Vagrants chapter 5.

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The tank recalibration took the entire work period, and resulted in some more zero-g work; the tanks were stored in the center area of the ship in order to reduce the chances of small meteorites and other debris hitting the tanks through the hull. A trade off, as the hoses carrying the fuel were always at risk of breakage or leaks.

Off course since the fuel itself was simply helium, pressurized to high levels inside the engine itself then squirted out under pressure; helium-4 was fairly common anywhere in space, and safe to use. Not to mention all the other uses for us.

We just didn't want to turn on a thruster to maneuver away from danger...and find out there was no propellent in it.

So the end result was I entered the exercise room just ahead the buzzer for it, as everyone else was lining up for football and tennis respectively.

"you're late!"

"Sorry Lief, can't play today; I might be coming down with something."

Well that caused a few frowns...I didn't blame them there, it was obvious what would happen without me. I didn't like the
bench either, but I didn't really feel up to playing.

there were a few other mutters, but all I had to do was point to the arm band and they stopped. More to the point, everyone stayed away. No one wanted to catch anything, an in an environment like this, it was already way too difficult to avoid it.

Suited me just fine, I used my pad to look up a few engine improvements I was working on.

"So, you're sick?"

Never mind, Claire defied convention.

"Possibly Claire, I think I'm mainly just sore from yesterday...it was after all, an awful lot of running."

"Hmm, I don't know, you're not out of shape. Probably flu."

I shrugged.

"So what's that?"

She asked, leaning over to look at my display. I increased it so she could see.

"Just main engine improvements. I don't like the current energy to thrust output of the ion drive, so I'm seeing if adding
some solar power, might improve it. At least, now that we have an increase in solar power; the first engineers notes on the subject are sketchy."

"We actually have solar panels?"

"Well yeah, got a small hold full of the old things...seems they were used on our way out of the home system, then pulled
from their mounts. Not sure why, but it could be the risk/reward wasn't deemed worth it. Not enough light, too much risk of breakage. Solar cells are kinda...brittle."

"Weird. Not the brittle thing, I just never thought we used solar cells on the outside."

"the first gen used pretty much everything they could, even explosive propellents."

"Sounds dangerous."

"It was."

We watched the games in companionable silence, I was half distracted with my project, but still saw the entirety of my team's slaughter...without me to run the ball, we got roasted 10 to 28. The tennis was also interesting, and just as cut throat. Lissa was winning till Claire got involved with a snort, taking her turn.

Then they started upping the ante with each other. Reminded me of Roger and myself really, except without the friendship.

"Hey."

I looked over to see Roger, showered and sitting next to me as the girls broke it up.

"Hey. You probably shouldn't sit so close, I'm fairly sure I've caught something."

He made a dismissive noise.

"If you have we will all catch it eventually, no sense worrying about it. You said you have an answer to my problem?"

"Sure. It's not recommended but it'd work. In the event that Oddball goes murderous or something, we can isolate him."

"What? I thought he was throughout the ship?"

"Nah, he is normally, but the interface room is the home of his main brain, centrally located. There is an actual switch
that shunts his functions in that room. Normally hes set to diffuse in case something happens, so he cant 'die'. But...and
this is definitely not recommended; but if you flip the switch and shunt him, then cut the lines you can isolate him.
Run another shunt to a computer of your choice, and all the decisions and code he uses to run the ship are subject to your approval."

"With the problem being...?"

I sighed.

"Problem is that he processes millions of commands or more a day, and not always in codes that we know. So...you'd need someone like me sitting on him constantly to make sure he didn't pull a fast one, and I'm not sure we have another me. Brun maybe."

"I see."

He sighed.

"Well it's a solution. How likely would it be to miss something under those circumstances that would screw us?"

"Sky high, it'd happen eventually. but if Oddball were going crazy, it'd be the only way to stop him."

"I see, well good work, I didn't even know about that shunt."

"Not many do, it's well hidden, but I actually study the ship schematics; my guess is the first gen were just as worried about a Hal moment as my dad is."

