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TOC Chapter 2

Snapshots - Chapter 1

Day One - A.M.


Time: CY10088 Oct 7 5165 0830
Location: Fenree spaceport, aboard the Eureka Maru

"Payday," announced Beka over the Maru's intercom system. A moment later Trance and Harper entered the common room. Harper entered at almost a run while Trance's entrance was more leisurely.

"How much are we getting, Boss?" asked Harper almost before his feet stopped moving.

"Let’s see," answered Beka, looking toward the overhead and rubbing her chin in an exaggerated way. "After paying installments on some of my father's debts, port fees, fuel and reaction mass, food, must-do ship repairs, and the ship’s operating fund, there'll be enough of a profit for you both to get 200 thrones."

"That's it?" whined Harper. "Just 200 thrones? Why—? Oww!" He stopped his complaint to glare at Trance, who had just poked him in the ribs with her tail.

Beka rolled her eyes skyward. There were times when her two crew members made her feel more like a mother than a captain. Considering where Harper had been raised and what Trance had been doing when she had found her made their behavior even more aggravating. True, Harper wasn't much older than twenty, and Trance, as far as she could determine, still hadn't left her teen years behind her, but still…

"Well, if you want to give up your share of the food Trance will be buying, you can have more. You'll only have to go hungry for a couple of weeks. Maybe Trance will let you eat any leftovers she has on her plate after she eats." Seeing the flush of embarrassment on Harper's face, Beka decided she had made her point and changed the subject slightly. "Don't spend all your money today," she said. "You'll want some for tomorrow."

"Why is that?" asked Trance. Beka didn't usually tell them how to spend their money.

"Because," answered Beka, "according to Fenree port authority, the Sassy Sue will be arriving early tomorrow morning. They'll be…"

Whatever else she was planning to say was drowned out by Harper's war whoop. "Alright! Time to visit the Abernathys!"

"Who are the Abernathys, Beka?" asked Trance as she wrapped her tail around Harper's waist. From Harper's reaction, it was obvious that these people were special to him.

"They're our patron family," explained Beka. "They sponsored my father and Uncle Sid when they applied for permission to join the Salvagers Guild. But more importantly, when my father died, they stood by me when some members of the Guild wanted to expel me. My father's drug dealings had made him enemies in the Guild. They said he had single-handedly given the entire guild a bad name. The Abernathys argued that I couldn't be held responsible for my father's misdeeds and that if I was expelled, they would simply make me a member of their household. They convinced their patrons, the Takahashis, to argue in my favor as well. Then, when I was first getting started on my own, they passed some jobs my way. I owe them a lot, and they're actually nice folks as well."

"Not to mention that George's wife Sarah makes a dee-licious pearmaine cobbler," added Harper, still practically jumping up and down with excitement.

"That's tomorrow, and we have work to do now," said Beka. "We'll visit after business is taken care of."

"Uh, are you sure the port police won’t be looking for us, Boss?" asked Harper, practically looking over his shoulder in apprehension.

"I'm sure," said Beka. "I did some inquires when we were on Winnipeg. It seems that the Fenree power grid had been having problems before we arrived. Your tampering was written off as just another problem As a matter of fact, it convinced the port authority to finally spend the money to upgrade the power grid."

Then maybe I should tell them what I did. They might give me a medal," said Harper, puffing out his chest as if he was showing of said medal.

"Most likely they'd put you in jail first," responded Trance. "But we'll visit you in jail when they give the medal to you."

"Enough," said Beka, heading off the friendly argument before it started. "Trance, I ordered the supplies you wanted for the medical locker, but you'll have to pay for them in person. After that, you've got grocery detail. See what you can find in the way of fresh food. I'm tired of eating packaged rations. Harper, you know what you need to do with the engine systems. When you’re done, you can help Trance with the environmental systems maintenance if she isn't already finished. And I mean it when I said we won’t visit the Sue till the Maru's been taken care of. So, I suggest the two of you get busy."

Time: CY10088 Oct 7 5165 0917
Location: Fenree spaceport, maintenance scheduling office

"Wd’daya mean I can't get a maintenance van for three days?" complained Harper. "I have work to do on the Maru's engines."

