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Sold For A High Elevation Of Legumes

Posted on Fri Mar 12th, 2021 @ 10:24pm by Client The Narrator & Passenger Florian McLennan & Comm Tech Wulf Edevane & Comm Tech Adrie Magana

Mission: Ring's Of Gold & Palladium
Location: Communal Shopping Plaza, Industrial Six, Rhea, Saturnian Confederacy Freeport
Timeline: After Lay Down Your Burdens & Some Bar Somewhere Second Revision

"Hey, hey! This look like a museum to you?"

In a way, the little shop's owner was halfway to being correct. There was a lot of vintage parts on display, with one of them even stamp with the ColInt logo from the pre-MCR days when Mars had been a fiefdom of Earth. Comm buffers, data stacks, holographic display coils, haptic interface pads. All of them near perfect, and all of them hideously overpriced.

"You know, I have other paying customers who might, you know, wanna look in? Customers who can, ya know, pay?"

In theory, also true. People walked past the little stall, usually on the way to the other stalls that filled the low ceilinged hall of the shopping plaza. The air was heavy with the weight of people passing the same lungful of breath around but pleasantly scented with spices and the hint of chemical enhancements. Vat grown demi-beef strips in noodles, fish rolls, fried bean curd in spices, and the poor lighting really gave the place the feel of a bazaar in some distant Arabian epic.

"Do I's gotta call the folks with the stun sticks?" he asked, gutting his protruding chin towards a pair of Pink Water Security officers leaning against a small stall selling coffee. Yes, their name was funny, which only made the court cases against them listing 'aggressive prosecution of assigned tasking' all the easier to throw out of court. Stun sticks, plastic sidearms, and the sort of look in the eye that made public beatings less about enforcing order and more about workplace benefit.

"And tell them what?" Adrie asked. "That you almost conducted a transaction until your fugly mouth fell open?" She was supposed to be keeping a low profile, but if her brief tour of the Belt had taught her anything, it was that getting treated like a doormat was a sure way to attract unwanted attention. Arms crossed, Adrie returned the shopkeep's scowl. "How about you change your tone and show me some reasons to part with my money."

Rhea was close enough to 'home' for Wulf to get that itch in his mind that kept him hyper alert, but far enough away that he felt able to do a tiny bit of laundry. The currency kind. Mickey's donation of credits wasn't much and after everything that had happened over the last couple of months, Wulf felt a personal need to bolster the meagre stocks on the Tross. They all could use a little emotional lift, and food was the easiest (and cheapest) route to happiness. So, the comm tech pulled some clean petty cash from one of his low value piggy bank accounts in the interest of crew morale. If Florian's skillset was more than talk, maybe the two of them could rustle up some temporary culinary joy amongst the crew.

He hadn't, however, been able to miss the comfy familiarity of that slice of heaven - a tech's best thief of time - and so veered into the shop's gravity with a lazy, comfortable ease, Florian in tow.

Wulf's spine stiffened automatically at the accusational tone of the shop's owner, but his face split into a broad grin as he clocked the young woman. "Someone's getting booted outta here," he murmured quietly to Florian.

"Oh! OH!" the stall owner said, a nasty leer on his face. "Look it here folks, we got us some Royal Domeness from Titan dumpster diving here on Rhea. I had no idea I was dealing with royalty. Maybe I should get you a cushion, or some wine that's not been recycled twice 'fore it gets to you. Now bounce, before I's get's mad."

A kick of adrenaline widened Wulf's dark eyes, but his head was lowered, his attention forced onto an ancient kinematic mount and a couple of beam shutters. Just the right size and vintage for that pesky circuit on the Tross, the one he'd had to patch with inventive innovation and a prayer to those gods that Mickey always swore on. He put all three in the little plastic box with the rest of his intended purchases and stayed quiet.

