“Wonder how long this lasts?” Todd asked.

Peters didn’t know, and wondered about that. There hadn’t been any mention of duration on the order sheet. Maybe the Grallt themselves didn’t know. That would be of a piece with the rest of it. Without computers or sophisticated communications–a runner to let them know a starship was leaving, for God’s sake–likely they were flying on lookouts and dead reckoning, like Columbus or Eric the Red.

The Grallt–at least, the trader-Grallt they saw in the messroom–acted like nothing had happened, was happening, or would ever happen. Flight operations weren’t possible. The bay doors were closed, and Kitheridge reported that they were secured, with oversize versions of the claws that kept the hatches open. Maintenance people tinkered desultorily; the planes were remarkably simple without the engines, and there wasn’t much wrong. Painting resumed, all the enlisted participating without grumbles just for something to fill the idle hours. Even Chief Joshua joined in, and turned out to be a dab hand at it, which was to be expected, of course. He was especially good at getting the edge of the green stripe perfectly straight and even.

A lot of pinochle got played.

Their library was a small compartment on the O-1 in the officers’ area, across from the medics. Todd went there occasionally, but except for the medics enlisted people weren’t encouraged to mingle with their superiors, and besides it was all on disk and crystal, requiring readers they had to check out from a lieutenant (j.g.) who rarely showed up. Llapaaloapalla‘s library was just abaft the bridge, half a dozen medium-sized compartments filled with shelf upon shelf of bound books. Peters started using it, first to improve his knowledge of the written language, then out of genuine interest in a series of adventure stories set in the Grallt’s distant past. They had sailing ships on water oceans and some notable sex scenes; his vocabulary expanded. Cherin the librarian tended to giggle when he used archaisms.

The officers came out en masse once a “day” to do calisthenics in the ops bay. A few of the enlisted, led by Tollison and Kennard, started doing the same. The Navy didn’t do much in the way of organized whole-unit drills, and participation was entirely voluntary. Nonetheless, sailors started joining in until a sizable fraction of the unit was participating regularly. It helped that what Tollison was teaching was a cross between aerobic dancing and tai chi rather than classic knee bends and jumping-jacks.

A couple of Grallt “females” joined in, then more came, and before long it was routine to have three or four hundred people of both races jumping and writhing in the ops bay for an hour or more every day. The Grallt had a couple of moves of their own, one a jump-and-twirl that would put you face down on the deck if you got it wrong but was downright exhilirating once you’d learned it; they added that and a few others to the repertoire. The welders got used for the first time, to attach hooks for hanging speakers. The Grallt were at first bemused, then enthusiastic, at having music for the exercise sessions.

Interspecies friendships started happening, mostly tentative, a few less so. Se’en was an early and energetic participant in the exercises. Jacks took the opportunity to resume the acquaintance, and before long his roommate, a seaman striking for Machinist’s Mate, reported that he was seldom to be found sleeping there. That raised sniggers and sotto voce comment, but Jacks wasn’t the only one to experiment, at least.

Not many sailors pursued learning the Trade, but a few kept at it, and roughly a tenth of the tables at any given meal were occupied by mixed groups exchanging cheerful confusion in two tongues. The Grallt told jokes, especially dirty jokes, as often as the sailors did. Allowing for different circumstances–visiting a strange ship instead of breaking down on a country road, for instance–the content was identical, and the first time Peters heard the one about the weight loss clinic (If I catch you, your ass is mine!) in Grallt he howled at the old chestnut until his sides hurt.

Zerkre were in evidence much more than before. Half a dozen of them brought out a thing like a cherrypicker and began replacing burned-out lights in the bay overhead. “I thought Chief Warnocki was gonna come in his pants when he saw that thing,” Schott reported. “You think we could get the use of it for a while? We don’t have enough paint to do the overheads, but we could sure as hell clean ’em up a bit.”

Peters put the question to the leader of the working party, a male Grallt in eight-way blue-and-whites; the zerkre was dubious but agreed to ask, and a little later Peters found himself twenty meters off the deck, brushing dust and grime off the beams with a long-handled broom. The machine’s mast was impossibly thin for such a long extension, but inspection revealed a cover that came off with left-handed wingnuts and concealed another shiny gadget, this one not much bigger than a big apple. He snorted. Apparently the mast was only for stability.

