Tales Of The Incorrigible: Flummox Or Bust
WHEREIN: FLATHEAD IS CAUGHT BETWEEN A HARD PLACE AND A ROCK. THROOM ASSEMBLES A CREW FROM FRESH MEAT AND OLD COMPONENTS. THE CREW ARE INTRODUCED TO THE INCORRIGIBLE. GREASLY’S UNMENTIONABLES ARE INTRODUCED TO THE CREW.
The poster showed a Human male doing a jumping-jack in a clear blue sky. “Two Arms? Two Legs? Too Cool!” the caption read, and from the look on the face of the jumper, two of each did indeed seem to be an invigorating and exciting configuration of limbs.
Next to the poster, a Cranian female (by all measures a Human except for the fact that she was born on Cran rather than Hume 3) leaned against the stainless steel wall. As Flathead and Throom walked past her through the corridor of the Cran port of entry, she stared at Flathead with a look that seemed as if it were about to segue into a disgusted head shake—which it then did.
“Why don’t you just go alone?” Flathead whined.
Throom could not help but sympathize with his little friend. This was not at all the planet to make a hot pink squid feel at home. But Throom’s sympathy was countered by his not wanting to interview three strangers for possible crew positions alone. “I don’t like Cran any more than you do,” he reasoned.
“That’s not the problem,” Flathead countered, “The problem is that they hate me more than they hate you.”
Throom could not argue with that. After all, he himself was at least Humanoid. True, his body was large enough that the word “hulking” seemed to have been coined just to describe it, and true, it was made entirely of stone, but the gray granite that comprised him was inarguably Humanoid in shape.
They passed another poster. This one showed a family sharing a group hug. The caption read: “Arms are for hugging other Humanoids.” Flathead pulled three of his tentacles away from the task of locomotion and used them to plead with Throom. “Throom, look at me.”
They stopped, and Throom looked at Flathead. His friend was about a meter tall and very similar to a squid in shape except that his main body (his hub as he called it) was shaped like a shoe box standing on end rather than a pregnant arrowhead. His overall hot pink color was pushed slightly toward purple by a faint blue paisley pattern that covered him everywhere except the undersides of his tentacles.
Flathead had no facial features—instead, sensing light, sound, and smell on all the surfaces of his hub and producing sounds by vibrating those same surfaces—but over time he had learned to enhance his communications with the faced races by flexing his skin into slight deformations. A crinkle here, a ridge there, a slight tilt of the hub, and he could make his emotions clear to most of the people he encountered. His wrinkles and ridges were now expressing anxiety. They were so effective that Throom almost gave in right there, but instead he hardened his face and continued down the corridor, forcing Flathead to follow. “Just stay with me and you’ll be fine.”
They arrived at the shuttle check-in. The poster on the wall behind the gleaming counter was of a shapely Human female standing arms akimbo and bore the caption: “Bilateral symmetry is all right!” Between the counter and the poster sat a balding Cranian male. “Name and vessel,” he droned without looking up from his console.
“Throom of the Incorrigible.”
“Business or pleasure?”
“And what is your business?”
“My business,” Throom said, emphasizing the “my.”
The little man looked up with his beady eyes narrowed as if he were about to set Throom straight on a few things, but once he saw that he was dealing with a Fraggart, he just swallowed and let him remain askew. He went on to the next question. “How long are you planning to visit?”
“Less than a full rotation.”
“Very well. You are all set then,” the Cranian informed him. “First gate through those doors. The shuttle will be leaving shortly.”
Throom and Flathead started toward the indicated door but the balding Cranian interrupted them before Throom had taken two steps. “Um, excuse me sir.” When Throom turned back the Cranian was glancing over the counter at Flathead. “I didn’t realize that this was with you. That complicates things a bit.” He sat back down and started tapping at his console.
Flathead flinched as laser beams from a bump on the ceiling shot out and scanned across his surface, no doubt recording his every feature and comparing them to a gigantic database somewhere.
“He’s with me,” Throom explained, “I’ll be responsible for him.”
“Yes sir, you will,” the little man said, “Which means you are responsible for making sure that it obeys all of the rules laid out here.” He placed a word wad on the counter. “Shuttles leave every hour, so you can take all the time you need. If you don’t wish to have it confiscated, I suggest you become very familiar with those regulations.”
“Have what confiscated? The word wad?”
