21. Coming Home

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Tori couldn’t believe she was stranded AGAIN. It was like deja vu; for her and the rest of the Zapp family, it brought back the feelings of helplessness and isolation of their experiences in the escape pods. At least this time, they had the crew of the crippled ship, The Three Zees, to keep them company and they could all wait in the dim light together and hope for rescue. They were into their third day since the explosion now and talk amongst the crew about possible damage to the ship and of their hopes and dreams for the future had given way to more practical matters. Like how to stay warm and conserve their rapidly dwindling air supply, and what the probable chances of rescue actually were. After the early realization that three crew members had been outside the ship during the accident, there was no further discussion of them, but the thought was there in the back of everyone’s mind. Along with that spark of hope that SOMEBODY was coming to take them home


John Miles watched the IGV Alice Marie until the pink glow of its ion engines faded into the distance and turned back once more to the awe-inspiring view of the nearby star he had from the rear of the bridge on his giant salvage vessel. He took a moment to appreciate the sheer power and majesty of the swirls and eruptions on the boiling surface below, before a slight vibration beneath his feet nudged him back to reality. He felt a second faint shudder through the deck plates, as a freighter unloaded material and supplies destined for the Three Zees and he checked his nav/comm console and saw that the damaged ship should now be on the horizon. John released the tug drones; they headed for the target vessel and would gain control and return with it to the main salvage ship. He had no stores on board and very little space, but he had to get the rescued crew into some breathable air and he was conscious of the fact that this wasn’t just another job. He had salvaged many ships, but not those with surviving crew members, still on board and certainly not ones staffed by people he knew, so John was much relieved when the tug console started displaying active status.

John sighed with relief as he entered the coordinates of his location and commanded the tugs to come home. Within a hour The Three Zees was strapped into the carriage and the survivors were transferred to the now loaded freighter.

Tori was the first to hear a scraping on the Three Zees hull and she motioned for the others to be quiet a few seconds before a loud metallic CLANG alerted them to the arrival of the automated tugs. A weary cheer went up from the assembled passengers and crew, now that they knew they were finally going home.

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18. Dangerous games.

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Now they were safely in Earth orbit, Carli knew she only had a few days to prepare, but since the success or failure of the operation depended largely on keeping Lazzaro off balance and distracted, she had to spend at least some time each day working on him.

Whether that meant finding an excuse to wander onto the bridge whilst Toes was doing his gripe ‘n’ groan session and stand in Eric’s line of sight until he noticed her, sitting at his table in the canteen when he was chatting to other crewmen and flashing him an occasional coy smile, or “accidentally” running into him in the corridor when he was taking his morning run, Carli made sure he saw just enough of her to make him uncomfortable, but not enough that he had a chance to talk to her about anything except official ship’s business.

She felt bad about it and she held onto that feeling; it somehow helped her justify her actions, making her conscious of how important her mission was and giving her an added incentive to complete it as soon as possible.

For his part, Lazzaro was totally confused by her attitude, he couldn’t for the life of him work out what he was supposed to do.
Did he brazen it out and hope it was all some kind of elaborate joke?
Should he call her bluff and hope she was just waiting for an opportunity to explain?
Or should he seek out Diaz, talk to her privately and take the chance that she wouldn’t go running straight back to her friend with news of his discomfort?

He quickly discounted all but the first option however, as he was still concerned that his memory of that night hadn’t returned and he didn’t want to risk the loss of his pass getting back to the captain.
So all he could do was concentrate on his duties as First Officer and pray that the situation resolved itself soon because, with the Three Zees in trouble, he was going to need to have his wits about him.

*****

Meanwhile, in the vast interplanetary void between Jupiter and Mars, Dreeb and his hired killers were on course for their pre-arranged rendezvous point. The cruiser had reached the potentially dangerous area of the asteroid belt, where careful programming of the nav-systems was essential if they wanted to maintain faster-than-light drive.
They were heading for Phobos, Mars’ largest satellite, the plan being to hold station on the “blind side” of the small moon, hiding in its shadow until it was time to intercept their target.

