Something GoodBy Victoria Martin
Page 1 of 3
All his life Blake had wanted to be an engineer, so it came as a terrible shock when his tutor called him into his office one day and told him he was frankly unsuited to his professional calling.
"I'm sorry, Roj," he said, not unsympathetically, "but you're clearly not cut out for engineering. Your work isn't bad but your personality's all wrong - you have far too active a social life for a start, you wash regularly and you even use some kind of fancy spray on your hair. You never get so absorbed in your work that you forget to eat, in fact, you don't seem to get absorbed in your work at all, judging by your miserable attendance record - where's that report? Ah yes, here it is: "He's always late for everything (except for every meal)." It's not good for the reputation of the department. I'm afraid you're going to have to go."
"But where?" asked Bake, "What shall I do? I'm only trained in engineering."
"Don't worry, lad," said his tutor avuncularly. "We don't just kick our people out onto the streets in this sector, we leave that sort of thing to the Federation. We ran your personality profile through the careers office computer and apparently you're ideally suited to be a Human Resources Manager. The Dean has even come up with a job for you."
"What sort of job?"
"A good one, you'll like it. The captain of the Liberator needs a Human Resources Manager to work with his crew. There are seven of them and they're a bit of a mixed bunch." He leant forward in a confiding manner "Truth to tell, this Captain Avon's a bit of a maverick. He's tangled with the Federation before, and we suspect he's up to something behind the scenes right now. The last thing we need is a political embarrassment that'll give the Federation an excuse to take over this sector, but with his reputation we can't touch him - he was quite a hero in the Andromedan War, you know. So keep an eye on him will you, old chap? If you find out anything you think we ought to know, send me a message using this code." He pushed a square of film across the table. "Remember, the future independence of our sector may depend on you."
"Gosh," thought Blake as he left the office, "a captain with seven crew members, this is going to be quite a challenge. Still, I'm a confident sort of chap, I'm sure I'll cope."
He felt rather less sure when his shuttle docked with the Liberator and he came on board. It was a fabulous ship, quite unlike anything he had seen before, and the luxuriousness of its interior contrasted sharply with the drably functional design familar to him from the engineering department. Room after room opened off from the central corridor and he wondered if he would ever learn to find his way around. At last he reached the flight deck, an ostentatiously vast affair, to be welcomed by the infamous Captain Avon. He was a striking-looking man, with a stiff military bearing, whose severe black outfit nonetheless bore distinctly unmilitary silver and white trimmings. Instead of greeting him, he bestowed on Blake an appraising stare and then said "Yes, well, I daresay we can kit you out with something from the wardrobe room. Now then - er, Blake, isn't it? Well, Blake, I've hired you because I need someone to keep an eye on my crew. I'm away on business quite a bit at the moment and someone has to keep discipline in my absence. The crew certainly can't be trusted to, as you'll find out soon enough. And speaking of the crew, I suppose it's time you met them."
To Blake's astonishment, the Captain dug a whistle out of his pocket and blew a complex set of toots. Crew members came rushing from all over the ship and lined up on the flight deck with impressive precision - all except one, a dark young woman who wandered on well after the rest, deeply absorbed in pulling apart an unfamiliar-looking gun. Avon tooted his whistle again and she sprang to attention.
"This is Blake, he will be in charge of this ship while I'm away. You will inform him of your names."
He blew a series of different signals, and at each of them one of the crew stepped forward and presented themselves, then stepped smartly back into line.
Avon handed Blake another whistle and told him to learn the signals so he could summon the crew whenever he wanted. Then he stalked off, evidently anxious to spend as little time in his crew's company as possible. Blake watched his retreating back, then seized by an anti-authoritarian impulse grabbed the whistle and blew loudly. A frozen silence descended on the flight deck, broken only by a brief giggle from Vila, and then Avon turned round.
"Yes?" he said icily.
"I'm sorry Captain, I don't know your signal."
"You may call me Avon." The Captain beat a retreat with as much dignity as he could still muster. Blake grinned to himself. The man was so far up his own backside he could probably see daylight through his mouth. This was going to be more fun than he'd expected. For the moment, though, he had other things to think about. He turned back to his human resources.
