An Unusual Challenge

As you guys know, my minder says that to avoid con-crud, I must take two days more or less off, and the high holy holiday (the 4th) completely off.

I’ll do a promo post later, but for now…

On our plane out there was a medical emergency (which freaked me, because I thought it was a MECHANICAL emergency) and they announced “Is there a medical professional on the plane?” Only I understood “is there a mechanical professional on the plane?”

Once I figured out I wasn’t going to die right then, or perhaps live through younger son having to patch up the plane in flight, other thoughts occurred.

I confess I still haven’t come up with an explanation to the following announcement: “Is there a published novelist on board?”  I mean, what emergency COULD require that.

Some are self obvious, like say “Is there a vampire hunter on board?”

Or “is there a plumber on board?”

Write no more than 200 words in the opening for a story that starts with a really unusual “is there an x on board?” announcement, and explains why (while setting up the novel or story hook.)


110 thoughts on “An Unusual Challenge

  1. The passengers heard the pilot’s announcement “Is there any relative of Thomas K. Ulysses on board”.

    Steven Hayward, Alpha Level Telekinetic US Ultra Agent, quietly told the hostess who he was.

    Note, if you read the book Airport (or saw the first movie), you’d know that airports (at the time) used a code phrase to alert the airport police to a problem. “Thomas K Ulysses” is a code phrase for an Ultra Agent Telekinetic.

  2. “Is there a xenobiologist on board?”

    See, this is why I don’t fly coach. It’s one thing that I’m only going to LV-1201 because I owe one to the Marine team stationed there – boys nearly dusted themselves cleaning up my mech shop, in what they called “just another bug hunt”, so I figure they can ask any favor they need. But would it be too much of WY to charter a proper flight there, and not in some bucket that’s not even fully pressurized? Even engineers have some comfort standards!

    And now this on the intercom… I looked around me, half a dozen people in the improvised passenger area of the hold. Nobody raised their head. Nobody even looked like they knew what this could be about. Even I’d only heard rumors of this particular place. And now, approaching the site, I suspected I was about to meet the early welcoming committee. Not that I had much more experience than that one case. I’m used to fixing Marine gear, not using it myself. Still, it could work out. Just another bug hunt, right?

    Resigned, I went to the intercom.

    “No”, I answered. “But I could do in a pinch.”

    * * *

    Not my finest work, I reckon. I guess I’m rustier than I thought. Still, I hope any fans of AVP2 will enjoy a throwback to this timeless classic, and the even more timeless films it’s based on.

  3. The scared looking attendant stood in the aisle with a little girl in tow. “Is there a child care professional on board? Her Grandma is having a medical problem, and we can’t understand what she’s trying to tell us.”

  4. You know you’re in trouble when the in-flight intercom says “Is there an exorcist on board?”

    That’s me. Jake Gerson, freelance exorcist.

    On Republic airlines flight 703, thirty thousand feet above the midwest, taking my kids to Disney in Florida.

    Some days, I wish I’d stuck to carpentry.

    1. Didn’t Sarah publish a short story on the blog about something like that? A possessed outdoor grill, if I recall?

    2. “Some days, I wish I’d stuck to carpentry.”

      Reminds me of a Catholic joke:

      Jesus says, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” A rock comes whizzing by his head and smacks into the woman in question. He turns and says, “Mother, sometimes you really piss me off.”

      Apologies to all you Protestants and others out there.

  5. “Is there a werewolf on board?”
    Step 1: My mind went blank with shock. Well, duh. What else?
    Step 2: One must do one’s duty, after all. So I stood. Didn’t even glance around to see if, mirabile dictu, there was another one of us on the flight. “Uh, ‘scuse me, I’m a werewolf.”
    Step 3. Oh, for the Love of Life Orchestra.I thought I’d plotz on the spot when the crew shouted, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” and the rest of the passengers echoed it. So they brought out the cake and S. told me about the arrangement he’d made when he booked the trip. Everyone knows about airship lines’ reputation for personal service, but if you ask me, this just might be taking it too far!

    (Disclaimers: No, I am not a fiction writer. Is it that obvious? And no, it is not my birthday today, but thanks for letting me play too.)

  6. “Is there a particle physicist on board?”

    Not an announcement I’d ever been expecting to hear on a plane, but I raised my hand. “Do you have a quarky situation you need help with?” I asked.

    Without reacting to my lame attempt at a pun, she wordlessly reached past me and opened the window shade.

    “What is that?” I said. The glowing blueish-green disk hanging in the night sky, somewhere off the left side of the plane, was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Looked a bit like Cherenkov radiation, but it was too green for that. Unless…

    “We were hoping you could tell us that,” she said, interrupting my train of thought. “Is it radioactive? Are we in danger?”

    “I don’t think so,” I automatically answered, but my mind was elsewhere, working through formulas and wishing I’d brought my spectroscope with me.
    “Do you know how far away—”

    Just then, the disk irised open.

    1. Since I can’t edit posts already made, replace “I asked” with “I asked the flight attendant” in the second paragraph, to fix the pronoun-without-antecedent error (“she”) in the third paragraph.