“Sir, there’s a burst transmission coming in now,” said one of the black-clad, masked mercenaries; Dreeb didn’t know his name and didn’t want to, (he had actually issued the crew with numbered badges when he retained their services, specifically to avoid personal interaction) “do you want to take it here on the bridge?”

“No,” Dreeb replied, “transfer it to the scrambler in comms,” he crossed to the door of the small secure room and swiped his pass across the sensor panel, “and don’t get any funny ideas, this message is for my eyes only.”

The crewman grunted and shrugged, then routed the message as he’d been told, signalling indifference to his boss’s secrecy. His expression, had anyone been able to see it, said he’d been hired to do a job without asking questions, and that was fine by him.

Dreeb closed the door and powered up the custom built comm panel, activating the encryption software by scanning the coded chip that was embedded beneath the skin of his wrist.
A stream of code scrolled past; the data from Lazzaro’s stolen security card, then the screen went blank and the lines of numbers were replaced by the spiky trace of an audio player.
He checked the time code and noted that, although the message been received just moments earlier, it had been recorded two days previously and only sent when the cruiser had come within range of the transmitter onboard the Alice Marie.

Dreeb played Carli’s report, a crooked grin twisting the scarred contours of his face as he listened, then he copied the security data to a flash drive he kept on a chain around his neck, deleted the original and the audio file and closed down the comm panel.
He left the small room and beckoned to the man who had reported the transmission.

“Six, I’m going to my cabin, you have the bridge.” The man gave a curt nod. “Unless there’s an emergency I don’t want to be disturbed until we’re on final approach to Phobos.”

*****

As Dreeb headed for a voyeuristic fix of death and disfigurement, courtesy of his subspace SnuffStream account, Carli was trying her hardest not to feel guilty about spending yet another mealtime torturing Eric.

She’d sat opposite him at lunch, shamelessly flirting with members of the engineering team, laughing loudly at their jokes and joining in when they mocked Lazzaro’s expression of disgust at some of the more tasteless stories.
In the end he’d got up and left the canteen, clearly disappointed at her behaviour, which suited Carli fine, despite the pangs of conscience, the less he wanted to do with her today, the happier she was.

After another ten minutes of banter with the engineers, Carli made her excuses and left, not rushing but with a nervous urgency that she fought to control.
She stopped to chat with Diaz, who was on her way for a workout in the gym and promised to join her there when she’d been back to her quarters to change, but when her friend was out of sight Carli doubled back and headed for the transport bay.

Finding the bay empty, as she assumed it would be at this time of day, she once again disabled the door access panel and retrieved the hidden transmitter from behind the hidden panel in her locker.
She checked the display and then, noting the symbol for a delivered burst message was showing, entered a code to activate the unit.
This time however, she had to spend valuable seconds fitting a new comm chip, one that would only transmit on a single, very specific frequency.

It seemed to take forever for the signal indicator to flicker on and she could feel the thumping of her heart against her ribcage by the time she heard the faint sound of a voice, repeating the same phrase over and over;
“Intel Ops waiting…Intel Ops waiting…Intel Ops waiting…”

She took a deep breath and spoke quietly and clearly, “Intel Ops, this is agent Fisher, codename: Carli…I say again, Intel Ops this is Carli, do you read me?”
She thought for a moment they weren’t going to reply, that they’d abandoned her, then;
“We hear you Carli, go ahead.”

That was it, no pleasantries, no “How’ya doing?” nothing, but it was enough to calm the pounding in her temples and she could detect only the faintest of tremors in her voice when she spoke.

“Message sent successfully. Repeat: Message sent and acknowledged. Predicting the hostile to be in position at Phobos ahead of schedule. Requesting confirmation of intercept team’s deployment.”

“Affirmative, a full team has been deployed and is currently en route to the coordinates you provided.”

