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.


Curtain Call

It has been increasingly difficult to maintain the habit of posting to this log, but I still find comfort and release in the process of writing. I can't for sure how long I will continue, but in a couple of years, the fleet of fire and ice we sent out this morning will engage Mars. I guess that leaves some time before it gets really crazy.

"It looks like a huge curtain against the night," Paula said, watching the fleet from the rail observation deck.

"Yeah," I said. "And it's going to smother Mars."

"That's not... what I was thinking," Paula said. "At all. It just looks pretty; glowing and sparkling."

"Rick was bragging about there being over a thousand slush bombs in the mix. And, it'll be over a year before the fighter platforms need to leave," I said. "The thing is, Mars already knows we're coming. They have all of that time to try stopping our invasion, but I don't see how they can."

"Yeah?" Paula asked, studying me.

"Submind's invasion," I said. "It's Submind. We couldn't do it without an alien virus and pod people. Submind couldn't do it without us. Submind is invading Mars, and I'm actively helping. Shouldn't I feel bad about that?"

"I guess," Paula said. "But we can't do nothing."

"I... Yeah. I said something like to Simon not long ago."

"Then what's the problem?" Paula asked.

"The initial battle will cause minimal casualties," I said. "But once we start the siege, people will die. And changing the magnetic field of Mars is going to be violent. Anyone who is not willing to accept a Submind host environment is not going to survive. Reggie estimates it will be about 70 or 80 million dead."

"Yes," Paula said. "Or we could let those 80 million people oppress the other 800 million who just want to be happy."

"Sorry. Glowing and sparkling," I said. "Like a big curtain."


Imposed Celebration

"Those things look kind of dangerous. They're big enough to smash right through a metro-dome," I said. "Even with Martian gravity."

"The seeds need to bury deep, and the heat will serve as a catalyst. The navigation lobes will seek unpopulated areas," Buddy said.

"Martian metro-domes tend to sink under the sand at sunset," I said. "To conserve energy."

"Yes, yes," Buddy said impatiently. "The module is sentient enough to compensate for such things."

I turned to look at Rudy and asked, "Isn't this one of those offense to God actions you like to go on about?"

Rudy stiffened and glared. "The offense is in their corruption of Faith. They seek to deny the belief of others. As if God cares which path we follow to His house."

"Yeah," I said, straining not to take a step backwards. "But giant and sentient Temple Trees? That's just... weird. And why unpopulated areas? That doesn't make sense if you intend to spread the gospel of Submind."

"There will be no preaching," Buddy said. "Can't abide preaching."

"The Submind Temples will be places of peace and rest. Aggression will not be tolerated within, and Submind technology is sufficiently advanced to deal with anything the Martian military can send against a well established Tree. They need a few months to grow, but we will be bombarding Mars with slush bombs and Submind pods for weeks, and the confusion will last long enough."

"And that's when Mars will grow a magnetic field?" I asked.

"It's far more complicated then that, young man," Fife said.

"No kidding?" I said with as much sarcasm as I could inject. "Have you tried explaining it to someone who might be interested? Simon, maybe?"

"It was his idea," Rudy said. "Once a critical mass has been achieved, the Trees will serve as power generators for Submind to start the process of subatomic modifications to the Martian core. A strong magnetic field, combined with the deluge of water from Saturn's rings, will establish a survivable planetary atmosphere within three human generations."

"I... Oh. Then why are you trying to explain it to me? Why should I care?"

"You know," Fife said, hesitating. "You're an atheist, like Buddy. We wanted your opinion--about changing Mars."

"I am not an atheist," I said. "I'm not even agnostic. I just don't need an interpreter."

All three of them studied me like I'd suddenly grown six more heads.

"What?" I asked sharply.

"What do you think?" Rudy asked. "Of the Temples?"

"Trees," Buddy muttered.

I shrugged. "Sounds nice. Peace and rest."

"Whether you want it or not," Buddy said.

I laughed and slapped his shoulder. "Happy Holidays."


String Theory

"Hey, Dee. You got a minute?" Simon asked.

"This is a social gathering place, Simon," I said, sipping my gin. "I only come here when I have minutes to spare. Have a seat so I don't have to look up."

"It's all about strings. That's what Joe says anyway," Simon said, sitting down.

"I don't really care about Joe's problem, but what have strings got to do with it?" I asked Simon.

"Cosmologists have been mucking about with it for centuries, but Joe tends to scoff. He's all about data nodes and quantum fractals," Simon said.

I gave him my best stupefied glare.

"Connections," Simon said. "But hard to define connections, like relationships--family ties, and friends, but for everything. Joe is ignoring the larger picture because he's focused on quanta."

I was more interested in drinking than discussing Joe's quantum drive and whatever fractal data-universe he's looking for today. "Who have you been talking to about this? And why am I on the list?"

"Well, there's Joe and Kim, of course; and Kelly; and Doc before she..." Simon swallowed and went on. "But that doesn't matter. I only mentioned Joe because his ranting on about it started me thinking, and you seemed like the most neutral person to consult."

"Simon," I said carefully. "This is only my second drink, so I know it's not me."


"Exactly," I said.

"I'm going out with Wendy's niece... She's 16 next month... Her dad says we can go on a real date then, but I think her mom did some arm twisting. Her dad seems to think my intelligence makes up for something, at least." Simon talked so fast he didn't notice me watching Paula's approach.

Paula paused to stand behind Simon, and gave me that dangerously curious look which is only good if it's not about me.

"So you don't care about Joe's quantum drive either?" I asked. Paula rolled her eyes at me.

"I.... No. Yes. But not now. I didn't have a lot of time to date when I was 16, Mr. Jackson, and I see the way you and Paula get along, despite your obvious differences." Paula rolled her eyes at Simon too.

"You're asking me for dating advice?" I asked.

Paula giggled and moved around Simon to sit down.

Simon turned red. "My father is locked up on Mars at the moment, and it's not like I can ask the father of my date."

"I suppose not," I said, glancing at Paula. "Ask her short questions, and encourage her to talk about herself."

"But please," Paula said, smiling dangerously. "Don't try to fake it. That's so boring."

"Fake it?" Simon squeaked.

"If you aren't interested, ask about something else," I said.

"Oh," Simon said, looking from Paula to me, and then back. We were looking at each other, but I could see Simon from the corner of my eye.

"Is that what you did, Mr. Jackson?" Simon said.

"No," Paula said. "I did. He was playing hard to get."

"That's not true," I said. "I was playing 'be polite to the attractive hydro-tech who's looking for an excuse to feed you to her plants.'"

"One threat," Paula said, smiling. "And it wasn't even my best."

"So," Simon cut in. "I just ask her questions. Do you have a list somewhere?"

"A list?" Paula and I asked together, turning to look at Simon.

"Simon," I said. "You see this girl every day. Why are you so freaked?"

"I... I was on the run for three years. I don't know if I can... if I can be normal for an entire evening."

"Normal?" Paula and I asked together. Then she punched me hard in the arm, and said, "You owe me two."

"Be Simon," I said, rubbing my arm. "Normal is for Earthlings."

"But," Simon said. "You two are..."

"Two people who happen to get along well with each other," Paula said, standing up. "For whatever reason. Come on, DeeDee. We have a room to redecorate."

"You think too much, Simon," I said, standing up. When Paula tells me we need to redecorate a room, it means she intends something physical, possibly with torn clothing. "Save it for the quantum data."


Sticky Note

"Sticky bomb?" I asked, bouncing the gelatinous mass in my palm. "What am I suppose to do with this?"

"It's for space combat," Buddy said with excitement.

"Space combat?" I asked, carefully holding still while the blob jiggled to a stop.

"Oh," Rudy said. "Don't worry. It won't explode or anything. It's a reactive Submind compound, capable of adapting to it's environment much like standard host material. We are using the term 'bomb' in the same way as Rick..."

"Got it," I said. "So what am I suppose to do with it?"

"You can throw it at an opponent's face-plate to obscure his or her view," Fife said. "It will serve to entangle limbs, or trap an opponent against a bulkhead. In an emergency, it will seal old style vac-suits and life-pods, or serve as a preliminary medical bandage..."

"And that makes it a bomb?" I asked, jiggling the blob of pineapple gelatin thoughtfully.

"Well," Buddy said. "No. My original idea was to engulf ships, like Rick..."

"Yeah," I said, interrupting before they started gushing about Counter-Spin Rick again. The Three Brains really like people who test fly their new designs for them. "I'm guessing you figured out we could already do that with Submind infested slush bombs.

All three of them nodded. "But we liked the name," Fife said. "And close combat seemed an ideal use. We have a prototype design for a hand held launcher..."

"A gun?" I asked.

"But it tends to blow up and get sticky bomb all over the user," Rudy said. "I had to soak in the med-vat for six hours to get it all off."

"So," I said. "If I throw it hard enough to break open, it becomes a sticky mass which will expand to three or four times it's current size, and be almost impossible to get off without a Submind med-vat around?"

"It will also attempt to conform to the shape of any object to which it's fashioned," Buddy said.

"And it's non-toxic," Rudy said. "With basic medical functions."

"And you want me to test it?" I asked.

All three of them nodded.

"On what?" I asked suspiciously.

"Well," Buddy said. "You're always chasing after cats for some reason. Why not try it on one of those?"

I looked at Buddy for a few seconds, and then busted the green blob in his face. It splatted with a satisfying squelch, and wrapped goo all the way back to his ears.

Buddy promptly grabbed the sticky mess with both hands, and then flailed around with his elbows until the sticky bomb let him breath. I'm pretty sure he called me a brat.

"You don't know much about cats." I said. As I left, I noticed Fife and Rudy couldn't quite keep the smiles off their faces.


Doc Meme

I will never explain, to anyone, what I saw in Doc's lab. Doc is dead, and anything more would be gratuitous. Her replacement is a giggling old man and doctor from Jupiter system, with freaky Submind eyes and a large jumble of Doc's memories and speech patterns. Apparently he is the avatar--he and his symbiont. Doc passed on her memories like a box of old data nodes.

We pulled him out of the vat yesterday. This morning, Paula asked me to check on him.

"Doctor Reginald Querista," he said, holding out his hand. "I encourage people to call me Que."

