Got a little writing done while the kids are at school/pre-school and PP is napping…
Comments appreciated as always. Edited to fix first round of comments...
Eight divs out of Gany Station, and three segs before hyper, Estrella said, “Captain, there is a message coming in requiring you to return to Gany and turn over all artifacts to the Cartographer’s Guild.”
Danny jerked up on the pilot’s couch, “Have you acknowledged receipt?”
“Noooo. Is it your wish that I not acknowledge receipt?”
Danny thought for a second, “Ah, that would probably be better. If it’s not delivered, then we have no obligation to respond. And the artifacts actually belong to us, anyway. We turned over the one artifact that we had contracted to deliver.”
“Concur. Transition in one seg. Comms are off.”
Danny keyed the PA, “Transition in five, four, three, two, one, execute.” He felt his guts twist, but not as badly as usual. Am I getting used to this, or is the Rift just that much stronger… That’s a stupid question, of course the rift is stronger. It’s nothing but wild transitions. Nothing normal. Once he’d confirmed the course and condition of the ship, he’d released the crew and one passenger from their restraints. Two divs later, he headed for his cabin, turning piloting over to Estrella and the nav to Gronk.
Danny woke up and sniffed, “What the?” Dressing quickly, he headed for the mess, and found everyone eating breakfast except Efrot. He looked over at Zuckie, who grinned around a mouth full of eggs, “Efrot’s got the watch. I relieve him in fifteen. You need to refund the lady’s fare. She’s doing more to keep this crew happy than you will ever do.”
Danny gaped at him, “What?”
“She feeds us. She’s nice to us. She doesn’t care where we’re from or who we are. You might want to remember that, Stud. If it wasn’t for us, you wouldn’t have a ship right now.”
Daniella called out, “Bacon and eggs? Or an omelet. I can’t do eggs benedict, whatever that is. No sauce mix. And there are biscuits.”
“Biscuits?” Turning back to Zuckie he said, “You’re getting paid. That is what you do. That she’s feeding you better than you’re used to is… a bonus. I don’t pay you to be my friend. I pay you to be my engineer.” He looked over at Daniella, “Uh, eggs mixed up, scrambled? Yeah, scrambled, bacon crispy. And I’d love a couple of biscuits.”
Zuckie dumped his plate and utensils into the recycler, waved, and headed for engineering, “I’ll send Efrot as soon as I get a turnover.”
Daniella put more bacon on the grill, even as she poured the equivalent of a dozen eggs on the grill, then added a couple of pieces bacon and two more eggs off to the side for Danny, “Cheese?”
Danny asked, “Cheese what?”
She sighed, “You want cheese scrambled in the eggs or not?”
He shrugged and she shook her head, “Men.” Dumping some cheese into the eggs, she seasoned them and flipped the bacon, dribbling a little of the grease over the eggs, as she put two biscuits in the microwave to heat.
Curious, he asked, “Who’s all that for?” As he pointed to the rasher of bacon sizzling on the grill.
“Efrot. I’ll fix him a dozen eggs too. As a heavy worlder, he needs more calories than we do. You don’t need more than what you’re getting, since you never exercise.” She dished up his breakfast, took the biscuits out of the microwave, and plopped them on the plate. “The rest of the stuff is on the table. Hope you like grape jelly, that’s all there was.”
Danny sat down and ate, watching her as she cooked up a massive amount of food for Efrot, then served him with a smile when he came in. He noticed she didn’t shy away from him and asked him if that would be enough. Efrot seemed stunned that she cared, and thanked her profusely, before retiring to a table away from everyone else, then dousing his meal with manganese as usual.
Danny finished up, dropped his plate and utensils in the recycler and asked, “Need any help?”
She looked up in surprise, “No, I’ll take care of it. How many days ‘till we’re back at Alpha?”
Danny thought for a sec, then said, “With the translation early, and dropping Moe and his crew, twelve days. Why?”
“That gives me time to work with Estrella on the hydroponics, upgrades to her system, and a new program for the mech that maintains it.”
“I didn’t authorize that!”
Moe and his crew slunk out as Danny’s voice went up, leaving the two of them across the grill from each other.
“Estrella did. And you signed it. So yes, you did authorize it.”
“I… Arghhh. Women. I swea…” He threw up his hands, “Do what you want. But it’s up to you and Essie to maintain it.”
Daniella said, “Hey! I’m a passenger, not crew. And I’m doing you a favor, because Estrella asked me to, sure as hell not because you ever said anything! I’ll help her get it up and running, but I’m not maintaining shit for you. It’s your damn ship!”
