The O. S. A. needs you!They said, "Become a Station Technician."
While I was in training, they told me, "Station Techs get respect, and money, and power... And girls."
Now I live on the edge of space and spend my time watching massive icicles swim around a giant ball of liquid hydrogen. In a year or two I'll be watching one of those ice-chunks smash into the station, and I'm not expecting it to go well.
The Space Safety Board (SSB) had condemned Saturn's only space station about four years ago, and then advised everyone to return to the relative safety of the Belt Habitats and Mars Metro.
"The station is falling," they said, and painted a giant warning on the hull. When it was discovered repairs were too costly to be possible, someone painted the name Fort Falling over the warning. I'm not going out there to change it back.
The Outer System Alliance has relocated close to a hundred thousand people, but a lack of ships and resources leads me to believe the rest of us will be lucky to get off this heap before it gets scattered among the rings.
[So Doc, how is writing this down suppose to make me feel better?]
Job SecurityChuck, my shift supervisor, started to lecture me about how I should do my job. Like I don't know standard procedure demands all mobile objects be secured before decommissioning an apartment.
I didn't want to listen to his lecture, so I interrupted him.
"If you can prove an imitation-stone beverage container will do more damage than the rain of ice which is going to knock it off the table," I said. "Then I will swear on my life to keep better track of my coffee mugs."
He immediately declared, "I'm not going to put up with that."
"Then don't," I said. "Fire me." Like he's going to let me slack around until the end comes.
Two more years of this, and I'll welcome the rain.
Pest Patrol ReminderI need to stop by and ask Doc Hester if she can take any more cats. I'm not exactly sure what else she does with them, but they seem healthy and happy living in that weird habitat she made for them.
Flushing rodents and bugs into space is something I do with pleasure, but doing the same to kittens ruins my entire week.
Bonus OxygenFor you ground huggers, "Bonus Oxygen" refers to that occasional bit of luck which might make up the difference between life and suffocation.
I salvaged three kittens from storage-bay some-stupid-number, and I took them to Doc Hester. She quietly hummed promises of those words to them while she made the initial examination.
Doc Hester is older than most people ever get. She refuses to leave with the other non-essential personnel because she would rather die at home. She knows a lot about physics, biology, psychology and other things-I-can't-spell.
Here at Fort Falling, Doc is our Bonus Oxygen.
Observation DeckOur Observation Deck offers a wide variety of views. I've seen the icebergs spinning, so they all look like doom to me.
TerminalAm I being too negative? Some days I feel as if I have a terminal illness, and soon I start remembering everyone is terminal... Eventually. This leads to such questions as, "Why bother?"
The occasional fleeting moment of peace and happiness for maintaining momentum despite the time or the blood and sweat. Is it enough?
So I wonder about time instead.
We use time as a tool of measurement, but that measurement only exists within the artificial constructs of society. There is also the flow of time, which we understand both as the eternal present, and as the device which gives us past and future.
We aren't sure how many more ships are coming, be we know we have about 300 days to get off this station before it drowns in the rings.
SuccessI've succeeded in depressing myself thouroughly. Although, I'm not sure you can call it a success if that isn't what you were trying to do. I mean, you made something happen, so maybe you could call it progress...
I suppose it's possible Doc Hester was politely telling me to go away when she told me I would feel better if I wrote it down. Depressed is not better.
But, if I start in on one of my existential rants again, I suspect she will tell me to keep writing. It's probably easier to stop reading than to stop someone from ranting in your face... I suppose. I'll have to write it down.
Perspective thoughtsIt's funny what you think about. When your biggest worry is getting the air cores blasted out before the tangent races begin, you don't stop to wonder if you have time to work on some things you've been putting off.
I've been wondering about things I've already done. Not much--which is why I get depressed.
So I think about kittens. Or that girl in hydroponics, Paula, who recently seems to have reversed her poles. She was one of a reasonably small selection of women who have told me, in one way or another, that I was repulsive. Usually they soften it up with words like, "We are too much alike" or "You know when two magnets are facing each other...?" But it mostly comes down to, "I need to get away from you with mag-lev speed." Anyway, I got a date with Paula, and maybe I'll see if she will let me take pictures.
I can also tell people what I really think. Therefore, fellow Fallers, listen up! I'm sick of you helpless, dirt-assed, wannabe Station Techs (you all know who you are) telling me how to do my job. If you called me to fix something, shut-the-hell-up unless I ask you a question. I'll try to keep it simple.
If we do happen to get away from this station before it comes apart, I still get to have done everything I did when we all thought it didn't matter.
ExhaleOut with the bad air.
There's nothing like a blast of vacuum to clean out those air cores. Don't forget to switch on the secondary life-support system.
You need to lock down the flow-gates to living area's (which is any place that's not an air core really) and flush the cores with cleanser (a nice toxic and corrosive gas with a short half-life), then shoot all the loose trash into space.
In with the good air.
There'll be more bugs and rats in a bit, and you'll need to feed more cats for a while. Log it and move on to the next core.
Tangent RacesIt wouldn't be a metro-station without Tangent Races. I guess that means Fort Falling is no longer metro--the Tangent Races went away with most of the station's population.
