Tales of the "Pink Mist" Ch. 08

byQeda_Charlemaigne©

The techbot which Salli inhabited broke ranks, turned to the side and carefully made its way through the assemblage; carefully, because the bot weighed close to five hundred pounds. If it rolled over a foot, the results would be unpleasant. The techbot rolled up before Charleen and stopped.

"Yes, Captain?" Salli's voice asked from the techbot.

Charleen produced a bright pink padded folder, elegantly imprinted in gold with Salli's full name. She held it at waist level and opened it to show the contents. An elaborate proclamation, hand written in sweeping calligraphy. Reciting from memory, she read the proclamation.

"I, Captain Charleen P. Wilkerson, do hereby recognize the achievements and accomplishments of Salli Anne Coffler, who befuddled all of her colleagues by following orders..." she paused as giggles sounded through the ranks, "...and managed to uphold the spirit and tradition of pirate bloodthirstiness by circumventing procedures and single-handedly capturing several enemy vessels without a thought to her own safety.

"Further, I hereby promote the above named individual to the rank of Lieutenant with all rights and privileges of that station. Under the circumstances that Lieutenant Coffler is the ship's computer, it shall be the discretion of said individual to choose the form of payment when the plunder/loot/booty/take/haul is divided up.

"Congratulations, Lieutenant," a smiling Charleen concluded, presenting the folder with her left hand, offering her right to the techbot to shake.

If it was possible for a machine to smile, Salli did it. The techbot straightened a smidgen, its eye-sensors seemed to brighten a tad.

"Captain?" Salli asked, timidly, it seemed. "Can I give you a hug?"

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The crew had been assigned to the various ships in order to ease the strain on Salli's processors and they lifted off in the direction of Purgatory.

Jesse, aboard the EXETER, had gathered every scrap of fabric he could find and sequestered himself in the ships' laundry. The odd crewman who wandered by would hear through the closed door the sounds of several sewing machines running at once.

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Alice and Quillan were afforded every luxury of visiting dignitaries aboard the MALCOLM H RAYBURN. Both, however, were eager to get back to the PINK MIST. They watched on the monitors as a construction ship, slightly larger than the PINK MIST herself, slowly settled over the dreadnaught, obscuring their vision. They could see the reactor being lowered into place, with heavy repairbots and techbots swarming around the aft end of the ship.

Alice only left the monitor screen for a quick trip to the bathroom, then returned to glue her eyes to the screen once more; after all, the Alliance was performing the equivalent of surgery on her body. They just didn't know it.

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The bay usually reserved for Infernus was still empty. The alarm panel in Docking Control suddenly blared a raucous sound. There was a fire spreading to the eight occupied bays around that area. Word quickly went to those ships' captains and they scrambled to blast out of the dock at full burn. The EXETER and her battle group merely slid into the empty spaces. Salli snickered the whole way.

"This station's computer is so easy to mess with," she remarked.

"You ready to turn on the acting?" asked Charleen.

"Ain't gonna be acting, Captain," rumbled Muffin in reply. "This joint's ours, now."

"You know, 'Muffin's Purgatory' doesn't exactly inspire terror."

That booming rapidfire-artillery laughter again.

"I got it figured out, Captain," he grinned. "Just watch the show, ma'am."

He ran a hand over his bald pate, made sure that his dark blue, heavy leather Jesse-designed-and-built jacket and pants were "just so," donned a pair of almost opaque smartgoggles, opened the hatch and stalked down the gangplank into the bay. At the bottom of the ramp were twenty fully armed and armored Meat Squad troops in dark blue urban camouflage uniforms, their heads constantly swiveling, rifles at the ready.

They went through several doors and hallways until they reached the main concourse, a central tunnel, two miles high, which ran the length of the twenty mile long station. Various beings and bots scrambled to get out of the way of the hulking terror and the soldiers surrounding him.

His glasses were being fed information by of the station's layout by Salli, so he strode forward knowing exactly where he was going. He pointed toward a small door, several Meat Squad troops rushing forward and throwing open the door, then moving quickly inside to secure the space station's video processing center: Channel 69.

As Muffin entered, the scantily-clad buxom receptionist with the bad breast augmentations was just punching the comm button to summon her boss. A well-dressed man in his early forties, cybercam affixed to his skull, sauntered into the room. He pressed his temple to start recording.

