With an intense flash of blue light, Chauchat re-entered normal space off Pixie. On the bridge Dennis and Ditzie were having another one of their family arguments.
"No, we can't go shopping here," said Dennis.
"Why not?" she asked.
"It's a small naval station. There's no civil population here." Dennis replied. "The nightlife is nonexistent, there's literally no atmosphere."
"No civil population, no civilian shopping. No penguin," said Dennis. "Seriously, this rock is almost the left armpit of the Spinward Marches. It's so boring, half the male personnel here would make a pass at your Aunt Dana."
Ditzie raised an eyebrow. Given Dana's continued preference for ladies, this could make their short refueling stop on Pixie more than a bit interesting. Ditzie had to reply.
"Given what I've heard about the Navy, I find that easy to believe."
"You might recall, Dear Child," Dennis growled, "that I was in the navy."
"Well, yes," said Ditzie, "but your weirdness manifests itself differently."
Oh really? thought Dennis.
"So how do you know all this about Pixie?" asked Ditzie.
"I stopped here about eighteen years ago." Said Dennis. "I had to borrow one of the ships stationed here to hit a Vargr corsair base."
"Which one?" Asked Ditzie.
"The Gaesh" said Dennis, "that's what's left of her right there."
Dennis pointed to a dot orbiting the planet on the holographic navigation display.
"What's left?" asked Ditzie.
"She was converted to an orbital prison hulk. She never quite performed up to specifications, having never jumped more than three parsecs in normal service. She also misjumped once when I was aboard her, but she did have one advantage at the time."
"She was available."
Of course, if Dennis had known ahead of time about the Marine troop commander aboard the Gaesh, he would have waited for another unit of the Kinunir class to carry out the raid.
On a clear spot on the ridge overlooking a lake on the grounds of
Windhaven, Norris had his people set up a full picnic table. His household
troops set up a security perimeter beyond the edge of the clearing.
Lisa Holland watched in almost horrid fascination as Norris attacked a roast kian and Byret cheese on rye sandwich.
"On the Gaesh," said Lisa, "Dennis would always behave as a gentleman, even when eating with the troops."
Norris had to swallow before replying.
"Really?" He said. "I heard something about his ramming a drive lackey's face into a bulkhead."
"Ensign Lakidgussar was being disrespectful of a Marine officer." Lisa replied. Lisa was in fact the very officer being insulted, but she didn't want to mention that right now.
"What Dennis did to the bastard was a bit more elegant than what the other Marines on board had been planning." Lisa paused and then she asked Norris a question.
"Do you really need me back on duty?"
Norris set the remains of his sandwich down.
"Yes," he said. "Santanocheev and his people are getting out of hand."
"And you're worried about Dennis?"
"Yes," Norris answered.
"Don't be," said Lisa. "Dennis is a big boy, he's always been able to take care of himself."
"Now what, Norris?" Lisa interrupted him. "I once saw Dennis, unarmed in his civilian suit, stare down that so-called prophet on Margesi. He literally had that ragheaded bastard staking in his sandals."
Of course having a Kinunir-class warship slowly rise over the ridge line and approach the meeting site from behind Dennis and then deploy its contingent of Marines was certainly helpful. It was usually easier to obtain cooperation from local religious leaders with a kind word, a platoon of Marines, and an Imperial warship, than with a kind word alone.
Norris sat silently. Lisa continued to speak.
"He will come back," she said. "I've been having visions. He'll get married again. He'll build a new manor house, on this very spot overlooking the lake."
Lisa made a sweeping gesture with her right hand.
"Eneri, Joni, and some of the Department Six staff will be celebrating here when you are finally promoted to Archduke of Deneb."
Norris sat and stared at Lisa.
"Yes, Norris, you are going to be the Archduke. There will be some rough times ahead, but we will get through them."
Another vision came to mind that Lisa didn't want to mention. It was of her and Dennis in the master bedroom of the new manor house. Dennis was saying, "the poor man had damned few friends to begin with, for him to be murdered by one..."
Norris looked up. He had to ask her a question.
"You're going to finally sleep with him, aren't you?"
Lisa was stunned.
"Am I broadcasting again?" she said.
"Yes." Norris replied.
With elbows on the table, Lisa held her head in her hands and groaned.
Dennis was monitoring the refueling process from the bridge when Don the Khan walked in. Don spoke in a deliberately level tone of voice.
"She's playing that band again," said Don the Khan.
"Yes," said Don the Khan.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was a common affliction amongst the employees of Famille Spofulam, especially those who worked around Ditzie. But some people had acquired PTSD before joining the firm.
