No Good Deed
Copyright© 2019 by Lumpy
Emily and I trudged in late Friday evening, after a very long week. Douglas’s presentation had lit a fire under Ted and Marcus; and Aaron Baxter, who’d extended his stay through yesterday. We’d spent the first two days after the presentation getting a first-hand look at both the new solar panels and the new battery.
While charts and graphs on a screen are fine for a first step, it’s all just numbers until you see it in action. Not that there was a lot of action to be seen from more mundane technology; at least, not compared to testing drones. There was a lot of watching computer screens that recorded and outputted things like kilowatt-hours produced and conversion efficiency. Still, if you knew what you were looking at, it was exciting.
I’d spent so long looking at more mechanical engineering, starting with the drone and then months familiarizing myself with Ronald’s project, I’d looked up enough information once it seemed Douglas was getting close, to know what I was seeing was important. Baxter spent half the time on the phone with someone at his office, reading them numbers and repeating the person’s first disbelieving and then excited responses.
The battery was even better than that. It was larger than I expected, the size of a good piece of luggage, but we loaded it all the way and then simulated the power draw from various items, including some military components whose energy needs Baxter echoed from the engineer on the other end of the call.
The big things on satellites aren’t the amount of storage time, although that’s important, or even so much the energy throughput of the battery, but the battery mass required. They could put as many batteries as they needed to power a satellite; but, as with anything that goes into space, the real problem is weight. Every kilogram that needs to be sent up adds significantly to the fuel requirements and cost. Satellites needed enough battery time to completely power a device through one and a half eclipses, or the estimated time a satellite is expected to be out of direct sunlight, and not powered by solar panels. They also needed to be able to charge back to full during the non-eclipse period, but that was an equation that involved both the battery and solar panels. The requirements for one and a half eclipses includes a power cushion, allowing for issues or increased inefficiency in the solar panels over time, and just for the safety of the platform.
The current run of batteries NASA was using came in at 20.74kg battery mass required to power most satellites during eclipse periods. The higher storage limits of our battery, mostly from the lighter metals we were using in our batteries and more efficient charge and discharge rates, allowed our batteries to come in at 14.61kg. That might not seem like a lot, but consider the average cost of launching a kg into space was just over fifteen-thousand dollars, you’re talking about just shy of a hundred thousand dollar savings.
And that didn’t include that our battery would be less susceptible to degradation, or at least would degrade slower than the current batteries being used.
So, it had been an exciting week to be sure, but also exhausting. I’d been leaning on Emily a lot to help pick up the slack. She’d been keeping track of other things like the new facility progress and updates on Ronald’s new plant, while I locked myself in with Ted and Aaron Baxter, working out the preliminaries of a new deal between us to use our new battery in their upcoming projects.
We both slumped down on the couch, not even bothering to go upstairs, Emily slouching over on me as a convenient pillow. We’d been down all of five minutes, long enough for Emily to already be breathing slowly and evenly in sleep, and I was just thinking this would be a good place for a nap before heading upstairs to bed when Zoe, Vicki, and Celia came tumbling down the stairs.
“Finally, you’re...” Zoe said and stopped as I held up a finger to my lips. She continued in a whisper, saying, “Ohh, sorry.”
“It’s fine,” a sleepy voice came from my shoulder. “I’m not asleep, or at least not all the way.”
Emily sat up, stretching.
“Good,” Zoe said, sitting next to Emily and putting an arm around here. “Celia has something she wants to talk to you about.”
“Well, a question,” Celia said, somewhat nervously.
It was strange seeing her standing there, one foot scratching the back of the other and her hands, half covered with the long sleeve shirt she was wearing, clasped together in front of her, fidgeting. She reminded me most of a kid being nervous, trying to ask permission for something. It was a very different attitude then the girl I’d met just a week and a half or so ago, the one who didn’t care what happened to her, and was angry at everyone around her.
Not just her personality had changed. The scars and marks from months of abuse that I’d seen on her face were gone, cleared up quickly thanks to the change. Her hair was washed, and she didn’t wear the thick eye shadow and dark lipstick she’d worn when we first met. She’d also started putting on weight, which was good considering how emaciated she’d looked before.