  7. “Is there a… Trekker… on board?” The attendant’s voice was hesitant, as if he wanted to use something to keep the word from touching him.
    Shifting the baby to one side, a middle-aged lady raised her hand, and a flight attendant hurried over, then looked dubious. She looked more like she was going to a rodeo, not a convention. The woman smiled sweetly and adjusted her glasses.
    “Trekkie, but it’s the same thing. What’s wrong?”
    “There’s a…situation… up front.”

    *twenty minutes and a lot of yelling later, she returns, dragging the attendant by the collar*
    “Write this down. You will write a full page of each phrase.”
    “Yes, ma’am.”
    I said, write this down.” She did not raise her voice, but did use the Mom Voice. He snatched the ring binder and wrote.
    “Cosplay is not a threat.”
    “Not everything with pointy ears is a Vulcan.”
    “A guy with foot long ears, a tinted mohawk, oversized sword, plate armor and thigh boots, next to a Japanese cat-girl in a bikini, is COSPLAYING FREAKING JAPANESE. He is not faking being a trekkie for nefarious purposes, he’s probably an Elezen.”
    “…how do you spell ‘elezen’?”

    1. Actually foot long ears, mohawk, oversized sword, and plate mail screams night-elf. Elezen ears are large, but not quite that large (at least in FFXIV that is.)

      And as an aside, Shadowbringer story so far (lvl 72)….’Ooof’.

      1. It does sound like Nightelves, if he was purple, and the hair was a solid color. I hadn’t actually considered it, I was picturing Haurchefant with more player-common hair.


        NO SPOILERS!

        I did the Spectacles emote quest, instead. (Just barely got to Stormblood, didn’t want to hit the level wall with my Bard, swapped to Summoner/Scholar. Well, Scholar, really, but the patch nerfed THAT leveling.)

        1. I’m doing the main story stuff on my Astrologian main.

          And then I’m going to set that job aside, and probably not touch it for the rest of the expansion. I *HATE* what they’ve done with the job. And I’m having to work a lot harder to keep my party up. I told my FC leader that it felt like SE had removed the fun stuff from the job, and made everything else arbitrarily more difficult to keep you too busy to notice.

          1. Mentioned it to my husband, he says he doesn’t know ANYBODY who is sticking with astro unless it’s the only option over 70.

            I managed to find a setup that sort of works for Scholar, but it’s more “stay alive” than “kill stuff,” and it use to be mad awesome AOE farmer.

            1. I expect them to buff the healers some in the next few days/patches. Happened with StormBlood, Heavensward as well.

            2. I guess I’m one of the weird FRPGers out there. I actually enjoy the challenge of playing the worst possible race/class/skill combinations possible.

              I love proving people wrong when they say, “There’s no way you can solo that character to that level.”

              1. Bad combination or the thing everyone knows sucks is one thing– it’s when they take a fun class and make it boring and hectic that I quit.

              2. “What are you going to play?”
                “A troll…”
                “Okay, we can use a tank…”
                “…fighting rapier and main gauche, in red and gold brocade slash and puff lanskneckt-y garb and a big floppy hat with a huge ostrich plume.”
                “… … okay.”

  8. “Attention passengers, is there a linguist on board?”

    Not an announcement I ever expected to hear on a trans-atlantic flight, but I raised my hand anyway. After all, I am a linguist… sort of.

    “Did you say Linguist?” I asked, sure that I had heard wrong, and not sure how much help I might be even if I had heard right. After all, I am a linguist of sorts. I study dead languages.

    The stewardess rushed to me, “Yes, you’re a linguist?”

    “I do study language, what language do you need? Surely you could ask for someone who speaks…” I was already being pulled towards the front of the plane. “Hold on now, I study dead languages… I’m not sure how much of a help I might be.”

    She didn’t stop pulling. I followed, if only because I didn’t have much of a choice.

    “Good, You’re perfect!” she said.

    You’re perfect? I couldn’t recall anyone ever saying that to me. Particularly in a situation like this. I wondered what part of “dead languages” she misunderstood.

    After being pulled first class and then forward to the front of the plane I quickly found myself face to face with why You’re perfect might have seemed true.

    At first, I thought they were children; then I suspected some kind of cosplay, but the arrow head pointing at me from the bow held by one of the… not children… not cosplayers… looked far too real, and there was no way those pointed ears were made out of foam. Then one of them spoke.

    You might expect an elf to speak Tolkein Elvish, or at least I did. Hoped even, because what nerdy linguist hasn’t picked up a little elvish just for fun, but the language was nothing like that. The voice wasn’t smooth, musical, and sexy like Liv Tyler’s portrayal of Arwen. It clicked and popped and groweled like… like… well, like nothing I had ever heard before.

    I stood there facing two beings, both appeard to be young females, but I wasn’t completely sure. Both with pointed ears, somewhat more than the sedated “barely pointed” ears the various elves had in the Lord of the Rings movies, but nowhere near the long pointed ears that elves tend to have in anime. Both had blonde hair, one cut short in what I believe would be called a pixie cut, the other had her hair pulled back in a long braid. They both wore tunic-style dresses that came down to their knees, each in a different shade of green. One light, one darker, both with intricate embroidery that appeared to have been done by hand, but exquisitely done. Their legs and feet were bare. Their faces were round and looked mostly human, with smooth skin that a super-model would envy.

    It’s funny all the details you notice when you are standing there, possibly about to die, facing someting that completely turns your world-view on it’s end.