"Dana also survived a full tour as a roadie for VEEDBACK; she never complains when Ditzie plays their tracks," said Dennis.
"Dana had that surgery done," replied the Great Khan.
"Dana had the operation to fix a pre-existing condition," said Dennis.
The Great Khan stood and sighed.
"Watch the tanks. I'll go talk to her," said Dennis.
When the Chauchat was rebuilt by the FS starship weapon's division, the fusion reactor was replaced by a compact and cutting edge - for Famille Spofulam - fusion power plant. Some of the internal space freed up by the new power plant was used for additional fuel tankage. The rest of the free space was taken up by a state-of-art CAD/CAM small part fabrication shop. A sign next to the door, which was hand lettered in different colors of crayons, proclaimed it to be Ditzie's Playroom.
Dennis caught the tail end of a verse as he entered Ditzie's Playroom.
Mankind is destroyed
Sprinkled in the Void
It was VEEDBACK's cover of the Hissyfits cover of The Attack of the Giant Ants by Blondie. With all the additional verses.
Hey, whatcha gonna do?
Where you gonna go, when the pain comes?
Whatcha gonna say in the hole, when the rain comes?
Whatcha gonna spend when the money train ends?
Whatcha gonna tell your Bettie Page girlfriend ?
Hey, Bruce Lee will you marry me?
If it's not fate then its not hate
thirty-four years on the birthday cake
its never too late for your big rig
As the music file played again, Ditzie was rocking her head and singing the "La, La, La," part of the chorus as her fingers rapidly danced over the workstation keyboard. On one screen Dennis saw that she had hacked into the naval station's mainframe and that she was downloading classified files on biological warfare and genetic engineering. On another screen was a computer simulation of a giant fire-spitting ant.
Ditzie noticed her Uncle Dennis in the compartment.
"It's too easie-weezie to hackie-wackie into this mainie-framie," she told Dennis.
Ditzie was in her hyper-genius sociopath personality. The annoying effect that her cognitive speed had on her mode of speech was at the moment the least of her Uncle's problems.
"I'll mention that to the base commander and your Uncle Norris," he replied.
"And the data-wayta heerie-weerie is too oldie-woldie!"
"As I said, Pixie is effectively the left armpit of the Spinward Marches."
Ditzie started to sing the chorus again.
"We have another problem," said Dennis. "The Great Khan is having flashbacks again."
"Don the Khan is the only one able to fire our fusion gun turret without blowing it up," Dennis replied.
Dennis sensed a mental click as Ditzie switched personalities.
"But I like VEEDBACK," she said.
Dennis went over to the workstation. He copied his entire collection of Blondie and Blondie cover files into Ditzie's personal directory. He then selected Hissyfits cover of The Attack of the Giant Ants to play on the audio system.
Giant Ants from space
Snuff the Human Race
Then they eat your face
Never leave a trace
Dennis sensed another mental click in Ditzie.
"Yessy-wessy. That mightie-whightie workie-urkie."
"Oh," said Dennis, "another thing. We've been invited to the officer's mess by the base commander. I expect you to be on your best behavior."
"Okie-dokie." said Ditzie.
"That means that there be NO mysterious explosions!"
Ditzie had another loud personality switch.
"Oh, you're no fun," she moaned.
One of the Vargr at the corsair base had thoughtfully lined the room where the Zhodani prisoner, who was constantly slipping in and out of consciousness, was being held with aluminum foil. Neither Showa Lakidgussar nor Taezarr, the corsair base commander, really believed that this would be effective. They wore their psi-shield helmets when they entered the building.
"The problem with this man," said Taezarr, "is that he looks more like an Imperial human than a Zhodani."
"If I had to venture a guess," said Lakidgussar, "he's probably descended from a refugee from the Psionic Suppressions."
"No." Said Taezarr. "He looks way too Imperial. There would have been some . . . interbreeding . . . since then."
"Intermarriage," said Lakidgussar. "You could be right. This fellow looks like he's related to one of Big Bill Aledon's bully boys." Specifically the one who once rammed Lakidgussar's face into a bulkhead aboard the Gaesh.
"Could he be a recent defector?" Said Taezarr.
"You could be right." Said Lakidgussar.
"So what about his ship?"
Lakidgussar had examined the scout ship that the Zhodani prisoner was found in.
"The jump drive is damaged beyond repair. The main computer and its memory systems are intact."
Taezarr pondered this briefly. The computer and its memory core should be easy enough to smuggle and sell to the Imperial naval attache at Pandrin.
"Can you pull it out?" asked Taezarr.
"Sure." Said Lakidgussar. "It'll take a couple of weeks."
"Start on it first thing in the morning."