Bad Rock Beat Down (Book Two in The Milky Way Repo Series)
by Michael Prelee
Copyright © 2017 by Michael Prelee
Nathan Teller and two of his crew walked across the tarmac of the Viking 2 Memorial Spaceport at Utopia Planitia. The spaceport’s few landing pads and single runway made it stand out as an oasis in the reddish soil and scrub brush of the surrounding plain. A cool breeze blew from the west just enough to move the orange windsock at the edge of the runway.
“What a crap hole,” Cole Seger said from behind him.
Nathan smiled and turned. “You say that about everywhere we land.”
“Yeah well, we go to some truly crappy places.” He spread his arms wide and gestured at the barren plains. “I mean, just look at this place. Earth terraformed this planet two hundred years ago and except for the blue skies and that sickly grass, it looks pretty much like it always has.”
“We go where the money is,” Nathan said.
Duncan Jax, the second man following him said, “I think what Cole means is that it would be nice if we could repossess a ship on a nice tropical island once in a while.”
Nathan spotted the spaceport’s administration office. “That’s where we need to go.”
They continued across the asphalt toward the small administration building. Nathan, the shortest of the three with a ruddy complexion and sandy brown hair wore a pair of jeans, a blue denim work shirt and a light jacket emblazoned with the logo of his company, Milky Way Repossessions. Cole was almost a head taller, with a deep tan that attested to time spent outside. He dressed similarly but with a black leather jacket and shorter hair.Duncan had skin like rich onyx and was almost as tall as Cole. He was stockier with thick arms that showed he worked for a living. Dreadlocks hung down to his shoulders.
A chime sounded when they entered the office and the breeze blew a small bit of red dust across the threshold before they closed the door. “Hey there,” a small man with glasses said, walking to the counter. “Can I help you?”
Nathan set a mobi on the counter and reached a hand across to introduce himself.
Nathan spun the mobi around so Carl could read the screen. “We’re here to collect the starship you have sitting over on pad number three. This is the paperwork from the note holder, and a letter of authorization for us to repossess it.”
“Didn’t pay their bills, eh?” The man said, looking the documentation over. “Well I’m not surprised. Bunch of freaks and weirdos is what they are.”
“The note holder says they’re some kind of band,” Nathan said. “Is that right?”
The clerk nodded. “Yeah, I guess that’s what they are. They dress and act like a bunch of damned ghouls. There’s a harvest festival this week outside of town about 10 klicks south of here and they’re the entertainment.” He eyed the document on the mobi again. “So, how does this work? You take their ship and give them a ride home?”
Nathan shook his head. “No, we just take their ship. They’re on their own for a ride home.”
“Uh-huh,” the clerk said. “Well, your paperwork seems to be in order. I imagine you want to take a look at the ship?”
“That’s right,” Nathan said. “We need to do a pre-trip inspection to make sure she’s spaceworthy, then we’ll be on our way.”
Carl nodded out a window toward the ship in question. “OK, she’s all yours. I don’t know if anyone is aboard right now.”
“If there is, we’ll take care of it without making a scene.”
They exited the office and followed a sidewalk over to the landing pad. His own ship, the Blue Moon Bandit, sat on one of the landing pads behind him with two other crew members aboard; his co-pilot and Duncan’s wife, Marla Jax, and Richie Pearson, a machinist’s mate.
The men reached the edge of the tarmac and examined the target ship.
“I kept hoping it would get better looking as we got closer,” Duncan said, “but it didn’t.”
The starship was about fifty meters long and wider in the aft section where the main engines were housed. The hull tapered toward the bow where the cockpit perched above a battered nosecone displaying the name of the ship, Hell’s Breath. The bottom of the hull had charcoal black scorch marks testifying to rough re-entry trips. Angled wings stretched out from the midpoint of the fuselage. The name of the band in white letters stretched along the black upper hull: Bone Daddy and the Voodoo Choir. Skeletons and zombies danced among the letters in bright orange and green.
“Nathan, are you sure the bank holding the loan on this heap really wants it back?” Cole asked.
