Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Reach Out Chapter 4

At first it didn’t seem like they were moving at all. The acceleration was so small that they were not even aware of it. In fact most of the crew was still busy with preparing the ship for the voyage and paid no attention at all to the actual departure. Only the first bridge crew concerned themselves with it.
Several hours later, over dinner some Recruit would suddenly exclaim, “Where’s New Virginia?”
The galley was a very inviting place. It was small and cramped, but it was also cozy and warm with a homey feel. It was made even more so by a Beta Patrol member named Charly Obero-Kerr. He was a very tall, very thin boy with a big nose and always a big smile, unless he was bent over a stove, cutting board or oven. Then he had such a look of concentration that no one dared to bother him. He was so dedicated and so good that he was immediately made Master Chef on his first ever flight. The funny thing was that he had never cooked before that flight.
Now he was a permanent fixture in the galley and a welcome one. He was always baking something and the entire mess always smelled like you would imagine an idyllic Christmas homecoming at grandma’s smelled like. For all his attention to detail and dedication to his craft he was a pleasant person to be with, whether you were a guest for a meal or working KP.
All the Blues pulled KP on a rotating duty roster. Charly was the only permanent galley crew. That first night MAV and Jillyn were on KP. Dafyd would have it five days later with Nubia.
The first dinner was leek soup, garden salad, salmon, orzo, broccoli, buttermilk biscuits and cake for desert. The mess was only big enough to hold a dozen people so they ate in two shifts. Jak, the Troopmaster ate with both shifts because he made a speech to everyone.
Just after the cake was passed around Jak stood up and called for attention. Jak was not tall and not bulky. In physical appearance he seemed average and almost a little small. What was not small was his personality. Jak had gotten his citizenship through the Military Service and he had made it a career. He was a very young Lieutenant Commander.
Jak was a fighter pilot. There were no fighter craft in the military, the closest thing was a fast patrol ship called a corvette, which had a crew of five. All the same Jak was a fighter pilot. When he came into a room everyone knew it and everyone had to know it.
The Senior Patrol Leader, an Explorer, was the actual Captain of the ship while underway and the Troopmaster had the option of being referred to as Commodore. Jak took that option.
The first dinner shift was the Alpha Patrol, the Recruits and a mix of the other Patrols. Ana, the SPL had been sitting next to Jak during that shift. When he stood up she watched and waited her turn to speak, as was her right as Captain.
“Welcome Explorers!” Jak said.
“Hi Jak!” Was the response that everyone except the uninitiated Recruits said. It was entirely inappropriate to refer to their Troopmaster in so casual a way, but Jak insisted on it.
“I am extremely proud to be on this voyage with the finest crew of Explorers in the entire system.”
The Explorers erupted in a huge cheer.
“I want the Recruits to know that we expect a lot from them and they will get more than they ever imagined in return. Our voyage will take us around the Earth, the birthplace of humanity and bring us to L4, the birthplace of man’s permanent place in the Solar System. You are going to see and experience things not only larger and more beautiful than you had imagined, but larger and more beautiful than you could have imagined. The blackness of the void, the subtle shades of gray on Luna, the lights of Earth cities in the dark night and the plethora of spabitats in L4 will all astonish and amaze you. This is what Explorers is about, but it’s also about inner growth. You will be relied on and rely on others like you never had before. You will be asked to do things you never thought you could and you will be successful.
There is a reason the government of L5 decided that Explorers is a Citizenship Qualifier. A reason I have known for a long time. The Services are just that, services that serve the community, but Explorers allow you to explore and to grow. The Explorers not only provide services to the community, they provide and train valuable members to that community and that is what a citizen is. That is why Explorers is not only a Citizenship Qualifier, it is the best Qualifier! Bon Voyage!”
As he spoke the energy of the room grew. As the energy grew he stood taller, then he stood on his seat. When he was finished he was standing on the table. Everyone else were on their feet. The cheer was so loud that it could be heard throughout the ship and shook the module.
It took a few moments for the room to settle. Ana let it settle. Jak got down from the table, took a breath and walked out of the room. His departure allowed everyone to sit and breathe again. Only Ana remained standing.
“What can I add to that?” She said smiling. “I want to thank you all again for electing me your SPL and thus your Captain for this voyage. I will make you proud and you will make me proud. Let’s have a good, safe trip.” She bowed and left the room. There was polite applause and everyone started cleaning up their places.
“Hey MAV, how’s KP?” Dafyd said when MAV came out of the kitchen to wipe the tables down.
“Awesome. If you thought you ate well, you should try eating in the kitchen. I think I’m going to puke, but it was great. Charly is the best.”
“I’ll see you later buddy.” Dafyd said. He saw that the next shift was waiting to come in.
On the way out Dafyd passed Athena in the middle of the line. “What did you think?” She asked him.
“The food was great.”
“I know that. What did you think of the speeches?”
“Oh, well, wow. Jak can really stir up a crowd.”
“Jak is a cult of personality. What about Ana? What did you think of her speech?”
Dafyd hadn’t really thought about it. She had spoken in the wake of Jak’s oratory such that Dafyd had to think hard to even remember what she said.
“It was appropriate, I guess.”
“Forgettable, huh?”
“Well, to be fair, she was following Jak.”
“Doesn’t matter. She’s no leader. She’s brilliant at piloting and strategy, but she’s no leader.”
“Why’d you elect her then?”
Athena smiled. “Let me just say that she is very calculating.” She moved into the mess and he moved on to his quarters. One thing struck him more than anything she had said. That was that she had talked to him, really talked to him like a person. He couldn’t remember when he and his sister had had such a civil conversation. He liked it.
The Explorers all shared two large open bay barracks: one for the girls and one for the boys. They were strung thick with hammocks and the walls were full of lockers. They all had stored their gear in the lockers before they even left, but they had no chance to explore and understand the rooms.
When Dafyd arrived Wyly was standing in the middle of the boys’ room with Nubia and Lina.
“Okay. This is the boys’ billets. The girls’ is the same. You each have a locker, as you already know because you stowed your things. There a just a few things you have to keep in mind. These are hammocks, not your beds at home. They will not wash you. You will have to take showers and brush your teeth.”
“Showers?” Jillyn asked.
Wyly took a few steps to the head and opened the door. “This is the head. It has sinks, showers and toilets. We use recyclable nanobots for showers. You step in here, fully clothed and press that button there. It feels just like getting wet and will take about five minutes. When it is done the nanobots will go down the drain to be collected and cleaned of your dirt. You and your clothes will be cleaned. You and your clothes will not be as clean as at home, but clean enough. At the sink you can shave by applying nanoshavers. They are dispensed here and drain there.” He indicated a button over the sink and then the drain.
“You can brush your teeth using the nanobots dispersed here.” He pointed to a device that looked like a water fountain attached to the sink. “If you find you absolutely need to use water for some reason you control it with that dial button above the faucet.”
“What would you need water for?” Nubia asked.
“You might want a drink. Anyway, the billets are for sleeping and changing clothes only. Because we are on shifts there is almost always someone in here sleeping. The lights will always be dim and you will be very quiet whenever in here. If it’s still too much light the hammocks have hoods.”
“Where do we hang out when we aren’t on shift?” Lina asked.
“There won’t be much time that you are not on shift or on duty. It will be better that way, you’ll see. When you are off and have free time that you don’t want to sleep you can relax in the mess or there are several nooks and crannies. Some are bound not to be taken. I would hurry though. People tend to stake their claim to them fast.”
“Where’s yours?” Dafyd asked.
A thoughtful look passed over his face. He looked away a moment and then said, cheerfully. “I’m going to be very busy with our new friend the dosidcus elder. It’s going to take a lot to understand him and I think he has a lot to tell us. When I’m not with fim I’ll be on the bridge midnights in the Life Support Position.”
He pulled out a duty roster. “The duty and shift roster is very complicated. Right now Dafyd is due on the bridge to shadow the Navigator. Fletcher is on shift now. Nubia you’re in Supply with Jenny. Lina, you’re off shift right now. I know it will be hard, but try to get some sleep. You’re on the bridge with me tonight at midnight.”
He looked around. “Everybody has their assignments. I’ll make sure this is uploaded so you all can see a copy. If you have any problems don’t hesitate to find me and ask me. At least on the way to L4 you’re jobs will be very relaxed, unless you’re doing duty like KP. You’re shifts are for learning so don't get all frustrated or concerned. Have some fun.”
He walked out of the room, no doubt to get on his translator and talk with his squid friend. Lina went to her billet and Nubia and Dafyd made their way to the airlock.
They had to ride the tram from the housing module to the Spine. There they would climb weightlessly to the bridge and supply.
They got into the tram wordlessly. They rode silently to the Spine. They exited and before Nubia could push herself up the long corridor Dafyd held her forearm.
“Are you still mad at me?”
“Why should I be mad at you?”
“You shouldn’t. I mean, I just helped. What else was I supposed to do?”
“Dafyd.” She took a deep breath and turned toward him. “I’m not mad at you. I think you see something in me or feel something for me that I just can’t, I mean I don’t see or feel. Understand?”
“We’re friends right?” He stammered.
“I guess.”
“Well, why can’t you?”
Her shoulders dropped and she heaved a sigh. “Dafyd.” She pushed off and was gone.
Dafyd watched her glide gracefully up the brightly lit white corridor. Her dark figure got smaller and smaller until she reached the supply hatch and disappeared altogether. He didn’t move.
A head popped out of the tram airlock. It was Lina.
“Oh, you’re still here.” She said surprised.
“I’m just leaving. What are you doing?”
“I’m looking for a private spot.”
“Can’t sleep?”
“Not yet.”
“There’s one over there.” Dafyd pointed to an alcove that was only partially taken up by a hatch leading to the auxiliary engines.
“Thanks.” She said and flashed him one of her frightened squirrel smiles. They were very pretty.
Dafyd pushed himself off and was gone. He had pushed off too hard and nearly shot right past the bridge hatch. He reached out and grabbed the recess the hatch sat in. When he did his body kept going in an arc and he slammed, back first into the wall beyond the hatch. He hung there stunned until Ana stuck her head around the door.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes.” Dafyd groaned.
“Aren’t you supposed to be shadowing on bridge right now.”
Dafyd gave another groaning “yes.”
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
He didn’t bother answering. He was getting tired of the groaning joke. He just slid in past her. He noticed that she smelled very nice. Something like some sort of flower.
He expected the bridge to be hustling and bustling with activity, but in fact everyone in the room was yawning.
“Stop that.” Ana said as she began yawning herself. “It’s contagious you know.”
Ana floated in the middle of the room with ATM COM-san. He was the ATM for the Grays. He was a very dark, very hairy and very heavy man.
Dafyd floated to the Nav position. Fletcher had his feet hooked into the straps on the floor watching the monitors. Fletcher O’Carter-Logan was the Gamma Patrol Leader and he looked like he was cut from the same cloth as Wyly only darker. He was tall and handsome, but where Wyly gave an air of cool confidence and sophistication, Fletcher was hot and smooth. Dafyd knew that Fletcher had about six girlfriends. He didn’t know if any of them were in the Troop, but he knew he didn’t want to know Fletcher’s hiding place. It would undoubtedly be a site of active romance.
“Good evening young O’Wilford-Montgomery.” Fletcher had a clipped accent and bit off his “r”s. His smile was thin, but genuine.
“Hello.” Dafyd said. He was looking for something to hold onto so he wouldn’t float around.
“Here. Slide your feet into this.” Fletcher pulled his feet out of the loops, shifted and put his right foot in the left loop. This left the other one open for one of Dafyd’s feet. When he slid his foot in he became uncomfortably aware of the differences in their heights.
Fletcher began quietly showing him all the functions of the station. In a short while he looked down at Dafyd.
