Day 23: Morning
I was just finishing up breakfast and a most unusual conversation. The last person I had expected to have a long session with was JoAnn McKenzie; Lord fifteen years ago, I would have been howling on her trail. Now I was sitting here talking about my cousin, the current Hound Dog.
“This has been fun, JoAnn, but I have to get out to the dam; after the spin test we made a bunch of changes. The Bots and the kids — no I can’t call them that — the Bots and the Troops made so much progress on extending the constriction and increasing the pressure head, we may get the full 150 KVA outta that sucker. We had to change the intermediate gearing to adapt; damn those Troops don’t know the meaning of the word can’t.”
I was just preparing to leave when Ash came in the Bar area. I actually felt good about the way his eyes lit up like beacons in the night. He went over to the bar and grabbed one of those cups of coffee that I had seen Hanna make for him and Andy, how could anyone take that much sugar. As he sat down I asked, “Not eating this morning?”
“Nah, as usual I was out working with the last guard shift. Hanna snuck me a sandwich or two at mid-shift. Sometimes I think she’s what holds this place together. But down to more mundane things, what’s put that quizzical look on your face?”
“Your Cousin.” I said, “How could anyone that nice and with that sense of humor have a call sign like “The Reaper”?”
Ash’s face went colder than I had bloody ever seen, “That’s simple Sweetheart, you have never meet The Reaper, he’s a personality, not a call sign. Andy, like many that ran in the SpecOps crowd, suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder. The key is he and Mariana have it under control; their alter-egos, Magic and The Reaper, only show up when they want them to. They were the most feared team in space or on the ground. There was only one combo more dangerous; that was when Angel and The Reaper teamed up two times. That was a sight to behold; if you can imagine somebody who made Andy look small, it was Angel.”
I sat stunned, “What would cause two blokes like that to team up?”
“Easy, these goblins involved abandoned children to mask their getaway. Magic and Wildcat went for the kids; Angel and The Reaper went for the assholes. Both teams succeeded in spades. Happiest I ever saw the four of them! Hell, on the second one the chief goblin tried to sneak out in a skimmer, Ghost nailed his butt with a heat seeker up the tailpipe.”
“Who’s these blokes named Wildcat and Ghost?” I asked.
Ash grinned, “Wildcat was Angel’s partner, and Ghost was Magic and The Reaper’s taxi driver. Another MPD asshole you do not want to meet. Say, want to do me a favor?”
“Maybe Mate, what do you need?” I grinned.
Ash laughed, “Now there’s an open question. Actually what I need is to borrow your Bot today and for you to hang around here and work with Hanna on our little joke. While you are doing that watch for Travis to land at the spaceport and let Andy and me know when he is here.”
“Well I think I can handle that; it’s at least an excuse to have a dozer day.” I keyed my wrist comp, sent R. Digger orders to team up with R. Nav for the day, and asked, “So what the bloody hell is the joke?”
“You and Hanna have to figure out how to make 195 proof Shine look and smell like real Bourbon. Hanna has instructions but she’s going to need a second pair of hands. OK?”
”Oh Dear Lord, are you going to try to get some bloody fool to drink that stuff?”
“Of course,” he replied. “Just call it a Redneck ritual! I gotta go, take care of yourself, Love!”
With that he took his empty cup to the bar and left. I just sat stunned by the last sentence. Still in kind of a daze, I went to the closet barstool and asked Hanna, “Do you have any idea what just went on here?”
Hanna gave me that knowing smile, “To steal a line from an old movie, ‘Hearts are breaking all over two worlds tonight, because unless you are a fool girl, he is off the market today.’ Did you happen to know that Ash’s call sign was Ghost?”
For once, I was totally stoned, “What the hell, why did he warn me off of the Ghost?”
“Take it from an old veteran, when they are trying to get you in bed all you see is their good side; when they are trying to get at your heart, you see it all.”
Day 23: Evening
“McKenzie to A. Andrews: copy to: A. Stuart: gentlemen Capt. Travis has entered the bar and is in conversation with Bartlett and Lady. Special Jug is prepared.”
