The Adventures of Gerry Fynne
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2018 issue.
Chapter 11: To Pause in Preparation
Gerry Fynne went forth into the muddled main corridors of the Guarda Highport. The route was simple: one level up, and three tubes counter-clockwise to the Ivanovich’s Pride. He barely noticed the hawkers, the mixed smells of a handful of eateries, and the come-on from an exceptionally tall, thin Vilani prostitute. He had eyes only for his ship, the Pride: he must get aboard. He’d glanced at her dingy bulk through a hazy (or grimy) viewport while coming down the corridor with a feeling of relief. Grey and haggard looking, she was not an impressive ship. The blast doors to the corridor that led to the Pride’s docking tube were open only a meter or so, and a man dozed in a chair that occupied the gap, a grubby ship’s cap pulled low over his eyes.
“Excuse me sir, do you have a any room left for passengers?”
“Some,” The man said, without raising his head enough to see Gerry’s eyes.
“Just me, middle passage.”
“We got two bunks open in double rooms with male humans. Middle passage with a 500 Credit rebate, and 1,000 more cruds towards on-board entertainment.”
“We got a couple of whores. Girl and a boy. I think you’d like the girl?”
“Probably would, but unless she’s licensed for juvies, I don’t think I want the trouble.”
“I wouldn’t know about licenses or trouble. They’re my gunners, and what independent social arrangements they make are all off the radar. Alright, 1,500 for on-board. That’s enough for three whole nights and a few quickies.”
Gerry was both disgusted and intrigued at the same time; he felt himself yearning to meet this ‘girl’.
“No, ah, no. I’m not interested in that. I’ll take a 800 credit rebate.”
“Seven fifty and the food’s not been picked over. Chandler’s 44?”
“Butt end of a 99. There’ll be others along who’ll jump on that deal, but I’m not getting a new 44 for you. Plus I’ll throw in a couple hundred for the girl. You don’t have to use it.”
“Deal,” Gerry said, stepping forward. They shook on it. He did not want the thought of the girl, but it was still with him. He tried to hand the middle passage voucher over, but the man, getting up, waved it away. “Give it to Patsy: my purser, gunner, and ‘the girl’. I’m Captain Red Justiss,” he said, still grasping Gerry’s hand in his.
“Gerry Fynne, sir…Captain.” Gerry met his eyes. Tired, jaded, and a little dangerous was his first impression. They walked in, knowing that the 1 meter gap was enough for the skidder to pass once the Captain kicked his chair to the side.
He saw the Pride again through the large corridor viewports. She was worn down to the dull gray of her hull, but the starboard triple turret gleamed. It looked to be two missile racks and a beam weapon. Its partner wasn’t visible on the obscured port side of the hull, but he had no doubt it was there. No need for a second gunner without a second turret.
The Captain led him to a stateroom, where he called out to a large flaccid mound of a man who lay on the port bunk and made no pretense of rising, “Wore you out, did she? Well, here’s your new roomate: Gerry.” The BigSofts rolled off the skidder behind Gerry, as he caught a flash of colorful movement and he turned just in time to see a young woman in pink dreadlocks and little else straddle the last bag and squat on it, facing him directly.
“I’m Patsy! How you payin’?”
Patsy was covered, barely, with a pink top and bottom that clung but provided little else in the way of support or concealment. “Hi,” Gerry croaked, “here,” and passed over the middle passage voucher. She smiled, took it, and drew out an impossibly thin oval device from her bosom, scanned the voucher, and stood up.
“C’mere,” she intoned, still straddling the bag. He stepped forward nervously. She put her hand on the back of Gerry’s neck, and drew him in, and did a quick iris and facial scan with the oval. She took her hand from the back of his neck, traced his jaw with a finger, and rubbed it faintly over his lips before spinning and padding out almost silently. He watched until she bounced out of sight.
“Alright, stow your gear. The boy swings both ways, if it matters,” the captain growled.
“No, sir. No, it doesn’t. Thanks.”
Gerry turned to stow his gear as the captain left.
“I’ll give you 10 cruds every time you let me watch you do her,” the flaccid mound rasped.
“I’m Gerry,” he said holding out his hand to the man who had yet to open his eyes, let alone make eye contact.
