Owerton Challenge I113, Star Grean E003, ‘Green Pheasant Guitar’

Issue 113, Episode 003

May 25, 2017

Star Grean

By Kenneth Shumaker

Episode 003, Green Pheasant Guitar

 

Challenge:

  • Words: Green Pheasant Guitar
    • Green
    • Pheasant
    • Guitar
  • Contributor:
    • Donna Shumaker
    • High Prairie, Alberta

 

Star Grean 

Our story takes place in Kenneth Shumaker’s 5th Galaxy science fiction realm of the Toran sector with the crew of the starship, Star Grean. Her captain is the enigmatic and sly thirty-six-year-old veran human male, Levan, who is default owner of Flind Exploration Corporation. Levan lives in a society that is dominated by females, ran by corporate political organisations, and obeys the female ran Venkaer religious institution. This is a society where no male is given the opportunity to command or own property. Yet, we find Levan to be Captain of the Star Grean and her crew, even with a Venkaer’s 3rd Purist on board.

In the previous episode 002 on 216:03:21:10:15

Pilot Levan officially becomes Captain Levan of the Star Grean. For the first time in his life, he is about to command a crew. However, the Black Cat Circle decide that Levan owes them money. The Black Cat Circle beat the air out of Levan, make threats of death, and demand one million credits.

3rd Purist Frena discovers things about Levan that no Humar Empire female should know.

We now continue in Episode 003 on 216:03:23:10:22 with:

216:03:23:10:22

Levan anxiously looks at his chroncrom again as the office door opens and the director’s assistant summons them in less than politely.

Levan watches on the sly to make sure 3rd Purist Frena keeps her cool. They desperately need this government contract to establish their reputation and earn valuable status as a corporation. She can’t blow this meeting or crash the presentation. The two of them practised over the presentation by rehearsing for five hours, in between interviewing recruits. She seems to be calm and collected.

Together, with Frena in the lead, they enter the government bureau director’s spacious office. From Velma’s descriptions, Levan had vividly imagined how the space would appear. But this space is even more palatial than his imagination allowed, even more spacious than his apartment. The two of them march across the twenty feet from the door to the chairs on this side of the desk, noiselessly walking on the sound-deadening furs. Arriving at the chairs, Levan kneels, while Frena simply bows, and they wait without moving to be acknowledged.

The young director hums an idle tune, and then she says, “Yes! Yes! Sit, both of you. I received your file 3rd Purist. Everything is in order. Your ship, the Star Grean, qualifies, as does your corporation. 3rd Purist, you may make your presentation.”

Levan sits on the soulless hard metal chair set behind Frena’s soft cushioned seat, as Frena takes her comfortable chair.

Frena works through the half-hour presentation with great diligence, stating the dry facts about the Star Grean, the intended route to the Tunda system, and the crew that has been hired so far, using the altered new identity as Tala the engineer for engineer Scall, which Levan garnered from his contact.

Then, after the professionally presented presentation, Frena falls silent, and both Flind representatives bow and wait silently for the director to speak.

They only have to wait a minute while Derec enters notes into her console. She addresses Frena, saying, “Well, that was well done. I get so many presentations with so much fluff and nonsense and promises, with so little in the way of facts. I like your presentation, with just facts and no promises or fluff. My question, though, involves the facts that your ship has never left drydock, and your crew has never flown together before. Why would Hazdal sponsor you?”

Levan clears his throat, and raises his hand, with his eyes looking down to the floor, waiting.

Derec sighs in annoyance, “Yes, boy?”

Levan asks in a soft manner, “May I address your question?”

Frena answers in a brisk tone. “He may speak on this, on my behalf.”

Derec groans, answering annoyed, “If you think you must.”

Not looking up, Levan replies, “Flind is not asking to be sponsored up front. Flind is asking to be acknowledged and paid, upon completion of the contract. Thus there is no risk for Hazdal Space Corporation. Does that work for you both?”

Frena answers in a dry manner, “This works for me.”

Without looking up, Levan is relieved, as a smile can be heard in Derec’s reply, “Under those conditions, I can award the amended contract, offering it to Flind Corporation.”

Butterflies erupt in Levan’s abdomen, but he doesn’t flinch or smile. They have an hour of contract ceremonies to get through yet, he can’t be seen to react, no matter how happy he is. Sneaking a quick glance at Frena, he sees that she too is stone cold emotionless. Good! But Levan can feel her elation in his soul. She’s emitting her elation at their success, to him, whether she knows it or not, and this is new to Levan. No female has ever Shared with him before; it’s so … so … elating, what other word is there? He feels her touch right to his soul. He imagines her water-blue eyes and blonde hair, her attractive fine sculpted face, her four-foot-eight-inch, hundred or so pound body. She’s so majestic in appearance. He suddenly realises that he knows her age, from the contact Sharing; she’s thirty-four Terms, two Terms his junior. He tries drawing away, as he realises she feels an attraction to him. ‘No, we can’t! Crews can’t Share! It’s not viable, or proper.’ Levan tries blocking out Frena, and with some effort he succeeds. Breathing is difficult to maintain in even control, but he masters it.

216:03:23:16:55

The duo casually walk out of the Bureau’s office tower. Levan stops on the sidewalk before they climb into the Quickie Cab. He addresses Frena, “Purist, I know you were happy and elated with the presentation results. But may I ask you not to Share. It was unsettling, as I’ve never Shared before. Unless you mean to ask me to be your husband, please control your Sharing … Please.”

Turning to observe Levan, Frena’s expression is not neutral, her eyes gleam with moisture, while the corners of her mouth are downturned in sadness, and she asks, “My Sharing with you disturbs you, sweet Levan?”

Reading her disturbed sadness at being rejected, Levan hesitates. “It doesn’t disturb me, Purist, I wasn’t expecting it, I was unsettled by the newness. I’m sorry if I sadden you, I’m asking you not to do it again.”

Frena, also reading Levan’s composure and expression, responds, “It did disturb you, and you’re trying to be polite now, and not hurt my feelings. We’ll work it out, my friend.”

Shocked, Levan can’t answer. Frena called him a friend, and she meant it.

They climb into the Quickie Cab together and Frena keys in her address into the controls first, by habit. They drive into the middle-class housing district, mostly populated by female held households. Levan grumbles in envy at the manicured front lawns and courtyards of the luxury one and two-story fabricated houses, reserved for the elite of society. But he gains a bit of humbleness as the cab stops in front of a three-story shared dormitory. Out of spite, he asks, “How many do you share with?”

Frena answers haughtily, “Five of us sisters hold the lease on the building. Do you need a place?” She winks, knowing Levan holds an upper-middle-class apartment.

Levan watches her exit the cab as he wonders hazardously what she would be like as a partner. Shaking his head, he keys in his apartment building’s address into the cab’s control pad.

…..

Walking down the hallway, Levan can see a sliver of light coming from under his apartment door as he approaches. He notices the burnt security pad beside his door. Readying himself for a possible conflict, Levan slides open his door and ducks as a club swings over his head, initiated from inside the apartment and off to the side of the door. Going into full trained Grenar unarmed combat mode, he strikes out in reflex at the assailant, connecting with the assailant’s abdomen. Levan sees two other assailants rushing toward him. He mutters under a controlled breath, “Gods be damned.”

With the edge of his hand, Levan strikes the same man’s neck in a second attack, feeling the man’s throat break and seeing him grasp for his throat with both of his hands, unable to breathe.

Levan recognises the Black Cat Circle thugs from the safe house.

Running for the stairwell, but ducking into the short side hallway to the side before reaching the stairwell, he stops and waits for the first thug. Using a fierce toe-first martial kick to the groin of the man, the victim is doubled forward. Levan brings a knee to the man’s throat. Thus Levan disables the second of the three thugs.

The third thug hesitates and draws a long knife. He advances on Levan cautiously, sneering, he says, “We were just going to talk, to see why you double-crossed us. But now you’re a marked dead man, boy.”

Lightening quick, Levan does a scissor leap with both feet coming up, while one hand balances him on the floor. His right foot connects with the wrist of the hand holding the knife, his left foot connecting violently with the man’s jaw. Levan’s spacer boot crushes the assailant’s jaw with a loud smashing snap. The man goes down unconscious.

Quickly recovering, Levan retrieves the long knife, driving it into the hearts of both men to ensure they’re dead. Then, rapidly returning to his darkened apartment, he cautiously steps over the still gasping wounded man in the hallway. As Levan is stepping over the injured man, he drives the knife through the man’s eye into his brain, and Levan stirs the blade, ending the man’s suffering. Then, from his days long past, he uses as much skill as he can muster in silent walking, before the days of dealing with Velma. Levan enters his apartment without turning the lights on, knowing that at least one thug, possibly more, are in there.

