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Drop Out

This part originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Freelance Traveller.

Part 28

The Chicken and Waffles splashed into whirling, chaotic Transitional Space in a blink, escaping pursuit. In another split-second blink, the Waffles was wrenched back from the brilliant mandala, and dropped into Normal Space by a sudden, mysterious, massive impact along the little ship’s starboard side as the Gravity Anomaly Claxon sounded; the sudden, jarring shift between the two dimensions throwing everyone in the crew to the deck, dizzy, nauseous, and leaden, with several members experiencing wracking seizures.

Rooster and part-time cartographer Ishmael Murken woke, lying in a puddle of his own vomit, right cheek pressed against the deck of the elevator as the Gravity Anomaly Claxon continued to blare; the tray he’d been carrying to the bridge had its contents scattered everywhere.

Staggering to his feet, Murken activated the elevator again and eventually made it to the bridge, empty tray clutched in his left hand.

The bridge was a shock, with the crew lying around; some face down on panels, others on the deck like broken dolls, or in the fetal position; the smell of puke heavy in the air.

Ishmael found the Captain slumped in the Big Chair and shook him back to consciousness.

“M-Murken? Report!” the Captain ordered, though he didn’t seem really focused on anything.

“The ship’s suffered some sort of event, Captain. I think we’re the only crew in any sort of condition to do anything." replied the cartographer.

Eyes focusing, Fyyg took a quick look around; Claxon still sounding. Pointing toward the navigator lying on the deck, he said “Get Mr. Tower to his feet, please, Murken, while I turn off that damned Claxon!”

The Captain moved to the controls and saw the Sensor board showing some type of impact rearward; the Gravitational Anomaly that probably caused the event, along the ship’s ventral starboard rear quarter, near one of the landing legs.

With the Gravity Anomaly Claxon silenced, the deep, double-tone of the N-Space Claxon sounded, the ship’s computer reporting impossibly, “Return to Normal Space. Elapsed time two seconds. ”

“Gods be praised, we’re still alive!” Captain Fyyg said, “We’ve gone off the tracks, Murken! There’s no telling where we are!” Fyyg said.

It was a wonder that the little merchanter hadn’t been torn to pieces with such a short, violent Transition between dimensions.

Within an hour, most of the crew had commed and reported in, though few were actually fit for duty; most still suffering from extreme vertigo.

After several more hours, the bridge crew had managed to locate the position of the Chicken and Waffles. The battered ship lay now more than twenty light-years to spinward of their last location, and two point seven light-years coreward of white Procyon, in what the navigational charts identified as an empty hex; an area with no prominent features besides the possibility of an occasional meteor shower or hydrogen cloud.

A few days later the crew of the Waffles had convalesced, and was again engaged in its various tasks.

Gibby, who’d just come from the Med Bay, and the black gang were busy working on getting the dual Garabaldi-Singh reactors back to working status after the micro-Crossing had melted a third of the unit’s power cells to slag, using parts taken from the Burr to set things to right.

While the Crossing had taken only a mindblowing, few seconds, it had still required the normal fuel mass, and left the fuel tankage devoted to the Transition Drive high and dry here in the middle of nowhere. Second Officer Frielander and ‘the Professor’ joined on the task of searching out suitable frozen hydrogen-carbon asteroids to beused as fuel.

Checking the status of the Waffles after the jump, Captain Fyyg assigned Brodie to examine the outer hull using the ‘Mk 1 Eyeball’. Nothing like having a man on the ground at the scene; the small flight of commobots coming along more as an afterthought. In vacc suit, Brodie left the ship through the port bridge airlock. Once standing on the ventral surface he moved slowly as he looked about.

As Brodie advanced toward the stern, the big ape noticed something peculiar wedged in the mechanism for one of the rear landing legs.

Brodie activated his imager and looked closer at the object, the commobots providing multiple POV to the object.

Using the comm, the ape volunteered “Now it looks like a missile to me, but it appears to be much larger than any of the missiles Waffles carries. Diameter looks to be, oh, something like 50 centimeters. I think it’s a torpedo, Captain. Guess the Navy tossed it at us as they chased us, and it didn’t go off, maybe?… or maybe we ran into it as a piece of old space junk?”

