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Tag: Dede Spivakovsky

#8: The Gazelle Gets Lost

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Dede uncurled from the chair of the tiny bridge to get a better look. The plastic end of the straw flattened and split as the first mate rolled it between her teeth. She took a sip, letting the liquid spill out of the tube in unexpected and delightful directions. The engineer peered over her display and heard plastic crack in her mouth again as she reviewed the data.

The packages were all there. Then they were gone. And now two of the three were back. The firing signal had been jammed. But how could they have been jammed if the bad guys didn’t about the bombs?

Dede set down her drink as the pieces clicked together in her mind. Her fingers followed the Gazelle’s pre-ignition sequence. Firing up the ship would leave her open to detection by any air breathing aircraft passing overhead. Captain Gili had gone dark a few hours ago. When she came back up, Dede had a feeling she would need to find her fast.

If things totally went to the Nine Hells, she still had two packages to deliver.

******

Professor Arleth stirred where he lay on the cot. His eye fluttered, then opened. Dry lips croaked a low groan. Giselle lifted his head slightly and offered him something to drink from an open cup.

“You’re safe, Professor,” she told him. “My name is Giselle Gili. You’re in a safe house in the Catar Rift region of Hasmyke.” The grey haired figured nodded as he slowly drained the glass. She helped him to a sitting position. “Take it slow. Let the quick heal do its work.” Gili left the bed to refill the glass.

She crossed a thick carpet laid out on a flagstone floor. Tapestries hung from the walls, their threads outlining the forms of hunters astride some unrecognizable quadruped. The stuffed head of a four-eyed ungulate watched them from its perch above an unlit, stone fireplace.

“You’re military?” the older man asked. Gili lifted a heavy, crystal pitcher and poured water into the glass.

“In a previous life,” she answered as she returned to his side and offered the cup. “The university hired my ship to rescue you.”

Arleth nodded before slowly lifting two freshly re-bandaged hands to hold the glass. “I should have figured you’d notice,” Giselle remarked, “I read your record from your time in the Alliance Army. You ground pounders sure know how to get into trouble.”

“That’s why we have you space squids to save us?” The two shared a smile as the professor struggled to take another drink. “What gave me away?” Giselle asked.

“The submachine gun,” Arleth answered, slowly nodding towards the weapon where it rested nearby. “Roberts Model VII. Standard naval issue.”

“I’m a woman of habit. Besides they use the Model…”

“Where’s Keven?” the professor asked abruptly, trying to sluff the bed coverings off his body.

“Slow down there, professor,” Giselle cautioned. “Keven’s in good hands. He’s uninjured, and unless I misread the look on their faces, helping themselves to a drink from this place’s liquor cabinet.”

“Them?”

“The university hired two rescue teams,” the captain explained. “We ran into each other at the base. Lothar,” Giselle couldn’t prevent an eyebrow from lifting, “is seeing to Keven while I take care of you. It seems that Lothar’s med kit and training is not up to snuff.” A smile punctuated her snark.

“Does that happen often?” Arleth asked her as he settled back onto the pillows.

“It’s unusual,” Captain Gili confessed. “Clients usually offer a job to multiple outfits when time is short and the risk it high. Rescues pay on delivery.”

She paused to purse her lips. “For this job, I demanded three quarters up front.”

The professor nodded. “Smart woman, but offering that much up front to two teams doesn’t sound much like President Garsdale.”

“You must be pretty important to retrieve in one piece,” Giselle remarked.

He lifted his arms and held the them in front of his face. Tightly wound bandages covered the bruises and cuts. “How bad was it?”

“Mostly damage to soft tissue,” the Captain explained. “They hadn’t started to break any bones, yet. With the meds I’ve given you, you should be able to get on your feet right now. But let’s not rush anything.”

“I don’t know why they tortured me,” the professor continued. “I told them the location of any dig I worked on in the last four years on this planet. I must have sent them halfway around the continent every time they hurt me.” A weak smile rose to his lips. “Torture doesn’t work on everybody. I told them what would get them to stop, but I never gave up the location of the Ruins of Kabreth.”

Giselle’s head tilted as she took the empty glass from the professor. “If torture doesn’t work, what does?”

The professor blinked twice. “Please help me to my feet. We need to find Keven.”

******

The brown liquor spilled over the edge of the crystal glass. “Opps,” Lothar chuckled as he brought the glass to his mouth. His tongue darted out to lick up the overflow. “We don’t want this to go to waste.”

“No. No we don’t.” Keven laughed as he took a long drink. His body shivered with its warm. “They definitely didn’t serve this at the dig sites.” The student’s tongue slowed around the s’ like a car trying to navigate a sharp curve.

“Here’s to rich hunters and their dens!” Lothar raised his glass then took a sip. Keven gulped down a larger swallow. “Here, here.”

Keven looked around the room, the well-appointed furnishing, hardwood cabinets and trim, the think plush of a dark carpet. “I’m surprised something like this still exists on Hasmyke. It’s nice to know the To’kath Karaa hasn’t destroyed everything on this planet.”

“Like your work?”

“Like my work.” Keven’s head nodded slowly. “Dig after dig destroyed. Not reburied. Just blown up. So much history, just… poof.”

“Not Kabreth,” Lothar said, his head tilting as he took a sip.

“No. No Kabreth.” Keven agreed.

“What makes Kabreth so special?”

The student finished his glass then held it out for a refill. “Everything. It’s condition. It’s location as….”

“Keven!”

Keven failed his first attempt to stand. Wrapping his fingers around the arms of his chair, he succeeded on his second try. “Professor? I didn’t expect…. How are you?”

