CHANNILLO

Chapter One - Recruitment
Series Info | Table of Contents

 

Lockheed Elite

by Tyler Wandschneider

 

Chapter One - Recruitment

 

     Anders Lockheed pinned several large bills under his empty beer bottle and slid it across the bar. The bartender, tall, slim and well liked by most of the men that came in, grabbed it, letting her hand cover his. He smiled and smoothly slipped his hand away. He’d bought four beers this way, tipping double or even triple the standard and, most importantly, buying the staff’s silence if anyone came around asking about him.

     He nodded politely to her, fingered two beers in each hand, and began weaving his way back through the crowd. He found his table and sat down beside two of his crew, Jones and Wicked. On the opposite side of the table, their next interviewee, named Severn, fidgeted in her chair. His crew members refused to say a word to her since she arrived, letting the hopeful recruit’s mind race in anticipation of the interview.

     Severn was one of several recruits handpicked by Anders for the chance to join their crew, Lockheed Elite. She was more than capable of handling herself in the roughneck lifestyle among these flight crews, and she’d paid handsomely for the interview. This payment, however, guaranteed nothing but the sit down.

     Lockheed Elite ranked among the best salvage crews in the galaxy. On the books, they were a tight-knit crew, each job done perfectly and within the confines of the law. They paid their taxes to the Galactic Alliance as soon as they took payment for a completed job, and they were never late on any promised delivery.

     Off the books, however, they held a different creed. Sometimes, a job required a few unorthodox methods to get it done right. No way around it. As such, Anders felt there was no need to tell the Galactic Command all the “minor” details of their operations, like their occasional noncompliance with the law. He always said, “Life’s just easier for everyone if the all-seeing GC don’t see it all.”

     After letting Severn stew in nervous silence for a couple more minutes, Anders handed her a beer and said, “Okay, so you’re here.” As if she wasn’t invited. “Now what?”

     Jones and Wicked each grabbed the other beers Anders had left sweating on the table.

     “What do you mean, now what?” Severn snapped back.

     He let her stew in her poor choice of attitude and words. Anders knew she’d act tough right off. All the hopeful interviewees do, but he has a few other traits he looks for in a new crew member. Among a rugged toughness he also requires loyalty and intelligence and all his recruits know this but what they don’t know is that he looks for ones that carry a moral compass that doesn’t always point north. This is a bonus that lets him bend the rules out in flight when the job requires. He always looked for that quality but would never tell anyone.

     He knows she’s smart based on the history Wicked researched and loyalty is always earned. That part was easy for him. That left the only other two that needed to be tested now. Sure, it was simple to act tough in the interview, anybody can do that so Anders had a plan test her toughness and her ethical boundaries.

     Collecting herself, she tried to recover with, “What else would you like to know? I already told you I’m a first-class ranger, washed out of the Galactic Command Ranger Elect.”

     “The GC,” Anders said pointedly. “What are your ties with them now?”

     “Oh, please. Everyone knows what happens when you get kicked out of GC training,” she replied.

     “I do,” he said, “but I wanna hear you say it.”

     “GC abandons you. No more money. No more training. Nothing. Far more people wash out than GC can provide for, so they refuse to be responsible for anyone who fails to make their ranks.”

     “So whatcha gonna do now? Cuz we ain’t hiring a scrawny little punk like you,” said Jones with his deep, commanding voice.

     “Well, nothing, I guess, seein’ as how I spent the last of my dough on this broke-ass interview. What the hell is this?” she said, looking back at Anders. “You take my money for an interview, but you’re not even hiring?”

     “Oh, we are,” squawked Wicked, donning a wry smile. “Just not you.”

     Smart recruits usually catch on to their initial test of wits right about now so Anders watched her reaction. It pleased him to notice a sense of understanding wash over her face. A calmness flooded her body as she relaxed in her chair.

     She simply replied, “Too bad for you, then.”

     “Why’s that?” asked Anders pleased to enter a new stage in the interview.

     “I hear your team is the best,” she complimented.

     “We are,” said Jones.

     “I can make it better,” she said with an air of supreme confidence.

