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Drop Out

This part appeared in the February 2013 issue of the magazine.

Part 21

Sometime about midmorning the following day, Doctor Wong operated on Kalifra Donaldson, performing reconstructive and plastic surgery, as well as administering the first round of metabolics designed to increase the body’s healing rate. According to the cool green robot, “Kalifra will be just fine in a few days.”

With the good news out of the way, Ilsa decided to take the new Crewmembers down to the local Merchant Spacers’ Guild Hall and get them registered. Piling into the old Chilton, old man Johansen did the driving, and within an hour they approached the building, large and long, and covered in verdigris; the structure slightly resembling an ancient ocean-going freighter.

“Interesting architecture,” commented tall Euripides Johansen over the comm as he brought the Sled in for a landing.

“With that design, I’m guessing they served as the Merchant Sailors’ Hall as well,” said Kelowna Brewster, her mind filling with romantic visions of sleek mercantile submarines passing beneath Heimdall’s extensive ice caps.

Getting out of the Chilton, Ilsa said, “And maybe we’ll be able to hire on some extra crew…”

The wait in line was long, even with the Slidewalks. The lines were made up of a small percent getting their first time accreditation as Guildsmen; the larger percentage by far being Guildsmen who owed back dues to keep their accreditation up-to-date. It was hard to tell for certain whether naval assets were dealt with here or not, but the occasional crush cap sporting the anchor of the naval service could be seen.

Once at the counter, Ilsa told the boxy vertical robot there “Three newbies!” as she jerked a thumb at the trio with her.

The robot quickly took images and vital statistics, and produced a card requiring a thumb print. Once that was accomplished, the robot recovered the cards for further processing, and within a few minutes, a brand-new Imperial Identicard was produced from a slot in the counter for each new Spacer, each ID displaying ‘Merchant Spacer’ in gold letters above the image, and Chicken and Waffles’ registry number beneath.

The robot said, “Welcome, Guildsmen. You are now Merchant Spacers,” as it reached under the table and pulled out a large stack of literature and a trio of black crush caps. “Your literature and Cap,” it said, giving a hat and stack to each. Then, to Ilsa, it said “That’ll be twelve hundred Credits, each, Miss.” Then, checking her Identicard, it said, “Plus your past dues of thirty six hundred Credits, makes seventy two hundred Credits, total, Miss.”

“I know thirty six times two is seventy two, you dreadful robot,” Ilsa said, counting out a number of large bills, then adding a handful of golden Yuan. Then, to be spiteful, she emptied her pocket of two handfuls of small Fen. It didn’t make the robot feel anything, but it acted like it was put out by the whole thing. Ilsa felt better blowing off a little steam, regardless.

“Thank you,” the robot said. Ilsa could swear she heard a sneer in the robot’s voice.

“Aaaah, go soak your head!” she replied, before turning to her shipmates.

“What now?” asked Hagar Ermette, a neckless muscle-bound Rooster with a head that resembled a large potato.

“We go next door to the Guild’s Hiring Hall.". The hiring hall was a different part of the old Guild Hall, loaded with Guildsmen looking for work. Ilsa was looking for a decent Navigator. “Sit down,” she told the Roosters, as she sat at a table, and, using Zero-G hand signs to see if the candidates were on the ball, indicated she was interviewing for a Navigator.

Using her forearm-mounted computer to read the interviewees’ records off their Identicards, Ilsa was impressed by number five, and, shaking his hand, said, “Standard pay acceptable, then? Welcome to the Chicken and Waffles, Mr. Tower.” Eljin Tower was a fine-boned individual from Foothold, near Alpha Centauri.

“Come with us, Tower,” Ilsa insisted, pulling on the sleeve of his jacket.

“What now?” aksed Hagar again, new crush cap worn at a jaunty angle on his hideous head.

“Back to the Waffles, then a meeting with the Captain,” Ilsa grinned.

Inscrutable Johansen was driving, and took the Sled straight up; the cityscape below slowly getting wider and more complex as the Chilton traveled. “We’ll be out of the atmosphere in a few minutes, Second Officer Frielander,” Johansen volunteered right before the Sled passed into Space.

“Take us home, Mr. Johansen,” Ilsa directed, and the little Sled turned toward the Waffles’ berth at the Highport.

Once back on the Boat Deck, the new Spacers, followed by the Navigator, were spread out, following the Second Officer to the Quarters Deck. Stopping at a door with a glazed glass panel reading

Nordel A. Fyyg
Owner and Captain

Ilsa rapped on the doorjam and Captain Fyyg showed his head, wondering.

“The new crew, Captain, official Merchant Spacers now, Sir.”

“Official Merchant Spacers, eh?” the Captain asked, smiling as he reached back and pulled a bottle from a shelf in his Office. “I believe this calls for a celebratory drink,” the Captain decided, directing Number Two to retrieve the shot glasses from his cabinet. The Captain searched and came up with a pair of proper coffee cups, until there were six receptacles all together.

“Let me see, I met some of you yesterday,” Fyyg said, pouring a shot with each name: “Johansen, Brewster, Ermette….” Then he stopped when he reached the new Navigator.

“You, sir, I do not know,” said the Captain as he poured three more drinks.

“Eljin Tower, your new Navigator, Sir,” interrupted Ilsa.

“Well, Eljin Tower, my new Navigator,” the Captain said, passing the drink, “You are most welcome.”

Fyyg finished up with passing Number Two a coffee cup, and taking one for himself.

“Welcome aboard the Chicken and Waffles-proper, my fellow Merchant Spacers.” The group knocked-back their collective shots.

