They are Smol – Badguys, Boxes and Boops: Barhopping, Book-keeping and Bettings

“Can I go now?” Nate complained as his body was tugged firmly to the right, the safety strap on his suit being fastened down a bit too roughly. Captain Sassafras, unamused, stared unblinking at him, wordlessly pulling her hood back.

“Okaaaaay, I’m sorry. Really, truly, I am.” Nate reached forward and tried to pat his captain’s head, only to miss her snoot and wiff the empty air. With a frustrated sigh, he went back to T-posing, letting Sassafras fuss over him before, ostensibly, letting him and his chaperons out into the station. The usual precautions of a honeycomb-lattice re-enforced suit had been replaced with something very heavy-duty, and the internal connections to his limited implant suite seemed to splay over his helmet visor data ranging from his heartbeat to galactic north to the calorie count of the emergency food bar in his pocket. It was disorienting, getting tugged this way and that while space-ABBA randomly started to play, and that was the point. He had been hazed in this manner before back in Sol, and it was one of the oldest tricks in the book – put the rookie in the most complicated thing you can, make sure he can’t actually kill himself, then kick him out an airlock and go for lunch.

“It’s been three daaaayyyyysyssssssuuuuhhhh~” Nate groaned as he was bent forward, his ‘emergency carry handle’ tested by one of his crewmates picking him up and placing him down on the floor of the hangar, before being lifted again. And again.

“[3…4…5… switch arms-]”

I am not a weight set, Drongo!” Nate cried as he flailed his limbs, his tormentor switching arms and beginning the ‘test’ once again.

The male Dorarizin grinned and shared a look with the Captain before responding. “[Well you’re as heavy as one… two, three-]”

“You have terrible form and you’ll never catch Lilybean ‘mirin.”

“[Mmm, you say that, but you just wish she’d notice you and your pencil-thin yet somehow flabby frame.]” Drongo said, placing Nate on the ground for the final time.

You may not like it, but this is what peak human performance looks like, you plebian.” Nate retorted, rolling onto his side and resting in his best ‘draw me like one of your french girls’ pose. He was rewarded with a forceful nudge and a dismissive bark by his larger companion, rolling along the deck floor with exaggerated force.

“Let me goooooo alreadyyyyy. I said I was sorry! Isn’t that enough?”

“[This time, no.]” Sassafras said, her eyes elsewhere as she answered some notification from her implant. “[It took two whole days to clear out the landing zone and disembarking terminal, and the entire crew – the entire crew, Nate – have been pulling stowaway/boarder duty as well.]”

“I mean, so what? We’ve got a few curious scamps who tried to hitch a ride; we’ve had that happen before-”

Sassafras frowned. “[Nate, when I say boarders, I mean boarders. We’ve had to repel a couple concerned mobs – thankfully without too much bloodshed – and even a contingent of station security, which has given me nothing but paperwork for the past 15 hours.]”

“Oh.”

“[Yeah, ‘Oh.’.]” Sassafras sighed. “[Thankfully that’s not going to become any more of an issue since I was able to work out a deal with the stationmaster-]”

“Is that like a deal-” Nate said, shaking hands with himself, “-or a deal-deal” Nate said, making an incredibly lewd gesture, “-because you might not be the most gent-AAAH”

With very little forewarning Sassafras lunged forward, gripping Nate’s side with significant force. The two of them paused there, in that moment, before Sassafras began to roll Nate along the ground while she continued to talk. “[I have some choice recordings that say otherwise, you rotten little [Hr’sseth].]” Sassafras chided over Nate’s protests and flailing, successfully making a turn to roll Nate back from whence he came. “[Like I was saying, it’s been two whole days of beating people off of this ship with a stick and trying to unload our cargo. And we would have had a long rest-] at this Sassafras stopped rolling him forward and just started to full-body shake him back and forth against the ground, her captive wailing in slight disgruntlement before a growing number of the crew. “[-but now we’re probably going to have to cut it short due to the administrative and logistical burden you’ve put us under!]”