Eddie and I went up to the track and ran a couple of clunker's around a few times. Even those old, beat-up racers can move once you start racing for the Tangent. It was fun, but it's not the same.
For those of you living on a world with gravity, "Racing for the Tangent" means going as fast as you can against the direction of station-spin. The Tangent is that place and/or speed at which you and your vehicle become weightless.
So if you are on a space-station, and you have become weightless, it means the centrifugal force of station-spin is no longer holding you against the floor. If the station hasn't stopped spinning, you must be moving. Or at the Hub.
It is difficult to remain weightless in a Tangent Race because you don't have much traction. There are variations, but usually the driver who finishes with the most free-fall time wins.
The best way to watch is from a launch platform, which is a sort of Tangent on rails. That's one of the reasons I became a station tech. Once a launch hits freefall, it doesn't take much to monitor--keep an eye on the magnetics and let the station turn underneath you. And don't log too much time in freefall or someone will notice and put you on Heavy duty.
If you've never seen a station in real life, then you might be surprised at how skeletal they look. You can't really have a space station without rails. Rails are the only practical means (as far we know) of moving large amounts of mass into, and out of, the centrifugal gravity of station-spin.
So space stations are encircled by multiple bands of magnetic rails, and support structures for the rails, and support structures for the spinning station, and rail transfer nodes, and rail switches, and launches riding the main rail in and out of freefall... And the visable amount of space where people live their lives looks small and insignificant under all of that.
Fort Falling has three Metro class rails and six Civilian class rails. Our primary metro-rail spins at 1.2 Gees. The primary launch once cycled through freefall four times a day on that rail, and it moved hundreds of people, and great masses of supplies while doing so. We haven't used it for years now.
There are some good aspects to Heavy Duty...
- Supervisors usually leave you alone. Let's say Chuck is having a bad day, and he needs to lecture someone for whatever-reason-he-makes-up... In that situation, I would rather be running maintenance on the primary rail at 1.2 Gees--where Chuck will be reluctant to add 20% spin-weight to his already oversized ass.
- Heavy Duty gets all of the fun vehicles and power-suits. The primary rails are always in use and require constant attention, but they are also larger and always operate at 1+ Gees to keep the living areas "above" the rails. That means the regulators for the giant induction-coils are larger than the ones on the other two metro-rails, and they also weight more than they do at 1.0 Gee.... Hehehe, power-suits...
- If you just spent the entire day slogging around at 1.2 Gees, your normal weight makes you feel spry and young and ready to go dancing after shift.
Some of you Grounders may not know this, but Spinball was invented because, no matter how hard you try, you can't keep people out of the 0.0 Gee station center. And why should you? People in space need to know how to move around their environment if something should happend to station-spin.
A typical spinball is soft, but large and massive. When you get hit with one, you know you've been hit. At 0.0 Gee, a good spinball player can bury an opponent's face in the ball from half a field away. It's all about using inertia and momentum to your advantage.
I played with the "Mag Coils" when I was a boy. You've probably never heard of them, but I joined because I wanted to do whatever it was the "Mag Coils" did. I'm no Simon Jump, but I've spun my share of opponents into the hub-wall, and I've taken my share of punishment going for the goal.
Fort Falling is a couple of hundred years old.... I haven't looked it up, but several Metro-stations at Jupiter have been around at least twice as long. We could even be self sustaining and, more importantly, have enough resources to repair the stabilizer array... if only...
We aren't suppose to talk about the "problem," but if I end up sucking vacuum because OSA hadn't decided to consume every spare bit of ice and hydrocarbons we mined over the past 80 years.... Well, I'll be hard to lock up if I'm just so much space debris...
Those idiots killed the station, and we can't even blame it on the current administration. Now they have 100,000 extra people, but the water, oxygen, and other products which once came from those people no longer exits.
Eddie hit me with a clocked-out spinball a couple of days ago. I landed wrong on the Hub-wall, and the pain meds have had me dreamily watching vids for the past two days.
I'll try to explain what happened once I've worked it out. And then I'm coming for you, Eddie.
Hub Floors and Other Myths
The thing you have to understand about a station Hub, if you've never been around one, is that it doesn't have a floor. And it only has one wall.
A Hub is always a tube, and it always has two caps and one wall. When the station is spinning, the Hub wall is slightly sticky, moving at about .05 Gees, but it's not enough to be considered 'down' in any meaningful way. You move around just like in any other 0.0 Gee environment.
A regulation Spinball field is 40m in diameter and 140m long... The two goal-caps being 20m each. There are two spinballs, two teams, and two ways to score: "Spin" an opponent into the wall using your own spinball as a weapon, or carry your opponent's spinball into your goal without touching the wall. Sounds easy, doesn't it?
Dizzy JackDzyjak is a label my dad pinned on me when I started training, and somehow made it into my file as my system-name.
A Dizzy Jack is what I am--a Station Tech.
- Dizzy: From working on 'spinning' space stations.
- It is also a reference to the effects caused by the tendency of Station Techs to confuse people by trying to explain stuff....
- [Which] they don't really understand but know how to fix anyway.
- A Jack has a broad range of skills and responsibilities, but he or she calls an engineer for critical problems.
- A reference to the old pre-Luna saying, "Jack of all trades; master of none."
- A reference to the practice of borrowing vehicles without authorization.
