Friday, November 13, 2015

The Recognition Run - Chapter 4

< Chapter 3                                                                                                        Chapter 5 >
On the run from whoever attacked her and her uncle, Jeanine keeps her rendezvous with Drake.


Drake

Jeanine leaned against me during the ride to the spaceport, squirming up under my arm and putting her head on my shoulder. Her warm breath tickled my throat and she was trembling ever so slightly.

The trembling gave me pause. Maybe she was just anticipating what was to come when we got to my ship, but somehow I didn’t think so. In our short time together, Jeanine struck me as the kind of girl who committed herself with reluctance but didn’t suffer from second thoughts once she was committed. I found myself wondering just how much Jeanine wanted to get ‘properly laid.’ As much as I enjoy a good romp in the sheets—or in the shower or against the nearest bulkhead—I want a willing and interested partner. I definitely did not want a girl who was only doing it because her grandfather said she should.

I was still trying to figure out what was running through the girl’s head when I paid off the cab. Holding our take-out dinner with one hand and Jeanine with the other, I led her the final few hundred meters through the maze of docking bays until we reached mine. I keyed us through the door, once again wondering why something without a roof had a locked door, and motioned Jeanine inside. The lights came on automatically, illuminating my pride and joy.

“This is my ship, the Rising Star,” I said, my tone formal.

“You’ve got a Helldiver blockade runner!” Jeanine gasped. She ran down to the Star’s tail section. “And she even has the Class III star drive!” In an undertone, she added, “This is perfect.”

Jeanine bent over and stuck her head between the three main thrusters and it was my turn to gasp. Seeing this girl from behind when she bent over would have been a real treat for any man, but seeing her bent over while wearing that incredibly short skirt was…special. I was so distracted, I missed her next question. When I didn’t respond, she pulled her head out of the engine. When she straightened, I suddenly discovered the ability to think and talk again.

“I’m sorry, what did you ask?” I said.

She turned to face me, apparently unaware of the effect she’d had on me. “I asked if you modified the engine yourself. What do you get, an extra five percent thrust from the mods?”

“About that, yeah. A friend of mine made the changes for me,” I responded. “You sure know a lot about starships and space drives.”

“For a girl, you mean?” she asked, arching an eyebrow.

“No, for anybody. Most people learn everything they know about starships watching adventure vids.” As Jeanine’s eyebrow came down, mine rose. “What did you mean when you said ‘this is perfect’?”

“Hm? Oh, that was nothing.” She might have fooled a lot of people, but I realized Jeanine was temporizing while she came up with an answer. “My grandfather flew one of these back in the Siruul Uprising. He was one of the pilots who helped defeat the blockade of the Chychie home world.”

Jeanine flashed a wide smile that didn’t quite make it to her eyes, then she bounced on her feet as if in excitement. I knew she was using her bouncing breasts to distract me from further questions, but I’m still a man and it had been far too long since I enjoyed the company of a woman. In other words, her distraction worked. Taking my arm, she led me to the Star’s main hatch. I held still while the biometric scanner verified my identity and then identified Jeanine as a guest. That designation told the Star’s security systems that I wasn’t under duress and restricted Jeanine’s access to the living area.

I immediately started setting our dinner out on the small dining table and shortly we were tucking into the food. Jeanine was everything a perfect date should be—attentive, playful, happily offering bites of her dish and accepting bites of mine, and she gave just the right amount of coquettish flirting. And she asked me about the Rising Star.

“Did you inherit the Star, Drake?” Having a mouthful of food, I shook my head. She cocked her head and asked, “You bought her?”

Jeanine scored major points with me by referring to the Star by name or in feminine terms. Most people refer to my baby as ‘the ship’ or ‘it’ or something similar. Jeanine never did that even once. Despite all the flirting, it was this trait I found the most appealing.

“I found her abandoned and neglected in the back corner of a sales lot. The salesman wasn’t too thrilled I ignored the nicer—and much more expensive—ships in the front to waste time with an old war relic he’d almost forgotten was even on the lot. I basically got her for the cost of moving her off the lot.”

“How long did it take you to fix her up? It must have been a while since she looks practically brand new now.”

“Four years. I was working a regular job, too, which slowed me down, but she needed a lot of work on her outer hull. On the inside, she mostly just needed some regular maintenance. I had some friends who helped a lot, all in exchange for food and alcohol—and a favor for them sometime in the future.”

“Were any of the favors interesting?”

“I took one friend and his new wife on their honeymoon. They scraped up enough money to afford a week in a pleasure station, but couldn’t afford the space flight to the station. On their wedding night, they asked me to cut the gravity so they could try sex in zero-G.” I grinned at the memory. “Their stomachs didn’t react well and within ten minutes they were begging for me to turn the gravity on again. It took me an hour to clean up after them.”

Jeanine laughed at the story though it sounded a bit forced—sort of like this entire evening with the sole exception of her enthusiasm over the Star. “What about the friend who modified your engines—what was his favor? Ooooh, wait, let me guess. He wanted you to smuggle something for him?”

I gave the girl a long, careful look before nodding once. Her eyebrows shot up and something I couldn’t quite figure out flashed in her eyes. She looked down and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.”

I waved away her apology. “No, I’m willing to talk about it—at least just between you and me. My engine-fixing friend had a cousin who was about to come of military age on Voskiri.” From Jeanine’s expression, she obviously didn’t recognize the name. “It’s a planet in the Duchy of Gaunner. Anyway, this was a few years ago when House Kahn was still waging its non-war against House Wilkinson. My friend and I flew in with a load of normal trade goods and flew out with his uncle, aunt, and all of their children. We got away cleanly, but as a precaution I’ve stayed clear of Gaunner space ever since.”

With a nod, Jeanine’s expression turned thoughtful. She nibbled at the food, too, but obviously wasn’t really hungry anymore.

I leaned back, openly giving the girl an appraising stare. Her eyes darted up to meet mine a couple of times. Then, with her eyes on the plate in front of her, she asked, “So, would you like to…you know?”

“No.”

Jeanine’s eyes widened and her head shot up. She met and held my gaze. “Oh… Do you want me to leave?”

“I want you to be honest with me.” I sighed and tried for a friendly smile. “Something has been bothering you since you showed up at the tavern this evening.”

“I’ve been looking forward to our night together,” Jeanine said.

“If you’d told me that earlier, when your grandfather sent me over to talk to you, I might have believed you. Something has happened since then, but I don’t know what it is.”

Before Jeanine could respond, the ship’s comm system buzzed. The signal indicated someone was at the docking bay entrance. I wasn’t expecting any deliveries and I hadn’t done anything illegal—not on this run, anyway. Also, Jeanine just about jumped out of her skin when the comm sounded.

Acting on instinct, I motioned Jeanine away from the comm’s vid pickup. Once she was clear, I keyed the comm on. Two men stood outside the docking bay, one wore a customs uniform while the other wore the uniform of Thinda Planetary Security.

I gave the men my best smile. “Isn’t it a bit late for inspections?”

“You are Drake Haral, owner of the Rising Star?” the customs official asked.

“I am.”

The security officer said, “We’re searching for a young woman and we believe she’s onboard your ship.”


What will Drake do? Find out in Chapter 5, coming Monday!