Original Work Atomic Destiny

Discussion in 'Survival Reading Room' started by Grand58742, Jul 13, 2015.


  1. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    PROLOGUE – ATOMIC DESTINY


    “Five hundred meters,” came the announcement from the sensor station.

    “Five hundred meters,” replied the pilot in a normal calm voice. And the seconds clicked away slowly as they closed in on the object.

    “One hundred meters,” stated the sensor operator. “Drifting left a little.”

    “Aye, one hundred meters, correcting right. Slowing to three meters per second,” stated the pilot and fiddled with the controls. Maybe fiddling wasn’t the correct term since the nine hundred meter long ship he was on didn’t respond that quickly to commands. However, eventually he got it centered once again.

    “Fifty meters,” announced the sensor operator.

    “Fifty meters. Slowing to one meter per second,” stated the pilot and continued to flick the controls as he maintained the ship’s course.

    “Twenty meters,” said the sensor operator as the pilot tapped on the “brakes” yet again and slowed even further. Of course it was a slow process, but one that required great care as there generally was no hope of rescue this far out from civilization. But they had a tough ship and could withstand a minor bump if it came down to it. But the pilot was proud to say he had never bumped anything in his life and wanted to continue that trend.

    “Object is in the bay, reengaging artificial gravity,” announced the reclamation specialist in the cargo bay. “Picture perfect.”

    “Good job Colt,” said the Captain as the pilot put the controls back into automatic.

    “Closing outer doors,” said the First Officer as she manipulated the controls. “Seals in place, tests show secure and repressurizing compartment.”

    It was just another day in the life on board the Infinicon ship, Atomic Destiny. The ship was well out in the Kuiper Belt at the moment on yet another supply run for the outer colonies gathering space debris that is harvested for minerals, water, chemicals and other items. The year? Not really that important, but the current date is August 20th, 2118 SET. That’s Standard Earth Time for those unaware. But out there a day is…well, just a day and the crew didn’t exactly have a set schedule in their comet and rock chasing. The Chief Pilot, a man named Colt Daniels, stayed at the controls a little longer as he set up the automatic pilot.

    “I’ll go see what we’ve got,” said Captain Markus Winston. He was a pretty fair man and generally ran the ship with a calm demeanor and efficient actions. And all in all, the crew respected him and were pretty happy to serve with him on the ship. Colt requested permission to tag along and was granted permission after he completed setting the controls to automatic. He waved the copilot sitting behind him to the console and relinquished the spot as the Captain gave the conn to the First Officer while the pair went to check out the “acquisition.” They departed the bridge of the ship to the massive cargo area where workers were already moving the object into a sealed area since the warmer atmosphere of the ship would cause the frozen gasses to heat up and escape quickly.

    “Pretty decent size,” remarked the Captain as the crew locked the doors on the compartment. A low mist was quickly being pulled into the vent system on the floors and the transparent compartment showed the object was already spitting out the gasses that made up part of its composition as it warmed up. As to what, they couldn’t tell for the moment, but learned soon enough as they wandered over to the computer panel where a man was watching intently.

    “Hey Cap,” said the lead reclamation specialist, Harry Howell. “Let’s see what we have here.”

    He started the sensor analysis of the asteroid they had picked up, really a big hunk of frozen rock and ice more than anything and watched as the screen spat out the different concentrations of items found.

    “Looks like some oxygen, maybe 1.5%…hydrogen, about 4.5%...ammonia maybe 4%...nitrogen about 4%...helium, less than a percent, no call that a percent...methane about 60%...and I do believe we’ve got some water locked away in here as well, maybe 3%...still working on the rest, but generally another boring space rock. And of course the mineral composition will take a bit longer,” said Howell.

    “I was hoping for more water,” said the Captain.

    “Take what we can get Captain,” said Howell. “And who knows what’s buried in here.”

    “Go ahead and start reclaiming the materials,” said the Captain.

    “We keeping the rock?” asked Howell. Any minerals would be kept regardless of the size

    “Yeah, the Quaoar Outpost has been asking for additional materials for their expansion project,” said the Captain. “When we are at Pluto next week we’ll transfer it to the storage and have the Capital Destiny pick it up. So go ahead and crush it to manageable size for them.”

    And all of the ship’s names that belonged to the Infinity Corporation ended in the word Destiny. The ship was coming towards the end of another three month reclamation run in the Kuiper Belt outside the orbit of Neptune collecting various orbiting objects. Most they were breaking down themselves since they had that capability and separating the materials for storage and later transfer. The plan was to bring them to the solar system colonies that requested it or sell it to the highest bidder and leave it in storage until they could come get it. It was a unique situation having someone from a planet in the inner solar system bid on items and then take several weeks or months to come get it. But that’s the way business was conducted these days in the interplanetary trade.

    The pair continued watching the reclamation team break down the object into basic components and secure them in the large cargo containers located around the ship. Both the Captain and Pilot let out a minor sigh; one because his crew was the best he could ever have hoped for and the other because he was at the top of his game and had skills far and above the average pilot. They both continued to watch the work being done with their minds heading in different directions. One thinking of a potential upcoming retirement. The other had more personal motives on his mind as he thought about their shore leave coming up soon.
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2015
    melbo, Tully Mars, rle737ng and 3 others like this.
  2. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    My first attempt at Sci-Fi and a futuristic SHTF situation. It's been done for a few months now, but I had to wait for the New Horizons Mission to check out Pluto (since it plays a significant part in the story) and make sure everything was technically accurate before posting. It's not always easy sitting on a completed story, but I managed to restrain myself.

    This is a standalone story with no ties to anything I've written before and probably won't be followed up with any other stories. As always, criticism, both good and bad, is appreciated.
     
    squiddley likes this.
  3. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 1


    Well into the 22nd Century, mankind had finally conquered space exploration and colonization. At least within the Solar System that is. The history of how they came to do it was unusual at best, but worked for mankind as we were finally able to break out of the cradle of civilization and get into the stars. Basically the exploration and colonization efforts are run by large corporations and companies now. Oh sure there are elections and governments and things like that on the Earth, or Terra as it’s formally known, but not like they matter. If the corporate bosses want something done, the politicians trip over themselves to do it. So really, nothing changed from the late 20th Century to the 22nd Century. Of course, the politicians are put into office by the corporations, so politicians end up doing the employers’ work and all. How many corporations are there out there colonizing space? Really, only fifteen for the most part.

    The largest happens to be the Infinicon. Or more specifically the Infinity Confederation which is based out of Atlanta in the United States. And WGE which is based in Boston and pretty much has a sphere of influence over much of Canada. And one smaller company based in the central United States named Advanced Dynamics. Nowhere near the size of Infinicon, but big enough to beat out others in advancements and space colonization. Japan has a large corporation, Shimizu, which happens to hold control over Japan and much of unified Korea, parts of what used to be Siberia before the war and some of Manchuria. The Chinese had two conglomerates, Tiger and Zhao, that currently weren’t trying to rip each other’s throats out as they typically do. Southeast Asia has one named MVI that originally came out strong, but kind of petered off after a while. They still have colonies and stations, but haven’t really been expanding that much in the past decade.

    The Russians had two, one called K4 which was named for the founders Klimov, Kostin, Kalugin and…Rybakov. Where’s the fourth K you ask? First name of Rybakov is Konstatin so they went with K4. And the other smaller one named Mercury Group that was about the smallest Terran based one out there. Mainland Europe had three called the Alliance Group, Saint Martin, but you have to say that with a French accent, and the last one in Eastern Europe called Blue Horizons. The United Kingdom had one, and actually the oldest of them all called British Aerospace or BAE. It had managed to survive the corporate mergers and buyouts by keeping ahead of the game. And India has their large corporation named Future Indus which sometimes serves as a subcontractor for the others and sometimes makes its own outposts and colonies.

    And rounding out the game was Down Under Exploration from Australia. It started as a wholly owned subsidiary of Infinicon, but along the way was granted its own right to explore and colonize by Infinicon and headed out on their own in the mid 21st Century. The main South American company, Embraer, more or less falls into the Infinicon, WGE and Down Under Exploration sphere of influence, but had some independent contractors that will work for anyone and has a few stations out there of its own. And that’s pretty much it for the big ones. The Middle East and North Africa talked about getting into the game, but funding was an issue and many of the nations were just now getting back to pre-nuclear bombardment levels. Africa? Are you kidding? It’s Africa…

    Okay, now the history of how mankind ended up all the way out here in the Kuiper Belt. So in the early 21st Century, the idea of space travel and exploration became pretty politicized. And each and every time a country changed hands politically, the goals would change concerning its space program. More than a few people on Earth at the time got to be pretty irate over it and started their own companies of space travel because they dreamed of the stars and weren’t waiting on the government to do it any longer. So a couple of the larger company presidents and CEOs got together and said “You know, we can do this. We have the technology, we have the money, let’s do it.” And they formed a limited partnership to do just that. One company specialized in the first commercial space station that was taken into orbit by another company that specialized in launching heavy objects into orbit which was all controlled through the computer systems of yet another company which was serviced by the final company that had working space planes. And believe it or not, it worked out great. And their stocks skyrocketed overnight. Furthermore, when the same company decided to capture a near earth asteroid and exploited the materials inside before the old NASA was able to? They quickly became the most powerful corporation in the world. It captured the imagination of the world so to speak and even though they financially lost big time on the endeavor, the fact it worked and they were able to reclaim some valuable materials was seen as a raging success. The problem wasn’t that they did it…sort of. The companies that formed the partnership decided a lot of government regulations were hampering them from actually doing what they felt needed to be done. And decided to ignore the ones that would hold them back. And of course, this didn’t set well with some folks.

    So when politics and government regulation stepped in to stop them since they happened to do things on their own? Well, easy enough as they basically said screw you, stopped paying their corporate and individual taxes and planned to move their assets and companies out of the United States to other nations that had zero problems with the way they conducted business. Now why would a government try to stop that? The answer really isn’t that clear, but it had to do with government regulation, taxation and honestly came down to pure ego. So the movement out of the country didn’t set well with some politicians since when you take away what amounts to several hundreds of billions of dollars in tax revenues out of their coffers, they get pretty pissed. So the President moved to nationalize the industries and seize the assets….

    Well, that didn’t exactly work like they planned. One thing about these large corporations is they generally have money to spend. And people were pretty motivated by money back then. Oh sure, you have some idealists and all, but let’s face it; when someone drops by your house and waves a bag of cash under your nose that’s equal to five years of your salary? Idealistic notions kind of stop mattering at that point. So in effect, those same companies bought the loyalty of the very government agents that were supposed to stop them in the first place. And used the money the companies withheld from the federal government in taxes was to bribe the same federal government employees. And the very same federal employees that typically got paid from the federal budget that depending on taxes. More or less cut out the middle man in the whole situation. Yes, the irony of the situation was not unnoticed.

    And of course, chaos ensued and eventually the military was brought in and well, sometimes it’s even cheaper to pay for military guys. And suddenly you have what used to be the State politicians screaming for justice and claiming they would remove themselves from the United States. The politicians in Washington didn’t like that at all and attempted to stop them. But when your military says they are sitting it out along with many of the government employees saying they are sitting it out, your legislative branch calling for your head and the judicial branch setting up the impeachment trial, you’re kind of powerless. So the corporations basically took over the United States in an odd coup d'etat. Kind of helps when you bought the politicians that impeached the President in the first place. So the alliance of businesses which was to become the Infinity Confederation was released to do whatever they wanted in the aftermath of a new government forming. And it spread to other nations as they saw the profits gathered by the Infinity Corporation and tripped over themselves to get up there next. And like a domino effect, countries slipped the leash slightly on the regulations and “helped” get their companies into space to reap in the profits.

    And the wars? Well, just one of those things. Human beings have fought since the dawn of time. And no matter how “enlightened” we are supposed to be, we still fought and currently do still fight. History of the world folks. The United States was waging a bunch of wars before having to withdraw because of the default of the government under a President…Osama or something like that. Or Rodman, Rodam, can’t recall which. Not really important though. So after the US withdrew, China and Russia got into it with Japan eventually coming in on China’s side, but eventually double crossed them and fought with Russia. South Korea and North Korea fought, reunified, fought the Chinese, fought both with and against the Japanese during the Sino-Russian-Japanese War. Eventually coming out clean enough to save their nation in the aftermath of the Far East Wars.

    India and China got into it. The Middle East fought each other, tried fighting Israel again. Lost pretty much everything before Israel packed it in and moved practically their entire nation to the Western United States. Of course the Middle East and North Africa didn’t stop being, well, the way they typically were in those times and decided to let a terrorist group use ten crude nuclear bombs in the United States, Russia and Europe. Yeah, that didn’t set that well with anyone involved really. Especially since the corporations were on the rise in many of those nations and decided they didn’t like that at all.

    And the nuclear exchange wasn’t technically an exchange as a full out nuclear attack took place from Algeria to Pakistan. And the folks from the predominately Islamic nations decided perhaps it wasn’t best to mess with those infidels after all and decided surrender wasn’t a bad option. One thing about it, the corporate leaders didn’t fight to fight fair, they fought to win. And in about a thirty minute timeframe brought peace to the Middle East that had been elusive for over three thousand years. Sure, there was still some underlying hatred, but by and large, the Middle East nations toed the line of proper international relations from that point on. And attempted to rebuild their nations as best as they could since the oil and gas resources they sat on weren’t needed by an energy hungry planet any longer with the advent of controlled fusion power.

    So anyway, after the first hunk of space rock was brought back and others saw the huge profits being created by the minerals being mined, they tripped over themselves to be next. And like the initial days after the Wright Brothers flew and dozens of airplane companies sprung up overnight, dozens of spaceflight companies were started to exploit the proverbial gold mine in our cosmic backyard. Newer, larger ships were created and space stations planted around the solar system. Colonies on the Moon, or Luna as it’s called now, Mars, in the asteroid belt, Jupiter’s moons, the moons of Saturn, Uranus and Neptune and the deep space network of colonies and outposts on dwarf planets like Pluto, Eris, Haumea and Quaoar. And some deep space stations out in the Scattered Disk and Kuiper Belt that filled in the gaps between the orbiting planets. Space farms in orbit around the sun provided food year round and pretty much solved world hunger within five years. Crazy thing about it? The best fishing in the universe is on the Jovian moon Ganymede under the protective dome. Of course, the background radiation kind of doesn’t help and you can’t eat the fish without taking your anti-rad pills, but it certainly is fun.

    Back to the present, the asteroid currently sitting in the hold of the ship was fairly impressive to say the least, although not the largest object the Atomic Destiny had “caught” before. The ship is what the corporations called a comet catcher. One of the largest ships ever built, it was specially designed to gather objects like comets and asteroids for mining the minerals, materials, gasses, chemicals and water they contained. And in turn those items were used to supply the outposts and colonies on the worlds that the corporations had settled. And traded with the other corporation ships that happened to be this far out in the solar system like the K4 ship Bykovsky they would be closing in on in three days. But overall, they would travel the Kuiper Belt or Scattered Disk and locate suitable objects and break them down. The ship’s bow had a large clamshell type opening that allowed them to pull the object into the main cargo bay that was about two hundred meters wide and seven hundred meters long. And artificial gravity helped ease it into place within the capture box where it would be broken down.

    So why call it a comet catcher? Because that’s what the ship was designed to do. And did they actually do it? Sure, they do it all the time. It’s a tricky proposition and generally puts a lot of strain on the plasma fusion engines, but it can be done. Not the really significant ones like Halley’s Comet (which was protected under Solar System Exploration Agreements) but the smaller ones under about five kilometers or so can be roped in for lack of a better term and then broken up and harvested inside the ship. Or moved towards the colonies and outposts where they did it themselves. How long does that take you would ask. And it doesn’t take quite as long as you would think. With radical breakthroughs in technology, the massive fusion powered engines on the Atomic Destiny could make the trip from Earth to Neptune in about nine weeks. From where they were at to the Earth would end up taking about eleven weeks or so, but generally that was flat out moving with an empty ship. Add in millions tons of material or so and the get up and go takes a tad longer. But they weren’t built for speed, but sheer power and moving heavy objects. And they are pretty good at it.

    How did they build this ship? In the Infinicon Ceres Shipyards out in the asteroid belt. Coincidentally the materials used in the ship’s construction were the same ones that were harvested out of asteroids in the belt. Ceres was a pretty neat colony and efficient at the job they did as the ship was sturdy and worked like it was brand new even for being a hair over a decade old. And Captain Winston had been with her since the trial voyage and test flights.

    And at the moment the supply storage areas were almost maxed out and they could maybe take on one or two more decent sized objects. There currently weren’t any comets coming out of the Oort Cloud for them to catch before they dumped their supplies at the Pluto or Charon Base in ten days, but they always could be diverted to grab one since they typically pulled in a fair price when they were intact. Of course it would take a bit longer to get to Pluto and the great outpost it offered, but in the end, the reward was pretty handsome.

    How did they catch a comet? By the tail. Okay in seriousness and without getting too involved in the science of the deal they had to catch them as far out in the solar system as possible. When they start getting closer to the sun, the solar radiation heats it up and starts the gas jets on the surface which creates the tail often seen from Earth. And if that happens, you really can’t catch them safely. It’s been done before, but several ships have been lost attempting to do it inside of Saturn’s orbit so the practice is generally not advised. Anyway, in order to “tow” it into another orbit, they uses a device called a capture sphere. It’s typically folded up under the keel of the ship and isn’t exactly that large when stowed. But when unfolded ends up being five point five kilometers in diameter and made out of the strongest alloy ever created by man called Smart Metal. And again is a clamshell type design that looks for the world like that ancient video game where the little yellow thing eats dots. Basically, you maneuver the sphere around the comet, close the device and hook up the tow lines. Very, very, very sturdy tow lines made of the same material the sphere is. And firing the engines on full blast, start to nudge the object into a different orbit. And by nudge, that’s typically with the engines firing at about 110% of maximum rated power while attempting to compete with the sun’s gravity and Newton’s Law of Motion. But eventually get it pulled off the track it happens to be on and bring it along with them. Stopping is a different matter entirely, but ends up being the same principle in reverse where they would park it in orbit around one of the outposts or stations.

    It’s a pretty tricky maneuver and only the best pilots qualify for the program. Which is where Colt Daniels came in. After completing college and unsure of what to do with his life, he quickly became bored as young men do and enlisted in the Infinicon’s security branch where he found his true calling as a pilot. And while rated in almost every design the corporation has, he chose to serve on a troopship that tended to respond to the minor flare ups in the colonies or from attacks from rival corporations. It didn’t happen often, but often enough that the corporations now kept security fleets and troops. Defense was the responsibility of the individual corporations although many had agreements and pacts to mutually support each other in case of overt attack. Earth was seen as hands off though and any armed conflict that erupted typically stayed away from Terra for the most part. But out in the Solar System, sometimes conflict did erupt and called for an armed response by whatever corporations were involved.

    And they even had to deal with the occasional pirate base that was located. Yes, even in the 22nd Century there are still pirates as crazy as that sounds. And like the pirates of old, they took ships and either used them for their own purposes or dismantled them and the sold the parts and cargo to whomever would buy it. It wasn’t a huge threat, but generally most commercial vessels were outfitted with defensive weaponry in case of attack. And for those pirate bases and ships that were located, the security forces were called in to deal with the threats.

    But eventually Colt got bored with being a taxi driver and being one of the fighter pilots didn’t interest him that much since they really weren’t used that much. So he applied for the crew of the Atomic Destiny after his mandatory four years and was accepted after passing the tests and simulations with flying colors. And was where he had been for the past four years of his life. Although young for the position, he had quickly jumped over several older pilots and became the Chief Pilot on the Atomic Destiny much to their chagrin. He was considered a rising star by Infinicon and most knew he was destined for a command of his own eventually.

    “I’ll say it again, nice catch Colt,” said Winston as they headed back towards the bridge.

    “That was fairly easy,” said Colt. “No serious outcroppings to worry about.”

    “Still, takes a lot of skill and nerve to put that thing in the cargo area,” said Winston.

    “That’s why you pay me the big bucks,” said Colt. “Are we going to be able to store everything from that one?”

    “Barely,” said Winston. “We can manage and can always use the extra space in the cargo bay if needed. Corporate has some big plans on the horizon.”

    “As they always do,” said Colt. “It’ll be nice to get back to Pluto though.”

    And why put up a base on Pluto you might ask? Such a barren world so far away from Earth? Honestly it’s one of the closest places crews could pull in as long as they were in that part of the Solar System. Neptune’s orbits might not be right or Eris might be out of position. Or even one of the temporary stations would be unavailable that filled in the gaps so to speak. And being that it was solid ground, it served as a base of operations for the crew while this far out. Gravitational simulators helped compensate for the minor gravity the planet offered and came close to the gravity of Earth. And while the colonists were under the protective domes, artificial light helped keep a day and night schedule no matter how fast or slow the planet rotated. Anyway, a fairly large Infinicon colony had been set up as entrepreneurs and business people of all walks of life came there to set up a new life. Sometimes escaping from their old life on Earth or another colony, sometimes just because they wanted the adventure of being that far out in the solar system. But they built attractions, bars, hotels, simulators and restaurants that generally made a decent profit. As well as having a base of operations that serviced the fleet of ships that prowled around the Kuiper Belt. Most corporations had set up colonies on the surface of Pluto and the landscape was dotted with the large domes that protected the inhabitants. But what about the cold you might ask? Simple enough that the surface of the colonies was about ten meters thick and also heated above a certain level. While the heat wouldn’t travel downward onto the icy surface and melt through, it did keep the colonies comfortable and negated the need for environmental suits for the most part. Unless the heaters went out and had to be repaired.

    And the corporations decided not to let Pluto’s large moon Charon go to waste either since it was close enough to shuttle between the two with few problems. The majority of the storage units for the various materials the crews collected were stored either on the orbiting stations or on the moon’s surface. While Pluto was mainly where people lived and supported the networks of space support activities, Charon was where a lot of work was done. It didn’t have quite the extensive network of domes, but large semi-permanent structures built specifically for housing whatever materials were brought in as well as a large trading house where businesspeople came in to bid on the items or having the infrequent auction. As for the other four moons of Pluto? Well, after the corporations dismantled two of the smaller moons, Styx and Kerberos, to help with construction of the colonies, the remaining two were preserved as natural “habitats” for lack of a better term although being used as communications relay stations by several corporations.

    But Pluto was also a place to get a great steak. A daring businessman some years before had bought property and build a dome on the surface adjacent to the Infinicon colony. And after getting it ready, moved an entire herd of cattle to the outer solar system to start a ranch. Most people considered him crazy, but it actually worked. The funny thing? The beef was now prized throughout the solar system. Mainly as a novelty, but it was still a great tasting steak for some reason. Especially after the crews had been on stored rations and rehydrated foods for the better part of three months. And it was something they really looked forward to and they knew they were heading back soon.

    The Captain and Colt arrived at the bridge to find the remainder of the crew still busy at their stations. The junior pilot attempted to get up, but was waved back into the seat by Colt who would monitor her performance since this was her first trip on board the ship. At the moment, they were far enough away from anything that could bump or break the ship and a little further seasoning on her part would help in the long run.

    “We got a message from Corporate sir,” said the Senior Communications Officer, Lilly Gold. Young at age twenty-four for a position so senior, she was brilliant in the field of wormhole communications and the complex mathematical theories that surrounded them. She had graduated Stanford at age sixteen, gotten her Master’s Degree a year and a half later and her Doctorate in another two years after that. And quickly rose up the ranks to her current position as she was considered “brilliant” by those who served with her as well as the Corporate Leadership. But such a quick rise also meant she would serve in that position a little longer as she was still a bit naïve to life and was learning the social skills necessary to be in a senior level position in the corporate world.

    “Yes?” asked Winston.

    “Instructions to head back to Pluto,” said Gold. “Best possible speed.”

    “Can we safely move?” asked Winston.

    “The item is on lockdown,” said the First Officer, Tiffany Talbert. A member of the crew since the initial voyage of the Atomic Destiny, it was a foregone conclusion she would eventually sit in the Captain’s chair once Winston retired or moved on. And she was one of the few crew members that had her family on board. Since the ships were often out of port for so long, the corporations had designed them with families in mind even though many family members didn’t have employment so to speak. But they helped out where they could and generally found ways of keeping occupied during the long missions in deep space.

    “I’ve got a course plotted Captain,” said the Senior Navigator, Robert Duncan. “Along with our diversion to meet the K4 ship.”

    “Does corporate know about our rendezvous?” asked Winston.

    “Affirmative sir,” said Gold. “They cleared us to proceed with the meeting along with a list of items they would like to have if the Russians have them.”

    “Let’s not keep them waiting,” said Winston. “Pilot, is the course laid in?”

    “Yes sir,” said Amie Dillon, the pilot currently at the controls.

    “Engage,” said Winston.

    “Very Star Trek of you Captain,” laughed Talbert.

    “I was hoping I wasn’t the only one old enough to remember that,” laughed Winston as the engines were being powered up. Colt peeked over the pilot’s shoulder to make sure everything was going according to regulation and saw she was doing fine. However, he also saw she relied too much on the automated systems as she brought the engines online and started moving the large ship towards the rendezvous point.

    “Speed coming up, we’ll meet the Bykovsky in…forty-one hours,” said Duncan.

    “Good deal,” said Winston. “Go ahead and call in your relief except the pilot’s station. We’ll go back on regular shifts starting at…1400 hours. Colt, you have the conn until 1400 and you can call me if you get into trouble.”

    “I’ll try not to break anything,” said Colt as he came towards the Captain’s position. Being the Chief Pilot, he was technically fourth in command of the vessel and was certified to sit in the Captain’s chair for short periods.

    “With due respect sir, I need to stick around for a bit,” said Gold from her station.

    “Something wrong?” asked the Captain.

    “My communicators are acting a bit wonky,” said Gold.

    “Nothing serious I hope?” asked Winston.

    “Not really,” said Gold. “Our automated data channels keep knocking themselves out of alignment with disparity in the opposing input/output channels. I have to manually realign the quantum field to match the convergence irregularities with each channel.”

    “You just wasted a perfectly good technical explanation on me,” grinned Winston.

    “In English sir, the channels aren’t locking onto each other like they should,” said Gold.

    “But we still have communications?” asked Winston.

    “Yes sir,” said Gold. “The buffer stores the data and transmits when I have it realigned.”

    “What data?” asked Winston.

    “Mainly engineering data and the Infolink sir,” said Gold, referring to the network that replaced the old Internet and communicated through the wormhole channels as well.

    “That’s a crisis if I ever heard one,” said Winston. “No Infolink?”

    “I’m sure the crew can wait to steal their music until I get it fixed,” said Gold.

    “Let me know if it turns into a serious problem,” said Winston.

    “Aye sir,” said Gold as she went back to her console. Other members of the crew came onto the bridge and relieved those at the stations as the on duty crew departed. Colt settled into the Captain’s chair as he looked over the data from the pilot’s station.

    “We’re at speed sir,” said the pilot.

    “Good deal,” said Colt. “I noticed you use the automated systems a bit more than usual.”

    “She’s a fat girl right now,” said the pilot. “It’s not easy to get her moved around when she’s hauling around a million tons of crap.”

    “It’s not, but you should start using the manual controls more to get a feel for it,” said Colt. “Especially when we are loaded down like we are.”

    “I’ll try sir,” said the pilot.

    “The automated controls won’t always be there,” said Colt. “And a good pilot needs to have the ability to move the ship around whether she’s loaded or empty.”

    “I’ll get some time in the simulator,” said the pilot. “It’s not easy to learn.”

    “Just a suggestion,” said Colt.

    “With you it comes natural,” said Gold as she fiddled at her station.

    “Nah, just a lot of practice,” said Colt.

    “Don’t sell yourself short,” said Gold. “You are a really good pilot.”

    “Well thank you Lilly,” said Colt with a nod and a smile.

    “No problem,” said Gold with a beaming smile right back at him. After Colt turned back to his station, she admired his 190 centimeter and 100 kilo broad shouldered frame that bore the signs of keeping in good shape. And focused in on the brown hair and brown eyes she could see from her station and quickly looked him up and down. Catching herself daydreaming for a moment, she went back to the task at hand and attempted to concentrate on the duties before her. Colt went back to reviewing the data coming in from the systems across the ship and ran a full test to make sure everything was working like it should. Mainly to kill time since the tests had already been done prior to the capture, he still felt it was necessary since he was responsible for the wellbeing of the ship at the time and was required whenever someone took over the controls. But everything was working like it should have.

    “I’ve got the Infolink back up,” said Gold as Colt finished his tests.

    “Communications?” asked Colt.

    “Getting there,” said Gold. “I figured the crew would rather have some form of entertainment while I fixed the rest.”

    “Good thinking,” said Colt.

    “You doing anything after you get off?” asked Gold.

    “Sleeping,” said Colt. “These captures take a lot out of me.”

    “Oh,” said Gold as she continued working the computer console at her station.

    “You need some rest too,” said Colt. “Will that take you long?”

    “Shouldn’t,” said Gold. “I’m just resetting the fields. It’s not hard.”

    “If you say so,” said Colt. “But as soon as you are done, call in a relief officer.”

    “It’s not a big deal,” said Gold.

    “You’re already well into a double shift,” said Colt. “And due to come back on with the 1400 shift. You need some rest so call for relief as soon as you finish up.”

    “Yes sir,” said Gold.

    “I appreciate your dedication though,” said Colt.

    “Thanks,” she replied with another beaming smile. Colt went back to monitoring the various systems on the ship as someone tuned in a commercial music channel and played it for the benefit of the crew on the bridge. The next six hours seemed to creep by as the crew went about their regular duties and the asteroid reclamation was well under way. Towards 1400 (the ship used Earth Universal Time while this far out) the relief crew started appearing on the bridge.

    “Gee, haven’t seen you in six hours or so,” said Colt with a grin as Talbert came back onto the bridge and groaned as she stretched. “Get any sleep?”

    “Not as much as I’d like,” said Tiffany with a yawn as she filled up a coffee mug. “The kids were a little rowdy today and I had to separate them before they broke something.”

    “Kids being kids,” said Colt as he handed over a tablet with the systems status. “And if you could, I’d find another person for the communications station. Lilly was up here until about three hours ago fixing the systems.”

    “Okay, I’ll find someone,” said Talbert. “Anything else exciting?”

    “Watching grass grow,” said Colt. “But the replay of the Cubs and Dodgers is saved on the tablet I gave you.”

    “Who won?” asked Talbert.

    “If I told you that, it wouldn’t be worth watching,” laughed Colt.

    “True,” said Talbert as she sipped at the mug. “Everything appears to be running like it should.”

    “She’s a good ship,” said Colt.

    “Okay, you are relieved,” said Talbert. “And yes, we’ll download the college football preview for you while you’re gone.”

    “I think they are playing it live in the rec room,” said Colt. “I kinda planned on being there.”

    “As will the Captain,” said Talbert. “In his Mars U shirt I’d imagine.”

    “They’ve got to get by my Sooners,” said Colt.

    “Tough year for both teams,” said Talbert. “But I’ll still save it in case you want to watch it again later.”

    “Thanks Tiff,” said Colt as he passed by Lilly coming back in. “Bye Lilly.”

    “Bye Colt,” she replied and smiled at him as he departed.

    “Call another comm officer,” said Talbert.

    “I’m okay,” said Gold as she headed to her station.

    “You’ve worked darn near two shifts,” said Talbert. “Find a replacement and we’ll work the rotation out. But I don’t want to see you back here until 0600 tomorrow.”

    “Yes ma’am,” said Gold as she checked on who was available before summoning them to the bridge. “I appreciate it.”

    “Thank Colt,” said Talbert. “He’s the one who let me know.”

    “He’s a sweetheart,” said Gold as she checked on her work from earlier. “It looks like my fix worked out. All channels are working normally.”

    “Good,” said Talbert. “No interruptions or anything?”

    “No ma’am,” said Gold. “Everything is transmitting normally.”

    “Seems like you earned your pay today,” said Talbert. “Go ahead and call your relief.”

    “Yes ma’am,” said Gold. “Already on the way.”

    And so ended another shift on board the Atomic Destiny. While it was a job that was interspersed with moments of sheer tension and highly technical work, it tended to be fairly boring and mundane. Although the crews were paid good money for doing what they did and being so far from civilization, there were dangers in collecting the debris in the solar system. However, another event they were unprepared for lurked in the cold void of space. An event that would changes the lives of several of the crew members. And like the cold darkness of space, there were those that lurked in the stars with a cold void inside them and would not hesitate to show the universe that not all dangers prowled in their day to day duties.
     
  4. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 2


    “We are at fifty kilometers from expected position,” said the pilot at the controls, a younger man named Justin Mendoza. Considered Colt’s protégé, he still had a ways to go before being considered the equal of the Chief Pilot, but was rapidly moving up the chain.

    “Ship identified at fifty kilometers,” said the senor operator. “K4 ship Bykovsky. Reading friendly IFF, zero emissions, stable position in space.”

    “Bring us alongside and send greetings to the Captain,” said Winston. Mendoza brought the engines back up and adjusted the course slightly as the Atomic Destiny moved forward to their expected rendezvous. It was standard procedure to stop well short of an unknown ship and check for any irregularities prior to charging in next to them. But everything appeared as it should as the two large ships closed in on each other. It didn’t take long before the Russian vessel was on the main screen and started growing in size, although nowhere near as large as the Atomic Destiny. However, it was one of the larger ships the K4 Corporation had come up with and was outfitted much the same for reclamation missions.

    Bykovsky off the port side Captain,” said Mendoza as he set the ship into station keeping with the other large freighter and brought the Atomic Destiny to a halt. Although large, it still looked fairly miniscule sitting next to the Atomic Destiny as the ship hailed them.

    Atomic Destiny, this is K4 ship Bykovsky,” said the voice over the communicator in heavily accented English. And even though many foreign companies had ships in the solar system, the universal language between ships was still English.

    “We read you Bykovsky,” said the Captain.

    “Request permission for a trading party to depart and board your craft via the cargo area,” said the voice. “Fifteen personnel in a shuttle craft.”

    “Permission to board granted,” said the Captain. “Please follow landing beacon with automated instructions for landing.”

