Zzzzaney asked for both Rays schooling Fraser in some situation in which Fraser was out of his element. And an order of Meggy on the side.
Once every Terran-equivalent-year the Space Constabulary held an auction of confiscated spaceships. It was an excellent source of revenue for the space police force since many malfeasants bought their own ships back, and one such customer was Harding. The good ship Chicago was an excellent vessel – speedy and maneuverable. And best of all she needed only a minimum of crew to operate her. Harding could get by with a crew of no more than three, excluding himself, all the fewer to have to divvy up the spoils with later.
On this particular day Stanley’s head was bent over the sensor station, affectionately known as the “crow’s nest”. He was scanning for ships laden with saleable merchandise and minimum armaments with which to defend that merchandise. Raymond sat in the “wheelhouse” which was actually a circular navigation console with a break in it, like a bite out of a cookie, for the pilot to sit. Meg was off-duty, snoozing in the sleeping quarters. Harding paced back and forth across the command center.
“I’ve got something, Skipper,” Stanley called.
Harding came over to join him at the sensor station. “What?”
“Small. Looks like some kind of escape pod.”
“Not likely to be much in the way of valuables, if they’re escaping. Leave it be.”
Stanley said, “There might be a reward for the rescue. Let’s pick the thing up and have a look. If there’s nothing or nobody interesting, we just shoot it back into space.”
“Not worth the couplin’ trouble,” Raymond muttered.
Harding, ever the decisive commander, made his decision. “We’ll have a look. Raymond, bring us around. Stanley, attach that pod and bring it inside. You and me’ll go have a look-see.
“Exhaust!” declared Raymond, “We should just let the couplin’ thing alone. We’re not in the couplin’ rescue business.”
“You’re a foul-mouthed monster, you know that?” Stanley shot back at him.
Harding stood by watching while Stanley secured the pod, which was barely big enough to carry a large human, and opened it. Both men looked inside to see an adult human male.
“Exhaust!” Harding cursed, “It’s a Constable.”
The occupant was indeed wearing the bright red jumpsuit and high brown boots of a member of the Space Constabulary.
“I guess we’d better shoot him out again. But send him directly into space. It’s a good quality pod; we can get something for it. Nobody’s going to notice one Constable more or less.”
“Except the Constabulary maybe?” Stanley offered.
The built-in sensing devices on the pod had already identified the atmosphere on the ship as breathable for humans and had started the resuscitation sequence. The man lying inside the pod began to blink and his fingers wriggled.
“Exhaust! He’s waking up. Let’s get rid of him fast before he arrests all of us.”
“Wait a minute, Stanley. Look at his neck. He’s not wearing a lanyard.”
Stanley looked. The Constable was not wearing the net of communication gear that all members of that police force always wore about their necks. “That’s weird. A Constable’s not a Constable without a lanyard. You think he’s a deserter? Or maybe he’s been kicked out?”
“Best way to find out is to let him wake up and tell us,” Harding decided. “Stay here and keep an eye on him. I’m going to go get the others and some thirty-nines and we’ll all watch Sleeping Beauty wake up together.
“Aye, aye, Skipper. Just so long as I don’t have to kiss him.”
Harding and his whole crew, Raymond, Stanley and Meg, all stood around the Constable’s pod, each aiming a thirty-nine-wave pistol directly at him. The man sat up, unsteady at first, and then focused on his surroundings. He looked at the four outlaws standing around, their pointing weapons at him. And then he did something they didn’t expect. He laughed.
Then he stood up and climbed out of the pod, slowly. As soon as he didn’t need his arms for balance, he held them up in the air to indicate he considered himself their prisoner. The man was good looking if you were into male humans
Harding spoke first. “Where’s your lanyard, Constable?”
“It has been cut.”
“Would you kindly identify yourself before I answer that?”
“Let’s get rid of him,” Raymond groused.
“Raymond, be nice. The Constable is our guest – until or unless we decide to kill him.” Harding politely identified himself, his ship and each crewmember.
The Constable nodded. “I think I arrested you once. These others, I don’t recognize.”
“Just shoot him into space,” Raymond said.
“No!” Meg interjected. “If his lanyard’s cut he’s not a real Constable anymore, so he can’t arrest us. Let’s keep him. He’s cute.” She was definitely into male humans and this was one of the most attractive of that gender and species she had ever seen.
It was Harding’s turn to laugh. “I’d like to hear his story. Let’s rustle him up some grub and have a listen. Somebody’ll have to go back to the wheelhouse, though.”
“I’ll go, Skipper. Don’t give an exhaust about no couplin’Constable’s story.” Raymond said and headed back to the command center.
Harding, Stanley and Meg brought the Constable into their off-duty rest area and poured him some liquid nourishment. He sipped it slowly, all the while looking around at his captors. Finally Harding spoke up.
“Your story, Constable. Let’s have it.”