"Na mi wanted any of this felota anyway," Adria shot back as she distanced herself from the stall. "Jee-mang." She flicked her hand up with her index finger and thumb pressed together in imitation of various Belters she'd seen. One rude gesture was as good as another. Focused as she was, she bumped right onto Wulf and Flo on her way out.

"Excuse me," she mumbled in her proper Luna accent, then cringed. This drifting between two worlds was not as simple as she'd anticipated.

Half of his collection flipped up, out and onto the floor when she knocked him so Wulf immediately ducked down to recover the pieces, blocking the Inner girl's path. The comm tech swore colourfully in Spanish all the while as he scooped up each tiny prize and avoided eye contact with the shopkeeper. Maybe Luna Chick hadn't entirely cottoned onto the man's rant.

The money bossman had given him admittedly wasn't a heap, but much more than what Flo would usually have in his own pocket at any given time. Credits he'd normally blow away on useless adventures, but of course this time the money wasn't his, and he was actually accountable for it. A weird feeling.

Not only that, but he was meant to use this money to do good enough of a catering job, to impress the crew enough so they'd let him stay.

The kid had heard a bit about Rhea from his shithead of a father, quite a number of years ago. He was surprised he could remember the description, and from what he saw it was somewhat accurate - stalls packed together tightly, some businesses appearing more successful than others, several areas boarded up and begging to be leased. The crowd was lively, plenty of bargaining, and of course cops milling around only to harass and intimidate.

Flo hadn't really made a list, but knew exactly what he wanted to get. He had wanted to go on this mission alone, but bossman insisted that he stick with Wulf. The man, naturally, took the lead.

"So... what's your plan?" the boy asked, taking a quick glance at the back-and-forth Wulf had pointed out.

"My plan?" Wulf countered with confusion as he stood back up and double-checked his treasure. He sounded peeved as he continued. "Pay for this stuff, get the food, get back. You forget already?" Then he cast his gaze a little wider, to Luna Chick with her OPA cursing and the shopkeeper with the big mouth. Wulf stepped up to the messy counter, placed down the plastic keep-box and jabbed a thumb back towards the girl. "How much for this lot, and whatever she's after?" Wulf asked, hoping like hell that the talk of cushions and secondhand wine was behind them, because he needed this stuff.

The stall keeper narrowed his eyes, rubbing a hand stained with solder char at the finger tips against his jutting chin.

"For you noble Sir, why only a paltry sum," he said and indicated a little sign next to each item. There, listed in three rows, were the prices in Ceres New Yen, UN Adjusted Dollars, and the Martian Mark. The sums were anything but paltry. He then reached out his hands, spreading his fingers like a cage to cover his meagre treasures. "But if you're with her we ain't got business to transact. Now scram kid, and take your brother with you 'fore I call the skull crackers."

Paltry? This guy was taking the piss, thought Wulf, but he didn't say that. He thumbed out some pristine notes - UN Adjusted Dollars - and with thumb and index finger maintaining a loose grip on the stack, handed them in the man's direction. "Never seen her before in my life," Wulf said, evenly and selfishly. The Tross was more important than Luna Chick right now. He jabbed his spare thumb at Florian. "And I don't have a brother, he's staff. We good to trade or not?"

"Hey, Billips!" The shop keeper shouted over Wulf's shoulder. One of the Pink Water goons detached from the little table he'd been leaning against and came over. Like a shark prowling through a reef of stalls, people got out of his way. He was broad-shouldered, squat, with the look of a man who'd grown up on the heavier end of a gravity well and felt resentment because of it.

"Jonsey," he said in a thick accent. He looked at Wulf for a moment, and then his eyes lingered on Flo and Magana. "These folks giving you trouble?"

"Well they're breathing out excess CO2 over all my stuff," Jonsey said.

"Ah huh," the Pink Water goon shook his head. His hand rested on his stun stick. "Look, kid scram okay? If you're bothering the commercial you're in breach of corporate code and that means I have to do something about it. Trust me, you don't want me getting involved. This ain't Ceres, we have corporate law not cops. So you want me to waste my time scan all your I-dents I can do that. But you won't like it."

