Google+ The Bluestocking Firefly: January 2012
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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Blank space

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


Taz slid out from beneath the engines and went to the bulkhead. “Grayson,” he said, “how much longer do you want this signal deflector operational? It’s straining the engines and if it’s active for very much longer I’m afraid that vibration is going to start taxing the hull integrity.”

We’re well away from the quarantine line now,” Grayson replied. “Go ahead and switch it off whenever is convenient.

Up on the bridge, Kate turned away from the flight console and looked at Grayson. “How do you want to do this, sir?”

“How far out are we?”

She glanced at her instruments. “We should reach Elderia in about two hours.”

Grayson pinched the bridge of his nose. “That hopper pod from the
Waratah is still in the cargo bay, isn’t it?”

“It should be. I mean, we haven’t unloaded any cargo except pieces of the
Maritobah salvage since we docked with the Waratah. Unless Taz did something with it, it’s still there.”

“Right. It’s fairly spacious — I’ll take Taz and Ramina and the biosuits and go down to the settlement when we get to Elderia. You and Benji stay on the
Sophia and keep in orbit above the settlement until I message you.”

“Any idea how long you’ll be?”

Grayson met Kate’s eyes. “I have no idea. It depends on the situation on the surface.”

“I’ll have Benji prep the pod for ship-to-dirt travel,” Kate said, swinging back around to her console. “Anything else?”

“Not at the moment.” He gazed blankly at the bulkhead and then said, “I wonder how Amy is getting on.”


With nothing else to do, Amy had been catching up on sleep. Not that there was a lot of time to sleep — she had forgotten that C-Prime was less than two days at top speed from where the
Dominia had picked her up. The crew left her alone aside from bringing her food; Ashdown checked in on her occasionally, but aside from making sure she’d come down from her supposed drug high, he didn’t bother her. Cam sent word that there were disturbing rumblings coming through on underground channels, but that he hadn’t been able to trace their origins; he thought that dissenter groups on C-Prime as well as several other central planets were planning something, but hadn’t been able to ascertain any further details. Stuck on a Commissioner ship, there was little Amy could do; she sent back a reply of acknowledgement and resigned herself to doing nothing.

Ashdown turned up at her door as they entered orbit around C-Prime, still dressed in his ship’s uniform. A satchel hung from his arm; from years of experience with Commissioner ships’ officers, Amy guessed that his dirtside uniform was folded inside. He held a stack of clothes in his hands.

“Your father has been contacted,” he said, standing just inside the hatch. “He’ll be expecting us.”

“Oh goody,” Amy said, hunching her shoulders and drawing her knees up to her chest. “I don’t suppose that’s a change of clothes for me? I’ve been in this outfit for three days and I stink.”

He was silent for a moment, and then finally said, “Interestingly enough, Annieka, it seems you still belong in uniform.” He handed her the clothes he held.

“Excuse me?” She shook out the clothes and discovered a Commissioner uniform with an ensign’s bars. “You have to be kidding me.”

Ashdown leaned against the bulkhead and crossed his arms. “I did a bit of digging. It’s a funny thing, you know. You were a cadet from the time you were sixteen until you were eighteen. Your father bought you a commission and legally you are still a commissioned officer with the Commissioner military. Technically you may have never served — your service was put on hold when you departed for the University when you were eighteen. But technically you never left, either.” He studied her for a moment and then added, “Also, it’s a curious thing — there’s almost no mention of Annieka Brenner after you went to University almost ten years ago. Your name crops up occasionally in reports, but for the most part you seem to have vanished pretty thoroughly. I’m curious as to where you’ve been for the last decade.”

Amy leaned back on her elbows. “I don’t see how that’s any of your business, Captain.”

“Perhaps not, but it is a considerable gap in our records, particularly for the daughter of such an important man.”

“If you’re hoping to get answers, I’m afraid I won’t be giving you any today.” Amy stood up. “You said it was time to go?”

“You have a uniform to change into.”

Amy folded her arms. “I am not wearing that. You can threaten me all you like, but I don’t consider myself a member of the Commission and there’s no way in hell you can threaten me with court martial.”

