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02 January 2017 @ 08:44 am
_Outlaws of the Solar System_ Part 21  

Chapter Thirty Four

Ivan collapsed into his chair and cued the lights down low. He tried to blank his mind, but it refused to cooperate, spinning repeatedly through loops of things that needed to be done immediately. By him or one of all too few of the truly bright ichimps. When the door chimed, he reached over to his right without getting up and cued the door to open.

"Ivan." Doctor Livingston barged in, then checked when he didn’t see him, and swung around, "How the hell am I going to staff three clinics, a hospital, and a School of Medicine with two, count us, two medical doctors?" He was waving some papers which Ivan didn’t need to see to know that they were his letter and organizational chart.

Ivan sighed. "With great difficulty, Livy." He pointed across the room, "Sit down. I’d rather be dependent on just us, but as things have fallen out there are humans aboard as well. So we might as well use them."

"What! Those Pure Gene Poolers?" Livingston’s hair stood out in anger.

"Actually the best of them are with the marines." Ivan soothed him. "Go talk with Cherry Huang about her specialties. She may be interested in both teaching and practice. Make your first priority quick training of assistants to maintain the clinics and call for doctors. Keep upgrading everyone you can, anyone that knows some first aid to emergency medical personnel, to nurses, then finally to doctors. Make your students work part time in each position while they learn."

Livingston was settling a bit, "I suppose I can find office staff for the clinics, and start training them to be nurses, and if they’re bright enough . . . OK, Ivan, just don’t expect me to talk to those PGPers." He rose and left without more ceremony, but the door was grabbed by the next in line before it could close.

"Ivan, you can’t…oh, there you are." It was Jane Greystoke, Simon’s former wife. "You can’t," she waved papers at him in exasperation, "Just put me in charge of industry with a wave of your magic wand. I’m an accountant!" she wailed.

"I literally don’t have anyone else." Ivan said. "Talk to May Huang about what needs to be done, and Simon," he raised a hand to forestall an outburst, "Yes, I know you two have issues, but he can help you with the technical end of things. Go see May and see what’s involved." She threw up her hands and walked out. "Next!" he called as the door was again grabbed before it could close. "Or do you all want to come in at once?"

Doctor No politely ushered Miss Manners in. "Ivan, about the schools . . . "

Chapter Thirty Five

"I don’t know why he dumped this on me!" Chuck frowned at the unfamiliar voice and traced it to the HQ office tentatively assigned to May Huang. May was talking to an unfamiliar ladychimp wearing civvies rather than the usual Chamberlain Project jumpsuit. Wolfe was leaning unobtrusively against the wall, listening.

"One, because he’s short on people, two, because you’ll really just be assigning personnel and making sure they get paid." May told the visitor. "Look, Jane." May cued up a program on the comp, "You’ll have three main projects. One, you can basically forget for now. The ships that are docked really need to be moved to the inside of the framework, but that can wait till the scoop modifications are done. That is the important one. See how the ram is attached? Now we need to run a pipe, a funnel actually, right down the middle of the framework to the engine."

"I can’t do that." Jane looked appalled.

"You don’t have to." May told her, "You have to hire or appoint or whatever, Christopher Columbus as foreman for the project, and tell him to hire whomever he needs. The plans are finalized, Christopher worked up a lot of them. All the parts he needs are stockpiled onboard."

"Christopher Columbus." Jane muttered, "Right. And I just do the payroll?"

"Yep." May nodded, "Now the third project, so to speak, is to basically operate like the ‘Small Business Administration’ and provide startup funds for anyone with a good business idea. And you can consult with anyone about what constitutes a good idea."

"SBA. Right. That part I know about." Jane sounded relieved.

Chuck cleared his throat, startling Jane, but not May Huang or Wolfe, he noted. "What is Ivan using for money?" he asked, the subject having caused considerable private worry.

May glanced at Jane, then answered for her. "He had it all worked out long before we left Earth. Most of the money is virtual, but he’s got enough coinage for day-to-day transactions. At the most basic level, everyone has a job and gets paid, and then rents an apartment, owned by the government, the ichimp government, that is, which circulates money back into government hands for things like these projects. He can create more money, or withhold it from circulation as needed for economic growth or inflation control."

"And this SBA?"he asked.

The ladychimp fielded that one, "If someone wants to start their own business, I'll set it up so they can get a grant or loan, and go for it. Within limits," Jane added quickly, "The businesses can’t endanger the ship. Ivan’s been going on a bit about encouraging entrepreneurs. And it looks like I’m the one that going to get stuck with the paperwork."

May cocked her head at him, "What are you doing for money?"

"Nothing, so far," he admitted glumly. "We’re operating like a commune on the honor system."

