JOULES 1  ·  JOULES 2  ·  JOULES 3  ·  JOULES 4  ·  JOULES 5
JOULES 6  ·  JOULES 7  ·  JOULES 8  ·  JOULES 9  ·  JOULES 10

chapter ten
Part Five

Each of the seven completed stations in Lagrange Space had it's own character, so much so that each was rather similar to a neighbourhood in a very large, and very spread out city.

Lagrange 6 and 7, with two full Docking Bays and permanent populations of 20,000 per were the busiest and most like the downtowns of a bustling city. Ships flew back and forth from each as centers for the bulk of business in Lagrange space.

Lagrange 3 glided between them, directly opposite Luna in the moon's orbit. With it's 30,000 permanent colonists L-3 was like any bedroom community as most of the traffic through here were commuters rushing to work at the various other stations.

Lagrange 4 and 5 were akin to Business Parks. Each had permanent populations of only 10,000, all of which were either Executives or Researchers and their like, the very brains of Lagrange space. And as such these two stations were like the better neighbourhoods where the only visible poor were those shuttled in daily to service the rest.

The seventh station had only a thousand permanent residents but without it the rest of Lagrange Space would falter and possibly collapse. Lagrange 1 was the hub of this micro-system. It was faster to go from any one station through L-1 to any other point than to suffer through the full orbit “milk run” of the primary Station to Station transfer service. L-1 was also the primary point for transit from Lagrange Space to Earth, Luna and beyond.

Ships were classed in their relation to the station:

There were those “In Sight”, any craft close enough to Station One and it's traffic that Station One Control had jurisdiction over it's flight path.

There were those “On Approach”, any craft in the cue to connect to the station.

There were those larger craft, unable to enter Station One looking to Dock with it at one of the four equidistantly positioned Quad Docks. These typically were the Supertransporters and other civilian craft people used to leave Lagrange space for the outer system.

There were those smaller craft, who didn't need or couldn't afford the enclosed space of a Bay and would park in one of the many Slips dotting the outer hull of Station One.

And there were those who needed full pressurization, either for repairs or maintenance. These would enter the Station through one of the Locks, cross through the Transition Zones until they were in the pressurized safe Harbour of the Station Core where they would be assigned a Bay.

Normally Joules parked her Starbus in an external slip. They had all the robotic ports and connectors and umbilicals and docking arms that she needed to load and unload passengers, cargo and herself, as well as restock and resupply. It was also much cheaper than entering the Core.

This time however Joules knew she'd need the full pressurized deck of a bay. The parts she had won in Cairo needed to be pulled out of her cargo deck, inspected, modified and then somehow integrated with her craft. No matter how much he protested Joules knew her friend Gilmore couldn't do that as well in a spacesuit.

HarbourMaster was a bit slow today, which was frustrating for someone in a hurry to get back after two weeks away. She finally received her cue for Transition Zone Beta, lined up and entered on her turn. The slight shifting of plates on her outer hull as the bellows around her Starbus worked triple hard to match the cavern she was in to the pressure of the Core made Joules feel as though her ship would pop along with her ears. They didn't.

She began powering down the Starbus as the Port Guide tugged her ship past the rows of bays, some opened, others closed, until it found the one assigned to her. She let the last bit of tension ease out as she saw the bay was indeed large enough for her friend to work along side the ship without too much difficulty. It was going to be a costly venture but she'd prepared for this upgrade a long time and was ready to “bite the bullet” and get it all over with.

And true to his word, as soon as the Port Guide unit disconnect from her and moved off the inner hatch opened and Gilmore appeared with his usual mix of worry and excitement.

He motioned to the bay's outer hatch, “Can you, we, close that?”

It wasn't a safety thing, even though the fall would kill you even in this half gravity environment. Gilmore didn't like being exposed, and like all who were born in orbit, had a thing about wide open spaces.

They claimed it was Terraphobia, a fear of being in the open on Earth, but Joules knew better. If there was more than 30 metres between Gilmore and a wall he'd break out in a cold sweat, his heart rate would race, and his breathing would speed up to the point of fainting.

