“This week should be fairly quiet out in the big black, except for a small meteor shower moving through a few sectors of the Colonies beginning this Thursday. Officials report that the Sanctioned Planets will not be in any danger, although it will cause issues for some travelers over the next few days.” Instead of a galaxy map, an actual photo of space appeared behind the man in the expensive suit, his perfect blonde hair striking out against the backdrop. “The United Space Colonies and the Department of Transportation will be prohibiting all space jumping in those sectors until the shower has passed.” His red laser pointer circled an area of space and he flashed his most charming smile, as if the general public could identify one white dot in space from another. “This will be affecting sectors seven-two-nine through eight-four-three. For a more detailed schedule, please visit your local Department of Transportation or Interstellar Post Office.” The smile appeared again, face frozen in concentration as if willing his eyes to twinkle and his teeth to sparkle. After a couple of seconds he gave up. “Back to you, Jean.”
A brunette in heavy make-up and a neon-pink suit appeared on the hologram, wearing her best patronizing smile. “Thank you, Edward. And now, here’s what’s happening in your galaxy.” The music cued overhead and she continued.
“Tensions escalated today on Aris, at the Intergalactic Center of Earth Colonies, as protestors outside the Seat demanded action. Demonstrators are urging for a stronger military presence in the outer rim of the Sanctioned to oppose the rising crime rate among those systems. The Interstellar Military is being criticized by many planetary governments who say the Reserve Forces being called into action are not enough. General Kardern of the Interstellar Military Force will be holding a press conference tomorrow.”
After a polite pause, the neon-pink woman was replaced by a lush, green jungle. Her voice resumed. “A scientific expedition last month to a planet outside of the Sanctioned discovered ancient Ierki ruins. The ruins are believed to be a place of worship, still held sacred today. Ierki officials lashed out at the Intergalactic Center, demanding restitution for defiling their sacred ground. Very little -”
The sound coming from the hologram unit was abruptly muted and replaced by another voice, crisp and genderless, and unmistakably inhuman.
“Sir, there is an incoming message from Tab Kabelac.” The voice on the intercom paused, waiting for a response. “Sir?”
“Yeah, I hear you, Spark.” Dowlas Brak stood up from the captain’s seat, reaching forward to turn off the newspaper.
The voice could not read the palpable disdain in Dowlas’ voice so it continued, “The signal is scrambled on one of our codes, and they have given the proper passwords. As you had been anxious for this transmission, I thought it best to alert you as soon as the call came in.”
Dowlas Brak massaged his temples as he listened to the voice. Someone should order that droid to stop indicating a thought process, he said to himself. “Ok Spark, thank you. Please send it up to me on the bridge and I will pick it up when I’m ready. Check to see if anyone is trying to crack into the transmission, and let me know when it’s clear before I pick up.”
“Of course, sir.”
Settling back down into his chair he gazed out of the cockpit into space, uneasy thoughts flickering to the Skipwing on Tab Kabelac. He should have gone to the Exchange. Jaydi was more than capable, he reasoned, yet his conscience still pricked him.
The droid’s voice broke his reverie. “The transmission is secure, sir. We are clear.”
Dowlas Brak turned his attention to the flashing indicator on the holo and regarded it for a brief second. Leaning forward, he touched the prompt and sat back into the most casual pose he could afford, waiting for the 3D image to materialize. It only took a couple of seconds to appear, and when it did, it grinned. “Hello, Brak. Are you on your way?” it said.
His conscience niggled at him again, but he pushed it away. “Hello, Bo. I’ll get to that in a second,” he told the floating head and torso. “Do you have Jaydi with you?”
“She’s securing the Skipwing underground. On her way in she thought she saw a dust storm heading this way… Is everything all right?”
Dowlas’ people were his family; he was terrible at lying to them. “Everything is fine. I’ll fill you in when Jaydi gets here.”
