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A Line Under It All

Posted on Fri Mar 12th, 2021 @ 10:35pm by Commanding Officer Mickey Serendipity & Executive Officer Kenneth McTigue & Passenger Emma Yonkers & Comm Tech Wulf Edevane

Mission: Ring's Of Gold & Palladium
Location: The Hole In The Wall, Industrial Six, Rhea, Saturnian Confederacy Freeport
Timeline: Just After 'Red Letter Day'

The bar was a bar, as a simple shack in the woods is a temple to a hermit monk. It was dark, it's drinks cheap, and questions about the validity of the health inspection certificate were best left at the door. But it did indeed serve Marcon Red, the whisky of choice for the discerning Duster.

The Albatross's crew looked almost military in their crew jackets, the stylised winged A motif on the back skewed that view slightly into motorcycle or hab level gang. They fit in with the other assorted crews, nestled in their little nooks, docking berths for the wet ware that made the software of the ship break the hardware.

By the door, in a booth smelling of gene tweaked weed with a liquorice additive, were the crew of the ring wrangler tug Damn Right I Ate The Apple. The captain of the tug sported a pair of chrome metal arms, replacements for a pair he'd lost when a chunk of ice he was moving got out of control. Deeper into the bar were a gaggle of nearly identical people. Almond-shaped eyes, black hair, skin so white it was nearly transparent. The Enlightenment Of Past Deeds was a fast courier ship, crewed by the creepy cloned brood of the original owner. No one knew what happened to that person, but everyone agreed the crew of the Past Deeds were creepy as fuck.

And then there were the Vector Red gun dogs, the bullet-headed crew of dusters manning the private security corvette Degenerating Working Conditions. Kill hash mark tattoo's, mottos like 'Dust In The Blood' and 'Red Or Dead' blinking hypnotical in subdermal tattoo's. Rumour had it Vector Red spiked their goon's chow with growth hormones and lab-grown spite.

Not to be confused with all organic spite, which can be found nearly everywhere.

The Albatross crew were welcomed by some like long lost relatives, and by others as mere curiosities. But the flutter of catcalls died down, and the three spacers walked up to the Martian gunny with her fist full of severance pay.

Despite and because of the looks and shouts from the gathered drinkers, Wulf felt safe. This extended family of sorts was complex, diverse and scattered to the widest reaches of the system for the most part so coming together in bars like this was always an interesting experience. He offered a friendly, rude gesture to a couple of spacers he knew and stayed close to Ken and Mickey as their trio strolled past those he didn't.

Then, as soon as Emma hove into view, all six foot four of her confident stance, Wulf's face warmed into a broad, happy grin. He ducked past both the Tross' current owners to step into the Martian Marine's personal space and reach both arms around Emma in a tight, warm hug.

Her own tense confident stance melted, when Wulf hugged Emma. But quickly she tensed back up and looked at Kenny and Mickey and smiled to them.

"Everything go okay?" Wulf asked. "You tell me if it didn't and I'll go bash some heads together," he added, tongue firmly in cheek.

"No it went as well as I guess it could, unless I went back to Mars... I feel I may have lost my home." She frowned and pulled the stolen bottle of whiskey onto the bar, a few more swigs were missing from it. "Your pilot and medic I think are shipping back down well. But they did pay me off."

Wulf didn't have the words to make losing home feel any better, so he just took Emma's hand in his and gave it a firm, supportive squeeze. He looked to Mickey and Ken in turn as Allegra and Alex's exodus was mentioned and kept his feelings to himself on that score.

"We kind of expected that. Allegra was looking forward to some downtime on Mars before we had to run, and it's not like she really needed the work." Ken said as he plonked his butt on the stool. He gestured for the bartender, and ordered a round of something brown for the four of them. "To getting paid, then."

At that Mickey pulled out his terminal and glanced at the screen. He had put out a flag on the local work forums for any shipping work needed, keeping the tags legit and clean. Grey and black market might pay better, but the risk to them now after escaping the clutches of the Confed Navy put the nail in that coffin.

No hits yets. As he slid the terminal back into his pocket, he took the glass and toasted to Ken's words.

"To getting paid."