How many Station Techs does it take to change a light panel?
Have you tried turning the light off, and then back on again?
There wouldn't be space stations without humans, or more specifically, without human societies and culture. Groups of humans usually come with a variety of other biological entities. Some of these we want around, and the others we will never be rid of until we stop creating all the leavings which come with getting on in life... Which means the bugs and rats are with us to stay--even in space.
So we brought in the cats. We built places for them all over the station--semi-natural habitats with self-cleaning feline waste facilities (which need regular maintenance by station techs). We feed them, but the food is fortified with a mild feline hormone suppressant. The more active (and, I suspect, the more intelligent) cats don't like it and will hunt for food instead. We feed the kittens too.
Station cats aren't really domestic, but they aren't feral like stray cats are on Earth. Most of them will avoid being touched and aren't comfortable unless they have at least two escape routes, but they don't worry about humans too much. There are always a noticeable number of domestic types, but they tend to move onto a ship or into someone's quarters if given the slightest opportunity.
The more domestic cats have left the station with their owners. I've got most of the remaining cats rounded up and handed over to Doc Hester, but I doubt if their fates will be much different than the few still loose on the station.
'Grounders,' et al.
I apologize if I have offended anyone with my postings. I don't really have anything against ground huggers except their lack of station-instincts. This lack often makes my job harder.
The truth is, I only know grounders as a sort of mythological creature. I was born on Ceres Station, and gravity was something I learned about in school. I never understood what you-all mean by "It feels like I stood up too fast... all of the time... Kind of."
My experience with real gravity is limited to a moon massed at .23 Gees. It didn't feel right at all. Like spin-weight, it's hard to describe. Weight should not cling and grasp at you while simultaneously making you feel as if your feet aren't heavy enough.
You grounders may not know this, but vacuum has an evaporating effect on solid metal. It happens faster than most people think.
If Station Techs don't check every hatch, vent, valve, and miscellaneous opening which spends its time closed to and exposed to vacuum--the part in question tends to seize up and stop opening. The reason is what we techs technically call a 'vacuum weld.' The metal surfaces evaporate and condense together in the hard radiation and low pressure environment.
If you wait too long, a year maybe, there's no point in attempting to un-weld the parts.
And all of this means I have to check 32 cargo hatches and hundreds of passenger and utility hatches every six weeks. Just in case we might need them to get off the station.
Jupiter System dropped out of the OSA about 30 years ago. They stated reasons such as over-use of local resources, inadequate compensation for services rendered, and "unbelievably stupid taxes."
The OSA didn't have enough resources to challenge Jupiter System's independence, so they declared a blockade and started sucking Saturn Station One dry with a redoubled effort. Now that they've killed the station, I have no doubt the SS1 refugees who have made it to Mars-Metro are getting blamed for the new pinch in local bellies.
Wendy, the OSA representative who remains on the station, has considered asking the Jupiter System for assistance. I told her to talk to Doc Hester first, because the Doc has been in contact with them for several years. Talking to Wendy is like shining a hand-light into a blackhole.... You know the light is working, and you know it's going somewhere, it's just that you can't seem to aim at anything but the center.
The Tangent Track
The main Tangent Track is about 1.2 Kilometers long, and encircles the station inside (hubwards) of the main rail system. The track is exposed to space, but only in the sense that it has no atmosphere. You might get a space-going vessel onto the track if you stopped the station from spinning and tried really hard not to bounce off any support structures.
The track is used for such things as Tangent Racing, 'official emergency transportation,' and my favorite, mag-cycles.
In Tangent racing, you have to get up some serious speed (400km or more) to reach freefall. Mag-cycles are designed to go in the other direction, so the faster you go, the heavier you get. Like more traditional races groundside, the idea it to get to the finish line first.
Doohan Station is where I did most of my training. Everyone receives Tech training there. It's one of the oldest stations still operating--540 years, give or take. I doubt any of the original parts are still attached to it. Except for the name.
Today is a holiday on Doohan Station--Engineer's Day. That means we get on with doing the job while we think about the people who got us here. Because, despite the pseudo-science and outrageous plots of pre-Luna theater, people like James Doohan launched us into space and inspired new generations to keep us here.
There are two sides to every space-station; weight and freefall.
This is most apparent in the main rail systems. Rail platforms, whether enclosed or open to space, are all built to shift between two distinct states; top facing outwards during freefall, and top facing hubwards while under spin-weight. Both freefall and weighted states are considered 'docked' for the purposes of cargo and passenger transfer.
Space stations are built to spin, and they don't like it when rotation stops. Nothing works quite right. The rail systems become almost useless. Plus, changes in acceleration can be very disorienting if you tend to think of down as the opposite of hubwards.
We are thinking about attempting to stabilize the station's orbit by shooting half of it off into the rings. We remaining alive and possibly well on the other half. I know we've thought about this before, but this time we are doing the math. The math says, 'Stop the spin.'
I hate the idea.
Brain Eater Joe
Joe is probably attractive. He stays healthy... At least physically. We used to be friends, but sometimes I'm just not smart enough to make him happy. His intelligence is frightening. Not just the 'scary smart' kind of scary, but also the 'eat your brain and spit it back in your face' kind of scary.
I wish I was that smart.