“That.” The man behind the counter pointed directly at Flathead.
Throom noticed that the man had taken on a tone of greater confidence. In fact he had a definite condescension about him, due most likely to the four guards that were now standing stiffly around Throom and Flathead.
“You can’t confiscate him. He’s a Kravitsian citizen,”Throom explained. “And he’s our pilot. You have no authority.”
“Oh yes we do,” the man assured. Then he continued, “It is of utmost importance that it wear this emblem at all times to mark it as non-Humanoid.” He slid a small purple adhesive badge of amorphous shape across the counter to Throom.
“You want my Kravitsian friend to wear a sticker so people will know he’s not Humanoid?”
The Cranian ignored Throom’s impertinence. “If it is found within 300 meters of any public works building it will be immediately disposed of. Is that understood?”
“Yes. Disposed of. Is that understood?”
“No,” said Throom, “I don’t understand that at all.”
“Then I suggest you read Grand Ranter Barry’s book The Push for Excellence: Taking Back our Planet. There is a copy on the word wad I gave you.”
“Push,” Throom growled, “for excellence?”
“Throom, don’t make a scene,” Flathead sputtered nervously, “It’s their planet.”
“Yes it is,” the man said proudly. “Now more than ever.”
Throom narrowed his eyes. He knew the guards’ weapons could do little to harm him, but he also knew that going Fraggart on this autocratic speck of overweening flesh would make him miss the interview. Worse yet, he knew what the guards’ weapons could do to Flathead.
“It’s fine, really, Throom,” Flathead assured him, “You don’t need to take a stand on this. I’m a Caner. I get worse from other Kravitsians. Just let me go back to the ship.”
Throom seethed a moment longer.
“Just do the interview,” Flathead soothed, “then we can put some deep space between us and Cran.”
After counting to ten mentally, Throom grumbled, “All right, I’ll see you back at the ship.” Throom parted ways with Flathead and walked through the door.
Times like this almost made him regret that he had ever civilized himself.
* * *
After taking a shuttle to the surface, Throom sat at a back table in a Spammy’s restaurant waiting for the recruits to show up. The dingy yellow and green decor did little to cheer him up. It was obviously only the ubiquity of the chain that made Spammy’s the cap’n’s favorite rendezvous point. As Throom looked around at the grimy tables, he gnarled to himself that if Greasly ever actually showed up to one of these meetings it would be the last time he picked Spammy’s.
Throom remembered with a chill a Spammy’s in the outskirts of the planet Crematoria’s largest city, Spitoonburgh. That one had contained an extensive tangle of tubes that was billed as a children’s play area. Due to the slipshod management of the site and the fact that the location never closed, said play area had become the epicenter of a very nasty feral child infestation, the full story of which had been related to Throom in hushed tones by a hoary old Spammy’s associate. He told how customers had started complaining that their children went into the tube pile but did not come out and how food then started disappearing from the storage areas, leading the management to take decisive action. They first installed state of the art security in the food storage area then put up a hand written sign reading “Play at own risk” on a wall near the play zone.
Luckily, being made of stone, Throom had never actually ordered anything to eat at a Spammy’s. He had all the power he would ever have, already built inside of him from the day he was formed. His central core of complex atoms slowly decaying throughout his lifetime could never be replenished. When it ran out, he was done.
Most other races could theoretically go on indefinitely as long as they kept replenishing their power, but Fraggarts ran down and that was that. Of course, in the meantime, they were quite unlikely to cease operations involuntarily—except on Throom’s home planet of Frag, where the life expectancy of a Fraggart was greatly diminished due to the fact that it was populated with other Fraggarts.
“Are you Captain Greasly?” asked a female voice. Throom snapped out of his self-indulgent funk and turned to look at the petite Humanoid. He was frozen for a moment as he looked at the dark-eyed woman with short-cropped black hair. She was dressed in khaki flight pants and a pinkish purple tank top under a black jacket that when unfastened, as it was now, hung in a way suggesting a cutaway coat.
She had an inquisitive air about her, but there was more than a tinge of caution in her eyes. She apparently knew about Fraggarts and recognized him as one. None of that, however, was why he stared at her exactly like a statue. The reason he stared was that he was trying to decide if the shiny thing across her forehead could really be an old-fashioned zipper.
