Kid With A Pen
Published in

Kid With A Pen

Sa Ki Kache VI

Sub-Optimal Problem Solving

This is the 6th part of the webnovel “Principia — Sa Ki Kache.” Click here to go to the previous chapter, or click here to go to the beginning.

Finchley and Nguyen arrived at the front gate of the Mars Embassy. Just being this close was unnerving, to say the least. Inside that compound was technology beyond his understanding, knowledge, and possibly even description. Artificial superintelligences that were only protected from FATU AI purges was the extraterritoriality status that the embassy enjoyed, for example.

Those freakish things could understand you even better than you could possibly know, just by looking at you. They could tell that you were lying before even you knew. They could even predict what you were going to do next with unsettling accuracy.

It was uncanny, actually. Finchley wasn’t at all thrilled at the prospect of being studied by one of those things like a bug under a microscope. How the Martians could possibly stand it was beyond him, but it did lend credence to the stories that the Martians were no longer entirely human.

A small circular hatch in the wall slid open, and a glossy mechanical contraption extruded itself from the hole and unfolded in front of them.

The best description that Finchley could come up with for the fractal robot was that it looked like the product of an early AI that studied the complete works of H.R. Giger and then was instructed to design an octopus. It had one blue glowing fisheye lens in the center, and its seven biomechanical arms arced up, down, and around, almost as if it was unsure of what to make of them.

“No wireless fields, no personal networks, typical unaugmented human neurology,” the cybernetic cycloptopus analyzed in a replica of Brooklyn accent, “Do youse have an appointment with the Mars Government?”

“Yes,” Finchley answered as he flashed his badge, “I am Inspector Finchley, United Earth Ministry of Inquiry, Section 5, this is my partner, Detective Nguyen.”

“And what would the United Earth World Police want with the Martian Ambassador, Inspector?” the oily mechanikraken inquired.

“We wish to question a witness in your custody,” Finchley explained, “This should have been cleared ahead of time by the Ministry of Interplanetary Affairs.”

“Of course! Of course!” the pelagic robot replied, “We just don’t get many Earthers here, ya know?”

The cyphalopod opened the gate, detached itself from its mounting arm, climbed down to the ground, and motioned with an extremity. “Come on, hoss,” it insisted as an identical one passed it by and attached itself to the mounting arm before disappearing into the hole, “I’ll take youse to see your mensch-er, womansch. Welcome to Mars.”

They approached the checkpoint in front of the consular building, stopping only for a platoon of Martian soldiers jogging past to a cadence. Before they passed into the building, the septopod stopped them.

“Now, I don’t wanna cause youse any problems,” it said, “but seein’ as you’re both packin’ heat an’ carryin’ unsecured electronics, I’ll have to ask that youse surrenda yer pieces and’ yer handsets ta da gennlesoph ovah dere.”

Nguyen and Finchley disarmed themselves and surrendered their handsets, although neither of them were happy about it. The robot led them through the doors into the consular building, up two flights of stairs, down four corridors and around three corners to a small interview room with two armed Martian soldiers standard guard outside the door.

Inside the room stood two Martian military officers — a stern Lithuanian man with half of his face missing, and a bronze-plated android woman, both in Martian dress reds.

“Please take a seat,” the android insisted as she gestured to the two empty chairs in front of her. Given the presence of the guards, they didn’t really feel that the Martians would take no for an answer.

When Finchley and Nguyen took their seats, the two Martians did likewise on their side of the table.

“By way of introductions, Detective, Inspector,” the android began, “I am Flag Officer Codex Atlanticus of the Mars Colonial Militia, this is Major Juozapas Petrauskas, likewise from the MCM.”

“We didn’t come here to parley with the Martian military brass,” Finchley replied.

“No, you want the Mars Colonial Union to extradite an individual who has been granted asylum status,” Petrauskas explained, “and under the terms of the 2257 Bilateral Repatriation Treaty, we are under no obligation whatsoever to honor this extradition request without your government extending un the same courtesy.”

A list of dossiers materialized in front of the two Earthers, which Finchley and Nguyen could scroll through like a rolodex. “This is a list of imprisoned Martian citizens that we want released,” Atlanticus said, “Some have been imprisoned for decades under intolerable conditions. Choose one for immediate release to our custody, and we will give extradition all due consideration.”

Nguyen flipped through more dossiers. “I don’t see any imprisoned citizens on this list,” she commented, “just a bunch of malfunctioning calculators impounded in connection with criminal activities. I don’t think that our government is about to exchange property for the person of interest.”

