Excelsior, Part 1
I popped my restraints and stepped to the view port. I always had to stop for the view. It was the Gilbert Islands space elevator, and the view faced east. We were dropping into the sunrise and the ocean was inky darkness with a line of color marching across.
The admiral, however, had long ago sated that explorer's urge to look out view ports. He cleared his throat shortly after we cleared Top Station 4. Duty turned me around, but curiosity forced me to try to catch a glimpse of Excelsior as I did. Unsuccessful, but undaunted, I sat down across the lounge from my superior.
For all that he'd hurried me up, he was slow to start. I'd know Admiral Mendez for 15 years, and hesitation on his part was not a good sign.
Still without talking, he took a magazine from his brief-net and handed it to me. On the cover a man in a Space Corps uniform stood in front of a giant boot. Strings from above, presumably in the hands of the Brobdingragian wearing the boot, controlled his hands and feet. Two Lilliputians stood on his shoulders with their own strings, controlling his head and mouth. I checked inside for the cover story, "Who's driving us where? " and recognized the byline as my dad's. The spaceman bore a passing resemblance to me.
I tossed the 'zine back to Mendez. I waited for him to start talking. The elevator ride was four hours, there was no hurry. He sighed and started.
"Did you write that? "
"What? No, sir. "
"But that is your name, isn't it? "
"Oh. " I realized what was happening here. "Sir, my dad really, really liked the name Paul. From the Bible. He liked it so much, he named five dogs Paul. After getting married, he named four of our cats Paul. I think I even remember Paul the Goldfish. He wanted to name me Paul. It's the only fight they ever had that I know for a fact my mom won. I'm named after my grandfather, Benjamin, Paul's my middle name. " I sighed.
"When Dad started writing for the Valley of Elah Homesteaders, he decided he needed a pseudonym. He had the incredible originality of picking 'Paul' And his own last name.�
"So…� he asked, after a moment, �you have no problem with this mission?�
"Not a chance, sir.� He didn't look completely convinced. �My dad didn't join the Elah Valley until after I left home. I was already in the Corps by then. My understanding of the Alliance, and Alliance history, is a little different from Dad's.� He made a 'go ahead' gesture, with a curious expression on his face.
"Okay. You know that the discovery of Brobdingrag was, at first, really popular with the Biblical literalists. They said it proved all the references to giants in the Old Testament were true.�
"Yes, I remember. But now they don't?�
"Yes and no.� I got more than a few lectures on the history of the Alliance. Two gigantic fishermen waded ashore in San Francisco, sparking a search for the islands of Brobdingrag and Lilliput.
PETA was still looking for the Houyhnhnms. A talking horse would make a better spokes-person than models that wore leather pants.
"The literalists embraced the existence of giants, but never embraced any of them as individuals. If they are the biblical giants, then they're the children of fallen angels.
"The pope made a big speech about the diversity of life in God's plan, but pointed out that the Giants were clearly beyond the hope of Jesus' salvation. Then the LDS church baptized their first Giant convert.�
"Oh, yeah. I remember the mega-bass singer in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.�
"Yes, sir. Argelliolius. He was baptized in the Lorbrulgrud Temple. When the other religious organizations saw what was spent on the new ward, and the way the press lapped up the new missionaries, they started getting revelations about the salvation of the multi-scaled.
"But the Valley of Elah Homesteaders kept to a more fundamentalist approach. They maintain that any dealing with the Giants is certainly dealing with Satan. And it seems clear, to them, that the Lilliputians are Satan-breathed as well.
"Then, the space explorations started finding life. The creationists see all life on other planets as a trick of Satan. People who see our planet as a little bit less unique are starting to see their side as more appealing.�
Especially considering the ramifications of that life. On 9 out of the 10 planets that supported life, it was built on the same scale as the giants. Scientists were scrambling to become expert in the last Ice Age, where the fossil record showed the last giant sloths, giant tortoises, giant armadillos… And wondering if our planet was rare or unique in going to a smaller scale overall.
The tenth planet, of course, was the one I discovered. The only life form was a carpet of cotton candy looking stuff. It covered Whazzat from pole to pole. I guess you could call it 'giant' cotton candy.
"The people that want to stick to a 'God made us special' outlook are getting very outnumbered and very desperate.� I pointed to the magazine. �And now, they're expanding from a purely theological platform to a political one.� Admiral Mendez sat back to consider for a minute. I pressed my point.