Lifting her own bottle she motioned to their cheer and took another drink from it. Once she sat the bottle down on the table she pulled the credit chit out of her pocket and set it in the middle of the table. "I have thought about this for a bit... Well since we knew we were going to survive. I want a stake in the ship. If you'd have me..." She gave a shy smile. "I have this plus I plan on talking to a lawyer and going after the company for not keeping my workplace reasonably safe, you know from kidnapping... What I might receive from that will also go to the ship."

Still quietly caught in observation-mode, Wulf toasted with his glass and descended into silent frowny face as Emma spoke. He'd hatched a roundabout plan of his own with regards to answering Ken and Mickey's need for paid work, he had the infrastructure in place here and an idea of the where and how, but he hadn't expected Emma to offer up financial support. Hell, he hadn't even considered that there might be money there to be utilised. Once again, Wulf rested a moral support gesture of a warm hand on hers. His gaze, however, caught with Ken's as the engineer's face reacted to the Martian Marine's suggestion.

Mickey stepped in before Ken could open his mouth and say something. He reached out a finger and pulled the chit closer, eyeing the figure illuminated on its screen. He then pulled out his terminal, flicked through a few menus and screens, and placed it next to the chits.

The figures on it were identical, give or take a Ceres New Yen.

"That chit, alone, gives us two-thirds of a tank of reaction mass, and we're only getting a good price here because we're close to Saturn. And whilst I have every respect for the Martian legal system, I can't see you winning a settlement outside of a decade from now. And we're not going to wait on Rhea, as hospitable as it is, that long," Mickey said. He held up a hand,. "Don't get me wrong, the gestures appreciated, but when myself, Ken and Soto bought into the Charon Courier Corporation LLC, we did so on the back of hefty loans and most of our savings. Loans some of us still have dogging our heels. You add an extra zero to the end of your chit, and turn that 4 to a 9, and you'll be close."

His finger tapped the table thoughtfully.

"But...half a tank of fuels better than nothing," he looked along the bar to Ken. "Not enough to buy in, for sure, but 'Tross isn't going to run on unicorn dust and Wulf's porno collection."

"We could translate it into a loan." Ken mused, "You join the crew, get a wage like the rest of them. And we pay the loan off in portions. That gives us running capital, you a bunk and a purpose, and avoids the age old problem of a marine in port with cash ready to spend."

"An investment opportunity, and one that your skill set and Ken's would ensure no hostile take overs," Mickey took his drink and sipped it thoughtfully. "'Security Consultant' has a nice ring to it. Then again I knew a guy who called himself the First Emperor Of Space, had a charming little hole in the lower spinward sections of Ceres Station last I checked."

Glaring at the two of them, Emma frowns. "I don't want to give you a loan, I wanted ya'll to understand I want to completely throw in with you. If you are not wanting to allow be to buy a small stake in the ship, then accept it as a gift. If you want me aboard as security then I'll do it. I don't have a home now that apparently I turned my back on Mars." She shrugged and squeezed Wulf's hand before sighing. "Can I at least have access to the armory?" She gave a small smile showing her hope.

Ken looked at the number again. Then he emptied his glass and looked at it again. "Relatively speaking, that's a lot of readies. But it might get you a one percent share of the company, maybe one and a half. And to be very blunt, that is not worth the paperwork to sell." He gestured to the barman for a second round. "The offer we're making is throwing in with us. If the company does well, you get your money plus interest. If the company goes under however, you're a creditor that can make a claim."

Ken smiled as his little glass was refilled, and he took a small sip of it. "There's also the fact that we don't want it as a gift. The loan also means my big ego isn't being hurt by accepting help. And we both know that UN marines have a very big ego." He gave her a smile. "And you're not getting access to the armoury. That'll only ever be Mickey and me."

"I'm not sure these guys are a great investment opportunity, Emma," said Wulf with the relaxed calm tone of someone who didn't currently have all their money tied up in the Albatross. "We barely escaped with our lives this last run, and - porn trade aside - no one made any money." He sipped his drink and sighed unhappily.

"And now we're losing Allegra and Alex?" Wulf pouted as he asked the rhetorical question. Being crew wasn't a downgrade for him, it was something he enjoyed, something he didn't wish to give up, but there was another matter that bugged him here and now. A matter separate from Emma's request. "Is it just about the cost of a real share?" The tech queried, openly, casting his gaze first to the Captain and then the XO as Ken's words echoed in Wulf's skull. That'll only ever be Mickey and me."Or is this an Inner thing?"

