Though Hell Should Bar The Way – Snippet 13

I knew that this was the first time Barnes and Dasi had landed on Hansen’s World, so probably the captain hadn’t either. At any rate, he hadn’t directed me to a particular outfitter.

Cory might want his place back now that we’d landed. Rather than contact Mundy electronically, I walked over to the station where she was working with her personal data unit.

Tovera moved as though she intended to block me when she saw what I was doing, but I thrust my arm out in front of her. I was a ship’s officer. I had no desire to throw my — minuscule — weight around, but I wasn’t going to let a clerk stop me from carrying out the captain’s orders.

“Officer Mundy?” I said.

For a moment she didn’t respond. I remembered Tovera had thrust a hand through Mundy’s display to get her attention. I was about to try that technique, but before I could Mundy turned and looked up.

“Yes, Master Olfetrie?” she said.

Well, I’d never heard her put any emotion in her words, so I don’t know why I found the polite words, well, scary now. I said, “I’m hoping that as communications officer you can help me. I want to find a chandlery that will be able to provide the ship’s requirements at the best prices, but I don’t even know if Breckinridge has a data net.”

“It does,” Mundy said. “And I’ve just connected us with it. Here” — schematic map and list of names appeared before me, projected by her personal unit. The resolution was remarkably high — “are the businesses who offer to outfit starships, though of course the list may not be complete.”

Well, that startled me. I was glad, of course, but that was a lot of information for somebody just landed on a new planet.

I looked at the list and the map. Not surprisingly, the establishments were all on the harbor front.

“Is there anything else you need?” Mundy asked.

“Well, we don’t need it, exactly,” I said, “but what I’d like would be a list of their holdings to compare with the list that Woetjans will be bringing me. I guess we can just hoof it along the harbor road.”

Mundy got up from her station. “Sit here,” she said. “I’ll queue up the inventories so that you can go through them.”

“Ma’am?” I said. I’d heard what she’d said, but I couldn’t fathom it.

Mundy moved to the adjacent station which Sun had just vacated. “Let me know if you need more,” she said as she resumed whatever she’d been doing before I’d interrupted her.

Tovera moved over with her, grinning at me. She reminded me of a lizard, and I was suddenly glad that it was a happy lizard.

Using the station’s built-in light pen, I started scrolling through the first of the businesses on the list — the one to the left of our berth; the other seven were spaced to starboard along Water Boulevard. Woetjans entered the bridge with a piece of flimsy in her hand. I motioned her over and took the list.

I was viewing not only the inventory of Agnelli Outfitters but also the wholesale price of each item. I checked the next business on the list — Kropatschek and Sons — and found the same thing. And rather wider margins on items with the same wholesale prices as Agnelli.

I looked over at Mundy, who was lost in her own business again. I had nothing to say to her; she already knew that she’d given me access to the companies’ internal records.

“Sir?” said Woetjans. She was polite, but she didn’t sound best pleased. “I think we ought to be going. I’ve got a dinner with Six this evening, and I don’t know how long it’s going to take us to find all the items.”

“Officer Mundy has provided us with full inventories and prices for all the ship chandlers in Breckinridge,” I said. “So if you’ll just sit for a few minutes and jot down notes, the actual work is going to be relatively simple.”

“Oh!” said Woetjans, flipping down the jump seat Tovera had vacated. “Well, if you’re working with the Mistress, that’s fine.”

Apparently it would be. It was still a long list and a lot of choices, but I was already getting a feel for where we’d be going. I called off numbers to the bosun and she jotted them down on another sheet of flimsy.

About an hour later, I stretched and stood up. I grinned and Woetjans and said, “Ready for a trip to Apex Outfitters, Chief?”

“Yessir!” said Woetjans, getting up from the chair like a crane extending to tower over me. “But sir? These numbers don’t mean anything to me. Are you going to do the talking?”

I frowned. I was pretty sure that wasn’t the way Captain Leary had seen the business going — send the kid out with the bosun to get a little experience in the way things were really done — but thanks to Officer Mundy’s data and my own experience, that was the best way.

“Right, Woetjans,” I said. “I’ll do the talking.”

We stopped at my cabin so that I could change from the slops I was wearing into utilities. I’d expected to go on liberty immediately on landing, but if Captain Leary tapped me for the anchor watch, the slops were fine. What I hadn’t expected was to be sent to represent the Sunray on shore.

The boarding hold was still steamy and with sharp touches of ozone when Woetjans and I reached it. Any organic matter floating in the slip during landing had been incinerated also, so the atmosphere stank.

The processed air of a starship underway was clean, perfectly balanced — and dead. I wasn’t surprised that the crew had begun opening hatches high in the hull as soon as we were safely on the surface. It was good to have something real after a period of manufactured air.

“Hey, kid?” Sun called as we started toward the ramp. The purser’s shop was a small compartment in the aft corridor, just off the hold; he was standing in the hatchway.

“Yes?” I said. Woetjans had already stopped.

“You’ll want a saucer hat,” Sun said, “since you’re going off to be an officer. I already put this on your account.”

He held out a flat-topped visored hat with a modest knot of gold braid on the front. The fabric was white in contrast to my dark-gray utilities.

I traded my soft cap for the saucer hat. “Thank you, Sun,” I said. “I’m too new to this business to keep everything straight.”

There were rails the length of the quay. On them ran a truck with a boarding extension which could align with the ramp of a ship regardless of where it lay within the slip. We crossed it to the quay and walked down to the street proper. It was a sunny day but brisk.