Deep Space One

Alex and Allison
...Resolve Some Issues...

…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.”

“And Wyatt’s?”

“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.

Discreetly.

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.”

He grinned.

“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.”

Megan laughed.

“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.

She did.

“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.

View
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.

View
Another Day
...Another Star System:

Mariner…

…where rumors say peace has broken out.

Not content to simply buy as much of the rejuvenation drugs as she could, Maeve O’Reilly set out to corner the rejuv supply.

“Alright boys,” she told the bridge crew, “lets give it a lash on this rejuv market.” She wanted the drug’s supply chain to promise to sell her more rejuvenation products than local production could supply. “And since Cyteen is the only place that it’s produced, that means the O’Reillys will have the market cornered.”

No easy task, which was why Maeve wanted to try it.

She expected a new market to be opening up for rejuv: Earth, perhaps the most lucrative market ever.

Two things had long prevented rejuvenation drugs from being sold on Earth: The Hinder Stars, a string abandoned star systems that strung between the Mother Planet and Pell; and the War, a conflict between the Earth Fleet based at Pell and the Union Fleet based at Cyteen.

Maeve knew something the markets didn’t. One of those things was about to go away. The war was almost done.

“In fact,” she thought to herself, “it’s probably already over.”

For Maeve had been invited by Captain Patrick O’Reilly to take part in negotiations with the supreme commander of Union’s Fleet, Ariane Emory. As the mover and shaker behind Union’s Council of Nine, Emory was one of the main reasons why the war was even fought. She sought Union’s dominance in the Beyond.

With Captain Patrick helping her, she was able to ignore the risk of complications from the market-maker who was aware of her efforts to corner the market. The side effects of those transaction distract from the grain and chemical markets.

“Precursor chemicals that are crucial to making rejuv.” Selling those would also also give her the resources – monetary, anyway – to buy rejuv. “Alright boys, lets give it a lash on this rejuv market.”

Dandin O’Reilly was hacking the markets with his Communications Array.

“With some success.” Not a lot, but his attempt to spread rumors on the local ’net did help some with Maeves effort to corner the rejuv. “Mainly with the power of the Communications Array. Nobody expects those dishes on the outside of Dublin to be active during dock.”

Except Maeve, who was watching the rumor mills assiduously.

“On the tear Dandin, sound move,” the chief cargo officer told him. “After this, lets have a few gargles. Alex and Kieran say its jammers down there.”

Dandin was already setting up a deal for an early departure. He told the data hub they would be collecting mail for Mariner.

Kieran O’Reilly decided that his usual dive bar just wasn’t going to cut it.

“It’s a fancy place for me this leave,” he told Alex, the commanding officer on their watch. Which was actually not really a watch, since they were both Unposted crew. “We’re Command Track so we should be looking for an upscale bar with stationers looking for a good time with some real spacers.”

As they waited in the crowded space where everyone who had station leave was piled up, Alex eyed him warily.

Kieran knew what that meant: His CO would be tagging along on the expensive strip of bars and sleepovers he was headed for.

Alex was OK. A good time, even. Just as bored as Kieran was with being Unposted, so he was willing to take chances when partying. Chances like hanging out with Kieran, the wild man of the Command Track.

The reason? They were bored with their roles as the two oldest crew among the ranks of the Unposted.

“What we get for going for Command Track,” Alex told him, quoting his mother once again. “Only one gets to be The Old Man.” As cool and powerful as Captain sounded, there were only 16 posted slots on the Command Track. As opposed to over 250 in Cargo.

“All the more reason to do a little bragging,” he told Alex, after he had a couple of stiff drinks in him. Soon he was telling the whole room their captain had been invited to talk to Ariane Emory herself.

Alex O’Reilly was glad he followed Kieran to the expensive restaurant he had chosen.

“Jeez, the captain is here.”

Kieran was bragging a lot.

“Unfortunately, he’s bragging about Dublin business.” Alex’s executive officer was not known for discretion when he was drinking. “That’s why I followed him, after all.”

Glad that Kieran slept through the meeting with Ariane Emory, he tried to steer the bragging to Kieran’s fighting abilities and sexual prowess.

