Spider Johnny strapped down the last of his repair robots with a sigh of relief. "Now to sic those fuckin’ lawyers on the asshole that thinks he’s bought Spiderworks, and by the time I’m back from Venus I can start work again." He growled under his breath, a sound echoed by a growl behind him. He swiveled on his third arm to aim a glare at Norman. "An’ find some nice little home for you, you worthless weenie!" the cyberwolf wagged his tail, tentatively. "I can’t believe you let that woman hit you with that stuff." He eyed the hopeful looking animal with dismay. "Hope to shit that crap wears off, no wonder it’s illegal."
He shoved back out of the cargo space, sealing the hatch behind him. He’d built his ship himself, from salvaged and repaired parts fitted together into a haphazard looking contraption that did exactly what he wanted it to do. It wasn’t split into discrete rooms, but was more of a lumpy maze through equipment that sort of blocked off a sleeping area, wound around a surprisingly sybaritic head complete with a water shower, dedicated air/water separation and filtering system and blow dryer of his own design, widened into a large open area around the airlock, then narrowed to a passage lined with computer and control stations that ended with the main navigation and pilot’s station. The comm chimed as he climbed past the airlock, and he hesitated. "Good fuckin’ lawyers or Bad fuckin’ lawyers?" he asked the machine. It just chimed again. "Might be good news for a fuckin’ change." He muttered, and hit the respond key.
The screen flashed with the ID and required sales tax registration of the caller. "Telewhores. Salesjerks. Good, I needed someone to dump on." He didn't bother to ‘right’ himself. Whoever answered it was going to get a view that looked like SpiderJohnny was going to fall out of the screen. "Maybe that'll shut them up quicker," He sneered, "Worked with the last joker," and accepted the call. It was a kid. Kiddieporn.Great.
The kid on the other end jumped satisfactorily enough, but then started talking with the dead-scared delivery of a novice actor on stage in front of a REAL LIVE AUDIENCE for the first time. Gah! No, it wasn’t a kid, it was one of the myriad of stupid women who thought men were attracted to stupid blond Barbie Doll types. He gulped a little as she bobbled a bit in zero G, showing considerable cleavage in clothing that assumed the presence of gravity. Maybe if she bobbled just a bit more energetically . . .
"Hello, sir or . . .ma'am?" said the Barbie, who looked like she was reading from a teleprompter, twisting her head to the side until she nearly fell over. SpiderJohnny snorted. The blonde continued, "We at FAST Corporation are calling to make you an offer in the fantastic new field of bio-enhanced maintenance technology. We are prepared to offer, without the usual deposit, a sixty-day trial of one of our F-Rats. These handy animals are trained to do maintenance in spaces the average human is unable to reach, without the problems a bot can have. You never have to recharge batteries, reprogram, or take the F-Rat apart to see why it isn't working."
SpiderJohnny had heard enough. The whole spiel had been accompanied by a blindingly cute smile. It was hit the kill switch or heave. He reached for the kill switch on the phone, then hesitated wouldn't it be nice if it really worked that way. He had just forked over an unbelievable chunk of dough for bot repairs . . .
"How much does this cost?" He asked suspiciously.
The Barbie, startled out of her set speech, gaped at him. Impatiently SpiderJohnny asked again, "How much?"
She recovered quickly and pasted that disgustingly perky grin back on, "For one of our top-of-the-line, state-of-"
SpiderJohnny interrupted the spiel again. "If I want the insert most appropriate adjective for audience speech I'll read the brochure, HOW MUCH!"
The Blonde Barbie Doll blinked like a space cadet. And bobbled again, not quite enough. Her eyes made him think of a blueberry yogurt he threw up once.Damned allergies. "Uh . . . Would you be interested in an 800-hour risk free trial of one F-Rat?"
"Hey, waita sec," the scene behind her suddenly clicked in his mind, "you're here. In my fuckin’ airlock."
"Well, yes, sir." She blinked innocently. "I just delivered two consignments of F-rats to companies here at the L4 station." She smiled proudly, "I brought an extra, in case there was a problem. But of course there wasn't!" she hastened to assure him. "When I saw your ship in the directory of current transients, I thought, this fine gentleman looks perfect for an F-rat trial!"