I shook it and nodded. "Minister DeeDee Jackson. I'm stuck with Dizzy."

"I expect you have questions," he said, smiling. His eyes were full of gears, and they smiled too. "Two parts of me believe so, anyway."

"Yeah," I said, studying him suspiciously. He and Doc had spent three days locked in adjoining med-vats. Reggie was getting a new symbiont, and Doc was becoming a Submind meme--or what Doc called a 'radical personality set'--to inject into Reggie's symbiont. It disturbed me a lot like it did when I found out my grandparents, who were old enough to forget about locks, still enjoyed sex.

Reggie raised his eyebrows in question. His eyes clicked and whirred and drilled into mine.

I said, "Why don't you just tell me everything those other two parts of you think I should know, and we'll go from there?"

He blinked, and started to giggle. While he giggled, he talked to himself. I could tell. I don't know if it's Doc or Submind or both, or if he's just crazy, but he talks to himself. It's like he is two or three parts of every conversation, and the rest of us can only hear Reginald.

"Yes, yes. Direct. Direct is good. Need to focus." He was still giggling softly. "I'm sorry. Sorry. Doc thought you were very funny. It caught me off guard."

"Is that good or bad?" I asked suspiciously.

He burst into full-out laughter, choked it back into giggles a couple of times, and then waved me away between the words, "Send... later... details... can't wait... ask... Kelly...."

"Great," I muttered, and left for my office. He obviously didn't need any more cheering up.


Jumping Surf

Paula came home and greeted me with a hug so hard I couldn't breath. Then she held me while I carefully considered asking what was wrong. Paula doesn't like to be rushed, which is a trait I share, so I kept mum.

"Doc is dying," she said softly. "She has it scheduled for next week. Scheduled."

"Oh," I said. "But I thought Submind..." Obviously not, if Doc has it scheduled.

"Her nervous system is collapsing. Rapidly. She's going to memory dump into an avatar before her mind goes, and the process will be fatal."

"It won't be Doc," I said.

"She's banned me from the lab for a week. She didn't come right out and say it, but she suggested I would only be in the way until she's ready to say goodbye."

"I'm sorry, Paula. I don't know what to say. I love you. I want to help."

Paula looked at me for a moment and said, "That's a start. I need something to do. Think we can borrow a couple of those grav-sleds?"

I looked back. "Yeah. Or we could take out a couple of boards and surf the edge."

"Boards? Like 'grav-board' boards?" Paula asked with growing animation. "Like from Galactic Academy boards? I loved Galactic Academy when I was a girl."

"Well," I said. "Yes. Except for they don't surf gravity waves, there's no faster than light travel, and there's no sign of those horrible costumes--or the hair."

Paula was actually smiling. "Surfing tidal forces in the rings of Saturn is a good start, DeeDee. Let's do it tomorrow."

"Do you want to invite anyone else?"

"No," Paula said. "We need to catch up with each other."


System Maintenance

Somewhere in the back of my mind, a thought evolves. Probably more than one. They sneak up on me when I'm trying to sleep, or have a serious conversation, and all the sudden I'm off the track and falling into the nearest gravity well.

I used to be able to save them up, and have them when I was flushing cores, or cycling airlocks, or any one of a hundred other tasks which leave the mind free to have actual thoughts. Now I'm making decisions, and giving orders, and the thoughts like to catch me off guard, so I'll pay attention.

You're listening to one of those thoughts right now.

We don't need to flush the air-cores any more. Our environmental systems are now entirely Submind built and operated. It's amazing what a sentient virus can do with a genetically mutable host and symbiont, a double handful of chimpanzees, and a few hundred stubborn humans.

Same with the airlocks. No need for maintenance. Submind grows the seals, operates the air pumps, and generally claims all airlocks as Submind. We can override them, but I suspect only when Submind lets us. I'm still trying to decide if that bothers me.

There isn't even any maintenance to do on Ion Jack, my ship. Submind automated everything. All I have to do these days is avoid stepping on one of Pipster's kittens. Pip doesn't like that, with claws. I'm sure her Submind symbiont is regulating Pip's litters, so even the danger of kittens is likely to be minimal.

So, really, I'm bored of pushing data, there's nothing else to do, and this isn't helping. Maybe Eddie will play spinball.


Blind Side

"It's like a blind side," Kevin said.

"Blind side?" I asked.

Kevin gestured at his face. It looks normal, but half was a bit off-color. Most of the time the artificial and yet living replacement half of his face matched the half he was born with, but when he was drinking heavily, he turned a little red, and the Submind half turned a little yellow.

"I thought you could see fine with that eye," I said, thinking he could see a lot more than I could with either one of mine.

Kevin sloshed his drink, something orange with ice, and said, "Now I do, yeah. Watched you do that time thing the other day--playing spinball with Eddie. You color shift you know; when you're dilating time."

"I didn't," I said faintly, wondering if I should order another Lemon-Banana Fallout.

"Joe has two good eyes," Kevin said. "Obviously I'm being metaphorical."

"Best way to be," I said. "Metaphysical."

"Like your space sickness thing then, Momentum Boy," Kevin said, splashing orange in my direction. "And don't play the dumb rock hopper act for me either. No one believes that for long."

"How did this become about me?" I asked.

Kevin blinked at me for a minute, and then said, "You asked why Joe was so annoying. And muttered something about fractal data."

I blinked back. "Right. So he's got a blind spot, or something. And that, plus a Submind symbiont, makes Joe annoying? He was annoying a long time before he got a symbiont."

"No," Kevin said slowly. "Joe hasn't completely worked out his relationship with Submind yet. He's missing something about that stupid quantum drive... Acting a lot like you were with the time obsession."

"Hum?" I asked. "It'll work itself out then."

Kevin squinted at me in frustration. His face might be half Submind, but his expression was pure human.

"Sorry," I said. "But he seems like the same Joe as always."

"If you want to help Joe become less annoying, buy him a mirror."

"Another metaphor. Thank you so much, Kev, but it was a rhetorical question. Besides, I've got tons of old AV files dripping with platitudes and morals if I need advice."

"I don't know why I help you," Kevin said.

"Gov Kelly says I'm a master of manipulation, and don't even know it."

"She would know," Kevin said, narrowing his eyes at me briefly before draining his drink.

"And I bought you a drink."

"You owe me another one," Kevin said.

"The last time I offered old Brain Eater some advice about that quantum drive, he kissed me. On the mouth. It was worse then his stupid 'twist-your-words' game. He doesn't want any more advice from me."

"I guess not," Kevin said. "It doesn't sound like he'll be getting any from me, either."

I nodded and got up to buy another round.

"I'm serious about the mirror, though," Kevin said. "It was metaphorical, but not the way you think."

"Yeah?" I said, considering for a moment before I decided I didn't care what he was talking about. "Tell Simon. Joe can adopt him or something."

Kevin grinned and nodded.


A Conversation with Kelly Grace Smith

I stopped by Kelly's office to drop off a high priority package. While I was there I reminded One Track the governor's office needs extra environmental protections. It's a chimpanzee joke--I'm not sure Kelly understood.

"There is something a bit frightening about your ability to manipulate people," Kelly said as she watched One Track prod humorously at the organic venting.

"What?" I asked, startled. "Who's talking? You threaten to put lip stain on foreheads. If that's not manipulation, I don't know what is."

Kelly has a warm laugh. "Needs must, dear boy. This doesn't change my admiration for your unconscious skill."

"Yeah? When did you first notice I was a master manipulator? Maybe I'll figure out how to do it on purpose."

"When Paula started asking questions about you," Kelly said.

"What?" I asked, feeling like I had just missed part of the conversation. "Paula?"

"She often came to me for advice," Kelly said. "Still does on occasion."

"Right," I said. "So I asked her out, and you told her what? That she should stay away, but somehow I tricked her into moving in with me instead?"

"She asked me, and I quote, 'Does the snarky little guy really like animals that much, or is he still trying to get between my legs?'"

"Both," I said.

Kelly smiled. "Exactly right, young man. Exactly right. And I barely knew you at the time."

"With no Paula in hydro--I would have done everything the same," I said, shrugging. "Up until the point Paula turned my private ship into a hydro-lab anyway. It would have been a lot harder to round up all the cats, and of course, without Submind and the chimps..."

"Of course," Kelly said. "There were also the vines. I must admit, I exaggerated my initial reaction to the Submind vines to observe how you would react. Your disgusted cursing and irreverent comments about chimpanzee games was the perfect reaction. If it had been your intention to calm an hysterical elder, you could not have planned it any better.

"Maybe I did."

"You are incapable of telling an emotional lie, Dizzy. Paula couldn't stand against that kind of power."

"Seriously, I didn't know she was moving in until my ship was under siege."

"Love and war," Kelly said. "Love and war. You got what you wanted, didn't you?"

"Well, yeah. But it's not like I... Is there something you want, Governor? Because I'm starting to feel a bit manipulated."

Kelly laughed and gestured at a pile of urban lash-up sketches on her desk. It's a very friendly laugh. "Project Pumpkin Patch. I need 24 urban hubs up and ready for habitation within a year. I need you to oversee the project."

"Project Pumpkin Patch?" I asked, holding back a giggle. "That's a chimp name. I bet they look like pumpkins, except for the spokes."

Kelly nodded, eyes bright with laughter.

I thought about it for a minute, then I said, "My dad doesn't want to leave his political career on Ceres Station, but my mom wants to retire and move here... not that there'll be much retiring. Help my mom. Talk my dad into moving here."

"I'll do my best," Kelly said, cocking her head slightly.

"Me too," I said, turning to leave. "Paula's singing tonight. Stop by if you have time. Bring One Track. Looks like he needs to get away from the enviro-systems for awhile."


Matters of Trust

Recent events in my life have become temporarily classified. Sorry about that. It shouldn't be too much longer before I can release details. For now, I believe I will provide some background details.

My dad is a politician. That's one of the reasons I left Ceres Station. He started as tug-suit pilot; worked the collar as a grip operator. That got him nominated for neighborhood rep. He enjoyed weeks-long scouting flights for high nickel rocks; where the gravity streams through the asteroids. Those flights got him elected to station senate, but I hated them--the grip of the suit and being surrounded by movement.

