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Old September 18 2013, 03:33 AM   #1
TheLoneRedshirt
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Rock Jockeys: "Gold-Plated Trouble"

Rock Jockeys: “Gold-Plated Trouble”
by TheLoneRedshirt

23 January 2377 (Stardate 54062.1)
Desola Station
Outland Expanse


Chapter 1

I’m nobody special. It’s just that I have a knack for finding trouble. Or maybe trouble has a knack for finding me. I’ll let someone more sober than I sort that out.

At the moment, I’m just a guy trying to figure out just where the hell I am. Considering that my head is pounding like I’ve been on a four-day bender and my guts feel like I’ve been hugged by a Capellan power cat, I’d say I’m just waking up from a heavy phaser stun. How do I know this? Let’s just call it ‘prior experience’ and leave it at that.

My eyelids feel like they’ve been welded shut, but I manage to get one open. The image is fuzzy but familiar – the cheerful blue glow of a detention cell forcefield is mocking me. I hate cheerful. I’m not sure if the buzzing in my head is from the forcefield or an after-effect of a: the phaser stun, b: too much Janx Spirits, or c: head-butting a Nausican.

The last reminds me of why I’m in a detention cell on a civilian space station in the armpit of the galaxy. Must have been one hell of a bar-fight. I wonder how I did? For that matter, I wonder what the fight was about.

A shadow falls across the cell entry and I glance up. Too quickly, it would seem, as the cell begins to tilt precariously and my stomach lurches. At least I recognize a familiar if ugly face.

Constable Minos Kriekanova smiles smugly. “Ah, Carbo, I see you’re awake. Good. Your First Mate is here to drag your miserable hide back to your ship.” He stepped closer and crinkled his nose. “Gods, you reek. Now I’m going to have to disinfect the cell.”

Apparently forcefields don’t filter body odor. My heart bleeds for him. I glance down at the shredded remains of my shirt. Well, some part of me has been bleeding.

“Your concern is touching, Minos,” I croak, before a coughing spasm threatens to overwhelm me. I manage to catch my breath and spit a wad of bloody phlegm on the cell floor. The constable frowns but doesn’t comment.

I swing my legs off the bunk and catch myself as the room begins to sway. “Would it have been too much trouble to have a medic check me out?”

“They were too busy patching up the victims of your handiwork.”

The thought cheers me. “How many?”

“Three are in the infirmary. How did you manage to crack the skull of a Nausican? I didn’t know it was possible.”

I rub the prominent knot on my forehead and grimace. “With enough applied force and determined drunkenness one can move mountains. Not that I recommend it.”

“Head-butting a Nausican?”

“That and trying to down two bottles of Janx Spirits.”

Another figure joins the constable. This one is also familiar but far, far easier on the eyes. Reyla Jurn, a striking red Orion woman and First Mate of the M.V. Balaam, gives me an appraising look. “You promised you’d stay out of trouble.”

I shrug, which turns out to be a bad idea as the throbbing pain in my head radiated down my neck. “Did I? Sorry – I don’t remember. Any idea why I was fighting?”

“You were angry that we lost the ore contract to the Manitou, whereupon you left the ship and vowed to set a new personal record for inebriation.”

Reyla was speaking in calm, measured tones which she knew would annoy me. The anger-management lessons she took from some ancient Vulcan wizard seemed to help her but for some reason the calm approach pissed me off. I liked her better when she pulled a knife on me to get her point across.

No pun intended.

“That still doesn’t tell me why I was fighting.” I point out.

“You were drinking in the same bar as the crew from the Manitou.”

I grinned as recollection set in. “Oh yeah, that’s right.”

“You broke Captain Grunhoit’s nose,” she continued.

“That was right before you cracked the Nausican’s skull,” interjected Constable Kriekanova, helpfully.

“Hooray for me.” I manage to stand without falling over. Either the room was swaying less or I was.

By the way, I neglected to introduce myself. I’m sure I can be excused since I likely have a concussion and that thrice-damned Constable Kriekanova didn’t see fit to call a medic. My name’s Daniel Carbo. I’m Captain of the Merchant Vessel, Balaam, an old Burro-class Ore Tug I bought at auction a couple of years ago after I quit my job with the Corona Mining Company and struck out on my own. I guess I’m still a rock jockey at heart, ‘cause I still mostly haul containers full of Dilithium, Cavorite, Latinum – just about any mineral that can bring in some credits to keep the ship flying and my small crew fed and relatively happy.

Like I said, I’m nobody special.

Kriekanova deactivated the forcefield and some of the buzzing in my head ceased. He held out a PADD and a bag containing my personal effects – a wrist comm, my old leather jacket, three cigars and a pair of tanker’s boots that had seen better days.

I glared at the Constable. “Where’s my five strips of gold-pressed latinum?”

He shrugged. “That’s all that was on you when we hauled you down here.”