“Hey, remember than time on Mariner, when you….” he began.

The next thing he remembered was waking up in a sleepover with two burly cargo handlers.

“And a hangover.”

Wait a minute. He did remember something else from the fancy bar. Maeve had been there. Working on her PADD.

“Musta been there to take advantage of the captain’s fancy dinner party.” To manipulate the market through the other captains Captain Patrick had invited.

And their communications officer had been there as well. Probably hacking the local computers. Alex knew Dandin liked to help out when Maeve was trying to do some market manipulation.

“Looked like Maeve was having better success than her erstwhile help.”

Captain Patrick O’Reilly was trying to ignore the hubbub the Unposteds were creating over by the bar. At his very private table he was hosting several of the most important captains currently in port. He felt this was important work, hosting dinner parties to improve the reputation of Dublin Again.

“And it’s working.” He could see several of the most influential captains were here. Neihart from Finity’s End. Chin from Little Bear.

And they didn’t know that Dublin would soon be headed over the line. Where he hoped to pick up even more influence.

“In the Merchanter’s Alliance.” Which might prove to become the third great power in the Beyond. “After the Earth Fleet and Union.”

He heard Dandin talkintg about suppressing a complication that had arisen.

“I hope that has something to do with the ruckus at the bar.” He saw Kieran was arm-wresting a stevedore at a table in the darker section of the cocktail lounge. “Glad the other captains can’t see his shamrock.”

Turned out that Dandin was helping Maeve spread rumors at the dinner party.

“Something about the rejuv market.”

Which Maeve seemed to be happy with.

“A grand auld stretch,” she called Dandin’s effort.

Maeve herself was tied into her market computers back on the ship, using her PADD. She had all the money she needed now, having sold the chemicals and grain.

The captain was wishing she had spent a little more effort manipulating the grain markets before she jumped into rejuv.

“The grain market on Cyteen is notoriously tricky,” he told another captain. “The planet produces some of the grain they need. My cargo chief thought bringing in feed grains for the livestock they are trying to get started as part of their terraforming effort.”

From the smile on Maeve’s face, he was guessing she had been right. Again.

“Here let me introduce her to you.”

Walking over to Maeve, he introduced Captain Reinhart. Who was was definitely impressed.

“So, I finally get to meet the famous Maeve O’Reilly,” Reinhart said. “I heard you were selling grain.”

“Selling rejuv, right now,” Maeve told him. “Got a tip the war is heating up, so my rejuv may soon be worthless.”

Patrick could see others were listening in. Some even pulled out their PADDs.

“Thinking they’re talking to their own cargo officers.” Not that there was any truth to Maeve’s rumors.

“All hands in the club,” Maeve told Dandin. “It’s a deadly buzz down here.”

He saw Dandin wander out of the restaurant.

“Probably didn’t like their version of apple pie.”

“Came from a plastic bag labeled ‘Fruit Pie’,” somebody observed.

“Dandin can be picky about his apples.”

Then he heard Hamish over the comm, “Maeve, what’s the story? Rejuv apples? Ya out of yer head?”

“I’d prefer that than getting a shot in the ass,” came the retort from Dandin. As always, the comms officer was monitoring communications.

“Are you having notions?” Maeve shot back. “I need everyone who’s able to buy Rejuv stock.

“We may not be back here for decades….” Dandin mused. “Ya know, Rejuv stock might not be a bad idea. Just think of the value after reinvesting the dividends for a quarter century!”

Captain Patrick decided he was going to have to explain to his communications officer how station taxes were designed to make sure absentee-owner spacers couldn’t take advantage of compound interest.

“A lot of Merchanters tried to take advantage of that in the early years.” Couldn’t ever be sure, however, if the stock exchange you invested in would still be around the next time you came through. “Especially when the owners of the stock exchange could be light-years away on your money.”

Jaeger was apparently out trying to buy rejuv from a corner pharmacy. He reported that the pharmacist told him the drugs were in short supply.

“Maybe someone’s trying to corner the market.”

“Do not take rejuv if you are allergic to rejuv,” Hamish advised.

