by Shannon H
On Providence Docks the crew of the Zenith looks to take on supplies and passengers.
|Lydia loved the bustle of the Providence Docks. The Port was a seemingly never ending conveyor belt of passengers, stevedores, machine operators, vendors, whores and ship crews. From her seat she was able to spot the local toughs looking for a shakedown and the pickpockets, usually kids, darting in and around the throng of people, too agile and quick for anyone to follow. She spied a custom official arguing with a ships Captain, a pair of local Constables tossing a drunk from one of the numerous watering holes and now and again, the odd patrol of Coalition troops, the long arm of civilization with a token force.
Freebooter vessels like the Zenith were parked next to the gleaming hulks of Corporation ships, mining vessels sat opposite rusty cargo haulers. Their crews mingled freely; a mixture of those just arriving and keen to deliver their goods and cargo before blowing their money in the bars and brothels and those who were about to ship out into the Expanse once more, making frantic last-minute repairs and supply runs.
Raimo negotiated the four wheeler carefully through the throng of people and machinery while Lydia enjoyed her view of the docks from her perch on the supplies stacked on the attached trailer. Taryn had gave her a list of goods needed for their next trip out and as they would be taking on passengers it was mostly food related; a few fresh supplies to ensure anyone who took passage on the Zenith would get a few days of decent grub before switching to the more standard fare of protein paste and compound bars. Whilst everyone would prefer fresh food it wasn’t feasible financially to buy more than a couple of days worth. The paste and bars could be bought at a fraction of the cost and were in no danger of spoiling.
To make up for the lack of food choice Lydia had made sure to grab among other things, a few pouches of real coffee for herself, some tins of condensed milk for Sunny, a jar of pickled onions for Raimo and a dozen cans of some orange flavoured pop drink for Donovan. If they were in Port long enough Taryn would usually let the crew ashore to fetch some of their own wants but as they weren’t sure how long it would take the Captain to conclude her business with Hoddell most of them had come to Lydia with a request for a couple of priority items for the next trip.
Raimo stopped their vehicle to let a hexwheel wagon pulling a long trailer out in front of him. A trio of whores stood in front of a large tent watching the four wheeler as it idled only a couple of feet from them. Whatever colour the original dirt-streaked tent canvas had been it was long since faded away by rain and sun. Patches of different coloured cloth sewn over the body of the tent suggested it had seen a fair amount of use over the years, although the effort of keeping the weather out had apparently grew tiresome as Lyida could clearly see a number of holes in the canvas that had not yet been mended.
Through the partially open flap that was the front door Lydia spied a number of beds arranged along the nearest wall although only one was occupied, a pale arse thrusting up and down with frenzied effort against what she could only assume was a hooker wondering just where her life had gone wrong.
“Hey guy,” the youngest of the three whores called out to Raimo who ignored her. “Hey you,” she said, louder this time not to be deterred. An admirable trait in her line of work Lydia supposed as Raimo turned his head toward the girl. “Where you for?”
“Back to my ship.” Raimo answered.
The young whore’s eyes lit up, “You a space cowboy?”
Raimo laughed, “Something like that.” Lydia looked at the girl, she wasn’t ugly, certainly not by any standards she had seen Raimo set in the past. She was pale and quite delicate, her light brown hair was worn in short curls and she hid two large front teeth behind a shy smile. The two older women behind her were a different story, both looked like they had been kicked directly in the face by life on frequent occasion. Hard. Lydia looked away as one them caught her watching.
“Want to come in and tell me about it? All those big adventures.”
“Wish I could,” Raimo lied. “But I have a schedule to keep,” he lied again. The whore pouted as her latest opportunity to earn a bit of cash faded. Raimo revved the four wheeler engine as the road in front of him cleared, “Maybe next time I’m in town.”
“Sure thing,” the girl replied knowing he had no intention of doing so. “See ya around Space Cowboy.”
Raimo waved as they took off. Lydia watched as the girls grew smaller in the distance. By the time they were out of sight the young whore had already moved on to trying to woo her next potential client. “And the cosmic ballet goes on…”
“What?” Raimo shouted back over his shoulder.
