Shifting Gears
Chapter 1

Caution: This Science Fiction Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Science Fiction, Polygamy/Polyamory, sci-fi adult story,sci-fi sex story,adult science fiction story

Desc: Science Fiction Sex Story: Chapter 1 - An ordinary man gets hit so often by whimsy's slap that nothing seems real or accountable any more. Great wealth is had for the asking and many changes occur in the character's doom. Tony, the protagonist, nearly goes mad as his viewpoint is whipsawed between viewpoints and abilities. I fear that only a reader of the old testament will be able to follow this, but here we go...

The story of a man reaching middle age and re-discovering how to live.

This has many themes transplanted from several other stories of mine. It's not all 'peepee kaka' as master Robin Williams has put it, or repetitious crap. Several new themes have been explored such as how to address piracy at sea and what the duties are of a captain in case of mutiny. There are some basic religious themes addressed pointing out the difference between Babylonian and current religious practices. A certain --unproved but possible-- technology is exploited and a conceptual remodelling of the South African nation is explored. This story has been written in three rather large sections and Deity knows how Stories Online will break it up, but there you go. Happy reading, and even I, the author, don't know where this horse will come to rest. Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines...

Howdy! I'm Tony French, a mid-western Catholic boy that fell into a rose patch face first.

I'd been whacked by the alcohol stick and stabbed a few times by girlfriends but still got up the next day to go to work and do my job. At thirty-three I was wiry, thin and pretty bummed out over losing my driver's license from getting caught driving drunk--again.

I was standing in line on March first, waiting to pay off my final house payment, when a black whacko (He must have been the only black guy in Plano! What the fuck was he thinking?) tried to hold up the bank. He started dancing around with a .45 held sideways like he had his pants stuffed full of pit vipers, waving around that pistol and screaming. I got disgusted with his pissed-off-orangatang impression. I picked up a brass waste basket and clocked the motherfucker. He went down like a sack of grain. Just out of good sense I stepped on his pistol and stood there, waiting for the cops to show up, late for the dance, as usual.

Plano's finest blasted in like a wannabe swat team, ordering everyone down on the floor, including the little old ladies that didn't get around so well any more. I took out my fancy-pants phone/camera that my sister gave me for my birthday and started snapping pictures. One cop pistol whipped me and started screaming in my face. I took a picture of his face and his badge. When he went to kick me I caught his ankle on the second blow to dump him on his ass, then grabbed the idiot by the ear and pointed at the pistol still under my foot. "Calm down and get the fucking evidence." It took him a minute, but then he took out a fist full of baggies and got the .45 in a bag without touching it.

By then the captain had arrived. I heared him groan as he saw all the people on the ground and his keystone cops screaming at all of them. He walked around and whacked each and every one of them on the ear. They quieted down and slowly got their shit together. Cap came around to me, saw the pistol and said "tell me a story." He clicked on a little tape recorder and waited. I stood there and thought for a minute, then looked at my watch. I did my best to tell him what happened, as close to minute-by-minute that I could. When I'd finished he nodded, then reached for my phone. I shook my head-- "no-no, imbecile"--and put it in my pocket. "That's evidence that I don't want to dissappear. My lawyer gets my phone and your state's attorney gets a certified copy." He looked ugly, but he agreed. I walked over to a desk, got the okay from the head teller and called an attorney out of the phone book. She agreed to get down there as soon as she could get from Yorkville to Plano. While all the bullshit was going down I called over the head teller and paid off my home loan. There. I'd at least got that done.

One of the detectives sidled up to me and started threatening me with anything and everything he could think of. I had a hard time not grinning as I'd pushed the voice record function on my phone just after he started in on me. I talked over him twice, to get his badge number and his last name. When he finished I quickly took a snapshot of his face and ducked around behind another cop so I was out of his reach. When the captain saw him charging me he got the idiot in a thumb lock and had another cop take him outside. "Did he just do something really stupid?" "Yeah. Abuse of powers stupid." I watched his shoulders drop. "I knew that the deal I got coming to work for this burg was too good. Fuck."

I felt bad for the poor bastard. He must have been hired to ride herd on a station full of Barney Fifes and came in blind. There was a lot of compost about to be turned over. I was glad that I was on the stick side of the pitch fork.

After being deposed (interrogated within an inch of my life) I went back to life as usual. I sank my sixteen hundred a month into the bank rather than my loan and kept on putting one foot in front of the other.

Just after Christmas my case came up in Springfield. The venue had been changed because there was evidence of local corruption on a large scale that had been going on for decades.

I swear that the hair stood up on the back of my neck when I heard that I'd just made eleven million three hundred thousand bucks tax free from the several judgements. I didn't even ask what my attorney made. All I knew was that she walked out of that courtroom like the cat that got first dibs at the cream.

Somebody didn't think my jugement was fair. Hell, even I thought I got paid too much, but isn't arson a little steep? I didn't even get to pull my bicycle into my driveway. The house was on fire. The garage was on fire. The fire department wasn't even trying to put it out. They just tried to stop it from spreading. A grinning cop walked up to me and said, "Too bad. Must have been a gas leak." He smelled like gasoline. I didn't waste my time punching him out. I jumped straight up and kicked sideways into the inside of his knee with my weight solidly behind it as I came back down. While he screeched, yelled, bled and thrashed around on the ground I got into my pickup that, thank God, I'd parked on the street and headed out of town. I wasn't welcome there any more. In Yorkville, just down the road, I got an arson investigation started with the sherrif's department, then left the area to be safely anonymous for a while.

I drove up to Aurora and took a room for a few nights an an upscale motel next to the casino. I watched a show on Discovery Channel about the life and times of Jaques Cousteau. The idea of living aboard a ship caught my fancy.

I had my ticket as a CNC machinist and as a lead tool-and-die maker. I could set up, mill, form and finish a plastic injection mold with the best of them. I wasn't afraid of manual labor and wasn't afraid to let people know it, either. If you couldn't be proud of what you did for a living then why get out of bed in the morning? I could find a good-paying job about anywhere that they did metal cutting. The big question was, with eleven million in the bank, why get a job at all? I guess that it boiled down to boredom and habit. I'd been working since work-study in high school and didn'k know HOW to stop.

I stopped by a big international bank in Chicago to look for a personal banker. I needed someone to watch over me and my money. I found a young guy that no doubt still had college loan payments. He seemed serious and concientious so I hired him. His name was Jack.

I had no idea what I was getting into. Let that be known from the start. I did some reading at the local library and nothing that I saw or read put me off of my project. I kept on absorbing what I could by remote learning--through books. Since I figured I'd be traveling for the rest of my life I put down my bucks for a passport to get the paperwork started. Then I found a place in Beloit Wisconsin, a bit northwest of Chicago, that taught classes on how to operate, maintain and overhaul big diesel marine engines. They were huge! I was fascinated by all that moving metal working in concert, like a powerful dance. I took all their courses over eight months and got my certs. It was probably the best thing that I could have done. It gave me a lot of confidence and prepared me for what was ahead. Afterwards I was thirty-four and a bit.

I haunted a few 'boat for sale' sites on the web, looking for a new or used vessel that had my name written on it. Damn, but if I didn't find one, at least to use as a model to expand from.

A company in British Columbia had built forty-two foot steel-hulled custom trawlers as live-aboards. The owner made a business of building them, so it wasn't a one-shot with built-in peculiarities. It was listed at three hundred and fifty thousand bucks Canadian, new off the dock in British Columbia. It was still missing a water heater, generator, radar, auto-pilot and battery farm, but everything was--nice. I felt comfortable while touring it, and wherever I looked or reached I found what I expected. It was if I'd lived on it for years.

