This part originally appeared in the November/December 2012 issue.
The following morning, Doctor Wang, fresh from a night charging, was on the comm interested in speaking with his registered owner, Captain Noedel Fyyg.
The ‘Professor’, on the bridge, routed the Doctor’s communique to the Captain’s private comm.
Snuggled among tousled sheets in the Captain's large, cool cabin, Nordel and Ilsa lay amongst a mass of real, twenty-six-hundred-count, white cotton sheets from Talouse; neither one awake quite yet this early during Liberty.
The insistent tone of the comm was lost on Fyyg, who was dead asleep; lying on his back and snoring. Ilsa slept on her stomach; head resting on Fyyg's chest; the young woman snoring as well.
Ilsa was suddenly jerked out of bed; standing on the floor trying to walk-off a wicked leg cramp. As she tried putting weight solidly onto her right foot to stretch the cramp away, she could hear the comm’s tones.
Easing herself over to the bedside table, the dark woman picked up the comm.
“Frielander,” she said.
“Oh, good morning. I need to speak with my owner Captain Fyyg, please,” said Doctor Wang.
“I’m sorry, Doctor Wang, the Captain is currently unavailable,” she said, smiling at Nordel,now flipped onto his stomach and drooling into a pillow. “Can this wait ’til later?”
“I’m afraid not, Miss Frielander,” the metallic-green robot replied. “What I’ve assumed to be the entire stock of meds on a ship this size, has apparently been stolen,” Wang said.
“The Captain will be there shortly, Doctor. Frielander out,” Ilsa replied, closing the comm.
Within the hour, the Captain and Second Officer stepped into the Med Bay.
“Well,” Captain Fyyg said, looking around at the empty drawers and cabinets that’d been left opened after Wang’s search, “You know, we’ve never had a lot on the Waffles, but this is ridiculous!” Looking for the larger equipment, Fyyg was surprised to find the Bone Knitter missing from its adjustable, swivel-mount.
“I’ll check the duty roster and computer logs, Sir…” Ilsa started.
“No need, Ilsa. No need. I can tell you who did this,” the Captain said. “Herr Doktor Billings! That miserable bastard!”
“Wang, you be sure and make a list of what you’ll be needing, Give it to myself or Miss Frielander, and we’ll see to it that you receive the contents,” Fyyg told the robot.
“Yessir, Captain Fyyg. Thank you,” Wang replied, a trio of his arms extending toward the Captain; one to grasp his shoulder, another to grasp his forearm, and a third to actually shake his hand. Fyyg stood there and took the gesture, but inside he found the whole thing unsettling; as if a gigantic wasp had landed on his arm and was intent on tearing it off.
Doctor Billings had come out of the pawn shop near the Terminal on Nordic Prime with much less than he had hoped everything the Waffles had had in the way of valuable medical equipment and pharmaceuticals might go for. He had sold everything to the pawnbroker for what he felt was a paltry fifteen thousand credits.
Sitting now on a stool at the rear of Ponchito’s, between rows of booths, Doctor Billings had his back to the sex workers, intent on the small bank of gambling machines before him.
He broke open several rolls of the thick, golden Yuan and poured the coins, for convenience, into a large cellulose cup, for easier handling and loading into the hypnotic machines.
Sitting in his office, feet up on his desk, Captain Fyyg talked with the Heimdall Offices of Brokerage House LM&J, trying to line up a double cargo pallet of pharmaceuticals.
Several holds, transfers, and callbacks later, the firm had worked their magic; funds were transferred, and the locally-produced meds were slated to be moved to the Waffles the following day; the brokers taking their cut; leaving Fyyg and the Waffles with only KCr36 in communal funds.
After a couple of foamy. deep red bottles of Apatebi Ifa, Doctor Billings was starting to feel a little less bothered about his dismal beginning losing streak, and as his mood improved, so did his playing.
After four hours glued to the blinking machines, his initial cash, once reduced to only KCr6, had been parlayed by a lucky break, into more than KCr36.
Another large Apatebi Ifa and the good Doctor's sense seemed to leave him. Instead of cashing out and leaving, as anyone with an iota of sense might do, Billings decided to double his wager on a trio of different machines; the old man seeing only the possible payoff.
No one was more surprised than Doc Billings himself, when, forty five minutes later, he was almost flat broke.; a handful of shiny Yuan clutched in his bony hand.
