Skyborne is a work-in-progress science fiction dramedy about war, intrigue, love, and loyalty.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

(2) Mercs: Fresh Faces

Sanduro system - Moonworld Nergovia - Port city Oruna: 3100 local time. [0300. 14/3/2003 Omega time]
Jeremy Brock, Specialist 11A honorably discharged from the Federation Army.


 The “Skylark,” that was the name of his new home for the next several months, provided he wasn’t killed.

 Recently made ex-Specialist Jeremy Brock stood amid the crowded bustle of the port hangars in the lazy heat of a bright Nergovian day. The surrounding bustle consisted of the ridiculous variety an experienced trader would expect on a rimworld. Each of the several known intelligent species were in the crowd dressed in every imaginable attire according to the hundreds of varying regional, racial, cultural, occupational, and moral norms that were represented here. The crowd was united in one means, all were - whether overtly or subvertly - essentially armed. Even the smallest shops have a couple guards bearing body armor and AK’s or the rarer pulse rifles slung over their shoulders.

 They wandered against a backdrop of similarly diversely constructed buildings, though these had much more in common with each other than the crowd surrounding and imbuing them; many have a certain impromptu - though hardly flimsy - packed construction, though a few larger, independent compounds are surrounded by high concrete walls rimmed with unpleasant barriers. Barriers are a common sight lining the roofs, walls, and windowsills of nearly every structure; the more solidly funded have powerfully charged electric wires, the more sadistic and similarly affluent have electrified concertina wire. Cheaper barb wire is well used, though the most common of all are rows of shattered glass and sharpened scrap metal; glued, buried into, and likewise secured with blade ends facing outward. All prove painful obstacles, discouraging the average, less-desperate thieves that proliferate the haphazard streets.

 Nergovia was a trade moon, its wide orbit, not unreasonably hospitable atmosphere and its larger fortuitously strategic placement in the greater universe determined that it would become the focal point for the financial interests of many outlying worlds. It’s political neutrality secured by the gridlock of local power and the Federation’s over extension additionally assures its popularity as a base for the manifold clandestine services that the universe requires.

 Ex-Specialist Jeremy Brock stands tall, confidently watching the many faces that pass him. He wears surplus urban combat fatigues, a web belt loaded with fresh mags, but empty frag and utility pouches. He carried a heavy assault pack, a .50 caliber pistol on a hip holster, and a G3A3 with an expensive ACOG sight. He wore an old and battered Federation issued helmet with a tan digital camo pattern; his chin and head are both freshly shaved.

 Brock had justed concluded a four year contract with the Federal Army as a 04Delta, a field Translator. Well, first as an 01Alpha (infantryman) before he quickly switched MOS’s. The experience as a translator is why he entered the army, but translators didn’t get nearly as good combat training that the standard infantrymen did. His father - an ex-marine gunnery sergeant himself - urged him to get those skill sets first, it was essential if he wanted to become a Merc. His native tongue was the most common language of the Federation, though his interest in foreign languages started when he picked up his mother’s native language; she was a refugee from some inconsequential trade moon and had trouble speaking standard. After his parent’s messy divorce four years ago he did his best to sever all ties with her, including Hajiam Tribal. The somewhat vaguely named ‘Tautoan’ and the three major dialects thereof - Derisian, Kartoa and Mah’to were the focus of his studies anyway. They are descendents of the old Kartoa Empire and had become the trade language of most rim worlds. He’d also more recently started cursory study of Gahlic, one of the more common Clan languages, yet this was still a peripheral study. No matter how good the program, auto-translators were always limiting; the occasional misreading of a word or the more common overlooking of obvious cultural habits risked disastrous results. Hence the immense value of translators.

 That’s why he took the shortest possible term with the Fed’s; it was a means to this end, just a particularly sweat and grim filled residency program. The path that lead to this moment, him standing in front of the dock registry amid an alien crowd, basking in the heat of an alien sun. The taste of eager anticipation and fulfillment was physically knotting within his stomach; a familiar feeling when he first signed up with the Feds, when he left the Feds, the first time he got shot at, and when he got his advanced Derisian, Kartoa, and Mah’to qualifications.

