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Drop Out

This part originally appeared in the July 2012 issue.

Part 17

The pair of huge Sleds approached to within about two meters of Tam and one another before setting down, unnerving the little brunette.

“You out of your fucking minds, parking so close!?” she yelled up at the drivers, as she vacated the crate she’d been sitting on, and tossed a half full Eryth Cola she’d been sipping at one of the drivers, missing him, but spraying the sticky mess all across his glassteel windshield.

A man riding in the cab next to the driver motioned with his hands for her to take it easy, then he stepped down from the cab, dressed in the orange and brown livery of the Port Director’s Guard.

“I apologize if you’ve been startled, ma’am” he said, removing his Corinth-style helmet, and smiling at her. “Sometimes women have a difficult time handling something so large.”

Oh brother! Tam thought, this sort of conversation could easily turn into a long string of double entendres. If I let it… Guess I’ll have to shut down this swaggering jerk! Kinda cute though…

“And your business here?” she asked, taking a drag on her C&J.

The Guard tapped his forearm-mounted data pad for emphasis, “Cargo delivery for the Chicken and Waffles.” he said.

“Oh, well in that case, you are most welcome.” she said, standing and bowing before sitting down on the crate once more.

“So you would be Captain Fyyg then, Miss?”

“Hardly…” Tam answered, laughing and flicking the cigarette butt out to bounce off the side of the massive Sled to her right. “But I can still sign for the shipment, even if I’m not the Captain, Mister…?” she said, pulling a stylus from behind her left ear.

“de la Crioux, Ma’am.” he answered. Stepping forward, he held the data pad steady. “Bottom of the document, Miss…?”

“Murmisagli.” she answered after signing the electronic document. The Guard looked at the sig, trying to see if he was able to read ‘Murmisagli’ out of the tight scrawl the brunette had provided.

Clapping the Guard on the shoulder, Tam told him, “Just put it in there.” as she thumbed toward the inside of the opened cargo hold. “Crew’s out on Liberty.” she explained.

The Sled drivers bitched, but not too much longer after complaining to de la Crioux, who offered them a choice between their cushy Sled driving jobs and working in the mines, they’d offloaded the heavy pallets using their Pallet Masters and quickly maneuvered them inside the Waffles’ empty cargo space.

Captain Fyyg had been on the bridge, and was reviewing the document within moments of Tam signing it. Satisfied with it, he left the bridge and went to do some thinking.

Sitting at the desk in his office, staring at the frosted glass in the door a few meters away, he sipped the last shot he’d ever have from the thirty-two-year-old bottle of Newton & McCenna single-malt Scotch that he’d had in a drawer for the last twelve years as the Chicken and Waffles’ Master.

Setting the shot glass down still half full, he put the bottle back into its battered rectangle of a box and wrote on a small card to go with the bottle:

Friend Hobson,

I am grateful for the trust you’ve put in my crew and myself, and will, of course, save a Patron’s Share of the profits for you.

Enclosed you’ll find a bottle which I’ve found comfort in during both good times and bad (Here’s to good times!), and I hope you will enjoy it!

Your Friend in Commerce,


Finally finished wrapping the box, Fyyg summoned a trio of his available crew to deliver the package to Port Director Hobson’s Office. Ilsa Frielander once again wore her dress whites that showed off her perfect mahogany legs, and had her needle pistol in a holster on her right hip. Dave Trajillo was in his dress uniform, didn’t appear to be armed, and carried the wrapped box with the reverence of a scepter at some coronation. Tam, dressing for trouble, wore a trio of pistols one could easily see; a pair of needlers in a cross-draw rig, and a laser pistol in a quick-draw holster low on her left hip. She also had a concealed, four-shot magnum in a holster at the back of her belt. Tam Murmisagli, as it turned out, was a very good shot; possibly the best aboard the Waffles; having been taught back when she was still a kid, by her Uncle Tiger.

“A cross-draw rig, Tam? Do you not think it a little much, girl?” asked Number Two.

“A little much?” Tam asked back. “I don’t know this little world. Just because the Port Director is apparently a chummy type makes no never mind to me, sweetie.” She checked one of the needlers and put it back. “The Port Director is in his office, with a cordon of liverymen. According to the ship’s Library program, this little world we’re tromping on is a hardscrabble frontier installation with a mine that uses conscript labor, amongst other things. I don’t see it as a very nice place.

“Why, we could get jacked up at the next corner here…”

And rounding the next corner, the group ran smack into a small group of armed toughs. Looking at the manner in which the leader was dressed, it was obvious he was from Caruthers.

“Ladies,” the leader began, bowing with a flourish, and ignoring Dave in his address, but not when it came to covering him.

“Traveling the neighborhood here after dark can be a trip fraught with danger, m’lovlies…” he smirked, “An escort, methinks, is what you’ll be needing this night, and I’ll not hear a word agin’ it!.”