"You could hire one of the port's repairs teams," answered the clerk manning the scheduling window in the port repair facility office. He glanced at his computer screen. "According to the schedule, they could get to your vessel the day after tomorrow."

"And they would cost twice as much as renting a maintenance trailer. Not to mention port fees for those days." Harper dropped his voice conspiratorially, "I don't suppose there is any way I can persuade you to move the Maru up on the list, is there?" He looked at the coffee mug sitting near the clerk’s keyboard. "I have a few kilos of Balisarda Highlands coffee. I suppose one could find itself in your possession if the Maru was moved up on the list."

The port scheduler looked thoughtful. "Well… Just one kilo?"

Harper allowed a pained expression to come over his face. It never hurt to let the other party in a bargaining session think they were getting the better part of the deal. "OK, two kilos. This is the real stuff. It was actually grown on Durandal in the Balisarda Highlands. I picked up a few kilos when we had business there. I'll let you have two kilos if you put the Maru at the head of the list."

"It had better be the real stuff." The clerk typed something on his keyboard. "OK, you have a van starting at 0000 tonight, but you'll have to have it back before 1100 tomorrow, or you'll be thinking our repair teams are cheap compared to what you'll be paying."

Harper thrust back his shoulders proudly. "You're talking to the genius Harper here. If I can't get the job done in half a day, it can't be done."

Time: CY10088 Oct 7 5165 1000
Location: Fenree spaceport, medical depot

Trance entered the credit stick into the reader, entered her identification code, and placed her hand on the palm scanner. The reader in turn connected to the bank listed on the credit. The bank then verified that the Maru had an active account at the bank, that the embedded code on the stick matched the code for the Maru, It then verified that Trance's ID code and biometric data matched what the bank had on file and that she was allowed access to the Maru's general account. The bank next contacted port authority to verify that the Maru was actually in port and that Trance was listed listed as a current member of the Maru's crew. Finally, it checked to see if the Maru's account as indicated on the credit stick contained sufficient funds to make the purchase. Satisfied that the person possessing the stick was authorized to use the stick and that the Maru had sufficient funds to cover the purchase, the bank computer asked for confirmation that the funds should be transferred from the Maru's general account to the medical supply service and the amount be deducted from the amount stored on the credit stick.

The system was as secure as it could be considering there was often a time delay of weeks between a purchase and a ship’s account information being updated at all branches of a particular bank. The main drawback to the system was that if a ship was on a planet that did not have a branch of the bank with which it had an account, the stick could not be used. The alternative was to use a general purpose stick that contained a prepaid amount of credits. While accepted on most Core and Rim worlds, these were less secure as the identification data was contained within the chip rather than at the bank. A skilled hacker could take a stolen chip and change the information to make someone else the owner.

Trance was quite familiar with the weaknesses of the general purpose stick. She had stolen a fair number of them and sold them to said skilled hackers during her days as a thief when she was living on Bathsheba.

Trance began to authorize the transfer of the funds then stopped as one of Harper's obscure Earth sayings came to her mind—the one about not buying a pig in a poke. She had no idea what a poke was and how you put a pig into one, but he had explained what the saying meant: Don't pay for something until you’re sure it's what you're buying. Considering that the sales representative for the pharmaceutical company was a Chichen, a species notorious for their belief that stealing from non-Chichens was a legitimate activity, inspecting the poke seemed to be a good idea.

"I want to examine the merchandise before I pay for it," she said.

"Don't you trust us?" complained the Chichen, looking as disappointed as his alien features allowed. He opened his mouth and waved his tongue around in a fashion that Trance knew meant he was annoyed. She controlled an urge to shudder. With its pallid, wet-looking, white, scaly skin; a hairless head; and lack of a visible nose, the Chichen sales representative reminded her of some of the things she had seen on her home world after turning over a rock.

"I never buy a pig in a poke," responded Trance, gratified to see that the Chichen seemed even more puzzled than she was about the expression. Grudgingly, the Chichen allowed her to open up the package. A few moments later, Trance's tail was twitching agitatedly.

"There must be some mistake," she said. "These have all expired or are nearly ready to."

"There was no mistake," replied the Chichen.

