FROM THE KODIAK STARPORT
$12.99 + S/H
2: STARPORTS AND SMALL BUSINESS
Starports of all sizes require a lot
of commercial and technical support. The success or failure
of a space launch facility can be directly linked to its administration.
Creating a positive entrepreneurial atmosphere for small businesses
can greatly enhance the profit potential of any privately
initiated, non-government, aerospace concern. While government-run
starports do benefit from the hundreds of companies found
in their jurisdictions, they dont realize the commercial
success that many civilian corporations enjoy.
Many of the firms that begin life as
one-room shops can grow to become multi-million-dollar businesses.
The failure rate for these companies tends to be rather highestimated
at better than 75 percent. For those with a pioneering spirit,
the potential rewards justify the risks. Cutthroat competition
among these sweat equity firms has been known
to result in turf wars, contract fraud, assassination, and
embezzlement. The rise of the modern multi-function starport
has contributed to a renaissance in organized crime on every
The rapid growth of most starports
often means sudden accumulation of great wealth for those
who get in early and stay alive long enough to cash in on
the explosive growth of their businesses. Its not uncommon
for large corporations to buy out small, aggressive companies
to avoid future competition with their visionary owners. The
men and women who benefit from these mergers often go on to
lives of excess and luxury while founding new concerns that
continue to fuel the space race long after they are gone.
So, what do you think?
the starports business rep shouted into the wind.
Ivans windbreaker flapped as
the ocean breeze intensified. He looked up at the freshly
painted sign on the newly constructed steel and concrete building.
I must be out of my mind.
The cool midday sun peeked through
low, fast-moving clouds. Mary Moon fidgeted with the zipper
on her long coat. I can think of worse ways to spend
a million dollars. Ever since the war ended, weve had
a real need for on-site electronics. Youll be rich and
famous. Trust me.
The bald man rubbed his chin. Turning,
he surveyed the empty parking lot and the distant surf line.
I think I already did. Thats why Im here,
up to my neck in debt, with no employees and no customers.
Man, I cant even see the launch towers from here.
Mary gave him a sympathetic pat on
the shoulder. Her soft Athabascan features revealed a perfect
smile. Come on inside. Theres something I want
to show you.
Ivan followed her through a side door
into the loading bay. Inside the brightly lit storage area,
they stopped next to a white panel van. The sign on the vehicles
long, flat side matched the one on the top of the buildingAlaska
He looked at her over the rims of his
glasses. Does the building come with the van?
She giggled. No, silly. Its
a little gift from the administrator. Mr. Griffin wanted to
show his thanks for your initiative.
Ivan shoved his hands into the pockets
of his jeans and walked around the van. If I dont
get a big contract in the next few days, I wont be able
to put gas, hydrogen, or water into this thing. Does Mr. Griffin
Mary tossed her hair and stepped up
to the van. She opened the drivers side door and took
a slim manila folder from the dashboard. We launched
our first space shuttle a few weeks ago. Just between you
and me, theres a deal in the works for a space platform.
Itll take a while for the bean-counters to hammer it
out, but in the meantime, I think youll like this.
He approached and took the file. Leaning
on the side of the van, he lowered his bifocals halfway down
his nose and read from the pages in the folder. Repairs
and upgrades for launch control and telemetry. Are you kidding
me? This is peanuts. I have bank loans; I need real money.
I could make more than this if Id stayed in Fairbanks.
The unflappable woman snatched the
last page from the folder and gave it to him. Learn
to read, please. Custom-built parts. Proprietary software.
If you can keep our secrets, youll be paid well. Do
you think its easy to convince people to come out here?
This is an island, and everybody knows it. If the weather
isnt bad, nasty, or terrible, its cold, wet, and
inconvenient. We dont do anything small here at the
Kodiak Starport. If its not big and aimed at the future,
we dont waste our time.
Ivan looked closely at the billing
formulas on the printed page in his hand. This isnt
a job offer; its a request for a bid. Id need
at least a week to put this together.
Work fast. Bid wisely,
she counseled, folding her hands.
Licking his lips, he nervously flicked
through the pages again. Ill need an advance.
Mary started walking toward the door.
You should ask for one. Who knows? You might get it.
His face reddened as he started to
follow her. How much time do I have? Who am I competing
Stopping at the open door, the longtime
Kodiak resident made an exaggerated gesture to pretend she
was searching. Dont think like a big city man.
Look around. Youll have competition soon enough. For
now, youre all weve got. If youre nervous
and afraid, think about how we feel. We just sold a building
to a guy who hasnt done any work for us before. You
can always go back to Fairbanks. If we fail, lots of us will
be stuck here.
Upset and alone, Ivan walked through
the empty spaces in his building. Environmental sensors registered
a human presence, and the place slowly warmed. The AAE logo
that sang the praises of Alaska Aerospace Electronics seemed
to be stenciled brightly and happily on everything. Clean
white hallways contrasted with dull gray work spaces. Automatic
lights blazed to life as he entered the room designated as
With the folder still clutched in one
sweaty hand, he marveled at the faraway ocean view that greeted
him through a vast expanse of photoreactive glass. With a
shiver, he abruptly halted in front of a small fiberboard
desk with a land-line telephone on it. Next to the desk stood
a small, spindly plastic chair with a thin cushion and cheap
Ivans boots made rude squeaking
sounds as he shuffled across the length of the Spartan office
to sit on the little chair. A plastic rivet popped as he put
his full weight on the flimsy seat. The tiny shard of plastic
bounced off the linoleum until it hit the nearest wall.
Thats just great,
he mumbled as the chair gave way. Dropping to the floor with
an undignified thump, he glared at the pieces of shattered
plastic surrounding him. The crumpled file stared at him from
the desktop at eye level.