“And how much will this protection cost, Mr…?” Ilsa asked.

“Peachtree. Obadiah Peachtree as ever was, darlin’!” the thug answered, pulling his cutlass a few centimeters from its scabbard to show he meant business. “So it’s a deal we haves then.” the leader decided. “Two thooosands when we gets you to your destination, then, pretty pollies!” Peachtree decided.

“Mr. Peachtree, as thoughtful as your offer of protection is, I’m afraid we’ll have to pass, as we have no two thooosand anything. Now please, make way, sir!” Ilsa tried reasoning. “Accosting women on a street corner seems most unseemly…”

“Boys!” Peachtree said, and his gang suddenly bristled, wicked-looking bludgeons and swords swinging free, a variety of pistols ready to be drawn, or had already been drawn. Passers-by stopped to watch the melee.

Breathing slow and even like her uncle taught her, everything seemed to slow down for Tam as she pulled first the right pistol from her cross-draw rig, then the left; firing a burst into a thug who’d already drawn a heavy snub pistol, and a second into an individual near Number Two armed with a length of pipe wrapped in barbed wire. They might have been statues for all the difficulty Tam had. A third burst, and a thug trying to draw his LeMat went down sans arm.

As a thug raised his homemade shotgun toward Dave, Trajillo went back, almost flattening himself against the ground as the gun fired over him and missed. Springing back, he leapt up and did a spin kick that struck the gangster a savage blow to the face, knocking him senseless.

Freilander fired her needler on automatic, sending a shower of darts into a pair of Peachtree’s remaining gang, until there remained only the leader.

Drawing a cutlass, he came at Ilsa, who blocked his mid-leg chop with her now-broken pistol.

Quickly drawing her own cutlass, Ilsa countered, with the thug parrying wildly. Ilsa’s blade was deflected away from his throat as she stomped his instep.

Peachtree’s riposte bound Ilsa’s blade for a moment and the thug’s momentum pushed her blade downward, leaving her unprotected. In that second, the limping hood grabbed a long knife and laid open the dark woman’s forearm and wrist, but missed slicing any tendons.

Ilsa thrust upward from below, the wide blade catching his off-hand holding the long knife and taking off two fingers, the thug dropping the blade to the ground.

They circled and attacked and parried, using power and light poles, and even an illegally-parked grav car as a shield. Having a few centimeters’ reach over the shorter Caruthersian, Ilsa pressed her attack, driving her shorter opponent back until he twisted his foot in a drain cover and went down clumsily, her blade laying open his scalp on the way down.

“Hold now! Hold! You’ve bested me! Plain as plain to see, darlin’. I surrenders.” Peachtree admitted, as he wiped blood away from his eyes before eventually tying a kerchief around his head. Sitting there on the cobblestones, the wounded thug was fiddling with a knee.

“Get your winding-sheets, Peachtree.” said Ilsa, as she cleaned and re-sheathed her cutlass.

Peachtree was staunching the flow of blood from having lost two fingers with another kerchief, carefully dropping the missing digits into a coat pocket for later medical treatment.

“Everyone all right?” Freilander asked her companions. “Alright then, lets get out of here and complete our mission.”

Reaching into the top of his boot, Peachtree pulled a heavy derringer. “Before we parts company, I haves a little something for ya, darlin’!” the gangster said, smiling.

Tam watched as the little guy pulled a pistol free of his boot. Before he even knew he was dead, she’d fired with both needlers; the burst from one sawing his gunhand off, and the other unzipping him from shoulder to hip in an explosion of gore.

“Here,” Tam said, “Lemme get this.” as she pried the derringer from the severed hand as delicately as if she were picking a flower. Taking a kerchief of her own, she wiped down her new possession before tucking it away.

As the trio continued down the block, Tam said, “See? I told you this place could be dangerous,” as they walked past a pair of liveried officers.

“’Ere now. Where do you think you’re going?” one of the officers asked Frielander, noting the wound and blood.

“We were trying to make a delivery to Port Director Hobson when we were waylaid by bandits no more than a block past, Officer.” Ilsa said, winding a kerchief around her wound and cursing the blood spattered on her dress whites.

“And this package?” the other officer asked.

“Of a personal nature, and unknown to us.” replied Dave.

“The Port Director you say?” the first officer asked. “Well maybe we can get you folks there more directly.” he told Ilsa before getting on the comm and calling for a wagon.

Within about fifteen minutes a large, boxy grav sled arrived at their location, blaring lights and sirens to clear the spot on the ground.

“Now the Helot here isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but it’ll get you going where you need to go at a nice clip.” He rapped on the thick armored side twice and the rear hatch started opening. “And of course, she’s armored, so no one should mess with you!”

