Pack up your troubles...
Fresh from the weirdest interview she's ever heard of, Rashana goes home to pack her gear. That's not that interesting or even time consuming – She's going to pack some pretty mundane things – comfortable clothes, underwear, a wash kit, a couple of PADDs stuffed with pictures and books, manuals and music and the few items of beaten up second hand tools-of-the-trade she owns from her aborted education.
Let's have a look at her location instead – she doesn’t even think of it as home. She's living in a blocky building, which someone has at some point tried to make more interesting with the sort of interspecies, ethnically diverse mural that in no way accurately reflects the sort of people that actually live there. The doors are double wide, and close slowly to prevent "tail slam", the battered and stained lifts are all freight size – definitely a place built for ‘taurs. Hardly surprising on Chakona! The notice boards and the general tidy but scuffed and worn air of the utilitarian décor suggests that this is indeed student accommodation. It may say a lot about Rashana that she lives in one of the two below ground levels... It's not a particularly cheery place. Neither are her rooms pleasant or homely – the paint outlining rather than decorating the bare walls, the lights (which subtly pulses at a steady rate that Rashana has calculated to be about 32 times per minute) are particularly grim white-grey: Guaranteed to provide optically safe wide spectrum lighting while reducing all colours to a soul destroying greyish hue. The floor is covered in industrial and worn carpeting that gives as much evidence of cheer as a layer of ash. The furniture, naturally, has seen better days and is long overdue for replacement or possibly an honourable burial.
Now she's packed she feels foolish – the interview isn't until tomorrow, and she has no idea what to do with herself. A quick check of her bank balance almost brings tears to her eyes, and for the fourth night running, she resolves to stay inside with her dwindling supply of protein and vitamin enhanced instant ramen like packets of Manna Noodles™.
Rumour has it that you can actually live indefinitely on Manna Noodles, but after the first month, you kill yourself rather than do it for a second month. Rashana has been surviving for two weeks on them now, and is fairly sure that the rumour is true.
She spends a few hours surfing the net, looking up articles on Helios-Soong’s innovative but unpopular Doublestep drive, and eventually falls asleep before remembering to check what "DW-12" refers to.
In fact, she sleeps so soundly that when the alarm goes off, she's half way through a panic stricken shower, soap in her eyes, one soaked sock still on, before she recalls that she re-set her alarm to give her extra time.
As ever, it turns out that she needs every moment of it – first of all when she can’t find any underwear and can’t work out where it’s all gone, before she recalls she’s packed all her clean clothes, and has to un-pack and re-pack. She barely catches the bus, makes it to the Port in plenty of time, then almost blows her schedule when she realises she's at the civilian end, the part with the soothing sculptures, recliners and duty free shops.
She arrives, glowing lightly (Chakats perspire, women glow, Quange sweat, her mother used to say), puffing and gasping, clutching her aching thighs and shoulder, at the Commercial end of spaceport which is just as ugly and utilitarian as she'd always hoped. The sun's casting sharp and dramatic shadows as she strides, head high towards the reception area, and almost gets stepped on by two Quange in engineer's uniforms.
Staggering into the reception hall, she joins a small line, waits five minutes and talks to the desk staff, who takes her ID, checks it, issues her a temporary com badge with a security pass splayed across the front, and points her to Waiting Area 51. She thanks him, but he doesn't hear – or pretends not to.
Rashana's almost crushed. This isn't nearly as exciting as she was expecting, and by the time she's hiked a half kilometre to Area 51, she's in two minds whether she'd give up the job for a cold bottle of water. When she finds an overpriced drinks machine next to the door, she's sure someone's toying with her. When she finds a water fountain tucked alongside the machine just as she’s about to spend almost everything she’s got for a small cold bottle of something blue, she's sure of it. She puts her money back in her pocket and tries to extract massive vengeance by chugging as much water as she can in the hope the bill will bankrupt the port.
Finally, she staggers into the waiting room; shabby seats, mostly deserted. She sits, dumping her bag by her feet and looks around. In one corner there's a chakat wearing a T-Shirt saying "Mary Sue", hir grey leopard like pattern a glossy silver grey, hair tied back into an improbable braid with some sort of weight at the end. Rashana takes an immediate dislike to hir on the grounds shi's drinking an actual cup of tea, which Rashana feels is horribly pretentious. The only other two people are a large equine morph in jeans and a pink shirt next to the silver Chakat, casually leaning up against hir, discussing something displayed on a PADD. The final occupant is a blue furred, leonine looking Chakat wearing a Star Fleet security uniform. Shi's sound asleep, propped up against the wall with a bag between hir forepaws.
Rashana checks her watch – improbably enough, she's actually arrived twenty minutes ahead of schedule. She decides, on the whole, that she should reward herself with a few chapters of her favourite series. It's a science fiction fantasy, based in an alternate universe, which is linked in some indefinable way with Rashana's universe. The name is "The Knights of Negative Tau", and it's got a cult following, not least because the author (rumoured to be a Chakat living on Chakona) has never been seen or interviewed, sending each instalment of the serialization in to the publishing site twice a month.
Rashana feels like every time she dips into the series that she too could open a door one day and step into the Other Realm, and is an active participant on the rumours and fan forums.
