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The assault on my intelligence awoke me from a light doze. I was lying on a cold, hard, flat slab of a grayish plastic. The thin blanket that covered two thirds of my body did little to keep out the slight chill in the air. I rolled over on to my side and rested my head on my hand, my elbow being the foundation of my support.
“What? Why?” I shakily replied to the older human standing beside an identical slab on the opposite side of the small room. His name was Gabe Wyndham, he was about twenty or twenty five years older than me. He had been a friend of my fathers and I had known of him most of my life. It wasn't until I got out to the frontier that I actually met him. He was rather nicely dressed. The loud, garish colors were in fashion in the current system I was visiting.
“Why did you, all five foot three inches of you, decide it was a good idea to brawl with the six foot eight tall Martian......... and in my favorite bar at that?” A whine of annoyance in his voice.
“He asked me to.” I replied, still trying to wake up. I hated mornings, I especially hate mornings when I did not have coffee to drink.
“He asked you to?” He blurted out, his eyes bulging and his cheeks growing a delicate shade of pink. “Sorry but that's not how I remember it. I quote, “If there is anyone in this bar that thinks they have the balls to take on the toughest son of a gun that ever step off the shuttle from Mars. Step up or forever hold your peace.” End quote.” By this time the delicate pink was now a bright burning magenta.
“Like I said, he asked me to.” I swung my legs off of the slab, my feet barely touching the floor. The blanket which had been as much use as E1 shield on a Vulture, slid to that floor. All I could do was shrug.
“Whats happened to you boy? Your Dad would never have done some of the stunts you're pulling.” His voice had nearly returned to normal as he sat down on his slab.
“Hey, I've read his logs, Dad did what he had to do.” I relied, a little anger rising at the attempt to compare me with my father. Gabe shuffled his feet and put his hands on his knees.
“I know son, I was there for most of them. The smuggling was par for the course but never slaves, never narcotics.” As he spoke he shook his head. I used the only line of defense I had for my actions.
“I'm not proud of those things Gabe but if I hadn't done them, someone else would have. Besides they paid well.” I could hear the tut, tutting as I spoke. “Ok, if it makes you feel better I'll swear off the slave smuggling.” To tell the truth smuggling slaves had never sat well with me.
“It's a start and I will hold you to it.” he gave a wink. A good sign that his anger had subsided and he was ready to talk calmly. “He would approve of that Fuel Rat scheme you have got yourself caught up in. Yes, a selfless thing, a thing of nobility.”
“Bull!!!” I interrupted him before he got carried away. “Selfless and noble my rear. If I am ever caught in that situation I hope someone remembers I helped them and returns the favor.” I was half lying but I really did not want him making it a big deal.
“Alright, I'll drop it.” Gabe wasn't dumb and could sense I wasn't looking for praise over those actions. So he changed the subject. “When do you think they'll let us out of here?”
“What day is it?” I asked in response. Looking a little confused Gabe answered.
“It's Thursday morning.” A hint of puzzlement in his voice.
“Well then we should be out of here by lunch time.” I said nonchalantly. Gabe gave out a sign.
“Not your first time at this rodeo uh?” Again the head was shaking.
“Gabe you said it yourself, I smuggle. Most times I get in and out no problem. It may be rare but I sometimes get caught. This station happens to have caught me a time or two.” I shrugged my shoulders once more to let him know it was just the price of doing business.
Once again Gabe showed the wisdom of his years and changed the subject.
“I'm still trying to work out why I ended up in here with you?”
“Cos you had to be the peacemaker. You strode up and put a hand on each of our chests, with a “Now, now boys!”. Right at the point the cops busted in. “ It was my turn to shake my head this time.
“Oh yeah.” Gabe replied with a hint of mirth in his voice. “Damn Aitken, if only they would turn up that quick when I'm being attacked in deep space.” I gave him a smile, we both knew that was never going to happen.