“Here.” He said. He pulled his foot out of the loop and floated up to the other bulkhead. It could have been called the ceiling, because all the other Positions were oriented the other way, but with no gravity there was really no way to tell up from down. Fletcher moved so that his head was even with Dafyd’s, only upside down to him. Fletcher knew his Position so well that he continued to explain things to Dafyd, even though now he had to read everything upside down. Dafyd didn’t feel any more comfortable, but he didn’t want to mention it because he was ashamed that Fletcher was working so hard to make him feel at home.
The active lessons didn’t last long anyway. Soon everything was silent and the yawning began again.
Dafyd looked around. Ana floated comfortably in the center of the room, watching everything. ATM COM slept as he floated. When he snored Ana would nudge him. A Gray sat in the pilot seat. It was an actual seat. Dafyd didn’t know him. He couldn’t even remember his name.
Everyone else was a Gray that Dafyd didn’t really know. Eventually his eyes kept coming back to Ana. When she looked his way he looked away, but otherwise he watched her.
She was average looking, maybe cute, but that was all. She was confident, but she didn’t make him feel any more confident, not the way Wyly did.
“What do you think?” Fletcher asked very quietly.
“About what?”
“Oh, I wasn’t, I mean I don’t.”
Fletcher smiled.
“Really. I was just wondering what Wyly saw in her and what happened between them.”
“I’ll tell you, our SPL usually gets what she wants. Last year she wanted to date the SPL. That was Wyly. This year she wanted to be the SPL.”
“So why aren’t she and Wyly still dating?”
Fletcher’s eyebrows did a wave. It looked very strange upside down. “I think that cake is best eaten one layer at a time.”
Dafyd wondered what that was supposed to mean. He looked up at Ana. It was the same time she looked down at him. She smiled. Dafyd grinned uncomfortably and looked back at the monitor. He didn’t think his shift would ever be over.
Eventually midnight rolled around. Dafyd was exhausted and dozing at his Position. Fletcher had started to drift around to the other Positions and chatting briefly with the other crewmembers, mostly the women. He eventually got round to Ana. They floated in the middle of the room together for a while before he floated back down to Nav and told Dafyd to get ready for shift change.
The Nav crewmember that replaced Fletcher was a tiny Blue girl with black hair, dark slanted eyes and a flat, round face named Alpiana Singh-Iraza. She seemed delighted that she got to take over from Fletcher. She laughed at his least joke and touched his arm often. When Fletcher had told her everything for the shift change he touched her cheek and told her, “see you later.”
The rest of the new shift had arrived, except Wyly. Lina floated at the Life Support Position looking lost. She had replaced Robin O’Sullivan-Munoz, a nervous little Gray who left almost as soon as Lina got there.
“Where’s Wyly?” Dafyd asked when he had floated next to Lina.
“I don’t know.” Lina bit her lip.
“Don’t worry. You’re shift will be a new experience in boredom.”
She smiled faintly.
“How did your hiding place work out?”
“Well, I…” She didn’t finish because Wyly had come in. He was out of breath.
“Sorry I’m late.” He told the Senior Officer. Chet O’Cohen-Sato, the Gray that had hooked up Voidcart One earlier. He wasn’t technically the senior officer on shift, Wyly was, but until all the Blues were up to pulling their own shifts, all the Explorers with a bridge expertise would act in those Positions and the non-expertise Position of Senior Officer would be pulled by others. Ana, as the Captain was technically the senior officer of the ship. Chet pulled the midnight shift and Jenny el Chavez Kim was on at 0800.
Chet was now Ana’s new boyfriend. Wyly made him nervous.
“No problem Wyly.” Chet said. He had skin the color of creamed coffee and shaved his head. When he was embarrassed he blushed from his cheeks all the way up his head.
Wyly floated to Lina and put his hand on her shoulder. “Sorry I’m late.”
Lina nodded and gave a quick smile.
“Let me show you what you have here.” He put his hand down and began showing her the Position.
“See you later.” Dafyd said and drifted slowly off the bridge.
Out in the corridor he stopped himself and looked around. On the bridge he was drifting off to sleep, but now he was too awake to sleep.
First he moved up toward the bow. There were plenty of spaces in and around the equipment, but most of it seemed to be taken by people. Some were even occupied when Dafyd floated by. Most notably Fletcher was laid out in the escape pod locker with some girl. Dafyd couldn’t see either of their faces, and he didn’t want to. He backed out as quickly as he could.
He shoved himself back down the corridor. As soon as he got to the tram airlock it opened and Jillyn popped out.
“Hey!” She said and gave him a smile.
“Hey.” Dafyd said.
“Where are you headed?”
“I just got off shift and I was sort of looking for a hiding place.”
“I got off shift a little while ago, but I just got a chance to go exploring now.”
“Well, I gave up for now and was headed down to the billets.”
“Okay, come on, let’s go to the mess.”
Dafyd gave her a quizzical look, but she grabbed his arm and pulled him into the tram.
“MAV is down there.” Jillyn said and then laughed.
“How was KP?” Dafyd smiled despite himself.
“Not bad. Charly is amazing. It was a lot of work, but we sure got to eat well. How was the bridge?”
“Boring? That’s it.”
Dafyd shrugged. “What have you been doing since your shift ended?”
“I took one of those showers. Wow, that was weird, but nice. It feels a little like getting caught in a rainstorm, but you’re not wet by the end of it.”
They got out of the tram and went to the mess. A few people were sitting, talking, playing games or reading. MAV was sitting alone at a table reading a book. The book was stored on his PDA, which was the size of his finger. A cable led from his PDA to the jack behind his ear.
“Hi guys.” He waved to them as they came in. Dafyd and Jillyn sat with him.
“What are you reading?” Dafyd asked.
“It’s a book on robotics. I was thinking about those rogue robots back on New Virginia.”
Charly walked out of the galley carrying three mugs. “Hey Dafyd. How’d you like supper?”
“It was delicious.”
Charly set the three mugs of cocoa down on the table.
“Wait until you taste breakfast. I have something special planned. Now drink this. It’s a special cocoa, chai tea and honey blend. I came up with it myself. Well, got to get started on lunch for the midnight shift.”
He slipped back into the galley.
“Does that guy ever sleep?” Dafyd said.
“I don’t think so.” Jillyn laughed.
“I think he catches naps between meals in the galley.”
They all took long sips of their drinks. It was sweet, delicious and warm. As soon as it hit their throats they felt sleepy.
“Yummy.” Jillyn said licking her lips. He tongue was cute and pink Dafyd thought. “I think I’m just going to come here when I have free time.” She said.
“Me too.” MAV said.
“I think I’m going to keep looking for some place private. Right now I’m going to hit the sack.” He yawned.
“Literally.” Jillyn laughed and started yawning too.
They went to bed. In the morning Dafyd’s PDA woke him. He had clean up duty after breakfast. He and MAV met Jillyn and Lina in the mess. Lina had rotated to breakfast from her bridge duty. Charly’s breakfast was some kind of quiche and it was every bit as special as he had promised.
Jillyn and MAV had cleanup duty with Dafyd. They dusted and mopped all the corridors. Others did the same in each and every room. It was a daily duty on the duty roster.
Lina went off shift at 0800 and went to bed. MAV, Dafyd and Jillyn met Lina at lunch. While they were eating an original kind of patty melt Wyly came in. He grabbed a sandwich and left immediately.
“What’s he up to Lina?” Dafyd asked her.
“I think he’s working with that squid elder.”
“Of course he is, but is he getting anywhere?” Dafyd said.
Lina shrugged and took a big bite of her sandwich.
“Let’s go and check this out.” Dafyd said.
They all went to the research lab. It was in the opposite module from the mess and billets. Dixie Akaga-Juarez was bending over a lab bench with goggles on.
“Is Wyly here?” Dafyd asked.
“Well, good morning to you too.”
“Good morning.” Jillyn said.
“Wyly isn’t here.”
“We thought he was working with a Space Squid.” MAV said.
“He is working with the dosidcus, but he isn’t doing it here. The dosidcus is outside the ship. He is at the port bow airlock.”
“I feel stupid.” Dafyd said as they moved back to the tram. “We were up and down every corridor all morning and we never saw or knew Wyly was there.”
“You were so busy trying not to catch anyone in their hiding places that I’m surprise you could do what you were cleaning.” Jillyn said. Slowly a smile grew across her face until it burst out as a laugh.
“I saw something last night that I didn’t want to and I don’t want to repeat the situation.” Dafyd said.
“What did you see?” MAV asked.
“Never mind. Lina how did your spot work out?”
“Good. Thanks for showing it to me.”
MAV raised his eyebrows. The tram stopped and they got out.
In the recess of the tram door there was a human sized dead space. In it were two people wrapped around each other. The four friends moved passed as quickly as they could.
“See.” Dafyd said.
They pushed up the long corridor, grabbing whatever they could and pushing themselves further. At the end they found the alcove they wanted, but Wyly wasn’t alone. Ana and Nubia were there.
Nubia had pushed herself to the side as much as she could. Her arms were crossed and she looked like she was trying not to pay attention to what the other two were talking about. She looked very uncomfortable and the arrival of the rest of the patrol didn’t seem to relieve her.
Ana and Wyly were so close together that at first Dafyd thought they were kissing. They were actually talking so quietly that they had to hold their foreheads together to hear each other. Their faces were both flushed and they didn’t look happy.
They couldn’t hear a single word, but Dafyd thought he could read Ana’s lips say, ‘that girl.’ She also had a hard time keeping her body language as quiet as her speech. She nearly pointed at Nubia.
Dafyd also thought he saw ‘Chet’ on Wyly’s lips and ‘late’ on Ana’s. He could have been mistaken, but he didn’t think so. The last thing he thought he saw was ‘damn monkey.’
That was the end of the conversation. Either Wyly saw the others arrive or the monkey comment was too much, he pulled away and looked out the window.
Ana turned to the new arrivals. “He hasn’t slept since we left. You’re his patrol, see if you can talk some sense into him.” She left by pushing off so hard she nearly knocked Lina into a spin.
Wyly turned to the patrol. “And what do you want?”
Nubia put her hand on Wyly’s arm. “I’m sure they were just worried about you and wanted to see if you’re alright. Like I did.”
Wyly looked exhausted. “I can’t get anything out of the elder. I’ve been trying everything I can think of, but it always seems like the same thing I got before we left.”
“Like he’s repeating himself?”
“Fe, dosidcus are hermaphrodites. ‘Fe keeps repeating fimself?’ No, it isn’t like fe’s repeating fimself. It’s like there’s a bug in the translator. It never worked so quickly or clearly as it did the other day, when we got attacked. Usually it is so clouded with emotions and other indicators that it’s almost impossible to read, like now.”
He turned to the translator monitor. It was attached to the wall near the hatch. Just outside they could see the elder floating, looking in at them.
The monitor was flashing all sorts of color patterns in several sequences. The translation ran beneath. It was multilayered like a musical score. Speaking words like ‘see dick run’ were mainly on the top line. Emotional words like nervous and angry were mostly on the second line. A third line said things like ‘heart rate good’ and ‘body temperature at normal. A final fourth line was mainly empty except for a few numbers.
“The translation is supposed to be written here. Top line with what we would call verbal communication, the second with non-verbal communication, the third with health information and the fourth with anything left over. Usually it is all jumbled with health on the top line and messages on the fourth line and so forth.”
They saw the words ‘what is for lunch’ pop into the bottom line. The answer seemed to appear in the top line with ‘seven.’
“See what I mean? That’s normal. Now if I send the same messages that I did the other day I get the same clear responses I did that day.”
“But that day the translator spoke out loud.” Jillyn said.
“The translator takes all the lines of information and interoperates them into a speaking voice that is supposed to portray what it would sound like if a human was sending the same information. It’s usually all garbled so I don’t turn it on. That day we were so busy and tossed around I turned it on so I wouldn’t have to read the screen myself. It usually sounds like this.” He hit a few buttons and a male robotic voice turned on hysterically.
“Here! Robot here! One follow come with us. Here!”
“What’s that?”
“I don’t know.” Wyly bent over the monitor and typed in a question. He spoke as he typed. “What robot?”
“Robot, bad robot!”
“Here! Here!”
Dafyd looked out the window. The elder’s eyes were rolling around wildly. Fis colors were bright and distinct, but they were flying around fis body.
“What part of the ship?”
A garbled sound came out of the translator.
“Too complex a question.” MAV said.
“Near you?”
“Here with us.”
“What is it doing?”
The dosidcus hesitated. The colors faded a bit and then flashed brightly. “Waiting.”
“The robot is waiting?”
“How many robots?”
“One here. Many there.”
“There? Where is there?”
“Not here.” Wyly slapped his head.
“Ask fim how fe knows the robot is waiting.” MAV said.
“How do you know the robot is waiting?”
The dosidcus hesitated again. “Do not understand. I know.”
“What does that mean?” Nubia said.
“I don’t know.” Wyly rubbed his face.
“Wyly you haven’t slept in two days.” Nubia rubbed his back.
