Fred Ramen in the Great TML Barfight

Chapter II

"Larsen E. Whipsnade" wrote

"Yes, Fred, methinks your detached duty scout status has just been revoked. Welcome to active duty, friend."

Not too much later after that, inside the sickbay/entertainment center of the IISS "Spinward Shemp," the shipboard autodoc was massaging Whipsnade back into something resembling a human being, a remarkable triumph of machine over nature. Ramen sat pensively sipping his cosmopolitan and watching as Larsen fast-forwarded through six months worth of "Sex in the Subsector" to get to the good parts. Scowling, Ramen turned to his friend and said, "I don't think I can go back on active duty."

"Why not? Avoiding work's never been a problem for you before."

"Yeah...well, remember that church the Service asked me to investigate on Chernozem?"

"The Church of St. Yekashterina?"

"That's the one. See, it turned out that they were a shell corporation for a very competitive Vegan tuhuir, a fact I conveniently forgot to put in my survey notes."

"How charitable of you."

"It really was--I only asked for a fifteen percent share of the gross. But I don't think these Vegans would like me working for the Impies again."

"Surely we can handle a Vegan or two."

"Did I mention that the name of the tuhuir translates to 'Society of Experimental Chiropractors'? They showed me a promotional video...or maybe it was a snuff film; I couldn't really tell..."

The autodoc's medication menu popped up. Larsen chose 500 cc of chilled lager and sighed. "I'm more worried about that agent being by himself."

"That troubles you, too, huh? I mean, those guys don't go to the bathroom without three agents and who knows how many monitors watching."

"Right. So if he's on his own--"

"--then it's just a matter of time before some one from SolSec comes investigating. With extreme prejudice."

"We should find out what's on these chips."

"I think I know a guy who could help us. He used to work with Sharurshid's security systems a lot."

"What happened?"

"He got caught."

The image on the holoscreen changed. A man wearing the uniform of a captain of the local huscarles was being interviewed by a female reporter. Behind him, smoke filled a city street in what was recognizable as Startown. Odd flashes of light occasionally burst out of the smoke. Larsen turned up the sound.

"--nothing that the Duke's Own men can't handle, though." The captain gave a forced smile. "With the help of the starport Marine regiment, we've managed to rope off both the Solomani Party demonstration and the three counter-demonstrations. But I'm afraid that the center of the disturbance is still--"

At that moment, the smoke cleared away, revealing the tavern Whipsnade had found the data chip in. A man in battle dress, his helmet missing, leapt on top of the smoking remains of an air raft, clutching what must have been a VRF Gauss gun in his arms. Laughing maniacally, he began to fire, neatly sawing in half a police gravcycle that tried to buzz him.

"That's the last time I drink in the Monty Haul Tavern," Larsen said.

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