A Space Pirate Captain MacTaggart Story
EPISODE 14: MUTUALLY ASSURED CONCEPTION
Written by Craig Black and Jake Elmer
The regular early morning yell of horror was the sound of Arthur Dent waking up, and suddenly remembering where he was. It wasn't just that the cave was cold, nor was it just that it was damp and smelly. It was the fact that the cave was in the middle of Islington - and there wasn't a bus due for two million years. Time is the worst place, so to speak, to get lost in, as Arthur Dent could testify, having been lost in time in both time and space a great deal. At least being lost in space kept you busy...
Pardon? Wait, what? Oh, for fuck's sake. Not again. I swear, they're just doing this on purpose now. Give me a moment to get myself sorted. I don't know, it always happens during these pivotal episodes. Right, here we go. Again...
The year is 3013 C.E. The month is January. For many people, it's just a start to a year like any other. For some, though, this time is particularly special - it being the start of the second full year of peace, following the end of the Fourth Galactic War in the closing weeks of 3011 C.E. For a select few others - namely Alasdair and Kyoko Geddes - this time holds far greater significance, especially on a personal level; it marks the beginning of their long, much-anticipated journey towards parenthood - a journey which really began on Christmas Day the previous year.
To elaborate in brief: Alasdair and Kyoko had spent the first six months of their marriage in the service of the Mori-Geddes Freight Cooperative. As it turned out, six months had been quite long enough, and so they'd made the decision to strike out as an independent company. To this end, they'd then spent the following few months building this company from the ground up, ultimately opening for business under the imaginative banner of A&K Geddes Freight. Ever since, they've both been running their new company, and occasionally getting caught up in the trouble which always seems to have a way of finding them.
Parallel to their great leap forward in the professional world, Alasdair and Kyoko had also been attempting to make a similar leap in their domestic lives - namely, the conception of a child, which had been on the backburner since before they'd gotten married. Having sorted out their new company as far as they could, they'd then shifted focus to this new task, and after several failed attempts, had finally managed to successfully conceive the child, just in time for Christmas.
With that relatively easy step out of the way, Alasdair and Kyoko now face even greater challenges: For Alasdair, the task of keeping an eye on both his company and his wife during this difficult stage in their lives; for Kyoko, the task of actually going through the various stages of pregnancy, and dealing with all the little issues and troubles one would expect when expecting.
As you've probably guessed by now, this week's story serves not only to shed light on some of these issues, but also to get us back into the swing of things before I decide to drop the really heavy stuff on you guys...!
Our story begins on the planet Tenchō, a couple of days into the new year. To be more specific, it begins on the night of January 2nd - officially the last day before the end of the Christmas holidays. Such holidays usually lasted two or three weeks, and by the end, most people would be growing restless from not having any work to do. Thus, they'd be itching to get back to work, and after tonight, they would finally be able to - or at least, they would have been able to, had January 3rd not been a Sunday anyway, meaning they had a bonus extra day off.
Anyway, most people across the Galaxy were making the most of these last couple of days off, and Alasdair and Kyoko Geddes were no exception. They'd come up to Tenchō onboard the Hunter II, on Christmas Day itself, to stay with Kyoko's parents, and had ended up staying for all the following week - after all, it would have seemed a waste to come all that way and only stay a short while. Of course, they would have come up anyway, for neither of them had any family to speak of living on or near Jura. The nearest they had were Alasdair's uncle Stanley and aunt Alison on Procyon VI, and they were spending their holidays on the resort world of New Islington.
While the festive period may have brought its fair share of fun and surprises, by far the biggest of all was the revelation that Kyoko was now pregnant, and she'd been the life of the party for most of her visit. In particular, the news had been met with great acclamation from her parents, Saburō and Kumiko Mori, who'd been following her relationship with Alasdair with particular interest and excitement. Of course, they already had plenty of grandchildren from their older children, but the thought of Kyoko finally catching up had meant an awful lot to them.
Now, however, their visit was nearly over, and it wouldn't be long before they had to head home to Jura early the next morning. So Alasdair and Kyoko were keen to make the most of the time they had left. That was how, late that Saturday night, they came to be sitting in the living room of Saburō and Kumiko's house on Tenchō, enjoying a quiet drink with their gracious hosts. All had helped themselves to the bottle of Jura 18 whisky Alasdair had brought with him - except for Kyoko, who'd opted for a glass of apple juice, for obvious reasons.
"...Well, I must say it's been a real pleasure to have you both here again," Kumiko was saying, "Especially considering that revelation you sprung on us! I'm just sorry you have to leave so soon..."
"Ack, weel, we hae only been haur a few days," Alasdair replied, "But as far as aam concerned, that's long enaw. Nae offence. It's jist 'at after a while ay doing nothing, we both jist get thes itch tae get back tae work, or something."
"I know exactly how you feel. After a few days away from the old Bonecrusher, I start getting restless. Most of my work colleagues call it some kind of addiction, but I just love the work I do..."
"Aye, a wee bit ower much, frae whit I've heard. What was it ye tauld me once, abit having tae be dragged kicking an' screaming frae th' footplate when ye went intae labour wi' Kyoko?"
"Ah, well, I may have been exaggerating a little bit there, Alasdair. Mind you, that's not too far from the truth..."
"Kumiko, that was exactly the truth!" Saburō interrupted, "It's a good thing we were able to get you to the hospital quickly, or God knows what would have happened!"
"Er, yes, well...I may get a little too attached to my work at times, but..."
"I'll say ye dae!" Alasdair continued, "Ye min' aw them times ye came tae visit us aw onboard yon Stellar Typhoon oan yer days aff, an' ended up working anyway?"
"Oh, how could I forget? Especially that time I helped you guys with the supply train on Eileandu. I can still remember the look on that Commander Barratt's face when I started beating the shit out of him with that shovel! I sure taught him never to fuck with any daughter of mine ever again...!"
"Well, sort of, Okasan," Kyoko replied, "He did still come after us several times afterwards, but he was careful not to come at me directly again."
"I'll tell you why - he was probably terrified of coming across me again!"
"Perhaps, Okasan, but we'll never know. Commander Barratt-san's long gone by now..."
"So, yes, just to return to the whole pregnancy thing...again...I still can't believe it! My own baby girl, finally having a child of her own! I always thought you'd make a good mother, Kyoko..."
