Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Short Story: You Just Can't Get the Staff These Days

[Foreword: This is a story about what happens to two low-tier criminals when they try to pull off a hi-jack cum robbery, and one of the duo has been educated in a failing society with a stupefying education system and low-quality parenting (sound familar…?!) and so isn’t the sharpest tool in the box. The dim-witted criminal also happens to be black. This isn’t a racial sleight but merely a comedy gimmick which makes light of stereotypes. Other races, genders, and socio-economic groups have ‘dim-witted’ stereotypes, e.g. the dim-witted English aristocrat (cf. George in Blackadder), the peasant (cf. Baldrick in Blackadder), the working-class man from USA (cf. Homer Simpson), and also every ‘dumb-blond’ joke you’ve ever heard.

As with the other short stories on this blog, the setting is the science-fiction computer game world Frontier:Elite, but the details aren't important and the story can be read and understood without knowing anything about the game. It's just an environment to experiment with different ideas, like a proverbial 'sandbox world'.  A sandbox world is one that anyone can express themselves in without any consequences.]

You Just Can't Get the Staff These Days..

Location: A crater somewhere on Planet Williams, Sigma Draconis (An Independent System)
Date: August 3229

    "What the fuck an I doing 'ere?" Karl Crook (who looked un-cannily like Jason Statham) asked to no-one in particular.
    "Here I am, sat in a crater, on an bleak airless world, in a grubby second-hand space-suit, sat next to a numpty, waiting for Tiger Trader to fly over head so we can shoot it down and rob it. I should be sipping sambucas in the summer, sun-kissed, Seychelles by now. I should be wealthy. I should be tanned. I should be relaxed. And most importantly I should be retired."
    He was exasperated; it was the third attempted freighter robbery in nine months. Note the use of the word 'attempted'. Attempted and failed, all because of the incompetence of his partner in crime.

    The drop in quality of parenting and schooling in the Federation over the past generation had had a disastrous effect on the quality of the whole labour-force throughout the Federation owned planets. It wasn't just honest businesses like hospitals and engineering firms that had difficulty finding quality staff these days. Oh no. The criminal world was also suffering from a lack of competent employees. All of the criminal gangs were going under, not for want of goods to steal, because there was plenty of booty out there to rob (lots of gemstones, precious metals, fancy artwork, fashionable drugs; you name it, all ripe for the picking) their problem was that you just couldn't employ the quality of staff to do the job. It was nothing like the 'good old days' when criminals were expected to be motivated, computer literate, and skilled with a las-gun. The labour-force just didn't have the aptitude or attitude needed to commit any kind of crimes above the level of 'opportunist robber'. This wasn't a problem confined to 'big time' MAFIA organisations: Karl, a small time crook, was having this problem as well: He had to make do with an incompetent man, Blacky (named because he was..), as his partner in crime, until he could find someone with more skills and brains. That was something that didn't look like it would happen any time soon. So until then, Karl would have to make do with second-rate tools and second-rate people. C'est la vie.

