the portable Console laptops and connector lines. You can keep down the Tension with them. Use them, people. Please. Pricing will depend greatly on how well you can advertise, carouse or liaison your way into some Passengers and Trade in this ship. Thirty tons will be easy to fill and lucrative if you pick your freight and speculative cargo carefully. I have to do so all the time with only my ship’s tiny cargo hold.”

By chatting up the Humans with familiarity, I was trying to ease down the hazard I could sense in Regera and Daakiam. I could do nothing at the time in the lounge and before the lot of them. “Finally, the safety Mishap is the final variable that will keep most Consoles running smoothly and interfacing with the Model/4 bis computer I have included...here.” I pointed out the area the huge computer would take from the internal space.

On the classic Empress Marava, the computer is small. For the Hathaway Group, I wanted them to draw upon the good processing power of the Model/4 bis with its extra Cell whenever they wanted. In peaceful times, the computer could help all five operations crew well enough. In confrontations, ship-to-ship, the gunners could take up to three Cells to help them lock onto their targets; the others would have to give up their Cells to them. I displayed this by toggling back and forth between peace-time operations and starship confrontation alert status. The Hathaways nodded in approval as did the gunners in some bravado of camaraderie. “Just don’t abuse the portable laptop Consoles by eating around them or dropping them. They come with impact guards but one never knows,” I cautioned.

I concluded the huddle session of the day by listing each of the crew, their ship ranks and their pay-grade letters which would set their monthly pay. I did not show the final bill for the entire ship to the crew. That was for the eyes of the ship shares owners to decide upon later and in private.
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Old October 24th, 2016, 12:39 PM
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XII.
Humans sometimes say that their “ears are burning” or they feel like someone has “stepped on their grave”. When they look at us Vargr, they say we somehow got our hackles raised. A “clean-close shave” is another term Humans use. We Vargr have a similar saying in that someone has “bit our tail”, coming up from behind and attacking when we are least expecting it. Given the warning from Uthka Varzeekh, my own sniffer’s conning and the warning pitch in Regera’s voice, I was feeling like my tail was next on the list to be bitten.

It was with that nervous intuition, that I sat in a waiting gate in the Highport concourse just outside the gantry arm leading to my Far Scout, the Sixth Horizon. The maintenance crews working on my baby were just about finished. I could see through the thick polymer view of the docks as they were picking up their tarpaulins and other cleaning accessories. Cleaning had come last, behind the mechanical and life support procedures to inspect, notate and calibrate the ship’s systems. I lounged in the most comfortable chair in the gate waiting area. With me was my laptop holding the blueprints and stats of the AFT-CS44 starship that the Hathaways and other investors would be purchasing from me. Additionally, I had been monitoring the maintenance via a long, black-and-yellow, cyber-cord leading from the starboard airlock computer jack, out the airlock door, up the gantry hall, through the gate door, across the carpeted floor and into the back of my skull behind my right ear. Before my eyes only, were virtual boards being fed to me through the cybernetic connection to my ship. By cycling various boards with a sweep of my hand, I could look at and manipulate any two Consoles on the Sixth Horizon as if I were standing before them. I was watching the maintenance crews remove their tarps and backing out of the Far Scout when the ship shareholders of the Hathaway Group came rounding the bend in the concourse that ringed the docks outside the polymer viewing panes.

I felt my tail stop wagging when Jason and Celesta Hathaway, Regera, Daakiam Khiimginiim and the nonplussed Philip Hawkins approached my seated position. This was more investors than I had guessed. I had underestimated their resources. These Humans were well-funded even if they did have a loan factor for what they could not provide in the down payment. I cycled two of my virtual boards before me and put down the laptop.

The situation became worse as my Sister-Dame and her attaché Uthka Varzeek rounded the other end of the circular concourse. Floating on its contragravity fields, was Witness, the robot assigned to my journalistic, elder sibling, from her magazine. The three were going to arrive at our gate after the Humans. I folded my hands but left my claws pointed outward.
“Senior Scout,” greeted Jason Hathaway to me upon arrival. “it’s a late night here in the Highport. What happened to the lounge? We thought to meet you there again.”

“My ship is almost done and I am eager to be on my way,” I said. Then I lied with, “The lounge was being cleaned and the ammonium is too strong for my nose.” It isn’t really. I glanced down at the virtual Engineering board to make sure power was flowing from the umbilical, Highport power to my ship. All lights were Green there.

“So, Gevaudan,” asked Celesta Hathaway, “what’s the damage?” She was referring to the final bill for the construction and commission of the AFT-CS44 Fast Far Trader as well as my fare for assembling the blueprints on the laptop beside me. I mentally flipped a switch on the second virtual board in my field of cybernetic vision. It was the board for the starship turrets. I set it to charge the three beam weapons.