The frustrated man unzipped his windbreaker
and glared at the ceiling tiles. Anything else? How
about a fire? My insurance hasnt kicked in yet. Kill
me now or leave me alone.
As if in response, the phone on his
desk chirped. Struggling to his knees, he answered on the
third ring. Alaska Aerospace Electronics. Can I... can
I help you?
The voice on other end of the line
sounded jolly. Im calling from Northern Pride.
Ivan got to his feet. Okay.
The caller was gregarious. Ive
got a customer who wants a specialized instrument package
for his jet. What were looking at is basically a multi-band
global positioning system with a built-in surface navigation
enhancement. The client wants to link with a terrain-following
sensor if he can get it. Touch screen interface with voice
recognition and tutorial program. Can you do all that in the
next thirty days? I know Im reaching, but I saw your
companys ad in the phone book, and I said, What
the heck. Youd really be helping me out. Can you
Kicking slowly at the pieces of the
ruined chair, Ivan thought about his worsening financial situation.
I dont see an item like that it our inventory.
Wed have to build it from scratch. Is your client ready
to lay out that kind of money?
The caller hesitated. I think
so. Hes not interested in owning the patent on the thing.
Hes just going to want the item, you know?
Ivan pulled his personal data device
from his windbreaker. Typing with his thumb, he accessed the
internet to look up the callers company. Northern
Pride, as in the aviation guys? Mat-Su Valley, right?
Birchwood, the caller confirmed.
The company had a long list of accomplishments
on its web site. Ivan recognized the brand names of a few
very expensive electronic items and components. If this
is an add-on, how much instrument panel space do we have to
The caller paused to check his figures.
Two inches by two inches, four inches deep.
More papers rustled as the caller reached
for technical specifications. No more than two amps
for the instrument. I know well have to see what the
sensor needs all by itself. Ive got a set of FAA requirements
I can send. Would E-M shielding be a problem?
The computer expert mumbled as he fumbled
with the numbers. Hey, its only money, right?
Send your specs to my listed e-mail account. Thirty days is
kind of short notice. We can do it, but Ill have to
put a few jobs on hold. If you dont mind a rush fee,
Ill have our best people get to work on this just as
soon as we get your first payment. Youll have a cost
estimate before lunch tomorrow. If the check clears, we get
The caller laughed as he made some
notes. Hey, man. Dont burn me. My names
on the door, if you know what I mean. Ive got a lot
riding on this client. This is our second jet for the year,
and word is starting to get around. If we can pre-sell a few
more before we build them, Ill be getting back to you
for more of this kind of thing. You got me?
Ivan pulled the stylus from his PDD
and opened a word processing program to make notes. I
get you. Im the boss here, too. This gadget your client
wants could be a hot seller. I wont mess that up.
Whats it like at the Starport?
Ivan shrugged. What can I tell
you? This is where all the action is.
The man in Birchwood laughed through
the digital connection. I wish I had your confidence.
Ive worked hard to take this company from props to jets.
I cant imagine what it would take to make the jump to
aerospace. You must be doing well.
Ivan turned his back on the empty office
to look out through the large window. In the distance, a bright,
elongated flame climbed into the afternoon sky. The vehicle
was too far away for him to see if it was a rocket, a shuttle,
or one of the new self-contained lifting bodies. The importance
of what he saw wasnt lost on him.
You still there? the caller
Knocked from his reverie, Ivan replied,
Yeah. I was just distracted by a space launch. Cant
tell you what it was, but it looked marvelous. I dont
think Ill ever get tired of seeing
Yeah, it must be great to be
you, the boss for Northern Pride said impatiently. The
rest of us have to work for a living. Can you get that estimate
to me first thing tomorrow? I want to look it over before
I show it to my client.
Checking the clock on his phone, Ivan
nodded. Sure. Its coming up on two now. I could
have it for you by ten tonight. Ill do it myself so
that my engineers can clear their schedules for tomorrow.
If the money comes through, well be busy-busy inside
of twenty-four hours. You can stay in touch with me every
step of the way.
Great. By the way, my names
I saw that on your web site,
Ivan replied, nodding.
Dick laughed. Who am I talking
The computer expert sighed, Ivan
Gallagher. Owner and idiot in charge.
Im looking forward to meeting
you, Roberts said before he hung up.
Ivan placed the receiver back onto
its base. The flare from the ascending rocket was no longer
visible. Sitting on the edge of his desk, he struggled with
his PDD for several minutes. The electronics package that
he was being asked to fabricate wouldnt be that hard
to make. Parts would be expensive, and time would be a factor.
If a paid patent search came back negative, he would jump
on it. Aviation and aerospace companies of all sorts could
make huge sums off patented technologies. He continued working,
his mood improving as the estimated dollar figures for the
When he could proceed no further with
the limited tools at hand, Ivan locked up the building, activated
the security system, and walked to his battered and rusty
pickup truck. The sun had gone down, causing him to swear
at the dashboard clock as he drove.
Rolling down one of the many long,
paved roads that were so characteristic of the Starports
forward-thinking layout, he slowed down each time he approached
new construction. Buildings of all shapes and sizes were being
put up by local contractors. This much was obvious from all
the signs posted near each work site on every inhabited parcel
of land he drove by.
After passing the administrative complex,
he turned inland. On the far horizon, to his left, he could
see the perimeter lighting for the hydrogen cracking plant.
Driving through a block of employee housing, he parked near
the Iceworm Bar and Grill. The place was a hangout for company
employees and anyone looking for a job at the Starport. Soft
blue fiber-optic lighting bathed the corrugated metal exterior
of the restaurant in an eerie glow that seemed extremely inviting.
