Vagrants chapter 4.

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The concert went well; No shortage of requests, from country to my favorite mixes, and a few of my own minor works. Everyone danced according to their tastes, and I played for hours.

I didn't sing unless specifically requested though, since more than a few liked to make fun of my voice. I couldn't sing lower range songs anyway.

Still sang enough to go through my drink of choice for such nights, grape juice. Water just wasn't heady enough on singing nights.

Marion kept them coming...I'm not sure how much of my rationing was burned through, but I'm sure it was a good month's worth.

At least the dinner was communal, and therefore ration allotments were waived for it. A cause for celebration while we
celebrated, as the old joke goes. A good time was had by all, even me as I worked my butt off entertaining.

Towards the end even the night shift got involved, which was a bit crazy. For them it was very early, as in, earlier than most of them woke. People I rarely saw anymore, like Roger's younger sister Jennifer, took advantage of my presence to get some early morning requests in.

Oddly enough, even Eric's sister Brunhilde showed up.

She was a night engineer, electrical specialist. She was also in the running for largest person on the ship, being as tall
as Roger and almost as wide. She had a personality like a bear's was reputed to be. (We had a few in Cryo down in the main cryo hold...along with many other species from old earth...I'd seen it, a huge thing that could likely eat me in one gulp, with claws that could likely punch through steel.)

She wore a set of coveralls and a silk shirt I could likely use as a blanket, and had her corn yellow hair up in a large braid. She always sported a severe no nonsense expression that reminded me of someone eating sour candies.

She also had one of the sweetest singing voices on the ship though, and a healthy set of lungs. You could hear her bellow
tunes from half the ship over, if you were standing right.

"Hey Brun, want to take over?"

"Um, sure, at least till I'm on shift."

"No problem, I'll leave my stuff here, and pick it up later. I'm tired and need sleep, and your people still want music."

"Well as long as they don't ask me to do that 'mixing' thing you do, I can provide. Have a good night mouse."

"Good night and morning people! Glad you had fun!"

I took my bow and ran off. It wasn't really all that late for me, I'd stayed up later...but I was feeling more tired than
usual for some reason. Maybe it was all the running around earlier.

I was asleep almost before I finished going horizontal, undressing be damned.

****************************************************************************************

Mouse was in rare form, answering every request, smiling, playing any music asked for, even the crap he hated. He'd even
pulled out his mini light show machine and was having it do several random things to add to the mood.

Despite this the mood was still slightly somber, as the realization that in two weeks our parent's wouldn't be annoying us
with the country and rap requests we hated.

That they in fact wouldn't be around at all. That our safety net, our margin of error, was about to get that much smaller.
I of course did my part to improve morale, which turned out to be dancing my fool feet off with Lissa, Milla, Carla, Claire, and basically anyone else that wanted a turn.

They all tended to blur together after awhile, which is why I was able to be surprised when after yet another turn with Lissa the music ended and I saw my sister Jen standing there. Where had the time gone?

"Hey bro! Can we talk?"

"Sure, how long have you been here? Am I up that late or are you that early?"

She made a dismissive gesture, shooing away lack of sleep as unimportant.

"Oh I'm that early. Listen we need to talk a bit, away from the crowd."

"Alright, let's go."

We walked out of the celebration and down the corrider for a full minute before she would speak.

"I don't know how to say this, so I'll just come out and say it. We need to be careful, big Bro. Oddball has us on suicide watch."

"...What?"

Jennifer was our psychologist/psychiatrist in training. Her real rank was field medic, but she had worked hard on automated courses and taught herself the workings of the mind. She was unprecedented however, we had never had anything close to a full time head shrinker on board. The closest we got was our first gen doctor, who had a degree in psychology as well. I knew she could under the right circumstances, supersede my command on medical grounds.

I trusted her mind more than most on the ship.

