With her transport out of commission, Pella has agreed to switch her cargo and passengers to Thunder Prime to salvage her business. But she has an ulterior motive. One of the kinder from Raptor is the child of a Chandorian overlord. Pella believes this will give her leverage and make it possible for her to land on Chandor. But first she has to get there.
In addition to the three kinder from Chandor, Pella had four other passengers headed for galactic destinations, as well as cargo shipments to planets along the loop of launch platforms. As the trip spooled out, she would drop some off and pick up as per signed agreements, or Bart would. Thunder Prime had absorbed her contracts seamlessly, adding them to Bart’s bookings with no problems. The benefit of being one of the largest transport companies in the galaxy. She was grateful to Bart, but were it not for Ellianna and the possibilities she presented, Pella would have turned down his offer even if it meant losing her standing as a reliable transport company and forfeiting much needed creds. Ellianna was her ticket onto Chandor.
The door slid open and Aoife stormed through. “Tell me again why I have to be the one to watch over those…” Aoife flung her hands over her head in a gesture of frustration at not being able to come up with just the right word to describe the task Pella had assigned her.
“Kinder?” Pella supplied innocently.
“Kinder? Ellianna is no kinder, a pain in the backside, yes, but no kinder. She has not found one thing to her liking!”
“How are the others doing?”
A smile flashed across Aoife’s lips but she wiped it away lest Pella think she was enjoying anything at all about this assignment.
“They almost make up for the other one. They can’t believe they have such nice accommodation and can order anything they want from the galley. And by the way, I’m going to tell cook to nix anymore cake orders.”
Pella grinned. “Thanks for doing this. Ellianna needs someone with a strong will, tempered with understanding. You know she must be frightened by all she’s been through.”
“Maybe. I don’t know. She seems like someone who can hold her own. What I don’t know is how she came to be on that slave ship. The males, I get that. Ja’lu said his dam put them on a transport headed for earth where they could live in freedom and safety. They’re transport was hijacked and everyone on board was taken to be sold as slaves. Was Ellianna on that ship or some other hapless transport? She claims not to remember anything before waking up on Raptor.”
“You don’t believe her?”
Aoife shrugged. “I don’t know. She’s a secretive one, that’s for sure.”
“Are you enjoying your other duties?” Pella hid a grin.
“You’re joking, surely. Hospitality manager? What is that anyway? I’m a navigator, a meditec and he assigns me hospitality manager? I think Bart Casey hates me!”
“I thought the cook… what’s his name?”
“Claude. When he says it, it sounds like cloud. ‘Cloud, my dear, call me Cloud.’” She made a face and combed her long hair with her fingers to cover her scars.
“So, he told you what is required. Is it anything you’re uncomfortable with?”
This time she swept her sleek black hair back and tucked it behind her ear exposing the angry red scars. “What do you think?” For a moment, her dark eyes showed the pain she carried deep inside.
“I’ll rephrase that. Is there anything you’ve been assigned you can’t do?”
She raked the hair back down hiding the outward scars while masking the deep hidden scars that very few knew about.
“Got it covered, and I’ve been told that if meditech services are required, that takes priority. I’m thinking of breaking someone’s leg.”
“Ha, ha,” Pella said with a grin.
The rest of her crew members were well-suited to the work they’d been assigned. Gouyen was flying second pilot to Edek Fallon. If she was upset about taking second chair she gave no hint, but then it wasn’t her nature to complain. Magda was in her element. She was assigned assistant to Thunder Prime’s chief engineer, a rather beautiful specimen by the name of Ian. Thunder Prime was everything Polaris was not, and more. As much as Pella loved her transport ship, it was no match for the continuously upgraded queen of Casey Consolidated Transport. At nearly twice the size of Polaris, the ship was sleek as a newly honed sword.
Jada was not with them. The young fem had been by turns hurt and furious to learn she would not be making the trip. Pella was secretly glad. She didn’t know what would happen down the line, but didn’t want someone as innocent as Jada caught up in her uncertain future. She ignored the niggling worry that involving Ellianna in her plan to get on Chandor might have a negative impact on the fem and on the two males who made it clear they were from Chandor but not of Chandor. Would the two young kinder be safe if she couldn’t find their mother? What might happen to them when – or if – she made her way onto the planet? Would she be able to reach Brutus Tauk’s holding and ask about her mother? Would Bart help or hinder her?
