The Jumpgates of Our Star: Part Five

Ladies and Gentlemen and Scoundrels of all ages, we’ve made it to another weekend.  It is time for your regular dose of mentia., courtesy of your host, J. J. Griffing.
Jumpgates of Our Star first appeared on the boards in 2007-2008.
As always, this is my own work (the Sarge and Smoke are courtesy of Luke Newman) and the usual rules apply. Link, don’t copy. Do not claim as your own. Enjoy!

Yes.  “Enjoy!” is one of the rules here.

Continued from Part Four.

“People are predictable, and the more of them you got, the more predictable they are. That there’s the basis of Sociology, Mob Psychology, Psychohistory, and all advertising. If you can predict your opponent’s moves before he picks them—and often you can, if you know how—then you’ve got an edge up. The harder edge is being unpredictable yourself.”

The kid in Kirk’s old chair was that cocky-cum-arrogant sort of green that Kirk had always found annoying. Annoying, but very predictable: he would wait half a minute and, if Kirk hadn’t suitably answered, fly into a territorial rage and cause all the trouble he could. He was a Gate Operator, apparently, but only as long as he remained at his new post.

“I just wanted to tell you that Fang’s got a shot of G7 waiting for you in the cantina—just tell him Kirk sent ya. He’ll know what you mean,” he said in an insider’s tone.

“G7 gin is illegal, mister: I’ll have to report —,” the new kid was saying as he spun the chair around. He stopped as his eye caught the brightness of a spinning coin, and he reached out and grabbed it—Good reflexes, Hazard thought: just the sort Sarge appreciated when the brain behind them could keep up. “Cool cats! Where’d you get this?” the newbie said, suitably impressed. It was a bright brass square with a hole through its middle and markings the boy had plainly never seen before.

“That’s your ticket with Fang: Just show it to him and say ‘Kirk’s Special’ and he’ll know what you mean. Just think about that girl….” Hazard knew there was one—who she was was irrelevant—and the look on the youth’s face confirmed it. He pushed past Kirk in a hurry and out of the office. Kirk let him go and locked the door. He sat down in his chair once again and pulled out the file from his shirt. Cautiously he snapped on a light.

There were sounds in the waiting room and he snapped the light off again to see better through the two-way glass. The poker-shaped officer was back again. Under her eye the last of the stranded travelers struggled with the bulk of a final liquidated Reipus. Her eyes scanned the room before she stalked toward the control booth door, her lips a switchblade smile. Kirk scooped up the folder and stepped quickly through the maintenance access port to the shuttle lock. Having sealed the shuttle off herself, he reasoned, it would be the last place she would think to look. The door was heavy and, but for a boldly-painted Danger!, entirely unmarked.

The hull of the ship still held most of its pressure and he walked easily aft through the fused locks into the First-Class cabin and between the doors of luxury suites. He stumbled as he crossed the floor of the lounge amidships, and looked to see what he’d tripped over. There was nothing there, but then he looked up.

The walls and ceiling of the lounge were solar-shielded windows through which passengers could view the heavens, gazing out on the star-system from which they had come and then upon the new system as they entered. Now through the Fresnel telescopy of the skylight Hazard saw a mid-sized yellow star surrounded by gas giants and their moons. His brain sorted the image quickly—Rigel8701 and her daughters Wells, Verne, Saknussemm, Arounax, Costeau, Cluseau. The Geiger Moons in their verdant splendor swung ’round Saknussemm like the dance of Atlas’ daughters. Somewhere down there lay men he’d given his right hand to see come home. And it wasn’t enough.

More immediately relevant, the Jumpship lay through Beta Gate. The gravitational interrupt at the gate itself had caused his stumble.  Geiger 4AC3B05 was still very nearly intact, but how long would the bridge last before the gate itself ripped the ship in two? And then what?

* * * * *

There was a snuffling sound ahead of him:  by the sound of it Kirk guessed it was coming from the lavatories dividing the lounge from the mid-class cabin.  He moved swiftly, headache and all, slapping a clip into the Krueger as he pressed himself against the bulkhead.  The snuffling was irregular, organic, like a bored Reipus in the swamps of Geiger-Four.  He nudged open the door to the lavatory vestibule with his muzzle and cautiously followed the weapon in.  There was no smell of Reipus, but there was a smell of blood.  Nobody was in sight.  The impact, or something, had damaged the curtain at the far end, leading to the mid-class cabin.  Kirk sniffed again:  there was another smell he couldn’t place.  It smelled like Doublenight, somehow, and the memory of their betrayal burned in him.  He had to remember—cool his pulse somehow so that the enemy would not hear.  He did not even know whom he was fighting, yet.  The snuffling began again, in the ladies’ lavatory.  The door was locked, but a little shoving with the Krueger the latch popped open.  That’s when he knew what he’d smelled:  the weird cologne that “JD” McKenna always wore, the one the Id Kid described so aptly as eu-de-fermented-rat.  There were no Reipus in the lavatory, but there was a man there, dressed as a cleric from the Chapel of Grace.  A pretty battered cleric, with a big familiar scar on his leg where the plain leather breeches ended at mid-calf.  A scar that only McKenna could have had, because Hazard gave it to him.

McKenna’s face was bloody and battered, but he was conscious.  In fact, he was snuffling.  From the smudges of blood on the walls and McKenna’s clothing, it looked like he’d been in here when the jumpship hit the station.  What was left of his hair was nearly all grey now.  People are predictable, Private Hazard, he heard again, and tried to recall anything short of a bachelor party that would end up with Connor J. McKenna dressed up like a cleric in the ladies’ room.  But hadn’t that very thing happened at Thumper’s bachelor party?  Thumper, the engineer, had been the first to turn on them.    Then “Id Kid” Edenbourne had gone off-wire after a bender the same week Black One returned to The City.  The rest had gone their separate ways in various jobs, either more connected to the government or less (nothing was entirely dys-connected from government work), and been out of touch until Smoke showed up this morning with word that the Id Kid was on EuTrans One too.  Three now with McKenna.

There was something going on here, all right.  No reason Black One should converge on the jumpgate to Geiger Seven.  It had not been long enough since the Ghost-Water Uprising for the veterans of Doublenight to reconvene for a reunion.  It would never be long enough.  So what was bringing them back today?  He remembered how he’d felt when Lance-Corporal Melville’s head and arm tackled him out of the way of that mine explosion—and how, when he went to thank Old Ahab (Melville’s real name was Ismeel, from his grandfather’s side), he found that there wasn’t anything else left of him to thank.  The Ghost-Water bastards, stoned senseless on their drugs, hooted and cheered when Black One lost one of her own.  One of her best, Ahab was.  Black One never forgave Geiger Seven for the blood it drank in the Doublenight darkness, and Kirk never forgave the Ghost-Water rebels for killing Ahab.  But something else had betrayed Black One, and they should not be returning to the scene of the war like this.  And even a reunion didn’t explain McKenna.

To Be Continued …

What is going on aboard EuTrans One, anyway?  Why is the old Black One coming together right here and just now, what sort of Official Documents was the Manager willing to murder over, and what’s in that contraband gin, anyway?  If you think you know (or have some suggestions), let’s hear ’em in the comments!

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