“I have close to fifteen thousand hours behind a Spitzler X9’s controls, and I have vast experience in docking procedures that follow the Epsylon Luna B9 protocol.”
The young candidate stood in front of The Golden Meridian’s crew, hands clasped behind his back and stoic expression on his face. He was trying to keep his nerves from showing, which was a plus, but there was something about his story which didn’t sit right with me.
“A Spitzler X9,” I muttered, letting the others pepper our latest candidate with more questions. I had never heard of such a ship. Could it be a military vessel in the Lunar Base’s fleet? Maybe something from the Lunar Flight academy? The humans were known to be secretive about their ships, so that could be it.
Discreetly, I grabbed my personal tablet and pulled up whatever information was available on Shackleton Crater’s intraweb. The moment words appeared on my screen, I suppressed the irresistible urge to jump over the table and punch the idiot we were interviewing.
You’ve gotta be shitting me, I thought.
Or maybe I said it out loud.
Everyone stopped talking and turned to face me. Captain Timur furrowed his brow, Olath arched an eyebrow, and Storgin just looked at me with eyes as wide as a satellite dish.
I tossed the tablet on the table and rose. We held these interviews in the ship’s galley, which we hoped would make for a non-threatening setting, but what I needed right now was a healthy dose of intimidation.
That and a strong drink.
Pressing my lips together, I eyed our potential recruit, the man who’d be in charge of piloting The Golden Meridian if we accepted him. Not an easy job. We were talking about an interstellar sweetheart of 250 metric tons, fitted with enough weapons to take on a fully-armored Suhlik squadron.
Sure, we called our starship Goldie, but this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill ship. Goldie was a flying hammer, one that hauled our ass around the galaxy and meted out justice whenever necessary.
As for the recruit, he was just a lanky human with a buzzcut and a nervous expression.
It was rare for Vaznik warriors to have a non-Vaznik crew member but, since our former pilot had decided to settle up on Shackleton Crater Lunar Base with his human mate, we needed to find another pilot as soon as possible. The captain had told us that we’d have word from the headquarters before long, and we needed to be ready for a quick departure.
Unfortunately, our adverts seemed to have only produced inexperienced idiots.
The man in front of us was no different.
“Why exactly do you want to fly a ship like The Golden Meridian?” I asked him, not sure if I should be pissed or amused. This situation was laughable.
“Well…” He cleared his throat, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He looked uncomfortable. “The pay is good and I…well, I kinda need the money. Besides, I always dreamed of flying a ship like this.”
“No wonder,” I said. “Tired of picking up the trash, I imagine.”
His face paled like he was going to pass out. Did he really expect us not to find out?
“What are you talking about?” Olath asked me, his eyebrow still frozen in that questioning arch. “Collecting the trash? There’s nothing about that in this guy’s file.”
“If you know where to look, there is.” I grabbed my tablet and swiped across the screen. I pulled up the information on a Spitzler X9 vessel and slid the holopad toward Olath. “It’s a trash collection vessel.”
“Is that true?” Captain Timur rose to his feet, his steely gaze locked on the recruit.
The man looked as if he was about to piss his pants—not that I could blame him. He was alone here, with nothing but four alien warriors for company. We were far taller, had horns that could gut him in a split second, and weren’t particularly fond of being deceived.
“Yes,” the recruit muttered, already taking a step toward the door. “I’m sorry, I was only trying to—”
“And what’s this about an Epsylon Luna B9 protocol?” the captain continued.
“It’s the protocol used by the trash collection ships for docking,” I explained, making my peace with the absurdity of what was happening. We were a team of highly-trained Vaznik warriors, and we were considering a trash collector as our new pilot.
“Go,” the captain said, dismissing the young man with a wave of his hand, “before I change my mind.” The anxious candidate turned on his heel and left the galley so fast you’d never think he’d been there in the first place.
“We’re screwed,” Olath groaned, throwing the tablet on top of the table. “Are there no good pilots on Shackleton Crater? How are we supposed to be mission-ready when all we get are guys like that one?” He turned on his seat so that he was facing the captain. “Maybe we could lure Korath back into the job.”
“Let Korath be,” Timur said. “The man’s happy here. We need to focus on…” He trailed off when his comms unit chimed, and his frown reappeared when he read the contents of whatever message he had just received. “Shit, we just got our marching orders.”
“Anything interesting?” I leaned back on my seat, clasped my hands behind my head, and propped my feet up on the table. After everything that had happened here on SCLB, I was aching to kick some Suhlik ass. The bastards had planned a terrorist attack right here on the lunar base, but our former pilot had put a stop to it.
Damn, I was going to miss that bastard.
“Yes, this job’s going to be interesting, Thelkor.” The captain took a deep breath, looked each and every one of us in the eye, and only then did he exhale. “We’re to go after a Suhlik named Zarklac. He was the mastermind behind the attacks on Shackleton Crater, and HQ wants him captured. They’re still processing some intelligence, but I’ve been warned that Goldie is to be on standby. As soon as we have a lead, we’re gonna have to depart.”
“Now all we need is a half-decent pilot,” I said with a sour laugh. “Should be easy.”
I was the only one laughing.
Yeah, I definitely needed a drink.