Although it was impossible to tell with the inscrutable android, the human Martian definitely bristled at Nguyen’s comments.

“I’m afraid that you misconstrue our purpose here,” Finchley explained, “We do not wish for Ms. Napangardi’s extradition, we just want to question her as part of an investigation into an affair internal to United Earth.”

“Request denied,” Atlanticus replied with a tone of finality.

“With all due respect,” Finchley argued, “I’d feel more comfortable hearing it from him.

“Request denied,” Petrauskas replied just as finally.

“Well, then this whole meeting was just a waste of time, wasn’t it?” Nguyen asked snidely.

“Then I suppose that negotiations are terminated.” Atlanticus declared. Finchley and Nguyen stood up and exited the room.

They were halfway down the corridor when they were stopped by more Martian soldiers. “Halt!” Atlanticus ordered.

Nguyen and Finchley turned to face the bronze-plated automaton, concerned that they were about to be arrested for some arcane AI reason.

“I’m sorry if I startled you,” Atlanticus explained, “After nearly 11 years of service, I’m more accustomed to giving orders than asking courteously to get what I want. If all you want is to speak to Ms. Napangardi, that can be arranged after all. Please come with me.”

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

The situation up at Peregrine’s berth was unexpectedly chaotic. Dozens of people, mostly Earthers, were crowded in the station-side airlock, pounding on Peregrine’s airlock door, as well as the airlock walls. A mass of people too ignorant to know what a futile gesture it was, too proud to be bothered to learn, and too self-assured of their individual good judgment to consider any course of action other than panicked rage and entitled indignance.

In that sense, they were every bit as stupid and immature as Martians gave them credit for.

“How do you want to take care of this, skipper?” Tallen asked Jon.

“We can’t go to the Port Authority,” Jon mused, “they don’t care enough about security on foreign berths except when they want to. We need to get to Peregrine’s weapons locker. It’s the only way for us to secure the gantry.”

“Do I have to be the one to remind you that Peregrine’s habitat module has only one access point?” Tallen asked.

“What if we boarded her from the outside?” Misty asked, “We exit the station from one of the auxiliary airlocks and board that way.”

“I can break from hard dock without completing the separation sequence,” Peregrine volunteered, “If you can get to the airlock on Gantry B, you shouldn’t have any trouble.”

“More importantly,” Deuce said, “how many spacesuits do we currently have?

“I’m wearing a skinsuit under my clothes right now,” Misty said, “I could be spaceworthy in 60 seconds.”

“Deuce and I have suits in our field bags,” Double Deuce volunteered.

“So does this–” Sara began, “Same here.”

“You can’t have completed Blue Phase yet, Recruit,” Deuce said, “Are you rated in PSO?”

“I’ve got 340 hours logged in standard-pressure suits from my time working the docks at Surveyor City,” Sara answered.

“I suppose that’s better than nothing,” Deuce mentioned, “Commander, my recommendations for EVA team complement are as follows: Chief Armsman Tawfiq as weapons specialist, Officer Trainee Noelani as EVA specialist, and I will be Team Leader.”

“Agreed, “Jon declared, “Lieutenant, Chief, Trainee, prepare for sortie, Peregrine has control over timing. Recruit, you’re with me and the Master Chief. Let’s go.”

The Deuces twain and Misty went back the way they came, while Jon, Tallen, and Sara continued towards the mob.

“Care to take the lead on this one, Chief?” Jon asked. Tallen grinned.

“WHAT DO YOU FUCKING IDIOTS THINK YOU’RE DOING!?” Tallen roared in his best senior crew chief voice. Most of the people in the airlock were obviously unaccustomed to being berated by a non-commissioned officer with professional training in the application of profanity and harsh language, let alone one that literally stood head and shoulders over the tallest of them and was proportioned in the heroic mode of Hercules or Gilgamesh.


If any of them hadn’t been scared straight into silence before, they were now. Even those children that were present were too terrified to make a sound, although the distinct sound of piddling and the pungent stench of urine proved that someone wet themselves.

“Thank you, Tallen,” Jon said in an almost humorous deadpan, “What the first mate says is correct. If you do not permit us access to our vessel, my crew already aboard will detach the ship from this berth, and it will remain separated until you either permit us access to our ship or my crew sends an armed rescue team to retrieve us. If you force them to send that team, not one of you will embark along with us.”

“You’re bluffing!” one of the mob, a graying New Zealander challenged with feigned alpha male strength, “You haven’t got any crew aboard! You’re not going anywhere until we get what we want!”

