R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author Suspense Urban Fantasy Fantasy Dystopian SCI FI
Kory Mae Design “H ave you taken a look at that design?” Rham Billings asked. The   wiry   engineer   slowly   pulled   his   attention   away   from   his computer and blinked. “Gonna have to be a little more specific.” “The Kory Mae,” Rham said. “That    s’posed    to    be    the    name    of    the    ship,    or    what?”    he mumbled, eyes back on his computer sheet. “You   haven’t.   Need   to.   The   design   could   put   this   shipyard   on the map.” “This place has been on the map a long time.” “Blain. Look at me.” The   man,   more   a   grandfather   than   partner,   looked   sideways at   him   with   narrowed   eyes.   “Rham,   I’ve   been   doing   this   shit   a   long   time.   I’ve   seen   ’em all.” “Not   this   one.   Pay   attention   to   me   for   a   change.   You   only   think   you   run   this   place, you old coot.” “You   little   prick.”   Blain   did   a   reasonable   job   hiding   the   hint   of   a   grin.   “What’s   so special about this Kory Mae design?” “Four FTL drives.” He cackled. “Even the Navy stopped trying to exceed two drives.” “Do I have your attention now?” Rham asked. Blain   glared   at   him,   pulling   off   his   reading   glasses   and   setting   them   on   his   desk. “Who   has   the   resources   to   design   a   quad-drive?   And   what   makes   you   think   you   have the resources to engineer it?” Rham   stood   tall.   “Not   a   government,   not   even   a   corporation.   Lone   designer,   but she—” “You   have   crap   for   brains.   Go   away   and   stop   wasting   my   time,   you   runt.   I   have   real work to do.” “I thought old farts were supposed to disperse.” “Lone   designer   my   ass.   Best   labs   worked   on   multi-drives   for   centuries.   All   they managed   was   a   poor-excuse   for   a   double.   Not   gonna   happen.   Spend   your   time   on   real business.” “Blain—” “You   have   bills   to   pay,   doncha?   You   push   the   paper.   I’ll   do   your   architecting.   I’m not going to waste my time looking at any four-engine design?” “Let me tell you about the designer,” Rham said. “No.” Blain began to rise and Rham waved his hand at him. “Sit. Shut up.” “Two   generations   of   Billings   have   put   their   trust   in   me.   I   thought   generation   three did too.” “If   you   don’t   listen   for   two   minutes,   Billings   Shipyard   will   learn   how   to   move forward without the renowned Blain Addair.” The    scarecrow    of    a    man    leaned    back    in    his    chair    crossing    his    arms.    His    eyes reminded   Rham   of   a   snake’s   looking   for   the   best   place   to   strike,   but   his   long   nose loomed more vulture-like. “I own a good chunk of this place. I’m not your lackey.” “Of   course   you   aren’t.   But   Kendra   and   I   control   sixty   percent   of   the   voting   shares, and I have her support.” “With   your   parents’   votes.   I’ll   see   they   won’t   go   along   with   this.   And   I’ll   talk   sense into that sister of yours, too.” Rham   looked   over   his   shoulder   and   his   sister   rounded   the   corner.   She’d   been waiting for the cue to join them. “Oh,   no.”   Blain   pointed   a   bony   finger   at   Kendra   Billings.   “When   was   the   last   time you   even   looked   at   a   design?   You’ve   been   running   the   frontend   of   this   place   so   long   you couldn’t engineer a toilet seat.” Rham   smiled.   The   woman   walked   behind   Blain,   set   her   hands   on   his   shoulders softly,   and   massaged   them   slowly.   She   didn’t   say   anything   for   a   a   full   minute.   The man’s   head   lolled   and   he   closed   his   eyes,   enjoying   the   attention.   Kendra   moved   her hands up on his neck and he moaned. “Blain. Darlin. You’ve always been my sweet puddin.” “Oh, mannnn,” he whined without opening his eyes. “I’m dead now, aren’t I?” “We    are    such    a    good    team,”    Kendra    said.    “Been    building    the    best    ships, retrofitting,   spending   twelve-hour   days   together   for   three   decades.   Can’t   you   sit   and listen to your young, best friends for just a few minutes. Huh, sweetie pie? Please?” “Don’t   stop   doing   that,”   he   said,   hitching   a   thumb   at   his   shoulder.   He   didn’t   open his eyes. “You have my attention for two minutes.” “The   woman   who   developed   the   design   has   doctorates   in   physics,   engineering,   and math.   