Lots of questions and little hope of answers.
When is a Telling not a Telling?
Billy Dean’s, one of Launch Alpha’s many eating establishments, teemed with True Earthers and off-worlders. Patrons at the bar elbowed through to get drinks. Bart Casey fought to hold onto his ale pac and a colorful drink with the unlikely handle of Sweet Surprise. He made it to a table occupied by a willowy blonde with tilted up eyes and a pouty mouth.
“There you go,” he said when he handed the Sweet Surprise to her, “Drink up.”
“Now, Pilot Casey, I don’t like to drink alone. Please, join me.” She patted the chair next to her and took a sip of the drink.
Bart sat down and raised his ale in a toast. He felt awkward doing it, downright silly when you come right to it. She tipped her glass in response and winked at him before taking another drink.
“So, do you have it?” he asked. The fem was a low-level clerk in Launch Alpha’s facility reservations office. She claimed to know everything there was to know about what happened on the platform. One of Abra’s informants had provided him with her name. So far, all she’d done was flirt.
She toyed with the stem of her glass and regarded him coquettishly from the corners of her slanted eyes. “Relax. Let’s have some fun.”
Bart squeezed his ale pac in frustration causing liquid to spurt out. It shot across the table and hit the fem on the cheek. She jerked back as if he’d slapped her.
“What’s the matter with you!” she screeched.
Before he knew what was happening he found himself doused in sticky Sweet Surprise. The fem slammed the empty glass on the table, stood and stalked away to the sounds of laughter, cat calls and whistles.
Bart swiped at the dripping mess running down his face with the back of his hand and started to rise. A wet towel plopped on the table in front of him.
“Uuuuusssseee thiiiiiis.” A gnome like Brolotagan awkwardly adjusted his wings and sat down.
Bart picked up the cloth and dabbed at his face and hands.
“Thanks,” he said in Brolotagan.
“Ah, you speak my language?”
“I understand more than I speak.
“I am Fitz.”
“Bart Casey. Pleased to meet you.”
“You are looking for someone.” It wasn’t a question.
Bart regarded the Brolotagan for a moment torn between suspicion and a need to find out if the off worlder knew something of value.
“Mayhap I can help.”
When Bart didn’t respond immediately the Brolotagan leaned across the table as much as his girth would allow and said softly, “Tellers, yes?”
Bart raised an eyebrow. “You have uncommon interest in my business, friend.”
“I want to help.”
Bart’s suspicion surged. Brolotagans were a benign race, but everyone was subject to corruption. The off worlder was too curious by far.
“Look, I need to clean up.” He placed the cloth on the table between them and stood.
“You trust me.”
“Friend, I don’t know you, and I don’t hardly trust the people I do know.” With that Bart walked away and headed for the shuttle that would take him back to Thunder Prime. Pella was off taking care of business, which left him time to look into reports of missing Tellers, only to find it was much harder to do than he’d imagined.
As soon as he docked the shuttle he made his way to the ready room where he found Pilot Edek Fallon watching a vid.
“That all you got to do?”
Edek grinned at him over his shoulder.
“Have a seat. I think you will find this interesting.”
“What is it?” Bart asked.
“Footage from a Launch Alpha security vid.”
“What? How did you…?” Bart stopped himself, and waved his hand in a never-mind gesture. Edek Fallon was the only one Bart had confided in about his mission. He was savvy and knew people on the backside of the law all over the galaxy, which from time-to-time came in handy.
“Let’s see what you have.”
The vid showed a room full of people. A Teller sat at the front and spoke the words Bart knew so well. Off vid a voice interrupted the Telling and questioned the Teller who was startled by the interruption. The vid spanned the room and landed on a man with silvery white hair. Bart recognized him immediately. Goodwin Harp. A few moments after Harp began to speak, the Teller stood and left the room quietly. The vid blanked out.
“That right there cost me fifty cred, my friend.”
“What use is it? Can we locate the Teller and ask him what happened and why he left the room? How long ago did this take place?”
Edek shook his head slowly. “The Teller is a man by the name of Aulden Cook. He is among the missing. As for when it was recorded, more than six months ago.”
Bart slumped in his chair.
“I need to find out if he was the only one, or if there were others.”
Edek leaned back in his chair and gazed thoughtfully at his friend and boss. “I have a name, somebody who’s been around the platform for decades. He can be bought, but I don’t know how trustworthy his information will be. He’s not exactly a square dealer.”
