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The Other War (Cover)

Chapter 31 - The Other War

04/03/3061 SLS Shanghai, Lan Zhenzhu (Terra RC -122.574, 1768.831, Strana Mechty RC -154.874, 1.022)

SLS Shanghai's corridors were an overcrowded warren of tunnels confusing even if you understood the Cantonese language which Erika and Ronell certainly didn't. Their tablet which was supposed to be translating was stuck in a loop saying “Hello, welcome aboard the SLS Shanghai. Follow all appropriate rules and enjoy your stay” in an accented sing-song voice.

Samarkand Aerospace Carrier (Miniature)

SLS Shanghai, former SLDF Aerospace Carrier

After a short period of confusion they encountered a black haired man wearing an dark red robe. “Excuse me you seem in need of guidance. I am Wen, one of the Ship's Stewards.” He extended his hand toward Erika who was tempted to throw the tablet against the wall. “Mind if I take a look at your Prism unit?”

Erika handed the chatterbox tablet to the stranger who inserted a datachip. The machine blacked out and rebooted after a minute, “Sorry about that, Miss. These Prism units are made dumb on purpose and sometimes they act up.”

Ronell accepted the tablet, “Thank you Wen, do you mind showing us our accommodations? This layout is a bit difficult for us.”

Wen looked at each of them and read the compartment number, “Ah so you are a couple. We rarely have couples traveling together. Most of our guests are singletons and any temporary workers don't bring their partners with them during their time aboard. There are no idle hands aboard the Shanghai.”

The trio used the straps and handholds built into the walls to move about within the corridors yielding to others translating their way through the microgravity tunnels of the habitat section of the Shanghai. “How many people are on this ship?”

“The Shanghai can operate with less than eight hundred core crew but there are berths for eleven thousand plus a few dozen guest quarters. Everyone has a generous NHV of about sixty five cubes in the habitat module compared to the thirty most SLDF vintage Warships provide for their crew The rest of this giant ship is strictly off-limits to our guests and not terribly interesting to you either.”

They rounded a corner passing rows of cramped capsules built into the walls. People sat on the extended capsule tops merrily chatting in their foreign tongue. “These are the normal quarters. A very roomy five cubes with all essentials built in. You are lucky enough to have a double berth room of fifteen cubes.

Since you are probably only here for a short while; I recommend a visit to the Eight Way Temple on Gravdeck three during your stay. It is truly remarkable, busy though so you will need to get an allocation ahead of time.”

Wen stopped and looked at the numeric markings on the wall, “Your accommodations are down the hall to the right.” He gently placed his hands on their shoulders and leaned close, “Just because I have to say this I advise you to refrain from coupling in your room. There are places aboard equipped and designated for that. It will make our jobs easier and your stay more comfortable.

If you need any more help please do not hesitate to flag a Steward down.” With that he floated away.

Erika's face was locked into a state of shock at the nonchalant exchange, “Equipped and designated for coupling on a ship...On Kooken there were places like that but now I'm mortified yet intrigued.”

“With that many people it makes sense to partition that for everyone's sake.” He felt a rumble in his stomach, “We should drop our things off and see what these ration coins can get us. It has to better than what we have been eating for the past two weeks.”

The pair floated along the narrow corridor until they found their compartment, touching the key to the lock opened the door into a spartan twenty cube apartment paneled with bamboo and plastic. Rings in the ceiling provided d-rings to suspend their sleeping bags from, one wall folded out into a table/bed opposite that was a panel concealing a small food/water prep area, Ron opened a floor hatch revealing a recessed locker just big enough for their shared duffel. The third wall had a small 2-d video screen with a keyboard below, information from the ship's central comm center scrolled by carrying system news and updates from the Clanspace's chatterweb.

Several message scrolled by but one was in bold, 04/01 - Clan Steel Viper launches invasion of Jade Falcon Occupation Zone. Grand Council calls for meeting regarding....

