several revised scenes

I’ve been calling out one scene per day, but given that these small pieces all work together as a whole, so I’m going to give a huge segment today.

This is 5.8k words – that’s about 24 pages. Enjoy!

*** 163

== 2064: Lai Docks and Air Traffic Control, Aristillus, Lunar Nearside

Doug Test sat at his usual console, listening to EagleGust on his ear-buds – any why not? Today was a light day, with zero scheduled incoming ships, just one departure, and the only construction the ongoing work on upgrade cradle 11 to let it serve as a backup for the Grace Under Pressure LNG tanker in case cradle 8 ever had a problem.

Doug had the arrivals window minimized and was humming awkwardly along to the microtonal Chapman Stick solo. On the screen he was working through a checklist for the warehouse handler robots when a tone struck him as odd. He tilted his head. Huh…he’d never noticed that F-half sharp there. He’d paused the music and began to jog it back a few seconds when the tone rang again.

Crap! That F half-sharp wasn’t the music – that was a warning tone. What was it? He scanned his boards but couldn’t see any problems on the robot controller window. Could it be a ship issue? He minimized that robot tool screen and looked at the outgoing ship screen. Nothing.

What else was there?

He looked for a second at the icon for the minimized arrivals screen – but, no, nothing arriving today. So what else could be giving the warning? The compressed air handling facility? The work on cradle 11 could – he opened the screen and scanned it. No, that was all fine. The pumps and pipelines for Veleka Waterworks? He checked the screen. No.

What was left?

He noticed the incoming ships icon again and realized he hadn’t actually checked it. He sighed. For completeness he should open it, just so he could say he had. He clicked the icon.

Dough blinked. What – ? This didn’t make any sense.

The list of incoming ships should be empty. It HAD been empty a few hours ago when his shift started. But it was full. FULL.

Doug liked things in their place. He could tolerate a bit of error. People – other people – made mistakes, and one had to make allowances. But this list of incoming ships wasn’t ‘a bit’ of error. This was massively wrong. How were there this many ships on the list.

He shook his head. Clearly a data error. Two or three ships? Sure. Someone could have screwed up and failed to put two ships in the system. Ten ships? There’d been days that heavy, but there was no way that that many ships could be left off of the schedule.

But a FULL list? There was no such thing. How many ships would it take to fill the screen? Fifty? He sighed. There was no such thing as a full list. Clearly someone had screwed up and loaded a test database into the production server and –

He looked at the transponder name field on the first entry on the list: “OSS Navajo”. The next: “OSS Awesome!”. The next: “OSS figure_it_out_later”.

“OSS”? Clearly a test database. There were only three ship prefixes, and –

Doug felt a sudden sinking sensation.

“OSS”. That couldn’t stand for “open source ship”, could it?

Albert had casually mentioned a while back that the Boardroom Group was discussing a proposal to open source the AG drive. Doug even remembered reading some posts a few months ago about the idea. But they hadn’t gone ahead with it, had they?

He realized that he was sweating and rubbed a hand over his forehead. He HATED sweating. How could they have released the open source AG drive with out him realizing it? He swallowed Between the Revolution beginning to boil over, staying on top of the installation of the new robotic cargo handlers, and – worst of all – dealing with the torturous negotiations about the water pipeline between Lai docks and Veleka Waterworks, he’d been busy.

It wasn’t his fault. No one had told him that the plans had been released. So no one could get mad at –

The warning tone beeped again and Doug forced himself to concentrate. He scanned the board. How many ships were on their way to the docks? That was the first thing he needed to know, so he could allocate hangers and clear some space.

He breathed deeply. OK. Calm down. Seventy two ships. It was going to be tight, but all he had to do was find the space and then the auto-landing software would do all the work. OK. OK. He scanned his board. The first ship, the OSS Navajo was three minutes out. Breath. He could ignore the first ship for now, and concentrate on clearing the robots out of bay three, and all the ships could –

A new alert flashed on his screen.

“agent interrupt 0x77a no matching rule-set – spam refuses auto-landing command (WTF?) – #fix_before_golive”.

