Lift Ships (tm) a short story of possibilities: Copyright(c) bf, 2019, All Rights Reserved.

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We had time for one more hand before getting back to work. I slowly checked the dealer and ran my gaze 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 sign of a bluff.

The edge of the Moon appeared in the porthole on my right; it's white light eerily bathing the table, highlighting the red hair on my arms.

A grey shape appeared in my peripheral vision as we came about, the light from the porthole now brightly shimmering the blue, white, and gold from the Earth passing below.

The grey shape resolved itself into my crew-mate, Jack, who growled as he 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, Jack exclaimed

"Capt'n says time prepare descent...NOW!"

"Hey! You son of a female dog! I was winning."

Jack snarled "Capt'n says NOW!"

"Stop try be Human!"

"Go Work Now!"

"You big ape not Gam' r."

Tang thought to himself: They should never have given dogs the ability to talk.

Now, these dumb-ass 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.

Gathering himself up, Tang spoke "Who needs to listen to a dog anyhow!

It's not as if Jack could pull rank; they were both lowly swabbies on the same ship.

Tang calmed himself down, reminding Jack that he had more important things to do.

"Well as soon as we dock at the Niland port,

I'll grab the shuttle and head out to Vegas for some real money

and you'll be stuck wandering around the desert"

Tang reached up with his great hairy arm and pulled the lever to turn

off the holograms and started stowing the cards and chips.

"K, Sure, win against the shiny lights, not same as reals." Jack taunted,

"If you had shirt, would lose it."

Well, Jack had a point, but only about the shirt.

Tang always wore overalls with a hammer, a screwdriver, and adjustable spanner in his pockets.

These were, of course, the only tools an intellectual needs.

His bright red fur negated the need for a shirt.

##

The speaker tube barked: "Look sharp!

We have to pick up that boost crew before breaking orbit."

Tang looked out the port window and saw another Hin2LiftShip laboring to break free of Earth's gravity.

The rising Hin2LiftShip's balloon appeared completed deflated, as the hydrogen fuel,

now spent after the rocket boost, gave up its last gasp.

Winches were slowly converting it to a LightSail configuration.

The balloon was stretched into a classic lateen rigging, giving it the appearance of a fat slow-moving dhow trader.

The critical switch from rocket to LightSail is the bane of all crew members.

Not enough speed and the ship could fail to reach a stable orbit, resulting in a catastrophic descent.

Even with a successful emergency re-configuration of the balloon to a descent parachute, a failed launch results in additional expenses and, worse, an embarrassment for the crew for years.

A lucky ship would catch some upwelling gravity waves to push it up, an unlucky group, no waves or worse.

Every meter the ship rose above the Earth its apparent weight decreases,

it might seem insignificant, but these little bits count.

In any case, there was a limit as to how far a ship could rise on Hydrogen gas alone.

Once the sail was taut and ready to go, it was time for the team of boosters to transfer over.

The Hin2LiftShips drew close, and when they were about 100 meters apart, the boost crew began its jump.

Tang could see the Boost Crew rising free from the ship and letting their earned momentum carry them forward.

He released the spring-loaded cargo net toward the Boost Crew to shorten up the distance they would have to float free.

The 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, Hin2LiftShip captains do not like sources of

fire around their Hydrogen infused sail.

The Boost Crew started as a chain of beads as per booster protocol.

They floated toward the net, but soon it was apparent that something was not quite right.

A standard pick-up has the team spaced evenly out from the center in a smooth half-circle to optimize the chance of grabbing the net, but this group was a wad of spacesuits.

The two ends of the half-circle were stuck together, squirming like a lost child.

Tang, always the intellectual thought:

"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."

Tang: "Hey, Jack, take a look at the Boost Crew...the count looks wrong...."

Jack: "Count looks 'K to me."

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 boost crew's work or result in loss of life.

No Hin2LiftShip has been known to purposely leave a BoostCrew drifting because of a bad jump, but they might try to charge for maneuvering to catch them.

Tang "Can't you count?...there are thirteen, not twelve."

Jack: "let see...1: 1,2,3,4

2: 1,2,3,4

3: 1,2,3,4

4: 1...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 numbers as large as 20, even 21 at a time.

Humans can understand 10 numbers at once, on the same good day.

Jack: "Me not moron, me trace me bloodlines to 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 Shepherd,

not Austrian..and Rin Tin Tin was a German Shepherd, and from France, 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: "What you know! Trees need us, without dogs, they not as big and strong.

Anyhow, Capt'n taking me to Redwoods, and me be there to make them happy!

Next time we come back, me get me special bonus, a tree friend!"

Tang had nothing to say about that, but it did sound a little strange, and probably smelly.

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 ten canines, but who or what was # 13?

Jack: "Maybe no catch net. Why bunch up?"

It was apparent, even to a dog with little forward-facing perspective, that the wad of Boosters was 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.

Jack spoke up: "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 center crew member started spinning a hook, deftly tossed it and caught the net.

The Boost Crew swung around as slack was taken out of the line.

In a risky move, two of the crew members 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 we had a hard time getting everyone suited up and ready to go."

Jack announced through the speaker tube:

"All Boost Crew aboard."

"We clear, can go Capt’n."

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, quickly tried to change the subject:

"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 out 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" under his breath (and if you touch anything, I'll wring your Chimpy necks)."

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 and gazed at him with her deep blue eyes.

Jack's nose twitched and he 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 he 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 his 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 send 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 Dogarrito, would you?"

Jack gave him a dirty look and turned away.

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..me....if you like, me 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...’k..." 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!

"Don't forget to mind your doggers!"

Jack growled to himself, "Stupid ape,' nough with dog-wordies !"

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 learn enough to earn a berth on a Hin2LiftShip 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 Hin2LiftShip to safe harbor.

The glowing prow of the Hin2LiftShip cut through the dark as it made its long sweeping approach to the Niland harbor, highlighted by Luna over the mainmast and the Earth below.

Outbound from the belt, they carried a full load of asteroid-smoked 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 Hin2LiftShip 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 Hin2LiftShip was getting ready to deploy its solar sail as a steerable parachute.

The Captain barked orders through speaker tube as Jack and Tang approached their work stations.

Jack ran down to the port rigging ramp and attached the ratchet to his control of the main-sheet, ready for more orders. Tang sat down at his station on the starboard, braced his feet against the wall and pulled up the tension on his ropes.

Banking hard to starboard released the 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 jumped from his station and ran down to the mast core.

He had only a few minutes to re-configure the sail, attaching lines to each of the connection points at the ends of the sail.

Lines terminated at the control room where the Captain and First Mate turned and twisted them to steer the Ship toward the landing area once the parachute was released.

The Ship started falling, stone-like through the atmosphere, molecules became denser, 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 directly to salt storage blocks, glowing red hot as they melted.

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 black and red Ship descended to around 40km (25 miles) above the surface blowing Hydrogen and superheated air out the rocket nozzles to shed speed.

The ship was now falling slow enough to deploy the parachute.

A quick command, a hard pull on a handle and the ship jerked as the parachute caught the thin air.

The captain and first mate, carefully steered the ship to the concrete runway in Niland, extended the landing gear and rolled to a stop.

Once on the ground, any excess heat was extracted and sold to the electric grid, as part of the ship bonus: every extra penny helps.

A successful journey, in every respect; materials offloaded for sale, boost crew safely on the ground, Tang off to catch the next shuttle and Jack going for a grooming to wait for his date.