"Can I help you?" he asked.

"You know who I am?" Muffin's bass voice asked in reply.

"You look similar to the facilitator of this station, sir. Family, perhaps?"

Muffin gestured at the cybercam, asking, "Is that thing broadcasting a live feed? I want every monitor in every room on this station to show what I have to say."

"And why should I do this, sir? I'm not exactly sure of just who you are."

Muffin snapped his fingers. Twenty plasma rifles simultaneously pointed at the video manager's head.

"Good enough for me," the man smiled as he casually moved his hand up to the cam to make the proper adjustment. "We're live at this moment. Go ahead, sir."

Muffin stared straight into the cybercam's lens, removing his glasses to reveal contact lenses which seemed to blaze from within; constantly shifting, fiery eyes.

The entire length and breadth of Purgatory fairly shook with Muffin's deep bass rumble being blasted out of almost every speaker on the station.

"Now hear this. I'm Infernus' successor. My name is Hell. Infernus is suffering a severely advanced case of death.

"Right this very second, I'm taking control of this station and we're going to make a few changes, effective immediately.

"The highest grossing trade on this station is drugs. Infernus was taking forty percent of the profits. I'm taking fifty percent. Complain about it, and my share of the cut goes up to ninety percent...from every dealer. And I'll make it very well known who the responsible one is.

"The next highest trade is slavery. Infernus was an idiot. You wanna buy and sell slaves on my station, my cut is now seventy five percent. Complain about it, I dare you.

"Blackmarket goods, stolen weapons, ships and such, my cut has dropped. I now take forty percent, instead of the fifty percent that Infernus was getting.

"Unlicensed cybernetic surgical doctors will pay fifty percent of the price of the surgery to me. If the patient dies, so does the doctor. If the patient gets sick or infected due to surgery, the doctor will treat that sickness free of charge. If the doctor refuses...let's just say that it's a long fucking walk to the next place that has air.

"Legal vendors...those who are on the up and up, fully licensed, et cetera; that bastard Infernus was eating into your profits and leaving you with barely enough to live on, much less buy the needed inventory to operate. I'm dropping my share of the take to a flat fifteen percent of your revenue.

"As for the security force...some of you motherfuckers are on the take; paid to look the other way. It stops this instant. You're paid by ME to do a fucking job. You don't like your job? Find another one.

"Accept my terms or leave this station. If you think you can raise the prices of the slaves or drugs or whatever to offset the take percentage, think again. Prices remain the same. If the prices go up, I consider that to be a complaint. Accept or leave.

"And, to the people who came here to get rich but for whatever reason are considered refuse by everybody else, if you want a job, you'll get it. I'll set up an employment office in a couple of days.

"To every single motherfucker on this station...I WILL find out if you try fucking me over.

"I want to see the top two people of each section, Life Support, Docking Control, Emergency Personnel, and Maintenance in MY office in two hours. For anyone who can't tell time, that's one hundred and twenty minutes from now. If you're late, look for a new job."

He replaced his sunglasses.

"To anyone who thinks they can fuck with me and get away with it, you'd better think again. Shut that fucking camera off now."

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In the recreation room of the EXETER, the entire crew had gathered to watch Muffin's performance.

And the crowd goes wild.

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Contrary to popular belief, shimmerpads were unable to send matter/molecules to a specific spot without a receptor; similar to a telephone of old. The signal was fed into the transmitter, broken apart, sent to the other end of the line, reconstructed, and the object removed from the receptor. In theory, with enough power, a shimmerpad could send an object from one side of the galaxy to the other. Since the power needed was multiplied exponentially over distance, it would take the energy of a Class K star, Alpha Centauri B for example, to move from Purgatory to Earth-Actual. Easier, cheaper, and more comfortable to use a ship.

The all clear signal was given, the PINK MIST being airtight and safe to occupy once more, so Quillan and Alice were transferred by shuttle back aboard to oversee the final operations. They had taken a standard shuttle since the shimmerpads would be offline for a few more hours.

The interior of the ship was a shambles; chairs and tables overturned, light fixtures smashed, even a few items had stuck in walls when the ship had crash landed. Yep, any human on board at the time would have been turned into chunky salsa.