Doug blinked, then began to type frantically. Three minutes later the an alert for the first ship popped onto his screen. Doug kept typing as alerts for the “Awesome!” and the “figure_it_out_later” popped. By the time five more minutes had passed the stack of alerts on his screen reached halfway down the left column – and more OSS ships were entering the queue.

Doug wiped the sweat off his forehead. Again.

This was above his pay grade. Albert Lai needed to figure something out.

Doug picked up his phone.

*** 164

== 2064: Boardroom Group Headquarters in Tunnel 1,288, Aristillus, Lunar Nearside

Darren listened to General Dewitt’s status report. “…and we’re still waiting for the chemical firms to develop a good detonators. Other than the lack of RPG rounds, infantry readiness is looking good.” Dewitt around the room. “Any questions?”

Darren started to clear his throat when Albert’s phone rung on priority. Albert looked at it, accepted the call, spoke in a hush, then stood. “Excuse me, I’ve got to take this”. He stepped out of the construction office and closed the door behind him.

Darren raised a hand. “General. First, my compliments on the success of the Nan Garde rescue and on your defense preparations over the past few weeks. I do have one question: why the emphasis on infantry?”

The general blinked. “I’m not sure I understand the question. If we’re talking defensive posture here in Aristillus, there’s no water, there’s no air – infantry is all there is. Unless you’re talking armor?”

Darren shook his head. “No, I’m talking robots.”

“Well, we’ve used drones a bit in the prison camp rescue operation, and we’ve got a small development program for spotting and scouting bots, but -”

“No, I’m talking combat platforms. Is there some reason that we’re not exploring that?”

General Dewitt looked puzzled. “The Geneva conventions -”

“We’re not signatories.”

Dewitt shifted uncomfortably. “I – well, a decision like that is above my pay-grade.” He paused. “Even if the board did approve, there’s the question of budget. The civil defense e-p-door program is costing more than anyone expected, and thus my arms budget is already -”

Darren nodded. “I understand that constraints are tight.” This is where he needed support. He paused and looked around the table. A lot of heads were nodding. Good. “I propose that we institute a bounty on PKs captured or killed. That way, the corporate militias – mine included – are incentivized to accomplish the most they can with the least resources. And that way the Group doesn’t pay for inputs – headcount, weapon systems, and such – we just pay for results.”

Dewitt rubbed his chin but said nothing.

Darren looked around the table. “Any objections?”

There was muttering, but no one criticism.

“I’d like to take a vote.”

The proposal passed.

Darren smiled. If the vote had gone against him all of the wrangling with Gamma to trade the plutonium he’d salvaged from the wrecked PK ships for the rovers would have been wasted.

General Dewitt looked around. “If there are no more issues, shall we break for lunch?”

*** 165

== 2064: Boardroom Group Headquarters in Tunnel 1,288, Aristillus, Lunar Nearside

The ADF lieutenant listened to his phone then nodded. “Uh-huh. She’s here. OK, hang on.” He turned to Darcy. “Miss Grau, it’s for you.”

Darcy looked at the lieutenant quizzically then stepped back from the bubbling pot of soup as she took the phone.

“Albert? What – slowdown. No, I’m helping with lunch. Hang on, I’ll meet you outside.” She handed the phone back to the lieutenant, put down her ladle, and stepped out of the kitchen – and shivered. Outside the converted cargo container it was drier, darker, and colder. She looked around the cluster of containers in the dim light from the task lights overhead. Where was Albert? Ah – there.

A minute later she was 20 meters down the tunnel and Albert was letting her into another portable office. She looked at Albert. He was normally the most composed man Darcy had encountered since leaving DC a decade before: always in an impeccably tailored suit with every hair in place – but now? He looked dazed and tired. “Darcy – I’ve got a problem, and I need your help.”

Darcy let her concern show. “What sort of problem?”

“A big one.” He gestured at the air traffic control screen that showed dozens of the microships in a holding pattern over Aristillus.

“Our software is telling these ships to land themselves…and we’re getting some sort of error message. The microships won’t land!”

Darcy blanched. “Microships? Are these are the open source ships?”

Albert shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“This is bad, Albert – I wasn’t finished with that project. When did the ebook get released?”

Albert shrugged again, the panic starting to show on his face. “I don’t know.”