In the course of cleaning they found the actuators for the bay doors. More than half of the others found an excuse to inspect one or both of them, coming away with their heads shaking. They were open-frame universal motors that looked like they belonged in God’s hair dryer, actuated by unenclosed relays with contact points the size of an eyeglass lens and connected to the doors via mechanisms consisting of straight-cut gears, long shafts, and roller chain. Some of the gears were too big to encompass with spread arms, the shafts were half a meter in diameter, and the rollers in the chain were too big to get both hands around.

Jesus fucking Christ on a bloody fucking crutch!” drifted down from the overhead. “I do not fucking believe this fucking shit!” There was a pause; the watching sailors grinned at one another, and the bucket with Chief Warnocki in it descended jerkily, operated by a man too bemused–or possibly too enraged–to concentrate on smoothness. “I don’t fucking believe this,” Warnocki repeated as he clambered out. “That fucking thing looks like it hasn’t been fucking greased since Columbus was a fucking ensign, one of the teeth in the biggest gear is just fucking gone, and there’s pits in the fucking relay contacts the size of my fucking fingernails!” He pulled off his hat, wiped his forehead with his arm, and surveyed the small crowd of sailors, who were making a real but futile attempt to keep straight faces. After a moment he deflated slightly and clapped his hat back on his head. “Yeah, real funny,” he observed with a ghost of a grin. “Peters, front and center.”

“Aye, Chief.” Peters was resigned as he pushed through to face the Chief. He figured he knew what was coming.

He was right. “Peters, you know the language,” Warnocki started out. “You go get all cleaned up and snappy and get your ass up to the bridge. Tell those cuntfaces we are pulling maintenance on that thing.”

“They might not go along, Chief,” Peters warned. “They done said they ain’t too happy at the idea of us workin’ on the ship systems.”

“I-did-not-tell-you- to-ask-for-per-mis-sion, Pe-ters,” Warnocki ground out in distinct syllables. “And I didn’t tell you say we are gonna be doing it. I told you to tell them we are doing it, and that’s exactly what’s about to happen.” He tore his gaze away from Peters and searched the group, focusing on an Electrician’s Mate. “Laval, go find Schott and tell him to get up there and disconnect the power to that piece of crap. Hendricks, you and Morales start putting the LIG together and get it over here. Bring the crackerbox too, we don’t have enough cable to LIG in the overhead, so we’ll have to weld brackets and haul the thing up there.” He shook his head. “Peters, you still standing there with your thumb up your ass? Get it in gear, sailor.”

Peters shook his head and headed off to his quarters for a shower, looking back as Warnocki continued, “Jereboam, as soon as Schott’s got the thing safed, you get up there and take a tooth profile. Aliano, my compliments to Chief Gross, how much number-two moly grease did we bring, and he’s to issue a couple of kilos of it and grease guns….”

When he passed back through the bay the LIG welder was sitting by the cherrypicker, a Second Class was bending a snatch block onto the lifting eye with a short piece of chain, and a crew in helmets, flak jackets, and knee pads was faking a piece of half-inch hemp down in long loops. The basket was up, and although he couldn’t see who was occupying it, the comments from overhead (This motherfucker’s got over four hundred volts on it! Any of you assholes got any ideas about where the goddam cutoff might be?) made it Schott, more than likely. Warnocki was supervising with folded arms and a set jaw.

* * *

Elevator, corridor, stairs, more corridors, more stairs; the watchstander at the entrance to the ship’s offices recognized him. «Hello, Peters, I haven’t seen you in a little while. What do you need?»

«Hello. I need to speak to Dhuvenig.»

The Grallt frowned. «Dhuvenig’s not on duty. It’s his sleeping time. Is it immediately important? Can someone else help you?»

«It’s fairly important, yes. We have found a problem with the ship’s equipment and have begun to repair it. My superior told me to inform the proper people.»

«A problem with the ship’s equipment.» The Grallt–Peters had the name now: Leffin–passed his hand down his facial cleft in a thinking motion. «Almost all the bridge crew are sleeping. You should talk to Heelinig. She’s the only one on duty who is responsible for such things.»

«Heelinig is the second person of the ship, do I have that correct?»

Leffin nodded. «Yes, that’s correct. Go on in. Just sign the book and look for Heelinig. Tell Kheef I told you to go ahead.»

