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My Hover Craft is Full of Eels: Part Ten

I said there was no sexy bigamist fun time, but I didn’t say there was no sex. Although, it’s off screen and preceded by so much techno babble and secret-code talk that you probably won’t even notice.  I admit that the phrase ‘ethanol thrusters’ did make me giggle a little.  Just a very little.  But once I got over being juvenile, I have to confess that this scene feels a little wrong.  It’s not the sex, it’s the government agents showing up at the end.  Oh well.  That said, I am not entirely sure how to go about presenting tweaks and revisions.  I wanted this blog to be a way to illustrate work in progress and how things change, but so far no revisions have appeared.  It could be that it’s not the best venue to dump text of a novel.  I can barely imagine anyone reading one draft let alone two.  I could post back-to-back scenes (rough draft the first week followed by an edited look the second), but that breaks my personal code.  THOU SHALT NOT EDIT UNTIL THE DAMN THING IS DONE!

Featured Image from:  https://openclipart.org/

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The three of them spent the rest of the evening pouring over the records. Arch transferred a copy to Persphone and she used her goggles to project images of the files onto the wall of her apartment. Most of the documents were nothing more than pages and pages of repeating letters.   There were no word breaks, just one continuous line of text with a counter keeping track of the total number of characters. Every so often a block of 30 to 40 thousand letters would be highlighted.

“Hidden messages?” She said.   It had to be some kind of code. Were the engine schematics buried in that text somewhere? She shrugged and scrolled through the pages looking for something recognizable. There were several fairly clear diagrams detailing how the chassis was assembled. Chemical equations described the synthesis of the various composites that went into making the H-craft’s skeleton and exterior. The structural and chemical components of the ethanol thrusters were detailed, but the diagrams all left a mysterious void at the front.

“The diagrams are all pretty much standard H-craft stuff,” Arch said. “I mean their hull material is a bit unusual, probably designed to be extra light. But nearly every company has developed their own composites in order to reduce drag.”

“Can you scroll back to that cartoon of the interior structure?” Persephone asked. “What do you make of those two rectangles sketched into the front?” The diagram clearly showed two rectangles in the fore of the craft.   Each box was surmounted by a wheel-like assembly that looked familiar to Persephone, but she couldn’t quite place where she’d seen them.

“They’re connected.” Japeths said. “I mean there’s tubing that links the two chambers.” She pointed to a u-shaped junction linking the two boxes.

“Chambers?   Or tanks perhaps?” Persephone switched one lens to video mode and selected the film loop that she’d made during the eXime infiltration. She sped backwards through the footage and projected it onto the wall next to the diagram of the H-craft. The tube-fish withdrew their tendrils and slithered back into the fountain. The smoke filled stairway cleared itself as the billowing brown fog was sucked into a small pellet. the pellet leaped back up into Persephone’s hand, she put it into her belt pouch and ran backwards up the stairs and down the 6th floor hallway.

After watching the elevator footage, Japeth turned towards Persephone and hissed, “How can you keep doing this stuff?”

Persephone shushed her and slowed the playback. The camera now showed the fifth floor lab space. It panned past centrifuges and freezers. Persephone kept going until the video reached the rack of fish tanks. These tanks had lids surmounted by an odd wheel-lock assembly. It made them look like a bunch of pressure cookers.   “There!” She said triumphantly. “Look familiar?”

“Something just moved in that one.” Japeth said. They’d reached the part where Persephone had tapped the glass and something had more than tapped back. It had made Japeth jump even though it happened in reverse. Persephone panned forward frame by frame to try to get a better look at the shape in the tank.

“More giant tube-fish?” Arch asked. It had looked like a brown coil.

“Could be, but it’s different than the things that came out of the fountain. Those were black and eyeless. I thought I saw an eyeball in there.” She stopped the video and tried to zoom in. Just before the thing struck the glass there was a smudge of white. It did look like a eye. No pupil though just a bulging white orb.

The majority of life forms on the colony were worm-shaped, but tiny and blind. This thing didn’t fit.

“I have no idea what I’m looking at here, but I’m thinking that it’s your engine. Or at least a part of it. Must take at least two tanks of them to make it go.”

“Seriously?” Arch said. “I mean those rectangles could indicate just about anything.”

“What does eXBioform do?” Persephone said patiently.

Arch looked crushed for a moment. It must be tough for him to give up on the anti-gravity gizmo that he was looking for.

“It’s powered by worms?” he said. “Quentin died for worms?”

“Worms can be electrical,” Japeth said. “I read that somewhere.”

“There you go!” Persephone said triumphantly. “Talk about a non-polluting renewable energy source.” It sounded much more practical than Arch’s grandiose ideas of off-world exploration.

“I’ll believe it when I see it.” Arch muttered.

“Good. You will see it just as soon as I get you one of the machines.”

