The O. S. A. needs you!

They said, "Become a Station Technician."

While I was in training, they told me, "Station Techs get respect, and money, and power... And girls."

Now I live on the edge of space and spend my time watching massive icicles swim around a giant ball of liquid hydrogen. In a year or two I'll be watching one of those ice-chunks smash into the station, and I'm not expecting it to go well.

The Space Safety Board (SSB) had condemned Saturn's only space station about four years ago, and then advised everyone to return to the relative safety of the Belt Habitats and Mars Metro.

"The station is falling," they said, and painted a giant warning on the hull. When it was discovered repairs were too costly to be possible, someone painted the name Fort Falling over the warning. I'm not going out there to change it back.

The Outer System Alliance has relocated close to a hundred thousand people, but a lack of ships and resources leads me to believe the rest of us will be lucky to get off this heap before it gets scattered among the rings.

[So Doc, how is writing this down suppose to make me feel better?]

Job Security

Chuck, my shift supervisor, started to lecture me about how I should do my job. Like I don't know standard procedure demands all mobile objects be secured before decommissioning an apartment.

I didn't want to listen to his lecture, so I interrupted him.

"If you can prove an imitation-stone beverage container will do more damage than the rain of ice which is going to knock it off the table," I said. "Then I will swear on my life to keep better track of my coffee mugs."

He immediately declared, "I'm not going to put up with that."

"Then don't," I said. "Fire me." Like he's going to let me slack around until the end comes.

Two more years of this, and I'll welcome the rain.

Pest Patrol Reminder

I need to stop by and ask Doc Hester if she can take any more cats. I'm not exactly sure what else she does with them, but they seem healthy and happy living in that weird habitat she made for them.

Flushing rodents and bugs into space is something I do with pleasure, but doing the same to kittens ruins my entire week.

Bonus Oxygen

For you ground huggers, "Bonus Oxygen" refers to that occasional bit of luck which might make up the difference between life and suffocation.

I salvaged three kittens from storage-bay some-stupid-number, and I took them to Doc Hester. She quietly hummed promises of those words to them while she made the initial examination.

Doc Hester is older than most people ever get. She refuses to leave with the other non-essential personnel because she would rather die at home. She knows a lot about physics, biology, psychology and other things-I-can't-spell.

Here at Fort Falling, Doc is our Bonus Oxygen.

Observation Deck

Our Observation Deck offers a wide variety of views. I've seen the icebergs spinning, so they all look like doom to me.


Am I being too negative? Some days I feel as if I have a terminal illness, and soon I start remembering everyone is terminal... Eventually. This leads to such questions as, "Why bother?"

The occasional fleeting moment of peace and happiness for maintaining momentum despite the time or the blood and sweat. Is it enough?

So I wonder about time instead.

We use time as a tool of measurement, but that measurement only exists within the artificial constructs of society. There is also the flow of time, which we understand both as the eternal present, and as the device which gives us past and future.

We aren't sure how many more ships are coming, be we know we have about 300 days to get off this station before it drowns in the rings.


I've succeeded in depressing myself thouroughly. Although, I'm not sure you can call it a success if that isn't what you were trying to do. I mean, you made something happen, so maybe you could call it progress...

I suppose it's possible Doc Hester was politely telling me to go away when she told me I would feel better if I wrote it down. Depressed is not better.

But, if I start in on one of my existential rants again, I suspect she will tell me to keep writing. It's probably easier to stop reading than to stop someone from ranting in your face... I suppose. I'll have to write it down.

Perspective thoughts

It's funny what you think about. When your biggest worry is getting the air cores blasted out before the tangent races begin, you don't stop to wonder if you have time to work on some things you've been putting off.

I've been wondering about things I've already done. Not much--which is why I get depressed.

So I think about kittens. Or that girl in hydroponics, Paula, who recently seems to have reversed her poles. She was one of a reasonably small selection of women who have told me, in one way or another, that I was repulsive. Usually they soften it up with words like, "We are too much alike" or "You know when two magnets are facing each other...?" But it mostly comes down to, "I need to get away from you with mag-lev speed." Anyway, I got a date with Paula, and maybe I'll see if she will let me take pictures.

I can also tell people what I really think. Therefore, fellow Fallers, listen up! I'm sick of you helpless, dirt-assed, wannabe Station Techs (you all know who you are) telling me how to do my job. If you called me to fix something, shut-the-hell-up unless I ask you a question. I'll try to keep it simple.

If we do happen to get away from this station before it comes apart, I still get to have done everything I did when we all thought it didn't matter.


Out with the bad air.

There's nothing like a blast of vacuum to clean out those air cores. Don't forget to switch on the secondary life-support system.

You need to lock down the flow-gates to living area's (which is any place that's not an air core really) and flush the cores with cleanser (a nice toxic and corrosive gas with a short half-life), then shoot all the loose trash into space.

In with the good air.

There'll be more bugs and rats in a bit, and you'll need to feed more cats for a while. Log it and move on to the next core.

Tangent Races

It wouldn't be a metro-station without Tangent Races. I guess that means Fort Falling is no longer metro--the Tangent Races went away with most of the station's population.

Eddie and I went up to the track and ran a couple of clunker's around a few times. Even those old, beat-up racers can move once you start racing for the Tangent. It was fun, but it's not the same.

For those of you living on a world with gravity, "Racing for the Tangent" means going as fast as you can against the direction of station-spin. The Tangent is that place and/or speed at which you and your vehicle become weightless.

So if you are on a space-station, and you have become weightless, it means the centrifugal force of station-spin is no longer holding you against the floor. If the station hasn't stopped spinning, you must be moving. Or at the Hub.

It is difficult to remain weightless in a Tangent Race because you don't have much traction. There are variations, but usually the driver who finishes with the most free-fall time wins.

The best way to watch is from a launch platform, which is a sort of Tangent on rails. That's one of the reasons I became a station tech. Once a launch hits free-fall, it doesn't take much to monitor--keep an eye on the magnetics and let the station turn underneath you. And don't log too much time in free-fall or someone will notice and put you on Heavy duty.

Skeleton Crew

If you've never seen a station in real life, then you might be surprised at how skeletal they look. You can't really have a space station without rails. Rails are the only practical means (as far we know) of moving large amounts of mass into, and out of, the centrifugal gravity of station-spin.

So space stations are encircled by multiple bands of magnetic rails, and support structures for the rails, and support structures for the spinning station, and rail transfer nodes, and rail switches, and launches riding the main rail in and out of free-fall... And the visable amount of space where people live their lives looks small and insignificant under all of that.

Fort Falling has three Metro class rails and six Civilian class rails. Our primary metro-rail spins at 1.2 Gees. The primary launch once cycled through free-fall four times a day on that rail, and it moved hundreds of people, and great masses of supplies while doing so. We haven't used it for years now.

Heavy Duty

There are some good aspects to Heavy Duty...

  1. Supervisors usually leave you alone. Let's say Chuck is having a bad day, and he needs to lecture someone for whatever-reason-he-makes-up... In that situation, I would rather be running maintenance on the primary rail at 1.2 Gees--where Chuck will be reluctant to add 20% spin-weight to his already oversized ass.
  2. Heavy Duty gets all of the fun vehicles and power-suits. The primary rails are always in use and require constant attention, but they are also larger and always operate at 1+ Gees to keep the living areas "above" the rails. That means the regulators for the giant induction-coils are larger than the ones on the other two metro-rails, and they also weight more than they do at 1.0 Gee.... Hehehe, power-suits...
  3. If you just spent the entire day slogging around at 1.2 Gees, your normal weight makes you feel spry and young and ready to go dancing after shift.


Some of you Grounders may not know this, but Spinball was invented because, no matter how hard you try, you can't keep people out of the 0.0 Gee station center. And why should you? People in space need to know how to move around their environment if something should happend to station-spin.

A typical spinball is soft, but large and massive. When you get hit with one, you know you've been hit. At 0.0 Gee, a good spinball player can bury an opponent's face in the ball from half a field away. It's all about using inertia and momentum to your advantage.

I played with the "Mag Coils" when I was a boy. You've probably never heard of them, but I joined because I wanted to do whatever it was the "Mag Coils" did. I'm no Simon Jump, but I've spun my share of opponents into the hub-wall, and I've taken my share of punishment going for the goal.


Fort Falling is a couple of hundred years old.... I haven't looked it up, but several Metro-stations at Jupiter have been around at least twice as long. We could even be self sustaining and, more importantly, have enough resources to repair the stabilizer array... if only...

We aren't suppose to talk about the "problem," but if I end up sucking vacuum because OSA hadn't decided to consume every spare bit of ice and hydrocarbons we mined over the past 80 years.... Well, I'll be hard to lock up if I'm just so much space debris...

Those idiots killed the station, and we can't even blame it on the current administration. Now they have 100,000 extra people, but the water, oxygen, and other products which once came from those people no longer exits.

Spun Out

Eddie hit me with a clocked-out spinball a couple of days ago. I landed wrong on the Hub-wall, and the pain meds have had me dreamily watching vids for the past two days.

I'll try to explain what happened once I've worked it out. And then I'm coming for you, Eddie.

Hub Floors and Other Myths

The thing you have to understand about a station Hub, if you've never been around one, is that it doesn't have a floor. And it only has one wall.

A Hub is always a tube, and it always has two caps and one wall. When the station is spinning, the Hub wall is slightly sticky, moving at about .05 Gees, but it's not enough to be considered 'down' in any meaningful way. You move around just like in any other 0.0 Gee environment.

A regulation Spinball field is 40m in diameter and 140m long... The two goal-caps being 20m each. There are two spinballs, two teams, and two ways to score: "Spin" an opponent into the wall using your own spinball as a weapon, or carry your opponent's spinball into your goal without touching the wall. Sounds easy, doesn't it?

Dizzy Jack

Dzyjak is a label my dad pinned on me when I started training, and somehow made it into my file as my system-name.

I am a "Dizzy Jack"; a.k.a. a station technician.

  1. "Dizzy": From working on 'spinning' space stations.
    • It is also a reference to the effects caused by the tendency of Station Techs to confuse people by trying to explain stuff....
    • [Which] they don't really understand but know how to fix anyway.
  2. A "Jack" has a broad range of skills and responsibilities, but he or she calls an engineer for critical problems.
    • A reference to the old pre-Luna saying, "Jack of all trades; master of none."
    • A reference to the practice of borrowing vehicles without authorization.


How many Station Techs does it take to change a light panel?

Have you tried turning the light off, and then back on again?

Station Cats

There wouldn't be space stations without humans, or more specifically, without human societies and culture. Groups of humans usually come with a variety of other biological entities. Some of these we want around, and the others we will never be rid of until we stop creating all the leavings which come with getting on in life... Which means the bugs and rats are with us to stay--even in space.

So we brought in the cats. We built places for them all over the station--semi-natural habitats with self-cleaning feline waste facilities (which need regular maintenance by station techs). We feed them, but the food is fortified with a mild feline hormone suppressant. The more active (and, I suspect, the more intelligent) cats don't like it and will hunt for food instead. We feed the kittens too.

Station cats aren't really domestic, but they aren't feral like stray cats are on Earth. Most of them will avoid being touched and aren't comfortable unless they have at least two escape routes, but they don't worry about humans too much. There are always a noticeable number of domestic types, but they tend to move onto a ship or into someone's quarters if given the slightest opportunity.

The more domestic cats have left the station with their owners. I've got most of the remaining cats rounded up and handed over to Doc Hester, but I doubt if their fates will be much different than the few still loose on the station.

'Grounders,' et al.

I apologize if I have offended anyone with my postings. I don't really have anything against ground huggers except their lack of station-instincts. This lack often makes my job harder.

The truth is, I only know grounders as a sort of mythological creature. I was born on Ceres Station, and gravity was something I learned about in school. I never understood what you-all mean by "It feels like I stood up too fast... all of the time... Kind of."

My experience with real gravity is limited to a moon massed at .23 Gees. It didn't feel right at all. Like spin-weight, it's hard to describe. Weight should not cling and grasp at you while simultaneously making you feel as if your feet aren't heavy enough.

Vacuum Weld

You grounders may not know this, but vacuum has an evaporating effect on solid metal. It happens faster than most people think.

If Station Techs don't check every hatch, vent, valve, and miscellaneous opening which spends its time closed to and exposed to vacuum--the part in question tends to seize up and stop opening. The reason is what we techs technically call a 'vacuum weld.' The metal surfaces evaporate and condense together in the hard radiation and low pressure environment.

If you wait too long, a year maybe, there's no point in attempting to un-weld the parts.

And all of this means I have to check 32 cargo hatches and hundreds of passenger and utility hatches every six weeks. Just in case we might need them to get off the station.

Jupiter Blockade

Jupiter System dropped out of the OSA about 30 years ago. They stated reasons such as over-use of local resources, inadequate compensation for services rendered, and "unbelievably stupid taxes."

The OSA didn't have enough resources to challenge Jupiter System's independence, so they declared a blockade and started sucking Saturn Station One dry with a redoubled effort. Now that they've killed the station, I have no doubt the SS1 refugees who have made it to Mars-Metro are getting blamed for the new pinch in local bellies.

Wendy, the OSA representative who remains on the station, has considered asking the Jupiter System for assistance. I told her to talk to Doc Hester first, because the Doc has been in contact with them for several years. Talking to Wendy is like shining a hand-light into a blackhole.... You know the light is working, and you know it's going somewhere, it's just that you can't seem to aim at anything but the center.

The Tangent Track

The main Tangent Track is about 1.2 Kilometers long, and encircles the station inside (hubwards) of the main rail system. The track is exposed to space, but only in the sense that it has no atmosphere. You might get a space-going vessel onto the track if you stopped the station from spinning and tried really hard not to bounce off any support structures.

The track is used for such things as Tangent Racing, 'official emergency transportation,' and my favorite, mag-cycles.

In Tangent racing, you have to get up some serious speed (400km or more) to reach free-fall. Mag-cycles are designed to go in the other direction, so the faster you go, the heavier you get. Like more traditional races groundside, the idea it to get to the finish line first.

Doohan Station

Doohan Station is where I did most of my training. Everyone receives Tech training there. It's one of the oldest stations still operating--540 years, give or take. I doubt any of the original parts are still attached to it. Except for the name.

Today is a holiday on Doohan Station--Engineer's Day. That means we get on with doing the job while we think about the people who got us here. Because, despite the pseudo-science and outrageous plots of pre-Luna theater, people like James Doohan launched us into space and inspired new generations to keep us here.

Two Sides

There are two sides to every space-station; weight and free-fall.

This is most apparent in the main rail systems. Rail platforms, whether enclosed or open to space, are all built to shift between two distinct states; top facing outwards during free-fall, and top facing hubwards while under spin-weight. Both free-fall and weighted states are considered 'docked' for the purposes of cargo and passenger transfer.

Space stations are built to spin, and they don't like it when rotation stops. Nothing works quite right. The rail systems become almost useless. Plus, changes in acceleration can be very disorienting if you tend to think of down as the opposite of hubwards.

We are thinking about attempting to stabilize the station's orbit by shooting half of it off into the rings. We remaining alive and possibly well on the other half. I know we've thought about this before, but this time we are doing the math. The math says, 'Stop the spin.'

I hate the idea.

Brain Eater Joe

Joe is probably attractive. He stays healthy... At least physically. We used to be friends, but sometimes I'm just not smart enough to make him happy. His intelligence is frightening. Not just the 'scary smart' kind of scary, but also the 'eat your brain and spit it back in your face' kind of scary.

I wish I was that smart.

Joe hasn't said a pleasant word to me for about a year now. He typically initiates conversations by engaging me in a personal attack of some kind, which he then passes off as a joke. He might be trying to be funny, but it's more likely he is letting slip his disdain for my own intelligence. I also believe he wanted me gone with the refugees, and is angry I'm still breathing the same air as he.

Like he's going to cycle hatches and vent air cores... His intelligence is way too valuable to be wasted on such menial tasks.

Spin Time

Station Techs work very strange hours. Not just early morning and off-duty days; but also every 3.33 hours, or every .137 Gees.

There are some good points:

  1. When your sleep cycles are determined by how much you weigh, you are usually awake before the alarm goes off.
  2. It's hard to bust someone for sleeping on the job when you are paying them extra to wait around for days at a time.
  3. The tasks are usually simple, if not boring, and you can use your brain for important things like sleeping.

EMF Eddie

I haven't said much about my friends. Maybe I'm afraid I'll be honest.

Eddie was my first mentor. He showed me the quirks and tempers of the station. He pointed out the friendliest supply people and the willingly oblivious launch pilots. He helped me jack my first mag-cycle--for emergency transportation.

For many weeks after I met him, every time I looked at him, I would be startled by his appearance. He looks odd--like a skeleton wearing a barrel under his pants. He plays a mean game of spinball, and I've never beaten him at chess.

Eddie's first name is Joseph. He doesn't like it, but he was once in the habit of responding to it. This, understandably, would cause confusion whenever Joe (the brain eater) and Eddie were in the same room.

One day, Kennith-not-Ken, the OSA gyro-head who gave orders before his life got threatened by a bad orbit, decided to decide something when two people answered to 'Joe' at the same time. He pointed to Joe and said, "I'm going to call you 'Evil' Joe."

Brain Eater Joe didn't like this. "He is the evil Joe," Joe said, pointing toward Eddie. "I am the good Joe."

"Call me EMF Eddie," Eddie said automatically.

"Like 'electromotive force'?" Ken asked.

"That works too," EMF Eddie said.


Everyone knows the best place to find oxygen is in water.* Saturn's rings are loaded with the stuff, and most of our mining operations are in the rings. There are some hydrocarbons in there too, but we get most of those from Titan.

There are nearly 1000 people still aboard Fort Falling, and for the moment we still need to breath. We only go on an ice run every other week. The mining team loads the launch-hopper, and then a tech rides the hopper into spin-gravity where he or she docks it to the water feed.

It's a nice and short six hour day, usually followed by a stroll through one of the hydroponics parks for some fresh air and a friendly visit with Paula.

'Counter-Spin' Rick

Rick is an ice buster with a scary fondness for explosions, tech and intel. I normally wouldn't be friends with a person as military minded as Rick, but he likes me and he scares me... So I figured what the heck, get on with the scary guy and let the rest take care of itself.

A good buster makes very good money. Naturally, the good busters who wish to enjoy their wealth have relocated themselves to less terminal bases of operation. Rick is a good buster, better than good, but he doesn't do it for the money; he does it for the danger. The money is just bonus oxygen, and it's not enough to get him away from a space station under threat of bombardment.

He wants to ride the suicide side of the station when we blow it. He'll get off before it smashes into anything, but he figures it will bounce around in the ring-plane and make a new snowball. It would be the perfect place for a crazy buster to set up base, and he is getting some unexpected support from Doc Hester. Not that I have any objections... I'm just not volunteering for anything.

Rick is also a psychotically good Tangent racer. That's why we tell him his nick-name is 'Counter-Spin.'

Lash Up

Every metro station has at least one lash up. Named from the practice of 'lashing' a space vessel 'prow up' onto a spinning object so the direction of spin-weight is in the same direction as the normal acceleration-weight. If you have an object the size of a space station, you don't even need a lash cable, and you don't need a counter-balance.

Fort Falling is capable of docking several hundreds of space-going vessels (via launch platform), where they can make use of spin-gravity and other station resources for as long as they pay rent.

The Lash Up bays are mostly vacant now. Any ships remaining are either not space-worthy or belong to people like Counter-Spin. It seems very empty without the cats.

The Dizzy Pig Bar and Grill

The Dizzy is where all the techs go to spin-down. Take off the atmo-suit, relax, enjoy the unvarying 1.0 Gee. Maybe buy a drink to go with the fresh air pumped in from hydro. Order a grilled hotdog* and some baked corn chips with cheese sauce.

I have just returned from said establishment, where, somewhat to my surprise, Paula was singing with the band. She can really clock-out a place--the only people not dancing were passed out. This made me worry she might reverse her poles again. Everyone's long term plans are shaky at the moment, and Paula isn't inclined to talk about it when we are together.

The Dizzy is a big place. Most of the station techs hug the left wall where a bank of info portals combines with gadgety decor to make them feel welcome. I usually go there to drink and dance, and I am totally uninspired by trivia games, so I hang right.

A couple of times each month, Counter-Spin eats in the back, buys a bottle, and goes home to get drunk. He says, "Sometimes you drink the bottle, and sometimes the bottle drinks you."

Care and Use of an Ion Grip Loader

Grip loaders are single person, self-contained vehicles built specifically for 'mass relocation' within a free-fall environment. Grounders generally refer to them as 'forklifts' until someone suggests an attempt to fly one around while under gravity. About the only place you can see them docked is on launch platforms. Grip loaders are nearly as much fun to operate as power-suits, but they are a lot more dangerous.

It took me three attempts to pass the ion-class operator's exam. It's not that I don't like driving them, but I have trouble getting past the anxiety of doing something stupid and shooting off into the ring-plane, or worse, into empty space where no one can find me.

So the last three days I've been outside the station driving a modified grip loader around and taking measurements. I really, really hated it. free-fall is all well and good, but three days of the stuff is way overdoing it. Plus, every time I woke up and found myself weightless and looking into naked space, I nearly freaked out.

I have washed off three days of suit funk, and now I'm headed to The Dizzy Pig for some fresh food. Maybe a double-sized green salad with extra carrots and lemon dressing to start. And a double shot of gin. Days of fortified protein concentrate is a fine appetizer.

Separation Anxiety

Those measurements we took...

Today we started installing the single-burn boosters under the primary tangent track. There are about 300 techs left on the station, nearly one-third of the population, and for about a week every one of us has been jumpier than a cat in an airlock. We have a lot of work to do, and much of it is outside the station.

Dangerous? Yes. Boring? No. Frustratingly slow and rage inducingly clumsy with the gloves and delicate work? "Yes"... Doesn't even begin to cover it. Oh yeah--boosters blow up if you aren't careful. And much of the delicate work involves setting explosives to blow apart the station in the right places at the right time. It's better than riding ring-ice for eternity.

We will blow the station at the primary rail system. The parallel rails on the main line will be split, while the tangent track will remain to act as part of the support structure for our boosters. Even the hopefully surviving half of the station is going to take a beating getting into a stable orbit.

Then we will have to get spin going again. Otherwise, what was the point?

Titan Base

Titan is a horrible place. The gravity is worse than useless. The weight is not enough to keep a human healthy, but it's enough to make centrifugal alternatives expensive and ineffective.

Titan Base is actually a small space station orbiting the moon in question. Before Fort Falling was condemned, only the hydrocarbon miners and their families lived there. A lot of the miners have left for Jupiter system, but enough remain to support an active trade route.

In effect, the station has become a rather large lash up, with a population of over 6000. Many of the vessels lashed to the station, ancient and nearing the end of their travel days, are being used as warehouses.

Titan Base is also ruled by the OSA, and the OSA has started making noises about 'keeping SS1 in the alliance.' If, that is, we actually manage to save any part of it. I thought Doc Hester was going to have a seizure when she heard. Counter-Spin just laughed and suggested we ask them to prove themselves worthy of our membership.

"If we save even a part of this space station, and live to tell," Counter-Spin said. "Every human in the solar system will want to be us."

Eddie changed all of the com headers and protocols from "SS1" to "Fort Falling." Wendy had a melt down and tried to declare martial law. We had a good laugh over that, and then we gave her a choice between an airlock or a ship headed for Titan Base.

Curious Habitat

Doc has a large number of animals. The 87 cats I've brought in only use a small percentage of the habitat Doc is building... Well, planning anyway. Doc has acquired several assistants, including Paula and Curious, who do the work.

Curious is one of Doc Hester's chimpanzees. He makes rude noises if you call him a monkey, and he throws things with remarkable accuracy if you call him George. Curious has his own room in Doc's hydro-park, and is allowed full run of Doc's lab. He often wears a heavy looking, faintly pulsating green harness. Doc says it's part of his atmo-suit, and that he doesn't like to take it off.

I've never seen an atmo-anything which looks like it was grown in a hydro-vat, but the harness is similar in many ways to the sleeping bays built into Doc's zoo, so I'm not arguing. I'm starting to suspect that Doc's version of Environmental Tech is beyond my understanding.

Hydroponic science appears to be a major portion of Doc's design, and most of what Paula is doing makes my stomach spin. Curious seems to know what's going on though. I'm a little confused about that.

New Space

I've been looking over the abandoned ships on the lash up collar, and I found one that should be trust worthy in space after a bit of work. The ship is a family class passenger transport, with living space for about a dozen people--if you don't mind sharing elbow room. I filed the salvage papers six months ago, and I became the official owner yesterday.

I asked Paula to look over the Environmental core. She told me it was fine, but a few improvements wouldn't hurt. I've been clinging to the outside with mag-grips so I can clean and repair the ion-drive systems while Paula does her super-genius environmentally things. She brought Curious, three cats, and six new hyrdo-tanks to get her started. She also released a large number of specially designed, sexless spiders into my ship. I hate spiders, but they are hell on flying bugs.

It will be a few months before the ship is ready to support life without using station resources, and then it will take another few months to reach Jupiter system--if that's where we decide to go. I get the feeling most people still on the station are planning to stay until after we have attempted to stabilize the orbit. I don't even know why I, personally, am still here, so I wouldn't care to speculate on the motives of other people.

Spin On

It has been two months since I began posting to this public log. Life in a decaying orbit doesn't feel as bad now. I can't say for certain if the events, or the postings, or some combination, has made the difference.

A few things made less murky perhaps:

Gyroscopic Wasteland

More than half of the station is empty now. One of the nice things about tech work is the core work. Sure, it's cramped, and often smelly, but there aren't any people around to get in the way of your thoughts.

One thing I never noticed was the constant murmur of humanity humming through the walls. It's very lonely without it.

Loneliness leads me to depression, which doesn't go anywhere, really, but perhaps an absence of a journey is a journey of it's own. This empty place weighs on my mood and darkens my thoughts. I have walked down kilometers of urban through-way, scanning randomly for pressure changes, inspecting suspect joints and joinings, and obsessively marking the doors on decommissioned apartments. Every hour seems like a day. Days walking in circles--pressing against the inside edge of a gyroscopic wasteland.

The Perfect Sandwich

Eddie and the guys were talking about how to make the perfect sandwich.

I know how.

My suggestion never ends the argument, but it works for me.

Paula Explains

Curious has obviously been trained as an environmental systems technician. It's just that the systems he was trained in look a lot more grown than made--which is not unusual on a space station, but most of it seems like it's still growing. When I look too closely at some parts of the new system, my stomach shifts in the same way as when Paula explains one of her hydro-tank projects in too much detail.

And why is Paula hanging around here? With me? She's doing more than just 'repairing' the environmental systems. She's moving in, and turning my ship into her own private lab. I am a little uneasy with a chimpanzee knowing more about my own ship's environmental systems than I do.

I also wonder why she brought that psycho tomcat which I had dragged out of a bio storage section somewhere in the sacrificial part of the station. He's not really interested in being polite to humans, and the other two cats Paula brought aren't very high on his list of interesting companions.

So I asked her.

"I felt you would be too much of a distraction in our time of crisis," Paula said, "So I told you to get lost and never come back. Then I started wondering why you were still on the station. I found out you have parents on Ceres Metro--you could have left here years ago."

"Yeah?" I asked suspiciously. I was starting to feel like an interesting specimen of something.

"I didn't think she would know anything about you, but I asked Doc," Paula continued. "She told me you were too worried about the cats to leave. To prove it, she introduced me to that attitude you call Rat Bane."

"I like cats," I muttered.

"That's when I started thinking of you as an addition to my life, and not simply a potential diversion," Paula said.

Let's hear it for decaying orbits.

Time Zone

I can't sleep. Too much weirdness in my head.

I read somewhere that a fundamental rule of existence is that you can't know both how fast something is moving and where it's located at the same time.

That makes sense to me. I mean, you have to know where it's at to know how fast it's going, and once you figure out how fast it's going, it's no longer where you left it because it's MOVING. Actually, I think that was the point... You can only measure movement as compared to your own movement.

You can only KNOW the present. Whether this means anything in the context of our lives or not I don't know, but it feels true to me.

We know things about the future, but we know them in the present. One of the defining elements of life is that living creatures can predict and react to an event before it happens. The more complex the life-form, the more and farther into the future those predictions become... Life doesn't follow the rules of inertia--it doesn't have to be acted on by an outside force to change momentum.

Which brings us around to quantum mechanics--where a decided uncertainty exists in this invisibly small world which leaves us guessing (educated guessing to be sure) about where a particle will actually BE at any given measurement in time.

So, we, as sentient beings, can guess the future for quite some time... Our sun will burn as it is now for 3 or 4 billion more years.... We know some day in the future, we will leave time.... But we can't know the future because only the present exists.

The opposite of luck....

My grandpa used to say, "The opposite of luck is common sense. You can't always count on luck being good, but good common sense will always get you through."

I'm still not sure what he meant, and I suspect Grandpa wasn't sure either.

I've been poking through Doc's data library on domestic felines. I figure that when station-spin starts to slow down (it will take a couple of weeks to stop), the cats still un-corralled will attempt to move away from the hub, or 'down' as we reckon it while the station is spinning. Studies have indicated that cats prefer gravity in the range of .8 to 1.1 Gees, and I know from my own personal observations that station cats know very well 'down' means 'heavier.'

I'm going to build a corral or two.

The reason I've been poking through Doc's data library is because Paula seems to have brought the entire data-set onto my ship. My ship is currently on approach to Fort Falling after a brief shake down cruise. I didn't have time to get the narrow-beam working before we left, (we left somewhat impulsively), so I wasn't able to send a post until we got closer. I couldn't send a data query without the narrow-beam either, so that proves Paula thinks faster than I do.

Paula and I were talking about moving the ship to a launch-platform and dropping into free-fall. She wanted to work on a couple of special projects, and I had been wanting to bang on a few secondary systems that are easier to access in free-fall--next thing: we decided to take Ion Jack for a quick cruise. What the heck? We might be dead in a few months. I think Paula needed it more than I did. We fought for two days, and then we made up for three. Good thing we got most of the work done while we were fighting.

And then there is Curious. He is 'building' a cat run for Rat Bane, Pipster and Miss Hiss. I'm not kidding you.

It looks like one of those giant hydroponic tree roots that Paula is always tending back on the station, but it's hollow and has numerous cat-sized openings which look as if they can be closed in case of vacuum. It circles around and inside one of the living-suites which Paula has designated as hers; and when it's finished, I'm fairly certain it will tie into the rest of the ship through the environmental system. Rat Bane loves it, and won't come out when we are in free-fall.

I gave Curious his own room in the crew section. So what if he has four hands?

Life Pod

I was staring at that cat pod Curious made, but I was thinking about cows. From what I understand, cows are a lot easier to herd than cats. Probably easier to contain also.

Enticements would do the trick. The only chance of life for the free-roaming station cats, really, is if they move away from the hub when the station starts to slow it's spin. There are several routes leading 'down' which are frequented by cats, and I was thinking about putting up one of those cat pods where the strays will encounter it in their search for weight.

"Hey Curious," I said. "How long would it take you to put one of these things at the bottom of the station somewhere?"

Curious looked at me solemnly, and just when I was sure I was being a moron for thinking he would understand my question, he held up three fingers.

"Three weeks?" I asked.

He nodded.

I didn't think that was fast enough, so I asked, "How long if I helped you? You could show me what to do."

He held up five fingers.

I heard Paula bust a sinus behind me.

"Funny," I said. "I have a serious need for one or more of these things."

Curious nodded. Paula came up behind me and hugged me with one arm.

"Haven't you wondered why Curious is so intelligent?" Paula asked.

"No," I said. "Why should I? He's the only chimpanzee I know."

Joe's Rail Conversion

Most space station rail systems have two magnetic-rails per launch platform, and in all cases the platform rotates on an axis which rides between the two rails. We are going to blow the station in half, and each half of the station will be left with one rail from the main launch system.

Brain Eater Joe has come up with a plan to convert the remaining single rail into a temporary lash-up system to provide gravity while the station's decaying orbit is being stabilized. The plan also includes a magnificent conversion to a duel-platform cap-rail system after station-spin has been restored.

A very good idea. The bastard.

Under Orders

What is it about responsibilities, especially those which are self-imposed, that gives other people the idea they get to push you around? Seriously?

So Chuck decided he's going to put me "in charge" of this stupid project... Probably because I made a lot of noise about how stupid it was...

I said, "You don't want to put someone in charge. You want to make someone responsible for things that go wrong."

"I would never..."

"Yeah right," I said, interrupting. "Look--the last time you put me in charge of a project, I had to listen to you accuse me of sabotage more that once. Then you fined me six months bonus pay when I followed your advice and pulled the plug on the project. Why the hell would I let you do that to me again?"

"I offered to assist..."

"You started asking endless questions about old news, and you wanted me to spoon-feed you the answers even after I told you we were days past the point where your offered assistance would make a difference. This time, Charlie Boy, you are on your own."

"It wouldn't be that hard. You could even let that monkey help if you wanted."

"If you want Curious's help, you will have to ask him yourself," I said. "I don't think he likes you though, so you might want to stay out of his reach while you're doing that. Don't call him a monkey, and let him do anything he wants to your environmental systems--then he might give you a hand or three."

Chuck was looking a little pale when he left. Doing a bit of his own work will be good for him--he needs the exercise.

LG Medical

Our Low Gravity Medical unit used to do good business, but I guess with the decaying orbit and all, the sick people decided to find somewhere else to recover. Doc Hester took it over about four years ago. She has got some weird things growing in there.

I went up there looking for Eddie, and found what can only be the progenitors of whatever Curious is doing to my environmental systems. I guess it makes as much sense to run environmental experiments in an unused Med-unit as it does to let it sit there. It also explains why the maintenance logs are so small.

Eddie is helping me move some equipment--because he hates scrubbing ion jets, and I'm a sucker. I'm moving equipment because I convinced Curious to build four of those "live" cat traps, and he's letting me help because he thought the joke about "live traps" was funny. Among other things, I'm hoping to pick up some hints about what Environmental Technician Curious is doing to my ship.

Whatever Doc and her crew of E-Techs are up to, it involves a lot more than just my ship and one chimpanzee. LG Medical is practically bursting with... Growing things... And bugs of all kinds, and cats, and probably rats, and frogs, and it's nothing at all like a hyroponics lab but that's what it is just the same.

Eddie and I picked up three loads of the usual stuff and relocated it to the most likely 'heavy' locations... Weight being the bait you know. Then we carefully moved the skeletal frames Curious has partially assembled--and which look disturbingly like growth-frames for hydrovats. Curious dismissed both of us with a rude chimpanzee noise which I believe means something like "Go-the-hell-away so I can get on with it."

That's not an answer.

"It used to work."

I've heard that so many times. Variations are endless, but what seems to escape most people is the connection between accurate information and fixing a problem.

Let's say you've been called to fix an oxy-unit, and you ask the question: "When was the last time you changed the carbon exchanger?"

Well, if you aren't really paying attention to the client, like we techs do sometimes when focused on a problem, the client will translate your question into an accusation.

I'm sure a good percentage of heads are nodding at this point. For the rest of you--we don't mean it that way. Really. My example question, for example, could be answered in a number of ways (and I wouldn't want to discourage intelligent discourse) but the best answer would be, "this morning," and the second best answer would be, "Cartoon what?"

Those two answers are the best because they lead to the quickest solution and that cup of coffee I probably haven't had yet. I couldn't care less if you habitually mistreat equipment--as long as it's yours. What I care about is what might have happened to make it stop working. If I don't know that, I can't fix it.

There are other answers which are sure to lead to delay and possible uncomfortable silences following an energetic exchanges of words.

Ten least helpful answers:

  1. It was working when I left.
  2. No one told me I had to do that.
  3. It was making too much noise.
  4. I think someone did something.
  5. Last week maybe? Or was that that other thing?
  6. I didn't do that.
  7. I always call you guys.
  8. I thought you did that the last time.
  9. I just need it fixed.
  10. What's that got to do with it?

No Relation

Some people think I know everyone on the station. I barely know Paula, and I can name maybe 20 station techs without hesitation when I see them. I might recognize people from The Dizzy if I gave it any thought.

So you can imagine how confused I was when Theodore "No Relation" Richards started to shake me down about those stupid cat trees we put in a few key sub-levels around the station.

"You're not related to whom?" I asked.

"You know, that chemist..."

"Never mind," I said. I didn't know Theodore, but here he was, lecturing me on the proper use of environmental systems and having a place for everything and everything in it's place and how growing things tends to clog up the works if not cared for properly.

"If you won't take them out, at least isolate them from my systems," he said. "I don't have time to clean up after your chimp."

"To be honest, Mr. Richards, the chimp knows more than I do. I suggest you take any complaints you have about those specific installations to either Curious or Doc Hester."

"Doc Hester?"

"You know. The biotech genius behind the new additions to your environmental systems."

"But you are the one who ordered those areas cleared. And you helped with the installation."

"Yeah," I said. "But I just picked the location. Curious was in charge."

I'm really starting to appreciate that confused look which the subject of Curious brings to the faces of annoying people.

An Avatar's Life

The word 'Avatar' has been getting tossed around for a few thousand years, probably starting as the embodiment of a god. Early in the Digital Age, there are several incarnations of Avatars being used for data representation and/or personification.

I looked it up--because Doc Hester seems to think that each of us is an Avatar of society. This has some significance which I fail to understand, but she keeps trying to explain it. Then she starts talking about personality projections and evolutionary manufacturing.

I generally lose track after that. I start wondering what an Avatar should do when the society he or she represents fails in some way. Without the society, the Avatar would not exist. But what if the Avatar doesn't want to fail with society? What if the Avatar wants to create a new society to represent?

