It’s been years and I don’t see this seeing the light of day anywhere else so….here it is in it’s incomplete glory. Contains no actual cricket.
The Two Skippers
Two middle aged men squeezed themselves huffing and puffing out of the access tube and collapsed in streams of sweat on the engine room floor.
“The Operation was a complete success!” announced the taller one leaning on his knees between gasps.
“Unfortunately the patient died” wheezed the shorter bearded white one.
“So we are effectively screwed,” resigned the bigger fellow taking a neckerchief from round his neck and mopping the sweat from his ebony face in broad strokes. The Captains light blue waist length jacket and fatigue trousers was singed and stained.
“That’s about ya lot chief” The smaller fellow’s uniform only went to the faded trousers. An Afro Grindcore & the Esterhazeys long sleeved T-shirt which had been washed to near destruction so it’s blacks where off-whites, carried similar stains and burns.
The bigger man turned and kicked a bulkhead with a curse
“Right how long will the emergency systems allow?”
“Considering they were bought by the same head office candidate for a rusty coat-hanger at conception that bought the main system scrubbers….two-three days max.”
“Right we can weigh anchor at sodding Shermer City and try and get some spare parts”
“I’ve got blooming Klarkash-ton Hu’erlton Ulerrr’ailkki pelts for customers in Nueva Esperanza as my personal cargo – they’ll spoil!”
“That’s easy for you to say.”
“You should hear me after I’ve had a drink…ah Jesus I’ve got to tell the wankers!”
“Now you’re starting to talk like me and even I know that’s a bad thing…doesn’t the ‘Line like you to call ‘em passengers?” The hairier fellow pulled along necked beer from a it’s nesting place behind a cooling pipe.
“I said wankers and I meant wankers”
“Wankers!” The broad-shouldered blond stubbled man in a dark blue track suit grabbed a battered practice bat and launched it at the bulkhead.
The tired looking fellow in a creased blazer in the same blue shrugged his hands in his pockets. His blazer badge showed a grey Rhino with ‘Rhino Touring Team’ above it and ‘Exhibition Matches,’ under it.
“Vinnie, worse things happen at space.” He sighed in clipped Afrikaans tones.
“Really Hans? Really we’re booked for five demonstration tests on Nueva Esperanza. That English settled free colony loves its cricket. Serious prizes and serious gates and now what? The weather will turn while are dimwit crew make us call in at Shermer to replace some systems. The we’ve got naff all to pay those collected idiots we call a team! It’s all gone wrong my son..” clenched fists and a red face spat out the words.
“It’s looked better – maybe we can get a game in the port.”
“They’re descended from Yanks – they play bloody rounders!”
The ungainly ship wobbled onto the landing pod with fits and spurts from the docking thursters and collapsed pregnant onto it’s landing gear. Around it clustered dock crew it clamps and cables on their quad-bikes and trucks. The boarding ramp lowered and the Captain Nideno swaggered down it in a fresh laundered and pressed uniform with his cap worn at a jaunty angle. The smile on his face crumpled as a hover ute sped over in Shermer Customs & PD green speed.
‘No matter’ he thought ‘a quick inspection and a few pennies bribe and we’ll be on our way.’
A portly lady officer hoped out of the ute, slipped on a wide brimmed hat like a drill Sergeant’s from a movie and with one hand on her holster and the other on a data pad approached the Captain.
“ This vessel the” she looked at her pad “ Birdman? She’s with the Al-Magreb line?”
“She is, as is her crew of course every man and woman jack of them”
“Excellent sir, the last Al-Magreb line vessel to pass through here, the Wolfman, absconded without paying docking fees – by the powers invested in me by the –“
“No, no, no! NO!”
“Shermer Colony Council I am impounding this vessel Sir!” Sundry officers had exited the ute and were stood threateningly cradling shotguns or tapping batons while the dock staff clamped the ship with gravity wells.
“Wankers!” railed Nideno at the surrounding jungles.
A dejected crowd of cricketers clustered round two tables in Paddy’s Bar – a neon bathed shamrocked alehouse serving fizzy light beer in long necked bottles that the ship’s engineer was downing while watching 6 month old NFL footage shipped from earth.
Vinne, his beetle brow, furrowed looked disapproving at his shamrock adorned head of shout before taking a hearty swig.
“So – I know what your all thinking, our cut price shipping line has dumped us here in a one horse colony where someone’s shot the horse. They follow padded rugby and rounders and we are screwed for any fixtures to help us get a ship off here.”
“That about sums it up Skip.” muttered Deepak Singh, a grey haired slender left arm spinner flipping a beer matt between his fingers.
