Gwyndalaria lowered her starship onto the platform. Raygus Prime sprawled out before her view screen. Its steel Militarian buildings littered the landscape, cold, utilitarian.
Gwyn shuddered. “I hate this place.” She pressed the com button. “Gwyndalaria Casteliano of the Starship Pleiades, requesting an audience with Admiral Spearman.”
The communicator crackled. “Admiral Spearman is expecting you. Kill your engines. Lieutenant Commander Adrik will meet you shortly.”
Gwyn turned off the ignition switch, set the security lock, and waited.
Across the platform, a tall man sauntered toward her ship.
Gwyn laughed. “Everything a woman wants, and he knows it.” She switched off the view screen and met him at the cargo bay door.
As the Lieutenant Commander raised his hand to knock, the door opened.
“I’m here to collect Gwyndalaria Casteliano.” His face was blank but warm.
Gwyn wiped her hand on her jumpsuit before extending it. “That’s me. Call me Gwyn.”
Adrik stared at her briefly and turned to go. “Come on. You don’t keep Admiral Spearman waiting.”
She followed at a jog-walk pace, only pausing when they reached the bottom of a massive staircase.
Adrik motioned toward the fifth floor. “That’s our destination.”
She sighed. “Guess you Militarian types don’t use elevators, huh?”
Adrik shook his head. “Never.”
Gwyn frowned. “Well, let’s go.”
She climbed behind him, trying to keep up with his pace.
When they reached the top Adrik pressed the intercom button. “Sir, I’ve the girl.”
The door slid open.
“Come on.” Adrik ushered her into the suite.
Star charts, maps and computer screens lined three walls of the room. The fourth wall was glass. Down below Raygus Prime hummed and whirled with machinery. Militarian soldiers marched in formation across the yard. Off to the east, an ornate capitol building topped with a large domed portico stood in stark contrast with the utilitarian landscape surrounding it. Gwyn studied its opulence. “Remarkable.”
“It is, isn’t it?” Admiral Spearman motioned for Gwyn to come closer to the window. “It’s the only thing of true elegance here on Raygus Prime. As you know, the Militarian live a functional life. Our capitol building was built to remind us of why we sacrifice. What we are protecting in our system.”
Gwyn shivered. “A beautiful reminder, of course. And, does someone live there?”
“No, our councils meet in the building. Everything, that is important for this planet, and our system is decided there.” Spearman turned away.
“Adrik, bring up the computer. Let’s get down to business.”
Gwyn crossed her arms. “Ok. I must admit I was intrigued by your call. What does the Militarian want with a spacer starship pilot? I’m no great thing. I’m sure there are more qualified Militarian who can do whatever you want.”
“Ah, Ms. Casteliano, don’t be so humble. I’ve been watching you for some time. In fact, I know all about you.” He picked up a file folder on his desk and thumbed through it. “Raised on Tortuga by an ailing grandmother. You learned to fly by crop dusting cotton for extra cash and then turned your attentions to starship racing. In fact, you’re pretty good at it, right?”
Gwyn shrugged. “Fair, at best.”
“So modest. You were the Tortuga Flying Aces world champion four years running.” He showed her a picture of her in the winner’s circle, holding a large gold trophy.
Memories swarmed her mind. The last day Momma and Poppi saw me race. She looked out the window, fighting back tears.
The Admiral continued, “Until you suddenly stopped racing. Isn’t that so?”
Gwyn narrowed her eyes. “Got bored with it.”
“Bored? I think you found a more lucrative source of income.”
Gwyn breathed calmly. “And?”
“I know you’re a smuggler, Ms. Casteliano. In fact, I know you’re the best smuggler this side of Alpha Gaius. That’s why you’re here. I have a job for you.”
“Smuggling is illegal Commander Spearman.” Gwyn took a step back.
He tossed her file on his desk. “And, so is the job you’re going to do.”
“And if I refuse?” Gwyn crossed her arms over her chest, so the hidden dagger in her coat was in easy reach.
“Your grandmother won’t survive her next bout of pneumonia.”
Gwyn felt the knife within her fingers but didn’t close her hand around it. She surveyed her options. I’m trapped. She relaxed and dropped her hands to her side.
Commander Spearman placed a hand on Gwyn’s shoulder. “Look, you do this job. You and your grandmother will be set for life, and I will lose all the reports on your smuggling activity in this sector. There’s no reason for hostilities.”
Gwyn sighed. “What’s the job?”
“Let’s show Ms. Casteliano what she’ll be doing for us Lieutenant Commander.”
