Wednesday, April 23, 2014

In Pressure Cooked

The Seeker SK4209 is a galatic-class military destroyer. The kind that has no business at the civilian-sanctioned McLan Docking Station. Not that they could be bothered to care, or even to explain how their spacecraft had become damaged enough to barely limp into our Station. The Seeker takes up half the docking bays, leaving McLan scramble for space to fix it and to also service the regular civlian craft who would be paying us for fixing their vehicles, loading and unloading supplies and doing everything else a Docking Station does. Not that the Seeker wouldn’t reimburse the station, but it would take time and during that time we’d be running at a crippling power loss if we weren’t careful. So everyone was scrambling like mad, and that included the mechanics.

Transfers aren’t allowed to work on military craft. A human whose mind is inside a body that isn’t human is not to be trusted. Its not law, but it is custom and tradition so old it might as well be law.
When you’re a cylinder (with arms inside it) on treads with a viewscreen ‘face’ on the top, you’re not human. It made the crew of the Seeker twitchy, so I’ve had my projection up over my body for weeks now: a human-me, the Dar I would have been if I’d lived into my twenties. There had been an accident when I was eight; I was one of the first transfers into a non-human body, and now one of the oldest. Most don’t last that long, all told. I have.

I’m left trying to do the regular work on civilian craft with a third of our normal crew and anyone that any craft or other Station can spare. Not that we have the time to train anyone we get properly, but a body is a body and hands are hands. We’ve given out so many access codes to various apps and linkages – along with major systems of McLan – that we’ll need to redo every passcode once things return to normal. This is barely an issue on anyone’s radar right now. Thinking on that and a dozen other things is half why I missed the first two pings from Orien through the infoweb insisting I come to his quarters.

He’s a medic, my best friend on the station and has his own charging station in his quarters since all his limbs are synthetic after an incident with a bomb. He’s also one of the only people I let get through no matter what I’m doing. He pings me three more times while I finish making sure two apps are properly linked with a system; I manage it without too much trouble on the second try, distantly worried it took me the second try, and he pings me again. I make farewells to the other mechanics on duty and take the restricted access tunnels to his quarters. I have access, thanks to Orien, but I rarely use them. But I’m in a hurry today, like every other day of late.

He is standing just inside the door when I enter and points to the left, where the door is open to a small side-room with a half-dozen charging stations. It is excessive, but they’re also a backup system in case of damage to one of the main systems. I hurry over, flexing limbs out of my chassis and hook myself into the station, shutting off my projection with a deep sigh of relief: the constant drain on my systems was starting to take a toll and it feels good to charge for more than ten minutes at a stretch. So good I slip into the rhythm of the energy flowing into my body and drift for almost three entire hours before pulling myself out.

I disengage, shutting the station off and am halfway to the door when Orien’s voice catches me.

“Dar.” He’s sitting at his kitchen unit, eating a meal of fried greens and meat. “You didn’t even register that I was here.”

“I need to –.”

“Over here. Now.” He says it in his medic-tone, not his friend one at all. I go over, stop in front of the table. He puts down his knife and fork and walks over, then bends down and presses one hand into my side. “You have a dent here.”

“Coupling mechanism last week, I –.”

“You didn’t fix it. Or come by and ask me to.” He runs fingers gently over my chassis, undoes linkages and removes a few apps, part of my body, and takes them to an examination table, repairing the dent, checking a couple of subsystems and snaps everything back into place a good five minute later. I’m unable to avoid a sigh of relief from my vocal interface: being naked still terrifies, no matter how much I trust Orien.

“That took five minutes,” he says softly, and I go still at the edge to his voice. He walks back to the kitchen table, gestures me to follow. I do, stopping in front of it again. “How many days has it been since you had a rest day, Dar?”

“I don’t need to rest like humans do.”

“Like people do?”

I say nothing. He eats, waits. “Like people do. A month, but –.”

“Almost two months. You were running on empty for almost a week, Dar. How many mechanics on sleep breaks were you covering for?”

“I don’t –.”

“Three. And your own work,” he says, and doesn’t raise his voice at all; somehow that hurts me more. “You’ve been a mechanic on the McLan for almost five cycles. Dar. You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone.”

“I’m not. I can do more than other people, last longer than they can: it’s something I can do, so I do it.”

“And you need to rest, the same as other people do.”

“Orien, I need to –.”

“Get back to work, because you have too much work to do.”


“And you don’t think that is why you need to rest?”

I am moving toward the exit, almost without thinking. I pause. He’s looking at me with no expression at all. I move back to the table, stop again. “You’ll seal the doors if I try and go, won’t you?”

“I don’t want to. I have that authority, but I do hope you’ll see sense first.” He begins eating again. “I have a half-hour for lunch. Relax. Talk. Anything you want, all off-record.”

“I can’t work on the Seeker because they won’t let me.”

Orien just nods, and listens. I talk for at least half an hour. If I’m honest, I’m ranting for most of the time: about the Seeker, about the mechanics we can barely train, the overcrowding, the workload and Orien for taking too long to eat his lunch by the end of it.

He finishes and smiles after. “Better?”

“We’re all under pressure. It’s –.”

“We all need to let off steam, Dar.” He reaches out a hand and pokes my viewscreen with a finger. “Even you, especially with having to keep a projection up for fear of ticking off people working on the Seeker.”

“I just –.”

“You’re not the only one who is ticked.” He pulls his finger away, snagging a cloth and makes me wait while he wipes down my entire chassis, even my treads. I’d protest but I haven’t felt clean in weeks and I can tell it is relaxing him as well.

“Better?” we both say at the same time, and share a laugh.

“I want your schedule,” I say. “Because I bet I’m not the only one in need of more breaks.”

Orien blushes at that and reluctantly sends me his entire schedule over the infoweb.

I check it, double-check it and say I’ll be back in fourteen hours to make sure he’s having at least one more meal today. I am halfway to the door before I add that he should see about charging up his own systems.

He throws the rag at me viewscreen and the door closes on his laugh sooner than I’d like it to.

I pause almost ten seconds outside, just relaxing a little more, and head back to the accessways and to work. I don’t bother putting my projection back up and almost don’t care when I pass some people from the Seeker.

No comments:

Post a Comment