By now the Zenith was in sight, berthed at the end of a long row of cargo and transport vessels. Raimo slowed the four wheeler and then stopped it
just shy of the Zenith’s cargo ramp. Garrett and Sunny watched them as they pulled up, enjoying the warm sun of the Ares Summer from their seats on the ramp.
“Not even a little bit tempted?” Lydia asked Raimo as he killed the engine.
“With what? The hoor?”
“She was pretty enough.”
“She also plies her trade out of a mouldy tent on Providence dock. Even by dockside hoor standards that’s low.” He shook his head. “Wouldn’t touch her, not even with your cock.”
“Since when did you get standards?”
“It’s all fun and games until your member turns black and falls off.
Lydia laughed as she looked over to Garrett and Sunny, “Any joy?”
“Yeah,” Garrett nodded, “Couple of people already laid a deposit down to keep a cabin for them.”
“Anyone interesting?” Raimo queried.
Garrett shrugged, “Surveyor and his wife heading to Eden . Another looking to go to Peake.”
“On Independence?” Raimo’s asked with surprise. “Someone should tell him there’s a war on.”
“I’d say he already knows.” Replied Garrett. “Seems to be his line of work.”
The engineer nodded his head slowly, “Hired gun,” he muttered sourly.
“Gotta make your money somehow,” said Raimo.
“Tell that to that poor hooker,” Lydia muttered.
“Nothing,” she smiled brightly at him before turning back to Garrett, “This merc, did he pay?” She asked, completely unconcerned with the man’s occupation so long as he produced the dollars.
“He did,” Sunny answered. “Half up front. Same for the surveyor and his wife.”
“All that matters.” Lydia said brightly as she hopped down from the trailer.
Garret gave a grunt, “Didn’t like him. Too arrogant and too quick to talk about himself. Felt like I already heard half his exploits.”
“Indpendence’s a couple of weeks on a hard burn.” Raimo said, resting his head against the handlebars of the four wheeler. “Can think of better ways to spend a fortnight than getting regaled with stories from some spoofer.”
“How’d you two make out?” Sunny asked with an eager nod to the trailer.
“Meat, chicken, potatoes, few bags of fruit, some vegetables,” Lydia answered. “Enough for maybe three days of proper meals before we have to go back on bricks and sludge.”
“You can tell we’re taking on passengers,” Raimo said with a grin. “Captain’s trying to make a good impression.”
“At least until we get into deep space,” said Garrett.
Sunny chuckled, “Don’t think the surveyor and his missus have done too much travelling, least not as far out as Eden. Probably not used to their meals coming down to a choice between a compound bar or paste.”
“If they’re lucky they might get treated to a few meals from a can too,” Raimo said “Sound like highfalutin folk. You’d think they’d be looking for something more upmarket than a modified cargo hauler.
“We’re cheaper than a transport ship,” Lydia pointed out, “Quicker too.”
“Yes, we’re just bloody marvellous,” said Raimo, talking through his nose in an effort to mimic a sophisticated accent. An easy enough task Lydia thought, considering the size of it.
“If I could remind you not to insult the passengers, that’d be swell.” She walked up to Raimo and gave his nose a squeeze, “At least not to their faces.” He playfully batted her hand away. “You can get that stuff stowed,” she nodded toward the trailer, “Garrett will give you a hand.”
“And what will you be doing?” Raimo asked as the engineer got up without a word and disappeared into the ship.
“Attracting custom. There’s still three berths to fill,” Lydia said, nodding toward a man who was studying the terminal a few feet from where they stood. The terminal listed the pertinent facts about the Zenith that would be of note to potential passengers; bunk size, living arrangements and most importantly, a list of prices for passage to various destinations out toward the Verge.
“Eye candy,” Raimo gave a serious nod as he lowered his voice as he leaned in closer, “If you find out he prefers boys just give me a shout.” He laughed as he revved the four wheeler’s engine before negotiating the vehicle and trailer into the cargo bay.
Lyida moved over to Sunny, wincing as she sat down beside her. “Leg giving you bother again?” The pilot asked, noticing her discomfort.
“It’s fine,” she lied. It went like that sometimes, the joint where her right knee met the artificial replacement would cause pain at random intervals, the sensation appearing without warning and often disappearing just as fast.
