35: Goblin Driver 1 – Plugger

My plugger’s legs and torso protruded from an open access panel three meters to the left of my Goblin’s port landing gear. The ship had already swallowed her shoulders, arms and head, but she still struggled within. A thick puddle of on the floor beneath her spread out like a pool of blood.

I crossed the launch bay while fighting the nausea that the mixed odors of hydraulic oil, con gel and salt water gave me. Just when I squatted down to peer in, she withdrew an arm from within to scratch a b***. I looked away, planning to remain quiet for a little while so she wouldn’t know I’d seen her do it.

“Hand me the big vise grips,” she said, jabbing her thumb toward the tool box.

So much for that plan. She had known I was there and she had done it anyway. Her coveralls even had a greasy hand-print on the spot now. I shook my head and handed her the requested item. Moments later, she once again battled something inside the ship, and with even more violence than before.

Above us, my ship loomed like a four-story-tall barnacle on short, wide legs. The massive launch bay doors that held back the waters of the Gulf of Mexico above us cleared her cargo head by only a couple meters.

Similar doors had removed a mispositioned antenna from Mo, my Goblin, a couple years before I inherited her. Its jury-rigged replacement still jutted out at an odd angle from beneath her cargo-head. Dings, dents and off-shade hull plate replacements gave her the rumpled look so typical of old plaid shirts and Goblins.

Huge jet housings sprouted from four sides, their exhaust nozzles splayed slightly outward. Various smaller warts stuck out of her in random locations.

Those protuberances included my cockpit, a Frisbee-shaped glass thing about two-thirds up the ‘Top’ side. That’s the side at twelve o’clock if starboard is at three o’clock and port is at nine o’clock.  The ground hatch, just above the tail, wouldn’t open for anything short of weapon fire. It had suffered some trauma at the hands of my predecessor. That’s why a rope ladder hung from the outer hatch of the secondary airlock halfway up the ‘Bottom’ side.

My ship is almost a decade older than I am, but that makes it a newer Goblin than most. I’ve heard of fifty-year-old drivers whose Gobs are older than themselves.

I had a pretty good idea what had pissed off my plugger. I asked, “So they haven’t fixed that port-side trim actuator?”

She let out an energetic, colorful word I won’t repeat, then hauled hard on the vise grips. Her entire back lifted off the ground with the effort. After a loud skreeeek, she thumped back down, having at last moved the object she’d been wrestling.

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Despite her space-hand vocabulary and crusty manner, Red O’Donnell was a girl only a few weeks out of high school. She had been a mere Senior Technical Specialist until just over a month before that. Her rank had upgraded to Warrant Officer 1C on her eighteenth birthday, but in my mind, I still saw her as a fellow member of Youth Aviation. We’d flown Mo together for two years, after all.

I wasn’t all that much younger, but I had only completed eleventh grade at that point, thanks to my birthday being in September. Being seventeen, I still had the youth service rank of Senior Aviator. Calling myself that made me sound like a Banshee pilot or something else equally glamorous, though. We don’t do glamor in 1st Courier Wing. Like all my fellow Goblin captains, I just call myself a ‘driver’.

“Well, Cap, funny thing about that,” she huffed, then breathed a few times to catch up. She went back to work cranking on whatever-it-was. “I walked out here a little while ago and found this big-ass puddle right under the portside trim. I said to myself, ‘Kitten, me girl, I just know that can’t be that actuator. They said they had it good and fixed this time, and they wouldn’t tell me nothin’ that wasn’t TRUE!'”

Red’s accent is a weird blend of the Irish she come to this country with, and the Texan she’s been learning since grade school. Usually she’s more Texas, but the Irish dominates when she’s upset.

By the way, Red herself is the only person who calls her ‘Kitten’, despite the fact that it’s the actual name on her birth certificate. Not even her mother considers it fit for the fiery-haired Amazon who glared out at me. Besides, she tells people to call her ‘Red’.

“Which means, ‘Yes’,” I translated.

“I am going to…” She reset the tool with a loud pop and hauled again, creating another skreeek, “… take this  motherlovin’ hydraulic line…” another effort, without the noise, “… walk it to the Yard Boss’s office…” the final effort freed it. She came out of the access triumphant, clutching a two foot length of copper tubing that featured a built in actuator valve trigger that was probably the culprit, while wearing lubricant and black grease smeared all over her infuriated, freckled face, ” …and drop it in his f&^king lap!”

She spiked the vise grips into the toolbox and stood.

Red would do what she’d just said, too. In her mind the gap between commissioned officers and warrant officers is pretty fluid.

“Hang on, Red!” I scrambled to my feet and grabbed her arm as she passed me. “You gonna walk in there like that? You’re dripping with oil!”

I should explain that I wasn’t restraining her. She had allowed me to stop her. She could shake me off with no trouble if she wanted to.

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My plugger’s a tall girl and I’m a short guy. From that distance I have to tip my face up at hers, because my eyes are barely lip level on her.

What’s a plugger, you ask? Sorry, I’ll try to remember to explain Aviation Corps slang from now on. Her official job is ‘Flight Engineer’, as the second member of the standard two-person Goblin crew. Not ‘Chief Engineer’, like on a big ship. Chief Engineers are officers, and a Goblin isn’t big enough to merit spending an officer on for that role. They give the job to warrant officers.

Cargo type Goblins get only two crew. Only the types with extra guns or special equipment, like Bomber and Gunship variants, need more hands. Mo belonged to Courier Wing, so she needed only me and Red.

The Flight Engineer on a small ship is a lot of things. She’s jetman, communications officer, and computer operator. She’s even rated to pilot in Normal Space. But mid-trip, the cynical say her most important job is plugging holes in the ship.

Get it? She’s a ‘plugger’.

Yeah, it’s stupid. Sue me. No, sue my grandparents. Their generation invented the term long before I was born.

Red’s eyes narrowed. “Did you enjoy landing Mo with only half your trim, Cap? Can you handle her if you lose the other axis too?”

Stupid question. Never ask a Youth Aviator if he or she can perform a feat of piloting. They know only one possible answer.

I grinned. “Watch me.”

She glowered, ready to flare up again, so I sighed and nodded. “It is true that I don’t want to fly without trim, especially on landings and takeoffs. And yes, that actuator needs fixing. But Red, you’re a warrant officer on the technical ladder and the Yard Boss is a commissioned officer and a senior commander. Do you read me, Ms. O’Donnell? You only get so many chances mouthing off to senior officers before they start tossing you in the brig, and I suspect you’ve already used up your quota.”

- my thoughts:

Thanks for reading this far! Here begins "Goblin Driver", which is technically a novel. It is just barely long enough to fit that definition by the publishing industry standard, anyway. Please Enjoy!

Check out my other novel: Substitute Hero

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