Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Miami Pete 17:

In the time I'd been aboard the Haul-o-caster, we had been boarded a number of times with varying levels of intrusion from outright fascist, boots on our necks, weapons pointed at the back of our heads, to on Vale Thee a bored inspector with a couple vaguely coherent guards taking a quick peek at our cargo to make sure... well, I'm not sure what they were looking for.  I could have smuggled practically anything onto Vale three with that lackadaisical oversight. Pete, however, had one overriding rule.  Anything that might get us into any real trouble either stayed well hidden, or it simply wasn’t allowed on board.  I think it was because the Haul-o-caster had been a known smuggler ship way back before my time and we often attracted more than our fair share of scrutiny.

What I didn't expect was grandfatherly plump bald man in what I guessed was a Morganite uniform of some kind, flanked by a couple of very intense, heavily armed and armored Stormtroopers, carrying a bottle of whisky and a couple of glasses.  I recognized the whiskey bottle.  It was one of Pete's favorite whiskeys.  Not being interested, I had never bothered to ask where he got it from.  Pete always kept a stash of it, well protected in a stout shipping container, in a corner of the cargo bay.  I guess now I knew.

"Who's in charge of the ship?"  He asked.  He had a loud, commanding voice, but I didn't get the impression he was demanding answers.  More like he was used to command and didn't dial-down very easy.

"That would be me sir."  I replied.  I couldn't help but notice Al in my periphery move like he was about to claim it was him, but I beat him to it.  I would have to have a talk with him.  It looked like our visitor also noticed.

"I am Admiral Thomas, acting commander of MSS Vanguard, and fleet commander of Morganite task force Bravo." He said.

"I'm Captain... um... Petra, of the free trader Haul-o-caster."  I replied.   I hadn't decided whether to use the name that Gregorious had given me or not, and I was all set to declare myself Captain Kid, but it just seemed so cheesy.  "Captain Kid!!! Into the INFINITE VOID!!!" my imagination poked at me from the imaginary vid advertisement.

"Ok, Captain, um, Petra." He seemed amused.  "Can you tell me about your crew?  I like to know who I'm talking to." He pointedly looked towards Al, then scanned towards Grace.  When his eyes reached Grace, both eyebrows raised and he looked a little disconcerted.  "And if that is what I think it is, please have her confined to her quarters for the moment. Because of our unique relationship with Miami Pete, the Haul-o-caster has always enjoyed some lee-way here in Morgan's, but bringing one of those here is pushing it a little far, don't you think?"

"Admiral Thomas, these aren't my crew.  I merely rescued the pair of them from the station before it was destroyed."  I answered.  "This is Al and Grace, both formerly of the trader Pride of Rome.  They were knocking on my hatch with a message from Captain Gregorious when the attack happened. The concourse was hit and started to depressurize, so I offered them shelter.  A few minutes later, we saw the Pride of Roam destroyed.  Since I came strait here, I haven't had a chance to drop them anywhere.  Yet.  And as far as I'm concerned, both of them can go sit in their cabins."

"but..."  Al tried to complain, but I cut him off.

"Now!" I said strongly. "This is ship's business, and you aren't part of the ship.  You aren't even paying passengers!  Go!"

Grace saved us all some more strife by grasping Al by the arm and all but towing him down the corridor towards their cabins.

"I have half a mind to order those two shot." came a quiet statement from the Admiral, almost as if he was talking to himself rather than to me. Admiral Thomas looked at me apologetically. "But, this is your ship Captain and I'm not here to interfere.  You must know, however, that those two won't be allowed to leave your ship while you are in Morgan's.  Is that clear?"

"Yes sir."  I couldn't help but notice that I was calling this man "sir" a lot, which isn't very much like me.  I rarely even called Pete sir, and usually then it was to emphasize that I thought he was being an idiot.

"Now for why I wanted to come aboard.  I'll be mother!"  The Admiral opened the bottle of whiskey he had been carrying, and poured a good bit of whiskey into two cups.  Handing me one of the cups he toasted, "To Miami Pete!"

We drank, I wasn’t about to refuse a toast to Pete.  I sputtered and coughed as usual.  The Admiral patted my back till I could get a good breath.

"Smooth, huh?"  He said with a smile.

"Yea, something like that."  I croaked.  Whiskey really wasn't my thing.

"Now you must tell me, what happened to my friend Pete?  Last I heard he was tracking down a lead on something that was stirring up the 'rus cult."

I didn't know how much I could trust the Admiral, but I knew I was out of my depth and needed help and the man did seem to actually have known Pete.  I got the impression by how he spoke to me that he was also at least familiar with me, probably through Pete, So I told him the story.  I didn't cry like a baby this time, so that's an improvement I suppose.

