An MC Ruff and DJ Tumble Adventure – Part 2
Ruff smelled smoke, but he knew it was just in his head. The engines were compartmentalized and secured from the main cabin, so there was no way for it to leak through. Everyone was on the command deck by the time he had pulled on an old silver sweatsuit and exited his cabin.
“We have to come down on…” Dado squinted his eyes at the console. “…QEN-888.”
“QEN-888?” Ruff asked.
Then Sanchez. “Man, is there even a port down there?”
“I don’t know,” Dado replied. “It doesn’t matter. The flames have been put out, but the power’s barely piping through. Unless you want to take the chance of drifting through open space and generously gifting every last one of your credits to raiders, we don’t have much choice.”
Tumble looked dazed, more than usual, but he wrapped his fingers tightly around the gold chain hanging from his neck.
“We gotta do what we gotta do, but be gentle with my baby,” Ruff said. Hip-hop was all about status and status was made known through symbols. The Outie Z-7K was Ruff’s symbol. He had spent nearly his and Tumble’s first advance on the ship. Chromed out from front to back, whenever they came close enough to a star, the heat generated by the reflection was sufficient to refill the energy stores. Tumble had been pissed until he took a nap on one of the hammocks and drinks were somehow delivered automatically every time he grew thirsty.
Sophisticated technology for the sophisticated gentleman.
Metsk and Nizumi entered the navigation deck from the rear. Black and brown oils stained both their clothing and skin. Though Nizumi’s hair was caked with sweat and grease, it fell on her forehead in perfect strands.
“You find us a place to land yet?” Nizumi asked.
Dado punched a couple of commands into his terminal. He laughed out loud.
“The good news is that I found us a lot of places. The bad news is that this planet is completely void of life.”
QEN-888 grew in size as they approached.
“Better strap in,” Dado said.
Yellow. Flat. Dusty.
Not even a mining camp or polluting industrial complex.
“I just got off the comm with Triple J,” Dado said. “They can have someone out here in half a day.”
“Half a day?” Ruff asked. He looked up at the sky. The landscape was not only barren but hot as the sun beat down on their heads. I must be paying for my sins early, he thought.
His voice squeaked a little. “Man, there’s no way we’re going to get to Beat Street in time for rehearsal.”
All they could do was wait.
Metsk said he was going to take a nap. Sanchez, Tumble, and Dado whittled away the time by throwing dice inside the cool ship. If there was one thing the DJ loved more than spinning records, it was rolling bones. Ruff had quit playing with him after he had caught on to his cheating ways, even though he could never actually seem to catch him in the act.
Ruff couldn’t find Nizumi, so he exited the ship to find her sitting fifty yards away atop a waist-high boulder, knees pulled up to her chin and looking out over the endless sea of nothingness.
She said nothing, but Ruff sat down anyway.
“I guess we have some time to talk. I know you feel bad about everything.”
She laughed ruefully. “Feel bad? First I let someone get the drop on you, and you’re still breathing only due to their incompetence. Then the engines catch on fire? Something’s up, and I don’t know what. That makes me feel bad.”
Ruff tried to empathize. He understood that the professional was a professional by virtue of execution. What else did you have but your rep?
“We’ll get to the bottom of it. You think it’s an inside job? I mean, the ship was secure, right?”
“It was locked down, supposedly being watched by port security on Meridia 7. The access logs didn’t record anyone coming in or out unless they were tampered with, which, who knows.” She paused.
“Could it have been done before we arrived? A timer or something?”
Nizumi looked at Ruff. Her deep brown eyes seemed to pull him every time. “I’m beginning to believe anything’s possible at this point. If there was any evidence, it’s burned to a crisp.”
Unsure of what to say next, Ruff simply looked into the distance, watching waves of heat flow into the horizon.
The dude from Triple J showed up nearly before the sun fell.
He was a fat man, sweating under a stained baseball cap before he even stepped foot onto the ground.
“They call me Monkey,” he said as he shook everyone’s hand, never bothering to explain why.
Metsk escorted him to the engine room and after several minutes, the two of them returned.
Monkey took off his hat, used it to wipe his moist face, and slapped it back on. Then he shook his head.
“The damned thing’s burnt to a crisp, which is weird since engines don’t just catch on fire anymore.”
Nizumi looked at Ruff.
“That is, unless they’re knockoffs,” he finished, holding up a circuit board which he proceeded to crack in half with a flick of the wrist.
