Sunar blinked rapidly at the ship’s Captain, his hand still outstretched from shaking the man’s hand. Disappointment and irritation welled up inside him: the Captain intended to turn him away after all.
The Human gave him a lopsided smile, however, and shook his head. “Now, don’t go look at me like that, young man. I am a man of my word, and I believe I promised I’d find you a berth, and that is exactly what I aim to do; just not on my ship. You see, I do regular business at this here port – and aim to keep things that way – which means I need to stay on the good side of the law… which is hard to do when your quartermaster mistakes a couple of corrupt police goons for a couple of mob goons, and tells the cops that this ship doesn’t deal with illegal types.”
The Captain shook his head again and gave a half-accusing, half-amused look at the Halfling, who snorted and rolled his eyes. The Captain continued with an amused lilt in his voice. “See, you tell a cop something like that, and he’ll be on you like a dog with a bone.” His hands dropped back to his sides and he shook his head again, but never broke eye contact, “I had to tell those boys what they wanted to hear, but that gives me a dilemma. You see, there are an awful lot of – shall we say – less than honorable business men operating in and around these parts, and if I want to keep frequenting this particular way-station I need to keep from making them upset, as well, which means you are not the sort of problem I need.”
Sunnar felt his eyebrows pull down and he started to ask the Captain what he knew, but the man held a hand up and turned his face away for a moment. “Now, son, don’t go protesting at me about what you are or aren’t involved in, or what those cops want with you. I don’t know, I don’t care, and it is better for me ‘n mine to keep it that way.”
Sunar’s brows drew down further. “What makes you so sure those cops are corrupt? I mean, it is not like they…”
The Captain just quirked an eyebrow at him, clucked his tongue, and pointedly ignored the question.
A barrage of questions played in Sunar’s mind at the statement, but Falo, the Halfling, cleared his throat, loudly, and the Captain came out of his reverie with a visible shake. “Now, I believe I promised to find you a berth, and I know just the thing. It so happens that I know another ship Captain – she runs a ship a lot like my girl here,” he slapped a bulkhead affectionately, “and she happens to be short one crewman, and she is a friend owes me a favor.”
Falo made a rude noise and looked askance at his Captain.
The man gave a too-wide smile and winked at Sunar, “Well, friend maybe too strong a word, but, well, she is down a man.”
Falo spoke with gravel in his voice, “Only because that man is sitting in a holding cell due to a…”
The Captain waved a hand to silence Falo, “Little disagreement, which we settled amicably enough.” Falo snorted again, but the Captain made a point of ignoring him, “And, she has no intention of ever returning to this place because of… well, never you mind why. Suffice it to say that she’s down a man, has no qualms about irritating the locals here, and owes me a favor because I’m going to give her problem crewman a way off this rock when he gets out in the morning, which lets her lift-off without having to arrange something for him, which keeps her in good standing with the Spacer’s Guild.”
Falo crossed his arm and turned a piercing stare onto the Captain, “I seem to recall, Captain, that she was none too pleased with you last time you talked… enough that she suggested you try a few anatomically impossible feats before you ever tried to collection that ‘favor’ you feel she owes.”
The Captain gave a roguish smile and made a sweeping gesture towards Falo, “Of course, and that is why you are going to take your young friend over to make her acquaintance. She’s your sister, after all!”
Falo snorted, “Half-sister, and if she wasn’t afraid ‘Pa would crawl out of the grave to tan her hide she’d probably…”
The Captain shifted his weight while his smile gave way to a stern look.
Falo sighed and shook held up both hands. “Fine, I’ll go. But, if you have to ransom me back – or pay a doc to sew my hands back on – I don’t want to hear any fussing about the cost!” The Halfling rolled his eyes, sighed heavily again, and turned to walk down the ramp while gesturing for his current problem to follow him.
Sunar gave a last look at the Captain, who flashed that strange grin at him and made a shooing motion, then turned his attention back to his crew. People out here are strange. I hope the conversation with this Captain that Falo is taking me to is not so hard to follow.
Sunar took a few quick steps to catch up, then matched pace with Falo. Maybe I will have better luck getting questions answered by this guy? “So, your Captain said that the cops who brought me here were crooked… what made him so sure?
Falo looked sideways at him, then sighed. “Young man, you haven’t been out in the world long, have you? There are no ‘clean’ cops in this town; probably not on this entire continent.” The Halfling continued in a more pensive tone. “Heck, it is getting harder and harder to find any place that doesn’t have at least a few crooked cops; things have just been getting worse since the last coronation. One begins to…”
Falo’s voice trailed off, and they walked in silence for a short ways, and the Halfling seemed to be fidgeting as they walked.
