Up, Up, and Oh Boy...

(Written by Kokuten and Feinan; posted January 17, 18, and 27, 2007)

September 23rd, 2009

We're up. Thankfully, atmospheric containment is holding, at least underground. We rigged some of air compressors and pulled the dome empty, basically giving up on the plants.

Pulled the plastic back onto rolls and left the fiberweed frame up. No air, no friction, no drag.

I love it up here. The three of us loaded into one of the Boys this afternoon and just poodled around. Hermes says the orbit is stable right now, we've got a couple of days before we need to do anything to maintain it, and I've got her working a trajectory to the Belt. Nothing to it but to do it, and I want to get full holds before we start thinking of what next.

September 24th, 2009

More on the dome. On our way up, we took a burst from the gun on a USAF interceptor. I'm not sure why he fired, honestly, and I'm not honestly that worried about it.

Seriously. Noone was hurt, and the dome was a lot less reliable than we thought, so better to find out now.. I guess.

I still wonder why he fired, but I haven't heard anything on the radio, and, well, you can hear a lot up here.

So the dome was punctured, and one of the fiberweeds was snapped, by a bullet. It chain-reactioned out quite a few more, and the structural and atmospheric integrity were compromised. We managed to patch up the rip before we lost much air, but the environmental plants were working overtime, before we locked off the dome and pumped the air out of it.

Repair was going to happen - we would have a dome, come hell or high water, but it wasn't going to happen soon enough to make keeping the shreds of the existing one pressurized make any sense. The 'Carbon Fiberweed' we'd developed had failed utterly, succumbing to the cold of space, most likely. The dessicated carcasses were still fairly tough, but didn't have the tensile strength needed for this.

Hermes lit up the motor at 2am and pointed us at the Belt. I wasn't very amused, but she just looked at me and reminded me how much I'd fretted about liftoff.. Is it possible to lobotomize an AI?

(Edit: No. Not once she's had this long to backup components and put them where you don't know about them, boss! -Hermes)

So we're well on the way to the Belt, and Hermes says she's identified a couple of likely candidates. Today we fashioned airlocks out of 'waved plastic sheet, velcro, zippers, epoxy and 'Wavium. We then updated our design to include painted surfaces, since near-optical quality plastic sheeting ended up being more of a pigeon-into-glass situation than a man-through-the-lock one.

Hephaestus looked strange from the top now. The bright-orange airlocks were very visible, against the grey-green background of dead and dying plant life.

"Hermes, you found anything on the radio bands from 'folk yet?"

"Quite a bit, boss. Private conversations are happening all over the place, with different encryptions and codings, there's some sinusoidal carrier at 1.8ghz that seems organic, and a lot of public stuff in 400 and 900 meg UHF."

"Logical, that. Antennas for that can be very small and simple. Pick a public frequency you like and open me a channel, broadcast."

"You're on, boss."

I looked at the display, Hermes sitting in an old-school Trek workstation with an Uhura earbug sticking out the side of her head, and sighed.

I picked up the handmike and pressed the button.

"This is HSF-000 Hephaestus, KL1XD 'Wire Geek' commanding, and while I'm not, I repeat not, calling an emergency, I'm pretty bloody close. We lost dome containment on the way up, and we're not going to be able to restore it. If there's anyone in the sound of my voice or anyone you know who is a dab hand with domes, or a dab hand with plants.. "

I let up off the mic and considered a moment. Hermes glanced at me inquiringly from the monitor, and I winked at her. There were a couple of responses, and I smiled as I picked the mic back up again.

"Again, this is HSF triple zero Hephaestus, KL1XD 'Wire Geek' commanding. We just got off the dirt and into the Out Here, and we're headed for the Belt. We're a full-service refinery and asteroid mining operation, and dome or not, we will be open for business. Hit us up on this frequency, and we'll be happy to help you with pretty much anything that can be described as 'metal', aside from the music. We also have a few tons of raw organics, a few thousand gallons of basic 'wavium, and a couple of homebuilt strains that you might just be interested in. I'm turning the show over to Hermes, the nice young digital lady who actually runs the place, and lets me push the buttons and look important. She'll tell you where we are, where we're going, and answer any questions you might have."

I put the mic back in its holder, and the TX light clicked back on the radio console as she took over. I smiled at her on the screen as she busily pushed buttons and flipped switches on her console. She looked over at me, still busily working.

"Couple of live wires here, boss, the closest seems to be a gentleman who calls himself "The Jason". He's actually in the Belt now, so I've already altered course to meet him."

"You, my dear, rock. Is the prow pointed forward?"

"Does the Pope shit in the woods?"

I grinned, rising from my seat. "I'm going Outside, me and Raven are gonna go play fetch-golf with a couple of the Boys. Keep an ear on the radio, and if someone seems chatty, patch them through to my suit."

I grumbled as someone shook me and called my name, and I squirmed a little deeper into my blanket before sighing and giving in. "Yeah...?" I yawned, starting to sit up on the couch where I'd been taking a nap. "What's up?"