Captain Gili guided the older man to the vacated chair, helping him slowly shift his weight from her shoulders to the seat. “I’m fine, lad. I’m fine.” The Professor lifted his head to address Lothar. “I understand we have you to thank for our rescue.”

The swarthy gentleman stood across the table from the older man. “Yes. I was contracted…”

“Hey, I helped, too!” Giselle interjected.

Professor Arleth nodded. “Lothar, Captain Gili,” he began. “To prevent deception in kidnapping situations, the university was to give out a pass phrase to potential rescuers to identify themselves.” His eyes traveled from potential savior to savior. “What is that secret code?”

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#7: The Gazelle Breaks Out

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Giselle's Gazelle“Wait,” Captain Gili stammered. “You’re already being rescued?” The tip of her nose started to tingle, a sure sign of a deal starting to head sideways.

“They’re already being rescued!?” repeated Dede in her ear.

Giselle gritted her teeth as her first mate’s voice reverberated in her skull. An implant embedded just behind her ear conducted Dede’s voice through her very bones. Anything the captain heard or said went back to her ship, and anything Dede said went straight into her brain.

“The university double booked!” Spivakovsky ranted. “I know there was a reason I never went to school! Professors! Always the smarty boots!”

Giselle fought the urge to raise a hand to the side of her head and turn off the implant. Keeping two conversations going tended to add a full measure of confusion. Her eyes travelled up from the unconscious figure before her to the graduate student standing nearby. She took a deep breath, trying to keep the tone from her voice. “Keven, what do you mean you’re already being rescued?”

Keven lifted an arm to gesture back towards the stairs. “He went to get….”

Captain Gili stood at the noise coming from the door. It sounded like something, bouncing? A yellow wheelbarrow sprung into the basement, driven by a tall, swarthy man.

“Swarthy.” The word suited him better than any other. Dark, curly hair with a neatly trimmed beard surrounded an olive skinned face. The handle of an ancient revolver poked out of a low slug holster, its belt wrapping around a deliciously fit waist.

Gili suppressed a smirk. A revolver. Of course he wore a revolver.

“Who are you?” he asked, his hands dropping the arms of the wheelbarrow.

“Who are you?” Giselle answered.

“She’s from the university,” Keven began to explain as he stepped towards the new arrival. “She’s here to rescue us.”

“I’m here to rescue you,” the swarthy man answered, jabbing a thumb at his chest. “I was hired by the university!”

“I was hired by the university!” Giselle replied.

“By who?”

“President Garsdale.”

“What’s the name of his assistant?”

“What? The mousey, short haired one, about this tall?” Captain Gili gestured. “How the hells would I ….”

“We don’t have time for this!” Keven quieted the room with a hissed shout. “Shouldn’t we be getting out of here?”

Giselle and the swarthy man exchanged glances. “You get his legs,” she suggested.

The pair of rescuers gingerly set the unconscious professor in the wheelbarrow, taking care not to disturb his injuries. Across the body, the red headed captain extended her hand. “Giselle Gili.” A firm grip of calloused fingers met hers. “Lothar Cornelius.”

Drawing his pistol, Lothar stepped towards the stairs. “Keven, follow me,” he commanded. “Gili, take up the rear.”

“How will he even know where he’s going?” Dede whispered in her captain’s ear.

Hefting the arms of the wheelbarrow, Giselle replied, “I’ll bury him under that bridge when we come to it.”

******

Lothar peered between the crack in the door, quietly slid it shut, then turned back to the gathering behind him. “We’re going to wait for the patrol to pass then head east. There’s open ground for about 20 meters, then we can make the rest of the way to the fence under cover of the ammo dump.”

“Not a good idea,” Giselle ventured, setting down the arms of the wheelbarrow. “I’ve got a distraction at the ammo dump. I set an incendiary there before I broke into this building.”

“You set a bomb in the ammo dump?” Keven’s eyes shifted back and for between his two rescuers like the audience at a tennis match.

“Yes. I set a bomb in the ammo dump. The fire draws all the guards east while we skate….”

“You set a bomb in the ammo dump?”

“What? Are you hard of hearing?” Giselle snapped. “Why are you repeating that?”

“When is it set to go off?”

“It’s not set. I have to give a command to my handler.”

“Have you given the signal?”

Giselle shook her head.

“Give me a second.” Lothar scratched behind his ear. “I need to think about this.”

“What is there to think about? The bomb goes off, all the guards run to help put out the fire, we escape to the west.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” the swarthy man said, raising his hands. “Just give me a minute.” The five of them paused silently as a few heartbeats passed. Lothar nodded as he came to a decision. “OK. Good plan. Blow it.”

“Dede,” Giselle sighed, “Blow the dump.”

“Hunker down, Captain,” Dede instructed. “Three… Two… One…”

The three conscious members of the rescue party looked at each other, surprised by the silence. Lothar lifted an eyebrow.

“Hmmm. Dede?” Captain Gili said quietly. “That’s a big negative on the big boom.”

“Recycling,” came the response. “Three. Two… One…”

“Negative detonation.”

“Captain, I’m not getting any response from the package.” Giselle rolled her lower lip between her teeth in a moment of thought. She fought to rub at the tickle at the end of her nose. “Stop trying, Dede. Lothar, Looks like you’re up.”

The swarthy man’s lips twisted into a sneer. “Wait here.” After a quick look through the cracked door, he slithered through. Keven looked back at Giselle. The captain lifted her shoulders in a shrug. “Sometimes things don’t go boom when they’re supposed to.”

Lothar’s head peeked back into the building. “OK. We’re clear. Keven, follow me. You,” he pointed at Captain Gili, “give us a 20 count and follow.”

The graduate student hustled out the door, while Giselle started her count. When finished, she backed the wheelbarrow out into the empty yard.