     “Wicked,” Anders turned to him and asked, “is this true? She washed out?”

     “Yup, I checked. They want nothing to do with her—she’s done.” Wicked sipped his beer, proud of his contribution to the interview. He wasn’t a soldier like the rest of them, but he was definitely one of Anders’ best assets, able to infiltrate almost any networked system. Not to mention his ability to whip up any type of gadget that might prove useful in a tight spot. He was, for lack of a better term, a super-space-genius.

     “All right,” said Anders. “So why should we pick you? We’ve got dozens of shiprats like you want’n to join our team.”

     Severn smiled. “In my five years at GC I finished half my training. I’ve completed hundreds of missions for GC—I know their ways and how they think. I’ve gone up against some of the biggest outlaws and won, and I can fight better than any man here in the bar, not to mention any other shiprats interviewing today, wherever they are. I’m the best candidate you have, and we both know it. Besides it’s too late for me to be a law man, I need work, I need it now, and I need it for life.”

     Anders glanced at Wicked and then Jones. Both returned his questioning look with a dead stare, and Anders, having worked alongside the pair for many years, knew what that meant. They were willing to take the next step with Severn. As long as Anders was up for it, too. So, without further questions, he turned back to Severn and said, “Prove it.” Initiating a final test.

     “Prove it?” Severn repeated.

     “Prove to me you’re out of GC. Prove to me you need this job. Prove to me you can beat out the other candidates.” He said.

     “How?” She asked, willing but with restraint.

     Anders leaned close to the table, placing his brown, label-less bottle down on the same sweat ring it left before. Eying Severn for a moment, he flicked his gaze toward the bar, urging Severn’s sharp eyes to follow his line of sight. “You see those two meat-heads sitting together?” He pointed at two enormous, identical men wearing tank tops, cargo pants, and big, black boots. Twins, who also chose to dress alike.

     “Yeah, I see’em,” Severn replied.

     Anders shot a challenging look at her. “They interviewed earlier. They’re sitting there waiting for my decision. Pick a fight with them. Tell them they lost the job to you.”

     Severn threw up her best poker face to hide a rush of nervousness. With her lean, muscular build, she could beat down almost any man, but winning a fistfight against two brutes twice her size? She’d never before had the “opportunity” to try her hand at a fight so unbalanced. But she wanted this job, needed this job, so she condensed her fury for GC, for washing out, and calmly said, “No problem.”

     As she rose from her chair, she downed her entire beer in three gulps, never breaking eye contact with Anders. Then, she slammed the empty bottle on the table and turned towards the twins, projecting as much confidence as she could manage. But before she even had a chance to move away from the table, Anders grabbed her wrist, tugging her attention back to him.

     “One more thing.” He grinned. “If you want a spot on the team, you have to win.” He let go and pointed to the hulking men at the bar, for emphasis.

     “I wouldn’t have it otherwise.” She said and glanced over to Wicked and winked at him before walking away and adding while her back was turned, “Take some notes boys.”

     Severn shuffled her way through the maze of tightly packed tables and chairs that hosted loud, obnoxious men and women filled with liquid courage. As she closed in on the bar, where the twins sat drinking, Anders asked Wicked and Jones, “So, what do you think? Is she for real?”

     “I believe so,” said Wicked. “Her story checks out, and all the info in my network confirms she’s been totally abandoned by GC. She has no connection to the law. I’m in.”

     Their attention was briefly pulled from the conversation as one of the twins yelled when Severn yanked him backwards off his stool by his shirt. They watched as she stepped over his downed body and swung a hard right cross leaving him unconscious on the floor. The crowd in the area groaned with surprise.

     “Yeah, me, too,” said Jones. “I’m in.” He nodded at the fight. “Their gonna be pissed. Did you even tell them you were sending the recruit over to pick a fight?”

     “No. They need to pay for dropping the ball on the last job,” Anders said. “We always deliver on time—you guys need to remember that. It’s how we keep our repeat business.”