“Well, don’t touch it, Brodie!” Number One ordered over the comm as Brodie watched the inert explosive. “We’ll have someone out there in a minute!”

Kalifra had been relieved from bridge duty by the Captain and Number One earlier that morning. Going to her shared cabin, she found a sleeping Tam lying face-down on the couch, naked except for her greaved boots, dead asleep.

Wrapped in a towel after a shower, Kalifra sat on the edge of the small, yellow couch, drying as Tam slept. Reading a book of lesbian erotica, her outer thigh pushing slightly against Tam’s shoulder was really starting to become a distraction. About a dozen pages in, the overhead squawked, calling Kalifra to the bridge. “Goodbye, Little Sister,” the blond whispered to Tam, using the honorific all Aretiusians did when addressing a younger woman. She bent down, and, giving the brunette a kiss on the ear, turned to dress.

Soon the blond was in a vacc suit of her own, standing next to Brodie on the ship’s belly.

After an update from Brodie, Kalifra nodded, “Yes, I have to agree with you, Brodie, it appears to be a torpedo, alright.”

She showed him the tells: the colored bands and the numbers at the tail, explaining the various codes used in the IN to him. “I think it could be old Imperial gear, or maybe it’s Rebel hardware. Back then they often had the same manufacturer.”

Brodie found it all very fascinating.

“So by what I’ve told you, what do you think it is?” she asked the big chimp.

Wishing he could rub his chin, Brodie said “The rings say it’s an Armor Piercing round, but the tail numbers say it’s a cargo pod. I don’t get it, luscious. Unless there’s a guy in there… Is that it? There’s a guy in there?” Brodie asked, bewildered, but still maintaining enough sense to draw his laser pistol.

“Close, Brodie. The thing’s loaded with a boardingbot…It’s like an octopus or a squid. You know what any of those things are?” she asked.

“Never seen one, but I know what you mean,” the chimp replied.

“Well, make it float, all metal, all lethal, and set it loose in you enemy’s ship, and you have a boardingbot!”

“That just ain’t cricket, sister!” Brodie huffed.

“No, but it’s here. Don’t think it was a deliberate attack from the Humphreys, though. Just wouldn’t make sense firing one of these after someone whose broken salvage law. I think we just happened to pick the thing up as we plowed into it, Brodie!”

“Great…,” replied Brodie, as he took a draw on his suit’s hydration pack.

“Let’s get a closer look at this torpedo’s casing, see if the thing is merely crashed into us, or has actually penetrated our hull. The thing’s gotta be ancient!”

The pair closed on the torpedo wedged up in the landing gear; Brodie with his laser pistol, and Kalifra with a heavy autorifle. At Kalifra’s urging, Brodie put all of his considerable strength behind it and pushed the torpedo’s body.

As the body of the torpedo came away, then split into a half dozen segments, they could see where a neat hole had been made through the landing gear into the hull in Engineering that’d been sealed over with some type of metallic resin.

The boardingbot had gained access three days ago, but hadn’t struck yet; which made Kalifra, and Number One when she reported to him, think that the ’bot must be damaged in some way.

The damaged ’bot was curled up, like some big cat, its tentacles wrapped around it like a tail as it waited in its new den. It could hear the goings-on of the black gang nearby, but remained unobtrusive for now.

As Brodie watched the shards of the torpedo’s case drift off, he could hear the Captain announcing over the comm, “Attention, all hands! Intruder Alert!”

At the call, the crew turned out with axes and pikes, and swords and pistols and rifles of all types.

“C’mon, Le Boucherre,” Kalifra said, “We’ll go in through the port cargo airlock—it’ll get us close to Engineering!"

As one of the Flints came around a short corner in Engineering, checking a board located in a crawlspace too small for a human, the waiting boardingbot lashed out, grappling and dismantling the little engineeringbot and repairing itself in a few minutes.

Once as close to optimal as possible, the boardingbot gave a green light to its mission—the destruction of the enemy crew.

The big metallic thing rose to a meter or so in the air and unwound until long, gangly tentacles were stretched everywhere, groping along walls, overhead and deck, and feeling for objects to use as weapons. The heightened-performance sensors of this robotic killer looked for life forms.