When one of the House Girls offered to cheer him up, the Doctor spun around frantically, and facing a tall redhead, screamed, “No!”, and with all the pent-up resentment and frustration he could muster from losing everything, slammed his bony fist into the redhead’s nose, breaking it.
He also managed to break his own hand, which made it difficult to ward off blows from the club’s bouncers as they slugged and kicked the stuffing out of the aging Doctor. They then grabbed him up and threw him bodily into the street; his small number of Yuan getting lost somewhere during his trip out the front door.
“Fuck you!” he screamed from where he lay, broken, in the street, glasses missing, “Your whores are ugly!”
“What a prick!” the redhead said, tempted to go outside and give the old man a kick or two more.
“Don’t let him bother you, Salome,” said Gary, one of the bouncers. “I heard that Doc Hebert over at the Clinic just got himself a new Bone Knitter today! He’ll have your nose back to right in a few hours.”
The next morning, Heimdall time, Ilsa waited nervously for the cargo lighter to arrive and offload the Waffles’ double pallet of meds; the new Roosters nervous to show the Second Officer their ability at wrangling cargo.
Doctor Billings, lately of the Chicken and Waffles, found himself in a beaten heap when he came around, lying in the gutter; a narrow stream of brackish water from God only knows where wetting the left side of his face and providing some small amount of water to drink. The Doctor decided to give himself a physical assessment from where he lay. Going down the checklist he determined he had a broken hand, at least three broken ribs, and a number of lacerations and bruises consistent with the beating he’d received. Heinz Billings figured he needed a month’s convalescence in a proper medical facility, rather than lying in the gutter. He passed out again and lay there getting rained on all night.
Some hours later, the lighter finally arrived and mated with the Waffles’ cargo hatch. With the two ships sharing a common atmosphere, the Roosters from the Waffles wrestled the cargo to the desired destination using one of the lighter’s spare Pallet Masters. When the transfer was completed and the paperwork signed, the lighter quickly moved off toward its next delivery, in the bustle forgetting their Pallet Master.
With very few of the crew on duty, the Captain, Dave Trajillo and Tam loaded into the Chilton and accelerated away from the Waffles, foregoing the Highport entirely and simply chugging through black space headed for a Medical Supply House some kilometers from the cyclopean Showroom on Heimdall-proper; the trip taking four hours.
As the Sled accelerated, Tam took a Yuan from her pocket, kissed it and touched it to the forehead of the large white Cochina—The Ogre of Pressure Leaks— on the dash before her, then dropped the coin into its bowl for good luck.
“Hear, hear!” the Captain said, dropping several coins into the bowl as well.
Dave did nothing, sleeping the whole trip.
Ilsa and the Roosters carefully opened one of the pallet-sized crates of pharmaceuticals, only to find four identical boxes within, Taking the top box, Ilsa opened it, comparing the contents to Wang’s wish list. Aside from a shortage on metabolics, the box held everything the robot had wanted. Cannibalising the second box, it wasn’t very long before Wang’s list was met fully, all but for one item.
After several attempts spent flying over the Medical Supply House’s massive, circular parking lot, looking to find a parking spot closer to the building, Captain Fyyg decided that Tam was wasting her time, and ordered her to land at the next available space, wihich she did. Right about two meters from the lot’s outer wall. Which meant a long walk in for the crew.
“I don’t care!” said Captain Fyyg, “Just so long as you’ve stopped that dreadful Park Sharking! Gods! The circling and circling and circling!”
“That’s how you get the good spots, baby,” Tam replied. “Not this dog on the backside of nowhere!”
With the help of Doctor Wang, Ilsa and the Roosters soon had the Med Bay looking itself again—or actually, more than itself, since Ilsa thought it had never looked this good to begin with. Doctor Wang was apparently excited, with all ten sets of his fingers programmed to move nervously. “Oh my!” he declared, “This is a fantastic day, to be sure, Second Officer Frielander!” he said, giving her the three-armed shake while expressing his gratitude.
Then, secret-like, he put a hand on Ilsa’s shoulder and stepped a bit closer to her.
“Ummmm, I don’t see the Bone Knitter, Second Officer Frielander,” he said in a quiet tone, lights around his voder changing configuration to ape a frown. “That was on my list, you know.”
“Yessir, Doctor, it was,” Frielander answered. “Captain Fyyg’s still hunting one down as we speak,” she said in normal tones.
