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Homebrew - A Blog Science Fiction Novel

Hand-tossing pizza in micro-gravity is an art. For one thing, even the slightest push to the side causes the spinning dough to drift away, far more rapidly than it sinks back down.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Homebrew - Chapter Four

Chapter Four
First Hand Experience

Experience is a good teacher, but she sends in terrific bills.
-Minna Antrim

November 13, 2011

"Listen up, Peas!" the copilot's voice boomed out of their helmet speakers, overriding private-channel conversations. The passengers all felt their bodies drift slightly away from the acceleration seats, snugging against the restraint webbing that secured each into place. "We're almost docked with the Hub so the Cap'n and I will soon be rid of your stink. But before you go, I've got a few items to bring up."
"First, some of you, and you all know who you are, forgot to mention to me that you were weak-livered pukers and you didn't get the dramamine pills we asked you to take. The Cap'n runs a tight, CLEAN ship. That means before you get to leave our comfy tour bus, you get to clean up the mess you made. I'm going to make it easy for you and hand out hand-vacs. And, I will be flushing the cabin to hard vacuum when you're done to suck out any remaining bits. Of course, if I do so and you haven't secured your helmets and sealed your faceplates, some of you might experience shortness of breath - that means YOU, Tyler! Get yourself sealed in! Singhman, help your teammate!"
Startled, Mohinder Singhman turned to his right and slammed Jessica Tyler's faceplate shut as he shouted, "Yes, Ma'am! Tyler is sealed in, Ma'am!"
"In case you haven't been told this yet, Singhman, this isn't the military and I'm not your mother. So can the Ma'am. Copilot or Wei will do." A deep, yet soft clang rumbled through the craft. "And... we're docked. Jorgensen, Militas, Ngu, Hartman, you all entertained us with your post-prandial display of projectile vomiting. Now it's your turn to display your skills at wielding hand-held appliances. Unstrap and come up to the front bulkhead. You'll find the dirtbusters clipped inside the two compartments with the blue triangles on the doors. The rest of you Peas stay webbed in."
"Copilot?" Dora asked over the public circuit, "Why do you keep calling us 'Peas'?"
"Because until you new people get used to working up here," the pilot, Captain Johannes Seitzer, replied to her query, "that's all you are, freeze-dried peas waiting to be packaged up and shipped home. Probationers who haven't learned the difference between training and real life in space. There are countless ways to lose air and get yourself freeze-dried, so don't go strutting around as if you know it all. If your supervisor or a co-worker with more time in orbit tells you to do something in a manner not authorized in the manuals, chances are very good that it's working it's way through the change process for the next manuals update."
"Also, every time you screw up, you increase the chance we'll be hauling you home all wrapped up in a body bag. We're hauling two down on this trip, and we don't like hauling bags of freeze-dried Peas. So don't screw up!" Wei added.
The four workers who'd been assigned cleanup duty had stopped performing their task, listening along with the others to the lecture. Worried expressions showed on most of the faces, including Ellen's and Dermot's. The rest managed to keep a solemn yet serene look.
"Didn't Wei tell you to clean up?" Seitzer reminded the four. "What are you waiting for, an engraved invitation? We don't unload until you're done."
The whine of motors resumed as the perpetrators finished cleaning up the residue of their food disaster. Most had already been caught up into barf bags by the other passengers, who did so in self defense, not wanting to spend the remainder of the voyage covered in the slimy, stinking mixture. Those who held the bags handed them over to the four as they floated back up the aisle upon completing the job. As the dejected victims of the punishment detail approached the front bulkhead, the hatch leading to the command deck opened, letting Captain Seitzer and Pilot Wei enter the main cabin. Seitzer pointed to a panel on the port side of the bulkhead.
"All of you Peas, listen up." he commanded. "Any panel marked with this red trefoil design is an access point for bio-hazardous waste disposal." He paused, watching the four. "Well, go ahead, dump your trash. You're holding us up." At his urging, they pulled forward and unloaded their 'cargo' into the receptacle. Then they waited for him to continue.