The only complaint I had was the thing was uncomfortably small for me, as I'd been living in a place where the entire ship could fit in my living room/kitchen. (Okay, the prow would stick a couple feet out the sliding glass door.) I contacted the builder and put down a deposit for another steel hulled live-aboard, one hundred and two feet long, twenty-three feet wide, (roughly 31M x 7M) with no goddamned high-maintenance teak. I was able to specify the engine used in the build-out. I had a "smaller" Fairbanks-Morse FM-MAN L27 38 nine cylinder diesel engine installed along with two Caterpillar diesel generators. Fairbanks-Morse was the place that I'd gotten my engine training and that was what I wanted to operate. I had her built as a wider vessel, with a partial twin-hull instead of a pure displacement hull, for lateral stability in rough weather. The ship's length demanded bow thrusters for docking and close-in navigation. When your engine weighs over thirty-seven tons the scale of ship's frame loading takes a left turn right out of the dock. What with the engine mass and the liquid tanks the center of mass was a lot lower than any sailboat could boast. She was designed with three decks. Bottom deck was engineering and stores. Mid deck was residence, galley and salon leading out onto the rear deck. Top deck was bridge, bridge crew residence and a hot tub.

I had a laundry list of things I wanted built in, such as a propane locker and lines run to serve a Thermidor four burner top/char-grill/nickel top propane stove with a pair of good slide-in ovens topped by a 1000cfm stainless steel hood. Everything in the kitchen was either stainles steel or a maple topped pastry table. I had a small propane-fired barbecue grill on the stern rail, nearby a bolted-down picnic table. I specified that LED light bars were to be mounted under the cabinetry and on the rear deck instead of the larger bulb-based 12-volt lights he'd been using before. We sat down together to specify a good model ship's radio, radar and water heater. FURUNO had a nicely integrated, if pricey radar/display/AIS/GPS/autopilot solution that I liked. It was a full navigation and control solution.

A dry food storage locker was built in next to the galley and a small washer/dryer pair were installed there. Normally chest freezers are frowned upon in civilian craft, but I built the operating cost into my energy budget. I bought the most efficient chest freezer that I could find. I also installed an upright side-by-side freezer for kitchen deep prep and dough storage. The water heater had to be large to accomodate the hot tub and the industrial lift-gate dish-washer. I liked my hot tea, so I had him install an instant-delivery hot water dispenser for me. Equipping the vessel with a medium capacity ice-maker was understood as I'd be doing some fishing and would want to preserve at least some of my catch on ice. (Large capacity ice makers are insane! I'd have to operate a cruise ship to need that much ice!) I insisted on a walk-in refrigerator, four feet wide by six feet deep. There were dedicated receptacles and locations for a big mixer (I specced out a Hobart 12-quart floor mixer), an electric fryer and a steam kettle. I bought a few things and put them aside, such as a small proofing cabinet, half sheet-pans, a rack for the sheet pans and a big electric pasta maker with a nine-inch throat. It would make pizza crusts with minimal effort. I'd learned my lesson while working in a restaurant kitchen in the summers off from school and bought pastry table with a refrigerated plate on top.

Why so much time and trouble expended on the kitchen? When you've spent ten years or so in a restaurant kitchen during the summers you learn what works and what doesn't. A friend of mine from high school needed kitchen help for his parents' catering shop. I learned pastry there and fooled around with pizza sauces for a couple of years. Oh, I supposed that I'd want a larger Kitchen Aid counter-top mixer for small batch stuff and sausage work, but I wanted the big appliances in first.

The extra length over and above his standard model went into larger fuel tanks, water tanks and a nice big salon. The extra range meant I needed a watermaker (Water would be my only critical resource other than fuel.) so that went into the plans as well. His template design was for two master cabins with attached heads. I didn't want to mess with his plans any more than I had to. The below-decks space gained a few more cabins on either side of the main passageway that carried emergency stores and a half dozen berthing cabins. At first I didn't equip them with more than a bunk, a table and a chair. They had hanging lockers and a filled bedding locker. I had a large unisex head with a shower installed for the crew space. I added another cabin with a small office near the stern for the ship's engineer. A larger table was installed in the salon instead of dedicating a room for a mess. Altogether the plans provided for over two thousand square feet of space to move about in. The claustrophobic feeling that I'd gotten on a forty-two footer didn't happen.

I took a year's lease on a forty foot trawler and hired a retired captain to show me the facts of living on a ship. Man, did he ream me out for having a drink after dinner. He told me that the easiest way to die at sea was to relax and take your attention off of what was happening. If nothing else, I was to buy a top-end self-inflating survival vest, then wear it everywhere but in the shower. I took him at his word.

He was an old merchant marine captain, and going by the book was the best way he knew how. Luckily for me, he commented on damned near every book lesson with what he'd seen and either gotten away with or not gotten away with. He was one hell of a teacher. He was fun, too. He played a concertina; a little, six-sided accordion thing that resembled an accordion as much as a ukulele resembles a guitar.

I learned the difference between a littoral and a pelagic waters, and what they looked like. I learned to follow the birds. I learned how to set the anchors for freshening weather, depending on the depth and composition of the sea floor. I learned what the Zincs did for me, and why. I learned how to find my optimal sailing speed. I learned how to rig a sail in case all my diesels crapped out. We spent a lot of time on radar returns. For every lesson in the books he told me two more. I learned about fire suppression, electrical fires and blocking air circulation as part of fire suppression. He even taught me how to hit a target with a rifle in six-to-eight-foot seas. I wished that old man was my uncle.

It wasn't all practicals--I did a lot of coursework out of textbooks too. I passed the tests and asked for the next textbook. One day I asked for the next book and found there wasn't one. He was sitting there grinning like a brass monkey.

One lecture he gave me was done after hours, over a cup of tea. It was on the responsibilities of a ship's Captain. "Some never get into the groove. You can take all the courses in the world but if it doesn't click you'll never be a captain. There's a responsibility there for the lives of everyone on that vessel. Anything and everything that happens is your responsibility." He gravely looked at me over his cup. "A Captain has to be in charge at all times. A Captain has to be able to take the upper hand. A Captain has to plan ahead for the worst possible outcome and have a plan ready to cope with it." He finished his cup and set it down. "It's like a drug. Once you get a taste for it you'll never forget. It's a part of you."

I didn't get much sleep that night. I lay awake thinking about what he'd said. In the morning I called the builder. I had them install another subsystem into the bridge C&C equipment. Now it made sense. It was an anti-hijacking subsystem. I also had a few electronic breakers installed in a welded-closed box. Lastly, I had them figure out how to speed-purge the fresh water tank in the event of a hijacking.

Just before he left he signed off on my captain's papers. I was surprised when the hard-copy confirmation came through from the merchant marine registry granting my certification. That old sailor did all right by me. His name was Patrick, or Pat.

I learned to live with two sets of underwear, four pair of socks, two pair of pants and two shirts. I spent a year docked in Seattle while I took courses in writing. For a diversion I started a web site and began doing 'guerilla dining' on every restaurant that I could find in the Seattle area. I about busted a gut laughing when I asked a Korean restaurant where their meat came from. The way that they objected made me curious though. I think their business volume doubled for a while from people wanting to try dog meat.

