At least breakfast hadn't had time to cool down.
The Chief had arrived at Engineering with the first shift earlybirds. He was in a mood and sharing it all 'round when I showed up. Like most of his humors, not without reason; we're still inbound on the long slowdown to our next port of call. As always happens once another Jump's well along, the Engineering Shop has become quite sloppy — things piled atop things. Random unrepairables-for-salvage litter the work benches along with parts, tools, printouts and bits of wire, metal and plastic. While the clutter is considerably less than would be found in other venues where electronic devices come to be healed and is usually not so bad that a bumpy exit from or entry to normal space does much damage, it's A) against the Starship Company's rules and B) plenty dangerous when we're going from the standard .75G to nil and back again while making planetary orbit.
The Chief being the Chief, he leans to invoking a combination of item A and incredulous outrage that any group of tekkies, anywhere, could ever produce a mess so tangled and dire; nor does he spare any of us, no matter how careful we've been. His approach stings, though he believes he's making a concession to our pride by soft-pedaling the safety aspects. Me, I'm all too aware the debris doesn't care if you left any of it out personally when it slams into you. The injury you prevent by cleaning up after the other guy may be your own!
Big Tom was in, along with Terry (another USSF legacy tech); C. Jay, and Jonny Zedd were there too, having been the lucky earlybirds met by the Chief. Handsome Dave was still checking out escape pods (more properly "points of refuge," since they do not themselves escape to anywhere: they allow crew and passengers to escape depressurization, hazmat and such), safely distant in a squirt-booster bay. Some guys have all the luck.
Aw, who needs 'im; we had enough hands to get the job done in short order and sure enough, by mid-shift, we'd sorted and stowed and produced two piles, one of saleable scrap (you'd be surprised what some of the worlds we visit will buy) and another, smaller, for the jettison drum. The Chief had harrumpfed a few of our choices to save (this is a man with a large, professionally-framed photo of a helicopter being pushed off an aircraft carrier posted on a bulkhead in his office), so off they went, too.
Jay had put off lunch (he and Tom have been lunching together since before I signed aboard) and I tagged along. Terry and the Chief were enough to cover, especially since we were only going down the passageway to the palatial breakroom that serves Engineering, Ops, the Bridge, Navs and anyone else with the right access card. 'Cos it's a hot ticket.
Perhaps I'm too sarcastic; the Hospitality gang loads our sandwich machine with decent stuff and depending on our last few ports of call, the candy and crisps selection is pretty outstanding. On the other hand, the beverage selection is the same rotgut coffee you get out of vending machines everywhere, reconstituted juices and the sodas, well, let us merely refer to wildly variable takes on "OpenCola" and let it lie.*
But dish--! That, we've got. Tom had the latest and shared it in a disapproving tone. "'Dija hear we picked up one of those, um, glovers on our last stop? People think they're hearin' from God?"
I listened with interest; Big Tom possesses the kind of quiet, certain faith one associates with monks, while his long-time friend is resolutely certain there is Nobody Up There. It suits them but you don't want to be caught in between.
"Glovers," said C. Jay. "You mean someone with Hawkins-F Dysplasia? How is he even managing to travel? That's a serious downcheck for starships. The way I hear it, even zero-G is too much for some of 'em, flashbacks or something."
"Word is the Edgers've got some new drugs. With those and tranks, some of 'em can hold up, though I don't know why they'd want to."
I hadn't known about the passenger or the drugs. H'mm. I said,"Tom, you are a fount of knowledge. Where's he headed?"
"I haven't heard but I do know he's got a whole passel of admirers up in passenger country."
Jay snorted. "Figures."
"No, really. He got on at Lyndon with a bunch of them. Well, six or seven. Just average folks. Paid cash."
Jay whistled; I looked piously at the overhead and quoted, "'...Yea, though I walk though the valley of the Shadow of Death...' That's seriously weird. Most of the Hopkins-F types say the experience is ineffable: can't be meaningfully described, only experienced first hand; and the rest of 'em don't say anything. Does that sound like 'Linden' or 'paid cash' to you?"
Jay just grinned but I never know when to shut up. "Tom, you've gotta admit, not many get to leave there who can't put 'ex-Big Cheese' or 'former El Supremo' after their name and they're usually chased by a warrant. Or worse."
"That's not true, what about the Francises?"
Third-generation farming family, big family; saved and scrimped and did without starting as soon as they realized the problem with Lyndon/Linden until the whole family could Get Out, or gens 2 and 3 anyway, the first generation having paid the price of their misjudgment. It's all-round unusual, as farmers are about the only bunch most of the various failed governments have left alone; mostly, anyway. The Francis family was a three-day wonder in the Far Edge media five years back, with a lot of pointed commentary that made things a little hot along the hazy border for awhile. "An exception, Tom, and that's the only reason any of us heard about it. Or remember."
"Yeah but it wasn't just them—"
"And it got a lot harder to leave after that, too, right up until the last government there crashed over it and took their banks down with it. They haven't had anything big enough to even pretend to be a government since, either."
"Well, that's where he got on. And he's picked up twice as many people since, too."
* The flip side is that a small vial of neroli oil is better than gold; even the systems where the genuine article is easy to come by have no shortage of patriotic entrepreneurs turning out their own version. Make mine Moxie — if I can't get it reliably, I might as while be missing something unique.
(TO BE CONTINUED)