Nathan matched the registration number on the hull to the documents on the mobi. “Yeah,” he said. “This is it. Right now I’m more concerned about whether it can fly.”
“I’m concerned about what we might catch when we go aboard,” Cole said.
“You’ve had your shots,” Duncan said with a grin.
Nathan walked under the ship and ran a hand along the thermal protection system. “Duncan, we really need to look hard at this. I don’t want to burn up when we get back to Earth.”
“Yeah, I’ll check it out.”
Nathan walked out from under the ship. “All right, let’s do this by the numbers. Duncan, do an external walk around and see if there is anything to worry about. Cole, you and I have the interior.”
“I think I’d rather stay out here and do the walk around,” Cole said.
Nathan smiled. “Then you should have gone to school to be a starship engineer like Duncan. Come on.”
They walked around the side of the ship and Nathan found an entry portal. He flipped down the keypad cover and consulted the mobi, scrolling through the document until he found the code he needed. He punched it in and the door opened. A ramp extended to the ground.
Nathan made a show of waving to the opening. “You’re up.”
“Yeah,” Cole said. “Thanks.”
They mounted the ramp with Cole in the lead in case of trouble. Nathan followed him inside the dark cabin. He felt along the walls until he found a row of switches and flicked them. Multi-colored lights came up in the cabin, illuminating it with soft shades of orange, blue and green.
The passenger cabin ran about half the length of the ship. Nathan saw the stock interior seats had been removed in favor of sectional sofas covered in animal print fabrics and low tables bolted to the floor. Clothing, costumes and blankets covered every flat surface. Empty food containers and liquor bottles littered the floor. Brightly colored scarves decorated the ceiling.
“I’m going to be honest, Nathan,” Cole said. “This is almost exactly what I pictured the interior looking like.”
“This is a complete shit heap,” Nathan said. “Do you smell that?”
Cole nodded. “That mixture of sweat, cheap perfume and even cheaper wine? Yeah, I smell that.”
Blankets on one of the sectional sofas rustled and a bleary-eyed blonde with a pixie cut sat up. She wore a cropped green t-shirt, sporting the name of the band. “Why are the lights on?” She said. “I’m trying to sleep.”
Nathan raised an eyebrow. “What’s your name?”
“Tricia,” she said. “Who are you?”
“We’re here to repossess this ship. Do you know where the owner is?”
Tricia blinked and reached for a bottle of water on the table beside her. She unscrewed the top and took a large swallow before answering. “What do you want with Luscious?”
Nathan consulted his mobi. “Luscious Vonn is the leader of this expedition, right? Goes by the stage name Bone Daddy?” He held up a picture of the man on the mobi.
Tricia nodded. “Yeah, that’s him.” She stood up and yawned, stretching her arms up toward the cabin roof. “He didn’t pay the bills, huh?”
Nathan eyed her taut belly and tight black leggings. “That’s right. You should probably gather up your things. We’re going to be leaving soon.”
Cole moved past her and shot Nathan two thumbs up with a lascivious smile as he moved through the rest of the cabin.
“Where are you going when you leave here?”
“We’ll deliver this ship to Go City, New Mexico back on Earth,” Nathan said.
“If it will make it that far,” Cole said from the back of the cabin near the restrooms. Nathan saw him peek inside and jerk his head back. “Holy Moses. Stay out of there.” He pulled the door closed.
“Can I get a ride?” She said. “I’ve about had it with this traveling circus and if Luscious isn’t paying the loan on this ship I get the feeling my pay isn’t going to come through.”
“You work for this character?” Nathan said. “What do you do?”
“I’m a nurse,” Tricia said. “Luscious’s manager likes to have one on hand in case the party gets out of control.” She started stuffing things in a pink bag.
“I’m sorry but we only take the ship, not passengers,” Nathan said.
Cole shot him a puzzled look with both hands up and silently mouthed “what?”
She stopped packing and eyed him. “Come on, I just need a ride back to Earth. You’re going there anyway, what’s the big deal?”