As she cocked her head back and to the side, about to apologize and retreat, the dangling zipper-pull removed all doubt. “Yes,” he said extending his hand to her in greeting. Then, realizing his mistake, amended, “No, actually I’m Throom, the first mate. Cap’n Greasly couldn’t make it.”
Placated by his manner and his manners, she cautiously touched his cold stone hand and tried to shake it. Naturally it did not move until he began to shake, at which point her hand merely went along for the ride.
“Glad to meet you,” she said as she took a seat. Rather than giving her name in return, she watched Throom’s eyes. Her expression gradually darkened.
“My eyes are down here,” she said.
“Huh?” Throom blinked and pulled back his chubby granite hand, which had remained suspended above the table.
“Is something wrong?” she asked. It was almost a challenge.
Her jaw was set, her eyes narrowed, and one hand lay tensely atop of the other on the table.
“Well, I was just … I mean, I was curious …” He was interrupted by another voice to his right.
“I am told that you are Cap’n Greasly.” The deep, firm voice belonged to a Humanoid with a washboard forehead and impressive physique.
The new arrival had long brown hair and a neatly trimmed mustache and beard as dark as deep space. He was in some sort of quilted unitard virtually tiled with pockets, or possibly flaps, most of which were held shut with toggles made from large fangs. The fabrics used varied in color from a dark earthy green to a rusty brown but all had the same texture of tightly packed irregular striations. Piping as thick as Throom’s thumb enhanced the manly tapering of the recruit’s torso as well as the broadness of his shoulders. He carried in his hands a sealed cylindrical glass container filled nearly to the top with murky water.
“Actually, I’m his first mate, Throom.” As Throom extended his hand to the new arrival, he noticed that in the jar floated some sort of sea creature that was shaped roughly like a leaf of romaine lettuce. It was reddish purple in the middle, growing to light pink at the scalloped edges. To his astonishment, the floppy red lettuce in the jar sprang to life and plastered itself to the side of the container. Its color changed to a dark maroon, and words appeared in a lighter shade across its surface.
“I am Kurplupt,” the words said. Obviously the thing was intelligent.
Throom considered a moment. Was Kurplupt a name or an adjective, as in “Honey, I’m home. Boy, am I Kurplupt!”?
Throom looked to the holder of the jar for some help in comprehending what was supposed to be happening. The holder of the jar would not meet his gaze. Throom looked back at the lettuce. Words were now scrolling across it.
“ … of the school of Shuuupt of the sphere of Tullusht of the pod of Shluuurptptpt of the …” The words continued far beyond Throom’s interest in them.
“I’m happy to meet you, Kurplupt,” he interrupted, certain now that Kurplupt was a name.
The letters were replaced by a series of dots, and then, “I was not finished,” appeared in the center of the lettuce.
“I understand. We’ll get the rest when we’re filling out W-4s.”
“As you wish. I am honored to share your sphere,” the words spelled out. The ridge-headed person set the jar on the table and took a seat behind it.
“So you must be the third recruit?” Throom asked the jar carrier. The jar carrier started and looked at the floor.
The lettuce displayed a number of words in all upper case. “DO NOT ADDRESS MY BEARER!” they said.
“I’m sorry, I was under the impression …”
“Klorf is my bearer—a form of transportation—nothing more.”
Throom looked at Klorf to try and gauge his feelings about this, but Klorf continued to stare at the floor. Throom looked back to Kurplupt and read the scrolling words.
“Flapulates often use the services of Cling-ons when traveling on liquid deficient worlds. That does not mean that the Cling-on has suddenly become worthy of representing our race.”
“In that case we are still missing someone,” Throom concluded, wanting to change the subject. “But maybe we should get started anyway.”
“Yes,” agreed the zipper-headed female, “let’s.”
“I’m sorry, but I think I’ve already forgotten your name.”
“Penny. Penny Forethought,” she stated with a slight motion of her shoulders that made Throom feel as if she were getting ready to take a swipe at him if he laughed. They had obviously gotten off to a bad start.
“Penny Forethought,” Throom repeated. “Interesting name.”
“Yes, it is,” she replied flatly. “My father thought himself quite clever.”
“So you are the radiation expert?”
“Have you done much sensor work?”
Throom’s questions had been answered so quickly he had not had time to formulate the next one. He fumbled for a moment. One would think he would be getting better at these interviews, but he was still crapward shy of horrible. “Um, are you willing to work for life support and a cut of the prize?”