Popular gossip suggested that the exact lightwave frequency
had been selected by a psychologist from the University of
Alaska. Local legend had it that this particular shade of
blue was irresistible to humans with alcoholic tendencies.
Ivan checked the notes on his PDD before
getting out of his truck. Locking the doors, he went into
the bar. Illegal tobacco smoke hung like a gray fog inside
the dim room as his lungs protested the sudden lack of oxygen.
Fighting down the phlegm, he made his way past busy tables
to the bar. Finding no empty stools, he wound through the
mass of happy and talkative customers to the end of the bar.
There, he found a dry-erase board with a black marker hanging
on a string.
As part of his official orientation
to the Kodiak facility, hed been told that posting jobs
at the Iceworm would get the word out faster, and it would
have the added benefit of giving the locals an unofficial
head start on any other candidates who might be applying from
outside the state. Reading from his PDD, he scribbled on the
cold, white surface of the dry-erase board. The felt pen scritched
as he made each letter. He succinctly spelled out his needs:
two programmers, part-time; one electronics engineer, full-time;
one dynamic systems designer, part-time; one secretary/office
manager, full-time. Estimated time of employment for all positions,
thirty days with option to renew.
He took the time to add his employer
ID number so that anyone who was interested could file an
application through the Starports Office of Personnel
Management. Because the space launch facility did business
with several Western governments, federal law required anyone
working at the Starport to undergo a background investigation.
The automated process was fast, mandatory, and mostly accurate.
With his task done, Ivan elbowed his
way out of the bar and into the restaurant. Without waiting
to be seated, he flopped into a chair at a table in a quiet
corner. Taking in a deep breath, he savored the smells coming
from the kitchen and the superior air quality at this end
of the building. Using his stylus, he tapped slowly on his
PDD to access the internet and enter his employment offers
into the official Starport job database.
As he finished, a waitress appeared.
Didnt see you over here. Can I get you something
to drink? she asked cordially.
Ivan scratched his head. How
about a beer?
House or import?
Do you have something Irish?
he thought out loud.
She shook her head. Weve
got six different kinds of Alaska-made beer.
He shrugged. Bring me something
I dont have to chew.
As she departed, he looked at his PDD
and reviewed the estimate for the Northern Pride project.
With a twitch of his thumb, he added an extra zero to the
total. That looks about right, he said to himself
as the waitress returned. The increased number made him feel
Looks about right for what?
she asked as she put a cold mug of honey-colored beer on the
table in front of him.
He closed his PDD and put it away.
Looks about right to save my ass.
The hostess smiled and moved to sit
in the empty chair across from him. Her strawberry blonde
curls bounced and she smiled. Ive always said
that any man who could save his own ass was worth working
for. I saw you writing on the board in the bar.
Ivans head came up. You
saw that from all the way over here?
She beamed. I notice things.
Thats why Id be a great office manager.
Tiredly, he wiped his chin and looked
at the nearest clock. Its getting late, and Ive
still got a lot of work to do. I may not get to sleep tonight,
and Id really like a cheeseburger. If youve got
the chops for it, Ill be glad to see your online résumé
The woman became tense. Hey,
come on. I know how this works. Youll check your mail
tomorrow and get a C.V. from some guy at the university in
Anchorage with four college degrees whos willing to
start work at your company for minimum wage. Im telling
you, Ive got chops that somebody like that could never
Do you have a college degree?
She glanced over her shoulder. You
want to know about college degrees? Both of the guys behind
the bar are aerospace engineers. The so-called chef
we have in the kitchen is some kind of rocket fuel genius.
The guy who cuts her vegetables is a dynamic systems designer,
whatever the hell that is. Me? Im just a girl who barely
graduated high school. I never had the money for college,
but Im self-taught on every piece of office software
you could name. The only reason any of us are here is because
guys like you dont look past whats on the paper.
We sling drinks or hash because we have to, not because we
He found himself looking at her with
a fresh perspective. How fast can you type?
She snorted. Fifty words a minute,
hung-over. One-fifty when Im sober, which is most of
the time, since I dont really like to drink.
He raised his mug and took a drink
to stall as he thought. Clearing his throat, he took another
drink. I still want that cheeseburger. If it doesnt
taste like rocket fuel or a ground-up motherboard, Ill
be willing to take your résumé with me when
She stood up. Doesnt initiative
mean anything to you?
He bristled. Hey, I am all about
initiative right now. You know what I got? I have an empty
building, no tools, no employees, a job offer that might fall
through, and no cheeseburger. I have no toilet paper except
what Im going to steal from this place, and the fifty
bucks I have in my pocket will all be gone after I pay my
dinner bill and put gas in my truckwhich I live in.
The woman sat back in her chair. Im
sorry. Ive never met anyone who had it like that. At
least youve still got a truck to sleep in. I share a
crummy house trailer with five other people. Three of them
are computer programmers. You have no idea what its
like to live with nerds.
Ivan chuckled. Ive never
been one, but I do know a few things about nerds.
The waitress pointed to the kitchen.
Ill trade you a cheeseburger for a job interview.
He shook his head. I dont
She stepped in close. Even if
you hire me at minimum wage, Im still better off. Im
in good with the people who run this dump. I can get hours
waiting tables or bussing when somebody calls in sick. The
only way to make it on this island is to have something on
your résumé that isnt retail or food services.
You wouldnt know it to look at them, but most of the
people in here dont have criminal records. That includes
the customers. Were just like you; were looking
for that one good break.
He stared at his half-empty beer mug.
I could think better if I had a cheeseburger in me.
My name is Peggy, the energetic
woman said as she jogged for the kitchen.
Another sip of the cold beer helped
him to mellow. As he relaxed, he remembered the rocket launch
hed seen earlier that day. He thought about his own
reasons for coming to Kodiak, and all the risks associated
with such a bold move. He considered the unexpected phone
call, and what a lucky break it could be. He thought about
Peggy the waitress and what she had said.