I   spoke   to   two   of   her   college   thesis   advisors.   They   both   said   the   same   thing.   The woman’s peculiar, but a genius. “One   called   her   a   technical   sociopath.   They   both   said,   ‘If   she   designed   it,   it’ll   work.’ Say   they’ve   never   known   anyone   who   understands   it   all   from   theory   to   mechanics   like she does. “I’ve   been   researching   the   papers   she’s   published   the   last   fifteen   years—those   that aren’t    marked    top    secret.    There’s    a    bunch.    Oh.    Should    mention    she’s    only    in    her thirties. I’m pretty bright. But I can’t even figure out the titles of many of her papers.” “I   never   believed   you   were   particularly   bright,”   Blain   mumbled,   his   chin   practically on his chest. Kendra squeezed a tendon in his neck and he smiled between a grimace. “Pookie, sweety, shush and listen. I’m convinced she’s for real.” “What design lab she work for?” Blain asked. “No lab,” Rham said. “Where does she teach?” “She isn’t teaching.” Blain looked up, one eye open. “What’s she doing?” “She’s an independent pilot,” Rham answered. “Space trash? I thought you were serious there for a moment.” “We are,” the two said together. “She’s   coming   to   meet   with   us   Friday,”   Kendra   continued.   “We’d   like   you   to   join us.” “Insane,” Blain snapped. He started to stand but Kendra held him down. He squirmed, but she held fast. “Consider   what   it’d   mean   to   be   the   engineering   firm   that   integrated   the   first   quad- FTL-drive,”   Rham   said.   The   rasp   in   his   voice   showed   the   effort   to   stay   patient   wore thin. “The first to blow up trying, you mean.” “If the science doesn’t stand up, we’ll walk away, no harm done,” Kendra said. Blain’s   expression   softened   but   he   shook   his   head.   Kendra   moved   her   hands   from his   shoulders   to   the   back   of   his   head   and   continued   the   massage.   He   moaned.   Rham winked at his sister. After   a   pause,   Blain   took   a   deep   breath   and   blew   it   out   noisily.   “Friday,   huh?   Not   a lot   of   time.   I’ll   have   to   pull   people   off   every   project   to   do   an   evaluation   by   Friday.   We’re talking    delays.    No    harm,    huh?    You’ll    see    the    harm    when    you    miss    your    incentive points.” “We’ll absorb it in the schedules,” Rham said. “If not, it’s still worth it.” “You’re both crazy.” “It’s just a meeting,” Kendra purred. “The science doesn’t work.” “So far it has,” Rham said. “Indulge us?” Kendra asked. “I won’t be changing my mind.” Kendra wrapped her hands teasingly around his throat. “Can’t I talk you out of this?” Rham shook his head. Blain harrumphed. “Let me go. I gotta call people off real work.” ~ “H ey,   kid,”   Rham   snapped.   “Janitorial   staff   uses   the   back   entrance.   And   you   can’t bring   your   dog   to   work   with   you.”   He   whirled   around.   “Where   is    that   woman?   Thirty minutes   late.   Couldn’t   she   call?   Got   thirteen   engineers   sitting   in   a   conference   room when they could be engaged on projects.” “Let   me   show   you—”   Kendra   told   the   scraggly   waif   who   had   just   walked   in.   Kendra motioned for the soiled, blue jumpsuit-clad tot to follow her. “I’m not—” Blain   walked   into   the   foyer   shouting,   using   his   normal   expletives,   but   punching them   with   rare   emotion.   “Where’s   that   freaking   moron   who   thinks   she   knows   more than the combined engineers of a hundred labs?” “That freaking moron would be me,” the lad Kendra was trying to whisk away said. Her   white-muzzled   canine   companion   sat   hard   with   a   grunt,   and   leaned   against the   tiny   woman’s   leg.   The   Labrador   looked   up   at   her   with   big   brown   eyes.   The   woman looked down and smiled at the hound, and gave her a quick head scratch. The    three    engineers    froze    and    gaped    at    the    queer    pair    in    front    of    them.    The woman—though    it    was    fairly    impossible    to    tell    she    was    female—wore    her    hair    as though   it   was   cut   by   a   meat   grinder.   Her   ten-year-old   overalls   were   threadbare   in   the knees and hips, with more stains than the average rag. It   appeared   she   even   had   a   smudge   of   poly-silicate   on   her   cheek.   It   was   impossible to   determine   what   color   her   deck   shoes   were   originally.   Chunks   of   the   rubber   that   kept the   top   glued   to   the   sole   were   missing.   