Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Land Leave 2

I thought I would continue Land Leave a bit. The story continues:

Bill slept fitfully that night. He couldn't grasp the things that had happened. It was like being in a dream—almost. One minute in the most high tech structures in the world, the next dropped into the previous century, haggling in bazaars.

James barely slept for a different reason. He saw Bill off to his bed and continued with his night. He disappeared into a bar, got rowdy, and fought with a man twice his size. He had to be pulled off the man by four others. He stumbled back out onto the street at about midnight and wandered around. He fumbled for his phone. “Call Shtaashie, gottamit!” He yelled into the phone. Three mis-dials later the phone picked up.

“Hello,” a female voice, one not unaccustomed to waking from a dream, answered. “Hello?”

James dropped the phone, “The blood's lippry, fukkin' phone! Shtazie?! Shtaashie! S'me Zjaames!”

“James? Why are you calling? How can you call me? Aren't you away?” Stacy was caught off guard, James hadn't called in months, and then it hadn't been on good terms.

James thought he was about half as drunk and twice as suave as he really was. He slurred generously into the phone, “C'mon out wi' me. S'nice nite, I wanna sho you ma' boat.”

“You're drunk,” Stacy contemplated hanging up and sleeping. She didn't owe him anything. Actually he owed her a lot. It was ineffable though. She gave up the internal fight and conceded, “James come over, you can sleep on the couch,” and she hung up. Stacy knew that if she stayed on the line any longer, he would drag her out to someplace, be tender and vulnerable for a moment, and she would have no choice but to let him sleep in her bed. It was the upshot of being in the cycle, at least she knew how it would go.

James appeared at her door a half hour later with a handle of cheap vodka and a diet coke. “This here's for you. Such a lovely house guest.” He handed her the vodka and opened the diet coke, “This is for me, I quit drinking.”

“Host, I'm not the house guest, you are. And when did you quit drinking?” Stacy was cold. He had money but he always got her the cheap vodka.

“I know. You're a generous host and I'ma luvly howse guest,” James was tired and drunk, “I quit the sauce when I ran out of cash. I remembered you like t'drink though 'n I got you thiz bottle.” He chugged the diet coke.

Stacy closed the door behind him and put the vodka in the freezer. It may have been cheap but it would take the edge off after a hard day sometime. James had been in a fight, there were blood stains on his clothes and a nasty gash by his eye. She didn't think to mention it; James knew and Stacy wasn't surprised. She turned to see where James had gone, and he could hear snoring emanating from her room. She threw her hands up in disgust and opened the sleeping bag on the couch. Stacy crawled in and went to sleep.

Bill awoke in his quarters the next morning groggily. He looked at his watch. In 8 hours the Eve would cast off from its moorings to the mega-structure and leave for a 12 month (for the crew) tour of duty. He peeked at the bunk above him—empty. James hadn't come back last night. Bill thought little of it, knowing how James was, he probably was all right.

Bill went to the mess hall. They weren't really serving food, just some oatmeal that had turned to concrete and some fruit. He grabbed some coffee and poured copious amounts of milk on the oatmeal to try to loosen it up a bit. He didn't chew so much as mush the oatmeal with his tongue against the roof of his mouth.

Bill was still unsettled by the fitful dreams of the night before. A sexualized nightmare, flashing images and people, situations fused together. His neck was sore and he walked guiltily. He felt exposed by his dreams last night, his sub-conscious running wild. He toured the Eve. It was a mid-size warship. There were two landing strips that held a decent compliment of bombers and supporting fighters. The ship's defenses were arranged in six longitudinal bands and four lateral bands giving 360 degree coverage against smaller craft. There were two long range heavy lasers, 16 rocket silos, and 10 heavy gauss guns to fight larger craft.

But that wasn't the beauty of the ship to Bill. Bill's love of the ship derived from its heart, the engines. The three fusion rooms allowed the ship unparalleled mobility and speed. It could travel, without creating a wormhole, to within 4 hundredths the speed of light. If the ship needed to travel beyond the Kuiper belt quickly, it could make use of the charted wormhole networks. These were far more dangerous to travel by and still fairly unused, but the Eve's organic computer had found ways to stabilize the entries and exits; it made the Eve the foremost exploring vessel of all human spacecraft and the main connection to the Ares cluster of colonies.

And that's what Bill loved. He loved how he could go. The navy was truly a way to see the cosmos. He remembered camping in the mountains as a kid. It was just him and his dad. The two had set up camp on a lake. He fell asleep by the fire with his dad telling him stories. He woke up late at night after the fire had gone out. He looked out at the scene before him and had felt disoriented. The lake reflected the sky perfectly. He felt like he was falling. His hair had stood on end, and he couldn't find his bearings. It was just like the magna-rail shaft.

And he wanted to be part of that. He wanted to be nowhere, a cosmic speck; seeing the emptiness, staring it down. The Eve would take him there. On his orbital training cruise, he had started to feel it. Now they were going to the Oort cloud on a scientific mission; something about relic particles of the pre-solar nebula. It didn't matter much, going out to the edges. That was it.

Bill knew that James felt the same way. He wanted escape. He wanted to be somewhere else. That's why they got along even in spite of James' violent outbursts. Or maybe it was that Bill just wanted a friend. He had grown up largely a loner, much preferring his time away from the complexities of human interaction. But James seemed to be Bill's guard against the world; always taking the brunt of other people's attention. James demanded it from everyone. Everyone except Bill. It was how they got along.

Bill went to the bridge. As an officer in training he was expected to help with the docking and take-off protocols. He didn't have to report for duty for another 4 hours but the bridge had one of the best views. The many screens around the room offered full view of every angle on the ship, but the real draw was the three and a half story 140 degree window in the front. It wasn't just a window. It was a triple reinforced 5 foot thick liquid crystal. It could self-repair from a hole blasted in up to 35% of its area. It filtered out most cosmic radiation without losing visibility, and it was a computer to boot. The bridge window could operate in tandem with the rest of the ship's organic computer or it could operate independently of it and take over operations should the organic computer fail.

The bridge only had a few officers on deck; the captain, first mate, chief navigator, and weapons major were going over some last minute contingencies. They were talking about a failure of one of the solar arrays on Io. This was a bit disconcerting to Bill. The Jovian system had shifted radically in the last 10 years to a consolidated corporatist government. The lucrative rare-earth metals that they exported were being used to buy-up the moons of Jupiter. Lately there had been much talk of war against the American Union, which had neglected some of its treaty duties of late. One of those was maintaining the life sustaining solar arrays that kept the inhabited moons at earth temperature and gravity.

As a response to the AmU's neglect, the East Io Company had taken over many aid responsibilities, and as a consequence, gained military and political power rapidly. Bill could hear the war-drums beating in the distance. That didn't make him happy; war was for the politicians, and being in the middle of what was essentially someone else's misplaced anger issues didn't sit with him. That would keep him from being in the nothing. It would make him part of something—something he had no say in.

Bill called up a screen. It appeared before him, he logged in and asked for any preliminary checks he could do. It made sense to finish what he could early to pay attention to the captain. Bill wanted a ship. He wanted to captain the void. He finished up some systems checks; locked their settings and took a seat at his post. He leaned back, looked out at the view and drifted into a daydream.