Monday, June 30, 2014

Blood on the Stars - Part 1: Secrets & Lies - CH. 6 (1)

Hans could hardly contain his nerves on the day they decided to give their plan a try. Everything looked like it was going smoothly. He had approached Duke earlier about the falsified paperwork he had filed for a mechanic. Their conversation had gone even better than they had planned. Duke had made a good show of being annoyed, but had accepted in the end.

It was late in the morning by the time they took flight for the mining colony by the Mantou Islands with their cargo of people and equipment. No one seemed to have been any the wiser about what was going on, but Hans couldn’t help but obsessively worry. He kept thinking that there had to be some small detail that he was forgetting about.
“Okay, stop it already. You’re going to drive me crazy.” Honora snapped at Hans bringing his attention back to the present moment.

“Stop what?” he asked.
“Drumming your fingers like that. Out of all us I didn’t think you’d be the one with the case a case of the nerves. I’m worried too, but there really isn’t much good in worrying at this point. We’re as committed as we can be.” She smiled and placed her hand on top of Hans’. “Just chill.”

Hans let her hand rest on his for a moment before pulling his own away. “I’m sorry. I just keep going over and over the plan in my head. I can’t help but feel that I may have forgotten something. I know I’m being silly, but it’s just the way I am.”
“That’s cool, but try to keep your head in the now.” Honora smiled and turned her attention back to her console. They were nearing the wind belt and it was going to take both of their attention to make sure everything went smoothly for the landing.

Once they were on the ground, Hans put all his attention back into their plan. He put on his most flirtatious smile as he approached the hangar manager for the colony. “Hey Nance, we appear to be having some sort of issue with our systems here. Mind if we sit for a few days and run some tests before taking it back up into that hellish wind?”
“Hans, well darling, you can sit here all you like. I have no problem and we’ve got no one and nothing else coming in this way for a bit.” She smiled back and gave Hans a little wink. “And if you need a place to stay, don’t be afraid to ask.”

“Thanks Nance, but I’ve got to look after my crew first. Glad we can sit for a bit. I’d hate to have an issue especially with a junior pilot at the helm. It’s her first time out this way.” Hans nodded towards Honora who was doing a good job of looking worried as she ran a fake diagnostic test.
“Aw, poor little chicky. Well I’d really hate for anything bad to happen to anyone. Just let me know if I can help out at all.” Nance smiled and turned her attention back to her machines.

Hans shook his head as he walked away. Sometimes people were just too easy to manipulate, but he was pretty sure he had managed to give them a few days with no questions. Nance was a good sort of person and he hated the idea of putting her in a tough spot.
“Okay guys, we’ve got a couple of days without questions at least, but let’s not waste too much time. I’ll book us some rooms so that no one expects anything and I know a rental place that takes cash and doesn’t ask questions. I’ll meet you guys at the west portal in about an hour.” Hans gave Duke the address for the rental place and waved good bye.

With rooms booked and do not disturb messages set up on all three, Hans made his way towards the western edge of the protective dome. He waited there, watching the wind kick up dust debris. It was a particularly nasty day out there, but that just meant there would be less of a chance of them being spotted. He wasn’t waiting long before Honora and Duke arrived.
“All set?” Hans asked as he put on his rebreather for their short walk to the docks.

“Yeah, but he said there’s an advisory out for all non-essential craft right now. Wind is the worst it’s been all week.” Duke handed the keys over to Hans so he could get his own rebreather in place.
“No worries.” Hans gave Duke a thumbs up sign as he opened the door and grabbed hold of railing. They made their way out to the docks and happily removed their rebreathers once they were inside. They would have atmosphere suits for the boat trip out to the island.

It as a rough ride out and on a few occasions Hans was beginning to wonder if they would even make it to the island. He could only pray that the wind would be a little less intense for their trip back when they would be heading into the wind. It was relief to get into the tunnel and out of their suits.
“That was quite the boat trip. I don’t think I’m looking forward to the trip back.” Honora leaned against the stone wall and took a deep breath.

“Come on you two, we don’t really have time on our schedule to rest. Get your gear ready and your hoverboard ready to go.” Hans didn’t want to admit that the boat trip had even left him a bit queasy, but he kept his focus on the goal. They didn’t have a lot of time to spare.
“Wow, Duke, handles?” Honora giggled as she saw the hoverboard that he had unfolded from his pack. He glared at her as he attached the handle to his.

“The guy at the shop said this would make it easier for me because I tried and I suck at it. Okay?” Duke got on his and had to bend right over to not hit the top the tunnel.  Even Hans had to crouch down quite a bit to fit, but Honora had no problem at all.  It wasn’t long before they could all stand comfortably on their hover boards.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Blood on the Stars - Part 1: Secrets & Lies - CH. 5 (5)

“Nothing more we can do than that. We’ll just have to be prepared that we may not be coming back into the same situation that we left.” Hans looked them both in the eye. “Which brings us to the most important part of why I wanted to get us all together like this – we need to talk about what we might find and what might happen afterwards. I want to be honest with you both, I believe that the Armed Forces is keeping a watch on me which means that any big red flags will get their attention pretty quickly.

“I don’t really have any option in being a part of this, but you both do. You can back out now if you want to because I don’t know what we’re going to find. I don’t know if someone will be waiting when we come out arrest us or maybe even make us disappear. So tell me now, if this is too dangerous for you, no judgement. You can back out now and forget all about it.”
Hans let several minutes pass by, but no one said a word. He smiled at Duke and Honora. It was hard to believe that these people that had just fallen into his life were now his most important confidants.

“Okay then, moving on. We do need to be prepared for all possible outcomes. We could find anything down there. We won’t really know what to do until we know what we’ve found. If it is alien technology than what are we going to do with it? Do we alert the media or do we approach the authorities with this knowledge? What do you guys want to do?” Hans hoped that they could all agree on a course of action.
“Not the authorities.” Duke spoke firmly. “I don’t trust the authorities and I don’t think any of us should.”

“I’m with Duke on this. I’m not too sure about the media either though. I mean, we honestly won’t really know what to do until we find out what’s down there. It could be nothing or it could be something that we cannot even begin to imagine right now.” Honora pressed a hand to her chest where her alien artefact was hidden.
“I’m on the same page as you Honora. Mostly, I just wanted to get you both thinking about it because this is going to be a very real discussion on our way out and we won’t have a lot of time to decide on what we’re going to do. Not to mention, we may not be given any options if there is the wrong kind of someone waiting for us when we come out.” Hans reminded them.

“Then consider the bug planted in our brains. I’ll keep it in mind, but I do think we can all agree on one thing. No authorities, right?” Duke said.
“Yeah, I think we can all agree on that one thing. So, it’s more or less settled unless there are any concerns that either of you want to bring up at this time?” Hans waited for either them to speak. He felt sure that he had to have missed something.

