“Freefall always brings that song into my head. The way you spin slowly round your own axis is a perfect match for the rhythm. Not quite a waltz, a little too fast, more a foxtrot.
I see the blank look on your face. Hell the song itself is old, a couple of hundred years. But man could that woman sing. If I get time I will dig around and find a copy of it. Has to be one in the memory banks somewhere; how did it go….
I glance back at the time I spent with you, oh
I know you feel the same way too.
A kiss to wipe away the tears,
can't keep on pushing back the years.
We gave up this thing long ago
just like the stream forever flows
Yep that’s it… Kind of apt as well, we are pushing back the years up here. Tumbling towards what? A new life? Enough of me talking; got work to do.”
Marshall pushed himself away from the cold tube and moved on to the next, checking read outs. He didn’t talk to this case, didn’t know them and it seemed rude to ramble at someone you didn’t know, even if they were strapped in a cryogenic chamber, sleeping away the years.
He broke out in song again as he swung himself down into a hatch. His watch was nearly done. Someone else’s turn soon then it would be his turn to dream again.
“But I know this is our fate
I think we passed our sell-by date.
The encore's through, the show's at an end.
Consign me to history but stay my friend.
Stay my friend.....”
February 8th, 2005, 07:06 PM
McBee walked the tombs, his shift no different then the thousands before this he performed. The slow boat to Vega, cruise ship at that, and he another of the minions that made up the crew. Check the readouts, call the pros if he found anything wrong and he could only find something wrong if the dials functioned properly. If the meters themselves broke, who would know?
They all would know at journey's end and there would be hell to pay.
McBee tried to be diligent. He tried to be meticulous. He ended up being McBee, a good man but not a great man. By the end of his shift his glance at the dials was no more than that: a glance. Hell, nothing ever went wrong in the tombs.
Made a great means to finance the trip. He wanted to see the Shee, couldn't believe he was getting his chance. Give one year out of every four walking the tombs - ten years total, checking for malfunction; spend the other three years in your own tomb suspended from all animation, cryogenically stored, not aging, and...voila!...there you are. Orbiting Otherworld, fourth planet out from Vega herself. And able to visit the Shee.
His shift ran two hours for five days on, two days off. He'd be back on in four hours. He and others like him working the monotonous tours because the paying passengers wanted a human looking after them. Bad enough that the humans would be checking meters on the caskets, they would not tolerate machines checking machines. "Thank you, rich people," McBee was prone to say as he bent over to examine a dial, "for financing my way to the Shee."
The rest of the time wasn't too bad. The other tomb checkers were an okay lot, decent card players. The facilities were fine, the entertainments up to standard for the time they departed earth. No complaints there.
Well, the food. It was traditional for crews to insult the food and McBee subscribed heartily to the tradition. The hotel at Otherworld was reputed to have fine food so that, at least, was something to look forward to. In addtion to the Shee.
One thing he learned over the course of his tours, the amount of time necessary to check each and every casket. In two hours, he could make one and a half meticulous inspections of the 250 caskets in this bay. There were nine other bays. Nine bays times four checkers per day plus the float checkers mean 250 checkers were working their way to Otherworld just as he was. 20% of the caskets held minions and crew - the crew working a similar arrangement for single journey there and back again. 20% not paying guests. Tells you a little bit out the cost those paying passengers had devoted to this trip.
McBee walked the tombs.
The minions called it a slow boat. It cost them four years of their lives going and another four coming home. The trip was 26 light years one way so a 40 year actual journey wasn't really slow. It only seemed that way to the crew and the checkers. 80 years would pass back on Earth and McBee would get to see the Shee. Remarkable price to pay. Humans lived no more than 150 years. Everyone he knew when he left probably gone when he got home. Might be why statistics say only 13% of the checkers returned home.
That was the bad thing about shifts. Too much time to think. Thinking distracted you from your job. You didn't check so good and you needed to check good. Something goes wrong on your shift and you don't report it, no passage home. Paying passengers don't want any foul-up checking their dials
McBee walked the tombs trying to do his job..
February 9th, 2005, 09:04 AM
Marshall was a long timer, he had been doing this job for longer than he could remember. On this ship more times than any other. Short hops of a couple of years,relatively speaking, long swings across the stars, done them both.
He rarely went ashore, just hopped from ship to ship, picking up his standard order of programs as he went through civilisation.Some of the crews he got to know, like the doctor he was talking too back there. The doctor was interested in Marshall, not in that way, though Marshall would not of objected, she was bright, funny if not that good looking. She would have been fun to spend a few hours with in that manner, as it was they talked about Marshall, where he had been and what he did in the time between.
