The Adventures of Gerry Fynne
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2017 issue.
Chapter 6: Jumping to Lirshe With the Young Yungs
The jump to Lirshe was uneventful, and he did overcome his hesitancy to talk to the Yung brothers, as he learned they were called. Heimrich was a year older than Gerry, and was haughty and sarcastic towards him. Burg, though, was almost two years younger than Gerry, and loved to play ORbox. Though Gerry had never been good at the game, it was something to do, and he spent long hours getting beaten in the virtual space dogfights projected above the squat console in the lounge. Heimrich eventually tired of being left out. His story, and his discomfort at telling it were enough to satiate the Yungs’ curiosity, and the three of them spent a large portion of their waking hours playing ORbox and watching tri-vids in the lounge.
The Maid’s navigator had predicted their exit from jump space as 95% likely to be in a 9 hour period, when passengers were asked to remain in their staterooms. Two hours into this, Gerry had grabbed the provided LSPill from the fresher, and put it next to him at his desk. Even though it would require him to stay up until 0340 ship time, he was loath to be awoken again by a jump exit.
It was only 2334, though, when the wrenching tremors came. It hit him hard, again, but with the pill stuck on his tongue, he lurched towards the fresher. He could feel the familiar feeling of being beyond the nauseous point of no return of fast impending vomiting, but as he reached the toilet, nothing happened. The feeling abated, leaving his system confused. He actually wished he would vomit, because that might make him feel better, but then in a minute the unease itself had mostly gone away. He sipped water from his Guides canteen, half expecting disaster, but the cool liquid offered relief. Once again, his groundhog instincts had failed him, but new training, strange as it was was working. He looked for Lirshe on the Maid’s hull cameras. There was not much too it, and that was familiar enough. He ate a celebratory Stayfresh sandwich, and lay back on his bunk. In a few minutes, he was dead to the world.
He awoke to see their progress towards the highport was considerable. While Nundis was a small world, Lirshe was even smaller. They would be docked in 36 hours. After breakfast, there was another message from the purser. The questions about his status, from a renewed complaint by Auntie, seemed to Gerry as pro-forma as they in fact were. The purser, Alice dre’Laak, did not wear her jacket this time, and seemed quite aware when Gerry’s gaze wandered down to her bodice. The twinkle in her eye made it seem to Gerry that she did not mind. As she moved off smartly after the pleasant, scripted exchange, he wondered that she might be attracted to him.
He knew she was probably in her early 30s, and was certainly beautiful and accomplished enough have a good choice of partners. He knew he was not making sense to even think of her as potential partner, but her actions puzzled him. A line from Gunny escaped him, but he remembered the sense of it, which was that kids—boys of his age—think it is all about them, but usually it has very little to do with them. He wondered if she, if Alice, even cared much what he thought. She was pleasant: that was her job. Showing her body off was also part of that job. That he, an adolescent male, was attracted to it was probably of absolutely no interest to her. But he remembered the twinkle in her eye and flattered himself.
He looked up Burg and his brother for breakfast, a couple of hours around the Orbox, and then pulled out his handcomp and looked at the schedules for small craft meeting up with the Maid. They were minimal. Lirshe was much more of a waypoint than a hub. A speedy ship’s boat was to host a tour of Lirshe’s surface that passengers could take for a few hundred credits, a few hundred credits that would more than wipe him out. Gerry pulled up the description, realizing that it was as realistic as his phantasies about the Alice and her ample assets. He read through, nonetheless. It was then that he asked Burg, “Are you getting off the ship at Lirshe?” He had known that, like him, they were booked through Baakh with their mother, who spent the voyage to date in apparently drugged seclusion in her cabin in High Passage, but they had not actually discussed the stopover at Lirshe.
“Yeah! Momma booked the two of us on a planet tour. Some doggie, Vargr line something. Says she doesn’t know when we’ll get another chance. Don’t know what we’ll see that we don’t see on the 3D, Gerry. Wha’d’ya think?”
“Wow. I'd like to see Lirshe, but I can’t really. Don’t have the funds, slick.”