Danny stalked out, and Efrot finished his meal and placed the remains in the recycler before walking over to the grill. His GalTrans spit out, “I thank you for the food. Captain is idiot. You are not.”
Daniella smiled at him, “Thank you. I’m sorry we are not going to be eating like this much longer. With you and Gronk, I’m going through the food rather quickly.”
Efrot said, “Then don’t feed me. I have other food.”
Daniella bristled, and brandished the spatula. “I will not do that. You are a crew member. I will cook until the food is gone. Maybe every other night. You deserve the food as much as they do, if not more. Without you… Gah… Men! Go away and let me clean up this mess.”
Efrot bowed, “Again, I thank you.” He turned and eased out of the mess, disappearing aft toward engineering.
She cleaned the grill with a vengeance, mumbling under her breath and finally had it and the rest of the kitchen area cleaned to her standards. “Done. Why do I bother. Men are useless, stupid, and think with the wrong head ninety percent of the time.”
She was startled when Estrella asked, “Think with the wrong head? They only have one.”
Daniella laughed, “Oh Estrella, be glad you don’t have to put up with them. It’s their other… The head of their penises kind of look like a head. I first heard that from my mother after an argument with my dad over something. Something about blood flow.”
“That does not compute, there is adequate…”
She laughed again, “Of course it doesn’t, but men don’t compute. Something about testosterone, and stupidity around a pretty woman or a challenge to their masculinity.”
Estrella said meditatively, “So being human is not all it is, how you say, cranked up to be? I cannot know love, hate, or any other emotion.”
“I think it’s cracked up, not cranked, but close enough. It’s probably a good thing you don’t have to worry about it, Essie.” She looked around, then said, “I’m going to bay two in hydro, can you have the mech there? I need to update its programming.”
“It will be there.”
Danny shivered as they came out of hyper, Gah, I really hate that transition. I wonder what it does to our bodies in the long term? Estrella said, “Incoming message queue is downloaded, Captain. Apparently the Cartographer’s Guild is less than happy with you. There are nine messages in queue. You have one message from Mapper, encrypted level three. Six from the guild, and two from the miners. What order would you like?
“Just put them to my comp, I’ll deal with them in a seg. How long to Xray, Gronk?”
Gronk sniffed, which was impressive, to put it mildly saying, “I plotted for a three point two div arrival. We are currently three point zero six divs out. You need to release the other crew and pax from transition.”
He keyed the PA, “All personnel are released from restraints. Two divs from the ‘stroid belt, will be docking at Xray. If you need to notify anyone, use code alpha six and the AI will transmit your message.” He turned to Gronk, “You’re released too. I’ve got it from here.” He looked down at the data comp, sighed, and pulled up the first message as Gronk stomped off the bridge.
It was from Mapper, after decryption it showed, DO NOT RETURN TO GANY. DO NOT RELEASE ANY OF YOUR SALVAGE TO CG. SEE ME ASAP ON RETURN. MAPPER. The next six messages were from the Cartographer’s Guild official he’d dealt with, with increasing levels of threating language, the last one stated, YOU HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH THEFT OF CARTOGRAPHER GUILD PROPERTY. FAILURE TO RETURN PROPERTY WILL RESULT IN CONFISCATION OF ASSETS, GAL WARRANT ISSUED FOR ARREST/DETENTION. CGSEC-GANYSTA. “Well, well, well. Apparently somebody thinks those devices are important. But they have to know that’s salvage, or are they thinking they can override all the laws,” he mused.
Estrella replied, “In accordance with GalLaw one eight point three three, section nineteen, sub paragraph eighteen, note a point three one, salvage is the property…”
“I know, I know.” He levered himself up off the couch, quickly scanned the navigation holo, and said, “Going to hit the fresher and grab some food. Put out a call for a crew meeting in the mess in fifteen segs, all hands required.”
“I have the conn, as usual. Crew meeting in fifteen segs. I have a message in queue from Moe, and one from Zuckie, permission to release them?”
“Granted,” Danny dilated the bridge hatch and walked aft, stretching and twisting as he headed to his cabin. Refreshed and in a clean shipsuit, he strolled into the mess a few segs later, sniffing as he walked in, “What’s that smell?”
Daniella, beating something in a big bowl looked up, “It’s called loaf, I used the last of the meats in that pack. And potato mash and beans from your hydro tanks.”
“I seasoned it with a spice weasel I found in one of the cabinets. And I’m making sauce to put over it. What’s going on?”
“You can listen in.” He looked around the mess, and saw that the entire crew, plus Moe and his guys were all there. Daniella shoved the big bowl into a warmer, came around the counter and dialed a coffee from the autochef, then leaned against the counter behind Danny. Has she got my back? Is that what she’s… Nah, she doesn’t know enough to know what that means. Well, time to get this over with.
