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Drop Out

This part originally appeared in the June 2013 issue.

Part 23

While in Transition there wasn't a lot to do, really. The Captain kept a skeleton crew on the bridge and in engineering in the event of a Gravitational Anomaly or Distress Signal showing on the sensor board. Generally it was the Kitchen and Purser’s departments that were the busiest, tending to the whims of the passengers.

Several days of relative inactivity later, the deep, insistent, double-tone of the N-Space Klaxon sounded, telling one and all of the ship’s elapsed time spent in Transition—the Heimdall saying “Return to Normal Space. Elapsed time seven thousand, eight hundred, sixty six minutes.”

Then, “Return to Normal Space. Elapsed time five days, eleven hours, six minutes. ”

Not believing his ears, Captain Fyyg went to the navigator’s cabin and pounded on the door.

“Eljin, you magnificent bastard! You did it!” the Captain screamed, laughing at the results the N-Space Claxon had provided.

Sitting on a stationary bike set in the back corner of the Crew Lounge, Tower, the navigator, heard none of the Captain accolades as he peddled his way toward a virtual win of the Tour de France; stopping his pedalling just short of a win to hear the Klaxon repeat “Return to Normal Space Elapsed time seven thousand, eight hundred, sixty six minutes.”

Smiling, he opened a bottle of mineral water and sipped it, happy with his Navigation and his time on the exercise bike. One more than the other.

In the cabin shared by Tam and Kalifra, the big blonde was laying face down on the big yellow couch, her gigantic braid having been released and combed out as the blond grooved to Middle Eastern Standards on the Micro and took in the familiar details of Tam’s print of The Triumph of Death by Pre-Industrial artist Peter Brueghel the Elder.

Kalifra wore no top, and Tam straddled the woman’s wide hips, greaves on even here, as the thick brunette leaned forward, massaging the blonde’s neck and shoulders.

“Oh, that feels good!” the Aretiusian purred as Tam went from massaging her right shoulder down the muscles of her upper arm; the ones repaired by Doctor Wong only a few days ago. Tam continued slowly massaging down to the fingers of Kalifra’s right hand, then slowly back up to the shoulder again.

“I still can’t get over the lack of a scar…,” mused Tam, looking closely at the arm.

“Baby,” the blonde cooed, “that was great!” She flexed her right arm, “My arm feels fantastic! Where’d you learn to…?”

Then they heard the N-Space Klaxon sound “Return to Normal Space. Elapsed time five days, eleven hours, six minutes. ”

Tam cheered and clapped, hopping off the couch and Kalifra, and dancing around the room like someone possessed.

“I won! I won! I won it! Five days and eight hours, sister!” the brunette yelled, taking a swing at the empty air in front of her “I won the lottery!” she smiled as she imagined the Captain opening the box in which the lottery money was kept; going to a winner if ever someone was close with their prediction—which was rare—or going to help stock the Beer Locker when it wasn’t.

As the Waffles popped into existence 0.7AUs from the system’s red dwarf, Nordic System Control seemed to burst to life “Inbound ship entering Nordic System at 0526 Hours Local Time. Configuration and type give an eighty percent likelihood that ship is the Chicken and Waffles, owned and operated by Captain Fyyg!”

“Aye,” Brodie agreed, “Your Prescience is phenomenal.”

“Thank you, Captain,” System replied dryly, “We have fuel and entertainment facilities available, free of charge, by order of Port Director Hobson Simply follow the homing beacon. Cleared for landing at your leisure at Bay zero one.”

“At current acceleration,” System told them, “we show your ship arriving in 16 hours; approximately 2126 Hours Local Time. Welcome back, Waffles.”

“Umm. Thanks.” Brodie replied.

Once landed, Second Officer Frielander oversaw the Roosters’ offloading of the Knobb-White cargo as the First Officer and Captain headed to the Port Director’s Office; the Roosters’ own force temporarily increased by the hiring of stevedores from the Downport.

The Director had figured his cut would be somewhere in the neighborhood of eighty thousand Credits, and was prepared to hear nothing less.

As Number One stared down Hobson’s liveried guards, Captain Fyyg began his explanation.

“We thought if we did well, we would be paying you something like eighty-four thousand Credits. As it happens we did very well indeed, and instead of the ninety-six thousand Credits we were going to pay out in tribute, we are instead gifting you with one-hundred-twenty-eight thousand Credits.”

