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Old October 5 2013, 05:19 PM   #17
TheLoneRedshirt
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Location: The void between my ears
Re: Rock Jockeys: "Gold-Plated Trouble"

CeJay - Yeah, loyalty is supposed to be a two-way street. I don't think Sing Yu understands that.

Count Zero - Glad you like the story. Here's the next chapter . . .

(Note: Special thanks to MirandaFave for allowing me the use of his character, Captain Tabatha Chase.)

Chapter 7

It is said that your life flashes before your eyes when you face impending death. Honestly, that would have been preferable to the awkward silence that hung between us and the Syndicate hired guns.

The Human goon actually looked hurt. “Now that was uncalled for.”

Considering that he was aiming a fully charged and primed disruptor pistol at me, my opinion differed.

“Seriously? You’re pointing a frelling gun at me and you’re offended that I suggest you go copulate with yourself? You must have flunked self-esteem classes at Syndicate thug school.”

Reyla hissed at me in a tone only I could hear, “Daniel, what in the seven hells are you doing?”

It was a reasonable question but I had things under control. Besides, my focus was on nice suit guy. “What? Big, bad Syndicate dude can’t take a little trash-talk?”

That got a rise out of him. He put the emitter against my forehead as he shook his head.

“Captain Carbo, you’re beginning to irritate me. That’s a shame because I had hoped to do this the easy way. Less cleanup on our part”

“Oh, am I getting under your skin, sweet cheeks?”

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Carbo has lost it, he’s suicidal, trying to rile an armed and very dangerous man. However, what neither you nor our Syndicate friends know is that the station we are in has a security field that renders energy weapons useless by damping . . .

A bolt of energy blew past my head close enough to singe my ear hairs. Suit guy was thrown backward against the wall and fell into a steaming lump. Almost simultaneously, I heard a second shot and the Orion goon came tumbling down the stairs and lay unconscious at my feet.

“Sweet Mother of Christmas!” I breathed when my heart started beating again. Good thing I have excellent bladder control. I managed to turn without falling down so I could check on Reyla. She was alive and staring up the stairs at a familiar figure.

The woman at the top of the stairwell was holding two rather large Andorian magnums. She wore a fur-trimmed tan leather jacket, form fitting dark green pants tucked into riding boots while a pair of aviator sunshades was pushed casually up over her flowing mane of hair, which was a fetching blond today.

Our rescuer was chewing gum and winked at at me. I sat down, hard, as my legs finally gave up.

“Tabby?” I managed to croak.

The gum chewing stopped and her brows furrowed. One of the magnums moved fractionally in my direction.

“Uh, Tabatha, I quickly corrected, how did you . . .?”

The lower stairwell door flew open, slamming into the poor Human suit-guy's head. Adding that to the heavy stun blast, he would likely be out cold for a week.

Captain John Colt of the Eschaton stormed through, a Durham 88 pulse pistol at the ready. Our second erstwhile savior was a tall, broad-shouldered man with chiseled features, requisite leather bomber jacket and a mustache of which legends are made. Colt quickly took in the situation and replaced the pistol at the small of his back. He glanced up at Tabatha Chase and sighed.

“Tabby Chase. I should have known. Stirring up trouble as usual?”

“Hello, Johnny. A day late to the rescue and a credit short as usual. Seems you’re slower than that disreputable bucket of bolts you call a ship.”

Colt pointed a warning finger at Chase. “You know very well that Eschaton still holds the speed record between Epsilon Eridani and the Vega Colonies.”

Chase holstered her magnums and placed her hands on her hips, her eyes flashing with indignation. “Only ‘cause you cheated, slinging around that black hole, which, by the way was a very stupid and dangerous . . .”

“Excuse me!?!” Reyla Jurn apparently was recovering from the shock quicker than I was. At the moment, I was sitting on the deck, waiting for my pulse to drop below 200.

Colt and Chase paused. “Yes, Ms. Jurn?” replied John Colt, politely.

“Would one of you please tell me . . . what just happened?”

* * *
25 January 2377 (Stardate 54064.3)

Fordson’s Planet
Star’s End Pub


Halfway through my second bottle of Janx Spirits, the shock of what had just transpired began to fade. Somewhat. The brain cells yet unaffected by the powerful intoxicant jibbered quietly amongst themselves.