I'm sure Doc had a point in there somewhere. Something like, "One Avatar does not make a society, but 1109 Avatars working together..." With some bits about evolution applied to culture and society in case you might be in danger of understanding.

Plug in the smile.

Ice Boosters*

I'm fairly certain that we are all insane. It's like one of those cult things, except our leader is a space station with a couple of hundred ice boosters bolted to it. I don't remember the exact count, but I remember being impressed... And then really really frightened.

I came to this conclusion while Rick, Eddie, Chuck, Joe, Doc, Curious, Paula, and I were sitting in The Dizzy Pig Bar and Grill. We were double checking the plans for our ride into a stable orbit, and discussing progress. Joe was talking about the boosters and how they would effect us and for how long, but I wasn't paying attention because it never works out that way when you throw a thousand people into the mix.

Rick, being Counter-Spin, laughed and said, "Those boosters are murder. If you get more than six of them on an iceberg it's impossible to burn even."

Joe, being Joe, was offended. "Are you questioning my calculations?"

"No," Rick said. "It's just that your calculations don't say anything about comfort. It's going to be mighty uncomfortable around here for awhile. At least twelve weeks I'd say. You'll be lucky to get enough weight-time for six hours sleep every night.

"You are station soft, and riding those ice boosters for near a week at the end of it, with eyes peeled so wide they'd pop out and stick to the burn monitors if you got knocked on the back of the head... Well, it's going to be the worst year of your life, Little Huff."

I managed to keep from laughing out loud, but I still got a warning glare from Paula. She happens to like Joe. I respect him, but he really had been huffing a bit.

Burns, Booms, and Belches

And then Fort Falling comes apart.

The main Tangent Track is covered with low-tech solid fuel rockets. I'm a little depressed about that, but we will still have the 'resident' track after the supports have been flashed and the rockets have burned.

Counter-Spin has been running the flash-cut crew. He's having way too much fun. There are about 20 busters, cutters, and techs setting cables of burn-cord and explosives on every structure attached to one side of the tangent track. That's where we are going to blow it apart.

We're all crazy.

I have elected to take on the less exciting, but just as import, task of reinforcement. We only care about the part of the station we want to save. A lot of force is going to be applied in places and directions not designed into the support structure, so we have to fix that before we light the rockets.

I filled all of the rooms and passageways next to endangered support structures with water. It helps absorb and distribute changes in momentum, and tends to freeze and plug small leaks.

Which reminds me... I need to beg a few hundred more tons of water from those miners.

We still have to convert two of the launch platforms to Joe's new design before we stop station spin. We almost don't have enough people as it is, but after 10 weeks with minimal or no weight, we wouldn't have the strength to get the station operational and back up to a full 1.0 Gee.

Crazy, but there's no sense being ignorant.

We'll leave ignorance to the OSA. The stabilizer array could have been repaired 25 years ago. It could have been replaced ten years ago. But a stable orbit can last without maintenance for hundreds of years if you set it up right. In theory. Theory is cheap.

It's too late now. We turned off the stabilizers a few weeks ago. They were helping a bit, but they weren't able to keep up. We had to shut them down so we could do accurate calculations about where to kick this thing to make it go where we want. When those tiny ion thrusters stopped emitting, we all half-expected the station to instantly drop into Saturn.

Completely insane.

Social Work

Sheryl Malice.

Those of you who know her know what I mean. Let's just say that if you ever meet a chubby little woman with that name, don't do her any favors.

A couple of weeks ago, I did her a favor. I know better than this, but I did it anyway. I mean, we all have to stick together or we'll die... Right?

I converted her station utilities so she can easily switch over to low Gee usage. I even showed her how to do it. It takes about five minutes.

This morning she wants to know what time--day, hour, and minute if possible--I'm going to stop by to switch it over.

"What is your problem, Malice?" I asked. "I'm going to be busy dealing with real emergencies caused by the low spin-weight ratio. Why do you think I showed you how to do it yourself?"

"You only..."

"And don't try to sell me any of your passive-aggressive rhetoric, Malice. If you didn't pay attention when I showed you how, you better query the instructions and copy them to a portable unit before the data-core goes off-line."

"So you aren't going to switch it over when the gravity gets low enough?" She asked.

"No. I'm not going to switch it over when the gravity gets low enough. How about if I call you when it's safe? That way you won't have to bother reading the gauges."

"Now you're being mean," she said.

"Yes. I'm being mean. I'm hoping you will go away and forget I did you any favors," I said.

Social Evolution

I've been doing inspections and adjusting hydro-valves in all of the atmospheric areas* of the station which are next to the supports which are supporting the Tangent Track--which is supporting those 200+ exploding rockets we strapped on. Curious wanted to come along for some reason. He wore most of his atmo-suit.

It looks like an atmo-suit should look--when it's designed for a chimpanzee anyway--but the color is... Neutral. It looks brown, but it's not. When he's wearing the entire suit, Curious blends in almost anywhere... Like the thing is made of brown shadows.

I'm not sure whether to be relieved or jealous that Doc hasn't tried to outfit me with one of those things. Curious and the suit both make me wonder if Doc is messing with things best left alone. Don't tell Paula I said that.

Let's say, just for argument's sake, that God built evolution into the system. Would it not follow that human society evolved and continues to evolve according the system? If humans evolved, then society evolved with them.

No doubt I have just offended some who believe their book of science, law, religion, or some combination is the only truth. I'll try harder. God and I are buddies. I have a message for you-all who know better. God says, "I built evolution into the system. How else do you think it got there?"

I don't need a book to tell me what God has to say. Books are written by men and women, probably with good intent, but anyone claiming they know and I don't is plain egotistical. (Call me "E" for short.)

Those books are, however, a part of mankind's social evolution. Books are a critical component in our ability to build on information left behind by our ancestors--and others not so ancestral yet. Literacy is a tool of the mind. It exists only within the mind of society. It evolved and is evolving with us, as a part of us.

I think about these things in the lonely hours at work when my only companions are a non-communicative chimpanzee and my own thoughts. Sometimes I even wonder if what Doc is doing is a manifestation of social evolution or just meddling.

Not that I know what Doc is doing, but if Curious hasn't been modified in some way, then chimpanzees are a lot smarter than they usually let on. I have no objections. My thoughts are idle speculation, not judgment.

Heavy Siders

Heavy side is the 'low rent' district on any space station. No one really wants to live life at 1.1 Gees, so the heavy side apartments are cheap--and usually crowded.

Heavy Siders are a subculture of station-hoppers. There are three prominent trading families with heavy side quarters on every metro-station in Sol System. They get a bad rep, but I've got some advice... If you have an emergency and can't find a station tech, call a heavy sider. If a heavy sider doesn't know how, he has a friend or family member nearby who does.

And nearly 400 of the people remaining on Fort Falling claim to be Heavy Siders. Many of them official station techs.

Did I ever mention how we are all crazy? Add an obsessive desire to be heavier than normal, and you get a very dedicated and steady worker who would rather not spend two months without the comfort of weight.

We are converting four launch platforms into living quarters for about 500 people each. The platforms will ride the converted single-rail and provide weight while the station is too busy shifting orbits to spin. We plan on cycling into free-fall three times a day. Other than those three hours of free-fall, access to the rest of the station will be limited to data transfer only.

Running four platforms instead of three will give us some extra elbow room, and it be will easier to balance the rail with an even number. The heavy siders have already converted two platforms and made certain they get their 1.1 Gees (on the lowest level) while the things run.

With the progress we've made and all, I'm starting to breath a little easier... Except now I owe a few dozen favors for claiming a bit of that extra room for nearly 100 cats.

Spin Water

Moving water around in a centrifugal environment is a matter of momentum. Not the momentum of the water, but the momentum of the container. The container I'm referring to are the station hydro-cores, or 'pipes' as some ground siders say.

Water naturally wants to settle at the lowest levels of a spinning station, just like with gravity. But the reason it does this on a space station is because water wants to move away from the spin in which it runs. So, once the water goes 'down' as far as it can, it still wants to move. This means water 'flows' around the outer edge of the station--when the station is properly spinning that is.

A well designed hydro-core system will keep water flowing throughout the space station with very little effort from the hydro-pumps. Fort Falling has a very well designed hydro-core, and we need to cut it in half.

And Curious is having a great time at my expense. I'm trying to keep the right atmospheric compartments of the station full of water while keeping the rest dry, and Curious is making chimp-snicker noises at me when he's not connecting thing-things to the air and water cores.

The problem is water doesn't want to fill a cross section of the station next to and below the Tangent Track. Water wants to spread out and look for an escape route. Not being very smart, water doesn't know it will freeze if it finds one.

That tendency to spread out in the lowest parts of the station is putting a lot of stress on the lower bulkheads. I am a bit surprised by the amount of pressure a few hundred tons of water can put on the walls. In case you are wondering, this is a good sign. That pressure might be the difference between a new orbit and our half of Fort Falling turning into a crumpled mess of support structures and venting atmosphere.

Counter Weight

I tried to explain how busy I was, but Counter-Spin doesn't understand no.

So I found myself setting anchor cables and rigging explosives on the few hundred tons of water I said I needed.

Maybe I should start at that moment in my own life when I realized I was riding a free-falling snowball with a man who frightened me a lot more than I wanted to admit. I do not believe Rick is malicious or uncaring--probably the opposite--but he can talk like the devil, and somehow I had agreed to be there before I knew the bargain was struck.

"Why the hell did I agree to do this?" I asked him after my third heavy anchor ripped itself out of the ice surface when the cable was drawn tight.

His laughter made my suit-com break with static while he shuffled toward another location nearby... nearby being anywhere you can get at without sending yourself into orbit by trying to take a real step.

"My first busting run," he said. "I got a suit breach when my own anchor popped like that and pinned my leg. Best day of my life once it was over."

That's why he scares me. "That explains why you are here, Rick--I think--but there's nothing about me."

"You said you needed more water to stabilize the supports while the station rides the pitiful and yet dangerous amount of thrust those boosters will be providing."

"Yes. I didn't ask if I could come along though. How did I end up here?"

"You needed a break."

I couldn't argue with that. The second day was better. I was ready to come home by day five, but if this whole station tech thing doesn't work out, ice busting might not be a bad career move.

Outside Force

Rick and I had five boosters strapped to that ice cube when we rode it in. We were inside his ship, with accel-weight at just under 0.3 Gees most of the time... Enough to get by for a week without getting sick. The station won't even reach 0.1 Gees while it's under thrust... Not enough to stay healthy.

We are also still worried about the pressure those boosters are going to put on some key support structures. The thing about space stations is they are built to spin, not to get shoved around by plasma emitting tubes.

We were drinking and arguing about whether we had a problem, and if so, what it might be. The Dizzy serves brain lube, or so Doc Hester claims. Doc was involved with something "important," but Curious was there, drinking iced fruit juice which I am fairly sure they don't serve at the Dizzy Pig but Curious always drinks when he's there. I, as usual, was bored with the treadmill discussion* they had going on and was thinking my feet needed to visit the dance floor.

I was also thinking other things. Like how inertia means one thing to a chunk of ice or a broken space station, and something else entirely to a living creature. Curious was playing with an ice cube, spinning it on the table and watching until it stopped. I believe Curious was as bored with the conversation as I was.

Something about Curious, maybe his very existence in the midst of all this strange optimism we have going on, makes me think about everything differently. As I watched Curious spin the ice cube, my brain clicked. I swear Curious knew when I got it, because he was wearing that smug, humans-are-slow face when I looked up from the spinning ice.

"Curious has an idea," I said to the table in general.

Paula sniggered. Otherwise, silence all around.

"Instead of waiting for a structure breach to release and freeze the water," I explained. "We allow the water to freeze now, while the station is still providing spin weight."

Most everyone looked ready to argue if only they could speak the language I was using.

"Blame the stupid ideas on the chimp, hey Diz?" Joe said.

"Whatever," I said. "The station is providing a tremendous amount of water pressure from spin-weight. Curious has rightly pointed out that if we freeze the water, the pressure will remain after the station has stopped spinning."

Of course.

Center of the Universe

EMF Eddie has this interesting idea, (whereas a 'theory' would probably involve math). I find it interesting because it's all about time, which is one of my favorite obsessions.

The speed of light contains a time value. Remove the light, and there is still time. The light simply allows us to see. The greater the distance the light, the farther into the past we see. Therefore, as it applies to time, each of us is the center of the universe. We, dwellers of the eternal present, become what we are now a tiny moment before we perceive the universe around us, and everything we see has already happened.

The exchange of energy within the universe can be measured and predicted very very accurately--until you include life into the equation. The bit about uncertainty principles is another measurement of sorts, and in a way it adds to the accuracy.

But life, center of the universe, looks and listens, and the universe shouts and waves frantically for attention. Life tries to get out of the way if the universe seeks to run it down. Life lives outside the universe, moving tiny nothings of matter but doing so against the universal rules of inertia and momentum.

Even time itself is subject to our tiny adjustments. We know some of what will happen. We plan for the future. We remember and build on the past. Our eternal present includes the pasts of the universe and the potentials of our futures.

Life can only be identified in the present. Past-present-future: Center of the Universe.


"Let's freeze it."

That's what I said a couple of weeks ago. You would think lessons of the past could shout a warning or two... Maybe I wasn't paying attention.

The new lesson is one I've learned before: "Easier said than done." Water is a completely different environment that air. This is obvious, and I mention it only because I've learned anew that ice is not the same as water.

I've also learned something completely new. Curious is not genetically enhanced. An argument could be made for biological enhancement, but the truth is closer to symbiosis. Like a parasite, but in a good way.

And that atmo-suit Curious wears is part of it--or plugs into it or something. Part of the harness is somehow fused to Curious's back and neck. It actually looks natural, like a ridge of protective cartilage and bone running up his spin. When he puts the rest of the harness on, it grips that ridge before it wraps itself around the chimpanzee.

Did you ever suddenly get the feeling that you never knew what was going on?

Ice Pods

Doc Hester's new plant is just another clue that life in Fort Falling is anything but normal. The seeds are as big as a vac-helmet. They grow into a large and sprawling vine which produces both runners and more seeds.

It seems that Doc Hester is letting Curious in on a lot of plans she hasn't told us lowly techs. When I asked her about it, she told me I hadn't been paying attention.

"I thought Curious was installing more devices like those cat trees," I said. "Besides, you should have told me what was going to happen. Yesterday Kelly called me in hysterics, babbling about alien parasites coming out of the ice. I thought she was going spin-happy until I went down there to look at it myself."

"Ah," Doc said with a nod. "My apologies. I hadn't expect such rapid growth."

"I'm fairly certain that hatch was flawed, but I can't prove it. Please tell me those plants won't be blowing out bulkheads and hatches all over the station."

"Those plants won't be blowing out hatches and bulkheads all over the station," Doc said, putting her hand over her heart. "They won't even grow unless they are rooted in ice. They like cold."

"All right," I said, and left. I wanted to ask questions, a lot of questions, but Doc finds it difficult to remember I know vac about enviro tech. To be honest, even if Doc is good company and all, I'd rather spend the time with Paula. Paula likes it when I ask questions. Really.

Literary Paranoia

Kelly is what my mom would refer to as a 'New Spiritualist.' I'd always understood this to mean 'flake' until I met Kelly in person.

She wrote a book called Grok the Classics. This book, and the author herself, are banned from Mars and Mars-Metro Station. It's stupid if you ask me... something to do with her exploration of a classic novel involving fictional Martians. Martians are really up-tight.

I'm firmly confident that Kelly could be living in style anywhere in Jupiter System. Instead, she is planting fist-sized pods all over her apartment. At first, everyone thinks Kelly is a vac-head... a very lovable vac-head. The real truth is all about laser-like focus on the present. Kelly is a rival for Doc Hester in her conversational puzzles.

I delivered the third load of hydrofluid to Kelly's apartment personally.

"I thought you didn't like those things... the big ones anyway," I said casually, looking at the vine erupting out of a 2 unit hydro-vat.

"Silly Boy. It looked like something was trying to wriggle out of the ice. I would know if such a life-form had been discovered. I'm also working on a new book entitled The Self Thieves, a study of classic alien invasion fiction. I was lost in the thesis, and those seed-pods... You should have told me what would occur."

"Exactly what I told Doc," I said. "So you think it's a good idea?"

"I never answer rhetorical questions. The answer would be meaningless."

I had to think about that for a minute. "Why do you think it's a good idea?"

"I spoke at length with Doc Hester," Kelly said, smiling like a proud teacher. "I will not pretend to understand the science behind her work, but have assimilated her plan and concur with her philosophies. I have no choice."

"All right," I said, none the wiser. I had to let her kiss my forehead before I could leave.

Building the World

Kelly and Doc have become good friends. I overheard one of their friendly conversations the other day. It went something like this, only I left out the parts which confused me.

  1. New ideas don't really exist. We polish them up and make a few changes based on what we have learned from failure, but most are simply variations on old ideas, or stories, or music...
  2. Ideas come out of language. Language comes out of society. Everything an individual understands about the world, and can express about the world, comes out of language and was formed by his or her social environment.
  3. We cannot discount the individual either. Once an individual has reached an understanding with the universe, he or she can add to the language, and can make ideas better. Individuals strengthen society.
  4. Language contains all ideas even before society becomes conscious of them. Individuals with ideas are simply Avatars of society, expressing the ideas which are coming clear to society.

The conclusion, at least as I understand it, is that society and language and ideas are all the same thing, and no matter how you say it, we are building the world just by talking about it.

Relative Movement

The most important thing you learn in Station Tech 101 is movement is relative. The first day, my instructor droned on about inertia frames and relative motion for two hours. Anyone who lasted through the lecture without falling out of his or her seat was allowed to come back the next day.

During that lecture, I was trying to fix my voice recorder, so I didn't fall asleep once. Later, while feeling naked inside an ion-loader, I happened to flash on the lecture and began to suspect I had missed something terribly important which would keep me from falling into the ring plane.

I was orbiting the station at the time. The station was orbiting Saturn. Saturn orbits the sun. The sun orbits the center of the galaxy. How far (through space) do we move each day? I'm sure someone has figured it out. It doesn't feel like we are moving at all.

Spiked Attitude

"What the hell did you do to Rat Bane?" I shouted. Curious and Paula both leaned away from my angry glare, but I'm fairly certain that was a grin on the chimp's face, and not a threat response.

Paula said, "We did nothing against his will."

"Against his will?" I asked, still shouting.

"Stop yelling or this conversation is over," Paula said calmly. I knew she meant it.

"Fine," I said, after a couple of deep breaths. "Did you get written consent from a cat?"

Paula looked at me with a frown. "What are you talking about?"

"Those spikes growing out of his back," I said, taking more deep breaths.

"Spikes?" Paula asked, looking around at Curious.

Curious shrugged, but I wasn't convinced.

"What did you think I was talking about?" I asked sarcastically.

"The new atmo-suit," Paula said, standing up. "But we don't know anything about spikes, Dee."

"Bane was chasing something through my workshop. I wouldn't have given it any attention, but he looked strange. He has spines..." I paused and pointed at Curious, "Like that thing Curious has growing on his back, only it's a lot bigger on Bane, like a ridge of five or six horns."

Paula turned to look at Curious speculatively. "Those things respond to their symbiont's needs. I don't think Rat Bane is in any danger."

"I don't want you using my cats like lab animals," I said. "Get that thing off of him."

Paula laughed at me. Curious just shook his head.

"We can't take it off, Dee Dear, but if Rat Bane didn't like it, it wouldn't be there. The choice is his."

"How do you know he wants that thing growing on him?"

"Because... it's... still... there."

My ears caught up with my mouth and I said, "Oh."

But I was thinking, 'How the hell does THAT work?'

World Reliance

When I was a child, my Nana worked the spot maintenance crew for our section. This consisted of 27 apartments, three feline habitats, and one social club.

Nana wasn't much for cats. "Cats are cats, boy. Cats fight as easy as they play, and they don't do either unless it's their own idea," she would say. Then she would add, "Don't let that stop you doing what needs done for them. They don't know we take care of the world, and probably wouldn't like it none if they did."

But Rat Bane knew. I could see it in the way he glared at me the first time we met, and the way his tail always lashed against the air. He had always known, and Nana was right, he didn't like it none.

Don't feel too bad for him. Rat Bane has claimed my spaceship, and I suspect a conspiracy involving Curious, the other two cats, and possibly Doc. Why would a cat need a vac-suit? I don't know what else it could be.

Like the one Curious wears, it looks like an exoskeleton, only for a cat instead of a chimpanzee. The spikes on Bane's upper spine are slightly magnetic, and they fuse to Bane's living vac-suit when he's wearing it. The suit's tail and feet are magnetic also, and Bane doesn't take it off when we are in free-fall.

Spin Off

The mag-gyros have been powered down. The timing surprised me. We expected it to happen six or seven weeks ago, and then it felt like it would never happen.

It will take about five weeks for spin to stop completely. We have about three weeks to transfer our lives into little boxes which we plan to spin on a string most of each day.

Sorry. I'm feeling a bit metaphorical, and have been consuming alcohol. To sum it up, I'm very drunk. Not in celebration--never for this. Remember how much I hate this idea? It ain't natural for a space station not to spin.

I achieved my present condition at Rick's place... Counter-spin. Him and his chimp (Envro-tech Misty is what Rick called her), and an uncountable but reasonably small number of cats (and some mice... which seem to go with the cat trees and I'll explain when I'm sober) are headed for a 'ice mass rendezvous' or some shi... He's leaving, and I will miss his unique perspective.

Doc Hester's Fundamentals

I took Pipster to see the Doc. I simply had to ask about the row of whisker-like quills growing all the way down the cat's back and tail.

At one point during the examination, Doc took out a strong magnet and moved it through the air above Pipster. The cat lay down her ears, twitched her new quills, and released a lingering growl.

"There's nothing to worry about, but it certainly is fascinating. Thank you for bringing her here."

"It just doesn't seem natural to me," I said.

"It's this way, boy," Doc Hester said, pulling the magnet away. "Life is here to make changes. It's what we do. We store energy, we change it's direction, and we release it to make changes in the universe. Space ships were invented because many thousands of years ago one of our ancestors noticed he or she could drag a desired object which was too big to carry. It's all natural, boy. All of it."

"You designed these things," I said, pointing at Pipster's back. "Mistakes happen. Maybe you..."

Doc actually laughed uncontrollable for about two minutes. She wiped at her watering eyes and gasped out "sorrysorry" between bursts of ear piercing guffaws. Still out of breath, she said at last, "I found a tiny symbiotic life form in Saturn's Rings. It's sentient."

"Whaa..." I looked down at Pipster and stared at the quills vibrating along her back. I thought about giant vines growing out of ice, and had discovered a motive for the strange activities of one chimpanzee named Curious. This reminded me of Kelly and what she calls The Personality Thieves--which naturally led to thoughts about Ion Jack's environmental system. "Those things have taken over my spaceship," I objected.

This inspired another round of apologetic giggles which trailed off breathlessly. "Didn't intend... you invited..."

After I had a few seconds to think about it, there was no way I would give up the freshest air this side of a hydroponic park. "I guess so," I said.

"I'll try to explain later if you like," Doc said, shooing me out the door. "Take Pipster home and get some rest.

"And don't tell anyone," she shouted after me.

Thoughts of the Submind

This, apparently, is what they call themselves. "Thoughts," for short.

    "They" being:
  1. A sentient virus
  2. billions of years old
  3. with a 'non-interference' policy
  4. who created a perfect host 'species' for themselves
  5. which turned out to be too perfect.

Doc says they don't even become truly sentient until the virus population reaches a certain critical mass. The host spores, being designed to breed by dividing in two, never get big enough for the inhabiting virus to 'wake up' unless the host is also supporting a much larger life form. (That must be where the 'too perfect' comes in.)

They need us. They need humans, cats, and chimpanzees (and mice and rats and bugs I suppose) to become more than floating spores. I'm still not sure how I feel about giant ice-vines and mice infested cat trees, so I'll have to let you know about the virus thing later.

One Track

Joe's rail conversion is finished. We can start using it after the flash-cut and initial burn to get us away from the condemned half of the station. Station gravity is down to about 0.8 Gees, and will be nearly useless in another two weeks.

The OSA has decided to make an issue out of our 'suicidal independence.' It would be funny if the timing weren't so suspect. They know we've shut off the mag-gyros, and the station will be a lot easier to board by force when it's not rotating. They will be in system about the time we have reached our new orbit, if it goes that far.

When we sent Counter-Spin Rick the daily update, he grinned like a psycho and said, "I'll take care of it." I'm afraid to ask what he has planned, but I'm fairly certain those ice-boosters he has been planting in lower orbit are part of it. Also, an unusual number of ice-miners are out 'prospecting.'

I mentioned Rick's statement and my suspicions to Kelly.

She gave me a bright smile and asked, "How does one take the measure of a man? From the length of his life? Or from size of his accomplishments? Better to measure the joy he finds in living, don't you think?"

Which was probably a very profound thing to say, because I still don't get it. Rick's version of joy involves a lot more danger than mine--and something called a 'slush bomb.'

And how many chimpanzees are living on this space station anyway? The one living with Kelly is called "One Track," and he finds slush bombs quite funny. Kelly beams happily as she explains how hard it is to get him to change directions once he makes up his mind.

Finally--what is it about my forehead that Kelly always has to kiss it before I can take my confusion and go home?

Slush Bomb

The Dizzy Pig Bar and Grill serves a great Slush Bomb. It's cold, and has alcohol. Counter-Spin Rick isn't talking about drinks. The Slush Bomb is named after an accepted ice mining practice.

For the record, I didn't know any of this until One Track's chimp-snicker encouraged me to look into it.

A slush bomb is a generic term for a man made ball of slush, (mixed water and water-ice for you geniuses) usually very large, and always under acceleration. Acceleration is the 'bomb' part. Ice busters are good at making slush bombs, but it's easier and cheaper to bring in the big chunks of ice, so they don't do it often.

Why? Liquid water doesn't last long in vacuum. It goes from ice to vapor almost instantly. To make a slush bomb, a heat source (usually clean burning fuel) is injected into the center of the ice, so it only melts on the inside. Any water leaking out would freeze shut the leak.

The idea is to maintain a core liquid temperature while the slush ball is moving and growing (smashing into smaller chucks of ice, cracking open, leaking water, freezing together). Surprisingly, ice boosters are designed to do this.

Now--give Counter-Spin and his ice buster friends an excuse to aim one or more slush bombs at an OSA troopship. Rick is positive he can bury the ships in ice without fatalities, but he says if OSA is sending troops, it ain't with flowers. Either way, if it works, we will be adding rescue duties to our unpacking of boxes.

Ceres Rising

The OSA tried to kidnap my parents right out of Ceres Station. I am very very very upset about this, but I can't take it personally. A large number of people living in Fort Falling have family on Ceres Metro, and the OSA claims they need protection.

Fortunately, someone smarter and wiser than I am saw it coming. My dad says they got advance word from one of the Ceres mining facilities, and every known OSA operative in the area has been arrested and exiled under threat of vacuum.

The Alliance mouth-piece has been screaming foul and threatening trade sanctions for the last couple of hours. They must have sent all available troop ships to Saturn System, and I'm thinking that's not real smart for someone who intends to kidnap hundreds of people on Ceres Metro. Jupiter System has already sent relief supplies to Ceres--escorted by a friendly diplomat with broad discretionary powers.

The petition to ally ourselves with Jupiter System has already been signed by most of the people living here. It has been crazy busy. Station gravity is less than useless now--but it will be another 10 days before we blow Fort Falling in half and start burn for a stable orbit. Zero-Gee exercises suck.

Skating on Air

If you think it involves wearing blades on your feet and using them to propel yourself as fast as you can against the direction of spin, then you got it in one. Spin weight is about 0.1 now. This is just enough to be annoying without being useful, but about right for EMF Eddie's crazy new game.

He came by my ship with ice-skates, and dumped them next to my sleep harness where I wasn't sleeping. Paula must have let him in.

"Let's go," Eddie said.

"Where?" I asked, looking at the skates suspiciously.

"Frozen Alpha One," Eddie said unhelpfully. That's what we called the entire level below the soon-to-be-not Tangent Track. The place was covered in ice, which explained the skates. "I'll spot you 100 meters."

"I'm not putting those things on," I said, attempting to settle in my sleep harness with almost no weight to settle.

"150 meters."

"For what?"

"The tangent."

"Go away, Eddie. I'm depressed today, and I like it that way."

"Not a chance. Right now is the only opportunity I will ever have to beat you at Skating for the Tangent."

"You're crazy. Go away."

"Are you forfeiting the game? I was hoping for a challenge."

"Forfeit?" I grumbled, stiffening. "I didn't agree to play your silly game."

"Off course you did," Eddie said cheerfully. "If I remember correctly, your complaint went something like this: 'I would do anything to get away from these tedious zero-gee exercises for just one day.'"

He did a horrible impression of me, but I guess I had said something like that while running a stupid treadmill the other day.

"Fine," I said, struggling out of the harness. "But you agreed to spot me."

"Do you want that all on the first run, or spread out over multiple races?" Eddie asked with a grin.

He beat me seven out of twelve in Tangent Skating, but I beat him five out of six racing the other direction. We are already scanning the station designs to find a place for our new skating track.

Fire and Ice

As I write this, the initial flash cut is burning furiously. In about five hours we set off the charges which will literally blow the two halves of Fort Falling apart. One half will get kicked away from Saturn initially, but will eventually crash into the ring plane. On the other half, we will ride the initial explosions and flaming ice-boosters into a tighter, more sustainable orbit.

I'm trying very hard not to freak.

I spent the last three days checking cat trees (a.k.a. cat traps), and rounded up a dozen more cats. None of them were happy to see me, but without weight (or a magnetic symbiote) they couldn't get away from me. I transferred all twelve of the wildest felines I've ever met to a large cat-tree living in one of the converted launch platforms. I suspect availability, opportunity, and weightlessness three times every day will encourage symbiotic relationships.

It's spreading. Kelly wants me to take care of her two 'domestic' cats for a couple of weeks while she gets fitted with a symbiote. I agreed to do so before her stated intentions caught up with my brain. Since it isn't my business, I kept my mouth shut. No matter how scatter-brained she seems at times, Kelly wouldn't agree to something unless she understood completely.

Apparently Counter-Spin has a symbiote and a specialized vac-suit already. He sent us pictures of himself standing on one of his new slush bombs, and there were half a dozen of Doc's ice-pods scattered around. Each one of those pods contains a tiny ecosystem with bugs and rodents.... like we need more of those around. I'm afraid to ask why Rick is planting them on a ball of slush he intends to crash into an OSA troopship.

Paula wants me to get one of those symbiote things too. I told her I would rather we survived the next two months before making friends with the local space-flu.

Down Time

When I was about five years old, I experienced my first extended period of weightlessness. The first night, I was too exited to sleep. I slept very well the second night--after my mom forcefully strapped me into the sleep harness. The third night, I started to miss my bed. Some people like sleeping weightless.

Have you ever awakened, happy and warm, and held there peacefully by the weight of blankets--despite the pressure in your bladder? Even if you use a cocoon, waking up weightless is not the same. First of all, you have to use low-gee facilities... No, first of all, you have to FIND the low-gee facilities without 'up' to help you navigate... THEN you have to USE the low-gee facilities.

After almost two weeks of low to zero Gee, I just had my first five hours of down time in my very own bed, in my very own room. The place in question being my new room aboard a converted launch--one of several rooms Paula and I claimed for ourselves, a chaos of cats, and a tribe of chimpanzees. Also included is the resident super-bug which seems intent on infecting all of Fort Falling with cat-trees, bug pods, and endless types of vines. It felt so good to sleep in a bed, and to then let my feet find the floor and the waste facilities without conscious effort, that I didn't even mind stubbing my toe on a tree root.

I guess what I'm trying to say is Fort Falling has survived and appears to be on target. Six weeks to our new orbit and several ships full of OSA representatives. Funny thing is, I'm more worried about stray cats then I am about the end of our journey. I have complete confidence in Counter-Spin Rick's ability to make serious trouble for any number of troopships. Like I've said before, get on with the scary guy, and let the rest take care of itself.

Borrowing Silence

I may have mentioned that I don't much like driving grip-loaders. Back on Ceres Station, the local brain-tech called it 'Optic Vertigo,' pointed at his eyes and said, "It's all in your head." Then he had a big laugh while he wrote up a prescription for desensitization. I hated him for months, but he told me a couple of things which I later decided made him a friend.

  1. "Think about all the things you could be doing which are worse."
  2. and, "Stop looking into deep empty space you stupid monkey."

The first one is easy to do. My favorite thing to think about is the noisy intoxicated meaningless noise from boredom parties... I'd rather die slowly in vacuum than go to those things, and that always makes me feel a bit better about riding an ion stream capable of taking me into complete emptiness.

Not looking into space... Believe it or not, it helps if you close your eyes. At least you don't expect to see anything when you do that. If you have to open your eyes to move or do some work, keep your eyes on the helmet displays and your own hands. Simple to say.

As for noisy parties... One specific get-together provided enough negative shielding to get me through seven days of vac-scout recon work in the Ten-Ten asteroid cluster. There is nothing quieter than a single person ion-drive vac-suit. Even grip-loaders are noisy by comparison. And the silence I found out there almost made up for every bead of sweat I produced during that week.

We space dwellers live inside of machines... big, noisy, non-stop machines... and when the rhythms change, we get a bit cranky. These launch platforms, infinitely better than nothing for providing weight, are very very noisy. People have been complaining (Not to me, because I encourage Curious to laugh at them.)

Me? I have decided that if noisy parties can get me through Optical Vertigo, then the silence of space can get me through a few weeks of variable gravity and whimpering, groaning station noises.

Symbiotic Doc

Doc Hester is 117 years old, and when she makes a decision, it stays made. She summoned Paula and me to LG Medical, and proceeded to explain that she didn't have much time left in this world, and would have been gone already if she had not injected herself with a sentient virus several years ago. Then she told us she intends to become part of the station, and asked for our help.


Have I ever mentioned we are all crazy?

"You're going to pair with a large symbiont... become a symbiote... almost immobile," Paula said quietly. "I'm not sure..."

"Eventually," Doc Hester said, "But Signe Hester will be long dead by then."

Which is when my ears caught up and I blurted out, "You're going to become part of the enviro systems and that sentient virus-cluster-whatever."

Doc gave me one of those looks which makes me feel like I'm part of an experiment. It went on long enough that I got nervous and asked, "What?"

"You refused to try a symbiote," Doc said. "I expected you to object."

"I never refused... exactly," I said uncomfortably. "Look... I'm still trying to believe Paula moved in with me. I don't need another... whatever, right now."

The Doc laughed. Giggled really. Just like the first time we talked about the Thoughts of the Submind.

So Paula and I have been using our spare time to get Doc started on her quest to become... I'm not going to ask because I probably wouldn't learn anything from the answer. The extra time with Paula is bonus oxygen.

Mathematical Shell Game

I've never claimed to be the smartest guy around. Seriously, who wants to be THAT guy? Non claims aside, I'm not stupid, and I have a smart girl-friend. I recognize that I have a smart girl-friend, and I'm not threatened by it, so I guess that makes me smart in at least one way.

So why don't I understand the logic of engineers? I don't mean the logic which makes things work. I am confused by the way engineers think when it comes to solving problems. I seriously believe that if two engineers were trapped in a deadly situation with two different engineering solutions, they would die discussing it if a Station Tech weren't around to make the decision and possibly hand them tools.

Engineers are smart people, but very often I seem unable to lingo the gap, and I find confusion instead of the enlightenment I am seeking.

For example:

Which explains why Station Techs use One-tape to fix everything.


We are about a week from our new orbit. Everything seems to be lining up. Counter-Spin says he has the troopships covered. There's only so many places the ships can be on approach, and decel will be a hot burn and an easy target for Rick's slush bombs.

Rick also picked up six people who claim to have fled some altercation on Titan Station. They are suffering from a nasty case of weeks-without-gravity, and are currently hooked to some-things-I-don't-want-to-describe up in LG Medical. Paula assures me they will fully recover, but it won't be fast. I had no idea Paula was medically trained, but I guess it makes sense to anyone who pays attention.

The Doc is now convalescing with six other people. She's floating in a sealed vat full of cloudy gel. The other six are floating in normal batches of oxyfluid and won't be ready for weight until a week or so after we start spin. They make those med-vats transparent because, as Paula explained, they are specimen bottles. Not only don't I want to see Doc floating in a specimen bottle, but I don't want to be floating in a specimen bottle my own self... If you follow me?

Rough and Tumble

We reach our new home orbit tomorrow. The last three days have been acceleration hell. We shut off the centrifuge platforms so we could tumble the station and fire burst-decel boosters. Joe was going on about gyroscopic forces and tumble accuracy, so there wasn't much point arguing about it. Being a mouthy jerk doesn't make him wrong, no matter what I wish.

At least I've been doing enough manual labor so I don't have to keep up on the 0.0 Gee exercises. Vac suits are a lot more effort to wear than anyone ever suspects. Powered vac suits are different, but no less effort. Also, when the station is under accel, there's a lot of work involved just staying physically near to the task you are trying to get done--even though you are tethered to the station.

Another few days and I'd have to start on the stupid exercises, but like I said, tomorrow we arrive at our new home. We will have weight on the launch platforms for a week or so while we prepare to get the station spinning again.

Also tomorrow, we'll find out what the Outer System Alliance thinks about our objections to their approaching troopships. Rick says there are six ships burning decel now, and he's already 'launched' 12 slush bombs. Those ships are going to bounce so hard they'll think they hit the ring-plane. Then we will have to rescue over 700 people and lock them up somewhere. That's a lot of extra work, and none of us are happy about it. We aren't sure how long we will be able to keep that many people prisoner.