    The two… elves I’ll call them, since it’s already stuck in my head – Yes, I admit that i am a big fat nerd – were huddled together. Only the one had a bow, but the other clutched a mean looking knife to her chest. They both appeard to be just as afraid as i was.

    “Please my friends, I mean you no harm.” I said as soothingly as I could manage.

    I could see that the smaller of the two, the one with the knife, was shivering while the other was visibly clinching her teeth and seemed to be trying, and failing, to keep the bow steady.

    I slowly turned to the stewardess, being sure to keep my empty hands where the elves could see them. “Get me a couple blankets.”

    1. Sorry, but I had to do this obvious modification….

      ‘You might expect an elf to speak Tolkein Elvish, or at least I did. Hoped even, because what nerdy linguist hasn’t picked up a little elvish just for fun, but the language was nothing like that. The voice wasn’t smooth, musical, and sexy like Liv Tyler’s portrayal of Arwen. It clicked and popped and groweled like… like…What the…F? Elves speaking Klingon?!?’

      1. LOL “Elves speaking Klingon” !!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

        Loved the entire original, but this seals it.

      2. Sounds like the Monster Hunters have moved to the Star Trek universe. The elves have left their trailer parks and are now posing as Vulcans.

  9. “Look, I can’t just go on the intercom and ask, ‘Is there a Magician onboard’,” the pilot stated, clearly shocked and confused.
    The tall figure in the cloak seemed to look through him and replied, “There is no need. The one I seek is in 37-F. Fetch him now and I will allow this craft to continue on its journey. I care not about you, provided you complete this task, and complete it now.
    The pilot looked over to the engineer, who nodded, and headed out the cockpit.
    Something was dreadfully wrong. I didn’t know what it was, but it had woken me. I looked out the window into the darkness, knowing I was seeing… something… wrong, but not able to isolate it. I turned to see a uniformed man coming back towards me. He looked as if he’d seen a ghost, and as a practicing wizard, I certainly knew that look. As he approached, I caught the faintest scent of old fae magic from him.
    He looked at me and asked, “Mr. Reniaus, could you come with me, please?”
    Suddenly I felt like lightning had struck my brain. I looked out the window again and looked down at the lights of cities in the night far below. They weren’t moving… The plane, 36,000 feet in the air, was not moving.

    1. The first thing that popped into my head as I read this was, “The plane was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.”

      /innocent whistle

      1. My first thought too. But I refrained …

        Second one was “I knew I shouldn’t have flown …”

  10. 200 words is beyond me, but I have a few suggestions, all chosen with an eye to the question “In what peculiar situation would one of these be needed urgently on an airplane in mid-flight?”:

    Tailor or seamstress

    1. Here is one….

      “Is there a Mohel onboard?” the steward asked over the intercom.
      I raise my hand wondering why they would need that particular skill set, and I learned fairly quickly as the steward collected me and lead me to first class.
      “One of our passenger, who was raised very non-orthodox,” the steward told me quietly, “has just been informed by his fiancée’s parents that he better be able to Prove his heritage when they meet him at the gate….”

      ‘Oy Vey….’

      1. “Is there a necromancer onboard” was asked mid flight to Hawaii, “Amelia Earhart is in the front cabin and complaining about the inflight meal.”

    2. I had no clue what a Shochet was. The first (paid) result in Duck Duck:
      Shochet Work | 53 urgent openings. Apply now That seems a bit odd.

    1. It’s when they ask “is there a terminator on board” that there’s major trouble. 😈

    1. “j0.”

      I miss that comic…..

      (Standard issue went off the rails, for those who are interested, but you really should read the first few chapters here. If only for the immigration challenge.)

  11. “Is there a real estate agent on board?”
    I looked up. I’d made this flight more than a hundred times and thought I’d seen, and heard, everything. These trans-pacific flights are usually a combination of unpleasantness and boredom.

    I flagged down the nearest flight attendant. “I’m a real estate agent.”


    I nodded. “Specialist in large commercial sales, but, yes, licensed in three states as a real estate agent.”

    “Yes, sir, that should be sufficient.” She beckoned for me to stand. “If you could follow me.”

    I followed her to the front of the plane. Unlike normal procedure in flight, the door to the cockpit was open.

    “I don’t have fuel to make it back to Hawaii. If you don’t…” The pilot’s voice trailed off.

    When the pilot had remained silent for several seconds, the flight attendant laid a hand on his arm. “Captain?”

    “What?” The Captain snapped in irritation.

    “I’ve got a licensed real estate professional for you.”

    “Thank God,” the Captain said.

    “How can I help you?”

    The Captain waved me to an empty seat. I sat.

    “It’s the most far-fetched thing I’ve ever heard, but the fact that I’m being denied approach is…” He sighed. “Apparently, sometime between the time we left Chicago and now some group calling themselves the Zelani have taken over everything from the Phillipines. to Beijing. They won’t let us land.”

    That sounded ominous, particularly after what he’d said about not having fuel to return to Hawaii. “And?”

    “And they’ll only grant permission if we buy property on the airport. But they’ll only deal with someone who is an ‘interested party’ and who’s licensed to deal in real estate.”

    That was how I learned that aliens had arrived on Earth and that they were…strange.

  12. “Is there a pilot, a secret agent, a couple of plucky kids, a novelist, and a man on the verge of a psychotic break on board?”