«Thank you, Leffin.» Peters gave the man a nod and pushed the door open. The office doors were closed, and the other watchstander–Kheef?–sat near-dozing at the bridge entry. Peters signed in, carefully forming the loops of his name in Grallt characters. He mentioned his business and Leffin’s instruction to Kheef, who shrugged and stood aside without comment.

Heelinig was the only person on the bridge; she turned away from the forward windows when he entered. «Yes? You’re Peters, if I recall correctly,» she noted, tone brisk but not disapproving. «What do you want?»

«Yes, I’m Peters,» he told her. «Our group has found a problem with the machine that opens and closes the aft bay door. We are repairing it, but the door cannot be operated for some time.»

«This is not normal procedure,» Heelinig said with a frown. «The ship’s crew should do such repairs when they are necessary.»

«Yes, they should, but it has not been done, and my superior decided to repair it.»

«Ssth.» Heelinig strode to the bridge access. «Kheef, go wake Dhuvenig and tell him to go immediately to the operations bay. The human are doing something with the ship’s equipment.» She watched the junior Grallt disappear down the corridor and turned to Peters. «Go back and tell your people to stop work until Dhuvenig arrives.»

«I’ll tell them what you said,» Peters promised. «But I don’t have the status to order them to stop work.»

«Ssth. I do, and you are carrying word from me,» Heelinig told him with some heat. «Go now.»

«Yes, Heelinig,» Peters said with a nod. She responded with a sharp nod of her own, and Peters turned and left, keeping his head up and his back straight until he was halfway down the first staircase.

* * *

Warnocki’s teeth were set. “Down tools and wait? Not a chance.” He waved Peters off. “Yes, well, you told me and I didn’t do it. That makes it my problem.” A sailor was in the bucket, dropping sparks on the deck as he welded a stout hook onto the flange of a beam, and the line handling crew was standing by, the line passing from their formation, over a block attached somewhere in the overhead, through the snatch block on the LIG welder, and back to the eye on the upper block.

“On belay, Chief,” the sailor up above shouted. He started the cherrypicker bucket down, and the line handlers took a strain and began to heave. The welder moved smoothly upward, trailing its power cord, and Tollison climbed into the bucket and took it up beside the welder.

At that point Dhuvenig popped out of the elevator. «Stop that!» he shouted, and followed it with words Peters didn’t understand, although he was familiar with the general tone.

Warnocki spared him a glance. “Who’s this?” he asked, then turned back to watch.

“This here’s Dhuvenig,” Peters advised. “I reckon you’d call him the Engineering Officer.”

“What did he say?”

“He said ‘stop that,’ pretty sharp, and followed it up with some words I don’t know.”

“I’ll bet.” Tollison was working the welder over to where he could hang it and start working. “Tell him who I am,” Warnocki advised without looking away. “He’ll want to know what’s going on. Tell him everything you know.”

“Aye, Chief,” Peters sighed. «Dhuvenig, this is Warnocki. He is our, ah, first for repairs and general work.»

«What are you people doing?» Dhuvenig wanted to know, sharpish.

«We are repairing the equipment that opens and closes the bay door,» Peters explained. «We were cleaning the upper part, and found that the machine was in bad condition. Warnocki decided to repair it.»

«The equipment works,» Dhuvenig objected. His face was pale. «You should let it alone. What if you make it worse? What is that man doing?»

Peters filed that expression away: fear. Tollison had the welder attached to the hook, and had donned his mask and struck a preliminary spark. «One of the teeth on a toothwheel is broken. He is repairing it.»

«Toothwheel? What do you mean?»

«Like this.» Peters sketched jags in the air.

«Oh, a gear.» That had to be the word. «How can you repair a gear?»

Peters shrugged. «The machine he is using adds metal a little at a time. When he has added enough metal, he will use another machine to make it the same shape as the others.» The bay was being illuminated in electric strobes as Tollison began to do what Peters was describing.

That got a stare. «You can do this?»

«Easily.» Peters thought about that. «Perhaps ‘easily’ is the wrong word, but it is a normal thing for us to do. Our water ships use many gears, and sometimes they break and must be repaired.»

«I must see this,» Dhuvenig breathed in a voice not meant to be responded to. «How long will it take?» he asked.

«I don’t know. I will ask.» He switched languages. “Hey, Chief, how long do you reckon this’ll take? Dhuvenig here wants to inspect it when it’s done.”

