The Astoundingly True Tale of José Fabuloso
Squirrel sucked down espresso doctored with something O’Riley had produced form a private flask with one shaking hand. The other was unavailable, mounted in a vice grip on the workbench.
“Forty gods on a buttered cracker,” she swore. “I’ve never seen anyone fly like that.”
O’Riley chuckled and lined up the power saw on her manacle. “That’s our José. Pity we didn’t have any of the strong stuff to pour into him. Then you would have seen some real flying.”
She looked at him, ashen faced. “You people are nuts.”
O’Riley shrugged and ground a fraction of a millimeter off the manacles with a loud buzz. He blew the dust away and waited for it to cool. “May be. May be,” he acknowledged. He buzzed another fractional amount away.
Squirrel took another swig and looked at him suspiciously. “Hey. You didn’t get liquored up to do this, did you?”
He laughed. “Ah, now, by all the saints. Though the nectar is a blessing so is your beauty.” He bent and kissed her hand, fixed in the vice grip. “How could I trade one blessing for another?”
“So this is going to take a long time, isn’t it?”
He ground at the manacles again and grinned widely. “With such excellent company, the time will surely fly.”
“That was good flying” said M’Elise to José on the bridge. She was using a small pile of moist towelettes to wipe grease off his wrist and hands.
“It was OK” he said. “The police were all busy so I could really go.”
“Sorry about the screaming. We didn’t have time to cut the stripper loose before we ran.”
“Pretty lady was scared,” he said, opening a few more packets of towels with his other hand.
M’Elise laughed. “That she was.” She sniffed, but smelled nothing but industrial grease. “At least she kept her bladder control. I’ll give her that. She must have held it the entire time you two were shackled.”
José blushed. “It would have been OK.”
“Oh no,” said M’Elise. “I remember Düsseldorf Downport. Don’t even think of it!”
“I thought it was the airlock,” José protested. “No one died. Although there was much toilet paper.”
M’Elise shook her head. “Yeah. I’d guess it wasn’t as bad a decision as booking passage for a contingent of terrorists.” They were silent for a bit as she cleaned the last of the grease off. “Sorry about that.”
“It’s OK. We have a new pretty ship.”
“Yes it is.” She looked around the bridge. “I don’t think we’ll be able to keep it. It’s too obvious. Can’t carry much. Hard to make an honest living in it. But it’s worth a lot of money and we should be able to buy something somewhat legitimate on the proceeds.”
“Can we keep the pretty lady?”
M’Elise looked at him reluctantly. “I’m not sure the new ship will need a position for a stripper.”
“Maybe… If we get a passenger ship… She could be the entertainment? Remember Yamile back on The Rich Kingford?”
M’Elise shrugged. “She’s probably waited tables. We could probably forge a steward’s license.”
“Then she can come?” asked José eagerly.
“You’re the Captain” M’Elise said after sighing. “I’ll offer her a job if you want me to. She might not want to come. We’re not exactly the best employment opportunity going. It depends on what sort of ship we get.”
“Oh,” said José, looking crestfallen.
M’Elise patted his arm. “Don’t worry. I'll ask. She might be as mad as the rest of us and say yes.”
The all met up again back in the galley. Squirrel now dressed in a bathrobe served everyone more espresso. José pointedly brought this to M’Elise's attention. “Yes, yes,” M’Elise said, testily.
“What?” asked Squirrel.
“Your uniform is a step up from before,” M’Elise said quickly.
Squirrel rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe whoever owned this ship didn’t own any clothes.”
“From the label there it would seem they stole the bathrobe from their last hotel.” offered O’Riley.
“Better check the towels” said M’Elise. They all laughed. “Comp predicts we’ll be in transition for the better part of a week. Best get cabins and work on inventory from top to bottom. Riley?”
“The usual is good for me. I’ll rig up a hammock out of a survival suit in engineering.” Squirrel looked at him quizzically. “A tragic incident when I was a wee thing,” he explained, ducking his head in mock modesty.
“Well, that makes things easy. The Captain will take the master cabin, naturally. I’ll take the guest which leaves the staff cabin for Squirrel.”
“Why do I get the staff instead of the guest?” asked Squirrel with irritation.
“If you have the money to pay passage you would be most welcome to the guest cabin. Otherwise as junior most crew you get last choice.”
