Bewildering Stories

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Adverse Selection

part 2

by Gregory Hansen

Part 1 appeared in issue 102.

Standing on the windswept tarmac, Orin found Anna’s number and dialed it. She answered on the second ring.

“Varfleet Correctional Facility, Sergeant Angstrom speaking.”

“Anna, it’s Orin, please don’t hang up!”

There was a pause, then, “You never called me. You said you would call me!”

“I know and I’m so sorry. I’d have called sooner but... you see, I’ve gotten myself into a bit of trouble.”

“What’s wrong?” She was instantly concerned.

“I can’t explain now, but I need a favor. It’s life and death, sweetheart.”

“Okaay, what is it?” Anna whispered.

“I need to know if there’s anyone in the Varfleet prisons on piracy charges.”

“Piracy! Orin, what’s going...”

“Anna, please! I’m running out of time!”

“Hold on.” Orin could hear a keyboard crackling in the background. “Mmm, yes, here’s one. Reynold Perry, he’s being held at the West Side Municipal Jail.” Orin felt a stab of fear and excitement; Westside Municipal was just a few blocks from the spaceport.

“Thanks, Anna, you’re a doll.”

“Orin... be careful.”

Five minutes later Orin burst through the doors of Westside Municipal and stood panting in front of the watch officer. “I’m here to see Reynold Perry,” he managed at last.

“And you are...?”

“Orin Benne... koffsky. I’m, ah... his cousin.”

The officer looked at him skeptically, then turned to a small console. “All right Mr. Bennekoff...”

“ Bennekoffsky.”

“Mr. Bennekoffsky. He’s in holding cell 310. I’ll get a sergeant to escort you back there. You’d best make it quick, visiting hours end in thirty minutes.”

Orin waited anxiously until the escort arrived, then submitted to a brief search before following the guard through a security gate and back into the jail. They paused at the door to the cell, and while the sergeant fumbled with his keys Orin peered through a small glass window at the first bona-fide pirate he’d ever seen.

The man was wearing a gray prison unisuit. His hair was black, as were the fierce whiskers bristling from his face, and he was slim and pale. In spite of his closed eyes and reclined position on the bunk he seemed like a jungle cat ready to pounce.

“Incredible!” Orin murmured.

“Yeah, he’s a live one,” agreed the sergeant.

“How long has he been here?” Orin asked, breathlessly.

“’Bout three days.”

“Three days! I thought it would have been much longer.”

“Well, as to that,” said the guard, “I understand he was a mite hard to catch.” Orin grinned; not just a pirate, but an uncommonly elusive one. “You planning to bail him out?” asked the guard, still peering at keys under the dim florescent light.

Bail! Orin hadn’t thought that an option, and suddenly he saw a flood of new possibilities. “Yes, of course,” he smoothly replied. “Tell me again, where was the bail set?”

The sergeant consulted his wrist computer. “One hundred thousand shekels. Ah, here it is!” He slipped the key into the lock and opened the cell door, then stepped back and waved Orin inside. “You got five minutes,” he said before closing the door behind Orin and walking a few slow paces down the hallway.

The pirate looked up, surprised, as Orin carefully entered the cell. ”Who are you and what are you doing here?” he demanded.

“I... am... a... friend,” Orin said, palms out, in what he hoped was a soothing tone of voice, “and I have a proposal for you. I can post your bail, and I have need of your particular... skills.”

Reynold Perry sat up on his cot and rolled his eyes about the room a couple of times. “Doubtless this proposal of yours would best be discussed outside the jail,” he said softly.

Of course! thought Orin. Being a pirate, his cell would surely be bugged. Likely they were hoping he’d mumble vital information in his sleep or something. Orin responded with an exaggerated nod.

The pirate on the cot gave a meaningful nod of his own. ”All right then,” he purred. “Shall we go?”

“Ah, you wait right here... don’t go anywhere! I’ll be back in thirty minutes.” Reynold looked pointedly at the concrete walls and the heavy steel door, but Orin missed the sarcasm in his rush to leave the cell.

The guard in the hallway opened the cell door at Orin’s knocking. “Done already?”

“Yes, thank you. I’ll be returning in a short time to post bail. Please have the prisoner... ah, please have my cousin ready to go.”