Once I was done, he spoke softly "So, you've come to realize what you are.  That is good.  I always told Pete that he should tell you and get it over with.  Cyborgs are used extensively for certain jobs in Morgan's territory.  Pete brought you here for repair shortly after he... ah... Acquired you.  Your probably don’t remember that, you had been shot in the head when Pete found you.  We felt like we owed him that much since we were the ones who sent the crew of the Haul-o-caster to Deltos to retrieve Dr. Basil, the cyberneticist that created you.  We were aware of her work and wanted her for our criminal corrections division.  Unfortunately, the corporation somehow found out they were coming.”

"You use the cyber devices as punishment?"  I was sick to my stomach.  "That seems cruel."  I knew, on a level, that was what happened to me, although my memories from before were hazy and disjointed.  I couldn't imagine a society that did that to people and considered it normal.

The Admiral seemed to understand, "It's not something we like to do, and it is fairly rare." he explained. "In most places, the people who go into our cyber re-habilitation program would be executed.  Murderers, rapists, killers.  With our program, they get to make a contribution to society and perhaps make up for the wrong they have done.  We've even been working on ways to make a cyber device that is reversible, for cases that are later found out to be mistaken rare though they are.  We haven't succeeded yet, but we've been recruiting non-conventional cyberneticists in hopes that someone will make it work."

“Were you the one that sent Pete to make contact with those ‘rus monks?” I asked.  I had to know.

“No.  Pete has done a number of jobs for us over the years, and I admit that I was aware of what he was investigating and was ready to pay for whatever information he uncovered - I like to stay informed - but he wasn’t investigating at my request.”  He replied.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Miami Pete 16:

Space around the station was in chaos.  Usually space is so large, that the chances of accidentally colliding with another ship was next to zero, but with three, maybe four ‘rus ships firing both missiles and particle beam weapons at everything in sight any ship that could was detaching from the station and scrambling for safety.  Some were flying away from the station, some were trying to dive beneath the station in an effort to put the station between them and the attacking ‘rus ships.  A few brave souls were powering up weapons and trying to defend themselves.  Those, of course, died first.

Gracie gasped, “The Pride is gone!”  She was sitting at the sensor station, watching as the attack unfolded.
“What?  They’ve left us?”  Al asked, obviously stressed.

“No!”  Gracie screamed, “She’s GONE!  She was there one minute, and then was hit by a missile and destroyed.  Everyone is dead!”

Al, who had been jumping from console to console, trying to help in any way he could collapsed into the seat at one of the stations.  He appeared to be in shock.  No help from that side any more I guess.
Just then I saw an opening and punched it.

Hauley isn’t all that big for a freighter, but she has some BIG engines.  So when I “punched it”, I mean we went from relatively nothing, to some serious hauling of the proverbial ass.  I didn’t know what kind of performance the ‘rus ships had, but I was hoping it would be enough to get us out of there.

Since we didn’t all die a dramatic, explosive death.  I guess it worked.

“Punching it” isn’t something I usually do with Hauley.  In fact, this may have been the first time that the Hauley had ever gone to absolute full power.   Yea yea… I panicked a little.  Hauley’s chassis is from a military cargo vessel that would have once been used to transport troops and equipment, and land them planet-side.  The engines, however, are from a large long-haul freighter.  So they have some serious thump to them.  Even Pete refused to push them much past seventy percent because he feared much more than that might damage either the structure that mounted the engines to the hull, or worse yet, tear the whole thing free, which would probably kill us all.  I would have to dock Hauley somewhere so that I could look to make sure everything was alright, but so far everything seemed to be ok.

Normally, just taking huge engines designed for a large vessel and putting them on a much smaller vessel wouldn’t work out so well.  What you would end up with is a lot more power (of course), but it would only translate to a tiny increase in speed.  Unfortunately, the engines would also use a huge amount of fuel, all with little benefit.   However, over the years various engineers have been tweaking Hauley’s engines and making adjustments to overcome the issue and allow us to turn all that extra power into speed without bleeding our fuel tanks dry.  I was just the latest in that long line of engineers.  Apparently, we had done something right, because OH THE SPEED!!!!

Needless to say, we escaped.

Now to deal with a crying Grace, and a zombie Al.  Oh bother.

A few hours later, and we were a surprising distance away from the station.  Sitting on the bridge, I heard a soft voice behind me.

“Where are we heading?” a still bewildered Al asked.  I had put them in the VIP cabins, separately.  Initially I tried to put them in the same cabin, but was informed by a rather disturbed Grace that she and Al were NOT together.  I don’t know if I imagined it or not, but I could have sworn that I saw Al flinch when she said that.  Perhaps there is some drama?  I didn’t know, and didn’t want to.
I pulled up the nav chart and pointed out our course. 

“We’re heading for this jump point here.” I answered.

“I’m not familiar with that one, where does it lead?” he asked.

“Morgan’s world.” Was my reply.

“Are you out of your MIND!” Al shouted.  “Morgan’s?  They shoot first and then shoot again.  They don’t even bother asking questions!”  He really goes from nothing to shouty in nothing flat.

“What’s going on?”  Came the soft female voice of Gracie as she entered. “I heard shouting.”

“Our automated friend here has blown some of her circuits!  She’s taking us to Morgan’s!” Al spat.

