Monday, February 6, 2017

Tunnel Vision

Captain was a good 150 kilos and had won many a barside or berthing bay brawl. Luchador … was a damned luchador. Maybe not a licensed one but he had the mask and walked the walk and had beaten down many people far larger than himself.

They didn’t give up. They took down a fair number of Patuni who suddenly mobbed them.

It was a little surreal. One moment the Poyap of Patutu was escorting the two traders from their gig after a successful landing with only one or two white knuckle moments, their small but vital cargo of fungi spores, fungiculture supplements and new e-books and magazines, intact.

Patutu was a large planet, with a buck and a quarter of gravity. That was pushing it for the Profit Rockit, a venerable old free trader. The gig could be redlined allowing a controlled landing and a difficult but doable take off. Captain decided he was the only one qualified to take his beloved (and expensive) gig to the surface. Luch would go along to provide an extra pair of eyes and hands and to help unload the cargo.

Actually it was the subsurface. The Patuni had long ago shunned the brutal radiation of the surface, moved into caverns and began raising gourmet truffles that they exported throughout the cluster. Mostly the truffles left in the holds of subsidized merchants who had long standing contracts. Captain thought this might be an opportunity to liberate a little of those exports from the cold corporate grasp.

But then everyone grabbed him and Luch.

Second Tier Navigator Sandoval heard the rhubarb on the ship’s speakers in orbit. At the time she was laying across the biggest softest bed in the poshest stateroom on the Profit Rockit surrounded by all the pillows she could find, binge watching Ghouls of the Underworld, a flat screen serial from Zaonia. She was wearing the softest robe she could find in the ship’s stores and overall having a fine day with a possible sundae looming large in her immediate future. As the Captain put it he would never want her piloting his ship barring a runaway black hole bearing down on them and his hands, feet, and tongue amputated. The black hole he referred to would also have to be galactic center sized, But she could figure out matching orbits for him just fine.

When the rhubarb started Sandoval flew from her leisure nest and ran for the bridge. Or she tried. The robe got caught on the bedpost. That cost her a few seconds, a very nice robe, and a bruised coccyx.

Starports, even the backwater Patuni port had security cameras inside and outside. By ancient convention they were open to monitoring by merchant ships to ascertain the political climate before and after landing. More significantly Luch, had a welcome bout of paranoia and managed to activate his phone warning her of the attack as it went down. Sandoval punched up a camera feed, ran it back and saw her shipmates go down.
Free trader crews produced some of the toughest, meanest, self-reliant women in history. Sandoval bitterly bewailed not hiring one of those bitches two ports of call previously. She was just too scary.

A comm screen beeped for her attention and she activated it, watched the text scroll:

<< Attention Profit Rockit
We have taken your captain, steward, and gig. You will land at the same coordinates your gig touched down. You have one hour.>>

Sandoval had never received a ransom note before and was in a bit of a dilemma. She knew in similar situations that it was best to stall until a plan presented itself. A plan in a matching orbit over Patutu was unlikely but not impossible. She began to type. Then she switched between several fonts.

//Dear sir and or madam
Please clarify. If I land at the same coordinates as the gig I am likely to destroy it and disable the ship. Is this part of your plan?

Cordially Yours,
Second tier Navigator Sandoval//

<<Land your ship 100 meters north of gig coordinates.>>

//Dear sir and or madam
Please clarify. Magnetic North or Geographic North? Your world has both.

Cordially Yours,
Second Tier Navigator Sandoval//

<<Goegraphic North>>

//Dear Sir or madam,
Please clarify. ‘Goegraphic’?

2nd TN Sandoval//

<<Geographic North. You have one hour!>>

//Dear Sir or madam,
Please clarify. One hour from time of latest message or the first message?

2nd TN S :D//


//Dear Sir or madam,
There’s no need to cuss a/o yell. It’s not very professional.

2nd TN Sandoval//

<<Sorry. It’s my first ransom situation>>

//Dear Sir or madam,
Mine too. ;)

2nd TN Sandoval//

The Profit Rockit did have weapons. The theory being that a weapon was much like an umbrella, if you had them you wouldn’t need them. There was a locker full of slug throwers, laser pistols, gas grenades, and pointy sticks. There was also a very functional turret with twin pulse lasers capable of punching a hole in a hostile craft at a good ways away. Hopefully that wouldn’t make them too mad.

A laser capable of damaging a space craft was not that fearsome a weapon. Especially not from the wrong side of an atmosphere. Blowing a hole in a couple of Whipple shields was a bit easier than taking out a ground installation or underground installations which were the norm on Patutu. Most ships could not truck a significant amount of a planet around with them for armor as they were kind of expected to move to earn a living. Against that you needed missiles with met-H warheads or worse. Or a really good run at the desired point of impact after which dropping a few hundred kilos of metal at a few kilometers a second would do the trick.

