As I was floating back to the pilot room, Tammy was waiting outside her quarters, hanging from the doorway with one hand. “Is Destiny OK?” she asked with a worried tone.
“She will be,” I said. “A little anoxia.” They'd warned us about anoxia in captain's training, and I'd seen it before. Hell, I've experienced it myself before, it's sure not fun. “She's in the sick bay getting oxygen. You can see her if you want but she was still unconscious when the robot took her.”
“Thanks. I would have thought you'd have stayed with her.”
“God knows I would have liked nothing better, but I have to make sure we all get to Mars alive. We're off course and I have to inspect the ship to make sure it isn't about to blow up or anything. Look, I gotta go,” I said as I continued to the pilot room.
We were even farther off course than I'd feared. Now it was a matter of juggling speed and fuel usage to the company's specifications. Fuel usage? I do not understand company policy, fuel for the generators is dirt cheap since they switched from fission generators to the fusions. Compared to the other costs it was free. It made sense back when they used fission generators but it makes no sense at all these days. But I’m just a ship’s captain, what the hell do I know? It ain’t like I ever went to college.
Back in the old days, a little before my time as a captain, these boats had fission generators and fuel really did matter on them. They also weren't so automated until they were retrofitted a few years before I took my training, that was about twenty years or so ago. I've been on the job since I graduated high school, more than a couple of decades ago. Before I started, back when they only had fission power, crews were human rather than robot and the captain had to calculate all this stuff by hand, with their primitive computers helping. Of course, the newer stuff was all phased in a ship at a time, so nobody had to get laid off. Normal turnover took care of that; the other transport companies pay better than ours even though their ships are cheap dangerous crap, and we were the first to automate. I was one of the first cheap uneducated captains on an automated ship, seven or eight years after the first one. I think when I was hired there were only a half dozen or so running the automated boats.
Captains had to go to college back before automation, and some of the crew, too. Since the captain had to figure out all that shit almost by hand he needed to know calculus. Hell, I ain't even took algebra even though I could have in high school.
I made the adjustments the computer read out, and we had gravity again and were going the right way. I didn't look at what gravity was, and how much gravity it was was hard to tell without looking at the gauges, since we'd been so heavy before weightlessness and we were weightless for a long time.
The empty passengers' quarters were first, then cargo pens. I wondered why they call them that. Shouldn't it be cargo quarters? As usual, the passenger section was fine.
Cargo is almost always a pain in the ass. “Who is it?” a voice said at my ring of the doorbell. Presumably Kathy, which was the name on the doorplate.
“Captain Knolls. Ship inspection, you girls should be used to this by now.”
“Yeah, Joe? You should be used to us telling you to fuck off by now, too.”
“Door, open. I can lock you up any time I want, you know. I don't even need no excuse to lock up cargo.”
“I ain't got no drops, bitch.”
I suddenly realized why they called them “pens”. They were designed to house any species of animal, and a word Destiny had teased me for using came to mind.
Feral. From what I'd read of Tammy's book, some of these whores were more animal than human, especially when they didn't get their drops. It had driven Billie crazy enough that she'd wound up blowing her quarters up, with her in them. Apparently, withdrawal not only tortures the addict's mind, it introduces extreme pain in the muscles and joints. Withdrawal from the drops can be fatal, for innocent bystanders as well as the addict herself. Few droppers survived withdrawal. I should finish reading it, I guessed.
I sighed. “I hope you're lying. From what I found out I'm better off when you have them.”
“Well, cough 'em up, Joe!”
I laughed, and replied “I ain't got no drops, bitch!”
I did wonder why they hadn't run out. Where were they getting them from? They shouldn't have been able to get them onto the boat in the first place.
Billie's quarters were next. She, along with some fifty odd fellow cargo, were confined for the duration because of the gravity mutiny. Of course, I just opened the door and entered, taser in hand. This would have been a “brig” back when Captains had to go to college and made a hell of a lot more money than I do.
The robots had done a good job, but they always did. Except for making coffee, they suck at that. And barbecue, but I don't think anybody eats barbecue in space. And they weren't any good that run I got stranded on. And they can't tell where an atmosphere leak is. I wonder why they're not programmed for that? But they did most things real good, you really couldn't tell that Billie had almost burned to death at all. Well, except that her hair was really short and frizzly.
“I ain't got no drops, bitch.”
“Whatever,” I sighed, and inspected the quarters. It was obvious she was lying, her eyes gave her away. Droppers' eyes looked really weird when they were high. Usually the pupils were each different sizes. When they were going through withdrawal they were hellishly scary, like a wild animal's eyes. Going through withdrawal their pupils were so big there was almost no iris, and they were so bloodshot the whites looked red. I'd only seen a photo of one in Tammy's book and hoped I would never see it on the boat.
I wondered again where the drops were coming from.
After hearing “I ain't got no drops, bitch” so many times I didn't even hear it any more. I went to inspect the sick bay, the one part of the inspection I looked forward to. I wanted to see how Destiny was doing.
Tammy was sitting there talking with her. “John!” Destiny said. “Tammy told me you saved my life.”
I blushed, and grinned sheepishly. “It's my job.”
Tammy laughed. “Bullshit, any other ‘cargo’ wouldn't have made it. Destiny almost died, and she would have if you weren't moving so frantically. God but you're fast!”
Destiny pulled me close and kissed me. “Thanks, Johnnie,” she whispered, “Tammy said you risked your life, that you had to have been going against the company's safety regulations or there would have been no way you would have gotten to me in time.” Then she said in a normal voice “go ahead and finish your inspection, sweetheart, the gurney said I should be able to go home in half an hour or so. I'll meet you there.”
There was a stairwell to get to the generators and engines, which were on the “bottom” of the boat, five stories down. Those engines are really huge. Damned cheap bastards should put a lift in.
The ion engines were in the “bottom” because the engines pushing against the ship pushed everything else the other way. Something about “three laws of thermoses” or something but I think I was hung over that morning's training and don't really remember. Something about actions and opposite reactions or something.
I went over the checklist and checked out the first engine. There were a awful lot of lot of the monstrously huge things. A hell of a lot of electricity goes through each one of them, too. It took almost two big fusion generators to fire them all up at maximum thrust. That's an ungodly amount of power.
I had two more engines to go when an alarm went off. “Damned whores, not now!” I thought.
But it wasn't the whores, it was the port generator and I couldn't get in; the computer said it was an inferno in there. Hell, that damned thing should have shut down automatically and all the air released. I pulled the circuit breaker and the shutdown switch and there was a sort of thump. Damn. Another trip to the pilot room, we were going to be off course again, at least a little. Plus I could hear wind, that would be the air evacuating. Air dumped fast like that from a room that big can set you a little off course, too.
It would have to cool before the robots could start repairing it, if it was repairable at all. Damn, if the other generator went out, too... at any rate I wouldn't be burning all the engines at full power, not that I'd ever had to before. You can get a gravity and a half at full power, they say. Right now we'd be lucky to get one gravity.
I called Destiny. “Honey, I'm really sorry but this is going to take a while.”