GEDDES LINE

A Space Pirate Captain MacTaggart Story

EPISODE 23: FISHY BUSINESS

Written by Craig Black and Jake Elmer

Everyone's heard the old saying, an army marches on its stomach. Boiled down to its most basic terms, this means that anyone expected to perform a task cannot be expected to do so successfully if they aren't well-fed. This was true in the days of Napoleon, to whom the saying is frequently attributed, and it has remained true for centuries thereafter. It's even survived the transition from conventional terrestrial warfare to modern interstellar warfare - the phrase is often used in praise of the work done by the various auxiliary ships belonging to the Galaxy's different navies.

But it's not just military forces that march on their stomachs. Civilian workers also need to be well-fed if they want to get the best out of their work, however simple or strenuous it might be. And there's nobody that understands this philosophy better than those who regularly travel the length and breadth of the Galaxy as part of their work. Freighter pilots, for example, who often have to go for hours on end without stopping, couldn't possibly manage these long hauls if they didn't have their three square meals a day - supplemented, of course, by the occasional little snacks, and endless cups of tea or coffee.

Of course, the modern freighter pilot could hardly be starved for choice nowadays. Apart from whatever they're able to cook for themselves, they also have a myriad of different cafés and restaurants to enjoy at various points along the routes they travel. Such establishments are almost always to be found at spaceports or stations, and whatever the pilot's tastes, they usually provide food that's cheap, cheerful, and very filling indeed. Many pilots actually prefer to eat at places like these, even when their own freighters have the facilities to allow them to cook food of equal or superior quality. This is because, they say, eating at a café allows them to socialize with fellow pilots, and catch up on all the latest developments in the industry that might affect them personally.

Needless to say, the pilots and staff at A&K Geddes Freight rely heavily on such establishments, as their work often takes them far from civilization, and the sight of a space station offering good food is always as welcoming as the final destination itself. An approaching freighter is also just as welcome a sight to the station itself, as these freighters frequently deliver foodstuffs and other supplies to its cafés and restaurants. It's a natural symbiotic relationship: the freighter pilots keep the stations in business, and the stations keep the freighter pilots in good health (relatively speaking - the sort of meals on offer at some places are hardly the spitting image of healthy eating).

This week's story is about just one of these establishments. Well, to be more accurate, it's about two such establishments, and how their relationship with A&K Geddes Freight once ran much deeper than them just being customers for each other.

It all started one morning, around the end of July, when a freighter called at Tiree Outpost in the Antares System. Now, this wasn't anything too unusual by any means; Freighters of all shapes and sizes were stopping off at this Outpost all the time. Considering our emphasis on the exploits of Alasdair and Kyoko Geddes, one might be tempted to speculate that it was them arriving onboard the Hunter II. It wasn't, however, although it was a freighter belonging to their company. The freighter's name was the Welcome Girls, and the pilot in sole command of it was one Everett Strickland.

Everett was a German Shepherd, who served as one of the many pilots working for A&K Geddes Freight. He was one of the older pilots working for the company, and in his younger days had been a freelance pilot, jumping from client to client, and working all over the Galaxy. Now, though, he'd decided he was getting on a bit, and that the rest of his working life was better suited to a much smaller company.

Unlike most of his fellow pilots, who owned and operated their own freighters, Everett didn't have a specific freighter to his name, and he usually bounced between different ones according to the needs of the job. The Welcome Girls, for instance, was a special design of refrigerated freighter, meant for carrying foodstuffs and other goods that needed to be kept frozen in transit. Its name was unusual, of course, but that was the name it had when it was sold to A&K Geddes Freight, and as nobody had been able to think of anything better, the Welcome Girls it had remained ever since. Anyway, as Everett approached Tiree Outpost, he called through to the station authorities for permission to dock.

"Tiree Outpost, this is the refrigerated cargo vessel Welcome Girls. Requesting permission to dock. Over."

"Welcome Girls, this is Tiree Outpost," The station commander replied over Everett's radio, "Permission granted. Please direct your vessel to Docking Bay 6, and dock within ten Standard minutes. Over and out."

"Thank you, Tiree Outpost, will comply with request. Welcome Girls, out!" With that, Everett ended the call, and carefully guided the freighter towards the docking bay in question. He then landed on the pad, and waited while he was lowered down into the station itself.

Only then did the nature of Everett's visit become clear, for as soon as the freighter was in place, he opened up the cargo bay remotely, and then set about unloading a set of boxes with the aid of a hand-truck. In all, he unloaded twelve crates - six were marked with a red label, six with a blue label, and all bearing the mark of a popular fish market on the moon of Tiree itself. Needless to say, Everett hadn't had to travel very far on this job, and in fact he had managed to squeeze it in between some of his longer jobs. Having loaded his hand-truck with the crates, he then began pushing it out of the docking bay, and down the tunnel leading to the rest of the Outpost.

It didn't take too long for Everett to reach the part of the outpost he was looking for, and shorter still for him to arrive outside his first stop. He was currently in one of the service corridors criss-crossing Tiree Outpost, meant for tradesmen like himself to make deliveries of supplies to the various businesses, without having to worry about the heavy pedestrian traffic on the main thoroughfares. Everett had just arrived at the tradesman's entrance to one such business, as was indicated by a notice on the door bearing the legend, 'FRANCO'S TRADITIONAL FISH BAR - THIS ENTRANCE FOR STAFF ONLY!'. Everett quickly checked a clipboard containing his delivery sheets, before knocking on the door. A few seconds later, the door opened, to reveal a young - and honestly quite attractive looking - lady weasel.

"Oh, er, hello," Everett began, a little taken aback, "I've got a delivery here for a Mr Franco Vallone?"

"Well, you've come to the right place," The weasel replied, with a hint of an Italian accent, "Franco's my father, but he's not in just now."

"That's alright. Er, if you could just sign for it, then...?" Everett handed the weasel his clipboard, and indicated where she had to put her signature.

"With pleasure..." The weasel took the clipboard, and quickly signed the delivery form, "Where's Alasdair at this morning, then?"

"What? Oh, he had some business to attend to down on Jura. I wasn't due out anywhere until this afternoon, so I offered to make this delivery in his place."

"I see," The weasel then handed Everett back his clipboard and pen, "There you go. Oh, I'm Rosalva, by the way, but you can call me Rosie."

