The Astoundingly True Tale of Josť Fabuloso
This chapter appeared in the January/February 2023 issue.
Josť Fabuloso watched as the level of his beer sank in parallel to the stack of silver bills on the table before him. He took another swig of the flat synthetic brew and let the pretty dancer pluck the note from his outstretched hand with her breasts. He savored the fact that in the dissolving chaos that his life had become, he could exert control over at least one thing.
Squirrel danced her heart out on the poor excuse of a stage, obsessively focused on her customer and oblivious to the raising tenor of the newscasts competing with her tinny burlesque music. Her patron was not tipping well, but he was tipping consistently. She had made as much off him tonight as in the previous sorry week and she was determined to get every last silver talent from his stack.
With an air of triumph Josť downed the last froth in his tankard as Squirrel plucked the last bill from his hand with her teeth. “I’m finished,” he proclaimed.
“Oh, baby, I’m just starting!” said Squirrel with as much disappointment as she could muster. A slight tremor went through the decking. “I can get you an advance on any credit card. I have so many more moves to show you!”
Josť laughed till he cried which didn’t take very long. “OK, pretty dancer. Why not? I am finished anyway.” He handed over his credit chit and put his head in his hands.
Squirrel bounced over to the barkeep, who was entranced by the newscasts. “Can you pull a hundred silver off of this? I’ve got a great customer!” He looked at her incredulously but swiped the chit and handed over a stack of bills from the register. Neither noticed the blinking warning light. She bounced back, put another mug of froth and the stack of bills in front of him. “Why don’t I just hang on to this in case you need more?” Josť focused blearily on the credit chit, and then shrugged. With renewed energy Squirrel swung back onto the pole on the stage.
Josť saw her, as if for the first time. He already had the hangman’s noose around his neck and running that credit chit was like jumping. If you are going to swing, you might as well enjoy the view. She was cuter than the beer accounted for. You didn’t get classy strippers in a dockside swill house like this. She wasn’t old and burned out, nor obviously too young for legitimate work. But she was short. That must be why she wasn’t on the High Street. In this cramped setting it wasn’t very obvious. But Josť liked short women so he kept feeding her bills.
His enjoyment was cut short when he was roughly dragged from his chair by his jacket. He closed his eyes hoping his death would be quick and painless. What he got was a rough slap to the face. “Damn it, Josť. What in Loki’s checkbook are you doing here swilling beer?”
Josť opened one eye and then the other. “M’Elise!” he said with joy. “You’re here! I thought you left me!”
“What? When those nutcase ‘passengers’ pulled out those guns? Damn straight I closed that account.” She waved her fist in frustration. “Ever hear of regrouping?” He gave a weak shrug. “Now pay off your whore and let’s get out of here before the place blows or the law finds you like I did.”
“Hey!” shouted Squirrel indignantly. “I am not a whore. I am a dancer.” The floor shook again more noticeably. “And I am in the middle of performing. Do. You. Mind?”
“Whatever,” said M’Elise and pointed at the stack of bills. “Keep the change” as she started manhandling Josť towards the door.
Squirrel scooped up the money. “But don’t you want your chit back?”
M’Elise’s reply was brought up short by running smack into the chest of a station guard. “I give up!” cried Josť and tried to fall to the floor.
The officer pushed them back into the room and started to sweep them all with a scanner. The dancing music had died leaving the slightly hysteric newscaster reporting explosions, decompression and power losses all over the station.
The officer ceased his sweep with his blinking scanner pointing directly at Squirrel’s outstretched hand. He raised his stun baton. “Ms. Squirrel,” he said reading from the scanner. “I’m going to have to ask you to come with me.”
“What? But! Hey!” she protested as he pulled out a pair of manacles. M’Elise gave Squirrel a small salute as she bundled Josť out the door. “Why you little bitch” Squirrel screamed. As the guard clasped the manacle around one hand she pivoted, grabbed the dance pole with her thighs, spun, released and delivered a solid two footed kick to his stomach. She fled through the bar along with the rest of the staff and ran after Josť and M’Elise.
“You aren’t going to get away with that so easily” shouted Squirrel at the two of them.
Josť looked apologetic as he was frog marched down the corridor. “Just turn and walk away, little streetwalker. You don’t want to be part of this.” M’Elise growled over her shoulder.
“Oh, yeah. Not like you asked? That muscleman’s got my id now and it’s tied up with your insanity. You owe me, bitch. Big time.”
“We’ll you’re just going to have to get it from me in my next life. There’s no berth on our ship for a prostitute so just run along and lodge a complaint with the Norn’s HR department.”
“You got the ship back?” said Josť with delight.
“No,” said M’Elise, taking a sudden left. “But I have a plan to try to get one before this place disintegrates into vacuum.”
“What have you done!” asked Squirrel in alarm.
“Poor judgment in passenger choice.” said M’Elise tersely. “Learn from my mistake and choose to go somewhere else.”