“Yeah, what’s the big deal?” Cole said.
Nathan shrugged. “That’s just how it works.” He turned to Cole. “And you know that.”
She dropped her bag. “Well, make it work some other way. I’m tired of this. If I’m not watching to make sure people don’t overdose around here, I’m making sure Luscious doesn’t grab my ass. I thought this would be a fun gig, but it’s really being the only one at the party who isn’t allowed to have a good time.”
Nathan held up his hands. “I’m sorry about all that but I’m just here for the ship. If you’ll excuse me, I have to check on some things.” He walked to the cockpit.
Fifteen minutes later, Duncan appeared in the doorway. “Hey, Nathan, we’ve got company outside.”
“Local law and a line of cars.”
Nathan stepped out onto the ramp and saw a Protective Services car at the admin building. An officer spoke to Carl and he pointed at the Hell’s Breath.
“That doesn’t look good,” Nathan said. “How are we doing out here?”
“The ship will fly and should survive a re-entry. I checked the fuel tanks and we’ve got enough to lift off, but we’ll have to tank up at an orbital station.” He held up his mobi to show Nathan an app with engineering gauges on it. “I’ve got us synched up with the ship’s controls.”
“That’s good. I’m finished with the pre-trip checklist so I’m going to start it up. I want to be ready to go. Come inside and call Marla and Richie back on the Bandit to let them know what’s going on.”
“Oh, and there’s at least one passenger inside packing her stuff.”
“I saw her. She’s cute. You should ask her out.”
“You haven’t been busy for more than a year if my math is correct.”
Nathan glanced outside at the line of approaching vehicles. “Well, we’re busy now. Let’s go.”
They moved back inside and Nathan turned left to go into the cockpit. He sat down at the controls, consulted the master codes on his mobi and got the ship running. The officer from Protective Services approached on foot outside. The lawman waved to him and Nathan returned it.
Heavy footsteps on the ramp told him he was boarding the ship.
“Damn it,” he said.
Nathan got up and went back to the cabin and saw Duncan sitting on a couch talking to Tricia. The officer stepped through the hatch and nodded. He had gray hair and a drooping mustache. His deeply tanned skin showed a roadmap of lines stretching back years. He stopped just inside the hatch and put his hands on his gun belt.
“You the repo man? I’m Sheriff Jack Talliger.”
Nathan nodded and introduced himself. “Here’s our authorization,” he said and handed over the mobi with the documents. “I imagine Carl in the office called you?”
“He sure did,” the sheriff said as he scrolled through the documents, swiping his fingers from side to side. “This looks like it’s all in order,” he said and handed it back. “You can’t have the ship.”
Nathan blinked. “What’s the problem?”
The lawman tipped his hat back. “Are you familiar with the band, Captain Teller? Bone Daddy and the Voodoo Choir?”
“Well, they’ve been in my county for almost a week so I’ve become more familiar with them than I ever wanted. They’re a bunch of assholes who sing this ear-splitting death rock that sounds like a metal shredder in a salvage yard. They do all sorts of obscene things on stage. The kids seem to like them but I’ve got farmers out here ready to string them up. It’s not just the band either. Take a look.” The sheriff pointed outside.
Nathan stepped around him to look out the hatch at the tarmac. A large crowd of people approached the ship from a line of cars at the main gate. Nathan saw dozens of people dressed in leather and rubber with skin dyed orange and green. A young man, with a Mohawk and piercings all over his face, threw something at the ship that bounced off the nosecone. The woman next to him, with a skull tattooed over her bald head, shouted at him. Nathan stepped back inside. “Those are the fans?”
The sheriff took off his hat and rubbed his forehead. “They’re awful. They run around half naked, high on whatever the hell they can find, and since they arrived, I’ve had to deal with an increase in petty theft, assault, public lewdness and drunkenness.” He waved his hat toward the outside of the ship. “They’ve infested the whole town, and I am not an exterminator. I’m simply not equipped to deal with a problem this big. You can’t have their ride.”