“You know this is a lot like de-bugging a computer program.” MAV said. “I’m pretty good at that.”
“Wyly, why don’t you get some sleep and MAV will work with the elder.” Dafyd said.
“But there’s a robot here somewhere.”
“It’s waiting.” Dafyd said.
“I can run an external diagnostic on the ship.” MAV said.
“You can?” Wyly said.
“I’ve been studying.” He gave an embarrassed smile.
“He’s really good with technology.” Dafyd said. “And if we find this robot we can go out and get it.”
“No you can’t.” Wyly said. “You guys can’t do evas and you can’t go out in a voidcart.”
“Why not.”
“We’re not back at New Virginia. We are still accelerating. If you went out in a voidcart, unless you matched out acceleration, not velocity, acceleration, you’d drift off behind us. It would be like jumping off your bicycle while it was rolling downhill.”
“Anyway. The first thing is to get you some sleep so you can help us.” Nubia said. She pulled him out of the alcove. “Dafyd help me.”
Dafyd grabbed one arm and Nubia grabbed the other. MAV bent over the monitor.
“I’m not an invalid.” Wyly said, smiling at Nubia.
“We just don’t want you to get away.” Dafyd said.
“You can be a slippery character. You might just slip away and find some other work to do.” Nubia said. “That’s why Dafyd is going to see you right into your hammock.”
They got him all the way back and Dafyd put him to bed. He was asleep before his head hit the pillow.
Nubia waited outside the billets for Dafyd.
“Let’s go see what MAV found out.”
They sped back to the airlock to find the other three still around the monitor.
“Any luck?” Dafyd asked.
“No.” MAV sighed.
“He can’t find the robot.” Lina said.
“And he hasn’t gotten anything more out of the squid.” Jillyn added, rubbing MAV’s shoulder.
“I can’t get any further than Wyly did. I was just reviewing his notes. He’s actually very good, when he isn’t half unconscious. He already tried everything I would have. I think these dosidcus not only communicate differently they think differently than we do.”
“Are they smarted than us?” Nubia asked.
“No, just different. They process information differently. I think they don’t break things down into small elements.”
“Like words and letters?” Dafyd said.
“Yeah. I think their thinking process is more contiguous. It has fuzzy boundaries. That’s why you can’t break their communication up into separate bands like you could with humans. That’s why the four lines keep getting jumbled.”
“So where’s the robot and what are we going to do about it?” Dafyd said.
“I don’t know. I can’t initiate a scan from here; only review previous scans and diagnostics. I did a check of all of that and found nothing.”
“We have to initiate a full search from the bridge. Who’s in Life Support right now?”
“It would have to be Life Support and Flight Engineering both to get the full sweep. We’ll have to talk to the senior officer.” MAV said.
“That’s Jenny right now. I was with her yesterday. I’ll talk to her.”
“I’ll stay down here and keep working at this.” MAV said.
Dafyd and Jillyn stayed with MAV. Lina and Nubia left for the bridge.
At four MAV had to pull a shift in research so he took the input for the translator with him. To the elder the holographic projection would remain in place and fe would notice no change.
Dafyd and Jillyn had to leave for their bridge shift. They found Nubia floating in the center of the room with Jenny, Ana and SOC the Senior ATM. They moved toward Nubia.
“Any luck with the search?” Dafyd asked.
“No. We did diagnostics on all Life Support and Flight Engineering systems. We also did a search in all areas, internal and external. We didn’t find any evidence of a robot.” She leaned forward and whispered in his ear. “You should have seen what we did see though.”
Dafyd thought he knew and blushed deep red. He was also flush because he could smell Nubia’s fresh sporty scent.
“Why would the squid elder say there was a robot here if there isn’t?” Jillyn asked.
“That’s what I’d like to know.” SOC said. She, like MAV was a computer geek. Her job was Robot Programmer for New Virginia. “I would also like to know just what those robots were doing. Given that MAV-san was correct in his analysis that they were not municipal robots, which I’m sure they couldn’t have been.”
That would have made them “her” robots and Dafyd was sure she would never admit or allow that.
“Where did they come from and why were they at New Virginia?”
“That’s what Wyly is trying to find out with the dosidcus.” Dafyd said.
“I don’t think he’ll get very much out of that squid, even if they are as intelligent as Wyly claims.
Dafyd got the impression that if it were up to SOC-san all the dosidcus would be replaced with robots.
COM.S came in chewing a brownie.
“Brownies for desert tonight.” He smiled. “Did I hear that there was a report of a rogue robot on board?”
“Yes, but we’ve diagnosed all systems and scanned all areas and everything was negative.” Jenny said.
“I’ve spent enough time on this.” SOC said. “Ana, I would recommend that you run the same scans and diagnostics on your shift. It’ll be good practice for the shift and we can keep an eye on those…”
“Indiscretions. Yes, that was my idea too.” Ana competed the thought. SOC grunted and pushed out of the room. Jenny left too.
Jillyn and Dafyd moved to their Positions. Each day was a rotation so Dafyd was in Life Support and Jillyn was in Navigation.
Dafyd noticed that his sister was still floating at the Nav Position. She and Fletcher were talking quietly with their heads together like Wyly and Ana had. Fletcher was animated and anxious. Athena showed no emotion.
“Hi Athena. Hi Fletcher.” Jillyn sang cheerily. They both looked at her like a turd in a punchbowl. Her eyebrows shot up.
Athena smiled and pulled her foot out of the loop. “Nothing. Hi, yourself Jillyn. Where’s my brother?”
“There.” Jillyn pointed. “Life Support.” Athena moved to him without even saying goodbye to Fletcher.
“Dafyd.” She said.
“Yes?” He turned to her. She put her forehead against his.
“No matter what Fletcher says tonight, you know me. I’m counting on you.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m not saying anything. That’s the point. I know that you know me and I don’t need to say anything. Just remember that.”
She smiled and kissed him on the forehead.
Girls were weird. He thought.
Orama Rangi-Yang was in Life Support. She was a big boned Polynesian Gray who could only be described as a woman. She had a ready smile and a quick wit. She maintained that space travel was just like Polynesian sea travel and it was therefore in her blood. She was too eager to explain everything to Dafyd. Between her in-depth lesson and the diagnostics and scans the time flew until supper.
“Supper time.” She exclaimed. “Go ahead. I’ll take the second rotation.”
Dafyd was happy to see that Jillyn was on that rotation too.
“So, how is Fletcher?” Dafyd asked.
“He’s okay. He seems to know what he’s doing, very capable. I’m learning a lot.”
“I mean, what does he seem like as a man?” Dafyd asked.
“What are you talking about?”
“I mean, well, I mean, what has he talked about socially, let’s say?” Dafyd wasn’t sure himself what he was asking about. He assumed that Fletcher had hit on her. He wondered if Fletcher were the kind of person she would consider dating. He wondered if she thought about dating.
“He keeps talking about your sister.” Jillyn said. Dafyd nearly smacked into a wall.
“My sister? Athena?”
“I thought you only had one sister.”
“I do. I, what did he say?”
“What didn’t he say? He keeps going on and on about her. It’s enough to give a girl a complex.”
“Bad? Bad things?”
“No. Good things, great things. Why would I get a complex about him talking badly about Athena?”
“I don’t know. Wait, did he say that they did anything?”
“No, but I get the strong impression that he would really, really like for something to happen.”
Dafyd stared at the wall while they waited for the tram.
“Is that bad?”
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
Supper was lentil soup, Caesar salad, a pot roast beyond anything they had ever tasted before and brownies the size of their heads that were covered in fudge and oozed fudge when you cut them.
They found MAV eating and reading his book.
“MAV, how can you read during a meal like this?” Dafyd asked.
“Hi guys. I was reading up on dosidcus. Wyly let me download a book. It’s fascinating. I think they could actually be more intelligent than humans.”
“Well, don’t study too hard. You already know more than anybody on the ship about nanotech, you don’t have to be the smartest about squids too.” Dafyd laughed.
“I’m not a GE brain.”
“I heard they’re psychic.” Jillyn said.
“Me too.” Dafyd said.
“Hi. Can I sit here?” Nubia asked when she walked up behind MAV.
“Sure.” MAV said and he squeezed in a bit to give her more room.
“I can’t believe they couldn’t find that robot.” Nubia said before a fork full of salad.
“You know, I’ve been thinking about that. Do you remember what the elder said about the robots when Wyly first asked fim about them?”
“Fe said that they were attacking.” Nubia said.
“Fe said, ‘robots kill valgae?’” Jillyn said.
“I mean when I tried to find out if they were from New Virginia.”
Dafyd put his hand to his head and thought. Suddenly he dropped his hand. “Of course. The elder said ‘robots come from away.’” Fe meant the Outer System.”
MAV nodded vigorously. “I checked and double checked on that today. What the elder actually said, with all the rows in place had to do with fear, not only of the robots themselves, but also of where they come from. Where they come from is something farther away than squids know or go.”
“Where’s that?” Nubia said.
“Where are there no squid?” MAV questioned knowingly.
“The Outer System. They don’t use them out there. There’s not enough energy to keep them alive.”
“So that must mean that when fe says ‘robot is here’ fe means that one is left here in the Inner System.” MAV said.
“Wyly destroyed two, but there must be one more active. Maybe it’s on New Virginia.” Dafyd said.
“Then we’re safe?” Jillyn said.
“Yes, but New Virginia might not be.” MAV said.
“You know, Orama has family that are very high up in the Life Support system back at home. I’ll tell her to have them do a full diagnostic like we’ve done and report it to Exterior Patrol.”
“Excellent.” MAV said.
“There aren’t any squid on Earth either.” Jillyn said.
“Or Luna.” Nubia added.
“Regardless. That still means that the robot isn’t here, here, on this ship. We’ll let NV know all about it and enjoy the ride.”
“I’m going to enjoy this brownie.” MAV said.
After lunch Dafyd asked Orama to tell New Virginia what they figured out. She thought this was a good idea. She put it up to Ana. She thought they had probably done that already, but it wouldn’t hurt to warn them of the crew’s concerns. She told the Explorer at the Communications Position to transmit anything Orama asked.
Orama recorded a message for her aunt and forwarded it to Coms.
The Life Support lessons resumed.
As pleasant as Orama was, Dafyd almost hugged Lina when she tapped him on the shoulder to let him know that his shift was over. Wyly was floating behind her talking to Ana.
“Dafyd I think that was pretty good thinking of you guys about the robot. You’re probably right. Thanks for making me sleep. I needed it badly.” He smiled and Dafyd returned it.
Dafyd left with Jillyn.
“Hey. I was talking with Fletcher and he told me a great idea for a hiding spot. Come on I’ll show you.” Jillyn grabbed Dafyd’s hand and pulled him out into the corridor.
When Jillyn touched his hand Dafyd’s heart started thumping in his ears. Why was she taking him with to a hiding spot?
“Where is it?”
“You know how they unfurled the sails from canisters at the bow?”
“Well there are airlocks to each canister from the inside. They aren’t used for anything and nobody goes there. They aren’t even on the charts because you’d never keep anything in there whatsoever except the sails. They have to be kept clear in case you need to stow the sails. As long as the sails aren’t stowed their empty and they’ll never stow the sails when we’re underway.”
“How do they know no one is in there when they do go to stow the sails?”
“There’s an alarm on the airlocks from the inside. If anyone opens them the alarm goes off.”
“Then how would we get in there?”
“Fletcher told me how to disable the alarm.”
“What? That would get us in trouble.”
“Well, it isn’t exactly disabling the alarm. That’s why it works so well. You don’t actually disable the alarm. You just delay it. Instead of making the alarm trip when you open the inner door, you set it to trip when you start to open the outer door. It’s safe because the alarm would go off and the door wouldn’t open if you were in there and you reset it when you aren’t in there.”
“If this is such a great hiding spot why doesn’t Fletcher use it himself?”
“He says he took so many girls there that everybody knew where it was and knew that he was in there. It really wasn’t secret anymore. Also he inherited a much better spot…”
“I know where it is, don’t tell me.”
They reached the airlock. Jillyn smiled and squeezed Dafyd’s hand. She started working on the computer.
“Jillyn?” Dafyd said.
“Why are you taking me to your hiding spot?”
“What?” She looked up at him surprised. “There are eight canisters. We can each have one. What’s the big deal?”
“Oh, yeah, eight. We each get our own, yeah. Well, naturally. I mean, of course we each get our own, what else? I mean we couldn’t be sharing one, why would we?”
“Boys are weird.” Jillyn said under her breath and finished with her re-programming.
“Here we go.” She said and pressed the last of the controls. The door on their right slid open silently.
They looked inside. There was a soft light and a cylindrical room just long enough to lie down in.
“Perfect.” Jillyn said. “Now mine.” She touched another control and the door on the left started opening. This one made a hissing noise.
“What’s that?” Jillyn asked.
“Don’t know.” Dafyd leaned over and looked in the partially opened door.
The robot was there.“Robot! The robot is in there! Close the door! Close it! Now!”

