Lift Ships (tm) a short story of possibilities: Copyright(c) bf, 2019, All Rights Reserved.
We had time for one more hand before getting back to work.
I slowly checked the dealer and ran my glance across the table.
To my left, Jorge scowled; he had, at best, a queens-high pair,
Ginny had her hat pulled low over her eyes, the ostrich feather
waving gently in the air, a sure bluff.
The edge of the Moon appeared in the right porthole;
it's white light eerily bathing the table, highlighting the red hair on my arms.
A grey blur appeared in my peripheral vision as we came about.
The porthole now brightly shimmering blue, white, and gold from the Earth passing below.
<Card Game blow up>
GreyBlur growled as it flew through the air, bounced off the bulkhead
and slammed into Jorge, shattering his image, hitting the table,
and sending chips and cards into the air.
As he spun around and floated away, Mr. GreyBlur growled
"Capt'n says time to 'ring er about...NOW!"
"Hey! you son of a female dog!" I was winning.
GreyBlur snarled "Capt'n says NOW!"
"Stop try be Human!"
"Go Work Now!"
"You big ape not Gam'r."
<Card Game Over>
Tang thought to himself, "They never should have given dogs the ability to talk.
Now these dumb canines think that they control us primates with their teether-than-thou attitude.
Leave it to human scientists to meddle where they should leave well enough alone.
Who needs to listen to a dog anyhow!"
"Darn. And I was winning..." Oh well, as soon as we dock at the Niland port,
I'll grab the shuttle and head out to Vegas for some real money.
Tang reached up with his great hairy arm and hit the switch to turn
off the holograms and started stowing the cards and chips.
"K, Sure, win against the shiny lights, not same as reals."
"If you had shirt, would lose it."
Well, GreyBlur had a point, Tang wore overalls and carried the only tools an intellectual needed:
A hammer, a screwdriver, and adjustable spanner. His bright red fur negated the need for a shirt.
<Boost Crew Compressor>
Boost Crews transition the LiftShip balloon to the O2/H2 engine.
The Boost Crew assemble on the compression treadmills and run to the sky,
compressing the Hydrogen and pumping it into the jet nozzles.
Oxygen fed into the tubes, and boom-wacka-boom, ignited, launching the
LiftShip into a low, unstable orbit.
If done correctly, the Liftship will be high enough to catch the solar wind,
if not, a slow Hinderberg descent.
The compressor, driven by Canines on infinite belt tracks,
feed Hydrogen to the two engines.
At around 18 miles above the Earth, the boost crew gets to work compressing
the gas and turning the balloon into a solar sail.
It has taken years of trial and error to find the best
combination of weight, crew, and design in the turn-over phrase to ensure successful launches.
The latest design of the fabric does not burst in low or no pressure situations,
but hovering around waiting is never profitable for a cargo ship.
< High-Speed Pumps vs. Dogs>
The propensity of Hydrogen to saturate all equipment and catch fire with just a
little added Oxygen, a spark or extreme heat did not heed well for the early travelers.
The early LiftShip designs utilized highspeed explosion-proof electric pumps.
These worked up to a point, but even with the spark generating sections isolated,
they could overheat and ignite any free hydrogen.
Switching to peristaltic pumps in isolated boxes helped,
but they could never push the volume of gas as fast as electric pumps.
With the advent of non-human crews and increased communication between the mammals,
most Lift Ships switched to the Boost Canine Teams (BCT) to run the compressors.
The BCTs are picked up after launch and hitch a return ride on any one of the incoming Lift Ships.
For many canines, it has become the preferred apprenticeship before becoming full
crew members on out-going ships. In any case, the pay is based on the risk and is not just kibbles.
It became apparent that jumping ship to ship required crew members with opposable thumbs as catchers, and the name changed to BCTM.
Each team of 12 have 2 simian assistants to handle the transfer from Ship to ship.
They may help a little on the launch but are often considered
the lowest of the low in the pecking order.
<Boost Crew Jump>
The Speaker Tube barked: "Look Sharp!
It looks like we have to pick up the boost crew before breaking orbit."
A team of twelve boosters is ready to transfer over.
Tang could see the Boost Crew jumping from the upcoming
LiftShip strung out like a chain of beads.
They floated toward us, but something was not quite right.
A standard pick-up has the team spaced evenly out from the
center in a smooth half-circle, but this one was a wad of spacesuits.
The two ends of the half-circle were stuck together,
squirming like a lost child. This could not be good for energy conservation or travel.
Oh well, better extend the catch net a little farther this time,
if the Captain has to change his descent angle or speed, there will be hell to pay.
<Boost Crew Too many>
Tang: "Take a look at the Boost Crew...the count looks wrong...."
Jack: "Count looks 'K to me."
The standard jump from Ship to ship is timed to use as few resources as possible.
The ships pass close enough to allow transit without rocket packs.
For some reason, LiftShip captains do not like other sources of
fire around their Hydrogen infused sail.
BoostCrews have their air supply, but due to weight constraints,
it is minimal at best. The BoostCrew master charges them for every
cubic milliliter of Oxygen used in transit.