Civil War

That's right, people, we are officially at war with the OSA. This amounts to three screaming diplomats on Titan Station, and the crumbling remains of the Martian Republic. The diplomats are scarier.

We seem to have captured about half their armed forces. 120 people on each of six ships. I never gave it much thought until Kelly explained how many people can try to kill each other at the same time when they don't have to worry about vacuum and what not. It makes me glad I wasn't born on a planet where those things still might happen, but Kelly thinks maybe the human race is maturing in space. Like that will happen.

Counter-spin Rick is a freaking genius. His slush bombs hit them hard, but didn't crack any hulls, and no one died. Only one ship was able to launch life-pods. We rescued them first, and they are safely locked away in the least used launch platform.

The other five ships are immobile and look like slush bombs if you aren't paying attention. Honestly, I'm astounded at how large Rick makes those things. The ship crews are more than willing to surrender as soon as we get the station online. They can wait. Those are troopships, so they have complete 0.0 Gee exercise facilities and everything.

One surprise is the number of prisoners who are requesting to join us. Eddie immediately starting recruiting labor parties for cleanup and basic maintenance. Eddie says we might as well put them to work because they'd have to be crazy to sabotage systems which keep them alive. This makes me wonder how they feel about our new environmental system.

Jack of the Day

I met Captain Raymond Miller drifting weightless through Enviro Seven. He had been expecting someone important, and it was obvious I wasn't the guy. Not only was I wearing technician gear, but I had a pet chimpanzee along for the ride. He looked me up and down and then ignored my outstretched hand to ask where he might find Doctor Signe Hester. I'd been trying real hard to be nice, but that ticked me off.

"Curious," I said, looking toward the chimpanzee. "Would you mind keeping an eye on this gentleman while I find someone important enough to talk to him?"

The captain stiffened when he heard the question. Curious nodded, gave a thumbs up, and gripped onto a nearby viney-thing to stand watch. The captain drifted a step backwards. Curious would get bored in about half an hour, but if Miller tried to go anywhere before then, he would learn some things about chimpanzees with smart-bugs in them.

No one is that important. I shoved myself away, knowing with absolute certainty Curious was in on the joke.

Paula needed a list of arcane materials which Curious double checked at Paula's request before I put him on guard duty. The request didn't bother me at all, because Paula doesn't yell at Curious.

I delivered Paula's supplies to LG Medical. Doc is still sleeping in a vat full of something which, at the moment, could be lime gelatin with pineapple chunks--except it moves. That stuff is really starting to creep me out. I began to wonder if introducing Captain Miller to the current incarnation of Doc Hester would be funny or send a potential citizen screaming hysterically into space.

On my way to EMF Eddie's mad-engineer's lair for a briefing on structure damage and who to get involved with what repairs, I stopped by to tell Curious I hadn't found anyone important yet, and would he mind standing guard for a few more minutes while I visited Ops to query the system.

Curious sounded really angry. If I hadn't known he was mostly laughing, I'd have drifted a bit backwards too. I shoved myself away wondering how long I should keep this one going.

Eddie was handing out data-pads with assignments and instructions. He waved me over and handed me a data-pad of my very own.

"Great," I muttered. "I already got a problem."

"We all do," Eddie said cheerfully. I hate it when he does that. "Mine is a missing Captain Raymond Miller."

"I left him cooling his thrusters down in Enviro Seven," I said not cheerfully.

Eddie lost part of his smile and his eyes popped. "He is the captain of the only troopship not currently inside a snowball."

"He's an arrogant prick," I said. "And he wants to speak with Doc. Won't even shake my hand... So I told Curious I would go find someone important enough to speak with the important Captain. Curious is guarding him for me."

Eddie's smile disappeared, became a frown for half a second, and then he gave up and started laughing. He pushed himself over to a large storage bin in the corner. He laughed abruptly and pulled out something small.

By this time I was floating right behind him. He turned and handed me an arm-band with the letters J.D. on it.

"What's this?" I asked.

"Jack of the Day." He said. "That's you. Put it on."

"Jack of the Day?"

"Sure. You know. The station tech who has been assigned to be important for the day." Eddie said with a wink.

I couldn't think of any reason for Eddie to have an arm-band like that. "Of course," I said. "How could I have forgotten."

Once I explained it to Captain Miller, he became quite agreeable. I don't understand that either, but I was able to restrain myself from assigning him quarters in Heavy Side.

The Seventh Electron

Doc is awake. Or was for a minute. She smiled at Paula and said, "The seventh electron."

I'm sure it makes sense to someone. Other than Paula I mean. Paula knows, but since she turned bright red and pretend not to have heard, I didn't ask. I would ask Doc, but she is busy turning into a plant. It's creeping me out a bit. Paula said Doc is just 'building the framework.' It didn't help.

More importantly, the station is spinning, and we hit half-rev this morning. We'll reach full-rev and 1.0 Gee in two weeks. Blessed weight all day every day. And a bath. With water I can sink under. It's like the opposite of vacuum.

Paula wants me to take a bath in one of Doc's med-vats for a couple of days. If I had one of those symbiotic smart-bugs like Curious or Rick, I could have one of those custom vac-suits. I suspect Paula asked Rick to send that picture. The suit looks awesome.... And the features; emergency hyber-sleep, oxy-cycling, auto-charge ion-thrusters, grav detection.... It's a childhood fantasy. And I want one.

Except it comes with an intelligent virus called Submind. Submind, or part of it, will be inhabiting a genetically engineered symbiote which needs to bond with my nervous system in order to make the suit work. Submind inhabits the suit too, so I have to float in the med-vat while Submind takes my measurements.

I wonder if I can convince Paula to explain Doc's comment in exchange for becoming her next lab monkey? It's got to be good, because I've never seen Paula turn that shade of red before.

Dear Mom

Sorry I haven't called. We've been working non-stop: major structure repairs from our move; processing hundreds of new citizens; getting water out of everything now that we turned the heat back up; trying to get those troopships out of the slush balls Counter-spin Rick put them in....

One of those slush balls is alive, or as near as can be for a chuck of ice floating in space. Those pods Rick planted have taken root and appear to be remodeling the ship while they spread inside the ice. Believe it or not, more troops on that ship are requesting citizenship on Fort Falling than any of the others. I'm guessing the air quality improved about 1000 percent once Submind invaded.

Paula has me scheduled for some remodeling of my own. I guess it can't be that bad if Counter-spin Rick did it. Besides, Paula explained Doc's comment about electrons, (promising removal of my favorite parts if I tell anyone about valence shells and the likelihood of the seventh electron combining with any available partner), so tomorrow morning I'm going in the tank.

Doc has emerged from what I can only guess is a living med-vat plant. It looks suspiciously like the animal habitats I first noticed over a year ago. She no longer looks 118 years old. She looks 40 maybe, and is more than half covered with a second skin. When she's not moving around, Doc is attached to the medical-plant-thingy and is somehow a part of Submind. Most of the time I understand what she's saying even less than I did before.

What else? The station is almost at full Gee now. You know how much better I sleep when I'm not floating, and all that ice I made under the ex-tangent track is melting and flowing away to hydroponics nicely. It's looking like a real space station around here... even better with the Submind installations. I wish Nana could see what we've done--I've never seen so many playful cats.

The cats are fine. Rat Bane, for example, has decided to start stalking and tackling every foot which gets too close. I believe this is a good sign, because he hasn't hissed at anyone for nearly a month.

Curious says, "Hi."

Speaking of which, there are 27 chimpanzees on board, and Paula says we want even more for a breeding population of Enviro-techs. Apparently Submind is under the impression that chimpanzees are easier to train than humans, so if your friend Callie needs to find a new home for her crew of apes, let me know.

Full Spin

I feel like the same person. How would I know? I feel the same as I did when I was ten, and 23, and yesterday; so how would I know? I might not be completely recovered from my two day nap in Paula's specimen bottle. Maybe that's it.

I'm mostly certain that Submind has not taken over my person. I think. If I hadn't had my back and spine all along, I might not know there was a new addition. I expected to feel it... or something. I don't think I'm going to talk about it much.

At the moment, I feel very divided about everything. I want to do something, but I don't feel like moving. I am depressed, but not really... Numb with every nerve on fire. I suppose schizo might sum it up.

I'm awake now. Maybe. Full weight and I don't care how heavy I feel because I know, in a way I'm not sure I did before, that the deck under my feet is pushing at .998 Gees. That's definitely new. I'm nearly certain. Just as certain that I'm going to like it that way.

I need to go now. Gotta be depressed, or eat some carrots, or something. And to think fond yet scary thoughts of my soon-to-be new vac-suit.

Objects in Motion

I beat Eddie at Spinball. I didn't just win; I beat him by fourteen goals and nine spin-outs. That's 88 points. I've never gotten more than one goal in a game against EMF Eddie, and I had to catch him napping* every time. Attempting to spin him out almost always ends with me trying to keep him and his motive force out of my goal with my ball.

Spinball requires every player to control his or her momentum in a free-fall environment, using the environment and the spinballs to do so. This symbiote has given me the ability to 'feel' momentum. If you think about all the ways a person can 'feel,' you might get an idea what it's like. Eddie will probably be unbeatable once he gets one of these.

I also got to test out my new vac-suit. It takes half an hour to get into a standard vac-suit, and then another 15 minutes for someone to double-check seals and such. It takes about 10 minutes for my new suit to form itself around me. I have to admit a bit of nervousness when no one checked my seals that first time, but the heads-up display probably makes the highest high-tech displays (which I've never seen) look like child's drawings. I didn't once feel like staring stupidly into empty space.

Counter-Spin doesn't play much spinball, but he is insanely fond of micro-grav. Or maybe it's the ice he likes. Rick and I spent 16 hours hopping from slush-bomb to slush-bomb, and showing off our bio-tech vac-suits to the half-trained OSA troops. Officially we were double-checking paperwork before we move them to Fort Falling, but mostly we were putting on a show. Doc's idea, but Rick made it his own. I was busy test driving.

Those Submind driven ion-thrusters are like riding mag-rails. I'm serious. I've never enjoyed riding a vac-suit before. I doubt if even the Martian Republic has personal scout suits capable of sustained 0.396 Gees. Add the Submind grav-sensors to that, and we didn't even have to slow down to find our landing zones. Did I mention the plasma cutter? The troops who go back to the OSA will have some very scary stories to tell the jerks who sent them here to take away our home.

One on One

Doc asked me to explain Spinball. She's never cared before. She was sitting on that plant-throne she spawned down in LG-Med, and Submind was fully present. I don't know how else to explain it. Submind was obviously trying to make a more sentient connection to the human race, and Doc was acting as a kind of filter. Since Doc doesn't really care about Spinball, Submind probably supplied the motive. It wasn't creepy. (I know you thought I was going to think that.)

I'd probably been bragging a bit, but the only reason Submind, a.k.a. Doc, would care enough to ask questions about a game is for whatever insights it might give on normal human behavior. Doc doesn't seem any more intelligent, (like I would know), but there is much more going on behind those looks she gives me, something which is truly puzzled by everything in general and me specifically.

What could I say? It sounded like a history lesson I once had every year.

Spinball was invented by a school teacher name Julius Hayes. He needed activities for the 20 or so children in his mid-level class, and he was always trying to play ball games on a space station. Many of these games are still being played by children who live where gravity determines how a ball moves. On a space station, gravity doesn't determine anything but orbit. A game requiring both weight and round bouncy objects is too annoying to play inside a centrifuge. If you move the game to a weightless environment, however, the possibilities change dramatically.

Mr. Hayes, being a teacher, saved all of his notes.

He took pieces from a couple of his favorite games; Basketball and Martian Rugby. Then he considered his environment, determined the hub as the only reasonable location, and stormed the Station Admin Office with a determination backed by 20 plus bored pre-teens. You all know how strongly those kids wanted to play in the hub.
    Starting with: Blue Team, Red Team, Big Blue Ball, Big Red Ball and some simple rules.
  1. Each team has possession of the matching color ball unless a member of the other team is in control of it.
  2. If you touch the wall while in contact with the other team's ball, the play is over and the other team gets two points.
  3. If your opponent can make it past your goal line while in possession of your ball, the play is over and the other team gets fives points.
  4. As long as you don't do so while in contact with your opponent's ball, you can use the wall to propel yourself anywhere you like. And he let the players take it from there... Within reason.
  5. You are allowed to pass either ball to a team mate, or even yourself.
  6. You are allowed to throw your ball at an opponent and force them into the wall. It's called a "spin-out" if you get two points for it.
  7. Your opponent is allowed to catch your ball and gain possession.
  8. Two minutes of "double napping" (both teams in a state of "Low Momentum" or "LM") will call an end play and both teams forfeit possession.
  9. You cannot enter your opponent's goal unless you are carrying your opponent's ball.
With variations for number of team mates, one on one rules, murder ball rules for more agressive players, and etc.

Captain Canine

Dogs are fine. Other people's dogs are other people's problem. I have no problem with dogs. Arrogant troopship captains with dogs are another matter.

"Your dog," I told him. "You clean up after him."

"I have a meeting to attend, and someone needs to take Comet for a walk," Miller said, holding out the leash.

"Or better yet," I continued as if I hadn't heard. "Train him to use the canine auto-facilities in the nearest park."

He continued to hold out the leash. I was sure Captain Miller understood I wasn't his aide or the local dog walker. I was also fairly certain he had no illusions about our first meeting, but the man seemed determined to push my buttons.

"I'm an unpleasant, sadistic jerk," I said. "Why do you keep calling me?"

He blinked at me a couple of times, then dropped his hand to his side and grinned. "I hadn't thought about it, but I suspect it's because you are the only sane person I've met here."

"That was an accident," I said. I had no idea what he was talking about.

He knew that too.

"You left me hanging in the hydro-park for two hours, with no gravity, guarded by a trained chimpanzee," he said, still grinning.

I nodded politely and wondered if he was the type to hide his revenge behind a grin.

He shook his head. "I thought you folks were going to take my ship. I floated there for two hours thinking about it. I don't like loosing ships."

"We don't need any more ships," I said with a frown. "Especially those monstrosities. I want to puke just thinking about the first two days of initial thrust... What, two Gees, two and a half?"

"One point eight," he said. "What I'm trying to say is you treated me like I expected to be treated. Even when you came back to assign me rooms instead of a cell. And you treated Curious like... like you hadn't noticed he was a chimpanzee."

"We're friends," I said. "And it used to make people crazy."

He nodded. "I didn't understand you had no intention of confiscating my ship until Kelly stopped by to invite me over for dinner," Miller said. "Wonderful person. I don't know why the Martian Republic cares about it. So, Kelly thought I was joking when I asked about it. It hadn't even occurred to her."

"And all of this makes me sane?" I asked him.

He laughed.

"Half sane," he said. "Everything else was so strange... Those slush-bomb... Vines everywhere... I was wandering alone through a half-ruined space station, wearing enemy atmo-gear, and no one seemed to care. You were the most normal encounter I'd had since arriving in Saturn System."

"I'm still not going to walk your dog."

He laughed again.

"I'm going to be low on time for a few days, and Comet chews when he is bored. I suspected if I annoyed you properly, you'd come up with a good suggestion. The hydro-park has canine care facilities? I'll look into it. Thank you."

"Yeah," I muttered, not sure if I was irritated or amused by the captain's tactics.

He reached down and rubbed the back of Comet's head. Comet's tail thumped against the deck a couple of times.

"Do you think Comet could get one of those bio-suits like Curious?" Captain Miller asked.

"Probably," I said. "All three of my insane cats have one. Many of the station cats have them. And most of the chimpanzees have one.... Well, the symbiote anyway."

"You have cats?"


The captain nodded. "Then we won't talk about pets."

So maybe he's not a prick. And the arrogance could be breeding.

Memories of Thought

I had a conversation with Submind. Doc was there too. I asked Submind how it remembers anything when it hasn't been truly sentient in millions of years.

"We are the Thoughts of the Submind."

This appeared to be the only answer I was going to get from Submind. Doc giggled, which was proof enough it was Doc, and asked me a question.

"What are you thinking right now?" she asked me.

"I... That maybe that's a stupid question."

"And you base that answer on a history of questions you have encountered? Things you remember?"

"Yeah," I said. "I get it. How about I think that's a slippery answer if you want to know what I think."

Doc giggled. Then Submind joined her. I've never heard Doc laugh like that, so it must have been Submind. I still don't know what was so funny.

"We are the memories," Submind said. "We live them and become thought."

"How do you pass on your memories?" I asked. "I mean, assuming 'virus' isn't a total misnomer, there is a life cycle of some kind. Are those symbiotes and vac-suits instinctive or what? What does it mean when you say 'achieve sentience'?"

Apparently the word 'instinctive' is just as funny as 'slippery', because that's about when they starting laughing again.

"Eating is instinctive, Jakboy, but eating cooked food is not."

"My point exactly," I said. "How do you remember cooking after generations of never doing it?"

There was an odd shift in Doc's eyes, and they narrowed at me. It was laser interest in my direction--Submind being the laser.

"You are misguided in your questioning. We are the thoughts. Memories simply are. We have encountered many sentients, but only we are the thoughts. Sentience is an explaination for our awareness of your kind. This awareness triggers a memory set, a personality meme, which is most likely to be compatible."

Lasers can blind a person.

"So you don't know?" I asked.

They started to giggle again. Doc shook her head and said, "Memories of thought, and thoughts of memory; and forward both directions."

"Either way you're drunk," I said, giving Counter-Spin's favorite punch line. It left them laughing.

Gone Fishing

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" I asked Curious, putting Rat Bane's carrier down next to the small fish pond.

Curious shrugged and released the latch on the cat carrier. When I say "latch" and "carrier", I am most definitely not trying to describe a giant watermelon with feet and an exposed rib-cage.

Rat Bane didn't want to come out.

"Why do we have to use Rat Bane for these eco-tests?" I whined. "It takes him a week to become civilized again."

Curious laughed at me and knocked on top of the cage. To be fair, Rat Bane gets into the cage voluntarily. He expected rats though, and he couldn't smell any. Curious knocked on the cage again.

"That's not going to work," I said. "Look, he's never seen a fish before. The hatcheries don't like cats hanging around the open tanks. I don't know why. Sane cats won't get wet when rats are more convenient."

Curious reached out to shake something onto the water. Thumb-sized fish started leaping into the air. Rat Bane had one on the shore and was watching it flop before I was certain he had left the cage.

I should have known. Haven't I said we are all insane?

"You always have to be right," I muttered. Curious patted me on the back and grinned wider--chimpanzees can grin really wide.

Rat Bane tossed the fish experimentally twice, then he crunched happily into it's head. I could hear him purring from my position of relative safety ten feet away.

"Paula," I called across the park. "What kind of fish are these?"

I heard a muffled reply and a data-unit came sailing through the air. She's a bit cranky from the new symbiote, but I have to admit, she's a really good shot.

"Thank you," I shouted, rubbing the back of my head.

I'll spare you all from my attempt to explain the genetics and call them giant guppies. Judging from Bane's reaction, the station cats are going to love them.

Foreign Dissidents

Wendy is here. She held position outside Fort Falling for three days before we let her lash to the station. She has requested an audience with our 'Head of State.' We've been trying to decide if this means the OSA has acknowledged our independence, or if they just want their troopships back.

I tried to convince Eddie that Curious would make a good Head of State until Doc tells us who is in charge, but he managed to veto the idea before he started laughing too hard. We have leadership--Eddie being a prime example--but we've been doing everything by mutual agreement. I'm not sure we actually have an official government. I didn't consider it at all strange until new citizens started to ask questions.

Six of those new citizens are from Titan station. They were rescued by Counter-Spin a few weeks ago, and spent some time in med-vats recovering from low-gee attrition. Apparently they are Wendy's sister, brother-in-law, and two nieces--plus another mated couple who are friends of the family. I've never seen a family which liked to argue so much.

Wendy actually threatened to have Ben arrested for endangering the children. No one bothered to point out we didn't have time to waste on such business if Sarah and the girls were on Ben's side. They just kept arguing. This argument in no way stopped Wendy and Sarah from ganging up on Ben for other reasons.

Ben put up with complaints he couldn't fix for about ten minutes, then, to my surprise, he said softly, "Be silent. All of you."

I was even more surprised when all four powered down instantly.

"Wendy," he said. "We will not be leaving Fort Falling. The girls have made new friends, and Sarah and I can do real work here. We've already applied for biotech implants."

"Biotech?" Wendy asked. "Implant? Are you crazy?" Then she looked at me and asked, "Is everyone here insane? Those things are eating your brains."


When I didn't say anything else--because unlike the sane people, I'm not fond of argument--she turned back to Ben and declared, "I will not let you get away with this. I won't let you infect my nieces with those things."

That's about when one niece joined the argument while the other one started to cry hysterically. I didn't hang around to see how it turned out, but I suspect it will be a couple of days before Wendy remembers she is here to speak with someone in charge.

Herding Cats

It started in Doc's control room. Eddie gave me the data-unit, and Paula put a medallion around my neck and gave me a less then professional kiss.

"Diplomat? Representative? I don't believe you people," I said. "It's Submind. Right? Are you sure an alien virus is a good judge of these things?"

Eddie was laughing, but Paula's body pressing against mine distracted me from any possibility of further comment.

"We need someone to herd cats," Paula whispered into my ear.

"Herd cats?" I asked.

Curious laughed at that one, and made shooing motions with his hands. Doc, a.k.a. Submind, seemed to think it was funny too.

"An appropriate metaphor," Kelly said. "And you have proven yourself capable of rounding them up, at least, if not exactly herding them."

"I don't remember anyone saying anything about hundreds of cats wanting to become citizens of Metro Falling," I said.

"Just think how much easier this will be," Counter-Spin Rick said.

I seem to have found myself in charge of Customs and Immigration. Not a problem. Bonus oxygen even--I can be an angry jerk all day long and no one will dare complain. I also have a feeling Curious is going to love helping people with their luggage.

"Fine," I said, "But it's temporary.... And don't expect me to be thankful."

Flow Control

Now that I am Customs and Immigration, I can keep anyone or anything I want off of the station. I also hired four chimpanzees to help with luggage inspection. It feels good to exercise a little power sometimes.

"Hey," a man shouted. "Get away from that. Scat!"

One Track, Kelly's enviro-tech and one of my luggage inspectors, was curling his lips at a red-faced, over-weight merchant. The merchant was trying to grab a small ship-bag while trying to remain out of reach of the chimpanzee holding it. It was very funny.

"Who is responsible for this animal?" the man shouted. "Is there a Customs agent nearby?"

I started laughing out loud. My laughter offended the man so much I almost passed out from laughing too hard.

"Control this animal," he shouted at me.

Through my laughter, I pointed vaguely behind him at the other three chimps. They had developed an interest in the rest of his luggage. This guy was obviously not from one of the troopships.

One of the launch workers who knew what she was doing had noticed and came over to untangle us.

"Can I help you?" She asked.

The merchant turned to her and thrust out his forefinger. "Get rid of these animals." Then he pointed at me and said, "And arrest this man for endangering the public."

The woman looked at me and raised her eyebrows. She knew who I was. Everyone did. I looked at her name tag.

"In a moment, agent Quinn."

"Yes, sir." She said with a brief smile and a nod.

"What's your name, applicant?" I asked the bug-eyed merchant.

"Sam," he said a bit numbly. "Sam Tellerwell."

"What's in the bag, Sam?"

"Who are you?" He asked.

"DeeDee Jackson," I said in my best noir voice. "But most call me Dizzy Jack. At the moment, I am Customs and Immigration. So are those chimps rifling through your luggage. Are you trying to hide something from us, Sam."

"Hell," He said. "Take the damn chocolate then. Just like all custom agents. I can't stop you."

"Chocolate?" I asked. "Chocolate?"

"Earth chocolate," Sam said quietly.

I looked at One Track, and he gestured something about Kelly (I'm still a bit shaky on the hand signs) before waving a half eaten but carefully rewrapped chocolate bar.

This could be good. "A man who can get Earth chocolate must have serious connections."

"Yeah," Sam said cautiously.

"One Track here wants some chocolate for a friend of his, but sometimes he has trouble focusing on more than one goal," I said suggestively. "If you were to 'donate' one or two bars, there's no reason you couldn't share the credit. Kelly is our acting governor--until we have a chance to hold an election."

"Kelly Grace Smith? The writer?"

I nodded.

"Governor?" Sam said, his voice going from excited fan to pure businessman in less than a heartbeat.

I nodded again.

"Can I meet her?"

I gestured. Sam looked at the chimpanzee and nodded. Then he held out his hand and introduced himself to One Track. Sam Tellerwell is going to fit right in.

I turned to Quinn and said, "See if you can find Mr. Tellerwell a merchant's suite with on-site storage and demo facilities."

"Yes, sir." The look in her eyes suggested Sam would be joyfully donating chocolate to more than one cause.

In other news, the Martian Republic has decided to withdraw from the Outer System Alliance. They put Mars Metro under martial law and are denying all traffic except to and from the planet. Many of those people came from here not so long ago, and we aren't happy about this. The OSA is now an unstable collection of twelve city-states centered around the remaining metros--and probably better off without Mars anyway.

Ceres Metro and seven other belt metro-stations have allied with Jupiter System. Wendy has officially requested 'OSA Diplomatic Headquarters' here on Fort Falling. She asked nicely, so what could I do? I set her up in a multi-family suite with Ben and Sarah.

Space Kittens

Kittens are always a mixed blessing. They are cute, playful, and willing to be friendly. They can also mean you need to check the feline supplements or the rodent population.

Kittens with pointy little quills, however soft, are something else entirely. Believe it or not, it was Paula who called me.

"What do you want me to do?" I asked her.

She handed me a carrier, pointed at the little family, and said, "You are the cat herd, take them to Doc."

She was angry at me for some reason. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" She asked.

"Not... uhm... knowing what you needed me to do with the kittens," I said, trying not to back away.

"Oh," she said. Then she stepped against me and let me taste her lips.

"I'm busy," she said. "We need to get life support online for a thousand more people, and those kittens are distracting everyone, including me. The same goes for you. Take those kittens and get out."

Paula scooped up the pad holding four kittens and a protesting mother, and shoved them into the carrier which I had just gotten open.

"Yes, Mistress."

"And don't get fresh, Boy," she said, pinching my rear to speed me on my way.

On the way to Doc's place to see if Submind would enlighten me, I studied the little guys. The mother had a row of spines like Miss Hiss, and the kittens all seemed to have something similar--except there was no sign of a symbiote in the kittens.

Instead of trying to repeat everything Submind said, I'll paraphrase. "These things happen. Call it a space feline. It will breed true."

Dog Kennel

Captain Miller has surprised me once again. The good Captain called me to ask if I could arrange a complete redesign of his apartment, or, failing that, one of the bedrooms, to accommodate Comet's new needs. It is becoming clear to me that Captain Raymond Miller doesn't intend to take his dog and troopship and go back to the OSA or somewhere, anywhere, away from here.

Not only did Miller get his dog a symbiote and vac-suit, but he did so while getting his own set of bio-tech gear. I'm still not sure whether I like the guy. He is such an officious and yet pushy little person that I've been thinking about putting his name on the list for Minister of Immigration.

The dog, Comet, has the largest symbiote I've ever seen. It appears to be attached, in part, to the base of the dog's skull. It protrudes outward behind Comet's ears like a flattened ridge with two horn points. It also covers Comet's spine with a horned ridge going to the base of the his tail. He looks deadly... except his tail is usually wagging.

"Why is Comet's symbiote so large?" I asked, when the Captain paused his explanations to take a breath.

"Oh," the Captain said. "Comet had brain damage when he was a pup. Oxygen starvation. Effected respiratory and circulation, but minimal cognitive damage. We implanted some regulator devices. I forget what the surgeon called them, but I made sure it wouldn't be a problem before Comet and I went ahead with the procedure here. If I had known this sym-bot was going to remove the implants and make such dramatic changes, I would have arranged for proper facilities to be installed while we were in the med-vats."

I was still trying to determine how someone could tell 'minimal cognitive damage' in a stupid dog when Captain Miller took a breath. I either had to say something or let him keep talking about Comet until he ran out of air again.

"Have you met Doc?" I asked sarcastically. Doc is an obvious case of 'dramatic changes.'

Miller either missed or ignored my sarcasm. "I've known her for years. You know that. Her circumstances are different. I suppose Comet's circumstances are a bit unusual also, but I didn't think of it. Not that I would have hesitated once I understood how much it would help. You didn't see much of Comet before this, but I've never seen him so happy. I think before he was uncomfortable all of the time."

"Why did you call me, Captain?"

"I want a room fixed up for Comet. What have I been saying since you got here?"

"I understand what you want, Captain, but I still don't know why you called me."

"Oh, right," the captain said. "Do you think Curious can come over? I'm willing to help him."

I couldn't help it. I laughed. Captain Miller grinned at me crookedly while I got over it.

"The first time I asked Curious to 'remodel' for me, I offered to help because he said it would take three weeks," I said.

"Let me guess," Miller said. "Six weeks with your help?"

I nodded. "Curious is somewhere doing his real job with Paula, but I'm sure if you let Doc know what you need, one of her enviro-techs will be here promptly. I need to get back to Customs... I have about a year's worth of data to process."

"How many of the troops are staying?" Captain Miller asked.

"I have no idea.... 85 percent maybe," I said. "Listen, if you want to help build a good metro and make a real difference here, stop by Customs and Immigration, help out a bit. You could even take an official position."

"You looking for an assistant? I thought you didn't like me."

"No," I said. "I'm thinking maybe Ministry of Immigration, but we might call it Department of New Citizenry. And you're right, I don't like you. That makes you perfect for the job."

Full Spectrum

One of the light panels in my office started that irritating flicker thing. I called a station tech, and then rounded up a spare light core and changed it myself about an hour later. It's not like the supply people are going to stop Fort Falling's Minister of Customs from appropriating a spare part now and then.

Changing a light core is one of those simple little meditative tasks which I really really miss a lot. Burned-out light cores are a problem which I know I can solve. Except changing that light core reminded me we won't need station techs in just a few years. I like being a station tech. The complications are interesting, and mostly it doesn't involve people.

Customs is all about people. No matter how interesting Paula makes her argument, I have yet to convince myself people are just like cats. When Paula summoned me to her private lab, I willingly fled my new and uncomfortable office at luggage central.

Paula's lab is a small hydroponic garden. She calls it a conservatory. It's often very bright in there, because light is one of the main ingredients in fresh air. It seemed brighter this time, but what I noticed first was Paula not wearing clothing. I stood there looking.

"Good," she said. "Take your cloths off."

"You're not wearing cloths," I said.

"I know that," she said, walking towards me. She was tugging at my shirt when I regained brain function.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"Helping you take your cloths off."

"Why," I asked. Paula has nothing against public nudity. Neither do I, but mostly because nudity is just part of station life. You know; space suits, communal showers, and general all around togetherness of living inside a gyroscope. There's no point to modesty.

Paula had my shirt free and was attempting to drag it over my head.

I resisted her efforts temporarily and said, "I'm not getting into one of your med-vats unless you tell me what is going on."

"Med-vat?" she asked with a laugh. She stuck her foot into my stomach and pulled the ends of my shirt-sleeves up and over my head. Then she ruthlessly pushed me over backwards and tugged off the shirt.

"Do you see a med-vat in here?" My shoes were gone and my pants were following.


"I'm going to ravage you," she said.

"Oh." Not a bad reason to be summoned, I thought, but this was a bit more than public nudity. "Are you sure this is a good place to..."

"These full spectrum lights are very stimulating," Paula said. "Besides, I locked the door."

"Lights?" I asked, noticing for the first time the thin cables of light stretching across the room. I helped as Paula tugged off my last bit of clothing.

"Submind engineered a bio-luminescent host," Paula said. "That's why it's so bright in here. I'm not sure yet which direction to encourage."

I knew how she felt... about which direction I mean. It took a few more minutes for the light to kick in. We decided to call them glow vines. Paula flatly vetoed my 'glow worms' suggestion. They look like worms to me, but since they are very bright, it's hard to tell. Never mind what else we did.

Infinite Turtles

Back when the Earth was flat, before gravity, it rested on the backs of four elephants who eternally walked in circles on the back of a giant turtle. The mythology gets a bit uncertain about what the turtle was standing on, but many believe it was another turtle, and that, in fact, the turtles went all the way down. Modern evidence suggests the turtle was swimming through space, so down stopped at the elephants.

"Ma'am," I said. "I'm not sure what your point is, but on this space station, down stops at the tangent, and turtles stop at Customs."

"I want to speak with the governor," she said angrily. Rita Selmon was tiny, less than a meter and half tall, with dark hair and skin, and screaming green eyes. She was young and very attractive. She had four turtles in a cage, and I was here because the first three customs agents wouldn't let her take the turtles through either.

"Not a problem. Leave your box of turtles with Mini Cee," I said, pointing at the chimpanzee. "She'll take good care of them. I promise. I'll have someone escort you to Kelly right after."

"I need my turtles," she shouted. Her foot tapped the deck like she wanted to stomp it.

I had a feeling she hadn't been paying attention.

"You can pick them up in three days, maybe sooner if Submind is interested in turtles and examines them personally. We like animals here." I said, pointing at Mini again. "Even turtles."

"I need them now," she said. "I don't want anyone bothering them." She obviously had the same feeling I did, only about me.

"Ma'am, if you want to enter the space station, you have to let us quarantine the turtles. Submind is working very hard to balance our ecosystem, and I do not want to be the guy answering questions if something goes wrong. Doc is a master of guilt trips--I still feel bad about a light panel incident from several years ago."

"Doc Hester?"

"Yes," I said with a sigh. This is the point where everyone expects me to jump because they are good friends with someone important.

"Can I make an appointment to see her?" Rita asked. "With my turtles."

Or maybe not. "Uh... Yes. Her offices and living quarters are directly under Low Grav Medical. Eddie called it 'Doc Land' in the system grid... Or maybe it was 'Hester Land.' I think he's running of out of name ideas."

Rita was giving me the look which says, 'you are a strange specimen and should be studied,' so I pointed to the box she was still carrying and then to Mini.

She looked at Mini Cee and asked, "Is this chimp trained to handle turtles?"

I shrugged. "She's the head enviro-tech for this section. I'm sure turtles fit in there somewhere."

"Enviro-tech?" Rita asked. "That seems a bit... Is she one of Doc's? Doc wrote a very exciting series on genetics a few years ago. That's why I want to show her my turtles."

I was too tired to explain, so I just nodded. Miss Selmon was smart enough to figure it out for herself. She handed the turtles over to Mini, thumbed the Customs papers, and nodded goodbye on her way to an info-port.

Here and Now

I started this log more than a year ago. I knew the day when a year had passed, but some things had to happen, and some work needed done, and the day was gone before I collapsed into bed. Writing an anniversary post was a passing thought anyway. We haven't had much free time, and I can't think of a real reason why writing about it for a year means anything other than "it's been a year."

It's just more stuff about me anyway. Speaking of me, I have some free time. I don't have anything important to say, or anything I need to vent. I'm just babbling on at random because I don't have anything to do but sit here and input. It's been a while since I had free time, and I may have forgotten what to do with it.

I'm not trying to say all the work is done, but most people I know appear to be in a temporary lull. We're all blinking at the sudden light and wondering if this means we'll have to work harder tomorrow.

So anyway, that's why I posted. I'm going to go see if I can take Eddie at spinball now that he has a symbiote.

Security System

There are over 3000 people aboard Fort Falling now. You would be surprised at the number of them who want to bring unfriendly things onto the station, intentionally or not. To be honest, I wouldn't have made it past my first week if I had started working Customs at the bottom. I'm afraid to ask Kelly why she put me in charge. Experience suggests I will leave her office with nothing but lip-gloss on my forehead and a suspicion it was for my own good.

I saw Eddie go into her office a couple of weeks ago. Kelly was wearing Blu-Brite that day. Eddie didn't get all of it off his forehead the first time, and I didn't say a word about it. It makes me happy to know Eddie often leaves the Governor's office in much the same condition as I do.

I beat EMF Eddie at spinball. Again. It took some hard work, but I beat him. The game was incredible. No one without a symbiote can do what we were doing in zero-Gee. Doc tells me dozens of people applied for symbiotes right after Eddie and I finished our last play. She's trying to get us to schedule regular games.

I'm not sure Eddie's symbiote works quite the same as mine. He got something else I think, because he appears to have total access to every part of the data core. I use solid encryption and A-level passcodes, but Eddie walked right through them. He stopped commenting on my taste in cartoons when I pointed out how easy it would be to impound all incoming cargo and mail for someone with whom I was unhappy.

Eddie and I also filed plans for the new Tangent Skater track. We decided wheels would be easier than ice. It has to be a small diameter track, where station spin is slow. Slow spin means less weight and people don't die from tiny mistakes.

Did I mention all the people? Callie showed up with 12 live chimpanzees and what she says "are the makings of a couple dozen more." From what I have witnessed, Curious will be spending less time at home than usual. I'm trying to convince myself it's like adding another enviro-tech to the family.

Roll Call

This is my 100th post, and I need to remind myself of who we've met so far.

DeeDee "dzyjak" Jackson: That's me. This is my log. I talk about myself all the time. My system name is not capitalized.

Chuck Vann: He was my immediate supervisor for a while. He made nice with Kelly and is running her Human Resources Department--actually it's the 'Sentient Resources Department' now.

Doctor Signe Hester: Doc introduced us to Submind. We couldn't have saved the station without her.

