... has been designated International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day to recognize those people, in the estimation of one Howard Hendrix, current Vice-President of the Science Fiction Writers Association, who are ruining the ride for the rest of them by having the temerity, the gall and the techno-savvy to post stories for free on teh Internets. Either to have fun or, heaven forbid, promote their own careers. See postings by John Scalzi and Jo Walton for further info.
To This End...
... I, Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon, aka dr_phil_physics, provide you with two pieces of Science Fiction. (1) A link to my latest installment of a series of very short stories on the Ficlets website. (2) A new story, culled from the dark corners of my memory, from a novel that I had been typing in the wee hours of the night somewhere around 1984 or 1985 and is probably buried somewhere in a box in the basement. A first draft, but hey, it was written especially for this very celebration, and that has to count for something. (grin)
The Head of the Line by Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon "Check your air." "How's your air?" The supervisors, in their white spacesuits with the double-red stripes, were walking along the long line of miners. The line hadn't moved in several minutes and Bear Stevens was already tired of waiting. "The cafeteria ran out of food two days ago when the line was late," he grumbled over the open net, "why the hell aren't we moving?" "Elevators One and Three are down," Supervisor 33 said. "Aw, geez. We've got to go up sixty-seven levels with just one elevator? It'd be faster if we climbed." Bear's comments attracted some support on the open net, which only encouraged him. "The gravity on this rock is low enough." Supervisor 33 turned and spoke directly to Bear over the line-of-sight. "Stow it, Stevens. We follow Company Rules -- no negotiating, no freelancing. Or you lose your share for today." Bear raised a hand to wave him off. "Okay, okay. I'm just hungry and tired." "We're all hungry and tired," Supervisor 33 admitted. "Now how's your air?" "Still green. I've got an hour left." "Check it." Bear almost protested, but you just couldn't argue with Supervisors under Company Rules. He pressed his left wrist, turning on the display. "Eighty-one minutes at current consumption." "You're fine then." "I've got forty-two minutes," the man behind Bear said. Bear wasn't sure when the conversation had switched back to local net. "That's not enough, De la Silva," Supervisor 33 said. "Does that mean I go to the head of the line?" De la Silva asked. "No. You got a leak? Or did you dump some air?" "That'd be a violation, boss. I just didn't top off at the mine face," De la Silva said. "That's a violation, too." "Supervisor 16 said to start moving and get to the line." "Oh, that's all right then. Here, take twenty minutes worth." "Fascinating conversation," Bear said under his breath. "Right hand never knows what the left hand is doing." Supervisor 33 passed close enough for Bear to see the man's glare. Bear ignored him, staring straight ahead. Eventually the supervisor moved on. Just great... as if working at mining an asteroid wasn't dangerous enough, the guys running the show had to make it even harder. Two men ahead, Bear noticed a slowly blinking orange telltale on the man's backpack. The unit was overheating -- but not Bear's problem. Eventually, though, the man ahead of Bear had to say something. "Hey A-110. You know you've got an overheat on your environmental pack?" "No. Crap -- I've got no coolant flow." This was serious but there wasn't anything Bear could do about it. He'd let the supervisors take care of it. Supervisor 33 came back and checked A-110. "I can't tell, but it sure looks like something or someone snagged your coolant line." "Jesus," A-110 said. "You mean someone wants to kill me?" Like that never happened on this blasted rock, Bear thought. "Bernhard -- escort Washington here to the head of the line. You're his buddy now. Make sure he gets up to the suit techs ASAP. Here's a red tag." The two men broke out of the line, traveling along the left side of the tunnel and disappeared into the dim light ahead. Bear took two steps forward and was immediately jostled by the idiots moving up from behind. It didn't seem fair that A-110 -- some guy named Washington -- got to cut into the head of the line. And since he wasn't yet in critical danger, it REALLY wasn't fair that Bernhard got to go along on the ride for free. What Bear needed was his own minor emergency. Something easy to do, but maybe wouldn't get him written up or fined. Bear looked behind him. Saunders. Not the brightest tool in the box, but he'd do. Bear switched off his radio and leaned his helmet in to make direct contact with Saunders. "Cut my coolant line." "What?" "Come on, Saunders. Cut my coolant line." Bear held out a gloved hand. "I've still got my snipper tool." "You shouldn't have that." "Relax. Nobody's going to care," Bear said. "If my coolant line's cut, we can head up to the front of the line like Washington and Bernhard." "I don't know..." "What's there to know? Just do it. We'll get dinner faster." "I don't want to get into trouble." "You won't." "I don't want to hurt you." "Really -- you won't. It takes half an hour for the backpack and suit to overheat." Helmet pressed to helmet, they could each just make out the other's eyes from the dim telltales. "All right." To his credit, at least as Bear saw it, Saunders snipped the hose right at the base of