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Cultural Exchange - Part 8

A bunch more stuff came today for the ship. I signed for it while taking a break from preppin' the hull for paint.

A hotter and dustier brand of work doesn't exist. I grit-blasted while the dog and Fred went behind me and inspected/cleaned-up the delicate bits. I usually drifted between boredom, self-pity and pretending to flame bunches of people while spraying hi pressure sand against the hull. Nasty job, but the paint won't adhere to the armor without giving the surface a little 'tooth' for the paint to grab on to. The others inspected fittings and scrubbed the loose stuff off with suds and a scrub brush. Breaks were welcome indeed.

There were several pallets this time; mostly electronics and other rack-mount stuff. The rest were loaded with drums of paint and a spray kit. Right on schedule. Too bad we were behind.

Animosity among friends is a terrible thing. Look at this. The computer cpu's we got sent might as well have been lifted from a dumpster, they were so out of date. Sure gonna limit our sensors a bit, but what choice do we have? At least I can start work on setting the main control systems up. Master Kugishanach sucks baloots. I know he has better stuff than this. This is gotta be the worst he can scrape up.

The paint... pfff, why'd he even bother. There's a mix of colors here that makes it obvious that he was using us as an excuse to clear out his unused stock. And lots of pink. And what else... Black, white, many blues of several mismatched shades and other various colors for markings ( reds and yellows, mostly ) . The catalyst drums were dated as no-good a couple of years ago. I guess we'll have to find out the hard way if they really do have a shelf life of infinity. But he gave us pink paint, the bastard.

"New parts? What do we have?"

Fred had climbed down and was peeking into various open crates. A quick glance told me Roary was halfway down the ladder off the top of the hull. She was wet and miserable. Her fur was matted and ceramic dust made her look like she was covered with powdered sugar...then sprayed with a hose. I wanted to laugh at her, but that would mean talking to her and I still didn't want to talk to her today...or yesterday...or tomorrow. I turned my back to her and went over the shipping list again.

"Nah. Only old parts. Why is Kugi doing this to us? How in the hell am I suppose to part together a control system from this? I mean, come on! My lap-terminal is brainier than this stuff. This doesn't even meet the minimum requirements for contract orders. The service won't buy this stuff anymore, it's so obsolete."

"Nothing we can do. Kugi has Scolpino convinced that if he gave us up-to-date goods, there'd be nothing for normal squadron maintainence and everyone else would be grounded. He says we're lucky to even get this. It's sink or swim time, my friend. You do know how to"... pause ..."DOG-paddle, doncha?"

I accidentally ripped the yellow copy in half and decided that I'd make this junk shine, just out of spite. He does this on purpose, getting under my skin. He's a sadistic bastard at heart. He thinks that if everyone around him is miserable, he'll seem happier in comparison. Either that or he just uses my temper to manipulate me into doing work...

Hah. I'm not the only one to be less than pleased at Fred's dog joke. Roary's ears went back and her eyes narrowed a little. She huffed as she drank some water, rinsed off her face and started back up the ladder to scrub the ship some more. Ain't havin' a leader, grand, chickie?

I had tossed the clipboard into the top crate and started back up the ladder myself when Friedrich waved me off and took the protective jacket for himself. Lucky me.

"Get this stuff inside. Me and Tuvi will finish the top. This all has to be out of the way before we can start prepping the bottom. I want to start painting in two days."

He suited up for grit-blasting and climbed the ladder up to where Roary waited. I watched as he yelled orders to her, lowered the face mask and started spraying grit. Dust drifted down on my head and eyes. Oh well...back to work... like a stevedore in the rain...

They worked until dusk. I lay in my rack nursing my sore lower back. I heard the showers on her deck and across the hall running. They'll want dinner soon. I left food out for them earlier. Simple stuff because I am a lousy cook. Actually, I just heated some stew up and set their places. I didn't want to eat. I like being alone. I had work to do anyways. Rigging out a control board isn't going to be fun with bearskins and stone knives...

I just lay there. After a while, the only noise was the ship breathing; all the little noises of ventilation and pops'n'pings of the frame cooling from the afternoon sun into the night. Without these noises, you know the ship is dead.

I had listened to the muffled speech of Fred and Roary talking and sometimes laughing in the commons just outside my door. Then I heard Fred's music play softly through the closed door of his stateroom. All the while, the ship breathed. A toilet flushed, then silence, and still the ship breathed. The one constant thing in my life. The only thing I can truly count on is that sound.

I honestly can't remember even not hearing that sound, or knowing that a living ship awaited me when it was time to rest. Even as a kid, I think it was there. When the ship stops breathing, I know that I will die. I guess that's why I do what I do; I keep my ship working so that I can live.