The red-clad man sighed. “Why not. What does it matter now? I’ve been thrown out of the Constabulary. My commanding officer ordered my lanyard cut and had me sent off in a pod. I’m a disgrace to the Force.”
“That sounds really cool!” Stanley said. “What did you do?”
“I refused to arrest someone.”
“Yeah? Who?” Meg took over the prompting.
“My sister. I refused to arrest my sister for piracy, so I was discharged.”
“Literally, it seems,” observed Welsh. “Right into space. Who is your sister? Maybe we know her and we can rendezvous with her ship”.
“My colleagues . . . ex-colleagues . . . arrested her and impounded her ship.”
“Tough break. He’s been through a lot. Maybe we shouldn’t shoot him into space after all.”
“Maybe we should, to relieve him of his agony.” Harding turned to the Constable, now revealed as ex-Constable. “You want us to put you out of your misery?”
The man cleared his throat. “No, thank you. I’ll endure my misery a little longer, if it’s not too much trouble for you.”
“It is trouble for us to keep another person on board, using up nourishment and oxygen. We’d need a good reason to keep you.”
“He’s cute. That’s a good reason. And he must have some skills that we could use.” This was Meg’s contribution.
“I have. I have. I’ve been studying pirates all my adult life. I’ve never been anything else but a Constable. My father was one too, a legend, Constable Robert.”
“Well I’ll be coupled!” Harding was surprised into letting out an unaccustomed foul word. “Everybody knows Constable Robert. You got a name, Mister son-of-a-legend?”
“Okay, Benton, we’ll let you ride along until we get to somewhere safe to let you off. As long as you can make yourself useful, that is. Meg, you and the boys can teach him what piracy is like from the other side of the law.”
“Thank you kindly, Mister Harding.”
“As long as you’re part of the crew, you call me ‘Skipper’.”
“Exhaust! You want me to help you school this couplin’ Constable in how to be a real outlaw?”
“Um, yeah, Raymond, that’s the plan.” Stanley could see Raymond wasn’t all that enthusiastic about the task.
Benton sat with the two of them, looking from one to the other. Meg was taking her shift at the command center.
Raymond stood up and circled Benton, looking him over. “Hunh. I see why Meg wants to keep you, but I’m not into human males. What’s in it for me?”
“Perhaps the satisfaction of helping a fellow citizen?” Benton offered.
Raymond’s sneer was worthy of a true villain, but Stanley knew he was a reasonably decent person underneath his gruff exterior. Well, decently reasonable, anyway.
“Okay. I’ll help out. Let’s start with the most important thing – how to talk like a pirate.”
“I’m not sure that’s the most important thing,” Stanley opined.
“It’s the most amusing.” Raymond stopped orbiting the seated Benton and looked him full in the face.
“You know what an adjective is?”
Benton seemed insulted. “Language skills are of great importance in the Constabulary. We always maintain the highest standards of speech and politeness.”
“Don’t I know it? Every Constable I ever met always said please before taking my ship away and thank you afterwards. You need to learn a new vocabulary. From now on the only adjective you use is “couplin’. Get it?”
Benton stiffened uncomfortably in his chair. “I’m not accustomed to using bad language, Mister Raymond.”
“You accustomed to breathing in open space?”
“I thought you’d catch on. Now, describe that chair you’re sitting in.”
Benton took a deep breath and looked around at all of them before giving it a try. “It’s a . . . it’s a . . . I can’t!”
“Come on, Benton, you can do it. It’s only a word.” Stanley tried to encourage him.
“It’s a . . . no, I can’t do this.”
“Then it’s off to the airlock for you, my friend.” Raymond purred.
“No, no, please give me a moment. Its. A. Couplin’ Chair.” Benton dropped his head in shame, while Raymond and Stanley applauded.
“Let’s try interjections now.” Raymond went on.
“Aw, come on. Let’s teach him something more practical. Like how to fly this bucket.”
“I know how to fly this model and just about any other craft used by pirates.” Benton boasted, unwisely since feigning ignorance would have bought him some time.
“I’ll bet you do. And you know navigation and weaponry, too, I suppose. So it’s back to your language lesson, pal. When something bad happens, what do you say?”
“Oh dear,” answered Benton.
“What’s your problem? I haven’t even told you the word yet.”
“No, I mean that’s what I say. I say ‘oh dear’.”
“Exhaust!” said Raymond.
“Have I said something wrong?”
“No, that’s the word you use from now on. Exhaust.”
Benton blushed the colour of his jumpsuit and tried it out. “Eh . . . ex . . . no! Please don’t make me say it!”
Stanley felt he really should intervene. “Yeah. Lay off the dude. Look, Benton, I’ll teach you something else. What do you say when you pull up beside another ship and you want them to hand over their cargo?”
Benton leaped to his feet and without even thinking adopted the ramrod straight, imperial bearing of a Constable. “Citizen! Please bring your vessel to a halt and surrender your cargo.”
