The Adventures of Gerry Fynne
This part originally appeared in the May/June 2017 issue.
Chapter 2: Loosed from Griik Maeii firma
The air of the starport hit him as he exited, and he smelled a new, somewhat foreign mélange of the odors of food, goods, and sophants from far away from home; the smell was somewhat understated, the filtration in the life support being excellent, and he would have to have been far more travelled to know that it was actually quite carefully mixed from the different areas and supplemented (after sterilization) to give Griik Maeii Highport its own distinctive aroma. The base odors, though, were in fact quite foreign, however carefully cultivated, and the irrational dread of discovery receded behind a schoolboy giddiness. He picked up his larger bag, and headed a few meters past a Griik Maeii Planetary Police contact point, staffed by officer who was trained not just in law enforcement but also in public relations, towards a portal with the Imperial sunburst on either side of the words “Entering Imperial Territory.”
The queue to enter Imperial territory, and exit Griik Maeii territory, led between stanchions with red belts between them. Gerry knew these stanchions were part of a network of sensors, looking for contraband, weapons, toxics, and radioactives. They were Imperial technology, imported because of the size and importance of Griik Maeii Highport, to make the security of this major trade hub as unobtrusive as it was effective. He felt his pulse increase. A little nervousness was alright, as it was natural in such a setting, especially for one presumably facing an armed Impie checkpoint for the first time in his young life. The Marine was just doing a casual scan of ID documents at this point, not even apparently imaging them; there was no point at this much lowered level of security. He was really just the welcoming committee, and his very minimal “undress” armor projected this. He was the smiling face of the Imperium, with just enough casual muscle in the soft armor and gauss pistol to remind the locals that Impie strength was very real. He was also a decoy, something to focus on while the sensors did the real work. Gerry had nothing to fear from the sensors, though, as his baggage was about as clean as one could hope for.
As he was about seven back in the queue, he noticed that a pair of Impie Marines, dressed like the first, stepped up, and stood flanking the portal. Gerry tried to think what he could have done. He didn’t care if they strip searched him; he was clean. He had the voucher, and nothing in any government system to contradict it. They was nothing he knew of documenting his father’s death…except Eve’s letter. In his pocket! The fact hit him in a wave of panic, and he felt stupid, afraid, and undone in an instant. He thought of throwing it away, but could not imagine how without drawing attention to himself. He looked over his shoulder without thinking, instinctively looking for an escape. He unconsciously started a prayer, then realized he was mentally repeating Grace Before Meals to himself. Gerry realized that panic could unhinge everything now. “Look at some unimportant object and breath, deep and slow,” the voice came from Gunny again, this time in his role as a Guide Trainer. He breathed deeply. He suddenly remembered Guides Color Guard practice. He didn’t remember who said it, but he remembered the advice, “Do it slowly, and deliberately. If it is wrong, they’ll never notice…unless you rush to fix it.” Still looking at the ceiling panels, he started to hum Ode to Joy ever so faintly under his breath.
The second in line, a woman with quite unnaturally red hair, suddenly started to turn completely around in line. The ID-checking Marine, in a motion as fluid as that of a ballerina, handed the card back to the man ahead of her in line, “Welcome!,” and moved him quietly but very firmly through the portal with his hand in the small of the man’s back. “Please step forward, Ma’am,” he stated to the panicked back of the red-haired woman, in a firm, pleasant voice that no one could have possibly interpreted for anything but a command. His face had a frozen smile, his left hand was extended in a slightly strained welcoming gesture, and his right was held discretely near the grip of that elegant-looking needler pistol.
It seemed, for those close enough to catch the whole scene, to be a long time before she turned around. “Your ID, please.” His voice was routine now, and he barely gave a cursory glance at the document before handing it back, “Welcome. These gentlemen will escort you. Please step forward.”
Whatever the sensors had picked up she was caught so quietly that only a handful of people realized anything had happened. Gerry realized how slickly it had been set up. The sensors must have picked up something while she was in line; the ID-checking Marine was given an audio cue, and the backup dispatched, so there would be no delay or scene in the line. It may indeed all just be a minor matter; some agriculturally quarantined produce. No, probably not, Gerry thought; her panic seemed a bit much for that.