Vinnie looked at the rest of the Rhinos team, the strapping Frazer twins from New Auckland whose pace was so essential, Singh and his fellow Maphilindoer Rani Patel the very devil with the bat, D’Oliveria the Azanian all-rounder, Tony Smith the ex-Olympus Mons International, ‘Calamity’ Kennedy (England) whose face was always tripping him and ‘Beamer’ Beeverbrook (Ireland) who was smiling even now. He eyes fixed now on the most unusual member of the team Tyenl, a 12 foot long Yuldront gleaming emerald standing on four of her claws limbs with her fore portion held aloft like some insect faced centaur. Her hard muscled limbs and torsos showed her potential as the very fastest of fast bowlers, in the more out of way colonies her very presence ensured they got prize matches. Vinne and Hans Van Der Bock, settling with the bar bill had debated asking her to be exhibited to the locals but Hans had kyboshed it – with some tosh about her dignity. Vinnie’s opinion was dignity be dammed they’re on the bones of their arse here.
Hans sauntered over, one stumpy pile of creases from head to foot worn by sun and worry. Nestling a stiff glass of the local rot gut drowned in ice, he scratched his head.
“I’ve been talking to the barman.”
This statement of the obvious did not encourage the crestfallen Rhinos.
“Thing is they have five baseball teams here amongst the different settlements.”
“yeah but we don’t play baseball do we kid” nasally droned the Scouse Kennedy scratching the beginnings of beard on his brown chin, “We’re fucked!”
“But one team has been unbeaten for 5 years…strikes me such a team might be getting bored Skip.”
Ever so slightly the creases on Vinnie’s forehead relaxed a little.
“You mean a mixed match?…that could work…my god it really good – where this pitch?” Vinnie started downing his pint.
“The Shermer City Saints, local to this space port Skip.”
The empty stout glass smacked down on the table.
“Then what are we waiting for?” Lads and Lass hole up here we’ll meet you back here.
Captain Mohammed Nideno
c/o Shermer City Telegrpah Office
Al-Magreb LinePty Ltd
Units 5-6 Shaka Zulu Enterprise Deck
Beta Canum WarpGate Station
Beta Canum System
Your Reference: HM/342/ACTS URGENT
I regret to inform you following landing at Shermer City to replace failed life support scrubbers (see letter HM/341/ENG to the Technical Management, copy attached) my ship has been impounded by the local authorities.
The reasons is that the Al-Magreb Line vessel Wolfman absconded without paying docking fees. As a vessel of the same line under local law my ship can be seized and potentially auctioned to clear the debt.
Apparently the local authorities have entered into correspondence with you and received no reply. As an employee I would like to confirm the local authorities are very serious about their threats and I have been shown the ledger, camera footage and data records about the Wolfman and it does seem legitimate charges where incurred.
I implore you to clear up this issue so my ship can resume it’s voyage whose further interruption reflects badly on the line to the passengers and to the customers expecting delivery of cargos. The personal cargos of the crew in the spare capacity of the ship are also likely to spoil with further delay with an impact on crew morale. I am happy to act as the Line’s agent in this matter given the lack of a Line Office here if you merely given me some parameters and a negotiation budget to deal with the Docking Authorities.
Please reply by the close of business on the day or receipt – with the transit times for messages and alacrity of the Shermer Colony legal system time is of the essence.
Captain Mohammed Nideno
Master of the Al-Magrebi Line vessel Birdman
Nideno read through the letter one more time. Finding it acceptable he paid the Telegraph man who uploaded it to the datanet. Then a satellite would beam it to a message pod which would be hurled through the warp gate. That system would be repeated in each of the five systems it would have to cross to reach head office.
Head office was a grandioise title for a pair of open plan offices where various low grade office workers, who the beaming and glad handing Elaine Al-Magreb had lured into employment with share options and false promises, juggled paper. Every year was a juggling act between the company going bust, survival and being closed for
safety regulation failures. Somehow that never seemed to impact on Elaine’s lifestyle and ability to entertain politicians.
Nideno exited the office and scanned from the telegraph steps the neat orderly town dominated by the docking tower of the space port at one end and baseball field at the other with it’s bleachers and floodlights. Beyond a heavy jungle looking like crushed lichen trembled in the wet warm wind. The whine of electric vehicles was a pleasant rhythm as he strode the streets – the occasional roar of large jungle predators interrupting it.
Pleasant as the small town surroundings were they wouldn’t help Nideon with his problem. He had no faith in head office. Even if the ship was recovered his and other crew members cargo would spoil – the line wouldn’t spend on refrigerated cargo containers and the docks weren’t about to offer any help. There had to be a way out of this mess – if he could turn a profit here somehow and clear the docking fees himself. There had to be a way.
One thing was for certain Nideno was now certain he wanted to become an owner-master and responsible for his own fate.