    “Thank you Atomic Destiny,” said the voice. “The Captain also wishes to extend an invitation for dinner this evening for your Captain and any member he would like to bring.”

    “I would be honored,” said Winston as the communicators signed off. “Are they formal?”

    “Not usually,” said Talbert. “Your dress uniform would be okay.”

    “Want to tag along?” asked Winston. “You and the husband could use a break.”

    “I think that could be arranged as long as I can get someone to watch the kids,” said Talbert. “You’re in charge for a while Rob.”

    “I promise to have the party cleaned up before you get back,” said Robert Duncan.

    “Anyone else?” asked Talbert.

    “Colt? Maybe Harry,” said Winston. “Neither get to do formal dinners that often.”

    “Ah, now there’s a reason for that Captain,” said Harry Howell who wanted to look over the Russian ship from the bridge. “I’m not exactly what many would consider a social animal.”

    “He’s trying to say he’s not sure which fork to use at the table,” laughed Duncan.

    “Never saw the need to use more than one myself,” said Howell. “Or just pick it up with my hands and eat it that way.”

    “I’m going to regret this,” chuckled Winston. “Colt? You want to come?”

    “Might as well,” said Colt as he checked the station keeping controls. “I do want to see what they are bringing over for personal trading though.”

    “Got something specific you’re looking for?” asked Talbert.

    “I’ll know when I see it,” said Colt cryptically as he saw the shuttle depart from the Bykovsky and head towards the Atomic Destiny. The crew inside the cargo area reclaimed the atmosphere and opened the cargo doors for the shuttle to come in for the landing. They felt the minor thud as the shuttle touched down and the cargo bay doors were closing. In the normal trading situation, crews would often bring over additional wares as well as lists of items they either had on board or access to in warehouses at their bases. The formal negotiations involved the Captain and the First Officer and typically a senior corporate member designated to take care of such things. The Atomic Destiny was without hers for the moment since he had to return to Earth for a family emergency prior to their departing on the last three month mission and they had yet to receive a replacement.

    The other portion of the trading was typically like an old style barter where both sides brought in items and trinkets to trade or outright paid cash for something they wanted. The crews generally were invited to such affairs and both sides would haggle over prices until an agreement was reached or one walked away. But Colt was looking for a very specific item that afternoon.

    The Captain along with the First Officer headed down to the cargo bay that had been repressurized and they saw the crew of the Atomic Destiny already setting up the tables for their wares. Three shuttle pods had already left the ship for the Bykovsky to set up in their cargo area as the trading would be on both ships. Although they had been given permission to land, the K4 Captain still observed the etiquette that had been going on for centuries and asked permission to board the vessel. Winston gave his permission and went over to greet the man as he came down the small walkway that extended from his ship.

    “Captain Markus Winston,” he said formally as he stuck out his hand.

    “Captain Vladimir Volkov,” said the other Captain as he shook the offered hand. “My First Officer Anatoli Semyonov, my corporate spokesman Marta Semenov and my son who is also a navigator Sergei Volkov.”

    “This is my First Officer Tiffany Talbert and my Chief Pilot Colt Daniels,” said Winston as Colt just happened to be walking by. He stopped in mid stride and observed the formalities even though he wasn’t sure as to why. The two Captains chatted for a moment before being led away by Winston on a tour of the ship for the visitors. Colt started to tag along before he was stopped by Talbert who knew he likely had something else on his mind. Colt headed back to the cargo bay where the remainder of the passengers from the K4 ship were setting up tables and laying out wares to be traded for. And Colt saw exactly what he was looking for as one man set his items out and started placing them neatly. The entire crew save those on duty was down for the trading opportunity and carried some items of their own. Colt had to practically beat people to get into line, but managed to get to the table and look through the items.

    “How much?” he asked the vendor as he found exactly what he was looking for.

    “Five thousand credits,” said the man after he looked over the item.

    “That’s kind of steep,” said Colt.

    “They are in great demand,” said the Russian.

    “It isn’t as large as some I’ve seen for that price,” said Colt. “Twenty-five hundred.”

    “Be realistic,” said the Russian in slightly accented English. “This is certified with the appropriate paperwork.”

    “May I see it?” asked Colt. The vendor dug through his small case and found the sheet he was looking for and handed it over to Colt. After reading through, Colt made another offer.

    “Three thousand,” he said.

    “Forty-five hundred and not a credit less,” said the Russian.

    “Thirty-five hundred and I’ll toss in some comet gold,” said Colt.

    “We have plenty of that ourselves,” said the Russian. “The price is set and someone else would pay that much without thinking.”

    “Not on this crew,” said Colt. “It’s nice, but not at that price.”

    “That is the price,” said the Russian.

    “Can you hold it for a bit?” asked Colt. “I’d like a second opinion.”

    “I can make no promises,” said the Russian.

    “Be right back,” said Colt as he saw nearly the entire crew was looking through the different tables and bartering for the items. He looked around the various people and finally found who he was looking for after searching the crowd.

    “Hey Harry,” said Colt as Howell was looking through a bin of clothing.

    “Hey Colt, you think blue jeans and a black leather vest is too much for a formal dinner?” he asked with a grin.

    “I think you’re too much sometimes,” laughed Colt. “I’ve got a favor to ask.”

    “Sure,” said Harry as he set the pair of jeans back into the bin. “What’s on your mind?”

    “I’ve got a problem and I think you can help,” said Colt as he outlined the problem he faced.

    “Yeah sure,” said Harry. “I can take a look at it.”

    “I really appreciate it,” said Colt as they headed back to the table where the Russian was busy selling a gold necklace to one of the crew. Colt pointed out what he had been looking at and saw a look of concentration come over Harry’s face. He picked up the small box and looked over the object from several different directions and in different lights.

    “That’s a purty one,” said Harry as he checked the diamond in a jeweler’s loupe he pulled from his pocket. “Near flawless from what I can tell. ‘Bout two carets, maybe two and a half…we’ll call it two and a half carets.”

    “I just liked the cut,” said Colt.

    “It’s called an Asscher cut,” said Harry as he pulled a handkerchief and wiped it down before examining it again. “Clarity is a VVS2, maybe a VVS1. Color for the type is…perfect. A little lighter than what I’ve seen before, but that doesn’t make it less valuable. Nice specimen that someone knew what they were doing.”

    “Never heard of that cut,” said Colt.

    “It’s not used much anymore,” said Harry. “It comes and goes in popularity, but ends up being downright beautiful when cut right.”

    “And is this one?” asked Colt.

    “I’d say it’d fetch a pretty good price on the market,” said Harry. “Did you do it yourself?”

    Da, I have the proper equipment,” said the Russian.

    “Does that make a difference?” asked Colt.

    “It does,” said Harry. “Honestly, if it’s done professionally, it increases the price. If it’s done by someone with a laser cutter in their mechanical section, it can have flaws. But this one appears to have been done by someone who knows what they’re doing.”

    “I have my certifications in the field if you would like to see,” said the Russian.

    “If you would,” said Harry. The man produced another folder from his bag and handed it over to Harry. He looked it over before flipping the pages and seeing he was telling the truth.

    “He knows what time it is,” said Harry.

    “I graded it as IF,” said the Russian.

    “Did you have that independently confirmed?” asked Harry.

    Nyet,” said the Russian. “It’s not easy to find someone out here to do such things.”

    “Can I see the authentication paperwork?” asked Harry. The man handed over the same sheet Colt had looked over and quickly examined the criteria.

    “I’d say you’re overstating the clarity without independent confirmation,” said Harry. “And even with your training and experience, you know you can’t grade it like that.”

    “Are you experienced in grading such things?” asked the Russian.

    “Not formally, but I’ve been doing this for twenty-five years and I’ve seen my fair share of improperly graded gems,” said Harry. “Look, I know better than to call it IF without having some independent paperwork to back it up. It’s a VVS1 at best and I’m being real generous right now without a more in depth look.”

    “How much would you pay?” asked Colt.

    “Maybe three thousand at most,” said Harry. “An argument could be made for thirty-five hundred, but it’d have to be a good one.”

    “I haven’t made the deal yet since I didn’t know what I was looking for,” said Colt.

    “And your offer?” asked Harry and ignoring the Russian.

    “Thirty-five hundred and Troy ounce of comet gold,” said Colt.

    “Way too high,” said Harry and turned to the Russian. “And you know it.”

    “Such things are not easily come by in this part of the solar system,” said the Russian.

    “Yet they are in just about any colony out here,” said Harry. “At the price I mentioned.”

    “Perhaps I was a bit hasty,” said the Russian. “Four thousand?”

    “It’s your money Colt, but I can flat guarantee this gentleman won’t get a credit more than three thousand at an auction house,” said Harry.

    “Three thousand, two hundred and not a credit more,” said Colt, standing by his offer. “No offense, but I trust this guy.”

    “And the ounce of gold?” asked the Russian.

    “Thirty-two hundred and I toss in a memory crystal with five hundred holo-movies,” said Colt. “Complete with the translation software.”

    The Russian looked over the stone one last time and back at Colt. He knew the price would be significantly less if he waited to sell it at the auction house on Triton when they made port. He contemplated the decision before nodding his agreement with the price. Colt fetched the memory crystal out of his pocket and handed over his Infinicon ID which would complete the financial portion of the transaction. He plugged it into the tablet he had and waited as the transaction was complete and the payment came through. The Russian provided a felt lined box for the stone as well as the appropriate paperwork before turning to the next customer who hopefully wouldn’t have any help in grading their purchase.

    “Not bad, but I think you could have talked him down a bit,” said Harry as they walked away.

    “He had a good point, they aren’t easy to come by out here,” said Colt. “But I do need a favor.”

    “What’s that?” asked Harry. Colt explained what was required as well as handing over the coin made from the gold he had intended to barter with.

    “That’s kind of a nice keepsake and all,” said Harry. “You got it from the first comet you roped in and it’s a one of a kind.”

    “And doing me a whole lot of good sitting around in the safe in my quarters,” said Colt. “And besides, I’d expect a talented smith like yourself to be able to replicate it on a smaller scale.”

    “Well, now I didn’t say I couldn’t create a smaller one. Seeing that I created the one I’m holding,” grinned Harry. “I’ll need the proper measurements though.”

    “Way ahead of you my friend,” said Colt as he handed over a piece of paper.

    “Must be someone special,” said Harry. “I mean, giving up your gold coin and all.”

    “You bet,” said Colt as he knew the coin presented to him for successfully capturing his first comet was less valuable than what he had planned. “How long?”

    “By the time we make port for sure,” said Harry. “It’s delicate work and I’m a bit out of practice. I mean, it ain’t hard breaking up a comet or asteroid so I’ll need to take my time.”

    “But you can do it?” asked Colt.

    “I don’t see why I couldn’t,” said Harry. “And believe it or not, we have that software loaded into the metal working equipment.”

    “You do?” asked Colt.

    “Sure, for opportunities like this,” said Harry. “Sometimes customers want or require shaped objects and the software helps. If we are dealing with ingots or something of the like, it keeps the weight perfect as well.”

    “So how long?” asked Colt.

    “Kinda anxious aren’t you?” chuckled Harry. “Maybe a day or so. Certainly by the time we make port.”

    “Okay,” said Colt.

    “I’ll make sure it’s perfect,” said Harry.

    “Thanks Harry,” said Colt. The pair departed and headed back to the tables to see what else was available. Colt didn’t find anything he couldn’t live without, but browsed just in case. He saw Harry picking up the pair of blue jeans he had been looking at earlier and paid for them before departing the cargo area. Some of the Russians headed over to the other tables the American crew had set out and browsed through as well. Colt decided to head back to his quarters and wait to be summoned to the dinner the Russian crew had invited them to. He spent some time on the Infolink and typed out a couple of quick messages to his family letting them know he was still alive and would be in port soon. Utterly bored, he went ahead and got cleaned up and changed into his dress uniform for the evening and sat down at the small desk in his quarters to read a book. Eventually, the speaker in his quarters came to life requesting his presence on the port side pod bay for the evening. After making his way down to the area, he saw he was the last to arrive as the other five waited for him.

    “Took a bit longer than expected,” said Colt as he walked up to Talbert and her husband, the Captain and his wife and Harry.

    “Worst negotiations I’ve ever been through,” said the Captain. “Never heard the word nyet so many times in my life before.”

    “Did we get what Corporate wanted?” asked Colt as they stepped into the small shuttle pod that served as a short range transport for the Atomic Destiny.

    “Some,” said Winston. “Not as much as we wanted. They just didn’t want to budge on the prices they were asking.”

    “Will they get them in an auction house?” asked Howell.

    “Maybe,” said the Captain as he strapped himself in. Colt requested clearance from the bridge to depart as well as contacting the Bykovsky requesting clearance to dock. He received both at nearly the same time and ensured the shuttle pod was working like it was supposed to prior to detaching from the Atomic Destiny and covering the kilometer between the two ships. They moved outside of the artificial gravity of the Atomic Destiny and each member felt the weightlessness in their stomachs as they jetted towards their destination. He received automated docking instructions from the Bykovsky before turning the ship around and allowing the automated docking program to take effect.

    “I really don’t like using the automated systems,” said Colt.

    “You think you could dock this thing backwards?” asked Talbert.

    “Backwards, forwards, upside down, doesn’t matter,” said Colt. “Anything is better than letting a computer control it. And I’m far better than any computer ever built.”

    “Good thing our Chief Pilot doesn’t have an ego,” chuckled Talbert.

    “He is correct though,” said Winston. “He does dock this thing better backwards than the computer does most of the time.”

    And in perfect timing, scraping was heard as the shuttle had to realign itself slightly to ensure a good seal between the Bykovsky and the craft. The craft moved about twenty centimeters down before the docking clamps took hold and retracted the craft into the airlock between the two.

    “I won’t say I told you so,” said Colt with a frown.

    “We won’t remind you that you told us so,” said Winston with a chuckle.

    “Good seal, atmosphere tests positive on the exterior,” said Colt. “We are officially docked.”

    The party stood back up, now within the artificial gravity of the Bykovsky and headed towards the rear hatch. And just as it had been done before, customs and courtesies took over as Winston requested permission for the party to board.

    “Granted, please,” said the Captain of the Bykovsky. “Welcome to my ship.”

    “It’s a pleasure,” said Winston as he shook the man’s hand again. “I’ve never been on board this particular class before.”

    “Please allow me to take you on a tour then,” said Captain Volkov.

    The party departed the shuttle docking area and started heading through the ship, being shown items of interest along the way. Before they were in the engineering section, Colt was stopped by a voice from behind him.

    “Mister Colt Daniels?” asked a man behind Colt with a thick accent.

    “Yes, I’m Colt Daniels,” said Colt as he turned and saw quite possibly the largest Russian he had ever seen in his life standing behind him.

    “I am Dmitry Orlov,” said the man as he held out his hand. “I am, umm, head of security for ship Bykovsky. May we speak private?”

    “Okay,” said Colt in a confused manner as he was led away from the group.

    “You purchase something from market earlier, yes?” asked Orlov. “Sorry, English no so good.”

    “I did buy something earlier, yes,” said Colt.

    “Umm, was wrong to buy,” said Orlov. “Item was…stolen, stolen from ship stores, yes?”

    “It was stolen from your ship?” asked Colt.

    Da, man who sell steal from ship,” said Orlov.

    “I didn’t know,” said Colt defensively.

    “No, no, is no problem for you,” said Orlov. “Is problem him.”

    “I understand,” said Colt.

    “He give back money,” said Orlov and reached into his pocket. “And this, yes?”

    “That appears to be the one I gave him,” said Colt as he saw the memory crystal and it appeared to be the same one he had traded earlier.

    “You get money, yes?” asked Orlov.

    “Let me check,” said Colt as he grabbed the communicator and accessed his personal accounts. They weren’t far enough away from the Atomic Destiny for the Infolink connection to be lost. And sure enough, the funds he had transferred earlier were back in his account. “Yes, it is back.”

    “Um, our apology,” said Orlov.

    “I don’t have the item with me,” said Colt. “It’s on the Atomic Destiny and we’ll have to work out some way of transferring it back to you.”

    “I am sorry?” asked Orlov. “Please speak slow.”

    “It is on my ship,” said Colt. “I do not have it here.”

    “Umm, you want still?” asked Orlov.

    “I…is it for sale?” asked Colt.

    “Umm, excuse me,” said Orlov as he went to one of the other members of the Russian crew which Colt recognized as the corporate spokesman. They had a conversation for several moments before they both came to Colt.

    “Mister Daniels? I am Marta Semenov,” said the woman as she held out her hand. “I am the corporate negotiator for K4.”

    “Pleasure,” said Colt. “Your English is exceptional.”

    “Thank you,” said Marta. “You still have the item, yes?”

    “It’s on the Atomic Destiny,” said Colt. “I assume you want it back.”

    “Perhaps,” said Marta. “Did you like it?”

    “It was perfect,” said Colt.

    “For someone special?” asked Marta.

    “Very,” said Colt.

    “Then perhaps we can negotiate,” said Marta. “Normally we would deal through an auction house and in bulk, but I believe an exception could be made in this case since you have encountered trouble along the way.”

    “What price are we looking at?” asked Colt who was a little leery of negotiating.

    “One moment please,” said Marta as she pulled a small tablet from her pocket and looked through the listing. “Normal spot price for the bulk would be…let’s say two thousand eight hundred. Is this acceptable?”

    “Absolutely!” said Colt. “That’s a good bargain.”

    “Normally the price would be higher for an individual sale, but since you have gone through some trouble, I think we can bend the rules slightly,” said Marta.

    “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it,” said Colt.

    “How much did you pay, if I may ask?” asked Marta.

    “Thirty-two hundred,” said Colt.

    “Far too much,” said Marta. “Even on the market, it might go for less.”

    “It’s not easy finding something I wanted this far out from normal supply channels,” said Colt.

    “This is true,” said Marta. “So we are in agreement?”

    “Yes, for sure,” said Colt.

    “We can go to my office to complete the transaction,” said Marta. But before leaving, Colt handed the memory crystal back to the large Russian. He took it with a confused look on his face and spoke quickly to Marta.

    “He wants to know why you gave this back,” she translated.

    “Call it a gift of friendship,” said Colt. “And you can always copy the contents as well.”

    Marta translated the offering, however, Orlov attempted to refuse it. Colt informed the both of them it would be insulting to refuse to which they both accepted it with a smile. Colt went into the small office where he completed the transaction and paid for the item before rejoining the remainder of the party who was almost on the bridge of the ship.

    “You have a very nice ship Captain,” said Winston.

    “It serves its purpose,” said Volkov. “Although we are currently building the equal of your comet catcher at this time.”

    “Along with BAE, Shimizu, Zhao and Advanced Dynamics,” said Winston.

    “Your ship is unique in its ability to deliver objects to the outposts intact,” said Volkov. “And it is an ability we very much are in envy of. We spend far too much time breaking objects up and pulling them inside rather than just bringing them with us.”

    “It’s not an easy task,” said Winston.

    “But finally within our technological ability,” said Volkov as he showed the party the bridge which looked a generation older than the Atomic Destiny’s equipment even though being five years younger. Colt naturally gravitated to the pilot’s chair and looked over the controls before being given a briefing by the pilot on duty.

    “Dinner is ready to be served,” said Volkov as another crew member came up and spoke to him in low whispers. “If you would follow me, we will go to our banquet room.”

    “They have a banquet room?” asked Talbert in a low voice.

    “We’ll see,” said Winston as they entered another compartment that was artfully decorated and had a large table covered with a nice tablecloth in the middle. Deep carpet covered the floor and the wood paneling on the walls gave it an antique, yet comfortable feeling. Light came from candles around the room as well as a crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Soft music played from the speaker systems and a waiter in a bright white waistcoat came up with a tray and glasses of champagne. Each of the members took one and turned to Volkov.

    “A toast to our new friends on the Atomic Destiny,” said Volkov. “Za zdorov'ye!”

    “To health!” said Semenov in a translation for the rest and was followed by the remainder of those present saying the phrase in both English and Russian.

    “I am very impressed by your room here Captain,” said Talbert as she looked around. “The artwork is very beautiful and that chandelier is to die for.”

    “We Russians like to be good hosts when we need to be,” said Volkov. “Yet it does not get used as often as we would like. Ours is a lonely life out here among the stars.”

    “We certainly have nothing comparable,” said Winston.

    “Please, come and sit,” said Volkov as he motioned towards the table. The waiter came by and filled the glasses sitting at the table in a white wine as others came in with the first course of the meal. Everyone was seated as the plates were set on the table to their front. Small talk passed between the crews as they were impressed by the quality of the food.

    “My head chef was a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris before joining the crew,” said Volkov as he nodded at the compliments. “He does wonders to the long life foods we typically get.”

    “If he wants to work for Infinicon, we’re hiring,” laughed Winston.

    “No stealing of my crew Captain,” laughed Volkov. “I hate to discuss business over dinner, but you made mention of Zhao before.”

    “I did,” said Winston.

    “Have you noticed any…irregularities with their ships lately?” asked Volkov.

    “Not that I noticed,” said Winston. “Why do you ask?”

    “It is nothing perhaps,” said Volkov. “But we were shadowed somewhat recently by one of their security vessels. They trailed us from one hundred kilometers, but did not respond to hails. We became worried it might have been a band of pirates and had one of our own security vessels intercept them. As they came within fifty kilometers, the vessel departed without another word.”

    “It does sound suspicious,” said Winston. “But perhaps it was in a travel lane and just happened to be there.”

    “No Captain, they matched our speed and course changes precisely,” said Volkov. “We made course corrections to see what they might do and they continued shadowing us. And what was odd was the fact their ship could have easily overtaken us had they wanted.”

    “Okay, that is strange,” said Winston.

    “Our Corporate headquarters contacted theirs to see if they had a vessel in the area,” said Volkov. “They confirmed they had a security vessel around the same area we were in, but little more. They would not say why they were there, only that they were.”

    “Interesting,” said Winston.

    “No Captain,” said Volkov. “What is interesting is it happened to two more of our vessels in other locations by different Zhao ships.”

    “Hmmm,” said Winston.

    “You have not noticed such things?” asked Volkov.

    “No,” said Winston. “What sector were you in?”

    “Sector Pluto 28,” said Volkov. “The others were in Haumea 11 and a lagrange point near Uranus. All commercial type vessels.”

    “Most curious,” said Winston. “I’ll keep my eye out just in case.”

    “They are acting strangely as of late,” said Volkov.

    “I wouldn’t know,” said Winston. “But then again, they are a peculiar bunch.”

    “Indeed,” said Volkov. “I was curious whether any other ships had noticed it.”

    “We have not, but we will keep an eye out,” said Winston. “But also on business, I would like to arrange to buy some of your ship’s stores before we depart.”

    “Oh?” asked Volkov.

    “Alcohol is forbidden on our ships, however, I am having this splendid wine with dinner. Perhaps if you had some spare to sell or trade?” asked Winston. “For my crew.”

    “I think that can be arranged,” said Volkov. Semenov spoke quickly to him in Russian and the two carried on a quick conversation before Volkov turned back to Winston. “It appears one of your crew has already made the necessary trade.”

    “They have?” asked Winston.

    “In a way,” said Volkov. “After our trading party departed, we discovered a thief on board our vessel. We had our suspicions for some time, but it was confirmed when he was on your ship. We refunded the money your crew member spent and resold the item to him at market value. In turn, he gave a gift of friendship to one of our crew. In this same path of friendship, I will give you enough for your crew.”

    “That’s not necessary,” said Winston.

    “But it is,” said Volkov. “Our request is to allow this trade to take place.”

    “I would be honored to call you our friends,” said Winston.

    “To friendship!” said Volkov as he raised his glass and the remainder of the table joined in the toast. The meal continued as the two crews got to know each other a little better and were happy with some other socialization with someone other than their crews. Eventually, the evening came to a close as the group started saying their goodbyes.

    “I have several cases of wine and beer waiting at your shuttle craft,” said Volkov. “Will this not cause a problem with your corporate leadership?”

    “We’re a bit far away from them for them to find out,” said Winston with a grin.

    “Very well,” said Volkov. “It was indeed a pleasure getting to meet you and your crew.”

    “Likewise,” said Winston as he shook the man’s hand. “And it would be our honor to return the favor to you the next time we meet.”

    “We would be honored by such an invitation,” said Volkov as they arrived at the shuttle. “Until next time Captain.”

    Do svidaniya,” said Winston in one of the few phrases in Russian he knew.

    “Goodbye Captain,” said Volkov as the remainder entered the craft and members of the Bykovsky’s crew loaded the cases inside. The Captains shared one final nod before the door was sealed up and Colt brought the systems online.

    “Are you going to use manual after you’ve been drinking?” asked Winston.

    “I only had half a glass of champagne at the start,” said Colt. “I’m sober as they come.”

    “Make your Captain happy and put it on auto,” said Winston.

    “Aye sir,” said Colt as he set the controls to automatic. The craft started running through the sequences to get it back to the Atomic Destiny and eventually departed the Bykovsky after seeing everything was in order. The trip was short as the shuttle pod docked again and was retracted into the body of the parent ship.

    “Tiff? Can you see to it the goods are rationed out in a peaceful manner?” asked Winston.

    “Of course,” said Talbert. “And the remains?”

    “I doubt there will be much left over,” said Winston. “Harry can reclaim the materials from the bottles and whatnot before we get to Pluto.”

    “I’ll destroy the incriminating evidence,” said Howell as the rear hatch was opened.

    “I’ll see you in a bit babe,” said Talbert as she gave her husband a quick kiss and grabbed two crew members and a hover-pallet to take the alcohol to the mess. She saw there was enough for the crew to have at least two drinks apiece if they wanted to imbibe and decided to set some back for the on duty crew as well. Once she got to the mess, she had the cooks quick chill the bottles and set out glasses for the wine.

    “Attention on the ship, attention on the ship,” she stated over the loudspeaker. “The Captain has bent the rules for you slightly and brought back a little treat from the Bykovsky. For any off duty crew member that wishes, there will be beer and wine in the galley for you to enjoy. I will set some to the side for the on duty crew as well as the crew getting ready to go on shift. First come, first serve for those interested.”

    “Does that include us as well?” asked the cooks.

    “I suppose you can take a break from the mid rats to grab a bottle or two,” said Talbert.

    “Thank you ma’am,” said one of the cooks.

    “Thank the Captain,” said Talbert as she took a seat and watched as crew members filed in and got into line. She kept an eye out for those that were about to go on duty and found her fears were unwarranted as the crew was well disciplined and would wait their turn. On the bridge, the Captain found Duncan had everything in order and was waiting on his relief.

    “Captain on the bridge,” announced Duncan as he saw Winston walking in.

    “As you were,” said Winston. “Everything ship shape?”

    “The same way you left it sir,” said Duncan.

    “Set a course for Pluto,” said Winston.

    “Setting a course for Pluto, aye,” said the navigator.

    “Course dialed in, bringing engines online for sustained burn for Pluto orbit,” said the pilot.

    “Rob, you can get Colt to relieve you in a bit,” said Winston as he felt the alcohol would have had time to get out of his system in the next two hours.

    “Aye sir,” said Duncan as the ship got underway yet again. Without further delays, their next stop would be their home port of Pluto and at least two weeks of down time.

    “Did we get any dispatches while I was gone?” asked Winston.

    “Yes sir, we surely did,” said Duncan as he handed over a tablet. Winston quickly looked over the dispatches as Colt came to the bridge.

    “I was summoned sir?” asked Colt.

    “You think you could handle a partial mid watch so Rob can get some sleep?” asked Winston.

    “I can,” said Colt.

    “I’ll be in a little earlier than planned so you can get some sleep,” said Winston. “Or you can grab a cat nap while you’re up here.”

    “I’ll be okay sir,” said Colt.

    “Interesting,” said Winston as he read the dispatch again.

    “Problems?” asked Colt.

    “No, nothing big,” said Winston as he turned to Duncan. “Let’s keep this to ourselves for a bit. I’ll break it to the crew in due time.”

    “Aye sir,” said Duncan.

    “We’re at cruise speed Captain,” said the pilot. “Expecting Pluto orbit in…sixty-eight hours.”

    “Very well,” said Winston. “I’ll be in my quarters if anyone needs me.”

    “Aye, I have the conn,” said Duncan as Winston departed.

    “You can go ahead and head to the galley if you want,” said Colt.

    “Don’t mind if I do,” said Duncan. “If there’s problems, give me a yell.”

    “Will do,” said Colt.

    “Mister Daniels has the conn,” said Duncan. He departed as the crew settled in for the journey to their home port and the shore leave that would come with it. The remainder of the crew swapped out on time as expected and Colt continued to watch the efficiency in action as he contemplated what he would do upon arrival at Pluto and the specific person of interest that he had there. And got a bit nervous even though it was several days off. But knew in his heart he was doing the right thing even though his future wasn’t set at that point.
     
    Tully Mars, whynot, techsar and 2 others like this.
  5. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 3



    The majority of the crew waited in the rec room for Captain Winston to make an appearance. He had summoned them for the crew meeting earlier that morning, but had not stated the reasons why. And as usual, rumors flew back and forth from younger crew members that went from both ends of the spectrum of good and bad. However, before they could get out of control, Winston and Talbert came to the front of the group and cued in the camera so the entire ship could hear what he was saying.

    “Thank you all for coming this morning,” said Winston. “We got a message from corporate last night with new instructions. I’m sorry to say, but our shore leave on Pluto will be cut down by half when we arrive.”

    “Half?” came the murmurs from the crowd.

    “That is correct, we’ve only got seven days on Pluto before heading back out. But only a month long excursion for the next trip as we’ll be heading back into the inner solar system and to Earth,” said Captain Winston.

    “Earth?” asked several of the crew as if it was a far off land they had never seen. And some hadn’t before actually.

    “We’re going in for a refit and overhaul at the Gemini Space Dock,” said Winston referring to the large space platform out in the L4 Lagrangian Point beyond Luna. “And it will take about two months to get everything done according to plan. Meaning we’ll likely be on Earth for at least three months as nothing ever goes according to plan.”

    “What are we doing for the two months or however long it takes?” asked Colt.

    “Getting up to speed on the new equipment and controls,” said Winston. “Along with a month of some well-deserved down time. Paid vacation of course and any destination you want.”

    “And those of us that don’t want to hit up Earth?” asked Lilly Gold. “My family is on Mars.”

    “Any destination within the limits of the inner solar system,” said Winston. “Mars, Venus, the Luna colonies and many space stations are within those limits. Of course, the travel days to and from will count against the total time, but you are free to go.”

    “Wow, two months on Earth?” asked Colt as he hadn’t been there in almost four years.

    “The company thinks you deserve it,” said Winston. “But honestly, I think you deserve more. You’ve been the best crew a captain could have asked for.”

    “And only thirty days out on a reclamation mission?” asked Howell.

    “Yes,” said Winston. “And we’ll transfer the goods to one of our other ships before heading back in. We’ll be light so the transit time will be kept to a minimum.”

    The crew looked a bit excited over the promise of getting back to a place many called home. And being able to see family after so long. As they whispered between them, Colt was a little worried about the trip. More specifically, what to do about being gone for over six months at a minimum. And he reached a snap decision before the meeting broke up.

    “Captain?” he asked as he headed towards the front.

    “Colt? Shouldn’t you be heading to bed?” asked Winston.

    “I was, I mean I am sir,” said Colt. “I have a…request.”

    “Okay,” said Winston.

    “For the trip back, are there going to be passenger berths?” asked Colt.

    “Perhaps,” said Winston. “Since we’re eventually going to be heading to Earth, corporate might consider selling tickets for a few of our unused bunks.”

    “Is that a good chance of a perhaps or a certainly perhaps?” asked Colt.

    “You have a reason for asking,” said Winston as a statement rather than a question. “Care to share it with your dear old Captain?”

    “Well sir, it’s complicated,” said Colt and went on to explain. After several moments, he came to his conclusion. “So you can see it’s very situation dependent.”

    “Rest assured, we probably won’t sell out of berths,” said Winston. “The month extra in the transit time tends to be a deal breaker for many.”

    “But wouldn’t be in my case,” said Colt.

    “If it goes according to your plan, no,” said Winston. “But no matter what, we’ll hold one back just in case.”

    “I appreciate it sir,” said Colt.

    “Go on and get some sleep,” said Winston. “I’d like you back on duty in the pilot’s seat midway through the swing shift. Help run our newest pilot through some simulations.”

    “I can do that,” said Colt. “By your leave sir.”

    “See you in a few hours,” said Winston as Colt departed the recreation area. As he headed back to his quarters, he ran into Harry Howell along the way.

    “Morning Colt,” said Howell. “I’m on my way down to the machine shop.”

    “Already?” asked Colt.

    “Yeah, wanted to get a jump start on the goodies,” said Howell. “Wanna help?”

    “I’ve got to get some sleep first,” said Colt. “A nap as a minimum.”

    “Shouldn’t be a big deal,” said Howell. “I’ve got to get the machine programed and ready to go. After lunch might be best anyway.”

    “Okay, I’ll call you a bit later to find out where you are,” said Colt.

    “Alrighty, see you in a bit,” said Howell as he continued along the passageway. Eventually Colt got to his quarters and ended up crashing on the bad. He was going on almost thirty hours of being awake and barely got out of his uniform before falling fast asleep.


    ********************​


    “Looking very pretty,” said Colt as he checked the item inside the mechanical device.

    “Yeah and I didn’t end up using that much of your gold,” said Howell as the object continued to take shape. “Gonna be downright pretty if I may say so myself.”

    “And the stone?” asked Colt.

    “It’s already loaded and will be emplaced once the final shape is taking effect,” said Howell. “Do I know this person?”

    “Maybe,” said Colt.

    “Kinda cryptic about it,” said Howell.

    “Not sure of the answer and I’ve managed to separate private and professional lives for this long,” said Colt. “It’s worked so far.”

    “You have your reasons I suppose,” said Howell.

    “Pilot Colt Daniels to the bridge, Colt Daniels to the bridge,” said the voice over the PA system.

    “I’ll check in later,” said Colt as he headed out. The mechanical section was a good ways from the bridge and Colt jumped onto the moving walkway to speed things up a bit. Once he reached the bow of the ship, he hopped off and went through the large doors onto the bridge.

    “We’ve got an object we’d like to check out,” said Winston. “May be something worth taking with us or at least calling another ship for.”

