Laguardia

This isn’t where the dead bodies go.

This isn’t where they go, and also, this one’s not packaged.  Did someone break into the hangar just to die? Why not die in the street?  They – she? She would’ve had plenty of company.

Arrow takes a step closer to the body and stretches out a foot to push the crumpled little corpse onto its back.  It flops over, and she’s not so sure it’s a girl now. It’s definitely weird-looking. Black hair, almost black skin, kind of shiny.  Some kind of alien, then. And there’s something wrong with the legs. Maybe someone beat it up before they killed it. Arrow wrinkles her nose.  This is probably gonna get her in trouble.

She sighs and goes to find Jordon.  He’s in the office, sleeping and stinking worse than the body.  She puts a sharp little elbow into his fat shoulder once, twice.  “Mr. Jordon. Mr. Jordon, wake up!”

He rolls upright in his chair like a drunken bear, one hand fumbling across his stained belly for the plastic bottle nestled in his armpit.  About half a deep draught of vodka spills down his chin, making it in an instant the most sanitary square inch of him. It brings him momentarily out of his stupor.  He blinks swollen, bloodshot eyes at her.

“Wha…. Urrow.  Ged oudda here.”

“Mr. Jordon, there’s a dead body in the hangar.”

A deep rumble makes its way up from his chest, much the worse for the journey by the time it exists his lips.  “Uuuuugh. Put ‘er in the morgue.”

“It’s not packaged.  It’s just… dressed. Kinda.  And it’s an alien.”

He groans and turns half over in the chair, which complains at the mistreatment.  “Fuggin… Label it then, an’ put it away. The fuck I keep you for. What fuggin time is it?”

Arrow glances up at the battered analog clock over his desk.  It’s upside-down, but Arrow doesn’t know that. She’s never seen another one.  “Six-thirty.”

He lashes out with a boot, which she doesn’t have to dodge – it misses her by a good four feet.  “Get the fuck oudda here… fuggin six-thirty.” The last of these words is carried out of his mouth on a deep sigh, the kind that could make you drunk if you were within kissing distance when he did it.  Arrow curls her lip and turns to go. He mumbles after her, “An’ don’ take long. Not payin’ you t’jerk off all the way to the morgue.”

Label it and put it away.  Fine. If an alien fell off a ship and died in the hangar, it’s none of her business.  She gets the biohazard tape and then stops to think. She’s going to need some way to get the body to the shrinkwrapper.  Probably can’t lift it; it’s about her size.

After some consideration, she extracts a wooden pallet from one of the back rooms, then looks for rope.  There are a few bungie cords – that’ll have to do. She hangs the bungie cords from their little hooks on the end of the pallet, and sashays back to the corner where the body is, balancing the pallet on top of her head with both hands.

A few minutes’ work forms a crude litter.  Then she screws up her face and her courage and works her hands under the dead alien’s arms.  It feels warmish – can’t have died long ago. By the time it’s on the pallet, Arrow is sweating and tired, but dragging the litter isn’t too hard.  She feels a bit of pride at her solution to this problem.

The pallet makes an awful sound scraping along the concrete floor, and she realizes right away it’s not gonna fit out the side door.  She’ll have to go out the main door and loop around to the morgue. Ugh. Lot of bloody trouble. And when she gets onto the blacktop outside, the scraping sound is even worse.  Fortunately there’s no one around to hear her. Mornings are quiet here.

The sun isn’t up yet, but it’s sort of dim grey out there.  Only a little hazy today. She’d hoped to get done early and make it to the kitchen before the line got long, but this is gonna set her back an hour, easy.  Balls.

The morgue is locked, of course – only she gets to loot bodies around here.  She leaves the litter outside one of the loading bays and unlocks the door beside it.  In the dark she finds the exposed chain that works the bay gate and drags on it with all her scrawny weight.  Slowly, with much screeching, a bar of greyish light grows.

Panting, she hooks the chain over a protruding shaft of rebar and ducks under the gate.  The pallet is at her feet… and the body’s not there.

What?  Where’s her dead body?

Arrow twists around, one way and then the other.  Maybe someone took it? That would save her time… no, it’s there, sprawled beside the door she left open.  Did it fall off?

She crouches to get ahold of the blasted thing again, and it squirms in her arms.  With a yelp, she jumps back, pressed up against the cold cinderblocks. The body turns over on its own, producing a sound like Jordon’s hungover groans, but thinner, smaller.  And then the eyes open, deep blue-black eyes with no whites at all in that dark greenish face.