He did not really even notice the next bit in line, or even the Impie “Welcome,” for him, just following the queue along without thinking: second nature to a student from a large, urban lycée. He took out his hand computer in front of the Departures board, but did not turn it on. As he searched for the next thing leaving in the general direction of Khii, he did a pantomime with the hand computer’s screen as if to check. An unaccompanied minor would be taking a planned trip, verifying what he already knew, not searching for the next thing smoking. A liner! A liner with eight open cabins, leaving in 170 minutes. Almost too good to be true. He realized this was great news, but there was still a chance of it going wrong.
Auntie would get home 35 minutes before the airlock closed; that was conceivably time for her to get hysterical enough, and for a policeman to get helpful enough to break procedure, doing an expansive run of his biometrics, mark him as a runner, and have him put off the ship before the airlock closed. The purser was in the black livery of the Ley Lightning line, with its red and yellow lattice; in the female crewmen’s uniforms, the lattice formed part of an enticing bodice. Gerry felt the attraction hit him hard; she was quite a specimen, and had likely not hung her jacket on the back of her stool just for comfort. He caught himself imagining her cabin, her, tried to suppress the thought, and then let himself go with a short fantasy. Better the lustful adolescent scenarios than thinking of the possibilities of her growing suspicious. “Welcome to the Ley Lightning Scarlet Maid. Have you purchased a cabin, sir?”
The check-in proceeded without a hitch. He had been instructed to wait in the middle lounge until 30 minutes before boarding, with his checked baggage in a secure holding area, in case a passenger with a High Passage bumped him off. This was an unlikely contingency, as there were five seats still unsold, and any middle passengers checking in after him would be bumped first. Of course, there were sixteen middle passengers, and platoon of mercenaries flush from a golden ticket could possibly show up in 15 minutes and bump the lot of them.
Gerry normally would have spent such a two hour wait on his handcomp, but he dared not. He did not need to stay in the middle lounge, of course. They did not need him there to bump him, but it was a matter of convenience for the lines to have him nearby; if he was bumped, he had the legal option of upgrading to a High Passage, and bumping another middle passenger. He would likely not have that money available, though. All of this was best negotiated at the line’s leisure. If he still had a cabin within a minute of the airlock closing, the purser would cheerfully scan his ticket—as he scanned the holes in her bodice—and whisk him aboard. He felt more secure staying close to his ride out from Auntie’s skirts, but he realized that the waiting and watching would probably be a bit much. He suddenly realized that he did have more resources at his disposal: He had a blessed 16,000 cruds in his college fund; it was started by momma, and he and auntie had added to it over the years. On Griik Maeii, he needed his Registered Guardian’s signature, but he believed that as an unaccompanied minor travelling with parental permission in Imperial space he could access any funds in his name for travel expenses.
Travel expenses: Gauss carbine. Trivid holocrystals by the score. Lots of real meals for transit. An ORbit of the ship he was travelling on, in Griik Maeii blue jade. A five months supply of Stayfresh sandwiches. The mind raced. Well, none of that would save his life, with the exception of the weapon which was at best a dangerous fantasy. He would likely need a vacc suit, though. While not probably important shipboard at this stage, he would need to get familiar with a vacc suit at some point before reaching his father’s mining claim, and there was no time like the dead time in jumpspace.
He had reset his chrono to Imperial time; by the time he reached Chandlers’, there was almost an hour and a half until the Maid left. He wanted to shop first, then move the money twenty minutes before the ship’s 1930 hours Imperial boarding. Moving the money would leave a big digital trail, but then he was counting on being able to be aboard before that trail could inspire any effective reaction. Moving it late might open him up to some commercial hangup with the funds, but that wouldn’t prevent him from boarding. If the transaction went bad, he could just leave and get on the ship.