Darcy took a deep breath. “OK, let me sit.”

* * *

The wallscreen was covered with a dozen open windows showing pages of code, file trees, and more. Darcy pointed to a data panel describing one of the ships. “The good news is an AG drive keeping a ship at constant altitude it doesn’t consume much power.” She paused. “The bad news is that ‘not much’ isn’t the same as ‘zero’.”

What she didn’t say out loud was the worse news: that the life support systems that she and her team had written into the parametric ship designer had limits, and if the 54 – wait, now 55 – ships piled up overhead weren’t brought down in a few hours, they were going to start running out of air or electrical power and corpses were going to start piling up.

Darcy paged through screens of code. Behind her Albert fidgeted then blur out. “Do you know why they’re not landing themselves?”

Darcy nodded distractedly “Yeah – it looks like the team released the distro with out coding that part.”

Albert digested this for a moment. “But…but if the ships can’t land themselves…how are they going to land? Can the people on the ships-”

“No. The internal UI doesn’t support that.”

“How did the package get released unfinished?”

Darcy turned away from the screen and let her annoyance spill out. “I have no idea – I was in a PK cage at the time, remember?” She shook her head. “Now, Albert, PLEASE. Give me some silence so that I can figure this out.” She pursed her lips and turned back to the screen.

Albert, with obvious great force of will, folded his hands in his lap, but the sweat that was already dotting his forehead began to form into droplets and run down his face to his starched white collar.

Finally Darcy exploded “Ah-ha!”

Albert breathed a sigh of relief and asked hopefully “Yes?”

“Before I got captured, we’d written the low-level code that runs on the ships – controlling the AG drive, maneuvering thrusters, stuff like that. It got renamed and moved to another module, but it’s still here!” She pointed at the screen.

“That’s…good?”

“It’s the difference between an utter catastrophe and something that we can maybe salvage.”

Albert looked at her quizzically. “How does that help us? If there’s no way that the people on board can land the ships, and the code that automatically lands them was never written -”

“With the right private key we’ve got administrative access to the microships.” Darcy smiled. “And THAT means that we can run their thrusters. Watch.”

She looked at one can on the screen and whispered under her breath “0x44bd5ae4…let’s dance”, as she typed rapidly. On the wallscreen new windows popped open. Albert couldn’t stop himself. “Your editing a text file?”

“No, it’s a terminal. Shh.” Darcy typed short commands into the terminal and hit return. Each time a moment passed before the terminal typed back at her. She whispered to herself “I control the horizontal. I control the vertical. I can roll the ship, make it flutter…”

“Huh?”

“Shhh.”

She began to type.

3coord.get

3coord.get – ldate.beacon_loc.get

thruster.3transform(3coord.get – ldate.beacon_loc.get) { :speed => :slow }

thruster.stop

On the traffic control screen one of the dots representing a microship began to slide across the the lunar landscape.

Darcy turned away from the screen with a huge smile plastered across her face.

“What am I looking at?”

“I’ve got this licked. I just need to land -” She looked at the screen. “- these 59 ships.” She paused. This was going to take a while. “”Albert, everyone else is eating lunch. Can you do me a favor and get me a sandwich and a sugar-free maple soda?”

“Uh. Yes. Of course.”

She turned back to the screen but turned and yelled over her shoulder just before Albert left the office. “Wait!”

“Yes?”

“Double caffeine!” She turned back to the screen and resumed typing. In the corner of the screen the 59 blinked was replaced by a 60. Then a 61.

*** 166

== 2064: bridge of OSS The Houston, 300 meters above Aristillus

Sam was staring at the monitor, looking at the image from the external cameras. There were vehicle tracks and waste rubble beneath him, but the bulk of Aristillus was a few kilometers away. It didn’t look like much from here – lots of solar collectors, piles of rubble, and just a few above-ground structures.

Why the hell was taking so long? Two hours ago the arrival clock had reached zero and displayed a cheery “Arrived at Aristillus! Congratulations! 😉 Please wait for auto-docking.”

Two hours!

And since then? Nothing.

After the first fifteen minutes he’d started to worry. After half an hour he’d started to hate that smiley face.