Ronell looked over to Erika, “The Clans are fighting each other in the Inner Sphere.”
She finished drinking from the newly filled bottle, “Good. Maybe they'll kill each other and the LAAF can their shit together to liberate those worlds. Won't shed a tear for a dead Clan Warrior. They're literally asking for it half the time.”

“You're not wrong about that. I won't forget, we may not be soldiers but if what Dexter says is true we can help hoist the Clans upon their own petard.”

“I didn't want to help him initially but you are right about that.” She changed out of her soiled shuttle jumpsuit placing it in the bin for cleaning before changing into a turtleneck sweater, trousers, and soft boots with warm socks, AC on ships was always iffy and they had no duties assigned so no need for a uniform jumpsuit. “If my skills can help avenge the wrongs of the Red Corsair and her Clan then I offer them freely.” Ron changed as well donning his own pullover sweater, long sleeves, and pants.

The pair translated the signs and tunnels ('translated' is the official name for moving in freefall according to NASA) leading to GravDeck Two. They ended in a long but orderly line to one of the two transfer stations linking the five hundred meter diameter grav-deck rotating apart from the ship's superstructure.

Upon leaving the car they were met with a cacophony of three different languages, saw cohorts wearing patches from five different factions {Newts, Grays (Hansa), Tanners, Hexers (Pentagon plus Fortuna), and Mandrills}, and smelled freshly cooked food. Each ring was divided into ten segments split between dining and recreation. Racquetball, hand ball, and ping pong were popular choices in addition to the standard gym equipment which was packed with Newts undergoing their required exercise regimes. The pair passed a group watching a four man racquetball challenge eagerly watched by bookmakers and fans. Those games were even harder than in a gravity well due to the Coriolis effect 'swerving' the ball as the ground moved beneath the player's feet. As the ball hit against the goal zone there were cheers and groans from all involved as coins were exchanged on the sly.

One of the segments contained a Casino with Roulette, Baccarat, Poker, Sic Bo, and Mahjong. Erika looked at her ration coins and the games with relish, “We will have to come back another time. I think I can clean these guys out of their silver.”

“This is how you got into trouble on Kooken.”
She returned the coin holder to her belt, “Unreliable men are the reason I got in trouble.” A young woman in a high slitted cheongsam looked toward Ronell and started to move toward him until Erika grabbed his arm. The woman went in search of easier prey. “You wouldn't let me down would you?”

He hardly seemed to notice instead looking at the menus of the food options in each of the five dining decks. “Of course not, I wonder if they have a brig aboard. This one looks good. Don't you agree?” She looked at the menu board which switched between Cantonese, Russian, and Standard along with a cost in coins for the options which ranged from today's 'Captain's Choice' broiled Ironhold Beetles over rice with ginger sauce to teriyaki marinated tofu with noodles, raw fish bibimbap served with hot pepper paste, and more common vegetarian fare that Spacers endured to sustain themselves.

While standing in line, Erika looked at one of the Captain's Choice platters pass them by and had never seen bugs that large, they were nearly the size of her admittedly small fist. “The Captain's Choice today is bugs?”

One of the Newts overhead her, “Don't be so quick to dismiss them. They have a very delicate taste young lady. more like crab. We get frozen crab from the Tanis system once in a while. Very expensive but worth every piece of scrip.”
After finishing their meal, playing practice rounds of Mahjong on the Prism unit, and watching a fearsome Ping Pong game that took up half a rec room the pair returned to their beds wiped out after a busy twelve hours. Upon waking and untangling themselves Erika opened the Prism unit to find a message from Dexter. Meet me at 08:45 in the Eight Way Temple. She consulted the unit's clock leaning close and hanging onto a shirtless Ronell, “Dexter wants us to meet him in an hour. Do you want to check out this designated area we heard so little about?”

He wrapped his arms around her naked body, “How will we learn more unless we investigate?”

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