Arrow whimpers.  Is it a zombie? She knows all about zombies, but she was almost certain they weren’t real until just this minute.  The body whimpers too. For a moment, they just stare at each other. The grubby sky brightens slowly over two frozen figures, similar in size but otherwise as different as they can be.  One is dressed in dirty flannel and denim, her red curls matted around her head like a helmet. She’s small and slight, freckled and dirty, and she looks about ten years old. The dark-skinned alien at her feet could be any age, as far as she’s concerned, but isn’t any bigger.

When the thing doesn’t move any further, Arrow’s curiosity conquers her fear, and she crouches down to look it in the face.

“Are you a zombie?”

The zombie’s brows draw together in consternation.  “Zzzz… Zzombie?” It raises shaking hands and rubs its face hard.  “I don’t… I don’t think so?”

Hearing it talk does much to ease Arrow’s mind.  Zombies can’t talk; they don’t have brains. “I thought you were dead,” she says candidly.

“I… don’t think I’m that, either.  I don’t feel real good though.”

“Yeah, you look like somebody beat you up.  But I was gonna put you in the morgue.”

The alien squints at her.  “That doesn’t sound good.”

“Well, it’s fine.  I mean, if you’re dead it’s fine.  Now…” Arrow sighs and settles onto her haunches.  “Now I don’t know what to do with you. You can’t sleep in the hangar, though.  You’re only allowed in there if you work here.”

“Where’s here?”

“Atlantis Shipping Surplus.  Queens.”

“Queens?”  The alien looks pained.

“New York?  Earth?”

Her head rolls back and forth.  “I… don’t remember anything.”

“What about your name?”

“No…”  Slowly, the alien pushes herself up with both hands, head hanging.

“Well, uh… can you stand?  Or walk? I guess I could take you to the hostel.  It’s where I live. There’s a nurse there; maybe she can make you feel better.”

The hanging head bobs.  Arrow takes this as assent, and gets to her feet to help the alien up.  It takes a lot of doing, most of it on her part, and when she’s done they’re both leaning against the wall of the morgue, looking at the dirty blacktop.  Then Arrow notices those legs.

“I thought your legs were broken.  What’s wrong with ‘em?”

The alien looks down.  “Nothing… I don’t think.  Don’t feel broken.” She shifts her weight carefully from foot to foot.  Arrow watches the legs bend the wrong way, lifting feet that look more like hands.

“You’re an alien.”

“I… am?  I guess. You’re not?”

“I’m a human.  I was born on this planet.  Don’t you remember anything?”

The alien shakes her head again.

“Well, I gotta call you something.”  She casts around for a name, and her eyes fall on the broken letters peeling off the building across the way.  “You sound like a girl to me. Is Laguardia okay?”

The alien shrugs.  “Sure. It sounds nice.”

“Okay then, Laguardia.  I can take you to the nurse, but then I have to come back to work.  I’ll get in trouble if I’m gone long.”

Captain’s Log: M1.337.11.004 The Playhouse

Previous

Arrow hasn’t spoken to me in about ninety-five hours, since we left Enasa.  It doesn’t help that I’m a little behind on her pay, one-tenth a crate of untainted slimewine behind to be precise.  My total fortunes at this moment couldn’t buy a bottle of Montaigne Melancholy, but my body’s producing a reasonable facsimile.

I have a destination, though, goddamn it.  Remi can be useful when she’s not actively – and so very literally – fucking me over a barrel, and she sent me a message after leaving that recommends we try selling the slimewine at the Playhouse.  This is Remi’s idea of a joke, but it’s also a good tip; I didn’t know the Playhouse was nearby, and they’ll buy anything.

“These coordinates you sent don’t make any sense.  There’s nothing there.”

A year or so after I picked her up, I learned that there’s a level of perceived stupidity Arrow isn’t willing to take from me without comment.  Having calculated it, I trot it out whenever she tries to ignore me. This makes me incredibly smug.

“Usually you would be correct, my sweet Earthling child,” I intone, steepling my fingers.  “But this time, or rather, in two hours, we will be at those coordinates, and I promise you, we will not be alone.”

She stares at me.  I can see her weighing the cost of extracting further information.  A toss of curls informs me of her decision and she storms off toward the bridge.

 

It takes a little under two hours, in fact.  Arrow’s a damn good navigator, but she’s also familiar with the ship’s little quirks, and Heloise doesn’t fight her like she does me.  Arrow can cross a galaxy in the time it takes me to chivvy the bitch into a hangar. The next person she works for will pay her twice what I do and it still won’t be what she’s worth.  She’ll be mad at me then, I’m sure, but what’s youth for if not getting cheated by your elders?

Arrow brings us to a vague armpit of space near the edge of Enasa’s sister system.  She’s correct, there’s nothing here in the sense of permanent or semi-permanent celestial features.  But there’s a great deal of activity here today, because the Playhouse is passing through.