    “Range?” asked Colt.

    “Two hours or so,” said Winston. “I want you observing the intercept.”

    “Not in the pilot’s chair?” asked Colt.

    “The younger group needs some time to play as well,” said Winston.

    “Right,” said Colt as he headed over and saw the ship was already on a course to intercept. The pilot, Justin Mendoza, was adjusting the course slightly.

    “Doesn’t look that big,” said Mendoza as he sensed Colt behind him.

    “Looks can be deceiving,” said Colt.

    “Don’t get comfortable in that chair Justin,” said Winston from his chair. “Dillon will be making this capture if it comes through.”

    “Aye sir,” said Mendoza. “Shall I summon her to the bridge?”

    “Negative,” said Winston. “I want to see her work on the fly.”

    “Aye sir,” said Mendoza as the time clicked by. Once they were within a half an hour of the object and could determine its size, the most junior pilot was called to the bridge. She didn’t take long to report as she was just finished up eating and reported to the Captain.

    “Reporting as ordered sir,” said Dillon.

    “We have an object in our path and you’ll be at the controls,” said Winston.

    “Aye sir,” said Dillon as she headed to her station. Mendoza relinquished his station and she quickly got up to speed on what was going on.

    “We’re doing a capture sir?” she asked as she checked the controls.

    “Pressure test Miss Dillon,” said Winston. “You’ve got less than half an hour to get the ship oriented for capture.”

    “Aye sir,” said Dillon as she quickly verified what was going on.

    “Time to tell the rest of the crew?” asked Talbert in a low voice.

    “I think it will be too large to capture for this trip,” said Winston. “At least not without using the capture sphere, which I’d rather not do. Pluto already has several objects waiting to be dismantled and unless we find something significant, it’s no worth putting it in line.”

    “Understood,” said Talbert as she listened to the pilot giving readings from her console.

    “Captain,” said Dillon. “The object appears too large for our bay. Recommend capture sphere or fracturing the object to get it inside.”

    “Let’s get a bit closer and make that determination,” said Winston.

    “Aye sir,” said Dillon as she continued and intercept course and determined where the object was best to approach from. She relied on the sensor data as she approached and was fairly smooth in her inputs to the large ship. The sensor data also showed the object to be of rocky origin so she paid extra attention to make sure there was no way they might collide with it.

    “Five kilometers Captain,” she announced and brought the ship to a halt.

    “Bring us within three hundred meters,” said Winston.

    “Sir?” asked Dillon.

    “Three hundred meters please,” said Winston calmly.

    “Three hundred meters, aye,” said Dillon. Colt looked at the Captain with raised eyebrows and was given a shake of the head and a look of “don’t worry about it” from Winston. He went back to watching the pilot as she brought the ship in closer.

    “Secondary object away from the main object,” said the sensor operator. “Approximately three hundred meters from our present position.”

    “On Collision Course?” asked Dillon.

    “Negative at this time,” said the sensor operator.

    “I’ll drop down about two hundred meters and come up on it from below,” said Dillon as she adjusted the large ship onto a new heading. She quickly looked at Colt and received a look of confidence and a thumbs up from him.

    “If you bring it straight in at this point, you’ll be in perfect position,” said Colt in a low voice.

    “Aye,” said Dillon as she adjusted the controls again and brought the ship back forward. The distance closed slowly as they were finally at the intended distance. “Three hundred meters Captain. Position steady.”

    “Good work,” said Winston. “Brent, you are clear to depart and mark the target.”

    “Aye Captain,” said one of the reclamation crewmembers as they opened a secondary airlock and headed out in pressure suits. They jetted over to the object and placed a small locator beacon on the object and took a quick sample to determine the composition.

    “It’s a nice one Captain,” said the specialist. “If we weren’t loaded down, it’d be worth breaking up and taking with us.”

    “Is it worth using the capture sphere?” asked Winston.

    “It’s not that remarkable,” said the specialist who knew the time involved would set them back at least half a day. “I mean, no significant amounts of critical resources or anything. Just that if we had the time, it would have been a nice find.”

    “Can you mark the secondary objects for the next ship?” asked Winston.

    “I don’t think it’s necessary,” said the specialist. “Honestly they’d bump the ship a bit, but I don’t think it would cause problems.”

    “Are any large enough to bring with us?” asked Winston.

    “I’d say no,” said the specialist. “Kinda small and it would take more time getting them loaded than it would for another ship to take them with the main object.”

    “Understood,” said Winston. “Go ahead and finish marking the object and head on back.”

    “Aye sir,” said the specialist as they drilled a small device in that would transmit the coordinates back to the Infinicon Headquarters who would in turn dispatch another ship to pick it up. The pair finished the task and headed back to the ship before sealing themselves back inside.

    “Pilot, you can clear the object and get us back on our Pluto course,” said Winston after the crew members reported they were back on board.

    “Aye sir, moving away from object,” said Dillon as she backed the ship away from the massive asteroid at a slow pace. While it wasn’t as fast as Colt could do it, he knew it was safer this way.

    “And good approach,” said Winston.

    “Thank you sir,” said Dillon as she checked her sensors. “We’re at a kilometer, we’ll resume course at two kilometers.”

    “Best make it five,” said Colt.

    “Aye sir,” said Dillon. “But if I may ask how come?”

    “Just in case there’s additional debris we didn’t see the first time,” said Colt. “Another few kilometers gives us enough room to avoid them.”

    “Understood sir,” said Dillon. “Correction, moving to five kilometers.”

    The distance continued to open on the known objects as Dillon moved the ship back a little quicker now they were far enough away. Once they reached five kilometers, she reoriented the ship and reported to the Captain.

    “We are in position to continue on course to Pluto sir,” she reported.

    “You are clear to get back on course,” said Winston.

    “Aye sir,” said Dillon as she advanced the throttles and got the ship underway yet again.

    “Looks like we only lost about three hours or so,” said Talbert from the navigator station.

    “Not too bad,” said Winston. “And that goes double for you Miss Dillon.”

    “Thank you sir,” said Dillon with a polite nod. “We’re at cruise speed.”

    “Mister Mendoza, you are clear to resume your station,” said Winston. “Miss Dillon, again, job well done on getting close to that monster.”

    “Thank you Captain,” said Dillon as she relinquished control of her station to Mendoza and departed the bridge. Colt looked at the Captain with a curious expression and was given a nod of his head to depart as well. He knew there were a few things to be worked out with the new pilot, but by and large, she did okay. The program to select pilots for the positions on the large freighters was fairly complex and most often weeded out the ones that couldn’t handle the position prior to getting into the advanced stages. But nothing beat the hands on training they received once they arrived on the ships in question.

    Colt arrived at the station he had departed not long before and found Howell shutting down the equipment and wrapping everything up.

    “Harry?” asked Colt.

    “I was just getting ready to come see you,” said Howell as he turned off the last piece of equipment. He grabbed a small box and handed it over to Colt and finished cleaning the table off. Colt popped open the top and looked inside.

    “Very nice,” he said and held the object up to the light.

    “I’d say it turned out fairly well,” said Howell as he fished Colt’s coin out of his pocket and handed it over. “Right purty if I say so myself.”

    “You’ve certainly outdone yourself this time,” said Colt as he put everything back.

    “It was nice to work with something a little more delicate,” said Howell as they departed the room and closed everything up. “And I’d assume it won’t be in your possession long anyway?”

    “Hopefully not,” said Colt.

    “Well, if you need any more work done, you know where to find me,” said Howell.

    “Appreciate it,” said Colt as they departed and Colt headed into his quarters. He placed the objects in the small safe in his closet and checked the duty roster to find out exactly when he would be on duty again. Finding it wasn’t until the next morning, he headed down to the galley where the dinner meal was underway and grabbed a bite to eat. One thing they looked forward to after the stop on Pluto was getting some fresher items on board the ship. Although outfitted with a nice galley, the time and distance involved in their missions meant most of the foods they stored were rehydrates or had the taste killed from them by long term storage. The cooks on board did a decent job at flavoring the items, but nothing beat the taste of fresh foods. Colt was joined by several crew members as they ate and watched the broadcast from one of the Mars based channels and the older show that was playing.

    The crew still seemed in high spirits from the announcement about Earth and combined with the shore leave on Pluto, were happy about getting some significant time off. It was if an individual race finish was seen and they could see the tape at the line fluttering in the breeze. They continued chatting through dinner and eventually headed down to the rec area where the evening was finished in each other’s company. It was like a large family on board as many of the crew were closer to their comrades than they were their own family and it showed in the laughs, smiles and even some growls as they spent the remainder of the evening before eventually clearing out and heading for sleep or duty.


    ********************​


    “We’re at ten thousand kilometers,” said Colt from the pilot’s seat as the stark view of Pluto filled the viewscreen. A cold and barren world, they could just make out some of the lights from the surface of the planet. The moon Charon was hidden behind the planet for the moment as they all looked at their home port from a distance for a brief moment.

    “Go ahead and contact Pluto Control,” said Winston.

    “Aye sir,” said Gold from her station. “Pluto Approach, this is the Atomic Destiny standing by at ten thousand kilometers.”

    “Roger that Atomic Destiny,” said the voice over the communicator. “You are cleared for planetary approach and docking at the Charon Station. Be advised, all traffic clear of your projected pathway at this time and you will dock on position 3. Establish Travel Lane Zulu for Pluto orbit and pathway to Charon. Contact Charon Dock Control on Channel 14 for docking permission and additional instructions.”

    Atomic Destiny copies all,” said Gold. “Utilize Lane Zulu for docking at Charon orbiting dock and contact Control on Channel 14.”

    “Welcome back Atomic Destiny,” said the controller.

    “Time’s a wasting Colt,” said Winston. “Take us in.”

    “Aye Captain,” said Colt as he nudged the ship forward and brought them into the pathway indicated on his individual screen at his console. He brought the ship right into the middle as they traveled around Pluto for docking at the alternate location.

    “I wonder why we’re docking at Charon,” asked Talbert.

    “It appears we aren’t the first ones here,” said Rebecca “Becky” Sanchez from her sensor station. A member of the crew that helped build the ship, she was also one of the eldest on board next to Captain Winston. “WGE, Tiger, BAE and the Alliance all have freighters docked over Pluto.”

    “You’d think we could kick one of them out of the Infinicon dock,” chuckled Talbert.

    “You know they get to charge more when they dock them closer to the planet,” said Winston. “And we do have a very capable shuttle latched onto this behemoth.”

    “And lest you forget, the Ice Festival is coming up,” said Sanchez from her station.

    “I forgot all about that!” exclaimed Talbert. “Remember three years ago when Colt got drunk and started dancing with that street sweeper bot and that pretty girl had to drag him off it?”

    “Who could forget?” asked Winston with a laugh.

    “I’d certainly like for some of you to,” groaned Colt. “I had a hangover for three days.”

    “Can’t say some of us didn’t warn you,” said Talbert with a laugh.

    “We’re approaching the initial point,” said Colt.

    “Charon Dock, this is the Atomic Destiny on Channel 14,” said Gold without prompting.

    Atomic Destiny, this is the Charon Dock, you are cleared to proceed via Path Zulu for docking at spot number 3,” said a new voice over the speaker. “Be advised, no known contacts in your path and no obstructions at this time. Automated docking sequence is available at one hundred meters if your pilot prefers.”

    Atomic Destiny copies all,” said Gold over the speaker and repeated the instruction back.

    “Colt, let’s get this gal docked,” said Winston.

    “Aye Captain,” said Colt. “Slowing for approach and docking.”

    Colt started slowing the ship even further as the moon of Charon started filling the screen and the orbiting platform was starting to take shape. He got the large ship into position and changed the view on his screen to show the relative positions of the two as the distance closed and he continued to slow the ship. Once they were within five kilometers, he changed it back to show the station and the landing dock he intended to put the ship on. The magnification of the screen was on high, but automatically adjusted as they got closer.

    Atomic Destiny, we show you at a kilometer and in perfect position for docking,” said the controller on the dock. “Maintain current path.”

    Atomic Destiny copies,” said Colt over the communicator as he gently nudged the controls keeping the large ship right in the “sweet spot” for the docking. And when dealing with a ship as large as he was on, he knew a collision would tear apart the dock and likely cause significant damage to the Atomic Destiny as well. But he slowed even further as they approached and he maintained the position to ensure that didn’t happen.

    “One hundred meters,” said Sanchez from her station. “Looking perfect.”

    “One hundred meters,” confirmed Colt.

    “Fifty meters,” said Sanchez as the seconds passed away.

    “Fifty meters, slowing to a half meter per second,” said Colt as he flicked his wrist slightly.

    “Ten meters,” said Sanchez.

    Atomic Destiny, we show ten meters,” said the controller.

    “Copy ten meters,” said Colt as he slowed the ship to a snail’s pace. Eventually, the hull and the station made contact with each other and he fired the thrusters to cease all forward motion.

    “Contact, we have good dock!” said the voice from the station at the same time that Sanchez did from her station.

    “I copy good dock,” said Colt as he switched off the engine and thruster controls.

    “Be advised, hard dock seal in place,” said the controller. “You are clear to shut down non-essential systems and prepare for boarding party.”

    Atomic Destiny is home,” said Winston over the communicator and switched to the internal PA system. “Crew, we are hard docked at the Charon Docks. Please prepare your stations for cargo download and shut down all non-essential systems. We will depart on the shuttle in two hours for travel to Pluto and our shore leave.”

    Winston could hear several members of the crew in close proximity to the bridge let out a cheer as they went through the shutdown sequence and put the Atomic Destiny into a slumber while they were on leave. The remainder of the bridge crew continued putting their systems into standby or shutting them off as they all wore huge grins on their face.

    “Specialist Howell to the bridge please,” said Winston over the PA. “Harry, please report to the bridge and see your Captain.”

    It didn’t take long for Howell to arrive and headed over to the Captain. “You rang?”

    “I’d like you and Brent to supervise the download of the cargo,” said Winston.

    “I can take Brent’s place if it’s okay,” said Sanchez as she finished up shutting down her console. “I’m too old to go running for bars anyway.”

    “No problem,” said Winston. “Harry? You mind?”

    “Got nothing on the planet that can’t wait,” said Harry.

    “Okay crew, as you finish shutting down, you are clear to pack your bags and meet us at the shuttle dock. We won’t depart until everyone gets there so make it snappy,” said Winston. He knew the majority of the crew likely already had their bags packed and only needed to shed the crew uniforms and snatch them off the waiting bunks. His own wife had packed the night before and repacked and packed once again just to be sure.

    “Captain? I’m Malcolm Fitzgerald,” said a man who led a small party onto the bridge. “I’m here to supervise the cargo download.”

    “This is Harry Howell and he will be your liaison,” said Winston. “And this is Becky Sanchez who will be assisting.”

    “Aye sir,” said Fitzgerald as he hooked a tablet into a console and checked the cargo manifest. “Looks like you guys had a good trip this time. Nearly full in every compartment.”

    “They don’t pay us for wandering the stars,” said Winston.

    “We’ll wait until your crew is off and begin the download. Looks like it will take at least five days to empty you out,” said Fitzgerald.

    “Good thing we have seven days here,” said Winston as his crew were finishing up shutting down their consoles and departing one at a time. Colt finished shutting down his systems and verified everything was offline before heading back to his quarters and quickly grabbing his bag. He knew he was likely going to be one of the last in line, but also knew they couldn’t depart as he was listed as the shuttle pilot for the trip to Pluto’s surface. He opened his safe and grabbed the one object that he knew for a fact he couldn’t leave without and headed back to the shuttle dock and airlock.

    “You have big plans?” asked Lilly Gold as she was heading from the same area. She had changed into her civilian clothing and Colt saw the crew uniform didn’t do her a lot of justice as she was naturally curvy as the blue jeans and form fitting shirt she had on showed.

    “Kinda,” said Colt. “But mainly just relaxing.”

    “Don’t do too much relaxing,” said Gold. “It’s a long trip back to Earth.”

    “I’m sure I can find something to pass the time,” said Colt.

    “We should get together for a drink or something,” said Gold. “If we run into each other that is.”

    “If we do,” said Colt as he saw Harry heading in the opposite direction. “See you in a minute.”

    “See ya,” said Gold with a smile as she continued to the shuttle.

    “Harry, I can’t say how much I appreciate what you did,” said Colt as he stopped Harry.

    “Like I said, no big deal,” said Harry. “You just have a good time and I’ll catch up with you on the planet eventually.”

    “Take care,” said Colt as he continued to the shuttle. He was slightly nervous about getting to the surface and the next direction of his life.
     
    oldawg, squiddley, Tully Mars and 4 others like this.
  6. whynot

    whynot Monkey++

    Interesting so far.

    whynot
     
    Grand58742 likes this.
  7. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 4



    Colt arrived at the shuttle and stowed his bag in the small compartment near the cockpit. He saw his copilot, Mendoza, already had the preflight checklist well underway and the shuttle was already warming up to depart the location.

    “I’m up to item 17 on the checklist,” said Mendoza.

    “Thanks for getting a jump start on it,” said Colt as he got into the pilot’s seat and assisted with the checklist for startup. The remainder of the crew filtered in and secured seating along with stowing their baggage as they completed the checklist and got the engines ready, but in standby. The Captain stood in the passageway as the last crew member boarded. His nose was buried in his personal tablet as he reviewed everything from the ship.

    “Okay, so Harry and Becky will be sticking around for the cargo guys and they will meet us down on the planet. Checklists show…everything has been properly shut down. Anything I’m missing?” asked Captain Winston as he looked up from the computer tablet.

    “To get on board and have a good time on some shore leave?” asked his wife pointedly.

    “I shall follow the Admiral’s orders,” he laughed and came through the passageway onto the smaller transport shuttle that typically was attached to the top of the craft and used to shuttle the crew back and forth to destinations. Once inside, he made his way through the seating to cockpit where the pilots were finishing setting everything up. “We’re good to go Colt.”

    “Charon Dock, this is the Neutron Destiny, request permission to detach from Atomic Destiny on Dock 3 and orient for departure,” said Colt over the communicator from his old fashioned headset. All Infinicon shuttles had a relational name to the parent craft they were assigned to and in this case, the shuttle was named the Neutron Destiny.

    Neutron Destiny, you are clear to detach and maintain station keeping in the immediate vicinity of your parent craft,” said the dock controller. “Do not exceed one hundred meters separation.”

    “Roger that,” said Colt and brought the engines online. “Retracting tunnel and docking clamps. Better strap yourself in Cap, we’re getting ready to hit zero G.”

    “I was working in zero G before you were born son,” he grinned as Colt completed the checklist and fired the station keeping thrusters to move the shuttle away from the Atomic Destiny.

    After moving ten meters away, they were outside the gravitational influence of the parent craft and some items started floating up. While they made artificial gravity units for ships that size, it was seen as an unnecessary expense since they only used the shuttle when we were transferring from the ship to a planet’s surface or when they were too large to dock with a space station.

    “We’re clear of the moorings and all connections show clear,” said Mendoza. “Separation at two meters a second, hold at fifty meters.”

    “Bringing her around,” said Colt as he noticed the distance was finally enough to turn the shuttle and orient it at Pluto. He held the present location right next to the Atomic Destiny and contacted the dock control. “Charon Dock, this is Neutron Destiny. Request permission to depart for Pluto orbit with continuation to Infinicon Pluto Colony.”

    Neutron Destiny, you are clear to proceed direct to Pluto. No other traffic in your flight path at this time. Contact Pluto Approach on channel six when you are within three thousand kilometers. Have a good time and welcome back,” said the controller on board the docks and added in something of a tradition whenever they left the dock as a song came on the communicator that was well over a hundred years old if it was a day. Honestly, they had no idea how old the song “Neutron Dance” was, but again, it was a tradition whenever the shuttle craft left the dock and it was catchy for something that ancient. Colt wondered if the Pointer Sisters would appreciate their song lasting as long as it had or could even comprehend we would be that far out in space when it was played. He peeked over his shoulder and found Captain Winston has finally strapped himself into the seat behind him and the remainder of the crew was in high spirits as they bopped along to the beat as he had put the song on the intercom. And even Captain Winston got into it as Colt saw he was tapping his foot and slightly bobbing his head to the beat. The crew was all in good spirits as being locked up for three months inside a can was tasking. But it was a life they chose and nothing they regretted.

    The song finally came to an end but Colt managed to pick up the commercial music channel from the planet that played “20th Century Music, all day, every day” like the song they just had on. And luckily it was playing something catchy as the crew continued to get into the moment. Again, they had no idea who or what it was, but it was catchy and something about working for the weekend. And seemed entirely appropriate given the situation. Apparently they were right in the middle of “1980s Day” according to the DJ as the music continued with that particular era.

    “Coming up three thousand kilometers,” said the copilot.

    “Pluto Approach Control, this is Neutron Destiny, requesting clearance for planet approach and landing at Infinicon Colony,” said Colt over the communicator as he shunted the music to the passenger compartment to keep it going.

    Neutron Destiny, be advised, outbound traffic at this time. We need you to establish orbital track Delta at three hundred kilometers until they clear,” said the controller.

    “Roger that, establish orbit Delta at three hundred kilometers,” said Colt and started moving the ship into the orbit indicated by the ground controllers. It wasn’t far off their track at the moment and Colt got the ship right into the middle of the indicated track on the navigation holoscreen.

    “Something up?” asked Captain Winston.

    “We’ve got to take a lap around the planet,” said Colt. “Outbound traffic.”

    They had almost completed the first orbit when they saw a WGE security corvette leaving the surface and establishing orbit itself prior to departing the planet.

    “Smacking into that at speed would certainly make a mess,” remarked Captain Winston.

    “It’s a good thing you have such a talented pilot at the controls then,” grinned Colt in response as he saw the corvette picking up speed and disappeared from view.

    Neutron Destiny, you are clear for approach at this time,” said the controller. “Clear direct to landing area five at the Infinicon Colony.”

    “Roger Pluto Approach,” replied Colt. “We’re inbound at this time.”

    He maneuvered the ship back into the landing pattern and started lowering his altitude. Since there was no planetary atmosphere to speak of, friction on the heat shield wasn’t a factor as Colt skimmed in a bit lower towards the Infinicon Colony, home to ten thousand permanent residents and a good number more in transit at any given time. He could see the domes as they approached and saw where they were building yet another addition onto the every growing colony. As well as the large dome that belonged to the Circle P Ranch where the largest exo-terran beef farm was located. The ship quickly passed near the Down Under colony, smaller than the Infinicon colony and they saw the shuttle train that ran between the colonies departing the dome heading towards yet another colony from WGE.

    “Coming up on five kilometers,” said the copilot. “Hold position at the outer marker.”

    “Five kilometers,” repeated Colt and pulled back on the throttle to bring the shuttle into a hover. “Pluto Approach, we are at five clicks and standing by at the outer marker.”

    “Copy, five kilometers. Go direct with IP Services on channel sixteen for landing instructions,” said the controller. “Welcome back.”

    “Appreciate the vectors,” said Colt as he switched the communicator yet again to the Infinity Confederation Pluto Colony Flight Services and Support Detachment. Or IP Services for short. “IP Services, this is the Neutron Destiny holding at the outer marker. Request landing at platform five per instructions from Pluto Approach.”

    “Roger Neutron Destiny, you are clear to proceed to platform five for landing,” said the voice from the ground service and support unit that sounded utterly bored.

    “Roger, landing at platform five,” stated Colt as he moved the shuttle forward yet again. While they didn’t have artificial gravity, they did have inertial dampers which kept them from being squashed by the excessive forces normally applied to the craft. Upon the approach, they passed over additional landing areas and saw several shuttles and other craft already sitting on the ground. It appeared the small landing area was almost filled.

    “Landing gear down and locked,” announced Colt.

    “Landing gear down and locked,” repeated the copilot. “All green.”

    “Appears a bit crowded,” remarked the Captain.

    “Hope we don’t have to double up in the billets,” remarked Colt as he flared the shuttle for landing and was captured by the gravitational augmenters. They felt their weight grow back to normal. “And it appears they have extended the gravitational field.”

    “They were talking about it at one point,” said the Captain as Colt brought the shuttle down for the landing. They landed with a minor jolt and the pair started shutting down the engines.

    “Would have been nice to have some warning,” said Colt sourly. “I don’t like rough landings.”

    “If that was rough, I’d be perfectly happy with the way you crash,” said the Captain with a laugh. “Nice landing.”

    “Nice to have solid ground under our feet,” remarked Colt.

    “I’m not sure who you’re trying to kid,” laughed the Captain as he removed his harness. “You’re an old sailor at heart that only needs a tall ship and a star to steer her by.”

    “Depends on who you have waiting for you in port,” remarked Colt

    “Are we ever going to get to meet this mystery woman in your life that tugs you back to Pluto every chance you get?” asked Camille Winston, the Captain’s wife.

    “Eventually,” said Colt with a grin. “I’m surprised you haven’t run into her yet. The colony isn’t that big.”

    “I might have run into her,” said Camille. “Yet someone never has introduced us so I wouldn’t know her from a stranger anyway.”

    “C’mon, everyone knows Colt’s woman is actually just a simulation,” laughed Brent McMasters, one of the reclamation specialists.

    “Sure, sure,” laughed Colt. “Is that why you keep going into the House of Passion?”

    “Hey, when you’re as ugly as I am you need those simulations,” he laughed.

    The monitor over the top of the airlock door changed to green indicating the tunnel that connected them to the colony was locked to the ship and had pressurized. The Captain led the procession off the shuttle as Colt and Mendoza continued the shut down and finishing a lot quicker than they did with the main ship. One of the ground technicians came on board and met them in the cockpit.

    “Just fuel for the moment,” said Colt as he signed for the docking permit. “But you might give the landing gear a once over. We smacked a little harder than I wanted on landing.”

    “Yeah, we keep on telling them we need to put out a notice about the gravitational field being extended,” said the technician as he looked over the computer display.

    “Well, we know from now on,” Colt replied as he finished shutting down the systems except for the environmental controls.

    “Funny, that’s the excuse they used as well,” he chuckled. “We’ll take a look at it.”

    “Much appreciated,” said Colt and grabbed his bag from the storage bin and passed over Mendoza’s to him as well. “Time’s a wasting.”

    “You have plans?” he asked as they exited the shuttle and headed to the customs office.

    “Spending some quality time with my girlfriend,” said Colt. “You?”

    “Just some sightseeing this time,” he replied. “I haven’t seen everything the different colonies have to offer so I’m heading for the Down Under colony and the Blue Horizons this trip.”

    “Check out a restaurant called Kangaroo Mike’s at Down Under. Neat little pub and grill,” said Colt as they passed over their Infinicon identification to the customs officer. He quickly looked it over before scanning it in and handing them back.

    “I’ll check it out,” he said as they departed the terminal and headed toward the temporary billets where they would be staying during their short visit. And as suspected, they were somewhat packed already and the crew would have to double up in the rooms provided. Colt thought about requesting permission to stay with his girlfriend and made a mental reminder to ask when they were reunited. It wasn’t like he hadn’t plenty of times in the past as they were fairly seriously involved. Just the time away from port kept him from making their relationship a more permanent affair. But she didn’t seem to mind as they kept in touch as much as possible and enjoyed the times they spent together. Before they were assigned rooms, the Captain gathered the crew together and made clear the instructions.

    “Okay gang,” he started. “You’ve got until Thursday morning to go wild. But having said that to say this; I will not come bail you out of the detention facility until Wednesday night if you happen to get too wild. So mind your P’s and Q’s while you’re here and don’t be picking fights with the crews from other corporations. We’ll be departing on the shuttle at 1000 hours on Thursday morning so be here at least an hour prior to get checked out of the colony. Otherwise, enjoy your time here and we’ll see you in a week.”

    And like a shot, the group ran to the check in counter and were given billet assignments as quick as humanly possible. They scanned in their ID which would also serve as a room key and darted off to secure their baggage prior to heading out into the colony. Colt was last in line and found he was paired off with Harry Howell who would be arriving after the download of the cargo was underway. Colt headed up to the billet and found the two small beds along with a storage unit for each of the occupants. He quickly shed the uniform and grabbed his shower gear before heading to the shared bathroom that was thankfully empty. He hopped in the shower and was rewarded with a stream of hot water and quickly rinsed off since he had already showered once that morning. But also knew he needed to make a good impression since it had been three months and hit the important spots once again before hopping out and drying off. The quarters sensed he was there and “assisted” with the matter by hitting him with a blast of warm air that assisted the drying process and he was done in no time at all.

    Heading back into the living quarters, Colt found that Harry hadn’t arrived yet and he still had the place to himself. He grabbed the comfortable khaki pants and a nicer button up shirt since he intended to treat his girlfriend to dinner that evening providing their schedules worked out. One thing none of the space colonies had to do yet was grow anything close to the quality of Terran cotton. And even after a hundred-fifty years plus of space travel, it was still the most comfortable clothing in the universe. Colt hung up the uniform and stowed the remainder of his gear in the locker before giving himself the once over in the mirror and deciding he was socially acceptable. He made sure the room was locked before heading out into the colony itself.

    As stated, it was a fairly large colony and the buildings were laid out in neat rows with walkways and small streets making it look very efficient. Colt headed into the main thoroughfare of the colony, aptly named Tombaugh Street, where many of the businesses were located. He saw the majority of the crew heading into a bar named Kip’s Grill that tended to be a favorite of the crew. But continued another two blocks and saw the sign for Club Plutonium before the sliding door opened and allowed him entry. It wasn’t particularly busy at the moment with only about a dozen and a half individuals inside sitting at the old fashioned wood bar or at tables throughout the main room. And he saw the most beautiful woman in the outer colonies heading away from the bar with her back to him. Colt headed across the room and came up behind her as she was setting drinks down on the table.

    “Hello beautiful space goddess,” said Colt as he snuck up behind her as she sat down the remaining drinks to a crew from a Blue Horizons ship. He placed his hands on her waist once she got done setting down the tray to make sure he didn’t have to pay for more alcohol than he intended.

    “Colt!” exclaimed Bella Phillips as she spun around and saw who it was. She hopped into his arms and gave him a quick kiss before remembering she was on duty in a public place. “Just where have you been?”

    “Would you believe I’ve been in outer space?” he grinned and received another quick kiss on the lips. She was around his age and had come out to Pluto some years before Colt started his job on board the Atomic Destiny. While she had been born on Earth, her parents had been members of a WGE ship not unlike the one Colt was assigned to that harvested materials in the outer solar system. And she had grown up on board a ship for the majority of her youth.

    “Is everything okay Bella?” asked one of the bouncers. He had been alerted after seeing what he thought was a customer pawing at one of the waitresses. But she didn’t seem like she was objecting to the attention she was getting.

    “Yes, of course,” she replied. “Rodney, this is my boyfriend Colt Daniels.”

    “Hiya,” said Colt as he stuck out his hand. “I haven’t met you before.”

    “Just started about six weeks ago,” said the bouncer as he took the hand. “I didn’t know you two knew each other.”

    “It’s all good,” said Bella as she looked at Colt with a sparkle in her eyes.

    “Thanks though,” said Colt. “I’m glad someone is looking out for this beautiful woman.”

    “No problem,” said the bouncer and departed back to his spot where he could observe the club.

    “Can you give me a hand with something?” asked Bella as she grabbed at Colt’s hand and tugged him towards the kitchen area. He consented and she led him through a doorway into the kitchen where they were out of sight and mind of the remainder of the establishment. And she turned to him and pulled him in forcefully where they had a proper homecoming. They managed to get a little hot and heavy with each other until interrupted by another waitress.

    “Wow! Excuse me,” said the waitress as they released their embrace. They both blushed up slightly as the waitress gave them a knowing smile before heading back out.

    “You’re back and already getting me into trouble,” she giggled.

    “Might I remind you who led who back here?” said Colt. “And who happens to be the head waitress around these parts?”

    “I’m happy you’re back, even as unexpected as it is,” she said as they shared another hug.

    “I couldn’t wait to see you,” said Colt.

    “Why didn’t you call and let me know you were on your way back?” she asked.

    “I wasn’t sure of the exact date we would be back,” said Colt. “As it was, we’re actually a day earlier than planned.”

    “Which would have been a nice surprise as well,” she grinned.

    “Sorry,” said Colt.

    “I’m glad you’re home baby,” she said and gave him one last kiss before they departed the kitchen area and headed back into main bar. “I didn’t see your ship listed on the port manifest.”

    “We used the Charon Docks,” said Colt as he rubbed on her hands that were still in his. “Our normal spots were filled by other companies.”

    “Silly me I didn’t think to check Charon,” she said as she led him over to an empty table. “What are you having tonight love?”

    “I think I’ll have a Coke and Venusian rum,” he replied.

    “Ohhh, big spender tonight!” she laughed. “You alone babe?”

    “Yeah, the rest of the crew wandered over to Kip’s,” he said.

    “Oh darn,” she grinned with a wink. “That means I’ve got you all to myself.”

    “As you always do,” said Colt with a return wink and had a seat at the table. The main reason he hadn’t taken it to the next level was moving her away from here. She seemed happy in her current situation and living aboard a reclamation freighter wasn’t exactly a life he wanted to provide for her. A few of the crew had their families on board, but the vast majority of the one hundred and fifty crewmembers were single. So he was a bit nervous about asking her hand in marriage, but he had plans either way and it was seriously time to fish or cut bait. In short order she returned with the drink and had a seat opposite of him at the small table.

    “I think you get more beautiful each time I see you,” he remarked with a smile.

    “You’re the sweetest,” she replied. “And not too bad looking either.”

    “Not too bad huh?” he asked with a laugh.

    “Would you settle for ruggedly handsome although with a distinct lack of sunlight over the past three months?” she grinned.

    “I see you’re hitting up the tan machine,” he replied and ran his fingers down her arm.

    “Gotta stay sexy for my baby,” she said with a smile. “And you happen to be my baby.”

    “I suppose that’s a good reason,” he replied and leaned over for another kiss. But not as much as he’d like since she was technically on duty and others might get the impression they could get away with it as well. Which would end up with Bella or one of the bouncers introducing said customer to the street outside. For 168 centimeters, she packed a pretty good wallop even on men far larger than she was.

    “How long are you in for?” she asked.

    “Only seven days,” he replied.

