…With a Little Help from his Crew
Dandin O’Reilly was inspired to rethink his estimate of the captain’s reaction to the unposted mess on the docks.
“Ya know,” he told himself, “Captain Patrick doesn’t pay much attention to dockside contretemps. He’s more interested in what happens in the offices of power.”
Where Dandin was currently standing. In the offices of Dockmaster Eileen Quen.
“The stationmaster’s wife. Orphaned when Union had blown up her ship and her entire family at Russell’s.” Rumor had it she had been testing out her relationship with the stationmaster, contemplating a marriage. "A marriage virtually unknown among Merchanters.
He had been half expecting to find the captain here.
“From the warm welcome I got from Quen – even though I came in here like gangbusters – I bet the captain had been quite successful with his dockside diplomacy.” He was hoping his actions hadn’t messed up any of Captain Patrick O’Reilly’s careful diplomacy. “Eileen Quen’s supposed to be the chief organizer of the merchant side of the Merchanter-Pell Alliance.”
The Comms officer headed back to the ship where he could make use of his Communications Array to hack the Alliance computers and find out more about this Josh Talley.
“If I don’t find out more about him before I talk to the captain, I might end up in trouble myself.”
Cultural Studies came to his rescue as he thought about the command questions involved. The captain usually expected his crew to blow off steam on station leave. And he expected Bridge Crew to be more circumspect in dealing with stationers than unposted crew looking to get laid.
His first breakthrough – “Josh Talley was a Union soldier, captured at Russell’s Star” – led to a second.
He knew Russell’s was evacuated when its civilian population became convinced it would fall to the Union.
“That evacuation virtually insured the station there would be captured by the Union forces which were trying to take it.” Apparently Talley was one of those forces captured at Russell’s. “Before it fell.”
That led him to another discovery.
“In the evacuation of Russells’ Star personnel, Josh Talley – as a PoW – was not evacuated with the civilians.” Instead, he was taken out on the warship Norway, which escorted the Merchant vessels conducting the actual evacuation. “Apparently, the military was worried about the dangers to a PoW mixed in with the civilians.” Who might blame him for the evacuation of their station.
When he got back to the ship, Dandin decided to use his Communications Array to hack the records about Talley.
“It may make it more obvious where the intrusion is coming from,” he rationalized, “but getting information about his subsequent career may have greater security protecting it.” Most of the records he had accessed thus far was public records. Looking for what happened at Pell might involve military secrets. “He did end up serving on Norway, after all.”
His first attempt succeeded in cracking military security.
“That’s not where the secure records are hidden.”
Private medical records also were kept secure on Pell. He wasn’t used to that.
“Union was never that concerned about privacy.” That’s why most big Merchant ships had their own medical divisions.
When he concentrated on Talley’s medical records, he found that the PoW underwent voluntary adjustment on Pell. Pell authorities appeared to have approved this treatment reluctantly.
The Comms officer thought out that.
“Pell seems to have strong laws about subjecting its citizens to adjustment.” A common punishment for common criminals in the Union. “Here it seems to be reserved for the worst of the worst.” Only criminals convicted of the most heinous crimes – and considered beyond rehabilitation without erasing their minds – were candidates for adjustment.
Talley came from a civilization where adjustment was more frequent.
“Even common. That must have been part of the reason he requested the radical procedure voluntarily.”
Rumors suggest that the authorities who approved the adjustment – Damon Konstantin, Eileen Quen, and Konstantin’s son – adopted the ex-soldier out of a sense of guilt over the treatment.
Talley subsequently enlisted in the fledgling Alliance Navy, and currently serves on its only warship: Norway. Probably in an intelligence capacity.
“But I already knew that.”
“Don’t worry,” Allison told Alex when he asked what she was going to tell her company. “I’ll talk my way out of it.”
“I’ll bet you will.”
She was remarkably placid about contemplating her ruin. Which she could postpone for a few days. Until Alex had put out from Pell with Dublin Again.
She turned her head and looked at him. Into eyes that were looking directly at her.
“Trying to figure out if I’m telling the truth.” The thought in her head embarrassed her a bit, but it led to all the lies she could tell him: to beg, to cheat him. “Neither of which is palatable.”
She hugged him close and he fell to kissing her.
“Which is another pleasure that’s different with him,” she realized. “Hardly fair. That I’ve fallen into such hands as Alex’s. He can con me in ways I’d never visit on my most deserving victims. He’s having himself a good time, not even maliciously. And I’m paying all I have for it.”
And it was finished if he knew. In all senses. He might not – even then – turn her in. But he would know. And that was – in this moment – as bad as station police.
“Actually,” Alex O’Reilly heard her say, in a lull. “Actually, I’ll tell you the truth. I’m not in trouble with my company. It’s all covered, my shifting to Pell.”
“Oh?” He stiffened, sure now that she was lying. “How?”
“Because I’ve got an account to shift here. I’m a small enough operator the combine gives me a lot of leeway. All they ask is that I make a profit for them. They let me come and go where I can to do that. Wyatt’s can’t be figuring down to the last degree where to break off an operation: That’s my decision to make. You made Pell sound good. I heard the rumors.”
He thought about what that meant. Not him at all. Still she could have taken her time.
“See here,” he told her, taking a stern but diplomatic tone. “I don’t think you’ve told me the truth. And I’ll bet you didn’t tell the truth to customs out there either.”
“So does Dublin tell the whole truth to customs?” she broke down, sobbing again. “Don’t expect me to believe that.”
“Sure, Stevens, … if that’s your real name.”
“OK, it’s not Stevens, but I can’t tell you what it is.”