She didn’t have time to pull away from the planet and make a run at it to weaponize a spare hull plate. More to the point the Patuni would notice such an act and raise hell with her friends.

//Dear sir or madam
What do you want with my ship? I bet it’s the fusion reactor …

She did too. These backwater mud ball colonies were always short of power. She deleted the message without sending. It was almost confrontational and she was infuriating the ransomers pretty well being cute. At about that point she scratched her hip and realized she had lost her robe after it got snagged on the bedpost and was sitting in a cold bridge wearing very little. She got up from the seat with a soft ripping sound she found unsettling, grabbed a thermal blanket from the damage control locker, wrapped herself in it and sat back down. Then she ran a scan looking for targets of opportunity for her limited weaponry.

The Profit Rockit’s scanners were basic civilian gear. That is they were several orders of sophistication beyond the equipment the Patuni had. A small number of domes were really all that marked the dusty planet as exploited by man. Radio chatter linked the domes and their substantial underground towns. She listened to a sample of the chatters, programs and once or twice an archaic fax signal that jarred her teeth loose.

She stood up suddenly and snapped open a switch cover. Then she threw the toggle that warmed up the laser.

//Dear Sir or madam,
Please clarify.Time check? Did we synchronize our chronometers? :S

2nd TN Sandoval//

<<You have thirty-seven (37) minutes.>>

//What was going to happen should I remain unresponsive to your demands?//

<<Hang on I’ll check. :D>>

//Thank you. :D//

<<They will be executed :S.>>

//What are the charges? :0//

<<I’m afraid that is confidential.>>

//Sounds serious. LOL. May I speak to the big one to say good-bye? :(//

<<You have 34 minutes.>>

Sandoval looked over the highlights on the map she’d generated, licked her lips, then stifled a sneeze. The blanket had slipped. Then she hit a few keys and began tapping the targets she’d chosen based on her scans. A couple of decks below, the turret machinery grumbled and moved the turret slowly and precisely. The bridge lights dimmed once, twice, three times. She looked over her results and yipeed silently forgetting the blanket and the fact 10% of her was goosebumps by weight now.

She was moonwalking backwards when the comm screen flashed an urgent red.

<<What RU doing! Cease imediately or your captain and steward will be executed!>>

//Dear Sir or madam,
Please clarify. Time check? I have twenty eight minutes left :S

2nd TN Sandoval//


// No

.You have five minutes to release my crew. Let any harm come to my Captain or my Luch and you will get more of this. Much much moar//

<<Hang on. Checking :(>>

<<We’ll comply>>

//You have four minutes. :)//

The gig was airborne in the required time. It managed to dock with the Profit Rockit in record time. Luch and Captain were greeted by a second tier navigator in a thermal blanket sarong when they made it to the bridge. They broke orbit amid hugs, kisses and a bear hug that nearly broke Sandoval. When they had put some lovely vacuum between the ship and Patutu explanations were expected.

Sandoval got another robe, her fuzzy slippers, and a cup of coffee before she held court. Holding off any longer would lead to violence. She quickly went through all the correspondence and the laser prepping.

“What the hell did you find to blow up? It drove them wild. We heard there were people rioting in the corridors.We heard the screaming. Did you blast the oxygen intakes?”

“No sir, there were hundreds of them. It’d take me hours and it would hurt a lot of innocent people.”

“Heating systems?”

“No sir. Furnaces were underground and heat radiators were too big.”

“Spill! Or your fuzzy slippers will get it!” Luch finally screamed. Captain nodded sagely.

“I had to do something atrocious.”

“You’re not too big to put over my knee Second Tier Navigator. Spill,” Captain growled.

“Aye sir. I needed the least redundant yet vital system …”

“Now you’re just showing off,” Luch grumped.

“ … I wrecked their cablevision. No media company in history ever made their system redundant. Too much money. Cheaper to fx it when things go wrong. They had these cute little receiver towers on their main domes.I think I might have hit a few phone relays too. ”

Luch let out a low whistle. Finally Captain said somberly, “You my dear, have a future with this organization.”


I was introduced to science fiction via Clarke, Asimov and Heinlein. I've gotten to read and like many different forms of SF but the solve a problem subgenre always has a place in my heart.

Having said that though the heroes in those stories were always way too calm, thoughtful and serious for my taste. In a crisis people panic or at least stress. They make dumb cracks to destress, They often screw up in ways that are comical (after the fact, never during). For every MacGyver there's a thousand poor schmoes trying to just stay alive.

Sandoval and the guys use their brains they just aren't slick about it.

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