So, what about a story about a one legged alien who goes in search of a late night meal, say… Chinese, but, the kicker, when he says Chinese he really means Chinese… so he goes to the bus stop near his home… he lives with a little old lady and her thirty seven cats… too bad he didn’t have a taste for cat, but that’s another story…
so… anyway, he hits the bus stop because, well, because he’s found quick meals there before. And low and behold, there is a young Asian person there but upon striking up a conversation he finds they are Korean… So the alien has to ask himself, does he feel like changing his selection to Korean? Well, does he?
Hey, good morning! Happy Thursday, one day closer to the end of the week. This morning I will give you a look at Star Dancer, a short story selection from Billy Jingo. I hope you enjoy it. This short story has been turned into a novel over the last few months because it just pulled at me that much. I finished up the actual writing a few days back and am debating where to go next. It is an interesting book. I hope you enjoy the short story version of it and please check out the link for Billy Jingo at the end…
Collected Short Stories
Billy Jingo: Collected Short Stories is Copyright © 2014 Dell Sweet
Copyright © 2014 by Dell Sweet All rights reserved
Cover Art © Copyright 2015 Wendell Sweet
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This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
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Universal Planet Time was part of the Space Travel Treaty signed into planetary law back in 2050 when regular cargo trips had begun between the moon bases and the first private colonies on Mars. Of course now there are dozens of colonies on Mars, Venus and Jupiter’s moons: Plus six major colony cities on the moon, and new colonies are being proposed daily to the space council.
Universal time meant that space ran on a different non-changing schedule from the Earth. Space time ran twenty-four hours, and business was always conducted seven days a week. There was no down time, only changing crews, flight coordinators, colony station personnel. Space was the biggest cash venture on Earth. It was what had pulled the global economy from the slump and severe depression at the beginning of the century, and it was still growing.
The technology had been ready for a very long time, there had simply been no economic stimulus to begin the push. Men and women with the money and the fortitude to put that push on and get the entire global community involved and interested: After that initial global push the speculators had poured onto the scene. Then the serious investors, then the corporations, and the industry had been born. And as the saying goes, nobody has looked back since.
Earth Date: 2096 – 08 -25 – 16:21:43
Moon Base 14: United Planet Technologies
Intra Flight Systems: Star Dancer
I purchased Star Dancer right after college, and I’ve never looked back. I can remember my great-grandfather, gone now for more than forty years, talking about what he had, had for opportunities right out of high school. That would be laughable now. My parents had, had my life mapped out from the age of two. Life Mapping was a serious thing, I don’t know any that don’t have their lives mapped out now from birth.
School was not complete without college. You could not be licensed to work the counters of Planet Burger unless you had two years of college. My own career had taken four years of specialty college and geared trade school from the first grade on. When other first graders were learning about monetary systems and world level banking, I was learning about Star Drives and ION Propulsion units.
The grades, one through twelve, start at age three and last on average seven years. Some fall behind, some spring ahead, but by ten years of age most are ready and I was no exception. I began my specialized training, four years, four more years of global military service after that with an option for six more, which I declined, and I am pretty sure made my instructors very happy by doing so, and so at the old age of eighteen I signed a twenty year funding commitment for Star Dancer. At the time I was sure I would never dig myself out of thirty million credits of debt, but for the last two years I have been watching credits build in my accounts.
Today I was docking at UPT on Fourteen to pick up a four year re-supply for a prison colony at Mars-Twenty-Seven: Some kind of Tech drop for Colony One, and two panel pre-fab labs for IO’s base six.
Moon Base Fourteen is United Planet Technologies own base. There is not much else here; a small cafeteria, some lounges for through travelers, each progressively worse than the last: The best being Vic’s, and Vic’s was the only official bar, the other two were simply overlooked. That could happen at a base that was not really a base at all, but a company town.
I had, had the tour before, and short of taking on a small crew, and maybe a new navigator to replace the one I had been without for the last seventeen months, I would be here only long enough to fuel, be unloaded and then loaded and once I was re-supplied I’d be off: So there would be no downtime in the next twenty-four.
The crew was a transport crew. In other words, a company crew that would accompany me to all three of the offloads, do all the offloading and on loading. I would be coming back to Fourteen with a full load of finished products bound for Earth. They would pack it all, all I had to do was bring it back.
