Thursday, October 18, 2012

Otherwise (part two)

And we're back. Here's part two. Enjoy.

Janet Coombs—a director who had been selected to opie status after a schizophrenic episode (waste not, want not)—had somehow escaped her piloting chamber on board the IOS Hart Crane just before othertransit. The rescue crew boarding the Hart Crane a few days later found Janet huddled in a corner of a cargo bay, caked with blood. The thirty-seven crew members and one hundred eighty passengers were dead of a creative combination of poisoning, asphyxiation, and stab wounds.

"We were very upset," Mr. Lawson of Interstel assured me. Lars Lawson was fat and bald and had sweaty lips. "We fully intend to turn Janet over to the authorities, break this story to the media, and pay double insurance to all the families of the deceased passengers and crew."

"Once our current crisis is past, of course," said the woman in the ugly brown suit (cubist holographic epaulets if you can believe that).

I leaned back in my desk chair and asked my bar for a Scotch and soda. A good host would have offered drinks to his guests, bet these two weren't bringing out my hospitable side. I'd been asleep on the sofa when they rang the bell. I'm always a bit grumpy when I wake up. Besides, I'd twisted my ankle rushing to answer the door. "Crisis?" I asked, testing my drink.

"Well—your vanadium shipment to Adler-Messmer, Mr. McClintock," said the fat man,. "That vanadium is absolutely vital—"

I nodded. "To both our pocketbooks. Which, I suppose, is why you sent Janet Coombs up on a second flight. Considering how little you knew about how the first incident unfolded, wasn't that a bit moronic?"

Lawson's voice cracked and his lip quivered. "She was the only otherpilot available. We're not scheduled to see another opie in here for a month. We took precautions. The IOS Annabelle Lee carried a minimum crew and no passengers, and we put armed guards on the pilot chamber."

I smiled. "But, did the crew know what she'd done to the Hart Crane?"

Lawson sighed and slumped. No need for an answer.

The woman in the ugly suit broke in. "The guards were warned that she could be extremely dangerous, and not to trust the tropes. They were to shoot if she left her chamber. You're correct, Mr. McClintock, we don't know what happened on either ship. She disabled and erased the ships' AI memory banks."

"So even the director wasn't informed?"

Fatboy shook his head.

"You can't say you weren't warned. I've told Interstel repeatedly not to use people like Janet. A mind that goes from eighty-plus points about the New Albany Regents norm to seventy-five below can't be trusted."

Uglysuit scowled and let out a gravelly sigh.

I looked from her to him and back. "So, what's the plan now?"

"We send her up again," the woman said.

I blinked. "Wow. What a fascinating mind you have. Ever considered a career in othership piloting?"

The woman stood and crossed her arms. "This time, we will inform the director—and the ship's officers. We have devised a set of backup security measures aid the director in protecting the crew from Ms. Coombs."

"We also plan to bring the best available director on board for this shootthrough," Lars said, smiling.

I drank down the last of my Scotch. "Unfortunately, Carter was the best, and Tyson was the best working director within five lights of Barnard, so you've pretty much screwed yourselves. I know of only three other directors currently available in Spock."

Uglysuit nodded, frowning. "None of those three has any real experience, and all of them have fairly mediocre test scores."

"No one you'd want to trust with dear little Janet."

Uglysuit referred to the screen on her wrist. "According to our records, you retired from Interstel five years ago. That's pretty young for retirement."

"Not from directing. At five years, the odds of my next trip causing a psychotic break are better than 1 in three. Not good odds. Saps who stay in for over five years end up like Janet."

Ugly suit relaxed, smiling a bit, now. "Still, you retired young and with a final test score of ninety-six sagans above the NAR. That's even better than Carter's."

"Whoa, Sweetheart, I'm retired, remember? I quit working with opies five years ago. Crazy people make my skin crawl. I'm no longer a director. Remember me? I'm the customer, for fuck's sake. Mine is the richest vanadium operation in this arm of the galaxy, and I never need to do any real work again. Or to put it more simply and directly: no."

Lars sat quietly watching. It was clear that Uglysuit was the negotiator. She said, "Look, McClintock, this is an extremely important operation—yes, partly because so many steel mills desperately need that vanadium to produce otherspace-ready hulls—but also because of the nature of this problem. Janet's attacks are the first ever violent incidents involving an opie. The first, and they were the grandmother and grandfather of all incidents. Hell, we don't even know what happened. If this story gets out before we know what happened, before we can offer a solution, it could do irreparable damage to interface piloting. This mess could wind up isolating five hundred inhabited worlds from FTL travel for God-knows-how-long. We're looking at a potential interstellar economic collapse, so don't sit there with that sarcastic half-smile, being glib and witty, and trying to score points on the oneupmanship scale. We need you. What do you need?"

I looked at Lawson, who was smiling a rather sickly green smile and nodding. So, Lawson represented Interstel's money, and he knew he was about to take a shellacking.

Thirty-seven percent chance of a psychotic break.

Look! Up in the sky! It' a need! It's a want! No, it's greedy man! What can I say? Everyone has a price. One thirty-five-earthyear contract later—exempting McClintock Mining from all tariffs, taxes, and licensing fees, and guaranteeing a forty-percent discount on interstellar shipping—I was napping in a tricked-out director's chair and waiting for 1202 hours.

Yeah. I'm pretty sure I'm insane.

(part three)

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