“Oh my!” came the shocked reply.

“Relax everyone!”  I felt like I needed to explain myself quickly, but that made me mad.  “This is MY ship.  I decide where it goes.  THERE is the airlock if you want to get out and walk!”

I got two blank stares.

“She’s angry.”  Grace pointed out to Al.

“No, she LOOKS angry.  It’s just a programmed in response.  Probably brought out because I yelled.”  Al replied.  “Cyborgs don’t have real emotions; those get preceded by the cyber device.”
“Al, you idiot.”  Grace replied.  “I’m an empath.  I know the difference between anger and programming.  She’s angry….  And getting angrier!”

“SHUT UP!  I’m right here!  Just SHUT UP!”  I didn’t know what to say.  They were talking about me like I was a thing.

“Al, for star’s sake, I keep telling you; she is not a cyborg….  Well she is, but somehow she’s still a person.”  Grace told Al, then to me. “I’m sorry dear.  That was very rude of us, especially after you saved us and let us onto your ship.  Please accept my apology.”

She seemed to mean it.  Then she hit Al.

Al jumped. “Yes, we’re very sorry.”  He said as he rubbed his chest where Grace had hit him.  “So very uncivilized of us.”

“Now, what is this about taking us to Morgan’s?”  Grace asked.

“Pete and I run hauls for Morgan’s from time to time, so they know the Haul-o-caster there.  They shouldn’t fire on us unless we do something stupid.  If there was anyone who could do something about the ‘rus, if there is anywhere that would be safe, it’ll be Morgan’s.”  I explained.  “After that, I don’t know.”

“No way, you are not putting us off the ship on Morgan’s.  They… they… I’ve heard things!” Al said.
It was clear that Al had heard all the rumors that everyone hears about what goes on on Morgan’s World.  None of which were likely to be true.  I didn’t know.  Yes, Pete and I had run hauls for Morgan’s.  We had even set Hauley down on Morgan’s World a few times, but I had no idea what went on there.  We were always directed to either a station, or a landing strip in the middle of the forest.  We were always warned, politely but sternly, that we were not to leave our ship.  We weren’t even allowed into our cargo hold while Morganites loaded and unloaded the cargo.  Most of what I knew was that Morgan’s traffic control had one particularly nice, young sounding woman, with a nice voice that was often on duty when we would arrive, and she and I would chat while she was directing us to wherever we needed to go.  I always wanted to meet her in person, but Pete said it would never happen. Nobody is ever allowed to mingle with the Morganites.  Pete warned me in no uncertain terms not to mention it or ask any stupid questions.

I made it clear to Al that we were going where I said we were going, period, and I wasn’t going to put up with static from him over it.  Grace, who seemed to have switched sides and was agreeing with me, for the moment anyway, gave him a stern look and he went back to his cabin without saying another word.

After that, the trip to the jump point was relatively quiet.  I pulled the engines back down to seventy percent as soon as I was sure we were in the clear.  I didn’t know if we got away because the ‘rus didn’t want to bother chasing us down, or couldn’t keep up.  When I looked at the logs and noted the speed we had obtained, I was floored.  I wasn’t sure if even purpose-built currier ships went much faster.  It was something I needed to think about.

The jump to Morgan’s was relatively uneventful, although we finally broke our streak of there being all green lights after a jump.  Thankfully, it was nothing serious though.  I would have to track them down and get them fixed soon, but none of it was life, or ship, threatening.

Right on cue, the comm bleeped an incoming message.

“Haul-o-caster, this is MSS Vanguard.  You are not currently authorized to jump into Morgan space, please advise.”

 “Vanguard, this is Haul-o-caster Actual.  We are looking for a port in a storm, and to pass on important news from Otford Station.”  I said, not sure how much to say, or how soon.

“Haul-o-caster Actual, please stand by.” Came the reply.

“Haul-o-caster Actual, this is Vanguard Actual.” Came a strong voice a moment later.  “I happen to know the Captain of the Haul-o-caster, and you sure don’t sound like him.  Either turn tail and jump out, or start explaining.  You have tree fingers.”

“Three fingers” is a Morganite expression that refers to the hands on a clock.  Pete told me about it one of the times we were on Morgan’s World.  It isn’t exact, but three fingers usually means somewhere around fifteen minutes, which seemed to me to be pretty generous in these circumstances.

“Vanguard Actual, this is Haul-o-caster Actual.  To my sorrow, I must inform you that Miami Pete is dead.”  I sent.

“Prepare to heave to and be boarded.” Came the reply.

Oh crap.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Miami Pete 15:

Much to my surprise, other than an occasional message, everyone seemed to be leaving me alone.  Looking at the external cameras, I didn't see any more of the orange and yellow uniforms that would indicate station guard, and I wasn't receiving any visitors.