On my last stop, IO, I’d lose the crew. That would leave me alone for the return trip, unless of course I signed a navigator today. So far out of twenty possibles I had, had only five show up, and out of the five three turned me down. I turned the other two down. So if I was a betting man, and I am usually, I’d say the odds were that I would be riding this trip alone.
I eased my ship into dock. Some go with the auto-nav, but I have heard too many horror stories about out of phase computers, last second power surges and more to trust my ship to the machines. I do it myself. I have known how to do it since third grade in the flight sims. Microsoft had the best federally approved space flight sims, and my parents had made sure I got the best.
I gave my reverse thrusters a quick slap with my palm at three hundred feet out and watched my lock coupler drift home with nothing more than a small frame vibration when I went green on lock-in. I keyed my overhead.
“Central, I’m locked on 6B… Standing by for loading, over…”
“Green on my board, Dancer… Unlocking for loads… You have company standing by, Dancer.”
“Oh yeah?” That was a surprise.
“Uh… Lounge seven… Navigator?”
“Oh, okay, right… Send him right up, and thank you.”
“Oh yeah… Pretty sure, unless I’m blind.” He chuckled.
“Huh… Supposed to be…” I punched the name up on my scheduling screen. “Pete Stanovich.”
“Uh huh… Short for Petra, no doubt… Petra Stanovich… See, you must have heard the Pete part and not the tra part.” He chuckled again.
“Someone screwed up… It’s entered as Pete in the com. Okay send her up then, and thanks.”
“Coming at you… Base out.”
I clicked off and sighed. This meant number twenty-one was most likely a wash too. Most women who interviewed for the job were not interested once they realized it was an intra-galaxy, or system cruiser, and one that was considered a dinosaur of a ship. About all I did have to offer was transferable credits for Federal space-work. I had what was called time for time credit. A perk because I had done my four in the service and never deactivated my six. That meant technically the feds could still pick me up for that six any time they wanted to. In exchange, it meant that I could offer my employees who were fresh out of military service time for time credit. A young navigator would have to be fresh out of military service, or within their benefit time window, thus making them eligible for the time. The time would count directly as military experience in advanced navigation. A big plus, but maybe not worth the two year minimum hitch on my ship.
Even so it was a good perk, and the past three navigators I had hired were immediately picked up for star ship service at the end of their contracts. It was both my ace in the hole and my queen of spades.
I unbuckled, thought about it, and then keyed my Com-Link
“Unlocked, central, and could you delay my visitor by twenty?”
“Be at least that… Problem?”
“No… That’ll work… Out.”
He keyed his Com-Link as an answer. I flicked the unlock switches for the cargo holds, electronically signed my security certificate to allow off loading and loading and headed for the showers and fresh clothes. I may as well make the best impression that I can, I reasoned.
Earth Date: 2096 – 08 – 25 16:27:14
Moon Base Fourteen: Visitor Lounge seven
United Planet Technologies:
I could see the bar through the glass wall, I suppose that was the idea, but the last thing I needed before the interview was a drink.
This would be my fourth interview: Each interview had started good and then spiraled downward. I supposed my job broker was doing the best he could though. I had no experience. My parents had used all of their remaining influence to get me into the military after two years training school. I had worked out of field for the last two years, a bad mistake. You became obsolete fast as a navigator. I had been considering using my six on the back and going back into the military side of the feds. There would be plenty of navigators and pilot positions there. The out of field work had really put me in a bad position, and if I went to the Military side of the feds I could forget ever having a civilian career.
The only good thing about this particular position was that it was a time for time position. It would count as military time; restart my clock and qualify me for something better down the line.
Time for time did not take away from my on the back time, it added to my military experience instead: So my two years became four years, and two more became six. In that sense it was a good opportunity, but nothing else about this position looked good at all.