Now everyone else looked at Ruff. He felt himself shrinking back, wanting to hide. “What? I got a good deal,” he said almost in a whisper.
Monkey shrugged. “My grandma used to say, ‘the cheap comes out expensive.’ You need a new one, top to bottom. The quantum mender has lost any ability to charge its flex coil. Every capacitor is warped. Every inch of wire is now a part of the new soot carpet gracing your engine room.”
All of the technical jargon was so much noise to Ruff.
“Okay, okay,” he replied. “Fine. Just tell me how many credits it’s going to cost and bring us a new one.”
The man laughed. He sounded like a braying donkey and his unshaven cheeks jiggled like gelatinous sacks.
“This Outie Z-7K should have a two-thousand microcylinder engine. I can’t just ‘bring you a new one,’” he said, crooking his fingers in air quotes. “And I certainly can’t bring you another knockoff. That’s against Triple J policy. Nope. I’m going to have to call in a Beryl class tower who can drop it off at an Outie-authorized repair shop.”
“Why can’t you tow us?” Ruff was desperate not to be stuck QED-whatever.
“I don’t have the means to pull you out of the thermosphere with my little dinghy.” Monkey snickered.
“But, I can give someone a ride along the way. I’m not flying a Starhound, so I can’t take everyone, but I can drop one of you off so long as it’s on the way back to the depot.”
“Ruff,” Nizumi said. “As much as I don’t like having you out of my sight, especially now, maybe you ought to go so you can make rehearsal. It may be safer than here.”
Ruff shook his head. Though he was more concerned now about Nizumi, Tumble was his excuse. “An MC is useless without a DJ.”
“Anyone else want to go?” Ruff scanned the faces of each of his friends.
Everyone shook their head.
In it together. He loved this crew.
“Look,” Ruff said to Monkey, “call in whatever you gotta call in.”
Monkey tipped the bill of his hat and hopped back inside his tiny cockpit, closing the hatch behind him. From the other side of the glass, Ruff watched him talk animatedly, laughing several times and throwing his hands around. Ruff was doubly glad to stick around since the guy was already getting on his nerves. He was afraid he might punch Monkey out, hurting any chance of making it to Beat Street. He knocked on the window after a couple of minutes. The dude seemed irritated and put off, but he wrapped up his call and opened the cockpit.
“Okay, I got you a Beryl.”
Ruff released a breath he didn’t realize he had been holding.
“It ought to be here…” Monkey pulled back the sleeve on his left arm and looked at his wrist chronometer. He tapped it several times, each tap harder than the last until he finally smashed the watch with his fist.
“…in a couple of days.”
Ruff felt his bowels shift.
“Whoa. A couple of days?! I can’t–”
“Because you’re outside of the authorized range, this service call costs an automatic fifty credits. Corporate has already withdrawn it from your account. Thanks for choosing Triple J!”
Before Ruff could get a word in, Monkey slammed the hatch, fired up the engines and left as quickly as he came.
Ruff turned to his companions, breathing heavily.
“Remind me to cancel my Triple J when we get home.”
There was the hope that night would arrive soon, but just as one sun was setting in the east, another’s edges peeked up from the west. What a miserable hole, Ruff thought. The only consolation might have been that The Fly Honey wouldn’t be short for power to the auxiliary systems, but Nizumi refused to run anything until a thorough sweep of the ship could be completed.
We don’t know what the hell else is built with flimsy Chinilium parts, she had said with edge to her voice.
Ruff hesitated at first, but decided to call Sharky to report the situation and see what magic he could work. The bum wasn’t picking up, so Ruff decided to take a walk, only to return within a few minutes as every step reminded him that this place was as dead as they were.
“What kind of hellhole doesn’t even have bugs?” he wondered aloud.
It was on the sixteenth re-lacing of his Adidas low-tops when a loud hum pulled his attention to the sky.
A ship approached.
Ruff knew what a Beryl-class tower looked like, and if this was one, it was not only smaller than average, but the most tricked out that he had ever seen. It shined just as much as the Fly Honey, but instead of chrome, it was wrapped in plates of gold. Stabilizer jets shot out in various directions. Nizumi emerged from their own ship and joined everyone in a run to get behind a large boulder, avoiding the rocks and dust being kicked up in every direction.
When the ship finally touched down, its engines cut out. Only the sound of metal settling in the heat remained.
How the hell is this going to tow us out of here, Ruff wondered.
There was a loud hiss as an exit hatch opened up and a ramp unraveled in layers until it made contact with the flat earth. For some reason, Ruff felt uneasy.
