by Harry Turtledove
Call me Milvil. It is not my name, but it will serve. And let me begin my tale with my tail, and the rest of me, in a boat bound for Faraway Island. The wind, at our backs, filled the sail and made the canvas thrum. So also my thoughts thrummed with excitement and the hope of gain, for from Faraway Town I purposed putting to sea to hunt and try the great monsters that dwell subaqueously.
When I turned my head into the wind to survey the other passengers, a tiny bit of grit—or maybe it was smoke from an old fellow’s pipe—made my eye sting. My nictitating membrane flicked across it, wiping away whatever the trouble was. Would that all my woes might so easily be swept away!
I wondered who among those aboard the neat little cutter with me might also intend to go over the wide sea in a greater ship. I at once dismissed the old chap with the pipe. His snout was wattled with fat; the feathers on his head and down his spine hung pale and limp with age. Seeing him, in fact, induced in me a strange kind of terror, as if he were a vision of what cruel time would one day work on me if by some strange chance the line of my existence should stretch as long as his.
No, not for him plying an oar in a swift mossy boat. Not for him standing in the bow, fingerclaws digging into the hardwood shaft of a harpoon ere letting fly. He might be one who profited from oil and meat, but never would he earn his profits in terror and exultation.
Nor would the three females, who might have been sailcloth weavers or might equally have danced for the entertainment of seafarers. They would not put to sea. Ships full of hunters are better off without the confusion and quarrels rutting hatches.
But there were also a couple of young fools like myself who might have aimed to test their luck that way. How many such burst from the egg every day? Enough to keep the mossy ships never short of crews, enough to carry blunderbusses and muskets and fight the brownskins in the distant West, enough to hunt drosaws and hornfaces and even savage rannos on the plains there, enough for every sort of savage stupidity under the sun. By the gods, I should know.
A lovely bit of steering let us glide into Faraway Town’s neat little harbor. There’s not another harbor in the world that smells like Faraway Town’s. Oil, meat, curing hides . . . Gulls and ramphies circled over the moored ships, screeching, on the hunt for scraps or even for fish if they had to stoop so low. Some perched on the spars. You’ll never see fatter terries or birds than you will at Faraway Town. There’s so much to eat there, people don’t even begrudge them their thievery—or not so very much, anyhow.
When I disembarked, I made for the finer lodging houses, the ones set farther back from the water, to escape as best I could at least some small portion of that pungent, persistent aroma. One landlord after another turned me away. “We’re so full up, we couldn’t squeeze in even a mammal,” a fat fellow with a patch covering an empty eye-socket told me.
My guess was that he’d put to sea once too often and come back to Faraway Island after his mutilation. Be that as it may, I didn’t care to have him liken me to a nasty, hairy little nighttime skulker. “I dare say you will already guest a great plenty of them,” I said and took myself elsewhere.
“Now see here! What’s that supposed to mean?” he called after me, but he was talking only to the tip of my tail.
I worked my way through the better establishments, pausing once for fried cod and once for a beaker or two of something refreshing. By then, the sun was sinking toward the horizon. As twilight began to deepen, I found myself back by the seaside. The smell was still there, but by then, through familiarity, I began to notice it rather less. At any rate, I told myself I began to notice it rather less.
By the look of it, there were mammals aplenty prowling at the dive that called itself the Plessy’s Flipper. By then, I’d gone through the better places in Faraway Town. Unless I cared to sleep in the street like someone who’d downed a great many beakers indeed, I could not afford to turn up my snout at whatever shelter I might find.
“Aye, I can give you a place to doss,” said the chap who also served the drinks and immolated the meat and fish and shellfish. “I can if you don’t mind taking only half a bed, anyhow.”
“Half a bite’s better than empty,” I said, and so the bargain was made.
He handed me a little oil lamp whose wick, once lit, smelled as vile as if its essential fuel had been rendered from the fat carcass of some mammal whose habits were even fouler than those of most of that foul breed. The faint, flickering flame was all that lit my way up the stairs and along a winding corridor until at last I found the room with the verdigrised brass number 27 on the door.
I wondered whether the key he’d also reluctantly doled out would fit in the lock, which seemed as much suffused in antiquity as the numbers near it. Rather to my surprise, it did, and with a loud click the door came open.
Another lamp, even more odoriferous than the one I held, guttered toward extinction on a stand beside the bed. Anyone who can whilst sleeping in an establishment like the Plessy’s Flipper will make a light to keep creeping mammals and other crawling vermin from scuttling over him in darkness. There are places where one would not have to worry about such things, but that inn, alas!, was not among them.
Someone wrapped in all the blankets suddenly ceased snoring; the click of the lock must have awakened him. He stuck out his head and peered curiously in my direction. My own curiosity was likewise excited. His scales were the pale green—almost yellow—of the folk who hatch in the various southern islands of the Peaceful Ocean.
“Sorry to disturb you,” I told him. “The landlord sold me half your bed for the night.”
“Ah. Him do that?” My to-be-bedfellow spoke our language poorly at best. He did, however, seem friendly. “Well, you come on, then. Me have name Geekgeek. What you have name? Not like to sleep by someone me not know name to.”
