I estimate I’m about a month out with this. It needs to be gone over – to readers – and a cover made.
Kurt Bowman wasn’t in a very good mood. He was still upset from his job interview yesterday. They claimed to be hiring for a number of government subsidized housing projects, big enough to go to multiple contractors. He’d expected to be hired since they’d called him in for a face to face interview. Instead the man had asked all sorts of strange stupid questions about his personal life, and intimated he was tainted by having worked high iron on Mitsubishi 3. He simply pointed out he had never become a Home citizen, and then made the mistake of saying the process was very easy, if he’d wished to do so. How that was offensive he was at a loss to understand, but the man bristled like an affronted cat.
The fellow persisted in wanting to know why he took a job there. When Karl laughed and told the man that for a little better than a million dollars a year most folks would work for the Devil himself, a mask of disapproval had descended over the man’s face, and he knew the interview was over. How was he supposed to guess the man was a religious nutter? He obviously took the expression literally instead of the hyperbole Kurt intended.
Then on top of it all he’d looked at Kurt’s long sleeves and asked if he had any tats. Long sleeves were just expected in North America now. For something like a job interview you might as well come in bare chested as wear a short sleeved shirt. If the fellow had such a bad opinion of iron workers, high or low, he shouldn’t have to lower himself to hire any. The question was way out of line.
The man was just looking to find fault by that point. He’d asked the man what that had to do with his ability to do iron work, rather than answer. There was nothing left to recover at that point by trying to answer factually, and he knew it. He finally stood and abruptly terminated the interview himself, rather than take anymore pointless abuse for a job he wasn’t going to get. Kurt probably should have tried to end it on a gentler note, but he hadn’t. Too late to worry about it now.
Then on the way home he was driving his rental in manual mode, because there was no auto-control way out in the sticks where he’d found a cheaper room. He was upset and not paying attention. The car data link informed him he’d averaged more than ten kilometers an hour over the limit for this country road and an auto-ticket would be mailed to the address he’d given for the rental agreement. They couldn’t provide auto-control but they sure found the bandwidth to monitor his speed and issue tickets. That would be another thousand dollars, and if he didn’t pay it in thirty days they’d charge it straight to the same account the car was charged to, plus a generous ‘service’ fee.
Kurt had felt pretty well heeled when he came home. The third ring of Mitsubishi 3 was done then, and they were laying construction people off. He had two tours under his belt and had saved well over half his pay even after sending his sister money regularly to help her along. She lived with two other young women in an efficiency apartment, and they were fortunate to have it. That’s why he wasn’t staying with her. They were already jammed in and didn’t need a male roomie. When they talked while he was still on M3, she’d been describing for some months how the influx of people from the north was driving up housing prices. That was part of why Kurt decided to come home. With the migration south, right on the warm gulf coast was about the only place anybody was doing construction. There were quite a few huge condo complexes going up around Mobile, and he figured he could get a job putting the framework up. That might have been a miscalculation.
He wasn’t feeling so flush now. The cost of most things was three or four times what he remembered them being when he’d lifted to M3. He hadn’t paid a lot of attention to prices before, because he’s done a year of college and then lifted to Home while he was still living with his parents. His folks had died of the flu and left him and his sister very little, mostly keepsakes like photos, not cash. Food was even worse than stuff like clothing, and he’d gotten spoiled eating at the construction workers cafeteria on M3. They hadn’t had a lot of things toward the last when he was there. No fresh hamburger to make your own, and very seldom whole cuts of anything for supper, but it was still take all you want scrambled eggs from freeze dried, and stuff like pancakes.
The North American news sites argued the cost of living wasn’t much higher, because there were other offsetting expenses that were now lower. Yeah, you could get a very reasonable place to sleep in Winnipeg, and farmland in Wisconsin was suddenly affordable. Last year’s phone that did things undreamed of ten years ago was dirt cheap, but it made lousy filling for a sandwich.