Moving from its improvised cave, the tentacled thing leaped onto two of the black gang; wrapping each torso with a trio of spiked or saw-edged tentacles, before slamming them together, head-to-head.

As a third member of the black gang drew a snub pistol and fired at the robot, it whip-sawed back with another tentacle and sliced the top of the pistol-holder’s head off a centimeter above his right eyebrow, blood splashing everywhere as another tentacle wrestled the pistol free and fired into a crowd of the black gang running for their lives, the heavy rounds THUD-THUDing and SPANGing off conduits and machinery as crewmembers took refuge among the small spaces in Engineering, hoping to avoid being hit.

To break the killer’s momentum, Engineer’s 3rd Mate Geisel closed on the thing with a boarding pike, attempting to jam the electrified blade into the robot. But the mechanized thing had wrapped four of its tentacles around the shaft of the pike, and so, kept the point from making contact.

Another of the black gang joined Geisel, and together they jammed the spear forward, deep into the boardingbot’s chassis, where the two right uppermost tentacles attached, a huge flash of electricity arcing as the joint was compromised, blowing the tentacles off in a blast that shook the ’bot as well as scorching Geisel and his workmate.

The boardingbot floated by the scorched men, picking up the pike and, wrapping a trio of tentacles around it, gripped it and stabbed a scorched Engineer right between the shoulder blades.

Trying to shake the body free of the electrified spear took the boardingbot’s attention off Geisel just long enough for him to start to crawl away. The ’bot made a clumsy throw with the spear and missed.

Sighting on the crawling Geisel, one of the boardingbot’s eyes irised open, revealing the head of an oxyacetylene torch.

Geisel had gotten to his feet and was running for all he was worth when a gout of flames jetted across Engineering and lit him up. It was awful to hear him screaming as he ran, aimlessly, until he slammed into a heavy ceiling support

As the boardingbot focused its main eye on the last of the Engineering crew as they left, it erupted in stuttering invisible laser fire, cutting crewman Enzo’s legs off at the knees, as the access door to Engineering had just about closed.

With the door closed, Gibby went to the weapon storage in the hall and grabbed a heavy EMP rifle, or ‘Robot Gun’. Ordering the two remaining healthy members of the black gang to get Enzo to Doctor Wong, the Chief Engineer loaded the rifle.

“That damned thing has emptied Engineering out, Captain!” Gibraltar commed the Captain. “There may be someone still hiding in Engineering. I dunno. It was pretty hectic, but I think the four of us are all that made it out!”

Suddenly, the hatch in the floor outside Engineering started turning. Gibby, aiming his heavy ‘Robot Gun’ at the clatter, was surprised when the hatch lid lifted to find Kalifra staring him down with her heavy 15mm auto rifle, Brodie still nervously holding onto his laser pistol.

“You almost got yourself shot, Wyeth,” Kalifra said, climbing onto the deck with Brodie following.

The boardingbot traveled through the ship, up the elevator shaft to the Crew Deck, taking an assortment of weapons from the weapon stations as it moved. As the machine advanced to the galley serving station, its sensors picked up a trio of heartbeats and heat signatures crouched behind the serving station—Chef Degrasse, Li’l Mary, and Tam Murmisagli hoping against hope that they’d be overlooked.

Li’l Mary commed to the rest of the ship in a whisper, “It’s here in the galley!”

Aiming at the trio of targets, the boardingbot let go with a heavy SMG, the rocket slugs easily blowing through the counter; with one of the slugs slamming into and detonating in Li’l Mary’s left hand, blowing off three fingers and spattering everyone with blood.

The rocket slugs missed top-knotted Degrasse as he popped up, a heavy 15mm revolver in each hand. He emptied the pair at the thing’s large rectangular head, rendering the ’bot’s eye/torch useless. Dropping down again, Chef was reloading the pistols, when, with a swing of a tentacled arm that’d make a Drill Instructor proud, the boardingbot hurled a frag grenade in a 20 meter arc to clatter behind the serving station within a meter of Degrasse, who threw himself on the explosive before it could go off and injure his comrades.