“Look, Sheriff, I appreciate your position here,” Nathan said, “but I have a job to do too. I’ve got to take this ship.”
Sheriff Talliger gripped his hat with both hands. “Well, you can take it in the next town. They’ve got one more show tonight and then they’re off to Madlerville. You can pick them up there.” He nodded goodbye and started walking down the ramp. The crowd erupted in a chorus of boos and threats as the sheriff exited the ship.
“Did you do this?” Nathan said. “Did you bring them here?”
The sheriff paused. “I need to rest up for tonight, Captain Teller. Good luck.”
Nathan watched as the sheriff pushed his way past a woman doing an impression of a unicorn with a plastic horn prosthetic mounted on her forehead. He stepped back inside.
“We need to get out of here,” Cole said.
“We can’t lift off with the crowd this close,” Nathan said. “We’ll burn them alive.”
“That probably wouldn’t be good for business,” someone with a thick Southern drawl said from the top of the ramp. Nathan turned and saw a skinny white guy in a costume leaning against the hatch. He had a vest of white bones draped over his scarecrow thin torso. A black cape hung off his shoulders while a matching loin cloth kept him legal. The whole ensemble was finished off with platform boots adorned with silver skulls. Ratty looking brown dreads spilled off his head. He stepped inside and a thin black girl followed. She had a fly away afro standing out at all angles and wore a black dress shredded for an undead effect.
Nathan stepped closer. “You must be Bone Daddy.”
The young man spread his hands wide. “We must all be who we are and yes, I am the Bone Daddy. However, you may call me Luscious.” He waved a hand at his companion with an exaggerated sweep. “This is the lovely Natasha.” They both sat down on the couch nearest the hatch. Natasha curled into him and wrapped her arms around the singer.
Nathan introduced himself. “Your bank says you haven’t made your payments. We’re here to collect the ship. If there is anything you’d like to remove, now would be the time. I’m also going to have to ask you to move your fans back. We need to lift off and I don’t want to harm anyone.”
Luscious grinned and clapped. “That’s quite a speech. I bet that works on most people when you show up and try to steal their ship.”
“Nobody is stealing anything,” Nathan said with exasperation in his voice. “If you don’t pay your bills this is what happens.”
Luscious motioned to Cole and Duncan. “Get your boys and get off my ship before I have you thrown off.”
“You have that backwards,” Nathan said. “Get up, get your stuff and get off.”
Luscious smirked and winked at Natasha. She opened a small plastic envelope and dumped something into her mouth. She smiled and chewed, making a crunching noise. Luscious leaned over, gave her an open mouthed kiss and Nathan could see his tongue fishing around inside her mouth. He broke it off after a moment and leaned his head over the back of the sectional sofa. After a moment he shook, snapped his head forward and opened his eyes wide.
“Damn, that is amazing!” He threw the envelope to Nathan. “You want some before you go?”
Nathan saw a stamp on the plastic that said “Diamond K”. It held some kind of clear crystal inside. He handed it to Cole.
“Look at you old man,” Luscious said. ‘You come in here with a couple guys and you think you’re going to take what belongs to me? I can get a dozen Choir Boys up that ramp and they’ll throw you into that field over there before you can blink twice. That’s what my fans call themselves, by the way, ‘Choir Boys’. Isn’t that just delicious?” He licked his lips over yellow teeth. Natasha giggled beside him.
“You do have the numbers on your side,” Nathan said.
Luscious’s tongue snaked out over his lips again. “I do.”
“You mind if I ask how you fit all those people in here?” Nathan said. “I wouldn’t think you could fit more than a couple dozen.”
“This here is the plane for the band, repo man,” Luscious said and stood up. “It’s just for me, the Choir and our special guests.” He extended a hand to Natasha and she stood up. “Everyone else finds their own way.”
“So they bum rides?”
“Whatever, man. Now, it’s time for you to get off my ship. Natasha and I need some rest before the gig tonight.”
“You sure we can’t just take it?” Nathan said.
Luscious stepped up and Nathan saw his bloodshot eyes and the dark pools of his dilated pupils. His platform boots almost made him as tall as Nathan. “Do I need to get some help up here?”