“This isn’t a negotiation,” Jon barked, “Manju Ray, begin separation sequence.”

Immediately, everyone could hear the rumbling and knocking as the docking mechanisms inside the walls began to unlock. The lights inside the airlock abruptly changed from white to red.

“You’d better come out of there before these pressure doors seal you in here,” Jon said as he and Tallen stepped aside to let them pass, “You’ll all be blown out into space when the ship finishes separating.”


Although there was some understandable confusion and hesitation, as most Earthers were unaccustomed to military regimentation or space survival practices, the tumultuous troupe of Terrestrials obeyed and evacuated the airlock in nearly orderly fashion.

When the evacuation was nearly completed, Sara seized the opportunity to duck past the last civilian and become the first of the crew to reach Peregrine’s airlock.


“Target secured, Chief!” she answered.

Understanding the message their insubordinate subordinate was trying to articulate, the two veterans followed suit and sealed the inner airlock door behind them, separating Peregrine and the three of them from the crowd.

Manju Ray, Actual!” Jon barked as the airlock began to depressurize, “Abort separation sequence! Return to hard dock!”

“Roger, Actual,” Peregrine answered, “Abort subroutine activated. Returning to hard dock configuration.”

The motors and mechanisms that controlled the docking and separation of spacecraft stopped, and then started up again in reverse. The airflow in the airlock reversed, restoring pressure to the room. In short order, the chamber lighting changed from red to white.

After about 20 seconds, the docking clamps finished locking Peregrine in place. Soon Peregrine’s outer airlock door slid open, permitting them entry. At this point, the crowd realized that they had been had, and angrily began to bang and pound on the airlock door separating them from the ship and yelling at them.

“Tallen, get three Type-23s from the weapons locker and bring them here,” Jon ordered, “Recruit, you’re with me. EVA team, standby. Peregrine, get me comms with those people outside.”

“Comms open, skipper,” Peregrine reported.

“Attention, people!” Jon ordered, “As you can see, it was no bluff you attempted to call. That airlock door will remain closed until you behave yourselves. Is that understood?”

A lot of murmuring and shouting ensued, and it kept raging and boiling even until Tallen returned with the weapons and distributed them to Jon and Sara.

“Just like on the range, Recruit,” Tallen ordered, “except these ones will kill. Show me your weapons prep, Recruit.”

“Finger off trigger, selector to SAFE,” Sara recited as she showed Tallen every step in the task, “check battery charge, run coolant check, remove lens cap, initialize targeting computer, test sighting mode. Weapons prep complete, Chief!”

“Would you stake your life on that weapon, Recruit?” Tallen asked, “Would you stake the lives of everyone in the unit on that weapon?”

“Yes, Chief!” Sara responded.

“Weapon to high power! Target the station’s airlock door!” Tallen ordered, “Open fire!”

Sara assumed a standing firing position, scrolled the fire selector from SAFE to HIGH, acquired her target, and squeezed the trigger.

The green dot on the door failed to explode into a 6-centimeter-deep hole. It was at that moment that Sara realized exactly what she had done wrong.

“Recruit, report!” Tallen chastised.

“This recruit neglected to check the battery compartment, Chief!” Sara reported.

“Stow arms and demonstrate proper weapons prep again, Recruit!” Tallen barked.

Sara scrolled the selector back to SAFE, replaced the lens cap, switched off the targeting computer, and then returned to attention-at-arms.

“Finger off trigger, selector to SAFE,” Sara began again, “check battery compartment… Chief! This weapon is loaded with a red battery! Request permission to get a green battery, Chief!”

“Denied,” Tallen said as he produced a green battery from his belt and handed it to Sara, “Replace it on the double!”

“Yes, Chief!” Sara said as she removed the red battery, set it on the deck, took the pocket dictionary-sized green battery from Tallen, installed it in the slot, slammed the battery compartment door shut, and turned the knob to lock it in place.

“Continue,” Tallen ordered.

“Check battery charge,” Sara continued, faster this time, “run coolant check, remove lens cap, initialize targeting computer, test sighting mode. Weapons prep complete, Chief!”

“Better, Recruit,” Tallen declared, “That will be sufficient for now. Stand by for future orders.”

“Yes, Chief!” Sara replied.

While Tallen had been drilling Sara in weapon readiness, the crowd of Earthers seemed to calm down some.

“Tallen, cover us from the rear,” Jon ordered, “Reynolds, you’re with me on the inner door. I’m going to try letting them in, but if they charge us, your orders are to hold your fire until they cross the outer airlock hatch mount, at which point they will be invading Martian territory, so fire at will. Reynolds, don’t shoot unless Tallen or I do. Peregrine, get me the crowd again.”