The   dog   was   the   only   clean,   neat   looking   thing about the pair. “Sorry I’m late. Toni Tegaris.” She held out her hand to Kendra. Dr.    Tegaris?”   Kendra   asked,   her   eyes   round.   She   stepped   forward   to   take   the woman’s   hand,   hesitating   as   though   being   caught   in   a   practical   joke.   She   looked   out the front glass. “Prefer   Toni.   Get   tagged   as   captain,   most.   Only   hear   doctor   when   I   get   cornered   to speak.”   The   woman   winked.   “I   was   held   up.   Never   know   how   long   it’ll   take   to   get docking   protocols.   The   port   was   backed   up.   Thankfully   I   made   up   some   time   on   the flight   to   Houston.   I’ve   got   to   get   back   to   Philadelphia   by   three.   I   know   that   doesn’t   give us much time.” The   dog   struggled   to   stand.   The   tiny   woman   helped   it   before   stepping   forward   and extending   her   hand   to   Rham.   He   shook   it   without   saying   anything.   He   realized   his mouth hung open and closed it, and peered over at his sister. “Where the hell’s the rest of ya?” Blain demanded. “I didn’t bring anyone else,” Toni said. “I   meant—”   He   waved   a   hand   from   her   grimy   shoes   to   her   mussed   hair.   “Shouldn’t you be chaperoned by your parents?” Kendra’s face shaded gray. Rham closed his eyes and dropped his chin to his chest. The   woman’s   face   turned   a   little   icy,   but   she   looked   back   to   Rham   and   Kendra. “I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to clean up before flying down.” As   they   had   studied   her,   Toni’s   eyes   tracked   up   and   down   Kendra,   as   though memorizing   every   detail   so   she   could   duplicate   the   image   on   a   canvas   the   next   day.   She rubbed   her   hands   down   her   dirty   jumpsuit   as   though   she   was   trying   to   rub   something icky off. “That’s   a   right   sharp   suit,   Mrs.   Billings.   Wish   I   could   dress   like   that   in   my   line   of work.”   Toni   cleared   her   throat.   “My   time   on-planet   is   a   little   short.   I   was   helping   my engineer    with    an    issue    so    we    could    drop    out    of    FTL.    Everything’s    always    an emergency.” The woman gripped a clump of her clothes. “Ms.” “Excuse me?” Toni said. Ms . Billings. Rham and I are brother and sister.” “Sure and fine,” Blain interrupted. “You said they said she was odd, not a freak.” “Blain!” both of the Billings shouted. “I take it you’re the engineer I have to convince four drives are possible,” Toni said. “You’re   not   going   to   do   any   convincing   here.”   The   man   crossed   his   arms   and   tilted his   head   back.   His   lips   were   drawn   together   as   though   he’d   bitten   into   something rancid. “Since   you   went   to   school   when   energy   meant   splitting   the   atom,   I   can   see   the   leap could be a little hard for you.” The old man’s face turned a shade of plum. “Did they even have schools back then?” She appeared to be enjoying herself. “You snot.” The short little woman laughed. “Is that the best you can do?” “You insolent—” “Blain,” Kendra hissed. “You   walk   in   here   looking   like   that   and   expect   to   be   taken   seriously?   You   don’t even look competent to drive a hover.” “Small minds are always closed,” she said. “I’m reasonable and sane—four FTL drives is neither.” “So, you couldn’t understand my design.” “You call it a design. I call it an incomprehensible mishmash.” “Good   thing   you   don’t   have   to   understand   it,   just   follow   schematics   and   put   it   in   a frame.” “I’m    not    gonna    follow    any    design    that    comes    from    a    flee-bitten,    midget-size, grease-monkey,” Blain shouted. “Enough,”   Rham   shouted   over   his   chief   engineer.   He   pointed   at   Blain   as   he   turned to   face   their   guest.   “We’ve   gotten   off   on   the   wrong   foot   here.”   He   turned   back   to   Blain. “I think you need to go to the docks and check how your project is coming along.” The   engineer   glared   at   Rham   a   very   long   moment   before   walking   away.   They   all watched him until he passed through a door and slammed it closed behind him. Toni chortled. Rham and Kendra looked at her blankly. “Molly.   Get   back   here.”   The   old   Labrador   stiffly   limped   her   way   back   from   the office she was investigating. She looked up at her human indignantly. “This    began    a    lot    like    I    expected,”    Toni    said.    