Coerced: A Pleiades Adventure
(Formatted for web reading.)
(Formatted for web reading.)
Gwyndalaria lowered her starship onto the platform. Raygus Prime sprawled out on 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 attention 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 giant golden trophy.
Memories swarmed her mind. The last day Momma and Poppi saw me race. She looked out the window, fighting back the 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 Admiral 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 within 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.
Admiral 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 vast 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.”