"Everett. Here, let me give you a hand with those crates..." So Everett helped Rosie carry the red-labelled crates through to the back room of the restaurant. As they worked, he attempted to make small talk, "So, does Alasdair come here often, then?"

"Oh, yes. At least once every week," Rosie replied, "Sometimes with deliveries, sometimes as a customer. Usually he stops by when he's on his way somewhere, or when he's on his way back. He almost always orders two fish suppers, but I've never seen who he gives the other one to."

"Hmm, that'll probably be his wife, Kyoko. She's not too fond of visiting this station when there's so many people about, so she normally waits onboard their ship while he comes here. That'll be why you haven't seen her."

"Well, see the next time you see her, Everett? Tell her I said hello!"

"I will, Rosie!" By now, they'd finished shifting the crates, so Everett headed back out to his hand-truck, "Right, I'd better be off. I've got to deliver these other crates to Calder's before I head off. You wouldn't know where that is, would you?"

"Calder's?" Rosie repeated, and Everett noticed she'd turned a funny colour upon hearing the name, "It's, uh, right at the other end of this corridor. Last door on the left, you can't miss it. But if you're going there, you'd better make yourself scarce before Franco turns up!"

"Oh, er, alright. But what's the trouble...?" Everett asked, but before he could finish, Rosie had already disappeared back inside and shut the door, "Huh, goodbye, then..." He muttered to himself, as he carried on his way, "Well, I suppose I'd better get over there now..."

About a minute or so later, Everett and his hand-truck had arrived outside the staff and trader's entrance to Calder's Takeaway, as indicated by a notice pinned to the door. He knocked on the door, and within a few seconds was met by a reddish-brown fox, who looked to be around the same age as Rosie. He too looked as though he'd been expecting someone else, so Everett tried to sound as assuring as he could.

"Morning. I've got this delivery of crates here for a Mr Gerry Calder?"

"Yes, that's my dad," The fox replied, "He's not in just now, but we are expecting a delivery..." Everett handed him the delivery forum, and a pen to sign it with, "Oh, thanks," The fox took them both and started signing the forum, "Where's Kyoko at this morning, then?"

"Kyoko's got an appointment on Jura this morning. Nothing too serious, just another ultrasound. Were you expecting her, then?"

"Yes, she usually makes this delivery at some point every week. Sometimes she comes into the shop itself, and orders two fish suppers, but I couldn't tell you who gets the other one..."

"Ah, that'll be her husband, Alasdair. They usually stop by this station when they're passing through this area. Now, let me give you a hand with those crates."

"Oh, thanks," The fox replied, and taking a blue-labelled crate each, they both carried them through to the storage room at the back of the shop, "I'm Elvis, by the way," The fox went on as he put his crate down, "Elvis Calder."

"Everett," Everett replied, "Everett Strickland. It's odd, that..."

"What is?"

"That Kyoko should always call on you guys without Alasdair, and do you know something else? I had to make a quick stop at Franco's on my way here, and it seems that Alasdair always calls on them without Kyoko."

"Maybe she doesn't care much for Franco's..." Elvis remarked, and once again Everett noticed he turned a bit pale at the mention of the place.

"I can't imagine why, though. There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with Calder's that would put Alasdair off, and there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with Franco's that would put Kyoko off!"

"Believe me, Mr Strickland, if my dad were here just now, he'd be only too happy to give you plenty of good reasons why Kyoko wouldn't like Franco's. Not half as many reasons as why he wouldn't like them, of course...!"

"Maybe, but what's the problem...?"

"You don't want to know. And if you've any sense, you'll make yourself scarce before Dad gets here! God knows what he'd do to you if he knew you'd just delivered to Franco's!"

"Why? What's wrong with them...?" But Everett barely got a chance to finish his question, for Elvis had already disappeared back inside, leaving just himself and his hand-truck out in the service corridor, "Hmm, strange people," Everett remarked to himself, "I wonder if they're always like this? I'll have to ask Alasdair and Kyoko when I get the chance..."

And with that, Everett grabbed the hand-truck, and began pushing it back along the service corridor towards the docking bay where the Welcome Girls was still parked. As he walked along, he couldn't help wondering about what he'd just heard. As far as he understood, both Franco's and Calder's were, for all intents and purposes, pretty much the same: they offered the same variety of the same products for roughly the same price - so just what did the two restaurants have against each other?

As it turned out, it wouldn't take too long for Everett to find out just what was going on. A couple of days later, he was back on the planet Jura, and at the Kyle Abbin offices of A&K Geddes Freight. To be more accurate, he was currently onboard the Hunter II, which was parked on its special landing pad outside the office building - he wasn't due out on another job until late that evening, and so he'd accepted an invitation to have lunch with Alasdair and Kyoko. The meal was splendid - just a simple Full English - and afterwards, Kyoko was keen to show Everett some of the pictures she'd taken from her latest ultrasound.

"...So this is the latest one so far," Kyoko was saying, as she showed Everett the last picture, "The picture's not that sharp, of course, but you can still get the gist of it..."

"Yes, it definitely looks like a baby!" Everett remarked in reply, "I must say, she seems to be developing nicely. How long did you say it was until she was due?"

"Abit th' beginning ay September, we reckon." Alasdair replied.

"And you're sure it's going to be a girl? Have you decided on a name yet?"

"Weel, tae tell ye th' truth, we hae thought ay a name. It's jist 'at we intend tae keep it a closely guarded secret until th' lass is born. In th' meantime, we jist refer tae 'er as Firstborn."

"Heh, I wish I'd made up my mind that easily when my lad was born. I couldn't begin to tell you how much trouble we had choosing a name for him!"

"Oh, I didn't know you had a son, Everett-san!" Kyoko said, surprised, "What did you call him in the end? How long ago was that?"

"We eventually settled on Keith. And I'll put it this way, he's now studying for a degree as we speak!" A few seconds later, Everett stood up from the couch where he'd been sitting, "Well, I suppose I'd better make a move. I need to get my freighter ready for when I set off this evening. Thanks for the lunch, you two."

"Thanks for joining us, Everett-san. It's not often we get the chance to invite people over."

"The pleasure's all mine, Kyoko..." Just as Everett was about to leave, however, he suddenly remembered what he'd wanted to say, "Oh, before I leave, there's something else I need to ask you..."