Standing off to the side of the door, deep in the darkened shadows, adjusting his eyes to the darkness, Levan tries to spot any out of place shadows in the room. Scanning carefully, he notes one in the kitchen area, emanating from behind the central kitchen island, indicating that someone is crouched down on the other side. Also, Levan hears a disturbance from the storeroom and another out of place sound from the bedroom. So at least three more thugs are in the apartment. Bending down silently, Levan, as quietly as possible, takes off his boots and socks, and then his jacket, leaving them on the floor near the door. With only his short-sleeve tight racing shirt and skin tight pants on, Levan silently walks to the closest end of the island. Holding the long knife ready, he sneaks around the to the end opposite the crouching figure, and then leaps at him or her, in attack. Levan drives his knife into the person’s neck as the person fires their laser pistol. Their shot strikes Levan’s arm. The woman dies before she can fire a second shot.

In extreme pain, Levan tries not to curse out loud. Closing his eyes briefly from the pain, he grits his teeth with his lips sealed tight. Sweat starts to bead on his face. Blood starts trickling from the burn on his arm. Counting to ten, Levan listens carefully, and he hears the rustling of jockeying for position of three people: two in the storage room, one in the bedroom. ‘Damn the gods, where’s security when I need them?

Picking up the laser pistol, Levan checks the setting; it’s set on the maximum power fire setting, that means there are three shots left. He dials the power setting down, so he has four shots so he can miss once.

Pulling the long knife out of the dead woman’s neck, Levan wonders how the law and government are going to judge him on killing a woman? He may just have to abandon his apartment. He should, right now! But damn it, they’ll all just come looking for him. He has to finish the Black Cat Circle thugs here, before scramming … Damn the arm hurts! His eyes water from the pain, blurring his vision. As he tries to wipe the tears away, all he manages to do is smear some of the woman’s blood across his eyes and cheeks. Using the short sleeves of his shirt, he tries to wipe away the tears again, causing himself more pain when he moves his wounded arm. He curses softly, “Damn!”

Rising enough to peer over the counter, he looks eye-to-eye with one of the thugs, who responds by springing over the counter at him. Levan has enough time to raise and fire the laser point blank into the face of the man. The laser beam sears right through the man’s eye and into his brain, ending with the man sprawling out on top of Levan, dead.

Quickly pushing the corpse off himself, as another attacker lunges for Levan, Levan has enough time to bring the long knife to bear in front of himself, gutting the man, wounding him, allowing the man to use his own dagger to cut into Levan’s leg, then neck. Levan quickly positions and fires the laser pistol into the man’s head, through his ear, at point-blank range, frying his brain, killing him.

Bleeding more from his arm wound and from the stab to his leg and neck, Levan triggers the emergency call on his chroncrom, ‘Let the chips fall where they may, to the damn with it!

Levan limps toward the bedroom not trying to be silent. Levan calls out, “I know you’re in the bedroom. I’m coming for you. The rest are all dead. Surrender, and you’ll live, hide or attack, and you’ll die.”

Silence is the result as Levan, in a rush, noisily opens the door and quickly flicks the light switch. Levan ducks rapidly to the side of the door just inside the room, as a firearm shot goes off. The bullet strikes the door jamb, in line where his head had been. Levan fires the last two laser shots blindly into the area where the firearm shot came from. A woman’s screech is heard as she is wounded. She fires a second shot at Levan as he runs toward her. Levan drops the laser pistol and brings the long knife to full bearing. He feels the fourth bullet bite into his shoulder, and the fifth bullet bites into his ribs as he drives the knife into her chest. He blacks out.

216:03:26:16:35

Hearing Frena pray, Levan ponders if she is praying the death prayer and if the prayer is for him. The world is all in images of reds and greys as he slowly and weakly opens his eyes. His mouth feels like it’s filled with cotton, as he simply asks, “Water?” He smells strong sulphurs as well.

Gasping and grabbing Levan’s hand, Frena utters, “Thank Rendfendal. Levan the machines did their job, you lived. Thank you, thank you … thank the gods!”

She rapidly offers Levan a sippy cup with a long straw, containing a briny-sweet water mixture.

He sips a few mouthfuls, having a hard time swallowing the liquid. He realises that his throat was injured, resulting in his difficulty with swallowing.

He looks at the reddish-grey image of the holy woman, as she starts to visually clear. Now that his mouth is somewhat hydrated, Levan speaks carefully as he asks, “How many did I get?”

Laughing and crying at the same time, Frena kisses Levan’s hand, and then says, “Hero of the building … you beat two armed women and five men. The law still wants to know how you did it and survived. The medics got to your apartment just in time to keep you from dying. They got the freezefield on to you to stop your biosystems, and then they had just enough time to get you to the hospital so the surgeons could use the biometric surgery table to patch you before reviving you from the field. They had to fully fill your blood supply, almost. You had almost completely bled out. They pulled three bullets out of you and fixed a couple dagger wounds and a laser burn. You really shouldn’t be living; you’ll live a life of memory pains. But you’ll live. They say it takes awhile to recover from the freezefield; you just came out of it two hours ago, after ten hours of surgery. Do you want me to leave?”

Levan chuckles, and then dares to say, “Hold my hand, sit down and shut-up.” Then he fades out again, going into freezefield after-coma for roughly another twenty hours.

Frena sits holding his hand, sometimes sleeping in the chair, only letting go of his hand to eat and use the restroom. Eventually, she goes for an hour-long walk at the ten-hour mark, and then to perform her service prayers after that. But, she soon returns to Levan, attempting to provide him with comfort while the machines heal him, feed him, and remove toxins and wastes from his body, while he remains in the freezefield after-coma.

The other crew members came, visited with Frena, and left.

Yar let Frena know that Levan’s apartment has been repaired and cleaned, and that the security panel has been repaired as well.

216:03:27:17:27

Levan, weak bodied, sits up in bed and watches the sleeping form of the 3rd Purist. Tempted to shout ‘fire’, he restrains himself. Besides, it would take more effort than he has the energy for right now. Levan eats the strange pudding the orderly left for him when Levan told the man that he is hungry. The pudding has the texture of ten-day rain mud on the Old Morn Riverbank, and the pudding smells as appealing, but it tastes quite good, like ripe Oragan Fruit when it’s in season: fruity, sweet and salty.

Licking his two fingers as he wipes out all the residue from the pudding container, Levan grins as he spots Frena eyeing him. He shrugs and says, “What? I’m damn hungry, Purist.”

She laughs and replies, “Then, it’s time to take you out of here and home.”

He grins, feeling mischievous, “Your home or mine?”

She winks. “Your choice, but don’t tease.”

Levan is stunned, yet again, by how the 3rd Purist ‘plays’ with him, and the freedoms that she allows him. Levan is finding himself attaching to her more than he consciously wants to. He doesn’t understand this Purist. She is not like any woman or holy Purist he’s encountered before, and this confuses him.

He decides, “I think it’s best that I go home to my place.”

He watches in wonder, as she actually looks disappointed. Her eyes droop as do the corners of her mouth, though only slightly, as if she’s trying to hide her disappointment. Levan’s feeling scared now, as he surmises that this Purist has feelings for him. He asks, “Did you sit here with me, through this whole thing?”

She starts to shake her head and begins to say, “N …” then she slumps forward and answers, “Yes, Captain Levan, I did. Does that disturb you?”

Levan swings his legs over the side of the bed as he sits up. Sitting naked, all the machinery now gone, he says, “I have to think about this. It’s new for me, 3rd Purist. No female has ever shown interest in me before – interest in my welfare of any kind – other than my Grandma Velma. It’s unusual, unsettling … scary. I have to think about this.”

Frena frowns as she replies, “It’s new for you! I’ve never felt this interested in anyone before, and it scares the gods out of me. I almost didn’t do normal ceremony services so I could stay by your side, in case you needed something, or an issue cropped up.”

Looking at the strangest woman he has ever met, Levan simply asks, “What do we do then?”

Looking just as confused, Frena answers with a shrug and says, “I pray.”

Getting dressed, Levan pays his hospital bill of four-thousand credits, and then he and Frena take a Quickie Cab to his apartment, where they confirm the repairs and reset the security.

Awkwardly, Frena leaves to go home and clean up.

Levan can’t sleep as all he can do is consider 3rd Purist Frena and their situation.

Eventually, he leaves every crew member a message on their chroncrom to meet at the Flind Exploration office at 03:29:10:00, and to be prepared to leave on their maiden voyage.

216:03:29:09:05

Arriving at Ferris Towers, Levan slowly walks along the hallway to Flind Exploration offices. He’s been running scenarios through his head on how to deal with Frena. The easiest thing would be to just let her go and replace her, ending all entanglements and potential conflicts of interests. But can he do that?

Looking down the hall from the lift, toward the Flind Exploration office door, it’s just as he expected, Frena is waiting for him … alone. Walking up to her, he says in a timid tone, “3rd Purist Frena, we need to talk … inside.”