Maeve told him it was harder than he thought for 145-year-old men to impress people with their dance moves. She also said Dandin was helping her with the markets

“Hamish, you want to get on this Market Computer for me?” he heard her ask. “I’m out of my head with these screens.”

“Sure, Maybe,” the chief engineer replied over the comm. “Happy to help, like. If it’s just numbers, I’d imagine I’m good for it.”

Next thing he knew Maeve told him Hamish was providing her an advantage in the markets. He still wondered if she understood how much of the available drugs she was buying.

Hamish may have created some complications as well, but as a parental figure he was able to paper over it.

“As long as we’re all working together as a big, happy family,” he told Maeve, “we should be fine.” Just don’t expect me to do it again or these other captains will get suspicious.

He saw the text come in from Hamish: “Well, here’s some numbers crunched, Maeve. Easier than my yoke of a project. I’m in state up here.”

After helping Maeve with the other captains, he sent a message to Hamish about his project.

“Something about making jumps a little easier on the body, as I recall.”

His chief engineer reported an actual breakthrough on the project.

“Not what I was hoping for,” Hamish reported. “Everything I do to reduce the strain of jump sickness comes with greater risk of jump failure.”

“Failure?” he texted back. “As in being stuck forever in hyperspace?”

“As in being stuck forever in jumpspace,” the engineer confirmed.

Dandin reported the local apple market was trickier than he expected.

“For a space station orbit a planet, anyways.”

“Even a planet being terraformed?” he asked.

“Even a planet being terraformed,” the communications officer confirmed.

Patrick was glad he was helping Maeve use her sharp tong at the dinner party.

“Didn’t take long for the two of us to convince the other captains to order their cargo officers to stop trading in the ‘volatile’ rejuv markets,” he told Maeve.

She admitted she hadn’t cornered the market.

“But we do have all the drugs for rejuvenation therapy that are available.”

“So nobody was willing to sell you drugs they don’t have,” he consoled her, “and couldn’t find.”

Dandin was already collecting data cargo commission jobs when they returned to the ship the next morning.

Hamish O’Reilly was ready to help the helmsman push it past the red line for the jump itself.

“Unfortunately, I tried to push it a little too far.”

He had to settle for the usual help he gave Jaeger in feathering the vanes for the pulse drive.

“That worked way better.” Because it was less daring. “At least we had no complications.” Complications were bad when you tried to push the safety tolerances.

Captain Patrick even lent a hand with the feathering adjustments. And Hamish felt his neck flush with embarrassment.

“Probably noticed my gimmicking the operating margins.”

Jaeger O’Reilly heard the comm officer talking to Medical: “Prepare for Jump. Please make sure that protein packs are supplied,….”
and a double for Hamish, if you please."

Glad he didn’t have to listen to their response, the helmsman knew the youngers responsible for restocking the jump tranqs and snacks were very diligent about their duties. Nobody knew the importance of jump stocks better than those training for Medical.

“They’re the ones who clean up when someone gets sick.”

“No complications lining up jump,” he reported. The helmsman knew the jump to Mariner was tricky. “But we’re a big ship, capable of deep dives into jumpspace.” And Jaeger knew they were running light. His calculations took into account the exact weight of the ship. “And drugs are expensive but light.”

Maeve had spent all their money on rejuvenation drugs. Which should bring a good price on the other side of the line.

“Oh Stop the Lights,” the cargo officer was talking back to Dandin. “Its just another spacejump.”

“Bring me a shot of whisky instead,” Hamish was playing along, even if the joke was on him. “It’ll see me right.”

Jaeger had Mariner lined up in his sights.

“I think he was slagging you, Hamish,” Maeve’s laughter rang out. “He’s a real gasman.”

“I’m just scarlet for last jump.” Hamish was always willing to go along with the joke.

“Hey now!” came the comm officer’s reply. “I only get gassy when I haven’t had my daily apple.”

“You should be scarlet for the shipyard for making the ship.”

“I’m scarlet for you, Maeve. You wrecked old bag.”

At least Jaeger was getting help from the captain. The cargo officer was usually no help in jump prep, but she was distracting his chief engineer.

