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Drop Out

This part originally appeared in the August 2013 issue.

Part 24

The Waffles was berthed down on the surface of Heimdall at the Lowport at Everlight, some 30 kilometers southwest of the massive Showroom complex, at one of the dozens of round, ferrocrete landing pads which, from the air, looked like a cratered moonscape.

Perhaps her crew was thankful that they were small enough to land on the ’crete pads. Several kilometers further south—and that much further from Showroom and the city—could be seen the huge flooded craters for the water landings of the really large Merchants and Liners that only rarely came to the surface.

On the bridge, Numbers One and Two, along with pale Kelowna, were sitting on the floor with the computer divided into several parts as they attempted an upgrade for the old 5600’s program suite with several new programs from their most recent acquisition. Sitting to Hertzog’s right, just to the other side of a pile of computer brains, sat one of the Flint engineerbots, ‘Poly-Three’, on loan from the black gang.

The Flint Polythemus was designed as an expert at mechanical repair and electronics, and a fair hand at engineering. About a meter tall, its size allowed for its deep green, armored chassis to squeeze into spaces smaller than most humans can get to. Its single red eye was equipped with several enhancements, including telescopic vision. Its four limbs could be used as legs (for propulsion or elevation) or arms (for manipulation or grasping) as needed, allowing for multiple tasks to be undertaken at once. With several different pieces of fire-fighting equipment and cutters built in, the Flint had been used for years as a damage-control ’bot by the Imperial Navy. Its use subsequently caught on with many Emergency Crews; though the programming differed greatly between the Navy and civilian models.

Down on the Crew Deck, most of the rest of the crew sat around the battered mess table, looking at the large, Tri-D holoprojection of a red subdwarf star floating a half meter above the table’s surface.

“Here is our quarry, people,” Captain Fyyg said, feet crossed on the table as he smoked his long stemmed pipe, jabbing at the star with the stem, “DM-45 537. According to the star charts, the system is lifeless, and both the Revenue Cutter Service and Imperial Navy have interdicted the system. Apparent radiation hazard.”

“Miss Donaldson?” The Captain said, motioning toward the sun.

Kalifra was lounging on a couch, one foot stretched out along it, the other resting on the deck, her combat boots untied as she sipped a can of Old Piggy Stout.

“Oh, this must’ve been seven or eight years back,” she began, “right after I’d mustered out of the Navy. The Navy said they’d send me off toward home, but never specified just how far. I wound up knocking around Nuevo Santiago for a time, not being able to speak the local language, and still trying to find a way to produce the passage I needed to get home to Aretius that didn’t involve milking wienies, when I saw an Army & Navy Club at the Highport.

“For those of you who don’t know, you have to be a current or former member of the Imperial Armed Forces—any of them—or one of their guests, to enter.

“It’s a nice feeling when you’re out there hanging by a thread, to feel the instant sense of belonging when you walk in. Unlike the TAS, with its deals and free tickets, about the best you’ll get with the Army & Navy Club is a free drink or two, maybe a hot meal, and someone may line you up a place to sleep for a night or two if you’re very lucky.

“Thank the Goddess! I slept on more than my share of couches and cots at first!

“While I was there, I made friends with this CPO, Larry Beltran. He was an old guy, ’bout my grandfather’s age, I guess. Had this pair of old robotic legs he used to get around with, after a fashion.

“So one day Larry got drunk; which he did a lot, and told me how he’d lost his legs. Now, as I understood it, this was way back during The Wars. There was a massive IN fuel processor orbiting DM-47 537 at the time, with a fleet of fuel skimmers and hundreds of Mosquito Rigs.

“Now, I can’t remember which of the Rebel Principalities it was, but one of them wanted the facility. The IN fought for it tooth and nail with the Rebel Fleet.

“According to Larry, it was a slaughter, and he was one of a very few to make it out alive. He said the place is a graveyard now, a Sargasso: ideal for salvage!”

“The Cheese!” Brodie said, sitting in a large padded chair, Salome sitting in his lap.

Captain Fyyg hit a control, the image shifted from that of a star to be that of an Imperial Corvette; one of the older Saint Faragut-class boats.

“This would be the Cat,” the Captain said, “Only half-again as large as the Waffles here, but it is both more heavily armed and armored than we are.”

Kalifra added, “And if she’s made it through budgetary cuts, she’ll still have a boarding boat, and a fighter aboard.”

From there on, the crew’s conversation covered many different points and ideas. The bridge crew, tied in through the comm while they rebuilt the ship's compter, offered their comments and ideas as well, until, in the end, the call of all that valuable salvage proved too much to bear, and the majority of the crew voted to go after the cheese.

“Well, my little mice,” the Captain said, “It’s said that fortune favors the bold. I hope fortune proves to be with us again this time.” Then he nodded to Mr. Isaacs, giving the Purser the signal to begin offering a shot from a bottle of rye whiskey to each crewman.