“Hmmmm. My Owner is a resourceful man, Second Officer Freilander, I’m convinced he’ll be coming back any time now with my Bone Knitter,” the robot speculated.
“Uh huh,” Ilsa answered.
Following a forty-five-minute crossing of the massive parking lot, the trio of Spacers took full advantage of free drinks before deciding they were ready to look at the place’s selection of Bone-Knitters.
The devices ranged in size from something as large as a Cryoberth, to a handheld version the size of a wand.
The size of machine Captain Fyyg was looking for was about the length on an arm, so it’d fit on the mounting brackets already in the Med Bay.
There were several different models that size available, but all were prohibitively expensive.
Then Captain Fyyg saw the model they’d had on the Waffles. It was a decidedly older model with a healing rate one and a half times better than normal, and a cost of thirty two thousand credits; the model wasn’t even in production anymore, and any versions to be had would, like this one, be made from re-conditioned equipment.
With just barely more credits than the device cost, the Captain paid for the mechanism and left the building immediately; with Tam and Dave providing security in the unlikely event they’d be jumped by bandits.
The Chilton passed through the atmosphere, then the deepness of Space, Captain Fyyg piloting. Both Tam and Dave were sacked out on the return trip; with Dave’s head hanging down, and Tam’s head resting on his chest. On the Micro, Fyyg listened to soothing, bell-heavy, Cambodian folk tunes.
That evening, with the new Bone Knitter in place, the Doctor thawed out Miss Kalifra Donaldson, giving her a battery of injections to get her prepared for surgery in the morning.
“No visitors is what you need, Miss Donaldson,” the robot said, before switching himself off for the night.
Of course such orders were immediately disregarded by her friends aboard, and she and Tam and Ilsa sat up late into the night, talking; with other friends and well-wishers stopping by for a bit.
“Give us a taste, precious…” Kalifra said to Tam “My arm hursts like blazes!”
Pulling a small hip flask from a pocket, Tam handed it to the big blond. “Now don’t hit it too hard, hon’, it’s pretty powerful…” Tam was saying as Kalifra knocked back the small container and took several long pulls. Following up with several more, Kalifra smiled.
As the pain killers slowly mixed with the alcohol, the big blond wasn’t feeling anymore pain the rest of the night.
Heinz Billings woke to find himself not lying in a gutter any more; though still soaked to the skin. Blinking, Doc Billings found himself staring up at the dark beams in a small room.
Looking around, he could see the heavy wrought-iron cell door of the local lock-up.
Billings lay there, still too sore from the beating to do much moving from the relatively comfortable cot someone had dropped him onto.
“What are the charges, Officer?” the Doctor asked, spying a woman in brown and orange livery sitting at a desk on the office-side of the lock-up.
“Vagrancy, mister. A charge dealt with quickly here on Nordic Prime. You gonna want some breakfast?” the woman asked, passing Heinz a full platter.
“No, no thank you, Miss. I feel dreadful,” Billings replied.
The officer replied, “Officer, not Miss.” Setting the offered platter down on the corner of her desk, the woman went on, “All the same to me, really, but I thought with you sentenced to the mines, you'd want a good breakfast.”
“Mines? What in the devil are you talking about, Officer?” the elderly Doctor asked.
“You’re a vagrant, brother. And all vagrants go to the mines,” the Officer replied, matter-of-factly.
“And how long is the sentence for, Officer?” the Doctor asked.
“If you have the four hundred creds to pay the fine, it’s considered time served and out you go. Otherwise, it’s still a four hundred credit fine, only you pay it off at one day per credit by working. A happy prisoner is a productive prisoner!”
Doc Billings thought of the close to 40KCr he’d had only hours before, and tore great handfuls of his black hair from his head, crying.
“They’ll be here in two hours. Straight up at six. Shift’s seven to three, but it’ll take an hour for you to go deep enough to reach the mines-proper.” the liveried woman said.
As she prattled on, Doc Billings tuned her out. All he needed to know was he was in Hell.
While staring blankly at the wall, he eventually noticed numerous names written on or carved into it. Reading them to take his mind off of his problems, he noticed the name of someone he actually knew, and it cheered him up for a second—Thom Trajillo.
Well, Billings reasoned, Maybe I'll see Thom in the mines, he thought. Hopeful and terrified at the idea at the same time.