Warnocki didn’t look away, just spoke into the stem of his earbug. “Tollison, how’re you doing up there?” Pause. “OK, how much longer, do you think?” Longer pause. “He says maybe another five minutes to finish the welding, then half an hour or so to get the tooth ground down to the right shape.” He spared a glance for the Grallt. “Tell Mr. Dhuvenig he can inspect it when Tollison’s finished and brings the bucket down.”

Peters relayed that as «…about four eights of tle, or a few tle more.» Dhuvenig nodded sharply and didn’t reply, just stood with arms folded and a dubious expression until the sound of the die grinder finally died and Tollison brought the bucket down, leaving the welder attached to the overhead.

As soon as Tollison was clear the Grallt was scrambling into the bucket. «Come,» he said peremptorily, and Peters came, finding the bucket tight but passable for two people. Dhuvenig raised it more smoothly than Peters could, and brought it to a stop in the area where Tollison had been working. «Show me what he did,» he demanded.

It was pretty obvious. The faces of the new tooth were smooth, but shinier than the old ones, and Tollison hadn’t bothered to make the cheeks perfectly flat. «Not believable,» the Grallt breathed. «How did he get it so perfect? It looks exactly the same shape as the others.»

Peters looked around, spotted and retrieved a blob of hard plastic lying on a flange. «With this,» he told Dhuvenig. «Look, he put this over a good tooth while it was still soft, and removed it when it became hard. Then he used it as a pattern to make the new tooth.»

«Yes, I see. And the colored stuff–Oh. If you put that on the pattern, and put the pattern on the point, the color will appear on any place that’s too high.» Dhuvenig shook his head. «This is a wonderful technique.»

«You don’t do this?»

«No, never.» Dhuvenig looked around. «We don’t have the machine to add the metal. How does it work?»

Dhuvenig appeared to follow along, nodding, as Peters explained a Laser Inert Gas welder as best he could. «Wonderful,» he said at the end. «We normally pay many ornh for the ship-repair people to do this type of work. How much will you charge for this?»

Peters shrugged. «We consider ourselves part of the crew of the ship. Repairing things is normal work. There won’t be a charge.»

«That’s good for us, but it doesn’t seem correct.» Dhuvenig frowned. «I will consult with the first crewman and the first trader. Something will be arranged.» He started the bucket down. «Tell your man he does excellent work.»

«I will.» Peters looked at the Grallt. «Does this mean we may continue this repair?»

«Isn’t it finished?»

«No, not at all.» The bucket grounded. «Tollison will now check the other points, to see if any might break soon, and repair them as necessary. Then we will clean the machine, and apply liquid to the parts that move, so that it runs more smoothly.» Peters grinned and shook his head. «Then we will probably paint it. It’s something we do fairly often.»

«’Liquid’? Oh, you mean grease.» The word was the same one used for the goo the sailors had been calling ‘butter’. Dhuvenig glanced at the overhead. «Do you have enough?»

«We probably have enough for this job, if we use only what is needed.» Peters smiled again. «If you have more, we can use it. It’s a big ship.»

Dhuvenig grinned back. «Yes, it is.» He looked around. The working party had formed a ring around them. «Tell your superior thank you, and that you may definitely continue the repair. Let us know before you start another one, though. Heelinig was very irritated.»

«Yes, I noticed that. We will consult in the future.» Peters looked at Warnocki, back at the Grallt. «How much longer will it be before the door is needed? We should know, to plan the work.»

Dhuvenig waved that off. «It will be at least two llor, probably three, before we come down from high phase, and another llor before we need to use the door. You should have enough time.»

«Is it safe to test it during high phase?»

«The aft door, yes. Don’t try it on the forward one.»

«Yes. Thank you.»

«Ssth. Thank you, Peters.» The Grallt looked over at Chief Warnocki, who seemed about to explode with curiosity. «Get to work,» he said.

After dealing with Dee, that kind of joke was no problem. “Aye, sir,” he said in English, and Dhuvenig didn’t reply, just gave a nod and took himself away. “Well, that went well, I reckon,” he said as the Grallt disappeared into the elevator.

“What the Hell is going on, Peters?” Warnocki demanded. “You’re supposed to share this shit with your Chief, dammit.”

Peters flushed. “All set, Chief. Number One Attaboy for Tollison, he does good work. And we’ve got about three days to finish up.”

