THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT ON GEORGIE

Submitted into Contest #58 in response to: Write a story where the power goes out on a spaceship or submarine.... view prompt

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Science Fiction Funny Drama

THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT ON GEORGIE

By Andrew Paul Grell

Stupid song, but the Skipper could no more not sing it before running a test than he could piss on the induction coils. “So, hoist up the Georgie’s sails, and see how the main sail sets.” I never got the point of the original song. Did they go anywhere? Were they carrying cargo? Tourists on a three-hour tour? Naturally, I was compelled to answer his dramatic tenor with my lyric coloratura. “My father was the keeper of the Eddystone Light, slept with a mermaid one fine night, out of that union there came three, a porgy and a porpoise and the other was me.” At least it had the veracity of me being the oddball. If I couldn’t compete musically with rest of the crew, what good was I? Anyway, my job was pretty much done. Like Howard Wolowitz from Big Bang getting his tuchas shot into space to fix the zero-g toilet he designed, I was pretty much here to make sure that what the ancient Greeks discovered about static electricity was still operational. Even if it wasn’t in Greece. Or on the Earth. Yup, it still worked. Even in geosynchronous orbit. Three successful runs, essentially Mariah rubbing her breezy feet on GEORGIE’S carpet. Now it was just a game of limbo to see how low we could lay the carpet without pulling the ship out of orbit. 

The Skipper rang a little school bell when any of us had a slot addressing a classroom. “Ho-Ho, yer up. 5th grade, P.S. 81, The Bronx. Earth Science. Careful, 11-year-olds are a rough audience. They know too much. And it’s The Bronx.”

“If I could do an Iron Man triathlon, I’m pretty sure I can handle a bunch of kids thousand miles away.”

Good morning, everyone. I’m Honorria Horowitz, project engineer on GEORGIE. It’s short for geosynchronous orbit research on gigawatt induction energy. We’re trying to harvest electricity from the sky. If you have a rechargeable electric toothbrush, it’s probably induction charged. No wires touch each other.

I heard shouts of “I have one,” and “I have a Silver Surfer toothbrush,” that last generating a chorus of “Lame!” I also heard one girl telling a boy “Don’t ask it” and the boy replying “I’ll ask if I want to, this is a school, you’re supposed to ask questions. Obviously, Mrs. Reardon coached the class on not asking questions about sensitive subjects.

I played along. I put up the schematic showing GEROGIE in the middle, the carpet hanging below us into the atmosphere, and the counterweight ship, doing triple duty as an observatory and possible resupply/emergency rescue resource as well as being a big, heavy slab balancing out the load. The kids asked good questions and I answered the technical questions with the detail they deserved. Then I went into the standard pitch.

“Well, we want to have electric cars that don’t have heavy batteries, but instead get power inductively from a road that has a lot of giant toothbrush chargers buried just under the surface. When Georgie’s mission is accomplished, 600 miles of New York roads will be available for inductive powering. And that’s especially good for you in The Bronx. Do any of you have asthma?” The teacher called on on Sylvia, who proceeded to rattle off every attack and close brush in the past two years.

“So, Sylvia, if this works as planned, it would mean no more pollution between Van Cortland Park and Orchard Beach. Much less chance of you getting an attack. Mrs. Reardon called on Elijah next.

“Ms. Horowitz, now that you have the pilot program going, what will be your duties on the ship?”

“I guess I’ll have to do the cooking and the laundry.” I hoped that my smile was sufficiently disarming. “Seriously, I’m still the chief engineer, and the ship needs an engineer. Also, I’m going to have my hands full setting the wingsails accurately enough to not shred any cables. I saluted the class, and I heard a resounding “Thank you, Ms. Horowitz.” Yup. Coached. I left the little media studio only to hear our navigator, Sonderland, flapping around and tossing something that smelled like zero-g detergent. 

“Very funny, Son, still attracted to the moppets, are you?”

“Very funny yer ownself, Ho-Ho. Somebody should be available to give you some details you were too busy pedagoguing to catch. At least half the class was itching to ask the question. Not Elijah, though, nossiree Bob. He was wearing a Daily News Science Fair prize-winner pin. I googled him. Smart kid. His project was model rockets, specifically using weathercocking to steer the rocket by just moving a weight closer to or farther from the nose, pointing the model into or away from the wind. You know, like those rooster weathervanes on the roofs of houses.” Sonderland went quiet; he probably realized his faux pas. 

“It’s O.K., Son. I know what you’re talking about. Maybe we should sign the kid up.”