Trance's tail twitched even more. She had several options. She could contact Beka. Beka would undoubtedly convince the Chichen, most likely at gunpoint, to give them fresh medicines, but she really didn't want to go running to Beka every time she had a problem. Beka expected her to handle problems in her own area of expertise. Another option was to just take the medicine as it was. The Maru was scheduled to visit Kingfisher soon. She could accept the goods and then exchange them for fresh ones at Reverend Behemal's hospital, but there was always the possibility that the visit to Kingfisher might be delayed. She decided to try another approach. Lie.

Reaching into the clutch purse she routinely carried with her when planetside, Trance extracted her medical certification card.

"You might want to take a look at this," she said, handing it to the Chichen.

The Chichen gave the card a cursory glance. "It says you’re a qualified shipboard medical technician. So what?"

"Scan it," ordered Trance. "Take a look at what else it says."

The Chichen ran the card through the reader and looked at the printout of the information encoded in the card. "It says you’re employed by Kingfisher Mercy," said the Chichen.

"As a purchasing agent," said Trance. A bald-faced lie—she was a nurse assistant, but the card only stated that she was an employee of the hospital. And, as it would take at least a week for a courier to get from Fenree to Kingfisher and back, there was no way for the Chichen to be able to check on her story.

"Uhh," began the Chichen.

"I'm sure you also noticed that Kingfisher Mercy is a Wayist-run hospital. Reverend Behemial Far Traveler is the hospital administrator. He's quite highly-regarded in the Wayist community. We served together on the Maru for a few years, and he trusts my judgment. Do you really want to cost your company a major purchaser after I recommend to him that the Wayists should stop purchasing supplies from your organization because you're supplying your clients with medicine that has passed its expiration date?" The lies were coming fast and furiously, but she didn't think Rev would mind. She and Rev actually had served together on the Maru, and he was the one who had ensured Trance's position in the hospital was purposely left vague on her certification card, telling her that she ‘might find it more useful that way.’

"Let me see the manifest," answered the Chichen. "Perhaps there was a mistake, and you were issued one of the lots marked for disposal." He nearly yanked the printout from Trance's hand. "Yes, that's exactly what it was," he said after glancing at the manifest. "It was our error. If you can wait about an hour, we can assemble the correct shipment for you."

Exactly seventy-two minutes later, the new and this time fresh medicines was en route to the Maru, and Trance was on her way to complete her next errand. She still had no idea of how to put a pig in a poke.

Time: CY10088 Oct 7 5165 1028
Location: Fenree spaceport, hiring hall

Cursing under her breath, Beka reminded herself that the port authority would not take kindly to her turning the computer terminal she was using into scrap. It was bad enough that she had to use the spaceport computer system to look for transport jobs rather than the Maru's computer, but whoever had designed the system interface seemed to have designed it to be as hard to use as possible.

The Maru's next destination was Fellenhof Drift but after making their deliveries in Fenree, the Maru had empty cargo space and empty cargo space translated to lost money. Unfortunately neither her message to the port's factors that she had cargo space available nor her individual search had turned up anything. The only cargoes bound for Fellenhof would either be arriving at the spaceport after the Maru departed Fenree or were bulk cargoes of such magnitude that they would require something the size of a Leviathan Roused freighter to transport them.

Her other option, if she couldn't find a cargo bound for Fellenhof, would be to buy goods on the spot market here on Fenree to sell there. She was loath to take that option. True, there was a chance she could make a killing, but there was an even better chance that she would lose her shirt. Then, there were the problems with customs and local laws. According to the latest Free Trade Alliance travelers advisory, there were no unusual regulations on transporting goods to Fellenhof, but she didn't put much store in the advisory. The advisory had stated that Felicity didn't have any such regulations on importing alcoholic beverages, but that hadn’t stopped the local customs authorities from arresting her and her crew and trying to confiscate the Maru when it turned out the advisory was out of date.

Deciding that a break might be in order to give herself some time to cool off before she did something she would regret, Beka got up from her chair. It looked like she was going to be in for a long day.

Time: CY10088 Oct 7 5165 1128
Location: Fenree spaceport, warehouse district

Harper checked his watch. It was the same one Trance had given him the day she had joined the Maru. It was also stolen. He had one more errand to run, but he needed to get back to the Maru to take his medications. Trance and Beka would have a fit if he was late taking them, not that it would make that much of a difference in the long run. The virus that had embedded itself in him would kill him sooner or later anyway. The medicines were just postponing that day. He had four hours—plenty of time.