A petite, strawberry blonde sales associate approached Gerry to help him spend it all. He got fitted for an Imperial-tech vacc suit, an import from Aarirshir, that cost a premium. It had powerful radios, and had an optional EVA kit that could use either onboard air, extra tanks, or small Hydrogen rockets to provide varying levels of thrust. This, of course, was far beyond his ability to operate. But the vacc suit was a good idea, and once he was out in the black with a chance to learn and his funds cut off, it would be a bad time to go shopping or hoping for the best as to what was at hand. He did not have to connect the EVA kit to operate the vacc suit, he learned.
The salesgirl at Chandlers’ was apparently on some kind of commission, and seemed to be working hard both at being helpful, and getting herself into fetching poses while doing so. He had a cart with about 30 Stayfresh sandwiches. Sandy, as her shirt labeled her, said she could tell the Pesto Ham and Swiss, just by squeezing. It took a tantalizing 35 minutes of squeezes to find 10 that Sandy claimed were these favorites of Gerry. She also helped loading the vacc suit, the EVA pack, and 3 extra sets of bottles onto a small skidder. He was entranced by her tight strawberry curls, light freckles, and infectious smile, and wished he had time to ask her to share a kaff with him. They picked up 3 Bigsofts that Sandy said would carry it all. He looked down quickly at his chrono: 1855.
“Any recommendations on Trivids, Sandy? I’m going to my dad’s place out in the black, and I’m not sure what’s on the way or there that would be worth watching.”
He had 15 minutes, and 765 cruds of college money still at large plus the roughly 17 in disks in his pocket. In 12 minutes they had done for another 45 credits of that, and they floated it all towards the purchase point. Chandlers’ was full service, in all senses of the word, so he was able to access his college fund, check out, buy an extended warranty on the suit, help Sandy bag his goods, pocket the remaining 582 credits for “sundries,” and still have 17 minutes to make it to his ship. It had taken him 6 minutes to make the trip “up” the central mall to Chandlers’ from the Maid and he was feeling just a bit full of himself as he headed back.
“Help me to my ship with your skidder? I’ll buy you a kaff on the way.”
“Can’t snack with customers on the job. But…” her ‘yes’ smiled as she hesitated. “Computer: Sandy 3451 going on break! Cover me, Larry, I’ve got a long one coming.” She smiled that smile at the purchase point boy, not much older than Gerry, as she moved the Bigsofts somewhat hurriedly onto the skidder, and bounced out. “Which way?”
“Down, um, down that way.” Gerry did seem a bit overwhelmed. Her answer had undone his swelling confidence.
“Fresh smoothies, over there on the left. Huerta Strawberry for me, and hop to it, groundhog!” she said with a smirk he hadn’t seen before. He tried not to seem too eager, as he eagerly struck out for the kiosk. Three scouts, in IISS coveralls were ambling up to the kiosk, though obviously ahead of him. The two men, wearing more the faded coveralls were grabbed by the third, a small ebony woman who seemed inexplicably young, one collar in each impossibly small hand.
“Gentlemen, please! Make way. Get the lady what she wants, groundhog, and be snappy.” Then she winked. Thankfully, the anthropomorphic server ’bot was apparently used to sputtering customers, and Sandy had her Huerta Strawberry in what seemed to have been seconds flat. Gerry was normally hardly ever aware of blushing, but he felt blood red on the back of his neck.
He stumbling for something to say, “Do you live on the Highport?”
“Yes. My father’s head of internal security for the Imperial Intelligence Services. Why, there he is now!”
Time seemed to stop, as they walked down the mall quietly for a few more steps. Gerry wouldn’t focus, didn’t want to try to focus, on whoever Sandy had pointed at. The silence was apparently too much for her: “Grab the skidder!” she squeaked before doubling over in an explosion of laughter. Thankfully, the skidder was somewhat intuitive in function, and so as Gerry grabbed the handle of the yoke, he was able to bring it to an almost gentle stop, while tears flowed freely from Sandy’s eyes as she rolled onto her back, heaving in the fetal position. For whatever grace she had in all other movement, this spasm of laughter caught Sandy in complete candid abandon, for what seemed to Gerry to be minutes. Gerry could see her ribs stand out as her chest heaved.
