Gingezel 1: The Limit © Gingezel 2011
She had to get off of this rock pit of a planet, she simply had to. Breathe in, breathe out. That’s right, lean back and relax. You are safely on the space shuttle. Close your eyes. Breathe in, breathe out.
It didn't work. Dr. Mitra Kael jerked bolt upright in the shuttle seat, and her tiny bone-thin frame went rigid. Hands clenching the heavily padded arm rests, she stared unseeing at the back of the seat ahead. Her panicky blue green eyes seemed huge in a too pale face devoid of so much as a trace of make up.
Damn. That itches. Mitra removed one hand from throttling the seat arm to scratch her right collarbone where the sweat caked beige coveralls rubbed. The delay - there were always delays on Drezvir - had been endless. If it lasted another five minutes something would go wrong. There would be a message for her and she would have to stay. She couldn't do it. Another delay, another few days on this miserable rock and she’d crack.
Ari's smooth reassuring words played in her head. “It's only for eighteen months, Kael. The power station is your design, and if it's accepted by the Farrese Mining Guild on Drezvir its success is guaranteed. You have to be there in person. It's just a liaison role. With our technology transfer agreement they'll do all the work.”
That had been exactly seventeen days eleven hours and twenty-three minutes short of three years ago, and she had never worked so hard in her life. Dr. Ari Dellmaice. Mitra enunciated every syllable of his title and name with distaste under her breath. When she saw him again she intended to tell one Dr. Ari Dellmaice she only used one word anymore. Turnkey.
Those idiot Farrese couldn't build an outhouse, much less a power station. Not of course that they would know what an outhouse was. That was one of the advantages of having a historian father who was more interested in the day-to-day life of an ancient people than the grand events that shaped history. You learned about all sorts of irrelevant things, like outhouses. They were Terran primitive wooden structures with a pit below, designed to serve as toilets where sanitation systems didn't exist. And she would swear to it, these Farrese couldn't build something that primitive.
Mitra looked out the window at the barren landscape, terrifyingly primitive in itself. Drezvir had been opened for settlement a mere two years before she had arrived. Now, five years after being opened up it was still largely untouched and was likely to stay that way since it was just marginally habitable. It was both too young geologically and too far from its star to provide a comfortable environment for any but the most determined life forms. There was an oxygen atmosphere, but it was so thin that you needed a trickle tube under your nose just to walk between any of the sealed habitats not connected by the plastic tubes everyone called snakes.
There was water, but it was largely frozen in the ice caps. From space she had seen one of the polar ice caps. It was fair sized. And she had counted three small seas, but the overall impression had been a reddish ball with purple and grey streaks and dark swirling dust clouds. Not once in her stay had a raindrop hit her window. Those seas were so far away from the mountain range where the mining colony was sited that they might as well have not existed for all the impact they had on the settlement’s climate.
Mitra’s hand moved on to itch the bristles of dark hair above her ear as she lapsed into her favorite fantasy. She imagined herself standing, just standing, in a steamy hot needle strong shower until her back unknotted. Water was so severely rationed she felt like she hadn’t been clean in three years. A bath, a proper up to your chin soaking bath, was unthinkable. What the habitats had was a miserly trickle of tepid water called a shower. All had a timer. There were no exceptions for rank, money, or influence. After getting caught a few times still half soapy she had learned to really move it, and to feel dirty. Well, that was one fantasy she could indulge in as soon as she was somewhere more civilized.
Some of her other fantasies might take a little more doing, like a decent romance. Mitra relaxed a little and smiled a half smile remembering the subcontractor who had been her sexual partner late in her first year here. He was tall, blond, slender, funny and fun. She'd known him off and on since design began on her hybrid power station. The interlude had lasted exactly three days, then he had left Drezvir. Smart man. It had been a good idea once, but only once. On his later visits they had stuck to business.
Still, she knew she couldn't complain about the celibacy. For once Ari was right. It really had been too small, closed, and puritan a community for all but the most scrupulously professional behavior. Her mind jumped to his rather intimidating president's office at Dellmaice Power Systems on Pendrae. The large corner office was all glass, brushed metal, and syncrete. Two glass walls looked out over the Dellmaice Power Systems industrial park. The two interior walls were a hologallery of Dellmaice Power Systems installations on various planets. There were no personal, human touches. No rugs, no plants, no artwork, no holograms of family. The only softening touch, if it counted as a softening touch, was dark wine cushions on the metals chairs.
