Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Queens of the Stoneage, Pizza Luce set, Ides of March

Here I go again, another huge photo set from a show and I have no interest in writing captions for all of the images so I am going to tell you a story.  This story is coming at you from the heart of space, or maybe the colon of space.  Either way it is a story, and it is coming from space.  The time is about fifty years after the construction of the first public, viable, mother fucking space elevator.  My how times have changed.
 They called the ship Uncle Harvey's Mausoleum, this was not a reference to some old remnant of an earlier era in their former home of Duluth, MN, it was actually because Mike had inherited the ship from his uncle Harvey who had dropped dead on an earlier trip.
 Uncle Harvey's Mausoleum, or UHM was a mining ship.  Nothing fancy, basically a cargo hold with some crew quarters smacked into its interior and enough power and fuel to make it from the base orbiting the Earth where the space elevator terminated and the asteroid belt.
 There was nothing fancy, no cool observation deck.  There were no replicators, gravity was basically nothing, although they did have a centrifuge so that they could spin themselves around and keep their skeletons and muscles from completely wasting away.
 The task was simple.  They would fly from base out in Earth orbit for a few months until they got to whatever target asteroid they had chosen.  From there they would extract what ever minerals they could from the rock they docked against and fly it back to Earth.
 In the simplest terms it was 2 months of planning, three months of boredom, 30 minutes of abject terror, 1 month of boredom and mining, three months of boredom and flying, and then back home with a fat paycheck and three months of shore leave to get their bodies recovered so that they could do it all again.
 That was the plan anyway.  It never worked out exactly as you had planned.  What would life be if it was predictable?  As it turns out since space had been opened up to any cowboy who could get his hands on the credit to buy a spaceship things had changed.
 The complexity levels of what qualified as a spaceship had changed too.  The days of the space shuttle had been supplanted by the days of the space garbage scow.  These new spaceships were not fancy science projects, they were a big hold with a small reliable engine at one end and enough room to fit a few crew stuffed down in the innards.  The romance of space had died.
 The positive side of things is that the Earth was experiencing a new renaissance!  The materials that were being harvested from space allowed whole new generations of technology to be built.  The world on Earth was an amazing place to live.
 That is if you had enough to survive on.  The days of having a middle class were dead.  The remaining residents of Earth were either those who could not afford to get off the planet.  Those who were trying to get enough money to get off the planet.  Or those who were too sick to stay off the planet.
 The inner solar system had been populated.  There were cloudships floating around above the surface of Venus.  The moon had almost a billion residents.  Mars, although considered a backwater by some because of its rather harsh conditions, had 250 million people living on it.  In the next twenty years many of the larger asteroids would become home to colonies, often looking back at Earth, but unless they had to, never going back to Earth.
 Earth was recovering from the horrible pollution that had been dumped across its surface, but it would take tens of thousands of years to get back to the way that it had been.
 Even with almost a billion and a half people living off planet there were still 8 billion people scraping the dust of Earth trying to survive day to day.  For the most part any wild animal larger than a rat had been killed and eaten for food.
 It was not the place that had been written about in the story books long ago.  The Earth was different.  Space was different.  And now we had the UHM with its three crew members floating along on its way to the asteroids.  What could possibly go wrong.
 "Did you know that back in the day you actually needed to be qualified to fly on of these things.  Now they let any jackhole with a few credits fly one."
"Well Mike, aren't you technically just a jackhole who happened to inherit a few credits?"
"What the fuck Blaise, back me up, you know what I mean."
 "Oh I know what you mean, but still, think about it, you are still just as much of a jackhole with a few credits that you scratched up as the next guy.  You just got it a little sooner than some of the rest."
"I did go to school as well..."
"You went to culinary school."
"Still school, graduated too!"
 "What the fuck are you too blabbing about?" asked Dick as he floated into the room.
"Mike here was feeling all high and mighty because of his grand educational achievements..."
"Oh oh oh oh, yeah, well he does make one mean sandwich..."
"Screw you guys, I am going to bed."
"Suit yourself dude."
 "We should be nicer to Mike, he did bring us along on this job...."
"Screw you Dick, you know that we were just the first two people he could find."
"Hey man, there are a lot of people who want to get off of Earth."
"Yeah, I suppose.  But I wasn't in that bad of a place."
 "Doing what?  Drinking beer and complaining about how things used to be?"
"Well, maybe, but things were pretty cool back in the day."
"How the hell would you know, you weren't even born yet back in the day."
"Neither were you."