She turned back to the comp, "This is the basic template Ivan used for his system, he got it from some University, it can do all the basic banking functions as well as the, umm, Ministry of Finance stuff. Shall I copy it over to your comp so you can study it?"

"Yes, please. What is this coinage you said Ivan had?"

"He got positively medieval about it." She grinned, "I had to talk him out of pure gold coins because they’re so soft." She reached into a pocket and dump out a handful. "So, gold alloy dollars, silver quarters, steel nickels and copper pennies." She picked out one of each and leaned across the tiny office to hand them to him. "I recommend that if you make your own, you match these. It would be ridiculous to need to calculate exchange rates with less than three thousand people aboard."

Jane nodded, "Yes, and perhaps similar pay scales and rents? At least to start?"

"Yeah." He said, wondering where he was going to find someone to run the monetary system. Not to mention making coins. He poked dubiously at the gold dollar. "How about Beringar? Is he doing this too?"

"He’s got some sort of electronic banking system set up." May said, earning a frown from Wolfe. "I haven’t heard any details, though." She smiled a bit, "I’ve been behaving and haven’t hacked his system yet."

"You said something about the docked ships needing to be moved inside the framework," he asked, "I wasn’t aware there was docking space there."

"There’s space, and that’s it." She nodded. "The big ships especially, but also the shuttles are just hanging off the edge of the front section. It’s destabilizing and a structural stress, we need them to be elsewhere, but it’s not an immediate concern. Once we rendezvous with the Iceberg and start refueling would be a good time to ease them in through the spaces and build anchoring points between the main structural components to hold them for the duration of the voyage." She frowned a bit, "Spider might want his with airlock access so he can live onboard."

Chuck nodded understanding, the belter wouldn’t be able to live in the spheres.

"In fact, Jane, check with Ivan and see if you can hire Spider as a consultant. He’s very good, if you can stomach the language and manners."

"He ought to just hire you to run the whole thing." Jane muttered.

"I think Ivan wants to use all ichimps wherever possible. Above all else, he doesn’t want humans as supervisors. Originally, I had planned to drop off and head for the asteroid belt, so everything, all the plans and so forth are complete and on every computer system onboard."

"He doesn’t seem to have sufficient crew to do that," Chuck pointed out.

"No, he lost some critical personnel to Ori’s goons." She said, "Two of his four pilots and his only fully qualified navigator, among others."

"How long have you known Ivan?" He watched her carefully, trying to see if she was being open and truthful. Not that he could really tell. She was smooth.

"Seventy years, off and on. I hired him as an industrial spy, and realized that he had a lot more scope than any ichimp I’d ever met. Of course, that was decades before I found Simon."

Jane sat up surprised, "I met him in High School. I think he was there to keep an eye on Simon."

May nodded, "I persuaded him to go undercover there. He was seriously into improving working conditions in orbit just then. I don’t think he had realized until then how the kids were being systematically handicapped through their educations, or lack thereof."

Now Jane was nodding, "When he saw how smart I was he included me in his ‘in-school academic enrichment program’. Every assignment we had, he made us do on a much higher level, and he put us in touch with a Free Ichimp Corporation that got us both scholarships."

May nodded, "Freedom, inc? They tried to buy every ichimp that came on the market, but the Foundation fought them tooth and nail. They provided a lot of scholarship and medical coverage for ichimps."

Wolfe pried himself off the wall, "Like, how much of their funding was from you?"

"None." She raised an eyebrow at him, "If their funding had been legally compromised the UEG would have confiscated every ‘free’ ichimp they owned and sold them right back into slavery. They spend half their money defending themselves in court as it is." She looked back at Chuck, "Check out my files if you have them, and see how badly they tried to get Simon. He was halfway through college before the government finally decided they couldn’t just take him because they wanted to." There was a cold angry tone to her voice, and Chuck wondered what she would have done had the government won. Given her reputation, he decided not to ask her. She’d probably had a list . . .

Changing the subject, he asked, "What changed your mind about staying on the ship?"

"Cherry and Simon are all the family I have. With Ivan wanting an all ichimp colony, I was reluctantly able to face never seeing Simon again." She rubbed a hand along the edge of the keyboard, the first nervous gesture he’d ever seen her make. "As it turns out, the colony won’t be all ichimp, and my sister was onboard as well." She shrugged, "It was an easy decision."

Jane frowned at her. "There’s a lot of people angry at you and Ivan, especially some of the free ichimps."

"Ivan knew there would be." May said, "He virtually kidnapped over half the ichimps, and quite literally kidnapped some of them. Before this started, we talked over a lot of the psychological ramifications." Her eyes crinkled a bit in amusement, "We have a bet on as to how soon it is before he’s overthrown and the ichimps as a whole rewrite their constitution themselves."