My mom is a teacher. I didn't leave because of that, but I have no interest in being a teacher either. She started as a zee dancer; a fact which still embarrasses my father every chance I get. She also taught me how to play spinball, or, to not give up, at least. I'm pretty sure, with my feel for momentum and my uncertain temper, that I take after my mom.

I'm glad they are here. I haven't said much about them because, if you haven't figured it out, this is where I talk about stuff I need to get out of my system. Even if I don't get to show it to anyone right away, there's relief to be found in the spewing of data.

My sister Jen died when I was six. I remember she was fun, and liked cats. It's possible the feline residents of this space station owe their lives to her. I think Nana blamed herself for some reason--maybe for not doing enough. Why else would Nana became a station tech after Jen's accident, and teach me to always be nice to cats?


Frost River Harvest

I sat down and watched the vast expanse of ring-scape move past the station, and I wondered if I should try to locate Paula. It had taken me over an hour to locate Frost River's observation deck. Not that it's hard to find, but the Frost River Festival tends to choke the corridors with revelry and noise. It makes it hard to get around, especially if you are trying to go by the navigation markers painted on the walls and floors.

"Hey," little Kammie said cheerfully, bouncing into view from nowhere. "It's Minister Jackson. Are you allowed to be in danger of fun, Minister Jackson?"

"Kammie," I said. "How's it going? Your father around somewhere?"

"Why? Are you afraid of me?"

"Yeah," I said. "That's it. I'm sure it has nothing to do with your lack of puberty, and I certainly wouldn't worry about your safety in a wreck of a space station full of questionably sane geniuses. A station managed by a group of corporate sponsored puppets, no less. Oh, yeah, let's not forget the current state of Festival rebounding down every corridor. Have you heard of Darwin?"

"Ouch," Kammie said. "If my mom heard you call her that, she'd fill forms out at you."

"That's hours of data pushing, KamKam. I think I'll let it slide this time," A woman said--Kammie's mom, and probably the corporate puppet.

"Thank goodness," I said, more or less at a loss for words.

"Rachel," she said, holding out her hand.

"DeeDee," I said, shaking it. "Or Dizzy."

"Cordie mentioned you," she said. "You are mated to Paula? Yes?"

"Um. Yes. Paula told me about it just the other night."

Rachel giggled. "How do you...." Rachel paused, turned to her daughter, and said, "Why don't you go check on your suit, Kammie?"

Kammie disappeared in a tiny shriek of joy.

"You need something?" I asked.

"I met Paula when she came over to explain how the big sign works," Rachel said. "Paula is so smart. I didn't understand everything Paula said, but I'm sure Kammie got all of it. She was so excited about it, and Paula said it was open spec... Well, Cordie and I had to let Kam get one of those sym creatures so she could design her first vac-suit, and now she's even smarter than she was before."

"Can't use the good equipment without one," I said, not sure where, if anywhere, this was going.

"How do you... how do you get on so well with Paula?" Rachel asked. "She's so much smarter than you and me, and... I mean... I'm sorry."

I laughed. "Paula will have to explain for herself, but for my part, she's hot."

"Hot? That's it? You're just going to be a man and say, 'she's hot'? What's that got to do with... with talking to each other?"

"She agreed to go out with me." I said. "She doesn't talk down to me. She's fun to sleep with, and she's still sleeping with me. She grows the best beer trees I've ever tasted. She likes me because I stayed to save the cats. She likes that I ask silly questions. She likes that one of my best friends is a chimpanzee--mostly chimpanzee, anyway. And... she asked me to marry her."

"I want to understand my daughter, DeeDee," Rachel said. "I want to talk to Kammie, but it's not as easy as it was a year ago. She's changing so fast. What do you and Paula talk about?"

"Every day stuff," I said. "Listen, Rachel, you can't let Kammie's intelligence influence how you treat her. Especially if she has a symbiont and knows how smart she is."

Rachel nodded.

"Paula told you to ask me about this," I guessed.

She hesitated, but nodded.

"I still don't understand why Paula moved in with me," I said. "But I know she won't leave without a damn good reason. She explained it once, but I don't really understand. I keep expecting to wake up."

"Yeah," Rachel said. "Me too. My daughter is nine years old, DeeDee, and I only understand half of what she says."

"That's pretty good," I said. "When Paula is in demo mode, I can only pretend to understand that much."

"But Kammie's only nine years old."

"Yeah. You said that. So she's smarter than you are, and soon to be a lot smarter. So what? There are chimps on this station who are smarter than both of us. Why do you care? Really?"

"I want to make the right choices for her. Maybe something like medicine would be a better career path."

"Or maybe," I said. "If she is doing something she likes, like building ships maybe, she'll be the one to crack the speed of light thing."

"I... Yeah. But I don't know how to talk about any of that stuff."

I shrugged. "Ships need interior design work, and I'm sure Kammie will be talking about boys any day now. That's what Paula seems to think, anyway."

"I didn't..." Rachel stopped and gave me a horrified look. "Oh. Oh no. Paula is right. And it's Festival. I will need to warn Cordie about the boys. Soon. Maybe after I tie him up. Now, I should go rescue the suit technicians from my offspring. Thanks, DeeDee. See ya."

"Yeah," I said. "See you later."

Then I sat there and watched the orbiting parade of prototype ships the Three Brains had hatched for the Festival. They might be crazy, but they grow beautiful ships. Paula and two Flaming Slush Bombs found me a few minutes later.


War Dogs

"Rick," I said. "They were bred for war. I read up on it. I don't want them on my ship."

"They're only dogs, Dizzy. Two dogs."

"I have two ship's cats. And you know Pipster is prone to kittens." I said.

"These dogs love cats."

"That's what I'm afraid of," I said. "What's wrong with your ship that you want me to give them a ride?"

"Misty threatened to set them on fire."

"Misty?" I asked. "Why?"

"Bosco ate three of her thruster plants, and Tieshe chewed her favorite loop swing."

"But fire?" I asked, and then added. "What's a thruster plant, and what's a loop swing?"

"Misty's a chimp, Vac-head. She sits in the loop and swings from a rope--when there's weight enough."

"Oh. Right." I said, pausing for a few seconds. "Explain the stupid thruster plant, or I'm calling security."

"That's where the fire comes in. Misty is developing a Submind pod which grows solid fuel thrusters," Rick said. "For Submind slush bombs. Only she's working on a small scale, and she says Bosco ingested enough fuel to burn for several hours."

"Not a chance," I said. "Spend some money and hire care facilities. They can stay on the station."

"I can't," Rick said. "The Brianiacs need to fit them for a pilot harness."

"What language are you speaking?" I asked.

"You know. The three brains."


"We're growing powered flight suits for the dogs," Rick said. "So they can ride herd on the slush bombs."

"Oh," I said, considering. "Like I said, those dogs were bred for war. There must be fifty ships with flight plans to the Frost River Festival--find another ride."


Martian Ice

"They're going to bomb mars," Simon said, busting into my office.

"What?" I asked, "With those slush bombs? I thought you knew that."

"No! With Submind bombs. Submind!"

"So what? The place could use a bit of life," I said. "Even if it grows up to be sentient cactus."


"Desert plant," I explained.

"Oh," Simon said, pausing to collect to himself. "No. It's... it's going to rain Submind pods... with the water I mean."

"That sounds dangerous--more like hail."

"That's what I said," Simon said. "Rick just laughed at me. Told me I didn't have to come with them... when..."

"Yeah," I said. "I get it. That's Rick. He thinks everyone is crazy for a fight. What Simon has to do is forget about Rick and find out if Submind and Doc approve of this plan. If not, figure out the real story. Knowing Rick, it's little parachutes or something."

"Para..." Simon said, stopping to clench his fists and, from what I could see, count to ten. "Yes."

"That's why we call him Counter-Spin," I said. "That, and things like slush bombs make him happy. Just think of all the ice Mars will be getting."

"Whether they want it or not," Simon said.


Signal Lights

I was hanging out in the station's main receiving area, trying to look official and in charge without getting in the way, but mostly waiting for Paula. It's a nice place to catch your breath.

The station's main port of entry has a Submind conceived reception area. It's a garden of wonders, full of sights and smells no spacer has encountered outside of a class A hydro-park. Every spacer stepping onto this station instantly understands the benefits of letting a sentient virus into his or her life.

That day there were a series of short range shuttles making runs to a recently arrived family transport ship. Those things usually carry two to three thousand people, and spend weeks, or months, between ports. I believe upwards of 500 people from that ship went through our immigration office. I probably saw a hundred of them while I watched and waited happily for Paula.

A little girl and her father, who had been walking past and gawking in all directions, spotted me and my official looking name badge. They stopped, and the little girl asked, "How do you keep the sign on the outside from spinning with the station?"

"Um," I said stupidly. "I don't know. I never thought about it."

"Why not?"

I shrugged. "Paula's a genius. I've found it's best if I let her do the heavy thinking."

The little girl held out her hand and said, "I'm KamKam Levaron. Most call me Kammie."

She couldn't have been more then nine or ten years old. I glanced at the father, who shrugged and nodded, and then I shook her hand. "DeeDee Jackson. Some call me Dee. Some call me Dizzy."

She let a brief giggle escape, and said, "This is my dad, Cordie Levaron."

"Hello," I said, shaking his hand.

"She intends to be a pilot, and build her own ships," Cordie said. "No matter what."

I nodded. Some kids are made like that.

"Do you know who designed it?" Kammie asked. "Is there any information in your system about it?

"Paula came up with the basic design, and I suppose Submind took it from there," I said. "But it grew, like moss or something, so I doubt if you will find the information you want anywhere in the system."

Cordie was frowning at me. He obviously thought I was making it up.

"You mean heavy thinking Paula?" Kammie asked. "Where can I find her?"

"Right behind you," Paula said.

Kammie spun around in surprise.

I waited for a moment, but it seemed like Kammie was tongue tied.

"Seriously," I said. "How do you keep that giant Fort Falling sign from spinning with the station?"

There was a round of chuckles, and Paula promised to meet Kammie later to answer some questions. I gave Cordie advice on where to seek employment and who to speak with for the best living assignment. Then Paula and I went to lunch, where we spoke idly of children's names, and other domestic matters.