“Honestly, Reyla,” I said in my most contrite tone, “I had no idea that the energy damping system had been removed from the station.” And that was the truth. No way I would face off a thug with a charged disruptor if I thought I could actually be reduced to sub-atomic particles.

My First Mate was still ticked off at me. She directed her question to the other two captains seated at our table.

“And how long ago was it removed?”

Captain Colt cleared his throat. “About two years ago.”

There was another awkward silence. Reyla stared daggers at me. Tabatha made a show of reapplying lip gloss while John Colt seemed engrossed with the lint on his ball cap.

I, of course, sat there like a fool. An embarrassed, guilt-laden, worthless and obviously mis-informed fool. If not for Chase and Colt, we likely would have ended up as interesting scorch marks in that stairwell.

Which reminded me . . .

“How the hell did you two know we were in trouble?” Time to take the initiative and deflect some blame with bluster. I don’t do guilt very well.

Colt glanced at Tabatha and made a ‘go-ahead’ gesture. Captain Chase tossed her hair and smiled sweetly. Her teeth were so bright I had to squint for a moment.

“Danny, sweetheart, whenever I see anyone dressed in tailored suits in a dump of a station like this, I know they’re up to no good. They might as well have worn T-shirts that said “Orion Syndicate Killers for Hire.” As luck would have it, I spotted the two of you coming out of the freight office. You’re easy to spot, Danny, you tend to slouch when you walk. You ought to stand straight like Johnny here. It would make you seem taller.”

I attempted to protest but Colt shook his head. Apparently he had considerable experience with such conversations as these.

“Anyway,” she continued while she inspected her nail polish for flaws, “I thought it would be fun to catch up with some old friends. Danny, I count you and Reyla as very good friends, unlike some cheating freighter captains I know.”

“Oh, here we go . . .” began Colt, rolling his eyes.

“Hush, John. Don’t interrupt, it’s rude. Now, where was I? Oh yes, as I attempted to catch up with you, I noticed the same two Syndicate fellows slip into the stairwell. It was as obvious as the hair on John’s lip that they were up to no good, but I was intent on intercepting the two of you. As you know, the crowd was pretty heavy since the line to the lifts was quite long. I have to admit, I lost sight of you for a moment, then I caught a glimpse of you both heading for that stairwell. Now, I’m not one to get up into other people’s business . . .”

Colt had a sudden coughing fit and reached for his glass of Stout. Tabatha shot him a warning glance but pressed on.

“But I was concerned for your safety. So, I made my way to the stairwell and listened against the door. Your voice carries quite well, Danny, though I could tell you were about to get your damn fool head vaporized. Well, I just couldn’t let that happen, especially since poor Reyla was stuck there with you, so I intervened.”

I felt an odd mix of gratitude and embarrassment from Tabatha’s narrative. Clearing my throat, I turned to Colt.

“And, ah, what led you to our rescue? Did you spot those goons too?”

Colt tossed back a handful of peanuts and chewed noisily before answering. I noticed he maintained eye-contact with Captain Chase. The squinty kind of eye-contact, not the mushy kind.

“Nope. I spotted Tabatha with those over-sized hand cannons drawn, heading into that stairwell. I figured she was mad at someone, so I thought I’d intervene and save whatever poor soul that had managed to make her mad.” He chuckled. “Imagine my surprise when I discover she actually shot the right person for once.”

Tabatha smiled sweetly. It was a dangerous smile. “And whatever would you mean by that, Captain Colt?”

“You know damn well what I mean.” Colt growled. He made a shooting gesture with his fore finger and thumb. “Shoot first, identify target later.”

“You’re not going to let that go, are you?” By her body language, I almost expected her to draw those Andorian magnums again. Time to change the subject.

“I, uh, was wondering what you did with those Syndicate goons?”

Colt smiled. “One of my crew members is very good at hiding things.”

“Is that right?” I felt a slight chill at that.

Tabatha caught the look on my face. “Oh, don’t worry sweetie. They’re not dead.”

