It had probably been the mad scurry. Both Captain Jarvis and Mate Moran seemed to go into Overdrive Decision Time as soon as they hit the field. It could have been, Raschid thought, that if they hesitated to consider anything other than immediate lift, unpleasant alternatives would come into play.
The Santana was several generations beyond qualifying as a tramp. It must have been marked for salvage several times before its owner decided there was still life and profit in the hulk.
Beauty there had never been. As the port gravsled deposited Jarvis, Moran, and their new cook at the ship's boarding ramp, Raschid had tried to figure what the Santana had been designed for. He was blank. The ship consisted of three elongated acorns, X-braced together fore and aft. In the middle, between the acorns, a long cylinder stretched above the main hulls. Engines and drive area, Raschid guessed. But why in front? Could the tub have been originally built for some other drive than AM2? Impossible. No one would have bothered converting such a dinosaur. Nor would they have kept it in commission. Would they?
One acorn contained control rooms and crew quarters, the other two cargo. The crewpod was as puzzling inside as the Santana's exterior. Raschid got lost several times before he found the galley and his quarters. Passageways had been sealed off, then cut open at a new owner's whims. He passed compartments filled with long-abandoned machinery that must have been cheaper to chop from a system than rip out for scrap.
Raschid was expecting the worst when he reached his kingdom. He was an optimist. The twin stoves were so old that they were probably wood-fueled. Later for that problem. He found his compartment and was grateful. It was pig-filthy, of course. But at least cook's hours and cook's privileges gave him his own quarters.
The bunk—if the sagging pallet against one wall deserved the title—had safety straps. Raschid seriously, if illogically, considered strapping himself in before lift. That way, if the Santana disassembled, as it seemed to have every intention of doing, there might be a recognizable corpse for the pauper's field burial.
Raschid wryly thought that this, indeed, was going to be every bit the adventure Pattipong had promised and waited for the ship to lift off Yongjukl.
Ships did not "scream" into space, except perhaps in stone-age film documentaries or in embarrassingly amateurish livies. But the Santana did just that—or perhaps he was anthropomorphizing. He felt a little like screaming himself. The McLean generators told him that "down" was half a dozen different directions before the Yukawa drive went on. The bridge held the ship on Yukawa until the Santana was out-atmosphere. A gawd-awful waste of energy—but most likely shifting to AM2 drive in-atmosphere with this scow was an invitation to demolition.
A com buzzed.
"Cookie. Stop arsin' about. Officers' mess, one hour. Crew to follow."
Raschid went back to the galley where he was met by Moran. Raschid noted that the mate was carrying a side arm. Moran took Raschid to a storeroom, unlocked it, and told him to select whatever he needed.
"How many bodies am I cooking for?"
"From these supplies—me, the skipper, first engineer. Crew's supplies are off the galley. You'll be sloppin' twelve of them."
Raschid was not surprised to find that the supplies in the locked room were not the same as in the crew larder. Officers' rations were standard ship-issue, but the crew's victuals appeared to be long-stored military-type goods—issued to a military that would have mutinied itself into oblivion generations earlier. Yes. Mutiny.
Raschid planned menus with what he had. He was a genius, he felt, at being able to cordon-bleu any drakh given him. Genius, yes, but not a god. Spices? Some sweet syrupy-tasting synthetic. Salt... and those old military rations appeared to have been salt-cured. What other condiments were in the larder had long since passed into tastelessness.
He combined foodstuffs into a concoction he hoped would be taken for a stew, put that on the heating range, and made dinner for the officers.
He need not have worked too hard. Jarvis had retired to his quarters to reward his abilities at getting the Santana once more outward bound. Moran ate—if a conveyor-belt blur of consumption was eating—whatever was in front of him and made a valiant try at his napkin. The first engineer, a morose woman named D'veen, consumed half of what was in front of her and disappeared into the engine spaces. She, like Moran, was armed.
Then he had to deal with the crew. He was in for it.
He was not—at least not for six watches, while the sailors sobered enough to appear at the table and hold down what he put in front of them.