 He was studying a large screen denoting the registries and docking of the dozens of space faring vessels that were moored in this city on business. Most were obviously merchant or transitory in nature, some bounty hunting operators and a few private contractors. He was certain that all could be considered smugglers in one way or another, pay any ship’s captain enough credits and he’d gladly take ‘sensitive cargo.’

 But he hadn’t contracted with just any ship, in just any wild cowboy crew, or under just any ex-officer; he’d contracted with Connor’s group. Known for many names both announced and given within many armies, political parties, insurgent cells, systems, and cities. They held quite a reputation on the black net; Brock would know, he’d monitored the records of over a hundred different crews since he first joined the Army of the Federation three years ago. Connor was a retired Master Chief Petty Officer from the Neur system, Brock didn’t know how long his crew had been together, but the word was that his ship the ‘Sparrow’ had been leaving serious wakes in their path. Big contracts with big names, formulating a dependable reputation for smuggling, bounty hunting, and the occasional assassination. And that was just the public record, or as public as the underground black net can get.

 It was a good operation, a great place to start his career; he didn’t actually expect to contract onto Connor’s crew, just getting his signal off the net was hard enough. He took days painstakingly writing it out in the excellent Kartoa his years of intense study could manage. That was a calculated guess, since most of Connor’s contracts would have to be in Kartoa. Even then he still wasn’t sure of himself sending that first message; just a twenty-one year old specialist fresh out of the uniform with a few mediocre deployments under his belt, an average service record, no schools, and no contracts to his name. His translating experience turned out to be his one saving grace. Connor responded promptly, not even asking for an interview or additional paperwork, and it was devoid of any standard formal business pleasantries common to most Kartoa cultures, - “Direct, professional, I’ll have to remember that” - though additionally the terse message bore two surprises.

 First, he responded in Fed standard; was he insinuating that his Kartoa was unacceptable? In his resume he simply listed his fluent languages, he didn’t specify which was his native, so was he letting Brock know that he knew Federal Standard was his first language?  And in turn implying that he had done a further background check of his own? The former had to be impossible, since Brock took great pride in his knowledge of Kartoa and those customs. The latter? Probably, in fact it’d be ridiculous for an experience merc leader to entrust a new crew member on his ship without a full investigation. “Ok, so Connor wants me to know that he’s done his research.”
Secondly - and honestly primarily - the message simply consisted of one question:

“How’s your Ha’jiam Tribal?”

 His mother’s native? That caught him off guard. He’d listed it as a fluency in his resume, and that wasn’t a fabrication… Necessarily… True, he hadn’t conversed in it for about a year, he’d in fact almost grew a disdain for it. Ha’jiam Tribal  was an extremely localized and confused mess of a dialect; an inbred bastard of a blend of ancient indigenous Verb-object-subject grammar structures utterly dominated by Federation vocabulary and Tautoan pronounciation. The formulaic fate of any indigenous language caught in the economic crosshairs of greater powers. Its localized nature, primitive home, and ridiculous difficulty meant there were very few speakers; well, aside from the thirty million something natives trapped in that hell hole by poverty, some local warlord, or simple force of habit. There must be very, very few speakers with military training and experience who were also looking to contract with a merc crew.

“Ah.” That explained Connor’s prompt and unlikely response, his crew must be taking a contract involved with that moon and needed a translator; an impressive stroke of luck, provided he hadn’t lost that much.

 He remembered laying to rest a panic attack by pulling up some Hajiam dialogue on the net from an Anthropological Linguistics database via his console and skimming over it; ensuring that he indeed hadn’t forgotten too much before he responded likewise in Fed Regular to Connor.

“It isn’t my specialty, I can negotiate in it without problem but I doubt I’d pass as a native.”

