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Cultural Exchange - Part 13

"You have got to be kidding!"

"Oh come off it, Fred. I told you I might have some problems getting software for our comp. And I was doped up on pain killers when I did it. This was the best that I could do."

Fred sat in the acceleration couch in front of the pilot's station and gawked with no small amount of apprehension at the controls and status panels. Okay, so it was a shameless hack job, but a good one and me'n'Rory did a nice job of it. She's really very good at this sort of stuff once she gets told what needs to be done. The joysticks and related flight controls almost looked like they were factory installed and not something slapped together quick. She did that. I just cobbled the drivers and programs together. I still couldn't do much because of my cane.

Rory seemed a bit insulted by Fred's lack of faith, too. She stamped he foot as she spoke.

"Mr. Stracker! This will work. I am surprised that you think my work is poor. You have never said so before. I think it foolish to judge this without even seeing how it performs."

"Okay, Tuvi, then I am a fool. I'd be a bigger fool to fly even a toy copter with this set-up. C'mon! Its a goddam flight-sim game! You can't fly a ship with a video game!"

She glanced over at me and scowled. So I forgot to tell her where I stole the code from, so sue me. Err, on second thought, don't. I'd lose in court over IP and copyright issues; the game wasn't free and open.

"This is a child's toy? Gidzghak igtoeg guesaegh! I am sorry Mr. Stracker. You are right. I only installed the control inputs and panel status screens. I did not know Mr. James still played with toys."

Hey, she's learning to work like a scout...pass the buck to some other mope in case something goes wrong so he'll take the fall and not you. The scornful tone with which she said it hurt though.

"Tsk, tsk. Such language is not becoming of a lady, my dear. My software can pass the standard test suite easily and has done so in sim runs several times. It will work like I said -ahem- as long as the hardware inputs and outputs are hooked up right."

I used a sweet smile and only showed grinning fangs at the last when staring into Rory's blue peepers. She immediately opened her mouth in shock, closed it again blinking in indignation and spun around on her toes. She huffed her way out off the bridge with her nose up. See? Vargr aren't so much different from humans.

Fred watched in amusement as she stormed out, then he looked back at me, then back to the empty doorway. He had a hard time stifling his chortle; he almost choked on it. I slapped him across the back of his head and he suddenly seemed interested in my 'toy' again. He gripped the throttle and joystick, still chuckling to himself.

"Oooo-kayy. So how does this contraption work again?"

I was sorta proud at what me and the doggie had done. The original cockpit was no more, so we had to build a new one from scratch. I was still on light duty so I couldn't do anything more strenuous than lift a tankard to my lips. The doctor definitely said "No heavy lifting." That left Fred to lift equipment into place and Rory to connect it all up. I sat back and monitored their progress completing the hook-up with my lap-term. I already had run some flight control stuff in the server through some mock-certification testing and was ready to put the finishing touches on things.

The equipment was a story in itself. We had nothing but an acceleration couch for the flight deck and, well, like I said, nothing. After I had thought about it for a while, I remembered that flight sim I had played with in my last days bedridden. Why not use to flight model software from that? After all, it was only for manual control really, and how often is that used? Flying in an atmosphere and noodling around in open space, maybe. All the serious point-it-and-go was done by the nav systems and all you needed for that was to grab coordinates from a database and let the silicon gnaw on it until its digested for use. Hell, a keyboard could do that...

It could work. Take input from the cockpit and send output to either attitude thrusters and/or aero-slats to make the ship act like how the flight model said; an easy conversion process from the bits that controlled the 'virtual' plane's surfaces. One nice thing is that I can give the ship any flight envelope I wanted, so long as the ship could actually fly within it without cracking up. You want an old time business jet... *poof* You're flying an old time business jet. A ground-to-orbit COACC interceptor...*poof*... Well, you get the idea. Cheap, low resource and can fool the certification test suite. It just can't do a lot of the space and jump razzmatazz, but so what? It doesn't have to. Got code to handle that in other places and embedded systems.

