What We Do For Love

galaxy

Image: Gizmodo.com

From the Flight Log of Freighter Pilot Camdon Rod

There are monsters living in hyperspace and they’ve sent spies into the Consortium. Okay, maybe they’re not monsters, but they definitely aren’t like any sentient life form known in our little corner of the galaxy.

Oh, my name is Camdon Rod and I’m the owner/operator of the jump freighter Ginger’s Regret. Ginger is the other half of the partnership and in fact, she is the ship, well sort of.

Due to a bizarre accident she had over fifty years ago, her corporeal body was vaporized as the Regret entered hyperspace but everything else she is, personality, spirit, force of will, became somehow fused with the freighter. I used to think she was a ghost, but speaking of monsters, that thing that had been posing as Calderon Zg convinced me otherwise.

You remember Zg. In my previous log entry, I mentioned how he held Ginger hostage and forced me to perform a hyperspace jump while he was outside the ship. I’d like to think he was just vaporized and that’s all there is to it, but at the moment of the jump, Ginger was able to sense what he was thinking.

They’re watching us, those things from hyperspace. Zg or whatever it was, went back home if you can call hyperspace home, but Ging said there are more of them here in our universe. We’re safe as long as we don’t discover their realm and how to enter it. If anyone does, the very least they’ll do is change hyperspace somehow so that jumping will become impossible. No more interstellar travel…ever.

And if that’s the least they can do, I hate to think of what the worst might be.

There was a fringe benefit to all of this. For whatever reason, in order to return to a specific realm inside hyperspace, Zg needed the Regret to jump something like 1,200 light years outside known space. We ended up jumping into a thin cloud of hydrogen mixed with inert dust.

That should have caused the ship to explode since a jump ship can’t materialize into a space occupied by any other matter. Only ships equipped with a specialized jump drive, one that projects a force field ahead of the ship clearing anything in the way before the ship arrives can make such voyages.

Zg put the Regret under a phony quarantine and had it refitted with such a drive. No, it’s not exactly illegal to own one, but I’d have a heck of a time explaining how I got it installed since there are no records of my purchasing said-drive. Also, I don’t know how I’m going to afford the maintenance on the thing, even if the Consortium does let me keep it.

But I’ve got bigger problems than all that right now. I’m a fugitive.

Calderon Zg lived all his life as a humanoid, the eldest son of a wealthy family, one of twelve families that rule the entire Consortium. He covered his disappearance by faking his death. I don’t know how, but he created a corpse that was exactly like his humanoid body and supposedly died of heart failure or something.

But when the son of one of the Board of Twelve dies under less than pristine circumstances, an investigation is made, one that makes a proctology exam with welding tools seem gentle by comparison.

23 ships left Dytalik Beta just before Zg “died” including mine. The chatter on the hyperspace comm says that Consortium authorities have seized 19 of those ships and are looking for the other four. The Regret is one of those, and if I don’t return to Dytalik or some other Consortium occupied port soon, they’ll assume I have something to hide.

Actually, I have a lot to hide, but I don’t want them to know that.

“I don’t think we have as big a problem as you believe, Cam.”

That’s Ginger over the comm. I parked the Regret inside an asteroid field in an uninhabited system at the edge of known space while we tried to figure out our next move. Ginger’s in the jump drive section. Actually, she’s in every part of the ship since it’s kind of her body, but she’s concentrating on examining the advanced jump drive we now have in our possession.

“What do you mean, Ging?” I’ve been in the control cabin brooding about our woeful state while Ginger has been at work.

“The jump drive looks conventional. I mean I don’t think anyone will be able to tell it has a covert energy projector.”

“Wait! What? How is that possible? I’ve seen the guts of those advanced drives and the projector sticks out like a virgin at an orgy.”

“What I mean is that the design of the drive specifically hides the existence of the projector, but there’s more.”

Now she sounds like an infomercial.

“The projector uses the normal energy consumption of a traditional hyperjump. No additional energy is consumed and almost no atypical engine maintenance is required.”

“That deserves an explanation, Ging. What do you mean ‘almost?'”

“Okay, One explanation coming up.”

Suddenly she’s sitting in the chair next to mine in the control cabin. “Dammit, Ging. Don’t do that.” I’ve just about jumped out of my seat.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you. Sometimes I forget.”

Then she kisses me with lips that make my toes curl.

“Forgiven, darling?”

Yeah, like I wouldn’t forgive her after that. “Sure. But what about the jump drive maintenance?”

“Alright, back to business.” She’s pretending to pout. It’s incredibly cute.

“The projector will require maintenance but I can do it. When we’re at a freighter port, we can submit the jump drive to the ground crew and they can do the usual work on the drive. Then, when they’re through, I can get into the projector and perform maintenance on it.”

“How much will that cost?”

“Not that much more. I think we can hide the expenditure by just padding our maintenance budget a bit.”

