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Drop Out

This part originally appeared in the April 2013 issue.

Part 22

When the Captain and Chief Purser returned to the ship, at 0417 Station Time, Fyyg was surprised to have a pair of callers already waiting to meet with him. The pair, a man and woman, both in heavy leather coats, sat in chairs in the small waiting area outside Fyyg’s office, the woman with a foot resting on the edge of an empty chair as they sipped coffee the Servebot had brought them.

Sitting in a chair opposite was Tam, in her greaves as usual, smoking something obviously cadged from the visitors, and involved in a conversation with them when Captain Fyyg arrived.

With his arrival came the crashing salute from Tam, startling the visitors and making Fyyg smile.

Returning a more relaxed salute, Fyyg told the little brunette to report.

Tam stepped up to the tall, thin Captain and leaned into him, whispering into his left ear.

“Astrid and Jeremy Knobb-White. Upper Crust Swells from Willow, down Planetside, and needing a ship to do a bit o’ speculative trading. They’re very guarded talking about their ducats. Good manners about money is usually a sign of the very well-off, hon’.”

“Thank you, Miss Murmisagli,” the Captain said, grinning. Turning toward the seated business people, Fyyg motioned for them not to get up as he bent to shake their hands.

Playing stupid for the sake of etiquette, Captain Fyyg asked innocently, “And to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”

Jeremy looked hesitantly from the Captain to his partner and back, as if he were deciding whether to speak, only to shut down as Astrid took over.

“Oh, Captain,” the snow-haired woman tittered, “what a charmer!” Then she came to the point.

“My Truemate,” she said, speaking of her brother and husband, Jeremy, “and I have a fabric design and production house well known here on Heimdall.”

“Yes, of course!” Fyyg nodded, not the least bit sure what this woman was getting to.

“Our upcoming Winter Line needs public testing, but not here on Heimdall, with the prying eyes of the other design houses so near.”

“They are all cads! Every one of them, Captain Fyyg, I assure you!” Jeremy stiffly avowed, setting his teeth so tightly that he almost snapped his cigarette holder in two.

“With the ideal colder temperatures almost year-round on Eitr, we wish to test this new line there,” the flawless beauty said, using Nordic-Prime’s rarely-used older name.

“Of course,” Fyyg replied. “And how much cargo will need delivering?" he asked calmly.

“Can your ship handle eighty large pallets of crates, Captain?” Mrs. Knobb-White asked.

“Consider us your Magic Carpet, M’Lady,” Fyyg replied, kissing the pale woman’s hand.

“When will we need to be expecting delivery, then?” Fyyg asked.

“Oh,” the woman turned her wrist slightly and looked down, noting the time on her old-fashioned watch before brushing some hair from her eyes “Would now be too soon, Captain?”

“Not if you have your own stevedores, Madam. Most of my crew is at loose ends until Liberty is over later this morning,” Fyyg answered. “You certainly shouldn’t feel rushed, Mrs. Knobb-White. It is only a matter of hours before our own stevedores return.

“Astrid, please, Captain,” the woman said, hanging tightly to his left arm. “I, or rather we…or rather, our company, employs many stevedores, and a full load of them awaits aboard our lighter with our cargo!" she told him, and that was that.

As the few crew gathered to watch the cargo transfer from the Knobb-Whites’ personal lighter onto the Waffles, Tam and Ilsa nudged one another knowingly as the shrill screech of Lady Astrid lashed the private workers mercilessly, in a manner she’d obviously been used to for quite some time.

It was hell, but in a couple of hours it was completed.

Entering through the bridge airlock, Brodie decided to go to the Crew Lounge and have a sandwich.

On the way he passed the Knobb-Whites and a small corps of their pet sycophants who had come aboard after the cargo had been loaded, and were now headed toward the Passenger Lounge.

“Out of my way, you ape!” Astrid hissed as she pushed past Brodie.

Brodie rubbed the shoulder where she’d hit him, saying “What a Dame!”

The Captain and most of the Waffles’ remaining crew poured onto the Crew Deck from the elevator. Stepping into the Crew Lounge with Captain Fyyg in the middle of the story, Ilsa laughed, “Magic Carpet! Sure wish I’d been there for that one.”

“And she says to me,” The Captain continued, “‘Captain, This entire affair must be kept absolutely secret!’. Well, we shake hands on it, and I take the opportunity to tell her the standard transport fee for the cargo; four hundred eighty thousand Credits. She says, ‘Done!’ and we shake on it again.”

“You talking about that Ice Queen that socked me, Cap’n?” Brodie asked from his position on the couch where he was eating an Everfresh Sandwich (cheeseburger-and-fried-egg, this time).

“I suspect so, Brodie,” the Captain chuckled. “So then, she asks when we can leave. I tell her first the crew must return later this morning, then we’ll have to take on passengers. The Lady looks at me and says ‘Then I shall buy out all of your cabins for this Crossing, Captain!’.”

“Craaazy,” said Tam, absently, as she practiced her fast draw.

“And it gets more so. I tell her buying out all cabins will be two hundred thousand Credits more! Six hundred eighty thousand Credits all told, and she just laughs, ‘Do it!’”

“And now,” the Captain declared, “All of that fabulous money is in the safe, right where it belongs. And we leave after the ship’s Last Call klaxon at 0800 hours this morning, Station Time.”