When the news came down that my ship was ready I packed my bag, checked out and took a bus up the coast to Vancouver. That's where the builder had his shop and docks. I hired a reputable third party marine assessor to go over the ship with us and to witness the sea trials. He brought up a few things in a pick list, but it was a remarkably short one.

The contractor had everything ready within two weeks, during which time I paid a visit to a ship's chandler to make my choices of linens, galley equipment, food supplies, cleaning equipment and emergency supplies. I got the tool bench fully provisioned. I also studied the ARRL handbook (which is still an ongoing project) and the license study guides. I stayed at dock another three weeks after taking receipt of Redhead (I had them paint the outer walls of the pilot house dark red), and studied until I was able to pass my amateur radio license. I bought an Icom IC-746 Pro transciever and a printed manual for it. The G5RV antenna mounted well above the water line and the impedance match box tuned me in without a fuss.

With all tanks full of fuel my maximum speed was 10.4 knots. Cruising speed came out to 8.1 knots when fully bunkered with fuel and water.

I spent a year and a half exploring Puget Sound. I quickly found out why the drop-down table over the little raised dining area just behind the pilot's seat was suspended from chains. It made a wonderful chart table in any seas. I found the storm locker to be a bit smaller than I wanted as it was difficult to get my slicker, boots and overalls in there. I bought my own concertina and learned to make some fearful, dreadful noises. I bought a few zydeco albums and learned to play along.

I also found that when tied up to a mooring buoy during rough weather I took my life in my hands getting the landing raft unloaded, to shore, tied up, untied, to the ship and winched back aboard. In an obscuring rain other pilots just didn't see that little thing in the water. I went back to the builder and called he in an engineer to help us. I wanted a heavier boom crane installed which would support a six meter fast recovery boat. It would use a minimal amount of deck space if it were mounted cross-ways behind the flying bridge. I was surprised that so much mass mounted at a distance from the center of rotation didn't have much of an effect on the ship's heavy weather handling.

The engineer pointed out stress points and reinforcement issues for the mast, the boom, the winch and the cradle for the boat. Even the keel plate under the mast would have to be reinforced but afterwards the crane would be much more robust. The winch had to be upgraded as well. I got a fairly large spool and long cable installed on it. Why? I got a kick out of buying a 1.5 meter dip net that would let me do a little deep sea fishing. That big orange thing sure looked 'unique' but it was weather proof, fast and would bob like a cork in heavy seas. It was big enough to carry a pallet of freight too. I had it fitted with a portable hold behind the helm so that I could dump the fishing net directly into the boat. I didn't forget to get the storm locker capacity sorted at the same time. I was thirty-six that spring. I needed some exercise equipment on board so I had a room full of free weights in racks and a couple heavy bags set up.

I thought about that escape boat and how to make it dump to water faster. I had the prow cradle changed to collapse by using a mechanical throw. Once the fore-cradle dropped the whole thing should slide right into the ocean. Granted, it'd be at the cost of an eighteen foot drop, but there you go.

A big part of operating a ship of that size was keeping track of the expenses and various inventories. I had a desk with locking drawers and a computer, flat screen monitor and printer kitted out as the ship's office. It sat in the salon so I could look away from the paperwork and take a look outside occasionally. I spent at least three hours a week there, usually in the quiet of the morning. It paid to sit at dock and run off of shore power. Otherwise there was a constant drain on the diesel tanks and a build-up of hours on the clock for the engine or engines running the generators.

By then I'd turned thirty-six. Once the weather packed in I docked at Aberdeen Washington for the season and got a land job as a tool and die man. Boy, was that a pain in the ass. Nobody had any free berthing that they were willing to rent on the river. I ended up paying a guy that owned a materials handling yard at the end of South Washington street. He had the cranes necessary for the construction and the pilings already in place from an older structure. I paid for the lumber and the build-out. He put in two fifty-foot quays alongside the shore and I leased one of them, with the option to renew my lease each winter for ten years. It wasn't that expensive--another operation just up the river had raw dry lumber stacked up for sale. We rented a portable lumber mill, trued up the beams and had a good, solid set of piers in no time. Within two weeks, actually. He ran water and electric for me while I picked up a local cell phone for communications.

I'd worked with 3-D CNC milling machines and made good bucks while refreshing my skills. There were plenty of good take-out restaurants in the area for me to choose between. I took out a six-month lease on a little pickup truck and kept it down by the wharf where I'd tied up for the winter. Since the temperature rarely went below sixty degrees, on dry days (Yeah, right. Dry days in coastal Washington?) I paste waxed the ship's superstructure and used a random-orbit sander with a sheeps wool pad to make it shine. The synthetic teak deck and the epoxy-painted hull were washed down with a pressure washer after the storms blew through, to clean off the dried salt spray. I bought a pair of steel-toe workboots and a couple pair of heavy coveralls for work. My washer and dryer got a good workout about every day.

I re-activated my restaurant comment site and reviewed every place with a serving license in the area. Some were pizza places, some were bakeries, some were coffee shops. I put together a simple category system and wrote under it. I tried to be fair. I published a point system and graded the places by that. Some, I admit, weren't scientific but 'welcoming small children' or 'children eat free between x and y' was an honest grade, even if it did drive away the older adults that appreciated a quiet meal. I gave the local paper, which didn't have a restaurant review section, rights to freely publish my work.

When the early year snow squalls blew in I sat in the dark, watching out the pilot house windows with a cup of tea at hand. When the sleet and snow blew in sideways I was of two minds. I was thankful that I was indoors and warm, yet I wondered what the hell I was doing on a floating carnival ride. Being out at sea in a storm like that would, um, test one's sense of humor, not to mention one's tolerance to large doses of dramamine.

That spring I decided to push myself and the Redhead a bit. I had heaters mounted in the fuel, sweet water and black water tanks to keep everything at forty degrees American or about four degrees C. I tanked up, called my chandler to overload my supplies and set out north for Anchorage Alaska.

The way up the coast was beautiful. I took the inside passage. There was a lot of traffic, though. I had to watch out where I steamed and where I tied up. It took me about twenty days to make it, tying up at night.

Boy, the view of Anchorage Alaska from the water is a disgusting mess compared to the beauty around it. I contacted the municipality of Anchorage (the port authority) and arranged for a seven month lease of a pier and facilities. I even had cable TV and internet! I didn't know how well the ship would behave in temperatures around zero F so I bought several electric fans with heating elements and installed immersion heaters into the oil crankcases of all three diesel engines aboard. For land transportation I rented an F-150 Ford pickup that was in pretty good shape. I bought a couple pair of wool shirts and wool pants for the climate. I wanted a big, bulky wool cable-knit sweater so I bought one, along with a wind cheater jacket to go over it. Then I went looking for a job. I'd have time to screw around later.

Once again my CNC milling experience paid off, as did my Fairbanks-Morse training. With the factory maintenance and rebuild certs I already had along with a couple more tele-classes under my belt I got my ticket as a factory authorized mechanic. I made a POT full of money!

I asked around about who really needed some help with power plants. I got the names of some of the fishermen that worked family operations, but were going under due to the reduced catch permits and the price of doing business. I did quite a few engine rebuilds off the cuff. My boss didn't mind if I used his shop on off days as it gave him a good rep as fallout from my work.

Some of the guys I helped out were Native Alaskan--tribal folk. I got invited to a Potlatch. Now, between you and me, it was pretty damned confusing. There were a bunch of people standing up and talking, a bunch of other people fancy-dancing in the damnedest costumes you ever saw, another bunch doing slow ritual-like dancing and later, all-out indian-style barn dancing. It seemed like everyone brought a dish to pass but me, so I called a local chandler to have a pallet of fresh oranges delivered within the hour.