I doubted that seriously but decided not to press the issue. With some difficulty, I managed to get my boots on the correct feet and replaced the commlink on my left wrist after a couple of attempts. I hurt too much to put on the jacket, so I tossed it to Reyla who gamely caught it and tossed it over her shoulder. I affixed my thumbprint to the constable’s PADD as a thought occurred to me.

“Uh, when does the magistrate come by the station?” It was a no-brainer that I would be up on disturbing-the-peace charges, perhaps mixed in with a count or two of aggravated assault. Nolo contendere, your honor – I was drunk, aggravated and of a mind to assault.

“No charges were filed so you’re free to go. As to the damages . . .”

“I’ve already covered those with the owner of the Parabola,” finished Reyla, obviously impatient to leave. I’ve learned to pick up on her visual cues, always subtle - like a photon grenade.

Mustering my meager ration of dignity, I managed to exit the cell without falling down or throwing up, though both options had their appeal. Reyla is a lot stronger that she looks and she helped me get my bearings and underway.

As we exited the detention area, I couldn’t help but notice that she frequently glanced over her shoulder as we moved through the crowded promenade.

“Looking for someone?” I asked.

“Less talking, more walking,” she enjoined.

“We’re in trouble, aren’t we?”

“No. You are in trouble. I’m trying to remove you from the threat area.”

“I’m touched.”

“You’re hung-over. By the way, we have a job.”

I stopped so abruptly that we both nearly went over.

“Keep moving!” she hissed. Her head continued to bob and weave as she struggled to scan the crowd. Did I mention that she had a lovely head? I mentioned it to her the first time we met. She threatened to castrate me with a rusty blade.

Yep. She’s got it for me bad.

We began moving again. “You mentioned something about a job,” I reminded her.

“I’ll tell you when we get to the . . . oh frell!

By the tone in her voice I figured that things were about to get exciting. Instinctively I reached for my sidearm . . . which was safely stored in my cabin on the ship. Stupid, stupid . . .

Fortunately Reyla’s pretty head contained a fully functioning and alert brain. A Durham 88 pulse pistol appeared in her hand as if by magic. She raised it in the direction from whence we came, causing passers-by to decide they needed to be elsewhere. There was no panic of course. Stuff like this happens on Desola Station probably five times a day.

Two Nausicans were stalking our way. The one sporting a cranial bandage looked vaguely familiar, though I had yet to be introduced to the rather ugly blade he was brandishing.

Reyla lifted her wrist comm. “Now would be a good time, Tralnar.”

The familiar tingle of a transporter beam engulfed me. I managed to acknowledge the Nausicans with a friendly extended middle-finger before we dematerialized.

* * *

We materialized safely on the Balaam’s transporter dais whereupon I promptly threw up.

Tralnar, our ancient Tellarite engineer and resident complainer regarded me with disgust. “I’m not cleaning that up,” he declared.

Reyla ignored him and moved to the comm panel while I sat down heavily on the transporter. Maybe I really did have a concussion.

“Talia, get us underway. Go to warp as soon as we clear the outer markers and head to the rendezvous coordinates I gave you,” she ordered.

The voice of our Russian helm officer crackled over the channel. “Already moving. Expecting company?”

“Always. Jurn, out.” Reyla turned back to me and for a moment I thought I saw a look of concern in her eyes. Must be the bad lighting in here.

“Can you make it to your cabin?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe you better carry me.”

That almost brought a smile. “You’re getting better. Just don’t push your luck – I have no wish to cause you further injury.”

I pulled myself to my feet. Actually, I felt a little better after tossing my cookies. “I’m alright. Tell me about this job you lined up.”

Reyla shook her head. “Later. We’re twelve hours from our rendezvous point. Why don’t you get cleaned up and get some rest. I’ll send Marie with the med-kit.”

“Scrub my back?”

“One more word, Captain, sir, and Marie will need to bring the trauma kit. Get some rest and please, take a shower. You’re making the paint peel off the bulkhead.”

I took a sniff under my arm and winced. She had a point.

* * *

The sonic shower did wonders for my aches and pains – not to mention my social standing with the crew. Our medic, Marie Langier, gave me a cursory check and declared me battered but not seriously injured. I credit the Janx Spirits for my speedy recovery.

Clean and more-or-less sober, I made my way to the ship’s bridge.

Actually, the control center of the M.V. Balaam could only be considered a “bridge” by the most charitable of observers. Even "flight deck" might be a stretch. The designers of the Burro-class took the quad warp nacelle layout of Starfleet’s old Constellation-class and grafted it to a wedge-shaped primary hull that could handle a crew of perhaps 20, max, in cramped conditions. When I purchased the Balaam at auction, I opened up some of the cabin space, seeing as how I only had a crew of 10, myself included. Our cabins are actually pretty nice for a merchant ship. Unfortunately, nothing could be done about the size of the bridge. At least the seats are comfy.