"What!" Jane looked at her in astonishment, "Ivan isn’t, um, not really a dictator, or, umm." She stumbled to a halt uncertainly.

"We both think it will be a healthy thing." May put in. "I hope they don’t try to lynch him, though. He might not be able to make himself accept it."

"With, like, you here, they may, like, blame you instead." Wolfe said.

"Could be," she admitted, "I’m avoiding the ichimps areas because of the authority I’ve had over so many of them during not just this, but other projects as well. Ivan requested it."

Chuck finally came all the way into the room, and grabbed a chair. "Do you mind talking about this hijacking and so forth? How long has this been planned?"

"I only learned about it the day before the official announcement about the building of the Chamberlain, I think Beringar must have already started thinking about a colony ship a dozen years ago when he started experimenting with moving comets and started the Venus Terraforming Project. That has to have been for the sole purpose of building a magnetic ram scoop that he could use for an interstellar ship. I think," she hesitated, "That he was going to keep building various components for various projects and finally bring them together and leave openly."

"Then the government announced the Chamberlain Project," Chuck guessed, "And he couldn’t resist everything he wanted in one tidy package?"

"Pretty much," she nodded, "He hired . . . a group I occasionally work with to keep him up to date on the plans, so his ram would fit the ship frame, and to hijack the ship upon completion. The leader of that group, knowing it was right up my alley, handed it to me." She paused for a moment, her eyes focused inward, "Ivan had a dream of buying outright one of those independent Caribbean nations and moving all the ichimps there. He realized, though, how futile it would be. Then we hashed over the possibility of an asteroid belt colony. As soon as we heard Beringar’s proposal, we both knew that this was everything he wanted," she crinkled her eyes at him, "in one tidy package."

"Dang." Was Wolfe’s only comment.

"I wondered about the babies," Jane asked hesitantly, "There aren’t hardly any kids under three on the ship?"

"Four years ago I raided the Jefferson Davis Foundation and replaced all their cryo’d samples with actual chimpanzee genes. They had so many tissue samples on hand, they hadn’t actually used their ‘breeding sock’ for decades. Much more reliable to clone, given the mess they made of the ichimp genes."

"They didn’t notice?" Chuck was boggled.

"The staff working for the Foundation has to believe that ichimps are just smart animals. Once you admit they might be human, words like Civil Rights and Slavery can sneak into your head. So no one noticed there was something different about the last few crops of animals." She studied her fingernails, "Of course, genetic analysis is so computerized these days, if they did check, they might have gotten the results they were supposed to have for that sample, not for what they actually sent down to the lab."

Chuck thought about Colonel Updike’s comments about the seamlessness of Adele Stuben’s documentation, and nodded. "I’ll bet half the Law Enforcement Agencies on Earth think losing the Chamberlain is worth it to get rid of you."

She grinned wickedly, "It was getting a bit boring there. Another century of this PC crap and I’d probably have been driven to bring down the government."

Wolfe looked worried, "Like, how?"

"I’ve got five methods worked out," she admitted, "All long term. A couple of them were a bit bloodthirsty."

"Five?" Chuck could hear a suggestion of a whimper in his voice.

"I don’t know that any of them would actually work," she said, "but really, faking an alien invasion would have been a blast."

Chuck sat back in shock. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit! "Have you," he asked tentatively, "Done anything to start that one?"

"No," she looked regretful, "More the pity. Now that the government has decided to repair the LBA it would be so easy to insert intercepted transmissions."

"Ah." Chuck didn’t know whether to be relieved or not.

Chapter Thirty Six

"OK, so do I have this right?" SpiderJohnny hissed, and adjusted a dial with finicky precision. "When you’ve got two of these fucking super conducting magnets at exactly matching resonance’s an’ power an’ fucking whatever, an’ their artificial gravity cones intersect, the whole motherfucker ‘jumps’ through a gravity wave?"

"I’d probably flunk a student who put it that way but, yes, I think that’s roughly what happens." Dr. Simon von Monkenstein was used to working on a University budget, so the state of the art equipment was a treat.

"So how far does it go? How fucking fast?"

"It’s not in three dee space, so it doesn’t have a velocity." Simon replied, then intercepting a glare, added "The Venus rigs were jumping forty eight microns in zero point zero two seconds."

"Microns!" Spider yelped. "I thought you said this was FTL!"

"This far into a gravity well, the waves are small. They’re reflected and refracted and broken down into little ripples." Simon explained. "Once you’re away from a planet they’re bigger, and once you’re out of the Sun’s gravity well, they get huge. Theoretically, the transit time remains the same."

"Theoretically!" snorted Spider. "OK, this will work. How does the other stuff look?"