 Dick and Blaise were not in the correct time.  In reality they would have done well back in the 1970's Earth.  In the 2070's they were anachronisms of a bygone era.  Ironically thanks to an influx of fifth-generation hipsters somehow they had become cool again in the last decade and people actually were starting to appreciate their input, however this had never amounted to much in the way of a life of luxury.
 "I was thinking when I get back I want to start an art studio."
"What the hell Dick, like that one your great-great grandfather had?"
"Well, maybe not exactly like that one, cleaner perhaps."
 "So Blaise?  What are your great plans for your return?"
"I am doing my home stretch and then heading right back into space."
"You like it out here?  You sure complain about it enough."
"It does let me think about things."
 "You can think about things on Earth too you know."
"Yeah, but we do have portholes."
"On Earth we have a sky, sometimes."
"But on Earth when you do have a sky and you can see the stars you don't want to be outside.  That is how you find yourself dead."
 "You have never been afraid of being dead before."
"I am getting older, can't kick everyone's ass."
"You don't have to kick everyone's ass, just the first guy."
"That does not work as well as it used too."
 "Yeah, I suppose you are right.  Well Blaise, what are your plans, staying up tonight or setting the proximity alarms and going to bed."
"I am going to set the alarms and stay up, for a while."
"Anything interesting going on back at Earth on the news feed?"
 "No, did you miss it?  The antenna took a hit from a something last night."
"Really?  Thought it was just on the fritz."
"Nope, Mike used the drone to fly out and take a look.  Fucking thing is gone, sheared right off."
"So your trying to say that I have to spend the rest of this trip only talking to you guys?"
 "That's right Dick, just us.  Eight more months of just us...."
"Fuck, this is going to be interesting."
"This is going to be something other than interesting...."
"Oh well, I guess I am going to my bunk to have nightmares of having the same six conversations with you two for the next eight months."
 "Good night Dick."
"Good night Blaise."
Dick floated off to his bunk, Blaise floated to the main control panel and set the long range proximity alarms.
Theoretically they would warn the crew if they were going to come into contact with anything large enough to cause damage.
 Apparently the damage to their mental states that was going to be caused by the loss of their Earth uplink was not something it would warn them about.
After setting the ranged proximity alarms and making sure that all the other sensors were in the green Blaise floated through the tube that went to the one room with a decent pair of portholes.
 These were essentially the only view ports on the ship.  There were cameras that would allow them to see to dock, but they were only designed to look at close and relatively bright objects.  Stars were comparatively dim, and certainly not close.  This ship was essentially a scow, it was not designed for observation, these were here mostly as a throwback.  They happened to end up with a panel meant for something else that happened to have a pair of three inch the portholes in it.
 The material was thick but it was clear.  Essentially it was some ridiculous optical quality glass which had become relatively inexpensive after the first blast of space exploration.  These portholes were old, much older than the rest of the ship, which itself was no spring chicken.  But they were well made, and through them you could see out into the cold of space.
 "Give me a ship and a star to steer her by...."
Blaise looked through the glass trying to remember the patterns of stars that lay in front of his eyes.  Space looked a lot different when you were in it than when you were looking up from Earth.  There was no atmosphere, no clouds, nothing.  The stars were innumerable.
 Blaise looked at the stars for a good hour.  The ship always slowly rotated along its axis so that it would not suffer from thermal stresses from having the same side facing the sun all of the time.  As a result you got 360 degree view of space.  Most of a 360 degree view anyway, the orientation of the port holes allowed you to look slightly forward, and they were slightly convex so that you could see more than you could through a flat piece of glass.
 However the things that were behind you were a bit more of a mystery.  There were some sight glasses in the rear of the ship so you could take a peek and make sure that the engines were still functioning, but they were much smaller, lower quality, and did not offer much of a view.  Comparatively these were a luxury.
 Blaise finally settled off to sleep himself.  It was space, there really was no difference between night and day.  The ship would monitor your sleep and try to keep you on a roughly Earth-like pattern.  It also did allow a bit of slop in that pattern the further you got away from the planet.  It could also be set to get you accustomed to the diurnal patterns of another body.  It was about the fanciest thing they had.
 It was going to be eight months out in space with no contact from Earth.  Technically if they got within a reasonable distance of another ship they could chat, but the cowboys out here were never that chatty.  In all reality most of them did not speak English anyway, space was dominated by Indians and Chinese.
 No one on the ship knew more than a few words of either language, so it was best to just keep quiet.  Most of the people in space knew some English, but there had been so many faux pas in the past with poorly translated English causing troubles that most of the experienced pilots kept their mouths shut.