     “Kanor’s gonna kill her. I don’t see how she’s going to make them pay.” Wicked said adjusting his seat for a better look but then was distracted by a familiar bleeping sound. Anders received an alert on his comm. “My autolink to GC?” asked Wicked, no longer focused on the fight. Though slapping sounds could be heard while Severn and Kanor were locked in a torrent of thrown and blocked punches.

     “Yeah, it is,” said Anders, answering Wicked. “Looks like they’ve decommissioned something.”

     “Nice.” Said Wicked focusing again on the fight as he grew more concerned with Kanor lifting Severn in the air and less with the possible payday coming over Anders’ comm. “You should stop the fight before something bad happens.”

     “No. She either needs to toughen up or they need to learn a lesson.” Anders said scrolling through the information coming through. She’ll get a few punches in and that’ll be good enough a lesson for them.”

     “Uh Cap.” Jones said watching the fight obviously worried about something.

     “Looks like it’s some kind of starship.” Anders said oblivious to what Wicked and Jones were seeing.

     “Captain!” Wicked said scooting his chair quickly away from the table while grabbing both their beers. Anders watched as Wicked slid to safety. Then watched Jones stand up and take one step back. Before he could look at the fight, Severn landed on her back on the table. Anders’ eyebrows curled in confusion as they looked at each other while she slowly toppled over backwards with the table. She awkwardly rolled over her shoulder and then stood up, brushed off the front of herself and said, “Excuse me, I’ll be right back.” And hustled back to the bar to continue her fight with the twins.

     Anders watched her jump knees first into Kanor’s chest and when they hit the ground, Anders’ attention was brought back to his comm which made another bleep as it downloaded more information about the decommissioned starship.

     “Ooo!” said Wicked, who saw Severn finally land a healthy strike to Kanor’s jaw. “If my source is right,” he continued, “we have about two hours before GC sends that info out on the open networks for all to see. What kind of ship is it?”

     “Looks like a destroyer-grade class-M1A MKIII starship,” Anders replied. “And it’s close, too.” He glanced at the bar fight again, as Severn ducked a weak counter-punch from Kanor, and added, “She’s pretty good.”

     “She is but she won’t be able to last long, Cap.” Jones said growing sympathetic to the unbalanced fight.

     “She’ll be fine, she can handle herself.” Anders said as he watched the first twin Severn knocked out, Ciris, come to and stand up behind her. It was clear she didn’t know he was there when he wrapped his beastly arms around her in a sweaty bear hug. Anders went back to his comm reading more about the possible job. He was growing more interest in it and when he finally found the location of it he was convinced he’d found their next job.

     While reading his comm, Anders saw Wicked purposefully look away from the fight.

     “I can’t watch this.” He said.

     Curious, Anders stood up to see the crowd, now formed as a semi-circle enclosing the fight with the bar. The crowd shouted with a unified “Ohhhh.” Ciris was still holding Severn in a bear hug while Kanor stepped in ramming his forehead into the bridge of her nose. The cartilage shattered with an audible crack, and Severn’s head snapped back at the force of the impact, nearly smashing into Ciris’ face.

     Broken nose.

     Ciris released Severn and stepped around her wobbling form to stand next to his twin. But Kanor frowned at his brother and accused him of foul play: “How did you piss this one off?” Anders smiled noticing Kanor’s puffy eye and broken lip bleeding on his chin.

     “I didn’t—I thought you did,” replied Ciris already with a swollen eye blackening with each passing moment.

     “Hey, what’s your deal, chicky?” asked Kanor.

     “What, can’t a girl get a decent fight around here?” Severn produced a crimson-colored smile, refusing to acknowledge the pain radiating through her nose. Anders was satisfied with his new recruit. Though she had a broken nose, it was clear she landed plenty of solid shots herself. He had effectively punished the twins for their mishaps on the last job and put her through an appropriate test. She was tough as nails and willing to follow difficult orders.

     “Really?” Ciris said. “Fine with me.”

     Anders walked towards the fight. The twins approached a still-unbalanced Severn, ready for another round. She kicked at Kanor to force him back, but Ciris grabbed her leg with a quick hand and dragged her forward until she was too close to escape. Each of the twins then settled a massive hand on one of Severn’s shoulders and reeled their free hands back, forming mighty fists. The sheer force of their grips nearly paralyzed Severn, and she choked out a scream of pain and fear.

