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©02 The Media Desk
Falcon didn't go straight anywhere. And if my sense of direction was still halfway true, we were on our way to Alaska.
He stopped for fuel at a Mounted Police base, the others caught a ride south, I stayed with the helicopter. I got something to eat from the commissary, then we were on our way again, bearing north by west. At every altitude from trimming the trees to having the oxygen mask light come on.
We dipped out of the clouds one last time. There was nothing but the Pacific under us gleaming in the dark.
"OK. You gonna ask where we're going?"
"That's Alaska." I pointed to a shadow on the radarscope.
"Not going there, we'll stop at a base for fuel before we get to our destination." Falcon said with a grin.
"After that, nothing but Russia and the rest of Asia, or the ocean to the south."
"You're getting warmer. We're going to meet somebody."
"One if by land, two if by sea." I said watching the scope show nothing but water.
He held up two fingers.
The Coast Guard station was one of the most isolated outposts I had ever seen, and it was half deserted as well. They gassed up the chopper and offered up steaming cups of hot chocolate, we bunked there for the long cold night.
I can honestly say Keia is much more pleasant to sleep with even in a small freezing tent in the middle of nowhere than in a bunkhouse with a few depressed servicemen on some pile of rock in the middle of nowhere.
The dawn was barely detectable when we stuffed what would have to pass for breakfast down our necks and Falcon fired up the helicopter. The CoastGuardsmen never asked a single question about his rather unusual bird.
Now we flew almost due south.
The sun was peaking over the clouds to our east when Falcon climbed almost to the clouds.
"OK, where in the hell is he?"
"Sorenson. He's supposed to be right here."
"I've never heard of an agent names Sorenson."
Falcon was splitting his attention between the scope and the windows. "He's not an agent, he's a person. But he's got something we want. Well, not me, the Bishop. For you."
He circled and looked. "The radio's already set. Pick it up and keep saying 'Welcome to BurgerWorld' until you get a response."
"Burger World. A thousand miles from land?"
"We deliver." He grinned. "I'll keep looking for them." He put the helicopter into a long arc over the water.
"Welcome to Burger World. May I take your order?" I said into the mike.
We flew around, saw some whales, and a lot of water for a long time, every few minutes I said something about Burger World into the radio. Falcon was starting to make noise about going back to the island for fuel when the radio asked if we were serving lunch.
"You want fries with that?" I said as the countersign.
Falcon got the bearings off the transmission and we headed for the ship.
If anybody else had been the pilot I would have been nervous about landing on what could have been called a scow instead of a ship. Falcon said it was a converted destroyer, maybe it was, and maybe it wanted to be. As long as I could stand up on it I didn't care what it was.
"Welcome! Welcome!" A rather remarkable looking man said to us as the helicopter quieted and we got out of it.
"Sorenson, this is Hunter."
"Welcome. I have heard about you. Good job in Vegas. Impressive."
I thanked the man, he evidently had good connections.
"Welcome to my country." He indicated the boat.
"Yes sir. It seems I am no longer welcome in about half the sovereign nations of the UN, the rest I don't like, so..." He indicated his realm. "Allow me to show you the hospitality of my estate."
"You still have gas in the same place?" Falcon asked him.
"Oh yes. Help yourself." He nodded to the pilot then smiled at me, "He feeds his horse before himself, I like that."
Sorenson told me all about his ship, and his adventures. And his crew, which was predominately female, and the standard uniform was, well, anything. Or less.
"Five men, counting myself. The rest, the fairer sex. Liberated from bad marriages in Arab countries, or family outcasts from Japan, runaways from America. All find a home here." He was quite pleased with himself.
"How long do they stay?" I smiled at a tiny Vietnamese.
"Some until the next port, which could be a year or more, others... Ti has been with me six years." He smiled and nodded to a striking woman.
"Seven governor." The oriental smiled and bowed.
"She disgraced her family, she tried to drown herself, I pulled her out of Tokyo Bay, they think she is dead." He smiled at her.
We stopped at the bridge. While old from the outside, the ship was impressive inside. State of the art electronics and control systems lined the walls. The ship was even armed with a respectable array of defensive systems.
One of the men walked by with a toolbox he smiled and nodded respectfully, a blond woman was at the helm. A slightly heavyset dark skinned girl sat monitoring several consoles.
Sickbay was manned by a middle-aged woman.
"Sister Celeste is our doctor." Sorenson smiled at her. "She had to leave her Order for, well, personal reasons."
The ex-nun smiled pleasantly.
"So what do you do out here to keep this running?" I asked him, everything but the ship itself was well maintained, and in some cases, new.
"I trade in different things. Information. Collectibles. Rare items." He smiled. "For which I am well paid. And left alone."
"And that's where I come in."
"That's where the Bishop comes in, you just happen to be his assignee." He grinned to yet another woman who smiled and nodded.
That seemed to be the standard greeting, I began smiling and nodding to everybody. They returned it without hesitation.
"Tell him what happens to somebody that breaks the rules here." Falcon said when he joined us in a few minutes.
"Once guilt is determined. I feed them to the fish." He swept his hand across the infinite horizon of the Pacific.
"What's the rules?"
I looked at him with raised eyebrows.
"Don't be stupid."
"Good rule eh?" Falcon said with a grin.
"I can live with it." I said very seriously. Then I put 'don't be stupid' first on my list of things not to do on his ship.
One of his other male crewmembers was a chef.
"He's wanted in Italy for trying to overthrow the government. But he is an excellent cook." Sorenson said as we sat down to a spectacular lunch. The waitstaff was female.
Falcon smiled and made lively conversation with the crew woman that had come in with him.