“Legally you’ve been AWOL for a decade, Annieka.”

“Captain Ashdown, you’ve already threatened me with my father. Do you really think I find court martial frightening?” She raised her eyebrows at Ashdown and stared him down for a moment. Then, considering, she added, “You know as well as I do my father wouldn’t allow me to stand court martial in any case. He’s too powerful a man to let something like that smear his career.”

“I wonder,” Ashdown murmured. “Your conspicuous absence in the past ten years makes me curious as to what else you’ve been up to that might cause problems for Seamus Brenner’s career.”

Amy picked the trousers from the uniform and held them up to her waist. “I wouldn’t dig too deeply, Captain. You may regret it. Now, if you don’t mind, I think I might change my trousers. I’ll be out in a moment if you’d like to wait.”

Ashdown pulled an antique pocket watch from the jacket of his uniform. “Mind you’re quick about it. We’ll be docking at the main C-Prime spaceport soon and there’s a transport waiting to take us to your father.”

“Goody,” Amy muttered as Ashdown went out the door. “I do so love family reunions.”


Previous: Captured 
Next: C-Prime

Captured

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


The flight deck of the Dominia summoned a host of memories. As a child, Amy had spent hours upon hours on Commissioner flight decks — nearly all dirtside, of course, but they all looked the same. A remote pilot had taken control of her little ship and brought it into the frigate once she’d surrendered; Amy recognised the technology. Her father had both loved and hated it, and Amy understood the feeling. It removed the need for grappling hooks, which could severely damage a ship, but remote piloting technology always felt like such an affront to the person sitting in the actual piloting seat.

As soon as the Sfera’s doors opened and a Guard pulled her out of the cockpit, Amy realised she had a problem. The captain of the
Dominia was standing on the flight deck waiting to greet her, hands clasped behind his back, standing stiff and straight as though he had a poker strapped to his spine. Amy had thought she’d recognised his voice over the comm, but she hadn’t been able to place it, and in any case static distorted sound so badly that half the time the person one thought they recognised turned out to be someone else entirely. In this case, however, she did know the captain, albeit from a previous life. Captain Terrence Ashdown had been friends with her father, twenty years earlier when he had been Lieutenant Terry Ashdown and had been stationed on Idylla.

Amy could tell as soon as Ashdown’s eyes met hers that he recognised her. He hadn’t seen her in years — not since she was in her late teens — but she looked too much like both of her parents for anyone who had known them not to know who she was.

“Well,” Ashdown said after a moment. “This is a surprise. I can’t say I was expecting you to step out of that ship.”

Amy tugged her arm free of the Guard’s and listed to the side. “I don’t see why you had to stop me,” she snapped, slurring her words. “I was just having a bit of fun!”

Ashdown studied her, his eyes narrowed, and then said, “You were dangerously close to the Commission-established quarantine line. Were you aware of that?”

She shrugged carelessly. “Dunno. What’s it matter? When did the Commission start decorating in bright purple?”

“My dear, what have you taken?”

“I dunno. Was on Peleteth, someone sold me something. Said it was amaaaazing.” She lurched forward slightly and Ashdown caught her elbow to steady her.

“Perhaps we should take you to the medical bay and have the doctor examine you.”

Well, that was a bad plan. Two minutes with a doctor and it would become very clear that Amy hadn’t taken any kind of drugs, which would immediately raise the question of why she had been pretending she had. She grabbed Ashdown’s arm with both hands.

“Please don’t!” she said, sounding panicked. “You can’t. You know my father…” She trailed off.

“Interesting you should mention your father,” Ashdown said, putting an arm around her waist and leading her towards the end of the flight deck. “I’m curious as to what you were doing stealing a ship. Does your father know you’re lifting Sferas these days?”

Amy shook her head. “Noooo…” She noted the threadbare carpets and the battered bulkheads as Ashdown walked her down the corridor. The Dominia might present as threatening from the outside, but inside she looked like she was just holding herself together. “You can’t tell him. You can’t.”