“Who are you calling wrecked?” Maeve shot back. “You shoulda seen Alex and Kieran last night, they could do with a great bit of drying out.”

Jaeger keyed in the final coordinates for the jump to Mariner.

“I’m getting a lot of proverbial fist-shaking from the system.” Dandin was apparently monitoring the in-system communications from Cyteen. “I think they all finally figured out what we just did.”

“The head on them” came from Engineering. “Feckin’ eejits.”

“Let em shake themselves silly. I’m just ragin’ that we couldn’t have cornered the market before buying out the planet.” Maybe Maeve was mad. “Eejits they were, but kin they be. If the captain don’t eat their head off, I will.”

Jaeger didn’t think the captain’s diplomacy would be helped any if the other captains could hear these three bragging. He hoped Hamish would be more use at Mariner.

“And on the other side of the line.”

“You know, I’m thinking we should only sell a bit of this cargo at Pell.” He knew Dandin was speculating far outside his areas of expertise. “I bet the real demand will be in Sol.”

“The feckin’ apples?” He could tell Hamish was confused. “On Sol?”

“Right, I bet the apple market us up to 90 on Sol.” Maeve was playing along.

“Everybody’s ragin’ for apples on Sol. Deadly popular, those apples.”

Jaeger was hoping the captain would take this as a joke. The war was over, but the Hinder Stars had been shut down for centuries.

“Decades by my own internal clock.” The helmsman could remember visiting them, before Earth had stopped funding its fleet. Before the Earth Company fleet had turned pirate. “Just privateers, back then.” Of course, they still called themselves privateers. “Even still call themselves Earth Company.” Up until recently they called themselves the defenders of Pell.

They called the tribute they took from Pell “taxes,” too.

“Nah, but I hear Sol is where they originally came from,” Dandin admitted. “What I wouldn’t give to try one straight from the homeworld.” Dandin’s apples came from the orchards of Cyteen. Which was part of the terraforming project there.

“Speaking of, you better cop to an apple, Dandin,” the chief engineer said over the comm. “Give me a shot of that.”

“There’s a whole ton of them in the larder,” the comms chief shot back. “You want one? Talk to the cook!”

He announced they were going into jump.

“Everybody take your tranqs.”

His own drugs were starting to take effect, so he slammed them into jumpspace.

“Has Mariner always had that batty of a sun?” Maeve wanted to know.

Of course, it had. For a very long time. Jaeger knew K-class stars had been around almost as long as the class Ms.

“Which are as old as the Milky Way.” Our galaxy. The helmsman also knew others didn’t know as much about astronomy as he did. “Maeve didn’t have to be able to identify a class-K from jumpspace and pull us out near enough to survive.” But not too close. Burning up was not a good way to go.

That was why he always tried to bring them out of hyperspace well away from the star he was aiming for. In Mariner’s case it was a bright orange class K. Easy to look at, so Maeve could see all its roiling energies.

G-class stars like Cyteen’s actually poured out more energy and seethed with stronger storms. Which made them harder to look at. And Maeve couldn’t tell how “batty” they were.

Hamish was jumpsick again, along with Jaeger himself. Which was a shame, he like to count on Hamish for help with system entry when he was feeling the stress of jump. The chief engineer was the one who understood pulse drives better than anyone.

He felt Hamish feathering the vanes and performed the first braking pulse.

The captain was watching the security boards, and Dandin was listening to the news.

“The secret’s out,” the comms officer announced. “Rumor’s all over Mariner. Peace has been declared, and Union is no longer at war with Pell.”

All that from the jump-range buoy, Jaeger was thinking. I guess Emory wasn’t lying.

View
A Powerful Person
...With Important Information...

…Has a Request for Dublin Again

Jaeger O’Reilly was mildly annoyed when he heard Maeve babbling over the com as they were about to come out of jumpspace.

“I’m fecking gargled on trancs.”

“Yeah, and I’ll bet you were gargled when you bought those feed grains on Fargone, too.” Cyteen produced grain as well. "Just not enough for their consumption.

He knew he shouldn’t be thinking about the risky trades their Chief Cargo Officer was so fond of. He had to get them out of Jump.