"Anything ye loch, Everett," Alasdair replied, "What's up?"

"Well, you know that delivery to Tiree Outpost you asked me to cover the other day?"

"Aye, whit abit it. Everything went weel, Ah hope?"

"Oh, just fine, Alasdair. I got the stuff there on time and everything. It's just that while I was making the delivery to Franco's, the girl who met me went a funny colour when I mentioned something about Calder's. And then the same thing happened with the boy at Calder's, only vice-versa."

"Ack, have ye not heard?"

"Heard what? I never got a chance to ask what was wrong..."

"Weel, sit yersel' back down, an' we'll explain..." So Everett, Alasdair and Kyoko sat back down on their respective couches, "Ye see, Everett, yon Vallone family has had a chip shop in 'at bit ay Tiree Outpost for a guid fifty years ur sae..."

"Fifty-three, to be precise," Kyoko corrected, "And the Calders have had their chip shop in that same area for the last twenty-eight of those years."

"Now, whit dae ye think happens when two businesses offering th' same products ur services operate within th' same general area, Everett?"

"A pretty damn serious bit of competition, I shouldn't wonder!" Everett remarked, as if that should have been obvious, "I mean, sure, they might be worried about one shop stealing the other's customers..."

"Aye, for th' most part, but sometimes it gets mair serious than 'at. If ye ask me, it's always been mair a personal rivalry than a professional one."

"How so?"

"It's mostly been Vallone-san who causes trouble first," Kyoko explained, "He's always been irritated at Calder-san, ever since he set up shop. He's able to keep his cool for the most part, but sometimes he boils over and gives Calder-san a piece of his mind. Then that gets Calder-san worked up, and it just escalates from there."

"But I've never heard about any trouble when I visit the Outpost. How come I only found out about this the other day?"

"Because you've only ever visited the station when these tensions have been at their lowest. And fortunately, even Vallone-san and Calder-san have their limits when it comes to what actions they're willing to take..."

"I should hope so. If they went too far with this, they'd soon find themselves out on their ears!"

"Yes, and they've been given that warning several times by station security. That, and Vallone-san knows that if he goes too far, it could have severe ramifications for any Italians living in the Antares System."

"Ah, does he usually contemplate murder or something?"

"Ah dinnae ken," Alasdair continued, "But it wouldn't surprise me. Yon Vallone family has some kind ay connection wi' th' Mafia, sae Ah expect they'd hae their methods ay dealing wi' th' Calder fowk..."

"Let's just hope it never comes to that, then...This rivalry, is that why you're never both in one or the other's shop at the same time?"

"Weel, tae begin wi', it was jist personal preference. Ah prefer Franco's fish, but Kyoko prefers Calder's chips. 'En we waur kind ay forced intae it. Ah mean, coods ye imagine either guy's reaction if they found out we waur also visiting th' other?"

"I can imagine, alright, and it's not pretty. Is that why you deliver to them separately as well?"

"That's right, Everett-san," Kyoko went on, "Alasdair stops at one end of the service corridor with Vallone-san's supplies, while I go up the other end and deliver to Calder-san. If not him, then his son Elvis..."

"Yes, it was Elvis I dealt with when I was there. Come to think of it, I also dealt with Franco's daughter Rosie beforehand..."

"Yes, we know Rosalva-san as well. In fact, we know both their respective kids. They're not as bothered about the rivalry as their parents, thank goodness. In fact, heh, I think there might just be a little romance blossoming between them, if you know what I mean!"

"Heh, I can imagine...!"

"Aye, we've caught 'em canoodling a couple ay times in th' past," Alasdair continued, "But we've been sworn tae secrecy each time, sae Ah guess their auld fowk dinnae approve ay 'em being together..."

"Well, nothing spices up a romance quite like forbidding it..."

"Yon Elvis once tauld us 'at disarming a nuclear bomb woods be less dangerous. At least if Gerry caught 'em canoodling, he'd only kill him. But if Franco caught 'em? He'd murder 'em both!"

"I see..." Everett finished gravely, before standing up again, "Well, I'd better be going. I suppose you'll be murdering me if I don't get a move on with that evening job!"

"After that talk, Everett-san," Kyoko remarked, "I think it'd be best if we spared you this time! You look after yourself, now!"

"You too, Kyoko!" Everett called, as he left the living room and disappeared down the passenger hatch of the Hunter II. Alasdair and Kyoko were left on their own, but neither of them said a word until they'd heard Everett's own freighter taking off, having been parked just next to them.

"Well," Kyoko said, to nobody in particular, "That's him sorted. What now?"

"Weel, I've got a bit ay paperwork tae sort out," Alasdair replied, "An' you've got tae sort out yon payments for 'at bastard burglar alarm..."

"Very well. I'll do that. You head off and deal with your paperwork. I'll see you at dinner time..."

"Alrecht, see ye 'en..." And Alasdair began making his way out of the living room. Just before he left, though, he suddenly stopped and turned around, "Er, whit is for dinner th' night, by th' road?"

"You know something, Alasdair? I wasn't too sure to start with. But after that discussion we've just had with Everett-san, I'm feeling especially partial to fish and chips tonight!"

"Heh, fish an' chips it is, 'en. Franco's, Calder's, ur homemade?"

"I think homemade tonight, Alasdair, given the circumstances."

"Och aye? An' whit circumstances woods they be?"

"Well, it is only Wednesday, after all. You don't expect us to fly all the way up to Tiree Outpost on a Wednesday night just to get chips, do you? I'm not crazy, you know!"

"Weel, ye ur mostly..."

"Yeah, mostly. I should have it ready by the time you get back."

"Alrecht, kitten. See ye 'en!" And with that, Alasdair disappeared down the passenger hatch, while Kyoko headed up to the flight deck to get on with her work. However, all that talk about fish and chips had left her feeling peckish again, even though she'd only just had her lunch.

"I'll say that much for Alasdair," Kyoko muttered to herself, "He certainly knows how to make a girl feel hungry!"