The server was ebullient as she returned
with his cheeseburger. I just want you to know that
I logged my application with the employment database. You
know my name, so it wont be hard to figure out which
résumé is mine.
In spite of her excitement, he could
tell that she was bracing for rejection. I still need
to taste this cheeseburger.
She waited courteously while he worked
his way through two bites. After a long swig that finished
off the beer in his glass, he put the mug down with a flourish.
Ive been thinking about what you said. I still
want to see whats on your résumé.
She nodded. Check it.
With a burp, he took out his PDD and
accessed his business e-mail account. There were six responses
to his request for computer programmers, two for his request
for an electronics engineer, and only one for the position
of office manager. He opened that message and read the short
One item caught his eye. You
went to Tanana Valley Community College?
Accounting and secretarial studies,
He folded his PDD and put it away.
Why are you here?
I dont understand the question,
she answered warily.
Ivan turned in his chair to look right
at her. They call this place a starport, but its
really just a super-sized industrial park. I know why Im
here. I suppose I never really thought about it until now,
but I do know that much. I know what I want to do. Im
asking you the same question. Why are you here?
Peggy fidgeted. I dont
know. I suppose I never gave it much thought.
He stayed busy for a moment with his
food. Your résumé says you graduated from
a high school in Anchorage. What made you cross the water?
The peripatetic woman sat across from
him. I just did, okay? Im not very cosmic. I dont
try to figure these things out. I was looking for a cool job,
and this place seemed like it might have what I wanted. Its
not my fault it turned out to be cold, wet, rainy, and so
freaking miserable that I could just die every time it snows.
Ivan ate the last of his cheeseburger
and wiped his mouth with a paper napkin. Sounds to me
like youre here for all the right reasons. The last
thing I want in an office manager is a ladder climbing résumé
hog. Ill consider this to be your job interview. Come
to my office tomorrow morning at eight and Ill give
you my decision. You can get the address off the job announcement.
Peggy smiled, pleased. Youre
a good guy. The fact that you didnt ask me to sleep
with you says a lot.
He smiled back and reached for his
wallet. Im too tired for that, and I have too
much to do. I might use you as a pillow, but thats about
as far as wed get. Heres twenty. Keep the change.
Dont say anything to anybody about this. Ill tell
you straight when Ive made up my mind. Im in a
bad place right now, and its hard to think. Lets
see what everything looks like tomorrow morning and go from
The woman disappeared with a nod. Ivan
left the Iceworm and walked back to his truck. The sky held
a three-quarter moon. He stopped at a nearby gas station to
put twenty dollars worth of petro-ethanol in his tank. The
idea of having just ten dollars in his pocket didnt
seem like such a bad thing as he drove back to his empty office
The dashboard clock ticked over to
11 p.m. as he turned off the security system and opened the
garage door with the remote control keyed into his PDD. The
old truck rolled to a stop next to the clean white van, with
an embarrassing squeak of tires, shocks, and leaf springs.
Turning off the engine, he got out and climbed into the rusty
bed of the vehicle as the overhead lights came on.
Pulling off the canvas that covered
his personal possessions, he dropped the tailgate with a bang
as the loading bay door closed automatically. Starting with
a pair of long folding tables, he made ten trips from his
truck to the nearest work station. The large ventilated room
was labeled as a machine shop. An hour and ten minutes later,
hed unpacked six hand-built computers in various states
of repair, and a mismatched assortment of bench tools and
testing gear. Seven displays and monitors sat on the floor
where hed stacked them. Two cardboard boxes of circuits,
boards, modems, memory devices, and connectors completed the
You have got to be kidding,
Ivan muttered when he realized he still had no chair. Using
both of the dirty spare tires from his truck, he fashioned
a temporary seat. He adjusted the environmental controls for
the big room, increasing the light levels, and then peeled
off his coat. Working fast, he assembled one of the desktop
computers. Plugging the cobbled-together PC into the buildings
surface area network, he accessed the internet. Working through
the night, he completed more than fifty pages of federal and
state paperwork relating to the specialized electronics package
he was being asked to build.
He sweated from stress as he paid filing
and research fees with a rapidly shrinking credit line. Patent
options, permits, and contracts for professional diagrams
ate into his self-esteem as much as they brutalized his credit
rating. As the sun came up over the mountains, he completed
his first round of part orders. The only good news seemed
to be that his thumbnail cost estimate was running a little
high. Hed be able to come down on his asking price if
the need arose. Even so, many of the precision components
he wanted would take two weeks or more to arrive on his doorstep.
He had just sent his formal proposal
for the Northern Pride project when an automated gender-neutral
voice from the intercom jarred him into a fully upright standing
Door bell, customer service entrance.
Human assistance is required.
Pulling off his glasses, he wiped his
greasy face. The chime sounded three more times before he
was able to find the customer service entrance. His PDD told
him it was two minutes after eight. Through the security glass
in the large door, he could see a humanoid figure wrapped
in a long, green raincoat. Cold sleet and rain pelted off
the dark vinyl of her coat as Peggy raised a pair of large,
white, plastic coffee cups.
Come in, he said as he
opened the door.
Her athletic shoes squeaked on the
thick rubber door mat as she hurried in. Im not
lateyou are. Remember that. Here, have some coffee.
Ivan closed the door and drank from
the offered cup. Ive got a few things to finish
up, then we can talk.
She followed him back to his work area
as rainwater dribbled off her gear. I was so excited,
I could hardly sleep. Say, is it just me or do you have a
whole lot of nothing going on around here?
The bleary-eyed man showed her into
his cluttered work space. This is a million-dollar building.