“Funds my frackin’ pinky! We’ll charge it to our shipboard account. Momma couldn’t care. If she even asks, you’re our bud. We been with you every day for what, a week? See, she doesn’t know you, but she would if she spent near 10 minutes with us this jump. We say you’re our bud, she gets guilty, shuts up, and goes back to sleep with her mothers little helper.”
Gerry panicked quietly and suddenly. Like Alice, the enticing prospects of Lirshe were wrapped in the dangers of the unknown. If he went to the surface, he would be subject to the local laws. His legal status might change. He felt safe aboard, for now, but had no idea of what his legal status might be on the surface, under the apparently moderate but strange laws of Lirshe. He was authorized to go on the trip to his father’s claim, but he did not even know about the detour under Imperial law, let alone Lirshe law. He could ask Alice for advice, but he did not want to project his vulnerability, even though he thought she saw right through him.
He wondered about the chance to visit the famed polar rift valley of Lirshe, and let a brief cleavage analogy flit through his mind. He decided to stay close to the truth, sticking to his story. If his story was true, he would have the same fears. He let out a breath that he did not realize he had been holding.
“Alright, Burg. That’s a great offer, but I don’t want to get in trouble with the local law over being an unaccompanied minor.”
“That sounds like a load of freeze-dried dung balls. You scared of that?”
“Well, I don’t know. The one thing Gunny told us was watch out for the local law.”
“Ask the purser; you know the one with the…”
“Yeah. Yeah, I know her.” He pulled out his handcomp, and messaged her, “I have a quick question. No hurry.”
At the time, the three boys and a young trooper on leave had the lounge to themselves, and the screens were therefore awash with the nubile young tools of advertising. Five minutes later she strode into the lounge, looking a bit like she had just stepped out of one of the screens around them. Gerry just noticed that as the content cycled out, the themes were unchanged; apparently crew cued differently to the entertainment suite than passengers. She stood close to his shoulder and cocked her head, “You had a question?”
“Ma'am,” Her lips pursed, apparently registering a twinge of disapproval at his form of address, but Gerry did not fully realize why, “Burg has invited me on their surface tour, but I don’t want to get caught up in the local law. I got nothing to hide, and all, but I was always told, you know, to watch out.” She leaned in, actually pressing the soft front of her uniform coat against his shoulder.
“You are not off-base asking of course, but this is Ley Lightning. We arrange for a customs clearance aboard the boat with our own man. There won’t be any trouble, I can assure you. The Imperial clearance usually takes priority, no matter what, but especially here the line has you covered. I will put out a query with our customs man to double-check. I want to be sure you’re with us all the way to Baakh. Once we dock there, I’m off for a 48. Couldn’t relax if I’d lost one, could I?” She was speaking in almost conspiratorial tones, with her back to the other boys, but clearly for their benefit.
He saw the hazel twinkle again as she turned to go, “No problem. Take care, boys.”
The Yungs mumbled a reply and she was gone.
“Sounds like I’m in, Burg! Thanks.”
“You got it.”
He brought them each a Stayfresh sandwich, and they went to the Yung boys’ cabin to watch a tri-V. They then had three more hours until the tour left. The itinerary was 39 hours, and would bring them back to the Maid well after she docked with Lirshe highport.
It was dinner time when they met in the lounge again. While the High Passengers had their meals served to them in the dining room, it was possible for middle passengers to tip the stewards to arrange to be served and eat in the lounge. Gerry wondered about that; the server ’bots apparently pulled their rations from their supply in their staterooms, put them in the warmers, and served them after 1800 ship time. Not exactly the white glove treatment, but the stewards had enough manpower to pull it off without keeping any High Passengers waiting, so it made them a few extra credits. Even with a completely full ship, it meant that the stewards would just need to hustle a little bit, and from time-to-time do a few tasks that the ’bots normally would.