Marshall read, he read a lot. Each day his personal unit would hammer out a pile of hard copy and the end of the day Marshall would recycle it. Marshall preferred hard copy to reading off a screen. He was old fashioned about that, old fashioned about a lot of things. So much so he had forgotten when the things he did were in fashion.
That was what the doctor found interesting. No one had ever done a study on long term checkers, no one had ever thought it was worth it. Checkers were checkers, clogs in the machine, but some of those clogs were nearly as old as the machine its self and that according to the Doctor's math was not possible.
Marshall, swung feet first down the narrow shaft towards the checkers living quarters. As he floated down, he became heavier, about 2 thirds gee. his feet landed with a soft plop in the centre of the large circle of the intersection. He sniffed and said "Curry... covers a lot of sins does that cook."
A small voice giggled on the edge of Marshall's hearing, he grinned and tapped his left shoulder. "You about, hop on then..." A small silver creature scuttled out of the shadows and hopped up onto Marshall's shoulder in one leap, its small wings flapping as it gained its balance.
Marshall and his companion then turned right and made in the direction of the curry smell....
February 15th, 2005, 08:54 AM
Golias McBee, checker, boasted other accomplishments. He'd taken his degree in Liberal Arts in a time where anything liberal was sneered at by the society around him. The fact that progress is difficult in a conservative society seemed to him more than enough reason to look to freer minds for inspration. Finding a school willing to teach these things had been another matter altogether but he had succeeded. Ironically, the insitution he selected had, in other times, been a bastion of conservative wisdom. Owing to its commitment to understanding the universe as it presents itself, Princeton had evolved over time into the last university standing interested in such things. All other universities devoted themselves to the proposition that all worthwhile questions had been answered and saw themselves as responsible for passing those answers on to the next generation.
His interest in anything and everything seemed mercurial to his parents, undisciplined to his teachers, and unfathomable by all the women he met. His history with the opposite sex could be summarized as second dates were rare enough but third dates unheard of.
Talking to Circe Widziewski, MD, was therefore more of a diversion for McBee than a serious campaign. With a year to pass, he needed someone to talk with about things other than tomb checking, the rules, the regulations. He quickly discovered Circe Widziewski had a similar need.
It started with crossword puzzles. She found him the lounge working one such on screen. She kibitzed over his shoulder for a few minutes before she asked where he'd found this one, she'd like to try it herself. McBee admitted that his addiction had driven him to the Princeton archives to recover several volumes of an old newspaper's Sunday editions.
"Ah," she said, "the New York Times." Astounded, McBee swung his chair around to truly consider this person who knew of the New York Times. She belonged in free fall. Her frame was big; her accoutrements were big; her smile was even bigger.
"Have you worked them?" he asked.
"One or two, perhaps. I could never find a decent source for the New York Times though I did find a source for the London Times. Have contented myself with that remembering it was good enough for Sir Winston."
"You enjoy puzzles, then?" McBee asked and their relationship blossomed.
Over the days and weeks that followed they explored the world of puzzles, losing hours to research and more hours to solutions. Their times together produced laughter in fits and spurts and gales. A chance encounter in the great ship's halls brought smiles and bows. McBee spent his tours in the tombs checking dials fighting off the current puzzle he and Circe had engaged though more often than not he came off shift with a new approach or even a working solution to the problem.
They became comfortable with one another, the kind of comfort where bits and pieces of personal history pop into and out of conversations like virtual particles in the vastness of space. Place of birth, first kiss, favorite song, least favorite course. Marshall and his pet.
But Marshall and his pet could not be acknowledged and dismissed. Marshall and his pet wormed their way into conversations more and more often because Marshall and his pet were a puzzle. Where were they from, how did they meet; how long had they been together? It did not take long for McBee to adopt the passionate curiosity already holding Circe Widziewski in thrall. With mutual consent and eagerness, they set themselves the task of solving the many enigmas whirling around Marshall and his pet.
February 23rd, 2005, 04:57 AM
Marshall and his small companion sat at one end of a long table. Rather Marshall sat at the table, his companion on it. The small creature was sitting on an upturned glass its legs dangling over. Least they looked like legs. Just like the wings that now and then fluttered in and out were in in fact wings. In fact it was hard to say what parts the creature had, because it was enveloped in its own mist, a luminous cloud of silver that rippled with strips of colours, ever changing.