The sounds of celebration still echoed through the night air. She spared a moment to rub her itching nose as she maneuvered her burden across the deserted space. Her eyes scanned for patrols, guards, someone who should have been keeping watch over this half of the To’kath Karaa base. Given the success they’ve had taking over the planet, you’d figure they had better security.

She pushed the unconscious professor across the open space and into the camouflaged ammo dump. The wheelbarrow squeaked through the narrow aisles to find the others at the edge of the fence. Pulling a tear in the chain link wide enough for her to get through, Lothar led the rescue in to the dark forest of the night.

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#6: The Gazelle Breaks In

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Giselle's Gazelle

“You’re humming.”

Captain Gili sighed, her focus lost to the voice in her head; curtesy of a subdermal communicator and not actual psychosis. “Repeat?” she asked the air.

From the comfort of the Gazelle’s cramped bridge kilometers away, First Mate Spivakovsky spoke into her headset. “I said, you’re humming. Someone might hear you.”

“I’m trying to work the lock on this window,” Giselle answered quietly. “Besides, our friends in the To’kath Karaa must have taken over something. They won’t hear me over the sounds of their party.” The Captain spared two quick glances to double check the empty alleyway. A little less than a meter stood between the buildings. The early evening shadows hid her from a casual glance. Gili offered up a quick prayer to Thesis, the Goddess of Liars and Thieves, as proof against a reveler ducking down the path to relieve themselves.

She couldn’t see the dish from here, the main sensor of the complex ship defense system designed to keep vessels like Giselle’s Gazelle from swooping in and flying off with hostages. It hovered over the base like a dark spot on the Captain’s mind. Giselle had no desire to turn her home, her business, her ship into so much pulverized dust.

“Did you plant my packages?”

Captain Gili stopped working on the first story window, her face curling into a frown. “Yeah. Of course. Just like you wanted. Why do you ask?”

“You seem a little distracted.”

“I’m trying to break into a building on the base of a hostile force,” Giselle asserted. The pitch of her voice couldn’t quite keep out a quiver of nervous tension. “I am laser focused.”

“It’s just that…. You’re trying to jimmy the lock on a window where there is enough noise to cover you humming. Doesn’t the window have glass?”

First Mate Spivakovsky covered the microphone of her headset. The tiny sound of tinkling glass drew a giggle. She winced, then giggled again. From the safety of the ship, it felt unkind to laugh at her boss. One more chuckle escaped before she could reign in the laughter.

Captain Gili ignored the stifled chuckles filtering through her implant and lowered herself to the floor of the room, crouching in the semi-darkness. Rows of stocked supply shelves filled the small space. She unslung the compact submachine gun she carried and checked the fit of the noise suppressor. Other trader captains tended to prefer handguns; something about that image of the lone gunfighter, willing to fight the bad guys one bullet at a time. Giselle found the notion silly. Nothing says “get out of my face” like a room full of projectiles flung from a hyperactive slug thrower.

The room’s door swung quietly outward a crack as Giselle shifted into position to scan the hallway. A single line of glow strip cast a greenish pall on the dun colored walls. This would be the tricky part; finding the hostages. The small building didn’t offer many places to stash prisoners and even fewer places for a rescuer to hide. She gripped the handle of her firearm and checked the safety. At any moment, she could run into fanatical members of the To’kath Karaa.

Murder, ritual beheadings, torture, rape… in twenty years of civil war on Hasmyke, the To’kath Karaa had demonstrated a willingness to use any method to further its goal of a totalitarian regime. When the University of Tiaruta first explained the mission, Captain Gili considered halving her fee for a moment. Then the moment passed and she asked for three-quarters up front.

Really. What good is a reward if you’ve been ritually beheaded?

Quickly and stealthily, Giselle searched the structure, prowling though storerooms and empty, makeshift barracks. She found the two prisoners in a basement, no guard, and a broken lock on the door. One of their faces registered shock at the captain’s appearance. One of the prisoners lay unconscious on a moldy wooden pallet. Giselle stood, looking over the room then back up the stairwell behind her. Her brow pulled together in puzzlement. No guards? No lock? This would seem like an opportune moment for hostages to start taking a walk.

Giselle recognized them from the University data files: a graduate assistant and his professor. Months of captivity had stripped weight from them. Both heads sprouted ugly thickets of brutally shorn short hair. Loose and dirty shirts draped their thin frames. The older man lay on a rough wood, arms, legs and feet wrapped in grey bandages. She hurried over to the fallen figure, pulling a med kit from her satchel.

“You’re Keven, right?” she asked, sparing the younger man a glance. She started checking the older man’s vitals. “Your hair is shorter now than on your university ID,” she added, a warm smile spreading across her face. Keven nodded. “What happened to Professor Arleth here?”

“They tortured him,” Keven sputtered. “They wanted the location of the Ruins of Kabreth.”

“They made me watch,” he added. “I never told them anything.”

“That’s very brave of you,” the captain replied. Giselle kept her face passive as she looked over the professor. Her trained eye found electrical and chemical burns over a good percentage of his body. Small cuts lined his forearms and, she imagined, the inside of his thighs. They hadn’t started on his feet or eyes, yet. Getting him to the ship in this condition wouldn’t pose too many difficulties, provided he could regain consciousness. “We’re going to need to make a stretcher or something to carry him. Do you have any blankets or sheets or anything like that?”

The captain looked up at Keven. His eyes blinked once as his mouth moved around words that just wouldn’t form. “My name is Giselle Gili,” she told him. “I’ve been hired by the university. I have a ship nearby. I’m here to rescue you.”