"Ah, well, I have learnt from the best, Okasan. But it's nothing to sneeze at, really. Not after all my other brothers and sisters have already grown up and had kids themselves...Well, most of them..."
"Yeah, I suppose this means that Noriko's the odd one out. I wasn't too sure myself when she made her mind up, but hey, as long as she's happy. And as long as you two are happy, I don't care what you do."
"That suits us both fine, Okasan..."
"That being said, we'd be more than happy to offer any comfort and advice you might need. I know this process tends to do a considerable number on folk your age. It certainly did for me, anyway..."
"Weel, in 'at case," Alasdair replied, "Ah was jist wondering if ye had any sage advice for us jist now? Ye ken, tae help us prepare for th' journey...?"
"Well, for one thing, it won't be easy for either of you. I'll say that much for starters, Alasdair. You might have had a rough time conceiving, but believe me, that's the easiest part of the process. But you've still got nine months ahead of you, and there's a hell of a lot you need to pay attention to."
"I mean, you'll have it relatively easy, Alasdair. After all, you won't be the one having to deal with all the cravings, cramps, aches and pains, reduced mobility, growing out of your clothes, putting up with the swelling of, er...certain assets... "
"Alrecht, mum, Ah get th' picture!"
"I'm just saying, Kyoko's gonna have her work cut out for her, waiting for nature to take its course. And you've got to be prepared to look after her all the while..."
"Ack, ay course Ah will!"
"I know, Alasdair, but it was worth saying. And I'll tell you something else..."
"Well, this is as much for me as it is for you, but you'll have to be careful when it comes to your work. I know it's important to make sure you can support yourselves, and the kid when it arrives, but it is perfectly possible to overdo it considerably. Just look at me. I've been working with the old Bonecrusher for as long as I can remember, and I almost never took time off. Even when I was pregnant with our Hiro. Or with Akiko. Or Shigeru, or Kazuko, or Noriko, or..."
"You're going off on a tangent again, Okasan," Kyoko interrupted, "So much for us overdoing things, eh?"
"We all do it, Kyoko. My point is, just because I've somehow managed to strike that sort of imbalance, doesn't mean anyone else could do it. Just you try. It'll be the death of you!"
"Alright, we'll bear that in mind. Not that we're in any danger of overworking ourselves. The way our company's set up, it's pretty much just a bunch of independent owner-operators who happen to get their pay-cheque from us. And they pretty much run themselves..."
"I'll take your word for it, Kyoko, but just mind what I said..." Then Kumiko stood up, and picked up their empty glasses, "You guys want any more drinks, or is that you done for the night?"
"Well, I suppose I could do with another apple juice, Okasan..."
"What about you, Alasdair? Another shot of Jura 18 before you go to bed?"
"Ack, Ah might as weel," Alasdair replied, before glancing up at the clock, "Hauld oan, it's only 2230 Standard. An' you're awreddy making noises abit us going tae bed?"
"Well, that's when Kyoko there usually goes to bed, as far as we understand," Kumiko remarked, as she headed through to the kitchen to refill their glasses, "Any later, and the night tends to drag on a bit."
"Aye, weel, we dae hae a habit ay finishing anything 'at needs doing ower quick, an' 'en finding ourselves wi' loads ay free time we dinnae ken whit tae dae wi'. Sae Ah can see whaur you're coming frae. But lately, it feels loch we've been going tae bed later an' later. Ah guess it gangs withit saying, considering what we've been up tae..."
"Yes, I can imagine!" Soon, Kumiko had returned with their new drinks, "There we are. Apple juice for you, and whisky for the rest of us," Once they were all sorted, she sat back down and took a sip of her glass, "So, what's on the agenda once you get back to Jura, then?"
"What, us?" Kyoko replied, "Oh, just back to work as usual, I suppose. Get everyone settled in at Armadhu, make sure everyone's working as they should...Probably take on a job or two ourselves, if it comes to that..."
"And how's everyone else at the company doing just now?"
"Pretty good, as far as I can make out. No serious problems or tangles, or employees bringing the company into disrepute. It's all good. I mean, there's probably something going on that we don't know of, but as long as it stays that way, we're happy..."
"I only wish Stanley shared your sentiment, Kyoko," Saburō replied, "At least, to hear him talk, as I did before he went off on holiday."
"Yes, so we've heard, Otōsan. How's Stanley-jisan holding up, anyway? Neither of us have seen or heard from him since before he left for New Islington."
"Oh, just the same old pain in the neck as always. You know what he's like. From what Alison told me, this holiday was meant to loosen him up a bit. She says he'd been focusing too much on the Cooperative, and not enough on anything else. So she'd booked all the travel and accommodation without him finding out, and then dragged him to New Islington, whether he liked it or not!"
"I know, Otōsan. Alison-basan told me all this around the same time Alasdair was telling you his plans for our company. I've been privy to this scheme as well..."
"Well, Alison said they'd be gone for two weeks, and now that it has been two weeks, I'd assume they'd be home by now. So all that remains is to see whether that holiday's done Stanley any good..."
"It's not Stanley-jisan I'm worried about. It's everyone else. You know how badly he rubs people up the wrong way...Mind you, having said that, perhaps someone should drop by their place, just to see how they're getting on."
"Oh, yes? And who do you think that someone's gonna be? You?"
"Yes, actually." Kyoko replied, so promptly and bluntly that Alasdair nearly choked on his whisky in shock - it was a well-known fact that out of everyone Stanley knew and worked with, he seemed to have the least regard of all for Kyoko. Of course, it hadn't been that long since the two had unexpectedly buried the hatchet somewhat, after Kyoko had had a particularly nasty spat with Alasdair, but Stanley had insisted on keeping this secret, for the sake of his image. Thus, she'd never told another soul, and so she was met with strange looks, "What?"
"Well," Kumiko went on, a little perturbed, "It's not that I don't particularly like Stanley either, but you know as well as I do what he thinks of you, Kyoko. He practically hates your guts more than anyone else's!"
"So? Doesn't mean I can't show concern for him, does it?"
"Not especially. But you once said yourself, the way Stanley treated you would be enough to make a small, timid Buddhist contemplate mass-murder..."