Since I had it, I took some time to do a once-over on the ship to make sure everything was in top condition.  Maintenence helps me think.  I overhauled a couple of spare-spare components that I had in my project drawer - two is one, one is none after all - since our last visit to what Pete referred to as "that damn junk place", but I liked to think of as Nirvana.  It's basically the flea market just outside the space port on Activa 9.  Well, more like a moon of Activa 9, but the domed city on the moon calls itself Activa 9 also.  The actual Activa 9 is a gas giant that provides more than enough energy and reaction mass to make the city a going concern.  Add to that Activa 9 was also once a military shipyard and major manufacturing facility, and you have something special.  When whatever war it was built for was over, at least a hundred year ago, it was abandoned and sat empty until some enterprising people claimed it and turned it into what it is today.

It was nice to get back into my little workshop and do something constructive.  Something I could control.  Ever since Pete picked up those monks, everything had been a mess.  Well, not Hauley.  Hauley had been in the best condition it had ever been.  It was strange to think about, but the main difference between before and now was that engine overhaul.  I know the old engines put out a few harmonics, some of which may have been induced into Hauley's power distribution.  Interesting.  Just as I started to think about tests that could be done to either prove or disprove the theory - and mostly coming up empty - the buzzer on the hatch buzzed.

Since I wasn't expecting visitors - none that I wanted to talk to anyway - instead of heading for the hatch, I headed for the bridge where I could use the camera to see who was out there.

To my surprise, when I looked I saw of the very last people I wanted to see.  It was Gracie, the psyco-whatever.  In the background, I could see Al standing guard trying to see if he could wear out his neck joint by looking in every direction at once.  He seemed nervous, like he was expecting an attack at any minute.

"Hello?  What do you want?"  I sent over the ship comm to the hatch.

"It's me, Gracie.  Can you let me in?  I really need to talk to you." 

Well, of course it was Gracie, I could see that plain as day on the monitor.  What did she want though? 

"I'm not inclined to let you be anywhere near me.  Why would I let you in.  You can say what you want to say from there and leave."  I replied. 

"Please.  It's dangerous for me to be out here like this. Someone might recognise what I am."  She said.

"You got old Al there to protect you, you should be fine."

"Please, I really need to talk to you.  I can't go back!"  She actually sounded upset.  It almost sounded and looked like she was trying to escape from something, but what?

Then all hell broke loose on the concorse.  Alarms sounding, explosions, the works.  Then the sound that every spacer dreads.  The hissing of air, and the announcement that the station had been breached. 

I looked outside, there were 'rus ships attacking the station.  Then back at the monitor, Gracie and Al had nowhere to go.  Without thinking about it, I double checked that the inner airlock door was sealed, and opened the outer hatch.  As soon as they were in, I closed the outer hatch and equalized the pressure in the airlock.  It was a little frightening how much air it took.  They made it just in time.

"Power up the drives and get us out of here!"  came Al's voice over ship's comm from the airlock.

Traffic control was a mess.  I wasn't able to get through to anyone.  Usually, before you power up a ship, you have to call traffic control to let them know you were leaving and to coordinate such things as disengaging docking clamps and such.  There was no way to get through to them.

To my surprise, Al and Gracie bardged onto the bridge.  "Get us out of here!"  he ordered.

"I can't raise station traffic control!"  I replied.

"Of course not, they have probably evacuated."  Al replied.  "We need to get out of here before whoever's attacking the station start targeting us." 

I jumped to the helm station and started the power up sequence.  The quick one, not the slow one that I usually used that saved wear and tear on the drives.  It was a risk, but sometimes risks had to be taken. 

"Nothing for it, you'll have to tear the ship free from the moorings." Al advised.  Little did he know that Hauley was equiped with tear-away hatch facings.  I couldn't blame him.  It isn't very common to see those outside of certain... ahem... illegal circles, but Hauley had them as long as I've been aboard.  Basically, what a tear-away hatch facing is, it's an extra layer between the ship's docking interface and the station's docking interface.  When they are installed, care is taken to blend them into the ship so they aren't noticable unless you know what you are looking for.  Their function is, if there is a situation where you need to leave in a hurry, but the station you are docked to refuses to release the moorings, a quick button push and wha-la, the tear-away splits and you are free to go.  The nice feature is that there is no damage to your ship.  The ship side part of the tear-away can easily be removed later.  The REAL nice feature, although it doesn't apply so much this time, is that the side that stays attached to the station doesn't cause any damange.  If I didn't have the tear-away, I would have had to literally rip the ship free of the morrings, which would usually cause a hull breach on the station.  Of course, they are already having a hull breach, so it wasn't as wonderful this time, but the lack of damage to Hauley was definitely worth every penny Pete, or whatever predecessor to Pete that had them installed paid for them.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Miami Pete 14:

I sat on the bridge, thinking of what my next move could possibly be.  While there, I started to check on the fueling I had ordered upon arrival at the station.  It was complete, so Hauley's reactor fuel tanks were nice and full.  The water tanks were likewise full.  As with most stations, part of the docking procedure included a hookup to the station water supply.  A station has a lot more room for water filtration and reclamation than a star ship.  Sure, Hauley has a water reclamation system, it just isn't as advanced as one designed for a station.  On a long haul when there are no stops, ship water can get a bit funky.  It's still safe to use, it's just not pleasant.  Before I came aboard, the water tanks were pretty much ignored.  They would dock with a station and just top the water tanks off, putting fresh water on top of what was there.  Not me man, as soon as I had a chance, I completely dumped the entire water system and gave it a good scrubbing inside and out.  Then refilled with fresh water.  After that, when we docked with a station, our system was set to dump everything into the station's waste water system, rinse, and refill from empty.  It costs a little bit more that way, but the alternative is funky water.  Pete complained about the cost at first, but after a couple hauls, he came around.

