Cloaked, The Golden Meridian floated in the blackness behind Ginaaak V’s fourteenth moon. Diana’s Arrow, the starferry, had drifted on along her route many hours ago. The edges of the planet peeked around the moon behind which we hid.
Perhaps I should have moved on long ago, but I struggled to find direction. The Mahdfel authorities had abandoned Goldie, believing the lies of that slimy, snake-headed Suhlik terrorist, Zarklac. Now my own superior officers believed Goldie and her crew had attempted multiple acts of terror across this sector of the galaxy.
Something deep inside me strained, stretched near to my limit. I had dedicated my life to my people, followed every order, respected every regulation…
How could the Mahdfel, my own people, have turned against me so quickly?
Guilt gnawed at my gut.
And now Goldie and her crew had been declared outlaws, rogues.
Pain and frustration fueled the roiling chaos of emotions inside me. My eyes searched the spectacular ruin below. Some tragic cosmic event had smashed another planetary body into Ginaaak V long ago. Only three quarters of a planet remained. The missing quarter made up the fourteen orbiting moons.
I felt like that shattered planet. My superior officers’ betrayal had hit me like that rogue celestial body cracked and sundered Ginaaak V. All I thought I knew and could rely upon, orbited me the way the planet’s shattered pieces orbited its frozen landscape.
How do I even put myself back together? Can I even put the shattered pieces of myself together? Or will I forever remain fractured?
Goldie’s intercom crackled to life, drawing me from the dark thoughts swirling in my mind. Rachel’s voice spoke to me in the darkness of my quarters.
“Captain! Message from the urchins on Diana’s Arrow.”
I jabbed the intercom button, energized by the prospect of actionable intel.
“On my way.”
I rose from my chair, shoving my worries deep into the dusty recesses of my mind. I squared my shoulders and walked through the corridors. As I approached the galley, Mr. Fluffbutt Clawson, Evelyn’s cat, nearly tripped me. I dodged at the last minute. Fluff wasn’t after me, he was stalking Lucky, Evelyn’s kehppû.
The tentacle-mouthed kehppû jumped Fluff and I left them to their play. I had never intended to travel with pets, but who could tell Evelyn no? Besides, at this point, were anyone to try, I felt certain the human women on Goldie’s crew wouldn’t allow it. I chuckled.
The human women originally joined Goldie’s crew as DNA mates. They also quickly took over.
And seriously improved all our lives.
I stepped onto the bridge. Rachel, our pilot, turned and smiled.
“Is it? Let’s hear this message.”
Rachel punched a button on her console. A child’s thin voice spoke.
“To the captain and crew of The Golden Meridian: Greetings. Big Momma invites you to meet at Diana’s Arrow. We believe we have evidence which could help prove your innocence. Please respond.”
Rachel looked at me, cocking an eyebrow. Hope blazed to life in my chest, fueled by all of my guilt, frustration, betrayal…
Mahdfel HQ may have turned their back on Goldie, but I have not turned my back on my crew. Every person on Goldie deserves the chance at exoneration.
“Would you like to respond, Captain?”
“Yes, I would.”
“The Golden Meridian accepts. Will transmit docking number upon arrival on Diana’s Arrow.”
“Thank you, Rachel. ETA?”
“I’ll be in the galley. I’m craving slox.”
“Right, Captain. Do us all a favor and stay away from the news feeds, okay?”
I groaned. “Why? What are they saying now?”
Rachel’s eyes narrowed at me. She sighed. “Someone released a video of us on the Diana’s Arrow ag deck.”
“And it makes it look like we planted the bomb.”
“But we saved them from the bomb!”
Rachel patted my shoulder.
“I know, Captain, I know. So we’re going to have to fiddle with the transponder a little and be careful when we return to Diana’s Arrow is all. I’ll get Evelyn on it. Go have your slox. We know the Urchin Information Network is on our side.”
I nodded. “True, true, and we need all the help we can get.”
“I’ll let you know when we get close, okay?”
“No problem. If you see Thelkor, tell him to come give me a kiss.”
I spun on my heel and left for the galley, grumbling about nothing in particular. I struggled to maintain my normal jovial attitude.
I entered the pantry, grabbed my box of slox, and sat at the galley’s booth. I shoved a handful in my mouth. For a moment, I thought of nothing but the citrusy, sour notes of the crunchy slox. I couldn’t imagine why I was the only one who enjoyed the flavor of the little preserved bugs.
I shrugged, deciding their loss was my gain. I soon lost myself to my thoughts and the crunchy taste of my slox. Rachel’s voice over the intercom broke into my thoughts.
“Docking in ten minutes.”
I recycled the slox packaging.
This kitchen is a disaster again. Someone has got to do something about that eventually.
Olath and Evelyn jogged by hand in hand, on the way to the bridge. While passing me, Evelyn smiled.
“I masked the transponder, Captain. Now we look like a freighter called The Horse Face.”
“Excellent. Thank you, Evelyn. Goldie has never run more smoothly.”
Evelyn, our engineer, grinned from ear to ear. “Thank you, Captain!”
Olath, her mate and my executive officer, wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her to him.
“See, my love, you’re awesome.”
Evelyn kissed him. For a moment, I wished I also had a mate, but I couldn’t complain. The crew had never worked better since Thelkor and Olath had found mates. Everyone but Storgin, our medical officer/doctor/ccientist, who preferred to travel in his lab, was strapped into their seats on the bridge.
With her usual awe-inspiring skills, Rachel docked with Diana’s Arrow and transmitted our docking number to the UIN. Evelyn insisted we dress in some hooded cloaks. I wondered where she had gotten them but decided it better not to ask at the moment.
“Thelkor, Olath, let’s go.”
We opened Goldie’s hatch and stepped out into the busy corridor beyond. We attempted to look casual, though I was certain Rachel and Evelyn were probably laughing at us. A small child casually approached our position.
Before I could make contact with the child, a Mawkwil flanked by two security officers caught my attention. Eight-feet tall, a bipedal alien with a three-foot long neck dressed in a decidedly official suit, the Mawkwil walked right up to our party.
“Captain! Captain Timcur?”
Oh, no. They must think we’re terrorists, after the news feed…
“Captain! I must speak with you.”
A crowd began to gather. The young urchin jumped between the Mawkwil and me.
“Captain Gratham, we don’t need no trouble here.”
“Stay out of this, child.”
The urchin flashed a shiv at Captain Gratham.
“Captain…if you’re here to arrest anybody, I promise you trouble.”
Thirty urchins stepped out of the crowd, flashing their own shivs. The crowd grumbled.
Please let this not be a war…