Joe hasn't said a pleasant word to me for about a year now. He typically initiates conversations by engaging me in a personal attack of some kind, which he then passes off as a joke. He might be trying to be funny, but it's more likely he is letting slip his disdain for my own intelligence. I also believe he wanted me gone with the refugees, and is angry I'm still breathing the same air as he.
Like he's going to cycle hatches and vent air cores... His intelligence is way too valuable to be wasted on such menial tasks.
Station Techs work very strange hours. Not just early morning and off-duty days; but also every 3.33 hours, or every .137 Gees.There are some good points:
- When your sleep cycles are determined by how much you weigh, you are usually awake before the alarm goes off.
- It's hard to bust someone for sleeping on the job when you are paying them extra to wait around for days at a time.
- The tasks are usually simple, if not boring, and you can use your brain for important things like sleeping.
I haven't said much about my friends. Maybe I'm afraid I'll be honest.
Eddie was my first mentor. He showed me the quirks and tempers of the station. He pointed out the friendliest supply people and the willingly oblivious launch pilots. He helped me jack my first mag-cycle--for emergency transportation.
For many weeks after I met him, every time I looked at him, I would be startled by his appearance. He looks odd--like a skeleton wearing a barrel under his pants. He plays a mean game of spinball, and I've never beaten him at chess.
Eddie's first name is Joseph. He doesn't like it, but he was once in the habit of responding to it. This, understandably, would cause confusion whenever Joe (the brain eater) and Eddie were in the same room.
One day, Kennith-not-Ken, the OSA gyro-head who gave orders before his life got threatened by a bad orbit, decided to decide something when two people answered to 'Joe' at the same time. He pointed to Joe and said, "I'm going to call you 'Evil' Joe."
Brain Eater Joe didn't like this. "He is the evil Joe," Joe said, pointing toward Eddie. "I am the good Joe."
"Call me EMF," Eddie said automatically.
"Like 'electromotive force'?" Ken asked.
"That works too," EMF Eddie said.
Everyone knows the best place to find oxygen is in water.* Saturn's rings are loaded with the stuff, and most of our mining operations are in the rings. There are some hydrocarbons in there too, but we get most of those from Titan.
There are nearly 1000 people still aboard Fort Falling, and for the moment, we still need to breath. We only go on an ice run every other week. The mining team loads the launch-hopper, and then a tech rides the hopper into spin-gravity where he or she docks it to the water feed.
It's a nice and short six hour day, usually followed by a stroll through one of the hydroponics parks for some fresh air and a friendly visit with Paula.
- Water generally comes in frozen chunks of ice out here, but saying 'ice' seems to confuse people who are more intelligent than everyone else because they know the term can apply to a number of different frozen substances including 'dry ice'--so the term 'ice' isn't specific enough even though everyone else knows 'ice' means 'water ice.'
Rick is an ice buster with a scary fondness for explosions, Tech and Intel. I normally wouldn't be friends with a person as military minded as Rick, but he likes me and he scares me... So I figured what the heck, get on with the scary guy and let the rest take care of itself.
A good buster makes very good money. Naturally, the good busters who wish to enjoy their wealth have relocated themselves to less terminal bases of operation. Rick is a good buster, better than good, but he doesn't do it for the money; he does it for the danger. The money is just bonus oxygen, and it's not enough to get him away from a space station under threat of bombardment.
He wants to ride the suicide side of the station when we blow it. He'll get off before it smashes into anything, but he figures it will bounce around in the ring-plane and make a new snowball. It would be the perfect place for a crazy buster to set up base, and he is getting some unexpected support from Doc Hester. Not that I have any objections... I'm just not volunteering for anything.
Rick is also a psychotically good Tangent racer. That's why we tell him his nick-name is 'Counter-Spin.'
Every metro station has at least one lash up. Named from the practice of 'lashing' a space vessel 'prow up' onto a spinning object so the direction of spin-weight is in the same direction as the normal acceleration-weight. If you have an object the size of a space station, you don't even need a lash cable, and you don't need a counter-balance.
Fort Falling is capable of docking several hundreds of space-going vessels (via launch platform), where they can make use of spin-gravity and other station resources for as long as they pay rent.
The Lash Up bays are mostly vacant now. Any ships remaining are either not space-worthy or belong to people like Counter-Spin. It seems very empty without the cats.
The Dizzy Pig Bar and Grill
The Dizzy is where all the techs go to spin-down. Take off the atmo-suit, relax, enjoy the unvarying 1.0 Gee. Maybe buy a drink to go with the fresh air pumped in from hydro. Order a grilled hotdog* and some baked corn chips with cheese sauce.
I have just returned from said establishment, where, somewhat to my surprise, Paula was singing with the band. She can really clock-out a place--the only people not dancing were passed out. This made me worry she might reverse her poles again. Everyone's long term plans are shaky at the moment, and Paula isn't inclined to talk about it when we are together.
The Dizzy is a big place. Most of the station techs hug the left wall where a bank of info portals combines with gadgety decor to make them feel welcome. I usually go there to drink and dance, and I am totally uninspired by trivia games, so I hang right.
A couple of times each month, Counter-Spin eats in the back, buys a bottle, and goes home to get drunk. He says, "Sometimes you drink the bottle, and sometimes the bottle drinks you."
