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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Space Trucker Pilot {The Story I Kept for Myself (and You)}

A Space Truck driver is actually a spaceship pilot, but he doesn't get to drive the truck. Drowning his sorrows on Luna attracts unsavory characters, and unhilarity ensues, leading to one space truck pilot being sent away early and the would-be robbers obtaining new residences at the government's expense.

     Giles Folsom, Captain of the LunAstero Mining Company’s space-going ore transport vessel LAM Big Rock Mountain, sat at a small table against the front wall of a bar called Jack’s Place on Earth’s Moon. He was slowly, steadily, sipping expensive whiskey over ice ... drinking himself drunk. His AI had taken the Big Rock Mountain into parking orbit on the far side of Luna while Jack shuttled himself and a zero G grown watermelon to the Moon’s surface. There he delivered it to the professor who had commissioned the zero-G experiment. The reward for a few weeks of space gardening was sitting comfortably in his account.

“A truck driver,” he muttered. “However it’s dressed up, I’m just a truck driver. I used to be a combat pilot. We didn’t have any effin’ AIs. Hell, now I don’t even get to drive the damn truck.” Again, Giles rewarded himself with the finest blended Bourbon for not shooting his space truck. He took another sip, remembering the engagement that had sent him home to years of surgery, partial reconstruction, drug resistant bacteria, unremitting pain and no future.

Then LunAstero had advertised for pilots. Their ships had AIs, and the pilots were supercargo, but AIs had a habit of occasionally going insane, leaving the ship in the middle of nowhere, so pilots rode the ships. No one wanted the job. Giles wanted any job. They gave him a ship and a lot of money. Now, every time he made it back to Luna he spent his first night drinking.

Two hours later he swallowed the last of his final drink, and paid in cash. As he stood and shrugged into his uniform jacket he saw the waiter nod to two men standing at the bar, not watching him. “Uh-oh,” he muttered, “th’ game’s afoot. Big Rock, pay attention.”

“And do what, Captain Folsom?”

“Call th’ cops. Tell ‘em where to find me. Activate the emancipation clause. Hire a lawyer ... I don’t know. Just keep track for now.” He moved toward the door. The men at the bar didn’t move at all. But as he reached the door, the men moved away from the bar. Giles stepped through the door.

As he exited he turned right, and immediately right again down a side street. “Big Rock, where am I,” he asked.

“Not in a very good part of town,” the AI responded. “You should try to return to your hotel immediately. Your hotel is three blocks ahead and two to the left.”

“Can’t,” he responded. “Got two thugs right behind me. Tell the cops to come here.” The exchange with his AI caused him to miss hearing them until he was right on top of them. As he approached the alley that ran behind the bar, they stepped out in front of him. They hadn’t followed him out after all. Giles tried to run and leapt straight over them.

“Oh Hell, Earth legs,” said one.

“Nah,” Giles told them, “I spend a lot of time in zero G, so I’m absolutely religious about the exercises we have to use. You guys walk as if you live here.” But Giles had a problem. “I can’t outrun these guys,” he told the AI. “Every running step throws me six or eight feet straight up. They can just wait for me to drop. And I’m half drunk.” He back-pedaled down the alley.  

“Just empty your pockets,” said one man. “We’ll let you go.”

“Don’t believe you.” Giles’ smile had turned dangerous. “I won’t let you go.” As he passed the bar’s rear door, he saw the waiter peering out. Giles yanked him into the alley and leapt into the tavern, shuffling rapidly to the bar.

The bartender showed a long gun.

“You’re an idiot. The cops are coming.” Giles kept his voice low. “Bodies are harder to explain than broken bones.”

“You break up my bar I might be willin’ to give it a try.” This was not a high profit bar. Breaking the furniture would not likely improve profits.

Giles stopped and raised his left arm, showing terrible scars on the forearm. “I’m willing to hold truce.” He pointed to the scars. “I’m nearly fighting one handed anyway.”

Something hit him behind the right ear and he landed on his knees. Something long and round sped toward his face. He reached for it and stood up with it, slamming the heel of his hand upward into the point of someone’s nose. Giles recognized the AI’s augmentation of synapses.

He looked to the front door. Two cops were moving very slowly toward the bar. He looked around. The bartender lay on the floor, dead, but still clutching a broken long gun. He turned in time to see the two thieves and the waiter head for the rear door. In two strides, he tossed them back to the cops.