 Dishonesty now wouldn’t help him later on, but complete honesty wasn’t immediately desirable either. At any rate, Connor’s response is more detailed:

“Arrive at the attached coordinates in 5 days, 14 hours, and 33 minutes Omega time. Stand directly in front of the port call registry screen facing magnetic north. Travel light. You’ll enter the ship on a trial basis. I don't believe in making contracts complicated; eat the standard rations, follow orders, don’t be a bitch, and you’ll receive an eight percent cut from contracts and can borrow gear from the armory. You'll learn the other rules as they come up. I’ll take your arrival as acceptance. Look for the Skylark. Call me Chief.”

So, no mention of an entry bonus. But his luck had been running high enough to make that irrelevant. He had his first contract, an unusual one yes, but with a crew he’d be proud to put on his record.

 And so, here he stood. The lengthy attached coordinates were precise down to a ten square meter area. The space in front of the docking registry of this chaotic town on this nondescript trade moon.

 That’s when he heard it, a forceful baritone voice, from the first syllable obviously accustomed to command.

“You lost soldier?”

 Brock turned his head to see a man standing less than a meter away, behind him.

 How the fuck did he slip past me?

 A first glance drew distracted confusion, the man was tall and powerfully built. The six foot five figure wore a rough, apparently untanned furry buck-hide jacket over a simple tan shirt and dark green cargo pants made from some strong and thick textile; both rather uncomfortable options given the heat.

Ok, he’s packing.

 He sported a large rough beard and a rougher square face with a neutral expression upon it. His mass of completely unkempt red hair hanged matted down onto his shoulders; a dozen thick strands are strung about in braids. His left hand was at his side, the other tucked at his shoulder, holding the strap of an old tan colored synthetic satchel. The man’s whole form from head to toe was covered with a fine layer of dust, sweat, and grime. His massive size, demeanor, and the hide jacket gave him the general look, attitude, smell, and intimidation of an ill-tempered Kodiak bear.

 Brock had looked up Connor’s service record and had seen a few photos of him in his enlisted days. The young, clean cut, crisply uniformed, and professional seaman in those pictures did nothing to help him recognize the man before him.

 A moment’s confusion awkwardly reigned before recognition set in on Brock’s face; he quickly recovered and faced about to address him.

“Chief… Connor, I presume?”
“Just Chief, and yeah, follow me.”

 With that he turned around and quickly stalked into the crowd. Brock started walking briskly to keep up. They navigated through the crowds in silence into the hangar and past several of the docked ships. Brock thought about asking Connor - Ahem, Chief. - if the Skylark was a ploy and the Sparrow was moored nearby, at least something to start conversation; but instinct told him to leave the silence be. He could also be the cold professional.

“There’s our new home.”

 The Chief stopped in his tracks facing a sizeable space faring craft. It was shaped like a long rectangular box, with a wide cylindrical single engine protruding toward the rear of the vessel; twin engines mounted on short wings extended thirty meters out from the ship’s center. The whole was painted black with a boxlike but relatively smooth outward finish. The sheen metallic hull had very few glass ports.

 Brock knew very little about ships, or hyperdrives, or mechanics in general; so the sight of this large metallic creature yielded no insight into its capabilities or functions. Even when the Chief abruptly rattled off a list of specs and class numbers, it meant nothing to Brock.

 Brock suddenly noticed the ‘our,’ in the Chief’s statement; so something did happen to the Sparrow?”

 The sound of casually trotting bootprints across the metal surface of the ship emanated from the open bay doors and lowered metal gangplank toward the back of the ship. A hand reached down from inside the ship and grabbed support from a hydraulic cylinder as a figure wearing torn fatigue bottoms and a faded olive drab shirt quickly swung through; landing with a final loud clunk on the hangar deck.

 The man was young, maybe his early twenties at most, and bearing a permanent fixture of - Brock expected unshakable - genial cheer and unmistakable familial kinship. He called out in one of the rough clannic langugages; Brock wasn't fluent but he knew enough to extrapolate the general meaning.