I knew that from my location I could beat Andy to Hanna’s place. We had finished the trench to the homestead and had added our efforts to the main trench headed for town and were less than two hundred yards from the designated location for the sub-station. As usual I was wrong, Andy pulled up to the side door at the same time I did.
“What did you do speed all they way down here?” I asked.
“Nope, we finished early. I was almost here when I got the call, you ready?”
I walked in the side door just as Bartlett was leaving the front door. “Well Travis, I think I owe you a pair of boots and Mariana is on her way over with them. Hanna says to get your meat out of her freezers and by the way, are you prepared to load 60 tons of ores?” I was quite pleased to see a dumbfounded look on Travis’s face.
“We figured if you were light on CU 29, you were probably light on TI 22. So we went and got you 40 tons of CU and 20 of TI. There has been a whole lot of digging going on down here.”
Just at that time, the other two members of Travis’s crew walked in and Ash came over from the bar.
“Can I buy ya’ll a drink?” He grinned with a bottle in his hand.
Travis looked at Ash, then at the bottle, then at me, and finally again at Ash. “I’m pilot on duty,” he said with a glint in his eye, “but I’m sure that Steven and Greg could use a couple swallows to wash the space dust out of their throats.” With that, he turned and headed towards the counter.
In the meantime, a few glasses were produced and Ash poured three fingers into each of them. Steven and Greg gratefully picked theirs up and with little fanfare proceeded to gulp their drinks down. What followed could have been a scene calling for an ambulance rescue squad – if it hadn’t been so funny!
There was a couple seconds delay and then both men gasped, their faces turning bright red as their eyes bugged out. There was the sound of both of them gagging and Steven fell to the ground, clutching his stomach.
Travis returned from the bar holding two glasses of water, giving one to each of the struggling men, saying, “I figured you might need this. . .”
Ash and I helped them back into their chairs while they gulped the water. JoAnn was coming over with a large container of additional water.
Ash was laughing so hard the tears were coming out of his eyes. “Sorry guys but we had to christen the still and since we could not find any damnyankees we had to settle for innocent spacers. Besides everybody on planet has been down wind from the still at one time or another they were not going to bite.
“Besides someone has been telling the story about ‘Never trust a redneck with a grin and a bottle with no label,’ to anyone that will listen.”
Travis grinned, “It was not me LTC Andrews; I have not been down here remember?”
I looked at Travis, “And where did you learn the ritual, Mars Colony or Seattle?”
Still looking like he wanted to laugh Travis replied, “Seattle, we had a good old boy from northern Georgia and he found an actual yankee to torment. He really was a good man to have around until Cafferty killed him in the belt.”
“Sounds like he was a fine upstanding Southern boy,” said Mariana as she entered. Handing Travis two boxes she said, “Bob threw in a pair of Chukkas to go with the Wellingtons and there ain’t a cockroach killer amongst them.”
Greg finally got enough voice back to croak, “You guys do this to your friends, dear God what do you do to your enemies?”
Ash looked at Travis, “Did you like that old Georgia boy?”
Travis looked puzzled, “Yes, he was a fine Pilot and a good friend!”
“Good Travis, because I put two MK 50’s right up Cafferty’s tail pipe after we chased him down. Does that answer your question Greg?”
Changing the tone quickly I told Travis, “My spies are telling me you unloaded my generators, now if I could just find me a Civil Engineer on this planet I could really get some stuff done.”
JoAnn was just coming back with a bottle labeled:
“Uh excuse me mate, what the bloody hell do you think I do for a living?”
Motioning to Steven and Greg I said, “This is the real stuff guys, it’s been cut down to 80 proof and ain’t half bad. Now Young Woman, what do you know about Hydro-Plants.”
Ash looked at Mariana, “I finally find a girlfriend I care about and he dominates her time.”
Mariana started laughing, “Come back and complain when she starts busting your tail up at the Hydro site!”
From where I was, seeing Ash’s face was worth the whole evening’s entertainment.