Sighing, smiling, Frena says, “Wow, I’m so glad you said that. I have something I want to say. I’ve been thinking about it for some time now, since a few days after we started here. You make us some of your great java. Then let’s talk in your office.”

Not sure that they have the same ideas in mind, Levan opens the office and switches on the lights, proceeding to make them their java. He meets Frena in his office.

Handing the 3rd Purist her java, Frena sits her mug of java on the desk, before even taking a sip. Encouraging Levan to do likewise, Frena takes Levan’s hands, and she stares into his eyes while she smiles. Levan can feel her excitement and joy as Frena asks, “Captain Levan, will you be my husband?”

Floored, Levan falls. Sitting on the floor, staring up into the shocked wide eyes of Frena, Levan is so very confused: he is a middle-classed, no status or reputation male, who has just been asked by a 3rd Purist to be her husband. He saw that she was interested in him, but this? Really? He asks as he draws himself back up onto his feet, “Are you sure you want me?”

Grinning again, Frena nods, saying, “Yes, Levan.”

Trying to regain neutral composure, but failing miserably, and fluttering between a huge grin and a deep frown, Levan is torn at the meanings of this proposal. He’d be a kept man if he accepts, and he’d be able to give Frena more than figurehead status of Flind Exploration if he wants to share more. He can have a family with her if she wants one? But what do they both bring each other in this? He hardly knows her, and really, she knows nothing about him. What if she changes her mind when she discovers his true past? What if he discovers she has skeletons in her past he can’t live with? The law doesn’t allow men to call for a separation or divorce. What could he do? What if they end up fighting all the time? He’s heard of partners doing that. Levan looks into Frena’s eyes – a bold move men aren’t allowed – but Frena doesn’t resist, or rebuke him. She looks back into his eyes, and then he discovers it: the legendary Purist Transcending, he becomes one with Frena, sharing her memories and sharing his with her. Together they become one, knowing everything each other has ever done or thought. They both smile as they discover that they are kindred souls, rebellious at heart. They are one of mind and spirit.

A voice calls out, “Are you two okay?”

Discovering an hour has passed, they pull free of each other, smiling. Levan answers Frena, “I accept, seeing as you know my secrets and I know yours.”

She leans forward and kisses his lips, sending a tingling sensation throughout his body and garnering from the other gathered crewmembers, a unified, “What?”

Frena looks at each of them, and then says, “We’re getting married, after the expedition.”

An excited group cheer is heard, which is not what Levan was expecting. He spots one dessenter. Levan spots a glint of jealousy sneak in briefly on the face of Gunner Krenda, before being masked again. Levan hopes it doesn’t become an issue.

Levan addresses the crew once they’re in the outer office. “We go to the shuttle in an hour and fly to the docking station to meet the docking station’s office quartermaster. He’s been setting up the Star Grean for her first expedition. Quartermaster Meelar, you will go over all our supplies with him to ensure everything is set on the Grean to your desires. Everyone else, you will inspect your stations and set her up to be ready to disembark at 03:31:00:00. Understood?”

A full round of excited, “Aye, Captain!” is heard, even from Frena. And the crew of the Star Grean begins with the Ferris Tower office scrub cleaning, closing it down in preparations for the crew’s departure on the shuttle.

216:03:29:15:12

With Yar navigating, Levan smoothly pilots their shuttle to Gresslar Station and then docks the shuttle in the Star Grean’s shuttle bay.

On board the Star Grean, after he directs each crewmember to their quarters Levan calls the Flind Gresslar Docking Station Quartermaster over to the Star Grean. Levan takes Frena with him to their command living quarter as they had discussed in the Ferris Tower office, sharing the officer’s quarters now as life partners.

Levan chuckles as they settle in, thinking that their first night together as life partners will also be their first night on Star Grean, and will be the first night the Star Grean will have it’s first crew, getting ready for the first expedition of discovery. A lot of firsts and discoveries.

The excited crew settles in, preparing the Star Grean for its maiden voyage and expedition.

216:03:31:10:00

Sitting in the pilot’s seat, Levan expertly guides the Star Grean out from the docking berth. The crew is amazed how smooth the disembarking is by Levan and the Star Grean. Slowly at first, they enter their designated traffic lane, following the flow away from the planet, out past the three moons with the traffic thinning, heading outward away from their star, toward Yar’s planned Starfall jump point and the Star Grean’s first Stardrive jump. Usually, the first jump is the most hazardous for any ship that stays in the territory.

The Star Grean has a crew of seven. Captain Levan Ulmora is the pilot and owner. There is Navigator Yar, 3rd Purist and 1st Medic Frena, Engineer Tala (Scall), Gunner Krenda, Geobioscientist Kni, and Quartermaster Meelar.

On the acceleration, going out to the jump point, Levan gathers the crew together in the mess room. He looks at each member while frowning, wondering what they’ll encounter together and how each will react. He needs his second to be solid, a strong first-mate. Speaking directly to everyone, Levan says, “We are going in to life and death out there. No responsible Captain would undertake to lead his ship out into such a situation without a first mate as a second in command to take over if the captain becomes unavailable. I thought about this, and the decision really was quite easy. I’m asking 3rd Purist Frena to be my first mate and Navigator Yar to be my co-pilot. Any objections?”

This is met with silence and smiles by most, except Gunner Krenda. But no one objects. Having a female first mate carries a lot of weight for the crew, though it is obvious to Levan that Krenda has feelings of competition with Frena for the top spot as woman. Realising that he’s going to need to head this off somehow, but not knowing female psyche well enough, Levan has his job cut out for him.

Looking at Frena, Levan asks, though knowing the answer, “Any comment?”

3rd Purist Frena says, “We have 23 hours until we reach the jump point, according to Yar and Levan. So, I’d like to perform Rendfendal space services, blessing the ship and crew. If all attended, I would appreciate it. Gunner Krenda I could use your aid.”

Inwardly, Levan smiles, thinking that Frena spotted Krenda’s jealousy and competition. Frena is attempting to head off conflict, by asking for Krenda’s help in things. Might work?

After their 31:15:00 meal, Frena, with Krenda’s aid, starts the services, blessing the ship and crew. Frena finishes her services with the completion of the last ceremony at 31:17:25. It’s a solemn event that has Krenda, Levan, and Frena cheerfully in the Laser pod bay controls. Krenda lovingly sits in the fire control seat, caressing the sparkling new modern controls, ready for her use, and now blessed by Frena with the space god Rendfendal’s blessing. Krenda smiles gleefully as she looks away from the targeting screen and looks over at Levan and then to Frena, saying, “Thank you both. I will do you honour with your trust in me.”

Levan nods, saying, “I know you will 1st Gunner Krenda. I trust in you.”

Frena pats Krenda’s shoulder, replying, “As do I.”

Together, Levan and Frena retire to their room. The couple is alone for the first time without the stress of work performance. They look at each other and sigh.

Frena takes Levan’s hand, leading him to the bed. She sits with him, saying, “I now know how hard it is for you to accept women commanding over you. I will try to refrain from doing so as much as I possibly can. But we need to keep reigns on Krenda.” … “We have four hours before anyone expects us anywhere. So, I would like to present you with a gift I had Quartermaster Meelar obtain for me. I know how much music means to you, and I know you play the guitar, so I got you a rare, Royal Pheasant Guitar. The only one the quartermaster could find was an amber-green. I hope it’s okay with you?” Opening her storage cabinet, Frena pulls out a guitar case. Opening the case, she presents Levan with a green, twelve string, Royal Pheasant Guitar. Levan knows that only a hundred are made every Term, and each one is a different colour shade. He gingerly accepts the rarity and acknowledges the even rarer event – a gift from a female to him. Tears trickle down his cheeks to meet the curves of his smile. In his life, the only other woman to gift him is dead now, his grandma Velma, and she insisted on maintaining decorum with proper etiquette at all times. Already, Frena has violated so many rules of etiquette regarding him. His green eyes water with tears as he positions the guitar and moves to tune it, finding that he doesn’t have to adjust the tuning.

He starts playing, “Star Crossed Sailor,” singing the tune for Frena.

They spend the next four hours enjoying their time together, starting with Levan entertaining Frena and finding out that she sings, too. Though they don’t share the exact same taste in music, as Frena is more into the modern music of the Mort system, while Levan favours music from two and three generations back of the Cora inner system. After two hours of Levan entertaining with music, Frena takes away the guitar and starts kissing Levan, which leads to arousing Levan, and the natural follow of events.

…..

As 32:00:00 is arriving, the two get neatly dressed in their spacer uniforms again, both grinning, happy with recent events.

Arriving on the command bridge, the bridge crew is gathered already running through procedures for the Starfall jump that is to happen in a little over three hours.