    “Not a long time,” she said. “You’ve been out for three months!”

    “We go back out for a month mission and then back to Earth,” said Colt.

    “Earth? Really?” she asked.

    “Yep,” he said as he took a sip of the drink. And as always, the Venusian rum was spot on.

    “Well, that sucks,” said Bella. “How long will you be there?”

    “About ten weeks to get there and then two months on the ground,” said Colt.

    “Over six months before I see you again?!” she protested.

    “Not exactly,” he replied. “I was kind of hoping you would come with me.”

    “What?!” she exclaimed.

    “It’s an invitation,” he said. “I talked to the Captain and he secured you a travel berth if you want it. And of course, I’d be willing to pay that for you. I kind of wanted to wait until dinner to drop it on you.”

    “I haven’t been on Earth in eight years!” she exclaimed. “And the only vacation I took in the last five was with you on that Neptune cruise last year. Which was quite romantic by the way. Hint, hint, nudge, nudge.”

    “You and I could go see your folks,” he said in a suggestion with an ulterior motive. “You said you wanted me to meet them.”

    “Wow, throw a lot on a girl after only having been back for ten minutes,” she said.

    “So that’s a no?” he asked.

    “That’s certainly an ‘I’ll think about it’ and let you know,” she replied with a wink. “But I’d say you just might get lucky young man.”

    “You’re only like four months older than me,” he laughed.

    “I know, robbing the cradle and all,” she said with a mischievous grin. “I’m such a bad girl.”

    “And what time until you get off work so you can prove you’re a bad girl?” he asked.

    “Couple of hours,” she replied. “And you get to treat me to dinner so don’t get too heavy into that rum please.”

    “Yes ma’am,” he replied and took another small sip. He knew the rum distilled on Venus would pack a serious punch if he wasn’t careful, but noticed she hadn’t mixed it that strong.

    “And honestly, I’m floored by the invitation,” she said as she stood up to resume her rounds. “I doubt there will be a problem with me taking an extended vacation as well.”

    “We can talk more about it over dinner,” he said.

    “Where are we going?” she asked.

    “We haven’t been to that Chinese place in a while,” he suggested.

    “Closed down,” she said with a shake of her head. “The owner packed it in and moved back to Callisto about two months ago.”

    “Italian?” he asked.

    “Now you’re speaking my language,” she smiled and headed back on her rounds of the table. Colt continued sipping at his drink in front and turned to the television set that was playing the nightly news. And even somewhat up to date as he watched a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean heading for the mainland on the set and the evacuations it was causing. It seemed funny that mankind had managed to conquer much of space exploration and colonization, but still had yet to perfect any kind of weather control device without wreaking havoc on the ecosystem. Oh sure, they has some prototypes, but hurricanes in Sweden and blizzards in Florida in July weren’t exactly tolerated as byproducts to having it rain in Australia.

    And the next report happened to be about more fighting in Africa. Which wasn’t unusual in the least since whatever warmonger wanted power at the time would fight it out with the warmonger in power. Being that the vast majority of the minerals and resources they had once provided to the world were now being harvested in the solar system, the nations could no longer rely on high prices to keep the despotic regimes afloat. And they fought namely now for lands they claimed historically and little more. The news moved on to a story about the Martian independence movement and an expected vote that was to take place in the near future about it. Which wasn’t really news so to speak as they had been talking about it for years and finally had the blessing of the corporate bosses to vote on it. Being that Mars was under terraforming, the corporations could no longer really control the 3,000,000 strong population of Mars once it had a breathable atmosphere. Although a couple still tried.

    “You hungry?” asked Bella as she bopped back to the table.

    “A little,” he answered.

    “I can bring in one of the other girls to take my rounds,” said Bella. “I can take off a bit early so we can get a good seat.”

    “I like the way you think,” he grinned.

    “So what am I thinking about now?” she said with a sly grin of her own.

    “Fettuccini,” he laughed.

    “Well…yeah,” she giggled very cutely. “Let me make a final round and let folks know I’m leaving. Give me less than ten minutes and we’ll be going.”

    “I’ll wait for as long as it takes,” he replied with a smile.

    “Funny, I feel the same way when you’re away,” she said with a smile over her shoulder as she headed to the various tables in the bar, collecting tips and closing out tabs for those that would leave at the same time. She finished up by giving the house their cut and came over to his table as he was finishing up the drink.

    “Ready?” she asked.

    “Always,” replied Colt and stood to leave. One of the other waitresses came in and talked with the bartender before grabbing the tray and heading out. Colt started towards the door before he was stopped by Bella who tugged at his hand.

    “New home babe,” she said and nodded towards the rear of the bar. “The owner had a couple of quarters built in over the top and I moved in not long after you left the last time.”

    “Doesn’t that get loud?” he asked as he took her hand and was led towards the back.

    “Not when he installs noise dampening fields,” she grinned slyly. “That work both ways.”

    “Good deal,” he replied and followed her back through the employee’s only door and up a small staircase to one of the six doors on the upper level. While it was small, he could see it was a bit larger than her old quarters as the airtight door slid back.

    “Airtight?” he asked.

    “Yep, emergency shelter as well as required by the Pluto Colonization Code,” said Bella as she kicked off her shoes upon entry. “I wasn’t expecting you tonight so excuse the mess.”

    “I wouldn’t qualify this as a mess whatsoever,” he said and scoped out the new place.

    “I share a shower and kitchen with my neighbor, but she’s the one that’s at work now,” said Bella as she pulled off the apron she had been wearing and draped it across a chair near a small desk. She headed through another door that led into the small bedroom and storage area as she continued talking through the open door.

    “So you actually get a choice,” she said as he heard her getting changed. “You have Franco’s Place or a new joint that opened up called Old Rome. I haven’t been to the latter yet, but I hear it’s okay.”

    “Anything other than rehydrates is good at this point,” said Colt as she came back into the room wearing a bath towel and carrying another.

    “I need to shower,” she announced.

    “Okay,” he said and admired the view. “I can make myself comfortable.”

    “You need to shower too,” she said with a look and twirled the spare towel around in her hand.

    “I did on at the quarters,” he replied.

    “You…need…a…shower…” she said and added in a naughty smile. “Hint, hint, nudge, nudge.”

    “Why yes, I suppose I do,” he said and headed over to join her.

    “I thought you would see things my way,” she grinned as she led him into the bathroom.
     
    Tully Mars, techsar, rle737ng and 2 others like this.
  8. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 5


    “It’s been far too long baby,” groaned Bella as she adjusted beside him and snuggled in closer. “I know it’s your job and all, but you being gone three months a pop doesn’t do a girl any good.”

    “I’m surprised you waited for me this long,” replied Colt as he pulled her in closer.

    “Oh, you have your redeeming qualities I suppose,” she sighed and scratched at his chest. What had begun in the shower had finished in the bedroom they were currently in.

    “Name one,” he smiled.

    “Well, everyone knows you space freighter guys are loaded. All that time on those ships with nothing to spend your money on?” she said as he could see the sides of her mouth curl in a smile.

    “So you’re just after me for my money?” he chuckled.

    “Nah, you’re a keeper I think,” she said and continued scratching. “But I am surprised no other woman in the outer realm has snatched you up yet.”

    “Not a lot of choices out here,” he replied.

    “Are you saying I’m the consolation prize?” she asked.

    “Anything but,” he laughed and kissed her on her forehead. At 168 centimeters and about 55 kilos, she kept in good shape by being on her feet all day. And genetics had added in a nice figure to go along with her bright blue eyes and long dark brown hair. She was chased by plenty of guys that came to visit Pluto, but had ended up with him for reasons he couldn’t fully understand, but certainly didn’t object to.

    “But if you love me, you’ll feed me at this point,” she said as she rolled out of the small bed and started getting her clothes ready.

    “Love huh?” he asked.

    “Yep, that nasty four letter word you guys are opposed to saying,” she said and leaned over for a quick kiss. “You’ve said it before, so don’t deny it.”

    “Does that work both ways?” he asked.

    “I wouldn’t be here, or rather you wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel something,” she said as she picked out an outfit from the small closet.

    “Yeah, I’d say there are some feelings there,” he replied.

    “Just feelings huh?” she asked.

    “I’d say I fell in love with you along the way,” said Colt and grabbed her around the waist.

    “But not enough to say it right now?” she asked pointedly.

    “You just want me to say it first,” he laughed.

    “That too,” she laughed as it wasn’t worth fighting about right then. “But honestly, I think our relationship is going good at this point. Wouldn’t you agree?”

    “I would,” he replied as he got his clothing arranged as well and wondered where she was going with the conversation they were having.

    “So knowing we are doing well, I’ve decided to accept your invitation,” she said with a smile.

    “Awesome!” he exclaimed and took her into a hug. Which would make the next step in his life that much easier.

    “Obviously I have some things to work out here, but I think I can escape for six months without too many problems. But under one condition,” she said after they released their embrace.

    “Anything,” he stated.

    “I get to meet your family as well,” she stated adamantly.

    “They can’t wait to meet you,” Colt stated.

    “You mean you’ve told them I’m coming? Oh, my! You certainly get ahead of yourself don’t you?” she asked as she pulled out a black sun dress, his favorite sun dress specifically. It was kind of odd wearing what would amount to a summer outfit on a planet that routinely reached -230 degrees centigrade, but the environmental controls kept the colony at a comfortable 22 degrees year round. But before putting it on, they both hopped back in the shower for a quick rinse off after getting mussed up after the first shower. And afterwards, she sat down to apply some old fashioned makeup instead of letting the nano-kit do the job instead. She was old fashioned about some things in life and this was one of them. But she didn’t need a lot of work done as her natural features were generally good enough. And Colt found his own hygiene products were just as he left them the previous trip.

    “You saved my teeth cleaner?” he laughed.

    “You stay over here every once in a while,” she smiled. “I might as well.”

    “Thanks,” he said and put the device in his mouth and let it go to work again. “But yes, my parents can’t wait to meet you.”

    “When did you tell them we were involved and that some outer colony girl snatched you up instead of a nice Terran girl?” she asked.

    “The day after I met you,” he grinned.

    “You didn’t,” she stated with a laugh.

    “Okay, it was on day three, but who was counting?” he laughed in return.

    “You’re a straight jewel,” she said and gave him a kiss for the compliment. She slipped on the dress and collected some comfortable shoes before heading towards the door. “Now food or I’m going to start holding people hostage.”

    “Yes ma’am,” he stated and she led him out of her quarters. After they went down the stairs, they headed out through the back of the bar into the small alley so they wouldn’t have to walk through the already crowded facility. And ended up turning back onto the main drag of the Infinicon colony. There weren’t a lot of vehicles around, but those that were tended to be fairly small deals that could avoid the pedestrian traffic in the roadway. However, some cabs were available and Colt grabbed one to drive them to the other side of the colony where the new restaurant was located.

    “Old Rome please,” said Bella as the door closed behind them.

    “Going to be crowded tonight, might I suggest the Little Havana instead?” asked the cab driver.

    “Nah, we’re wanting Italian tonight,” said Colt.

    “They’ve got the best food in the colony and the best prices,” said the cab driver.

    “And likely the best percentage of the cut you get for bringing in business,” chuckled Colt.

    “Times are tough these days,” he laughed. “Old Rome it is.”

    The ride wasn’t long so to speak as the residents, both temporary and permanent, of the colony hadn’t come out for the night life as of yet. But they arrived at the restaurant to find several people already waiting outside. Colt paid the cab driver and left a decent tip along with getting his number in case they were to need his services later that evening. He departed back to the mid-colony area where he would continue to try to find others in need of transportation.

    “We should have skipped the shower,” observed Colt.

    “You are complaining about the activities both during and after?” she said with a grin.

    “Well, when you put it like that,” he laughed and met the hostess that put their names on a waiting list. The pair headed inside the bar area where they waited to be called for their table. Mainly catching up on the last three months and other little talk that couples tended to waste time with. The wait wasn’t too long and they were seated at a table that would seat four although only being a pair. The waiter came by and dropped off menus and took the drink order before stating he would be back to take their food order. They both scanned the menu, knowing more or less what they would want in advance, but scanning it just in case. The waiter returned in short order with the drinks and went over the specials for the day.

    “Today, we have a fresh shipment of Jovian shrimp that go well with the fettuccini and Terran sausage and our own locally grown Circle P beef meatballs for spaghetti. Would either of you be interested in either of those or both perhaps?” asked the waiter.

    “The shrimp fettuccini sounds great,” said Bella as she closed up the menu.

    “I think I’ll have the steak and lobster,” said Colt as he closed his as well. “With twice baked potatoes on the side please.”

    “Sounds great,” said the waiter as he wrote it in. “Any appetizers?”

    “The bruschetta please,” said Colt.

    “Would either of you care for a glass of wine with your orders?” he asked.

    “Do you have any Martian wine? Perhaps the 2098 Marineris Sauvignon blanc for the lady?” asked Colt.

    “I believe we might,” said the waiter as he quickly checked the stock on his ordering tablet.

    “Colt! No! That’s too expensive!” she protested.

    “I think you’re worth it,” he said and looked back at the waiter.

    “It appears we don’t have that year, but do have a very nice 2102 Meridiani Chardonnay,” he suggested. “It works very well with the pasta.”

    “That sounds perfect,” stated Colt. “And an Olympus Merlot for myself.”

    “Any year in particular?” he asked.

    “The 2105 if you have it,” said Colt.

    “We do,” he said and entered it on the small tablet and sent the order to the kitchen. “I’ll be right back with your salads and appetizers.”

    “Colt!” protested Bella.

    “It’s been a long three months and we’re celebrating tonight,” he replied.

    “You pamper me way too much,” she protested, although enjoying it.

    “As I said, you’re worth it,” he stated.

    “Well, thank you,” she said with a warm smile.

    “And speaking of,” said Colt. “I did have another motive for bringing you here tonight.”

    “Which was?” she asked.

    “You asked earlier how you think we’re doing. And honestly, I think we’ve been doing great,” he said. “Would you agree?”

    “I think we have been doing wonderful even though we have been apart so many times,” she replied. “Why do you ask?”

    “Because I do love you,” said Colt as he tried to hide his nervousness. “I am in love with you with all of my heart. I think the past three years have been the happiest in my life since we’ve been seeing each other even for the brief times that they were.”

    “Wow,” she stated after a moment to compose herself.

    “And?” he asked.

    “Yes, I love you too,” she replied with a warm smile. “I have pretty much since the day I met you. And that’s not a lie either.”

    “Well good,” he said. “That makes this so much easier.”

    “Makes what…so…much…” she started to say as he stood up and went to her side of the table. Her voice trailed off as he pulled a small box from his pocket and opened it up revealing the engagement ring inside. Colt dropped down to one knee and held it up to her.

    “Bella Kristine Dana Phillips, would you marry me?” he asked. He was completely shaking inside, but tried to remain calm as he asked the most important question he ever had. Her eyes popped wide open at the sight of the ring and her mouth involuntarily opened.

    “Colt! Oh my God!” she exclaimed after she managed to catch her breath.

    “Well?” he asked, getting slightly nervous.

    “Yes!” she exclaimed after a tear fell from her eyes. “Absolutely yes!”

    He took the ring from the box and slid it onto her finger, finding the fit was perfect. Applause and cheers came from the other nearby diners as she blushed up at the attention, but politely nodded at the restaurant at large with tears coming down her face.

    “Colt! That’s a Ganymede blue diamond!” she exclaimed as she observed the ring.

    “I wanted something special for you,” he said. “And the gold is from the remains of a comet I personally captured.”

    “This is too much for me!” she exclaimed, yet didn’t turn it down.

    “I happen to think you’re worth it,” he said and received a kiss before returning to his seat.

    “I certainly know you’re worth it now!” she said as she wiped a tear away. “Wow! I never thought this would happen when I woke up this morning!”

    “So see why I want you to come with me?” he asked.

    “Completely understand!” she said and observed the ring yet again. The waiter and several other staff returned with a bottle of champagne and popped the cork on the top.

    “On behalf of Old Rome, we’d like to congratulate you on your engagement and offer up a toast for the happy couple,” announced the owner to the entire restaurant as he poured out two glasses and handed them over to Bella and Colt. The staff had their own glasses in hand already as the owner continued. “I wish you long life, prosperity and happiness for as long as you both shall live! Salute!”

    The remainder of the restaurant joined in the toast as Bella and Colt both blushed up at all the attention being shown. They stood and raised their glasses before toasting each other and sipping down the bubbly drink. And shared a kiss with the entire restaurant erupting in cheers once they began the embrace. As they sat back down, they were joined by yet another couple.

    “Congratulations Colt!” announced Captain Winston who was with his wife.

    “Sir!” exclaimed Colt as he stood up.

    “She certainly is as beautiful as you described,” he said as he leaned over and kissed Bella’s hand theatrically. “Charmed my dear.”

    “Thank you,” said Bella although she didn’t know who he was. He turned and shook Colt’s hand heartily before Colt was given a hug by Camille Winston.

    “This is my Captain, Markus Winston,” explained Colt.

    “Colt talks about you all the time. It truly is my pleasure,” said Bella.

    “The pleasure is all mine for finally getting to meet you,” said Markus. “We just wanted to come by and congratulate the two of you.”

    “I didn’t see you when we came in,” said Colt.

    “We arrived not long ago and we’re waiting for a table,” said Markus.

    “You’re more than welcome to join us,” suggested Bella.

    “No, tonight is for the two of you to spend together,” said Camille Winston.

    “Nonsense!” objected Bella. “I’d love to get the chance to meet some of Colt’s other family.”

    “If you insist,” said Camille.

    “I do,” said Bella. “It would be an honor.”

    “Let me talk to the hostess,” said Markus as he departed the table and returned in short order after receiving the go ahead for them to stay. Colt stood up while Mrs. Winston was seated and moved seats to be closer to Bella.

    “Miss Phillips, I had the pleasure of meeting your father some years ago when he was First Officer on the Deke Slayton and I was on the Solar Destiny,” said Markus. “And if memory serves, your mother was on board as well.”

    “You did?” asked Bella.

    “Yes, we had some engine troubles and they helped us with some temporary repairs so we could make it to Triton. The cooling blades on one of our engines had seized up and they provided a new set until we could get into port,” explained Markus.

    “I was on that ship as well,” said Bella. “But I don’t recall the incident.”

    “Did you grow up as a freighter child?” asked Camille referring to the term that described children that grew up on the older reclamation freighters that would spend months and years away from a port.

    “I was,” said Bella. “From age two until I was around seventeen and they took jobs on Earth at the WGE headquarters. We moved back to and I ended up finishing college a little early since I was educated on the ship in advance.”

    “Don’t let her fool you,” said Colt. “She graduated at the top of her class and got her double masters in economics and business management.”

    “Wow,” said Camille. “Very impressive.”

    “And what brought you back out here?” asked Markus.

    “You can take the girl out of outer space, but you can’t take outer space out of the girl,” said Bella with a smile. “I saw a job opening here that paid well and I saw it as the chance to get in on something from the ground up so to speak. Pluto was still kind of the Wild West back then and I thought it was kind of exciting.”

    “It has grown quite a bit in the past decade,” said Markus.

    “It has,” said Bella. “But it still is fairly charming in an old world style.”

    “And you’re a waitress?” asked Camille. “With that kind of education?”

    “Part owner in Club Plutonium and part time investment advisor on the side,” said Bella. “I bought a stake into the club about seven years ago and now own about a third of the business. As well as a seven percent stake in the Circle P Cattle Ranch next door. I bartend and waitress because it keeps me busy while waiting for Colt.”

    “I don’t think there are any decent investment advisors on Pluto,” said Markus. “Why not take that up full time?”

    “Because I like what I do,” said Bella. “Oh sure, I could make a pile of money if I wanted to open a business, but honestly, that would bore the life out of me. But I still do it on the side for some coworkers and their families.”

    “And can we expect him to move to you or you to come on board?” asked Markus.

    “We honestly haven’t discussed that yet,” replied Colt. The Winstons nodded politely as they knew it was a private conversation between the couple although the look on Bella’s face meant the decision could go either way.

    The waiter returned and took the additional order along with the request to hold the meals until the Winston’s food was ready. But apparently being a Captain had some special prerogatives as the table was informed they would be coming out at the same time. In short order, the appetizers were served and the group continued chatting throughout the meal.

    “I understand you’re coming with us for our trip to Earth?” asked Markus.

    “I only made the decision a while ago,” said Bella as she looked at Colt.

    “He already reserved you a spot,” said Markus. “Apparently hoping you would say yes.”

    “I did,” said Bella. “If you have the space that is.”

    “I do believe we can find something available. And perhaps that might even mean Colt moves up in the world to the married berths,” said Markus.

    “I wouldn’t want to impose,” said Bella. “And we aren’t married.”

    “They tend to sit unused anyway,” said Camille. “It could do for someone to liven them up even if they are only engaged.”

    “Oh, I think we could liven them up,” said Bella with a naughty grin and raised eyebrows as she took Colt’s hand in hers.

    “Oh my!” exclaimed Camille. “I honestly wasn’t implying you two would umm…you know? I’m so sorry for making you think I was saying you would be…umm.”

    “It’s okay ma’am,” said Bella with a smile. “I know what you meant.”

    “I only meant they don’t have any life in them when they are empty,” said Camille. “There are a few families on board, but the majority of the crew members are single like Colt.”

    “I think it would be a wonderful idea, don’t you Colt?” asked Bella.

    “I agree wholeheartedly,” he replied, seeing Mrs. Winston was still a little embarrassed over her unintentional slip up.

    “Are they already furnished?” asked Bella.

    “They are,” answered Camille. “But dreadfully boring. I’ve been on to Markus for years to release the stranglehold on his wallet and buy one of those home style bots.”

    “We don’t have enough married couples to justify it,” said Markus, wondering if right then was the appropriate time to bring that up.

    “Your single folks could use it as well,” said Camille. “They have quarters of their own that could use a little help with some basic styling.”

    “You know? There’s a used one for sale here in the colony,” said Bella. “It’s an older model, but works perfectly fine. We used it when we were building the quarters over the bar.”

    “Oh?” asked Markus.

    “Yes, the owner is a senior member over at the Circle P Ranch,” said Bella. “I don’t know the exact price, but it has most of the supplies as well.”

    “I might have to look into it,” said Markus as their main courses were brought over. They continued chatting through dinner as everyone’s meal was spot on. Colt even tried a bit of the Jovian shrimp fettuccini and found it outstanding.

    “They don’t freeze the shrimp do they?” he asked. “It’s almost like it’s fresh.”

    “They put them in stasis,” said Markus. “It’s a bit expensive, but they’ve been playing around with the stasis program to adapt it to other life forms.”

    “Which is how the initial herd of cattle was brought here,” said Bella. “The owner put them in stasis for the trip and woke them up after arriving. It’s like they never left Earth.”

    “And he’s expanding if I heard correctly,” said Camille.

    “Supposedly another fifty square kilometer addition,” confirmed Bella. “For chickens, turkeys and pigs. Along with more cattle.”

    “Which means even more fresh food for the colony here as well as the freighters,” said Markus. “And now even fresh shrimp.”

    “If they could get a good sea going on this planet they could raise their own shrimp,” said Bella.

    “Supposedly it’s in the works,” said Markus.

    “How so?” asked Bella.

    “Pluto and Eris are considered some of the fastest growing colonies in the solar system. But more than that, it’s in a prime position to support the Kuiper Belt and Scattered Disc missions as well as the colonization plans for Fortuna,” said Markus referring to the Mars sized planet discovered out at the Kuiper Cliff. It had been explored, but had not been colonized yet since the distance involved was significant to say the least.

    “But anyway, knowing it’s one of the best spots for jumping into the outer reaches, most corporations have started dramatically increasing the size of the Eris and Pluto outposts as well as expanding the colonies on other outer planets. The problem comes in that pretty much every corporation has a claim on Eris or Pluto and getting them to work together is not exactly easy,” said Markus. “So it’s a matter of negotiation.”

    “Negotiation for what?” asked Bella.

    “A planet wide dome,” said Markus. “At least, the scientists think they can work that. Which is why the large reclamation freighters like ours have been scooping up practically everything we can get. They can’t terraform the planets obviously, but with environmental controls and the proper application of a hard surface they can transform the planets to where colony domes would not be necessary.”

    “Really?” asked Colt.

    “They’ve already done it on a smaller scale with Vesta,” said Markus. “And they think Pluto would be a good candidate to try on a large scale. The problem is, again, not every corporation wants to go that route. Plus the environmentalists that think we should be leaving it in a pristine state and abandoning our colonies.”

    “If those imbeciles had their way we would all be dead,” said Camille. “Keep clamoring on about how we’re destroying the solar environment and humans shouldn’t be interfering with the natural state of things.”

    “A few held a protest here about a month ago,” laughed Bella. “They were reminded they could go outside the dome and protest if they wanted.”

    “Were they from here?” asked Camille.

    “No, they bought tickets on board a Down Under freighter to come here with the specific intent of protesting,” said Bella. “They were asked politely to go back to the Down Under colony.”

    “How did they react?” asked Markus with a laugh.

    “They flatly refused at first,” said Bella. “And were given the option of the easy or hard way.”

    “And?” asked Camille.

    “They came into the bar for drinks before going back to their ship,” laughed Bella.

    “So, yes, the long term goal under consideration is a planet wide dome,” said Markus.

    “Wow, the whole planet surrounded?” asked Bella. “And the entire planet could be habitable?”

    “We’re likely not to see it in our lifetime as an undertaking like that will take decades before it’s complete,” said Markus. “But it’s a serious consideration and something WGE and Infinicon have agreed to in principle.”

    “And all the corporations are agreeing to it?” asked Bella. “I know the Saint Martin Group isn’t exactly fond of Infinicon or WGE and they have the third largest colony here.”

    “Sixth now actually,” said Markus. “Blue Horizons, Down Under and Indus overtook them in the past year. And all three of those are on the side of the planetary dome idea.”

    “Either way, they might not go along,” said Bella. “Having an entire planetary wide ecosystem, even controlled as this one might be, would mean the corporations would lose power.”

    “Something the corporate bosses already realize,” said Markus. “Which is why certain colonies are already being considered for independence.”

    “Like Mars?” asked Colt.

    “Terraforming the planet means the populations can and likely will move away from the domed colonies. And when that happens the corporations know they will lose power over the residents quickly. So at the last worldwide Terran corporate meeting, all the bosses except two approved them for independence,” said Markus.

    “I saw something about that on the news,” said Colt.

    “The vote is just a formality,” said Markus. “The corporate leaders would never have agreed to it if they hadn’t made up their mind already. They know that within twenty-five years the atmospheric and environmental conditions will be able to support life outside the domes. There is still the cosmic radiation hazard, but colonists can plan around that.”

    “Which two corporations aren’t agreeing?” asked Bella.

    “Zhao and the Alliance,” said Markus. “The Alliance is wavering though and likely will come in on the side of independence.”

    “Once one goes, more will likely want to go as well,” said Colt. “Venus is mostly self-supporting although terraforming hasn’t worked out yet, Mercury can’t and it’s really too small anyway, the asteroid belt colonies might be able to get by, maybe the Jovian colonies could, but I’m not sure about that. The same with Titan.”

    “The Venusian colonies are content to stay under corporate leadership for the moment. As are the asteroid belt colonies. The Jovian colonies are considering it, but know it will take a long time before the economies are anywhere near self-sufficient. They do, however, produce invaluable resources for the outer colonies which is why they are considering it. And wherever the Jovian colonies go, Titan and the other Saturn colonies will likely follow,” said Markus. “But the most curious ones wanting independence are Oberon and Titania.”

    “The Uranus colonies?” asked Bella. “Really?”

    “For some reason they want to make a go of it,” said Markus. “But they also know the various corporations won’t allow it until they are somewhat self-sustaining. However, they want to vote on the matter.”

    “You think it will succeed?” asked Bella.

    “It’s a simple problem of economics really,” said Markus. “The colonies don’t really produce any resources that aren’t easily replicated from others. There are no large deposits of minerals or water or oxygen production facilities and they rely on others for food. So the corporate leadership in the respective colonies know that without Terran supplies, they will have to abandon their position within about six months.”

    “So why let them vote?” asked Colt.

    “To make the colonists feel good I suppose,” said Markus. “But when the colonists are reminded of the reality of the situation by a missed cargo ship or two, they will probably vote it down.”

    “Interesting to say the least,” said Bella. “And the same could happen on Pluto?”

    “Again, not for a very long time,” said Markus.

    “I think we should go pick out a retirement home site babe,” grinned Bella as she took his hand. “A nice place for a house and a white picket fence.”

    “Sure,” said Colt with a laugh.

    “I’m curious how you ever got a stake in the Circle P Ranch,” said Camille.

    “The owner and founder was coming out here years before he built the place. Back when the colony was pretty much just a refueling stop for ships coming in and out and there wasn’t much to be had here. He’s a former freighter captain as well and helped build the colony to what it is today. Anyway, when I first got here, I had him coming in talking all sorts of crazy about cows and how he wanted a decent steak. Anyway, he was in his cups one night and brought up the idea of the ranch. I never in my life thought it would come to fruition, but as soon as he bought up the land, I saw he was seriously going to go through with it. And started offering stakes in the plan for those that wanted to buy in.”

    “Now I’m naturally suspicious, but the bar owner seemed to think he could pull it off and explained it to me one night. He said people would buy Plutonian beef like it was going out of style since it was a novelty. Kind of like the same way they did with Martian wine,” said Bella as she tapped her glass. “So I managed to get a share with my trust fund even though my parents thought I was out of my mind. And along the way bought out a couple of other investors that never thought the place would actually run and felt scammed. And I bought their shares for considerably less than they paid. Anyway, I now own seven percent of the first Kuiper Belt beef ranch and I never looked back,” said Bella.

    “It’s still probably going to be a while before the original investment is paid off,” said Markus.

    “It paid for itself almost a year ago,” said Bella. “And the shares are skyrocketing and they likely are looking at splitting the stock here soon. When someone said it was a novelty, they weren’t kidding. The stuff sells like crazy.”

    “I wish we had that kind of offer back ten years ago,” said Camille.

    “Looking at retirement?” asked Colt, more forward than he wanted to be. The Martian wine was having an effect of loosening his tongue.

    “Camille and I have discussed it,” said Markus. “But she knows my heart belongs to her and on whatever ship I happen to be on. In the old days, I would have fit in perfectly with the old mariners that sailed around the world.”

    “I don’t think they allowed wives on board back then,” Colt said with a chuckle.

    “It should be a rule now,” he said and Colt saw the mischief in his eyes as Markus looked out of the corners of his eyes at his wife.

    “Markus!” exclaimed Camille.

    “She’s the only thing that keeps me going out there,” he replied after taking her hand into his.

    “You two are adorable,” said Bella with a laugh. “Are your children serving in the fleet?”

    “No,” said Markus. “After growing up on the old style freighters, they went to college and went their own ways. Our eldest son went to Mars University and works at the nanorobotics plant in California, the second went to school on Earth and became a broker and our daughter married an up and coming executive from Advanced Dynamics and is the happy homemaker. None wanted to follow in their old man’s footsteps.”

    “It wasn’t an easy life growing up,” said Bella. “But in looking back, I wouldn’t have traded it for the known universe.”

    “He makes it sound like we never see them or anything,” said Camille. “Our second son came out here the last time we were in port. And we plan on a family reunion when we get back to Earth in a couple of months.”

    “Of course the both of you are invited to the wedding,” said Bella.

    “Making plans so soon?” asked Camille.

    “I said yes, so there’s no point in delaying,” said Bella. “We’ll be there where his family and mine are easily accessible so we might as well.”

    “Make sure you let us know,” said Camille. “We’d love to be there.”

    “And that’s an open invitation to the crew as well,” said Colt. “They are like my other family so it’s fitting they be around.”

    “You really want Harry Howell at your wedding?” laughed Markus

    “He helped make the ring,” said Colt. “I have to invite him.”

    The foursome continued chatting through dinner and desert before the Winstons retired for the evening, although paying the bill in advance over the protests of the newly engaged couple. But a stern look from Winston meant they weren’t able to argue as he said it was his honor since it was a special night for the two of them. Eventually Colt and Bella took to the streets and wandered aimlessly as she showed him the changes that had been made in the past three months he was gone. They walked hand in hand down the narrow streets and eventually ended up back at the club and her quarters. Once inside, Bella wasted no time in showing off the ring to her coworkers and proudly introducing Colt as her “fiancé.” And was congratulated by all as they “ohhed” and “wowed” the ring she proudly displayed. Eventually she was able to tear herself away from the crowd and the couple made their way up to her quarters where they collapsed on the couch from the eventful day.

    “I love you babe,” said Bella as she cuddled up next to him.

    “I love you too Bella,” said Colt as he tossed his arm around her and gently rubbed her shoulder.

    “You do massages too?” she asked with a sigh.

    “I’m a multitalented kinda guy,” he chuckled.

    “And what other talents might you have hidden?” she asked as she traced a circle on his leg with her fingertip. And got the expected reaction she was looking for.

    “You feeling frisky tonight?” he asked.

    “Maybe,” said Bella as she kissed at his hand.

    “Thought you might have been worn out,” said Colt.

    “Not at all,” she remarked. “But I understand if you want to sleep.”

    “I never said anything of the sorts,” he replied and pulled her in closer and the two were lost in their passions. Later as he held her in tight, he felt like everything was right in the world and his life was complete. He pulled her in closer as she involuntarily smiled in her sleep, feeling much the same way he did.
     
    techsar, rle737ng, Tully Mars and 2 others like this.
  9. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 6


    Colt woke up far later than he planned and immediately noticed the bed he was in was empty. Rolling over, he looked around the room and saw Bella sitting in a chair watching him.

    “Morning love,” she said with a bright smile.

    “Hey,” he groaned and stretched out.

    “I hope I didn’t wear you out yesterday,” she said and grabbed a cup of coffee and sat next to him on the bed. He took it with a smile and sat up.

    “It has been a while for certain muscle groups,” he grinned and sipped at the coffee. “How long have you been awake?”

    “About an hour or so,” she replied and brushed his hair into a part with her fingers.

    “Why didn’t you wake me?” he asked.

    “Because you needed the rest,” said Bella. “I know they get you to working crazy hours on that ship so this is your time to relax.”