“I gotta admit though, you were holding your own against the big mouth. But then again he looked about seven sheets to the wind and you were stone cold sober.” Stone cold sober, little surprise there as I do not drink alcohol and hadn't for a about fifteen years. I had an alcohol allergy, no not a hangover, the medical term flew right over my head. I did remember the medical guys saying it elevated my heart rate and at some point it could lead to cardiac arrest. I didn't need to hear anymore and just stopped drinking. Believe me, it was really no big deal. “Yeah you were getting and giving your lumps if I remember it right.”
Now that I was starting to wake up properly the “lumps” I had taken were starting to show themselves. I dare not touch my nose, I didn't think it was broken but it did contain some dried blood and hurt. I must have got hit on the left side of my head at some point as I could feel the swelling around that sides eye. Luckily I hadn't laughed this morning as I had a feeling that would also hurt. No broken ribs but I had definitely been hit there during the scuffle. Gabe continued as I did my rudimentary medical diagnosis.
“That kick in the nads as your opening move surprised the heck out of him. I have never seen a bald six eight guy brought to his knees that quickly before.” Gabe gave a small chuckle, it reminded me of the noises donkeys made when I had visited the circus as a kid. He also reminded me why my ribs hurt. As the big guy from Mars had landed on his knees, I wasn't quite quick enough to avoid him lunging forward and landing that bald head in that region. We both traded a few punches, once we both stood up again, hence the swelling in the left eye area, and that's when the cops showed up.
“I'm still not sure why you got embroiled in the dust up, it's not like yo.......”
Before he could finish his line of questioning the door opened. An average looking guy, in an average looking uniform, looked at us both before asking.
“Which one of you is Wyndham?” Gabe raised his hand. “Good. You come with me.” We both stood up, Gabe took a step toward me.
“I'll be just a minute.” He told the man at the door. “Next time you're in system we'll do something different, alright.” That brought a grin to my slightly aching face. “ He pulled me into a hug and then whispered in my ear. “I'll remember your word Aitken.” He released the hug and took a step toward the door. “Give your mother my regards next time you are in touch with her.” Before I could reply he was gone and the door closed behind him.
Well, I was alone in the cell. I bent down and picked up the paper like blanket and sat down on the slab that had severed as my bed the night before. I knew Gabe had meant it. He had lived on this station for close to fifty years and had contacts all over it. Those contacts reached out, not just to this station but probably through out civilized space. I gave another shrug, like drinking, slave smuggling would be easy to give up.
I was just thinking about lying down again when the door opened.
“Are you Aitken?” Another ordinary guard, in another ordinary uniform asked.
“Yup that's me.”
“Uh, Aitken. Is that your first name or your surname?” He said looking at the pad in his hand.
“Yes.” I answered in a flat monotone voice.
He shot me a slightly bewildered look and motioned for me to proceed him.
I stepped out into a corridor just wide enough for two people to walk down side by side. More likely line abreast I though, guard, prisoner, guard. Not much room to turn, easy to defend. There were three doors, one at the either end of the shortish hallway and one set in the left hand wall, about half way down. It was this door my guard was taking me toward. We stopped in front of it, there was ten digit key panel on the right. Next to it was a LED panel of similar size and it was glowing red.
We must have stood there for sixty to ninety seconds before it turned green. The guard punched a series of keys on the appropriate panel and the door opened. “In you go.” He said. “Just head for the top, but by the look of ye, ye know the drill.”
I said nothing and stepped through the door and started ascending the staircase that lay before me. Oh yes, I did indeed know the drill, unfortunately.
Knowing the drill meant I knew what awaited me at the top of the staircase. I started hoping it would be a lenient judge on duty and this one might just be a slap on the wrist.
At the last step I walked directly into the dock. “Ah Mr. Aitken. So good of you to visit again so soon.”
My hope crashed to the ground like an overloaded T9. Great, just what I needed, Judge Karaca, a hard-liner and as you may have guessed, we had met before.