Colt pulled a cigar from his flight jacket, earning a scowl from Tabatha. He flicked open a small knife and cut off the end but refrained from actually lighting it. “No, not dead at all. And they’ll be far enough away that maybe the Syndicate can’t find them, ‘cause if they do . . .”

Captain Colt did not need to elaborate. My imagination was quite vivid as to how the Syndicate would handle employees that failed their assignment.

“And who is doing the hiding?” asked Reyla, rejoining the conversation.

“You remember Vaegrim, don’t you?”

We both did. Vaegrim was an enigmatic character, something of a wandering monk, roaming the galaxy but returning to the Eschaton from time to time to work as a deck-hand. I didn’t know much about Vaegrim, except that he was part of a long-lived race of which very few resided in the Alpha-quadrant. He was humanoid in appearance, though his ears would do any Vulcan proud. Tall, lean, and with reflexes like a cat, he had the uncanny ability to blend into the background like a wraith. I could imagine that if he hid something . . . or someone . . . it would stay hidden for a long, long time.

“Danny,” began Tabatha, peering at me intently, “it might be wise for you to pick up your cargo and be on your way post haste.” She hesitated. “Look, it’s none of my nor John’s business as to why the Syndicate is after you, but they can be relentless. If money’s the issue, I’m sure John and I could float you a loan.”

To my surprise, Colt nodded in agreement. “Tabatha is right. All we’ve done is bought you some time. The Syndicate won’t forgive a debt.”

I was humbled by their offer, but unfortunately it wasn’t a problem that money alone could solve. I explained briefly what transpired with Sing Yu and his precarious physical state.

Colt let out a whistle. “Sounds like your Mr. Yu screwed up big time. And you seriously want to keep him on?”

“Keep him? No, not really. He’s a royal pain in the ass but I won’t hand him over to the Syndicate on a Latinum platter, which is what I would be doing if I left him here.”

“Danny, your loyalty is commendable . . . but misplaced,” remarked Tabatha, gently.

I sighed. “Reyla and I have had this conversation, and . . .”

“And I agree with Captain Carbo,” interjected Reyla, firmly. I turned to stare at her, certain that the Janx Spirits had affected my hearing. Or maybe it was the shock of our near-death experience.

“We’re a dysfunctional bunch,” continued Reyla, kicking me under the table lest I open my mouth and utter something unhelpful. “but we’re together because Captain Carbo took us in, warts and all, when no one else would. And one thing I have learned from him is you don’t leave a shipmate behind.”

Colt replaced his ball cap with the “Four Horsemen Enterprises” logo back on his head. “I get that, Ms. Jurn. I think we all have crew members who are ‘challenging,’ wouldn’t you agree Captain Chase?”

Tabatha smiled demurely. “One or two.”

“But,” continued Colt, “You have to balance that loyalty against the safety of your entire crew. Right now, Sing Yu isn’t just a liability, he’s a danger to you, to your First Mate, to everyone working on the Balaam. Factor that in before you decide.”

I fixed Colt with my best flinty gaze. “Did you ever have a crew member that was as much of a screw-up as Sing Yu?”

Colt sat back and crossed his arms. He returned the stare but soon a small smile crossed his lips. “I did. And I still do.”

“And what did you do about this crew member.”

He maintained eye-contact. “I beat the crap out of him.”

I had to admit, that held a certain appeal to me. “And? . . .”

Colt sighed. Tabatha smirked. “Tell him, Johnny,” she coaxed.

“I paid his gambling debt and threatened to kill him if he ever so much as uttered the word, Syndicate.” Colt leaned forward, “But he wasn’t addicted to Brain Blast, Carbo. He liked to play the Dabo Tables and it was easy enough to keep him clear of those. He sulked but he didn’t go through withdrawal. I don’t think it’s even possible to cure a Blast-head.”

My wrist-com beeped for attention. I gave an apologetic shrug and answered.

“Carbo, go ahead.”

“Daniel, it’s Rand. Sing is gone.”

“Gone? Did he die?”

“No, no, the other kind of gone. Somehow, he got free and he managed to beam down to the planet.”

I stared at my wrist communicator, at a loss for words.

Tabatha Chase took a sip of her Saurian Brandy before remarking, “Looks like the decision has been taken out of your hands, Danny.”

To be continued
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