At the forty five minute mark he’d opened up the “expert” tab. The warning, though… He hadn’t gotten desperate enough to follow the directions and type “yes I understand that overriding the autonav system is an insanely bad idea” three times…but he’d been thinking about it.

He looked over at the expert tab again and made a resolution if the ship didn’t –

Suddenly the rockets at the rear of the ship started clicking and then he heard the familiar whoosh as the rocket bells lit. On the screen the external cameras showed Aristillus drifting beneath him.

Finally!

He turned to the dogs. “All right, you guys. We’re on the move. Back in your cages!” Cootz and Jeb went back into their crates obediently, but Tara just rolled on her back and made eyes at him.

“None of that, you flirt!”

She stay on her back and looked at him imploringly.

Sam put one boot on her back end, threatening a push, and gave her a serious look. Tara sprang to her feet and ran into her crate, then turned around and made cute eyes at him again.

“Not gonna work on me.” He gave her his serious face.

Tara took his meaning and stopped wiggling her stump.

He latched the crate door and turned to the screens. The external cameras showed a vast open pit with some sort of roller doors slide into view. He squinted. Yes. The horizontal doors had “bay three” stenciled on top.

Hot damn – he was about to land on the moon!

*** 167

== 2064: Boardroom Group Headquarters in Tunnel 1,288, Aristillus, Lunar Nearside

Darcy reached out blindly and laid her hand on the cup and raised it to take a sip – and found it was empty. Crap. She fumbled and put it back down.

The queue of incoming ships was displayed on the left side of screen, each with bar graphs showing fuel, air, battery life. She reached out and dragged one of the microships – one with low to the top of the queue.

The initial rush of accomplishment was wearing off.

How long was this going to take?

Despite the helper functions she’d written to semi-automate the task, the queue wasn’t getting much shorter. …or ANY shorter, she realized. How long had it been when she started?

There were 63 ships in the queue…and – as she looked at the last one – two more appeared.

Crap.

She turned back to the terminal shell, prepared to manually guide the next one in, then stopped.

She was in a hole, and it was getting deeper by the second. The temptation to fly one more ship – just one – to a landing was strong. But she’d been giving in to that temptation, ship after ship after ship, for over an hour now.

She had to admit that she had a problem. And then she had to come up with a solution. She exhaled forcefully, blowing one stray strand of her pony tail that had come loose out of her face, and forced herself to sit back and think.

She had to stop guiding the microships in one at a time and start writing code to allocate landing pads. And she had to do it while more microships were arriving every minute.

“Albert?”

Albert, who’d been sitting silently, leaned forward. “Yes?”

“This isn’t working. I need to do something new.” She turned to him. “I need a data structure representing free floor space in bay three.”

Albert nodded. “I don’t know what that means, but I’ll talk to my IT people and get it for you immediately.”

“Good.” She paused. “Come to think of it, we might overflow bay three at some point. Get me data structures for all your bays.”

Albert nodded, pulled his phone out of his pocket and began to step outside to place the call.

Darcy yelled after him “And after that, I need another soda, please – double caffeine again!”

*** 168

== 2064: Lai Docks and Air Traffic Control, Aristillus, Lunar Nearside

Sam Barrus unbuttoned the thermal blanket and held his hand over the handle to the hatch. Huh. He’d sort of expected it to radiate cold, but it was throwing off heat like the engine block on an pre-motor-law pickup. He looked around for a rag or a glove. “Ah, screw it.” He banged the handle once with his shirt-sleeved elbow, then again. The latch was open and Sam gave the hatch a kick.

He gathered the three leashed in one hand and stepped out the open hatch. As he did so he used his other hand to place the Stetson carefully atop his head with a bit of carefully polished swagger.

He breathed deep and looked around the hanger. Around him were dozens – actually, maybe a hundred or more – other cargo container ships. Only a handful were double-deckers like his. As he watched he saw other hatches were being undogged and people were stepping out.

To no one in particular – or perhaps to everyone in the huge brightly-lit, cement-covered space – he bellowed out “Where’s a guy go to get a good burger around here?”