“Chief! I’ve been calling you for three fucking days!” His tone bore less irritation and more pleased relief.
“Turned my comm off," Chief responded in the same language, "needed some personal time; you know, get in touch with my inner peace.” Chief tapped his chest sarcastically while the bare hint of a fond smile crosses his face. “Y’all good here?”
“No! You scared the shit out of me… Again! You don’t just vanish like that with a note in your shitty handwriting and not call in.”
“I’m the boss, yes I do.” He motions between the man and Brock while switching to Fed Standard, "Ex-Specialist Brock of the Federation Army, meet Ex-PFC Dren of the Allied Clans. Our communications and scans Operator."

 Dren, one of the larger High Rock Clans. Brock thought to himself as he returned Dren's warm smile.

 Dren approached with his right arm extended while switching to Fed as well, "Hey! You are the new translator! What languages do you speak?" Dren was fairly fluent in standard (though contractions were just beyond his grasp) and with a heavy sing songy accent. And his naturally rushed and excited speaking voice was slowed down to a careful jog, but Brock was too relieved that there was at least one friendly crew member to notice.

"Five and a half, Kartoa, Mah’to, Derisian, Fed, Ha'jian, and a little Gahlic." As he went in to shake Dren's hand, he paused in momentary cultural confusion as Dren's hand glided past his and grasped his wrist; he quickly reciprocated just as Dren laughed jovially at his mistake.

"I'm sorry! The core worlds, they shake hands right?" He released Brock's wrist and regrasped his hand, giving it a strong squeeze before letting go. Brock cursed himself in the back of his mind, he should've refreshed his memory of clannic cultural customs; those systems were extremely involved in the private contracting market, it was inevitable that he'd work with clansmen from those worlds.

 Brock reciprocated with a small nervous laugh, "No problem man, I'll have to brush up on Clan customs." Dren still hadn't gotten the standard core world greeting quite right; you didn't strongly overpower the other's grasp in most social circles; usually it was more acceptable to simply gently clasp the other. "Damn, need to look that up later." Brock made a mental note.

"You'll fit right in man, and you may call me 'Scout,' everybody else does."

 Chief flips the satchel off his back and tosses it over to 'Scout.' “Brought some new toys for y’all, since you've been such a patient little soldier, you get first pick.” Chief continues the conversation in Kartoa, to not leave Brock awkwardly out of it.

 He deftly catches it and follows closely behind Chief as they near the gangplank.
“Resorting to Bribery eh?" He spoke as he eagerly zipped open the satchel and peered within. He exclaimed in delight as he gingerly held the open satchel in one arm while drawing out a strangly curved machete; Brock noticed that the blade looked strangely dull, and an odd black fiberglass-looking strip ran about the edge.

"Stun blades! Thanks Chief! Can I spar with Pimp?"
Chief raised his eyebrows, “I thought you usually fought Chin, what did Pimp do to you?"
"The fucker's been switching all of the ship's systems on and off all week. it's been a fucking nightmare trying to monitor comm traffic when I have to replug all the frequencies every five fucking minutes. I really miss the Sparrow."
"Is something wrong with the systems?"
"Jay's had trouble getting the new shields online, everything else works fine, but Pimp insists that it ALL has to be overhauled for 'maximum efficiency." He mimicked a high pitched, nasally voice on the last two words.
"This ship's a lot more electronic heavy than the Sparrow. I've told you before, Pimp's a pain in the ass but he knows what he's doing. And yeah, Pimp could use some practice in combatives."
"Like, right now?"
Chief rolled his eyes as they walked up the gangplank. "No, after we're offworld; we're picking up Wolfe from that op in a half hour at RP Alpha."
"Good, I was starting to miss Woofie."
"You know if he hears you call him that again he'll fuck your nose with his machete."
"Aww, he's just a big fluffy teddy bear."
"Fluffy teddy bear puts a tungsten bullet dead center mass at 2000 meters, play nice."

"So uh, who are Chin, Pimp, Wolfe, and Jay?" Brock awkwardly interjected.
"You'll meet them all today," Scout answered, "Wolfe's our sniper, Jay's the navigator, Pimp is our computer systems programmer, and Chin's just a badass."