Singularity Shift

"Let's get married," Paula said.

"What?" I asked, in shock. That was not one of Paula's favorite words.

"We could work out a standard life contract," Paula said. "Two kids with options for more."

"The last time we talked about this," I said carefully. "You told me never to bring it up again--something about this being no place for children."

"And you told me to let you know if I changed my mind," Paula said.

"Yes," I said. "Yes, I did. I'm just surprised."

"You always are," Paula said.


"I'd like to have our first child in about two years."

"Yes," I said, feeling around in the dark. "Where do I sign?"

Paula giggled and grabbed my hands. "In the morning."


Relativity Factors

Doc asked me to stop by her office to answer some questions. I always ask questions in return, just to even things up.

"Do you always know your temporal inertia? Can you feel the difference in your relativity from normal time flow?" Doc asked.

"I can feel 1.618, and the inverse like you said. It's a natural cruising speed. The Golden Highway."

"You can't tell when you're 'cruising' at relativity one?"

"More or less," I said. "But I'm a lot more certain about 1.618."

Doc nodded. "Time is such a fluid aspect of reality that holding it tight allows it to slip away."

"Yeah," I said. "There's something calming about having a break from time, then coming back after someone else has cleaned up the mess."

Doc just looked at me.

"What does that look mean, Doc? If you're going to keep using it, I'd like to know what it means."

"You are a clown savant, DeeDee, and I am amazed at your antics."

"Thanks," I muttered. "Is there a reason we're discussing my use of time?"

"An old friend of mine is coming for a visit, and he has expressed in interest in your obsession with time dilatation."

"In me?" I asked suspiciously. "Or time dilatation in general?"


"Great," I said. "I'd rather not put on some kind of theatrical display, if that's where you're going. I get enough of those requests from Kelly."

"No. Paula demanded that I get your permission before sending him the sensor data she collected," Doc said, sounding a bit frustrated.

"Really?" I asked. "Sure. Why not?"

"Indeed. Reggie will have questions when he gets here."

"That's really serious," I said. "Paula doing that, I mean."

"Yes," Doc said. "I was also hoping you would make some notations about what you remember during certain time ranges..."

"Sure," I said, turning towards the door. "No problem. Later though, Doc. I promise."


Cluster Bombs

I like to explore the meaning of things. I poke and pry and beam lights, and I either get bored and find something else to explore, or I figure it out and find something else.

"How many grapes are in a bunch?" Eddie asked.

"All of them," I said.

"I knew you'd say that."

"Then why'd you ask?"

"How many grapes are in a cluster?"

I shrugged.

"What if you pick the grapes? Is it still a cluster? Or a bunch?"

"It's a bunch of grapes, Eddie. A lot of them. Many grapes all in one place. Do you have a point, or are you practicing some arcane language theory to discuss with Governor Kelly?"

"So you wouldn't distinguish between a cluster and a bunch?" Eddie asked.

"I don't why I would," I said. "It's a random number of grapes, maybe ten, maybe a hundred. If you think it's important, give me a reason to make the distinction."

"I think a cluster is still part of a whole--all the grapes connected," Eddie said.

"Why do I care about this, Eddie?"

"It's not a bunch if they aren't connected."

"Why not, Eddie? If I say a bunch of psychos, or a cluster of people, you wouldn't expect them to be tied together with a vine. They are connected because of what they are--psychos and people. Why's it got to be different for grapes?"

"Rick has three of these--ice things--made up of eight slush bombs each. They're huge, and not really slush any more, and... he wants to call them 'cluster bombs,' only, they're going to break apart and...."

"And you got into an argument about the name," I said, guessing.

"It's a stupid name," Eddie said. "It'll scare people. They'll think the things are going to explode."

"I doubt it, but let's hope the Martian Republic believes that when the time comes," I said. "What was your idea, that it's so much better?"

"Submind Life Pods."

"Yeah," I said. "Sorry. I'm going to have to go with Rick on this one."


Refraction Index

Riding the rings is a wild flight from one snowball to another, sometimes scraping frost from the surface of a significant mass as you sling-shot past to gain momentum. There's light in the sky, and gravity to ride, with Saturn tugging at your back to keep you close. It's easy to see what's ahead, if you don't mind getting close to the ice.

It's like some mad refraction index, where the events from the ride are happening a bit behind everything else that happened that day. Add the Three Brains and their Submind designs, and it feels like one of those haunted planetoid stories Grampa J. used to tell me.

Before Submind came along with grav-touch, I hated riding the rings. A trip to Frost River Station would have been the most tedious and frightening vac-suit flight I'd taken in years, even though it's only six hours from Fort Falling's current orbital position.

It wasn't long ago that I preferred thrusters over Submind gravity tricks, but those ion wings give an entire third dimension to vac-suit flight. The wings made me forget about grav-touch until we stopped half way there. Using grav-touch makes it a bit harder to navigate, but it's worth it.

Then when I got there, the Three Brains gave me their gravity sled to try. When I locked into the nav-system, I could feel the ice spinning all around me. The tidal variations showed up as an overlay on the main flight screen--like small hills and wide trails. Everything disappeared but those trails and the downhill slop, and I didn't even know I had been riding Relativity until I got to Fort Falling.

Now Buddy says they are working on a lightning diver for Tesla Cee. I didn't ask what it was, but knowing Tesla, it probably has something to do with those storms on Saturn. I won't be testing that one.


Tidal Movement

"Pilot," the ship said. "Please identify."

"Whoa," I said.

"Surname or primary handle?" The ship asked.

"Um, I'm DeeDee Jackson, but call me Dee."

"Pilot Dee, what is our destination?"

"I'm," I stopped and looked at Rudy. "Stand down for now, please."

I sent the disconnect command to my suit, and exited the cockpit.

"That thing is sentient," I said, not sure if it was an accusation or an observation.

"Yes," Rudy said.

"Isn't that what you would call an 'offense to God'?"

"The Clee were God's work. So is Submind. I am privileged to be involved."

"I don't know what the Clee looked like, Rudy, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't anything like that."

"Clee biology included some interesting uses of silicon," Rudy said. "The neural pathways for all of our ship designs are based on something called a 'morphological meme.' Buddy learned how to trig..."

"Thanks, Rudy. I'm familiar with Submind memes."

"Really? Buddy isn't very good at sharing. How did you acquire this information?"

"I'm suspicious and I ask a lot of questions," I said. "For example: What do the Clee have to do with a scout ship thinking for itself? Are those gravity skis? And, why are the ion thrusters so small?"

Rudy blinked at me, looked at the ship like he'd never noticed it before, and then said, "It's a tidal sled--for 'riding the rings' as they say."

"Yeah?" I asked.

"The neural grid is... It's something we can do--with Submind. What's the point of growing ships without it?"

I had to give him that one, so I nodded.

"The skis are for riding tidal variations," Rudy said. "But they double as a gravity lens to provide thrust. We built it for rapid transit within Saturn System. The more traditional scouts will be ready in about a week."

"More traditional, but sentient?" I asked.

"Exactly," Rudy said, grinning.

"And you want me to test drive this one back to Fort Falling?" I asked. "Riding the rings?"

"I would consider it a personal favor," Rudy said.

"What's the bet on my return time?" I asked.

Rudy turned red. "I have two hours and 47 minutes."

I turned and looked at the tiny ship. "Less than three hours?"

Rudy nodded.

It took me two hours and 52 minutes. Four Thumbs won the pool.


Data Emissions

I stopped to wait about half way there, next to a shuttle sized snowball. It took Paula three minutes to catch up. Eddie and Wendy were still two minutes away. Considering it had taken three hours to get here, that wasn't too bad.

"So what do you think?" I asked over the short range channel. "Can you beat me to Frost River?"

"You cheated," Paula said, but she didn't sound very convinced.

"Did not," I said. "And I didn't do any tricks with gravity either. Just the wings and my own feel for movement."

"I meant gravity... Haven't you figured out what to call it other than 'riding gravity'?"

"Gravity projection."

"Well," Paula said. "If you had used projection, you would have cheated."

"Your suit is covered with sensors," I said. "Weren't you watching?"

"That would be cheating," Paula said.

I laughed. She had probably nuked me with everything her suit had. "You have my permission to check. In fact, I insist."

"Good," Paula said. "I want readings while you are projecting. You tend to show up as some kind of gravitonic anomaly."


"Two dimensional blackholes; tiny torus wormholes; fragmented gravity waves; a lot of quantum noise that doesn't make sense," Paula said.

"Oh. You never mentioned it."

"Most people don't like it when I aim sensors at them," Paula said.

"You do tend to 'study' people," I said.

"Well, Love, I've got six different quantum sensors built into this suit, and I want to try them--on you--while you are actively using gravity projection. I know you're dying to try it with those wings."

"You'll never keep up."

"My sensors are more than adequate to get a clear picture of you disrupting three-space all the way to Frost River. I don't have to keep up."

"Disrupting..." I paused.

"According to my sensors," Paula said.

"Are you're sensors ready?"


"Don't blink," I said, spinning away.

It was an awesome ride. I dropped into Relativity 0.595, and I was shaking hands with Buddy less than two and half hours later; The Three Brains were impressed. Paula, Wendy and Eddie were still 40 minutes away.


Testing the Edge

"Wings," I muttered, banging on my side. "If this wasn't a Submind suit, I wouldn't be anywhere near it."

"Let's ride," Paula said with excitement. I could see the wing cases on her bug suit straining not to open inside the airlock.

"How did that crazy professor talk us into this?" I asked. "I've told the Three Brains--four times that I can think of--that I didn't want to test drive any of their da... designs until someone trained for it...."

"None of that over the comm," Paula said, sealing her helmet. She looked like a giant red beetle. The armored body of her suit was covered with a pattern of large spots, any one of which seemed capable of extruding a sensor of some kind. Paula likes to know things about her environment.

The airlock hissed open just as I sealed up. "Yes, My Queen."

"None of that either," Paula said, leaping into space with a giggle. "We have serious riding to do. We have been challenged, and you know how much I hate to lose."

"Oh, come on," I said, close behind. "It won't be much of a challenge. Wendy hasn't had a suit for two weeks yet, and you know Eddie is better at mind games then..."

