Freya's Tears

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Moving On

Mission: Book Two - Ginnungagap
Location: New Pacifica - Freya's Tears

Twenty-two hours later, Freya’s Tears was no longer in danger of colliding with random debris. The ship had reached its translation point and last minute preparations were under way to jump on to their next destination, Bliss. Els had already plotted the course and sent the data to Austin’s console. “Naya, open the tachcomm to Lafayette.”

Naya accessed her panel. “Comm open.”

The blank monitor at Els’s station blinked on, revealing the careworn features of Folsum. Dark circles had developed beneath his eyes since the last time she’d se
en him. “Commander?”
“Captain Ulfarsdottir, I see you’ve made it safely to the other side of the system.”

Els nodded. “Ja. We’re getting ready to jump now.”

He also nodded, rubbing his grizzled chin. “Have a drink for me when you get there.”

She gave him a commiserating smile. It would be weeks before the Siler Republic authorities would arrive to take this mess off his hands. She didn’t envy him the position of being the senior military officer in the system. “Will do, Commander. And if I locate another bottle of Chateau Exauvid, I’ll pick it up for you. No strings attached.”

Folsum chuckled. “I haven’t even had a chance to taste the last one, but I look forward to savoring it when I return to Lafayette.”

Els felt something deep inside thaw. Folsum wouldn’t be joking with her if he meant to end their business relationship. She found his openness encouraging since he hadn’t yet had time to confirm that she’d been truthful about the Kusanagi. He must have had time to balance his knee-jerk reaction against months of personal experience with her.

“Drive fires in five minutes, Skipper.”

Overhearing Austin’s words, Folsum sobered. “Safe trip, Captain. We’ll see you next time you swing this way.”

“Good luck, Commander. I hope you figure out what happened here.” Els closed the tachcomm. After rechecking their coordinates and her computations, she leaned back with satisfaction, glad to be getting out of the graveyard New Pacifica had become. “Once we’ve jumped Hrothgar will take bridge duty. The three of us have the next twenty-four hours off. I’ve had Kasli change the bridge schedule.”

“Thank god,” Naya said, rubbing her face. “No offense, Austin, but I’ve gotten sick of your chair.”

“None taken.” Austin casually accessed his station. “Not everyone’s cut out to be a pilot.”

Naya’s expression morphed from relief to offense. “I’ll have you know I can pilot very well, thank you.”

“Define ‘very well.’”

Sensing an impending explosion, Els quickly stood. “I’m out. Try to keep the bloodshed to a minimum, ja?” She registered Naya’s surprise at her interruption and a faint grin curling Austin’s lips. Is he actually flirting with her? Making good on her statement despite her curiosity, Els left the bridge.

Kolodka sat at the dining table, a fragrant bowl of curried rice spicing the air around him.
Els took a deep breath of appreciation as she approached. “Does that taste as good as it smells?”

“It does.” He gestured toward the kitchenette. “Grab a spoon and give it a whirl. It’ll burn the hair off your eyeballs at fifty paces.”

She hesitated, mid-pace, for a split second before retrieving a spoon. “And that’s a good thing?”

Kolodka laughed. “Sometimes, yes indeed. It’s been years since I’ve had a good bowl of curry. Don’t find it much in this sub sector. You find it all the time down by the NIR border.” He leaned back to allow Els access to his bowl.

Heeding his warning, she scooped a minuscule amount of rice onto her spoon. She sniffed at it in suspicion, the scent alone causing her eyes to sting. A nibble chemically scalded her lips and tongue, and she hooted in surprise. “Holy—” As she waved ineffectually at her mouth, Kol handed her his glass of milk. She downed half of it in one gulp. Sweat had popped up over her lip, her eye watered and her mouth and tongue felt like they were on fire. “Why—?” She coughed and breathed slowly, mastering herself against the latent fire, her tears threatening to spill over. “Why would you eat that stuff? Shouldn’t it be used to strip clean the engines?”

Kolodka laughed. “It’s an acquired taste, yeah, but it cleans the pipes and sinuses.” He dug into his bowl, popping a large spoonful into his mouth.

Dismayed, Els shook her head, staring down at her spoon in one hand and the half-full glass of milk in the other. She drained the glass and returned to the kitchenette to pour a fresh one for him. “Here.”

He accepted the milk, still smiling in amusement.

“Where’s everyone else?”

“Hrothgar’s in the head before his bridge shift. Tobias and Kasli are inventorying the weapons in the hold.”

The thirty-one tons of weapons they’d just acquired came to mind, along with the image of her gunners absconding with a half ton of personal weapons and ammunition they didn’t actually need. “I’d better get down there before the militant high goes to their heads.”

Kolodka snickered. “No doubt. I think Tobias was talking about decorating his cabin walls with the auto-fire machine guns.”

“Gotta go!” She sped out of the common area, his laughter following as she trotted downstairs to the cargo bay.

Pausing on the landing, she took a moment to enjoy the view of a smiling Kasli happily dismantling a pistol onto a large cleaning rag draped across her lap. Tobias had two of the bulkier machine-guns strapped across his chest, holding one grip in each hand as he pretended to mow down his enemies at the far end of the bay.