She's so engrossed that at first she doesn't notice the newcomer enter the room. She looks up, and almost physically flinches. He's big and rough looking, wearing some sort of body suit and armour, with empty but conspicuous holsters. Even without guns, he looks like he could punch his way through the wall to wreak mayhem on her world.
Rashana employs her skills of deduction and comes to a conclusion: he's a Pirate. The revelation is at once a thrill (A real pirate!) and also terrifying. She feels an urgent need to slip away to the toilet, given the amount of water she drank, a need which becomes even more pressing when the huge wolf morph swaggers over and leans over her then says, "Miss Knight? Come with me please."
The name is on the front...
"Sorry about that..." Rashana says to Sal, who shrugs easily, as if people shrieked and ran to the toilet every time he walked into a room. Maybe they do? Rashana will have to pay attention and see.
They're sitting in a small utility shuttle – Sal's flying, Rashana is in the jump seat behind him. Sal's waiting for clearance and doing all the pre-flight busy work required to fling a box of air into orbit without any loss of life or property damage.
Rashana looks around. The romance of spaceflight! The shuttle is pretty much a box with the ability to fly, and it shows. The inside of the craft is wide, but the ceiling is low, low enough that Sal has to bend over to walk to the front. There's an airlock at the back but no solid compartment wall between the back of the shuttle and the cockpit. The floor is industrial non slip matting with lock down points for cargo, and what looks like some harnesses on the wall. She wonders idly if it's for holding captives... she's still half certain she's about to visit a pirate ship.
Sal leans over the controls, one hand to his ear in the ancient gesture of someone getting a message over a headset, nodding, and then mutters something back. Rashana cranes to watch out the front view port as Sal smoothly taps in some command or other and throttles up. Rashana knows little about flying, so it's interesting to her to watch all this. Sal pushes up two graduated bars, and the shuttle slowly lifts up smoothly on its repulsorlifts. As they lift up, he taps a touch screen control that changes shape and colour. It’s a human design. She can tell because the colours used are red to green, though it’s designed so that someone who can’t see those colours can still quite easily see the status of the controls at a glance.
Rashana can feel a set of synchronised thumps – the landing gear folding. Sal's watching some sort of HUD – by craning around, Rashana can see it shows a set of concentric boxes, which shift as the shuttle swings around, and she understands that this is the flight path.
A row of controls light up green, their status displays changing, and she can feel the shuttle surge, though only slightly, and not as much as the changing view through the front port would suggest it should. If the flight path graphic is any indication, they're accelerating quickly which means they just transitioned from vertical take-off to Impulse driven forward flight but Rashana can't feel so much as a shiver through her seat.
Soon, they whip through the clouds, and the sky fades from blue to indigo, then down to almost inky black. Rashana is slightly disappointed – she can see neither stars ahead, nor her home (which is behind her from here), and what ships are around are far enough away to be specks.
After another few minutes as Sal watches the console and lets the shuttle's auto pilot fly, one of the shining fleck begins to grow. As it gets bigger, Rashana realises this is the ship she's being taken to. She leans forward, as if the extra inches will allow her more detail. Sal decelerates as they come up and glances over his shoulder, hands moving across the controls – the green parts of the board become amber and they leave the boxed flight path to swing slowly around the ship. Up close it looks vast... Like many things today, it seems so unlikely: That something so huge could be just hanging there unsupported. As they slide around the front, Rashana can see a human form pressed to the front.
At first she can’t understand what she’s seeing – why would there be a human casually laid on the front of the ship? Then she realises it's a figurine of some sort, plated in buttery yellow gilt, holding a banner, upon which she can just make out the name of the ship written boldly: The Blind Justice.
Your window from the world.
The Captain is on the cargo deck with The Sergeant when she gets the call from the Bridge that Sal’s docked with Rashana in tow. Shi gives them a little click on her com to let them know she got the message: Shi’s busy right now. Too busy to speak, though just a few minutes earlier shi was teasing The Sergeant over the fact hir stripes were coming out as they worked their way down the access path between the stacked walls of containers.
The Cargo hold has been pressurised temporarily so they can do an inspection. There are of course cameras and there is a standard tele-operated rig for loading, but in common with most people, The Captain and The Sergeant both prefer to get up close and personal with the shipping crates. It’s good practice – it’s easy to miss something that happens not to be covered by one of the cameras or out of sight of the loader unit’s own cams.
In the past it’s saved Barks from losing a few shipments when they’d found old crates that had been banged up, but mostly they’re here to ensure that what’s in the crates is what’s supposed to be – The Sergeant is holding a meaty looking Tricorder type unit up to one of the containers with both hands. The unit a lot bigger than normal, with a flat screen the full span of the back: the sort of thing you see Customs Officers using at the spaceport – and that’s exactly what it is. It’s designed to scan the crates without opening them, passively then actively, and light up if it detects anything on its blacklist. Its programming has also been modified to notice and flag the event to the user if it can’t see something, such as any mysterious voids that could be missing goods or shielded cargo, or anything of inconsistent density, such as contraband items packed in with similar non-contraband items – usually recreational drugs mixed in with medical supplies. The Customs Tricorder has to work through the cargo pods without the benefit of having them open... it’s slow but Barks At Moon doesn’t mind. Especially now shi knows H1 may be targeting cargo haulers, even more so now they’ve come to the end of the row and started scanning this particular container.
