Last snippet of “A Depth of Understanding” April # 5

I’m going to skip a chapter and give you this one just because I enjoyed writing it a lot.

Chapter 7


The Fox and Hare was on the half G level. It was semi-industrial, without the nice carpet and indirect lighting of the pricy full G level. The business was still the Home Social Club, and it was a private buy-in club, but last year April presented the other owners with the idea of naming the actual store like a pub. She’d commissioned a sign to hang in the corridor, and got it approved after some modifications for safety. It was hung high and spring loaded so that if someone bumped into it, or a tall freight cart load smacked it, there was no resistance, it just swung out of the way.

The shape was nearly a shield, the name an arch at the top. The scene was just after sunset in a snowy glen, with the bare trees of winter behind. The colored sunset played off the snow, and a Fox and Hare regarded each other, their tracks in the snow. But they were semi-cartoon animals, the Hare with a German style clay pipe, and the Fox a checkered vest and wire framed glasses. On the bottom across the snow it said, “Wo sich Fuchs und Hase Gute Nacht sagen,” or “Where the fox and the hare say goodnight,” an expression she found much cuter than her equivalent English usage of the middle of nowhere.

Gunny and she were a little early. If their guests showed up they wanted to be there, even though she’d reserved six seats at two tables, and told the manager she’d have guests. Gunny was dressed nicer than usual, an unstructured jacket with lace cuffs showing from under the sleeves. She’d never seen that except in period movies. He had on an Ascot under an open collar, but she’d never seen one, and didn’t know what to call it. He could still surprise her.

April decided not to get dressy tonight. She wore all black with the full kit of Lunar armored vest and gadgets and weapons filling her belt, with the smaller of two real Japanese swords her maternal grandfather from Australia had given her. The longer one was too much trouble to bother with most of the time. She usually wore it over the shoulder, and it would be in the way in the crowded club. She hadn’t worn the black outfit in a couple months.

The only dressy things she wore were a massive gold anchor chain her brother willed her, enameled gold cufflinks that were a gift from a French gentleman, and a set of gold and canary diamond earrings that usually went with a different matching necklace. But she thought they worked with the rest of it just fine.

Gunny and she asked for the tables to be moved together. She took a seat to the center so her guest could be beside her. Gunny joined her for now, but indicated he’s let her grandfather sit between them when he came. There wasn’t much of a crowd yet, and the lights were still up a bit as the music hadn’t started.

She got an orange juice with ginger ale and twist of lime. If she drank any alcohol at all it would be mild. She wasn’t fully comfortable yet with Amos or his bodyguards, and she only drank enough to feel it if she was with well trusted friends.

They got the smaller appetizer tray while they waited, an antipasto with pickled veggies and hard boiled eggs. It had a few hot peppers and the eggs were deep purple. Gunny ordered some dark French beer she’d never heard of. It came in an interesting bottle with a little ceramic cap on a wire closure, and a castle on the label.

Amos came in with his two body guards, and he was half way across the room before she recognized him. He had on a collarless white shirt that buttoned to the neck, hiding all his tattoos. His hair that had been a wild tangle on the shuttle was combed back and dressed with something, and capped with a knit hat like a bowl that covered most of it. The body guards looked exactly the same, to where April wondered if Khakis and golf shirts were an unofficial uniform for their company.

April patted the table to her right, and Amos took the hint and slid in next to her. The one guard sat beside him, but the other went to the bar and took a pull down seat there. Why April couldn’t figure out, but it made it less cramped at the tables, so that was fine with her.

“Help yourself,” April said, waving at the appetizers. “I’ll get another batch run out and something for your man at the bar. What are you drinking?”

“A Mimosa like you have sounds good. Is your grandfather still coming?”

“I’m sure he is, or he’d have left me a message.” April caught their waiter’s eye and ordered more appetizers and laid her hand on her drink and asked for a big Mimosa for Amos. The server was smart enough not to correct her on what her drink was, just nodding. She was pretty sure if she asked for another for herself it would be the non-alcoholic version.¬† That was the sort of thing that was nice about Home. You could count on your server being bright enough to figure out you didn’t want your dinner companion knowing what you drank without a funny look or hesitation. The man at the bar got a smaller plate even before their next tray came.

“This is a little place,” Amos said surprised. “I wonder that it can sustain itself. Down on Earth you need at least two hundred seats, three hundred is really better, to make a club viable. I’ve invested in a couple restaurants and studied what makes them succeed.”

“This is a huge cubic for Home,” April told him. “To buy these rooms and the kitchen space, even on the half G level, was probably twelve to fourteen million dollars USNA. And that was before the population increase we’ve had. Prices have gone up even with a new ring being built. I’d expect it might be eighteen by now.”

“Wow, just the property taxes would be ruinous.”

“That’s Earth Think,” April said grinning. “We don’t have property taxes.”

“How do you fund public education and local services then?”

“There is no public education. You teach your kids yourself or you pay somebody to do it. As a matter of fact my mother runs a private school, and the local services, we meet once a year and vote a budget, item by item. If you want a vote you agree to be taxed to fund it. If you don’t volunteer to be taxed you get no vote.”

