That one weird girl
Story by Dartz
The spaceship Ciara sat at dock, her generators still running to power the lights. Susan looked across at the lights of Yokohama city. Artemis and Luna frolicked in the bay with themselves. A pair of unmanned RHIB’s playing with a buoy like kittens, when had that stopped being a weird sight? They’d come back when they ran out of fuel and got hungry, and it left both cranes free for loading.
“Right, get this stuff loaded and we’re out of here tonight,” she ordered. A few visitors looked up at her from the gangplank, a little shocked at how loud she was. They were marshalled forward by the ship’s XO.
“Yeah boss,” Keith answered her, pushing a trolley loaded with boxes of frozen food across the deck.
It was a hot, humid night and the entire deck team was sweating trying to get everything loaded. One look at her schedule and she frowned… they were twenty minutes behind and getting slower, thanks to the visitors. A pair of police cars where parked on the quay, a clutch of the local fuzz insisting on checking anyone departing the ship for handwavium, which slowed things up even more.
Out in Tokyo bay, a container carrier was being slowly pushed around by a pair of tugs. She was a hundred times bigger than the Ciara, easily, a massive ocean-going freighter. It annoyed her to see that that ship had probably arrived in port after her. These paid visits might’ve brought in the cash, but they also slowed things right down.
She turned her attention to a full moon overhead, and the twinkling Kandor city that winked back at her… and sighed. Was this what I wanted to do? Didn’t she come up to space to get away from grinding?
From the concrete dock, an apparent schoolgirl studied the ship.
“It’s a real Space Battleship!” she announced to the world. Her apparent boyfriend behind her, palmfaced. “It’s so perfect with those cannons. I’m going to talk to the Captain and have him bring us to space.”
“Ask him, Haruhi,” her boyfriend corrected. “You’re going to ask him to bring us to space.”
“Oh that’s just a formality, “ she batted him off.
Sigh. Why did he give her that can again?
“Welcome to the Engine room!” Seán yelled above the din.
The gaggle of visitors and their translator frowned, barely able to hear him. A few of them snapped photographs of the machinery, and of him in his oilstained overalls. Others inspected a few gauges, commenting in their own language. Some kept their fingers in their ears, while some just swam in the noise of the machinery. He supposed they thought they were listening to the main engines, and he decided not to destroy that. The only things running where the generators.
“We have beside me, two fifteen-thousand horsepower diesel engines, started by compressed air from these reservoirs” he continued, indicated to the cyclindrical tanks on the deck. “Modified to drive the wave motion engines in the room behind me, which act as an acceleration drive.”
The ones who could hear and understand ooh’d and ah’d. Some he figured might’ve been Space Battleship Yamato fans. They found the concept of a former warship in space terribly exciting, never mind the fact that the only reason they’d bought a warship was because that’s what was available at the time. But, it was fun to show off his engines.
“At top speed, we’re going zero point one-two-five C. That’s.. uh… Rei point Ichi Ni Go, I think.” They didn’t appreciate the attempt. Oh well. “That makes us the fastest thing in our weight class. We burn over nine thousand gallons of diesel fuel an hour at top speed, and can carry thirty thousand aboard ship.”
Yes, that did mean about three and a bit hours at full throttle.
“That’s enough to get us from down here, all the way to Mars orbit, and possibly out to parts of the main belt if we’re lucky. We normally run to one of the L5 stations, before heading out to Mars. We refuel, then shoot back in to Venus and one of the crystal city’s. From there we come down here, refuel, lather rinse and repeat,”
With a bit of variation depending on Captain and charter.
“We have three electricity generators, powered by three caterpillar diesel engines. Two of these are ordinary self-excited three-phase alternating current generators. The electricity they generate, powers the magnetic field coils, which lets you generate the electricity. You spin up the field coil and you get electricity out the back end same as any. Running at a constant RPM, we regulate power to match demand by adjusting the field coil current, and taps.”
They didn’t seem to understand that.
