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The Astoundingly True Tale of Josť Fabuloso

This chapter originally appeared in the May/June 2023 issue.

Chapter 3

The dome of the landing port clashed shut over the sleek, elegant form of the Josť Fabuloso. Atmosphere rumbled in from nearby storage tanks allowing the pinging noise of cooling metal to be heard. Dockhands slowly emerged from the sides looking visibly shaken.

“Is the screaming over?” asked O’Riley’s voice, filtered, on the bridge speakers.

M’Elise spared Squirrel a glance. “Yeah, I think so. She seems to be in some sort of shock now.”

“That’s our Captain! Knocks the birds flatter than Saint Bushmilly” sang O’Riley. “My compliments to the lady as well; that’s a healthy set of lungs there. I heard you through both bulkheads.”

Squirrel made a small incoherent grunting noise.

“Fabuloso? Are you intact?” asked the system control’s voice.

“Um, yeah” said M’Elise with a slight patronizing tone. “How about you?”

“Standing down from impact alert. Next time you want to try an approach like an attack missile you might want to let us know.”

“I guess they have forgotten that they have a little bit of atmosphere. It helps to slow you down a little” said Josť with a giggle.

“I know, really!” M’Elise shook her head and turned the radio back on. “We’re terribly sorry for the inconvenience. We hadn’t thought you didn’t know about atmospheric braking.”

“Yeah, well, you’re lucky we thought you didn’t know about automatic point defense armaments.” A small whimper surfaced from Squirrel’s vicinity. “The Dictator will be ready to see you shortly for dinner. Please turn out all the crew.”

“Woo-hoo!” cried O’Riley over the comm. “Free grub!”

“Sounds like a dress uniform occasion. Such as we are,” sighed M’Elise.

“That was very nice of them,” said Josť. “I hope they have Solar Corona.”

“Come on kiddo” said M’Elise, trying to lever Squirrel to her feet. “I might have to borrow one of those needles Riley machined for you to try to dress up my uniform. At least you have the heels for it.”

“Heels…” said Squirrel, slowly remembering how to speak.

The four of them rode on a flatbed cargo lifter driven by a dockhand in overalls. She kept giving them sidelong looks. Josť wore his ship’s jacket and cap, adorned with modest amounts of braid and scrambled eggs. M’Elise had on a spacehand’s blues with a small gold F hastily stitched onto one lapel. Squirrel wore a simple white sheath dress that she had stitched together from bed sheets during the flight. The very tall red stiletto heels stood out in sharp contrast. O’Riley wore new beige coveralls that they had found, all wrapped up, on the ship.

“Fits like a glove,” said O’Riley. “Thanks for tailoring them.” He patted a barely visible bulge.

“Pockets are easy” said Squirrel. “Whatever that anti-scanner mesh you had me sew into it was a bit hard to work with though.”

“I hate having me hip flask messed with. It’s a holy relic.” He winked at her.

“I am so redesigning these uniforms when we get to port.”

“No complaints from me” said M’Elise. Squirrel look at her in disbelief. M’Elise shrugged. “I hate looking… shabby.” She tugged at her blues for the umpteenth time. “That doesn’t mean you’re going to get an unlimited budget!” she said warningly.

“I wouldn’t have pegged you for a fashion queen,” said Squirrel.

M’Elise eyed her heels. “Believe me, you're the last person I’d accept fashion advice from.” She sighed. “I just miss having a uniform.”

“We will get you a uniform as good as mine” said Josť. “Much better than Botany Bay Company.”

“You guys worked for the Botany Bay Company?” asked Squirrel, surprised.

“Sssh” cautioned O’Riley. “It’s his nibs.”

The cargo hauler had come to the end of the long tunnel from the docking bay to the Dictator’s base. Blast doors hung open and a man in a long frock coat, flanked by bodyguards, stood there rubbing his hands. “Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!” he cried as they stepped down from the lifter. He was stopped from embracing them by the bodyguards who ran a scanner over each of them. They did O’Riley twice, calibrating the scanner with their own weapons in between. His face was the picture of innocence but for the quick wink at Squirrel. M’Elise palmed the driver a tip while the guards were distracted and hopped down.

She addressed the dictator. “Sir? May I present Captain Josť Fabuloso, of the esteemed ship Josť Fabuloso, courier to kings, package transport to presidents, and cargo haulers to hierarchs of all degrees.”

Josť swept off his hat and executed an elegant bow.

