The ship has barely been on planet when there's already
five messages on their voicemail. They're from a person called Otto
Harkaman, who wants to either sign on to work passage, or even willing
to pay for passage if that's necessary. The messages seem quite desperate
-- clearly he wants to get offworld very badly.
Ed "Shark" Teeth, the ship's First Officer, picks out a mid-range bar in the starport jurisdiction -- the Blue Bonnet Bar. Unfortunately there's nothing with a decent wine list or anything else. Culture is somewhat lacking, it seems. He sends a message to Otto to meet them there in an hour -- they'll be the two shortest people in the place, Ed says.
Meanwhile Teri Cralla will accompany Vonish Kehnaan on a quest for ship's supplies.
Robert Morris will keep track of everyone from his position on the bridge. They're all a little concerned about safety here. Helia even suggests figuring out how to use her yo-yo as a weapon...
Helia decides to wear her zack, with the necklace safety device, under a bright multi-colored vest. Ed just wears normal shore leave clothes.
Otto has been checking the information on the starport arrivals. This ship looks like his best chance to get out of Vargoe. It's reported as the H.M.S. Third Eye, 600t Research Ship, Zodiac class, registered in the Third Imperium with home port as Adabicci / Lunion / Spinward Marches; no future flight plans have been filed.
Ed and Helia arrive a few minutes early at the Blue
Bonnet Bar. It's a sparse single room bar. Accommodations are
spartan -- there are plain functional tables and chairs, no booths.
If the place were full, they'd be understaffed, but since there's only
a few people here the one waiter can handle it just fine.
Otto walks up to them right away and asks them if they're who he's looking for. They certainly match the "short" description, although one of them -- Helia -- looks like a 12 year old girl. Otto wears an onboard uniform of the Honest Horrace, a Sword World ship, with an engineering patch. He's in his twenties, clean-cut and seems quite direct and straightforward. His eyes are a little close-set, his nose a little large. He says he's spent sixteen months on the freighter, coming straight out from Gram. He introduces himself as Otto Harkaman, and says he missed his ship because he was wrongfully detained.
Ed introduces himself, and wants something decent to drink. The options are beer. When pressed by Helia, the waiter admits they have whiskey too -- she orders a boilermaker, which she has to describe to him. Ed and Otto settle for beer.
Ed asks Otto for his records -- he hands over the usual card, which Ed plugs into his hand computer and uploads to the ship for Robert to check it out. Otto says it only contains information up to sixteen months ago, back when he was in the Gram Navy. He adds that he was working as 3rd Engineer on the freighter, in charge of fuel purification and waste reclamation. In the Navy he did some gunnery, a brief stint in communications, and has a degree in Athletics. He's also pretty decent at gravitics. It sounds like he's perfectly qualified for the job of Assistant Engineer on the Third Eye. He always used to stand double watches, he says, which is how he made Lieutenant in five years.
Ed then asks Otto if he's met a bassalope, or a starfish... um, hiver? Otto hasn't. Helia tells him not to stare at hivers, because they don't like it; they have hidden tentacles and if you stare too much they'll get you.
Otto says, "I don't think we're in much danger of running into one here, are we?"
Helia replies, "That depends whether you get off planet with us or not. By the way, the bassalope -- you've got to always pet him between the ears and do everything he says."
Helia then wants to ask Otto an interview question.
She gets him to hold his fingers out, and puts on them the same finger
puzzle that mystified the Marquis. "Now get it off," she says.
Otto seems to have a little trouble with it. The beer arrives, as do the boilermaker components, while Otto tries all sorts of things to get free. Eventually he pushes his fingers together, by accident apparently, and Helia tells him he can get it off now. He takes it off one finger, and after pulling at it for a moment on the other finger, holds it out to Helia and says she can take it back now. She pops it off his finger and puts it back in her pack.
Helia then offers Otto some candy. He declines, saying that it was a dozen little mints that got him in trouble here in the first place. She assures him this won't get him in trouble, and he takes her at her word and has some. Ed takes some from her candy bag too.
