The Man by the Name of Rubic — Part 2

The Crammond Lotus

Image by tombud

Joe Rubic was busy on the porcelain ring crimping out something brown. He was completely alone on this frigid planet but was expecting the imminent arrival of an entertainment barge that needed to make a maintenance stop off along its long route to the Crane Nebula. Joe observed that the toilet was an untraveled location for many a science fiction series. He’d watched every box set known to man. It was only the horror story that ever wandered close to the throne room and even then, only for a violent murder. Fecal matter in itself wasn’t an exhilarating topic for feeling good, for romance or expanding the plot, what it was good for was contemplation and rumination. Rubic had set the world to rights many times in this metal coffin. He’d read several novels that had wiled away his solitary time whilst on the throne. Emptying was liberation.

Rubic took this thought with him as he stretched in his night gown and began the rigour of showering down. Company uniform would have to be worn for this meeting. It was looking set to be a night time arrival. As soon as the day drew to night the temperature plummeted from a steady -10°c to a frigid -40°c. As of late it had been quite breezy so the wind chill added an even colder dimension. He’d have to wrap up in the cold climate suit for this meeting. The craft silently descended from the heavens, no screech, no angry tearing noise in the sky. The landing feet of this huge vessel gently touched the marked spots on the landing pad with an eerie precision.

Rubic waited patiently as the wind caught him. He carried an anchor to ensure that any big gusts didn’t lift him away as had happened before. In truth he could have really used Olaf’s hand right now. This was a difficult enough job for two so being single handed on this job was going to be tricky.

“This is the Crammond Lotus. All thrusters shut down, hull discharged, ready to proceed.”

“Roger that Lotus. I’m a man down so it is going to take me a while to get the transfer cable located.”

“How many of there are you Penguin?” The clear female voice inquired. She said this with a degree of bile as if she had a thousand places she’d rather be.

“Just the one, Ma’am.” Joe replied.

“Oh.” The woman replied. It was the kind of half interested observation Rubic had become use to out here. He had learnt not to take it personal.

Already the humidity from the hull of the ship had formed icicles. Joe took his time with this task. Attaching the umbilical support line was almost like dragging a very angry bear along the ground and then trying to cajole it into a hole half the size. This was the coldest it had ever been for one of these arrivals. The inhabitants would have to wait for sunrise to be able to disembark with a relative comfort. He double checked then triple checked the connection before giving the okay. Sometimes the umbilical was difficult to seat in the connector plate. He referred to it as the worm because it often wriggled.

“This is Penguin, Umbilical set. Ready to start on Yellow 4 sequence.”

“Thank you Penguin. When’s sunrise?”

“4 hours Ma’am.”

“Very good. Lotus out.” She replied. It was the one beam of happiness in her otherwise cold inner core. It was unlikely she would thaw out here.

Joe made his way back to the warm confines of the lower quarters. He opted to take a short nap whilst the Lotus remained trouble free. The large turkey would soon rain chaos on him as various tourists and crew filled the small facility like angry bees.

Awaking three hours later, Rubic performed a long series of stretches. He was never really sure if these did any good but hearing joints pop was sign that he was at least doing something he was supposed to. Joe had grown used to the colder climate but realised he’d have to crank it up a few notches for all those deathly cold women. It was always the women who complained about the cold first, even if they were staring at an open blast furnace door with 6 layers of clothing on. The men could rough it a bit before demanding the temperature be turned up, although some followed this female cult of cold aversion. The one drawback with the uplift in temperature was the condensation. Occasionally the collecting rivulets of water would form pools in the wrong place amidst the jungle of wires and connectors; leading to a short. Joe would have to nix any of those issues as he came to them.

In the meantime he could see the passengers and crew slowly make their way down the gangplank. They seemed shocked by the sudden frost. It was a sterling -20°c or -4°f, the kind of cold that would seep into your bones and make your teeth chatter. He waved these shivering individuals in through the airlock. Once the last person was through he followed the group through to the very basic facilities. Piping hot tea and coffee were on offer and the toilets would be engaged for some time.

“There is life on this planet?” One of the wealthy tourists inquired as he looked to Rubic with a look of cheer.

“Only one life form.” Rubic replied as he removed his big gloves and sighed.

“That deserves a drink.” The silver haired businessman declared as he pulled out a hip flask and knocked back a shot.

Rubic filtered his way through the crowd and poured himself a cup of decaf. The milk was entirely synthetic, there were no cows for 20 sectors. The liquid had a synthetic zing that the makers had tried to hide but to any connoisseur was easily recognisable. Joe sipped at the cup a good few minutes and hoped that someone would step outside their clique to speak with him.

Fortune favoured Joe.

“Hey.” A medium height woman declared as she approached him. Her clothing was entirely inappropriate for this climate but she was one of the rare women not to be complaining about the heat right at this moment. On closer inspection she was a brown eyed beauty. She had a long jaw that her face almost horse-like, not that she was likely to appreciate any such comparison. Her hair was a degree of blonde; it missed out on the honour roll. Maybe, Rubic thought, she was requesting her feed.

“Hello Madame. Temperature okay for you?”

“Fine.” She smiled. It was a pretty smile on the almost horsey face. Rubic wished he had a carrot to offer, a bag was going too far.

“I felt honour bound to chat with the only man in this freezer of a planet. I’m on first name terms with every other member of the Lotus.”