"Waita sec." He told her, blanking the screen. He flicked on the airlock monitors. He swung down and around to the airlock. Sure enough. There she was, looking at her hand phone. He thought about just foaming the lock and then tossing the Barbie off into space. It might be a trap. The bastards were everywhere. But . . . she was female. Cute, even. No, she wasn’t cute. She was stacked, and almost floating out of her clothes. The security cameras around his side of the airlock didn't show anyone else hanging around. It looked alright. Why do I do these things to myself! She ain’t gonna actually fall outta that lacy thing. Damn it. He keyed the airlock anyway.
"Come aboard," he said, scanning suspiciously around and behind her, as she squeezed by as far as she could get from him. I must be a masochist, or is that sadist? he wondered, as the Barbie looked up at him in terror. He had never bothered to detach from the ceiling.
"This is what happens when a baby grows up in microgravity, and develops a weird sense of humor combined with macabre practicality." He growled. "Don’t make any parlor jokes. Now, what have you done to a rat?"
"Well," she stammered, head craned back to look at the arachnoid apparition floating near the ceiling of the ship, "They're not really rats. They're genetically blended from rats, ferrets, cats, bats and," she swallowed nervously, "spider monkeys. They're smart, trainable, very agile and well adapted to microgravity—that's why I added the, um, monkey and bat genes." her eyes jerked to the left, and widened.
The big beefy man was grinning and extending a sheaf of papers toward Spider as he stepped through the hatch. Spider clamped his upper left cyberarm to a bracket and pivoted out and down toward the unwelcome visitor. As the man flew back out of the hatch, propelled by SpiderJohnny's lower left cyber arm (the longest, strongest one), the papers scattered. The man bounced off the far wall, got his magshoes onto the deck and charged back at the hatch. Spider hit the emergency close with his organic right, while grabbing the nearest movable object (a fire extinguisher) to throw at him. Beefy was just starting to say something when the hatch quick-cycled. Spider knew all too well what it would have been. Repo men were so predictable. Spider tripped the safety override, and punched the manual undocking trigger. He spun toward the controls and froze in shock. "Ah, shit! WhatamIgonna do with YOU!"
The Barbie Doll was frozen in horror against the far bulkhead. "Are they, are they . . . pirates?" she squeaked.
SpiderJohnny looked back in equal horror, "No, that was the Repo Man of Outer Space." Which led to a rather unpleasant thought. "Excuse me," He said in mock politeness. "I'd better check something." He picked her up and threw her in a corner so he could get to the bridge. Sure enough, no less than three tugs were moving in on him. He tapped in a short low-level burn from the forward maneuvering jets. He contemplated for just a moment what his reengineered communications laser would do to one of them. Better not. He tapped the rear thruster control. That would keep them calculating vectors long enough for him to calculate his next maneuver. He called up his precalcs on the Venus transfer, that would speed things up!
"Repo?" the Barbie squeaked, somewhere behind him. "Repo? But, but. I checked your credit! Why? How?" The poor blonde wasn't even coherent. Good. Confused and delirious beat chipper and helpful any day. Foaming her might be the best all around solution. Later.
"I don’t suppose someone might have sort of, oh, maybe suggested I might be a good customer? Did they?" She nodded, numbly. "And did it ever occur to that insignificant vacuum headed little brain of yours THAT THE CREDIT REPORT MIGHT BE COOKED?!"
"Actually, that nice Mr. Freydon escorted me, so I wouldn't get lost." She said in a small voice. "But he didn't come all the way." She looked at the scan screen and her eyes widened as she saw how far they were from the station. "Hey! Where are we going? You have to let me out of here!"
"I'll drop you someplace as soon as I can, but I ain’t gonna let them take my ship. It's the only means I have of earning a living." He rubbed his itching nose. "I just egramed money to my lawyers, they'll get this all straightened out." He sneezed violently, "I should be able to drop you at L5, by tomorrow." He sniffed deeply, rubbing his face with both organic hands. "What kind of perfume are you wearing?" He asked suspiciously, "Don't you know . . . " His voice drifted to a halt as he focused on the twitching snout emerging from the kid's waist pouch. The sight of it seemed to encourage his sinuses to expand and press on every pain nerve in his head.
"Oh," the Barbie chirped, scooping the rodent out of the bag and holding it out to him. "This is Farengi."
A volley of sneezes prevented any reply but a desperate warding off gesture.
"Are you allergic to things?" She asked in a concerned tone. She didn't seem to understand his 'get it away from me' gestures.