The mist responded to something in the air around it. Marshall knew others debated whether it was, whether it was noise or light. He had even heard McBee state it was sensitive to the amount of various gases in the atmosphere. That it was a living barometer of biospheres Marshall had picked up on his travels.
Marshall found all the hypothesising amusing. No one had thought to do the obvious and ask the creature. But then people thought it was a pet. Marshall was not under that illusion; if anything he considered himself its pet.
He probed around the food on his plate, picking out a small lump of something meat looking out of the curry sauce. He then offered it to the edge of the mist. A small hand or something that could be taken for a hand came out and pulled the lump into the vapour.
“Chicken” The creature giggled and smacked something Marshall assumed were lips.
“Sure?” He replied and popped a lump in his mouth.
“Well that makes a change.” Marshall said as he chewed.
“Sure does…” The vapour creature replied and then coughed.
Marshall looked up. They had company. Circe Widziewski, MD; newly woken from a period of frozen sleep and looking just like a woman that had risen. Bleary eyed, her hands round a cup of coffee. Had slipped onto one of the seats opposite. With her was her constant companion this trip McBee. McBee the inquisitive. McBee, there is more to life than what is before you.
“Well.. how are you?”
“How indeed.” Marshall’s small companion repeated, with its giggle deepening to a rumble that was impossible for something so small.
“I, we… are well I think.” McBee answered,
“Yes… but.” Circe Widziewski, MD, ran a hand through her short cropped hair and said. “Settle an argument for us Marshall?
“And what sort of argument would that be?” Marshall said and poured some white wine into the bowl of a spoon and offered it to his companion.
A large slurping noise was followed by a louder belch, which echoed round the room. “Oh pardon me.” The creature in the vapour said giggling even more.
“Does your companion have a name and what is it?” McBee asked.
“Why don’t you ask it?” Marshall said.
February 25th, 2005, 03:42 PM
McBee settled into that frame quickly, blanking his face, gazing steadily at the kaleidoscope on the glass, making his voice as emotion neutral as he thought himself able.
"What is your name, please," he said and then waited, half expecting no answer so caught off guard when a tremndously sonorous voice surrounded him answering "who is it that want's to know?"
"Has a bit of a temper, I'm afraid," Marshall said.
"Do not! Names are mighty personal things to be throwing around willy on your nilly. Titles is one thing, but names is altogether different." McBee knew that discourse to be directed at Marshal for when the beastie wanted to talk to McBee he could feel it in every fiber of his being. It wanted to now.
"I am the Third Thriptle of the Erflatz and therefore worthy of some respect, even from non-believers such as yourself."
"How am I a non-believer?" McBee asked. "I don't know anything about..."
Marshall cut him off. "You don't want to go down that road just yet, yob. You want to be a bit more circumspect in your approach to his honor. Unless, that is, you feel up to four or five non-stop hours of homily."
Nodding his appreciation of the apparent good sense of Marshall's advice, McBee tried again with "should I call you Third Thriptle, then?"
"Are we in a church? Of course, you don't call me Third Thriptle. That's only for the truly faithful. You can call me Joe."
"Is that your name?"
"No, but I'll answer it to it for you."
Circe chose this moment to join the conversation, asking Joe the question but looking at Marshall as she spoke. "What does Marshall call you?"
"Anything he chooses."
"Well, then," McBee said, "we've confirmed that you are sentient."
"Really?" Joe asked. "How did you do that? What makes you think that Marshall here isn't the universe's finest ventriloquist and here you are bad-mouthing his work?"
"That's going to be another of those long ones if you let it," Marshall advised. "Unless you have time to kill, recommend you not pursue the topic. I've had the talk and I can summarize for you that you won't be any wiser when you finished than you are now."
Circe jumped back in: "Besides, Joe isn't really what we're interested in. You are what we are really interested me."
"Me?" Marshall asked. "Why me?"
"Because things about you don't add up to anything more than a puzzle and we can't let sleeping puzzles lie."
"You do mix your metaphors; don't you."
"And you, my friend, use language not heard in a century or two."
"Such as?" Marshall asked.
"You just used 'yob' and quite frequently we get an 'owt' and a 'nowt' from you as well."
"And you find that puzzling, do you? What if I were to say that I came across those in a story written by an English author, a women I believe, at the birth of the 21st centruy. Saw them; liked them, started using them."
