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by Michael E. Johnson

Uncertainty is the only principle.

A Nervous looking fellow peeks out over the curtains, slips on a several-generations-old Mitt™, swipes a business card across his palm, and puts his hand to his ear.

Her voice is a bit rough over the antiquated device, "Passphrase."

He looks at the card in his hand. "Bumpkin Marmalade?"

A Pause, "Please dial the following QE Locate. Acknowledge when ready."

He looks at the instructions on the back of the card, pokes at a few menus on his Mitt™ , and finds the settings menu, navigates to Locate. Three entries come up, all listed "default". "Ready."

"Chicago Loop A"

"Um.. I, uh, I don't see it."

"Then you're on an older OS, choose Chicago Library."

He stabs at his palm, "Uh, Ok."

"Second entry, Iowa 3456th Corn Bridage"

"K."

"Third entry, George Rogers Clark Memorial."

"Done."

"Now, click locate. As a side note, your mitt should be much better at mapping and directions after these changes."

"Ok. Wow, that was quick."

"Now read the three numbers back to me."

"There's a lot of digits here."

"Just 2 decimal places, please."

"4-8-2-4-6 point 7-9 ns "

"Got it."

"9-0-8-9-7 point 0-7 ns and 1-1-4-7-9-3 point 8-9"

"Locate Successful, You're in the neighborhood.", Almost a hint of boredom in her voice, "Please state the nature of your emergency."

"My washing machine has stopped working. It says it's got 4% life left, but it won't start a load."

"Make and model?"


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Chapter 20. [UNEDITED]

D.T. wakes up in bed, most of her gear stowed underneath, there's vomit crusted on the front of her suit, which she slips off painfully and takes with her as she heads to the restroom. The boys did a good job converting the back corner of the employee washroom into a makeshift shower. Not much more than a spigot protruding from the ceiling, bits of plaster tucked in around the hole they dug, hanging roughly centered over the large drain hole in the floor. A plastic sheet curtain cordoned off the corner and a few plastic shelves held a few of the large roughly-hewn blocks of soap someone had cooked up in the kitchen. Somewhere up above, they'd welded together an open rain catchment and ran piping down through the ceiling. It wasn't necessarily clean, or warm, but better than nothing.

She steps into the shower, draws the curtain and sets the stream to a trickle, grabs some soap and begins scrubbing her suit. Once lathered up, she reaches up and turns the water off, working the mesh fabric. She sits on the floor and scrubs as best she can for a few minutes, stands carefully, and starts another trickle to rinse. The mesh wicks the moisture and bubbles, so she pulls it inside-out to rinse the soap out completely.

"Knock Knock!" Chrys comes in and sits on a toilet. "How you feeling?"

"Rough. I think I need some down time." D.T.s voice is strained.

"You sound rough. You slept all night. I would have been worried, but you snored enough that I didn't have to check on you. And you reek. "

"Yeah, working on that. I was trying to clean my suit some. " Double checking the suit, satisifed, D.T. throws it over the curtain line, and starts washing herself.

Chrys stands and stretches, "We should try and score some mineral spirits and do a dry clean as well - ." walks over to the line and pulls the suit. "I'll work on drying this, and get you some jammies, I think you're on bedrest after breakfast." Chrys walks out with the suit to her bunk, pulls a small black tube from one of the armored vests, inserts it into another square device, and finally attached a clear plastic cylindar full of a clear liquid. Once inserted, a small light glows green in the clear tube, and the black cylindar begins to whir, blowing heated air. Chrys inserts the end of the tube into a slot in the waist of the suit, which puffs up the whole suit. She swipes a small control on the device, checks her palm for the time, and then walks over to her own bunk. Flipping open a small pack, she pulls out some long folded grey pajama pants and a white tank top, and heads back into the bathroom.

"Jammies on the sink, suit's drying." She flops the jammies onto the corner of one of the sinks.

"Thanks, Chrys."

"Any time. You gonna have breakfast?"

"Yeah, I think I should. Then I'm gonna crash for a while."

"I'll see you in there."

"Understood." D.T. reaches up and turns off the faucet, sighs deeply, and starts drying herself off before opening the curtain. A few groans, and grunts, she examines the large bruise on her ribs in the mirror, as well as the other bumps and scrapes covering her torso. She leans in close, pulls down her eyelid and grimaces at a small popped blood vessel in one of her eyes. "Damn, Deet, you got your ass handed to you.". She puts the jammies on, wraps her head in the towel, and heads out of the bathroom. She stops by her bunk, pulls out a pair of sock-like low top shoes, slips them on and heads into main part of the garage heading for the kitchen.