“In here, please.” Ashdown opened a door and ushered Amy into a room with a bed. She flopped down on the bed and watched as he perched on the edge of the desk, watching her. “You must recognise, Annieka, that you have stolen a ship from a powerful family and that your actions since leaving Peleteth constitute acts of aggression against the military. These are not light charges, and the fact that you were in a drug-induced state at the time is unfortunately not an adequate defence.” He hesitated, and then said gently, “Don’t you think you’re a little old for these antics? Last I heard you’d gone away to the University — I would have thought you’d have done something with your life by now…”

Amy looked away. “What’s it matter?” she asked sourly. “Once a rich kid, always a rich kid. It’s in the blood.”

Ashdown frowned, and then said, “Under normal circumstances, you would be turned over to the Commissioner Guard, arrested, and eventually tried. However, I think it would be best if I delivered you to your father instead.”

“What?” Amy cried, sitting straight up. “You can’t! He’ll kill me!” She burst into tears. “He’ll be so angry with me!”

“Annieka, I have to do
something with you,” Ashdown said sharply. “I’m not sure if you were planning on trading on your family’s name to get out of being punished if you were caught, but that isn’t going to work with me. I know Seamus Brenner too well, and I also know that there’s not a lot you can do to me without your father behind you.” He pushed himself to his feet and walked to the door. His hand on the open button, he glanced behind him and said, “Turning you over to your father will, in the end, be a far more desirable punishment than anything you would discover in the Commissioner criminal justice system. Believe me.” He opened the door and then added, “I’d still like the doctor to look at you, but — ”

“No! Please, you can’t!”

“ — but as you seem to become more upset when I suggest it, I think I’ll just leave you to come down from your high on your own.” He stepped out into the corridor and turned to look at her. “I’m going to lock you in, Annieka, because in the end I’m afraid you
are a prisoner on the Dominia. If you need anything, you may call for someone. In the meantime, get some rest. I’ll let you know when we arrive on C-Prime.”

The door hissed closed behind him. Amy sat up and did a quick scan for internal surveillance. Much to her surprise, she found none. With a deep breath, she settled back on the bed, her hands behind her head, and smiled bleakly.

The
Dominia was taking her exactly where she needed to go.

Previous: Distracting the enemy 
Next: Blank space

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Distracting the enemy

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


Clear space was a bitch.

To be fair, there was really no such thing as
clear space. Space was littered with debris. But when one was trying to evade capture, space devoid of planets, nebulae, solar storms, or asteroid belts really kind of did qualify as clear space. There was nowhere to hide. And the space between Peleteth and the Sophia’s chosen point of crossing the Commission’s quarantine line was practically empty. Amy had had a Guardship on her tail from Peleteth with no way to shake it. She was a much better pilot, and every time she took the Sfera into a nosedive or into an upward spiral and the Guardship tried to follow, she gained several minutes in pulling out of the manoeuvre quickly and shooting ahead while the poor Commissioner pilot fumbled his way along and got back on track. But she couldn’t get out of visual range of the damn thing. It didn’t really matter; she only needed to evade capture long enough to distract the ships in the vicinity of the Sophia, but she hadn’t been counting on trailing a third ship.

Amy double-checked the
Sophia’s coordinates as she spotted a Commissioner frigate up ahead. Expanding her sensors, she spotted another, smaller ship — a sweeper — further up the line. She’d already passed at least three other ships on her way here, pings on the edge of her sensors. Clearly the Commission was taking no chances of anyone crossing the quarantine line in either direction. The last time she’d seen this much firepower in one place was the Meridani riots.

“Right then,” she murmured, noting the distance between the Sfera and her Guardship tail. “Time to put this plan into motion.”

She tipped the controls up and the Sfera shot forwards. Putting the little ship into a spin, Amy blazed straight for the frigate, pulling up just before the Sfera’s nose would have struck the frigate’s hull and then sending the Sfera’s skimming along the surface of the other ship. The comm light began blinking frantically on her instrument panel. Amy ignored it and rolled the Sfera away, darting towards the Guardship. She looped around the slower vessel and then buzzed the frigate again. The comm light continued to blink, and after a moment her emergency comm light began to flash as well.

Amy stabbed the button with her thumb and spun the Sfera upwards. “What?” she demanded.