“Fracker already said that, didn’t he?”
“Well, he did, sir. Just trying to be polite.”
The flaccid mound uttered a wheeze that Gerry recognized as conciliatory. He stood in somewhat stunned silence. He realized he should have asked his roommate’s name, and had almost mustered the resolve to ask when the mound commenced a snore. After two almost sonorous wheezes, the reverberating bass rumble began at full force, spurring him into action. Gerry guessed which lockers were his as his roommate’s were still partly open, with various belongings flopping out of a bag that itself had flopped out of the starboard set of lockers. Despite the fact that the formerly flaccid but now heaving and cacophonous mound occupied the port bunk, Gerry knew with a moral certainty that he should stow his gear in the port locker. He also intended to use the lock, albeit a primitive mechanical combination device.
Checking and setting the lock, he remarked on the sheer energy required to heave the mound’s bulk for every rumbling breath, let along produce that much sonic energy. He checked over his rations. It was indeed the butt of a 99, but there were 45 meals there, and it looked like no repeats. For the first time since entering the Pride he felt a sense of ease. These people were rough, licentious, and depraved, but in the small particular of rations, so important to one who had been months aboard ship, Red had been honest. And the purser had been, in her own slutty way, friendly and efficient. He locked his locker, and left the cabin, going back out into the passengers’ commons they had passed on their way in, musing on the confluence of pursers and temptations of the flesh…
The furniture had a earthy, domestic feel to it, which is to say that it did not look to belong in a star ship. Wood, bare skins, sapphire tabletop, hollowed lava bowl chair, and half a dozen other mismatched chairs spanning a handful of cultures around the dining table. There was a flat-screen playing a movie, and the equipment all seemed functional.
A man was sitting back on the furry couch, with his boots up on the brass smallcube that served as a coffee table. He had a gunbelt still on, but the holster was empty. He looked back to the screen before Gerry even realized the man had taken his measure. He had close-cropped hair and wore an mixture of field uniform parts, patched and faded. A bottle sat beside him on the couch with an actual cork in it.
“I'm Drew. You’re safe among these perverts, but I’d stay away from the boy. He looks like he’s got something to me. Could be something genetic, but I wouldn’t bet my pecker on it. You’re shipping out alone?”
“Well, my father has sent for me, sir, and…”
“Drew! Drew, I work for a damn living. Yeah, whatever. You are alone and I shoot people for a living. Or shoot at them, more often. Actually, I most usually just use violence to induce others to change their priorities. In concert with others is my preference, but often enough alone. Not to scare you; I’m the good guys right here. If you find you have a need while we’re shipmates, you let me know. I’ll do you a freebie: No blood, but I can have a prayer meeting with any one of these sonzabitches, and they’ll not bother you again. Maybe you tip me later, maybe not, but I’d consider it an honor requiring no remuneration.”
Drew had drawn out a large, matte-finished blade from a hip scabbard, waved it ever-so-slightly in the direction of the lift down to the crew’s level as he was talking to emphasize the point, and stowed it, all in a second or two.
“Thanks, sir, um, I mean, Drew.”
“You’re welcome. Drink?”
Gerry nodded, and Drew bent forward to pull a couple of mismatched glasses from the side of the smallcube-cum-table, placed them on it, pulled the cork with his teeth, and poured a couple of fingers into each. He set the bottle down down next to the glasses, and then sprung up with feline grace that belied his two meters’ height. He covered the three meters of deck between them swiftly, while without seeming to rush, and handed one to Gerry.
“Absent comrades!” Gerry echoed on cue, and drank. It was a strange liquor, burning but smelling wonderful. He gasped, and thought how odd it was. He had no desire to drink with this man a few seconds before, but had done so without hesitation, indeed with enthusiasm.
“So where are you heading, sir?” Gerry asked, realizing his failure to use Drew’s name too late.
“I have a security job in New Konigsburg. Meeting a team and we’re working security for the float.”
“The float?” Gerry asked.
Drew had now resumed his recline, and Gerry sank into a mesh and polished pipe chair. He noticed that although the furniture was not intended for shipboard use, it all appeared to have been bolted down. Functional.