The server ’bots’ main tasks were cleaning, and they did that with somewhat eerie efficiency. They would enter a stateroom, apparently as soon as the computer registered its occupant had left, and do a quick sweep and laundry in about a minute. Sometimes Gerry would come back and his dirty laundry would be dry in the little unit in his room’s ’fresher, if he’d just been gone a short while. More often, things were folded and stowed in the drawers where he kept them. It made him feel cared for. At home, Auntie had stated when he had turned 13 that he was old enough to do his own clothes. Of course he was, and he’d done his laundry as a matter of course. Here it was done for him, almost daily. He mused, as the Yung boys tore into a couple of Chandlers Elite ration packs and the three of them lolled in front of a Tri-V in the lounge, that he was feeling actually pampered. While he still worked with his suit on a daily basis, and had continued a bit with his math studies on a much more sporadic basis, it had been a long vacation of almost four weeks now. The pampering was mostly by machines that could not even have a simulated conversation with him, though, and were as aware of his presence in only the same way that the ’fresher was aware of his dirty drawers, but he had enjoyed it nonetheless.
The Yung boys vargred their savory smelling meals as they watched the clock, and almost completely ignored the large image of a barely clad KiKi Dish going through her intake physical for the Scouts, that seemed to involve a great deal more bouncing than any physical that Gerry could recall: they had 6 minutes until the boat docked, and each had their overnight bags (“spacer bags” as they were popularly called dirtside) packed at their feet. Gerry really had not realized the import of the term until he saw how shipboard life worked. He could live in the same two sets of clothes essentially indefinitely; he had actually spent five days last jump wearing the same clothes, sleeping in his Marine trunks, and just sticking the clothes into the ’fresher before going to bed, and switching them for his trunks on rising. It had not really been intentional, but it had certainly worked quite efficiently.
When the boat docked, they knew they would have at least 15 minutes to get set, but as soon as the minute, 1817 ship time, showed in the corner of the Holovid they unceremoniously decamped and headed for the port airlock. The oblong iris hatch opened with a faint hissing sound, which the boys expected while having no notion that it was in fact an audio effect played after the craft’s pressure had already noiselessly been equalized. Out strode two men in different livery, each holding a tablet or handcomp of different design. Gerry noticed the first had a logo “Vargr Voyages” on his left breast, in a bright purple splash with a picture of a grinning canine head. This man asked without delay, “Are you gentlemen here for the Vargr Voyages Lirshe extravaganza?”
“Yeah, that’s us. Two Yungs and a Fynne,” Burg said with a tone that was the perfect counterpoint to the enthusiasm of the questioner, who quickly checked them in with a discrete iris scan. The other man Gerry saw was standing further back towards the hatch.
He apparently was set up to feed from the other’s pad because he said, “Gerry Fynne, you are traveling under the authorization of Hugo Fynne, your natural father and only surviving natural parent. Is this correct?”
Gerry’s quick intake of breath was involuntary, and a cause for his further nervousness, “Yes, sir.”
“And you will continue your passage on this vessel, the Scarlet Maid, without delay when it proceeds onward to Baakh?”
Focusing on the corner of the tablet and breathing he managed a very controlled, “Yessir.”
“You will follow the itinerary, be in the presence of the tour operator, doing business as Vargr Voyages, during your entire time in Lirshe territory?”
“Yes, I will.” Despite the slightly narrowing of Gerry’s vision, he knew that these were canned questions, and he was on firm footing. He could still feel the sweat wetting his neck. As he was waved aboard, he could see that the boat already had about ten occupants. Another crew member with the grey, purple piped livery with gaudy doggie logo handed him a SmallSoft, with a tag with his name on it.
“Your vacc suit, and some sundries in the outer pockets, sir. Sit in any open seat.”
About 15 minutes after they had settled into three couches across the boat. The boat undocked and made a fast burn away from the Maid. While the internal grav compensation took away any physical feel of acceleration, the view of the colorful liner pulling behind them so rapidly was impressive, and a bit unnerving to Gerry. He had never been on anything higher than 1G, and this was 6G. The first stop was listed as an alleged Ancients’ site in late afternoon planetside time.
The two crew members who were not flying worked to see that the interactive holo tutorials got them all into their suits. They were prompted to put on phones, and so each passenger’s holographic guide followed their progress, and coached visually and audibly. Gerry mused what a Babel it would have been without the phones. The crew had donned their own suits first before the donning process had started with the passengers, presumably as an encouragement. The perceived gravity in the cabin was tapering off to the planetary .24 G from the shipboard normal of .5 G, giving Gerry a feeling of lightness after weeks on the ship, making the donning of the strange suit a rapid exercise. He kept an eye on the holo, but essentially knew what it was going to show and say before it did so. The functions were all the same, even if the controls differed somewhat from his own.
