Saturday, April 1, 2017

Star Trader Update - Academy Brats - 020.14

Well, it would be thirty-seven days until we were rescued, if I could believe Travis. And, why wouldn’t I? He had been stuck on this rock for over twenty years. I figured I could depend on him to know when the low atmosphere drone would pass-over. That gave me thirty-seven days to prepare so that drone would not miss us. I wanted to get my passengers off this planet and to the academy.

If they were late, my contract stipulated I would burden the cost of tutors to get them brought up to speed. If they were so late they didn’t make it into the current term, then I would have to take them back home and make the trip again at my expense for the following term. In either case, I was out funds I had planned on using for other things. Luckily, I allowed for wiggle-room in my transport schedule. I thought the kids might like to arrive early and get settled in since living in a big city was not something any of them had experienced before.

Callen and Travis went to work trying to bring Moby back online. Callen tried to explain it to me. It was all way above my pay-grade. What I got out of the translation from Travis was that Ma-rye-a must have felt like she was losing control and she had pushed all the other AIs back behind strong firewalls to keep them safe from her own outburst. Hence, the difficulty in getting them back online.

Ma-rye-a was up now and power was at about fifty percent. If it hadn’t been for the guard-drones circling the planet, we could have limped on to the academy, but any movement from us into or above the lower atmosphere would mean getting shot at again.

Travis knew his way around a ship. He and Drake managed to patch the door into the turret gun. Ma-rye-a said it had a 99.9% chance of staying secure provided we repaired it properly before doing another jump.

Mims and Tiff assigned themselves to work on getting Thomas up to speed.



“Is that one of my suits?” I asked when I saw Thomas in a red spacer suit.

“We hoped you wouldn’t mind.” Tiff had her arm hooked through his. “We looked for you to ask permission, but couldn’t find you.”

“I was in the pod bay.”

I had been down there quietly conversing with Ma-rye-a. I wanted her to keep Sam, my security AI, under wraps for the time being. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Travis, it was just… that I didn’t trust Travis. He didn’t know I had a security AI, though he might have guessed. He didn’t know that Sam had access to a tranquilizing system throughout the ship, including the room I had commandeered away from the boys and given to Travis and Thomas.

I put Drake in with Callen in the game room. The two of them seemed to have grown up during the past few weeks and were working together. Drake had even cornered and asked if I had a plan when the drone did the fly over. I didn’t have one yet, but I was working on it. I had thirty days left.

“I had to do a little alteration, but I think it works,” Tiff volunteered. “I think the red goes nicely with his green skin color.” Tiff smiled at Thomas and he grinned back. I felt like I had missed an inside joke.

“Tiff has a plan to use some of her makeup to give Thomas more of a human look,” Mims said. “We thought if we disguised him a bit, you could just say you made a typo in the passenger list.”

I had explained to them that N.E.T. would know my headcount.

“He has a very human sounding name.”

I swear Tiff batted her eyelashes at him. Just what I needed, another lovesick teen.

“Hey everyone,” Callen called over the intercom, “We have Moby up and running. He says he will have a batch of those chocolate cupcakes up in ten minutes.”

The girl’s eyes grew to the size of saucers. We hadn’t had anything but what I could whip up in over a week. I do not pride myself in my cooking skills, that’s why I have Moby. They each grabbed one of Thomas’ arms and sprinted toward the galley giggling like kids half their age.

*****

I peeked in on each of the rooms as Ma-rye-a lowered the lights of the ship for the evening. Drake and Callen were finishing up a game, not Stellar Speedsters this time, thankfully. They promised to be off to bed soon.

The girls were tucked in for the night with their door locked. I advise them to take this precaution. They had become very relaxed around our criminal hitchhikers the last week. It was easy to rationalize Thomas just being a displaced teen through his circumstances. I must admit I found myself doing that too, but what kind of habits had he picked up living with the criminal element while growing up. Did his species have inborn traits? Could he be a latent killer just waiting for the opportunity to surface?

And Travis, what was his story?

I went to check on the two I thought of as hitchhikers and found that Thomas was asleep, but Travis was not in his room. I headed toward the bridge. I didn’t want him wandering around unchecked. I told Ma-rye-a to keep an eye on him and advise me if need be of his movements, but so far, she had not seen anything shady going on.

I found Travis on the bridge. He was just sitting and staring out the viewport at the stars. The planet was so under populated that there were no lights to get in the way. The nebula sparkled overhead in shades of blue and copper.

“Star gazing?” I asked as I slipped into the co-pilot’s chair.

“Oh, sorry,” he went to rise out of my pilot’s seat.

“It’s okay.” I waved him back down. “You must miss that chair.”

“It’s really the only thing I miss about my old life.” He sighed deeply. “It’s not bad here, really.”

“I can’t imagine. Will they welcome you back once we are gone?”

“I think so. If not, there are options available.”

“You said anger put you here.” I was fishing for his story. I wanted to trust him, but I couldn’t ignore the red lights going off.

“Yeah, I was kinda like a blaster on overload. I never had a partner. Always teamed up with folks I knew.” He looked back up toward the sky. “I hooked up with a group. I knew about half the team. We were going to infiltrate a terrorist cell sabotaging a pipeline on Vista 9. I joined the team on the urging of a lady friend named Nora. We had worked together in the past and done a bit of playing together too. I think I had known her for ten, maybe fifteen years. Done more than our share of jobs together.” He stood up and skirted the console walking up closer to the viewport. “It turned out to be a nasty mission. Everything that could go wrong did, including Nora and me being arrested as part of the sting operation on the terrorist. By the time, it was all said and done, I had killed three terrorists and two Galactic Official in self-defense. We were so deep undercover and so many of the team had been killed by then that the Galactic Officials didn’t know the good guys from the bad. No amount of explanation seemed to help. The GO interrogated Nora and me trying to get deeper into the terrorist cell.”

Interrogation by the GO was a place no one wanted to go. They didn’t use torture in the old sense of the word – no pulling of fingernails or teeth, no beatings or threatened drownings. They used mind altering drugs, nasty nanobots and cranial pads.

“Nora didn’t make it. The GO told me she was allergic to one of the drugs. She seized and died right there in front of them. I yelled and screamed at the injustice when we were working to help them. No one listened. They eventually gave up on me. I didn’t have anything more to give them, but they still thought I was holding back. I was the last surviving member of the team, so they threw the book at me. I was lucky they didn’t have capital punishment in place like the old days. I just got placed here for the rest of my life.”

Yep, that would make me angry too. My guard was slipping further and further out of place where Travis and his adopted son were concerned.


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