She paused a moment. “I guess that depends on the cut.”
“That depends on the crew. The cap’n doesn’t allow any other pay schedule than even shares for the entire crew, including himself.”
Penny seemed surprised at the magnanimity of that.“Really?”
“Yes, the math is easier that way. Expenses off the top, of course, but he doesn’t draw a salary as an expense like some profiteers do.”
“I’m surprised to hear that.”
“Why? What did you hear?”
“Nothing, it’s just unusual,” she said with a shrug.
Throom turned to the Flapulate. “Did you hear the terms I was telling Penny?”
“Would you be willing to work under those terms?”
“If we took you on, would Klorf be expecting a share?”
“What Klorf expects is immaterial.”
“I see. So what position are you wanting to fill? It was unclear from your correspondence.” It had not been unclear at all, but now that he had met Kurplupt, he was certain there had been some mistake.
“I wish to be chief of security.”
Or maybe not. Throom looked at the leaf of lettuce floating in a jar. “Security? Of the ship?”
“Yes, why not?”
“Well, it’s a very active job. I mean a very physically demanding job.” He paused to let the rest of the problem blossom in the mind of the Flapulate. The seed found no purchase.
“Well … you wouldn’t be in charge of a team. You would actually be security.” Still no sprouting. “You might have to physically subdue various beings.” The Flapulate was still not getting it. “As in chasing, shooting at, fighting with.”
“I am aware of these things.”
Throom had to lay it out for him. “So how would you do that?”
“My bearer would assist me.”
“So Klorf would be doing your fighting for you?”
“Of course he would,” the Flapulate informed him, “I’m in a jar.”
“I see that,” confirmed Throom. “Well, just to play the bad guy for a minute, if Klorf is doing all the dangerous work, why wouldn’t we just hire Klorf?”
In response to this, Kurplupt gave Throom quite an eye full. “Are you insane?! Klorf is a Cling-On. When the great Croosian traders swim through the profound pressures and darkness at the core of the water moon Vadnu, the Cling-ons are the parasites that even that most hostile environment will not dislodge. They are unrefined. They are coarse. They are barbaric. Only the disgusting fact that they can take near vacuum-pressure gases into themselves and derive oxygen from them makes them of any use to us. What you suggest would be as if I offered to hire, instead of you, the chair you are sitting on.”
“Chairs,” Throom corrected.
“Whatever,” appeared on the Flapulate.
Throom processed this information. He could not fathom what it must be like to live in Vadnu. There was no other place in the galaxy like it—a moon made entirely of water from surface to core and on through to the surface again—a planet-sized drop of pond water teaming with life and hurtling around a lifeless gas giant and twin suns in an intricate dance that gave it just the right amount of energy to sustain life.
“I see.” Throom nodded. “If we took you on, what sort of life support would you require?”
“My environment vessel is self contained. All I need is to absorb certain wavelengths of light for a short time each day. Klorf has all of the necessary equipment.”
Throom nodded. Photovores were the best deal available when trading energy for person hours. Even if Kurplupt himself were useless in his job at least it would not cost much to have the thing on board, and Klorf looked as if he might be very useful.
Throom turned his attention to Penny. “Do you have any special needs?” he asked, his eyes involuntarily drifting to her forehead.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Nothing.” Throom pulled his eyes away from the zipper and looked into hers.
Throom was conflicted. The whole concept of skin was pretty repulsive to him and he would usually prefer to ignore it, but then again, here was a girl with an archaic sewing notion integrated into her scalp. He certainly did not want to offend her, but then again: zipper—in forehead! How could a person reasonably expect not to be asked about such a thing? He opened his mouth to ask, but was interrupted.
“Throom! You overgrown pigeon perch. You haven’t changed a bit,” a cheerful voice exclaimed. Throom turned to look at the source of the voice, and his stone jaw dropped.
Hardegar nodded his rotting head vigorously. Bits of decaying skin on his forehead and cheek flapped as if in greeting. “The one and only!”
Hardegar was of average build and height for a Human—or at least average build and height for a Human mummy. He wore baggy trousers and his shriveled arms protruded from the short sleeves of an overly spacious pull-over shirt that was decorated with large flower shapes in bright colors.
“I thought you were dead,” Throom uttered blankly.