 "The fuck?" The chief declared as he surveyed the Skylark's cargo hold. The metallic room's large size was made to seem larger by the near emptiness; it was the full twenty meters wide, twenty meters high, and maybe fifty meters deep. A rickety looking metal grate walkway hangs suspended from the ceiling and creates a pseudo second story to the room; and access to the several thick and ridiculously narrow bulkhead doors that lead further into the ship. Several large chests and crates are nestled in the far back of the room, nestled around piles of duffels, cord, and other machinery. The sight that apparently drew Chief's profanity is a single man busy shoving a chest across the deck.

 "Tell me something Scout, did I not order everything loaded into the new ship and packed away by the time I got back?"
"Uhh, that you did Chief." Scout neutrally said, his smile vanishing.
"And what did I say I'd do if one cable was loose?"
"You said that you'd systematically sodomize us with serrated garden hoes."
"Then what's this shit I'm looking at?"
"That's... Uh... None of it's mine Chief," Scout gestures toward the gear as he draws an evil glare from the Chief. "I swear! I had the comm gear stowed away yesterday! Whatever's not screwed down there is Clutch's or Chin's."
"So, I've been gone three days, you're telling me it took you two to move your comm gear and personal shit?"
"Had to install everything too, and it's all online! At least when Pimp's not rebooting the system."

 Chief continues grumbling, "Be glad I'm in a good fucking mood." as he stalks across the hold toward the man pushing a chest toward the back wall.

"Clutch! Three days man! Three days!" Clutch pauses from moving the chest to wipe sweat from his brow and look at Chief.

"So, you're back. How was the bar and brothel vacation?" Clutch spoke with some strange rim world accent, Brock had no idea where it was from. Clutch himself was dressed in a billowy tan dyed cotton shirt, and light tan pants of the same hand weaved cotton textile. He stood just over six feet tall with a runner's slim build, his head was cleanly shaven, and the corner of a large tattoo just barely peeks from underneath his thin shirt.
"I was kind of busy," Chief sarcastically responded, "you know, the fucking op Logan and I were setting up? The reason I wanted y'all ready for action in case we needed backup? The hell even IS half of this shit?" Chief kicked a duffel at his feet.

 Chief turned to Brock, "This lazy fuck is Clutch, hydraulics and engine mechanic. The ship runs on fuel and his engine oil sweat."

 “Gallons of his engine oil sweat.” Clutch declares in third person while makes a final attack launching the chest to a triumphant thud against the wall of the cargo hold; a second glance from Brock confirms a suspicion that it’s official Federation military issue, or was. The Federation flag on the upper left corner of the chest’s face was scratched off with a small red Sparrow painted over it.

 “More like teaspoons.” Chief corrected over his shoulder as he continued walking across the hold, stepping over loose cables, around crates and kicking aside a couple more duffles.
“Hey Chin!” The Chief was yelling at a tall and powerful man dressed in forest camo army fatigues who had just entered the hold from a hallway leading to the mess hall. His arms were filled to the breaking point with a mass of duffels and jugs of powerful cleaning solutions. His chiseled features and prominent jaw denoting his apparent nickname glanced questioningly and exasperatedly toward the Chief.

“I want this shit cleaned up before we break atmo! We have to fit a fucking transport vehicle in here when we pickup Wolfe.” The Chief gestured toward the mass collusion of supplies across the bay as he leapt up the stairway three steps at a time; Scout and Brock close in tow.

“Kind of busy Chief!” Chin gasped as a couple jugs clattered from his arms to the ground.

 “Then grab a couple to help, I know CLUTCH isn’t doing anything at the moment.” Chief stopped his deliberate journey toward the cockpit to lean on the stairwell midsentence and enunciate Clutch’s name.
“Aye aye Chief.” Clutch sarcastically responds, breathing heavily on the mountainous chest before straightening up to go help Chin.
“Chin’s our resident SAW gunner by the way,” the Chief mentions over his shoulder to Brock, “lays a lot of hate downrange.”
“He looks the type.” Brock commented.

 A loud ascending roar suddenly rumbles throughout the ship, shaking the crossbeams, rattling the metal stairwell and imbuing Brock with its reverberations. The roar quickly pinnacles in a raucous jolt as the ship bucks off the ground; almost throwing the Chief and Brock over the railing, Scout tripping back down the stairwell with the satchel swinging into his face, sending Chin and his armload sprawling across the ground and slamming Clutch against the tool chest.