A couple of the guys laid off from the construction crew stayed on at lower paying jobs, rather than come back to Earth. He could understand the fellow from Estonia staying. Europe was a mess even without the flu, and he had no family. But Kurt didn’t feel the same as the guys calling Earth the Slum Ball and making fun of him for returning. Well, he hadn’t then; he was wavering now.
He liked Home OK, but it was very limited. There wasn’t any serious night life for a young guy. The number of peers with who you could date or party with was really limited. Homies and beam dogs didn’t mix much. The only live music was pretty tame stuff. Kurt favored music than would rumble through the deck halfway around a ring. And there hadn’t been any beer for months.
Kurt liked Mobile, and had fond memories of going to school here. He felt he could probably help his sister, and he still had Uncle Don alive even if his mom and dad were gone. If there were any distant Bowmans with which the family had lost contact, his mom and dad never mentioned them. Uncle Don and his wife hadn’t seemed that thrilled to see him however. He’d cut his visit with them short, based on his uncle’s put-upon face, although not as sharply as his interview with the recruiter. Uncle Don hadn’t seemed friendly at all until he announced he better be going. Then he seemed relieved Kurt hadn’t asked him for any help or a place to stay. He didn’t tell his sister how badly that hurt.
Rather than wait and stew on it Kurt paid the ticket online. It wasn’t like he’d save anything for waiting to get the paper copy in the mail. Then, when he called his sister to tell her about the job interview, she told him the county didn’t usually mail the notices out until the last day anyhow. They wanted the late fee if you were foolish enough to forget about it or try to ignore it.
He got no more interviews for a week. He wasn’t getting any online responses, not even the usual hungry recruiters asking him if he could do something he wasn’t even remotely qualified to do, so he decided to actually visit a few of the larger construction companies and ask if they had something for him to do, even if it was a step down from iron work.
The first three places refused to even talk to him. They had to remotely unlock the door to their reception area, and they looked out at him and refused. Then leaving the last place the police had pulled him over with two cruisers. They spread him on the trunk with guns pointed at him, wanded him, and searched the car. When he’s explained why he was visiting the businesses the one cop had cursed angrily at the waste of his time, and told the older cop there was a group of newcomers downtown who’d got past all the checkpoints, and stalked back to his cruiser to go on that call, leaving the older cop behind.
“Newcomers?” Kurt asked, not sure what the man was talking about.
“You know,” the cop insisted, even though Kurt plainly didn’t. “Migrants. You can’t cover every little farm road and side street. Sometimes a bunch of them, usually just a single family, filter through and don’t get taken to the camp. They’re bad for business and scare folks they look so rough. They’re pretty easy to spot since they have been walking for weeks and not exactly staying in the Holiday Inn.
“They’re what they are, no matter what you call them,” Kurt said, disgusted.
The old cop had the decency to look a little embarrassed. “Some politician decided that sounded nicer, so the chief tells us that what to call them at morning roll call. If it makes them happy I’ll call them anything they want. God only knows that’s the easiest part of this job.”
“Yeah I can see that,” Kurt said, with little conviction. Maybe if I got a job I could learn to do that, he realized. “Anyway…as I was saying, that all I wanted to do this morning. Talk to somebody about getting a job.”
“You can’t do that now,” the older cop told him. “It isn’t against the law,” he said, as soon as he saw the look that flashed on Kurt’s face. “But it’s been years since you could go door to door without an appointment and ask after a job or try to sell stuff to a business. Going to residences is even worse. People assume you are either scouting them out to come back and burgle the place or rob them. Or you might be working a con to fall down and claim you are going to sue them to force a small settlement.
“Mr. Bowman, nobody hires off the street. In fact most places only hire through other agencies, because there is less chance of being sued for discrimination. They only hire on the agency’s recommendation and never see you or read your full history before, so they can show innocence of any possible bias. Even the county hires our police recruits through a third party.”
