The Spider and the Newcomers, Part XVI

In the absurdly cosmopolitan society of Capital Mind, the unusual is extremely difficult to notice. Gent Strojen, Lord and Master of Strojen’s Foodhole, most popular eatery in the miles-high Burtok-Omn-Strojen Building, was more difficult to shock than most. He had last batted an eyelid, as far as his recollection served, some twenty-five years previously, and he wasn’t planning on doing it again any time soon. When Class Four criminal Spider Merdokk washed up out of the perpetual crowds at the Foodhole doorway, Strojen cleared a table and pulled two fresh seats into place. When he saw that the Spider had brought a guest, he added a third chair without hesitation.

In doing so, he had taken stock of the wide-eyed newcomer, its size and build, species and pelvic alignment, and selected the right chair – all by instinct. By the time Merdokk and his associate had waded through the bustle and seated themselves, Gent Strojen had already waved over a waiter with a small tray. Three tall glasses of blue-black liquid sat on the tray, and the Molran waiter arrayed these on the table with two deft motions of his lower arms before disappearing back into the masses.

Spider showed his large hairy colleague into its chair, then seated himself opposite his old friend. He was carrying a bulky black Merdokk Industries carryall, and he set this on the floor by his left ankle.

“Gent, I’d like to introduce you to Volun Embyri Qiie – you can call him Volun – of the Fliei investigative task force. Volun, this is my good friend Gent Strojen, and that is a drink we call zolo. It is perfectly safe for you to drink, but I wouldn’t recommend putting any stim or sweetener in it,” he leaned close to Gent and lowered his voice. “They’re a bit nervy,” he explained. “It comes from living in a world where sharks can fly.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Volun,” Gent said, extending his lower right hand. Volun enveloped it promptly in his own massive shaggy paw, gripping firmly but not uncomfortably, a great pleased smile cracking his face. “I take it you’re a visitor from that planet Spider went to visit.”

“Any friend to pecha-Merdokk is a friend to me,” Volun said. Only the hesitant way he dipped his head and spoke into his translator with unnecessary directness gave him away as a newcomer to the Quin Cities. “I was selected to travel with him to the centre of the universe – pardon, the urverse – to verify his tales and confirm my people’s faith in him,” he let go of Gent’s hand and picked up the glass. “And to sample new things,” he declared, taking a long draught of zolo. He swirled it around in his mouth in a way that Strojen had never really seen anybody do with zolo, and finally nodded. “It is very good.”

“So,” Gent thumbed a few stim-cubes into his own zolo and took a mouthful while they were still dissolving, “pecha-Merdokk. I take it you had quite an adventure out there.”

“It was actually quite calm, from my viewpoint,” Spider demurred. “The Tanturians went out looking for the Fliei as soon as our well-intentioned Corporate friends let things slip, but didn’t have much luck in finding them. I may have forgotten to mention, but the Fliei have designed some truly impressive masking technology. I doubt even a combing team could have found them, if they wanted to stay hidden. But the Tanturians knew more or less where to look, unfortunately. They hadn’t bothered before, because they hadn’t realised their landbound brothers and sisters had retained quite so much civilisation. Imagine their surprise when they launched an attack, only to come up against Merdokk Industries metaflux shielding.”

“And had their cowardly attack answered by Merdokk Industries heavy laser artillery,” Volun added enthusiastically.

Gent glanced at the Spider with amusement. Merdokk had the grace to look mildly embarrassed.

“It should buy them the visibility they need to file for independent species status,” the arch-criminal said defensively, “and if the High Council happens to take one or two hundred years to get down to their case, then at least they’ll be in a position to defend themselves in the meantime. So when the Council does get down to them, they’ll still be there.”

“That was very charitable of you,” Gent commented. “I didn’t have you pegged as a save-the-world type.”

“It’s business, Gent. If the Corporation doesn’t want the benefits of an alliance with the Fliei, then Merdokk Industries will step in. I can think of better uses for their stealth technology than hiding from piskies.”

Gent turned his amused glance from the Spider, back to the smiling Fliei. “And it’s your job to come along with this guy and make sure he’s doing the right thing for your people, and find out whether or not he lied to you about the way the High Council runs things?” he asked. Volun grinned, took another drink, and nodded. “How are you going to do that, with just one pair of eyes and one pair of hands?”