Her    grin    changed    her    face.    She actually    had    very    pretty    features.    Rham    tried    to    picture    her    cleaned    up.    It    was impossible. “I only have hours to answer your questions. Wanna get started?” Rham   looked   at   his   sister,   wondering   if   it   was   wise   to   let   their   engineers   meet   her. The   two   had   to   jump   to   catch   up   with   the   woman,   who   sped   past   them   for   the   group   of faces peering from a conference room door down the hall. “You waiting to hear about the Kory Mae?” Rham heard her shout to the group. The    excited    geeks    answered    affirmatively,    and    she    plowed    into    the    swarm    of scientists   who   rattled   off   questions   over   each   other.   She   answered   non-stop   as   she worked   to   network   her   computer   with   the   three   twenty-foot   plas-sheets   that   covered the   conference   room   walls.   She   displayed   portions   of   her   design   on   each   and   moved back   and   forth   between   them   and   animation-boards   to   demonstrate   concepts   with simple   drawings   that   had   the   engineers   bellowing   with   satisfied   ahhhs,    and   shouting back follow-up questions. Rham    and    Kendra    stood    in    the    hall    looking    in,    a    little    dumbfounded    at    how differently the younger engineers responded to the strange looking space captain. “This   is   gonna   be   a   coup,”   Rham   said   softly   to   his   sister,   trying   to   follow   Toni’s current recitation. Kendra bit her lip. “If we live through it.” © R. Mac Wheeler 2017
Kory Mae Design “H ave     you     taken     a     look     at     that design?” Rham Billings asked. The   wiry   engineer   slowly   pulled   his attention   away   from   his   computer   and blinked.    “Gonna    have    to    be    a    little more specific.” “The Kory Mae,” Rham said. “That   s’posed   to   be   the   name   of   the ship,   or   what?”   he   mumbled,   eyes   back on his computer sheet. “You   haven’t.   Need   to.   The   design could put this shipyard on the map.” “This   place   has   been   on   the   map   a long time.” “Blain. Look at me.” The   man,   more   a   grandfather   than partner,   looked   sideways   at   him   with narrowed   eyes.   “Rham,   I’ve   been   doing this shit a long time. I’ve seen ’em all.” “Not   this   one.   Pay   attention   to   me for   a   change.   You   only   think   you   run this place, you old coot.” “You     little     prick.”     Blain     did     a reasonable    job    hiding    the    hint    of    a grin.    “What’s    so    special    about    this Kory Mae design?” “Four FTL drives.” He      cackled.      “Even      the      Navy stopped trying to exceed two drives.” “Do    I    have    your    attention    now?” Rham asked. Blain   glared   at   him,   pulling   off   his reading    glasses    and    setting    them    on his    desk.    “Who    has    the    resources    to design   a   quad-drive?   And   what   makes you    think    you    have    the    resources    to engineer it?” Rham        stood        tall.        “Not        a government,    not    even    a    corporation. Lone designer, but she—” “You   have   crap   for   brains.   Go   away and   stop   wasting   my   time,   you   runt.   I have real work to do.” “I   thought   old   farts   were   supposed to disperse.” “Lone    designer    my    ass.    Best    labs worked   on   multi-drives   for   centuries. All    they    managed    was    a    poor-excuse for   a   double.   Not   gonna   happen.   Spend your time on real business.” “Blain—” “You   have   bills   to   pay,   doncha?   You push       the       paper.       I’ll       do       your architecting.   I’m   not   going   to   waste   my time      looking      at      any      four-engine design?” “Let      me      tell      you      about      the designer,” Rham said. “No.” Blain     began     to     rise     and     Rham waved his hand at him. “Sit. Shut up.” “Two   generations   of   Billings   have put     their     trust     in     me.     I     thought generation three did too.” “If   you   don’t   listen   for   two   minutes, Billings    Shipyard    will    learn    how    to move    forward    without    the    renowned Blain Addair.” The    scarecrow    of    a    man    leaned back   in   his   chair   crossing   his   arms.   His eyes     reminded     Rham     of     a     snake’s looking   for   the   best   place   to   strike,   but his    long    nose    loomed    more    vulture- like. “I   own   a   good   chunk   of   this   place. I’m not your lackey.” “Of   course   you   aren’t.   