The next episode of my latest sci-fi work in progress.
Here's the next piece from the upcoming Brent Bolster book, Double Infinity. The first episode is here, the second part is here, the third part is here, the fourth part is here, the fifth part is here.
If you're not familiar with Brent and the others, this is sci-fi comedy with elements of Star Trek, Douglas Adams, and more. The first book is called Dial G for Gravity, and there's a link after the snippet below.
“Step into my office,” Gernst said, disappearing through a small doorway.
Ducking his head, Squernshall followed, stepping into a space that felt constrained, as though it was little more than a broom cupboard. The place was pitch dark, but that wasn’t what troubled him the most. “By the stars, what’s that stench? Has something died in here?”
Gernst shrugged. “It’s probably the chemicals we put in the water. I can’t smell them anymore. I used to think they were pretty strong, but I guess I got used to them. Either that or they burned out my olfactory receptors.” He stepped farther inside, vanishing in the darkness, and Squernshall heard a muffled thud followed swiftly by a restrained grunt. “Flek! I need to clear this place out. Mind your eyes. I’m putting the light on.”
A green glow filled the room, and Squernshall looked around, taking in the stacks of plastic drums, the tangles of wire and loops of plastic tubing. He’d been wrong about the room’s size. It was a sizeable storage bay, and it looked as though Gernst had made it his home. On one side, crumpled sheets covered a rickety cot, and a pile of dirty laundry was heaped in the corner. Pride of place, though, was given to jerry-built desk: a battered sheet of alloy supported by two upended storage crates.
“Very nice,” Squernshall said. “Homely.”
“Wrong,” Gernst replied. “On both counts. It’s a shit-hole, but never mind.” He sat down, perching on a chemical drum, and waved toward a squat metal canister. “Take a pew.”
Squernshall’s lips twitched. “I’d rather stand, thank you, Gernst.”
But Gernst shook his head firmly. “Firstly, don’t use that name down here, or we’ll both be in danger. The same goes for my rank. And secondly, please don’t refuse my hospitality. We have our own ways of doing things in the black jackets. We don’t have much, so when we offer something, it hurts our feelings to have it thrown back in our faces. And there’s no point in upsetting me, or we’re just not going to be able to work together.”
“But you don’t really belong down here, Gern–” Squernshall bit back his words then tried again, lowering his voice. “You’re an officer, a captain, not a black jacket.”
Gernst was on his feet and around his desk, advancing on Squernshall, his mean features twisted into a savage scowl. “I won’t warn you again. No names. No ranks. Choose your words wisely or don’t speak at all.”
Anger set Squernshall’s mind ablaze, but he pushed his furious thoughts aside. There’d be time for reprimands later, but right now, Gernst was holding all the cards. “All right, if that’s the way you want it,” he said slowly. “What should I call you?”
“What I want has nothing to do with it,” Gernst shot back, “but there are some things that I need for survival, and my identity as a black jacket is one of them.” He let his words hang in the air for a moment, then he went back to his improvised seat. “Let’s start again. They call me, Moshabok. Take a seat and we’ll talk.”
Squernshall planted his backside gingerly on the metal canister, trying not to wonder what it had held. “Okay, Moshabok. I have some things I’d like to show you. The files are on my handset. Encrypted.”
“Sounds interesting. Drink?”
“What have you got?” Squernshall asked doubtfully. “I don’t suppose you can get much without venturing up to the other decks.”
Gernst flashed a toothy grin. “You’d be amazed at what we can lay our hands on. Every now and then a cargo pod gets diverted on its way to the loading bays, know what I mean?”
“Theft of government property. Despicable.” Squernshall folded his arms, but now that he thought about it, his throat was a little dry. “So, you wouldn’t happen to have any whiskey from Earth, would you? It’s filthy stuff really, but somehow, I’ve developed a taste for it.”
“Let’s see.” Gernst pulled a crate from beneath his desk. Glass tinkled, and Squernshall ran his tongue over his teeth.
“Scottish, Irish, or Japanese?” Gernst asked. “They’re all blends I’m afraid. There were a few bottles of single malt, but they went long ago.”
“You’re a connoisseur! Well, well, that is a pleasant surprise.”
Gernst grunted. “Not really. I just know good contraband when I see it, and this stuff makes great bribes for the guards. You’d think they wouldn’t know whiskey from degreasing solvent, but they do. Apparently.” He sighed. “At least they died clean.”
“Are you implying that the guards on this station are open to bribery? Give me their names. I’ll have them–”
“Shush! Remember what I said. Now, do you want this drink or not?”
Squernshall squirmed in his seat. “Yes. How about a little of each?” He licked his lips. “One at a time, obviously. I’m not a dipsomaniac.”
“I’m not judging you.” Gernst lifted a bottle, pouring a generous measure into a fingerprint-smeared plastic cup. He pushed the drink across the desk. “This is the Irish, or that’s what they call it. It’s all synthetic, anyway, but it’s as good as you’re going to get on this station.”
“Cheers.” Squernshall gulped the amber liquid down in one swallow then slammed the cup down, smacking his lips. “Not bad.” He pushed the cup back toward Gernst. “One more, perhaps. Or two. Just to get the stink of this place out of my nostrils.”
Unsmiling, Gernst poured from a different bottle. “This is my home, you know. It’s as good as I can make it, and let’s not forget why I’m down here.” He sniffed. “Anyway, let’s get down to business. What have you got for me?”
“Ah, wait a second.” Squernshall took a long draft of his second drink then set it down. He pulled out his handset, mumbling under his breath as his fingers performed a complicated dance over the screen. “Unlock sequence,” he explained. “I have it encrypted so many different ways, it’s harder to crack than an Andelian stone soufflé.”
“Don’t you believe it,” Gernst said with a smirk. “I’ve got a friend down here who can get into anything. Five seconds with that handset and he could tell you what you had for breakfast three months ago.”
Squernshall blinked. “Depends on the day of the week. I usually have a couple of deep-fried garter snakes at the start of the week, but after a few days I go onto python sushi.” He patted his stomach. “Better for the waistline.”
“Bloody hell,” Gernst muttered, holding out his hand, his palm upward. “Show me the files. I haven’t got all day.”
“Certainly.” Squernshall placed the handset carefully on Gernst’s hand. “I opened the directory. Read the report then flick through the images and tell me what you make of them.”
Thanks for Reading 🙂
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