“Well, the water on Prime is all shipped in from moons in the next orbit out. It is not cost effective to supply all the millions on that little rockball by running proper ships, let alone boats, but miners will raft the ice together, and about every 700 days there’s the float, a slingshot orbit from one to the other which makes the journey only about 82 days. Some hire tugs, but many more just use a rocket to push their rafts of ice into this orbital path, ‘the stream,’ they call it. Coming from different moons, the stream is actually not a single route, but a cluster of them. Piracy among these belters is not unknown, nor is the odd settling of scores, while in the stream.
“So, a group of miners has hired our team to protect their flotilla of rafts. Eight million, five hundred seventy thousand some d-tons of ice, with six miners and nine of us on it.”
Drew sounded like he was trying to impress, but was also himself awed or impressed by their task at the same time.
“Have you worked with these men before?”
Drew nodded, “A couple. We are all zero-G rated, which is critical for this. We have also worked in the black before, all of us. Marines, mostly.”
“I had a leader in the Guides who was a Gunny.”
“They are good troops. Not great dirtside primarily, but they do sing along in boarding actions. Not bad, dirtside, mind you, but just not their specialty.”
“So when does this float begin?” Gerry wondered.
“Three weeks after we drop out of jump, but the tracks are staggered so that whole thing is over three months long.”
Gerry thought the timing was pretty close if he was going to be involved in this float. It seemed incredibly coincidental if he was not. An idea dawned on him.
“I’ve got an EVA rig that I have never had a chance to practice with. I could pay you to take me out and work with me for a bit.”
“Really? What the hell for?”
“Father’s a miner, and called me to help him on his claim on… well, in the next system. I picked up the suit with the rig because I thought I would likely need it.”
Drew considered, and finished his drink.
“I get suited up, it’s 50 cruds the hour for a short job, a minimum of two hours. You would also pay for a launch, but I’ll lay it on. We have to get away a little ways. We are not doing vector work around a working starport, son, not even out here. Alright?” Drew looked at Gerry with mild intensity.
“Yes. That will be fine.”
“Suit up and we meet up here in three hours. No more drink until then.”
Gerry agreed and they lapsed into silence for the better part of an hour watching the movie. He started to doze, set his alarm, then let himself go. He dozed on and off in the chair, and when his alarm woke him, Drew handed over small drink. It was a booster: vitamins, electrolytes, and just a little stimulant. He had not realized that the small cube table actually had a small cooling unit within, but the coolness of the drink was very welcome.
Seeming to read Gerry’s expression of mild delight Drew said, “Steward leaves some, passengers leave some. It’s not a bad little setup. I have the two other team members I have worked with on this ship, so I do not think there will be much pilfering. Everyone else is a bit intimidated by us, even with all our real hardware locked up.”
Gerry mumbled his thanks and when back to his cabin with mild trepidation. He was hoping that mound had not rallied to dally further with Patsy, and more especially that he would not interrupt them. The rumbling came mildly through the door as he approached, however. He had not thought of that raw sound as comforting until just then, he mused.
He quickly checked the news. He had noticed that there had been no alert for him the past two jumps, and that was a comfort. He was hungry now, and picked out a meal that sounded bad, and heated it in his room. For all the wear, the Pride was still better appointed than the Mahid or even the A had been. Things were fixed or added in an ad hoc fashion, but they were fixed well.
He ate the warm casserole of what he guessed was seafood of a very different sea. It was odd. Good. He blessed Chandler’s once again, and thought of her. He was thinking of her less and less. He showered, and donned his suit. At two minutes to go, he entered the passenger commons and Drew was standing there with two others.
“This is Eddie and Brewster,” he said. Each was wearing what appeared to be combat armor with an EVA pack on. Gerry was a little taken aback, but shook their hands.
“I'm just paying for the one, right?” Gerry asked, only partly in jest.
“This lump of dung did not try to imply he was capable of independent action did he?” Eddie asked Gerry, pointing to Drew with the last two fingers that military men sometimes used as a dismissive gesture.
“Well, he did seem to.”
“They’re just bored, and we can all use the practice. Come on.” Drew smiled.