- We call it a grilled hotdog, but we all know it's really vat grown protein. I am compelled to add that it must be far more palatable than left-over animal parts.
- The term 'hotdog' sells more product than the term 'grilled vat protein.'
- and it makes children shiver in horror when you tell them what people once considered food.
Care and Use of an Ion Grip Loader
Grip loaders are single person, self-contained vehicles built specifically for 'mass relocation' within a freefall environment. Grounders generally refer to them as 'forklifts' until someone suggests an attempt to fly one around while under gravity. About the only place you can see them docked is on launch platforms. Grip loaders are nearly as much fun to operate as power-suits, but they are a lot more dangerous.
It took me three attempts to pass the ion-class operator's exam. It's not that I don't like driving them, but I have trouble getting past the anxiety of doing something stupid and shooting off into the ring-plane, or worse, into empty space where no one can find me.
So the last three days I've been outside the station driving a modified grip loader around and taking measurements. I really, really hated it. Freefall is all well and good, but three days of the stuff is way overdoing it. Plus, every time I woke up and found myself weightless and looking into naked space, I nearly freaked out.
I have washed off three days of suit funk, and now I'm headed to The Dizzy Pig for some fresh food. Maybe a double-sized green salad with extra carrots and lemon dressing to start. And a double shot of gin. Days of fortified protein concentrate is a fine appetizer.
Those measurements we took...
Today we started installing the single-burn boosters under the primary tangent track. There are about 300 techs left on the station, nearly one-third of the population, and for about a week every one of us has been jumpier than a cat in an airlock. We have a lot of work to do, and much of it is outside the station.
Dangerous? Yes. Boring? No. Frustratingly slow and rage inducingly clumsy with the gloves and delicate work? "Yes"... Doesn't even begin to cover it. Oh yeah--boosters blow up if you aren't careful. And much of the delicate work involves setting explosives to blow apart the station in the right places at the right time. It's better than riding ring-ice for eternity.
We will blow the station at the primary rail system. The parallel rails on the main line will be split, while the tangent track will remain to act as part of the support structure for our boosters. Even the hopefully surviving half of the station is going to take a beating getting into a stable orbit.
Then we will have to get spin going again. Otherwise, what was the point?
Titan is a horrible place. The gravity is worse than useless. The weight is not enough to keep a human healthy, but it's enough to make centrifugal alternatives expensive and ineffective.
Titan Base is actually a small space station orbiting the moon in question. Before Fort Falling was condemned, only the hydrocarbon miners and their families lived there. A lot of the miners have left for Jupiter system, but enough remain to support an active trade route.
In effect, the station has become a rather large lash up, with a population of over 6000. Many of the vessels lashed to the station, ancient and nearing the end of their travel days, are being used as warehouses.
Titan Base is also ruled by the OSA, and the OSA has started making noises about 'keeping SS1 in the alliance.' If, that is, we actually manage to save any part of it. I thought Doc Hester was going to have a seizure when she heard. Counter-Spin just laughed and suggested we ask them to prove themselves worthy of our membership.
"If we save even a part of this space station, and live to tell," Counter-Spin said. "Every human in the solar system will want to be us."
Eddie changed all of the com headers and protocols from "SS1" to "Fort Falling." Wendy had a melt down and tried to declare martial law. We had a good laugh over that, and then we gave her a choice between an airlock or a ship headed for Titan Base.
Doc has a large number of animals. The 87 cats I've brought in only use a small percentage of the habitat Doc is building... Well, planning anyway. Doc has acquired several assistants, including Paula and Curious, who do the work.
Curious is one of Doc Hester's chimpanzees. He makes rude noises if you call him a monkey, and he throws things with remarkable accuracy if you call him George. Curious has his own room in Doc's hydro-park, and is allowed full run of Doc's lab. He often wears a heavy looking, faintly pulsating green harness. Doc says it's part of his atmo-suit, and that he doesn't like to take it off.
I've never seen an atmo-anything which looks like it was grown in a hydro-vat, but the harness is similar in many ways to the sleeping bays built into Doc's zoo, so I'm not arguing. I'm starting to suspect that Doc's version of Environmental Tech is beyond my understanding.
Hydroponic science appears to be a major portion of Doc's design, and most of what Paula is doing makes my stomach spin. Curious seems to know what's going on though. I'm a little confused about that.
I've been looking over the abandoned ships on the lash up collar, and I found one that should be trust worthy in space after a bit of work. The ship is a family class passenger transport, with living space for about a dozen people--if you don't mind sharing elbow room. I filed the salvage papers six months ago, and I became the official owner yesterday.
I asked Paula to look over the Environmental core. She told me it was fine, but a few improvements wouldn't hurt. I've been clinging to the outside with mag-grips so I can clean and repair the ion-drive systems while Paula does her super-genius environmentally things. She brought Curious, three cats, and six new hyrdo-tanks to get her started. She also released a large number of specially designed, sexless spiders into my ship. I hate spiders, but they are hell on flying bugs.
It will be a few months before the ship is ready to support life without using station resources, and then it will take another few months to reach Jupiter system--if that's where we decide to go. I get the feeling most people still on the station are planning to stay until after we have attempted to stabilize the orbit. I don't even know why I, personally, am still here, so I wouldn't care to speculate on the motives of other people.