The Shermer City Saints stadium was bijou but state of the art. Even here out on the frontier Vinnie Williams marvelled at the ultra modern strip floods, holographic score board and a tiny media centre with its own direct telegraph message pod station.
“Jesus Hans! We’ve played in grounds were the whole colony which didn’t have these resources.”
“True Skipper, but those were colonies who we’re reduced to fighting their neighbours with pointed sticks.”
Vinnie winced with memory of the Colony of Pennine Lancashire.
“All that spear throwing did mean they had a great pace attack mind, if vicious. Still enough waffling, on with business.”
The strapping skipper and tumbledown manager strode in a building named ‘Administration.’ Vinnie was nearly bowled over when he came in by the glacial blond on the reception desk she was the best thing he’d seen since his last match fee. A few clipped exchanges and despite Hans attempts at seductive small talk they managed not to be arrested and got to wait before meeting the team manager, chairman and judging by the numerous photos of him with various celebrities in reception, publicity hound.
After a respectful fifteen minutes in which both men were treated to a coffee that tasted about 50% sugar by the dismissive receptionist they were shown to the Chairman’s office.
Office was something of an understatement. Vinnie felt like the door to the office was some kind of time portal the mahogany panelled walls and leather arms chairs would have belonged in a antediluvian vid not in a bare-arse colony.
Behind the desk sat the chairman wide shoulders, wide belly and wide bald spot behind a miasma of cigar smoke.
“Fellow ball gamers, charmed, charmed, please sit down,” he sneered out of his cigar chomping grid as he gestured them to plush seats, “to what do I owe the pleasure..?”
Vinnie leaned forward.
“Well..” Vinnie scanned the gilted name plate “..Mr Wassenbender we’re a visiting cricket team..”
“Visiting I thought your ship had to call in here in an inopportune unplanned visit?” Wassenbender eyed the end of his cigar erotically, took it from his mouth and deposited some ash in a tray.
“Well as in sport as in life, we want to take this misfortunate and turn it into an opportunity” Vinnie coughed.
Hans picked up the run of play. “A business opportunity – for both of our teams”
“Really? And how could two teams with different sports have an opportunity eh?”
“Well,” Vinnie picked up his theme, “ you;re the dominant team on this colony.”
“Indeed, Sir, Celebrated, if I might say so, celebrated!”
“Indeed very celebrated, most celebrated – but we’re offering you an opportunity to take place in a cross-sport match – an innings apiece in each game – each garnering a point towards the championsh-“
“A stunt sir, a stunt game – I fear gentlemen your visit has been wasted – such a stunt would be beneath the dignity of the Saints.”
Hans got up tp go, “ A shame bud, no matter the Oakwreath Wraiths it’ll have to be then.”
“Well gentlemen they are a singularly unsuccessful team in our league, such a stunt might suit them..”
Vinnie got up “Might look bad on you when they beat us mind.”
“I don’t see how gentlemen – it’ll simply inject competition into the league.”
“Aye maybe,” uttered Hans “but when we refresh the rumours of match-fixing in your league…”
Wassenbender spat out his cigar.
“I don’t know how that’ll impact on that United Americas touring team due to come and play baseball here.”
“Those Major League Veterans hate to play with any hint of scandal-“innocently remarked Vinnie.
“ You wouldn’t we’ll sue!”
“Or another we’ll be off world by then.” Smiled Vinnie
“I’m friends with the Sherriff I’ll have you arrested, I’ll…”
“Sure bud, but that’ll be a fine way to breed some scandal” smiled Hans.
“ An Inter-stellar scandal to wit, I’m a subject of the Niptish Empire, Hans is an Azanian with the rest of team that would be what 8?”
“9 I think bud.”
“9 Consulates kicking off over false arrests, some of them might be a few systems away”
“Aye but for former international stars you can see it kicking off bud. Press heat…phew”
“Kicking off big time. So a word of advice Mr Wassenbender.”
“Don’t threaten us bud, we don’t make a living in this game without working out the spin and where the ball bounces.”
Wassbender rescued his cigar from the desk and took his time relighting it as the blazing colour gradually left his cheeks.
“So gentlemen, so I can consider your offer more properly – what are the terms of this match?”
Vinnie and Hans exchanged glances and in unison grinned
“We thought you’d never ask.”
The Shermer City Spaceport was no bustling with high powered entrepreneurship aside the Birdman clamped and impounded as it was there was also two local rusty shuttles fitted with ‘pest control’ auto gauss cannons, operated by local companies and a frumpy freighter with frayed fuselage from which lethargic docking crew were unloading off world food stuffs at a lazy pace.