Keven’s lip disappeared beneath his front teeth. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, bashful as if witnessing some faux pas at a cocktail reception.

“Ms Gili,” he stammered, “we’re already being rescued.”

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#5: The Gazelle Gets Even

They heard the stories. They ended in one of two ways: Slavers jettisoning their full cargo of slaves at the first sight of a government ship or some governments spacing the slavers after catching them with their cargo. Chattel slavery might be legal on Bothecarro (It was, both Giselle and Dede checked.), but transporting slaves carried exceedingly harsh consequences in nearly all of civilized space.

They talked through it. The options, the risks. None of them sounded appealing and all of them could leave the two in the brig, or worse.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” First Mate Spivakovsky asked from her seat in the tiny bridge.

“Have you ever known me to go running to the cops?” Captain Gili replied as she plotted their approach.

“There was that one ….”

“That doesn’t count.”

“You don’t even know what I was going to say.”

“That other time doesn’t count, either.”

“Still think Sub-Commander Kildare set us up?” Dede asked.

“That’s what the slavers told us,” Giselle answered. “But I’d like to get more proof.”

Dede confirmed their flight path, then squinted through the cockpit window to pick out a slightly brighter pinprick among the stars surrounding the green orb of Bothecarro. The Alliance Heavy CruiserResolute orbited the planet on a goodwill tour of the unclaimed territories. A loud sigh escaped the Mate’s lips. It wasn’t that they were just going to turn themselves over to the authorities. They were, quite literally, throwing themselves on the tender mercies of THE Man.

******

Ships smell a certain way. The interior passageways and rooms collect the odors from the crew and cargo and build up over the years. Captain Gili couldn’t nail down the specifics of the Gazelle’s scent, but after her years piloting the ship, it smelled like home.

Alliance ships all smelled the same: clean antiseptic, bright metal and harsh lighting. Giselle fidgeted in the all-too-comfortable chair of the conference room. She aspired to this, at one time in her life. Now, as her fingers fiddled with the ends of her hair, it felt as alien as a Muhwat in a hot tub.

The door slid open to let the captain into the room. Captain Gili had to admit the man looked solidly fit for his age. A tailored, blue uniform stretched across his wiry build.  His gray mustache drooped below the ridge of his narrow chin.

The captain of the Resolute set down the tablet he carried on the polished conference room table, and flipped through the contents. Giselle shifted from one cheek to another as she waited in her chair.

“Captain Gili.” His basso voice rumbled across the space between them. “Top of your class at the Naval Academy on Vothade. Spent four years in SAR before a dishonorable discharge. I recall there was some discussion of charges, but I see that didn’t make it into the official record.”

“Since leaving the service,” he flipped the screen, “Oh, yes… A record of ownership of a converted scout vessel, a number of arrests for various misdemeanors. I see one, no two, warrants out for your arrest issued by the Dutchy of Zeslietania, although the reasons are a little vague.”

Giselle opened her mouth to speak, saw the look on the captain’s face, and thought better of it.

“And now you turn yourself in to an Alliance ship, with a hold full of slaves, three men in fear for their lives, and a dead body.” The captain straightened as he lifted a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. After a sigh, his hands met each other in front of his chest.

“What do you have to say for yourself?”

Her thin lips pursed together before she answered. “Hello, Dad.”

******

The locks went on as soon as the Gazelle touched down on Bothecarro. No amount of thrust would lift the ship off-planet without tearing off her landing gear. Dede and Giselle watched the harbor authority take up positions around them through video monitors mounted outside the vessel.

“It’s almost like they were tipped off,” Dede murmured.

“Keep watching,” Captain Gili ordered as she stood. “Find our little snitch. I’m going down to the hatch to meet our guests and give them the full tour. A very full tour, I imagine.”

“Make sure you bring lube,” Dede called after her. “I hear they can be quite invasive.”

******

The last panel fell away. The customs officer counted the revealed boxes and made a final check on the manifest. She turned to her squad leader. “Everything’s here and correct, sir.”

The uniformed officer accepted the tablet to review the list. The wrinkles of his face pulled into a scowl.

“Let me be sure I’m getting this straight,” Captain Gili interjected. “I’m on lockdown because my papers are in order?”

The grimace deepened on the officer’s face. He turned to another of his minions. “The ship’s clean,” the young man reported. “One other crew member. Five registered passengers. No contraband.”

Giselle leaned closer to the senior officer, a grin spreading across her face. “If we knew you were coming, we could have baked you something; a cake, maybe.” The quip earned her a bruise as the squad leader angrily pressed the cargo manifest into her chest.

“Keep your nose clean, Captain,” he sneered. Giselle stepped out of the way as the officer gathered his men and left the ship.

The mess of open crates and packing materials strewn around the hold earned a long, deep breath from her. Captain Gili set down the manifest and began the slow process of cleaning up. It took the cheerful arrival of her first mate before she would even look up.

Giselle watched as Dede skipped into the hold, a tablet clutched to her breast. “Tell me you found him.” Mate Spivakovsky nodded her head rapidly, a smile splayed out across her lips. “Oh, yes.” She slid next to her captain and started replaying the video capture.

“He was standing on the edge of the landing pad, scanning the whole thing.”

“Well, this looks really exciting…” Giselle frowned.

“Wait for it,” Dede chided. “That customs lieutenant comes out to confront him just about… now.”

Gili winced as she watched the screen. “Oh, that’s going to require some dental work.” Her hand came to her mouth as the frames ticked off. “I don’t think that’s supposed to hang quite that…. Oh… Just… Ow.”

“At least it will be easy to identify him,” the Captain mused. “Only so many people can be at the local hospital with those specific injuries.”