Nathan held up his hands. “Hey, no problem. We’re cool. Isn’t that right, Duncan? We’re cool?”
Duncan nodded and threw him a wink. “Most definitely, Nathan. We are cool.”
“Good,” Luscious said. “Now go.” Natasha smirked and laid a kiss on the singer.
Nathan and Cole moved to the top of the ramp. The crowd jeered them and threw empty cans in their direction. Almost everyone made an obscene gesture of some kind. Nathan spotted the sheriff leaning against the hood of his float car parked against the fence on the far side of the field behind the crowd. The lawman tipped his hat in Nathan’s direction.
Luscious stepped close to Nathan’s ear. “Nice try, boy, but I learned how to deal with bill collectors and repo men back in Louisiana. You’re just lucky Mars doesn’t have gators.”
Nathan cocked his head toward the singer. “Just remember, I offered you the easy way out.” He turned back to Duncan. “Now would be good.”
Duncan tapped a control on his mobi and a hissing noise issued from beneath the port side wing. Nathan watched as a cloud of green gas expanded out toward the crowd. They fell back slowly and then started to run, scratching madly as they did so. Screams filled the air and Nathan saw Sheriff Talliger stand up straight next to his ride.
Luscious leaned out to take a look. “What the hell is that?” He said. “What did you do?”
Nathan smiled. “Looks like you have a coolant leak, young man. Don’t worry, it’s not toxic but it will make them itch something fierce.” Nathan turned to Cole. “Would you please show Luscious and his girlfriend off the ship?”
Cole stepped up, grabbed a handful of Luscious’s bone costume and shoved him down the ramp. He managed to stay upright all the way down and ran a few steps onto the tarmac before coming to a stop. He turned and opened his mouth. “You don’t know who you’re messing with! It’s not just me!” Then he started to scratch the exposed skin on his chest. He turned and ran away from the ship.
Cole turned to Natasha but she held her hands up. She slipped off her heels and ran down the ramp through the fog at full speed. Nathan slapped the ramp controls and it retracted into the ship. The hatch shut and locked itself.
“We need to move fast,” Nathan said. “That won’t stop them for long.” He turned toward the cockpit and saw Tricia sitting on a couch. She waved to him.
“I guess you’re getting your ride back to Earth,” he said.
“I guess so.”
Nathan couldn’t help but notice the nurse had a very nice smile. “Would you like to ride up front? There’s a second seat and I’m sure it’s less of a bio-hazard than these couches.”
She stole a glance at the couch she had been sleeping on before answering. “Sure. Why not?”
The two of them sat down in the cockpit and buckled in. Nathan keyed the intercom. “Guys, are we clear? Is there anyone around us?”
“Good to go back here,” Duncan said. “I also got a message from Marla and Richie. They’re up in the air waiting for us. They say the sky is clear for takeoff.”
“Clear on my side, too,” Cole said, “although Bone Daddy and his crowd look very pissed off.”
Nathan switched to the radio and called the air traffic control tower. “Viking 2 ATC, this is Hell’s Breath requesting liftoff clearance.”
“Clearance denied, Hell’s Breath. Sheriff Talliger is requesting you power down and prepare to be boarded.”
Nathan smiled. “Copy that, Viking 2 ATC. Please pass along our apologies to Sheriff Talliger and let him know we wish him the best of luck with his pest problem.”
Nathan put power to the engines and pulled back on the yoke. The ship lifted off with a jerk and climbed into the sky. The ship responded sluggishly, Nathan noticed, and flew like a wounded duck. He couldn’t wait to get back aboard his own ship.
“You must be brave to have flown in this thing for a couple months,” Nathan said.
Tricia smiled. “I’m usually too busy to notice the flights.”
Nathan returned the smile. “That’s probably for the best.”
Thirty minutes later Nathan extended the ship’s refueling boom at an orbital station and started taking on enough fuel to get them back to Earth. Once he completed the coupling he turned to the communication system and put in a call to his contact at the bank. An Asian man answered and smiled at him from the monitor.