It has been two months since I began posting to this public log. Life in a decaying orbit doesn't feel as bad now. I can't say for certain if the events, or the postings, or some combination, has made the difference.
A few things made less murky perhaps:
- The hub itself is 0.0 Gee, but the hub wall is moving because the entire station is spinning. Same for the spinball-field wall. If you are paying attention to that movement, which station dwellers do by instinct, you can use it to gain and control momentum. If you don't pay attention, you can die. We call it 'station blind.'
- EMF Eddie got his nickname on the spinball field a long time before Kenny started naming people. He can clock-out a spinball using the wall to generate momentum--and he's really good at it. It's not exactly illegal, but more than three steps and you lose possession of the ball.
- In general terms, 'clock-out' refers to momentum gained from spin and released at a tangent. In spinball, the player will 'clock-out' the spinball by gaining momentum while in control of the ball, translating that momentum into a spin, and then releasing his or her own momentum along with the ball. It's not easy.
- A spinball is twice the size of a human head, and twice as massive. The best description I ever heard was when I was ten years old, "It is something like a giant, heavy, soft, and somehow bouncy sponge."
- We grow things in hydroponic vats... Like hotdogs, and sponges... And it's also part of our environmental systems.
- Dogs are boring. Great danger detectors, but boring. You know how dogs come in all shapes and sizes, but cats only differ in markings? Well, cats do come in all shapes and sizes, but with personality instead. Anyway, that's what I think. Cats aren't boring.
- Fort Falling has told the Outer System Alliance to spin-off. The ships they sent to 'save us' are pathetic. Half of us would die on the way to Titan Base. And then what? We commandeered the best of them--six worth keeping--and we dared them to send more ships.
- Fort Falling has a population of 1109 humans. 312 of those are station techs, and 178 are engineers (mostly of the hydroponic variety). The designed population of Saturn Station One is 100,000 humans. When we blow the place in half, there will still be enough elbow room for over 40,000 people... And the end-caps will still be nearly five kilometers apart. We 1109 will own the place, because there's no one out here with the resources to take it away from us... Or to save us.
- Doc Hester is up to something more than just saving the station. I haven't worked out what it is yet.
More than half of the station is empty now. One of the nice things about tech work is the core work. Sure, it's cramped, and often smelly, but there aren't any people around to get in the way of your thoughts.
One thing I never noticed was the constant murmur of humanity humming through the walls. It's very lonely without it.
Loneliness leads me to depression, which doesn't go anywhere, really, but perhaps an absence of a journey is a journey of it's own. This empty place weighs on my mood and darkens my thoughts. I have walked down kilometers of urban through-way, scanning randomly for pressure changes, inspecting suspect joints and joinings, and obsessively marking the doors on decommissioned apartments. Every hour seems like a day. Days walking in circles--pressing against the inside edge of a gyroscopic wasteland.
The Perfect Sandwich
Eddie and the guys were talking about how to make the perfect sandwich.
I know how.
- Two slices of bread. Whole grain.
- Mustard. The spicy yellow kind from Ceres station. My people make the best.
- Mayo. I prefer the imitation stuff which is a bit sweeter.
- Smoked ham. Yeah, yeah.... Vat protein.
- Mozzarella. High tech vat protein.
- Spread the sauces, apply the meat and cheese.
- Take a bite the instant you fold the sandwich together--the moment when every sandwich is perfect.
- Don't wait too long, or it's just another sandwich.
My suggestion never ends the argument, but it works for me.
- Six hydro-tanks, plus accessories
- Three cats
- One champanzee named Curious (not George)
- One attractive human female named Paula
- One long range family transport capable of supporting life indefinitely
- And me. I've named my new ship the "Ion Jack." Somehow, this is becoming my home away from Fort Falling.
Curious has obviously been trained as an environmental systems technician. It's just that the systems he was trained in look a lot more grown than made--which is not unusual on a space station, but most of it seems like it's still growing. When I look too closely at some parts of the new system, my stomach shifts in the same way as when Paula explains one of her hydro-tank projects in too much detail.
And why is Paula hanging around here? With me? She's doing more than just 'repairing' the environmental systems. She's moving in, and turning my ship into her own private lab. I am a little uneasy with a chimpanzee knowing more about my own ship's environmental systems than I do.
I also wonder why she brought that psycho tomcat which I had dragged out of a bio storage section somewhere in the sacrificial part of the station. He's not really interested in being polite to humans, and the other two cats Paula brought aren't very high on his list of interesting companions.
So I asked her.
"I felt you would be too much of a distraction in our time of crisis," Paula said, "So I told you to get lost and never come back. Then I started wondering why you were still on the station. I found out you have parents on Ceres Metro--you could have left here years ago."
"Yeah?" I asked suspiciously. I was starting to feel like an interesting specimen of something.
"I didn't think she would know anything about you, but I asked Doc," Paula continued. "She told me you were too worried about the cats to leave. To prove it, she introduced me to that attitude you call Rat Bane."
"I like cats," I muttered.
"That's when I started thinking of you as an addition to my life, and not simply a potential diversion," Paula said.
Let's hear it for decaying orbits.