    Okay, I cheated: that was from Stephen King’s Langoliers. I’ll come up with something original later if I can.

  13. They never ask if there is a minotaur on board. It is rather obvious, after all. And although it should not be any concern, we always get aisle or middle seats. There is the unwarranted fear of a horn piercing the fuselage. Also, what possible call for my kind could there be aloft?

    “Pardon me, sir, but please follow me.”

    1. It’s not the holes in the fuselage that’s the problem; the A/C packs are well able to keep up with a few small penetrations of the pressurized areas. It’s the possibility of ripping out, say, a control linkage or hydraulic line . . .

  14. I decided to throw together two characters from my urban fantasy short stories.

    Something was definitely up. I heard the odd choked-off cry coming from first class and saw the stewardess do that half-walk, half-run up the narrow aisles — that weird gait you use when you’re trying to run but don’t want to look like you’re running. The cry became more of a moan, with snatches of some gutteral words I couldn’t quite make out.

    A shaky man’s voice came on the intercom — the pilot’s, Madeline thought, though the quiver of fear made it almost unrecognizable. “Is … Is there a priest on board the plane?” he asked. A middle-aged man toward the back pulled off his blanket to reveal the priestly everyday uniform — black slacks, belt, and long sleeve button up with the white clerical collar — and another stewardess escorted him forward and pulled the curtain across the aisle

    I sat back in my seat, presuming the excitement was probably over. The advantage of being a medium, however, is that you aren’t limited to line of sight. I relaxed, opened up my inner eye to the spirit realm, and saw …

    Chaos. There was a demon in first class, and though material world details faded out when looking in the spiritual world, it appeared to have taken control of a twelve or thirteen year old girl. Oh dear, I thought, the slumber party Ouija board has claimed another victim.

    I caught the aura of the priest as he sized up the situation. He’d been confident when he started, but the aura was definitely showing signs of nervousness. He stepped away, and his aura changed …

    The priest was opening a third eye of his own! He turned and stared right at me, his aura blazing white like a holy fire. I wanted to hide in my seat even while knowing the uselessness of it. The curtain to coach opened, and the priest confidently walked to my aisle seat.

    “Ma’am?” He asked quietly, his voice a calm baritone. “Are you by chance priesthood member, or perhaps a psychic?”

    “I’m a medium,” I replied, nervously. “I mostly do home inspections to check for ghosts.”

    “Perfect.” He glanced up the aisle toward the front of the plane. “I think the … person in first may require both of our services.”

      1. WordPress delenda est …

        In my fantasy universe, Stambovsky v. Ackley came out the other way. Home sellers don’t have to disclose that their house is haunted and so home buyers hire ghost inspectors as well as termite and whole house inspectors.

        1. I should probably feel bad that I was pretty sure what the court case was, even if I didn’t recognize the name…..

        1. In my short story with her, the house she’s inspecting has a couple of ghosts … um … coupling on the antique bed. And when you sit on the bed and pass through them, you also start to feel like coupling. The purchasers decide that this is a selling point and refuse the offer of an exorcism.

  15. “Is there a published novelist on board?”

    I giggled nervously as I pulled out my earplugs. What I thought I heard was silly, but the airline attendant was asking for something, and that was never good in the movies.

    But then she repeated herself, and I heard “published novelist” again. The airplane was loud, but surely I wasn’t losing my hearing. I gestured to her and admitted haltingly, sure I had to be misunderstanding her, that I was in fact a published novelist.

    The tension on her face morphed into relief. “Oh great! Please follow me to the cockpit!” Within, one of the men – I couldn’t tell which was pilot or co-pilot – gestured me to a third seat and they both swiveled around to look at me expectantly.

    I waved at the giant windshield and the airline controls both men now had their backs to. “Shouldn’t somebody be flying this thing?” My voice squeaked.

    The man on my right laughed. “Nah, the plane is flying itself. It doesn’t need us. Say, Pete and I are writing a book, and we’re stuck on a plot point. Can you help us out?”

  16. “Is there someone free fall qualified here? We need someone to go for help.”

  17. Too many options, so I am reducing each to its minimum.

    Is there a Theologian on board?
    We’ve lost half our engines, the fuel tank is draining unnaturally quickly, the landing gear have frozen and we haven’t got a prayer.

    Is there a Philosopher on board?
    The AI piloting the plane is demanding to know “Why is there air?”

    Is there a Proctologist on board?
    The pilot is a NeverTrumper who spotted the co-pilot’s MAGA hat and now has his head so far up his [butt] that he can’t turn over the controls so the plane can be landed.

    Is there a Sabremetrician on board?
    The pilot and co-pilot got into an argument over whether the Yankees or Red Sox is the best team and we need somebody to settle their bet so we can know who has to land the plane.

    Is there a Comedian on board?
    The piloting AI insists it will not land the plane until somebody explains Who is on First.

    Is there a Optician on board?
    The pilot has lost his contacts and we need the plane’s forward windows ground to this prescription.

    Is there a Punster on board?
    The plane is losing altitude and we need to reduce weight by tossing somebody overboard.

  18. I was just dozing off when I heard the intercom say “Is there a children’s author onboard?”


    I raised my hand, and when the fight attendant approached me said, “I write books for children, but I’m having difficulty imagining an emergency that would help with.”

    She said, “Please just come with me, sir.”

