BOOK THIRTEEN - !AD VALORUM¡
CHAPTER FORTY ONE - “DEADLINERS!”
Al – back atcha. Well the Regents put all us survivors of the Andromeda fire in bum hotels up and down the Baawl… I got a crib at the Excelsis, same deal as Andromeda more or less. All of us ol' shkooks got split up… though Walter and Barbara made it into the Gran Cosmos together, Quaia and Marina – they went to the Emperor. Jammin' boff names… for a sack of rawthpiles, every one – the Excelsis ghosts, at least, are mostly quiet. Old Believers took Broonze away to their palace up in the mountains where he lives the life of God, I hear, and does what Gods do as his work. Better than being in with the union, even… take my word on that! Never did get over to the bash got Rateyes sent off… shurts couldn't find us all on account of the fire and I value my memory more than a couple of free drinks. Somebody's gotta remember, right? Otherwise the Regency wins.
“Having a good time?” the Detective queries… Turpin’s face is bloody, eyes blackened, mouth awash in blood and his eyes are spinning in their sockets. Brabender smirks back.
“No more of that, now,” Crandall says patronizingly, taking the prisoner by the shoulder and pushing him forward. “Recognize her?”
Turpin squints. Because his hands are manacled, he has to shake his head to toss off some of the blood and then he fights back a smile.
“M-Marina!” he stutters, knees going weak,
“That’s what you called her,” Crandall says, nodding at the boneship. “Not a bad piece of work for what it must’ve cost you… two soys, three?” The shurts… except for Brabender… chuckle. “Well, her snakin’ days are over, but if she doesn’t ploof on the pad… well, let’s take a glance
Of course the kid's head was fried… there was so much Rateyes in his brain that pretty much everything went, almost from the day he landed here. As I heard, the methane fellow, Arbatax, pulled a couple of strings and got him into prison work as a deadliner to Hurt… not the Jovian moons or even Mars, but Hurt ‘erself. Those are the poor danks who crew starships through the void without using the snakes… hard time! Use 'em with dangerous or delicate cargo, like these really old shkooks with money, goin’ home to die or maybe somebody finds a cure in the meanwhile, like they finally found a vaccine for the Blue Plague. Time aplenty. It's a sixty-three year voyage, so he'd be an old shkook himself by touchdown, which is why they usually write off life sentences for the deadliners. Oughta pay 'em, too, but I ain't a judge anymore, I had my days n’ nights and once- well, that’s enough. Got my room, my pension, place to drink on the corner… not al-Gool, of course, but nothing's good as it used to be. Ale, kids, moodies… all goin' to Johanna! But who wants to listen to an old hyde's blues.
Heard about Turpin from a jim at the bar who heard it from another jim who’s brother-in-law is a shurt. Disgrace to the family, so I hear. Would the bool have been better off walkin’ with Old Mort? You decide…
leads Turpin to the engineering deck as the Regency boffs
turn tail and mutter something about important meetings. Brabender
reluctantly unshackles the prisoner and, while Turp stands… somewhat shell-shocked
by this unexpected turn of events… the Detective activates the
“Recognize this bird, prisoner?” he asks, stonefaced. “Think you can remember how to keep it from running into a star?”
“I think I… I… it's a boneship? I… was something broken down here?” Turpin asks, looking from Crandall to the other shurts as the engines begin whining, methane coursing through the propulsion tubes.
“You trying to ploof us all?” Brabender protests, looking backwards towards the door as if he wants to flee for his life.
“Cool it, jim,” Crandall sneers out of the corner of his mouth. “We’re perfectly safe – just the cooling that’s shot. Couldn't navigate a snake if your jammin’ life depended on it. But it's safe and smooth… perfect for senior transport, sublight… that’s light minus two,” he informs the puzzled shurts, “no reason to fly over the limit, push the envelope as they say on Hurt. Sixty-three solyears to Hurt, sixty four… what's the jammin' difference, Turpin? Do your job, stay out of trouble and whoever's running the Regency in twenty eight and ninety something probably let you stay on Hurt awhile, even retire, maybe. And there's a moodie… couple thousand books, movies and music on the com, more'n you jammin' deserve…”
“Oughta be processing meth without a mask…” Brabender grumbles.
Crandall ignores him, barks a few words into his com. “No sims, however,” he informs Turpin. “You wanna get your clams off, have to do it the old fashioned way. Meet your co-pilot! Name's Marge…” he says as two more uniforms half lead, half drag a woman into the Marina, “used to drive a bus out in Dixon. Then she gets this bright idea to hire some wiseguy to off her husband… jim was some jammin' lawyer from Marrack these farmers identified yet, got wiped out in the gang wars up there. Marjorie Felicia Rayley… how do you do?”
The shurts haul Marge up to the engineering deck where she spits at Crandall.
“Snarky veeb,” he wipes his face. “Probably a part-time heather; knows rawth about birds, but what's to teach, got sixty three years to learn. Drive a bus, drive a boneship… same difference. Check those iceboxes,” he orders the shurts, “see that everything's dee naa mee with the shkooks. Sikken's job!”
“They’d rawth their coffins if’n they knew who was at the controls,” the sullen Brabender snipes.
“It’s covered,” the Detective tells him. “Bird like this can fly, automated, up to a year and these danks have been chipped, so they take the Old Mort’s hand and stop transmitting, eventually the Regency sends someone by to clean up the mess. These two,” and he thumps Turpin’s back, “they’re more the sort that wind up mortin’ each other than committing suicide. Happens on about ten percent of the deadliners. Enjoy each other's company!” he adds.
He removes Marge’s manacles, steps back and smiles. “Ad valorum, danks! Four minutes to liftoff.” As he turns on his heels, motioning the rest of the shurts to follow him, Brabender gives Turpin a vicious swat with a crutch behind the knee on his way out.
Turpin rolls on the floor, bellowing. Crandall turns, but his only response is a sad little smile. He holds up three fingers, three minutes to lift off.
Turp’s howls coalesce into language. “What the jam was that for?”
“Hate it when they forget, faq?” Brabender tells the Detective, drawing back his leg for another kick.