Sunday, February 19, 2012

Aurora Awakening - Part One

You have to plan ahead when you’re a fixer on a deep-space rig.

Thinking on your feet will save your hams, sure – if there’s a hull breach, you’d better be scrambling lightquick and getting real creative with that weldgun – but that’s for the crazy stuff that happens three or four times in your career, tops. It’s just the sauce.

The real protein of the job, sure as thumping, is thinking long and hard about every possible variable for years ahead to make sure the crazy doesn’t happen in the first place. Because when you’re two years deep, there’s no going back for that extra splitseal you didn’t think you’d need.

That’s why I love my job. I spend plenty of my time climbing around the engines and grids, but it’s not like some cargositter job where you get back from the deep and find out your brain’s gone to sludge. I’ve met plenty of them when I’m on stationleave. Years of haul-and-stack leaves those cargositters with muscles that will make your tongue pop its airlock, but unless they thought ahead to bring a full datastack of books and lectures, all they can talk about is their biggest poker wins and whatever kickfights they could pick up on the scans.

Cargositter girls are thumpsure fun and ready for a scrumble – Who isn’t when they’re on station leave? – but I need a little something more to get the synapses firing when it comes to a relationship, even if it’s just a fling.

That’s just as well, though. You get attached to someone while you’re on station leave, you’ve got yearcycles, easy, before you see her again. And thanks to the deep-space travel, odds are if and when you finally manage to meet up again, you won’t be compatible ages anymore.

That wasn’t any scrap to me at this point last cycle, though. I’d been planned out since I was 20 cycles old, and not one bit of it had anything to do with settling down any time soon. The mistake most people make with the deep-space runs, see, is they take time off after every run and break for a three or a sixmonth or even a full cycle. Well, hellscratch, you do that and you lose a third of the bundle you could have had right there. The Company isn’t merciful, and it sure as thumping isn’t dumb.

You read the bennie charts carefully – which I did, two whole cycles before I even signed on for my first junk – and you realize your bundle stacks every time they can slot you into a new run on the same ship, nice and tidy. And you take a hit every time you decide to blow ship just so you can spend some time wiggling your toes through stationsand. Re-training is expensive, and the logistics of putting you to a new run without having to deadhead you for a cycle just to get you to a ship that actually needs someone with your skills are a nightmare.

On the other hand, the Company also doesn’t expect anyone to do a ten-cycle brick without a planet break either. Which means you can surprise ‘em and pick up bennies they almost never expect anyone to collect. If you really commit to a life of deep-space, no breaks and no offship retraining for a new career vector, you can stack and stack your bundle like you wouldn’t believe, not to mention bonuses for extra-long hauls and hazard runs.

With the exception of a little station time while the ship’s in dry dock for maintenance, I’d been pulling steady in deep-space since I got my degree at 21, and I recked I’d be able to retire at 40, still plenty young enough to find a one-and-only to spend the rest of my life with, and with enough of a bundle to buy a patch on a resort planet and spend my time reading, slathering myself in nonscorch to soak up the rays, and maybe repairing hoversplashes for tourists if I needed to scrape the rust off the gray cells.

See? That’s why I’m a damn good fixer. I think ahead.

Sure, I got a little restless between stationdocks sometimes. A long run with no one to play with can get a little bleak, but, hellscratch, that’s what hands and toys are made for. And, like I said, once you do get back to a station, there are always plenty of girls ready to shake off the hoarfrost. Sometimes even the oppsex girls are ready for a scrumble.

So when I signed back on after dry dock right around this time last cycle, I was feeling pretty well soldered. I was signing back on to the Aurora, of course, and wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I’d been part of her crew for seven years, since I was 23, which meant another bonus got slapped onto my bundle. But to be honest, other than a warm feeling when I looked at my credit balance, I almost didn’t pay that any scrap.

The difference between working deep-space and short-haul or shuttle stuff, see, is that your ship isn’t just some getaround, it’s home. And the Aurora was the best I could imagine. She was an older rig, but I didn’t give two flips – well made is well made, and we’d saved each other’s hams plenty of times, that ship and I. We understood each other.

Or at least I understood her. As chief fixer, I’d seen every last bolt and panel on my baby more times than I can count. I recked there were parts of her that only I knew about, and I sure as thumping knew how to make her purr. I’d thought more than once that it sure would be nice if the old girl could return the favor, but, hellscratch, she kept me breathing and was keeping me very well jobbed. I recked that was plenty when it all shook out.

Thing was, though, with the new sign-on, I had a new fixer to train. Tum had signed off when we made station. He hadn’t been the best fixer I’d ever had under my shout – he had three drops too much lazy in him to ever be a really great fixer – but he knew fixing and he knew the Aurora and mostly we got along fine.

The Aurora has a small crew for a deep-space ship. We do botany runs, hitting moistworlds to bring back samples for station farms and leisure enviros. Which means a lot of the space that would normally go to crew is for planters and growrooms, not to mention the seed vaults.