A poorly timed jump could eat up all the profit from the lift or
result in loss of life. No LiftShip has been known to purposely leave
a BoostCrew drifting because of a bad jump, but they might incur
a charge for maneuvering to catch them.
Tang "Can't you count?...there are thirteen, not twelve."
Jack: "let see...1,2,3,4: 2, 2, 3,4: 3,2,3,4: 4...maybe one too many?"
Tang: "Yes, you base-4 counting moron...13, not twelve..."
Dogs can't count past 4 (5 on a good day) At least we simians
can handle big numbers, 20/21 at a time.
Even humans can understand 10 numbers at once, on the same good day.
Jack: "Me not moron, me trace me bloodlines to the famous
Austrian-shepherd actor 'rinytin-tin,' while you are just a poorly evolved humee."
Tang: "I rest my case..By the way, you are an Australian Shepard,
not Austrian..and Rin Tin Tin was a German Shepard and a girl, to boot!"
Jack: "Don't care; at least me proud me background. Not a humee wanna-to-be!"
"Hey Monkee....just 'cause you win against light bulbs not same as humees.
Me bet lose overalls when playing for real."
Tang: "You're just jealous because you have no thumbs.
I'll do better in Vegas then you will by peeing on trees."
Jack: "Hey...trees need us, without dogs, not as big and strong.
Anyhow, Capt'n taking me to Redwoods, and I be there to make them happy!
Next time we come back, I get my growth bonus!"
<Boost Crew Capture>
Jack ran down to the port rigging ramp and attached a ratchet to his control
spot for the mainsheet, ready to for the Captain's order.
Tang sat down at his station on the starboard, braced his feet
against the wall and pulled up the tension on his line.
Banking hard to the starboard slowed the Ship as the Boost Crew closed in on the net.
The usual BoostCrew was 12: 2 simians and 10 canines, but who or what was # 13?
Jack: "Maybe not catch net, why bunch up?"
It was apparent, even to a dog with little forward-facing perspective,
that the wad of Boosters were not able to grab the net.
The two simian catchers had somehow swung around were hugging each other
rather than floating free at the end of the chain.
"Hope they can grapple hook net!"
Jack, even though he tried to appear tough, had an obvious soft spot for other canines, or maybe he was just lonely with no others like him on the Ship.
Tang could always use the grappling cannon to reel in the group, but that meant wasting gas and could have an unfortunate side effect of skewering a Boost Crew or two.
The 13th crew member in the center started spinning a hook, deftly tossed it and caught the net.
The Boost Crew swung around as slack was taking out of the line.
In a risky move, the two crew members next to Crew # 13 opened up their air lines
to slow down their approach. Even with the reverse thrust assist,
Tang heard them hit, hard, against the bulkhead. "That has got to hurt!"
It took a minute for the Boost Crew to scramble up the net and into the airlock,
bruised, but able to function.
The Boost Crew was aboard and slowly untangled their transit lines.
The 13th member removed her helmet and immediately apologized for the timing error:
"Sorry, this is a training crew...we should have notified you earlier,
but had a hard time getting everyone suited up and ready to go."
<Boost Crew Presents>
Jack announced through the speaker tube: "All Boost Crew aboard."
"We clear to go."
The Captain came down to see what was going on:
"Damm..we almost lost our descent window.
You should have signified your status before you started."
The BoostCrew Manager, looking thoroughly chastened and trying to quickly change the subject, spoke:
"But I forgot my manners: Captain, on behalf of our Boost Crew,
please accept our crew and allow us our return to Earth.
We want to honor you with this small token of our appreciation"
as she handed the Captain the expected gift of a basket of fresh fruit and a gold coin.
Captain: "Yes...well...My Ship is your ship....you are welcome aboard; my air is your air."
"I'll be back on the con, have a lot to do before landing."
Looking at Tang and Jack: "Keep on your toes, no slip-ups,
and get this Boost Crew balanced and out of the way."
The Boost Crew master turned looked at the gibbering simian pair."
You two, where are your 'monkers' give your host his gift!"
The two chimps slowly released their hold on each other
and tried to remember the greeting "We honor our Simian history,
please accept us and allow us to return to Earth on your fine Ship.
We are pleased to present this small token of our appreciation."
They reached inside of their suits and pulled put a banana and apple,
each carefully wrapped in gold foil.
Tang: "My station is your station, my air is your air.
I accept the gift on behalf of all Simians" then under his breath
"(and if you touch anything, I'll wring your Chimpy necks)."
<Pack Leader gift>
Jack all but started drooling thinking about his boarding gift.
Kibbles? Bones? Piggy Ears? Cheese? The options were endless after months of travel on the Ship.
The pack leader turned toward jack after removing her helmet and gazed at him with her deep blue eyes.
Jack could readily determine that she was a beautiful, full-featured female Malamute.
She looked at Jack and cocked her ear. Jack looked at her beautiful malamuty fur and simply melted.
He barely heard her say "For our sweet, brave canine rescuer,
please accept us and allow us to return to Earth. We offer this small token of our appreciation."