The guard shrugged. “Your money,” he grunted, re-bolting the cell door and escorting Orin back to the lobby.

Orin rushed through the jail entrance and caught sight of a vacant hovercab cruising down the street. He sprinted out in front of it with his arms waving. Ten minutes later and with the hovercab waiting in front, Orin let himself into the Bennett Insurance building. He breathed a sigh of relief to find the money still resting in his safe, then stuffed five twenty thousand-shekel stacks of crisp bills into a briefcase.

Five more minutes and he was at his apartment, where he filled a large duffel with such supplies as he figured they’d need. Then, 27 minutes after leaving it and perspiring freely, Orin walked back through the doors of Westside Municipal Jail. He hefted the briefcase onto the counter in front of the taciturn watch officer, popped its latches and began withdrawing stacks of money.

“Here are one hundred thousand shekels as bond for my cousin,” he said, then waited impatiently as the watch officer called another officer to the desk. The two of them counted and recorded the bond payment, and walked it through the security gate. In its place they returned with a very happy Reynold Perry. He wore handcuffs on his wrists and a cheshire grin on his face.

Some words were said about the terms of his bond and the date of his next court hearing. Off came the handcuffs and the officers handed Reynold a thick sheaf of pages containing the complete details of his release, which Reynold promptly placed in a trash can as soon as the pair emerged from the building (Orin, the memory of those stacks of bills still fresh in his mind, viewed this with decidedly mixed emotions.)

The two kept their silence in the hovercab on account of the driver being within earshot. En route to the spaceport, Orin decided to keep his plans under wraps until they’d reached their destination, and simply told Reynold that they would be traveling across the Sector for a rendezvous. When Reynold learned they’d be leaving the planet he was only too willing to comply, no questions asked.

At the spaceport Orin paid the hovercab fare and had the spaceboat’s engines humming in minutes. Grateful he’d thought to top off the vessel’s tanks before parking it, he pulled back on the yoke, pushed the throttle to wall and the powerful vessel leaped into space.

Orin’s hands on the controls were sure and true despite the long absence, as were his inputs into the navigation computer: the spaceboat dropped out of relativistic speed just off the outermost Ring. Orin set a course for the center of the transit path and deployed his sensors. That done, he reclined in his chair, folded his arms and swiveled to face his passenger.

“Recognize the scenery?” Orin asked him smugly.

“No, I can’t say I do.”

Orin laughed. “We’re approaching the Onarian Rings!”

“Aha,” Reynold replied. “And we’re here because...?”

Orin hopped out of his chair and dragged the duffel from a cargo locker. “We’re here to intercept another vessel — unarmed and alone, mind you — and kidnap two old women. I brought you along to give me pointers about how to best conceal our approach, how to take command of the other ship, and so on.” Orin upended the duffle and poured its contents onto the floor of the cabin: a motley collection of brightly colored clothing and several hand-held weapons. “A simple enough task for you, I know, but this is the first time I’ve been involved with a kidnapping.”

“Hold on a second,” Reynold interjected, his face a mask of confusion. “What makes you think I know anything about this stuff?”

Orin looked up sharply. “You were arrested for piracy, weren’t you?”

“Yeah,” Reynold answered, “copyright piracy. I set up and ran an unauthorized duplication and distribution ring. You know, software, music, children’s videos... that kind of thing.”

An awful silence filled the cabin. At length, his eyes wide with horror, Orin stammered, ” you don’t know anything about the Rings, or how to abduct travelers?”

“Of course not!” An incredulous smile slowly spread across Reynold’s whiskery face. “Don’t tell me you actually thought I was...”

He was interrupted by a klaxon from the sensor array, which had detected an incoming spacecraft. Both men turned their heads toward the viewing screen and the approaching vessel’s electronic manifest displayed there: a privately registered ship, carrying two female passengers. Destination: Varfleet spaceport.

“Well well,” said Reynold with a chuckle. ”It seems we’re about to have some company. Could this be our quarry?”

Orin nodded mutely, then said, “I think I’m going to be sick.”

“Come on, partner! Cheer up! We’ve come this far, and in my experience breaking one law is much like breaking another, the difference being mainly a matter of scale and consequences... hey, watch where you’re pointing that thing!”