Tam took a few slow, even breaths, as she centered herself, hearing the killer’s slight movements on the other side of the counter in the room’s center.

Moving like a racer through a wax museum, the little brunette launched herself over the counter onto the black-and-white tiled floor, surprising the lethal robot, and firing a burst from her flamer at the thing while still in mid leap. The phosphorous rounds of the flamer exploded across the boardingbot’s face and chassis as Tam landed like a cat.

The ’bot tracked Tam with its laser eye and stutter-fired after her as she threw herself back in a desperate but futile attempt to avoid having holes burnt through her upper left side and shoulder.

Hitting the deck, left arm useless, Tam drew her left heavy needler from her cross-draw rig with her right hand in a blink, and emptied its magazine into the boardingbot’s face, blowing out its laser eye.

Finding a medkit, Li’l Mary wrapped her shattered hand with an emergency dressing and squeezed it, activating the pain killers and coagulants.

Picking up one of Chef’s heavy, blood-spattered pistols with her good hand, Mary began firing on the boardingbot, yelling, “We’ll get it, Anton!” as a half dozen rounds slammed into its carapace, with a damaged tentacle being blown off by a lucky shot.

Blind and clumsy now, the robot, using its remaining tentacles to grope about for its enemy directed by its Life Sensors, gave Tam an instant to get to her feet and run toward the galley where Li’l Mary crouched.

Grabbing Mary by the shoulder, Tam pulled on the diminutive blond, yelling, “C’mon! Let’s haul ass!”

“But Anton!” Mary yelled, trying to pull away.

“He’s gone!” Tam replied through clenched teeth. “Move!” the brunette panted, as she got Li’l Mary in front of her and gave her a weak push.

Halfway across the Crew Lounge, Tam thought the floor felt like it heaved and she pitched forward into blackness.

Gibby, Kalifra and Brodie were in the elevator on their way up to the Crew Lounge and the galley, the last place the intruder had been reported. They could hear screaming and gunfire.

“It’s coming, goddamit! It’s coming!” Mary was crying as she tried pulling the injured brunette to her feet.

As the boardingbot skittered over the tiles toward the two women, Li’l Mary fired her last shot from Anton’s heavy pistol.

One tentacle wrapped around one of Tam’s salmon-colored greaves, while another began wrapping itself around Mary’s shoulder. Not wanting to see it happen, the little Chef’s Apprentice looked away; catching sight of distant, white Procyon out the large viewport overhead.

As the elevator hit the Crew Lounge, its passengers opened up on the mechanized terror, Kalifra the marksman severing a metal tentacle only 5 centimeters from Li’l Mary’s neck as Gibraltar fired into the robot’s mass twice with the ‘Robot Gun’, rendering most systems inoperative.

As the tentacle winding around Tam’s leg quit working, Brodie dropped his laser and sprung among them, effortlessly grabbing up both Tam and Li’l Mary and carrying them to the elevator.

Kalifra and Gibby continued firing into the robot as it thrashed about. When the ‘Robot Gun’ was empty, the Chief Engineer leapt in close with the thing, beating the boardingbot to misshapen junk with heavy butt-strokes from the empty rifle.

As Brodie prepared to bring the wounded girls via elevator to the Med Bay, Donaldson motioned for Brodie to wait one, until she could open her faceplate and get close enough to Tam to give the brunette a hug, muttering something to her cabin mate before signally for the elevator to proceed.

When the elevator cycled back up to the Crew Deck, Kalifra tugged a thumb at the wrecked robot, and motioned for Brodie to seal his suit up again, as they had to get the boardingbot off the Waffles.

Taking the elevator to the service entrance at the ventral access hatch, where, exposed to the black of space, Brodie attached a rocket motor to the mangled robot and fired it off toward Procyon, with a beacon stating the thing was a Navigational Hazard.

The crew was surprised to learn that the device's swath of destruction had actually lasted a little closer to three and a half minutes, total.

At Captain’s request, the crew turned out a few days later for the funeral service, to be held in full dress uniforms. Salome and a few helping hands filled-in for Chef Degrasse and helped out with the different platters of food at the after funeral gathering. A fine selection of fruit from who only knows where made its appearance, as a gift of Second Officer Frielander.