"My goodness, the people they let through training these days," he said to his copilot. Then he snapped, "Do you have to be told what to do next? Put the dirtbusters away and strap in again!"
The four complied, every move screaming they had been cowed by the lesson. The rest of the group's snickers echoed over the public channel. Finally, when all the passengers were again secured, Wei reached out and keyed a code into the keypad set in the bulkhead.
As the atmosphere screamed out of the craft, Seitzer said, "I'm telling you, Sarah, the recruits get dumber and dumber with every load."
"It's not that bad, Sir. They managed to not kill each other."
"So true, but not for want of trying, I think. Not for want of trying." By then the cabin was depressurized. "Pay attention, Peas. What little remains of our four adventurers meals has now been, for the most part, sucked out into the void. The miniscule remainder is stuck to a few of you. It will remain there until you clean it off. We're not going to bother with that right now. It can wait until you get on-station. The main reason is I'm tired of waiting for you to get your act together. However, doing so would require me to re-pressurize the ship. That would be a waste of time and atmosphere."
"Instead, you are going to form two squads and file out of my ship and onto the station. By this time, a station worker has attached a pull line next to the exit hatch and you will practice your skills at transhipment."
"Dora Rodriguez!" Wei barked. "You and Ellen Connoly will be squad leaders. Everyone count off by ones and twos. Dora, you will be leader of squad one. Ellen, you will lead squad two. Count off!" She motioned the two women out of their seats and to her. Over a private channel, she said, "It will be easy, but neither of you have done this before, so pay attention. Rodriguez, you'll go first. Take station at the exit hatch and I'll have your squad line up behind you. When the hatch opens, you are to stand in the opening and grab the line the station worker gives you. There's a clip on the end, attach it to your suit. He will then hand you a second line which you will clip to the striped red-and-white attachment point on the inside of the hatch frame. He will then pull you out of the way. You will count off each person coming out of the ship, using channel 5, that's the one used by the other station worker manning the module hatch. We won't send out another person until that worker reports the current person has arrived by repeating your count back to you. You will then verify by saying 'next person'. Got all that? Repeat it back to me."
"Go to the hatch, hook the first line to my suit, hook the second line to the attachment point on the hatch frame, let myself be pulled outside, count my squadmate coming out of the ship, when the station counts that person has arrived, say 'next person', repeat until done." Dora rushed to get out. "I think I've got it."
"And you, Connoly?"
"Hatch, hook my suit, hook hatch, count, wait for repeat of count, say 'next person'." Ellen replied, sounding a bit nervous.
"Connoly, I want you to stand on the other side of the hatch and watch how it goes." Wei decided. "Can you do that?"
Ellen took a deep breath. "Yes. I can do that, Copilot"
"Relax, Pea. We've been doing this for some time and haven't lost a Pea yet. Okay you two, move to the hatch." Wei switched to the public circuit. "All right, you Peas, listen to me. Everyone who is in squad one, unweb, stand up and file to the hatch behind Rodriguez, who's on the left of the hatch. The rest of you, stay webbed in."
The opening of the hatch loomed ahead of Dora, and it had the appearance of a black hole in the cabin wall from the angle she could see. The filter on her helmet reduced glare to the point where, she knew from the experience of the one suborbital trip they had all taken, most stars could not be seen. Surprising her, a line drifted in just as a man's voice said, "Head's up!" She grabbed for the line and missed it, but Ellen snagged it for her. As soon as she had it clipped on, she gave it a sharp tug, as they had taught her to do back on Earth. This time she saw the line coming and was not caught off guard by the same voice saying, "Second line." As soon as she had it firmly hooked to the hatch frame, she felt herself being pulled outside.
Once out of the ship, she could see the station looming over her, or was she stranded high above it, about to fall. For a moment, her mind couldn't decide. Then an instructor's voice called from her memory, 'If you start to feel disoriented, find a horizon line. Fix on that horizon line and ignore all else until you get settled'.
"Find a horizon. Find a horizon. Find a horizon." she repeated as she sought out the length of the ship.
"All right, already." the man broke into her concentration. "Find the damned horizon and let's get on with this. Management hates paying me overtime."