We encounter their Knights first.  There’s nothing on the screen when Heloise picks them up behind us.  She says they’re not armed, but that’s because she was programmed before the Playhouse improved their cloaking tech, and she cries every time I try to update her.  I mean it, she actually cries. Have you ever heard an AI cry? It’s noisy; they don’t have to pause for breath.

In point of fact, Knights are heavily armed; I would say they’re almost nothing BUT arms.  “The arms of the Playhouse,” I quip to Arrow, who squints at me dubiously.

“So will they be turning us into a fine mist anytime soon?  I’d like to not be anywhere near you when that happens, so your mist doesn’t get all over my mist.”

“The Knights don’t want to fight.  Well, they do, but they won’t if we don’t.  They’re just here to protect and escort the Playhouse.”

“Which is…?”

I grin and sling an arm around her shoulder.  “When I was a kid, they would have called it a freak show, and I would’ve gotten beat blue after I snuck out to see it.  But for you, lucky girl, I will buy a ticket to what is perhaps the largest, most poorly regulated collection of mutants and degenerates in the galaxy!”

“Can’t wait,” she murmurs, distracted by the growing swarm onscreen.

The Playhouse staggers into view in a less-than-appropriately-cinematic fashion, preceded and trailed by an infestation of loosely connected enterprises that shelter in its shadow.  Once upon a time – before I was born, long before, when Earth was freshly abandoned – it was a single station. You can still see the bones of it at the center, encrusted with parasites and adorned with aftermarket improvements of no one culture or origin.  It crawls through space, throwing out pseudopodia and lurching from system to system, bringing its wonders, blandishments, and poorly-organized crime to a new planet each month.

“Way back in the day, it started out as a circus, or an arena.  Sort of both.”

“A very nasty circus,” Arrow interjects, and I nod.

“It was never the kind of place you’d bring your mother, but as it got bigger and more successful, lesser lowlifes started to congregate around it.”

“So why don’t you live here?” she asks, baby blues wide with innocence.

“Because I occasionally do legitimate business, as my sweet and well-behaved assistant should know, and an address in the Playhouse puts you emphatically on some lists and strikes you just as emphatically from a lot of others.”  I squint down at her and give her shoulder a little shake, turning her toward me. “Listen. You’re jokin’, but I’m not. This place is not safe. The main decks aren’t too bad, but I’m gonna ask you to stick by me and not toddle off after the first shiny thing you see, got it?”

I get one of her very best looks for my trouble.  “Don’t give me that, Captain; if you see a tit in there you’ll forget your own name.”

“All the better.  While we’re inside, I want you to refer to me as Captain… uh… Ming.  Let’s just keep my name off their books entirely if we can.”

“Captain Umming, got it.  I should let them know we’re close.”

“Arrow, I’m ser – ”  She’s gone. “Dammit.”

Captain’s Log: Isaac’s Bar, Enasa

Whatever Arrow might think, I do have other things to do in port than attend to my own needs. After the ship is secure in the hangar, and never mind the mildly erotic implications of that process, I meet up with a mechanic to have him check her over. It’s only been six weeks since her last tune-up, but little problems become big problems in a hurry when you’re out in the black, and I’d just as soon things went smooth. Surviving in my business is a constant process of shoring up little leaks and trying to make sure money stays ahead of entropy.

Then it’s off to the exchange to offload the little cargo we managed to get before we took our rather precipitous leave from Jordani 2. I discovered a few years back that it’s possible to put your goods out for sale and then have any offers sent to your pad while you, say, sit in a bar with one hand on a drink and the other on a Maenali contortionist, and ever since I have refused to do business any other way.

Continue reading “Captain’s Log: Isaac’s Bar, Enasa”

Captain’s Log: M1.337.12.9021 Enasa

                “Captain’s Diary:

                An hour out from Enasa System and within shouting distance of civilization.  The ship is dirty and so am I; the dry shower doesn’t wash off everything, especially when a prudish AI won’t let you get naked in it.

                We’re riding pretty light, lighter than I’d hoped.  But Enasa is an export kinda place, so I hope to pick up some cargo there, even the wiggling kind.  Got to meet with Gerund before I do anything else, but I’m expecting a few hours’ layover for refueling and a couple minor tune-ups.  The back loading bay is –“

“A few hours?  Captain!”

I spin slowly in my chair and almost miss my navigator’s pratfall onto the bridge.  Don’t get up.  If I jumped up every time she fell down, it’d qualify as cardio.  She scrambles to her feet, red curls in her red face.

“Captain, c’mon, only a few hours after three weeks in space?  We can’t even get drunk in a few hours!”

“Then you’re not doing it right, Arrow.”  I turn back to the console, though barring any unforeseen low-atmo collisions or newly-birthed black holes, the ship will bring itself in just fine without my help.  “And if we’re going to hang out on any planet, I’d just as soon not do it on Enasa Five, thanks very much.  Too many folks there think I owe ‘em something.”