"At ease. All right people, how about if you tell me your names again? Somehow I don't think I'm going to be using this whistle much. You first."
"I'm Jenna, I'm a free-trader, and I don't need a Human Resources Manager."
"All right," said Blake. "We'll just be good friends. Next?"
The next person was a man. He was huge, even taller than Blake and, Blake was glad to see, quite a bit tubbier as well.
"I'm Gan and I'm a murderer."
"Oh. Er. Right. Next?"
"I'm Cally. I'm a guerilla fighter."
"I see. You must be a very useful team member - Soolin," said Blake. Further down the line the real Cally laughed and said "I'm Cally. That's Soolin. And I think you're nice." A voice in his head repeated the sentiment, but in terms so brazenly explicit that Blake blushed crimson. To cover his confusion he turned to the next crew member.
"I'm Tarrant, I'm a mercenary and I'm insufferable. Um, what does insufferable mean?"
"I think it means you don't like people telling you what to do."
"Oh." Tarrant seemed rather pleased with this explanation. "I like telling other people what to do, though."
"That's fine, just don't try it with me. Next?"
"I'm Dayna and I'm a weapons designer. It's my birthday next week and I'd like a ton of plastic explosive."
"I'm sure that'll be very useful. And you're Vila," he said, turning to the last crewmember, "and you're...? Oh." Vila was dangling something smugly between his fingers, something that looked suspiciously like Blake's wristchron. "You're a thief!"
Well, his tutor had certainly been right in calling the crew a mixed bunch. They also didn't seem to get on terribly well. When Blake asked to be taken on a tour of the Liberator they squabbled their way up and down the corridors, arguing about what he should see first and what he shouldn't be allowed to see at all. For all its luxury, Liberator seemed disappointingly normal once you got to know it, or at least the parts of it that weren't off-limits. When Blake mentioned that he had been expecting something more technologically impressive, Tarrant said mysteriously that the ship had "refinements", and might have said more, had Jenna not driven one of her heels firmly into his foot. Blake refrained from asking for further details, thinking that he could come back to the flight deck when they were all in bed and do a little investigating on his own.
He didn't have long to wait. Everyone turned in after dinner, so he waited till he thought they must all be asleep and then set off on his voyage of exploration. In spite of this precaution, he ran into Jenna, who for some inexplicable reason was soaking wet and shaking with cold.
"My god, Jenna, what happened?"
"Oh nothing, said Jenna with elaborate casualness, "I just took a little walk down-planet, that's all. The air was getting too stuffy in here."
Blake frowned. He hadn't heard the shuttle leave, and anyway, Jenna had had nowhere near enough time to get to the surface and back. Perhaps this was one of the "refinements" Tarrant had mentioned. Careful not to let his curiosity show, he said "We'd better get you out of those wet clothes. Why don't you pop along to my cabin when you've got changed and we can have a chat?"
"Oh yeah," said Jenna, "Going to offer me food and wine, are you?"
"Well, actually, I didn't bring any, but I daresay I can rustle up a cup of cocoa."
Jenna laughed. "No thanks, tempting though it sounds. I think I'll just have a shower and get off to bed. Um, you won't tell Avon about this, will you?"
"No, of course not," said Blake, wondering what on earth she had been up to that she couldn't tell her Captain. This was no way to run a ship, everyone keeping secrets from each other, everyone doing their own thing. They should all be pulling together, working for a common cause. He could see he had an uphill struggle ahead of him.
"Oh, thanks Blake, you're hero!" Jenna gave him a quick, unexpected hug, which soaked the front of his tunic. "I guess it's not so bad having a Human Resources Manager after all!" She flitted off down the corridor in the direction of her cabin, and Blake resumed his journey to the flight deck. A large perspex box filled with coloured lights had caught his eye during the tour and he was keen to investigate further. Perhaps it was another of the mysterious "refinements" Tarrant had hinted at. A wedge-shaped piece of plastic was lying next to the box and looked as if it might serve some function. Blake picked it up and then let out a yell as an agonising jolt ran up his arm. The box flashed its lights and said in sniffy tones "You're lucky. With the last Human Resources Manager it was fatal."
Back to B7 Top