I can't sleep. Too much weirdness in my head.
I read somewhere that a fundamental rule of existence is that you can't know both how fast something is moving and where it's located at the same time.
That makes sense to me. I mean, you have to know where it's at to know how fast it's going, and once you figure out how fast it's going, it's no longer where you left it because it's MOVING. Actually, I think that was the point... You can only measure movement as compared to your own movement.
You can only KNOW the present. Whether this means anything in the context of our lives or not I don't know, but it feels true to me.
We know things about the future, but we know them in the present. One of the defining elements of life is that living creatures can predict and react to an event before it happens. The more complex the life-form, the more and farther into the future those predictions become... Life doesn't follow the rules of inertia--it doesn't have to be acted on by an outside force to change momentum.
Which brings us around to quantum mechanics--where a decided uncertainty exists in this invisibly small world which leaves us guessing (educated guessing to be sure) about where a particle will actually BE at any given measurement in time.
So, we, as sentient beings, can guess the future for quite some time... Our sun will burn as it is now for 3 or 4 billion more years.... We know some day in the future, we will leave time.... But we can't know the future because only the present exists.
The opposite of luck....
My grandpa used to say, "The opposite of luck is common sense. You can't always count on luck being good, but good common sense will always get you through."
I'm still not sure what he meant, and I suspect Grandpa wasn't sure either.
I've been poking through Doc's data library on domestic felines. I figure that when station-spin starts to slow down (it will take a couple of weeks to stop), the cats still un-corralled will attempt to move away from the hub, or 'down' as we reckon it while the station is spinning. Studies have indicated that cats prefer gravity in the range of .8 to 1.1 Gees, and I know from my own personal observations that station cats know very well 'down' means 'heavier.'
I'm going to build a corral or two.
The reason I've been poking through Doc's data library is because Paula seems to have brought the entire data-set onto my ship. My ship is currently on approach to Fort Falling after a brief shake down cruise. I didn't have time to get the narrow-beam working before we left, (we left somewhat impulsively), so I wasn't able to send a post until we got closer. I couldn't send a data query without the narrow-beam either, so that proves Paula thinks faster than I do.
Paula and I were talking about moving the ship to a launch-platform and dropping into freefall. She wanted to work on a couple of special projects, and I had been wanting to bang on a few secondary systems that are easier to access in freefall--next thing: we decided to take Ion Jack for a quick cruise. What the heck? We might be dead in a few months. I think Paula needed it more than I did. We fought for two days, and then we made up for three. Good thing we got most of the work done while we were fighting.
And then there is Curious. He is 'building' a cat run for Rat Bane, Pipster and Miss Hiss. I'm not kidding you.
It looks like one of those giant hydroponic tree roots that Paula is always tending back on the station, but it's hollow and has numerous cat-sized openings which look as if they can be closed in case of vacuum. It circles around and inside one of the living-suites which Paula has designated as hers; and when it's finished, I'm fairly certain it will tie into the rest of the ship through the environmental system. Rat Bane loves it, and won't come out when we are in freefall.
I gave Curious his own room in the crew section. So what if he has four hands?
I was staring at that cat pod Curious made, but I was thinking about cows. From what I understand, cows are a lot easier to herd than cats. Probably easier to contain also.
Enticements would do the trick. The only chance of life for the free-roaming station cats, really, is if they move away from the hub when the station starts to slow it's spin. There are several routes leading 'down' which are frequented by cats, and I was thinking about putting up one of those cat pods where the strays will encounter it in their search for weight.
"Hey Curious," I said. "How long would it take you to put one of these things at the bottom of the station somewhere?"
Curious looked at me solemnly, and just when I was sure I was being a moron for thinking he would understand my question, he held up three fingers.
"Three weeks?" I asked.
I didn't think that was fast enough, so I asked, "How long if I helped you? You could show me what to do."
He held up five fingers.
I heard Paula bust a sinus behind me.
"Funny," I said. "I have a serious need for one or more of these things."
Curious nodded. Paula came up behind me and hugged me with one arm.
"Haven't you wondered why Curious is so intelligent?" Paula asked.
"No," I said. "Why should I? He's the only chimpanzee I know."
Joe's Rail Conversion
Most space station rail systems have two magnetic-rails per launch platform, and in all cases the platform rotates on an axis which rides between the two rails. We are going to blow the station in half, and each half of the station will be left with one rail from the main launch system.
Brain Eater Joe has come up with a plan to convert the remaining single rail into a temporary lash-up system to provide gravity while the station's decaying orbit is being stabilized. The plan also includes a magnificent conversion to a duel-platform cap-rail system after station-spin has been restored.
A very good idea. The bastard.
What is it about responsibilities, especially those which are self-imposed, that gives other people the idea they get to push you around? Seriously?
So Chuck decided he's going to put me "in charge" of this stupid project... Probably because I made a lot of noise about how stupid it was...
I said, "You don't want to put someone in charge. You want to make someone responsible for things that go wrong."
"I would never..."
"Yeah right," I said, interrupting. "Look--the last time you put me in charge of a project, I had to listen to you accuse me of sabotage more that once. Then you fined me six months bonus pay when I followed your advice and pulled the plug on the project. Why the hell would I let you do that to me again?"
"I offered to assist..."