"Actually, Okasan, that wasn't quite what I said. What I remember saying was that there were lots of people I'd lived and worked with, whose treatment of me would be enough to make a small, timid Buddhist contemplate mass-murder. But only Stanley-jisan would go so far as to push the aforementioned small, timid Buddhist to the point of actually going through with it!"
"Well, you're a small, timid Buddhist, technically. And given half a chance, you probably would have murdered Stanley by now. So why this sudden interest in his wellbeing?"
"It's not just him, though, is it? It's Alison-basan as well! I want to see how she's doing as well..."
"Yes, but..." At that moment, Kumiko decided to give it up; there was no telling what was going on in Kyoko's mind half the time, and if she couldn't make sense of what she said, there was no hope of anyone else knowing either, "Alright, Kyoko, you win. If you want to go along and visit them, then I won't stop you. But on your own head be it! As long as it's not on mine..."
"Weel, that's 'at settled, 'en..." Alasdair remarked, as he finished his whisky and stood up, "Reit, Ah suppose we shoods get an early night. We've got a long journey back tae Jura in th' morn. 'Main 'en, kitten..." And with that, he led Kyoko out of the living room, and in the direction of the stairway leading to the bedrooms. Kumiko didn't say anything more; she just looked at Saburō in bewilderment.
"Well, don't look at me!" Saburō protested, as Kumiko continued to look at him, "I don't know what the hell's gotten into her! I don't even know what's gotten into Stanley, that's gotten her so interested in him...!"
The next day dawned bright and early (temporally speaking - physically, it was still rather dark, considering it was the height of winter), and so did Alasdair and Kyoko. As Alasdair had said the previous night, they had a long journey ahead of them - four Standard hours from Tenchō to Jura, to be specific - and so he was keen to make a move as soon as possible. That being said, though, they wouldn't be needed back at work until the following day, so they could afford to stall their departure a little. This they did, by taking advantage of Saburō and Kumiko's hospitality one more time, and joining them for breakfast.
After breakfast, and then lunch, with a couple of hours' chat in between, Alasdair and Kyoko finally set off for home onboard the Hunter II. Technically, of course, they'd already returned home in the thirty seconds or so it took to walk from the house to the vacant lot the ship had been parked on - but the planet Jura was as much their home as the Hunter II.
It didn't take long for the Hunter II to clear the outer atmosphere of Tenchō, and shorter still for it to make the jump into hyperspace, thereby commencing the four-hour return journey to Jura. After Alasdair had made the requisite calculations, and overseen the actual jump, he leaned back in his pilot's chair and gave a heavy sigh.
"Weel, that's us oan course," He said, to no-one in particular, "Christ, Ah thought we'd never get away afair th' day was out!"
"You know what my parents are like with visitors, Alasdair," Kyoko replied, getting up from her co-pilot's chair, "Especially when it comes to relatives and in-laws...Tea?"
"Er, aye, sure. I'd love a cup ay tea..." So Kyoko headed out of the flight deck, and towards the galley, leaving Alasdair on his own, "Ah dinnae ken, though. It's not loch we never see yer parents, kitten. Hell, we've never seen mair ay 'em recently! But they dae wear us out a bit..." Obviously Kyoko couldn't hear him, but that didn't stop him. The ship's computer did, though.
"Attention, Captain Geddes!" It chirruped at him, as formally as ever, "Incoming communication, requires your attention!"
"Awrite, computer, I'll take it. Who's it frae?"
"I'm not entirely sure, Captain. It's coming through on an encrypted channel, I know that much..."
"Ack, it'll be 'at bastard Stanley, Ah suppose, come tae disturb our peace again..."
"Shall I patch it through anyway, Captain?"
"Aye, might as weel. We haven't seen him in ages..." So Alasdair waited while the computer decrypted the communications channel and patched it through. When the call came up on the view-screen, though, Alasdair discovered that it wasn't Stanley like he thought, but he had been close; rather, it was Stanley's wife Alison, which he thought was a more welcome sight, "Och, hello, Aunt Allie. Haven't seen ye abit for a while..."
"Hello to you too, Alasdair," Alison replied, "Long time no see."
"How was yer wee getaway tae New Islington, 'en? Went weel, did it?"
"Well enough, considering I was stupid enough to bring Stanley with me!"
"Ack, jist loch him tae put a downer oan it, eh?"
"Surprisingly, no. He actually behaved himself for once. I mean, he did complain about the weather being too hot, the food being too greasy, the locals being too racist, the fact that he couldn't get a decent cup of tea..."
"Sae, aw-in-aw, he's back tae his auld self again, eh?"
"You could put it like that."
"Weel, that's jist how it is wi' him, Aunt Allie. You shoods ken 'at by now, ay aw fowk..." Just then, Kyoko returned onto the flight deck, with a cup of tea each for both of them, "Ack, thanks, kitten," Alasdair said, taking his cup, "Swatch who's calling oan us th' now..."
"Oh, hello, Kyoko," Alison continued, "I trust you enjoyed your Christmas holidays?"
"Oh, absolutely, Alison-basan!" Kyoko replied, sitting back down in her co-pilot's chair with her cup of tea, "I mean, all things considered, it went quite well. How did you get on at New Islington?"
"We certainly enjoyed ourselves, though you'd have a job getting our Stan to admit it."
"I know, we were just saying to my parents last night. We wondered whether that holiday of yours had done Stanley-jisan any good. And I was just saying to Alasdair, maybe we should drop by at some point, and see for ourselves."
"Well, you're more than welcome to visit us, if you want. When you're not too busy, that is."
"Yeah, perhaps we'd best wait until we've all settled back into the normal rhythm of things, Alison-basan, before we start making noises about visiting each other."
"Actually, as it happens, we'll be having our Valerie over for dinner about a week from now..." Alison glanced to one side, presumably to check the exact date, "...Yes, on the 10th. So you're more than welcome to join us then."
"You know what? We might just!"
"Well, in that case, we'll be expecting you at about 1700 Standard. Or at least, I'll be expecting you."
"Alright, see you then, Alison-basan...!" Kyoko finished, before ending the call. She sat back, took another sip of her tea, and then realized that Alasdair was now staring incredulously at her, "What?"
"We've jist spent th' better part ay six months trying tae break away frae 'at bastard Stanley," Alasdair replied, "An' now you're suddenly deciding tae hae dinner wi' him?"