"You haven't even bothered to test it. Ions or not, DeeDee, wings don't work like thrusters. I'm not sure riding the edge of an orbital ice plane is the best place to learn."

"How about I don't bother with the wings? Rick says I need 'to practice my center.' Whatever that means, part of it is riding gravity..."

"Don't you dare," Paula said.


"That would be cheating."

"Using thrusters would be cheating," I said. "I just don't want to use the wings."

"Whatever," Paula said. Her carapace folded apart, and wings stretched outwards for at least five meters in six directions.

"Whoa. Are those alien-bug wings?"

"You like them?"

"Sexy. If we weren't in naked space, I would be in fear for your virtue."

Paula giggled. "Come on, Diz. Let's see what you got."

I sent the command to open my wings.

"This was your request?" Paula asked.

"Yeah," I said. "You don't like dragon flies?"

"They aren't beetles," Paula said.

"Neither are you, Love" I said. "I did research before I told the Brains what I wanted. You can tell me how great they are after I leave you sucking my ion trail."

"Not a chance," Paula said, and flew. "But I like them anyway."

She was right. They aren't thrusters. With suit thrusters, I can't change direction more than a few degrees without rotating the entire suit--and me with it. The twenty minute ride to where Eddie and Wendy waited was enough to get a feel for just how much more control ion wings could give me. It was perfect for riding the edge.


Data Singularity

"Taste this," Paula said, handing me a drink.

I took a sip, smacked my lips a couple of times, and nodded. "Beer. Perfect day for it."

"It's made by Submind beer trees," Paula said, watching me.

I wasn't surprised. "Of course it is. Plant one in my ship please. It tastes wonderfully intoxicating."

Simon came into the Dizzy Pig Bar and Grill, looked around until he saw me, and started through the crowd towards us.

"Uh oh," I said.

"What?" Paula asked.

"Simon seems intent on interrupting our dinner," I said.

Paula looked around. "He's a good kid."

"Yeah," I said darkly. "Just don't say anything he might take seriously."

"Like what?"

"I don't know. Piloting a combat ship maybe."

"Oh, that," Paula said mildly. She stood up and kissed my forehead. "I'm going to go freshen up."

"Great," I muttered.

"Hey, Mr. Jackson. Where's Miss Mattson off to?"

"Closet," I said.

"Ah," Simon said. "I came by to say you should stop by the office tomorrow and authorize your super-node. Joe said you can have two if you want, but I think he was joking. He was really happy when he sent me to find you."

"Two?" I asked. "I'm surprised he's giving me one."

"Joe found and repaired that broken q-link," Simon said. "Like we talked about the other night."

I nodded.

"The data paths went up by a factor of ten. The drive generators are beyond hyper and we are reinforcing the system with Submind organics. We've got some long days ahead, but this is beyond bonus oxygen, Mr. Jackson."

"Submind is definitely taking over," I muttered.

"What?" Simon asked.

"My understanding of quanta technology is limited to calling someone else," I said. "All I know is my sys-op instructor was fond of saying 'data singularity' whenever I asked why we went to all the trouble for a quanta drive we didn't really need. They all connect to the same quanta, so ten of them doesn't make any more sense to me than one."

"It's a matter of access," Simon said. "About how many pathways you got. More paths, more super-nodes, and more chance of connecting to an existing network."

"That explains everything," I said in sarcastic joy.

"Quanta is like this not-a-place made completely of data potential, and it can only be accessed through a data core."

I nodded.

"The data core is created by the drive generators," Simon said. "And the strength of the data core determines how many paths the core can process at any one time. Pathways usually process much faster after the first time, and there are a number of established pathways which are instantly accessible from almost every drive."

"Just like my sys-op instructor," I said, grinning at him.

Simon shrugged, but he didn't give up. "It's like an endless forest of data, and paths are how many trees we can touch on the way through. The more data you plant in the core, the more quanta paths you can access, and the easier it is to find the data you want. I've never been clear on whether we add the data or the pathways, but the end result is the same; an endless dark forest with places where light occasionally comes in."

"Ah," I said, taking another sip of beer. "An endless dark forest. That's a bit easier to imagine."

"Tomorrow, then?" Simon asked.

I nodded. "I'll bring Paula. You can authorize that second super-node for her."


"Joe said two. There's no reason to confirm that," I said. "Is there?"

"No reason at all, Mr. Jackson. I'll see you tomorrow."


Water Rights

"The Martian Republic has turned Mars Metro into a prison station," Simon said.

"Yeah," I said, looking over the top of my data terminal. "I heard."

"Why would they do that?" Simon asked, sitting down.

"I guess a space station is the best place to put people you want to control," I said. "But you could ask Counter-Spin Rick."

"He's got a plan to take the station, but I don't think Miss Paine would approve."

"Miss Paine?" I asked.

"Laura... Oh. Right. She's not here."

"Laura Kimberly Paine? The dangerous Martian exile."

Simon nodded hesitantly. "I thought you knew."

"And she's living with Joe?"

Simon nodded again. "But she's not that dangerous."

"Eddie knows," I muttered darkly, tapping my fingers on the desk. "Even if no one told him. She's been here for months."

"They moved my Dad to the station," Simon said, worried. "He's in the heavy side detention block--1.2 gees. He's not used to it."

"I didn't even think to ask her last name," I said.

"I don't know what to do."

"No one does," I said. "We make it up as we go along, or we accept there's nothing we can do."

Simon looked miserable.

"Listen, Kid." I said. "You'll be legal age in a couple of years, right?"

"Fourteen months."

"Good. Rick doesn't usually mess around when it comes to battle plans. His plans take weeks, if not months, to execute, and include three or four chances to get it right," I explained.

Simon nodded. "He's been talking about humanitarian aide. Belt stations will start running out of water in a couple of years--three if they start rationing air to keep the hydro decks alive. And Mars will need water in five or six years."

"Yeah," I said.

"He's got at least a dozen of those slush bombs built, and six of them are already growing Submind vines--and other things--inside. He wants to leave a trail of Submind bombs all the way to Mars, and the Three Brains are designing several types of light combat ships based on that scout ship they grew."

"There you are," I said. "Light combat ships. I bet they'll need pilots. You'll be old enough by the time it happens, and safe enough in one of those ships, I think."

"But," Simon said, objecting. "He plans to attack Mars. He's planning to take Mars Metro and quarantine the planet."

I thought about my reply for a moment. "If Rick has already started, the governor and Doc both know about it and approve. Trust me. Probably Kim as well. A lot of people we care about are locked in that prison along with your dad, Simon, and all you can do is help or stay out of the way. You won't stop it."

"It seems so... Sneaky. Not right," Simon said. "To hide an attack inside a gesture of generosity."

I shrugged. "Beware of Greeks."

"I guess."

"No one here can accept and do nothing. That's why we still have this station," I said. "Besides, a lot of people will get bonus oxygen--literally."

Simon still looked miserable.

"Don't worry about it, Kid. Rick stopped six troopships with no casualties. One lousy space station isn't even a challenge."

"But my dad will be stuck there--on heavy side--for over a year. Who knows what they'll do to him?"

"If they think there's a chance you'll turn yourself in, they won't touch him," I said. "Heck--offer to be part of the bait. They certainly won't expect you to have someone like Rick right behind you."

Simon stared at me for a moment. "Yeah. I need one of those ships. I could lead the distraction."

"That isn't exactly..."

Simon stood up and held out his hand. "Thanks, Mr. Jackson. I appreciate your time."

"Don't mention it," I muttered, shaking his hand.


Fractal Relations

"Why are you darkening my entry port at this hour?" Joe asked, glaring at me.

Kim was behind him, wearing a mildly curious face.

"If I remember correctly," I said. "Paula told me to explain it as soon as possible. To you. Explain it to you."

"You've been drinking," Joe and Kim said at the same time.

"That didn't just happen," I said.

"What?" They both asked.

"I... Yes, I've been drinking. I've seen you do it too. Both... both of you."

"It's late, Jackson," Joe said. "Focus, explain, and then relocate."

"Right," I said. "I'm not sure Paula meant right now..."

"You're already here," Joe snapped.

"But I thought I might forget," I finished. "We were talking about weird images, and Simon went on about fractals, and how the third dimension is all a matter of perspective, and how if you do only a fraction of the third dimension..."

"I know about fractals, Dizzy."

"Good. The conversation got boring," I said. "I mean, who cares about math and messed up perspectives?"


"The math doesn't work right. You know? So, I got to thinking about that old data q-link you've been trying to find in null land or somewhere, and the way you talk about the math. If there's two ends like a string, and one end is dangling around out there, maybe all you have to do is solve for the fractal equation and fix the perspective. If that makes any sense?"

Joe stood and stared at me.

"I mean," I said nervously. "It's the same quanta. Right? So you just have to find the end of the string and reattach it to the old drive. It would be like having two drives in one, with the second drive existing in some fractal space right next to quanta. If you can pull that off with your little Submind math tricks... Well, you'll have done it, I guess."

Joe grabbed my head with both hands and kissed me on the mouth. Then he shoved me backwards and slammed the door.

"Don't mention it," I said to the door.

It opened and Kim peered out. "Thank you, DeeDee. That was sweet."

"Sure thing," I said to the closing door. "I'll go home now."


Scouting Party

Buddy Jenkins is the least connected person I've ever met. He only recognizes the real world when he's tripping over it, and even then, it's an annoyance he will avoid in the future. This isn't all bad; it makes it hard for him to understand impossible.

"I'm not getting in one of those things," I told him. It was a tiny Submind scout ship--nice looking ride--probably good for impressing girls.

"It's really fast," Buddy said. "It'd make the Jupiter run in five weeks; maybe less if you push it. You're a sturdy young man..."

"Thanks, Buddy. Really. But I'm not riding that thing anywhere. Suit jets are fine with me, and if I ever go to Jupiter, I'm taking Paula in Ion Jack."

"We need to do more testing first," Rudy said. "The Jupiter run test is at least an Earth's year away. We are growing the prototype neural set. It's much like growing... um... teaching a small child."

"And you think I'm going to ride it based on it thinking like a small child?" I asked. Buddy and Rudy looked slightly embarrassed, but Fife nodded with excitement.

