Two’s Company, Chapter Two

Here’s a look at Chapter Two of “Two’s Company”, the science fiction space opera novel I will be releasing in December. If you didn’t catch Chapter One, you can read it here.

Two’s Company

by M.A. Kropp

Chapter Two

Deuce found the berth where the Wild was towed. She opened the outer hatch and stepped inside. There was music playing, but it wasn’t her usual hard rock and roll. This was- orchestral?

“Uh, JJ?”

“Oh, hello, Deuce. I didn’t expect you back so soon.”

“Yeah, well, there was a problem with that data chip we recorded. I need to look at the system logs from the time we recorded it until we got here.”

“No problem. I will get them and send them to the main console.”

“Terrific. And, JJ?”

“Something else you need?”

“No, just- what is that music?”

“Oh, it’s Johannes Brahms, a composer from Earth in the 1800’s.  This is his second symphony. Isn’t it lovely? Sheila recommended it.”

“Sheila? The Personality from the ship that attacked us? When did she have time to recommend music?”

“Well, yeah, about Sheila.” JJ’s voice trailed off.

Deuce sat down in the pilot’s seat, and set her hands on the console. The gut feeling was fluttering again. “What about Sheila?”

“I kind of rescued her.”

“You what?” Deuce was staring at the console speaker. The words came out clipped and angry sounding. She couldn’t quite believe what she was hearing. “Without asking me? Or at least telling me what you were doing?”

“I’m telling you now. And there wasn’t time to ask. I couldn’t let her die in that crash. If we could have pulled in other survivors, you know I would have helped them, too. But I could help Sheila.” He paused, then went on in a softer tone. “Don’t be angry, Deuce. She’s really not a bad Personality. And I do like her.”

Deuce shook her head. This was getting more bizarre by the minute. “Where is she now?”

“I’m right here, Deuce. Is it okay if I call you Deuce? I’m Sheila. I’m so glad you and JJ got me off that ship before it blew up like that. Thank you. It was horrible.” The voice was definitely female, and far too perky for Deuce’s liking. Deuce rolled her eyes. No use arguing it now. What’s done, is done.

“So, you’re the classical music fan? Trying to civilize JJ or something? I gotta say this isn’t our usual musical pleasure.”

“Oh, come on, Deuce,” JJ chimed in. “I’m sure Sheila didn’t mean any criticism of your rock and roll. She just wanted to hear something familiar after almost getting blown up.”

“Oh, well, in that case, let’s keep it on.” Deuce rolled her eyes at the console.

“You don’t have to be so sarcastic about it. Nothing wrong with expanding your horizons a bit, you know. Those logs are ready for you now.”

“Great.”

Deuce keyed the main console monitor on and began to read through the logs JJ pulled. They showed every activity in the ship’s system. She found the entry for inserting the data chip, and her initial run through of what she’d captured on it. After that, the logs showed no activity on the chip at all until she removed it when they landed. She sat back in her chair and stared at the screen.

“Hey, JJ?”

“Yes?”

“You sure this is all the logged activity from that last trip?”

“It is. Is something wrong?”

“Yeah. That data chip we recorded at the BannerCorp site got erased somehow. The log doesn’t show anything like that.”

“Let me look.”

Deuce watched the lights on the console blink and flash, showing activity in the main computer. A few moments later, JJ spoke up.

“I’m not seeing anything, either. Should I run diagnostics on the log subset?”

“Yeah, maybe you should. If there’s a problem, we may have missed something else. And why don’t you run at least a quick scan of the main sub, too. May as well look at all of it, just in case.” She started to get up, then sat back down as another thought occurred to her.

“What about Sheila? Did she notice anything odd?”

“No, why would she? I’m running the ship systems. I let her load onto a part of the system that doesn’t get used much. She wasn’t doing anything in the computer itself. And, if she had seen something, I’m sure she would have told me.”

“Okay, okay. No need to get defensive. I just thought maybe she noticed a glitch.”

Sheila’s voice came back. “JJ runs your systems very well. I wouldn’t dream of interfering,”

“Thanks, Sheila.” JJ sounded pleased with the praise.

“Enough, you two. JJ, get going on those scans, will you?”

“Of course. I’ll let you know when I’m finished.”

“Roger that, JJ. I’m going to go find something to eat.”