“Third is our life support generator, which we handwaved because a handwaved life support system is a hell of a lot more reliable than the alternative. Same mechanical structure, add the magic goo, and you’ve got a machine that’ll generate oxygen and an artificial gravity field. It also smells a bit like the Guinness brewery while running because someone spilled some of the black stuff in with the mix while we were waving it.”
Guinness, they recognised. Typical.
“On top of that, under the floor are a rake of batteries capable of giving us a day’s emergency power and bootstrapping or flashing the generators, should the worst happen,”
Not that they were ever needed away from dock.
“Now, you look around, you can see stuff that’s painted, green, and stuff that’s painted white. The white stuff’s all been ‘waved. The green’s as it came from the shipyard. Why didn’t we wave it all? Well, any good writer knows, you only use the bare amount of handwaving to make the plot work... things get weird if you use too much of it. And it keeps the quirks manageable. Outside this room, the only waving on this ship is the outer hull, and the gun barrels. Everything else is off the shelf”
And he was proud of building it.
They probably had plenty, but none of them could hear him.
“Right then” Touji clapped his hands “Follow me! We’re going to the guns next.”
Seán leant back against the cold steel of the engine casings and watched them file out in an orderly fashion. Taking a long deep breath, he checked over his engine room, making sure nothing had been knocked loose, or was leaking dangerously as opposed to the normal Pielstick leaks. Someone had managed to accidentally crank one of the engines once.
He checked on his generators, then thought back to day they’d first taken off and been so sure they’d never come back to Earth again. That lasted about a week until they realised that they needed money, and that picking up fresh fruit, meat and the odd passenger from Earth was a good way to make it.
It was pretty fun.
He gave the generators a quick glance, noticed that nothing seemed out of order, then got back to work checking the tappets on engine two.
“So that’s how many tons again?” Garret questioned the voice on the other end of the phone, “Right, right,” he noted the figured down on his notebook. “Are they vacuum tolerant?” more notes. “Y’know we charge extra to have stuff pressurised,”… the voice agreed… “Good, we prefer an upfront payment with the rest on delivery.” … the voice was unsure… “We can do payment on delivery if you agree to pay extra.”… the voice disagreed… “I don’t like refuelling on credit mate, and I have to pay interest on that. Either a fraction upfront, or extra in Crystal Kyoto to cover the interest,”.. another question about the ship, “Yes, they’re loaded,”
The voice paused to think. A final question.
“We’ll make that pickup easily,” the Captain answered. “Then it’s a deal?”
The voice agreed.
“Good, we’ll see you at dock four in eight hours,”
He exhaled a long breath. He checked the figures against the targets Kearney had entered. Everything looked good. They were on course for getting that overhaul the engines needed to get the fuel consumption at full power down to something sensible.
Someone knocked on his door.
Another Picardism, he cringed. The door opened he glanced up at the grey-furred catgirl.
“We have a problem Ray,” she said, her ears darting around, attracting by a distand sound. She flicked at them with her pawish hand, still not used to her new hearing. “We're about a half hour behind schedule, and getting worse... nyaaa~”
The second quirk she'd gotten with her biomod, after the enhanced senses, was that annoying verbal tic. It was stupidly childish.
“What's the problem?”
“The tours are getting in the way.” said the catgirl, biting back on another nyaaa. “We can't get anything loaded with them poking around.”
“It was never a problem before,”
It was normally a good way to pay for a night out for the crew, actually.
“It's the cops, I think nyaa~” she cringed “Dammit!”
Garret smirked, trying not to laugh.
“It's not funny nyaa~” the catgirl'd XO pouted.
“It's you're own fault,” he chuckled.
“Don't remind me,” she rolled her eyes, “Last time I ever eat anything green,”
It was an irony really, considering how much she liked being called CuttieKitty beforehand. And now she was one, with grey fur that matched the ship’s paint, whiskers, a little button-nose , a long tail that seemed to have a mind of it's own and the traditional cat's eyes. She’d been drinking at Gorsky’s in Port Luna, and had asked what it was in the bowl, only to be answered with ‘It’s green, and’ll stop you getting hungover’.