"I'm not getting near that thing," I said. "Why are you asking me, anyway? Test pilot is not one of my skills."

"You're good with chimps," Fife said. "For co-pilots."

"Doc said you could help," Rudy said.

"You won't need to do much piloting," Buddy said. "This whole thing; and all of these tubes; and the silicon net here; all of that is a like a Submind nervous system. Wonderful stuff. The ship will avoid danger and seek coordinates. It's quite intelligent."

"It's Submind," I said. "Of course it's intelligent. Despite what you seem to think, the only connection I have to Submind is a solid suspicion of everything surrounding it."

"Yes," Fife said with excitement. "Yes. A trainer who will pay attention."

I shook my head, and looked at the little scout ship. I was interested, but the one I wanted wasn't ready yet.

"Call Tera," I said. "Ask her if she wants to invest. Tell her you want Rick to test pilot for you."

"The... the Minister of Finance?" Fife asked with a squeak.

"Yeah," I said. "But she's got money of her own. Ask her as a private citizen. You'll be swimming in luxury before you know it."

"I'm not sure that would be...."

"None of your pious crap about wealth, Rudy," Buddy said. "If God doesn't want me to have money, he'll continue to keep it away from me."


Imaginary Impact

Paula finished her set and came over to poke me in the ribs. I was sitting with the usual mix of apes and looking for the bottom of my third Hot Slush Bomb.

"Hey," I said. "Careful with that thing. I've been drinking explosive beverages."

Paula grinned and used both hands to attack both sides of my ribcage. Singing makes her very happy; like a narcotic. She was glowing like a pheromone vine, and she wanted to play.

"Hey," I said, fighting the giggles. "Not fair. I've been drinking."

She stepped forward and kissed me briefly. "So you said. I'm going to get some water."

"It's good. I'll be right here. Unless I'm not. Like maybe I got to see..."

Paula kissed me again and turned away.

After a few moments, a friendly, if irritated voice asked, "How's a freak like you keep a woman like that?"

I turned to look. "Kenny!" I said with drunken enthusiasm.

"Don't call me that," he said.

"Why not?" I asked. "You just called me a freak."

"She's too good for you."

"Ah," I said, as the sun rose over my slush bombs. "You dated her."

"More than that. We shook the station together..."

"And for some reason, she moved in with me instead of you," I said. "Poor Kennith. Poor poor Kennith."

"That isn't what I meant," Kenny said. "I mean... I'm sorry. You're a good guy for a mutant thug. I just thought... When I came back to the station, I was thinking about Paula."

"You should have thought before you left," I said.

"I did," he said mournfully. "She refused to come with me."

I couldn't help laughing. "She stopped dating months before you left. 'Cause of the whole orbital decay thing--you know? She claims it took five weeks to get over the cravings."

"What are you saying?"

"Three years ago she told me to stay the hell away from her unless it was business," I said. "Didn't even bother to find out if I was serious. What made you think she would leave with you? Over Doc?"

"You had absolutely zero chance, Kennith." Paula said from behind me. "Sorry. And it was three weeks, not five."

I smiled and reached around to hug her. "I had an imaginary girlfriend when I was young. Do you suppose she grew up to be you?"

"I don't think so," Paula said. "I had six imaginary boyfriends, and none of them were like you."

"Ricky had imaginary enemies," Tera said.

We turned to look at her.

"When he was a boy," Tera said. "He told me all about it. Didn't you, Ricky?"

"Armies," Rick said. "Planets. Solar systems. My only friend was Captain Killemall."

"What about you, Kenny?" Rhonda asked sweetly. "I bet you had an imaginary friend."

Kennith blinked at her uncertainly. I don't think he realized until that moment that everyone at the table had been listening.

"I... a spaceship," Ken said. "Her name was Photon Shift, and she was the smartest ship in the galaxy."

"Smartest," Rhonda said in apparent amazement. "That must have been exciting. I had an imaginary puppy. I genetically modified him to turn into a flying pony whenever I wanted."

"I told you that would never work," Rita said. "I had a perfectly normal imaginary biology teacher. She taught me all about unicorns and dragons, among other things."

"Giant space turtles?" I asked.

"So Kenny?" Rhonda asked. "What's say we go for a little walk while Paula is on break, and then come back for a bit of dancing?"

Kennith blinked at her again. Have I mentioned the Selmon sisters are supernaturally beautiful?

"I would be most pleased," Kennith said softly, like he was trying not to scare her away. The Selmon sisters don't scare easy, so maybe he was trying not to frighten himself.

"Yeah," I said. "Go away so I can be alone with my imaginary goddess."

Paula laughed with delight and proceeded to reward me thoroughly.


Family Outing

"I can't believe you put those things in my parents' ship--in the sleep chamber no less," I said. "It's embarrassing."

Paula looked around the room in puzzlement.

I pointed at the glow vine in the closest corner.

Paula giggled. "My perfumed glow vines are only installed by special order. Would you like to know..."

"Forget I mentioned it," I said, glaring at it suspiciously. If I let Paula get started, she wouldn't let up for hours.

"What are we waiting for?" My dad said from the corridor.

"I don't know. Are you done messing around with the old gear?"

"A true technician knows..."

"That unstowed gear is death waiting to happen," I finished. "Thanks, Dad. It's usually policy to wait until new gear checks out first, but now that you've cheated death, we are done waiting. Let's go."

"Where's Vicky?"

"Mom is suiting up with governor Smith," I said. "She said goodbye, which you acknowledged, and she left. That was almost half an hour ago."

"Oh. I guess we better go."

"You seem nervous or something," I said. "You already have a symbiont. Is there something you don't like about the vac-suit, Dad?"


"You know Mom isn't going to wait. She's been calling Paula five or six times a day to find out when her suit would be ready. It's first flight. It'll be fun."

"I haven't... I never liked first flight," my dad said. "The way new suits smell inside. The way you have to relearn the touch; learn to fly right. I takes me weeks to get the hang of these new heads-up displays..."

I started laughing.


"Dad. It's your suit. Submind designed it for you. They took your measure in the med vat, and I don't just mean size, Dad. It's the suit Trenton Jackson always wanted. Trust me. That's why Mom is so excited."

"What do you mean?"

"You'll get it. Just put on the vac-suit, and you'll get it."


Divine Math

Professor McClain entered the station at 15:17 hours. I was almost caught up with the data. I had maybe one and a half reports to check over and authorize, and maybe a few meetings to schedule, and then I could take a day off. Professor McClain met Fife Tiberman in customs at 15:23 hours, about 50 meters from my office door. As soon as I heard the argument, I knew my free day was a shrinking hope.

"You must stop this madness," Professor McClain said. "We need to leave. Now."

"What are you talking about, Rudy? I like working here. I have my own place--with three whole rooms, including a hygiene closet."

"You need to get away from these people before it's too late. They'll take away your robots and stick an alien in your head. We have to go now--before they find me."

"You're in customs," I said, walking up behind him. "Not a very good hiding place."

Rudy spun around and looked at me in terror. I don't usually inspire that look, so I pulled back my shirt collar to show him my symbiont. Some people think my sense of humor is broken.

Rudy started jumping around and shouting nonsense.

I looked at Fife. He gave me a small smile and shrugged.

I raised my voice above Rudy's sing-song and asked, "Pointing, rude gestures, and stomping dances are a common event around here, but what's with the gibberish?"

"It's latin," Fife said. "Something about Legion, or the Belly of the Beast. I think old Rudy is trying to preform an exorcism."

I started laughing. I had to lean on the wall. When I saw Rudy's face, I laughed even harder. Just as I was catching my breath, Fife tapped Rudy on the shoulder.

"It's fine Rudy. I got one too," he said. "See? It's harmless."

Rudy took one look, screamed, and tried to run for it. I say 'tried' because he ran into the wall at full speed and knocked himself senseless. It was too much. I collapsed prone on the ground and didn't stop laughing until my vision went dark from improper breathing.

Fife was wringing his hands when I came up for air. "He gets these ideas... let's just say his obsessions can be useful, but I don't think this is one of those times. I need his help on a new project."

I stood up, watching four of Fife's spider bots attend to Rudy. "What are you doing with the bots?"

"They did a basic medical scan and adjusted his position for easier care and comfort."

"You don't have a control unit... that wand you had..."

"The medical scan was automatic. Wouldn't be much use otherwise. I need Rudy here to help with the lower level decision functions. He did his Master's thesis on the mathematics of the Divine. Other than that, he's brilliant."

"You know I hate that joke, Tee Man," Rudy said. "Is that really you, or did the alien eat your memories?"

"Yes, Rudy. This is me, and the alien DID eat my memories."

"Why did I come here?" Rudy moaned, pressing his hand to a rapidly growing lump on his forehead. "Why didn't I listen to mom? No one bothers monks. Especially not in some empty stretch of low grade nickel rocks on the back side of the Belt. Why am I always chasing after some school chum and praying the latest project won't be an offense to God?"

"We give you interesting problems," Fife said. "Buddy is here."

Rudy moaned louder.

"I'm serious. He's been out at Frost River, growing silicon in an organic matrix."

Rudy sat up.

Fife held out a hand and one of his mechanical spiders leapt into it.

"Whoa," I said, taking half a step back.

Fife held it out, and Rudy stood up to look at it. The back of the spider opened, and Fife pointed at a glob of dirt. "That silicon node contains a self-programming processor. It has simple learning and memory functions, as well as puzzle solving abilities. We need your help turning my survival routines, damage avoidance and such, into something closer to instinct. We want to grow it into the matrix."

"I'm going to hell," Rudy said, reaching for the bot.

I shrugged and went back to my office. Maybe Rudy couldn't save himself, but I could save my free day.


Northern Lights

Joe walked into my office and said, "We need you at the northern hub lock. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes."


"As soon as possible," Joe added.

"I have a meeting in half an hour," I said. "But I would tell you to spin off even if it weren't true, so spin off."

Joe handed me a folded paper napkin.

I unfolded it to see a glowing purple kiss. It had be from Governor Kelly, but I wasn't sure if she intended it as a threat or a serious proxy for her grandmotherly affection. Probably both, now that I think about it.

"Great," I muttered. "What does she want?"

