Star Trek: Pathfinder
Phobos Orbital Yards
The Siren's Call - Part Two
in orbit around Mars, Sol System
May 6, 2163
"Nobody's that lucky, smoothskin."
Lieutenant Tegan Webb slowly let go of the pile of credit chits and currencies of half a dozen worlds, letting the mass float in the microgravity. "Just because you can't hit the broad side of a cargo carrier doesn't mean I'm cheating, Vrax."
"Prove it," the squat Tellarite snarled, folding his arms across his grime-stained coveralls. Behind him, five more orbital longshoreman gestured in agreement, including a two and a half meter tall Nausicaan who methodically cracked each of his double knuckles.
Tegan sighed and looked around the half-empty cargo bay. Every time I play Rebound, it ends up just like this, every damn time,
"Okay, boys, no need to get all worked up," she said, holding up her hands. "You want me to prove I'm playing straight? Fine - set up your cans, anywhere you like. Wide-open bay. Two throws wins the pot, more than that and you all get your money back. Or - " Tegan smiled wolfishly - "we could make things interesting. I hit all seven cans in one throw - here and now - for double the pot. I don't hit all the cans, I pay you each double your bet. Deal?"
Vrax and his cronies exchanged glances, then he turned back to her, a crooked smile on his porcine features. "Deal. Line 'em up, boys, wherever you want!" He looked back at Tegan, his own can gripped in a gnarled hand. "Looks like it's going to be a profitable day. you'd better be good for it."
"Funny, I was just thinking the same thing about you," Tegan replied, backing away from the pile of chits and coins. Around the cavernous cargo bay, the longshoremen were already setting up their cans in the most inaccessible positions the rules allowed. Tegan swallowed the lump in her throat. Easy,
she thought. You've played Rebound thousands of times. You've got this.
Rebound had been developed independently by most every spacefaring race, more out of boredom than any other reason - lots of space and not much to occupy one's time on the long trip between star systems, especially on low-speed cargo ships. Couple that with minimal recreation facilities on most ships and deep space stations, and the expense of keeping cargo bays under full gravity when cargo netting would do the same job for minimal cost, and you naturally had the makings of a game that made the most of a large, cluttered space which was practically weightless. The closest human sports Tegan could compare to Rebound were a mixture of billiards and racquetball, only Rebound also demanded an excellent understanding of physics to even be adequate at the game.
There were no hard and fast rules on how many could play - anyone willing to play (and bet) was welcome, so long as they brought a can, the forearm-sized objects that made up the targets. Often, longtime players had their own personalized cans, decorated in favorite colors or logos of their vessel or homeworld. Tegan's was just an old Thermos, handed down from her father. The players placed their cans around the space they had, and then each player would throw a springy ball. The goal was simple - knock over all cans in the least number of throws. Good players could strike three, maybe even four cans on a single throw. Vrax had hit five on his first throw, needing only one more throw to take down all seven.. Tegan had hit six on her first throw, which technically made her the winner.
Now she just had to hit all seven in one shot.
Tegan watched as the others placed their cans, waiting until the end to place her own. The other cans were clearly visible from the center of the bay (as was customary - hiding one's can was considered unsporting), but hitting them all was another thing entirely. She looked at each one in turn, then finally set her can atop a cargo pod halfway across the bay.
As she floated back toward Vrax, Tegan thought she could see someone lurking up in the shadows of the catwalk. Who it was hardly mattered; the only betting parties were clustered ahead of her, waiting for her to throw the ball. She moved up to Vrax, snatched the springy ball from his hand, then curled one corner of her mouth and flashed him a wink. Turning back toward the cans, she pulled a small seven-sided coin from beneath her collar and rubbed it between her thumb and forefinger. "Wish me luck," she whispered.
Then Tegan threw the ball with every ounce of her strength.
The ball rocketed straight across the bay, unhampered by gravity, until it struck a heavy cargo pod and bounced away, barely glancing against the first can as it passed but imparting enough force to send the can spinning. The ball bounced between two more cargo pods, careening to the left and then striking the second can dead on, sending it flying.
Vrax and his cohorts looked on in increasing disbelief as the ball made its way around the bay, gradually losing momentum with every impact but knocking over each can with eerie precision. The final can to fall was the furthest, in an upper corner of the bay - an easy straight shot, but very tricky after bouncing all over the bay. The ball lazily traversed the space, finally striking the can with just enough energy to knock it aside.
Tegan turned to Vrax and his cronies. "Single throw, as promised. I believe that was double the money."
Vrax's scowl deepened. "Boomers don't play fair. All that time in zero-gee gives you an unfair advantage. Same as cheating."
"You don't like to lose, you shouldn't play the game," Tegan said. She approached the pot and gathered the floating mass into a ball. "Pay up."
Tegan was about to argue when a woman's voice called out from above, "I believe you had a bet, crewman." Tegan and the others looked up to see the figure on the catwalk, hands gripping the railing, the three rank pins of a commander clearly visible on the figure's right shoulder, standing out against a field of command gold fabric. "Or maybe I should just contact Security and inform them of the illegal gambling operation taking place in this bay."
"What gambling operation?" Vrax said. "We're just having a little fun - "
"And making a little profit," the commander finished. "Against Fleet regulations. Now you can hand over what the Lieutenant won, or you can all have a very long day in a holding cell until Security gets this sorted out. Which do you prefer?"
Vrax growled, then reached into a pocket and pulled out a hefty handful of credit chits. The others did the same, almost doubling the size of the pile before going to collect their cans and making their way out of the bay. Tegan pulled the pile into her carryall, smiling sweetly at each of them, saving her widest smile for Vrax.
As he watched his portion disappear, Vrax growled, "Better not come back here anytime soon, smoothskin."
"Don't worry about that," Tegan replied, slinging the carryall strap over her shoulder. "Worry about that backspin. It's wrecking your trajectories." And with that, Tegan crouched and pushed hard off the deck, sending her flying up to the catwalk where the commander was still looking down. Tegan gripped the railing, keeping it between them as she floated twenty meters off the deck. "Thanks for the backup, ma'am," she said. "What brings you belowdecks?"
"You, actually. You are Lieutenant Webb, correct?"
"Yes, I - " Tegan mentally kicked herself. The shuttle to the Pathfinder,
she thought. The one the new XO is expecting me to fly her there aboard.
"Ma'am, I'm so sorry - "
Commander Isobel Beaumont fought to suppress a smile. Orbital longshoremen were much like their historical counterparts, rough and tumble and - every now and then - in need of being taken down a peg. Then again,
she thought, so are rookie lieutenants.
"That's Commander Beaumont," she said in her best command tone. "And this will
be the last time, correct?"
"Yes, ma - Commander."
"Good." Beaumont gestured at the carryall. "You'd better make that last - you won't get many opportunities once we're underway. And don't forget your can. I'll meet you at the shuttle."
"There'll be more opportunities than you might think," Tegan said under her breath as she went back for the Thermos.
Beaumont just smiled. This was already turning into an interesting assignment, and she wasn't even aboard the ship yet.
To Be Continued...