“Don’t worry, it’s just a stage prop,” Orin mumbled, holding a wide-brimmed, feathered hat in one hand and a silver blaster in the other.

“Very clever, my friend!” Reynold was enjoying the moment immensely. “I see no reason why this effort shouldn’t meet with success. How much fight can a couple of old bats put up after all? We have these fine pirate clothes, and your spaceship seems to be equipped with a high quality grappling beam...”

A short time later Orin and Reynold stood before the forward air lock, faux blasters in hand. They’d hailed the other ship and ordered her to stop and prepare to be boarded; when she’d tried to run they’d easily overtaken her and brought her about with the grappling beam.

Now, waiting for the bulkhead door to open, Orin felt a stage fright like he’d never known before. His knees trembled and his hands shook. Reynold, however, was grinning like a fool.

* * *

All too soon for the desperately nervous Orin Bennett, the bulkhead door slid open and the would-be pirates scrambled through the short connecting tunnel between the space ships. Once inside they came face to face with their victims, but instead of wrinkled old crones, the women standing in the center of the captured ship’s cabin were very obviously young and quite decidedly pretty.

One stood in front with hands on hips and a hard look on her face. Red hair framed her face and mirrored the fire in her eyes. The other, dark-haired and somewhat more plain in features and dress, stood behind the redhead, her face flushed with fear and excitement. For the fifth time that day Orin Bennett was speechless.

The two women were equally surprised by their assailants’ appearance. They’d seen two men clamber through the airlock, both dressed in soft leather boots, brown hose and ragged, brightly colored tunics with wide leather belts at the waist. One was unshaven and the other wore an impossible, garish, feathered hat. But the blasters in their hands were all business.

The two groups regarded each other with mutual consternation. Then the redhead broke the silence. “Well?”

“Ah, I hereby inform you that you are our prisoners,” Orin said stiffly.

“Such would seem to be the case,” the redhead coolly responded.

Orin doffed his hat with a flourish and bowed low, warming to the role. “I am Captain Bennekoffsky and this is my first mate, Reynoldo-the-Black.” The bearded man nodded, his eyes twinkling and a huge smile on his face.

The redhead considered for a moment. “What is this, some kind of joke?”

“I’m afraid not,” Orin replied gravely. “Now, if you would be so kind as to board our vessel...” He stood aside and waved his free hand toward the airlock.

The girl glared at Orin, then at the smiling Reynold, then with a growl of frustration she stormed between them and crawled into the airlock, her companion close at her heels. Orin and Reynold scrambled through afterward.

The cabin of the racer was spare to begin with and seemed much diminished with four occupants instead of two. Orin stood to find himself uncomfortably close to his hostages and instantly lost his nerve again.

“Ahh...” he said. The redhead raised an eyebrow.

“Names!” Reynold exclaimed, looking steadfastly at the flushed, blushing and as yet silent brunette. “You have ours, what might yours be?”

“I’m Vivian Delay and she is Daphne Clark,” blurted the brunette, much to her companion’s dismay.

“Charmed,” returned Reynold with a bow of his own. He and Vivian exchanged appreciative glances.

“Okay,” announced Orin, somewhat recovered. “If you two will cooperate and do what you’re told, no one will get hurt.”

Daphne brushed a stray wisp of red hair out of her eyes, the better to skewer Orin with her glare. “And what are your plans for us?” she shot back.

“That I cannot tell you, except to say that your captivity will be relatively short and painless.”

Just then the racer’s proximity alarm sounded. ‘That’s strange’, thought Orin. He hadn’t heard or felt the girls’ vessel slip its airlock coupling. If it had and was drifting, even a low-speed collision could hole the spaceboat’s hull. He took a step to the porthole and peered through, reassured to see the captive vessel still resting alongside.

But then he saw it, rising like a gibbous moon over a steel horizon: the unmistakable, cannon-studded prow of a Starfleet battle cruiser. His jaw dropped. “Ohh,” he murmured.

“Perhaps our captivity will be even shorter than you intended,” Daphne purred at his shoulder. ”As for yours, however...”

To be continued...

Copyright © 2004 by Gregory Hansen

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