At this the surrounding crew let out half-serious cries of dissent, a few playful insults, and a couple semi-plausible punishment ideas that would have either crippled him outright or shattered his pelvis in ways that his ancestors could have only dreamed of.

“Alalalalalalright~! Alright alright alright!” Nate said, breathing heavily as he tried to stop his head from spinning, raising his arms to the sky in utter defeat. “Ok! Ok! Just… alright. But. Ah. But.” He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, trying to center himself. Nate propped himself up on his elbows, looking slightly cross-eyed into the still frowning face of Sassafras.

“Alright. But. How’s the take?”

Sassafras stared at him for a moment, almost attempting to stare him down …before ever so slightly looking away.

“AHA!”

“[Harsak damn it-]” Sassafras leaned back and groaned as Nate let out a hoot, laughing.

“It’s good, isn’t it?! Come on, spill it!” Nate grunted as he sat up, the nausea and slight bruising from earlier being forgotten in the rush of the con. “What are we at? Come on. Base is what-” Nate snapped his gloved fingers to a weak effect, pointing his finger at Drongo as he thought hard. “What, 40%? 60% markup? Not counting photo ops and gifts, so. How we doing?”

“[Effectively, and I hate this so much, Nate.]” Sassafras said, reaching into her molle-analog vest to pull out a tablet, turning it on with a thought. “[Tiki playfully said 3x-]”

Wait. Three hundred percent markup?!”

“[-and that apparently was assumed to be the floor, so when Toko started the standard markup-]”

“Oh. Oh uh.” Nate started to run the numbers in his head, his face loosing a bit of it’s color. “Oh. That’s…”

“[-averaging between 420% and 690% markup, not counting ‘gifts’-]”

Nate tried to hold his head in his hands as the sheer amount of money started to be rattled off by his Captain. “That’s… that’s too much.”

Sassafras wiggle-nodded, nervously looking over the funds transfer history. “[Yeah. I think we’re going to have to have some straight losses for the next few runs or else we’re going to attract the auditors and I really don’t want to be dealing with those pencil pushers.]”

Nate grunted as he attempted to stand, falling to a knee as his inner ear tried to right itself. “Well. Can’t we just buy-”

“[Free.]”

“What.”

“[We’re… not being charged. Not on anything.]” Sassafras deadpanned, as a murmur went through the crew. “[I didn’t want to share that little fact until we figured out a plan, because we cannot loot an entire station. Gifts, fine. Discounts, sure. Upcharges – we can call that negotiation, that’s fine as well. But this-]” Sassafras said, waving her tablet at anyone paying attention, “[-this gives us attention we cannot afford if we’re going to keep doing this for the next few years.]”

The ripple of conversation afterwards among the crew ebbed and flowed, with discussions on how they could somehow bleed money – or barring that how to show paper losses, or barring that how they were going to somehow fanagle, jostle, shred, bake and cook the books to make it look like their cargo of basic sundries and various necessary elemental imports did not net them a profit that would have paid for The Perfect twice over.

= = = =

“[I don’t like this idea.]” Toko said, fussing over Nate’s straps to undo the damage his sibling did to his rigging as they waited for the airlock to cycle.

“Look, it’ll be fine.”

“[Statistically,]” Tiki said, fussing over Nate’s straps to undo the damage her sibling did to his rigging as the airlock chimed. “[It has been ‘fine’ exactly one time out of four hundred and thirty eight.]”

“So then I’m on a roll!” Nate beamed, as he attempted to somehow unfuck his molle webbing that his two Karnakian minders had turned into a constricting mobius strip. “Look, we’ve already got the blessings of station security, most of the curious stationmates are out and about so crowds will be low, and I’ve got you two to protect me.”

“[Well yes-]”

  “[Be that as it may-]”

“So what I’m saying,” Nate smiled, reaching up to pat the shoulders of his chaperones, “is that it’s going to be fine. We go in to the closest bar to the ship, I gamble away far too much on the company card on whatever is the local game of choice, you two ‘find me’ at your leisure, I get written up, we done. In, out, 20 minute adventure.”