The small Robosapiens drone started on its way, even as Lachesis spoke up. "Fate's got something interesting on the radio, lad. Somebody lost containment on their way up, and they're asking for someone who's good with plants. Interested?"

I reached for my glasses and put them on, then got to my feet. "Tell her to respond 'yes' and get the details. I'll come up to the cabin in a second."

"Sure thing, lad."

I headed up to the semi cab that served as my cockpit, considering. Lost containment, and they wanted someone good with plants? Sounded interesting. As I clambered into the shotgun seat, I smiled. "OK, Fate. What's the news?"

"Seems a fighter plane was trigger happy when this new ship took to the air. Might've been a warning shot, but it did a fair amount of damage. I've been talking to Hermes, the AI for the Hephaestus. They were apparently using a modded plant as supports for a containment dome, but one got snapped, and that caused others to unravel. The rest are dying - it doesn't sound as though the mod was spaceworthy."

I nodded as I listened. "Ok. Get their coordinates and head to meet them. Let them know I'm on the way. Also...ask Hermes for more information. I can probably fix something up, but I'll need an idea of the specs they want - what kinds of plants do they want, and what do they need them to do?" I chewed my lip, even as I considered possible parameters that would need modded. "And find out what they were using before. I can try to troubleshoot what they had, if need be."

Fate's triple-toned voice answered quietly. "Already doing so. They're apparently set up for refining, and have metal and some other stuff for trade. Including several handwavium strains."

I arched an eyebrow; that could be useful. "Works. We can figure out the details of payment and all once we see what needs done. Let me know when we get a little closer, and I might want to talk to Hermes myself, or the person in charge over there."

She answered back, "All right, Kevin. I'll go ahead and send the various parameters to your lab. I assume you'll want to review them and get some ideas while we go?"

I chuckled. "You know me too well, lass. Tell Clotho I'm on my way."

She chuckled softly. "Already done."

I nodded, getting to my feet and heading for the corridor back to the main part of the ship. I figured I'd have at least a little time to look over what was needed, and what they'd been using before. Time to tinker a bit.

Hermes beeped me just as I let rip, and I stood bemusedly as a golf club left station and headed off towards.. wherever. Sneezy was on deck and snagged the club handily, puttering back to base in the strange 'romping' flight pattern the Boys used when they weren't in a hurry.

"Yes, oh digital dominatrix of my desmene?"

"Huh? Nevermind. Boss, I've got coordinates on the Fateful Lightning, we're fairly close to on the way to them, so I've just altered our heading to meet up with them."

"OK, Hermes, sounds good, but.. who's the Fateful Lightning?"

"Right.. didn't tell you, sorry. The gentleman I mentioned earlier, The Jason? He's the captain of the Fateful Lightning, the one with the promising sound I mentioned earlier?"

"Got ya. So what's his shtick?"

"Greek mythology, pseudo-organic AIs, drones, and plants."

"Interesting. Pseudo-organic?"

"They sound more human than AI. I'm not saying I'm unhappy with my core, but those gals sound like they were Born of Adam. It's a little weird, tossing high-speed data bursts at someone who breathes."

"Well, I'm sure they're nice people." I replied, grinning ear to ear.

"Oh, they are! They just feel more human, it's kinda weird, and that triple-voice thing, woah.." Uncharacteristically, Hermes trailed off, and I wished I had a CPU meter handy. "Anyway, Fate, the AI for the Fateful Lightning, yes, stop giggling, Fate would like to know what our preferences and requirements for plantlife is."

I setup the tee and pointed forwards, and Sneezy backed off, spinning his tires in short bursts as he waited for the ball. "Well, if you have comm with his AI, I'll let you do the talking. I've no problem being friendly and all, since we're not time crunched, but I do want to get a dome back under us sooner or later. Hmm, preferences.. "

I swung, connected, and with the strange 'ck!' of a golf-ball hit in vaccum, the ball streaked into the far foreground, Sneezy in hot pursuit. "By preference, I'd like something 'viny'. I'm a piss-poor horticulturalist, Raven's more of a 'recreational' one, and I don't know the exact terms. Anyway, something without much leaves on the stalk, and very low maintenance. The whole topknot idea was awesome, I really liked it and I think it's workable."

I pondered a second as Sneezy snagged the ball in his hood and bounded back to me. Retrieving it and setting up, I fired off another shot before continuing. "I'm gonna have to leave it in fate's hands, so to speak. Make sure to bundle our procedures and results with the fiberweeds, it may be of some use to him, and I don't value the idea enough to try and profit from it."

"Burst and... recieved, boss. Fate will notify her captain, and I'll call you when we get close enough for easy voice comm."

"Thank you, Hermes."

"My pleasure."

I smiled again as I retrieved the ball from Sneezy. Looking closer at him, he appeared to be.. panting. I went to scratch my head and clonked my glove on my helm. Laughing at myself, I affectionaly smacked the big Suburban on his nose and headed for the airlock. Given the speeds and distances, I had a fair bit of time before we got in low-delay voice range, and I wanted to 'freshen up'.