Gerry noticed that Eddie and Brewster also carried what appeared to be laser rifles, but whose bright blue reflective finish contrasted heavily with the mottled matte camouflage of their powerpacks. As they started towards the main airlock, Gerry remembered blue was a color used to designate training mock-ups, distinguishing them from their lethal counterparts. They re-entered the starport. The blast doors of the corridor were now watched by a dour-looking, very short man, whose trim appearance contrasted starkly with everything else on the Pride. He was wearing pristine grey coveralls, and a grey gunbelt with a snub pistol, and what Gerry guessed was a pouch for tools. He had a comm collar on his throat, and rose from chair as soon as they came into view. “Misters Fynne, Joo… errr… Brewster, and Dreamscape. Good morning.” he said glancing quickly down to a datapad and back up after checking his notes.
Drew spoke for them, as seemed natural, “Hey, Second Officer Stadtkrug. The four of us will be entering a chartered Launch and performing EVA training at some distance from the Highport.” The small man listened intently, and Drew continued in an official-sounding tone, “We should be back on the Highport within two hours. In the mean time, you have our personal freqs. Arrangements have already been made, of course, but I would appreciate that no one outside the crew and any entitled authorities know our business. I implicitly trust your discretion.”
“Very well sir.” The small man nodded, and waited to sit down until they moved a dozen paces down the corridor and entered the lift to head down to the civilian boat level, the lowest deck.
“He is an efficient but officious little prick, Stadtkrug, but I have no beef with anyone who does his job well and takes himself seriously. Treat Stadtkrug as if he were a professional colleague and he is pleased and cooperative. That may well come in handy some day. Even if it does not, it’s still free.”
Eddie chimed in, “You have to respect one who remains the diligent professional in that ship of fools, any road.”
“May be just his way of staying sane,” Brewster wondered as they stepped off the lift onto the boat deck.
There were a collection of about 8 small cubes that looked like they had seen better days all piled in front of a full-sized cargo lock. It seemed overkill to use the cargo lock, which would fit a full 54 of them, and between the four of them they could have carried these through the regular hatches in a half a minute, but a man standing there in a worn, lime green vacc suit indicated them with a sweep of his somewhat stubby-looking arm, “These suitable, gentlemen?”
“Quite,” Drew replied.
“Stow the cubes in the hold,” the man spoke, and a small dolly slid out from behind him, and started to scoop them up.
Drew spoke to Gerry when they had strapped in, “These two yahoos are doing a bit of practice, with and without the launch. I will be chattering to them on our own freq and dealing with you on yours. No problem, but sometimes it may take be a few heartbeats before I come back up on your push. I will hear you, but just may sometimes delay responding. Don’t panic, and don’t repeat yourself unless I failed to answer for a good 10 or 15 seconds.”
“So, tell me what you know of EVA, and what you have done.”
Gerry told of never having made it even to the simulators on Baakh, of only having been actually outside in Zero-G once. Drew motioned him up, stepping back into the cargo area, “And you’re going to a mining colony.”
Gerry nodded, dropping his eyes.
“Alright, take it all off!”
Gerry was mentally taken aback by the request, but dropped into the innately comfortable, brisk routine of taking off the suit without resort to any conscious thought.
“Alright,” Drew said, closing the iris to the passenger area behind him when Gerry had gotten all off except his long suit. “There is an object in one of these small cubes, I want you to find it.”
Gerry hesitated, more from the strangeness of the request, then began opening the small cubes closest to him. As he was turned away from Drew, looking into the fifth such, he heard “Hull breach, suit up!!” in an amplified voice. He turned around, and saw Drew had his helmet on. There was a hissing sound, and he saw one of his gloves sliding across the deck. He bounded toward the main part of his suit, which was in the other direction, and started pulling it on. Suddenly, everything went a wrong. He was floating, and had inadvertently pushed off the deck while starting his body in a rotation forward towards it, even as it receded. He felt a thin nausea begin as snapped his helmet to. It had been tethered to the left hip of his suit, belter-fashion. He pulled the cuff constrictor on his left wrist, even as he put on his right glove. He went scuffling for his left glove, now floating against the forward bulkhead, and made it fast, having to push himself off the top of the cargo bay. Something was indeed wrong. He had hit the “pressurize” button on the chest of his suit, and was breathing free, but there was not indication that it was filling out, as in vacuum.
