Ripping yarns of derring-do from across the Fifteen Galaxies
A dockyard intendant inspects the infamous ship at the end of the dock, and encounters more than he bargained for in the form of a pair of madwomen, a monkey, and an invitation to supper.
by Tom Menary
They said the ship at the end of the dock was haunted. How long the dilapidated spacecraft had been there, nobody was quite sure; the clerk's records were somewhat fuzzy when it came to the last berth in the Royal Space Docks, and she seemed altogether reluctant to amend them.
Godfrey Frohock, Second Intendant to the Admiral-Superintendant of the Dockyard, decided it was high time the irregular vessel was accounted for. Tucking his clipboard under his arm, he strode the length of the harbour, marching past the gleaming cruisers and battleships of the Royal Fleet, to the misshapen contraption squatting at the far end.
The thing was a ghastly amalgamation of boilerplate copper and dull chrome, fastened together by endless rivets and what looked in places like lashed tethers. The overlarge turbine housing nestled under the bow was caked in solomite and other space detritus, and looked like it hadn't been cleaned in many solar cycles. Craning his neck, Godfrey found that there was even a messy woodpile on one wing, and the baffling smell of a barbecue.
The egress ramp was down, so the junior dock officer strode up it and banged loudly on the hull. The knocking echoed away into the cavernous interior, and Godfrey knocked again, making his knuckles sore.
He heard footsteps clanking away from within, and a grumbling voice drifted out of the hatchway: "All right, all right. I'm coming, hold your horses."
A woman appeared at the top of the ramp, squinting in the daylight and looking Godfrey up and down. "We don't want any, thanks."
"I'm not selling anything," he pointed out.
"Good," she said, "because we don't want any."
"I am Second Intendant Frohock, Assistant to the Admiral-Superintendant of the Royal Space Docks. I'm here about your permit."
The woman stuck out her hand. There was a small bonobo chimpanzee clinging to it. "Valerie's the name. This is Kevin. Don't mind him, he's new. Do you need his permit now? Only I'll have to wait until he's gone potty, if I'm being honest."
"Your dockyard permit," Godfrey persisted, leaning away from the chimp as it swiped at his clipboard. "This ship is unregistered."
"Oh, that old trifle," Valerie said. She reached into the bum bag strapped around her middle and produced a banana, which she handed over to the grateful bonobo. "We must have one around here somewhere. Would you like to have a gander?"
Godfrey eyed the creaking spacecraft dubiously. "It's not likely to collapse on me, is it?"
"Not if you feed him a kipper every now and then. If you're good with monkeys, you're good with rocket ships, that's what the Prof says."
"The Prof? He's the owner of this... contraption, is he?" Godfrey made a note on his clipboard, after wiping away several strands from Kevin's banana.
"She tinkers," Valerie said with a wink. "Come and say hello. I think she's in the roof." The woman waved Godfrey in pleasantly, and even the chimpanzee offered up a welcoming smile. The junior officer hesitated, recalling the stories of the howling ghosts that prowled the ship's corridors, snatching up any vagrants who wandered too close to the berth.
Godfrey told himself to get a grip. Nobody put any stock in tall tales. Holding his clipboard out in front of him, ready to furiously note down anything he disagreed with, he stepped through the ship's mouth as Valerie beckoned him further along the corridor.
A short while later, Valerie found the Professor exactly where she'd left her among the steaming pipes and conduits above the flight deck. "Supper's ready, Prof," she called, and her colleague's upside-down face emerged from the tangle of plumbing. "I brought a new friend along to help out. He's shaping up quite nicely. Even Kevin's taken a shine to him."
"What's his liver look like?"
"I don't know," Valerie mused, "I didn't think to ask."
"I could do with one."
"Well, he's a little indisposed right now, but I'm sure me and Kevin will get around to his liver soon enough. I'll send him up with supper, shall I?"
"Ta," said the Prof, and disappeared back into the ceiling.
Valerie left her to her work, and returned to her newfound friend in the galley, humming all the way.