They strode off the ship onto the harsh planetary surface in a few minutes, with the nineteen of them being shepherded by two guides, one at the front and one bringing up the rear, “While the first human settlers of Lirshe were prior to the Third Imperium, there was no discovery of this site until Professor Jeetok of the Jesuit University of Ohasset found them almost a century ago…”
They spent about 45 minutes tromping around the site, which was a tunneled-out outcropping of sedimentary rock, which appeared for all the world just like the sandstone back home. The lack of anything but a trace atmosphere made the sky very different. The sun was harsh, and gave everything a pinkish tint. There was just a hint of haze over the horizon, but the sky straight above looked just like that of open space. The contrast was like the holos or stills of any rockball, but being truly surrounded by the contrast of light and dark made Gerry feel very small. He barely noticed that he was wearing a suit, and they all had a grand time bouncing around. The guide brought out a Lirshan flag, which he used to great effect, twirling and twisting it in a series of moves that highlighted the low gravity and lack of atmosphere. The eye troubled the mind with images of a flag behaving as flags ought not to.
The guides ran the communications well, using the visor displays to point out features, and even superimpose theoretical architecture on the landscape. Everyone had open mikes, but was turned to low volume unless they cued the guide to ask a question. Each passenger could hit the “privacy” button on their left gauntlet panel, which would turn their mike off for ten minutes. The result was a low chatter in the background, which the guides voice comfortably and clearly talked over. Some passengers cued the guide to ask questions, which came across as clearly as the guides’ responses. The site, Gerry thought, was rather boring, but they had had a splendid time. He had fast fun with the boys doing acrobatics in the minimal gravity, and taking running, or more accurately bounding, long jumps over a sandy gully that was about ten to fifteen meters wide and about three deep in its shallow bottom. The guide had come across their headsets privately and said to the three of them, “Bet you can’t jump that ditch!”
After they had been at it, leaping comically to heights of three or four meters, clearing and occasionally not clearing portions of the ditch, for a good ten minutes, the one minute bell chimed. The boys had turned to some raucous and occasionally snide comments to each other during the last quarter hour of their time at the site, the “feel free to wander around” portion. As he breathed heavily into his faceplate, Gerry thought of a line from Dr. Alvarez, who occasionally help Gunny out with their Guides troop, “Redirect risky rowdiness.” He saw that the guide had done just that. They were engaged in good, clean fun, and hadn’t even noticed they had been put on their own comm network so their shouted dares, cheers, jibes, and curses did not bother the rest of the group. They had been redirected, liked it, and not even noticed.
On embarking, they were given a forty minute low-level tour of Lirshe’s craters and canyons, while they were served snacks informally. Those who had an urgent need could desuit and resuit in plenty of time, if they felt uncomfortable using the suit’s facilities. Gerry had made a point of peeing into his suit early into the first stop (in honor of the Ancients!) and the waste disposal system worked flawlessly. It was a very unnatural feeling, however, which is why he wanted to practice. He and the Yung brothers scarfed several bags of nuts, and sucked heavily on the bottled water stored in the armrests of their couches. The boat had settled in a deep polar valley covered in snow, where they docked with a pavilion of considerable proportions. The group entered through a dining room and down stairs into a large airlock that fit them all comfortably. They shuffled out, and got a quick lesson in donning and walking in snow shoes, which were waiting for them on a landing. In the angled light, that now gave the snowscape almost a fuchsia color they shuffled out to see an old wreck of a liner. It was an older model of a subsidized liner, the same general class as the Maid, but lower tech. It was mostly intact, but it was obvious that its back was broken from the angle of the forward disk relative to the rest of the hull, and as they drew closer on the mostly packed snow path several long rents in the hull became obvious.
When the guide flashed the derelict’s identity up on their visors, Gerry remembered the name of a poem or maybe a song, Wreck of the Jovian Matron, apparently about this wreck. A small craft had collided with her while approaching orbit, and almost gutted her from the energy of the initial collision. Only nine survivors managed to scramble into vacc suits or rescue balls after surviving the initial impact. Those nine limped off the ship in a crippled and barely flyable launch, that was able to keep them alive and high enough in a still decaying orbit to be rescued. Despite a swarm of would-be rescuing small craft that had eventually flocked to the Matron, a few hours to pull bodies and mementos from the doomed hulk were all that were available before she plowed into the earth of Lirshe. There she lay now, 22 decades later.