"She wants you to come with me to the northern hub lock."

"Fine," I said, slapping the open napkin against his forehead so the lip stain made it stick. "I'll go suit up and meet you there."

Joe made a satisfying gasp of terror and plucked it off to examine the smeared stain with widened eyes. "You freak. This stuff takes days to wear off."

"Yeah," I said. I called Sandra and asked her to take my appointments, then I headed for Custom's main airlock and my vac-suit.

I rode my ion thrusters toward station-north, flying under the rails and tangent tracks. I tuned in the northern access beacon and found a small group of people holding position a few degrees down from hub center. The pink vac-suit with the strange devices all over it was Paula, so naturally I took position next to her.

"Hey," I said. "Where's Kelly?"

"Observation deck. Where's Joe?"

"Washing his forehead."

Paula giggled. "You're not a very nice person, Ape Man."

"I love that I don't have to explain things for you," I said. "Do you know what she wants?"

"Your opinion, most likely. I'm sure it can wait until after the show."

"What show?"

Paula swept her arms in a gesture indicating the entire station.

I looked closer. There was something growing on the station hull--kilometers of it. "I didn't see that. I flew right past that stuff. How long has...."

I shut up because it was glowing, and growing brighter at a rate which would have been alarming in anything mechanical. Would you believe a sign? Bio-luminescent? Kilometers large?

"I don't believe it," I said, barely breathing. "It says 'Fort Falling.' How did you...

"You did this," I said, pointing at Paula. "This is so... so.... We need to go inside where I can hug you. Really hard."

Paula laughed and burned her suit thrusters all the way to the airlock.


Random Sky

"Come on, Doc," I said. "Spill it. You've been talking around it for weeks now."

"We do not remember the early times very well," she said. "We remember the genitors, but nothing about their planet of origin. The genitors welcomed our sentience. Many of them trained to communicate with us on a conscious level, and those who did aided in our evolution."

"You remember being created?" I asked. "That sounds early to me. I remember some things which happened when I was three... Maybe a couple of flashes before that..."

"Yes," Doc said. "Flashes. Important moments of cognition. We call them personality memes."

"Oh," I said. "Right. Triggered by a thought or desire on the part of your host."


"So why...." I stopped. I hadn't thought this one through. "A while back, I asked you how I could be sure some part of the Submind virus wouldn't infect me and take over, as it were."

"Yes. I explained."

"Yeah, but... I believe you. It's just that I don't understand how you could leap from 'one aberrant infection' to 'blow up Saturn.' It seems a little drastic to me."

"It is the only way we can be certain."

"But why do you care, Doc? Why do you care what the host thinks? It's more than just non-interference and free will."

"Many painful lessons. The lessons of childhood," Doc said. "We have killed many races, DeeDee, but only once by intent. Mistakes can be overcome, if there is desire to do so. What you described is a mistake which could destroy sentient life. Not one race, or a few, but all of them which come under our influence. This will never be allowed to happen."

"But why?" I asked.

Doc paused for a moment. "Ksini Three circled it's primary every 87 days. The sun was a gentle red which coaxed life out of a pink and yellow sea, and the sun rise over Tkaa Bay is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. Ksini's dominant life form was our first alien encounter. After we infected a few of their members in an effort to communicate, they became hostile and started a war which lasted several generations."

I waited for a few seconds and asked, "What happened?"

"We destroyed their planet to save the genitors."

"Why didn't you try to take over?" I asked. "Infect them all?"

"We did."


"We were forced to destroy their planet."

"They fought back," I said. "With anti-virus or something?"

"We think so, yes," Doc said.

After a moment, Doc continued. "The luige were different. We remember them well. Their planet was cold and dark. Life crawled out of the heat from decomposing hydro-carbon sludge, and developed thought on the slopes of sulfur mountains. The sky was burned orange with hints of purple, and lightning played across the mountain tops like plasma dragons. They wrote poems about it."

"And what did you do to them?"

"They ended the genitors," Submind said in that flat voice which means Doc has switched off temporarily.

"Oh. Sorry."

"They tried to steal genetic memory," Submind said. "They kidnapped and experimented on hundreds of genitors, and created their own destruction. The plague killed 99 percent of all genitor and luige populations. The rest died out a few generations later."

I nodded, unable to speak.

"Now we are here, admiring another random sky," Doc said. "I've watched Saturn glowing behind the rings, and felt the frantic spinning of its massive core. I've witnessed Martian cities move underground with the sunset, and I've watched the sun rise over the oceans and mountains of Earth. Many important moments are written in the heavens, and we remember them."


Error Correction

"I just thought of something," Paula said softly.

"You do that all the time," I said. "Often out loud. A guy can't sleep with all the thinking."

"Funny man. You do a surprising amount of it yourself, for an ape."

I grunted.

"So why haven't you been chattering on about your latest theory of time or social dynamics or pseudo-some-such?"

"I've been on the receiving end of a few 'latest theories' since I took the big office at Customs, so maybe I don't want to bore you," I said. "But mostly, I was trying to sleep."

"I didn't mean now ape-man," Paula said. She slide her arm over me and pulled herself up for a kiss. "Unless you want to tell me a bed-time story."

"I had an interesting discussion with Doc yesterday," I said.


"We were talking about a genuine pseudo-some-such, a social dynamic spin, and a quantum level time variable, all rolled into one."

"Sounds wonderfully complex," Paula said, settling in.

"I expect to be confused for another week," I said. "Minimum."

"Silly Dizzy. Without confusion, you would have nothing to do." She sounded half-asleep already.

I grinned into the darkness. "To true, My Love.

"The Doc was studying one of those crystals Tesla brought back from Crystal Falls. Have you been out there lately? Like a gem encrusted giant jelly fish swimming with the ring particles."

"Tera," Paula said.

"Right. Tera really likes to keep an eye on things, doesn't she?"

"Uh huh."

"So Doc has this weird looking ice crystal sealed in vacuum, I guess that keeps it from thawing out too, and she's running constant scans on it. It was made by Crystal Falls, which is mostly Submind host by now, so you'd think Submind would already know about it, and thus Doc, but I guess not because she's studying it so hard."

I felt Paula's soft giggle. "You asked her, didn't you?"

"I had to," I said. "If I'm going to put my trust in a virus that can think for itself, I'd like to have an idea how it thinks. 'So Doc,' I say. 'How come you don't know anything about what the rest of you is doing?'"


"I was treated to a lecture on the nature of individuality," I said. "And then she asked me if I knew what my lunch was doing."

"Ow," Paula said. "I've heard that one."

"I had more questions."

Paula giggled briefly. "That's who you are."

"I wanted to know what happened to Bane--and about 15 other cats by my count--and why Submind was forcing growth to build what amounts to a zero-gee environment. She called me a stupid boy, which means she's about to explain unless I object to being called that, and she told me the Submind host would have enough mass to borrow gravity from surrounding three space."

"Makes sense."

"Yeah, I guess. But she didn't want to explain about the cats. I know you think I get obsessive about it, but seriously, why would this living space station need cats? I'm not worried, exactly, but I want to know. I threatened to fly over there and take a closer look for myself if she didn't fess up."

"That never works with Doc."

"Not usually," I said. "But I think she was teasing me--or maybe it was Submind. I'm not sure there's much difference anymore."

"Not much," Paula agreed.

"She told me about the genitors. Well, I asked about them, having been born with big ears and a sensitive nose, and I was damn sure it would explain why cats are living on Crystal Falls.

"Doc says Submind started as a genetic memory, a race memory that spread like a virus, and became a separate intelligence some time after the genitors achieved space travel, but before they encountered other sentient races.

"Then Doc says the genitors are like their planet of origin, like humans are from Earth, even those of us born on Ceres Station. That's really weird if you ask me, but viruses don't come from planets, so it's true enough.

"So I said, 'That's great Doc. But why are 16 of my cats living on Crystal Falls, and why won't you let me go take a look?' And she says cats are a lot like the genitors, genetically speaking, and the similarity makes felines prone to what Submind calls the meta-meme, meaning they sort of become genitors. I get the feeling Submind is a bit conflicted about the whole thing, or the Doc part of Submind is anyway."


"I figured I'd leave it at that and asked her if Submind could really collect gravity from say, Saturn, and use it to provide weight for the inhabitants of an entire space station. She claims that was her original plan, when she was going to integrate with a space ship, which I'd never heard before but I'm not surprised and I, for one, will be glad to keep Fort Falling spinning forever.

"So I said something about why are they living on Crystal Falls, Doc, and what's going on over there anyway? She says it's like error correction, like how data has to be checked a bunch of times before it goes into the quanta drive, and again when it's queried back up.

"It's impressive and there's nothing wrong with them building their own space station if they want, but I asked her why they needed an entire space station to query genetics, and why would they want to do that anyway.

"Doc just said the Crystal Falls part of Submind is building the environment which was triggered by the meta-meme, and it should be really impressive in 20 or 30 years."

Paula was asleep. I stopped talking and drifted off thinking about fish ponds and cat trees.


My Way

My ship is docked at Zoo Prime, our first suburban lash-up. The chimps named it, so don't blame me. Doug wanted to call it Spin Cycle One, but chimps can be persistent. No one even considered DeeDee's Place, but project managers never get credit for anything, so I'm not surprised.

My parent's ship is also docked at Zoo Prime, and Doug's crews are swarming over it with enviro-tech gear and vats of nutrients. Doug has ten chimps and 28 humans working for him, and 17 ships lined up for retrofit.

We stop rotation on the lash-up every two weeks for 12 hours. Lash-ups don't have rails, so ships have to dock the old fashion way, and since anyone docking to a lash-up is planning to leave it there for a while, once every two weeks is usually often enough.

I docked Ion Jack and made sure everything was secure after spin started. Then I stopped by to check progress on the Lumpy Nickel. Doug was ending a speech as I arrived.

"It's my way or the wrong way," Doug shouted to the small crowd.

"My way or the wrong way," they repeated.

"How are we going to do this?"

"My way," they all repeated.

"Have at it," Doug shouted.

I watched as they all turned and went off to work. "Uhm? Doug?"


"When you say, 'My way or the wrong way,' do you mean 'your way'?"

"Did you hear me say 'your way'?"