He glanced over a Moe, “You guys are welcome to listen, but this is for the crew, such as it is.” Zuckie grinned, and Efrot looked up from his table in the back corner of the mess, with what Danny thought might be a smile. Strange little dude. Can’t figure out why he’s here, but I’m damn glad he is. Things go to shit, there isn’t a better person to handle the hot section. He cleared his throat, and Daniella handed him an enriched water bulb, “Uh, thanks,” he took it and turned back, “Okay. We’re back in the stroids. Moe and his crew will offload here and go back to their regular jobs. My question is, what about the rest of you?” He looked around and continued, “I know there is a contract, but you were all out here, I’m assuming for your own reasons. Once we leave here, we’re going to Alpha, then probably back into the Rift. I’m here to tell you that is not pretty, nor fun. Matter of fact, it may kill you. It’s tried to kill me, and I barely survived the last trip. So I’m going to step out and allow…”
Zuckie stood up, interrupting him, “We already talked. We signed on for the duration. We ain’t leaving. Bout time for us to see something different. Ships in a lot better shape now that you have a real crew doing maintenance and shit you can’t do. ‘Sides, you’re paying us pretty good, and we like the AI, she’s a good one, and works with us. Ain’t seen that often, at least in my experience.”
Danny started to say something and Zuckie held up a hand, “And we like the cook too. She feeds us good, and it tastes good.”
Daniella blushed, “Uh, guys, I have a real job. Yes, I like to cook, but I’ll be going back to my real job on the station when we dock. But thank you for the compliment.”
Adrion spoke up, “Maybe we need to rethink this. No cook makes it a different…”
Danny jumped in, “I’ll hire a cook, okay?”
Estrella came over the PA, “Do I get a say in this? Since I’m part of the crew?”
Danny rolled his eyes, and Daniella snickered, prompting a glare from him, “Go ahead,” he said.
“I like having a real crew on board. I feel better, the ship is in better shape, and it smells better, thanks to Dani. I will miss her, but I know she has a real job. And yes, you need to hire a cook. I have a list of names.”
Danny was surprised to see the local head of the mining consortium, Hans Wessel, standing at the airlock when he opened it, “Can I talk to you a minute, Captain?”
“Uh, sure. Let me get your guys off, and we’ll go have a bulb.” He turned to Moe, “Thank you for your help, and I appreciated your dedication to your mission when station security showed up at Gany Station. You never rolled over, and if you had, I would have lost the ship. I have paid each of you crew rates from Gany back here.”
Moe made a curious gesture, between a bow and a salaam, and he GalTrans spit out, “It was our job, we take serious, protect cargo. You feed us good, take care of us. We are thanking you for the extra pay.” With yips and growls he shepherded the others off, each of them doing the curious gesture as they passed.
He led Wessel to the mess and drew two bulbs of coffee, “So, what do I owe this visit to?”
“We heard you had a little issue at Gany, but it got handled rather smoothly. I didn’t realize you’ve got GalPat connections.”
Danny’s hind brain went on full alert, “Ah, well, ah…”
“Not trying to push. But the brass were impressed that you stopped security cold, and walked away afterward. They’ve authorized me to use you as a routine courier for our product anytime you’re making supply runs back there.”
Danny sat down, “Really? I mean we’re not an armed courier, and I don’t have any…”
Wessel smiled a predatory smile, “That’s part of the reason. You’re not what anyone expects. This thing looks like a rattletrap, but Moe and the rest of the guards were impressed with your crew and your leadership. I gotta admit I never saw that when you were out here. You were a snot nosed little wise ass. And I’m not often wrong about people.”
Danny grinned, “Oh, you’re not wrong. I’m still a wise ass. I’m just a better class of wise ass now.”
Wessel shook his head, “Whatever. And since you’re not an official courier, you get a fifteen percent risk bonus.” He handed a credit chip to Danny, “That’ll buy a drink or two on Alpha. How often do you make the trip to Gany?”
“Roughly every hundred station cycles, so… a hundred twenty days? It can vary ten cycles in either direction, depending on station requirements.”
“That’s even better. No fixed schedule.” Wessel stuck out his hand, “Deal?”
Danny shook with him, “Deal!”
Wessel got up, “That’s all I needed to say. I need to get back to the ‘stroid office. Drop me a message the next time you head out.”
Danny escorted him back to the airlock, “Always nice doing business with you.”
Adrion was standing watch at the airlock and nodded to Danny, who asked, “Anybody ashore?”
“Negative, Captain. Zuckie went out and checked what he could of the exterior from the module, but he’s back aboard.”