From his console, Levan asks Yar, “So, these are the standard coordinates into Cora system at nine-lightyears Starfall?”

Nodding emphatically, saying, “Aye, Captain. This takes you three Au past the Ort Barrier to inside their system, as is standard entry procedure for Stardrive’s Starfall.”

Levan enters his piloting command controls that are necessary for Stardrive jump Starfall, asking, “And you’ll start calculations for the eight-lightyear Starfall jump to Lar from there? We’re not going in inner system, into Cora, as we have enough fuel and Talla doesn’t think we’ll need to dock for engineering in Cora. But in Lar, we’ll need to go in inner system to dock at Grumpy Station for fueling. Got that handled?”

Smiling, eager to get on with this, Yar nods, again answering, “Aye, Captain, handling.”

Damn, this is too good to be true, it’s happening, and this is ours. Damn it. Bless be Rendfendal.’ Turning to Frena, who has her eyes on Levan, Levan winks while grinning and feeling warm, tingling all over, as she smiles and winks back. He feels like a teenager again, despite the physical pains.

216:03:32:03:23

Piloting the Star Grean up the last acceleration to Starfall jump velocity, Levan views the screens and gauges again, silently saying one last quick prayer to Rendfendal. He says out loud over the speakers, “Three … Two … One … Jumping!” and he triggers the Stardrive.

Everything goes void black, then there is a pop, followed by a bright white flash, then the natural blackness of space and the Star Grean is cruising at just below jump velocity.

Yar quickly checks his state-of-the-art Class Three Astronav equipment which is just below military grade. He also checks the astroscopes, radars, white noise detectors, gamma detectors, etc. He soon turns to Levan, “Astronav indicates we’re in Cora.”

Kni then speaks up, “Communication beacon’s signal indicate this is Cora system as well, Captain.”

Levan sighs and turns to Tala, asking, “Systems?”

The engineer, who just finished reading through his various screens, answers, “All green, Captain.”

An even deeper chest sigh escapes Levan, and he detects the same from his crew. He begins a deceleration aiming for just to almost two Au below Starfall jump velocity, but to save fuel, he’ll keep the higher velocity. He says, “Yar, you’re up; you have ten hours to calculate the next jump, we start for the next Starfall at 03:34:00:00.

216:03:34:12:24

With the course corrections, they had to adjust velocity slightly. Now, nearly up to Starfall jump velocity again, Levan is still accelerating again and is counting down with everyone sitting strapped in their seats again. Calling out over the speakers, “Three … Two … One … Jumping!” Once again there is the void blackness followed by popping and a white flash, then cruising along at just under Starfall jump velocity.

Again, the crew confirms location. This time they’re on target in the Lar system.

Tala says to Levan, “Captain, with the last system’s maneuvers and the design of the ship, we can easily make a third jump before docking for fueling and inspection. But these beauties of B Drive Ion engines will need an overhaul in drydock after the next jump.”

Levan considers this and then commands as he starts decelerating to almost two Au under jump velocity, “Yar, start calculations to Tor. Kni, contact Depar Station, book a drydock for our engine’s overhaul. Meelar call ahead and order your restock supplies to full inventory. That’s all folks. Everyone, be back on the bridge at 03:36:00:00 for the next Starfall jump.”

216:03:36:00:35

Anxious, Levan accelerates the Star Grean, edging up to Starfall jump velocity for her third jump in a row. It is rare for a captain to voluntarily jump their Stardrives for three jumps in a row when the Stardrive is paired with Ion Drive engines. But Tala insisted that it would be safe with these drives. Levan looks over at Tala who is relaxed, monitoring his own screens.

Gods I’m nervous. We should have docked and at least performed an inspection and refueled. Now we have enough fuel for a decel and a ten-days hold. Depar put us on four days’ hold, before docking, if our berth opens on schedule, which they rarely do.’ Fussing nervously over details, Levan stops his scattered thinking and refocuses on piloting, reading his screen’s velocity. He continues the count, “Two … One … Jumping!”

Cruising in the void of space at just under jump velocity the crew confirms that they are in the Tor system, on the edge of Humar Empire territory, the last inhabited and explored system in this direction.

Levan begins piloting into the inner system, beginning the full deceleration once they are close enough. He guides the Star Grean on Yar’s route to Depar Station with flight control’s guidance. The deceleration takes time, twenty-three hours with the Class B Ion engines firing and the Solar Sails deployed, working together at two-thirds thrust when they are 1,500 k Au from a good size star.

216:03:39:02:27

Tala addresses Levan while the Captain is monitoring his pilot’s screen, “Captain, I’d like to inspect the fusion reactors as well. This tub sucks a lot of juice from them. Over seventy-eight units of power from the reactors when all systems are running. I want to make sure all fifteen are in top shape.”

Levan groans, looking up he asks, “How long will that take?”

Tala chuckles, “Alone? About thirty working hours per reactor. Each engine requires at least thirty hours for overhauls. We’re here for a while if I work alone.”

Looking back to his screen, Levan asks, “Can you do any of the work before we drydock?”

Shaking his head, Tala replies, “No Captain.”

Frowning, Levan, replies, “Okay, I’ll take it into consideration.”

Moving over to the com console, Levan looks the controls over, then he calls Kni to the command bridge.

216:03:39:04:26

With Kni on the bridge, Levan asks him to patch them through to Depar Station’s employment reserves section.

Using Kni’s aid, Levan contacts Yeta Noar, an old male, who is a low-end desk bureaucrat. Levan asks him, “Yeta, I need to outfit my crew with two more junior engineers trained for Stardrives, and two more security personnel, ready for out of territory jumps. I’d like to have at least four engineers and four security to interview. Can you arrange it?”

Yeta grunts, and then replies, “I have three engineers qualified for Stardrive ships on standby, and any of over half of a dozen military can be lined up. When will you be ready to interview them?”

Levan replies, “I’ll be in the lineup in four hours to get into drydock. I can shuttle over to you anytime after that.”

The minor bureaucrat pauses, then he replies, “We can start with the first interview here in eight hours. You can rent an office from us for twenty credits a day.”

Agreeing, Levan answers, “Done, I’ll be over in eight hours.”

216:03:39:12:42

The Star Grean’s shuttle docks with Depar station’s office central core under Levan’s smooth guidance. Disembarking, Levan and 3rd Purist Frena search for the Bureau’s core offices, finding them in the upper offices that occupy the front third of the office core. The auto-assistant directs the pair to the Employment section. Finding Yeta is relatively easy in the low G environment. The duo engages Yeta in light banter before he shows them to their rented office, and displays their two-day itinerary on the desk monitor. Yeta quickly excuses himself, as it is obvious by the way he sidesteps when near Frena, and from his fidgeting, that Yeta is nervous around her. Though he observes complete proper protocol and proper etiquette the whole time, he is quick to exit the office. While the Star Grean is in the queue for drydock, Levan and Frena conduct nine interviews, hiring two junior engineers and three Spaceman 3rd Grade Marines for the security of the Star Grean. This fills all twelve of the crew cabins on the Star Grean.

As the crew waits to start working in drydock, they acquaint themselves with each other, assisting each other where needed.

216:04:04:12:16

Finally, the drydock bay’s end doors seal shut, with the Star Grean moored in place. The fuel lines snap into place, and Tala begins the process of topping up the twenty, one-thousand-litre fluid tanks. Meanwhile, Meelar heads to the gangway where he starts taking on the rations and drinking water, as well as getting rid of the waste at the same time, before he arranges to do the transfer of other supplies.

Levan happily watches as the junior engineers crack open the hatches on Ion B Drive number one to begin work on it, assisting Tala.

Tala assured Levan that with three engineers working together he could do the necessary work in a third of the time. He virtually guaranteed Levan that they could inspect and overhaul all three drives in three days, give or take a few hours if no issues were found. And he also promised to finish inspecting the fifteen fusion reactors in fifteen days, thus getting the Star Grean out of drydock by the twenty-fourth of 04. Levan laughed when Frena told Tala that she’d hold him to it, at the cost of pay reduction if he failed. The engineer paled, whiter than Levan has ever seen him. But Tala held firm in his conviction, and he scurried out of the command deck, going right to work, getting the juniors suited up and moving within minutes.

216:04:08:06:25

By working a little overtime, Tala and his juniors finish the drives on schedule, along with the fueling top-up, with just over 3,500 litres of liquid fuel going into the tanks which hold 10,000 litres. They used just under a quarter of the tank’s capacity, which is less fuel then Levan estimated.