He was beginning to think that the breach must have been small indeed or already patched when Drew’s voice came across the comm, “Spankin’! That was 27 seconds. No landsman’s time, even under full gravity. We’re secure, laddie. Gravity coming back in 20 seconds.”
Gerry looked to Drew, now to his right rear, somewhere above him. His helmet was now off, and he was smiling. Gerry thought he was the butt of a joke, as he worked to get his legs under him.
“Well done.” Gerry did not feel like it was well-done, as he staggered from an off-balance position when the gravity returned more quickly than he would have liked. He felt like he had been humiliated for the man’s sport.
“No sign of panic or lack of familiarity with your suit. You are straight that you are no great shakes in zero-G, but you do know getting that suit on.”
Gerry nodded. This was not hazing or harassment, then, but a check on his training.
“You good?” Drew asked, in an almost conciliatory tone.
“Yeah. Scared me.”
“That was the intent, groundhog! You don’t get to run into a standing long jump. Training is what you have when your mind is elsewhere, or when there is no time to think about it!” Drew nodded, while bending to shut off the valve to an air tank that had caused the ominous hissing which had given the chilling realism to the mock bogus hull breach, while being directed so that the high pressure escaping air pushed the errant glove away across the deckplates. “If the training is there, though, it will move your body while your mind is crapping itself. It has to be that muscle memory for that, though. No ‘I saw it in a book,’ gorbiestuff, but the repetition of actual physical action. You have got that for donning and doffing, based on your cabin work. We are going to get that for unpowered zero-g, and then powered EVA.”
Gerry nodded, sitting on one of the small cubes that had come down somewhat askew after being kicked by him while flailing around with the gravity off.
“We’re on station,” came through his comm.
Eddie and Brewster had been out of sight for a while as Drew and Gerry worked in the open cargo bay. The other two mercs had taken the small cubes, connected into a couple of irregular shapes, as training aids, and left.
Though the nausea had abated, and was no longer much of a distraction, after the Z-pill, Gerry still felt strange. They left the cargo bay, and Drew had Gerry repeat some basic unpowered maneuvering without visual cues, having shut off all the lights. The nausea felt more real, but did not increase. The lights came back on, and Drew rigged a couple of light sticks on opposite corners of a small cube.
They began the thruster work slowly. It seemed almost familiar to Gerry, having seen the training holos so many times. There was a part of his mind to which these were familiar, but like one pronouncing a word for the first time he has often read but neither heard nor spoken, there was still a profound awkwardness. They worked for a while, and Gerry could feel himself sweating, despite the suit’s internal climate control.
After what seemed quite a long time, building, bending, and breaking down vectors to and from the small cube and the launch, Drew gave him a much farther leg to do, in a strange direction, “Fast as you can.” The suit’s inertial guidance system said it was 120 kilometers, and as he shot in that direction, following a reticle in his faceplate, he watched the distance while maxing out his acceleration. The pressure in his thighs from the tightening of the suit kept his head clear enough from the effects of the acceleration, and he watched the range tick down to 70 kilometers, at which point he said “compute deceleration,” stopped the rockets on his back, and flipped over, about 180 degrees. It had seemed like a long time, but he realized it had only been over a minute of burn. He had 12 seconds to start his burn, but began it in just over 6. He adjusted his attitude to match that proposed by the suitcomp as he came in; by the time he had the actual reticle centered in the proposed he was only 12 kilometers off, and had only a few seconds to burn. He stopped the burn at the safety line, taking his velocity down to around 50 meters per second, just inside 800 meters. Then bled it of to 10, then 7. He hit his proximity lidar, and saw three objects still below him. It seemed the little computer in the suit wanted him to go towards the center, so he settled down to 1 meter per second, then turned to pneumatics, and settled down towards the small platform of small cubes, now illuminated by his suit lights.
“Bravo!” he heard Drew say, “But how much jump juice you have left?”
Gerry panicked, as he had not been watching that, nor had he made a calculation before setting out.
“I have 17 seconds full burn left. That’s not enough to get back!!” his voice cracked.
