06 October 2010

All Part Of The Service

"Engineering to Jump Control. Engineering to Jump Control."

Lupine had completed the long run-up to a significant percentage of the speed of light and was leaping out of Frothup's star system, at long last; it'd been fun but I wasn't gonna miss the place. As is usual during a Jump, all us on-shift Engineering types were hanging out in the Shop, listening to the intercom. We get the "big loop," anyone keys up anywhere in the 'comms, we'll hear it.

This voice wasn't over the intercom but the plain-ordinary dial seven-oh paging system...which is locked out during FTL and maneuvering operations. Locked out, that is, except for the control rooms and a very few other critical locations.

Not that I that that deeply about it at the time; I was nearest the hatch and was already in motion when the Chief said, "Bobbi..." from his vest-pocket of an office. At that, I hit the entrance to Jump Control right behind Gale Grinnel, one of the old-timers and a man who won't let his left wrist tell his right wrist the time of day. He hadn't been in the Shop when he call came in -- must have been closer to Jump Control, though.

I've described the place before, kind of a cross between Mission Control and the bridge of a very large oceangoing vessel; the Star Pilot him or herself sits front and center, at a distressingly tiny set of controls; in the worry seat today was Lorena, Kent Good's spouse, something of a Den Mother to the assorted clutch of a pilots and right hand to Randall, the big boss pilot and head guy in charge. And I have seen her freeze a Navs boffin with a single icy glare after a clumsy remark about "women drivers." To her right sits the Navs Lead, sorting possible scenarios and lining them up for the next move; next row back is a couple of Imaging techs who are mostly sorting the incoming data so that what shows up on the big screens at the front of the bridge is optimally useful, a couple more Navs types straining to stay ahead of what might happen, and Power Room's on-site tech. The back row accommodates E&PP's remote tech, ditto from Stores and Cargo, plus space for trainees and the officer officially on watch. And down in the front row, on the pilot's right, is one more station: Jump Coordinator, in charge of all tasks not directly related to getting into or out of a superluminal condition in one piece. Among other things, he's got the main 'comms console.

That'd be the one he's pointing disgustedly to, while looking daggers at Gale and innocent li'l me. The one with exactly one light on it, instead of the rows and rows of alphanumeric displays and LEDs that shold be lit up.

A lot of Jump Coordinators are retired pilots; not everyone has the nerves to do the the job for year after year. Others are pilots on reduced duty, or picking up extra income working overtime; or they are, to be indelicate about it, cock-ups who might be Genuine Certified Star Pilots but who Randall won't trust in the big chair.

Yeah, guess which variety we've drawn? He's not happy about it, either, and looks even less happy when Gale ignores him, pulls a tiny "green tweaker" screwdriver from his jumpsuit sleeve pocket (he's old school that way), and jabs it in the RESET hole in the primary intercom panel. The last little yellow LED goes out, with a "cluck" from every earpiece that earns us a hasty, annoyed glance from Lorena; then they all light up, a tiny fireworks display, most of 'em go out and come back on one-by-one as proper labels and indicators.

The JC looks flabbergasted. Gale turns and gives me a tiny grin and we both step out into the passageway and start back to the shop. "Darned kids anyway," he mutters, "It used to be just one lousy partyline -- and that didn't work most of the time." Behind us, I could hear the JC start to splutter, think better of it and stop. Even the larger egos have to bend to moment -- there's ten miles of starship, thousands of lives and billions of dollars in cargo riding on every Jump; get it wrong and you're a shooting star in someone's sky -- if you're lucky.

By the time we get back to the Shop, the usual discussion is in full swing: Why Doesn't Engineering Sit Console During Jump? We're in time to hear the Chief's judgment: "You're not operators! Our job is to make their jobs easier -- and to stay out of their way the rest of the time!"

He's right, of course -- half-way to outracing light is no time to start tearing the widgetry apart unless it's absolutely necessary. You don't ask a mechanic to look under the hood of your car while you're headed down the highway!