Dora flushed with embarrassment. Once again she was glad no one could see her face behind the glare shield. She calmed herself before responding, "I'm okay. Send out the next person."
As that person came into view, a safety line hooked onto the suit and looped over the cable running between the ship and the station, she said, "One". After what seemed to her to be an eternity, she heard 'One' repeated by a woman's voice. She then said, "Next Person," followed by "Two" as another suit drifted into view on it's journey to the station.
Just as it became routine, the man floating next to her tapped her shoulder and said, "You're all done." He pointed to her line which he'd clipped to the cable. "Go ahead and pull yourself across. I've got to herd the next group."
"Okay." Turning, she said, "Twenty-five, heading across," and grasping the cable, she pulled herself along.

* * *

"I know each and every one of you new Peas are ready, no, eager to jump right to work and get OPS-1 up and generating power by 1200 Zulu time tomorrow." their guide told them, as he pulled himself along the corridor. "However, we prefer to follow the plan. And if you entertain any hopes of staying here, you too will follow the plan. You will come to love the plan, is that clear?"
A ragged chorus of assent rose, from the recent arrivals as they struggled to keep up with him. Several had lost grip on the pull bars and floated in the middle of the passage. Two, including Dermot, were attempting to 'swim' close enough to either a wall or another group member to grab on. He and the other new crewperson had just about reached their goal when the guide, also known as Assistant Third Shift Supervisor Robert Mitchell, realized that part of the group had fallen behind.
"Hold up! Everyone stop right here." he commanded, his voice carrying contempt in it. As they worked to cease their forward motion he continued, "Did anyone notice that some of your fellow Peas came loose and drifted out of range of the pull bars? Well? Did anyone?"
"I did" said Nancy Smith, popping into his view about half-way down the line.
"Any others."
Choruses of, "Me. I did, too. And me." floated out along with the hands and faces of those who spoke.
"That's wonderful." He spoke with a slight smile pasted on his lips, a smile that didn't make the journey to his eyes. "So each of you, each one of you, who saw your mates were having problems chose to ignore their plight and continue onward. Do I have that right?"
"No." one man replied.
"No? Can you point out which person you helped. Is it the person right in front of you or the one right behind you?"
"I didn't mean it that way. I didn't abandon anyone. We're in a hall. It's not as if they're in any danger here," the man responded. "And it's not as if..."
"Stop right there!" Mitchell thundered. "We're in a passageway, surrounded along it's length by space. Look at that 'wall' and look at it closely; it's a mere half-inch thick. Sure, it's the toughest layered composite structure we could make for it's weight, but a simple 3 inch nail could puncture it." With each sentence he pounded the skin of the corridor, causing it to flex outward. By the end of his statements, the entire length of the tube was flexing, forming a standing wave. More of the group lost hold and floated to the middle of the tube, including the target of his anger. As the vibrations stopped two moved as if to help the floaters.
"Don't move!" he shouted. "Do not help them. Now, Mister..." he read the name tag on the skinsuit as he pulled to just far enough away to be out of the man's flailing reach, "Duggins. Could you tell me the lesson you've just learned from all this?"
"Uhhh... Don't let go?" Duggins asked, hope and fear warring in his eyes.
"Wrong. Would you care to try again?" Mitchell floated less than an arm's length from the wall. "I have all shift, so take your time," he taunted.
"I don't know, all right! I don't know."
"Then you get to hang there until you or one of your fellows gets it right. Since Mr. Duggins doesn't know the answer, anyone else who wants to can have a go at it." He twisted around, looking at all of them. "Anyone? Anyone at all? C'mon, someone better answer or Mr. Duggins is going to soil himself right here and now. He's already worked up quite a sweat."
Ellen spoke up. "Sir? Is it not to abandon a team mate?"
"Yes! Exactly right! We never abandon a team mate." With that, he reached out and hauled Duggins to the passage wall. "Do you get the lesson, Duggins? Do you all get the lesson?"