The floating head was clearly unconvinced. “Yeah, ok,” it said, studying him with intense, grey-blue eyes. Bo Kaydell was not an idiot. His experiences had made him suspicious of everyone, and his intuitions were almost always correct. After a minute of uncomfortable silence Bo’s head turned, regarding something off-camera. “She’s coming,” he reported. “Let me adjust this so you can see both of us.” The head and torso disappeared and the holo view rolled back to show a cavernous room made entirely of orange-brown rock. A convenient, natural shelf in the wall had become a couch and to the left, shoved into the corner, was a worn mat with a standard military sleeping bag tossed casually on top. All other furniture in the room was makeshift from packing crates and trunks.
Bo appeared again, this time as a full body, and sat down on the rock shelf. He whistled, and a dark, reddish brown dog trotted into the scene, lying down at his feet. After a few seconds an admirable brunette also materialized and sat next to Bo. She gazed back at Dowlas Brak impassively.
“Hello, Jaydi,” Dowlas began, and hesitated briefly before continuing. “As you both have probably already guessed, I am not going to the Exchange today.” Jaydi remained expressionless. Bo’s eyebrow rose in surprise but Dowlas continued, “We’re still going to make the drop; Jaydi will do it.”
He turned his attention to Bo. “Bo, I need you to pack up. We’re closing shop on Tab Kabelac.” Bo opened his mouth to interject, but Dowlas continued, “When you’re finished, go with Jaydi to the Exchange. Leave the Skipwing here and dismantle the site. Ready your ship and park it near the umbrella.” Without giving room for Bo to protest, he addressed Jaydi. “You know what to do. Tell them that if they want more, it will cost more. I will contact them with details. Make the Exchange and get back to base, both of you.”
Bo looked bewildered, his jaw still open. Jaydi’s expression remained unchanged, although something in her dark eyes flickered. Her voice broke the silence. “There’s more,” she said, matter-of-factly, her eyes interrogating Dowlas. Bo’s eyes flickered from Jaydi’s deadpan to Dowlas’ culpable expression.
“Yes,” Dowlas said slowly, “there’s more. Two days ago the Skipwing Jaydi flew in there was deemed F-Class by the Intergalactic Center.”
Bo was incredulous. “Fighter class? Without proper armor and a weapons system on those ships, they’re nothing more than flashy speeders. This is a little strange, don’t you think?”
Dowlas nodded. “A bit, although it’s just as likely that someone had the same idea as we did and reclassified it as F. The manufacturer decided to drop the plans for production and will not be making them at all.”
The glimmer in Jaydi’s eyes returned. “And that’s where you’ve been, going after those blueprints.”
“That’s exactly where I’ve been,” Dowlas replied.
Bo raised his other eyebrow. “So, did you get them?”
For reasons that Dowlas couldn’t explain, he looked to Jaydi for the answer. She grinned. “Yeah, he has them.”
“And now I need you to make the Exchange.” His speech accelerated as he continued, “Take a holo of the ship with you so the customer can examine it, and let them know where to find it. If they want more, and I am pretty sure they will, explain to them that because of the circumstances, the price has gone up twenty percent. I will contact them; they are not to contact us. Give them the location of the ship and get out of there.”
Now it was Jaydi’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “If you’re in such a hurry, I can go to the Exchange while Bo dismantles here. He can pick me up after the drop.”
Dowlas twitched noticeably, his voice angry, “No one goes to an Exchange alone, Jaydi. You know the rules.”
She put up her hands in defense. “Okay…”
Suddenly, the sound of the holo was muted and an alarm went off, warning that someone was trying to crack into their coded transmission.
The droid’s voice could barely be heard over the alarm. “Sir, we have multiple signals attempting to crack into the transmission.” Dowlas jumped up, ready to break the connection as the alarm stopped and the sound on the holo returned. Only seconds remained before security was breached.
Dowlas Brak stared hard at the hologram. “Get back to base and I’ll give you both a raise,” he said, and then he issued a coded command that had never been spoken in their organization before. “It’s time for us to tango.”
The transmission ended.
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