Originally published January-March 2015 by L.Brown and HGW. Copyright 2015 L.Brown (SiriusMoonlight) and HGW. Used with permission.
Winter was on her ninth Hashtaaleen boilermaker. The drink steamed, bubbled, and fizzed as the bartender warily set it in front of her. She watched it blearily for a moment. Grace was in animated conversation with a being that looked like it wore a refrigeration device on its head. Grace glanced over at Winter and frowned as Winter gingerly took another sip from her drink and laughed at something on the tabletop display.
“Honey, are you gonna bleed all over the floor, ’cause I got patrons that want to attach a straw to your head and finish the job.” The cranky waitress attempted to stare Grace down. Grace narrowed her amaranthine eyes at the gray skinned server and snatched a duracloth napkin off her tray. She blotted the blood off her head and wrist with it then took a clean glass off the bar back. She squeezed the blood into the glass and placed a round cherrieberry on the rim. She stabbed a colorful parasol through the fruit and handed the cocktail to the startled waitress. All three of her black spider eyes widened at the offering. “Tell your patron that one is on the house, but no more than that, with my complements.” Grace snapped. The server scuttled away quickly. Grace stepped away from the conversation and approached Winter’s table. Her frown deepened as she saw the conversation scrolling across Winter’s display. “I think I found a few things of interest.” she said as she cautiously sat down.
Winter waved her hand negligently in Grace’s direction. She blew steam off the top of the insulated container. The transparent mug appeared to glow vibrant cobalt and hissed slightly. The chime on the tabletop call command bonged softly as Winter took another cautious swallow of the bubbling drink. She read the message, as Grace fiddled with her commset, and laughed. Grace cocked her head and wondered if Winter was drunker than she previously thought. The laughter had a harsh sound to it like hysteria and sawdust. Grace pulled the portal computer out of her pocket, and pulled up a screen before setting it in front of Winter. “Look in the mirror, over the bar. What do you see?” she said as Winter glanced over at the portal.
“I see that one of us is in need of a drink and that the other one is not nearly drunk enough yet. Some mierda is actually trying to pick me up, would you believe?” Winter gestured to the tabletop message display. “He said our ship is fixed and that he’s heard a rumor that there is a plague ship inbound from Droxtil or somewhere near there. I told him to find someone else to bother but he seems impaired or oblivious to sarcasm, one of the two. He wants me to put on my ITD.” Winter snorted and picked up her drink for another sip.
Grace pursed her lips. “According to the information I got from our friend over there, ” she indicated the alien refrigeration unit with her chin, “there is a plague ship inbound. Your admirer is well informed. Perhaps putting on your interactive temporal device and indulging him would yield more intelligence?” Grace signaled the bartender to cut Winter off while she downed what remained in her tanker. Winter seemed in no hurry to take her up on the suggestion. Grace growled in frustration and reached into Winter’s jacket pocket to retrieve the ITD. She put it on but yanked it off after a moment or two and slapped it into Winter’s palm. “Your buddy there has become tight lipped and refuses to talk to anyone but you.” She flagged down another bar waitress, ordered a drink then gestured at the mirror. “We’ve got a prize under our noses. That is what I wanted you to see.” She sat back in the chair with her drink and took a small sip. “Let me know what your mystery man says before I tell you about the package delivery offer we’ve got.” Grace stood and departed for a nearby empty table. Winter blinked down at her ITD, bemused at its sudden appearance.
“Your friend is looking at Boroni Atchulkto. He’s wanted in three Hotel systems, and at least two in Suburbia. The bounty alone would be worth it. But, we’ve heard he’s carrying something he wants smuggled into Montague Ivoryhelm. We don’t know a discrete route into that system, else we’d take the job ourselves.” Winter frowned as the words scrolled across the small screen in front of her retina. The interactive temporal device was hardly bigger than a pair of wire framed glasses. The jack fitted behind her ear and filtered out the sounds of the bar and helped enhance her visual neural cortex.
Winter sighed. “Why don’t you just save some time. Come sit down so I can beat you up and be done with it.” She peered at what was left of her drink and sighed again. “Who’s we anyway?”
There was a discernible pause, as if there were a conferral taking place at the other end of the conversation. “My name is Auric. My brother Argent and I ask you to switch to your live feed.”
Winter sighed again, and just for the hell of it, took the suggestion. “Winter! Come in, dammit!” Fred shouted in her ear and she winced at the volume.
“Cool your jets, toaster. What’s doing?” She replied. Instead of an insulted acidic retort or critique of her fractured ancient terraspeak, Fred immediately started babbling. “They finished an hour ago…refitted…new vanes…muck off…need to leave…plague ship…” Winter shook her head to clear it. “Wait, what? You’re fixed? How?”
Fred started to babble again as Winter slid off her barstool and motioned to Grace, who has been chatting up Boroni. The floor wobbled alarmingly before she regained her balance. She staggered up to Grace and listed a bit to one side. “Time to go.” She muttered.
They both stopped and gaped at the Fred sitting calmly with the other surface to space ships. His metal gleamed faintly in the twilight. The muck and dirt haf been erased from his hull. The faux registry letters glowed as the paint appeared to still be drying across the metal skin. The gravity well vanes were retracted and the large dent in the nosecone from an asteroid broadside is gone.
“You didn’t let them near the torpedo tubes did you?” Winter hissed at Fred. He babbled more about official seals and other rot. “No.” he said. Winter tuned him out after that.
Winter turned to Grace as she was settling into her communications chair. “Tell your friend to get his cargo over here. We need to leave before they figure out they fixed the wrong ship.” Grace nodded and signaled Boroni’s ship from her newly refurbished bridge console.
“The new decks are totally nova! Someone didn’t spare any expense.” Grace smirked. Winter rolled her eyes and continued with the preflight check. “Boroni’s ship signaled back. They are ready for us to take delivery of the package. Care to let them in …” She trailed off. Winter was already out of her seat and jogging down the corridor to the cargo bay.
“So, what do we owe you for this tip about Boroni? And why do you use texttype?” Winter thought hard as the ITD transcribed her words into Galactic Standard and sent them to Auric.
There was another brief pause. “I’m the con officer. We deal with a lot of aliens, so it was easier for me to have a halo implanted. I only use my voice on rare occasions anymore.”
“If you are the con, then your brother is Captain? What ship?”
Winter caught the faint impression of laughter from the other side of the conversation. “The Dirty Bitch. Boroni’s almost there. We will turn him for his bounty. Thank you, Captain Winter.”
Boroni appeared out of the haze of lifting ships and handed a crate marked “Live Animal” to Winter. “It is friendly, “He remarked.” Eats pretty much anything. No grapes, onions, garlic, chocolate, sattrap, or Naidian chucqsa pops. Those give it gas.” Boroni made a face. “The rest is on the reader chip on the crate.” He thrust the crate into her hands. ” Good luck. He’s a sweet little fellow.”
Boroni disappeared down the gangplank and Winter signaled to Fred to retract and iris the hold doors shut. Grace hit the thrusters and left the ground far behind.