As the time neared for the Last Call klaxon’s sounding at 0800, many of the Waffles’ crew began coming aboard singly and in small groups. By 0830, when it stopped, the crew was accounted for and the Waffles slipped away from the station after settling berthing and refueling fees electronically.

On the bridge, sitting on the edge of the formerly empty seat next to Sensors, was the new Navigator, Eljin Tower, working the computer and handling the mapping equipment to figure a sound Crossing from Heimdall back to Nordic Prime. As the pilot followed his simple course outsystem, Eljin went over his Transition course again, attempting to shave some time off of it.

A few hours into the fifty-six-hour trip outsystem, Eljin thought he’d worked up a decent program and showed it to Captain Fyyg.

“How long, Mr. Tower?” asked the Captain.

“The Crossing should take,” Eljin replied, “one hundred eighteen hours, Captain.”

“Only four days twenty two hours?” the Captain asked. “What do your outside edge calculations show, Mister?” asked Captain Fyyg, not believing the over-short estimation.

“Ummm, closer to six days, Captain,” the curly-haired Navigator answered. “Five days, seventeen hours.”

The Captain clapped a hand on the short Navigator’s shoulder. “Son, I shall be officially amazed at either of those projected outcomes,” he laughed.

The black gang had worked the dual Garabaldi-Singhs to a feverish pitch before dumping the more than two thousand megawatts of output into the Transition Drives.

As he lay in his bunk, Gibby moaned “Good job, boys!” before he felt a wave of vertigo wash over him, and his consciousness suddenly drop away, leaving him staring, exposed, before the mandala of Transition; the pulsating energy flipping a switch in his head, and leaving him in some other place, seeing things he could rarely make any sense of. The energy filled him and he could see Kalifra in a vacc suit, telling Brodie, also in a vacc suit, about the markings on some sort of a missile. Then the white noise drowned out any comprehension, and Gibby passed out.

That evening, Gibraltar felt fine, and was sitting, dress uniform on, a few seats down from the Captain. The ship’s other officers, also in their dress uniforms, were scattered around the large table, along with the Knobb-Whites and the rest of the passengers. The Purser’s department, all in spotless white, were serving the large, multi-course meal for First Night of the Crossing.

Toward the end of the meal, Captain Fyyg rose, and, tapping the edge of the glass with a knife, gave a toast welcoming the Knobb-Whites and their entourage to the Chicken and Waffles proper, following up the initial toast with a second, wishing all success in their upcoming business venture. A dozen or more toasts were proposed by the passengers.

Back in the Galley, as the toasts went around and around, Chef Anton and Li’l Mary were sipping the cooking sherry, having finished plating the meal’s double chocolate dessert, and just waiting on the Purser’s staff to table it.

The dessert went over well, and a few more rounds of toasts followed, by the end of which everyone in the room was drunk. Then Lady Astrid asked for some dancing music as she wrapped herself around Captain Fyyg.

“Yes, of course, my dear,” the Captain replied. At a motion from the Captain, Number Two went around the room and spoke with a few of the crew, who quickly left the room to return again, instrument cases in hand.

At some urging from the Second Officer, the passengers and crew worked at clearing away the furniture for an impromptu dance floor; several chairs were left in the middle for the band.

Ilsa removed her uniform jacket and sat down.

Tam removed her uniform jacket, and sans firearms, but still wearing her greaves, sat down next to Ilsa, removing her clarinet from its case.

Brodie, keeping his jacket on, sat down behind Tam with his large, boxy kalimba.

Word passed, and several minutes later, Drive Hand Second Class, Bentley Chang showed, still greasy from his shift down in Engineering. the electronic Stick in his hand.

The band started with that ancient standard ‘For Sentimental Reasons’, and after a lengthy lead-in. Ilsa stood and began crooning.

Dressed in a little red number, Astrid pushed into Fyyg, her nipples hard like pebbles, as she first nuzzled, then kissed his neck, asking him, “Be with me tonight, Captain? Is that something you might be interested in?”

Looking past the top of Astrid's head at Ilsa singing, Fyyg replied, “It might be. But it all depends on whether Ilsa would like to join us.”

After five or six more tunes, the band took a break and a Micro was set up instead.

“So your wife is your Second Officer, then, Captain?” Astrid said, “I imagine her not being First Officer must be a sore point between you two.”

“Oh, you can’t imagine!” chuckled Fyyg. “But she came aboard as Number Two, and regardless of how I feel about it, she’ll stay Number Two as long as my First Officer remains in his current position.”

Ilsa came up to her husband, asking, “May I cut in?”

“Certainly, my dear,” replied the Captain, as he put an arm around his wife.

The white-haired Astrid stepped away from the Captain and his lady, nervous at what they might decide, despite her initial, cool, upper-crust bearing.

Following a few minutes of quite talk between them, Ilsa turned from the Captain and asked, “So who’s our new friend, Nordel?” as she slowly looked the pale woman up and down.

“Astrid Knobb-White, from Willow,” Fyyg said.

The trio went off to get better acquainted in Fyyg’s large cabin.

In the Med Bay, Doctor Wong was busy discussing case histories of the crew with his predecessor’s assistant, former IN Pharmacist’s Mate Fahad, when Kalifra Donaldson awoke.

After checking over the patient’s arm, Wong decided it was time to push her second dose of metabolics, which accelerated healing at a rate of thirty to one, and the same ones which had been used by a Navy Surgeon to help after she’d been practically split in half by a tumbling piece of shrapnel out on the hull of the Saint Faragut while involved in anti-piracy action off Rialto.