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Promoting the General Welfare

Hefting massive metal plates and bolting them onto jagged rents in starship hulls under the watchful eyes of a Port supervisor may not sound all that exciting, but trust me when I say that it's even less exciting than you think. After days of reviewing repair manuals, diagnosing issues, and hauling parts and equipment with nary a critical peep, I figured it was time I moved on to something bigger.

"Let me repair the next one, Charlie," I offered. Generously. I certainly wasn't begging, if that's what you thought. Charlie pretended to think about it for all of half a unit before pronouncing me incompetent. "You're not ready, kid," he said, not unkindly.

"'Kid'?" I huffed. Charlie just laughed at me--again, not unkindly. "I'm on my 78th clone, young'un," he grinned. "Between the accidents and the explosions and the dissidents and the clumsy, trigger-happy soldiers around here, it's amazing anyone lasts more than a couple of cycles. You're all right, but you need a little more experience."

"Experience." I scoffed. "You've seen my work. When was the last time you had to step in to keep me from doing something stupid?"

"It's been a while," he admitted.

I pressed my advantage. "And when was the last time someone complained about me doing shoddy work?"

"No one ever has," Charlie said, squinting at me. "You sure about this, kid?"

"Charlie, I did not always know this," I averred, "but I was meant to be a tech from the day I was born."

He shrugged. "If you think so..." He pointed at a little private cargo shuttle that had come in a few segments prior. "Take a crack at The Lagan over there. Owner says she's been sluggish and guzzling fuel like never before."

I refrained from squealing, and contented myself with saying, "I won't let you down, Ser!" I did momentarily consider hugging him, but hastily thought better of it and instead tossed off a quick mock salute and hurried over to my new project.

The Lagan stared at me.

I stared back.

And so I found myself wedged into the guts of one of the Trace Compression Block thrusters, far too close to a Bussard fusion drive for my comfort level, with assorted bruises, scrapes, and a sizable lump on the back of my head attempting to persuade me to choose a different career path. The gorram tri-scanner was on the fritz, little red lights blinking rapidly in no discernible pattern I could see, and that ominous humming coming from... somewhere... was getting noticeably louder.

In frustration, I whacked the scanner against a protruding hunk of metal. Its lights did stop blinking; in fact, the whole thing buzzed loudly, sputtered, and died in a small shower of sparks.

One of which somehow managed to land in exactly the wrong place. The smoldering started instantly, and from the smell I could tell the frelling thing would be catching fire within units. You might think a little fire is bad, but wait until you've seen a fire in a high-oxygen environment. Better yet, don't; you're unlikely to be around for later comparison.

"Goushi, goushi, goushi, GOUSHI!" I snarled, struggling to get myself unwedged and out of there before the argon suppression system kicked in. Sure, it would smother the fire--and me as well. Argon isn't exactly breathable. So maybe I wasn't really looking as carefully as I should have been, and I banged my knee painfully just as my jumpsuit sleeve caught on a sharp jutting edge. I tried to rip it loose, and succeeded only in ripping a nice gash in my arm.

This was not going well.

The sound of a tiny explosion from behind me indicated that the fire was now more than a minor annoyance. I figured I had about three units to free myself and get out before I either burned or suffocated. Or both. So yes, I was probably a bit desperate when I started kicking blindly at the metal walls pressing in on me. And maybe screaming. Just a little.

And then the panel gave way and I crashed to the Port floor... where Charlie stood above me, chomping on his ever-present unlit cigar and calmly spraying suppressant foam on the thruster. And on me.

It was over in mere units. I gazed up at him, picturing how I must look: bruised, battered, bleeding, and bedraggled. And it was at that particular moment that the agonizing shriek of torn metal anounced the thruster's decision to separate from its mount entirely and smash down on the floor beside me.

Charlie just looked at me.

One eyebrow slightly raised.

Not saying a word.

"Experience. Right. More experience. I'll get right on that, boss!" I coughed, and dragged my pathetic self off to Sick Bay for a segment or three.

With that as background, I admit to being rather anxious when, only two successful "supervised" repairs later, including cleaning up the mess I'd made of The Lagan--turned out the real problem was just the owner using the wrong fuel--Charlie called me into his office.

"I know, I'm fired," I predicted morosely, before he could spring the news on me. "One lousy mistake..."

"One!?" Charlie barked. He began ticking off on his fingers: "Erroneous diagnosis. Disregard for safety protocols. Improper handling of potentially dangerous materials. Failure to deploy auto-insulation when near power sources. Negligent destruction of company assets. Failure to consider the safety of nearby personnel and bystanders. Panic in the face of emergency. Damage to client property. Potential fines to station security. Blood on one of my jumpsuits." He ran out of fingers, and took a breath. "Shall I go on?"

"No," I said, hanging my head, shamefaced. I'd really let him down. Worse, I'd let myself down. "I'll pack up my things and get out of your hair." I couldn't even look him in the eye.

Which is why it took me a unit or two to realize that Charlie wasn't barking at me in anger. Actually, I wasn't entirely sure what that hoarse, rumbling sort of noise he was making meant. So I cautiously looked up.

He was laughing.

"C'mon, kid," Charlie said, still chuckling at my expression. "So you screwed up. It's not the end of the 'verse!" He leaned forward, conspiratorially. "Someday I might tell you about my first solo repair. Believe me, mine was worse. But for now..." He flicked at something on his desk, sending it skittering towards me.

A promotion.

After all that, Charlie was promoting me. I stared at him, mouth open, unable to process it completely. "All right, knock it off, kid," he said gruffly. "You're makin' me nervous. Get out of here and go work on Mistral. She just came in with her main engine sputtering. Think you can handle it?" He winked.

I nodded, not trusting my voice, and hightailed it out of there. And as I approached Mistral, I realized, with some astonishment, that I suddenly knew exactly what to do.

It was as if the mere fact of my promotion had somehow granted me higher knowledge.

Funny, that.