Four average-size Humanoids are about all that will fit in the cramped space. The helm and ops are at a twin forward console while the duty officer and cargo master have stations aft, slightly elevated for a clear view of the screen.

At the moment, Reyla Jurn, who you’ve already met, was seated in the D.O. chair while Talia Dostroveski guided the ship from the helm. Gham Nor Heiji, a young Rigellian male, sat at Ops. The cargo master station was vacant, seeing as how we lacked any cargo pods to tow, so I made myself comfortable in that chair.

Reyla passed me a cup of black coffee which I gratefully accepted. I imagined it was more out of a desire to sober up the captain that an expression of consideration, but I’ll take what I can get.

The coffee was hot and strong, the aroma almost divine. I downed a long pull, risking a burn to my tongue and closed my eyes in bliss.

“This didn’t come from the replicator,” I observed. Hell, this was five-star restaurant quality java.

“You can thank Gham for that,” replied Reyla. I lifted my mug in appreciation which seemed to please the kid. This was Nor Heiji’s first tour on a merchant ship and he was a fast learner. Everyone seemed to like him, except for Tralnar who was rude to everyone, and Juan Salierno – one of our deckhands who kept a perpetual chip on his shoulder.

“So what about the job?”

Reyla smirked. It was obvious she was pleased with herself. “While you were getting beat up in the Parabola, I received a call from an interested party that wants us to tow three empty cargo pods to Pn’Thaala II.”

My ebullient mood began to fade. “Pn’Thaala II? That’s in Ferengi space.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“Please tell me we aren’t doing business with the Grullans.”

Reyla gave me one of those infuriating looks that only a smug Orion woman can produce.

“Aw, dammit Reyla! You know I hate doing business with the Grullans – they creep me out.”

The Grullans are a particularly unpleasant race that dwell on a remote planet in Ferengi space. They have a reputation for being miserly that makes the Ferengi seem like philanthropists by comparison. You may not have heard of the Grullans as they don’t get out much. If they get too far from their legendary stores of gold-pressed gold, they either break out in a rash or their spleens explode. I forget which.

And did I mention they’re unpleasant?

My First Mate gave me a look that would freeze molten lava. “Considering that our other options are . . .” She paused, “Actually, there are no other options. We are taking the job. You are welcome to remain here until the job is finished.”

I considered reminding her that I was Captain. I considered my odds of survival if I remained on the station and allowed two angry Nausicans to pound me into oblivion. I considered the reality that I was screwed.

I smiled my most ingratiating smile, wondering if all my teeth were intact. “Actually, I hear that the swamps of Pn’Thaala II are simply breath-taking this time of year.”

To Be Continued . . .
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Old September 18 2013, 08:34 PM   #2
admiralelm11
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Re: Rock Jockeys: "Gold-Plated Trouble"

I like it! It reminds me of your Eschaton stories. Of course, with the captain and the first officer, you've got to wonder who's in charge there.

Keep up the great work, TLR.
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Old September 19 2013, 04:48 AM   #3
TheLoneRedshirt
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Re: Rock Jockeys: "Gold-Plated Trouble"

Thanks admiralelm11 - I hope to update and complete the Eschaton stories at some point.

Chapter 2

M.V. Balaam
Sector 3774, Warp 6

I must have dozed off, because the next thing I knew Rand Noble, my Second Mate and Operations Manager was peering down at me. Rand really needs to trim his nose hair.

“Danny, you okay?”

I rubbed my face, trying to get the circulation going. I could feel the indentions in my skin where my head had rested on the Cargo Master’s console. My face probably looked like a waffle.

“Just hunky-dory,” I rasped. Actually, my head was pounding and my tongue needed a shave. “Just stop shouting.”

The soft-spoken Centauran shook his head in sympathy. “Sounds like you need a little ‘hair-of-the-targ’ to get you going.”

“Uh-uh. The last hangover remedy you gave me kept me awake for three solid days.”

“Your headache went away, didn’t it?”

“Yep. So did all the feeling on my right side.”

Rand looked hurt. “How was I to know you were allergic to Besluvian root extract?”

“Oh, I don’t know – maybe it was the container label that read, ‘Danger – toxic to Humans?’

The hurt expression shifted to embarrassment. He seemed at a loss as how to respond so I decided to let him off the hook. Teasing Rand was like kicking a puppy, albeit a puppy who can bench-press a shuttle craft. “Where are we anyway?”

“Still in Federation space, transiting sector 3774. The Lesser-Riven Nebula is lovely if you care to look.”

“Pass. When and where do we pick up the cargo pods?”

“Fordson’s Planet in the Wahkjanner system. We should arrive in two days.”

“Good.” I stood and my stomach growled, reminding me that I had ejected my last meal onto the floor of the transporter room. “I’m going to the galley, then I’m going to check into the details of this job that Reyla lined up.”

“You don’t sound happy about it.”