“That… that… that… here…”
He pulled her up, as she again attempted speech, “That usually…usually gets ’em…but I’ve never…”
A little coughing and she straightened up, “I’ve never seen someone go from so red to so white so quickly.”
She leaned in, way in, and kissed him on the cheek. “Good job on the skidder.” A whiff of something familiar, but a little exotic. She retrieved her Huerta Strawberry, which had remained where she half-placed, half-tossed it between two Bigsofts, spilling just a bit from the straw.
“Sorry ‘bout that” she said.
“Yeah, you look pretty sorry…ah, contrite.”
He went to grab the skidder but she waived him off. “How are we on time? You’re cutting it close, from what you said.”
“I…didn’t say. And yes, I am, but I’ve still got 12 minutes to get to A142.” Gerry was a bit confused.
“You did say, just not with words. Good luck, Gerald Fynne, runaway. You’re an open book, but I like the plot so far.”
“I won’t! Actually, you’re right: I can’t. What do I know? Nothing, except you’re on legit travel. Anyone asks, that’s all I know. Anything else, it would be my pretty butt in the sling as well, for letting you through the purchase point. Your docs are legit; no sensitive purchases. You never uttered a word to contradict the status your documents confirmed.”
He was terrified. How she knew what she knew was a mystery to him, but then girls were all sort of a mystery and women more so. Sandy suddenly seemed to have the mind of a great-granny in the body of a seventeen year-old.
She was breathing almost evenly by then. “We may never come this way again, Gerry. If you look me up, we’ll have changed.”
A138: four gates to go. “Is that bad?”
“No. You’ll change a lot more than me, though. I’ve already had to grow up more than a girl should have to. I lied about my father in more than one way; I never knew him. I don’t think my mom ever did.”
A142. He had to be honest. He had no business with this girl; she was nice to him so he would spend his money, and she was probably on commission. Whatever the commission was on sixteen thousand was not a sum to be sneezed at. He had needed to buy a vacc suit, but she had him eating out of the palm of her hand on all the extras. But that just got him to the checkout. As she rolled the bags off the skidder at the luggage point he mused: Why was she here? Did she just enjoy toying? She turned toward him as he puzzled.
The kiss caught him completely by surprise. It was almost savage: deep and sloppy as she pulled him to her, grabbing his hips with both hands and grinding just a bit. Then it was over. She took a half step back, and gave him just a slight smirk, a twitch of the corner of her mouth. “Don’t try to say anything, Gerry, you’ll frak it up. We…well, we may never come this way again.” She kissed him on the cheek, tousled his hair, and turned to leave.
“But how can I…can we…”
She paused, smirked once more, pulled out a marker from the front her shirt between those petite breasts he’d just felt pressed against him, grabbed his hand, and wrote a number on the inside of his wrist. She shushed him with her finger, wheeled around and strode off down the mall like a stevedore on an errand.
“Mister Fynne? Five minutes, sir.” The purser. Right!
“Yeah, yeah I guess I’m late.” He actually looked her in the eye this time, light hazel, and there was just a twinkle there.
“We’ve got your bags. Follow the Fourth Officer to your cabin, please.”
Gerry wound into the liner, following the officer into a small cabin. He just then realized that he had made it. He hadn’t thought of it since he had stopped into Chandlers’, and certainly not when he’d been with Sandy: getting bumped, getting grabbed, Auntie. None of it had really registered until he saw his bags on the very small robotic skidder in what the large man was saying was his room. He asked the man a few things. He forgot what he asked and forgot the answers. The man opened a screen on a small desktop console, pointing…meals.
He locked his cabin door, and flopped down on the bunk. He thought briefly of his day, of Sandy, of the purser with the amply-filled bodice, of the now narrower chances he had of being stopped. At some point, he thought vaguely of the challenges ahead. Not even out of the system. Strawberry curls. A number on his wrist.