Authors: MICHAEL KOTCHER
She grimaced. “Please do not throw up on my couch.”
“I’ll be fine. It’s not really hitting me that hard,” he admitted. Tamara swept over him with her optic sensors and determined that he was fairly intoxicated, but he wasn’t too far gone. There was no sign of any nausea, but it was probably best for all concerned that they’d finished the bottle and that they weren’t going looking for more. He looked over at her. “This was fun, Tamara. A little more booze than I expected, but it was fun.”
She laughed. “It was. We need to do this again at some point. I don’t get together with my friends often enough. Hell, most of my friends either work for me now, or they’re off on
. Most of the time I’m in meetings or working in my office. Hell, I think Nasir is a better friend than most of the organics I know.”
“You know what you need?” he asked, still slurring a bit.
She laughed. “What do I need?”
“You… you need to get out more!”
“What?” she spluttered. “I’m the big… person in charge of the big company in Seylonique, Freddy. I don’t have
to go out and get out!”
He waved a hand. “Psssh! That’s an… excuse. You were still the big person in charge when you dropped everything to spend a few hours with me, floating around the system. You could take time, but you’d rather be hidden away in the ship here, or the ship there.” He giggled. “You are much too serious.”
“And what about you?” she demanded, trying to sit up straighter in the plush chair. Why was it so difficult? Damn these implants. They were messing up her equilibrium, obviously. “You don’t screw with your crews. So who does that leave for you?”
“Don’t you go worrying about me, girlie.”
“Girlie!” Tamara spat, still struggling with the recalcitrant chair. “Don’t you call me that, you infant! I’m two hundred and forty years older than you!”
“You crone!” he said with gusto, throwing some pretzels at her across the compartment.
“You are a dead man, Frederick Vosteros!” Tamara declared, vaulting out of the chair. She then discovered that clearly the grav plates had been messed with and she crashed to the deck. Swearing a blue streak, she tried to pick herself up off the carpet but it was amazingly difficult for her to push herself to a seated position. Frederick pointed at her and laughed, throwing another pretzel at her, which bounced off her leg. “Oh, that’s it, you asshole. There’s going to be a beating aboard my ship!” She was laughing too hard now, as another pretzel bounced off the crown of her head and got tangled in her hair.
“What the hell are they doing back there?” Ekaterina asked, slightly concerned, sitting up straight and pressing a control to activate her display. She started to pull up internal security footage, but Viktoriya shook her head.
“They’re fine.” She tapped her temple and the other lupusan pressed the control anyway, trying not to fume with envy. She
those neuro implants. “They’re just drunk and the captain is throwing pretzels at our primary. I’ve tweaked the gravity plates under her just a tad so she can’t quite get herself up. We’ll be docking in four minutes, so it might be a good idea for you to get out there before one or the other of them does something they’ll regret or something messy.”
“Right. And put the gravity plates back,” Ekaterina said, getting up from the copilot seat.
Viktoriya got a faraway look for a moment. “Done, they’re back at standard. Go, quickly.”
The hatch to the living compartment slid open and the lupusan slipped through. “Ma’am, we’re going to be arriving at the
in three minutes. Captain Vosteros?” she said, addressing the man.
The freighter captain looked up at the black furred bodyguard, who had crossed her hands in front of her waist, gripping her own wrist in a patient pose. “You have very soft-looking fur, miss,” he told her, a look of wonder of his face. He extended a hand. “I would really like to pet you. May I?”
Tamara burst into giggles, collapsing on the carpeted floor and clutching her ribs which had started to ache from all the laughter. Ekaterina was less than amused with this. “No, sir, you may not. Though I think you might want to eat one of these.” She dug into a pocket and pulled out a pill packet, which was made of a clear plastic containing one green pill. “Hold out your hand, please, sir.”
He did and she leaned forward, tearing the packet open and depositing the pill into his outstretched palm. Then, with faster reflexes than even the lupusan expected, Frederick leaned forward. He popped the pill into his mouth and swallowed it, but with his other hand he stroked his fingers up the black fur of her extended arm. He frowned. “Damn, it isn’t as smooth or soft as I expected. It’s coarse. You have very coarse fur.” This was a completely disconcerting statement, apparently.
Tamara exploded into more giggles and now proceeded to roll around on the carpeted floor. Ekaterina casually pulled her hand back, and Vosteros, looking somehow sad at his discovery, sat back on the couch. She reached into another pocket in her vest and pulled out another pill packet. “Ma’am, you should take this.”
Tamara, who couldn’t stop her giggling, held out a hand and Ekaterina shook the pill out of the packet and into her hand. She coughed, suppressing the laughter for about ten seconds, which was long enough for her to put it in her mouth and swallow it.
“What did you just give us?” Vosteros asked, a puzzled frown on his face. His left hand still made stroking motions in the air at his eye level and his gaze was firmly fixed on his hand.
“Anti-intoxicant,” Ekaterina replied firmly. “Takes about ten minutes or so to kick in and you’ll start to sober up. But you’re going to want to pound a bunch of water when you get on your ship, Captain. You’re going to feel all dehydrated so you’ll need it.”
“Um… yeah. Thanks,” he said, but he sounded more confused than grateful.
There was a loud beep and Viktoriya’s voice came over the PA. “We’re moving into docking position now. Ten seconds.” There was a pause. “Extending docking tube. We have hard seal.”
Ekaterina held out her hand, huffing out a sigh as she expected Vosteros to try and pet her again. “Captain?” she said. He grabbed her hand and she hauled him to his feet. He swayed a bit, but he didn’t fall. This didn’t elicit more mirth from Tamara, who had managed to get herself up to a seated position now. “I can escort you over to your ship, if you’d like, Captain,” she offered.
