Captain Malaa had many stunning qualities as a commander, but patience was not one of them.
“I don’t care if the thing belongs to the thirteen-year-old daughter of famous Earthling movie star, politician, and entrepreneur Donnie Rombasco,” she said. “Get it off my ship. We don’t allow passengers to keep animals on board.”
“Oh, come on, it won’t cause any harm!” whined the thirteen-year-old daughter of famous Earthling movie star, politician, and entrepreneur Donnie Rombasco, but Malaa shook her head and pointed to the door. She didn’t care how many bratty Earthling children brought Labrador puppies into the ship. The Labradors had to go, and if she had her way, so would the bratty children.
“I’m not going to do anything wrong!” screamed the thirteen-year-old daughter of famous Earthling movie star, politician, and entrepreneur Donnie Rombasco, and stomped her foot on the last syllable, which Malaa would have slapped her for if there hadn’t been people watching.
“I don’t have time for this,” said Malaa. “Passengers are simply not allowed to bring animals on board. It’s against regulations. If you want to know why, I’ll show you the video of what happened to the Lieutenant of the spaceship Comet Dust, who had a particularly nasty run-in with an Earthling passenger’s exotic Krimkusian sixteen-legged spitting spider.”
“Eeeew, no,” said the brat. “Besides, it’s not a sixteen-legged spitting spider! It’s a cute little puppy.” As if on cue, the puppy whined, wagged his tail, and looked up at Malaa with huge, pleading, chocolatey eyes.
“My order stands,” said Malaa, trying not to look at the cute little puppy, and turned away.
“Wait, Captain,” said a voice suddenly. It was Lieutenant Garah, looking more embarrassed and pathetic than ever. Malaa’s skin was crawling with irritation. The last thing she needed was Garah stepping in.
“Let me take the puppy,” said Garah. “It’s not against regulations for crew members to house animals. I can keep it in my room, and the girl can come visit and take care of it. Like I said, it’s not against regulations.”
“It should be,” Malaa muttered. She had decided not to waste any more energy on the damn puppy. She started to walk away.
“So is that a yes?” Garah called after her.
“Whatever,” she answered without turning around. She had a headache, and it certainly wasn’t being made any better by backboneless Lieutenant Garahs and thirteen-year-old daughters of famous Earthling movie star, politician, and entrepreneur Donnie Rombasco.
* * *
There were some days Malaa just wanted to slap some sense into everybody she met. She was the Captain of a freight vessel, for heaven’s sake. But wealthy Earthlings loved to send their relatives or friends to Krimkus for “vacation.” Since they usually paid high sums of money, small freight vessels like Malaa’s ship were often used as they were the only spaceships that went regularly in between planets. Most Earthlings hadn’t been to Krimkus, and vice versa. The two planets were not yet so trusting as to share their own worlds.
To visit the other planet, you had to become a space traveller, and you had to train for years and years, learn everything from how a spaceship works to what to do when you’ve run out of water on a vessel (if that should ever happen). Or, of course, you could be the bratty child of someone like Donnie Rambasco, and have everything handed to you on a silver platter. It made Malaa’s stomach turn. There were people like that on Krimkus too – wealthy people who had been born into a life of comfort and ease and fortune, and people like Malaa, who had grown up in the mines and the communities of the lost and orphaned, were left to dream and lose and suffer.
Garah had grown up similarly, which was part of the reason Malaa kept him around. Even though they got on one another’s nerves, there was an understanding between them that they had with no one else, and Malaa was grateful that there was someone close by who knew about the dirty side of Krimkus, had experienced it first hand and had risen to success anyway. She didn’t know the specifics of Garah’s story, but she knew enough, and she was glad for it.
Jena was from that scene too. Jena, who was the most talented young officer Malaa had ever met, was from Malaa’s world. Despite the horrors she knew Jena must have seen, Malaa couldn’t help feeling pleased about this.
Jena was still with the Earthling boy, Malaa thought. On Moonport. She hoped they were enjoying themselves, though not too much: even Malaa had noticed the way Jena looked at Nate. It was rare for Krimkusians and Earthlings to engage in romantic relationships, though not unheard of. There was even a small group of Earthling-Krimkusian hybrids out there somewhere, though Malaa hardly ever heard about them and knew neither planet viewed them with anything resembling pride.
Garah was suspicious of the Earthling boy. Maybe his suspicions were justified. Malaa went to her computer, logged into the ship’s database, and clicked on Nate’s personnel file.
The only reason Malaa hadn’t done this before was because Nate had been placed on her ship by the Krimkusian Science Society, and Malaa, who worked for the KSS, was not at liberty to question their motives and usually saw no reason to. And she hadn’t, at least not until Garah had started making such a fuss. Despite what Garah felt about Nate, the fact remained that Nate had, so far, done nothing wrong or even out of the ordinary. But Malaa had long ago made up her mind to trust Garah’s instincts, and although she rarely did so openly, she usually followed through on his suspicious in private, like she was doing now.