(That's what a chandler does--he gets what you want where you want it and when you want it. That's why he can charge on hell of a premium for the service.)

Everyone seemed to enjoy the fresh fruit. The kids, as kids do, went nuts and wasted a bunch which brought the wrath of their grandfolks, aunts and uncles down on their asses while the parents sat around looking apologetic for their little monsters. So what else is new? I danced with a few pretty ladies, but patted no asses and made no promises.

After that a lot of people smiled at me and said "Hi!" when I was grocery shopping or out having a cup of coffee and a pastry. A local Methodist minister even sat down and talked for a bit one Saturday over coffee and fresh apple Danish. (Yum!) He pretty much gave me the third degree but was nice enough doing it. I couldn't figure out why he was so happy that I wasn't really a religious sort of fellow. I guessed that it was to rub an agnostic samaritan into the Catholic priest's nose, but I never got another inkling about it.

For the rest of the summer at least four Salish women would wake me up on Saturday mornings to clean the ever lovin' snot out of my ship. I think that I dissapointed them as I was a clean livin' sort of fella. There wasn't much room so I tended to clean up behind myself as I went along as a matter of habit. This was because I didn't want to get kilt tripping over crap on the floor when seconds counted. I always slipped 'em each a twenty for their efforts.

Once Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's had passed, people tended to get cabin fever. They either (a) hit the bars, (b) did church things, © hit the schools for winter classes, (d) hit the libraries, (e) went to concerts, movies and performances, (f) joined mating/dating sites, (g) hung out at the malls or (h) went mad in their own special ways. I guess that I did a little of all of them, sort of tasting the menu. I'd learned Euchre at my mom's knee and played a pretty mean game. I hosted Friday night Euchre parties on board the Redhead. We drank a few beers and had a rauciously good time. Towards spring, when everyone was desperately looking for something else to do with someone else I invited the local Methodist minister, Baptist minister and Catholic priest over for Sunday afternoon Euchre. They were taken aback to find a sign on the door--

"Euchre is a card game. Religion, politics and national news have nothing to do with playing cards. Please leave them at the door with your shoes."

We had quite a few low-key games, no less furiously fought for the lack of alcohol.

Before I left in the spring I found out what were the ten most desperate Salish (native) families. I paid their boat insurance policies for the year. The fifty-five hundred for each of them times ten I claimed on my insurance as a direct benevolent charity. I made out, they stayed in business and life went on. I had the hull cleaned and repainted, then had new zincs installed. Seawater eats brass unless zinc anodes are mounted on the hull to take the punishment first. It's an electro-valent reaction, not a chemical one. The propeller was made out of bronze. Once was gone the seawater would have begun attacking the steel hull through any defects in the paint. Needless to say, that would not be a good thing.

I rolled back down the coast to Newport, Oregon where I established a home base for a while. I was thirty-seven that spring. It wasn't a "happenin' town" what with but one small university and a population of about 10,000. However, it was right on the coast and featured a seaport. I bought a commercial fishing license and began going out early in the morning to catch a few hundred pounds of fish for the local markets to bid over. I made enough money to pay for my taxes, permits, insurance and slip rental. (Notice that fuel isn't in that list.) I also got to skim the cream of the catch for my own consumption.

I couldn't deal without having a PBS radio station. In Alaska, people in the bush lived and died by their classical music stations, both public and short-wave. I hired a lawyer to contact a PBS station in Portland, either lease a fiber line or a satellite transciever channel and arrange to rebroadcast their programming in Newport. Once the licenses were in place and the new transmitter site was secured, it really didn't cost that much, and again, it was a tax write-off that I could carry into the future against upcoming profits. I carried half the operating costs for five years and the mother station carried the other half. They got a wider customer base that extended out over some of the commercial shipping lanes. I thought I did pretty well!

I got an idea as to how to make money. Lots of filthy money. I did a little research as to the availability of restaurant-grade smoked fish at the Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego fish markets. I waited for the next meeting of the board of directors controlling the fisherman's credit union. I proposed buying some land next to the harbor, installing smoking trays into concrete block buildings and making top-end restaurant-quality smoked fish for the entire west coast. We'd have to install some refrigerated holding facilities and invest in food-grade intermodal transport facilities, but we should make out like Croesus on a good day.

When they saw the industry lag figures that I'd come up with they came on board. Within a year we were selling prime smoked fish all up and down the pacific coast. We had feelers coming in from the Danes and Finns. We had an amazing amout of interest from Japanese sushi wholesalers. On my own wherewithal I contacted a wholesaler for sweet Vidalia onions. I suggested that we offer the two products together, perhaps with a good, traditional rye bread as well. We had difficulty keeping up with the Russian market sector. I was glad that I had some charitable contributions on the books come tax day. My investment accounts grew for the first time since I moved out of Plano. My bank balance didn't gain a digit or anything like that, but I did increase my bottom line.

I thought that it was funny as hell. We got smoked fish tourists! We had to quickly build a store-front with refrigerated glass display cases to show off the various types of fish that we had smoked and available. Getting a restaurant license was comparatively a snap. We played with different smoking techniques. A heavy cold smoke yields a moist, luscious product that's unbelievable over tapas. A heavily hot-smoked batch yields a chewy fish jerky that leaves you salivating. We stayed away from salting, pepper or flavoring, but we did do some sugaring. The fish spoke for itself and called in people like a siren from Greek mythology. Local restaurants opened tasting bars with various salads, smoked fish, flat breads, tomato and cheeses. We brought in California and Oregon wines by the truck load. A hotel went up to cater to the trade. For a while there I thought we were going to get a carnival cruise ship or two coming in to capitalize on the rush. We could have coped with one at a time--barely!

When the rush was over and the demand dialled back to something short of a frenzy I stopped by a local coffee house for a cuppa and a nice, hot Danish. Oh, God, thank you for Danish! That lady did things with flaky crust, cream cheese, apple pie filling, toasted pecans and cinnamon that should be illegal. I took copious notes.

It had been about four years since I came up with the smoked fish gimmick. I was forty-one. We had a good thing going but it couldn't last forever. At a Sunday coffee Klatch with the local ministers and a few city political faces attending we brain-stormed a way to keep the energy up. It didn't have to be high-end flashy money. Those consumers liked to follow the latest trend and be conspicuous about it. We needed a long-term market appeal.

The mayor's staff came up with our answer. We had a very low cost of living index for the retired sector. We were about twenty two percent lower than the national average. If we got some state-supported perscription medication bennies and, hopefully, some increased geriatric support at the hospitals and bennies for age-critical therapies then the housing and other services should materialize. We didn't want 'retirement centers' which were large scale hospices, where the staff were just waiting and watching for the clients to die. Housing clusters worked in the past and would work again. Pre-fab housing had come a very long way in a short period of time. Events and displays that would interest the older folk were funded and developed by church and social groups as they were thought of.