So when it comes to the fix crew, it’s just me and my shout-to. That’s another drop to my bundle right there, see? No redundancies mean extra scrambling in a tough spot, so that’s a hazard bump right there. Plus it meant I made fix chief after just two years of humping under someone else’s shout.

Like I said, I think ahead about things.

Except for one.

Normally, of course, the Company won’t assign crewmembers on the same team as cabinmates – you’d get sick to the point turning inside out, having to look at each other’s faces all shift and all your off-times too – and they sure as thumping won’t room you with your direct shout-to. That’s just asking for a legal intervent and having to send someone home in a stasis pod, if not the brig.

Thing was, though, those room assignments get made somewhere in an admin center on a home station somewhere, and out there in the deep, well, sometimes you have to make do.

Officially, if you read the datastack, I was bunking with Jerly the Nav. But he and Ty from the galley had fallen crazy in love yearcycles ago, so it just made sense to switch out on the quiet and let them bunk together. I’d been cabined up with a real nice botanist for a couple of runs, but she’d finally gotten her fiancé transferred on board after two years of dry, and there was no way in scratch they weren’t going to bunk up after that. In fact, they were officially bunked, which set off a chain of trying to untangle who really belonged where and who was switching and who wasn’t and long story short, I ended up with my own shout-to filling the vacant bunk in my cabin. We recked it would just be a temporary patch and we’d get it sorted out next run.

Which wouldn’t have been so bad if she’d just been a normal fixer, and used to deep-space runs.

Or a normal anything, really.

Fa was stationborn, on her first deep-space run. No shame in that, no more than in me being planetborn. Nor was there anything wrong with the fact that she was just starting out as a fixer at 25. In fact, I was impressed, in a way. She’d bucked her rich stationborn parents and their Company office plans for her, and instead she’d gone out and gotten her fixing degree so she could see a little piece of the universe. Absolutely no finish on her, not as a fixer, and not as a crew, but she was definitely sharp and eager to learn.

And she was willing to put in a shift full of work that probably made Tum’s back hurt from right across the sector.

None of that was wrong either.

What was wrong with Fa was that she was cute. Extracute, if I’m truthing. Big blue eyes – I couldn’t remember if I’d seen real blue eyes in person before, and sure as thumping none like hers – and blonde hair in a short pix cut that left just enough to keep me thinking about running my fingers through it. My hair is short too – Every fixer has heard that old station myth about the fixer who gets pulled into the slipgears by his ponytail – but it’s only cropped short to the ear and I keep my bangs a little longer. They flop into my face sometimes, and I tend to push my fingers through them while I’m reading or puzzling out a problem. Which I didn’t know until Fa leaned in one evening and pushed her fingers through them for me, her smiling face right up close to mine.

She laughed at my reaction, which I rec was pretty surprised. And that was another problem with Fa – she didn’t know how to act like a regular shout-to. She was never technically insubordinate, of course. She was too bright for that, and she understood that deep-space fixing is serious rumble. So she followed my shouts and paid attention when I had to throw some knowledge to her – it was just the way she sort of twinkled around when she did it.

Fa laughed all the time, giggled even, and looked me in the eye. I mean, sure, your shout-to is going to look you in the eye eventually when you’re running deep-space. You spend years together, after all, and you either relax around each other a little bit or you should just go ahead and blow your head out the airlock. But it was the way she looked at me – always with a little laugh behind it. Not mocking, not really, but something else that at the time I just couldn’t figure out. Like no matter what the shout was, she was happy to be playing some kind of game underneath.

And sometimes she’d wink at me before going off to obey a shout. Made my insides flip over, truth, and that made me annoyed because two-person team or not, there’s no way a chief should react that way. And it pinged my heart a bit, if I’m truthing. I might have been on ship for close to a decade, but I still knew that winks meant flirting, and there’s no way Fa really meant that toward me.

I wasn’t any mouthfish or anything. I knew I looked well enough to always find playmates when I was on station leave, and, hellscratch, I’d even managed to bed a glowpretty microbiologist for one memorable run. I had my natural brown hair and eyes, which made people think I was brave and unusual instead of pure lazy about getting colors, and to be honest, I liked them fine. My skin was tanned from working in the grow rooms with the lights on so often, and I made ripsure to keep it as soft and smooth as I could.

And I worked out, of course. Long periods of antigrav will make your heart go bad, so you pretty much have to to a certain extent, but my station leaves were short enough that I didn’t have much time for hunting up friends. Best to have arms and abs that could do half the work for me. And, like I said, I think ahead. If I was going to make my body (and the rest of me) wait another decade to settle down, I sure as thumping had better keep it shipshape so there was no catching up to do when the time came.

Normally I didn’t worry about my looks for a nano, but something about Fa made me think she couldn’t possibly like them. Those eyes, of course, which put any sliderjob I’d ever seen to shame. And something about how pale and creamy her skin was – stationborn and station raised, no doubt. She scratch-near glowed.