The plundered alcohol from the Burr, as well as the booze from the Waffles was made available to those desiring it.

By the end of the week the crew of the Waffles was back at work, with individuals often working additional or different jobs entirely. The Engineering Department was now, after the bloodshed of the boardingbot, reduced to a skeleton crew of one man per shift. Once Doctor Wong had the Engineering crew fabricate a pair of legs for Enzo, there was a floater for the shifts. In addition, a few Roosters were reassigned to Engineering as Drive Hands.

In the galley, Salome La Boucherre, once more a redhead, took over the tasks of Chef, while Li’l Mary, hand just mended, decided she’d make a better follower than a leader, and remained Chef’s Apprentice; even though Salome had repainted the galley sign to read ‘Li’l Mary’s Kitchen’.

Deep in the no-man’s-land of sprawling nothingness that the previous Crossing had dumped them in before it all started, ‘The Professor’, Roy Hobbs, with his small round head and very big ears, worked with the raven haired Second Officer and Brodie at the Sensor Board to find suitable sources of fuel, the three Mosquitobots ready for deployment. At one time there had been only two working Mosquitos, but the new Rooster, ‘The Kid’ Garafalo was an excellent mechanic, and had, to everyone’s surprise, gotten the finicky old Mk11 working again—but only temporarily—as it succumbed to clogs and overheating again and again.

“Captain,” Garafalo reported over the comm after a few hours, “The Mk 11 is a no go, sir. We’ll have enough fuel to make Transit in approximately twenty eight hours using the pair of Mk 12s. Not counting time for purification. Which’d be very late Friday or Mid-Saturday.”

Hearing this admission over the comm, Brodie chuckled.

Once the necessary amount of fuel was processed, Tower’s flight plan to Procyon was figured, with a twenty percent variance for running with the damaged reactor. Eventually the Captain liked what he saw and the word was given by the Captain, then by Chief Wyeth from a bed in Med Bay to the black gang, who managed more than twenty-six hundred raw Megawatts into the Transition Engine. The kaleidoscope of crashing colors at Transition shifted toward red-orange with the damage to the reactors. A few panels blew, unable to quite handle that much power, and the Chief was knocked out cold, some swearing they could see a blue flame burning above Gibby’s head.

The deep, double-tone of the Normal Space Claxon sounded, followed by the computer's voice coolly informing all of the total time spent in Transitional Space before the Waffles had popped back to a volume of Normal Space.

“Return to Normal Space. Elapsed time one million, twenty five thousand, five hundred and twenty seconds. ”

“Return to Normal Space. Elapsed time Eight days, seventeen hours and fifty two minutes."

During the Crossing, it was apparent that Salome and Li’l Mary had gotten to be friends, walking with hands wrapped around one another’s waist as they whispered and giggled.

One evening, as Brodie manned the Sensor board while one of the Roosters, Johansen, trained for a Flight Officer position, the girls had brought the bridge crew dinner from the galley.

Johansen just couldn’t contain his enthusiasm for the female form as presented, and as soon as they’d left, the old guy regaled the giant chimp with all the lurid details he could imagine, ignorant of the fact that Brodie and the redhead were married.

Near shift’s end, Brodie offered to buy Johansen a drink in the galley, which the bearded Rooster happily accepted.

In the middle of handling Zen pilot Johansen a bottle of Robot Steam, Brodie held off for a second, saying “Now you would enjoy this beer, if you were given a chance to drink it… Like this!” the ape said, chugging down the big bottle in a few swallows.

“But,” he continued, deftly dropping the empty into a nearby can and quickly picking up one of the old folding chairs in the Crew Lounge, hefting it for weight as he considered smashing his co-worker with it. Setting the chair back down, the chimp finished, “the li’l blond is a friend, and the big redhead is my wife!” Brodie smiled as he laid into Johansen with a quick uppercut, knocking Johansen out of his seat and to the checkered deck in a heap, unconscious.

Brodie sat next to the unconscious Johanssen on the deck, the ape going through pockets for cigarettes as he waited for Ship’s Security to show.