Reach Out Reference 3

The rank structure of the Explorers is entirely voluntary. The purpose is to record progress in skills, knowledge and a ready reference of abilities. A Gray knows more and can do more than a Recruit. This in no way should infer that a Gray outranks a Blue or a Galaxy Level outranks all other levels. The subordinate, superior relationships are all determined by election to leadership positions with the rank structure only as a guide to the abilities of the candidates.
The Explorers are divided into two Grades: Blue and Gray. The Grades are determined by age and years in the program. Boys and girls may join the Explorers at age 12. While they are twelve, thirteen and fourteen they will be Blues. A 15 year old with one or more years in the program will be advanced to the Grade of Gray. No one may be in the Gray Grade with less than one year in the program. When a young person reaches the age of 18 they may no longer participate in the program as a youth member.
The progress awards are usually thought to be divided into three for each Grade, but that is only convention and not any sort of rule. Explorers who are active and are constant members of the program will advance regularly. The progress awards are Recruit, Second Class, First Class (these are traditionally Blue Awards), World, Star and Galaxy.- Excerpted from The Explorer Troopmasters’ Handbook twelfth edition

Reach Out Chapter 3

The day finally came when the Troop embarked on their mission to L4. Many of the families came to see the Troop off. Dafyd and Athena’s entire home came to the South Pole for the occasion, as did Joman.
Athena and Joman spent long minutes embracing each other before the final departure. Dafyd had time to hug and kiss all his grandparents, Roesa and Jeri. He even hugged MAV’s parents before Joman finally let go of his sister. She said the rest of her goodbyes and boarded quickly.
The actual departure was several hours after the airlock closed and the voidcarts carried the Troop out to the ship. Explorers scampered everywhere making last minute preparations. Wyly got Alpha patrol situated with their billets and then herded them all back into the voidcart.
“We are going to make a last fly around the ship.” Wyly said as he prepared to leave the hanger.
“What are we checking for?” MAV asked.
“Anything unusual or out of the ordinary. You Recruits have flown around this ship enough to know what wrong looks like.” He smiled and eased the craft out.
Once they were outside he slid over and moved Dafyd in the pilot seat.
“Keep it very close to the ship. We need to be able to detect any problems.”
Dafyd said nothing but moved the cart expertly. Wyly moved back to adjust the various monitors. He assigned every one to one of the monitors. “The more eyes the better.”
The sails were being spun very slowly to extend them from their containers. Dafyd moved around them and then back down the other side. They were now on a side between the ship and the outer hull of New Virginia. All the other activity of the spabitat was on the other side of the ship.
“We’re supposed to look for anything unusual?” Lina asked.
“Yup.” Wyly said.
“This looks unusual.”
“Oh my gah.” Jillyn added and covered her mouth.
“The Space Monkeys are attacking!” Lina shrieked.
“What?” Wyly was at their monitor in a half moment. He adjusted a few things.
“Dafyd turn the craft…”
“Already on it.” Dafyd interrupted as he turned the voidcart to point in the direction of Lina’s field of view without actually going in that direction. The front windows filled with dozens of writhing, flashing Space Squid all coming right at them.
“What is this?” Nubia asked. Wyly shook his head in confusion.
“Should I leave?” Dafyd asked.
“No. The dosidcus are peaceful, besides they have no weapons. How could they damage us? I want to see what they want.”
“Bad idea.” MAV said. Dafyd knew that they had no weapons either and flight was their only option. He was ready to move as soon as Wyly gave the word.
Wyly was frantically adjusting Lina’s monitor. “I’m going to the University of Chicago next year to study the culture of the dosidcus. I’ve got a program in here that sort of translates their speech.”
“What do you mean ‘sort of?’” Lina asked.
“We only understand about fifty percent of their language.”
“That much?”
The squid were getting closer. They were flashing violently. Colors rippled and flew all around, up and down their bodies and out to each hooked filled tentacles.
“What are they saying?” Jillyn asked.
“It’s too much for the program. It’s overwhelmed.”
The first squid reached the craft. They gripped it and moved along to the rear. They could hear the scratching and scrapping along the hull.
“Now Wyly? Can we fly now?” Dafyd asked.
“This isn’t right.” Wyly shot up to the window and pressed his face forward.
More of the squid arrived at the little cart and it started to rock back and forth.
“I don’t think they are signaling for attack.” Wyly said. “Blue is their angry color, not red.”
“Can’t we call for help or something?” Lina asked.
“Can we leave?” Dafyd said.
“MAV, let the Whippin Post know what’s going on.” Wyly said.
The craft listed to port.
“Can we tell them we’re the good guys?” Jillyn asked.
“That’s it!” Wyly shouted and darted back to Lina’s computer. He reprogrammed it frantically.
Dafyd saw that one particularly large squid had positioned himself on the front window and was almost flashing like police mars lights. The cabin was lit up with it.
“Wyly?” MAV said looking out the window.
“Right. That’s the leader.”
“He doesn’t look happy.”
The cart shook violently. There was a crack and a hissing sound. Lina and Jillyn screamed. Nubia called for Wyly. MAV moved to the area the hissing was coming from.
“Hold on! Hold on. I’m trying to send them a message.” Wyly said. “I’m setting up a hologram.”
MAV tried to open the cowling. He had a multitool in his hand. He got the cowling open. The hissing sound got louder. MAV bent over the multitool to program it. His hair was being sucked toward the cowling.
There was a thud at the back hatch.
“I’m going to move out.” Dafyd said.
“No! Just one more moment.” Wyly said. “Here.”
A hologram squid appeared outside the front windows. The colors were mostly greenish. The rocking slowed.
“I’m trying to tell them we are friends, but don’t understand.”
The craft stopped rocking. Some of the squid noticed the hologram and alerted the others. Finally the leader turned to watch the hologram.
MAV got the hissing stopped.
The leader watched for a moment and then signaled the others. The colors dimmed and stopped flashing. Fe had quieted the others down. The leader then signaled slowly and deliberately.
The computer translator program began to speak. Wyly turned up the volume.
“Friends. We friends, you friends. We fear robots. Robots kill valgae. Robots kill squid. Help fight robots? We need help. Friends.”
“What does that mean?” Nubia asked.
“I don’t know.” Wyly said. He typed something into the computer.
Outside the squid were not signaling actively, but they looked very agitated.
“I’ll ask them what robots.” Wyly said.
The holo-squid signaled. The leader responded.
“Robots come from away. Different robots. New robots.”
“Different robots? Different from what?” Dafyd asked.
“Different from the normal maintenance bots?” MAV said.
“I suppose.” Wyly said.
“Can we go back to the ship now?” Lina asked.
Just then, from over the horizon several more Space Monkeys scrambled, followed closely by two crab looking robots. These robots were shooting some kind of projectiles.
The squids had their shells down over their backs as they scrambled over the valgae-covered landscape. They would throw their two very long tentacles out ahead of themselves. Occasionally they would flinch as one of the projectiles would hit.
The robots moved with their legs and with tethers they shot out ahead of themselves. The tethers were much longer than the squids’ tentacles and the robots were gaining on them.
“They’re shooting at them!” Jillyn said.
“What can we do?” Nubia asked.
MAV was working at a computer. He was the best programmer in school and a wizard at nanotech. “I don’t think these robots are part of the fleet. I can’t communicate with them at all.”
Just then one of the running squid retracted one tentacle and the humans could see blood spurting.
“Move.” Wyly said to Dafyd as he pushed him out of the pilot seat. Wyly took the controls and the cart jumped forward and up. “Hold on!”
They were clear of all the surrounding squid and on a ballistic course for the fleeing squid. In an instant they were moving at full speed. The ground flew past faster than any of the Recruits could imagine. The arc of their flight was bringing them back down. The robots were still focused on the squid. The voidcart came down just in front of them. Between the robots and squid. It continued forward fast. The projectiles were now bouncing off their hull. In less than a heart beat the robots and the cart hit head-on.
There were a pair of crunches and thumps. The cart bounced off the surface of the spabitat. Robot arms were flying in all directions. A loud hiss started coming from under the control panel.
“Where are they?” Wyly shouted.
“Left.” Dafyd said. “Their still active.”
Wyly spun the craft, brought he nose up and she bounced away from the tat. Again they moved in a fast parabola and the next crunch was the back end of the void cart landing on the robots.
As soon as they made contact Wyly gunned it and they cart rocketed out away from the tat with enough force to shoot all the passengers to the back hatch.