Alasdair and Kyoko were busy for the rest of that week, and nothing more was said about the restaurant rivalry. In fact, they'd almost forgotten about their discussion with Everett by the time the subject next came up. Unfortunately, it was also at that point that both Alasdair and Kyoko learned that things had taken a turn for the worse. The trouble started late that Saturday night, in the company's Armadhu offices. The Hunter II had just returned from a job collecting steel coils from the Burslem System, and delivering them to an appliance manufacturer in the Sirius System. The ship was to stay in Armadhu overnight, and Alasdair and Kyoko were just giving it a final onceover before they retired to bed - idly chatting with each other as they did so.

"...Sae, is everything aw set for us tomorrow?" Alasdair was asking.

"Yes, I've made all the arrangements like I promised. Saburō and Kumiko said they'd be having dinner at 1700 Standard, so assuming we leave here around Noon tomorrow, that should give us an hour-long window to allow for anything that might happen on the way."

"Guid. I've been looking forward tae thes dinner for ages..."

"Alasdair, you only found out we were visiting my parents for dinner on Tuesday. It's not been that long!"

"Ah ken, but time jist seems tae hae slowed tae a crawl since 'en, is aw..."

"That's as may be. But I've never seen you this excited to visit them before. Granted, they are much better company than Stanley-jisan and Alison-basan, but still..."

"Aye, aam jist keen tae see yer folks again. Ah cannae wait tae see their faces when we tell 'em how weel yer pregnancy's going!"

"Take it easy, Alasdair. At least give me the chance to tell them first!"

"Heh, alrecht..." By now, they'd sorted everything out, and were just about ready to climb back onboard and get ready for bed, "Reit, that's us sorted. Jist need tae gang an' dim yon big lights, an' 'en we can settle down for th' night..." The big football-style lamps which surrounded the premises were controlled from a panel inside the office building, but just as Alasdair was beginning to make his way across the courtyard, Kyoko suddenly grabbed him and pulled him back, "Gah! Whit th' hell...?!"

"Ssh!" Kyoko hissed, "Listen! Can you hear that?"

"Hear what?" Alasdair listened, and sure enough, he could hear something, "Ack, you're reit. Sounds loch a spacecraft engine. Ye reckon it's one ay ours?"

"Well, Damaris-san hasn't reported back yet. It could well be her freighter..."

"Aye, mebbe..." Just then, Alasdair glanced up, and saw a dark shape coming down towards them, "Yep, it's Damaris, awrite. I'd recognize 'at paintwork anywhaur..." He then realized something else, "Hauld oan. She's cutting it ower close wi' 'at landing thaur, isnae she?"

"Yes, she is coming in a little hot. But then you know what Damaris-san's like, especially when she's running late. And even she's not stupid enough to risk wrecking her only home!"

"Weel, better stand back, jist in case..."

So Alasdair and Kyoko took cover behind the Hunter II, and watched as Damaris' freighter got nearer and nearer. As it approached the perimeter fence, it dropped down sharply, just barely cleared the fence, and landed on the courtyard with a fierce SHRIEK from its landing gear. It then screeched further, as it slid across the tarmac towards the opposite end of the courtyard - at which point there was a loud crash as the freighter slammed into the side of the warehouse, stopping it dead in its tracks. Alasdair immediately leapt from his cover and sprinted across - with Kyoko following behind - to check if Damaris was alright. The vixen seemed none the worse, though, as she suddenly appeared from the crew door.

"Whit th' hell was 'at aw abit?!" Alasdair snapped when he reached Damaris, "Ye coods hae killed yersel' coming in hot jusnoo, ur possibly someone else!"

"Sorry, Alasdair," Damaris gasped, "I'm not used to coming in that fast! Especially in the dark..."

"Whaur th' hell hae ye been, anyway? Ye shoods hae been back haur..." Alasdair quickly glanced at his watch, "Two-and-a-half Standard hours ago!"

"I know, I'm sorry. It's just that..." Damaris paused to catch her breath, "...Well, you'll never believe what's been going on!"

"I'm not sure, Damaris-san," Kyoko replied as she finally caught up, "I can believe quite a lot, especially with the likes of you around. What's up?"

"Well, I was on my way back here, and what with one thing or another, I was running late. By the time I managed to return to Antares, it was well past dinnertime, and I was feeling quite peckish..."

"Is that it? You just stopped off somewhere for a quick bite?"

"I haven't finished yet, Kyoko. Now, I quite fancied a kebab at that point, so I decided I would make a quick stop at Tiree Outpost and get something there. There's this place in the main commercial sector, what was it called..."

"Was it Calder's? I think they're the ones that have kebabs on the menu."

"Yes, that was it. Anyway, I got the freighter docked, and refuelled while I was at it, and then I made my way along there. But..." Damaris paused for dramatic effect.

"Weel?" Alasdair demanded, spoiling the effect, "Whit was up?"

"When I got to Calder's, I found that the whole place had been smashed up!"

"Whit?! You're kidding!"

"No, straight up! Windows smashed in, screens torn down, tables and chairs all over the place, and there was paint sprayed over all the bits that couldn't be moved! The cops had it all taped up!"

"Jesus! Whit did ye dae 'en?"

"By then, it was getting late, but I knew Franco's would still be open, so I decided I'd get a bag of chips from them instead. And lo and behold..."

"They waur smashed up an' aw?"

"Exactly, Alasdair! So that was me unable to get anything at all. None of the other places that served food were still open."

"So have you not had anything to eat at all, Damaris-san?" Kyoko asked, "Because I'm sure we'd be able to cook you something..."

"Well, fortunately, I did manage to get my kebab in the end. Unfortunately, I had to go all the way to Port Bannatyne to get it! That's why I'm so late back! I must have waited at least half an hour in that shop...!"

"Yes, alright, Damaris-san, we get it. As long as you're here and safe. You just get to bed now. We'll deal with that hole you've just punctured in the warehouse tomorrow morning, alright?"

"Alright. Goodnight, you two..." With that, Damaris went back inside and closed the crew door, leaving Alasdair and Kyoko on their own outside. They walked back to the Hunter II in silence - broken only by the muffled noises of Damaris getting ready for bed onboard her own freighter.

"I don't know," Kyoko mused, as she climbed back up the passenger hatch of the Hunter II, "Those two have always been at each other's throats, but it's never been as bad as that!"

"Aye, it's a bloody liberty, 'at," Alasdair replied, following Kyoko, "Perhaps we shoods gang up thaur tomorrow morn, an' find out what's going oan ourselves."