Adrik turned on the computer screen. The deep space image of a huge rock projected onto the wall. “This is the Regalian Asteroid. It’s currently located thirty light years from Theta Nu, deep in Cardike Territory. We’ve received deep space readings that there are large deposits of crystalline energy underneath its surface. More than enough energy to power Raygus Prime for at least a hundred years. I suppose you can imagine what this means.”
He studied Gwyn’s face. “With these crystals, we would have the power to supply even the poorest areas of our sector for generations to come. Unfortunately, per the peace treaty of Old Earth, we can’t come within ten parsecs of their territory.” Admiral Spearman motioned to the asteroid on the screen. “I won’t ignore it. So, you and Lieutenant Commander Adrik are going to steal it. This operation is completely illegal, and if you’re caught, unauthorized. But, if you succeed. You’ll be rewarded.” Spearman’s steel colored eyes bored into her skin.
“Looks like I have no choice then.”
“No one has a choice. We do what we’re told. Adrik, have the supplies sent to Ms. Casteliano’s ship. You’re leaving at first light.”
Gwyn slapped the top of her alarm. “Stupid alarm.” She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and ran her fingers through her long hair before pulling it up into a loose knot. She slipped her jumpsuit back on, laced her boots, and headed to the galley.
She plopped down at the table, pushed a button on the synthesizer unit, and yawned. “Coffee, strong, extra cream. And add chocolate” The unit whirred and whistled before producing a piping hot cup of coffee. “Thank you.” She inhaled its rich aroma and smiled. If you were here Gran, you’d think this the best coffee ever. Gwyn took a small sip of the concoction, and the buzzer rang.” Gwyn peaked at the view screen. Lieutenant Commander Adrik, waited. He was dressed in regulation blues. She took a deep breath and licked her lips. Just what I need, a little eye-candy in my ship.
She turned on the communicator. “My aren’t you punctual, Lieutenant Commander Adrik. Give me a second. I just got my coffee. Would you like some?”
His voice crackled across the com, “Sure.”
“How do you take it? Black and strong, I’d guess.”
Laughter floated across the com. “You’d think, but how about strong with lots of cream and sugar.”
“Really?” Gwyn chuckled.
“Hey don’t judge.” A smile crossed his lips, and fine lines formed around his eyes.
“No judgement here. I just thought all you Militarian types were essential only kind of people.” Gwyn pushed the button on the synthesizer. “Coffee, strong, extra cream and sugar.” The unit whirred, whistled and produced a light-colored cup of coffee in a bright pink cup with yellow daisies. Gwyn snorted. “Ok, I have your coffee. I’ll meet you at the cargo bay door.”
Gwyn handed Adrik the mug. He lifted his eyebrow. “Pink with yellow flowers? Is this some kind of joke, Ms Casteliano?”
“Well, no, but it is funny. My synthesizer recalls personal preferences. I think the last person to ask for coffee with extra cream and sugar was my Gran. So, you get her cup.” Gwyn smiled and motioned him toward the cockpit. “My ship isn’t as big as you’re probably used to, but that’s part of her charm.” Gwyn patted the doorway. “The Pleiades is maneuverable and fast. She’ll hold four comfortably in the cockpit. Pilot, co-pilot and two passengers. There’s my chair.” She pointed to the chair on her left, and you can sit there.” Gwyn motioned to the brown leather chair adjacent to hers. “Since you’re on for the ride, you’re going to learn to co-pilot her. Just in case. I want you fully trained before we enter Cardike territory.”
Adrik climbed behind the navigation station and settled down into his chair. “Not much leg room, huh?”
Gwynn glanced at his long legs. “Well, it’s adjustable, and since it’s just the two of us, you can slide that lever at the bottom and move it back at least a foot. There should be plenty of leg room for you then. Lieutenant Commander.”
Adrik pulled the lever towards him, and the chair sprung back several inches. “That should just about do it.” He surveyed the cockpit. The area was small, but with the chair moved, it was manageable. “This space kind of reminds me of Commander Spearman’s old auto collection. He has a large half-ton pickup truck. Ever seen one of those?”
Gwynn smiled and shook her head. “Not in person. Only people on Tortuga with old gassers have way more money than I do.”
Lights blinked and whirled across the dashboard. The com buzzed.
Gwynn pushed the com button. “Yes.”
A voice crackled through the cabin. “We have a delivery for Lieutenant Commander Adrik.”
“He’ll be right with you.” Gwyn motioned to the com button in front of Adrik’s chair. “That button right there answers the communicator. Every function a pilot needs is duplicated on your side. I’ll show you the ropes after we unload the cargo.”