“For Luck!” Captain Fyyg toasted.

As Isaacs offered a shot in turn to each crewman on the deck, Captain Fyyg stepped up to the comfy chair where Tam was sitting. Bowing slightly, he offered her his hand, as if they were going to dance.

“Would you do me the honor of accompanying me to the surface, Miss?” the Captain asked as he helped her to her feet.

“Charmed I'm sure, Figgie." replied Murmisagli, using Ilsa’s per name for the Captain, and getting a laugh from the crew.

“We shall need to be inconspicuous, my dear,” Captain Fyyg whispered as they walked toward the elevator.

Waiting outside Tam’s cabin, the Captain stood, looking at nothing really until he caught a flash of movement from Tam’s half-opened doorway. If he leaned back on his heels from where he was standing, he could catch Tam changing her clothes in a full length mirror.

The gentlemanly thing to do would be to look away. Nordel Fyyg was not always such a gentleman.

Fyyg watched as Tam sat on the couch, then, crossing her legs at the knees, right over left, she unfastened her right greave and boot and removed them. She then pulled her jeans down and free of her right leg. Once done, she put the right boot and greave back on, then removed the greave and boot from her left leg. Then removing the jeans from her left leg, she put the left boot and greave back on.

Watching, Captain Fyyg didn’t know what to think of these odd maneuvers. Tam wore her greaves all the time, it seemed. Surely this wasn’t how she dealt with wearing them? Always with one on? That just didn't make any sense.

Finding out something perplexing, rather than something lurid and titillating, Fyyg looked away, as he should have done in the first place.

Putting on a short dress, Tam jammed the small four-shot into her left greave, inside the bulbous knee-guard, then quickly brushed her hair and came out with an unlit C&J in her left hand.

“I’ve got that four-shot,” the brunette said, meaning the almost undetectable composite-synthetic-ceramic model she’d lifted off a thief.

In the elevator headed for the bridge, Fyyg commed, “Are you still with me, Number One?”

“Aye, Cap’n,” the First Officer replied.

“And how’s that rebuild coming?” Fyyg asked. Hertzog looked at Ilsa and Kelowna, who, along with the robot, each gave the thumbs up sign.

Milo smiled, “Just about finished, Cap’n,” he replied as the elevator stopped at the bridge and the pair stepped out.

Tam took a drag from her cigarette, exhaling a clove-and-jasmine-scented cloud, only to be informed by the Bridge Anti-Smoking klaxon that smoking was forbidden there. “Uh huh,” Tam acknowledged, as she kept right on smoking.

Fyyg acknowledged Hertzog’s report. “Good. Come with us, Milo. I need your imput. We are going shopping.”

Hertzog stood and straightened his clothes a bit. The Captain looked right past him, at the ladies, saying, “I believe the Misses Freilander and Brewster can finish this up.”

The trio hailed and boarded a cab, which turned out to be one of the more modern Cabayello cabs, shorter and more boxy, with a robot driver. Giving the Showroom as their destination, they settled in for the ride.

Half an hour later, the Showroom came into sight, on the other side of a huge parking area. The three passengers hoped that the cab would deposit them on the front steps of the building, but instead, it deposited them at a labeled taxi stand on the other side of the lot, nearly a kilometer from the building.

“This sucks, Captain.” said Tam, the bounce going out of her step.

Once inside the complex, the Captain told an Infobot that he was looking for the Naval Simulations & Combat Theory Department, which he thought was on the 6th floor. Confirming the Captain’s memory, the Infobot called for one of the fleet of robot-driven grav Sleds.

The Sled came up to the group and settled for them to board. “Hello riders, my name is Barrabas,” the Sled told them. “I will be your guide to Heimdall Corporation’s ‘World of Tomorrow’.

“Please take us to the Naval Simulations & Combat Theory Department, Barrabas,” Captain Fyyg requested. In just a few seconds Barrabas was rising up through the atrium to the 6th floor, and moments later they were deposited at the entryway to the desired hall.

As the group stepped into the hall, a trio of robots stepped from different points in the walls and converged on them to offer assistance.

“Hello,” the Captain said, “We’re looking for missiles.”

As the robots heard the Captain’s use of the pronoun, two of the robots returned to their niches in the wall, leaving behind a robot with ‘Harley’ written across his breastplate.

“Missiles, why of course,” Harley said, guiding them to the products. “I am happy to answer any and all questions, sir,” he continued, then stepped back to be less obtrusive.

Several hours later, the cab carrying the trio from the Chicken and Waffles headed for their pad at the port, with a large delivery Sled from The Showroom following close behind.

A few hours after that, a call on the comm brought out a large Sled from 'Mmmmmm', one of the larger and more reputable food providers to Independant Merchants.