So far everything’s been fine, though Barks has taken the opportunity to apply "Federation Standard (FS.XP.VS110) reinforced substrate sealant strip (chemical adhesive bond)", AKA "SpaceDuck" Tape, to a couple of the cargo containers shi thinks need a little extra help with their integrity. Shi’s got hir saddlebags on, containing the stuff shi’s found useful for this task – Spaceduck tape, toss-lights, flashlights, spray cans, a little verminstunner, a big verminstunner, some sticky cams for extra coverage, a packet of sandwiches and some tie-downs, and so on.
Right now, shi’s holding a phaser-cutting tool – a high tech box cutter. The Sergeant is crouched by a container, the Customs Tricorder laid flat on the side, using the passive scan. The screen on the side looks like a window into the container when The Sergeant hold it this way, though the contents are only visible in grainy black and white as shadowy shapes. What’s worrying them both is the shape in the middle of what’s supposed to be seed for feedstock. The Sergeant slowly tunes the image, attempting to bring the device into focus using only the passive sensors, reading the various wavelengths of radiation that are actually passing through the container. She shakes her head to Barks, who steps lightly around the other side of the crate – it’s at the end of the row fortunately – and pulls out a foil pouch, which is folded into four. Carefully, shi unfolds it and pulls a red strip from the top to expose an adhesive strip, smoothing it along the back of the container to glue it in place. Shi reaches under and slowly peels the front of the foil pouch from just under the glue strip, down to the bottom, and gently smoothes the entire thing flat onto the crate. Then shi takes out the phaser cutter and uses the butt of the grip to crush a plump swell at the top of the sheet, releasing whatever liquid is inside.
When Barks rejoins The Sergeant, the image is a lot clearer. The foil pouch contains a sheet of felt like material, and a pouch of mildly radioactive liquid designed to mimic the sorts of background radiation found in the Cargo hold, but at a far higher rate. With the pack glued to the far side of the container, it’s acting like a back light for the Tricorder and now the contents of the container are much easier to see.
They can see the grain, and in the middle a collection of square bricks, hardly denser than the grain – and a panel which looks very much like electronics glued to a slim battery pack.
Pay no attention to the 'taur behind the curtain
Rashana has just met the Bridge crew, and is now wondering if the ship is in safe hands. She’d asked who the pilot was and they’d all pointed at each other and then gotten into an argument over where "the shirt" was. The confusion and Rashana's new feelings of inadequacy after having seen the tightly clothed forms of the two does on bridge duty have her feeling a bit disconnected, though not so much that she didn’t take a good long look at the bridge controls with faint feelings of envy, especially the unit with the big display panel. She rather liked the look of that.
Sal remains impassive as he leads her through the pressure lock at the back of the Bridge and into the long main passage that apparently runs the length of the ship. Rashana, who’s a pretty good engineering student specialising in starships, is of course completely familiar with the gravity control technology, but even so, the way the entire tubular corridor is a walkable surface plays tricks on her perception and makes her stumble until she notices Sal is watching the floor and not looking at the far end.
Sal is talking, pointing to various "off ramps" as they pass, giving her an idea of what’s in the ship. They’ve passed the Galley and the Comms room, which are tucked behind the bridge, the crew quarters ring, and now they’ve gotten as far as the sickbay.
They step down the ramp, which is at a 90 degree angle to the main corridor, dipping down to lead them to the bulkhead door, which has a nice wide, but tough window. Rashana can see the door is actually two doors, which overlap, and the far side has a small roller blind attachment, but it’s up right now. On the outside door, meaning the one she can see, someone has mounted a little sliding plate that can cover some writing below. Currently it reads "The Doctor is [ In |___]".
Sal presses the intercom, and knocks on the door: A simple knock won’t transmit through the airtight bulkhead. Apparently he’s in the habit of knocking rather than announcing himself verbally. After a second, the door slides open and Sal leads Rashanna in to meet the plumpest Chakat she’s ever seen.
Chakats don't tend to obesity, so it’s surprising to Rashana to see one who’s even showing a little plumpness, but after a moment, she realises that this is not in fact the case – it’s merely an illusion created by the Kat’s warm orange fur, which is fluffed up, giving hir the impression of being chubby. That’s not the only unusual thing Rashana notices – for a start, this particular Kat is casually hanging in mid air, paws tucked comfortably under hir belly and lower chest as shi knits some item or other from grey-green woollen yarn. The knitting, combined with the circular lenses of the Kat’s glasses give hir an oddly grandmotherly look, and Rashana feels almost instantly fond of this new Kat, who is evidently some sort of medical personnel, judging by the standard white medical vest shi is wearing.
The Kat nods politely, finishes the last few loops of hir row, and gracefully settles to the deck on three paws, one handpaw holding a little remote. Apparently shi likes to hang around. Shi drops hir knitting into a basket beside the square on the desk that’s been marked with safety tape, which is apparently marking the area modified for Kat floating. Shi runs a hand down over hir fur with a soft static crackle and smiles, stepping over.
"Hello. I’m Dr. Finetouch!" shi announces hirself. Shi gives a wink. "Of course, these reprobates call me Dr. Feelgood, but that’s because they have no imagination!" shi declares.