"Alasdair, as I have explained before, Stanley-jisan's not the only person left in your family. Not everything has to be about him..."
"Besides, he didn't invite us over for dinner. Alison-basan did..."
"She didna either. She jist mentioned th' dinner, an' ye invited yersel'..."
"Swatch, Kyoko, whit th' hell's going oan? Ah ken ye weel enaw. Ye wouldn't 'main within a hundred metres ay their house if ye kent Stan was thaur. Ah ken Allie usually manages tae make him behave himself, but ye cannae always be sure..."
"Well, I'm sure Stanley-jisan won't be any trouble this time around. Not if Alison-basan has anything to do with it..."
"Awrite, I'll listen tae ye thes once..." Alasdair conceded, reluctantly, "Sae, what's th' plan once we get back tae Jura?"
"Just get ourselves back into the normal rhythm of things, I guess. We can worry about returning to work tomorrow."
"Aye, sure..." Alasdair got up, and began to head off the flight deck, "Ye want me tae see if there's anything guid oan TV jist now?"
"Nah, don't bother, Alasdair. I already checked the listings while I was waiting for the kettle to boil. There's nothing on that you'd be interested in..."
"Weel, was thaur anything you'd be interested in watching, 'at Ah coods pretend tae take an interest in?"
"The nearest I could find to that was a repeat of yesterday's Shadowplay Omnibus. And even then, they're just repeating a chunk of that story they did about five years ago."
"Ack, is it 'at one whaur one ay 'em gets his teeth smashed in by a bit ay engine block? God, 'at went oan for ages, didn't it? Cannae brush mah teeth these days withit thinking abit how boring it was..."
"Didn't that storyline only run for six episodes or something?"
"Mebbe, but it didna feel loch it tae me. An' it also felt a wee bit out ay place, considering whit came afair an' after it..."
"To be fair, they do need a more light-hearted story every now and then. Otherwise it's all just a bastion of misery and despair like any other soap-opera."
"Aye, Ah suppose...Aam looking forward tae thes summer's story, though, if whit I've heard is anything tae gang by..."
"Why? What's happening this summer?"
"Aam not quite sure, but th' word is, they're going in for a Commando homage thes time. An' it sounds loch it's gonnae be great. Ah hear there's even a bit whaur thes guy chops aff thes South American goon's arm wi' a machete, an' starts beating him senseless wi' it..."
"Good god, that sounds a bit more extreme than normal. I remember when the most graphic it got was that one-off episode where they tried to do their own version of Pinball Wizard."
"Och aye, 'at was bloody hilarious, 'at..."
"Yeah, bloody sounds about right! So, where did you hear about this Commando storyline, then? I don't think they'd announce it so far in advance, would they?"
"Ack, some ay th' guys at yon offices waur talking abit it jist afair we broke aff for Christmas. Christ, ye couldn't shut 'em up! Sae Ah asked 'em abit it, an' they tauld me..."
"So how did they come to hear about it?"
"Yon Damaris Moss tauld 'em. Apparently, one ay her recent customers kens th' main show-runner, an' they waur both able tae pry information out ay him..."
"Sounds reasonable, I guess. You sure he wasn't just trying to fob them off with some fake story?"
"That's whit Ah thought, but th' mair Ah heard abit it frae Damaris, th' mair Ah wanted it tae be real...!"
"Hmm, well, just don't get your hopes up, Alasdair. They've misled us before. Remember that story they did last summer, where their place got burned down?"
"Ack, now 'at really went oan for ages, didna it?"
"Yes, well, the way they covered it suggested that maybe it was a case of arson, and we both had our own ideas about who it was..."
"Aye, we did. Min' ye, 'at was a guid six ur seven months ago, an' yet we're still nae nearer tae finding out who it was. An' we've awreddy had tae eliminate most ay th' fowk we guessed had done it!"
"Maybe they're waiting until everyone forgets about that, before they decide to drop the bombshell..."
"Aye, mebbe...Och, fuck it, we might as weel watch yon Omnibus after aw. It'll gie me something tae dae other than think abit Stanley."
"Yes, perhaps it will. Come on." So Kyoko got up from her co-pilot's seat, picked up her cup of tea, and led Alasdair through to the living room.
When they reached the living room, however, Alasdair and Kyoko suddenly found themselves faced with a task that they'd both quite forgotten about: A few days before Christmas, they'd set up their tree in a small corner, and then fixed it to the floor so it wouldn't tip over in transit - an all too common problem onboard the Hunter II. They'd pretty much left it alone since then, and it showed - the tree had keeled over slightly, and lost a few of its decorations. Alasdair surveyed the scene, and made a decision right there and then.
"Reit," He said, "Afair we dae anything else, thes tree needs tae 'main down. Now, whaur tae start..."
"Well, we could start by getting rid of these decorations and putting them away," Kyoko suggested, "So those lights will need to be first..."
"Alrecht, 'en. Ye crawl round th' back, Kyoko, an' unplug those lights..."
"Right. Hold on..." So Kyoko got down on all-fours, and edged her way round the back of the tree, where they'd stuffed all the electrics in a bid to make the tree look presentable. Eventually, she found the plug for the lights, and felt along the cable until she found the switch, "Okay, that's us switched off...Now!" Kyoko flicked the switch, and Alasdair saw the lights come off.
"Reit, that's 'em aff! Ye can unplug 'em now..."
"Okay, I've got the plug again...Hey, this cable's a bit taut, Alasdair. You'd better hold onto the tree, just in case it tips over."
"It willnae, kitten," Alasdair said confidently, "Yon tinsel shoods still be stapled down firmly."
"If you insist..." So Kyoko pulled out the plug - and then wished she hadn't; all of a sudden, the tree lurched to one side, broke free of the tinsel holding it to the floor, and just about tackled Alasdair to the ground. Kyoko quickly stood back up, lifted the fallen tree off Alasdair, and helped him back onto his feet, "I did warn you, didn't I?"
"Alrecht, Kyoko, dinnae gang oan!" Alasdair groaned, before surveying the mess of decorations and fake pine needles, "Jesus, that's gonnae leave a mark! I'll say one thing, though..."
"Considering whaur 'at tree landed, aam glad we didna try tae dae thes afair Ah got ye pregnant!"
