Lucky Knuckle Caper No. 4: Spilled Beer

August 2650: James Sterling delivers interesting news to Vechkov Prague.

Warp Pizza: This clearly cheap pizza parlour is decked out in flimsy decorations, obviously trying (and mostly failing) to make it feel like customers are in the middle of FTL travel to an unknown destination. Stars adorn the walls, many of them peeling off. A long counter, nearly always laid out with different kinds of pizza, is located along the back wall. There are a handful of inexpensive tables and chairs dotted around the cramped shop, these decorated to look like navigation controls aboard a ship’s bridge. A faded sign on the wall proudly proclaims an ‘All You Can ET’ buffet.

Vechkov is sitting, sort of hunched, at one of the cheap tables in a chair that seems in danger of tottering over.

James Sterling tramps into the shop, his gaze on the pizza-laden counter. He spends a moment collecting a few pieces of exceptionally greasy pizza, orders a glass of Warp’s cheap beer, and plunks down at the table where Vechkov is sitting. He nods in greeting to the other man, takes a huge bite out of one of his slices, then mumbles, “Foun’ fometin’ intereftin out about the Implacable.”

Vechkov looks up from staring at his fists, eyes glinting within the shadows under the brim of his battered fedora. “Yeah?” he inquires. He plucks a cigarette from the crumpled pack in his jacket pocket. “I’m all ears.”

Sterling swallows his mouthful of food and takes a swig of beer to wash it down. “You remember we asked ya about that Whitestar guy? How we were lookin’ fer him? Well, guy we talked to — the ship’s owner, right? He tol’ us Whitestar fucked with somethin’ on the Implacable that caused shit t’blow up.”

The reaction on the detective’s face is almost imperceptible. Slight downward twitch of the mouth and tighter clenching of the fists. Then he seems to distract himself by taking out the scuffed silver lighter and igniting the tip of the cigarette. He grumbles through the silence as a tendril of smoke spirals into the air above him. His eyes shift toward the door. For the moment, he appears lost in thought.

“Thought you might be more interested in helpin’ us track the furball down,” Sterling adds, chomping down the remainder of his pizza slice.

“Might be,” the detective agrees. He takes a long drag off his cigarette. The chair squeaks and wobbles. “How?”

Sterling props his elbows on the table and leans his chin on one fist. “Well, yer an investigator, eh? Yer better at figurin’ out where people went than any of us. Ta hear Panderyn talk, the Demarians make it hard as hell ta find one o’their own that’s wanted fer anything.” He picks up another slice of pizza and considers the amalgam of greasy, drippy toppings on it. “An’ I hear he’s got political connections, too.” He takes a bite of the slice. “Might not be good ones, but still.”

“Yeah?” The Ungstiri muses. He taps ash from the tip of the cigarette onto the floor of the pizza joint. Stares at the white and gray flakes as they flutter down to the ground. “I’ll dig.”

“I was gonna send a message off t’the Demarian politico’s office … what was his name?” Sterling sits back, his elbows making a ‘shhhrk!’ sound as they pull free from the sticky surface of the table, then pokes in his jacket pocket for his PDA. “Lemme see.” He pushes his plate aside and sets the device down, tapping at it for a moment or two while he tears off another chunk of pizza. “Stumppaw?” he says, swallowing his mouthful of pizza. “Read someplace Whitestar’s connected ta him somehow. Dunno if he’s related, or what … I dunno how their clan system or whatever works.” He smirks at Vechkov. “You might do better makin’ contact with ‘im than I would.”

Vechkov nods. He tugs absently at the brim of his fedora. Smoke wafts from his mouth as he mumbles: “Could be.” He pushes himself up from the chair, using the table for balance, and it nearly falls over. The investigator just narrowly avoids tumbling face first into the tabletop. “I’ll let you know.” The cigarette dangles from his mouth as he takes out the lighter once more, staring at the scuffed engraving. He pockets the lighter, then walks toward the doorway.

Sterling’s eyebrows rise as the Ungstiri almost overturns the table. He snatches up his PDA before it slides to the floor, but is unable to save his beer, which plummets to a premature, glass-shattering death on the dirty floor. “Aw, man,” the merc mourns, staring for a moment at the ruins of the glass. He glances up to Vechkov. “Alright, I’ll keep an eye out fer yer message. An’ fer the furball. If I find somethin’ before you do I’ll let ya know too, eh?”

“Yeah,” the detective grunts. “Sorry about the beer.” Then he’s out the door.

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Wes Platt

Lead storyteller. Game designer and journalist. Recovering Floridian.

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