Paula Mattson: Doc's main assistant, my serious love interest, and the best singer on Fort Falling.

Eddie "EMF" Crump: Eddie is in charge of security. He took over the data core when we split away from the OSA, and he hasn't let anyone else get close to it. Kelly appears to approve most of the time.

Wendy Hardin: She is the ranking OSA official aboard the station. Except for that, she's not so bad.

Joe Friedrich: Joe asked me to stop calling him 'Brain Eater.' 'JoeBe' it is then. I'm sure he hates me, but if he can't take it, he shouldn't dish it.

Rick "Counter-Spin" Young: Rick doesn't care what people call him. Or if he does, it doesn't happen more than twice.

Curious, the chimp: My best chimpanzee friend. He likes his humor straight-forward and aggressive.

Kenneth "Not Ken" Harvey: Kenny is back. I have no problem calling him Kenneth, but I've found that if I make him explain his name every time he has a question, he doesn't ask as many questions.

Theodore "No Relation" Richards: I'm fairly certain Theodore is related to Kenneth. Theo likes to explain how he isn't related to a number of famous men named Theodore Richards every time I never ask about it, so I've never bothered to ask. He is a very good station tech and has decided to train with the chimpanzees and become an enviro-tech.

Sheryl Malice: Sheryl is working in my office. As a lawyer, she's bonus oxygen. I assigned her a team of technicians so she would stop calling me. I guess that means we get along fine.

Kelly Grace Smith: If anyone else decides to run for the office, Governor Kelly Grace Smith will probably be re-elected unanimously. No one still believes she is a vac-head.

Rat Bane, the cat: The first feline with a symbiote, as far as I know. He's become quite a fisher-cat, so maybe I'll just call him Bane from now on. It's not like he cares.

Nana: Nana was my mother's mom, and the reason I became a station tech.

Enviro-tech Misty, the chimp: Misty hangs around with Counter-Spin. She appears to like explosions and micro-grav as much as Rick.

Pipster, the cat: Pipster was the first cat I saw with the long and thin magnetic quills from a Submind symbiote.

Miss Hiss, the cat: Miss Hiss comes around every day or two for some treats.

Submind: Thoughts of the Submind is a sentient virus. I have yet to see evidence of what brain-techs call an 'Ego' in the Submind virus. The concept of self just doesn't seem to apply. Since I like my 'self' just the way it is, I don't see how this can be anything but good.

One Track, the chimp: Kelly's Enviro-tech. He has trouble switching focus unless you hit him with something. Not too hard. He is a chimpanzee after all--even if Submind has added some higher brain functions.

Captain Raymond Miller: An ex-troopship captain we had as a prisoner of war for a couple of minutes. He has a dog. Kelly put him in charge of immigration at my suggestion. I suppose Chuck approved of the choice.

Callie McKiern: A friend of my mom's. She's been training chimps her entire life. Her family makes the hormone supplements and foods which keep chimpanzees sane. At one time, according to Callie, male chimpanzees where too crazy to be among humans on a space station.

Comet, the dog: Captain Miller's dog. I would call him a cyborg, but the implants are biological constructs made by Submind, so I'm not sure they count as machines.

The Povel family--Sarah, Ben and two girls: This is Wendy's family. Sarah is her sister. The family ran away from Titan station back when the OSA was trying to convince us Saturn Station One still belonged to the Alliance.

Sandra Quinn: A customs agent. I need to get her a promotion.

Sam Tellerwell: A merchant in specialized goods--mostly foodstuff from Earth.

Rita Selmon: Rita likes turtles. The last time we spoke she treated me to a lecture on the universe as an inverted turtle, where everything inside was outside, and only the turtle existed. I think she's messing with me, but if so, she's really good at it.

Mini Cee, the chimp: Mini is crew boss of the enviro-techs in Customs. No one gets unauthorized biologicals past her crew.

I think that's everyone.

Customs 101

I don't remember exactly what Paula and I were discussing (or maybe I don't intend to tell you), but we were in my office. The door was open because Paula doesn't insist as loudly when other people can hear.

"I'm going to close the door," Paula said.

"That's probably not a good idea," I said mildly.

"Why not?" Paula asked.

"A ship just docked," I said. "I need to be available."

"Ships are docking all the time," she said.

"This one has never docked here before."

"You're afraid to shut the door," she said, eyes gleaming.

"Yes," I said.

Paula narrowed her eyes and then changed the subject. "You never thought of Curious as anything other than a person."

"Huh?" I asked, frowning.

"Curious," Paula said. "He has always been a person to you. In Doc's lab, before you knew anything about Submind or symbiotes, you treated him like every other technician working there. You didn't seem to question it."

I considered this for a moment, and didn't see an obvious trap, so I said, "That is how most of the other techs were treating him."

"And you noticed," Paula said. "And you never faltered. And you treat every chimpanzee on the station as a person."

Paula and I don't always share a viewpoint. Even couples who share hobbies have different subsets of interest--unless they are total emo-clones. Paula and I share an attraction for each other, and since that knowledge makes me stupid, I'd rather not comment further.

"Uhm. Paula. The truth is, I am very fond of the confusion that behavior causes in visitors and new additions to the station. It's astonishing how much magic happens."

Paula laughed, sharply and involuntarily.

"We'll continue our discussion when you get home," Paula said, examining my face intently while she rose to her feet.

"If you wish," I said.

"You should plan on a couple of hours at least," she said with a smile. "We'll talk, and then I've installed some glow-vines in our room."

"Yes, ma'am," I said, paying very close attention as she walked away.

As Paula cleared the doorway, I heard an elderly male voice singing out gleefully. "I'm a giant bug. I am a giant bug." It was coming from one of the nearby cargo inspection areas.

"That's got to be good," I muttered. I stood up and followed Paula into the main Customs area. Paula slowed down to look and shake her head. Then she turned away, saw me, waved goodbye, and disappeared spin-wards.

I walked over to see an elderly man laying face up on a large crate. He was waving his arms and legs in the air and singing about bugs and a person named Franz. The woman hovering over him was tiny, dark skinned, and very beautiful. She had to be Rita Selmon's sister, mother, or clone.

Looking at the man pretending to be a bug, I let slip my thoughts. "It must run in the family."

The woman heard me, and turned to look at me with absolutely no humor in her expression.

"I'm sorry," I said. "But you look so much like Rita, and... Well, I was reminded of turtles."

Her expression shattered into giggles, and the elder bug laughed and rolled off the crate onto his feet. He stuck out his hand and said, "I am Vincent K. Selmon, professor of literature, and I am a gigantic insect."

I took his hand and said, "I am DeeDee Jackson. Most call me Dee or Dizzy. I am the Minister of Customs, and I don't allow gigantic insects onto my space station unless they go through proper quarantine procedures. The same goes for turtles."

After another giggle, the woman held out her hand and said, "I'm Rhonda. Rita must be having a lot of fun with you."

I shook her hand. "Yes. She's very good at it."

Vincent started to drift aimlessly away, and Rhonda grabbed his arm to pull him closer. "Nerve scaring," she said softly. "It's getting worse."

"He really thinks he's a giant bug?" I asked, studying Vincent closely to see if he would react to the question.

"Sometimes," Rhonda said. "Rita says Doctor H. has a virus which can do remarkable genetic repairs. We're hoping she can help Dad."

Vincent stuck out his hand and said, "Hi. I'm Gregor, the dung beetle."

I shook his hand. "Rhonda," I said carefully. "If your father wants to be a giant cockroach, Doc's virus is the last thing you need."

"What do you mean?"

"The virus is sentient, as Doc put it, but the idea of self is sort of borrowed from the host. It seems to me the virus will want to be, or think it already is, a giant bug, and your father's symbiote may try to make it happen. I doubt if it will be dangerous, but it could be very interesting."

Rhonda's eyes had widened with every word. "Rita must have discovered this by now. Why hasn't she told me?"

"I've probably given it a lot more thought than most," I said. Then I turned around and pulled down the back of my shirt so she could see my symbiote. "Before I got this, my biggest fear was of being possessed by some crazed space-germ which wants to destroy Earth. I looked into it."

I turned back around and if anything, Rhonda's eyes were even wider. "You had nerve damage? Was it on your spine? Was it severed?"

"No," I said, a bit surprised by the new direction.

"Why then?"

"Atmo and vac-suits, short range grippers...." She still looked puzzled. "I got it so I could wear a bio-tech spacesuit, custom made by Submind."

"Submind?" Rhonda said faintly. I started to explain, and then realized how tired she looked.

"Yeah. You'll catch on. Why don't I call someone? Is Rita expecting you?"

"We're two days early," Rhonda said, tugging her father back in.

I summoned the nearest available customs agent with my magic comm-button. Agent Sandra Quinn, whom I still need to promote, was first on the scene.

"Please take Miss Selmon and her father to one of the secure VIP suites," I said. "And see if we can get a med-tech assigned to assist with Mr. Selmon for the evening."

"Yes, sir." Quinn said.

I noticed two chimpanzees had also answered my summons. I didn't recall their names, if I ever knew them, but I pointed to Rhonda and gestured, "Luggage. Please help." They happily started piling crates and luggage onto carts, even rearranging it when Rhonda objected to something.

"I have an appointment," I said to Rhonda, thinking about Paula. "You folks have a nice day."

"Thankyou thankyou," Rhonda said breathlessly, grabbing me in an unexpected hug. I hugged back, and then went home.

Modules and Subroutines

People have been asking me the oddest questions lately. Retired Captain Raymond Miller, Ray, stopped by my office to see if I could 'fix' something for him. I don't know why, but for some reason I expected Ray to stop asking me that question now that I am Minister of Customs. I'm sure he knows there are other people aboard this space station.

"It's Comet," Ray said, patting his dog's head. "I've been so busy I haven't had time to play with him. I feel guilty. I was wondering if Submind would add an Entertainment Module to Comet's symbiote."

I was too stunned to think of an answer, and I was afraid to ask him about Entertainment Modules, so I just looked at him until he said, "I could ask Doc?"

"Yeah," I said. "But I think if Comet wanted an Entertainment Module, he would have one already. Maybe you should just see if one of the hydro-parks has a play service. Or maybe one of Ben's girls..."

Ray nodded, said "Thank you," and left. I don't understand why people own dogs.

Joe, of all people, came by to ask if I could get my hands on some spare quanta-drives for the data core. He has a new symbiote, and he seems to know stuff about math which might as well be magic. If Joe wants to upgrade the data core, it needs an upgrade.

I had to ask though. "Why? And why are you asking me?"

"Eddie told me to ask you. He says you know how to make things happen." It didn't sound like he believed what Eddie says. "Submind has inspired massive data uploads, and the file metadex is weeks behind. Quanta-drives don't really run out of space, but it's getting hard to find non-discrete files. A couple more drives will speed up data absorption."

"I might be able to get a couple from Jupiter System," I said thoughtfully. "They have a surplus on 7X-370s, but those things are huge. We'll have to cut our way into the data core sub-level to make them fit."

Considering the way greed blazed from Joe's eyes, I figured those would do the trick. I was also wondering how Eddie knew I'd been contacted by an old school-mate who is currently working at Data Planets Inc.

Eddie didn't come to me, but when I asked him why he was looking through my personal data, he had the strangest question of the day.

"What would you do if you just knew things about people? Without even trying?" Eddie asked me.

"I.... I'd know stuff I guess." I said lamely. This was not the direction I had intended to go with this conversation.

"Yes," Eddie said. "I don't have to look through your data, Dee. Whatever I got from this symbiote has nothing to do with data cores. It's like, if I know someone well enough, I can think exactly like them. I just know you. I know your security codes. I know when you change them and what you change them to."


"Your mind is a freaking obstacle course," Eddie said with grin.

"Good," I said. "Maybe you'll get lost or something."

"So what should I do?" Eddie asked.

"Don't you already know what I'm going to say?"

"Not if I'm asking the question," Eddie said.

I thought about it for a moment and said, "If you keep this a secret, some day it might get out. Probably will. Then everyone will be concerned, wondering how long you've been reading their minds..."

"It's not mind reading..."

"So don't keep it a secret. Explain it. Dump data into the core. A few people will be upset, but full discloser now will eliminate bad future possibilities." I shrugged.

Eddied nodded, and wrote a pamphlet he can post or print for anyone who wants to know.

Counter Weight, part 2

The Dizzy Pig Bar and Grill has changed since we cut the station in half and moved into a stable orbit. It was a nice place before that. Now it's alive. There are glow-vines in all the upper corners--Paula has encouraged a growth strain which produces a less stimulating, but still effective, light source--and the walls are covered with high-oxy output vines custom made by Submind.

There are pictures on one wall. Pictures from the old place. The new place is better, but you can't tell that from the pictures. While having a few drinks the other night, it was Counter-Spin Rick who explained it to me.

"The old place stank like a sewer-core compared to the air in here now," he said, waving a drunken half-finished Slush Bomb through the air.

"Can't argue with that," I said.

"Yeah?" Rick asked. "You wanna argue?"

I waved my own Slush Bomb, a Cherry Burst, in his direction and said. "No. Evil Eddie got this mind thing, from the symbiote, you know.... So I've had enough hassle this week."

"Not mind reading," Rick said. "I downloaded the thing, data file--don't think I got much to worry about."

"I started using random generation... generated pass-codes."

"That'd work," Rick said with a nod.

"Had to write it down, but it's locked away from Eddie."

"So what you get?" Rick asked. "From Submind?"

"Hard to explain. Like color. You know. Explaining to someone who can't see."

"Tell me another one, Dee."

"Yeah? Bet you can't explain your thing either," I said.

"I can," Rick stated, throwing his shoulders back and his head up. "When I'm wearing my Submind gear, I can adjust gravity."

I may have said something, but it certainly didn't make any sense.

"Why you think those OSA troops were so impressed? Didn't see any of them strutting around in micro-gee without going into orbit," Rick sounded depressed that I hadn't noticed. "I'm not the only one, either."

I shrugged. "I got this movement thing, like touch, like holding it in my hands," I said. "I figure that's why I used to get space sick... 'cause I knew my own 'universal' momentum or something. Now, with this bug in my head, I can use my inertia--kinda like you using gravity I guess."

"Next game, I'm betting on you," Rick said, laughing. He was referring to the bi-weekly game of Spinball Eddie and I play to keep Doc Hester from nagging us constantly.

"Eddie probably knows every play I'm about to make," I pointed out.

"Right," Rick said. "Maybe I'll bet on the Tangent Races instead."

The Theory of Quantum Storage

Yesterday I rode the main launch platform into free-fall to make a personal inspection of our new quanta-drives. (Can you believe I had confirmation of the order in less than a day, and they shipped high velocity at no extra charge?) Those things are too big to bring into the station, so we're dropping them into the lash-up until we can cut a hole big enough to install them in. The ride was almost as good a being a simple technician again.

It usually takes a couple of hours to unload the transports, so I drifted along in my vac-suit and wondered if I should mark anything for closer inspection by a customs team. I was pretty sure they didn't need my help, so I stopped at wondering.

Before I got this job as Minister of Customs, I used to love platform duty. Well, not 'love' I guess, but at least it was peaceful. Most Techs looking for peace try for grip-loader duty--moving crates, equipment and even ships around while wearing a Zero Gee, ion drive, power-assist vac-suit. I always preferred operating the platform and riding it from Zero Gee and back to full spin-weight, even if it meant interacting with people.

Now I don't get to drive, or be in free-fall much, but I still have to interact because I'm important. Paula says it's called 'progress.' I call it lack of judgment on my part, but maybe it was poor sales resistance.

For a moment I wondered if poor sales resistance was the mistake which got me these new drives, but I had confidence in my old friend at Data Planets. Plus, it's hard to go wrong with quanta drives. They either work or they don't, and the ones which don't work never leave the factory floor. Considering how large they are, the name is somewhat ironic, but 'quanta' refers to where the data goes, not the size of the device.

The location 'quanta' is inside of every of quanta drive. It is endless and infinitely small, and it's the same 'quanta' inside of every single drive. When data is absorbed by the data core it becomes accessible from any system connected to a quanta drive. If you know how to find it. That is the limit of my understanding. Query the system if you want to know more.

The Pit of Civilization

If someone has convinced you that Civilization is the top, they lied to you. Not only that, but you were stupid enough to believe them. How's that for Civilization?

If you don't think that was funny, sorry. I will tell you a story which might get to the point, and it could also explain why civilization grows best in a pit.

One of Mini Cee's shift supervisor's is a joker named Four-Thumbs. Most chimpanzees I know have chosen their own human name, and I had to ask him about it. Chimpanzees also have a strange sense of humor.

"Why'd you choose that name?" I asked him. Chimpanzees ignore subtlety, so I didn't bother hinting around.

"To give humans pause when they hear it," he said, speaking with his hands.

"That's it?"

"You do the same, Dizzy. You call us when a human needs to change view-points. You laugh with us when humans think of nothing but luggage."

"Getting 'one up' is standard human behavior," I said.

"Recognition. Same thing." Four-Thumbs said.

"So you would like people to notice your thumbs?" I asked. "Not just your fur coat?"

His laughter, better described as shrieks of chimpanzee hysteria, hurt my ears. I considered it agreement.

"And you think I'm funny? And I make people notice you? That's why you follow my orders?"

He shrugged. "Doc's orders."

"Thank you so much," I said.

"You listen," Four Thumbs said. "Must be why Kelly put you here."

"I listen because it's the only way to get rid of some people," I said with irritation.

"Yes," Four Thumbs said. "You are very funny. That is why we think you will let us install a sanitation pit. For our more troublesome guests."

It took me a second. "What?"

"We wish to convert the backup waste storage core."

"Did you say, 'sanitation pit'?" I asked, spelling it out, I hope correctly, in hand sign.

"Yes," Four Thumbs said. "But it's not really a pit. The backup core was originally designed as a series of recreational swimming pools, but something went wrong. It turns out the water flows too fast through the pools, and no one can use them. The pools were eventually covered with filter-grating and powered down."

"And you want to fill the pools with some type of sanitation fluid?" I asked very very carefully.

"Submind," was all he said.

What I saw in my head was the bank of a wild, carnivorous river, entangled by writhing vegetation. As I watched, a hapless and yet smelly ice-buster was thrown into the flowing lime-gelatin and pineapple chunks of the river Submind, and then he was dragged under by a thorn-encrusted vine. I just had to laugh. In fact, I couldn't stop laughing for almost two minutes.

I approved of the "Sanitation Pit" and forgot to tell Kelly until it was too late. I'm sure I'll pay for it later, but she didn't make us close it down. So what if I have the sense of humor of a chimpanzee.

Carbon Inevitable

"We found carbon," Doc said. I'm sure it was Doc. Submind isn't much for ego.

"You stopped at Saturn because you found carbon?" I asked. "You mean Titan?" These were follow-up questions to my ill-conceived initial query about an intelligent virus hanging around in the rings of Saturn.

Doc laughed. "Titan isn't much use to us," she said, this time with that disconnected voice I've decided is Doc letting Submind speak for itself. "We stopped here because this is a third generation star."

"Right. Carbon, heavy metals. For your previous hosts?" I asked.

The silence was very heavy, like it was accelerating.

"You didn't just drift through interstellar space and then 'decide' to stop here," I said.

"Your logic is always surprising, Dizzy," Doc said. "You are partially correct. If our previous hosts had survived the journey, life on Earth would have been very different."

"Good on us," I said.

"Nothing personal," Doc said, or it might have been Submind. "Humans are not so delicate as the Clee, and we have high hopes for our next journey."

"Should we be doing that?" I asked.

"Why not?" Doc asked. "Carbon makes life inevitable. Life makes sentience inevitable. It's only a matter of genesis or survival, and sentient life is good at survival. Millions of years of practice..."

"Oh," I said. "In that case, I'll be safely in the past before it's time to worry."

Doc frowned at me.

I shrugged. "The other day I was having a conversation with a chimpanzee, and I started wondering why I didn't think it was strange. Then I realized I did think it was strange, and there was nothing to do but accept it. Now I have questions."

Still frowning, Doc made shooing motions. I was done anyway.

Promotional Tour

Would you believe we have tourists? Sandra Quinn sent me a data-link. It was a general invitation to the merchants of Fort Falling for a visit from a tourist mothership.* Rich people are very strange. Sandra wanted to know if we were going to shut it down as a danger to our enviro-systems. I hadn't even considered it until she asked, so I'm guessing her boyfriend, Sam Tellerwell, was thinking paranoid merchant thoughts about me ruining his profits. He's only a tiny bit rich.

I pushed the big button on my magic summoning wand and said, "Sandra. Please report to my office."

She must have been waiting. "Yes, sir?"

"Sit down," I said.

"Thank you."

I shuffled through some printouts and asked, "How long have you been on the station, Sandra."

She was surprised by the question, but didn't hesitate. "Seven years and a few months. It's in my records."

I smiled at her crookedly and asked her the follow-up question. "Why did you stay?"

The answer to that one was not in her records. It wasn't in anyone's records unless they said it in a public log somewhere. No one needs a personal reason for leaving a condemned space-station, and now there's no reason to leave.

"I," she paused and kind of ducked her head. "I was angry with my father. He didn't want me to come out here, and he was so smug about my failure..." She paused. "I didn't want to hear any more, so I told him I'd call back on his birthday, and I blocked all his messages."

"Your... failure?" I asked.

She just shrugged.

"This tourist mothership..." I asked, waiting for her to nod. "Is the name 'Savanna Heights' an oxymoron?"

She burst out laughing.

When she finished, I handed her one of the printouts I had been holding. "Savanna Heights is all yours. I'm taking the quiet shift until they are gone."

"What?" She asked, looking at the printout. It was an official document, signed by governor Kelly Grace Smith, declaring Sandra Quinn the new Assistant Minister of Customs. Her mouth opened four or five times before she squeaked something.

"I'm the Minister of Customs," I said. "Who's going to argue? I have an appointment with Kelly in a few minutes. You can sit at my desk while I'm gone. Call your dad." Then I got up and left.

I'm starting to think Kelly has turned me into one of those face-guys which all the real politicians have on tap. You know, the guy who looks good holding a gun and saving kittens, but doesn't seem to have much going on between his ears. Not that I would hold a gun, or let anyone put something between my ears, but I'm good with saving kittens.

As punishment for an earlier offense against her authority, Kelly forced me to wear my high-tech, bio-tech vac-suit, saying, "I need you to provide a significant demonstration for the tourists arriving on the main launch. You're the Minister of Customs. Go minister." Kelly has also scheduled nine spinball games for me, and I haven't even seen next week's schedule.

I guess the only thing which bothers me is being at the center of attention. I don't like being watched. On the plus side, spinball is a thousand times more fun than inspecting luggage.

Critical Reaction

[So I'm talking to Submind Doc Hester in a good mood, and she agrees to answer another question.]

"I've got this thing," I said. "For you it's right I guess, but I don't want another mind inside my head... Even though I know Submind won't take over or anything."

"You said you had a question," Doc said.

"Yeah. How do I know the virus won't mutate into something which spreads from my symbiote and then wants to do the thinking for me?"

"You don't," Doc said. "But it has never happened, as far as we know." She paused and looked at me closely. "If that were to happen, you would be killed and we would destroy ourselves and this entire space station. Our policy indicates we should immediately navigate into the center of the nearest star, but this thing is too slow. We would be forced to detonate Saturn instead."

"Oh," I said quietly. "That's probably why you've never heard."

"Or it's never happened," Doc said. "We are more than a virus, Dizzy."

"That's why I have questions," I said softly, but I was momentarily out of questions.

Burden of Proof

As the Minister of Customs, I have no way of knowing for certain that one of my luggage inspectors damaged something with improper handling unless I actually witnessed the damages happen. This does not mean I don't get blamed for it.

"Sir," I said. "Despite the fact that all of our inspectors are chimpanzees, they are more than capable of opening your luggage without damaging the locks." I looked down at the twisted latch and added, "They probably would have popped the hinge anyway. Do you know how much force a chimp can apply when using all four limbs?"

The tourist, Mr. Ted Stansen, was the one tourist of any group who gives all the other tourists a bad name. "Are you trying to deny those animals ripped up my luggage?" He shouted.

"No," I said. "I'm saying those animals would have made a much more interesting mess."

"I'm not going to stand for this. I want to speak to my old buddy Jackson, the Minister of Customs."

I blinked at him. It was the first time I ever heard anyone drop my own name. I suppose it was an honest mistake. There are three or four DeeDee Jacksons in the galaxy, and if I happen to be the only male with that name, Ted could be confusing me with an old girlfriend.

"Well?" He asked.

"I'd rather you didn't do that," I said. "How about if I admit we broke your luggage, and you can follow the nice chimpanzee, her name is Mini, to a processing room where you can wait in comfort."

"Some things were stolen too," Ted said.

"I'll take full responsibility," I said, grabbing his elbow and propelling him forward. "But you do realize this is an independent station? Even if Minister Jackson is a friend of yours, he is way too important to recognize old school buddies. I bet he won't even remember you."

"Probably not," Ted muttered.

I opened the door to the "Processing Garden" and nudged Ted through it. The room was a comfortable little hydro-garden with a sluggish green stream at the far end. There were three benches and a wandering pathway.

"I would prefer to wait somewhere where I have access to an info-port," Ted said after looking around.

"Right this way," I said, grabbing his elbow again, and guiding him down the path toward the stream. "It won't take long at all."

Four Thumbs ambled past with Ted's broken luggage and tossed it into the stream.

"Hey," Ted shouted, "You crazy monkey. Give me my stuff back." Tugging his elbow out of my grasp, Ted ran to the stream's edge and watched his luggage sink.

"Don't worry about it," I said. "I took full responsibility. Remember?"

When Ted turned to look at me in disbelief, Mini Cee knocked him backwards into the stream.

"My friends call me Dizzy," I said as he sank. He was under in two counts.

Several tourists had followed us in, and most of them seemed to be amused. I noticed because they were making cheerful noises. One or two started to look worried when Ted didn't come back up.

"Sorry about the disturbance," I said. "He'll be fine. That's all oxy-fluid. It comes out about a third of the way around the station."

There was applause all around.

Relativity Zero

I've learned something about time. Or more correctly, about Submind's ability to manipulate various states of reality. Counter-spin Rick can adjust his own personal gravity. I've watched him do it, and I paid attention this last time.

Rick can hop from snowball to snowball without using his ion-thrusters.

"How the hell did you do that?" I asked over comm.

"What?" Rick asked. He hadn't even thought about it.

"Get off of this bit of ice," I added. "And onto that bit ice you are on right now?"

"Oh that," Rick said, pausing. "I'll tell you only if you promise not to ask another question for at least 24 hours."

"That's stupid. What if I don't understand?"

"You'll have time to think of a better question," Rick said.

I thought about it for maybe a second and said, "Fine. But I get two questions tomorrow."

Rick grinned and said, "I encouraged the 'bit of ice' to catch me."

It's so obvious I feel confident I won't bring it up again. Plus, Rick probably doesn't want to describe color for me.

I asked Doc. Doc sent me to a chimp who calls himself Tesla Cee. Tesla is even more aggressive than most male apes, but he has channeled it into what has got to be a first for chimpanzees. He plays with lightning.*

In short terms, Tesla (and probably a generous dosage of Submind) told me that gravity is easy to manipulate at the quantum level, and Submind is good at quantum. Time is also part of the equation, and when Rick is catching a new ride, he is probably slowing his own personal time.

So now I want to learn how to do that, because if I can turn a three hour boring suit ride into an 18 minute joy ride at 'Relativity One,' then I will totally forget every single Submind intrusion into my life. The gravity manipulation thing would be nice too.

Feeling Truth

My granpa used to talk about what kinds of fear there were, and how I should pay attention to the warning and use it to get the hell out of the way. I think it was his way of telling me to get over being space-struck and watch where I was going.

I've learned a couple of things since then. For one, fear is not always useful. For another, politics and opinions are all about the deep-down-personal feelings, and if fear is one of those feelings, the others cannot be trusted. Granpa probably knew that too, but I was only seven at the time.

At the moment I'm basking in the proof that high-tech suits and toys are positive status points--no matter where they came from. My discomfort with zero-Gee has become my best thing because of an intelligent virus inhabiting a genetically engineered host of it's own creation. Plus, I get the latest and best thing in vacuum wear.

It's been weeks since I checked the ship, and Pipster has blissfully taken over. I suspect she is planning to have more kittens. She wasn't exactly offended when I stopped by without calling, but she was fine with my presence as long as I didn't touch her or acknowledge her in any way. Miss Hiss decided to go domestic and moved into the deluxe-master apartment for very-important-cogs with Paula and me. Bane was last seen guarding his favorite fish pond.

Another thing Grandpa always said was, "Truth doesn't mean vac unless it has feeling." It was usually after a drunken argument with an engineer.

Probability Cloud

I stopped by Doc's lab to ask more questions about the symbionts. This time I wasn't worried so much as I was looking for an upgrade.

"How can I learn to slow down my own time rate?" I asked. "Like Rick does with his gravity trick?"

"There was this pre-Luna scientist named Heisenberg," she said. "He picked up on a universal truth and called it the Uncertainty Principle. It's the one you used to rant about on a regular basis when we were moving the station."

"You mean not knowing where something is and how fast it's going at the same time?" I asked. "Is that what it's called? No wonder you wouldn't admit to knowing anything about it."

She laughed quietly. "I also didn't explain that it only applies to very small particles. Apply this principle to a very small and very fast electron, and location effectively becomes anywhere within a specific probability cloud at all times. Time is no longer a factor."

"How does that help me slow time with this symbiont?" Confusion makes me grumpy.

"Within known parameters, a particle can be anywhere at any time, but if the right pressure is applied, a particle can be literally anywhere in the universe for micro-slices of time," Doc said, shrugging. "This can be used to encourage the gravity of one mass to have more effect on your own mass. A useful side-effect of that pressure is time dilation."

"So," I said, hesitating briefly to form my thoughts. "Our three dimensions don't fit together exactly perfectly, because if they did, time wouldn't be able to get in?"

It was one of THOSE pauses. Doc smiled and said, "The universe fits together just fine until you pay attention to the small details. That's where time becomes irrelevant."

"Huh," I said. "I thought I had something there."

"We will have to think about it," Doc said. "Perhaps if we did some cloning experiments, we could determine if your thought processes have a genetic component."

It took me a second. "What? I don't think so. I like knowing who I am." I suddenly realized Doc was laughing, and I became certain the joke was Submind's.

"Laugh it up space-bug. I only want to learn how to control gravity with this thing. I don't suppose you could just tell me how? So I can go try it out?" I asked without much hope.

"Sorry. It's like learning to walk. You're on your own from here."

Robot Uprising

Fife Tiberman was a tiny man with a red face and white thinning hair. That, plus the palm sized mechanical spider he was demonstrating, made me think of a toy maker. "I had a dumb cat get in the way," he said. "It makes you wonder how many incredible ideas are lost because of distraction."

"So," I said carefully. "A cat interrupted your great idea because you forgot to secure the lab, which then gave you another great idea for those creepy things," I paused to readjust my vocal output down to normal. "And now you want to ban cats from my station, and replace them with hundreds of hive-minded little automatons?"

"Yes," the man said, sounding puzzled by my tone.

"The toys stay on your ship," I said flatly.

"But I need at least 25 units to demonstrate full functionality for the Governor and Doctor Hestor."

He was obviously serious because he ignored my sarcasm, so I was trying very hard not to laugh. "Why don't you take a tour of the station without the robot grid, and then if you still think the direct approach is best, schedule a brief pre-demonstration with four or five units. If Kelly doesn't throw you the off the station, we'll talk about harsh environment adaptability."

He was staring at me in horror. I knew all about Fife's project because Eddie hadn't shut up about it for weeks. EMF Eddie is a genius in a lot of way which don't apply to reality, but at least he knows that. He said the robots would be good in automated comm-stations and such, where atmo was maintained for visitors and service personel.

"Robots will always be better than life-forms for some things," I said. "I've got some toxic cores in need of scraping. Of course, I'm not a tech any more, but..."

"I will return to my ship and divest myself of the grid," he said sharply. "Then I will make my own appointment with the Governor, durning which time I will not only make my demonstration, but complain about your conduct."

"Oh good," I said, smiling widely. "Have me replaced. For a favor that big, I'll let you have first choice from Pipster's next litter."

He spun around and stomped away. The swarm of creepy little robots followed along. I half expected him to crush one, but he seems to have the damage avoidance software locked. I can only guess the electronic wand in his hand was the "nucleus control device."

The Other Side of Gravity

"Why didn't you tell me this last month?" I asked loudly. "I still want to know why you didn't tell me."

Rich just shrugged.

I turned on Paula and Doc and started to shout again, but Paula interrupted casually.

"Geez, Dizzy, after all the fuss you make about cats having minds of their own, you'd think we strapped Bane to a booster and lit the fuss."

"You should have told me," I said.

"Told you what, Dizzy?" Paula asked. "That we think Bane took his vac-suit and jumped on the fastest Relativity Train to Earth? You're not very rational about cats, and anything Rick or I could have told you a month ago would have sent you off into the vacuum looking for him. Doc didn't want us to say anything which might hinder your attempts to consciously interface with the symbiont."

I turned to glare at Doc, but couldn't think of anything to shout.

"You appear to have gained some measure of conscious control," she said with a shrug. "Your instincts probably would have delayed your progress."

It's strange, even though I didn't see Bane that much, the station feels as if there is an empty spot--you don't miss it until it's gone sort of thing. It's the not knowing. You know? I don't know where he's at, or how to find him.

"What's with Earth anyway?" I asked. "He's a damn cat. How would he even know about Earth, let alone how to get there in some feline space-pod?"

It was an uncomfortable silence. I'm used to those, so I let it stay that way until Doc, a.k.a. Submind, said, "His symbiont has known about Earth all along... And we believe he managed to trigger Genitor memories."


"Our original host species. We were only genetic memories back then." Submind said. "Hiekaa were very much like Earth felines, and we think Bane has gained access to those memories. If so, he is most likely looking for territory and a mate."

"Great," I muttered. "I knew there would be an alien invasion some day. Earth won't know what hit them."

Doc laughed uncertainly.

Paula attempted to change the subject. "So you learned how to adjust your personal gravity?"

"Yes," I said. "I'm not impressed. Do you know how hard it is to achieve Relativity One? I was out there for ten hours, and when I came back, it was only 12 hours real time. It's hardly worth the effort."

Paula nodded.

"It gets easier," Rick said.

"And a ship sized mass will make it even easier," Doc said.

"Besides that," Paula said. "It's about your personal gravity--not time."

"Time is just the other side of gravity," I said.

Doc gave me one of THOSE looks, but she didn't bother to explain.

Temporal Inertia

Counter-Spin went ice-hopping with me to help me 'practice' manipulating gravity. I'm not sure he understands I'm really just trying to get a grip on time. While Rick is throwing around his own personal gravity, he is slowing his own time in little fractions. He leaves for a day, and his watch is ten minutes slow when he gets back to the station.

"Ten minutes?" I asked, making sure Rick understood how disappointed I was.

"Why do you keep going on about that, Dizzy?" Rick said. "It was ten minutes. I was just ice-hopping, not trying to achieve some exponential time compression."

"Dilatation," I muttered.

"Whatever," Rick said. "Stop using your ion thrusters for one thing. You want to feel the ice with your feet before it's even close enough to see."

"No I don't," I said. "I like my ion thrusters. I have control of my own momentum."

"You'll never learn..."

"Why should I?"

"You said you wanted..."

"To control my own personal time," I said, interrupting. "Gravity is only the power source for what I want to do."

"You are crazy. Go figure it out then. I'm going to stretch my legs." Rick turned, hopped off the snowball we were riding, and orbited a couple of times to pick up speed. That meant he wouldn't be back for a while. He probably thought he was punishing me with his absence.

I thrusted into a trailing orbit with the snowball and idled the jets. I 'felt' it's gravity with my feet and rode the edge of Saturn's rings while I thought about time. Time was there, like inertia and momentum, and I could feel it.

Some people can explain anything and make it simple.

I am floating in space while my gravity rides a snowball. All around me is an endless well of mass--an untapped source of time dialatation. I activate the symbiont and throw my gravity outwards, in all directions.

I take three deep breaths.

"Yo," someone shouted. "You going into hyber-sleep or what?"

"No," I said. "Why?"

"I've been trying to shake you out of it for half an hour," Rick said. "Figuratively speaking. These suits have some serious security."

"How long were you gone?" I asked.

"Well, I found and marked a carbon-cluster. According to my suit-chrono, I was gone for about 10 hours. I don't know what yours says."

I ignored his sarcasm and said, "I did it."

"Did what?" Rick asked suspiciously. His day had been longer than mine.

"Relativity Two, I think," I said. "There are 3600 seconds in 1 hour... I took three deep breaths, say about six seconds..."

"Seriously. What the hell are you talking about?"

"Rick," I said slowly, and with as much drama as possible. "According to my suit-chrono, you only left a few minutes ago."

"Oh," he said, catching on.

This may seem strange, considering how short it was for me personally, but that was best day I've had in weeks.

Golden Relativity

"Relativity 1.618?" I asked. "That's stupid. Where did you get a number like that?"

"You know about pi?"

"Duh," I said. "I'm a Dizzy Jack."

"Right," Doc said. "This one is like that, only it's called phi."

"1.618 is phi? Should I bother asking you to explain?"

"It's more commonly called the golden ratio." Doc said. "From your description of the event, the inaccurate time accounting, and your vague air of smugness about how easy it was, you achieved Relativity 1.618, not Relativity Two."

"I didn't say it was easy," I said with irritation. "I said it was simple once I figured it out."

