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The Phoedrus Elevator

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Crappers in Space

It almost killed him, later that night, after the long day of Annual Sales-Fest, standing in the bar with a gathering of the top Dexter sales teams, everyone clamoring to tell their stories of conquering glory.

He stared at them over the rim of his martini. The problem was that nobody in their everyday lives cared about their victories, about how smart they were, how they had wormed their way into a prospective client and closed the deal. Now they were among their peers and everyone was talking at once.

“Hey hey, check this guy,” Kevin Mundy had his arm around the neck of his colleague, Vince Bertucci. “He just sold a waste management system for the Io docks. Tell them, Vince…”

“Three thousand vacuum crappers,” Vince announced solemnly.

“Three thousand crappers?” someone yelled. “Well that’s a shitty deal if you ask me!”

They erupted with laughter.

“I hear you got a big one too, Stefanie?” Kevin asked.

“A mass-refrigeration and mobile commissary for the Deccan space platforms refit.”,” Stefanie told them. “And crematoria systems, three of them.”

“Feed ’em, freeze ’em and burn ’em. A complete continuum of care…” High fives all around.

“Don’t forget that we recycle the ashes of the deceased for fertilizers.”

“See Stefanie, you’ve got Vision.” More high fives.

“So, Tom,” one of the younger salesmen said, “whaddya got in the hopper, huh?” They all laughed. Tom had been down on his numbers all year. Last year he’d been number three out of a hundred and fifty salespeople. This year he was in the bottom ten per cent. It went that way: Feast or Famine.

“Oh…this and that…you know…” he said casually, draining his martini. He couldn’t mention Phoedrus, not until the contracts were signed, complete with penalty clauses for non-performance, notwithstanding Acts of God or Galactic terror, not until the deposits were wired and the check had thoroughly fucking cleared. Then he would let them all know.

Stefanie patted his knee and smiled winningly. “Don’t worry Tom,” she said with what appeared to be genuine affection. “You’ll pull it out of your ass again.”

“My ass” he promised, “is a gigantic cavern of opportunity.”

They all laughed again and Tom wavered, trying to decide if he was going to go back to his hotel by himself or stick around with this crowd.

The truth was he was never quite at ease with the other salespeople. Most were younger than him, and graduates of the more prestigious schools. Dexter harvested from the best. But his career track had been non-traditional, to say the least. At the last school he’d formally attended, there had been bars on the window.

A more senior colleague, Casey, motioned to Tom from the other side of the bar.

“Someone for you to meet,” Casey told him as Tom joined him. “I told him you were Irish and he couldn’t wait to meet you…”

“I don’t want to meet anybody, Casey,” Tom motioned to the bartender. Especially another bloody Irishman, he thought.

“Ah c’mon, don’t be a dick, “Casey steered him across the bar to where a short red-headed man stood with a group of others.

“Declan, this is Tom Kelly” Casey introduced them. “I have to warn you, he’s a screaming fucking Liberal. Tom, this is Declan, he’s working for Ken on the StarTram team.”

“Howya Tom! Declan McManus, how you doing? Casey told me all about you...sit down sit down, have a drink with us.”

“Declan…” Tom shook his hand. “Is that a Westmeath accent I hear?”

“Well ’tis bleddy close…Mullingar actually.” asked Declan.

“We used to play St Jarlath’s in Hurling, used to beat the shite out of them,” Tom said, leaning in to yell over the noise of the crowd.

“Ah you did not! What were you, in Garbally then?”

“For a little while, yeah” Tom lied. “Enough to see Mullingar get beat.”

“Well you two are gonna get on like a house on fire” laughed Casey, waving at the bartender

Declan laughed with delight. He was as pale as a ghost and deeply freckled. A few months under the American sun and he’d look like a Dutch rancher from the Transvaal.

“Where did you live then, Tom?”

“Country Galway, outside Athenry.”

“Ah sure I know it well. But you don’t sound like you’re from Athenry.”

“No, I’m not. I was born in London. My parents were from Athenry..” Tom had to yell, momentarily, as another round of high-fives went around. “….and when I was eleven they moved us back to the ancestral farm.”

“So then…are you English or Irish?” Declan yelled.

“Both. Neither. What I am is completely fucked. Everyone hates me.”

Declan thought this was the funniest thing he had ever heard. Beer came spraying out of his nose.

“I knew I shouldn’t have told him about you, Tom,” Casey laughed, gathering a fistful of napkins for the Irishman.

Stephanie had come to stand with them, a cocktail in one hand and the other slipped through Tom’s arm. “I didn’t know you were a screaming Liberal, Tom” she crooned. “You must be the only one here.”