If I can hang on to it, Ill fill it with million-dollar
Dont forget million-dollar
people, Peggy commented as she slurped her coffee.
He shuffled his feet. Look, I
havent really had time to look at your résumé.
You showed up, and that counts for a lot in my book. The job
is yours, at minimum, if you want it.
She lowered her cup. Of course
I want it. Thats why Im here. Theres a dozen
people in my same situation on this end of the island. Im
not going to let you take advantage of me, but Ill go
the extra mile if thats what it takes. From what I see
right now, you need all the help you can get. No offense.
Ivan rubbed the sweat from his forehead.
None taken. Ill forward your résumé
to the employment officer for the background check. Get down
to the starport admin center right now. Dont leave until
youve got your papers and ID card. If your background
doesnt check out as clean, dont bother coming
back here, okay?
No runs, no drips, no errors.
Im clean, she quipped as she zipped up her raincoat.
He nodded. If that turns out
to be true, get me some office furniture on the way back.
Start with chairs. There are at least two thrift stores on
this island. Bring me the receipts and Ill reimburse
Peggy frowned. You dont
have any cash?
With a sigh, he handed over the last
of his money. She eyed the damp ten dollar bill before putting
it in her wallet. If I didnt know you lived in
a truck, Id swear you were cheap.
Ivan laid a hand on the top of his
computer. The instrument proposal I just sent doesnt
have a lot of zeroes before the decimal, but itll be
enough to get me some clean underwear and cover your first
paycheck. I promise.
She laughed and headed for the door
after tossing her empty cup into a trash bin.
Time slowed as fatigue set in. Ivans
head and feet felt heavy as he shuffled off to the nearest
bathroom. The idea of waiting for the phone to ring seemed
preposterous as he went about his morning ablutions. An improvised
sponge bath and a quick shave with a disposable razor well
past its prime didnt make him feel better, but it did
keep him awake. Without thinking, he put on the same clothes
hed worn the day before.
His company phone chirped at five minutes
after ten. Sitting on the floor of his office, he picked up
the old-fashioned receiver.
Roberts was on the other end, sounding
enthusiastic. Hey, man, I like this. Tell your people
they do good work. Just one question. I did some checking.
The price-tag for an item like this seems a little bit low.
Whats going on with that?
Ivan mentally cursed his lack of retail
market research. You said your client didnt want
to own the patent on the thing. Im just trying to be
cool about it so we can do business again.
The jet mechanic became conspiratorial.
You want to knock the price on this up by about ten
percent? Ill split the difference with you. I dont
know about you, but I could use the money. Ive got a
son that likes to eat quite a bit. He just started college,
and that aint cheap, either.
Ivan yawned, and then shook his head
to drive away the floaters from his tired eyes. I dont
care what you do on your end. Just like you, my name is on
the door. Youll get a fair price from me and a good
product. Nothing else... mostly.
Are things that good out there?
Roberts asked, openly envious.
Getting to his feet, Ivan looked out
the window. Bronze light flickered on the roiling sea as the
mid-morning sun began to make its presence felt. You
shouldnt believe everything you see on the news. Local
weather takes some getting used to. Its a small price
to pay for being so close to the real deal.
When are you going into space?
Roberts asked, only half joking.
The woozy business man tapped on the
nearest window glass. Not today, I can tell you that
right now. If its not a problem, Id like to get
the down payment on that project by this afternoon. I can
still do the rush job, just this once. Were going to
burn the candle at both ends to make your thirty-day deadline.
The implication made the other man
pause. Gee. Maybe I want to stay right where I am. I
dont think I want that much work. Building two or three
jets a year from scratch is good enough for me. You must be
raking it in.
Ivan looked down at his wrinkled clothes.
So busy I barely have time to sleep.
Ill call you back at two
with the clients answer. Can I get you at this number?
Sure, Ivan slurred through
a yawn that overpowered him.
The caffeine crash combined with fatigue
blurred his vision. Stumbling out to his truck, he unrolled
a sleeping bag on the tailgate and fell asleep. The door chime,
followed by an automated message from the intercom, startled
him back to life just after 1:30.
Door bell, customer service entrance.
Human assistance is required.
Sliding off the tailgate, he put on
his glasses and plodded to the door. Peering through a small
window, he could see a late-model pickup truck waiting near
the entrance to the loading bay. Headlights flashed when the
driver caught sight of him through the pouring rain. The vehicles
cargo appeared to be covered by at least two large blue plastic
tarps. When Ivan didnt move, the driver honked three
times. The old trucks horn sounded just as tired and
worn out as he felt. After another moment of hesitation, he
keyed the garage door to open.
As the vehicle slid to a stop inside
the loading area, Peggy slid from the cab, accompanied by
two young men. Dont say anything. I needed these
guys to move the furniture.
Ivan waited for the garage door to
close before he walked over to see what was under the tarps
in the back of the truck. Without being told, the men began
to unload modular office furniture. The pile, which included
at least eight chairs, grew quickly in the remaining empty
space of the now full loading dock.
You got all this for ten bucks?
he asked slowly.
I got all this for nothing,
she stated boldly.
Ivan raised his hands and his voice.
Hold on! Who did you rob?
The ambitious woman said smugly, I
know a guy. This stuff was in storage and its been unclaimed
for two years. So, I claimed it. I used your ten bucks to
get these guys and their truck for thirty minutes. Neat, huh?
Confused, Ivan scratched his head and
moved in to examine the loot. You guys on the level
One of the workers lowered a disassembled
desk to the concrete and nodded. Theres junk like
this all over the starport. Furniture, appliances, computers.