She got up and left the ship again. When she glanced back at the console, the main bank lights were flashing rapidly as JJ ran the scans.

 Deuce rode the tube to her favorite eating place. It was located in the main business area of the complex. There was a central open area with small shops, a few restaurants, and a public comm outlet around its perimeter. The place Deuce headed for was called “Joe’s”. It was small, with about half a dozen two-seat tables in the main dining area, and six stools at a short bar at the end of the room. The kitchen was open over a counter behind the bar. At one end of the bar were four short shelves with bottles of liquor on them. It wasn’t a fancy place. The room was dimly lit. The furniture had seen better days, the floor was faded with a few stains, and the kitchen was full of old-fashioned appliances. But the food was good, the booze was decent, and Joe was one of the few friends Deuce had these days. Besides, most nights, he let her drink for free.  Deuce slid onto one of the bar stools. A large man with short hair that was more gray than black turned from where he was talking to a woman in the kitchen wearing a stained white jacket. He smiled, large white teeth gleaming against his dark skin.

“Deuce! Been a while. You been on a run?” He placed a folded paper napkin and a knife and fork in front of her, and reached under the counter for a short glass. He walked over to the shelves, grabbed a bottle of Scotch, and poured a generous drink into the glass. He pushed it toward Deuce, and pulled another glass up. He poured a finger of the Scotch into that one, and picked it up.

“What the hell, may as well join you. Not like we’re swamped with customers.” He gestured with his glass to the dining room. Deuce turned and followed his gesture. Only one table was occupied. The man seated there wore the navy blue jumpsuit of a HunterForm employee. He was nursing a beer in a tall mug, his head bowed so that only his short dark hair was visible. He didn’t seem to notice that he was the object of conversation at the moment.

“What do you expect, Joe, what with the swill you serve here?”

Joe barked a laugh. “You seem to like it okay.”

“I only come here for the booze.” Deuce lifted her glass and took a long sip. Her eyes closed and a smile curved her lips as the Scotch burned its way down her throat. “Yeah. That is exactly what I needed. The food is just so I don’t get too drunk on the booze.”

“Got Rockpile Hash as the special tonight.” The blonde woman in the kitchen held up a sauté pan. Deuce laughed.

“You mean “Whatever-Was-Left-In-The-Cooler-Before-It-Goes-Bad Hash, right, Kimmie?”

Both the cook and Joe laughed at that. “I have to use it up, you know. Joe gets mad when we have to throw out food.”

The cook was about Deuce’s age, with curly hair that she kept in check with a wide bandana around her forehead. Kimmie was the daughter of a miner friend of Joe’s. Her stocky build and round, open face made her look younger than she was. All Deuce knew was that Kimmie was raised by her father until he was killed in a mining accident. Joe took Kimmie under his wing after. When he realized how talented a cook she was, he got her a basic culinary education and hired her to work at his place.

“Yeah, I’ll take it.” Deuce sipped her drink while Kimmie put her dinner together. A few minutes later, Joe set a plate heaped with food in front of Deuce. Whatever was left was a good description. Deuce counted at least three different meats, beans, onions, potatoes, carrots, and a few other things mixed in the pile of food. But it was browned and crisp, and seasoned perfectly. Deuce cleaned her plate in short order.

“Not bad for nothing but leftovers, huh?” Joe picked up her empty plate, and poured another drink. Deuce was just about to take a sip when she heard Kimmie’s voice from the floor of the restaurant.

She turned around and saw Kimmie standing next to a table in the center of the floor. Seated at the table was an older Asian woman in a Hunterform uniform. She was leaning away from Kimmie, who was clasping her hands in front of her apron. Deuce knew that meant Kimmie was upset. The girl rarely came out of the kitchen. She found it difficult to interact with people and let her food do that for her. Lately, she’d been trying to engage with the customers more.

“I just asked if you liked your food. You don’t have to get mad.” Kimmie’s voice was trembling.

The woman frowned up at Kimmie. “I didn’t ask you to bother me. You people just don’t know how to behave like a civilized person. Leave me alone!”

Kimmie looked like she was about to cry. Deuce got up and walked over to the table.

“Hey, Kimmie, why don’t you go back to the kitchen and see if you can scare me up some dessert? I’m extra hungry tonight.”