The twins shifted uneasily, almost eerily in unison. Before either of them could start and finish each other’s thoughts, the door opened…

…to basically no one. Sure, there were a few cleaning droids (that Nate cheerfully greeted as the trio stepped off the gantry) but outside of that, no living beings seemed to pay them any attention. For Tiki and Toko, this was a welcome if concerning development.

For Nate, it was Tuesday.

“So where’s the joint?” Nate said, clapping his gloved hands together.

“[Ah! First.]” Tiki massaged a joint in Nate’s suit, an indicator light turning on in the inside of his helmet. “[Tracking.]”

“Fair point.”

“[Second,]” Toko said, tilting his head to the right. “[About 400 meters away is a terminal Bar. Overpriced food, drink, and connections to this system’s betting network. You have your card?]”

Nate patted his chest pocket. “Yep. Let’s knock this out and get out of here – you can have too much success, and I don’t want to push our luck.” With that, the trio fell in to their best powerwalking-without-looking-like-they’re-rushing state, with Nate breaking out into a light jog as the Karnakians made their way down the concourse with purpose. At first, nobody seemed to notice, but as they passed their first stall the double-take of the vendor gave everything away.

“[Oh! OH! Hey, are-]”

“[Nothing to see here-]”

  “[You are mistaken ma’am I’m sorry-]”

       “I’m not real!”

Toko wrinkled his nose while Tiki scrunched hers, as without skipping a beat Nate continued to jog forward. The siblings matched his pace, doing their best to look as menacing as possible to the growing trail of passers-by that started to follow them. By the time they made the relatively short distance, their trio had grown into roughly two-dozen interested and curious parties, some of which were still nursing seemingly fresh wounds. Nate paid no one any mind; he was on a singular mission and had a single focus – pressing his hands against the doors he ‘opened’ them, moving his limbs in concert with the automatic sliding entrance.

“Alright, which one of you degenerates likes handholding?!”

“[Nate!]”

  “[WRONG SCRIPT.]”

Flinching at the realization, he shrunk back into his chaperone’s protection, nervously trying to vocally backtrack. “Ah, and by handholding I mean, um. Holding the hand of lady luck! And… um. And a drink! Drinks are good too and we call them hands where I’m from and-”

Toko gently pulled down Nate’s helmet’s solar shield. It did nothing to muffle his rambling, but it did seem to have a calming effect on the man, who was quickly ushered to an interactive booth. His Karnakian chaperons took up very defensive positions, with Tiki pressing herself against her smaller crewmate in a motherly, defensive way and Toko…

Well Toko just dropped his incredibly illegal service pistol on the table.

“I can’t see.”

“[We can order for you.]” Tiki said, pulling up Nate’s Solar shield. “[What do you want from the menu?]”

“I can’t eat.”

“[Don’t be picky.]” Toko chided, staring intently at the suddenly-disinterested mob that had followed the group into the bar.

“No I mean, I can’t eat. I’d have to remove the helmet and everything.” Nate said, sighing. “Let’s just… let me just gain access to their local net, place some bullshit bets, and be done.”

“[Sounds like a plan. Do you mind if-]”

Nate waved his hand dismissively as he pulled out a very robust tablet, dropping it on the table with a heavy thonk. “By all means, order everything you want – it’s on the company dime.”

Tiki trilled playfully as she wrapped an arm around the Human. “[Big talk over free food, isn’t it?]”

“[Eh. I’ll leave the total bill as a tip – and if they don’t take tips, then I’ll just ship something nice to the bar once we hit the next station.]” Nate reached up and pushed a feather out of his view, his tablet beeping happily as he logged into the star system’s network. “[Anyway. What here has the absolute worst odds…]”

And so the trio passed the time, doing their best to ignore the camera drones, the loudly-asked-to-no-one questions, the quiet jostling in the booths nearby, and the growing frustration of the Bar owner as dozens of people started to pack his establishment without paying for a damn thing. It was normal, in a way, and so it was comforting – as this scenario, or something like it, played out as it had a dozen times before. Truly, it was fine

…All until Nate felt the call of nature.

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