You name it. This place is growing so fast that I dont
think anyone really knows whats been shoved aside and
forgotten. I once talked to a guy who got his hands on four
Ivan was about to speak when his PDD
signaled an incoming message. Flipping the device open, he
thumbed through a series of menus until he found what he was
looking for. The e-mail from Northern Pride contained the
order confirmation and an attachment for an invoice... and
the confirmation slip for a bank transfer. As requested, Roberts
client had paid half the projected design and production cost
up front. The rest would be due in thirty days.
Good news? Peggy asked.
He closed the PDD. Nope. Just
Sorry, she pouted.
The instrument development deal was
good news, but it didnt mean he was out of the woods
yet. Most of the advance would be spent in just three days
to make minimum payments against his many bills. To get out
of the hole and build up some forward momentum, hed
have to drum up more business so that he could afford to recruit
He looked at the pile of dusty furniture.
Say, guys, I heard you mention computers. Are we talking
about hand-helds, desktops, or mainframes?
The fellow whod been talking
about coffins pulled out a chair and sat. Parts is parts.
Ivan smiled. Not quite. Parts
with warranties are worth having. Anything else is junk.
The second man wiped at his pants.
You want processors and memory devices. Man, are you
that hard up?
Suppose I am? he asked
as the germ of an idea began to take root in his tired mind.
With their cargo unloaded, the two
men neatly folded the tarpaulins and piled into their truck.
The engine turned over after a slow grind. The driver stuck
his head out. Peggy has our number. Well start
looking for computer junk with active warranties. Give us
a week. See you!
Sensors in the area detected the movement
of the truck and automatically opened the garage door. The
two men sped off into the rain and fading afternoon light.
Ivan massaged his temples and tried
to think as Peggy began to separate the pieces of furniture.
She seemed quite interested in the modular desk set. Man,
this is great! I didnt realize all this stuff matched.
Have you seen the list price for this kind of thing? Theres
got to be five grand in perfectly good stuff sitting in this
Can I assume your background
check came back clean? he asked.
She stopped what she was doing to take
off her raincoat. She reached for the smart card that hung
around her neck and handed it to him. You forgot to
log me in as your pick, but some lady named Mary Moon fixed
it. Customer service or something like that. I dont
know. She was nice, though. That ID card will tell you everything
about me except my shoe size.
Ivan used his PDD to scan the card.
As promised, her starport personnel records were up to date,
with no signs of a criminal record. Her employment history
was short. Five years of progressively responsible administrative
work, two years in food service, one year in retail. It was
the curriculum vitae of a hard worker. Her physical address
indicated a trailer park that he was familiar with.
The clock on his PDD read 2:30. Ivan
went to his truck. Rolling up the sleeping bag, he tossed
it forward and raised the tailgate with a loud metal clack.
I have to go see somebody about a project bid. Im
not sure when Ill be back. You should stop what youre
doing and go home. We can get a fresh start tomorrow.
Peggy stood up. Man, you look
like I feel, but thats no reason to quit early. Ive
had enough office jobs to know that its all about the
hustle. You can tell yourself that tomorrow is a new day and
all that junk, but nothing beats honest sweat and hard labor.
Ivan swayed on his feet. What
are you suggesting?
She pushed a box of small parts to
one side. If you have a deal to make, go and do it.
When I leave, the maintenance computer will shut off the lights
and lock all the doors. Putting this stuff together isnt
hard, but it will take time. I brought my own screwdriver.
Ivan went to his truck. Sitting in
the cab with the door open, he used his PDD to phone Mary
Moon. Do you have time to see me today? My schedule
has opened up, and Id like to file a bid on that job
you mentioned yesterday.
She was calm, positive and direct.
Thats good news. If you can get over here now,
Id be willing to have my staff assistant lend a hand
with the paperwork. I know that parts and tools are a problem
just now, but we can use all the help we can get. Theres
a lifting body going up in six days. Ground control is having
problems with software and some old hardware. If you can make
the red lights turn green, youll be somebodys
He rubbed his tired eyes. Could
I be a hero with a two-week cash advance?
Mary tried not to laugh. Im
sorry. Thats not funny. Things must be pretty tense
for you right now. Yes, we can arrange a cash advance. Youll
have more than enough overtime to make up for it. I wouldnt
count on this kind of generosity again, though. We need your
services, but this is a growing business. If youre lucky,
youll have a free hand for six months before somebody
figures out what youre doing. Then, boyo, youll
have all the competition you can handle.
Im on my way, he
said, and then ended the call.
Good news? Peggy asked
as she walked into his field of vision.
He nodded. I think so. Look,
Im in for some hard knocks. I think Im going to
need people on my payroll whove already been kicked
around some. Last night, you mentioned that somebody who works
at the Iceworm is a dynamic systems expert. Tell him to call
me. I want to see his résumé and his portfolio.
If I like what I see, Ill talk to him face to face.
She grinned. Ill tell him.
Ive got part-time hours for the rest of the week.
Ivan looked away. Thirty days
is a long time. Even with minimum wage help, its not
a sure thing. What kind of car do you drive?
It was her turn to look away. I
dont have a car.
How did you get here this morning?
She blinked. Walked some, hitched
the rest. Had to keep the coffee warm.
He took his keys from the ignition
and got out of the truck. You know what? Im going
to take the van. Got my image to think of.
Pulling the door and engine keys off
his crowded ring, he handed them to Peggy. This truck
has a full tank of gas. Before you go, take the stuff out
of the back and leave it in my office.
I cant take this,
Ivan kept moving toward the long, white
panel van. Your résumé says you have a
drivers license and no outstanding tickets. Like I said,
I have my image to think about. Youll make me look bad
if people see you walking to work. The gas in that truck should
last you two weeks. If it doesnt, thats your problem.
She put the keys in her pocket as he
opened the drivers side door and swung into the van.