Shrugging and nodding his hairless head, Hardegar admitted, “I am—been dead since Endrosia. Poisoned you know.” Then brighter, “Don’t drink the water, eh?”
Throom was unsure what to say. “So, uh, how’ve you been?”
“How have I been? I’ve been dead!”
“Okay, but … uh …”
“It’s the damned implants,” he explained sheepishly. “The control unit malfunctioned and won’t shut down. I keep going through tissue regeneration, but its not working so well any more.” He flicked at one of the flaps of dead skin.
“Yeah, the thing I miss most is my brain. Well, second most.” He winked his right eye but found he had to open it again by hand. “Most of me is still in my Brain Bubble 3000, but I’m pretty sure I had some really nice memories in wetware. Oh well, I’m sure it’s in a better place. Absent from the body, at home with the Lord.”
There was an awkward silence.
“So,” Throom ventured at last. “Cran is a long way from Endrosia. What brings you here?”
“Nothing in particular— just kicking around waiting for the old batteries to go down.”
Throom nodded in recognition.
“Well, I guess you’re lucky, right? I mean if you have to be dead, you should at least stay active.”
“Lucky? Look at me, Throom.”
“Uh, yeah.” Throom shifted uncomfortably, noticing that he could see completely through portions of one of Hardegar’s arms.
“So how about you? How’s the old stalactite hanging?”
“I can’t complain,” Throom admitted. “Still on the Incorrigible.”
“And why wouldn’t you be? Beautiful ship.”
Throom nodded agreement. “In fact I’m here recruiting right now, so … It was nice seeing you again, Hardegar, but I need to get back to work.”
“Sure thing,” agreed Hardegar as he pulled up a chair and sat down. “Let’s get started.”
Throom felt some of the minerals in his torso gain density. “Huh?” was all he could manage to say.
“I’m throwing in with you again,” Hardegar said brightly, “if you’ll have me.”
* * *
Throom could not help thinking on the way back to the Incorrigible that he was far too soft-hearted for someone made entirely of rock. He had at least a dozen reasons to reject each of the three recruits he was coming back with, yet here he was, coming back with them.
As they approached the Incorrigible with a luggage-laden rental tram following automatically behind them, Throom wondered how much of a lead he could get on the others if he made a break for it. He pictured himself running up the gangway and closing the hatch before they knew what was happening. Surely Flathead had seen the recruits by now and was warming up the Flitzdrive to make his own escape. In fact, if Throom didn’t make a break soon, Flathead would probably leave them all behind, including him.
“That’s quite a ship!” exclaimed Penny.
“Isn’t it, though?” agreed Hardegar.
“Very retro,” she added.
“She’s a classic all right,” Throom agreed, breaking out of his daydream. “One of the last ships in the ‘Defiant’ line. After the Incorrigible there was only the Stubborn, the Headstrong, and the Pig-headed Jerk. Then they quit making them because they were officially out of names.”
“Wow.” Penny looked her over with admiration while Hardegar looked her over with admiration.
There was, of course, no way for any of them to know that the ship was shaped very much like a huge 1957 Buick Roadmaster. The designer of the Defiant line, Snell Smarkly, had made a career out of no one knowing that. He had dug into the ancient archives and chosen a random land-car design from Hume three and used it as the basis of his entire line.
He even found that the ad campaign that had been used to sell the original carbon fuel burner was so usefully vague that it adapted perfectly to each new ship in his line. When the Incorrigible was up for sale it was billed as “The Newest Defiant Line Ship Ever,” as had every other ship in the line, including the first. It was the “Ever” that seemed to impress people.
The glossy ship sported sleek lines and swept back tail fins. A thin chrome stripe ran a bit above the spherical black lift pods that took the place of tires then dipped down sharply just in front of the rear pod like an elegant check-mark. The Incorrigible’s body was two tone—mostly yellow but red under the chrome stripe. Near the front, four elliptical portholes accented the space above the stripe and gave a faint impression that the pod was rolling forward at speed. The “grill” was resplendent with chrome and glass—being the forward observation deck.
On the side, where windows would have been if it really were a Buick, was a logo made of bold stylized lines suggesting a planet and something like a comet swooping around it and heading away. Intermeshed with the logo were the words Galactic Guard Lite. The motto “To Swerve and Deflect” curved beneath it. Next to the logo like a footnote was the abbreviation “Ret.” Beneath the entire emblem, in much larger letters, was the name of the ship—Incorrigible.