“Well let's see what we have here then.” He started pressing keys on what I presumed was a computer terminal. “First time I saw you about six months ago you were smuggling Battle Weapons.50,000 credit fine.”
“You fined me and I paid it.” I said blandly.
“Hmm, then about a month ago you where brought before me for smuggling narcotics.75,000 credit fine.” A note of irratation in his voice.
“You fined me and I paid it.” I said blandly.
“Righhht. And this time it's....” He paused as the screen loaded. “Disturbing the peace with the potentional to incite a riot. Ah a little variety at least.” I nearly said something about the “inciting a riot” charge, but bit it back as nothing good would come of it.
What I did say didn't help either. “Well, I wouldn't like you to get bored your honor.” In for a penny in for a full credit.
“Indeed Mr. Aitken. Do you have anything to say in your defense and I warn you, the evidence and witness statements look very convincing to me.” The hard edge in his voice let me know my attempt at humor hadn't been recieved well.
“No your honor.” Crud, I'd lost this one. Now lets just see what the damage was going to be.
“Well since you are pleading guilty I will go easy on you this time. Fined 250,000 credits.” He paused to look at me and getting no reaction carried on. “You know where to pay it Mr. Aitken. Please do visit again, not to soon though. You have until midnight, local time, to be off this station and don't come back for the next four weeks.You are free to go. Dismissed.”
The right side of the dock lowered and three steps were reveled. Down the three steps and a little over eight feet away a door opened, of course I walked through it.
The door closed behind me and to my right I saw a counter, with what looked like bullet and laser proof plexiglass. Set below it was what look to be a cabinet drawer, cos thats basically what it was. When Judge Karaca had “dimissed” me, the infomation was sent straight to the pertinent stations. This one being Prisoner Possession.
A pad, two five credit coins and an electronic key, not many possessions but mine non the less. The guard behind the glass put these into the drawer, I pulled the handle and put the coins and key into my flightsuits pockets. The pad I kept in my hand.
Opposite the door I had come through was another door. Yup, this one opened next. It looked like the same room I had just left. The exact same set up except no drawer. There was a two way communications device set into the glass. “Aitken.” I said into the speaker.
“You can transfer anytime you like Mr. Aitken.” I stabbed my finger on the appropriate keys on the glass front of the pad. 250,000 credits was a harsh punishment for what was no more than a bar room brawl. Karaca didn't seem to like me I thought. A quick check of the most recent transactions, a look at the final balance and I slipped the pad into one of the breast pockets of my flightsuit. Another door at the other end of the corridor opened. I stepped out back into the station proper.
I started to walk in the direction of the hangers as the station populace carried out their busy daily routine. A beutiful aroma grabbed my nostrils and pulled my head to a cafe across the walkway. I gave a sniff, not broken thats for sure.
“Cafe Marseille” the neon sign in the window proclaimed. I needed coffee and midnight was still twelve hours away, pffft, plenty of time.
A pretty little waitress came over to the table I was sitting at and took my order. A mug, yes not a cup, that's correct miss, I haven't had any since yesterday. With a smile and a swish of her skirt she bustled off in the direction of the kitchen area. Less than ten minutes later she was back with a steaming mug containing a dark brown liquid. I added cream and sugar to taste, took a sip and instantly came fully awake. Parts of me hurt a little worse but right then I did not care. Caffine was surging through my viens again and I was in an excellent mood.
I bent down to take another sip and a shadow fell across the table.
I looked up straight into the eyes of a six foot eight bald human from Mars.
“Transfer was complete early this morning. 500,000 as was agreed.” He spoke in a deep bass tone.
“I saw that. Cool thanks.” I gave a slight grin. “Did your friend recieve the message you had to pass on.”
“Yes, thanks Aitken, see you around.” With that he turned and left the cafe.
“Probably.” I said to the table I sat at.
I finished my coffee, left the two coins for the waitress, I said she was cute and headed for the hangers again.
See Gabe he asked me to.
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