“Close your eyes, go to your ruttin’ happy place, and work the problem, grounghog,” Drew’s voice chided. Gerry could hear Drew’s soft sneer, though he had opaqued the faceplate on his helmet.
Gerry did so. He started a quick prayer, and opened his eyes. He had 492 minutes of air left by one gauge. The other, “immediate rate” rose from 408 to 421 to 434 as his breathing settled down. “Goober!” he said out loud to himself. “I burn half of that, and coast, I can get there in minutes.”
“Well, yes. I want you to keep all that 12 seconds jump juice as a reserve, though. What are you going to do?” Drew answered, though Gerry had just been talking aloud to himself.
“Do you have enough?”
Gerry had to do some scratching, and to leave himself with 60 minutes of reserve air he could just barely make it, in an hour and a half. He discussed this with Drew, who then set him another spot to return to on a two second burn, and then pneumatics for deceleration.
“Keep some jump juice and your air. Jump out fast with the burn, then do the deceleration with the air. The closer you get, the less you need the air, and the pneumatics are better for fine maneuvering.”
Gerry followed this, and about 200 meters from the launch, which was at the new rendezvous point set by Drew, the small craft started to pull out away from them. “Catch it!!”
There was no time for the computer and no need. Gerry shot off toward the launch, and a converging vector. He had more acceleration than it did, but needed to match vectors with it. In 10 seconds he reached it, bumped off, settled in with a blast from his thrusters, and switching to pneumatics, he grabbed the rail before the crew air lock, hit the stud without thinking, and swung inside, where .5g slammed him to the deck. Three more bodies piled on top of him, and Drew barked, “Endex!” The airlock cycled green, and the inside iris opened to them fairly tumbling out. “Take us back to port there, pilot.”
“You got it. ETA 4 minutes.”
Gerry was ecstatic. He had used his suit to shoot around in the black, while keeping panic from overwhelming him. He had a certain basic competence, and had apparently passed Drew’s last couple of tests.
The three men slung their EVA rigs on the deck behind the seats, and Eddie pulled a few small bottles out of a thigh pocket. They were beers, and he handed them out to the others. Gerry drank feeling like he was in a man’s world.
“Hundred and fifty cruds, youngster.”
“I've got two hundred credit with Patsy?” Gerry offered, in an alomost giddy tone.
“Barter, eh? No, she could be my daughter. Ship’s whores are an ugly business anyway,” Drew replied, half chiding and half amused, “Plus I come out to the black to make money, not spend it.”
Gerry fished into the small inner thigh pocket of his suit meant for valuables, and pulled out the disks and paper.
“That said, these apes’ training shouldn’t be on your dime, even though that was agreed.” Drew handed back a twenty and a ten. Gerry nodded.
“So you think I passed?”
“No time for retraining, so I’d lie and say you had even if you hadn’t,” Drew smiled, “but you did fine. The books, or whatever you have used must have helped a bit, and you know enough not to hurt yourself, long as you retain a healthy fear. Always remember that the black wants to kill you.” They docked on the boat dock of Guarda highport again, but on a passenger-only stem. Drew quietly called Stadtkrug to let him know they were back on the highport.
Swinging by Chandler’s of Guarda they switched out their air bottles. Drew had said, “They should be able to do that aboard ship, but I trust Chandler’s more, and I do not relish having that little pink git trying to peddle her wares while I am trying to get my damned air.”
Gerry noted with no little irony that the sales staff here was all female, and dressed somewhat less modestly than the ‘little pink git’ had been. Chandler’s of Guarda was a largely utilitarian establishment, however, lacking a lot of the luxury goods for passengers and tourists. The selection of utilitarian equipment and provisions was on the other hand if anything greater. There were also lots of trinkets for workers to take back home to families, while returning with largely intact paychecks. The really important business was the parts desk, worked by two young women who looked to be twins, and dressed the part. Automated inventory distribution systems had virtually every part for dozens of makes and models of vacc suits and their accessories. The selections of rations was similarly quite impressive. The sales staff, despite their distracting display of flesh were also very competent.
Gerry realized that this was the last chance to stock up, as New Konigsberg was their next destination. He thought about some kind of weapon. He had been trained to use a shotgun by the Guides, busting clay pigeons. He was strictly a novice, though, and it had been a couple of years ago. He asked Drew, who looked at him seriously, then softened, with a wink, “You going to cap your old man then?”