“Understood,” Carli paused, unsure of how to phrase the next question, “um, when will it be necessary for me to inform captain Toes of my deception? I assume he will be made aware of the situation prior to the operation being executed and I doubt he’ll take kindly to being used like this.”

She had been expecting some discussion on the matter, so she was surprised at the abruptness of the reply.
“Negative. Repeat: Negative. Do NOT make the captain aware of any facet of the operation. This is strictly need to know. Control out.”

And that was it.
Zena Fisher, Intel Ops officer, codename: Carli, was on her own again.

13. Kids.

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Captain Toes was doing routine paperwork and ‘net surfing when his comm went off, “yeah?”

“Capt’, we are about a week out from Earth…and we have received a request from Specter to pick up a traveler.”

Crap, he hated these detours. They would have to drop out of hyper and restart…

“How far out?”

“They have a hyper shuttle, and would intercept…plus they will pay our orbit fees…”

Well, money’s nice and no course alterations. Of course, there are no orbit fees since this was related to escape pods

“Guess it’s set then. When would they dock?”

“In about an hour.”

“let me know, capt’ out, ” he cut the connection.

“Aye, capt, and thanks”

He picked up the essay that Tori had presented in her English class. Interesting topic, and was very much written by a 12yr old. Her teacher was worried about her state of mind, was concerned Tori might be depressed. Of course she’s depressed!!! Her whole world blew up, she went from being a kid on the fast track for engineering to being an independent person and able to play with other kids. He didn’t see anything that would lead him to the teacher’s concerns. He hoped she’d stay with the Alice Marie and was already working on a project he felt she’d be good for. He opened a private channel to PackRat Salvage. He discussed the final arrangements for transferring the escape pods and also a tour of the orbital scooper. He asked Tori to come to his office.

Tori wondered what was wrong, or if anything was at all as she got dressed. She liked living alone and the lack of uniforms was also nice. She decided on basketball shorts and a oversized t-shirt. She tossed her hair, and with a last look she headed to Captain Toes office.

“Hello Tori. I see you are comfy…come on in. I wanted to discuss this essay. Very good writing, so much emotion…and confusion. So, how’s life for you? Your teacher is kinda concerned and wondering if you were…well…suicidal?” He watched her expressions, too young and inexperienced in the art of deception, confident he’d see any problems. Tori laughed.

“For real?! I write about losing my family and the excitement of playing with other kids. Missing my family…geez!!!”

The captain waited, and yep, Tori started crying. Just a kid in an adult world. He didn’t intend on discussing the information he had about the other Zapps he’d seen on the List. It wasn’t necessary. He let her cry and resisted the urge to play daddy. Tori didn’t need that, nor did she need teachers waving flags.

“OK, do you think you could pass an advancement test in English?” That would serve his needs and move Tori away from this teacher who could create some real problems for Tori.

She sniffled and nodded. Captain Toes told her he’d set that up, and after entering some data into his computer he let Tori talk and regain her composure. He then sent her to school and asked her to email him with any issues. He stressed that she could back out without any repercussions.

Tori left the captain’s office and headed for school. She didn’t really want to “test out” of English but a suicide report would seriously curtail her chances of being a ship captain…EVER. After school she went to her room. While surfing the ‘net she found out that Zachery Toes was a very interesting person. There was so much she didn’t know about Earth but she was beginning to relieze that colony life was really bland.

9. Hidden agendas.

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As the IGV Alice Marie blasted her way across the vast interstellar void toward Earth, Carli and Diaz continued to quietly discuss the hatch failure that had so nearly caused a fatal incident on the trip out to NASA 6.

“If that pin had sheared off whilst still in orbit, there’s no telling what kind of damage the ship could have incurred,” said Carli as she sipped a coffee in Diaz’s cabin, “we were lucky you discovered it when you did. If you’re right that it wasn’t an accident, then there’s every chance that whoever tampered with the hatch may have other plans to cripple the ship, or worse.”