“That’s not too bad, actually,” said Stanley pleasantly. “Instead of ‘citizen’, say ‘dude’, and drop the ‘please’.”
Fraser tried again. With the same inflection and posture he announced. “Dude! Bring your couplin’ vessel to a halt and surrender your cargo.”
Raymond and Stanley smiled at each other.
“I think he’s got it,” said Stanley.
It was Benton’s fourth day aboard and during that time they had not encountered any other vessels. This had Harding worried because they were almost out of fuel and few legitimate space service station owners would likely sell them any for fear of being punished by the Constabulary for aiding and abetting pirates. They usually stole fuel from passing ships but they hadn’t passed any in far too long.
Benton was proving useful. He knew the ship as well as Harding himself and confided to them that he had actually flown the Chicago while it had been impounded. There was no question of sharing any booty with him. Just keeping him alive and on board was more than he could expect and he was well satisfied to do everything he was told – which meant the others, in fact, did very little work.
Raymond noticed that every now and then Benton would rub at his neck. He would run his fingers, seemingly unconsciously, around the base of his neck and around his collarbone.
On that fourth day, Raymond came up to where Benton was hunched over the wheelhouse displays.
“You miss your lanyard, don’t you?”
Benton only ducked his head even lower in embarrassment.
“Here, I made you something.” Raymond held out net-like collection of fine white wires with a single longer, thicker wire segment hanging down.
Benton turned to look very slowly at the object in Raymond’s hands. Then, tears gathered in the corners of his eyes. Tentatively he reached out for the netting and held it, lovingly in his hands for a few seconds.
“It doesn’t work, you know. It’s just a facsimile. So you can have something around your neck.” Raymond didn’t want to appear too nice. “It makes me nervous seeing you rubbing your neck all the time.” In fact, Benton had been reminding Raymond of an old dog, embarrassed without a long-accustomed collar.
Benton slipped the apparatus around his neck and fastened tiny clips in the back to hold it in place. The longer wire, he adjusted so that it hung down to just the middle of his chest. He was no longer in his Constable uniform, having borrowed some loose-fitting dungarees from Stanley. The clothes were loose fitting on Stanley, that is, but the much sturdier Benton filled them out nearly to bursting.
“Thank you kindly, Raymond.”
Stanley knew better than to make Raymond feel uncomfortable by acknowledging his kindly deed. So he had been very deliberately keeping his eyes down at the crow’s nest instruments. Just as Benton was thanking Raymond, Stanley noticed something and called out, “Skipper. Vessel approaching.”
“About couplin’ time!” said Raymond, glad to have a reason to break off the conversation he was having and revert to his usual unpleasant persona.
“Let’s let Benton make contact,” Stanley suggested.
“No way. We need fuel too badly to let an amateur couple this up.”
Benton made a significant sniff and wiped the tears from his eyes. “Let me get your fuel for you. I’m sure I’ll be successful. Please.”
Constables always kept their word. That was well known. They would take your ship and lock you up for any tiny infraction of space law but they were always honest about it. Harding decided to give the man a chance.
“Okay, take your place at the communications terminal.”
Instead, Benton headed for the doorway that separated the command center from the rest of the ship.
“Where are you going?” Harding demanded.
“I’ll only be a moment. I have to change my clothes if I’m going to do this my way.”
Benton was as good as his word, which was no surprise to any of them, and came back dressed in his red uniform and brown boots. With his ersatz lanyard around his throat he looked like any on-duty member of the Constabulary. He took position at the communications terminal and switched on the audio/visual feed. After a little adjustment, he and the other ship’s owner were looking right at each other on their view screens.
“Can I help you, friend?” the ship-owner’s attitude was casual until he realized what the man on the screen was wearing. “C. . .C . . .C . . . Constable . . . um . . . how . . . um . . . what . . . can I do for you?”
Benton relaxed into his habitual way of dealing with the public. “Citizen. The ship I am on requires fuel. Please prepare to transfer any spare fuel packs you have to us. Immediately.”
“Uh . . . uh . . .” the ship-owner was only too relieved that this was all the Constable wanted and wasn’t planning to examine his cargo too closely. “Right away. Yeah. As much as you want.”
Benton motioned Meg to stand beside him so that the ship-owner could see her. “This citizen will board your vessel and supervise the transfer. If that is agreeable to you.” It was clear from Benton’s voice that he was used to making similar suggestions often and never expected anyone to tell him anything except that it was perfectly agreeable.
“Sure, sure. Send her over. I’ll get the packs ready.” He terminated the transmission just as Benton was intoning a gentle, “Thank you kindly for your assistance.”
Meg threw her arms around Benton. “I knew it was a good idea to keep you on board! This is going to be the start of a bee-yoo-tee-ful partnership.” She planted a big, wet kiss onto his mouth and then, before he could react, dashed off to make the fuel transfer.