I could tell, by the way that I was checking on preparations, that my subconscious was leaning towards leaving.  I just hadn't admitted to myself yet. But where would I go?  The first thing that popped into my head was 'rus One, but that was ridiculous.  It was also going backwards rather than moving ahead. Where else?  Deltos?  What was Deltos to me?  I could go back and see if my parents still lived, if I had any idea what my name or their names were.  I did have some memories of Deltos, but none of them were specific.  Like I remember having friends, but I don't remember any of them specifically.  No, Deltos was also going backwards.

The Comm chimed, letting me know there was another incoming message.  "Thanks a lot kid.  Gregorious managed to spring me from lockup by doing his lawyer bit in case you care.  Glad you made it to your ship."  It was from Chance.  Why did I find myself smiling?  Chance was not a nice man, just ask him, he'll tell you.  I do NOT like Chance.  NO!

I'm such an idiot...

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Miami Pete 13:  (warning, not a lot of time for editing today.  Might be a bit rough)

As I walked back to where I had docked Hauley, it hit me. "I checked, there's money." the one called Chance had said.

There's money... the words bounced around in my head.  There's money...  "not one of your bounties"... "I checked, there's money."

I ran.

As I reached the station arm where Hauley was docked, I slowed to a walk. As I approached the ship I couldn't help but notice that a couple of the station guards, in thier rediculous orange and yellow uniforms, had stationed themselves on either side of the airlock leading to my ship.  The uniforms may have looked rediculous, but I knew the men in those uniforms were far from.  Station security on the many space stations and star ports that I had visited in my time on the Haul-o-caster varied wildly.  Some places, they were little more than criminals.  Other places they were practically shock troups.  Often, as we docked with a station, Pete would give me a run down of his impressions from the last time he was there.  With this station, he always warned that I should be polite to the station guard.  The station manager was passing strange, hence the uniforms, but he paid well enough to attract some very competent security personel.  Regardless of what they thought of the uniform.

I didn't know what to do.  If the Haul-o-caster was parked at one of the cargo docks, I might have been able to skirt around and sneak aboard using one of the other hatches. Every ship has a number of hatches so that there is usually one handy no matter how or where you are trying to dock.  As it was, Hauley was attached to the station by her nose hatch, and all the others were out there in space.  Without a survival suit, they were out of reach.  Sure, I was wearing a ship suit, and ship suits are designed to provide SOME protection in the case of a hull breach, but not enough to risk a space walk in one.

As I stood there looking at the two station security officers blocking my way to the only home I had ever known, I heard from behind me "You know, you might want to get out of sight.  Or at least stare at those staties a little less obviously."

It was Chance.  Great, just what I needed.

"Gregorious send you to make nice?" I asked as I looked for a less obvious place to watch from.

"Nope, he sent me to make sure you were Ok.  He would have asked someone else to come if what he wanted was to make nice.  Never make the mistake of thinking that I'm nice." he replied.

Well ok.  Chance is not nice.  He said so, right there, openly.  I'm inclined to take his word for it.

"Gracie, she's nice.  Al is too unless he thinks you are out to harm Gregorious or the Pride, then he can become a right bastard.  He hasn't decided about you yet, so for now watch your back around him." Chance said.

"Why are you telling me all this?  As far as I'm concerned, as soon as I can get back aboard Hauley, I'm out of here and don't plan on seeing any of you again."  I replied.  I wasn't about to take his word on Gracie or Al.  As far as I was concerned, I wasn't about to trust any of them.

"HAH!" he laughed.  "You don't understand. Gregorious isn't going to just let this go.  He thinks of you like you are family or something.  Been referring to you as his niece that layed the golden egg.  I don't get the reference, but he definitely isn't going to just watch you fly away."

I got the reference, and in the version of that story I remembered, the farmer got greedy and cut that goose open to see where all the golden eggs were coming from.

"Go away.  I have to figure out what I'm going to do."  I hissed.  Standing here talking to this guy was not getting me anywhere except further and further into paranoidsville.  I had to come up with a way to figure out what station security was doing guarding my hatch, preferably without getting arrested, and then figure out what to do from here. 

Then I saw Chance's blasters and the beginnings of an idea started to form.  Before Chance had a chance (ha!) to realize what I was doing, I snatched one of his blasters and held it up so he could see it.  I didn't point it at anyone, since I didn't want anyone to get hurt in case there was an accident.  Just as I expected, Chance tried to take it away from me...  So I started screaming bloody murder.