Diaz considered this, grateful that her friend hadn’t rejected her suspicions out of hand and yet cautious of how to proceed, knowing that making unfounded accusations about sabotage could alienate her from the crew and very well result in her becoming the focus of suspicion herself.
“There isn’t anything I can put my finger on,” she said, “but I noticed there have been several times when hatch access panels have apparently malfunctioned in the last couple of weeks, mainly down in the cargo hold and vehicle transport bay. I’ve been asked more than once to check out “door open” alarms, only to find the hatches locked and nothing missing.”

“That does seem strange,” agreed Carli, “Toes maybe a bit more laid back than your average starship captain, but he takes safety and security pretty seriously, I doubt he would have skimped on something like hatch maintenance.”

“Do you think we should inform First Officer Lazzaro,” asked Diaz, “see if he thinks it’s worth taking to the captain?”

“Eric? Hmm, I’m sure he’d be interested to hear what we think,” said Carli thoughtfully, “but it might be an idea to do a little more digging first, just to make sure we aren’t mistaken. After all, we don’t want to cause a panic, especially while Captain Toes is trying to make the colony survivors feel comfortable on their trip back to Earth.”

Diaz relaxed a little, glad that she and Carli were in agreement, “Ok then, we’ll see if we can find any more evidence of tampering before we go public,” she raised her coffee cup in mock salute, “here’s hoping I’m just being paranoid.”

Whilst the two friends debated whether or not to confide in the ship’s senior officers, the subjects of their discussion were sitting in Toes’ cabin, enjoying (if you could call it that) a small jolt of one of ZT’s questionable homemade cocktails and having a discussion of their own, albeit a somewhat less serious one.

“So Eric,” said Toes, leaning back in his armchair and puffing Jamaican Gold smoke at the ceiling, “I take it you’re interested in getting to know the enigmatic Ms Carli a little better.” He grinned through the haze and raised a suggestive eyebrow in Eric’s direction.

“What gives you that idea?” asked Lazzaro, grimacing at the burning sensation produced by whatever Toes had made his latest batch of alcoholic drain cleaner from, “I’ve barely mentioned her since we left NASA 6.”

“Ahh, but I bumped into Matt Drake in med bay this morning and he tells me the two of you were thick as thieves when she came round after her spell in the clone tank,” he winked at Eric, “and she’s a good looking gal, I can’t say I blame you.”

Lazzaro winced. Only Toes would still use the term “gal” to refer to someone like Carli, who could probably kick his flabby ass up and down the ship if she wanted to, but he couldn’t deny his friend had a point; she was a difficult girl to get out of your head once she’d got in there.

Making a mental note to have words with Matthias the medical gossip-monger, he said, “She certainly is an interesting woman, I’ll give you that,” he pretended not to see Toes’ salacious smirk at this blatant understatement, “but we have nothing more than a professional relationship, I assure you.”

Captain “ZT” Toes could no longer contain himself and burst out laughing, “Ha! You really can be dumb sometimes, you know that Eric? Even I’ve seen the way she looks at you.”

Lazzaro opened his mouth to speak, then snapped it shut, scowled at Toes’ grinning face through the fog of smoke and stood up, “Anyway, I’ve got stuff I should be doing. It’s been…amusing,” he gave a wry smile, “I’ll catch you at the gripe ‘n’ groan in the morning Zeet, ‘night.”

“Yeah, I best get some shut-eye myself, I’ll see you tomorrow, you go and dream about your “professional relationship”, hahaha.”

Shaking his head and shooting Toes the evil eye, Lazzaro left the cabin and made his way back to his quarters.

Meanwhile, on the remote prison planet where he’d spent the last fifteen miserable, anger-fueled years of his life, Colan Dreeb finished assembling the components of the comm unit that were stashed in various hiding places around his sparsely-furnished cell and searched until he found the frequency he needed.
“This is Dreeb, are you reading me?”