“So how many agree to be taxed? A dozen or so?” he joked.

“It’s running about eighty-five percent. But we have a lot of new people. I expect after they are here awhile and see a few Assemblies they’ll want a vote. It would be very frustrating to watch and not have a say. It’s not like it is that much money. It costs more to join this social club than last year’s taxes ran.”

“What about defense? Spaceships have to be really expensive. I heard about you folks telling the Earth countries that they can’t send any armed ships past L1. North America spends Billions every year on space defense. If you think you can dictate those kind of rules you must have some way to enforce it.”

“We have a militia. It’s like a volunteer fire department small towns have in North America. Last year we were shot at by a North American satellite. That’s why we moved out here past lunar orbit. The commercial shuttles that happened to be positioned best and free to act went to the sat that shot at us and heated it up until the fellow inside surrendered. He was interrogated and returned to ISSII. There were two identical satellites with rail guns, so two other militia vessels went and destroyed them.”

“Your private ships carry weapons?” Amos looked incredulous.

“Last I heard there were two or three Home vessels unarmed. That’s their business. As far as I’m concerned, that’s no way to travel. None of our ships are unarmed.”

“Who is this ‘our’? You’re not talking about Home there, are you?”

“You saw Jeff Singh and Heather Anderson who were on the shuttle with me. We have some businesses in common, and we operate a number of vessels that technically Eddie Persico owns, but we control and own the tech that they carry, and speak somewhat to what they’ll do. We have an Earth landing shuttle now that we own entirely ourselves. We came back up with you on a commercial shuttle, because we’d been on vacation, but we took our own shuttle down earlier. A commercial lift was cheaper than dropping our own shuttle with no load planned.”

Amos looked a bit shocked, like that was all he could absorb, so April asked if he wanted to see a menu yet or wait a bit?

“I’m hungry already. Let’s take a look at it.” That was believable because he’d been hitting the appetizers hard while they talked, and his drink was mostly gone.

The specials were Chesapeake soft shell crab with new potatoes, and braised lamb shank with ratatouille. “What do you like here?” Amos asked.

“I’ve had the grilled prawns and the shish kabob. We don’t have a grill in our apartment so I like char-grilled things. It takes so much air cleaning machinery it’s not worth the trouble in a private residence. I’ve had the Cobb salad and the cheeseburger, but I’m spoiled by a place I go to on ISSII that does a better burger and garlic fries. The oyster poor boy is OK, but I decided it’s not my thing. I’d rather just have the fried oysters without the bun and sweet potato fries. My grandpa always gets the seafood chowder, the red kind, so he’d recommend it.”

“The lobster is excellent,” Gunny spoke past her. “You won’t get any better fresh off the boat in Maine.”

“They’re pretty versatile. If you can tell from the menu that they probably have the ingredients you can ask for something,” April suggested.

Amos decided to do that, and ordered the fettuccini Alfredo, but asked the meat from a lobster be added to it. He waved the wine list away and told the server to give him something white and dry, that he wasn’t too picky. Gunny got the braised lamb, and April went with plain old spaghetti¬† and meatballs. Her grandfather showed up just in time to order his usual, Manhattan seafood chowder and a bread basket. He also just beat the lights starting to dim for the show. The aloha shirt he was wearing needed the dimmer lighting.

The small band went through one set before they took a break. When they stopped Ruby and her husband came in and took a table between them and the stage.

“Ah, there is my friend,” April said. “I knew she was supposed to play tonight, but I was starting to wonder if they’d cancelled.” Ruby was dressed simply in black pants and a white blouse. Her husband Easy was dressed in black pants, black boots, and a black silk shirt, with a cape over it all.

“I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a cape, off of a stage set,” Amos said.

“I gave that to his wife to give to him,” April remembered. “I’d kind of forgotten about it. It must be over two years ago. I gave out about half a dozen of them, and I have a few in my storage still, but forgot about them. I should dig them out and finish giving them as gifts. I have to admit he looks really good in a cape. When he moves around and you see the scarlet lining flash it’s nice.”

“How odd. What prompted this sudden love of period clothing?”

“We were still under USNA law, and I wanted to start carrying a laser,” she said, hand going to the Singh laser she wore cross draw. “It was illegal to carry guns then, nobody did it, at least not openly. The law didn’t really address lasers, but I knew people would object. So I wanted to make it common to see capes so you could hide a hand weapon, and nobody would suspect that was why you wore a cape. But then we had the war, and before very long everybody was packing all sorts of pistols and knives and even long guns. Now nobody blinks at them.”

“What sort of act will your friend do?”

“She used to be a college professor, an expert on Medieval Music, and she plays harpsichord,¬† so she’ll probably do keyboard.”

“Does she teach here?”

“No, she cooks in the cafeteria,” April said, matter-of-fact. Amos just blinked. Twice.