Her large smile made him feel good. He closed the door and
powered down the window. Remember what you said about
looking for a good break? Well, this is it... for both of
Powering the window back up, he used
the vans instrument panel to open the garage door. He
backed out and sped away, surrounded by the aroma of new car.
The vehicles automatic seatbelt
system held him comfortably in place as he drove. On-board
sensors turned up the headlights and adjusted their lightwave
output to provide the best possible illumination through the
Minutes later, he arrived at the busy
administration building. No covered parking was available.
He found a spot near the entrance and shut the engine off.
Bracing himself, he leapt out of the van and rushed through
the cold rain into the well-furnished lobby. The sudden attack
of chilled water rolling down his neck was like a shot of
adrenaline. Still moving rapidly, he followed the directions
printed on signs that hung from the ceiling until he reached
a suite of offices labeled Small Business Support.
Marys staff assistant was waiting
for him in the outer office. Her professional dress matched
her demeanor. She was brisk, but never impolite. Working in
a reserved conference room, she made no comments about his
fidgeting or his pacing to hold off the fatigue that was causing
his speech to slow at irregular intervals.
After three hours of intense questions
and answers, followed by signatures on more than two dozen
forms, she suggested that he take a break.
Thank you. He smiled, popping
up from his chair like a cork from a pressurized bottle. Walking
quickly out of the long conference chamber, he went to the
nearest bathroom. After relieving himself and washing his
hands, he went in search of a vending machine. Tearing open
a small compartment inside his Velcro wallet, he removed six
one-dollar coins and fed them into the automated dispenser.
Punching the selector button twice, he reached for two large
frosty cold bottles. They toppled out of the mechanism into
his waiting hands.
Walking slowly back toward the conference
room, he luxuriated in the five throat-searing swallows it
took to empty the first bottle of cola. Dropping the empty
container in the first trash can he passed, Ivan was met by
Mary Moon and a nervous man in blue jeans. The worried mans
ebony features were washed out by the loud t-shirt he wore.
The business manager tossed her hair
as she stepped forward. Mr. Gallagher, would you come
with me? We have a problem that needs your expertise, and
wed like to have it handled quietly. I cant really
take no for an answer, okay?
Lets roll, he said,
opening the second bottle of caffeinated soda with a hiss.
The black man strolled next to him
as Mary led the way. Were going to launch control.
Theres a problem with a wireless relay in the telemetry
section. Its old stuff. If we had somebody on staff,
Id call em. Trouble is, this stuff is old-old,
Ivan took a long drink as they passed
through a secured checkpoint. Everything and everybody
burns out, eventually.
The ground controller put a hand on
his shoulder. If it works, we dont mess with it.
Youll have to see what Im talking about for yourself.
This was sabotage. Somebody blew it up.
Whatve you got for a backup?
Ivan asked through a small burp.
The other man shook his head. Our
budget has been really tight. The old man makes every penny
scream before it goes out the door. Somebody used a small
plastic explosive charge on an item that was our last unit
Ivan continued to follow Mary as she
picked up the pace. If your thingy was wireless, it
couldnt have been memory. Control interface?
Yeah, the technician replied,
Energized by the sugar and stimulant
spike, Ivan took out a handkerchief to clean his glasses while
they rode an elevator down two stories. Sounds like
your fix will be a few snips of fiber optic line and some
If we had any, the worried
aerospace worker grumbled.
Ivan paused after he was led out of
the elevator. Ive noticed something. Ever since
I got here, its been all about scrap and scrounge. Wheres
all the state-of-the-art stuff? How come everybody is making
do with programs and parts that are five and six years old?
Mary stopped to hold a door open for
the men to pass. Its all about profitability.
We can get our clients into space if we can keep it affordable.
The real profits come from long-term contracts. Telemetry
maintenance, for example. They pay us to put it up there,
and then they pay us to drive it around for them.
Ivan trotted down the dark steps, as
indicated. You said something about sabotage?
The controller stopped to open a locked
door with his thumb print. We have competitors. Not
just other starports, but aerospace companies of all shapes
and sizes. Whoever put a spy on the inside of our operation
used less than a hundred bucks worth of synthetic trinitrotoluene
in just the right spot. If our insurance carrier finds out
that weve lost control of the packages, platforms, and
vehicles were supposed to be monitoringfor any
length of timethey can and will cancel our coverage.
Mary pushed Ivan through the open door.
No insurance means breach of contract to every client
we have, which means we sink faster than the Titanic. The
clock really is ticking. That systems been offline for
eight minutes. If the spy phoned in a tip to our insurance
company, we can expect to hear from them at any time. When
their rep shows up, they need to see a fully functional operation
with no evidence of sabotage.
Lurching into a large, cold room, Ivan
stopped in front of a layout diagram. The controller pointed
to the affected section of component racks. Jogging more than
fifty feet to the indicated group of systems, he came to a
halt in front of a lopsided mass of smoking, twisted metal
that smelled of burnt plastic.
Holy cow, he blurted as
the controller arrived, followed by a fast-walking Mary.
The man pointed at the surrounding
boxes. See what I mean? Very precise. Almost no collateral
damage. You still think this can be fixed with cables and
Ivan scratched his chin. It would
be very... very... temporary.
What do you need? the technician
Ivan emptied his soda bottle in one
long gurgling swallow. Handing the bottle to Mary, he stepped
in close to eyeball the outdated electronics. Be honest
with me. This makes these talk to those, right?
The tech looked at Mary, then to Ivan.
The short answer is yes. I wish I could
say more, but youre not cleared for this and Id
like to keep my job.
