Saturday, November 14, 2015

Yakov Hightower and the Glitter of a Pirate's Booty

My friend, Cheri Matthynessen, an author in her own right, has a wonderful little contest running on her blog Challenge the Writer. Readers are challenged to give Cheri a (1) Character Type (2) Specific Place (3) Situation and (4) A Random Item.

I love this kind of thing to get the old creative juices moving. I immediately challenged her with:
(1) A hunchback prince with a gift for gab
(2) The imaginary land of Sand & Stone
(3) A torturous climb
(4) A sentient mute snake

I think she felt the pressure so she turned right around and shot one of her own personal challenges to me:

(1) A one armed space pirate
(2) Near a black hole
(3) Obtain planet's crowned jewels
(4) Caution tape

Oh my, I love this! I have felt like Jonathan Winters for the past three days. For those of you not old enough to know what I mean, Jonathan was a comedian, a forerunner of Robin Williams, who had a live show on TV when I was young. A segment of that show entailed people from the audience handing him random items which he would then use in improvisation. I saw him turn a broom handle into a fighter jet's control stick, a sword for defending a fair princess and then push it up his sleeve and over his back to become the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz.

I hope you enjoy the story that came to mind when Cheri handed me my 'broomstick' in the form of a word prompt.

Next week I will start another serialized paranormal story which will take us on another adventure in The Realms. Until then read on:

Yakov Hightower and the Glitter of a Pirate's Booty

Yakov Hightower gripped the wheel of his ship, the Zephyr. He laced the fingers of his one good hand through the spokes. The Captain whooped in glee as he barked orders to his AI crew.

“Ahoy! Hoist the Main Sail!” he hollered, as the solar winds began to build.

His voice was carried to each of his crew members through his jaw mike and he could hear their replies via his ear bud. Yakov could feel the wind buffeting the force field around the ship’s hull, pushing her forward. A broad smile crossed his face as the sails caught the updraft of the thermal off the red dwarf star. The shields extended fifteen feet out from the hull in all directions. He was safely cocooned within. The sails extended well beyond to capture the currents of the solar winds.

“Bagpipe the Mizzen!” he added, as he cranked the wheel to let his vessel catch the airstream.

The AI crew, a homogeneous mess of cannibalized and pirated parts the Captain cobbled together, scurried over the deck and up the masts doing their best to obey the rapid fire orders of their leader.

“Mizzenmast secure, Sir!” shouted Jud from the stern.

The little four armed AI swung down the mast like the earth monkey Yakov patterned him after. Of course, the extra arms were just for convenience sake. The real critters only had two.

Yakov knew the value of an arm, he lost one years ago from an injury sustained while boarding another vessel during a siege. It was over five years ago at the age of twenty-three. He had learned to adapt since then.

He built an AI named Kial to help with his personal needs. Kial was a good Cabin Bot. He kept his Captain’s clothes clean, his boots shined, his sword sharp, his blaster charged, and his head shaved. Yakov never had to let go of the wheel in order to brush the hair from his face when the solar winds started to gale. The longest hair he had was on his chin and Kial kept that braided and tied with a ribbon. The ribbon was weighted with beads, so even the Captain’s beard did not fly into his face at inopportune times during pirating forays.

“Good job men!” Yakov shouted into the wind.

There was nothing like riding the flow of the thermals or catching a fast moving slipstream. It always made his heart race. If he had both arms he might have been an admiral by now, but he wasn’t sure he would have liked that. 

Out here, unfettered by the Galactic Naval Corp he was his own man. He was the Captain of his destiny. The Corp had not treated him well. It hadn’t treated any of them well after the Balistine Interplanetary War. There were too many men and women left maimed. Not enough resources to rehabilitate them all. And, it added to the confusion that he was a Sworag and few knew their anatomy. His species were bipeds and normally had two arms, but that was about where the similarities stopped. His remaining arm was probably as big as an average humanoid woman’s waist. Sworags were a huge species. Other than the Walhmites, they were probably the largest in the known verse. And Yakov’s physical mass had increased as he built up the strength in his right arm and hand to make up for the loss of his left arm. His species also possessed two hearts and a mess of extra intestine wrapped around vital organs, which baffled regular doctors.