"Allerg -Ach," Spider unsuccessfully stifled another sneeze. He swiped an organic hand across the tears pooling in his eyes, and gasping for breath, reached out to the rat with his multipurpose upper right cyber arm, scissor blades extended. In a smooth quick sweep, he snicked the whiskers off the left side of the rat's muzzle.
The rodent fled up the blonde's arm and around behind her neck. It peeked out, with horrified, round eyes, one hand to its violated face. The blonde shrunk back with horrified, round eyes, one hand to her face.
The comp chimed. Forgoing his usual checks, Spider hit the execute button. The sudden acceleration threw the Barbie Doll and her hideous creature against the rear bulkhead, with twin shrieks. And a deep growl. Apparently Norman had come to check out the visitor, and judging by the gleam in his eye, ferret-rats weren’t on the list of things he feared.
"Eat it, Norman!" he called, then buried his face in his hanky again for another volley. He could hear various shrieks, yips and weird screams over his sneezing. Panting, he hastily wiped his eyes as the noise died down. Norman was nowhere to be seen, the F-rat had handfuls of black and gray hair in its hands and mouth, and the Barbie Doll had indeed fallen out of her clothes.
"Wow." He said, stunned. "Can I kiss you?"
She shrieked, trying to simultaneously flee and pull her clothes together. "Get away from me! You and your horrible dog!" she looked around, spotted the simple door to the head, jerked it open and scrambled inside, slamming it after her.
"Hey! You forgot your Fuckin’ allergy factory!" Spider yelled through the door. It closed even tighter, as if she were pulling on the knob as hard as she could. The rat thing gave a scream worthy of a cat in heat and launched itself past him, diving into the space between two computer monitors.
"Don’t you dare hurt Farengi!" she screamed through the door, then shoved it open, knocking him back.
His eyes widened as he saw what she held. "Not in here! Not in here! OH FUCK!" she opened up with the hand held showerhead and hit him in the face. He leaped for her, missed when she ducked back, but shoved the door shut. He dived and snatched the blanket off his bed and threw it at the most obvious spray of water, grabbed a short metal bar and jammed it across the corridor, effectively locking the Barbie Doll from Hell in the head. Then he started frantically mopping up drops of water, and grabbing a roll of paper towels, started drying the equipment she’d hit. Nothing crucial, thank god. His head jerked around as he heard electrical snaps and spits from forward. "What the HELL! The water can’t have gotten that far." He hustled forward, "Oh shit." Smoke from the main pilot’s console. He jerked it open, careless of damage. Blinking in the acrid smoke, he barely saw the hairy streak zipping out of the panel. "Hope you’re fried, Rat!" he yelled, then seeing the loose wires that no longer led to the chip that wasn’t there, settled down to serious swearing. "I hope you like Venus, ‘cause I can’t change course without that chip your FUCKIN’ RAT’s got!" He yelled at the Barbie. Not that she could hear him.
By the time he’d located a replacement chip, set it up, programmed it and tested it, they were well out of Earth’s gravity field on their way to Venus. "Way too Fuckin’ late to ditch the Barbie Doll," He growled. Then sneezed.
"Warning! Emergency Separation in Progress!" blared the speakers. Chuck was moving before he was consciously aware of it, dodging people slower than him, scanning the info system boards for loss of integrity flags. None, no loss of atmosphere. He slowed a bit, down to surprisingly fast, instead of inhumanly fast. His heart was thudding and he could feel the heat rolling off his skin. His implants were no doubt frantically scavenging adrenaline from his system, but it would take them a few minutes to catch up to the emergency flood. He jumped into an elevator, "everyone but emergency personnel, out now" he snapped, tapping in his clearance. Wolfe hurtled through the doors as they closed.
"How did you do that?" He gasped.
"All due to clean healthy living." The elevator shot up to the hub, and he swung out, flowing against the stream of people clearing the damaged area.
Yellow rotating emergency lights were flashing in a distant section of the station. An Emergency Response Team was grouped around a docking bay, manhandling a struggling civilian away from the airlock controls. Chuck clicked both feet down firmly, grabbed the civilian and yanked him away from the bay, and marched him off out of the way of the emergency team.
"Hey! " The man yelped, "Why did you do that. I almost had him." He glared.
Woods released the man, who floated to the deck in a sprawl. He crossed his arms, looked down and smiled, "Ha! You were more likely to be almost human space junk, floating around bumping into things, than you were of catching someone."
The man, having got his mag shoes on the deck strip, looked quickly back at the now closed hatch. He stared at the hatch for a long time, without saying anything, then turned back to look at the Major. "Oh!" he gulped, "Thanks!"