The cop didn’t seem in a big rush to leave. It was a pleasant day and they were pulled well off on a street that wasn’t busy with fast traffic. He was standing thumbs hooked in his equipment belt, and actually looked concerned. So Kurt told him the story of how he’d had a face to face interview and how badly it had gone.
The cop sighed. “It’s always something. Let me call the fellow who put us on to you and ask a couple questions,” the cop offered. He held his phone square to his face like you have to do to make a video call. It was quickly obvious the cop needed to reassure the business man he wasn’t suspected of wrong doing, first thing.
“I’m standing outside with a phone, not at a desk as you can see. I’ve already ran this fellow against criminal records, he’s clean. But would you run this guy’s name against your available personnel sources for me, and see what sort of return you get? Thank you, I appreciate it.”
“OK, OK, why is that significant? No this is just for my information, don’t consider it an official inquiry. That’s not my area of law enforcement at all…OK. Yeah thanks,” and he terminated the call.
“The agency that interviewed you has your file marked as ‘turned down’. This guy claims that is a code for unsuitable. If it had said declined or just not hired it would indicate you should be considered again. I’m sorry, don’t blame me for bringing bad news, but I wouldn’t waste any more time pursuing big companies around Mobile for your usual line of work. And if you get a lawyer and try to sue I’ll deny I ever said anything to you. I don’t need to sit off duty for days waiting to repeat hearsay for a trial. I’m just doing you a favor to keep you from wasting a lot of time beating your head against a wall you didn’t know was there.”
“No, I don’t intend to make any trouble for you,” Kurt promised. “I appreciate the help. So I’m basically blackballed from any iron work?”
“That’s kind of old fashioned, people don’t use that expression much now, but yeah, that’s what I’m hearing,” the cop said.
“Thanks,” Kurt said, disheartened. “I won’t keep pounding on doors, making trouble for you.”
“If you run out of money, don’t try sleeping out on the street,” the cop warned. “We round up anybody that isn’t in a shelter and take them to one, if they are locals, or to a migrant camp well outside town. They placed it out too far to be able to walk in and back in a day, so you don’t want to get stuck out there.”
Kurt was horrified by the suggestion he might sink so low. “I have funds,” he assured the cop. “I’m not homeless.”
“That’s good. Then best of luck to you finding something. I don’t expect to run into you again.” Whether that was sincere or a veiled warning Kurt wasn’t sure, but the cop walked off to his cruiser, and Kurt got back in his car quickly rather than stand there alone on the shoulder like a fool.
* * *
“How can you possibly grow this to have the right texture and flavor?” April asked. She took another generous bite of tenderloin. It was pale pink in the middle and charred on the outside, but hot all the way through. The little cup of steak sauce with it was built on a butter base with mustard, thyme, garlic, salt and a dash of Cajun seasoning, but no tomato. It was an heirloom recipe from Dr. Ames’ grandmother. No surprise anyone nicknamed Jelly would come from a family of cooks and appreciative eaters. The fact April was ignoring the sauce didn’t bother him at all. He took it as a good sign the beef stood alone just fine with only a little salt and pepper.
“I’ll tell you if you’ll agree to strict nondisclosure,” Ames offered. “I intend to keep the process secret as long as possible. Heather is agreeable to allowing me to keep the production in physical isolation with very few people knowing the entire process. She offered to start issuing patents, but I figure the Earthies wouldn’t respect them even if she does. But if you’re going to invest in it I understand why you’d need more details.”
April chewed and swallowed. She looked at the hunk of meat in wonder, and perhaps resented a little bit needing to stop eating and speak with Jelly.
“Of course,” April agreed, readily. “I’d do that much for friendship, not just business. I think you’re right, the Chinese especially, would have factories set up cranking this stuff out in a couple months if you let it be public knowledge. And you’d never see so much as a plastic Yuan coin for it. I just don’t understand how you can grow this without…the cow.”