“Channel open,” Peregrine reported.

“All right, people,” Jon said to the crowd, “Let’s try this again. I am going to open the door to admit you in a minute, but you are going to board the ship according to our rules. These rules are non-negotiable and will be strictly enforced.

“To demonstrate this, you need to be aware that this spacecraft is registered under the authority of the Mars Colonial Union. Under the terms of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and the 2187 Noctis Peace Treaty, this vessel is Martian territory, and as captain and crew of this vessel we have the authority and the duty to defend this ship by any means that I, the captain, deem necessary and appropriate. Therefore, if you attempt to board this ship without my express permission, even just stepping on the ship’s outer airlock door mount, you will be shot immediately as a foreign invader.”

That warning gave quite a few people in the crowd pause.

“Now, you are going to form an orderly line, with families grouped together,” Jon continued, “Martian citizens and permanent residents will line up first, followed by asylum seekers and refugees bound for Mars. Earthers who do not meet these credential requirements are to go to the back of the line. If you cut in line or lie about your credentials, you forfeit passage rights aboard this ship. Furthermore, your body mass and luggage combined may not exceed 150 kilograms for any reason.

“Finally, there will be a complete listing of ship’s regulations posted in all quarters and public areas aboard ship. For now, the only one you need to observe while embarking is that you must surrender all weapons to the first mate for secure storage while the ship is underway. Now, form an orderly line as required, and in five Earth minutes we will open the doors. Understood?”

There were murmurs of dissatisfaction and discontent, and a large number of people simply gave up and started looking for other ships that weren’t so tightly run. Still, the remaining members of the crowd began to file in as ordered.

“EVA team, Actual,” Jon ordered, “Situation under control. Report to main airlock for boarding. Assume position at the front of the line as Martian nationals. That is all.”

“You heard the skipper,” Deuce told his team, “On the double! Flat out like a lizard drinking!” The three made haste to get to their place in the line.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

The Martians made their way aboard Peregrine in orderly Martian fashion, and there were remarkably few Selenite asylum seekers — most were Earthers trying to flee with as much material wealth as they could cram into their luggage trunks.

“What do you mean, ‘I can’t take it all?’” one exiguous Earther asked angrily, “look, the scale says it weighs 100 kilograms!”

“Exactly, it weighs 100 kilograms,” Double Deuce explained, “and since gravity on Luna is 1/6th as strong as it is on Earth, all of this actually masses 600 kilos. Honestly, why would anyone need half a ton of personal effects?”

“Please,” the Earther wheedled,” they’re antiques — been in my family for more than 300 years! I can’t part with them!”

“Bring it over this way,” Double Deuce ordered, “and we’ll go through it all and decide what to keep and what to leave behind.” Double Deuce led the Earther back through the airlock and into the docking terminal.

Misty took over admissions for Double Deuce and refreshingly, her first customer was a single Earther mother with an infant, a 12-year-old daughter, and a 6-year-old son, with three backpacks between them and minimal drama, they and their luggage massed less than 200 kilograms combined, so there was no trouble in getting them aboard.

Misty helped the family up the ladders to their cabin on the quarterdeck — which got its name because it housed crew and passenger quarters.

After she had gotten them settled, she returned to the airlock, where she found Sara quarreling with an Earther standing a little too close to the airlock. Indeed, it looked like they were about to come to blows.

“I said, ‘stay the fuck there!’” Sara shouted as she pointed to a spot just behind him.

“And why can’t you check me in!?” the man shouted back.

“‘Cause those ain’t my goddamned orders!” Sara shouted louder to assert dominance, “Take one fucking step closer and I’ll put you down for good!”

“What seems to be the problem here?” Misty asked the two of them.

“This… child… refuses to check me in aboard your ship!” the Earther declared furiously, “All she does is stand around with that gun and threaten to shoot people!”

“Hey!” Sara countered, “You’re the moron who won’t follow orders!”

“Everyone, please!” Misty pled, “This sort of belligerence gets us nowhere!”

The Earther hefted his luggage case over the airlock mount and onto Peregrine’s deck. Sara raised her laser weapon and took aim — Misty could see the green dot in the middle of the Earther’s chest.

“I pacifically said ‘stay there!’” Sara shouted, “Right dere la!”

“Stand down, I’ll handle this!” Misty ordered. Sara reluctantly took her finger off the trigger and lowered her weapon. Misty sighed in relief.