"Sir, I haven't spoken with my Father since my Academy commencement. I haven't agreed with him since he grounded me for escorting a Blefuscu foreign exchange student to the prom.
"I have worked with Alliance personnel in the corps for my entire career. For the last two years I�ve been building Excelsior with my crew: 30 standard humans, 20 elves and one giant. Most of them I�ve worked with before.� I leaned across the table towards him.
"I understand the connections: Human space mining gathered the resources for the Brobdingragian industry to build the space elevators. Elf computer tech helped giant energy researchers master the Hyper drive. Human operators manage the elf systems that make hyperspace navigation possible.
"The Excelsior is the first three-scale ship. I helped design it, I helped build it, it…it's mine, sir. Don't… don't punish me for what my dad does.� He watched, a strange look in his eyes. Finally he leaned in towards me.
"I know how you've worked for this, Ben, and it's just as much a dream for me, too. But you understand there's a lot of scrutiny on this. It's not just another command.� He started to fidget and turned to look out the view port.
I about freaked. This man once sentenced a man to death and never flinched. He didn�t look away at sentencing, or as the man was escorted into the airlock or as the outer door was open. I was the one the bastard shot, and I looked away at the end. Then-Captain Mendez felt his duty owed it to the uniform, if not the man. What the hell was going on?
"Understand that this isn't my decision. It isn't a Corps decision. But there are… issues in your engineer's past. Things that will look bad if they come to light in the media fest of a launch or on a successful return.� Oh, crap. �The Council has decided to replace him.�
"With who, sir? Eggafederesh is the one Brobdingragian with anything resembling space experience. He was the best choice for the ship, the mission, hell, for the program! Unless he was one of the original Flyswatters, nothing he could have done…� I shut up when I saw his reaction to the Flyswatter remark. Oh, crappity crap crap. And I'd gotten drunk in that man's jumper pocket…
"So… who is the replacement, sir?� There was little to look forward to. I had gone through all the personnel files when we picked Eggy and his backup.
"The King has graciously granted permission for his cousin to leave the planet.� I had a sinking feeling about this. �In fact, she was one of the physicists who helped develop the Version Delta Hyper drive. That's the selling point we'll give the press, the best choice to baby-sit the first deep space use of the VDH.�
"Her Lady Albalureindis, Duchess of the Reaches of Lellegunch, and about 13th in line to the throne. She should be quite the asset to you on this mission.�
"Sir, I happen to know almost every giant that's been in orbit. And Brobdingrag has no women in the military…�
"Well, that's why you're going down. She's asked for a little, well, handholding on the trip up. And there's still something you need to do.�
The door screen warned that I was about to enter an occupied macro-scale room. I paused to check that my throat mike and earplugs were in place. Inside, I was on a catwalk ringing a two-seat capsule. Albalureindis occupied one, trying to get comfortable, a large satchel strapped in the other. I cleared my throat to let her know she wasn't alone.
Her earplugs conveyed the sound to her, and actually gave hints as to the direction I was speaking from. But it was an acquired skill.
"Over to your left.� I stayed by the door, waving my arms. Surviving around 50-foot tall people was another acquired skill. She finally saw me.
"Oh. Hi!� She leaned over to offer one finger. �Are you Benjaminlewis? Please to meet you.�
"Actually, it's two names,� I said, grasping her finger to shake, �Benjamin and Lewis. And more importantly, it�s traditional to refer to me as Captain Lewis.� She unconsciously touched her shoulder epaulets. The very new looking epaulets on her very new uniform.
I'm absolutely no good at guessing ages outside my own species. She looked, to me, to be about 20. That'd make her anything from 50 to 150, I'd guess. She was blonde, trim, and very nervous.
"Yes, sorry. Captain. I'm not used to military courtesies.� My reply was interrupted by the warning buzzer. She looked around in confusion. �Is there a problem?�
"No, Lady, that's just a 15-minute warning before the elevator lifts.� I circled the catwalk over to the me-sized seat across from her and strapped in. My strapping in reminded her to do her own. I offered coaching where necessary and we were all secure by the second buzzer. As we waited, I noticed she looked worried.
"Is there a problem?� I asked. She looked closely at me for a second.
"I suppose I should tell you. Sir. I'm afraid of heights.� I nodded at that. Lots of people found that out only after the elevator started to rise. I reached over to blank the view port. That usually helped.