“You’re taking the job?” Arch had perked up again. “For shares in the company?”

“I already said I’d do it.” Persephone still didn’t have much use for shares in a company that might never materialize. However a hover craft powered by giant worms? That she was something she needed to see, but it would have to wait until tomorrow. “I’m beat. I have to get some sleep.” And maybe overnight her subconscious might kick out some kind of plan for how to go about stealing a hover craft. She didn’t really want to go back into the eXime complex again. That meant she’d probably have to nab one at the race track. She yawned and waved Arch towards the door.

“Mind if I stay. I mean just to protect you ladies.” In Arch’s husky voice, the word ‘protect’ sounded wildly inappropriate.

Persephone sighed and shot a look at Japeth. The woman seemed oblivious to the innuendo. “Shouldn’t you be with your family tonight?” Persephone blurted that out than wished she hadn’t been so brusque. Arch was back to looking miserable again. Clearly Arch had family issues that Persephone really didn’t want to know about.

“You can sleep on the couch.” Persephone was actually worried about the security of her apartment. Both of her home addresses were widely known. It was why she’d gone out to the floats initially and why she’d been so cautious when she’d come back here with Japeth. If Arch had found it so easy to get in, then someone else could. “Just how did you get in here, anyway?” She asked him.

Arch had arranged himself on the couch in a way that showed off all his assets. “Oh that,” he replied, “I just told the concierge I was your boyfriend.”

“He’d never buy that.” Persephone had used this apartment for the past three cycles and the staff knew her security preferences.

“He didn’t, but I showed him pictures of us at the race track. And he’s a fan. I printed and signed some pictures for him and his daughter.”

Persephone blinked. She had to admit it was a pretty good con. She’d have to mull this over. Maybe she could use Arch’s celebrity status to facilitate the theft of an eXime H-craft. That idea sparked the germ of a plan, but she really was too tired to flesh it out. She told Japeth to use her bed, made up a pallet for herself on the bedroom floor and closed the door on the still grinning Archimedes.

The next morning, Persephone found Japeth and Arch tangled up on the couch.   They were naked and sound asleep.   She boiled water, drank her first cup of nori tea and did her best to ignore all that skin. It wasn’t that the two of them were bad looking. Japeth was pale and curvy and Arch dark skinned and built like an athelete. It made a nice study in contrast, but Perephone wasn’t much inclined to artistic sentiment. She’d assumed that Japeth had better taste.

She was drinking her second cup of tea when a call came in on her apartment’s video messaging system. Her entertainment console lit up and an image of Mr. Einhorn, the apartment concierge appeared on the screen. “Good morning ma’am,” the man said. Mr. Einhorn was far too polite to request a video link of Persephone, but she considered switching on the camera feed anyway. She was mildly curious how Mr. Einhorn would react to his tenant appearing with a couple of naked people piled on the couch behind her. It would probably make him squirm and that would be satisfying since this was the man that Arch had conned. For Japeth’s sake, Persephone left the video feed off.

“Ah. Good morning Mr. Einhorn. I was thinking that we needed to have a little talk about access to my apartment.”

The man’s pudgy little face went from cheerful to blank. “Yes, ma’am,” he said deferentially. “That’s what I was calling about. As it happens there are three New Regime officers on their way up to your apartment. I’m afraid I couldn’t deter them. They had the appropriate documents. But I thought it would be courteous to notify you.” The man bobbed his head, smiled blandly and then switched the feed off.

Perspehone jumped up, swore and kicked the couch.   Japeth woke up with a start, but Arch didn’t budge.

“Perspehone? What? Oh….” Japeth trailed off and looked at the floor. “Listen. I can explain.”

“Explain what?” Persephone shrugged. “Actually, could you just give sleeping beauty a kiss? I need the both of you up and out of here, now. Feds are on their way.”

Japeth gave her a blank look then jumped off the couch and grabbed for her clothes. Arch sprawled out to occupy the space that Japeth had just vacated. Persephone kicked the couch again and this time he opened an eye.

“Did you say Feds?” Arch mumbled.

“Yes. They should be…” The door buzzed before Persephone could complete her comment. “here now.” She finished. The buzz was followed up by a short, sharp knock. “Why don’t the two of you hide while I deal with this?”

Japeth looked wildly around the room for a space to crawl into. Persephone sighed, pointed to her bedroom and made a shooing motion. Japeth ran from the room. Arch stood up, stretched, and strolled after her. He didn’t even bother to grab his pants. Persephone scooped his clothes off the floor and tossed them through the bedroom door. Then she went to answer the knocking. There were three agents outside, two men and one woman all in New Regime uniforms.

She put on her best confused civilian expression and waited for them to start.