The Captain did a slight bow, and Number One, who’d been holding a pair of large satchels, placed them on the Port Director’s desk.

“Good day!” the Captain said as they left.

“Aren’t you going to count it, boss?” asked one of the guards.

“No indeed, Simon,” replied Hobson, smiling. “Fyyg is an honest man.”

“Really. But aren’t you going to count it?” asked the guard again.

“Number Two,” Captain Fyyg said into his comm unit, “Liberty for everyone, Ilsa, and I mean everyone. Since we’re on the Port Director’s dime, we might as well leave the computer on Anchor Watch, and take full advantage, pet! A full week ’til Lift Off.”

Later, with most of the crew already ashore, the Captain was putting on his dress uniform, to be sure he went ashore looking spiffy (as he’d be accompanying Ilsa in her dress uniform).

Ilsa asked, “By the way, Figgie, what’s a dime?”

“Oh,” replied the Captain, as he adjusted the crush cap on his head just so, “its an old-timey coin, darling. Like a Jiao.”

Scattered again to the four winds, many of Waffles’ crew said they’d meet again later that evening in Ponchitos, a local watering hole and knock shop several of the crew had frequented the last time the Waffles was dirtside.

The Chicken and Waffles had hit Nordic Prime’s atmosphere at 2132 Local Time, and by 2215 Brodie was already sitting at the bar in his natty tux; sipping a second small shot of Uzo as he waited around; listening to the introduction then watching the act of each dancer in turn.

A few of the girls.he found, piqued his interest, but none were his Salome.

Dejected, Brodie got up to leave, and about halfway across the place, he accidently caught a Serverbot in the main sensor grill with his right shoulder; knocking the tall, whispy robot off its casters; the thing spilling its serving tray full of drinks onto a couple sitting at a table nearby.

In a flash a short guy, wearing a dirty blue boiler suit with a patch reading Triple Sixes which sported a trio of dice, sprang to his feet, soaked with ice in his lap. Enraged, he flipped the small table; trapping his leggy blond date beneath.

The balding crewman smashed Brodie square in the face with a large fist; causing the ape’s eyes to water and his nose feel like it had been stuffed with pepper.

Through watery eyes, Brodie grabbed the guy by an arm and hurled him into one of the mirrored walls behind which the girls normally performed, producing an explosion of mirrored shards as the fellow first hit the wall, then the floor, unconscious.

“Gustav!” Someone yelled, rising to his feet from a nearby table. “Look what that hairy thing did to Gustav!” A trio of others sporting similarly patched boiler-suits rose; one pulling a heavy wrench from her pocket and smiling at Brodie, while another pulled a large boot knife.

“Look,” the big chimp said, “this seems a bit extreme, people. Going for weapons over a spilled drink.” Reaching into a pocket, he continued “How about I buy the three of yez a drink, then you can tend to your little pal over there.” Brodie nodded toward the unconscious spacer on stage.

As the serious-looking fellow with the boot knife was closest of the approaching trio, and took another step or two closer, Brodie pulled free a set of keys and fired the tiny key-ring pistol, the thing barking loudly as it hurled its single load of .410 shot at the knifeman’s unprotected chest, shredding both suit and wearer and knocking him into a couple at another table; wrecking their evening.

Several customers as well as hostesses, instead of hugging the floor, ran for the door.

As the Captain and Ilsa walked toward Ponchitos they could hear yelling and a sudden boom, which Ilsa felt pretty sure was a .410 firing, followed by more screaming as some of the customers and dancers ran out of the place.

As Fyyg and Frielander entered, they could see the face off between Brodie and the remaining pair from Triple Sixes.

As Brodie tried to make for the door, the woman with the wrench cut off his exit while the other, large and tattooed, closed on Brodie, pushing chairs and flipping tables aside as he came.

“Now look, bub…” Brodie began.

“Frank,” the tattooed man replied.

“Frank,” Brodie corrected, as the huge Pict launched himself at the chimp.

Frank slammed into Brodie’s shoulder, and in a flash put him into a choke hold. Brodie tried slamming his tattooed opponent against a partition wall, trying to shake him free. The wall tore up, in turn tearing clothes and putting splinters into the pair as they wrestled.

“You dick!” Brodie yelled, “That was my best suit!”

