Funny Science Fiction Speculative

“If you're at looking for Klayevermann, Iva, you've missed him.” One of the lunchtime louts infesting the 'medicinal salon' of the Old Proprietors' Club on Stratford informed Iva Watson-ffyre of the blatantly obvious. “Just as well. He's at a vile mood. I tried to put the arm on him for twenty Impers for lunch and he called me a 'deadbeat cropper' after I reminded him we were at school together.”

Another of the regulars chirped up. “What's got into your Aed, anyway, Iva? I tried to touch him for fifty to tide by after we paid quarterly parish poll tax, and all I got was a long lecture about his having to stump up the extra heritors' assessment for the renovation in the Legate's chapel. As if we all didn't get that bill round the club here. He's been like this ever since he came back from space duty.”

Iva settled herself at the bar of the club. Aed Klayvermann had long since signed a marker for her, and she would be served, even when he wasn't around, exactly as though she was a member. Anything she ordered would be added to his account, which he paid, in full, without complaint, at the end of every month.

To her credit, though, Iva was a bit better than the average Old Props' member, in her treatment of her fiance. So she took a different, harder, and less traveled path. “Well, boys,” she began, “I suppose I do know something about your problem. Aed's mood, I mean, not the intricacies of chapel tax assessments. I agree. His mood started to change even before we left the posting to the Halcon Space Port. I could tell you about it, but things are a bit dry at the moment...”

The regular members of the club responded at once. A quick inventory of pocket change from half a dozen or so produced enough coin and banknotes to order either a tea and sandwich, or five 'Halcon Eliberatas,' though nothing stronger in any quantity. Iva had other business after she finished, and opted for the food and tea.

Iva also began to attract a crowd of listeners. It would not be correct to say that without Aed Klayevermann subsidizing the rest of the members, the kitchen and pharmaceutical bar of the Old Props' club would close, but he definitely added materially to the bottom line of the place. Ill-temper was also so uncharacteristic of the man.

Across the entire planet Stratford, Aed's entire family were known as no-nonsense landlords and strict creditors. At the same time, they also had an unparalleled reputation for hospitality. No one, guest or stranger, neighboring land owner, tenant or debtor, ever went away from a Klayevermann house hungry or even slightly underfed. Indeed, the older members of the family had been known both to insist on payment-in-full on the day, and to supply sacks of food worth more than the amount tendered. If Aed's new attitude represented a permanent shift to the miserly on the part of the family heir, the social implications were profound, and dire.

Iva started her story, for she had an inkling of the history of the situation, as well as current news. “To begin with, boys, remind me. When was the last time any of you did anything nice for Aed Klayevermann, Proprietor of the Old Farm? Take him to lunch and pick up the check, for example? You all seem to be willing enough to hover around his sisters at meal times; why not him? C'mon now, don't all jump in at once.” As Iva expected, complete silence prevailed, and came there only fidgeting and some nervous glances in response.

“As for the rest of it,” Iva carried on, “I think that the first mistake you made was reminding Aed that you went to school together.” She turned to her other questioner. “Mind you, I sympathize about the heritors' special assessment. I've heard plenty already. But I can definitely clarify the school issue.”

“Remember, boys, the main language on Halcon is Halconic, and when you hear it, you begin to expect it, even if you don't speak it.”

“Aed doesn't speak Halconic, though.” One of the spectators was astonished at the idea. “Who would learn such a thing, for a start.”

The tea and sandwich arrived. Iva glanced up at the manager as he set the tray down in front of her. “Mertsi, domnu Conyers. Achesti aliment e minutatsi.” She glowered up at her hangers-on. ”I do for a start, sir. I was born there, and Halconic is my first language. Aed learned more than a little while he was on duty. He began by grasping enough to function when he went on leave, and could get food, and other common things, give and understand directions, and count, even before I met him. After I met him, he really bore down on the subject. I think he wanted to impress me. Before we left he translated the text cited in a sermon on the radio. It was from the Book of Job. Very appropriate, given his companions, and life on Stratford generally.”

Iva glowered around to see if anyone wished to challenge her on particulars. No one did. She nibbled her sandwich, and sipped some tea before she went on.

“About a week before we left to take up the new duty post here on Stratford, Aed invited me to join him over lunch at the Casino Halconica. A bit spendy, but not awful. He said he wanted to ask me something, but he wouldn't elaborate.”

What I didn't know then was that he withdrew all of his savings, perhaps 1,700 Impers in all. That was far more than he would have needed for a meal for two at the casino, which might have cost fifty or sixty total. So whatever he planned was something big.”