I bought into seven acres of property at the north end of SW cupola drive, just short of the south border of South Beach State Park. The land was on a shelf leading abruptly down to the sea shore. I had a general contractor find an old wooden warehouse, pour footings for it on my new property, move the warehouse and pave a parking lot on the landward side. Then that warehouse got a complete refit. I had it turned into a restaurant with a good view of the sea. The site was outside the protected waters of the bay so animal life was robust and any polluted water didn't stay around. The sea current driving north took everything with it. I hired a cook with a decent resume, a manager with a good track record and a restaurant design team to build out the front and back end. I insisted on them hiring a good baker and provided a good working environment for everyone in the back end. I asked for and got two fireplace-oriented keep-me-cosy-and-warm looking areas with comfortable seating. I wanted to cater to (a) local people looking for a good meal, (b) retired folk looking for somewhere to pass the time, play cards, drink coffee or nibble pastry, © a place that could give a two-star restaurant a run for its money to attract the tourist trade and (d) attract plenty of repeat business. It took the rest of spring, all of summer and the fall to complete.

People usually don't make professional quality waffles at home. People usually don't make professional quality hash browns at home. Very few people make biscuits and good-quality sausage gravy at home. Top all that with a decent lunch menu, add flame broiled meats and burgers. Butter-fry your burger buns. You're pretty much guaranteed a business that you have to WORK at to fail.

My holding company bought into a restaurant license and a wine and beer license. I owned half and the bank owned the other half. My personal banker insisted on funneling money to the place through an LLC, so that if the place went belly up or floated out to sea I couldn't be held responsible.

The insides were cavernous and showed off the timber framing structure. Spot lights helped. The sand blasting job on the timbers helped, too. We kept it to one tall story, as running two stories would either mean running an elevator or ramps, and the fire code insisted on two exits from each floor. That sort of build-out would cost more than I cared to expend at the time.

I had a second floor installed some twenty-four feet up, accessed by a ramp. It made the building much more mechanically rigid. At first I thought about using it for storage but nixed that. The insurance involved in giving employees access to it left a bad taste in my mouth. I had a pair of wide, heavy doors installed a the top of the ramp and locked it off.

The city's income grew by leaps and bounds. My retirement income accounts got a healthy kick in the pants as well. I shrugged and grinned. I did well by being good.

I was tired of being a businessman. It wasn't fun anymore. I was closing in on being retired at thirty-eight. I moved north once again to Anchorage Alaska for the season. Sounds funny, doesn't it? I went north for the winter!

I landed a job at the air base as a skilled civilian employee. I did quite a bit of fancy metal work. I learned a lot about CAD/CAM integration, and took a course on CAD. I taught a bunch of guys set-up, measurement and CNC milling, punching and water-jet cutting techniques. It took a lot of programming and time to model the machine involve. It was used as a filter so that someone's code didn't run wild and cut the damned support arm in half, or some such foolish thing. programming an emulator for every new CNC machine on the floor was a mandatory step before getting it into production. Those kids had no idea how badly, and expensively bad, things could go wrong when dealing with clamps, hydraulic actuators and rapidly spinning tool bits. I learned along with them as we broke the loading/machining/unloading process into steps. It was my first introduction to modular programming, and by damned if it didn't work!

I got invited to another potlatch. They knew I was a batchelor so God help 'em. I I brought fruit, red wine and a 'little' rum. They'd not had sangria before. It's Spanish for home-made MD-2020, but it's good if you take care. Some red wine, orange liqueur, sugar and good citrus on ice makes for a good drink to sip on long, hot afternoons while playing checkers or Bocce. Combine it with Tapas and you've got a party, just add music and dancing.

Well, things got a little out of control. I woke up with two girls on my shoulders, one was about thirty and the other was her daugher, about seventeen. After I woke up and figured out who I was sleeping with--naked--I had visions of seeing my testicles nailed to some poppa's front door to warn off the next guy. Instead Julie, the mom, and Dawn, her daughter, loved up on me like I was husband material.

Now, speaking in general terms, I wasn't totally opposed to getting married, but when it came down to particulars I was gun-shy. I didn't want to find myself shackled to a gold-digger or a bitch. We cleaned up and made breakfast together. That's when we talked a few things out. I didn't remember much about it but they said that they had a satisfactory test drive. I saw a bit of crusty evidence when I went to visit the head so I kept my mouth shut.

Julie was a half-Spanish, half-Salish Indian fisherman's wife, about thirty-one years old and still a looker. Her husband's fishing boat didn't come back in one morning. She'd been doing waitress work for the last two years to keep alive. Dawn did some baby sitting and did whatever else she could to help out. They both knew what it meant to work for a living and I had no problem with them moving aboard. Despite it being the 21st. century I'd have to talk to the tribal council to make sure nobody got riled up.

Julie was impressed at the ship's budget. As a CNC machinist I made about four times what a fisherman would take in. When I found out Dawn wanted to be a surgical nurse we looked at the nursing programs at the University of Alaska. When we got her registered and paid for her first semester's books she dove at me and knocked me to the floor, she was so happy. Momma damned near turned me inside-out that night. Hell, I always did let my nose follow my morals and devil take the hind-most.

I had to keep turning over my supply of diesel so that it wouldn't go bad, so every other morning we went fishing at about three-thirty. By four-thirty we were on the beds and started working the net. It was a small net, but we still managed to pull up enough fish to make it worth our while. Modern, high-resolution sonar is a professional's friend. The women used long gaff hooks to discard any trash fish back over the side. We had a weight limit that we had to come in under. I had bought two spare portable holds. Two of the three would fit in the boat and the third we used to set aside some fish for ourselves. By six we were back at the dock where we lowered the holds onto the fish market's flatbed truck. The ladies got cleaned up while I pressure-washed the deck and the boat. If there was any fish we set aside I'd throw a couple buckets of ice over them. By that time a shower was free and I got cleaned up. We'd start a load of clothes and drove off to the fish market to see how the money looked. The smells of a well-kept fish market in the early morning would be hard to explain. There were always a few off notes but most everything smelled clean and fresh, overlaid by the smell of diesel smoke.

I cut back on my hours at work, mostly because the latest crop of students had caught on and were well on their way. The day-to-day machining part of the job was pretty repetetive. Being a military shop, they had the set-up notes for about everything they needed done. I watched over the new guys to make sure they knew the right steps, then backed off. Finally I had worked myself out of a job!

Just before school started for Dawn I found her an apartment close to campus. I paid for it a year in advance and found a decent little Ford Ranger pickup for her. The apartment had two bedrooms so she could sublet one out for extra cash if she wished. I made sure that her water, electricity and heating were covered, got her a gas card under my name and set her up with a checking account that got seven hundred a month added by direct deposit. I sat down with her and let her know that I'd pay for her education up to and including a Physician's Assistant if she could guts it out.

I considered my investment account's rate of return, my expenses and my expected lifespan. I came to the conclusion that I was living frugally and could afford a few luxuries. Then I laughed. I was living on a one point six million dollar yacht, and I was FRUGAL? What the hell. I had a fleet broadband 500 satellite phone system installed and hung the ISDN handset I bought near the helm. Once I had it put in I immediately sat down with Julie to show her the price per minute we paid. It came out to about $13.50 a minute, double that if we exceeded the service plan. She screeched and refused to touch the thing. I handed her a spare pay-as-you-go cellphone I had and told her it cost about a buck a minute on that. She was a lot happier. I remembered to get Dawn a laptop and a cell phone as well. I bought her a couple I-things and warned her about underground commodity markets. (marketable stolen goods.) While I was spending money I got both of them health insurance.

I considered going for a cruise. I talked it over with Julie and she had no problems with it. We started the paperwork rolling to get her and her daughter passports. Then I set about the arduous task of getting Julie familiar with the pilot's console equipment. It was a lot newer and fancier than what she'd seen before. I thanked heaven above that she was familiar with ship-to-shore radios. From there we talked about radar and how the beam angle changed the weather plots. Next she got a quick course on the theory and practice of GPSes. Then we talked about the auto-pilot and how it integrated with the GPS. She understood the value of the built-in charts and understood how they could lie after a season. We had a forward-looking depth finder to help out with that.

