The Adventures of Gerry Fynne
This part originally appeared in the January/February 2018 issue.
Chapter 8: A Baakh-ward blur
The jump came and passed, not much different from the one before. Heimrich joined them tentatively after a few days, and by the time the jump was done things were almost as they had been. There were no new passengers that really stood out to them, and the boys kept to themselves. There were a couple of Imperial Army officers, a Captain and a First Lieutenant, who had gotten on at Lirshe, and from time to time they drank and played cards in the lounge. Gerry was reminded of the Brigadier and the two seedy men, alternately. They were subdued, however, and were seldom there for more than a couple of hours at a time.
He asked the purser about instruction for his vacc suit’s EVA setup. The Fourth Officer, Jack, had been sent. He politely declined to agree to or recommend another crew member for regular lessons, but he looked on carefully as he had Gerry put on his suit in a hurry. It went well, and he was suited and locked in under thirty seconds. The hulking security man gave a nod, “That’s as much as you’ll ever need here aboard the Maid. There are EVA training facilities at the Baakh Highport, with rather some advanced simulators. Spend a quarter of an hour in one of those, and that will keep you from being a danger to yourself. After that, plenty of practice. What else can I help you with?”
Gerry felt a bit like a young child whose na´ve question had been summarily dismissed by an annoyed parent. At the same time, he felt some comfort that he had gotten the officer’s approval for his basic ability with the suit. “That’s it, sir. I am just looking for all the help I can get with the suit. I’m going to be on a mining claim in a few weeks.”
The big man sighed deeply and paused. Coming to an apparent decision, he fixed the youth with a more serious look, “EVA is reading the book, then walking the walk. You can’t walk the walk except in zero-G, like in those simulators. You’ll need that before you go live on those jets, but until Baakh, it’s just bookwork and what you’ve already done. There are some assets in our library. I’ll send you something.” He paused for some response, Gerry nodded, and the man turned to leave, “Alright. Keep practicing and good luck.”
The links to the library material arrived within 15 minutes, and he spent a couple of hours digging around. They seemed to restate the facts that his reviews of his manual and materials from Clyde had already covered, and his head started to nod a bit. He realized, after going through all the assets that one, which he had kept skipping, was a work of fiction he’d never heard of, Belter’s Charm. He did not immediately see the connection, other than it had “belter” in the title, and they sure used vacc suits. He resolved to read it after dinner. His in-cabin meals had been suspended as soon as the two miscreants had been removed from the Maid, and he heated his own up in the lounge. Even the mix from Chandler’s 99 seemed repetitive, but it was good chow for coming from a Middle Passage tray.
After dinner he did dig into the book, which incrementally was more interesting than staring at the bulkhead. The style seemed just a bit odd, but it was an interesting read. There seemed to be a lot of obvious lessons in it on best practices in vacuum, zero gravity, and working in EVA rigs. These were somewhat obvious and Gerry felt as if the book had been written for those a couple of years younger than himself. Gerry was a careful but slow reader, but still finished the little 230-page book that evening.
He went to sleep thinking about the two men, he had remembered the term “confidence men” that had escaped him, and his reaction. He understood they were crooked, and looking to take advantage of him, but he had not fully understood when they had talked to him. He had a sense of unease, but not a full realization. He lay there, feeling stupid and ashamed, and could not fall asleep. He started reading Psalms, which didn’t work either… until it did.
A couple of days later they were ready for their projected jump exit, predicted to happen over the course of ship’s daylight time. Gerry set himself up again at his desk, with an LSPill at his elbow. He went back over Belter’s Charm. He had picked up the line, “Any of you are platform divers or springboard divers, you’ll get this!” from the book. That led him to look up videos on diving techniques, and then try to visualize some of the moves. He was particularly interested in twisting and somersaulting without touching anything or using power. This ate up about 5 hours until jump exit. Again, the LSPill stopped the retching almost magically, when he already sensed he was beyond the point of no return. In a few minutes, he had settled down enough to have the lunch he had deferred… just in case. He checked, and they had 71 hours of maneuver before docking at Baakh highport. At this point, he had a thought that panicked him a bit.