The office suited its occupant. Ari was a hard, aggressive, domineering man. He made sure his company had the best power systems on the market by hiring the brightest, most competent engineers, scientists, and software engineers - then driving them mercilessly. He kept them with two simple hooks. The first was money. No one matched or tried to match his salaries. The second was equipment. You always had the best to work with, and there were never time-wasting arguments over funding when you needed something. Mitra detested the man but would never consider working anywhere else.
The last time she had been in that office was to sign her contract to oversee the installation of her hybrid power station on Drezvir, and to provide the technology transfer that would allow the mining colony to bring additional units on line themselves. She could still see him sitting there, heavy boned and lean. His dark brown hair was almost black, framing a strong featured face. He wore it short and his hairline above the brow was straight across. His eyes were light brown, his skin lightly tanned. For once those eyes had been unreadable. Usually there was interest or anger or curiosity. That time, nothing.
All the same Ari had known exactly how to get her to agree, he always did. First and foremost there had been money. He liked to lead with that persuasive note. In this case it had been a significant isolation bonus for each week she was on Drezvir, plus an equally significant early completion bonus to ensure she wouldn't dawdle for isolation pay. As if anyone would dawdle here.
The son-of-a-bitch had actually had the nerve to say, “Think of it as a well-paid rest after finishing your design.”
Hah. Some rest.
Then there was the exciting prospect of actually seeing the unit built so soon, without the delays there sometimes were between design completion and finding the right client. Finally, because he knew such things really did matter to Mitra, he had talked a lot of garbage he didn't mean about how much of an improvement in life her hybrid unit would bring to the settlement.
Color stained Mitra’s cheeks as she was suddenly back in his office.
Mitra knew she hadn't made this negotiation easy, but they had reached the point where they both knew she would go. She waited, expecting Ari to shove the contract over for her to sign, but he didn't.
He sat there looking his most impenetrable, his large well-manicured hands carefully holding the compad.
“There’s one more thing.”
She didn't like his tone.
Ari didn’t wait for a response before continuing. “I don't want any, I repeat any, romantic - or sexual - involvements with anyone on Drezvir. Do you hear me Kael?”
Even for Ari that was out of line. Scarlet cheeked, she said in what she hoped was an even, professional tone, “Are you looking for a human rights suit?”
Ari ignored that. He always ignored anything that was a possible deflection. “It's a small place, Kael. You get your private and professional lives mixed up and messed up, and I’ll have to pull you. That would cost.”
That was a cheap shot. She had only mixed up her private and professional lives once, and it hadn't been her fault it had gone wrong. After all, lots of couples shared careers. But she and Mark hadn't been one of them. Eventually Ari had been forced to choose. Her. But Mark had been a damned good engineer too, and Ari was obviously still sore. Mitra maintained a dignified silence apparently staring at the desk but watching Ari through her lashes. The silence extended itself and became strained.
Ari eventually sighed and shrugged. “All right. Let's try this. You behave yourself, and stick it out to the very last day without me having to pull you, and you get double your isolation pay. The completion bonus too - if you pull that one off.”
That offer sounded warning bells. Ari paid all right, but you earned every credit twice. Mitra thought about it. The offer obviously meant he expected her to hate every minute and quit after a few months. He was probably right about hating it, she thought with amusement. But not about leaving the job undone. That was too much money to walk away from.
Besides, the idea of going to the Farr sector was intriguing. The Farrese had isolated themselves from the rest of the galaxy, and contact had only been re-established about the time she was born. Her youth had been full of fictional holodramas set in an imagined Farr sector. Some reality had slowly seeped out, but the sector was still largely a mystery. Even her father Chelan didn’t know much about it.
“Am I supposed to sign a celibacy clause?”
He ignored that too. “Let's say I believe in a carrot and stick approach.”
Mitra smiled. “Big carrot, what's the stick?”
There was no answering smile on Ari's face. Looking his stoniest he said, “Screw this one up Kael, and you're out of here.”
Mitra looked at the ceiling screen. ‘Flight status: waiting permission to launch.’ That was ridiculous. They were the only spaceship at the Drezvir spaceport. It wasn’t exactly like dozens of shuttles, liners, freighters, and yachts were in queue. Drezvir had one shuttle and it went to Sinnia, the larger moon, twice a week. She looked at the time strip on her wrist cuff. Make that seventeen days, eleven hours, and twenty minutes short of three years. Well, Mitra thought, she’d pulled it off and stuck it out to the last day. There was no early completion bonus of course, but just the double isolation pay was substantial, and today it had been credited to her account. That brought a smile as she thought of the fun she would have spending it.
Ari Dellmaice sat back in his chair and relaxed. He expected it was only a first order approximation to relaxing. It had been so long now that relaxing was a lost art. Even this try felt good though. The transmission had just come in from Drezvir with the last signatures. The hybrid power station was complete.
