Date: 166-993 to 169-993 Imperial.
Location: Miip system (0819), mainworld.
They slept in the village hall the next night, on straw mattresses with homespun wool bedding. Fish made some quip about bearskins, but he made it quietly. The next morning they said their goodbyes and headed off. Three Ursa waited at the edge of the village to see them off – Thomas, Turmeigh and Yvonne. Yvonne hugged all of them, bending their ribcages to show how grateful she was.
The walk back to the "starport" village of Arodu was muddy but pleasant enough, and mostly downhill. They dropped in at the village to say goodbye, and Garren the "starport manager" told them there was "some ground-pounder" waiting at their ship, hoping to work or buy passage off world.
"You mean surface army?" asked Sir David, eyeing the marine scabbard and cutlass hanging from Garren's belt.
"You're an ex-marine then?" he gestured to the cutlass.
"Me? I never served. No, it's my daughters. Her enlisted marine's cutlass. She was commissioned last year, so she sent it to me. She has an Officer's Cutlass now." He seemed to swell with pride as he said the word "officer".
"Congratulations" said Sir David. "Well, I suppose we'd better have a look at this fellow then. Thanks for your help, and your efficiency with the records sir." He gave a formal nod and turned away.
The ground pounder was waiting by Avarice Rewarded's port airlock, alongside a small kitbag and a gun case. He was doing push-ups and clapping. Lots of them, in 1.125g. When he heard the scrape of walking boot on gravel, he threw himself up to the vertical and began to walk forward.
"Good morning. I'm Maelcum Rivers, lately Major Rivers of the planetary army on Liar's Oath. I was hoping you might give me a ride off Miip." He smiled, and started to offer a hand.
The man looked about thirty, dark-skinned, about average height and build, with yellow eyes and short frizzy black hair. He looked very fit. He was wearing sensible outdoor clothes.
Sir David leaned forward and shook hands. "David Shetland, lately of the scouts. I'm the owner, cook and bottle washer of the Avarice Rewarded. This is Silea Crossflow, our pilot, and Doctor Luan Derhayenne who's the medico and broker. That's 'the Fish', we found him in engineering. He seems to like it there." Fish nodded. "So, what brought you here? And where do you want to go?"
"Well, to cut a long story short a woman brought me here. Then she told me where to go, which was 'anywhere else'. I suppose I'd like to get to Sentry eventually and look for work, if I don't find something along the way. But I'll go wherever you're going rather than wait a few months for the next ship."
"We just came from Sentry, I'm afraid. We won't be back there for another four or five jumps. But if Fonnein Orbital at 069-526 is any good to you, we can sell you passage. Lots of small ships pass through there for refit, you'll be able to pick up a ship bound for Sentry soon enough. What sort of ride did you want?"
"Well, I'd like low passage if you have the facilities?" Sir David nodded, and Maelcum continued "But I was... sort of hoping you might want someone to work passage, perhaps for a while."
"Oh, what do you do?"
"Well I don't suppose you need anyone to command a company of hostile environment troops on counter-insurgency operations? Or a sniper? Or a consultant on working in dangerous atmospheric conditions?" He grinned a bit. "OK, I lift things and clean things. And I cook as only the army knows how."
"Actually..." said Sir David, "It just so happens I could do with picking somebody's brains about working in dangerous gases. Come aboard. You've got yourself a ride at room temperature."
"Is army cooking better than scout cooking?" asked the Fish.
Maelcum picked up his kit bag and gun case, and they filed aboard the ship. Silea paused by the hatch and turned to Luan. "We have to get the long version of the story about the woman."
Soon they were aloft and heading out to the jump point. Maelcum's gun case – holding a downright gorgeous sporting rifle with hand-crafted woodwork and a high tech HUD-linked sight – went in the locker. His other gear went in cabin 4, while he went into the hold to help Fish pump their spare fuel from the blisters to the jump tanks.
A few hours later they were in jump space. With no passengers, they settled down to an easy routine. A couple of days into jump, Sir David gathered the regular crew and broached the subject they'd all been thinking about.
He asked them if they'd be interested in mounting a salvage operation on the abandoned Vraidercalt once their charter was over, assuming they could perform it in Avarice Rewarded. He proposed that fifty percent of the profit (or all of the loss) went to the ship's accounts, with the other fifty split evenly between the people involved. If the salvage was beyond them, they'd try to sell their information for a finder's fee instead.
Fish jumped at it, mumbling something about "saving up". Silea and Luan said they were in if the risks looked reasonable.
Maelcum worked over the hostile environment suits they'd taken off Malfeasant, and taught the Avaricious a thing or two about working in poisonous gas. His cooking was... different from scout cooking. They liked him.
Sir David thought for a bit, and offered him working passage as ship's security officer until they reached Sentry or he got a better offer. He was also invited to join in a salvage operation in a hostile atmosphere after that. Maelcum accepted both offers. He expected to end up in a mercenary outfit eventually, but he was quite happy to have a break from the military life.