Unhumorous Calamity is the Job

“You really screwed it, didn’t you, skip?” Chucho the mechanic said. Commander Neulen replied with a dirty look. “Well,” Chucho continued, “I thought it was pretty funny. Bad timing, and the delivery could have been better, but overall a solid joke. Very you. Shows your trademark deficiency in judgement.”

Neulen turned in his seat to face the mechanic. “Hired you, didn’t I?”

“You sure did. Which kind of proves my point.”

But Chucho was right. Perhaps a squadron meeting in which plans of expansion and control were being discussed was not the best time to ask “are we the baddies?”. Instead of chuckles he got a lesson in the ethics of governance in the age of witch space. But sometimes the joke has to be made and damn the consequences.

And the consequences were damned indeed. That little joke got him the Hau Ku job.

It was even more painful as he brought in Geier el Nahual, his ship, into Stone Station. It was lush. A verdant Orbis Starport all clean and shiny. A tourism economy, he could only imagine the kind of food he would be missing out on.

Normally visiting that kind of place would be a delicious, if expensive, experience. But this time he went in dirty. He wasn’t Cmdr Neulen, Ranger of the Corvus Intelligence Group. He wasn’t even an upstanding (or even just standing) Imperial citizen. He was just some roaming spacer with a mediocre letter of employment, lovingly penned by the boss man Cmdr Erinir, tasked with assisting the 104th Humanity Defense Force.

The person in charge, Colonel Jeromy Roth, immediately took a dislike to Neulen and his crew. He had been told to hire them and put them to work against his will (thanks again Erinir and your insidious machinations). And Neulen’s cover story didn’t help, either. He was supposed to have a plain, uninteresting, and just slightly undesirable record. Another snarky comment, and Neulen and crew found themselves as couriers, ferrying poll data and other info to neighbouring systems. This was key in a larger plan devised by CVIG to affect local elections.

The pay, to say the least, was abysmal. His pride, if he could ever find the starport he left it at, would be deeply hurt. But this is what working for CVIG is like. It even has Intelligence right there in the title.

“Hey cap,” Chucho said, leaning back on the remarkably comfortable seat at the Dresdener. Even the dive bars at Stone Starport were classy. “Did you ask Roth if maybe we could do a commodity transport mission? We have all this cargo hold, there’s surely something we can source to this place, isn’t there? I’m sure you can convince him.”

“I tried. He said sure, he had about 85 tonnes of biowaste he wanted delivered to Colonia. And you know what? He actually did. Offered to pay about 5 million credits for it, too.”

“5 million credits to get rid of you?”

“I may have… made a joke.”

“Oh no, come on captain, please tell me you didn’t.”

“The crooked Coriollis one.”

“No,” Chucho gasped. “Not the crooked Coriollis one. What were you thinking?”

“It’s a good joke! I am standing by it, it should have broken the ice, it was appropriate, even.”

“Neulen, that joke is never funny, and never appropriate in any point in the known bubble.”

“You just don’t have the emotional intelligence to get it.”

“Emotional? Intelligence? You want me to walk out an airlock, is that what you want?”

“Anyway, he did say that he got word from above. We are done ferrying data. We have a new job. But you’re not going to like it.”

Chucho looked concerned. He knew that look in Neulen’s eye. They had been flying together long enough to know. “Tell me you didn’t. Tell me this is another joke.”

Neulen only asserted. The Dresdener was tactfully dark, grubby in a deliberate manner, decorated in a way that you could tell the designer had seen a few dirty station cantinas and recreated a hygienic and tasteful representation for a more refined clientele. He hoped the illusion was not lost on Chucho and would be spared the bar brawl.

It worked. Instead, there was a loud thud as Chucho’s forehead connected with the table in utter defeat, knocking over a half finished glass of a tasty and overpriced ale.

Geier el Nahual, his pride and joy, the Krait MkII he had been working on for too long now, was going to be turned into a space taxi.
“Right then,” said Ness, her face illuminated by the glow on her portable screen. “Cabin is installed and all systems are clicking where they should be clicking. The Geier, and I never thought I would say this, is now a First Class passenger transport. Chucho, you are looking a bit sick. Did you not like the hors d'oeuvres the Director of Movement brought us?”

Chucho turned away and stomped off, making a gesture with his hand that anyone in any corner of the galaxy would rightfully interpret as an insult.

Ness only shrugged, flipped her console shut. “So Neulen, you said it was part of the mission to turn this boat into a certified passenger ship. But a First Class one? Should I be worried? Do you have a terminal disease? A parasite affecting your judgement?”

“Whatever happened to protocol?” Neulen asked. “Whatever happened to addressing the authority in the ship as ‘captain’ or saying ‘sir’ every once in a while?”

“Let me know when you find the figure of authority in this ship, I’ll be sure to drop in some sirs and give myself a concussion saluting. In the meantime, care filling me in on what’s going on?”

“Well, we were at the CVIG strategic planning briefing, and when Cmdr Erinir was talking about the expansion operations…”

Ness interrupted right away. “I know about the bad joke and how that got us working the postal service here. I meant this.” She gestured to the wall display that showed the First Class passenger cabin, the passenger suite nestled in the Geier el Nahual, a little isolated island of luxury in an otherwise utilitarian ship.

“Right, well, you would have to ask Erinir, Cmdr John2986, or Rosareven, they’re the ones doing the mysterious machinations. They got the idea into Roth’s head that we were done couriering and that we should pick up a passenger. Next thing I know I get a message from Erinir confirming that we had some Head of State called Justine Cobon to transport along with her retinue of 5, and that nothing less than a First Class cabin would do. I had to pay out of pocket for the bloody thing, you know?”