And where I was muscled, she was soft. Don’t get me wrong, she could scramble in the grid right along with me, she just wasn’t hard like I was. She was built small all over, even her sweet little breasts which just barely added a curve to her fullsuit. Not that I was looking.

She was so different and so delicate that I recked I’d break her if I wasn’t careful, no matter how hard she worked to prove to me that she was tough. That, and the shared room, and the worry that her pretty little face would twist up in disgust if I so much as touched her shoulder wrong, made me extra light around her in the off shift. I felt like any minute the the collision klaxons would go off and then the whole ship would know.

Not the image a good fixer chief needs, you scan me? Even on a botany rig.

Fa being Fa, though, my distance in the off shifts only made her try to pull closer. Literally, often as not. The hugging drove me crazy. She loved to pounce up on me from behind and press real close, resting her cheek against my shoulder as her arms slid around my waist. Sometimes she did it when she was right out of the shower, just in her skivs or even less, and all I could think about was those sweet little bubs and how little cloth there was between me and them.

She loved me, sure as thumping, but that’ll happen with your first fix chief – happens to almost everyone, in fact. The practical part of fixing is so much all at once and you’re out there in the deep and you realize that your hams really on the line, not to mention the hams of everyone else on the crew. Of course you cling to your fix chief like a stationdock when you’re out there, and you learn to love them like anyone who teaches, punishes, and protects you.

But what Fa had was teacher love, not love love, and I recked I’d leave a sidepanel unhitched before I’d be so dumb as to forget the difference.

That’s why when Fa hugged me front-on I didn’t do a thing. It happened a few times, when I’d saved her hams from getting blasted by a faulty security trap that was ready to blam, or when I’d stayed long past shift to make sure she really got the fine points of handling the Aurora’s oxygen sensors. Once when I passed her name up for a prop from Captain Gully – which she totally deserved, by the way. I’d shifted in four hours early and stayed long, see, to purge and re-seal the fuel tanks one by one, and when Fa found carbon scoring on an engine she knew I was busy and then would be dead beat, so she scraped and scratch-near rebuilt the thing by herself instead of calling me in. No way in hellscratch that’s a one person job, and she stayed three hours past shift to do it. She only woke me up when she was done to check her work.

I was touched, truthing. I was the chief, but here she was taking care of me. I thanked her, sure, and then quietly put her in for the prop when she went off to shower. Gully’s real good about stuff like that, especially for the new crew, or maybe he was bored that day. But the notifier that she was getting a bonus and a star on her record came back down while she was still putting her bed skivs on. (Did I mention she slept in only skivs? Well, that’s normal, I reck, but as far as I was concerned, it was pure torture.)

When the notifier chimed in, she jumped up and hugged me full-on, even zapping a kiss onto my cheek. Like I said, I didn’t do a damn thing. Didn’t let myself smell her hair, and only barely put my arms up, and it took just about every thing I had. I looked at the ceiling and tried not to think about the fact that her bubs were pressing right up against mine while she held on for a bit, then I gave her a quick thump on the back and told her she deserved it, and that I was hop grateful that she was so thoughtful.

She pulled back and looked at me for a minute, almost worried, which I couldn’t figure out, since I was thanking her and all, but soon enough that smile crept back in and she kissed me on the cheek and then scrambled into her bunk.

Not that that meant my torture was over. Fa was new to deep-space, see, and she didn’t know all the little things about ship life.

Like how when you spend every night with a cabinmate, you have to learn to come hard, fast, and above all, quietly. I’d been making do while Fa was in the shower, or in absolute silence when I was thumpsure that she was asleep. Still, I was scratch close to losing my mind. Our shifts were the exact same while I was training her, and I was the person she knew best, so she was point-likely to tag along with me to the rec area and the mess hall too. I recked my toys were going to freeze up from lack of use.

But Fa, see, if she was going to pick up that little bit of ship culture, she’d have to do it from me. And she hadn’t yet. I recked she thought I was just made of stone instead of discretion.

But Fa sure wasn’t.

She’d wait till the light was out and my breathing got regular, sure, but for such a sharp fixer, she wasn’t much good at telling when I was really asleep. And she sure as thumping wasn’t good at keeping quiet. We slept close enough that I could hear the motion of her wrist under the covers if she went hard enough – I sure as scratch could hear those sweet little sighs and moans she made when she got closer.

And when she came, she damn near couldn’t stay quiet at all. She made one perfect vowel, “Ooh, ooh, oooooooooooooh,” and she sounded like she was in a bath of pure joy and pleasure.

It drove me sparky. She sounded so good I could barely stand it, and if I made a mistake and wondered what that pretty little face looked like when she was in full bliss, I had to just write off the next few hours to using every bit of will I had to keep from following her example.

Not long after that last time she’d hugged me and then followed it up by setting my brain on fire with three sweet, cooing orgasms in a row, I recked that I’d have to switch cabins before the run was up, no matter how much it might hurt her feelings. I couldn’t stand the thought of doing that, truthing, but, hellscratch, it would be better for both of us. And I had a ship to maintain.

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