I pondered that for a moment. “My ego isn’t so big that I’m bothered that Reyla found us a contract while I was getting my ass kicked. But the idea of going into Ferengi space and dealing with the Grullans does not fill me with warm and fuzzy feelings.”

Rand lifted a bushy eyebrow. “What are you worried about, Danny?”

I was already heading off the flight deck, so I simply called back over my shoulder, “I have a very vivid imagination.”

* * *

My stomach rumbled again as the smell of food wafted up the corridor from the galley. Don’t get me wrong – we’ll never be featured on the Federation Food ‘Net, but we have two decent replicators and an honest-to-god kitchen setup. It would be even better if one of us could actually cook.

Two of the crew were already in the galley. By the expressions on their faces, I must have interrupted something unpleasant.

Juan Salierno looked none too happy for the interruption. He mumbled something to Marie Langier, our erstwhile medic and Jacqueline of all trades, before shoving away from the table and stepping past me into the corridor with a curt, “Captain.”

I watched the deckhand stalk away before turning back to regard Marie. She appeared flustered and her face was red. It looked like she was fighting back tears.

“You okay?” I asked.

She smiled, but I could tell it was forced. “Sure. How’s the head this morning?”

Classic deflection. “Still attached and growing hair.” I went to the replicator and ordered two egg sandwiches and coffee. I took my plate and parked myself across from Langier. She focused on her own plate, her food untouched, unwilling or unable to meet my gaze.

“Is Salierno giving you grief?” It was no secret that our Mexican/Rigelian deckhand had a thing for Marie. From my perspective, they went together like peanut butter and anti-matter, but the crew’s personal affairs are none of my business.

Unless I make it my business.

She waved her hand dismissively. “Juan is just . . . persistent.”

I took a large bite of my sandwich and begin slowly chewing, partly because I was hungry but partly because I was considering my words.

“Look, Marie . . . Salierno is still on his probationary period with the ship. If he’s being an ass just say the world and I’ll drop him off on the nearest rock.” With or without atmosphere, I did not add.

She sighed. “Captain, thanks but I’m a big girl. Juan doesn’t frighten me.”

Interesting choice of words. “Okay, Marie. But let me know if he gets out of line.”

Another forced smile. “I will.”

I wished I believed her.

We ate with an awkward silence hanging between us. That bothered me, because we usually cut up and generally shoot the breeze with ease – not in a romantic sense of course; hell Marie is more like my little sister than anything else – so her withdrawn behavior was troubling.

She picked at her food for a few minutes more before mumbling an excuse and leaving. I finished my sandwiches and coffee, considering Mr. Juan Salierno – native of Matamoros, Mexico, Earth, and more recently a resident of Rigel IV. He had a good resume’ and was a hard worker – one of the best I’d seen working in zero-gee conditions. He could move cargo around like an artist. Hell, he was better than I was.

But there was a dark side to Salierno; something that made my hackles rise after just a few weeks. It was nothing I could put my finger on, at least nothing tangible. Sure he tended to be a loner but a lot of deckhands are. And he was quiet, too. Maybe he didn’t floss after meals.

A prerogative of being master of a ship meant I could fire anyone I wanted whenever I wanted. But I didn’t like those kind of people and I certainly didn’t want to become one.

And yet, I still had a bad vibe about Salierno.

I pulled out a cigar, cut off the end, and lit it. Hey, if the captain can’t smoke on his own ship, what’s the point of being the C.O.?

“Daniel, are you smoking in the galley again?” came a familiar voice.

Busted. “Yes, dear.”

My lovely and dangerous First Mate entered and ordered a Raktajino from the replicator. She leaned against the counter and regarded me with a sardonic look.

“Since we both know you promised not to stink up our commons area with your noxious smoke bombs, I will assume you are not fully recovered from your drunken brawl.”

Sighing, I stubbed the cigar in my plate and replaced it in the inner jacket pocket that served as my humidor. Don’t judge me.

“I just needed to think, that’s all. The cigar helps.”

Reyla frowned. “That sounds serious. Thinking is not normal for you.”

I ignored the jibe. “I think that Salierno is giving Marie some grief.”

She was quiet for a moment. Reyla was all too familiar with the kind of grief to which I alluded. She had been a slave for the first twelve years of her life. Once, she had tried to tell me about some of the horrors she had faced growing up but she had been far too sober to do so. There is a special level of Hell reserved for Orion slave traders. At least, I sure hoped there was.

Finally she spoke. “Anything specific?”

I shook my head. “No, and Marie isn’t talking.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know yet. Why don’t you talk with her?”

Her red skin flushed russet with emotion. “Not a good idea.”

“Afraid it will bring back bad memories?”

“No. I’m afraid I would lead me to throw Mr. Salierno out an airlock.”

“Not too subtle,” I pointed out.

“As you often like to point out, subtlety is not one of my gifts.”

