Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Fiction for November 19, 2010

Our ever-enthusiastic NaNoWriMo Cheerleader, Joanne, returns as our Friday Fiction hostess this week, over at An Open Book. Take a break from your pre-Thanksgiving chores, and visit the story offerings you’ll find under the Linky tool.

“The Erikson Exigency” is over 43000 words, and the story is advancing quickly now. Since Friday Fiction is taking Thanksgiving Weekend off next week, this will be the final excerpt posted during NaNoWriMo. The Erikson, crippled by an explosion and pushed far off-course, has been brought back under control, though way beyond the limits of the current colonial explorations. The decision has been made to settle into orbit around the fourth planet of the nearest star system, and some of the scientists and engineers have been brought out of SusAn to begin evaluating the world for colonial development, since it looks as though they are going to be marooned here indefinitely. I like this chapter, because Georgia really started to come together as a character in this one, plus, despite a terrible situation, it brought a little humor into the story.

Chapter 10


Erikson was beginning to get crowded, at least by comparison. For much of the mission, Georgia could have gone for days without seeing another crewmember. Now, with many of the scientists and engineers out of SusAn, the ship was a flurry of activity.

Probes had been dropped to the surface, and the active galleys were often filled with the spirited discussions about the data being received from them. Ideas were proposed, dissected, revised, and sometimes rejected, and plans were being made. While some lamented the problems they faced, others were excited by them.

The Commander tried to stick to the business of keeping the direction of things positive, but she found herself more and more often being called to arbitrate heated disagreements. She was expected to understand all the mumbo-jumbo being quoted by both sides of the argument, and to recognize which position was the most tenable. When she was fortunate, she managed to ask just the right question to clarify something, and the answer to that would lead the disputing parties to find a solution. When she wasn’t fortunate, she managed to only order the two sides to separate compartments to cool off, and was left feeling stupid.

Now I understand why old time sailing ship captains would have men whipped or keel-hauled. If you can’t impress them with brilliance, subdue them with bullwhips. What was that quote attributed to Captain Bligh of the HMS Bounty? ‘A man will never disobey once he’s watched his mate’s backbone laid bare. He’ll see the flesh jump, hear the whistle of the whip for the rest of his life.’ I wonder if Bligh really said that? She chuckled at the thought of one of the engineers, stretched bare-back by ropes against one of the bulkheads. “Mr. Smythe, administer the lashes!”

“Aye aye, Cap’n.”

“A well-disciplined ship is an orderly and efficient ship, right Mr. Smythe?”

“Most certainly, Cap’n.”

Hanging didn’t present a threat in weightless conditions, and Erikson didn’t have any yardarms to hang anyone from, anyway. Keel-hauling, likewise, wasn’t much of an option, though tying a line around someone, and then pulling them up through one of the crawl-tubes could have much the same effect. Bouncing uncontrolled against the handholds and bulkheads would certainly make for a severe beating, without the abrasions from barnacles and the fear of trailing sharks.

Walking the plank – now there’s an idea. You want to argue and defy the Commander of this mission? Fine; we have a plank leading right to one of the airlocks. Let’s see how defiant you are right before that outer hatch slides open.

Duty aboard a modern Colony Vessel was supposed to be civilized, though. Civilized – root word is “civil,” and people need to remember that means to extend civility to others, not just expect it from them.

She was seeking respite more and more often in the quiet of the chapel. At first, it worked well to escape from the disputes, but then people figured out where she was going, and would seek her out.

It seemed sinful to entertain her pirate thoughts within the chapel, but with the two engineers nearly shouting at each other right beside her, and expecting her to take one side or the other, whatever peace there might have been was shattered, anyway. “Be quiet,” she finally said.

They didn’t seem to hear her, and continued their argument.

She raised her voice a bit more. “Both of you, be quiet NOW.”

They stopped and stared at her. “What did you just tell me?” one of them asked, clearly offended.

“I didn’t tell you anything. I just gave you a direct order to be quiet. If you wish to find out if I have the authority to enforce it, just try defying me and continue bickering.”