    "What the fuck an I doing here?" Karl asked again to no-one in particular.
    "I ask myself that same question every mornin'". Blacky replied in a chipper voice.
    "I doubt that." Karl said in a drole tone.
    "Wotchoo mean by that man?"
    "Simple: you ain't got two brain cells to rub together."
    "Dat's harsh man. Harsh." Replied Blacky, slightly wounded.
    "Oh quit whining. And check the scanner again. Tell me what the ETA is on the freighter."
    Blacky shook his head in hurt. Then pushes a few buttons on a hand held scanner which displayed the whereabouts of nearby space-ships. "It's about two minutes."
    "Two minutes. Right." Karl exhaled. He picked up the SAM launcher that he would use to destroy the main thruster on the ship. The plan was to disable the ships electronics system with the ECM, and then destroy the main thruster with the SAM, which would cause the ship to crash-land somewhere nearby.
    Karl tightened his grip around twin-pistol grips of the triple-barreled SAM launcher, and looked down the scope into the horizon.
    "So, why you so harsh on me man? Wot's yo' beef wiv me?"
    "You're a dumb nigger. About the dumbest nigger I've ever had the misfortune of encountering. And I have to have you as a partner. A partner in a complex shipping heist when the best physiological apparatus you could need are brains; which you, my dear friend, do not have. You're about as much use as a chocolate fireguard; and twice as ugly."
    Blacky got defensive. "Oh fuck you man. Why d'you got to be racist on me for?"
    "Because you're thick. You're so thick that even the Black Nationalists on New Nigeria wouldn't complain about me calling you Nigger. And I've traded with them. Freely. I don't have a problem with race. I have a problem with 'wilful' morons. Which is exactly what you fucking are. Wilfully stupid. So don't you go call me a mother-fucking racist, 'cause that shit won't wash with me boy."
    "And why do I listen to you? I don't need to take yo' shit."
    "Oh yes you do. You need the money." Karl said matter-of-factly.
    "Fuck you I need the money." Retorted Blacky, still twitchy.
    "Yes you do. If you don't get it then you won't be able to pay your landlord, then you 'n' your sis' will be out on the street. She'll be hookin’ her fat-ass out for fifty cents a go, and snorting 'angel dust' on the side, and you'll be dealin' that shit out to every under age kid you can find. All because you can't run a simple household budget like a regular human being."
    "Dat ain't true man. I've been makin' some investments, and I think they're startin' to pay off. You could say dat my finances are lookin’ up." He said the last sentence in a chirpy optimistic tone.
    Karl burst his optimism like a pin to a rubber balloon. "Like fuck they are. You're idea of 'investments' is going down the bookies and using your 'system' to win at dog-racing. Which is why you're broke. You're neck-deep in the shit, and you know it. This here job is the silver spoon to get you out. So just keep your little brain in gear and focus on the job."
    "Dang man, you gotta put a downa' on everything all the time."
    "Oh, shut up." Karl said like a husband to a complaining wife.
    He looked through the scope on the SAM launcher. "Wait a minute. Something's coming over the horizon. This is it. This is what we've been waiting for. Get ready to disable their ECM when it get's within 10km. You can count to ten can't you Blacky? You don't have to take your socks off for that one.."
    "Fuckin' cracker bitch." He muttered under his breath as he punched some buttons on the ECM unit.
    Karl made a sly grin.
    The Tiger Trader ship approached over the horizon, and got closer to their position. It was travelling quite slow for a merchants space-ship, which was uncustomary.
    When it got within range, Blacky engaged the ECM which sent an electromagnetic wave which overloaded the computer systems on the Tiger, disabling it's electronics, and importantly it's defensive shielding.
    With the ship now vulnerable to attack, Karl targeted the SAM launcher at the main thruster on the Tiger trader and launched two of the missiles. They burst out of the SAM launcher and hurtled towards the ship.
    "Strike." Karl said.
    Without the main thruster to keep the ship in the air, the Tiger headed downward, ready to make an emergency crash landing. Without the main thruster in working condition, there was no chance that the Tiger could make a getaway.
    Everything was going to plan, so far. Now all they had to do was get to the crash site, and enter the next stage of the operation.
    "Right Blacky, forget the ECM, we don't have time for that now. We'll recover it on the return journey. Get in the back of the truck."
    Blacky did as he was told, and Karl got in the drivers seat of the second-hand cross-country truck, activated the motor of the vehicle and set off at a steady velocity towards the crash site.