The group was muted as they shuffled back towards the pavilion, and a guide played Wreck of the Jovian Matron over their suit comms, while scrolling a story of the survivors on one side of their visors, and the lyrics in fainter script on the other. Without banter or horseplay they returned to the shiny base, which reflected the pinks of the landscape, adding the grey and purple stripes of their suits, and the flashing of visors as the party drew close. They doffed and stowed their suits on the boat, and then returned to dining room for some cocktails. They noticed another boat moving off from the opposite end of the structure, and several couples and a party of six were already sitting down. There was a young, tall waitress who was bringing drinks from a mixing cart, wearing a purple bodysuit that revealed every feature of her very thin frame. She looked a couple of years older than Gerry, and the only wave to modesty were her grey shorts, evocative of Marine trunks a couple sizes too small. As they sat down, she came directly towards their table and smiling passed to the next. Gerry heavily suspected they were being toyed with.
The beauty of the minimalist sunset, with just a fringe of atmosphere tinted purple, was dimmed enough by the automatic tinting of the pavilion’s plasteel canopy that they could look directly at it. The faint hint of sunset color suddenly made the otherwise garish liverly seem almost sublime. This was their spot, the spot where Vargr Voyages would seal the deal; this was their upper room. These diners might travel far, see many things, and age harshly, but at the right times they would be pulled right back here.
Two years ago, Gunny had done it at sunset on an island that the twelve brand new Guide recruits shared with no other sophont: they watched for the green flash as the sun dipped below Griik Maeii’s Western Bay, as the mollusks baked in the fires to their backs. “You are the Guides, following where the few hundreds of thousands of Guides have led trillions from the ten thousand worlds of this Third Imperium. Always, you have been the dye in the water, a few drops to color the whole, with courage and honor, respecting the Guide Law. The best of heroes, captains of industry, wizards of science, leaders of nations: all forged in this crucible as Guides.” On another day, in another place, Gunny’s speech would have fallen flat, to the odd snicker in some bland classroom after some young adolescent made the same farting noise that young adolescents have made since time immemorial. But no, not there: he closed the deal on that island beach between the fires and the tropical sunset; they bought the program, hook, line and sinker.
Drinks came quickly, and the waitress was pulling from an auto cart that picked up their orders as they spoke them to her, “One drink before dinner, boys. What’ll it be?”
The Yungs ordered a drink of some name Gerry neither recognized nor remembered, but by their tone it was a fashionable one. He remembered Gunny saying if you’ve gotta mix your whiskey with something you’re drinking the wrong whiskey.
“Single malt Querro, please. Neat.” Gerry pronounced, as if ordering a Bronto Burger back home.
“What kind of Querro, sir?”
“Whatever you recommend, ma’am. I just drink what Gunny tells me.”
The usually blasť Yungs were a little taken aback. “You a drinker, Gerry?” Heimrich asked, somewhat incredulously.
“Not yet. I figure they get paid to bring my carcass back, though, and I’ve never heard of anyone dying from a single drink. Even if I blow chunks and they hit us for a cleaning charge, it’s on your mom, right?”
Burg nodded vigorously and Heimrich tried to look a little cross, “Well, yeah, I guess if yacking is part of the trip…”
The waitress, all of 50 kilos and at least 180 centimeters tall if she was one, was back already with their drinks on a sticky tray. She leaned between Gerry and Heimrich, a little closer than was necessary even for whispering, “Any projectile vomiting is to be done outside my station, Dong ma, boys?” She winked at Burg across the table and was gone in a lavender flash before they could formulate a response, let alone the pithy one they so urgently wanted to make.
The eldest looked down into his swirly concoction in a purple facsimile of some creature’s horn, “Damn!”
The mildly chastened trio sipped, and turned back to the now faded sunset. Music started, and the boys realized in a minute or two that there was actually a faint holo projection of a ballad that seemed familiar to Gerry, by a Shugashi Metal band he could not place. He thought it was a shrewd choice, new enough to seem popular and even edgy by those younger than say 25 (Gerry’s upper boundary for the limit of youth), but soft enough to still entertain the others.