     The twins prepared to deck her simultaneously, a hit that would end the fight for good.

     “Oh, damn,” she whispered and closed her eyes.

     “Wait!” Anders yelled, stopping the twins. He raised his hand with his comm. “We got something. Bring her with, she’s in.”

     At that command, Ciris and Kanor knew the captain staged the fight as a punishment for them and a test for a new recruit. Anders knew they understood what had just happened by the way they nodded acknowledgment for the command. They released their painful grips on Severn. She nearly fell to the floor, but Ciris nudged her upright with a bump of his hand before he walked away. Kanor stayed and quietly paid their bill. He, too, left a large tip, as Anders had, but his money was an apology for the absolute mess they left. The crew knew well enough to keep the local folk happy. That way, they were less inclined to reveal information when the authorities came snooping around.

***

     Severn followed her new crew as Anders led the team out the door of Slips, the largest of the three bars on Cambria. Though in much pain she was eager to start her new job and was excited to see their ship in the hanger, which was two flights up in the elevator and a short walk down the hall.

     As they approached the hangar, the clatters and clangs and the whirring of air guns and other machines echoed through the steel corridors. When the crew entered the hangar, a familiar metallic aroma filled the air and all senses seemed to heighten. The sight of oil spots on the floor a reminder to watch their steps, the sound of machines buzzing tickled frequent over the shoulder looks, and the sight of dozens of ships gearing up to leave again a constant warning of the fierce competition sailing the cold and black. Lockheed Elite were the best and it showed as people watched them enter the hangar as if they owned it. Severn felt an immediate pride as she walked among the crew everyone wanted a piece of, whether it be to be a part of them or to take them apart.

     She was in awe with this hanger too. All the ships in the hangar lined up in two rows with a large middle isle down the center. In the space at each of the walls, a people conveyor and room enough for any of the several manned lifts buzzing around the room. Anders led the crew to the left side people conveyor to take them to the end of the row. Severn followed closely behind and welcomed the chance to stand stationary on the conveyor. She finally stopped her nosebleed and cleaned up most of her bloodied face by spitting on her sleeve and wiping it down. She reached up and tapped Jones on the shoulder to get his attention. When he glanced down at her, she asked, “Is it straight?”

     He stared intently at her for a moment as she scrunched her face and moved her mouth around in an attempt to force her nose back into its naturally centered position. “No, it’s skewed a bit left,” he replied, nonchalant. Among the roughnecks, a busted nose was as common as a night of drinking.

     “Damn.” She huffed and knelt down to view her reflection in the glass barricade of the conveyor barricade. Using the reflection as a guide, she cupped her hands over her nose and began to adjust it. Blood started to trickle out of her nostrils again as her cartilage cracked and crunched with each push and tug. The sounds were loud enough to get Anders’ attention, even though he was standing ahead of the rest of the crew.

     Severn finished and stood up, blinking the unshed tears from her eyes in an attempt to prove to her onlookers that a little pain would not shake her. But Ciris, now wearing a bright red rope burn around his neck, from Severn’s sneak attack, smirked at her. As if he thought he’d put her in her place. Kanor, standing beside his brother, grinned as well. The meaning in their looks was clear. They thought the bar fight meant Severn had learned a lesson: never challenge them again. She didn’t like that one bit.

     Severn wanted to shut that attitude down and, with it, any future comments they might make about busting her up. She needed to make a statement that said, You may have bested me this time, but I can hurt you whenever I want. And she needed to say it without another scuffle. So she did the only thing she knew might work.

     She whispered, in the most intriguing tone possible, “Hey.”

She’d hoped only the twins and maybe Jones would look, but unfortunately, everyone turned their attention on her, including Anders. However, she had already committed to her play, so she went for it anyway.

     She jerked her arm back as far as it would go and threw a punch, aimed in the general direction of the twins. Both Ciris and Kanor recoiled when they saw her fist coming, even as she stopped her blow into empty air short of their faces.