I was 5 years old when I first heard the sound and paid attention to it. My family was on a trip to a new world to live. A huge ship full of people. Then there were explosions and I was alone in the room and all the lights went out. I heard wheezing, then nothing. When I laid my head on the deck, I could hear people screaming and begging god for life. After a short bit, I couldn't hear them anymore. I guess neither did god. And there was nothing. Pure black and pure quiet. I knew I was going to die and I knew that god wouldn't hear me, because he didn't hear the others.

Then the ship started to breathe...but not soon enough for them. I was alone. They found me. They didn't find my family. And I was alone. But I was alive because the ship breathed...

I guess I won't get much sleep tonight...Lets have a look a what I can make out of that antique junk...

Come breakfast-time, I was bleary-eyed, sore and triumphant, but only a little. I didn't sleep a wink last night, and I looked it. Gonna make work today a lot of fun, oh boy. I pop some whites and go to the commons. I already brace myself for any comments about my clothes being slept in and not shaving.

"Couldn't sleep?"

Mr. Stracker doesn't miss much and he knows me better than anyone else in existence. Bet he even knows why I didn't sleep. Rortuvu's not privy to my secrets and I don't feel like sharing. I just grunt and shake my head while shuffling to the fridge for some juice.

"Did you have bad dreams, Mister James?"

"None of your business, wrench. What I dream about doesn't concern you."

That's telling her. I glare at Fred. I wonder how much he told her about me. I don't like people to know too much about me. Especially if I ain't the one doing the telling.

She just lowered her head and looked at the deck. I guess I was a little brusque with her. From the look on her face, I guess she really didn't know anything and was really just trying to show some polite concern. Fred spoke to me now.

"Get much done last night?"

See? He can read me like a book. After 17 years together, I should hope so.

"Sorry Roary, I guess I am just a little tired."

First things first. She didn't deserve to be snapped at like that.

"Actually I was just testing some ideas about what to do with those old rack units. I got two of 'em to talk to each other so I can at least get a cluster setup running okay. Had to use an old opsys though. I have to hope I can find some software that'll do what I want, though. I'm nowhere near good enough at programming to rewrite most of what has to get done. We'll just have to see how it works out. How'd ya'll do? I didn't hear you come in last night. I set out some dinner in case you stayed out working late."

I could tell Fred knew I lied about not knowing when they finished. Like I said, he could read me like a book.

"We did okay. Better than okay, Right Tuvi? We finished to top side and got some of the bottom aft side done, to boot. Another day and we can sling some paint."

Roary nodded and her tail danced a jig. I guess she's happy. Fred continued.

"We're still a day or two behind schedule but what the hell, we've been busting our asses hard and we deserve a day off. So today is work appreciation day. Relax and appreciate the work you've done."

Sounds good to me. Probably work on the computers anyhow. Got nothing else to do.

"In fact, I think we should all go out for dinner on the town tonight. Spend time with each other away from work and our ship. In fact...."

Sigh....here it comes. He's on a roll. Some big group hug type of thing so we can all love one another and live in perfect harmony. ugh. I already work close well with Fred and I already flopped with Roary. This will be a waste of time. I just want to go out and get drunk and laid.

"... we should start thinking about what we should name our ship and how we should color her."

That's it?? Hey gang, let's name the ship. Let's give a temp crewmate, who hasn't even been with us very long an equal vote too!

Why am I being so hard on her. Of course she should have a name-vote. After all, she's bloodied her knucks while putting in the drives and she did solve the gear problem. She'll get the drives purring nice too, or I'll eat my spanners. I guess I just feel strange being around her. Aww big deal... I feel strange around damn near everybody. I just don't have to live with everybody.

All the same, I got some bad feelings about tonight. I'll probably screw up again.

"Go away...I'm busy."

He just won't take no. I better let him in and get this over with. Its not like these computers are going anywhere. ( Though I wish they'd go back into the garbage. ) I hope this won't take long. I keyed the door open.

"What's with you and Tuvi... You've been avoiding her ever since the drives went in. What's going on?"

"Nuthin'. Now leave me alone. I got problems to solve."

"You got that right, brother. And I'd say its 'operator error'."

I shot him a nasty glance. Then I loaded another unit into the rack and started linking it in. He's smart. He ought to get the hint that I don't want to talk about it. I reach around blindly for my screwdriver without looking up. He handed it to me, but didn't let go of it until I looked him in the eye. His voice was level and hard.

"Fix it, or our mission is a bust."

He turned and walked out without saying another word. The door closed. And I was alone.


I threw the screwdriver at the wall, sat on my bed and listened to the ship breathe.

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