"Oh, calm down. These plastic needles aren't that sharp. Now, come on. Give me a hand to get all this cleared up." So Alasdair temporarily forgot his grievances, and set to work helping Kyoko to get the tree upright, before lending a further hand sweeping away the strewn decorations.
Over the next week, life gradually returned to normal for Alasdair and Kyoko, as they resumed their work as owners, operators and managers for A&K Geddes Freight. This week in particular was especially busy, as was the case for the first few days after any major holiday. On the Monday, as previously arranged, the Hunter II made a stop at the company's headquarters in the city of Armadhu, on the planet Jura, so that Alasdair and Kyoko could check out how their staff were doing after their break. They then spent most of the morning helping out with administrative work, before setting off that afternoon to pick up a consignment of white goods from the Sirius System, for delivery to a wholesaler in the Artis Unum System.
The rest of the week followed a characteristically familiar pattern: On Tuesday, Alasdair and Kyoko were kept busy with local pick-ups and deliveries in and around the Antares System, and in various other neighbouring star systems; on Wednesday, they undertook a special delivery to a new spaceport being constructed in the Maiden's Cape (the same spaceport they'd been on their way to when they'd had their ill-fated adventure at the Salem Transport Nexus); on Thursday, they made a long distance journey to the Brampton System, to pick up a consignment of shuttles; on Friday, they came back and delivered said shuttles to a dealer in the Vulpecula System; on Saturday, they stayed on Jura, and helped out again with any stray paperwork.
All the while, both Alasdair and Kyoko were thinking about their upcoming dinner with Stanley, Alison and Valerie. Of course, both were thinking about it for different reasons: Kyoko was looking forward to the dinner itself, and catching up on the latest news from that small corner of the universe; Alasdair was wondering just what had gotten into Kyoko, that was making her so keen to see how Stanley was doing. It couldn't be anything to do with Alison, at least, not as much as they were letting on. And it certainly couldn't have been because Kyoko and Stanley had magically buried the hatchet all of a sudden. Could it?
More importantly, though, there was one thing they were both thinking: Up to that point, neither of them had said a word to Stanley or Alison about Kyoko's pregnancy (and neither had anyone else, it seemed), and they were both looking forward to dropping that bombshell across the dinner table - if only to observe the spectacle that was bound to come from the conflicting reactions to such news.
Soon enough, Sunday rolled around, and both Alasdair and Kyoko were content to spend most of it in peace - catching up on a few TV shows they'd missed owing to their work, and also handling any domestic duties that might have been forgotten about as well. It was not until late that afternoon that the Hunter II eventually made the trip from Jura to Procyon VI, and even then, it didn't go straight to Stanley and Alison's house, for two reasons: Firstly, it still had to land at the Cooperative's premises on the edge of the Glenfalcons Docks, for it held the nearest facilities to the house that the ship could safely use; Secondly, once they'd landed, Alasdair and Kyoko had to make a lengthy detour through the City, to pick up Alasdair's older sister Valerie, who would also be joining them for dinner.
Of course, Valerie used to live with Stanley and Alison anyway, but she'd moved out a year or so ago, and into a large concrete tower block overlooking the main railway line running through the City. In fact, her apartment was right on the level of the railway line, which ran through this part of the City atop a stone viaduct of considerably older vintage. The landing offered a great view of the railway, so after Alasdair and Kyoko had arrived and knocked on the door, they were able to keep themselves entertained for the minute or so it took for Valerie to answer.
"Oh, it's you, is it?" Valerie remarked, as she opened the door, "You're early. We don't need to be at Uncle Stan's for another hour, and it takes most of that to walk there from here!"
"Jist thought we'd be in guid time tae pick ye up, Val," Alasdair replied, "Ye almost ready tae head along?"
"Yeah, almost. Give me a second..." Valerie quickly retreated inside, and returned a few seconds later with her coat, "Right, that's me sorted. Let's get a move on. The traffic can be a real bastard at this time of day."
"Jist whit Ah was thinking," Alasdair replied dryly, as they began to make their way back down to ground level, "Ah take it th' car's still in th' shop?"
"You're half right, Alasdair. See my next-door neighbour, he's got an older brother who lives out in the country, and he knows a fair bit about the kind of car I have. He actually used to drive an identical model himself, and he still has it in pieces around his place..."
"Sae yer neighbour's brother's fixing yer car for ye, 'en?"
"Sort of. As I say, his car's in pieces, and he says there's no hope of him putting it back together. So he's gonna pull as many good components as he can, and use them to fix up my car."
"Last I heard, he was planning to lift the engine out of his car and do a transplant, as it were. Apparently, it came out of a higher-end model, and he thinks it should improve my car's performance once he's got it in..."
"Aye, 'at sounds reasonable enaw..."
"Yeah. The guy's a fucking lunatic, but he knows what he's doing!" Alasdair figured he couldn't argue with that, so he said no more. By now, they'd made it to ground level, and had just passed under the viaduct. They got a little further along the main road, before Valerie spoke again, "So, enough about me. How's you two, then? All rested and full of energy after the Christmas holidays?"
"Us?" Kyoko replied, "We're both fine, Valerie-san. Just settled back and enjoyed ourselves for a bit. I'm only sorry you couldn't join us like you'd hoped..."
"Nah, it's alright, Kyoko. I was still able to enjoy myself. Opened presents, had dinner, got rat-arsed, and fell asleep in front of the TV. It was great."
"Certainly sounds interesting..." Kyoko said dryly, "Almost as interesting as how we spent Christmas..."
"Oh, yes? And how did you spend Christmas?"
"Well, I'd rather not say just now. We'll wait and see what Stanley-jisan and Alison-basan have to say about their holiday first."
"Alright, if you insist..." Valerie finished, and said no more - she could sense that Alasdair and Kyoko had big news of some kind to share, and based on what they'd told her when they'd last met up, it could only be one thing...
In all, it took Alasdair, Kyoko and Valerie about forty-five minutes to walk from the tower block to the housing estate on which Stanley and Alison lived. Obviously it would have taken less time to drive there, but as Valerie had said, her car was currently out of action, and she figured she needed the exercise anyway. She ended up leading Alasdair and Kyoko on a virtual magical mystery tour of Glenfalcons, which took them from one side of the City to the other and back, and avoided most of the less savoury areas to be found.