We were taking a break when she asked, "What's that?" while cocking her head at a locking cupboard on the bridge.

"That's the arms locker. Wanna see?" I didn't keep it locked. I pulled it open to reveal my two-piece anti-piracy kit. At Patrick's behest (the old captain that I'd worked with) I'd bought a pretty fierce rifle. It was a Savage FP-110 tactical that shot 7.62mm NATO rounds (about like a .308). I had a Redfield eight power broad-field low-light scope on it. My other weapon was a big nickel stainless .357 revolver with a six inch barrel. I'd practiced with both and kept them clean. I had a couple of U.S. military .30 cal ammo cans full of rounds at the bottom of the cabinet and a holster for the pistol hung on a peg. She looked them over and grunted. "My old man, he always had a shotgun on the boat with him. I'd feel a lot better if you did, too."

We took a trip into town looking for a firearms dealer She guided me to this little house converted to a gun store, a place called Great Northern Guns. When we walked in he gave me a look like he'd found me on his boot, but when he spotted Julie he grinned. "How ya doin', short stuff?"

"Pretty good, now that I got a new fella with a boat!" He reached out his paw to shake. "Pete."

I grinned. "Tony." I ducked my head Julie's way. "She insisted on my getting a shotgun for the boat. Whatcha got in stainless?"

He reached down and after a bit of tugging brought out two shotguns. "I keep these handy for the fishermen. They all seem to want the same thing. This one's a Remington 870 Marine Magnum. The other is a Mossberg 500 Marine."

I looked them over, then chose the Remington. "I like that the under-barrel magazine is longer than the barrel. Less chance of dinging the muzzle or plugging it. How much for two, with red aiming lasers?" He quoted me a price that raised my eyebrows, but Julie nodded firmly. I shrugged and paid the man. "Now, for ammo. I want a half-case of BBB shot and a half case of double-ought buck. Hmm. Let's have a full case of three-inch slugs too." He whistled. "Gonna be some party. Need a cleaning kit, too?"

I thought for all of three seconds. "Yep, and a quart of Hopp's #9, please." The charge card got another workout. I thought for a minute. "If we got Dawn a little piece, you think she'd carry it?" Julie said, "No way of telling. Once the first rape happens on campus though, you damn betcha." I looked back at the guy and said "Ladysmith hammerless thirty-eight plus p, three or four inch barrel. Got one?" He thought for a while, then said "Wait right here." I heard him pounding up a ladder, then heard some scrambling up over my head. He must have had that place packed to the gills.

He came back down with a big grin and a presentation case, holding a brand new Smith and Wesson ladysmith. They were getting damned hard to find since Smith closed their doors. "I thought I was never going to get rid of this thing!" I gladly laid out the five hundred bucks for it and picked up a box of rounds as well. Dawn would have to decide how she wanted to pack it.

I continued playing the concertina. I stopped treating it as a joke and really had some fun with it. The range wasn't great but it made all the right noises. I thought about plunking down the money for an Hohner D-40. I found an older one in pretty good shape in a music store. I laid down a hundred and forty for it.

We gave Dawn the pistol as a Christmas present. I was surprised to find she was thrilled. We took her out and found a leather paddle holster for it that fit just over her butt. The next day we took a bunch of empty milk jugs out in the Redhead for some target practice. The lasers sure made a difference. I found that I could snap-aim and fire in one breath. It impressed me so much that I told myself to get my pistol in and have a laser mounted on it as well. Dawn's dad had taught her about shotgun cut loads, and she taught me. It's a way to get a shotgun's shell's punch delivered down range all in one spot. I was surprised how effective it was.

We decided on a Christmas to New-Years break down south a bit. We hijacked Dawn and headed down the coast. Next stop, Coos Bay, Oregon.

The port officer was a supercillious bastard that demanded to see everyone's passports and the ship's registry papers, even though we'd just come from another U.S. port. I tripped him over the side. Too bad the idiot didn't know how to swim. I figured that he was mentally deficient and good riddance. Turns out he was snorting more coke than was good for his lifespan. We had to stick around until the coroner's inquest was over but it didn't put us out much.

Coos bay was supported by tourism. It showed by the number of restaurants, hotels and bed & breakfasts. We leased a limo with a driver for the week. Our driver was single and curious, so we put him up aboard so he'd be handy when we wanted to go out. He thought it was a hoot and liked the lifestyle. Jim, our driver, knew the local restaurant scene and since we were paying, was glad to show us the best around. We did some live music events, some places with dancing and a lot of good food. When I saw some of our smoked fish for sale at the market I laughed and pointed it out to Julie.

Once back aboard I stood at the stern, taking great lungsfull of the fresh, cold air. The ship gently rocked beneath my feet and I could see the gaudy Christmas lights strung about the live-aboards docked over at the long-term facilities. I grinned. In the morning I'd co-opt the crew and do some hard-core baking, then do a little visiting with warm pastry to the other folk that liked living with the waves beneath them. I'd have to look, but I thought I had a portable warming oven that our jolly boat could haul. I'd scaled everything back for a half-rack of half-trays, so it should fit easily. I just had to find the damned thing. Now, what to bake...

Sticky buns always went over well, and so did whipped pumpkin cheesecakes. The little mixer shined when making the smaller, six-inch cakes. I lucked into finding a butcher with some beef organ meat, and open for business. I had Jim pick me up two veal livers and two kidneys for steak 'n kidney pies. Once you get that recipe down it's hard to beat on a cold day. A good, flaky crust really makes that recipe pop. The trick I found was to keep it from getting gluey by pre-baking the crust a little over. Since I had the dough already made I popped off a dozen fruit mini-pies as well. I dressed up commercial pie filling in cherry, apple and lemon with thin-sliced sugared fruit. Good stuff!

We cruised up to the other boats on my big orange thing. Julie drove while I pounded out carols on my squeeze box. I was glad that we did it as some of the folk we met were old retired people that were barely holding on with a place to live, supported by their social security. For those folk, I got snoopy and found their addresses. I paid a bunch of insurance, utility and dock fees for Christmas. They'd never know until we were long gone. No embarassment that way. It sure opened Jim's eyes.

I talked to my personal banker before we left town. I had a half million to spend over charities or lose it to the tax man. It had been a slim couple of years and the tourist trade was off. A lot of the town was short of money.

I established a half-million dollar grant fund at the local university for children of fishermen. To boost the local economy I funded the payoff and advertising for a Coos Bay January deep sea fishing tournament, paired with a Coos Bay inland waters fishing tournament to be held in May, once the fish started swimming upstream again. With a quarter million dollar pot for each tourney there were bound to be other companies to buy into it, to provide stakes and get relatively cheap advertising for their products. I expected to see a whole lot of print advertising in professional magazines going out during the next few months.

It wasn't something that I could recoup any charitable donation bennies from but the area should get a little blood pumped back into it. If it worked, I planned on doing the same thing in Newport, Oregon the next year where I could benefit from the wharf fees. Yep, I was going to fund an explosive growth of facilities for ships to tie up. People were buying boats but places with facilities to care for ocean going small craft had dried up. There was a market there that I was going to catch and ride. I just had to assemble a good package of creditable statistics and convince a bank or two to provide some horse-power. We needed fuelling facilities, docking facilites, black water pumping services and fresh water. Then add on car rental, restaurants and anciliary services. (wanna make a buck?) With the right climate and a few on-shore diversions it could mean a real money-maker.

