Freya's Tears

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Meeting With Commander Folsum

Mission: Book Two - Ginnungagap
Location: Lafayette

By the time Els got downstairs, the cargo doors were open and fresh air counteracted the staleness of shipboard oxygen. Hrothgar had already lowered the ATV and was in the process of pulling the first load down the ramp, a scowl on his face. Naya and Kolodka were releasing the securing straps for the next load, muscling the rolling platform into position for Hrothgar’s return.

The cause of Hrothgar’s frown, a burly man with short-cropped bright red hair and a mutton chop mustache stood outside, waving muscled arms as he gave Hrothgar directions. Tobias Worban wore a tight black tank top with his urban camouflage cargo pants, revealing a tribal skull tattoo on his left shoulder. Els had hired him as a replacement gunner in Chadwick and hadn’t been disappointed. She’d taken him on for his imposing physical presence as well as his thorough gunnery experience. He’d fit in fairly well with everyone on board except Hrothgar. Els couldn’t understand why her brother didn’t care for Tobias, and questioning Hrothgar hadn’t resulted in any answers. Privately, she thought it had less to do with differences of personality and more to do with testosterone levels.

Els set aside her musings, slinging the strap of a satchel over her head as she trotted down the ramp toward the dock information kiosk. Kasli was there speaking with a handful of non-coms and space hands who’d come running when Freya’s Tears had sailed by overhead, always eager for first hand news and gossip.

The chief petty officer in charge of the dock pushed through the growing crowd. “Captain Ulfarsdottir?”

“That’d be me, chief.” Els stopped at the kiosk and the CPO joined her. He logged into the system, standing aside for her to upload her current cargo manifest. “We’re also couriering messages. As soon as your senior comp sys sends the proper encryption codes, mine will start the upload.”

“Mail call? Tasty.” He scanned the manifest, nodding his head. “Looks good.” Glancing beyond her to the ship, he watched as the load out continued. “Need any help? I’ve got plenty of idle bodies.”

Els grinned, scanning the growing crowd of space hands. “As much as I’d like to say yes, I don’t think Commander Folsum would appreciate it if something didn’t make it to its destination.”

The CPO made a face. “Unfortunately true.” He keyed in a data string on the kiosk. “All right, you’ve got full free hook-ups for your stay, and water is available for a fee.”

Kasli had approached, overhearing his comment. “We’re okay for water, Els.”

“No water then.” The CPO finished his entry and logged out of the system. “Welcome to Lafayette. I’ll notify our senior comp sys about the messages.”

Danke.” Els watched him leave, observing the amassing crowd of eager naval people. She couldn’t blame them—Lafayette was out in the middle of nowhere. Chances were it would be a month or more before the next non-military ship came through the system. Els turned to Kasli, noting the gun on her hip. “Keep an eye on things. I don’t expect trouble, but you know how bored spacers can get.”

“No problem. I’ll have Naya grab her pistols. Between her, Tobias and me, we’ll be fine.”

“Captain Ulfarsdottir!”

Els turned to see Commander Folsum himself emerge from the crowd, his enlisted crew now standing stiff at attention. She patted Kasli on the upper arm, turning to smile at the approaching officer. “Commander Folsum, just the man I was looking for.” Leaving her crew behind, she shook Folsum’s hand.

“Shall we head to my office?” He nodded toward his people. “The sooner we finish this transaction, the sooner my enlisted and officers will be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor.”

“I’m ready when you are.”

A gap had opened in the crowd, and Folsum steered Els through it. “As you were,” he ordered. The waiting men and women relaxed, chattering and laughing as Els passed. Just beyond the crowd, Folsum waved a non-commissioned officer closer. “See that they don’t get in the way of offloading,” he ordered. “I’ll comm you as soon as we acquire possession of the goods.”

“Yes, sir!” The woman saluted. She pivoted and dived into the crowd. “The skipper said as you were, people! He didn’t say get underfoot!”

Folsum escorted Els away from the NCO’s haranguing and to a transport vehicle. Though the star port was small, its only public use being station supply, it took up a vast area. Cargo and military star ships came in all sizes, and plenty of space had been set aside for docking. The main building sat more than two kilometers away from the ship.

Els kept up the easy banter between them. She had a tendency toward awkwardness in many social situations but had known Folsum since she’d first come aboard Freya’s Tears. Lafayette had always been a twice yearly supply stop for her. She’d been involved in a number of negotiations and transactions when Bercini had been captain, learning about the business end of a mid-range hauler. Having a shared history with her client, she knew he was relatively trustworthy in business and not apt to cheat her or her crew.

Once in his office, Folsum offered her a seat. “Anything to drink?”

“Naw, I’m fine.”

Once they were settled into their chairs Folsum reached across his desk. "Okay, let's see the contract."

She handed him a datapad with the pertinent information, liking his straightforwardness. “We paid five hundred sixty grand collateral on the cargo. The receipt is attached.” In her experience most clients wanted to prolong payment in the futile hopes she’d let them have credit. Folsum had never fallen into that category, preferring up front and immediate completion of a contract.
He pursed his lips as he scanned the documents, using a finger to flip through the manifest and receipts. “And you're asking seven hundred thousand transport fees.”

“Less Republic taxes,” she said. The Siler Republic demanded their share of every pie as did local governments. Lafayette didn’t have a customs tax, being a fully military operation. In some places she’d charge a hel of a lot more in transportation fees to make up for the locals gouging ten to fifteen percent out of her profit.