I had watched the Star Dancer dock: A twenty-eight year old Intra-Cruiser. Straight cargo. She was shaped like a giant box with rounded corners. The propulsion units, ION drives and living quarters sat atop the box, rounded, slightly flattened spheres looking as though they had been added as an afterthought. I had thought, ‘How many of these were left in service?’ … ‘Two?’ … ‘Three?’ … A quick check of my wrist pad showed me just how wrong I was. There were over ten thousand Intra-Class cruisers of this configuration in service right now. That was mind boggling. I had assumed that the heavy Star-Cruisers were what dominated the heavens, but I was wrong. The same link gave me the data for that configuration: Only slightly more than four thousand, and out of that number only one hundred twenty-eight were licensed as Star Cruisers, the rest were Galaxy-Cruisers, short run re-supply craft, and drone craft for quantum travel. The antiquated Intra-Cruisers far outnumbered the Galaxy-Cruisers of the official Federal fleets. Maybe the whole thing could be a plus, I thought.
I watched the huge, plastic outer wall. I saw loading was already taking place on the cruiser. Two hatches were open, and company workers in full radiation suits could be seen inside the cargo bays.
Rows of lights lit the space. It yawned open like a cavern, far into the interior of the ship; so far that I could not see the end of the space. All the approaching shuttles and even the workers all seemed to be moving in slow motion. Space did that. It seemed to take forever for something to actually happen: A shuttle to close the pace to a dock facility; a worker to push off and then maneuver with suit thrusters to their next work station.
On the other hand, I had stopped watching twice, chasing thoughts in my head, and when I had turned back so much had happened that I was surprised. More support shuttles towing cargo barges had shown up: Teams of workers riding on the open barges for their short trip to their work stations. The whole ship was crawling with workers: Inspectors, mechanics and repair persons. Seen from this perspective it made the Intra-Cruiser appear to be a very important ship after all. I shook my head. It was still thirty year old technology. If I was offered the job, and I hoped I was, I would stay no more than the required two years to get my career back on track… Nothing more, if I did stay longer the technology curve would pass me by. That was the last thing I needed. I would have absolutely nothing left to fall back on, and that was bad. That was how the prison colonies were populated.
The prison colonies had started with the undesirables: Murderers, rapists, predators that were deemed unfit for society: As the colonies grew they moved on down the criminal line to fill them. Multiple offenders, thieves, and other criminals. Finally, the prisons on Earth were emptied and all prisoners were re-located off Earth.
The real estate on Earth was suddenly deemed too expensive to use for housing them. Yes, correctional services was still a cash cow, but it was simply moved off planet. Earth’s citizens did not want their criminals living among them. The colonies on Mars, IO and Venus were perfect for penal colonies. All the first off Moon colonies had been founded by, and built by prisoners.
It had worked perfectly, and long before the massive death tolls and horrid conditions came to light, the Feds had perfected living condition requirements and buildings that could withstand life in those places. What was past, was past, those that write history shape history they say, and it had been that way, I knew.
The changes and colonies had come at the expense of some ninety-two thousand inmates and political prisoners. Earth’s citizens turned away their blind eyes, happy that those prisoners were not a blight upon the Earth itself, walking among them in some cases. Glad to risk lives that were not their own for progress.
It left a bad taste in my mouth, but my own position was not much better. Last year both of my parents were killed in a random terrorist attack on their building. It happened about twice a month somewhere in the world. There were so many factions opposed to the unified Federal Global Government.
Truth be told, I didn’t like it myself. It scared me in its impersonal approach to life and death, human rights. Two years before it had become a world class felony to be found homeless. Picked up and convicted, the offenders were deported off-world to one of the penal colonies. An unspecified sentence which was a black mark forever, and then usually an offer of half pay to work at some back water colony base, or new base construction project, with little or no law.
The new law affected me because I was not yet a viable worker, and the government had seized all of my parents property and assets for unpaid Life Taxes: Poor planning on their parts. I was, essentially, homeless, living on my two year service benefit. That benefit entitled me to free government housing, education and job placement: Meals, as well as a small monthly credit allowance, but it was not indefinite. It would continue for three years, four if I applied for the extension. Time was running out.
Of course, worse come to worse, I would re-enlist before I would allow myself to slip into an illegal existence and be shipped off to some penal colony. It was still far from a happy existence for me. Better if I got this job. I needed to get this job.
I turned my attention back to the infra-cruiser and saw that the first two shuttles had arrived in the first cargo hold and were off loading. If I were on that ship it would be my job to monitor that off-loading and re-loading as it occurred. I would be doing my pre-flight checks as I did it. I would probably be thinking about my first off-planet trip. I had never seen Mars, Venus or IO except in video clips.
