The Jumping-off Place, Ep. 2

In which our hero finds a job…
This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series The Jumping-off Place

The “back room” was an ovoid chamber, dimly lit except for the bright lamp that hung over the card table. Four men were playing a game of yono: a pale-looking middle-aged man with a red nose and graying hair, dressed in a vacc suit; a healthy-looking older gentleman with a glorious head of white hair and fine clothes; and two young bravos who could have been twins, each with nearly the same pinched features, dressed as if for festival in red and green.

The men paid Julin no mind, so he set his duffel down, leaned against a wall, and watched. It didn’t take long for him to notice that the young bravos were dealing from the bottom of the deck, and the man with the red nose was drinking heavily and losing badly. He had a dwindling pool of multi-hued rocks on the table in front of him.

After a time, Julin had learned their names: the older gentleman was the esteemed Cashillist; the bravos, Petriah in red and Maric in green; the sucker, Jor Bran Dald. Bran Dald seemed to be a friend of Cashillist. When his rocks were all gone, the gentleman loaned him the tokens to settle. The game broke up then. Bran Dald rested his head in his arms while the others stood.

The bravos left quickly, passing Julin without a glance. Cashillist, however, looked at him with raised eyebrows, and Julin took it as an invitation to approach him. “I understand that you’re Mister Cashillist?”

The man looked him up and down. “Yes, and you?”

“Julin Terch, sir, at your service.”

“Well, spit it out, man. What do you want?”

“I’m looking for work, sir, until the next liner pulls in. Anything from able spaceman to dishwasher, so long as it’s honest work.”

The gentleman frowned. “You play cards, son?”

Julin looked puzzled. “Uh, yes, sir, on occasion. Yono’s a favorite of mine.”

The gentleman looked at the gun and sword at Julin’s belt. “You can shoot straight?”

Julin stood a little taller. “Yes, sir.”

“I need a watchman at one of my mines. Can you start tomorrow?”

Julin nodded. “Definitely. What time and berth?”

“Five. Berth seven.”

“I’ll be there.”

“Good night, then.” The gentleman left the room with a dignified air.

Julin chewed his lip as he watched the man go. “Huh. That was easy.”

He looked over at Jor Bran Dald then, who was struggling to stand. Julin rushed to his side and helped him up. “Here, friend, lean on me. You heading home?”


The man was liable to end up laid out in an alley somewhere. “I’ll go with you.”

“Mush obliged.”

“You should be more careful. Those two bravos were dealing off the bottom of the deck, you know.”

The man just groaned and started shuffling his feet in the direction of the exit. With Bran Dald leaning heavily on him, Julin scooped up his own duffel and led the way past the bar and out of the saloon. He saluted Euti as he went by. The squat man chuckled and called out after them, “If you’re looking for a tip, Stilts, that one’s claim is played out. He probably doesn’t have a token to his name.”

Julin waved the advice away, but Bran Dald chuckled softly. “He don’t know, but I know.” He tapped the side of his head with a finger. “I know where it’s at. Nobody elsh knows, but I do.”

“Know what, friend?”

The man chuckled again. “The Ishanesha.”

He wouldn’t say another word about it, but quietly led Julin through the warren of now-dimly-lit corridors to a little flophouse. “Number sheventeen,” he said.

They arrived at the number to find the door—not even a hatch, but a hinged metal door—hanging open. Julin parked Bran Dald against the wall. “Wait here, friend. Something’s wrong.”

At the sound of his voice, a man, furtive in a black cape and mask, burst out the door, looked at them with wild eyes, and fled. Julin drew his gun but Bran Dald slapped his arm down. “No, no, you’ll bring the whole neighborhood down on ush.” He pushed himself off the wall and stumbled toward the door. He leaned on the doorpost and favored Julin with a conspiratorial smile. “He didn’t find anything, anyway. I keep it here.” He tapped the side of his head.

Julin nodded. “A wise plan, it seems. Good night, friend.”

“Good night.”

Julin had nowhere else to go for the night, so he laid himself down in the doorway and made the best of it.

To be continued in our next!

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David Eyk
David Eyk
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