"Just what I was thinking, Alasdair. You said yourself, we're not due to leave for Tenchō until Noon. That gives us a few hours to hang around at Tiree Outpost, and see what we can do..."

"Aye, if we can dae anything...!" Alasdair muttered, but as he and Kyoko got ready for bed, they were both having doubts about their decision: Could they do anything to help? What could they do? And just what was going on between Franco's and Calder's that'd caused both their shops to be smashed up?

The next morning, both Alasdair and Kyoko were up bright and early - much earlier than either of them would have liked, especially on a Sunday. However, they had a lot of work to do that morning, and not a lot of time to do it before they had to leave for Tenchō, about four hours' hyperspace travel away, to visit Kyoko's parents for dinner.

After having breakfast and getting dressed, the first order of the day was to have a look at the damage that'd been caused by Damaris Moss' sudden arrival late the previous night. The worst to be found was the large hole that the nosecone of Damaris' freighter had punched in the side of the warehouse. Fortunately, this side of the warehouse was made of corrugated metal panels, as opposed to the concrete blocks making up the other walls, and as such the damaged panels could simply be replaced, though they would have to be ordered in.

Strangely, Damaris' freighter was more or less intact, save for where the damaged panels had left huge scratches up the nosecone. The brakes were now more or less shot as well, and would have to be replaced before the freighter could start work. Luckily, Damaris always kept a decent amount of spare parts onboard, and so with Alasdair's help was able to enact these repairs on the spot. There then followed a few brief minutes while Alasdair went and ordered the materials needed to fix the warehouse wall, and then he sent Damaris off to collect them - after warning her to take it easy on the brakes this time!

Having sorted out Damaris and the damage she'd caused, Alasdair and Kyoko could then turn their attention to their next issue of the morning. Namely, heading up to Tiree Outpost to have a look at the destruction that'd been dealt out to both Franco's and Calder's. They set off at once onboard the Hunter II, and arrived at the station around 1030 Standard. That would give them about an hour and a half before they had to set off for Tenchō - plenty of time to get to the bottom of things, so they both thought. It wasn't long before they'd landed in the docking bay, and as they made their way along the tunnel towards the heart of the station, Alasdair quickly went over what they were going to do.

"...Reit, sae, when we get thaur, I'll gang an' talk tae Franco, an' ye gang up th' other end an' talk wi' Gerry."

"Why can't we both just talk to Vallone-san, then Calder-san?" Kyoko asked, puzzled.

"Think abit it, Kyoko. We've always visited 'em two separately. Franco doesnae ken 'at you've been buying frae Gerry, an' vice-versa abit me. Whit dae ye think woods happen if they found out we'd both been eating their rival's food?"

"Hmm, good point. But what should we say?"

"Jist ask how they're coping, an' find out whit th' hell's been going oan."

"Bearing in mind we've only got until Noon, Alasdair. You know what those two are like when they get talking. Especially about each other!"

"Weel, jist try an' get as much out ay Gerry as ye can, an' I'll dae th' same wi' Franco, alrecht?"

"Alright. Come on." So Alasdair led the way as they continued their journey towards the heart of the Outpost - both thinking about what they would come across, and still wondering why it'd happened in the first place.

In common with many other types of space outpost, the one orbiting the moon of Tiree had been built up over a number of years with a number of individual modules. As such, its construction was haphazard, and navigating around the station was not necessarily as straightforward as it might have been for a more conventional station. Nonetheless, if one was familiar with the layout, as Alasdair and Kyoko were, it wasn't all that difficult. The presence of clear and concise maps at every turn didn't hurt either.

Sure enough, they soon came to the part of the Outpost they were looking for, and it was at that moment that they could finally see the full extent of the destruction of Franco's - and it was nearly as bad as Damaris had made it out to be. Windows smashed in, signage either torn down or painted over, furniture in disarray - and that was just what could be seen from the outside. Everything had been taped over by the station security, who at this moment were currently stood outside interviewing Franco Vallone himself, along with his wife Elettra. At the far end of the corridor, the exact same thing had happened to Calder's, and Gerry Calder and his wife, Judith, were also being interview by members of the security team.

"Alrecht," Alasdair whispered to Kyoko, as they approached what was left of Franco's, "I'll deal wi' thes lot. Ye gang up th' other end..." So Kyoko headed off on her own towards what was left of Calder's, while Alasdair went up on his own as near to Franco's as the police tape would allow him, "Awrite, Franco?"

"Huh?" Franco glanced to one side, saw Alasdair and immediately walked over, "Oh, am I glad to see you, Alasdair!" He motioned towards his wrecked shop, "Have you seen what's happened to our shop?!"

"Weel, Ah hae now. An' Ah heard abit it last night frae one ay mah pilots. She tried tae stop by haur oan 'er way home, an' found it smashed up loch thes! She had tae make a detour tae Port Bannatyne instead, an' she was properly put out, Ah can tell ye...!"

"That's nothing to how I feel!" Franco snapped, "I'm absolutely livid! I came to open up on Saturday morning, and I found this! Smashed up! Massacrated! I tell you, I've never seen the likes of it in my life, have you, Elettra?"

"No, I haven't, Franco..." Elettra replied - she spoke precious little English, but knew just enough to serve her own purposes well.

"And I was sure I knew who did it!" Franco went on, pointing in the direction of Calder's, "Ever since those interloping bastards set up shop, they've had it out for the lot of us! I just know they're behind this!"

"Oh, God, here we go..." Elettra groaned, "We've been through this before, Franco. They can't have done this! We have no way of proving they did!"

"Well, we have no way of proving they didn't either!"

"Why would they smash up their own shop as well, then? It happened to them as well, you know!"

"And there's another thing!" Franco continued, turning back to Alasdair, "I don't know if you've seen what's happened to Calder's, Alasdair, but they seem to think we're somehow responsible!"

"An' Ah suppose ye fired back wi' th' same argument," Alasdair replied, "'At there's nae proof it was ye, an' ye had nae reason tae torch yer own business. Apart frae th' insurance money, mebbe..."

"Not even the insurance money, Alasdair. There's so much paperwork, it's not worth the trouble. It's easier to wait for it to happen naturally..."

"Aye, Ah see yer point...If ye ask me, though, thaur coods be someone other than yer, er, rivals, at fault haur. For instance, someone who has it out for both ay ye for some reason..."