He made another slow 360-degree spin, searching for confirmation they had heard. "You never abandon a team mate. Not out here; it's too dangerous. Just working on a huge construction project would be dangerous enough, but we're working in an environment that will kill a man in less than a minute. That means you're working in a twice-deadly zone. You don't add to that by being careless of your friend, co-workers and team mates."
"There's an unwritten rule for everyone working up here. Leave it down below. If you find out the guy next to you is cheating at cards and stealing your money, you stop playing cards with him and you deal with it down below. If your boyfriend cheats on you with your roommate, deal with it down below. If you and a co-worker both want the last dessert, and she takes it right out of your reach for the fifth time in a row, handle it when you get down below!" At that last statement, one of the women tried, without success, to stifle a snort of laughter.
He whirled around to her. "You don't believe me? You don't think you'd start a fight over the last butterscotch pudding cup? What's your name?"
"Rachael Montgomery." she answered, still smiling. "And no, I'm not that desperate to fight over a pudding cup." Her look dared him to prove her wrong.
He reached up to a large pin on his collar, tapping it twice. "Rachael Montgomery has chosen to give Assistant Shift Supervisor Robert Mitchell her evening dessert rations until further notice." He tapped it twice again. "When you decide I'm right, you can have your desserts back."
"You can't just take my desserts away, arbitrarily!" she shouted, launching herself at him. Several of her fellow workers tried to stop her, but she slid right past them - into his reach.
He engulfed her wrists in one of his hands, jerked her arms up and whirled her around, wrapping his legs around her waist.
"Now what are you going to do, Montgomery?" he said, his mouth next to her left ear. "You're trapped, floating, no source of leverage and you've just attempted to strike your supervisor. If I put this in your employee file, you'll be spending four years down below working off your commitment, with no chance of ever getting back in space. Are the desserts worth all that? More important, do you really want to start a fight here and now?" He looked at the rest of them. "Well? Your team mate is in trouble. You have two, no, three choices. One, you can try to attack me, get written up and be grounded for life. Two, you can walk away, abandon her to whatever I want to do. Or three, you can try to convince her of the truth behind my words, as well as promise me to do your best to teach her to be a solid team mate."
"I'll do it." J'Shawn said. "I'll take responsibility for her."
"So will I," added Tom Duggins.
"Me too." said Xiu Lin Chiang.
"We all will. She's worked too hard, and so have we, to get here." Dora said. "Point taken. Lesson learned."
"Do you agree, Montgomery? Your mates are willing to stick their necks out for you." Mitchell asked. "Will you work with them, or will you let them down?"
"Yes." she growled. "I'll do it. You can let me go. But you're unfair. What you just did was rotten."
Swinging her to the bar, he released her. "It was unfair. However, life can be unfair. And you just had a lesson in how unfair life can be. Pray you never have to face a tougher one." He tapped his communicator again. "Rachael Montgomery loses dessert for only one week." he said and tapped it off.
"I thought you said I would lose them indefinitely?"
"That was just to help the lesson along."
"Then why do I still lose desserts for a week?"
"Would you rather I took official notice of your attack? If I must write you up, you pay a heavy cost, so decide, which would you rather have, instant, and off-the-books or an official punishment?"
"Oh. The lost desserts," she pouted. "I'm not stupid."
"Look alive, Peas!" he turned and shouted at the rest of them. "You've got mates hanging in the middle of the passage who can't reach the walls. Are you just going to float there, or are you going to help them?"
Those who weren't floating free, moved and stretched out to those still stranded, pulling them to the bars.

* * *

After the cramped warren of dorm rooms, cafeteria, briefing rooms and corridors, Ante-Orbital Egress and Docking Bay, called 'A Dock' by everyone except the specifications manuals and the planners back on Earth - Post Orbital Egress and Docking Bay was known as 'P Dock' - was unsettling in it's expanse. It measured a full 45 meters wide by 60 meters long, it's ceiling never getting closer to the deck than 12 meters. Most of it jammed with positioning jigs, frame parts and bustling workers, a tiny corner held about one third of the group of new workers that had just arrived on-station; the rest of the group had been split evenly between first shift and third shift.