It took a moment for Sunar to search for a conversational topic, but he had to smile when the idea hit him. “I can tell that you have been around the Empire a good deal, and I am sure you know a lot. Tell me, do you know if all space-ports as easy to navigate as this one?”
Falo gave his charge a moment of side-eye, then barked a small laugh. “I am a quarter-master son: I give orders and I know things. Let me tell you …”
Sunar let the information wash over him, storing it for later, while he tried to understand why the tension had suddenly eased. As Falo jumped from one subject to the next, seemingly at random, understanding dawned. The man doesn’t like silence, and he likes to talk. He seems to be genuinely enjoying the chance to demonstrate his wisdom, or maybe just the chance to pass on knowledge?”
The flood of information slowed a bit, and Sunar caught a sideways glance from him. Even as he speaks he pays attention, and has noticed my lapse. I should at least provide a good audience.
The rest of the trip across the spaceport passed amicably, with Sunar asking the occasional question, when he could get a word in edge-wise, mostly just to let Falo know he was paying attention and appreciated the advice.
Eventually they walked onto the pad for another ship. This one is similar in size to Falo’s ship, but the similarity ends there. This one seems more like a box with engines bolted on.
The moment they cleared the spaceport doors Sunar’s hand shot out, on pure reflex, and caught a metal tool which had been launched at Falo’s head. He studied the tool for a moment. No, not *at* Falo’s head, above it… though not by more than a few inches. I might even think that the person who threw it had intended to hit him and missed, but somehow I doubt it. He looked up to see a female Halfling standing there with hands on hips and a furious look on her face staring Falo down.
Falo, for his part, opened both arms wide, spoke in cheerful tones, and walked forward as if the woman hadn’t just attempted to brain him with a wrench. “Felicia, my dear sister, it is always such a pleasure to see you. And, to receive such an excited greeting when I come bearing good news for you! I…”
Felicia reached behind her to grab another tool. “That’s far enough, dear ‘brother’ mine. I told you I didn’t want to see your sorry hide, or anyone from that Gods-forsaken heap of tin you call a ship, and yet here you stand. I don’t care what kind of fancy body-guard you brought with you, ‘neither… you take one more step and this screw-driver is going through your eye!”
Falo put a hand to his breast and a shocked expression played out on his face, “Dear sister! If ‘Pa heard you talk that way, what do you think he’d say? Also, you are wrong, the good noble here is not my bodyguard, but is the very good news I told you I had for you!”
Felicia raised her arm to throw the screwdriver.
Sunar tossed the wrench she’d already thrown to his other hand and made ready to catch the tool.
A look of curiosity settled on Felicia’s face, and she seemed to notice him for the first time. She cocked her head sideways and looked him up and down, then slowly lowered her hand and turned back to Falo. “So, what is this? Did that idiot you signed on with send this boy over to take the place of my idiot who landed himself in lockup?”
Falo spread his arms wide and bowed, though he kept a wary eye on the screwdriver in his sister’s hand. “Just so, dear sister. This young noble is in need of passage off planet, and decided he would rather get paid to leave than pay to sit and count his fingers in a cabin. I have known the boy less than an hour, I will confess, but I can tell you that he is hardly any sort of born zero: Just look at the calluses on those hands… and those knuckles. He also is the height of courtesy, to the point that the discourtesy of the goodmen who brought him to us seemed to embarrass him.”
She lifted one side of her upper lip for a moment, rolled her eyes, then stopped. Sunar had to work to keep his breathing even as the woman turned to give him another appraising stare. “Hmmm… Courteous and hard working, are you? And, your half-dragon heritage gives you title; even if you are too young to likely have more than your birthright, that could be enough to open some interesting doors. Tell me, young man, what is your name”
He bowed to her and held a hand over his heart, “I am Sunar Dawnsflight, and I am honored to meet you Captain Felicia.”
She turned a bright smile on him, and her eyes took on an amused cast. “Oh, not even giving your title, even after we sat here discussing your status? Most interesting. Courteous, too, just as my erstwhile brother claimed.” The amusement fell from her eyes, her face hardened, and her chin dropped slightly, “I run a tight ship, boy, and expect orders to be followed: Both from me and my officers. I also expect to get hard work from my crew; I don’t abide slackers. You good with following orders and pulling your weight?”
Sunar nodded, “I know how to follow orders, Captain; I grew up in a Monastery.” A smile grew on his face and the next words escaped before he even considered them. “As for pulling my weight… I think you will find I can lift a good deal more than my weight, and pull even more than that.” Part of him recoiled in horror: he had not spoken without thought like that since he was a boy.
It seemed he’d said the right thing, however, because the Captain had that amused twinkle in her eye again, and a lopsided smile on her face as she nodded, “Oh, I think you will do just fine, my boy… just fine indeed.”