Even as they were still moving away from the tat Wyly spun them around to get a look at the robots. There was a scorched spot in the valgae with two piles of metal slowly drifting up from the surface.
“MAV, can you tell if they’re dead?” Wyly asked.
“Their dead.” MAV reported.
“I think we are too.” Dafyd said. His ears were popping from the falling pressure.
Wyly looked at the fuel readout. They were just about out, but they had their emergency supply. He ran a diagnostic on the engines. Two small attitude engines were completely inoperable. The main engines and a few of the others were at about fifty percent.
“We’re going to fly a little crooked, but we can get back.” He looked at life support. Oxygen was questionable.
“MAV can you do that thing you did before and fix this leak?”
“I can try.” He bent down and took the cowling off from under the control panel. The hissing became a whooshing. He slammed it back.
“Maybe we can weld the whole cowling.” Dafyd said. He had crouched down to see if he could help.
“I don’t know how to do that.” MAV said.
“I’ve got some tape.” Jillyn said and pulled it out of a large bag she always carried with her.
“Dafyd, bring us back. Jillyn, you fix the leak. MAV inform New Virginia Exterior Patrol about the robots.” Wyly said and got up out of the seat.
Dafyd slid into the seat. Jillyn started working on the cowling. Nubia bent to help her. MAV went to one of the terminals and Wyly went to another.
“What are you doing?” Lina asked him.
“I’m sending a message to the leader of the squid.”
Lina looked and saw that the squid that had scattered when the cart moved were now regrouping around their injured comrade. Wyly made the holo-squid appear near the surface.
“I’m telling them that we will investigate and we want to talk to the leader.”
The leader watched the message and then pushed off towards them. The squid had a limited ability to rocket around by expelling gasses trapped in their body. Fe did that and finally caught up with their cart. Fe gripped the outside and hung on for the ride. The translator squawked.
“I come with you.”
And then, “thank you.”
Dafyd flipped on the communicator. “Whippin Post this is voidcart one. We are coming back heavily damaged.”
“What happened?” It was Athena’s voice.
“It’s complicated, but we had a fight with some Space Squid and a couple of robots. We may need some assistance.”
“Do you want the other cart to meet you or do you need more help than that?”
Dafyd scanned his instruments. “I think an escort from Cart Two would be fine.”
“Any injuries?”
“Not human.”
“Cart Two is on the way.”
The hissing turned into a high-pitched whistle.
“We can’t completely patch the leak.” Jillyn said.
Wyly moved to the control panel and tapped it a few times. “Rate of loss is low enough. We should be fine. Everybody stop breathing for a while.”
Wyly went back to his monitor and composed another message.
“Robots try make us do bad things.” The translator barked in response to the message.
“Try to make us kill tat. We no want kill tat flaberti ginner bee jjibberdi thich...”
“That means that the translator doesn’t understand. There is too much emotion.”
“Did those robots have a communicator like you Wyly? How did they try to make the squid do anything?” MAV asked.
Wyly shook his head thoughtfully. “This is going to take some time.”
“Cart One this is Cart Two we have you on visual. My god what happened? You’re listing awfully.” It was Jenny el Chavez-Kim the troop quartermaster.
“We know. It’s kind of hard to steer, but we’re okay.”
“You’re leaking something.”
“We know that too. It’s cabin air, but we’ll be okay with a tow. It’s making it hard to steer too.”
“Why do you have a squid on your butt?”
“That’s going to take a little more explaining.” Dafyd noticed that she said “squid” and not Space Monkey, which is what everyone at school called them.
“I hope this doesn’t delay our departure. We don’t want to miss our window.”
She swung her voidcart so that the cargo door was up against the front of Cart One. The door opened and Chet O’Cohen-Sato stood in the door wearing a veesuit. It was gray and looked like a wetsuit with a spherical glass helmet. The helmet was frosted so they couldn’t see his face, but COS was printed in large letters on his chest and no one else in the troop moved as easily in a veesuit. He was the champion zero gee martial artist in the spabitat.
Chet quickly tethered Cart One to Cart Two and they were moving again. They were going much faster, but Dafyd still had to steer in order to follow the other voidcart smoothly.
When they arrived back at the Whippin Post there was a tender from Exterior Patrol docked alongside. Jak O’Christian-Newton, the Troopmaster who insisted on being called Jak was waiting just inside the hatch as they exited. He was flanked by two Patrol Officers.
“Wyly this is Officer DIM and Officer QAT. What happened out there?”
DIM was exactly what you’d expect in a police officer: tall, broad shouldered, square jawed, heavy brow ridge. QAT was just the opposite. Fe was small and gracile. QAT looked even more like a pre-pubescent youth than any of the Recruits. QAT was a GE eunuch. Before birth fis parents had decided that it was more important to concentrate on making something out of fis life than worrying about having children. GEE were rare and few of the Recruits had seen one in person.
“The dosidcus were attacked by some rogue robots. They came to us for help and we destroyed the robots.”
“You destroyed patrol robots?” QAT asked in a light voice.
“They weren’t patrol robots Officer QAT.” MAV said. “I checked.”
“Then where did they come from?”
“We don’t know, but the leader of the dosidcus came back with us.” Wyly said.
The officers looked uncomfortable.
“You brought a squid back with you?” Jak said.
“How and why did you convince a dosidcus chief to come with you?” QAT asked.
“I’m not sure chief is the correct term Officers. I think elder would be a more appropriate title.”
“You’ve studied dosidcus?” QAT asked nervously.
“WUB-san has a scholarship to study them at the University of Chicago next fall.” Jak said.
“Do you know a Professor V…”
“Professor Vaughn? Yes. We’ve been corresponding for over a year. She’s going to be my advisor. I got my translator from her.”
“No one in New Virginia knows more about squid than WUB here.” Jak said.
DIM bent down to whisper in QAT’s ear. QAT nodded.
“Commodore JON as we understand this situation, you are on a strict deadline and would like to leave for L4. One of your voidcart was involved in a situation where several dosidcus approached them, presumably to seek assistance and were attacked by private, rogue robots. They destroyed the robots, damaging their own cart in the process, but not causing any deaths or injuries. If there is no damage to New Virginia property then we have no reason to keep you. We would like a full and complete investigation to avoid similar situations so we propose this: we take this young man to the incident site for a brief inspection to verify that no damage was done to the spabitat or its equipment, and hopefully identify the robots. This will be complete before you departure window closes. We will have to stay in communication with you and your crew. A full report will also have to be made.”
“Of course we will assist the investigation as best we can.” Jak said.
“If WUB does have the Vaughn translator he is better equipped to discover the nature of the event from the, um, elder than anyone else on New Virginia.” QAT said.
“You are aware that Professor Vaughn is at L4 right now?” DIM asked.
“Yes. I was planning on meeting with her when we got there.”
“That’s a good plan. We will of course require all the records from your cart as well.”
“I can take care of that.” MAV said.
“Good. Now if you will come with us and show us the incident site WUB-san.”
“Actually, officers, I think I should stay here. If I am going to get any information out of the elder it will take quite a bit of time and that would be best done en-route to L4. Therefore I need to convince the elder to come with us. That alone will take some time. May I suggest DOM-san as a guide?” He slapped Dafyd’s shoulder.
“Yes. I can do that.” Dafyd said.
QAT looked at him a long moment. “Yes. Come with us.”
They boarded the prowler and returned to the exact spot that Wyly had killed the robots. The valgae was damaged and there were robot pieces stuck here and there, but no damage to the spabitat itself.
While the officers were doing a thorough check for damages, Dafyd did his own scan for the robots. Even though the spin of the spabitat had sent them away from the surface they should have still been around. The spabitat did have some gravity and they were pushed very hard. There was no sign of them anywhere. Dafyd decided that they must have drifted over the horizon.
“I’m convinced.” DIM said. QAT turned the prowler and returned to port. As they left Dafyd looked back and noticed a few squid looking hesitantly from under very small cover. Though this looked like open plains there were small hiding places, if you knew where and how to hide.The activity on the Whippin Post was doubled after the Exterior officers left. Wyly was successful in convincing the elder to come to L4 with them, and the damaged voidcart was swapped out with the troop’s other cart. It was an older model and barely worked anymore, but it worked better than Cart One. They moved out for L4 with an old voidcart and an old dosidcus.