Concentrating his swimming vision on the computer screen – currently set up as Helm – Jaeger saw the familiar signature of Cyteen star coming up fast. Lining up on the stellar signature, he slammed them out of hyperspace.

As the real world coalesced around them, his real stomach lurched.

“No food or liquids for three days in jumpspace does bad things to a body,” he noted. “Better get some electrolytes into the system.”

His exit from Jump had been smooth enough that few members of the crew would be sick. Still, he was glad his cast-iron stomach took it so smoothly. He reached for the squeeze bottle of juice next to his console.

Over the comm he heard someone retching in Engineering.

“Probably Hamish again. I wish he’d use more Scope before Jump.”

The captain also had some trouble with jump sickness, Jaeger heard him munching on an energy bar. As usual, the rest of the bridge crew provided some much needed support to that chair.

“That was a grand kip!” Maeve’s voice rang out. As usual he had a hard time telling how serious she was. “Fair play on the helm there, Jaeger.” He decided to play along.

“Thanks Maeve. But it’s nothing for a helmsman as gifted as I.”

The comm in his left ear – tuned as usual to the below-decks chatter from the Division Chief – seemed to indicate Hamish was going to need some medical attention. Captain Patrick was fairing better.

He did pulsed the drive vanes once and brought the ship’s velocity down to about two-thirds light.

“Even without Hamish’s magic.”

By then, however, Hamish had his stomach under control. And was feather the jump vanes for maximum efficiency as a Pulse Drive.

“Invented it, after all.”

“Stop the lights,” Maeve was still editorializing on his Helm duties. “The Caoilte drive has always given us a smooth landing.”

She and Hamish were always pushing to name the Pulse Drive after some obscure Irish privateer. Jaeger didn’t think it would ever catch on.

“Pirates aren’t too popular these days.” What with the war and all.

Maeve, of course, thought of herself as a different kind of pirate.

“And Hamish doesn’t hesitate to encourage her.”

Maer Lynn O’Reilly figured they oughta head over to Engineering. Much as they would prefer to do some reading on side projects.

“Sounds like Hamish could use some medical attention.”

“Ship ID broadcast,” came over the comm.

“Mr. Drake, scan for possible threats.” From the captain.

“Automated ID sent,” Dandin reported.

“Ship’s speed at normal inner-system cruising level.” That was Jaeger.

When they got to Engineering, their first worked wonders on Hamish’s stomach.

“Less sure about his head.”

“En route to Cyteen Station,” Jaeger announced over comm.

As they returned to the Science section, sounds of crew getting out of the bunks they spent Jump in could be heard. Showers were turning on and off. Dublin Again was getting ready for a wild shore leave in port.

So was Maer Lyn.

They didn’t get the chance. Captain Patrick ordered some of the bridge crew and all of the Division Chiefs to go with him down to the surface of Cyteen.

“The surface?” they asked the captain. Maeve was busy with her trading computers making deals to sell the exotic metals before news got out about how much they were bringing to the station.

When she wasn’t listening to whispers from Hamish and giggling.

The captain explained the reason for their meeting on the surface. “I expect they are trying to get us discombobulated.”

“Spacers are notoriously put out by their first view of an horizon,” they admitted.

And, indeed, when they got their feet on the “ground,” they all found it hard to deal with a horizon that disappeared down, instead of curving upward.

“Like a ship or a station.” The way it ought.

“The planetary authorities are known as the Council of Nine,” the captain explained. “They’ve requested a meeting with us.”

The Captain Patrick turned to Maer Lynn and Hamish.

“That’s why I asked the two of you to come along. Cyteen’s government and its power are based on their scientific and technical superiority. They have the most advance science – especially psychology and tape training – in the area known to humans.”

“Even better than Earth itself,” they pointed out.

“Their government,” the captain continued, “reflects this. Scientists run the show. We’ll probably be meeting with scientists today, even if they introduce themselves as government officials.”

Captain Patrick O’Reilly announced their arrival in the system in his usual stentorian tones. His voice echoing through the ship, he told everyone to be on their best behavior.

“My Executive Officer will be in charge.” As usual. He didn’t need to say that.