“True enough.” This was getting depressing. I needed to think about something else for a while before dealing with crew issues.

“Since you’re here, how about filling me in on the details of the job. Not that I don’t trust you or anything - it’s just that the crew still thinks I am Captain of the Balaam.”

I was pleased to see the ghost of a smile return to her lips. Despite the Vulcan mumbo-jumbo she was learning, I knew she had a short fuse. No point in throwing too many sparks her way.

She approached the table with her characteristic grace that always made my heart do the two-step. And no, it’s not Orion pheromones - only the green ladies have that. Reyla does stunningly understated sexy all on her own.

“What do you want to know, Captain, sir?”

“Oh, just minor stuff. Who’s the contact? What’s our cargo? Hmmm, seems like there was something else . . .” I snapped my fingers. “Oh yeah, how much does it pay?”

Reyla took a sip of her Raktajino. I thought she looked rather smug.

“Our contact,” she began, “is Sebonias Tinn.”

I shrugged. “Never heard of him.”

Unfazed, Reyla continued. “Our cargo, as I mentioned already, is three empty pods which await us in orbit around Fordson’s Planet.”

“Empty? Who in their right mind wants empty cargo pods?”

Ignoring me, she went on. “And we will be paid 25,000 credits.”

I tried not to appear excited. “25,000? Well, I suppose . . .”

“Each.”

It took me a moment to put consonants and vowels together in a coherent manner. “Uh, 25,000 . . . for each cargo pod?”

She shook her head. “No. For each crew member.”

I stared at her. My mouth was working but no sound came out. 250,000 credits . . .

“Paid in equivalent bars of gold-pressed latinum,” she finished.

Fortunately, she was able to find a bag for me to breathe into before I passed out from hyperventilation.

To Be Continued . . .
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Old September 19 2013, 09:36 AM   #4
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Re: Rock Jockeys: "Gold-Plated Trouble"

Oh, a very nice change of pace from your usual Border Service stories. The characters are instantly likable, especially the protagonist and his first mate. I especially like the first-person perspective which I don't think you've used since your TOS Border Dogs stories. It works even better here, since our hero seems a bit of a maverick anyway even though it appears he has a few good and loyal people to help him out.

And clearly there is something very fishy already going on with their latest job but it seems the crew for now is blinded by the credit symbols in their eyes.

Very much looking forward to more.
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Old September 19 2013, 05:00 PM   #5
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Re: Rock Jockeys: "Gold-Plated Trouble"

As always TLR, love your work. An interesting motely crew, plus its always good to see the civilian side of life in space.

The FPP is weird though, not read that much from just one persepctive, but here it seems to work quite well.
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Old September 19 2013, 10:29 PM   #6
TheLoneRedshirt
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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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Old September 22 2013, 01:52 PM   #7
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Re: Rock Jockeys: "Gold-Plated Trouble"

Ah, you gotta appreciate the simplicity of private enterprise operations and their liberal way of dishing out discipline. No bothersome regs to get into your way for that.

But it looks like Daniel has good reason to want to hurt Sing because the way things are looking, he's just invited the entire ire of the Orion Syndicate on him and his crew and that may not be a scenario the Baalam can survive.

I'm eager to be proven wrong. Hopefully.
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Old September 22 2013, 04:08 PM   #8
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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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Old September 23 2013, 12:05 PM   #9
Bry_Sinclair
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Re: Rock Jockeys: "Gold-Plated Trouble"

Great story-telling TLR, you keep hitting great cliff-hangers, whetting our appetite for more from this motley crew!
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Old September 29 2013, 05:41 PM   #10
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Re: Rock Jockeys: "Gold-Plated Trouble"

Sung Yu cranked up on BB and the syndicate on their tails. This is a recipe for disaster. Let's see if our hero and his partly valiant crew can get this all figures out and most importantly come out of this alive.

Still a great story and looking forward to more.
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Old September 29 2013, 07:46 PM   #11
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Re: Rock Jockeys: "Gold-Plated Trouble"

Bry and CeJay - thanks for reading and your comments! On with the story . . .

Chapter 5

Balaam doesn’t have a state-of-the-art sickbay as do Starfleet and Border Service vessels. Heck, even the Merchant Service ships have better facilities than we do. In short, we have a spare storage area that has been outfitted with a surgical table and lights, a few medical supplies suitable mostly for hang-nails and hang-overs . . . and of course, Marie Langier. Hey, I’ve been meaning to upgrade things. High-tech costs high-credits. And don’t forget, I’m saving up for a dart board. Gotta have your priorities straight, ya know.

Marie was doing her best to counter the effects of the Brain Blast that gripped Sing Yu while Rand Noble and I did our best to keep Sing from hurting himself or us. Rand, even with his Centauran muscles, was sweating mightily as he struggled to hold the Laotian’s legs still. I had managed to pin Sing’s arms down by sitting on his chest and planting my knees on his shoulders.

