17 October 2012

"Mo" (Frothup -- Vignette)

I stumbled off the bus in the twilight and realized I'd misread the destination: I was across the park from Tweed,  back at the commune/university Finley Micheals had called "R&D."  What the heck; it was as good a place to start looking for Finley and Doc Daugherty as any.

     They'd added a sign on the other side of the main gate from the "Builder's, Crafters and Maker's RULES" poster I'd seen on my last visit (anarchists with rules!  Sheesh, Edgers.).  It looked like a list of sponsors, elegantly lettered and not yet graffitti'ed.  Tweed was the third company listed.  It figured. The large open area under the vast roof was mostly empty -- way over at one side, a group was laughing around a fire and nearby, a larger bunch was eating at a long table.  The walled section on the far side was all lit up, though, so I headed that way.

     The open, office-like entry only had a few people in it, engrossed in work at their desks.  A murmur of voices was coming from down the hallway at the left, so I headed down it.  Classroom after classroom, transoms opened and classes (or something similar) obviously going on from the sound of it.  The only open door was a couple of rooms in, with a sign in the hall next to it:
Mo On Programming


Last Session!  Last Chance!

     Looking in obliquely, I could see the instructor -- Mo? -- from the back, casually seated at a desk facing the rest of the room, speaking animatedly to a rapt audience that had pretty much filled the available seating.  From the looks of the displays and graphics along the visible walls, the topic was robotics and as I came closer, I was wondering if someone in that room had programmed the smart-alec luggage carrier at the Port that'd nearly run me down the day I'd landed.

     When I came up even with the door, I could see more of him.   His voice carried clearly into the hall:  "Out there in the world, I'm in competition with you.  We're going to be after the same job or the same berth and if I'm between gigs, I'm not going to pass up anything that turns up!"

     It got a laugh and no few thoughtful nods.  The lecturer was nearly slouched in his chair, relaxed, comfortable. A slightly stocky man, dressed in a nice suit entirely in hues of olive-green except for a gray stripe in his tie, jacket and overcoat draped over the back of his chair.  He smiled as he spoke, a three-day vandyke beard in contrast to his bullet-shaven head.  Unusually for an Edger, he wore glasses.  He had the over-enunciated Edger accent, all right, and punctuated his words with short, confident gestures.

     He was expanding on the topic of jobs: "...I'd signed up to rewrite NavCorp's UI for the Mark Fours -- while I was still working for Port Authority here -- and then RUR came to me wanting help with their new line of utility machines.  It was a great deal, totally free hand with the software.  The catch was, their deadline was two months away.  And NavCorp needed the UI in six weeks.   I was hacking code at lunch, I was hacking code while people were on smoke breaks and something had to give: Port Authority and I parted company.  Smoke breaks they were okay with.  Software breaks, not so much."

     He talked about the business of free-lancing while I stood listening, mesmerized.  With that level of interest and activity, small wonder the Edgers had such an edge in automation!  I looked down the hall: empty, just a row of closed doors.  I was trying to remember where the boffin's office was where Mike had taken me for a review of 'Drive theory as Edgers knew it (or as much as they were willing to share).  Down a hall that opened off this one or should I go back to the common room and start over?  Start over.  As I turned to head back, another sentence drifted out: "Check out a new ship online, ask around.  Run the search engines; look up the captain and the owners  If they're assclowns online or on planet, they're probably worse assclowns underway."

     Sounded like good advice to me.
*  *  *

     I eventually managed to locate Doc but it took some time; he'd craved out a space way, way back in the dug-out warren of work/living areas the anarchic bandobast (if that's not an oxymoron) had established where a hillside intruded on the roofed-over area.  On our way out -- him talking a mile a minute -- we passed by a group chatting and dining around a fire. I recognized Mo and several of attendees from his talk.  Doc slowed down to greet a friend and was caught up in the edges of  the conversation.  I wanted to hear what the programmer had to say -- sure, I my skills are barely good enough to make a BASIC Stamp do simple jobs, but there's always something to be learned.  He leaned forward, towards an especially fish-out-of-water-looking youngster and laughed, remarking, "Anyone can come together around food!" 
     Amen to that, I thought.  Doc was still nattering.  I noticed a sparkle of light from a tiny cross on Mo's lapel and someone else did too.  You don;t see that much on the Edger worlds.  They're religious enough but it's uncommon for Edgers to be very open personal religious faith or  proselytize, especially after what happened on Trinity (and, as I learned later, the terrible problems aboard Sirius Business that preceded it) and I missed what he was asked but his answer struck me as particularly graceful: "Faith has meaning. You know about the non-profit I'm running?  It's almost a fulltime job!  Sure, I work with hard numbers and harder reality; faith is what's behind the numbers -- and the padding around them, too."

     Poetry, sure, but the kind of poetry that you need in the lonely dark.  --And the kind of poetry that holds a society together.