So naturally she ate it, went to bed and woke up with a fine clear head. And a set of cat ears. This was followed by the traditional terrified scream that accompanies all unintentional biomods. And thus, Anne Devlin had the honour of being the first crewmember to be biomodded.
“Anyway, if we pull the tours can we make up the lost time?”
“We’ll have to. You know how Stellvia control gets if we’re late nyaa~”
The catgirl cringed again, before shaking it off. She paused, and sniffed the air. Quirk number three; a sense for human pheromones.
“So, it was that good a deal, was it?” she smirked.
“Huh?” Garret blinked, “Oh right, the pheromone thing .” He ran a hand through his hair. “It’s funny, people were afraid to go near us last year because we came up armed. Now… people are hiring us specifically because of our guns. I’m even turning away work now.”
“Better than the opposite,” the XO said. “I guess some people are getting rattled by stories coming back from the belt.”
An uneasy silence for a moment.
“It’s funny. The Space Pirates have all but stopped coming to The Island. I thought they went out to the Turtles for a while, but they’ve dried up there as well. We’ve still got the Starsha’s Revenge coming through, but that’s about it.”
Which was worrying, because the Pirates out of SSX were usually the ones who paid top credit for fresh food. If the Starsha was the only one coming out of the belt with any regularity, then they were making a bloody killing doing it.
“It could be those criminals we’re hearing about... “
“Maybe they’re getting careful alright...” he nodded.
Anne’s ears twitched a little as she thought. “It’s not that big a Journey. 6565 Reiji is pretty close to Mars right now. Close enough that we could make a run out there ourselves. We’d have to bdepot fuel there to get back, but it might be worth it if we sell directly to ‘em.”
The captain looked at her.
She shrugged “Well, I’m guessing someone’s buying it relatively cheap from us and running it on to them, we might as well try cut out the middleman nyaaa~”
“It’ll be a week or two before we can depot fuel out there,” answered Ray. “But it’s worth a look at least to see what’s going on. I’ve always been a fan of Matsumoto. “
“Right… and the tours nyaa~?”
An inward scowl.
“Next group’s the last. And get Kearney doing the maths for a trip out to Reiji,”
It’s amazing how easily people fall into roles, Anne thought to herself. Garret was acting more like an actual ship’s Captain every day. She left the cabin, pulling the hatch shut behind her. Her tail was still half inside the cabin…
A half second later, a God-awful cat-scream yowled through the steel corridors, sending chills through the bodies of all who heard it.
Patrick Kearney shuddered as he heard the scream, before signing off on payments to the Japanese dock worker. And when the cop’s weren’t looking, slipped him a can of ‘coffee’, before pocketing a brown envelope of yen.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, he thought to himself.
One of the deck crew was speaking into his walkie-talky, while another was gathering some of the queuing visitors into a group. Tom Carrol and Peadar Farrel, he figured.
Tom… known to the rest of the crew as Touji, held up his hands apologetically, trying to explain something to the crowd. Most seemed accept with only a mild dismay
But one girl seemed to insist. A schoolgirl in a sailor uniform, dragging her hen-pecked boyfriend in a green blazer beyond her, complaining in a shrill Japanese tone that hurt to listen to, even at the other end of the boat.
Tom just looked startled by it all, while Peadar started cackling laughing.
“Cosupreya” snorted the dockworker.
Patrick just didn’t understand it. Well, he understood one thing, he wanted to be as far away from that little hellion of a girl as possible.
“I’m Haruhi Suzumiya and I’m here to see the Captain!” the girl declared.
At least, she looked to Touji like a girl. She screamed like a banshee.
“Look, you can’t just rock up and ask to see the captain,” he tried to say. “You have…”
“We need a flagship, and this is the only warship in space,”
Touji groaned. Not this again, “We’re not a warship, we just…” bought one because that’s what was being sold.