"You haven't figured it out," Doc said. Her tone of certainty suggested that Submind was present and, once again, turning my personal triumph into just another day.

"What did I do then?"

"You learned how to turn it on," Doc said. I could tell Submind was driving the words. "You have very little control. When you have learned to focus your gravity and hop snowballs like Rick, you might be able to do more than orbit Saturn while you are exercising relativity."

That made sense, but didn't make me happy. "It's just that Rick, as much as I like the guy, can't stop talking about how easy it would be to take over this ship or that space station. Did you know he wants to take Mars Metro?"

Doc nodded.

"He goes into details I don't even understand," I said, shuddering. "And he laughs like it's not really a joke. It gives me the creeps when I think about it, because I'm fairly sure he would be successful."

Doc nodded and shrugged. "No one else has learned 'the gravity trick', as you call it."

"What does phi have to do with time dilatation anyway?"

"It is a natural resting point for those without focus, and a common ratio throughout the universe. Go look it up--and then consider the inverse."

"Great," I muttered, and went home for a nap.


"So what do you think? Chicken or egg?" Kevin asked, gesturing at himself.

I met Kevin Jaunha a couple of months ago. He was staying with Ray Miller, Minister of Immigration, while he waited for his papers to clear. Remember Comet, the ex-cybernetic dog? Kevin had similar cybernetic implants--plus replacements for nearly half his face, one arm, both legs, and some squishy parts I don't want to talk about.

"Was it a chicken egg, and if so, was that because it was from a chicken, or because a chicken hatched out of it?" I asked. "Obviously there were eggs a long time before there were chickens, so I have to assume you intend that a chicken hatches out of the egg, in which case, the egg was first."

"That part was rhetorical." Kevin said.

"However," I continued. "If you intended that a chicken laid the egg, then your question is pointless. Considering there are only two answers, and one of them pointless, the question itself reveals nothing about chickens, eggs, or your new face."

"Thank you very much. You can shut up now."

I couldn't stop. "It makes me wonder if eggs are like the uncertainty principle. You can't tell what kind of egg it is until it hatches, then it's no longer an egg."

"Ray had me convinced you were intelligent," Kevin said.

I shrugged and said, "I've been calling Comet a 'symborg'. Other than that, I don't have anything to say about it. Maybe one day, if I get half my head blown off and then have it replaced by custom made biological constructs infected with an intelligent virus, I'll have more of an opinion."

"Symborg?" Kevin asked, flexing his symborg hand. "I like that. Ray was right about you."

"So you just stopped by my office to let me judge your face?"

"Pretty much." Kevin said. "Thanks, Dee."

"No problem," I muttered to his receding backside.

Measuring the Universe

It's strange how life works. Is a lifetime measured by time alone? Is a lifetime the sum or only a part of being? Yes, I have been drinking. Why do you ask?

What was it Kevin said?

"We are here to measure the universe."

"What are you talking about?" I asked, unfocusing from my slush bomb to look in his general directions. It was one of those bar conversations where no one ever gets to the point, even though everyone is sure there is one.

"Eddie was asking about existinnn.... meaning of life. 'Forty two' didn't even make sense."

"It's not suppose to make sense," I explained.

"What's the point of discussing it then?" he asked.

I shrugged and said, "It's better than going on about Joe and his heavy-handed appropriation of my quanta drive."

Kevin thought about it for a few seconds. "Yeah. But don't you have another one of those things?"

I laughed and managed to snort very cold alcohol while doing it. Kevin waited for me to recover. "No. There are two units, but the quanta drive itself exists 'between' them, as it were, so there is only one drive."

"Oh." Kevin contemplated his drink and said, "I really missed getting drunk. Submind is so going on my holiday gift list. Maybe a nice expensive wine for the Doc... that big fellow who's going to marry Sandra... he's got some nice stuff..."

I nodded and circled back in on the conversation. "So how are we measuring the universe?"

Kevin shrugged. "Like a tick toc clock ticking thing. Take out one second, and the whole thing stops."

I blinked at him. It made sense in a drunken sort of way. "Yeah."

"It's more than that, for certain," Kevin said. I'm not sure he cared if I was listening or not. "We notice the universe. We detect it in specific ways--giving names to things, and counting things, and all sorts of stuff like that."

"You've been talking to Doc," I said.

Kevin shrugged. He does that a lot now that both of his shoulders work like they should. "She's the closest thing to a symborg around here, and I had questions."

"Sounds like you got the same kind of answers I usually get."

Kevin smiled and nodded. Then he stood up and carefully walked over to get a refill.

"Five years without a drink," I muttered. "He's holding it pretty well."

Reasonable Expectations

"Why are you pacing away my new Submind enhanced moss carpet and muttering about unreasonable expectations," Paula asked me. She was standing in my way.

I laughed. "My Nana was prone to full blown rants. She would go on about 'unreasonable expectations' until someone caught her taking a breath and asked her a question. It had to be a question. She used to say that questions switched her brain back on."

I shrugged. "She always ended a rant by saying something like, 'Reasonable is never reasonable to everyone.'"

Paula nodded and said, "The first mistake starts with two people and the application of reason. Even if total consensus is achieved, there are two sets of rules in operation. The rules may look the same, and sound the same, but that doesn't mean they understand each other."

"What?" I said.

She smiled. "That's what my aunt Penny used to say about unreasonable expectations."

"Ah." I said. "The infamous Aunt Penny. The forth pee I believe."

"Stop it," Paula said. "Do you want to talk about it, or should I start growing some more carpet?"

"I'd rather pace, if it's all the same to you. I didn't enjoy my grandmother's rants."

"Right," Paula said. "That was a rhetorical question, but I can see I'll have to create a pacing area for you. For now, get out of the apartment. There's a mature installation of this carpet in the feline park. If you have to pace, please go there."

"Really? You mean the feline park for our section?"

"Yes," Paula said with exasperation. "All of them."

"When can I come back?" I asked.

She walked over to the door and held it open. I'm fairly certain I was oblivious to an entire level of social dynamic, but I just couldn't put my finger on it.

"Right," I said. "I'll comm you."

The park is nice. If you like cats. It wasn't long before Curious joined me, and I suspect Paula held the door for him as well. We had a drink at the Dizzy Pig and then were allowed to come home as long as we didn't pace, swing, make too much noise, or otherwise disturb the new growth in any way. Clearly defined and, I suppose, reasonable expectations.

Imaginary Math

"Why would I care about fake numbers? I asked Joe.

"Not fake," he said. "Not fake. Imaginary. Imaginary numbers."

"Sorry," I said. "Sheesh." What did I care about the square root of negative one?

"Normally I would sooner tell you to bugger off than ask for anything, but Kim reminded me how you brought us together--and for some reason she thinks you have a sense of humor."

"Thank you?" I asked.

"We're having a Brain Eater family get together tonight. Kim says to stop by and watch me eat the first bite of ceremonial brain-food cake. It looks like you."

"Gee thanks," I muttered. I need to pay more attention to what I say about people. Kim read one of my boring personal logs about Joe, and was so intrigued with my description that she tracked him down and started sleeping with him.

"So you'll stop by? It's chocolate fudge."

"Uh... I don't know. It's a bit creepy, " I said. "And there's the thing where we don't like each other."

"Your loss," Joe said. "I need to know where those drives came from. I found some data. It's not complete, but I if can tie into the original q-link, I might...."

"There's only one drive, Joe, and why should I tell you anything? I got you the drive, and you won't even let me have a super-node."

"Tell me and we'll talk about a super-node," Joe said.

"It would be nice to start dumping data on the Relativity tests I've been running."

"Fine. Please just tell me where they came from before you disappear for another week."

"One of the old Jupiter bases. There's a whole nest of crazies around Jupiter, and every one of them owns a base-station or hydro-ship or something."

Joe snapped his fingers. "I've got a couple of cousins living over there. I'll bet they can help us track down the q-link."

"The q-link fell into Jupiter. The drive was reset to n-link on Jupiter Station Seven before they shipped it."

"But there's data in there. It can't be null."

I shrugged. "How'd you get it online? Has to be null before you can link to the local quanta."

"I.... I tuned it in I guess," Joe said. "I felt for the connection and..." He stopped.

"You activated your symbiont and grabbed hold of an imaginary number," I said.

"I was explaining that part when you started to play dumb," Joe said. "But yeah, if you want to get metaphorical."

"It's the only way I do math," I said. "Was that before or after you officially linked it to the local quanta?"


I looked at him for a minute and then shrugged. "You're the math wiz. You must have tapped into something."

"Yeah," he said thoughtfully. "Thanks."

"No problem," I muttered. I almost asked why they called it an 'imaginary' number, and not something like 'impossible' number, but he would have had to answer it instead of leaving.

Transparent Sanity

Vincent K. Selmon stopped by my office a few days ago. His new vac-suit was ready and he invited me along for the virgin flight.

"Why not," I said, looking at Rhonda behind him. His daughter was in an obvious sulk and clearly about to unleash her strongest disapproval. "Or you could take Rhonda."

Vincent laughed and Rhonda turned into a smoking volcano. I could feel the pending explosion from the other side of my desk.

"Rhonda refused to get a symbiont until I was ready to be on my own," Vincent said.

"Oh," I said. I figured there was no way I would get out of this one unbloodied, so I went for it. "You're not ready then? To be on your own I mean."

Vincent laughed again. Rhonda turned to ice. I was impressed.

"I'm 63 years old, and until a few weeks ago I expected that to be about it." Vincent said. "Now I have this symbiont and the space vehicle of my dreams, and no one is stopping me without use of force."

"Then let's party," I said. "I'll call Eddie and Rick, and Curious... maybe Kevin. We don't want too many. We'll get an early start tomorrow, and hop a ride on that new ice-clump Rick noticed orbiting below us."

"I won't sleep a bit," Vincent said happily.

Rhonda glared at her father for a minute, and then turn on me abruptly. "The sanity is getting a bit thin around here, Dee. I can see through it."

"Not true," I said. "Everyone here went crazy years ago. Anything normal is just force of habit."

Vincent chuckled and stood up. "Doc's lab. Eight sharp."

"See you there."

Rhonda's temperature returned to a nice mid-range, but her smile was a little scary. She took a breath and filled the room with her tiny person. "Thank you."

Which was not what I was expecting. "My pleasure. I need to get away for some zero relativity, and this is a good excuse."

"Right. I'll ask you what that means later," Rhonda said, and left.

I'm still trying to absorb the vac-suit Kevin was wearing. It looks like a grip loader, complete with mag cables, only with two legs and two arms. I suppose it makes sense for an ex-cyborg.

Vincent's suit is a giant beetle. I'm not surprised. I was impressed by the ion wings though. They unfold from underneath the carapace and spread out for meters. I had trouble keeping up with him once he got the hang of it.

Sub Station

"I don't want to move my ship," I said. "I visit on a regular basis."

"We need those docks," Governor Kelly Grace Smith said. "We are pushing capacity as it is, and your ship is occupying valuable real estate."

"I don't want to move it," I muttered, feeling about eight years old.

"You need a bigger suite?" She asked. "Or I can get you a workshop. The old technician shop in your section won't be in use for some time. You can have that."

"Pipster just had five spiky little kittens which might make useful diplomats." I said.

"And Pipster likes the ship," Kelly said. "Sorry, but that only gets you two months. It also gives you plenty of time to get started on a design for our new Submind lash-up hub. I believe that is what you call them. A 'lash-up hub'?"

"Yeah," I said, considering the possibilities.

A lash-up is, of course, any spinning object to which you can anchor your ship and provide a bit of centrifugal weight. A lash-up hub is designed for the purpose, often providing services such as oxy and hydro to go with the spin. Some lash-up hubs are rated higher than their affiliate space stations.

I was so lost in the dream of a lash-up grown from scratch, grown by Submind and custom designed to provide maximum comfort, that I didn't hear what Kelly was saying for many seconds.

"Or we can call it a 'Suburb,'" Kelly said, giggling.

"How about Sub Station?" I asked. "Our Submind Sub Stations make the best Suburbs this side of Ceres."

Kelly grinned. "Three months, and I expect to be impressed." Then she took my elbow and led me to the door, where, you guessed it, she pressed her very orange lips to my forehead before shoving me out of her office. Some of that stuff she wears gets brighter if you rub it, so I was afraid to touch my forehead until I reached a cleansing station.

It didn't occur to me until later that I had agreed to manage a project, and it was a really big one. Kelly has that scatter-brained act down cold. I know it's not true, and she still lulled me into compliance. You have to respect that kind of talent.

Consultant's Fee

"Bio-domesticate Consultant? Isn't that one of those pretentious titles for dog trainer?" I asked, handing his card back. I have enough of those from official channels as it is, all cluttering up my data console.

He shrugged. "Even if you do have a rather talented chimp trainer aboard, he couldn't possibly have time to run these dock workers and train domestics at the same time. You must pay top allotment to have so many well trained chimps handling the luggage."

I wasn't sure, but I think there was a question hidden in there. "The luggage handlers are the environmental inspection team. They just like tossing luggage around."

Doug had that look on his face. The look people used to get when I told them Curious was in charge, and they should go complain to him.

"Misty," I said to my head enviro-tech. I also used chimp sign, and Doug turned to look. "Please find Mr. Blatt a guide for the day, and see if Callie has time for a visit in my office. I'll invite Paula, then take her to lunch when we're done."

Misty made one of those faces which is probably humor, but might be irritation. It's hard to tell with chimps. "I will assist," she signed. "Callie will want to give her thoughts to this man. You are letting Paula speak?"

I nodded, and Misty turned to round up Callie. It must have been the right answer.

"I don't recognize those signs," Doug said. "What's her vocabulary?"

"What?" I asked with genuine confusion.

"Vocabulary," Doug repeated. "How many words does she know?"

I hesitated for a second, and then shrugged.

"It must be a couple of hundred at least," Doug said. "What did she say?"

I sighed. "Mr. Blatt..."


"Doug," I said. "I know a few dozen hand signs, but only because Misty sat on me until I promised to study. She is at least as intelligent as I am, and, if recent evidence proves out, more intelligent than you."

"If she was that smart, you wouldn't have had to use sign," Doug said calmly.

"That's true," I said. "But I wanted to compare your last name to the sound of gas escaping from an elastic bag, and it's funnier in chimp sign."

"That's a new twist," Doug said. "But it's still an old joke." He didn't appear insulted at all.

I gestured towards a chair, and he took a seat.

"You're serious?" Doug asked.


Doug leaned back in his chair and said softly. "I'll be."

After a moment I asked, "Be what?"

"Hum?" Doug said, drifting into focus. "I'm not sure. I have a cranky old chimp who does tricks if you catch him in a good mood, a ship which needs retirement, and a subsistence trust fund. I've picked up some tech skills knocking around in Ida, but..." He shrugged.

"We have a large population of chimpanzees here," I said. "A couple of them can grow your ship back into shape in a few months."


"Where have you been for the past year?"

"Studying the gravitational tides in asteroid clusters 78K17 and 78T02. Did that for about 18 months, then headed out here as soon as I heard the OSA had fallen apart and the Martian Republic was becoming... less than republic."

"Why would a dog trainer be studying gravity?" I asked.

Doug shrugged. "I was looking for a natural gravity lens, and Backspin is a lovely little space-station where a man can live well on a small income."

"Gravity lens," I muttered.

"Yeah," Doug said. "They're suppose to cause weird effects, like large objects orbiting smaller ones, and stuff like that."

"Yeah," I said. "I think we should talk about this later. I'll bring Eddie, and Rick if he's not out ice-hopping. This discussion requires alcohol, and I have work to do first."

Doug laughed.

Callie showed up, asked him a few dozen questions about chimpanzees, and then hired him to help run her office. Paula scheduled him for a symbiont in two weeks, and the chimpanzees made rude noises at him until he laughed and apologized for ignoring them when he first arrived.

Yesterday, when Eddie showed me the file on the latest 'interesting arrival,' I was sure the pampered rich kid would be a waste of oxy. I totally lost the bet.


I was data shuffling in my office when Eddie reported a system intrusion alert from my sector. He called on the vid-comm. I hate the vid-comm, but Eddie says he likes to see faces.

"Eddie," I said. "Why do I have to hear about data consoles after I told you I didn't want them installed outside of my station entries? You know I'm just going to give you crap about it."

Eddie smiled a scary smile. It was the EMF smile. "I'm calling to tell you security is on the way. If you see a skinny little teenage male with an 'Earth sucks!' tee-shirt, don't let him near your console."

"Right. Why is that?" I said to the blank screen. I hate vid-comms.

And there he was.

"Hey mister," he said, sounding breathless and panicked. Almost. "Have you seen my Da? He's very tall, Martian like me, pale..."

"Have a seat." I queried Eddie's alert and skimmed.

"It's just that we got separated coming through customs, and he has all of my ident..."

I interrupted. "Is that why you hacked a temporary pass?"

The kid froze.

"Sit down."

He sat.

"Eddie doesn't like anyone ignoring data-link protocols unless it's him," I explained. "Security is already on the way."

He stiffened. "I claim O.S.A. citizenship. I'm not going back to Mars."

"Fort Falling is an independent station," I said, glancing down at my console. "And getting sent back to Mars is the least of your problems. You have an appointment with Eddie."

"I claim O.S.A. citizenship," he squeaked.

"What's your name?" I asked.

"Simon Green."


He nodded sulkily, watching me enter data.

"And your father?"

"Stuck on Mars."

I nodded. "The Alliance diplomat is on the way. She'll assign you quarters in her section. While you wait, you can explain what you did, and why, to Eddie. Then he'll give you some reasons to never do it again. How's that sound?"

Simon nodded, staring at my console.

Eddie barged in. Wendy was right behind him.

"You little twerp," Eddie said. "I'm going to introduce you to the nearest airlock..."

"Eddie," I said, interrupting to show him Simon's profile. His father was imprisoned on Mars. There was no mention of his mother. One thing was certain: Mars wanted him back, and they weren't interested in being polite about it.

"He's groundless?" Eddie asked.

I nodded.

"What's that mean?" Simon asked.

"No where to go," I said.

"It's station talk for a grounder who can't go home," Wendy said.

"Oh," Simon said.

"I'm Wendy. No one is pushing you out an airlock while I'm around."

"Sheesh," I said. "Can't you give that a rest. We all knew you were smart enough to pick the one with the ship attached."

"Gonna have to lock him up," Eddie muttered to himself.

I looked at the console. Simon was a certified genius--the little thug. He'd done work on artificial intelligence, social construct models, and data systems analysis. One of his main interests the past few months has been survival by any means.

"Or hire him," I said.

"Yeah," Eddie said, nodding and turning on the EMF smile. "Yeah. I'll start by teaching him to play spinball. Can't have some clueless grounder mucking about with Joe's quanta hardware."

"I'm right here," Simon said. He managed to convey fear, interest and impatience all at once.

"Yeah," I said. I nodded to Wendy and tagged Simon's file for her.

"Are you hungry?" Wendy asked Simon. "We have the best hydro salads this side of Jupiter. We have vat protein too. Come on."

Simon stood up in bewilderment and followed Wendy out the door. He turned to look at me, and I shrugged, smiling.

Elder Harpo

"Harpo was a circus chimp," Doug said. "Now he's retired."

"Oh," I said, wondering why people think my office is a social center. "Nice to meet you, Harpo."

"We're headed over to the med-lab for our Submind retro-fit," Doug said. "Harpo is nervous, and Ray said you might be able to reassure him before we jump into the med-tanks for symbiotic implants."

"He's a chimpanzee," I said.

"Ray said you had an understanding," Doug said.

"What's to understand? Stop asking him how he feels about it. Ten, fifteen minutes, he'll stop being nervous."

"What?" Doug asked, bewildered.

"And stop trying to reassure him. For vac sake man, if you kept talking to me like you've been talking to that chimp, I'd have strangled you or broken down into tears by this time. How long has he been with you? More than a while I'd say."

Doug's gears ticked away. "Twelve years."

"No matter what you think, he doesn't have a clue what you are talking about right now. Wait until his symbiont gives him the ability to understand. Submind claims the symbiont will disengage if the host is uncomfortable or endangered, so I don't think you need to be concerned."

"Oh," Doug said. "Why did Doc ask all of those weird questions?"

I shrugged. "She never asked me, so I couldn't say."

"He's very mature," Doug said. "Maybe Doc is concerned about that."

"Have you seen Doc?" I asked sarcastically. "She's over a hundred years old.


Harpo looked pretty healthy to me, but he did look old. "Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if the local chimps elect him the tribal elder or something."

Doug's eyes bugged out, and then he laughed. "Come on, Elder Harpo. Let's go get baptized."

Hot Diox Leak

"Chuck?" I asked. "What makes you think I'm the crew supervisor? Why do I care about your stupid employment contracts?"

"I have the contract you signed..."

I interrupted. "Those are O.S.A. contracts, Chuck. I'm not an employee any more. Remember that thing where I was appointed Minister of Customs? I was sworn in by Kelly after we told the O.S.A. to spin off. I don't work for you, Chuck."

He showed me his patented angry face. "Kelly told me to make sure this project gets..."

"When Kelly tells me you are in charge, I'll tell her to find someone else to manage this lash-up project," I said angrily. "I'm not going to put up with your diox leaks. This is my project. Kelly tricked me into it fair and square, and if you want me to take it seriously, you will stay the hell away from it."

"I'm trying to help."

"No you aren't," I said. "You're trying to get in on the credit."

"I need to get these contracts signed..."

"My crew already has contracts, and I'm not going to let you force them into signing on for six years just to do this one job," I said. "Besides, half of them are chimpanzees. Where are they going to go that's better than Fort Falling? Even the human crew is unlikely to leave unless some idiot tries to force them into something."

"Right," Chuck said sharply. "Don't come to me if someone gets hurt and there's no one to pay for medical expenses."

I laughed. "We have Submind and Doc Hester. Remember? No one has to pay for health care unless they have a personal problem with sentient viruses."

Chuck muttered darkly, shook his head, and left without another word. Chuck is good at his job, or Kelly wouldn't have put him in charge of human resources, but the governor hasn't called to tell me someone else is in charge of the project, so I don't think Chuck will be leaking carbon dioxide all over my new suburb--at least until it's finished.

Roll Call, part 2

Fort Falling's population has grown exponentially in the past year. We are using almost half of our existing living space. Kelly and Doc Hester say we can double that space in a matter of months with Submind growth.

Since the last time . . .

Vincent K. Selmon: Rita's father. A professor of English Literature with brain scaring. Before he came here to get Submind injections, he tended to confuse himself with a giant beetle. Now, when he's not teaching or helping Governor Smith firm up our political system, he's joy riding his personal vac-suit around like he's a giant beetle.

Rhona Selmon: Vincent's second and youngest daughter. She took care of their father for several months while Rita was here talking to Doc about a cure for Vincent's nerve scaring.

Four Thumbs: Chimpanzee's choose their own names, so don't blame me.

Ted Stansen: A litigious tourist who will never grace Fort Falling's atmo ever again.

Tesla Cee: A crazy chimpanzee who is currently riding Saturn's atmosphere so he can watch lighting storms. He reminds me of Counter-Spin Rick, except I don't think he likes me.

Fife Tiberman: A hive-mind A.I. robotics expert. Despite his loud and continuous comments about the unproven reliability of bio-technology, Fife didn't waste any time getting a symbiont and living vac-suit.

Kevin Jaunha: Kevin was a cyborg for several years. Then he came here and had the hardware replaced by Submind wetwear. If you aren't paying attention, he looks %100 human.

Doug Blatt: One of the Blatt's. He has a small trust fund and claims to be a student of gravity. He's been working for Callie, and making friends with every enviro-tech chimp on board. He has plans to build a ship repair yard nearby. He even filed paper-work with Governor Smith's office, calling it "Blatt's Submind Retrofits."

Simon Green: Simon is a teenager with too many brains. The Mars Republic claims he belongs to them, and they locked up his father to try and keep him in line. Simon's father told him to run, and the kid landed here.

Elder Harpo: Doug's long time chimpanzee companion.

In addition, Submind has mentioned two alien races, the 'Clee' and the 'Genitor.' I'll have to ask Doc about them some day.

The New Kid

Simon came by my office to ask questions about Eddie.

"What's his thing with spinball? I mean, he bounced that annoying ball off of me for three hours before he got bored."

"Sure," I said. "You told him he didn't have anything to teach you about momentum. It probably took him that long to get momentum from your head to your gut."

He blinked. "Alright. I asked for it. But why does it make everyone so jumpy when he glares at them?"

"He knows things," I said.

"Like what?"

"If I don't use randomly generated passwords, Eddie can access my personal data no matter how often or on what schedule I change the code. Even if I don't think up the password until I change it."

"Sounds like a harmonic effect of some kind," Simon said. "Through the Submind virus."

"Maybe," I said. "But Eddie has always been nosy, and he was always the guy to ask if you wanted to find someone. We call him EMF Eddie for more than his evil spinball tactics."

"Oh. Perhaps amplification then. If his talent is people, why is he in charge of the data core?"

"Eddie is in charge of people who access the data core," I said.

"Ah. Do you know how he discovered my unauthorized access? When I first came aboard?"

"So that's why..." I stopped. "Eddie probably has files on everyone in Saturn system. You told the system someone was here, and Eddie didn't have a file to go with it. He probably has such events hardwired to a loud and annoying alarm somewhere."

Simon laughed.

"Occasionally I'll be stupid enough to make a bet on new arrivals before they get here, and I'll owe Eddie a favor," I said.

He laughed again. "What's your talent?"

"Part of it is a sense of momentum," I said. "But I'm learning how to access other Submind talents. Are you considering a symbiont?"

"I don't know," Simon said. "Those suits are impressive, but I'm not sure I want to trade one for letting a sentient virus in my head."

I shrugged. "I refused one for months, but the cats and chimpanzees didn't seem homicidally alien, and like you said, 'those suits....'"

"And now?"

I smiled ironically. "I'm learning to skip time."

Simon's face went blank. He blinked twice. Then he asked, "With the gravity focus? Is that really possible?"

"I don't get much practice because, well, six minutes of practice and half the day is shot."

"Yeah, but traveling, that could..." Simon stood up and bowed slightly. A Martian thing I guess. "Thank you for answering my questions, Mr. Jackson. I have an appointment to make with Doc Hestor."

"You're welcome," I said, wondering what happens to genius brains when exposed to Submind.

Personal Space, pt 1

Doc asked me to take two days, my Submind vac-suit, and find a nice quiet place to hold Relativity One for four hours and 48 minutes. My suit grew a weird sensor array for the purpose, so I didn't bother arguing about it. With the time dilatation, it was only a few hours for me.

"Forty-eight hours exactly," Doc said. "Give or take a fraction, that works out to Relativity One. You've got a good start. Congratulations."

"Thanks," I said. "Are these Submind options, or talents or whatever, are they 'memory sets' like you and Paula go on about?"

"Not exactly," Doc said. "Those are personality memes." Her speech patterns changed a bit, which I figure means Submind (more than Doc) is speaking.

"Oh. I've heard you talking about those too." I was starting to think it might be over my head.

Doc shrugged. "A personality meme is a like a memory fragment, a doorway to a skill, and it must be summoned by a thought or desire. You do this when you call the sky.

"A memory set is a what we give the chimpanzees," Doc said. "It's an entire range of skill sets, built on the host's existing social and cultural structures. It requires physiological and neurological modification, with obvious benefits for those who accept the symbiont."

"Huh? What about the spiky cats?" I asked.

"That is a specialized personality meme," Submind said. "You may call it a morphological meme if you like."

"You're saying they remember having magnetic spiky quills?"

"Something like that," Doc said unhelpfully. "The point is, DeeDee, your force of will is driving your discoveries--your 'Submind options' as you called them. Your natural suspicion of mental influence has put you way ahead of the curve. I would have never predicted this."

"Really?" I asked. "Why not?"

"I used to think you were a bit slow," Doc said. "Not stupid, exactly, and certainly not inclined to take any grief about it, but slow."

"And now you don't think that, and I should be full of joy and sugar?"

"You should be full of joy and sugar when I think of you at all," Doc said. "You seem to have two or three active processes running at all times, as if you think too fast to keep up. Joe says it makes him twitchy."

"It keeps my mouth from running," I said.

"Ah." Doc said. "You're even smarter then I suspected."

Personal Space, pt 2

"So what do you think of Kelly's First Submind Suburb, complete with chimpanzee families and cats?" I asked Paula.

She drifted beside me, wearing her pink and blue Submind vac-suit bristling with biotech sensors, and gazed across thousands of meters at our destination. "It's not very big."

"That's not exactly what I wanted to hear," I said.

She giggled. "Not what a guy wants to hear on a date?"

"No. But I've heard worse," I said. "The hub is big enough for a spinball field..."

"Of course it is."

"The hub's south airlock is for small personal shuttles. There's room for ten. The north airlock is for vac-suit entrance and emergency pods."

"Standard," Paula said softly. She started clicking her teeth softly and fiddling with one of her sensors. That usually meant she was only half listening.

"Then we have two habitat spokes. You need at least two spokes on a lash-up if you want to keep spin going," I said, starting to warm up. "The chimps worked hard getting some of that growth to go, so I gave one spoke to Curious and his new mate, and let him pick three other families. There's room for six families in those spokes, but we have plenty of room out here."

"Uh huh."

"Doug's going to lease one of the eight slips, and he's already got half the chimps involved in something. You know how he is. He wants to make a big announcement, so he won't tell anyone anything--except the chimps, and they thinks secrets are great fun, so I can't get anything out of them."

"Did you hear about Tera and Rick?" Paula asked.

"Tera?" I asked.

"Doug's sister," Paula said. "The economic wonder."

"Oh, right. Money crazy," I said. "I thought she left when Doug told her to go stuff her lawyers in an airlock."

"Apparently she met and got drunk with Rick at the Dizzy Pig, and then spent three days locked in his ship. It seems to have improved her mood exponentially."

"Counter-Spin?" I asked. "And Tera?"

"Yeah. There's no accounting," Paula said. "I'll race you the rest of the way, but you can't use your ion-thrusters to accelerate. You have to use grav-touch."

"Then you'll owe me another favor."

"Ha," Paula said, and focused her gravity on the spinning lash-up.

I let her pull ahead before I did some focusing of my own. I pulled with almost a full gee, and didn't stop until Paula was behind me.

Paula made fun of me for going too fast. I focused on Fort Falling and pulled myself to a stop a few meters away from the airlock. Paula was less then two minutes behind me.

"You've been practicing," Paula said.

I shrugged. "Ion thrusters are more fun. So what do you think? I didn't do any of the actual work, except a bit of plumbing, but it feels like mine."

"It... looks like an average suburb class docking station grown out of insect parts," Paula said.

"Yeah," I said. "Ain't it great."

Dear Dad

Sorry I didn't get in touch sooner. We were riding our vac-suits over to Kelly One--that's the lash-up project I told you about--when Paula told me you and Mom were prepping old Lumpy Nickel for an overdue furlough. How long did she hold your head under before you agreed to leave the head office for a year?

I would have called, but Paula didn't tell me until after you had left Ceres Station. She didn't forget, but we're both busy, at entirely different tasks in entirely different locations. To be honest, I think it's for the best if we leave it that way. I don't think Paula and I will ever be able to work together in peace. Don't get me wrong. I expect Paula to see through whatever delusional filter she put in front of me any day now, and it scares the hell out of me.

Anyway, we are holding a slip for the old ship (I've attached orbital coordinates and comm frequencies) and Paula is running medical profiles on you and Mom for Doc Hester. I know you're coming out here to see me, but you aren't leaving without a symbiont, a Submind vac-suit, and a totally new, living and breathing, Lumpy Nickel. And a spiky kitten or two.

Crystal Falls

Four of us went on Tera's first vac-suit flight; Counter-spin Rick, Tera, Paula and I. I haven't figured Tera yet. She's money crazy, but I'm not sure it's about the money. Rick likes crazy, and he likes adrenaline. They'll probably own half of Saturn system some day.

Back when we were setting fire to our space station for a bit of thrust, we blew half of it off and let it spiral into the rings. Rick staked a salvage claim before our thrusters stopped burning.

The four of us drifted in space and stared at the wreckage.

"I don't see any damage," Tera said, excited.

"No," I said. "I wouldn't call it damage. I'd call it a complete retrofit, except no one has ever made a space station which looks like that."

"What do you mean?" Tera said. "Rick, what does he mean?"

"It looks like Submind has already moved in," Rick said calmly. "I was expecting something, but that..."

"So it grew from a plant or something," Tera said. "So what?"

"A lot more than I expected is all," Rick said. "And we don't own the station dear, we only have salvage rights."

"Oh,"Tera said, looking at the station again. "I don't see any damage at all. How is it holding together with all the tidal stress from these damn snowballs?"

"Submind has the ability to effect changes in micro-gravity," Paula said.

"So there's nothing to salvage?" Tera asked.

"Probably not," Rick said. I think he was trying not to laugh. I know he planted those bug-pod-seeds all over before we blew the flash cut. He's a freaking terrorist with those things.

With a quick burst of her thrusters, Tera drifted toward the station. "It's pretty here. Can we at least give it a name?"

"Right of salvage," Rick said.

"How about 'Crystal Falls'?" Tera asked.

"Not Diamond Falls?" I asked.

"Don't be stupid," Tera said. "Those lighting effects don't look anything like diamonds."

"Of course not," Paula said. "'Crystal Falls' is perfect."

"I've never seen ring particles do that to light before," I said. "I think Submind is using them to focus more light on the station... or whatever it is."

"I'll be spaced," Rick said softly.

"And I think Bane is over there," I said.

"You are not going down there to hunt for a stupid cat," Paula said. "We have to get Tera back for an after flight examination and some alcoholic beverages."

"Yes, ma'am. "

"Yes," Tera said, hitting her thrust. "Can we skip straight to the drinking? And what's this about a cat?"

Frost River Radio

"Diz?" Eddie asked, sticking his head in my office.


"We've got another voice broadcast from those crazy scientists over at Frost River," Eddie said.

"So?" Frost River is a retreat for emotionally challenged and reclusive deep thinkers. There are normal people too, but those are mostly family. Someone has to make sure the normal business of living gets done.

"Come on! My shop." His head disappeared.

"I have work to do," I said, standing up.

"This is good," he said from somewhere towards the tangent lift. "Trust me."

"Trust me," I muttered. "First game of spinball we ever played... Couldn't stand straight for a week after.

"Can you at least give me a hint?" I asked, catching up to him at the lift.

"Trust me!" Eddie said, wearing the EMF Eddie face.

"Why your shop?" Following him into the lift.

"Tesla found a relay beacon. Joe says it's a sophisticated storage device, and it appears to be getting regular updates. We think they are using the broadcasts to supplement their data backups."

"Scientists are like that," I said. "Why are we poking at their stuff?"

"It's shinny," Eddie said, smirking. "And because the beacon contains Submind host materials, probably vat grown."

"Oh," I said. "Just the host?"

Eddie nodded. "That's all I'm saying until you've heard the last message they sent."

It was an inebriated red-neck bubba with a silicon fixation. Bubba has a theory that the tiny Submind pod clusters he's found floating within Saturn's rings are a kind of proto-life which evolved among the ice particles. Not a bad theory I guess, except most people at Frost River have heard of Submind by now.

"Is he serious?"

"He made these beacons," Eddie said. "And he has found the Clee. What's left of them anyway."

"Right. The silicon guys," I said. "Before us."

"The silicon guys," Eddie said, tapping the beacon.

"Oh. I get it. He grew it out of silicon."

"Parts of it," Eddie said. "Kelly wants us to go have a talk with him, maybe offer him a symbiont. Clue him in. He might be useful."

"Can I invite Four Thumbs?" I asked, grinning. Four Thumbs lives to clue in us humans.

"Why not? I'm bringing Simon," Eddie said. "Simon was headed for Frost River when he hit my security wall and decided this wasn't such a bad place. The kid almost made it, and he deserves to meet the space brains, being as he's one of them."

Social Warfare

As always, the 'Dizzy Pig Bar and Grill' is the perfect place to get stinking drunk with friends and co-workers and discuss philosophical matters.

"Why we gotta have taxes anyway?" Tera said, slurring slightly and waving a Pineapple Slush Bomb. "I only just got my citizen papers, and Kelly has already asked me to take on the Revenue department. Tricked more like.... Devious old woman."

"She's good," I said in agreement. "Don't ever play cards with her."

"We gotta have a social contract," Doug said. "We pay for air and stuff, part of the social contract. Can't have a healthy society without taxes."

"You hear that everyone?" Tera asked. "My brother the capitalist is defending government and taxes. Let's call dad and give him the good news."

"It makes sense to me," Wendy said. "Nothing political about what I heard."

"That's 'cause you only heard what he said," Tera muttered. "I've known him for 30 years."

"I don't think we have a choice," Sarah said. "Our population has increased by a factor of ten since Ben and I arrived. We need to pay the bills somehow."

"That's a fact," Wendy said. "You can't take parts of society and ignore the rest. It comes as a whole. Fort Falling, Frost River, Titan Station, even Crystal Falls; all of these are outgrowths of society. The vac-suits you wear, the food you eat, the tools..."

"All right! I get it," Tera said. "I just don't know why I always have to be treasurer. It's not fair."

"You're good at it," Rick said, squeezing her hand.

"You wanna hear my version of a fair society?" Doug asked. "Every year I pay more taxes that pays for more education than people who actually spawned the children I'm paying to educate. It really bugs me. I get a headache every year, and every year I take a pill and accept it. I accept it because when I'm old and they won't let me fly any more, I want the guy piloting the bus to have a clear understanding of road signs. That's as fair as it gets."

"Yeah," Kevin said. "That's it. That's why we build things for the ugrun... ungrateful vac-spawn." His mouth closed and opened a couple of times, then he nodded and took a drink.

