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   Chapter 2 No.2

Loderunner By Christina Engela Characters: 5682

Updated: 2018-06-30 12:02

"No, I certainly can't!" agreed Skooch, grinning back. "Say hi to Mei for me." His acquaintance Gary Beck, aka Beck the Badfeller rose and helped Peeping William out of his chair.

"Sure. And you say hi to Dory, 'k? C'mon Will – let's get you to the Sheriff. I need a cold one."

"Yippee." Said Will, not exactly brimming over with enthusiasm.

Timaset Skooch reached across the table and packed the notes together. He counted them out too. Seven thousand credits! Then he scooped the coins and the (ugh) gold tooth into an empty glass for the waitress. Seven thousand credits! But what was the plastic slip under it all?

"What the heck is this?" he asked, reading it. Jonn Deire sat across the table from him, his eyes red-rimmed and moist. The big man seemed to be dissolving from the inside.

"That's the ownership papers fer ma' pride an' joy." He said in a shaky voice. "The Celeste. That's ma' ship – ah knew ah shouldn'a bet 'er. She's yures now."

Skooch stared, shocked. "You bet your ship? On a game of Uno? What for?"

"Ah needed the money! Ah had a few debts to pay off." Deire said, subdued. "Ah didn't think Ah'd really lose."

He thought about it for a minute. The kitty was only around seven thousand give or take a gold tooth and some coinage – minus the ship – which must've been worth well, a lot more than seven thousand, even in scrap metal. An alarm was going off somewhere, faintly.

"What the hell am I going to do with a ship?" He said, slumping into his seat. He passed the document over to Jonn, who looked at him as if he were mad. "Here, I don't want it. I can't take your livelihood. You have that back!"

"You don't want mah Celeste?" Deire said, glowering. Skooch realized he might has well have just called the man's darling little sister a two-bit counter-clockwise thigh-scrubber from North Lugaluru. "Ah lost her to you, Mister Skooch - fair an' square!"

Okaay. He noticed the area of empty space which had started to grow around them. He had unwittingly offended the man's sense of honor. And he was a big man. Taking the document back, he started looking it over. Under the grime and stains of ages past, it read: 'Terran Merchant Fleet Registration Certificate'. Somewhere in the spaces indicated below were the name of the owner – one Jonnulass Mc Watt Deire and the technical specifications of the particular vessel. It was a Rotanga Class loderunner, first commissioned in 2068, certified to carry cargo and passengers with a total not exceeding blah, blah, blah.

"But it's a hundred and twelve years old!" He protested.

"She still works pretty good." Deire maintained. "Stardrive gets a mite twitchy at warp 4, but that's just a dodgy plasma injector."

Timaset didn't need a ship – especially not a flying museum piece! And as far as he knew, a dodgy plasma injecto

r could drop you smack into a wormhole ending somewhere on the other side of the universe with no way back. Well, he could always sell the damn thing. Couldn't he? He could use the money. Damn, he could always use the money! Maybe the crew would want to buy it over from him?

"What's the catch?" Skooch asked. There had to be one. There was always a catch. Just like contracts and catches – there's a loophole somewhere. You might not see it because it's lurking somewhere in the small-print, looking at you with its beady little yellow eyes. There's always a loophole. Sometimes it's the one that slips around your neck and strangles you.

"No catch." Said Deire. "On mah honor!"

Perhaps it was some kind of blessing in disguise? 'Yeah, right' a small imaginary figure with horns and a pitchfork whispered in his ear.

"Well, all right then." Said Timaset Skooch at last, shrugging. "Thanks."

"She's parked at the space port, Bay 227." Deire said, rising. "Ah'll have mah things cleared out by tomorrow noon."

"I'll come around sometime then." Said Skooch numbly as the dejected man walked out. Well, alright then. Pocketing his winnings for the evening, Skooch rose and waved at the barman on his way to the exit. As he drew level with the doorway, he slowed cautiously and paused a moment. Most guys who had just won seven grand in a card game in a dingy low class bar would stand a fairly good chance of getting mugged as soon as they set a foot outside. But not Timaset Skooch. His reputation tended to provide him some protection. The denizens of the red-light district gave him a wide berth, unwilling to tangle with him… And that was possibly the last thought that passed through his mind before the world around him exploded into constellations of stars and other assorted bright lights.

When he finally awoke, lying in a puddle of his own drool, the first – ok, maybe the second thing to hit him, was that he was still alive. And that it was probably worse than being dead. But only because being dead probably didn't hurt quite so much. While pulling himself together and taking stock, he discovered that he'd been robbed. Money, all gone – the ship's papers – no, damn – he still had that! The only thing in his coat was him and the deeds to nothing much. Hmm, thieves with savvy. Fancy that. He was actually disappointed.

He was already starting to become convinced the thing was jinxed. His wallet was also missing. He now had to get another one, but then what would be the point? He had nothing to keep in it anyway. So now he was broke and he still had a ship to get rid of. Well, maybe he could recoup his losses that way. And he'd acquired a headache. Massaging the lump at the back of his head, he slowly made his way back to his Jeepo, now more determined to get rid of the damn thing than ever.

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