Bart nodded. “I’ll risk it.”
As Bart wove his way through the corridor, he caught an undercurrent of excitement.
“The Prophet!” a fem said.
“Speaking in one of the activity rooms,” came the voice of another.
“Never seen him in real life! I hope we can get in!”
Bart had for some time been fascinated by Goodwin Harp and considered his ideas intriguing. And now he had an opportunity to watch the man in action.
He stopped a man hurrying by. “Where and when is the Prophet going to speak?”
With the information in hand Bart set out for his original destination. There would be time to meet with Edek’s contact before the Telling started.
Joe Franklin was everything that annoyed Bart. He was full of himself, officious, and smarmy. This meeting was beginning to feel like a waste of time. The assistant administrator droned on and on about the problems of managing the Launch Alpha platform.
“…the complex nature of the complex makes overseeing the operation a nightmare,” Franklin said, not for the first time.
“You people just don’t get it. You believe something happened six months ago that may be illegal, but you don’t want to bring formal charges. You won’t tell me the exact nature of the infraction. You can see my dilemma, I’m sure.”
Never had Bart missed Moriah, his personal ANAI, as much as he did at this moment. She would have cited volumes of legalese that would lay waste this petty functionary’s flimsy rationales.
The man was a diminutive off worlder whose origins were sketchy. He claimed to have lived on Chandor (questionable), Alsarsia (maybe), Brolotaga (unlikely), Earth (easily checked out) and Alpha 9 (no way). Bart thought the only reason he’d gotten his current position was his ability to stonewall. Wasn’t that the first lesson all bureaucrats learned?
“Look, Franklin, is it?”
The functionary nodded with a unctous grin.
“Franklin, this is a personal matter, delicate you might say. All I’m doing is trying to keep my femsib from making a big mistake, you know how that is. She’s got herself in with a dangerous crowd; all I want to do is save her from her own bad judgement. The man I’m looking for, he claimed to be a Teller, to impress her. You understand, right?”
Franklin barked an unpleasant laugh, one that punched Bart in the sternum and make him want to grab the twerp by his throat.
He got his temper in line and continued.
“I can see you have a difficult job, Administrator Franklin,” he said, conveying an unwarranted title. “I appreciate someone of your importance giving me so much of your valuable time.”
The man perked up and beamed a smile, nodding in agreement.
“Yes, yes! Busy, busy.”
Bart looked around the man’s shabby office. A workstation sat idle looking like it hadn’t been used for some time. Vacpacs were scattered on every surface and the smell in the cramped room was a combination of old food and Franklin’s personal odor, somewhere between rancid vanilla and dirty socks.
“Galactic pays you well for your services, I’m sure.”
Franklin scoffed. “Maybe Galactic would, but this place in contracted out to private operators.”
Bart feigned surprise.
“Yeah, and you know what that means.”
Bart nodded sagely.
“Cheap. Every contractor here is doing it on the cheap.”
Time was fleeting and Bart didn’t want to miss hearing the Prophet. He tried to hurry things along. In the end, this was all about creds.
“So, you have all this work to do and are inadequately compensated?”
Franklin glanced around as if making sure no one was around to overhear. “Inadequate. You don’t know the half of it. I hate it here. Hate it, hate it! I keep thinking one day this floating bloated network of space trash is gonna fly apart and that’ll be the end of Joe Franklin!” Red-faced with spit foaming at the corners of his mouth the poor guy looked like a heart attack waiting to happen.
“Ah, I see. And if you could get off?”
Franklin regarded Bart and then cut his eyes to the side.
“Who are you? Is this a trick? You’re from the company, trying to trick me. I been loyal, done everything I’m told, yeah it’s not easy, but…”
“I’m not from the company,” Bart said. “I just want what I came for. If you provide that, I will give you a little something to help you get off the platform.”
Franklin’s eyes glittered and he sat straighter, all business. From what Edek knew of the man, the last thing he wanted was to get off the platform. All he wanted was creds,
Franklin pondered for a moment then wrote a figure on the back of an instruction manual. Bart looked at it and raised an eyebrow. He wrote a number below Franklin’s rather steep demand, marking out the first.
Franklin frowned and started to write another number.
Bart stood. “Forget it. I’ll get what I want from another source.”
