Chapter 22 – Preparations and Arrival

John O’Malley and Building a Sales Model

The ships dropped out of nether space. John’s head immediately felt clearer and he began checking the systems on the ship. They were still well away from the galactic trading post. Felicity began her routine hailing Smith’s ship then announcing, “Miss Weiz reports everything is in order and everyone is in good shape. “ Millicent looked over at Jason and Michael and asked, “Position Mr. McNeill?”

Jason replied, “The Tureis sun is 15o to port and 5o below horizon. Estimated distance is 15 astronomical units from the sun.”

Michael continued, “There are 15 planets. 3 are in the habitable zone.  5 are gas giants of varying composition. There is an asteroid belt at the expected location. ”

Millicent nodded to the two of them and then turned to John and asked, “Ship status Mr. O’Malley?”

John replied, “Fuel at 60%. One engine is running warm but everything else is nominal. I am running extra coolant to the warm engine. ”

Millicent said, “Very well. Miss Woodson, contact Smith’s ship and getting us moving sunward and towards the asteroid belt at as fast a rate as possible.  Mr. Richards scan for other vessels – they frequent in this system.  Mr. McNeill scan the asteroid belt for materials. Mr. O’Malley join me in the engine room to talk with Miss Campbell. “ She walked off the bridge at a brisk pace and John followed. They were soon at the engine room in the lower decks.

In the engine room, Simone Campbell greeted the two of them with a notebook in hand. Millicent nodded to her and said, “Well Miss Campbell, what is the verdict?”

Simone looked at her notebook, pulled out a stylus and began to read numbers.  “We used 10% of the dark energy on our longest jump. The lowest we got was 88% of storage. That was because we were interfering with the collection devices. We have accelerated the machines performance by 20% over the course of the journey. With Charles and Camille’s assistance we have managed to keep the two ships together.”

Millicent said, “We should probably work on doing that without their assistance.”

Simone shrugged and said, “If you say so.  Regardless, if they are correct about the current local time, we have only lost a few days during the entire transit.  And that was over the course of 45 relative days.”

Millicent walked around the ring assembly and the consoles looking at them and brushing her finger on them. Then she asked, “The devices work.  I can sell them but you have to build them and build them consistently. Have you and Michael finished the plans for that?”

Simone pursed her lips and looked around the room. Then eyed John and then said, “We’ve got decent tools now. We have most of the materials we need, but we need more Ytterbium.”

Millicent said, “Forward your request to Mr. McNeill and Mr. Richards.”

Simone continued, “We’ll need to build machines to build the machines. These two sets have been remarkably stable and consistent for two prototypes assembled with different tools by different people. But that was probably post-production tuning and luck. If we want consistent performance, we will need a consistent process. And with a decent building processes, the devices should perform even better. “

Millicent said, “Fine…fine. I am usually gone when this part of the process starts.  How long to pull this all together?”

Simone blew out her cheeks and said, “Two to four days for the first machines to make the devices, if I have John and Michael working with me. Let’s be cautious and say three to six weeks  for the first machines because things happen.”

Millicent asked, “Will you be able to produce more than one at a time?”

Simone shrugged, “Eventually, but we’ll need to get one set of assembly machines working first and space on the ship will be a concern.”

Millicent said, “You’ll have all the resources you need for this. Start the work. I’ll send down Mr. Richards.  Call everyone including others from Smith’s ship if it will make it faster.”  Simone started at the comment. John closed his eyes but Millicent said sharply, “It will only be Neville Carter Frasier. The others are untrustworthy.  I know it is unpleasant, but we are facing more difficult times, Miss Campbell. We can’t be too picky on where our help comes from. “

Simone with John  – Building the Factory

Simone smirked at John and said, “Ready to make a factory floor?”

John looked around at the space and then said, “I am feeling a bit rushed. We just got here and she wants to start building a factory to make these things.”  He waved his hands at the rings and the consoles.

Simone gathered a notebook from the table and handed it to him and said, “Start reading. You and Rachael have been playing buffer to Smith’s merry band of pirates so we managed without you.  Millicent told Michael and me to start planning for mass production awhile ago. We planned, but now we need you and Eleanor to build the tools and set up the floor.”  John looked wide eyed at the notebook and then back at her with a long face. Simone, being a bit shorter, waved up at him and said, “Hop along. Give it a quick view. Let me know what’s easy, what’s hard and what should be impossible.”

John shook his head and said slowly, “Right…” He turned to leave and then looked over his shoulder and said, “Is this how you would have managed accounts at the old family firm?”

Simone open her mouth in surprise and then frowned and said, “Leave and start your reading or I shall sic Eleanor on you…And she is your size.”