"No problem! " said Woods and flashed him a grin "Actually, I was just saving myself from the tons of paperwork I would have had to fill out, if you had managed to get yourself spaced. "
"Yeah, I just bet that is the real reason." grumbled the man. Then he whipped back towards the closed hatch and with a panic stricken voice said, "Spider is getting away! We have to stop him and bring him back. His ship belongs to Orbital LTD now, I served the papers. And what about that girl, she was kidnapped! I witnessed it all." He finally started to finally run out of breath and looked back pleading towards Woods.
"Slow down man. " answered Woods. "First off, he may be getting away as you say, but we can track him from the L4's Station's Control Room." he explained, holding up a hand to forestall him saying anything else, as he tapped in a code into his portable comm.
"Station Control, this is Major Woods, Criminal Investigations. Do you have a ship on sensors that just made an emergency separation from L4's Docking Bay 23? Good, maintain a close watch on that ship. I want to know where it goes. " Woods paused for second, thinking, then continued, "and also keep an eye on any other ships making contact with that ship. This is a Level Alpha 3 Security Alert. Thanks, I'll be there shortly."
He returned the comm to his vest pocket and turned back to the man, continuing as if he had never made the call, "Secondly, Who the hell are you?"
"Mic Freydon, L4 Debt Collection, Ltd."
Good grief, the Repo man?
"Thirdly, it would appear that the legal status of his ship is still up in the air . . . " Woods grinned and pointed towards some papers drifting near the docking hatch. ". . . literally."
"Well, I tried to serve them." sputtered Freydon.
Freydon had gotten up off the deck and had somehow straightened his clothing back to perfection. How did he manage to do that, wondered Woods, thinking of his own disheveled look at the moment. Freydon started to reply, but at just that moment, the Emergency Response Team turned their attention from the lock to the witnesses.
Woods pulled out his badge and held it out for the Team to see, saying, "Relax gentlemen, I'm Major Woods, CI. Have you checked the hatch area for any damage, I don’t hear any air leaks."
The team leader looked at him and Freydon for a few seconds, "We have mandated procedures, as I’m sure you know. And I’m sure you will file your report promptly with Station Control. Both of you." The rest of the team returned their attention to the hatch area, pulling off panels and inserting diagnostic tools.
Turning back to Freydon, Woods asked again "You said ‘Spider’s getting away’ SpiderJohnny, I take it?" the civ nodded "Why the repo job on Spider's ship? I've had my dealings with Spider over the years and checked him out. According to all reports he's been fairly good about paying his bills, if somewhat late at times. And he's not a criminal, no matter what his attitude and appearance may suggest. So why the repo?"
"Well, umm" Freydon began, "Mr. Spider was very late in his ship payments, actually he had missed the last six months worth. He claimed that he had some money due, to pay off his back charges, but was having trouble collecting it. It sounded like the usual 'stall them a little longer' tale to me."
Woods pondered for a moment, and asked, "Did he happen to mention who owed him the money?" If Spider said someone owed him money, then somebody did owe him.
Freydon, a bit caught off guard by the question, hesitated a second before answering "Oleg Ori. Well you don’t really expect me, or my company, to believe the biggest construction company in space isn’t paying its bills, do you?"
Now it was Woods turn to stare. "Oleg Ori? You sure he said that?" queried the intrigued Major.
"Yes, I’m sure. " returned Freydon, a bit indignantly.
Woods now began to run things through his head. Something was definitely going on out here, but what? Spider and Oleg? And Oleg had withheld payment of some sort, almost causing Spider to lose his ship. "This is definitely interesting," said Woods.
"Umm, like, what was that you were saying about a girl?" Wolfe broke his silence.
Freydon stopped dead, "Oh, hell, I used the idiot to get Spider to open his hatch. No one can resist a pretty girl. And she was inside when he hit the emergency button." He gulped a bit. "What is he likely to do to her?"
"Scare her to death," growled Chuck. "Spider’s not what you’d call normal, but I doubt he’ll actually . . . well, he’s been know to treat wannabe thieves roughly. Humph. We’ll trace him, and contact him about dropping her off."
"Will he listen to you?" Wolfe looked up at him a bit doubtfully.
"Maybe. At least he knows me. Come along Freydon, we have things to talk over." He watching Freydon as he grabbed the loose papers on the fly. "I need to go over these papers with you and anything else you have."