“I think you’ve covered everything you could - except for one thing.” Honora spoke up. “Weapons. I think we should have weapons on us just in case things go badly for us. I’m not keen on having to shoot anyone or anything, but, as you say, there might be the wrong kind of someone waiting for us and I really do not have any intention to go quietly and be forgotten.”
Hans was surprised to hear those words coming from Honora. He had expected Duke to put up more of an argument. “Weapons, okay, I can go with that. We’ll each arm ourselves from the ship. If someone checks, which would be unlikely, it’ll put up a lot of big red flags then, but no one should check on something like that. Duke?”

“What?” Duke looked up surprised.
“Do you have anything that you want to add to the conversation?” Hans asked.

“Well, I wasn’t going to say anything, but last night you were talking about getting lost. Do you really think the Armed Forces are watching that closely and is disappearing going to be a real option?” Duke was scratching at his chin again – a sure sign he was thinking hard about something. “I know you’re not being paranoid, but do you really think they have any idea of what you’re actually up to?”
“I have no real way of knowing, but I suspect. To be honest, I may have been a good pilot, but I wasn’t just any pilot.” Hans sighed.

“Yeah, you were a legend!” Duke snickered remembering the scene from the night before.
“I was more than. I was being groomed for a job with the Special Services. It’s kind of a catch-all title for those who aren’t on regular duty. Everything from elite infiltration teams to levels to top secret that I don’t think most of the regular Armed Forces even know they exist. I know this organization and I know what they are capable of if provoked.” Hans said. “Haven’t you ever wondered why I’m so good at so many borderline illegal activities? I learned them from my first job.”

“I guess that does explain one or two things about you. No boy scout then, eh?” Duke reached out and gave Hans a playful punch on the shoulder.
“No, I’m definitely no boy scout, but I do like to be prepared. So, if that’s all than I’ve got something to show you both since I’ve only mentioned it before I think it’s time I showed you.” Hans got up from the table and walked back into his bedroom.  He came back out carrying something wrapped in a blanket and placed it on the table.

“This is the artefact that I took from the cavern when I went down there last time. I still have no idea what it does or why it does what it does, but we’ll be taking it back with us. It might come in handy, I have no idea.” Hans carefully unwrapped the blanket.
“It does look just like mine, but bigger. I think the symbols on are different though. Do you think it’s some sort of writing or something?” Honora leaned in closer to get a better looks as she spoke. As she reached out to touch it the artefact gave a soft beep and split in half. Honora backed away from it quickly and looked to Hans for reassurance.

“It’s never done that before, not without me throwing it against a wall.” Hans leaned in closer for a better look. It had split differently than before. This time there was no button begging to be pressed, there was just an indent in each side about the same size as the artefact that was hidden on Honora’s shirt.
“I’m thinking that this has something to do with the one that you have Honora. See that indent there? it’s about the same size as yours.” Hans pointed out the indent for them both to see. Honora reached under her shirt and pulled out her own artefact and visually compared the two.

“It does look about the same size. Do you think we should…?” Honora never finished the sentence before Hans was shaking his head.
“We don’t know what will happen if we do, but we could always try it later, if we’re desperate. Right now, all we know is that mine emits some sort of bright light and yours may have turned an entire ships crew into nothing more than dust. So, I say we wait if no one minds?” Hans saw both Duke and Honora nodding their agreements. Carefully he reached out and pushed the two pieces back together. They sealed quickly and he wrapped it back up.

“So last thing last, when do we want to do this?” Hans asked. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Blood on the Stars - Part 1: Secrets & Lies - CH. 5 (4)

Buzz. Buzzzzzzz. Hans groaned and lifted his head off the table where he had fallen asleep last night. Everything hurt and there was a constant buzzing sounds that was driving him crazy. BUZZZZZZZZZ. Hans blinked and sat up straight. It was someone at his door. He scrambled to grab all the plans he had been working on, but in his rush he lost his balance and crashed to the floor.

“Hans?” It sounded like Duke. Hans rolled over rubbing the back of his head where it had smacked on the door. “Hans are you okay?”
“Home computer, please unlock the door and let my guests in please.” Hans stumbled to the kitchen and the nearest sink so that he could splash some water on his face.

“Hans?” Duke sounded noticeably worried. “Are you okay? Did something happen?”
Hans turned around and saw the mess that he had made when he had woken up. Had he come across something like this he would have assumed the worse as well. “I’m in the kitchen.”

“Shit. You look like death. What happened?” Duke looked from Hans to the mess and back at Hans again.
“I fell asleep.” Hans laughed. “I was working on a few things last night and must have fallen asleep at the table. When I woke up, I was so startled that I fell. It’s fine.”

“You fell asleep?” Honora peeked out from behind Duke trying to repress a smile. “You really are quite the sight.”
“Yeah, one of you want to get this kitchen making some coffee and food while I got get cleaned up? I don’t think I’ll make any sense until I get some caffeine in me.” Hans headed off towards his bedroom for a quick shower and a change of clothes. He was having a hard time believing that he had actually fallen asleep while working.

He came out into the main room to the smell of food and coffee feeling a lot more human than he had been a bit earlier. Hans inhaled deeply and noticed that someone, either Duke or Honora, had taken it upon themselves to clean up the mess he had made. His chair was upright and all his paperwork was stacked neatly on one side of the table.
“Here ya go boss.” Honora pressed a cup of coffee in his hand and he took a careful sip. It was black, bitter and perfect in everyway. He took a bigger swallow and sighed. Before going to the table to sit down.

“Thanks guys. Sorry about the reception I gave you there.” Hans smiled at them both as Duke dropped a plate of food in front of him and then took a seat with his own plate full of food.
“Honestly, it was a little bit of a shock, but I’m thinking that I’m going to be laughing about this for a few days at least. Kind of wish I had presence of mind to take a picture. It would have been great to show around the office.” Duke grinned and took a bite of his toast.

“Shut up.” Hans tried to glare at Duke, but he just couldn’t quite manage it. He could only imagine how he had looked when these two had seen him. He knew that he must have been quite the sight. Shaking his head, he dug into his own meal.
Once he was done, he leaned back and took another sip of his coffee. He was definitely starting to feel more like himself now and they had already lost enough time to his foolishness. He glance around the table to seem Duke and Honora both waiting for him to speak first.

“Okay, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. I got most of the work done last night before I fell asleep, but there are still a lot of details that we need to go over.” Hans pushed his plate down towards Duke who grabbed it and took it into the kitchen for him. Hans pulled over everything he was working on last night and connected it was the display unit for the table.
“Alright, this is an example of the goggles that we purchased from our contact last night. We won’t be able to open the case until we are deep under ground. It has a tracker on it that will activate as soon as we open it, but if I remember correctly, we should be able to open the case safely at the depth we’ll be at by the time we need them. I’ve used these before so I can help with any questions, but you both will need to study this manual so that you can be as familiar with the equipment as possible.”