“Bloody hell, cap.” said Ness. “Did you tell another joke?”

Neulen groaned. “No, I did not tell another joke. And this isn’t a joke either: I’m going to need you to get a Fuel Scoop installed. Make some space somewhere, I don’t know.” Neulen said before

the grimace on the face of Ness turned into a verbal complaint. “I’m sure there’s some module you can bump temporarily, but make sure we get at least a 5B one. We’re going to Zenus, and apparently once we undock we’ll be on a timer.”

It took Ness a few seconds to open her terminal, her fingers flying over the haptic display. “But that’s 135 light years away!”

“And we’re on the clock. So go find Chucho and get me a Fuel Scoop installed and up and running. I need to go have a liedown. I don’t think I should have eaten all those hors d'oeuvres so fast. Or at all.”
The greenery encircling the ship twisted and moved away as the ship lifted from its platform and made its way towards the mail slot and out the station. They all sat in disgruntled silence until they were clear of the mass lock, and the ship turned towards the first system in what would be a long series of jumps through the black.

Only Cmdr Neulen had met their esteemed passenger, which they would have realized was fairly uncommon had they been more familiar with passenger transport. Usually the patron, in particular a fancy one, would want nothing to do with the people operating the ship just as long as the amenities were there.

“I was checking it out, turns out there is a Thargoid body displayed in a museum in one of the planets in Zenus.” Said Chucho. “You think that’s why we’re going? Is the boss man looking into Thargoids, and this is just a cover? That would be his style.”

“Don’t be an idiot.” Replied Ness. “There’s no Thargoid body there. Just some poor animal that drank too much mutated sludge. It’s been debunked over and over again. There was even a FableCrusher episode on it. If it had anything to do with Thargoids we’d know about it through Cmdr Rosareven. She pretty much lives out in the black.”

“Well, what is it then, Neulen? You talked with our passenger, right? What’s a Head of State of the 104th going all the way to Zenus for if not Thargoids?”

“She just wants a holiday, that’s all. Elections are coming up soon, and she feels like a bit of distance is the ticket, nothing to do now but wait for the results. She’s earned a holiday, she said, and she’s actually paying well. And you know what she’s also paying for? Discretion.”

The whole cockpit burst into laughter. Goddamnit, thought Neulen. That wasn’t supposed to be a joke. But before it could turn into a bigger circus the Frame Shift Drive finished charging, and they were thrown into witch space and hurled light years to their first destination of many.

Their esteemed passenger communicated with Neulen through a private channel, which he projected to the rest of the cockpit crew because it is one thing to be a professional, but another to be a commander of a bunch of immature spacers.

Besides, he had a reputation to uphold. And that reputation wasn’t at stake with the 104th. He’d done his best to get on their good graces and had gotten nothing but bad jobs and worse attitude from them. Granted, part of his cover involved being the kind of worker they didn’t hold in high esteem. And it’s not like he actually worked for them anyway. This was all part of the Corvus Intelligence plan, and punishment for being the only one in the squadron with a sense of humor.

The request coming out of their compartment of opulence, much to their dismay, were quite mundane. Everyone had heard stories of entitled luxury passengers making outrageous demands, but so far Neulen had just received a couple inquiries as to travel progress and a few complaints about temperature and vibrations while fuel scooping too close to stars. Neulen had stopped making the communications public, instead opening up the music playlist shipwide. After a while it almost felt like a particularly long trade run, except the ship felt much too light. The whole crew fell into their usual routine, working like the rube Goldberg machine they were until they reached Zenus.
Change of plans, Cmdr Neulen. A message in his comms channel lit up. I need you to fly to the planetary body Zenus 2 a and plot a course to the attached coordinates labelled Walker Observatory. This message was coming directly from HoS Justine to his inbox, not a ship communication. It was most curious. I will need you to accompany me into the station. Tell your crew to refuel and restock as needed, and keep the systems running. We should not be long.

Well, that was certainly unexpected. He had been hoping to visit the museum with the so-called Thargoid body with the crew. It had been the main topic of discussion the whole way, and they had smuggled some very tasty intoxicants just for the visit, and here he was about to disappoint the whole crew again, but most importantly himself. It was just part of the job. He hadn’t been delivering data and ferrying people for credits, there was a plan here, and apparently this was it.

Breaking the news to the crew went about as well as he could have expected. He could feel their disapproval deep in his guts. Or most likely it was the pull of the gravity well as they brought the Geier el Nahual into low orbit and on initial approach into Walker Observatory. At least it was a smooth ride, Zenus 2 a not having an atmosphere to make the ride extra bumpy. Just a space rock with something that made putting an outpost there worth it. Walker Observatory fit right into the landscape, a jumble of struts and towers and a mishmash of industrial buildings welded together, all designed to withstand the kind of environment that wanted you dead in a particularly fast and efficient way. Lovely tourist destination, thought Neulen. Really the kind of place to soothe the soul, relax the senses, especially if you were into politics. Things must have been lovely back in Hau Ku in order to choose a place like this to get some R&R.

But when they docked and his comm pinged with a message from Justina, the Head of State, he couldn’t say he was entirely surprised. Neulen knew he wasn’t the brightest commander this side of the bubble, but you didn’t need to be particularly clever to figure out that this wasn’t a little vacation. Not during expansion. Not during elections. Not working for Corvus Intelligence. And not when the message said: Bring a kinetic sidearm. And a crewmember you trust and knows their way in a fight.
Top Bottom