"It's about the price we paid to get the 'Tross, and I ain't talking about the accounting. Soto was UN Navy, Ken here was UNMC, and I did my own thing. Sufficed to say the 'Tross is freedom from that which is past, it's a precious commodity made more so because there are fewer of us now. Being crew is one thing, being part owner is a whole other can of worms." Mickey said. He nodded at Ken and looked to Emma. "You've been through the wringer, ain't no bones there. Sign on as crew to the next port, then see about taking out that loan. Make sure Ken's choice of air freshener doesn't make your skin crawl. I don't want someone having a stake in my ship just because they feel beholden. Feelings are fleeting. Fickle. Ride with us a spell, and if by the next port you're still convinced you want in...we can discuss it in detail."

"I guess that is all up to you. I'll ride with ya'll." She reached out and pulled her credit chit back. "I'll help with the cost of things as we go then. I'm not interested in making money, just paying for a place to be." Emma slipped the chit back into her pocket. "Then here..." She fills their glasses with the whiskey from her bottle. "Here's to a place to be." She lifted the bottle to them. "Oh also there is a case of this stuff that should be being delivered to the ship. That is my gift to the ship and crew."

Ignoring his drink for the moment, Wulf leant back in his chair, moodily crossed his arms in front of his chest and watched Mickey talk to Ken and Emma. So it was an Inner thing, but not with a capital I. An inner circle thing - Soto, Ken and whatever or whoever Mickey had come from - and Wulf could kinda understand that. Secondhand understand at least. He'd never been military, he'd only ever been a dodgy hire in a bar and the guy who rebooted the Autodoc every time the ads glitched it out. Why would they see him as anything different? They didn't need to. He hadn't wanted them to. But some of Mickey's words resonated deeply with a chord that was far less bad mood and way more heartstringy.

Freedom from that which is past. Now that was something Wulf definitely felt from his boots right up to his unruly tufty head of hair. "What if...?" He heard himself ask, words bolder now and serious. "What if someone who didn't have fleeting feelings wanted to charter the Tross? Or even to buy a share?"

"I've put the word out kid," Mickey said. "Place like Indie Six, or any of the other sites on Rhea and the Saturn moons, there's always work. Legal work, so don't worry. If we're lucky we'll get some corpo gig from one of the Titan pleasure cities, credit chit transport back sunward or some such."

"Sunward might not be the best place. Apparently Earth and Mars are working up to taking this cold war and putting it on the stove. If the guy who was trying to get me to go back is to be believed, Mars is trying to get as many folk's into uniform as they possibly can." Emma spoke a bit more open then she normally would sober.

"We've been reaching out to some friends of ours in the Pluto area, so we're on the same wavelength there. But to it a little bit." Ken turned his eyes on Wulf, then Mickey, then Wulf again, "I don't think he's asking about our next job. What are you trying to ask?"

Wulf choked on the drink he'd just hurled in its entirety at the back of his own throat and sat upright, right palm against his chest while he caught his breath back again. His gaze locked with Ken's own as he considered his response carefully now a second chance appeared to have been granted and he held the engineer's eyes for a long second before venturing a reply. "I'm not worried," he told the two current owners. "About work, I mean. I know you'll find us something, you always do." Wulf took a deep breath and risked shifting that visual lock from Ken to Mickey Serendipity. "But what if you had a bit less debt. I mean..."

The tech cursed internally and, finally, spat the words out. "I want to buy into the Albatross. For real. With extra zeros." Wulf let those words hang in the air for a moment, then added. "I don't want to change anything."

"We like you Wulf, but we don't pay you that much," Mickey said with a well-meaning chuckle.

They didn't, that was true. But Wulf didn't point out that he'd never complained about the meagre paycheque, or occasional lack of it. He didn't want to get into the whys or hows and whos out here in public, so simply slid his battered little terminal across to within easy view of both Mickey and Ken. "You guys ever hear of World of Starcraft?" Wulf asked. "Used to play it for days at a time as a kid. I was obsessed. Made a legit fortune selling in-game currency and level-ups for the real world kind." That seemed an unlikely reason for all of those numbers on the screen which were pretty close to about 10% of each man's current debt.