The ship sits unmoved from her resting place, the smell of the burnt rockets and wires is more stale now, some sunlight streaks in from the imperfect seam of the roof and a row of windows high up on one side. D.T. stops and looks up at her, "You and me both, sister." she puts her hand on her ribs and steps into the kitchen. "Mornin' fellas." Jesse, Jimmy and Tony are sitting at the table, with the shield gun completely dismantled in pieces before them, small piles of parts and a couple of notebooks appear artfully arranged around the device. A cardboard sheet lies on the counter, with little boxes draw on it, each containing a pile of a few small parts. Markus is sitting in a chair by the sink, talking with Chrys, who is eating a bowl of noodles while leaning against the microwave.

"D.T!" Jesse hops up and motions to his chair, "Good to see you're up."

Markus smiles, looks at her and growls "Food, then sleep. The boys and I will cover perimiter until you have some time to knit."

D.T. nods, "Wilco." She rubs her eyes, blinks at Chrys "Noodles?" Chrys steps aside and touches the main panel with her elbow, the machine whirrs to life and beeps a few seconds later. D.T. pops the device open, grabs some chopsticks and a small packet of Kelpie™ from the basket on top, she quickly pulls the steaming hotpot out and places it on the counter. She blows on her fingers. Chrys slurps some noodles from her own chopsticks. "It's hot, Deet"

D.T. smirks at her, tilting her head a little and narrowing her eyes, "Yes, I know it's hot." She tears open the pot, and rips the top of the little packet of seaweed, sprinkling it over the dish. When she tears it, the little mascot logo on the wrapper appears to clap his hands in joy and strike poses of victory. Grabbing a dish rag from the rack, she scoops up her bowl and sits in the empty chair at the table. Jimmy and Tony are comparing notes on what appears to be pads of paper or some kind of plastic with a grid printed on it. D.T. sits up a little, and tries to peek at the paper.

Tony looks over at her, and starts pointing to the device. "It's very interesting, it's an antenna. And it involves a kind of modified QE network interface. Most of the hardware appears to be tuning, amplifying, and controlling the signal output. Other than that, we're not sure what it does." She glances down at the gun, and mumbles around her breakfast. "You mean other than making you relive the worst part of a long night drinking?"

Tony shrugs, "That too. We think that might have something to do with the QE part. Jesse summed it up pretty good earlier."

Jesse butts in while pouring a cup of coffee, "Feeling like your pants are on backwards." Tony chuckles, "Right."

Chrys clears her throat. "When we got hit, " she looks at D.T. " together, we were only about, what, a meter apart?" D.T nods. "That cut our QE link with Grampie." Chrys shoves a few noodles in her mouth, then raises a hand to cover it while she chews. "Then later, D.T. got hit, and that cut us off from each other."

"So," Jimmy leaning over the gun with a jeweler's loupe, "I think we can guess that it's disrupting entanglement, and I imagine" leaning back in his chair, "we've got a fair amount of similar effects rumbling around in our brains that get disrupted as well."

Jesse takes a good swig of his coffee, and scrunches up his face. "I don't know, I still feel a bit out of place. I don't remember putting my screwdriver in my left pocket. It's like I've woken up in the wrong universe."

Tony rubs his forehead with a hand, "Jesse. You have definitely put that screwdriver and your pens in your left pocket every day I have known you. We went over this. "This," pointing at the parts on the table, "thing has juggled a few of your memories – that's it."

Markus, feigning a little cough, stands and faces the group. "Regardless. Now that everyone is here, I would like to discuss last night's breach." Chrys rolls her eyes behind his back, sets her food down and steps around to stand at attention, D.T. starts standing as well.. Markus waves them down, "No need for formality, eat. And, listen." He places both hands on his cane. Both girls relax and resume eating.

"Last night, an unmarked contractor made contact with Jimmy and myself around the time the shed was assaulted by the two man team. They know we are here, and have obvious plans to test out experimental weaponry on us. Is this related to our incident at the arco up the hill?"

Tony and Jesse exchange looks. Tony slowly raises a hand. "I pulled some repair, and may have gotten tagged in the process."

"Don't feel bad, Tony. I have a feeling the unmarked contractor was related to our, " motioning with a hand to the girls and himself, "difficulties in the exclusion zone. They are obviously communicating to ensure they hit us from multiple fronts." A pause, he looks around at each of them. "Given our success yesterday with a small contract, I believe we really only have one option."

A big sigh escapes Jesse as he slams his mug down "Leave?" Everyone turns to look at him, "What? Dammit, we just got this started."

Markus grins. "No, we need to grow." He begins pacing the room. "If we are going to survive, as a group, we need equipment. We need skills. We need eyes, and ears, and boots." He stops by the door. "Jimmy and I secured a nice bundle of startup capital that we plan to invest in the company."

"Mhmm." Jimmy keeps making notes on the device, leaning in and squinting through his eyepiece.

