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 . . .