Hans shuffled through the stack of notepads and found the two that he needed and slid them across the table to Honora and Duke. “I loaded the manual on to those notepads. They’re disposable so before we leave make sure you destroy your copy.”
Hans waited till they both nodded their understanding before continuing. “Okay, next thing is that it took me about three days to get to the end of that tunnel. We’ll need to move quicker than that. Any suggestions on how we can do this?”

“Oh, I know. Hoverboards are pretty fast and portable.” Honora smiled. “I already have one. They’re a lot of fun.”
“Hoverboards? Do you really think that’s a good idea?” Duke frowned and scratched his chin. “On the other hand I can’t think of anything better, but I’m not really keen on the idea. I’ve never been on one of those contraptions before.”

Hans nodded. “I couldn’t think of anything so I’m glad one of us could come up with a good solution and they are very portable, no one will be suspicious if we go out and buy one. It might be a bit hard at first because the ceiling starts off low, but it get’s larger for a good part of the journey before it starts to shrink again.”
“Guess I better go out and get one of those things so I don’t keep falling off when it counts.” Duke wrinkled his nose and sighed.

“You and me both Duke.” Hans chuckled. “Next thing, the hard bit is how to get all of us as close to the Mantou Islands at the same time without raising any red flags. I’ve been thinking about this the longest and we have the regular route to the mining colony that I took my ‘vacation’ at. I’m thinking that I may be able to set it up so that our newest junior pilot gets to take that flight as practice with a senior pilot, myself, to observe.”
“And how do I get on that flight then?” Duke frowned. “It’s not like you need a third person with a junior and a senior pilot already on it.”

“No, not normally, but I think I could falsify a request from the mining colony for mechanic help that you’re qualified for. Call it a good will offer from us that we decide to give them a hand with their issue. They do have some qualified short-flight only vehicles that they use and I know for a fact that they’re between mechanics right now.” Hans bit his lip. He knew it was a risky idea, but it was all he could think of.
“I think we could pull that off. It might take a bit of smooth talking if any one does start to ask questions.” Duke frowned. “I’m guessing you can handle that after how well you handled things last night. I swear you would fit right in with some of those Dregs.”

“Not really sure how to take that, Duke.” Hans shook his head. “However, I’m going to say that’s a good thing in case everything doesn’t go as planned, but we’ll get to that.
“Now, the flight to the mining colony should be a there and back normally, but I think if we claim mechanical issues we can buy ourselves a few days with the company. No one at the mining colony needs to know what’s going on. It’s not really their concern, but if someone does ask questions we can just give them the same story.”

“Don’t you think someone is going to notice that we’re not there working on our aircraft? It’s not like this is an in and out thing that we’re doing here. Someone is going raise a red flag with someone.” Duke responded.
“I know, but we can just hope that they keep their noses out of our business. A lot of the kind of people that end up of those places are generally the kind that aren’t so willing to take notice of what others are doing. And the ones that do are more likely to keep their mouths shut.” Hans hated have to say it, but it was truth. “In all honesty this is probably the part of the plan that we just can’t be a hundred percent about. It all depends on people doing what people do best. Which is ignoring things that are none of their business.”

“There really is no way around it is there?” Honora leaned back in her chair and stared at the city. “But I do have experience with those kind of people and I do think you’re right. If we mumble something about running diagnostics it might give a day or two of grace before anyone really gets suspicious.”

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Blood on the Stars - Part 1: Secrets & Lies - CH. 5 (3)

Carefully, Hans looked over the case, running his finger along every seam and edge. Eventually he stood up without opening the case, his face grim. “That case has got a hidden tracker on it. As soon as we open that case it’ll turn on and we’ll have the Armed Forces surrounding us within fifteen minutes. I thought you said that it was non-traceable merchandise that you were getting us.”

“What?” Chimmey looked down at case and back at Hans. “Are you sure? My source assured me that there was no way this case would be traceable by the Armed Forces. It was to be registered as damaged and destroyed at destination.”
“I’m sure and I’m guessing your source had no idea that they had planted a hidden tracer on it. It’s not something most people know about, let alone how to detect them before the case is opened and the tracer is activated.” Hans shrugged. “I know about them because a friend of mine helped to design them.”

“So you can deactivate it then?” Chimmey sounded hopeful, but his face was grim.
“Yeah, it’s tricky, but I can do it. Unfortunately for you, this brings the value of your product down a bit in price. There really is no one else you can sell this too. Unless you want to sell it to an enemy of yours just to watch them go down, but chances are you’d end up going down with them.” Hans crossed his arms and a small smile playing on his face.

“How much are you thinking?” Chimmey asked. There was no doubt that he was a good business man. He wasn’t about to argue with Hans, but he was being careful not to give him too much ground either.
“I’m not sure, but how about this – can you hold our credit for us? I’m thinking we might need a fairly large favour for three people when we’re done with what we’re planning.” Hans forced his voice to remain calm, ignoring the look of confusion on Duke’s face.

“That all depends on the scale of the favour you’re talking about.” Chimmey was still being careful, but Hans felt sure that Chimmey would agree to what he was about to say.
“It would involve getting lost – very lost. There is a small chance that the Armed Forces may become aware of what we’re about to do and they will not be happy about it. If they end up being as unhappy as I think they will be we may need to hide for awhile.” Hans tried not to make it sound as serious as it could be, but he was pretty sure he failed in that judging from the look on Chimmey’s face.

“What you’re asking is very dangerous and, therefore, very expensive. This is only one possible outcome of many?” Chimmey was thinking fast on his feet and Hans couldn’t help but be impressed with professional response.
“Yes, it is one outcome of many possibilities. To be honest, we’re not sure what is going to happen, but I do believe in being prepared for anything.” Hans shrugged and dropped his arms. “For all I know, we may just end up dead and you’ll have a very substantial profit because you’ll never hear from any of us again.”

“I’d be sorry to be losing your business. You’re a shrewd man, but you still haven’t mentioned what sort of reduction in price you’re looking at.” Chimmey said. He hadn’t lost track of the reason for this digression.
“Let’s just leave that up in the air for now, but call it half a million creds on average. It all depends on what we may need from you after this is all said and done.” Hans held out his hand to shake on it. Chimmey hesitated for a moment and then shook his hand.

“I know it’s really none of my business, but what are you two planning to do with this gear? I can’t imagine anyone needing these things for anything that could get you into that much trouble.” Chimmey looked from Duke to Hans in search of an answer. When none came he just shrugged. “As I said – it’s none of my business. Good luck though.”
With that Chimmey and Szelok got into the ship and taxied it out of the bay door. Hans manually shut the bay door behind them and went to pick up the case. Duke hadn’t moved at all, but his eyes never left Hans. It wasn’t until Hans looked at him that he finally spoke.