Pilot of Sfera craft, this is the Commissioner frigate Dominia. Power down your engines and prepare to be taken into custody.

“Oh, who made you boss?” Amy exclaimed. “Go to hell, you boring old sod!”

She cut the comm and dive-bombed the frigate, sticking out her tongue just in case anyone could see her, and then checked the message that had just appeared on her instrument panel — a series of incomprehensible numbers. The
Sophia was headed across the line. Amy started a timer and made a wide loop around the sweeper before returning her attention to the frigate.

Reopening the channel to the
Dominia, Amy began to taunt the Commissioner ship, hoping to draw them away from the quarantine line. It worked, although they were reluctant to move from their post. When she showed signs of moving too closely to the line, however, they were more willing to follow her away, back into sanctioned space. Amy kept an eye on the timer; she knew approximately how long it would take the Sophia to get over and out of sensor range, and she also knew approximately when the Commissioner ships’ sensors would blip as the Sophia crossed the quarantine line. She redoubled her efforts at that moment, and then kept up her harassment, drawing the three ships further and further from the quarantine line, until well after the Sophia had crossed the line. And then she pretended to make a mistake and allowed herself to be captured.

Previous: Waiting for Amy 
Next: Captured

Waiting for Amy

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


The Sophia idled near the quarantine line, a deep-space anchor holding her in place. A Commissioner scout ship had come almost within spitting distance earlier but had shown no sign of picking the salvage vessel up on its instruments. The interior of the ship hummed, making the deckplates buzz beneath one’s boots and sending a faintly uncomfortable sensation through one’s bones and teeth. The humming had started as soon as Taz had activated the signal deflector and had only grown in intensity the longer it had been operational. All non-essential systems were powered down, which made the humming that much more noticeable.

Most of the crew was gathered in the bowels of the ship, cradled between the engines; the usual purr of the
Sophia’s double engines cancelled out much of the signal deflector’s buzz. Taz lay on his back, wrist-deep in a tangle of wiring, as Grayson, Ramina, and Benji studied their tokens.

“Dinner next Tuesday,” Benji said at last, tossing in a slip of paper. “And cleaning out the aft manifolds.”

“That’s not a raise,” Grayson objected.

“Have you
seen the build-up in the aft manifolds?”

Ramina shook her head and tapped her tokens together before setting them facedown in a neat pile. “There is absolutely no way that I will be cleaning out manifolds of any sort, thank you.” She nudged Taz’s boot. “Yours, Dekker.”

Taz craned his head. “See your cleaning of the manifolds, Benji, and raise you a full scrub down of the engines—inside and out.”

Grayson tossed down his tokens. “What the hell do you
have, Taz?”

The question went unanswered, as at that moment the comm crackled loudly and Kate said,

Captain, I’ve just picked up a ship on the edge of scanners. She’s small but closing quickly.

“Jones?”

She’s too far out, Captain. I’m not sure what else such a small ship would be doing out this far by itself, but the readings I’m getting are jumbled. I can’t tell what kind of bird it is.

“I’m headed up.” Grayson looked at his crew. Ramina and Benji stood by the engines; Taz sat with his arms resting on his knees. “Taz, stay here and make sure that signal deflector keeps operating. Benji, give him a hand. Ramina — ”

“I’ll see if there’s anything I can do with that sample of Warner’s Disease,” she said quietly. Grayson nodded and headed for the bridge.

Kate turned as he came up through the deck. “She looks like a Sfera, although she’s still too far out for me to see what model.”

Grayson braced his hand on the back of her chair and leaned over her shoulder to look at the readings coming through on the panel. “Sferas are top-of-the-line, high-speed pleasure cruisers, aren’t they?”

“New one out just about every year,” Kate said. “I desperately wanted one when I was about seventeen. They’re hard to beat for speed, although I think the Obvera’s got them beat for style.” She saw Grayson’s raised eyebrows and blushed. “I’ve been flight-mad since I was a kid, Grayson. I used to get all the latest on the new ship models. Although admittedly I’m a bit out of date,” she said, frowning down at the data coming in. “I don’t recognise this model of Sfera. They’ve redesigned the engines and streamlined — ” She coughed. “Sorry.”