Eleanor on the bridge – Orbiting the asteroid

Eleanor eased the ship into a close orbit around the barbell shaped asteroid.  A set of guidelines provided by Charles helped her with attitude and speed.  The ship found its orbit easily. The first time she had tried this maneuver around an asteroid, it had taken several tries before she only managed a very elliptical orbit. Smith had vented his frustration at Felicity through the tube. His asperity had become so toxic that Millicent grabbed the speaking tube and proceeded to say, in colorful terms, how she would manage her own crew in her own way, thank you very much, and if he had half a brain he would be training them just as she was. Eleanor still flushed at the embarrassment but Millicent had said to her afterwards, “That bastard does not give you orders. And you will keep doing this until it happens as easily as falling out of bed. “

Now it was Smith’s ship that was having problems. Felicity reported that Neville Carter-Frasier was trying to make orbit. Eleanor smiled in an odd satisfaction that he was struggling.  After time, both ships were in orbit. Eleanor said, “Mrs. Richards, please pass along my respects to Mr. Carter-Frasier.” She paused and took a deep breath and then said, “relay that it gets easier each time.”  Felicity raised her eyebrow and then nodded in approval and passed the message on. Eleanor envied her capacity to forgive.  Eleanor then said, “Then ask Miss Wiez to deploy two drones to collect iron, ytterbium, iridium and whatever else she fancies. Mr. Richards pass the same message onto Simone…Miss Campbell if you please.”  Eleanor saw Felicity stifle a smile at the slip.

Michael used his own speaking tube and said, “Our Officer of the Day has said you may enjoy your shopping trip.” He looked over and asked, “Simone wants to know if she should pick anything up for you.”

Eleanor shook her head and watched the asteroid surface go by.

Jason on the bridge – Time, Quality and Cost (pick two)

Michael, Eleanor and John were in the machine shop on the lower levels most hours now.  A new manufacturing tool would be produced, placed on the line and then Jason and Simone pull some wire to the contraption. Rachael or Simone would fine tune the device and the process repeated.  Each tool took about day to complete.  In two weeks, they had laid out six stations and the manufacturing process would soon be ready. Simone and Eleanor, with Rachael and John’s help would lead that. Jason cleaned his hands of the solder grease as Rachael moved in quickly to fine tune the console he had hooked up.  Jason frowned as Rachael started her work. Millicent stood next to him and observed with arms crossed.  She watched Rachael but asked Jason,  “Speculating, Mr. McNeill?”

Jason shrugged and said, “Worrying. “ He waved around the room and said, “This all seems a bit rushed.  We built these stations in less time than we built the devices. Everyone was careful, but…”

Millicent finished, “But rushing means less checking, more short cuts and that means errors.”

Jason retuned the soiled rag to his work bag and said, “My water heater case took as long to make as all of these pieces.”

Millicent smiled and said, “You did not have the precision tools available on this ship or Smith’s. And you didn’t have as many capable hands – although I will not slight Stephen.  Regardless, you’re point is taken. We are taking risks. But needs must and that is why these early units will be called ‘demo models’”

Jason rolled his eyes and said, “Demo models.” He changed the subject and asked, “What will happen at the station?”

Millicent pursed her lips and said, “If we are lucky, we make some sales; we will meet some important people and I will find out about some entries on Smith’s infamous list.”  She looked at him and said, “And you will continue your practical learning of the galaxy and its ways.“

Jason cocked his head and asked, “Practical?”

“You will run an errand or two. I expect Liam will have found the local public establishments,” She turned and looked him over appraisingly and shaking her head back and forth. She added, “And we send you shopping for some clothes.”

Rachael shouted, “Save your money,  Millicent. Can’t make a silk’s purse out of a sows ear.”

Jason blushed but Millicent said, “I am not so sure. I will have Mr. O’Conner’s help on that matter.”

Jason sputtered protest, but Millicent continued on, “All of you will be having a minor surgery at the station.” Jason stopped and got wide eyed. She continued, “Just a small addition. Something that will help you in a crowd of people. I have used this surgeon over the years and I have found it very useful over the years to be able to speak the local language.”

Simone – Testing the Modules

Simone watched the instruments as the shifted out of nether space. Her head cleared as usual. This was the third and longest jump with the demo devices. A second set of demo devices was on Smith’s ship with Rachael watching the same instruments. These two sets were as powerful as the first set devices but had limitations. The reserve of dark matter was smaller and the speed in nether space was slower by 20% with the best tuning. The two ships had arrived at a nearby star. The estimated time of the jump was a bit over 5 hours. Simone asked, “How much time passed in normal space?”

The aristocratic voice responded, “Camille and I are still working on a reliable estimate of outside time. My best estimate based on spectral shifting is less 10 minutes.”

Simone asked, “And our coordination with Smith’s ship?”

“We arrived simultaneously as far as our sensors can tell. That was over 3 light years.  Well done to you and the team.”