 It was Dick and Blaise's first trip out.  Most of the systems worked automatically, the crew was mostly there just to fix things when they went badly, so an over-abundance of experience was not necessary.  You did have to be crafty and have some mechanical knowledge, which all three of them had.
 Mike had been to space a half a dozen times over the years.  He took several trips with his Uncle Harvey when it was his ship, and had been a member of the crew a few times since then.  This was his first trip as a captain however.  Not a lot of experienced crew would sign on with a first-time captain.
 Mike may have gone to culinary school, but that was largely as a response to the lousy food that you found in space most of the time.  You would be amazed how many ships still served cold tubes of nutrient glop.  or even worse, cold tubes of reprocessed nutrient glop.
 UHM had a small garden on board.  The plants would grow in strange patterns in the absence of gravity, and generally the biggest thing that you could grow without pollination was herbs.  But you add some fresh herbs to some frozen food brought from Earth and you can make it almost good.
It still had its shortcomings.
But it was far better than cold reprocessed green glop.  And you never had to wonder where the green color came from.
 Where the green color came from was one of the questions that Mike had never been able to get a satisfactory answer about.  He had asked engineers, scientists, retired space captains with years of service.
No one knew.
 Either that or they did know and it was so disturbing that they didn't want to share the details of the answer.
 The next day would start the same way as every day for the next two months of the trip.  The computer would wake everyone up and they would meet for breakfast.  Mike would look carefully at his herb garden and take some measurements and log it in a notebook.
 "We had 1 mm or growth on a few stems last night?"
Dick was the first to look in his direction, "Oh, oh oh, wait, and this means?"
"Well, it means that at this rate we will have enough growth to have plenty of herbs for the whole trip."
 "Oh, that is a good thing."
Blaise finally started to stir from his slumber as well.  "I still think it would be easier to just bring herbs from home."
 "Easier, yes, but they will not be as fresh, and these will taste better."
"Why do you think these will taste better?"
"Because they are grown with love."
"I think you have been in space too long...."
 The three of them had a breakfast of reconstituted orange juice and pancakes.  It even tasted like reconstituted orange juice and pancakes should.
 Blaise was the first to speak after breakfast.  "I do not know if it is love, but at least the food on this tub is good."
"Shit Mike, this is better than what I ate most of the time on Earth."
"I hope you too appreciate it."
 After breakfast they went to the control room and looked at the computer read out.  They ship was on course.  There were no new messages from Earth or anyone else.  Apparently nothing had broken during the night either.
 "Nothing broken, I guess you two get to have an easy day."
"What are you going to do Mike?"
"Well Dick, I am not sure, check the maintenance logs.  See if I can dig any projects up so we don't get bored."
 "Oh, more work, my favorite."
"Trust me Dick, you can't do nothing all the time, and it is good to stretch your muscles."
 "How about you Blaise, any plans?"
"Well Dick, I think I am going to go in the centrifuge for a bit, go get spun."
"Actually, sounds like a pretty good plan."
 "Have fun you too, I will call you on the comms if I need anything."
"Sounds good Mike, see you at lunch."
 Mike started looking through the logs.  Uncle Harvey was very specific about maintenance and he had logged not only when the last time anything had been done, but when the next time it was due to be checked again was.
 Most of the maintenance was set so that it would sprinkle along at a slow pace, but during the last trip a few things had started to go wonky and had been replaced early.
 The result was that now there was a lull in the maintenance schedule.  The only things that were pending were filter changes and those were things that you did not want to do ahead of schedule.
 I guess it was going to be a slow month.  They were a month out from Earth, and two months from the asteroid.  They were in the coast period of the voyage.
 Guidance was set, course was set, and now they just had to wait to do the next thing on the maintenance calendar.  Normally there was a good job to accomplish each and every week, but the things that broke last trip screwed the schedule up.
 It would likely take about five or six trips to get the schedule back to the rhythm that it had before.  In the meantime you just had to deal with it.
 One month, not much maintenance, watching herbs grow.  When he was a kid Mike would dream about having this much free time.
Mike was an older man now and free time made him think back to when he lived on Earth full time.  Back before he decided that space was the place for him.  Back before when he thought there was something on Earth to make him want to stay on the ground.

Guess what, that is the first chapter!  I am going to write more at some point, they have eight more months of voyage to finish, and I have some plans.

It is a first draft, hell, I was not even that sure where I was going when I stated typing, but I hope you like it so far.  Please share, and remember....