Deep Space One

Across the Line

...To Alliance Space...

…And Pell…

…where everybody gets to meet Alex’s new girlfriend.

Jaeger O’Reilly knew Mariner would be busy, but he hadn’t expected the traffic lanes from the jump ranges would be this crowded.

“At least, that’s what the buoy is reporting,” he corrected himself. Not that he had any reason to doubt the automated info-dump. “Dumping speed quickly,” he reported to Comm. Dandin would make sure all 1,064 O’Reillys on Dublin Again were ready for the jump vanes to cycle in and out.

Kieran O’Reilly listened to Megan’s bragging.

“Heeere’s Megan! Best damn Helmsman on the Dublin. We’re here to party,” the unposted Conn crowed. “Unlike that has-been Jaeger.”

The Helm Chief wasn’t the only one she was ribbing.

“After all,” he thought, “I’m standing right next to her, waiting for shore leave.”

“Hey, Kieran. I heard you got knocked out last station.”

As they continued their bantering, they headed for the nearest dockside dive bar. He had to admit, Megan was good at finding them.

“Looks like the whole unposted crew is headed there,” he noted to himself. Out loud, he answered Megan’s taunt.

“I wouldn’t say ‘knocked out,’ exactly….”

“Oh what would you call it? ‘Getting lucky with a girl bigger then you are’?”

“Taking an involuntary nap after some intense heavy petting?” Finbar offered as they ordered drinks.

He noticed Alex was scoping out the security situation.

“Good,” he told the others. “We can concentrate on the partying.”

Megan was really concentrating.

Alex O’Reilly was kinda glad they thought he was working security. He had noticed a very attractive young spacer eyeing him. She had been stalking another spacer – an in-system pilot, by the looks of him – when he first spotted her.

Used to attracting the feminine kind of attention – he knew the women thought of him as attractive, even without the shamrock on his shoulder – he was hardly surprised when she came over to buy him a drink. The shabbiness of overalls might have scared him off. Poor girls tended to avoid a “prince” of a rich Merchanter family like the O’Reillys.

“I guess I’m feeling adventurous tonight,” he reasoned. “Taking a chance because my chances of getting posted are worse than Megan’s.”

Turned out that Allison Stevens – that was her name, Allison – wasn’t really as poor as she looked.

“Captain of your own spaceship?” It almost made Alex jealous. It would be at least a century before he made captain on the Dublin. If ever.

“Captain and crew,” Allison joked. “Not like Lucy’s in the same class as Dublin Again. But I’m looking to hire crew here on Mariner.”

Wary of no-name encounters in strange bars, he asked Allison what kind of work Lucy did.

“We’re Wyatt’s Star Combine, general cargo,” she told him. “Very general.”

Wyatt Star was a long way from Mariner. The Combine, station-based company. According to her story. Matched what Alex knew. Which wasn’t much.

As Allison finished her drink, the automated barkeep poured them both a second round. Flustered, she threw everything she had into its coin hopper. Then she tried to make a lame excuse about being short-changed at another bar to cover.

“I can arrange credit,” she told it.

“Put it on Dublin’s account,” he told the machine.

She finished her drink and left the bar, looking embarrassed.

Alex followed her out and found her walking dejectedly back to her ship. When he asked her where she was going, she admitted he had gotten all her spending money.

“I have to go back and sleep on my ship,” she admitted. “I don’t expect the accommodations are up to your standards.” She was crying softly.

So, he offered to take her to an upscale sleepover, favored by Dubliners.

“Probably unlike anything she’s ever seen.”

When she explained how hard it was to hire crew, he told her the Dublin occasionally got applications.

“We never take them. We’re a family ship.” Everybody was an O’Reilly.

He offered to see if they’d had any applications here on Mariner. She explained that her crew had left her.

“Not that it was unexpected. He missed his ship on Fargone. He just signed on to connect with his ship.” His family. “We caught up with them here. He left without a word.”

“Just happy to find his family,” Alex guessed.

“Yeah, must me nice.”

Her family was all dead, so she said.

“Pirates,” she explained. “I hire whom I can.”

In between their shower and their episodes of physical affection, he used his PADD to contact the Dubliners stuck at the dock, protecting the hatches to the Dublin Again.