I have long known that men could be a little dumb at times.  Just as I hoped, hearing a female scream, got the attention of the station guards who came running to investigate.  That's when I let go of the blaster and fell, as if Chance had overpowered me.  My timing was a little off, but it was close enough.  When the guards arrived there was Chance, with one blaster in hand and the other in it's holster, looking for all the world like he was standing over me threateningly. 

"Drop the weapon!"  The guards both yelled, then one of them went for a flying tackle.  Poor Chance was slammed to the ground and cuffed before he knew what hit him.  I on the other hand, slipped past the guards who were focused on the "dangerous badguy" with the weapon instead of the poor victimized, helpless girl, and ran for home.

I made it.

To Chance's credit, I will say he struggled and cussed much longer than he needed to.  I think he was keeping the guard's attention on him to give me time.  Or, I could just be fooling myself since he's... you know... kinda cute.

I'm such an idiot.

Once I had Hauley's hatch sealed, I couldn't help but hear the comm system beeping that I had messages coming in.  Oh what a surprise!  yea... right.

The sheer number of messages was a surprise.  Who knew that many people wanted to talk to little ol' me? 

There was, of course, the expected message from Gregorious.  "I'm sorry for the miscommunication." "You need to come talk to me." "Pete was my best friend in the whole world, I think of you as my niece." yadda yadda yadda... I noticed he left off the "that laid a golden egg"  part.

There was a message from station command saying that Senator Sampton wanted to "make my aquaintence".  A quick look at the data net showed me that Senator Sampton was the for-mentioned station manager with the poor taste in guard uniform.  So the flowery speech in the message wasn't surprising.  It did, however explain why only two guards were at my hatch rather than an entire platoon.

There were a lot of messages for Pete.  Invitations to meet for drinks.  A couple inquiries as to rates for hauling cargo.  A couple indecent solicitations from station prostitutes.  Who knew Pete was so popular?

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Miami Pete 12:

"Relax, she wasn't really IN your head, not like you're thinking anyway." The giant explained, "She can't read minds, she can just push emotions around. I find it puts people off balance, sometimes enough to make them slip up. I'm sorry I had to do that to you, but I needed to know if I could trust you.  It wouldn't be the first time someone used a cute young girl to make an old man let his guard down."

The giant smiled a big friendly smile, and it looked genuine.  I couldn't help liking him, but then again, he had already admitted to using a... something... to push around my emotions, so I wasn't going to start trusting him just yet.

"Who are you? And what do you want?" I asked.  It seemed like a reasonable request although I asked it a little harshly.

"How rude of me, I am Gregorious, Captain of the Pride of Rome." The giant, Gregorious replied. "And I'll refrain from asking your name, that is, unless you and Pete have managed to uncover who you are anyway. Last I spoke to him, Pete was just calling you kid."

"No, I still have no name." I had crossed my arms around myself and was acting sulky. A behavior that is very unlike me. Just what did that girl do to me?

"Very well!" the giant laughed, "In the mean time I shall call you Petra, the womanly form of the name Peter in rememberance of my friend.  It's a fine name derived from the latin word for Stone.  It was a name that suited Miami Pete, and I suspect it will suit you as well."

It seemed odd to receive a name from a strange giant, sitting in a pub on a space station so far from my birthplace.  Petra.  It felt right some how.  Like, boy: What's your name?  Me: I'm Petra. 

Man that... whatever she was... really did a number on my head.

"Well Captain Gregorious, I've said what I've come here to say.  Miami Pete is dead and gone and there isn't anything I can do about it.  Nice to make your aquaintence."  I didn't stick my hand out to shake, I just turned and walked away.  What else could I do?  It was stupid to show up here in the first place.  Gregorious was right, what could I do to him?  I was becoming well aware that he had the upper hand.  I hadn't even thought to bring a sidearm.  I'm sure HE brought a sidearm, along with a... whatever she was... and at least one crew member that I knew of.  Any other patron could likewise belong to Gregorious.  I felt outnumbered and surrounded.

"Aw, come now. Where are you going?  What are you going to do?" he called after me.  Not angry, which was a relief.  He actually sounded sad in a way.  Like me walking away had hurt him.  How could I trust him though?  I wanted to so bad, the time alone since 'rus One was wearing on me more than I had realized.  Gregorious was the first person I had talked to since then.  It almost hurt to walk away.

As I approached the exit, a young man slid into sight from behind a piece of the station structure.  He definitely didn't forget to bring sidearms.  He had them slung low on his hips like some vid cowboy.  He stood there, blocking my path and looked askance towards Captain Gregorious.

"Let her go Chance.  She's a friend, whether she relizes that or not, not one of your bounties."  Gregorious said.

"I checked, there's money." the young man replied.

The two stared at eachother for a few tense moments over my head.  I was stopped between them, not willing to go any closer to the dangerous newcomer, but not decided to turn and go the other way either.  Not that there was another way I could go.  The pub did have other exits, but I wasn't likely to make it to any of them if he was anywhere near as good with those blasters as his swagger said he was. 