As they had requested to be a team, Dora, Dermot, Ellen and J'Shawn had been assigned together on second shift. All four were sealed in their suits, trying to stay close to the rest in order to stay out of the way of the more experienced workers as they listened to the leader assigned to bring them up to speed on the day's assigned task. Some of their group had chosen to float somewhat higher in order to see over the helmets of their friends.
"Has everyone switched to Channel 17?" asked Second Shift Tow Pilot Etienne, their mentor for the day. "Shove up a hand if you can hear me. And look left and right to your team mates to see if they've done the same. If they haven't, get their attention, switch back to Channel 15 and tell them to get on with it."
Only two failed to raise their hands and had to be told what to do. When everyone found the right radio channel, their instructor continued. "Today, we're going to take a walk outside. Now I know you've all done a walkabout while in initial training, but that was a kiddie day trip compared to this. We will cable together in pairs. Then two pairs will join me and my fellow tow pilots on these handsome tow boats for a ride out to an empty stretch of space - where we won't be in the way. There we will debark from the tow boats and learn to handle the tools and components used to assemble the solar array frames. You've all got fresh tanks which are good for eight hours and this little class won't last more than two hours, out and back."
"The frames and parts are already at the site, so clip together and jump on the boats. Let's hustle people, we're wasting daylight!"

* * *

"J'Shawn, can you hand me that tape gun?" Dora asked. "I've got the spreader in place and I need to tack it."
"I gave you the gun just three minutes ago."
"That's right. I forgot." She tried to find it but couldn't. "Did you see where it went? I can't find it."
"Ms. Rodriguez," the voice of Bethany M'Butu, one of the instructors, broked into their conversation, startling both of them. "Did you lose something?"
"Ummm... I don't think so. I mean, the tape gun was right here by me." She scanned with frantic haste around her. The tape gun was gone!
"Perhaps you might try looking up."
Doing so, she and J'Shawn saw a black shape framed by the sunlight. One outstretched hand held the missing dispenser. She started to reach for it, but was pulled up short by her line to her team mate. The instructor hadn't moved.
"There's a reason why each and every tool you use has a small, self-storing lanyard and clip. It was designed that way so no worker would lose valuable tools and even more valuable time," M'Butu lectured. "Had I not noticed this drifting away, and retrieved it, you would have been unable to complete today's training and OPS would have incurred the expense - not a minor one I might add - of shipping a new dispenser up from the surface. While the dispenser only costs $30, the shipping expense would have added $700 to that cost. On top of that, you're carelessness would have delayed your training and that of Mr. Williams by a full day, delaying productivity and adding more than $28,000 to the final cost of this project."
Handing Dora the tape gun, she finished, "Try to be more aware of what's happening around you and less careless of your tools." She drifted away to the next trouble spot.
"Whew! I never knew we were that valuable," Dermot commented. "Fourteen thousand a day? I know I'm not getting paid that much."
"I heard that Mr. Hardin. That figure includes your food, your air, the supplies and power you use up during one day as well as the transportation cost of getting all that up here." M'Butu paused, minus, of course, the $1,000 they pay you per shift. If we could use robotics we would. But they need somewhat more supervision than you do."
She drifted out of sight, using small bursts from her SMU-2, skinsuit mobility unit, the same unit each of the trainee workers had affixed to their breather packs. However, despite having been trained on the SMUs the prior day, their units were not active at this point. Their training today was focused upon moving and working without relying upon the SMUs. Also, if they managed to successfully assemble the framework components into a solar power segment. Each double team of four workers had been assigned one frame segment; theoretically, the student teams could build four complete segments for the current section of the ante-orbit array. Another class was practicing on the other side of the OPS and each completed segment would be added to the post-orbital array. One wag from the original construction crew, had noted that the proposed design looked very much like Mickey Mouse ears. Naturally, the crews nick-named the power arrays 'Mickeys'. Dora and her class were assigned to 'Mickey-One'.