Okay, maybe that doesn’t sound medically sound or particularly merciful but it’s the best I could do at the moment.

Marie dialed up a sedative on her hypo-spray, her lips pursed and her eyes somewhat wild. She glanced at me with a look of fierce determination.

“Daniel, if I give him too much . . .” It wasn’t fear I heard; she was just telling me the straight truth.

“He’s gonna die anyway if you don’t. Give him the damn shot.” Hey, I never took the Hypocratic Oath. Sue me.

Biting her lower lip, Marie gamely stepped in and placed the hypo-spray against Sing’s neck. The device hissed and Sing howled as another adrenaline induced spasm racked his body. I nearly went ass over teakettle as the Laotian bucked and writhed beneath me in obvious agony. Marie grabbed the back of my shirt, saving me from face-planting on the deck.

“That went well,” quipped Rand, just before being smacked in the face by Sing’s left boot. That’s gonna leave a mark.

“Call for reinforcements,” I gasped. Hey, you try giving CPR for fifteen minutes and see how you feel.

Fortunately help showed up at that moment. Unfortunately, it was the hapless Faji Rahman whose eyes were as big as Bussard collectors. He stood in the hatchway and gaped.

Marie broke his reverie. “Faji! Get over here and help hold him down.”

Faji gaped. “How?”

“Just grab something that’s moving!” I shouted. This was no time to be picky.

Gamely, Faji stepped in. Unfortunately he stepped right into one of Sing’s flailing fists. Hey, at this point I was just hanging on for dear life. The crunch when Sing’s fist connected with Faji’s face made me wince.

“Ow!” The Bangladeshi stumbled back, clutching his nose.

And then, Sing collapsed once more, like a balloon suddenly deflating. Marie reached in and felt at his neck again. “No pulse,” she announced grimly. “Commence CPR,” she ordered.

I slid off Sing’s chest and Rand took over, seeing as how I was pretty much out of fuel. I figured the stocky Centauran could pump away for about a week without wearing out. Of course, if he got too enthusiastic with CPR he would break every rib in Sing’s body.

Marie crouched down and pulled a case from under one of the cabinets. I’d never seen it before. To my surprise, it was marked with the emblem of Starfleet’s Medical Corps. Marie caught my look of surprise and simply said, “Later.”

Opening the case revealed a set of high-tech medical equipment. She opened a compartment and pulled out a small device which she placed across Sing’s forehead, then withdrew what looked suspiciously like a Starfleet-issue medical tri-corder.

“Stop compressions,” she ordered. Rand obediently stepped back.

“Is that a . . . ?” I began. This wasn’t equipment that you could pick up second-hand at a space station flea market.

“Cortical stimulator. Yes, it is. Stand back, please.”

She tapped the tri-corder and Sing’s back arched in a spasm. She pursed her lips as she deciphered the readings on her device.

“Normal sinus rhythm,” she announced and her face relaxed. “Let’s hope it stays that way for a while. His brain waves have also stabilized, at least for the moment.”

“Ish he gon’ to be oshay?” asked Faji in a thick voice. His nose was swollen to twice its normal size and blood trickled down from each nostril. I would have felt sorry for the kid but I was too tired.

“I don’t know,” admitted Marie as she rummaged in the case and brought out another medical device. She approached Faji, who took a step back in alarm.

“Hold still. You have a broken nose.” She gently took his chin in her hand and peered expertly at his nose, then activated the device which emitted a slight hum.

“It tickles,” remarked Faji. Marie moved the device over his face for more than a minute, then stepped back and examined her handiwork.

“How does it feel?” she asked.

Faji tentatively pressed at his nose, suspicious that it might decide to fall off his face. He drew a deep breath up his nostrils and grinned.

“Hey, it doesn’t hurt. Thanks, Marie!”

I watched all this, mystified. When I hired her, she had mentioned she had some medical knowledge.

Oh yes, we were most definitely going to have a talk.

Marie then walked over to one of the wall-mounted cabinets and pulled out several rolls of bandages. She tossed one to me and another to Rand as she took a third toward the table holding the now still form of Sing Yu. I held mine up with an apparently stupid expression on my face.

“We’re going to strap him down,” she explained. “The sedative won’t last that long and I don’t think either of you are ready for another wrestling match.”

“Not hardly,” I muttered.

Following Marie’s lead, we soon had Sing Yu securely ensconced on the surgical table. I almost felt sorry for the S.O.B. His skin was a waxy gray color and his half-opened eyes revealed only sclera tinged with yellow. He looked like week-old death on the half-shell.

Rand and Faji excused themselves now that the immediate crisis had passed. I lingered, hoping for an explanation from Marie.

I reflected on how I tended to bring on crew members without digging into their past too much. Part of that came from my own experience. I spent 10 years as an idealistic young man in Starfleet, 10 weeks as a cynical man in the Maquis, and 10 months as a thoroughly morose and uncooperative guest of the New Zealand Penal Colony.

