(Formatted for web reading.)
Gwyndalaria studied the turquoise and white planet that filled the view screen. She flipped the com button ending the transmission and leaned back in her chair. “It’s always good to be home.”
“It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?”
“Too long, and this time I can’t visit Gran. I hope she doesn’t find out we’ve been here without stopping in.”
Gwyn frowned. “I doubt it.”
“Well, once we drop this load and pick up another, we can come back and stay awhile. Maybe get some sailing in, or visit your friend Babylonia.
Gwyn shut her eyes. “Sailing sounds nice. But, first things first, right. Always work.” She grinned, “And what could be better than this work?”
Adrik kissed the top of her head. “Nothing beats this work.” He plopped down into the co-pilot chair. “Do you think he’ll help, Gwyn?”
“Chances are good. I’ve known him a long time. He’s the best at what he does, and he likes to make money.”
The navigation button beeped and turned green. “He’s let the shields down.”
“Yep. You better get out of sight, Adrik.”
He laughed. “Consider it done. I’m going to store myself in the cargo hold. You tell Rodrigo our needs, and if he’s willing, come and get me. Take your pulse pistol.” Adrik kissed her cheek.
“Of course.” Gwyn lowered the Pleiades to the planet’s surface. Tortuga station sprawled out around the landing pad. Gwyn gasped. “I can’t believe how it’s grown since the last time I was home. “
The com crackled. “Gwyn, you there?”
“Yes. It’s great to hear your voice again.”
“Yours, too. I almost couldn’t believe it when they told me who was waiting on the platform.”
“ Hey, why don’t you come aboard? I need to talk to you, face to face.”
“Sure. Give me about fifteen. I have some loose ends to tie up.”
“Don’t you always?” Gwyn laughed, “It’s lucrative.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so? I’m on my way.”
“I knew they’d get your attention. I’ll meet you at the cargo bay door.”
Gwyn watched out the porthole and opened the hatch before Rodrigo even touched it.
She extended her hand toward him, but he brushed it aside and hugged her tightly.
“It’s been a long time Gwyn.”
“Yes, it has.” Gwyn’s eyes danced. “You are a sight, my friend.”
Rodrigo blushed. “You said you had a proposition?”
“Always business before pleasure. You never change, Rodí.” Gwyn sealed the door. “I have cargo that needs to be unloaded.”
“Well, you’ve come to the right place. Standard cut applies. What do you have for me?
Gwyn shoved her hands down in her cargo pants. “Art.”
“Well, as long as it’s quality. I should be able to unload it.”
Mischief flashed in Gwyn’s smile. “How long have we known each other?”
“Twenty, twenty-five years, maybe.”
“Sounds about right. We’ve known each other a long time.” Gwyn paused, “What if I told you I have something big. Bigger than anything you’ve ever been into. Would you be interested?”
Rodí licked his lips. “Of course.”
“The art is from Earth.”
Rodrigo’s eyes widened. “Your joking right? It’s polluted!”
Gwyn rested a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry. The cargo’s been decontaminated. There are no bio-contaminants.”
Rodí sighed. “Well, that’s a relief. What were you doing on Earth, Gwyn? It’s too dangerous.”
“I fell into some intel, and I couldn’t pass it up, so I’ve been collecting art for the last month or so.” Gwyn’s voice quivered with excitement, “Rodí I’ve come back with some of the most valuable pieces ever created. It wasn’t easy. Believe me; it wasn’t. But, ugh, well. Let’s just say, the Louvre still stands.”
“The Louvre? I’ve only heard about that place, maybe seen a picture or two in some of the ancient history books. Wasn’t it a museum in old France?”
Gwyn shook her head. “Yes, I only have a few pieces, but they’re quality. If you can find some buyers, I’ll cut you in.”
He stroked his chin. “I might have some.”
How’d you get past the planetary shields, and survive the biochemicals? Earth’s off limits for a reason, Gwyn. Even the Militarian don’t go there.”
“Details, Rodí.” Gwyn stared at him long and hard. “You don’t need them. All you need to know is I have merchandise. It needs to be unloaded. And, I think you’re the man for the job. Am I wrong? I can leave.” She placed her hand on the button for the cargo bay door and hesitated slightly.
Rodí pushed her hand away. “No. No. No need for that. I have buyers, but people are going to ask questions.”
Gwyn studied him. “You’re a good liar, Rodí. You’ll think of something.”
She motioned to the corridor, “Follow me. I have someone for you to meet.”
Rodrigo shook his head. “You’ve found a way to get past the planetary shields, and escape the pollution, how? It’s never been done before. How safe is it?”
Adrik pushed the button on the holo-caster, and an image projected above the table. “Earth, as you can see, is surrounded by this planetary shield net.” The planet’s image was covered with a red force field. Adrik moved his finger along the screen, rotating the image, until it hovered over what was left, of the Arctic Circle. A tiny green dot appeared above the planet. “There’s the access point. The shields don’t work there.”
Rodí squinted. “It’s small—no more than a thousand feet in diameter. You’d have to be crazy to pilot through there. If you hit even a small piece of the shieldnet, you’d fry.”
“You forget who you’re talking to. I can pilot anything.” Gwynn propped her feet on the table.
Rodí contemplated the image. “Ok, but what about the air. It kills anything it comes into contact with, doesn’t it?”
Adrik tossed a small circular device to Rodí. “With this.”
Rodí turned the device over in his hand.
“When you flip the switch on the side, a personalized containment field creates an exoskin on your own. Turn it off; it goes away.”
Rodí shook his head, “I don’t even have tech like this. Sounds Militarian. Is it?”
Adrik glanced at Gwyn.
Rodí jumped back knocking over his chair but landing on his feet. “You’re either working for the government or have stolen from the Militarian. Which is it? I’m not going to the prison planet. This better not be a setup.” Rodí reached for the pulse pistol hidden at his side.
Gwyn fired a warning shot. “Sit down, Rodí. This isn’t a trap. Adrik is Militarian, but he’s not active—in fact, he’s dead. At least that’s what they think on Raygus Prime. I killed him.”
“Caracho! Gwyn, what’ve you gotten yourself into?”
“Money, Rodí. Lots of money. Are you in?”