"...Or someone who Calder's hired to do the dirty work so that he doesn't get suspected himself!"

"For God's sake," Elettra groaned again, "Franco, as we have had explained to us multiple times, Mr Calder was totally uninvolved! And he's had it just as bad as us. Why can't you show a bit of compassion for once in your goddamn life?!"

"You don't show compassion for your rivals!" Franco snapped again, "You have to show them where their place is in the grand scheme of things, and drag them there if necessary..."

"For someone who denies all involvement, you're not helping your case, are you...?"

At this point, the conversation devolved into petty bickering between Franco and Elettra. Alasdair just sighed; he knew the couple well enough, and he also knew that as bad as the rivalry was between the two shops, it was as nothing to the way in which Franco and Elettra treated each other. He'd witnessed countless arguments like this during his visits to Franco's, and he'd always found himself wondering how they'd remained married all these years. At that moment, though, he was also wondering how Kyoko was getting on with talking to the Calders.

At the other end of the corridor, Kyoko was having a much easier job talking to Gerry and Judith Calder. While their shop had been just as badly affected by the destruction, and they were just as upset about it, they were better able to contain their anger for the sake of those present. They were also rather less quick to point fingers at the Vallones - which Kyoko secretly thought was a huge relief.

"I tell you, it's a bloody liberty, what's happened!" Gerry was saying bitterly, as he surveyed the damage, "You wouldn't think, would you, that something like this could happen on this station!"

"I know," Kyoko replied sympathetically, "You always think this is something that could only happen to someone else. Problem is, we're all someone else to someone else, aren't we?"

"You're dead right, Kyoko. I wonder what heartless bastard could have done a thing like this?"

"You don't suspect Vallone-san's behind this, do you? I walked past his place on the way here, and he seemed very keen to pin the blame on you for what happened to him..."

"Yeah, he would, wouldn't he?! Ever since we set up shop here, he's had it out for us! I can't even understand why. I mean, it's not like we undercut him on price, or quality, or anything like that. He's got nothing to lose by us being here, so why should he pick on us?"

"Probably just because of your being here, Calder-san. He's likely just frightened of losing customers to you."

"So would I be, Kyoko, but I certainly wouldn't smash up his shop! We may have our differences, but I would never stoop as low as that! Not with the connections he has..."

"Yes, I can imagine. So do you have any idea who could have done this?"

"We would have done, but whoever it was had made certain they wouldn't be caught. They tidied up after themselves, and did something to the cameras. For about twenty minutes either side of when we think the attack happened, the only thing they would show was this message reading, 'Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible'."

"Heh, clever. They must have covered their tracks real well, then?"

"Yeah. I don't know. It's a real mystery, Kyoko..."

"There are other possibilities, of course. This could well be the work of someone who doesn't like you, or doesn't like takeaway shops, or doesn't like either. Unless, of course, this is just a purely arbitrary piece of wanton destruction. In which case it might be someone who doesn't like himself...Or herself..."

"That really narrows it down, doesn't it?" Gerry replied sarcastically, before sighing, "Honestly, though? It breaks my heart to see this sort of thing happen. That there are still people who have nothing better to do than ruin people's livelihoods like this. At least my lad Elvis isn't like that. He's actually very keen to take over the business when I retire, but..." Gerry sighed again, "If we can't get ourselves up and running again, what's he gonna have to look forward to?"

"I know, it's a shame...Where is Elvis-san, anyway?"

"Hmm? Oh, he's been staying with a few of his friends in one of the residential areas. I've not wanted to tell him what's happened until he gets back, but I dare say he's probably already found out..."

"He'll be thankful that you're alright, at least. I know some people who wish they could still say that about their parents..." Kyoko paused momentarily, and glanced over to where Alasdair was still talking with Franco, "Speaking of parents, I'm on my way to see mine for dinner. I promised I'd be there around 1600 Standard, so I'd better get going. Sorry to leave you in this state, Calder-san..."

"Ah, don't worry, Kyoko. We'll manage. We always scrape by, somehow. You enjoy yourself at yours parents', alright?"

"I will, Calder-san! Ja ne!" And with that, Kyoko set off back down the corridor to rejoin Alasdair, wisely not actually doing so until they were both out of sight - it wouldn't do for either shop to realize that one of their customers had secretly been enjoying the other's food all this time!

It didn't take long for Alasdair and Kyoko to return to the docking bay where the Hunter II was still parked, and all that time, they'd been exchanging whatever information they'd been able to glean from their respective discussions. While there were some differences to be found - namely the differing attitudes of the two competitors - there were also a fair few similarities as well. However, neither of them had gotten any closer to finding out who was responsible for the attack - though they were just about to find out.

"Weel, 'at was a productive morn," Alasdair said sarcastically, as they entered the docking bay, "Ah jist hope nothing else stops us!"

"At least we said and did what we could, Alasdair," Kyoko replied, "If nothing else, this should make for interesting conversation at dinner tonight."

"Aye, assuming we get thaur oan time. Dae we need tae fuel up afair we head aff?"

"I don't think so, but it wouldn't hurt to check. You remember what happened the last time we left it to chance, don't you?"

"Ah dae indeed...!" Alasdair replied dryly as they reached the ladder leading to the passenger hatch of the Hunter II, "Huh, that's funny..."

"What's up?"

"Thes hatch is unlocked an' wide open. Aam sure Ah had everything locked up when we left..."

"Yes, I thought so as well. There must be someone else onboard. You go up first, Alasdair, and I'll follow..." So Alasdair carefully climbed up the passenger hatch, while Kyoko followed behind, and then they quietly made their way through to the living room of the Hunter II. They hadn't been expecting any visitors - in fact, they thought it might well be a burglar - so you can imagine their surprise when they came into the living room and discovered two familiar faces, a fox and a weasel, sitting on one of the couches, "Elvis-san?"

"Rosie? Whit th' hell ur ye two doing haur?"

"We had to speak with you two," Rosie replied, "And we knew you'd be coming up to investigate as soon as you'd heard what had happened. I don't even need to tell you how dire things have become...!"

"Ah ken, we saw for ourselves. Sae, what's th' trouble? Bearing in mind ye only have half an hour ur sae, because we hae tae leave for Tenchō at Noon."