“Hello, Nathan,” the man said. “How are you?”
“I’m good, Bao,” Nathan said. “I’ll keep this short because I know what faster than light communications cost. We got your ship back from the rock band.”
“That is excellent news. Job well done.”
“Oh, don’t congratulate me yet. It looks like they had livestock living in here.”
Bao’s face wrinkled. “Too bad. We’ll inspect it and have it cleaned, of course. That model has quite a resale value as long as it’s flying.”
“I wish you luck,” Nathan said. “Our ETA back to Earth is about four hours as long as we don’t run into any problems with the short-range light speed jump.”
“That’s about six o’clock local time,” Bao said. “Will you join me for dinner at The Lantern? I may have another job for you.”
Nathan raised an eyebrow. “Yeah? Something good?”
“Let’s just say it’s a substantial opportunity if you’re up for something a little more risky than a flight to Mars.”
“Okay,” Nathan said. “I’ll see you there.”
After refueling Nathan programmed in the course for home and stood up. Tricia played a game on her mobi. “I’m going to do a walkthrough of the ship, make sure everything is all right.”
Tricia nodded. “Should I just stay here? What if something happens?”
Nathan shrugged. “The ship pretty much flies itself from this point on. Just don’t touch anything and you’ll be fine. Duncan and Cole are sitting right outside, so if you need anything just let them know.”
Nathan wandered back through the cabin. Cole slept on one of the reclining couches. Duncan studied a readout on his mobi. Nathan nodded to him. “How are we doing?”
“The ship’s fine. Green lights across the board and there’s no problem with the engines.”
Nathan nodded. “Good. Let me know if anything changes. I’m going to go below decks and do a look around.”
Nathan made his way down the stairs to the lower deck. The lights in the ceiling activated when motion sensors detected his presence. He shook his head at what he saw.
The cargo hold appeared as messy as the upper deck. Suitcases, trunks and crates holding gear lay strewn about the area. Nathan took a few minutes and secured the larger pieces with tie down straps. They didn’t need anything heavy shifting around down here during their flight. The smaller items went into bins anchored to the deck.
Nathan came to a pallet covered by a blue tarp. He lifted it to take a look underneath.
Plastic wrapped bundles were taped up and stacked on the pallet. He took out a pocket knife and slit the shrink wrap while holding the bundles in place to grab one. It weighed about a kilogram. He held it up to the light and examined it. The contents of the bundle resembled broken crystals, exactly like the drugs Luscious and Natasha had used back on Mars.
Nathan counted the rows of bundles and did a quick calculation, coming up with five hundred bundles, each with packets inside stamped “Diamond K”. He licked his lips and thought about what he should do. Legally, he had a requirement to turn in any contraband he discovered but he rarely found anything and when he did, it could be a hassle to deal with customs. He didn’t know anything about this crystal but odds are it was worth a lot of credits and, quite frankly, he needed a lot of credits.
He searched among the piles of luggage and saw a black duffel bag in one of the bins. He unzipped it, pulled out the few articles of clothing inside and stuffed them into another bag. With a quick glance over his shoulder to ensure he was alone, he reached through the plastic wrap and pulled out some of the bundles. He could get twelve in the duffel without making it bulge. For a moment he reconsidered, but then thought about the pile of bills he had to pay and zipped it closed.
He hefted the duffel bag and found he could carry it without a problem. The tarp went back over the pallet and he tied it down with a few elastic cords. When he got back to the upper deck Duncan had nodded off and Cole snored lightly. He walked past them into the cockpit and dropped the bag on the side of the pilot’s seat away from Tricia. She continued playing her game and never noticed. He sat down and took a look at the controls.
“Everything okay down below?” She asked.
“Other than it being a pigsty? Yeah, everything is okay. I had to secure a bunch of loose stuff. Is everything all right up here?”
“I guess so,” she said. “No alarms went off.”
“That’s good,” he said, as his left hand fingered the duffel bag. “It looks like we’re all set.”