Sal grins and Rashana, for a moment wonders if he’s about to savage the doctor for suggesting he has no imagination, and if she’ll lose the arm attached to the hand that she offered the doctor when shi came over.
However, surprise dismemberment fails to occur, and Sal seems disinclined to savage anyone, so she merely gets her hand shaken and her medical history downloaded. She has to provide authorisation for the doctor to check it, and have her FMN-410 logged in to make sure she’s not barred from off-world travel. Since Rashana has never been off world before, and never caught anything exotic or communicable, she gets the green light quite quickly.
During this process, the doctor takes her glasses off and puts them down, and Rashana notices a flicker of motion from the inside of the lenses and looks around to see what they’re reflecting, but it’s not until after Dr. Finetouch has given her a once over with the sickbay’s medical scanners and they’re on the way that Rashana realises two things:
1: The doctor's glasses are display devices.
2: She still doesn’t know if she’s hired or merely going through an interview process.
Back at the ranch...
In the cargo hold, The Sergeant is rapidly scanning the other containers. They’ve used the data from the suspicious crate to build a profile for the Customs Tricorder to use, so the scanning is moving ahead rapidly.
While The Sergeant does that, Barks is bringing Murtak up to date. Murtak is in the Comms cabin, surrounded by her computer systems. She’s logging everything in the hold, and running signal trace on the local spectrum in case the item in the container is transmitting or receiving any signals.
While shi’s talking, Barks is working on the crate. Shi’s cleared out a path to the cargo doors with the cargo handling unit – basically by telling it what she wants and letting it do its thing. The crate is now marked with a broad sloppy X of luminous pink tagging paint on each side, and is being wrapped in a cloth like mesh – a Faraday sheath.
The Sergeant comes back from scanning, holsters the tricorder in The Captain’s saddlebag and then checks the cargo handler. As soon as it’s finished, she picks up the waldos for its control and brings it back. The Captain glues another little device to the side of the container, and activates it, causing it to light up. It’s called an RF Replicator. It’s currently playing the ambient RF noise of the last fifteen minutes into the faraday sheath, so whatever is inside the crate is less likely to notice it’s being isolated.
Barks steps back and puts her hand on The Sergeant’s back. The Sergeant moves the loader forwards, and lifts the crate very slowly upwards about a meter. As soon as Barks takes hir hand off The Sergeant’s back, she stops the lifter.
Barks runs the final sheet of Faraday cloth along the underside of the crate and starts sealing the edges together. In one ear, shi can hear Murtak, who’s now updating hir.
Traffic control cannot be notified that there’s anything special going on, because it’d blow the ship’s cover, so Murtak is routing the events through Nightwatch Alternate Communications. In the event of something happening, Nightwatch will cover for The Blind Justice and inform the authorities of events.
The Captain doesn’t intend for this to be necessary.
The last thing shi bolts to the crate’s underside is a large panel. It’s a section of the artificial gravity system. It’s on a long umbilical cord. As of now the crate is isolated from ambient electromagnetic, and is receiving a fake signal. It is also held by a false gravity field so any accelerometers of sensors inside will be unlikely to notice what they do next...
Sal takes Rashana to the engine room. They walk all the way down the spinal corridor, past the various hatches that lead to the cargo bays. Rashana notices that the ship is split into roughly four sections:
- The command section
The bridge, galley, sickbay and Comms room. There is a set of sliding doors, retracted into the walls, spaced to act like an airlock.
- The crew quarters
A much smaller section. The end of which has another set of doors, also retracted.
The long section where the doors only seem to lead to the cargo holds. There’s something weird about the end of the corridor, but looking up, Rashana can see there’s another set of doors, which aren’t retracted. They have wide circular windows of something that’s almost certainly not plain glass.
As they reach the last set of doors, the first set slides open, and they step through. They slide closed, and the far set glide open. Now Rashana can put her finger on what’s up. There’s a blank wall in front of her but it’s a good five meters away. The floor just drops away, and there doesn’t seem to be anything else. No ladders or steps.
Sal doesn’t seem bothered, he keeps walking, tipping forwards and casually vanishing over the edge, though there’s no sign he’s falling... so Rashana cautiously follows.
The ground stays solid and weirdly, it always feels completely flat, so much that she falls over as she’d been expecting a steep curve.
The feeling is weird – she’s laid on her back, her spine curved uncomfortably across the floor, but whereas one part of her should feel lower than the other, there’s no sign she’s on anything but a level floor. Finally she gets it, and after a little flailing, sits up. She looks straight down at her feet and slowly walks into the engineering bay.
When she looks up, she’s in a circular room, with four bulkhead doors in the walls, and two warp engine reactors either side of the entry, a set of benches and machines, a large and baroque coffee machine, Sal and a foxtaur vixen in an overall, with long graceful legs and a tied back mane, who’s watching her: arms crossed, head on one side.
Rashana immediately feels horribly embarrassed at the way she dealt with the entry, but the foxtaur surprises her.
"Well done!" she says. "It usually takes people a lot longer to work out how to deal with that, even when they know what they’re dealing with!"
Rashana smiles bashfully, her cheeks still feeling hot. "Uhm. Thanks!" she says, and recalls her situation, puts out a hand to shake.