Most of the difficulty involved with assembling the segments was man-handling the pieces into position. Yes, in a micro-gravity environment, each length of framework 'weighed' practically nothing, and could be swung and shoved by even the lightest person in the work crews. However, getting a frame piece moving wasn't the problem; that came when it was time to stop the movement as each section had a mass that would 'weigh' 1,200 pounds on the Earth's surface. To move the frames around required two people pushing and pulling in tiny increments, never letting the frames stay moving for too long. Also, while a frame 'could' be swung in an arc with one end as the hinge-point, that would create a huge moment on the other end, with energy far beyond what one person could stop by simple bracing and pushing.
Dora and J'Shawn had practiced a bit on Earth in the 'micro-gravity' simulation pools, but the simulation wasn't the same as the water added a resistance that kept the movement from getting out of control. They had learned the basic techniques but were gaining experience from the difference that the space environment introduced. Further, the assembly tools didn't work as well under water, especially the construction tape. A cross between duct tape and the kind of plastic-film packaging tape, it had a layer of aramid fiber 'cloth' sandwiched between two layers of mylar film, with a layer of adhesive on one side. The adhesive bonded exceptionally well to the metal and plastic used in the frames and the adhesive did not 'boil off' in vacuum for several years. Unfortunate for the workers, it would stick just as well to the breather-pack cases and the skinsuit cloth, requiring an application of a special liquid to break down the adhesive bond. The de-sealant could only be applied in an atmosphere, which meant any tape that snagged on a worker had to be snipped free from the roll in the dispenser. And if the tape had already been applied to the frame, the worker found him or herself 'bonded' to the workpiece until his or her partner could cut the worker loose. Already, Dora had adorned herself with five shiny patches of tape and J'Shawn had four.
However, the record was seventeen, held by Joe Buckley. Over the secondary group channel, all had heard his partner and their monitor berating him for his inordinate clumsiness during the first hour.
"J'Shawn," Dora said, "do you think we'll get our segment done? It looks to me as if we don't have that much left to assemble."
"Yeah," he replied, "I think you're right. But that all depends if Patrick and Elle can pull their weight. I've been monitoring the test circuits and I'm still not reading any signal from panels eight through fifteen."
"Don't you worry your knappy little head about us, big guy." Dermot responded. "We're just about... there. Now test the circuit."
"Okay, I'm showing positive current flow. Baby-cakes, I do think Patrick and Elle have finally got their act together."
"Girl, I wouldn't take any of that 'Baby-cakes' guff off him. So give him Hell."
"I don't mind it, Elle In fact, it's rather nice. Better, for example, than him going all 'Connoly' this and 'Connoly' that the way whatshername did back down below. Do you all remember who I mean?"
"Oh yeah." said Dermot, disgust dripping from his voice. "Miss Ice Queen. Penelope Faith Burdette, Miss Atlanta of 2010. I remember her."
"She heard me playin' some DJ Mr. Z on my iPod and she damn near flipped out! Said that it wasn't music, that it was the tool of the Devil and how could I claim to be God-fearin' and still listen to such violence-provoking trash. Then she bitched about my corn-rows. That girl was a trip! Made this brother feel real 'accepted' - not!" He paused. "Okay, guys. I'm getting a full set of happy green lights from each of the solar panels and the control CPUs. I think we have a winner. Are you two all tightened down at that end?"
"Yes," Dermot and Ellen said almost simultaneously. "Jinx!" Dermot added. "You owe me a coke."
"I do not! And it's called a soda."
"Hey you guys," Dora entered the conversation, "Everyone knows it's a pop."
"Naw girl, every brother knows 'pop' is just another name for your old man. Now be cool my brothers and sisters, I got to get our mentor over here so he can check out our work."
In moments M'Butu had rejoined the team and verified they had successfully completed the solar array segment.
"Good work. All your connection points are secure; you've left no excess tape dangling or adhesive extruded and you've accounted for every connector piece other than the ones you used," she said. "I'm getting decent output from the solar panels even at this angle from the Sun; all your electronic modules are reporting no problems on their diagnostics." She switched to the main radio channel for the class. "We have the winner right here. Team Alpha-Three has finished their segment."
Shouts of dismay and disappointed groans met her words, the betting pool had favored Alpha-One. As the winners, their team would be exempt from cafeteria clean-up duties for their next two assigned shifts. The race was on to see which team finished last and had to take those duties.