    “Yeah, but I’d much prefer to spend it with you,” he said with a yawn.

    “Don’t worry, I sat here and watched you as you slept,” she smiled.

    “That’s either very romantic or really creepy,” he laughed.

    “Which would you prefer?” she grinned.

    “Romance obviously,” he laughed. “Plans for today?”

    “Relaxing, spending time with my fiancé, showing off my beautiful ring…that about sums it up,” said Bella. “You?”

    “Showing off the most beautiful woman in the System,” said Colt.

    “How sweet,” she grinned and gave him a good morning kiss. He managed to sit up in the bed and stretched out once again with a groan as Bella went into the kitchen and he heard her putting something into the small rehydrator she shared with her neighbor. He hit up the bathroom and came out to find breakfast was waiting at the table.

    “I think you’re a keeper,” he said and grabbed her from behind and kissed at her neck.

    “Careful,” she warned him. “You know how crazy I can get when you do that.”

    “That was kind of my motive,” he said and nuzzled down onto her shoulder.

    “Perhaps later,” she groaned. “First I’d like to eat.”

    “Yes ma’am,” he said and released the embrace before sitting across from her. They ate breakfast, passing the time catching up on the little things that couples talked about and finished with another cup of coffee and tea respectively.

    “So no serious plans for today?” she asked.

    “Well, I’d like to grab my stuff from the temp quarters and stay here if that’s okay,” said Colt.

    “You wanna split the rent with me?” she asked with a twinkle in her eye.

    “Jake actually charges you rent?” he asked.

    “Not really,” said Bella. “The new hires have a choice to have a portion taken out of their pay if they’d like to stay here. The ones that were already here got grandfathered in and got a lower rate. However, your fiancée falls into the category that doesn’t have to pay by being the senior member of the staff and the one that came up with the idea in the first place.”

    “So I’m a new hire?” he asked.

    “Maybe,” said Bella with a twinkle. “I’ll get you a uniform to try on.”

    “I already have a job,” he chuckled.

    “And I think you paid for it already,” she replied and looked at her ring again.

    “I hope you like it,” said Colt.

    “It’s absolutely beautiful and it’s a unique cut,” said Bella. “I love it.”

    “It reminded me of your eyes,” he replied.

    “Very romantic,” she smiled. “What time do you want to go?”

    “I’ll just play it by ear,” he replied.

    “Well, I know I have an afternoon shift so you’ll have plenty of time to head over and collect your things,” said Bella.

    “And until then?” he asked.

    “You and I continue catching up,” she said and sipped at the tea.

    “And that might entail?” he asked playing along.

    “I’m sure between the two of us we can find something to amuse us,” she said. “And lucky for you, I still have a couple of your outfits from the last time you were here so you can get as dirty as you want without having to worry about roaming the public unwashed.”

    “I left some clothes here?” he asked.

    “You did,” said Bella. “And I wore your shirts from time to time since it reminded me of you.”

    “Which you love to do,” said Colt.

    “They are really comfortable,” she said. “You have good taste in comfortable clothing.”

    “I took one back that you’d worn last time and it still smelled like your perfume,” said Colt. “I haven’t washed it yet so I could remember.”

    “Now you’re getting mushy,” she grinned.

    “Baby, you do smell awesome,” he admitted. “I don’t know what it is that you wear, but dear lord, it could drive anyone crazy.”

    “It’s called ‘Guilty Passion’ and it’s supposed to have that effect,” she grinned again.

    “It certainly does,” said Colt. “Now are you supposed to feel guilty right now?”

    “I’m missing an important element of that name,” she said pointedly.

    “I think I know someone that can help with that,” said Colt as he moved towards her.


    ********************​


    “So luckily I only have a half a shift today,” said Bella as she checked her personal computer.

    “Okay,” said Colt. “Will there be enough time for us to grab dinner?”

    “Shouldn’t be a problem,” said Bella. “It’s from 1400 to 1800.”

    “That’ll give me plenty of time to grab my stuff,” said Colt.

    “And plenty of time between now and then for us,” said Bella.

    “I do need a shower though,” said Colt. Bella agreed and stated they needed to conserve water and obviously they needed to shower together. Which Colt did not object to when he started getting his back scrubbed by her washcloth.

    “You’re like a dog getting its belly scratched,” she laughed as she saw the look of contentment on his face.

    “Want me to kick my hind leg?” he groaned.

    “Please don’t,” she chuckled. “I’m right behind you.”

    “Just feels awesome,” said Colt. “I don’t have anyone on board to do this for me.”

    “Oh, I’d bet a couple of the girls you work with would oblige,” said Bella as she finished up. “You happen to be a pretty hot guy.”

    “And risk losing you?” asked Colt. “Never.”

    “Thank you,” she said and hugged him from behind. They finished rinsing off and stepped out to get dried off after a polite knock from the adjacent room meant they had wasted enough time. Colt got done first and headed into the bedroom to pick through his clothing to find something while Bella wrapped up in her robe and quickly started drying her hair. Another knock was heard and her neighbor was seen peeking around the door.

    “Safe?” asked Monica Freeman, the assistant head waitress and Bella’s best friend on the planet.

    “Yeah, I’ll just be a second,” said Bella. “Sorry.”

    “I just hope there’s hot water left for me,” grinned Monica. “So let me see it.”

    “I thought you saw it last night,” said Bella.

    “I did in a dark bar,” said Monica. “Now I want to see it in proper lighting.”

    “Of course,” said Bella as she showed off her ring once again.

    “Absolutely beautiful!” remarked Monica as she got her shower items ready. “One day I’ll find a good man that treats me like Colt does you.”

    “He’s got some shipmates that are cute,” said Bella. “And single. Right Colt?”

    “Sorry?” asked Colt as he stepped around the doorway wearing just his pants. He quickly darted back behind the doorframe and poked his head around as he saw Bella wasn’t alone. “Excuse me! I didn’t know you were there.”

    “Oh, nothing to be ashamed of,” said Monica with a grin. “I’ve seen guys with their shirts off before. Of course most aren’t built like you though.”

    “He’s taken!” protested Bella with a laugh.

    “If she kicks you out, I’ve got a couch,” said Monica with a naughty smile.

    “I…what were you saying?” asked Colt.

    “You have shipmates that might take an interest in Monica,” said Bella.

    “Maybe,” said Colt. “I’m not feeling entirely comfortable right now.”

    “We’re both proper,” said Monica. “Although I think I owe you a few credits for the show.”

    “I…need to get finished dressing,” said Colt as he departed.

    “I need to talk over something with you,” said Bella as she knew her friend wasn’t serious.

    “Sure,” said Monica as she finished setting her things out. Bella spent the next minute explaining her situation and absence as well as what she needed Monica to do.

    “You think Jake will buy off on it?” asked Monica.

    “He might protest, but common sense will get the better of him eventually,” said Bella.

    “You’ve got some big shoes to fill,” said Monica.

    “I think you’ll be fine,” said Bella. “You do most of the stuff I do anyway.”

    “I accept,” said Monica. “But only temporarily.”

    “That works,” said Bella. “I’ll catch up with you later.”

    “Okay hon,” said Monica. “Have a great day. Bye Colt!”

    “Bye,” he answered from the next room.

    “I think I embarrassed him,” chuckled Monica.

    “I doubt that,” said Bella as she retrieved her items. “You’re a hot babe even though you do have a serious case of bed head.”

    “Thanks,” said Monica as she shared a hug from the side. Bella departed and closed the door behind her as the water was heard running once again. She saw Colt was almost finished dressing as she pulled two credits from her tip pocket and tossed them his way.

    “What’s this for?” he asked.

    “Down payment from Monica,” said Bella with a grin.

    “I wasn’t expecting her to be there wearing that skimpy robe,” said Colt.

    “She likes teasing you,” said Bella. “And you should find a decent man for her.”

    “I’ll see what I can come up with,” said Colt.

    “I would like to go over to the Down Under colony tomorrow for movies,” said Bella. “I’ve got the whole day off.”

    “Sounds like a great idea,” said Colt. “Why not the movies here?”

    “Machine is broken,” said Bella as she finished her make up in the small vanity.

    “As a minimum I’ll be able to remember you today,” said Colt as he sniffed at the cuff of his shirt. And as expected, bore a little of her fragrance.

    “I’d hope you wouldn’t forget about me so quickly,” said Bella.

    “Not for the rest of my life,” said Colt with a smile.

    “You are a hopeless romantic,” she chuckled.

    “I suspect that’s why you keep me around,” he laughed.

    “One of the reasons,” she said with a smile as she finished up her makeup. She grabbed an outfit from the closet and set her work uniform off to the side as well for when they returned. As they were departing, Colt’s small communicator beeped at him.

    “Daniels here,” he said as he answered whomever was paging him.

    “Colt? It’s Tiffany,” said the voice from the small speaker.

    “Yes ma’am,” said Colt.

    “I hate to interrupt your shore leave, but the technicians got some irregular data out of the downloads from your station,” said Talbert. “I need you to come over to the temp quarters and go through it with them.”

    “Okay, when?” he asked.

    “As soon as possible if that’s okay,” said Talbert. “If you can break away that is.”

    Colt turned to Bella and looked for her reaction.

    “I have to sit down with Jake and explain my six month excursion anyway,” said Bella. “You go on and take care of your business.”

    “Thanks for being understanding,” said Colt.

    “See you in a bit,” said Bella as she stood on her tiptoes for a quick kiss. Being twenty-five centimeters shorter than he was, he leaned over as well and collected the kiss before replying to Talbert he was on his way and the two departed their separate ways. Colt got to the temp quarters in short order and found Talbert waiting for him in the lobby.

    “I’m sorry to do that,” said Talbert. “But the technicians were adamant.”

    “What data specifically?” asked Colt.

    “I’m not sure,” said Talbert as she led them to a small room where several computers were set up and two individuals wearing Infinicon clothing were seen looking at the screens.

    “Are you Chief Pilot Daniels?” asked the first as he saw the pair walk in.

    “I am,” said Colt.

    “Sorry to interrupt your leave and all,” said the man. “I’m Phil Smith and we’ve got some data that concerned us and need to go through it.”

    “Okay,” said Colt as he looked at the computer.

    “You might want to have a seat,” said the man. “This might take a while.”

    “Hopefully not long,” said Colt.

    “Hopefully not,” said the man as they all took seats and he explained what the problems were.


    ********************​


    “It looks to just be corrupted data,” said the other technician as he looked over the readout once again. “I’m sorry for this taking so long.”

    “It’s okay; better safe than sorry,” said Colt. “Was there anything else?”

    “No, I think that’ll do it,” said the technician. “We’ll make sure the problem in your console is fixed before you leave.”

    “Much appreciated,” said Talbert as she and Colt rose to leave. After they departed, the one technician turned to the other with half a smile on his face.

    “You think they suspect?” asked the man who called himself “Phil.”

    “I think they would have caught on otherwise,” said the other. “Apparently it happens enough that they likely won’t give it a second thought.”

    “But still, getting on an Infinicon freighter is way different than collecting two of the crew while on shore leave.”

    “We’re all one big happy corporate family,” said “Phil.”

    “For a while at least,” said the other as they closed down the computers and departed the small room where they had been working.

    Colt had stepped into the lobby and found Bella waiting for him. He checked his watch and saw it was 1845 and well past the time they were supposed to meet.

    “I’m so sorry,” he said as he crossed the room.

    “It’s okay,” said Bella. “Did you get everything worked out?”

    “Yeah, just bad data,” said Colt. “Want to grab my bags now or eat first?”

    “How much do you have to pack?” she asked.

    “Not much,” said Colt.

    “It’s almost as if you were expecting to stay with me,” said Bella with a grin.

    “Maybe so,” he grinned back. “But I am starved so let’s grab it afterwards.”

    “Okay, the Circle P hamburger joint is just around the corner,” suggested Bella.

    “Sounds great,” said Colt as they departed the quarters and grabbed dinner. They ate while Bella explained she was able to break free for the six or more months while they headed to Earth. But also explained the club owner wasn’t too happy about the idea. However, she was like a daughter to him so she said there wouldn’t be any problems although he wanted to “chat with the young man to let him know where he stood.”

    “Am I going to get a beating?” asked Colt with a laugh.

    “Nah,” said Bella. “Jake is a big teddy bear.”

    “I hope so,” said Colt. “He doesn’t look like a man I’d like to cross.”

    “You’re safe,” said Bella as they finished up and she got the bill over Colt’s protests. They headed back to his quarters and quickly collected his baggage and walked back to Club Plutonium and entered in the main entrance. As they were almost to the employee entrance, they were stopped by a voice from behind them.

    “No, absolutely not, never going to happen and no in a bunch of foreign languages,” said the familiar voice from behind them.

    “Hey Jake,” said Colt and turned to see the club owner, Jake Sherman, behind them. He was about Colt’s height but had a barrel chest with the look of a man who had worked in a physical job for most of his life. And had that look that he had been around the block more than a few times. An eye patch covered his right eye that he flatly refused to get a surgical implant for and laugh lines surrounded his good eye.

    “You take your young ass outa here right now!” he exclaimed. “If you think you’re going to swoop in here and run off with my head waitress and HR Manager for over six months, you’ve got another thing coming to you boy!”

    “Always nice to see you too Jake,” said Colt as he knew he wasn’t serious. He crossed over to shake the man’s hand and received a death grip in return.

    “Gotta lotta nerve young man,” said Jake with a grin. “But it’s about time, no, way past time you proposed.”

    “Best lady in the galaxy,” said Colt.

    “She is something special,” he said after releasing the handshake. He was old enough to be her father and tended to be as overprotective as he would have his own daughter. Which was one of the reasons she stayed around to work for him as long as she had. “When are you departing?”

    “Thursday morning,” said Colt.

    “I should be charging you rent until then,” he replied with a laugh.

    “We could stay in my billets, but I’m not sure Harry Howell would understand,” laughed Colt.

    “That old geezer would likely have a heart attack with this beautiful young lady running around in there,” said Jake with a smile. “He was in here earlier.”

    “Really?” asked Colt.

    “Yeah, came in, grabbed his normal beer and started taking the other customers to town on the pool table as he usually does. Won about five hundred credits and bought the bar a round,” said Jake. “And left half the rest of the winnings as a tip.”

    “I never realized he was a pool shark,” remarked Colt.

    “Don’t let him fool you,” laughed Jake. “But let’s go have a beer. You can escape from Bella’s clutches for a few minutes.”

    “Jake, you’re not my father,” said Bella who knew what was about to happen.

    “Might as well be,” he replied. “And I did make a promise to your father when he was out here.”

    “I’ll be upstairs,” said Bella as she gave Colt a quick kiss and a knowing smile. She collected his bags and headed upstairs, looking at him with a wink from over her shoulder. Jake led Colt into the main part of the bar and stopped at the cooler to grab two Coors Traditional beers before heading over to the small table Colt had selected. Jake joined him and popped the two bottle caps off before sitting the beers down and taking a seat opposite of Colt.

    “I would like to start out by saying it’s about time,” said Jake as he sipped his beer. “You’ve fooled around long enough and kept that poor girl waiting for almost an unacceptable amount of time before you proposed.”

    “There were factors I had to take into account,” replied Colt as Jake looked at him for an answer to the question he didn’t ask.

    “I know,” said Jake with a sigh. “There really aren’t though.”

    “You know what I’m talking about?” asked Colt.

    “You think you’re the first freighter guy to come in here and propose to one of the girls on this colony?” asked Jake.

    “I suppose not,” replied Colt.

    “Look, chances are you were or are worried about asking her to come live with you on that freighter where you’re out for months at a time. It’s natural and tends to be a stop sign for most of the guys and girls that propose,” he said. “The thing is, Bella is different.”

    “How so?” asked Colt.

    “She grew up on a reclamation freighter. And that kind of thing doesn’t exactly wear out of your system that quickly. She had a good job lined up on Earth, but she came out here when this place was still just another supply camp,” said Jake. “And you never thought to ask why?”

    “She said she liked it here,” said Colt.

    “Hell son, nobody really likes it here,” said Jake. “No sun whatsoever and back in those days the domes weren’t exactly what most would consider sturdy. And the environmental controls would go out if you looked at them wrong forcing folks to dress up like those Eskimos you see pictures of. But all she talked about back then was how she loved being out there.”

    “She seems happy though,” said Colt after a pause.

    “She’s happy because you make her happy,” he said. “And let that sink in while I continue to talk. Problem is, Bella can be happy here or out there, so really the decision is yours to make.”

    “Mine?” asked Colt.

    “Whether she stays or goes,” he replied.

    “The decision is on her really,” said Colt after a moment.

    “No, she’ll want you to be happy,” he said. Colt took a sip of the beer as he contemplated what Jake had said.

    “I’d rather make the decision together,” said Colt. “That’s only fair for the both of us.”

    “You may think you’re making it together, but she will go with whatever you decide. And if that’s up and moving onto the Atomic Destiny, she’ll be perfectly happy with that,” he said. “So in the end, the decision is going to be made by you.”

    “It’s my job,” said Colt. “So likely if she doesn’t have a problem, we’ll end up going.”

    “And because you love being a pilot,” said Jake with a chuckle.

    “Yeah, I really do,” said Colt. “It’s the only thing I’ve ever been good at.”

    “Don’t sell yourself short son,” said Jake. “She obviously sees more in you than you do.”

    “I think a little self-deprecation is never a bad thing,” Colt chuckled.

    “There happen to be pilot’s jobs all over the place you know,” said Jake. “And a little bird might have told me the chief dock pilot’s job at the orbiting docks might be coming open here soon.”

    “How would you know that?” asked Colt.

    “You are under the impression I’m a simple bar owner?” asked Jake.

    “No, not at all,” replied Colt with a tip of his bottle.

    “Alcohol makes the lips a bit loose you know,” said Jake. “And the person in that position happens to be a customer and a friend of mine.”

    “Oh,” said Colt after another moment to let that news sink in.

    “And he happens to think fairly highly of you as it is,” said Jake.

    “I don’t know him,” said Colt.

    “Doesn’t mean he doesn’t know who you are or what you’re capable of,” said Jake.

    “Meaning?” asked Colt.

    “I’ll put it another way,” said Jake. “There are only two pilots in active service that are allowed to dock their ships without having a dock pilot observing or at the controls. You and a guy from BAE. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, else is required to be monitored or get their ships piloted and docked.”

    “Really?” asked Colt.

    “Yep, and that’s all the way from the little ten man gunships up through the bulk freighters like yours,” said Jake. “It’s the rules that are bent in your case.”

    “I never knew that,” said Colt.

    “Point being he thinks you might be perfect for his job when he retires,” said Jake. “Like very soon he might be retiring.”

    “And I might be in line for the job?” asked Colt.

    “They need multi-ship capable folks. And from what I understand, you’ve flown everything from fighters up through the bulk freighters,” said Jake. “So it might seem you’d be perfect for the job if you expressed any kind of interest in it.”

    “And of course a kind word from an old friend wouldn’t hurt in getting the position?” asked Colt with a chuckle.

    “Perhaps,” said Jake. “Look, I’d love to keep her around. And you as well. Eventually I’m going to retire and Bella is the logical person to take over. But I also know her heart isn’t being a bar manager on some deep space colony. It’s out there zipping around the stars.”

    “It’s almost like you’re trying to convince me to take her away,” Colt stated.

    “I want what’s best for her,” said Jake. “I’ve taken care of her since she’s been out here and has been more like a daughter to me than anything. I want her happy in the long run. And honestly being wherever you are will make her happy.”

    “I’ll have to think about it, but I would at least like to talk to your friend,” replied Colt.

    “He’s right over here,” said Jake as he nodded his head at a man sitting at the bar. “Brownie, bring your old ass over here.”

    “If I come over, someone’s about to start losing body parts,” said the man irately.

    “Someone already beat you to it,” said Jake with a laugh. “Come on over, I’ve got a friend for you to meet.”

    The man grabbed his mug and came over to the table where they were sitting. He eyeballed Colt before taking a seat.

    “Should I know this young pup?” he asked.

    “Other than the fact he makes your job easy?” asked Jake. “May I introduce Colt Daniels.”

    “Oh! You’re that pilot on the Atomic Destiny!” said the man and suddenly turned friendly. “I’m Dwayne Brown, chief pilot on the Pluto Docks.”

    “Call me Colt, please,” said Colt and shook his hand.

    “I do have to say I’m glad I finally met you. You’re a damn good pilot the way you bring that big sumbitch in,” said Brown.

    “Do others have problems?” asked Colt.

    “Problems? You kidding me? Even my own pilots love to beat and bang up my dock as they bring them in. You on the other hand they don’t even wake me up for,” he replied.

    “I was just talking to Colt here about your future,” said Jake. “Or lack thereof.”

    “Yeah, I’m putting in for retirement soon,” said Brown. “You thinking of moving on?”

    “Maybe,” said Colt with a shrug of his shoulders. “I’m getting married so I’m not sure where I want to go. I’m interested in hearing a bit about the job though.”

    “You finally sweep Bella off her feet and all?” asked Brown.

    “Does everyone know?” asked Colt with a chuckle.

    “Everyone knew she was crazy about some hotshot freighter pilot. You’re around her age and a hotshot pilot,” he said. “I can put two and two together.”

    “Yes, I proposed the other day,” replied Colt.

    “Congratulations,” he replied. “Okay, so…”

    “I might be looking closer to Pluto for a job,” stated Colt.

    “You think you would do good in mine?” he asked.

    “Do you think I would do okay?” Colt asked in return.

    “The way you handle that bulk freighter, I think you’d do fine with just about everything,” he replied. “I did take the liberty of looking through your file at one point and saw you were a pilot in the Security Forces. The Marines in particular. And I saw the fact you were given a waiver for the time requirements in both the Senior Pilot and Command Pilot levels on the ships you served. You made Command Pilot in four years and that speaks volumes right there.”

    “I was,” answered Colt with a nod.

    “Troopship?” he asked.

    “For the majority of the time,” replied Colt. “I was fighter rated as well, but never had the advanced courses in combat tactics. I preferred the troop ships.”

    “Well, not to put too fine a point on it, you’re perfect for the job,” said Brown. “And if you were to apply, I’d be willing to bet you’d wind up with the job.”

    “It’s something I’ll take into consideration,” said Colt with a nod of his head. “But honestly, won’t be for at least six months until I could start.”

    “How come?” he asked.

    “I’m heading back to Earth after our next mission,” Colt explained. “One to ask for Bella’s parent’s permission to get married and spend our honeymoon together as well.”

    “And afterwards?” he asked.

    “Refit and overhaul of the Atomic Destiny,” Colt said. “And back out here on normal duties.”

    “Which you could skip,” he stated. “Whomever Captain Winston picks as a chief pilot should be there for the overhaul. And if it’s not you, you’d be denying someone that chance.”

    “I honestly haven’t made my mind up yet,” replied Colt. “So no matter what, I’d need to be there.”

    “The job won’t be open for that long and will be highly sought after,” said Brown.

    “And I know just like everyone else that if you’ve got a person picked out in advance, you’ll keep that job open for as long as it takes until they accept or turn you down,” Colt said with a knowing smile.

    “He’s a smart one isn’t he?” asked Brown as he turned to Jake.

    “Bella didn’t chase the dumb ones,” chuckled Jake as the group finished off their drinks and he waved for another round. “And she chased this one long enough for him to come to his senses.”

    “Speaking of Bella, I really need to get going,” said Colt.

    “You can sit here and sip another beer on the house,” said Jake. “This is my house brew and I don’t just give it away.”

    “I suppose one more can’t hurt…” said Colt as he adjusted in his seat.


    ********************​


    Bella looked at the clock once again and decided it was well past time for her to hunt Colt down. She suspected she knew what was up and it was confirmed when she walked downstairs and into the main area of the bar where Colt, Jake and the chief dock pilot Brown were well on their way to being three sheets to the wind.

    “Bella!” exclaimed Colt in a slur. “Hey babe!”

    “I see you’re taking good care of him Jake,” she said as she came to the table. Colt grabbed her hand and guided her to a place on his lap.

    “Gentleman, my beautiful Bella,” slurred Colt. “Which is kind of like saying beautiful-beautiful as Bella is beautiful in French…or maybe that’s Italian. Doesn’t matter though as Bella is beautiful. Beautiful Bella, bella Bella, Bella beautiful…”

    “You are drunk,” she said with a laugh as he was a little entertaining when he drank.

    “I’ll have you know I’m only mildly intoxicated,” stated Colt as if there was a distinction.

    “Which is a polite way of saying you’re drunk,” she laughed with a shake of her head.

    “I’m…you’re right,” admitted Colt. “I am drunk.”

    “Your fiancé is a lightweight!” exclaimed Jake with a laugh.

    “You don’t appear to be far behind him,” said Bella.

    “Yeah, but I’m old so it’s a good excuse,” laughed Jake. “Isn’t that right Brownie?”

    Jake looked over and saw Brown was passed out in the chair. “Brownie! Get up!”

    “What?” he slurred as he came to. “Closing time already?”

    “Gentlemen, as fun as it’s been, my beautiful Bella is right,” slurred Colt. “It’s time I retired and I think I’m in trouble as it is.”

    “The woman is always right!” exclaimed Brown. “Learn that little fact now and you’ll always have a happy marriage.”

    “Gentlemen, I bid you adios and stuff,” said Colt as he stood uneasily. Bella helped prop him up as they began to leave, however, was stopped by Jake.

    “Bella, he’s a good one,” said Jake.

    “I didn’t realize I needed your approval,” she said with a tone.

    “You don’t,” he said. “Why so impudent all the sudden?”

    “You got my fiancé drunk,” she said sternly. “And did so knowing he doesn’t have a lot of time in port this opportunity.”

    “You’ve got the next six months and the rest of your life with him,” said Jake reasonably. “And I’ve taken care of you for so long it’s become second nature to watch out for you.”

    “Yes, you have been like a father figure to me since I’ve been here,” she admitted and eased up a bit. “So thank you for continuing to look out for me.”

    “It’s been my honor to be a father figure to you,” he said and Bella politely nodded before leading Colt away. She managed to get him back to her quarters, which wasn’t an easy task of getting up the stairs, but she managed to get him inside and poured into the bed where he collapsed. Colt vaguely acknowledged her efforts in pulling off his shoes and attempting to remove the remainder of his clothes for bed. The problem was he apparently wasn’t really helping that much although she managed to remove his shirt.

    “Your pants dear,” she said in an even voice. And even as intoxicated as Colt was, he knew she wasn’t happy with him right then. He managed to slip off his pants before collapsing back on the bed with a groan.

    “I’d bet I’m going to hurt tomorrow,” said Colt matter of fact.

    “I won’t remind you it’s your fault,” she said as she slipped into the bed beside him.

    “It is,” he said and started falling off into the land of slumber. But remembering one important item before doing so. “I love you Bella.”

    “I love you too Colt,” she replied and kissed him on the cheek. “Get some sleep.”
     
    oldawg, squiddley, techsar and 5 others like this.
  10. Tully Mars

    Tully Mars Metal weldin' monkey Site Supporter+

    Grand58742 likes this.
  11. bagpiper

    bagpiper Heretic

    Agreed Tully, and this is the obligatory...
    MOAR...
    :)
     
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  12. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 7


    “I can’t get the payment computer up,” whispered one of the waitresses outside Bella’s quarters. It was fairly early in the morning, but since the bar also served food, there were already customers coming in to grab a bite to eat.

    “Hang on,” said Bella as she shed the robe she was wearing and grabbed some flannel sleeping pants along with Colt’s button up shirt. She slipped on her fuzzy house shoes before heading downstairs and fiddling with the computer for several moments. After looking at the problem, she knew it wasn’t anything she couldn’t rectify, but had other plans. “Go grab Jake.”

    “He’s got the do not disturb sign on his door,” said the waitress.

    “I’d bet he does,” said Bella. “Go wake him and let him know.”

    The waitress almost argued the point, but knew Bella would take the heat for waking the owner at such an early hour. In several minutes, Jake came into the main bar looking like ten miles of bad road and squinting at her from his good eye.

    “The computer is down and needs your password to continue,” said Bella.

    “The same password you have?” he asked irately.

    “It doesn’t seem to work,” she smiled sweetly as she stepped aside and he came to the computer with a groan. After entering it once, the payment computer came to life as he stepped back with another grunt.

    “Anything else?” he asked gruffly.

    “No,” she smiled sweetly once again.

    “I’d say this is retribution for getting your fiancé drunk last night,” he stated and wiped at his face before looking for some water.

    “Oh, I’d never do something like that,” she exclaimed innocently.

    “If you were anyone else, you’d likely be on the next ship out of here,” he said after drinking some water and taking an antacid pill.

    “But I’m not,” she replied with another smile.

    “I love you to death Bella, but one of these days…” said Jake as he coughed.

    “I think we can manage the rest of the morning,” said Bella. “You want to get back to sleep?”

    “I’m awake and you know when I’m up, I’m up for good,” groaned Jake. “Got anything to eat around this joint?”

    “Pretzels on the bar,” said Bella with another sweet smile.

    “Bella, you’re pushing the boundaries at this point,” Jake said as a warning he sat down with a grunt and groan.

    “Did you realize we had plans last night?” she asked and relented slightly as she knew she had extracted a small measure of revenge. And also knew the hangover he would carry around that day would be a reminder to be a bit more considerate in the future. She nodded at the waitress who was listening in on the conversation, although not being overt about it and sent her to the kitchen to grab something for their boss.

    “Look, I needed to be sure he understood what was going on here,” said Jake as he sipped at the water and a cup of coffee appeared in front of him.

    “What do you mean?” she asked.

    “The fact he was worried about taking you out of here,” said Jake. “He wants to make you happy and was having a bit of a crisis over the decision.”

    “What decision?” asked Bella.

    “Whether to ask you to join him on his freighter or take a job here,” he replied.

    “And?” she asked.

    “I informed him it was both your decisions to make,” he replied and sipped at the coffee.

    “Are there local jobs available consummate with his talents?” asked Bella.

    “Maybe,” said Jake. “Which is why I introduced him to Brownie last night.”

    “Oh,” said Bella. “I suppose I might have been a bit harsh with you then.”

    “I’ll dock your pay when I get the chance,” he groaned as the hangover was still building.

    “Yeah, I’m sure you will,” she chuckled. “But did he make a decision?”

    “I don’t know and that’s something you two need to decide,” said Jake as a plate of rehydrated ham and eggs appeared before him. “There’s something criminal about rehydrated eggs when you’ve got a hangover as bad as mine.”

    “In another six months, that shouldn’t be a problem,” said Bella.

    “I should convert your quarters into a chicken coop while you’re gone,” said Jake. “Beat the Circle P in the fresh egg business.”

    “And where is the new girl going to stay?” asked Bella. “Speaking of, I transferred the files of the applicants to your tablet last night. Mostly temp hires though.”

    “Any one of them jump out at you?” he asked as he took a bite of the food and ended up with a frown on his face.

    “I flagged the ones I thought would be okay,” she stated. “And be able to deal with their mean and grumpy boss. I’ll let you do the interviews.”

    “Not many can deal with me like you,” he stated as he took another bite.

    “I have the advantage of knowing you almost a decade,” she chuckled. “And know you aren’t quite as mean and gruff as you let on.”

    “Don’t tell them that,” he stated as the food wasn’t agreeing with him. “And we need to figure out who will end up being the senior waitress while you’re gone.”

    “Monica,” said Bella without hesitation.

    “That little spunky one that just started?” he asked as he stretched and let out a groan.

    “You mean the one that’s been here three years?” asked Bella.

    “She’s more impudent than you ever thought of being!” exclaimed Jake. “All full of sass and vinegar with a bad attitude.”

    “You specifically hired her since she was sassy and full of vinegar with a bad attitude,” said Bella. ”Which is why I told her last night she was taking my place.”

    “Isn’t that kind of my decision to make?” he asked with a sour tone.

    “Okay, who do you want taking my place?” she asked.

    “Monica,” he said with a semi-frown after pausing for effect and eyeballing her.

    “Look, you own the bar, but you’ve left the personnel decisions and running the place day to day up to me for the past eight years. You get to see the profits, make friends and kibbutz with the customers. But overall, you’ve let me run this place for a long time. And I think Monica will be able to take over without any problems,” said Bella. “Why mess up a good thing?”

    “It’s too early in the morning for you to be using logic on me,” he grunted. “Okay, Monica it is.”

    “And I would like to say thank you,” she stated.

    “For what?” he asked.

    “For looking out for me,” she replied. “I know I’m a grown woman and all, but having a father figure around to watch out for me is never a bad thing.”

    “Bella, you’ve been with me almost since I started this place,” said Jake. “And along the way ended up being like the daughter I never had. I was being serious when I said it was my honor to have been put into a father figure role since you’ve been here.”

    “I can’t believe you remember that,” she said.

    “I was drunk last night,” he stated. “But not that drunk.”

    “Thanks Jake,” she said and gave him a quick hug which earned her a grunt in the process.

    “I should go up and drag your boyfriend’s ass outa bed,” he stated. “If I’ve gotta suffer, he should as well.”

    “We’re heading over to the Down Under colony today,” said Bella. “So a train ride in normal gravity should be a reminder of his mistakes last night.”

    “You don’t play fair,” said Jake. “Are you really heading over there?”

    “Yep,” said Bella. “Movies and dinner.”

    “You mind picking up something while you’re there?” he asked. “The owner at Mike’s has a package for me.”

    “Sure, we can swing by,” said Bella. “What is it?”

    “I don’t know,” said Jake as he took another bite and washed it down with more water.

    “Want the hangover medicine?” asked Bella as she realized he was only looking out for her best interests. And if he also managed to land Colt a better job, it certainly wouldn’t hurt as she knew he was destined for bigger and better things.

    “Yeah,” said Jake as he pushed the plate back. “I’m not as young as I used to be either.”

    “Something you eloquently stated last night,” chuckled Bella as she began getting the mix of what she called her hangover medicine together. It generally seemed to do the trick, although taking a couple of hours to get going. She sat it in front of him as he sipped at it with a grimace.

    “This stuff is absolutely horrid,” he said.

    “Yeah, but it works,” she stated.

    “Where did you ever find such a concoction?” he asked.

