Charles Pryce had been the owner and captain of the Starhawk for over fifteen years. Before becoming captain, he had sailed the stars under his father’s tutelage, learning the ins and outs of the shipping, trading and moving business. He loved the ‘Hawk, lived for the endless starry night and he relied on Erna Sanjoia as his First Mate. Of course, Erna was more that First Mate; he was lover, life and Mate. Still, when Erna said that there was a problem, Pryce knew without a doubt, there was a real problem. This problem had him standing before a dark haired man with a single dark and torment filled eye.
“Did Mrs. Steinberg say why she wanted you to take the package personally?” Pryce asked the man, Harris. “I mean no disrespect, but it seems like a slight to the ‘Hawk and like we can’t be trusted.”
“I know,” Harris agreed with a slight nod. “I’m not sure what’s being Steinberg’s need for the personal transport, but she’s paying me, and you, to get this,” he hefted the bag over his shoulder, “to its destination.”
Pryce stared at Harris for a moment wondering if there was something that the man wasn’t saying, but there was only honesty and a sense of exhaustion lingering around the tall figure. Finally, the Captain nodded and gestured for Erna to take Harris onto the shuttle. He watched the two men walk away and wondered about the sense of foreboding that drifted down around him. Something was going to happen, something that dealt with Steinberg’s errand boy. Sighing, Pryce headed to grab the update cargo list and checked to make sure everything was on board. It wouldn’t do to leave something planet side once they hit the sky.
Tai’s hands clenched on the controls as he guided the small shuttle down to the surface of the planet. He hated piloting the shuttle. He hated piloting period and thankfully, there was little call for him to have to suffer through it. As the shuttle settled down lightly on the ground, he release the controls and breathed a sigh of relief. He didn’t fool himself though, it was only a matter of hours before he would be taking the shuttle back up to the ship. Shaking off that thought, he finished the landing lockdown and popped open the hatch. The first passenger would be arriving any moment and it was best to be prepared. Often the passengers were assholes, acting as if they were the emperors and queens of the universe.
The notification chime came a bit earlier than Tai expected and he was glad he had prepped most of the shuttle before leaving the ‘Hawk. Denying himself a groan, he answered the call, plastering on a neutral, pleasant face.
“Tai d’Nontic of the Starhawk,” he chirped in greeting.
“Are you the captain?” a haughty looking woman on the other end asked.
“No, I am one of the pilots and crew,” Tai answered truthfully. Being captain was not something he wanted, ever.
“I want to speak to the captain before I allow my son on to the ship,” she sneered.
“Captain Pryce is not currently with me, but if you want to wait I can see about patching you through to him,” Tai said diplomatically.
“Fine,” she snapped. “Do be quick about it.”
Tai gave her a vague smile and switched to the channel he knew he would find Sal lurking. It took a moment before Sal answered his comm call, but soon she was smiling sharp toothed at him.
“Tai,” she greeted laughingly. “Something wrong already?”
He made a face at her. “Passenger, well, actually the mother of a passenger. She wants to talk to Captain before letting her son on board.”
Sal made a face back and said something probably rude in the musical sound that was her native language. Blue eyes narrowed as she went about patching through to the Captain’s shuttle. As they waited for someone there to pick up, Sal amused both of them by idly wondering just why the woman wanted to speak to the Captain. Tai’s favourite was that the mysterious son was truly the Captain’s love child. He snickered as she continued on, her guesses becoming more and more outrageous until Tai was laughing almost too hard to breathe.
“What is it, Sal?” Erna asked from the new image on the screen.
“Tai wants you,” the main pilot said, pointing an accusing finger at the young man.
“Hey, it’s not my fault,” Tai protest. He grimaced. “Customer here wants to speak to the Captain before she allows her son on board.”
“Speak to him about what?”
“She didn’t say and I really didn’t want to ask,” replied Tai honestly.
“Fine,” Erna sighed. “I’ll get him.”
Sal and Tai exchanged a look as the First Mate disappeared from the screen. It wasn’t like Erna to be short with them. And the look on his face had been one of stress, something else that was very different. Something has obviously happened on their trip to upset the normally jovial man. It was only a moment before the dark face of the Captain filled the screen, his eyes questioning as he looked at them.
“Patch through the customer,” he said softly.
Tai nodded and connected the two calls, ignoring the woman’s shrill complaints about the length of her wait. He only have listened as she questioned the Captain about the safety features on the ship and if the ‘Hawk was really reliable. The questions upset him and he could tell it was making the Captain angry, but there was nothing for it. Hopefully the son wasn’t like the mother. Soon the woman hung up and the Captain met Tai’s eyes with a small smile.
“Always one like her,” the older man told Tai. “You get used to it.”
“Everything settled, then?”
“Good to go,” the Captain nodded. “Her son will be boarding within the hour, so be ready.”
“Already set,” Tai grinned. “Got most of the stuff done while still on the ‘Hawk.”
“I see Erna’s rubbing off on you.”
“No, he’s too busy rubbing off on you,” Tai giggled.
The Captain shook his head. “Get back to work.” His side of screen went dark and Tai grinned at Sal. The beautiful alien only smirked before disconnecting her end.
“No one likes my jokes,” Tai mock sighed to himself as he went back to work.
Xander let his eyes drift close as he listened to the distant sounds of cargo being loaded. It was a familiar and somewhat comforting sound, floating on the air and wrapping him in a cocoon of comfort. It was only at times like this, when he let his mind forget about the past that he had any measure of peace. But it was a fragile, false peace that quickly disappeared. Even now, that peace was broken by a slight cough. Opening his eyes, Xander met the gaze of the First Mate.
“We have one more stop before heading back to the ‘Hawk,” Sanjoia told him quietly. “We’ll be heading over there soon.”
He nodded his acknowledgement and watched as the man walked away. There was something about the Captain and the First Mate that seemed familiar, but no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t place it. He filled the thought away for another time. He would be on the Starhawk for two months before he hit his destination, there was time to think about it during the long trip.
There were only moments before the shuttle shuddered and rose into the sky. Xander had strapped in when he sat down and now just let the feeling of take-off flow through him. It had surprised him that the rough sensation bothered people. He rather liked it. The pressure, the strain gave the hint that maybe this would be the end, that his suffering would finally be over. The first flight he ever took had been rough, but after that he welcomed it. A brief respite.
He shivered and pushed the thought away. He still had a job to do, but he’d ask Sal her opinion once she met Harris. The blue-haired alien always had strange insights into the people she met. You didn’t always want to know what she saw, but it was almost always helpful.