Arrow takes her seat next to me – she actually has something to do there, checking our arrival time and making sure we have the right instructions and clearances from the port authority.  I bring up my mail on my side of the screen.  She’s not using it, right?

A few items of local and semi-local news – boring.  Threats and offers from people I don’t really want to see – also boring.  Message from an old friend tagged “personal” – promising!  Pop THAT one up…

Ah, Celestine.  A lady from a little red planet overheated by the smaller of the binary pair 1 Areitis.  She helped me out of a nasty spot on her homeworld a few years back, and we’ve kept in touch ever since.  Her mails are mostly chatty nothings about her family; she has about eighteen siblings – ‘scuse me, “broodmates.”  But this time, there’s an attachment.

My navigator grumbles as another binary system fills the screen, a pair of teal tits unrivaled on three neighboring planets.  Arrow is not impressed; she’s seen these tits before, but I have a rather more refined appreciation for –

Dangerous obstruction of workspace detected!  Elevated levels of hormone production detected!  Ship is beginning final approach to port on Enasa 5 and I must recommend complete focus on safe docking procedures and protocols!”

I snarl and thump the console as those precious orbs disappear from view.  “HELOISE!”  But there’s no point in arguing with a computer.

“Shoulda known better, Boss,” Arrow says.  “Celestine always sends ya stuff Heloise doesn’t like.”

“You get yourself back to work, or it’ll be your tits obstructing the visual field.”  I storm out of the bridge and take my elevated hormone levels to the shower.

No idea where this “cold shower” myth got started; the few times I’ve tried it, I’ve only managed to shock my erection into further aggression, but I can tell you that there is absolutely nothing about bathing in space that dims the libido, or does anything else, for that matter.  There’s nothing like a good shower, and this is nothing like a good shower.  I stand there squinting in my boxers as various supposedly cleansing powders puff into my face, feeling like nothing so much as a chicken wing being breaded.  As I try to ignore it, my mind is drawn irresistibly back to those tits.

Now, I don’t want you to think I’m a soft touch or anything.  I’m parsecs out of my teens, and ordinarily it would take more than a picture of a rack – even one of the Local Group’s great racks – to put me in such a frustrating state.  But this I blame on Heloise.

She’s old gear, real old.  Came with the ship, and when I tried to replace her after I discovered her irritating proclivities, I found out that this old boat can’t even run without her anymore.  Might be her fault.  I wouldn’t put it past her to have worked her way into the other systems and made them all do her bidding.  At any rate, if I ever get my hands on the man who programmed her – or woman, more likely – I’ll let him stew on the ship with her for six months and then strangle him with his inhumanly distended member.

Heloise has a long list of things she won’t allow on board, but it’s the sexual prohibitions that get in my way.  That and the “no nudity in showers” thing, that’s just ridiculous.  She can detect elevated hormone levels anywhere inside the ship, and boy does it make her holler.  You try to maintain an erection while a computer-generated old lady scolds you.  Maybe there are guys who like that, I don’t know.

At any rate, by the time we’ve been a few weeks in space and I’ve gotten shouted at every time I even put my hands in my pockets, I get to a point where frankly, Celestine’s tits are overkill.  I can set Heloise off by looking at virtually any rounded surface in the engine room.  And while we’re on the subject, I think shipboard mechanics must be about as hard-up as I am – why must every stationary surface in there look like a shiny, upturned bottom?

I reenter the bridge, nicely floured but not especially less filthy in either mind or body, to hear Arrow giving our credentials to the port authority.

“This is navigator Arkina Arrow for transport ship Needlessly Large under the command of Captain Roderick Zarkov.  You should have our cargo report now.  Requesting permission to dock.”

“Transport Needlessly Large, your cargo has been approved and you have permission to dock in hangar 24.  Be careful coming in, it’s a busy day down here.”

“Thank you, Enasa.”  She clicks off and turns on me as the ship eases itself down through the atmosphere.  “I wish you’d change that name again.  Or change it back.  I feel like an ass every time I have to say it.”

“It’s not wrong, though, is it?” I answer, taking my seat.  I like to be in the captain chair when we come in to port.  “You’re lucky Heloise does all the work of squeezing us into those little hangars.”

Arrow sees my eyes glaze over.  “Oh my god,” she laughs.  “You’re fantasizing about a ship going into a hangar.  That’s what’s happening right now.  Do me a favor, Captain.”  She gets up and goes to do whatever it is she does when we’re landing.  Maybe the shower works better for her.  “Try to get laid while we’re in port.  I’m sure you of all people can manage that in a few hours.”