Then he stepped aside.  "Good evening ma'am." He said as I walked through the hatchway.  As I walked away, I resisted the urge to look back, to run, to duck for cover.  The space between my shoulder blades itched like it never had before, and I found that I needed to find a bathroom soon or wet myself.

What had I gotten myself into?

Monday, July 16, 2018

Miami Pete 11:

There was no point in staying on 'rus One.  Pete was gone.  The monks were gone. It was time for me to be likewise gone. So much had happened on 'rus One, and it felt like I was leaving behind something that I would never get back.  In a way, I was.

The plan hadn't changed. I was still going to have to back-track to the station where we picked up the monks.  Hopefully, I would be able to use their names to get some info on them.  I would have to be careful though, since I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Liftoff was simple enough, I'd watched Pete do it a bunch of times.  Once I cleared the atmosphere, what little there was of it, and then the gravity well, I set course back to the jump point.

Running a freighter alone isn't usually recommended.  Technically, by-the-book, a ship the size of Hauley was supposed to have a crew compliment of at least seven.  A Captain, an XO, two engineers, two helmsmen, and a cargo master.  With each of those multi-tasking to fill in for anything else the freighter might need.  Crew members that were able to work a number of different jobs aboard a ship had a much better chance of getting hired, so most spacers cross-trained as much as they could. As long as I had been aboard, it had just been me and Pete. Pete played the part of Captain and helmsman, and I played the roll of engineer and cargo master. For everything else we just made due.

Now that I was alone, I would need to think about crew.  The very idea of it made my stomach twist. How was I going to be able to manage all this?  While I slept verry little, in hind sight probably due to my cyber device, even I couldn't stay awake forever.  If I wanted to keep flying Hauley I would need to find some crew members. There was no sense in crying about it, I was mostly all cried out anyway, there was only one way to go and that was forward.

Since the nav data was in the nav system, making my way back to the star port was relatively easy.  The days blurred together, and I set alarms on everything that might go wrong and caught cat-naps when I could. I finally made my way to the star system where the station was orbiting a gas giant.  Pete always preferred that arrangement, because with the gas giant close, reactor fuel tended to be less expensive. I checked the regulations for the station and found that cyborgs were allowed, which wasn't surprising since I carried Pete home from the bar on this one.  However, the rules said that cyborgs must either stay aboard their ship, or be supervised at all times.  There was nothing about registering at least, and my cyber device was pretty small compared to the ones I'd seen before, so maybe I could wear a hood and nobody would notice.  The only problem with that idea was that I'd been here with Pete not all that long ago. At the time I hadn't even known I was a cyborg, so it didn't occur to me to cover it up. We had attracted attention to ourselves, or at least Pete did, because Pete was celebrating.  Who was going to forget the slip of a girl... cyborg... that carried Miami Pete home after he drunk himself incoherent? If someone recognized me, I was caught.

Along with the laws, I checked on the docking fee.  My exploration of the Ship's Pact along with the other data that was stored with it had shown me that, right now at least, Hauley - and by extension me - had a pretty decent stash of credits.  Enough to keep me going for quite a while if I was frugal.  To that end, I paid for a docking spot at an air lock rather than a full cargo berth.  I wasn't planning on picking up cargo here, I was planning on getting the lay of the land, some fuel, and perhaps some information.

Docking with the space station was a bit hair raising.  I had never docked a ship by attaching to an airlock before.  For that matter, I had never docked a ship at all.  I'd seen Pete do it more times than I could count but he had never let me touch the controls, let alone actually do the docking, but how hard could it be?  I was familiar with the docking system on Hauley, I had repaired and calibrated it enough times.  Once the docking sensor was set to the right airlock hatch, all I had to do was make sure the little ball stayed in the middle of the little circle, and add in some gentle breaking thrust at the right time to keep from hitting the station too hard.  Hauley would do the rest.

To my surprise, as soon as I docked, the comms squacked an incoming transmission.

"Pete! You old dog! Thank the stars that I caught up with you!" exclaimed a voice on the comm when I opened the connection.

"This is..." I paniced, trying to figure out how to continue.  "Haul-o-caster.  Miami Pete is unavaliable."

"Unavailable huh?  Tell that piece of space rubbish not to go no where till he talks to me.  He's got some bad stuff coming his way...  Just tell him to meet me down at the Evaporator. We have business." came the reply. I wasn't sure if the person on the other end was upset or mad, or what, but he sure did talk fast.

"Whom shall I say the message is from?"  I asked.

"He'll know."  Said with the e in he drawn out into a long "heeeeeeel".  With that, the connection was closed from the other end.