    After a few minutes of driving, they had got within a hundred metres of the crashed Tiger. Karl stopped the truck just in a small meteorite crater, out of sight from the Freighter ship. The two of them got out of the truck. Karl took an assault rifle from the passenger seat, and an RC mosquito-drone unit from the foot-well. To stay out of sight, they got on their bellies and crawled up the side of the crater until they could see the rear end of the Tiger Trader.
    "Pay day's here at last." Karl said to himself. "You got that scanner Blacky?"
    "Uh-huh." Blacky dragged it up until it was infront of his face.
    "Great. Let's see where the crew-men are."
    Karl punched a few buttons on the scanner, and saw where the heat signatures of the human crew were.
    "Looks like they haven't moved from the cockpit yet. Damned handy."
    He opened the case to the mosquito-drone which he would use to deliver a dose of tranquilising gas into the ships cabin.
    The drone flew over the rocky surface of the planet to the side of the freighter, landed, and then bored a microscopic hole into it.
    "Hey man.." asked Blacky "won't they know that the drone is drillin' into their ship?"
    "No mate. The ECM should've disabled their radar and other sensors. They shouldn't be able to get them back online until the drone has done it's work."
    Blacky nodded.
    The drone finished drilling the hole, and injected the tranquilising agent into the ship. The agent quickly dissipated throughout the cabin and into the lungs of the three unsuspecting crewmen.
    "Bingo. Now it should be a matter of waiting for the drugs to work their magic, and then we can begin working ours."
    Blacky looked up at Karl, then back at the ship.
    Karl piloted the drone back to there position. Then packed it back away in it's case.
    After a few minutes, Karl checked the scanner. He saw three figures slumped on the floor, presumably unconscious from the gas.
    "They're out for the count. Should be snoozing for twelve hours, which will be long enough to load their cargo into our truck and make a getaway. Get in the truck and drive it over to the cargo doors of the ship. I'll crack 'em open and see what's what."
    Karl got up, picked up the assault rifle and made his way to the Tiger Trader.
    Blacky began pacing back to the truck.
    Karl stopped for a second and turned around.
    "Oi!" he shouted out. "Don't forget the scanner you dopey sod."
    Blacky stopped, turned around and shuffled back to pick it up.
    "I paid a hundred and fifty creds for that shit! So make sure you take good fuckin' care of it."
    He picked up the scanner.
    Karl stood with one hand on his hips. "And the drone box!"
    Blacky turned his head back. Looked down at the box, walked over to it and picked it up.
    "Fuck me!" He shook his head in disbelief. "You are a dopey son of a bitch."
    "Shut up cracker." Blacky said cuttingly.
    Karl shook his head and continued walking to the Tiger.
    He arrived at the Tiger's cargo door control panel. Pulled a lock pick device from one of his pockets and placed it on the control panel. After loading up the appropriate programme, it started to work. A visual interface showed the progress of the lock-picking in glorious technicolour.
    The truck trundled over towards the Tiger and stopped about 10 metres from it. Blacky got out and walked over to Karl.
    "You ready yet, cracker?"
    The visual interface on the lock pick turned orange; 50% completed.
    "And knock it off with that 'cracker' shit. Unless you wanna take a 'b-i-i-i-g' fucking pay cut."
    The lock-pick display turned yellow; 75% completed.
    "Capiche." Blacky begrudgingly said.
    The lock-pick display turned green; 100% complete. Lock picked.
    The doors hissed as some air escaped from within.
    "Open say's me."
    Karl took the lock pick off and put it back in one of his pockets.
    The doors slid open, showing the Tiger's capacious cargo hold.
    Blacky leaned over, and peered inside the dim space.
    "Let's see if Aladin's got the goods we came 'ere for."
    Karl picked up his assault rifle and brace it against his shoudler, in a ready position. He wasn't entirely sure that the cargo hold was empty. Better safe than sorry, so they saying goes.
    "Switch on your space-suit's ambient lighting, and you're helmets image enhancer. You wanna see where you're going don't ya?"
     "Oh yeah, yeah, right." Blacky pushed a button on his wrist, causing a few of the working light bulbs on his suit to fire into life.
     After walking in the cargo hold, and looking around it quickly became evident that the crates are not the type of rough 'n' ready precious metals crates that they expected them to be.
     "Shit." Cursed Karl.
     "What's up man?"
     Karl rested his assault rifle up against one of the crates, kneeled down and wiped some dust off of the ID tag on the crate.
    "This doesn't look like the goods we were expecting."
    Karl took a PDA out of one of his pockets and punched a few buttons on it. He loaded up a copy of a cargo manifest that he had stolen from the nearby Starport Customs Bureau.
    The cargo manifest had a list of the goods that he expected to be on this ship. This particular Tiger Trader. It was the reason that he had targeted it, because it had high value goods on it: Lithium, magnesium and other precious metals that he could find a blackmarket buyer for with relative ease. Metals were easier to sell on the blackmarket than finished goods, because they were harder to trace. You can't really trace a lump of magnesium if it's been melted down and reforged again. But you can track down DIVA Droids due to the VIN numbers they have dotted around inside them.
It had taken Karl three standard months looking, waiting, for the 'right' quarry to rob: The right ship to rob. And, alas, 'this' ship was not 'their' ship. It did not have 'their' cargo in it.
    "Shit. This is not good."
    "What's up boss?"
    "We've got the wrong fucking ship. That's fucking what. We've shot down the wrong fucking ship. That is not good. How the fuck could that happen?"
    He knelt down again and wiped off more dust from the crate ID tag, and began punching it's numbers into his PDA.
    Blacky looked at a computer console.
    "Hey boss, why don't we boot up their computer and see what their files say.
    "Because, my mentally challenged friend, the ECM you used disabled their electronics."
    "But we could..."
    "It would take an age to boot up their systems again, which is an age we do not have." He continued furtively punching away at his PDA.
    "So what're we gonna do?"
    "Do? We, I mean I, am going to contact my friend, Rex Merchant, who is an insider at the local starport, where 'this' ship probably came from, and see if he can tell me what is in 'these' crates we're looking at."
    Blacky frowned. "Why don't we just gedda crow-bar and open 'em up?"
    "They are designed to survive the perils of deep space." He pushed 'send' on his email message. "I don't think a crow-bar and several newton-metres of force are going to open them, do you?"
    "Now it's just a matter of wait thirty minutes and see."
    Karl sat down and leaned his back against one of the crates. Blacky followed suit.
    A few minutes of silence passed.
    'flash flash. flash flash.'  His PDA indicated a message had arrived.
    "That was quick." Remarked Erhl. He read the message, it was from Rex: 'Do NOT steal the crates under any circumstances. They contain Federation-Military artificial-organs for super-soldiers. The Fed will be on to you ASAP. Get out, NOW.'
    He cursed quietly. "Fuck."
     Blacky turned his head. "What's up?"
    "My fucking blood pressure that's fucking what." Karl hastily picked up his rifle and paced toward the cargo hold. Blacky followed suit.
    "Wadda you say?"
    "I said we need to get the fuck out of here right now. 'This ship' is an unmarked Federation Military vessel."
     Blacky's eyebrows shot up to the top of his head.
    "Yes my little negro friend, even 'you' can figure out this is 'not' good."
    "Oh shee-it!"
    "Let's get in the truck and get the ECM and get the fuck out of here."
    "I'm witchoo on that man."
    They made a run for it, not bothering to shut the cargo doors behind them.
    Jumping into the truck's cabin, they closed it's doors and made a bee-line back to the ECM as fast as the second-rate truck would take them.