“Not really, … but…” She was crying openly now.
“Serves me right for asking.” He was committed now. He couldn’t tell Captain Patrick he didn’t know.
“But … I’m honest. In a dockside sort of way. Look, I make money for Wyatt’s. Operating outside their usual sphere of interest. They maintain accounts in places like Mariner in case their ships get stuck there. As long as I put back the money I ‘borrow,’ they don’t notice.”
He nodded. Now he knew what he had only suspected before. He was really committed.
“I usually do better at avoiding attention. The broadcast disaster was because I’m used to Union rules.”
“Mariner Central doesn’t release their conversations with starships,” he admitted.
“Let alone broadcast them.” She told him she wasn’t really stalking him. You can lose me if you want."
She explained how to quash the rumors.
“I know how to distract their attention. Start a very public relationship with someone else. The tabloids will be all over it.”
He could see how it would work. She would be painted as a jilted lover. Not how he liked to see himself, though. He had to choose between cutting Allison loose – as she was suggesting – or minimizing the damage by fixing Lucy’s problems.
“You’re going to have to face reality,” he told the marginer captain, realizing which option he was choosing by adopting a conciliatory tone.
His etiquette – and reason – was having an effect. Allison stopped sobbing and shook her head.
“I’ve gotta go to the bank, first,” she said. “Then I gotta see about getting that seal off my ship.”
Just then, Paddy O’Reilly, senior engineer among the unposteds, and Megan burst in with the news that another ship has registered a complaint that Lucy is wanted for bad debts on Pan-Paris.
“Under another name.”
“What?!” Alex cried out. Allison said the same thing. Almost in unison.
“Meanwhile,” Paddy explained, “I’ve been collecting all of the information on Lucy’s trip from our sensor logs and what he can gather from the station. I’m now attempting to figure out how the Lucy managed to beat the Dublin Again to Pell, assuming it had a standard drive/equipment for its make/model.”
“I didn’t exactly ‘beat’ you,” she admitted. “I left ahead of you and got here two days later.”
“Still, Dublin’s a much bigger ship, capable to deeper dives into jumpspace,” he explained. “You should have lost more time than that. I want to get a look at that drive core! It’s either a marvel of engineering or a marvel at not having gone critical!”
“Whatever,” Allison shrugged. “I still gotta go to the bank before any of us get the customs seal removed from Lucy.”
Paddy had to admit he wasn’t inspecting any core until the ship was cleared for access.
“Still, I might be able to see the drive vanes from cameras on Dublin’s exterior.
Finbar O’Reilly was a little surprised when Alex came straight out of the sleepover.
“Looking for me.”
“I need you to prove to me you’re a real Cargo Officer.” Not what he was expecting from Alex, even if the guy was technically his CO. Everybody knew he was getting posted long before the command-track guys who currently had the right to order him around. “I want you to research the trade opportunities for a smallish ship operating on this side of the line.”
“A ship like Lucy, perhaps?”
“Yeah,” Alex admitted. “A marginer which might partner up with us.”
“Does this ship’s captain know she’s partnering with us?”
“We’re not partnering with her yet!”
“You just want to know if Dublin could make money off such a partnership. I thought she was Wyatt’s.”
“Leave Wyatt’s to me. Just get me some numbers. Maybe your engineering skills could make use of Dublin’s computers.”
Megan took her hand off the thigh of the crewman from Finity’s End she was chatting up when she saw the determined look on Alex’s face. Her CO was making his way across the bar towards her.
“I don’t think he’s looking for a wingman.”
He wasn’t. As he pulled up a chair – sitting was important on the docks at Pell, which had a higher gravity from its spin than some stations – he asked her if she could help Finbar with a cargo problem.
“I don’t think Maeve needs my help,” she told him. “I heard her cargo was pretty light and small. Admittedly, my back is strong. But she set Finbar free a day or so ago.”
She wasn’t even sure the chief cargo officer was planning to warehouse her rejuvenation drugs on Pell. “Sell is her first order of business,” she told herself. Although she would never say any of that out loud. Not in a dockside bar with Merchanters from other ships all around.
“That’s not the problem he’s gonna be looking at,” Alex told her. “I’ve asked him to do some research on the QT. Business opportunities on this side of the line.”
“Business opportunities for attractive marginer captains?” Everyone knew where Alex had spent the last 14 hours. The tabloids were all over his bedmate.
She loved how easy it was to make Alex blush.
“No, no. It’s not that,” her CO averred. “Well, is. But not like that. I don’t want to be unprepared if this gets back to Captain Patrick.”
She doubted he was expecting her to put in a good word with her uncle. She doubted it would make a difference anyway.
Nancy’s initial report to Alex on Allison’s psych profile was straightforward.
“You don’t need me. She’s not gonna trust a posted shrink from Dubln. You need someone who’s closer to you than to the captain.”
“I need Rose,” he admitted.
Rose O’Reilly was his go-to medical practitioner. And she had psychology training. Nancy had trained her personally.
On which training, Nancy knew, Alex had been known to rely.
“You wouldn’t know where I could find Kieran, would you?” he asked.
“He’s still at the press restaurant. That’s what he’s calling it.” She pointed. “He says he needs your help. Soon.”
Kieran O’Reilly saw his CO coming.
“About time,” he whispered under his breath. Out loud, he projected to the assembled tabloid reporters, “Here comes Romeo now!”
He knew Alex was going to have to spin a good story about his romantic partner. About his romance.
“Looks like Allison isn’t with him.”
He breathed a sigh of relief, even though he knew the reporters would be disappointed.