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Drop Out

This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of the downloadable magazine.

Part 1

Chief Engineer Gibraltar “Gibby” Wyeth sat, bent forward slightly, elbows resting on the scarred synthetic counter of his workstation in Engineering; his large, shaggy, block of a head resting, propped on a huge fist; his formidable 2.84m of un-toned, mattress-like bulk resting contentedly on the reassuring, cracked magenta leather seat-cushion of his favorite chair in the galaxy.

“Galaxy, hell.” Gibby huffed, before picking up the cold bottle of Eryth Cola he’d pulled from its hiding place tucked away in the small refrigerator he’d placed in Engineering. Popping the top, he took a respectable chug of the sweet, bubbling drink.

“Finest chair in this or any galaxy.” he’d decided; nodding before taking another swallow.

The chair was, in fact, no mere chair at all, but rather a barstool. A stool which until the good ship Chicken and Waffles’ most recent visit to steamy Xerxes, had been firmly bolted to the grimy floor of one of Gibby’s favorite haunts planetside, The Leper’s Knob, a dingy, windowless little joint where the smoke of innumerable briskets mixed with the smells of stale beer, sweat, mildew, and the clove-and-jasmine cigarettes the locals seemed to favor. The odd mélange of smells combined into something the large Mr. Wyeth liked to think of as homey.

Gibby drained the soda with a last sip; then, with a toss, deftly banked the empty bottle off the bulkhead toward the trashcan, urging it in with an “And the crowd goes wild!”, as he did every time, sure that should the Olympic Committee ever include soda bottle free-throws in The Games, he’d no doubt be a star; happily enjoying free meals for life, as all Medal winners, as well as endorsing Eryth Cola in perpetuity.

The black gang, whom Gibby commanded, had spent the last few hours going over the drives and power systems, getting all in order before the ship was scheduled to drop from Transit back to Normal space.

The only thing to do now was wait.

Lit by the cool, bluish light of his workstation displays, the big Engineer took a small ampoule from the right top pocket of his boiler suit and held it against one of the large, soda straw-sized veins that ran along his right forearm.

Gibby had always hated the drop from Transit. Back at school when he was still a kid, one of his aptitude tests had been interpreted in such a way as to label him a Sensitive. He’d never been sure, really, of just what that meant, but he’d always had a knack for knowing the coming weather while planetside, and then there were the debilitating migraines he’d experience whenever a ship he was traveling on would Transition.

Pushing the feed on the small cone, he could feel a coolness run up his arm and a tingling numbness spread across both head and body; a slight metallic taste working its way across his gums as the meds took hold; the elixir slowly chipping the ragged edge off the ever-increasing waves of nausea.

Even with the meds, Wyeth’s head was still close to bursting as he opened his eyes to the blinding, wobbly light. He could hear the deep, insistent, double tone of the N Space Claxon followed by the automated (and decidedly sexy, the Engineer thought) female voice coolly informing one and all of the total time spent in Transition—both for administrative purposes, as well as alerting any passengers to the very real possibility that any time-sensitive plans they may have had might have been knocked to shambles.

Some of the crew, of course, as well as several of the passengers, able to make a game of anything, would have bet on the time Chicken and Waffles had emerged; popping from the swirling mandala that was Transitional Space back to a volume of Normal Space at what might charitably be referred to this time as the outskirts of the Nordic Star System.

All over the ship noise levels dropped appreciatively as the ship’s computer decreed “Return to Normal Space. Elapsed time sixteen thousand, ninety two minutes.”

“Return to Normal Space. Elapsed time 11 days, 4 hours, 12 minutes. ”

The Waffles had dropped out of Transition 4 days late.

With all the in-system navigation required on the trip out to the minimum safe distance to engage the Transition Drives, with its numerous corrections, gravity assists and the like, then the inbound trip, effectively doing the whole operation in reverse once in a new star system—with a thousand and one details to attend to, some Navigators would, quite understandably, cut whatever corners they could.

The corner Chicken and Waffles’ Navigator, natty, mustachioed, Calvin Hempstead, had chosen to cut was to not wait for a traffic-control signal to change, and so, was run down by a dozen metric tons of speeding delivery truck while impatiently crossing a busy street on Mica. This event in turn left Chief Engineer Wyeth the unenviable task of navigating the boat’s next Transition, just the idea of which would give him a migraine. So the corner the Chicken and Waffles’ Engineer cut was to bypass the whole sticky business entirely, and buy a pre-generated flight plan for Transition from a reputable source.

Gibby could just picture that little shit, Erickson, as he had sauntered up to the old, barrel-top table Wyeth was sitting at in Stuffed in a Trunk; a shady little joint at Waffles’ last port, Mica, more than eleven days ago Wyeth set down the drink he’d been nursing and rose slightly to shake the albino’s hand.

“Erickson!” the Engineer exclaimed.

“Aye, lad. Erickson. as ever was.” he agreed, removing his hat with a flourish and bowing before sitting down opposite. Erickson had come from Caruthers, out on The Frontier, and had a peculiar way with Anglic. “A tankard first, sez I, then to business at hand,” Erickson insisted, as he always did. Erickson’s odd, watery pink eyes and hesitant, dry-lipped smile, as always, made the big man nervous.

The little guy pulled the thick little black cartridge from a pocket of his battered, old, Local Bubble Lines P-Coat and handed it over.

“Five-and-a-half, maybe six days tops, lad, I swears it—One Spacer To Another….Ye’ll come out two point six million keelometers from Nordic Prime at sixty degrees above System Plain,” the albino nodded reassuringly, taking a sip from a large mug of local stuff; foam clinging to his long, white mustache; the bar’s blue and green lights giving the little spacer a decidedly unhealthy caste that reminded Gibby of a rotting corpse.

“A six day Crossing, Rommie?” Wyeth asked, dubiously. “That’d be one fine bit of Navigation. I’ll say that!” he said, popping a handful of stale gorp into his mouth.

“Well, that’s why it’ll be twenty thoosand, lad.”. the albino concluded, finishing with a belch. ”An’ that only ’cause I still owes ye for Whitehall!”

Damn it! Rommie had soberly invoked both the traditional Spacer’s Oath. as well as brought up Whitehall, from which the pair had barely escaped some years earlier.

After a few minutes computation as Waffles sat idle in the nowhere that was the outer Nordic System, its position had been pinpointed. Whatever Erickson may have promised was on the chip, Chicken and Waffles had instead emerged from the Crossing some two hundred forty seven billion kilometers Outsystem at eight degrees below System Plain.

Gibraltar made a mental note, Erickson was decidedly not a reputable dealer, as he pulled off his battered green Eryth Cola ballcap and rubbed his shaggy, aching head in disbelief.