“Okay, what the hell were you talking about back there?” His voice was quiet, but there was no mistaking the rage beneath it.
“I told you and Honora that I’m being kept tabs on. There is a reason they erased my memories, there is a reason Ken Ho called me out of the blue and it is not out concern for my well being. I’m not a conspiracy nut, you know that, but there is a lot more to this than just looking for proof of aliens. I don’t know what it is, but I have feeling we’re going to find out one way or another.” Hans held Duke’s stare until he could see the other man relax a little.

“Then you really think it might come to that?” Duke walked towards the exit and Hans followed him.
“I don’t know for sure, but it is a possibility that we all need to be aware of. We all have tomorrow off, I believe. Why don’t you and Honora stop by my place tomorrow and we’ll discuss our plans then.” Hans smiled as he stepped outside.

“Yeah, sure.” Duke locked the door behind him. “We’ll see you tomorrow at 1000h?”
“Sounds great.” Hans stopped in his tracks. “Shoot, I forgot to turn Alice back on from privacy mode. Watch this I’ll be right back.”

Hans put the case on the ground and dashed back to the door. He unlocked the door and stepped inside. Speaking in a hushed voice Hans called out. “Alice?”
“Waiting, sir.” Came the equally quiet response.

“Did you record everything that happened here tonight?” Hans asked.
“No sir. I have also inputted the algorithm that you have given me that will activate only on your command.” Alice said.

“Great, replace the missing footage as best you can. After you have done so please run the program and record as normal for the rest of the night. I’ll see you in a couple of days. Good night Alice.” Hans hated to admit it, but he was getting to like his virtual assistant here. He locked the door behind him and ran back to Duke.
“Sorry about that. I can’t believe something that important slipped my mind. Someone would be getting suspicious if an entire night of footage went missing.” Hans smiled as he picked the case back up.

“You’re right about that. See you tomorrow then.” Duke went off his separate way.
“Tomorrow.” Hans turned and headed in the opposite direction. He had a lot to do tonight before he could get some rest. He wanted to make sure he was prepared to go over the exact plans to be prepared for any question that Honora and Duke might have tomorrow. He wanted to be prepared.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Blood on the Stars - Part 1: Secrets & Lies - CH. 5 (2)

It was a few days before Duke’s contact in the Dregs could meet with them, but he had seemed eager to do trade with them when Duke had told him what they were willing to trade with him. It was late at night when he came to the centre to check things out. Hans had been sure to make extra paperwork for himself that night. He had overloaded himself with lessons and charters so that he would have an excuse to stay late.

As 2200h approached he told Alice to stop recording for the night. He had expected the usual objections and got them. He assured her that he would turn on recording before he left for the night. As soon as he was sure that they were no longer being recorded he let Duke and his friend into the hangar.
Hans hadn’t been sure what to expect, but a man in business formal dress was the last thing he had expected to see. He could have been anyone from any respectable business, but he was a trader on the black market, a member of the Dregs. It was a little disconcerting to Hans, but he did his best to take it all in stride.

Duke handled the introductions. “Chimmey this is Hans, Hans this is Chimmey.”
Hans shook the man’s hand and greeted him as an equal. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I’m sure you’ll be satisfied with the quality of the merchandise we’re offering to you, Chimmey.”

Chimmey smiled as he took Hans’ hand in his own. “I have a feeling that you will not disappoint. I only hope that you will view this as a fair and even trade on your end.”
“Please follow me.” Hans lead the way to the back of the hangar where they kept their decommissioned stock before it was sent out to be destroyed or sold. Chimmey went over the ship with a detailed eye, occasionally making notes on his pad. After a few minutes he smiled and turned his attention back to Hans and Duke.

“I’m going to say that I can get close to five million creds with the right client. So that leaves us with a small deficit in your favour of about two million creds. I can pay that out or we can do a deal for some more product. I’d rather do a straight out trade to be honest. Although I could pay you in even for cred it would take a bit of work to get that kind of cash together.” Chimmey glanced at his notepad for a few minutes as he took inventory of what he currently had in stock. “Is there anything I could offer you in trade?”
Hans glanced over at Duke to see what he was thinking. Credit would be nice, but it would be hard to explain away a sudden influx of that much money. Duke took the hint and nodded at Hans. “Let us see what you can get us and we’ll let you know. I trust you enough to let you take the ship now. In fact, we’d prefer if you could take it off our hands now considering it is already registered as destroyed.”

“What?” Chimmey didn’t sound impressed at the least. “I can’t sell this with out papers. You told me that it would be legit Duke.”
Hans smiled. “It is legit. This ship is registered as destroyed; however, the Juniper is not registered as destroyed. All you have to do is change the markings to match the paperwork that we’re going provide you with and it’ll look entirely legit.”

“I like you. You’re smart enough to know how to cover your tracks. If you ever want to do business in the future, let me know. Duke has my information. In the meantime, look over my inventory and let me know if there is anything I can do for you.” Chimmey shook Hans’ hand, smiling the entire time. He held out his notepad and Hans, touched his own notepad to it. It took only a few seconds for all the information they needed to be transferred.
“You have the merchandise that we requested with you?” Hans put his notepad away without looking at it. There would be plenty of time later to look over the list, but Hans also had another idea that he hadn’t discussed with anyone yet.  He wasn’t even sure it was possible.

“Of course, if everything went well I’d need a pilot to taxi this to my hangar for me. He’s got your goods with him. I’ll page him in.” Chimmey pressed a small button on the device he was wearing around his wrist. It was only a few moments before there was knock on the door to the hangar and Duke walked over to let the person in.
Hans gave the newcomer a good look over. He was so thin and tall that Hans was given the distinct impression of person that had been stretched out. When he got halfway between the door and where they were all standing he stopped dead in his tracks, his mouth hanging open. There was no mistaking who he was looking at, his eyes were fixed on Hans.

Chimmey reacted with lightning reflexes and pulled a gun out from a hidden holster and pointed it Hans as he took a step away from them. He glanced back at his associate who still staring in silence and then back at Hans who had immediately raised his hands at the sight of the gun. There was dead silence in the hangar for a few minutes as they all tried to process the sudden change in events.
“Oh my word, you’re Captain Hans Beaulieu!” It was the newcomer who spoke first, his vocal cords being the first part of him to unfreeze. “Shit.”

“Do you know him Szelok?” Chimmey demanded.
“Know him? He’s only the best damned Armed Forces pilot that ever existed. That man is a legend.” Szelok’s whole body twitched as if he couldn’t decide what he wanted to do or where he wanted to go. Finally, he dropped the case he was carrying and saluted stiffly.

Chimmey glanced between Hans and Szelok in obvious confusion, but he his gun didn’t move an inch. “You’re Armed Forces?”
“Retired,” Hans slowly lowered his arms not wanting to make any sudden moves. “I was injured on the job and I couldn’t fly for them anymore and I wasn’t willing to give up my wings. I can still fly commercially though so that’s what I decided to do.”