“Tissue culture is nothing new. Even growing it to a certain shape is not unheard of. We can grow some complex organs easier than bulk muscle tissue. I can grow chicken chunks, nuggets, pretty easily. People will buy those. But with beef it’s hard to market it in small pieces. They don’t sell very well, even for kabobs. The shape and texture are not what people expect,” Ames lamented. April took the opportunity to slice off another bite while he was talking.
“There are difficulties both in getting a large mass without vascularization to oxygenate it and to provide nutrients…”
“Where do you get the nutrients?” April asked around a full mouth.
“The first experiments used Bovine blood fractions, the same as a cow. Obviously that’s not cost effective,” Ames said, “even on Earth. I was just useful to prove the concept in a laboratory setting. But you can create bacteria to produce the proper nutrients by altering them genetically. So far we’ve been able to get everything we need from combining five separate cultures, blended and filtered.
“You process those cultures, add electrolytes, add a few extracts we obtain from food plants like glucose, and introduce it as a nutrient bath. The culture is started on a platinum plate and grows from it along a grid of very thin tubes with microscopic orifices which release the nutrients. It’s also done at higher than normal pressure, and with additives in the mix which have no function but to increase its oxygen carrying capacity.”
“But doesn’t it have a bunch of holes through it then?” April asked, making a repeated gesture with her straight fingers. “I don’t see a grid of holes in my steak.”
“The tubes are very thin, Think of a ultra fine hypodermic needle. One of the ways they tenderize natural beef is to stab it repeatedly with fine needles,” he said, copying her gesture. “You won’t see holes from that process either. But when the culture is mature you slide it off the grid of needles and it appears a solid mass. Electro-stimulation hastens growth and is a factor in giving it the proper grain.
“Then you sterilize the apparatus and start a new one. It takes about two weeks to grow a quarter kilo filet. My next generation tank will grow three hundred sixty at a time.
“Just like Gunny had ‘trodes on each one, making his fingers grow faster inside the clamshell when they grew him a new hand?” April guessed.
“Very much so, but I’d avoid bringing that up when marketing the product,” Ames suggested.
“I know, people are squeamish. Don’t worry. Even if I invest, I know better than to interfere with things for which I have no talent, like selling,” April promised.
Ames nodded appreciatively. For all of his professionalism he was squeamish, but he’d rather not admit it to April. Ames let her eat. The steak was selling itself better than anything he could say.
April was chewing, but thoughtfully, looking off in the air trying to visualize something.
“Why do you have to keep starting and stopping?” she finally asked. “A batch process is always less efficient than a continuous production. Just grow the meat and trim it off. As long as you keep monitoring, and your nutrient bath stays clean and doesn’t spoil, it could run a long time.”
“The tissue will degrade once it grows past the ends of the needles,” Ames explained. “It needs the oxygen and nutrients continuously. Just like tissue in a cow needs constant circulation.”
“Oh…” April appraised the height of the filet on her plate. “Have the needles six or seven centimeters long. When the steak has grown out near the ends have the needles retract five centimeters and slice it off. Then push them back out to full length.”
Ames looked distressed. “You’d have to anchor the remainder of the culture to the base…or hold it in place with a sort of fork temporarily, while the needles come back out. I can think of several ways to do that, actually. What made you think of that?” he asked, a little irritated.
April borrowed a phrase from her good friend Barak. “I’m not sure. It just seemed obvious.” The look of consternation on Ames face didn’t make her enjoy the steak any less at all.
* * *
After discussing it with his sister, Kurt wasn’t at all sure what to do. She had some practical suggestions about stretching his money out, but they all assumed he’d eventually get some sort of job and have income, even if greatly reduced. There were shortages that had no easy to see reason, and one of them right now was work boots. He’d paid almost two thousand bucks for a pair assuming he’d need them. Now it looked like it might have been wasted money, unless he could resell them. It was always something…
He brought up moving to another area with an influx of refugees, to his sister, and she had a fit about the word, warning him it was just as bad as his sick joke about working for the Devil. The official word was that all these people were not refugees, even saying migrants was starting to be frowned upon as the cop had clued him in on early. What would they call them next? They sure weren’t on vacation.