Don't let anybody kid you. Shipboard folk love hot breakfasts. The problems are budget, time-to-arrival and access. If you're near the wharf, have a separate room for the kiddy crowd so the owl-folk can slowly wake up in peace, you're gonna make money.

Similarly, if (granted the climate) you've got a clean fry-wagon serving fried fresh seafood on a bun, you're gonna make money.

Now, how are you gonna make a LOT of money? A bigger operation, that's how.

I talked it over with my personal banker. The interest rate I was getting from the bank wasn't attractive. Once I got back in town from dropping Dawn back at school I set up a meeting with the local zoning commission, an investment banking firm and a big marine contractor with his architect.

The shallows east of Port Dock were available, but needed dredging. The problem with dredging wasn't the extraction, it was where the hell would you dump the effluvia? They were accepting fill on the south side of Yaquina point, but it had to be in retention sacks so that it wouldn't crud up the beaches. Also, once dredged out it would have to be maintained or it would fill in over time unless a flow was created. That became a long-term maintenance cost. We had our prospective marina dredged out over the winter after we got our permit to alter the seashore.

I thought everything was going great. I noticed that as winter progressed Julie got less and less affectionate, then I noticed she wasn't onboard much any more. I found her one morning at a coffee shop that opened early for the fishermen. She wouldn't leave the other guys to come and talk with me. They snickered among themselves. I'd never seen grown men actual 'snicker' before. It made them look quite juvenile. I badgered her until she finally came out and said it. I wasn't man enough for her because I wasn't a fisherman. I'd been dumped because I didn't have a marginal existence. How odd.

Thereafter I ignored her as she crowed to her buds. I ordered and ate my breakfast, then went back to the Redhead. I called a locksmith to change the cores on the main hatches then called around to everywhere I had an interest such as the restaurant and the marina site. Since neither Alaska or Oregon were common law marriage states she couldn't get anything out of me in court.

I called dawn that evening to let her know what was going on. She was spitting mad at her mom. I assured her that the contract I'd made with her for her education and housing was still on. I gave her the number of my personal banker and asked her not to call the man until I'd primped the pump.

The next day I called Jack. I had an annuity set up for her maintenance and education, the balance to be given to her at the end of her education in the form of a checking account. I had him set up a hundred and sixty thousand dollars in the account to begin with. He managed to get it done as a charitable tax write-off on everything but her day-to-day living expenses...

Once the approaches and wharfs were dug to depth then the posts were sunk for two long piers, two thousand feet long two hundred feet apart, the platforms were assembled. The platforms were designed to be quite wide and sturdy enough to drive cars on them. During that time the licenses were procured for a fuel supply depot and a wastewater booster pumping station. Compared to those two it was trivial to get the water, electrical and data services run. Across the road two restaurants, a car rental company and a grocery store bought property and built facilities. I owned thirty percent of the marina and a venture capital group owned the rest. It wasn't a loan, it was a cooperative venture. A large parking lot was paved and the spaces were assigned numbers corresponding to the slips. It took nearly a year to complete. The marina offices were built and staffed in time for the spring fishing contest. We had several golf carts and drivers to take people back and forth between the parking lot, the marina and the slips. The furthest slip to the furthest parking space could be three-quarters of a mile! We'd had a year to advertise it and got a good turn-out.

We did all right that season. Of course, we were nowhere near breaking even after just a few months, but the layout gave us expansion room--we could easily double the size of our operation without impacting current customers, besides the noise. Granted, it was quite noisy when they drove in the pilings but the rest of the construction operation was easier to live with. People liked the climate and came north out of California for dock space.

I insisted that we keep it clean. If anyone was caught dumping raw sewage or oil they were turned in to the EPA and the local police. We didn't want the place smelling like Marseilles, France.

I was forty-four. I was a bit bored one day so I dug out my sausage recipe guide, wrote down the percentages and paid a visit to my local butcher. I bought a six-quart Kitchen Aid mixer with the sausage-making attachment. It may seem counter-intuitive but when making many forms of sausage it has to be done at nearly freezing temperatures to keep the fat and meat mixed properly. For pizza, I spiced my sausage especially heavily and used quite a bit of fresh ground garlic. I blanched pieces no larger than a dime in boiling water to de-fat and partially cook the meat, then flashed it under a broiler to get rid of the water. I used a very spicy sauce compared to most others, and used a lot of paste to give it richness. If you bake it in a very fast oven with a small tin of smoldering wood chips for a smoked flavor you can get a lot of repeat business. Some like a soft, risen crust like a pretzel and some like a crispy, cracker-like crust like Pizza Hut used to serve.

I made a few pans and took them to the restaurant for the staff to try. I suggested a weekend pizza-and-beer night. I bought the restaurant a double pizza oven, two peels and two electric pasta makers tough enough to roll out pizza dough. For a risen crust you need a lot of pans and real estate because they have to sit somewhere warm and rise before you cook them off. At first I ground the sausage for them, but once the demand picked up they ground their own. I had to box a few ears when they started serving pizza that still showed red in the center of the sausage clumps. Good pizza can go for a buck for a little slice that covers your palm, but you must have a good product to begin with.

We'd dredged out enough room for four piers as continuing the running operation would cost a lot less than scheduling and dredging out more of the bay at a later date. Using two barges we had the posts sunk for two more piers within three months. We slowed down and had the decks installed over the next winter.

We'd dug it out to forty feet, but silting would naturally infill to thirty feet in a few years. At that point buying a vacuum barge would pay off in the long run. A slough had a tendency to form just outside the marina. That had to be kept under control as well. All in all, it was a proposition made up of sub-optimal parts that we hoped to bring together into a money making engine that would run for at least a generation, depending on maintenance.

I changed venues. I decided to travel. I was forty-five and felt it was time for a life-change.

I wanted to hire a few crewmen. I needed a first mate that knew their way around a pilot house, and I wanted one, or even two people as cleaning crew and deck hands when we needed someone to help handle the winches and lines. With that many to feed I wanted a cook on board. Regularly cooking for four or more people wasn't really enjoyable. It got to be a, well, a job.

Before I started hiring folks on I dug out all my certifications, framed them and posted them on the wall over my desk. I added a couple pictures of my time working a pastry table and of instructing CNC men at Elmendorf.

It worked out kind of strange. I found a mate and loadmaster that had worked a small freight hauler. George was a Scotsman and took professional pride in the fact that it took a bit to get a rise out of him.

Jamie was a short, muscular woman from the east coast. She had a rating as a boatswain but said she didn't mind putting a hand to whatever needed doing. We'd have to test her at that.

Irene was an Able Seaman. I thought that she'd had a real bad time with an all-male crew. She always sat with her back to the wall and watched everybody. She always sat near a hatch. That woman needed to chill out. I almost didn't hire her but something said I should.

Linda was a budding cook. She had the certs and had passed a professional cooking school's syllabus with flying colors. We'd see how she did in the real world.

Pam was black and very tall, but I never saw her bump her head on a hatch way. She was another Able Seaman.

See what I mean? We had four strange women overseen by two guys.

I signed everybody aboard at forty-five to fifty thousand dollars a year, one year guaranteed; insurance, room and board included. I had everyone covered by blue-cross, blue-shield and let them know we had a 200MB/month limit on our digital satellite plan, so please wait until we were in port and switched over to local service to download a new porn supply.