She quickly keyed the outer baffle to close, thereby ending the brilliant view of a hundred ships gliding past like Bees in a hive looking for their comb.

Gilmore pulled his ever-present rag from a pocket and wiped his face free of moisture as all systems slowly returned to normal.

“Thanks.” He stammered nervously as he followed Joules around to the side cargo doors and watched her in a way bordering on a leer as she crouched down, exposing nearly half her backside, partially intentionally because Joules liked to be noticed, as she keyed out the three containers.

It didn't take long for his curiosity to get the better of him, he opened one of the crates and his eyes grew wide as he took in the contents. “These are hard to find. Where'd you get them?”

“Cairo. A border man named El Bazaar.”

At the look he gave her she added, “No. I'm serious. That was his name.”

Gilmore has already by-passed the casing of a Quarkbooster in the second, already opened case. “You've got four of these!” He said with some alarm.

He glanced back at the Starbus trying to make sure he wasn't imagining things. Yup, she only had one booster cover on each side.

Joules nodded, “And an E-90 to power them.”

Gilmore checked out the E-90. She'd have more than enough power for all four Boosters, her shielding and even the Primary cannons. The question was where to put them on the Starbus.

“You've got a problem?” He said frankly.

Joules was one step ahead of him. She moved past and leaned forward motioning to the inside of the Starbus. “The 19-A bulkhead in the lower deck provides an access panel to the Tertiary drivers.”

Gilmore stepped forward, moving ahead of Joules and motioning with his hands, gesticulating the energy flow out the back provided by the Tertiaries. “Which you need.”

Joules took hold of his face, placing her thumb on one cheek and her slender index finger on the other as she directed Gilmore into her vision. “The E-90 takes up half the space of the Dual Gens. Swapping them out opens up space for a realignment of the Tertiaries and that leaves the two tracks for the second set of Quarkboosters.”

She let go of him with a flourish. It was all very simple.

“It doesn't work that way.” Gilmore was such a defeatist.

Joules slumped unhappily. “Mon Cher,” she said playfully, she always used French when she wanted something from him. The alien-ness of the language was a weakness of his, “It simply must.”

She wanted it to work. Gilmore looked at the lower deck engine compartment and re-envisioned all the components. The E-90 did eliminate some of the redundancies and would require less cabling and transformers, particularly if he shifted the unit farther back in the craft, but unless he put if aft of the Mini-Pod Gilmore couldn't imagine how he'd make enough room to shift anything out of the way enough for the second pair of boosters.

Not only didn't Joules have a problem with the E-90 sitting aft of the Mini-Pod, she pooh-pooh'd his concerns on the dangers of bundling the power systems and insisted it be done, as soon as she returned from her little courier run.

Gilmore stopped, stunned. “You don't want me to do it now?”

She moved in on him and held his face gently, “Of course, Cher,” she said as she planted a Continental Kiss on his opposite cheek, “The first pair of boosters shouldn't take more than a few hours. But the rest will have to wait.”

Joules turned and started sashaying toward the exit.

Gilmore was flabbergasted. He was here, the parts were here and the ship was in a pressurized bay. If she needed to do a courier run first, why hadn't she before renting the space? “Where are you going?”

She paused and turned back to him flirtatiously, “I need a good legend.”

Then she turned and departed the bay. Gilmore didn't like it when she used spy terms in public like that. He knew the walls had ears and privacy was an illusion. He didn't need anything triggering and flagging any space he was around, but she'd learned the term from him, it was industry for the cover story on an operation, and fortunately a harmless enough phrase that even the hyper-paranoid Pat-I systems monitoring everything were unlikely to make any connections.

He'd swap the old booster for the new ones first. That was the fastest job and knowing Joules as soon as she was ready to go, she'd want to go.

He triggered the hatch for the starboard booster open and climbed up the side footholds to unfasten the existing booster and as he did Gilmore began to re-examine this space. Maybe, with the right pivot anchors, he might be able to make space in this compartment for the both boosters. Maybe.

* * *

Not being one to hang around too long Joules had called ahead and connected to one of the many people who thought themselves her Agent. Talbot Dermont was one of the greasier ones but if she needed something fast and outside the norms Talbot could usually find the connection.