She had put in a special request when he told her he was not taking Drake or Jaeger down with him. She had a pair of unposted crew from the Command Track who were chafing under the delay they had experienced getting posted to sitting crew.

“They know the reasons,” she told him. “They just get tired of working the simulations and shadow bridge. I think you should take them along. I’ve instructed the to keep quiet and observe how diplomacy works.”

He agreed to take them. And she agreed to keep an eye on Drake.

Before they left the ship to board a Union shuttle down to the planet, he heard Hamish over the comm.

“What’s the craic, Maeve? Anything arseways up there?”

Of course, the Chief Cargo officer was deep in her Trading Programs. Patrick saw she was studying the grain markets, which could be tricky on planets that produced a lot of grain themselves, even if they relied on feed grain imports for their meat production.

His helmsman set them down on the dock at Cyteen Station as smoothly as he had expected.

“Docked at Cyteen Station, you may disembark,” Dandin announced when he gave the Comm Officer the high sign.

Maeve asked Hamish how he felt about metal.

“In general like?”

“Or in specific.”

“I prefer hard rock,” Dandin interjected.

“I did ma Academy thesis on the resonant qualities of crystaline alloyed meshes. So, I’m rather keen on it.”

He announced the names of of the people going down to the surface, which included the two chatterboxes.

“Exotic metals, you think you could…” Maeve started before interrupting herself. “Nevermind, looks like you might be coming with us.”

“Right, time to crack on.” Hamish sounded a little disappointed.

Well, everyone would be disappointed to miss the shore leave on Cyteen Station.

Jaeger was looking over Maeve’s shoulder as she tried to sell some exotic metals.

“Jing Maeve, that’s pure dead brilliant!”

Patrick thought that sounded like they made a good profit on their exotic metals.

“The deal I have set up for us is up to 90,” the Cargo Officer announced

In fact, she was still working the programs on her PADD as they assembled in the conference room.

The preliminary discussions were handled by two members of the council, who seemed to be smirking at them. The Ariane Emory strode into the room. The other council members sprang to their feet.

“And stopped smirking,” he noted to himself.

He knew Ariane Emory was the real power on the council. And he had hardly expected her to be here. Emory seldom met with ship crews.

“Even those from ships as important as Dublin.” It was looking like one of their unposted crew was a little wobbly on his feet. “Probably the first time he’s ever been on a planet.”

He was proud, however, how they all kept their composure when the most powerful human this side of Earth itself walked into the room.

Security_Screen_-_entry_Cyteen.png

Drake O’Reilly had his Security Computers set up to show his the potential danger of every ship in the Cyteen System.

“At least the ones the buoy reported to our computers.” The Chief Security Officer didn’t trust anyone. “Least of all, an automated buoy.”

When they entered the system from jumpspace, the biggest icon on his board was a Union military vessel which the buoy showed as just arriving from Russell’s Star – “Or Mariner,” he had noted since they both used the same jump range. Not only was it big and dangerous, it was traveling as fast as they were.

“Near light speed.”

If it hadn’t bring it’s speed down soon, it could be in their vicinity before he would even see it on scan.

“Not that I expected them to do that.” The military craft was cutting its speed almost as fast as Jaeger was cutting theirs. He knew a high velocity made attacks possible that neither ship was likely to have any good reason to actually execute.

As soon as he had a scanner reading from the other vessels, his security screen reflected that.

Also for the other high-speed ships showing from the other jump ranges. By the time Dublin Again got to Cyteen, those ships also showed how much they had slowed.

Security_Screen_-_docking_at_Cyteen.png

Dandin O’Reilly knew he could sense the emotions of most people.

“I might even be able to communicate non-verbally with an expert psychologist like this.” He could do so with other empaths – as well as crewmates with whom he was extremely familiar, which included most of the bridge crew in the room.

He sensed Maer Lynn trying to promise to stop complicating the conversation.

“Right before they nodded off.”

Ariane Emory’s fame and fortune didn’t worry him much. Still, he wondered one thing.

“How sure is she about her claim of ending the war?”

He was certainly sensing no doubt from Maeve.

