INT – night – Adelaide bar
Normal space-port area mid-range night-life bar. Dim. Locals sitting or standing around drinking, talking, playing cards, shooting pool, socializing. No strippers, though there are a few couples dancing in a small corner clearing. At a 4-seat table off to the side near a corner sit SGT Kaushik and CPL Kaminski out of uniform, facing away from the wall, talking in low tones over drinks. An ancient blotto drunk wanders around a little, then staggers over to their table, looking at them a little too closely.
Old Drunk: You… you’re from the ship…
Kaushik: Everyone here is from one ship or another.
Old Drunk: No-no-no, you are from THAT ship.
Kaminski: (in good humor) Take it outside, you’ve had enough.
Old Drunk: THAT ship… That ship is going to go crazy…
Kaminski: YOU’RE crazy.
Old Drunk: THAT ship is HAUNTED, it’ll drive you crazy, an-an-an kill you like it did it’s old crew-
Kaushik: Dunno about that. Kaminski here is pretty hard to kill.
Old Drunk: It haunted! Always has been. It’ll go crazy like the rest of them. And you’ll ALL die. ALL of you-
Kaminski: (trying to defuse / humor him) Of course we’ll die. Occupational hazard.
Kaushik: (playing along) Even people NOT on haunted ships die, eventually.
Old Drunk: You, you don’t unnershtand. It’s haunted. It landed without a crew. It killed them all. Twice. It went insane, they ALL went insane, and so will YOU. You need an EXORCISM like it did!
The bartender shows up, and hustles the old drunk out.
Bartender: Come on, Teddy. THEY are paying!
Old Drunk: (yelling back over his shoulder) They all died. TWICE I TELL YOU! TWICE!
They watch him leave, along with the rest of the patrons, who are joking and shaking their heads.
Kaushik: … Must’a been Buddhists.
Kaminski: … Or cats. Seven more lives to go!
They clink their glasses and have drink.
As the old drunk is being escorted out another somewhat under-the-influence local comes up to them now they have become a temporary center of attention, a much younger, tougher-looking gent almost as big as Kaminski.
Drunk: (slightly slurred) You two’re new here.
SGT Kaushik looks up at the drunk as if to say “Your point?”
Drunk: (slightly belligerent) Newbies’er supposed to buy a round of drinks. I’ll take’a double-shot a double malt.
SGT Kaushik: (skeptically) I don’t think so.
Drunk: (loudly to the crowd) Sure it is, isn’t it! (muted cheers of “yah, right-on!”)
CPL Kaminski sighs, and starts digging in his pocket.
Drunk: (bullying) Yeah, that’s what I thought. Pissies. Drinks on them! (a few more half-hearted cheers)
CPL Kaminski takes ear-plugs from his pocket, makes a show of putting one in one ear, starts to put in the second one, gets interrupted by the drunk.
Drunk: What’n’hell are you do’n?
CPL Kaminski: (matter-of-factly) Earplugs
Drunk: (looks confused, questioningly) huh?
CPL Kaminski: Well, know’n him (nodding to SGT Kaushik) as I do, at the rate you are going, any time now there’s going to be lots of shout’n, n’shoot’n, scream’n ‘n sirens’n explosions ‘n shit, and I REALLY don’t need a headache like that AGAIN.
SGT Kaushik: (while pulling out and putting on a pair of armored gloves) Armored up?
CPL Kaminski taps his chest with a THOCK! and nods, still putting in his second earplug.
Drunk: (still not quite getting it) Uh… Explosions?
CPL Kaminski finishes putting in ear plugs. He pulls out large pistol from a hip-holster, bringing the back of it just up far enough to be seen above the table, does a quick chamber-check (while keeping it pointed safely down), and re-holsters it with the casualness of much practice.
Sgt Kaushik: Ready for a Hanshot?
Kaminski nods, then talks slightly loudly and with exaggerated casualness to SGT Kaushik, almost as if forgetting the drunk.