“Well my, my good, good man!” cried the Dictator, clasping his hands warmly.

Sweeping on, M’Elise introduced Squirrel. “And this is Madame Squirrel, our Director of Passenger Entertainment and in-flight Fashion Consultant.”

Squirrel smiled awkwardly and put out her hand.

“Most, most elegant” he said taking her hand, going down on one knee, and kissing it. She blushed in surprise.

“And Chief O’Riley, Senior Engineer and Maestro of maintenance.” O’Riley gave him a snappy salute which the Dictator returned with great formality.

“A most reliable, reliable man, I'm sure!” M’Elise opened her mouth to say more but the Dictator clapped his hands together several times. “Excellent, excellent. My staff has had prepared a stupendous luncheon which I hope you will all enjoy as much as I enjoyed ordering it!” He put his arms around the waist of Josť and Squirrel and escorted them down the corridor.

“Don’t worry,” said O’Riley to M’Elise as they fell in behind. “I’m sure he didn’t mean to intentionally snub you.”

“I’m not offended” said M’Elise in an offended tone. “The bigger a raging egomaniac he is, the easier it will be to get him to talk about himself and not about us.” O’Riley laughed and clapped her on the shoulder.

Despite his admonitions to haste their host felt fit to stop at numerous points along their route to point out the features of his “little ch‚teau”. Largely these were point defense armaments and nasty looking cannon commanding arcs of fire over the local town.

“Please, please excuse the mess!” he said as they threaded their way around large hunks of twisted metal littering the main entrance path. “Just the usual fracas at the last election. These montanium doors are expensive enough to buy, let alone cut up and haul away.”

“It's like a… sculpture park” hazarded Squirrel.

“What a lovely, lovely idea!” He stopped once again and contemplated. “Yes, we must, must do that. Some velvet ropes, a gravel path, and little signs proclaiming this to be ‘Spirit of Democracy’, that to be ‘Enunciation of Emancipation’ and that one over there ‘Mother’. I like it, I like it! You are quite the Culture Consultant!”

They climbed the last of the slope, turned a sharp corner and another pair of montanium doors hung, quite pristine. “Welcome” he said, bowing low.

“Thank you,” said Josť. Squirrel curtseyed as well as she could in the heels and narrow dress.

“No, thank you!”

After another small maze of corridors drilled from fused regolith they came upon a tidily appointed chamber with a table set for five and several servers nervously chafing around several chafing dishes.

“Are we all ready?” the Dictator asked them imperiously.

“Yes, very ready” said the Headwaiter. The Dictator sat at the head of the table and they arranged themselves around him. The waiters began immediately serving them little boiled dumplings with various fillings.

After they had all proclaimed how wonderful the food was and listened to him list the difficulty in getting it prepared exactly right M’Elise asked “So please enlighten us. How long have the good people of Vestry been blessed by your beneficent leadership?”

This proved to be exactly the right question as the Dictator, had quite a lot to say about the difficulty in getting elected (which seemed to involve a small army), winning subsequent elections (which seemed to involve liberal quantities of montanium armor) and just how beneficent his rule had been. By the time he wound down they were sipping the last of the desert wine.

“It is so very kind for such important guests to show such interest in my little world. I’m very flattered that your interests are also so kind as to do business with me. That way your interests are my interests and both our interests will grow together!”

“OK” said Josť into the puzzled silence.

“Fabulous! Fabulous!” he said, filling his glass again with the very sweet, but only slightly alcoholic, liquor. “It’s tremendous that we can continue to grow our business together in this understanding. It’s very hard to remain independent out here and such solidarity between our concerns is so, so beneficial to us all. The more I facilitate your business the more you facilitate mine. I take it then that all went well on Port Newark?” He leaned forward conspiratorially, “You did get it then?”

Before the silence could drag on for too long M’Elise put forward “Yes.” Josť had a pleasant and happy expression on his face, Squirrel had a frozen look of horror and O’Riley wasn't paying attention, being engaged in trying to get something stronger to drink from the evasive waitress. “There was a little… fracas. But no more than expected and nothing we couldn’t handle.”

“And the payment?”

M’Elise waved her hand in a nonchalant gesture. “It will be delivered in the usual manner. With our highest, highest compliments!”

“Oh! Fabulous!” he enthused.

“Fabuloso!” corrected Josť.

“Fabuloso! Fabuloso! Of course!” he made little more claps and chortled loudly. “Now if your loyal crew and sister don’t mind, there is some private business I would like to conduct with the Captain.”