10 apparently is not my lucky number.

But my point is that I can understand why people may be reluctant to share details about their past. And who am I, of all people, to judge? Almost no one would give me a second chance, so I had to make the best of opportunities I created for myself. If that put me in a position to help someone else out of the mire, then that was just gravy.

Reyla often reminds me that I’m the master of the ship and it’s my job to judge. Maybe she’s right (and more cynical than I’ve ever been on my worst day), but I tend to pull for the underdog, so forgive me if I let that responsibility slide a bit.

Fortunately, Marie made it easy for me. “I guess I owe you an explanation.”

“Owe me? No, you don’t ‘owe’ me anything. But I have to admit, I’m curious as to where you got all those medical toys and how you know to use them so well.”

She sighed. “It’s kind of a long story.”

“Tell you what, if you have an aspirin in that box of tricks, I’ll buy you a cup of coffee and you can tell me whatever you want.”

Marie let out a relieved laugh. “I think I can do that.”

* * *

We had the galley to ourselves, so I didn’t have to pull rank or throw chairs to gain us some privacy. Over one coffee (black) and one raktajino (toxic-level) I listened as Marie spilled out her story. Pretty interesting stuff, actually.

“So, Marie, you were in Starfleet too?” I had pretty much guessed that part, but I was polite enough to feign surprise.

“Too?” Marie caught that.

I nodded. “Ten years driving starships. My last billet was the Schwarzkopf.” I left out the part about resigning my commission to join the Maquis. Not the brightest career move of my life.

“I was a medical officer on the Akagi. Actually, I suppose I was CMO after Dr. Athwaite was killed in battle.” Her voice had taken on a distant quality, like a poor connection over subspace.

My coffee cup froze before it reached my mouth. “You served during the Dominion War.” It wasn’t a question, it was as obvious as the grease under my fingernails. Hey, at least I don’t chew on them like some Centauran Second Mates I know.

“Yeah.” She lowered her gaze and I felt the gravity shift in the room, like when I asked her about Juan Salierno.

I made a strategic retreat. “Look Marie, you don’t have to talk about it.”

She forced herself to raise her eyes and that fierce look of determination I saw in the infirmary returned. “I know. But I want to . . . I suppose I need to.”

Reyla stepped into the galley and caught my eye, a questioning look on her face. I shook my head a degree of a degree, most likely imperceptible to Marie. Reyla, though, knew me well. She returned a slight nod, gave a thumb’s up, and slipped back out into the corridor.

I have one hell of a fine First Mate.

Marie remained quiet for a moment, twisting her raktajino mug in circles on the table. The hum of the warp engines and the hiss of the environmental unit were the only sounds between us for several minutes.

Finally, she broke the silence. “Did you ever see combat?” She asked softly.

“Once. We were patrolling near Cardassian space about fifteen years ago, just when things were getting heated between the Federation and the Cardies. Some of the Federation settlements that were supposed to relocate decided they didn’t want to move, so the Cardies sent a couple of ships to intimidate the colonists. We were sent to intervene. It wasn’t an epic space battle, but it scared the hell out of me when they opened up on us with their weapons. Thank God for good shields and photon torpedoes. The whole thing lasted maybe fifteen minutes, but it seemed like an eternity.”

She nodded. “It’s amazing how your sense of time changes when you face the possibility of death.”

“I take it you saw a good bit of combat during the war?”

Her face wore an ironic expression. “The funny thing is, when you’re working in sickbay you really don’t know what’s going on. I never knew if we were facing five ships or fifty. Our gauge was the number of mutilated, burned and bleeding bodies that streamed in from all over the ship. We had to wear special overshoes to keep from slipping in all the blood that covered the deck . . .”

Marie’s voice trailed off and her eyes grew distant. I could tell she was seeing a place she never wanted to see again. It made me feel like a heartless bastard to make her relive it, but maybe she needed to.

She forced a smile. “Sorry. I, um, kind of zone out when I think about it.”

“Take your time. You don’t have to say more than you’re comfortable with.” Sorry, I sometimes dangle my participles when I’m nervous. Or when I feel like a heartless bastard. Like now.

“Thanks, I’m okay.” I was pretty sure that was a lie. “It was bad, though. Worse than anything I could ever imagine.” I’m positive that was an understatement.

“How many battles?” I asked. Maybe that was easier to answer.

“We were in three major battles and a couple of ‘minor’ skirmishes. Oddly enough, it was a minor skirmish that pretty much did me in. I had already taken over as CMO when we were ambushed by a few Breen ships. Usually it was a challenge just to keep your footing when the ship was getting hammered but it was oddly serene. In sickbay, you can’t hear weapon’s fire, only just the vibrations when we got hit and these were pretty mild. I thought we might make it without casualties for once. We almost did.”