CLP Kaminski: Think the CO will be as forgiving this time? Last time they were mostly in uniform.
SGT Kaushik: Right. Best keep the collateral damage to a minimum.
CPL Kaminski nods, unsnaps the security strap on a barely seen kukri fighting knife, draws it partway to make sure it’s moving easily, then puts it back.
Both soldiers look up at the drunk, looking somewhat disbelieving at them.
Soldiers look at drunk as if to say “Still here?”
Whole bar is tense and quiet except for background music, looking on expectantly.
Bar patron (OC): Hey, uh, what about that game you promised us?
Drunk: Uh… Yeah, oh yeah, be right there. (then, to soldiers) Uhhh… sorry… I thought you were new here. (he disengages awkwardly and heads for the back of the bar)
The soldiers glance at each other, shrug. CPL Kaminski starts to take out his ear plugs. SGT Kaushik takes a sip.
CPL Kaminski: Can’t imagine why they don’t want to let us come into town more often. Always so quiet and peaceful.
Un-noticed by them, in the background Seeless eyes them intently.
They take a sip, then wave to Helton and Stenson as they see them near the door together. They come over and take a seat.
Helton: That almost looked exciting.
Stenson: Anything colorful said?
Kaminski: Not by him.
Kaushik: Guy before him was much more entertaining… Said the previous crew on the Tajemnica had died twice.
Stenson: How do you die twice?
Helton: Third marriage?
Stenson: Nah. Zombies.
They all kind of nod their heads and smile or frown to indicate their general agreement with the possibilities.
Kaushik: So how DID this ship get here?
Helton: Landed on autopilot, crew-less.
Kaminski: So they WERE dead?
Helton: Dunno. Just not on board.
Kaminski: So, why was the ship just sitting there for so long? Couldn’t SOMEbody use it?
Helton: I looked into it since I won it. Lots of owners, not enough money or skill to fix it.
Kaushik: Does that mean you’re rich, or we’re grounded?
Helton: Ahem… Way back when star-ships were new and colonies scarce, it didn’t take more than a small ship like that to fly out trans-light, take care of things, and come back. As things grew and fights actually happened that destroyed a few of them around the Chi-Stan wars, the bean-counters figured it was too expensive to put FTL drives and long-range support equipment onto a high-risk assault lander, so they went to carriers. All the FTL drives and support on the carrier that stays out of harms’ way, along with fighters and destroyers to protect it and provide orbital support and cover, and some armored assault landers with only minimal on-board support facilities and in-system drives and so-forth to land troops in high-risk places. So, navies didn’t want it.
Kaminski: And here I always thought they changed to carriers because admirals wanted to keep control and go out and do things, but they couldn’t justifying sending out an admiral on a hundred-person ship, but could on a two thousand person task force.
Stenson: Which would shoot down the “cheaper” argument.
Helton: Of course it was cheaper – in Government accounting.
Kaushik: Nah, it was a politics thing. The politicians didn’t want lowly company-level officers having all the fun and power to destroy worlds, and they can lean on admirals better, so they outlawed fully-aware AI’s at the same time, trying to avoid the sci-fi scare of machines taking over, or worse yet, criticizing them.
Helton: Huh? What’s AI got to do with ship design?
Stenson: They put high-end AI’s on some of the early ships as backup. Can you imagine a fully-aware AI doing a real-time fact-check of every statement a politician or general made against every previous statement and a full integrated database of law and statical data? The AI ships WOULD go crazy, and might decide to shoot them all. Some say that’s why the third Chi-Stan war was so deadly, and man-made weapons that deadly scared the politicians more than any unknown weapons the Planet Movers might have. So, no AIs, carrier model to enhance bureaucratic inefficiency and help out their friends the admirals and generals, also known as “politicians in training.”
Helton: Sounds like you’re talking deep conspiracy stories. But, it makes as much sense as anything else. Maybe if you ever get it fully operational, I’ll just have to ask it.
Kaminski: You do that. In the meantime, something much more important: who’s buying the next round?
Fade to black