"Oddball has noted our morale as being at an all time low for generation 3; he has kicked in a few of the automated procedures. The tags are being used to track us, the weapons in the armory and various tools are being catalogued, and he is piping in calming scents into our living spaces and work areas, for starters. I told the captain the protocols were activated he said I should tell you. Does that mean...."

"It means I'm pretty much sure to be captain...but shh, you can't tell anyone. It wasn't rigged, but the appearance of it now would be very bad."

"Well can't argue with that. My point is Oddball is watching us extra carefully, there might or might not be anything to it, but he gives me the creeps."

"OK this probably means nothing but I've got to ask; you're not the first person to call Oddball a he, but why? It's an it."

"Oddball is clearly a guy. He identifies as a guy, made a body like a guy's, and thinks like a guy."

"What does that even mean?"

"If you have to ask, I can't tell you. It's just, we girls know. We've always known Oddball is a guy. A really weird guy, but a guy."

I shook my head, unable to follow the 'logic'

"So back to the matter at hand; does this hurt us in any way?"

"Not really yet, though it could. Say for example I get depressed and head to the machine shop. I'll be locked out of it
as having no business there, and then depending on my behavior I might have an antidepressant slipped into my food. If it's you I'll be called in to counsel you. Oddball could even see you relieved if you behave poorly or resist. Certain actions would be open to interpretation on Oddball's part."

"....Well, shit. I guess we will have to make extra sure none of us run off the rails, right? How was this morale indicator scored?"

"I don't know yet. Oddball might have been listening to our conversations, and tagging phrases like 'I'm going to miss mom and dad.' That could be all there is to it, there could be more; I don't know yet."

"Well please, look into it, it'll give us an idea of what we can do to fix the problem."

"Alright. Sorry to burden you. Go get some sleep?"

"Sure. Just one more thing to worry about, no big deal."

She turned around with a wave.

"Congratulations by the way."

"Thanks."

I continued on, looping around till I reach my families' quarters. I was the only one there of course. I walked around the
place, taking in the same paneled floor (plastic, made to look like wood. There was precious little real wood on board, most of that being very old or pressed reeds, like our paper) old prints, pictures and paintings, and battered furniture.

I couldn't smell anything different...but that didn't mean it wasn't there.

I was a long time sleeping.

***************************************************************************************

I woke up still clothed, with an idea floating in my head and the alarm beeping in my ear. This was nothing new, but
it was slightly novel that the idea was actually a solution for someone else, for a problem that didn't exist. Roger's
computer problem had a solution of sorts. The problem would be implementing it.

Shrugging I took a quick shower; my parents were both asleep; the occupied light on their door was on, and it was early
morning. I made coffee and composed the message to Roger on my pad:

*hey man, got your solution ready; it's not ideal, but it could work.*

I doubted the slacker would be awake, but he'd look me up a bit later. I must have really stressed myself in that game
yesterday; I didn't feel sick but had low grade aches everywhere; pulled muscles perhaps. Well no games today; perhaps I'd
pull a Lissa and sit exercise period out.

Going to the infirmary also sounded like a great idea.

My pad chimed; it was another work order. This time it was to inspect fuel tanks 1-20. Fuel tanks 1-20 were for the attitude thrusters on the port side of the Magellan; The fuel was always check each day, but every once in a great while our fuel gauges lost perfect calibration, leading to differences in readings. Therefore every month or so an engineer would be get the duty of checking the actual amount of fuel in a tank, and double checking the gauges themselves to ensure they were working.

No one knew how the gauges lost calibration in the first place; it drove all the engineers crazy. I beeped my confirmation
of the order, and got dressed in clean set of my normal clothes...a tan silk shirt and pants.

The infirmary was on the way so I stopped off. The door opened to my least favorite medic sitting behind the desk. Dirk 'the dope'.

An uncharitable nick name, but Dirk was believed to be possess the dubious honor of the lowest IQ on the ship...for all 3
generations. Despite that suspicion, he was a capable if uninspired medic. He also could manage a decent shuttle pilot score.

"What's up mouse?"

"Thinking I might be coming down with something, or pulled a muscle or something."