There was a goodly amount of silence. Mickey turned the battered terminal towards him a little and flicked through the conversion rates. Ceres New Yen, UN Adjusted Dollar, Terrafirma Script, Martian Mark: the number looked impressive from any financial angle.

"I just want to be sure, before I say anything, but this is a genuine figure? This isn't creative accounting and shuffling credits back and forth?" Mickey nudged the terminal back towards Ken.

Emma seeing the numbers and all of the zeros, had to hide her grin behind her bottle. Boy had made good back in a past life, but she wondered why he was now just bumming around in space.

He couldn't take it back now, but for those moments of Mickey's long silence, Wulf temporarily wished he could. Right now he wasn't exactly lying, but he was withholding some personal information. Personal information the Captain didn't need to know (unless Ken had shared it) and likely far less explosive than Mickey's own mysterious past.

"It's genuine," Wulf promised, truthfully. And, he added in the privacy of his own mind, this is one of the accounts that's 100% mine with zero strings attached. "I can show you all the backdated micro-transactions if you want," he offered, holding Mickey's gaze as long as the other man allowed.

"I'm sure you can," Mickey said, keeping Wulf's gaze. He'd been stared down by Belter pirates so high on their own homebrew they technically existed outside of traditional space-time. His lips thinned as he thought. "I'm also sure that with your skillset you can make anything look believable. Plenty of weigh bills with your fingerprints on them in the 'Tross's data stacks. I am also sure you know that I am not someone who likes to be fooled."

He tilted his head, keeping Wulf in view.

"Ken, I smell industrial strength bullshit. But I also smell clean cash. He might not be saying the whole of it, but there's enough truth in it to get a firm grip on. Whats your thinking?" he asked.

A shrug was Ken's initial reply. "I believe he has earned some cash playing games. Maybe not that much though." He took a sip from his whiskey, savouring the heat it sent down his throat in satisfaction. "But I know the kid. This is a serious offer that we need to discuss in private. It wouldn't buy a controlling share, but it is significant."

Wulf dropped eye contact with Mickey before the Tross' captain ever faltered, but not through any lack of integrity. No, the tech had learned a deep respect for Mr Serendipity over the last two years, and he felt the internal weight of his moment on his soul. Wulf felt the trepidation of stepping into 'hallowed' ground. Soto had owned the last share in this ship, and he could never hope to fill that man's shoes, neither would he ever wish to try. His gaze lowered, hands shaky about his empty glass, Wulf spoke quietly yet with gravitas.

"There's more to it," he admitted. "But nothing bad. Nothing that would hurt you guys or the Tross. Right here and now, I can only swear to you that this money is mine, and that it wasn't earned by any nefarious means. I don't want to control anything," Wulf added, looking up once again. "You guys do that just fine. I just want to keep us in business."

Mickey nodded, breaking eye contact with Wulf and took up his glass.

"Here's what we'll do, for both of you. Once the 'Tross is up and running, and we have a gig, you'll have an answer from me and Ken. CO/XO chit chat can't exactly be considered private in this place," Mickey said as he used his glass to gesture to the bar. "That seems fair. Both of you want a share, or an in, with the ship in a way that goes beyond crewing. This way it gives you both a cooling-off period to think about this. A moment of desire, annealed into a solid fact by a small measure of time. But first..."

He held up a hand and pulled out an item from his coat pocket. He pulled out a lacquered, polished strip of wood. Genuine Earth grown oak, worth a small fortune. Care had been put into its construction, planing it down until it was the size and dimension of a terminal. The black varnish used on it made it look smooth, quick, and allowed the white kanji characters on its surface to stand out.

The first characters were date markers, a beginning and an end. Then under it, a single character for a name. The last name, not readily translatable into the iconography of the script, was instead replaced with an English addition.

Nabaal.

The bartender, a woman of indeterminate age and ethnicity took one look at the polished wooden token Mickey placed on her side of the bar. She then walked to a little control pad, and once buttons were pressed a privacy screen went down over the entrance and the windows into the bar tinted to opaqueness.

"Captian's and crews of the void," the bartender said, her voice remarkably smokey and coiled in a rich accent of rum and palm sugar, holding the attention of all. "Stand to and be aware we mark the passing of one of our Panhellenic. Soto, Nabaal, master and commander of the private courier Albatross."