One cop wearing Sergeant’s stripes took in the Ship’s Captain Uniform, the bad arm and the general appearance. “Captain Folsom?” he asked.


“Tell me what happened.” Giles recounted the events of the past few minutes.

“They tried to rob you? You’re wearing a gun.”

“Still, they accosted me, demanded money and threatened me.” Maybe this had been a mistake.

“The only dead person is the bartender. What happened there?”

“You probably had a better view than I did. He swung that rifle at me and I killed him.”

“Yeah that’s what I saw. Why...?”

“Damifino Sergeant.”

“Yeah. How long ‘til you dump?”

“Eight or nine days.”

“If we can get you out of here tomorrow, will you go?”

“I’d shuttle up tonight.”

“You should do that.”

“What about...?”

“You should do that now.”

“Captain Folsom?” It was the AI. “The shuttle will be at your hotel in thirty minutes. There’s transport at the bar entrance for you.”

Captain Giles Folsom watched the Earth-Luna system recede in his viewers. There had been no further communication with the Company or the Luna City Government.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Ghost In The Radio

I woke up dead . . . again. It happens. I reanimate a body and move it far from home. I create a life. Eventually, something happens and the host quits on me. The cycle repeats, but usually not so soon. I looked down. There was no getting away from it . . . I was a ghost again. I don’t, by-the-by, believe in ghosts.
     I was sitting up, nude, in the body I’d been using for the past few months. My first glance told me I wouldn’t be using that body again. Reanimation requires a continuity of the neural net; one no longer likely following a blow to the head that resulted in that much blood. Someone had killed “me” and I wanted to know why. I stepped out of the host of my recent perambulations and looked around the semi-dark room. I could make out wires in bundles and tangles, the back panels of what appeared to be computers as well as scattered dim lights and LEDs. I was in the maintenance space behind a familiar but unrecognized electronics layout.
Memories of me stuttered in. I’d been the entire IT department for WAKI Radio, one thousand puny watts of whatever you asked for (87.3 on your FM dial). We’d play music from whatever genre, whatever century and talk about whatever you brought to the table. I also played David, the geek everybody tried to stump. I was there when I was there. Listeners waited for the announcement, “David is in th’ house!” then flooded the switchboard with arcane knowledge and astounding ignorance. I’d lived through much of it back when things were made to happen by swinging something heavy or sharp from a strong right arm. It wasn’t hard to set them straight or confirm their knowledge.
David wouldn’t be in th’ house ever again. The clock read 2307. The midnight shift had just started and the afternoon shift was still in the house. I dived into the system and depowered the electric locks. The deadbolts slammed home simultaneously
I waded through the computer stuff to the room beyond. A lighted overhead “ON AIR” sign told me I was in a radio station broadcast studio. Sandra, the night DJ was there, and through a window to the side I could see Paul, her call-screener/producer. I showed a flickering upon occasion as I traversed the studio. Neither seemed to notice. Someone had offed "me." Time to find out who. 
     I opened the PA and announced in a classic computer voice, “Emergency meeting in the Conference Room, except Paul and Sandra! Now people!” Sandra toggled her microphone to the producer only and asked, “What’s up?” Paul responded that the station couldn’t afford dead air, so they’d have to wait to find out what was up.
     I headed for the conference room. 
“Let’s go, people!” It was the night manger on the PA. “Let’s figure this out. Get into the conference room, and do it now!”
     I went into the conference room and watched with the night manager as they all straggled in. They each looked nervous and scared and some looked confused. The night manager looked pissed. He was looking at a list of names, checking them off as people entered. Finally, “Sit down everyone,” he said. “Has anyone seen Alice?”
     “She called in sick,” a voice from the rear, “but David was working in Studio Two when we came in tonight. He’s not here.”
     “He didn’t sign out.” The night manager looked up. “Look, I didn’t call this meeting to begin with. And I didn’t throw those doorlocks. I tried an outside door before I came in here – it wouldn’t budge. Go find David, somebody. He knows those computers as if he could go inside them, and I want to know who pulled this stunt. Find him and bring him here! Teams of two.”
     I trailed a team out. At the door to Studio Two the woman halted. “George and Tim were already here!”
     “C’mon, I’m betting they never checked in the maintenance space.”
     “OK, but I don’t really want to either.” She was more than reluctant.
     The man pulled a small black flash from his pocket. “A thousand watts. That’ll blind anybody.” We headed into the maintenance space. A quick sweep of the flash showed no body in that space, and no sign of a struggle. 
In the main broadcast room, James and Kim were having the same discussion. I didn’t wait for them. Neither of them wanted to go into the maintenance space behind the computers. I slid through walls and electronics into the back space. Then I groaned...loudly.  No one came to investigate. No one was in the main room when I came back out. I left for Studio One.
Sandra, the night shift DJ and Paul, her producer were there. Paul was insistent, “I saw what I saw. Just before the doors locked, I saw a guy moving around the room. Just in flickers, but he was there!”
Sandra was less than interested. “Nonsense! There was no guy!” She squeezed through the narrow opening into the maintenance space... and screamed. Paul charged into the space, knocking miscellaneous equipment out of the stack and nearly tripping over “my” body.
“Well, David wo... hello? What’s this?” He bent over and picked something up. He checked my pulse, then played his light over cabinets. “Ah-ha!” He pointed to the object in his hand. “An ice cream scooper!” He motioned at a shelf hard by. “David laid it down when he’d finished it,” – he lighted up a blob of melted ice cream –“but it rolled off. He tried to pick it up and it rolled underfoot. He fell and hit his head on the corner of a steel cabinet. Go get the night manager.”
I left through a locked door. I was gonna need a new body. I planned to be much more careful of the next one.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Open Letter to Republican Senators