The vixen pulls off a glove and shakes Rashana's hand, her nose twitching as she picks up the human’s scent. Rashana’s so used to seeing that, that it doesn’t even register. In her world she’s used to being the one with the worst of everything – hearing, vision, smell – though it’d never really occur to her to think of herself like that.
"I’m the engineer here – everyone calls me Leggy. I run the engines, fix the broken stuff and make the coffee." First Class Engineer Cassandra Widestride, former professor of Warp Field theory at Star Fleet academy, PhD, BA Hon, and author of "Interphase antimatter containment in magnetic bottle Warp Reactors", says easily.
"I’m Rashana Knight" says Rashana, failed student, replies. "Engineers and coffee – it’s a tradition!"
Leggy winks. "I’ll show you my little pet," she says, nodding at the coffee machine bolted to the wall, "But later. We’re running Helios Soong Doublestep reactors with equidistant nacelles, carrying 33% redundant warp field generators and block nines, recirculating plasma phase conduits and Noxichromite cooling..."
Sal's eyes glaze over. He rocks slowly back on his booted paws, catches himself, shakes his head and tunes back in.
"OK," Rashana is saying, "I get the phase decoupling and the retransmit buffers, but aren’t they for class D hulls?"
Leggy shakes her head, "On a stock freighter, sure, but if you buffer double the alignment you can get tertiary resonance and damp the envelope phasing..."
Sal pants softly, and rubs his palms on the sides of his pants. He feels an incredible urge to empty his bladder, and the muscles in the backs of his legs are twinging. He looks around desperately.
"Um, Leggy, you mind if I pop out?" he asks.
Leggy grins and nods to the entrance. "Sure, see you back in about an hour?" she calls as Sal all but hurls himself out of the room.
She shakes her head. "Nice guy. Can’t take a technical discussion..." she notes.
Rashana smiles uncertainly. Sal scares her, but doctor and the engineer, she quite likes. "Uh... so, this isn’t a stock freighter? I’m not familiar with the series?" she says, and realises she may just have said something that will make Leggy think she doesn’t know enough about starship mechanics to do the job.
Leggy though doesn’t seem worried. "No. It was never ever stock. It was a pre-production model from a shipyard that was in operation around the Jupiter L5 point. They made a short run – most everything is standard modules, apart from the hull and layout. It’s actually a long distance relay buoy delivery reference design, but they scrapped it due to budget cuts or something."
"Oh boy. Exposition!" thinks Rashana, looking around, then with a start, catching up to Leggy as she starts walking around the room.
"Some of the stuff in here is old enough to be stamped "Ketra Brothers", but it’s all infrastructure – we’ve had a lot of good runs so a lot of the gear is only second hand, some of it’s even new," Leggy says, and thumps her fist against some of the fittings – a work bench that looks thick enough to hide behind during a warp core breach.
Rashana nods and tries to look intelligent, interested and knowledgeable. "Um. I tried looking up Helios-Soong warp cores. I saw some articles by um, er Professor Widestride, I think, on using that configuration to get a 30% increase in power output, but I didn’t get into the article deeply," she says before Leggy can start rhapsodising about the paintwork or something.
"Really?" says Leggy with a scarily enthusiastic grin. "Coincidentally, that’s exactly what we’re doing. Here, let me get you a coffee and I’ll tell you all about it!"
What do you mean, "There is no red wire"?
The cargo hold seems hyper-real to Barks. Vacuum does that – there’s no dust or air to diffuse the light, the edges of shadows all seem fascinatingly crisp. Shi’s wearing a Starsuit, an armoured spacesuit, practically a shuttle class vehicle in itself. Everyone else, meaning Dirk and The Sergeant are just wearing normal, though combat rated spacesuits.
The cargo bay doors are open and Dirk has a cable attached to the crate, via a winch. Slowly the cargo mover shifts, very slowly accelerating, driven by The Sergeant. Murtak is recording absolutely everything. She’ll do data forensics later.
Barks is actually standing on the gravity plate. She uses one hand to gesture to The Sergeant, who releases the crate and stops the Cargo mover, which would normally drop the crate – but right now, the gravity is off and the crate just continues moving, a slow walking pace, sailing straight out the door into hard vacuum.
"OK. Dirk, give me a hundred meters, OK?" Barks says softly.
"Wilco." Says Dirk tersely.
Barks is under full gravity, standing on the plate that holds the rigged crate, so it’s easy for hir to look back and watch the open door of the cargo hold shrink as shi slowly sails away, the cable snaking out to the side of the thick umbilical power cable. Shi checks that the cable is unspooling easily, but even so, the platform is slowly turning under the tiny drag of the cable. Could be a problem.
The cable that they’re using as a tether slowly straightens, tightening. Dirk is applying a tiny amount of braking. In theory, the entire ad hoc assembly will come to a very slow halt about 100 meters from the ship, which is when Barks is going to cut both ends of the crate off, and try to extract the supposed bomb.
The assembly slowly twists as it slows, twisting, tumbling very slowly. Not enough to bother Barks, who can’t feel any motion anyway. Shi just doesn’t look at the view, but gets busy.
The Starsuit, the only one on board the ship, is decidedly not standard for a freighter, hauler, commodities barge and frankly would be rare even at home in a shipyard or other orbital building site. It’s fitted for Barks, and it’s got its own shielding and integrity field, enough they think to survive if the bomb goes off.