“No applications,” he told her.

“I wouldn’t take just anybody,” she told him, before admitting that she probably would. “Flying solo isn’t any safer.”

Rose O’Reilly watched Alex follow the girl out of the bar. Megan was pulling her usual routine.

“Ordering a Mariner Sunrise for her new friend and her engineering buddy.” Finbar. Always a good drinking partner.

“That’s what I love about dive bars,” Finbar offered. “Two-for-one drinks! Strong and plentiful.”

Megan thought it was fun if she always ordered a Sunrise in every system she went to. Every system had a drink. To see the differences.

“Sunrises here are apparently orange.” The drink looked like Tang to Rose. Orange dye and vitamin C. “Makes sense for a K-Class star.” Old star. “Not as old as most of the Milky Way. But older than Sol.” Or Pell’s star. Or Cyteen’s, for that matter. Some of the people in the Nav track thought Megan’s sunrise affectation was absurd.

No more absurd, to Rose’s thinking, than Kieran’s parties.

“Go get em!” Finbar shouted as the engineer added his own celebrations to their XO’s exertions.

“At least Kieran isn’t needing Alex’s rescue at this port,” Rose noted. Instead it was Megan bragging about her great-great-uncle Captain Patrick and his meeting with Ariane Emory.

Rose moved in to remind the others about loose lips.

Finbar’s partying was more daring.

“He’s always willing to be open and friendly,” she thought to herself. “Keeps Dublin’s secrets to himself, though.”

“I’m a hot shot pilot,” Megan boasted, ignoring Rose’s warning. “I’m used to flying into trouble.”

Kieran’s party was going so strong Rose was able to steer braggart Megan over to him for distraction.

“Thanks, Kieran,” the future Helmsman slurred drunkenly. “You’re a good friend.”

“I know, right?” Kieran allowed. “And you’re a fecking angel. Darts?”

When Megan O’Reilly agreed to a game of darts, Rose knew any trouble had been averted.

“In her condition, she will not be able think about the captain’s business while losing to Kieran at darts.”

Finbar O’Reilly watched Kieran demolish Megan at a game of darts.

“No surprise there,” he observed. The surprise was that their XO managed to damage an automated bartender in the process. “With an errant dart, no less.”

“I won,” Kieran announced once they were back at the Dublin waiting for jump. “So that means that Megan has to pay for the damage I did to the auto-barkeep machine. Well, I break even, and you lose. Grand.”

“Darn, I paid for the drinks, too,” Megan noted. “That’s gonna hurt.”

He saw Kieran was unfazed by the jump, even though he complained about a jump hangover.

“If you’re not vomiting, It’s not jump-sickness.”

Finbar himself was fine.

“Not as good as Megan, who was up and about, helping others less fortunate.”

Second jump did not go as well for the future Helmscomper.

“Looks a little stressed.” Still she was crowing.

“Pell station this is a navigator’s dream. Exploring space outside the Union.
If I could only sign onto a ship on this side of the line.”

“Let’s show ‘em what the _Dublin’s_ all about!” Kieran shouted as they piled out.

Alex told Finbar about the scene with his girl in the port of Mariner.

“She told me she would meet me here.” He looked worried. “I’m going to go to the local dive bar, just in case I see her….”

Two days later, they were in a much fancier establishment.

Finbar pointed up at the monitor behind the bar. The chyron read, “Merchanter Lucy: Out of Control?”

They seemed to be replaying messages sent by Pell Central to a freighter coming out of jump-space at a high rate of speed.

“This is Pell Central. You have come in at a velocity above limit.” A long pause followed. Finbar assumed it was not as long as the realtime dead air. “Consult regulations regarding Pell operational restrictions, Section 2, Number 22. This is a live transmission.”

Alex told him that Pell Central comms were broadcast live.

“Usually no one listens. I guess somebody thought this one was newsworthy.”

“Further instructions assume you have brought your speed to within tolerance and keep to lane. If otherwise, patrol will be moving on intercept and your time is limited to make appropriate response.”

Query: Why this approach? Identify immediately."

“We are now picking up your initial dump, Lucy. Please confirm ID and make all appropriate response.”

“We don’t pick up voice, Lucy. Query: Why silence?”