They walked up the gangway extending down from an opening just aft of the forward lift pod. Throom carried three of Penny’s bags up the ramp for her. He noticed as he walked that one of the bags was actually made of a leather of some sort. It had been tanned and worked with intricate designs that included the initials P. F. As revolted as he was by the idea of actually reusing the bag that had once held an organed creature’s organs, he said nothing and simply quelled his repugnance.
They entered the ship.
Cap’n Lou Tok Greasly was there to greet them when they came aboard. Or rather he happened to be shuffling through the corridor in his underwear as they came aboard. One hand scratched absently beneath the waistband of his baggy boxer shorts and the other rubbed down his face and off his cleft chin. His blue eyes were bleary. His greying sandy brown hair, normally wavy but disheveled, was now disheveled but wavy.
“Hey,” he mumbled as he passed.
“Who’s that?” asked Penny.
“The cap’n,” Throom admitted. “He’ll be better after he has a cleaning and a coffee.” He looked toward the cap’n and noticed that he had stopped and cocked his head as if watching the flight of some unusual butterflies. Cap’n Greasly turned to look directly at Penny’s forehead, which was at his eye level when he stood up straight. She stiffened. He approached and opened his mouth as if about to ask a question. The question was late for its appointment with the tongue, however.
“So where are our cabins?” Hardegar interrupted, apparently oblivious to what was taking place.
“Hardegar?” the cap’n queried, momentarily distracted, “Is that you?”
“It’s me, and yes, I am dead.”
“Hi,” Greasly said, then to Penny, pointing at her forehead, “Is that a zipper?”
Penny froze in shock. Her jaw dropped, her bottom lip quivered, and tears welled in her eyes. Her hand flew up to cover the zipper, and she looked at the floor. She turned to the left and to the right like a cornered animal then took off down the corridor. “I’ll be in my cabin,” she spluttered back at them as she went. Then she stopped, turned, and walked stiffly back to the group. Without looking up she said in a careful, measured tone, “Throom, will you please show me to my cabin?”
Throom led her away down the corridor. The cap’n turned to the other two Humanoids. “So you’re dead are you?” he asked Hardegar as they walked down the corridor in the other direction. “You know I don’t usually hire the dead,” he warned. “But I suppose it’s really more of a guideline than a rule.”
WHEREIN: A NOBLE CREW LEARN OF THEIR QUEST AND THE STEALER OF DREAMS THAT THREATENS TO SNATCH THEIR VICTORY FROM THEIR EAGER GRASP. GREASLY LEARNS HOW TO USE A PROJECTOR.
“So you patched things up, did you, Throom.” Greasly more stated than asked as he and Throom stood outside the briefing room. Though the cap’n’s hair was still unruly, noticable improvement had been made. Improvements had also been made in his clothing in that he was actually wearing some.
He wore his old uniform which consisted of black boots and baggy black riding breeches with a spazzer holstered on his right thigh, a plain white tee shirt under suspenders formed from colored rectangles (the color sequence of which indicated his rank and several of his achievements), and over all a jacket that could be best described as a thigh length cutaway duster of worn brown material with shiny copper buttons—all unbuttoned. The jacket bore on each arm a patch of the same “near miss” emblem of the Galactic Guard Lite that was born by the ship, but minus all of the wording.
“Yes, I managed to, finally. She was very upset.”
“How could she expect me not to ask about something like that?”
“I don’t know. It seems like people must ask about it all the time.”
Greasly snorted. “People are so farking weird,” he said with a shake of his head. He shrugged and, with a sigh, turned around to enter the briefing room, at which point he ran straight into the closed door.
A second later, while he was rubbing his nose, the door opened. “Throom, you’ve got to work on the timing of these doors,” he grumbled.
“I tried, but the minimum is hard-coded.”
“Well, chisel it out,” he snapped as he entered the briefing room. All the new recruits plus Flathead were there, seated at the long table that took up most of the room.
“You can sit down,” Greasly enjoined, but no one was standing. “I’m Cap’n Greasly. Welcome to the Incorrigible. She’s a fine ship, and now she’s got a fine crew.” He paused for a moment lost in a troubling thought. “Again,” he added, then snapped out of it.
“I run a lax ship,” he stated as he paced with his hands clasped behind his back, “but I expect everyone to do their share. Everybody. Got that?”