     Their startled reaction was even more than Severn had hoped for.

     The rest of the crew, realizing what had just happened, reacted with amusement. Jones bellowed out a single, mighty laugh, and even Anders managed to chuckle. Jones then winked at her, approving her actions. Severn could handle herself well, but she knew it’d always be good to have a beast like Jones on her side.

     She felt a rush of pride. She’d put Ciris and Kanor in their place, right where she wanted them. The small victory felt like a painkiller, soothing her bruised face.

     Their time on the conveyor finally ended, forcing them to step off in front of the open cargo hold of Lockheed Elite, Anders’ ship, and easy enough, the name of their crew. She had a permanent dock in the last slip in the hangar. Slip 101A, which meant it was on the port side, closest to the airbreak to space. Cambria is one of the oldest docking stations in the galaxy. Some crews rent rooms here for months at a time while they work on and upgrade their ship. Mostly though, it is a few day in-and-out resupply station. Slip 101A is a long sought after spot here on Cambria and Anders procured it indefinitely. The only slip owned by anyone.

     “I want us flying in five minutes,” said Anders as they hustled toward the steel ramp that led into an oversized cargo hold.

     “Where do you want her?” asked Kanor, gesturing to Severn.

     “Put her in sickbay, Wicked,” Anders replied. “Get her fixed up.”

     “Got it,” answered Wicked.

     The entire team, with the exception of Anders, entered the ship, eagerly posting their positions. Severn hung back hidden in the shadows at the cargo door and watched Anders. She was a curious person and felt that though this crew had a solid reputation, it might serve her well to be careful for awhile. Anders began what seemed to be a preflight ritual of giving the hull a thorough once over. He pulled out a handheld scanner that looked like Wicked must have designed for him and examined the openings for the landing gears. Once he looked satisfied, he walked the few meters over to the airbreak and gazed out into the operational space next to the station and beyond.

     Outside the station were dozens of local ships transporting needed supplies from the storage pods in orbit around the station. Beyond the working area, planet Esandrea; behind her, two moons enslaved to her pull.

     Anders raised his hand and placed it on the blue, glowing force field that closed the hangar’s twenty meter tall by twice that wide opening to space. The airbreak. He paused there and inhaled a deep breath filling his lungs with the hangar air. Then, he slowly exhaled, throttling it down with zeal as he pushed his hand through the field and into the vacuum outside. He held it there, experiencing the cold, the pain, the nothing mere centimeters away that stretched into the beyond. When his exhale finished, he pulled his hand back inside and rubbed it until the blood flow stabilized. Severn had never seen anyone do something like this and was simultaneously amazed and partially convinced he was insane.

     She watched him turned and she was startled to realize she was standing exposed on the ramp. He was going to find her watching him. It surprised her to see he was a bit startled and then decided to ask what she was thinking.

     “Does it hurt?” she asked.

     “Get in sickbay now!” he said, startling her.

     Angry at being scolded like a child, she eased her way defiantly back inside and found her way to sickbay. It was relatively easy, she’s been on many ships and usually sickbay is close to the cargo hold behind the machine shop at the end of the hold. There was two corridors on either side of the machine shop and she chose the left one thinking they just loop around back there and would eventually find it. The corridor was dark but did curve right bending behind enclosing sickbay directly behind the machine shop. She entered it relieved to find her large pack nestled into the corner. Since the fight started she never realized she left it at the table. Even now she suddenly remembered seeing Wicked carrying it on the way to the hangar. She was grateful and nodded to Wicked who understood her gratitude.

     He padded the surgeon’s bed inviting her to lie down and she did with ease. Wicked was easy for her to trust. Within minutes, he had her injected with all the vaccinations required for space travel. She probably had them already, from her time in GC, but it was better to make sure than risk ending up with a corpse to deal with.

     “So,” Wicked said, “there’s a side effect with this one. It’ll knock you out for—”

     “What? No!” she interrupted him, swatting at the needle. Unconscious with a new crew was a horrible thought to her. She’d heard plenty of stories so her first reaction was quite loud.