Another sip, another nibble, another pause, and Iva resumed, as the members edged closer on their seats. The revelation about a mysterious question and a large draw on the savings account upset any number of dynastic hopes, but Iva seemed oblivious. She explained, “Aed still didn't think he had enough, so he asked another of the crew for gambling advice. He was another local lad, from Stratford City, by the name of Perkins.”

The name drew a collective groan from the barflies assembled, who were familiar with the family.

“Would this be one of the grav-car grab and chop Perkinses, or one of the 'beeste-bothering Perkinses?” This came from a member who clearly had no use for either sort.

“I dunno,” Iva admitted. “I'm not from this place so I don't know the genealogy. His name is Timmy Perkins...”

“A likely story.”

“”...and he came into the Space Fleet on probation from Stratford City South....”

“Shame what the courts are at these days. No proper sentencing.”

“...and when our ship ended up in repair, he went on half-pay like everyone else. So Perkins started dealing eightsey-ninesey down at the casino, because he has some mathematical ability.”

“Oh, one of those! A numbers-running Perkins, ran off with Aed's money. That makes more sense now and I can see why he might be a bit upset. You sent him down for a court-martial and have him on an asteroid somewhere chipping ice, I hope.”

“No,” Iva corrected, “Aed and Tim Perkins were getting along just fine at that point. Still do, in fact. Perkins has the same duty posting here as Aed.”

This sent another ripple of apprehension through the listeners. They next expected to hear that Aed Klayervermann was about to present a Satanic worshiper as the next vicar of the Old Farm chapel, and would be soon going off with a cult of atheistic Marxist polygamists to study advanced Halconic sentence structure.

Iva restored some order. “Aed needed more money than he had and turned to Perkins for advice. Perkins took him to the cashier, and sorted out seventeen chips for one hundred Impers and one for fifty, which was every last coin Aed had at that moment. Perkins made Aed give him one of the hundred chips and the fifty for safe keeping, and took him over to one of the Wheel-of-Fortune machines. Perkins explained the game, and told Aed to bet on a color, never on a number, and to take money off the table occasionally.”

This was murky ground for the listeners. Stratford had been settled by religious refugees. It was very dry, but no one among the elite thought anything of popping into a club for some medicinal assistance. Gambling, on the other hand, was a different matter, and poorly understood.

“Well, boys, you may know, or probably not, that the Wheel can behave very badly sometimes, and this one did. In quick time, Aed lost fourteen of his sixteen chips. He had two of his own, and what Perkins was holding for him. That's when I showed up. Aed still had enough for lunch, and so we went to the dining room. Perkins slipped off to the staff dining room, and they agreed to meet later.” Iva paused for another nibble and another sip, and added, “That's when Aed's old school friend showed up.”

This brought a puzzled look from the members. One ventured a guess. “Imagine that. I wasn't at thinking any of the old Market Grange Academy crowd were at Halcon. Who was it?”

“That, of course, was Aed's first problem. Who was it? Whoever it was clearly recognized Klayevermann, and started greetings at once. But you all know Aed. He prides himself on never forgetting a face....”

“And he's the only one who believes he has that ability.” The chapel tax sufferer piped up. “I sometimes wonder if he recognizes himself in the mirror in the morning.” The rest of the club members nodded in agreement.

“Well, boys, this long-lost friend said what a miracle, running into an old school chum, and it must be fate, and so on." Iva continued, “Aed was still perplexed, but never going to ask for a name no matter how long he couldn't remember the face. Then this friend began to pour a tale of woe, stranded, wallet lost, no work and no grasp of the language, and no cash, and, of course, by the way, could Aed help 'uta meyalla.' That's what I heard, thinking in Halconic, anyway, and Aed told me later he heard the same.”

“I said to Aed, in Halconic, 'He wants an awful lot, a thousand, c'mon now, don't be so generous, you can't afford it.' Aed said, 'No, he would do it for a friend.' Again, that was said in Halconic.”

“Just like the Aed Klayevermann we used to know,” one of the hangers-on agreed. “Would do anything for anyone. I still have no idea who this was.”

“Quite,” agreed Iva. “Aed replied he needed some time to get the money, and that he already had a lunch engagement, and while he was ever so pleased to see one of the Stratford crowd, couldn't his friend just simply go away for a couple of hours. Aed tilted his head towards me, at which point the friend started to say something. Aed gently took him by the arm, spun him away from the dining room and gave a little shove to encourage the thought process.”

“Well, Whoever-This-Was finally took the hint and moved along under his own power, after making an appointment for two hours later. Aed and I went into lunch. Whatever the question Aed had went clear out of his mind. It was like having lunch with someone who memorized the Stratford directory, and couldn't help but share the joy of the accomplishment. Aed still tried to remember.”

“And of course he couldn't,” an onlooker opined.