“But is it Jones?”

Kate flicked on the vidscreen as the Sfera came into visual range. “Guess we’ll know as soon as she comes into range of those Commissioner ships.”


Previous: Stealing a ship 
Next: Distracting the enemy

Monday, January 9, 2012

Stealing a ship

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


The shaft was cramped and smelled like old grease and sweat. Amy could think of worse places she’d been, but most of them hadn’t been voluntary. Her hands and knees were streaked with grime and ached from crawling along the tunnel.

The secure comm bug in her ear crackled. Her head hit the top of the shaft; wincing, she tapped her ear. “What?”

Peleteth Docking Control wants to know when we’re planning on leaving. They regret to inform us that we may be carrying a government official but that that unfortunately doesn’t give us the right to outstay our docking permissions. Where are you, ma’am?

Amy squinted down the tunnel and then looked down at the map hastily copied into her notebook from the much more detailed plans Cam’s young sailor had pulled up for her. “Almost there. Stall them.”

Excuse me?

She inched forward, glancing from the map to the shaft and back again. “Stall them. Cite them for something.”

Ma’am, if I stall them much longer that shaft may begin to retract whether we detach from this side or not.

“Give me two minutes,” Amy said, reaching the hatch in the side of the shaft. Tucking her notebook into a pocket of her jumpsuit, she opened the hatch a few inches, peered out, and then flipped it all the way back. Carefully, she drew her legs up and then slid until she was sitting at the edge of the opening. She leaned over, made a face, and began to roll over. The shaft lurched, sending her sliding, and she scrabbled for a handhold, swearing under her breath.

The comm bug buzzed again. “
They’ve begun to retract, ma’am.

“I noticed.” The edge of the chute was digging painfully into Amy’s stomach; her legs were dangling conspicuously into the tunnel below. Biting down hard on her lip, she wiggled backwards until she was hanging from the chute by her elbows, then from her fingertips, and finally dropped. She landed hard in the maintenance tunnels, rolling her ankle and dropping to one knee.

“Shit,” she muttered as she pushed herself to her feet, looking down at the blood oozing through the knee of her jumpsuit.

You okay, ma’am?

“Yep. Thanks for the help. My regards to Cam.”

Good luck, ma’am.

Amy stripped off the jumpsuit and examined the damage. There was a noticeable tear in the knee of her trousers; the fabric was dark, so the blood would pass unnoticed, but she would have to do something about that rip. The tunnels were deserted, so she quickly tugged off her boots and the trousers, bandaged her knee, and redressed herself before rummaging through her bag in search of inspiration.

“Ah,” she said at last, pulling out a silk scarf. A slight smile crossed her face as she remembered the last time she’d used the scarf, but quickly faded again as she focused on the task at hand. The last time she’d been on C-Prime she remembered seeing a few of the politician’s kids wearing scarves tied above their elbows. It had looked utterly ridiculous, but then she was disguising herself as herself, and rich kids were known for their somewhat eccentric fashion sense. And their stupidity. And if someone like Janelle Nicholson could wear a fuchsia scarf above her elbow, then surely Annieka Brenner could wear a turquoise scarf tied over her knee.

The scarf fluttered against her calf as she walked, making Amy jumpy, but it hid the shredded part of her trousers and it hid the blood-spotted bandage. And it made her look more ridiculous, so on balance Amy figured that anything that made Annieka Brenner seem less of a threat was probably a plus.

She left the jumpsuit in the tunnels and found an exit point onto Level One. Slipping into the crowd, she wove her way across the deck towards Kettering’s Sfera 21. No one looked at her twice. When she reached his dock, she didn’t look around, but went straight up to the access pad as though she belonged and pretended to enter the code. Kettering hadn’t entered his code, of course, and the hatch opened as soon as she asked.

Once through the access port, she entered a new code and locked the hatch. The Sfera was small for a pleasure cruiser, but the cockpit was spacious compared to some of the earlier models. Amy remembered the first Sfera she’d ever been in, a Sfera 04; that had been a cramped ship. That had also been twenty years earlier.