Two men and a woman, all three red haired and wearing drab gray heavy jumpsuits, wandered the halls checking readouts on various panels. Upon spotting Quillan, one of the men tapped the woman on the shoulder and gestured at the cute redhead accompanied by a hot blonde, a sly grin on his countenance. Both approached her.

"Pardon me, ma'am," he said. "You're Quillan Margoles, aren't you?"

Alice, striding along with Quillan, prepared to rip the man's head off, if need be. Someone from the Alliance had recognized a supposedly "secret" pirate? Not too many people knew who owned and operated the PINK MIST, even though the ship was becoming known as an asskicker.

"I am," she replied, looking between the pair, her guard up. The man and woman exchanged nonplussed looks and then, like school kids in the presence of a rock idol, screamed and squealed.

"Ohmigod! I trashmatter KNEW it!" exclaimed the woman. "Can we have your autograph, please?" She produced a stylus and a small notebook from one of her many pockets, the man doing the same and shoving them in Quillan's face. "Quillan here, and I have been following your adventures ever since your settlement with the government!"

"Uh...Quillan...?" Quillan asked, glancing sidewise at Alice who merely smiled her mysterious smile, eyes alight, glad to be back in her "body." The redheaded captain tentatively reached for the proffered devices and signed her name.

"Yes, ma'am!" the woman beamed. "Everyone in your fan club has changed their first or middle name to Quillan. But, we kept our own last names because there's only ONE Quillan Margoles."

"Ummmm...I've heard of a fan club for me..."

"Right now, it's pretty small, we only have thirteen million members in a thousand and fourteen chapters."

How had she not heard more of this?

Holy shit.

The three looked around conspiratorially to make sure they really were alone, then the tallest man, silent up until now, produced his hand-held carrier, punched a few buttons on it and showed the display to Quillan. Alice leaned in to read, too.

"This is the presidential requisition for the fusion reactor," he said, then punched another button. "THIS is the requisition for an upgrade."

Quillan's jaw dropped. A military-grade FISSION reactor. More stable with better output than any fusion reactor ever built. A fission reactor was basically a miniature star. She'd heard Infernus once mention something about trying to obtain a fission reactor. None of his many contacts had ever been able to get hold of one.

And one was dropped into her lap.

Quillan ran a hand through her hair.

"Do I want to know how it got here?" she asked.

"Let's just say that your fan club is more than a bunch of high schoolers and slackers, Captain Margoles. There are more than a few who sit the Presidential Advisory Board."

Quillan's head spun. She was nobody. She had sued the government and won her case. She had found an abandoned spaceship. She had gotten a job of sorts. That was all. This was getting to be...words failed her.

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An ugly matte green, scarred, dented, scraped, Class Four dreadnaught (judging from the shape of her engine cowlings) cruised slowly into the space controlled by Purgatory. She had definitely seen better days.

Her bow section directly below the viewport was caved in and mangled; a hole large enough to dock a freighter had been opened to the vastness of space. The entire underside sported furrows deep enough to hide a person lying prostrate. Most of her weapon hardpoints looked to be nonfunctioning, the barrels of some of the slugthrowers were bent forward. The aft end looked to be recently patched, one dead engine sitting at an odd angle. Heavy repairbots and techbots crawled over her like ants.

There were a few curious scans of the enormous vessel, but most ships flew right past without giving her a second glance.

Quillan recognized the voice from port control. It was the same one who had tried to give her hell the last time they docked at Purgatory.

"Oh-yeh, choombata," she said in gutterspeak. "You be 'memberin' me, Sasha?"

"Sasha" was a term of semi endearment, usually reserved for lighthearted instances. As the port controller really wasn't sure if he was on her good side or not, he decided to play it safe.

"Yes, ma'am, I certainly do," came the reply, a bit of fear in his voice this time. "You have a reserved bay, ma'am. Come and go as you like. Bay Sixteen Seventy One is all yours. You no longer need to ask permission to dock here, ma'am. Just transmit your private code and you can dock any ship you want in that bay, ma'am."

"Thank you, Boyo," she said, the grin evident in her voice. "You be good-good Sasha-man."

Bay Sixteen Seventy One sat directly beneath the EXETER. Alice slid the huge vessel into place, signaling for the docking clamps to extend and hold the ship in place. When all was in order, she powered down most of the systems, set the watch lizards at the door, and then the pair sauntered hand-in-hand down the gangplank.