Chimmey lower his gun and after another moment put it back away. “Sorry about that misunderstanding, but I’ve got to be careful in my business.”
“A man can never be too careful.” Hans glanced back at Szelok who was still frozen in a salute. “At ease already. I’m retired.”

Szelok relaxed and bent to pick up the case that he had dropped. He walked over to where the three men stood waiting and placed the case carefully down at their feet before taking a step away from them. Duke reached for the case, but Hans caught his arm and shook his head.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Blood on the Stars - Part 1: Secrets & Lies - CH. 5 (1)

It was over a week before any of them had a chance to do anything about looking into the possible aliens under the Mantou Islands. Duke walked into Hans’ office just a little before quitting time. He spoke more loudly than was necessary. “I wanted to talk to you about our new hire, Honora. She’s doing pretty good and I was thinking maybe it was time to raise her to junior pilot status.”

Hans rolled his eyes and directed his attention to the computer. “Alice, please inform pilot trainee Honora Li-Macklin to come to the office please.”
“Yes, sir” replied she replied. It was only a few moments before Honora stood at the door of Hans’ office only slightly out of breath.

“Please come in and shut the door behind you.” Hans’ waited patiently for her to do as he had asked as soon as the door was closed before he continued on as if everything were normal. “We called you in here today because Duke believes that you have progressed far enough to be promoted to junior pilot now. I’ve reviewed your test scores and I have to say that I concur with his assessment. You are now being promoted to junior pilot status. Congratulations.”
“Thank you, sir.” Honora smiled politely.

“Please stop recording this conversation Alice. This is will now be private conversation.” Hans waited until the computer indicated on the display that it had done so. “Okay, Duke, what gives?”
“Well she really does deserve the promotion, Honey is doing great and has been certified on most of the craft that we fly out of here, but more importantly, I’ve made contact with some of the people I know and they think they can get the equipment we need.” Duke took the seat across from Hans and relaxed a bit.
“Okay, but I’m still not comfortable dealing with the sect of the society. I can’t help but be reminded of everything I’ve told despite what you keep saying.” Hans tapped his fingers on the desk.

“I get that, but I assure you that it’ll be okay. These people that I know, well, let’s just say I’ve known them a very long time and they are not the kind of people you think they are. Trust me.” Duke pulled a notepad from his pocket and brought up the information he was looking for. He transferred it to the main display so that everyone could see it as well. “This is what my contact says he can get his hands on.”
“That’s military grade. How can he get his hands on that? It’s closely monitored. No one should be able to get that outside of the Armed Forces.” Hans couldn’t believe what he was seeing. This was the exact item that he could only dream of getting his hands on earlier and now he was being told that it was going to be his to use.

“I know. Which means it’s not going to come cheap. Three of these are setting us back a pretty penny. I haven’t said yes yet, but he needs an answer quickly. Things like this will not stay on the market for long. He owes me a favour which is why I get first shot, but the price is not going to be negotiable.” Duke looked at the floor.
“How much?” Hans sighed. It had to be expensive or Duke wouldn’t be hesitating the way he was right now. He wasn’t the type of person to beat around the bush.

“One million creds.” Duke said, his voice cracking slightly as he said it.
“For all three?” Hans was relieved, he had expected it to be more than that.

“No, each.” Duke frowned and looked up at Hans. “I’m not sure how we’re doing to be able to afford that.”
Hans smiled and leaned back in his chair tapping his fingers together. “I actually think we might be able to negotiate with your contact. Three million is good, we can do that if your person will play ball.”

Both Duke and Honora looked at him as if he had lost all of his marbles. Hans just waited for a few moments and when neither of them spoke he decided to break the tension himself. “Look, we may not have the cash, but we have something better. We can offer him a trade.”
“Trade him what? I don’t think any of us have anything worth even close to that amount to give him besides those alien artefacts and I don’t think he’s going to have any interest in alien artefacts – proven or not.” Duke burrowed his brow as he racked his brain for any sort of clue of what Hans was talking about.

Hans laughed. “Of course none of us do. I’d be surprised if we did, but we do have access to something worth a lot more. Maybe some sort of interstellar craft that needs to be decommissioned?”
Duke moved his mouth as if he was trying to say something, but no words came out. Honora grinned at as she said the one thing that both of them were thinking. “That is brilliant, but how are you going to manage that?”

Hans shrugged. “Same way I managed to doctor up the files for your trip back here. I’m pretty good at altering files and it won’t take much to get a craft to be decommissioned and destroyed on our records. In fact,” Hans tapped a few keys and brought up a report for one of the interstellar craft that was in their system. “We have this little beauty that needs to be decommissioned according to company policy.”
“That really is brilliant. That ship is in perfect working condition and is worth far more than three million on the black market. He’d be a fool to turn something like that down.”  Duke shook his head in disbelief. “I swear you will never stop surprising me Hans.”

“And I keep telling you that I often surprise myself. I would never have imagined that I’d be doing this one day. You know what happens to us if we’re ever caught?” Hans glanced at them both as they nodded gravely. Every citizen new the cost of dealing with the black market and it would be an even steeper punishment for selling controlled items like what they were planning to do.
“Okay, Duke? Set up a meeting with your contact and we’ll see if he’ll deal with us. I can doctor up the files to take care of the ship in the system so no one needs to worry about that. It’ll be untraceable on this end. I can get the registry changed and everything. It won’t come back on us. I can assure you of that.” Hans did his best to make them believe him, but he could still see the doubt in their eyes. Still, they had no other choice because there was no way they would be able to come up with enough money to pay for the items that they needed.

“Yeah, I’ll see if he’ll deal, but for an interstellar ship I’m sure he’d jump through hoops for us. Is there anything else you think we might be needing; maybe some sort of back up plan if things go wrong?” Duke still didn’t sound convinced, but he wasn’t about to back out now.
“I don’t think so, but I haven’t exactly planned for all contingencies here. This isn’t something any of us are prepared to deal with. For all I know we are planning to walk right into our deaths.” Hans shrugged. “Let’s be bluntly honest here. We might never come out of those tunnels and no one will ever know what happened to any of us.”

“We know that Hans. I don’t think any of us are wearing blinders here.” Honora smiled weakly. “Besides, none of us really have anything to lose.”
None of them had anything to say to that and with nothing else to say, Honora and Duke gave Hans a respectful nod before leaving the office. Hans made a few notes on his personal notepad before doing anything else.

“Alice?” he asked as he brought the display over to face him. “Please bring up the forms for decommissioning a ship.”
“Yes, sir.” She brought the forms of quickly. “May I say, sir, that even though that conversation was not recorded I was still listening and what you suggested is highly illegal.”

