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Drop Out

Editor’s Note: This part originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Freelance Traveller.

Part 13

With the med bay empty, Doc Billings was busy doing what he did best, sitting in his heavy grav chair, reclining with his feet up on the corner of his desk. Comfortable, the doctor had dropped off, and was dreaming he was in Afflak’s back room again, back on Hargrave, betting on the Tri-V telecast of the dog races, as he always did, but this time, instead of losing as he always did, he was winning, and winning big. Even his bookie, the fierce old crone The Babba Yagga, was, in an uncharacteristic mood, buying him shots of Old Newshound.. Then the crone put a hand on his shoulder and said “Doc, I think my nose is broken.”

Then a second time, “Doc, I think my nose is broken.”

By the third time, Billings had woken to find himself facing a bloodied Milo Hertzog.

“Broken?” the elderly Doctor asked, getting to his feet and examining Milo’s nose.

“I can fix this in a jiffy, Mr. Hertzog.” the Doctor told him, adding “Now this may hurt a bit.” as he grabbing the First Officer’s nose in both hands, and none-too-gently wrenched it back into place. “Now go sit down and I’ll get out the bone knitter. Within an hour Hertzog’s nose was once again restored to its aquiline splendor.

Brodie turned a chair round and sat, arms crossed across the chair back, and resting his chin on the back of his left hand.

“So who all’s playing?” the ape asked, looking at the others.

“It was me and Tam…” The Professor said.

Hearing her name, Tam turned, and seeing Brodie sitting there, she nodded to him, smiling.

“…against Kalifra and Davey.” The Professor continued.

Hearing his name, Dave turned and raised his own bottle of Dahli Lama to Brodie.

“But me,” The Professor said, “I’d really rather watch than play, so I dropped out to nurse this Whitehall. And Davey, there…” The Professor pointed at the gunner.

Davey simply shrugged.

Kalifra, serious about her game, was up on the ball of one foot, her other knee resting on the edge of the table as she bent low over the table lining up her shot; her long, blond braid within a few centimeters of the deck.

As Atomic Era greats Lynyrd Skynyrd played Simple Man on the Micro, Kalifra took her shot; the sound of clacking balls on slate indicative of success, as two stripes; the 13 and 9, were sunk.

Watching the cue ball rebound in such a way as to leave her no shot, Tam scratched her head.

“Two at once, Kali. You’re a regular Jack the Giant Killer!” the little brunette said, taking her cue and hovering over the table before finally taking a shot at the three ball… sinking it in a beautiful shot—along with the cue ball.

Tam placed her stick on the table. Kalifra was about to object, having not sunk the eight ball yet.

“You win, hon’.” Tam laughed, hugging the tall blond, who tossed her stick onto the table and hugged back. With a quick move Kalifra pinned Tam’s arms behind her and bent in for a kiss.

“Oh no you don’t!” the thick brunette replied, twisting herself free and laughing.

Sipping down the last of his soda, Dave went to the fridge and got himself another. Then, hitting the Beer Locker, grabbed an armful of Whitehalls for the table; handing one out to each of the women, The Professor, and Brodie.

Opening the bottle on the table edge, Brodie took a chug, then looked closely at the label; the giant structure that was the citadel at Whitehall was in ruins; aflame, with smoke billowing up into a starry night sky. It made him think of some old tapestry from the Middle Ages.

“Say Davey,” Brodie began, “Weren’t you at the Siege of Whitehall?”

“Not me, Brodie. That’d be little brother Thom. Me, I was a mechanic back on Dahl durin’ the war.”

“A mechanic, huh? Well that sounds like the right gig to have during a war, to me.” Brodie replied.

“A mechanic?” Kalifra said, incredulously. “With your gunnery training I’d have thought you were in The Service.” she said, of course inferring the Imperial Navy.

“No ma’m,” Dave replied. “’Came aboard Waffles as a Drive Hand—a glorified mechanic, really. Must’a been into my second week aboard. We were off Rialto, just heading in-system when pirates attacked. The starboard turret took a bad hit.” he said, face screwed up in horror for a moment as he remembered. “Anyways,” he continued, “Helped man the turret. Hence, my position as Gunner.”