“Then what’s with the guns?” she snapped.
“Those…” are just there because someone screwed up.
“And the uniforms?” Those brown eyes seemed to bore into his skull
“T…” ..hey weren’t uniforms, they were con T-shirts with patches.
“Look, I’m not getting anywhere with you. I’m going to find the Captain on my own,”
Touji was still trying to sputter out the last sentence when he felt himself shoved aside by far more force than he thought possible from the girl with the yellow headband.
“Hey, you can’t do that!” he yelled after her. “Come back here!”
The girl just stomped across the deck. Her boyfriend looked at him, his expression seeming to say ‘ Trust me, I know how you feel mate, “
“Come on Kyon, hurry up!” Haruhi called back.
“That’s not the first girl you’ve been shouting after,” laughed Peadar.
Touji growled at him, muttering something about birth control spectacles. Just what the hell did that Kyon fella see in her anyway. Sure she was cute… definitely in that highschooler cosplay… but that personality was somewhere between sandpaper and industrial paint stripper.
Sed was in the server room keeping, poking through the innards of the ship’s computers, trying to find just who or what was causing such an unusually high CPU usage in one of the servers. Whatever it was, wasn’t showing up anywhere he could find.
Temperatures were a little up, but nothing seemed to be going out over the network, at least according to the server itself. Curious, he pulled off the panel covering the old switches, and watched the ping-ak’s flickering on the cable sockets.
“That’s funny,” he said to no-one in particular. “It shouldn’t be doing that,”
A heartbeat later, Felix kernel panicked. Korky took one look at it’s rackmate and decided it wanted to do the same. Garfield just shrugged, it seemed the popular thing and it wasn’t about to be left out either.
“Bugger,” Sed said.
Computers were quirky enough without handwavium. He set about rebooting the system. Outside, he heard a hatch slam, and a shrill, Japanese accented voice bark orders and someone, or something.
A chill ran down his spine.
“Ooh she’s a real catgirl!”
“Who the feck are you nyaa~?”
Anne tried to to glare at the schoolgirl, but that bloody quirk grated at her.
“I’m Haruhi Suzimiyah!” the girl declared. “Are you the captain?”
The catgirl’s tail curled up.
“No,” she blurted, a little socked by the teenagers verbal brick to the face. “I’m the...”
“Then you’re not important, get out of my way.”
Anne was shoved aside before her mind could catch up with what was going on. Her claws slid out of her finger tips... a creepy sensation that still felt wrong. Catching herself, she snarled, hair on the back of her neck prickling up.
“Get back here!” she yelled after the girl. “You’ll get us all arrested!”
She moved to chase after her, but was stopped by a sardonic look from her boyfriend. It’s not worth fighting her, his expression told her. Well sod that, Anne bristled, she can’t just march aboard this boat... this was her home.
The girl didn’t even turn around, but stomped off. Anne made to leap after her, preparing to pounce like...well... a cat. The crackle of her walkie-talkie interrupted that idea.
“Anne, you there?” Ken’s voice. “The fella with the diesel oil needs you to sign for it since you ordered it, so you there?”
She snarled and unclipped it from her belt.
“I’m here nyaaa~”
She could hear Ken wince on the other end. Taking a few deep breaths to calm herself, she sighed. The captain could deal with the girl. It was obvious she was only going to talk with Ray anyway. She shrugged....and the locals here were supposed to be so polite.
Orla was busy with the new cooker in the break room, trying to wire a Japanese model oven designed for Japanese electricity into an electric grid designed for European voltages. The old one had fallen victim to a wavium spill... and nobody dared eating anything cooked in it after it started offering cookery advice, and insisted on doing it in a French accent.
At least it wasn’t Talky Toaster.
Actually... on second thought, too bad it wasn’t a Talky Toaster, that thing would’ve been hilarious. Oh well. It got sold on to another Fen who didn’t know how to cook and thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread.