the clamp. Maybe it was wear, maybe it was deliberate. Bear pocketed the snipper tool when it was handed back. Five minutes later, and the line hadn't moved, Saunders called out, "We got another one, boss." Bear almost chuckled -- it was a nice touch. Supervisor 33 was there in seconds. "Saunders, take this man to the head of the line." As they made their way past hundreds of miners in their space suits, Bear was surprised by the undercurrent of tension in the conversations around him. One man passing with an overheating backpack due to a broken line was one thing. Two began to sound like a problem. The doors to Elevator Two started to open when they arrived. Bear thought they'd be just whisked aboard, but he was wrong. Supervisor 03 took a quick look at the damage, as did Managers Beta and Gamma. The supers were bad enough, but the Managers didn't even live in the same complex at the rest of the men. They were all bastards who wore armored suits which had built-in weapons. Too good for the rest of the workers. "Go ahead, Saunders," Beta waved Bear's partner onto the elevator. "Not you, Stevens," Gamma said, placing a stiff armored glove on Bear's chestpack and kept him from moving. "What? I've got a suit fault." "Right. And you cut the line." "I did not." "Well, you told your man there to cut the line. They'll deal with him topside," Gamma said. "The line's still cut and the suit's gonna overheat," Bear pointed out. "True. But it isn't overheating yet. You're not in an emergency situation yet -- you're going to have to wait." Bear couldn't believe it, but there was no arguing. "Okay, I get it. I'll take my fine," Bear finally said, after watching Elevator Two arrive three more times and carry off three more loads of miners. "No," one of the managers said. There were four now -- two more had come down -- and Bear wasn't sure who was talking. "This isn't a game. You're being taught a lesson." "I said I'd take the fine." He was sweating and only now beginning to realize it might be from the suit and not from taking the heat of his punishment. "You're being made an example of," said another manager. "We can't have people sabotaging other people's equipment and we can't have people like you breaking Company property." "The suit's overheating." "It probably is. But you're not in danger yet." "Company Rules..." "Oh, so you CARE about the Company Rules?" This time Manager Epsilon came right in his face. "Listen, Stevens, and listen good. The Rules exist to protect all of us. You, me, Saunders, Supervisor 33. All of us. The Company Rules aren't for fun and games, and they surely aren't for using to jump the line." Elevator Two came back down and opened. To Bear's amazement, Elevators One and Three opened up as well, and like that, the line was gone. The managers backed into Elevator One, along with all the supervisors. "We'll send a car down for you, Stevens. If you're still conscious, I'd work real hard about getting on it." Bear stood trembling in the empty chamber, waiting the long minutes for one of the elevators to come back down. Eventually one did. The ride up to the top was excruciating. All alone in the car, on his hands and knees, he felt every rattle and shake. When it stopped, Bear had to crawl into the airlock and reach up to hit the controls, close the outer hatch, dumping in the air before finally opening the inner hatch. He crawled into the marshaling area, breaking his seals and getting his helmet off, gulping in great lungfulls of cool air, damp with the sweaty stink of a thousand tired miners. The gloves came off next and finally he split his spacesuit open, spilling a steamy cloud into the room. When he stopped seeing spots in front of his eyes and could look around, he noticed another spacesuit lying crumpled on the deck. The medteam had finished processing the body and had been waiting to see if Bear would make it up dead or alive, or needing assistance. "Who... who's that?" Bear demanded in-between heaving breaths, though he already had a bad feeling. "Your buddy-in-crime Saunders," the first medtech said. "Somebody must've cut his air line on the ride up. By the time they got him under pressure, he was dead." "Who... who did it?" "Haven't the faintest," the second medtech said. "Word is there's a glitch in the security system. Managers don't quite know who was in that run. Guess we'll never know." Bear staggered to his feet. "Oh, and make sure you hang up your suit and put out a red flag for the suit handlers to fix your coolant line. Supervisor 17 says you've signed up for third-shift inspection duty. You'll be going back down in the hole in two hours. Better run and see if there's any dinner left." The main work lights shut down, leaving only the off-duty low-level lighting. Bear worked at hanging his suit up, filling out a red tag, then personally prepping his spare suit. The locker room had a vending machine with low-residue rations. He'd have those for dinner. Bear wasn't too sure it was a good night to come late into the general population of the cafeteria. It was still an hour before the other guys came for the inspection duty. Bear sat down and began to re-read the Rules, starting from page one. If he worked hard tonight, maybe he'd live to see the morning.
Dressed For The Occasion
No sooner had the original rant had appeared, Café Press began to have T-shirts and stuff with logos for Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretch. So I ordered a tote bag and it came on Saturday, so I guess I am officially a Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretch.