A snippet of a sort of pirate story – VERY sort of …
Pirate Chapter 5
Paladin fought his way to consciousness from a dream where he looked on while surgeons installed new eyes in his empty sockets, and then he groped around for the pad that was screaming its noisiest emergency alarm. Blinded by the sunshine that blazed through the glass door, he turned away and held the device to his ear.
“Hey, it’s me. Are you still alive?”
He nodded and then regretted the movement, and grunted another yeah. “What time is it? I can’t see the clock.”
“Oh-seven thirty. You said to call your emergency band if I didn’t hear from you by now.”
“I did?” He blinked, and felt sandpaper behind his eyelids, and slowly became aware, through the dull ringing in his ears, of a soft but insistent and irritating chime from somewhere in the room. “Oh, oh yeah, I asked you for a wakeup call, didn’t I?”
“Well, first you asked if I wanted to go skinny dipping in Reflection Lake at Government Plaza, and when I said no, then you asked for a wakeup call.”
“Right, right. Um, I didn’t, did I?”
“Go swimming in Reflection Lake? I’m sure I would have heard if you did.”
“That’s a relief. Hang on.” He turned his head and raised his voice. “Wakeup alarm acknowledged.” The chiming ceased and the banging inside his head dropped a few degrees in intensity. “I had just dropped Rachael at her place when I called you at, what, sixteen-hundred?”
“Just after, and you were pretty looped already. Why didn’t you just go back to the hotel then?”
He rolled off the bed, still wearing his dress whites and shoes, and ordered two glasses of water from the dispenser.
“I didn’t feel all that drunk at the time.” He drained both water glasses quickly, and ordered another. “But I think I got arrested for something, because I definitely remember a cop holding onto me at some point, or me holding onto him, maybe.”
“That was Tommy Pohlhouse. I told my people to keep an eye out for you, and he found you in some dive over by the produce warehouses, and drove you back to the hotel.”
“Oh yeah. Oh gods.” He guzzled the third glass, and then stumbled toward the bathroom. “I think I got engaged at that dive.”
“Hopefully she won’t remember any more than you do.”
“Yeah, hopefully. Hang on.”
He fumbled with the fastenings on his trousers and tried to aim, but he could barely see the bowl, so he sighed, dropped his pants and sat down to urinate.
“You still there, Paladin?”
“Sure, Emma, more or less.”
“What on earth were you drinking, and how much?”
“Whisky, and a lot, apparently. We had at least six at the Poltroon before Rachael made me take her home. After that it was just a pub-crawl. Gods, do I need a bacon sandwich.”
“You’d better get a move-on then, if you plan on making it to the space station before the Sturm takes off.”
“Oh, right, right. I bought a ticket to Carribea, didn’t I?”
“That’s what you said, your fishing shack on Carribea. When did you buy a fishing shack on Carribea?”
“I didn’t, I just lease it once in a while when I want to get away.”
“So how long do you think you need to get away for this time?”
“I don’t know, honey, I really don’t.”
“I thought you were going to get drunk and figure it all out, the transfer, dealing with VonSlack, the rest of your life, and everything.”
He chuckled softly, stood, and pushed his shoes and trousers off and onto the floor. “I probably did, and as soon as I wake up I’ll remember the details. Are you going to come visit me at the fishing shack?”
“I might if you’re there long enough, and I’m invited, uh, as long as you don’t make me fish.”
“I hardly ever do myself, but I’ll keep in touch.”
Emma sighed. “Yeah, you do that. If you remember to, call me before you leave the system, okay?”
“Will do. And thanks for looking after me, Em.”
“Not a problem. Talk to you later.”
The connection ended, and Paladin removed his tunic, then panicked briefly before he found the MOH, the ribbon wound neatly around it, tucked into the hip pocket of the trousers. He stood a long time under the shower, then he dressed in civvies, cleaned and folded his uniform into his luggage, and packed the rest of his gear.
Just before he checked out of the hotel, he ordered a bacon sandwich and two more glasses of water from the dispenser, and ate slowly while he sat on the bed looking out at the greenspace and exercising his eyes. He savored the smoky taste of the sandwich, a semblance of calm returning to his stomach with each bite.
His vision came back in slow stages, and by the time he got to the cable car platform he could see as clearly as he had the day before. He sat down in the car and pulled out his pad, but then two more passengers got in and sat across from him, so instead of speaking to Rachael, he left her a text saying thanks for a lovely afternoon, and promising not to let her drink gin the next time they went out.
The Sturm sat fixed to a docking port at the space station, along with fifty other ships of various sizes. It was a freighter with a small passenger berthing area, based at Longopo, a hundred light years beyond Carribea, where the ship routinely stopped to pick up the herbs and spices that were the second major export of the planet, the other being fish, mostly a large, marlin-like animal with very sweet flesh.