He was given an artificial arm before he was mustered out of the Corp, but it never really fit or worked properly. He eventually gave up on it. He cannibalized it for some parts he needed to repair Modly, his AI cook, years ago. A well prepared meal was more important than an arm any day.

Thinking along those lines reminded him he hadn’t eaten breakfast when Odeal haled him to the bridge as the winds began to build.

“You have the helm, Od,” he said and stepped back for the huge robotic AI to take over.

Odeal was his First Mate and one of his finest pieces of work. Od’s base was a service droid with multiple legs and a very flexible middle frame. The AI could walk and stand upright, but it possessed so many jointed appendages that it could fold up and crawl into almost any size space. His ability to squeeze into cramped quarters made him invaluable for obtaining treasured items out of tight places in pirated ships. 

Od’s original program was for search and rescue in disaster relief. Yakov left some of that programming, but he added a subroutine to the huge Bot which made him look for more than living creatures when he went into search mode. Yakov had less interest in the living and more interest in the monetary items. If it glittered, gleamed or sparkled, Yakov was attracted to it.

“I have her, Sir,” Od acknowledged. His head swiveled around backward on his neck as he took over the wheel. His bright red eyes followed Yakov to the door. “Modly has your favorite up and ready, Sir.”

“Keep her on course, Od. I want to make port at Alta II by 08912,” he ordered.

Yakov stepped out on the main bridge headed for the companionway, down a deck to his cabin, and the meal Modly would have waiting for him. He frowned when the hatch slid open and he encountered the caution tape across the stairs.

“Swain!” he yelled.

The AI who was in charge of general repairs aboard ship popped around the corner at the bottom of the stairs.

“Aye, Sir.” He bobbed his chrome domed head up and down.

“What are you up to now?” he asked.

Swain rolled out to the foot of the stairs.

“Odeal was complaining about the third step down,” the little AI said, as he reached up a mechanical arm and latched onto the railing with an overhead pulley. He locked on and the captain heard the whirl of his tiny motor as he pulled himself up to the offending step.

He plopped his round steel bottom on it and bounced up and down. His head lifted with each bounce on its long coiled neck. The step definitely had a give to it that would eventually allow it to snap with the weight of Od.

“How long for repairs?” Yakov asked in a weary tone.

It had been a joke to buy the roll of caution tape for his diminutive repair mechanoid. He never knew the little guy would take him so seriously when he explained how it was used. Last week the tape appeared stung across the deck while the maintenance droids mopped. The week before Swain flew it from foremast to jib to alert him that the foretop was under repair. Sooner or later he had to run out of the dang stuff, or at least Yakov hoped so.

“Not long, Sir.” Swain rolled the rest of the way up the stair railing to the landing. “Until then I have installed an alternate route to your cabin.”

The little AI switched to its exhaust propulsion mode, lifted off the deck and jetted past Yakov back toward the stern. The Captain followed in its wake his heavy spacer boots not allowing him to move nearly as fast as the little droid could fly. Swain led him to the skylight above his cabin. The little AI popped a door on the side of his base and started to dig. He pulled out a hand welder, a wrench, a pair of pliers, a phase inverter, and a heltec hammer before he found what he was looking for. He handed up a cuff to Yakov. It had two buttons on it.

“Push the green button, Sir,” he instructed and blinked his large opalescent eyes at the Captain.
Yakov pushed. The skylight rose and along with it a pole extended from the metal structure at the center of the glass to the floor of his cabin below. A smile tickled at the corner of the Captain’s mouth.

“You are one smart mechanoid.”

“You should know, Sir. You built me,” the little AI replied. “Give it a try.”

