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Old September 19 2013, 10:29 PM   #6
TheLoneRedshirt
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Location: The void between my ears
Re: Rock Jockeys: "Gold-Plated Trouble"

CeJay and Bry - thanks for your kind comments! First person perspective is a bit of a challenge to write, but I'm having fun.

Chapter 3

Back on the bridge, the initial euphoria that accompanied visions of gold-presssed latinum bars had begun to fade. I was back to wondering why anyone would pay such an outrageous sum to transport three empty cargo pods. Hell, for that much money Mr. Tinn could probably buy three brand-new pods with custom paint jobs and chrome accents, delivery charges included.

At the moment, though, we were at a relative stop as we waited to rendezvous with two of our crew who chose not to accompany us to Desola Station for health reasons. Sing Yu owed sizable gambling debts and was hoping to avoid a broken bone or three. Thus, he had requested a side-trip to another station to lay low while we were docked at Desola. I agreed, with the stipulation that they return the shuttle in pristine condition and get her coils aligned.

Last year, Reyla had come across a good deal on a used long-range shuttle that I was able to buy for a song. It was a definite improvement over the elderly shuttle pod that languished under a tarp in the landing bay. I think it was last serviced when James T. Kirk was still a virgin. We dubbed the shuttle pod, Zombie, as she existed in a limbo somewhere between usefulness and a scrap yard.

“Rand, do you have them yet?”

The Centauran frowned as he fiddled with the sensor gain. “Sorry, Danny - there’s a lot of background fuzz in the Theta bands. If we could just upgrade the sensors . . .”

Same song, different day. “Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. If this job pans out you can buy yourself a shiny new sensor array.”

That seemed to cheer Noble. “Really? That would be very nice.” He leaned forward and tapped a screen. “Ah, there you are,” he murmured softly. In a slightly louder voice he announced, “Little Bit is on final approach, estimate 10 minutes until they dock.”

“Go ahead and hail them,” I ordered. They weren’t all that late, but I was antsy and felt like chewing someone out. Ore tugs at rest make tempting targets for pirates. As the saying goes, it’s not paranoia when someone really is out to get you.

“Stand by,” replied Rand as he fiddled with controls before announcing, “On-screen.”

The ‘polar-twins,’ aka ‘Yin and Yang,’ ‘Mutt and Jeff,’ or ‘Day and Night’ appeared on the screen. The first of the duo, Sing Yu, was a 46 year old deckhand of Laotian descent - thin, gaunt, festooned with tatoos and unfestooned with teeth - an ill-tempered man who owes money to a number of unsavory and well-armed types. I would have cashiered the S.O.B. long ago, but he knows more about Dilithium transport than all the rest of us combined, so I put up with his crap.

Faji Rahman, on the other hand, is pleasant, brilliant and pure as the driven snow. I often wonder how he ended up in the Outland Expanse. He comes from a solid family in Bangalore on Earth where his parents operate a successful breaker business - tearing down and recycling old star ships. By the time he was 12 he could build a functioning spacecraft from spare parts. He earned a PhD in astrophysics and a second advanced degree in quantum computing. His only vice - an overwhelming sense of wanderlust that saw him leave home and many promising opportunities to venture out into the frontier. Faji is our Systems Specialist and does most of the actual engineering work, repairing whatever Tralnar screws up.

Somehow Sing and Faji became best of buds. Yeah, the universe is a strange place, infinite diversity in infinite bullshit, etc. etc.

“Requesting permission to land,” said Faji in his pleasant, sing-song voice.

“Granted,” I replied, “You’re late. Where the hell have you two been?”

“We were delayed,” replied Sing Yu in a gravelly voice. He’s talked that way ever since a Capellan tried to choke him to death. My sympathies lie with the Capellan, but that’s a story for another day.

“Tell me about it when you get on board.” I signaled for Rand to cut the channel and rose from my chair. “Rand, the ship is yours. I’m going to the landing bay to chew their asses.”

* * *

Balaam’s landing bay lacked atmospheric shields, so I had to wait for the bay to repressurize as the outer doors trundled closed and sealed. Once the green light came on I entered the bay.

Little Bit wasn’t nearly so little up close and personal. The Starfleet surplus shuttle had probably been retired about the time Jean-Luc Picard started losing his hair. I’m not sure if we’re the fifth or sixth owner but it has been used by previous owners for everything from a med-evac ship to a traveling bordello.

Don’t ask me how I know this.

For some reason, I had come to dislike the shuttle. It may have to do with the fact that something always malfunctioned every time I was on board (never with anyone else, of course).

And, it probably didn’t help that i had taken to calling it Little Shit.

But I digress.

Fric and Frac finally exited the shuttle. Faji was all smiles - he had dimples deep enough to smuggle Tribbles. Sing Yu was his typical charming surly self. Sing never smiled but considering his lack of dental hygiene, I counted this as a blessing.

Folding my arms to bolster my aura of annoyance, I announced, “You’re late.” Yes, I know I’m being repetitive but some people need that little extra touch.

“Couldn’t be helped,” explained Faji, still sporting an endearing smile. “A pirate ship started tracking us, so we had to take a longer route to shake him.”

I cocked an eyebrow. “A pirate ship, you say?”

Faji nodded earnestly. “Oh yes, I must say, we had a few tense moments.”

“And just how did you know it was a pirate ship?”

The smile faltered. “Er, well . . . Sing identified it.”

My eyes tracked right. Sing Yu could have been made of stone as his face betrayed no emotion whatsoever.

“Well?” I gave the Laotian my best exasperated look. It had all the impact of a flea on a Horta. But Sing finally sang - either out of boredom or he needed to go the bathroom.

“It was a pirate ship,” he explained in a voice that sounded like he was gargling gravel mixed with broken glass.

I could feel my temple beginning to pulse. And the day had started so well.

“Get your asses inside the ship. Both of you are pulling double duty.”

Faji’s smile actually brightened. He loved double duty. Sing merely replied with a faint scowl. He farted as he passed by me.

“Nice,” I muttered, fanning the air in front of my face as I walked over to the com panel on the bulkhead.

“Bridge, Captain.”

“Go ahead, Daniel,” came Talia Dostroveski’s reply.

I sighed. Maybe if I bought four pips for my shirt. “Resume course and speed. Anything on long-range sensors?”

A pause. “Negative, just normal traffic in the regular space lanes. Should I be looking for anything in particular?”

“No, it’s nothing. Carbo, out.” I started to exit the bay, then turned back to the shuttle. I hesitated at the hatchway for a moment. Yes, it sounds stupid, but I really think that shuttle hates me.

Pushing aside feelings of trepidation, I boarded Little Bit and made my way to the flight deck.

The small-craft was powered down but it took just a moment to activate the sensor logs. A few moments of scrolling through data gave me the answer I was seeking.

But it sure wasn’t the answer I wanted.

“Frack me.” Little Bit responded with a shower of sparks from the console. Startled, I tripped backwards over the nav plotter and landed on my ass. Normally, I would have kicked something vital related to the smallcraft, but I had bigger worries at the moment.

The ship that had tailed them wasn’t a pirate ship after all. That was too bad, because the problem would be behind us. Pirates are creatures of opportunity. True, it’s bad, really bad to get boarded by pirates. But if you can outrun them, they will give up in search of easier prey.

Instead, Faji and Sing had been tracked by a vessel from the Orion Syndicate, Raider-class to be precise. And the Syndicate was nothing if not persistent. It dawned on me now just who Sing owed money.

I decided to replicate a set of dentures for Sing. Then, I was going to knock his new teeth down his throat.

To Be Continued . . .
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