Number One arrived some minutes later with Rooster Brewster acting as back-up. Hertzog had a needle pistol, while Brewster carried an old, stockless laser carbine.

Hertzog motioned for Brodie, who’d smoked three cigarettes already, to get up.

“Sure, Hertzog,” the ape replied as he stood up, yawning with his arms raised. Brewster eyed Brodie suspiciously.

Brodie nodded at him. “Hiya, Milo.”

"What was it this time, Le Boucherre?" asked Number One.

“The old guy there,” Brodie nodded toward where Johansen lay, “couldn’t resist sharing every lurid thing he’d like to do to a couple of women in the crew during our shift together.”

“And?” Hertzog asked.

“And I felt I had to defend their honor,” Brodie explained, as if it were the most reasonable answer in the world. He then motioned for a butt from Milo.

Lighting the cigarette for the giant chimp, Milo asked, “And let me guess, one of them was your wife, I’m thinking?”

“Ya!” Brodie replied, grinning. “Exactly right, Milo.”

Milo looked at Johansen laying in a heap. “And the other?”

“Li’l Mary,” Brodie answered, “Who’s like a sister to me.”

“Hmmmmmm,” hummed the First Officer as he looked at the spot where Johanssen had hit the glasteel overhead before falling to the deck. “Can’t say as I blame you, Le Boucherre.” He handed the cuffs to Brodie, allowing the chimp to put them on comfortably in front of him.

“Some jerk starts regaling me with tales of what he’d do to my wife, I can’t say as I wouldn’t do a little body and fender work myself.” Milo thought of his wife back on Driscoll’s World.

“Now, c’mon Brodie,” Hertzog continued, “you know the drill.”

“Brig. Two weeks?” Brodie divined as he clasped his hands behind his head.

“Yup,” replied Number One, motioning from Brewster to Brodie.

“Get moving, Le Boucherre!” the raven-haired Brewster insisted, pointing the autolaser in the direction he wanted the prisoner to go.

As Brodie tromped his way to the Brig, he could hear the First Officer comming for Pharmacist’s Mate Fahad and a stretcher team for Johansen.

“Don’t worry ’bout Johansen; Doc Wong’ll have him back to making poor decisions again, any day now.”

Opening the brig, Brewster pointed the carbine at Brodie then at the opened cell door. Unquestionably getting the picture, Brodie stepped into the cell.

With Brodie safely behind bars, Brewster removed his handcuffs, and the ape hopped up onto the rack.

A short time after bearded Johansen had made it to the Med Bay, Dr. Wong commed that Johansen had a dislocated jaw.

“Must be losing the ol’ pepper!” Brodie decided, pulling out a pack of smokes Number One had snuck into a jacket pocket. “Thought for sure I’d have broken the damned thing!” Brodie chuckled, “Maybe next time, I guess!”

On pulling out a pair of the smokes, Brodie held them both in his teeth, and lighting them, offered one to Kelowna.

"You want one, doll?" he asked smoothly. "Full of vitamins, y'know?" he smiled as he offered the smoke. The small woman reached out and accepted the butt.

Johansen stayed in Med Bay for a day on the mend after Doctor Wong reset his jaw. He received a visit from Captain Fyyg, with his bottle of Newton & McCenna, as well as visits from his gang of Heimdall coworkers: neckless Ermette, young Garafalo, and Gothic Brewster.

Brodie, by far, seemed to get more sympathy visits, especially from the Waffles’ female crewmembers bringing snacks. Even fresh fruit from Vishnu only knows where, from Freilander.

By the time Brodie was released from the brig, the Waffles had already performed turn-over at midpoint, and was now fourteen hours into its fifty two point eight hours of deceleration to Layettmeyer, one of several medium moons orbiting the large gas giant Vishnu, which circles Procyon A. Less than two days later, the Waffles was being brought in to the orbitial facilities at the Grishhamm Highport by Johansen’s light touch.

Checking the duty roster for the week the Waffles was to be at Procyon, Brodie figured for sure he’d have anchor watch or help in the mess, but neither were the case.

Salome and Li’l Mary were still in the middle of cleaning up the kitchen when Brodie arrived, the big ape getting a pair of warm hugs.