Carribea had only one land mass big enough to contain a town of any size, and Carribea City sat on that one land mass, along with Carribea Air and Space Port, Carribea City Seaport, and Carribea’s only luxury resort hotels, a dozen of them, spaced evenly along the planet’s longest stretch of sandy beach. In fact it was just about the planet’s only sandy beach, because apart from Carribea City’s twenty-thousand square kilometer almost-continent, the rest of the dry land was in the form of thousands of small, rocky and mountainous islands scattered across the global sea. Tiny and reasonably priced vacation spots were plentiful out amongst these islands, and were very popular owing to the planet’s moderate temperatures and weather patterns.
The spaceship itself was like most other freighting vessels, with a command module at one end, containing the jumpdrive engines and flight deck as well as the crew’s quarters, and eight passenger cabins. The rest of the ship was not much more than a long, wide, steel shelf on which cargo containers were stacked. The Sturm’s containers were then offloaded, emptied of their cargo, and filled with desert sand, and replaced by the space station’s freight handling equipment for the return trip to Longopo. The ship stopped again at Carribea en route, where the sand was offloaded for the luxury hotels’ beach, which tended to wash away quickly in the high tides caused by Carribea’s four large moons.
Even by starship standards, the Sturm’s passenger cabins were tiny, but the fare was comparatively tiny as well so no one complained, and passengers took their meals with the crew on the utilitarian but comfortable mess deck. The 500-light-year trip was short, just over 24 standard hours at full jumpdrive, so it was no arduous journey for anyone, least of all a 60-year military starship veteran. Paladin tossed his kit on the rack in his cabin, and headed for the galley.
It was still half an hour until pushback, so he gurgled rich black coffee, another Carribea product grown on the steep mountainsides of the northern islands and rarely exported, from a huge urn into a thick mug, and sat at a table to check his messages and call Emma.
“Hi! Feeling any better?”
“Tip top, thanks. We’ll be out of here in a few minutes.”
“Glad you made your flight. Did you hear from your betrothed yet?”
“From my …?” He frowned, and then laughed. “Not yet, but I don’t remember even kissing her, so I don’t think I can be held to an unsealed deal.”
“You were so drunk you asked her to marry you, but you didn’t even kiss her?”
“Well, in fact she asked me.”
“I don’t find that at all surprising. You’re a real charmer, even sloppy drunk.”
“More so, at least in my own opinion. That’s why I have sworn off strong drink forever.”
“Have you? Is this a week-long forever or a year forever?”
“Right now my stomach is telling me a year, but I’ll be on the island staying just three kliks from Brown Eyed Jenny’s Tropical Seafood and Rum Café so it might be a short year.”
“I’ll bet. Anymore thoughts on what you’re going to do about the transfer?”
“Yes, I decided not to decide anything for at least a week. I just got a message from Rachael Heinschloss saying VonSlack ordered my medical leave extended indefinitely yesterday, pending a full physical evaluation.”
“Sounds like he’s playing hardball.”
“It does, especially since I’ve had three full physical evaluations in the past six months. So I’m just going to lay low for a while. Hell, if worse comes to worst, I can take the Academy billet and just hang around New Cairo for the rest of my life.”
“Being as big a pest as you possibly can to VonSlack while you’re about it?”
He chuckled. “You know me too well, little girl.”
“I so do, mister.”
“I’d better let you go. I just felt the aft docking clamps release.”
“Okay, you take care, Paladin. I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too, honey, but you know where I am when you need a break from playing cops and robbers.”
“I’ll message before I drop in.”
“You do that. Bye.”
The galley cook came out and nodded to him.
“Hi, there. We’ll be getting underway in a couple minutes so I gotta take the cup.”
“You bet. Love your coffee.”
“Thanks.” He smiled and then looked closer. “You’re Commander Paladin, ain’t you? I’ve seen you on this run before.”
A soft but insistent strobe light flashed, and the push back warning bell rang.
“Yep. Jonesy, right?” He smiled when the man beamed. “I never forget a man who can make over easy eggs and not break the yolks. You still do that, right?”
“The crew would mutiny if I didn’t. Same with the creamed chipped beef on toast.”
“Gods, yes! True shipboard SOS cannot be duplicated by any machine, anywhere, any time.”
The man grinned broadly and backed toward the galley door. “I’ll see you at supper, sir.”
Paladin got back to his cabin just in time to sit on the soft but narrow rack and grab the handholds as repellor engines turned gravity inside out, magnified it, and sent the ship racing away from New Cairo’s sun at near-light velocity. Once free of the sun’s gravity well, the jumpdrives kicked on, sending the familiar, myoclonic-jerk like twitch up Paladin’s spine, and the ship zipped through the non-space that both did and did not exist along the folded edges of true space, eating up light years as fast as a New Cairo cable car puts kilometers behind it.