The whole crew is relaxing for the rest of the day. Near exhausted, everyone has gone with little sleep for days, prepping for the next stage of the flight. Yar has been busy with the prelim navigation into Tunda. Kni has been inspecting the science lab and familiarizing himself with the science bay’s equipment. Meelar has been organizing and stowing supplies and gear to his satisfaction. The Marines, with Gunner Krenda, have been running drills, gaining proficiency on board the Star Grean in various scenarios. Levan and Frena have been busy with the command center, both trying to learn how to use the communication center and Frena familiarizing herself with command controls as instructed by Levan, who, though highly knowledgeable with the command structure, spends time getting more comfortable with the Star Grean’s systems.

Each evening after supper, to the enjoyment of all, Levan regales the crew with an hour of performance, accompanying his playing of the green Royal Pheasant guitar with his singing. Sometimes, Frena or one of the other joins him, singing or playing their instruments along with him enthusiastically.

216:04:24:00:05

The drydock master opens the end of the bay’s hatches, and Levan boldly pilots the Star Grean out of the dock, taking the Star Grean into the busy traffic lanes under the directions of the flight controllers. Levan gave the flight control his destination before leaving drydocks. Flight Control guides the Star Grean outward, away from the inner system. Levan is given permission to incremental accelerations until the Star Grean is at five Au per hour and long past the inner planetoids, approaching the jump zone and going to the space out of the territory. It is a no mans land out here, not visited by sane captains, with sane crews. The sanity of the Star Grean’s crew has already been questioned.

In one last test, Levan designates a lone space boulder, an ice asteroid spinning solo in space ahead of them, to Gunner Krenda. Having picked out the 30-metre diameter ball of ice from over thirty Au away, this gives Krenda plenty of time to power up and tune the laser. From less than 50 k kilometers, Krenda fires her laser, striking the asteroid’s side square, spinning it off in another direction.

Levan ponders this, ‘That was with preparation and plenty of time to aim; what happens in combat’ he keys the com to the weapons command pod, “Good shot. Can you do that without prep time? We’re moving too fast to pick a random target for you now. When we’re at a combat velocity, then we’ll test the system.”

Krenda keys back, responding, “I can do it again.”

Levan mutters, “I hope so if we need you.”

216:04:26:12:36

Everyone is at their stations, apprehensive, as Levan counts down over the intercom. For five crewmembers, this is their first jump on the Star Grean. For three of those, this is their first jump ever.

Levan counts over the speakers, “Two … One … Jumping!” The black void, followed by the pop and the bright white light, and then a horrendous crashing thud as something solid strikes the Duro-armour double layered ceramic hull. Then, followed by another pop, light and resounding thud.

Levan is tempted to immediately take them back into a jump, but with no coordinates, they could end up anywhere. Even worse, they could possibly end up inside the body of a planet or star. Now, at least they’re alive. There is another thud as they coast at just under jump velocity.

Levan puts the Star Grean into full deceleration. He has spotted the issue, they’re hitting rocks. He’s busy piloting around the big rocks, but the ship is still colliding with a few of the smaller ones. The radar is showing a broad belt wall of big ones ahead of them in less than five minutes, which he can’t go over, under, or around. They are going to be going through them.

Signalling the weapons command pod com, Levan, as calm as possible, says, “Krenda, we’re going to be flying into a wall of asteroid boulders through a broad space. If you don’t want to be a permanent part of them, I suggest you get the laser up to full power. You’re given free command to blast us a path through the wall. Quick now, you have about two minutes, Ensign.”

Krenda doesn’t respond, but Levan feels, through the floor of the command room’s deck, the hum of the laser powering up to full burn. A minute later, laser blasts burn rocks into dust particles just a minute before the Star Grean starts to fly into the barrier.

Levan flies into the path opening up by Krenda. The crew braces for any impacts just in case the path is too narrow for the Star Grean. A couple times Levan is forced to squeeze the ship between asteroid size boulders that Krenda can’t break down enough.

Soon, Tala calls to Levan, “Captain, with your flying and the decelerating and with Krenda’s burning, we’ve drained the accumulators, and the reactors are starting to overheat. They’ll start going into reactor shutdowns in a couple of minutes.”

Levan grins, saying, as the laser stops firing, having cleared the path through the rock belt, “Keep the systems going as best you can, Tala. Another three Au and we can slow down on sucking the power out of her so bad.”

Levan weaves the Star Grean around a moon-size asteroid in time to avoid colliding with it, only to see two more ahead. Levan diverts the Star Grean away from these two moon size asteroids, but now the ship is colliding with a cloud of several small game-ball-size ice boulders instead.

Over the seven hours that they fly through the systems Ort Barrier, the hull is severely impacted many times. Because the Astronav sensors, damaged during the initial impact, have become disabled, Levan has to rely completely on the surviving video cameras and the radar systems to aide him in piloting the Star Grean.

As the ship exits the Ort Barrier, the Star Grean has already slowed velocity to almost half Starfall jump velocity. Some of the reduction is due to the collisions, but most are due to Levan’s forceful full extreme deceleration. With Levan’s piloting skills, they haven’t gone off spinning or tumbling lost from the collisions. They have managed to hold a steady flight. Pointed ahead and outside of the Ort Barrier, Levan orders Tala to quickly deploy the Solar Sail Drives, adding to the deceleration.

216:04:27:12:42

The Star Grean has come down to 11.9 AU per hour in velocity, and now it is time to assess damages while the remaining functional fusion reactors and solar drives recharge the accumulators and try to keep power to the remaining ship’s system.

Kenneth Shumaker

To be continued in Episode 004 on 216:04:27:13:00

With the Star Grean in an unknown system and their Astronav system damaged, the engineers start assessing the damages to the Star Grean. Yar tries to pinpoint their location, using whatever undamaged telescopes, sensors, and camera systems are available.

Levan has 3rd Purist Frena administering to a wounded marine.

 

© 2017 by Kenneth Shumaker with Inevitable Unicorn Press

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Include your name, location, and e-mail address as well, so proper credit can be given to you as the contributor. Your email address will not be shared unless you direct us to so and you give us your permission.

 

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Owerton Challenge Issue 112, Star Grean Episode 002, “Black Cat Circle’

Episode 002

Star Grean

By Kenneth Shumaker

Episode 002, ‘Black Cat Circle’

Challenge: issue 112

  • Words: Black Cat Circle

    • Black
    • Cat
    • Circle
  • Contributor:

    • Lee ann
    • High Prairie, Alberta

 

Star Grean

 

Our story takes place in Kenneth Shumaker’s 5th Galaxy science fiction realm of the Toran sector with the crew of the starship, Star Grean. Her captain is the enigmatic and sly thirty-six-year-old veran human male, Levan, who is default owner of Flind Exploration Corporation. Levan lives in a society that is dominated by females, ran by corporate political organisations, and obeys the female ran Venkaer religious institution. This is a society where no male is given the opportunity to command or own property. Yet, we find Levan to be Captain of the Star Grean and her crew, even with a Venkaer’s 3rd Purist on board.

In the previous episode 001 on 216:03:19:19:55

Pilot Levan of the Humar Empire received terrible news, and he had to make a choice. His maternal grandmother died in an inter-corporation takeover duel, where both combatants died – bad news for both corporations and families. The news was given to Levan by the corporation’s lawyer at five minutes to midnight, telling Levan that he has no options for taking the Ulmora Corporation seat on as head, he has to give it up. On the bright side, Levan has inherited a ship, the Star Grean. Now, he’s looking for crewmembers for his new ship.

 

We now continue in episode 002 at 216:03:21:09:31

Looking at Frena, Levan holds his tongue trying not berate her for talking down to him. Levan arrived at 21:09:22, plenty of time before he planned on opening the office to meet with his new crew. He found Frena impatiently waiting for him at the door, and she cut him a new arse with words that are not polite to repeat.

Instead, Levan says, “3rd Purist Frena, I did say that I would meet here at the office with the crew at 03:21:10:00. It is now, by my chroncrom, 03:21:09:31, well before the designated time. May I suggest I make some java for you while you relax and resort your thoughts for this afternoon?”

It is evident to Levan that Frena hasn’t had a male stand up to her before, as she stands and stares at him with her mouth slightly open and water-blue eyes slightly wider than normal. She flutters her hands a bit and answers Levan, “I like my java black … and steaming hot, dark roasted … fine grind blend.”

Levan bows and replies, “I’ll see if we have any … Please, I think the seats look comfortable by the desk.” He feels a slight pang of guilt for putting her in a lower place, but this is his office and corporation, and they will be flying on his ship. She needs to be aware that he rules in these areas. When they are out in society, he doesn’t rule. But here and on his ship, she is a subordinate, not him.

Levan finds the java machine in the second small room with the plastacine publication room and radio-vid communications center. There is also an interstellar radio-video communication console along with a class three master computer coordination server console with class four security protocol center for the server, office, and business. ‘Damn the gods, if I want to keep all this, I need a female figurehead for the business. I don’t have anyone I trust. But I have Frena, and so far we have a rough understanding. What’ll happen if I offer her to sit as the figurehead of the corporation?’ Levan proceeds to make the best steaming mug of hot black strong dark java he can from the auto-processor, instructing it to use the finest grind it can produce. He makes a second mug for himself. Taking these to the front office after less than five minutes, Levan hands Frena her cup of java.