“Gent, please,” Spider protested mildly. “I brought my young friend here for zolo and outlandish Quin Cities delicacies, not political rhetoric.”

“Very well,” Strojen shook his head in helpless fondness. “I’ll get a selection platter sent over to you. And I’ll add it to your tab,” he added warningly. “Lesson number one, my friend,” he added, turning to the Fliei. “In Capital Mind, nothing is free.”

“If I can breathe without a tube, and walk without fearing current or shadow, then I am free,” Volun said with simple dignity.

“True enough,” Gent grinned, “but everything else will cost you. Now Spider,” he said seriously, “I hope you didn’t go all that way and back without bringing me a present.”

“How could I?” Merdokk beamed, and reached down with both left hands to grab the bag he’d arrived with. “I had a pair of trousers made especially.”

THE END

merdokk_mini

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11 Responses to The Spider and the Newcomers, Part XVI

  1. dreameling says:

    Spider didn’t quite click for me in the previous stories, but now I’m kinda liking the character.

    • stchucky says:

      That’s good! Yeah, there’s a bit of difficulty with the fact that he’s a career criminal, which can make him hard to make into the good guy. He’s most certainly not the good guy, and I don’t think he’s even an antihero … but in certain contexts, he can help others while helping himself.

      A lot of his stories (like a lot of my short stories in general) tend to build up and then cut to the end without showing the “climactic final scene”, but that’s sort of become intentional over the years. I like to think people can imagine them more enjoyably than I can write them.

      And the thing about the Spider stories is, they don’t each individually have to cover everything – they fit together into a larger narrative about his climb through the criminal underworld. I really should get back to that.

      • dreameling says:

        I didn’t think this story needed to show the Tanturians attacking the Fliei or any of that aftermath, if that’s what you mean by the “climactic final scene”. As I read it, this was about politics and negotiations and Spider expanding his network and resources — everything but getting physical. Having the big end battle happen off-screen was perfectly appropriate for the story. The climax was the spokesman deciding the Fliei have to be destroyed, and the payoff was this happy epilogue.

        So far, Spider hasn’t registered as very criminal or underworldy, though. He seems more like a CEO. (Not that those guys can’t be criminals, but you know what I mean.)

      • stchucky says:

        Ah, well! Therein lies the subversive undercurrent of the story. I realised, while I was creating Merdokk, that if you have a bad guy who follows the rules of the Evil Overlord’s Handbook, what you basically end up with is a reasonably competent CEO and everyone kinda likes him.

        I think I philosophised about that a bit in a Creepy and Hatboy story, but the same idea applies.

      • dreameling says:

        So, mission accomplished?

  2. aaronthepatriot says:

    Can we debate Molren serving patterns? Please say yes! I was thinking, it seems awkward if, as you imply, they hold the tray with the 2 upper arms, then reach up and over with the lower arms, to bring the drinks/etc. back down to the table under the tray (largely from perspective of their line of sight, which would be impeded). It’s just…not how I would picture it. I would think lower arms to hold the tray, upper to deliver would be more likely. Or even, holding with upper and lower of one side (one hand under, one hand on rim of tray), and leaning in to serve with the other side’s hands. Indulge me, please =D I’d use pictures but I can’t draw. LOL

    • stchucky says:

      My bad, edited:

      Hah! No, no debate! The server holds the tray above his head to navigate through the crowd. He may lower the tray once he gets to the table, but he still needs his lower hands free to move furniture and elbow people aside and clear table-space and so on, all of which would be awkward with his upper hands across the top of the tray.

      He then transfers items from the tray to the table using his lower hands. Possibly awkward depending on the situation, but Strojen’s waiters are very good at their jobs.

      • aaronthepatriot says:

        All right fair enough!

      • stchucky says:

        Excellent thought though. And I take it back (or would if I felt it was necessary) – why not debate, indeed?

        I can only imagine myself with four arms, carrying a tray in the lower ones and trying to do stuff with the upper ones. The tray would be clear of drinks in five seconds flat, but I would be fired.

      • aaronthepatriot says:

        LOL well Molren are far more disciplined than we are, I have been told, sir.

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