But   Kendra and     I     control     sixty     percent     of     the voting shares, and I have her support.” “With   your   parents’   votes.   I’ll   see they   won’t   go   along   with   this.   And   I’ll talk    sense    into    that    sister    of    yours, too.” Rham   looked   over   his   shoulder   and his    sister    rounded    the    corner.    She’d been waiting for the cue to join them. “Oh,    no.”    Blain    pointed    a    bony finger   at   Kendra   Billings.   “When   was the    last    time    you    even    looked    at    a design?      You’ve      been      running      the frontend    of    this    place    so    long    you couldn’t engineer a toilet seat.” Rham   smiled.   The   woman   walked behind    Blain,    set    her    hands    on    his shoulders    softly,    and    massaged    them slowly.   She   didn’t   say   anything   for   a   a full   minute.   The   man’s   head   lolled   and he     closed     his     eyes,     enjoying     the attention.   Kendra   moved   her   hands   up on his neck and he moaned. “Blain.   Darlin.   You’ve   always   been my sweet puddin.” “Oh,   mannnn,”   he   whined   without opening   his   eyes.   “I’m   dead   now,   aren’t I?” “We   are   such   a   good   team,”   Kendra said.    “Been    building    the    best    ships, retrofitting,   spending   twelve-hour   days together   for   three   decades.   Can’t   you sit     and     listen     to     your     young,     best friends    for    just    a    few    minutes.    Huh, sweetie pie? Please?” “Don’t    stop    doing    that,”    he    said, hitching   a   thumb   at   his   shoulder.   He didn’t    open    his    eyes.    “You    have    my attention for two minutes.” “The    woman    who    developed    the design     has     doctorates     in     physics, engineering,   and   math.   I   spoke   to   two of    her    college    thesis    advisors.    They both   said   the   same   thing.   The   woman’s peculiar, but a genius. “One       called       her       a       technical sociopath.     They     both     said,     ‘If     she designed    it,    it’ll    work.’    Say    they’ve never   known   anyone   who   understands it   all   from   theory   to   mechanics   like   she does. “I’ve    been    researching    the    papers she’s       published       the       last       fifteen years—those    that    aren’t    marked    top secret.    There’s    a    bunch.    Oh.    Should mention   she’s   only   in   her   thirties.   I’m pretty    bright.    But    I    can’t    even    figure out the titles of many of her papers.” “I       never       believed       you       were particularly    bright,”    Blain    mumbled, his chin practically on his chest. Kendra    squeezed    a    tendon    in    his neck and he smiled between a grimace. “Pookie,   sweety,   shush   and   listen. I’m convinced she’s for real.” “What    design    lab    she    work    for?” Blain asked. “No lab,” Rham said. “Where does she teach?” “She isn’t teaching.” Blain    looked    up,    one    eye    open. “What’s she doing?” “She’s      an      independent      pilot,” Rham answered. “Space   trash?   I   thought   you   were serious there for a moment.” “We are,” the two said together. “She’s     coming     to     meet     with     us Friday,”   Kendra   continued.   “We’d   like you to join us.” “Insane,” Blain snapped. He    started    to    stand    but    Kendra held   him   down.   He   squirmed,   but   she held fast. “Consider   what   it’d   mean   to   be   the engineering    firm    that    integrated    the first   quad-FTL-drive,”   Rham   said.   The rasp   in   his   voice   showed   the   effort   to stay patient wore thin. “The    first    to    blow    up    trying,    you mean.” “If    the    science    doesn’t    stand    up, we’ll     walk     away,     no     harm     done,” Kendra said. Blain’s   expression   softened   but   he shook    his    head.    Kendra    moved    her hands   from   his   shoulders   to   the   back of      his      head      and      continued      the massage.   He   moaned.   Rham   winked   at his sister. After    a    pause,    Blain    took    a    deep breath   and   blew   it   out   noisily.   “Friday, huh?   Not   a   lot   of   time.   I’ll   have   to   pull people     off     every     project     to     do     an evaluation    by    Friday.    We’re    talking delays.   No   harm,   huh?   