This is the public log of DeeDee 'dzyjak' Jackson, a fictional character. DeeDee lives and works aboard a space station which orbits Saturn, and sometimes he writes about it.


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.

I think it's time to remind myself of the people I've introduced....
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.


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.


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."



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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."



"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.


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.


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.


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.


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."


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."


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.


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.

  • Later in the bar, I asked Tesla Cee about his fascination with a crazy pre-Luna human. He said, "Tesla was the first human scientist with an imagination."
  • Everyone has their own delusions I guess. I have concluded that like humans, some chimpanzees are best avoided.


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.


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.


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.

  • A mothership is a traveling city. Most of the city is enviro-services, and the rest is party. Population: A few hundred rich tourists and a staff of thousands. Did I say rich tourists? The tour takes 25 years, and it covers most of the solar system.


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.


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.


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.


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."

"I'm betting on you next time," 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."


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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."


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."


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.


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."