“Sorry pretty dancer” said Josť.
There was a clank and Josť was brought up short which brought M’Elise up short. Squirrel smiled triumphantly and held up her hand, now manacled to Josť. “I don’t know what the hell is going on. But if you’ve got a ship, I’m going with you.”
“Sif’s flaming hair” swore M’Elise. She shook her head and pushed the two of them down the corridor. “Don’t think you’ve bought much time. We’ll just cut it off later.”
Squirrel pouted, “It’s carbon fiber laminate, just like money. I think you’ll find it hard to cut.”
“I was talking about your hand, sweetie” snarled M’Elise and shoved them into an intra sectional access way.
The access way was dark, with conduits and inspection panels bearing dire warnings about unauthorized access. Occasional tremors rumbled through the decking.
“Ouch” said Squirrel after stubbing her toe yet again.
“It’s what you get for dressing inappropriately,” quipped M’Elise uncharitably.
“They’re my working clothes, turdbrain.” She rattled her chain. “And what’s appropriate dress for being kidnapped anyway?”
Suddenly from the darkness a light shone out highlighting them. “I give up!” shouted Josť, falling to his knees and covering his face with his hands, forcing Squirrel to bend halfway over.
“Ah, well now” came a lilting voice. “What a fine bunch we look to be.”
“Get up Josť” said M’Elise, shading her eyes and tapping Josť. “It’s just Riley.”
“So happy to see you, Captain,” he said, striding forward and helping him up. His eyebrows rose seeing his hands manacled to the nearly naked Squirrel. “I don’t believe we’ve met, Ma’am” He raised her chained hand to his lips. “Wiley O’Riley at your service!” She gave him an unimpressed stare.
“Cut the crap, Riley,” said M’Elise shortly. “She latched onto us on the concourse and wants our ship. Once we find a way of cutting her loose, she’s out of here.”
“She followed us home? Can’t we keep her? She’d make a grand bonus!” crooned O’Riley.
“I’m no one’s bonus,” Squirrel growled indignantly.
“She’s very pretty,” said Josť.
“OK. OK,” said M’Elise. “If we’re done ogling the tart perhaps we can move on to getting out of this mess? Is everyone with me on this?” She looked around for eye contact. “Good then.” She knocked on the wall. “What we have here is a section seal. Leftover from building this tax write-off and kept under admin lock during normal operations. But in an emergency, like the platform breaking up, they open for emergency access.” She held up a hand sensor “The atmospheric pressure is now at 72% of normal. Once this hits 30%, the seals will open.
O’Riley raised his hand. “Begging your pardon but my lungs don’t work so good at .3 atmospheres.”
M’Elise rapped on the opposite bulkhead. “When a low-pressure emergency is declared these panels give access to emergency vacuum suits to allow for escape. They aren’t very good, but they’re airtight. We just suit on up and head on out.”
“To where?” asked Squirrel.
“Ah!” said M’Elise, raising a finger. “Beyond this sectional is the police yard where they impound vehicles. We just take our pick, let Riley hotwire it, and we’re off this bad investment.” There was a crash and everyone’s ears popped.
“Whoa!” said M’Elise checking her sensor. “That took us down to 49%. Won’t be long now.”
“Excuse me?” said Josť. “I know I am only the Captain, but can I ask a question?” M’Elise nodded graciously. He raised his manacled hand. “Will they have a suit that fits over the manacle?”
There was a protracted silence.
“I’m thinking,” said M’Elise.
Another loud clang reverberated through the deck. Everyone grabbed their ears as klaxons sounded and panels popped open.
“Oh, you people,” swore Squirrel. “There are enough fat bastards on this station that they’ll have to have some hyper-large suit we can both fit into.”
O’Riley quickly rummaged through the locker flinging suits out. “How about an XXXXXL?”
“Great” said Squirrel. “That should about do it. It’ll be tight, but if we go belly to belly we should fit.”
“I could take my clothes off to make more room,” said Josť hopefully.
“No!” said M’Elise and Squirrel, in unison.
Their breath frosted on the departing air as they pulled the suits on around them. M’Elise and O’Riley had to help Josť and Squirrel into the oversized suit.
“By the saints you look like some demented alien! Can you walk?” asked O’Riley. This produced some grunts, howls and screeches as they tried to bend their limbs one way, then the other, then both ways at once. Ultimately they fell over writhing. “More like the beast with two backs.”
“Gravity is failing” said M’Elise more soberly. “Just pick them up and drag them for now. I’ll find a ship.” The increasing tremors of the breakup were muted by the lack of atmosphere. The gravity slowly failed as well, leaving them adrift amongst the shifting shapes of impounded ships surreally lit by flashing strobes.
“Oh! The Fabuloso,” said Josť, catching sight of their old ship out of one corner of his helmet.
“No, I don’t think so”, said M’Elise. “I’d rather make off with something that isn’t logged as a terrorist transport.”