“Persephone Roe. We have a warrant for your arrest, You will return with us to Hixton station and remain in custody until your arraignment pending charges of treason.” The shorter of the two guys delivered the arrest spiel without so much as a good morning.

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My Hover Craft is Full of Eels: Part Nine

The holidays and a head cold got in the way of posting, but I’m back now.   And it’s a brand new year! That’s the kind of occasion that demands new words and new ideas,so why am I posting yet more largely unedited text from 2014?  Simple.  Heinlein’s second rule of writing (http://www.sfwriter.com/ow05.htm). Yes, that Heinlein. The guy I think of as the creepy uncle of science fiction. I guess I could take a moment to whinge about Heinlein’s oddities, but it’s been done ad naseum. Instead, try this link for a balanced look at the man’s concepts. (http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/08/what-do-heinlein-women-want). After reading that, come back here. You won’t be getting sexy-wexy bigamist fun time on my blog, but hey, I have hovercraft.

Featured image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andromeda_Galaxy
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Persephone was not relieved when she turned the handle and found that her apartment door was unlocked. The last time she’d been here had been a week ago, right after her initial meeting with Arch. She’d locked the place. She always locked the place.

She stared at the door and considered the possibilities. It could be something as mundane as careless cleaning staff, but that seemed unlikely. It could be someone trying to settle an old grudge, but again that felt wrong. Most likely it was related to the eXime situation. Not tube-fish this time. She couldn’t imagine them riding an elevator and picking a lock. No. This was a person. Either someone had been in her apartment and had left or they were still in there.

She pressed her ear against the door and listened. She could hear faint music coming from inside. Not only had they broken in, they’d left her stereo on. She risked opening the door a crack and peaked in. All she could see was a wedge of her front hallway and a tiny sliver of the living room. She squeezed herself through the gap and pressed up against the wall.

The music was louder inside, throbbing in time with her heart beat. She didn’t hear anything other than the music, but she was sure the apartment was occupied.  She felt like she was breathing air that someone else had recently used. She gritted her teeth and crept down the hallway, past the kitchen on the right and bedroom on the left. She slowed as she approached the living room. She could see the coffee table, almost half the sofa, and was that a pair of legs? Someone was sitting on her damn sofa, leaving muddy boot prints on her rug.

She pictured the layout of the room, planning her strike. She’d crouch, roll to the left and then come up behind the sofa. That would give her some cover and if she was quick, a shot at the intruder’s head. It went off flawlessly and barely thirty seconds later she had her right arm around the guy’s neck and was pressing him into the sofa. He thrashed and clawed at her arm, but the couch kept him from swinging an elbow into her ribs.

“Who the hell are you?” She shouted while she squeezed.

“Ah. A-gah.” The guy said.

He had black hair, a thick neck and an impressive pair of shoulders.   She was glad she’d gotten the jump on him.

“Who hired you?”

He was still making gagging noises, but she wasn’t about to let go. Better to keep going until he passed out. He could answer questions later, after he was tied up, assuming she could manage that. The man was pressing with his feet now straining to tip the sofa back and crush her. She leaned into the couch, but it was still moving. Her feet were slipping and she was starting to sweat.

She twisted to get a better grip. That gave her clearer view of the guy’s red face generous lips, and Albion racing shirt. She swore and snatched her arm back. “What the hell are you doing in my apartment!”

Arch took a few deep breaths. “Waiting,” he rasped.

“Get out,” Persephone said.

He rolled his eyes at her. “What,” he panted, “happened to no contusions?”

“My no violence policy only extends to clients who pay me,” she growled.

“Sorry. Not my call,” he said. He rubbed his neck. “You’re strong.” He sounded surprised.

“Thanks, Captain Obvious. Didn’t you see me climb up an elevator cable and push open the door with my feet?”

Arch shrugged. “Looked effortless so I didn’t think too much about it.”

The word ‘effortless’ almost made Persephone smile, but then she remembered her missing paycheck. “How did you get in here?”

Arch grinned. “Got some inspiration from your little con game at the race track.”

Persephone waited for him to elaborate, but he just sat there smirking. She shrugged, strode over the stereo and flicked it off. When she looked back, she caught a glimmer of frustration on Arch’s face. The boy must have expected her to push to hear his break-in story, show off how clever he’d been. Instead, she dialed Japeth.

“You can come up if you want. Though to be honest, your ass might be in danger.”

“What? Are you okay? Did those things track us through the sewers?” Japeth sounded worried.

“No tube fish. Just Arch.”

To her surprise, Japeth didn’t sound irritated by that. Instead she sounded relived and then concerned. “Did he say what happened at the Albion complex? Did a lot of people get hurt?   Oh, never mind, I’m coming up. He can tell us both.”

Persephone got off the phone.

“Japeth’s coming up. Be nice, okay? She just lost everything she owns.”