His sister warned if he said anything about refugees in a new job interview he’d likely end up on another list of disapproved people. Saying refugees, she assured him, labeled you as anti-government. He felt like he couldn’t say anything safely. What did they think these people were? Tourists? He might move to say, Atlanta, and get banned there for accidentally speaking some forbidden truth.
Kurt had lost track of what was acceptable to say publicly from being away working on M3. You had to be immersed in Earth culture to keep track. The faster you got with the latest acceptable phrase the better. Nobody on Home had lists of words that made them gasp in horror and shun you if you didn’t know the current code. His sister had also confirmed what the cop said, that black-balled was also a long forbidden usage. He’d just rolled his eyes when she informed him it was racist. How did anyone come up with this crap? It was amazing they could sell black paint still, and not have to label it ‘darkest grey’ or some other euphemism.
All the time he was away working construction on M3 he’d neglected to follow the news from North America or even Mobile. His sister sent him a text almost daily, but she spoke about her roomies and work. Neither of them had ever been interested in politics on any scale. He didn’t identify with any party, and suddenly he found people wanting to know if he was a ‘Patriot’ or a ‘Saint’ before they’d talk to him about football or share a beer. He found that insane.
He’d always thought of M3 as just that, a Mitsubishi property on which he was working construction. He was a little hazy on the parent company versus a subsidiary corporation. That all seemed as pointlessly complicated as calling refugees newcomers. But that sort of nit picking seemed to be what kept lawyers in big money. Calling it ‘Home’ also seemed a conceit and a bit silly to him too, like they were trying to be folksy. But suddenly he was feeling so isolated and alienated in his old hometown that Home seemed more like home…so he found himself setting his news reader to find out what was happening back there. It was stupid and irritating to find most search and direct access was blocked to both official sites and services hosted there, such as ‘What’s Happening’.
It took all of about two minutes to bypass and see whatever he wanted through foreign proxies. Any grade school kid knew how to do it. He made sure the only identifier would be the coffee shop he was sitting in at the moment. If they wanted to know who was interested in Home badly enough they could pull the security video from the store. It all had to be forwarded to the government now, but there was a limit how much they could actually filter and review.
Some of the ads in What’s Happening did have some code words. The rowdier side of society, especially the beam dogs and temporary workers, tried to avoid offending some of the older more conservative people in their ads. That didn’t seem as silly a word game to him as the Earth version for some reason. He was removed from that recently enough that he could still read the hidden messages, and smile.
The ad that caught his eye however was in the clear.
– Experienced space workers needed –
A Lunar partnership with both Home and Central backers intends to assemble and position an auxiliary un-spun habitat in proximity to Mitsubishi 3. The primary phase of the project will aim to provide housing for two hundred. The initial phase is expected to last a year and a half, the first six months being entirely at the Central Kingdom on the moon. Expansion past the first phase is dependent on market conditions for housing, materials and other economic factors.
Build standards will be the same as current Mitsubishi requirements or better. Workers need to be adaptable however, because innovative use of lunar materials will be an economic necessity for the successfully completion of the project.
Full literacy in standard English is a must. Ability to use and maintain hard suits or moon suits a must. Ability to vacuum weld, vacuum bond, handle and use explosive fasteners, instant soldering nuts, zero G counter-force tools, and helmet talk are pluses. Programming, use, and design for 3D fabricators desired. Post fab repair of 3D constructs and composites a plus.
Preference to hire and salary are heavily based on verifiable hours of vacuum suit work, specialized training, extra languages, and pilot tickets. Power and data electricians, pipefitters, and airlock mechanics paid a premium.
Paid on job training for vacuum work / zero G procedures, are available to certified Emergency Medical Technicians, Nurse Practitioners, computer / controller repair technicians, and electric vehicle repair and maintenance technicians.
Chefs / kitchen bosses, prep cooks, and a pastry maker needed. Ability to manage others, cook multiple cuisines and improvise menus to available supply a must.