He waited, listening to the faint hiss of background noise, the volume turned way down to avoid detection by the patrolling guards, then he heard a subtle change in the quality of the silence, followed by the familiar voice;

“Everything is going according to plan. The slight problem at NASA 6 has been rectified and I am confident the next phase of the plan will go smoothly. They have no idea what we intend to do, nor do they have any clue to my identity.”

Dreeb allowed himself a small chuckle of satisfaction, “Very good, keep me informed of any further developments. Dreeb out.”

2. Lazzaro.

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First Officer Eric Lazzaro was strolling down the hallway on his way to the daily gripe ‘n’ groan session that was his esteemed captain’s morning meeting, when there was an ear-splitting crash, followed by the shrieking of tortured metal and one final BOOM!!!

Then silence.

“Uh-oh, that didn’t sound good.”

A siren briefly sounded, then died as abruptly as it had started.
Suddenly Lazzaro was plunged into darkness and he stopped, listening.
Then the back-up circuit cut in, bathing the corridor with a soft glow that was broken by the rhythmic flashing of emergency warning lights and then the return of sound, as if the ship had been holding her breath.

First the hum of the life support systems restarted, usually just at the edge of hearing but shockingly obvious in its absence.
Then the human sounds of the ship returned and the first one of those was a scream.

Eric started running, coming almost immediately upon the source of the scream as he rounded the corner.
He only avoiding running headlong into a young girl with her hands clamped to her face, blood seeping between her fingers, by extending his arms straight out in front of him to fend off the collision.
Despite saving them both from any further injury, his defensive move also rewarded him with a couple of awkward handfuls of female chest, followed swiftly by a rather sticky slap in the face.

Strangely, the reflex action of slapping Lazzaro seemed to instantly calm the girl down, she stopped screaming and lowered her other hand from her face, looking down at her chest, then back up at Eric, who hurriedly removed his own hands and muttered an apology before turning his attention to the cause of all the screaming.

The girl, quite pretty from what he could tell through all that blood, had what looked like a mascara wand, complete with sparkly cap, sticking straight out of her right eye.
He knew he was staring, he couldn’t help it, so he looked away, but not soon enough for the girl – Carli, according to her uniform name tag – who now caught him looking back up from staring at her chest and rolled her eyes at him.
Not a good move, she screamed again.

Eric’s stomach lurched as the sparkly mascara wand described a graceful arc across Carli’s face, then lurched again when she tried to screw her eyes shut in pain.
He caught her arm as her legs buckled and she fell against his chest, gently lowering her to the deck, leaning her up against a bulkhead and watching as the colour slowly returned to her face.

Too late, he found himself staring again (she really was very attractive, he thought, even with blood soaked hair stuck to her cheek and a temporary optical protruberance) but this time she stared back, then actually spoke to him.

“Well, are you gonna pull it out or not?”

That was three for three in the stomach lurching stakes.
Eric’s mouth opened to reply, then snapped shut.
He tried again.

“Pull it? Pull it out?”

“Well it’s not going to come out on its own is it? And I’m sure the med teams have plenty to keep them occupied right now, don’t you?” She raised an eyebrow, something that, under different circumstances, might have been sexy, but was at this point it was just creepy.

Lazzaro crouched in front of the calmly staring girl, leant toward her and looked closely at the protruding, glittery stem, trying to assess the damage.

“Well get on with it then, I expect you’re needed somewhere important aren’t you?”

“Shit”, he realised what she meant. There had been some sort of emergency after all and he was the First Officer. “Ok, hold still,” her took hold of the wand as carefully as he could, “I’m guessing this is going to smart a little.”

Then, without giving her – or himself for that matter – too much time to think about it, he put his hand on her forehead and gave the wand a sharp tug.
It came free surprisingly smoothly, with an audible pop from her eye, and a gentle sigh from Carli, who looked at him with her one good eye, quietly said, “Thank you…sir“, smiled and passed out.