Frena takes the cup of java, sniffs it, and gleefully smiles. Sipping the steaming hot liquid, she grins with an expression that would make a child proud. Frena says, “This is perfect; you do well.”

Not letting out his sigh, still breathing normally, Levan says, “I have a proposal for you 3rd Purist. I want you to be Flind Exploration’s figurehead. But only a figurehead, if that will work for you. I’ll pay a bonus of ten thousand credits a month?”

Sipping her java, Frena observes Levan as a Tala hunting cat would stalking a Goran hare. “Make it fifteen thousand a month, boy, and I’ll be your figurehead, keeping quiet when you want.”

Now, sighing deeply from his throat, Levan answers as he gives a crisp spacer salute. “Deal 3rd Purist. But for that much, you must speak what I want to be said when I want it said.”

Shaking her head, Frena replies, “That kind of effort will cost you twenty thousand a month.”

Stuck between rocks under the currents in a river, having now opened this dialogue, Levan bows, acknowledging Frena. Levan says, “Okay … agreed, 3rd Purist.”

Frena smiles, saying, “Shall we enjoy this perfect java you brewed, Levan?”

Watching Frena, Levan wonders as to her motives, as no woman has asked him to observe beverages with them before and she is his employee who has legal rights to command him – a tough spot for him. Yet, she’s unusually polite for a female.

The two sit and enjoy their java while waiting for Yar, who arrives punctually at the time of 21:09:55.

Frena frowns at Yar but keeps silent. Having finished her java, she hands Levan the mug saying, “I’d like another.”

Laughing at the paradox, Levan takes the mug and asks Yar, “How do you take your java?”

Caught off guard at his employer asking him how he wants his java, Yar bows, and replies, “I’ll take it with a whitener and two sweeteners.”

With four minutes before office hours begin, Levan brews three more mugs of java as each likes them. Distributing the brewed mugs of java, he says, “I’ll be in my office for the next hour. Relax and enjoy your first hour free with paid employment.”

Entering his office, Levan activates his desk and views the reports from the auto-assistant, which were prepared over the last few hours. He instructs the assistant that also he wants the pages for those seeking employment.

First, he checks the sub-request contracts, finding three government contracts from differing bureaus.

The first one he reads is for a payout of 200 k credits to the crew who assesses the hazards for further developing the Cax system which was roughly explored by a team ten Terms ago. The previous team had found no inhabited planets. Thinking about this, Levan decides the reward is too low for the expenses involved.

The second sub-request is on a mission from the Norail Employment Security Bureau, paying 400 k credits to the crew who enters the established uninhabited Yer system and rids it of the pirates who jump out to raid the Lar system. Levan finds too many unknowns for the payout offered, and the risks are too high to be worth the reward. He rejects this one too.

Looking to the third and last report found by the assistant, Levan reads it. The request is from the Hazdal Space Exploration and Expansion Bureau of the Hazdal Space Corporation of the government. It offers 1 mil credits to Corporations who jump to new systems, exploring them and returning with complete reports of the systems. This is just what the Star Grean was designed for, thinks Levan. They just need the right crew for her.

Levan, satisfied that he can get the Star Grean employment if Frena plays her role correctly, looks to the second set of reports – the system charts and reports to get outside of the territory. He finds a system named Tunda which looks promising. It’s three Starfall jumps from here in the Mort System over to the Tor system, then another jump to the Tunda system. It looks to be 43 light years of traveling through a series of four jumps. The last jump is the longest at fourteen light years, which is close to the maximum for Star Grean’s Starfall. Star Grean Stardrive’s maximum technical Starfall reach is nineteen light years – as documented on plastacine.

Yes, this is doable with the right crew … if motivated enough. We can make this happen. Now, to prime Frena with some coaching, so she can do a proper presentation to the right department in the right bureau, and then we’re set. No government agency will even entertain a male presence, never mind listen to a presentation for a contract application. I just have to make an appointment. We’ll have time while we wait for that to evolve, as they usually drag their feet for a month or more.

Making the appointment application, and then moving on to the employment seekers pages, Levan is aghast at the number of screens of seekers, just for this city. After narrowing the fields of search to just local spacers searching for immediate employment, the screen narrows down to fourteen applicants. Taking the list of candidates out to Frena, Levan asks, “3rd Purist, how do you feel about helping me set up interviews with recruits for the crew?”

Smiling gleefully, Frena leans forward, saying, “Interviews are something I’m great at conducting. Let me help arrange meetings, and we’ll sit through them together. I’ll help weed out the scraggs from the seeds in the chaff of recruits.”

Fearing that she’d take over, Levan already regrets asking Frena to help him. But he hands her seven of the names, along with their contact information. Two hours later, the two of them have narrowed their list down to eight interviews to take place over the next two days, starting with the first one in three hours.

Frena sits with Yar and Levan, and she says, “This is so exciting – involved in the building of a corporation and the crewing of a virgin ship. We really need to bless the ship as soon as possible, or Rendfendal will be angry with us.”

Humble, not wanting to anger any god or a Purist, Levan answers, “As soon as we have enough crew members to do a proper ship inspection, we’ll fly up to her.”

Smiling like an eager child, Frena nods, rubbing her hands together, asking, “What should we do first?”

Seeing that now is as good a time as any to address the rock in the matter, Levan clears his throat. He watches Yar for a few moments before Levan turns to Frena and says, “We are going to Tunda system to explore on a government contract. You are going to get us this contract with a presentation that I’m going to coach you on.”

Frena jolts back in her seat, aghast at the suggestion, “You? You’re going to coach me on conducting a presentation?”

Holding his hand up, Levan silences her and says, “Yes, because we want this contract, and my grandma Velma taught me the proper etiquette and style of presentation to use to receive a positive contact for government presentations to get contracts. Thus, I suggest you should follow my guidance if we are to receive a chance at getting the contract. I am getting us an appointment for a presentation.”

Looking even more shocked at Levan, Frena asks, “How are you, a male, getting an appointment with a government department?”

Grinning, Levan says, “We – you and I – are getting an appointment, not with just a department but with a bureau department of Hazdal Space Exploration and Expansion.”

Shaking her head, Frena snarls, “You didn’t ask for my authorization.”

Levan answers, “I did – you are being paid twenty-thousand a month for your authorization.”

Staring at Levan like an animal blinded by vehicle headlights, it suddenly hits Frena what she agreed to earlier. She just utters, “Oh.”

The desk auto-assistant chimes, uttering, “Message for Head of Flind Exploration from Hazdal Bureau of Space Exploration and Expansion chief of staff’s office.”

Levan looks at Frena and nods.

Frena gulps as she suddenly realises that this is now her position in Flind, whether she is ready or not. It’s not play time or imitation; this is real. Frena says, “Go ahead, speak.”

The assistant utters, “To the Head of Flind Exploration, your request for contract proposal presentation has been received. An appointment has been set for 03:23:10:00. Be punctual as a second appointment will not be arranged. End of message.”

Levan and Frena stare at each other. They’re pale like a spotless plastacine page.

Frena asks, shaking, “Can we be ready in less than two days?”

Seeing her commanding presence drop for the first time, Levan picks up the pieces as it is his job, saying, “Of course, if we work on the presentation between interviews.”

At seeing Levan’s control, Frena regains her normal complexion colour and composure. Frena nods, saying, “Yes, of course.” But her voice wobbles, betraying her words and showing her lack of certainty.

03:21:16:00 

The first applicant arrives for her interview with Levan and Frena. Levan has caved in and agreed that Frena can sit in on the interviews with him. The applicant is a female engineer with three terms of experience. But she has only worked on systems ships in the Mort system. She’s never worked Stardrive ships and has no education regarding them. When asked what she was expecting for pay grade, she boldly said Rank 10, which in spacer terms is equal to a lieutenant paygrade. Levan isn’t about to pay a no-skill engineer, a lieutenant’s rank pay. Levan thanks the applicant after almost immediately dismissing her.

After she has left, Levan turns to Frena, and asks, “Do you believe the gall of her? She has no skills, yet she wants more pay than a ship’s captain typically gets.”

Frena corrects him, saying, “You mean a male ship’s captain. Females receive paygrade Rank 14, remember, and a full Stardrive Engineer Master Ensign 1st Class can rightly expect Rank 10 if a female.”

Fuming at the indignities, Levan doesn’t voice his thought. ‘Not on my ship.’ He holds back his opinions, offering instead: “The next applicant is at 21:18:00; we have half-an-hour. Do you want another java, before we start rehearsing?”