There was one undesirable spot, however, that couldn't be avoided, and it took the form of a level crossing which bisected a long, straight stretch of road a stone's throw from the Docks. As they walked up to it, Valerie suddenly slowed down a touch, glanced at her watch, and then held out her arm to stop her companions.
"Whoa, steady on," She cautioned, "We'll have to stop here a while..."
"Whit?" Alasdair asked, looking up and down the line, "Thaur cannae be a train due now, surely?" No sooner had he spoken, when sure enough, the lights started flashing, and the gates quickly lowered down, "Weel, guess Ah spoke ower soon..."
"Yes, as always. Better get comfy. We could be here a while..." Luckily, there was a length of brick wall at this point that was just the right height for sitting on, and so Alasdair and Kyoko quickly made themselves comfortable while they waited for the supposed train. What eventually came along was a train, but a very slow and lumbering one at that: first came a medium-sized blue diesel engine, its paint hidden under layers of dirt and rust; then came its load, in the form of a long line of huge hopper wagons, also painted blue, and with the legend 'ZYLBERMAN AGGREGATES' emblazoned on the side, and barely visible through the dirt. Valerie didn't seem to regard it with much interest, but Kyoko certainly did.
"How come you never told me about this, Valerie-san?" She called, "I've never seen a train like this in these parts before!"
"That's because you've never had to come along this way when the train's been running!" Valerie called back, "It's full of waste rock from a quarry about two hours' travel from here. Comes down this way every Wednesday, Friday, and alternate Mondays, regular as clockwork."
"Where does it go?"
"Just as far as the Docks, and then it heads back empty to the quarry. The rock gets taken out to sea and dumped for land reclamation."
"Well, what's it doing here on a Sunday?"
"I'm not sure, but I think they're doing engineering work on this line tomorrow, and that's one of the Mondays this train would be running down here. I guess they're coming down early so they won't have to bring two trainloads' worth of rock down on Wednesday."
"How do you reckon that one out?"
"You know that neighbour I was talking about? He usually works in that signal-box on the other side of the line. In fact, hold on..." Valerie paused, and waited patiently while the rest of the train passed. About five minutes later, the rear of the train had disappeared out of view, revealing the signal-box in question, and the signalman - a blonde squirrel - standing on the balcony. Valerie waved to the signalman, who recognised her and waved back, "Yep, just as I thought. It's him, alright."
"Aye, sae we gathered," Alasdair interrupted, as the crossing gates finally lifted, allowing them to continue on their way, "Ye ken something? I'm sure I've seen 'at bastard squirrel somewhere afair..."
"Eh, probably..." Valerie finished, noncommittally, as they carried on their way. Now that they'd crossed the railway, they could continue their trek to the housing estate without any further interruptions - a mixed blessing, some might say, considering it was Stanley they were going to see...
It wasn't long before they finally reached Stanley and Alison's housing estate, and shorter still before they reached the house itself. Like most of the other houses on the estate, it was a modestly-sized structure, built in brick, and based around the traditional two-up, two-down pattern. Where it differed from all those other houses, though, was the general unkempt state of the outside; the front lawn was overgrown, the brickwork was barely visible under the dirt, there were things growing in the guttering - how Stanley had allowed this to happen, in spite of the vast amounts of money he made from his share of the Cooperative, nobody could ever understand. However, Alasdair and Kyoko said nothing on the subject - at least, nothing they hadn't said before - as they followed Valerie up the drive to the front door. She rung the doorbell, and then waited patiently to be let in. A few seconds later, the door opened to reveal Alison.
"Oh, hello. You're just in time. I take it you didn't have to wait an eternity on the Belmont Road this time?"
"Actually we did still have to wait," Valerie replied, as Alison led them inside, "It's just that we had the foresight to set off early." She then whispered to Alasdair and Kyoko, "That's the name of the street that level crossing was on..." They nodded in agreement, "So, Aunt Allie, any news since I was last here?"
"No, it's mostly been the usual grind for us both. Having said that, though, we do have some news," By now, they'd reached the other end of the foyer, and Alison opened the door leading to the living room, "That's Val here with Kyoko and Alasdair, Stan!" She called, and received a noncommittal grunt in reply. Alison turned to the others, "He's in there with his paper and the television. You two go and join him. Val, come and help me with the dinner."
"Whit, us two? Gang in thaur?" Alasdair asked incredulously, "Wi' him?" But it was too late; Alison and Valerie had already disappeared through the other door, into the kitchen, "But why us, though?"
"Why not us, Alasdair?" Kyoko replied, as she pulled Alasdair into the living room, "Come on. Someone's gotta talk to him..." So Alasdair was forced to concede, and as they entered the room, they both sat down on the couch set to one side. At one end of the room was the television, which was currently showing a commercial break; at the other end was Stanley's armchair, with Stanley in it, who was reading his newspaper, and trying his hardest not to acknowledge the arrival of his guests, "Hello, Stanley-jisan."
"Hey." Stanley replied, as noncommittally as before.
"What's this you're watching?"
"Shadowplay Omnibus. Repeat. Cooking Class storyline," Stanley continued flatly, "Load of shit."
"That's nothing to the one we watched last week...How was your little getaway to New Islington, then?"
"Just alright? From what Alison-basan was telling me, you had a great time there. I mean, apart from the weather being too hot, the food being too greasy..."
"Alright!" Stanley suddenly hissed, lowering his paper, "Don't go on! Christ, just because I'm not doing the talking, doesn't mean you have to fill in for me!"
"Gie, th' lass a chance, Stan!" Alasdair hissed back, "She's jist trying tae be polite. An' we've only been haur abit thirty seconds!"
"You're beginning to sound like Allie, kid."
"Guid..." Alasdair muttered, and Stanley realized he was going to have to say a little more.
"Fine, if you must know, I had a great time on New Islington," He said, sounding as forced as possible, "I got plenty of sun, and I got plenty of rest. That's all. Are you happy now?"
"Yes, I suppose so, Stanley-jisan," Kyoko replied, "I know Alison-basan enjoyed herself."
"Yeah, she would..."
"...And she said you both had some news for us..." Stanley squirmed noticeably at this, so Kyoko added, "If it helps, we've got some news for you as well..."
"Do you, now? Well, perhaps it can wait until dinner...?"
"Alright, if you insist...What about you? Do you want to save your news for dinner as well?"