He tapped his fingers against the handle of his stick.

"You really won't."

"They were just leaving," Adrie said, doubling back to make one parting gesture. She got close enough to the stall's payment operating system for her hand terminal to access it. Then, in a separate process, she made a flicking motion toward the guard. Both of their terminals beeped, but not before Adrie made good her own egress. It was a stupid move. Hopefully Axel would make good though and she would be gone before anyone noticed.

"Seriously?" Wulf stated rather than asked, but he retracted his cash, shoved it in his cargo trouser pocket and backed up with an overly showy gesture of putting his hands up in the air. "Fine. We're scramming." He couldn't fail to notice the young woman's actions, and nudged Flo towards the open concourse and across the stall's boundary. "Great, thanks a lot," Wulf muttered loudly to Luna Chick on his way through, while pulling his hoody over his head as if that might help his next transaction. "I needed that stuff." Then to Florian. "C'mon, we'll get the food, but this time you're doing the talking."

The kid couldn't help but smirk silently as he observed the interactions between Wulf, Luna Chick, the storekeeper and 'cop'. He'd seen similar before back on Ceres, though certainly this Rhean interaction was a little rougher around the edges. He wouldn't call himself an expert barterer, but had a few tricks up his sleeve to keep dealers - and more importantly himself - happy with transactions.

"Are you trying to admit that I can do a better job than you?" he asked, almost with a giggle.

Wulf shrugged into a slouch and lowered his hood-covered head just enough to hide his face from a casual glance. "No," he muttered, moodily to Flo. "I'm just saying you'll attract less attention." The tech muttered something in Spanish and scowled. He hadn't expected this and he was now mentally back-pedalling this whole shore-side venture. "This was a bad idea..."

Flo waved at the other man, encouraging him to follow. "C'mon, I think it's this way. We were probably at the wrong kinda stall anyway."

The pair went ahead for the next several minutes, ducking past busy laneways packed with people. They came across a series of sheds that Flo's eye was quick to catch. One of several packaged provisions supply stores, each in a quiet but bitter conflict with competitors to keep prices as low as possible. Like all major ports within the system, this was big business. Flo knew he was already at a disadvantage for not being able to pre-order food from the Rhea catalog.

This was the first time the kid felt somewhat confident in a long time. Walking into the store, he glanced over at the reception desk, where a rather plump man in a shirt and necktie sat.

Without so much as greeting the retailer, Flo immediately said, "90 - that's nine-zero - days of packaged provisions. I wanna know what you're really selling them for."

"You want cheap?" the store owner said, gesturing to a set of plastic boxes placed up against one wall. 'AllFood's All Organic Food Stuffs'. It came in tubes. It came in rolls. It came in all the shapes and sizes that a divine hand, a kinder hand, would never wish to put food into. The happy smiling people on the boxes, posing with toothpaste tubes of 'BeefSupreme' and 'I Can't Believe It's Not Vegetables' looked in pain. No doubt they had been held at gun point, the rictus of good cheer their only release from purgatory.

"Or do you want to spend money?" they asked, and gestured to crates that had a familiar military air to them. But where the UNN or MCRN logo's had been, some sort of grinding wheel must have fallen against the packaging and ablated it into dust. But within were packets of self-heating rations, that actual honest to god protein and carbohydrates so complex they could pass the Turing test.

The in-between were more of the same, but in friendlier and more food shaped containers. Insta-Noodles rehydrated meals. Packest of yeast, wheat flour from Ganymede with more zeroes on the price tag than a new hand terminal.

And a lot more zeroes on it than Flo had since in his entire life. Behind the two, outside the store, some sort of argument was beginning to break out.

Wulf scrunched up his face in overt disgust at the tube-food, but left Flo to do the talking in that regard. The comm tech's attention had already wandered to whatever drama was unfolding beyond the boundary of the store, and he stepped in that direction. Hood still up, appearance a little furtive, Wulf turned around to take in the visuals of the disagreement.