"Well, you want a physical then?"

"Nah. Really just want a few pain relievers so I can work. I mean, if it's a cold or flu they will work, and if it's just my muscles, it'll work too. No reason to over think it."

He didn't look convinced.

"I guess...but you said flu, so you're getting a cocktail. Not letting a disease spread on my watch if I can prevent it."

I tried not to let my impatience show.

"Fine, plug it in. I can wait a bit."

"Busy day?"

He asked as he started programming one of the machines behind him, a medication formulator. It was a big box filled with
the liquid forms of all types of vitamins, histamine blockers, and various medications. The idea was to simply plug in the
type of disease or problem you needed treated, the weight of the patient, and the machine calculated the proper dosage and filled a syringe for you.

Dirk couldn't screw it up; no one could.

I watched him type in 'cold, flu, and muscle ache', which would give me a vitamin cocktail, (no cure for the common cold
or flu, just preventatives to help keep the infection minor) and pain relief.

Then he turned to the other machine, and typed 'diagnostic'.

I frowned.

"give me a break mouse, you come in here complaining of feeling sick and pain, and you don't want to get a physical; so you're getting a diagnostic."

A diagnostic was a scan performed with slightly radioactive dye and nanites; it consisted of another shot full of both
substances, and an arm unit over the bicep that recorded the results and broadcast them to the infirmary for analysis. Being automated, it wasn't as good as a human controlled physical, but it was fairly accurate, especially for major problems like heart murmurs or bone breaks.

The bonus was you could get scanned while working; the bad point is it took an average of 12 hours to get fully scanned, and everyone knew you were feeling poorly by the arm unit. Standard procedure to get one or the other though, we took our health seriously.

"Alright, give me the shots, and yes if you must know, Oddball has me going to check fuel tanks today."

"Oh wow man, sucks to be you."

"Yep, you don't know the half of it; sewage was yesterday."

He pulled a face.

"only thing worse is when the water treatment plant needs drained. I feel for you engineers."

"Meh, it's a job. At least it'll be done, and I won't have to screw with it again."

He finished up; he really did have a knack for this, I hadn't felt either shot. The arm unit got placed just under my short sleeve, and beeped as soon as it clicked closed, showing it was working.

"Alright man, all set up. Have as much fun as you can today."

"Sure thing, you too."

******************************************************************

I woke up to my pad chime, and realized I'd slept through my alarm. Dreading the thought that it was from Oddball I cracked my eyes and gave it a half lidded glance. It was from mouse, and he claimed to have a solution to my problem.

Already?

Of course he was the smartest on the ship, but still...I'd not expected anything for another day at least. I had to remember to ask him if Oddball monitored us all the time. I knew Oddball could monitor us all the time...but that wasn't quite the same thing, was it?

I mean, it never commented on some of the stuff it would have seen, like the time I accidentally started that fire...or I'd have been disciplined for it, right? I was also fairly sure I wasn't the only one who had a few childhood screw ups like that. Surely I'd have heard about those if Oddball was doing it's thing.

I also realized I was putting off calling the bridge, so I did.

"You're late Mr Smitts...or you would be if you were on shift today." Viktor answered.

"Sorry sir, and I'm not?"

"Nope, it's collection day; Your turn."

I groaned, more crap. Collection day was a tradition...weekly reports from the various departments. We had long since switched to computer generated reports sent wirelessly to the bridge...but the day persisted as a way to get the gist of how well the ship was running, as well as get grievances and problems aired.

So once a week, one of the bridge crew was picked (usually by short straw) to go around the ship, gossiping with and getting reamed out by the crew. And of course since I was late, short straw was me. Stupid outdated tradition, sigh.

"On it sir."

I rolled out of bed, showered, and changed clothes. Making sure my old set hit the chute to the laundry (nothing pissed them off more than having people wait a few days then hit the laundry with several sets of clothes all at once). I was out and gone inside of ten minutes; breakfast could wait.

(tbc)



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