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Old September 22 2013, 04:08 PM   #8
TheLoneRedshirt
Commodore
 
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Location: The void between my ears
Re: Rock Jockeys: "Gold-Plated Trouble"

Cejay - Daniel's worries are well-founded. Will Sing's sins come back to haunt the crew? Stay tuned.

Chapter 4

As I marched through the central corridor thinking murderous thoughts, I very nearly collided with Reyla Jurn. Not that such a collision would bother me much, mind you. Alas, her reflexes are quite good.

“You are certainly in a hurry, Captain. Did you order the taco surprise from the replicator again?”

I paused, trying to reign in my temper. “I would happily embrace bowel distress over the pain in my posterior that is Sing Yu.”

She frowned in puzzlement. “I thought you were angry with Salierno.”

“He just went to the back of the line.” I explained to Reyla what I had discovered on the shuttle’s sensor logs. Her eyes widened but to her credit, she did not pull out a weapon and charge down the corridor in search of a certain Laotian deckhand.

Her eyes flashed. “Of all the stupid . . .” she began.

“Agreed.”

“I was talking about YOU, Daniel,” she seethed.

That brought me up short. Not being called stupid – being called Daniel. That signified I was in physical danger as she only used my given name if I was badly wounded or about to be.

“Wait, what?” Not a pithy response but I was stalling, considering different escape options. It was about 20 meters to the nearest life pod . . .

She saw the look in my eye and stepped in closer to block all avenues of escape. Normally, such close proximity would be quite desirable. However, under the current circumstances I was wondering if my will was up-to-date.

“Daniel. . . ,” she growled. I managed not to whimper. If I was going to die, my man-card was going to stay intact.

“Daniel, did I not warn you that hiring deckhands without even a cursory background check was going to catch up to us one day?”

“I do seem to recall words to that effect. However, you have to agree that . . .”

She placed her hand over my mouth. At least she left my nostrils open so I could continue to breathe. For the moment.

“Please. Stop. Talking. That just makes me angrier.”

I nodded in agreement, hoping that the Vulcan correspondence course she was taking would bear fruit any moment.

Apparently it did, for she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, exhaled slowly . . .

. . . and dropped her hand.

I remained still as I watched her closely. She wasn’t wearing a sidearm, but I knew she always carried a knife on her person.

The fire in her eyes was gone, replaced with a weary sadness that made me feel worse. I had disappointed her. Again.

“I apologize, Captain,” she said in a tight voice. “That was inappropriate on my part. How do you suggest we deal with this matter?”

Honestly, I preferred the angry Reyla over the pseudo-Vulcan Reyla

“Um.” Actually, the confrontation with Reyla had taken some of the wind out of my sails, allowing me to think a bit more clearly. “First, we need to adjust our course – make some random turns – just in case the Syndicate traced the shuttle back to the ship. Make sure we’re watching our six.”

She nodded, the flush in her cheeks fading. “Good idea.”

“Then, I want to have a little chat with Sing Yu and find out what’s really going on.”

A ghost of a smile flickered across her face, making my feel a bit better. “Before you toss him out an airlock, he would make a good bartering tool should we encounter any Syndicate types.”

I thought about that for a moment. “I’m not going to toss him out an airlock, Reyla, appealing as the idea sounds. But I won’t turn him over to the Syndicate either. He may be a slimy, weaseling bastard, but he’s our slimy, weaseling bastard. I’ll fire his ass before I allow him to be murdered by Syndicate goons.”

Reyla shook her head but the smile was steady. “You’re a good person, Captain Carbo. I like that about you. It’s probably going to get us killed one day.”

I shrugged. What can I say? It’s a character flaw.

“Do you want me to accompany you when you confront Sing Yu?”

“No, I need to do this. He’s my hire and my responsibility.”

A nod. “Then I’ll head to the bridge and work out some evasive maneuvers with Talia.”

“Subtle evasive maneuvers,” I cautioned her.

“I don’t do subtle,” she replied as she turned and moved back up the corridor. Yes, I watched as she departed. She looks good in a form-fitting jumpsuit. Nothing subtle about that.

With a sigh, I resumed my trek toward the cargo hold.

* * *

The Balaam is a tug, not a freighter as such. She was built to pull cargo pods of various types as opposed to carrying freight within the confines of the ship itself. Still, there were times when ancillary items needed to be carried on board – items that were more susceptible to changes in temperature or required a constant gravity field. Thus, we had a sizable cargo hold that, often as not, was used as a rec deck. Lacking on-board holographic entertainment, we have an honest-to-god billiards table, ping pong, and shuffleboard lanes are painted on the deck. I’m seriously considering putting up a dart board.