    “Well, as you know booze isn’t allowed on the freighters,” she said. “Not legally that is, but everyone knows it’s there. And being that I was like a little sister to many of the crew, I came up with it to hide their hangovers while we were on reclamation missions.”

    “You really loved being out there didn’t you?” he asked.

    “I couldn’t imagine living in a normal home on Earth after seeing some of the things I did and growing up that way,” she said. “My friends from college thought I was crazy for wanting to come back out here. Of course most of them are now married to regular 9 to 5 guys that lead utterly boring lives.”

    “And now?” he asked. “Are your feet planted for good?”

    “I don’t think you ever get something like that out of your system,” she stated. “Sure, I was very adamant while in college about how much I hated it. But after a while, I started to miss it.”

    “So…” said Jake.

    “So I think I could be happy here or out there,” she replied.

    “Fair enough answer,” he stated and sipped at the concoction again, managing to get over half of it down before he let out a cough at the ill tasting mix. He flipped through his tablet and looked over the applicants to take her place when she left and checked their qualifications. But you really don’t ever replace a Bella Phillips, he thought to himself. Just fill the position and pray to God the next one turns out even half as good as she is.

    “I like that one in particular,” said Bella as she peeked over his shoulder and prepared a cup of hot tea. “Kind of reminds me of a young me.”

    “Hell…no,” said Jake with a chuckle.

    “Aww,” said Bella. “You need another young girl to take my place as the daughter you never had. Give you something to do when I’m gone.”

    “Hell…no,” laughed Jake and immediately groaned. “Don’t make me laugh.”

    “Seriously, the first three are the best choices in my opinion,” said Bella.

    “Okay, set up the interviews and make sure Monica is there as well,” said Jake. “Since she was foisted on me she might as well be a part of the process.”

    “The third one will be here tomorrow at 10, the second one at 1 and the first that shows the most promise will be here at 4 so you could see her in action after the interview during five o’clock rush,” said Bella.

    “Do I get any choice in the matter?” he asked.

    “Sure, you can review all the files and contact all those references and cross check their backgrounds and schedule the interviews,” said Bella. “I mean, it shouldn’t take that long.”

    “I am really going to miss you around here,” said Jake.

    “I already miss it a little bit,” said Bella.

    “Would you miss Colt more for over six months?” asked Jake.

    “You play dirty,” said Bella with a scrunched up nose.

    “Coming from the master at it, I doubt that,” chuckled Jake as he continued reviewing the other files just in case. But Bella had outstanding character judgment and had picked the three most promising ones. As well as the ones he likely would have picked himself. And in the long run, he probably would have picked Monica to run things while she was gone. A hint of sadness came over Jake as he was fairly sure Bella would never come back after the six month excursion and would probably join Colt on the freighter. And just like children growing up, even though she was well past that age, the sadness grew as he had become emotionally attached to her in the past eight years.

    “Deep thinking?” she asked as she got another cup of the hangover medicine ready along with a simple breakfast for Colt.

    “Yeah, wondering what ever possessed you to wear those god awful pink shoes,” he smirked.

    “These are classic and comfy and cute,” said Bella as she looked down. “And warm. We are on Pluto where it gets a bit chilly you know.”

    “Actually I was thinking about how nice it’s going to be without your sass around here,” he chuckled. “One less woman in my life.”

    “Uh huh,” said Bella. “We’ve got to get you a wife so you have a stable woman in your life.”

    “You can talk to the three ex-wives and see what they think of that idea,” he stated.

    “Fourth time is a charm?” she grinned. “There’s always that Becky Sanchez lady that serves with Colt. She’s a nice lady around your age.”

    “Not going to happen,” said Jake as he nibbled at the food again.

    “How come?” asked Bella.

    “Because she’s probably more interested in you than me,” said Jake.

    “What?” asked Bella.

    “She’s a lesbian,” said Jake.

    “No she’s not!” protested Bella.

    “That’s the word around the campfire,” said Jake. “Oh sure, she’s hot stuff and looking pretty good for a gal my age. But she puts the retrorockets on men since she likes women.”

    “You really don’t know do you?” asked Bella.

    “Know what?” asked Jake.

    “That is just a front,” said Bella. “She used to tell guys that on her own crew so they leave her alone. And yes, she is damn good looking for her age. So she wants the relationships she forms on the ships to remain professional and let the rumor fly she was a lesbian.”

    “No way,” said Jake.

    “We’ve talked about it before,” said Bella. “Trust me, she likes men.”

    “I think you’re just playing with me,” said Jake through his squinted eye.

    “I wouldn’t do that,” said Bella. “When it comes to things like this, I don’t play games.”

    “Okay, I’ll ask her out when she comes in,” said Jake.

    “Or you could track her down,” said Bella. “It’s not like the colony is that large.”

    “I’m busy with work,” said Jake.

    “Uh huh,” said Bella with a sarcastic tone.

    “And stuff,” said Jake.

    “Right,” said Bella. “Anything else before I go wake up Colt?”

    “Yeah, I’ll grab you a pail of ice water,” said Jake as he looked around theatrically.

    “See you in a bit,” said Bella as she headed upstairs and collected the breakfast on her way up. She arrived in the room to find Colt was still not in the land of the living and crawled up next to him and whispered in his ear.

    “Wake up baby,” she whispered and nibbled at his ear. Colt didn’t move except to swat at the length of her hair that fell onto his face. Bella moved in closer and repeated the call a little louder and nibbled at his ear again. He let out a groan and another halfhearted swat. She decided more drastic measures were needed and bit his earlobe which caused him to yelp and sit straight up in the bed.

    “Oh, I didn’t mean to wake you baby,” said Bella with a mischievous grin.

    “I’m hurting from my toes up,” he groaned and plopped back down. “I really overdid it last night didn’t I?”

    “You aren’t entirely to blame,” said Bella as she grabbed her hangover medicine. “Here, drink this down.”

    “Thanks,” said Colt as he was suffering from cotton mouth and anything liquid would be helpful. But he didn’t realize how vile the concoction was until he had almost three quarters of it down. His reaction was very classical as his eyes popped wide open and he spit the remainder back into the glass with a cough. “What is this?”

    “Hangover medicine,” she replied. “Drink the rest.”

    “No way!” he exclaimed with a cough. “Tastes like death!”

    “Your hangover will be gone in a couple of hours if you do,” said Bella. “Unless you want to risk being hung over in the microgravity on the train.”

    “I’m not sure there’s really a choice,” said Colt as he stared at the glass with suspicion. “Lesser of two evils?”

    “Three,” said Bella. “Hangover in microgravity and an irate fiancée or happy fiancée and drink the remainder of that glass.”

    “Two out of three isn’t bad,” said Colt as he grimaced before shooting down the rest and coughing at the taste. “Water.”

    “See, now I can be happy,” said Bella.

    “Probably unhappy since I ruined your plans last night,” said Colt as he found the glass of water and checked it before drinking some to wash the taste out of his mouth.

    “I really only had us sitting on the couch and watching boring old movies,” said Bella.

    “Sounds very relaxing,” said Colt. “And I doubt I’d be suffering as I am.”

    “Eat something,” said Bella. “It’ll help.”

    “I owe you a breakfast in bed now,” said Colt.

    “Or a couple,” said Bella with a grin.

    “Whatever makes you happy,” said Colt.

    “Speaking of,” said Bella. “Before the subject comes up, and I’m sure we will have at least six months to talk about it, I’ll be happy either here or where you are.”

    “I’m sorry?” he asked between bites.

    “I don’t want you to not do something you love because you think it’ll make me happy,” she stated in a confusing reply.

    “I’m not sure I follow,” he said.

    “As in your job,” she said with a sigh. “If you want to move here and work, I can accept that. If you want to remain onboard the Atomic Destiny or another ship, I’m good with that as well.”

    “Okay,” said Colt. “Truth be told, I’m not sure what I want. But I do want you there.”

    “I can accept that,” said Bella with a smile and stole a piece of bacon from his plate.

    “Are we still on to go to the Down Under colony?” he asked.

    “You did promise to take me to the movies,” she replied.

    “Yes ma’am, I did,” he said. And even though hung over, he planned to keep that promise without being too miserable. Or at least keeping his misery to himself.

    Colt finished eating as Bella made a small breakfast for herself in the kitchenette. While greenhouse fruits weren’t exactly the same since the small orchards on Pluto weren’t producing a lot of fruit yet, they were filling as she and Colt finished up and talked over the plans for the day. Eventually he felt the concoction she had made working and felt enough to head into the bathroom for a shower. And she joined him without being prompted as they “conserved water.” Finishing up, he felt a lot better and quickly shaved using the laser shaver as she got her makeup ready in the vanity.

    “You are old fashioned about that aren’t you?” he asked as he hit a spot he had missed.

    “Something I got from my mother,” said Bella as she did her eyes. “Sure, I’ve got the nano kit, but this is just a personal touch.”

    “You don’t need much,” he said and took her from behind and kissed at her neck. “Being as beautiful as you are.”

    “Aww, how sweet,” she said and reached around for a quick kiss.

    “I do have to ask something,” he stated.

    “What’s that babe?” she asked as she checked her work and added a couple of touches.

    “Why me?” he asked.

    “What do you mean?” she asked.

    “You could have had any man in the Solar System,” he said. “So why me?”

    “Because you’re loaded,” she said with a half a grin.

    “Seriously,” he said.

    “Does it bother you?” she asked.

    “No, just wondering,” he said.

    “Because you’re a good man,” said Bella as she stopped and turned towards him. “You have a great personality and make me laugh. And yes, you’re good looking, but that’s only part of it. You honestly make me feel really special and that’s what counts.”

    “I suppose those are good reasons,” he said with a chuckle.

    “The best reasons,” she said and returned to putting on her makeup. He reached over and gave her another kiss on the neck and was rewarded with a warm smile as he headed in and picked an outfit to wear that day. She joined him in short order after finishing and started picking her clothing as well.

    “I love that color on you,” she said after looking him over. “That shade of aqua just works.”

    “I’m glad you approve,” he said and tucked the tail into his pants.

    “Mmmm,” she grunted. “I’m not sure approve is the word I had in mind. Dead sexy works.”

    “You’re a bad girl,” he laughed.

    “One of my endearing traits,” she laughed. “You ready?”

    “Yeah, I’m glad we’re getting out of here early so I can avoid Jake,” he stated.

    “No, he’s up already,” she replied.

    “Uh oh,” said Colt. “Is he grumpy when he’s hung over?”

    “He was,” said Bella with a wry smile. “Especially since I woke him up really early this morning to fix something I could have myself.”

    “And you still have a job?” laughed Colt as she secured her quarters.

    “He wouldn’t trade me for all the diamonds on Ganymede,” she grinned.

    “I don’t blame him,” said Colt as he swatted at her rear end.

    “Frisky,” she laughed. “I thought you were feeling bad.”

    “Your magic potion is working,” he grinned. “What did you put in there?”

    “My secret,” she grinned and winked at him. They came into the main area and found Jake looking over the most recent monthly reports.

    “It appears someone did survive last night,” said Jake as they walked up. “I was getting worried your candy ass couldn’t handle a few beers.”

    “Want to go for another round old man?” laughed Colt.

    “Anytime you want, young pup!” exclaimed Jake.

    “How about no?” asked Bella in a tone.

    “Babe, I was just kidding,” said Colt.

    “Uh huh,” she said and turned away from him with her nose in the air.

    “My beautiful Bella,” said Colt as he took her around the waist. “My perfect space goddess and center of my life.”

    “Go on,” said Bella, but Colt saw the beginnings of a smile on her face.

    “I love you,” he whispered in her ear.

    “I want to hear more nice stuff,” she said with a shake of her head. Colt leaned over and whispered in her ear as a smile grew on her face and she ended up laughing at the end.

    “Wow!” she giggled. “You’ve never said anything like that before!”

    “Guess I needed the right incentive,” he said as she turned.

    “You best make good on those promises,” she laughed. “Yes Jake, stop by and pick up the package from Kangaroo Mike’s.”

    “I didn’t think you’d forget,” he said. “Hold on a second.”

    Jake disappeared into the back for a moment and came back with a box wrapped up in old style paper. He handed the box to Colt with the instructions that it was fragile and please give it to Mike for me. And you two be careful. The pair departed the club and headed for the station where the residents could go between the colonies if they desired. Originally meant as a safety measure and rapid transit system in case the dome failed on one of the colonies, it was really not large enough any more to do a large scale movement and served as an easier way to go between the areas now. While it was called a “train” it was a high tech railed system that was capable of reaching speeds of 1,200 KPH during the times it went between the colonies.

    Colt bought a daily pass for the system and Bella swiped her Pluto Colony Identification which served as her yearly pass. Before long, the outgoing train arrived at the station and they found they only had to go through one other colony before getting to head to the Australian colony. They boarded and found seating across from an elderly couple as they departed out of the artificial gravity of the outpost. There was no feeling of acceleration since the system had built in inertial dampers, but no artificial gravity was included in the system.

    “Everything okay?” asked Bella as Colt had that look on his face.

    “Your medicine stopped working,” he said as his stomach noticed the change in gravity.

    “Give it a bit more time,” said Bella as she took his hand. He managed a smile at her and laced his fingers through hers as they continued across the barren Plutonian surface peeking out the windows. Somewhat barren as they passed some structures and facilities along the way whose purpose Colt had no idea of. Colt was still in awe of the way things had progressed since the early 21st Century and the history he had learned in school and how they had originally termed Pluto a planet, then not a planet and then to a dwarf planet. But eventually decided it was in a pretty decent position for jumping to the Kuiper Belt. And he saw Bella looking out as well, but not at the landscape, but rather at the stars.

    “They sure are pretty,” he said as she peeked out.

    “I spent half my life trying to get away from them,” said Bella. “Only to realize how much they mean to me after they were taken away.”

    “I don’t take the time to look at them like I should,” said Colt.

    “Sometimes I’ll wander down to the observation dome at night and look at them,” she said. “And try to figure out which one you happen to be near right then.”

    “Very romantic,” he said and gave her a kiss.

    “Well, it’s true,” said Bella.

    “I have to say, that’s a beautiful ring,” said the couple across from them.

    “I just got it day before yesterday,” said Bella as she showed off her engagement ring.

    “Lucky girl,” said the woman who appeared to be a little older. “I see you mean something to that gentleman sitting beside you.”

    “Best lady in the galaxy,” said Colt proudly.

    “Are you two residents here?” asked the man.

    “I am,” said Bella. “He’s a pilot with Infinicon.”

    “Is this your home port?” asked the woman.

    “More or less,” said Colt. “I’m on a bulk reclamation freighter and we can go where needed.”

    “How exciting!” exclaimed the woman.

    “And you two?” asked Bella.

    “No, we’re on a vacation of sorts,” said the man. “The Grand Tour.”

    “Now that’s exciting,” said Bella who knew they were referring to the five year trip where a commercial cruise ship would visit as many places as possible from Mercury to Pluto or Eris and make stops along the way. “I didn’t realize the tour had made it here.”

    “We just got in yesterday,” said the woman. “And seeing what Pluto has to offer.”

    “It’s kind of our last hurrah before we finally settle into retirement for good,” said the woman. “They worked Dale like a dog for years and this is our chance to get out and see some of the things he built over the years.”

    “What did you do?” asked Colt.

    “I worked for WGE and helped build the ships designed to work out here,” said the man. “Retired and we decided this cruise was the best way to celebrate.”

    “You might have worked on one of the ships my father was on,” said Bella.

    “Perhaps so,” said the man with a smile. “Was he a pilot as well?”

    “Systems Technical Engineer and later a First Officer,” said Bella. “He and my mother both.”

    “And you grew up out here?” asked the woman.

    “Yes ma’am,” said Bella proudly.

    “It must have been a hard life,” said the woman.

    “I wouldn’t have traded it for the world,” said Bella. “And it would have meant I would never have had the chance to meet Colt.”

    “You two are adorable,” smiled the woman.

    “She has her moments,” said Colt with a grin as he was swatted by Bella.

    “And you two are heading for the Tiger Colony?” asked the man.

    “We’re actually heading for the Down Under Colony,” said Bella. “We just didn’t get the timing down right on the trains.”

    “Not easy to get around I must say,” said the woman.

    “The trains are easiest,” said Bella. “But they do have shuttles that run as well, but it’s more expensive and takes about the same amount of time as going through a station or two.”

    “And you don’t get this magnificent view,” said the woman as she nodded towards the stars.

    “Not at all,” said Bella with a smile.

    “It’s nice to actually meet a resident of Pluto that’s not out to take our credits,” said the woman.

    “Come again?” asked Bella.

    “We landed at the Saint Martin colony and that’s where we’re staying,” said the man. “And they seem to realize when the cruise ships are in by jacking prices up.”

    “How rude,” said Bella. “How long are you staying?”

    “A week,” said the woman.

    “You should stay at the Infinicon colony at the Pluto Inn,” suggested Bella. “The room will likely be as much as you’re paying now, but the rest of the entertainment won’t be as expensive.”

    “Maybe we will,” said the woman. “Does Infinicon raise their prices?”

    “Not that I’ve seen,” said Bella.

    “We’ll take that under consideration,” said the man. “Now honestly, is there anything to see at the Tiger Colony?”

    “Pretty decent place to get lunch,” said Colt. “Try the Shanghai Hotel.”

    “We love Chinese,” said the woman.

    “Best Chinese in the Outer Solar System,” said Bella.

    “What is this Ice Festival all about?” asked the woman. “We keep seeing signs for it.”

    “Oh! I forgot that’s tomorrow!” exclaimed Bella. “It’s a planet wide celebration for the first manned landing on Pluto. Each colony does a celebration as kind of a holiday.”

    “How unique,” said the woman. “All the colonies do it?”

    “Yes ma’am,” said Bella. “Honestly though, I’d get your ticket today and come back to the Tiger Colony tomorrow since they do a great parade in the morning. And I’d hit the Infinicon Colony parade tomorrow afternoon and the BAE Colony does a great fireworks display tomorrow night. It’s a really great time at each.”

    “Sounds like a full day,” said the man.

    “It’s really a fun experience,” said Bella. “It completely slipped my mind.”

    “Does this mean you’ll have to work?” asked Colt.

    “Probably,” said Bella and a sad look came across her face. “Sorry.”

    “It’s not a big deal,” said Colt. “You can pick your shift at least, right?”

    “Yes,” said Bella. “Hopefully so.”

    “I’ve got some professional stuff to do tomorrow so it’s won’t be a big deal,” said Colt as they pulled into the station at the Tiger Colony and some of the individuals departed. The couple said their goodbye and thanked Colt and Bella for their time before wishing them well as they departed. And there was just enough time for the pair to grab a cup of coffee before the train departed back along the same route they had come from.

    “Had I know we would have had an extra hour and a half, I’m thinking we could have spent some time together at your place,” said Colt.

    “Oh? Spent time doing what?” she asked with a grin.

    “Making good on my promises,” he said with a wink.

    “I see your hangover is cured,” she laughed.

    “I have to admit, whatever it was you did worked like a champ,” said Colt.

    “A little bit of this and a touch of that,” said Bella with a grin.

    “You’re allowed your secrets I suppose,” said Colt as they departed the Infinicon station a second time and headed towards the Down Under Colony which was right next door figuratively speaking. Once they arrived, Colt quickly checked in through the customs office since he wasn’t a resident and was given the one day visa and sent on his way. He and Bella managed to grab a quick bite to eat before heading into the movie theater which was playing some old 20th and 21st Century movies that had been converted to three dimensional holographic projections. They managed to sit through two of them before deciding the third in the series likely wasn’t worth finishing after the first half hour of the movie.

    “Hungry?” asked Colt.

    “Sure am,” said Bella. “Light lunch and all.”

    “Want to grab dinner at Kangaroo Mike’s or another place?” he asked.

    “Mike’s will be fine,” she said as they headed through the streets of the smaller colony and arrived at the local bar and grill named Kangaroo Mike’s. It had opened not long after Club Plutonium and the owner was an old friend of Jake’s. They located an open table and headed over as the grill was self seating at the time. Before long a waitress bopped over and handed them menus.

    “G’day, I’m Carli and I’ll be your waitress,” she said and pulled the tablet from the pouch on her apron. “Get you two anything to drink?”

    “Sweet tea will be fine for me,” said Colt.

    “Make that two,” said Bella. “And by chance is Mike around today?”

    “He’s in the back,” said the waitress. “Want me to fetch him?”

    “If you could,” said Bella. “Thanks.”

    “Be right back with your drinks,” she smiled and bopped back towards the kitchen. She returned with their tea with the promise to be back in a few to collect their order. As they were looking over the menu’s, a loud voice came from the side and startled them.

    “Bella!” exclaimed Mike the owner of the grill. “How are you love?”

    “Great!” exclaimed Bella as she hopped out of the chair and gave the man a hug. He was originally a miner like Jake, but had come out early in the days of the colonization of Pluto to stake his claim. And had done a very good job so far.

    “You’re looking well,” she said as they both sat down.

    “And of course you’re lovely as ever,” said Mike. “And you are?”

    “Hi, Colt Daniels,” said Colt as he took the offered hand.

    “He’s with me Mike,” said Bella. “Don’t be mean to him.”

    “Pleasure, mate,” said Mike as the waitress came back and took their orders. Once they decided what they wanted, she departed the table and they resumed catching up.

    “I believe this is for you,” said Colt as he handed the box over.

    “Ahh, right,” said Mike as he unwrapped the package and opened the old style wooden box. He pulled out a bottle of scotch whiskey which made the claim “aged fifty years.” He checked it over prior to putting it back in and closing the latch. “Jake doesn’t disappoint.”

    “And you had something for him?” asked Bella.

    “Yeah, of course,” said Mike as he pulled an envelope from his inner jacket pocket and handed it over. Bella took the envelope, folded it and slid it inside her small purse.

    “So what brought you over here?” asked Mike.

    “Movies and dinner,” said Bella. “The projector is broken over at our place.”

    “What’s playing this week?” asked Mike.

    “Something about dinosaurs,” said Bella. “People see dinosaurs, cute at first, then run, scream, get eaten and then the good guys get away in the end.”

    “Yeah, they played that last week,” said Mike.

    “And we skipped half the third to get some dinner,” said Bella.

    “It ends with people screaming, getting eaten and the good guys get away,” laughed Mike.

    “Glad we stuck around,” laughed Bella.

    “You don’t say much do you mate?” asked Mike as he turned to Colt.

    “Just waiting to jump in,” said Colt.

    “Normally I’m telling him to shut up,” laughed Bella.

    “Glad you finally decided to pop the question on this nice young girl,” said Mike and turned to Bella. “Let me see it.”

    “It’s perfect,” said Bella as she showed off her engagement ring yet again.

    “That’s comet gold isn’t it?” asked Mike.

    “Yes, how did you know?” asked Colt.

    “It was my job for a while,” said Mike. “I was a mineralogist before I was a barkeep.”

    “Oh,” said Colt.

    “The shade is slightly different than Terran, Lunar, Mercurian or Erisian gold. The refinement process is different, but prettier I think,” said Mike. “Where’d you pick it up at?”

    “From a comet,” said Colt. “The diamond I got from trading with a K4 crew.”

    “Certified Ganymede Blue?” asked Mike.

    “I have the paperwork and everything,” said Colt.

    “You a comet catcher?” asked Mike.

    “Yes, on board the Atomic Destiny,” said Colt.

    “She’s one of the better behaved crews on Pluto,” said Mike. “Bastards from Shimizu and Mercury Group got into in here last night and almost busted the place up.”

    “Nice to hear our reputation precedes us,” laughed Colt. “How’d a mineralogist get out here?”

    “Jake brought me out,” said Mike. “He and I had worked together for Advanced Dynamics back in the day and were out mining on Ganymede. After his accident, we kept in touch and he came out here although we all thought he was crazy. He told me to pack everything up and get out here as business would soon be booming. I thought he was crazy, but came to visit and saw how well he was doing financially speaking. I mean, he didn’t have to with the financial settlement from A-D and all, but Jake’s one of those types that just can’t stay at home long.”

    “Anyway, I knew Down Under would be growing out here as well and leased the property before setting this place up. Didn’t really get going for a year or so, but once the people started moving here, this place got big quick. Kind of nice to be the only game in town for a while, but we managed to stay ahead of the game even after some competition moved in,” said Mike.

    “I didn’t realize you knew Jake before you came out here,” said Bella.

    “Yeah, he brought me out here for the most part,” said Mike. “And truth be told, I’m pretty happy he did.”

    “Nice,” said Bella.

    “So when’s the wedding? Or are you going to do it on Earth?” asked Mike.

    “Probably on Earth after we get to meet the families,” said Colt.

    “You should do it out here,” said Mike. “The whole planet gets involved.”

    “I think my parents would skin me alive,” laughed Bella.

    “Bring them out,” laughed Mike. “You two enjoy your meal. It’s on the house.”

    “No Mike!” objected Bella.

    “Least I can do for the one that keeps my best friend out of trouble,” said Mike.

    “Well, when you put it like that,” laughed Bella.

    “He’s my best friend in the universe, but until Bella came along, he was hopelessly lost,” explained Mike. “The month she took over the profits nearly doubled.”

    “It wasn’t that bad,” said Bella. “But his taxes were a mess.”

    “Not everyone has an accountant cheating on them,” grinned Mike.

    “Wait a second,” said Bella. “How did you know we were engaged?”

    “Small planet love,” said Mike.

    “I’m expected to believe this?” asked Bella.

    “Jake might have called ahead,” said Mike. “How else would I have been expecting a package.”

    “Well, there is that,” admitted Bella.

    “Anyhow, I need to get going,” said Mike as a handshake and hug were collected. “It was nice to meet you and Bella it’s always my pleasure.”

    “Bye Mike,” she said as she released the hug and sat back down. The two enjoyed their dinner, talking with each other and making some plans for the trip to Earth before heading back to the train station and leaving for the Infinicon colony. They managed to time the trains right this time and got back before long and walked to her quarters. The club seemed a little busier than it had when they left as Bella tracked down Jake at the bar.

    “Mike sends his regards,” she said and passed over the envelope.

    “I bet his regards had some naughty words,” said Jake with a hearty laugh.

    “I didn’t realize you knew him that long,” said Bella as he peeked inside the envelope and set it down on the bar between them.

    “Yeah, he’s more than a friend,” said Jake. “Saved my life.”

    “Really?” asked Colt.

    “He and I were mining on Ganymede some years before,” said Jake. “Too many for me to admit. Anyway, we were outside a pressurized area and the equipment wasn’t in the best of shape as it was. Well, there was an explosion in one of the drilling rigs we were at and it caught me in almost the full blast. Cracked my face plate and damn near killed me. Mike was able to get me into a rescue bag and to the clinic before I decompressed all the way. Anyway, I ended up losing my eye as you know and got a nice settlement from Advanced Dynamics before it was all said and done. Well, the company still refused to replace the equipment so I moved on to Mars in a semi-retirement and Mike went to work with Down Under for a while. And eventually I brought him out here after I opened this place.”

    “I’ve known you for eight years and didn’t know that,” said Bella.

    “Not something I talk about that often,” said Jake as he slid the envelope over to her. “Here, this is for you.”

    “What?” she asked.

    “Call it an early wedding gift,” he said.

    “What have you gone and done now?” she asked as she opened the envelope with Colt peeking over her shoulder. And her eyes popped wide open at seeing the contents.

    “Jake! Absolutely not!” she exclaimed as Colt saw it was a ten day vacation to Australia and the Barrier Reef. “No, no, no!”

    “Already paid for and reservations were made,” said Jake.

    “Really?” asked Colt.

    “Jake!” exclaimed Bella.

    “Besides Mike, you are another great friend and have kept this place alive since you’ve been here. It’s the least I could do,” said Jake. “So you two will go on that honeymoon and will have a good time and will accept it.”

    “This is way too much!” exclaimed Colt.

    “Look, business has boomed since Bella has been on board here,” said Jake. “She’s a natural at accounting and has made some really good investments with some of my own money. I’m not living hand to mouth out here and she’s been a big part of that.”

    “Jake!” exclaimed Bella once again as a tear formed in her eye. “Thank you!”

    She jumped up and nearly strangled him with a hug as he let out an “ooof” at the assault. But laughed as he saw she was very happy with the gift.

    “I don’t know how to say thanks as many times as it’s deserved,” said Colt as he grabbed his hand after Bella finally let go.

    “You’ve always treated this young lady right,” said Jake. “It’s the least I could do.”

    “And only cost you a bottle of 50 year old scotch,” said Colt who knew the value of said article.

    “Would have been gathering dust otherwise,” said Jake. “Or sitting on some executive’s shelf where it would be a showpiece.”

    “I really don’t know what to say,” said Bella as she positively glowed.

    “Say ‘we’ll have a good time’ and leave it at that,” chuckled Jake.

    “Absolutely!” said Bella as she collected another hug.

    “Easy on that emotional stuff,” said Jake with a laugh. “It’ll ruin my reputation.”

    “Yeah, mean ole Jake,” laughed Bella.

    “To the lovely Bella and her husband to be,” said Jake as he collected three shots from behind the bar. “And to your upcoming wedding. It’s been my honor to know the both of you.”

    “Cheers,” said Jake and Bella as the three drank down the Venusian rum shots.

    “Another?” asked Jake.

    “No!” exclaimed Bella. “I’m not going to have to drag Colt upstairs again!”

    “Hey!” he objected.

    “Honey, I do love you,” said Bella with an impish grin. “But you are a lightweight.”

    “Told you so!” laughed Jake.

    “I’d love to prove you wrong,” said Colt. “But when Bella has a hangover, she’s hell to deal with and even the devil gives her a wide berth.”

    “Colt!” objected Bella.

    “He does have a point,” said Jake with a grin and a hearty laugh.

    “You boys aren’t supposed to gang up on me!” laughed Bella as the new head waitress came over to Jake with her tablet. He read over the contents and decided it was good to go before hitting the accept button.

    “Hey Monica,” said Bella.

    “Did he finally give you that wedding gift?” asked Monica.

    “You knew about it?” exclaimed Bella.

    “Practically everyone here did,” said Monica. “Why ruin the surprise?”

    “You’re supposed to be my best friend and all!” exclaimed Bella.

    “Which is why I didn’t say anything,” laughed Monica. “And besides, I’m expecting the same thing when and if I ever get married so it paid to keep my mouth shut.”

    “Am I going to get roped into having to do this every time?” asked Jake.

    “Do it for one, have to do it for everyone,” said Monica.

    “Maybe I should keep my own mouth shut from now on,” grumbled Jake.

    “Everything going okay?” asked Bella.

    “Yeah, we’re just waiting to do the interviews tomorrow,” said Monica as she paid for the order Jake had sent through. “Your top two don’t disappoint. Good quals on both.”

    “And you?” asked Bella.

    “I didn’t realize how much you did in keeping this place running,” said Monica. “I think I’d rather be a simple barhop where I can bitch about the management.”

    “I think you’ll do fine,” said Bella.

    “She will as long as she stops making me do everything you did to keep this place up,” said Jake.

    “Such as?” asked Bella.

    “Like ordering and stuff,” said Jake. “Like what I just approved.”

    “Oh my!” exclaimed Bella theatrically. “You have to do your job?!”

    “Don’t give Monica any ideas about being sassy,” said Jake.

    “Monica, typically those orders go through without getting Jake’s approval,” explained Bella. “For the big ticket items or special circumstances, you’ll need his signature.”

    “Okay,” said Monica. “So if I was to buy a case or two of 2077 vintage Martian wine for my own quarters, that’s okay?”

    “Sure, it wouldn’t be a big deal,” said Bella with a grin as she knew that vintage fetched a hefty price in the market.

    “Bella!” said Jake. “Don’t give her any ideas!”

    “You know I’m kidding Jake,” said Bella.

    “I wasn’t,” grinned Monica.

    “What have you done to me?” asked Jake irately.

    “Aww, you won’t miss me that much,” said Bella with a grin. “But if you’ll excuse us, my man and I are going to have some quality alone time for now.”

    “Night Bella,” said Monica as she headed back out into the club.

    “I can’t thank you enough Jake,” said Bella as she hugged him once again.

    “You deserve it kiddo,” said Jake as he reciprocated the hug and shook Colt’s hand.
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2015
    rle737ng and Tully Mars like this.
  13. techsar

    techsar Monkey+++

    Great story thus far, Grand. There is an "oops" though:
    Second line should be "said Colt"
     
    Grand58742 likes this.
  14. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    Thanks!
     
  15. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 8


    “I’m sorry Colt,” said Bella as she changed into her work clothing.

    “Honey, you are responsible for running this place,” said Colt. “And at least you are off this evening so we can still make it to the fireworks.”

    “I know, but I’d like to spend as much time with you as I can,” said Bella.

    “We’ll have plenty of time over the next few months to catch up,” said Colt as he ran his hands down her arms from behind. She backed up into him and looked over her shoulder for a quick kiss before receiving said treat.

    “You’re a good kisser if nobody ever told you,” said Bella with a warm smile afterwards.

    “Not half bad yourself,” he grinned in return. “See you in a bit.”

    “Plans?” she asked.

    “I’ve got to talk with the Captain for a bit,” said Colt. “Other than that, just doing my thing.”

    “Okay babe,” said Bella as she headed out the door. “Bye.”

    “Bye love,” he said and looked around for his shoes. After finding them under the bed, he made sure he had everything before heading out onto the streets and towards the housing area of the colony. The walk wasn’t far as he arrived at the apartment building and headed towards the fourth level where Captain Winston’s permanent quarters were located. Once arriving at his door, he wondered if he should have called in advance, but rang the bell before thinking too much on the problem. He waited a couple of moments before the door opened and Camille was seen.

    “Colt, what a surprise,” said Camille.

    “Hi ma’am,” said Colt. “Is the Captain around?”

    “Yes, please come in,” she said and opened the door a little further.

    “I’m sorry to intrude on your shore leave,” said Colt as he stepped inside.

    “Oh nonsense,” said Camille. “You’re always welcome. Didn’t Bella come along?”

    “No, I needed some professional time with the Captain,” said Colt. “She had to work the afternoon shift on account of the festival.”

    “He’s out on the balcony,” said Camille. “Can I get you anything?”

    “No, thanks though,” said Colt.