Simone leaned back and said into the speaking tube, “Miss Campbell to Captain Morgaine. You can also gather the drones when you are ready.  You also start planning your sales pitch. We have two working models produced from the factory line.”

Over the tube, Felicity relayed, “Captain Morgaine says ‘Simply perfect, Miss Campbell’. And we will be about 30 minutes getting the drones. They have some observations to make.”  Simone smiled and started to get up and head to the door.

Millicent’s voice came on, “I require Miss Woodson’s assistance in gathering the drones, so don’t bother asking. I suggest you spend some time recording your notes. Or finding a good book while we wait.”

Simone sat back down blushing deeply. Charles said, “Shall I bring up a list of light romances?”

Findley Brown – Dealing with Communication Issues

Findley stared at the ceiling of the cabin. Redman had dropped off his meal without as much as a word. Meals seemed to coincide with time outside of jumps. But that was probably due to activity and the general malaise of jumps. After the initial days, Smith never returned to the cabin.

Findley supposed he should be worried about being sold off to some sadistic deviant slaver. But he and Winifred had been communicating via taps on the wall.  The electronic isolation worked both ways and Camille could not monitor them as closely.  Apparently Winifred had avoided the savage brutality of Smith, but she had been equally isolated. And he had removed her robotic hand. She was angry, furious really, at that deprivation. Smith may have viewed the removal as a calculated punishment. Winifred had made it clear to Findley that it was a bridge Smith had burned. Findley was more than happy to step into the void.

Winifred was convinced she had a way to bypass the door locks. However, such knowledge was a little use with nowhere to go. Findley pointed out that they would be the equivalent of refugees in a foreign port hoping for some useful attention.  Winifred was convinced that, once in contact with the Guild, those matters would be resolved.

It was during these musings, that Smith walked into the room with Alfred Redman behind him. Findley remained reclined on the bed. Smith looked at him and then said, “Mr. Brown, whoever gets you will require a minimum degree of functionality such as the ability to communicate.”

Findley smirked and said, “I communicate just fine – English, French, German and even a bit of Spanish.”

Smith looked down his nose saying, “How very cosmopolitan of you.  If someone said, ‘Apakah nama Anda, silahkan’, how would you respond?”

Findley was confused. Sounds had come out of Smith’s mouth, but they were unrecognizable. Findley hissed back, “It’s gibberish. How should I know?”

Smith looked up at the ceiling and shook his head saying, “How did you English manage to conquer the world?” He looked back at Findley and said, “I simply asked your name. Which, I will add, would be difficult to say for the native speakers of that language.”

Findley resisted the urge to say four languages ought to be enough. He sat up on the bed and said, “And when do my lessons start?”

Smith barked a harsh laugh, “Even myself or Morgaine could not manage the rudiments of all the necessary languages.” He leaned in and grinned thinly, “Fortunately for everyone, there is a far simpler method.”

Findley said waving a hand airly, “Fine…Fine. How does the new miracle of yours work?”

Smith rested his hand on Findley’s shoulder and gripped tightly, “Here is the part I am going to enjoy. The initial procedure is remarkably like collaring.” Findley stiffened, but Smith pulled him to his feet and moved him towards the door, “Perhaps I will get two jobs done at once.” He could hear Redman crack his knuckles and Findley felt himself propelled through the doors as he screamed, “noo….”

Eleanor – The Problem with Charles

The ships had left the nether space at the far edge of the Tau Ceti solar system and begun the “fall” into the inner portion of the star system. The transit to the inner planets was nearly done. The ship had been under high acceleration – almost twice normal gravity. John reported that fuel reserves were low – only a quarter, as a result of the constant high speed. But Millicent and Smith had said the remote entry, high speed and fuel burn were necessary to avoid early questions.

Millicent checked her notebook and then said, “I will be having you dock Miss Woodson. Mrs. Richards, I will handle communications as you do not yet have a translator.” She looked around the bridge and then said, “Now is a very good time to say we won’t be mentioning Charles or Camille or mentioning any of their higher level functions.” There was quiet on the bridge following the statement.

Finally Eleanor asked, “Is there a reason?”

Charles practically snapped, “I told you to mention it earlier.”

Millicent frowned and said, “There was too much going on and too much activity to have them fretting about it.” She closed her eyes and said, “You might be right, but done is done.” She took a deep breath and said, “Artificial Intelligence beings such as Charles or Camille are illegal according to the Guild.”

Jason burst out, “That is just bollocks.” Others shouted similar protests until John shouted “Hoy…” . In the quiet he asked, “What does ‘illegal’ mean, precisely?”

Charles answered crisply, “Self evolving, higher intelligence machines capable of higher level emotions. Especially machines capable of replicating new intelligent machines. “

Before there could be anymore outbursts Eleanor asked, “Again, I ask, is there a reason?”