Yakov snapped the cuff over his wrist and reaching out, he wrapped his arm around the pole. His bicep muscles rippled as he hooked the toe of his spacer boot around as well and slid smoothly to the bottom. Swain blew his ballast and floated down alongside his Captain.

“That is ingenious,” Yakov complimented.

The skylight was just a few feet from the wheel topside. This was going to be damn convenient.

“And here, Sir,” Swain pointed out, “is the way back up if you wish.”

The AI pushed the red button on his captain’s wrist cuff and out of the side of the pole came a red velvet cushioned loop.

“Just hook your hand in this and give it a tug,” Swain instructed.

Yakov did as he was told. He wrapped his arm around the pole, slipped his wrist into the loop and up the pole he rose. He spent the next ten minutes going up and down like a kid with a new toy.

“Remind me to give you a good oiling, Swain,” the Captain said, as he fell smiling into the chair behind his desk.

Swain’s head swiveled around in pleasure. There was nothing he enjoyed more than a nice oil bath.

“Thank you, Sir. I am so pleased you approve.” The little AI shook with pleasure, the tools inside him clinking and rattling with his movement. “We can work on making the cuff voice activated once we are in port and I can get the needed parts.” He whirled around and headed for the base of the pole.
“I will send Modly in with your meal. I must finish the stairway repair.” He puffed a bit of exhaust which the captain waved at with a hand to clear and left via the skylight closing it behind him.

Modly arrived a few minutes later with his tray. The kitchen AI was more than a cook. Yakov had programmed him for a challenging hand of CU, a favorite card game, and because the Bot continued to learn, he had almost made it to a level where Yakov couldn’t beat him.

The Captain ate a delicious meal of smoked eel with pi-deer sauce, mallard greens and halo bread baked fresh in the ship’s oven. He slathered one last piece of bread with mushberry jam before he pushed his pile of chips into the middle of the table to cover Modly’s last bet.

“CU!” he crowed in triumph. He was sure he won this hand.

The circuits, LEDs and light emitting diodes in Modly’s head all lit up as he concentrated on this last round. Yakov could almost hear the AI debating whether to match the bet and call, or fold and run for the kitchen. Unlikely that he would run though, he had resorted to betting his favorite apron on the last round. He wouldn’t want to leave that behind if there was any chance of his winning.

“Captain, I need you on the bridge,” Odeal said in his ear. “Quickly, please.”

“What is it Od? I’m about to win Modly’s favorite apron,” Yakov said with grin toward his cook.

“I don’t think this can wait, Sir,” Od replied. “And on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the biggest priority, I would put winning Modly’s apron, favorite or not, at about a half a point, and what I need you to see at an easy fifteen plus.”

Odeal did not normally exaggerate. Yakov forfeited the game and rose to catch the loop on his pole to bring him to the deck behind his first mate.

However, he didn’t even have to make it to the deck in order to see the problem. Above and resting just off the tip of the foremast in the distance was a black hole. A huge black hole.

“Where did that come from?” he asked to no one in particular.

“It’s not on the charts,” Od offered, as he projected from his eyes a hologram of the charts for the Captain to review.

Yakov pointed to a slipstream indicated on the map.

“Put the black hole to leeward and steer us toward that stream,” he ordered. “Ahoy, all on deck,” he called, “look sharp. Batten down the hatches and give me as much sail as we have rigged. We’re headed for a rough bit of current.”

AI’s, Bots, Mechanoids, and Droids all headed to their posts.

“Jud, give me eyes from the mainmast,” Yakov ordered.

The AI scurried up the mast to the very top and started projecting an image to the bridge from the cameras located in a 365 degree circle around his head.

“A little more to the stern,” the Captain requested of the monkey armed Bot.

When the view swung to their rear he thought he saw… Was it another ship?

“Focus on 4B,” Yakov indicated the section where he thought he saw the other ship.