“A social-Liberal, economic-conservative,” he clarified. “I don’t care where you stick your dick so long as you don’t try to raise my taxes.”

Again, beer came spraying from Declan’s nose.


An hour later everyone was hammered, and things were getting sloppy and Stefanie had firmly affixed herself to him.

“I want to have angry vengeful sex with you, Tom Kelly,’ she had muttered into his ear at one point.

“Glaring reproachful sex?” he’d asked.

“Is there any other kind? “

And she had swept away, cocktail in hand, giving him an over-the-shoulder smile.

But then he left the party, abruptly. Not that he didn’t like Stefanie: he very much liked Stefanie. They’d been down that road before, was all. Plus there were others vying for her affections. Competition. Always the competition.

He wanted to walk for a while through Manhattan: he wanted to have another drink and think about the Phoedrus deal. He was itching to tell someone. But he would not. He could not. The disclosures he’d signed stitched him up like a dead sailor in a body-bag. He’d keep schtum, he thought. He always did.


“So anyway, it’ll take about three months to get out there, a little less to get back,” he told a girl at a bar on Ninth: a long and narrow place with low ceilings that entranced him.

“Long way,” she yawned. “Never been to Space myself. Don’t think I’d like it very much.”

“No? It’s amazing, really. I mean…kinda sucks at first with the null-grav and the lame food, but you get used to that.” He prattled on about the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud and her eyes began to glaze over.

“Like I said, never been there myself. You wanna go out for a smoke?”

They stood in the doorway of the building next door. It was cold. He thought about putting his arm around her.

“So what did you say you were selling these people out in, Phoedrus, was it? A Space Elevator?”

“No, yeah…I mean, I’d like to…” he was suddenly nervous. Blabbing like a fool, hoping to get laid. “Er…the first thing we’re gonna sell them is a waste management system?”

“A what? You mean, crappers?”

“Yeah,” he laughed, relieved. “That’s it. Crappers in Space, man….”

She gave a level look and blew smoke out.

“Full of shit, you are,” she said. “

He ended up in a taxi. Alone.


A week later, as he trudged through the streets of London at rush hour, walking back to his hotel from a meeting, the avatar of his boss once again popped up in the corner of his eyewear.

“You can have your engineers,” Bill told him. “I found a faster way to Phoedrus. Cheaper too.” He sounded immensely pleased with himself.

That made Tom nervous. “OK…” he said carefully.

“You’re gonna like it. Listen, there’s a new ship, the Trade Voyager….”

“I didn’t think she was built yet.” The Cunard Trade Voyager was the first of a new generation of Space travel, a true clipper ship, designed to carry vast cargoes of passengers and manufactured goods.

“She’s not” Bill said. “They’re towing the hull from Io right now….hang on a minute.”

Again, Tom waited. The pub across the street had a particularly cozy glow, he noticed. Some of the patrons, City gents in topcoats, stood around outside with their pints.

No beer for you, he thought mechanically. Early flight back to the States in the morning. Flying hungover was the seventh ring of hell.

“…had to check your security clearances,” Bill came back, “and I’d completely forgotten you were MilSpec. Lieutenant frickin’ Kelly, blows my mind.”

“Why is that so hard to believe?” His co-workers were inevitably surprised to find Tom had a military background, albeit a brief one. Whatever their mental image of him was, Tom as an officer did not jive with it.

“…. they’re towing the hull from Io to one of the Prophet Platforms so they can install the Vickers plant. Then she’ll be off to Phoedrus on her sea trials.”

“A shakeout….”

“Exactly. So, Cunard is a client of Dexter. They’ve agreed to let you and the engineering team hitch a ride in return for some third-party review of their systems. Turns out you have just the right level of security clearances.”

“Wow, Bill, I’m impressed.”

“Yeah well, don’t get too excited. She’s empty, more or less. You’ll be up there with a bunch of UNSA guys and Cunard people and a whole lotta fixing shit that doesn’t work. But they’ll get you there in three months.”

“Wow…” Phoedrus from Earth, even on a fast UNSA ship was six months each way.

“I’m gonna send you the shit from their Legal: waivers, all that stuff. They need to know you understand this is not regular passage, they’re not liable, all that crap…”

“Yeah yeah…”

“By the way, we sold them their lifeboats…”

“We did? Oh right, that was McKenzie’s deal…”

“Correct. So the team can take a look at them while they’re up. Make sure they actually work as spec’d, right?”

“Of course. Great idea. Thanks Bill.”

“Whatever. Close this deal, kid…I don’t need to tell you what’s at stake.”


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