The electronic's seller, Jonesy, was getting into a heated argument with Billips the Pink Water security officer. Terminals were out, pointing, raised voices distant enough to make it a shadow play.

Keeping half an eye on the two and Flo in his periphery, Wulf scanned the crowd for the young woman he strongly suspected was responsible for said theatrical disagreement.

"If you don't want that..." the food seller said, sensing a sale was being drawn away from her hands by the scene outside. "I do happen to have a food synthesiser... "

With a showy flourish, she pulled a nylon covering off of what, to the untrained eye, looked like a standard 3D printer. Large assembly bay, mobile forming table, and an array of layering arms folded neatly against the interior of the machine like the legs of a patient spider.

"Soylent Viridian's XLR model. All you need to do is give it feedstock, which can be grown onboard ship via hydroponics, and it can print out a variety of very authentic looking foodstuffs. Saves on space, very modern piece of kit I happened to come across," the seller said. She ran her fingers through her ratting brown hair, no doubt thinking that coming across something and lifting it from the New Texas Agro shipment were roughly the same thing.

"I'll throw in the starter feedstock and cultures to grow more," she said.

Interest once again piqued in the vendor's direction, Wulf turned back to face her and gave the XLR a derisory lookover. The machine looked suspiciously top notch, but he didn't need to let its current owner know that. "It work independently of the networks?" He asked, then he shrugged and downplayed his desire as was customary in these situations. "Looks like it takes a lot of cleaning.."

"Well you are dealing with high nutrient foodstuffs, of course, you'd want to keep it clean. Mould is not a spacer's best friend," the woman sniffed. "And it does have a networking ability, but this one has had that module removed due to an issue with its DRM software. It'll work regardless of what brand you use in it. It's designed for frontier work, like the Neptune science colonies."

"Uh-huh," noted Wulf more for the sake of responding than any actual content, then he smiled. "Yup, more than enough mould to deal with in the shower," he added, before screwing up his face in a serious and genuine response to the item being devoid a network module. "That's a shame," the tech muttered. "I take real pride in our ship's network." He hit the woman with an honestly quizzical expression as he continued their discussion. "So, some issues with hygiene and the standard 'DRM-fix' discount, then? I can do cash right now if you keep it sensible."

"Ceres New Yen? Or Corpo script?" the woman asked, looking at Flo with a narrowing eye. "Because script is double the Yen. 500 and it's yours."

Flo had been somewhat busy bargaining for those packaged provisions and managed to secure a few... acceptable deals, grabbing a free ticket to have the large packs physically transported to the Tross and for him to collect at a set time. He'd decided against anything too cheap, instead splashing out a little just so he could make a better impression for the crew. He needed to.

His eyes eventually followed Wulf towards the XLR, widening as he approached the sleek machine. He'd only seen a few of these before, older models, but nonetheless just as impressive. But he tried his best not to look too captivated.

"Already trying to buy a machine to replace me?" he shoulder-bumped Wulf. Was he really that unbearable to be around with on the ship?

"Yen," Wulf told the nice lady with the dodgy machine for sale. He thumbed out some notes. "I can do 480," he offered, and handed the wad in her direction but didn't let go. As Flo bumped him, the crisp notes fell to the counter. "Yes," Wulf told the Tross' stowaway. "Very much yes."

"If you can do 480, then 500 should not be a stretch. I want to sell it, not give it away to a pair of tourists," she said with a dismissive flick of the wrist.

Adrie followed at a safe distance and watched the banter. These guys were stocking up for a trip and they didn't look like total assholes. Maybe...

"Give it to them for their asking price plus the other shit they asked for," Adrie said by way of interruption. "Any idiot can see askew serial numbers just there on the back, which means it was stolen and some bigger idiot thought they could hide the fact with phony numbers. Probably why the networking capability is removed. If I'm wrong, then maybe we can get the guards over here to help sort it out, or you can quit being a greedy little con artist."