Raschid spent the time cleaning his galley and thinking. What was he doing there? More importantly, why did he feel he was in the right place? Unanswerable. Clean the galley. Moran turned down Raschid's request that he be allowed to suit up, seal the galley, dump the atmosphere, and let the grease boil into a residue.
"First... I don't know if the bleed valve works. Second, I ain't chancin' hull integrity. Third, there ain't no guarantee we can reseal after you get done. Fourth, ain't no pig down there'd appreciate the work. Fifth, I got drakh on my mind. Get your butt off my bridge. Next time you won't walk off."
That night, Moran grudged a compliment. The mess in front of him was better than usual. Raschid blandly explained that he had used some new seasonings. Glucose, acetone bodies, minerals, fats, creatine... Moran told him to shut up before Raschid reached uric acid.
The crew had sobered enough to concentrate on their new enemy: Raschid. There was nothing that could be done about the ship, except pray it made it to a landing where one could desert. That sealed cargo—it would prove trouble in its own time. Their still-unknown next port? It would be another sinkhole—the Santana took only those cargoes that nobody would handle for worlds that no one but the desperate would land on.
The officers? Jarvis was either drunk and invisible, drunk and visible, or a sober, ghostlike image, huddling on his own bridge.
Moran? Bitch to the mate and hope there's still some med supplies left in what was called sick bay. Raschid admired—intellectually—Moran's lethality. The man seemed unable to give a command without a blow, and the blow always hurt, just enough for an instant, an hour, or a day's agony, but never badly enough to take a man off watch.
D'veen? Why bother? She kept the Santana's drive working. 'Sides, she's no different 'n any of us. Took any slot offered to get away from dirtside. Times're tough f'r any deep-space sailor. Take it out on the cook. Somehow he's responsible for the slop. Don't matter if he come on on'y an hour b'fore lift.
Raschid ignored the complaints, insults, and then threats for a while. Then the following sequence of events occurred: A tureen went against a bulkhead. The thrower went after it. Someone came out with a knife. The knife became two pieces, and Raschid attempted to duplicate the effect on its wielder. Two other crewmen jumped Raschid and went against the tureen-bulkhead.
This crew was exceptionally thick, Raschid decided, deep in the dogwatches, when he heard the fumbling at his door. After the flurry subsided, he rousted out the off-watch and had them carry the avengers to the sick bay. He bandaged as best he could. He did not have the supplies or knowledge to straighten the second man's nose, but he consoled himself that he was not the first or even, most likely, the tenth to smash it. He set the third man's leg and the next day, when Moran threatened to brig the now-useless sailor, convinced the mate he could use some help in the galley.
Not that there was much to do between planetfalls. On a normal ship there would be maintenance, cargo handling, and so forth. On the Santana, why bother? Scrape rust... and one could well go right through the hull.
That added to the mutterings—the crew had little to do when they were off watch. Moran was even a lousy bully mate—as long as crewmen stayed out of his sight and showed up for their watch, he didn't care.
Very, very stupid, Raschid thought. Matters were getting tense. The crew had gone beyond complaints into sullenness. They were beginning to talk once more, some of them, two, sometimes three at a time, talking very quietly in corridors or unused compartments. The talk could be of only two things: murder or mutiny. Or both.
Raschid watched closely and listened where he could. There were three sailors he thought would be ringleaders. He used his new potwalloper to background the three.
Then he sought them out. One had been part of the off-watch ambush party. All T'Orsten wanted was trouble, and promised that part of that trouble would be thin-slicing Raschid at the first possible moment.
The second was a basic bully. Cady. All she was unhappy about was that Moran was a more successful, more dangerous bully.
The third, however, was a bit more complex. Engine Artificer Pitcairn. She tried to sound no different than the others and mostly succeeded. But Raschid heard the echoes of some kind of education in her speech. He paid close attention to the woman—and his attention was noted.
She sought him out in his quarters.
"Wanted to ask you something about dinner," she began, and pointed to the com.
"It's clean," Raschid said. "Moran or somebody had an induction pickup inside. It don't work no more."