"Got one other question."

The buzzer to leave sounded.

"Going to the Commissary, want to come?"

"Yeah sure, a shower can wait."

I wrinkled my nose.

"No it can't man, you stink. Go shower and change, I'll wait."

His mildly offended look made me snicker.

I waited patiently, waving to Claire and ignoring Lissa; knowing Lissa wouldn't be out before Roger took a small load off my mind...no idea at all what she did in there, but it usually took her at least 20 minutes. I made muttered apologies to my team as they left one by one, which they shrugged off with easy grins.

"So, my other question."

I fell into step with Roger as he came out.

"Shoot."

"Does Oddball watch us normally? How much does it know?"

"Yes he does, and he knows basically everything about us. He's forbidden to act outside of certain guidelines, no matter what we do however. Like the happiness clause, keeps him from spacing one of us if we screw up. Obviously death wouldn't make us happy, right? Or anyone else for that matter."

"I see; any exceptions to these guidelines?"

"Wow, my old man really has you into this scenario. Sure, there are exceptions. There is the illness/injury clause, where if enough of us are down to something Oddball has the right to make decisions to ensure the whole survives as best it can, the mental defect clause...."

"Mental defect clause?"

"Yes, in the event that enough of the colony is determined to be mentally ill, Oddball is given special discretion to take
steps for the ensured happiness and health of the colony, upgraded watching powers, special types of psychological techniques, things like that. Not too sure which techniques, not my area of expertise, but I can look into it if you're too lazy."

"Nah, don't bother, I got it."

"You shouldn't worry about it, in the history of the Magellan, none of these emergency clauses have ever been invoked."

We reached the commissary and with a grin, I took off to our latest video addiction. He who starts the race first, wins...
or something like that. Conceding defeat with good grace, he went to get drinks while I started the first round. My gear
was still set up on a corner table, but I didn't worry too much about it...not like anyone would take it.

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

I had much to think about as mouse scrambled off to add to a high score I already had no chance of surpassing. The solution offered was no doubt the best mouse had to offer, but it really wasn't a choice. How could I put all of us in danger to save two people? not just our generation, but our parents, grandparents, and future generations.

Could I even realistically say two people could balance on a scale against the future of our race?

Secondly, mouse had stated outright that Oddball was always watching. Furthermore, it had already activated one of the
emergency clauses listed in passing as granting Oddball the power to activate special measures...after all, ship wide
depression would count as a mental health epidemic, right?

So what was Oddball doing with the diagnosis?

And third, mouse had called Oddball a he. Like every other female on the ship. He had, in fact, been calling Oddball a he the entire time. Did that mean anything?

thoughts chasing each other like mythical dogs do their tails, I handed mouse his drink. He took it gratefully, concentrating on driving one handed and somehow pulling it off, guzzling with his eyes glued to the screen.

He didn't even crash.

He handed the drink off and continued driving, without a word. I watched for a time, and gathered my resolve.

"So, another question for you. You keep calling Oddball a he; I've sort of noticed a trend with some people doing that. Oddball is obviously an 'it."

"Nah, Oddball is a he. He built his body to look at least a little male, was designed by human male designers at least in part, and most importantly identifies himself as a he. Ask him sometime, see if I'm not right."

"Maybe, I'm not sure I care that much."

"Yeah, it's not really a big deal."

I looked over again, taking in mouse's appearance once more. I could clearly see the girl mimicking my friend, bottom lip firmly grasped by her teeth as she maneuvered the wheel in tight movements so unlike my spinning style. Was that really all it took to be a gender? Somehow I couldn't help but feel that while my friend was right after a fashion, more was involved. It couldn't be that simple, could it?

Why couldn't I go one day without feeling as if I'd been left alone in an airlock with no suit and the cycle timer started?

Mouse finally crashed with a slight mou of disgust, and vacated the machine.

"Your turn...assuming you can handle terminal embarrassment."