She held up the wooden token, which under the spot light of the ceiling glistened like jet.

"He was one of us, and we were one with him. The One Ship," she said reverently. It was murmured with the sanctity of a pray by some in the bar. "Would anyone speak to his deeds? Would anyone speak of a debt owed or an owed debt?"

Watching the dramatic beginning to a space wake, Emma Raised her bottle at the name of the Albatross. She knew the name of Soto from Mickey and Ken. She looked over to study her new crew family and squeezed Wulf's hand sympathetically.

Wulf didn't let go of Emma's hand as he rose up at their table. He didn't make eye contact with anyone around that upwardly stationary circle, but stood tall and proudly, eyes seeking ceiling as he addressed that closed room.

"Captain Soto hired me when I had no one and nothing to speak of," Wulf said. "Nothing of importance in my life," he clarified in the sake of honesty. "When there was no one on my side and nowhere for me to go. I owed him for my life then, and I owed him it again on Eros. On Eros he died saving us all." His free hand sought and failed to grab his glass, and as he sat back down, tears glistened as they ran down the com tech's cheeks.

Ken put a hand on Wulf's shoulder as he himself stood. He gently squeezed his friend. "I served under Soto when I was still in uniform. And he found me over a decade on Luna where my life consisted of working 8 hours, drinking 8 hours, and sleeping 8 hours. He told me he had use of me, but only if I stopped drowning myself. He gave me a purpose, a family, and a home. For that, I shall be eternally grateful."

"He died," Mickey said, taking a sip of his drink. "But he died the way a captain should, keeping his crew alive a minute longer so they can find a way out of the trouble they're in. I don't owe my life to him for that, but I still owe it to him and his legacy."

"Purpose. Home. Life. These are the debts of Soto Nabaal," the bartender said. She picked up the wooden token, and turn to the back of the bar. Where bottles and glasses resided she moved them aside, pulling them away, until the back wall was visible. And there, in the dim light, their etched polished facades seeming to glow was a mosaic of wooden tokens. A hundred names, a thousand names. "He is remembered for these boons he gave to others and is remembered for being clear of all debts that would follow him."

The mosaic of tiles shuffled, moving about the wall like a puzzle screen until a small opening appeared, revealing the brass rails and cog work interior of the mechanism. Soto's token was placed into the gap, and with the barest click it was shuffled into the mass.

"May the Patch Mother watch over the crew of Soto Nabaal, as he takes his seat at the high table with those who came before. May he be in her crew when she returns to save the downtrodden and smite the wicked. May her breath be all our last."

That last refrain was echoed, with a few of the die-hard faithful in the bar loosely covering their mouths with a hand in a sign of devotion. A moment of silence followed and was soon filled with a luminous choral voice. The ever so creepy crew of the Enlightenment Of Past Deeds were singing, atonal, echoing lament. The song of a wake, as sung in a bar on Rhea, on Mars, on Luna, or the salt-crusted harbour of Cork on Earth.

It broke the spell of the moment, in a way that left no jagged edges or shock of resurfacing. People listen, and drank, and spoke of the departed summoned in spirit to attend.

"So...crew," Mickey said looking at the two others...no. Three other members of the Albatross's crew beside him. "What now?"

"We finish that bottle," Ken nodded to Emma's half-empty. "Then we get another and drink that. After that, I'm heading to my bunk." As to punctuate his sentiment he clunked his empty glass with a meaningful look to Emma.

Wulf looked from Mickey to Ken and back again, his right hand still caught tightly about Emma's under the table. He knew he couldn't keep up with his Captain and XO, and he had serious doubts about keeping up with a Martian Marine. But, he didn't plan on leaving these guys either. If he was careful, and paced himself, hmaybe he'd make it through the next hour sober enough to see how drunk Emma'd gotten. That seemed like a worthy cause.

"I'll get that other bottle in," Wulf said, standing up and wiping his sleeve across his eyes. As he walked to the bar, he found himself staring up at the myriad of names until he could focus solely on those characters that meant the most to him. Eros seemed so far away now, but Soto was at least home.

"I'll drink to that," Mickey said, having now lost sight of the wooden token bearing Soto'sname on it.

 

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