*** 169

== 2064: Boardroom Group Headquarters in Tunnel 1,288, Aristillus, Lunar Nearside

Javier listened to Karina Roth read from her slate. “The last item is a petition from LAWS.” She paused and added an explanation “You’re probably familiar with them under their old name of ‘Legal and Weapon Systems'”. They represent ViewSpace – that’s the video aggregation service we shut down because of security concerns – and they’re claiming the standard torts. They’re demanding lost income, damages for -”

Rob Wehrmann cut her off. “LAWS? They’ve got, what, thirty, fourty rent-a-cops? Tell them to stuff it.”

Karina nodded and started to make a note on her slate but Javier raised one finger. “It seems to me that they’ve got a legitimate concern. I still don’t understand the legal or moral authority that this group used to shut them down, but even given that, if we’ve caused damage -”

Mark Soldner shook his head. “Financially, we’re running on fumes. We can’t afford this.”

Javier felt a scowl form on his face. “So we’re allowed to shut him down because might makes right? And we’re not even going to pay damages because we don’t have any money and we’ve got a thousand times more armed troops?”

Mark looked away uncomfortably but Rob Wehrmann grunted assent. “It’s rough, but yeah.”

Javier shook his head. “If we’re expecting the people to fight with us against oppressive government -”

Karina Roth interjected. “We all appreciate you’re standing in for Mike while he’s not with us, but there’s nothing to be done. At least not now. I’ll table this point and we’ll address it again at a future meeting. Now: motion to adjourn. Agreed?”

Five minutes later Javier stepped out into the echoing tunnel, gritting his teeth. This revolution – if it even worked – was slipping away from his and Mike’s principles. This was supposed to be a city based on freedom. A place where anyone could do what they wanted, as long as they didn’t hurt others. And now, right in front of his eyes, he was watching an oligarchy form. Karina, Rob, Mark – they were putting companies out of business, and then refusing to justify their actions or even –

He shook his head. There was nothing to be done now. Later – once Mike was found and freed, once the revolution was won – then he and Mike could solve this together. Now? Now he wanted to put the frustration out of his mind. Maybe a short walk would help.

Behind hm the others were filtering out of the boardroom. Most turned left towards the individual offices and living quarters but Javier turned right. He let his eyes focus on the bare rock of the tunnel wall. He shivered to think about all the rock behind that wall – and about the kilometer or more of rock above him. And about the thousands of klicks of cold lunar rock in every other direction. The rock was so ancient. Cold. Uncaring. And he and everyone else here were so small and fragile. They were beset by great forces. Mike was gone – locked up. The rest of them? What chance did they have? Javier walked deeper into the darkness and shook his head. Ahead of him the rock wall of the tunnel receded into the distance, growing darker and darker the further away he looked.

He shivered slightly and pulled his light jacket a little tighter around his shoulders. Food. Food and a hot beverage. That would get his mind out of this lonely sad defeatist rut.

Javier turned and was surprised at how far away the construction lights and small cluster of containers were. He’d been in his own head, wandering out into the dark for longer than he realized. As he walked back to the light his feet kicked the occasional pile of pebbles and sand left behind by the TBM. Ahead the lights grew brighter and the office units bigger. Finally he opened the door to the mess.

– to see everyone sitting around a table, bowls of soup and plates of bread untouched. Dewitt was speaking “… makings of a crisis. We’ve already filled up two landing docks, and we’re starting to stack them in double deep at this point. It’s a logistics nightmare, just getting them all landed. And there are worse problems on the horizon.”

Rob Wehrmann asked “What worse problems?”

Javier furrowed his brow. What was going on?

Dewitt answered Rob Wehrmann’s question. “Getting them settled. Getting them acclimated. We’ve got a refugee situation here.”

Karina Roth said “Let’s not forget the follow on problems. Life support. Water, food -”

Mark Soldner said. “The LDS community can help. We’ve got stockpiles…”

Javier interrupted. “What’s going on? Getting who settled?”

Mark turned to him. “Remember Mike’s idea to open source the AG drive? How it was going to increase the population in Aristillus?”

“Yeah.”

Mark continued “It worked. They’re here.”