"You're on, I've been watching you play, think I got the idea now."

I buckled down and focused on blowing off some steam by beating my rival.

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

My turn to get the water while Roger played, so I did. Couldn't help but smirk watching him try and fumble around driving like I had been, apparently trying to play tag with every road sign the game produced.

"Hey Ralph, two more waters for us please."

"Sure thing, hey been meaning to ask. When is the water treatment plant due? Some of the water we've gotten lately has tasted a bit off."

"I'll be honest, no clue, and I hope not for a long time, since I've been doing every dirty job Oddball can dig up. I'll look into it though. Has the water tested off?"

"No, all in the green, no contaminants diseases or microbes. Otherwise I'd have gone to Cargie directly, well before now."

"OK, I'll look into it tomorrow, alright?"

"Sure, thanks mouse."

I walked the water back with a gracious nod, waiting patiently. While Roger didn't actually crash, his times were well behind mine. It was enough to make me want to challenge him on the space fighter sims again...bet he was rusty.

"Hey man, what's up?"

I turned to see that Seth had snuck up on me, Joe right behind him like a silent hulking shadow, as usual.

"Not much, just watching Roger here screw up big time trying to beat my high score."

Seth rolled his eyes while they sat down. Joe had other ideas.

"I think you should try to beat ours on the EVA sim. After all it's been a month."

It still rankled me somewhat that for all my awesomeness, either Seth or Joe could top me easily in the EVA sims, just as
William beat me in piloting sims.

"Maybe tomorrow, trying to relax here."

"Sure, you're on."

They both looked rather content.

"So what's with the grins, good day?"

"The first day of suit check week. Easy work while the bosses are still breaking down that comet in holding 1."

We had gotten a hold of a small rogue comet a month ago by simply altering course a bit. Oddball had picked it up on sensors and made us aware of it, the command staff had a small debate and decided to pick it up. Seth, Joe, Arnie and Duff (Seth and Joe's bosses) had gone out with shuttle support and corralled the thing, and we dragged it behind us for weeks while they chipped away at it. It was small enough now that the work could be completed in our largest cargo hold, a safer prospect.

"Anything good out of it so far? Haven't been able to keep up, my own shifts have been pretty hectic lately."

Joe spoke up as Seth opened his mouth, earning him a slight glare.

"Nothing unusual, standard dirty snowball. Some good water ice out of it, ammonia traces we have to be careful around, and some good old carbon dioxide. Some trace methane we can use, though not too much. some carbon monoxide, just enough to make us continue to wear suits."

"well the water and c02 are always welcome. Some methane for the old generators and thrusters couldn't hurt. Not a fan of the ammonia, since it requires a lot of prep work to use as anything other than a base fuel...."

"Yeah you and the chemists will have your work cut out for you soon enough."

"Sigh. Oh well, work never ends anyway, might as well be running a few scrubbers."

Roger wrecked, giving me my turn.

"You guys want in?"

"Nah, we'll wait on EVA sim time. We'll be practicing that, waiting on you tomorrow."

They went over to the game machine in question.

Crap, they didn't need the practice to beat me, but I guess they wanted to humiliate me or something. I started my round in the current machine...didn't take long to beat Roger's times, and I one upped him easily.

However, just as the two EVA brothers switched to pool again, I began to feel tired...very tired.

"Hey Rog, feeling pretty tired at the moment. Care to help me take my gear home?"

"Um, sure. Let's go."

He took one look at me and grabbed my deck and light machine, while I grabbed my guitar. Normally I'd object, but I just
didn't feel like it.

Definitely the flu.

I still made it back to my families' quarters, even with the corridors starting to spin slowly. Roger had to help me into my room.

"You are not obviously not well."

"Nope, not at all, might be sick day time. might need to get someone to cover for me."

"Well let's hope not, you did got to the infirmary after all."

"Yeah shots and everything. Just leave the stuff behind the door, thanks. I owe you one."

I collapsed on my bed, barely hearing Roger leave.

(tbc)



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