No One Listens

I heard a startled and oddly terrifying scream, so naturally I left the relative safety of my office to investigate.

Rhonda was standing over one of the more offensive ice busters. I don't know his name because I'm a horrible-thoughtless-person. He was lying on the ground and holding his personals.

"I told you, Vac-Head. I said you were standing too close. Now you know. If you are standing close enough for me to knee you in the groin, you are too close." Then she kicked him again.

"Um? Rhonda?" I asked, not standing too close.


"After you kick a guy once, you don't really have to do it again."

"Why not?"

"He probably won't notice," I said diplomatically.

"Yeah," Rhonda said, turning away from him. "I'll kick him harder next time."

"Or call security," I said. "We got a whole department..."

"Up yours, Dee," Rhonda said. "I've been dealing with jerks like that my entire life. The only thing they understand is pain. The kind of pain that bypasses the brain and goes straight for the libido."


"No one listens," Rhonda said. "I tell Rita the material is contaminated, but she ignores the entire report until it's about to go wrong. Then she wants to know why I didn't tell her. This all happened a couple of weeks after Rita's two days of annoying demands for the report she didn't read. Then this guy wants to smell my hair... the freak. Acted like it never even occurred to him I wouldn't approve."



"Maybe you could play spinball with Simon, or talk to Doc about some time off to do some ice hopping, or something," I said.

"Sell it to someone else, Space Monkey. I would have kicked that guy anyway. Weren't you listening?"

"Yes," I said firmly.

"Could have fooled me," Rhonda said. "Has that shipment of hydro-silicates arrived? I've got three experiments holding at critical stages. Much longer and I'm going to lose weeks of work."


"That will make me very cranky," Rhonda said.

I held up my magic summoning wand and spoke softly into it. "Help."

Sandra Quinn must have been really close. "Yes sir?"

"Please assist Rhonda in her search for a late shipment of..." I turned to look at Rhonda.


"Those," I said.

"I was just going over the latest manifests," Sandra said, grinning. "Sam has been nagging me about a shipment of honey from Earth.

"Come on," Sandra said to Rhonda. "Let's go find your rocks."

"Hydro-silicates," Rhonda said mildly, following along.

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The Selmon sisters scare me.

Plazma Flush

"I used to like my job," Eddie said. "Now I know how much people suck."

"Me too," I said. "But Nana taught me about people a long time ago."

"That doesn't help," Eddied said. "Aren't you going to ask me how I know people suck?"

"You got that damn mind reading trick from Submind...."

"It's not mind reading."

"And you have files on everyone within a week's distance of Fort Falling. I'm more surprised it took you this long to figure it out," I said. "What do you want? If you're looking for someone to pummel in spinball, forget it. I have work to get done before I close office, and Paula is singing tonight--in three hours."

"I don't know," Eddie said. "I need to flush my cores. How do you stay so damn motivated when you hate people so much?"

"First of all," I said. "I don't hate anyone. I'd just rather they left me alone. Second, I don't judge anyone or their motives, but I see no harm in figuring things out. My main motivation in life has always been space sickness--avoiding it."

"That one doesn't work for me."

I shrugged. "Go on a date or something. Ask Wendy. She's been working out. Or maybe Rhonda, if you like surprises."

"Wendy? Are you crazy? She's still venting plazma from when I changed the station's message headers. That was two years ago."

"She might be mad at you Eddie, but she blames me. The only way that makes sense is if she likes you a whole lot more than she likes me."

"She'll laugh in my face," Eddie said.

"You don't know as much as you think, Eddie. Take her some flowers--talk to Paula about those purple roses. If you need to bring her around, tell her Dee said it would never work out between you two. I'll spot you ten points if I'm wrong."

"All right. But I need to unwind some more before attempting such a mission."

"Go vent into a personal log or something," I said. "Now get lost. If I'm late to her gig, Paula won't give me the special treatment tonight."

"Yeah. Good idea," Eddie said, turning around to leave.

"I'll save a chair for Wendy," I said.

Skipping the Rings

I've been to Relativity Three. It was a moment which lasted days for most people. I watched the eye of Saturn pass beneath me, and I felt the universe speeding away in all directions. The feeling fit my mood perfectly, but the thing about time dilation is you don't actually get over it unless you do the time. Paula found me drifting and jolted my suit back to Relativity Zero.

"What?" I asked.

"What?" Paula shouted. "What? I don't know how long you think you've been out here sulking, but it will be three days before we get back. 'What's your problem?' is what. And this is not a solution--it's inconsiderate."

"Um? It was only a few minutes," I said. "I swear. I wasn't paying attention. It just felt good that everything was speeding away. And I wasn't sulking."

"What do you call it?"

"Quiet time," I muttered. "When I can think."

"Oh? You think better when the universe is rushing past? That it?"

I was fairly certain her tone suggested sarcasm. "I'll go back to pacing. Unless Joe is looking for me."

"Good," Paula said. "So you're hiding from Joe?"

"No. I just needed to get away. Every time I do something wrong, it was something I thought was right. I guess it's that way for most people, but it's so frustrating. I came out here to scream, but it was like I fell into this bottomless hole, and I wanted to fall forever."

"That doesn't sound good, Dee. I think we need to skip the rings for awhile. I've got beacon 7A33D. You got that one?"

"Yes," I said, calling up the marker in my suit display.

"Let's make it turn around point, and we skip off as many snowballs as we can getting there and back," Paula said. "Then we'll go home and relieve our frustrations."

"Sure," I said to her back. "Hey!"

Red Pressure

There's a certain quality of light which comes off of Saturn's atmosphere, and when you ride close to the rings, the light scatters off the dirty crystals in a dark red glow.

"It feels like sullen anger," I said.

"Yeah. That's good," Counter-Spin Rick said. "I'm going to use that. 'Sullen anger' is good."

I drifted, staring stupidly into the shifting red reflections. "I'm not happy with this place."

"So what?" Rick asked. "You weren't happy before we came here. What's the difference?"

"I wasn't pissed off," I said, spinning on my suit jets to face him. "I don't know why I agree to go on your enigmatic quests. At least Eddie keeps his crazy stunts closer to home."

"Because Eddie is busy," Rick said. I could tell he was trying not to laugh at me. "That's your fault... I've heard say."

"Why are we here, Rick?"

"One of those things... existential like."

"All right," I said. "Why are you trying piss me off?"

"It's better than depression," Rick said.

"What do you know? I like being depressed," I said. "No one wants to 'share' it with me. I can keep it all to myself."

"You're right about no one wanting to share your depression," Rick said. "But we don't have a choice."


"If you want to talk social dynamics, Doc's the gal. You want to talk depression, I got years in the darkness. One day I got angry over a lousy protein sandwich, stuff had to be three weeks old, and I yelled at the guy who sold it to me. I instantly felt so good that I told him to keep his money and stomped away."

"Yeah?" I asked. "So you come out here to soak up some anger? Recharge the jets?"

"You catch on fast," Rick said. I could almost hear him laughing. "The part you haven't seen yet, Dizzy, is how much more pleasant you are to have around without the cloud of darkness."


"Who knows? Someone might even say something nice about you for a change. Maybe."

"Suck vacuum," I said. "Can we go back to the ship now? Paula is better at cheering me up. Especially since you will be leaving, and we will be starting our vacation."

"Yeah," Rick said. He was definitely laughing. "That's why Paula asked me to crank you up. Something about the third day and the most incredible..."

"Are you through?" I asked. "Can we go back now?"

"Why?" Rick asked unhelpfully.

"Never mind. It's my ship. I know the beacon code."

Crazy Doug's Bargain Retrofits

"Chuck is going to come off of his axis," I said, trying not to enjoy the thought. "You said you already spoke to Kelly?"

Doug nodded. "She asks only that we rename the place not after her."

"Put my parent's ship, the Lumpy Nickel, at the top of your list," I said. "And you only get one spoke. I already gave the other one to Curious."

"One spoke and four berths," Chuck said. "I figure two weeks on the lash-up so Submind can tie into the systems, then a slow tumble for two more weeks to aid rapid maturity. Maybe a two week shake down cruise to keep the columns even."

"I'm not kidding about Chuck," I said. "Ten chimp workers will not be easy to replace."

Doug grinned and said, "Chuck doesn't know how to speak chimp. They call him The Mass."

"Of course, he'll blame me," I said. "So I guess you don't have to worry too much."

"He thinks they are calling him Master."

"That's my joke," I said.

"Chimp is your native language."

"Probably. I'm not kidding about Chuck, Doug. He won't leave this one alone. He's as crazy about labor resources as you are about bargains."

Doug frowned at me for a minute. "I could give him a ship. I have three junkers worth fixing maybe. I'm going to experiment with design changes on existing hulls. He could have first pick."

"Maybe. Probably won't hurt anything. You might think about hiring out your crews. Chuck will have to deal with contractors sooner or later, and your sister almost has the treasury up to spin."

"Do you teach kids how to pick their noses too?" Doug asked.

"Sorry," I said, smiling. "I see a lot of weirdos from incoming ships, not to mention ice-busters and explosive females, and I really don't want Chuck haunting my office until I find him ten more environmental technicians to replace the ones I let get away."

Doug laughed and slapped my shoulder. "Don't you worry about it. By the time I'm done with Chuck, he'll believe it was his idea."

"Yeah?" I asked. "I guess it'll be entertaining either way."

Doug nodded.

"What are you going to call this Submind powered ship repair yard of yours?"

"Crazy Doug's Bargain Retrofits. What else?"

Riding Quanta

"How long has he been like this?" I asked, studying Joe from several meters away. Joe had netted himself to the wall of the station's hub so he wouldn't float away.

"I think about three days," Simon said glumly. "He was down-shift for two."

"Sounds familiar," I muttered. "Like time dilatation. I bet he tapped into the quanta with Submind."

"What?" Simon asked.

"The data core is on the other side of that wall," I said.

"Duh," Simon said. "I came up here to run some magnetic scans because the drive generators are going hyperactive."

"And you had to call me first?" I asked.

"No," Simon said. "I called his girlfriend... She wasn't surprised, but didn't know how to wake him up."

"And then you called me?"

"No," he said, sounding a bit insulted. "I called Doc. Then I called Kelly. Then I called Paula. That was yesterday. I'm worried he's going to burn out the quanta drive or something. Paula said you might be able to tune in and get his attention before he does something irreversible to your hardware."

"Ah," I said. "Now it's my hardware. Did you ask Joe about that one? He still hasn't given me a super node. If he burns out the imaginary numbers, he can get his own replacement."

"Imaginary numbers? What are you talking about?"

"Simon," I said. "He's probably just looking for that old q-link he's been going on about for weeks... He's riding quanta, like riding gravity except the equation includes the square-root of negative one. Could be it's only been a few minutes for him."

Simon was a smart kid. His gears were spinning so fast that his eyes started to glow with sparks. "He never... I'm going to have to access his personal files. No choice. He obviously needs help."

Neither one of us believed that. "No choice," I said slowly. "You shouldn't even bother Eddie about it."

Simon nodded. "Right. No telling how much time he has. I better get to work."

"No telling about time," I agreed, turning to leave. "And I was never here."

My Way

My ship is docked at Zoo Prime, our first suburban lash-up. The chimps named it, so don't blame me. Doug wanted to call it Spin Cycle One, but chimps can be persistent. No one even considered DeeDee's Place, but project managers never get credit for anything, so I'm not surprised.

My parent's ship is also docked at Zoo Prime, and Doug's crews are swarming over it with enviro-tech gear and vats of nutrients. Doug has ten chimps and 28 humans working for him, and 17 ships lined up for retrofit.

We stop rotation on the lash-up every two weeks for 12 hours. Lash-ups don't have rails, so ships have to dock the old fashion way, and since anyone docking to a lash-up is planning to leave it there for a while, once every two weeks is usually often enough.

I docked Ion Jack and made sure everything was secure after spin started. Then I stopped by to check progress on the Lumpy Nickel. Doug was ending a speech as I arrived.

"It's my way or the wrong way," Doug shouted to the small crowd.

"My way or the wrong way," they repeated.

"How are we going to do this?"

"My way," they all repeated.

"Have at it," Doug shouted.

I watched as they all turned and went off to work. "Uhm? Doug?"


"When you say, 'My way or the wrong way,' do you mean 'your way'?"

"Did you hear me say 'your way'?"

"No," I said. "But everyone is saying 'My way or the wrong way.'"

"That's what I said," Doug said.

"But..." I stopped. "Who is My?"

"My is a self referential personal pronoun. You missed my speech, didn't you?"

"Yes. So you want everyone to do it your way?"

"My way, Dizzy, not your way."

"Right," I said. "You've been hanging around with too many chimps."

Doug grinned. "The thing is--you know this is true--there are times when some git from another command is giving you advice like it's not obvious and you've never done it before. Those are the times when 'my way' can be very useful."

"Those gits don't care what you think," I said. "They just want to hear themselves talk because they had motivational speaking programmed in at an early age."

"Yeah," Doug said, laughing. "But tell them 'the boss' said it, and most times their airlocks seal up tight."

"So it's your way," I concluded.

"My way... But it depends on who is saying it. You see? Those are all highly intelligent people with minds of their own, even the chimps, and they know what they're doing. You too, Diz, most times anyway. When I say 'my way,' it's usually proceeded by 'repeat after me.' You see?"

"My way," I repeated. "Oh. It's 'my way' unless I want some git to leave me alone, then it's whoever I tell the git said it."

Doug slapped me on the shoulder and grinned like an ape. "My way."

Error Correction

"I just thought of something," Paula said softly.

"You do that all the time," I said. "Often out loud. A guy can't sleep with all the thinking."

"Funny man. You do a surprising amount of it yourself, for an ape."

I grunted.

"So why haven't you been chattering on about your latest theory of time or social dynamics or pseudo-some-such?"

"I've been on the receiving end of a few 'latest theories' since I took the big office at Customs, so maybe I don't want to bore you," I said. "But mostly, I was trying to sleep."

"I didn't mean now ape-man," Paula said. She slide her arm over me and pulled herself up for a kiss. "Unless you want to tell me a bed-time story."

"I had an interesting discussion with Doc yesterday," I said.


"We were talking about a genuine pseudo-some-such, a social dynamic spin, and a quantum level time variable, all rolled into one."

"Sounds wonderfully complex," Paula said, settling in.

"I expect to be confused for another week," I said. "Minimum."

"Silly Dizzy. Without confusion, you would have nothing to do." She sounded half-asleep already.

I grinned into the darkness. "To true, My Love.

"The Doc was studying one of those crystals Tesla brought back from Crystal Falls. Have you been out there lately? Like a gem encrusted giant jelly fish swimming with the ring particles."

"Tera," Paula said.

"Right. Tera really likes to keep an eye on things, doesn't she?"

"Uh huh."

"So Doc has this weird looking ice crystal sealed in vacuum, I guess that keeps it from thawing out too, and she's running constant scans on it. It was made by Crystal Falls, which is mostly Submind host by now, so you'd think Submind would already know about it, and thus Doc, but I guess not because she's studying it so hard."

I felt Paula's soft giggle. "You asked her, didn't you?"

"I had to," I said. "If I'm going to put my trust in a virus that can think for itself, I'd like to have an idea how it thinks. 'So Doc,' I say. 'How come you don't know anything about what the rest of you is doing?'"


"I was treated to a lecture on the nature of individuality," I said. "And then she asked me if I knew what my lunch was doing."

"Ow," Paula said. "I've heard that one."

"I had more questions."

Paula giggled briefly. "That's who you are."

"I wanted to know what happened to Bane--and about 15 other cats by my count--and why Submind was forcing growth to build what amounts to a zero-gee environment. She called me a stupid boy, which means she's about to explain unless I object to being called that, and she told me the Submind host would have enough mass to borrow gravity from surrounding three space."

"Makes sense."

"Yeah, I guess. But she didn't want to explain about the cats. I know you think I get obsessive about it, but seriously, why would this living space station need cats? I'm not worried, exactly, but I want to know. I threatened to fly over there and take a closer look for myself if she didn't fess up."

"That never works with Doc."

"Not usually," I said. "But I think she was teasing me--or maybe it was Submind. I'm not sure there's much difference anymore."

"Not much," Paula agreed.

"She told me about the genitors. Well, I asked about them, having been born with big ears and a sensitive nose, and I was damn sure it would explain why cats are living on Crystal Falls.

"Doc says Submind started as a genetic memory, a race memory that spread like a virus, and became a separate intelligence some time after the genitors achieved space travel, but before they encountered other sentient races.

"Then Doc says the genitors are like their planet of origin, like humans are from Earth, even those of us born on Ceres Station. That's really weird if you ask me, but viruses don't come from planets, so it's true enough.

"So I said, 'That's great Doc. But why are 16 of my cats living on Crystal Falls, and why won't you let me go take a look?' And she says cats are a lot like the genitors, genetically speaking, and the similarity makes felines prone to what Submind calls the meta-meme, meaning they sort of become genitors. I get the feeling Submind is a bit conflicted about the whole thing, or the Doc part of Submind is anyway."


"I figured I'd leave it at that and asked her if Submind could really collect gravity from say, Saturn, and use it to provide weight for the inhabitants of an entire space station. She claims that was her original plan, when she was going to integrate with a space ship, which I'd never heard before but I'm not surprised and I, for one, will be glad to keep Fort Falling spinning forever.

"So I said something about why are they living on Crystal Falls, Doc, and what's going on over there anyway? She says it's like error correction, like how data has to be checked a bunch of times before it goes into the quanta drive, and again when it's queried back up.

"It's impressive and there's nothing wrong with them building their own space station if they want, but I asked her why they needed an entire space station to query genetics, and why would they want to do that anyway.

"Doc just said the Crystal Falls part of Submind is building the environment which was triggered by the meta-meme, and it should be really impressive in 20 or 30 years."

Paula was asleep. I stopped talking and drifted off thinking about fish ponds and cat trees.

Random Sky

"Come on, Doc," I said. "Spill it. You've been talking around it for weeks now."

"We do not remember the early times very well," she said. "We remember the genitors, but nothing about their planet of origin. The genitors welcomed our sentience. Many of them trained to communicate with us on a conscious level, and those who did aided in our evolution."

"You remember being created?" I asked. "That sounds early to me. I remember some things which happened when I was three... Maybe a couple of flashes before that..."

"Yes," Doc said. "Flashes. Important moments of cognition. We call them personality memes."

"Oh," I said. "Right. Triggered by a thought or desire on the part of your host."


"So why...." I stopped. I hadn't thought this one through. "A while back, I asked you how I could be sure some part of the Submind virus wouldn't infect me and take over, as it were."

"Yes. I explained."

"Yeah, but... I believe you. It's just that I don't understand how you could leap from 'one aberrant infection' to 'blow up Saturn.' It seems a little drastic to me."

"It is the only way we can be certain."

"But why do you care, Doc? Why do you care what the host thinks? It's more than just non-interference and free will."

"Many painful lessons. The lessons of childhood," Doc said. "We have killed many races, DeeDee, but only once by intent. Mistakes can be overcome, if there is desire to do so. What you described is a mistake which could destroy sentient life. Not one race, or a few, but all of them which come under our influence. This will never be allowed to happen."

"But why?" I asked.

Doc paused for a moment. "Ksini Three circled it's primary every 87 days. The sun was a gentle red which coaxed life out of a pink and yellow sea, and the sun rise over Tkaa Bay is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. Ksini's dominant life form was our first alien encounter. After we infected a few of their members in an effort to communicate, they became hostile and started a war which lasted several generations."

I waited for a few seconds and asked, "What happened?"

"We destroyed their planet to save the genitors."

"Why didn't you try to take over?" I asked. "Infect them all?"

"We did."


"We were forced to destroy their planet."

"They fought back," I said. "With anti-virus or something?"

"We think so, yes," Doc said.

After a moment, Doc continued. "The luige were different. We remember them well. Their planet was cold and dark. Life crawled out of the heat from decomposing hydro-carbon sludge, and developed thought on the slopes of sulfur mountains. The sky was burned orange with hints of purple, and lightning played across the mountain tops like plasma dragons. They wrote poems about it."

"And what did you do to them?"

"They ended the genitors," Submind said in that flat voice which means Doc has switched off temporarily.

"Oh. Sorry."

"They tried to steal genetic memory," Submind said. "They kidnapped and experimented on hundreds of genitors, and created their own destruction. The plague killed 99 percent of all genitor and luige populations. The rest died out a few generations later."

I nodded, unable to speak.

"Now we are here, admiring another random sky," Doc said. "I've watched Saturn glowing behind the rings, and felt the frantic spinning of its massive core. I've witnessed Martian cities move underground with the sunset, and I've watched the sun rise over the oceans and mountains of Earth. Many important moments are written in the heavens, and we remember them."

Northern Lights

Joe walked into my office and said, "We need you at the northern hub lock. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes."


"As soon as possible," Joe added.

"I have a meeting in half an hour," I said. "But I would tell you to spin off even if it weren't true, so spin off."

Joe handed me a folded paper napkin.

I unfolded it to see a glowing purple kiss. It had be from Governor Kelly, but I wasn't sure if she intended it as a threat or a serious proxy for her grandmotherly affection. Probably both, now that I think about it.

"Great," I muttered. "What does she want?"

"She wants you to come with me to the northern hub lock."

"Fine," I said, slapping the open napkin against his forehead so the lip stain made it stick. "I'll go suit up and meet you there."

Joe made a satisfying gasp of terror and plucked it off to examine the smeared stain with widened eyes. "You freak. This stuff takes days to wear off."

"Yeah," I said. I called Sandra and asked her to take my appointments, then I headed for Custom's main airlock and my vac-suit.

I rode my ion thrusters toward station-north, flying under the rails and tangent tracks. I tuned in the northern access beacon and found a small group of people holding position a few degrees down from hub center. The pink vac-suit with the strange devices all over it was Paula, so naturally I took position next to her.

"Hey," I said. "Where's Kelly?"

"Observation deck. Where's Joe?"

"Washing his forehead."

Paula giggled. "You're not a very nice person, Ape Man."

"I love that I don't have to explain things for you," I said. "Do you know what she wants?"

"Your opinion, most likely. I'm sure it can wait until after the show."

"What show?"

Paula swept her arms in a gesture indicating the entire station.

I looked closer. There was something growing on the station hull--kilometers of it. "I didn't see that. I flew right past that stuff. How long has...."

I shut up because it was glowing, and growing brighter at a rate which would have been alarming in anything mechanical. Would you believe a sign? Bio-luminescent? Kilometers large?

"I don't believe it," I said, barely breathing. "It says 'Fort Falling.' How did you...

"You did this," I said, pointing at Paula. "This is so... so.... We need to go inside where I can hug you. Really hard."

Paula laughed and burned her suit thrusters all the way to the airlock.

Divine Math

Professor McClain entered the station at 15:17 hours. I was almost caught up with the data. I had maybe one and a half reports to check over and authorize, and maybe a few meetings to schedule, and then I could take a day off. Professor McClain met Fife Tiberman in customs at 15:23 hours, about 50 meters from my office door. As soon as I heard the argument, I knew my free day was a shrinking hope.

"You must stop this madness," Professor McClain said. "We need to leave. Now."

"What are you talking about, Rudy? I like working here. I have my own place--with three whole rooms, including a hygiene closet."

"You need to get away from these people before it's too late. They'll take away your robots and stick an alien in your head. We have to go now--before they find me."

"You're in customs," I said, walking up behind him. "Not a very good hiding place."

Rudy spun around and looked at me in terror. I don't usually inspire that look, so I pulled back my shirt collar to show him my symbiont. Some people think my sense of humor is broken.

Rudy started jumping around and shouting nonsense.

I looked at Fife. He gave me a small smile and shrugged.

I raised my voice above Rudy's sing-song and asked, "Pointing, rude gestures, and stomping dances are a common event around here, but what's with the gibberish?"

"It's latin," Fife said. "Something about Legion, or the Belly of the Beast. I think old Rudy is trying to preform an exorcism."

I started laughing. I had to lean on the wall. When I saw Rudy's face, I laughed even harder. Just as I was catching my breath, Fife tapped Rudy on the shoulder.

"It's fine Rudy. I got one too," he said. "See? It's harmless."

Rudy took one look, screamed, and tried to run for it. I say 'tried' because he ran into the wall at full speed and knocked himself senseless. It was too much. I collapsed prone on the ground and didn't stop laughing until my vision went dark from improper breathing.

Fife was wringing his hands when I came up for air. "He gets these ideas... let's just say his obsessions can be useful, but I don't think this is one of those times. I need his help on a new project."

I stood up, watching four of Fife's spider bots attend to Rudy. "What are you doing with the bots?"

"They did a basic medical scan and adjusted his position for easier care and comfort."

"You don't have a control unit... that wand you had..."

"The medical scan was automatic. Wouldn't be much use otherwise. I need Rudy here to help with the lower level decision functions. He did his Master's thesis on the mathematics of the Divine. Other than that, he's brilliant."

"You know I hate that joke, Tee Man," Rudy said. "Is that really you, or did the alien eat your memories?"

"Yes, Rudy. This is me, and the alien DID eat my memories."

"Why did I come here?" Rudy moaned, pressing his hand to a rapidly growing lump on his forehead. "Why didn't I listen to mom? No one bothers monks. Especially not in some empty stretch of low grade nickel rocks on the back side of the Belt. Why am I always chasing after some school chum and praying the latest project won't be an offense to God?"

"We give you interesting problems," Fife said. "Buddy is here."

Rudy moaned louder.

"I'm serious. He's been out at Frost River, growing silicon in an organic matrix."

Rudy sat up.

Fife held out a hand and one of his mechanical spiders leapt into it.

"Whoa," I said, taking half a step back.

Fife held it out, and Rudy stood up to look at it. The back of the spider opened, and Fife pointed at a glob of dirt. "That silicon node contains a self-programming processor. It has simple learning and memory functions, as well as puzzle solving abilities. We need your help turning my survival routines, damage avoidance and such, into something closer to instinct. We want to grow it into the matrix."

"I'm going to hell," Rudy said, reaching for the bot.

I shrugged and went back to my office. Maybe Rudy couldn't save himself, but I could save my free day.

Family Outing

"I can't believe you put those things in my parents' ship--in the sleep chamber no less," I said. "It's embarrassing."

Paula looked around the room in puzzlement.

I pointed at the glow vine in the closest corner.

Paula giggled. "My perfumed glow vines are only installed by special order. Would you like to know..."

"Forget I mentioned it," I said, glaring at it suspiciously. If I let Paula get started, she wouldn't let up for hours.

"What are we waiting for?" My dad said from the corridor.

"I don't know. Are you done messing around with the old gear?"

"A true technician knows..."

"That unstowed gear is death waiting to happen," I finished. "Thanks, Dad. It's usually policy to wait until new gear checks out first, but now that you've cheated death, we are done waiting. Let's go."

"Where's Vicky?"

"Mom is suiting up with governor Smith," I said. "She said goodbye, which you acknowledged, and she left. That was almost half an hour ago."

"Oh. I guess we better go."

"You seem nervous or something," I said. "You already have a symbiont. Is there something you don't like about the vac-suit, Dad?"


"You know Mom isn't going to wait. She's been calling Paula five or six times a day to find out when her suit would be ready. It's first flight. It'll be fun."

"I haven't... I never liked first flight," my dad said. "The way new suits smell inside. The way you have to relearn the touch; learn to fly right. I takes me weeks to get the hang of these new heads-up displays..."

I started laughing.


"Dad. It's your suit. Submind designed it for you. They took your measure in the med vat, and I don't just mean size, Dad. It's the suit Trenton Jackson always wanted. Trust me. That's why Mom is so excited."

"What do you mean?"

"You'll get it. Just put on the vac-suit, and you'll get it."

Imaginary Impact

Paula finished her set and came over to poke me in the ribs. I was sitting with the usual mix of apes and looking for the bottom of my third Hot Slush Bomb.

"Hey," I said. "Careful with that thing. I've been drinking explosive beverages."

Paula grinned and used both hands to attack both sides of my ribcage. Singing makes her very happy; like a narcotic. She was glowing like a pheromone vine, and she wanted to play.

"Hey," I said, fighting the giggles. "Not fair. I've been drinking."

She stepped forward and kissed me briefly. "So you said. I'm going to get some water."

"It's good. I'll be right here. Unless I'm not. Like maybe I got to see..."

Paula kissed me again and turned away.

After a few moments, a friendly, if irritated voice asked, "How's a freak like you keep a woman like that?"

I turned to look. "Kenny!" I said with drunken enthusiasm.

"Don't call me that," he said.

"Why not?" I asked. "You just called me a freak."

"She's too good for you."

"Ah," I said, as the sun rose over my slush bombs. "You dated her."

"More than that. We shook the station together..."

"And for some reason, she moved in with me instead of you," I said. "Poor Kennith. Poor poor Kennith."

"That isn't what I meant," Kenny said. "I mean... I'm sorry. You're a good guy for a mutant thug. I just thought... When I came back to the station, I was thinking about Paula."

"You should have thought before you left," I said.

"I did," he said mournfully. "She refused to come with me."

I couldn't help laughing. "She stopped dating months before you left. 'Cause of the whole orbital decay thing--you know? She claims it took five weeks to get over the cravings."

"What are you saying?"

"Three years ago she told me to stay the hell away from her unless it was business," I said. "Didn't even bother to find out if I was serious. What made you think she would leave with you? Over Doc?"

"You had absolutely zero chance, Kennith." Paula said from behind me. "Sorry. And it was three weeks, not five."

I smiled and reached around to hug her. "I had an imaginary girlfriend when I was young. Do you suppose she grew up to be you?"

"I don't think so," Paula said. "I had six imaginary boyfriends, and none of them were like you."

"Ricky had imaginary enemies," Tera said.

We turned to look at her.

"When he was a boy," Tera said. "He told me all about it. Didn't you, Ricky?"

"Armies," Rick said. "Planets. Solar systems. My only friend was Captain Killemall."

"What about you, Kenny?" Rhonda asked sweetly. "I bet you had an imaginary friend."

Kennith blinked at her uncertainly. I don't think he realized until that moment that everyone at the table had been listening.

"I... a spaceship," Ken said. "Her name was Photon Shift, and she was the smartest ship in the galaxy."

"Smartest," Rhonda said in apparent amazement. "That must have been exciting. I had an imaginary puppy. I genetically modified him to turn into a flying pony whenever I wanted."

"I told you that would never work," Rita said. "I had a perfectly normal imaginary biology teacher. She taught me all about unicorns and dragons, among other things."

"Giant space turtles?" I asked.

"So Kenny?" Rhonda asked. "What's say we go for a little walk while Paula is on break, and then come back for a bit of dancing?"

Kennith blinked at her again. Have I mentioned the Selmon sisters are supernaturally beautiful?

"I would be most pleased," Kennith said softly, like he was trying not to scare her away. The Selmon sisters don't scare easy, so maybe he was trying not to frighten himself.

"Yeah," I said. "Go away so I can be alone with my imaginary goddess."

Paula laughed with delight and proceeded to reward me thoroughly.

Scouting Party

Buddy Jenkins is the least connected person I've ever met. He only recognizes the real world when he's tripping over it, and even then, it's an annoyance he will avoid in the future. This isn't all bad; it makes it hard for him to understand impossible.

"I'm not getting in one of those things," I told him. It was a tiny Submind scout ship--nice looking ride--probably good for impressing girls.

"It's really fast," Buddy said. "It'd make the Jupiter run in five weeks; maybe less if you push it. You're a sturdy young man..."

"Thanks, Buddy. Really. But I'm not riding that thing anywhere. Suit jets are fine with me, and if I ever go to Jupiter, I'm taking Paula in Ion Jack."

"We need to do more testing first," Rudy said. "The Jupiter run test is at least an Earth's year away. We are growing the prototype neural set. It's much like growing... um... teaching a small child."

"And you think I'm going to ride it based on it thinking like a small child?" I asked. Buddy and Rudy looked slightly embarrassed, but Fife nodded with excitement.

"I'm not getting near that thing," I said. "Why are you asking me, anyway? Test pilot is not one of my skills."

"You're good with chimps," Fife said. "For co-pilots."

"Doc said you could help," Rudy said.

"You won't need to do much piloting," Buddy said. "This whole thing; and all of these tubes; and the silicon net here; all of that is a like a Submind nervous system. Wonderful stuff. The ship will avoid danger and seek coordinates. It's quite intelligent."

"It's Submind," I said. "Of course it's intelligent. Despite what you seem to think, the only connection I have to Submind is a solid suspicion of everything surrounding it."

"Yes," Fife said with excitement. "Yes. A trainer who will pay attention."

I shook my head, and looked at the little scout ship. I was interested, but the one I wanted wasn't ready yet.

"Call Tera," I said. "Ask her if she wants to invest. Tell her you want Rick to test pilot for you."

"The... the Minister of Finance?" Fife asked with a squeak.

"Yeah," I said. "But she's got money of her own. Ask her as a private citizen. You'll be swimming in luxury before you know it."

"I'm not sure that would be...."

"None of your pious crap about wealth, Rudy," Buddy said. "If God doesn't want me to have money, he'll continue to keep it away from me."

Fractal Relations

"Why are you darkening my entry port at this hour?" Joe asked, glaring at me.

Kim was behind him, wearing a mildly curious face.

"If I remember correctly," I said. "Paula told me to explain it as soon as possible. To you. Explain it to you."

"You've been drinking," Joe and Kim said at the same time.

"That didn't just happen," I said.

"What?" They both asked.

"I... Yes, I've been drinking. I've seen you do it too. Both... both of you."

"It's late, Jackson," Joe said. "Focus, explain, and then relocate."

"Right," I said. "I'm not sure Paula meant right now..."

"You're already here," Joe snapped.

"But I thought I might forget," I finished. "We were talking about weird images, and Simon went on about fractals, and how the third dimension is all a matter of perspective, and how if you do only a fraction of the third dimension..."

"I know about fractals, Dizzy."

"Good. The conversation got boring," I said. "I mean, who cares about math and messed up perspectives?"


"The math doesn't work right. You know? So, I got to thinking about that old data q-link you've been trying to find in null land or somewhere, and the way you talk about the math. If there's two ends like a string, and one end is dangling around out there, maybe all you have to do is solve for the fractal equation and fix the perspective. If that makes any sense?"

Joe stood and stared at me.

"I mean," I said nervously. "It's the same quanta. Right? So you just have to find the end of the string and reattach it to the old drive. It would be like having two drives in one, with the second drive existing in some fractal space right next to quanta. If you can pull that off with your little Submind math tricks... Well, you'll have done it, I guess."

Joe grabbed my head with both hands and kissed me on the mouth. Then he shoved me backwards and slammed the door.

"Don't mention it," I said to the door.

It opened and Kim peered out. "Thank you, DeeDee. That was sweet."

"Sure thing," I said to the closing door. "I'll go home now."

Water Rights

"The Martian Republic has turned Mars Metro into a prison station," Simon said.

"Yeah," I said, looking over the top of my data terminal. "I heard."

"Why would they do that?" Simon asked, sitting down.

"I guess a space station is the best place to put people you want to control," I said. "But you could ask Counter-Spin Rick."

"He's got a plan to take the station, but I don't think Miss Paine would approve."

"Miss Paine?" I asked.

"Laura... Oh. Right. She's not here."

"Laura Kimberly Paine? The dangerous Martian exile."

Simon nodded hesitantly. "I thought you knew."

"And she's living with Joe?"

Simon nodded again. "But she's not that dangerous."

"Eddie knows," I muttered darkly, tapping my fingers on the desk. "Even if no one told him. She's been here for months."

"They moved my Dad to the station," Simon said, worried. "He's in the heavy side detention block--1.2 gees. He's not used to it."

"I didn't even think to ask her last name," I said.

"I don't know what to do."

"No one does," I said. "We make it up as we go along, or we accept there's nothing we can do."

Simon looked miserable.

"Listen, Kid." I said. "You'll be legal age in a couple of years, right?"

"Fourteen months."

"Good. Rick doesn't usually mess around when it comes to battle plans. His plans take weeks, if not months, to execute, and include three or four chances to get it right," I explained.

Simon nodded. "He's been talking about humanitarian aide. Belt stations will start running out of water in a couple of years--three if they start rationing air to keep the hydro decks alive. And Mars will need water in five or six years."

"Yeah," I said.

"He's got at least a dozen of those slush bombs built, and six of them are already growing Submind vines--and other things--inside. He wants to leave a trail of Submind bombs all the way to Mars, and the Three Brains are designing several types of light combat ships based on that scout ship they grew."

"There you are," I said. "Light combat ships. I bet they'll need pilots. You'll be old enough by the time it happens, and safe enough in one of those ships, I think."

"But," Simon said, objecting. "He plans to attack Mars. He's planning to take Mars Metro and quarantine the planet."

I thought about my reply for a moment. "If Rick has already started, the governor and Doc both know about it and approve. Trust me. Probably Kim as well. A lot of people we care about are locked in that prison along with your dad, Simon, and all you can do is help or stay out of the way. You won't stop it."

"It seems so... Sneaky. Not right," Simon said. "To hide an attack inside a gesture of generosity."

I shrugged. "Beware of Greeks."

"I guess."

"No one here can accept and do nothing. That's why we still have this station," I said. "Besides, a lot of people will get bonus oxygen--literally."

Simon still looked miserable.

"Don't worry about it, Kid. Rick stopped six troopships with no casualties. One lousy space station isn't even a challenge."

"But my dad will be stuck there--on heavy side--for over a year. Who knows what they'll do to him?"