As Ship's Steward it was my job to keep a copy of everyone's birth certificate, passport and immunization record. I also kept track of their clothing sizes, who-to-notify lists, full medical histories and blood types.

We had everyone fill out a form describing their favorite music, favorite books, favorite dishes, favorite alcoholic beverages and favorite movies. I provided an initial hiring bonus that was NOT a two-week front, and made everyone as happy as I could under the circumstances. I paid for three uniforms for everyone. I decided on military tan shirts or blouses with black pants. Sneakers were fine for everywhere except in the mechanical spaces where protected toe shoes were needed. Coveralls were allowed, and in weather over seventy degrees black Bermuda shorts or bikinis were the uniform of the day.

I volunteered for a Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday early baking shift. There weren't that many of us so it was easy to prep some nice things for breakfasts and a few loaves of bread. I did a few steak-and-kidney pies from our frozen stock but didn't get any takers except for Irene. Leave it to another cook to appreciate organ meat.

I filed a modified stocking list with the chandler, got everything aboard and split for Seattle, where I had a large washer/dryer pair installed. I was pushing the pair we had before with just my own laundry.

I sat down with the crew one evening and discussed what we could make money carrying. If it was needed fast, a jet could get it there. If it was heavy a bulk container ship could get it there. The cargo we wanted fell between the cracks. We would carry the sort of things that made insurance agencies cringe. We'd just do it by hauling one or two small pods behind us. If they exploded, then they'd know to increase the refrigeration or packaging next time. I'd have to watch George. I could tell that he liked things that went 'boom'.

We only accepted sealed pods and I ran a highly sensitive radiation detector over each and every one of them. If my toy started making chattering noises we'd immediately refuse to take the shipment and would contact the local government office before shoving off for less controversial cargo.

The ship had been designed to be operated by a single seat. Engineering repeaters festooned the pilot house. It made watch-standing a lot friendlier with someone to talk to, or even play cards with. It was a comfortable billet for everyone but the owner. That was me.

We picked up a multi-ton load of chemicals for the University of Hawaii. I shrugged. I didn't care what they'd packed away. If it started eating it way up the tow rope I'd cut the fucker off and steam away at flank speed, then hand 'em the bill. I insisted on keeping a day/night camera pointed at each load to furnish proof of intent to deliver for each shipment. If their pod turned itself inside-out or hatched we'd show them the evidence and stand around with our hands out waiting for our money.

I taught Linda to make my pizza and I easily made enough pastry to keep the most devoted Danish or sticky bun fan happy.

Upon radioing ahead to the Port of Hawaii we were instructed to hold our position and we'd be met. A research boat pulled along side, took posession of the shipment and steamed away. We never did figure out what we were shipping. It probably was better off that way.

From Hawaii we were bonded to remove a big container of metal plating waste to a recovery plant near Texas City, Texas. I was told in passing that you could get cancer from just looking at the stuff. I neglected to inform the rest of the crew of that fact.

Our insurance actually wasn't that bad. We covered all our expenses including fuel and insurance each trip and managed to put away about twenty-five percent of the gross into our operating account. We had a chance of making a living doing this.

About three AM one morning I woke up to realize my back hurt. I took a few Advil, put on a robe and went down to the spa room. It had been in use because the air was moist and I smelled the chlorine in the air. I hung up my robe on a hook and slowly crawled into the hot water. It felt wonderful. I turned on the jets and laid back smiling.

I didn't notice Jamie padding over to the tub from the bathroom. She crawled in, flashing me her butt and beaver. I grinned but held my peace. When her legs slid over mine she damned near went into convulsions. Pretty soon she realized who she was sharing the tub with. "Oh, fuck." "For Christ's sake, take it easy. My back hurts and I came down for a good soak. Relax, dammit." We both watched the sun come up through the fogged-over window. I got out first, put on my robe and padded out to my cabin.

Later, while relaxing at the table after breakfast with a cup of tea Jamie came up behind me and kissed my ear. It sure shocked the hell out of me. It did for the rest of the crew too. "Aww, piss off. He's a good hot tub bud." She went off to get her breakfast and left me with a shit-eating grin. "Best compliment I've had in ages. Damn." I got a couple low laughs from around the table. Linda and Pam seemed to measure me for size.

We'd been all pins and needles on our way to Hawaii. On our way back I started in on a little training. I held classes in the pilot house, teaching beginning seamanship. We started out with ship's protocols upon meeting at sea, then on to beacons, light-houses and buoys. The rules for channel markers were simple. I taught basic radio protocol and radar work. I showed them when to yell for help, which is a big step. When you can aknowledge that you don't know it all you're much safer.

Within a week even quiet little Irene was asking questions and understanding things. I was proud of her. I could tell that Jamie was too.

Linda hadn't had any training or experience in high seas. I had to take over the galley and teach her how to not get injured when the deck was pitching. She found out why most ships at sea carried steam kettles and floor-mount mixers. Stews were a sailor's friend during high seas, as were toasted cheese sandwiches with ham, bacon or tomato slices. Cups of blended soup were well-appreciated accompaniments while on watch. There's a mind-shift, an attitude involved in cooking during high seas. Things can go flying and little bits of stuff are verboten, such as in tacos. She grinned when I taught her how to make pot-stickers.

George and I did man on/man off during our trip to the south California coast, where our cargo would be trans-shipped by rail to Texas City. We took it easy as (a) it was quite heavy and we needed to get it there safely, and (b) it was too dangerous to fuck with.

I found Jamie beating the hell out of a heavy bag in our gym. I silently backed her up so that she could get the impact that she wanted. When she'd finished and rested a bit she held the bag for me. It was unbelievably refreshing to pound the shit out of something.

I asked Jamie if she wanted to join the bridge crew, learn the equipment and stand watch. She backed down, saying "I never wanted the responsibility of the ship on my shoulders. You should work with Irene. She's a programmer deep down and knows her shit. You just have to get past her armor."

Damn. That was good advice.

I dropped the manuals for our integrated piloting system on Irene's desk. The only thing I told her was "figure this out. Tell me where it's screwed up or vulnerable.

I left her alone for four months. She came to me. "Power. There's no alternate power. If it goes down we're sitting ducks." I sat there blankly staring at her, trying to visualize what was underneath the bridge. I couldn't do it. "Do you know where the ship's plans are? We need to figure out where to put a battery farm." She grinned and raced out the door for Engineering. She was back in a flash with the rolled-up prints. We spread them out on the mess table We were in luck. There was an engineering locker just to one side and below the bridge cabinetry that held the electronics. Next port of call we'd get a rack of batteries installed along with a charger/limiter, and have an armored cable fed to the data rack. I'd make sure to get the radios hooked up to redundant power as well.

"Good job! Now that you pretty well know the hardware, let's get you some practice in using it." She looked at my feet and quirked up one side of her face in a little grin. "Oh ho! You've been holding out on us! In that case, welcome to the bridge. You're on the books as a 2nd mate-in-training as of this moment. Your next paycheck will reflect that." I shook her hand as I looked her in the eyes. "Keep trying. Keep pushing. I don't know what kicked your confidence in the ass but it's about time that you start rebuilding."

After that all I saw of her was the top of her head as she went through my books. I called for, recieved, proctored and sent out her tests. She was doing fine. Hell, she was a test-taking animal! I wanted to get pam instructing her in hand-to-hand soonest.

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Science Fiction / Polygamy/Polyamory /