    In the cockpit the copilot was giggling like he would never stop. The pilot was calmer, but still a little white around the eyes.

    She spoke without looking at me, “Sir, you’re a children’s author?”

    “Yes, m’am.”

    “I hope you’re familiar with your field’s classics. I’m pretty sure I know where we are, but I only read the books once. I need a guess as to where to put the plane down.”

    Puzzled, I looked out the cockpit widow. The plane was flying at an angle, and I could see below a remarkably square area of land completely surrounded by sand desert. In the center was a city. We were too far away to see any details, but it was a very GREEN city.

    “Ah….um. I’m going to have to think about that,” I said. “How urgent a problem is it?”

    “We have about ninety minutes of fuel left. Maybe a little more.”

    “Well, whatever you do, DON’T land in the Deadly Desert.”

    “I know THAT much!”

  19. Still working on mine, but while we’re at it, they tell the old story of the plane jetting along nicely at 30,000 feet or so, when suddenly, a piercing scream is heard from the cockpit! Nervous passengers exchange glances and begin looking around to see what’s wrong. Panic is averted when a moment later, the sheepish pilot announces over the intercom, “Sorry about that folks! Everything’s okay, but one of the flight attendants spilled hot coffee all over me. You should see the front of my pants!”

    From coach, someone was heard to say, “That’s nothing! You should see the back of mine!”

  20. Most of the time, during interstellar flight, you don’t need to ask questions about people’s skills. That’s already clearly laid out and cataloged in the passenger and crew manifest; you know trades, occupations, and everything else considered pertinent to the voyage. If you need a doctor, a linguist, or a mechanic, you know where to go looking. No need to ask questions.

    What you don’t know are the things that never go into formal records, things like hobbies, avocations, or the odd obsessive interest. Who writes those down and records them?

    Which was why I found myself bemusedly getting on the intra-ship network and asking “Is there anyone who knits on board?”.

    I’m a flight engineer, carefully trained, highly experienced, fully equipped. I could probably rebuild the ship itself from the tools we carry, but in this one regard, I need someone who has an obsolete skill that’s thousands of years out of date. Nobody wears knitted clothes, these days–It’s all autofab, all the time. Hell, I don’t think I’ve ever even seen clothing that wasn’t custom-fabbed being worn outside of a museum, anywhere. Knitting is something you read about in old mystery novels, or see in a heritage reenactment.

    And, here we are needing a knitter. Desperately. It was all I could do not to laugh hysterically. The odds of someone having this particular skill-set, or the tools…? An absurdity. I mean, the stuff is in the encyclopedia, but the idea of teaching myself or someone else to “knit-one, purl-two”, or whatever? Laughable. Not where we needed it, and not in the available time.

    But… Luck was with us. Along with a knitter, apparently. Roughly an hour after I posted the ship-wide message, we had a response, albeit a rather diffident one.

    When the knitter showed up, I was ready for her. I don’t know what I really expected, but it wasn’t what I got; somehow, I’d thought that if we had one aboard, she’d (and, it was obviously going to be a woman…) be elderly and wise, like someone’s favorite great-aunt.

    No, what I got was a six-foot eight giant of a man in his early twenties. I should have known. It turns out that Ichabod was a work-study student of “appropriate technology”, and he was on his way to an assignment as a shepherd out on one of the colony worlds you could only reach from our destination, it being so far out on the fringes of things that direct flight from Earth was ridiculous.

    To be honest, Ichabod’s size wasn’t just a problem of him not conforming to either expectation or stereotype; the ruddy bastard was too big to get into the compartment where we needed the knitting. Which was going to be a bit of a problem, because you can’t exactly move a working subspace shunt to where it’s more convenient; you only do that in a shipyard after removing most of the rest of the ship from around it, being as it’s essentially built into the keel.

    So, there I am, with this absolute giant of a man, pointing at the shunt in this tiny little compartment, asking him if he might be able to knit me what amounted to a tea-cozy for the shunt. See, what had happened was this; the insulation for that thing is supposed to be a spray-foam affair, all high-tech and nano-this, nano-that. It’s supposed to be self-assembling, and permanent until you tell the nice little nanites to go away so you can work on it. And, once having worked on it, you’re supposed to take out the nice new can of insulation from stores, spray it into place, issue the instruction set to the nanites, and bang, zoom, new insulation layer.

    Problem was, the presumed “can in storage” was dead. All the little nanites were no longer naniting. Radiation, poor packaging, bad nutrition… No idea what had happened. All I knew was I needed insulation, and it had to meet certain requirements–And, all I had to use to make it was spools and spools of the stuff we used to insulate subspace-capable wiring. So… Knitter.

    In the end, we turned off the gravity, hung Ichabod upside-down over the shunt, and fed him the “yarn” and hot beverages for about six days while we idled along to the next jump point, where the shunt would have to do more than just idle, and would need the insulation. We made it just in time, although we had to go back and re-knit certain parts of our tea-cozy to meet the test specs.

    Strangest thing I ever had to write up for the Damage Assessment and Repair manual. We literally knit a tea cozy in situ around a subspace shunt, and it worked. It’s almost embarrassing, but at least I win every game of “Can you top this…?” when I sit down around other flight engineers for a drink or two.

    1. Can’t remember which RAH book, but I don’t think anybody on the interstellar flight outright asked, “Is there somebody on board who’s memorized the log tables?”