You’ll   see   the harm    when    you    miss    your    incentive points.” “We’ll   absorb   it   in   the   schedules,” Rham said. “If not, it’s still worth it.” “You’re both crazy.” “It’s      just      a      meeting,”      Kendra purred. “The science doesn’t work.” “So far it has,” Rham said. “Indulge us?” Kendra asked. “I won’t be changing my mind.” Kendra        wrapped        her        hands teasingly around his throat. “Can’t I talk you out of this?” Rham shook his head. Blain    harrumphed.    “Let    me    go.    I gotta call people off real work.” ~ “H ey,   kid,”   Rham   snapped.   “Janitorial staff   uses   the   back   entrance.   And   you can’t   bring   your   dog   to   work   with   you.” He    whirled    around.    “Where    is     that woman?   Thirty   minutes   late.   Couldn’t she   call?   Got   thirteen   engineers   sitting in   a   conference   room   when   they   could be engaged on projects.” “Let   me   show   you—”   Kendra   told the   scraggly   waif   who   had   just   walked in.    Kendra    motioned    for    the    soiled, blue jumpsuit-clad tot to follow her. “I’m not—” Blain      walked      into      the      foyer shouting,   using   his   normal   expletives, but   punching   them   with   rare   emotion. “Where’s     that     freaking     moron     who thinks     she     knows     more     than     the combined     engineers     of     a     hundred labs?” “That    freaking    moron    would    be me,”    the    lad    Kendra    was    trying    to whisk away said. Her           white-muzzled           canine companion   sat   hard   with   a   grunt,   and leaned    against    the    tiny    woman’s    leg. The   Labrador   looked   up   at   her   with   big brown   eyes.   The   woman   looked   down and   smiled   at   the   hound,   and   gave   her a quick head scratch. The     three     engineers     froze     and gaped    at    the    queer    pair    in    front    of them.     The     woman—though     it     was fairly     impossible     to     tell     she     was female—wore   her   hair   as   though   it   was cut   by   a   meat   grinder.   Her   ten-year- old    overalls    were    threadbare    in    the knees   and   hips,   with   more   stains   than the average rag. It   appeared   she   even   had   a   smudge of    poly-silicate    on    her    cheek.    It    was impossible    to    determine    what    color her   deck   shoes   were   originally.   Chunks of   the   rubber   that   kept   the   top   glued   to the   sole   were   missing.   The   dog   was   the only    clean,    neat    looking    thing    about the pair. “Sorry   I’m   late.   Toni   Tegaris.”   She held out her hand to Kendra. Dr.     Tegaris?”    Kendra    asked,    her eyes    round.    She    stepped    forward    to take   the   woman’s   hand,   hesitating   as though    being    caught    in    a    practical joke. She looked out the front glass. “Prefer   Toni.   Get   tagged   as   captain, most.    Only    hear    doctor    when    I    get cornered      to      speak.”      The      woman winked.    “I    was    held    up.    Never    know how     long     it’ll     take     to     get     docking protocols.    The    port    was    backed    up. Thankfully    I    made    up    some    time    on the   flight   to   Houston.   I’ve   got   to   get back   to   Philadelphia   by   three.   I   know that doesn’t give us much time.” The    dog    struggled    to    stand.    The tiny   woman   helped   it   before   stepping forward    and    extending    her    hand    to Rham.    He    shook    it    without    saying anything.   He   realized   his   mouth   hung open   and   closed   it,   and   peered   over   at his sister. “Where   the   hell’s   the   rest   of   ya?” Blain demanded. “I   didn’t   bring   anyone   else,”   Toni said. “I   meant—”   He   waved   a   hand   from her    grimy    shoes    to    her    mussed    hair. “Shouldn’t   you   be   chaperoned   by   your parents?” Kendra’s    face    shaded    gray.    Rham closed   his   eyes   and   dropped   his   chin   to his chest. The    woman’s    face    turned    a    little icy,   but   she   looked   back   to   Rham   and Kendra.     “I’m     sorry     I     didn’t     get     a chance     to     clean     up     before     flying down.” As    they    had    studied    her,    Toni’s eyes   tracked   up   and   down   Kendra,   as though   memorizing   every   detail   so   she could   duplicate   the   image   on   a   canvas the    next    day.    She    rubbed    her    hands down   her   dirty   jumpsuit   as   though   she was trying to rub something icky off. “That’s    a    right    sharp    suit,    Mrs. Billings.   Wish   I   could   dress   like   that   in my    line    of    work.”    Toni    cleared    her throat.   “My   time   on-planet   is   a   little short.   