He blinked. “Um… no, thank you. Just to the airlock, please, I’ll manage from there.”
“Of course, sir,” she said, gently taking hold of his hand and just under his elbow, escorting him to the airlock. The airlock hatch cycled and slid to the side.
He turned back at the door, just as Tamara had managed to get herself to her feet. It wasn’t the most stable of stances, what with her legs as wobbly as they were, but at least she was up. “It was fun, Tam- Tamara,” he said, then shook his head as though to clear it. “We need to make sure we get together again.”
She smiled and nodded. “Definitely. Though I think next time, we get together on either
ship or somewhere with a chef.”
He grinned and gave her a lazy salute with two fingers. Reaching up, Frederick grabbed the jump bar at the top of the airlock and nimbly swung himself out of the ship and into the docking tube. The guard checked and he easily made it to the far end, landing somewhat unsteadily on the other end, but he was safe. Pressing a control, the airlock hatch slid shut.
“Starting to feel better, ma’am?” Ekaterina asked, looking to her charge.
Tamara nodded. “I managed not to overdo it this time,” she said, staggering over to the bar and grabbing a bottled water. It took a moment for her intoxicated senses to figure out the twist top but she managed somehow. Ekaterina watched as her primary slugged the bottle of water, not stopping until she’d downed the entire thing.
She smirked, flicking her ears. “Not bad, ma’am. Between the two of you, you took that whole bottle. An expensive evening, but clearly you can afford it.”
Tamara tried to glare at her guard, but her heart just wasn’t in it. “You make a decent salary too, you know. Your meager yet undeserved paycheck would be the envy of many down on the planet.” Which was a gross understatement. The amount of money that her guards were getting paid could fund a large hotel, buy a fleet of aircars and have just enough left over for a passenger ticket on a luxury liner all the way back to the capital system of the Republic. Okay, perhaps that was an exaggeration, but not by much. The guards were paid outrageous sums of money, but they were expected to earn it.
Ekaterina laughed. Clearly the anti-intoxicant was starting to work. The primary looked a bit steadier on her feet.
“Airlock is sealed on both sides,” Viktoriya’s voice came over the PA. “I’m retracting docking tube.”
Tamara put a hand to her head and closed her eyes. She started rubbing her temples.
Yup, the pill was definitely starting to work
, Ekaterina thought.
She’ll have a headache for a few minutes and then she’ll be right as rain again.
“Set course for the
,” Tamara ordered, after pressing a control on the small panel on the bulkhead. “As much fun as it was here, I have some work to get back to.”
“Well that is just great,” Tamara complained, looking at the damage before her. She was standing on the observation deck of Slip 3, looking out into the bay at the huge mess. “How did this happen?”
Eretria scowled, staring out the armorglass port just off to Tamara’s right. “Apparently, one of the bolts the crew was using to secure that beam snapped. I guess Chomsky, the one securing it, leaned against the beam and the bolt broke. He must have been leaning on it pretty hard, because the beam shot away from the rest of the keel and impacted the side of the slip before he could grab it. From there it rebounded and he just hovered and watched.” She ran her hands through her heir, turned and paced around a bit.
“And how did one of my shuttles get slagged? And He3 fuel sprayed all over?” Tamara demanded. Oh, this was definitely
the news that she wanted to be hearing at this stage of the build process.
Eretria winced, though she knew that she personally was not at fault. But as the Yard Supervisor, she was responsible for the incident. “Once the beam rebounded, it flew, unsecured, across the slip and hit Shuttle 14 as it was exiting. If their shields had been up it wouldn’t have been a problem, but the pilot was just spinning them up when the beam hit the ship. Just in the port nacelle housing. He lost control of the ship, ramming the starboard side into the side of the slip. The shuttle went out of control and spun off out of the bay and into the open. Thankfully, one of the tugs was quick on the draw and managed to catch S-14 before it went too far out into the void.”
“Was the shuttle pilot injured?” Tamara asked, a glower on her face, but concern was radiating in her eyes.
Eretria shrugged, looking angry. “He got banged up a bit when the shuttle hit the slip wall.” She smirked wryly. “Apparently a sheet of nickel-iron that thick hurts when you crash a shuttle into it. He’s in medical right now.”
Tamara nodded. “And the He3?”
“Well, the beam hit the shuttle and bounced off after crumping the nacelle housing,” Eretria went on. “I guess by this point a few of the workers tried to grab it before it caused any more damage. One of them, Yarsley, managed to get a magnetic grapple on it, but his own grip on the keel wasn’t all that secure. The beam’s momentum whipped it around the keel and tore him loose from his magnetic locks on his boots. Thankfully, his buddy Faros managed to grab him before he spun off out into the void. Of course, Yardley lost his grip on his mag-grapple, and the beam hurtled over and hit one of the storage tanks for He3 on the side of the bay. The beam plunged into the tank like a spear, which ruptured, and
the fuel sprayed all over. It froze up under the cold of the bay. I’m just thankful it didn’t ignite.”
Tamara nodded. “Small favors. Yarsley and Faros, are they all right? Was anyone else hurt?”
“Chomsky was after I flayed him alive,” Eretria replied. “I have the paperwork all drawn up to toss him out on his ass, ma’am, but I thought I should check with you first.”
“What did the accident investigators say?”
“Nasir worked with the team,” Eretria replied. “He and I and they went over every centimeter of that bolt. The idiot must have shoved it and but good to get it to break off like that. Chomsky said it was slightly out of position and instead of loosening the damned bolt, he just shoved it, trying to get it to swing into the right position.”