Nideno found the Captain of freighter, the Lagos Lovely nursing a coffee and reading a kindle in a greasy dinner on the edge of the port. Like the bored port workers smoking cigarettes and swapping stories in the shade of air conditioning units the dinner seemed surplus to requirements.
“A nice ship you have there.” Nideno gestured to a seat and raised his eyebrow,
“You’re very kind.” Abacha nodded to the seat giving him permission to sit.
Nideno slid into the boot opposite the richly dark Abacha who was neatly dressed in a grey neru suit and had a closely shaved head. Abacha was older but clearly looked after his appearance and his health unlike the world weary line employee whose gut strained at his uniform and looked at the free trader with worn eyes.
“Nideno – I don’t know the name ? You’re African?”
Somewhat taken aback Nideno answered “its Italian family’s Somali some ancestor must have married an Italian during a period as refugees but families been off world since the early 2100S, one of the first up the bean stalk – I think most of the family is on Sol orbitals as it matters. Always seen myself as a citizen of the Cosmos.”
“Ah so not African then.”
“Well my passports Alpha Centari Commonwealth, Does it really matter?” Nideno though it would be imprudent to let on he had six passports varying from Sealand to the Klarkash-ton Kingdom of Tuerlyevst.
“ That depends what you wish to discuss Captain. I am merely noting that you are not African, not West African and definitively not Nigerian”
Nideno clocked the Nigerian National Socialist pin at the Lagos Lovely Captains collar and started to put things together.
“Well I ain’t looking for any favours, merely a mutually beneficial business deal.”
“I will consider your proposal. Please speak on, but you get no special favours from me.”
“yeah…I thought we’d established that. I’ve got a two teu containers chock full of Hu’erlton Ulerrr’ailkki pelts, lovely fresh pelts from Klarkash-ton ready for processing – I understand they’re very popular in Nueva Esperanza – I am aware you’re on route to that fine, fine moon and –“
“I understand they were particularly popular amongst wealthy matrons of Roma Seconda?”
“Yes Captain, so I wondered…”
Abacha finished his coffee and gestured for the bill. He turned his kindle around and showed the headline
EMPERORS WIFE REVEALS NEW FASHION
There was a full length picture of the ‘Empress’ of Roma Seconda wearing a new scaly cape.
“You know how those matrons follow the Empress in fashion, Captain Nideno.”
Open mouthed Nideno scrambled for words.
“I think those furry Hu’erlton Ulerrr’ailkki pelts will not be worth so much now – unlike my cargo of Buddyraptors skins which will now be most fashionable I think.”
Nidno briefly considered punching the smug Nigerian in the face but decided he had enough problems with the local law as it was.
“Well thanks for the heads up, a pleasure talking to you.”
Abacha wandered off, leaving Nideno to make eye contact with the waitress.
“Beer and cake.”
“So to summarise – two weekends of play – the first weekend starts with a Saturday a 40 overs cricket match and ends with a nine innings Baseball game on the Sunday. The following weekend the order is reversed. Each match or game gives a point – in the event of a draw we’ll play an extra baseball innings as is your tradition.” Vinnie beamed.
Wassenbender nodded his agreement and reignited his third cigar of the meeting.
“Prize money will be £22,000 Niptish half to be put up by each team. Rhinos get 10% of the ticket sales, initial media fees etc; but all residuals are kept by the Saints as are programme sales and other merchandising sales. The flip side of that is all costs are born by the Saints.”
Vinne beamed further. “Pleasure doing business with you Mr Wassenbender.”
“Gentlemen I can’t help but feel you Barnstormers have taken me to the cleaners. God dammit I hope my boys hand you shysters a whipping!”
Beered and caked up Nideno found no joy at the Telegraph office and scratching his wandered past to grinning leaders of his cricket team.
“Ah passengers – you seem very pleased with yourselves?”
The crumpled white Azanian smiled “We’re fucking chuffed mate, we’re getting off this rock we reckon – a couple of weeks max.”
“What’s the story?”
Vinnie beaming explained the demonstration match finishing with “…Even if we lose we’ve got the gate fees should get us passage off.”
“ I don’t suppose you’d put that to a spare part for my ship would you?”
Vinnie grinned “Love to but how likely would be to get the cash back from your shipping line.”
The black Captain swept off his hat and scratched his head.
“Errr…I’ll be honest it would take a while.”
“I would ove to be able to help you one Skipper to another but… “
“Yeah I get it. “ Inside Nideno’s head was ringing with repeated cries of Wankers ” good luck lads.”
Nideno found himself over the weeks, wrestling with the fractured telegrams of tangled half promises and spent hopes from head office. His own accounts showed insufficient funds and his crew either didn’t have the scratch or didn’t care about their cargoes.
” And why should they they’re paid their salaries whatever ? He thought.”