She took a sip of coffee and I noticed her hands were shaking. I debated ending the conversation then and there, but something told me to let her keep talking. As an expert on hangovers and general bodily abuse I learned that sometimes it’s better to sick things up rather than hold them down. And I hate to puke.

“We were still under red alert, but the ship was moving smoothly. I actually felt giddy, like we had dodged a torpedo, when two gurneys came into sickbay. Chief Ronar was cussing up a storm, so I knew he wasn’t too bad off. Turns out he had broken an ankle sliding down a ladder. But the other one . . .”

Her mouth worked silently for a moment. It was like part of her refused to reveal the images that were in her head.

“The other one,” the words finally rolled out, “was a young ensign, one of the two-year wonders Starfleet Academy was cranking out to keep up with casualties. He might have been 20 but he looked like he was 12. His eyes were still open but a shard of ceramic alloy was lodged in his neck. And a single tear had traced down his face.”

She stared at me with such intensity that I almost fell off my chair. For a moment, I thought she was going to leap across the table and strangle me; the anger in her eyes was downright terrifying.

“He was a child, Daniel! Probably never went on a date and now he never would. The poor kid was in the wrong place at the wrong time when an EPS conduit blew and he bled out on the deck.”

She took a shuddering breath. “It was that tear, though. That damned tear. I must have lost it because the next thing I know, I’m waking up in an isolation cubicle under a restraining field and the ship’s counselor has this pitying look on her face. I wanted to punch her lights out.”

My mouth was dry but I feared if I swallowed I’d break something in my throat. “What did you do?” I rasped.

Marie seemed to physically deflate. “Do? I remained under observation . . . suicide watch, I suppose . . . endured three different counselors and I finally just quit and left.”

I frowned. “What do you mean, ‘you left?’”

“I mean I simply walked out of Starbase 43’s medical ward. I’m an M.D., remember? I know how to get around a hospital security system. I said, ‘to hell with Starfleet, to hell with the stop-loss orders, and to hell with the war,’ and I simply walked away. I believe the technical term is desertion.”

I fidgeted in my chair and blew out a long, slow breath. “Wow,” I said. I'm just full of wise sayings.

“That was 18 months ago. And I’m not going back.” She added the last like an exclamation point as she folded her arms and glared daggers at me.

“What, do you think I would turn you in?”

“Will you?”

That got my dander up. “Hell, no!” I fired back. “I may be an insensitive, cold-hearted bastard, but I don’t turn my back on a friend.”

She lowered her gaze. “I’m sorry. You took me on without so much as a question and I’m grateful. But it’s hard to trust people when you’re on the run.”

I thought about my misspent time with the Maquis. “You’ve got that right. Look, just one last question and then we’ll give it a rest.”

“What’s that?”

“Where the hell did you get the medical equipment? You didn’t just walk out with it, did you?”

She actually laughed at that. “No, of course not. You’d be surprised what you can pick up on the black market. And no, it’s not stolen. As impressive as it may seem most of that equipment is considered obsolete by Starfleet Medical. They basically give it away to outlying colonies when they update equipment. Most of it is beyond what a local paramedic can use, so it ends up for sale. Technically, that’s against the law, but no one cares to enforce it.”

And what about the law regarding desertion?, I wondered to myself. No point bringing that matter up. I’m sure she thinks about it most every waking hour.

My wrist com beeped for my attention. “Carbo, go ahead.”

“Daniel, we’re coming up on the outer system markers. We’ll arrive at Fordson’s planet within twenty minutes on standard approach.”

“Thanks, Talia. Drop us out of warp and proceed at one-quarter. Ask Gham to scan the system for other traffic. I’d like to know who else is around.”

“Will do. Looking for anyone special?”

Yeah, a ship load of angry Syndicate goons. “No, just always trying to make new friends. Keep me posted, Carbo out.”

To be continued
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Old September 29 2013, 10:49 PM   #12
Bry_Sinclair
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Re: Rock Jockeys: "Gold-Plated Trouble"

...wow.

You have got some great characters here. A very touching and poignant story that Marie has to tell, especially hoe despite all the blood and trauma she's witnessed its a single tear that beats her.

Very well told. More please TLR.
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Old September 29 2013, 11:01 PM   #13
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Re: Rock Jockeys: "Gold-Plated Trouble"

Okay, so now we have a drug addict and a deserter on board. Carbo should keep digging, at this pace there's nobody on this ship without a secret. But I suppose that's what you get in that business.

While I can't fully condone what Marie did, it's understandable to some degree and actually makes her somewhat relatable. Her one on one with her new captain was very well done, Kudos.
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Old October 3 2013, 01:12 AM   #14
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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
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Old October 3 2013, 09:28 PM   #15
CeJay
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Re: Rock Jockeys: "Gold-Plated Trouble"

This kinda loyalty Carpo displays here is rare outside the Fleet. Let's hope it won't get him and his crew killed. The way things look they won't get out of this with at least a few bruises.
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