Barks is still terrified.
Shi starts talking, recording for Murtak.
"OK. Here I go. First, I’m cutting the Faraday sheath at both ends of the crate. OK, done. Now I’m turning off the EM replicator... ah, OK, it’s off. Making a vent hole in the crate. I’m using a standard ship’s phaser cutter. Going OK, getting a lot of vapour release. Tapering off... We’re spinning. I’m going to use the suit’s attitude thrusters to slow us. Myself. OK, going to take a minute here. OK. Steady. Now I’m going to cut the straps and we’re going to disable the gravity. I’m going to stand off a few meters."
"OK, the gravity plate is free floating now, moving it away. It’s being reeled in by Dirk. I can see The Sergeant, she’s standing off in case I need emergency recovery. OK. Using Gecko-pads to anchor myself, starting to cut the crate open now..."
"OK. First end is almost AHH!! I’m OK I’m OK! ... Some of the seed stock’s gone popcorn, pushed the panel off... thought the bomb had gone off. OK. Doing the other end..."
"Done. It’s coming off. Letting it drift right now. I’m going to use my thruster to add a little push to clear out the crate... All right, got the seed stock moving. Most of it is in bags but some of them split when I vented the case. I’m starting to unpack the bags."
"I can see the bomb. Looks like it’s bundled, I can see explosive bricks, taped together. Looks like a timer on top with a capacitor detonator. Let me check... Using a camera on a stick here, it’s a little tricky..."
"I’m throwing in a toss light."
"OK, I can see the display now. Looks like it’s set for about three weeks. OK, let me see. I don’t think there are actually any sensors on this, just a timer."
"I’m going to try something. I’m going to run a wire under the timer and then I’m going to anchor the explosives, and I’m just going to yank this thing out. OK, here goes..."
Too Much Coffee Vixen
Sal comes back for Rashana in an hour, by which time Leggy has delivered the most technical bits of her theory, and fed Rashana four cups of heavily sweetened coffee.
Sal had once let Leggy make him a flask to drink on a cargo run. He’d had to spend the night on the ground, because after drinking the flask dry over a copy of "Scarlet Rose: The tales of Linda’s love", he had been jittering too much to fly.
Rashana is and looks at Sal in desperation. Sal notices Leggy has gotten her flipchart out. There were also a set of flow diagrams splayed across the marker boards that Leggy had put up along one section of the walls for when she needed to scribble and make notes. No wonder Rashana is looking a bit wild.
Sal, in an uncharacteristic display of sympathy, pats Rashana gently and gently eases her towards the entrance.
"Sorry Leggy, I need to get her signed and set up. You can have her back later," he calls. Rashana is too busy with the curving floor to get the implications of this statement.
Rashana fall over her own feet while trying to navigate the entry, so Sal, ever pragmatic just rolls her through the door with a foot. He looks back and tips his head. Leggy stares then slaps hir forehead and gives two thumbs up. Ching! Approved.
Sal wanders into the corridor and picks Rashana up off her arse, sets her on her feet and herds her up the corridor.
"Thanks," says Rashana. She’s too overwhelmed to be terrified. In fact it takes her a moment to work out what’s happening when Sal sits her down in the Galley and starts asking her to sign various documents. She’s halfway through one before she realises that she’s just been hired.
She stares at the forms a moment then looks up at Sal, who right now is her best friend in a few thousand miles. "I’m hired? What do I do now?" she asks.
Sal grins. "Now," he says with relish, "We go spend your signing bonus!"
Before they leave to pick up Rashana’s stuff, they go find the Captain for final authorisation and Bark’s "Welcome aboard, abandon all hope" speech.
The captain is waiting for them in the Hangar, fur ruffled. Shi passes Sal a sealed bag with something blocky inside. It’s marked with a set of seals and signatures. "Pass this to Port Authority. You just need to drop it off," shi tells Sal, who takes the package and vanishes into the shuttle, giving Rashana a moment of quality time with the boss.
"Welcome to the crew!" Barks says and shakes Rashana’s hand, then holds it up. "Ah, you got the full tour of engineering I see!"
Rashana nods. It’s about all she can do.
"OK, we’ll give you a trial between here and Omicron Station. You get a month’s pay up front, which you’re going to need to buy some gear. Sal will tell you what you need. There won’t be anything to spend your wages on until Omicron, but if you don’t measure up you’re going to need them to get a freighter back home. You’ll probably still come out with a few hundred credits if you’re lucky. If Leggy and the Doc OK’d you, you’re probably OK, but don’t fuck this up, because this is about the only way you’ll ever get licensed. See you tomorrow."
With that, Rashana is gently but firmly inserted into the shuttle with a shove, and left with Sal.
Sal hands Rashana a com badge with "The Blind Justice" written on it and the emblem of a blindfold angel. When she takes it, her name and shows up across the middle:
In the last few hours, Rashana has unconsciously stopped thinking that Sal is a pirate and come to quite like him. For all his size and fearsome looks, he’s actually been nothing but nice to her, and she’s starting to warm up to him. She even asks a couple of questions about the Blind Justice while they’re flying home.