Dede’s smile grew even larger. “I already identified him. Diplomatic personnel have to register with local authorities and their pictures are posted publicly. An image search matched them right up.”

“He’s a diplomat?” The first mate’s head bobbed up and down. “I’ll give you one guess.”

“You know,” the Captain said. “One day, I’m going to find the actual Duchess of Zeslietania and… and….”

“And?”

“Tell her she has terribly mean people working for her, like Alston Kildare and that,” she pointed to the screen, “that guy.” She puffed her hair off her forehead. “After a curtsy and doing all the things you’re supposed to do with royalty.” Giselle continued. “Let’s get these supplies to the med center and collect our meager shipping fee.”

“It was nice of your dad to give us a job, after he confiscated all of our cargo,” Dede reflected. “It would have also been nice if we could have collected a bounty on the slavers.”

“It could have been a lot worse,” Giselle replied. Dede nodded her head in agreement, more slowly, this time.

“We’re not done yet,” the Captain continued. “With any luck, we can be on our way back to Station 47 before our diplomat friend here regains consciousness and gets a message out. There’s still a score to settle and those customs agents gave me an idea.”

******

The  laugh bubbled out of her mouth like sparkling water dancing along a stone riverbed. The bartender stood there, watching as her new concoction frothed and foamed over the lip of its glass. She lifted a gloved hand to her forehead. “I think it might be alive.”

Dede hesitated, unsure if she should take the cocktail from the counter. The bartender’s antennae twitched in the First Mate’s direction. “If it is alive, intelligent,” her lips twisted into a look of thought, “could you ask it if it wants to be drunk before… you know… drinking it?”

Dede nodded her head and slowly reached for the glass.

“And if it’s alive,” the bartender continued. “Don’t let the waitress see it. She’ll hit it with a hammer. It’s just her way.”

“I’ll take good care of him… her… it,” Dede assured her as she walked away with her drinks in hand. Finding her captain, she slid the cocktail over. “Here. This one’s for you.” She watched cautiously as Giselle took a sip.

“What?” the Captain looked askance at her first mate. “Do I have something on my face?” Dede touched a finger to her upper lip, unsure if the foam across the table from her moved on its own. Giselle’s quick wipe may have just destroyed a new life form’s chance at a dynasty.

Dede pushed the thought out of her mind and joined her captain as the two watched the entrance. It only took another round of drinks before a certain dark haired sub-commander slithered into the bar. The crew of the Gazelle moved smoothly into position.

“Alston!” Giselle called as she settled a firm hand on his shoulder. Dede settled in behind him and pressed the short barrel of a revolver into the small of his back. “How’s life in service of the Duchy?”

To his credit, the agent didn’t blink, take a breath, pale, or look surprised in any way. “Captain Gili. I didn’t expect to see you here.”

Giselle tilted her head. “I can’t imagine. I am so very glad we ran into each other. I have some friends who wanted to meet you.” Shadows fell across their faces as five giants gathered round. The tall, blue female Calmora leaned over to sniff the sub-commander’s delicate coiffure.

“Smells delicious,” she grumbled, her horns trembling.

“They were part of the cargo you arranged for us to pick up. We offered them passage to Station 47. The introduction to you is a freebie we threw in.”  Captain Gili leaned close, her voice a whisper. “A ship hungry for legitimate business. I will admit, we made it easy for you. Tell me. Did you plant the job offer once you heard we were on the station, or did you reroute cargos after we accepted?”

“And you just had to watch,” Dede added. “That diplomat at the landing pad. He was linked to the Duchy, just like you.”

“Sloppy work, Kildare,” Giselle said. “Not enough for charges, but enough for…” Her eyebrow lifted as she scanned the faces towering above them.

Alston nodded in response. “You can’t hurt me here,” he told her. “Neutral ground.”

Giselle stepped back. “Take him to the outer docking ring, area 254. They’ve been having trouble with brigands in that section.”

Dede cleared out of the way and let the small crowd hustle Sub-Commander Kildare out the door. The two watched as the cluster of menace disappeared around a corner.

“Feeling better?” she asked.

Her captain grinned and led them both to back to their table.

“You know,” Dede offered. “That we turned over a load of slaves to the Alliance… that’s going to get around. We’re going to have problems getting shady gigs.”

Captain Gili settled back in her chair and took a long draft from her drink. “Dede, I think I’m OK with that.”

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#4: The Gazelle Fights Back

The black hole of the snub-nosed barrel stared her down. “We don’t want to hurt you,” its wielder told her. “A woman of your skills can fetch…”

A sliver of silver few across the room to embed itself in the gunman’s eye. Captain Gili followed close behind, crossing the space between her and her attacker as quickly as the cocktail fork she used as a dart.

The captain’s palm drove the fork deeper into Talen’s brain. “You do not draw a gun on someone in their quarters,” she yelled, her voice loud in the closed space, “then tell them you don’t want to hurt them! One hand curled around his collar to support the collapsing figure while her other kept pummeling his face. Each blow punctuated a word. “It’s… not… very… fucking… SMART!”

Bone snapped and crackled under her continued assault. The body trembled and shuddered in her hands under the abuse. Captain Gili didn’t even notice when Talen breathed his last.

Her motions slowed. The sound of her ragged breaths echoed in her quarters. She dropped the beaten corpse suddenly, her eyes opening wide at the damage caused by her hands. Her communicator slipped under her bloody hands, refusing to let go of her belt without a struggle. Eventually, it came to her lips.

“Dede! Dede! Where in the fifteen hells are you?”

*****

The leading edge of the 15 centimeter bulkhead passed a hair’s breadth from the tip of her nose. Hours of dramatic escape practice served her well. Yes. Mate Spivakovsky practiced dramatic escapes during the down time of the Gazelle’s travels. She knew her captain that well.

