Thelkor: Chapter Two

Rachel

“This is the hauler Potomac, license number X782B,” I said, leaning slightly forward so that the ancient intercom would pick up my voice. The light didn’t turn green, and so I punched the console with one closed fist. “I repeat, this is the hauler Potomac. Do I have clearance for landing?”

I waited for almost a minute, nothing but static coming from the intercom, but I didn’t let that stop me. I took a sip of my coffee, and then started reducing thrust and lining the ship with the docking port. State-of-the-art haulers had an AI-assisted interface that allowed for easier docking maneuvers, but this rustbucket had none of those bells and whistles.

Slowly, I maneuvered the ship until it was perfectly lined up with my assigned docking port.

“Potomac, you have been granted clearance.”

Much like I had done hundreds of times before, I approached the heavy structures that had been built just outside the lunar base on Shackleton Crater.

Once the ship was docked, I checked in with the customs officials and signed off on the manifesto. It’d take a couple of days to unload the ship, which meant that I’d have some time to kill on the lunar base. Some people wouldn’t mind a few days of leave here, but that wasn’t me. I didn’t know anyone local, after all, and I’d never been much of a bar-hopper or club-goer.

I took one of the magnetic pods that connected the docks to the commercial hub and, no more than fifteen minutes later, I was inside the base’s domed structure. Holographic signs flashed all around me, advertising an endless choice of entertainment venues and lodging, and little food stalls littered most of the district’s squares and narrow streets, the vendors hurriedly trying to keep up with the demand.

Mahdfel and human workers walked past me, keeping that hurried step of someone with an important job to do, and I made an effort to keep out of everyone’s way. The SCLB was a busy place most of the time, but that busyness ramped up after the latest Suhlik attack.

There were Mahdfel soldiers stationed on every corner, presumably to ensure the base’s security, and there were signs of construction everywhere. The loud grinding screech of drills meshed with the din of vendors hawking their wares. Construction workers in grey overalls zoomed overhead in small pods, hurrying between sites.

Ignoring the chaos, I chose a little Chinese food stall and, while waiting for my chop suey, grabbed my personal tablet and laid it down on the counter. I logged into the base’s network and started searching for a place to stay. I discarded the hotels I really wanted—the hauling company would pay for my lodgings, but the cheapskates in charge of admin would never reimburse me if I chose something fancy—and scrolled down to the bottom of the list.

I was almost done with dinner when I finally settled on a tiny motel on the corner of Armstrong’s plaza. The place had undergone extensive renovations recently, the rooms weren’t as cramped as usual, and the prices weren’t out of my range. All things considered, not a bad option.

I pressed my thumb against the tablet’s bioscanner, wanting to confirm the booking, but an advert for the mating lottery popped up on the screen.

“Crap,” I grumbled. I should’ve just deleted the ad and continued with the booking, but I didn’t. The flashing ‘$1 million cash reward’ underneath the image of a happy woman captured my attention.

I propped my elbows on the counter and ordered another beer. I took a small sip, its bitterness coating my tongue, and wondered about the lottery. From what I’d heard, only a few women got matched with an alien mate but, when that happened, their families were compensated with a cool $1 million.

I opened the advert, scrolled through the lottery’s network, and then pulled up the fine print. “Right on,” I muttered, smiling as I found what I was looking for. In cases where the human female didn’t have a family, she was awarded the full sum. And what did you know? That applied to me.

You can’t be serious, Rachel, my inner voice said, but I barely paid any attention to it. Sure, it was a little crazy I was considering signing up to be tested for the genetic lottery before my number was called…but the money!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I was perfectly happy working as a hauler pilot. I liked the quiet that came with it and, since the company paid for my lodgings, I could save a lot of my paycheck. Besides, all the downtime gave me the opportunity to pick up some extra skills—even though I didn’t put that in my reports, I spent a lot of time messing with the ship’s systems, trying to teach myself the dark arts of computer hacking.

Still, a steady paycheck and some free time wasn’t enough to keep me happy. I had always dreamt of buying my own cargo ship, and that wasn’t going to happen on a pilot’s paycheck. According to my accountant, it’d take more than twenty years for me to save up enough money for something like that.

Before I even knew what I was doing, my fingers were already tapping at the tablet’s screen. I pulled up a map, a red dot indicating the closest Testing Center, and rose to my feet. Even though I wasn’t sure if I’d go through with it, I still followed the map’s directions. I only stopped once I was standing in front of the Center, the glare of its white lights forcing me to narrow my eyes.

“I’m not doing this,” I whispered, letting out a nervous chuckle. No, it’d be madness to do it. Then again, what’d be the harm in trying? It wasn’t like I’d get a match, right? That was rare. And, even if I did get a match, Earth would put enough money on my account for a ship of my own. I could finally start living the life I’d always wanted. “Alright, maybe I’m doing this.”

I stepped forward, the doors slid open to welcome me. I stepped in.

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