I   was   helping   my   engineer   with an   issue   so   we   could   drop   out   of   FTL. Everything’s     always     an     emergency.” The    woman    gripped    a    clump    of    her clothes. “Ms.” “Excuse me?” Toni said. Ms .     Billings.     Rham     and     I     are brother and sister.” “Sure   and   fine,”   Blain   interrupted. “You   said   they   said   she   was   odd,   not   a freak.” “Blain!”      both      of      the      Billings shouted. “I   take   it   you’re   the   engineer   I   have to   convince   four   drives   are   possible,” Toni said. “You’re      not      going      to      do      any convincing   here.”   The   man   crossed   his arms   and   tilted   his   head   back.   His   lips were    drawn    together    as    though    he’d bitten into something rancid. “Since    you    went    to    school    when energy   meant   splitting   the   atom,   I   can see   the   leap   could   be   a   little   hard   for you.” The   old   man’s   face   turned   a   shade of plum. “Did   they   even   have   schools   back then?”    She    appeared    to    be    enjoying herself. “You snot.” The   short   little   woman   laughed.   “Is that the best you can do?” “You insolent—” “Blain,” Kendra hissed. “You   walk   in   here   looking   like   that and   expect   to   be   taken   seriously?   You don’t   even   look   competent   to   drive   a hover.” “Small    minds    are    always    closed,” she said. “I’m     reasonable     and     sane—four FTL drives is neither.” “So,    you    couldn’t    understand    my design.” “You    call    it    a    design.    I    call    it    an incomprehensible mishmash.” “Good     thing     you     don’t     have     to understand    it,    just    follow    schematics and put it in a frame.” “I’m   not   gonna   follow   any   design that   comes   from   a   flee-bitten,   midget- size, grease-monkey,” Blain shouted. “Enough,”   Rham   shouted   over   his chief   engineer.   He   pointed   at   Blain   as he   turned   to   face   their   guest.   “We’ve gotten   off   on   the   wrong   foot   here.”   He turned   back   to   Blain.   “I   think   you   need to   go   to   the   docks   and   check   how   your project is coming along.” The   engineer   glared   at   Rham   a   very long    moment    before    walking    away. They   all   watched   him   until   he   passed through   a   door   and   slammed   it   closed behind him. Toni    chortled.    Rham    and    Kendra looked at her blankly. “Molly.    Get    back    here.”    The    old Labrador   stiffly   limped   her   way   back from   the   office   she   was   investigating. She       looked       up       at       her       human indignantly. “This   began   a   lot   like   I   expected,” Toni   said.   Her   grin   changed   her   face. She   actually   had   very   pretty   features. Rham   tried   to   picture   her   cleaned   up. It was impossible. “I   only   have   hours   to   answer   your questions. Wanna get started?” Rham       looked       at       his       sister, wondering    if    it    was    wise    to    let    their engineers    meet    her.    The    two    had    to jump   to   catch   up   with   the   woman,   who sped   past   them   for   the   group   of   faces peering   from   a   conference   room   door down the hall. “You    waiting    to    hear    about    the Kory   Mae?”   Rham   heard   her   shout   to the group. The       excited       geeks       answered affirmatively,   and   she   plowed   into   the swarm    of    scientists    who    rattled    off questions      over      each      other.      She answered    non-stop    as    she    worked    to network   her   computer   with   the   three twenty-foot    plas-sheets    that    covered the      conference      room      walls.      She displayed    portions    of    her    design    on each     and     moved     back     and     forth between    them    and    animation-boards to    demonstrate    concepts    with    simple drawings      that      had      the      engineers bellowing    with    satisfied    ahhhs,     and shouting back follow-up questions. Rham   and   Kendra   stood   in   the   hall looking    in,    a    little    dumbfounded    at how   differently   the   younger   engineers responded   to   the   strange   looking   space captain. “This   is   gonna   be   a   coup,”   Rham said   softly   to   his   sister,   trying   to   follow Toni’s current recitation. Kendra     bit     her     lip.     “If     we     live through it.” © R. Mac Wheeler 2017
R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author