Hans didn’t know it was possible for a computer to be worried, but he couldn’t deny that she definitely sounded nervous. “I’m aware of that, but it was private conversation Alice. There will be no record of that conversation ever happening, correct?”
“Of course not, sir.” Alice sounded a little miffed and Hans shook his head. She was just a computer. She couldn’t have feelings. It was one of the reasons that he normally chose not to name his systems. Once you personified them by choosing a name it became easy to attribute emotions to what was nothing more than a fancy circuit board.

“Good. Please do not speak to anyone else of the conversation that you listened to. In fact, I would prefer if you wiped it from your memory bank s altogether. Is that possible?” Hans was busy filling out the form as he spoke.
“I wish you wouldn’t ask that of me, sir, but if that is what you request I could delete it; however, such private conversations are safe all but the most official inquiries.” Alice said.

“Then delete it from your memory banks. I would prefer that you met all official inquiries with ignorance about this as opposed to knowledge. We are talking about a highly illegal matter here. The penalty for trading in the black market is steep. Please, delete all knowledge of it.”  Hans requested as politely as he could.
“Information has been deleted.” Alice confirmed.

“Thank you Alice. Please file the following reports with the company. We are decommissioning the Junebug of as of today and ordering a interstellar craft for in system usage.” Hans stretched and yawned. It had been a long day.
“Reports have been filed, sir. Anything else for the day?” Alice asked with her customary politeness.

“No thank you Alice. I’m going to go home now. Good night.” Hans grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair and headed for the door.

“Good night, sir.” Alice said softly as she turned down the lights in the office and began to power done all unnecessary systems. Hans just shook his head and chastised himself for treating Alice as if she was a real person. Sometimes his reliance on machines bothered him, but most of the time he just took it for granted.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Blood on the Stars - Part 1: Secrets & Lies - CH. 4 (7)

A soft beeping came from the console begging for their attention. Hans gave Honora an apologetic look as he went back to his console. They were coming up on landfall and there would be no time for further talk. It would have to wait until they were headed back in-system. In the meantime they had people to off-load, new passengers to get loaded up and a report to file.

No one wanted to start the conversation on the trip back and they spent most of the trip lost in their own thoughts. Once again, Hans was the one who decided to break the silence and start the hard conversation. It was a simple statement that said more than he could put into words. “She’s in.”
Duke nodded and turned to look at Honora. “You’ve got a new job as a pilot trainee. You have a lot of unofficial experience so we’ll probably be able to promote you to junior pilot pretty quickly.”

“I get the impression he meant more than just a job.” Honora looked at Hans, her eyes wide and somehow innocent.
“Yeah.” Hans repeated most of what he had told Duke. It didn’t take long because Honora didn’t interrupt him at all. When he was done with his story she had a funny look on her face that he wasn’t able to place.

“I believe you.” She said after a few minutes of silence had placed. “My brother was in the Armed Forces. He just disappeared and when I tried to find him they told me that he had never enrolled. I mean, we weren’t close, but when I first got into trouble I tried to track him down and that was as far as I could trace him. That is where his trail didn’t just go cold it disappeared entirely; like he had never even existed.”
Hans just nodded. He had heard rumours of things like that before. He had always written it off as rubbish, but the more he learned about the Armed Forces the more suspicious he was becoming. There were far more unanswered questions than he could dismiss. He hated to have to question his loyalty to something that he had once believed in so strongly, but there was nothing else left for him to do.

“So you’re in?” Duke gave a weak half smile. It had been too long of a journey to be able to give much more emotion than that.
“I am. Maybe I can find out what this thing around my neck really is. I believe that there are others out there that the Armed Forces already know about. Things that they are hiding from people because they don’t think we can handle it. I’ve always been a bit of an anarchist, but this goes beyond that.”  Honora held her hand out palm down.

Duke gave a real grin and put his hand on top of hers. “It ain’t gonna be easy, but I think this will be worth it. Truth for truth’s sake – that’s always been my motto.”
Hans placed his hand on top of Duke’s. “All I’ve ever wanted to know is what really happened back on that planet. Now, this means more to me than just that. This goes beyond all our personal reasons and I have a feeling that we are going to be in this for the long haul. Are you both ready for that?”

Honora and Duke exchange a quick glance. “Yes.”
They said it in unison and Hans looked them both in the eye to make sure that they really meant it. “This stays between us. No one else needs to know what we’re doing or why we’re doing it.”

His statement was greeted with terse nods.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Blood on the Stars - Part 1: Secrets & Lies - CH. 4 (6)

As of this posting all chapters of Blood on the Stars - Part 1: Secrets & Lies have been scheduled to upload every Monday and Thursday at 12pm MST. This means a new posting right up until almost the end of September!

I'm not sure if anyone is actually reading this, let alone liking it, but if you are please do let me know! When the full of Part One is posted and if there is a response I will be happy to provide the book as a PDF for free download. AND if people do seem to like this story then I will also continue my work on Part 2: A History of War for posting at a later date.


“We’re on our way to five-C-four. We’ll report the mayday when we get there and note that we responded and that no crew were found on board.” Hans responded and then frowned. “We should probably alter our records just in case to show that we started the journey with a pilot-trainee to cover our tracks.”

“Good thought.” Duke said with a look of admiration for Hans.
“Don’t sound so shocked. I was Armed Forces, it’s not like I’ve never told a lie before.” Hans grinned as he started altering the flight records. “Besides, this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve found it necessary to alter flight records. I’m not exactly the boy scout that you seem to think I am.”

“It seems I’m going to have to constantly keep re-assessing my opinion of you. Just when I think you’re one thing you pull another rabbit out of your hat and prove that you’re something else entirely.” Duke tilted his head to one side. “And normally I’m pretty good at pegging people, but you’re a hard one to read Hans.”
“What can I say? Sometimes I even surprise myself.” Hans sat back and smiled. “Okay, digital files are altered. We’ll have to change the hard copies to match when we get back Cantun just to make sure it all adds up.”

“So, that just leaves what we were talking about earlier.” Duke raised his eyebrows as he looked back at Honora and then to Hans. “I really think it would be a good idea.”
“How much earlier are we talking about?” Hans said it very carefully hoping the Duke would understand the question.

“Well I was just talking about just a little earlier, but, yeah, the stuff we were talking about before that too.”
“We can talk about it later.” Hans turned his attention back to the console and picked up the intercom before Duke could respond. “This is your captain Hans Beaulieu speaking. We are about resume our journey to five-C-four as scheduled. We apologize for the delay in your trip and we will have you to your destination as soon as we can.”  

Duke glared at him for a minute before turning his attention back to Honora. “Hey Honey, ever found any more of that interesting salvage you were telling me about?”
“Aw, come on, don’t tease. I know you think I was being a fool.” Honora blushed.