“Doesn’t say much for your tailor then, does it?” Frank asked, laughing. Then, tripping over a table, the pair went down.

Suddenly, Frank felt the small, smooth metal barrel of a needler pushed into his ear.

“You’ve suddenly seen the error of your ways,” a statuesque blonde told him, “You and your friends will leave, I don’t care how.”

Within a few minutes the pair had wrangled their shipmates and left Ponchitos.

By the time Brodie was back on his feet, the Captain and Number One had come over, thanking the big blonde for saving their friend.

“Really, it’s nothing,” the blonde said, “Is it, Brodie?”

“Well, I guess not. I suppose I coulda beat him eventu…” Then, in mid-sentence, the stunned ape said, “Salome? I didn't know you were a blonde, baby! Hot damn, but it’s good to see you!”

Suddenly the engaged in a passionate clinch and kissed.

“You, too, lover,” she replied, chuckling as she put her pistol away. “I’m really a brunette, by the way.”

“And these are my associates…,” Brodie started.

“Captain Fyyg, no doubt, and Second Officer Ilsa Frielander: Brodie’s told me so much about you." Salome said, shaking hands.

“And how’d’ja get so wet, my pet?” asked Brodie, putting a long arm around her.

“I was sitting at one of the tables discussing business when this robot up and turns his entire tray of drinks on us!” Salome laughed.

Everyone laughed.

“A brunette, huh?” Brodie asked, arm in arm with Salome.

“Don’t’cha worry Brodie,” Salome told the chimp, patting an arm to comfort him, “I’d stay a redhead for you all the time, if you want me too.”

Brodie had a big, goofy grin, smiling contentedly.

With Ponchitos off-limits to them after the night’s fetivities, they went out by cab to the Eitr Regency, a nice hotel some fifty kilometers from the downport in upscale Hector. A local landmark, it was thirty-six floors high, and known for its famous restaurant, Odin’s, on the twelfth floor. As they were sitting down, Fyyg flashed Brodie with Zero-G hand signals, telling him “My Party”.

Noticing the interaction, Salome asked Brodie “What was that?”

“Oh, nothing… Private Joke,” he replied, chuckling.

Not knowing what to do, they each ordered the special: Nordic Snow Hare, an animal native to Nordic Prime not too dissimilar to rabbit, an au gratin using Peruvian blue potatoes to match the color of the meat, and broccoli. The meal would have come with a red wine, but since Brodie wanted Zobravka, the table settled on a bottle of that, instead.

The fine food and excellent drink soon had the diners relaxed and talking at length.

When Captain Fyyg asked Salome her name, she gave it as Salome Le Boucherre, which broke up the table.

As they were settling up with the Maître d’, Captain Fyyg decided, “Let’s set aside a pair of bottles for the ship, shall we?”

When the fifty-three-hundred-Credit bill arrived, Nordel didn’t bat an eye; simply deciding he’d never dine there again. Though everyone did have a wonderful time.

Later, after spending time in the hotel bar, exchanging platitudes with with the old, red-velvet coated Bartenderbot, the quartet called it an evening, with the Captain and Number Two heading to their room on the top floor, Brodie and his companion taking the elevator up to the 14th floor.

For the next several days Salome acted as the trio’s tour guide, showing them local wonders, sharing bits of history, and knowing where to find the deals that most ship’s crews would too easily overlook. Deals the Brokerage Houses might have a line on, but with their considerable fees.

Fyyg was a creature of habit, and dealing through Brokers was the way it’d always been. However, after persuasive attempts by Ilsa, Brodie, and Salome, the Captain decided, “why not,” and within a few days the Waffles was to receive a dozen double-pallets of local spices, four double pallets of assorted melee weapons, and three triple pallets of manufacturer’s grade crystals. All acquired for something in the neighborhood of KCr200. A third of the Waffles’ nest egg, but a third without Lanning, Murrow and Jericho’s hefty Brokerage Fee of eighty thousand Credits.

With only a few High and Middle Passengers, and a couple of dozen down in Steerage, the Waffles, with belly full of both fuel and cargo, lifted off soon after the Last Call Klaxon rang out at 1200 Hours at week’s end, the ship skipping like a stone through Transition to Heimdall to sell-off its load of crystals, and take on a few small crates of computer programs, the Chief Engineer laid up in the Med Bay, sedated on IV during the craft’s Transition.