The Carry Oot

Jeff Hunter

The Carry Oot

Jeff Hunter

The doors to the maintenance bay inched open as Reid pelted down the corridor towards them. No way I’m payin’ for that meal, he swore, as the sound of the rammy he’d started faded behind him. The doors were struggling, oil squirting from the seals like yolk from an Asher’s egg roll. His hack had engaged the electrics, but he’d forgotten about the hydraulics. Reid winced at the noise. Shoulda finished code class, he thought, instead of playing the troon at that Zero-G golf course. The doors sighed to a stop, partially open. Reid sighed to a stop too. He glanced at the gap, then at his stomach. He sighed again. Aye. Too many pies. I’ll need to watch that. He shucked off his jacket and eyed the gap…

The bay had seen strange sights before. No one would forget when the clans had met, using the bay as a holding pen for their GM Harris Tweed flocks. The animals hadn’t respected clan boundaries, leading to the Great Tartan War of 2247. Fortunately, because of the mix up, when new uniforms were issued the following year no one could tell which side they were on, leading to the Great Beige Peace of 2248. For the techs who worked there, a wild red haired man, dressed in nothing but his pants and running from ship to ship, barely got their attention.

Pulling on his shirt, Reid glanced around and spotted an old freighter in the corner, with the hatch open. Probably doesn’t have any security to speak of, he muttered. Putting on an innocent air – an impressive feat given his entrance – he dandered over to the ship’s AI comm panel. “Whit like, ship? I can see you’re having some work done, but I’m just wondering, can you fly?”

The ship’s life support system, which had been wheezing quietly, heightened in pitch. Reid tried to avoid thinking about a life support system that struggled though it wasn’t actually keeping anyone alive.

Finally, the ship responded. “There were a couple of things that needed tweaking, but yes, I can fly.”

“Och that’s great. How’d you fancy going for a wee birl? ”

“I’m scheduled to take medical supplies and merchandise to New Aberdeen. The flight-plan and clearances were programmed in last night, so ma bahookie’s busted sittin’, as they say. But I need a pilot – and someone to open those hangar doors?”

Reid sized up the freighter, then squinted at the doors. For the second time that evening, he wished Zero-G golf hadn’t been such fun. “I know a wee hack. How attached are you to that transponder on your roof?”

* * *

Trailing cables where its transponder had been, the ship jumped away. Reid relaxed and wandered into the galley. The cupboards were as bare as he’d been – nothing but a Harry Gow macaroni pie in the fridge. Don’t mind if I do! he thought, as he headed to the bridge and eased himself into the worn command chair.

“Comfy?” inquired the ship.

“Fae the Central Belt,” answered Reid, “but I’ve had it up tae here with asteroid mining. Whit’s your name, ship?” he asked.

“My designation is BigYin-734. But I’m known as Ma Heid’s Mince.”

Reid raised an eyebrow. “Why were you in yon repair bay?”

“Just a few things that needed fettlin up. This morning I was having my personality tweaked”. 

Reid chewed on that for a moment, along with the pie. Makes sense, he thought. A ship AI this old would have more cracks than a set of jammed bay doors freshly rammed by a freighter.

“Any slice in particular?” he enquired.

“I was due to have my common sense strengthened, and my sense of humour damped a little.”

“What were the crew worried about?”

“Och, I wouldn’t have said ‘worried’, so much as—”

The orbital entry warning skirled throughout the ship. They were approaching New Aberdeen.

Reid strapped in. He remembered one more question he’d wanted to ask. “Hey Mince, you said you were carrying medical supplies and merchandise? What merchandise?”

The ship paused before answering “Ten million cans of Irn Bru”.

“And the medical supplies?”

Another longer pause. “Twenty million cans of Irn Bru. I’ve also got some cultural artefacts on board.”

Reid looked puzzled. “I didnae realise Irn Bru was classed as a medicine”

The ship lurched as it skimmed the upper atmosphere. “You clearly haven’t met the New Aberdeen colonists. Where do you think my name came from?”

Reid tightened his straps. The turbulence was getting worse. “What are the cultural artefacts?”

Mince responded nonchalantly. “Thirty million cans of Irn Bru.”

Reid inhaled sharply. “Say again, Mince? How much Irn Bru is on board?”

“I have sixty million cans in the hold.”

Reid exhaled slowly. “I can’t believe the SSE has freighters carrying nothing but Irn Bru to colonists. You’re sure you don’t have any other cargo?”

“Well, I did, and I’m not looking forward to telling them that you ate the entire shipment of pies! Irn Bru is one of the Scottish Space Empire’s most lucrative exports. We keep the good stuff for ourselves, min.”

“What are you carrying then? Sugar-free? 1901 Original?”

“I’m licenced to carry the 2021 special edition, with extra fizz, sugar, and that banned additive, Trump Orange. The one with the hallucinogenic side-effects.”

The entire ship was vibrating now, as they descended further.

Reid had to shout to be heard over the cacophony “Mince, what’s up with your atmospheric dampeners?”

“Oh, didn’t I mention them? They were the other reason I was in the repair bay today. It might get a little bit shoogly on the way down.”

Reid shifted uncomfortably in his seat, feeling the panic rise.

Mince!” he yelled “have you any idea what happens when you shake sixty million cans of extra fizz Irn Bru?”

This time there was a hint of a laugh as the ship answered. “Yes, indeed I do. And I thought it would be fun for you to find out!”

Originally from Northern Ireland, Jeff Hunter arrived in Aberdeen 20 years ago. He immediately took to the countryside, climate and culture, and still lives in the area with his wife and two children.

This is his first piece of published fiction, but he has plenty of other ideas!

Editor’s note

Jeff’s story also came close to winning, but I though it deserved a home here. Is this the first Aberdonian-Scottish-science-fiction comic story featuring Scotland’s other national drink? 

The winning stories are published in Shoreline of Infinity 19.

—Noel Chidwick

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