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Old October 3 2013, 01:12 AM   #14
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Location: The void between my ears
Re: Rock Jockeys: "Gold-Plated Trouble"

Chapter 6

Ship’s Log, SS Balaam, Stardate . . . uh . . . Thursday, I think. We’ve entered the Wahkjanner system on final approach and still on-schedule to Fordson’s planet to pick up the cargo pods bound for Pn’Thaala II. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I have a crewman who is going through withdrawal from Brain Blast and who apparently owes a considerable sum of money to the Orion Syndicate. The most likely scenarios are that he either dies because the Brain Blast is sucking his eternal soul into a black hole or he survives withdrawal and dies because of the hole some Syndicate thug will burn through him. Either way, we are caught in the middle.

I decided to leave out the part about learning that Marie Langier was a deserter from Starfleet. Some things are better left unsaid and unlogged.

If we can manage a string of good luck, we’ll latch on to the pods and be on our way before the Syndicate can track Sing Yu . . . and us, down. End log.

Now, I had to figure out what to do with Sing. He really needed more help than Marie could provide, even with her boot-leg Starfleet medical equipment. Fordson’s planet had a decent medical facility, but the thought of abandoning a crew member rubbed me the wrong way, even if it was a scumbag like Sing Yu.

“Gham to Captain Carbo.”

I leaned back in my comfy recliner and smiled. At least one crew member showed me some respect. No doubt, he would get over that once his first voyage was under his belt.

“Carbo. Go ahead,”

“I’ve completed a scan of the system as you requested. There are currently eight commercial freighters, a Border Service Aerie-class scout, and nineteen private smallcraft in-system.”

That made me feel a little better. At least there wasn’t a Syndicate raider waiting on us. “Give me the names of the freighters.”

I waited as the young Rigellian checked his display. “Let’s see . . . there’s the Ghun’toq, Moon Shadow, Eschaton, June-bug, Lovely Lunatic, Rhapsody Rabbit Gavilán, Qing-Dao, and the Ace of Regrets.”

I knew all of the freighter masters and was on speaking terms with most. To the best of my knowledge, I did not owe any of them any credits. Unfortunately, none of them owed me any money either. Although John Colt of the Eschaton owed me a favor . . . Hmm.

“Thanks, I’m on my way to the bridge now. Ask Talia to clear us for orbital insertion.”

* * *

I badly needed sleep. Apart from a few hours of unconsciousness in the station brig on Desola and maybe an hour’s nap on the bridge, I was entering my third day without any real sleep. With great reluctance, I vacated my recliner, and abandoned my comfortable cabin for the bridge. At least I remembered to brush my teeth.

Fordson’s planet is hardly one of the seven wonders of the universe. It’s a small, rocky globe that was made marginally habitable by early terraforming efforts in the last century. In other words, it was an ecological mess.

However, its lack of charm and scenery were trumped by its strategic position near Ferengi space. It once boasted a full-fledged starbase but as relations between the Ferengi became, if not exactly friendly, at least stable, assets were reallocated to other parts of the quadrant. The base became a merchant station with a small detachment of Border Dogs to handle customs, ship inspections and the occasional search and rescue mission.

Reyla rose from the duty officer chair when I stepped on the bridge but I waved her back into the seat. My goal was to ingest more of Gham’s outstanding java, which I could do just as well from the cargo master station.

“Braking for orbital insertion,” announced Talia, while the impulse engines gave a whine of protest as the mass drivers reversed. Our Russian pilot knows her stuff. I enjoy left-seat time too, and I’m a pretty fair hand at the helm but Talia is a maestro. For the moment, I was just enjoying my coffee and the ride, trying not to think too hard about the next step.

“Standard orbit,” I ordered, unnecessarily, and I could almost hear Reyla roll her eyes. But it made me feel important and no one else was stroking my ego. Maybe I need to buy a dog.

“Standard orbit, aye,” replied Talia, gamely. She was a former Border Dog NCO and still responded with professional discipline (except for calling me ‘Daniel’ instead of ‘Captain’). Unlike the other ex-service members on board, she had an honorable discharge and fond memories of her time in the service.

“I can’t believe that the Eschaton and the Rabid Rabbit are sharing the same orbit,” I opined.

“That’s ‘Rhapsody’ Rabbit, Captain, sir,” replied Reyla. She gave me one of those sidelong warning glances that females from nearly every humanoid species can produce. “If Captain Chase heard you call her ship by that name, she would neuter you. Slowly.”