She shunted the new oven back onto place, cracking her shoulder a little. Maybe you could do with a little help, a small voice asked. She grunted and pushed harder. It slid home with a hollow steel rumble, a few gaps beside it showing how it was smaller than it’s now sold predecessor.
There was a brief moment of anticipation before she closed the breakers.
A few moments...
Nothing was smoking. Breathing a sigh of relief, she turned the cooker on. The little digital display came to life, flashing up with Japanese characters. A chirpy voice welcomed her to her new cooker, and promised a long and prosperous cooking period.
“That’s why we got rid of the last one,” she chided the computerised cooker.
Orla disconnected its speaker, permanently silencing it. She smirked with satisfaction, before noticing the toaster sitting idle on the countertop beside a kettle.She recalled her thoughts about Talky-Toaster.
Well... it’d be rude not to now, wouldn’t it. Unplugging the unsuspecting appliance, and retrieving the speaker from the cooker, she headed back down to the engine room.
Seán was busy wrenching away at a set of rocker arms on the right hand engine. His hands were coated in black handwavium oil.
“Hey!” she yelled at him. “Where’s the gloves?”
He looked up at her, not hearing what she said. She was pointing at his arms.
“No gloves!” he shouted back, “I’ll wash it.”
“Don’t blame me if you wake up....different,”
“I won’t be a catgirl!” he laughed.
“You’ll be something weirder, ” she winked,
“How would I know?” she shrugged her shoulders. “I’ll be in back, checking the generators,”
The perfect place to work in private. There was a small stash of handwavium back there... for emergency repairs... sure she could dip into it a little, and maybe grant the toaster a personality.
Sam was on bridge watch, alone. He watched the computer systems were slowly rebooting themselves. He appreciated the comfort of the Captain’s chair. Ciara was snoozing happily at the dock, while her crew busied themselves getting her ready to take off.
He was doing his best to stay awake. Being on watch in port was a pain in the hole. There was so much interesting stuff out there in Tokyo, very little of it on the boat. Oh well. His pulled the short straw this time, he had to sit up there and run a model Valkyrie through a few aerial combat manouevres.
He wondered if they’d work with a Ciara with the same part of his mind that had once wondered if a 747 could do a barrel roll.
“Are you the Captain?” an Japanese girl’s voice demanded.
“Nah,” he didn’t even look at her. “He’s in his cabin,”
“Finally, someone who’s helpful,”
He heard her leave. Another voice intruded, masculine, but still Japanese accented.
“Is that a Master-Grade?”
Finally, someone worth talkin’ too.
“And done!” Garret announced to the silence of his cabin. He placed the finished paperwork in their proper folders, closed the logbook and dug out that old manga he’d been reading. A little bit of peace a quiet. Then Meg would come back from the city, and they’d have some time to themselves before the ship launched.
The burdens of Command. Maybe he should give someone else a go at being Captain. It wasn’t as if there was any reason he couldn’t... they weren’t part of any chain of command. He thought about it for a moment.
Nah... too much fuss. Everyone’s settled into their roles, there was no need to change everything up and confuse everyone. And there was no way he’d subject anyone to this. He’d thought it as an honour when they’d all unanimously voted him as Captain... now he realised they were just glad not to have the bloody job themselves.
At least he had peace inside his cabin for the time being.
The door burst open, clanging off the metal walls. The shock of it launched him out of the office chair with a swear.
“I’m Haruhi Suzimiyah. Are you the Captain?”
Blinking, he regarded the apparent schoolgirl, standing tall with her hands on her hips. Her brown eyes stared, boring into his skull.
“Yes,” he said, flatly.
“I need a flagship,” the girl(?) announced. “A warship for great justice,”
Garret rolled his eyes at the ‘w’ word.
“I’m sick of that bloody word,”
“You have guns don’t you... and they are loaded, we checked,” We? Checked? Garret paled. Just who the hell did she think she was? “Look, we need to get up into space to fight the evil space pirates, and we need a warship to do it.”