“No objections to us fixing this thing?”

“Not now, Chief.” Peters looked around. “Matter of fact, I reckon we can fix anything we want, now that Dhuvenig’s signed off on us. We’re supposed to check with the brass before startin’ anything new, though.”

“Glad to hear it. Can we move the geartrain? Test it? We don’t know what it’s like outside.”

“Dhuvenig says that’s OK on the aft door, but don’t open the forward one. He didn’t say why.”

That got a ghost of a smile from Warnocki. “OK. Tollison, you got a good handle on this?”

“Yeah, Chief,” was the reply. “We won’t finish up this watch, but we’ll be ready to cycle the door to test it by the end of the next one.”

“Carry on,” Warnocki told him, and pulled Peters aside as the others began swarming over equipment. “Peters, it occurs to me that we’ve never had that little talk about Off Limits areas, and now we’ve got a little more ground to cover than that. You want to come up to my quarters and fill me in a little?”

«Yes.» Peters flushed again, shook his head, and said in English: “I mean, Aye, Chief.”

“Getting a little confused, are you?”

Peters shook his head again and sighed. “You don’t know the half of it, Chief.”

* * *

They weren’t quite as meticulous this time, but the ship was about to do something major, and old habits die hard. Planes and equipment were chained and boomed, gear was stowed, and the humans were all in their quarters, waiting for the ship to end “high phase.” The runner who brought the word had asked for Peters by name, and Peters in turn had translated the message, in longhand, before taking it to Chief Joshua.

The aft doors definitely worked better. The relay contacts were solid blocks of silver alloy, and at Schott’s urgent advice they’d left them alone, so they still started up with a crash and a flash like God’s camera, and nothing was going to stop that honker of a motor from sounding like a C-22 with the fan cowls off when it wound up. But the groans and shrieks of dry bearings were gone, as was the irregular thump as the geartrain jumped the missing tooth.

Howard hadn’t joined them this time. The CT was getting better in Grallt, but still hadn’t achieved Peters’s fluency, and found that highly frustrating. Peters and Todd watched the stars flee from the center of their field of view, and this time they were close enough to the window to see that they bunched up and changed color, yellow shading to deep red forward, green shading to electric blue aft. Something about that seemed wrong, but neither one knew enough to figure out what. Again there was the peculiar feeling of lightness, this time directed aft, not nearly enough to push them off their feet; then the ship was stable again, stars shone in the window, and Peters turned away. “That’s all of that, I reckon. Let’s go, I’m starvin’.” The change had happened just before a meal, which had been delayed to accommodate it.

Blue-and-whites were opening up the hangar accesses as the sailors reached the ops bay in a close bunch of hungry humans, and the doors began cycling as they crossed the deck. The difference in sound between the forward and aft ones was notable; more than one Grallt head swiveled back and forth, and Peters shared a grin with Tollison. The elevator was full, and while they waited for it to clank and groan back a zerkre with a hand-pusher brought out the big dli, with two smaller ones following under their own power. They had to stand back as the elevator disgorged Grallt, including the tubby gent they’d seen before, who eyed them with curiosity but didn’t speak as he passed.

By the time they’d finished eating the bay was empty. The doors were still open, and sunlight flooded the bay from aft at an oblique angle. Framed in the forward opening was what looked at first like a very bright star. On closer inspection it was big enough to be a little disk instead of just a point of light, and all around it were smaller sparks that moved just fast enough to be in a different position when you looked away, then back.

“You reckon that there’s Keelisika?” Peters asked with a gesture.

“I don’t see how it could be anything but,” Todd opined. “And if those are other ships around it, it looks like a fairly busy place.”

They watched for a few minutes. Sparks drifted into new configurations, but the–planet?–didn’t move or grow significantly larger. Peters shrugged. “Not much of a show. I’m goin’ on up to quarters.”

“Me too.” Todd fell into step. “You know, that’s another planet, and that’s not the sun out there, at least it’s not our Sun. Why doesn’t it feel more strange?”

Peters spared him a look and grin. “Hell, Todd, it’s a port call. Secure from flank speed an’ launch the gig t’make arrangements, then bend on passage way and watch for a couple hours while the place you’re goin’ gets bigger.”

“Hadn’t thought of it like that.” Todd shook his head. “But you’re right. Port call. Same, but different.”

“Like it always is.”

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