She found him in the back of his betting parlour totaling chits owed him on an old Matrix Reader. “So, do I have my miracle?”

Talbot wanted to play hard to get with her, she was such a delicious prize, but he never could. He rushed her farther back in the dusty establishment like a girlfriend with news of a secret crush, “You're going to love this one, Deary.”

He always said it with just enough twang that it sounded like he might've just said, “Dreary”.

He looked at her as though he was offering a night with a bevy of the buffest pony boys, “They're missionaries.”

Joules scrunched up her face. She needed to stop that before permanent wrinkles set in. “Missionaries? Like Church people?”

Talbot was so happy he didn't have to explain further, frankly he didn't know how else to describe them, “Exactly, Love. They've got supplies for a camp in the heart of Buffalo Commons and they just need a ride down.”

That was suspicious. Something that above board shouldn't need back water services. “I don't get it. Why not book a charter? Why do they need a…” She didn't know how to say 'black market ride' without saying it.

The voice behind her was firm, masculine and could melt butter with its smoothness. “Because few ships can carry what we have, and fewer people are willing to enter the Commons.”

Joules turned and came face-to-face with the man she'd marry. She just had to figure out how to convince him of it.

He stepped forward offering his hand with a fifth of a bow, just the slightest hint of chivalry in an age devoid of it. Joules wasn't just speechless, she was motionless. A pity really because had she'd been aware of her immobility she might've realized how unfair the effect she usually had on people was.

“I'm Alex Poddington the Third.” It had just the right lilt of superiority that Joules found so enchanting. He had a mass of wavy blonde hair on his head, which flopped about without really moving like a well behaved wave, and although she normally found facial hair disturbing, he also sported the bushiest, blonde, handlebar moustache she'd ever seen outside a period piece.

Alex waited for her to respond with her name. He must have had this reaction often as he was most patient with her, “And you are….?”

“Joules.” It wasn't her speaking, it was Talbot, offering in her place. “Joules Capulet.”

Poddington was quite entertained by the name, he flashed a Billion Kilo-Bar smile at Talbot before taking Joules' hand in his and bringing it up for a gentle kiss. The anachronistic action was displaced enough to snap Joules from her reverie.

“What an odd thing to do.” She said half dreamily without removing her eyes from the kissed hand.

“Yes, well. Certainly one of the perks of wealth.”

She looked at him now, the fog lifting and her brain starting to comprehend everything. Alex Poddington's behaviour was very formal, very gentle, very cultured, very out of place in her world.

“The Third?” She finally said having just processed that.

“Yes.” He replied matter-of-factly.

“It's much less formal than 'your Lordship', don't you agree Joules?” Talbot was offering her that as he directed her to the Port-a-Display so she could sign the contract.

“He wants transit down the heart of the Commons. His Lordship, five companions and their supplies. It'll take up two thirds of your hold and they'll be ready by morning.”

Joules looked at the contract on the display. It was well drawn out; one of Talbot's hidden talents. She scanned it for the traps he usually put in and on catching them Thumbed their removal under his watchful and disapproving gaze until the terms were acceptable to her. She might be starry eyed at the Princely stranger but she wasn't stupid.

The drop point was a pleasant surprise as well, being only a hundred and sixteen clicks from her target for the crates from Cairo.

“What about permissions?” Joules had completely snapped free of the fog and stared intently at Talbot for the documents that would get her into and out of that restricted airspace without bother.

Talbot handed the chip to her and she slid it into the reader to ensure the wording of the contents and authorizations involved. Surprisingly despite the limited time frame it all checked out.

“OK.” She said turning back to the dashing figure before her, “When do you want to leave?”

Alex stepped forward, the charm was outputting at nuclear levels, “My traveling companions will arrive in the morning. We can depart then.” He turned pulling Joules into his orbit as he slid his arm around her and his scent began to overpower her senses once again, “that leaves us tonight.”

He looked down at her, taking her deep into his soul through his intense and calming azure eyes, “Hungry?”

She was now, on many levels, but in many other ways she was also a bit drunk.

* * *