Yep, we are truly living la vida loca.

I slid down the ladder to deck 3, which houses main engineering and the cargo bay. You can always tell when you are on deck 3, even if blind-folded. It smells like old socks.

As I approached the lair of the bilge rats, aka our deck hands, I begin to hear an odd noise. Pausing, I realized the sound was coming from the cargo bay. It sounded like someone was being murdered.

Cautiously, I reached for my sidearm which, of course, was safely locked away in my cabin. Again.

Dammit.

Grabbing a nearby fire-extinguisher for a makeshift weapon, I peered around the open hatchway into the cargo bay.

Tralnar was lying on the billiards table, mouth agape, and snoring enthusiastically. Good thing I didn’t have my pistol because I might have shot him just to put him out of my misery.

“Tralnar.”

“Snxyxxzzzz.”

“Tralnar!”

“Znorkzzzzz.”

“TRALNAR!!!”

Spluttering and cursing, the ancient Tellarite sat up abruptly and looked around wildly. “What? What? Is it a warp-core breach?”

“Calm down. You were sleeping and I need to ask you something.”

Tralnar scratched his graying muzzle and snorted in derision. “Nonsense. I was just resting my eyes.”

I resisted the urge to remind Tralnar he only had one functioning eye. Vanity prevented him from acquiring an ocular implant. Obviously, his hearing was none too good either.

“I’m looking for Sing Yu, have you seen him?”

“Fornicating demi-gods, how should I know? I was . . . resting my eyes.”

You may wonder why I keep an elderly, half-blind, half-deaf Telarite on as an engineer. The fact is, he more or less came with the ship when I bought it. He had served as engineer under its previous owner for ten years and when the Balaam was sold to me he simply refused to leave.

Sometimes it’s just easier to leave things as-is.

“Never mind, I’ll find him myself. Carry on, Tralnar.”

He muttered something obscene in his native tongue as he lay back on the billiards table and quickly resumed snoring. Fortunately, the universal translator on my wrist com was broken so I missed the literal, if not the figurative, meaning.

Resuming my search for my quarry, I returned to the corridor. A few meters forward and a check of his cabin revealed no sign of the Laotian (though I discovered the source of the dirty-socks smell). Time to check his duty station.

The engine rooms of Burro-class ore tugs are crowded, noisy spaces. With twin warp cores feeding power to four nacelles and two sets of impulse engines, a lot of machinery gets shoehorned into a fairly small place.

I immediately spotted Faji Rahman, toting a PADD and dutifully checking readouts from the Master Systems Display. This actually fell under Tralnar’s list of duties but I was happy to let Faji do it, seeing as how he could actually see the readouts. He was wearing ear protection, so I had to tap him on his shoulder to get his attention. Faji jumped slightly at my touch but smiled gamely when he saw who had accosted him. He removed the ear coverings.

“Captain?”

“Where’s Sing Yu?” I spoke slowly and loudly to be heard over the din of chugging coolant impellers, thrumming warp cores and the blaring of speakers pumping out 24th century Neo-Punkabilly.

He gestured to one of the overhead catwalks. “He was up there a minute ago, said he needed to check on a futzy EPS junction."

I nodded and indicated that he could return to his work. Grabbing hold of the nearest ladder, I quickly ascended to the catwalk.

There was no immediate sign of Sing, though I quickly spotted the EPS junction box that Faji mentioned. It was open with the panel on the grating but nobody was around.

Disliking clutter lying around (a real safety hazard in an ion storm) I picked up the panel cover and was about to replace it when I spotted something odd in the junction box. Reaching in, I withdrew two vials of an amber-colored fluid.

Oh, damn.

It was Brain Blast – a powerful narcotic that could elevate physical, mental and sexual performance for the short term. Problem is, it was highly addictive and usually elevated the level of death in the long term – typically an excruciating and lingering demise.

Now I knew why Sing was in hock to the Syndicate and it had nothing to do with gambling debts. The stupid, stupid fool.

Fearing what I might find, I trotted around the catwalk, my boots ringing in time with my steps as they struck the grating. At the third turn, hidden from the lower engineering space by the No. 2 warp core, was Sing Yu. He was sprawled out and apparently unconscious. A hypo-spray lay just out of reach of his right hand. Three empty vials were scattered about.

I tapped my wrist com and shouted, “Medical emergency in engineering!” before dropping to the catwalk and placing my fingers against Sing’s neck. No pulse.

I began administering CPR, cursing Sing Yu, cursing the Syndicate, and cursing whatever twisted monster had invented the insidious narcotic.

“Don’t you die on me you bastard! I want some answers!”

His eyes suddenly flew open wide and Sing Yu began to scream.

To Be Continued . . .
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