I was actually a little startled. Before, the change had produced very gradual, minimal changes. People got fitter, losing fat and gaining muscle. Their skin cleared up, and hair became healthy. That was it. Cosmetically there just wasn’t a lot of changes. Personalities hadn’t changed radically either. Alex was probably the biggest. She’d lost some, although not all, of the brusque, always right edge she’d had when I’d first met her. Not that it was all gone, of course, but she was more considerate and thoughtful of her actions now. I knew, or at least thought I knew, most of that wasn’t the constant evaluation of how her actions affected others. It was more an evaluation of how I’d perceived her actions, as part of the loyalty changes. It was something that actively bothered me.
Even in Alex, however, the change hadn’t been dramatic, and it was only because I’d spent some time with her, before the change and after, that I noticed the difference. And yet the change in Celia, even at first glance, was startlingly noticeable. Maybe it was because she had so much farther to go to get back to her baseline while everyone else was fairly stable when they changed that caused such a stark difference.
“Shoot,” I said, smiling and trying to put her at ease.
“I was wondering when I’d be done with this part of the treatment, or whatever.”
“Honestly, I’m not sure. You’re the first person we’ve actually worked with using this ... so, we’re playing it by ear. Is there a problem? Your grandmother said you’d be allowed an exception from school this semester, and it seemed like your schedule was open. Is there something you need to be doing back at home, or a problem working with the girls?”
“No, no, no, “ she said quickly, hands still gripping the edge of the shirt sleeves waving in front of her. “It’s nothing like that. I’ve loved the last week. Your friends have been so nice to me, and some of the work we’ve been doing. I’ve never felt ... I don’t know ... like this before. At least, I don’t remember feeling like this. I’ve loved every minute. I wanted to know how much longer I had, because...”
She paused for a minute, almost like she was working to remove some kind of mental block or reorganize her thoughts. When she spoke again, her words tumbled from her in a tidal wave.
“Because of we, or you, or ... there are all these plans for Next Steps, like the new center opening. I definitely want to be there for that, ‘cause I was talking to Vicki and she was telling me about the clinic, and I’d started learning about nursing at school or, I mean, uh. I wanted to learn about nursing, before ... and she said I could observe, and even work sometimes, not as a nurse of course, but helping while I went back and got my nursing degree. And then there’s the food programs, we’re close to getting deals on buying unsold produce, and there was this idea for retraining I’d had, and Zoe said...”
“Okay, okay, okay,” I said, chuckling and holding up a hand. “So you’re worried we’ll finish the program and send you back to your grandmother, and that’d be it?”
“Yes. I mean,” she started and then paused, digging the toe of her shoe into the floor. “What happens if I go back, and I backslide. I’ve kicked it before; and every time, once I got back in my old life, I’d just go back to the old me and start using again.”
“That’s always the hard part, I think. It’s easy to get clean when you’re away from the stuff that pushed you into using the first place. Being back in that environment is harder,” Emily said, sleepily.
“Exactly,” Celia said. “What if I go back, get bored again, and go get high.”
“How about this. Let’s call your grandmother to come down and talk. We’ll see what she thinks about your recovery so far, and float the idea of your staying on, long-term. There will be a couple of caveats if you want to stay with us.”
“Name it,” Celia said.
“You have to go back to school. It’s close enough you can still come back on weekends and work. Once we move to our new home, you could even stay with us while you go to school. During the week the girls will make sure you stay involved, as long ... and I want to be very clear on this point ... as long as it doesn’t hurt your school work.”
“I can do that,” Celia said, smiling so wide it looked like she was going to break something.
“Go ahead and call her. See when she can find some time to come down and see your progress and talk to us about what’s next.”
“Thank you, Caspian,” She said, throwing her arms around my neck and hugging tight. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” I said as I pulled Emily to her feet. “Now if you’ll excuse us, I gotta get some sleep.”
“Ditto,” Emily said, half leaning on me as we walked out of the room and up the stairs.
“Cas,” a voice said from somewhere.
It took me a moment to realize it wasn’t still a dream and register the hand pushing on me.
“Cas,” the voice said again.