“I gots me a stack o’ dead presidents in a ziplock bag inside a froze-up turkey carcass says the kid might could have something for us.”

When Sonderland, a Yale man, slipped into the Tom Wolf-style Army Creole from the single tour he did, flying supplies to support Ismaili refugees in Syria, there was only one possible response.

“Fuckin’ A well-told, Bubba. See ya in the gravity sim gym.” The navigator seemed lost for a tic; he coughed and gave me a shoulder punch. I went back to my station in the nipple—the connection between Georgie and the carpet; more like a carpet made of tinsel than a shag rug.

It was lucky I decided to check my station before heading to the gym. As soon as I planted my butt in the chair, strapped in, and got my skinny little fingers on the keyboard, the Van Allen alarm blared like a tornado siren in hog farm country. I was able to open the circuit electrical connection to the flying carpet; it would be safe. Hopefully, the folks in the counter-weight ship at the other end of the line would be doing the same thing. I sent an emergency blast just to make sure. Someone bumped into me and yelped. Slightly pudgy. It wasn’t the Skipper or Sonderland. Probably Pat, maybe Kyle. The Skipper’s voice boomed out of the squawk box for us to get to the “bridge.” People kept bumping into me on the climb up. I heard Pat’s panting, a panic reaction I knew about but something she snuck past AESPA during training. Was she feeling me up? No, she grabbed my thigh. I kept moving. Somehow, I was in the lead; I guessed the mass I was towing up the core was the other three; Pat latched onto me and, I guessed, Son and Kyle en brochette. We made it to command and I went to my alternate station. I asked for a sit-rep. I could feel the eyes on me.

“Now hear this!” Skip was right on the bridge with us, I could smell his sweat. He didn’t need to shout. “We need the O2 flow trimmed and then break out the oxygen candles to compensate.” What?

“Then we need the suit helmets.” What the fuck? “Jesus, I forgot. Ho-Ho! Thank God you’re on this mission and here on the bridge.” That was a whole heapin’ helpin’ of voodoo for a tin can full of scientists.

“Engineer. Main lighting is out. Auxiliary lighting is out. There are five status lights lit on Sonderland’s navigation board; not much to see by. You’re up, Ho-Ho. Let’s make sure AESPA picked the right astronaut for the mission rather than just having caved to political correctness. And we don’t want a real-life Marooned as our legacy.”

“Who gets to be Gregory Peck?” Good old Sonderland, never the wrong time to crack wise. I went back down the core and grabbed my helmet, which wouldn’t do me any good anyway, and the Skipper’s. On the way back up I collected as many oxygen candles as I could fit into the helmets. Then back down for more helmets. Everyone but me would have at least a little vision from the helmet lamps, if the crossed beams didn’t make them dizzy enough to puke. One thing I never had to worry about. Kyle was able to see the Oxygen control and dialed down the flow before lighting the emergency O2-generating candles, which also shed a modicum of light on matters. I called out for Kyle and he grabbed my ankle as I headed down again, further this time, to the main power bus. Kyle and I started fingering the cables looking for breaks, or rather, he looked and I felt. I smelled the problem before I felt it, then I heard it scurry. We had a rat on board. I pinged the Skipper.

“Dana, get capcom on line. Have him find out what they used for wire insulation between the main bus and the bridge.”

I could have punched through the radiation shielding when Barry got an answer for me. An environmentally friendly carbohydrate polymer chain. True, it would save a massive amount of energy when old wires were recycled, but why put it on a space ship? A sugar. A sugar-based insulation made by the nephew of a Senator from Florida. Instead of punching through our tin can, I had the Skipper get Capcom to agree to get Sugar Nephew trained well enough to go up to Georgie, replace the insulation, and find the damn rat. There was just about enough extra wire to bypass the chewed section. Once again the bridge was lit properly and the candles put out, the helmets stowed.

“Space is equally dark for all of us. It was lucky we had someone who really knew what dark was.” That was the Skipper.

Pat checked Zulu Time. It was officially bed-y-bye time for us.

“I guess this is the night that the lights went out on Georgie.”

The Navigator got his bit in. “God made Homer blind so he could see beyond all men.” Yup. An Eli sure enough.

September 10, 2020 17:03

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2 comments

T B
10:27 Sep 21, 2020

Wow! This is really good! Very interesting!

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Zea Bowman
16:39 Sep 18, 2020

Wow! I really enjoyed reading this story; it was so full of great descriptions, and I loved the way you ended it! I know that right now I'm going to be one of the annoying people that asks you to read my story (or stories), but it would be a big help. Don't feel like you have to :)

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