“Absolutely not,” agreed Iva. “Very nice lunch, entree, and two sides, cake for dessert and a glass of wine. The total came to just barely fifty Impers, including a tip. Aed wouldn't let me pay my share. Instead, we went back out onto the floor, where Aed met up with Perkins again, who hacked up the chips he was holding after Aed asked. Aed tried again.”

“And he won?” One of the bar bums was optimistic.

“Not at first. He lost and was down to the very last chip before his luck changed. Perkins tried to pull him away. I tried to pull him away, but Aed insisted. On that last chip, he finally hit the color, and won, and had two chips. He pocketed one, let the other ride, and won again. This went on until he had ten chips, for one thousand Impers, in his pocket, and the one on the table. Then fate dealt him another blow from Stratford.”

“Another old school chum? Surely not, Iva, there wouldn't be two Market Grange Academy boys on Halcon, in addition to Aed.”

“No, not at all. But our ship commander was from Stratford as well. She decided to see how Perkins was getting on in his job, and that she wanted lunch in the dining room. I'm sure you all know her, everyone on Stratford seems to know everyone else, though she's a bit older. You've all met Katalena Kitheracks.”

Nods of recognition went around the table. “I can imagine that would go badly. Her Pa is hell-bent against gambling. But he doesn't mind medication nearly so much.”

“Correct. So here was Commander Kitheracks, talking to me, and to Aed, and to Perkins, all of us horror-struck. Aed couldn't touch the stake no matter what happened. Perkins couldn't do anything about it, either. He worked there, but he wasn't on duty at the moment. Even if he was, he couldn't touch some other employee's table without being instructed by the patron, and that would blow Aed's cover too. It wasn't mine, so if I touched it, the attendant would have made a fuss.”

“So Aed lost?”

“No, his luck held. He hit, and it doubled, to two hundred, then four, and eight, and sixteen. There the boys and I stood, making small talk with the Boss Lady the whole time, every one of us wanting to sweep the chips away, but rooted to the spot. Finally she decided Perkins was well, and not likely to be indicted anytime soon. She went off into the dining room. The minute her back was turned, Aed snatched the money off the table and bolted from the table to the cashier.”

“So who did the old school chum turn out to be? Why did he need a thousand Impers, anyway?”

“Well, we found that out about an hour later, as we waited on the steps of the casino. At that moment, Aed had twenty-six hundred Impers in banknotes, and felt pretty good about the whole matter, or as good as a pious, church-going Stratford lad who's completely mired in sin could feel.”

At this, several glasses of high-proof medicinal cocktails were raised in salute.

“The friend came up, and Aed counted out the thousand as his companion's eyes got bigger and bigger.” Iva paused, and imitated a Stratford lad as best she could. “'Oh, I cayan't be at telling you just how at generous thayesss ayesss.' Aed's friend was all odd prepositions and long vowels just like he left the Old Props' fifteen minutes before. 'I didn't expect this. All I wanted was enough to be at a meyal here in the casino. You know, maybe a sandwich or two and some side items. I don't know if you could be at finding anything more expensive than twenty-five Impers anywhere at the whole planet. But to be honest, I'm at broke and I need the cash and I never will forget it. You really are a life-saver, van Valkenheim.”

Iva paused for another sip of tea. “Aed really was speechless, and so I finally had to step up and ask, 'Who?' And this fellow finally took a long stare at Aed in the clear light of day outside, rather than in the smoke and the murk and the strange lights of the casino, and said, 'You aren't van Valkenheim out of the South Stratford Chapel School, are you? You look just like him though. I won't forget the charity of even a stranger among the Elect.' With that he hugged Aed and skipped off down the stairs before Aed could do anything about it.”

“So for once Aed really had no reason to recognize the duffer?”

“Never saw him before that day or since, though Aed would dearly welcome a chance to meet and discuss getting the money back. Aed and I were both hearing exactly what we expected to hear from the locals, and we both missed that barbaric long vowel you Stratford folks put in to nearly every word and name, not to mention the beastly 'at,' the preposition of choice among the pious. A Stratford meal, or a Halconic thousand, and no one can tell the difference. Never mind learning to speak Halconic, you Stratford crowd should learn to speak your own thrice-bedamned language first.”

Iva finished her sandwich. “Summary, Aed did a perfectly gratuitous good deed for a complete stranger. He didn't get to ask me whatever it was he had in mind. I still have no idea what that might be. To provide the absolute topping on the cake, he ended up making a hundred and fifty Imper loss on the whole day. If I were an old school chum from Stratford, I think I would be 'at trying' to live within my own means rather than put the arm on Aed Klayevermann for a long time to come.”

Iva finished the last bit of tea and set empty cup down. “I've got to run along now. And don't forget. I'm not one of the boys, nor one of the Elect. Don't put the arm on me for cash, either.”

January 14, 2022 22:56

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