Saturday, November 16, 2013

Working the Rails

The following is a work of fiction. The characters are fictional.  Any resemblance of characters to real people is a mere coincidence and unintentional.

Somewhere in solar orbit between Mars and the Asteroid belt, Nick and Jack work on Deep Space Station 1.  Shaped like a helix, or a spring, this particular station was an ore processing plant with its own artificial gravity accomplished by centrifugal force, that is, spinning.  Nick and Jack each operated a hefty robotic arm (RA) to capture incoming spacecraft and pass them on to Berthing Robotic Arms (BRAs) to be berthed on the outer side of the station to any number of ports.

"Did you catch the game?" said Nick as he looked up from his cupola on his side of the space station to Jack's cupola on the other side.  Between them spanned a truss and rails which their RA's rode on.

"Yeah, Seahawks won. You owe me $100," came Jack's voice over the intercom.

Nick had an automated cargo ship on his RA, and he was commanding it to roll towards his side.  Jack's RA was rolling towards the middle to capture the next one.

"Wait a minute, the bet wasn't who won or loss.  It was if Johnson scored touchdowns. You dope." Nick's temper was showing, like it always does.

"Sure he did.  You still owe me $100."  Jack started focusing on his monitors and lining up the capture target for an ore filled ship.

"Damn it.  How many did he score?" Nick's RA came to the end of the track right next to his cupola.

"Enough."  Jack secured the ore ship and started to orient it so it hanged toward him.

"Enough, what does that mean?  I need a number.  You...."

"Quit the chatter, ladies," said a middle aged female voice they both recognized as Victoria, their super.  "Nick, are you going to pass on that ship or keep it till Christmas and give it to me all wrapped up?"

"At ease, disease.  I got it."  Nick manned his controls again and passed the cargo ship to and outer robotic arm that would find a berthing port for it.

"Now boys, work nicely."

"But he started it claiming I owe him $100....." Nick complained.

"I don't want to hear it, Nick.  You two work nicely or I'll put one of you on disposable cargo duty. Got it!"

"Yes, ma'am," both workers said in unison as if they got caught red handed with their hands in the cookie jar.

"Good.  Now a passenger capsule is coming.  This is a VIP ship.  I expect you both to behave in a professional and respectful manner. V out."

Nick, Jack, and their RAs went back to work.  For a while things ran smoothly.  The cargo ships were pulling up to their position, and the RAs was grabbing them.  The arms rolled down to their respective sides, and made the passes to the BRAs.

Suddenly, Nick gets a message on one of his many monitor screens: - You still owe me $100. -

Nick's temper started to rise again.  Yet, he took some deep breaths and came up with a plan to nip this in the butt.

- Double or nothing - , he messaged.

- OK.  What do you propose? -

- The first who gets to the capsule wins -

- OK. I'm game. -

Nick patted himself on the back for his ingenuity and cunning.  He focused at the task at hand.  His work rhythm got faster and faster.  Jack, seeing that nick picked up the pace, didn't want to fall back.  He picked his pace up as well.  In no time, the line of the waiting cargo ships dwindled to a couple of ships.  Then the news broke: the capsule was coming into position to be picked up.

Soon, Nick was handing off his last cargo ship to a BRA.

"Com'on, com'on you stupid BRA.  Hand-off already." He looked up at Jack's side.  He too was handing off his last ship.  The BRA clasp onto the Nick's ship and he unclasp as fast as he could, and rushed his RA screaming down the track.

"Get that ball! Yeah!" Nick yelled at his RA knowing full well that neither his voice would reach it nor it would know what to do with the message, stupid RAs.  To his surprise and his demise, Nick saw Jack's RA was screaming down its track as well.  Both arms seemed like they were on a collision course.

"Com'on, com'on.  Get a finger on it."  Nick knew RAs didn't have fingers, but he was caught up in the game.

The capsule parked itself in position to be captured by the station.  The commander inside saw a strange sight.  Two RAs were coming toward him at either side at a tremendous speed.  Before he could contact station control, his ship rattled and banged startling not only him but his 10 VIP passengers as well.  He looked outside and he couldn't believe it, the two RAs had latched on and were trying to pull the ship both ways.  This was highly unusual.

"He's mine. Let go."  Nick struggled with his controls.

"No, he's mine."

"Cease and desist!" Victoria's voice came over the com.  It was so loud that pierced Nick's and Jack's brains and they froze.  "Nick, let go of the ship."

"But I had it. I got their first." His whining resembled that of a boy who lost the ball to the other team.

"Nick, the capsule is to be berthed on Jack's side.  Jack pass it on and then both of you are relieved.  You are to report to my office.  That commander of the capsule is agitated and wants to pull your heads off personally. V out."

Nick obliged his supervisor and released the capsule.  Jack transferred it over the the BRA and passed it on.

Nick was gathering his things in his cupola when he got another message.

- You owe me $200 -

He just stuck his tongue out at the monitor and left.