“Oh, God,” Alex said.

Then a voice – familiar to Alex by the look on his face – broke in.

“Appreciate your distress, Pell Central.”

Alex slumped, his forehead on the bar.

“This is Stevens talking, of Stevens’s Lucy, merchanter of Wyatt’s Star Combine, US-48-335 Y. Had a scare on entry, minor malfunction, put me out of contact a moment. I’m all right now. Had a backup engaged. No further difficulty. Please give approach and docking instructions.”

Finbar watched Alex raise his head slowly as the broadcasters allowed another long pause.

The chyron now read, "Recorded six hours ago, solo space captain makes jump from Mariner.

“I’m solo on this run and wanting a sleepover, Pell Central. I appreciate your assistance.”

The chyron now “Pell Central:”

“Are you all right, Lucy? … Lucy, what’s going on out there?”

“All right…. I’m here. Receiving you clear. Say again, Pell Central?”

The newscaster explained the gaps in transmissions. A bunch of stuff about the speed of light and the time it took messages to pass back and forth from the jump range. “Stuff any spacer knows.” Finbar figured it was for the stationers.

After a perfect dock – “Broadcast live on TV,” Alex moaned as the newscaster told everyone this wasn’t expected, given the condition of the pilot – the Pell Central chyron reappeared.

“This is Pell systems and dock security. Have your papers ready for inspection.”

Alex seemed to concentrate at the next bit.

“Pell customs, this is Stevens of Lucy. We’ve come in without cargo due to a scheduling foul-up at Viking…. You’re welcome to check my holds. I’m Wyatt’s Star Combine. I’m carrying just ship-consumption goods. Papers are ready…. Sorry, Pell dock control. Didn’t mean to miss that … adjustment. I mean, the dock access.”

A pause. And a different voice.

“Lucy, this is Pell Dock Authority. Are you all right aboard? Do you need medical assistance?"

“Negative, Pell Dock Authority.”

“Query: Why solo?”

“Just limped in Pell Dock. … This is a hired-crew ship. My last crew met relatives on Viking, er, Mariner … and ran out on me. I had no choice but to take her out myself; and I couldn’t get cargo. I limped all right. But I’m pretty tired.”

Long silence, not edited out by the newsfeed. Finbar figured this was live.

“Congratulations, then Lucy. Lucky you got here at all. Any special assistance required?”

“No, ma’am. Just want a sleepover. … Except, is Reilly’s Dublin in dock? Got a friend I wanna find.”

“That’s affirmative on Dublin, Lucy. Been in dock two days. Any message?”

“No, I’ll find him.”

Another silence.

“Right, Lucy. We’ll want to talk to you about dock charges.” As the newsfeed cuts abruptly back to newscaster.

Finbar looked away from the screen and saw Alex was already headed for the door of restaurant. He got on his PADD and texted the rest of their watch. Those in the eatery were already grabbing their things to follow Alex.

They raced after their CO, who was making good time to the dock. They got their in time to see station security placing a seal on Lucy’s accessway.

The girl didn’t look like she was in any condition to object.

“Not that it would have mattered.” What with the I-Might-Be-a-Pirate-Spotter sign she had painted on her butt with that rambling discourse on the way in from the jump range. “Not that I think she’s a Mazianni spotter,” Finbar told himself. A spotter or even a Union spy ship would hardly have set themselves up so obviously.

She broke into a big smile when she saw Alex O’Reilly. Cameras were flashing all over. A reporter stuck a microphone in her face.

Finbar heard someone official talking to her. Over his PADD, which was tuned to the newscast. Even Alex wasn’t close enough to hear her through the crowd.

She stopped short when she saw it was police.

“You’ll want to pick up a regulations sheet at the office,” the officer said. “Our regulations are a little different here than Unionside. …Did they give you trouble clearing Viking?”

She stared. Blank, as far as he could see.

“Lt. Perez,” the officer IDed himself as station security operations. “Was it an understandable scheduling error? Or otherwise?”

“Mariner,” she answered. “If I said Viking, my head was…”

She shook her head, obviously confused in the crowd. She looked around until her eye caught Alex.