Instantly, Frena replies, “Just like you made in the morning, boy … I mean Levan … Sorry, Captain Levan. It’s going to take some getting used to you being the captain. I will, though, or we’ll come to locked heads – one or the other.”

Levan whispers, “Likely locked heads.” as he walks to the communications/supply room.

Smiling, Frena replies loudly. “No, not necessarily, sweetie.”

Trying not to fume at such familiarities, Levan makes three mugs of java. As he is returning to his office, Levan leaves Yar’s java with him, telling Yar, “Just send the next applicant right in. Don’t mind any shouting you hear in the office, as I may have locked heads with Commander Frena.” He continues walking to his office as Yar grins and half-heartedly salutes Levan.

03:21:17:56 

The next applicant arrives, fully dressed in the full spacer formals of a Purist. She addresses Frena only, which immediately sets Levan into an internal fuming, as Frena joyously carries out the interview. 1st Purist Yesta is from the fringe of the territory, out at the edge of the Eur system. She was abandoned here in Mort system by her last crew during their stopover, and she’s been trying to earn enough credits to fly back to her home in Eur to reunite with her family. Her only real experience as a ship’s spacer is as a communications officer in Mort system ships for four Terms now. When Frena asks her what paygrade she wants, Yesta replies she’d request Rank 7 Communications officer paygrade. Frena thanks her as Levan continues to fume silently. Dismissing Yesta, Frena waits for the door to close, and then, after a count of thirty, she burst out laughing. When she settles down and is calm again, she says, “You can’t seriously consider hiring her? We’re going Stardrive. She’s an inner system com officer who’s a Novice Purist of the god of dirt – the earth god, Zorendal. She’s more useless than a male toilet sanitizer. Don’t even consider her … And did you hear what she asked for pay? That is way out of line for her skill level.”

Now its Levans turn to laugh. After a full belly laugh, Levan calms and then says, “I thought you were grilling her cause you were seriously considering her. You skank, you were tearing her a new arse, female style.”

This earns Levan a menacing glare from Frena, as she asks, “What did you say, boy?”

Suddenly, remembering who he is with – a female 3rd Purist – which means she’s a class three priestess, a woman of rank in society who is accustom to absolute full respect and subservience from all males and lesser ranking females, he quickly corrects himself. “My apologies 3rd Purist, I misspoke. Please forgive my rudeness.”

They are in silence for a few minutes as Levan is standing and bowing to Frena while she glares menacingly at him. Then, suddenly, she lightens up and stops glaring and answers, “No worries, I guess you’re right. I was rough on her, for that matter, I’ve been rough on you, too. You are my employer, my source of income and theoretical superior if you weren’t a male. I will overlook the rudeness, this time, Captain Levan.”

Levan takes a deep breath, after breathing slow, shallow fearful breaths for so many minutes. He feared that Frena would have him relegated to the detention cells, as Frena could easily have had done for his misspeaking. Wiping the sweat from his face, Levan says, “I think we can all go home for today. That was our last interview for the day, as the third one set for today canceled during our first interview. I will see you tomorrow at 22:10:00?”

Frena, reading the relief in Levan, she smiles, and nods, as she hands him her empty mug. “Yes, I’ll see you tomorrow, Captain Levan. Don’t be late again.”

Resisting a groan, Levan wonders what time his being late is. He answers, “I will see you at 22:10:00 … 3rd Purist.”

She stands and leaves casually as she summons a Quickie Cab on her chroncrom. Walking through the reception office, she looks over at Yar and says, “You can check with Captain Levan, but I think you’re dismissed until 22:10:00 as well.”

Yar looks through the open office door at his captain, and Levan nods. Yar gives a crisp spacer salute. Standing, Yar also summons a Quickie Cab over his chroncrom, as he follows Frena out of Flind Exploration.

03:22:00:23 

As Levan opens his apartment door, he smells the dead animal before he sees the Goran Hare with its guts splayed out on his dining table. He waves his hand over the light switch, brightening the apartment. On every wall is spray-painted the face of a cat in black paint, with a three-centimeter band circle around it. The whole disc is half-a-metre in diameter. The vandals got at least one painting on every damn wall. After searching the rest of his apartment, he finds another dead Goran Hare corpse splayed out on his bed. By the state of their entrails, the corpses were left eight hours ago. Searching his possessions, Levan can’t find anything missing, and he discovers that his security system wasn’t broken into. The culprits used a legitimate means of access. ‘Damn thugs, wonder what they want?’ He thinks as he starts cleaning up the mess, starting with the two hares. Placing the corpses and entrails in disposal sacks, along with blood soaked cleaning cloths, Levan takes the disposal sacks down the hall to the chute, and Levan gets rids of the gut-wrenching nauseating refuse.

As Levan is entering his apartment and just about to close the door, he reels back with the impact to his face from two fists.

Levan lays on the hall floor as he tries to shake the stars from his mind and his vision. He feels hands grip his arms and drag him. He hears a door slam shut, and then he feels ice water wash over him. Gasping, as he draws in breaths of air from the shock, the mental and vision stars begin to clear.

A voice commands him: “Stand up, boy.”

Still too shocked to distinguish whether it is a male or female talking to him, Levan reaches up to grab on to anything for support as he tries to stand. He struggles to regain more than silhouettes for vision. He feels hands take his hands and elbows, roughly aiding him to rise and stand.

The voice speaks again. With the ringing in Levan’s ears now a slight pinging, he makes out the voice as a mature male. Squinting his green eyes, he determines that the one speaking is a tall man with a husky build. So, Levan determines the man to be larger than most. Squeaking out through clenched bloody teeth, Levan asks, “What is this about?”

The mysterious man says, “Money, what else? We want a million credits by this time tomorrow. No security is to be called in, or you die.”

Levan spits out blood from between his teeth, and he feels blood trickling down the back of his skull and down his blonde hair. Levan says, “And just how the gods am I supposed to pay that? I can’t pay my two-hundred credits a month rent. I’ve been busy applying for work.”

Laying on the floor again, gasping for breath, after receiving double blows to his abdomen, Levan can only hear ringing in his ears, above the muffled speaking of the man. Tears run from his eyes, as Levan gets enough of breath to say, “My ears are ringing; I can’t hear you.”

He is left on the floor for what seems to be hours. Then, as his breathing normalises, the tears stop flowing and he can hear again. Hands drag him to his feet. The heavy man says, “I said, we know you have millions, as Velma Ulmora died fighting in a duel with Herret Trodan. You are Velma’s only likely heir. If you’re not her heir, then you will find out who is. And if you value life of any kind, you will get your hands on one million credits to give to us. Put the credits in the drive in the case on your kitchen counter. Do it by this time tomorrow, or someone will die … likely you.”

Levan throws up his last meal on the man’s legs. After receiving a kick to the face, Levan becomes unconscious.

216:03:22:09:03

Walking up to the doors of 1402 Ferris Towers, his eyes black and his face bruised, Captain Levan loudly groans as he sees 3rd Purist Frena standing and waiting for him, tapping her toes.

He punches in his security code and then places his right palm on the biometric scanner beside the door. With the door swinging open, he silently enters and swipes his hand in front of the switch, lighting up the offices.

Going to the communications/supply room, Levan automatically makes the three of them their morning java, placing Yar’s on ‘keep warm’ in the processor. He takes the other two mugs and leads Frena into his office. He hands Frena her steaming strong black fine-grind brewed java. Levan asks her, “What is your view on extortion?”

Not sure where this is leading, Frena answers, “I abhor the use of it, and will strike out at it to stamp it out at its source. Why?’

Nodding with approval, Levan says, “We need a tracking device, some weapons, and a shortcut on a chroncrom to city security. We’re going to hunt down the Black Cat Circle extortionist group, who beat the air out of me last night. They came demanding one million credits, or they’d kill until they received the credits.”

Frowning, Frena asks, “When do they want the credits by?”

Pointing at his chroncrom, Levan says, “03:23:00:00.”

Nodding yet again, Frena says, “No one threatens my congregation. I’ll get Yar working on the gear. I think he’ll need two-thousand credits to get the items we’ll need. Do you authorise the transfer?”

Having both his employee’s personal credit accounts, Levan uses his chroncrom to quickly transfers three-thousand credits to Yar’s account. Levan then tells Frena, “Talk with him. Here’s the transfer case; do what you need to do. I transferred three-thousand to Yar.”

Saluting with a Purist salute of respect, Frena takes the case and exits the office to wait for Yar and the first interview recruit of the day.

…..

Back in Levan’s office at 03:22:10:00, Frena has a humar male of 57 Terms-age for the day’s first interview.

Levan takes a liking to the man as soon as he boldly walks into the room exhibiting a light regard for etiquette.

After introductions, Levan asks, “So, tell us why you’re here Scall?”