"Pilots. I will never understand them." Sorenson said to me. "Give me something solid under me."
I nodded. I was beginning to like this man with his floating country.
"What ports of call do you make?" I asked him.
"Almost any, as long as we don't stay long. I even put into New York one time with a medical emergency. They let us stay two days, then we left. I don't do that often, but I put my crew before my own personal difficulties."
"And I am sure they appreciate it." I nodded to the waitress.
"They do. And when they leave my service I give them the wages they have earned. While they are on board, everything is free."
"Yes. I conduct the business affairs for the ship, and we all enjoy a rather high standard of living out here."
"No traffic when you commute." I smiled.
"No. But you don't usually have pirates trying to hijack you on the beltway."
I nodded, "I noticed your rather extensive defensive array, pirates would have to be insane to try this ship."
"They never try twice." He said with a deadly seriousness. Then his smiled returned. "Now about our standard of living. Your Bishop has already paid for my little trove, sight unseen. If you do not approve of it, I will refund most of his money."
"Fair enough." I said with a glance at Falcon.
"Verywell." The man stood. "This way."
The computer room on the old ship would give the lab at my day job a run for its money. I stood wide eyed and looked around. Something on one of the towers caught my eye.
"This is still in development."
"I know." Sorenson said unlocking a cabinet. "She developed it."
He nodded toward a woman with the darkest eyes I have ever seen. My heart fluttered. "Mariko. You're Mariko Johnson."
"It's Yomada, I went back to my name." She grinned.
"Is this really the 5 Gigahertz processor?"
She smiled and nodded. "Try it, pick a station." She gestured to a row of workstations.
"I would love to." I said almost drooling.
I was able to do more, faster, better, from checking my work account, to verifying my system at my house was still there, although both had been raped, than I ever thought about. There was no pause other than the satellite uplink delay, this thing hummed.
"Ma'am, I am truly in awe."
"Go to the Jupiter file system and open one labeled Bishop." Sorenson said in a minute.
"Yes sir." I said.
The screen filled with information. Stats. Pictures. Test results. Even personal habits and handwriting samples.
"The 81's." I said slowly.
"Almost all of them. It's all there. What do you want to do with it?"
"Leave it here for right now."
"It's not here." He said. "It's on the Jupiter drive."
"Where's that?" I asked him. He pointed straight up.
"Ahhh. Jupiter." I said as light dawned on me.
"Nothing so melodramatic as microfilm or a black disk." He grinned, "I'll give you the access codes and you can retrieve it at your convince."
"How do we know you haven't sold this to others?"
"You don't. But I haven't."
I looked at the man. "I believe you."
"I have a great deal to loose by going into the double cross business. While I can repel some half baked pirates, I do not think I am any match for the US Navy." He chuckled. "Or even your chauffeur in his fancy toy."
I scrolled down the list. Mulie was listed. I clicked on his profile. His real name was listed, his former branch of the military, dates, places, even his job as a ski instructor before joining the army. It was the man I had 'met' in Las Vegas.
"There was never any doubt. Now, since the day is closing, would you care to join us in one of our pastimes?"
I shrugged. "Certainly, if I may come back here later and explore this marvelous system some more."
My host smiled his award-winning smile again. "I am sure Mariko would be delighted."
She smiled and nodded the country's greeting.
Their pastime was sitting in the world's largest ocean going steam room and listening to several of the women perform on various instruments. It had a rather Zenish feel to it. But it was very relaxing.
Later I talked serious computer with Mariko, and was finally shown bleary-eyed to my own private stateroom. It had been several long interesting days since I had had anything like a decent night's sleep.
In the morning I found myself in a rather large and very soft cotton robe. My clothes gone, as was my sidearm. My stateroom shared a small but full bath with the next cabin, all the necessities for morning were in there. Instead of panicking, and possibly ending up as fish food, I took a shower and washed my hair. Then, freshly shaved, I went back to my stateroom. A woman was making my bed.
"I'm Sue." She said with a smile and a nod.
"Your weapon is at the armory, your clothes will be back shortly."
"How did I get in this?" I asked her.
"It was no trouble." She grinned. "You were very tired."
I didn't argue. There was no point. "Where's the armory?" I asked her.
"I will show you."
The last man of the crew was the armorer, gunsmith, and machinist. He was in the process of giving dad's .38 the workover of it's life.
"I don't see many of these. Excellent GP revolvers." He said. "Yours has seen a lot of action. I ran a reamer through the rifling, and put a new trigger spring in it, and a new firing pin." He peered into the cylinder. You want new grips?" He asked.
"No, thank you sir. It's my backup, my main piece is in the chopper."
"No it's not." He jerked his thumb to the workbench.
My .454 was sitting there in a vise, with a laser sight now part of its frame.
"Part of our total service to the customer. Besides, Kim needed the practice." He smiled and nodded to his assistant.
I smiled and nodded to the woman. She returned it.
"How about the helicopter?" I asked him.
"Love the Gattling gun, we cleaned it, of course, but it is all very well maintained. But I've never seen a rocket launcher like that. Not standard that's for sure."
"Neither is the pilot." I smiled.
Sorenson was eating his breakfast. I had tracked down my clothes and had the .454 back in its leather case.
"Thanks for everything." I said.
"My pleasure. And you can be sure it was well paid for. We even checked the air in the helicopter's tires." He almost laughed at his own statement. "Satisfied customers come back. And spend more."
We left Sorenson after lunch and flew towards the mainland.
"So where were you last night?" I asked Falcon.
"I slept in the dorm." He said as the ship passed out of our radar range.
"With the crew." He grinned.
"I don't want to know."
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