A computerized veracity interview and an investigation of previous ability to integrate to the workplace will be conducted.
Contact / resumes : Jeffery Singh, Project Administrator, Home 1467 or Central 0002, Subject JOB.
Details : WW5.HomeWebS.SinghTechnologies/projects/M3
That sounded very interesting to Kurt since things in Mobile weren’t working out as he’d planned. Unfortunately, he’d had a guaranteed shuttle voucher to bring him home, but no lift ticket to return since he wasn’t employed anymore. From what he’d heard it was pretty tough to get a seat now. Maybe Mr. Singh would have some advice. Kurt still had an active account at the System Trade Bank. That was a Singh business too. It might not be a good idea to draw attention to himself by sending messages in the clear to Home right now, but he could leave a private message through the internal message system at the bank. They did things differently on Home. If he tried to contact an Earth bank executive through the customer message board, he had no doubt they’d just delete it. On Home he had every confidence they wouldn’t freak out and slavishly follow the rules.
Kurt logged on and was happy to see he had six point seven, three, two Solars. They’d just posted point zero, three, two Solars monthly interest. Thank goodness he hadn’t changed it all to dollars. His Great Southern Bank account charged him. They couldn’t even change Solars for him. It wasn’t legal now, and he’d needed to transfer funds through Hong Kong. They’d have exchanged it for him through Germany, but the swap through EuroMarks would have cost a half percent even though he didn’t hold them in anything but the fleeting legal sense of the computer transfer.
He thought carefully how to state his question. Better to keep it short for now going through this unorthodox channel. He outlined his dilemma and reasons for keeping a low profile and invited Singh to ask his previous employers about his service. On Home they’d talk to him without being scared they’d be sued if they dare say anything negative about him. He wasn’t worried about anything they could say anyway. He’d worked his butt off for them.
* * *
Gunny leaned back in his chair and his eyes did the quick scan thing that April had come to recognize. He always picked the chair against the wall if he could. Nobody had tried to kill her in like…forever. But she was still happy to have Gunny around for when she went to other habs. He was sort of on call now – she still paid him a retainer. He couldn’t help being ON if he was with her, even though they were just having supper and he wasn’t officially playing body guard.
Home was a lot safer now beyond the moon. Their enemies didn’t have the easy access from Earth they had in LEO. Both China and the United States of North America were pretty messed up internally, and had limited lift capacity. Any Norte Americano who came all the way to Home now stood out and was watched carefully. The Europeans still insisted in official propaganda that Home somehow had something to do with the Great Influenza epidemic. However they were never specific in their accusations, just subtle innuendo, and they didn’t seem to allow that to keep European companies from doing business with Home. They certainly had no official sanctions in place like North America. In fact, the Europeans and the Australians, as well as the Japanese, all picked up a little coin repackaging or outright smuggling Home products into North America, and most likely China too. Jeff made sure he picked up a little cut of all that action, and that was all paid to the company he shared with April and Heather. So if the Americans wanted to pay through the nose to keep up appearances she’d be happy to take their money.
April provided housing for Gunny. She had a rather large private cubic for Home, and he had his private room and tiny bath set off with temporary partitions. Housing was so expensive now she should probably just provide that for his services, and skip the cash retainer, but April would feel like a cheapskate to reduce his income even though he had other work now. It wasn’t that much to carry.
April had steady income from both the businesses she held in common with Jeff and Heather, and a bunch of little businesses her brother willed her. Neither did she have any really expensive vices or hobbies, other than being a coffee snob. She still had a chunk of cash Eddie had given her when she’d gone down to Earth. She felt safer to hold that in reserve rather than invest it with what she held in common with Jeff and Heather. That would be complicated. They after all both had other things they held apart and neither of them had increased their common holdings..
Gunny was a real asset to have on site. Passive insurance you might say. A sort of security system. The possibility Gunny might be home reduced the possibility anyone would consider trying to invade their space, either covertly in a black operation, or a full frontal assault.