"Five hundred and twenty it is," said Wulf, swiftly and politely handing the money over to vendor. "Could you wrap it back up for us please?" He added, before rounding on Lunar Chick with a fierce scowl. "Keep your voice down," he told her in a quiet, but roughly offered order. "Guards round here have ears like shit-house rats and you've already drawn way too much attention to yourself with the last guy. Get lost, okay?"

Said 'last' guy was now on the ground screaming for legal representation that did not involve a knee in his back. The Pink Water officer was applying the zip ties with a little more gusto than was perhaps required.

The provisions seller took no notice of the conversation between Wulf and Adrie. Instead she got a hard shell packing case and opening it up to reveal the foam interior perfectly contoured to fit the food printer.

Arie flicked the end of Wulf's nose. "There's your lost. So does your ship got a captain or what? You're no more local than I am."

Okay, so... the pixie-faced lass playing tough and getting in his personal space was... definitely distracting. And not in a bad way. Wulf canted his head as he grabbed her retreating arm in a light hold and then let go. "Maybe I'm the captain?" The comm tech threw back haughtily. "Maybe I own a moon and the ground you're standing on right now. How would you know?"

"Because you have the funny mouth of someone who's sucked cock for his meals far too many times to write home about," Adrie said. "Now are you going to put me in touch with your captain or should I arrange for you to join Sparky over there?" She nodded toward the belligerent stall owner who was getting frogmarched out of the public square.

"Damn, you got me there," Wulf threw back, confident he had this lass all figured out. "It's like you're tapped directly into the feed of my whole life." He made a show of looking for a hidden wire or camera about his person for a second, then said, with a smirk. "Oh, you got me really scared now... Seriously though... Bring it on."

"-I DIDN'T DO IT!!!"

Billup's walked Joney past the food seller's stall with his hands behind his back, held up by the Pink Water guards hands to keep him off balance.

"And 500 UN dollars just hops from your terminal to mine for kicks and giggles? You know what sort of shit you'll get me in if the exec's think I'm on the take!" the guard hissed as they walked past.

Adrie smirked as they passed by and dropped her best sassy look on Wulf. "Are you sure you want to risk it? You aren't any good to me or your captain locked up."

The Albatross' comm tech offered up an engimatic grin and let his dark gaze lock on this newest slice of mischief. "I'm sure," Wulf said with a cool confidence in his own terminal's security. "Challenge accepted," he added, with a warmer smile. "And why so interested in my captain?"

"And done!" the food vendor said, tapping her wizened fingers atop the packing crate. "All tucked in, and ready to fly. 520 UN adjusted dollars please?"

She held out her hand, swollen with arthritic joints missing most of the finger nails.

With a happy smile, Wulf counted out the paper currency onto said wrinkled and uneven palm. As he pulled his empty hand back, he flipped his own terminal from left to right, catching the screen in a subtle motion that might just have been a screen-unlock. Somewhere in the ether, 500 UN dollars silently swept from the guard's possession and into a random terminal somewhere across the concourse. "Thanks," he said to the nice lady behind the counter, then to the Tross' stowaway, Wulf added. "Flo, carry this would ya?" It was strangely satisfying to have a minion when there was an unknown female observing your actions.

Flo's eyes widened with surprise when the packaged device was practically dropped onto him, forcing him to shoot his arms out to prevent it from falling to the ground. If that had happened, surely Wulf would've placed the blame squarely on him. And perhaps somehow twisted the story around so that the lost money either on the machine or in repairs would've forced Mickey to ditch him on this far-flung, outer planet moon. Even before he'd get a chance to show how much he could improve the ship's rubbish menus and dismal food stock.

"Oi, watch it!" he harumphed, glaring at Wulf. Here he was, being used again. He hated it.

