Monday, November 9, 2015

The Recognition Run - Chapter 2

< Chapter 1                                                                                                        Chapter 3 >
After a confusing first chapter of court intrigue and unlikeable characters, what’s up next?

Three years later and 102 light years away

“Can you spare a few credits, sir?”

The voice was thin with a quaver of age and infirmity which was almost undetectable. It drew Drake’s eyes to a collection of over-sized clothes and the old man wearing them. His white hair was wispy and equally white stubble covered a dark, lined face. The old man kept his deep brown eyes downcast, but Drake felt those eyes missed little of what was going on around him.

Today, that meant a busy day at the open market just outside of the spaceport. Locals hawked everything from fresh vegetables to crafts—supposedly hand-made authentic planetary folk culture which made perfect gifts for spouses and children back home—and from narcotics to prostitutes. Drake had seen dozens of these markets on dozens of different worlds. The vendors bought most of the vegetables at stores well away from the port, marked the prices way up, and then sold them to spacers short on time for shopping. Most of the crafts were mass-produced in factories which probably weren’t even on this planet. The narcotics and prostitutes were real enough, though, as were the dangers anyone faced if they partook of the promised pleasures from either of them.

One thing which was missing was anybody willing to toss a few coins into the old man’s hat. No one other than Drake even gave the man a single glance. Drake dug a few coins out of his pocket and dropped them into the man’s bowl.

The old man smiled broadly at Drake. “I thank you and my belly thanks you, good sir!”

“Hungry, are you?” Drake asked, squatting down next to the man and trying to look the man in the eyes.

The old man’s eyes darted away from Drake’s, but he bobbed his head. “A bit, sir. Just a bit.”

“Then perhaps you could do me a favor, sir. I’m newly arrived in port and am hungry for something other than shipboard rations. I’m also starved for conversation. If you would agree to help me with the conversation, I’d happily pay for the meal.” Drake rose and extended a hand to help the old man stand up. “I realize it’s an imposition and I’m taking shameless advantage of you, but I hope you’ll accept.”

The old man took Drake’s proffered hand, his grip surprisingly strong, and cackled, “You’re a right smooth one, young man. I’ll try not to bore you too much.”

Prepared for boredom, Drake found himself pleasantly surprised at the old man’s breadth of knowledge and his collection of improbable stories. He kept Drake laughing and wondering just how this man ended up in his dire situation throughout the meal. Drake was so distracted, he didn’t even notice the girl until the old man pointed her out at the end of the meal.

“I think you’ve wasted enough time with an old man like me, Drake. There’s a right pretty girl over at the bar who’s been looking over here when she thinks no one is paying attention.”

Drake looked at the bar and the girl was pretty, with pale skin and flame-red hair. She was seated, but he felt sure she was tall and slender—exactly the type of woman he found attractive. Their eyes met for just a second as she glanced toward the table and then, her cheeks coloring slightly, she looked away. Damn, Drake thought, but her combination of looks and innocence was incredibly alluring—especially for someone like Drake who’d spent the last few weeks alone on a spaceship. That’s when his mental alarm bells began ringing.

Drake glared at the old man. “I may not be as old as you, sir, but this isn’t my first port of call. How much are you hoping to extort from me when this is all over?”

The old man drew himself up, indignation written on his face. “I have no extortion plans for you, young man. I am simply trying to give two rather lonely young people the pleasure of each others’ company.”

“And just how do you know she’s lonely if you don’t know her?” Drake challenged.

“I never said I didn’t know her, Drake. I said I wasn’t planning any extortion against you.” All during lunch the old man never looked Drake in the eye. Now, the old man's eyes suddenly captured his. They blazed intently as he continued, “Jeanine has been known to help me out from time to time. She probably came in here to make sure I was okay, but she’s mostly been looking at you.”

Drake drew back slightly from the old man’s intensity, then leaned in again and studied the old man’s expression. After a few seconds, Drake nodded. “Sorry if I offended you, but I’ve had lots of men try that trick on me in ports all around the kingdom and a few places outside of it.”

The old man broke eye contact and waved off Drake's apology. “Nah, you’ve got a good point, Drake. I shouldn’t have gone off on you like that. It’s just that Jeanine does a lot for me and I like to repay my debts. You’re a good man and I know you and she could have a good time together. You’d sure find more interesting stuff to talk about with her than with an old man like me!”

Drake grinned,“Even if part of our conversation involves me saying ‘Good morning, sleepyhead’ to her?”

The old man cackled with good humor. “It would do her good to get properly laid. Do you good, too, I’ll bet!”

Drake couldn’t help but laugh. “You’re one dirty old man!”

“Ain’t that the truth, lad,” the old man responded. “Now, why don’t you go talk to her. Tell Jeanine I said you were okay.”

An hour and a half later, the old man watched from an alley as Jeanine and Drake left the tavern. Jeanine gave Drake a quick peck on the lips—definitely a good sign—and sauntered in the general direction of the alley. Drake watched the woman’s swaying hips for a few seconds, smiled, and then vanished into the crowd at the market.

Passing the alley, Jeanine pointed at the old man and crooked her finger. Checking to make sure Drake was well out of sight, the old man joined her.

Smiling into the woman’s glare, the old man said, “You and the dashing Drake appear to have hit it off rather well.”

“Did you really tell him it would do me good to get laid?” Jeanine demanded.

“Of course not,” the old man responded. “I said it would do you good to get properly laid. And if I’m any judge of character, that young man will put your pleasure ahead of his own.”

“Gah!” Jeanine growled, lowering her head and massaging her temples.

“Jeanine, dear, you’re a healthy, twenty-four-year-old woman.  Sexual desire is-”

“Natural,” Jeanine interrupted. “Yes, I know. I’m not exactly a virgin, after all.”

“Technically, you’re correct, though I don’t think fumbling around with that inexperienced boy six years ago really counts. In all definitions of ‘virgin’ beyond the strictly medical one, I’d say you’re still one.”

“This conversation is over and we will never, ever resume it. Is that clear?” Jeanine demanded.

“I suppose that means you don’t want my advice on what to wear tonight?” the old man asked, unable to suppress a grin.

“I neither want nor need your advice!”

Jeanine spent much of the afternoon sorting through her small collection of clothes looking for just the right thing to wear. She tried dozens of combinations before settling on a pair of black pants and a matching black shirt. Relenting to the old man’s curiosity, she modeled her outfit for him.

“What do you think?”

“You’re lovely, as always, Jeanine. You’ve always looked beautiful in black and the color makes it much easier for you to disappear into the shadows. Do your legs have sufficient range of motion in those pants?”

Rather than answer, Jeanine snapped off a kick which ended with her foot above her head. She transitioned into a spin kick with her other leg before dropping into a crouch. Rising, she said, “Satisfied?”

The old man nodded. “Weapons?”

“Daggers on my wrists and one on my back. My blaster is in my bag.”

“That’s my girl!”

Jeanine picked up her bag and kissed the old man on the cheek. “Don’t wait up.”

The old man patted Jeanine’s hand fondly. “Have fun and if you find yourself tempted tonight, give into the temptation!”

With a roar, the apartment’s door blew in!

Who are Jeanine and the old man? Are they setting Drake up? Find out more in Chapter 3, coming Wednesday!