    “You go on out,” said Camille as she went back to her reading. Colt stepped outside onto the small balcony of the quarters. Since the home port of the Atomic Destiny was technically Pluto, the Captain had decent quarters assigned to him while they were in port. And the balcony was almost an unheard of luxury on the colony.

    “Colt,” said the Captain as he was staring out over the colony. The festival was in full swing as people were out and about and all work had stopped that day for the holiday.

    “Captain,” said Colt as he stepped to the rail and looked out. “Nice view.”

    “This place sure has grown up,” said Markus. “I remember when folks had to carry around emergency suits and wear heated enviro-suits. Now it’s like Mars was thirty years ago.”

    “And growing even more,” said Colt.

    “With our help as well,” said Markus. “The new addition over there? That’s going to be more housing for a nano-factory. They might even put in a new shipyard out here.”

    “Really?” asked Colt.

    “Maybe,” said Markus. “The solar system is growing. There are already almost fifty million people living off Earth now. And once Mars is fully terraformed, they think the population will triple in a land rush. Either way the total number is growing each year as colonies are expanded and new colonies are started. And while there is always work at the Ceres and Terran yards they are considering a fabrication plant out here to support the outer solar system since it’s a lot easier to get around.”

    “I thought they were going to do that on Titan,” said Colt.

    “Not far enough or so they say,” said Markus. “Which is why they are looking at the planetary dome on this hunk of ice.”

    “It’s a novel concept,” said Colt.

    “What brings you out here today son?” asked Markus.

    “Some career advice sir,” said Colt. “I’m in a bit of a quandary.”

    “Okay, so what’s the dilemma?” asked Markus.

    “As you well know, I’m to be married,” said Colt. “And with that comes certain responsibilities of making sure Bella is happy. So I haven’t really talked with her at length about it, but she seems pretty happy here. But then again, she seems to be eager to get back out into space. So I’m not sure which way I’ll end up going.”

    “Okay, and?” asked the Captain.

    “The chief dock pilot’s job might be coming open here,” said Colt. “And I was considering putting in for it.”

    “You’ve been talking with Dwayne Brown I see,” smiled Markus. “He paid me a visit yesterday about you.”

    “He did?” asked Colt.

    “More or less checking up on you,” said Markus. “And rest assured that job is yours if you drop your application.”

    “Which I might,” said Colt. “The problem is I already have a job as your chief pilot.”

    “And?” asked Markus.

    “I’m pretty happy there,” said Colt. “Truth be told, I could finish out my career on the Atomic Destiny and never be unhappy.”

    “But you’re worried about Bella,” said Markus.

    “Happy wife, happy life and all that,” said Colt.

    “So let’s talk career then,” said Markus as he waved Colt to a chair. After getting comfortable, Camille appeared with an urn of coffee and two cups. Markus thanked her and poured two cups and handed one to Colt while adding a spoonful of sugar to his.

    “So right now you’re my chief pilot which pretty much ranks you at number four on the hierarchy of things on the ship. Only the Senior Nav, the First Officer and I are ahead of you. I won’t last forever in that job and either move onto a management position or retire. So it’s very likely they move in another Captain or move up Tiffany into the Captain’s chair. And even then, it’s likely they move a more senior person into the open position. I mean, you’d have consideration for that position, but it’s certainly not guaranteed since the company loves to talk about age and experience and all that.”

    “You’re young for a chief pilot which means you really haven’t got that much seasoning under your belt so to speak. But I know you’re one of, if not the best pilot in the fleet and the corporation probably has plans for you. But most chief pilots are five years older than you are as a minimum. Anyway, it might be a while until you get the chance to be a First Officer which is the probable path you’ll take and even longer before a command. And there’s a good chance it won’t be on the Atomic Destiny either,” said Markus.

    “I understand,” said Colt.

    “So this job as chief dock pilot is actually a huge step up for you and could catapult you into a command in five years or so. Maybe a bit longer, but you’d certainly get noticed with the way this place is growing up. That job is pretty much the equal of most First Officer jobs out there and even a few of the Captain positions. So down the road, you’ll probably get promoted to the Captain of a small interplanetary freighter for starters and moving on to something larger as time goes on. The job is a way of going up the ladder a bit quicker than usual,” said Markus.

    “It almost seems like you’re encouraging me to take the job sir,” said Colt.

    “No, that’s going to be your decision to make,” said Markus. “And honestly, something could happen on the Atomic Destiny that puts you in the limelight as well. Who knows?”

    “Put yourself in my shoes,” said Colt. “What would you do?”

    “Well, the first thing I’d do is talk to Bella about it,” chuckled Markus.

    “Of course,” laughed Colt. “And if she left the decision to me?”

    “See, I wasn’t ever a pilot,” said Markus. “I came up from engineering and got my command that way. So I never had an opportunity like this.”

    “And if you did?” asked Colt.

    “I don’t know honestly,” said Markus.

    “Would you…” said Colt as his voice trailed off. “Would you think less of me if I put in for that position? I can always turn it down before I start if I need to.”

    “Which wouldn’t do your career much good,” said Markus. “You don’t get that kind of opportunity very often. And certainly not hand selected for the job.”

    “But would my position with you decline?” asked Colt.

    “No,” said Markus. “You’re the best pilot I’ve ever had and nothing would ever change that. Now the other flight staff would get more stick time to get up to speed on our journey back, but your position as chief pilot would be there. You’d settle into more of an advisory role and pick your replacement.”

    “Or the company would move someone in,” said Colt.

    “Maybe,” said Markus. “They like to keep the same pilots on the ships for years and the class that Atomic Destiny sits in has a unique set of circumstances. Being as big as it is and the job it does it takes a special set of skills most normal pilots just don’t have. But not to say they wouldn’t move in someone else to take your place.”

    “I think Mendoza could handle it,” said Colt. “He’s got a good touch.”

    “He might,” said Markus. “He still gets a bit jittery with the big objects and nobody can rope in a comet like you can, but in time he could work out.”

    “I’ve spent a lot of time training him up,” said Colt.

    “It appears your mind is made up already,” said Markus.

    “No, not until I talk with Bella about it,” said Colt.

    “Admit it, you like the idea of having your own personal trainer ship assigned,” chuckled Markus. “To use when you want.”

    “My what?” asked Colt.

    “The position of chief pilot comes with a ship assigned,” said Markus. “A T-80 trainer specifically that’s fitted with the software to duplicate any ship in the fleet.”

    “Any software?” asked Colt who knew the ship was an agile little bugger and a dream to fly.

    “Including the aerobatic software,” chuckled Winston. “I think your eyes lit up like a kid’s on Christmas morning.”

    “That certainly is a PERK of the job I didn’t know about,” laughed Colt as another idea popped into his head for Bella.

    “How come you never went the fighter route?” asked Markus. “It doesn’t say in your file except you had passed on the opportunity.”

    “Honest answer? They don’t get enough work,” said Colt. “They train and get to do some crazy stuff with some amazing ships, but the majority of their time is spent sitting around. Sure from time to time they get to raid a stronghold, but they just don’t have enough work.”

    “I’m not sure if you know, but you are listed as a ready reserve pilot in case conflict breaks out,” said Markus. “And probably headed to a fighter unit.”

    “I’ve never even had advanced training!” protested Colt. “I mean, I know about my reserve clause and all, but I figured right back to a troopship.”

    “The Chief of Reserves and I go back a long way,” said Markus. “And he knows who you are. Well, most of the guys in positions like that know who you are, but he would bring you onboard in a heartbeat even though you haven’t had the training.”

    “I didn’t know that,” said Colt.

    “But what are the chances of full scale conflict breaking out with another corporation? Sure, we squabble from time to time, but we’re civil for the most part,” said Markus.

    “Apparently you don’t get to meet most of the Saint Martin crews we do,” chuckled Colt.

    “Don’t mistake arrogance for civility,” said Markus. “And yes, they are downright arrogant.”

    “But why would they pull me and leave you without a chief pilot?” asked Colt.

    “Because the entire reclamation fleet would be put into dock during times of conflict,” said Markus. “We are way too expensive to be parading out into shooting zones. They may, and I stress may, turn it into a supply ship since we could carry enough to keep a decent sized battle group in the fight for a while. But since we lack serious defensive measures we’d have to have at least a frigate or a couple of corvettes assigned to security. And those would probably be tasked with other missions.”

    “True,” said Colt.

    “So anyway, did you get your answer?” asked Markus.

    “I’ll end up thinking on it a bit more,” said Colt.

    “I’ll be happy to keep you,” said Markus. “Or I’d be just as happy endorsing your application to the job you want. I won’t hold you back since you are destined for better things.”

    “I appreciate the time sir,” said Colt as he stood and shook his Captain’s hand.

    “Anytime,” said Markus. “Enjoy the rest of your leave and go have some fun at the Ice Festival. It gets better and better each year.”

    “Bella gets off in a few hours,” said Colt. “And we are hoping to go to the BAE Colony in time for the fireworks display.”

    “You have your train ticket already?” asked Markus.

    “Picked them up yesterday,” said Colt.

    “Good,” said Markus. “Have a great time.”

    “Thank you sir,” said Colt as he also thanked Camille before departing. Heading back to Club Plutonium, he ran into several of the crew along the way and had to decline their invitations to “come get a bit wild Colt” as he knew he had plans. And sighed knowing he had already used up his time for that on this trip, but knew it wasn’t time wasted in the long run. As he stepped inside the club, he saw the place was a pure madhouse as the colony residents were well into the libations that afternoon.

    “Hey babe,” said Bella as she swept by with a tray of drinks in her hand although giving him the smile she reserved for him and him alone. He had to wait for her to finish serving the table before catching her on the fly.

    “Hey sweetie, can I use your computer?” he asked.

    “Sure,” she said as he followed her to the bar and collected another order. “Want a drink before you go?”

    “A beer will be fine,” he said as she collected a Terran beer from Belgium, his personal favorite, and a glass to go with it. But before he managed to say goodbye to Bella, she headed off yet again in the club. Colt grabbed the beer and was stopped yet again before leaving.

    “Hey Colt!” exclaimed Lilly Gold.

    “Hey Lilly,” said Colt as she bounced up to him.

    “I didn’t expect to see you here,” said Lilly as she squeezed into the small space right next to him that was barely big enough for a mouse. “I thought someone ran off with you since nobody’s seen hide nor hair of you since we landed.”

    “Yeah, I’m not staying at the billets,” he replied.

    “So what are you doing here?” asked Lilly.

    “I was just grabbing a beer and had to get on the computer,” said Colt.

    “Come keep me company for a bit,” said Lilly. “I think I’m the only one from the crew here.”

    “I’d love to, but I’ve actually got some work to do,” said Colt.

    “Is the Captain slave driving you on your shore leave?” she asked.

    “Nah, just something I’ve got to take care of,” said Colt. “I’m sure others will be along shortly.”

    “Just one drink?” she asked.

    “I’ve got to get this done before heading over to the BAE Colony for the fireworks,” he said.

    “I forgot that’s tonight!” she exclaimed. “When are you leaving?”

    “As soon as my fiancée gets off shift,” said Colt. “We’re heading there together.”

    “Oh,” said Lilly as Colt appeared to be preoccupied and she missed the signals he was throwing off. Or rather the lack of signals on his part. And the obvious indication he was more than preoccupied. “Well, I hope to see you later. I might try to head over there if I can.”

    “Maybe so,” said Colt. “You have fun tonight.”

    “Okay, you take care,” said Lilly as Colt picked up the bottle and glass and departed. She turned to find a waitress standing next to her with a drink in hand.

    “Your drink, miss,” said Bella as she handed it over.

    “Consolation prize,” said Lilly as she paid for the drink and left the remainder as a tip.

    “Excuse me?” asked Bella.

    “Nothing,” said Lilly with a sigh. “Thanks.”

    “No problem,” said Bella as she departed and wondered who she was and how she knew Colt. But also knew she wasn’t a threat as Colt had made his choice and departed without much of a conversation. While she wasn’t jealous by nature, she was protective of him and the girl that flitted up to him was fairly attractive and way more interested in him than he obviously knew. But again, he had been curt, but not impolite so she put it out of her mind as she headed back out on her rounds of the growing crowd.

    Colt had managed to make it through the club and upstairs to the quarters without getting stopped again and came to the door of Bella’s quarters. After swiping his ID at her door, he saw the info-link computer at her small desk and woke it up before settling in and finding the right site for the Infinicon jobs programs. And sure enough, the Chief Dock Pilot was listed near the bottom as he checked the qualifications and saw he met them all. He hesitated for a moment since he hadn’t talked with Bella about it, but figured it was better to have multiple options in hand when they did finally discuss their future rather than just a single job. So he took his time and filled out the application while sipping at the beer and contemplating the future. Eventually he was finished and checked everything to make sure it was done in accordance with the format and inserted his ID to digitally sign the application and sent it to Captain Winston for an endorsement. He momentarily hesitated submitting it, but quickly hit the send button before giving it more thought.

    Colt sat and looked at the screen for several moments before heading to the small couch and waiting for Bella to finish up her shift. He flipped on the holo-vision set and flipped through the random channels before finding an older show he hadn’t seen in some years and mindlessly watching it as the time ticked away. Eventually the door was heard opening and Bella came inside looking very tired.

    “Hey babe,” she said and slumped over on the couch with him with a sigh.

    “We don’t have to go tonight,” he said as he put his arm over her shoulder and pulled her in.

    “No, I want to go,” she said and snuggled in closer to him. “Just want to get off my feet for a minute and relax.”

    “I can handle that,” he said.

    “We haven’t been this busy in a while,” said Bella with a sigh. “Not since that pig roast.”

    “Yet something else I missed by being out there so much,” said Colt.

    “It’s your job sweetie,” said Bella as she adjusted her head slightly.

    “I know,” said Colt. “I often wonder what normal people are like and how they live their lives.”

    “They work on large reclamation freighters and get into port every so often,” said Bella. “Trust me, you’re as normal as they come.”

    “I was hoping for a little more than normal,” he chuckled.

    “Okay, you’re a bit more than normal,” she replied. “But I draw the line there.”

    “How did you get the evening off?” he asked. “I would have figured you would have been put on the night shift since it would be the busiest.”

    “Call it prerogative of rank,” she said. “Jake wanted to evaluate the potential new hires in a stressful situation so all three are covering the night shift.”

    “You hired all three?” he asked.

    “No, we’ll hire one, but this is the performance evaluation portion to see if they can handle the job or not,” said Bella as she stretched out and let out a groan.

    “You sure you want to make the trip?” he asked.

    “Yes sir,” she said and stood up. “Gotta get showered and changed first though.”

    “Are you dressing up?” he asked.

    “Hadn’t really planned on it,” she said as she grabbed a towel and doffed her clothing.

    “You are a beautiful woman,” he said. “By any measure of the word.”

    “I think you’re just saying that,” she laughed.

    “Nope, most beautiful woman in the galaxy,” he said.

    “Let’s say I had an extra nose on my forehead,” she said very seriously. “Would you still consider me beautiful?”

    “I’d buy you two boxes of tissue and still think you were the most beautiful woman in the galaxy,” he grinned.

    “I can’t really say anything else at this point,” she laughed. “Be right back.”

    “I’ll be waiting,” he said and plopped back down on the couch as she quickly got ready. She changed into somewhat comfortable clothing before grabbing her jacket and departing with Colt. Once they arrived downstairs, they found Jake busy talking with one of the potential new hires and sending her on the way.

    “Problem?” asked Bella.

    “Nah, just getting overwhelmed,” said Jake. “Although one already walked out.”

    “Which one was that?” asked Bella.

    “The one you didn’t include on your list, but I added just in case,” he replied. “Yes, I know, I know. I should trust your instincts.”

    “I won’t say I told you so,” said Bella.

    “Yeah you will,” laughed Jake. “It only cost me thirty credits so it’s not a huge waste.”

    “How are the rest working out?” asked Bella.

    “Seems to be doing okay,” said Jake. “Just the one getting backed up a bit.”

    “Well, if you need anything, you can call,” said Bella.

    “Have her back by midnight before she turns into a pumpkin,” said Jake as Colt led them out of the club and to the train station where they luckily caught the train heading the right way. It made several stops along the way, but finally arrived at the BAE Colony where the party was in full swing already. They managed to get checked in through the customs center and headed out into the busy streets where people were celebrating and enjoying the small side shows that had been set up in the streets.

    “I forgot to ask you something earlier,” said Bella. “Who was the girl at the club?”

    “The blond?” asked Colt. “Lilly Gold, a shipmate of mine.”

    “Oh,” said Bella.

    “No reason to get jealous,” said Colt with a chuckle as he pulled her into his side. “I’ve got all the woman I’ll ever need right next to me.”

    “I’m not jealous,” said Bella. “Just wondering.”

    “A little jealous,” said Colt.

    “No, not at all,” said Bella.

    “I know what I have waiting for me at home,” said Colt as he pulled her in and took her around the waist. They shared a passionate kiss before one of the crowd came over and tossed a Hawaiian lei over their heads and the small crowd cheered them on.

    “Honey, I hate to tell you,” said Bella with an impish grin. “But I got lei’d in the BAE Colony.”

    “Point him out to me and I’ll kick his ass,” said Colt.

    “Who’s jealous now?” laughed Bella as she removed the lei and put it over Colt’s head only.

    “I would think this is a better color on you,” he observed.

    “Pink works on you,” she grinned. “Or is it too unmanly?”

    “I don’t get a choice here do I?” he laughed.

    “Sure you do,” said Bella. “But as a gift from me, it would hurt my feelings and all if you didn’t accept it.”

    “I doubt you’re that shallow,” he laughed and adjusted it slightly to keep from tickling his ear. And managed to snag a yellow lei from the vendor handing them out and grabbed it for her.

    “I hate yellow,” she remarked as he put it over her head.

    “As a gift from me, it would hurt my feelings if you didn’t accept,” he grinned.

    “How about we swap?” she suggested.

    “I don’t mind yellow,” said Colt as he removed the one around his neck and they swapped. But not before sharing yet another kiss and grabbing some of the drinks being sold by another local vendor. They continued strolling the streets of the colony and found another kiosk where they grabbed a fish and chips plate before finding seating where they could at one of the nearby tables and eating quickly.

    “Anything in particular you want to see?” he asked between bites.

    “For you to be happy,” she replied.

    “I was thinking more short term,” he laughed.

    “Nah, there really aren’t many attractions over here,” said Bella. “The Brits are kind of dull.”

    “Seems like a decent party going on,” said Colt.

    “And dancing in the streets afterwards,” said Bella.

    “That’s your scene, not mine,” said Colt.

    “You have to dance eventually,” said Bella. “Trust me, these guys aren’t great at it either. But if I do recall, we met while you were dancing.”

    “I wouldn’t count trying to do what I was doing with a street sweeper bot as dancing,” he laughed. “Thankfully you came along and pulled me away.”

    “You looked graceful doing it though,” she laughed.

    “I’ll give it a whirl later,” he promised. They finished eating and headed back out into the streets to complete their journey through the colony to see what else might be going on. By the time they reached the end, the artificial daylight was starting to wane and the crowds gathered under the better viewing conditions as the fireworks would begin in a few minutes. They managed to find a place away from the taller buildings in the colony and found comfortable seating on the grass in the small park the colony offered and were joined by others as available seating was taken quickly as the colony wide PA system announced it would start in less than ten minutes.

    “I’ve always wondered why Infinicon doesn’t do this as well,” said Colt. “I know the Tiger Colony does and the BAE Colony, but why not them?”

    “Too hard on the air filtration systems,” said Bella. “You wouldn’t believe the mess it makes with all the smoke and everything. And they don’t really want to steal their thunder, excuse the pun, since they started the tradition.”

    “It can’t be easy with the dome being so low,” said Colt.

    “They make a special kind of firework for this,” explained Bella. “A factory on Earth makes them special for this kind of occasion. And for the other planetary colonies.”

    “You’re a smart girl,” said Colt as he took her hand in his.

    “I have my moments I suppose,” she said and adjusted her fingers slightly. Before the show started, they were surprised to look up and see the older couple they had met on the train the day prior standing next to them.

    “Small planet,” said Bella.

    “I’m sorry?” asked the man as he turned then recognized them. “Oh! Fancy meeting you here.”

    “I see you took her advice,” said Colt.

    “Yes as well as the hotel,” said the man. “I didn’t realize that Infinicon had the only hot tub on the entire planet. That makes the hotel more than worth it.”

    “It is very relaxing,” said Bella. “We can make room for you to sit down.”

    “We wouldn’t want to impose,” said the woman.

    “It’s a long fireworks show,” said Bella.

    “I’m afraid we won’t be able to get back up afterwards,” said the man with a laugh.

    “Well, that’s why I lug around this good looking man,” said Bella with a grin. “He’s strong enough to help out when it’s over.”

    “There’s barely enough room,” said the woman.

    “Easy fix,” said Bella as she spread Colt’s legs and hopped in between them.

    “Okay, if you insist,” said the man as he helped his wife to the ground and plopped down himself with an “oof” next to them.

    “Must be nice to be young and flexible,” laughed the man as he got comfortable.

    “I won’t tell her it’s uncomfortable,” laughed Colt.

    “Fine,” said Bella as she tried to stand up.

    “Not getting away from me that easily,” said Colt as he wrapped his hands around her waist and kept her in place. She relented and allowed herself to be pulled back into his chest with a sigh of contentment and a slight smile on her face. And the nibble at her ear drove her up the wall.

    “You two are so cute together,” remarked the woman.

    “He has his moments,” said Bella as she scratched at his arm.

    “When are you planning to get married?” she asked.

    “Probably when we get back to Earth,” said Bella. “He has to meet my parents for the final approval and I have to meet his parents to get their blessing.”

    “I couldn’t imagine either one of them saying no,” said the woman. “You appear to be crazy over each other.”

    “I don’t know,” said Colt. “It’s kind of going behind enemy lines.”

    “How so?” asked the woman.

    “Her parents still work for WGE,” he explained. “And I’m with Infinicon.”

    “That could cause a serious Romeo and Juliet situation,” laughed the woman.

    “I’d hope the Capulets would oblige,” said Colt. “Just once at least.”

    “It’s nice to see the classics are still read from time to time,” said the woman.

    “I minored in literature when I got my degree,” said Colt. “I like reading.”

    “Where did you graduate from?” asked the woman.

    “University of Oklahoma for my Bachelors,” said Colt. “Majored in Interspace Engineering with the minor in classical literature. I got my Masters in engineering through the Infinicon Distance Learning Institute.”

    “Not shabby at all,” said the man who knew the program had high standards for graduation. The crowd let out a cheer as the first fireworks were heard launching and exploded at the top of the dome. And in rapid succession, more followed as the moment they had been waiting for had arrived as the fireworks thundered above and upbeat music was played over the PA system. One thing about it, they put on a damn good show, thought Colt.

    The fireworks continued with the crowd cheering them on as the acrid smoke was barely being contained by the air filtration systems. But even then, the smell reached the ground level as the manmade thunder and music continued with the crowd gasping at some of the more advanced designs set off by the crews from the BAE Colony. And as they neared the end, the music faded off as a new song was heard and they knew the finale was near as the explosions tapered off momentarily and the PA system grew silent. After what was acceptable as a dramatic pause, the familiar sounds of the 1812 Overture came over the speakers. The crowd let out a thunderous roar of approval as the music preceded the grand finale of the massive send off at the end of the song. The pause gave the fireworks officials time to catch their breath and prepare for the completion of the show. The BAE crews had gone all out to time the finale perfectly as the explosions were in perfect concert with the music and bathed the area with momentary bursts of red, blue, yellow, white and green light. It was fully a “mad minute” as the fireworks crews did their best to keep up the tempo while attempting to be safe at the same time.

    “Wow!” exclaimed the woman as the fireworks finished and they were helped up by Colt. “Thank you so very much for suggesting this!”

    “They do it up right,” said Bella as the PA announcer thanked the crowd for their participation and informed them the party wasn’t over by any means. An older song came over the PA with a catchy tune and lyrics about “dance the night away.” The crowd jumped in where the fireworks left off and started the party right in the middle of the park.

    “C’mon baby,” said Bella as she twisted to the music. “Dance the night away with me!”

    “So adorable,” laughed the woman as Colt relented and joined Bella as best as he could. And even the older couple got into the mood and danced along with the residents as the mood was infectious in the colony. And random couples split to dance with each other as everyone was in a great mood for the anniversary party on the planet. And in the other colonies, celebrations were had and good cheer all around. Save one small spot where Markus Winston sighed at the application sent in by Colt earlier. He didn’t want to lose Colt as a pilot, but had told the truth that he was destined for bigger and better things in his career. And a Chief Pilot’s position at his age was unheard of and was clearly the path to eventual command of his own which he would rightfully deserve in time. With another sigh, he gave the resume a favorable endorsement and sent it forward to the proper channels.

    Upon completion, he went out on the small balcony where Camille was standing and watching the festivities below. The streets were filled with the residents celebrating the day well into the artificial night as they continued the planet wide party.

    “It’s not easy seeing the baby birds leave the nest,” she said as she heard him behind her.

    “Colt’s going to do great things one of these days,” said Markus. “And I’d feel terrible if I held him behind at this point.”

    “Do you think he deserves it?” asked Camille.

    “Yes,” said Markus. “Even at his age, he has the capabilities to do that job without breaking a sweat. Or Captain of a ship someday.”

    “But you don’t like losing good people,” said Camille.

    “Never gets any easier,” said Markus with a sigh.

    “Well, since you and I have agreed to retire after the next cruise from the refit, let’s start making future plans of our own,” said Camille. “Come on in here and I’ll show you some nice places I’ve found while thinking of our retirement.”

    “Isn’t it a bit early to look at buying a home?” he asked.

    “It’s never too early,” said Camille. “And it gives us something to look forward to.”

    “Let’s see what you’ve picked out,” said Markus. “But it better have a pond where I can fish.”

    “As fate would have it, there’s a really nice lakeside home where you can have a very large fishing pond,” said Camille as she brought the info-link up and started showing off the places she had found. But it didn’t change his mood as he wasn’t ready to settle down just yet and wasn’t ready to see his fine crew dashed to the winds. But age was catching up with him and he knew it was probably time to step aside and let the younger generation have their chance at doing the things he had done in his youth.
     
  16. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 9


    Colt tried being as quiet as he could in the early morning as Bella continued her peaceful slumber from the night before. They had managed to finally catch one of the trains heading back to the Infinicon colony after waiting through two cycles before getting home and crashing for the night. But he had woken up early that morning and checked on a few things in the colony as well as his application. And it appeared Captain Winston had given it a favorable endorsement and sent it higher into the corporation. But the one item he checked for was right there and had exactly what he was looking for. He wanted to call them, but knew the owners likely weren’t at work yet. As the artificial daylight started coming through the windows, he continued checking different companies on Pluto and found the first was likely his best choice.

    He heard Bella groan from behind him as she woke up and stretched out. He came over to the bed and sat down next to her and wiped the hair away from her face.

    “Morning,” she grunted and smiled. “What are you doing up so early?”

    “Dunno,” said Colt. “Just woke up early.”

    “No breakfast in bed?” she asked with a grin.

    “Ask and you shall receive,” said Colt as he went into the kitchen and returned with a tray of her fruits she liked in the morning and a cup of steaming tea.

    “To what do I owe the honor?” she asked with a surprised tone.

    “Just because,” he replied. “Is that a sufficient reason?”

    “Works for me,” she said and sat up. The tray worked as advertised as the legs came out of the platform and steadied itself on the bed. They passed the time in small talk as she quickly ate and sipped at the tea.

    “I remembered something,” said Colt. “Something I forgot.”

    “What was that?” she asked.

    “I remember my last trip I promised you a birthday gift,” said Colt.

    “My birthday was five months ago,” she replied.

    “It’s a special gift,” said Colt.

    “Okay, what is it?” asked Bella.

    “Wouldn’t be much of a surprise if I told you,” said Colt with a grin.

    “Having you around is enough I think,” said Bella as she finished her cup of tea. Colt cleared the tray from the bed as she refilled both her mug and his coffee mug.

    “No, I have something special in mind,” he replied.

    “I don’t need a gift,” she said.

    “But I’d like to give you something,” said Colt.

    “I love you to death, but you know I’m not the kind of girl that needs to be showered with gifts,” said Bella. “I’m a simple girl at heart.”

    “I want to do it,” said Colt.

    “Okay,” she relented. “But just something simple, okay?”

    “Simple I can do,” said Colt.

    “Do I need to dress up for this gift?” she asked.

    “Nah, ordinary clothing will be okay,” he replied.

    “Other plans for today?” she asked.

    “I’m at your beck and call,” he replied.

    “I like the sound of that,” she grinned as a knock was heard at the door. She answered it after grabbing her robe and saw one of the waitresses outside once again.

    “Computer conked out again,” she whispered.

    “Okay, I’ll be right down,” said Bella as she grabbed her fuzzy house shoes.

    “Problems?” asked Colt.

    “I have to unlock the payment computer again,” said Bella. “Be right back.”

    “Okay love,” said Colt as he grabbed his shower items and headed into the bathroom.

    “Do we need to wake up Jake?” asked the waitress as they headed down the stairs.

    “Probably not,” said Bella as she got to the computer. Her fingers danced over the keyboard and accessed the central programming of the device.

    “What are you doing?” asked the waitress.

    “Reprogramming this like I should have done months ago,” said Bella.

    “You know how to do that?” asked the waitress.

    “It’s not hard to fix some corrupted lines of code,” said Bella as she finished up and restarted the device. It came on like it was supposed to and after entering the password, worked like a charm.

    “It’s even faster now!” exclaimed the waitress.

    “It’s the shoes,” said Bella. “Anything else?”

    “No, thanks for fixing this,” said the waitress as she scanned two customers out. Bella returned to her quarters to find Colt had already finished his shower and was laying out his clothing to be pressed by the auto-iron she had.

    “You took a shower without me?” she asked as she came inside.

    “I wasn’t sure how long you would be,” he replied.

    “I was hoping you would make good on some of your promises,” said Bella.

    “Well, come to think of it, my back does need a scrubbing,” said Colt.


    ********************​


    “Where are we going again?” asked Bella as Colt summoned a cab.

    “For your present,” said Colt.

    “And this involves a cab ride?” asked Bella.

    “It’s a good walk,” said Colt as he let her in first.

    “You could tell me,” said Bella.

    “Nope, not yet,” said Colt as he entered the cab. “Section 19 please.”

    “Got it,” said the cab driver as they departed. The ride wasn’t long as they arrived in the section of the city he specified and less than a block from his intended destination. He paid the cab driver and sent him on his way to continue his rounds.

    “C’mon,” said Colt as he pulled Bella from the cab towards one of the landing areas for the Infinicon colony. While the colony was surrounded by landing pads and areas where craft could embark, the area they were currently in was for small commercial enterprises.

    “Colt, what are we doing?” asked Bella.

    “It’s a surprise,” said Colt as he came to a door of a business named “Grand Tours.” Bella stopped at the outside as instructed as Colt went inside. Bella could see inside the glass window as Colt was talking with the man behind the counter as he initially shook his head no. She could see Colt saying something else before the man sighed and nodded his head. Colt came back outside and collected Bella and pulled her back inside.

    “What is going on?” she asked.

    “We have to get you outfitted,” said Colt as the man came over and Colt handed over his ID.

    “Your boyfriend must really like you,” said the man.

    “He’s my fiancé,” she said. “But why is that?”

    The man looked at her with raised eyebrows and a shake of his head before disappearing into a small office. Colt led her to another room where several pressure suits were located.

    “Go ahead and put one of these on,” said Colt as he found the one and handed it over.

    “Colt, what are we doing?” she asked. “Going outside the dome or something?”

    “Nope, something better,” he grinned.

    “So tell me,” she said.

    “And ruin the surprise?” he asked.

    “I’m not moving another inch until you tell me what’s going on,” said Bella as she crossed her arms and gave Colt “the look.”

    “Come here,” he said and nodded with his head.

    “Colt…” she said in a tone.

    “Come over here and I’ll show you,” he said with a barely contained grin.

    Bella let out a sigh as she let herself be led back into the main office where Colt went over to the window that had an old style blind covering it. Raising the blind, he pointed out at the four small craft sitting in an enclosed bay.

    “You’re going to take a ride in that,” said Colt as he pointed towards the older BAE Spacehawk trainer. While superseded by more recent designs, the craft had been kept up very well and served as a tourist attraction for that that wanted to see the planet from a different view.

    “Say what?” she exclaimed.

    “I rented that craft for the next two hours to give you a ride,” said Colt with a grin.

    “Really?” she asked as her eyes popped open.

    “Yep,” said Colt. “Fully orbital capable and quite nimble.”

    “And your qualifications check out,” said the owner as he came back in and gave Colt his ID back. “A little smaller than you’re used to I’d imagine.”

    “Just a hair,” said Colt as he turned to Bella. “So?”

    “Why aren’t we gone yet?” asked Bella with a huge grin.

    “Go get changed,” said Colt as he pointed towards the room where she darted back in to find the pressure suit waiting for her. The craft featured a complete environmental system, but in accordance with the rules of the colony she had to wear the suit as a precaution. Colt paid the elevated fee for renting the craft and signed the waivers and agreements for the two of them. By the time he had returned to the room, she was well into changing and getting the suit on.

    “You’re like a kid in a candy store,” he laughed.

    “Best…gift…ever…” she grinned and zipped the suit up.

    “Hang on,” said Colt as he changed into another suit and got everything ready. And looked over to see Bella impatiently waiting at the door. He walked calmly as she yanked open the door and headed back out to find the owner waiting.

    “Flight plan is filed and you’ve got unrestricted access,” said the owner. “The channels are all preprogrammed and on the list in the front of the plan.”

    “Got it,” said Colt as he went outside and did a quick check of the craft. The ground crew had already done the preflight, but he was accustomed to checking things himself and made sure everything was as it was supposed to. He climbed in the left side of the craft as Bella was assisted into the right seat. There were controls on her side of the craft, but she didn’t touch anything as she had no idea what most of them were. Colt went through the checklist that was far shorter than his normal preflight and saw everything checked out.