"It's not your captain I want, but your ship," Adrie said after letting them conclude their business. "You lot aren't locals, which means you're passing through, and I want a ride. Are you going to put me in touch with your captain or not?" Wulf's difficulty made it tempting to just move along, but the man's stubbornness also gave promise that he and his crewmates would not turn her over at the first sign of trouble. And trouble indeed followed in her wake.

"You want a ride?" Wulf pressed this question with a hard emphasis on that last word. He looked to Flo, rolled his eyes and then turned his full attention back to Adrie. "Awesome as that sounds, we've already got one freeloader. Why should I piss my captain off by introducing him to another one?" He sighed. This new potential pain in the arse was far cuter than Florian though, perhaps if it wasn't for Emma, Luna Chick might not be getting as much attitude. "We're not a bus service," Wulf pushed. "What can you do for us?"

"I can run circles around you, Belter. Anything else? That's a conversation for a ship's captain, and that ain't you." Adrie popped out a hip and looked around impatiently for any other opportunity. "So what's it going to be? I'm done playing with the cabin boy."

I can run circles around you, Belter. Wulf openly laughed at that, then shook his head and studied Luna Chick for a quick moment. Desperate, needing a means to get off Rhea and shooting as much fake bravado and implied talent as she could muster. He knew the type only too well. Bad, bad idea, but she did have those big doe eyes going for her. Someone might fall for it. "Well," Wulf said. "Us two cabin boys need to get some work done, so you have fun. Good luck getting a free ride with that attitude. See ya round."

He turned to Flo. "C'mon, kid," Wulf said with a lopsided smile. "I'll buy you some lunch." He kept half an eye on the wayward vixen. "You eaten recently, Luna?"

"You calling me a Skinny?" Adrie asked a little too loudly. "Listen, call me whatever you want, but mi na like you disrespecting Eres Station. They did not have it coming, you welwala!" Adrie's eyes flashed with a taunt as she lowered her voice. "Soon it might not be safe to be seen with you."

"Goodbye little girl," Wulf returned with a sarcastic sense of overpoliteness as he gently nudged Florian towards the food court. He paused a step or two further away, and called back to her across the increasing space between them. "You gotta take your meds, okay! I'm serious."

Flo had kept quiet whilst observing the interaction between Wulf and that other random girl, giving the other guy a dirty look when the offer to have lunch bought for him came up. But once Wulf was done talking with the lady, he suddenly felt that annoying soft spot for the one who kept accusing him of being a freeloader, growing from within. That feeling became more apparent when Wulf nudged him gently.

He shook it off and fought that feeling by turning to Wulf and saying, "Fuck, you desperate or something?"

"Huh?" Wulf countered. "Desperate for what?"

The boy chuckled. "Nothing," he muttered, before launching into another subject. "Anyway, I bought three more provision packs. All up it'll last us five months... Maybe six if we ration a little towards the end. Your XLR thing would've given us probably an extra month's supply." His last sentence finished off with a shrug.

Wasn't nothing though, was it, thought Wulf. He let it drop though, and allowed Florian to distract him. "Guess we'll have plenty of time to see if you're any good then," he said, with a lighthearted sarcasm. "And my XLR is a gamechanger, trust me," Wulf promised. "When we hit the long burn, you'll be glad we've got that. So," he pointed at the food trucks and stalls. "What do you want for lunch?"

Flo wrinkled his small nose. "Oh, so it's a lunch date? Hmm, I want something noodley," he suggested. "In a nice, hot, bone broth. Extra toppings, if we've got any cash left."

"Lunch, yes," said Wulf, pointedly removing the 'date' part of that. "Okay, I could go for noodles," he agreed and cast his gaze about. "How about that one?" The tech suggested, following his nose. While Flo checked the menu, Wulf cast a look back across the concourse just to see if he could still see Luna Chick in their vicinity.

The kid tiptoed so he could see a little more above the crowd. "Noodles it is!"

 

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