“You have your gun?” he asked Nizumi.
Boots on metal.
Two pairs of giant feet clambered down the ramp, slowly revealing their owners. Their height would have been enough to disclose the fact that they were Temelians, but their flat snouts, pointed ears, and tattooed arms confirmed it. Temelians were essentially bipedal pigs, only slightly more intelligent. Excepting their arms and faces, the huge beasts were nearly covered in armor. Each one cradled a phase rifle, though, in their hands, they looked more like squirt pistols.
They stopped at the front corners of the ramp and stared.
Someone else began to descend.
If the shoes were the only thing that Ruff would ever see, it would have been enough to confirm his suspicions.
Blue and white Frankish Peasants.
FPs for short.
Ads were plastered throughout the known galaxies, primarily showing the street-cred shoes on the feet of only one man. He came down and stood between the Temelians, his head barely above their waists.
Ice Cubicle held a hand over his sunglass-covered eyes.
“You sure pick shitty vacation spots.”
Ruff and his crew slowly came out from behind the large rock.
“Come to finish the job?” he asked.
Everyone reacted cautiously, trying to read the new arrivals’ intentions. Ruff noticed that both Nizumi and Metsk had pistols in hand behind their backs.
The tension lasted for several seconds until Cubicle had his guards lower their weapons.
“Sasha, Masha. You girls can head back into the ship. I need to have a chat with Ruff and Tumble.”
Without hesitation, the Temelians walked back up the ramp and disappeared.
Cubicle, hands on his hips, looked at Nizumi expectantly.
“It’s alright,” Ruff whispered to her.
“I don’t trust him,” she said.
“Neither do I,” Ruff replied, “but I trust you.”
A glimpse of a smile appeared. She nodded reluctantly and took the crew back into The Fly Honey. Ruff was comfortable knowing she’d find some way to watch them. After everything that’s happened over the past twenty-four hours, she wasn’t going to let him or Tumble out of her sight.
Cubicle removed his sunglasses, revealing heavy bags under his eyes. It was obvious he hadn’t gotten much sleep. He pulled a piece of rolled up electro-parchment out from the inside of his glittering gold jacket and handed it to Ruff, but Tumble grabbed it and unraveled it so he could check it out first.
The DJ’s eyes grew wide as he read. He passed it to Tumble.
The Sorse Magazine – News Alerts – Stardate 187272.51620370362
Are Ruff and Tumble Out of the Office?
Last night, terror ensued at a discreet, pop-up show at Chubb’s on Meridia 7, put on by hip-hop luminaries MC Ruff and DJ Tumble. The small concert was presumably a test run of their new album, and witnesses say that near the end of their set, an attempt was made on Ruff’s life. Someone reported a laser was fired at MC Ruff. Another fan said it was certainly a mini-wormhole grenade.
The entire club broke out into pandemonium.
There have been no reports of the duo’s current status. Attempts to contact their manager have been unsuccessful and a representative from Dope Planet Records has refused to comment.
Fans are concerned that Ruff and Tumble won’t be reporting in for their headlining act at Beat Street, but fear not, hip-hop aficionados. Should the icons continue suffering from an acute case of stage fright, guess who’s set to take over?
That’s right. The dynamic duo’s mortal enemy, Ice Cubicle.
Whispers and rumors implicate him in taking part in the attack, but authorities say that there is no evidence that he was involved.
Regardless, with the battle for old-school street-cred heating up to a new level, both groups are topping the charts as their tracks hit a record number of downloads over the past 24 hours.
It took an effort not to knock Cubicle into the dirt, but he was sure Sasha and Masha were watching them all just as keenly as Nizumi.
“Did you just want to rub it in or what?” Ruff asked. “Congratulations. You’re headlining Beat Street.”
Cubicle grinned. “Come on, Ruff. You’re slow on the take, brotha. Who do you think’s gettin’ the real scrilla? All these album sales this is going to generate? You and I know we’re barely gonna see three-percent on that.”
The notion hit Ruff in the face like a sock full of billiard balls.
“Man, you need to tell me what you know or just shoot us already. I don’t like this beatin’ around the bush nonsense.”
“You’re no fun, you know that Ruff?” Cubicle looked at Tumble. “Your boy here, he’s no fun.”
Tumble just stared at him.
“Alright, alright. I don’t know nothin’, but I have my suspicions that your team and my team are trying to play us.”
“What? Who?” Ruff looked over his shoulder at The Fly Honey, but failed to keep it discreet.