Jud focused down to the outer ring of the black hole. There was a ship caught just on the edge - a much smaller rig than his, but also a sleeker, faster, much more expensive ship. Not a sailing ship, but a hyper drive model with what Yakov knew must be some really high powered thrusters. She was caught in an eddy at the edge of the black hole, but she wouldn’t be there long. The hole would be sucking her in as soon as she ran out of fuel to fight the tide.

“Od bring up the tractor beams,” Yakov ordered.

He couldn’t leave such a beauty behind. She was fresh for the taking and by the looks of her, she most likely had passengers aboard who either had possessions worth taking or they could be ransomed for some.

“You won’t be locking a tractor on that one, Sir,” Od informed him. “She has her shield up. We’d need a tracer planted on her hull.”

“Swain! Get my speedster launched,” he called to the little AI.

“Sir, you can’t take the speedster into that eddy. You’ll be sucked in,” Od warned.

“And that is the reason I have you,” Yakov said, as he patted the AI on its back. “You’re the disaster recovery droid, you pull me and the ship out. That’s an order Odeal.”

“Yes, Sir,” the Bot replied in a defeated tone.

His programming often got in the way of Yakov putting himself in danger. It couldn’t be helped. The Captain was not going to leave this beauty behind. The ship alone would bring in a handsome sum.

“I’m taking Swain with me in case I need him for repairs. That ship looks like it’s going to launch its engine into the hole any minute.”

Yakov grabbed his helmet in case the transfer from the speedster to the trapped ship had a gap of space he needed to cross. He pressed the activation button on his suit which shifted it from casual attire to space worthy. The material morphed into a sleek, form fitting black which was also pretty much battle class, impervious to rips, tears and punctures. Yakov spent a ship-load of funds for the suit, but it kept him in one piece. He couldn’t afford to lose another appendage. If he’d had the suit during the war he wouldn’t have lost his arm. Of course, the Corp didn’t supply the average soldier with them, they were reserved for their officers.

“Keep the Zephyr at a distance and our crew safe,” he ordered Od, even though there was no need.

Having a disaster recovery droid as first mate meant he put the ship and the crew first always. It was just that on occasion his desire to keep Yakov safe overrode that programming.

“Aye, aye, Sir.”

Swain was waiting at the Captain’s launch. The speedster was already powered up. He handed Yakov his blaster and then his sword. The Captain strapped on his low slung holster and slipped the sword into the scabbard especially built for it on the back of his suit.

“Let’s jet!” he said, as he hopped in the speedster.

Swain popped his thrusters and lowered himself into the backseat. “Secure and ready,” he acknowledged.

Yakov took the tracer out of the holder on the dash and placed it in the pouch at his waist. The tracers could be launched by a propellant device, but that ship waiting out there looked like it would have the means to repel them. Yakov figured he would have to hand place it on the hull.


“Captain, there is someone waving at us,” Swain informed Yakov as they drew closer to the trapped ship.

“I can see that.”

Boy, could he see that. It was a woman, about his age. He was fighting the current of the eddy as he tried to study the woman on board. She appeared to be alone or if not then she was the one the crew was risking to be out in the open on deck as the ship she was on was being buffeted by the current. Yakov wished she would stop her frantic waving and just hold on. He was afraid, even with the shields up, she might fall overboard.

“Swain, can you patch me into her ear if she has one on,” he asked.

“Working,” Swain replied.

“Oh, Thank the Gods!” he heard her mumble to herself. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

She didn’t know he could hear her.

“We’re coming,” Yakov said to her.

“You can hear me!” she screeched in excited relief.

Yakov grimaced at the volume. “Turn her down, Swain.”

“Yes, Sir.” The Droid obediently adjusted the input.

“You need to hold on to the rail,” he advised her, “or better yet go inside.”

He could see her latch onto the rail.

“We’ll be there in just a few minutes.” Yakov said. “Are you alone?”

No reason not to ascertain as much as possible from a frightened, willing subject.