Hardegar and Penny nodded. Klorf looked at the floor. Kurplupt signaled “Yes” in red letters.
“What the hell is that?” Greasly asked, pointing at Kurplupt. Then to Klorf, “Can you talk? You’re not a mime, are you?”
Throom interrupted, “Cap’n, Kurplupt is the one in the jar. Klorf is only his transportation. They are sort of a symbiotic pair.”
“Really?” Greasly completely ignored the text scrolling across the Flapulate. “Well, I’ve had security officers that were pickled half the time, but this is ridiculous!” He looked at the others ready to accept praise for his witty remark. He got none. “Because of pickles … in jars.”
They all looked around nervously, unsure what pickles and jars had to do with each other. It had been centuries since pickles came in jars. Greasly’s love of history had bitten him in the ass again.
“Tough crew,” Greasly remarked. “Anyway, we’ll sort all that out later.” He waved his hand in the general direction of Kurplupt.
“The mission.” He picked up a remote control and clicked a button. A bright light shone from the far wall to illuminate a rectangle all around him. He pulled a pair of sunglasses from a pocket in his jacket and put them on. “We are going after the final cargo of Bartholomew Methane.” He removed the jacket and slipped his shirt off over his head.
At the mention of the name, Bartholomew Methane, all of the recruits gasped, except for Kurplupt, who just stopped ranting.
“The Bartholomew Methane?” asked Hardegar in awe.
“You don’t suppose there are two sons-of-bitches unlucky enough to have that name do you?” Greasly had his hands behind his head, sunning himself in the light.
“The most notorious pirate that ever lived,” Penny posited as if seeking confirmation.
“That’s the guy,” Greasly confirmed, turning this way and that to make sure his underarms got light. “Rumor has it that his ship went down when he was finding a hiding place for some of his most valuable spoils. That’s what we’re after.”
“So what have you got?” Hardegar queried.
“The Incorrigible, thirty thousand moolas, and you.” The cap’n had moved on to sunning his back now. “Sound’s like a song, doesn’t it?”
“I know right where it is.”
“You know right where the wreck of Bartholomew Methane’s ship is?” Hardegar asked with cautious optimism.
“I know right where the lead is.” Greasly clicked off the light and slipped his shirt back on as he spoke. “I happen to know because I won it playing poker. It’s an old electronic log made by Bart, himself.”
“You have one of his logs?”
Greasly sat down and took off the sunglasses. “Had. I lost it on the next hand. But I know who has it now, and—more importantly—I know where he keeps it.” Greasly grinned slyly then noticed that text had been scrolling across the Flapulate. “What’s that, Kurplupt?”
Greasly spoke the words as he read, “How do you know the owner of the clue hasn’t already retrieved the …” Greasly rubbed his eyes then pointed at Klorf. “You.”
“Klorf,” Throom supplied.
“Klorf, can you speak?”
“Yes, I can.”
“Talk to me through Klorf,” Greasly instructed Kurplupt.
The words “NOT ADDRESS MY BEARER” faded from the Flapulate. After a moment the security officer reluctantly pulled itself away from the side of the jar facing Greasly and went to the side facing Klorf.
“Very well, captain,” recited Klorf.
“Not captain. cap’n,” corrected Greasly. “I was in the Galactic Guard Lite, not the Galactic Guard.”
“Cap’n,” Klorf amended.
“And I know, because I know the man who has it. His name is Ratner Groat.” Greasly pulled out a crumpled piece of paper bearing a photo of a slick looking Human with a pencil thin mustache, and spread it out on the table for all to see. “His stupidity is only surpassed by his vanity. There’s no way he could figure out the encoding scheme, and it will still be months before he will admit that fact and have someone else figure it out for him.”
“He looks dishonest,” pronounced Penny. “His eyes are so close together.” Greasly smoothed out the paper some more. “Oh, that’s better,” she said.
He pulled another crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket and spread it on the table. “That’s his ship, The Other Woman.” He looked at the paper somewhat wistfully.
The Other Woman was another Smarkly “original,” this time based on an ancient trailer that in turn seemed to have been based on an ancient toaster. It was pretty much a silver box with rounded corners, four spherical lift pods, and a triangular brace protruding out the lower front.
“She was my first ship. That bastard tracked her down just so he could have her, and I couldn’t.” Greasly sighed. “I had a lot of good times on The Other Woman.”