“Do you still have that necklace?” Duke smiled politely. “I think Hans would like to see it.”
Honora placed her hand over a barely noticeable lump in her jumpsuit. “Yeah, I still have it. I couldn’t get rid of it because one day I’ll figure out what it is and what it does.”

Hans was trying hard to keep his eyes on the console, but the conversation was a little too interesting to ignore. He knew that Duke was playing with him, but his curiosity had always gotten the best of him. Mentally cursing himself, Hans turned around to look at Honora. “Fine. Let’s see it.”
“Um, okay.” Honora undid the zipper on her jump suit and pulled on the fine chain that hung around her neck. From under her shirt, came a small oddly shape object that looked very familiar to Hans. Without saying a thing he got up and walked over to have a closer look. She let him hold it, but didn’t remove the chain from around her neck.

“Hans?” Duke’s voice brought Hans back to reality and he looked up to see a very red-faced Honora. Letting go of the charm and stepping back Hans could feel his own face flush slightly. He hadn’t been aware that he had been staring at it that long.
“Where did you find that? It was salvage you said?” Hans was desperate to know because it looked like a miniature version of the artefact that was hidden underneath his bed right now.

“It was a, um, a salvage operation. It…well…” Honora went even redder before looking down at her feet.
“Just be honest with him Honey. It’s okay.” Duke spoke in a soft voice. It was not a tone that Hans had ever heard from him before.

“It was a military transport vehicle that had been adrift so long that even the mayday had stopped playing. We should have reported since Armed Forces equipment is exempt from the salvage laws, but as you can tell, my employers aren’t the honest type. So we took it for salvage and I found this on board, but it was the oddest thing, that ship. It wasn’t normal salvage. I mean, it was more like it was abandoned. There was no one on it; not a single body to be found anywhere.”
“Nothing? Are you sure?” Hans frowned. Armed Forces would never abandon a ship like that. If the trouble were serious enough they were usually set to self-destruct. It was that paranoid attitude that always had Hans wondering what they were so scared of when according to all sources there was no reason for such drastic actions.

“Well, it was unusually dusty. I mean, the ship was working just fine. There was no damage as far as any of us could tell, but no one had the codes to operate it so we couldn’t be sure. It was really strange. I didn’t like being onboard that ship. It was like a ghost ship from the stories.” Honora shuddered slightly. “I found this in some sort of laboratory and I thought it was pretty so I just put it in my pocket and kept it. It looks like some sort of metal, but it’s always warm to the touch and its super light.”
“Well?” Duke smirked. Hans wanted to punch him at that moment, but managed to restrain himself somehow.

“I’m almost starting to regret even telling you Duke.” Hans sighed. “I have something that looks very familiar, but much bigger back at my place on Cantun. You said it was dusty in the abandoned transport?”
“Yeah, it was like someone had spilled some sort of powder everywhere.”  Honora furrowed her brow in thought and then looked back at Hans her eyes wide. “You’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking, are you? I never thought about it before. Oh God! I was breathing that stuff in.”

“What?” It was Duke’s turn to look confused as he glanced back between the Honora and Hans.
“That powder was the crew Duke.” Hans finally explained.

“What could do that?” Duke’s face had gone white as the implication of what Hans was saying sunk in.
“Honora, was there any other strange objects on that ship? Anything you didn’t recognize?” Hans placed his hands on her arms and forced her to look him in the eye.
“No, this was it. It was in the centre of the room, on a table. It was obvious they were studying this or something, but I just thought it was pretty.” Honora looked down at the charm that she was still holding in her hand.

“Then I think that maybe that little trinket you’re wearing so casually was the reason that ship was abandoned. No Armed Forces ship is ever abandoned. With their last breath everyone knows, right from the grunt on up that the ship needs to be destroyed in a desperate situation. There is only one way you would be able to find an abandoned ship and that is if no one knew they were taking their last breath.” Hans looked at the trinket that Honora was still staring down at.
They stood in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. It was Honora who spoke first. “But that’s just a theory, right?”

“Maybe, but perhaps we should just leave that little thing where it’s spent the last few years happily dormant – around your neck and next your skin.” Hans wrapped his hand around Honora’s forcing it closed and pushed it towards her chest. “Don’t worry. If it hasn’t done anything in years I doubt it’ll start acting strangely now.”
Honora nodded and placed it back under her shirt before zipping up her jumpsuit again. “So, you have something similar? Does it kill people too?”

Duke laughed a little harder than he had intended to. He looked at the bewildered faces as he wiped a tear from his eye. “Sorry. No, mine beeps and makes a light so bright that it hurts your eyes, but that’s all I can get it to do. I have no idea what it is or why it does that. Seriously, mine is nothing compared to that miniature weapon of mass destruction that you carry.”
“Please don’t remind me of that.” Honora shuddered slightly.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

It Feels Good to be Lost

It's amazing how quickly life can just pass us by sometimes. It sometimes feels like just yesterday that I packed it all up and moved to a new province. In truth, I'm closing in on 8 years out in the prairies now. I'm 33 years old and I think I'm finally starting to make the sort of life that I have always wanted for myself.

In my life there has only ever been one thing that has called to me more than anything else and that is the need to travel. To go new places, meet new people and just experience the world. By the end of this month I will have finally paid off the pile of debt that had tried to consume me and that gives me a great feeling of freedom and relief.

Now I find myself making plans to see the world. A road trip here, a flight there - some of these plans are even more than a year away. It seems exciting to have that kind of freedom for the first time in my life. I have a job that is generous with time off, enough money to make things happen and the will to see it through. It's an exciting time for me. And I wanted to share it with you.

So what are these upcoming plans? Vancouver in July, Vancouver again in August for a wine tour for my sister's birthday (tentative), Montana in September, Las Vegas in January (first time ever!), California for surfing in May, UK at some point in 2015 (tentative) and finally Jamaica in January 2016.

I think it sounds pretty exciting - don't you think?

I still have no idea what I'm doing with my life or where I want to end up, but for now I'm going to enjoy the journey. It feels good to be lost in the right direction.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Blood on the Stars - Part 1: Secrets & Lies - CH. 4 (5)

Great news loyal readers! As of this posting up to the end of Chapter 7 has been prepped and scheduled for posting which takes us to the end of July with regular updates! Thanks for reading and please let me know what you think!

Hans froze, his finger on the trigger, but he didn’t shoot. If she squeezed that trigger both him and Duke would be dead. He recognized he weapon as a scatter gun. It was a messy weapon, but it never missed – at least not at this range. Hans raised his hands carefully and showed her that his finger was off the trigger of his own gun.

“Hans Beaulieu, pilot for the Phoenix. We’re responding to your mayday request.” Hans smiled as he tried to assess the situation.
“Shit, Honora. What in the world are you doing on this wreck?” Hans turned to face Duke who was smiling at the woman. She blinked and lowered her gun.