They land, Sal signs off some documents with Port Authority, hands over the package, signs another document, says "Remember where we parked" in a completely deadpan manner, and takes Rashana shopping in the PTV the ship hired while they were in orbit.
"So what’s the deal? I get paid a month in advance, but I don’t get the money?" Rashana asks. She’s shrewd enough to figure something is going on here that she doesn’t get.
Sal visibly ponders this.
"Yes," he delivers, then starts filling in the details. "You need some gear. You don’t have it. You can’t start without it, and you don’t get the money, because if you did, you might just skip out on the ship before we leave. We keep all the goods. They’re yours after a month," he explains tersely, and looks at Rashana to see if she’s understood.
Rashana is mentally listing everything she owns. She has a depressing suspicion that everything she wants to take with her will weigh less than 50kg. She shrugs.
"Sure. What do I need?" she asks.
Sal nods. "Tools. Got a list from Leggy. Uniform... Get that the same place as the tools. Clothes you buy at Omicron or bring with you. First, we get your stuff."
Rashana is feeling a lot better by the time they hit the University accommodation block. The Block Guardian tries to buttonhole her about moving out, and Rashana gets the unalloyed pleasure of watching someone other than her lock up when Sal walks in behind her like her own personal army.
It takes about five minutes for them to grab Rashana’s bag of clothes, her bag of PADDS, check there’s nothing else and leave. On the way out, Rashana palms off her old tools and her collection of Manna Noodles on whoever is around, hands her key to the Block Guardian, and successfully does not cry.
Rashana doesn’t want Sal to see her being emotional. She thinks he won’t understand, or feel contempt for her.
Sal is watching, and mentally making notes. He’s planning to write a story about a young girl who leaves her family, and this is great material.
Their next stop is a grimy little shop front in the industrial district marked "Falconeio’s Off World Outfitters"
Inside there’s a counter, a bell, and a sleeping Roo morph with the most vivid red fur Rashana has ever seen. Sal bings the bell a couple of times until the Roo wakes up and eyes Sal. "Oi. You again!" she says.
Sal nods. "Me. Got one of these, needs to be an engineer," he says and puts a hand behind Rashana, making her step forwards.
The Roo morph leans over the counter and looks Rashana up and down slowly, leaning to look at her sides. She makes a finger twirl, then again until Rashana realises she’s supposed to turn around, and does so.
"Hmm. You’re still with that crazy Kat who’s got a thing about decompression, right? Well, I’ll let the machine have its way and we’ll look through your list. You do have a list?" the Roo asks.
Sal nods, pulls out a PADD and hands it over. "The budget’s on there," he says, giving it a tap.
The Roo waves the PADD. "Isn’t there always? Now then, let’s get started. My name is Falconeio, would you like some tea?"
Rashana manages to introduce herself as she’s bustled into a back room. Falconeio gets her to stand in the open tube frame of a scanner, and starts getting her measured, then asks a series of questions, many of which Rashana doesn’t quite understand. Somewhere along the line, tea is produced and Rashana is hustled into a little booth with a folded suit and instructions on how to put it on. It turns out to be a Mechanical Compression slipsuit, in industrial grey with the lines of extension picked out in black. It’s unnerving to Rashana who generally manages to hide her body but the suit makes her looks slim and exotic.
Falconeio pulls her out, makes her go through a few exercises, then shows her how to hook up the environmental control unit, and gets her into the tough tear-proof coverall with built in pads over the knees and elbows.
Rashana feels superbly confidant now she’s starting to look the part.
Falconeio ("Just call me Falco dear, everyone does"), feeds her more tea, and starts loading her down with boots, hard hats, filter packs, flashlights, panniers, an engineer’s tricorder, thoughtfully pulls off her com-badge from her old vest and slaps it onto her chest in passing, then hands her a folding tool set, checks the list, and passes her a chunky watch, which informs her that it hasn’t got a time server configured.
Falco makes her put up the hood, swap the filters, adjust the temperature a couple of times, call the ship and read off a set of serial numbers, after which the watch lights up and starts to tell the time, and all the various networked electronic doohickies start flashing, lighting up, beeping and otherwise waking up as they get keyed in to The Blind Justice computer network, through her com badge.
Rashana wonders who the hell she was just talking to, but not for long as Falco strips her down to the coveralls, puts everything into bags, hands her a business card and a chocolate chip cookie and pushes her out into the front of the shop.
Sal looks up from his book, an actual paper book, into which he lays a bookmark. He slips it into his pocket and looks Rashana over, nods, pays with Rashana’s money, takes the bags, and says "Thank you Falconeio, see you next time," and walks out.
Rashana gapes, smiles, waves to Falconeio, says "Thanks!" and races out to find Sal locking all the bags into the PTV.
"Where to now?" she asks, bouncing in her chunky but wonderfully articulated boots. The AIS she’s stuffed into is lined with something that’s sheerer than silk – it has to be to work over fur, and in a decompression, the suit will stop her decompressing merely by holding her body like a second, tougher skin. For all that, it’s the most comfortable thing Rashana has ever worn, though it’ll take her a day or two to realise that’s because it’s always at the perfect temperature to be comfortable.
Sal snorts. "Now we get the other stuff", he answers cryptically and they drive for a half hour until they reach a building that’s almost as scary looking as Sal. It looks in fact like someone decided that they needed a structure that could survive until the eventual and literal end of the world, just in case one needed somewhere to keep one’s good stuff.