* * *

"Alpha and Papa classes," Second Shift Supervisor Jean Tilmanson called, "gather 'round. It's payday."
In moments, he was surrounded by thirty-two excited workers, each vying with the others to be closest to him.
"Make a line, Peas! I'm not going to hand out any pay to you if you insist upon being an unruly mob. Show some semblance of dignity!" He gestured where he wanted the line to form and the mass soon formed a line, wending out from the desk he drifted behind and stretched three-fourths the way around the cafeteria. "That's better. Now before I hand out pay records and debit cards, I want to remind you of a few minor details. First, every dime you earn up here is considered to be earned in a foreign country. So you don't have any income taxes withheld. However, for those of you who come from countries which have a government-mandated retirement system, all premiums and taxes owed to those programs have been deducted from your pay. Second, you are getting a debit card today as this is the first time you're getting paid up here. You will keep your debit card and bring it back with you on subsequent paydays. You must have the debit card to get paid. Losing a debit card will cost you twenty-five dollars the first time and fifty dollars each time thereafter. This fee is stated in dollars, but if you choose to receive your pay in Euros or other currency, the equivalent amount will be deducted. Third, each and every one of you has two bank accounts. One account is your primary account and that is the account we deposit your pay into. The second account is your debit card account. Because we don't want to encourage you to buy too many possession to be hauled up here, we limit the amount of money which you can transfer into this account. That limit is one hundred dollars. If you use up all the money in that account, you can go online and transfer an additional one hundred dollars, or the equivalent in your home country's currency, into the debit card account. Any questions?" Tilmanson ignored the raised hands. "For those of you who have questions, that was rhetorical. If you have any serious questions, come see me after we get done with disbursing the pay. There's a game on tonight and I don't want to waste time on this."
Within a half hour, all of the new workers had their pay stubs and debit cards. Team Alpha-Three headed back to Dora and Ellen's room. Once inside, the perched on the lower bunk and the two fold-out chairs.
"Brother and Sisters, will you look at that! Real money, and none of it goes to dear old Uncle Sam." J'Shawn slobbered a kiss onto his record stub.
"Ewww! Gross! And to think you expect to put that mouth anywhere near my lips!"
"Dora, tell me you're not swapping body fluids with him, girl." Ellen said. "You don't know where he's been. He might have touched Ice Queen." She shuddered.
"Now don't you go dissin' me, girl. I never, I repeat, never touched that bi-atch. Why... I'd rather eat a Domino's pizza!"
"Oh here we go again. Ladies, you don't know how lucky you are that he's not your roomie. Always with the negative comments about Domino's pizza. I paid my way through college delivering Domino's."
"You did not! You told me you worked for some landscape and gardening firm. I know you've said the same thing to J'Shawn and Dora. So don't feed us a line about Domino's."
"I said I worked doing gardening and landscaping during the summer months. During the school year, I was a loyal Domino's delivery person. I still have one of the hats in my gear."
"I want to know what you guys plan to do with your money," Dora asked. "I mean, this is the first paycheck of our future."
Each of the others paused, J'Shawn, somewhat stunned, Dermot's face going thoughtful, Ellen beginning to pout.
"We're not going to get all serious today, right this minute, are we?" she asked. "I was hoping to celebrate!"
"I never quite thought about what to do." said J'Shawn. "I suppose I was planning to just save up what I could so I'd have a little something when this ended. Not," he hurried on, "that I expect it to end soon."
"It's okay to want to celebrate. I want to celebrate. But before we blow all our hard-earned money, I'd like to run an idea past you guys."
"What idea is that?" Dermot finally joined the discussion.
"I'm planning on investing most of my pay. After all, we don't owe any taxes other than what Social Security and Medicare take out. Plus, they deduct right off the top for our meals and they provide our jumpsuits and skinsuits free of charge. And they don't charge us for our rooms," she said. "When you add in that there's not much to buy up here, nor is there much room to collect things, that leaves a lot of money just sitting there in the banks. What I'm proposing is we invest the money and have it earn even more."