“Well, that’s a relief, Ging, but we still have to return to a port soon and face the music.”

“I’ve been monitoring the hyperspace comm and the crews of the 19 ships the Consortium have caught up with have been cleared and released. Why don’t we just go back to Dytalik? We can’t stay out here forever, Cam.”

I sigh. I hate the Consortium. I hate everything about them. That’s why I ply my trade in the Outer Regions rather than take jobs in the Core. I hate the idea of being grilled by Consortium goons and having them go over every inch of the ship. Ginger says they won’t find the modifications to the jump drive and I believe her but I can’t help feeling nervous anyway.

Why the hell did Zg have this one-of-a-kind drive installed anyway?

“Alright. I’ll fire up the space norm drive and you do the calculations for the jump to Dytalik. I hope you’re right.”

“Aren’t I always?”

I have to admit, she’s more right than wrong about things. She’s smarter than I am, a better engineer, and probably a better pilot. She’s also a better person than I am, but she makes me want to shoot for improving myself as well. Love will do that to you I guess.

*****

We materialize into Dytalik’s jump zone and call the system’s flight controller announcing our arrival and estimated time until we make planetside. I get the standard acknowledgement message and plot a course that’ll have us at the freighter bays in a little over three hours.

The butterflies in my stomach are the size of vultures.

*****

“Camdon Rod, you are under arrest as compliant to the death of Calderon Zg.”

Those were the first words the Captain of the Consortium Guard said to me when I walked onto the docking platform. Now I’m sitting in some crummy cell in the local jail waiting to see what’ll happen next. I’ve been here for three days. They feed me but that’s about it. No one will tell me what’s going on.

Worst of all, Ginger’s alone. They’re probably crawling over every inch of her, well the ship I mean, and if they find that modified jump drive, I’m probably dead. If they already suspect me of having something to do with Zg’s so-called death, then finding the drive projector will definitely cook me.

“Mr. Rod.”

The cell door opens and an older guy, very distinguished looking, walks in. The guard closes and locks the door behind him and walks away.

“Who are you, my lawyer?”

I didn’t think I was going to get one. I submitted my request when I was booked and verified that I could pay my legal fees but since then, zip.

The posh looking guy takes a seat on the bunk opposite mine. I didn’t get a cellmate, just isolation. That’s okay. I don’t need much company.

“That’s who the local constabulary and the Consortium Guard think I am, Mr. Rod.”

“Then who are you really?”

“Someone who wants to verify that Calderon Zg had a successful journey.”

My blood freezes in my veins. It’s one of them, a thing from hyperspace.

“What are you talking about. Haven’t you heard? Zg is dead. They think I had something to do with it, though I don’t know why?”

“I’m afraid that’s my fault, Mr. Rod. There was a witness who said an unauthorized passenger was seen entering your ship shortly before launch and the Guard want to know why you were smuggling someone off Dytalik. They’re thinking perhaps it was an assassin. The toxicology results of Mr. Zg’s body were inconclusive.”

“What did you do that for?” I jump to my feet and clench my fists before reminding myself that hitting this guy probably won’t extend my life span any.

“Sit down, Mr. Rod and I will explain.”

I do as I’m told. I’m not very good at it, but if there’s any way out of this mess, he’s the one who can show me the door.

“As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I have the same…origin point as Mr. Zg. We hold Mr. Zg in high regard, though for different reasons than the population of the Consortium, and we want to verify that he had a successful journey.”

“Okay, if you mean he put on a spacesuit and went EVA and then ordered me to make a jump 1,200 light years outside of known-space, then yeah, it was peachy. He vanished in a poof the second I initiated the jump so what happened to him next, I don’t have a clue.”

“Can you give me the coordinates of that jump. Only Zg could have given them to you.”

I give him the coordinates and he seemed pleased.

“Very well, Mr. Rod. You’ll be released within the hour. The witness will have a sudden memory lapse as to exactly which freighter he thought he saw someone enter and the charges against you will be dropped.”

“So you had me arrested and tossed into this can for three days just to verify a set of coordinates? Why didn’t you just meet me on the docks and ask me?”

“We have our ways, Mr Rod. Oh, I suppose it goes without saying that you will live a lot longer if you do not mention the details of this conversation to anyone, that is, except your lovely crew mate.”

Do all of these things know about Ginger?

“Yeah, I get. I just want to go back to my normally scheduled life and get on with hauling freight.”

“We have no objections to that at all, Mr. Rod, however…”

Oh great. A “however.” He’s standing over me now. I wonder what the threat will be?

“However, we will require your services from time to time. A little discreet business we’d prefer to keep out of the official records. You will be well compensated, I assure you.”

Terrific. I’m going to be carrying contraband for illegal aliens from another dimension.

“I wasn’t compensated with I took Zg on his last ride.”

“Oh but you were, Mr. Rod. You got a brand new jump drive out of the deal. I can only imagine this will allow you to accept jobs few other freighter pilots would be capable of.”