“Do you trust your peeps?” Cubicle’s eyes followed Ruff’s.
“With my life.” There was no hesitation in the reply.
“You may want to rethink that,” Cubicle said. “How about your manager?”
“Sharky?” Ruff had to think for a few seconds. “As much as you trust yours.”
Ruff scrunched his face. “Wait, wait. You think he was involved? In trying to kill me? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“I don’t think he wanted to kill you. Actually, I’m positive he didn’t. He just wanted to create some drama. Drum up more album sales. Thinks he’s keepin’ us relevant and at the top of the game. You know these new kids coming up, all about the violence. Your Sharky, my Poindexter, they’re afraid we’re approaching our expiration date. No more free lunch for them.”
“Yeah, yeah. Trust me, I give him shit all the time. But I just know this is some nonsense they agreed to behind our backs.”
Now Ruff was beginning to question everything.
“So this Dylan guy is working for Sharky? And Poindexter?”
“Dylan? Who’s Dylan?”
“Some girl was at the show with her boyfriend. Dylan? Dave? Anyway, she said he tried to shoot me with a laser from his eye. And then some big dudes swept him away.” His eyes fell on Cubicle’s ship, thinking of a couple of big “dudes” waiting impatiently on the inside.
Cubicle’s mouth was a straight line. The sound started low, an almost inaudible rumble from the depths of the rapper’s belly, until it couldn’t be contained any longer and he nearly fell to the ground, tears in his eyes, overcome with a fit of laughter.
Tumble looked at Ruff. Ruff returned the stare.
Cubicle managed an out-of-breath reply. “Are…you…kidding me?” He wiped the moisture from his cheeks. “Shot a laser…out of his…eye? What kind of…sci-fi shit is that? You believed her?”
Ruff crossed his arms in a classic B-Boy stance, slightly embarrassed and tried not to show it. He kind of hoped Nizumi would just pop out and shoot him now.
“Why would she lie?”
“Brotha, I was almost seein’ things myself in that crowd. I don’t think I could find the ceiling through the cloud of SynthaChronic™ smoke.”
Tumble snorted and nodded in agreement.
“She probably saw your own light show, saw Sasha and Masha, and jumped to some tripped-out conclusions. I’d bet my last royalty check that this Danny boy ditched his girl and hooked up with some skeezer.”
Now that the proposition had been repeated, it was less convincing. Ruff did remember the air was thick with the vapor of the mind-altering substance. He had assumed the girl’s eyes were red just from crying.
But he still had some questions about Cubicle’s presence. “Hold up a minute. Why were you even at the show?”
“You think I’m an idiot?” Cubicle’s tone was sharp. “Research. That’s what smart MCs do. I wanted to see how you were going to roll with this new album. Besides,” he dipped his head in the direction of The Fly Honey, “if I wanted to kill you, I would have just dropped some bombs on your head instead of coming down here and shootin’ the shit.”
Ruff said, “You also could have flown right by and played tomorrow’s show to a sold-out crowd. So why are you really here? You want something.”
Cubicle shifted his stance. “Yeah, I want something. I know we got some beef, but it’s our beef. I’m tired of bein’ played by some leech in a suit.”
Tumble hummed an mmm-hmm.
Ruff didn’t like the feeling either.
“Besides, people are starting to dig too deep into my past. My fans start finding out I went to Old Yale and spent my summers in the Old-Earth Hamptons, I’m afraid my street cred will take a hit.”
Cubicle held up a hand.
“So, I’ve come to offer a ride and a chance to show these bustas that we can’t be messed with.”
It became clear to Ruff that he had two choices. Sit here and probably miss the show, likely playing right into Sharky and Poindexter’s hands. Or he could take a leap of faith, hitch a ride with his archnemesis, and spin their managers’ heads around like one of Tumble’s records.
“You can take all of us?” he asked. He wasn’t going anywhere without Nizumi and team. He was sure they wouldn’t let him go if those were the terms, anyway.
“Of course,” Cubicle said.
After a moment’s hesitation, Ruff said, “Okay.”
Cubicle bleached teeth shined bright under the suns. He held out his hand. Fighting his gut inertia, Ruff took it into his own, wondering in the back of his mind if he was making a deal with the Devilbot.
“So what’s the plan?” Ruff asked.
“I’ll explain it on the way, but the bottom line is this: We’re both gonna be at Beat Street and we’re both gonna take control of this whole thing.”
Ruff liked the sound of that.