“I am sorry… Captain,” Ma-rye-a apologized in that stilted voice she had acquired since Callen brought her back online after the accident. “I can’t release them.” By ‘them’ she meant Sam, Cassie and Horus. “Have analyzed my systems… releasing would overload my programing… crash it again. Working at only fifty percent capacity as is… Without refitting station, or Daniel’s help… I am at the best Callen and Travis can manage.”
By ‘Daniel’ she meant my IT Guru guy who had taken my talking ship and made it practically a human named Ma-rye-a.
“It’s alright.” I actually reached out and patted her console. The members of my crew were so real to me. I have spent so much time in space with only them as my companions. I missed Sam’s bad jokes, and my chess games with Horus, even Cassie’s constant interruptions to show me the latest new fashion at the most inappropriate time. “They are safe where they are. Let them sleep. We will retrieve them when we get to Daniel’s.”
I stood up and decided to go check on Travis. He was painting a large red ‘X’ on Ma-rye-a’s roof so the drone would spot us easily. It was due to fly over next week based on his calculations.
I found the five kids in the pod bay tossing a ball into a makeshift basket on the back wall. They were all pealed down to their shirtsleeves and breathing hard. It looked like they had paired off according to age and size. It was Drake and Mims against Callen, Thomas and Tiff.
I watched for a few runs and cheered on the younger ones. Thomas seemed agile and at one point he actually had time to lift Tiff up to dunk a shot while the older kids were still struggling to get back from the far end of their impromptu court.
Drake answered my cheer by stealing the ball away from Callen’s toss to Tiff and turning around to dunk it. He and Mims did a high-five and shouted, “sixty-one to fifty-three.”
“You can still do it!” I encouraged the younger team as I walked on.
Callen was leaning over with his hands on his knees trying to catch his breath. “Yeah!” he shouted in agreement and straightened up to fist-pump the air. “Go Team!”
I circled the outer hull to the recessed steps up Ma-rye-a’s side to her roof. I found Travis down on his hands and knees painting. He had the ‘X’ completed and was making it even more visible by placing a wide stripe outlining it in a square box - like a giant tick-tac-toe game piece.
I stood with my hands on my hips. “Looking good.”
“I don’t think there is much chance they can miss you now.” He rocked back on his hooves from his knees. “The drone passes just about there.” He waved his arm in an arch across the sky above the ship. It looked as though I had managed, through sheer dumb luck, to place Ma-rye-a directly in its path.
“Not long now.” I sat down cross-legged. “I think we have just about enough supplies to pull us through if we tighten our rations a bit more.” Taking on two more mouths to feed had stretched our already limited pantry.
“I was thinking about that…” Travis started to say, but we were interrupted by Tiff’s scream.
We both bolted to our feet and ran to the edge of the roof. Down on the plateau the kids were all standing along the edge of the cliff… all except Drake. He had fallen over and was hanging by his hands about fifty feet down.
“Hang on, Drake!” I hollered, as if he might just decide to let go for the fun of it. Why do people utter such insane things in a crisis? I yelled something a little more helpful to the rest of the kids. “There is a rope in the storage cabinet in front of the pod!”
I turned to head for the stairs, but turned back when I heard the sound of Travis’ previously silent hooves beat a rapid tattoo on the roof. He had shed his leather boots. I turned just in time to see him leap off the roof and land on the ledge below in front of the bay door. His goat shaped legs took the thirty-foot fall to the landing without breaking and his hooves bit into the dirt on the ledge like little vices.
He did a full run of the width of the ledge, looking over the edge, I could only assume to see how he could get a rope down to Drake. Before I could holler anymore instructions, Callen was at the edge with the rope and Travis was tying it around his waist for the descent. Before the other end was even secured properly, Travis literally leaped over the side. Miraculously his hooves bit into the rock finding purchase where I could see absolutely none. To me it was a sheer rock wall. To Travis’ hooves it was a stairway.
I hurried down in order to help secure our end of the rope. I had all kinds of equipment in the pod bay. After all, I was a trader and transported all types of goods. I anchored the rope to the wench in the bay and went back with the controls in my hand to the edge of our plateau.
I could have flown the pod down… I could have opened the door and let Drake step in… but Travis was already to him and had the rope secured around his waist before I hardly had time to think.
“Pull him up!” Travis hollered.
I hit the button on the wench and Drake started walking up the wall like an experienced mountaineer.
Travis followed hopping from rock to rock like the goats I saw once in a nature vid. His balance and ability to find footing amazed me. He actually made it to the top before Drake and gave the lad a hand up over the edge.
Drake gave Travis a man hug, whether because his legs were too weak to stand or seriously out of thanks, I did not know, but Travis covered well for him if it was the former and they both sat down abruptly on the stable ground of the ledge.
“That was close,” Mims said. She moved in and ran her hand over Drake’s brow to push his hair out of his eyes. “Way too close.”
“It’s only a frickin’ game,” Callen breathed in exasperation. “You don’t have to risk dying to win.”
I looked from Callen to Thomas and then to Tiff, as Mims hovered over Drake.
“The ball got away and he reached out to tip it back in,” Thomas explained.
“Yeah, and instead he tipped on over with the ball,” Tiff seemed to shutter with the memory of seeing him fall.
“Okay…” I said in my best Captain’s voice. “Rule number fifteen… No more ball games without the pod bay doors being closed.” My rule list kept getting longer and longer.
“As I was going to say before we were interrupted by the kids,” Travis continued as we sat watching the sunset after a limited dinner of watered down soup and bread, “I am going to go down tomorrow and do a little hunting. If I can get a Greza it will tide us over until the drone passes and the Galactic Officials show up.”
Travis and I had taken to stargazing while the kids used limited power for a game or two before bed each night. I learned from him the Greza were the herd animals on the plain and used by the inmates for everything from food, clothing and blankets, to bow strings, knives and trading beads for their games.
“I can take you down in the pod,” I suggested. It wouldn’t take any time at all to run one of the beasts down, kill it and load it in for transport back up to the ship.
“I don’t think that is wise.”
Travis wiggled at my side. I had gotten used to the fact that he knelt like a goat rather than squatting or sitting and moved often to find a more comfortable position.
“The men I left behind… most of them are not as settled here as I am. If they had the opportunity to capture a pod, fly it to a ship and try an escape, they would… even if they knew it was suicide,” Travis explained. “Or they might try taking you all hostage to try and bargain their way off the planet. Some of those men haven’t been with a woman in decades.”
I shivered at Travis suggestion.
“We are so close to getting you all off this rock,” he continued. “I don’t want to take the chance. I can go down, hunt and be back by the time the drone passes over, at the latest. Then the Greza will hold us all until the GO arrive.”
“You can make it down and back with a load?” I don’t know why I asked. He had proved his agility in rescuing Drake.
“I can and hopefully I will be back sooner rather than later.”
He smiled and I found myself smiling back. He really was a good man and it seemed like a solid plan. The trouble with plans is often you only see the way you are looking at the situation and not how someone else might perceive it.