* * *


    After they'd arrived back at the ECM and had finished loading it and the SAM launcher into the back of the truck, they noticed a Tiger Trader lazily flying over head. Puzzled, Karl looked at Blacky and Blacky looked at Karl. Then they both looked back at the ship, flying off into the horizon.
    "Is that what I think it is?"
    "I don't know what it is man."
    The Tiger continued off into the distance.
    A thought occurred to Karl.
    "Is that 'our' fucking ship?"
    "I said, is that 'our' fucking ship?"
    Karl, turned to directly face Blacky. "Hang on a minute. Did you double check the Registration number on the Tiger before you ECM'd it?"
    "Oh fuck." Karl sighed and shook his head. "You are one thick piece of shit Blacky. You know that?" He said in a frustrated tone.
    "Hey man!" His voice rose in defensive tones. "How was I ta know? Dem registration numbers all look the same ta me!"
    "I don't believe this! This is insane! Check a bog standard registration number, that's all you had to do! How hard can it be?!" Karl pointed at Blacky. "You're a complete fucking idiot!"
    Karl took one final look toward the Tiger Trader. He saw it drop over the horizon and disappear out of view, taking with it their hopes of a successful heist.
    Karl looked back at his partner, and was overcome by a wave of incredulity: 'How can a career-criminal be so stupid!?'.
    I'd love to ditch this guy and employ someone else, someone with skills and brains, someone who could actually pull off a successful heist. Wouldn't that be bliss? Wouldn't that be marvellous?! Just imagine it: a successful couple of heists, some cash in the bank, and then I can retire to the Seychelles for sun, surf, and Sambucas. But you know what? That ain't gonna happen. I'm never gonna be able to retire by 40; and do you know why? Because...
    You just can't get the staff these days.


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