- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
ALEJANDRO CRISTOBAL MARQUEZ PUT HIS hands behind his back and stood amid the dim lights and harsh noises of the portside bar. His palms were slippery with sweat and his chest tightened; he hoped that his anxiety and hatred did not show in his face. Before him, the tall, dark-skinned tauCaptain rocked his chair back, put his feet on the table, and skimmed the contents of Sandro's Certificate. The blue light of the Certificate's readout flickered across the tauCaptain's face, imparting a demonic look to the high cheekbones and oriental eyes. Sandro cautiously relaxed his clenched hands and resisted the urge to look around, convinced that the other spacers were grinning and poking each other with their elbows. They had watched this scene before.
The tauCaptain tapped the Certificate with his finger and the blue light faded as he tossed the disk on the tabletop.
"It says here you're a Second, newly commissioned," he said.
"And you want to ship with me?"
Sandro's throat felt dry. "Rumor has it that you need a Second, sir. That you've been on MarketPort four days over schedule, looking for one. I'm a Second by paper, not promotion . . . it's hard to find a berth. I took my chances."
"Aerie-Kennerin does not ship neophytes."
"No sir. But A-K doesn't ship without Seconds either." Sandro held his breath, but the captain's lips tiltedupward. He swung his feet from the table. The front legs of the chair made a sharp noise amid the cacophony of the bar.
"Get a chair . . . um . . . " He glanced at the Certificate. "Marquez. Am I pronouncing that right?"
"Yes, sir." Sandro pulled a chair to the table, feeling slightly relieved.
The tauCaptain could still turn him down, or demand of him an evening of listening and companionship before casting him off, but could not, now, laugh and dismiss him in the publicity of the bar. The seven months since he'd received his commission had been full of such rejections; to be turned down by this man, this probable enemy, would especially hurt. Perhaps, he thought without much hope, this Kennerin was a minor one; a distant cousin or a second son. Sandro sat and looked at his Certificate lying on the table amid the collection of empty vibraglasses, then glanced at the captain. He didn't look like a monster.
The captain shouted an order at a passing shimmer-tray and gestured. Sandro ordered. The tray arrived with the fresh drinks, flashed a green acceptance of the tauCaptain's thumbprint, and hovered over the table. The empty vibraglasses snicked out of existence, and the tray floated into the smoky darkness.
The captain peered at Sandro's drink. "That's Jel-Watr," he said accusingly. "Don't you drink?"
"I do, sir. But not tonight."
"Huh." The tauCaptain adopted a serious expression. "My name is Jes Kennerin, and I am very, very drunk. Remember that. Also remember that I remember, if that makes any sense. Any conditions we bind tonight, we bind finally. I don't go back on my word. Is that understood?"
"Stop that. This is a bar, not a ship. Call me Kennerin."
"Kennerin," Sandro said. The name didn't choke him. "Call me Marquez."
The tauCaptain nodded and raised his glass. "A society of families," he said. "Marquez. Sounds familiar."
"It's not uncommon," Sandro said, more casually than he felt. There was a Parallax agent dead on Marquez Landing, as much a part of Sandro as the paper Second, as his pride, as the memory of home. He evened his voice. "Not uncommon," he said again.
"You're probably right. Drink. I want to hear about paper training, Marquez. What in hell does a paper trainer know about Seconding a tauship?"
"Grab mechanics," Sandro said, relieved. "Astrogation and binary tauseep, pinpointing, controls maintenance, invalidation process, invoicing and documentation, controls port function and procedures, customs processes--"
Kennerin waved this away with a long hand. "Fine. You know everything there is to know, except bow to Second a tauship. Ever been on one?"
"I came in on one, sir. Nobody's native to MarketPort."
"I run a class 5b/14 merchant ship, basic 17 sub 5, reconditioned to a type G rating. Tell me about her."
Sandro talked for half an hour. Kennerin listened, blue eyes bright in his dark face. At times he drummed his fingers on the tabletop. Finally he waved at Sandro to stop.
"You're wrong on that," he said. "She's got seven four-gee holds, not five. But that's a custom change. Can you ship out tomorrow?"
"I can ship out now, sir."
"Eager, aren't you?"
Sandro's breath caught, but the tauCaptain took Sandro's Certificate, skimmed through the contracts section, and tapped the cassette for writing mode.
"Four-year contract, and I'm starting you as apprentice Second. Full Second after the first year, if you make it. Five hundred fremarks the run for the first year, with a twelve-fremark base for each month in space. We'll renegotiate after you reach full Second -- you'll get crew-gains then, too. You'll ship with me or any other A-K captain, on assignment. Standard duties, port leave, all the rest. Agreed?"
Sandro nodded and the tauCaptain pushed his thumb at the Certificate, then offered it to Sandro. Sandro unclenched his hands and carefully tapped in his personal code, thumbprinted the Certificate, and slipped it into his pocket. The captain twisted in his chair and waved at a passing tray.
Sandro took a deep breath. "I don't think you should do that, sir."
"It's the duty of a Second to make sure that all officers and crew are fit for space by end of leavetime, sir. As your Second, I think you've had enough."
Kennerin's face hardened. "You're not a full Second, Marquez."
"I have the feeling that I've made a very bad mistake."
Kennerin stared at him and pushed away from the table. Sandro's shoulders loosened, and as he followed the captain from the bar he made a rude gesture at the spacers watching him. Most of them laughed.
Spacers jostled and roared all along Dullard's Walk. Most of the light globes were broken and the Walk glowed in the lights of the passing colorfloats. The tauCaptain paused at the bar's door, shook his head, and put his hand on Sandro's shoulder. Sandro looked at the hand, then glanced up at the captain's face.
"Not very tall, are you?" Kennerin said.
Sandro's face heated. "And you're not so short, captain. Where's the rest of the crew?"
"Somewhere. I'll find them. You have anything to pack?"
Sandro frowned. His small rented room contained a few extra pieces of clothing, a borrowed book, the landlord's battered, stale-smelling furniture -- nothing he needed, nothing he couldn't replace, nothing he ever wanted to see again. He touched his hip pouch; it seemed sufficient luggage for an exile. He shook his head and followed Kennerin down the crowded rowdiness of Dullard's Walk.
Pelican's Nest was stuffed to the doors; its walls seemed to bulge with the beat of music that shook the pavement but could not be heard over the rest of the noise. Spacers surrounded the Beard of Kaipha, Lizard's Revenge, the Frog King, and Scow's Folly. Seven different tunes met with a discordant jangle overhead and the colorfloats shimmered, whispering enticements to lurid, fraudulent ecstasies. Jes Kennerin shoved his way down the Walk. Sandro, trailing in his wake, pondered the tauCaptain's broad shoulders and club of black hair, but they told him nothing. They reached a public caller; the tauCaptain banged his message into it and paid with his thumb, and soon Dullard's Walk glowed with colorfloats carrying the captain's insignia and flashing the boarding signal. Sandro frowned at them.
"Will that be enough?"
"Yeah. They want to ship out as much as I do. Maybe as much as you do." The captain looked over the Walk, his expression unreadable, then shoved through the crowds again.
Copyright © 1980, 2002 by Marta Randall