Sal does his thing with the intercom and is buzzed in. Behind the door, they both have to show their ID, then Sal has to do some more paperwork and Rashana has to get scanned, before they’re let in.
Inside is a human with a grin and a big fuzzy beard. He seems delighted to see Sal and just as delighted to see Rashana. He peers at her though not in a way that suggests leering so much as professional appraisal.
"No way is she on your team!" he declares. "What’s she here for?"
Rashana sure as hell can’t answer that, so she assumes Sal will. She looks around and realises the entire building is stuffed with what can only be described as weapons of personal, up to mass destruction. There’s an equimorph in the back sorting something into boxes.
"Engineer. Needs personal protection, spare and a knife." Sal says. "Same as Leggy, Jim."
Jim nods and calls over the equimorph. "Hey, Moose, get one of those suit knives out, the new ones with the new bars on."
He turns to Rashana. "Shipping out with Barks at Moon, eh? Hir and the crew are always good to see, you take good care of them!" and starts wandering around fluttering his fingers over boxes.
Rashanna is impressed by how everyone seems to know her new captain until it dawns on her that she’s got a com-badge with the name of her ship stuck to her chest.
"Let’s see, what was it last time?" says Jim, as Moose hands him a PADD. "Ah, a little pocket zapper and a Fed 20, wasn’t it? Ah yeah, here we go."
Jim pulls down two boxes. One holds a wand-shaped device. He pulls it out, pops the end open, slips in the power cell, and flips the safety guard up, presses a button. A green beam lights up, just a laser. He beckons Rashana over and crosses to a little range that’s sunk into the back of the shop.
Rashana looks around but Sal is browsing the merchandise and gossiping with Moose, so she follows this "Jim" character over.
"Ok," says Jim, "This is a vermin stunner. You use it to knock out anything that starts running around – it’ll work fine on anything smaller than a dog. Here..." he says and flips the guard, hits the button. The laser lights up. He waves it around and points at the target at the back of the shop, and zaps it with blue beam.
"You can turn off the targeting beam, don’t shine it in anyone’s eyes, don’t shoot yourself in the foot, don’t shoot anyone else in the foot, but if you do, you won’t lose any toes," he assures her and passes her the wand.
Rashana plays with the stunner a few minutes and gets used to it. Jim gets the target moving and she takes pot-shots with the laser on and off until she’s got a grip on the mechanics.
Then Jim shows her the Fed-20. "This," she says, "Is a Federation certified civilian-use stunner. You need a licence, you can’t carry it on a lot of worlds, but some places, it’s what’s between you and trouble. It’s only a stunner, so don’t start any gunfights," he says gravely.
Jim shows her how to use it and lectures her on gun safety, makes her sign for it and then takes all the boxes away, puts them into a case and security seals it. "They’ll be delivered to the ship," he says.
Sal buys himself a box of something Rashana doesn’t see, and then they give her the knife.
"Look," says Jim, "This is space rated. You can buy other knives, but if you take them into a vacuum, chances are they’ll snap from the temperatures. One of these will last you a lifetime. Be careful, the edge will go through your arm like it’ll go through anything else, but if you get tangled or you need to pop a cover plate and you haven’t got your tools then this is what you need. It is," he says with all seriousness, "a tool. If you think it makes you tough, pull it on Sal, and maybe after they re-attach your hand, you’ll learn something."
Sal looks impassive.
They give her the knife in a sheath, sealed with security tape. Apparently she can wear it as a tool as long as it’s visibly been made safe.
By the time they get to The Blind Justice, Rashana is almost dead on her feet. She looks at her wrist and stops in her tracks trying to read the time. It’s got a big round display, with a set of coloured hands and at least three concentric circles as well as a bunch of display text. Currently it shows:
- Ship time: 9:12pm
- Amistad Time: 18:62 CUT
- Date (local)
- Date (Stardate)
- A countdown timer of days hours and minutes until the ship leaves
It takes Rashana a moment to work out which bit she’s supposed to be looking at. There’s also apparently a mode showing her shift as hours and minutes, as a countdown, as a count up, as a pie chart and as a segment of the analogue portion of the face. No wonder it’s so big.
She follows Sal, loaded down with baggage, to her new cabin – the first time she’s seen it.
It’s clean, and totally bare. Sal looks at her and shrugs. "Decorate at Omicron," he says and leaves.
According to her watch she has 12 hours until she’s on duty, so she carefully puts everything away, reads through the instruction manuals for all her new belongings, sets her watch to be readable, reads her mail, sends a mail shot to all her friends and family about the nice quiet little freighter she’s signed up on, reads the mail from the crew – a mix of ship's rules and congratulations, answers a few mails that have come in from her friends and mother, and finally gets undressed, has a shower, runs her new AIS through the laundry program recommended by the instructions, and collapses into her new bed, waking up an hour later with a freezing cold arse, finds a blanket, turns the heating up and sleeps like a log.
Extendificatorlised in Chapter 3.
Pirates Before Breakfast
Chakats and Chakona are the creation of Bernard Doove and are used with permission.
Characters and story are copyright © 2008 Cuprohastes firstname.lastname@example.org
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