M’Elise looked like she minded very much but was not given any chance as the bodyguards ushered them all out into a paneled suite. Once out of sight of the rest she lost her calm resolve. “Hairballs of Fenris this is bad!”

“Look who’s talking” said Squirrel sarcastically. “You’ve promised some warlord an unknown amount for unknown goods. What have you got us into?”

“Clearly no more than we are already into,” said O’Riley, poking amongst the bottles.

“People take advantage of Josť when he’s alone,” said M'Elise, continuing to curse.

“Haven’t we got bigger problems?” said Squirrel.

“She’s very protective of her ‘brother’,” laughed O’Riley.

“Is he serious?” asked Squirrel.

“No,” said M’Elise, “he’s not my brother. I don’t know where that came from. He just knuckles under all the time, even to a fanatic sycophant like Herr Commandant, here.”

O’Riley finally selected a bottle. “Ahem. No microphones that I can see over here.”

Squirrel rolled her eyes but did not respond. M’Elise sank down into a chair, depressed. The bottle made small glug-glug noises followed by a satisfied sigh by O’Riley.

Three quarters of a bottle and several songs later the door opened again and Josť came back, accompanied by an old man. “Hello,” he said pleasantly.

“Josť!” said M’Elise, jumping up. “Are you OK?”

“I’m OK,” he said.

“Are we OK?” asked Squirrel.

“We can stay here,” he said. M’Elise checked him for bruises.

“Define here” said M'Elise.

“These rooms. They are ours while they fix the ship.”

“Fix?” asked O'Riley.

“They will change the idents and give us new papers.”

“Not like we don’t need those,” said M’Elise, “though I had hoped to sell it.”

“Why?” Squirrel asked Josť, not trusting.

“They are nice people. We are doing something important for their friends.”

“Who? What? Which?” asked Squirrel with rising agitation. Josť shrugged.

“Who’s the old geezer?” asked O’Riley, pointing at the old man.

“Oh!” said Josť, “He’s my son!”

There was a slight pause. “What?!?” said Squirrel.

“Josť,” said M'Elise. “Did you sign something without me?”

Josť looked sheepish and nodded. “I adopted him.”

“Ach,” said O’Riley, “Another mouth to feed.”

“And I’m just as thrilled as the rest of you,” said the old man as he wandered over to the liquor cabinet. “Got any saltines?”

“On the left,” said O’Riley.

“This is just way too weird,” said Squirrel.

“Welcome to my life,” muttered M’Elise.

“Beginning to think you manacled yourself to the wrong person?” asked O’Riley of Squirrel, handing a delighted Josť a Solar Corona.

“Do I want to know the story behind that?” asked the old man.

“Our Squirrel’s got some odd kinks” said O’Riley.

“I could tell by the shoes” muttered the old man.

“I can't believe you’re going to just take him on the ship” said Squirrel.

“We took you,” quipped M’Elise.

“That was different” protested Squirrel. “You blew up my station! It was the least you could do.”

“I definitely don’t want to know that story,” said the old man.

“M’Elise has an explosive temper” explained O’Riley.

“Yeah, and its getting a good head of steam right now” M’Elise said warningly.

“He’s my son,” said Josť quietly.

M’Elise sighed. “Josť. We can take him as far as Mount Royal. I’m not sure we can keep him. We can probably unadopt him there.”

“But” said Josť, “It’s what we do.”

M’Elise sighed again, resignedly. “Yes Josť, it's what we do. OK. Let’s just take it one transition at a time and see how it goes, eh?”

“I can’t believe we’re just going to take this guy on at his say so” said Squirrel, exasperated.

M’Elise gave her a look of contempt. “Why do you think we haven’t spaced you yet?”

“I hate to spoil things,” said the old man in a tone that implied quite the opposite, “but I don’t much like Mount Royal.”

“Commiserations,” said M’Elise.

He tentatively smeared some spread on the corner of a saltine and experimentally bit into it. “Besides, I think our little tin plated dictator” he grimaced as the lump hit his stomach, “and I don’t mean dear old dad here, has it in his mind that you are heading towards Van Cove.” He picked up a different spread and repeated the process.

“Josť?” asked M’Elise for confirmation.

“I think he said something about Van Cove” said Josť.

M’Elise shook her head. “Van Cove it is then. Why try to escape the rat’s nest the Norns are weaving?”

to be continued…

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