The blast door slid into place behind her with a satisfying thump. A second thump followed as her pursuer ran into the portal.

Dede shimmied up against the wall, frantically tapping on her pad as her breath started to slow. A banging started on the other side of the door. She kept working the checklist, satisfied nothing short of a nuclear torch could penetrate the barrier.

A few taps summoned a video feed of the green haired man’s futile efforts to break through. A few more brought her live audio.

“Avis! Hey Avis!” she called through the link. The man looked around, puzzled at first. His eyes darted around, looking for a camera. “You’ll never find it,” Dede told him. “We’re sneaky, that way.”

“Let me out of here, you bitch!”

“That is not the way to talk to someone holding you captive.”

“You’re the captive. My boss is with the captain, right now! We’ll have your ship in a minute flat.” Dede bit down the worry and returned to the task at hand. Her board read all secure and the captain could take care of herself. “Avis. I think your boss might be the one in trouble, there. Your teammates and still sleeping in their rooms and don’t even know that we’ve locked the doors on them. So now, in this little moment of peace, we’re going to sit here and have a little chat.”

“Fuck off.”

The Mate tapped her pad then watched as Avis frantically searched for handholds as his feet lifted from the floor. “I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation,” Dede quipped.

“The cargo,” Avis shouted, his hands reaching for anything to cling to, “you’ll….”

“The cargo is neatly stowed,” the Mate reminded him. “Don’t worry. It’s not like I would turn off the inertial dampers in there. Now that would mess up the cargo, and leave a slimy, pink film across the bulkhead that would take days to clean up.”

“But, let’s see…. Those crates look pretty tough. I bet they could handle what? 3 standard gravities?” Her fingers took a walk along her tablet one more time. Avis let out a scream before plunging awkwardly to the deck. The cracking noise carried through the audio feed. “Avis?”

“Avis?” Dede waited for a response and sighed.

“Dede! Dede!” her communicator screamed. “Where in the fifteen hells are you?”

The device slipped from her belt. “Passageway Alpha, just fore of the main cargo hold.”

“Are you OK?”

“Yes. I’m fine.”

“Is there anyone with you?”

The Mate looked at the video feed from the other side of the door. “Yes. But I think I broke him.”

*****

They watched the two for a short time, watched them as they struggled with the door, tried to pick the lock, then took a stab at wrenching it open. Dede and Giselle giggled at the futility, then eventually flipped on the audio.

“Good morning. This is Captain Gili. By now you’ve noticed you’ve been locked in your quarters.” The two stopped working on the door to look at each other.

“Where are Avis and Talen?” one of them ventured. Giselle swallowed before answering. “Talen is dead. I killed him with a cocktail fork. Avis is unconscious in our med bay suffering from broken bones and contusions.” The two captives looked at each other with eyes wide. “That means neither of them can talk. So we’re going to talk with you.”

“We’re not telling you anything,” one of the two men blurted out.

“Seal up the section and vent it into space?” Dede suggested over the open mic.

“It’s the only way to be sure,” Giselle agreed. The sound of escaping air carried over the audio after a few taps on Dede’s tablet. The two men panicked, scrambling around the room with bed linens, looking to plug the leak. A few minutes of frenzy left the two breathless and pale. “OK. We’ll talk.”

*****

Captain Gili pried the last panel of camouflage away from the hibernation capsule, surprised that the sinkhole in her stomach could dip any further. Bodies, rows and rows of all shapes and species, locked in suspended animation, lined up in her hold.

“Slaves!” Giselle exclaimed. “Our legitimate cargo is a gross of slaves!”

“Two gross, actually,” Dede corrected, her face twisting into a frown. “We are in so much trouble.”

<—– Previous  Next —–>

#3: The Gazelle Gets in Trouble

“Transition complete,” Mate Spivakovsky announced in the small area of the Gazelle’s bridge. “Jump drive on line and green.”

Captain Gili examined her plot one last time before tapping the command. “3… 2… 1… Jump.” The world outside the bridge’s view screen twisted and shifted from a shimmering star field to the flickering chromatics of jump space.

“I like these gigs from Station 47,” Giselle mused as she reviewed a few of the virtual gauges of her control board. “Short distance to the transit point means saving money on supplies.”

“But less time to get to know the passengers,” Dede mentioned.

“Yes,” Giselle agreed. “That tall one, Talen? He’s a cool drink of water.”

“The tuff on the talawan’s tail,” Dede agreed with a nod.

“Have you actually ever seen a talawan?”

“No,” Dede confessed. “But it’s still a saying.”

“They use that bundle of fur to distract prey before they turn and attack.”

“It’s still pretty.”

Captain Gili chuckled as she secured her board. “Yes it is. Yes it is.”

“We still have a week in jump then four days in transition to Bothecarro,” Dede remarked as the lights flicked off her board one by one. “That’s plenty of time to get to know our four passengers.”

“They are a comely bunch.”

“Are you laying claim?”

Giselle shook her head as she slipped out of her chair and headed for the bridge hatch. “I have a new love.”

“Tell me you’re not going back down to the cargo hold to sniff the customs seals, again.”

We are going down to the hold to make sure the cargo is secure. I might take a brief whiff while I’m down there.”

The lights on Dede’s control pad winked with the security of a successful handoff. A giggle bubbled out of her lips as she shook her head.

“What?” her captain challenged. “That is the smell of honest work.”

*****

It didn’t seem right. Dede held up the multiscanner to the metallic crate one more time to double check the readings. Her eyes scanned up and down the row of similarly packed and sealed crates in the dim light of the hold. A few days of inspections had revealed a gradual uptick in temperature from this particular unit, almost as if it were slowly overheating. Dede checked the manifest. As a rule, containers of absontium retropahge did not overheat.