She hesitated, which Yakov took as a sign that she was not as frightened, or as innocent, of the problems she could get into on her own as she might appear to be.

“Yes,” she finally said when they were almost within docking range. “But, I have sent a priority one emergency signal.”

That was not good. Yakov shook his head. Depending on when that message was transmitted, help could arrive within five to fifty sectials. Five or more if there was a ship within the sector and fifty if the message had to travel clear to Alta II. He had to move fast.

“Can you grant us access?” he requested as they bumped alongside, against her ship’s shield.

She disappeared from her place at the rail.

“Harmonics are good for boarding,” Swain informed him.

Yakov pulled the speedster alongside and placed the tracer before he even pulled himself over the rail.

“Od, we are good to go,” he said to his first mate.

He immediately felt the pull of the tractor beams on the smaller vessel.

As soon as his feet hit the deck and he saw her up close, he fell to one knee before her. She was Her Highness Kaszidra the Princess of Sallum. He didn’t recognize her. He had never seen a photo of her or a vid, but he recognized her jewels. The crown jewels of that world consisted of a coronet embedded with traglites, fiery red stones only found on their home world Saldez. The coronet this woman wore was unmistakably set with these gems. No other red stone sparkled like traglites. And she couldn’t be the queen. Everyone knew the queen was an ancient, old woman who lost her husband decades before. The story went that she adopted in order to have an heir to leave behind in her stead as ruler. This woman had to be the adopted heir, Princess Kaszidra.

“Please rise,” the young woman said. Now that she was calm her voice was the  most beautiful contralto he had even heard. “Isn’t there something you need to do to get us out of this mess?”

Yakov came to his feet. “It is being done your Highness. Swain, take over the helm,” he ordered the little Bot.

Swain scurried away.

At that moment the ship took a jolt as it crested one of the waves in the eddy. Princess Kaszidra lost her footing and fell into Yakov, pushing him back against the rail. He threw his arm around her and held her tight until the ship righted itself.

She pushed herself away from him, stepping back. That gave him his first full view of her.

The word that jumped into his mind was voluptuous. She was dressed in a burgundy jumpsuit which showed off her hourglass figure, wide hips, slender waist and full breasts which were more than a little exposed by the plunging neckline of her suit. She wore a long matching burgundy duster with intricate gold braided trim and a high raised collar. Her lips were full, her blue eyes large and ringed with dusty burgundy shadow. Then there was her hair, a mane of wavy, chestnut curls that fell past her shoulders. Atop her head rested the Coronet of Sallum. The Captain wondered if she worn the matching arm band under her coat? The matching ring and bracelet combo adorned her right hand. The ring was a band encircling her middle finger, a trail of inset traglites ran to the disk embedded with the same stone on the back of her hand. Two more strands of the gems trailed up to the wide cuff at her wrist. All were set with the precious stones. She was wearing a fortune in jewels.

At the same time Yakov’s mind registered that fact, it also clicked that these jewels were something he could never fence, in any corner of the verse. They were one of a kind gems. He would be arrested the minute he pulled them out of his bag.

“We’re clear,” Swain informed him as he came up to rest at Yakov’s feet. “Od says he will have us alongside shortly.”

“May I offer you the hospitality of my ship?” Yakov asked. “I have an excellent cook and a comfortable cabin.”

She looked taken aback.

“No,” he hissed in embarrassment when he realized how she interpreted his offer. “Please, I meant no offense.” He fell to one knee again before her.

She smiled, her eyes lit up at his discomfort. She hadn’t meant to look so shocked. It was just that no one on the home world would have ever consider letting her into their abode. She was royalty. They thought their homes were not good enough for her. She had never been in any residence other than the royal palace since she was adopted. She wanted to see his cabin. No, she actually longed to see it. Did it look like hers aboard this vessel?

“No offense taken,” she said. “Please rise and stop falling to your knees before me,” she gently chastised. “I accept your offer of refreshment and rest. It has been an ordeal.”