“The vessel’s cost will be 161,450,000 credits, Gentlewoman Hathaway,” I breathed carefully. I reached over to the laptop as if to act like I needed to double-check the declared number. “Not bad really for a 300dT starship of such advanced and Improved stage systems. Certainly less than my ship at 176-plus megacredits.” I looked over my shoulder as I turned on my laptop. With my cybernetic sight through the line from my skull to the ship, I turned the turret starboard to aim it at the Humans. The action was quiet, subtle and I prayed that it was missed by the Tower in the docks. Normally they watch for power planet initiations and maneuver drive activations. Who fires a Turret in a Highport?

Behind the Hathaway siblings, Regera was a grimace of anger. I could only fathom in that split second how he might feel overcharged for the ship, his time wasted on an Extents Vargr to design their vessel though the Chief Engineer might have been protesting my choices the entire time to the Hathaways and behind my back. Daakiam Khiimginiim was beside him. She had a shocked look on her face. I took the next split second to put myself in her Vilani shoes. Certainly the vessel could have been built cheaper than my estimate. This dog of an architect was trying to pad his credit account with such an extravagant design.
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Old October 24th, 2016, 12:40 PM
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Out of the corner of my eye as I turned the laptop’s display to face the Hathaway Group, I could see Qithka and Uthka getting closer. The Solomani man, Regera’s hand subtly slid along his belt to his Very Heavy Magnum Pistol-9, a huge revolver likely given a magazine that could splatter my torso over the chair, the floor and the polymer view pane behind me. I saw Daakiam’s left hand slide behind her back. Was there a Vilani weapon she favored hidden there, under her lengthy shawl? She already had her Psi-shield cowl drawn up over her flowing black, mullet hair. Please, Runetha Saetedz, don’t make me do this, I prayed.

“We are live at Triad Highport’s Concourse C where my brother’s ship is docked,” reported my Sister-Dame to her robot that hovered just over and above her shoulder. Uthka was pulling down her own purple hood over her head. I could see her flashing blue-gray eyes looking at me. It was one of her decision gates she used to warn me about. The raised voice of the Dame Qithka Cannagrrh, journalist and actor for her magazine, drew the attention of Jason and Celesta Hathaway who looked to their right at the announcing journalist. “Tonight, my younger brother is concluding his second starship design and first blueprint sale to the Hathaway Group - as he calls them.”
I took the short time of the distraction of the Hathaway siblings to look up to Regera. His thumb was un-buttoning the strap across his magnum revolver. With a whip of a hand, his hand cannon could end me. I was unarmored and my subdermal armor augments would not stop a high caliber hollow-point bullet. Daakiam seemed to move in a slower but similar motion behind her back which I could only guess.

It felt like every air venting system had suddenly stopped working at once. All the sounds that we take for granted such as life support hissing, power plant hum, maneuver drive vibrations and the like just stop at once, leaving the listener with only the excruciating silence. That moment one feels just before releasing the string of a drawn bow aimed at prey. Or likened to the silence before a storm about to break, the first strike of a lightning bolt. I felt like prey that day. Weak and defenseless.

I felt that way, but I wasn’t defenseless. With my grinning canid teeth, I looked from Regera’s angry eyes, turning my head to look at Turret #1 on the forward-dorsal hull of my ship and invited him to see what I was indicating. The virtual board that only I could see kept asking me for a firing solution from the ship’s Sensors. I had no time for that. The scopes would do at this range. Likely the three Beam Lasers would fry the entire gate seating area, taking me with it. I kept the starship weaponry trained on Regera. It would not be an easy shot to hit such a small target. But with my presence, the starship turret integration rig in my skull and the need to only hit the room with the beams; I am sure the encounter would be a mutually assured destruction action. Regera saw past me, out the polymer pane that could not stop starship weaponry. The Sixth Horizon Turret #1 would kill him first, at the speed of light, even if it took out everyone else in the room nanoseconds later. His face melted from anger to surprise. Daakiam saw the starship weapon trained on them. She glanced at me. Her facial expression was one I could only guess as, would you truly do such, Vargr? I nodded at her slightly and trying to give her the impression that I might be insane enough to fire on the room. She was smarter than Regera, for she saw the cyber-cord line running from my head, across the floor to the gate door. Understanding in a flash struck her.