She settled into the pilot’s seat and checked the instruments. Instinct screamed at her to contact Docking Control and request permission to depart, but of course that would be ridiculous. She was
stealing a ship, after all. Then again…

Checking one more time that she was ready to blaze for the
Sophia’s coordinates, Amy flipped a switch and knocked out a series of commands; the Sfera rocked and then tipped forward, breaking free of the docking clamps almost immediately. Amy grinned. It had been years since she’d pulled that manoeuvre. Through the windscreen she saw yellow lights begin to flash on the spaceport. Good. She’d set off the alarms.

She flicked a knob and opened a pipe to Docking Control. “See you later, babes,” she said, laughing, and then gunned the engines. The Sfera shot away from Peleteth, looped a slow-moving cargo vessel, and swooped off in the direction of the quarantine line.


Previous: Move 
Next: Waiting for Amy

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Move

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


Three days on Peleteth and Amy was ready to hijack the next ship she saw, whether she heard from Grayson or not. Playing the role of Captain Ellis was easy enough, but she rather felt that the three months she’d spent pretending to be a member of an obscure religious sect and slogging through endless Meridani marshes, often with a high fever, in order to track down the remains of what might have been an Empire crash site, was preferable to dealing with Kirkwood. She was more than ready to get off the damn spaceport.

Grayson’s call came through in the middle of the night. The channel was unsecure, though Taz had rerouted it to disguise its point of origin, and so the message read like an update from home, delivered in Kate’s most upbeat and chipper voice: “Darling! Reeny, when are you coming home? You know we all miss you when you’re way out there! Your baby sister’s just
dying to see you! Give us a buzz whenever you’re next in the area and we’ll all come for you! Loves!”

The message confirmed that the
Sophia was in position, waiting for Amy’s distraction to activate the signal deflector and move past the quarantine line. Piggy-backed onto the message was a set of coordinates, cleverly hidden amidst masses of junk data where no one would notice it unless they were specifically looking. That was that half of the plan sorted, then.

Checking that the internal sensors were still disabled — she’d deactivated them as soon as she’d moved into her room — Amy pulled her right boot off and popped off the heel. Cam’s signal box tumbled into her hand, the metal cool against her skin. Unlike Grayson’s call, anything she sent from the signal box to Cam’s matching one was virtually undetectable and untraceable and therefore little caution was needed aside from ensuring the box remained hidden at all times.

The box twitched in her hands, alerting her to a return message. She read it and nodded before returning it to her heel and putting her boot back on. Cam’s ship would arrive in dock on Level Five in the next hour. She had until then to put the last details on the next stage of her plan.

Every line of her uniform crisp and neat despite the hour, Amy appeared without warning in the door of Peleteth’s command centre, startling Kirkwood so badly that he nearly fell out of his chair. She waited until he regained some measure of composure and then said,

“I have completed my inspection and will be departing Peleteth as soon as my transport arrives.”

“It’s the middle of the night!”

Amy stared down her nose at him. “We are in space, Kirkwood. ‘Day’ and ‘night’ are relative concepts. My transport will be here in less than an hour. I will write up my report and file it with the Board of Spaceport, Space Transport, and Ground Transport Inspection. In due course the results will be forwarded to you. Thank you for your time and hospitality during my stay.” She nodded to him and turned to leave.

“That — that’s it?” Kirkwood spluttered.

She half-turned. “Was there something else you required?”

He paled slightly at the look on her face. “I was just wondering if you could tell me the results now?”

“Peleteth is a satisfactory spaceport, Commander Kirkwood, although admittedly lacking in a number of areas. The details will be in my report. Good night.”

Having left the command centre, Amy stood on the promenade on Level Five for a moment and surveyed the area. Cam’s ship would come in at one of these docking ports, but the ships she needed would be up on the top ring. Level One was reserved for small, personal craft — almost exclusively high-powered and owned by people or corporations with more credits than they knew what to do with.

A Smith 818 was leaving Level One as Amy stepped onto the platform, distinctive for its long, narrow nose. Its front view pane was wide and clear, affording an unobstructed view of the pilot; as the ship whizzed past the observation windows, Amy realised she knew the woman inside. One corner of her mouth twisted with the thought that, very easily, she might have owned one of the ships on this level.