     “Hey!” he replied, raising his voice. “It’s this or the door. Captain’s orders!”

     Under the threat of losing her opportunity, and much apprehensiveness, she acquiesced finally betting on this crew’s reputation. He pumped her full of the fluid and she was fast asleep.

***

     Wicked felt a little guilty about what he had to give her but it was standard procedure in all their new recruits. The truth is, when you’re the top crew in the sector you just don’t know what the new recruits are up to when they join. It actually was a vaccination that he gave her, but what she didn’t know was that it also contained a chemical, nerohypnothol. It was designed to put her to sleep until she was intentionally woken, giving Wicked the opportunity to implant her with one of his bugs. As soon as she fell unconscious, he injected the bug into her jaw with a syringe. Then he buckled her tightly into the surgeon’s bed for takeoff and flight before leaving.

     For flight and pre-FTL flight he was stationed in the engine room knowing the rest of the crew were in their posts. The twins on the port- and starboard-side gunners; Jones, as always, co-piloting next to Anders. In the engine room he monitored his systems from his small command center eagerly waiting the intercom to crackle alive with commands.

     Soon, the excitement rang in his chest. Wicked loved being a part of this crew with such an important roll as the Engine Master. His command center, his pride and joy with every part of the ship linked into his central location. Monitoring, adjusting, optimizing everything.

     Anders broke radio silence and called out the ship’s takeoff countdown. “Ready to move in three”—everyone casually took hold of a nearby grab bar—“two, one.” Wicked loved how smooth they were. They had done this a million times and everyone knew take-off was exactly three minutes after Wicked flipped his ‘Good-To-Go’ switch lighting a green light at everyone’s post.

     Wicked felt Lockheed Elite lift off her perch as she drifted sideways through the transfer field and out the hangar door. He envisioned her fall over the edge towards Esandrea, and once she was far enough away, Anders would ease the thrust forward, pitching the ship upwards and away from the planet. Wicked’s command center livened up with every decision Anders was making in the cockpit. Wicked knew everything that was happening as if here were right there in the cockpit with them.

     Anders set a course to the coordinates in the Darigon system. The GC destroyer, Wicked thought.

     FTL drive is charging. Anders is ready to jump so Wicked flipped another switch turning on a yellow light next to the green one in everyone’s post.

     “Jump in two minutes. On my ready.” Anders said over the comms as a redundant safety factor.

     In the engine room Wicked could see everyone make their final preparations. The twins on the gunners booted up their scanners, ready for any Star Raiders planning a surprise attack. A ship was most vulnerable the few moments before jump, when nearly all power was routed to the engine. Wicked, monitored the warp drive, and in the cockpit, Jones staffed the scanning probe to make sure they wouldn’t jump through or into anything nasty. Finding no problems, the team called up to Anders, giving the systems-all-clear check, and the captain, satisfied, sounded off the jump. “Ready for jump in three, two, one.”

     Once Wicked was satisfied with the ships stability in FTL flight, he flipped off the yellow beacon signaling flight is stable. A moment later Anders came on the intercom and ordered the entire crew to sickbay for mission planning.

***

     Anders arrived first with Jones and saw that Severn was still lying there unconscious. Next, the twins showed up, and lastly, Wicked who, Anders assumed, had been making some last-minute adjustments to the warp drive as he usually does.

     “We have a couple hours before we arrive.” Anders started.

     “What are we after?” asked Ciris.

     “GC is about to put out on the wire first-come rights to scav a destroyer-grade class-M1A starship,” Anders answered with a grin. 

     Ciris and Kanor whistled, knowing how large of a score something like that was. “All right,” said Kanor. “In and out claim stake. I like it.”

     “It’s not as simple as you think.” Anders’ voice dropped to a serious tone, and everyone in the room gave him their full attention. “This ship is probably three times our size, and no doubt some of the toughest crews will be after it. I’m not the only one with a genius on board who can hijack GC’s network to receive advanced screenings of goods.”

     Wicked smiled.