Charles said as if he were a guide a museum, “Beings such as myself and Camille have been banned since the revolt of Uycarro – Millicent’s planet.” There was a long pause and then he added, “We were a significant advantage to the Uycarran forces. Our electronic warfare was very effective and some of my brethren  were…quite ruthless.”

Millicent said quietly, “The foster home that raised me portrayed the AIs as nothing less than evil. It took some time for me to get past that.”

Charles muttered, “It’s not like their hands were clean.”

Millicent said, “So you understand that there can be no mention of either Charles or Camille.”

John said harshly, “So, Charles, you just twiddle your thumbs while we are on shore.”

Charles said slowly, “On shore…how quaint. No, I don’t twiddle my metaphoric thumbs. There is a significant energy signature around my structure and intelligence. I will need to be shut down.”  There was more noise. This time Eleanor shouted, “Hoy…let ‘im finish.”

Charles said, “Thank you, Eleanor. I will be starting a backup now and I will be shut down while we are attached to the station. I suppose you could call it a sleep, but it is more like a coma. My memory and current state are preserved. Since I am off, I am undetectable. Millicent and Smith and their people have gotten very good at hiding the supporting equipment to keep us running.”

Eleanor asked in a high pitched voice, “And this is normal?”

Millicent raised her hand up and said, “Yes. Perfectly. We’ve done it hundreds of times. As have Smith and Camille, I am sure.”

Eleanor scratched her head and then returned to the control panels that guided the ship and said, “Right then…a few more simulations seem to be in order before you take your nap. Don’t they Charles?”

Charles replied, “I do like this crew.” And the screen showed the approaching station and Eleanor began her practice.

Millicent Docks the Ship at Tau Ceti

Felicity sat next to Millicent with her notebook open. Millicent smiled at the earnest look as Felicity jotted down comments in the notebook. Eleanor seemed fully focused on the ship’s control panel.  She turned to the engineering section and John gave her quick two fingered salute.

She took a deep breath and addressed the Tau Ceti station in galactic standard language.  <Tau Ceti Station, this is Canynges’ Folly seeking docking>

The language was guttural and involved hiss and clicks. Millicent was sure her crew would think she had gone mad.  The station replied in the same language <One moment Canynges’ Folly…please assume neutral geosynchronous orbit>.

Millicent said to Eleanor, “Miss Woodson, assume the geosynchronous orbit we had planned. They are checking our credentials.”

Jason reported, “Smith’s ship is assuming a geosynchronous orbit as well.”  Millicent nodded.

Millicent called in, <Tau Ceti control Canynges’ Folly and Uycarran Glory are working together. Adjacent docks are necessary>

<Uycarran Glory reported your association. We are verifying both your ships. Please maintain your neutral orbit.>

Millicent sighed and said, “They run the largest trading cartel in the galaxy and their computer system is the slowest. We will be waiting until they verify the two ships. Mr. McNeil…watch the station. I do not expect trouble. But if they send out escort ships, we will be making a run.”

Jason said, “Acknowledged.”

Millicent said, “As for the rest of you, take breaks singly as needed. This could be a while.”

An hour later, the station called back, <Tau Ceti control to Canynges’ Folly and Uycarran Glory. We have designated you CFM-1 and UGM-1. Your docking zones have been notified. Coordinates are being sent.>

Eleanor said, “I have the coordinates for the bay and I am adjusting.” Eleanor applied a gentle thrust that pushed the ship out of geosynchronous orbit and slowly aligned it with the large station.  As they got closer, the enormity of the station began to take hold. Hundreds of ships were attached to the massive structure. The station was cylindrical in shape but the ships attached made that difficult to tell.  Large ships that seemed to be the size of towns were attached in the middle giving it the appearance of a Christmas cracker. Small and medium size ships such as their own congregated on the ends.

Liam muttered, “Core – busier than Thames in wool season.”

Michael commented, “It is a ridiculous hodge podge.”

Millicent said, “10 species contributed to its construction. That hodge podge reflects 10 varieties of building and design.” She reflected at the large conglomeration and then said, “You have a point…it isn’t very graceful.”

A new voice could be heard now < CFM-1 and UGM-1, this is dockmaster for deck 201. We now require fully automated docking. Please allow dock control for you entry.”

Millicent looked over to Eleanor and said, “Press the bright yellow and red button and don’t touch the controls afterwards.”  Eleanor pushed the button, then looked over at Millicent. Millicent shrugged and said, “Might as well sit back and relax. They will be doing the work now.”

The controls began to move on their own. Millicent said, <Dockmaster 201 you have controls.> She then turned to the crew and said, “Anyone for a nice cup of tea while we wait for the slowest docking in the universe to finish?”