Hui Lee waved away the distraction of Javier’s question and the explanation. “Karina, you’re missing the important question. It’s not about how much water and food we have stockpiled, it’s about flows and capacities. The ecosystem here has fixed inputs of power from the solar plants. They power lamps which power the farms, which turn CO2 back into O2. It can only support so many people. If this influx is as huge as we’re thinking it might be, we’ve got a simple problem of far too many humans.”

Javier looked around the room. Where were Albert Lai and Darcy? He started to ask but Hector Camanez, the rancher, spoke up. “I think I’ve got a solution to the life support issue.”

*** 177

== 2064: Lai Docks and Air Traffic Control, Aristillus, Lunar Nearside

Sam Barrus took another bite of his hamburger and swallowed. Not the best he’d ever had, but not bad. And even a merely-fine hamburger tasted a bit better when it was free.

He’d had been discomfited when he was told, less than a minute after stepping out of The Houston, that his microship was going to be put into storage for at least a day and maybe more – and that there was nothing he could do about it. The fact that he’d been told this by a fresh faced blond girl who couldn’t have been more than 16 but had the seriousness of someone three times her age hadn’t really helped.

That wasn’t exactly the kind of live-free-or-die attitude he’d been expecting. He’d been mollified when he heard about the humanitarian crisis that was threatening, and he was further mollified when his joking demand for a pointer to a burger stand was met with an actual response – the young lady had pointed him to the orientation committee, which was – in fact – serving hamburgers.

“Mister, you want another one?”

He wiped his mouth on the napkin and shook his head. “Nah – two is enough. Besides, I should make some room here for other folks.” There was an Indian family to his left, an old guy who looked like an Arab but spoke French to his right, and a big crowd of Nigerians and Chinese standing behind him, jostling for a spot. Sam started to stand, then turned back to the harried kid. “But tell you what, son – my dogs would enjoy something to eat. I don’t want to impose on your hospitality, but could I buy a couple of burgers off you?”

“How many dogs?”

“Three.”

The young teen behind the folding table looked both ways then reached behind him and slid three plates with burgers and iceberg lettuce salads over the counter. He glanced one more around but none of the adults on his side of the table were paying attention. “I can’t take money for them, so just take them – but please make sure I get the plates back or I’ll be in trouble.”

Sam tilted his head in acknowledgment. “Will do.”

A minute later Sam was over to the stanchion where he’d carabiner-clipped the leashes for his three dogs. “Sit.” Cootz, Jeb, and Tara all did so – although Tara’s butt wiggled excitedly as she complied. Sam put the plates down, one in front of each. The dogs each looked greedily at the food by stayed in position. “OK.” The three critters leaped onto their meals.

Sam looked around. The concourse was packed, and loud. Touts were advertising apartments, others were offering to trade Blue Backs for grams of gold – “metal in hand’ or certs in escrow”. Sam shrugged. He’d traded all his Blue Backs for trade goods and had just a pocket full of silver coins he’d stamped out himself. A young black girl with an odd accent was passing out coupons for a restaurant. Sam was just about to take one from her when he got distracted by some guy shouting about recruiting genetic researchers with ‘telomere experience’ or ‘trichromatic photoreceptor engineering’, whatever the hell those things were. When he turned back the girl with the coupons was gone.

Holy heck, this place was crazy. Crazy and exciting. Sam grinned and was bending over to pick up the plates from his dogs when he overhead a snippet of conversation. “- know anyone who’s got military experience, or is just a good shot, have them get in touch with us. There’s a signing bonus, and -”

Sam picked up the plates turned to find who was talking. There – two guys, just a meter away. A short Hispanic man was turning and leaving but the taller man who’d been speaking was still there, scanning the crowd. Sam turned to him. “Heard you say something about good shots?”

The man gave Sam an appraising look, then he began his memorized pitch. “If you’re a member of the exodus, then you’re likely fleeing large government – but freedom isn’t free. We’re expecting another PK assault at any moment, and we need men and women who know how to shoot. There’s free equipment, a rifle you can keep, a bonus, health ins-”

“I don’t need a bonus. Where do I sign?”

*** 170

== 2064: Boardroom Group Headquarters in Tunnel 1,288, Aristillus, Lunar Nearside

Darcy was typing when she heard Albert say something.

She looked blearily at him “What?”