"It's alright, we promise this won't take long," Elvis continued, "I'm sure you've heard about the bad blood between our respective families...?"

"Heard about it?" Kyoko repeated incredulously, "We've both seen it in action! Why do you think we deliver to your shops separately? Apart from when Everett-san took over for us earlier this week..."

"Yes, well, we're just as sick of it as you are. For ages, we've tried everything we can think of to try and restore good relations between them, but nothing's worked."

"Nothing seems to with Vallone-san and Calder-san, does it?"

"That's what it feels like with us, Kyoko," Rosie went on, "And as of two nights ago..." She paused and sighed, "...It seems as though we've finally exhausted all our possible options..."

"Hauld oan," Alasdair interrupted, piecing the whole thing together in his head, "Ur ye saying it was you two who smashed up yon shops oan Friday night?!"

"Not us, Alasdair. Not entirely, anyway. I called on some of my father's old connections to help me deal with his shop, and Elvis knew some people who could help him deal with his place..."

"Wait, sae ye smashed up yer own shops? How does 'at work?"

"Because if any of us got caught, it would be all too easy for one to assume that the other set us up for it. It's safer for us to target our own places..."

"But why? Yer auld fowk hae great ambitions for ye. Is it really worth throwing it aw away jist tae try an' stop a petty rivalry?"

"A petty rivalry it may be," Elvis continued, "But it's a rivalry that's been going on for years! We didn't want to have to resort to this, Alasdair, but we were sick to the teeth of the whole thing! We had no other option!"

"So what made you think torching your fathers' places was going to stop them arguing?" Kyoko asked.

"Because that's how they managed to settle their differences the last time. Not from us smashing their places up, of course. All it took was the introduction of a mutual threat for them to join forces, even if only for a couple of weeks..."

"What happened then?"

"This was a few years ago, before you guys came around," Rosie explained, "There used to be this other takeaway restaurant in the station, called Adriatic Fast Food. It sold everything both our shops sell, and then some. Pizzas, burgers, kebabs, southern-fried chicken, Chinese, Indian, you name it!"

"Sounds like quite the establishment..."

"Yes, but that was the problem. Not only did they sell more stuff than us, but they sold it for much lower prices. They had a virtual monopoly on this station's entire fast food market, and nobody else had any hope of competing! We were this close to shutting up shop!"

"Where did Vallone-san and Calder-san come into it?"

"Well, just when it looked as though all hope was lost, those two suddenly teamed up, and ran the Adriatic guys out of this station on a rail! You'd never seen anything like it before!"

"Hmm, or since, it seems..."

"You've got to help us, you two! Smashing up the shops was meant to be our last resort, but even that hasn't worked! They're worse than ever!"

"I'm not quite sure if we can help, Rosalva-san. Our expertise is mostly about the shipping industry. We're not as versed in catering..."

"Oh, please, Kyoko!" Elvis protested desperately, "We're begging you! You've always helped us out of trouble before!"

"Well, I'll have to think about it..." Kyoko mused, as she considered the matter carefully. It was quite some time before she spoke again, but then she suddenly said, "Ah! I've got it!"

"What is it? Tell us!"

"Come closer, and I'll tell you..." So Rosie and Elvis leaned in closer, and Kyoko whispered her plan to both of them, and to Alasdair as well. They all thought it was brilliant, and Kyoko promised that if Rosie and Elvis agreed to help them, then they wouldn't tell the police about their involvement in the attack - something they were only too happy to agree with. By the time they'd sorted everything out, it was coming up to midday, and Alasdair and Kyoko had to be on their way. Rosie and Elvis set off for home, on separate routes, and five minutes apart, just in case.

Then, at long last, the Hunter II could be on its way to Tenchō. All the while, Alasdair and Kyoko now had two things to look forward to: the dinner that would be waiting for them, and the chance to put their plan into action...

A couple of days later saw the Hunter II arriving back in the Antares System one evening, and heading straight for Tiree Outpost again. It didn't need to pick up or drop off any cargo, nor was it in dire need of refuelling or repairs (though Alasdair did decide to top up anyway, just in case). Rather, the purpose of this visit was to begin putting Kyoko's plan into action. Her plan to put an end to the rivalry between Franco's and Calder's was a simple one - just treat them both to a pleasant dinner, and talk things out with both of them. There was more to it than that, of course, but Kyoko had every confidence it would work.

As soon as the Hunter II had landed, Alasdair and Kyoko quickly disembarked, to find their guests already waiting for them - separated into their respective groups, needless to say. They clearly hadn't been waiting long, though, because they were still only at the point of gazing grimly at each other, and Alasdair and Kyoko quickly ushered everyone onboard before any arguments could start up!

As soon as everyone was onboard the Hunter II, Kyoko went back to preparing the dinner, while Alasdair made a start getting everyone seated. There was a total of eight people, but the table in the galley was only big enough to seat six, so Alasdair had managed to steal one of the long tables from the canteen of the company offices, and had set this up in the living room. The two respective families sat at opposite sides of the table - the husbands still giving each other the evil eye, the wives feeling utterly indifferent to the whole endeavour, and the children very much enjoying themselves - and once dinner was ready, Alasdair and Kyoko would take their places at opposite ends.

"Nice place you guys have here," Rosie remarked, trying to break the ice, "Very...rustic..."

"That's one way of putting it," Franco replied bitterly, "But I could think of a few other ways to describe it..."

"Save them for later, Franco," Elettra hissed, swatting her husband's arm, "It's not like our place is any better!"

"Not now, it isn't...!" Franco then glanced across at Gerry, "Still, at least it's not as bad as your place...!"

"Hmph, I expected better from you, Vallone," Gerry replied, "You usually have a more creative insult lined up than that!"

"Oh, you ain't seen nothing yet, Calder! There's plenty more where that came from...!"

"Oh, do shut up, the pair of you!" Judith snapped, "Honestly, you're as bad as each other! And you're taking a real liberty getting at each other's throats, just when Alasdair and Kyoko are being kind enough to invite all of us over for dinner!"

"It might have been an even kinder gesture if they'd just invited us over!" Franco motioned towards himself, Elettra and Rosie, "They're just asking for trouble, inviting you lot here as well!"

"Well, just for that, Mr Vallone," Elvis interrupted firmly, "I hope that whatever we're getting, you choke on your serving!"