"And," Markus raps the table on the underside to get Jimmy's attention, "They're going to come looking for that toy before too long."

"So, what do you propose?"

"We hire two more janitors, and two more handy's. We get the ship back together, and we help Valencia push into town."

Tony mulls it over, "so, we're going to get involved in a gang war."

"We're already in a war." Markus nods his head to the table, "and they have all the toys. I'm proposing we find a war where we have the ability to set parameters of conflict, battles that can bring us immediate supplies and cash for hiring more hands."

Jimmy holds the loupe and leans even closer, "Oh, I think in a few days we'll have a new toy of our own." He sits up and snaps his fingers a few times at Jesse, "Hey, could you get me a logic analyzer, maybe a general multi, and one of those QE loopbacks? I think I can power part of this up and see what it's doing."

"Sure thing, Jimmy." Jesse heads out into the warehouse.

Chrys pauses slurping up the broth from her noodles, "Is that a good idea inside?"

"Sure," Jimmy smiles, "I'll just point it at an outside wall." Rotating the gun to point at the kitchen wall.

D.T. sets her noodles down and dabs at the corner of her mouth with a free thumb. "So, you think we'll have down time?"

Markus coughs. "Maybe. My guess is that they're not going to be sure what happened yesterday for quite some time, and then they have to send a secondary unit out for cleanup.. and likely have to do some recon."

Jimmy chuckles and smacks Tony. "You wanna have a little fun with 'em?"

Tony squints. "Not sure I follow."

"Lets use the shell and mock up a fake, and go drop it by the body."

Tony smiles wide, rubs the stubble on his chin. "That I like."

Markus breaks into a big grin. "There we go, They'll sweep up the bits, and have explicit orders not to examine the device – by the time they get it turned in, chain of custody and returned to their RnD department, we'll have a week or two to be ready for the next round. Maybe longer if they realize that not only do we have the device, but we obviously know what to do with it."

"Except we don't." D.T picks her noodles back up and resumes slurping.

Jimmy wags a finger at her, "But they don't know that."

Jesse returns with several small wired devices and hands them to Jimmy.

"Jess, can you and Tony start working on a mock up?"

Jesse looks confused, "Mock up?"

Tony stands and pats him on the arm, "We're gonna make a fake gun, and put it on the body – so we can buy some time."

A big smile dawns on Jesse's face as well. "Sound like fun."

They both wander out of the break room, Tony grabbing a notepad on the way. "We're gonna need some machined tubing so it's not too light..."

Jimmy looks concerned. "You know any more Janitors?"

Markus sits in Tony's chair and pulls an old set of nSpex™ from his pocket and puts them on.

"Holy crap, Markus... I didn't know those things even existed any more."

Markus smiles. "I'm a hammer, Jimmy." He holds his hands up in the air and makes some movements with his fingers.

Just as D.T. scoops a bunch of noodles into her mouth, Jimmy leans over and whispers "Now, while he's working on the app, imagine he's poking at butterflies and soap bubbles." D.T. chokes a little and makes a snorting noise trying to stifle her laugh. She puts one hand on her side "Ow." Markus, somewhat slackjawed, stabs and draws circles in the air with his hands.

"Bill?" Markus bellows.

~"Yeah?"~ The tinny sound of the speaker blasts around the room.

"Bill, It's Markus."

"Grampie, you're on speakerphone." Chrys says.

A somewhat confused voice answers him, ~"Markus? Strom? That you?"~

Markus winks at Chrys. "Yes, it's me."

~"That's great. How's it been? I'm sittin' here havin' a beer."~

"Good! Good. Wanna know if you might be up for some light janitorial work."

Chrys clears her throat, "Grampie, you're on speakerphone."

Jesse folds his arms, and drops the loupe in his pocket, putting his feet up on the crossbars of the table, smiles and leans back.

~"Strom, I've been out of that game a long time. Retired and all that."~

Markus looks at D.T. "He says he's retired." She snorts a little again, trying not to laugh.

Chrys, louder still, "Grampie, you're on speakerphone."

"What?!?" Markus glares at her. "Hold on Bill, my granddaughter's talking. Lemme go outside." He stands up and steps out into the warehouse.

~"How old are they now, Strom? What, they must have been 9 or 10 ..."~ The voice trailing and echoing out into the larger space.

"Well," Jimmy looks at the girls. "I imagine we're gonna have a few more old coots around the joint soon."



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Another Story of mine, Damage Report

 
 
Damage Report - A Short Story   Damage Report - A Short Story
by Michael E. Johnson
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c. 2012 Michael E. Johnson
Email me: father @ bigattichouse d0t c0m
Creative Commons License
CRUFT by Michael E. Johnson is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at cruft-private-janitorial.com.