The pain was never unmanageable and her mobility was only lessened slightly. Anytime she found herself grumbling about it she’d remind herself of how some of the men and women in her platoon would have traded the loss of half a leg for what they got instead. The sudden flush of guilt was usually enough to help mask any pain. “Just the two fares then?” She asked, keen to change the subject.
“Couple more people were sniffin’. Said they might be back later. Shoppin’ around I guess.”
“Don’t want to leave it too long-”
“-I told them,” Sunny interrupted with a smile, “Let us know before 1900 hours.”
Lydia nodded, “I take it you didn’t mention that the reason we want to know before 1900 hours is because-”
“-We’re getting pissed?” Sunny interrupted again, her smile taking on a wicked edge.
“Course not. Told them we needed to get details sorted and supplies squared away before we lift off first thing in the mornin’. Threw in a couple of important soundin’ words; manifest, flight plans, things like that.”
“We’ll turn you into a professional yet.”
“Honestly I’m a bit surprised,” said Sunny, “Way the Captain’s been wound lately I was thinkin’ we’d get here, supply up and be on our way.”
“You know how Taryn likes a quick turnaround.”
“Saving complications,” Sunny said mischievously.
“Saving complications,” Lydia echoed, knowing damn well how much the crew was prone to attract said complications, willing or not.
“It’ll be good for her. Tonight I mean. Chance to unwind.”
“For all of us,” Lydia agreed. The trip to Gagarin and back had been the Zenith’s third job in quick succession which meant for the better part of two months the crew had spent all their time, save for supply drops and refuelling stops, on the ship. Lydia considered her shipmates family but even family grated after a couple of months cooped up together with nowhere to go.
They both turned at the sound of footsteps from the Cargo Bay to see Raimo walking toward them. “That was quick,” Lydia noted. “Impossibly so, in fact.”
“Garret said he’d get the stuff stowed,” Raimo said, jerking a thumb back toward the ships interior. “Happy enough to do it on his own. Guess he’s been outside enough this month.”
“Gettin’ in one of his little moods,” Sunny sighed. From the moment he had joined the crew Lydia had never considered Garrett to be a particularly open person. He would have usually joined the rest of the crew for evening meals or a shit shoot in the communal area. It had taken a while to bring him out of his shell but it had happened, albeit gradually. There were isolated bouts where he would retreat back into himself but lately it had been occurring more often; he would take his meals back to his room and only appear when there was work that needing doing or when his food stash was running low. When the ship was docked and when Taryn permitted the crew to grab some brews at the nearest bar, Garret would remain on the Zenith, preferring to stay in his bunk. Lydia resolved to get him out with them tonight.
“He likes his own company from time to time. Can’t hold that against him,” Raimo replied, seating himself next to Sunny.
“Well we all know how you value your own alone time,” Lydia said flatly.
“Man has needs.” Raimo matched Lydia’s deadpan tone.
“Horrifically so. Why’d you think I keep a loaded gun beside my terminal?” His serious façade crumbled as Lydia and Sunny both broke into laughter.
Lydia felt a nudge in her ribs as Sunny prodded her with an elbow. She looked up to see the man who had been reading the info terminal approach the cargo ramp. Lydia cleared her throat as she rose to her feet, brushing some stray dirt from her pants. “Hi there, can I help you?”
“Hopefully.” The man gave a warm smile. “Been walking up and down the docks for a while now.”
“Looking for something in particular?” Lydia asked.
He gave a slight shrug, “The right ship.”
“Well I’d say you’ve found it.” Lydia matched his smile with one of her own. She was by no means a salesperson but she was happy to extol the virtues of the ship when needed. She jerked a thumb back toward the vessel, “The Zenith. Clean, fast, safe, reliable and a cheap passage.”
The man gave an approving nod as he stepped closer. Although he certainly wasn’t her type Lydia still knew handsome when she saw it; flint-jawed, tall, tanned and very well built. She’d have put him in his mid to late forties; his full, dark head of hair seemed to show the first hint of greying at the temples and faint laughter lines tugged at the corner of his eyes, although neither quality diminished his appearance.“You’d be Captain Bellin?” He asked.