Albert shook his head solicitously. “I said: Darcy, dear – you like like hell.”

Darcy had caught a glimpse of her reflection in one of the office’s dark windows recently. She knew she had greasy hair and dark rings under her eyes. The past two days had been a hellish caffeinated rush of real-time coding, debugging with problems that seemed to arrive in the same sort of wave: every now and then she’d feel like she’d conquered the most recent scaling problem, and could take a short nap…and then, invariably, she’d be shaken awake as a new order of scaling problem appeared.

“Albert, you’ve got no idea.” She reached out for her soda and accidentally knocked an empty bottle off the desk. She stared at it, confused for a moment, then gave up and turned back to Albert.

“First I was maneuvering individual ships in by hand, until I finally got that automated. Then the next bottleneck was allocating floor space in the hangers. You’ve got code to handle that, but it assumed that incoming ships were hundreds of meters long.”

She turned and looked at the profusion of empty bottles. Wasn’t there a full one SOMEWHERE? She scratched the top of her head. Her hair felt matted and gross.

“I solved THAT by using your cranes to stack the microships.”

Albert nodded. “Yes, my people told me about that – apparently that had a bit of a punishing effect on the microships’ external cameras and antennae”.

“Hey! I had no choice – ”

Albert held up his hands placatingly. “No, no, I quite agree. It was the right call. Very well done – you got all the ships in.”

She blinked “They’re all in? I’m done?”

Albert nodded. “All done. Work is just starting for everyone else, but I think that you’ve more than earned a few days of rest.”

Darcy got unsteadily to her feet. “I don’t know if I even can sleep – I’ve had so much soda.”

Albert raised an eyebrow. “You’ll sleep.”

Darcy started walking to the door then turned back “How are things at the docks?”

Albert shook his head “They were complete and utter chaos. At first. The militias were running it and making a hash of it, but Mark Soldner’s people have taken over refugee inprocessing and it’s going as well as can be expected. People won’t be able to get back their microships for a few days because of how tightly they’re stacked, but Mark Soldner’s wife and her helpers are doing a good job of making them welcome.”

Darcy nodded and walked to the door.

Ten minutes later she was toweling off from her shower when she belatedly realized the bright side of her days of overwork – she’d barely worried about Mike and his captivity during the entire crisis.

With that she staggered into her bedroom and fell asleep.

*** ???

== 2064: Soldner Apartments

The overhead light snapped on. “Up and at ’em, everyone!”

Sam blinked the light of out his eyes. He didn’t usually cotton to sleeping on the floor, but there’d only been one couch he and Jose had agreed that Carmelita should get it. Besides, in the low gravity, the padded carpet was pretty comfy. Jose, Carmelita’s brother – and another recent arrival to Aristillus – was sitting up on the floor and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. Jake, yet another newcomer swept up in Jim’s one-man recruiting drive yesterday, pushed himself off the carpet. Tara peaked out from under Sam’s blanket then strode forward, threatening to pull the blanket entirely off him. She yawned then stretched forward, then arched her back. Cootz and Jeb, on the other hand, each raised one eyelid but refused to move.

Sam faced his host “Jim, I know you told me that we were five years apart. And I know that Texas schools never play New Mexico schools…but still, I sure am sorry that we never met up in high school football.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because any man who wakes me up this early truly deserves to be knocked on his ass. And because I’m a sporting fellow, I’d only consider doing it if you were wearing pads.”

Jim grinned. “You’ll feel better after coffee. Which is brewing right now.”

Sam nodded. “OK, in that case I forgive you.”

Jim mimed tipping his hat at Sam, then waited a moment till all four of his guests were awake and sitting up. He continued “If I have my guess, none of you has ever been in a spacesuit, and all your shooting has been in 1g. We’ve got to fix all of that post-haste, because word on the street is that the shit is going to hit the fan real soon now.”

He turned towards the door, then turned back and eyed Sam and his 6’3″ frame. “You, my friend, look like you might be able to handle one of the Gargoyles. Let’s see if any of the machine shops have cleared their backlog.”

Sam squinted up at him. “What’s a Gargoyle?”

Jim grinned. “You’ll see soon enough.”

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