“I don’t know.” She was obviously talking to the policeman, but her eyes were still on Alex. She looked back to Lt. Perez. “I don’t know. I’m a marginer. It happens sometimes. Somebody didn’t have their papers straight. Or some bigger ship snatched it. I don’t know.”

She started walking towards his CO, who was working his way through the crowd. As she got into the crowd, somebody yelled from the back.

“Hey, captain, why’d you do it?”

The reporter was back, pushing the mic in her face.

“What route?” It wasn’t that reporter asking. “You find some new nullpoint, captain?”

“Nothing like that. Just came through Wesson’s, same as always.”

She stared back at the stationers come to stare at her. The mic was back in her face. This time the reporter asked the question.

“You know the whole station’s been following your comm for five hours, captain?”

“No, I’m tired.”

“You’re Captain Allison Stevens, right? From Wyatt’s Star? What’s the tie with Dublin? ‘He,’ you said. Personal?”

“Right.” Finbar heard the tremble in her voice, even on the earbud from the PADD. “Excuse me.”

“How long have you been out?” the microphone was following her through the crowd. Toward Alex. Persistent, by Finbar’s way of thinking. Although it it did make it easier to follow the conversation on his PADD, which was tuned to the newscast. “You have any special trouble running solo, captain?”

“A month or so. I don’t know. I haven’t comped it yet. No. I don’t know.”

“You’re meeting somebody of O’Reilly’s Dublin, you said?”

“I didn’t say.” Finbar figured she still hadn’t added up everything about the station following her comms for the past five hours. “It’s personal.”

“What’s his name? Captain, is there more to it?”

“Excuse me, please. I’m tired. I just want to get to the bank. I didn’t do anything?”

“You cleared Mariner to Pell in a month in a ship that size? Solo? What kind of rig is she?”

“Excuse me. Please.”

“You don’t call what you did remarkable?”

“I call it ‘stupid,’ please.”

Finbar could see she was close enough for Alex to be following the exchange without the PADD.

Alex shoved his way right up to her. The crowd was wide-eyed with excitement. Finbar saw Alex’s eyes were open wide, too. He didn’t think it was excitement.

“You’re crazy,” Alex told her as she planted a sloppy kiss on him. “You’re outright crazy.”

“I told I’d see you here. I’m tired. Can we talk? … After I get back from the bank?”

Finbar was glad to see Alex taking control of the situation. It didn’t look like he was taking her to the bank. Megan and the others – including Finbar himself – had caught up with Alex who was guiding them to a quieter crowd.

“Spacers. They’ll give us some room.”

Dandin, from the bridge crew was there, too. Finbar knew the comms officer like to monitor station communications when they were in dock.

“It would be hard to miss this on the vids.”

The bridge officer was throwing his weight around, but the station police seemed to be helping Alex get out of trouble, directing Dandin toward the Dockmaster’s office.

Kieran was helping, too.

“Setting up an impromptu press conference.” The press seemed to be interested in anyone who would answer their questions.

Megan whispered in Finbar’s ear.

“Patrick is going out of his mind.”

Finbar remembered other contretemps from the unposted crew. Which Captain Patrick had always managed to overlook.

“Some of them even involved Megan.” The captain’s favorite great-grand-niece.

Kieran O’Reilly steered the reporters toward a fancy restaurant. He was buying them drinks as soon as he was through the door.

“Never known a reporter to turn down free whisky,” he told himself.

The drinks were getting their attention. So were his promises to tell those assembled all about the time Allison met the O’Reillys at the Star-Eater’s Spine.

“A bar on Mariner.” The other side of the line. None of these reporters would know it. That kind of detail would convince them he knew all about the personal business their viewers were all caught up in. "That’s Kieran O’Reilly, right? Make sure you remember that, Kieran O’Reilly. He spelled it out for them.

To make himself the story, not Alex and Allison.

As he approached the Dockmasters Office, Dandin O’Reilly remembered the message from the ship ahead of them in the jump range.

“Dublin Again, this is Lucy, US-48-335 Y, Lucy, number one for jump. Advise you the buoy is in error. I’m bound for Pell. Repeat, buoy information is in error. I’m bound for Pell; don’t crowd my departure.”

At the time, it had seemed important to relay the message to Jaeger.

“Now it seems important to relay it to the Dockmaster.”

