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After the entire day passing without a single acknowledgment by any customers in line at the Goggles Desert Coffee Shack Aerodrome and Emporium, I realized I'd need to change my tack.
* COFFEE MAKING EXPERIENCE PREFERRED
* MUST LOOK GOOD IN STEAMPUNK REGALIA
Well, I guess I didn't see any other options...
I thanked Clive for the lift and exited his classic 1986 Winneblimpo via the rope ladder. The ground was dusty, and nothing but desert as far as the eye could see.
The coffee shack was high atop its tower, and already had quite a line. Likely because it was the only coffee shack for miles, but it was also called "Goggles" with the logo drawn in such a way that it implied the baristas would be wearing steampunk corsets and bustiers. But I wasn't here for the coffee.
"Faulkton?" I hollered up to the airships waiting in the queue high above me.
"Henderson? Wuppertal? Miyazaki?" I wasn't sure they could hear me up there.
"Lyubertsy? Aastaurmond? Anybody headed my way?"
The airships idled in the rising heat of the day, ready to get their coffees and some titillation before heading on their ways.
"Chauxhall? Pastoria City anybody?"
There had to be a better way to do this.
That Gingles. Boy did we have some times together. That's the end of that tape though. As you can see, I don't really have them ordered chronologically, piled up here in the back of the bridge as they are.
Anyway, sun's coming up, and my parking permit expires before the Walmart opens. There's a coffee shack down the road a bit that's open early, and they've got a tower for serving airships. Are you headed in any particular direction? Southwest, maybe?
"PULL IT! PULL IT NOW!!!"
Gingles moved his six astoundingly long arms across the control board. Sparks were flying and the ship was buckling from the battering the ship was taking. Octahedrals, icosahedrons, bipyramidals, all the vespers in the giant containment hold had been polarized and set to crush us in their formidable bonds.
Gingles yanked down the big switch we'd rigged up, and the room began to glow.
It was a last ditch maneuver, a real hail mary, and an unthinkable act for any PUG hauler. But after what Gingles had told me about what was at stake, I had to join him on his mission.
"~*-.,_,.-*~'^'*-," hollered Gingles. Which meant something like "Yeah well we're in it now."
And then, through Gingles' science and more luck than I care to credit it, it was done. The cascade effect and the GYM reversal had transformed everything just as Gingles had predicted. We'd absorbed the vespers -- all of them in the poacher's vast underground storage facility. And in the process we had made a dimensional leap, taken form in a land that's size and fundamental structure was so exponentially larger our former universe that it was beyond conceivable.
"°°°·.°·..·°¯°·._.·" whistled Gingles.
It was true. Everything did look bigger.
Zip! Crrrrk Hissssssssssssss
Brandon: What the hell's going on here? I switched those D.N.A. samples. I know I did. This is crazy. I need some answers.
Sami: More coffee?
Austin: What I want is an explanation.
Sami: I'm going to have another cup.
Austin: I tell you that I want to move the relationship forward, and you tell me that I have it all wrong.
Sami: Thinking of giving the old "playing hard to get" thing a whirl, grandma. Let's hope it works. Look, when I first got Will back, I thought that we were going to be together right away. I thought you'd be as anxious as I was to make a commitment to each other, but here you are, still saying that you want to take things slow, one step at a time, get to know each other again, yada, yada, yada.
Austin: So you're really angry with me, huh?
Sami: No. Actually, Austin, I think that you have the right idea.
Oh! Sorry. I transferred these old logs over the same VHS tapes I'd used to record Days of Our Lives, but sometimes there's patches where the old tape shows through. I can fast forward if you want. This is a really good episode though. No? Ok, no problem. I'll just zip forward a little...
It was like a big black roomba in the sky. Enormous. It could have probably fit 100 ships our size inside of it, and easily suck three of us abreast through its gigantic intake valves.
Yet there it was, floating in the sky, hoovering up tetras and octas and it must have found a nest of pentagonal bipyramidals. There were even a few tricapped trigonals caught in its intake.
The last of the purple skies were fading.
"Time to head back to the ranch, my little honies." It's an old ball hauler's habit to speak to the merchandise.
But I couldn't turn it around. I'd made note of the added mass and momentum, so it wasn't that. Could the vacuum currents from that thing be effecting us even at this distance? Or was that machine somehow attracting my haul, with its own kind of static electricity?
If it had occurred to me, I would have jettisoned my load and made a break for it. But I just wasn't that quick on the draw.
Since I still had my old union card, it wasn't too hard to put in as "official" at Jed's outpost, and he gave me a route.
"Nothing special," he said. "You just round up what's ripe and take a look around."