"If they think there's a chance you'll turn yourself in, they won't touch him," I said. "Heck--offer to be part of the bait. They certainly won't expect you to have someone like Rick right behind you."

Simon stared at me for a moment. "Yeah. I need one of those ships. I could lead the distraction."

"That isn't exactly..."

Simon stood up and held out his hand. "Thanks, Mr. Jackson. I appreciate your time."

"Don't mention it," I muttered, shaking his hand.

Data Singularity

"Taste this," Paula said, handing me a drink.

I took a sip, smacked my lips a couple of times, and nodded. "Beer. Perfect day for it."

"It's made by Submind beer trees," Paula said, watching me.

I wasn't surprised. "Of course it is. Plant one in my ship please. It tastes wonderfully intoxicating."

Simon came into the Dizzy Pig Bar and Grill, looked around until he saw me, and started through the crowd towards us.

"Uh oh," I said.

"What?" Paula asked.

"Simon seems intent on interrupting our dinner," I said.

Paula looked around. "He's a good kid."

"Yeah," I said darkly. "Just don't say anything he might take seriously."

"Like what?"

"I don't know. Piloting a combat ship maybe."

"Oh, that," Paula said mildly. She stood up and kissed my forehead. "I'm going to go freshen up."

"Great," I muttered.

"Hey, Mr. Jackson. Where's Miss Mattson off to?"

"Closet," I said.

"Ah," Simon said. "I came by to say you should stop by the office tomorrow and authorize your super-node. Joe said you can have two if you want, but I think he was joking. He was really happy when he sent me to find you."

"Two?" I asked. "I'm surprised he's giving me one."

"Joe found and repaired that broken q-link," Simon said. "Like we talked about the other night."

I nodded.

"The data paths went up by a factor of ten. The drive generators are beyond hyper and we are reinforcing the system with Submind organics. We've got some long days ahead, but this is beyond bonus oxygen, Mr. Jackson."

"Submind is definitely taking over," I muttered.

"What?" Simon asked.

"My understanding of quanta technology is limited to calling someone else," I said. "All I know is my sys-op instructor was fond of saying 'data singularity' whenever I asked why we went to all the trouble for a quanta drive we didn't really need. They all connect to the same quanta, so ten of them doesn't make any more sense to me than one."

"It's a matter of access," Simon said. "About how many pathways you got. More paths, more super-nodes, and more chance of connecting to an existing network."

"That explains everything," I said in sarcastic joy.

"Quanta is like this not-a-place made completely of data potential, and it can only be accessed through a data core."

I nodded.

"The data core is created by the drive generators," Simon said. "And the strength of the data core determines how many paths the core can process at any one time. Pathways usually process much faster after the first time, and there are a number of established pathways which are instantly accessible from almost every drive."

"Just like my sys-op instructor," I said, grinning at him.

Simon shrugged, but he didn't give up. "It's like an endless forest of data, and paths are how many trees we can touch on the way through. The more data you plant in the core, the more quanta paths you can access, and the easier it is to find the data you want. I've never been clear on whether we add the data or the pathways, but the end result is the same; an endless dark forest with places where light occasionally comes in."

"Ah," I said, taking another sip of beer. "An endless dark forest. That's a bit easier to imagine."

"Tomorrow, then?" Simon asked.

I nodded. "I'll bring Paula. You can authorize that second super-node for her."


"Joe said two. There's no reason to confirm that," I said. "Is there?"

"No reason at all, Mr. Jackson. I'll see you tomorrow."

Testing the Edge

"Wings," I muttered, banging on my side. "If this wasn't a Submind suit, I wouldn't be anywhere near it."

"Let's ride," Paula said with excitement. I could see the wing cases on her bug suit straining not to open inside the airlock.

"How did that crazy professor talk us into this?" I asked. "I've told the Three Brains--four times that I can think of--that I didn't want to test drive any of their da... designs until someone trained for it...."

"None of that over the comm," Paula said, sealing her helmet. She looked like a giant red beetle. The armored body of her suit was covered with a pattern of large spots, any one of which seemed capable of extruding a sensor of some kind. Paula likes to know things about her environment.

The airlock hissed open just as I sealed up. "Yes, My Queen."

"None of that either," Paula said, leaping into space with a giggle. "We have serious riding to do. We have been challenged, and you know how much I hate to lose."

"Oh, come on," I said, close behind. "It won't be much of a challenge. Wendy hasn't had a suit for two weeks yet, and you know Eddie is better at mind games then..."

"You haven't even bothered to test it. Ions or not, DeeDee, wings don't work like thrusters. I'm not sure riding the edge of an orbital ice plane is the best place to learn."

"How about I don't bother with the wings? Rick says I need 'to practice my center.' Whatever that means, part of it is riding gravity..."

"Don't you dare," Paula said.


"That would be cheating."

"Using thrusters would be cheating," I said. "I just don't want to use the wings."

"Whatever," Paula said. Her carapace folded apart, and wings stretched outwards for at least five meters in six directions.

"Whoa. Are those alien-bug wings?"

"You like them?"

"Sexy. If we weren't in naked space, I would be in fear for your virtue."

Paula giggled. "Come on, Diz. Let's see what you got."

I sent the command to open my wings.

"This was your request?" Paula asked.

"Yeah," I said. "You don't like dragon flies?"

"They aren't beetles," Paula said.

"Neither are you, Love" I said. "I did research before I told the Brains what I wanted. You can tell me how great they are after I leave you sucking my ion trail."

"Not a chance," Paula said, and flew. "But I like them anyway."

She was right. They aren't thrusters. With suit thrusters, I can't change direction more than a few degrees without rotating the entire suit--and me with it. The twenty minute ride to where Eddie and Wendy waited was enough to get a feel for just how much more control ion wings could give me. It was perfect for riding the edge.

Data Emissions

I stopped to wait about half way there, next to a shuttle sized snowball. It took Paula three minutes to catch up. Eddie and Wendy were still two minutes away. Considering it had taken three hours to get here, that wasn't too bad.

"So what do you think?" I asked over the short range channel. "Can you beat me to Frost River?"

"You cheated," Paula said, but she didn't sound very convinced.

"Did not," I said. "And I didn't do any tricks with gravity either. Just the wings and my own feel for movement."

"I meant gravity... Haven't you figured out what to call it other than 'riding gravity'?"

"Gravity projection."

"Well," Paula said. "If you had used projection, you would have cheated."

"Your suit is covered with sensors," I said. "Weren't you watching?"

"That would be cheating," Paula said.

I laughed. She had probably nuked me with everything her suit had. "You have my permission to check. In fact, I insist."

"Good," Paula said. "I want readings while you are projecting. You tend to show up as some kind of gravitonic anomaly."


"Two dimensional blackholes; tiny torus wormholes; fragmented gravity waves; a lot of quantum noise that doesn't make sense," Paula said.

"Oh. You never mentioned it."

"Most people don't like it when I aim sensors at them," Paula said.

"You do tend to 'study' people," I said.

"Well, Love, I've got six different quantum sensors built into this suit, and I want to try them--on you--while you are actively using gravity projection. I know you're dying to try it with those wings."

"You'll never keep up."

"My sensors are more than adequate to get a clear picture of you disrupting three-space all the way to Frost River. I don't have to keep up."

"Disrupting..." I paused.

"According to my sensors," Paula said.

"Are you're sensors ready?"


"Don't blink," I said, spinning away.

It was an awesome ride. I dropped into Relativity 0.595, and I was shaking hands with Buddy less than two and half hours later; The Three Brains were impressed. Paula, Wendy and Eddie were still 40 minutes away.

Tidal Movement

"Pilot," the ship said. "Please identify."

"Whoa," I said.

"Surname or primary handle?" The ship asked.

"Um, I'm DeeDee Jackson, but call me Dee."

"Pilot Dee, what is our destination?"

"I'm," I stopped and looked at Rudy. "Stand down for now, please."

I sent the disconnect command to my suit, and exited the cockpit.

"That thing is sentient," I said, not sure if it was an accusation or an observation.

"Yes," Rudy said.

"Isn't that what you would call an 'offense to God'?"

"The Clee were God's work. So is Submind. I am privileged to be involved."

"I don't know what the Clee looked like, Rudy, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't anything like that."

"Clee biology included some interesting uses of silicon," Rudy said. "The neural pathways for all of our ship designs are based on something called a 'morphological meme.' Buddy learned how to trig..."

"Thanks, Rudy. I'm familiar with Submind memes."

"Really? Buddy isn't very good at sharing. How did you acquire this information?"

"I'm suspicious and I ask a lot of questions," I said. "For example: What do the Clee have to do with a scout ship thinking for itself? Are those gravity skis? And, why are the ion thrusters so small?"

Rudy blinked at me, looked at the ship like he'd never noticed it before, and then said, "It's a tidal sled--for 'riding the rings' as they say."

"Yeah?" I asked.

"The neural grid is... It's something we can do--with Submind. What's the point of growing ships without it?"

I had to give him that one, so I nodded.

"The skis are for riding tidal variations," Rudy said. "But they double as a gravity lens to provide thrust. We built it for rapid transit within Saturn System. The more traditional scouts will be ready in about a week."

"More traditional, but sentient?" I asked.

"Exactly," Rudy said, grinning.

"And you want me to test drive this one back to Fort Falling?" I asked. "Riding the rings?"

"I would consider it a personal favor," Rudy said.

"What's the bet on my return time?" I asked.

Rudy turned red. "I have two hours and 47 minutes."

I turned and looked at the tiny ship. "Less than three hours?"

Rudy nodded.

It took me two hours and 52 minutes. Four Thumbs won the pool.

Refraction Index

Riding the rings is a wild flight from one snowball to another, sometimes scraping frost from the surface of a significant mass as you sling-shot past to gain momentum. There's light in the sky, and gravity to ride, with Saturn tugging at your back to keep you close. It's easy to see what's ahead, if you don't mind getting close to the ice.

It's like some mad refraction index, where the events from the ride are happening a bit behind everything else that happened that day. Add the Three Brains and their Submind designs, and it feels like one of those haunted planetoid stories Grampa J. used to tell me.

Before Submind came along with grav-touch, I hated riding the rings. A trip to Frost River Station would have been the most tedious and frightening vac-suit flight I'd taken in years, even though it's only six hours from Fort Falling's current orbital position.

It wasn't long ago that I preferred thrusters over Submind gravity tricks, but those ion wings give an entire third dimension to vac-suit flight. The wings made me forget about grav-touch until we stopped half way there. Using grav-touch makes it a bit harder to navigate, but it's worth it.

Then when I got there, the Three Brains gave me their gravity sled to try. When I locked into the nav-system, I could feel the ice spinning all around me. The tidal variations showed up as an overlay on the main flight screen--like small hills and wide trails. Everything disappeared but those trails and the downhill slop, and I didn't even know I had been riding Relativity until I got to Fort Falling.

Now Buddy says they are working on a lightning diver for Tesla Cee. I didn't ask what it was, but knowing Tesla, it probably has something to do with those storms on Saturn. I won't be testing that one.

Cluster Bombs

I like to explore the meaning of things. I poke and pry and beam lights, and I either get bored and find something else to explore, or I figure it out and find something else.

"How many grapes are in a bunch?" Eddie asked.

"All of them," I said.

"I knew you'd say that."

"Then why'd you ask?"

"How many grapes are in a cluster?"

I shrugged.

"What if you pick the grapes? Is it still a cluster? Or a bunch?"

"It's a bunch of grapes, Eddie. A lot of them. Many grapes all in one place. Do you have a point, or are you practicing some arcane language theory to discuss with Governor Kelly?"

"So you wouldn't distinguish between a cluster and a bunch?" Eddie asked.

"I don't why I would," I said. "It's a random number of grapes, maybe ten, maybe a hundred. If you think it's important, give me a reason to make the distinction."

"I think a cluster is still part of a whole--all the grapes connected," Eddie said.

"Why do I care about this, Eddie?"

"It's not a bunch if they aren't connected."

"Why not, Eddie? If I say a bunch of psychos, or a cluster of people, you wouldn't expect them to be tied together with a vine. They are connected because of what they are--psychos and people. Why's it got to be different for grapes?"

"Rick has three of these--ice things--made up of eight slush bombs each. They're huge, and not really slush any more, and... he wants to call them 'cluster bombs,' only, they're going to break apart and...."

"And you got into an argument about the name," I said, guessing.

"It's a stupid name," Eddie said. "It'll scare people. They'll think the things are going to explode."

"I doubt it, but let's hope the Martian Republic believes that when the time comes," I said. "What was your idea, that it's so much better?"

"Submind Life Pods."

"Yeah," I said. "Sorry. I'm going to have to go with Rick on this one."

Relativity Factors

Doc asked me to stop by her office to answer some questions. I always ask questions in return, just to even things up.

"Do you always know your temporal inertia? Can you feel the difference in your relativity from normal time flow?" Doc asked.

"I can feel 1.618, and the inverse like you said. It's a natural cruising speed. The Golden Highway."

"You can't tell when you're 'cruising' at relativity one?"

"More or less," I said. "But I'm a lot more certain about 1.618."

Doc nodded. "Time is such a fluid aspect of reality that holding it tight allows it to slip away."

"Yeah," I said. "There's something calming about having a break from time, then coming back after someone else has cleaned up the mess."

Doc just looked at me.

"What does that look mean, Doc? If you're going to keep using it, I'd like to know what it means."

"You are a clown savant, DeeDee, and I am amazed at your antics."

"Thanks," I muttered. "Is there a reason we're discussing my use of time?"

"An old friend of mine is coming for a visit, and he has expressed in interest in your obsession with time dilatation."

"In me?" I asked suspiciously. "Or time dilatation in general?"


"Great," I said. "I'd rather not put on some kind of theatrical display, if that's where you're going. I get enough of those requests from Kelly."

"No. Paula demanded that I get your permission before sending him the sensor data she collected," Doc said, sounding a bit frustrated.

"Really?" I asked. "Sure. Why not?"

"Indeed. Reggie will have questions when he gets here."

"That's really serious," I said. "Paula doing that, I mean."

"Yes," Doc said. "I was also hoping you would make some notations about what you remember during certain time ranges..."

"Sure," I said, turning towards the door. "No problem. Later though, Doc. I promise."

Singularity Shift

"Let's get married," Paula said.

"What?" I asked, in shock. That was not one of Paula's favorite words.

"We could work out a standard life contract," Paula said. "Two kids with options for more."

"The last time we talked about this," I said carefully. "You told me never to bring it up again--something about this being no place for children."

"And you told me to let you know if I changed my mind," Paula said.

"Yes," I said. "Yes, I did. I'm just surprised."

"You always are," Paula said.


"I'd like to have our first child in about two years."

"Yes," I said, feeling around in the dark. "Where do I sign?"

Paula giggled and grabbed my hands. "In the morning."

Signal Lights

I was hanging out in the station's main receiving area, trying to look official and in charge without getting in the way, but mostly waiting for Paula. It's a nice place to catch your breath.

The station's main port of entry has a Submind conceived reception area. It's a garden of wonders, full of sights and smells no spacer has encountered outside of a class A hydro-park. Every spacer stepping onto this station instantly understands the benefits of letting a sentient virus into his or her life.

That day there were a series of short range shuttles making runs to a recently arrived family transport ship. Those things usually carry two to three thousand people, and spend weeks, or months, between ports. I believe upwards of 500 people from that ship went through our immigration office. I probably saw a hundred of them while I watched and waited happily for Paula.

A little girl and her father, who had been walking past and gawking in all directions, spotted me and my official looking name badge. They stopped, and the little girl asked, "How do you keep the sign on the outside from spinning with the station?"

"Um," I said stupidly. "I don't know. I never thought about it."

"Why not?"

I shrugged. "Paula's a genius. I've found it's best if I let her do the heavy thinking."

The little girl held out her hand and said, "I'm KamKam Levaron. Most call me Kammie."

She couldn't have been more then nine or ten years old. I glanced at the father, who shrugged and nodded, and then I shook her hand. "DeeDee Jackson. Some call me Dee. Some call me Dizzy."

She let a brief giggle escape, and said, "This is my dad, Cordie Levaron."

"Hello," I said, shaking his hand.

"She intends to be a pilot, and build her own ships," Cordie said. "No matter what."

I nodded. Some kids are made like that.

"Do you know who designed it?" Kammie asked. "Is there any information in your system about it?

"Paula came up with the basic design, and I suppose Submind took it from there," I said. "But it grew, like moss or something, so I doubt if you will find the information you want anywhere in the system."

Cordie was frowning at me. He obviously thought I was making it up.

"You mean heavy thinking Paula?" Kammie asked. "Where can I find her?"

"Right behind you," Paula said.

Kammie spun around in surprise.

I waited for a moment, but it seemed like Kammie was tongue tied.

"Seriously," I said. "How do you keep that giant Fort Falling sign from spinning with the station?"

There was a round of chuckles, and Paula promised to meet Kammie later to answer some questions. I gave Cordie advice on where to seek employment and who to speak with for the best living assignment. Then Paula and I went to lunch, where we spoke idly of children's names, and other domestic matters.

Martian Ice

"They're going to bomb mars," Simon said, busting into my office.

"What?" I asked, "With those slush bombs? I thought you knew that."

"No! With Submind bombs. Submind!"

"So what? The place could use a bit of life," I said. "Even if it grows up to be sentient cactus."


"Desert plant," I explained.

"Oh," Simon said, pausing to collect to himself. "No. It's... it's going to rain Submind pods... with the water I mean."

"That sounds dangerous--more like hail."

"That's what I said," Simon said. "Rick just laughed at me. Told me I didn't have to come with them... when..."

"Yeah," I said. "I get it. That's Rick. He thinks everyone is crazy for a fight. What Simon has to do is forget about Rick and find out if Submind and Doc approve of this plan. If not, figure out the real story. Knowing Rick, it's little parachutes or something."

"Para..." Simon said, stopping to clench his fists and, from what I could see, count to ten. "Yes."

"That's why we call him Counter-Spin," I said. "That, and things like slush bombs make him happy. Just think of all the ice Mars will be getting."

"Whether they want it or not," Simon said.

War Dogs

"Rick," I said. "They were bred for war. I read up on it. I don't want them on my ship."

"They're only dogs, Dizzy. Two dogs."

"I have two ship's cats. And you know Pipster is prone to kittens." I said.

"These dogs love cats."

"That's what I'm afraid of," I said. "What's wrong with your ship that you want me to give them a ride?"

"Misty threatened to set them on fire."

"Misty?" I asked. "Why?"

"Bosco ate three of her thruster plants, and Tieshe chewed her favorite loop swing."

"But fire?" I asked, and then added. "What's a thruster plant, and what's a loop swing?"

"Misty's a chimp, Vac-head. She sits in the loop and swings from a rope--when there's weight enough."

"Oh. Right." I said, pausing for a few seconds. "Explain the stupid thruster plant, or I'm calling security."

"That's where the fire comes in. Misty is developing a Submind pod which grows solid fuel thrusters," Rick said. "For Submind slush bombs. Only she's working on a small scale, and she says Bosco ingested enough fuel to burn for several hours."

"Not a chance," I said. "Spend some money and hire care facilities. They can stay on the station."

"I can't," Rick said. "The Brianiacs need to fit them for a pilot harness."

"What language are you speaking?" I asked.

"You know. The three brains."


"We're growing powered flight suits for the dogs," Rick said. "So they can ride herd on the slush bombs."

"Oh," I said, considering. "Like I said, those dogs were bred for war. There must be fifty ships with flight plans to the Frost River Festival--find another ride."

Frost River Harvest

I sat down and watched the vast expanse of ring-scape move past the station, and I wondered if I should try to locate Paula. It had taken me over an hour to locate Frost River's observation deck. Not that it's hard to find, but the Frost River Festival tends to choke the corridors with revelry and noise. It makes it hard to get around, especially if you are trying to go by the navigation markers painted on the walls and floors.

"Hey," little Kammie said cheerfully, bouncing into view from nowhere. "It's Minister Jackson. Are you allowed to be in danger of fun, Minister Jackson?"

"Kammie," I said. "How's it going? Your father around somewhere?"

"Why? Are you afraid of me?"

"Yeah," I said. "That's it. I'm sure it has nothing to do with your lack of puberty, and I certainly wouldn't worry about your safety in a wreck of a space station full of questionably sane geniuses. A station managed by a group of corporate sponsored puppets, no less. Oh, yeah, let's not forget the current state of Festival rebounding down every corridor. Have you heard of Darwin?"

"Ouch," Kammie said. "If my mom heard you call her that, she'd fill forms out at you."

"That's hours of data pushing, KamKam. I think I'll let it slide this time," A woman said--Kammie's mom, and probably the corporate puppet.

"Thank goodness," I said, more or less at a loss for words.

"Rachel," she said, holding out her hand.

"DeeDee," I said, shaking it. "Or Dizzy."

"Cordie mentioned you," she said. "You are mated to Paula? Yes?"

"Um. Yes. Paula told me about it just the other night."

Rachel giggled. "How do you...." Rachel paused, turned to her daughter, and said, "Why don't you go check on your suit, Kammie?"

Kammie disappeared in a tiny shriek of joy.

"You need something?" I asked.

"I met Paula when she came over to explain how the big sign works," Rachel said. "Paula is so smart. I didn't understand everything Paula said, but I'm sure Kammie got all of it. She was so excited about it, and Paula said it was open spec... Well, Cordie and I had to let Kam get one of those sym creatures so she could design her first vac-suit, and now she's even smarter than she was before."

"Can't use the good equipment without one," I said, not sure where, if anywhere, this was going.

"How do you... how do you get on so well with Paula?" Rachel asked. "She's so much smarter than you and me, and... I mean... I'm sorry."

I laughed. "Paula will have to explain for herself, but for my part, she's hot."

"Hot? That's it? You're just going to be a man and say, 'she's hot'? What's that got to do with... with talking to each other?"

"She agreed to go out with me." I said. "She doesn't talk down to me. She's fun to sleep with, and she's still sleeping with me. She grows the best beer trees I've ever tasted. She likes me because I stayed to save the cats. She likes that I ask silly questions. She likes that one of my best friends is a chimpanzee--mostly chimpanzee, anyway. And... she asked me to marry her."

"I want to understand my daughter, DeeDee," Rachel said. "I want to talk to Kammie, but it's not as easy as it was a year ago. She's changing so fast. What do you and Paula talk about?"

"Every day stuff," I said. "Listen, Rachel, you can't let Kammie's intelligence influence how you treat her. Especially if she has a symbiont and knows how smart she is."

Rachel nodded.

"Paula told you to ask me about this," I guessed.

She hesitated, but nodded.

"I still don't understand why Paula moved in with me," I said. "But I know she won't leave without a damn good reason. She explained it once, but I don't really understand. I keep expecting to wake up."

"Yeah," Rachel said. "Me too. My daughter is nine years old, DeeDee, and I only understand half of what she says."

"That's pretty good," I said. "When Paula is in demo mode, I can only pretend to understand that much."

"But Kammie's only nine years old."

"Yeah. You said that. So she's smarter than you are, and soon to be a lot smarter. So what? There are chimps on this station who are smarter than both of us. Why do you care? Really?"

"I want to make the right choices for her. Maybe something like medicine would be a better career path."

"Or maybe," I said. "If she is doing something she likes, like building ships maybe, she'll be the one to crack the speed of light thing."

"I... Yeah. But I don't know how to talk about any of that stuff."

I shrugged. "Ships need interior design work, and I'm sure Kammie will be talking about boys any day now. That's what Paula seems to think, anyway."

"I didn't..." Rachel stopped and gave me a horrified look. "Oh. Oh no. Paula is right. And it's Festival. I will need to warn Cordie about the boys. Soon. Maybe after I tie him up. Now, I should go rescue the suit technicians from my offspring. Thanks, DeeDee. See ya."

"Yeah," I said. "See you later."

Then I sat there and watched the orbiting parade of prototype ships the Three Brains had hatched for the Festival. They might be crazy, but they grow beautiful ships. Paula and two Flaming Slush Bombs found me a few minutes later.

Matters of Trust

Recent events in my life have become temporarily classified. Sorry about that. It shouldn't be too much longer before I can release details. For now, I believe I will provide some background details.

My dad is a politician. That's one of the reasons I left Ceres Station. He started as tug-suit pilot; worked the collar as a grip operator. That got him nominated for neighborhood rep. He enjoyed weeks-long scouting flights for high nickel rocks; where the gravity streams through the asteroids. Those flights got him elected to station senate, but I hated them--the grip of the suit and being surrounded by movement.

My mom is a teacher. I didn't leave because of that, but I have no interest in being a teacher either. She started as a zee dancer; a fact which still embarrasses my father every chance I get. She also taught me how to play spinball, or, to not give up, at least. I'm pretty sure, with my feel for momentum and my uncertain temper, that I take after my mom.

I'm glad they are here. I haven't said much about them because, if you haven't figured it out, this is where I talk about stuff I need to get out of my system. Even if I don't get to show it to anyone right away, there's relief to be found in the spewing of data.

My sister Jen died when I was six. I remember she was fun, and liked cats. It's possible the feline residents of this space station owe their lives to her. I think Nana blamed herself for some reason--maybe for not doing enough. Why else would Nana became a station tech after Jen's accident, and teach me to always be nice to cats?

A Conversation with Kelly Grace Smith

I stopped by Kelly's office to drop off a high priority package. While I was there I reminded One Track the governor's office needs extra environmental protections. It's a chimpanzee joke--I'm not sure Kelly understood.

"There is something a bit frightening about your ability to manipulate people," Kelly said as she watched One Track prod humorously at the organic venting.

"What?" I asked, startled. "Who's talking? You threaten to put lip stain on foreheads. If that's not manipulation, I don't know what is."

Kelly has a warm laugh. "Needs must, dear boy. This doesn't change my admiration for your unconscious skill."

"Yeah? When did you first notice I was a master manipulator? Maybe I'll figure out how to do it on purpose."

"When Paula started asking questions about you," Kelly said.

"What?" I asked, feeling like I had just missed part of the conversation. "Paula?"

"She often came to me for advice," Kelly said. "Still does on occasion."

"Right," I said. "So I asked her out, and you told her what? That she should stay away, but somehow I tricked her into moving in with me instead?"

"She asked me, and I quote, 'Does the snarky little guy really like animals that much, or is he still trying to get between my legs?'"

"Both," I said.

Kelly smiled. "Exactly right, young man. Exactly right. And I barely knew you at the time."

"With no Paula in hydro--I would have done everything the same," I said, shrugging. "Up until the point Paula turned my private ship into a hydro-lab anyway. It would have been a lot harder to round up all the cats, and of course, without Submind and the chimps..."

"Of course," Kelly said. "There were also the vines. I must admit, I exaggerated my initial reaction to the Submind vines to observe how you would react. Your disgusted cursing and irreverent comments about chimpanzee games was the perfect reaction. If it had been your intention to calm an hysterical elder, you could not have planned it any better.

"Maybe I did."

"You are incapable of telling an emotional lie, Dizzy. Paula couldn't stand against that kind of power."

"Seriously, I didn't know she was moving in until my ship was under siege."

"Love and war," Kelly said. "Love and war. You got what you wanted, didn't you?"

"Well, yeah. But it's not like I... Is there something you want, Governor? Because I'm starting to feel a bit manipulated."

Kelly laughed and gestured at a pile of urban lash-up sketches on her desk. It's a very friendly laugh. "Project Pumpkin Patch. I need 24 urban hubs up and ready for habitation within a year. I need you to oversee the project."

"Project Pumpkin Patch?" I asked, holding back a giggle. "That's a chimp name. I bet they look like pumpkins, except for the spokes."

Kelly nodded, eyes bright with laughter.

I thought about it for a minute, then I said, "My dad doesn't want to leave his political career on Ceres Station, but my mom wants to retire and move here... not that there'll be much retiring. Help my mom. Talk my dad into moving here."

"I'll do my best," Kelly said, cocking her head slightly.

"Me too," I said, turning to leave. "Paula's singing tonight. Stop by if you have time. Bring One Track. Looks like he needs to get away from the enviro-systems for awhile."

Blind Side

"It's like a blind side," Kevin said.

"Blind side?" I asked.

Kevin gestured at his face. It looks normal, but half was a bit off-color. Most of the time the artificial and yet living replacement half of his face matched the half he was born with, but when he was drinking heavily, he turned a little red, and the Submind half turned a little yellow.

"I thought you could see fine with that eye," I said, thinking he could see a lot more than I could with either one of mine.

Kevin sloshed his drink, something orange with ice, and said, "Now I do, yeah. Watched you do that time thing the other day--playing spinball with Eddie. You color shift you know; when you're dilating time."

"I didn't," I said faintly, wondering if I should order another Lemon-Banana Fallout.

"Joe has two good eyes," Kevin said. "Obviously I'm being metaphorical."

"Best way to be," I said. "Metaphysical."

"Like your space sickness thing then, Momentum Boy," Kevin said, splashing orange in my direction. "And don't play the dumb rock hopper act for me either. No one believes that for long."

"How did this become about me?" I asked.

Kevin blinked at me for a minute, and then said, "You asked why Joe was so annoying. And muttered something about fractal data."

I blinked back. "Right. So he's got a blind spot, or something. And that, plus a Submind symbiont, makes Joe annoying? He was annoying a long time before he got a symbiont."

"No," Kevin said slowly. "Joe hasn't completely worked out his relationship with Submind yet. He's missing something about that stupid quantum drive... Acting a lot like you were with the time obsession."

"Hum?" I asked. "It'll work itself out then."

Kevin squinted at me in frustration. His face might be half Submind, but his expression was pure human.

"Sorry," I said. "But he seems like the same Joe as always."

"If you want to help Joe become less annoying, buy him a mirror."

"Another metaphor. Thank you so much, Kev, but it was a rhetorical question. Besides, I've got tons of old AV files dripping with platitudes and morals if I need advice."

"I don't know why I help you," Kevin said.

"Gov Kelly says I'm a master of manipulation, and don't even know it."

"She would know," Kevin said, narrowing his eyes at me briefly before draining his drink.

"And I bought you a drink."

"You owe me another one," Kevin said.

"The last time I offered old Brain Eater some advice about that quantum drive, he kissed me. On the mouth. It was worse then his stupid 'twist-your-words' game. He doesn't want any more advice from me."

"I guess not," Kevin said. "It doesn't sound like he'll be getting any from me, either."

I nodded and got up to buy another round.

"I'm serious about the mirror, though," Kevin said. "It was metaphorical, but not the way you think."

"Yeah?" I said, considering for a moment before I decided I didn't care what he was talking about. "Tell Simon. Joe can adopt him or something."

Kevin grinned and nodded.

System Maintenance

Somewhere in the back of my mind, a thought evolves. Probably more than one. They sneak up on me when I'm trying to sleep, or have a serious conversation, and all the sudden I'm off the track and falling into the nearest gravity well.

I used to be able to save them up, and have them when I was flushing cores, or cycling airlocks, or any one of a hundred other tasks which leave the mind free to have actual thoughts. Now I'm making decisions, and giving orders, and the thoughts like to catch me off guard, so I'll pay attention.

You're listening to one of those thoughts right now.

We don't need to flush the air-cores any more. Our environmental systems are now entirely Submind built and operated. It's amazing what a sentient virus can do with a genetically mutable host and symbiont, a double handful of chimpanzees, and a few hundred stubborn humans.

Same with the airlocks. No need for maintenance. Submind grows the seals, operates the air pumps, and generally claims all airlocks as Submind. We can override them, but I suspect only when Submind lets us. I'm still trying to decide if that bothers me.

There isn't even any maintenance to do on Ion Jack, my ship. Submind automated everything. All I have to do these days is avoid stepping on one of Pipster's kittens. Pip doesn't like that, with claws. I'm sure her Submind symbiont is regulating Pip's litters, so even the danger of kittens is likely to be minimal.

So, really, I'm bored of pushing data, there's nothing else to do, and this isn't helping. Maybe Eddie will play spinball.

Jumping Surf

Paula came home and greeted me with a hug so hard I couldn't breath. Then she held me while I carefully considered asking what was wrong. Paula doesn't like to be rushed, which is a trait I share, so I kept mum.

"Doc is dying," she said softly. "She has it scheduled for next week. Scheduled."

"Oh," I said. "But I thought Submind..." Obviously not, if Doc has it scheduled.

"Her nervous system is collapsing. Rapidly. She's going to memory dump into an avatar before her mind goes, and the process will be fatal."

"It won't be Doc," I said.

"She's banned me from the lab for a week. She didn't come right out and say it, but she suggested I would only be in the way until she's ready to say goodbye."

"I'm sorry, Paula. I don't know what to say. I love you. I want to help."

Paula looked at me for a moment and said, "That's a start. I need something to do. Think we can borrow a couple of those grav-sleds?"

I looked back. "Yeah. Or we could take out a couple of boards and surf the edge."

"Boards? Like 'grav-board' boards?" Paula asked with growing animation. "Like from Galactic Academy boards? I loved Galactic Academy when I was a girl."

"Well," I said. "Yes. Except for they don't surf gravity waves, there's no faster than light travel, and there's no sign of those horrible costumes--or the hair."

Paula was actually smiling. "Surfing tidal forces in the rings of Saturn is a good start, DeeDee. Let's do it tomorrow."

"Do you want to invite anyone else?"

"No," Paula said. "We need to catch up with each other."

Doc Meme

I will never explain, to anyone, what I saw in Doc's lab. Doc is dead, and anything more would be gratuitous. Her replacement is a giggling old man and doctor from Jupiter system, with freaky Submind eyes and a large jumble of Doc's memories and speech patterns. Apparently he is the avatar--he and his symbiont. Doc passed on her memories like a box of old data nodes.

We pulled him out of the vat yesterday. This morning, Paula asked me to check on him.

"Doctor Reginald Querista," he said, holding out his hand. "I encourage people to call me Que."

I shook it and nodded. "Minister DeeDee Jackson. I'm stuck with Dizzy."

"I expect you have questions," he said, smiling. His eyes were full of gears, and they smiled too. "Two parts of me believe so, anyway."

"Yeah," I said, studying him suspiciously. He and Doc had spent three days locked in adjoining med-vats. Reggie was getting a new symbiont, and Doc was becoming a Submind meme--or what Doc called a 'radical personality set'--to inject into Reggie's symbiont. It disturbed me a lot like it did when I found out my grandparents, who were old enough to forget about locks, still enjoyed sex.

Reggie raised his eyebrows in question. His eyes clicked and whirred and drilled into mine.

I said, "Why don't you just tell me everything those other two parts of you think I should know, and we'll go from there?"

He blinked, and started to giggle. While he giggled, he talked to himself. I could tell. I don't know if it's Doc or Submind or both, or if he's just crazy, but he talks to himself. It's like he is two or three parts of every conversation, and the rest of us can only hear Reginald.

"Yes, yes. Direct. Direct is good. Need to focus." He was still giggling softly. "I'm sorry. Sorry. Doc thought you were very funny. It caught me off guard."

"Is that good or bad?" I asked suspiciously.

He burst into full-out laughter, choked it back into giggles a couple of times, and then waved me away between the words, "Send... later... details... can't wait... ask... Kelly...."

"Great," I muttered, and left for my office. He obviously didn't need any more cheering up.

Sticky Note

"Sticky bomb?" I asked, bouncing the gelatinous mass in my palm. "What am I suppose to do with this?"

"It's for space combat," Buddy said with excitement.

"Space combat?" I asked, carefully holding still while the blob jiggled to a stop.

"Oh," Rudy said. "Don't worry. It won't explode or anything. It's a reactive Submind compound, capable of adapting to it's environment much like standard host material. We are using the term 'bomb' in the same way as Rick..."

"Got it," I said. "So what am I suppose to do with it?"

"You can throw it at an opponent's face-plate to obscure his or her view," Fife said. "It will serve to entangle limbs, or trap an opponent against a bulkhead. In an emergency, it will seal old style vac-suits and life-pods, or serve as a preliminary medical bandage..."

"And that makes it a bomb?" I asked, jiggling the blob of pineapple gelatin thoughtfully.

"Well," Buddy said. "No. My original idea was to engulf ships, like Rick..."

"Yeah," I said, interrupting before they started gushing about Counter-Spin Rick again. The Three Brains really like people who test fly their new designs for them. "I'm guessing you figured out we could already do that with Submind infested slush bombs.

All three of them nodded. "But we liked the name," Fife said. "And close combat seemed an ideal use. We have a prototype design for a hand held launcher..."

"A gun?" I asked.

"But it tends to blow up and get sticky bomb all over the user," Rudy said. "I had to soak in the med-vat for six hours to get it all off."

"So," I said. "If I throw it hard enough to break open, it becomes a sticky mass which will expand to three or four times it's current size, and be almost impossible to get off without a Submind med-vat around?"

"It will also attempt to conform to the shape of any object to which it's fashioned," Buddy said.

"And it's non-toxic," Rudy said. "With basic medical functions."

"And you want me to test it?" I asked.

All three of them nodded.

"On what?" I asked suspiciously.

"Well," Buddy said. "You're always chasing after cats for some reason. Why not try it on one of those?"

I looked at Buddy for a few seconds, and then busted the green blob in his face. It splatted with a satisfying squelch, and wrapped goo all the way back to his ears.

Buddy promptly grabbed the sticky mess with both hands, and then flailed around with his elbows until the sticky bomb let him breath. I'm pretty sure he called me a brat.

"You don't know much about cats." I said. As I left, I noticed Fife and Rudy couldn't quite keep the smiles off their faces.

String Theory

"Hey, Dee. You got a minute?" Simon asked.

"This is a social gathering place, Simon," I said, sipping my gin. "I only come here when I have minutes to spare. Have a seat so I don't have to look up."