As the Sled rose, and the rear hatch was closing, the officer on the ground yelled up at them “Welcome to Nordic Prime!” and laughed.

Within a few minutes the Helot touched down in the same courtyard in which the pirates had been executed previously. One of the liveried officers led the crewmembers through a confusing warren of small streets until they were standing at the building holding the Port Director’s Office.

Hobson, a friendly fellow, was especially happy to see the beautiful Ilsa Frielander once more, though not in such a shocking state. Fawning over her wound, he said “No, this will just not do!”

Looking about, he spied the functionary he sought. “Dellroy! Fetch my personal surgeon, and be quick about it, would you?” he almost snapped.

Dellroy bowed and ran off, returning in a few minutes with Hobson’s personal physician.

The Doctor introduced itself as ‘Doctor Isenburg’, multiple limbs moving to grasp shoulders and shake hands with the contingent from the Waffles. His finish was a metallic green, and his shoulders were narrow and his neck overlong, supporting a block of a head with a ring of visual sensors.

“Your arm, my dear.” he said smoothly as he embraced the injured limb in a pair of arms, disinfecting the wound with a third, and a pair of smaller ones providing the medical sealant.

“And how did you come to injure yourself?” he asked as he worked.

“Knife fight with gangsters.” Ilsa replied.

“Oh my… Did you know that eleven point seven percent of all homicides are caused by edged weapons?” And suddenly he was done. “There. That wasn’t so bad, you must admit,” the robotic Doctor said as he cleaned all of his limbs at once in a fog of disinfectant that made Tam wheeze and cough.

“Thank you for allowing me to serve you.” The Autodoc said before turning to walk away on his three legs.

“Oh my!” Ilsa said, looking at the hairline scar left behind by the Doctor. “Fine work!”

“Of course, the work is quite fresh.” Hobson said, “Within a few days you’ll not be able to tell you’d even been cut.”

“A most wondrous device, and that is to be sure, Director Hobson.” she said, rubbing her arm.

“And quite the bedside manner,” Tam laughed, thinking on her last interaction with Doctor Billings, and saying, “That’s for sure!”

Leaving the package with the Port Director, the trio from the Waffles soon found themselves back at Launch Bay Zero One; the Helot which had brought them quickly becoming a speck high above.

Watching the vehicle vanish, Dave rubbed his shoulder, sore from maneuvering, saying “Me, I can’t wait to get off this rock…”

Sitting behind the desk of his small office, Port Director Walter Hobson opened the package, finding the battered Scotch box inside. Taking the bottle Walter poured himself a shot, neat, and sipped it; enjoying it all the more knowing it was Twenty-Credits-a-Shot Scotch, and had obviously been one of Fyyg’s prized possessions

Lying in bed, half-wrapped in a sheet, Ilsa lay there, smiling sweetly as Nordel looked at the arm she’d had damaged by the knife. “Well, the Port Director was right, Ilsa, there’s no scar at all.”

“We would be fools not to make use of it, Nordel!” she said , “For Kalifra.”

“No.” the Captain answered. “We’re already under this Hobson’s thumb by accepting his cargo, baby. Sure this RobotDoc could set Kalifra up right nice, but at what cost?”

“But Kalifra’s not just anybody, Figgy. She was with the Waffles long before you’d ever come aboard.”

“Aye,” the Captain answered. “But we can find the big dyke the help she needs on Heimdall.”

“As you probably already know,” Nordel said, “Heimdall is a computer and software giant, my sweet.”

“Of course.” Ilsa replied, pouting at the thought that maybe the Captain told her like she didn’t know her stuff.

“And were you aware that one of their subsidiaries also produce robots?” he asked.

“Makes sense, really, but no…” the mahogany woman said as she kissed across his chest.

“NorthStar Systems has a contract for all the robots for the Navy. That AutoDoc you encountered is Navy issue or Navy surplus; one of the two. And…” Nordell trailed off as he kissed down Ilsa’s stomach.

“And Northstar is Heimdall!” Ilsa said.

“Yes!” Nordell answered, happily as he went back to kissing along her inner thigh.

“And we’ll use our cut of the cargo shipment to get our own AutoDoc straight from the source!” Ilsa suddenly concluded.

After the tale of the fight had been told several times, Dave got cleaned up, then went to the same room at the Terminal he’d been in previously. He dutifully prepared the coffee, got out the free packs of smokes and stim stix, and the pile of Big Books. Sitting there alone for awhile, he skimmed through the book, reading bits and pieces.

About a half hour into the meeting’s hour, a few miners showed; apologizing for being late.

Dave welcomed them with a handshake and coffee. No one particularly felt like chairing the meeting, so Dave volunteered. The subject, always one close to his heart, was Gratitude.

Dave was grateful for another day of sobriety, as always, and particularly grateful for having lived through the thugs’ attack earlier in the afternoon—which in turn made him keenly aware of his own mortality and the transitory nature of existence.