The hold looked much better, the additional cargo they’d picked up filling half the space. Most of the merchandise hadn’t been properly stowed however, and Els continued down the steps to amend that issue. A careful inventory had to be completed so she could determine what to offer for sale and where to go for the best deals and highest profits. Taking the auto-bed to a planet with the medical technological level of leeches and bone rattles would fetch nothing more than the local planetary equivalent of currency. Selling the same equipment in a system that boasted the power to operate the auto-bed but not manufacture its own version would significantly increase the funds in her bank account. Running cargo, especially salvaged or personally purchased goods, sometimes required hanging onto the product until the right opportunity arrived to maximize income.

“All right, children! Time to put away the toys.”

Kasli looked up, slightly guilty as she slapped the pistol pieces back together.

“Aw, c’mon, Els!” Tobias spun around, his machine-guns pointed at the floor. “We can’t sell all of them. Can’t I have five or six?”

Els snorted. “Five or six? Are you kidding? You only have two hands. Besides that’s about two hundred thousand credits. That’s…what? Almost twenty year’s salary for you?”

Tobias wasn’t daunted. “Two? Can I have two?” He hefted the pair he currently held. “They fit like a glove! With the right gear, I can swap out bores and use any type of ammo. A few mags of armor piercing rounds and I’ll be set!” He eyed the weapons, lost in hawkish zeal.

Glancing at Kasli, Els wasn’t surprised to see a hopeful expression on her beautiful features. “You want a machine-gun too?”

Kasli shrugged, attempting and failing to appear nonchalant. “I wouldn’t mind one. Like he said, these are top of the line Tommy Neil Dynamic gas-operated machine rifles. If you let us each have a couple, you won’t be missing that much profit—you’ll still have thirty-six more.”

“That I’ll probably have to sell piecemeal rather than at one shot.”

Tobias actually pouted, the look ludicrous as his lower lip poked out from beneath bushy red mustaches.

Els almost laughed but fought to keep a straight face as she turned back to Kasli. “What about the pistols? What have we got?”

Kasli held out the one in her hand. “We’ve got a thousand pistols, two hundred fifty each of old fashioned .45 caliber automatics, Arrones rapid-fire 2000s, MPR Backup Micro Carries and Siler Comprehensive double aughts.” She studied the weapons crates. “I’d say about nine hundred grand total. The Siler double aughts are running about fifteen hundred on average right now.”

“Enough for a small army,” Tobias added, ducking his head as he pulled one of the machine-gun straps over it. He set the weapon down with loving care and removed the second one, holding it across his chest and stroking the barrel.

“But no ammo?” Els asked.

“Nope. Not a single round.” Kasli stood, setting the pistol she held into its place in the case before her. “Not sure why a diplomat would have so much firepower without the rounds.”

Tobias frowned. “Maybe he was on a shopping trip. Could be he was at New Pacifica to pick up rounds for the weapons. Lordy knows that place was a constant war zone.”

Els had to admit he had a point. New Pacifica had been home to a hundred or more small underwater colonies who had nothing better to do in their spare time but squabble over ideological differences. “Still, this isn’t enough for an actual war. They’d need a lot more ordinance than hand weapons. A ground skirmish maybe…”

“Security force armaments?” Kasli offered.

“Maybe they were samples for somebody on New Pacifica. Wouldn’t be the first diplomatic arms dealer coming through this system to peddle the metal.” Tobias shrugged. “Doesn’t matter; the guns are ours now. So? Can I have two?”

Calculating the number of weapons against Kasli’s estimate, Els considered his request. Everyone aboard had been run through the wringer the last few days with the constant search for fuel. Though there’d been no actual business conducted, no profits for which to pay bonuses, Els knew that they all deserved rewards for their work. “You can each have two machine-guns,” she said. She raised her voice to be heard over Tobias’s whoop of joy. “And two pistols—your choice.”

“Thanks, Els!” Kasli immediately scooped up the pistol she’d been fawning over, one of the Siler double aughts.

“Consider it your bonus for your contributions of time and sweat this week.” Els held up a finger. “But don’t expect a credit bonus for that leg of the journey.”

Tobias helped himself to one of the Siler double aughts and an Arrones rapid-fire pistol, twirling the latter like a gunslinger in an ancient Earth western holo. “Ain’t no way you’d pay out a bonus worth as much as these babies.” He tucked the smaller pistol into his belt and reclaimed the machine-guns, heading for the stairs.

“Where are you going?” Els turned as he passed. “We’ve got to get this cargo inventoried and stowed.”

He paused at the landing. “I’ll be right back. Just want to stash these in my cabin.” When she didn’t argue, he flashed her a grin and trotted up the next flight.

Els turned to Kasli. “What about you? Need to put your toys away before we get to work?”

Kasli shook her head, smiling. “No.” She picked up the cleaning rag she’d been using to inspect the broken down pistol and wrapped the handguns in it. “I’ll just lay them by the bay doors until we’re done.”

“Okay.” Els pulled her data pad from one pocket. Let’s get started with the weapons then. Tell me again how many and what type of pistols we have?”

 

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