I told him what to call me. With the rude simplicity of the savage, he seemed satisfied: so satisfied, indeed, that with my requesting it he divested himself of half the bedclothes and vouchsafed them to me. As it was growing chilly—Faraway Island, full of fogs and mists, is seldom warm during daylight, much less by night—I was glad enough to have the covers, even if they smelled powerfully of Geekgeek, and perhaps also of some indefinite but large number of previous occupants of the bed.
As I was lying down, Geekgeek asked me, “You go on mossy ship?”
“I was looking to, yes,” I said. “I’ve never done it before. I’ve been to sea, on ordinary traders, but never like that.”
by C. Stuart Hardwick
Hubble hadn’t yet crossed the terminator, and each time it came around, Kylie squinted against the sunlight flaring through the shadowed cabin. She tapped the stick to arrest their approach and pushed off to gawk at the window.
Here it finally was—in the flesh so to speak. A century ago, its namesake had toiled in solitude high atop Mount Wilson, but this Hubble had toiled in space—and for far too long without the company of mankind. As she watched, the mirrored cylinder slowly tumbled against the broad black mass of the nighttime Earth, one of the solar arrays splintered and folded back like a broken wing.
She drifted over beneath the window. “What do you think?”
Astronaut Orlando Taylor was mission commander. He’d once been in NASA’s stable and had even worked up procedures on the old Hubble mockup in their Neutral Buoyancy Lab. Now he was Astro-repairman Taylor, and the fate of the new rough and ready space business model—a model in which simulation and improvisation took the place of more traditional overtraining—lay uneasily in his hands.
“I don’t know,” he said. “The damage is obstructing the grapples, and that gyration will make it damn near impossible to line up on the capture rig.”
Kylie peeped out, then turned away as the sunlight flared. “Cal’s kinematics software can fly an r-bar approach. We’ll just have to go in fast.”
“That fast and we might break something.”
“There’s more than a little broke already.”
“I mean something we need to get home. And the docking mechanism isn’t meant to take those kind of loads.”
Kiley turned to Orlando. He hated this, she knew. The conservative, control-every-variable approach he’d been taught had definite merits, but making money wasn’t one of them. “Have faith, O.J. Cal won’t let us break anything vital.”
Orlando snorted and pushed his bushy eyebrows north. “I hope you’re right.”
* * *
Hubble had served admirably for over three decades, but that had been with four visits by shuttle crews to clean the windshield and change the oil. Now the shuttles were in museums and Hubble was adrift. When it fell silent, it already had crippled gyros and a good case of radiation rot. When NASA determined it was tumbling, that was all she wrote.
It was too big, though, and its two-ton primary mirror too durable, to simply be abandoned in orbit. One day soon it would come down, and if not steered out over the ocean, it might well manage to kill someone. That’s why the last repair mission had installed a soft capture rig that could mate to a standard docking collar. It’s why NASA had approved a private robotic mission to boost Hubble into a higher orbit planned as a salvage yard. And it’s why, when that mission failed and the new interferometric telescope array at Magdalena Ridge came on line, NASA paid to have Hubble imaged in minute detail to find out what had gone wrong.
Dean and Kylie had been there that day, ostensibly providing commentary on the facility’s new Apollo landing site imagery—a little telescopic throat clearing to rouse media interest in the new facility’s abilities and garner social media eyeballs by pissing off the Moon hoax nuts. But it was Hubble that Dean had come for, and a plan woven from hope and coincidence that could save it from either ignominy or inferno.
Craft Aeroventures already flew tugs for refueling and crew transfer. These carried an open source robotic manipulator similar to the Shuttle’s Canadarm, but smaller and simpler. Dean wanted to use even smaller ones to let crews perform maintenance without the hassle and expense of suiting up. What better launch for a new space repair business than Hubble—the most famous satellite in history? It was basically a bus-sized equipment rack in which everything but the optics was designed for replacement, and most of the legwork for a fifth repair mission had already been done.
It was perfect—if it hadn’t had a head-on collision.
Scientists at the CHARA array on Mt. Wilson used to joke that if someone was playing baseball on the Moon, they could tell you which team was at bat. That wasn’t really true, though, because CHARA needed a star or other point source to lock onto. Magdalena Ridge didn’t, and when it was trained on Hubble, a mere five hundred kilometers overhead, the NASA folks could practically count the micrometeorite pits.
The solar arrays looked like they’d taken a shotgun blast, and one was buckled back over the high-gain antenna. The robotic “bulldozer” meant to boost Hubble’s orbit lay shaded beneath the panel, secure on the grapple built for the Canadarm. There had been no collision. Hubble must have run into debris long before the dozer arrived—probably when it first went off-line. When the dozer latched on, it became fouled by the broken panel’s loose cabling. With its own hexagonal arrays folded protectively back like the wings of a diving eagle, it had simply run out of power.
Hubble had some loose insulation and a broken antenna, but was otherwise intact. It just needed an overhaul. Most of what it needed had already been built as backup for the last Shuttle visit, or had already been designed for the aborted fifth repair mission, or could now be purchased on the burgeoning market for space gadgetry. And Dean and Kylie knew all the right people.
* * *
Back in California, Cal sat hunched over his monitor.
Dean said, “You need new glasses.”
“Dude, I need new eyes. These ones are old and busted.”
Dean shook his head but didn’t argue. He’d promised himself he’d let Cal do his thing. O.J. had been right. It might not look it to the untrained eye, but Hubble’s longitudinal spin, combined with that weird belly dancing thing spinning objects can do in zero-g, was causing heaps of problems.