Lydia gave a small laugh, “No, just a loyal crew member. Lydia Bowri.”
The man nodded, “Jon Lachlan.”
“Mr Lachlan,” Lydia held out her hand as she descended the ramp, “It’s good to meet you. This,” she inclined her head back, “Is Sunny, our pilot and Raimo.”
“Hi.” Sunny said quietly as they both rose to their feet. Raimo nodded and said nothing.
“Hi,” Lachlan replied, nodding to them both. “You look awfully young to be a pilot, if you don’t mind me saying so,” he said to Sunny, his tone suggesting he was genuinely impressed.
Lydia watched in amazement as Sunny blushed a deep red and took a sudden interest in her feet. She just about managed to eke out a quiet “Thanks,” and offered nothing more. For a girl who could drink and swear like a Providence stevedore she had never seen their pilot grow so suddenly bashful.
Raimo cleared his throat, “So, where are you for?” He asked quickly.
“Erin? On Pandora?”
“That’s the one.”
“The Zenith’s heading out toward the Verge; Eden, Independence, Ceres,” Raimo said, listing off a few of the farthest flung planets in the settled universe.
“I know…I read the terminal,” said Lachlan, pointing toward where he had just been browsing.
“That’s Phase three territory Mr Lachlan,” Raimo said patiently as if he was talking to a slow witted child, “And pretty much in the opposite direction of Pandora.”
“I’m in no rush,” Lachlan replied easily, unfazed by Raimo’s sudden bout of passive aggressiveness. Raimo looked from Lachlan and then to Lydia, his expression a mixture of confusion and annoyance.
“What Raimo is trying to say is that it’s a short hop from here to Pandora,” Lydia explained, taking the chance to jump in. “The Zenith’s going as far out as Ceres on its next run. You’re talking at least a three week journey to get there and another three to get back and that’s not taking into account any stops we’ll be making.”
Lachlan’s smile did not falter, “I’m aware of that. It’s one of the reasons I’m interested in your ship.”
“What’s your story mate?” Raimo asked exactly what Lyida was thinking. It didn’t make any kind of sense why someone would pay for a bunk on the Zenith to take themselves in the opposite direction of their eventual destination. If he wanted to be a tourist there were liners that catered exclusively to that , all of whom would be a damn sight nicer than what the Zenith could offer.
Lachlan gave a shrug of his broad shoulders, “There isn’t one really. Looking to see some of the galaxy. On my own terms this time.”
Suddenly it clicked for Lydia, “Military?” She asked.
Lachlan nodded, “Twenty four years before I took retirement two months back. What gave it away?”
“Just a hunch.” She should have spotted it sooner. Lachlan possessed the easy confidence of a man comfortable in a position of power; his voice was clear and although it had been nothing but warm to them she had no doubt it could easily take on a more commanding tone. He held his shoulders high and his posture was straight. Adding to that his build suggested someone used to high intensity physical activity and the deeply tanned face reflected a lifetime spent under a sun rather than behind a desk.
“Terran?” Raimo guessed.
This time Lachlan laughed heartily, “That plain to see, huh?”
“Just a hunch,” Raimo replied with a thin smile.
“New Terra born and raised,” Lachlan said, naming the first planet settled in the new galaxy after humanities ascension to the stars. “Signed on as a Marine straight out of college and been all over the galaxy with the Terran Navy,” Lachlan explained, “Now I want to see it for real.”
“There’s proper Liner’s that’d give you that experience.” Raimo said, his tone a bit friendlier now that Lachlan had become a bit more open. Lydia shot him a look. In the space of a few seconds Raimo had went from being unwelcoming and bordering on hostile to now suggesting a potential customer try a different ship. For an educated man Raimo was prone to the odd bout of remedial level decision making.
“Actually,” Raimo said as he caught Lydia starting lasers at him, “The Liner’s are shit.”
Thankfully Lachlan did not seem dissuaded by Raimo’s suggestion. “I was looking for a more…genuine experience,” he said, casting an appraising glance over the Zenith once more.
“You sailed on one of these before?” Sunny asked, finding her voice again.
“A Pteranodon? Once. A lot of years back. One of the original Mark One’s.”
“You know your ships,” said Sunny with delight.