So I'm up amongst the purple skies, skimming the space between the altocumulus and the cirrostratus. I see some small herds of primary red tetra and green octahedrals here and there, and an occasional family of icosahedrons. The sun is going down. Things are wispy and still. I have to admit I have a soft spot for those purple skies.
I round down around the axes to look for strays, find a few and bind them up in the MITB's static wake. Dragging them behind like that gives you more mass and I use the old PUG hauler's trick of banking and sliding to give me more momentum. Which means I need to navigate a wider course, one that inevitably takes me outside my route.
All of us vesper haulers spend time off route like this. Technically we're supposed to report it, but that just counts against your EF rating at the end of a pay period and the paperwork takes time in itself, so it's unspoken vesper hauler habit not to mind it. Or report it. But sometimes you catch a hot stream of air and you find yourself a bit farther off route than you'd like.
This time around that's exactly where I found myself, caught in one of those rip tides in the sky. Maybe I had gotten a bit rusty.
But that's when I spotted the Strange Thing.
It can take a long time before they let you play with imaginary machinery.
My first official job as part of the union was in this very region of the context structure. Jed was new then too, and we became friends on long shifts herding the vespers 'round the sky. Most folks spend some part of every night dreaming out in those reaches, but Jed and I, we were out there doing it for real.
The PUG blimps we used might not have been beautiful to look at, but they sure got the job done. Jed and I were a team, each of us pilots of our own PUGs, using the differentials in charge between our ships to gather up the planars and the pyramidals in a big wide net between us, often times just letting them cling to our hulls while we moved 'em around and sorted them out to their correct sectors in the sky.
Down below -- deeper in -- the creatives and the management types were thick as flies, coupling and rearranging the bonds and torsions, sometimes creating new meaning (which was beautiful to watch), but more often than not just figuring out how to create the same old meanings but in slightly different ways. Always looking for the novelty, but not necessarily originality.
Jed and I preferred our lot, the freedom of the wilderness, working with the fresh raw material. That's got a poetry of its own that few realize, much less get to experience.
But Jed sure wasn't joking when he said things were getting scare. Out here in the perimeter there are no stars. Things are looking mighty barren. Guess things have been getting used up faster than they reppear.
Which is trouble, since we never had an idea about where they come from in the first place.
"So, Jed. How's it been going?"
"Oh, Clive, you know. Same old same old."
Jed pours me a shot from his flask into my coffee. Airshipman's coffee, not one of those grande double whip frappuccinos like they serve at the Walmarts. Which, don't get me wrong, I love a good grande double whip frappuccino first thing in the morning when I'm leaving the parking lot and heading out over the desert to the next blue and gold oasis. Jed makes his coffee airshipman's style on account of limited resources.
"I know you've got limited resources out here, Jed."
"And it's only getting worse, Clive. Now, you didn't hear it from me, but..."
Jed runs an outpost that's off the beaten track, but it's a canary in a coal mine for the entire context structure for this subcluster. He's up in one of the outermost shells of meaning in this world--really holding the whole thing together. At least that's how he and I see it.
"There's a scarcity, Clive. Like nothing I've ever seen. Red tetrahedrals used to be as thick as mosquitos at a swamp rat's rave. Green octahedrals used build up to such a degree we had to pry 'em off an herd 'em to the trade winds. There were so many purple icosahedrons we had to put beacons on 'em so has nobody'd run into them at night. But these days, I just don't know. Oh, we still find what we need to keep everything up to code, but we're gettin' short. Management knows about it and they say they've got some kind of contingency, but I can't see how they'd do it without some major structural changes."
"And shortcuts, I imagine?"
"Well, heck you know they've already been taking shortcuts."
"Gotta keep growing those margins."
"Yup. And I guess they've been getting by. But we're looking at a whole different ballgame if things keeping worse. Like, whole levels of meaning will just have to go."
"So what's up? What's the cause?"
"The brass tells us it's just natural processes. But I don't think so. The depletion seems organized. Like there's a system."
"Let me pour another shot in your mug, Clive."
"Bring it around about 40 degrees!"
Jed, the marshaller, calls up from docking ramp. He's yelling up through the wind, so I'm trying to hear him through the vent window.
"Ok! Here it goes!" I shout back.
The rear end of the Minecraft is the Best bumps into a tetrahedral of the giant red balls.
"Your OTHER 40 degrees!!!"
Yeah, yeah, no I get it. It's good everything is so bouncy here in these parts. And the folks are so good natured.
I get the Minecraft settled in. Nuzzled up between a pair of green octahedrals.
"You're a foreign body, but you're always welcome here, Clive."
"Now let's take a look at that chocolate peanut butter you were talking about."
"Chocolate maple pretzel peanut butter, Jed."
"You had me at chocolate, Clive."