Jack could smell the sincerity of the response and a few other things that could not be mentioned, but he could readily tell that she was intact and happy to see him.
He stammered: "Me...me...house is your house, er..ship...Me air is your air. Me accept crew and gift."
The gold-wrapped bone she had presented floated away from his mouth
as tried to both grab the treat and speak the acceptance speech
while looking into her pale blue eyes, his stumpy-tail slowly wagging.
"My name is Jack."
"Mine is EllGe."
"Nice name, where it come from?"
"My Poppy always called me Little Girl."
"Not too little now, I have to say."
"Sweet." "Maybe we meet on shore later?"
"Well, I'm pretty busy training these BoostCrews, but I know a great place
with Kibble and Cheese burritos in the Centro."
"Yes, yes, we meet there!"
"Good, I give you a date and directions."
Tang: "Don't forget your trip to pee on the Redwoods,
you won't want to miss that for a Dogrrito, would you?"
Jack gave him a dirty look and turned away.
<Boost crew talking>
The acceptance formalities were over.
The simians started gibbering away, hugging each other in fear and relief.
Some of the younger BoostCrew canines were trembling and quietly whining,
only adding to the Chaos and odors in the transit area.
Jack couldn't help but notice the distinct odor of dogarrhea emanating
from some of the suits; there may have been a few accidents on the way over.
Jack stammered: "I....if you like, I show you me station during descent and show what ship can do."
EllGe: "Why, yes, that would be nice...but I need to tend to my charges."
She paused, "but my pupson is here, and he will be glad to visit with you."
Jack: "Oh..grumph...ok..." as his stumpy tail slowly stopped wagging.
Tang: "Now don't lock the door on your guest room, we may need to keep an eye on you!
Captain: "Ok, enough of the chit chat. Prepare for descent. Bring in the sails before we melt them!"
The crew jumped to the stations.
EllGe, quietly to her son: "Please pay attention, you may want to become LiftShip crew in the future."
Jack headed to his station with the pup tagging along.
Tang, headed out to his work area, glad to get away from the crowd without any monkey attachments.
The next job was the most critical one, slowing the descent and bringing the LiftShip to safe harbor.
The glowing prow of the LiftShip cut through the dark as it made its long sweeping
approach to the Niland harbor, highlighted by Luna over the mainmast and Earth below.
Outbound from the belt, they carried a full load of live salmon, industrial diamonds,
refined platinum, and silicon-Bio chips.
The crew was ready for a well-earned shore leave before taking on new cargo.
The LiftShip was a standard belt/Mars/Earth transport vessel,
with an upswept bow, rounded bottom, and oval stern,
covered with a midnight black heat resistant skin, 100' from stem to stern,
50' beam and 50' to the top of the deck. Looking nothing more than a black teardrop
hurtling through the sky.
Rounding the last incoming buoy, the LiftShip was ready to deploy its solar sail as a steerable parachute.
<Sails and heat>
The Captain barked orders through speaker tube as Jack and Tang headed for their work stations.
Jack ran down to the port rigging ramp and attached the ratchet to his control of the mainsheet,
ready for the order. Tang sat down at his station on the starboard, braced his feet against the wall and pulled up the tension on the mainsheet.
Banking hard to starboard released force of the solar wind on the sail simultaneously
with the order to haul in the sail.
Tang started his hand winch, and Jack released to catch on the hamster wheel.
With coordinated movements, the sail slowly returned to its storage in the mainmast.
Tang had a few minutes to re-configure the sail, attaching lines to each of the
connection points at the ends of the sail.
The Ship started falling, stone-like through the atmosphere, molecules became thicker,
friction stronger and heat began building up on the hull.
Tang opened up the intake ports and deployed the radiators to capture the inflamed
air from the skin to salt storage blocks, glowing red hot as they melted.
Once on the ground, the heat is extracted and sold to the electric grid,
as part of the ship bonus: every extra penny counts.
The Captain brought the prow of the Ship up with a quick release of stored Hydrogen
and heat carefully directed thru the boost nozzles from the recently charged salt blocks.
The sky lit up as the Ship dropped into the lower atmosphere.
The glowing red Ship descended to around 40km (25 miles) above the surface and
Tang flipped to switch to the third configuration.
The sail was let out through mainmast, caught the thin air,
slowly opened up as a steerable parachute.
Lines terminated at the control room where the Captain and First Mate turned
and twisted them to steer the Ship toward the landing area.
<Lift space port>
There are a few ideal launch points, and none meet all the criteria:
1) The distance to space is thin (North and South poles)
2) Air is stable (Deserts)
3) Readily accessible water (not Deserts)
4) Lots of cheap energy and close to transport centers.
Based on these factors: The need for stable air, cheap solar power, few thunderstorms, and available water (from the Salton Sea),
the Niland launch facility has proven to be one of the more reliable lift ports.
Niland, in the California desert, is hot in the winter and hotter in the summer, with virtually no rain and rarely a thunderstorm. The spur from the high-speed rail system serving the Port of Los Angeles and Las Vegas to the east ensures rapid transport to the rest of the country and world.