  21. Off topic … or rather, the effort to make this on topic would be unusually contorted even by my standards of twisted, but as Trump’s tanks tomorrow troll the Progs, this pictorial reminder that tanks were included in the inaugural parades of FDR, Eisenhower and JFK:

    Here’s a photo from Eisenhower’s second inaugural (from the Washington Post)!

  22. Twelve-year-old Cari dozed in the darkened steerage compartment. On her sweater was a label with her name, her destination, and whom she was to meet when the airship finally landed, for she was traveling alone. She was dreaming of home when she felt it: A sudden vibration, not quite a sound, but not silence, either. She’d felt it only once before, but it was unmistakable. “A call,” Cari thought. “Someone like me.”

    The steerage compartment door opened; Cari blinked against the glare. A steward stepped inside and looked around, confused. “Excuse me,” he said. “We need help forward. Is there a –“ The steward paused awkwardly while the passengers stirred. “I’m not sure who can help,” he stammered. Cari felt the call again, and she knew what to do.

    “I can,” said Cari, rising from her seat.

    “We’ve a stowaway,” the steward explained as Cari followed him forward. “Nobody can get through to him.”

    Cari followed him to the galley, where a boy cowered, eyes wild with fear, trying to look everywhere at once. He was about four years old, his skin bluish gray, his hair jet black. “Just like me,” Cari said to him soothingly. “You’re just like me.”

  23. This has been fermenting in my brain while I was raking up pine needles.

    “Is there a locksmith on board?”

    I had a seat in the front of business class; close enough to the cockpit to see that the pilot and copilot frantically banging on the cockpit door, while a little boy’s giggles sounded on the intercom. I knew I could do something, but the tricky part was supposed to be staying alive *after* we reached our destination.

    I always travel with what looks like a 2010 vintage laptop, but half the battery pack cells actually power it, while the others are containers for tools of the trade. I sighed, popped the battery pack out of the laptop, opened it with my thumbnail, and selected the #4 dummy cell. Unscrewing it and pocketing the lockpicks, I stood up. Sometimes, corporate espionage is just too damned risky.

  24. “Is there an animal control specialist on board?”

    I looked up in puzzlement to see the anxious stewardess glancing around anxiously. I was glancing around rather anxiously, too, hoping somebody else would speak up. I’d worked animal control one summer during college, but I could claim neither extensive expertise in, nor any great liking of, animal control. Alas, nobody else was volunteering. “What the heck animal do they need controlled on a plane?” I thought as I grudgingly raised my hand. “I do have some experience.”

    The stewardess looking relieved. “Please come with me, sir,” she said, leading me forward.

    “What’s the problem?”

    “There’s snakes on the plane!” she hissed.

  25. “Is there a… Bailiff on board?” a hesitant voice asked over the intercom.
    Frowning, Frieda looked up at the speaker on the wall. That was a weird question to hear on a cruise!
    But it had peaked her interest.
    “If you fit that description, please, come to the starboard forecastle.”
    A beat followed before the voice continued, “That’s the front of the ship.”
    She glanced at her companion, who shrugged. “I guess they mean you.” Turning back to his kindle, he resumed his reading in the sun.
    Heading towards the front of the immense vessel, Frieda’s laconic vacation walk morphed into a professional business stride, carrying her swiftly down the open walkways.
    The sky darkened as she walked, the sun blotted out by thunderously dark clouds that came out of nowhere.
    A crowd stood at the forecastle, standing a respectful distance from a tall, thin figure. Shrouded in a black robe, he pointed to Frieda as she approached.
    “Yes,” the figure hissed. “She will do nicely.”
    To either side of him stood something that looked suspiciously like the creature from the Black Lagoon and the captain of the cruise ship.
    The dark figure continued, “We shall now consider who is at fault, and who shall be eaten.”
    Rubbing her head, Frieda began to regret ever going on vacation.

  26. The announcement, or rather question, of “Is there a quantum physicist on board?” didn’t quite immediately follow the violent updraft accompanied by a flash of purple lightning which surrounded the veteran Pan Am Boeing 2707 I was flying to Vladivostok. My row mate, inboard of my window seat just forward of the big delta wing’s root, tentatively raised her hand.

    I blinked.

    And then blinked again, as the kindly old woman from Brooklyn had been replaced by a young woman I could only describe as a gelfling, complete with her own wings since she was a girl, from Jim Hensen’s Dark Crystal – if he had Olivia De Berardinis on staff and tried to skirt the lower end of am R rating. A couple more blinks allowed me to register that her seat looked more like one from an old Pan Am clipper ship than a modern(ish) SST.

    The stewardess, who now looked like one of the kzinti from the Star Trek animated series cribbed out Larry Niven’s work but as if drawn by Joseph Michael Linsner, turned and acknowledged the gelfling as if this were a normal aspect of a transpacific flight.

    “I’m an astrophysicist.”

    The kziniti nodded and purred, “Close enough.”

  27. The intercom crackled to life and a nervous female voice came over it. “Attention, passengers. Is there an expert in asking for help over the intercom on board?”


    What do mean, “No recursion?” That wasn’t in the rules!