“Mr. Tower, the crew quarters are one deck below us, as the others discovered last night,” The Captain gestured toward the new Roosters with his empty coffee cup.

“You’ll be sharing cabins,” Fyyg told the new Navigator “A situation you’ve no doubt encountered before. The crew lounge, with a working galley, is one deck below the quarters deck.”

“Yessir,” Tower replied.

It was getting very late, and Brodie was in a swanky joint, at the top of a long, winding staircase, chatting with a perfectly lovely big redhead and looking down at a packed, black and white-checked dance floor. The music, a mix of Moroccan Blues and the Atomic-Era master, Gershwin, was played by a live orchestra, rather than pre-recorded and played over a Micro.

While dancing, Brodie cupped the woman’s big ass then ran his hand down her thigh, feeling a knife sheathed there.

He looked at the woman, wondering.

“A girl’s got to protect herself, honey. Not all men are as charming as you,” she smiled.

“No, they aren’t,” Brodie agreed, smiling, before dipping her. “I’m Mrs. Le Boucherre’s most charming son, in fact. My brother Alvin, now, he’s got the looks. But the poor chump can’t dance!” Brodie chuckled. “And kind of a cold fish with the ladies, if you know what I mean.”

On the bridge, ‘The Professor’ contacted Number Two. “We’ve got bumboats comin’ in, Ilsa.”

“Whip them into some sort of order, then let ’em come in one by one, ‘Professor’.”

“Roger that, Ilsa,” ‘The Professor’ replied.

“And get Chef and Li’l Mary down there, ASAP!” Ilsa directed.

While larger merchants received their supplies from the company quartermaster, smaller merchants, such as the Chicken and Waffles, often got their supplies piecemeal from a number of different food service companies or bumboats hustling a wide assortment, or even extreme specialization, of some provision or other. The hard part of dealing with the bumboats was that each wanted their cash ASAP, so it was often the case that a buyer might run short of cash before seeing what each laden boat had to offer.

If Chef and Mary had had to rely on the Waffles’ funds this time around to make ends meet, they’d have run out quickly. Fortunately, Captain Fyyg had gone into his personal savings and backed their choices; making for a full and diverse larder.

Captain Fyyg watched the last of the bumboat crews leave the ship with their money after setting down several pallets of fruit and vegetables. As the airlock sealed behind them, he sorted through the fresh fruit, picking a flat of strawberries and a green melon for himself, then directed Chef to take some fresh fruit for the bowl kept on the bridge. After that, whatever was left went into the beer locker or the galley.

The beautiful redhead cooed all manner of filth into Brodie’s ear until the pair were in the coat closet, and she was facing the wall, bent over. “C’mon!” she whispered.

When the big ape put his hand into her panties he definitely got a shock.

“Geez! You're a guy!” Brodie declared.

“You, too!” said the He/She as she pressed a small handheld device to his neck; the arc created a flash of blue-white lighting that lit up the coat room like a flare and knocked Brodie back into the wall, before he fell face-first to the floor, still smoldering.

Out like a light, Brodie was in no danger of putting up a fight, so avoided getting stabbed by the He/She’s ceramic knife.

Within a few seconds she’d taken all his cash. And in a few more seconds she was gone; going down the stairs and out into the street where she was picked up by a conspirator in a grav Sled.

With only a few days left until the Waffles’ scheduled lift from the Highport, Captain Fyyg wasn’t overly happy at the idea of turning around and making the Crossing back to Nordic Prime. But he did owe Port Director Hobson something close to ninety thousand Creds, which would be happily received, no doubt.

Well, nothing for it, Nordell decided, and slipping out of his robe and into his dress whites, took Chief Purser Quentin Isaacs along with him as they worked into the night, canvasing better hotels in the port, both high and low, posting the proper electronic information, then offering the serving staffs of such establishments small bribes to recommend the Chicken and Waffles should anyone ask for a reputable ship to Nordic Prime; which someone was bound to do.

Brodie woke up some time later. He was stretched out on a couch. The band and dancers were all gone.

It was obviously very late. As Cleanbots moved across the dance floor and vacuumed the rich velvet drapery, one of a pair of nearby Securitybots, its taser still aimed squarely at his chest, reported aloud, “He’s awake, Oh Great Ronaldo.”

A chair turned around, and in it sat Ronaldo, the Night Security Supervisor.

“Okay, Dishy, stand down. He’s a friend,” Ronaldo said.

“Roger that, Six!” replied one of the two identical Securitybots.

Looking closer, Brodie noticed a piece of tape on the talkative robot that said ‘Dishy’ in pen; the other being called ‘Nelson’.

“Most of the guests figured you’d gotten drunk and passed out. It happens all the time,” said Donald, adjusting his cap, “but I’d’ve sworn I smelled burnt hair.”

“Yup!” Brodie agreed.

“What’d he get you for?” Ronaldo asked.

“Everything. Almost forty five hundred Credits,” Brodie huffed, worn from the night’s events.

“Well, I can't do anything about your loss, really, but how about this?” Ronaldo asked, handing the chimp a cold red bottle of foamy Apatebi Ifa.

Opening his bottle, Ronaldo said, “I have no police powers. I am merely a paid deterrent presence. The boys here,” he pointed toward the twin robots with the opened bottle, “deal with the real trouble.”

Thanking Ronaldo for the beer, Brodie got up and turned to leave, asking first, “Cab fare?”

“Sorry Bro’, I get here on that!” the guard replied, as he pointed to an ancient-looking bicycle leaning in the corner.

Brodie sighed, thanked Ronaldo anyway, and started the long trek back to the Waffles.