“I’m not afraid of Tabby,” I lied. That was a foolish statement on my part as Captain Tabatha Katherine Chase did not peaceably abide that nickname from any sentient being. Her temper was legendary as were the Andorian magnums she wore on her nicely curved hips.

“Of course you’re not, sir.” My First Mate was now favoring me with the ‘knowing look’ which told me that I was full of equine excrement.

“Still,” I pushed on, ignoring the look, “you have to admit it’s odd for John Colt and Tabatha Chase to be in such close proximity. It’s kinda dangerous, him being the immovable object and her being the irresistible force and all.”

“I was thinking more along the lines of matter and anti-matter,” countered Reyla.

And that was true enough, for the masters of the Eschaton and the Rhapsody Rabbit Gavilán were both strong-willed creatures of epic pride and stubbornness. They had an on-going feud of which the origins are so murky that I doubt even Colt or Chase could remember.

“But,” continued Reyla, “I think their problem stems from the fact they actually like one another."

It’s generally rude to laugh in another’s face, but I couldn’t help myself. “Now that has to be the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. I know for a fact that Tabby once shot Colt.”

“He’s still alive, isn’t he?” she replied, smugly.

“Yes, but, huh?”

“I rest my case.”

I will never understand how a woman’s mind works, whether she’s from Allentown or Alpha Centauri.

* * *

Reyla and I beamed down into the Merchant Station located on a fairly level plateau of the mountainous planet. The old pressure dome dated back to the original starbase built back when the Daedalus-class was state of the art.

“Let’s make this quick. I want to stay ahead of any Syndicate-types hoping to settle the score with Sing Yu.”

“I am not sure keeping him on board is a good idea, sir,” responded the lovely Orion.

“Neither do I, but I have the feeling if we leave him here he won’t leave Fordson’s planet alive.”

Reyla didn’t reply. We had already hashed this out twice. I know it wasn’t the smart call but it felt like the right one. She had suggested we give smart a try for a change. I pulled rank and stupid won the day.

We meandered through the crowds of merchant crewmen from numerous Alpha-quadrant worlds and a clutch of Ferengi haggling with a local ship owner over quantity discounts. A couple of bored-looking Border Service officers strolled by, probably wishing they were assigned anywhere else but here.

It didn’t take us long to reach the shipping offices of Galacti-Freight, a grandiose name for one of the smaller cargo forwarding outfits. The on-duty shipping agent was watching a Pareses Squares match on a holo-viewer and never made eye contact as he slid two PADDs across the counter to us.

“Read. Validate. Thumbprint.” he directed as he watched the team from Omicron Theta VI score to tie the game.

“Uh, we haven’t told you where we’re headed yet.”

He finally turned his baleful gaze toward us. “Every other ship in orbit has already checked in and is loading cargo. You’re either from the Balaam or you’re lost. The transport office is two levels up, Border Service office is one level below. Holosuites are down the hall on the left.”

Mumbling obscenities under my breath, I read, validated and jammed my thumb against the offending PADDs.

The sports fan didn’t so much as glance at the PADDs, merely tossing them indelicately onto a table.

“And our cargo?” I pressed, resisting the urge to vault over the counter and beat him to death with one of the PADDs.

“Second planet, third moon, L-3 orbit. You can’t miss them.”

Reyla grabbed my upper arm and herded me out the door before I could do violence to the shipping agent.

Still muttering to myself, we again navigated through the crowd and made our way to the bank of turbo-lifts. A long line had formed, seeing as how two of the lift tubes had closed for repairs in the past ten minutes.

“Come on, let’s take the stairs,” I directed, and Reyla gamely followed. In my aggravated state, I did not consider the odd coincidence of the lift malfunction until it was too late.

Half-way to the transporter deck level, our pathway up the stairs was blocked by a well-dressed human who sported a nicely tailored suit and a rather impressive disruptor pistol. Reversing course, we encountered an equally dapper Orion displaying an even more deadly-looking disruptor.

Of course, my more pedestrian Durham 88 was, you guessed it, safely locked in my quarters on the ship. In my defense, it wouldn’t have made any difference, seeing how the two Syndicate goons were locked, loaded and had us both dead to rights.

“Captain Carbo,” crooned the Human. “I know you have a schedule to keep, so I will be brief. Simply turn over Sing Yu and we’ll be on our way without any needless hostilities.”

Ironically, my reply rhymed with ‘Sing Yu.’ Well, at least, the ‘Yu’ part.

(Note: Captain Tabatha Chase and the Rhapsody Rabbit Gavilán are creations of MirandaFave)

To be continued
"You are beginning to damage my calm." - Jayne Cobb
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