Reach Out Chapter 2

Athena must have considered it a fluke because she never mentioned it again, nor gave Dafyd any more respect. The next week Mav spread the word of Dafyd’s rescue flight until one single look from Nubia stopped the celebrations.

For himself, Dafyd went over the event in his head. His simulator training had paid off, he would keep it up.
“Apa says it’s time for dinner.”

Athena stuck her head in Dafyd’s room. He was of course on the simulator. He made his way to the dining room where the rest of his family waited.

David and Athena were the only children in their home. The other five members were their grandmother, who was their apa until this year when Dafyd was old enough; their other two grand parents and a young couple bonded to the home.

“Where are you kids blasting to this year?” Apa asked them as she ladled out stew. Apa looked exactly like Mrs. Santa Claus. Her real name was Yumi Iglesias-Popov.Wilford or YIP.W.

“We’re sailing to L4 again.” Athena said. “The ‘Whippin Post’ is a sail ship Apa.”

“I know that dear. I was just using blasting as a figure of speech.”

“What’s a sail ship?” The young woman asked.

“It’s a type of cargo ship Roesa.” Her husband, Jeri, said. His name was Jeri O’Chciuk-Bernardy.Daniel. He was a short, thick Refiner who worked in the factories outside New Virginia.

“Actually it was a cargo ship. Troop 881 added two housing modules and now it’s our troop’s ship. We use it for our annual cruise.” Athena said.

“I don’t understand. Why is it called a sail ship?” Roesa said. She had qualified as a citizen through the Civil Service as a model for safety pamphlets and become the famous ROD. She was THE genetically engineered blond bombshell. Now she was retired as Roesa O’Candy-Daniel.Bernardy.

“It has sails. It uses the solar wind to drive it.” Jeri said patting her hand.

“The little particles of light push against the sail and make it go.” Athena said.

“What other kinds of ships are there?”

“Most ships are nuclear powered. They use the push of a nuclear explosion to push them. Sometimes in the Outer System they use mass drivers to push the ships. Those ships use mag guns to shoot pieces of rock behind them to move the ship forward. Finally there are magnetohydrodynamic, MHD engines; but they’re only for the military.”

“That’s the kind of ship I was on.”

“We know Granddad.” Dafyd said.

Granddad was Dafyd O’Doul-Montomery.Suzuki, the original DOM and he didn’t look like a granddad. He and Nana, Selina Olsen-Suzuki.Montgomery, were still working. They had both had most of their organs cloned and replaced the old ones so they looked like they were somewhere in middle age. Granddad loved to act like an old grandfather at home though and even talked a little like he was missing some teeth and hair, even though he wasn’t.

“We fought pirates when I was in the Corps. We had one of the newest MHDs. Boy that thing was fast.”
Nana looked up from the financial pages only long enough to roll her eyes at Granddad.

“MHDs use magnets to supercharge nuke engines.” Athena said.

“But MY granddad fought in the Revolution.”

He began telling his old stories of the war to give the space worlds independence from their Earth countries.
“Don’t you two have to get ready for the game?” Apa asked.

Athena had a Ring game that night and she was the captain. Dafyd had been debating whether he wanted to try to skip out of the game, but he realized that their Apa was giving them both a reason not to suffer a death by boredom.

“Yes.” They both said in unison. They gobbled up their stew and bounded off.

“We’ll meet you at the Zggym.” Apa said, not pronouncing the z. She kissed them goodbye when they were dressed.

“I don’t know why you’re coming now squirt.” Athena said as they settled into their tram seats.
Dafyd shot her an angry look. “You wouldn’t be such a good flyer if Mom and Dad hadn’t gotten you genetically engineered.”

Athena did seem GE. She was a star athlete and a straight A student. Nobody could be both on their own; at least that’s what Dafyd thought.

Athena took a swing at him. She missed and he ducked.

“I am not GE. I’ve told you a thousand times.”

“Then why are you a jock and a brain?”

“I study hard and train hard. You’d be good at something if you worked hard at it too.” She grunted and moved to another seat, far from him.

Dafyd sat and thought about what she said. The only thing he even felt partially competent at was flying, but only in the simulator and that one time in the voidcart.

At the Zggym Athena went to the locker room and Dafyd went to the Flockball / Ring stands. They were in the part of the Zggym that had one sixth gee. Flockball and Ring had been invented on Luna and lunar gravity was the standard for flockball throughout the system.

He got himself a drink and some popcorn to wait for the Varsity game. When he took his seat he was surprised to see that the Second Year Team was playing. Nubia hadn’t spoken to him since the near accident so he never knew about the game. They were winning seventeen to eleven and it was already the bottom of the eighth and final round.

The Ring court was an oval about as big as a football field and on each end were two landings. They were called Perches. The field was a very soft mat painted with a huge bull’s-eye. Dafyd’s school colors were orange and blue. His team was on the right. Dafyd noticed that one of the players was Nubia. She looked great in her tight fitting uniform and the ankle to arm wings.

They were on defense. Nubia and the other three players climbed to the lower perch. On the referee’s whistle both teams jumped off their perches and spread their wings.

The team on offense had a foam ring. They carried it on hook-toed shoes. The player with the ring was a tall boy. As soon as he left the Perch he did a kind of flip and the ring flicked off his shoe in a high arc our over the court. Another player was up high in the air. She caught it on her shoe and did the same flip. A third player caught it, still higher and further onto the court.

This tactic was called the “Escalator.” The fourth player had gotten above the third, but dove down and instead of flipping the ring up, the third player flipped it out for the fourth to snatch at high speed, going down. That player was a small boy who held it not on his shoe, but on the end of one wing.

Nubia and her teammates had come out in a wide line formation. The rules said that the offense couldn’t go below the height of the Defensive Perch, but they also said the Defense couldn’t go above the Offensive Perch.
Nubia was on the end and she recognized and reacted to the Offense’s move first. She dove to match the speed of the Offensive player, but she had less room and was getting very close to the floor. Dafyd was on the edge of his seat.

The Offensive player was over the ten-point bull’s-eye. If he made the shot they would win.

At his lowest possible point he threw the ring down. Nubia was so low that she couldn’t flap her wings without touching the floor. She was still meters away from the ring.

Nubia tucked her wings in and flipped onto her back. She dropped right down to the floor and slid onto the bull’s-eye. Dafyd shot to his feet. She had placed her body between the ring and the floor, but f she were on the floor she would not be able to play the ring. The score would count. She spread her wings and just barely came off the floor. Just as she was clear of the floor the ring hit her on the stomach. She dropped back down to the floor, but she held on tight to the ring. They had won.

Dafyd cheered until he was hoarse. The rest of Nubia’s team dropped down out of the air and onto her.
Dafyd made his was to the door of the locker room, but when Nubia came out and saw him her smile vanished. She just walked past him and growled. “That’s flying.”

Dafyd went back up to the stands. He found his apa and his other two grandparents sitting about where he had for Nubia’s game. He sat down and leaned over.

“Apa, was Athena genetically engineered?”

She didn’t even look at him. “I’ve told you before. Your parents didn’t GE either of you.”

“She is just so good at school and at sports.”

“There you go. You can’t get GE for more than one super talent. Even if she was GE, and she isn’t, she would have had to earn one of the other skills. Believe me, if you applied yourself as much as she does you’d be just as successful.”

The Varsity team came out then and the game began. Athena was good, and the captain of the team, but she wasn’t the best.

There was a young dark haired boy no older than Dafyd who had a huge chest and arms. He flew like he didn’t need the fabric wings and he could feel the ball, the other players and the floor without looking.

“Now that number four, he’s GE.” Apa said.

Dafyd made no reply.

“We have a woman at work who is GE.” Granddad said. Nana rolled her eyes. “She’s telepathic.”

“Telepathic?” Dafyd said.

“Pay no attention to your grandfather.” Nana said.

“She is. She has foresight. She is our best analyst and she can tell which way the market is going the day before.”

“That’s because she’s a woman.” Nana said. Apa snorted.

“Fiddle sticks. It stands to reason. Enhanced cognition leads to extra sensory perception. Their psychic.”

“What’s enhanced is their ability to recognize patterns using chaos theory and to more accurately calculate the odds, that’s all. It’s not ESP it’s math.”

“Math isn’t sexy SOS.M-san, telepathy is.”

“Especially if you saw her do it.” Granddad laughed until he saw the look Nana was giving him. Then he shut up and sat with his hands between his legs.

The Varsity team was miles better than the Second Years, but Dafyd didn’t even pay much attention.
Athena’s team won easily. It was over by the fourth round. Athena had played well, but she led even better. Dafyd noticed how much effort and concentration she put in and he wanted to complement her. She was his sister and he felt bad.

His grandparents knew better than to try to talk to Athena after a match. She had a boyfriend and her teammates. They would party and then would come the family celebration.

Dafyd went down to the locker-room doors anyway, but when Athena came out she walked right past him. She went to the massive arms of Joman O’Wilbur-Frank, a big Flockball GE jock and her boyfriend. Joman looked like one of those idealized Teutonic Knights the Nazis used in posters or a blond crewcut version of Arnold Schwarzenegger, only bigger. Dafyd nodded to himself and watch them go off with the Varsity Ring team.

That month they spent several days each week working on the Whippin Post. It got so that even the Recruits knew every inch of her. At least they had been to every interior inch, even if they really didn’t know it. Only the Grays were allowed to do eva.

The Recruits traveled to and from the ship and did any eva in a voidcart. Even when they were allowed to pilot the craft they were under the close guidance of Wyly. Even Nubia got in the pilot’s seat a few times. They all became reasonably competent.

The Whippin Post was a very old sail ship. Her sails consisted of eight strips of a very thin, very shiny material Dafyd could never remember the name of. The sails were at the end of the main body of the ship. They rotated slowly to stay ridged when under way.

In port the ship just looked like the girder system for high-tension wires with boxes, wires, cables and barrels attached. On the end opposite the sails were two large barrels the size of houses. These were the habitat modules.

En-route the massive cables that had originally been for attaching cargo would extend the habitats three hundred meters in either direction and spin them counter to the sails. That would provide about one sixth gee. One module was a work area and the other was the galley, head and billets. Between them a tram capsule would run back and forth. This would get those who were not doing evas either to one of the two modules or to the main axis.