My concentration was broken when I heard my name announced over the loud speaker system in the lounge; I got up, gathered my case and headed for converse four as instructed. It was easy enough to find. Ten minutes later I was strapped into a battered dock shuttle on my way to the Star Dancer.
Earth Date 2096-08-25 16:52:58
I got a good look at Petra as I flagged her through the air-locks: All fresh air; your basic space bug, Earth bug delouser unit. People had, at one time, believed that space was sterile. A few serious contaminations early in the century had stopped that. Of course the process rendered you sterile. It was the same, male or female. The price you paid, so you banked your eggs or your sperm and didn’t give it any more thought. Space travel, constant radioactive exposure, caused all sorts of birth defects. It only made sense.
She was tall, blue-black hair, high cheekbones. Russian. The hair had to be died, but it suited her face, which was hard edged and a little angular. Something past pretty, but less than beautiful… Maybe, I decided.
I had read her information over twice as I had waited for transport. I had picked up the lounge seven video feed, so I knew who I was looking at, matching the details with what I read.
She was on thin ice. About a year left on her military benefits and she would be declared homeless, and probably insolvent shortly after that. Her only choices were military services or a foot in the door somewhere. I had no doubt she would use that as a stepping stone, but it would set up my operations with Star Dancer for the next two years, and I needed the stability back.
Top ten percent of her classes. Short on military experience, only a two year plan. Fluent in twelve languages, double the average. She had no political advantages, so she had no opportunities in the corporate world. She needed me, it seemed, as much as I needed her.
I buzzed her through the last lock. Flushed the air, and then keyed my Com-Link.
“I’ve sent the El for you. It’s a slow go traveling three hundred decks, but it’s programmed to bring you to the bridge. I’ll see you in about twenty minutes, Miss Stanovich.”
She turned her dark eyes to the camera. “Thank you.”
Star Dancer Bridge
“Full gravity?” Petra asked as she stepped from the El. I had met her at the elevator door and we were walking the curved and window ported outer hallway that ringed the central area.
“It’s magnetic, and yes it’s full-time… Doe it feel like Earth?”
“Very much so… I didn’t…” She colored.
I laughed. “Don’t worry about it. You won’t hurt my feelings. I know, fresh out of service you must have seen technology that makes this old bucket look its age.”
She smiled, but her face was still flushed.
“Really… I do understand, and don’t worry. The field is a perk. The feds installed it. They ship some gravity sensitive stuff, there’s a small cargo space directly above us, and really sensitive ‘Destroy if captured’ stuff in security safes on the main deck. So… We get gravity full time.” I smiled at her again and she smiled back. “It’s not perfect though. The mag field takes a little getting used to. It’s never bothered me though,” I finished abruptly, realizing I had just run on longer than I needed or intended.
“What does it do?” She asked.
“Space sickness… Upset stomach. Two of my navigators and one of the crew who came up here to exercise… It lasted a few days and then they got their space legs. “I laughed.
“Another perk. I carry full crews out bound every trip, and I almost always come back with a dead head crew too. They’re supposed to use it, but they rarely do. They tend to socialize together on their own deck, two below this one. There’s a small inner-deck El that connects us. The exercise deck is up here: Treadmills, elliptical, stationary bikes… It’s nice.”
“But, shouldn’t they check in with you?” She seemed surprised.
I shook my head and shrugged. “Technically, I am their captain, in actuality they couldn’t care less. They’re company men and women. They take their orders from the company. As long as they don’t interfere with the running of my ship we operate independently. You’re accustomed to the chain of command…”
“Nothing like that here. We’re like neighboring countries, my own crew stays here, they stay there. I can’t recall a time when I have met more than two or three of a crew at any given time. Usually one or less.” I shrugged once again. “That’s the reality of intra cruising.”
She nodded and followed me onto the bridge.
The bridge on an Intra-Cruiser is a very small area. It is at the front of the pod with two huge viewing ports and one even larger viewing screen in between them. Contrary to popular belief, even my own until the fourth grade, there isn’t anything of great interest to see in space at any given time.
Most of the rooms wall space is taken up with smaller flat panel displays hooked into ship systems. There are three console units with chairs directly facing the view ports.
“You would be here with me most of the time.” I waved my hand to include the entire room. “Take your pick of seating, any can be configured the way you want it to be. Sit down, give a shot. It’s pretty straight forward.”