  28. Sam read the urgent message from the Marks Ceres’ First Officer in disbelief. What did the crew of an interstellar liner, even a damaged one like the Ceres, need a bowyer for? Bows an arrows had gone the way of the trilobite centuries ago, and apart from a few hobbyists like himself, nobody bothered with them.

    But there it was: Vanessa Hilbert, First Officer of the Ceres, called for any bowyers, fletchers, or archers among the passengers to come to her office “at any time to provide assistance in making emergency repairs.” Two days ago, five days into foldspace, two of the ship’s three fold-drives had failed. The Ceres had immediately reversed course back to Earth, with rumors of sabotage running among the passengers and non-committal answers flowing from the crew.

    Sam knew that a ship with one fold-drive could make the transition back to normal space, but with no safety margin. The crew probably was trying to get one of the drives working again, but he had no idea how his stone-age hobby was going to make a difference.

    The answer to that was in First Officer Hilbert’s office, compartment A146, so he set off to find out.

  29. “Is there a,” this time the stewardess’s voice sounded strained, “–animal care professional on board?”
    At this point, the people who had actively been studying phones, laps, seatbacks, and trays half an hour ago to avoid eye contact were exchanging looks, murmurs, and shrugs.
    Someone raised their hand tentatively. “Excuse me?….I’m a vet tech?”
    “Small animal or large?”
    “Mixed. Small and large. My clinic also does exotics.”
    “Exotic, like pets?”
    “Exotic anythings. Including birds.”
    The stewardess inched closer and muttered the next question: “What about…reptiles?”

  30. “Is there a Librarian on board?”

    Noah Wylie flashed his most impish grin and said, “No but I played one on television for a number of years.”

    “Perfect,” the flight attendant replied, “Bob Newhart and John Larroquette in first class arguing about someone called Morgan le Fay.”

  31. “Is there a folklorist on board?”


    And every single time AFTER they had terminally offended the gremlins.

  32. Phil sighed as he settled in. It had been a lousy week. Belcorp was threatening lawsuits over Simtrin 3. Harv’s right, if we don’t fix this pronto, we’re screwed, he muttered. Heading to the airport Brenda had called, Jamie was sick again and a water line in the basement was leaking. What was it with that house and water problems? Then the airline tells him his flight had been cancelled, but they can get him on the 9:15…in a middle seat…in the 16th row. Thirty minutes of arguing and 150,000 flight miles got him nothing but a dull headache. Top it all off it looked like half of Belcorp’s law firm Thomas, Anderson, and Susa was on the flight.
    The attendant was going through her routine: “blah blah blah information packet, blah blah seat cushion” Odd, the way she was staring at him. She had the tubing for the oxygen mask, but no mask, just a…scalpel? She asked, “Is there a phlebotomist on the plane?”
    Six rows of attorneys turned around and smiled.
    Hands from behind Phil stifled his scream.

  33. Phil sighed as he settled in. It had been a lousy week. Belcorp was threatening lawsuits over Simtrin 3. Harv’s right, if we don’t fix this pronto, we’re screwed, he muttered. Heading to the airport Brenda had called, Jamie was sick again and a water line in the basement was leaking. What was it with that house and water problems? Then the airline tells him his flight had been cancelled, but they can get him on the 9:15…in a middle seat…in the 16th row. Thirty minutes of arguing and 150,000 flight miles got him nothing but a dull headache. Top it all off it looked like half of Belcorp’s law firm Thomas, Anderson, and Susa was on the flight.
    The attendant was going through her routine: “blah blah blah information packet, blah blah seat cushion” Odd, the way she was staring at him. She had the tubing for the oxygen mask, but no mask, just a…scalpel? She asked, “Is there a phlebotomist on the plane?”
    Six rows of attorneys turned around and smiled.
    Hands from behind him stifled his scream.

  34. Not the best, but…

    The announcement was clear.
    “Is there an alien proctologist on board?”
    The passengers in the Airbus 2900 looked at each other. Then one young man blinked, and raised his hand. A flight attendant rushed over.
    “You don’t have to raise your hand. Are you really an alien proctologist?”
    The man bit his lip.
    “I’m… I’m studying for it. I mean, it’s a new program at the college, and it sounded really interesting. But why do you need one?”
    The flight attendant glanced around. Everyone nearby was staring at them.
    “Let’s get up and talk about this somewhere else. Basically, um, well, there’s an alien in the restroom who tried… look, it really needs an expert to help it disconnect from the sink.”
    The young man’s eyes got big.
    “You mean… oh, it’s a Helfer Fiver, isn’t it? Ah, that’s going to hurt! Look, bring me a blanket, three forks, and a large salad, right away. Where is the patient?”
    He got up, and followed the flight attendant down the aisle.

    to be continued?

  35. The voice on the intercom was almost accusing. “Is there a theoretical physicist on board?”

    I just sighed… I’ve been through this before. Every time I fly, the instruments go wonky until I’m sedated. As long as I’m conscious, it’s not possible for them to determine both where the plane is and how fast it’s going.

  36. Not what asked for, related. Things you never want to hear on board an aircraft 35,000 feet in the air:

    “I’d there someone who can rivet a broken wing panel on board, and did you bring any of your tools?”

    “Is there a herpetologist specializing in venomous African species on board?”

    “Is there anyone who can help us determine when in time we are?”

