Chapter Thirty Eight
I woke up a little early, maybe ten or fifteen minutes after seven. I started coffee and did my morning bathroom... oh, shut up. Head, bathroom, what difference does it make? “Head” is a dumb name for a room you take a bath in, anyway, almost as stupid as bow, stern, port, and starboard. At least those make sense in an ocean ship even though they don't on a space ship. “Head” don't even make sense in an ocean boat. What? Well, that's a good reason they started calling them that but even ocean boats weren't like that was for at least the last five hundred years back. So shut up before I walk out of here and they fire both of you.
Anyway, I was in the dining room drinking coffee and watching a zero gravity baseball game... What? You never watched zero G baseball? It's kind of like zero gravity golf except there's more to baseball; it has teams throwing and catching a ball that's bigger than a golf ball while people “run”... I guess that's what you'd call it, even though they were flying, from one pole to the next and golf is one on one and you just hit the ball into a hole. The sticks are similar, a zero gravity golf club isn't anything like an Earth-side golf club. Baseball bats are really similar to ground-side bats, though.
I can't believe you guys never watched zero G baseball or golf. I like them almost as much as zero G football. Anyway, when I was watching the game, Destiny came in the dining room wearing a robe. “What are you watching?” she asked.
“Zero gravity baseball, St. Louis against Chicago. Six to two Chicago's favor, they're in the bottom of the ninth and the bases are loaded. If McMurtrey doesn't get on base the game's over, and probably will be anyway unless he hits a home run, and home runs are really rare in zero G. If he does hit a homer I'll miss the end of the game because I have to go to work at eight.” Of course, if he'd hit a single the game would still be in play unless they threw anybody else out...
She poured a cup of coffee and McMurtrey struck out. I switched it to the news and we had corned beef and cheese omelettes for breakfast. The epidemic on the Venus station was worse and three people had died from it. It was completely quarantined and supply ships couldn't even dock, they had to leave supplies floating in space and somebody from the station or maybe a robot, I don't know, the news didn't say, somehow they had to get them in the space station.
At eight I went to the pilot room to do my eight o'clock chores. It turned out to be a light morning, the computers were all agreeing and we didn't need a course correction. All the droppers were asleep except the German girl, who was in the commons eating. The generators were fine, except that one of the two wouldn't work. All the engines were fine except seventeen, which wasn't going to be lit before the Mars overhaul, since it destroyed two mechs and damned near ruined the last generator. The stupid robot was still trying to plug itself into seventeen. There weren't even any robots working on any of the other ones.
We had an early lunch, ham sandwiches and... yeah, I was just checking to see if you guys were paying attention, we really had Italian roast beef sandwiches and chips, and Destiny put a movie on.
We was watching the movie when I saw a light on the holographic map again. Huh? An old twentieth century western, Rawhide I think. Short movie, maybe forty minutes or so. It was in two dimensions, like I already said there wasn't no hologram movies back then. Hell, they didn't even have lasers and holograms need lasers. Haven't you guys been paying attention? I mentioned that show a bunch of times already. This one didn't even have colors, just shades of gray. Weird. A lot of old movies were like that, I mentioned them before, too. Why? What difference does it make?
The map was a holo of nearby... huh? Maybe five or six light minutes. Come on, guys, it's standard, haven't you ever been on one of these boats? Anyway, it was a holo of any bodies close by and any EMF sources, didn't I say that earlier? ...and one lit up; it was another radio transmission. I hoped it was just another shipping company like the ones that had shown up earlier. The computer would record it, so I had Destiny pause the movie while I saw what the EMF was, and listened in.
Shit, pirate traffic! More pirates this far out? I sure didn't expect that! We were two weeks from Mars and the company fleet wouldn't be accompanying us for another week, which was twice as far as pirates normally went. I didn't expect anything but false alarms until we were almost to the fleet.
I stuck my head in the door of our quarters. “Sorry, hon, gotta work,” I said.
“Is this movie boring you?”
“No, keep it paused until I get back. Look, hon, I have to go, there's pirates. This is serious and I have work to do. Remember, you can't mention pirates to anyone.” I kissed her and went into the pilot room and looked at the holos there.
For once I caught a break, but unfortunately at some other boat captain's expense. It wasn't our company, I don't remember what company, I didn't really care. Anyway, the pirates thought he was me and started chasing him.
I masered Bill, hoping he was close enough that the signal would be strong enough to be understood. “Wild Bill, John here. Pirates ahead, go around if you have enough batteries. They think some other company's ship is me. I'm slowing down until they engage, then I'm hauling ass.”
I addressed the women. “Ladies, it would be a really good idea to strap in right now because gravity might get weird.” By now they knew what I meant when I said gravity was going to get weird. Unless they were short on drops and they probably wouldn't even feel it then anyway.
I reduced gravity, which probably pissed the whores off. Good, payback is a bitch, bitch. They're monsters, pains in my ass. Glad Destiny and Tammy was there, I'd probably have been dead by then, along with everybody else. They'd have killed me and then each other.
I went back to Rawhide. “That didn't take long,” Destiny said, unharnessing. “And is gravity less?”