"You started asking endless questions about old news, and you wanted me to spoon-feed you the answers even after I told you we were days past the point where your offered assistance would make a difference. This time, Charlie Boy, you are on your own."
"It wouldn't be that hard. You could even let that monkey help if you wanted."
"If you want Curious's help, you will have to ask him yourself," I said. "I don't think he likes you though, so you might want to stay out of his reach while you're doing that. Don't call him a monkey, and let him do anything he wants to your environmental systems--then he might give you a hand or three."
Chuck was looking a little pale when he left. Doing a bit of his own work will be good for him--he needs the exercise.
Our Low Gravity Medical unit used to do good business, but I guess with the decaying orbit and all, the sick people decided to find somewhere else to recover. Doc Hester took it over about four years ago. She has got some weird things growing in there.
I went up there looking for Eddie, and found what can only be the progenitors of whatever Curious is doing to my environmental systems. I guess it makes as much sense to run environmental experiments in an unused Med-unit as it does to let it sit there. It also explains why the maintenance logs are so small.
Eddie is helping me move some equipment--because he hates scrubbing ion jets, and I'm a sucker. I'm moving equipment because I convinced Curious to build four of those "live" cat traps, and he's letting me help because he thought the joke about "live traps" was funny. Among other things, I'm hoping to pick up some hints about what Environmental Technician Curious is doing to my ship.
Whatever Doc and her crew of E-Techs are up to, it involves a lot more than just my ship and one chimpanzee. LG Medical is practically bursting with... Growing things... And bugs of all kinds, and cats, and probably rats, and frogs, and it's nothing at all like a hyroponics lab but that's what it is just the same.
Eddie and I picked up three loads of the usual stuff and relocated it to the most likely 'heavy' locations... Weight being the bait you know. Then we carefully moved the skeletal frames Curious has partially assembled--and which look disturbingly like growth-frames for hydrovats. Curious dismissed both of us with a rude chimpanzee noise which I believe means something like "Go-the-hell-away so I can get on with it."
That's not an answer.
"It used to work."
I've heard that so many times. Variations are endless, but what seems to escape most people is the connection between accurate information and fixing a problem.
Let's say you've been called to fix an oxy-unit, and you ask the question: "When was the last time you changed the carbon exchanger?"
Well, if you aren't really paying attention to the client, like we techs do sometimes when focused on a problem, the client will translate your question into an accusation.
I'm sure a good percentage of heads are nodding at this point. For the rest of you--we don't mean it that way. Really. My example question, for example, could be answered in a number of ways (and I wouldn't want to discourage intelligent discourse) but the best answer would be, "this morning," and the second best answer would be, "Cartoon what?"
Those two answers are the best because they lead to the quickest solution and that cup of coffee I probably haven't had yet. I couldn't care less if you habitually mistreat equipment--as long as it's yours. What I care about is what might have happened to make it stop working. If I don't know that, I can't fix it.
There are other answers which are sure to lead to delay and possible uncomfortable silences following an energetic exchanges of words.Ten least helpful answers:
- It was working when I left.
- No one told me I had to do that.
- It was making too much noise.
- I think someone did something.
- Last week maybe? Or was that that other thing?
- I didn't do that.
- I always call you guys.
- I thought you did that the last time.
- I just need it fixed.
- What's that got to do with it?
Some people think I know everyone on the station. I barely know Paula, and I can name maybe 20 station techs without hesitation when I see them. I might recognize people from The Dizzy if I gave it any thought.
So you can imagine how confused I was when Theodore "No Relation" Richards started to shake me down about those stupid cat trees we put in a few key sub-levels around the station.
"You're not related to whom?" I asked.
"You know, that chemist..."
"Never mind," I said. I didn't know Theodore, but here he was, lecturing me on the proper use of environmental systems and having a place for everything and everything in it's place and how growing things tends to clog up the works if not cared for properly.
"If you won't take them out, at least isolate them from my systems," he said. "I don't have time to clean up after your chimp."
"To be honest, Mr. Richards, the chimp knows more than I do. I suggest you take any complaints you have about those specific installations to either Curious or Doc Hester."
"You know. The biotech genius behind the new additions to your environmental systems."
"But you are the one who ordered those areas cleared. And you helped with the installation."
"Yeah," I said. "But I just picked the location. Curious was in charge."
I'm really starting to appreciate that confused look which the subject of Curious brings to the faces of annoying people.
An Avatar's Life
The word 'Avatar' has been getting tossed around for a few thousand years, probably starting as the embodiment of a god. Early in the Digital Age, there are several incarnations of Avatars being used for data representation and/or personification.
I looked it up--because Doc Hester seems to think that each of us is an Avatar of society. This has some significance which I fail to understand, but she keeps trying to explain it. Then she starts talking about personality projections and evolutionary manufacturing.
I generally lose track after that. I start wondering what an Avatar should do when the society he or she represents fails in some way. Without the society, the Avatar would not exist. But what if the Avatar doesn't want to fail with society? What if the Avatar wants to create a new society to represent?
I'm sure Doc had a point in there somewhere. Something like, "One Avatar does not make a society, but 1109 Avatars working together..." With some bits about evolution applied to culture and society in case you might be in danger of understanding.
Plug in the smile.