“I make you seat of joke, so my affections are clearly communicated, friend Arven.”
“Butt of joke,” Arven corrected him between delicious mouthfuls. “And you’re doing it wrong. Your efforts are noted and appreciated, Zebb ol’ pal,” he said, shoveling in a few more spoonfuls and gulping them down loudly. “This grub is seriously tasty, Z. Can we add it to my ledger? I seem to be caught…”
“Between paydays again?!”
There was a moment of silence as they stared at each other. Arven laughed with a spray of his meal in the cook’s direction. Zebb’s sense of humor was dry and sometimes he struggled with delivering punchlines. “I will remind you of your promise to enlighten me with all the details concerning your recent investments in commodities.” Zebb could shift gears and subjects quickly.
“Ouch! Okay then, let’s get it out of the way.” Arven finished the last bite, set the bowl on the nearest table, and leaned closer to Zebb. “Remember last month, I told you I met that beautiful Tamaran woman in the Betting Hall?” Zebb nodded. “You know me, I usually gamble in fun, small amounts. I set a limit and then enjoy myself within those boundaries. As soon as I met her, I started winning and my system went out the porthole. She was like a serious good luck charm or something. Winning for her became intoxicating and I kept chasing that emotion all night. She finally pulled me away from the tables and, to my amazement, I was up well over $100K and going home with her.”
“I fail to see how your mating rituals have anything to do with…”
“I’m getting there, hold your docking clamps! So, like I was saying, we’re on the flight home and she mentions to me about a business venture that her family has invested heavily in. Expecting higher-than-market returns in a quickturn period. Well, I’m no chuckle-helmet, so I asked her a lot of questions. I’m told about a huge private venture to build and launch a station in the nonaligned region of Known Space. The first of its kind to be funded and constructed by a trade conglomerate, not the dominant species of the region. Offering traders as much as triple the going rate for commodities, the project is not short on haulers trying to turn and burn. My friend offered to include my funds as part of her family’s investment, so I wouldn’t have to pay the brokerage fees a second time, but I had to ask quickly.”
“You signed over your entire Cred-Stick balance, didn’t you Arven?”
“Both of them.”
“I had a spare with my ‘low-grav day’ funds on it.” Zebb shook his head slowly, failing to hide his disappointment, but showed some restraint by not making additional jokes at his friend’s expense.
“So that’s it? She took your credits? End of story?” Zebb began bussing the tables around him.
“No, there’s more. I was also invited to fly co-pilot on one of the freight missions. Kind of a big deal, actually.” Before Arven could muster his next words, Zebb silenced him with his flat metallic palm held a few centimeters from his nose.
“Paint the rest of your sad tale while we walk. There’s someone you need to meet, and we shouldn’t make him wait.” Placing the pile of dirty plates on the counter, Zebb reached up and unhooked the hinged door above it. The door slammed shut with a loud BANG, announcing that the kitchen was closed for the day. Arven retrieved his lucky titanium wedge, while Zebb buttoned up the rest of the shop. The promenade was crowded at this time of cycle, the decks bustling with pilots and traders hustling between missions. Long, orderly lines formed behind each console they passed.
“So, who’s the important person?” Arvin’s hand idly patted the Doc-Tube in his satchel, a sudden reminder of unfinished business.
“Fenell Tormet is a brilliant engineer. He’s the one who helped me adjust to my life with these,” raising both arms for emphasis. “Shortly after we met, I was offered a position working in their ship’s galley. I served on their crew for several revolutions, eventually earning the Top Spoon. Fenell was always generous to me, and they developed a craving for my coulis. It has been many years since we flew together. Fenell has made an impressive fortune as a PAL broker in this sector, but remains largely unchanged by their wealth and status. Our friendship and their taste for my cooking remains constant. Currently, I am ahead in the ‘favors owed’ column with Fenell and have decided to cash in a favor for you, friend Arven. Not another word of this business until I hear you tell tale of the freight mission that triggered your recent downturn.”
Arven tried to sigh, but it came out sounding more like a moan. He struggled to find the words to tell his friend what happened without sounding like a complete fool. He glanced toward one of the huge cylindrical storage tanks that dominated this level of the station. Several “new issue” pilots dressed in spotless flight suits were dancing together and admiring their reflections in front of the massive curved tank. Arven couldn’t hear the music, but he imagined it to be a fast-paced and high-energy song. Arven smiled and thought that he would rather trade places with one of the dancers than walk another kilometer in his boots. Mindful of his friend’s discomfort, Zebb remained silent as they walked.