Meanwhile, Double Deuce mentally facepalmed at the contents of the 600-kilogram luggage belonging to that one Earther who was either a smartass or a dumbass for conflating weight and mass.

Then again, it was probably an easy mistake for an Earther to make, given that the entire metric system was originally designed for use on Earth according to Newtonian physics, thus making weight and mass equivalent for most purposes.

The first case was dominated by an enormous black plastic boombox with 16cm bass speakers and a media deck that was almost completely obsolete — apart from the AM/FM radio, it was doubtful that any of the other functions worked anymore. Tucked into the rest of the trunk’s volume was a small library of magnetic tape cassettes and optical compact discs.

Will you be careful with that!?” the Earther shrieked, “That is a fully restored 1990 Panasonic RX-DS660 stereo boombox! You will never find another like it in this condition!”

“It’s still 40% of your baggage allowance,” Double Deuce maintained, “What’s in the others?”

“More of the same,” the Earther said sheepishly. It was glaringly obvious, even without kinanalysis, that this person was lying.

“More 20th century collectibles?” Double Deuce asked, “Between these other two cases, there’s 584 kilograms of luggage mass that’s unaccounted for. Are you sure that you’re not transporting any heavy metals, fissionables or stable transuranic elements?”

“Oh no, never!” the Earther lied badly, “Those things are illegal to handle without the right government licenses and permits!”

“Right,” Double Deuce said as he put his hand on his tonfa, “Let’s see what can make a travel case like this mass 290 kilograms. Open it up.”

“That wouldn’t be a good idea,” the Earther advised self-interestedly.

“Would that be because opening the case would mean radiation exposure?” Double Deuce asked threateningly, “Because if it doesn’t, then there’s no reason why you can’t just open it up and prove to me that it’s just full of extremely heavy knick-knacks.”

The Earther sighed anxiously.

“Okay,” the Earther relented, “It’s actually enriched Lunar yellowcake. I’ve got a buyer on Ceres for the lot, and if you let me take it aboard, I can cut you in for a cool 350 million GEOs when we get there!”

Double Deuce was unimpressed.

“Just…” the Earther continued, “imagine what you could buy with all that money!

“I can’t,” Double Deuce said flatly, “and it’s not from lack of trying.”

“Don’t make me choose!” the inept smuggler begged.

“All right,” Double Deuce ruled, “Leave the uranium.”

The smuggler’s face turned white as death.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Femi was able to catch the machinists when they broke for lunch around 21:30, unusually headed up to the galley. True to her word, Ece had cleaned her uniform and her mustard-colored headscarf, her sole uniform violation, and Femi even snuck in a shower when nobody was looking, taking the opportunity to re-braid her ink-black hair into her usual twin French braids, and she marveled at how good it felt to finally be clean.

“Hei, Kalderac!” Femi said to Idowu as she playfully danced around her as if trying to confuse her, a ploy that failed on account of Idowu’s uncanny ability to track her movement by hearing alone, “Uatca duin’ ap hiir dis taim of dey?”

“Sabiin and mi kat 34 cifts off aur prosess taim bai striimlaining aur uorkflow,” Idowu replied, “so Mister Anand let ui iit ap hiir tudey as reuord.”

“So, daaz dat miin im giving iu de mont off for guud bihevior?” Femi joked facetiously, in full knowledge that the only way one of the child laborers got a day off on this ship was by suffering an accident bad enough to require hospitalization, but not so bad that they decided that you were industrial waste and not worth keeping alive anymore. She sat on the table in order to continue the conversation more comfortably.

“Oo, ai,” Idowu replied in the same sarcastic humor, “dey donna niid ui no more. Ui get to slakk off and iit oll dey antil de kapten sets ui ap uit uork on Keriiz. Ciimjiim se, Femi?”

“Mi gon riplees uan of de eir skrabbers, onli Gabriel got ui de rong kaind,” Femi explained quickly, “Mi xav to meelbaks im, bat mi solucon uillna fit. Skueer peg, raund hole, iu kopi, ke?

Mi kopi,” Idowu affirmed, “Iu trai teekin’ de skrabber apart, sii hau maatc of de skueer peg iu riilli niid?”

“Mebbe dere’s strakcaar in de korners mi donna niid?” Femi concluded, “Im mait uork. Danks, mi fouki!” She jumped back to her feet and ran toward the door.

“Ueet, Femi!” Idowu called out after her, “Einna iu gon iit farst?” Femi offered no reply.

“Uorkaxolik,” Idowu muttered before turning back to her meager meal, “Aiaiai…”

Next chapter: Sa Ki Kache VII



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store