She sat, pulled the overhead monitor down and had the navigation screens up in just a few moments. She studied them for a few seconds. “Looks easy enough.”
“It is… Believe me, you’ll be bored most of the time.”
“When would I have to decide?”
I looked at one of the wall monitors and the time stamp that ran along the bottom. “You have about four hours from now. That will give me time to re-configure rations, get your licensing in order, passport, extra fuel supplies… Or, you could think it over this trip and I’ll be back in thirteen months, give or take… That’s my average return trip.”
“So… So, you’re offering me the job?” she asked. She was a little wide eyed.
“Absolutely… You’re qualified… Listen, let’s face it, you’re overqualified. I’d be damn lucky to get you. The only thing I’d ask of you is the standard two year contract.” She started to speak, but I held up my hands.
“You can’t hurt my feelings. Two years, as we both know, is the maximum benefit time for you, and it will give you the time to look around. It is an incredible world out there. You won’t believe all the contacts and people you’ll meet. It will give you some real time to breath… Think about what you really want to do. I’ve got some good contacts I could point you at.”
“You’d do that for me?”
“Absolutely… You do right by me and I’ll be happy to do right by you.”
“Okay.” She looked around the room. “My stuff is in a locker off Lounge 7.”
It took me a second. “Oh, you meant okay as in you’ll take it… The job?”
“She smiled. “Sorry. Guess I forgot to add yes I’ll take the job.”
“No, no, I’m a little slow.” I turned back to my monitor and pulled up the re-stocking charts. “Any particular wants or needs? We eat pretty well. The Fed contracts load us up with all kinds of stuff. Perks again, but they are well stocked here at Fourteen… Real coffee… Media… Whatever.” I continued through the screens and began to recalculate the fuel requirements.
Earth Date 2096-08-25 00:03:51
Moon Base fourteen
United Planet Technologies
Intra-Cruiser: Star Dancer
I ran down the lists as Petra pulled them up on her screens and checked them off. Flawless.
“It looks good, Michael.”
“It is good, Petra… Take it out.” I picked up my mug of coffee, the first real coffee I had, had in a while. It sure beat synthetics. I felt the vibration as she threw the dock lock switches and expertly palmed the thrusters. We did a slow, nearly perfect half turn, then she did a longer burn to put us into our ten mile safety limit before she could engage the ION engines.
I watched Moon Base Fourteen fall slowly behind us on the main monitor, and then continued watching as Petra went through the pre ION drive check lists. I had done it so long by myself that I felt almost guilty sitting back and letting her take care of it. Nevertheless, it felt good, and I was looking forward to the company.
“Ten plus zero zero one,” Petra said.
“Kick ’em,” I told her.
She grinned at me and then reached forward and engaged the ION drives.
I sat back and watched the red mileage numerals begin to move fast, then I turned my attention to my own checks. Cargo, decks, company crews. A few minutes later I was done and I sat back and watched as Petra finished her calculations and sent them to my screen to check and approve. She began to program her side navigation console.
Moon Base Fourteen was gone. The moon itself was a distant smear of dull gray next to the big blue ball. Sometimes there were things to look at in space.
I sat back and relaxed into my chair and thumbed by Log-Link.
“Intra-Cruiser Star Dancer, forty-five minutes and twenty-eight seconds out of Moon Base Fourteen. Present, Michael Watson, chief operating officer, Petra Stanovich, navigation officer. We have at present, twenty-eight UPT crew members, see contract FQHPX2879 for a crew manifest… Mars Prison Colony Twenty-Seven will be our first stop, a re-supply, see manifest 97715. Mars One tech drop, see Fed contract 771926f, our second stop. IO six, last drop, pre-fab building shipment under science contract 279916bx… Watson out.”
I picked up my mug and sipped at my coffee while Petra did her own log. I had a navigator for the next two years, after that maybe I would bite the bullet and spring for an Intra-Galaxy Cruiser. I thought about it. I just might do it. Maybe it was time for a change. Maybe I could even run it by Petra, see how it sounded to another set of ears. Maybe it would even interest her.
It made me feel good. I guess I had fallen into a rut over the past seventeen months. I was surprised how good the bridge felt with someone else on it. I sipped at my coffee and watched the Earth grow smaller as we picked up speed…