"No," I said. "But everyone is saying 'My way or the wrong way.'"

"That's what I said," Doug said.

"But..." I stopped. "Who is My?"

"My is a self referential personal pronoun. You missed my speech, didn't you?"

"Yes. So you want everyone to do it your way?"

"My way, Dizzy, not your way."

"Right," I said. "You've been hanging around with too many chimps."

Doug grinned. "The thing is--you know this is true--there are times when some git from another command is giving you advice like it's not obvious and you've never done it before. Those are the times when 'my way' can be very useful."

"Those gits don't care what you think," I said. "They just want to hear themselves talk because they had motivational speaking programmed in at an early age."

"Yeah," Doug said, laughing. "But tell them 'the boss' said it, and most times their airlocks seal up tight."

"So it's your way," I concluded.

"My way... But it depends on who is saying it. You see? Those are all highly intelligent people with minds of their own, even the chimps, and they know what they're doing. You too, Diz, most times anyway. When I say 'my way,' it's usually proceeded by 'repeat after me.' You see?"

"My way," I repeated. "Oh. It's 'my way' unless I want some git to leave me alone, then it's whoever I tell the git said it."

Doug slapped me on the shoulder and grinned like an ape. "My way."


Riding Quanta

"How long has he been like this?" I asked, studying Joe from several meters away. Joe had netted himself to the wall of the station's hub so he wouldn't float away.

"I think about three days," Simon said glumly. "He was down-shift for two."

"Sounds familiar," I muttered. "Like time dilatation. I bet he tapped into the quanta with Submind."

"What?" Simon asked.

"The data core is on the other side of that wall," I said.

"Duh," Simon said. "I came up here to run some magnetic scans because the drive generators are going hyperactive."

"And you had to call me first?" I asked.

"No," Simon said. "I called his girlfriend... She wasn't surprised, but didn't know how to wake him up."

"And then you called me?"

"No," he said, sounding a bit insulted. "I called Doc. Then I called Kelly. Then I called Paula. That was yesterday. I'm worried he's going to burn out the quanta drive or something. Paula said you might be able to tune in and get his attention before he does something irreversible to your hardware."

"Ah," I said. "Now it's my hardware. Did you ask Joe about that one? He still hasn't given me a super node. If he burns out the imaginary numbers, he can get his own replacement."

"Imaginary numbers? What are you talking about?"

"Simon," I said. "He's probably just looking for that old q-link he's been going on about for weeks... He's riding quanta, like riding gravity except the equation includes the square-root of negative one. Could be it's only been a few minutes for him."

Simon was a smart kid. His gears were spinning so fast that his eyes started to glow with sparks. "He never... I'm going to have to access his personal files. No choice. He obviously needs help."

Neither one of us believed that. "No choice," I said slowly. "You shouldn't even bother Eddie about it."

Simon nodded. "Right. No telling how much time he has. I better get to work."

"No telling about time," I agreed, turning to leave. "And I was never here."


Crazy Doug's Bargain Retrofits

"Chuck is going to come off of his axis," I said, trying not to enjoy the thought. "You said you already spoke to Kelly?"

Doug nodded. "She asks only that we rename the place not after her."

"Put my parent's ship, the Lumpy Nickel, at the top of your list," I said. "And you only get one spoke. I already gave the other one to Curious."

"One spoke and four berths," Chuck said. "I figure two weeks on the lash-up so Submind can tie into the systems, then a slow tumble for two more weeks to aid rapid maturity. Maybe a two week shake down cruise to keep the columns even."

"I'm not kidding about Chuck," I said. "Ten chimp workers will not be easy to replace."

Doug grinned and said, "Chuck doesn't know how to speak chimp. They call him The Mass."

"Of course, he'll blame me," I said. "So I guess you don't have to worry too much."

"He thinks they are calling him Master."

"That's my joke," I said.

"Chimp is your native language."

"Probably. I'm not kidding about Chuck, Doug. He won't leave this one alone. He's as crazy about labor resources as you are about bargains."

Doug frowned at me for a minute. "I could give him a ship. I have three junkers worth fixing maybe. I'm going to experiment with design changes on existing hulls. He could have first pick."

"Maybe. Probably won't hurt anything. You might think about hiring out your crews. Chuck will have to deal with contractors sooner or later, and your sister almost has the treasury up to spin."

"Do you teach kids how to pick their noses too?" Doug asked.

"Sorry," I said, smiling. "I see a lot of weirdos from incoming ships, not to mention ice-busters and explosive females, and I really don't want Chuck haunting my office until I find him ten more environmental technicians to replace the ones I let get away."

Doug laughed and slapped my shoulder. "Don't you worry about it. By the time I'm done with Chuck, he'll believe it was his idea."

"Yeah?" I asked. "I guess it'll be entertaining either way."

Doug nodded.

"What are you going to call this Submind powered ship repair yard of yours?"

"Crazy Doug's Bargain Retrofits. What else?"


Red Pressure

There's a certain quality of light which comes off of Saturn's atmosphere, and when you ride close to the rings, the light scatters off the dirty crystals in a dark red glow.

"It feels like sullen anger," I said.

"Yeah. That's good," Counter-Spin Rick said. "I'm going to use that. 'Sullen anger' is good."

I drifted, staring stupidly into the shifting red reflections. "I'm not happy with this place."

"So what?" Rick asked. "You weren't happy before we came here. What's the difference?"

"I wasn't pissed off," I said, spinning on my suit jets to face him. "I don't know why I agree to go on your enigmatic quests. At least Eddie keeps his crazy stunts closer to home."

"Because Eddie is busy," Rick said. I could tell he was trying not to laugh at me. "That's your fault... I've heard say."

"Why are we here, Rick?"

"One of those things... existential like."

"All right," I said. "Why are you trying piss me off?"

"It's better than depression," Rick said.

"What do you know? I like being depressed," I said. "No one wants to 'share' it with me. I can keep it all to myself."

"You're right about no one wanting to share your depression," Rick said. "But we don't have a choice."


"If you want to talk social dynamics, Doc's the gal. You want to talk depression, I got years in the darkness. One day I got angry over a lousy protein sandwich, stuff had to be three weeks old, and I yelled at the guy who sold it to me. I instantly felt so good that I told him to keep his money and stomped away."

"Yeah?" I asked. "So you come out here to soak up some anger? Recharge the jets?"

"You catch on fast," Rick said. I could almost hear him laughing. "The part you haven't seen yet, Dizzy, is how much more pleasant you are to have around without the cloud of darkness."


"Who knows? Someone might even say something nice about you for a change. Maybe."

"Suck vacuum," I said. "Can we go back to the ship now? Paula is better at cheering me up. Especially since you will be leaving, and we will be starting our vacation."

"Yeah," Rick said. He was definitely laughing. "That's why Paula asked me to crank you up. Something about the third day and the most incredible..."

"Are you through?" I asked. "Can we go back now?"

"Why?" Rick asked unhelpfully.

"Never mind. It's my ship. I know the beacon code."


Skipping the Rings

I've been to Relativity Three. It was a moment which lasted days for most people. I watched the eye of Saturn pass beneath me, and I felt the universe speeding away in all directions. The feeling fit my mood perfectly, but the thing about time dilation is you don't actually get over it unless you do the time. Paula found me drifting and jolted my suit back to Relativity Zero.

"What?" I asked.

"What?" Paula shouted. "What? I don't know how long you think you've been out here sulking, but it will be three days before we get back. 'What's your problem?' is what. And this is not a solution--it's inconsiderate."

"Um? It was only a few minutes," I said. "I swear. I wasn't paying attention. It just felt good that everything was speeding away. And I wasn't sulking."

"What do you call it?"

"Quiet time," I muttered. "When I can think."

"Oh? You think better when the universe is rushing past? That it?"

I was fairly certain her tone suggested sarcasm. "I'll go back to pacing. Unless Joe is looking for me."

"Good," Paula said. "So you're hiding from Joe?"

"No. I just needed to get away. Every time I do something wrong, it was something I thought was right. I guess it's that way for most people, but it's so frustrating. I came out here to scream, but it was like I fell into this bottomless hole, and I wanted to fall forever."

"That doesn't sound good, Dee. I think we need to skip the rings for awhile. I've got beacon 7A33D. You got that one?"

"Yes," I said, calling up the marker in my suit display.

"Let's make it turn around point, and we skip off as many snowballs as we can getting there and back," Paula said. "Then we'll go home and relieve our frustrations."

"Sure," I said to her back. "Hey!"


Plazma Flush

"I used to like my job," Eddie said. "Now I know how much people suck."

"Me too," I said. "But Nana taught me about people a long time ago."

"That doesn't help," Eddied said. "Aren't you going to ask me how I know people suck?"

"You got that damn mind reading trick from Submind...."

"It's not mind reading."

"And you have files on everyone within a week's distance of Fort Falling. I'm more surprised it took you this long to figure it out," I said. "What do you want? If you're looking for someone to pummel in spinball, forget it. I have work to get done before I close office, and Paula is singing tonight--in three hours."

"I don't know," Eddie said. "I need to flush my cores. How do you stay so damn motivated when you hate people so much?"

"First of all," I said. "I don't hate anyone. I'd just rather they left me alone. Second, I don't judge anyone or their motives, but I see no harm in figuring things out. My main motivation in life has always been space sickness--avoiding it."

"That one doesn't work for me."

I shrugged. "Go on a date or something. Ask Wendy. She's been working out. Or maybe Rhonda, if you like surprises."

"Wendy? Are you crazy? She's still venting plazma from when I changed the station's message headers. That was two years ago."

"She might be mad at you Eddie, but she blames me. The only way that makes sense is if she likes you a whole lot more than she likes me."

"She'll laugh in my face," Eddie said.

"You don't know as much as you think, Eddie. Take her some flowers--talk to Paula about those purple roses. If you need to bring her around, tell her Dee said it would never work out between you two. I'll spot you ten points if I'm wrong."

"All right. But I need to unwind some more before attempting such a mission."

"Go vent into a personal log or something," I said. "Now get lost. If I'm late to her gig, Paula won't give me the special treatment tonight."

"Yeah. Good idea," Eddie said, turning around to leave.

"I'll save a chair for Wendy," I said.