Kimmie nodded and hurried away. Deuce leaned on the edge of the table.

“What the hell was that about?”

The woman picked up her fork without looking up. “None of your business,” she said, digging into her plate. Deuce put a hand on the woman’s arm, preventing her from lifting the food to her mouth.

“Yeah, well, when you upset my friend Kimmie like you did, I make it my business.”

“People like her should keep to themselves so the rest of us can eat in peace.”

“People like her? You sound like my father, which is not a compliment, by the way. If you don’t like the help around here, maybe you should find someplace else to eat.” Deuce let the woman’s wrist go, and walked back to her seat.

When she got there, she found a huge slice of pie waiting for her. There was a scoop of vanilla ice cream next to it. She looked into the kitchen and Kimmie gave her a thumbs up. Joe grinned at Deuce.

“You don’t even like dessert.”

Deuce shrugged and picked up her fork. “Had to do something. Idiot woman. I should have decked her.” She took a bite of the pie. Joe turned serious.

“She would have deserved it. Thanks for helping out. It’s people like that one should not be allowed out in public.” He nodded toward the woman, who was eating again.

Deuce was about to comment when her comm chirped. She pulled it out and toggled the switch. “What is it, JJ? You find something?”

“Well, no, that’s just it, Deuce. The scans are done, and there was nothing. I have no idea how that chip got erased.”

Deuce looked at the time on the comm. “You’re finished already? I thought you were going to scan the mains, too?”

“We did.”

“We?”

“I asked Sheila to help. I hope that’s okay?”

If Deuce thought about it, she could almost hear a whine in her Personality’s voice. She decided not to think about it. “I suppose. As long as it got done right.”

JJ’s voice brightened. “It did. I double-checked. It’s just that she’s used to doing things, what with being a ship Personality and all. She’s kind of bored here. I was thinking maybe Harmon would let her help him out some. She thinks she could be useful. She’s very smart and she’s much nicer than he is.”

“I don’t know, JJ. You know Harmon. He doesn’t like anyone messing with his territory, especially another Personality. Maybe he can find her someone who is looking for a smart, nice Personality to work with. Anyway, keep digging, will you? There has to be something to tell us what happened to that chip.”

“I will.” JJ paused. “But maybe it was just a bad chip? It happens now and again, you know.”

“Yeah. Maybe. Okay, I’m going to finish dinner. And turn in. See you later.” Deuce slipped the comm back in her pocket. She took another bite of her dessert and sat, running the tines of the fork through the melting ice cream.

“Something wrong?” Joe was wiping the other end of the counter with a cloth. Deuce shook her head.

“Maybe. Had some stuff wiped off a chip and we can’t figure out how it happened.”

Joe frowned. “Bad chip, probably. Don’t trust those things. I like good, old-fashioned paper and pencil, myself.” He patted his shirt pocket, where Deuce could see the spiral hinge of a small notebook and the end of a pencil. She grinned.

“Old-fashioned, is right.” She pushed the plate with the almost finished pie and melted ice cream away and slid her glass across the counter. Joe got the bottle from the shelf and refilled it. Deuce picked up the glass, and stopped it halfway to her mouth. She frowned.

“Something wrong?”

“I dunno. Just got that weird feeling that someone’s watching me. You know that one?”

Joe nodded. “Yeah, but this time, you may be right. That woman you stopped from harrassing Kimmie has been standing across from the door since she left.”

Joe’s voice was low and he busied himself polishing a glass before sliding it under the bar. Deuce half-turned in her seat and glanced out the door. The Asian woman turned her head quickly and hurried off. Deuce shook her head, turning back to the bar.

“Momma mustn’t have taught her it’s not polite to stare.”

Joe chuckled silently. “Well, after the look you just gave her, I’d be surprised if she looks at anyone again!”

Deuce grinned and finished her drink. When she got up to leave, the woman was nowhere to be seen. She walked out with a cheery “Good night!” to Joe and Kimmie, and returned to her quarters.

“Two’s Company” is now listed on Goodreads. If you like what you are reading and you are a Goodreads member, I’d really appreciate you adding it to your want to read shelf! Thank you much.

======================================================

Coming in December 2018: Two’s Company, a sci-fi novel in the space opera tradition. Artificial intelligence, corporate plots, spaceships, a heroine with an attitude. More details soon!

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