“Your lack of concern about this problem is most distressing, and sorely shakes my confidence in your ability to command.”

She brought her face right up to the other woman’s. “Your lack of couth and courtesy is appalling, and the fact that you brought your disagreement in here sorely shakes my confidence in your ability to read. The door to this compartment is clearly labeled ‘Chapel.’ This is a sanctuary, which means it is supposed to be a place of safety and peace, and yet you came right through that door without one consideration for any occupants herein.”

“It’s just you in here,” the engineer objected.

“Yes, it is, and I hold to my previous statement. You burst in here, dragging your turmoil, without any consideration for what I might be doing in here. You are both educated adults, but you are acting like spoiled toddlers. If the two of you, with all your training and your experience, cannot figure out how to work together like the adults you’re supposed to be, what makes you think I’m going to be able to solve your problems for you?”

The woman’s face was turning red, and she looked ready to burst.

“At this point, I should remind you that you do have the right to file a complaint with the Colonial Council. You can record your complaint securely with the system aboard Erikson, and per Colonial Charter, I will not be able to access it, or in any way tamper with it. I will not have any idea what your complaint contains, until it is brought up in the investigative hearing by the duly appointed arbiters of the Council. I assure you, the Council will act on any and all complaints, just as soon as they receive them. In the meantime, though, I don’t even know why you two are arguing. We are in the investigative phase, and we aren’t even ready to render any decisions on how we will proceed yet. Instead of wasting your time trying to convince each other of who’s right, just go and file your opinions, your findings, and your recommendations into your reports, and let it all get considered by the Lead Officers.”

The other engineer seemed sufficiently cowed. “Yes, ma’am,” he said, and looked away in discomfort.

“System,” Georgia prompted. “Command Media for immediate distribution: The ship’s Chapel is to be used strictly for traditional Chapel activities, such as meditation, prayer, faith observances, and so on. Discussions concerning the conditions and procedures related to terraforming and colonizing Foray – or any other planet – are off-limits within the Chapel. Those found in violation of this limitation will be subject to sanctions, such as reduction of rations or restriction to berth. Distribute and record confirmation from all active crew, and to all others as they are brought out of SusAn. Anyone refusing to provide confirmation will lose all systems access, until they acknowledge receipt of Command Media. Confirm.”

“Command Media confirmed,” the ship said. “Distribution to commence immediately.”

The woman engineer was so angry, she was starting to shake. “You – you can’t just hide in here whenever you feel like it!”

Georgia gave her a confident smile. “Yes, I can, and if you are not willing to comply with my orders voluntarily, I can also summon remotes to take you to an isolation berth, where you can remain until you decide you’re ready to act like a member of this crew, instead of like a brat in need of discipline. Do I make myself clear?”

The woman opened her mouth to reply, and then closed it with a tight-lipped expression. With a nasal huff, she left the compartment. The other engineer muttered a meek apology, and then left the Commander alone again.

Georgia turned back towards the front of the Chapel and closed her eyes. We still have nearly four hundred people to bring out of SusAn, and we’re just starting to correlate the data on what we’re facing on the planet. How are we ever going to make a go of it on Foray, if we can’t even manage basic team work in getting the process started?

A short while later, the door opened and Violet entered the Chapel, and drew up next to her. The younger woman said nothing, but gave Georgia a slight smile.

I should have guessed that if anyone would understand, you would. She returned the smile, and then went back to the quiet reflection.

After a few minutes, Violet started to softly sing, the lyrics a modern adaptation of one of the Psalms about crying out in distress. She had a pleasant singing voice, bolstered by the genuine emotions she poured into her words.

If it was in my power, Violet, I would send you home to your family, and spare you all the hardships we’re going to face out here. Since I can’t do that, though, I’m going to thank God that someone like you is here. Brunfeld and Smythe were completely wrong. Your value to this mission is far greater than either of those two could have ever imagined.

Even Tom Davis wouldn’t have been a better choice for the Erikson.

1 comment:

Joanne Sher said...

Love her character, Rick, and sounds like a whole lot of mess will be going on quite soon. Good stuff.