"Yes..." Stanley said bluntly. He looked as though he had a lot more to say, when Alison suddenly came through from the kitchen.
"Stanley, can you come through here and give us a hand with the dinner?" She asked.
"Yes, dear..." Stanley grunted, as he got up and put his paper down, "Apparently our guests have news for us..."
"Yes, so I heard. Now come on..."
"Alright, I'm coming. Sheesh, you'd think that holiday would have loosened you up a bit..." The rest of his tangent was lost as he closed the door behind him, leaving Alasdair and Kyoko on their own once more. Kyoko picked up the remote control, to find something else to watch, and Alasdair couldn't help feeling that something was amiss.
"Whit th' hell's up wi' ye both th' day?" He asked.
"What, me and Stanley-jisan?" Kyoko replied, "What do you mean?"
"Weel, that's probably th' most he's ever spoken tae ye since we got married! Normally he willnae even gie ye th' time ay day!"
"Yeah? So? He's allowed to speak to me like a normal human being once in a while, isn't he?"
"Aye, but he usually only does when th' circumstances leave him wi' nae other option. What's wi' thes sudden chemistry between ye two?"
"I'd hardly call it chemistry, Alasdair..."
"Weel? Whit woods you call it?" Kyoko didn't answer for a second, and Alasdair suddenly realized there was something deeper going on here, "Alrecht, I'll bite. Whit hae ye an' Stan been doing, 'at I've nae been privy tae?"
"Well, if you must know..." Kyoko took a deep breath, paused to gather her thoughts, and finally let loose, "Right, you remember a few months ago, when we had that massive fight about you not listening to me?"
"Ack, how coods Ah forget? Ah cannae min' seeing ye acting 'at pissed aff afair, ur since..."
"Yes, well, just before I stormed off that night, I told you, chance a few words, that I was going to find someone who cared more about me than you did..."
"Aye, Ah remember weel enaw. Whaur ur ye going wi' thes?"
"Well, I never told you this when we eventually made up, but I actually came here, to stay with Stanley-jisan and Alison-basan."
"Ye whit?" Alasdair suddenly paused, as he thought about this, and then it clicked, "Ack, 'at makes sense. Stan absolutely hates yer guts, sae if ye decided tae seek refuge wi' him, 'at woods make it th' ultimate damning indictment of how much ay a twat Ah was being at th' time..."
"Yeah, that's pretty much what my reasoning was at the time. And I said as much to Alison-basan when I showed up on her doorstep that night."
"Weel, it was a bloody guid train ay thought, I'll say 'at much. Even when you're pissed aff, ye still manage tae think these things through..."
"That's what makes me so dangerous!" Kyoko grinned, before continuing, "So, yeah, I camped out on this couch for a few nights, and in that time, I actually managed to get Stanley-jisan to speak to me like a proper human being for the first time!"
"Christ, ye must hae been determined, 'en...!"
"Well, Alison-basan helped a fair bit. She wouldn't let him go to bed until he'd managed to talk some sense into me!"
"Aye, 'at makes a bit mair sense. Sae yon Stanley kens ye waur wanting a kid?"
"Yep. I haven't mentioned it to him or Alison-basan since, though."
"Sae he doesnae ken you're pregnant jist now?"
"No, and I intend to keep it that way until dinner!"
"Guid call thaur. Wi' any luck, ye might jist get him tae choke tae death frae th' shock!"
"Oh, shut up, you! You're just as bad as him!" And Kyoko playfully whacked Alasdair with one of the cushions. They both laughed, and with good humour largely restored, they sat back, and continued their search for something decent to watch on TV while they waited for Stanley, Alison and Valerie to finish cooking the dinner.
Just under an hour later, Valerie came through, and announced that dinner was ready, so Alasdair and Kyoko went through to the dining room, where Stanley and Alison were waiting for them. They weren't having anything too classy for dinner tonight - just fried chicken and salad - though they did try to make it seem formal with a bottle of red wine. At least, Alasdair, Stanley and Valerie did; Kyoko and Alison had both opted for a blackcurrant cordial, for reasons which weren't immediately clear. After sitting down and starting, it was a few minutes before anyone spoke.
"So, Alison-basan," Kyoko began, in between mouthfuls of salad, "You never did say exactly what you did on New Islington. I mean, you told us the basics, but you didn't go any further than that..."
"Well, first of all, I must admit that it wasn't quite as great as we made it out to be," Alison replied, "For starters, the hotel we booked into was crap. We wanted a place with a view of the sea, and the travel agency stuck us half a mile inland, with only a view of the back of the hotel we wanted..."
"And not only that, we paid half-price for it..."
"Well, that's not so bad, is it? I mean, you're saving money, right?"
"Yeah, but there was a damn good reason that hotel room was only half price," Stanley interrupted fiercely, "The hotel was only half-built!"
"Ah, that makes a bit more sense. But at least the rest of your holiday went alright, right?"
"Frankly, the hotel was the best bit! We couldn't get onto any of the beaches, because most of them were either too hot or too crowded. Then we could hardly get a decent meal anywhere, because apparently, most of the restaurants in our area were booked all the way through to Easter. And then..." Stanley finished bitterly, "Just when I thought we would finally get a moment's peace to ourselves...We walk past this rifle range on the promenade, and get caught in the midst of a fucking shoot-out!"
"Yeah, that does tend to happen a lot in places like that...This shoot-out, eh? It wasn't, by any chance, a small fox wearing a pink Hawaiian shirt, and brandishing the equivalent of a heavy assault rifle? Was it?"
"As it happens, it was!"
"Ah, yes, we've dealt with him before. Same thing happened to us on Regan Prime last year, and I'm fully convinced it was the same guy!"
"I just can't understand why these places have those rifles, let alone let small children use them!"
"That's nothing to the sort of things we've seen small children be allowed to use..." Just then, Kyoko suddenly remembered what she'd been meaning to say since they arrived, "Oh, that reminds me. We've got some news we want to share with you, don't we, Alasdair?"
"Do you, now?" Stanley turned to Alasdair, who was currently trying to pick a piece of lettuce out of his teeth.
"Dae we?" Alasdair repeated, caught off-guard, before realizing what Kyoko meant, "Ack, aye, ay course! We've got news, alrecht!"