Joe nodded warmly but really wanted to say ‘I bet’, insinuating that she might know them on more than just a first name basis. That was a dark thought overall. Yes, the Lotus was an entertainment vessel but yes, Joe felt guilty of assuming she was a matron of some of the sweeter pleasures. His mind went for the shortest moment to sausages and clams. He was drawn back by the notion that she was on the level because it was more pleasant to consider that than be a pessimistic realist.

“My name’s…” He began. She pressed her manicured nails on his chest to stop him. He received a refreshing waft of her scent. It had all the hallmarks of something a chemist had cooked up in a lab to smell divine without any derivative plant matter.

“You look like a Richard.” She began. Clearly she enjoyed a playful advance.

“Not the third I hope.” He replied. He’d been waiting to use that line for years.

“So you are not a dick then.” She added further with tongue in cheek.

“Touché!” He said with a laugh. She smiled at this further. His thoughts on her horsey face began to dissolve as he thawed to her presence. Clearly this was her job but he was enjoying the floor show.

“James?” She asked as she placed that perfectly manicured hand up to her lip and stroked the patterned nail across her lip.

“It’s not a bad name but it’s not mine.” He added.

“You tease. I could have sworn you were a James.” She said with a wink. At this stage Joe glowed outwardly, he hadn’t enjoyed this level of banter in some time.

“Should I put you out of your misery?” He asked. The hostess stretched her arms provocatively and pressed her chest forwards then to the side.

“There’s no misery in this sailor.” She confidently imparted. Joe was taken slightly aback, should he let her continue this game, or should he take the initiative whilst the going was good.

“Your name is Joe Rubic. I know that already. I just enjoyed the preamble. I’m Amelie Morrow, 1st Officer.”

“I never would have pegged you for crew Ma’am.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment Joe.” She added as she gripped his shoulder.

“If you had some music I’d be up for a dance but seeing as we have the goon show….” She peered over her shoulders.

“Crew or guests?” He asked, not sure quite which goons she was referring to. She looked back as if to suggest there was no difference between them.

“May I ask a poignant question?” She asked politely. He noticed she hadn’t touched the tea or coffee. It looked as though her hand would be happier with a tumbler or a cocktail glass.

“Ask and you shall know.” He replied. He had a sense he knew what question was coming but he used this slight pause to check out the attire of the 1st Officer. She wore a figure hugging top with a plunging neckline. Her trousers were not standard officer issue either, as sparkly as the top. Amelie was long in the body rather than long in the legs, not that this was a bad thing. She had great posture despite sitting for a long time in the command chair.

“Shouldn’t there be two of you?” She asked.

“There’s a story to that Ma’am.”

“No need to Ma’am me. Amelie will do.” She requested politely. There was an awkward pause for a moment. This line of questioning made Joe feel uneasy only in that he had to relive the cadaver he’d walked in on months ago.

“Follow me Amelie.” He lay down the coffee on the side, he’d be cleaning up all of this mess later. The pair headed down the short walk to the large storage unit he’d labelled the big fridge. Inside Olaf lay in his body bag, preserved. Joe carefully unzipped the zip to avoid the long beard.

“Amelie, meet Olaf, Olaf Amelie.” Rubic announced cordially. He’d grown past being bothered by the limp figure. Amelie was a little more disturbed.

“Did he..” She looked at the exit wound on the side of his head.

“Did you..”

“No. Fortunately I was in a different room when he pulled the trigger. Needless to say he’s left me in a bit of a jam for a number of reasons. The most important being the one gun on this hunk of ice cannot be used now until the police have arrived to verify and validate. I’d be putting my finger prints all over it.”

“You ever get trouble out here, you know, the dangerous kind?” She elbowed him twice, he rubbed his arm.

“I’ve had a few pirate visitors. Not that they have ever given me an inch of trouble. Plus I’m ex-military; I know how to handle myself.”

Amelie went silent for a moment then helped Joe zip up the body bag. The silence was unexpected in that the one of the words triggered that silence. Joe looked at her quizzically for a moment but the horse face remained distant.

They headed back to the main atrium where the various crew and guests were mulling around on terra firma. Amelie disappeared in the throngs of sheep and Joe felt like the proverbial sore thumb once again. He wished he could take back whatever wrong thing he had said but hindsight was a cruel mistress. Soon this pack of ghouls returned to the Lotus. The repair cycle had ended. Joe donned his cold encounters suit and headed back out. Detaching the umbilical was child’s play compared to attaching it. The large hose retracted itself back into a neat cubby hole to protect the connector end from the cold like a jack returning to the box. Joe made safety clearance before giving the all clear over the mic.

“Penguin to Lotus, all clear, over.”

“Crammond Lotus Confirmed. Please stand clear of the thrusters. Over and out.”

“Safe travels. Out!” Joe replied to the Captain. He took one last look at the vast ship and sighed. He probably wouldn’t see this one again for a long time.

Joe made his way inside and began to strip down. The elation of some Human company was soon lost as he heard the craft tear up the sky above. Taking a look at the debris that had been left he mouthed; “It can wait.” After all, he had plenty of time on his hands.

He took a seat in the janitor’s room in the comfy armchair and mulled over that conversation. A large ping noise interrupted his thoughts. It was a communique from the Crammond Lotus. What piqued his interest most was the fact that It was addressed from Amelie Morrow, presented in the form of a video message. He was tempted to view it there and then but scratched his forehead. What could she possibly say? He didn’t open the message despite his intrigue. This one was for savouring as excitement was in short supply on Penguin. He laid back and soon found the narrow folds of sleep wash over him.

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