"Perfect." He said. "It seems my mother managed to requisition just about every piece of machinery known to man. Even after the work crews take the rest of the funnel sections out of here we won’t have working room for everything." He looked around the store room, then waved out the large open door, "Can we co-opt some of the docking bay for large projects?’

"Maybe after we leave the damned Iceberg." Spider shrugged, and returned to his point. "So how fucking big do these gravity waves get?"

"Away from the Sun, possibly a tenth of a light year."

"No SHIT! So, umm, forty three jumps to Alpha Centauri?" Spider was looking keen.

"After you get out of the gravity well. Which is a good ways out."

"Wait a minute. Artificial gravity just eats energy, s’why we hardly ever use it. So how you gonna power this starship of yours?"

"This gravity drive is totally impractical for inner system stuff, because of the energy requirements and the tiny ripples." Simon said, "We’ll have to use regular hydrogen fusion drives in system, and charge up capacitors for every jump. Once you got past Jupiter, you could start throwing in an occasional jump and shorten the transit time a bit." He looked over at Spider, "Like I said, this is twenty years down the road. I don’t even have a good prototype yet, just the test results and irregularities in the magnetic anchors from the Venus project."

"Those anchors were doing it though?" Spider grinned at him, "Why didn’t you get your mommy to steal them for you?"

"I," Simon glared at him, "do not encourage my mother’s bad habits. I’ll build my own, thank you."

"Well, you’re going to need some rings, and there ain’t that much crap on board y’know."

Simon shrugged, "It doesn’t really matter. I’ll be using small models to test the concept and so forth. Once we get to Alpha Centauri I’ll be able to get all the material I need." He looked around, "If the scoop works properly it will only take eighteen more years to get there."

"Just in time for you to invent an FTL drive. I fucking love it!"

"You’re weird, Spider. So what are you going to do for the next twenty years?"

"I’ve got a contract with the government to mint their new coins. Gold! Do you fucking believe this shit? GOLD coins? And you furballs started it."

"Ivan’s an idealist." Simon hesitated, "How much gold is onboard, anyway?"

"Plenty. I don’t believe some of the crap your mommy stuffed this place with. She really revved up the old imagination when she went shopping. And then I gotta design some docks inside the frame for all the little ships we’re taking along." He ran an experienced eye over the still crated machinery. "If I can’t figure out how to make anything this ship fucking needs with this stuff, I might as well drop off and go home." He looked a bit uncertain. "Look, you know about ladychimps…"

"Oh, Spider." Simon clutched his head. "You’ve got a problem." He tried to gather his thoughts. "See, ichimps come into season, like most mammals. Humans are very strange, being able to mate anytime. Chimps don’t. And you’re going to have to accept that if you’re going to have any relationship with Kirby. You’re going to have to be good friends most of the year, then have a, a . . . "

"Yeah, I got that part." Spider sighed at the memory.

"Then go back to being friends for the rest of the year." Simon continued relentlessly.

Spider clutched his head, "That’s the fucking problem. Aren’t there, like, hormones or something?"

Simon snorted, "Probably. Have you actually talked to Kirby? What is her opinion? Ladychimps sometimes don’t like to remember what they did while in season, you know," He frowned, searching for a way to make Spider understand. "Sort of like getting drunk enough to do things you really wish you hadn’t the next morning?" Spider looked blank, How do you gross out SpiderJohnny? He wondered. "Like get sodomized by Oleg Ori."

"WHAT!" Spider flinched, "Oh JEEZE! That is the most FUCKING . . . Why don’t you . . . " He took a deep breath and visibly got a grip on himself. His hissed breath in between his teeth for a moment. "Kirby," he answered carefully, "enjoyed herself enormously."

"Yes." Simon nodded, "That’s the hormones. The sex drive of a ladychimp would put a teenage boy’s to shame. Now, she doesn’t feel like that any more. If you want a relationship with her, you need to start all over and try for friendship." He sighed. "That’s how Jane and I started, friends from school, until we ran into each other at an orgy and we tried to build on it, but it just didn’t work." He slumped glumly, "Ichimps don’t reproduce well, see? The baby had a heart defect and died. And that just sort of ended it."

"Oh." Spider looked glum. "Do you know if the . . . problem was yours or hers?"

"No. Genetic research is not allowed on ichimps. Hell," Simon ran his hands over his head, "Like I said, we met at an orgy, I don’t even know if the baby was mine." He slumped even further. "I really shouldn’t have said that to her, though."


"Yeah, that’s when she threw me out." He shoved himself off the floor a bit too vigorously, soaring awkwardly in one tenth G. "Why don’t you give Kirby a call and invite her over for dinner, or something?"