"So do we!" Stanley replied, and Alasdair swore he could see a hint of a smug smile crawling across his face, "Out of that shitstorm of a holiday, we did manage to get one good thing out of it..."
"Is 'at sae? Weel, whit woods 'at be?"
"Whit? Ack, alrecht, 'en..." Alasdair paused, as he mentally prepared himself, and put a piece of bell pepper into his mouth, to help his nerves. Then he breathed in, and finally dropped the bombshell, "We're gonnae be parents."
"So are we." Stanley replied, hardly missing a beat, which threw Alasdair further off guard - contrary to his previous expectations, he ended up being the one to choke on his food in shock. The piece of bell pepper went halfway down his throat, then up a bit, and then he was eventually able to force it back down.
"Ye whit?" Alasdair gasped, once he was sure he wasn't choking to death, "You, a parent? Ack, that'll be th' day!"
"I might just say the same of you! And believe me, I was just as surprised, but as it turns out, Allie's had this on the backburner for quite some time."
"Stanley-jisan's right," Kyoko interrupted, "While you lot were making noises about helping us go independent, Alison-basan was telling me about how she was going to pull this off. To be honest, though, I hardly expected her to actually manage it!"
"Well, I did, eventually!" Alison replied, "Halfway through our holiday, as it happened. I somehow persuaded Stan to give me a bit of action every night. To help compensate for the trouble we had during the day, you understand. I bought a whole bunch of pregnancy tests before we left, and just kept using them secretly every morning before Stan woke up..."
"Why did you go out and buy some, Alison-basan? We got a whole bunch of the things as bankrupt stock months ago! You could have asked us, and we'd have given you some for free!"
"I didn't want Stan finding out, and he'd have probably murdered the lot of us if he'd found out you were privy to this scheme!"
"Well, anyway, may we both offer our congratulations, Alison-basan, and Stanley-jisan..."
"And the same to you, Kyoko. I did wonder why you didn't want the wine like everyone else, but now that makes a bit more sense..."
"And I was wondering the same about you having the cordial. My only question now is, why is Stanley-jisan still drinking? I'd have thought he'd have given it up, as a sign of solidarity towards you not being able to drink?"
"What? Stan, giving up the drink? Fuck that for a laugh! He's gonna have enough on his plate now, what with looking after me and his share of the business. Why should I deprive him of the right to have a little drink to soothe his nerves every now and then?"
"Good point. Me and Alasdair actually had the same discussion after I got pregnant, and he said pretty much the same thing. And he's got a shorter fuse than even Stanley-jisan, so who am I to stop him soothing his nerves with a bit of the hard stuff?"
"Well, at least we're agreed on that..." Then Alison had an idea, "Perhaps, seeing as we're both pregnant, we could start helping each other out on the long road ahead?"
"Yeah, perhaps we could. We're both gonna have to go through a lot of pain and suffering. Might as well suffer together..."
"Just what I was thinking. Now, come on. Let's drink to our respective successes."
"Of course..." So Kyoko raised her glass, and clinked it against Alison's, "To our impending motherhood!"
"To motherhood...!" The others repeated, holding their glasses high, but all putting in different amounts of effort: Naturally, Alison and Kyoko were all too happy at their respective news, and Valerie was happy for them; Alasdair and Stanley were pleased too, albeit to a lesser extent, because they'd both realized the implications. If Kyoko and Alison were going to be seeing a lot more of each other over the course of their pregnancies, then Alasdair and Stanley were going to be seeing a lot more of each other as well - not a very pleasant prospect, as far as either of them were concerned.
As they lowered their glasses and resumed their dinner, however, they both realized that if it was for the sake of their respective wives, then perhaps it would be for the best if they set aside their differences at this stage - for the time being, at least. Then they could resuming getting at each other's throats once their respective babies were born.
After dinner was over, it was another hour or two before Alasdair and Kyoko finally left the senior Geddes' house, with Valerie in tow. They could probably have stayed much longer, but Valerie had to get home, and Alasdair and Kyoko had to drop her off before they could set off for home themselves. Much had been said by all concerned parties, and it was almost with great reluctance that they had to leave when they did. Almost...
"...And stay out!" Stanley muttered, half-jokingly, as he ushered his guests out of the house, "Well, it's been real great seeing you guys again. For once...!"
"Aye, same haur..." Alasdair muttered in reply, "...For once!"
"Good luck with that kid of yours...Christ, I never thought I'd hear myself say that!"
"Aye, the sentiment is mutual, oan both accounts."
"Well, would you look at that," Valerie remarked, "The two stone-cold bastards are actually getting along, for once!"
"You know how it is, Valerie-san," Kyoko replied, "Any two folks can usually get along, if they can find some way in which they need each other." She then turned to Alison, "Thanks for the meal, Alison-basan, and the news!"
"The pleasure's all ours, Kyoko," Alison replied, "And I'm really looking forward to helping you with this difficult process."
"The same to you, Alison-basan. I just wish Alasdair and Stanley-jisan were as willing to cooperate with each other in the same way."
"Well, they're not the ones expecting, so I suppose we can afford to cut them a little slack..." At this, both Alasdair and Stanley gave a sigh of relief, "...That being said, though, perhaps we should start expecting a little extra help from them now and then!" They both tensed up again at this.
"Well, I probably won't be so demanding of Alasdair. As far as I'm concerned, he threw himself into the deep end the moment he..."
"Ack, awrite, we really maun be going now!" Alasdair interrupted, "Thanks for the dinner, ye guys, but we hae tae dash. Ur else we'll be held up by yon bastard trains at Belmont Crossing again!"
"Alright, if you insist," Alison laughed, "I'll let you go. Just remember, though, we'll probably be seeing a lot more of each other this year, if things go the way they should. But you can handle that, right? You're built like a rock, Alasdair. You can withstand anything, right?"
"Er..." Alasdair wasn't sure what to say, but when he saw Stanley looking smugly at him, he knew he had to say something, "Aye, ay course!" He finished awkwardly, before ushering Kyoko and Valerie away from the house, "We'll be seeing you, eh?" They all kept their pace until they were far enough away from the house, and as soon as Stanley had shut the door, Alasdair suddenly bolted off, ahead of his companions; if he was going to be stuck with Stanley as often as Alison had implied, then he was definitely going to make the most of what little time he was going to have to himself!