March 11, 2015
R C Larlham, Citizen
State of Michigan, USA

An Open Letter to my Republican and TEA Party antagonists in the United States Senate Who Signed an Open Letter to Iran:

It has come to my attention that you believe you are qualified to give crash courses in the United States Constitution to all and sundry in general and to the leaders and negotiators of Iran (a sovereign country, in case you missed that) in particular. It has been noticed that you chose to do so in the guise of an absurdly condescending “open letter” to Iran that warned them you could blow up any agreement they made with President Obama (and the five other nations you forgot about) regarding Iran’s nuclear capability any time you chose. It has also been noticed that you wrote and published that letter at nearly the end of negotiations regarding militarizing Iran’s said nuclear capability.

First, let me assure you that this particular stunt was the most asinine thing the Republicans in Congress have done since the 2008 election, and your entire six years since then has been one long run of obstructive asininity. But this one takes the cake... takes it, eats it, buries the knife, fork and plate and denies it’s them on the security cam. You have outdone yourselves, so there’s that.  

Now, let me address the blowback. First, Iran dismissed your missive as a propaganda publicity stunt, after which they pointed out your error in describing your role in negotiating treaties, arms limits and such. How embarrassing was that? Second, the senators who didn’t sign began explaining why. There were a lot of words, but they all came down to one thing... they thought the letter was a stupid idea, and that your approach was dangerous now and in the future.

Then some of the signers weighed in. The first explanation was, “We’re just tryna help, ‘cause they might not know how our government is set up.” No you weren’t. No one, including you, thinks Iran doesn’t know enough about the US government’s structure to be able to negotiate a weapons limit without your “help.” So OK, that one landed with a thud. Your next explanation was that it “...wasn’t technically interference in the negotiations because it was an open letter.” Please point to the person we should slap for giving voice to that bit of nitwittery. Next came the “We were just trying to be a bit cheeky,” defense. There were only two things wrong with that: 1) We’re not British! We don’t do “cheeky.” And b) “cheeky” is not found in any dictionary or thesaurus as a synonym for “stupid,” which would have been the correct word. 

A-a-and most recently you served up the blivit that it’s the President’s fault you wrote and signed that letter. Say what

What’s a blivit? Three pounds of an obnoxious substance in a two-pound bag.

As long as we're here, let’s take this opportunity to do a little teaching, shall we? Diplomacy is the art of talking to your enemies and coming to an agreement that keeps your children alive. War is the admission that diplomacy has failed. I used to be the sharp end of that stick (I’m pretty sure no more than two or three of you were, and that none of your children served in dangerous places), and watching you demand that we issue ultimatums (you must be willing to carry out the threat, you know) is more than a little sickening.

So, I have some advice for you... shut up! Don’t apologize, don’t explain, in fact, don’t say another freakin’ word. There is nothing you can say that won’t make this worse.

Thanx for reading:

/s/R C Larlham