Arch nodded briefly. His face was still flushed, but not from lack of air anymore. “I lost a few things myself today,” he said in a cold, controlled voice. “A brother, for one. It’s why I’m here.”

“My condolences.” Persphone wasn’t sure what exactly to say. She knew nothing about the Albion family other than what appeared in the tabloids and business news briefs. She found herself wishing that Japeth would hurry up and get here. The silence was becoming awkward.

Arch finally muttered, “It’s okay. We weren’t exactly close.”

Arch’s older brother Quentin was the lead engineer at the firm and Paul Albion had been grooming him to inherit the business. Quentin often worked late.

“I told him that it would kill him.” Arch smiled wanly at Japeth. Their mutual glumness had created a tenuous bond. Arch reminisced about visiting the Albion complex as a boy. Japeth talked about growing up in the Floats and losing her parents in the riots. Persephone brewed some nori-tea and tried not to fidget.

“Loosing family is difficult ” Japeth concluded and took a sip of her tea.

“And you’re sure that was retaliation for the break in?” Persephone asked in an effort to get everyone back to the present.

Arch blinked, his face hardening. “Had to be,” he said. “And Quentin was working on the eXime data crystal when the attack happened.”

“Didn’t you say it was worthless?”

“Like I said there were no engine schematics. My father was furious. He was the one who decided that you shouldn’t get paid.”

“If there were no schematics then what was Quentin working on?”

Arch shrugged. “All I know was that he sent me a text saying that he was going to take another look. That was ten minutes before the building went down.”

“Taking Quentin and the data with him.” Persephone sighed. If the break-in had gone as planned she would have copied the material before passing it off to her client. Instead, she’d been chased out by a rent-a-cop and a swarm of fish things. She hadn’t been able to skim the files herself.

Arch’s expression shifted from miserable to smug. It was the same self-satisfied smirk he’d had when Persephone asked how he’d gotten into her apartment.   “I scanned them.” Arch’s smile broadened and he pulled an epad out of his pocket with a flourish.
Persephone was impressed, but kept it off her face. She pulled her goggles out and set them to network mode. “Transfer them to my account. I need to take a look.”

Arch returned the epad to his pocket and leaned back on the sofa.

“While you’re making yourself comfortable, I could be sorting this thing out,” Persephone said.
Arch nodded. “We’ll go over the files together. But first, I need you to agree to another job.”

“Am I going to get paid for this one?”

Arch looked pained. “Albion’s finances are a little disordered at the moment. And this wouldn’t be for the company. It’s a job for me. I want an eXime H-craft. I bet I can take it apart and figure out how it works quicker than grubbing through the schematics.”

Persephone was surprised by the request. When Arch said he had another job for her she was thinking it would be a revenge gig. Sneaking into the eXime complex to plant a bomb or sending in a kill drone to snuff the company execs. She didn’t take jobs like that.

“How much?”

“20% of profit from the sale of any resulting tech.”

“That’s a little too tentative for me.”

“I’m telling you, this is going to be big. Bigger than 60 million credits. If leveraged correctly, the eXime technology will let us get off world and restore interstellar trade. The colony will thrive again. We’ll have metal and food imports.”

“You think there’s still someone out there to trade with?” Persephone asked. According to the history zines, economic and political factors had driven the retraction of the Old Sol empire.   The resulting riot and regime change had effectively isolated the colony during that period. Satellites had decayed, fallen and were scavenged for metal. No signals trickled in from out there anymore.

“There has to be someone. Pockets maybe. We can be the ones to restore the trade links!

It was difficult not to get carried along by Arch’s enthusiasm. His eyes were blazing, his hands sketching his ideas out in the air, drawing links between imaginary worlds. This was clearly a dearly held dream.

“…and I’ll name the company after Quentin. Quentin and Archimedes. Q. and A. industries. I’ll make my father proud.” He finished his narration with a triumphant flourish. Japeth was rapt. Even Persephone had been caught up in it until the mention of Mr. Albion.

“Wait. You’re doing this because of your father?” Persephone asked.

Japeth was caught up enough to get defensive on Arch’s behalf. “Persephone,” she scolded. “It benefit’s everyone! You see that, right?”

“It sounds good on paper, but if it’s so wonderful than why hasn’t eXime done it already? I mean they’ve had the tech for what? Six months now?”

“Maybe they lack vision or the technical know-how to develop a launch vehicle. I mean eXbioform makes what? Algae pops?” Arch sneered then he back-pedaled.   His big brown eyes got even bigger and deeper. “Please,” he said. “For me. For Quentin. For the colony.”

Japeth gave Persephone a pleading look that mirrored Arch’s expression.

“Fine. I’ll help you steal a fuckin’ hover craft,” Persephone snapped. She didn’t believe that Q and A technologies would go anywhere. She just wanted to know what was in those files.