“Excuse me,” interrupted Kurplupt by way of Klorf, “are you talking about stealing the log from him?”
“Yes,” stated Greasly.
Klorf looked at Kurplupt then at Greasly. “Okay.”
“He’s on his way to Oon,” Greasly continued, searching through his pockets. “His course requires him to stop briefly near Slavin seven. Damn it! Where is that map? Throom, Do you have a copy of his course?”
Throom entered something into a console near the door, and the light on the far wall came on again—this time projecting the course of The Other Woman behind Greasly. Greasly looked over his shoulder then quickly turned around in his chair to face the projected image.
“What the hell?” Greasly yelped. Then beaming at Throom, “I didn’t know it could do that. You are a genius, man!”
Greasly hopped up and pointed out the Slavin system. “This area here is controlled by the original Slavinites. It’s theirs by treaty—their laws, their courts. Intergalactic law does not apply in this zone.”
“And theft’s legal there?” asked Hardegar, looking particularly gruesome in the half-light.
“Of course not, but neither is gambling. So anything you lose in a game of chance is legally still your property. And,” he added significantly, “it is also perfectly legal to break and enter to retrieve stolen goods—frontier justice sort of thing. So as long as we get the log back while The Other Woman is in this zone, we don’t break a single law. Any questions?”
“But didn’t you get the log through gambling?” asked Penny.
“So do you really own the log according to Slavin law?”
“Are you a lawyer?”
“Any other questions? Good. Let’s Flitz!”
“My master has a question,” entreated Klorf.
Greasly stopped on his way to the door and looked at the ceiling with his shoulders slumped. “What is it, Kurplupt?”
“How can you be sure the log is genuine?”
“I just can.” He turned to look at Klorf as if to say, “Will you please quit bothering me with these trivialities?”
“Look, I just know it. We have to leave it at that. Okay?”
The recruits mulled that over.
“Look, I just feel it. My gut tells me the log is genuine. You are all going to have to trust me on that point.” He turned and left.
The recruits looked at Throom and at Flathead. Flathead was the first to speak, “I know this probably won’t help, but that’s good enough for me.”
Throom jumped in to bolster Flathead’s recommendation. “Flathead is our pilot, and he is very factually oriented. It means a lot for him to say that he trusts the cap’n.” He looked around the room. “But then again, you have no reason to trust me either.” He shrugged. “It’s a risk. There is no way around that fact. You are taking a shot in the dark. Either you take a chance, or you don’t.”
The new recruits each considered their options.
“I’m in,” Penny threw in at last.
“Me too,” shrugged Hardegar.
“As am I,” added Klorf for Kurplupt.
“Good,” said Throom with a grin. He tapped a console, and a blue line was added to the image. “This is our course.”
“That’s longer than Ratner’s course,” Penny pointed out. “Shouldn’t we try to be there before him?”
“We will be,” stated Flathead confidently.
“That red dot,” explained Throom, pointing out a red dot located on the blue line, “is a translation into normal space of our current position in Flitzville.”
“We’re already in Flitzville?” Penny sounded amazed. “I didn’t even feel the Flitz drive kick in.”
“She’s a good ship,” Throom boasted.
“She must be if we are already that close to Jordanis!” exclaimed Penny.
“That’s thanks to our squishy, little friend over there,” said Throom in reference to Flathead. “He could find a straight path through a plate of spaghetti.”
Flathead turned slightly purple—his way of blushing.
“But why are we going to the Jordanis system at all?” Hardegar queried.
“We have to recruit the sixth crew member,” answered Throom.
“Anyone I know?”
“Maybe. Ever hear of Willy Smith from Elvis three?”
“Willy the Wisp?”
“Willy the Wisp, that stole the jeweled hose clamp of Thran?”
“I heard he ended up in a Jordanian prison waiting to be executed.”
Throom smiled. “Yup.”
What people are saying:
Funny, smart, slap-stick, full of puns. A fun little book that may trick you into thinking deep thoughts when you are done reading it.
Liked the science fiction references and demonstrated absurdity of some of our contemporary issues. If you like Douglas Adams’ work, Charles Stross’ Laundry novels, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld or the Red Dwarf TV series you may like this as well.
Kind of a hard book to get into because of it’s crazy characters but glad I did because it was very funny. The author has a good imagination and conveyed it well.