"Pretty sophisticated for a hash slinger."
"Not sophisticated. Just careful."
Raschid shook his head.
"Didn't think so. Pease Lines don't hire nobody but scabs. Or those who don't claim a union card."
"Hard stayin' militant when you been beached for a couple of years. Plus where I boarded, union organizin' was a bit risky."
Raschid's curiosity about Pitcairn was satisfied. The Ship, Dockside, & Transport Union was on hard times. It was famed as a militant and understandably aggressive organization; the Empire's down economy made it easy for bosses not only to force yellow-dog contracts on any spaceport workers, but to blacklist any union official or organizer.
"Reason I wanted to talk... this drakh can't keep on the way it has been," Pitcairn said. "If Moran don't beat somebody to death, Jarvis'll get blistered an' navigate us into a collapsar."
"Mutiny's a hard way to go."
"Nobody said nothing about that. Yet."
"What other options do you—do we have? I don't see any grievance committees lurkin' out the porthole."
"You're quick," Pitcairn said. "Course th' others ain't figured that out yet."
"How many are in on it?"
"Ten. You'll make eleven."
"That's a start. But we don't have enough goin' for us. Run up the black flag—that closes out the options. Especially if an officer gets dead or marooned to death in the process. Bosses get hostile, somethin' like that happens. They'll hunt us all down, however long it takes, and we'll be dancin' Danny Deever."
"You talk like you've got some experience."
Raschid started to answer by saying "Not for a couple of thousand years or so," then stopped. Where the hell did that come from? He wasn't Methuselah.
"I read," he said instead. "But let's say nobody feels real logical and the drakh comes down. What then? We got ourselves a ship. Maybe half a fuel load. With a cargo. Which gives us what? This scow ain't suited for smuggling, and the on'y place people go piratin' is in the livies.
"Say we head for whatever Smuggler's Roost we can find. What are we gonna get for what's in the hold?
"Somethin' better. Where we headed? What kinda armpit? Desert with cannibals, or someplace where we klonk Moran over the head, jump ship, and live with what we got?"
"Good questions," Pitcairn said after thinking. "We need more skinny. Can't compute with what we got. Problem's gonna be keepin' somebody from gettin' assed, goin' berserk, and we got blood on the bulkheads."
"You rabble-roused for the union. With only twelve goons to worry about, you oughta have no trouble keepin' 'em under your thumb," Raschid said.
"For a while," Pitcairn said, "I can do it. But they ain't gonna stay in a holdin' pattern forever. We better get more info quick."
Four ship-days later, they did. Their destination was the Cairenes—specifically, the capital world of Dusable.
"That ain't good," Pitcairn observed. "I organized there for about twenty minutes. If there was an honest being in the whole damn system, I never met him, her, or whatever. Plus they got a righteous depression goin'. We jump ship there, we'll be on the beach a long, long time.
"You know anything about Dusable?"
Raschid was about to say no, but didn't. Because he suddenly realized he knew a whole hell of a lot about the system and the way it worked. But he could not remember ever having visited or read anything about the Cairenes.
"A little," he lied. "That's one piece. Now, it'd be real nice to know what's the cargo."
"I asked Moran. Got my chops slapped for doin' it."
"Hercules helps those who help themselves."
"You pray to your gods. I'll stick to Jack London. We decide to tippy-toe out th' lock, Moran sees the lock alarm go off, an' you an' me'll be out there till we figure a way to breathe space."
"The lock alarm's been disconnected for a week. I made sure at least one suit ain't leaky. I'll check another one right now."
"Well, well. First the bug, now the alarm. For a cook, you'd make a fair spy. All right. First watch. Moran sleeps like a corpse, long as you don't try to go in his compartment."
They went out the air lock as quietly as they could. Raschid winced at the air-hiss and the whine of the lock mechanism. Both of them pulled themselves out of the open lock, making sure the attractors on their boot soles had no chance to clang against the hull. Pitcairn aimed a line-thrower and fired, and the grapnel at the end of the line snagged through an X-beam.