The Leaky Evaporator was the pub that I carried a very inebreated Pete home from on our last visit.  That was good, at least it was close to the space docks and I knew where it was, although I had no idea what I was going to do.  It isn't likely short, skinny, quiet me was going to be able to pretend to be a loud, big-as-life Pete. I knew Pete had friendships amongst the the Captains and crews of other freighters, but I hadn't met very many of them over the years.  I always got the idea that he was trying to protect me in some way.  Now, I probably knew why.  What would Pete's friend do or say when a strange cyborg walked in and told him that his friend was dead.  If friend this person really was.  For all I know, it could be someone that Pete had crossed at some point looking for payback.  I had always known that Pete wasn't exactly what anyone would call an angel.  Or perhaps it could be someone sent by them Monks to tie up loose ends, not that I knew enough for them to bother, but that sort of thing always happened in the vids.  or...  or...  I really needed to work on my overactive imagination.  Before I knew it I would be imagining that it was a 'rus come to eat my liver.

Hey, I LIKE my liver, right where it is.  Un-masticated!  Thank you very much.  Or... you know... un-slerped through a probiscus if that's what the 'rus had.  Depended on which description of the 'rus you believed, and I believed them ALL.  Just to be on the safe side mind you.

Since I could think of nothing else to do, I decided to pull on my cloak and hood and take a peek at the Evaporator.  Maybe I would be able to...  I didn't know.  Scope things out?  Recognise the inner goodness of someone who would come and rescue me?

As if I'd ever be that lucky.  With my luck, whatever happened was going to be worse than even probiscus 'rus.

The Leaky Evaporator was quiet for once.  Someone was playing soft music through the music machine, and people were generally relaxing. I had only been to a few space station doc pubs, Pete usually left me on board when we were docked, but this one seemed more subdued than I would expect.  I quietly found a seat at a table along the wall and ordered some juice and some fresh food from the terminal at the table.  It was mostly engineered fungus and alge, along with some leafy greens, but after months aboard ship, just getting that much was incredible.  Most places would have an alge farm they would use to press out pre-formed ration bars, so this was special.

The food and drink was delivered by a rolling semi.  Rolling, obviously, because it had wheels as opposed to feet, semi because it had a limited AI that made it semi-intelligent.  Also called an SI.  People just called the semis to make it easy. They had no feelings to hurt or really enough intelligence to understand it was derogatory, so it didn't matter.  Where it would have mattered is if it was a full AI and someone called it a semi.  AI's get really bent out of shape - figuratively, not literally, although that would be something to see - if you refer to them as a semi.  I was never the kind of person who would do that of course, I've always tried to be a nice person.  I guess now I have even more reason.  You think AI's catch a lot of junk, people who would happily accept an AI or even an SI, would sometimes spit on a cyborg.

A few minutes later found me happily munching on a mushroom, with it's almsot crunchy, almost spoungy texture, and earthy flavor. And taking bites of an alge salad, this kind having some kind of peppery red fruits, no doubt invented and genetically engineered by some smart egg-head somewhere (stars bless the egg heads), and I found out just how bad I was at quietly watching a room.

"AH, so Pete sent his infamous kid to come parley with me." came a loud voice from right next to me.  I almost screamed, then choked one of those peppery fruits and ended up unceremoniously coughing myself silly as a giant of a man gently tried to help by patting me on the back.  Where did he come from?  How had he so thoroughly sneaked up on me?

When I finally managed to get myself under control and took a drink, the man sat across from me.

"So, Pete's gone is he?" he said more quietly.

"Yes" and I started to cry.  Damn I hate crying, but I couldn't help myself.  It all just came out.  I told him about the monks, how they were mean to me, how they tricked and overpowered Pete and tried to make him a cyborg and how the cyber device failed to connect, and how Pete died with it burrowing into his brain.  How I had left his body on 'rus one, even though it should have been called 'rus three, and...  I didn't even know this man.  He could be there to kill me for all I knew, but...  but what?  What was I doing?!  Why was I telling him all of this?

I got angry.

A small squeek came from an adjacent table, where a slim young girl in a shipsuit sat holding her head in both hands.

"That's enough Gracie."  the man said. "Al, get Gracie back to the ship and make sure she's ok."

"You sure boss?" a man got up from the bar and helped "Gracie", the girl from the table, to her feet.  "You sure you'll be ok here without backup?"

"What's she going to do Al, drown me?"  He laughed.

"That's a cyborg boss, and I've never seen a cyber device like that one before, she could be an assassin or somethin."

"Don't worry Al, I think I can handle things.  Just make sure Gracie is good, I think she got some back-splatter from the kid.  She'll probably have a headache for a few days.  Get her some rum from the cabinet if she wants it."

"Ok boss." With that, the man left, helping the girl along as best as he could. Treating her like he was worried that she might fall down and break at any moment.

"Sorry about that" said the giant, "I had to make sure you were ok.  Gracie is usually a lot more subtle than that."

"What is she?" I asked rubbing my forehead.  I was starting to develop a headache of my own.

"She just has some talents I find useful" he replied. "I picked her up from a dirt-hole similar to the one that Pete picked you up from.  You should get to know her, I think the two of you could be good friends."

"She was in my head!  You bastard, she was in my head!"  I was angry again.  How dare they get in my head like that.  HOW did they get in my head like that?