When her ship docked alongside the Zephyr the crew scrambled to secure it and the speedster.

“May I touch your Highness to assist you on board?” Yakov asked.

“Thank you, that would be appreciated,” she assented.

Yakov straddled the opening between her ship and his with one foot on the rail of each. He offered her his hand. She took it and stepped up onto the rail. She stepped across in front of him just as his ship took a slight dip. She once again found herself clutched tightly in his arm. He pivoted and swung her over onto the deck of his ship before the rails had a chance to level themselves.

She smoothed her coat and smiled to herself. He was very strong and exceedingly handsome even though he was missing an arm. It was funny how she didn’t even notice when he was holding her.

Yakov hopped down to the deck and found his crew all standing in rank and file as though for inspection.

“I told Odeal we had royalty coming aboard,” Swain whispered in his ear as he rolled around Yakov’s legs in order to take his place in the line-up.

“Let me introduce my crew,” Yakoz said. “This is Odeal, my First Mate.”

Odeal stepped forward and bent to his knees as he had seen his captain do when they docked. “Your Highness.”

“Jud, my Boatswain and Modly, the ship’s Cook and Surgeon.”

Jud offered a handshake, but Modly slapped it away before the Princess could accept it. The cook struck the back of Jud’s head and they both bowed in respect.

“My Gunner, Ballic and his Laser Monkey, Ballic 2.”

The two identical blue metallic robots beeped in unison and bounced once on their short wheeled legs. Kaszidra couldn’t help herself. A giggle escaped.

“Kial, my cabin boy.”

Kial scooted forward on his circular platform, air currents keeping him afloat. He doffed his bright red knit cap.

“And you have met Swain, my Carpenter and general Repairman.”

Swain blew his thrusters and rose to eye level with the Princess. “Very pleased to meet your Highness and I would like to compliment you on your choice of vessels. The E6000 is a lovely class of ship, formidable in battle and yet a luxurious ride. I believe my data base is correct in…”

Yakov cleared his throat when it looked like Swain might continue with his compliments until the Princess fell over from exhaustion.

“The Princess is going to rest for a time in my cabin while we sort this out,” he said. “Modly could you bring us some light refreshment?”

“Aye, Sire,” Modly said. He kicked his engine into high gear and took off toward the galley.

“The rest of you men, back to your stations,” Odeal ordered. “We will await you orders, Captain.”

He flipped Yakov a salute, which he had never, ever, done in the past. The Captain had to work to keep the surprise off his face. Yakov headed instinctively toward the stairs. Swain rolled around in front of him to block his path.

“Sorry, Sir, those stairs are still under repair. You’ll have to use the alternate route.”

Yakov could have sworn the little AI winked one large opalescent eye at him. If they didn’t want to walk the whole length of the ship stern to stem, take the galley stairs, and then walk back to the stern again, they would have to take the pole. He decided to see how amiable the Princess was to the idea.

“If you will follow me, please.”

He led her to the skylight. He felt silly pressing his nose against the cuff under his battle suit, but he hoped he made it look like he was scratching his nose on his sleeve. The skylight rose to expose the pole.

“I know it is unconventional, but it is quite handy.”

The Princess leaned over the edge of the skylight to look down into his cabin. This was the most fun she had experienced in ages.

Yakov looked at her reaction with trepidation. The whole thing was silly. Why had he thought it was so much fun earlier when Swain showed it to him? Suck it up! He told himself.

“Let me demonstrate.”

He stepped to the pole, wrapped his arm around and slid down. She was a tall woman. She wouldn’t have trouble reaching the pole.

“Come on down,” he encouraged with a wave.

Oh, this was too good, she thought as she reached out, grasp the pole and slid down. She made a slight falter at the bottom, just enough to make him move in to steady her with that strong arm and hard body of his. She circled around in his arm and placed her hand on his chest. She looked up to him and cooed, “thank you. I seem to be having difficulty keeping my feet under me today.”