"Boss, there's a semi truck hailing us, it's the Jason."

"Extend all courtesies and tell him to suit up, I'll meet him at the prow beacon."

The semi conglomeration that was the Fateful Lightning stayed off from Hephaestus - the mass of trailers behind the cab was too large to fit easily. Instead, a small Toyota emerged from the rear of the trailer, and started towards the prow. A radio call goes out, "Coming in, and suited up. I'll meet you there."

The red-and-white strobe at the apex of the upthrust prow of Hephaestus started blinking as the Tercel approached it, and slid neatly in overtop of it to land in the cleared area behind it. The driver's side door opened - apparently, the car was already airless inside - and a suited figure stepped out. He appeared to be dressed in some sort of dark blue spandex suit, but what was most unusual was his helmet. There was a faint shimmering bubble around his head, but other than that, he didn't appear to be wearing one.

WG blinked repeatedly as he strode to the side of the Toyota, disbelief clear on his face through the clear glassy bubble of his helmet. "Is that?" He extended a finger gingerly at the faint shape.

The man grinned back. "Force field, yes. And you wouldn't believe how long it took me to get it right...." He was a large man, definitely someone who shouldn't normally be wearing spandex, with dark brown hair and a reddish-brown beard. He smiled, and offered a hand. "Kevin Eaches. But I go by the Jason. Good to meet you."

The similarly wide, but far shorter WG shook the proferred hand firmly and briskly "Nick Casler, I go by WG up here, pleasure's mine." Gesturing behind him at the dying, frayed vines arching overhead, cold, black, and dead against the starfield, "I assume you can see the problem?"

Kevin looked up, peering at the dying vines, and nodded. "Definitely. You need something spaceworthy and strong, at the very least. Did you want to stick with what you had, only a spaceworthy version? Or do you want something new? I can try either, though I'll need a sample of the original plant you used in yours if you want that."

The mismatched pair walked over to the verge of the land, dead grass and ground cover crunching under their boots. "I would like as close to what I've got now, aside from that dying thing, as I can get. The Fireweed is a pretty Alaskan thing, and I gotta remember my roots." WG stated, bending to grasp one of the woody stems in both hands. With no apparent effort, he broke the vine into sections, handing one to the Jason and considering the other. "We've still got quite a few pieces of live stock inside, you're welcome to them."

Kevin took the section, and nodded. "I can do that. I'll need at least a few live plants, and I'll see what I can come up with for you. I've modded plants for spaceworthiness before, so I have at least some ideas on what to do for that. And I have to say, the carbon fiber idea is a good one. Though I think I'll incorporate spider silk as well - that should help. Work for you?"

"Spidersilk, pasta noodles, whatever gets the job done. We're gonna need ground cover too, I'm afraid - but that can wait until we have pressure back."

"So what can we do in return?" WG checked his wristwatch, and looked out into the starfield.

The larger man nodded. "Yeah. And groundcover in pressure is easy - it's not as though you need anything modded special for that." He hmmmed...and reached through the forcefield to scratch the back of his head. "We could work up a deal for credit? I can always use new drone frames worked up or the like, special fittings..."

WG checked his watch again, glanced out in the starfield, and smiled. "I'm sure we can work something out, I can slap together nice sturdy drone frames in short order. Now, let's head back to the Point, Sparky's bringing in an asteroid, this ought to be something to see."

As the two returned to the apex of the prow of Hephaestus, with the Fateful Lightning looming overhead, giant doors opened in the rock below them, opening the front of the platform. Kevin grinned, watching with interest. "Nice setup...."

"First run. We've ran all the processes before, but never Upstairs. Looks like Sparky brought Doc out with him, that's the Suburban harnessed to the asteroid. Doc's the smartest of our 'worker bees'. This is the first all-up test, but the crew has requested me to stay hands-off for this one, so you wanna join us for dinner? Tonight's a good moose goulash and baked potatoes."

Kevin hmmmed, nodding. "Individual AIs for the various vehicles, then?" Then he grinned at WG. "Can't say that I've ever had moose. If I wouldn't be imposing, then sure."

"Well, not quite AI. Internally, we call it 'big doofy dog' level intelligence, but the Boys seem to be happy, and they work well, so..." WG trailed off as the Suburban pulling away from Hephaestus cut loose from his harness and slid away from the rock, which coasted inside the massive doorway.

"Huh. Anyway, dinner's pretty much a community affair, so one more would be a pleasure. "

Kevin nodded. "...so why fix it if it ain't broke." He chuckled softly. "Most of the work that I don't do, my girls handle through remote drones. No need for extra AIs, but then, most of it is close-in work that remotes are just fine for. And that sounds wonderful. It's always good to meet new folk up here."

A faint thump rolled through the platform, the doors closing, as WG led the two of them to the nearest airlock.