Folsum nodded, pulling a calculator from his desk. “Republic taxes are at one point three five, for a total of nine thousand four hundred fifty. Which gives you a total mil two fifty thou five hundred fifty.” He glanced up at her. “Sound about right?”
Considering she'd figured out the total prior to landing the ship and knew his calculations were correct, she relaxed into her chair. “It does indeed.” She watched Folsum affix his thumbprint to the contract on her datapad and then access his work station to transfer funds into a stand-alone account. One thing she could count on—Folsum never tried to cheat. That was why she trusted him enough to come to this meeting alone. Some of her clients tried to tack on extra fees and charges, a legitimate or sometimes illegitimate way to cut costs at the expense of the hauler. In those cases, Els routinely brought Kasli and Tobias to help smooth out the “negotiations” with their obvious sidearms and tough attitudes.

“You want it all in the account?”

Els leaned forward. The local post exchange had good quality naval gear as well as a banking kiosk. “Actually, can you shave off a grand and dump it into a PX tab? We've got some shopping to do.” And I can stop at the bank kiosk on my way back to pay out wages.

“Sure.” He made a notation on his computer. “Anything else?”

“How are your people set for parts?”

Folsum paused to look at her, lowering his chin to peer at her past bushy eyebrows. “Our last inventory indicated we're doing fine.”

She nodded. “Think it'd be okay for my engineers to sort of...wander through the warehouse and have a peek? We're always on the look out for the odd coil and such.”

A faint smile grew on his thin lips as he sat back in his chair. “And should an ‘odd coil’ or two show up missing at my next inventory?”

“Missing?” Els mirrored his movement, acting affronted. “We'll pay.”

“Uh huh.” Folsum studied her a moment before returned to the computer. “I’ll give them only today. Have Kol speak to my quartermaster.”

Els smiled. “Thanks.” She sat quietly as he finished the transfer. She'd tell Kolodka and Hrothgar to be reasonable in their look-see. She'd been space navy just like Hrothgar. They both knew how the system worked. The occasional part always turned up missing in an inventory. No one would find anything awry providing the item in question wasn't outrageously expensive.

Folsum handed her data pad back. “Here you go. One point two four nine and some change in the bank. I need your approval and thumbprint for the bank.”

Standing, Els accepted the unit. She accessed the information, confirming the numbers and authorizing acceptance of the transfer. “Beautiful. It’s always a pleasure.”

“It's a joy to do work with you, Captain Ulfarsdottir. There are far too many haulers out there who are completely untrustworthy.” Folsum stood, offering his hand.

“I fully agree,” Els said, shaking it. Releasing him, she froze in place. “Oh, I forgot. I have something for you.” She rummaged in her satchel, pulling out a bottle. “Here. I found it on Fica A10.”

Folsum whistled, taking the bottle with care. “Is that what I think it is?” He turned the container, peering at the label. “It is! A '45 Chateau Exauvid! Wherever did you find it?”

She shrugged, trying not to preen. “Some little shop in Pliro, near the bay. I remembered you mentioning your wine collection last time I was here. When I saw the bottle, I thought of you.”

“Hmmm.” Suspicion wrestled with the excited expression on his face. “And how can I make it up to you?” he asked in a dry tone.

Els realized her bribe hadn’t been all that subtle. She fought against the faint blush heating her cheeks, damning her light complexion. “There is one thing…”


It was an effort not to fidget under his expectant stare. She abruptly flashed back to an ass chewing she’d received as a lowly lieutenant in the Zeta Lyman Sector Navy years ago, a rush of nerves disrupting her emotional equilibrium. “Well, I was wondering what the chances were of my getting a table at the Officers’ Club tonight?” Every military installation had an Officers’ Club and an NCO Club. Visitors to a base had access to the NCO Club with the enlisted men, but Officer country visits were strictly forbidden.

Folsum cocked his head, a smile quirking a corner of his mouth. “A table for…your crew?”

The vision of her crew seated at a fine dining restaurant filled her mind. Naya flirted outrageously with the staff, including the married officers seated with their wives. Hrothgar and Tobias drank too much and argued loudly over any topic possible. Kolodka and Austin wished they were back on the ship, Austin with a scowl and Kol staring bored into space. It would only be a matter of time before a brawl began. “Oh, no. No, no, no! A table for two, no more.”

That peaked Folsum’s interest. “Really?” His eyes became distant in thought. Els wondered if he was attempting to figure out who would be attending a quiet dinner tonight. He hefted the bottle in one hand, studying the label once more before setting it on the desk. “Of course. I’ll reserve my private table for you.”

“Really?” Stunned, Els gaped. It worked? Coming to her senses, she smiled. “Thank you! That’s very generous of you.”

Folsum shrugged it off as he circled the desk. “The wine was very generous of you. I believe I received the better deal.” He leaned over his workstation for a moment, tapping information into it. “There you go. Reservation made.” He straightened. “You can arrive at any time. My table is always available.”

“Again, thank you.” Els shook his hand, perhaps a little too vigorously but she couldn’t control her exhilaration.

“Any time, Captain Ulfarsdottir. Now, I have to notify the dock chief to pick up the cargo.” He escorted her to his door. “My driver will bring you back to your ship.”

“Of course.”

“Oh, and I think I’ll have some business to send your way. Can you meet with me tomorrow afternoon? I’ll have all the details by then.”

Els grinned at the prospect of more money in the offing. “I’ll be here.”

They said their good-byes and she left the building. The driver didn’t speak as he zipped toward the PX at Els’s request, and she enjoyed the moment of respite. Once she returned, she’d set up a land side watch before heading to the PX banking kiosk. After the crew was paid, she’d ask Kasli out to dinner at the Officers’ Club, a respectable restaurant without dock workers crowding the bar or homemade rotgut passing as liquor. A quiet evening in a cultured establishment where no brawls were in the offing.

I wonder if they sell chocolates at the PX?


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