“Baby!” he said, embracing and kissing his wife. Then, “Mary, doll!” he said, hugging the little blond and getting a peck on the cheek. “And how’s your hand, precious?” Brodie asked.

Li’l Mary held up her once-maimed hand, showing all five fingers and smiling. She then made a fist. “Prosthetic. Works well enough to knock you on your ass, monkey-boy!”

They all laughed.

With Brodie pitching in, the mess was cleaned about forty-five minutes ahead of time, allowing the trio to be among the first off the Waffles to use the huge, ancient, orbital elevator to reach the surface of Layettmeyer.

Selling various small units of salvage goods to local merchants, the Captain, and soon the crew of the Waffles, were rolling in Credits, with some of the wheeling-and-dealing being enough to address one of Captain Fyyg’s main concerns: getting the five salvaged lasers mounted into a single turret to replace the triple mount lost to pirates. The accommodating technicians at the Van Ness Shipyard at the Highport were happy to help.

Layettmeyer was a medium-sized world, with a Starport capable of repair and manufacture of both Spaceships and Starships. Industries included mining for heavy and precious ores.

Traveling down the orbital elevator, the promising flash of blue caught Brodie’s eye, and he signalled for the platform on which they were riding to stop. It was an honest-to-goodness swimming pool; the extravagance was at least two or three times the size of an official Olympic pool, with various drink kiosks encircling it. There were even a few restaurants as well.

“Girls,” Brodie said, clapping his palms together, “let’s go for a swim!”

The trio secured lockers for their gear and clothes and made the change, Li’l Mary to a little yellow bikini, and Salome to a burgundy one-piece. Salome kept her six-inch heels on, however, as she decided she was here to lounge, not swim.

Brodie had run down the steps approaching the pool and thrown himself in with abandon before first one, then a second lifeguardbot noticed that Brodie was entirely naked.

The lifeguardbots were there both to save lives, if need be, and to subdue rowdy and dangerous behavior.

As the first robot addressed Brodie, one of its arms, ending in a large, fork-like device lowered toward the ape, and the bot advanced to within Brodie’s personal space.

“My dear chimp,” it said, “Modesty will prohibit the continuance of your swimming pleasure…”

Brodie had never really grasped the twin concepts of nudity and modesty and how they seemed to be interrelated in some folks’ minds. Brodie usually attributed such beliefs to a thinner-than-normal skull, or an overabundance of religiosity in a sophont’s upbringing.

“…unless you don these,” the robot said, pulling a nice pair of trunks from a compartment. “Loaned to you at no charge, sir.”

“Well, thanks, I guess…,” Brodie began, bewildered. Running two sets of letters on the robot’s carapace together, he called the robot “Iggy.”

With Brodie now in a bright blue pair of trunks with a yellow stripe down the side, the lifeguardbots peeled away to protect other swimmers.

As Brodie lay on his back, head and shoulders supported by a float, and sipping a fruity drink he’d gotten from a serverbot, he marveled again at the size of the pool and surroundings.

“Man, not even back when I was a Rooster aboard the Queen (meaning the ancient Queen Catherine, of course) was there an expanse of water anywhere near this size!” Brodie chuckled.

In one of the voluminous work bays of the highport, Fyyg, Number Two and the Chief Engineer sat in a lounge, watching through plasteel as the station’s crews worked on the Waffles.

Replacing her destroyed laser turret with a massive military salvage one was a relatively simple operation for the Waffles; the new turret projected intimidation.

Repairing the damaged powerplant would take longer, probably several days, so Van Ness assigned the trio guest quarters.

With the ship being worked on, Captain Fyyg had given the crew ninety-six hours Liberty.

Still feeling a little shaky after the disappearance of his brother, Dave Trajillo sought out the gruff comfort of a regular meeting of the Friends of Bill Dubbaeyah.

Milo, on the other hand, spending just like a sailor, sought out the companionship of a bevy of working girls, who, if paid enough, showed apparent real enthusiasm.

Quentin Isaacs and a few people from the Purser’s Department , again, spending like sailors, wound up in a series of Alternative joints.