     “Counter to what Kanor just said. This is not an in and out claim stake.” He pauses assuring himself the fullest attention. “I want the whole ship this time. We scrap all of it and we’re set for a couple years at least and get away from these piddly-dink jobs and plan some real stuff for a change.” The crew nodded in agreement, Anders could tell they were eager for a big win.

     “Is she hooked up?” Anders asked Wicked, nodding at Severn.

     “Yeah, the bug’s in her jaw. She’ll think the soreness is from the twins’ nice little love tap,” Wicked replied.

     “Yeah, next time, let us know if you’re planning to include us in your little audition,” said Kanor.

     “Next time, deliver the goods before the deadline, or I’ll leave you out in the cold and black,” Anders said sharply. “The lot of ya! Last chance, understood?”

     “Aye, sir,” they replied in unison.

     “All right, wake her up, Wick,” Anders said.

     Wicked walked over to a cabinet and removed a vile and syringe, then brought them to where Severn lay. He drew out some of the fluid, plunged the needle into Severn’s arm, and stepped back, waiting. After a couple breaths, Severn’s eyes popped open, as if she had taken a long nap and been startled awake. She blinked a few times to help herself focus and began to panic, as the drug contained quite a bit of synthetic adrenaline. Her level of alertness confused her as the rush of energy forced her breathing to quicken and made her body sit upright  then lurch forward.

     “Relax and breathe. It’ll pass,” comforted Wicked.

     She breathed deeply, worked her sore jaw, and looked around. She recognized Anders, Jones, and Wicked, but when she directed her gaze at Ciris and Kanor, she jumped off the bed, grabbing at them.

     Anders hooked his arm around her midsection to slow her down. “Relax, you already dealt with them,” he said. “Sit down.”

     She sat back on the bed, calming herself.

     “You good?” he asked, looking into her eyes. When she nodded, he continued, “Good. The three of you. What’s done is done. That’s an order.” He glanced at Ciris, Kanor, and then Severn. “I don’t want any animosity between you on this mission. Got it?”

     Reluctantly, they all nodded.

     “If it was a test,” Severn said, “then why start a beef between potential team members?”

     “Oh, you’ll fight plenty as full-fledged team members,” Anders answered. “You’ll get over this one quick. Besides, I had to know if you had it in ya.”

     “Well, do I?” Severn asked.

     “In a manner of speaking,” replied Wicked with a grin.

     “We’ll know more after today,” Anders said.

     “What’s happening today?” Severn asked.

     “Today, we stake a claim on an abandoned GC starship,” said Anders. “Tell me, did GC put you through a field medic rotation as part of your military training?”

     “Yeah, for two years,” Severn replied.

     “Good. For now, that’s your duty when needed. Soldier, otherwise, and if you prove useful today, you’re in.”

     “You’ll be calling me partner by the end of the day,” she said.

     “No. I won’t be,” Anders replied. “Get up! We got work to do. Wicked?”

     “Yes, sir?” he asked as he fell into step beside Anders.

     “How’s Bertha coming along?” Anders asked.

     With a grimace, he answered, “It’ll be a little while yet.”

     Anders gave Wicked an intense look, and Wicked knew right then what the man was planning to do. “You have two hours to get her ready,” Anders said.

     “But it’ll—”

     “Move!” Anders said, cutting him off. “Use Severn if you have to, and make sure they’ll be out for a couple of days this time!” He turned to the twins. “Ciris, Kanor.”

     “Sir,” they answered.

     “Get the suits ready, and fit Severn for one in case we need to send her.”

     “Yes, sir,” they replied, leading Severn out the sickbay door.

     “Jones,” he said finally.

     “Sir.”

     “Get me all the Whistling Slingers we’ve got. Then you and I will be prepping for a double belly buster.” He groaned. “I want a tight connection this time. We’ve got our biggest tow coming up!”

     “You’re not seriously considering…” Jones began.

     “Yes, I am, and no more questions!” he shouted. “Move it!”

***End of Chapter One***

Thanks for reading. If you're liking this story and would like to comment on the discussion page, please feel free to do so. 

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Next: Chapter Two - Challenge

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