“We’re not a warship,” the Captain explained, annoyed at having the repeat the usual explanation, “We bought the Ciara because she was for sale at the time, we didn’t come up here to indulge personal fantasies of being our own space-navy. That’s for the warsies,”
“Tch,” the brunette huffed, “It doesn’t matter,”
“It does to us,” he glared, “We’ve had to deal with it for the last year.”
“Well now it puts you in the perfect condition to retaliate against the great criminal conspiracy.”
“The criminal one, that’s responsible for all the attacks out in the belt. They’re out there, organising against everyone.”
Why me? wondered Garret. Because it said Captain on his door, of course.
“They’re just criminals, no conspiracy, just a bunch of arseholes picking off the odd ore carrier and getting everyone panicked.”
“Fine, if you want to believe that,” the girl huffed, “But I need a ship to get to space, I need to get out to the Moon,”
Oh thank God. “We’ve got a charter from Stellvia to Mars. There won’t be space for you aboard ship,” he explained, so glad he’d be rid of her.
“Just tell them you found a better offer, is it really that hard?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Tch... well if you don’t want to get paid we’ll find someone in space who does. I’m sure you can take myself and Kyon at least as far as Stellvia. How much do you want for that?”
He thought about giving them the standard passenger rate, but... well... she’d seriously pissed him off. He pulled a number out of his head guaranteed to make her think better of it.
“Seven thousand Euro. Each,” he stated, absolutely straightfaced. Nobody would accept that.
Kyon was waiting in the break room for Haruhi. He watched one of the ship’s screw... a woman... come up from somewhere towards the back of the ship, and place a red toaster up against the bulkhead wall.
“Be quiet,” she said to him, mysteriously.
It was just a toaster. She left quickly, giggling to herself. Kyon quirked an eyebrow, wondering what the hell was going on. The ‘break room’ as the crew called the room was cramped like the rest of the ship, with a single table, and enough space for maybe four or five people to eat. There was a cheap wooden cabinet with a missing door, hiding a decent-sized television, and a collection of DvD’s and animé that made him jealous.
There were a few other things... pictures of Mars, of Earth orbit, of the crew on some rock somewhere, along with some strange reed-woven cross with an odd pattern in the center, and a car’s teddy-bear suckered onto a porthole... the little things that made the ship feel like somewhere people lived.
A warning sign offered advice for what to do if the compartment was opened to vacuum, how to handle a fire, how to abandon ship and how to sing ‘In the Navy’. Three gasmask-like devices hung beside an old jacket, under another emergency sign, and a yellow signal lamp that appeared to have had a stylised drawing of a catgirl painted on it.
The ship smelled of burning diesel fuel, seawater, and whatever the most recent meal had been. It might’ve been chicken.
It didn’t seem like a space-ship. It felt like a refugee from Deadliest Catch.
One of the ship’s crew came up from below, arms and overalls blackened with engine-oil. He regarded Kyon with a curious eye for a moment, almost as if he recognised him, before shrugging and fetching a can of minerals for himself from the fridge.
“Howdy-doodly-do!” an electronic voice announced
“You say something man?” the crewmember queried.
“No,” Kyon shook is head.
“Down here!” the voice called out. “I’m Talky, the talking toaster. Talky’s my name, toasting’s my game.”
“Would you like some toast?”
“No!” the crewmember barked, before hurrying off back through the hatch he’d came from.
“Must be a muffin man,” the toaster concluded, with what almost sounded like a shrug of non-existant shoulders.
“What about you,” the red toaster addressed him, “Would you like some toast?”
“Boku wa eigo o hanasanai,” he answered quickly, hoping that’d foil it.
“Oh...” The bread-burner sighed, disappointed.
“Kyon!” Haruhi burst through a hatch. “We’ve got passage to Stellvia. We can get a charter to Kandor there,”
She glanced over at the toaster.
“Would you like some toast?” it enquired of the newcomer.
This would keep her occupied for the entire trip.