“You have been through a lot,” he said sympathetically.

He could get used to looking into those deep blue eyes.

Luckily, Modly must have been moving at high speed because his knock on the door saved the Captain from himself.

Yakov shook his head as if emerging from a trance. What was he thinking? He could be executed for touching her. She was royalty. He was a pirate. 

He went to the door and opened it for the AI. Modly entered with a tray overflowing with delicacies of all types. He usually did the cooking, but most of this stuff was straight from the prep unit they hardly ever used. Modly hustled about removing maps, books and Yakov’s tablet from the table, along with the dishes that had not been cleared earlier in the rush to save the Princess.

Kaszidra walked around the cabin fingering items and looking at the holographic photos on the walls as the cook cleared and reset the table. Whatever he brought in smelled heavenly. She realized she couldn’t remember when she had eaten last. That brought her thoughts back to why she was off-world without a proper escort and how she got herself caught in the eddy of the black hole. She was frowning at the thought when she turned back toward Yakov.

His smile instantly went to a look of concern.

“It’s all right,” she said as Modly finished his fussing and exited closing the door. “I was just thinking about what brought me here.”

Yakov motioned to a chair. “Perhaps you would like to talk about it?”

She nodded, but stood for a moment longer.

“It’s a bit warm in here,” she said.

Yakov dove for the stern windows. “I can open a window.”

“No need,” she replied as she pulled off her duster and hung it over the back of a chair.

He turned to see what he thought was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on. The jumpsuit she wore not only had a plunging neckline, but the back was almost non-existent. The suit was sleeveless and sure enough the traglite arm band of the planet’s crown jewels hugged her right bicep.

She stood to one side of the chair waiting for him to pull it out for her. His brain snapped into gear and he sprang into action like one of his droids. She took the liberty to touch his hand as she slid into the chair.

“Thank you,” she sighed in her velvety contralto.

“Wine?” Yakov asked.

She nodded her head. He poured. Before he sat down he removed the sword at his back and placed it in a holder on the wall. He took off his holster and hung it on a peg. She couldn’t help but marvel at his ripped body as he moved about the cabin. He appeared to be nothing but muscle beneath that tight black battle suit. And, for such a large man, he moved like a cat, light and lethal looking.

Before he sat down he pushed a button and his clothing morphed to a soft cream colored shirt with long billowing sleeves. His legs were now clothed in black leather and his boots reached to above the knee. When her gaze lifted to his face he was grinning.

“Nice,” was her only appreciative comment.

His smile sobered. The thoughts that were running through his head were fantasies. He could never, would never. She was royalty.

“Tell me, Princess, what are you doing out here alone?” he asked, as he sat down across from her.

“Please, call me Kasz,” she replied.

She picked up her goblet and took a fortifying sip.

“My mother died a few days ago and I needed time to think before I assumed the throne.”

Well, that was news to Yakov. He didn’t have a Princess sitting at his table, he had a QUEEN! He swallowed hard and tried to remember if he was wanted in the Saldez galaxy. If so, maybe saving the queen would get him amnesty.

“I know I shouldn’t have left without escort, but it would have been fine if that black hole hadn’t appeared from out of nowhere.”

She sniffed. She hated herself when she showed weakness. That was the reason she left home, to do her grieving in private. A tear trickled down her cheek and the look of sympathy on Yakov’s face was just too much for her to take. She had been through a lot the last few days. She grabbed her napkin off the table and buried her face in her hands.

Yakov jumped to his feet and came around the table. He knelt by her side as she started to sob. As big as he was, he could place his arm around her shoulders without any difficulty even while on his knees. He took the liberty. After all he had saved her. She sort of belonged to him. In a way…If you considered all the variables…

Kasz leaned into his chest as she let all the tension from the past few days wash over her. It felt so good to have someone comfort her. Being royalty had its disadvantages. Always being aloof was one of them. She longed for a touch, a smile, someone she could converse with freely.

