Four hours...the length of time Bella has been sitting in this pitiful spacer bar.
Four companions...the number of her crew sitting with her.
Four weeks...the amount of time her ships have been sitting in dry dock.
"How long is it going to take him to get the data?"
Bella opens her mouth to speak, but is cut off by a wiry man to her right.
"Four minutes," Reader says. He smiles.
Bella looks at Reader. She sighs, knowing that to say anything will do her no good. She takes a sip of the swill the bar serves as “good beer.”
"Good. I'm tired of sitting in dock doing nothing."
The first man finishes his swill in a gulp. "I'll head back to the ships and get them prepped for leaving." Standing, his sidearm is uncovered. Another man at the table stands and leaves with him, swill untouched.
Reader reaches across the table and brings the untouched swill to his lips. Bella glances around the pitiful bar, uncaring for everything that she sees, including Reader. His slouch, his spotty moustache, his raggedy clothes that make no sense together, and then his general attitude that he's the best in the 'verse and everyone owes him for it.
Still, he keeps proving his worth as a member of her crew.
The rest of the bar reminds her of Reader. It is filled with spacers who have too much of something and not enough of everything else. Mostly, they have too much body fat and not enough brains. A few spacers sprinkled throughout have a positive trait or two.
Bella watches as two young, twin females work the men in the room. One distracts while another removes any valuables showing. She recognizes a few mercenaries, some who have signed on to ship out with her in the past. Another she recognizes as a known smuggler. He went off the grid nearly give years ago, everyone assumed he had died. Judging by his presence and his two drinking companions, everyone assumed incorrectly.
Bella moves her feet across the floor, one of her boots stick to something. She refuses to look down and yanks her booted foot from the floor, setting it down several inches away. Buckets and pails are scattered across the floor. Most were originally put in place to catch rain falling from the roof. Now, they mostly serve as spittoons. A few invariably end up serving as latrines for the late night drinkers who drink more than they should.
The brass rail and the mirror behind the bar are a mess. The brass rail covered in grime from too many boots. The mirror covered in dust from never being cleaned. Bella muses that if the bartender would take half the energy he wastes flirting with the female clientele and use it to clean the glass, the bar might attract more of the ugly women he flirts with. Still, he is cute.
Two men sit at the table with Bella and Reader. One looks tired, the other excited. The excited man sets a padded pack down on the table. The contents appear to be rectangular. The tired man sits, but lets his eyes constantly wander the room around him. Bella knows that it is partial paranoia, but additionally due to good training. His hands remain below the table top, no doubt near his sidearm.
"Did you find anything worthwhile, Jack?" Bella pushes her drink across the table to the watching man. He is not the one she asked the question of.
"Yes. I have a few independent cargo ship routes, all travelling between the border planets and the rim. I recognized three of them. Two are smugglers; one is legit and has ties to the government."
"Smugglers, eh?" Bella leans back in her chair, resting it on the hind feet. "What kind of cargo are we looking at?" She rests her left hand on her blade and reaches into her coat pocket with her right hand.
"The first smuggler is moving engineering equipment. Looks like someone wants to sneak it onto Whittier without Blue Sun catching on to what they are doing. They have an exclusive contract with the government planet side."
Reader spins his empty mug of swill on the table. His head moves, following the path of the mug.
"The second one is moving black market beagles to Whitefall. I can’t tell if they are for Patience or someone else on the moon."
Bella's eyes flicker at the mention of Patience's name. Patience has always dealt her square. Tough, but square. “Let’s not cause problems for Patience. Besides, who wants to kennel dogs on a ship? What about the legit one? What are they moving?”
“Medicine, food, and Cortex equipment. From the Wave I intercepted, it sounds like someone is trying to stabilize Ezra. I don’t know why, that place is total ri shao gou shi bing.”
“Legitimate work heading to Ezra? That’s a first.” Reader’s mug spins off the table and shatters on the floor. “Oops.”
Bella puzzles over the truth out of Reader’s mouth. Ezra is a hotbed of criminal activity and a pain in the side of the parliament. Niska, at least, kept some semblance of control on the planet. With him out of business, so to speak, and the acting governor useless, it’s a mad, mad world. “You would think parliament would move troops there, not goods that will attract the eye of every crime lord on the planet. Odd. I wonder what’s going there.”
Bella grabs a radio out of her coat pocket and brings it up to her mouth while depressing the call button. "Laughton, you make it to the August Moon, yet?" She rights her chair on the floor.
"A few minutes ago. All three ships are coming online and I’ve sent out a recall notice to everyone not on ship.”
"Good, we're on our way back. I should be there within the hour. I have a stop to make before lift-off. " She drops the radio back into her coat pocket and brings out a cigar. Standing, she lights it.
“Come on boys, it’s time to go on account.”