June 28th 2013
Charl Grissom reluctantly clicked up his ship’s navcomp. He scrolled aimlessly through its star charts for awhile, eyes only half-focused, watching the colorful lights dance on the screen more than really paying any attention to the actual navigational data.
“It would be nice if I could just stay here in Banu space,” he told his ship, and not for the first time. The Reacher — his one constant companion — was a small Banu freighter; the closest Human equivalent would be a Freelancer, he supposed. Charl had blown the last of his army pension credits on her, years ago, and then only made the barest modifications to the alien craft to better accommodate his Human physiology. He had laughed when he first piloted the Reacher out of space dock, and the Banu refit crew joined him — well, Banu don’t exactly laugh so much as spit and tremble — because he knew it wouldn’t be at all comfortable for most Humans. But it suited Charl just fine.
“Let’s check the old credit balance,” he said, feigning optimism. “Maybe someone died and left me a fortune.” But when he drew up his account balance there was no change, as he knew there wouldn’t be. He was broke — in the red, actually, since he’d borrowed up to the account’s limit, too. No money for more provisions, and none for more fuel. If he didn’t jump soon he’d be stranded here on the fringes of Banu space.
“Would that be so bad?” he pondered aloud. The alternative was a return to imperial space, Human contracts, Human interaction, maybe even begging work from his uncles’ consortium … which he had successfully avoided for over four years. Currently, he had the Reacher in deep orbit in the Banu system of Geddon, but still just close enough to the system’s only inhabited world to keep a tenuous comm link.
He avoided the navcomp’s glare from the far side of his pilot’s board. When he finally looked and saw where he had absent-mindedly stopped scrolling the star maps, his mood soured further.
“Orion system. Of course.” Home, back in UEE space … physically his home, but not emotionally. Those thousand memories everyone has of their childhood? Charl’s were all in the Orion system. Dad bailing on them on Armitage. Then the Vanduul raiders ravaging their home, not once, but twice. Mom and both sisters lost. Nothing in his memories left any binding ties to home.
Charl fidgeted in the pilot’s chair a while longer, busying himself with this and that, uselessly lamenting his lack of funds and recent work. Finally, he unbuckled and floated back toward his stateroom — he’d hoped keeping the ship’s grav plates turned off might buy him a couple of extra days of energy — then velcroed into his bunk. He drifted off to sleep hoping for a miracle.
His miracle appeared as he slept, in the form of a new message in his CommRelay’s inbox.
“Great,” he moaned. “Who else do I owe money to?” He touched the screen for more data.
“Lyshtuu!” Charl held his breath and let a cautious hope wash over him. He carefully touched the screen for playback, grimacing as if it might reach out and slap his face.
Lyshtuu’s strange but familiar visage appeared on the screen. When was the last time the Banu trader had gotten in touch with him? Two standard years? More than that? He had changed very little; why would he, since Banu are effectively immortal.
“Charl-Grissom,” Lyshtuu began, his non-Human mouth parts struggling to form Human words. Banu and Humans were similar, but different enough that their speech had an otherworldly quality. But Charl had the practiced ear to understand it. He had always liked Lyshtuu particularly, though he always said Charl’s full name as if it was one long word.
“Charl-Grissom, your acquaintance is requested. It is my request that your acquaintance be made for another time. That is, again. I am requesting a renewed acquaintance with Charl-Grissom.” Charl caught his meaning. The Banu language tended to be quicker than most Human tongues, so Lyshtuu tended to hurry along despite Charl’s suggestion that he just slow it all down a beat.
“Charl-Grissom, an acquaintance renewal is desirable to me, Lyshtuu, an acquaintance …” he continued and Charl shook his head.
“Okay, old buddy, let’s get to the point here,” he said, fast forwarding. “Is there any money involved?” That was the other bad thing about Banu speech. Compared to Human speech patterns, Banu speech was really formal, even ceremonial, so it took them a long time to get to the point. Face to face, Charl would prompt Lyshtuu to just say what he meant, but since this was a recorded message he could only hit the fast forward button a few times and keep his eye out for a characteristic gesture.
“Oh, there it is!” he stopped and backed the message up a bit.
“… together for profit …” That was the key line. Banu always got serious when they started talking about profit.
“Yes!” Lyshtuu had a job for him. A paying job. Charl tossed his head back and enjoyed his first carefree breath in many standard months, and let the recorded message play on.
“ … together for profit will be this new acquaintance, mutual profit for services in the new acquaintance … “
Charl sat up straighter, brushing crumbs out of his scroungy beard and smoothing out his smelly t-shirt, even though no one could see him. He would need to shave. For whatever reason, Banu don’t trust anyone whose mouth they could not see. There would be plenty of time for that. He sped through the message to pick up the highlights.
“… partial mutual profit arranged with third party financial acquaintance …”
There would be an advance. Great, he needed one.
“… new acquaintance in kind with previous mutual for profit acquaintances … renew again Torreele Foodstuffs acquaintance …”
This job would be much like previous jobs. Charl had done other work through Lyshtuu for Torreele Foodstuffs, a Human corporation that imported Banu goods into UEE space. Unlike most Human corps, they had even established a significant presence in Banu territory. Easy jobs. They paid well and never bugged him while he worked.
“… full nature of new acquaintance to be shared at coordinates provided …”
He’d get the skinny in a face-to-face meeting, which was typical. Banu like to watch you closely when you talk. They pick up on each other’s attitudes visually, and even though a Human face reveals less to them it still makes them more comfortable. Fine.
“Oh, Lyshtuu, you beautiful Banu bastard, you’ve really saved my can!” Charl swung into action. He would have to reply to affirm his acceptance and secure the advance credits, which should be no problem from right here in Geddon. Then he could provision up, get the thrust coupler looked at — that thing had been acting up for awhile. He smacked the grav control with a lusty “Hah!” and welcomed the luxurious return of his own weight sinking into his chair.
“You know what this means, don’t you?” he asked of the Reacher. “No heading back to UEE space. No begging my useless-ass uncles for work!”
Charl quick-stepped through the ship, readying systems and stowing items. A quick trip to Geddon’s orbital and he could be on his way. He was smiling so hard his face hurt. He clicked the navcomp back on and scrolled joyfully out of the Human systems and back into the systems of the Banu Protectorate.
“Okay, baby,” he said, nudging the Reacher’s thrusters to life. “Let’s get rolling!”