“Oh hell, and here I was thinking of giving you some because you were a Navy man.” Kalifra laughed.

“Sure Kalifra, sure.” Dave replied, taking a bite from one of the cookies Brodie had set on the table earlier.

The Chicken and Waffles emerged from whirling Transitional Space back to a volume of Normal Space. This time, luckily, just Outsystem of brilliant Wolf 424’s gravity well at twenty three degrees below the system plane.

The deep, insistent, double-tone of the N-Space klaxon sounded, followed by the automated voice informing all aboard of total time spent in Transition—for administrative purposes, of course, as well as alerting passengers to the possibility that any time-sensitive plans may have been disrupted. Of course, with the previous misjump, any plans the passengers may have had would’ve already been irrevocably ruined by now, regardless of the length of this Crossing.

“Return to Normal Space.” the ship‘s computer decreed, “Elapsed time eight thousand, eight hundred ninety six minutes. ”

“Return to Normal Space. Elapsed time 6 days, 4 hours, 16 minutes. ”

The Waffles’ Crossing had taken less than a standard week. All in all, an excellent bit of Navigation, all things considered.

Sitting just beyond the red dwarf’s gravity well, the Waffles was only 0.7 AUs from the tiny star. Its single planet, a huge gas giant called Ymir, orbited at some thirty million kilometers. Circling the massive gas giant was a single small world, Eitr, or Nordic Prime; a trip of a bit more than twenty one hours at full thrust.

This time around, Nordic System Control contacted the Waffles of its own volition.

“Inbound ship entered Nordic System at 1641 Hours Local Time. Welcome, strangers. Name and registration for our records, please.”

“The Chicken and Waffles” Captain Fyyg replied, “Registration alpha two zero zero seven two zero one two seven niner seven.”

“Thank you Captain.” System replied. “We have fuel and entertainment facilities available. Simply follow the homing beacon. Cleared for landing at Bay zero one.”

“We’ve been in space quite a while, System Control. It will be good to touch terra firma again!”

“At current acceleration,” System told them, “we show your ship arriving in 21.4 hours; approximately 013.44 Hours Local Time. Welcome to Nordic Prime, Waffles

“Roger that, System.” replied Fygg. “Waffles out.”

Talking it over with his bridge Officers, Fyyg came to the conclusion that their shabby treatment on initial entrance in the Nordic System must have simply been due to a single individual, rather than some problem endemic of Nordic’s System Control. Still, the Captain decided, the individual with whom he’d originally dealt, whoever he was, was going to get a pop in the nose if he could be found.

With the Waffles about to make planetfall, one of the black gang, pale Engineer’s 3rd Mate, Yohan ‘The Butcher’ Gleiser, as was his custom, pulled an entire side of blue ox he’d bought on Mica from storage in the freezer, and then, stretching it out over the Number 4 Heat Exchange back in Engineering, set it to slowly cook. This inevitably filled the engineering and crew spaces of the Waffles with the smell of delicious BBQ; the aroma eventually, and quite insidiously, permeating the entire ship. On such a day, the Captain, who’d hailed from green Holt, would find some pretense to descend among the black gang and try a piece, being no stranger to venison. Captain Nordel Fyyg had never found anything wrong with any of the meat Yohan had ever cooked, so when the Captain took the Engineering 3rd Mate aside, ‘The Butcher’ wondered.

“Fabulous as always, Yohan. Really superb! It remind me of roaming the woods back on Holt as a boy with my muzzle-loader!”

At this point the Captain leaned in close, an arm around the little Engineer’s shoulder.

“I was thinking perhaps you wouldn’t mind if we shared our fare with the passengers for our last meal together, Yohan? Sitting around a dingy Starport goes easier when you’ve a full belly, yes? And Nordic Prime, I believe, is going to be one of the dingiest.”

Later in the Crew Lounge, beers were consumed and meat gnawed from numerous bones, while on the next deck up, in the Passenger Lounge, a variety of beers and wines, and other potent potables were consumed and meat gnawed from numerous bones. Music was played on the Micros, and a good time was had by all.