Kael had actually stuck it out. He had really had his doubts. Even though she had been his best bet, that kind of long tedious haul was not her style. Convince her to do something and, if you could keep her focused, she'd work herself half to death. But she was quixotic. He'd never figured out what made her tick except money, but that was good enough. It had worked.
She ran on pure adrenaline and tended to go from one bright idea to the next at a dead run. Every now and again it meant he had to bring someone in to finish up for her. Ari didn’t mind when Kael was working on the R & D side. Her concepts were always well defined and documented, and he'd just as soon she captured the next idea and let someone else do the tedious finish up work anyway. His only real worry there had been that someday she would really overshoot and try to do something that wasn't feasible.
Ari had honestly thought she had done that with the hybrid. The speed of her load following response had him very nervous, and he'd been in the power systems business long enough to not get nervous easily. He had insisted they put the name plate rating officially giving the peak power output of the reactor at 6% below the performance she claimed, just in case they had to back off the design. He had also had Elin Kubo do the safety system responses. Kubo was their most experienced safety system designer and he had to admit she'd backed Kael all the way. Still, he'd been relieved when he'd been on Drezvir four months earlier for the first approach to half power, and every last parameter tested out. And now it was finished, up and operating above plate rating.
There certainly had been a fair bit of kicking and screaming along the way. Kael hadn't liked a single one of the materials or equipment downgrades Rostin had insisted on once the project was too far along for any of them to back out. Ari smiled, softening the stress lines that had become a permanent part of his strong featured face these last two disastrous years. Kael always wanted platinum all the way. But none of the downgrades had been bad engineering, and the cost advantage to the Farrese Mining Guild over their total number of units would be more than triple the cost of the delays. He intended to adopt a few of them himself, not that Kael would be pleased. Well, that was her problem.
Yes, it looked like his luck was finally turning around. The hybrid unit was generating even more interest than he had expected, and Ari had expected a good market. The total power output was small enough that they had targeted the market to largely be new or isolated settlements or industrial complexes on planets where the cost of buying peak power off the grid was outrageous. But he was getting a lot of inquiries from the utilities providing planetary base loads too. Many of them liked the idea of having something like the hybrid to come online fast to handle random spikes in demand - freak storms, unanticipated maintenance on larger units, and such. All they needed to see was a quarter year of reliable operation of this prototype and they would firm up those inquiries.
Swiveling slightly, Ari looked at the row of holograms of the units they’d built on Plenata as Dellmaice Power Systems’ first big off-planet installation and his smile broadened. The way things always seemed to go - all bad or all good - that bastard Windegren and his crowd of professional troublemakers were finally getting off Plenata for a terraforming job somewhere. He didn't care where, as long as it took a long time and kept them away from their home base. Another four months of delays on the new Plenata stations, another complete set of environmental hearings, and he and his on-planet partner would have had to pull out. Ari didn't even want to think about it, or he'd be on that damned ulcer medication again. That project had been on and off for years now. It wasn't that he was anti-environmental. Hell, he worked with Windegren's mother just fine. But the kid was a pain in the ass, and good riddance to wherever he was going.
Ari wondered what it felt like to have your kid turn out an embarrassment like that. He thought of his own boys, wondering how they would turn out, not that you could tell yet. All you could really tell was that Erlin looked more like him, while Sander looked more like their mother. Erlin had his dark brown, almost black hair, the straight hairline at the brow, light brown eyes, and in adolescence would probably end up with his strong features - even the nose. Too bad about the nose. Erlin would end up in for reconstruction too. Sander had Naura’s light brown hair and softer features.
But as for how they would turn out, who knew? Sander, the younger, was a bloody minded kid still at the push-wheeled-tanks-around-the-floor-and-run-killer-robots stage. Erlin, the older, was quiet and liked to have help building space stations with his construction sets and to throw a ball around the yard. Not that there had been much time for either in the past eighteen months. Maybe now they'd correct that. The kids were interesting now, exploring what they wanted to be, and that changed daily. If they'd been watching sports, it was an Octagla player or a Genie pilot. Last week when the neighbor's dog had cut itself, they spent quite a few days wanting to be vets.
Enough. Things were better, not fine. The megacity unit project was still a mess. He picked up his compad and called up the next file. Maybe tonight he'd be home by 9:00. Naura would like that. It was usually 11:00.
Science fiction by the Canadian husband and wife scientist author team Donald S. Hall, PhD., and Judi Suni Hall, PhD.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously. The science fiction is set centuries in the future, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental
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