The Chief Engineer tucked her scanner away in her belt and pulled out a pry bar. Her fingers brushed the custom seal, its raised surface and filigree. She sighed and started working on the crate’s side panel. The captain would forgive her this moment of curiosity, assuming Dede could find the cause of the reading.

The panel popped out, rattling as it fell to the floor. The loud noise in the quiet space cause Dede to jump, started by the sharp clang. The mass of wires, diodes, and what exactly was that? Gave her another shock.

“You don’t look very much like a container of absontium retrophage.”

“You shouldn’t have seen that.”

Dede hopped forward at the sound of the voice then turned. “Avis? Isn’t it?” she asked of the man standing behind her. He nodded, running his hand through the curls of his green hair. “You should not have seen that.”

“It was overheating.” The engineer pointed weakly at the crate behind her. “It’s not a crate full of meds. It’s a power source. Did you know about this?”

The handsome man with the green hair sighed and pulled a device from his belt. “Talen,” he said into the communicator. “We have a problem.”

Knowing who he referred too, Dede wasted no time sprinting for the door.

*****

The kiss put all the right tingles in all the right places. His lips moved from hers to nibble gently at her neck, then her ear. The ear thing bothered her. Gili never cared for the sound of someone slobbering close up. She pulled away. Talen had promise. She could teach him what she needed in the days they together before arriving at Bothecarro. “Fancy a drink?” she asked.

The man nodded as they separated. Gili turned her back on him to cross the short distance to a cabinet suspended on a wall. “I’m surprised at the size of your quarters, Captain,” Talen told her as she retrieved a few bottles and glasses, “and it’s austerity.”

“I’m not one to form attachments,” she replied as she took the caps off of the bottles.

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

A wry smile crept across Gili’s face. “As for size. Dede and I try to cram as much cargo and passenger space into the Gazelle when we refitted her.”

“Maybe we should use my cabin, next time.” Her smile widened. “That sounds presumptuous,” she answered. “If there is a next time, there are things you should….”

“Talen, we have a problem.” A harsh squawk from a communicator cut across the room. Gili continued her mixing, as her guest shuffled behind her. The voice quieted as she supposed Talen lifted the device to his ear. She turned, leaving the drinks behind her on the narrow counter. “Is everything all….”

The sight of the gun surprised her, an ugly, snub nose, slug thrower. She should have known better. It wasn’t the first time she should have patted down a guest to her quarters.

“This would have been easier if you were naked.”

“Well,” Gili told him, her lips curling into a frown. “Aren’t you the tuft on a talawan’s tail?”

<— Previous Next —>

#2: The Gazelle Gets a Job

Giselle lifted her head as her XO neared the table. “How’s our new friend?”

Dede popped into the chair next to her captain, surveying the wreckage of empty glasses and snack trays. Leaning forward, she started hunting for a leftover scrap of food. “He’ll live,” she reported. “He’s talking to station security. There’s been a rash of robberies in that section.”

“They should seal it up,” the Captain said, her eyes only half open, “and vent it into space. It’s the only way to be sure.”

“It’s the only way to be sure,” Dede agreed, her head bobbing. Spotting a half filled flagon on the table, she took a sniff before lifting it for  a sip. “Oh,” she sighed. “This is nice.”

“It’s a hangover cure,” Giselle remarked through a lopsided grin.

“But I’m not hungover yet.”

“That’s the magic.”

The XO thought about that for a moment. She had heard tales about the bartender here. Dede took another sip. The warmth of the drink embraced her, melting away the stress of the robbery attempt and the hour spent with security. Then wonder and truth of the cure sunk in.

Dede lifted her hand to signal the server. “Can we have another round here? One of everything.” Giselle chuckled quietly and lifted her glass in a toast.

“Look,” Dede began as another series of drinks were brought to the table. “I answered a post…”

“Captain Gili,” said the deep, resonant voice. Dede turned her head to look behind her. The man had crept up to the table while the two sat captivated by the incoming flow of alcohol and other intoxicants. Recognizing that face, the XO deeply regretting not stapling a bell to him when she had the chance.

That face. That face warmed hearts. That trim, athletic physique brought a tingle to other parts of the body; something about how it filled out that neat, sharply pressed officer’s uniform. That voice flowed like caramel, smooth and low with just enough sweet. What came out of that beautifully formed, round mouth inevitably reminded Dede of other brown, runny substances.

 

Not for the first time Dede daydreamed about wrapping her naked body around that man, then pressing her fingers to his full lips. “Don’t speak. You’ll ruin it. Just hum something. ‘Kay?”

“Military Intelligence,” Giselle said, ignoring the man near the table. “Can you really have one with the other?”

“We used to be in the military,” Dede replied with a shrug.

“Ug. Don’t remind me,” Giselle remarked with a flip of her wrist and a sip from another glass. “But we got out. We are intelligent. Ergo….”

“Our families are in the military. Still in the military.”

The Captain’s lips wrinkled into a frown. “OK. So it’s not a perfect… Oh! Alston. I didn’t see you standing there. Are you provoking or touring?”

“I’m pretty certain that’s not where that word comes from,” Dede mumbled.

“Captain Gili,” the handsome man repeated. “Mate Spivakovsky.” The thought of mating put a little color in Dede’s cheeks, at least until he started speaking again. “How surprising to find you both out of prison.”

Giselle’s red hair fell across her forehead as she tilted her head. “They couldn’t make the charges stick. Said it was sloppy information.” Dede nodded. “Poor intelligence,” she added.