“No! No, wait, this’ll do. This’ll do. Transfer it over now and as soon as it is in my creds reserve I’ll give you the list!”
Bart complied and sat back.
When Franklin was satisfied the creds were safely transferred, he went to the neglected work station and efficiently downloaded the list onto a tiny disk after allowing Bart to briefly look at the contents. There was enough information that matched to make him believe the information was valid, and there were other names as well. What the list had that made it worth every cred Bart had paid for it, was contact information for the agent who had arranged for use of Launch Alpha meeting rooms. It was a trail that might lead him to answers.
He hurried through the crowds to the large room where the Prophet was scheduled to speak. Instead he found a placard with a message: Welcome. The Prophet was unavoidably delayed in his journey. Please enter and welcome Teller Allgood.
Allgood was unlike Tellers Bart had encountered in his life. She was young, which was unusual. Tellers were generally older, conservative in their dress and unassuming. Most were male. This Teller sat regally at the front of a small gathering place off the main corridor. She was dressed in a robe that clung in subtle ways to enhance a lush body. Her long dark hair was pulled back and up, held in place by sparkling stones that could have been faceted glass or diamonds. Bart would have bet on the latter. Her well-shaped hands rested easily on the arms of the plush chair. Her voice was captivating. Bart was drawn in more out of curiosity than a desire to hear what she had to say. He’d heard it all, many times. Before the incident at Fog Island his father had had no truck with Tellers, The One or The Way, and often made light of those who felt the need to pursue faith in any form. Jake Casey had always been a practical man. That changed following Bart and Pella’s escape from Fog Island. Bart’s father became a seeker and dragged Bart along with him. At sixteen, Bart dug in his heels and refused to go to another Telling. Period.
Someone jostled Bart bringing his attention back to the room, which was now filled to capacity and beyond.
“Give thanks to the Prophet, for he is good. His love endures. Give thanks to the only Prophet, The Chosen. To him who alone does great wonders, who by his understanding made the heavens, who spread out the earth upon the waters, who made the sun to govern the day, and the moon to govern the night.”
Bart didn’t remember all there was to know about a Telling but this one was off, way off.
“You who are seekers know the Prophet in his time struck down the firstborn of evil and brought the chosen people out from among those who would destroy them. This is the New Way. With a mighty hand and outstretched arm the Prophet divided the raging sea and brought the chosen people through the midst of it, but swept the evil one and his army into the deep waters. The Prophet returns and in New Way he will lead followers to honor, peace, and prosperity. In all of time when needed the Prophet comes to strike down great and unassailable rulers with greater power. His followers will reign throughout the galaxy.”
From behind the Teller, unnoticed by the crowd until now, a man stepped forward with a creds reader.
“Become a follower,” the Teller said. “Register your pledge to follow New Way by giving to the Prophet’s cause.”
“No!” Bart couldn’t believe the shout came from his lips.
The Teller’s luminous eyes fastened on his.
“An unbeliever in our midst?”
Bart heard a few murmurs of disapproval.
“Only believers are welcome here.”
“I, that is I, you… you…”
“Well, kinder, what is it you mean to say, I or you?”
Titters flew about the room and Bart could feel the heat of embarrassment flood his neck and cheeks. Being called kinder by the fem who looked to be the same age as he added mortification to the mix. Defending The Way wasn’t up to him. If there was a wild card Teller out to make a few creds off the gullible, more power to her. But that was the thing. Tellers never collected creds or enticed people to make a pledge of commitment. The Way was a free will acceptance of The One.
Bart shook his head to be rid of the thoughts that were driving him to deny this fem was a true Teller. It was no business of his.
He backed through the door and hurried back toward Launch Alpha’s shuttle bay.
The itch between her shoulders had only gotten worse in the last hour. Pella had checked the cargo to be offloaded on Launch Alpha for transport to planets in the system served by the platform. She made sure passengers made it to their next connections and registered the ones boarding for Launch Beta. She made sure new cargo was loaded and locked down. All the while she felt eyes on her. Maybe it was being the target of three abduction attempts and a successful one that kept her looking over her shoulder to catch someone off guard and see who found her so interesting. She’d seen no one. That didn’t mean they weren’t there.
Do you have a friend who would enjoy the adventures of Pella Soames? E-mail them this link https://oneroofpublish.com/2018/03/02/pellas-quest/ so they may read Episode 1 and join the fun.