The bridge, power panels, main supplies and the antenna array were all along the main axis. The bridge was halfway along the length of the main axis. The bridge crew consisted of the Senior Officer, Pilot, Navcoms, Flight Engineer and Life Support Engineer. These would all be manned by Explorers. Unless there was an emergency none of the adults would occupy any of the crew positions. Physically the positions were sections of the wall with computer inputs and displays.

There was enough room on the bridge for double the people needed to occupy the positions. That was just what they would do. The Blues would shadow Grays for the first few days. When the Grays become confident in the Blues’ capabilities they allow the Blues to “sit” a watch. The second and third year Blues had specific assignments. The Recruits did a round robin of all the positions.

The only positions excluded to Blues were senior officer and pilot. At any given time at least three of the five bridge crew were Grays. There was also always an adult Observer present on the bridge.There were other jobs on the ship. There was an engineer team, maintenance team, research team and mess team. There were actually Explorers that preferred these teams and every slot was filled. It was a rather crowded and busy ship.

Reach Out Reference 2

On L5 Naming Conventions

L5 has a tradition of acknowledging and honoring the two separate yet equally valued progenitors of each member of the human race.

Because of this tradition each person has a familiar name, two family names and a formal acronym made up of the familiar name, the family names and any marital names.

Take, for instance, the famous model ROD. ROD was her formal acronym made up of her familiar name Roesa, her first family name (commonly called the paternal name) of O’Candy, and her second family name (commonly called the maternal name) of Daniel. When she married JOB (Jeri O’Chciuk-Bernardy) she became ROD.B (Roesa O’Candy-Daniel.Bernardy) and he became JOB.D (Jeri Chciuk-Bernardy.Daniel), which is pronounced Job Dee.

It is common custom to add O’, el or il to the first family name in order to create a pronounceable formal acronym. There is no restriction on which prefix to use. It is merely up to the taste of the individuals.
Family names are taken strictly from the biological or genetic parents. In L5 the restriction is so absolute that the term parent refers to nothing other than biological parents and the biological specification is unnecessary.

It is customary to use the formal acronym in formal settings or occasions demand a show of respect. It is very common to also add the person’s title and or the suffix –san. The most formal and respectful address is to use all of a person’s titles and the suffix –san.

-Excerpted from SEN’s Travel Guide for L5

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Reach Out Chapter 1

“DOM-san, are you paying attention?”

Dafyd O’Wilford-Montgomery looked up at his teacher and responded immediately, “Yes sir.”

Dafyd was an average twelve-year-old boy on New Virginia and he had not been paying attention. He had been looking out the window at the pleasantly green spring scenery until his attention had been drawn to the back of Nubia el Ruiz-Wang. Nubia was a tall, athletic girl wore her hair in a short, pulled back afro. She had just taken off her loose dress shirt and sat with her sleeveless tee-shirt on. Dafyd had just noticed and begun admiring the dark chocolate color of her skin.

“What are the different levels of citizenship here in L5?”

“The levels of citizenship are Non-Hominid, Alien, Resident and Citizen.”

“What are the requirements for citizenship?”

“Genetic certification and a Citizenship Qualifier.” This was first year stuff. Dafyd wondered why he was asking such simple questions. The other students looked bored. Sensei CEM.O was a good teacher, but now Dafyd was noticing how shiny his baldhead was.

“And what are the four Citizenship Qualifying Services?”

Four? This was something he wasn’t prepared for. He only knew of three, that he could remember.

“Military Service, Civil Service, Vacuum Service…” He spoke them slowly, trying to think of another. He glanced around the room helplessly. The other students were coming out of their stupors like hungry bears after hibernation. They looked at him with contempt. Nubia even turned right around in her seat and looked at him with those golden honey eyes and then raised her elegant eyebrows.

“Abba bu...” He muttered.

“Care to help him NEW-san?”

“Explorers.” Nubia said and gave him a look that let him know that that was exactly what he had been zoning out during.

“Yes. As I was saying, some of you are in luck because the government has just approved the Explorers as a Citizenship Qualifier. How many of you have signed up to be Explorers?”

Half the class raised their hands including Dafyd. The local troop, 881 was very popular because of their outstanding program, and now the members were getting even more, citizenship.

“Some of you seem to have foresight, or your apas did. Regardless, it will take you six years instead of the two mandatory for the Services, but I’m sure you will all agree they will be less grueling than, say the Military."

The bell rang and the entire class sprang out of their seats, as relieved as Dafyd. That had been the last class of the day before the weekend.

“Don’t forget your reports are due on the arguments for and against the rights of Non-Hominid intelligent species. " Sensei CEM.O called after them.

Dafyd met his best friend, MAV (Maisth Abaza-Virtanen) in the hall. MAV was a head taller than Dafyd. His shirt was untucked over his paunch and half his books hung out of his unzipped pack. His straw colored hair was thick over his dark brown skin. The contrast in skin and hair color made it obvious that his moustache was already starting to come in under his hooked nose.

“How was Soc today?” Mav asked Dafyd.


“You made a fool out of yourself in front of Nubia didn’t you?”

Dafyd grunted in response.

“Don’t worry. If the Explorers let you drive a voidcart after what you did in the simulator yesterday you’ll impress her for sure.”

Dafyd sighed. “I’m doomed.”

They walked out of the school and were met by the nicest day of the year so far. The sky was so clear they could not only see right across the spabitat, they could almost see the entire twenty-kilometer length of it.

“Wow.” Dafyd said looking up at the other side of the cylinder. “It’s almost warm enough to go swimming.

“I don’t like days like this.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t want to see the other side of the spabitat. It makes me feel like I’m in a box. I like to see some clouds. Then I imagine the rest of the tat is all glass and you can see right out to the void everywhere, almost as if we were right out there.”

Dafyd looked up and thought a moment. Directly above was a window, just as wide as the land they were standing on and also the length of the cylinder that was the spabitat of New Virginia. There were two other strips of land, on either side of the window and two other windows. You could see through them to the inky blackness of the void and the stars. Dafyd could just make out the moon in the far end of one window and Earth in another.

“I don’t get it.”

“Why did you join the Explorers?” Mav asked.

“Because my apa made me.”

“I joined to see the Solar System, the whole thing. I want to get out there.”

“‘Get out there?’ We can’t even have an eva until we are Grays. I wonder if we’ll ever see the outside of this can, except through a ship’s window.”

He was interrupted by the sight of Nubia going by. Her home, Mav’s and Dafyd’s were all in the same cluster. Nubia took a longer way home so she could run, but she still sometimes beat the boys.
Today she came in out of the trees spinward of Dafyd’s home.

“Hi guys. Don’t be late for Explorers” She said and ran into her home.

“See, she hates me.” Dafyd said.

“Her skin kind of glistens when she runs, you notice that?”

At home Dafyd did his homework, ate a snack and got dressed in his brand new blue overall uniform for Explorers. He met Mav to walk to the tram.

881 met at the South Pole. This was an airlock complex at the end of the cylinder. Trams ran the length of the cylinder in each of the land areas. They carried personnel and cargo since no one had personal vehicles.
Dafyd was glad they didn’t see Nubia. He didn’t know how she was getting there, but she didn’t ride the tram with them.

Neither did Dafyd’s sister Athena. She was three years older and already a Gray. She had gone straight to the Explorer meeting from Flockball practice.

“I’m excited.” Mav said. “What do you think we’ll do today?”

“My sister says we might do Trash Detail today.”

“Trash Detail? You mean going out, outside the tat?”

“In a voidcart, yeah.”

“Wow.” Mav said.

“Big deal.” Dafyd said. “I don’t see the point. They have robots and Space Monkeys to collect trash. We’d just be redundant.”

“We get to go out in the void. That’s the point. Haven’t you read the handbook? In Explorers the void is a laboratory for us to study and learn about society, culture, government and all that stuff. It’s a microcosm.”

“Mav, it’s all just so much talk. Too much talk.”

Mav frowned and turned to his handbook. He read and they rode the rest of the way in silence.

The South Pole was a huge complex that included several airlocks for freight handling; in-processing of visitors and immigrants; and daily commuters. There was also a recreation complex called Zggym South for Zero Gravity Gym. The South and North Poles were the only places inside the spabitat that the centrifugal force simulated gravity was near zero.

Dafyd and Mav stopped at the notice board to find out that Troop 881 met in room 5.

Room 5 was bustling with activity. There were twenty-four Explorers with the five new ones and four Masters, or adult leaders. Nubia was already there standing with a tall young man in gray coveralls. Dafyd knew from his sister that he was Wyly Urocyon-Bernini and an Assistant Troopmaster, or ATM.

The adult was a middle aged woman lighter skinned than Nubia with straightened black hair, but those same golden eyes. Her green adult coverall did not complement her abundant figure. She wore blue loops on her epaulets.

Wyly was well built, with a clean-cut look and an open face. He was nearly the tallest person in the room. His hair was dark and he had an aquiline nose, but his eyes were deep blue. His gray coveralls looked tailored with colorful patches all over and bright galactic swirls on his epaulets.

“Hey Dafyd.” He said and smiled. He spoke slowly, drawing out his vowels. “OBB.P-san you’ve met Dafyd. He’s Athena’s brother.”

“Ah yes.” The ATM turned and spoke in a deep, soft voice. “Who is this with you?”

“This is Maisth Abaza-Virtanen, we call him MAV.”

“Welcome MAV. I am Doctor Odelia Brojanac-Bautista.Polanski. I’m the Assistant Troopmaster for the Blue Explorers, that’s the first three years.”

“Yes welcome.” Wyly added. “You boys know Nubia?”


“Wyly here will be the Patrol Leader for Alpha Patrol.” OBB.P-san said.

“Ma’am, we will have to have an election first.” Wyly corrected her.

“Wyly, they put a Gray in with the Recruits to be their leader…”

While they were discussing the proper patrol procedure the other two new members, Recruits came in. Evangelina “Lina” Minerva-Abbott, a dark haired petite girl and Jillyn Akaga-Richards a copper headed girl with a pageboy haircut who was all smiles. Both of those girls were from another school so Dafyd and the rest didn’t know them until they introduced themselves.

Lina wore her hair long and in a ponytail. She had a nice smile, but it appeared and disappeared like a frightened squirrel.

Jillyn had black, almond eyes and a flat nose with exactly twelve freckles.
In the middle of introductions a small, curvy blond girl in gray coveralls walked up to the front of the room and called everyone’s attention. “Let’s get the meeting started.”

Wyly made a sour face and lined his patrol up. There were four patrols, two in gray and two in blue. They formed a box, said the pledge and did an inspection. Dafyd’s sister stood right next to him as the Patrol Leader of the Omega Patrol. She was tall and made no sign that she even recognized Dafyd.

“Wyly?” The blond came over. Her uniform was gray with three green bars on the epaulettes above a single star emblem. It fit her marginally better than OBB.P-san the adult Dafyd had met with Wyly. She touched Wyly’s elbow. He didn’t flinch, but a grimace passed beneath the skin on his face.