“Helped in my line of work. I’m guessing this is a Mark Three? First model off the production line after Stellar Concepts bought out the original makers. Kept the dual primary and secondary engines on either side but significantly shortened the wingspan that had given the model its name in the first place. Wasn’t originally designed to carry passengers either so I’m betting the secondary cargo hold has been converted into dorms?”
“I’d say half our crew doesn’t know that,” Sunny beamed.
“Mmm…” said Raimo, significantly less impressed.
“The armour plating on the hull is a new feature though.”
Lydia done her best to affect an easy shrug, “We spend a lot of time in deep space, running supplies to the planets on the verge. Lot of bad men out there.”
“Yeah,the border planets are getting worse,” Lachlan agreed. “Further we push out, the more gets missed on the developing worlds.”
Raimo nodded, “Most of the planets on the verge are rough and tumble but it’s the Pirates you need to watch out for. They fly out of New Dublin and Rushport with no one to keep them in check. No real law planetside. Coaltion will send out a few ships for token patrols to protect their own citizens but not much else.”
Lachlan folded his arms, “Yeah, pirates were a big enough problem when I signed on and this was when Phase Three Space was only starting to develop. Corporate greed and government corruption, they couldn’t even address the problems the last of the Phase Two worlds were going through before they were already moving on. Now there’s at least twenty new moons and planets and no one to keep them in check.”
“We haven’t been caught yet though and don’t intend to.” Lydia said, jumping back into the conversation. Lamenting the pirate problem was for around the mess table, not with a potential client.
“No but then with that modified Ion thruster and those new engines you outfitted your ship with I’d say there’s not many pirate vessels that could match you for speed,” Lachlan said with a knowing glance to Lydia. “Or Coalition ships.”
Friendly, courteous and blessed with the apparent gift of being able to charm the pants off their pilot with just a smile, Lachlan was many things but a fool he was clearly not.
“Everyone likes their stuff to arrive on time,” said Raimo warily.
Lyida nodded. Lachlan clearly had enough experience with the Navy to know that a ship modified like the Zenith likely skirted the edge of legality in its work. She wasn’t sure how much of an issue that would be going forward but he seemed comfortable enough in letting the crew know that he was aware they were perhaps more than just a converted cargo hauler.
“I think we may need to talk price,” she said, attempting to turn the conversation back to business before Lachlan started really impressing Sunny and pointed out the hidey holes one could stow illegal cargo if there were so inclined. “Have to admit it’s a bit of an unusual request, you’re talking probably close to six weeks of travel time….”
“Let’s say one and a half thousand?” Lachlan offered cutting straight to the chase.
That took Lydia by surprise, she had been expecting to have to haggle the man upward from a thousand. “That could work….” she said cautiously.
Lachlan smiled again, “Great. Half up front, right?”
“I can give you the tour if you like?” Sunny offered quickly, clearly made up with their newest passenger.
“Yeah,” Lydia replied. The situation had moved faster than she had been expecting, “If everything suits Mr Lachlan can you sort out payment too please Sunny?”
The nodded as she led Lachlan onto the ship. “What do you think?” Lydia asked once she was sure they were well out of earshot.
“I don’t like him,” he replied instantly
“Is that because he’s clearly going to get into Sunny’s pants in record quick time?”
“There’s more than one reason,” Raimo gave a slight smile.
“And if you’re being serious?”
Raimo sighed, “Seems like a decent fella but he’s too clever by half Lydia. Most passengers just go with what we tell them, no questions asked but I’m guessing he doesn’t miss too much.”
Lydia nodded, “We’ll have to be careful around him. God knows what Hoddell will have us carrying this time.” Clever passengers and illicit cargo were a dangerous mix.
“He might know that we aren’t exactly on the up and up but that doesn’t mean he’ll find out about what we’ll actually be carrying.”
Lydia was unconvinced, “We could have turned him down.”
“And lose out on a grand and a half? You do that and Taryn would have my balls just by association. Probably chuck you through the engine.” He shook his head, “No, the Captain would want the fare. We just have to hope no one leaves a crate of guns, credits and diamonds lying about for him to trip over.”
“Lydia ran a tired hand down her face, “Shit.”