Nate’s personnel file didn’t contain much – not even a last name. He was a nineteen year old from Earth, which Malaa already knew, and apparently he had a sibling, although there was no mention of who or where that sibling was. The file didn’t even mention when Nate had left his planet, and it certainly didn’t mention why. Malaa had heard that he was an outcast of some sort, but now she wasn’t sure.
“Hmmm,” she said to herself. Garah was right. This was strange.
* * *
Jena had never realized how exhausting fun could be. She’d experienced almost every kind of tiredness there was – tiredness from work, from pain, from grief, from boredom, but she had never been tired from fun before. She felt a strange mixture of energy at the same time, and tried not to show any exhaustion to Nate, who was insisting they go to the theatre.
“What’s in the theatre?” Jena yawned.
“Virtual m0vie,” said Nate. “Do they have those on Krimkus?”
“If they do, I haven’t been,” said Jena.
“There’s a lot you haven’t seen, Jena,” said Nate.
“There’s a lot I have,” she answered, and he said nothing.
Jena and Nate bought the tickets for the movie. They went into the building, where there were more bright, flashing lights, and suddenly Jena felt her enthusiasm begin to disappear, and exhaustion take over completely. She really didn’t want to go, but there was Nate, looking so happy and excited…Jena shook her head. You have to take care of yourself, Jena, she told herself firmly, and took a deep breath.
“Nate, I think I want to go back to the ship. I’m getting very tired.”
“But we just bought the tickets!” he said.
“We can get a refund. You don’t mind, do you? I’m still under evaluation, and I need my sleep.”
Nate didn’t like it, but he didn’t say so. “All right,” he said. “I know you have a test. Wouldn’t want you to mess up, though I don’t think you’ve done that yet,” he added, grinning. Jena gave a weak smile back.
They turned around to head back to the ticket booth, when suddenly, a Krimkusian man with crimson skin approached them.
“Excuse me,” the man said. “I was wondering if you’d seen a gold watch anywhere. I dropped it somewhere and I can’t find it.”
“We haven’t, sorry,” said Nate.
“Would you mind helping me look for it? My eyesight is terrible.”
“Sure,” Nate started, but Jena grabbed his arm. She had seen these people before, back home on Krimkus, and you couldn’t always trust them. In some places you couldn’t ever trust them.
“No, Nate,” said Jena softly.
“He’s just a guy who needs help, Jena. You have the StingSpray, don’t you? If he tries to hurt us, you’ll be prepared.”
“Be careful,” she muttered.
They walked around with the man, and after fifteen minutes of searching Jena began to suspect that there was no gold watch – why would a man dressed as simply as he own a gold watch, anyway? – and she felt the intense need to return to the ship as quickly as possible.
They entered the hallway near the bathroom, a very dimly lit space with only a few people lurking about. A couple was kissing in a dark corner. Jena’s eyes drifted towards Nate but he was looking intently at the ground.
“Nate,” said the man with the crimson skin.
Nate looked up, and the man smiled. “I don’t think we’re going to find it, what do you think, Nate?”
Jena’s hand drifted towards her phone, which lay in her pocket.
“What do you say we give up the search and have a talk – just you and me?”
Jena’s other hand went for the StingSpray.
“Talk about what?” said Nate.
“Oh – I don’t know. About life. Fate. Destiny. About what you’re doing on a Krimkusian ship.”
“How do you – ” Nate began, but Jena pushed him out of the way and held the StingSpray in front of the man’s face.
“I don’t know who you are or what you want,” said Jena, “but we’re leaving and you’d better not follow us. We’re not telling you anything else.”
“I wasn’t talking to you, my dear,” said the crimson man. “I’m sure Nate feels differently – don’t you, Nate?”
“What do you know about me?” said Nate.
“I can’t be sure I know anything about you at all, really. Information can be so unreliable sometimes.” The man grinned. “How about you correct my mistakes?”
“Don’t say another word, either of you,” said Jena. She whisked out her phone and dialed the transporter’s number. “This is Jena and Nate, requesting to enter. Immediately.”
A hiss of static, and then a reply. “Sorry, officer, we can’t transport you from a building. You’ll have to go outside.”
“Come on,” said Jena, grabbing Nate’s arm. The crimson man struck Jena across the face and reached for her StingSpray, but Jena pulled it out of his reach. She kicked him, hard, and aimed the spray at his face, squirting twice. “Run!” she shouted, grabbing Nate’s hand, and they dashed for the exit.
TO BE CONTINUED