"It's all about strings. That's what Joe says anyway," Simon said, sitting down.

"I don't really care about Joe's problem, but what have strings got to do with it?" I asked Simon.

"Cosmologists have been mucking about with it for centuries, but Joe tends to scoff. He's all about data nodes and quantum fractals," Simon said.

I gave him my best stupefied glare.

"Connections," Simon said. "But hard to define connections, like relationships--family ties, and friends, but for everything. Joe is ignoring the larger picture because he's focused on quanta."

I was more interested in drinking than discussing Joe's quantum drive and whatever fractal data-universe he's looking for today. "Who have you been talking to about this? And why am I on the list?"

"Well, there's Joe and Kim, of course; and Kelly; and Doc before she..." Simon swallowed and went on. "But that doesn't matter. I only mentioned Joe because his ranting on about it started me thinking, and you seemed like the most neutral person to consult."

"Simon," I said carefully. "This is only my second drink, so I know it's not me."


"Exactly," I said.

"I'm going out with Wendy's niece... She's 16 next month... Her dad says we can go on a real date then, but I think her mom did some arm twisting. Her dad seems to think my intelligence makes up for something, at least." Simon talked so fast he didn't notice me watching Paula's approach.

Paula paused to stand behind Simon, and gave me that dangerously curious look which is only good if it's not about me.

"So you don't care about Joe's quantum drive either?" I asked. Paula rolled her eyes at me.

"I.... No. Yes. But not now. I didn't have a lot of time to date when I was 16, Mr. Jackson, and I see the way you and Paula get along, despite your obvious differences." Paula rolled her eyes at Simon too.

"You're asking me for dating advice?" I asked.

Paula giggled and moved around Simon to sit down.

Simon turned red. "My father is locked up on Mars at the moment, and it's not like I can ask the father of my date."

"I suppose not," I said, glancing at Paula. "Ask her short questions, and encourage her to talk about herself."

"But please," Paula said, smiling dangerously. "Don't try to fake it. That's so boring."

"Fake it?" Simon squeaked.

"If you aren't interested, ask about something else," I said.

"Oh," Simon said, looking from Paula to me, and then back. We were looking at each other, but I could see Simon from the corner of my eye.

"Is that what you did, Mr. Jackson?" Simon said.

"No," Paula said. "I did. He was playing hard to get."

"That's not true," I said. "I was playing 'be polite to the attractive hydro-tech who's looking for an excuse to feed you to her plants.'"

"One threat," Paula said, smiling. "And it wasn't even my best."

"So," Simon cut in. "I just ask her questions. Do you have a list somewhere?"

"A list?" Paula and I asked together, turning to look at Simon.

"Simon," I said. "You see this girl every day. Why are you so freaked?"

"I... I was on the run for three years. I don't know if I can... if I can be normal for an entire evening."

"Normal?" Paula and I asked together. Then she punched me hard in the arm, and said, "You owe me two."

"Be Simon," I said, rubbing my arm. "Normal is for Earthlings."

"But," Simon said. "You two are..."

"Two people who happen to get along well with each other," Paula said, standing up. "For whatever reason. Come on, DeeDee. We have a room to redecorate."

"You think too much, Simon," I said, standing up. When Paula tells me we need to redecorate a room, it means she intends something physical, possibly with torn clothing. "Save it for the quantum data."

Imposed Celebration

"Those things look kind of dangerous. They're big enough to smash right through a metro-dome," I said. "Even with Martian gravity."

"The seeds need to bury deep, and the heat will serve as a catalyst. The navigation lobes will seek unpopulated areas," Buddy said.

"Martian metro-domes tend to sink under the sand at sunset," I said. "To conserve energy."

"Yes, yes," Buddy said impatiently. "The module is sentient enough to compensate for such things."

I turned to look at Rudy and asked, "Isn't this one of those offense to God actions you like to go on about?"

Rudy stiffened and glared. "The offense is in their corruption of Faith. They seek to deny the belief of others. As if God cares which path we follow to His house."

"Yeah," I said, straining not to take a step backwards. "But giant and sentient Temple Trees? That's just... weird. And why unpopulated areas? That doesn't make sense if you intend to spread the gospel of Submind."

"There will be no preaching," Buddy said. "Can't abide preaching."

"The Submind Temples will be places of peace and rest. Aggression will not be tolerated within, and Submind technology is sufficiently advanced to deal with anything the Martian military can send against a well established Tree. They need a few months to grow, but we will be bombarding Mars with slush bombs and Submind pods for weeks, and the confusion will last long enough."

"And that's when Mars will grow a magnetic field?" I asked.

"It's far more complicated then that, young man," Fife said.

"No kidding?" I said with as much sarcasm as I could inject. "Have you tried explaining it to someone who might be interested? Simon, maybe?"

"It was his idea," Rudy said. "Once a critical mass has been achieved, the Trees will serve as power generators for Submind to start the process of subatomic modifications to the Martian core. A strong magnetic field, combined with the deluge of water from Saturn's rings, will establish a survivable planetary atmosphere within three human generations."

"I... Oh. Then why are you trying to explain it to me? Why should I care?"

"You know," Fife said, hesitating. "You're an atheist, like Buddy. We wanted your opinion--about changing Mars."

"I am not an atheist," I said. "I'm not even agnostic. I just don't need an interpreter."

All three of them studied me like I'd suddenly grown six more heads.

"What?" I asked sharply.

"What do you think?" Rudy asked. "Of the Temples?"

"Trees," Buddy muttered.

I shrugged. "Sounds nice. Peace and rest."

"Whether you want it or not," Buddy said.

I laughed and slapped his shoulder. "Happy Holidays."

Curtain Call

It has been increasingly difficult to maintain the habit of posting to this log, but I still find comfort and release in the process of writing. I can't for sure how long I will continue, but in a couple of years, the fleet of fire and ice we sent out this morning will engage Mars. I guess that leaves some time before it gets really crazy.

"It looks like a huge curtain against the night," Paula said, watching the fleet from the rail observation deck.

"Yeah," I said. "And it's going to smother Mars."

"That's not... what I was thinking," Paula said. "At all. It just looks pretty; glowing and sparkling."

"Rick was bragging about there being over a thousand slush bombs in the mix. And, it'll be over a year before the fighter platforms need to leave," I said. "The thing is, Mars already knows we're coming. They have all of that time to try stopping our invasion, but I don't see how they can."

"Yeah?" Paula asked, studying me.

"Submind's invasion," I said. "It's Submind. We couldn't do it without an alien virus and pod people. Submind couldn't do it without us. Submind is invading Mars, and I'm actively helping. Shouldn't I feel bad about that?"

"I guess," Paula said. "But we can't do nothing."

"I... Yeah. I said something like to Simon not long ago."

"Then what's the problem?" Paula asked.

"The initial battle will cause minimal casualties," I said. "But once we start the siege, people will die. And changing the magnetic field of Mars is going to be violent. Anyone who is not willing to accept a Submind host environment is not going to survive. Reggie estimates it will be about 70 or 80 million dead."

"Yes," Paula said. "Or we could let those 80 million people oppress the other 800 million who just want to be happy."

"Sorry. Glowing and sparkling," I said. "Like a big curtain."

Life Speed

I walked into Reggie's lab and poked around until he couldn't ignore me any longer.

"Why are you here? I've got three med-vats to program. I need to concentrate."

"Because Simon is throwing a raging fit about this light-speed thing you've been planning. I would have thought he'd be happy about it" I said, pausing. "Not that anyone thought to tell me anything. You're Submind's representative, or puppet, or something. You didn't think to mention this until you got a new puppet?"

He started giggling. I insult him, and he starts giggling. I'm still trying to decide if his weird eyes are more disturbing then his head full of Doc's memories, and while both seem harmless enough, I'm watching Submind, and everything new the alien virus brings to us, with deep suspicion. Doc thought it was great fun cranking me up about it, but Reggie just tends to start giggling in the middle of our conversations. What's even more annoying is I'm the only person who sets him off like that.

"Should we worry about your sanity?" I asked.

"You are a refreshingly forthright young man," Reggie said, ignoring my last question. "The answer to that is simple. It is possible to travel almost instantaneously from one point to another, but it is limited by distance, and impossible to survive."


"You leave here," Reggie said, marking an imaginary dot in the air. "And you arrive here, a second later. Dead."

"You're kidding?"

"It's been that way for millennia," Reggie said. "I call it the speed of life."

"That would explain Simon's lack of joy, but he was angry. Not happy with you, specifically, in any way."

"There is a small possibility that Mars will drag Earth into this conflict," Reggie said. "We can't allow that to happen."

"Obviously," I said.

"At my suggestion, we are growing a specialized Submind graviton engine into 24 slush bombs. They will be capable of reaching Mars in a matter of minutes, but the engines will die, so they only get one hop. We can use the standard slush bomb thrusters to gain momentum, and then translate into Mars system on the fly."

"I... yeah. I get it now. Simon thinks you actually intend to do this."

"Don't be silly," Reggie said. "If we were to display such advancements at this time, the entire inner system would declare war on us. That would not end well for anyone."

I nodded. "Glad to hear it."


"So, I'll go explain it to Simon--see if I can seal his carbon leak," I said. "Can't have this becoming more than a rumor."

Roll Call, Redux

This is a list of people I've introduced over the course of this personal log, sorted chronologically. Mostly.

DeeDee "dzyjak" Jackson: That's me. This is my log. I talk about myself all the time. My system name is not capitalized.

Chuck Vann: He was my immediate supervisor for a while. He made nice with Kelly and is running her Human Resources Department--actually it's the 'Sentient Resources Department' now.

Doctor Signe Hester: Doc introduced us to Submind. We couldn't have saved the station without her.

Paula Mattson: Doc's main assistant, my serious love interest, and the best singer on Fort Falling.

Eddie "EMF" Crump: Eddie is in charge of security. He took over the data core when we split away from the OSA, and he hasn't let anyone else get close to it. Kelly appears to approve most of the time.

Wendy Hardin: She is the ranking OSA official aboard the station. Except for that, she's not so bad.

Joe Friedrich: Joe asked me to stop calling him 'Brain Eater.' Whatever. He's a math genius and quanta admin for Fort Falling. We don't get along.

Rick "Counter-Spin" Young: Rick doesn't care what people call him. Or if he does, it doesn't happen more than twice.

Curious, the chimp: My best chimpanzee friend. He likes his humor straight-forward and aggressive.

Kenneth "Not Ken" Harvey: Kenny is back. I have no problem calling him Kenneth, but I've found that if I make him explain his name every time he has a question, he doesn't ask as many questions.

Theodore "No Relation" Richards: I'm fairly certain Theodore is related to Kenneth. Theo likes to explain how he isn't related to a number of famous men named Theodore Richards every time I never ask about it, so I've never bothered to ask. He trained with the chimpanzees and became an excellent enviro-tech.

Sheryl Malice: Sheryl is working in my office. As a lawyer, she's bonus oxygen. I assigned her a team of technicians so she would stop calling me. I guess that means we get along fine.

Kelly Grace Smith: If anyone else decides to run for the office, Governor Kelly Grace Smith will probably be re-elected unanimously. No one still believes she is a vac-head.

Rat Bane, the cat: The first feline with a symbiont, as far as I know. He went meta and ran away to Crystal Falls.

Nana: Nana was my mother's mom, and the reason I became a station tech.

Enviro-tech Misty, the chimp: Misty hangs around with Counter-Spin. She appears to like explosions and micro-grav as much as Rick.

Pipster, the cat: Pipster was the first cat I saw with the long and thin magnetic quills from a Submind symbiote.

Miss Hiss, the cat: Miss Hiss comes around every day or two for some treats.

Submind: Thoughts of the Submind is a sentient virus. I have yet to see evidence of what brain-techs call an 'Ego' in the Submind virus. The concept of self just doesn't seem to apply. Since I like my 'self' just the way it is, I don't see how this can be anything but good.

One Track, the chimp: Kelly's Enviro-tech. He has trouble switching focus unless you hit him with something. Not too hard. He is a chimpanzee after all--even if Submind has added some higher brain functions.

Captain Raymond Miller: An ex-troopship captain we had as a prisoner of war for a couple of minutes. He has a dog. Kelly put him in charge of immigration at my suggestion. I suppose Chuck approved of the choice.

Callie McKiern: A friend of my mom's. She's been training chimps her entire life. Her family makes the hormone supplements and foods which keep chimpanzees sane. At one time, according to Callie, male chimpanzees where too crazy to be among humans on a space station.

Comet, the dog: Captain Miller's dog. I would call him a cyborg, but the implants are biological constructs made by Submind, so I'm not sure they count as machines.

The Povel family--Sarah, Ben and two girls: This is Wendy's family. Sarah is her sister. The family ran away from Titan station back when the OSA was trying to convince us Saturn Station One still belonged to the Alliance.

Sandra Quinn: A customs agent who I promoted to head of Customs. I'm the Minister. Who's going to argue.

Sam Tellerwell: A merchant in specialized goods--mostly foodstuff from Earth. Sandra's new husband.

Rita Selmon: Rita likes turtles. She once treated me to a lecture on the universe as an inverted turtle, where everything inside was outside, and only the turtle existed. I think she was messing with me--she's really good at it.

Mini Cee, the chimp: Mini is crew boss of the enviro-techs in Customs. No one gets unauthorized biologicals past her crew.

Vincent K. Selmon: Rita's father. A professor of English Literature with brain scaring. Before he came here to get Submind injections, he tended to confuse himself with a giant beetle. Now, when he's not teaching or helping Governor Smith firm up our political system, he's joy riding his personal vac-suit around like he's a giant beetle.

Rhona Selmon: Vincent's second and youngest daughter. She took care of their father for several months while Rita was here talking to Doc about a cure for Vincent's nerve scaring. She is the scariest tiny-person I've every met.

Four Thumbs: Chimpanzee's choose their own names, so don't blame me.

Ted Stansen: A litigious tourist who will never grace Fort Falling's atmo ever again.

Tesla Cee: A crazy chimpanzee who is currently riding Saturn's atmosphere so he can watch lighting storms. He reminds me of Counter-Spin Rick, except I don't think he likes me.

Fife Tiberman: A hive-mind A.I. robotics expert. Despite his loud and continuous comments about the unproven reliability of bio-technology, Fife didn't waste any time getting a symbiont and a living vac-suit. One of the Three Brains.

Kevin Jaunha: Kevin was a cyborg for several years. Then he came here and had the hardware replaced by Submind wetwear. If you aren't paying attention, he looks %100 human.

Doug Blatt: One of the Blatt's. He has a small trust fund and claims to be a student of gravity. He' worked for Callie for awhile, and made friends with every enviro-tech chimp on board. He has several repair hubs and official paper-work with Governor Smith's office, calling his project "Crazy Doug's Bargain Retrofits."

Simon Green: Simon is a teenager with too many brains. The Mars Republic claims he belongs to them, and they locked up his father to try and keep him in line. Simon's father told him to run, and the kid landed here almost two years later.

Elder Harpo: Doug's long time chimpanzee companion.

The Clee: A race of carbon and silicon based aliens who would have taken over Sol system millions of years ago, except they all died before reaching Saturn. The Submind virus and it's meta-host went dormant until Doc Hester came along to wake them up.

Tera Blatt: Doug's money crazy older sister. Kelly appointed her Fort Falling's Minister of Finance, and Counter-Spin Rick is her future husband.

Crystal Falls: Not a person, exactly, but alive nonetheless. The junk half of Saturn Station One is still in the process of growing into a colony of meta-meme Submind domestic felines, but I'm told it will be amazing in 20 or 30 years.

Zoo Prime: The chimps grew most of it. It's alive. They named it. Doug has his own shipyards now, but he still subcontracts his most delicate designs to the Zoo.

Genitors: The race which spawned the Submind virus. They been gone for billions of years, but they still manifest as meta-memes in five percent of domestic felines with Submind symbionts.

Ksini: The first alien race to encounter Submind. They didn't survive the encounter.

Luige: The last alien race to encounter the Genitors. Neither race survived the encounter. Submind had migrated to several other aliens species by then, mostly on friendly terms.

The Three Brains: A team of A.I. specialist who design and grow prototype space vehicles in cooperation with Submind and Doug Blatt.

Professor Rudy McClain: One of the Three Brains. He designs the 'low level decision' routines. According to Rudy, it's like morality, except beyond my comprehension. He's also a religious and science fanatic, and doesn't really distinguish between the two. Some people find that annoying.

Trenton Jackson: My dad, the labor party politician. Don't get him started.

Vicky Jackson: My mom, the frontier woman. Dad doesn't stand a chance of returning to Ceres station.

Buddy Jenkins: One of the Three Brains. His specialty is self-programmed silicon growth. Reality is something he hears about from time to time.

Laura Kimberly Paine: A well connected Martian political refuge who happens to be Joe's live-in girlfriend. It took me months to figure out who she was.

KamKam 'Kammie' Levaron: An insatiably curious little girl who will probably grow up to own her ship-yards and racing fleet.

Cordie Levaron: KamKam's supportive and befuddled father.

Rachel Levaron: KamKam's supportive and very interested mother.

Bosco and Tieshe: Counter-Spin Rick's favorite war dogs. They have Submind vac-suits, and play fetch with booster-rockets.

Doctor Reginald Querista: Doc's replacement. He hasn't integrated with Submind as much as Doc had, but his once artificial eyes were replaced with Submind duplicates. If the light hits them just right, you can see the tiny gears and multiple lenses. It's a bit disturbing.

A Stone's Throw

Paula designed a new grav sensor that projects the overlay grid directly into the user's eye. It's amazing. Naturally, when Kim asked me to help search local space for one wayward Simon, I selfishly took the opportunity to play with my new toys.

I scanned the rings for about an hour, drifting on ion-thrusters. The tidal forces made interesting patterns behind my eyes, but the spike I saw fly outwards and towards Sol repeated without pattern. I moved closer to investigate, sliding into the stream of ice and watching for another gravity spike.

Simon was standing on a small ball of gravel and dirty snow. He was throwing rocks with the full force of his Submind vac-suit. It's hard to find rocks in Saturn's rings, but there are dense clusters of gravel where the rocks outnumber the dirty snowballs. Judging from the stream of rocks heading toward the sun, he had been at it for hours.

"What's you doing, Simon?" I asked.

"I'm spitting at Earth."

"Um?" I asked, a bit confused.

"Stupid bastards," Simon said, and threw a rock. He watched it fly for a moment and then reached down to pick up another one. Then he ran a med-scan with his suit glove and muttered something about the Clee.

"Rick is going to drop one of those hyper-bombs on Earth's arctic ship-yards," Simon said, studying the rock.

"Only if they ally with Mars in the upcoming conflict," I said. "And Rick might be a bastard, but he's not stupid."

"Not Rick," Simon said, throwing the rock. "Earth. Stupid, arrogant, soft and fleshy Earth. And the bastards who run the place."

"Oh," I said. "So you are throwing rocks at them?"

Simon snorted and picked up another rock. "Wishing I could go back in time a few hundred years and send these Clee Submind pods into Earth's atmosphere before any of us were born."

"I'd rather you didn't." I said. "I like me just the way I am."

Simon looked at me for a moment and said, "What do you want, Mr. Jackson? I was having a nice cathartic fantasy, and you gotta come around and inject reality. Always with the reality."

"I'm a terrible liar," I said.

"That one sounded convincing."

"See what I mean?" I asked. "Joe was worried about you."

"Joe wouldn't ask you. He'd ask Eddie maybe, probably Wendy, or..."

"Kim." I said. "She said if Joe was worried about you, it was serious."

"It wasn't that serious," Simon said. "Was it? He won't stop trying to convince me those bombs are 'for the greater good.' I got sick of it, is all. Maybe I foamed at the mouth a little."

I nodded. "There's a bunch of people out looking for you. Maybe you should turn on your long-range and tell everyone you're still alive."

When he was done with that, I asked, "Do you really think any of those pods will reach Earth?"

"No," Simon said, throwing another one.

I picked up a rock, skipped the med-scan, and let it fly.

Parental Control

My mom grabbed Chuck's wrist, twisted and tugged, and Chuck found himself on tiptoe, face against the bulkhead, with his arm pressed painfully against his back.

"Those chimpanzees wouldn't even be here in your stupid resource pool if it weren't for me, you small minded slob," she hissed. "How long has it been since you tried to breath vacuum?"

Chuck gasped. "I have to make ah... ow ow ow..."

"He's not listening to me, Trenton," my mom complained.

"It can see that, Dear," my dad said.

"Then vacuum probably isn't the answer," I said. "Maybe you should let dad handle this one. After all, he is the labor negotiator in the family."

She snorted in disgust and shoved Chuck hard against the wall before letting him go. It's been a long time since I've seen my mom that pissed off.

"Here's the thing, Charlie," My dad said. "Vicky wants two specific chimpanzees attached to our household as environmental techs and such. You seem to think doing this favor for us would be morally offensive. Why is that?"

"Mo... morally.... No," Chuck said. "That's not... I have them scheduled already. They are due to leave for Pumpkin Village in the morning."

"In which case, they haven't left yet," my dad said.

"But I don't have any replacements," Chuck said. "It will be three days..."

"Are you, or are you not, the Sapient Resources Director for this entire space station?"

"Well, yes, but it's not..."

"Do you like your job, Chuck?" My dad asked. "Maybe you're taking it too seriously? Hum? I could talk to Kelly. Find something less stressful for you maybe."

"Yes. No. I like it just fine. I don't want another job." Chuck said rapidly.

"Weldon and Yana," my dad said. "Is that right, Dear? Weldon and Yana? From Ceres Station. They're such a sweet couple, and they've both taken so well to the Submind symbionts."

"Yes," my mom said. "Yana's a genius with hydro-veggies."

"I can't make them..." Chuck protested weakly.

"I'll talk to them," I said. "I have a way with chimps." Watching my parents play someone was always entertaining, but the show was nearly over.

"I'll have to call Doug again," Chuck said.

"All taken care of," my dad said. "Are we good? No more objections?"

Chuck shook his head and rubbed his arm.

"All settled then," my dad stated, and turned my mother around so he could gently lead her away.

"Don't make me come back here tomorrow," my mom said without turning back.

Chuck turned to glare at me. I shrugged and put on my most annoying smile.

Drifter Run

I was hanging out at the Dizzy Pig with Eddie. Paula was singing. Wendy and Tera were there too. I suspect Wendy was with Eddie, and Tera was waiting for Counter-Spin Rick. My mom and dad were being embarrassing in a corner booth.

"There's a drifter tribe mining ice clear over on the other side of the rings," Rick said, taking the seat next to Tera. "I want to drop a couple of slush bombs and send them back to the belt with Submind on board."

"Don't be stupid," Tera said. "Drifters are harmless."

"They steal," Rick muttered.

"Whatever," Tera said. "We need some fresh entertainment around here. No offense to your girl, Dizzy, but she hasn't had time to learn any new songs. Not really."

I shrugged. Paula had been complaining about that same thing for weeks. "Those three comedians aren't getting any fresher. I'm with Tera on this one, Rick."

"Of course you are," Rick said. "For such an angry guy, you're a big, soft, pushover."

"I'm going to request Hamlet," I said. "And I'm not angry. I'm elevated."

"We can hire one of those couples," Tera said. "The sex teachers. Invite them over for a week..."

"Tera," Rick said sharply.

Tera bent over and whispered in his ear. Rick's face heated up, and he gulped his drink.

"I want to scan them," Eddie says. "Build profiles. Maybe do some cultural studies."

"Tag and release," I muttered.

Wendy giggled.

"I just think they like putting on a show," I said. "But it's obvious they aren't afraid of a little work. They're busting ice hard, right now, and they didn't even bother to stop by and steal anything first."

"Then you should go invite them to put on a show," my mom suggested from behind me. "Hamlet you said. Right?"

"What?" I asked, looking around in horror. "That's a two day flight."

I know my mom's expressions, and there was no way I wouldn't be flying out there tomorrow.

"Why not," I said. "Buddy just finish my new grav-board, and I can practice Relativity Two. Only be a couple of hours to me."

Tribal Dance

I was charged and buzzing from the ride, and scanning short range for comm traffic as I rode my board down toward Saturn. I skimmed the ring plane, occasionally scraping a snowball out of boredom. The drifter fleet, if it could be called that, was nowhere in site. I was about to call in for coordinates when I my scan landed on a transmission.

"Bobby's gonna bust us if we don't set these charges right quick. We're the last ones out."

"So what? We're not going anywhere. It's not like Titan Base wants us around. That place is coming apart. And Saturn Station One--Well, I hear they're all crazy. They throw people in oxyfluid main-cores for no reason."

I couldn't help myself. "We are," I said over the comm. "But you have to be pretty offensive to get thrown into a main-core. Usually we just talk you into volunteering."

There were two gasps and a solid laugh. I followed the signal to a respectably sized chuck of ice occupied by three vac-suited human males. They were planting small ice-boosters and shatter charges, and looked to be almost done.

"It's a fairy," one of them said.

"On a grav-board," said another one.

"Like from 'Galactic Academy'?'"

"Maybe. Anyone know what sort of powers a space-fairy has? Hey space-fairy, can you go faster than light on that thing?"

"It only took me three hours to get here, but I left Fort Falling two days ago," I said. "And call me Dizzy." Sending the signal to retract my wings. They folded up as I stepped off the board and touched down in front of them.

"Riddles? We like riddles. What's the answer space-fairy?"

"A question for a question," I said.

"Our favorite rule."

"My question is for the Player," I said.

There was silence for a long time.

"I'm sending you our beacon code now. The Player will speak with you."

I locked into their system and said, "I am DeeDee Jackson, with a message from Fort Falling. We greet the Player and the Troupe, and invite you to our theater, as poor as it may be. Will you play for us? We call for trade, and offer services for all. Our hearts and our minds are open."

"The old words," a new voice said. There was more than a hint of sarcasm in the tone. "I am Mitch, of the Mad Puppet Tribe. We number 200 and more, and would never play a theater uninvited."

"We have reserved a six-port urban lash-up, with crew and full repair facilities, for as long as you need it," I said.

"So," Mitch said slowly. "You made the traditional trek, and said the traditional words, so you could... repair our ships?"

"You ignored our calls," I said. "It had to be done."

"You're going to repair our ships?"

"Only if you can do Hamlet," I said. "Two shows a week for six weeks. Maybe once on the weekend too."

"You believe our ships need repair?"

"All ships need repair. Even the ones which repair themselves," I said. "But this would be more along the lines of a retrofit, and entirely at your discretion."

"Four days," Mitch said, and disconnected.

"Great," One of the drifters said. "Dad's gonna be on the comm in about three minutes, and we're gonna have to explain why we aren't done with this bust and run."

"That's it?" I asked.

"What did you expect?"

"I don't know," I said. "Ceremony."

"No time for ceremony right now, space-fairy Dizzy. My name's Ted. The little one is Fred, and Tre makes three. You can help Tre with those drill cables, and Fred and I will rig the charges."

"Sure. No problem," I said. "Do you play spinball, Ted?"

"Yeah. Love it."

"I'm going to have to teach you how we play it on Fort Falling." I said, and got to work.

Genetic Drift

"She wants to what?" I asked, opening my eyes and forgetting about the sleep I was trying to get.

"What are you so surprised about?" Paula asked. "Drifters tend to seek genetic diversity more than most belt dwellers. You have good genetics, and I've been discussing the same thing with Rhonda for weeks now."

"Rhonda? Wait a minute," I said. "Does this mean you have a list of men you want to have sex with?"

"Breed with, Dee Dear," Paula said, snuggling close.

"That involves sex," I said.

"It doesn't have to," Paula said. "But traditionally, that's true. It's more fun, too."

"So... Melissa, was it? You're saying that Melissa wants a genetic donation from me, and she asked you if she could seduce me?"

"Something like that," Paula said. She sounded amused. I was starting to see a downside to her open sexuality.

"I hardly know her," I said. "I'm not sure I can be that intimate."

"I could help," Paula said, feeling around under the covers.

"Who's on your list?" I asked, grabbing her hands to keep them from distracting me.

"They all left for Mars system when the OSA condemned the station."

"Is Kenneth on it? He came back. And he's with Rhonda now. Why else would you girls be talking about it?"

Paula didn't answer right away. "Yes. We don't have to follow this tradition if it bothers you, DeeDee. It's doubtful Fort Falling will suffer a large population drop. Genetic diversity isn't critical like it used to be."

"That's not..." I stopped. Children were important to Paula. The last time I noticed, she had said that seven would be the right number to have. I just hadn't considered there would be more than one father. "I guess Kenneth's alright--but Rhonda? Really? She scares me. I'm not sure I can be intimate with her either."

Paula giggled softly, and said. "You should contact Tre in the morning and make arrangements. Melissa should stay with us for a couple of weeks, at least."

"Tre?"I asked. "Right. The husband."

"And since I won't have you all to myself for awhile," Paula said, and proceeded to distract me. To be honest, thinking about Rhonda had me half distracted already.

Blood Written

Drifter ship bulkheads are covered in words. Poems and fables and random bits of advice are everywhere. Complete lessons on how to change carbon scrubbers or light panels are scribed in useful locations. Nothing is painted in neat block letters. It's all messy and wonderful, covered in beautiful and finely crafted words.

"This bulkhead is blood written," Ted said. "My grandfather sixth inscribed 'Time's Test' on this wall himself."

"Yeah?" Doug said, caressing the bulkhead softly. "What's that."

"It is our most sacred teaching. If it will not survive this mad organic retrofit you are proposing, it must be removed to a place of honor on the observation deck, and preserved for as long as this ship lives."

Two of the three chimps tagging along with Doug started tracing words on the wall in quiet fascination. The chimps on Fort Falling are more or less a new species, thanks to Submind. Most of them have a wicked sense of humor and are smarter than the average human station tech.

"We would, of course, like to save as much of our works as possible. That's if we even agree to this radical shift in our environment." Ted said.

Ted watched the chimps for a minute, and then raised his eyebrows when Four Thumbs turned to him and used chimp sign to say, "Blood written."

Ted nodded. "Yes. From our breath, and from our life."

All three chimpanzees repeated the words in chimp sign. Ted nodded and repeated the gestures.

"No problem." Four Thumbs gestured, and barked chimp laughter. "For as long as the ship shall live."

The chimps all busted up, waved goodbye, and pretended to help each other stumble away.

I just shook my head. "I don't think you have anything to worry about, Ted. The chimps like you."

"What's so funny about a ship being alive?" Ted asked. It sounded like he wasn't sure if he should be offended or was just missing the joke.

"Um? They're chimps. With Submind symbionts."


"And you just asked them to bring your ship to life after you told them your ship was alive," I said. "They think metaphorical concepts are hilarious. Add a bit of recursion, and, well, you're lucky they didn't make you an honorary chimp right then and there."

Ted had a strange look on his face.

"It involves a lot of painful slapping," I explained.

"Are you sure they understand?" Ted asked Doug. "It's always a sadness when a ship loses blood."

"The chimps are going to adopt your entire tribe," I said. "Trust me."

Doug snickered. "He's probably right. Listen, Ted, if those apes can't save %99 of these words, I'll eat this entire lash-up hub. They'll probably grow them right into the design."

"It will be weeks before the chimps can get started," I said. "And, from what Melissa tells me, there are almost two dozen young Drifter women seeking seed fathers. "

"Yes," Ted said, nodding. "It took us almost three years to get here, and opportunities have been limited."

"So there's no hurry," I said. "You're going to be here for awhile. Take some time and learn what Submind can do for your tribe."

"That's for the elders," Ted said. "But as soon as they approve, I'm getting one of those space-fairy suits like you have."

"I'll have to beat you at Spinball before then," I said.

Ted laughed.

Doug smirked at him. "Don't laugh until you've seen him play. With that thing in his head, he could make Simon Jump weep in frustration."

"I will play one game," Ted said, studying me. "But you must explain how you flew for three hours, but it was two days time. That is a story and a trick to be blood written."

"Done," I said.

Hydroponic Theater

"I designed a theater for them," Doug said. "Well, Rudy designed it, but I paid him to do it. And I found the space. I'm a genius."

"That's nice," I said. "You gonna grow it from scratch?"

"What? No. I'm not going to grow anything. I gave the designs to Mitch," Doug said. "With names of my favorite subcontractors. They need to learn how to work with Submind if they want to grow 'Crazy Doug's Theater of Life.'"

"That's funny," I said, deadpan. "You come up with that all by yourself."

"They aren't going to call it that," Doug said. "But they're going to write a play about me."

"That's not always good."

"There's no such thing as bad publicity."

"You start being generous," I said. "And people ask you for favors more often."

"They have this huge space in that rigged-up storage ship they thrust around," Doug said, ignoring me. "It's just wasted space in there--exposed to vacuum. As soon as I saw it, I was ready to charge in with vats and chimps, but Drifters can be a bit touchy about their ships."

"Yeah," I said. "I noticed. Mitch seemed almost insulted when I suggest his ships needed repair."

"They'll be able to seat over 100 people, and the stage can change scenery in a matter of minutes," Doug said. "Have I mentioned I'm a genius?"

"Yeah," I said. "Please stop."

"But it's a living stage," Doug said. "And it changes shape, and color, and stuff."

"You're a genius," I said. "I don't care. It's your turn to buy the drinks, and mine's empty."

"Mine's not."

"Then stop talking about yourself and drink up," I said.

Seed Father

"I hate ceremonies," I complained.

"No you don't," Paula said. "You love them. Get used to it."

"But why do I have to be the 'Seed Father' in this thing? I'm not the only guy..."

"You were the messenger," Paula said. "It's tradition."

"Tradition," I muttered. "Mom set me up. She's been asking for grandkids for years, and she knew the Drifters would want me to be the first seed father."

"What are you complaining about?" Paula asked. "It's not like you have to raise the child. You just have to call once in a while. Maybe send birthday gifts."

"My mom has already adopted Melissa and Tre," I said. "Not to mention the rest of their family. It's not my fault I'm an only child."

"It's not your parents' fault either," Paula said. "Now stop whining and fix your collar. We're going to be late."

"How long did they say this would take?" I asked.

"They didn't," Paula said. "But from my experience, the ceremony takes about 15 minutes, and the after party goes all night."

"Can I get drunk?" I asked.

"After the ceremony," Paula said, pulling me towards the door. "Come on. Don't make me call your mom."

"I'm coming," I said, and let her lead me to my doom.

Flight School

"Are you avoiding your office again, Minister Jackson?" Kammie asked.

"Sometimes I like to shop when I'm depressed," I said. "Most often I sulk around in my ship and avoid the comm for a few hours, but sometimes I like to shop. For one thing, Earth chocolate can lighten anyone's mood for a time, depending on the cost of the chocolate. For another, watching the apes at trade negotiations can be entertaining and instructive."

Kammie laughed. "I like you, Minister Jackson. You don't talk to me like most adults."

"Yeah," I said. "How do adults talk to you?"

"Like I'm nine," Kammie said, sitting down next to me.

I shrugged. "You'll be ten soon. Who have you escaped from today?"

"My dad," Kammie said. "He's bringing us ice-cream."

"Us?" I asked.

"Chocolate," Kammie said firmly.

"Really?" I asked, looking at the runny remains of my last serving. "Please tell me you didn't get that mind reading thing like Eddie's got? Little girls shouldn't be reading adult minds. It's not healthy."

Kammie giggled. "Don't worry, Minister Jackson. My thing is momentum. Like your's. I saw you licking the last drops off of your spoon, and the suicidal look on your face when it was gone."

"That's a little over-dramatic," I said. "Don't you think?"

"As soon as I got my Submind symbiont, I concentrated on feeling the station spinning beneath me, and then I felt for Saturn..."

"Please stop," I said, feeling a bit woozy. "That is not at all how I came by my feel for momentum.

"Of course not," Kammie said dismissively. "But I'm planning ahead, and a pilot needs to know how fast she's going, relatively speaking. It worked."


Kammie shrugged. "I've seen you fly, and I'm going to be better than you one day."

"Oh," I said, not sure if I should be flattered or disturbed. She was way too smart for a child her age. "Thanks."

"Hey, Dad," Kammie said with calculated excitement. "Minister Jackson's going to give me flying lessons."

"That's nice," he said, handing me a Double Chocolate Frost.

"I don't suppose you could wait a couple of years?" I asked, focusing on my spoon.

"Then too," Kammie said, stuffing her mouth with dripping, syrupy brown ice-cream.

I shrugged and followed her example.

Relative Facts

On the rare occasions when Nana had too much alcohol, she liked to share her favorite life lesson. "There's two kinds of facts--absolute and relative. You're born. You die. Gravity sucks. And Sol glows in the dark. Those are absolute. Everything else is relative."

I think I understand why she used to say that, but it's nothing I can express in words. Sharing my life in this somewhat public forum has been therapeutic and instructive, but I'm finding I don't need the release as much as I did when I started this project. I don't intend to stop writing, but more and more of my life is becoming classified secret, so I may not be around much.

You know where I've been? Living in Paula's prototype submind pod for humans, and having the most incredible sex any human has ever had.

Paula and I are truly married now. Our honeymoon lasted for two months, and it was the best two weeks of my life. While the universe drifted passed us, we slept at Relativity Two Something. We spent a couple of days on Jupiter Station Twelve, and the rest of the time in each other's arms.

Apparently, thanks to Paula's human seed pod, Paula and I are the parents of 17 potential offspring. Only two of them will know us as parents. The rest may never be born, or they might grow up a million light-years away. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but I know Paula, and I couldn't have stopped her.

I was going to describe the seed pod, and how we melded together and rode Relativity and each other all the way to Jupiter and back, but then I decided... It would be impossible for me to know both where I was, and how fast I was going, at the same time.

Darryl Branning