"Oh, now, that's just charming, isn't it?! What makes you think you're entitled to give me such rot?"

"We Calders only give as good as we get, and if you're not prepared to do the same, Mr Vallone..." Just then, Elvis was interrupted by Alasdair and Kyoko coming through from the galley, before the situation could get any uglier, "Ah, I think that's dinner ready. What do you have for us tonight, Kyoko?"

"Well, it's funny that you should talk about giving as good as you can get, Elvis-san," Kyoko replied, as she set her set of plates down, "Because we thought we'd do the same. It's fish and chips, homemade. I know it's a little on the nose, especially considering what's been going on recently, but it felt like the most appropriate meal for us to make for you."

"That's perfectly fine, Kyoko. It'll be nice to get a taste of someone else's interpretation of such a classic dish!" Then Elvis secretly winked at Rosie - they'd known well in advance what Kyoko was going to make, as this had been part of the plan she'd shared with them.

"Reit, haur we gang..." Alasdair said, as he set the last plate down in front of Franco, "Aam afraid it's nowhere near as guid as whit ye serve, Franco, but aam sure it shoods pass yer scrutiny."

"I'll be the judge of that, Alasdair..." Franco replied, trying to sound as diplomatic as possible, but nevertheless remaining unable to shed the malevolent undercurrent inherent in his voice.

It wasn't long before everyone had made a start on their dinner. As they ate, Alasdair made pleasant conversation with Elettra and Rosie, while Kyoko did the same with Judith and Elvis. Both Franco and Gerry remained silent as they ate, and it soon became clear that they were having conflicting feelings about the quality of their meal. On the one hand, they were both firmly convinced that theirs were the best fish and chips to be found anywhere. On the other hand, Kyoko's fish and chips seemed to taste much better than anything they'd ever cooked up. This thought seemed to eat away at them over the course of the dinner, until at last they could bear it no more.

"Alright, I give up!" Franco said suddenly, "I'll admit it! This has to be the best fish and chips I've ever tasted! I dare say, it's even better than mine! And that's saying a lot!"

"Just this once, Vallone," Gerry added just as suddenly, "I agree with you. This is way better than anything I've ever been able to cook up! And that's saying a lot!"

"Do my ears deceive me?" Judith replied, "Or are you two actually agreed on something for once? You haven't spiked their drinks or anything, have you, Kyoko?"

"And if you have," Elettra interrupted, "Can I take some for the road? It might help Franco agree with me for once!"

"Well, it's no big secret, really," Kyoko replied modestly, "All it takes is plenty of trial, error and experience...and a mother who takes a great deal of interest in this sort of thing!"

"Aye, we waur at yon Kyoko's folks for Sunday dinner," Alasdair continued, "We tauld 'em abit aw th' trouble you'd been having, an' 'er mum suggested thes dinner tae try an' cheer ye up."

"I'd say you've cheered them up alright, Alasdair!" Rosie replied, motioned towards Franco and Gerry, "I've never seen them looking so pleased with each other in my life!"

"Neither have I," Elvis agreed, "To be honest, it's enough of a surprise hearing them agree with each other on something...!" He paused impressively, and secretly winked at Kyoko, "You know something, Kyoko? If that shipping company of yours ever goes under, at least you'd have these fish and chips to fall back on!"

"Hmm, funny you should mention that, Elvis-san," Kyoko smirked, putting the next part of her plan into action, "You see, me and Alasdair had been talking recently, and we thought it'd be nice to take a little sideline into the fast food industry..."

"What?" Franco said quietly, suddenly looking quite worried.

"Och aye," Alasdair went on, "We reckoned we kent a fair amount between us, an' it wouldn't be ower hard for us tae set up shop somewhere."

"You what?" Gerry muttered, equally as worried.

"And there is a place going spare just now," Kyoko added, "You know, where Adriatic used to be? We could probably sell stuff just as cheaply as they did..." This was the final straw for Franco, and he put his hand down hard on the table.

"I'm sorry, Kyoko, but we can't let you do that!"

"And why not, Vallone-san?" Kyoko replied, sounding as innocent as she could, "You said yourself, my fish and chips are better than even you're able to cook up!"

"Yes, and that's precisely the problem. Your food's good, but it's too good! And if you decide to sell it as cheaply as Adriatic did, there'll be no hope for either of us!"

"Oh, I don't know..."

"Well, I do know!" Gerry interrupted, "We were able to run Adriatic out of this station because their food was absolute crap! But yours? It's brilliant! Neither of us would stand a chance! We'd probably be run out of Tiree Outpost on a rail!"

"Aye, weel, that's jist how th' fast food industry works..." Alasdair said simply.

"Maybe, but even we can't compete!" Franco protested, "You'd drive us both out of business! Isn't there anything either of us can say or do to make you change your mind?"

"Weel, thaur might be one thing, but it's a long shot..."

"What is it? Tell us!" Soon all eyes were on Alasdair - until Kyoko cleared her throat, and everyone turned to look at her.

"We'll call off our fast food plans on one condition," Kyoko said decidedly, "You must both promise to put an end to this silly rivalry. You must promise to cook only for the good of yourselves and the people of this Outpost. Not out of hate and spite!" She paused, and then added coyly, "It also wouldn't hurt to let Elvis-san and Rosalva-san see each other once in a while...!"

"It's a deal!" Both Franco and Gerry suddenly shouted, as they leapt up, leaned across and shook hands with each other, "We don't care what you do, Kyoko. Just don't put us out of work!"

Before too long, the two former rivals were finally talking and laughing like old friends, and the rest of the evening went by swimmingly. At one point, Kyoko glanced over at Rosie and Elvis, and winked at them - her plan had worked!

From that evening onward, and for quite a long time afterwards, the rivalry between Franco's and Calder's simply fizzled out, and whenever it looked as though things might be heating up again, both Alasdair and Kyoko would subtly threaten to make good on their plans to corner the fast food market of Tiree Outpost. That would be all that was needed to avoid any further problems - or indeed, violence.

What neither Franco nor Gerry knew, but Rosie and Elvis had been made privy to, was the fact that Alasdair and Kyoko had never seriously intended to actually carry out any of their supposed plans whatsoever - In fact, they'd made the whole thing up on the spot!

THE END