Gerry realized that in their self-absorption they had barely noticed the other diners outside their group. Closest to them, in front of Gerry was a party undeniably led by a man in what Gerry congratulated himself on recognizing was a Impie army Brigadier’s dress uniform. He was with a party of three others: a handsome woman with steely gray hair in a sheer satin gown of an intriguing shade of darkest green, a young female lieutenant who was apparently his aide, and a towering Vilani man wearing what Gerry guessed was the most expensive suit he had ever seen. While the lieutenant, in her sheer skirt that Gerry did not know or care was a female option for the Imperial Army dress mess uniform, was certainly fashion-model-gorgeous, he found himself positively drawn to the older woman who he guessed was the Brigadier’s wife or date. She wore no makeup that Gerry could discern, “barefoot” thong sandals that wound up lithe calves, and her uniformly grey hair in simple hairdo. That she did not color her hair or face, but wore such a revealing, elegant dress was fascinating, as was her way of moving; oblivious to the conversation or even the taste of his first single malt, first drink of any sort, he caught himself staring at her, at where the ivory colored shell pendant hung deeply between her well-shaped breasts…and so did she! She twitched a smile—Gerry imagined it a charitably dismissive twitch—and then turned her gaze back to the brigadier to whom she beamed warmly as he went on with his story.
The dinner was almost too much for the ravenous Yungs, and Gerry was fed like he had never remembered being fed. The lights had dimmed slowly enough as to be barely noticeable, but the skies seemed as close as they did in deep space. After the third desert, and second kaff, the waitress stopped coming. The lights pulsed ever-so-softly with four purple notes, and the waitress came around to ask the tables if they’d like anything to carry. The Vilani specimen in the five-thousand-credit monkey suit offered the brigadier’s lady his arm, and she reached past it to give his rump a lusty squeeze, no, a series of squeezes, as the brigadier leaned in to give his lieutenant a thirty-second kiss of a type not favored in Sunday school. The brigadier’s lady, without loosing her hold on the Vilani’s glute, held out her left hand gracefully to the brigadier, who in time took it with his right, while positively scooping the LT up with his left, snaking around her waist, up under her cropped mess jacket to softly cup his own firm, finely-shaped pound of flesh while lifting her entire body in the crook of his arm. The four made their walking bacchanal look downright casual as they made towards another docking port, to which a grey, unmarked g-carrier had made an approach as smooth as the brigadier’s.
Gerry, though the single malt had long since worn off, felt more intoxicated by this scene than he had by his fiery snootful. Burg was actually smacking his shoulder; Gerry realized the brothers were standing, gawking at him gawking, and at the objects of his gawking at the same time, while pretending not to gawk.
“We should go, guy!” Burg said in a squeaky stage whisper.
“Yeah, but not the way they're going, little brother” Heimrich quipped. No one laughed as they shuffled off. Gerry only registered as they were already in the boat that Heimrich had left a crisp c-note on the table for a tip, for a meal that was already paid-for. They were brought around nightcaps as they settled in. The ’freshers in the pavilion were also open, and a last drink could be had there within the next 15 minutes, as well, went the announcement. Heimrich fairly sprung up, while Gerry and Burg waited for the boat’s ’fresher. It seemed like more than 15 minutes until he slid back in, looking a little flushed. “The waitress, Hoori, gave me a quickie!”
“Why!?” Burg almost squeaked.
“Five hundred credits…and my natural charm.”
Burg’s exclamations and badgering went on long and loudly enough, despite his older brother’s refusals, chidings, and threats (and Gerry’s extreme discomfort) that the sonic dampers actually kicked in. Burg did get the details out that the deed had occurred in the large airlock they had used for their sortie, accompanied by her begging, the latter specifically-prompted by her John. Gerry also noticed that Heimrich had completely ignored the question of whether it was caught on video.
Gerry eventually asked for something to help him sleep, because the various images of the evening kept running through his mind, while one of the Yungs snored almost imperceptibly across the aisle. He made the request on the pad on the armrest so as to not wake anyone, though in reflection he doubted this were possible at that point.