“The hell was that?! Why is grav control fucked!?” Chief shouted over the din.

 Clutch shouted upward as he deftly ran across the sliding duffels to seal the cargo bay door. “Oh yeah, Pimp mentioned that he took it offline to fix something; said it’d be back in a bit.”

"Motherfucker!" Scout yells as he clambers back up the stairwell with the duffel.

“A bit eh?” Chief continued swearing as he wrestled his way up the stairwell with Brock close in tow, who slung his G3 over his shoulder to hang on to it.
 The ship settled from caustic seizures into a general calmer shivering as it quickly started gaining altitude and steadied. The roar was dulled short as the massive metallic clanking signified the bay doors locking in place. Yet the rumble was still abnormally loud.

“I thought the shields on this new system muted outside noise well.” The Chief wondered aloud for a moment.

“Unless he took them down as well Chief.” Scout observed.

 The Chief clambers up a ladder and through an open hatch into a sort of loft while roaring, “Pimp! Where the fuck are you and what the fuck have you done to my goddamn ship?”

 A shorter man moved swiftly from the hallway, his eyes focused upon a datapad before him which his fingers were running deftly over. He seemed to ignore the quaking of the ship as he strode briskly to the bottom of the ladder and reached out to grab it, looking up to see the Chief in his path.
“Excuse me Chief, I need to get up there.”
 The Chief slid down the ladder with a massive metallic slam as his 275 pounds hit the walkway; he leaned to the side, allowing just enough room for ‘Pimp’ to climb up past him. As Pimp did so, the Chief grabbed his sinewy arm with his massive fist and and took a moment to stare down Pimp’s ambivalent face. “We just bought this beauty, it’s too late to get our money back, understand?”
“Yes Chief, would you please let me go? I'm running one last systems check before exfil."

 Chief hopped down and motioned for Brock and Scout to follow him back toward the hallway. “You see soldier, this is what happens to a good team when the leaders leave for five minutes.”
“So this 'Wolfe' is the second in command?” Brock specualted openly.

“Oh hell no.”
  Both Brock and Scout look up questioningly and almost runs into the Chief, he had stopped and was staring at the hallway before him. A whole row of wall panels were taken down leading straight down the corridor, exposing a mass of running wall circuits, wires, cords, and air ducts. The ship’s quaking were scattering the panels back and forth across the hallway. The massive clutter leads to an open maintenance shaft with a pair of combat boots sticking out of it. He strides toward them and violently grabs the boots with both hands.

“That better not be you Cook!”
“Wait!” A muffled voice emanates from the hatch, “Chief! NOoooo!”
There’s a loud metallic thump as Chief jerks the legs onto the deck, dragging a sweat soaked man and a few spilling tools after him; though most noticeably, in one clasping hand is a large, heavy looking metallic cylinder, and a primer in the other.

 Primer? Is that a... Fuck. Brock always hated being around high explosives.

The moment the Chief notices the primer’s proximity to the cylinder he stumbled backwards, “Fuck!” A rapidly forming bruise pulsed on the man’s brow, his expression was startled, and momentarily panicked. He dropped the explosive to the rattling deck before he rubbed his head and directed severe annoyance toward the Chief.

“You called oh fearless leader?”

Chief straightened up, quickly composed himself as his gaze darted between the cylinder, the primer, the wall, and finally resting cooly upon ‘Cook.’

“Cook, do I look drunk?”

‘Cook’ wiped his head again checking for blood, but finding only sweat before answering, “No Chief, I daresay you’re actually sober, we’re all so proud of you.” He snidely said before snatching up the dropped cylinder and carefully tucking his head back into the shaft; despite the roarous vibrations.

“Ok, so I actually am watching you stuff our preciously expensive new ship with high explosives?
“Just laying out some DFFC’s and a few EFP’s in the walls.”
“Not to mention I’d be a lot more comfortable if the high explosives stuffed in the wall were not snuggled right next to really expensive circuits.” Chief knocked on exterior circuits to illustrate.