"Well, Albalureindis, a lot of people are uncomfortable on this thing, but they adapt quickly in space. Let's hope you're one of those. " Her eyebrows rose. "What? "
"Aren't you going to comment? About a 'giant' that's afraid of heights? Isn't that silly? Everyone else thinks it's silly. Especially any Englishman that finds out. " I nodded again.
"You ever see those fry-kids in the McDonald Land commercials? I had a dream once where a dozen of them were chasing me. Been terrified of them ever since. What scares us scares us, I'm in no position to call any of it silly. The only thing I'm interested in is if you can do your job despite the fear. " That gave her something to think about until about 2 minutes after lift-off. She never even noticed.
"I was starting to say, I am aware of your lack of military experience. How are you at personnel? "
"What, taking orders? I guess I'm alright. If they make sense. " Wonderful. Nothing an officer likes more than a subordinate weighing orders before obeying.
"No, I meant giving them. You're going to be in charge of the engineering department. "
"What?! " Her voice rose to where I could feel it reverberate in my bones. "Hilly told me I was only responsible for my engine! " 'Hilly' would be King Esthillioguburb. She was in for a shock.
"Okay, first off, you're a Duchess. That's supposed to be a position of leadership. " I overrode her protests of only being interested in tech, not nobility. Well, overrode generally implies excess volume which was beyond me. I just kept talking until she shut up.
"Two, your King 'Hilly' has been trying to get women into his military for 80 years. You're in a position to help him with that. "
"But I'm just…"
"Just in the Space Corps, right. You've received an honorary rank which will be made permanent on successful completion of your first tour. That'll give his highness a wedge to open your other branches to women. IF you do well. " I undid my restraints and started walking around the catwalk under her surprised gaze.
"Three, the Excelsior was built around your hyper-drive. No one else really knows enough to give you orders on it.
"And finally, my Engineering department head hates the position. But she loves the work. If you delegate everything to her, she'll leave you alone and keep the ship running. Without you. If you're smart, though, you'll get involved and accept her input. Then you'll learn how run a department. " I got the thoughtful look out of her for a while, then she suddenly focused me again.
"Shouldn't you be in your chair? "
"The restraints are only required when the car starts moving. We've been underway for, what, ten minutes? " I cleared the view port and the sunset over Indonesia took both our attention away. We were still in the atmosphere and got the effects of the sunset colors. It was so shockingly beautiful she forgot to be scared.
After a few minutes, we returned to our conversation. She undid her restraints, racked the belts, then sat on the edge of her seat and unzipped her jumper. She mumbled something about the bra driving her crazy, and removed it. I was familiar enough with the basic design of the zero-gravity bra to see that she had it on wrong. I wasn't able to force out a single word to help her, though. I stood stunned at the sight of her secondary reproductive characteristics waving back and forth before me.
Finally she donned the thing again and pulled her jumper back on. She stretched and twisted, checking the fit. I swallowed a few times, until I was able to talk again.
�You had a splacnuck as a pet when you were a kid, didn't you?� She nodded, one eyebrow raised curiously. �I know because I had a crewman from Australia once.� She blinked at the non-sequitor.
�Tracey was from a nudist colony. Every time we blinked, there was Tracey, naked as a j-bird, insisting WE were the ones with modesty issues. I finally had to actually enforce the uniform regulations on ship between orbits.
�Now, I'm not one to suggest that beautiful women should never undress in front of me. I always enjoy a good view of… of a good view. But you did just treat me like an insignificant pet, there.� Albalureindis� hands covered her bosom as she realized what she'd done. �Alone in your room, with no one watching but the things in the cage, that's alright. But in company, you might want to pretend that others matter, no matter what size they are.� Her blush was all a captain could desire from a subordinate who'd made a mistake. Meanwhile I was mentally wiping my brow that she hadn't done it in front of the media.
�I'm sorry, Lady, I came here to make you less uncomfortable on the trip up, not more.� I gestured towards the exit. �If you'd be more comfortable, I can leave you alone until we get to the station.� She nodded and I stepped to the hatch. I turned before leaving. �One more thing, as long as we�re alone and embarrassed. It's a tradition that you drink a lot of water before transferring to the Excelsior. Somewhere between superstition and etiquette. So, drink up before we get in the shuttle.� I left before she could ask where that tradition came from. It'd keep her mind occupied for a while. She was a smart one, though, and I had no doubts she'd figure it out, and the rather off-color implications, before long.
To Part 2
To Part 3
To Part 4
To Part 5
To Part 6
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