Otto explains why he missed his ship. "It really wasn't my fault. The justice was supposed to be there, but the next day there were a lot of people who just weren't where they were supposed to be. Then I had to get in touch with the governor and he was supposed to hear my case, and then they finally just released me to the starport authority. They never charged me with anything."
Robert has checked out Otto Harkaman, and passed
the record on to Mich. Both agree he seems harmless and useful.
The local police have no records on him at all; the records are, however,
a bit disorganized for the last few days. He passes this on to Ed.
He also tells Ed that there was indeed a coup, and a bunch of people got
executed. Nothing much of interest has happened in the starport.
Up in orbit, though, are a bunch of military satellites all aimed downwards,
ready to launch on warning.
This combination of items worries Ed. He wants to be sure the ship can leave at a moment's notice if the missiles fire. Robert and Mich reassure him that they can get out -- the dome of the docking bay is quite weak, and if necessary they could always jump from ground.
Ed and Helia take Otto back to the ship. The bar bill is presented in some local currency; Ed leaves 5Cr, which seems quite acceptable. Helia leaves the waiter a handful of candy, too.
The three of them arrive at the docking bay, and
walk out to board the Third Eye.
Otto notes that the ship is clearly new, high-tech, and a limited production run. It's shaped somewhat like a flying wing or manta ray, sort of like a large Animal class safari ship but with a long tail section and flared up wingtips. It looks quite spectacular, not a regular freighter, and clearly not a warship either. The airframe hull has one turret mounted under the nose -- with of course limited vertical traverse -- and what looks like a single tube missile launcher further along under the ship.
They lead the newcomer aboard, and to the module lounge. Otto sees it's certainly not a military ship -- it's too well appointed. Definitely more like a yacht, and a fancy one at that.
Ed says it's a privately owned research ship. The owner -- not on board -- is Marquis Marcus Crestworthy. There is, however, another noble on board -- the Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead.
The Grand Am introduces himself, and reaches out to shake Otto's hand. Otto salutes him, which certainly seems to impress the ship's doctor. The Baron insists he's retired and shakes his hand, but appreciates the gesture very much.
Mich was last seen heading off to engineering grumbling that Vonish had left the ship but not made him any coffee.
It turns out that Otto can lead calisthenics, or judo practice, and Ed immediately thinks of how to apply this to their zack training.
Misha is introduced, along with his jherig who seems undisturbed by the swordworlder. The bassalope doesn't approach with the Admiral around.
Ed and Helia discuss whether Otto could be tested with the Marquis' special test equipment. Helia thinks that Mich would be more relaxed if he knew his assistant didn't have special abilities. Ed points out that Mich will continue to wear his silly hat anyway, regardless of the result.
Otto knows exactly what they're talking about. He says, "When I was a kid, the Sword Worlds and the Zho were very friendly -- things have changed a lot since then -- but I was tested. All kids in my age group were tested and they said that I was a deadhead, and left me and went onto the next one."
Helia mentions to Ed that just because the Zhodani said it, doesn't make it so. Ed says he'll figure out a test.
Vonish and Teri arrive back on board from the shopping
trip. Vonish quickly takes over operation of the coffee pot and gets
some of Mich's stuff brewing right away.
Ed introduces Otto to Vonish. He says it would be nice if Otto brought an introductory mug of coffee down to his potential supervisor.
While the coffee brews, Ed sits Otto down and starts questioning him. Otto looks more something more comfortable, like a solid straight-backed chair -- he squirms uncomfortably on the squishy soft chairs. Ed says he's tested Otto's mind-sucking-joeness, and he can now tell Mich that he's not a mind-sucking-joe (he'll test the footballs later).
Otto peers at the mug of coffee. He doesn't drink it himself, and this cup reinforces his opinion.
Down in engineering, Ed introduces Otto to Mich.
Otto hands over the mug of coffee.