“Crew?” said Riley. “We’ve got a stripper on staff!” he began singing a sports chant in celebration.
“No, no, no” said M’Elise, shouting him down. “We’re offering you the position of steward. Stripping will be in no way, shape or form part of your duties.”
“What if I say no?”
“Then you can leave.”
“We’re in transition!”
“Not my problem.”
“We don’t have any passengers. What exactly do you expect me to do?”
“Just serve espresso. We’ll call it quits.”
“Are you going to pay me?”
“By Tully, she’s got a lot of questions” said O’Riley aside to José.
“We’re a profit sharing venture.”
“When’s the last time you made a profit?”
“Every day we’re alive and not bankrupt we count as a profit.”
“Do I get a uniform?”
“Next port of call to a full service starport you can design your very own one.”
Squirrel pouted for a short while. “OK. Fine.” José broke out in applause. Both M’Elise and Squirrel glared at him.
At its appointed time, the José Fabuloso exited transitional space sporting a baby blue glow of static electricity in an halo around it. The weak glow of the M class star replaced it as it faded, giving the gleaming ivory ship a reddish hue.
“That’s not much of a star” said Squirrel from the guest chair on the bridge.
“It’s not much of a place,” said M’Elise.
“Then why exactly are we here?”
“Because it isn’t exactly much of a place.” M’Elise called up a few system charts. “The port is pretty close to the star. It’s a bit of a haul.”
“Why didn’t we transition closer then?”
“Because we didn’t want to be torn into shreds.” said M’Elise. Squirrel looked doubtful. “Didn’t they teach you basic astrophysics in school on Cincin? No? OK.” M’Elise drew a deep breath. “No one really knows how transitional space works. All we have is these approximations that predict how it usually works. Most of the time they are right. Some of the time they are wrong. Occasionally they are spectacularly wrong. So it’s generally common practice to transition into a system away from heavy objects, like ships, planets or stars.” Squirrel pondered this.
“Hey! There’s no speed limit” said José happily.
M’Elise checked the readouts. “True.”
“Oh no, not again,” said Squirrel.
“You’re free to leave the bridge,” said M’Elise.
“Don’t worry, pretty lady. There will not be as much dodging” said José.
“Um, yeah” said Squirrel, checking her straps.
Hours later the comm board registered an incoming message. M’Elise hit the playback control. “This is Vestry system control. Who’s that coming in on 27 rho 82 phi?”
“This is the José Fabuloso” said M’Elise in response. “We’re inbound from Port Newark and are requesting a landing berth.”
There was a slight pause as light lag delayed the transmission. “Mmmm, yeah. You’re coming in a bit fast for my comfort and your transponder says you're flying a Narcissus.”
“The system is clear. We thought we’d save ourselves a bit of time. And, yes, we are flying a Narcissus 2.2.” M’Elise looked peeved.
“Riiight. I’ve got one too. I drive my mother around in it.”
“Is this system control or a county switchboard operator?” asked Squirrel.
“It’s an unregulated system” said M’Elise. “They don’t stand on ceremony. Or professionalism.”
“So, my little Fabuloso, I’m going to have to ask you to dump velocity down to something a bit slower than the attack vector you’re on and take a nice, leisurely cruise into scanner range so we can get a good look at you.”
“Is that really necessary?” asked M’Elise. “We’re kind of keen on getting in. It’s been a long flight.”
“Look, Fabuloso, sorry for being jumpy but you don’t quite check out and we’ve got… hang on a minute.” There was a pause for much more than a minute.
“Maybe we should slow down” said Squirrel. M’Elise waved her suggestion away.
“Fabuloso, this is Vestry system control. My apologies. You are expected. Landing approved for the Dictator’s personal yard. Coordinates following.”
“That’s an odd turn of luck” said M’Elise hopefully.
“Yes,” said José, “it does not often turn to good.”
“What did they mean ‘expected’?” asked Squirrel.
M’Elise shrugged. “I’ve no more clue than Thor’s actuary. But I’m not going to pass it up. Have you got the course, Captain?” José grinned and began to pump up the engines.
“We’re, like, in a stolen ship and they are, like, ‘expecting’ us. This is wrong on so many levels” protested Squirrel.
“We’ll just bluff it when we get there” said M’Elise distractedly.
The engines cut in on full and Squirrel said no more.
to be continued…
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