"That might work," Circe said, "if it wasn't for your blood work."
"What about my blood work?"
"There's bits of it that say you're this healthy checker, maybe 45 years old."
"And there's bits of it that says your much older than that."
"How much older?"
"That's the argument we're having that we wanted you to help us with."
March 3rd, 2005, 07:01 AM
"The good doctor wants to see your bits Marshall?" Joe whooped so hard it set the mist surrounding the creature wobbling. This set up a resonance in the glass it was sitting on. “May I ask is this personal or professional, Doctor. Could be you will actually find out how to wear that costume you picked up at that space, once and only fair on that mining colony, Marshall. Might even figure out where your head goes.” The sound of two tiny hands slapping knees increased the “singing" of the glass, setting Marshall’s teeth on edge.
“That’s not what the doctor meant.” McBee said looking hard at the vibrating mist.
“Isn’t it?” Joe asked innocently.
“Sooooo there you have it Marshall, the lady does not want to look at your bits.” Joe remarked as the singing of the glass took on a deeper note then went supersonic with a series of high booms, before settling for being just on the high edge of Marshall’s hearing.
“I think we are at cross purposes here.” Circe said as a blush crept up her right cheek. Marshall smiled. It had been a long time since he had caused a woman to blush in such an attractive way. “What I meant was we would like to question you about what you are or rather how long… Ouch...” Circe said probing the side of her mouth.
“Yes stop it Joe, you are setting everyone’s fillings off.”
“You have fillings in your teeth?” McBee said sharply and clacked his own molars in an effort to stop them shaking in his head.
“I am 45 years of age.”
“Says you?” McBee.
“Says him," Joe commented and floated off the glass, which continued to vibrate, shifting across the table. “And it is not me. Think this lady we are riding in has burst a gasket.”
“Huh?” Marshall said as he noticed the glass was not the only thing moving on the table and worse; his feet were lifting from the floor and gently bouncing against the table.
“I thought we had gravity in this section.” Circe said as the upper parts of her anatomy rose and then tried to separate
Joe was now turning sumersualts round Marshall’s head. The mist had changed colour it was reflecting the soft red light in the centre of the ceiling.
“Told ya, blown a gasket.” Joe giggled and a small hand shot out and grabbed a lock of Marshall’s hair in an effort to stop its orbit.
“More than gasket…” Marshall said as he let go of the table and floated up. McBee and Circe joined him. McBee being at 90 degrees true. All three tried to read the flashing holo alert dribbling across the far wall.
“Yep…” Joe said as a series rumbling explosions could be heard.
“Oh glory...We get to play space invaders.” Marshall muttered.
“Pardon?” McBee asked.
March 4th, 2005, 09:40 AM
"What's the statistically most improbable thing that can happen to a ship zooming through space from one star to another?" Marshall asked.
"Being detected and intercepted by another ship," McBee answered.
"You weren't supposed to know that," Joe complained.
"But it could happen?" This from Circe.
"Invoking the kiss principle, no it couldn't," Marshall said.
"You want to start kissing her now?" Joe asked. "Why couldn't you do that at a more convenient, less stressful time than now?"
"I'm feeling no stress," Marshall said. "How about you folks?"
As the other humans signified agreement with Marshall shaking their heads affirmative, Joe began to complain. "You never cooperate, Marshall. You know that? I try to help you out and you just refuse to go along with program. As if you are in charge and I'm not. Why is that?"
"What's he mumbling about now?" McBee wanted to know.
"Well," Marshall said, extending one hand towards each of the two, grasped hands forming a stable star slowly tumbling about the cafeteria, "Joe likes to protect me. Don't know why he thinks I need protection but he does it anyway. You folks come in asking questions he thinks I don't want to answer, he dreams up a scheme to change the subject. You can turn the gravity back on now, Joe."
"Can't neither," Joe said.
"C'mon, Joe, the jig's up. We know you did this so let's get it set straight and back to a normal condition. Crew is going to come investigating soon as they realize what's happened and I really don't want to explain that."
"That's tough, oh brilliant human person! Can't fix it."
"You did it; you can fix it."
"Can't neither. I blew three circuits in particular succession to get the gravity in this tub gone. Don't have any spare parts in my bag."
"Does the ship have spare parts?"
"Don't think so. No one conceived such a thing as I just pulled off would ever happen. They didn't stock for this."
"So, what does that mean?" Circe asked.
"It means we're going to spend a lot of time tumbling is what that means," McBee answered.