A large crew of contractors were waiting for them at the bottom. Some were dressed in brand new atmosuits.

"Can I help you?" asked Quillan, warily.

"Yes'm," said a rough-looking man clad in greasy overalls as he sported an easy smile. "We have orders to go through this ship from top to bottom and help your bots fix anything that's broken." He scratched his chin, leaving a dark smudge. "Anything we need to leave alone or any place we're not supposed to go?"

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As the man spoke, Alice's avatar scrambled down a fiber optic cable and raced through the station's network to find Salli's dog-avatar, lying at the feet of a red dragon program.

"There are people here who say they want to work on me and fix things. Is this correct?" A cartoon balloon appeared over Alice's head.

The Welsh Corgi raised its head, thumping its tail.

"Hi, Commander Sister! Yep! Every one of those people has been checked out back to their third primary school year. They're really nice, too. They're gonna fix up that old boat and have it running like a Swiss car!"

Alice's avatar glowed red.

"That 'old boat' happens to be my body, and I take special offense at the 'old' comment." The avatar did a good impression of sticking its tongue out.

The dog giggled.

"They'll take care of everything. It'll be about four months before they're through. Captain Wilkerson made me a full-fledged lieutenant! I feel like part of the crew, now!"

"As it should be, Sister. You ARE part of the crew. Congratulations on your promotion."

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Alice leaned over to whisper to Quillan. The latter nodded acknowledgment, shivering slightly as Alice's breath touched her ear. And that purr...

"The reactor has just been replaced to military specs, so you won't need to bother with it," she replied to the greasemonkey in front of her. "In fact, don't give the reactor a second thought. And, please have your crew avoid the experimental section and main computer room."

"Yes'm," he said, motioning to the rest who made their way up the gangplank. "We're under orders to have her ready in four months and my crew's never missed a mark. That good enough for ya, ma'am?"

"Who ordered this?" she asked, already knowing the answer.

"Our new boss, Hell," he said. The lizards at the door stood idly by and let the work crew enter unmolested. Quillan pulled her own hand-held carrier and tapped a few buttons, transmitting her number to the main database, which would then route it to the crew's foreman.

"If you need to add any new crewmen, make damn sure that you send me a message via carrier BEFORE they try to enter my ship," she said gravely. "My friends at the top, there, don't like surprises. Don't try to pet them, either; they eat arms and fingers." Her eyes narrowed and her voice dropped an octave. "And if any of your technogeeks even THINK of dinking with my computer, no one will get off that ship alive. Do I make myself clear?

His fingers shook a little bit as he saved her number and replied, "Not a problem with any of it, ma'am."

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The mood of the station seemed to have changed since Quillan and Alice last strode the main concourse a few weeks ago. While the shops, hustle and bustle, and people going about their business was the same, there was a feeling of hopefulness instead of mere existence. The occasional approving whistle or catcall rang out as the beauties in their pink body hugging jumpsuits casually strolled along in the direction of Infernus' old office, now occupied by Muffin/Hell.

Ahead of them, a roving gang of drugged-up toughs, most sporting outlandish cybernetic implants, had surrounded a man and his wife and were giving them a hard time.

"Captain Quillan?" asked Alice, "Should I render..."

Her sentence was interrupted by the report of a slugthrower from the next tier up. A punk's head exploded as the slug entered his temple and blasted bone and brain matter over his compatriots. As one, the group looked up to see four more slugthrowers pointed at them, held by blue uniformed guards. They started to reach for their own hidden weapons but were stopped upon sighting several more guards on their own level who also pointed slugthrowers in their direction. Two Matsugari Cybersystems powered armor suits lumbered up to further quell the group's intentions. A security woman whom Quillan didn't recognize walked up to the group, held an informal conference with them, and pointed vaguely down the concourse.

The group slowly withdrew their weapons, dropped them on the floor, and slunk away like scolded dogs.

The man and woman shook hands with the security woman and then continued on their way as a small electric cart drew up and two men got out. They pitched the headless body in the back of the cart, tossed the discarded weapons on top and drove off. The only clue to the deadly encounter was a pool of blood. As Quillan and Alice walked by, looking at the security force still present, a small robot trundled in to clean up the mess. Within minutes, nothing remained.

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