The joysticks and front panel were all I needed and I knew where I could get those. I just happened to know that, across the tarmac, on the COACC side of the field, were a few dozen surplus F67 Firestreak orbital fighters up for scrap. Oldies, but goodies. The airedales thought they had found a ripe sucker for paying to get parts they were going to crunch; they pocket the dosh and any evidence of the cockpit's absence get mushed into titanium cubes by a contractor. I even got a few spares for parts in trade for 'future considerations'. The whole deal musta used up what luck I had for the next year. Otherwise, we'd still have 'nothing'.

Rory's work... what can be said except , that girl's amazing. Somehow, she was able to shoehorn the whole kit into the nose of the ship and make it look like it was designed just for that purpose, and in only 5 days. I just left the old status gauges and screens in place; they could be made to show whatever I wanted later, probably just mirror the heads-up displays the pilot's looking at in his shades.

I never liked the standard issue eyepiece display headset, so I fit the stuff into cool shades, earpieces included. We can either use it like a data overlay and keep the alpha channel set so we can see through it like sunglasses, or we can opaque 'em and have a private comp screen. I used the same I/O for the cockpit as them and viola! Instant heads-up. or anything else that can be accessed from that station.

"You have two throttle levers on your left. The outside one is for potential and the inner one is for the mains. Joystick on the right is just like an atmo-fighter, pitch and roll, and the pedals control the yaw. I haven't set up the weapon select switched yet or the tophat. That'll be for the future. I'll probably just set up a script to let you define them however you want."

"Great. Now we're all set to blast the Krellians... Gosh I hope I can get the high score so I can put my name on the splash screen."

He rolled his eyes as his sarcasm leaked out his piehole. I threw my arms up in disgust. I'll just have to hit him where it hurts.

"Fine! You wanna stay here and rot, be my guest, because we aren't getting anything else. Not unless you get me some real computers... of course, if you can't fly a simple game..."

"I can fly it for sure. I just don't think it'll work!"

"Oh ye of tiny faith, I'll prove it works. See if you can do a simple take-off to orbit training sim with it. Gimme a bit to set it up, with this world's data, for example, and we'll see who buys the next 5 rounds. I'll slave the control outs to a cgi model of the ship and the local area. Will that convince you?"

"Okay. Let's get Tuvi back up here so she can see her handiwork function while yours goes down in flames. Then the beer will be mine, all mine! bwahahaha. And the crow will be all yours..."

An hour and a half later, the hologram ship burst into flames during its 'reentry' and blasted a 1 km crater in the ground...godammit. They cheered and laughed like it was an opening day grudge match while I just stood there, an idiot staring at the hologram explosion, too stunned to speak. I either drooled or cried. I ain't saying which.

This can't be. I tested the hell out of it. It worked perfectly until now. What was wrong? Fred said something serious but I didn't listen to him and he held Tuvi away from me. I think she was going to see if I was okay. I wasn't. I couldn't admit such weakness, but that stupid program was a part of me because I made it into something unique from a dopey kid's game. When it died, so did part of me. It failed spectacularly and part of me said that I would too. I need to find out why so I'll be ready when it happens.

Without so much as a word, I shuffled back to my cabin, grabbed a screwdriver and went to the rack. They watched me from the cockpit's hatchway. I removed the drive that the program was on and locked myself into my room. For some childish reason, I hung a crudely drawn picture of a skull on the door with the words " STAY OUT" blazing across it in red. Then the door was locked... and kicked.

Why? I set up two clean systems and ran the failure side-by-side with the version that worked so well for me. The same result; one ran, one crashed.

What's this? Two identical programs, yet two different file sizes. I stripped all the excess test code away; same thing, two different file sizes. Diff...gotta try diff and bingo-bango...there it is! What is it? A timer, some port remappers. Timer resets at 50m and starts at altitudes greater that 50000m. Times down, scrambles controls randomly so ship is uncontrollable. Fire. Boom.

Now I am pissed. Someone violated my hardware and made an ass outta me.

Rory and Fred were startled when I emerged quietly from my room with a drive in hand. I reinstalled it and marched back to the cockpit. I glared and gave a single command.

"Run it again."

"You still lost the bet and have to buy us beer."

"Screw the beer. I've been murdered and now I've been raped. I want blood..."

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