Sub-Commander Alston Kildare surveyed the glasses on the table. “I don’t have any doubt you’ll be charged with something else, soon. Idle hands, you know.”

“Neutral ground here, Sub-Commander,” Giselle asserted. “Besides, we’re not doing anything illegal.”

“I can give it time,” Alston assured them. “In a bar. Jobless. I figure you have the constab…”

“We have a job,” Dede blurted. Giselle looked over to her XO, unable to hide the incredulous expression on her face. “Running medical supplies and technicians to Bothecarro. Totally legit.”

“See, Sub-Commander,” Giselle added. “We’ve got a job. Totally legit. In fact,” the Captain rose to her unsteady feet. Her fingers inelegantly gripped the edge of the table for support. “I’m going down to the ship right now to prep her. Dede, settle our tab.” The tall woman took a deep breath and started slowly for the door, one foot patiently trailing after the other.”

“Bothecarro,” Dede mentioned as she stood. “That’s not even in the Duchy’s space, is it? I guess it will be a while before we see you.” She pulled a pad from a pouch on her belt and started tapping. She considered trying to shift the considerable tab to Alston but decided the Gazelle couldn’t take off before he could pass charges.  She frowned as she watched the ship’s bank balance dwindle even further.

“I suppose not,” Alston agreed. Dede lifted her eyes and studied the Sub-Commander’s face. Something beyond his good looks held her attention for a moment. Something hid behind those dark brown eyes. “You have a job.”

Dede nodded, her lip rolling between her teeth. Her finger pointed towards the door. “Yeah, we’ve got a job.” She headed out, sparing Sub-commander Kildare one backward glance.

<– Previous   Next –>

#1: The Gazelle Stumbles

The red-headed woman stumbled, lifting her hand against the bulkhead for support. She wiped her mouth with the sleeve of her flight jacket, wincing at the sharp odor. Her shorter, light haired companion took a step back and asked, “Is it over?”

Captain Giselle Gili looked back where the sick had puddled on the floor. Did they have maintenance bots on this station? She hoped the vile spew wouldn’t be enough to short anything out. Giselle straightened took a deep breath and nodded her head. “I think the worst has passed.”

“If we were on the ship,” the other woman noted, “I would make you clean that up. Those acids and…” she peered at the muck, her forehead furrowed with effort. “What is that? What did you eat?”

“Nothing,” Giselle confessed. “And we’re not on the ship, Dede. No pulling the Chief Engineer card on me.” Dede Spivakovsky also served as First Mate, Chief Science Officer, Head Steward, and, when needed, Chief Medical Officer onboard the Gazelle. The small scout vessel required a crew of two. They both filled a variety of roles. “Now, where are we going?”

“A bar.”

“A bar? If we’re going to a bar, why did we drink that fermented… whatever… back at our quarters?”

“The bottle was getting old. I was worried it was going bad,” Dede answered sheepishly.

“Wait a second,” Giselle commanded, lifting her hand. “That drink wasn’t supposed to be fuzzy?!”

Dede shrugged her shoulders and started an unsteady walk down the hallway. “I’m not sure.” Scowling, the good captain stumbled along after her XO.

The two shambled through the space station hallways, gradually wandering into more dimly lit corridors. Mysterious crates lined the halls, their contents marked in alien languages and imposing-looking icons.

“This looks like the way to the docking ring,” Giselle noted, her lips slowly wrapping around each syllable. “Not a bar.”

“I swear,” Dede tried to comfort her boss. “It’s right around the corner.”

“Maybe that sign says something,” Giselle stopped and stepped closer to the wall. “What dialect is that? I can’t tell.” She pulled a torch from her belt to get a better light in the semi-dark.

Dede lifted a hand to touch the marks. “Captain, I think this is just some damage done to the wall.”

“Well, I’m fairly certain we’re not in a good part of the station.”

“How can you tell?”

“I think I just stepped on a body.”

The two crouched, taking care not to stumble onto the prone figure. The body looked pale in the light of Giselle’s torch. Ugly blue and yellow bruises dotted his face. Dede reached out to check the fallen man’s pulse.

“He’s alive,” Dede said, “but needs medical attention. I wonder what happened to him.”

“A robbery,” answered a low, basso voice from the shadows. A shift in the torch illuminated a massive figure sitting on a crate, not but two meters away. A wide- brimmed leather hat sat atop a broad face. The man brought together two hamhock- sized fists to crack his knuckles, then stood up to his full height, towering over the women. The thought of cured meat caused Giselle’s stomach to flip again. She stifled a burp.

“Now,” the voice said, “I would hate to damage such pretty ladies, so why don’t you–”

It looked like a wave, a casual flip of Giselle’s wrist. The solid thunk of metal biting wood carried over the silence of the hallway. The giant of a man looked down to see a blade of a dagger, positioned between his legs and embedded in the crate he just vacated. He took one more step forward before noticing another dirk in the Captain’s hand.

“You know what they say?” she taunted him. “The bigger the goods, the bigger the target.” A grin of uneven, greenish teeth spread out across the man’s squat face. He grunted and started to shuffle away.

She let him turn a corner before commanding, Dede. “Let’s get our new friend here somewhere safe. The two started to wrap their arms around the fallen figure and lift him from the floor.

“You know,” Dede grunted. “When I pick up guys, it usually requires more conversation.” Her captain’s laughter started as a chuckle, grew through a chortle, to bloom in a robust guffaw.

“What, Gis? It wasn’t that funny.”

“No, No,” Giselle assured her. Her giggles upset her balance and she laid her burden on the floor as she plopped down. “It’s not that… It’s… it’s…” She burped. “It’s just that I was aiming at his hat.”

Next –>

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