“Gentleman Hathaway,” interviewed my Sister-Dame, “did my brother offer up a fair price for his draft of your future, ‘adventure class starship’ today?” I knew that Witness could see in all directions and that the robot was recording. If anything survived this hidden standoff, it would be the titanium spherical chassis. Jason was still distracted by the interaction between Qithka, her robot Witness, and himself. For the Human, it must not be an easy thing to be on camera, live and transmitting. I knew that Witness was not transmitting. Not yet. In our adventures, the robot would record its surroundings and clean up images and sound as an editor might. But it would only transmit a completed packet of recordings ever so often through the nearest solar system network such as Triad’s local port. These Humans did not know that though.
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Old October 24th, 2016, 12:42 PM
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I could smell the sweat mixed with indecision and anger emitting from Regera as my Sister-Dame continued to distract the Hathaway siblings with a final interview. I didn’t need my clairvoyance to trigger Daakiam’s squealer again. This standoff was already thick enough and without some alarm to cause everyone in the know to pull triggers this late at night in the orbital facility concourse. I think Philip Hawkins, the group’s steward and purser took some notice of Regera who still could not decide to call my bluff.

“Dude, you okay?” asked Hawkins the serene and meditative. It was the first time I had seen the steward lacking balance in all things universal. He didn’t need psionics to read his compatriots. He was just plain perceptive and attentive.

As the dialog between Qithka and Jason Hathaway continued, the numbers and details of the negotiated blueprints coming to light, Regera locked eyes with me. Never in my life have I had a Human focus so as Regera did then. He had the magnum pistol in his hand but still not drawn from his hip holster. Until he did, the Chief Engineer would still be within his rights. Again in a split second, I put myself in his place. Was he able to gun me down faster than I could think to kill everyone in the room with three, starship scope Beam Lasers that could slice and burn through us instantly?

“Dude, you’re freaking me out,” Hawkins said as he took a step away. Though a steward and perceptive, the braided blonde must have assumed that Regera was ill, having come down with something. Philip still had not seen Regera’s hand on the other side of his body, grasping the grip of the magnum.

Split seconds became seconds. Seconds felt like minutes. My clawed hands were beginning to sweat clammy. The interview continued another sentence as Regera bore into my eyes. This man did not like to lose, I assumed. No one likes to lose really. I don’t. But how does one learn best than losing?
“Yes, we can pay that much. It’ll hurt but with my sister, Celesta at the helm, Hawkins on deck and Regera…Regera?” It was Jason who then interrupted his talk with my Sister-Dame to notice the stare-down between the Chief and I. He tapped Regera with, “Chief? It’s okay, right?”

I held my breath, like one does just before releasing a drawn bowstring mated to a hunting arrow. Only this arrow now was like the ancient Human legend of Damocles. A weapon that also threatened its user. I named it a Damocles Arrow in that spit second. Amazing what one thinks about before one is about to die.

The Solomani Human Regera shuddered a breath as he still held my gaze, “Y-yeah. It’s good. We can handle it, Jason.” His hand slowly slid from the grip of the magnum revolver and hung limply. Next to him Daakiam pushed her unseen weapon back into its hiding place in the small of her back. She looked gray in the face, but that was all my peripheral vision would allow me.

“Well then,” said Jason Hathaway still ignorant of the true conflict. “Let me slot your ten percent, Scout Gevaudan Cannagrrh. Your laptop perhaps?” He held out the same black plastic card with the electronic contacts, the one with the aura of currency. I carefully and slowly held up my laptop for Jason to slot the commission for my work. I was still sight-locked with Regera though my tail decided to start wagging again. I felt stupid when it did things on its own.

I drew in a breath and nearly stammered just as Regera had, “G-good doing business with you, Gentleman Hathaway and the Hathaway Group. I h-hope the ship serves you well. The Human world of Aellaesgvarzath (Gvurrdon 2128), just ten parsecs Coreward, is the best of three facilities to build your future ship. No Vargr there.” By the time I had said all that, I was breathing easier at Regera and Ms. Khiimginiim standing down, late one night in a Highport concourse with nobody of import than us present. I had said that last part, perhaps as a final and subtle peace offering, to the Chief Engineer who was not going to kill me.

Jason took back his black card, my blueprints for the AFT-CS44 stored on the high-tech wafer in exchange for the 16.145 million I had earned this week. As the Hathaway Group began to depart, shaking hands with my Sister-Dame and smiling weakly at Witness ever aware, I got up from the chair that was making me overheat in my near-death experience. Holding my laptop under one arm and coiling the black and yellow cyber-cord with the other, I began a slow retreat towards the gate. Qithka’s attaché, Uthka, flashed me a grisly smile as she passed me and into the gate door.

“Well played, Gevaudan,” said the precog in a departing whisper. I could not answer her as my heart was still pounding in my chest. The Hathways were walking away by this time with Jason swapping contact info with the Dame Qithka Cannagrrh of Kfan Uzangou a widely-distributed magazine of Gvurrdon Sector.

I stood at the door to the gate as my Sister-Dame passed me. She sniffed at me once in passing. “Take a shower, Gev. You need one.” And I did.

(30)
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Old October 24th, 2016, 04:11 PM
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Er.

Traditionally the fee is 1%- did T5 change it to 10%?
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