    “Is there a member of Monster Hunters International on board?” Oops wrong one of my favorite writers. 😉 )

    1. TSA never allows us to carry our tools on board anymore.

      And let me tell you, it’s a cast iron bitch to have to rummage around in the cargo hold looking for your things even when you’re parked on the ground. In the air? Uh uh!

  37. It wasn’t until Meggie finished demonstrating the use of the under-seat flotation device that she had time to look around at her charges this flight. First class was half empty: Several business travellers, a handful of older couples, and one oddity: a young mother and a babbling toddler. Meggie grimaced slightly. That wouldn’t go over well. A deeply-tanned woman in pale leather scowled across the aisle at the pair.

    Game face on, Meggie

    As she turned back to the head of the cabin, the young stewardess got a better look at the lone passenger in Row 1. Too tall, impossibly thin, his dark suit the deep red of old blood. It couldn’t be him. Fenoglio had dealt with him years ago. And yet…

    Carefully Meggie backed down the aisle, quietly slipping past the curtains into coach. As she passed down the rows, she hissed “Capricorn is back!”

    “Is there a novelist on the plane?”

  38. I felt the hand on my shoulder and looked up. I blinked, rather startled, at the stewardess as I took out the earphones, and the stewardess said “Sir, we were told to go around asking if there are any warlocks onboard, and you rather sprang to mind.”

    I do admit that when I carry on a carved staff, with runes and odd designs spiralling up and down it, I usually get a few odd looks, even with the special pass saying that I have to present it to the cabin crew to be checked into the cockpit…

    As I was taken up towards the rest of the cabin crew, the looks I was getting were definitely not the sort I was used to. The oldest of them took one look at me and said “Right. You’re the one with the staff, eh? Yeah, maybe you’ll do.”

    At this point, I burst out with “Do what, exactly? What is going on?!”
    The steward grabbed my arm and dragged me to the nearest window and pointed. I looked and swallowed…
    Riding next to us at 38,000 was a giant antlered man whose face was all shadows, with red-eared white hounds coursing alongside…

  39. The stewardess, who I could only half-see past the flimsy curtain and hear only as intonations, was clearly distraught, distracted, or both. Worse, the aircrewman (so said his fancy shirt) with her sounded *too* calm, in “work the problem” mode. So I said a quick silent prayer to the Lord and the Lady for us all. (And I *know* it’s “flight attendant” *or else* now, but… I’m nostalgic.)

    Only a half-minute or so later she came out from behind the curtain, all doubt and fear and whatever packed away, picked up the mike in a steady hand and announced, “May I have your attention, and I know this might sound strange, but if there happens to be a practicing Witch aboard, could you please come forward?” (*This* is the manner that so many stewards before her have used to save so many lives, on the sea and in the air.)

    Okayyy, *that* was unexpected. The brief period of odd looks, furtive glances around, I-just-bit-a-lemon disdain, and whatnot, was all too predictable. But I raised my hand anyway, and she beckoned me forward, out of the public eye..

    “Hello, I’m Annabel Gordon. And we have a problem.” Earnest and calm, she was now, not rigidly upright.

    “Stephanie Holcroft. And I *thought* this wasn’t a chaplain sort of call.”

    “We’re getting some — unexpected behavior — from the systems, and our flight engineer suggested I call for someone like you.”

    “That sounds more like… mundane cybernetic hacking, to the technical writer and programming consultant in me, if I’m reading you right.”

    “Except our flight engineer, my fiancé, says even in this fly-by-wire, glass cockpit age, some of what we’re seeing is beyond, ah, control malware.”

    Oh, week-rancid crap in a fancy pink crock, *that* was a *big* problem.

    “I’m really *not* some combat mage out of a PYA or an RPG, but I *will* try.”

    And I did what I’d trained myself out of doing, in any public setting but a seminar or a circle, and especially in airports and airplanes; I just… reached.

    At his great mahogany plantation desk, Papa Legba looked up from his accounts (ask not in what they are denominated), and smiled that tight little smile he has, that could cut diamond as easy as a slice of key-lime pie.

    Standing at a half-wild crossroads under a razor-thin waning crescent moon, Hecate let go of the fringe-edged shawl she wore and half-shrugged, as if to say, all this is yours to borrow… in any deep true and rightful purpose.

    And as I snapped all the long way back in a breath, I said as calm as *I* could, “And hopefully we’ll get by, with a little help from our friends.”

  40. I woke to a severe jolt that threw me against the seatbelt, along with a lot of screaming and shouting from other passengers on the plane. Several were pointing out the windows and yammering something. I looked out and saw beautiful blue sky, along with a couple of craft that obviously were never made on Earth.

    The cabin intercom crackled. “Are there any military members or heroes on board? If so, please come to the front of the aircraft.”

    Retired military and a dyed-in-the-wool fantasy role player, I kind of fit that description. Interestingly enough, apparently so did 3 other people on the plane. We all got up and headed forward.

    The pilot came out just as we reached the front cabin, apparently told by the attendant that we were coming.

    “Gentlemen, lady”, the pilot began. “You see those ships out there?”

    We nodded our acknowledgement.

    “To put it bluntly, they are demanding we throw our bravest hero out of the plane or they will destroy it and everyone on board.”

    The woman and one man immediately sat down. The other guy beat them to the floor as he’d completely passed out; leaving me the sole man standing.

    Yeah. Me.

Comments are closed.