His worth as a home security system was all the more true since Jan Hagen had leaked the video of Gunny being kidnapped by the North Americans last year. It made the rounds of Home and then inevitably, like anything let loose on the net, found its way to Earth sites. It was rather amusing, at least to her, Gunny found it less so. He found it an affront to his dignity and didn’t seem to get that others found it frightening
The Americans had a corrupt data base, nothing new there, their government and military nets were a rats nest of old mismatched hardware and software, that translated between incompatible systems. Their agencies were too stubborn or broke to abandon and consolidate them. They’d told the American military post on ISSII that Gunny was still a deserter, after he’d been honorably discharged by Presidential decree.
They were a bit over zealous to Taser him from behind in the international zone of ISSII and carry him away to their interest section. That irritated Jan Hagen, Head of Security for ISSII. Jan was on the short list April kept of people who you don’t irritate or count favors owed back and forth too closely. Jan Oppositional Disorder was a defect she’d seen too many display that proved fatal. She’d seen Chinese officers take a space walk out the airlock without the encumbrance of a suit for provoking Jan only slightly more than the North Americans had by grabbing Gunny.
The video didn’t capture them Tasing Gunny from behind. It started with a security camera view in the officer’s cabin where they’d thrown the unconscious Gunny as an improvised brig. He was sprawled limp on the bunk in his shorts, having been stripped and searched before they cuffed him hand and foot and tossed him there. He woke up slowly and rolled over examining his prison and his frown growing slowly worse until he was showing teeth. He sat up and swung his legs off the bunk, set his mouth in a hard line, tucked his arms in front of him and spread them wide suddenly, snapping the cuff chain in a single clean jerk. The camera caught a full frontal shot of his chest with muscles taut and defined. He looked like the drawings of muscle groups in an anatomy textbook. However, what April always marveled at was his collection of scars, and she’d watched the video several times, In fact she’d watched it through three times in a row when Jon Davis, Home’s head of security first obtained a copy and shared it with her. April really enjoyed seeing Gunny snap that chain.
The officer assigned to watch Gunny could be heard trying to tell his superior on com that they might have a little problem. He was being too professional and matter-of-fact about it and made no impression on the man how dire the situation was at all. A little terror in the voice might not have been misplaced. He got blown off, which delayed an effective response.
Gunny shuffled over with ankle cuffs still on and used the toilet in the officer’s cabin, back mercifully to the camera. He tested the ankle cuffs, but pulling one up and one down apparently hurt his shins too badly to tolerate. In the end he used his hands to help in breaking the chain across the corner of the desk. He pawed through the desk looking for assets, but they’d thought to clean it out.
The bunk was secured along the bulkhead on the long side but the edge away was held up by two short lengths of tubing tacked to the deck at the corners. Gunny grabbed the edge of the bunk in the middle and heaved up on it. It bent and the corner supports leaned in, but it held. Gunny stopped trying, stood back and glowered at it in thought. After a moment he stomped on the peak he’d created and drove it back down and toward the deck a bit, inverted to a Vee now.
Foiled, he changed his tactics, grabbing the corner and wrenching it back and forth. The edge rail and end posts went back and forth between alternate parallelogram shapes until the weld in the deck broke with a crack and the whole framework came loose from the deck and bulkhead.
Gunny ignored the locked hatch to the corridor. He’d never even tried it to see if it was locked. He instead attacked the bare bulkhead into the next cabin with the folded up bunk rails as a battering ram. That was where the fellow monitoring the video camera had been stationed, conveniently close so he could respond and go into Gunny’s cell if need arose.
He didn’t need to respond. Gunny was coming to him.
The video then switched to the feed from the adjoining room. The watch stander could be heard urgently requesting a security response. The bulkhead bulged with a loud thud and got a crease drawn on it from the other side. There’s an inexplicable pause, followed by a flurry of blows that formed a irregular bulge in the bulkhead, which grew with each blow. The metal was surprisingly strong and flexed back and forth a lot before the bunk frame finally tore a rip in the sheet metal. The end of the bunk frame was stuck briefly in the new hole and swung back and forth as Gunny worked it loose and pried the hole wider.