Lazzaro stood up, bent over to pick up the unresisting girl and hurried off down the corridor just as the lights came back on, pausing only to punch a com panel and tell Captain Toes he was going to miss the gripe ‘n’ groan.

“Life in deep space”, he shook his head and grinned, “never a dull moment.”

1. Toes.

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He listened to the drives as they roared through space and sighed.

He hated hyperdrive.

Nothing but the noise of the tired GE Max Ion Drives and the creaks and groans of an aged freighter way out of specs but, by God, making money…Woohoo!!
Captain Toes sighed again as the com buzzed;

“Capt’ you gonna miss the morning round table.”

“Ahh shit,” he tossed the covers and put his naked body in motion, “Comin’ mate…save me some coffee and don’t go to war without me.”

“Aye capt..out”

He stepped on D-O-G’s tail and the old dog yelped…sorry… After a shit, shave, and shower Captain Toes headed for the Officers Mess for the daily round table.
The round table was breakfast with the major players in the operation of the ship. Heads of the departments responsible for life support, gravity, drives, nav/com, food service and others.
A bitch session, but a necessary bitch session that resulted in smooth operations of a space ship. Today the olefins unit was to present a quarterly efficiency report and he had an e-mail from ship stores about the dwindling supply of COLD GOO; the stuff that was used for repairs to the heat shielding of the ship. He’d have ask the olefins folks if they could do their magic.
As he headed to the meeting he paused to meet crew members with their issues, maybe to flirt, or simply to say hi. D-O-G went his own way, the aging dog not caring to much about the whereabouts of his owner.

The ship was a relic of the space race, after NASA had folded but right before the General Trade and Social Relations Agreement (GTSRA).
It had seen service as a battleship, a troop transporter, a refugee barge and a ship graveyard, before an auction put it in the hands of Captain Toes and his motley crew of rebels. It had seen too many refits and emergency underway repairs but it was loyal and a real work horse.
It was a delta-wing-class vessel; 1750 ft bow to stern; 1000 ft port to starboard, and had a rated cargo carrying capacity of 175,000 tons. The ship had a fleet of service vehicles which allowed planetary landings when gravity was too strong for the massive ship. She could process methane ice into various products; currently they were en route to deliver 45,000 cubic ft of natural gas to NASA 6.
NASA 6 is a small cold moon and they are always ready buyers. This time though, it was a rush order as they had lost a 500,000 cubic ft tank to a meteorite and a much smaller tank meant shut downs and a lot of very cold people. He turned one last time and…

BOOM!!!

Captain Toes stumbled, fell forward, shouldered the wall and finally sat firmly on his ass.

Total silence.

The scariest thing to hear in space was silence, when running hyper anyway.
It meant total power failure…maybe even life support.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!BEEP…BEEP…LIFE SUPPORT BACK ONLINE….EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!

Ok, so we have life support…and now emergency lighting was flickering on…Ok, good…So, the ship lives.

Toes got himself to a com panel and called a damage assessment team to the bridge…Damn morning bitch session can wait…

“Ok, capt’, we have experienced a major bearing failure in one of the GE Max Ion Drives. The hyper drive control took a serious power surge. It appears that a basketball-size bit of iron may have penetrated the hull, hitting an oil bath cooling line which caused the bearing to overheat and fail”

Well, that was a sucky bit of news…,

“Do we have components for repair?” Toes thought quickly; “Com, notify NASA 6 that we lost hyper and update our ETA. Environment, what is our life support status? Are full systems online?”

“Capt’, repairs are under way on the drive unit, a slap patch is holding and a hull repair team is currently removing debris. Repairs should be complete in a 4 to 5 hours,” he looked over at the medical officer, “over to you Doc…”

Toes listened as the Med officer made his report;
“Small stuff mainly captain. 6 children injured, from a nine year old with a broken leg to a female crew member who lost an eye – appears she was doing her eyelashes at the time – and one crew member suffered minor burns when she lost her coffee down her chest, but I’m told all injuries have been attended to.”