“She’s already planning how to exploit the markets at Downbelow Station, the space station orbiting Downbelow.” A fertile planet, also known as Pell. Of course, Downbelow Station was known as Deep Space One.

“On Earth. Out here no one calls it that.” Dandin knew it as the closest station to the Hinder Stars. And Earth.

“I have sent diplomats to accept the treaty the Alliance has offered,” Emory told them. He was sensing no doubt in her words. “They have offered to allow Union traders free access to their markets.”

He was wondering what Union would get out of telling them this.

“Certainly hasn’t been broadcast widely to the Merchant traders,” he mused.

“This Merchanter Alliance on the other side of the line is shaping up to be a major player in the Beyond,” Emory told them. “Union has a strong interest in getting good, honest Union Merchanters into the group. They are offering membership to any Merchant who visits them at Pell.”

Captain Patrick was asking her the question they were all wondering about.

“What exactly do we get out of this Alliance?” Dandin could see why Emory wanted it. The captain was demanding answers.

Maeve wanted money to act as Union’s agent. Or spy.

Dandin figured it was in Union’s best interest to get people they knew – like the O’Reillys – into this new power structure. He could tell she was under no illusions that Dublin was as loyal as a military vessel manned by her programmed clones.

“But she’s sure we’re more loyal than a Pell-based Merchanter who’s been fighting her for a dozen years.” Emory could not be naive enough to believe a treaty would change that.

Hamish O’Reilly could see the negotiations were a little out of hand.

“Our captain seems a bit upset at this lady’s brusque demeanor,” he thought to himself. Speaking calmly, he cut through Emory’s domination of the conversation.

That gave Captain Patrick an advantage: the chance to issue a daring gambit for a bit more respect. Which the captain did.

Emory glanced at Hamish and smiled. Friendly. The captain had turned her friendly, even if she maintained her brusque demeanor

“Hmm. Complication.” She was smiling at Hamish himself. Almost as if she appreciated his tactics.

Maeve O’Reilly saw Emory looking at Hamish with a newfound respect.

“The manipulator respects his skill,” she told herself as Emory wrote something on a piece of paper. “As a fellow manipulator.”

Hamish was mumbling.

All Maeve understood was “…politic. Gobshite.”

When Emory refused her suggestion they could be bribed, the Chief Cargo Officer suggested espionage. And Emory smiled. Again.

Emory asked the others to leave, inviting Maeve and Hamish to stay behind. Hamish glanced at Maeve out of the corner of his eye.

Emory folded a piece of paper and handed it to Hamish.

Maeve was able to see a name on the paper before she folded it. “Josh Talley.” And a codephrase.

“Does the Union have agents in the Alliance?” Maeve wanted to use the advantage provided by Hamish’s calming gambit. And she saw that Emory like to dominate – and control – the conversation.

“It’s well known that I have the ability to train agents for that kind of role.” Agents who might not even know they were agents, if rumors were true. “I do have superior tape-training capabilities for my clones.” With the ability to be perfect moles, according to what Maeve had heard.

“Yes, and you did just come through a war with the Alliance.”

“Which is why I desire to have people I can trust on the inside of the Alliance,” Emory told them as she ushered her and Hamish out to the shuttle where the captain and the others.

Captain Patrick seemed to have a strong interest in keeping control of the situation.

“He would have more control if he delegated more.”

Dandin was equally dedicated. To the Security situation, by what Maeve could tell.

Alex O’Reilly had held his tongue all the way through the meeting, His curiosity got the better of him when they were no longer under the watchful eyes of Union authorities.

“I don’t get it,” he told the captain. “We gave her everything she wanted. What did we get in return?”

The others nodded in seeming agreement.

Maeve smiled.

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Welcome to Deep Space One
Also known as Pell Station

It has many names.

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  • To its inhabitants, it is Downbelow Station
  • To Earth, it is Deep Space One
  • To the Merchanters who keep it alive, it is simply Pell
  • To the Earth Company privateers who prey on it, it is Pell Station
  • To the inhabitants of the planet it circles, it is Upabove

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  • To the renegade pirates of Norway, it is home base
  • To us, it is the start of adventure

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The first thing we’ll do is create characters .

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