By now two more North Americans had joined the duty guard on the wide angle camera feed. They all three held Tasers held in front of them, but stayed back as far as possible from the widening breech. Gunny’s bare foot appeared, kicking the edge of the opening to fold the metal back. The hole was only about a quarter meter across, but the one guard saw a shot and fired through the gap. He connected because the foot retracts and there’s a moment of silence.
One of the new fellows ordered the duty guard to go around to the prisoner’s room and recuff him. The guard refused the direct order in profane terms and invited the fellow to do it himself. About that time the effect of the Taser wore off and Gunny can be heard through the opening describing in loud detail what he’s going to do with the man’s Taser when he gets through the wall. It’s unlikely it will fit, but then none of them believed you could rip your way through a bulkhead like this either.
Gunny’s hand reappeared holding the leg ripped off the bunk frame and used it as a mallet to widen the hole. None of the men chose to shoot this time at the small target a moving hand presented.
With the opening big enough Gunny did a clean dive through it, only getting a few small cuts since the edges are all peeled away from his side. He threw the piece of pipe at one of them, knocking his aim off. The other two got a clean shot at him and took him down again.
This time they cuff his hands behind him, managing to get three pairs around his wrists and two around his ankles with another stretched between the sets.
“Get medical down here to sedate this…guy,” the one in charge demanded. He still had wires on Gunny and appeared ready to shock him again if he came to.
“Dear God..are all the Homies like this brute?” the other guard asked. It was interesting, because April had never heard anyone call them Homies before. But once the video circulated it was a common expression now, just a few months later.
Gunny tonight was nothing like he was in the video. He was relaxed as he ever got, leaning against the wall, scanning the room occasionally like he was on a timer, and content with his thoughts, not reading or listening to anything. He didn’t look like the enraged ogre in the video at all. He was however slowly squeezing and relaxing his grip on an exercise ball. He’d been doing that with his right hand ever since he’d lost it on an Earth mission and been forced to have it re-grown last year. April noticed that he’d switched to working the ball with both hands recently. His skin on the new hand looked just like the other one now, and his nails had grown thick again after looking thin and delicate. In the video you could see his right hand was still pale and hairless, but that hadn’t seemed to impair him significantly ripping a hole in the bulkhead.
“I’d think your hand has to be back to full strength by now,” April commented.
Gunny brought the blue ball up, like Hamlet examining Yorick’s skull. “I want to keep my grip at its best in both hands. It’s useful in my line of work. Anyway, it’s relaxing.”
April frowned…”Wasn’t it a red ball recently? Just a few days ago? What did you do, wear the other one out?”
Gunny looked embarrassed for a fleeting moment. A rarity as he had no shame. “The blue is the next grade of resistance. I wasn’t paying attention and stuck my thumb through the old red one.”
April tried to imagine how much force that took, and decided to drop it. Gunny was already embarrassed so it was only polite to drop it. It was nice that he didn’t evade her with a ‘little’ lie.
“You didn’t get dessert,” April observed. It wasn’t a question, but Gunny knew that was her intent.
“I picked up a few kilos. I know… I needed to,” He added, before April could say it. He’d lost weight and stopped working out while they’d been on short rations. That was really bad for a security professional. “But I fear the last couple kilos weren’t muscle,” Gunny said, laying his hand on a flat stomach that looked hard and fit to April’s eye. He also didn’t have as many gene mods as April. The faster metabolism being one of them. The ones a security professional needed came first. But that was for him to decide and very personal. They weren’t cheap either, and the ones that didn’t involve aging…well, you could get them later on easy enough if you could spare the money and time.
“I could stand to work out a little more,” April admitted rather than argue with him.
“Yes, you could,” Gunny agreed. “In your spare time,” he added to soften it.
They laughed together at that often shared phrase.