“Okay, lock her down and let’s get out of here.”
Danny trotted back to the bridge, saying, “Essie, get us routing to the barn.”
The AI came back, “If you mean Station Alpha, it’s already filed, approved, and waiting for you to get back to the bridge, unless you want me to drive.”
“I’ll drive. I don’t want to hit anything on the way out. Give station control a five seg warning for movement, and we’re out of here.”
Twenty divs later, Ghost was locked in and umbilical’s connected to Station Alpha. Adrion was standing at the aft airlock, “Permission to crack the lock, Captain.”
Danny checked the board, saw equalized pressure, and said, “Do it. Once the lock is open, can you put our plaque out at the head of the module, please?”
“Will do, Captain.”
He keyed the PA, “Crew is cleared to debark, along with passengers. Watch section as posted and discussed. Thank you for a safe trip, and remember, muster every ship day at six.” He clicked the PA off, stretched, and got up slowly.
He was startled to hear a soft voice, “Captain?”
He turned quickly, “Daniella?”
“I just wanted to say thank you for the trip, and for letting me cook. Estrella wants me to come advise her on the hydroponics, if that is alright with you.”
Danny didn’t know what to do or say, he wasn’t processing this version of Daniella, not after her bossing the entire crew around, and their earlier confrontations. “Uh, sure. You’re welcome anytime. Uh, you going by the Lounge?”
Daniella cocked her head, “Maybe, why?”
“Could you tell, oh never mind. I’ll do it.”
“Yes, I’ll tell Mapper we’re back, and you’ll be by to see him.” Daniella picked up her bag and started walking down the passageway to the airlock.
Danny raised a hand, then dropped it, saying, “Uh, thank you.”
Efrot called as Danny turned back toward the bridge. “Captain, I see Station Security and GalPat approaching. What is your direction?”
Danny stopped short, Shit…I forgot about those messages from the Cartographer’s Guild. Here we go again. He turned back toward the end of the module and said, “I’ll be right there, I’ll handle it.” He quickened his steps, getting there just before the security people as Efrot stepped back to cover him, his hand near his weapon.
Sergeant Pollock and LT Brisker both spoke, talking over each other, until they realized it and laughed. LT Brisker, at a nod from the sergeant started again. “So, Danny, looks like you got your butt in trouble big time this trip! Got a message from Major Psaras at Gany that you’re officially a good guy, for now. But—”
He waved to the sergeant, who glanced at his datacomp. “Dann…er, Captain, I have an order to collect certain items that are the property of the Cartographer’s Guild that you illegally removed from Gany Station.”
Danny sighed. “Sergeant, what items did I supposedly remove from Gany Station? I was tasked by Mapper to deliver one item to the CG, and,” he tapped his wrist comp squirting the receipt to both of them, “That was accomplished as soon as I was released.”
LT Brisker watched Pollock, who shrugged. “All we got was a message to collect items, not specified. And that was from Ortlieb.”
Danny cocked his head. “Ortlieb, the station manager? Not from…was Mapper on that message?”
Pollock tapped his data comp. “Huh, that’s interesting. He wasn’t either addressed or info. That’s kinda strange, since he’s the Guild rep here.”
Danny pulled up the last message from Gany and squirted it to them, then turned to Brisker. Are you here to arrest me? Since it says, and I quote, you have been charged with theft of cartographer guild property. Failure to return property will result in confiscation of assets, gal warrant issued for arrest/detention. CGSEC-GANYSTA, unquote.”
Brisker quickly scanned his data comp then sighed. “Nothing. No warrants at all. Something’s not—”
Daniella slid the grav sled to a stop as an irate Mapper stumbled off it and caught himself. “Sergeant, Lieutenant, what in the double-sunned hell is going on?”
Sergeant Pollock stiffened. “Sir, I’m just doing what Manager Ortlieb directed me—”
“On who’s authority? I am the Cartographer’s Guild representative for this sector, and I didn’t authorize any recovery of any items that Captain Ortega may or may not have recovered other than one item he was directed to transport and turn over to the CG rep at Gany. Did you do that, Captain?”
Danny squirted the receipt to him. “Yes, sir. As specified and documented received, as you will note.”
Mapper continued, “And other items the Captain may or may not have recovered are his per GalLaw one eight point three three, section nineteen, sub paragraph eighteen, note a point three one. To wit, salvage is the property of the salvager.” He looked between the two and asked, “Do you have any other questions?”
A chorus of no’s followed by their quick departure left Danny smiling until Mapper growled, “Come see me within the next div.” He hobbled back to the grav sled and made a motion to Daniella to drive away. She waved quickly at Danny as she turned the sled and headed back the way they’d come.