“Would you look at that!” said O’Riley. “It’s a Terrapin 990. They’re faster than a presentation boarder!”
“Fast could be good,” said M’Elise. “Although I was thinking nondescript”.
“How about pretty,” said a muffled Josť. “Can we have a pretty ship?”
“We should pick the most expensive” said Squirrel.
M’Elise rolled her eyes. “Now is not the time to be coveting bling.”
“Look,” said Squirrel, a bit clearer after spitting Josť’s hair out of her mouth. “It’s not like you’re going to keep this, right? I mean, you’re just going to sell it on the black market for cash A.S.A.P. And buy something above board. The most expensive ship will net you the most money.”
There was a pause while they all floated in consideration. “You may have a very good point” said M’Elise reluctantly. “What’s that one there?”
“It’s a Narcissus 2.2” said O’Riley.
“Yes. It’s very too-too. How much does it list for?”
“Well, nothing says ‘look at me’ quite like a Narcissus. They’re pretty top o’ the line” said O’Riley.
“Very pretty,” said Josť faintly.
“Frankly I’m surprised such a poodle is in a piss hole like this” O’Riley continued.
“OK. I’ll do. Let’s get it,” said M’Elise.
“Now, not to be complaining or anything. But you know the standard model comes with a double deadlock anti-jack protocol linked to police bands in all the 40 worlds?”
“No I didn’t. Nor do I know what that means. Please translate.”
“Ah, it just means it’ll take me four minutes to crack instead of two!”
M’Elise sighed. “Just get with it.”
And, true to his word, within four minutes they were cycling the airlock and stripping their environmental suits off. M’Elise and O’Riley had to help the entwined Josť and Squirrel free.
“Fabuloso!” exclaimed Josť as they were freed.
“Thank you” said Squirrel. “You don’t want to know what I charge for that sort of lap dance.”
“Not to be dimming your enthusiasm, missy, but I think you misunderstood our Captain. He was talking about the ship,” winked O’Riley.
“I name you The Josť Fabuloso” said Josť reverently.
“Of course you do” said M’Elise, logging onto the airlock console. “Just like the last three ships.” She tapped one key several times in a row. “Locked down. I’ll check out the bridge and see if I can unlock the computer. Riley, you check out the engines. You two, check out…”
“The bedroom?” said Josť hopefully.
“… the galley,” finished M’Elise sternly.
O’Riley and M’Elise split off leaving Josť and Squirrel to poke around the lounge.
“Oooh!” said Josť, “an espresso machine!”
Squirrel shook her head. “I would have expected more. Like a built-in day spa or a cosmetic surgery station.”
“I must find the key to the liquor cabinet before M’Elise takes it” said Josť, tugging in one direction.
“What’s with her anyway?” asked Squirrel. “She’s an awful bitch.”
“She is my first mate.” Josť giggled. “But only in the command sense.”
“No shit”, exclaimed Squirrel. “She’s probably more frigid than a comet. But why do you let her boss you around like that?”
“I am only the Captain.”
“Well on most ships that means you boss other people around.”
Josť pondered, considering. “I do not think that would work. Aha!” He found a sliding panel holding three chilled bottles.
“Solar Corona?” said Squirrel puzzled. “Not what I would have thought.”
“My favorite!” said Josť. He cradled the bottle like a treasure. Squirrel dragged him back to the espresso machine. She expertly measured the coffee and worked the controls. Soon small puffs of steam were seeping out. M’Elise and O’Riley returned.
“Do I smell coffee?” asked M’Elise.
“Do I smell beer?” asked O’Riley.
Josť sheepishly held up his half finished bottle of Solar Corona. O’Riley wrinkled his nose. “Oh, sorry. My mistake.”
“But,” said Squirrel, “the coffee is real coffee. Well, espresso anyway.” She produced four steaming mugs. “There were some complementary packets of triple crown Cygnus Blue. Looks like they never got to use it at all.”
“Please!” said O’Riley. “Anything to wash away the scent of that silage effluent. The saints invented alcohol to wash away the sins of mankind and that, my Captain, is blasphemy.”
“It’s OK,” said Josť.
“In any event” said M’Elise, snagging a mug, “the bridge is all unlocked and ready to go.”
“How did you do that?” asked O’Riley. “The anti-jack on the door took me positively minutes.”
“Rich people” M’Elise sneered. “They never changed the default passwords. I just looked it up on the manual under the dashboard.”
“I don’t suppose you found any clothes?” asked Squirrel hopefully.
M’Elise rolled her eyes. “Didn’t look. Maybe there’s a complementary pair of high rise stilettos in the bedroom. It will have to wait.” And to Josť, “Come on, sir. Put the bottles down and let’s get you to where you can do your job.”
Josť finished the bottle with one deep swig. “To the stars!”
“Vestry?” asked O’Riley.
“Yeah” said M’Elise without much enthusiasm. “It’s the closest portal to Hel we can dump this corporate boondoggle in for quick cash.”
to be continued…