They hand-over-handed their way across to the cargo hold and inside, then opened their faceplates, found pry-bars, and went to work.
"Bless m' clottin' sainted mother," Pitcairn swore after a while. "There's at least one somebody on Dusable ain't in no depression."
The cargo was entirely luxury goods. Exotic foods. Liquors. Wines. One case held jewelry.
"We been livin' on swill, an' all this was just across the way. I'm tryin' not to lose it, tear Moran's face off and order a hog-out. What next?"
"Interestin'," Raschid observed. "You note there ain't no customer ID on any of the packing lists. Just: As Per Instructions To Captain."
"Okay. I say again my last. What next?"
"I think... maybe a mutiny."
"That sets real easy. Then what do we do with all these goodies? Smugglers'll pay heavy credits for what's here."
"Maybe that's the option. Mutiny first, questions later."
The mutiny came off painlessly, to use the term broadly. Raschid had given explicit orders, so only four of the twelve conspirators were used—those Raschid thought would not go berserk.
Jarvis was easy. Cady, on bridge watch, waited until the captain got tired of wearing his gun-heavy uniform coat and hung it up. The next time Jarvis paced by, a bar of soap in a stocking was applied with some firmness to his medulla oblongata. He was carried to his cabin and, after the cabin was searched for more weapons and the sealed shipping instructions taken, locked in.
Moran took a bit more skill. One sailor, selected for her slenderness, draped herself on an overhead conduit running past Moran's compartment door. Moran was buzzed for his watch. He came out, and the sailor prayed and dropped.
The flurry before Moran pitched her the length of the corridor gave Raschid, Pitcairn, and T'Orsten time enough to rat-pack him. Eventually Moran was hammered into unconsciousness.
They knew he had to have weapons stashed in his compartment, so they locked him in a bare and disused room. The fresher worked, and they could slide meals through a narrow slit cut in the door's base.
Raschid fingered his split lip, then went for the engine spaces and D'veen. He carried Moran's gun as a completely empty threat. D'veen took no threatening whatever. All she asked was that when the mutineers were caught and tried, they would testify that she had put up a magnificent battle.
"We have no intentions of being in front of a court," Raschid said. "But if so, we'll save your ticket."
The mutineers held their council of war in the officers' wardroom—after Raschid and Pitcairn had made a careful selection of goodies for a victory feast. They allowed one half bottle of alk per sailor—and Raschid thought that was too much.
He was right, but Pitcairn had made sure that only she and the cook were the ones with guns. T'Orsten bellowed rage at being informed that he could not toss Moran out the lock. He could not orgy out on the luxury cargo. And he could not revenge himself on D'veen.
Raschid let him bellow, saw that T'Orsten wasn't letting steam but building for a berserker, and blindsided him. They tucked him away next to Moran and went back to the wardroom.
Raschid opened, read the sealed shipping instructions, lifted an eyebrow, and passed the sheets across to Pitcairn.
"I guess that settles what's next," she said. She was a little pale. "We look for some smugglers, dump the cargo and the ship, and do our damndest to vanish."
She quoted from the instructions: " 'Land bleat-bleah section, transmit blurt-blurt signal. Cargo will be offloaded by personnel bearing authorization personally signed by Tyrenne Yelad, duplicate signature below.'
"Just the whole goddamned system's MaxMoFo, is all. And we just took his toys away. Nice going."
There was something moving in the back of Raschid's mind. Yelad... Yelad...
"Workers of the Santana, haul ass! You have everything to lose including your chains," Pitcairn finished.
"No," Raschid said. "No," he went on. "I think we make delivery."
Ignoring the gape, he fielded a bottle and poured himself a celebratory drink. Things were going very well, indeed.
Sten debuta # 1 en español! Narrada en cuatro partes, Episode Dos ahora aparece en la revista Diaspar, la mejor revista de SF & F en América del Sur!
Y es gratis! Aquí está el enlace.
EMPIRE DAY 2012 - A COMMEMORATIVE EDITION
And, did I mention, Alex Kilgour's Worst Joke Ever?