I looked over the plant design I was trying to rough out on the back of a placemat whilst dining with my harem.
A paper placemat? In a habitat pod? That was riding on the back of a big cargo ship floating next to an asteroid?
Yes, I'm an engineer. I always want something to write on, so I make sure that meals at the table includes paper placemats. Additionally, I have a replicator make me a new fountain pen along with the usual ink cartridges when I misplace one. I have no idea where the ones I lose keep going. I know my ... companions ... don't know where they go.?
Companions? Well, Slaves ... or Drones ... or Concubines.
Bullshit! In my heart of hearts I felt that I had five wives who I was insufferably happy with ... and not an in-law in sight! I was comforted by their quick comfort with me given my foibles and idiosyncrasies. It wasn't hard to adapt to each of their idiosyncracies. Never step on toes that are attached to a butt you may need to kiss, some day...
... or the same day, for that matter. All of them had delectable little butts, too.
All right, so I am an engineer, which means that aesthetics tend to be less important than for most people. For an engineer, well, form should follow function ... but these women did ask for cosmetic changes I had no problem approving. While their looks may not matter a whole lot to me, their happiness with the bodies they inhabited was important to me. Happy unworried faces and smiles from my companions goes a long way to keeping me happy and productive. Me contributing to their happiness any way I can goes a long way in keeping them happy and productive. The flow of happiness this way qualifies as a feedback loop.
Yes, legally, my five "wives" were effectively slaves, but, with the way I felt about all of them, it could be argued that they each owned an appreciable fraction of my heart. The bonds may be invisible, but, remember, there are always two ends to every chain.
Misery, like happiness, has its own feedback loop. Misery is nowhere near as pleasant to live in. Been there, done that...
While the Confederacy AIs do not consider any of my "wives" to be "citizens", I could not be the man I was, in a job that used more of my creative juices than any of the earth-bound jobs I'd held in years, if it weren't for their support, understanding ... and love. They'd watch over my shoulder and ask questions about my work, and, often, taking up the "I'm making believe that I'm a Blonde" mode, the process of answering questions and, often, explaining the answers, would usually snap a problem into focus for me, suggesting a collection of answers.
There were times I wished that I had skills enough to help them more in their activities.
I had long before learned that questions are often far more valuable than an answer. Why? Because a good question implies multiple answers! Doing any kind of systems or process analysis is often a study in finding the "right" questions to handle various priority schemes. On earth, money always narrowed down the number of "acceptable" answers.
In the Confederacy Space Navy's Construction Corps, the closest thing to the SeaBees, money is no longer the worry it used to be; now, economy was measured in energy consumption and time. For once we engineers had the opportunity to do things right instead of twice!
Like the problem I was fighting at the time this story began. The big replicators I was managing were each digesting metals-rich asteroids and using the materials to extrude new habitat pods. On one end they chewed up the asteroid while the other end gave birth to a pod ... as well as streams of the unused materials present in the raw feedstock. We had to use various tractor and pressor beams to manage this extra "slag" along with stabilizing the extruded pods. I had, just that day, roughed out a job for another replicator to use that slag and assembled ingots of "useful" materials, though I didn't have a "free" replicator to do so.
Don't ask me why the Confederacy replicator-based manufacturing facilities use nanites throughout, from the intake to the pool that extrudes the finished product. It was one "monolithic" device that the AIs managed to make layers of material, over and over, to assemble, using thin slices, the final product.
Our biggest problem was that pod production via the large replicators was slow. It could take almost a day for a single replication unit to extrude a pod as the replicator took in the chunks of asteroid ... and I had ten replicators working at the same time.
Yes, as I implied above, we used replicators for this job. With the shortage of labor—and the additional amount of supervision robots would need—we didn't have a means of assembling pods from subassemblies that would likely be faster to fabricate using the big replicators. Either way, we were short on manpower.
These replicators, though, were "standard" off-the-shelf units from the Confederacy, though, admittedly, these would have required some pretty large shelves. Somehow I do not think these would comfortably fit on any of the shelves that can be found in a Costco or Sam's Club.
Imagine, if you will, a tuna can twenty seven meters in diameter and six meters thick ... with pieces of an asteroid going into one end to bring raw materials in and a new pod budding off from it on the other end. As pods get completed, they get placed onto the outside of the freighter my pod is attached to. This was the seventeenth pod transport I was stocking since I had arrived in-system over a year before, and, when it was fully loaded, my pod would be detached and be left floating until the next empty transport arrived to collect a set of empties. We had one more day and the transport would be leaving my pod floating here, though we would be docked to what I called the "Service Module" which gave us power, gravity, raw materials and more AI compute power. Without that extra support pod we'd have been a lot more anxious. By the time the transport arrived we would usually be thankful for the company and an opportunity to step out of our pod.
I was sketching out—again—a flow-chart of the pod production process, trying, vainly, to find a way to get more pods out of them in a shorter period of time. I had already—with two of my concubines—found a few minor efficiencies that helped productivity which we had passed along to other pod production specialists. You can bet that I wasn't stupid enough to not take advantage of some of their insightful tricks that came our way.
Looking at the problem—again—all I could see was that there was no way we could keep up, over the long term, with the way the diaspora of Earth kept scaling up. We weren't far from falling too far behind and I knew that we were getting close to becoming the critical path holding back the evacuation of the earth.
Engineers, if you don't know already, don't like to be in the critical path for anything.
"Hon," Joanie asked me, "Why are you so tense?"
I sighed. "We're less than two months from falling behind in production of pods. I've seen the schedules for the expanded rate of extractions and the demand for pods needed on the new transports—especially kilopod transports—is going to go up at an incredible rate. We've got less than two months before we can't provide enough pods. I've been trying to push the production rate up but there's only so fast these replicators can work, even with the tweaks we've made through the AIs."
Joanie has been a jewel to me, she always asks good questions. She—and Holly—had been two student interns working with my company when I had been extracted while out for lunch near a construction site. I was sure both of them would get past the 6.5 CAP line on their re-test, when their next birthday came around. While I would miss them when they went off to head their own families, at the same time, I had some pride in both of them. One complicating factor in all of this was that they were both in their third trimester and expecting to deliver within another two months.
Pam and Tam—originally Tammy—had been chosen at the pick-up site. They were an easy choice since both of them were mothers with children. Paula, Pam's thirteen year-old daughter, came with us as a "child", and, on turning fourteen with a 5.8 CAP, became my fifth wife. Paula was due to turn fifteen in another four months but would deliver her first child within the month.
I will admit that being a "daddy" is not something I had felt I would be comfortable with, but, like any project, felt that I was learning to enjoy the process of raising children along with a lot of the duties that came with it.
All right, so I cheated. Working with the AI we developed a much more efficient diaper that would not merely hold larger loads but would better isolate the child from irritation. I later found that my design spread through those in the diaspora like lightning.
With Pam and Tam handling the children like it was first nature (they proved they were far more competent as mothers than wives, but, to be frank, at least they did not mind the exercise required to get pregnant) we had, even being hip deep in children, a happy and pleasant home.
Perhaps it was because we were hip deep in children that we could have a happy and pleasant home, for the children were often a joy to deal with, taking me away from thinking about my job, or, at least, giving me good distractions. Mind you, my mind wandered back to work, on and off, and sometimes got stuck there. Dealing with my children—and the ones I had inherited when I took on Pam and Tam—helped to let my subconscious grind away at the technical problems I spent a lot of time dealing with.
.... There is more of this story ...