Ed hands over Otto's military records and tells Mich that he also has some recent engineering assistant experience.
Otto explains, "Fuel purification, waste reclamation, little bit of gunnery, odd mechanic jobs."
Ed says, "And he can stand watch and use a broom."
Mich asks, "You don't mind clearing up bits of metal debris? Pulling seaweed out of gravitic components?"
Mich asks, "You don't know anything about antimatter generators, do you?"
Otto rewards him with the expected reaction, and adds that fission is great.
Mich asks him if he has any gear to pick up.
Otto says his bag is on board. That's all he had when he left the Honest Horrace -- or rather when it left him. "It was not my fault," he says, "I just had twelve of those little mints."
Ed makes a mental note to check with Vonish and make sure he didn't pick up any mints. (Later, when he does, he finds that Vonish has none of the mints; he's also in an evil mood because of the terrible supplies available here. There is not a thing worth eating here, he says.)
Helia asks if there'll be a warrant out for Otto because of missing his ship.
Ed reassures her that is unlikely. He adds, "At least you had more than one bar on this world, Otto. Where Vonish and Robert came from, there was just one bar. It's OK if we drop you back in the Imperium, right?"
"Just don't drop me off on any elf worlds, and I'll be fine," says Otto.
Helia looks at him quizzically. She does not, however, look anything like the elves that Otto is talking about.
"Those Darrians," explains Otto.
Mich says that some of them are certainly OK.
"I don't have any problem with them," says Otto, "but they don't like us."
Ed heads off to find Vonish, and offers Otto a stateroom in the crew section. Some of the module staterooms are being used as storage while they use the cargo bay for exercise. Ed also offers Otto a place in the grav craft races; Otto explains that he's just never managed to pass the qualification test -- some of the questions are quite tricky.
Ed comes to a decision. "I think we should
take this fellow on trial until..."
"I never went to trial," interrupts Otto, "They released me to the starport authorities. Oh, like try-out, OK."
Ed continues, "... we get back on a trade route. Navigator, when is that going to be?"
Helia says, "It'll take a while."
Otto says, "So which direction are you guys headed?"
"South," replies Ed.
"Rimward," corrects Helia. "Jake, and then Ferle. Jake is friendly, and should be a decent place for supplies. It's an M Ag Ni."
"Are we hitting any of the routes on the way down?"
"No. Crosspatch was our last one."
Ed turns back to Otto. "So it will be about a six month trial position. That's when we get back into a major trade route. If we don't work out with each other we can separate our ways there."
At the downport, where they land, it turns out to
be quite pleasant. The sun shines the whole day, and so the world
is on standard time. Ed asks Helia if she wants to go out for a fly,
and she asks Otto -- after all, he said he was flying on those pills.
"Mints," Otto corrects her. He also explains that while the elves
have figured out gravbelts, the scientists on Gram
have always had quite painful failures.
The world is very much an agricultural sort of community, friendly and peaceful. The starport is a Class C, with local tech level 9. The bureaucracy is refreshingly easy to deal with -- given the system's location, that is surely to their advantage.
Ed announces that it's a good world for them to relax and stretch their legs. They'll spend an extra day here. Otto is delighted to discover that he's likely to get liberty on every port -- this crew really is a soft option.
To Vonish's delight, there is a farmers' market.
Not only fruits and vegetables, but also meat. Teri sighs, starts
to get her gear, but is stopped by Ed. The First Officer considers
this place safe enough that she doesn't have to baby-sit their cook on
his shopping trips.
Ed asks the starport official whether they have met hivers. No, they haven't, but there's no reason non-humans aren't welcome here. Sagan decides this is a good place to stretch hir legs.
Grand Admiral Baron Bridgehead wants to find a nice upper class bar, free of annoying rabble. Certainly his chances of finding such a place are better here than they have been anywhere else for a while.
Unfortunately there isn't much in the way of bars here. It's very much a farming community, and isn't set up as an entertainment place.