Looking at Frena, then back to Levan, Scall directly addresses Levan, “Captain, I made a mistake and misspoke to a female captain thirty-two months back. I then got stripped of my job and was blackmarked twenty-one months ago. I was banned from ever working as a spacer by the Hazdal Space Corporation Council of Governing Agencies. I want to be honest, so you know what you’d be getting if you hire me. My Black Mark is for ten Terms.”

Laughing, to Frena’s frustration, Levan finally says, “So you’re telling me the government says I can’t hire you on my ship’s crew?”

Scall frowns and nods, and then answers, “Precisely, Captain.”

Levan looks at Frena, and asks, “3rd Purist, do Purists follow Government edicts all the time?”

Frena starts to smile, and she answers, “Not this one.”

Levan starts to reach for Frena’s knee to pat it, then before getting even a quarter of the way to Frena’s knee, Levan withdraws his hand from such familiarity. Instead, he says, “Good, that’s what I like to hear. Please Scall, tell us what you might bring to a ship like ours?”

The baffled man answers while somewhat sputtering, “Well, I’m a 2nd Class Stardrive Engineer with twelve Terms of Stardrive experience, and seven Terms on inner system tubs before that. My first six years in Stardrives was as a junior engineer, then followed by two years as a junior officer. The last years before my incident, and begging my pardon, I was with a ridiculous female captain who knew nothing about ship engineering. I was her senior engineering officer.”

Levan’s eyes are moist and sparkling in the light of the room, as he is so excited, not believing his luck. He looks at Frena and can see she likes Scall, too. Levan asks, “What pay are you asking for, Engineer Scall?”

The downtrodden ship engineer answers, “I would be happy, right now, as a junior with Rank 5.”

Shaking his head, Levan replies, “No my friend … if we take a chance on you, we’re paying you right with you in your proper station. You are going to be offered Senior Ensign 1st Class Engineer with paygrade Rank 7. That’s my thinking. None of this hare-footing around, we’re going all the way, sticking our whole foot in the noose.”

Grinning broadly, Scall spacer salutes Frena, and then Levan, asking, “Where do I sign up?”

Grinning, Levan just got to snub the government and hire a first-class senior engineer, cheap. It is a win-win for him until the government slaps his hands with their penalty and sentences him with detention cell time. But they have to catch us first. “Scall, we’re giving you different ID, until your real ID clears the Black List. I know the person who’ll supply it. But I’ll have to see them alone, tonight. Consider this as bonus pay from me. You’ll be registered under the new name for the ship’s crew for now.”

Frena slaps his arm and says through her teeth, “You didn’t tell me you had underworld connections?”

Levan chuckles, saying, “A few, from my pre-university days. While we wait for our next recruit, will you two leave my office so I can contact my connection.”

…..

Over an hour later, at 03:22:13:00, the fourth recruit of the series arrives. Eager to please the panel, she addresses both in her greeting. But she settles into talking with Frena, without entirely ignoring Levan, answering his questions when he addresses her, such as when Levan asks, “Tell us about your tub experience, Gunner Krenda.”

The female security officer replies crisply, “I became a ship’s gunner for security, seven Terms ago. First, it was on system ships, only getting onto Stardrive ships on the last three runs. But I’m bored with regular inhabited safe systems. I want to one day run on jumps that move out of the territory. I want to fly on exploration ships, discovering new systems.”

Frena looks at Krenda incredulously, and she asks sarcastically, “Really? Are you serious?”

Shrugging slightly, Krenda boldly answers, “By all means, yes, I’m serious.”

Levan winks at Frena, and he turns to Krenda, saying, “Do we have the job for you! What are your melee and weapons security skills like?”

Confused, Krenda replies, “I teach both at security schools when I’m between spacer jobs. Why?”

Excited, Levan leans forward, trying not to overstep socially allowed statements. He says, “What position and pay would you expect on an exploration ship?”

Thinking hard about this, Krenda replies, “Gunner, junior or senior, Rank 6 pay?”

Frena nods to Levan. Already having made up his mind, but happy to have Frena’s agreement, Levan says, “Tell you what, the Star Grean Exploration ship is looking for a Senior Ensign 1st Class Gunner. We are willing to pay at paygrade Rank 6. You’re hired Krenda; be here at 03:24:10:00 to start.”

…..

After filling out Krenda’s documentation and moving on with the day, the next applicant arrives at 03:22:15:02. He is a 56 Term’s-old male. The merchant belies the myths of a spacer quartermaster being a squirrely small figured woman. But this one is a large mature male, healthy and virile. A full-time corporate employee he is from Dozoran Corporation, he was employed as a store merchant for the last fifteen Terms. He informs Frena and Levan that he’s willing to leave the security of a corporation position to become a spacer, as he wants to expand his horizons and grow before he dies of old age. He brings his Terms of merchant experience and his garnered corporate merchant connections with him. Meelar is asking for pay grade Rank 4. But Frena offers Rank 3. Meelar, being so ingrained by society to accept female authority as absolute, agrees to the offer without negotiating. He is employed as Senior Ensign 1st Class Quartermaster Paygrade Rank 3.

Taking the time to complete all documents and making sure all the new employees have their plastacine copies, Frena and Levan work side-by-side diligently for an hour until the last applicant arrives who is twenty minutes late.

Frena wants to turn him away, but Levan agrees to hear him out.

Biogeoscientist Kni states his case. Kni completed Corporate University several months ago, admitting that he finished third from last in his class. Kni claims that he was bored with classes, so his assignments were done half-assed.

Levan says, “We don’t take on slackers. Crewmembers must pull their full weight that they’re responsible for, and are required to fill in others’ positions as are able. Why would we hire someone who does things half-assed?”

Almost as if shocked that he is being addressed like he is even being considered, Kni sits up proper and starts taking the interview seriously. He answers, “Captain, I haven’t been given the opportunity to express my potential. I received more education than my family required, to find something challenging or that I excelled at. The trouble was, I excelled at it all, and wasn’t challenged. But getting work experience might show me a new way of thinking – working beside others who challenge me to do better.”

Levan ponders this and then looks at Frena, who shakes her head. Watching the floor, and then up at Kni after awhile, Levan can see the tension in Kni’s jaw and arms. The boy seems to want this now. Levan asks Kni, “What do you expect to be paid?”

Kni immediately says, “I have all this education, which means I have loans to pay off still. I’d like to ask Rank 5 pay?”

Frena laughs and standing up she leaves the office.

Moisture highlights Kni’s eyes as his lips tremble and his cheeks redden. He asks, “Was I out of line?”

Levan nods, saying, “Yes, by a lot. You don’t have the experience to ask for that kind of pay. I might change her mind if you’re willing to accept Rank 3.”

Excited at a job offer with pay, Kni leaps up from his chair, saying, “Yes, talk to Purist Frena. I’ll take Rank 3.”

Levan smiles, motioning to the chair and saying, “Sit, I’m offering you Senior Ensign 1st Class Biogeoscientist at paygrade Rank 3 if you can be ready to ship out on 03:24:10:00.”

Almost shouting, Kni says, “Yes!”

216:03:23:08:00

The man from the Black Cat Circle arrives at Levan’s apartment as he indicated he would. He opens the transfer case and sees the disposable credit transfer drive chip. Taking the case, he nods and silently walks out of Levan’s apartment. Levan watches on his chroncrom as Frena walks out of his storage room with Yar.

Levan asks, “You have the rented hover vehicle ready?”

Yar nods.

Levan starts for the door saying, “Then, let’s go.”

Yar leads down to the garage, where Levan takes the controls of the hover car. Yar guides him as navigator, using the tracking device and following the case. They travel for nearly an hour until the vehicle being tracked stops outside an old style concrete house and the occupants scurry inside with the case.

Levan, Yar, and Frena wait in the hover car, watching the house.

Then, suddenly, the third-floor windows blow out with a flash as an explosion occurs inside the home. Several men run out of the exit on the ground floor, to leave over the next two minutes as the insides of the house burns. It appears no one calls emergency services, as no emergency vehicles arrive in the next half hour. The trio of spacers watches from up the street. Several of the escaping men were obviously severely injured.

Levan says, “The trigger worked nicely. As soon as they inserted the transfer chip, it blew the case. Now we know where their safe house is, if they use it again. I counted eleven escaping. You two? I recorded them all.”

Both agree.

Levan starts the vehicle, and they drive toward the downtown official Hazdal Space Corporation Bureau government towers for their presentation appointment, which is in forty-five minutes.

Kenneth Shumaker

To be continued in Episode 003 on 216:23:10:20

After waiting in the waiting room for twenty minutes past their appointment time, Levan has Frena take the lead, as they had rehearsed the interviews the last two days. Now the presentation is in Frena’s hands, as government bureaucrats never listen to males. Without Frena this contract presentation will go nowhere.

© 2017 by Kenneth Shumaker with Inevitable Unicorn Press

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