She cried until she was cried out. When she finally came up for air, Yakov reached across the table and grabbed his napkin. He dabbed at her tear stained face.

“I must look a fright,” she apologized. That was another reason she hated to cry. She was not a pretty crier. Her nose and eyes turned red and swollen with the first tear.

“You are beautiful, my Queen,” Yakov assured her.

“And you are a lying pirate,” she said, as she grasp his hand and held it to her cheek. “But, thank you.”

She brought his hand to her lips and kissed his knuckles.

“Sir!” Od said in his ear. “We have a Sallum vessel approaching. Its signature indicates it is from the royal fleet.”

“Shit!” he hissed and jumped to his feet.

“What is it?” Kasz asked.

“Your escort is coming,” he said looking down at her. It did not escape his notice that she had not released his hand.

“How soon will they be here?” she asked.

“Od? Estimated arrival time?” he queried.

“They are at the outer rim. It will take them approximately two turns to reach us at their current speed and they have throttles at full thrust.”

“How far to the closest Window?” Yakov asked.

“Only fifteen diks for the closest jump point, if you are no longer interested in going to Alta II,” Od answered.

“Keep an eye on the royal escort and give me a heads up in enough time to get the Princess aboard her ship and us to the window before their arrival,” Yakov ordered. He turned to Kasz. “We have a little more time.”

“Sit then and let’s not waste the feast Modly prepared or the limited time we have.” Kasz released his hand and waved him toward his chair.


It was the best two turns of either of their lives. They ate, talked, laughed, it was like they had known each other forever. Like they were just souls adrift waiting to collide with each other once again in this vast verse.

Yakov was playing a merry tune on his antique tin whistle when Od informed them it was time to go.

“You go ahead. Prepare your ship.” Kasz told him, as he rose. “I will be up in a minute. Do you have a brush?” She asked. “I want to tidy up.”

“Do I look like I need a brush?” he asked as he ran his hand over his shaved head. “I have a comb I use for my beard.”

He fished the comb out of a drawer and handed it to her. Before he had a chance to let it go, she pulled him forward and grabbed his beard with her other hand. She pulled his head down to her and planted a kiss on his lips.

“I hope we will meet again,” she said softly, as she pulled back and released her hold.

He fisted a handful of her luxurious chestnut locks and pulled her to him. He kissed her far more passionately then she had him. When he raised his lips from hers, he smiled in response.

“You can count on it,” he assured her.

“Captain, they are closing fast,” Od warned him in his ear.

“I have to go.” Yakov stole one last kiss and then went to the pole.

Once he was gone, Kasz did what she had intended to do almost since she set foot in his cabin. When she was finished, she too stepped to the pole, wrapped her arm around it as he instructed her earlier and inserted her hand in the loop. She went to join those on deck. She was hustled into her ship and set adrift. The Zephyr pulled away slowly at first as though her Captain were reluctant to leave. But, then someone punched the thrusters and even without the huge sails, she was off and out of sight before Queen Kaszidra’s escort arrived.


Yakov was reluctant to return to his quarters. He knew it would feel empty. He had only known her for a matter of four or five turns and yet he felt like he had known her all his life, shit he felt like he had known her even before this life.

They made the jump through the space window and then made another a few secitals later. When they were at a safe distance from any pursuit, Yakov returned to his cabin.

Modly and Kial had cleaned it and pushed the chairs back to their proper places from where he and Kasz moved them to be closer as he played her tune, after merry tune, on his whistle. Yakov flopped down on his bunk and immediately struck his head on something hard beneath his pillow. He reached under and pulled out the traglite arm band. There was a note written on a piece of paper torn from his ship’s log.

It read:


I leave you this portion of my crown jewels as thanks for your generosity in risking your life to save me. You may keep the jewels or trade them as you see fit. I will see that the verse knows they were a gift to you and not obtained through any pirating venture on your part.

However, if you should choose to return them…I will be waiting.


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