“I’m so sorry if my saving our lives if we get boarded makes you uncomfortable. And the circuits are fine, container’s an inch thick, blast is going…” Cook makes the already spooked Chief jump again as he casually punches out a wall panel facing down the corridor they had come. “That way.”

“Can you at least be less messy about it? Did you really have to take down the whole wall?”
“I’m running a direct line from all of the charges straight to the cockpit, so ‘Jay’ can blow away any landing parties and we won’t have to worry about rogue signals setting these off.. Prematurely.”

 The Chief does a double take, “Hold on, what do you mean, ‘all’ of the charges? Just how much of my ship are you trying to destroy?”

“Relax, it’s perfectly safe as long as no one jerks my fucking feet while I’m trying to quietly set in the primer… Would you kindly hand me that hydrospanner?”

Chief glares at the smiling face and pointing hand peeking through the circuits for a moment before turning to Brock.

“The man makes the finest plastic I’ve seen outside a lab; though he’s a shitty chef and has no comprehension of value.”

“You can’t complain till you get me more than beans and paste to work with.”
 The Chief turns to Cook, partly addressing him now, “This is why we can’t have nice things, because you’re always taking them apart and blowing them up.”
“Well, that IS my job description.” Cook responded as Brock handed him the hydrospanner.
The Chief rolled his eyes and turned to continue toward the cockpit, “Just clean this shit up, sooner than later.”
“Roger Chief.”

 The trio stride down a long, winding, and tight hallway; doorways both open and closed that leads off to different rooms. The hallway finally culminates in a short stairway that leads to the cockpit. The Chief jumps through the bulkhead, there's a brief silence before he hears the Chief speak,

 "Y'all fucking planned this! Didn't you! Let's just think of every possible way to make Chief go fucking insane. Right?"

 The cockpit was tight, maybe five by seven meters and crowded with equipment. A huge mass of controls, electronic screens, nobs, dials, and overhead compartments that jutted rudely into headspace. A few bolted down chairs were placed close to the main control panel below a large window. Sitting on the chair is a man wearing light PT's. The intriguing aspect of the room is not the controls, or the navigator at the panel, but what is spaced on every surface of the room that isn't already covered by controls. Scout whistled long and slow, what must be hundreds of various pinups of hundreds of models in various states of undress surrounded the room. "So.... Jay, didn't tell me you were bringing out the collection..."

"Nah man, thought I'd make it a lovely surprise for you and our illustrious leader."

 Brock had to comment, "You know the cheapest datapads can easily hold terrabytes of info." Jay glanced from Chief toward Brock, "These are lucky mate, always flown better with them."

“The bloody hell!?” The Chief interjects, “Wolfe and I leave for one fucking day and everything has gone to shit, you’re playing house, Clutch is screwing around, Pimp is splattering us across the wall, and Cook’s rigging the whole ship to explode.”
“Cook’s doing whaa?” Jay interjects,
“If that happens, can we get the Sparrow back?” Scout queries.
“Both of you, shut up! Seriously Jay, what made you think you could get away with this? Do you think any client would take us seriously if he saw this? He'd think we're some floating fucking brothel! This cockpit has the same deal as on the Sparrow, you can keep your little mini-fridge and one - one! - of your little dirty pictures. Understood?"

 Jay's asenting nod corresponded with the hum and momentary mechanical grind of the shields and grav systems coming back online. The violent quaking of the ship ceased immediately, turning the thick metal flooring under their feet into hard earth; and giving the rising queasiness in Brock's stomach a moment to settle.

 Chief sighs as the new ship settles into its routine noises. "Jay, watch the skies and clean this shit up the moment we're on autopilot. Scout," he turns toward Brock and Scout, "show Brock his bunk to dump his gear then move to the cargo bay to help Clutch fix his shit."

"Roger Chief." Scout says as he turns and motions for Brock to follow.

 Met almost half the crew, Chief's not at all what I expected, and I’m not dead yet. So far, so good.

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