Lifting the Masaka

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(Written by Evil Midnight Lurker, posted 9 December 2006)

"Exosphere in six hours, sweetie."

Don't get me wrong: I love Earth. It's the atmosphere I have problems with.

Okay, we need it to live, but it's a big pain in the ass when you're trying to get anywhere. Antigrav engines are efficient, cheap, and fast... but get down to Earth and you lose the "fast."

If you don't want to make a spectacle of yourself (not to mention overstress heat shields, assuming your kitbash even has any), it's a good idea to slow right down when you hit the outer atmosphere. That means nearly 700 miles of air, traversed at a reasonable 100 mph... so the trip from Luna to the exobase can take as little as five minutes, followed by maybe seven or eight hours of air time.

And the same in reverse on the way up.

Is it any wonder that spacefen only make the trip when we have to?

"All quiet on the skyward front, hon. No traffic problems anticipated, our course is clear."

But a cargo of the latest in gene-modded plants for the Martian terraforming effort means enough profit to qualify as necessary, so here we were, outbound again. Six hours until I could safely crank the drive up to speed.

The first thing you'd notice about my ship... well, let's skip to the second: her name. I'd thought to name her Masakazu after Japan's #1 or 2 "good girl" mangaka, and got most of the way through painting the name when it occurred to me that (a) you don't name ships and so forth after living people, and (b) Japanese culture doesn't hold with naming ships for any kind of person, dead or otherwise. Bad karma, coming after me. On top of the superstitions associated with rechristening a ship to begin with, that kind of tsuris I did not need.

So I stepped back to consider my options, got a look at just how much of the name I'd already painted, and fell over laughing. Shortly thereafter, I registered her as the SSX Masaka.

"Systems are green across the board, hull's tight, we're all good! Break time, nya!"

Back to the first thing. It's a reconditioned wet-navy ship, same as a lot of the kludges and kitbashes you see these days... but what sets her apart from the crowd is her hull. I'm pretty sure the Masaka is the only starship in human space made of cement.

All right, concrete. The point is, back in WW1 the Navy decided to try and save some precious steel by building ship hulls out of poured rock. Around a dozen were made, and one of them -- the oil tanker S.S. Palo Alto -- wound up docked to the Seacliff Beach wharf just outside my dirtside stomping grounds. She survived a few years as a floating amusement center, but time and tide turned her into a shattered wreck fit only for photo opportunities.

Never sat right with me, so when the opportunity arose I took out a loan on the shell, had it put back together and refitted, and then applied miracle goo wherever it might do some good. 435 feet of spaceworthy bulk freighter, no problem. Finding a crew was the tricky bit, especially as the Masaka stubbornly refused to develop an AI. But then... then I met them.

"All checks complete, all alarms set. Masaka is secure for autopilot, I repeat, secure for autopilot."

"Autopilot is go. Stand down, girls, another good job."

"Gee, Felice, what'll we do for the next six hours?"

"The same thing we do every liftoff, Solstice: try to dehydrate Billy!"

"Um, girls..."

"I'll get his legs! Eurydice, Solstice, tickle 'im into submission!"

"Oh goody, nya!"

... The really tricky bit will be surviving my crew's affections. But I've got plans.