Trance had the scoot, but that wasn't an issue. His destination wasn't far from the spaceport proper, and he was used to walking. When he had been living in Boston, the only people who rode were Nietzscheans and collaborators.

Approximately twenty minutes later, Harper was at his destination, a nondescript restaurant located in the midst of the warehouse district. The interior of the restaurant was blissfully cool. The climate around the Fenree spaceport was either hot and humid or humid and hot.

"May I take your order, sir?" asked the waitress when Harper sat down. The waitress was not much older than Trance, attractive, and (to use Beka terminology) was highly pneumatic. She was also dressed in an outfit that was gaudy even by Fenree standards, wearing a bright red skirt and a florescent yellow blouse decorated with orange stars. She topped the outfit off with vivid green hair.

"I'd like a bowl of your Vytyanutyi bouillabaisse. It was recommended to me by Mr. Stringfellow of Winnipeg Drift," said Harper, giving the waitress the identification phrase he had been instructed to use. "He also told me I should tell Mr. Methvin that he appreciates the recipes Mr. Methvin gave him and would like to return the favor." He reached into one of the cargo pockets of his pants and pulled out a flexie. "The recipes are in here," he said, laying the flexie down on the table.

"I'll bring your order out in just a few minutes, sir," said the waitress, "and I'll tell Mr. Methvin you have some recipes for him. I'm sure he'll want to take them personally."

Very shortly afterwards, the waitress brought out the bowl of soup. A few minutes later, three men appeared from the back of the restaurant. Two were large, well-muscled, and wearing ill-fitting suits that even to Harper's unpracticed eye looked cheap. They also had suspicious bulges under their suit jackets. The third man was smaller and wearing a suit that was obviously custom tailored. Harper suspected that what the man paid for the suit would probably pay the Maru's port fees for its stay on Fenree and Fellenhof both.

"I'm Mr. Methvin," said the man as he sat down across the table from Harper. The two muscle men took positions behind and to either side of their boss and glared down at Harper, who ignored the glares. He had been glared at by scarier men than these two. "Mr Stringfellow sent word that you have some recipes for me. He also said that I should tell you that Ubers hate tin whistles."

Satisfied that Mr. Methvin was the man he had been sent to contact, Harper slid the flexie across the table "Did Mr. Stringfellow tell you that I wouldn't be interested in money for this delivery?"

"He said I could expect a more original request," answered Methvin.

"I need a central processing and control unit for a DCL9-SQ radar. I'll need it no later than the day after tomorrow."

Methvin's eyes widened slightly in surprise "That's hardly what I was expecting," he admitted.

"That's my price," responded Harper. "You shouldn't have that much trouble obtaining one. They're high-grade but commercial off-the-shelf items. Some of your intrasystem freighters use the same radar, and you produce them here on Fenree. The only problem is that they're dual use items, and you need a license to purchase one. I can't get a license."

"And if I can't get you one?" asked Methvin.

Harper smiled—the smile a gambler wears when he turns over his hole card to reveal if filled a straight flush. "In that case, you might have some trouble cooking. Mr. Stringfellow was cautious enough to encode the recipes, but he wasn't clever enough to keep me from blocking access to them. I left about a third of them unblocked, so you can verify they're the recipes you wanted. I'll unblock the others when I get the parts."

"I'm sure I can find someone who can unblock them," stated Methvin.

"I'm sure you can," agreed Harper, the smile still on his face, "but not any time soon, and you're going to need to put those recipes to use soon before someone else beats you to using them."

A brief frown crossed Methvin’s face, only to be replaced by a rueful smile. He held out his hand to Harper. "Well-played…" He paused as if trying to come up with a name. "Professor. You'll have your part. Enjoy your bouillabaisse—it's one of our specialties." He took the flexie and got up from the table. He started to walk away but then turned back to Harper. "Professor, your talents are being wasted simply delivering recipes. Have you considered making your own? Perhaps one that can help with the timing controls of some ovens. The timers can be quite troubling."

Harper finished the soup. Maybe, he thought as he put down the spoon, next trip he should bring some real recipes with him. The soup had been terrible.

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