“No,” Gerry smiled, “I just do not know what I will find when I get there.”
“Scattergun’s a great choice for dirtside for one not licensed, like you: Least skill required, least legal restrictions. In the black, it has more issues. You are best with a gyro barrel and gyro rounds, but they’re often illegal even in places where the gun isn’t. When you need it, it is likely to be in a damned duffle bag. On a starship, it will be locked up. Plus shooting people is not like busting flying ashtrays. Unfortunately, I know this. But…you buy a training barrel for it, and I’ll help you out, for half my normal rate,” Drew finished, his voice softening again, “Low recoil rounds are a good, cheap compromise for it.”
Gerry noticed this recurring pattern in Drew’s speech: conflict then co-opt. He wandered over to the arms displays. He realized that he was underage for Imperial space anyway, and moved back to the Everfresh sandwiches. He bought another twenty of the ubiquitous silver packages, a used tank rack for his vaccsuit, and a small zero-g mug in a yellow ceramic showing the Guarda Highport, with a sign labelling it with Guarda crossed off, and New Konigsberg written beneath, crossed off, with Egran and Kishimaa likewise appended. The local joke was clear enough, for while the mining arm of the Ohasset Main was said to end with New Konigsberg, the Main continued on for three more jumps before the next proper High Port was to be had.
Jerry had had weeks to study up on this backwater. He knew well that New Konigsberg Starport itself had only a few pressure domes on its small rockball of a main world, and there was little better for ports until three jumps later, on Landing, which was itself really just a starport—in an otherwise undeveloped system—to support the needs of the branching trade. There the Main continued to a new group of more backward worlds, and the Xboat route intersected it. Guarda and Landing were thus the only two Imperial starports of note for a cluster of seven other worlds on the Main.
Gerry noted they had only five hours left, then remembered Mass. He felt guilty for not thinking about it before in this system, and indeed the others they had stopped in. He took his leave of Drew with an unceremonious wave, and asked the fetching attendant checking him out about a chapel. She smiled widely, and circled it on a small hard copy map, while writing what he assumed was her name and number on the bottom, “Rosie.” He grabbed the SmallSoft, nodded, and hurried off. The chapel was just below the government deck, and he checked the board outside; he was still loath to turn on his handcomp in a starport.
The board showed that a service of some sort was going on that he did not recognize, but that confession and daily mass were to be held in three hours and some minutes. He trundled back to his ship, wondering who this Fr. Melvin Bowie, SMOSM, was, doing the Catholic service. He knew the initials signified a religious order, but was never good with remembering even the most common ones, and this was not a common one. He went back to the Pride, doffed and stowed his suit. The mound was still making his reverberant ruckus, so Gerry again showered quickly, put some clean clothes on and went to sit in the lounge again. There was a pair there at the sapphire-topped table, apparently father and son. The son was slouching while the father was rattling off facts and maxims to him about interstellar trade. While the boy, probably Gerry’s age, was obviously disinterested, he nonetheless listened somewhat deferentially, bobbing his head from time to time. They had listened like that to Gunny sometimes, as he told them the the basics of something particularly unglamorous, like field hygiene. They would sulk, and kick bits of bark with bored, booted feet. At some level, though, they were picking it up, or at least some of it.
Gunny was someone else’s father, though, as was this man. He thought about his own father: Never a visit, a message, nor even 10 cruds for Christmas. His father certainly had the 10 cruds if he had enough for all these tickets. “Enough for Eve!” Gerry stewed; if she was real, a girl like that did not go out into the black to live with a poor man he thought.
His father had not been around to bore him with hot air. He thought of his friends that hated their parents; even they were lucky to have someone to hate. Billy’s old man was an occasional drunk, and kept getting fired from jobs for laying out drunk after payday. Sometimes he hit Billy, who said he despised his father. He took Billy fishing, and was a very kind man when sober; he sung in their choir, and worked hard on their old groundcar, showing Billy how to fix and maintain it. Billy knew his father, and learned from him, even though he said he did not respect him. There was much to despise, but there was something to admire, as well. At least he was there.