She made a slow circuit around the edge of the ring, hands clasped behind her back, and observed the ships currently docked. Two were due to depart before she was; another two were clearly the toys of older people with little idea of what actually constituted a good ship. There was one Sfera 21 in port, not scheduled to depart for another two days; the red paint gleamed in the station’s lights. It wasn’t a model Amy recognised, which meant it was probably the latest off the line. No matter; if she could get in, she could fly it.

The access port hissed open and the Sfera’s owner stepped out. Amy stifled a laugh. The kid was about nineteen, with red-streaked spiked peroxide hair that matched the colour of his bird. Curlicue letters on the back of his jacket spelled out “Kettering” — a member of the powerful political family Kettering, then. Too young to be the son of the Kettering woman who worked with Amy’s father; a nephew, perhaps? Not that it really mattered. What mattered was the fact that he was clearly off his head on something and didn’t key the access port locked behind him, which meant anyone could walk in. This was fairly unlikely on Level One; Commissioner Guards stood watch at the entrances, as most of those docking on Level One were either wealthy, powerful, or both, and the last thing any spaceport needed was for ships to be stolen. No one was allowed onto the upper ring unless they owned a ship docked there or, like Amy’s Captain Ellis, had been given free reign.

Amy checked the time. Cam’s ship would be arriving soon, so with one last glance at the Sfera, she followed the teenage Kettering back down to Level Five. He settled in for a snack while she went back to her room, picked up her bag, and headed for Docking Port H34. Kirkwood and the two lieutenants who had been present to greet Amy when she arrived were both waiting.

“A send-off party was not necessary,” Amy said.

“We simply wanted to assure you that Peleteth will always welcome you back,” Kirkwood said. His eagerness was painful.

“Peleteth is a spaceport, Kirkwood. It is an inanimate object, albeit a very large one. It cannot welcome me anywhere.” Amy paused and considered. “But thank you for the sentiment.”

There was a soft
thud from the other side of the access port and then a hiss as the hatch rolled aside. A young man in a Commissioner uniform stood on the other side. “Ma’am,” he said. “Allow me to take your bag.”

“Thank you, Ensign,” she said, handing it over. “Until next time, Kirkwood.”

As soon as the hatch rolled shut behind her, the young man touched her arm. “This way,” he said. “We’ve got you set up in here.”

Amy followed him into a sparse room with a wash basin and a mirror. “My bag,” she said.

He handed it to her. “We have clearance to stay until we’ve refuelled and have finished minor repairs,” he said. “Which gives us about a half hour. Will you be ready to go by then, ma’am?”

“Stop calling me ma’am,” Amy said, pulling off her wig and tossing it aside. “Half an hour will be fine. Do you have my re-entry set up?”

“There’s a maintenance shaft connecting the ship to the station,” he replied. “You can return to Peleteth via the shaft. It should deposit you in the maintenance tunnels.”

“Goody,” Amy said. “I so love crawling around grimy tunnels.” She scrubbed the paints from her face. In the mirror, she saw the young man’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “It’s a big difference, isn’t it?” she said, gesturing at her face.

“You look completely different.”

“Good,” she said. “That’s the plan.” She began to unbutton her jacket.

“I’ll just wait for you outside,” he said hastily. The door hissed closed behind him.

The uniform joined the wig on the floor. Amy looked longingly at her usual clothes, stuffed deep in her bag, but sighed and pulled out the clothes she’d specifically packed for this phase. Rich kids’ clothes. Fine material. Bright colours. Tunic over tight trousers. She kept the boots; they were the only piece of her Commissioner uniform that wasn’t actually regulation, because her feet had grown since the last time she’d had to wear the damn thing and the reg boots no longer fit.

There was a tap at the door. “We’re running out of time, ma’am. Peleteth is calling for us to disconnect shortly.”

Amy pulled on a jumpsuit over her clothes and opened the door, pinning her hair up. “Yeah,” she said, slinging her bag across her back. “Show me to that maintenance shaft.”


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