“Yes, Ana?”

Dafyd remembered her. Ana Loree-Sparks had been Wyly’s old girlfriend and as soon as she got elected Senior Patrol Leader, SPL, she dropped him. Wyly had been the loser in that election twice over.

“Would you be a dear and take the Recruits out for Trash Detail?”

“I would be honored to take Alpha Patrol on Trash Detail directly after we hold our elections.” He said in a flat tone that did not give away any hint of his emotion or opinion of her.

Ana smiled weakly and said, “thank you.”

Wyly turned to his patrol and said, “Patrol, we are going to hold our election and then I will take you all out in the voidcart for Trash Detail, which is just a little look-around Outside.”

“Aren’t you the PL?” Jillyn asked.

“Yes, that’s traditional for the most senior Explorer to be the PL of the Alpha patrol. Also it’s normal for the PL to just pick his assistant, but I think an election would get you all started on the Explorer ways. Therefore we are going to have an Assistant Patrol Leader election. Who wants to run?”

All the younger kids looked at each other. Finally Jillyn said, “I nominate Lina.”
Lina elbowed her and grunted, but she didn’t refuse.

“I nominate Dafyd.” MAV said.

“Do you accept these nominations?” Wyly asked. They nodded.

“Who votes for Lina?”

The girls raised their hands.

“I’m not voting so I guess EMA-san gets it.” Wyly said. He handed Lina a pair of shoulder loops. They had one green bar on each. He himself wore loops with two green bars under his Galaxy pins.

“Well, let’s go.”

They went out to the vehicle dock. The Troops vehicles were in Dock 5. There were two voidcarts and four actionrovers. The Omega patrol was already in one voidcart, but they waited to leave the airlock with the other cart.

The inside of the cart had two forward facing seats and seats lining the walls. There were wide front windows and small porthole-type windows on the sides and back. The controls at the front were basically two handprints surrounded by instruments.

When both vehicles were ready the dock doors shut and the massive external doors slid open. There was a deafening roar of air at first and then silence.

“Cart 2 go ahead.” Athena’s voice came over the speaker.

Wyly was sitting in the right side seat with his hands on the handprints. He said, “Roger” and the cart lifted gently. The next motion was forward, slow, steady and precise.

“How are we moving?” Jillyn asked.

“Chemical rockets.”

“Chemical?” Nubia asked. “I didn’t know we still used chemical motors.”

“On small, old vehicles like this we do. The artificial intelligence on these are pretty weak too, so you actually have to drive it in and out of dock.”

No one heard his last words because their vision took all of their brains’ attentions. For the first time in their lives they were outside the spabitat. The doors passed by and the entire solar system opened up for them. The South Pole pointed away from the sun so they looked out into inky blackness full of sharp bright stars. As they pulled out the equipment and facilities of the polar dock came into view.

Ships of all shapes and sizes moved in all directions, deliberate chaos. Some of the larger ships and huge raw cargo loads were being moved by small voidtugs. The bright flash of engines firing went off like a presidential photo op.

When their voidcart was completely free of the dock they could see the factories that were a part of their world, but outside of the cylinder itself. They stretched for miles in all directions. In some of them they could see green farms and in some golden ripe grains.

“My mom’s family owns those.” Wyly indicated the farms. He said this so mater-of-factly that it didn’t seem like bragging at all. In fact the Bernini family was rich going all the way back to Earth and were probably the richest people in New Virginia.

The other spabitats started coming into view. They wouldn’t be able to see all fifty of the titanic cylinders that made up L5, but the two dozen they could see took their breath away. Twenty-four times more land and people than they had ever known. Twenty-four times what they considered to be the entire world.
Wyly spun the cart around and started up the curve of the end of the cylinder. As they crested the curve Luna and finally Earth came into view.

“Oh my god.” Actually escaped Lina’s lips.

Wyly stopped the craft. “Anyone want to come up here to get a better look?” He said.

Every single one of them unbuckled their seats and tried to move up to the front windows. In their haste they forgot they were in zero-gee. They all bounced up to the ceiling. Wyly glanced back over his shoulder and smiled.

“Easy now.” He said in that slow, gentle way he had.

They had all been in zero-gee before, back in the Zggym, but now it didn’t seem like a fun diversion. Dafyd was actually the first one to regain his bearings and make it to the front. He was followed by Nubia and the other girls before MAV managed to struggle along the ceiling.

“I thought there’d be continents like on the globe.” Jillyn said.

“You can’t see them from here. The atmosphere is too thick and besides there are a lot of clouds today.” He tapped a few controls and the windows changed into monitors. He then adjusted them so that the clouds and air were not visible.

“That’s Africa.” MAV said.

“Make it a window again please.” Lina said. Wyly made it so.

“What’s all that?” Dafyd said pointing at the spabitat itself.

“Valgae. That’s the plant material that covers the spabitat and enhances the protection from solar radiation.”
They all knew what valgae was and how it worked, but all the photos they had seen in school were not backlit, as they saw it now. In the school photos you could easily see how the multifaceted plants reflected the solar energy away, but like this it all looked dull gray-green and dark.

Moving around singly and spaced out were small figures.

“Are those Space Monkeys?” Jillyn asked.

“Actually they are derived from squid. They are Dosidcus superior. They were GEed to live in space.” Wyly said.

The Space Squid looked very much like very large marine squid, about the size of a human. They grew a type of shell on the top of their heads. It looked like a wide, flat cone. It helped protect them from solar rays. They ate the valgae and communicated by bioluminescence.

“Let’s go.” Wyly said. The ship began to move again. “Look for trash either on or around the spabitat.”

No one did. They were predictably too busy being tourists and Wyly gave no other indication that he expected otherwise.

In a few minutes they approached one of the mirrors. Wyly swung around under it. It was much brighter, but not as blinding as they expected. The light was focused into the spabitat. A few of the Recruits, including Dafyd looked down into the window of the spabitat. It was like looking up from the bottom of a pool.

Wyly stopped the cart again and swung around in his seat. “Anyone want to drive?”

Every jaw dropped, again. Then every hand shot up with cries of “me, me.”

Wyly smiled. “I think the Assistant Patrol Leader should go first. You’ll all get a turn.”

Lina sat down at the controls, but when she put her hands on the handprints she turned pure white and froze.
“What’s the matter?” Jillyn asked.

“I can’t. I just can’t.” Lina said as a single tear ran down her bleached face.

“That’s okay.” Wyly took her by her shoulders and moved her out of the seat. “Lots of people get frightened. It seems like fun until you actually get up here.”

“I think Nubia should go first.” Lina said weakly. They all saw the logic of that. Nubia was a natural athlete and a star Ring player. She was also fearless.

Nubia moved into the seat and put her hands on the handprints.

“Careful, the AI is supposed to keep you from crashing into anything, but it’s not too bright. Also, it’s not…” Wyly never got the chance to finish because, under Nubia’s control the ship jerked to the side and swung towards the mirror at a frightening speed. The sudden movements threw everybody around the cabin. Lina flew into a corner of a seat and MAV drove her down on it. In no time Lina was bleeding all over her face and the cart was diving at the joint of the mirror.

Wyly immediately went to Lina, who seemed to have passed out. He shouted over his shoulder. “Pull away.”
“I’m trying.” Nubia said, but the more she tried the more the cart swung around wildly and increased speed toward the mirror or the window. Dafyd didn’t think they would go through the window, but their impact wouldn’t be good for either the window or themselves.

Suddenly a thought struck him. He knew what the problem was. “You aren’t flying in air.” He said.

“What?” Nubia shouted.

“You’re not flying in air, you don’t have air resistance, you’re over compensating.” He just got that last part out before she slammed him into the wall with another wild movement.

“Would someone please get this craft under control before we crash?” Wyly said as he held Lina’s head.

Dafyd looked at the instruments. It wasn’t too dissimilar to his simulator at home. They were getting low on attitude adjustment fuel. If something didn’t happen fast there would be no way to steer and they would be at the mercy of the last thing Nubia did. Dafyd put his feet against the back of the seat, grabbed Nubia by the shoulders and pulled heavily. He was sure he would not have been able to pull her off if she hadn’t been surprised, but she was and she popped right out.

Dafyd flipped her over his head and flopped into the seat. He put his hands on the controls and started making minor adjustments. It was difficult because the cart was wobbling and spinning and low on fuel. Still Dafyd slowly brought her under control. One single meter before they whacked into the mirror or the window he swung her away.

“Not too far away or we’ll drift off.” Wyly warned.

“I got it.” Dafyd said. He was in a gentle ballistic path back to the South Pole.

Everyone except Dafyd and Wyly had vomited or were holding vomit back violently. Wyly sat in a rear seat closest to the control seat with Lina’s head in his lap.

“Everyone strap themselves back in.” Wyly said.

“That was pretty good controlling.” Wyly said to Dafyd. “Where’d you learn that?”

“My simulator back home.” Dafyd said. “Can I take it all the way back?”

Wyly looked at him in amusement, then he led Dafyd around the craft with his eyes. Everyone besides Dafyd was either ill, unconscious or holding someone’s head together. “I don’t think anyone else wants a turn now.”

The trip back was uneventful. Just before they docked again Dafyd made a quick check of the fuel and then did a perfect double spin to back the voidcart into its garage. He heard dry heaving behind him and he smiled in triumph.

Cart One wasn’t far behind and they called on the radio. “Wyly what happened? Is everyone okay?”

“Everyone is going to be okay and I’m not Wyly.” Dafyd said into the communicator. His sister on the other end was silent for a moment.

“Dafyd, did you cause that spin?”

“The last one, yeah. The first one, no, I just pulled us out of it.”

“What? Where’s Wyly?”

“Tending to an injured patrol member. May I take a message?”

“Forget it. I’ll talk to you when we touch down.”

Dafyd made the cart secure and started helping everyone out.

“That was totally wicked.” MAV said.

Wyly carried Lina out to the medic on call and everyone began cleaning up. Athena walked up to Dafyd, who was helping cleaning up Jillyn’s lunch. Luckily it was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and not very messy, for something partially digested.

“You pulled it out of that spin?” Athena asked.

“He sure did.” Jillyn said. “Then he helped me clean up my tossed lunch.”

“Pretty impressive squirt.” She messed up his hair. “I guess all those days in the simulator paid off.”

By the time they were done cleaning the meeting was over and so was Athena’s admiration. As usual she slipped off with her friends leaving Nubia, Mav and Dafyd to ride the tram home alone.

Nubia was silent and wouldn’t look at Dafyd. He found that even less comfortable than his infatuated silence routine.

“Nubia?” Dafyd said.


“You know that your superior flying ability was the cause of…”

“Of what? Our near death experience? I don’t want to talk about it and I don’t want you to console me.” She crossed her arms and that was the end of that. The rest of the ride was silent.