“Huh?” I said, trying to push out of the sleep, cracking open an eye.
Mom stood over the bed, shaking me. Thankfully, we were all in pajamas. I didn’t even remember when Tami, Zoe or Vicki came to bed. Emily and I had called it a night pretty early.
“Some man showed up. Beth’s with him downstairs, but he says he needs to see you, and Beth said it was okay.”
“I don’t know, he didn’t say. Beth intercepted him before he even rang the bell. He was really excited about something, and just kept saying he had to see you. Beth seemed to recognize him though.”
“Okay, I’m coming,” I said, and slid out of bed, trying not to wake up the rest.
I wasn’t sure what this would be about, but if Jawarski agreed I needed to see him, then it was probably important. We had enough irons in the fire now that it was hard to say which crisis this might deal with. Outside the window, I saw the blueish light of pre-dawn.
I grabbed my white t-shirt from where I’d dropped it the night before, and hitched up my pajama pants. Following behind Mom, I pulled the shirt on as we went downstairs. In the front hallway, I found Jawarski standing next to a very nervous looking Damion.
“Damion, what are you doing here? There’s every chance someone from the Syndicate could be watching the house.”
“Doesn’t matter now, I’m blown.”
“I got moved over to protection for one of the higher up guys. Bodyguarding or whatever. This guy, he’s a real piece of work; but he’s kinda lazy, ya know? So a lot of times when one of his bosses tells him something, he’ll farm it off on us as soon as they’re gone. So I was watchin’ his back as he was with one of the workin’ girls, he likes to tell em he can get them moved off the street if they’re ‘nice’ to him. Anyways, he gets a call that he needs to pick up some files from one of the nerds that work directly for Richards, he’s the main dude, and take them to one of the other nerds.”
“Nerds,” I asked, but instinctively annoyed at the labeling and because I still had no idea what he was talking about.
“You know, guys who do the books and stuff. Anyways, he calls the guy with the package, and tells them he’s sending one of his guys to go pick it up. He then tells me to go deal with it, and gives me the address and tells me to get out so he can get back to... ‘sampling the product’ I think is how he said it.”
“Eww,” Mom, who was still standing right behind me, said.
“Like I said, guy’s a real piece of work. Even before you talked to me, or whatever, I thought he was kinda a dick. After my, umm, conversion I guess, I can barely stand to be around the guy. But you guys said I needed to lay low and watch for something good you could use, so I just tried not think about how much I wanted to kick his ass.”
“About the package,” I prompted.
“Ohh, right,” he said and reached around into the backpack he was wearing.
Jawarski’s hand went to the small of her back as the other reached out to stop him. As her gun started to clear her shirt, Damion froze, letting go of the backpack, which swung loosely off one shoulder.
“Whoa! I was just goin’ for the package. I swear.”
Jawarski didn’t point the gun at him, but she didn’t put it away, either. Mom looked at Jawarski’s gun and then stepped around me.
“Beth can get a little jumpy sometimes. How about I get it for you?”
“Sure, sure. I don’t mean no trouble, honest.”
Mom pulled the pack off his shoulder and, holding it with one hand, unzipped it and pulled out a large accordion style file folder.
“Is this it?” she asked.
“Beth, you can put that away,” Mom said, handing the backpack back to Damion and handing me the file.
“What is this?” I asked as I pulled the strap off it and opened it up, finding three, somewhat large, ledger-style books.
“They didn’t say, but I looked when I got in the car. It’s last year’s numbers. Richards likes to run everything like it was some kinda legit business, and he makes each of the ... uhhh ... he likes to call them ‘departments,’ give him their year-end numbers. This is that. It shows what each group in charge of different rackets money in and money out. I don’t speak ‘accountant,’ so I don’t really know what the numbers all say, but I figured if you were looking for proof you guys could use against them, this would be it.”
“You’re right. If this is what you say it is, this should be enough to take them down,” I said.
“If we can use it right,” Jawarski said.
“Yeah. So you took this to deliver to someone else and instead came right here.”
“Yeah,” Damion said. “Well, not right here. I made sure I didn’t have no tail, and I tried to look and make sure you people weren’t being watched.”
“But they’re going to know you stole this?”