Ivan staggered slightly. Okay,
then. Turn it off. Everything in this rack that draws power
needs to be off so I dont electrocute myself. Then,
Ill need a hammer and the oldest fax machine youve
got. I can get what I need from that. Pliers, and a soldering
iron. Duct tape is good, but not vital.
Mary looked at her watch and nudged
the controller. Beg, borrow, steal.
Ivan watched the serious man run to
the door. I cant believe you guys are this helpless.
The company rep folded her arms. Weve
had other problems with security. Some of the people who come
to work here are worse than spies. They lie on their applications.
We have to let them go when it turns out they cant actually
do the job. We can still do everything we advertise, but were
short-handed right now.
Without warning, all the indicator
lights on the shelf of affected systems winked out. Six minutes
crawled by before the controller returned with the requested
items and an audience.
Ivan talked as he worked. You
guys really do need to switch this stuff to a surface network.
Itd be much harder to sabotage. Whoever did this was
smart, or they had good advice. Most people go out of their
way to put lots of safeties in their software. Very few people
think about protecting their hardware.
His remarks drew a barrage of spiteful
comments from the assembled technicians as he worked to remove
the destroyed components. Mary shouted them down as he tore
open the fax machine to cannibalize parts. This wont
be encrypted, and itll melt in about fifteen hours of
constant use. That should be just enough time to order the
good stuff and have it flown in overnight. Have your people
call my people, and Ill be back here tomorrow to plug
and play. He rapidly completed his makeshift repairs.
Cross your fingers and turn on the power.
Mary smiled. Come on, let me
show you something.
As the crowd broke up, she led him
out of the secured electronics bay. On his way out, he gave
the hammer and pliers to the man in the bright t-shirt. Dont
lose those. I might need them later. Reboot the system, one
box at a time. Dont tax the bit rate until everything
is up to full cycle.
Tossing the empty drink bottle into
a trash receptacle as she walked, Mary guided Ivan to an elevator.
They rode up three floors. Thanks.
He yawned. I dont think
my paperwork is done. Do I still get to bill you for that?
She laughed as they got off the elevator
and walked down a dimly lit hallway. Your paperwork
is done, and yes, you can bill us for that. My assistant said
you were a real trouper.
Its what I do, he
mumbled as they walked through a large pair of metal doors.
This is what its all about,
she said, stepping aside so that he could see the vast layout
of the ground control department.
A hundred plasma screens hung above
more than fifty consoles as men and women worked quietly,
alone or in pairs. In the center of the cavernous chamber,
a massive holographic display portrayed the Earth and more
than four thousand telemetry tracks. Satellites, platforms,
and junk were each represented by tiny luminous icons.
When he didnt speak, Mary pointed
to the orbit model. Everything in blue is ours. Nothing
else is color-coded, just to keep it simple. The image is
accurate down to the weather patterns, which are updated in
real-time at a rate of five times per second. Eventually,
when you have a security rating, youll be able to have
a closer look.
How long does that take?
he asked, stepping closer to a handrail, his eyes not leaving
She giggled in appreciation of his
awe. Three to five weeks. Its a very thorough
background check, and itll include your employees.
The control rooms illumination
caught his attention. He checked the clock on his PDD. Man,
you could lose track of time in here. If Im going to
beat the background check to get that clearance, Id
better get busy with the hiring. He paused. You
know what? I saw a launch yesterday. That was really something.
Mary glanced at her own PDD. That
was a new satellite for Polar News Group. Theyre a good
customer. If we can keep the spies out and work smart, you
should see more launches. If you want to see something really
spectacular, keep an eye open for the lifting body that goes
up next week. Its fully self-containedgoes up
and comes down under its own power. Therell be some
very big flares when it takes off.
Ivan walked beside her as they left
mission control. You tell me if those guys need a cup
holder, or something with a touch screen.
Marys PDD signaled a waiting
phone call. Thatll be the insurance company. Can
you find your way out? This may take a while.
He tossed off a mock salute and went
back to the elevator. Arriving on the ground floor, he shuffled
into the lobby. Through the large tinted windows, he could
see that the rain had stopped. The afternoon sky was clearing
as he left the building and walked to his van. Unlocking the
door, he slid into the cool, dim cab. His PDD beeped to get
his attention. The caller ID function indicated that somebody
was dialing in from an aerospace company hed never heard
Hello? he drawled while
starting the engine.
Hey, I know its after five.
Sorry for the late call. The caller sounded frustrated.
Im working on a navigation assembly, and I got
some bad boards from an out-of-state company. Your web site
says you have a shop here at the Starport. Would you have
anything in stock thatll work for me? I can give you
the part numbers.
Ivan took his foot off the accelerator.
How do you know your parts are bad? Have they been tested?
The caller sighed. Look, this
isnt my regular job. Our ship goes up in five days.
These are fifty-dollar parts. The knucklehead who handles
this stuff is on vacation. There isnt enough time to
have these things fixed, and I dont have time to order
more before the launch.
Ivan sat up. Five days? Is your
company sending up that lifting body I heard about?
The proud smile on the other mans
face could be heard through the connection. Yeah, thats
us. Two hundred and seven thousand pounds of self-propelled
ceramics, carbon fiber, steel, and titanium. You should come
by and see it. The way things are going, Im going to
be here all night.
The invitation made Ivan smile. Im
at the Starport admin. They called me in to do some troubleshooting.
Let me swing by my shop and get some tools and testing gear.
It could be nothing more than a few loose micro-parts. I can
fix that. After we get your problem taken care of, you can
show me the cockpit.
The caller gave a relieved sigh. Come
on over. The boss is gone for the day, and I really do need
your help. If you can save my bacon, Ill let you sit
in the pilots chair. Who knows, it could be the closest
that either of us will ever get to being in space.
FROM THE KODIAK STARPORT
$12.99 + S/H