"You're not talking risking every dime on some fly-by-night investment scheme are you?" Ellen asked. "Dad did that and went broke trying to make money off some stupid invention."
"Nothing like that. I was planning on putting my money in several mutual funds, not the ultra-risky ones, but funds which have reasonably high yields. I'd also like to consider ploughing some of the money back into OPS bonds. After all, this project will succeed and demand for power is always increasing. I wouldn't ask that you put every dime of your pay into the investments with me, but I would ask that you match me an equal amount, That way, we all have the same share coming to us out of the earnings."
"Didn't you do something like this for your father? I think I remember you telling me so," Dermot said.
"Yep. And in three years, I doubled his money. I can't say we'll see that kind of increase right off the bat, but we should be able to, over the time we're up here, earn almost half again from investment dividends and interest, what we earn in net pay."
"I'm in!" said J'Shawn. "I want a hefty nest egg."
"So am I." They all looked at Ellen.
"Oh, all right. It's not as if I have anywhere to shop. And this just means that I can have more money to go shopping when I do get near a mall. I'm in."
"Good. What I'm going to do is open an account with one of the online trading firms with our money. But before I do, we need to settle how much we'll invest each payday. We're all clearing over $7,000 per pay cycle. Does anyone want to buy an item that costs more than $2,000, including having it shipped up here?" J'Shawn and Ellen shook their heads, but Dermot just raised his eyebrows.
"What," she asked. "You do have something you want? Something that can fit in up here and costs more than two grand? What is it?"
"You're all going to think I'm crazy."
"Brother, for a white man, you are crazy. Tell her... Hell, tell all of us what it is you want."
"It's already up here, so there's no real shipping. No, wait. That's not true. It has to be moved into orbit near us - but it comes with a tow boat. And it will take about two months to ease it into the proper orbit, they're using a low-Isp ion drive."
"Patrick," Ellen said. "Are you telling us you want to buy a spaceship?"
"Not a space-ship. Rather a space habitat module. Bigelow Aerospace has about twenty Sundancer III habitats left over from their upgrade to the new Exodus I habitats at their orbital hotel. They're selling them rather cheap, $4,500 including transport to a new orbit. And all of these have the modifications that added a 'garage' module at one end." He saw their disbelief and he hurried to get the rest of his argument out, "They're all quite spaceworthy; the only reason Bigelow is replacing them is they want to triple the rooms in their hotel. And, I've got $2,000 of my own money saved up. So I only need about $2,500. That would still allow, if we set aside $500 for personal money for the next two weeks, about $4,000 from each of us to invest."
"Day-um, Bro! You sure don't think small!" J'Shawn paused in thought. "Say, do you know if they're offering a price-break for buying more than one?"
"As a matter of fact, they're discounting a purchase of two to five to $4,000 each. And if someone wanted to buy more than five, the price would drop to $3,500 each. But there's no way I could afford to buy five."
"Wait a minute." Dora said. "We can buy these, as individuals? And use them? I thought all habitats and stations had to be owned by OPS, a country or the UN?"
"No. For the larger stations, only a corporation can get the licensing. But small habitats of this size, if they're already in orbit, can be owned and operated by individuals as part of the 'salvage' effort designed to clean up orbital space. We have to maintain them and we have to get approval to keep them in a particular orbit, but that's what I plan to do."
"My grandfather always told us the best thing to do is to buy property," Ellen added. "This is property, real estate, right? And if we don't buy it, someone else will. Eventually someone will want to make use of it, so even if we don't, if we own it, we can sell at a later time and make a profit, right?"
"Right. This changes everything. I don't know what we can do with all of them, but we could probably make use of four of them." Dora didn't even have to run the numbers through her notepad's calculator function. "Okay, we can all chip in $4,000 to buy four of the habitats. That still leaves us, if we set aside $1,000 for personal money, $2,000 each to invest in mutual funds and the like. Are we all agreed on this?"
"Yes."
"For sure."
"If you and the guys are willing, I'm in."
"Then we have a plan." Dora said, writing everything into her notepad.

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