Sitting around one of the larger tables in the Crew’s Lounge, Ilsa was being called on to tell the tale again by the kitchen staff, Li’l Mary wanting every detail, the Captain and Number One having heard the thing first go round.

As Ilsa illuminated, Tam merely nodded “uh-huh.” several times during the narration as she knocked off a bottle of ‘Robot Steam’ Li’l Mary had squirreled away in her stash.

“And then he called on his boys, by heavens! And about a dozen thugs must have been there,” Freilander said. “And we’d have been in a sorry mess had Tam not been there. Moving like the proverbial greased lightning, Tam laid out three or four in the blink of an eye! I wager some of these fellows didn’t even know they were dead.”

“Muscle memory, hon’.” Tam replied, laughing. “It’s all muscle memory and adrenaline! I’m convinced anyone could have done the same is those circumstances.”

“Oh, bullshit!” Li’l Mary said, turning to her oven to retrieve a batch of cookies.

“Okay,” Tam added, “and eight years of ballet. But otherwise…”

At around thirty hours various crewmen started making their way back to the Waffles, many having had enough of shore leave, while others simply wanted top be back at the ship by the time the Last Call klaxon sounded.

At thirty four fifteen hours, Brodie came walking up, arm in arm with a big redhead and carrying a few sacks of groceries. Kissing and hugging her goodbye, promises were made about keeping such and such a date open, but they both knew it was unlikely.

The redhead got into a small motorized cab and disappeared.

Over the next couple of hours the habitual late comers showed, until only a single crewman was missing. There was no need to bet on who it might be, as it was always Thom Trajillo.

Thom had woken looking at stout wooden beams across the ceiling of the lock up where he was lying down. Looking to his left he could see the elaborate wrought-iron of his cell door.

These two facts alone made it clear that he was not aboard the Chicken and Waffles, locked up for some minor infraction incurred while no doubt drunk.

But as to where in the hell he was right now, Thom had no clue, aside from still being on Nordic Prime.

As Thom sat there, a man in brown and orange livery brought him a platter almost overflowing with local foodstuffs, “Eat up!” the Guard said.

Thom took the platter and plowed into the meal, needing no encouragement to eat after an all-nighter.

A few bites from finishing, Thom asked “So what’s the charge this time, Officer?” Thinking he might have busted up some joint, or gotten into a couple of fights. Something he or Captain Fyyg were always able to throw money at as a solution.

“Murder. Three counts.” the Guard said, “As well as several counts of assault.”

Thom threw up his huge breakfast.

With lift off time fast approaching, First Officer Hertzog went to the Terminal looking for safe, pre-generated flight plans from Nordic Prime to Heimdall. Finding several to choose from, Milo bought the one with the purported least time for Crossing. Taking the nondescript little chip, he returned to the ship.

At the thirty six hour mark, the deep, quad-tones of the ship’s Last Call klaxon went off for five minutes, then was silent for five minutes before sounding again; the klaxon going like this for an hour.

At the end of the hour, Captain Fyyg stood at the airlock hatch near the bridge, looking out on Nordic Prime. With a sigh of regret he closed the hatch and informed First Officer Hertzog, “Okay Milo, All aboard. Lets get out of here…”

The big, grimy mass of the Chicken and Waffles rose into the sky, straight up until at a point specified by System Control for Outbound traffic.

Advancing out to beyond .7 AUs, the Transition Drive was engaged, causing the Chief Engineer to vomit into a trash can; almost blind with pain as the Waffles entered Transit Space.

The Waffles would be riding light this trip—no passengers—since their cargo would more than make up the cost of a few empty staterooms.

The following day, Thom was offered a bowl of broth, which he turned down. Later he was manacled and taken at gunpoint before the Port Director. Wiping his sweating bald head with a kerchief, Director Hobson looked in a not very forgiving mood.

Reading over the case, he seemed to get more and more angry, until finally he spoke.

“Mr. Trajillo, according to this, you visited one of our Bawdy Houses, of which we have many,” he said, an obvious air of pride in the statement. “You apparently beat a girl after visiting with her, and beat up the house bouncers.” he and Thom both smiled, familiar with the excesses of Spacers.

“When the Madame, a he/she came to intercede, you threw him out of a third story window; killing him. Now I went to school with Antonio, and he was an alright guy,” Hobson said.

“And if that weren’t enough, when Port Officers came to apprehend you, you managed to disarm one and shoot them both—one dead.”

“I don’t remember anything…” Thom said, bewildered.

Shaking his head, the Port Director asked “Do you know what we do with rabid dogs, Mr. Trajillo?”

“You put them down,” Thom answered.

Within an hour, Thom Trajillo’s body was swinging on a gibbet outside the Terminal building.