Eileen Quen, as he remembered from their earlier conversations. Routine communications setting up Captain Patrick’s meeting with the Pell authorities.

He was not surprised that his captain was no longer in the Dockmaster’s offices when he got there.

“Probably finished with Quen,” who was known for good relations with Merchants. She was from a merchanter family herself. The Quens. All killed in the disaster at Russell’s Star when the Earth Company had evacuated the residents.

“Before Union took that over.”

He figured the captain would have more business with the station itself. Which was run by Quen’s husband, Damon Konstantin.

He didn’t have much trouble getting past the front desk and into the Dockmaster’s office.

“Alright, look. Time is short, so lets get to the point. I’ll share with you what I know. And then I need to know from you what exactly is going on here. Frankly, all I really know is that one of our crew is involved somehow.”

He was a little surprised Quen wasn’t actively involved in the whole mess down at the docks.

She told him her office was investigating.

“Should be wrapped up in a few days. I’m sure everybody from the Unionside vouches for Dublin Again and for any O’Reillys who might be caught up in it.”

Sounded like the captain’s meetings with Quen had gone well.

An naval officer was standing nearby. One Josh Talley. The name jogged his memory. By the uniform, Dandin could tell he was assigned to Norway, the only true warship in Pell’s navy.

“The military will be conducting it’s own investigation,” Talley said, indicating considerable more interest than Quen. “It will be ongoing.”

Dandin played the tape from his communication log, telling Quen it was the message they had received from Lucy as they approached the jump range at Mariner.

“Dublin Again, this is Lucy, US-48-335 Y, Lucy, number one for jump. Advise you the buoy is in error. I’m bound for Pell. Repeat, buoy information is in error. I’m bound for Pell; don’t crowd my departure.”

When he implied that Pell might break the seal on Lucy’s hold without a warrant, she seemed a little offended.

“Oh, yeah,” he told himself. “She’s a merchanter.”

His efforts to smooth things over after that didn’t seem to help, but the Dockmaster was still all smiles.

“I guess the captain’s meetings went well.”

After the military man left, he remembered where he had heard the name. Talley was the name written on the paper the unposted executive officer had been handed by Ariane Emory. Along with a code-phrase.

He decided to tell Quen the man was a Union spy.

The dockmaster gave him a long hard look. Then she laughed.

He decided to do some research about Talley before he reported all this to the captain.

“He’ll want the full story.” At least what Quen knew.

Megan O’Reilly caught up with Alex before he made his way through the crowd to Allison Stevens.

“We all did,” she told him, looking at the group on unposted crew from Dublin behind her.

After she kissed him, he had some stern words for her, which she seemed to take seriously enough to let him take her to a bar-restaurant which catered to spacers.

Kieran had headed off the press, and Alex asked her to get Allison something to eat and drink. She settled on a sandwich and a glass of sweet fruit juice. She had found the juices here much preferable that found on Mariner.

“Or even Cyteen.” Which had its own planet. As did Pell.

Alex’s girlfriend must have been expecting something stronger. She gagged a bit on the drink.

“It’s what she needs. Replace those electrolytes.”

Allison did a little bit better with the sandwich, wolfing a couple of bites and stuffing the rest into the pocket of her coveralls. Several spacers were nodding when they saw that.

“They know what kind of poverty would drive a woman to something like that.”

Allison wanted to talk to Alex.

“Privately,” she insisted.

“Woo,” said most of the gathered spacers.

So they took her to Megan’s room at the sleepover next door.

“Which is close to Alex’s.”

She almost passed out when they got her to bed.

Alex let Megan undress her.

“By the way,” she told Alex, “I’m staying with her to make sure she doesn’t wander.”

The half-naked margin-ship captain had more energy than either of them expected. She bounded out of bed when Alex opened the door and grabbed him.

“Pulling him back toward the bed,” Megan noted. He wrestled her back to the bed.

“With the complication that she hooked his ankle and pulled him in after her.”

She tried to figure out the best way to keep Allison under wraps.

“And failed.”

Complicating matters were the embarrassing things Allison was doing to her commanding officer.

Alex came up with a plan.

“I think the best bet is to keep her in my room.”

Megan had to agree. It didn’t look like Allison was going to be leaving Alex anytime soon.