He went up to the lounge, and watched the news Trivids scrolling in for a couple of hours, just to get his mind off it, then went to look on his handcomp into arrivals from Lirshe. There were dozens of small liners like the Maid arriving every hour. He sent a message to the purser, Alice as he now thought of her, to meet in his cabin for a question.
A couple of minutes later, he was sitting on his bunk, and heard her knock, “Come in.”
She strode in as the computer commanded the door open, based on her identity and his voice. “Yes, sir?” She said the sir with just a subtle smirk.
“I was wondering about those men. What happened to them after they were put off the ship? Could they get on another?”
She made a little frown by pressing her lips together. “Well, Security wanted them off quickly without delaying us, so he had the captain order the Captain’s Prerogative, which kicks a criminal off a ship in normal space without the crew stopping to prove their guilt. They were put on a ship’s boat back to the starport, but once they left the Maid, the captain had no more control over them. We have registered a criminal complaint, which will go on their records, but will have no binding effect until the crew is back there to give a sector magistrate enough to have them picked up and tried. We put them off an hour before jumping out, and so would not know if they got on another ship.”
“So they could buy new tickets, and follow me?”
The frown deepened just a touch, “The Captain’s Prerogative does not cancel their fare, but they can not travel on another Ley Lightning ship.”
Gerry’s voice got higher in pitch, “But on any other line?”
“Anything else you can do? I’m kinda scared.” Gerry admitted, looking down.
“I'll have the line put you on the fastest boat into the highport, and they might even make a mistake in the passenger manifest.” A hint of the twinkle, with a bit of sadness. “And I do have another idea. Don't worry.” A hint of a smile and she was off.
He spent a little time rereading a book, and was eating his dinner when he got a message, “You ship out in 20 minutes. Pack quickly. 3rd Officer Alice dre’Laak, Purser.” Gerry stood up so fast he pushed his chair over. He jumped to get his suit zipped up in its Bigsoft first. He was emptying his rations locker when an odd-sounding knock came at the door.
His voice wavered a bit, “Come in?”
A droid came rolling in at a brisk clip, “Allow me to assist, sir.”
Gerry was so startled that he dropped an armload of Everfresh sandwiches, and stood up and away from that bag. The droid rolled right up to the lot, picking up sandwiches in an ambidextrous whirl. In half a minute the rations were rearranged and packed away in the second Bigsoft. The droid opened the dresser drawer, “Sir please indicate what bag these clothes should be packed in.”
Gerry was just opening the last Bigsoft when another knock came to the door, and he thought he heard, “Captain Crunch,” through it.
“Come in.” There was a delay as the manual pad opened the door, and one of the two army officers leaned in.
“You’re Gerry, aren’t you?”
He just nodded and waved the man in.
“The purser asked us to do her a favor, and put you on your next ship. Are you alright with that?”
“Yessir!” He turned back to the droid, that had just finished packing all his clothes into the last Bigsoft, cleaned out the fresher, pulled the linens from his bunk, stuffed them into the fresher's washer unit, wiped down the cabin's horizontal surfaces, and misted the room with disinfectant all while the short human interchange had been occuring. “It looks like I’m almost packed.”
The officer smiled, and offered his hand. “I’m Sam Runch, active in the Imperial Army. I’m headed to my next assignment at Baakh, with a week’s leave enroute, starting when the Maid docks at the highport. The ship’s boat gets me in about 30 hours early. If I take 6 to get you embarked, I get an extra 24 on the highport. Not to mention, I was happy to help the lady out,” he finished with a wink.
Within 5 minutes, they were waiting in the lounge as Gerry finished his dinner, and the good Captain Runch had a drink and gnawed on an Everfresh sandwich that he had pulled from his own bag. Gerry was now peppering him with questions about his jobs in the armored cavalry, which Runch was solicitously happy to answer. He was proud of his service, but no braggart, so tried to answer accurately. Gerry, innately sensing this, was all the more interested.
The boat docked, and Runch begged to finish his drink before they embarked, “They'll take 5 minutes to boost; give me two to finish a good little Querro?” Gerry nodded a bit too enthusiastically, and continued to pick his mind about grav belts. Within three minutes they were seated at the front of the ship’s boat, and Gerry did not notice the First Lieutenant seated in the back, in a hooded workout shirt.