“The droppers won't like it.”
“They wouldn't much care for pirates, either,” I said. “Pirates would make them slaves if they could live long enough without drops. There's pirates chasing some other poor son of a bitch who they think is me. He's hauling ass and they're hauling ass and me slowing down helps us. When I see a battle I'll haul ass. I masered Bill, he's behind us, hope he can get around.”
And right then Bill answered. “What should we do, old buddy? I'm on batteries! The best I can do is a quarter gravity.”
“Arm all your shit and dock with my boat if you're close enough so you can have a little more speed, and we'll try to sneak past when they're attacking that other company's boat.”
“No, lets not dock, we won't get that much more speed and we could damage the docking rings. Those poor pirates!” he said. Bill had seen me in action and was probably grinning right then; he was too far for video, at least with our equipment.
“Fuck all them God damned pirates,” I growled. God damned sons of bitches. I fucking hate pirates. I've lost too many friends because of the murdering bastards.
My holo showed more EMF; a battle. No time to dock the boats, anyway. “Hit it, Bill,” I said. “I'll follow.”
Destiny asked how long it would take.
“I don't know,” I said. “You need to strap back down.” I kissed her and went back to the pilot room.
I gradually increased power while Bill gave his boat all it had, which wasn't much, being on batteries and all. We were doing maybe point two gravities, if that. I followed. I saw, thankfully, that they were still battling the boat they thought was mine and I almost kind of felt sorry for the poor bastard the pirates were after because they thought he was me.
Lucky pirates. For now. I was pissed and I hate pirates anyway, like I said they've killed good friends of mine. Yeah, getting pissed is unprofessional but professionals went to college and I ain't, so fuck you, I'm retiring anyway. Now shut the fuck up before I just walk out of here, there ain't nothing you can do to me.
Yeah, asshole? Prove it.
Okay, I accept your fucking apology. Now shut the fuck up and let me finish this God damned thing so I can go buy a ring for Destiny. Where the hell was I?
Oh yeah, me and Bill was trying to sneak past the God damned pirates and get to Mars alive. Anyway, I told everybody it was safe to unstrap. It was all right for quite a few hours, but they must have finally boarded that other company's boat, and no doubt killed its captain and commandeered his ship for their own use. Poor bastard, I felt sorry for him.
It looked like me and Bill was okay, at least for now. I went back to Destiny and my movie.
Huh? Christ, guys, what does it matter? It was a show about driving cattle across the ancient American west. And God damn it, I'm hungry and I'm getting some God damned lunch. Excuse me.
What? You're all hungry, too? Well, okay, a hamburger and brogs and a glass of Shike will do for me. Yeah, with caffeine. Thanks.
I put a plug in my ear to hear the pirate traffic without bothering Destiny and still be able to hear the show myself. Huh? Really? You never heard of it before? Jees, guys, a lot of the greats that shaped culture for well over half a century had a hand in it. The art form was in its infancy then, barely half a century old. Go watch it, there's a series of 'em, just pull the library up on your tablet, it's there. I guess Destiny's wearing off on me, she's big on movie history. Actually, she likes history, period.
Anyway, when that was over Destiny put a really silly one on, an old two dimensional movie that was hilarious. I don't think I ever laughed at puns before. I don't remember the movie's name, sorry, but there was one place where a woman wearing a dress is on a ladder with a man looking up saying “nice beaver.” She says “Thanks, I just had it stuffed!” and then hands the guy a stuffed animal, a beaver a taxidermist had worked on. I laughed my ass off all the way through – at least, until the pirates realized they'd boarded the wrong boat and knew I was still alive.
Shit. I'd hoped they'd been fooled. They must not have been. I wonder how they figured it out.
They knew I was alive, wanted me dead, and had an extra ship, full of whatever cargo the boat was carrying. I hoped it wasn't weapons. I'm glad it wasn't one of ours, not just because I work for the company but because we have the best boats and especially the best weapons. Guys from the other companies are always bitching about their crappy boats and especially about their crappy weapons, but they get paid better than we do and they say the robots on their boats make okay coffee.
We were stealthy, but you can't erase everything. Ion engines leave ion trails, and they were after us. At the rate they were traveling they'd catch up to us in maybe twelve hours. We were in trouble. I was in for some serious trouble, because if I lived through this I was going to be in some deep trouble with the company because of what I had in mind.
I got back on the PA. “I'm sorry, ladies, but everyone is confined to quarters because of an emergency that's come up. You will need to strap down again at about seven forty five tomorrow morning, I'll let you know over the PA when we need to strap down. If you get hungry, call the computer and it will send food to you. If you're not home now, you have fifteen minutes to get there.”
The doorbell rang, it was Tammy. “John, I have to be able to treat the droppers,” she said.
“You're not confined, that's just to help keep them under control until we can speed back up. Just pretend you sneaked out or something. Have a robot deliver drops if you can.”
“What's the emergency?” she asked.
“I can't talk about it right now.”
“Okay, I'll adjust the dosage so they'll sleep through most of the low gravity,” she said, and left.
We watched the end of the movie but I didn't laugh much after that. It was still early but I was going to need a good night's sleep.