April caught Ruby’s eye, to wave her over, but she made a ‘wait’ gesture. They got up then and went to the stage. Ruby sat at the keyboard and started flipping switches, reconfiguring it. The drummer and player for the cello joined them. The screen behind them dropped the environmental scene, split, and displayed a bass player and another fellow, off site somewhere. The second fellow had a long wooden instrument she didn’t recognize.

“Ah, a bassoon,” Amos said, so she didn’t have to ask.

The surprise was that Easy went on stage with her and stood, back to the audience and shoulders sort of hunched forward.

“I’m Ruby Dixon. This is my husband Washington Carter Dixon,” Ruby said in her mike. “Most folks call him Easy. He’ll do a dance interpretation of this first number. It’s an old TV theme for The Adams Family show.” The keyboard was in harpsichord mode as April suspected. It started in a modest little melody. Easy went upright on the first note and started a robotic sort of mechanical dance that turned him in an arch to face the audience. When the melody abruptly stopped the drummer struck twice across the edge of the drum, not the face, >CRACK< >CRACK<. Easy jerked like he was a puppet pulled on strings.

What made it funny was he got a really indignant expression at the disruption. When the music started again so did his dance, but then the pause and drum strike caught him again at an awkward moment and jerked him. The audience all laughed at the wordless comedy.

The music took a turn with the bass and cello and then the bassoon between drum strikes, and finally all of them together. It didn’t last all that long and the lights went down, the musicians on screen took a bow and faded out, and they left the stage.

A word to the staff got their Hardoy chairs brought over to April’s table and they sat down. Easy had his napkin from their table and patted his brow, a bit sweaty from the exertion of the dance. He swept the cape behind him to be cooler. April introduced Amos as another musician.

“The Ancient Astronauts,” Ruby said right away. “I know your stuff. You have training in classical music. I could see it in your composition.”

“Indeed, guilty as charged,” Amos admitted. “I don’t get outed very often though.”

“Oh your song ‘Sweeps’ had to have Mozart spinning in his grave. You stole shamelessly from him. It may be at four times the tempo and on a guitar, but it’s there.”

The waiter came and took their order. Ruby insisted they’d take dinner at their table and just have drinks with April until it came. It would have been crowded.

“Is that all you are doing tonight?” Amos wondered.

“After the other boys do a couple more sets then I’ll do a final number. That’s all for Easy for the night. Why, do you have a request?”

Amos looked surprised. “Can you sight read that well? Would you read off a screen?”

Ruby made a face. “I can sight read, but unless you surprise me with something uncommon I have it up here,” she said, pointing at her temple.

“Well,” Amos said, stunned. “Perhaps the Brandenburg Concerto?” he challenged, looking dubious.

“Sure, but it’s not much without a flute,” Ruby said.

“This is true, and a couple violins. Do you do piano too?”

“Yes, but not as well I’m told.”

“Do you know Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue?”

“I can do that.”

“If you can find a clarinet for me we can share it,” Amos offered.

“I’ll ask to borrow one. I’m pretty sure we can do that,” Ruby said grinning.

They went off to their dinner being served, and just in time as their own table was being served too. The spaghetti was good, but not as good as Heather’s mom made.

“What are you smiling about gramps?”

“I was just thinking I’m more of an ancient astronaut than this young guy.”

“You don’t look old enough to be April’s grandpa. You look more likely to be her father to me,” Amos said.

“Life Extension Therapy,” he explained. “I’ll never see seventy again. I had a head of gray hair, going white, and it all came back in like you see,” he said, running his hand over it. “The wrinkles have been easing away, and I just feel better.”

“I could afford it, but it would probably end my career and break up our band if I bought it. I’d be denounced by all the preachers and Malthusian fanatics. We could play in Europe, but we’d never be welcome in North America again. I just wouldn’t feel safe.”

April said nothing, but noted it wasn’t just shunning he worried about, but actual safety.

“Shame on you if you don’t die on time. Those Malthusians should off themselves to make up for selfish folks like me who live too long. If you look around when you’re walking the corridors here, you’ll see I’m one of the last who are getting treatments. There are maybe a dozen people on Home who look really old, and in five years I wouldn’t be surprised if there are none.”

“Ruby is calling you over,” Gunny pointed out to Amos.

“Ah, I guess this is my chance to make a fool of myself,” he said getting up.

They talked a little on stage, laughing and smiling. Then Ruby spoke in the mic. “This is Amos of The Ancient Astronauts,” that got a few hoots and whistles. “Their music is a little more contemporary, but we’re going to do a classic Gershwin piece, Rhapsody in Blue.”

Amos did a wailing intro, maybe fifteen seconds long, and then Ruby came in pounding on the piano like a thunderstorm breaking. They did short solos a few places with no more than a nod for a cue. When they got through they got the best response of all. The audience was too stunned to do anything at all for a bit. Then they all stood and made a lot of noise for such a small crowd.

“I think they liked it,” he said grinning when he got back to his seat.

“I saw Easy recording it. If you want a copy ask him for the file,” April suggested.

“That I will. I’ll send a copy down to the guys, to show them I can still play cold. Hey, can I get one of those Mimosas again?” he asked the waiter.

It was a very good night.

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