He wandered back to the chapel, doing his “examination of conscience” as he walked. He had a lot to confess. He thought briefly of the map, and Rosie’s number. He thought she was probably a prostitute, but he felt an urge to call anyway. He crumpled the map, and tossed it towards a trash bin that looked like it had been left open in the process of being emptied, then abandoned. Much about Guarda Highport had the look of being highly functional, but slightly disheveled.
He had not been to mass when he could have, had not even thought of his weekly obligation at Lirshe or Baakh. Well, he could not have likely had anyway to stop for mass in Baakh, but he had not even thought to try. The good officers would likely not have let him delay for it, but regardless, he could have asked. More significantly, he could probably have attended twelve times over in Nundis Highport.
He thought of his lust for the Purser Alice and others. Most significantly, he thought of running away. Auntie was not his parent by blood or adoption, but she had cared for him and loved him in her own stiff, desiccated fashion. He had decided to follow his father’s wishes, itself a justifiable choice, but he had done so in his own way. He could have given her word earlier, even if it increased the chance that he would be caught. He could have stood on the power of his parental order vouchers, all be they forgeries, and trusted to God, sending word from Nundis that he was alright. He could have left word on Griik Maeii Highport: a simple hardcopy note, in the local mail. He had not, though, because he was scared. He remembered someone having said, “The real enemy of Love is not hate but fear.” He wished he could remember who.
He had not loved her as he should, the dry old bitch. No, she was not the parents he wanted, or even the warmer caregiver he would have hoped for. Gunny had more of the motherly in him than Auntie did, but he was called to love her, to be kind, and he had not.
There was a line at the confessional. He saw battered men, probably miners, and a family of four. He looked at his watch. The line moved rather quickly, making him wonder whether this was going to be a whitewash, like those of that visiting pastor when Father K-O’M was on vacation; but those coming out looked different. He had been to confession often enough, but this was different. His turn. He spoke halting, then fast. The questions were quick, insightful, and often monosyllabic, “Touch?”
Past his lust, his missed masses, he told of his running away. He dreaded the hearing in the penance that he would have to go back.
“You dread me telling you to let her know?”
“For your penance, you will pray for your Aunt, with the intention of doing so daily. You will write her, and give the note to me. The Lord will tell me when to send it. The sin is in taking it into your own hands, in not trusting Him. And the number on the part wrapper of that poor young woman: pray for her and get rid of it. The near occasions of sin are swirling about you like a whirlwind. Pray for Eve, and pray for discernment about how to approach her. It is a trap of some sort, clearly, though it is likely not what you might think. Like our Lord, sometimes we must go into the trap, with a prayer on our lips.
“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Go in peace my son. Your trainer has bought you the shotgun; use it wisely.”
Gerry was a spectator within his own heaving form, drenched in sweat, leaving the little closet in which he had been with the aged Hospitaller father, vestments over worn combat armor. An anachronistic warrior who stood out even here, in the bizarrest of settings. He knew the cross in the corner carried the Father’s sword inside, and the divots visible on the armor were had in combat, likely from slug throwers. He waited for mass, a quick one, but nonetheless intense for its brevity.
He remembered a line from some literature about the order that was repeated in the Mass, as some sort of antiphon, “Cry if you must kill, pray over it, but let not the lost sheep be devoured. Let your own blood be spilled to save them, and trust in the Lord.”
The Eucharistic prayers flowed with a staccato cadence that belied the tearful reverence that Father Bowie exuded. The near orgiastic fervor with with he raised the host seemed to infect the small gathering. Gerry was returning to his seat when the Hospitaller standing by the rear door, a white surplice over his black combat armor, leaned in and whispered, “Return to your ship, gentlemen; they are waiting.” Only then did Gerry realize that Eddie was right behind him. They jogged down the hall to the lift, and sprinted for the docking tube.
“Only coin you’re getting from me, girl. Thanks!” Eddie said, flipping the waiting Patsy a disk, as she stood by the bulkhead doors with a pained expression on her face.
“They’re in! Dicks the size of yorda nuts… but they’re both in!” she shrilled into a com on her collar and the doors slammed behind them with a blessed finality.