    An alarm sounded as Colt sealed the canopy and donned his helmet. Bella looked at him and did the same and made sure it was locked down. The air was removed from the hanger as two men in pressure suits opened the bay doors as the alarms continued until the doors were open. A small cart pushed the Spacehawk out onto the small landing pad where Colt went through the engine start and got the systems online.

    “Why aren’t we gone yet?” asked Bella with a grin.

    “Kid in a candy store,” said Colt as he made some adjustments before everything was running the way it was supposed to. “Pluto Approach, this is Grand Tours X-Ray-Five-Five. Requesting clearance for departure from Infinicon Pad 9 for orbital ops and sightseeing.”

    “X-Ray-Five-Five, you are clear to depart Pad 9 for sightseeing,” said the controller. “Be advised, no traffic in local area or in orbital ops. No fly zones for your type of craft are listed in navigational computer. Have a nice flight.”

    “Thank you Approach,” said Colt. “Departing now.”

    Colt brought the engines up and the craft into a low hover. And dialed the inertial dampers back significantly as he gained height. And as soon as he was clear of the structures and support equipment, pushed the old style throttles forward as the craft shot out away from the colony. Bella was pushed back in her seat as her eyes grew huge while the craft screamed for altitude and was well above the ground before she realized it.

    “Oh my God!” she exclaimed in a yelp. “Colt!”

    “I disabled the inertial dampers,” said Colt. “Want me to put them back on?”

    “No!” she exclaimed with a grin. “Do it again!”

    “I can show you something more fun I bet,” he said as they gained orbital velocity, but started coming back down towards the planet. “Pluto Control, request flyby of southern mountains at fifty meters A-G-L.”

    “Stand by,” said the controller who wondered who the hot dog pilot was. After checking the flight plan, he called over the senior person on board at the moment and explained the situation to him. The man checked over the flight plan and got on the communicator.

    “And who are you showing off to?” asked Dwayne Brown. “I know who you are young pup.”

    “I’ve got a mutual friend with me who wants to see a good time,” said Colt very unofficially as he recognized the voice of Brown.

    “Hope it’s not that old geezer who owns the joint,” said Brown. “He’s likely to have a heart attack before you’re done.”

    “Nope, it’s the one that runs the place,” said Colt.

    “He’s fine to proceed,” said Brown to the controller.

    “Okay,” said the controller on the Pluto Docks that also served as the planetary traffic control. “X-Ray-Five-Five, you are clear to proceed to southern range at fifty meters A-G-L. Do not, repeat, do not overfly Tiger Mining Outpost 15 as outlined in your navigation system.”

    “Roger,” said Colt. “Departing orbital ops for southern mountains at fifty.”

    Colt dipped the nose and pulled back on the throttles slightly as he headed towards the mountain range on the southern portion of the planet. While they were gentle for the most part, they still offered a bit of seat of the pants flying he liked to do every once in a while as he skimmed the surface and started yanking and turning between the formations. Bella squealed in delight next to him as he went in a little lower than the planned fifty meters above ground level from time to time before turning around and going back for a second trip.

    “Colt, this is awesome!” she exclaimed as they came through a valley once again and headed back into orbit. He put the inertial dampers back on before establishing a good orbit one hundred kilometers above the planet.

    “Your turn,” he said and pulled his hands and feet off the controls.

    “What?!” she exclaimed. “Are you serious?”

    “Sure,” he said. “Put your feet on those pedals. Those are your left and right controls. Throttles are on your right side and the stick controls the pitch of the wings as well as the up and down.”

    “No way!” she said as she shook her head.

    “I think you’ll be fine,” he said. “Nothing to crash into out here.”

    “I don’t know,” she smiled.

    “Would you do it for me?” he asked.

    “Okay, just for a minute or so,” she said as she nervously took the controls. He pushed the throttles slightly as the craft moved forward a little bit and she moved them slightly. The craft responded to her commands by flopping over to where the cockpit was pointed at the earth and the tail was wagging back and forth.

    “Okay, make a u turn and bring us back the other way,” he said.

    “How?” she asked.

    “Like this,” he said and walked her through the procedure. The craft was very forgiving since it was originally designed to be a trainer and responded to her commands as she had the same huge grin she’d had since they lifted off.

    “I’m flying it!” she exclaimed. “Look! There’s the colony!”

    Colt looked up (which was more or less down) as they craft came into orbit over the Infinicon colony. Some individual lights were seen, but at 100 kilometers in space, it wasn’t easy to make out the details.

    “It’s so pretty,” she said.

    “Let me show you something else pretty,” he said and took back control of the craft before heading for the opposite side of Pluto. Once he was there, he oriented the craft to where the large bubble canopy was oriented towards space and had her look up. “Check it out.”

    “They are beautiful!” exclaimed Bella as she looked at the stars. “I could spend the rest of my life looking at them and not be unhappy.”

    “And me?” he asked.

    “I suppose I’ll keep you around to bring me out here to look at them,” she smiled.

    “I’m glad I’m useful,” he chuckled and removed his helmet.

    “Is that okay?” she asked.

    “How else am I going to get a kiss from you?” he asked and set it to his front. “And it’s fitting.”

    “What?” she asked and looked upwards after be rolled the craft over and saw they were right over the Tombaugh Regio. And what was informally known as the Heart of Pluto. “Romantic.”

    “So?” he asked.

    “Works for me,” she said and undid the latch on hers as well. And they met in the middle of the cockpit in a very passionate kiss before looking back out and taking in the stars.

    “This is the way we need to grow old,” said Bella with a sigh after several minutes. “Holding each other’s hand and watching the stars go by.”

    “Sorry to ruin the moment, but we’ve got to be heading back,” he said as he put his helmet back on and started getting the craft ready to depart.

    “Thank you for this,” she said and clutched his hand.

    “I wanted something memorable,” he said.

    “This will certainly do it,” she smiled as he headed back towards the Infinicon landing area and requested an approach. They eventually landed and were towed back into the small hanger where the ground crews came out and helped with the shutdown. They saw additional personnel walking around without helmets as the doors had been closed and removed their protective gear.

    “Have a good time?” asked the ground crew as he came up and took the control crystal from Colt which served as the “keys” to the craft.

    “She’s a darn good pilot,” grinned Colt. “Had me scared a few times.”

    “Any alarms or problems of note?” asked the ground crewman as he pinned several items.

    “The starboard side yaw thrusters seemed a bit sluggish,” said Colt.

    “Yeah, that’s typical,” said the crewman. “It doesn’t matter how many times we replace it or the lines or the control program, it just keeps coming back.”

    “Otherwise, it’s a nice ship,” said Colt as he hopped out of the seat and onto the ladder. Bella was helped out of the other side as they headed inside to change. Once they finished, Colt made contact with the owner and thanked him again as well as Bella gushing about how nice he was to allow them to use the ship.

    “Wow,” exclaimed Bella as they departed once again. “You pamper me way too much.”

    “You already tried saying that,” he grinned.

    “Yeah, but I mean it,” she said and stood on her tiptoes and gathered another kiss. Instead of taking another cab back to her quarters, they decided to walk and grab a late lunch along the way. They picked a smaller place that specialized in soup and sandwiches as Bella beat Colt to the punch by paying for them both. They talked over dinner with Bella still in high spirits over the flight as she had a continual grin the entire time. Eventually they finished up and headed back to the club where she announced to anyone who would listen about her trip that afternoon.

    “It appears the girl is excited about something,” said Jake as he walked up to Colt.

    “Took her up in a trainer for a couple of hours,” said Colt.

    “And it seems she liked it,” said Jake.

    “To say the least,” said Colt.

    “I love her to death, but her heart and soul is out there and not on the ground,” said Jake.

    “I kind of got that feeling,” said Colt.

    “Have you two talked it over yet?” asked Jake.

    “Not yet,” said Colt. “I plan on it during our trip back.”

    “I’d throttle you if I didn’t like you so much,” said Jake with a sigh. “But even I know once she gets on that ship, she won’t come back.”

    “You never know,” said Colt. “And I looked into that job on the Docks.”

    “Oh?” asked Jake.

    “Seems like my application sailed through the channels,” said Colt.

    “Has a tendency to do that when the right people are involved,” said Jake.

    “So again the decision will be ours, but we have multiple options,” said Colt.

    “You ain’t grounding her,” said Jake. “Once she gets back out there.”

    “Who knows,” said Colt. “How’s her replacement working out?”

    “Sassy,” said Jake with a shake of his head.

    “More than Bella?” asked Colt with a chuckle.

    “Bella’s sass is more subtle,” said Jake. “Defiant is a better term. Her replacement is slightly more overt about it.”

    “She’s one in a billion,” said Colt.

    “I almost didn’t hire her,” said Jake. “Figured she’d never stick around.”

    “For the record, I’m glad you did,” said Colt.

    “So am I even though you’ve swooped in here and stole her from me,” chuckled Jake. “Speaking of, I think the other girls are planning a bachelorette party for her before she leaves.”

    “When?” asked Colt.

    “Tonight maybe,” said Jake. “I wasn’t privy to the information.”

    “You got me drunk one night so I guess turnabouts are fair play,” said Colt as she bounced back up to him.

    “Hey Jake!” she exclaimed. “Colt took me for a ride in a space plane today!”

    “I heard,” said Jake with a chuckle. “Sounds like it was a horrible time.”

    “Nonsense!” exclaimed Bella. “Best gift I’ve ever gotten!”

    “I’d imagine so,” laughed Jake.

    “Colt, the girls want to take me out to dinner this evening as a going away party,” said Bella. “Will you be okay here by yourself for a couple of hours?”

    “Jake and I’ll manage to locate the bottle of rum,” said Colt with a grin.

    “And who’s going to come bail me out of jail?” she asked with an impish grin.

    “Neither one of us,” said Jake. “I’ll treat Colt to a bachelor party the likes that Pluto has never seen before.”

    “How about we both take it easy tonight?” asked Bella.

    “Deal,” laughed Colt. “When are you leaving?”

    “Monica?” asked Bella as her replacement came walking up.

    “In a few hours,” said Monica. “I’ll have her back before midnight or so.”

    “She’s a free woman,” said Colt.

    “In that case, I’ll have her back by 0600,” laughed Monica.

    “I don’t think we’ll be out that long,” said Bella.

    “Once we get going, it’ll be hard to stop us,” laughed Monica.

    The foursome continued chatting for a few minutes and eventually Bella went upstairs to pick out an outfit for that evening. Colt promised not to get too crazy on his own as Bella was eventually collected by three of the waitresses that worked in the club and departed for the evening after collecting a kiss from Colt. He settled in on the couch mindlessly watching a history show before someone rang the bell at the quarters.

    “C’mon, let’s head over to Kip’s Place,” said Jake.

    “I’m not getting crazy tonight,” said Colt.

    “You can come and have dinner and a beer or two,” said Jake. “Besides, the rest of your crew normally hangs out over there.”

    “True,” said Colt. “Okay, twist my arm and all.”

    The pair headed out and down the street to Kip’s Place where they found comfortable seating and settled in. A waitress took down their drink orders and gave them a menu before heading back to retrieve their drinks. Several of Colt’s crew came up and congratulated him as the news had spread faster than he thought. And eventually the owner of the bar came up to the table as well to meet with Jake.

    “Observing the competition?” asked Kip Green.

    “Nah, just wanted a break from my own beer for a while,” said Jake.

    “I understand that,” said Kip. “They keep you busy during the Festival?”

    “Packed house,” said Jake. “You?”

    “Couldn’t walk through this place practically,” said Kip. “The fire marshal kept telling me I was way over my limits that night.”

    “He didn’t shut you down did he?” asked Jake.

    “Nope, he just wanted to make room for his guys,” laughed Kip.

    “I’m surprised you two get along so well,” said Colt.

    “We may be business competitors, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friendly,” said Kip. “Besides, who could be mean to grandpa here?”

    “I’ll show you who’s grandpa here in a minute,” laughed Jake.

    “Honestly, Jake kind of serves as the unofficial leader of the bar and restaurant community here on Pluto,” said Kip. “He was here first and we tend to gather his advice when we have problems. At least from the Infinicon side of things.”

    “Colt!” exclaimed a female voice from the side as the trio looked up. Lilly Gold came bouncing up once again and garnered the spot next to Colt. “I’m not interrupting am I?”

    “Not at all,” said Jake as he wondered who the girl was.

    “You still owe me that drink,” said Lilly.

    “Maybe after I’ve eaten, okay?” asked Colt.

    “Promise?” she asked.

    “Just one,” said Colt.

    “Okay, I’ll be around,” said Lilly as she squeezed his shoulder and bounced back into the bar.

    “Well, I’m certainly impressed,” said Jake.

    “Oh?” asked Colt.

    “A lot of guys wouldn’t hesitate to take her up on that offer,” said Jake. “Being an attractive young woman as she is.”

    “I’m not like a lot of guys,” said Colt.

    “This is true,” said Jake. “Bella made a good choice.”

    “Thanks,” said Colt. “I think.”

    “You aren’t half bad for a runt that steals my manager,” said Jake.

    “Bella is moving on?” asked Kip.

    “Yeah, he proposed and is taking her away for good,” said Jake.

    “We haven’t made a decision yet,” objected Colt.

    “Trust me, if I know Bella like I think I do, she’s waiting for the chance to get back on a ship,” said Kip. “She has stars on the mind.”

    “Folks keep telling me that,” said Colt. “I’ve just never seen it until today.”

    “What happened?” asked Kip. Colt explained her gift from earlier and Kip nodded with an answer. “Yeah, she’s never putting her feet back on the ground again.”

    “That’s what I said,” said Jake.

    “We’ll see,” said Colt as dinner came over. They pair ate the simple foods and got another round as the evening progressed and more of Colt’s shipmates came to congratulate him on his engagement. Eventually, he found Lilly in the crowd and decided he made a promise and would keep it no matter what.

    “Where you heading?” asked Jake.

    “I made a promise to her for a drink,” said Colt. “And that’s all it is.”

    “I’ll chaperone,” said Jake.

    “Friend and shipmate,” said Colt as he waved him back down. “That’s all.”

    “Not from the way she looks at you,” muttered Jake as Colt headed over and bought the drink he had promised. He spent a socially acceptable amount of time before returning to the table where Jake gave him a look that didn’t need an explanation.

    “I’m allowed to have friends of the opposite sex you know,” said Colt.

    “I didn’t say a word,” said Jake.

    “You didn’t have to,” said Colt.

    “Showed that bad?” asked Jake.

    “Slightly,” said Colt with a laugh and looked at the door. “And it appears I need to leave.”

    “Colt! Baby! My man! Sexiest devil in the universe!” exclaimed Bella from the doorway. And it appeared she had been imbibing with her friends.

    “Hey sweetie,” said Colt as she ran up and hopped into his arms and planted a kiss on his lips.

    “What are you doing here?” she asked with a slur.

    “Jake took me to dinner,” said Colt as he noticed she was already well on her way to intoxication. “And a beer or two.”

    “I’m the one that gets to let my hair down tonight!” she exclaimed.

    “I’m finished after this one,” he chuckled.

    “Good, ‘cause you best be sober when I get home so I can take advantage of you!” she exclaimed loudly. And Colt’s shipmates overheard the comment and cheered him on with catcalls and a loud roar. Colt blushed up slightly before shooting them a look.

    “Oh, did I embarrass you?” she giggled.

    “Not likely,” he said. “Look, I’ll head out so you and your friends can get crazy.”

    “We’re already crazy!” she exclaimed. “Now we’re gonna get wild!”

    “See you in a bit,” said Colt and was surprised when she jumped back into his arms and locked her face onto his. More catcalls and yells came from his shipmates as this was a totally different side of Colt they hadn’t seen before. And the embrace lasted far longer than he planned, but really didn’t object to.

    “Be good,” said Bella as she slipped out of his arms.

    “You like it when I’m bad,” he laughed.

    “But I’m the good girl!” she exclaimed and turned to the small crowd. “You know what he said he’d do to me the other day? He said he would take me and-”

    “Ah! Our little secret,” said Colt as he cut her off.

    “Aww, you’re no fun,” she said with a fake pout.

    “Right,” said Colt. “Go enjoy yourself baby.”

    “Okay, wait up for me, okay?” she asked as he started towards the door and let her fingers slip to his. However, she had other plans as she yanked him back for yet another round of passionate kissing. He finally managed to get out the door as she blew him a kiss.

    “That girl loves you,” said Jake as they walked back to Club Plutonium.

    “The feeling is mutual,” said Colt.

    “I’d hope so,” said Jake. “If something was to happen to you, she’d be devastated.”

    “I’m surprised we stayed together this long,” said Colt.

    “It’s something she grew up with,” said Jake. “She saw a lot of the families separated when she was on the ships as a youngster. And she saw it could work. She thinks you’re worth waiting for no matter what.”

    “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad she waited,” said Colt. “Best thing that ever happened to me.”

    “You’re good for her as well,” said Jake. “She’s not usually like this when you’re not around. Reserved, almost sad. But the light comes on when you come into port.”

    “I didn’t know that,” said Colt.

    “How would you when you’re gone?” asked Jake. “That didn’t come out right.”

    “No, I understand,” said Colt as they arrived at the club.

    “One more?” asked Jake.

    “Nah, thanks though,” said Colt. “I’ll head upstairs and wait for her.”

    “We’ll call you if she needs help getting upstairs,” said Jake. “Night.”

    “Night Jake,” said Colt as he headed upstairs and entered her quarters. He sat down on the couch and grabbed the book he was in the middle of and started reading where he left off. He didn’t know when he nodded off, but was woken up by a stumbling of a body inside the quarters about an hour later.

    “Ohhh baby,” groaned Bella as she came into the quarters. “I overdid it.”

    “Welcome home sweetie,” said Colt as he stood up and helped steady her.

    “Do you love me?” she asked as she grasped his arm.

    “Totally,” he said.

    “Carry me to bed,” she said as she collapsed into his arms.

    “Yes ma’am,” he laughed and swept her off her feet. She crumbled into his arms, but managed to grab him around his neck as he carried her the short distance to the bedroom and managed to get her laid into the bed gently.

    “Sorry,” she said as she rolled over.

    “You deserve to get wild every once in a while,” he chuckled as he removed her shoes.

    “No, sorry that I can’t make good on my promise to take advantage of you,” she groaned.

    “Plenty of time for that later,” said Colt.

    “Another night wasted,” she said.

    “We’ve got a few months together on a dry ship to make up for it,” said Colt as he removed her clothing and got her under the covers.

    “I’m going to hate myself in the morning,” she managed to say before passing out.

    “We’ve got to pack tomorrow,” said Colt.

    “Don’t remind me,” she groaned.

    “Good night sweetie,” said Colt as he kissed her on the forehead. She managed a smile before dozing off to sleep. Colt swept the hair away from her face and slipped into bed beside her after getting undressed himself. She snored slightly as he put his arm over her and held her as she slept, feeling very content with his life at the moment.
     
    techsar, squiddley, bagpiper and 3 others like this.
  17. techsar

    techsar Monkey+++

    Thanks Grand...but I get the uneasy feeling that life in paradise is about to take an unexpected turn, and not for the better
     
  18. ghrit

    ghrit Ambulatory anachronism Administrator Founding Member

    So far, it's been character development. Enough, methinks, of kissy face and butt patting. The action needs to start before I go to sleep.
     
  19. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    Patience my friend.
     
  20. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 10


    “You really are trusting,” said a man sitting at a small table in a bar on the Saturnian moon Titan. He was sitting across from two others who hoped none of them would be recognized in the Blue Horizons Colony.

    “Can it be done?” asked one of the two men identified only as “Mike.”

    “It’s possible,” said the first man. “However, it’s quite expensive.”

    “Cost is not an issue,” said the second man across the table who said his name was “John.”

    “But cost is always an issue,” said the first man who was dressed presentably in a suit. “For example, I know of a few corporations that would pay very good money for the information you just provided me. Far more than your initial offer.”

    “Are you attempting to negotiate the price with me after agreeing to the terms?” asked Mike.

    “We never negotiated the price,” said the man in the suit. “We negotiated the terms, but I never agreed to your price.”

    “We can always contact your competitors,” said Mike.

    “You know very well you came to me because I’m the best,” said the man in the suit. “I have the manpower and the knowhow to pull this off. But even if you go to my competitors, they will seek advice from me. And even enlist my help in the matter. It would be very easy to advise them to tell you to stick your deal where the sun doesn’t shine.”

    “Or we could just go to the nearest security station and report you being here,” said John with a slight smile.

    “And risk me telling them what you told me?” asked the man in the suit. “I don’t think so.”

    “They would not believe you,” said John.

    “At the very least they would make inquiries and start an investigation,” said the man in the suit. “Oh, and before you think of getting cute, I advised my second in charge to report this meeting to every corporation’s intelligence services if I don’t show back up.”

    “What price would be acceptable for the job we described?” asked Mike after a brief pause.

    “Triple what you quoted,” said the man in the suit.

    “Triple?!” exclaimed John.

    “And I still get to keep whatever I find before the job is finished,” said the man in the suit.

    “This is outrageous!” exclaimed John.

    “You are unwilling to get your hands dirty,” said the man in the suit. “Hence you came to me.”

    “We could do it,” said Mike.

    “But at what cost?” asked the man in the suit. “I may seem like a simple minded creature with material possessions and money on the brain, but it only seems that way. I know if it was discovered you were behind this, it would cause an outright war. But if I was to do it? Well, just part of the lifestyle they’d say.”

    “We would have to contact our superiors to negotiate that kind of price,” said Mike who seemed a little more composed than his friend.

    “This meeting is a one time good deal,” said the man in the suit. “You either agree to the price right here and now or I walk away. Your choice.”

    “Can it be done?” asked Mike.

    “With the right ruse and right technology, I believe so,” said the man in the suit.

    “You do not sound very convincing,” said John who had calmed slightly.

    “Too many factors to list of where it could go wrong,” said the man in the suit. “The job you speak of; well those things cost a lot credits and Infinicon would surely want it back. And they would attempt a rescue mission. Or it’s intercepted away from the target as they shoot out the engines. Or they bypass the ruse. Or remotely shut it down.”

    “What would you need to complete the job?” asked Mike.

    “Other than triple the fee, the following items,” said the man in the suit as he listed off several pieces of technology that would be needed.

    “We do not have such things,” said John.

    “Not what the little birds tell me,” said the man in the suit. “They tell me you stole the plans for that very same technology a year ago.”

    “You are well informed,” said Mike.

    “It’s kept me alive this long,” said the man in the suit. “You either have it in production or at the very least in a prototype form. That kind of technology can level the playing field.”

    “We might have such technology,” said Mike. “But we would never agree to it leaving our control. Especially not into your hands.”

    “Which works perfectly into a plan I already have in mind,” said the man in the suit. He spoke for several moments about the idea he had and the two saw it had merit. And where the technology would come into play during said job.

    “That is possible,” said Mike. “But obviously the initial contact could be traced to us.”

    “Not if your records indicate it’s on Earth in maintenance or something,” said the man in the suit. “Get creative or something and make it disappear for a while.”

    “This could be done,” said Mike.

    “It must be done to pull this job off,” said the man in the suit.

    “And how would you like the fee?” asked John.

    “Negotiable bonds and precious metals,” said the man in the suit. “Half up front in precious metals and the other half upon completion at a time and place of my choosing.”

    “We are on a limited timeframe,” said Mike.

    “How long?” asked the man in the suit.

    “Two months, perhaps a bit longer,” said Mike. “Three at most.”

    “And how will you know where to find said ship?” asked the man in the suit.

    “You do not need to know the details, but the necessary arrangements are being made at this time,” said Mike. “By the time they get underway, supposedly the day after tomorrow Earth time, we will be able to tell precisely where they are.”

    “Do you know their new orders?” asked the man in the suit.

    “Yes, a thirty day mission for reclamation and then transit back to Earth for refit,” said John.

    “And this is reliable information?” asked the man in the suit.

    “You are surprised at what information can be garnered with the application of strong drink and a beautiful woman’s attention?” asked Mike.

    “I suppose not,” said the man in the suit.

    “The question still stands,” said Mike. “Can you do it?”

    “Yes,” said the man in the suit. “Can you get the technology in time?”

    “I believe so,” said Mike. “As well as the down payment.”

    “It’s settled then,” said the man as he paid for the tab with cash and took out a small piece of paper and pen. After writing down several coordinates, he handed the paper to the two. “Those are the coordinates where you will drop off the payment. I don’t care if nobody is around, just leave it there with a beacon transmitting on that frequency. The second frequency is for you to contact us and let us know you are ready. We’ll send additional coordinates via that frequency for you to rendezvous with us.”

    “We would prefer to meet somewhere neutral,” said Mike.

    “And I’d prefer to meet someplace where we’re not flying into an ambush,” said the man in the suit. “It’s our location or not at all.”

    “We agree,” said Mike.

    “We will await your call,” said the man in the suit.

    “And what will we call you when we do contact you?” asked Mike.

    “For a job like this? There is only one name I can think of,” said the man in the suit as he stood to depart. “Call me Ishmael.”

    The two watched him leave and depart the bar before turning to each other.

    “Our superiors will never agree to triple the price,” said John in Mandarin Chinese.

    “They will,” said Mike in Chinese as well. “Because they realize like I do that money will never be paid to that group of thugs.”

    “And I doubt they will allow that technology to be used,” said John.

    “If they want this mission to succeed, they will agree to it,” said Mike.

    “I still think we should use a smaller ship for the job,” said John.

    “None are available or on the right course for this,” said Mike. “The council grows impatient and the Atomic Destiny is the only ship in position for what we need.”

    “I just don’t trust them,” said John.

    “We must remain in the shadows for this,” said Mike. “There are no other groups willing to accept the risk except them.”

    “And you think they won’t talk when it’s over?” asked John.

    “Who says they will be alive?” asked Mike.


    ********************​


    “I’ve got a lot of crap,” sighed Bella as she sealed up another box of her items for storage.

    “You really don’t have that much,” said Colt as he placed the box near the door to be taken to the small storage room in the upper levels once they were done.

    “It’s mainly just the useless stuff I never throw away,” said Bella.

    “Obviously it has some value,” said Colt. “Or you would have recycled it already.”

    “I guess so,” said Bella.

    “And I won’t remind you that you moved here recently and could have gotten rid of it then,” said Colt with a grin.

    “No, you shouldn’t,” said Bella with a wry smile as a knock was heard at her door. She went over and saw it was the new waitress outside and had a box in her hands and wearing a pack on her back. And Bella saw it was her number one choice for the interviews.

    “Hi,” said Bella as she opened the door.

    “Hi,” said the younger woman with some confusion.

    “Can I help you?” asked Bella.

    “I…I was told by Jake I could move in today,” said the younger woman.

    “He must have gotten his days confused,” said Bella. “You can set that here and we’ll go talk to him. I’m Bella by the way. We spoke when we set up the interview.”

    “I’m Kara,” said the younger woman as she set the box inside. “Nice to finally meet you.”

    “I should have introduced myself earlier,” said Bella as they walked down the stairs. “Did you officially move out of your old place?”

    “I did,” said Kara.

    “We’ll find you a place to stay until you can move in,” said Bella.

    “I’m sure I can find someplace,” said Kara. “I don’t want to upset my new boss before I’ve even worked a day here.”

    “No, you’re part of the family here and we’ll treat you as such,” said Bella.

    “I have friends I could call,” said Kara.

    “No, Jake’s mistake and Jake will fix it,” said Bella. “I should have met you already and given you the official ‘how to deal with Jake’ talk.”

    “He seems a bit gruff,” said Kara as they headed into the rear of the bar.

    “It’s an act,” said Bella. “He’s actually a big teddy bear and a good boss.”

    “He seemed a little aloof during the interview,” said Kara.

    “Because he doesn’t know how to deal with you,” laughed Bella as they approached the office and Jake was seen behind the computer at the table.

    “Bella, shouldn’t you be packing?” asked Jake and his look turned to confusion when he saw his new waitress trailing her.

    “I was,” said Bella. “But it appears you rented my room out a wee bit early.”

    “I…thought I said Friday,” said Jake.

    “No sir,” said Kara. “You said today.”

    “I’m just trying to get rid of Bella early,” said Jake. “My apologies.”

    “Doesn’t change the fact your new waitress is homeless for at least two nights,” said Bella. “Because I still need to run the cleaner-bot over the quarters and move everything out.”

    “Yeah,” said Jake with a sigh.

    “You could put her up in the Pluto Inn until I leave,” suggested Bella as she saw Jake had no idea what to do right then.

    “She could stay with Monica until Friday,” said Jake as he didn’t like additional costs.

    “On the floor?” asked Bella with a frown.

    “She has a couch,” said Jake. “It’s only two days.”

    “Or you could put her up in the hotel until then,” said Bella.

    “The couch would be okay,” said Kara.

    “No, he’s going to give you decent accommodations until you start work,” said Bella as she turned back to Jake. “It’s a good first impression on a new employee and all.”

    “I guess,” said Jake with a sigh. “You want to make the arrangements?”

    “Or your new head waitress can,” said Bella.

    “I don’t want to be a problem before I officially start,” said Kara.

    “See, she doesn’t have a problem with it,” said Jake.

    “You know that’s not how it works,” said Bella.

    “Fine, have Monica make reservations for two nights,” said Jake. “And not in the Presidential Suites either as I can see the motors turning already.”

    “I wouldn’t do something like that!” said Bella.

    “Uh huh,” said Jake. “You packed up?”

    “Almost,” said Bella.

    “Good, we’re throwing a good bye party tomorrow night in your honor,” said Jake.

    “Uh huh,” said Bella in a sarcastic tone.

    “Best believe it,” said Jake as Monica appeared. “Can you find the new girl a room at the Pluto Inn for two nights until we get rid of Bella?”

    “Did you confuse the day she could move in?” asked Monica.

    “No,” said Jake defensively.

    “Okay, the Presidential Suite it is,” said Monica as she turned to the communications system.

    “How about a regular room?” asked Jake.

    “I just want to make a good first impression on our new hire,” said Monica.

    “You’ve learned bad habits from your predecessor,” said Jake.

    “You realize I’m standing right here?” asked Bella.

    “I do,” said Jake. “Kara, you can go with Monica and make arrangements for two nights.”

    “I’m sure I could find a place to stay sir,” said Kara.

    “No, I made a mistake and I’ll own it,” said Jake with a sigh. “Because I do remember telling you to move in today.”

    “You sure sir?” asked Kara.

    “Yes, and disappear before I change my mind and make you sleep in the streets,” said Jake. Monica and Kara disappeared to get her a room until she could move in as Bella slumped into the chair to take a quick break.

    “You know she’ll eventually find out you’re not as mean as you let on,” said Bella.

    “Let her discover that on her own please,” said Jake as he sat back in his chair.

    “Poor homeless girl,” said Bella with a hint of a grin.

    “Which you’re about to be,” said Jake.

    “When does she start?” asked Bella.

    “Tonight actually,” said Jake. “I want her shadowing one of ours until I feel comfortable she can handle things on her own.”

    “Sensible,” said Bella.

    “Are you leaving everything in the attic?” asked Jake.

    “Just the stuff I’m not taking,” said Bella. “And I’ll start the cleaner bot before I leave tomorrow so everything will be ready for Friday.”

    “I don’t expect you back in six months,” said Jake.

    “I’ll be back,” said Bella.

    “Any time a ship goes in for refit, it takes longer than they tell you,” said Jake. “I’d be willing to bet you won’t be back for at least eight months.”

    “I see,” said Bella.

    “And I want pictures of your wedding in the meantime,” said Jake.

    “You could grab a ticket and come to Earth,” suggested Bella.

    “And leave Monica in charge?” laughed Jake. “I’d come back to a burned out hole in the ground and an army of lawyers filing suit against me.”

    “I’ll send them to you and everyone else,” said Bella. “I’ve got to get back to packing.”

    “Okay, we’ll let everyone know when you’re leaving tomorrow,” said Jake.

    “I don’t want a tear filled goodbye,” said Bella as she stood to depart.

    “You could stop your wait staff from seeing you off as easily as you could stop this planet from orbiting the Sun,” said Jake.

    “It’s not a big deal,” said Bella.

    “As you probably told our new waitress, we’re a big family here,” said Jake. “And the wait staff wants to see mother off.”

    “Yes sir,” said Bella. “See you in a bit.”

    Jake grunted an acknowledgment as he went back to whatever task he was doing on the computer. Bella headed back upstairs where she found Colt had already moved most of the boxes upstairs into the attic.

    “I didn’t pack anything else,” said Colt. “I didn’t know what you were taking with you.”

    “It’s hard to decide,” said Bella. “It’s like I’m leaving a part of my life behind.”

    “But moving towards a new part of your life,” said Colt.

    “Very thoughtful,” said Bella.

    “And I’m kind of happy you’re moving towards that part of your life,” said Colt.

    “Kind of?” asked Bella.

    “Okay, I’m very excited,” said Colt.

    “Still isn’t easy,” said Bella. “Pluto became my home.”

    “Home is where your heart is,” said Colt.

    “You’re getting kind of philosophical,” said Bella with a laugh.

    “Just being me,” said Colt as he pulled another box out and set it up.


    ********************​


    “I think this is worth the risk,” said the man who identified himself as Ishmael.

    “I don’t know,” said his second in charge.

    “Even if we don’t complete the job, the down payment is more than we can make in two years,” said Ishmael. “At the very minimum it’s worth starting even if we don’t finish it.”

    “They’ll attempt to double cross us,” said the second.

    “I know,” said Ishmael. “But we can plan for that as well.”

    “How?” asked the second.

    “By not making it easy for them,” said Ishmael. “They plan on giving us a preplanned navigation route. It’s too easy for us to make changes to that.”

    “And if they shadow us?” asked the second.

    “I doubt they would,” said Ishmael. “It would draw attention to them when attention is unwanted. They may keep tabs, but I doubt they will have a vessel nearby.”

    “Risky,” said the second.

    “And we’ll probably have to bring in another group,” said Ishmael.

    “That I don’t like,” said the second.

    “The ship is too large for our group alone to control even for the short trip,” said Ishmael.

    “I don’t like introducing unknowns into the equation,” said the second.

    “Has to be done,” said Ishmael. “There’s no other way around it.”

    “I’ll see who might be interested,” said the second.

    “Don’t spread the word too far,” said Ishmael. “I don’t want Infinicon getting the idea we’re up to something.”
     
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