The captain listened to all the reports and determined once again that the ship may not be very good at dodging space debris but in the end it was a damn solid vessel. He thanked his crew, closed the meeting, and headed to the morning bitch session, and breakfast.

The hull was repaired, the drive brought back online and, after about 12 hours, they resumed their trip.
Captain Toes ate breakfast and solved problems, then closed yet another bitch session and returned to his cabin.

He hit the privacy button on the com, cranked up some Zeppelin, put on some pjs and collapsed onto his couch.

“Com, any news?”

“Aye capt’, NASA 6 cordially invites you and your crew to a presentation dinner”

“Oh damn,” he had been expecting this, but that didn’t make it any less of a pain in the ass, Toes couldn’t stand those stuffed-shirt events where he had to be pleasant to everyone, “and I was hoping to do a spot of ancient city exploring tomorrow as well.” He took a Jamaican gold cigarette from the pack, lit it and inhaled deeply. He’d have to get a new supply soon, but for now he could relax. With privacy mode set on the com he’d not be disturbed. He could chill for a bit.

He set his alarm to alert him when they were near NASA 6 and had dropped out of hyper. Twenty minutes later he was snoring loudly and dreaming about ancient cities, the stars a silent blur past his window as the ship continued its journey through the void.

Captain Toes hated formalities, despised them. He stared in the mirror, adjusting his tie. After delivering a load of methane to NASA 6, the National Council invited the good captain and his team to a celebratory dinner and presentation. And one thing captain Toes has learned in his long career is you accept invitations to dinner from happy people; especially customers. So he donned his stiff, itchy suit and the uncomfortable noose of a purple tie.

Toes was more of a tee shirt and pj kinda guy, and has been known to sit in the captain’s chair in hot pink union jacks. (Which isn’t that strange considering the ship was on auto pilot and the crew had been relieved for family time while they were in a long hyper run.) Most of the time he wore blue jeans and tees…and flip flops.
He didn’t require uniforms as a rule and certainly not shoes; other than flip flops. There were dogs and cats and various other critters on board, so, yeah, you might find a wet spot or a poo pile on occasion. They were an independent freight delivery contractor and chemical producer, they had aquafarming and livestock; His ship liked to brag to visitors that they had mud puppies! They were not scared of trying new foodstuffs and had amassed a huge collection of recipes. If you were traveling with captain Toes you were probably gonna eat good. The staff were certainly not health freaks or exercise junkies and most were maybe just a little overweight. But not overly so, because only about 100 of the ship’s 500 strong population didn’t have regular jobs. And most of that 100 were children, from infants to teenagers.

The captain himself was 5’4” and had a bit of belly – “My baby bump” he’d joke – and like most space travelers he had short, somewhat stubby legs. He had mangled his left arm in a nasty docking bay accident a few years back and the cloned replacement hadn’t replicated too well, so it seemed at first glance he had the arm of a young boy. It hung wrong and no amount of effort would get it to lay flat against his body. He adapted and would adjust any fool’s nose who had his doubts about it’s functionality.
He was an avid history buff, especially music and movies and claimed he had the perfect Willie Nelson hair doo.
Most of his crew just ignored his history lessons.
Except the kids, lots of kids would look up stuff he referenced and try to outdo each other.
So his ship was alive with ancient classic music; stuff like Cream, Three Dog Night, The Beatles, Run DMC, NWA….on and on…blasting ship wide even.

Ancient movies were stored on hard drives for private viewing, with titles like Convoy, Man From U.N.C.L.E and Black Hawk Down all of which seemed so corny now, especially the space movies. There had been plenty of heated but good-natured debates on the logic, or rather the lack of it, surrounding movies about space travel.

In short, captain Toes ran a solid ship with a generally happy, if somewhat unruly crew.