“Duke!” Her voice went up a couple octaves as she said it. She jumped and threw her arms around the much taller man. “I can’t believe it’s really you. How long has it been?”
Duke had her in a bear-like grip as he lifted her up. “Years Honey, it’s been years.”

Hans watched the reunion and couldn’t help, but feel a little left out. He had gone for gun point to witnessing some odd sort of reunion. He waited until Duke had put the girl back down before interrupting them.
“Someone want to explain what’s going on here?” Hans looked into the cockpit to check for anyone else before glancing back at the two people in front of him. “And maybe tell us why you’re the only person who appears to be aboard this vessel?”

Duke glanced past Honora into the cockpit to see that it was empty and frowned at her. “Yeah, Honey. What is going on here?”
She sighed and took a step back from them both as she holstered her weapon. “We were having issues, but the first ship to respond wasn’t a friendly. Pirates, opportunistic ones, but still pirates. Not sure where the other four crew is. Dead or taken would be my guess. I managed to get to the cockpit and lock myself in here before anyone saw me.”

“Hard to believe you were hiding from pirates.” Duke laughed and turned to Hans. “Honey here used to be a pirate once upon a time. She was young and stupid on those days.”
“Hey!” Honora kicked half-heartedly at Duke who easily missed the swing.

“A pirate, really?” Hans looked her up and down, but he would never have guessed that of her.
“Yeah, as Duke says I was young and stupid, but thankfully I had a guardian angel looking after me.” She smiled up at Duke who smiled back.

“What can I say, I’m a sucker for pretty face.” Duke brushed off the compliment and walked past Honora into the cockpit. “Now, let’s see if we can get this boat up and running before we’re missed back on our ship.”
Hans followed Duke in to take a look at the console. They each took a different spot and began running diagnostics. After a few minutes of working with the computer Hans stepped back and cursed. “We’re not going to get anywhere with thing. It’s too badly damaged.”

“I think you’re right. This ship needs more work than we can do out here.” Duke turned to look back at Honora. “You’re gonna have to put a marker on her and get someone to tow it back to Cantun, that’ll have the nearest facilities to be able to deal with the kind of problems that you’ve got here.”
“I can’t just abandon it. Someone might come across it and take it. I mean, I’m sure we’ve probably lost a good amount of our cargo to the pirates, but I’ll be in deep shit with the company if I lose everything.” Honora frowned and walked over to the console. “Can you at least get the stupid mayday to quit playing? I don’t need to attract any more attention than I already have.”
“You still working for those sharks?” Duke frowned down at the Honora. “Cause if you are, you’re better off just getting lost rather than going back with missing cargo and crew. They are not the nicest people when it comes to failure.”
“You don’t have to tell me that.” Honora kicked at the console and brushed away a tear. “I’m gonna be in big trouble no matter what I do, but it’ll be nominally less if I at least come back with something.”
“Come back with us then. Just abandon the ship. I’ll get in touch with a few people and we’ll get you all set up back on Cantun. It’s a frontier planet, but I’ve still got some connections there and I don’t think your sharks do.” Duke placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. “I can even get you a new job with a good company, an honest one.”

“Whoa. Wait a second there. What in the world is going on here?” Hans had been trying to figure out what they were talking about, but even though he didn’t know the details he had understood enough that he wanted to be sure that Duke was saying what he thought he was saying.
“Honora is an old friend. She’s in a sticky spot and I am giving her some help out of it.” Duke shrugged as though it was an ordinary occurrence.

“And I’m guessing that her tricky spot is because her employers are somewhat illegal and immoral.” Hans crossed his arms and shook his head. “I am not having someone like that working for us.”
“You told me to hire a pilot and she’s a decent pilot.” Duke responded.

“Look, we can give her a lift out of here because that is protocol, but we are not hiring some criminal just because she happens to be a friend of yours.”  Hans stepped towards Duke and attempted to stare down the bigger man.
Duke matched his stance. “Look, it’s not going to be a problem and besides, I think she could help out with our little discussion earlier.”

“No.” Hans frowned. “I only told you because I had no other choice, you are not bringing in some random third person that I know nothing about.”
“I know her and that should be good enough for you.”  Duke glared at Hans as if he was trying to bend Hans to his will with thoughts. Hans matched the stare, unwilling to back down.

“Hey testosterone fuelled idiots.” Honora shoved her way between them and placed a hand on each chest. “I think I have a say in this decision as well. I have no idea what the deal between you two is, but I am not going to be a piece of rope in your tug-o-war game.”
It was enough to get them both to take a step back from her. She looked from one guy to the other before deciding to take on Duke first. “I’m guessing he’s your boss since he’s trying to veto your decision and I’m not going to be hired on somewhere that I won’t be wanted. That is final. If your boss says no you have to respect that decision. You taught me that.”

“But-” Duke started to argue, but one look from her and he shut his mouth quickly.  Hans tried not smile, but he couldn’t stop the smirk that spread on his face until she turned to look at him. Her eyes burned with a fire and it was easy to forget how small she was. It was the sort of look his mother had given him when he was big trouble.
“And you, I don’t know you, but you need to show a little more restraint and respect to your employees. If you want them to behave properly than you’ve got to set the right example and not shout back at them like you were. I know Duke is thick headed, stubborn oaf a lot of the time, but if you treat him right than he’ll take the time to listen to you.” Honora relaxed a little and smiled. “And if it makes a difference, my name Honora Li-Macklin. I’ve been a commercial pilot for the last four years.”

“Hans Beaulieu, I’m in charge of operations for Global Space Tech on Cantun.” Hans held out his hand towards Honora who took it firmly in her own and gave it a good shake. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’ve got my company’s interest to protect and I can’t have shady people coming around and making things hard. We’ve got a good reputation and I mean to keep it that way.”
“And you should keep it that way.” Honora smiled. “If it makes any difference I didn’t exactly know who I was working for before I got hired. I thought it was an honest job, but I quickly learned different. Worst part is, once you’re in, you’re in and there really is no way out.”

“She’s right you know. Someone like you might not understand, but I know what it can be like out there. I try to help the good ones out when I can, but it’s not a clean galaxy. There are more shady deals going on out there than you can shake a stick at.” Duke stepped forward and placed a hand on Honora’s shoulder like he had before. His voice was quieter and more respectful this time.
Hans looked from Duke to Honora and back to Duke again. “Fine, I’ll take it under consideration, but I won’t promise anything. And I am only considering this because she seems to be able to make you shut up and listen. I could use someone with that talent around the office.”

“Great. Honey, you got a suit in this tin bucket?” Duke was smiling like he had just won the lottery.
“Yeah, I’ll suit up.” Honora opened up a closet and found the smallest suit she could get. It wasn’t long before all three of them were back aboard the Phoenix. It wasn’t until then that Honora even thought to ask where they were headed.