He’s rapping against the bars of the cell door and I can hear the guard’s footsteps approaching.

“So that’s why the specialized drive was installed, the one where the force projector is hidden.”

“Exactly, Mr. Rod. We don’t expect you to work for free. Besides, such a drive will enable you to also perform special services for us.”

The guard arrives and opens the cell door. My “lawyer,” he didn’t even tell me his name, steps out and then turns around to face me. “It’s been a pleasure, Mr. Rod. We’ll be in touch.”

He grins at me and my spine shivers. Then the guard closes and locks the door again before escorting the mystery man back down the hall.

This getting worse all the time.

*****

He wasn’t a liar. Exactly one hour later, the guard opens my cell door and I’m free as a bird. All charges dropped.

I get back to the Regret and no one is there but Ginger.

“Can you believe it, Cam? For the inconvenience, the Consortium paid for all of our maintenance and docking fees.”

I tell her why and even for a total redhead like her, she gets pale.

“What are we going to do, Cam?”

“What can we do? As far as I can tell, these characters know our every move and we don’t have a clue as to who any of them are. They can find us without notice and then whatever job they want us to do, we have to.”

“What if we refuse?”

“I think having me arrested and the ship confiscated is just a sample of what they’re capable of. Crossing them doesn’t sound like a good idea. On the other hand, if they need us, they’re likely to keep us healthy.”

“I don’t like it, Cam. What if it’s illegal?”

I can’t believe she’s asked that question. There isn’t a freighter pilot or crew working the Outer Regions that hasn’t dabbled in something shady, at least occasionally. It’s expected and one of the reasons we work out here. Sort of a screw the rules kind of thing.

She sees the expression on my face and guesses what I’m thinking.

“No, not that kind of illegal. I mean the kind of illegal that gets galaxies invaded, spied on, or wiped out. I think it’s called treason.”

I have no love for the Consortium, but I do draw the line at endangering my own livelihood, which includes having paying customers put out of business.

“Look, we don’t know anything about these things or what they want. So far they just wanted us to make a jump with a life form hanging on the outside of the Regret. Dangerous for the life form, but a simple jump for us.”

“That creature totally suppressed all of my neural activities for hours. I couldn’t do a thing. It could have…”

We’re having this conversation on the main cargo deck as I see her face crumple and tears start streaming down her cheeks. I take Ginger in my arms and she sobs into my chest. Yeah, I get it. She’s died once and she’s not anxious for a repeat experience. This time it would be permanent. No more Ginger.

I’m such an idiot.

I let her cry it out and when she looks up at me again, I kiss her. I’m gentle. She needs to be comforted.

“What else can we do? We can’t run. A freighter doesn’t get business by being hard to find. We’ll just have to keep doing the job and see what happens next. You know that’s the life we live.”

She knows. We’re freighter crew. This is our life.

She hugs me. “I’m scared, Cam.”

“I know, Baby. I know.”

*****

I sleep alone that night. Ginger’s got a lot on her mind. Tomorrow, we’ll have to decide what to do next. We’ve got some savings. We could quit hauling freight, quit flying. Of course, I’d have to store the Regret somewhere, maybe live on her still since the ship is what Ginger is.

I have no idea what I’d do. Too young to retire and not enough credits for it anyway. If we quit the freighter business, what makes us think the hyperspace people would let us get away with it?

I’ll do what Ginger wants. I love her. That’s what you do for love.

*****

I walk into the control cabin the next morning. Ginger’s there listening to a comm message.

“I think you’ll want to take this, Cam. It’s a response to our ‘freighter available for hire query.'”

“So when did we send the query, Ging.”

She smiles at me. It’s dazzling.

“Just take the comm, Cam.”

I listen to the message.

“It’s a job hauling some DNA analysis equipment from Marconii to Delta Epsiloni. Are you sure you’re up for this?”

“We’re freighter crew. It’s what we do. This is our life together, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let some filthy worms from the depths of hyperspace or whatever they are scare me into quitting. We’ll face life as it comes.”

I accept the job over the comm, disconnect, and then we hold onto each other for a long time. I figure I won’t be sleeping alone tonight.

“Let’s get ready for departure, Ging.”

We remember we have to let go of each other to do that and start the pre-flight routine.

Come what may, even spies from hyperspace, we have to live life as it happens to us. We’ll figure something out. We always have so far. With any luck, maybe we’ll find a way out of all this. Who knows?

The story in this series that immediately precedes this tale is No One’s Luck Could Be This Bad. If you want to start reading Camdon Rod’s adventures from the very beginning, start with The Last Flight of the Cynnabar Breen and keep clicking the links to the subsequent short stories. Eventually, you’ll get back here. Don’t forget to let me know what you think.

The next story in this series is Payback. Camdon Rod was lucky enough to escape the assassin once. Will his luck hold out a second time?

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