Freya's Tears

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Second Meeting With the Commander

Mission: Book Two - Ginnungagap
Location: Lafayette

“Captain, thank you for coming.” Folsum stood upon Els’s entrance into his office. He skirted his desk to shake her hand. Indicating the small couch, he followed and sat beside her. “Coffee?”

Els smiled. “Ja, danke.” She watched him pour her a cup from the service tray on the table.

He slid the sugar bowl toward her before pouring his own cup, sitting back and crossing his legs while she added cream and sweetener to hers. “Did you enjoy dinner last night?”

“We did.” Els copied his movements, leaning back into the comfortable couch. “Thank you again for the use of your table.”

“Any time. It’s not like I get much use out of it anyway.” He held up his left hand, fingering the bare ring finger. “I mostly eat alone or entertain the rare dignitaries that come through.”

“Well, it was a fantastic dinner. I think Kasli will be raving about the Cherries Jubilee for the next month.”

He smiled and sipped his coffee. “How long are you planning to stay here again?”

Els considered a moment. “I think we’ll lift off tomorrow morning. Give the crew another shot at the NCO club tonight and wrap up their personal shopping.”

“Where’s your next stop?’

“That would depend upon you, Commander.” Els set her cup down. “You said you might have a job for us, ja?” She mirrored his nod of agreement. “We go where the solar winds and business take us. I have no particular destination at this time.” At least none she was willing to admit. Rule number one when dealing with authority figures, even familiar ones like Folsum: never reveal anything. The less the authorities knew, the less trouble they could cause. Els ran a legitimate operation, but what was legal in one system could be considered contraband in another. It was much easier to fly under the radar when the local and interstellar government agencies weren’t aware of your long term flight plans.

“I have a courier packet I need delivered to Bliss. Does that interest you?”

Els blinked, trying to keep the pleased surprise from her face. She sent a silent thank you to the gods as she scooped up her coffee cup, hiding behind it to keep from tipping off Folsum. “It might. A stop at Bliss wouldn’t be a hardship, true.” Her navigating skills kicked in as she considered the most likely route from her current location. “It’d take two jumps to get there and a fuel stop along the way.” Once again she set the cup down, this time to pull her data pad from a cargo pocket. “New Pacifica is en route, so no trouble there. One hundred fifty thousand a jump, refuel costs at New Pacifica will run about one hundred thou.” She looked up from her calculations. “How large is the packet?”

Folsum stood and approached his desk, turning his workstation to access a file. “Just short of twelve terabytes.” He turned, leaning back against the desk and crossing his arms over his chest.

Twelve terabytes would barely dent the storage capacity of the ship’s computer. “Twelve grand for the storage then, so four hundred twelve thousand credits.”

He nodded. “Do me a favor and I’ll pay four twenty.”

A favor. Els’s elation faded. Favors were never a good thing to accept, especially those that were greased with credits. She slouched in place as she envisioned the four hundred plus credits puffing into wisps of smoke. “What kind of favor?”

Folsum grinned, not fooled by her cool demeanor. “You said you’d probably stop at New Pacifica to refuel. I’d just like you to check out the system, relay back anything that seems out of the ordinary.”

Els frowned, adding a hazard pay bonus to her appraisal. “Has there been a problem out that way? If there are pirates—”

He shrugged, his smile fading. “We don’t know. The shipping lanes have dried up from that direction, and we’re not getting any response to our communications. Two water deliveries have become overdue. Fortunately Azteca had some to spare, but their planet is drier than Lafayette.”

Pirates couldn’t interfere with an entire planet’s communications array though they could intercept merchants and cargo haulers. Interfering with the incoming shipments of a military colony seemed a step up in stupidity. What pirate in his right mind would wave a red flag at a naval post? Els considered what she knew of New Pacifica. The planet was fairly large with a standard atmosphere. Like her home world of Placidus, New Pacifica was a water world, no land masses had ever developed on the surface. Unlike Placidus, New Pacifica had been colonized by hundreds of different enclaves, each enjoying their own culture and taboos. The resultant clash between schools of thought kept many of the tens of millions of inhabitants isolated in their own underwater city-states. Of all the possible causes for the planet to stop communications, a world war would be more likely than an increase in illegal activity on the shipping lanes. “How long has it been?”

“About three months.” Folsum glanced at his workstation. “We’ve analyzed their last comms, but other than some garbled chatter toward the end nothing seems to explain their silence.” Returning his attention to Els, he placed his hands on the edges of his desk. “That’s why the courier drop to Bliss. I can’t confirm our reports heading that direction have actually made it through whatever’s blocking us.”

Taking Freya’s Tears into a potential war zone didn’t appeal to Els any more than the threat of being commandeered. She supposed she could navigate the ship to the outer edges of the New Pacifica system to have a look around. The chances of finding a fuel dump dropped considerably with the threat of locals engaging in wartime behavior planet side however. That would mean she’d have to scoop raw hydrogen from one of the system’s gas giants, providing the planets themselves weren’t under internal dispute, and run the plasma through a rudimentary refinery to make it a viable for use as fuel. “Why haven’t you sent a patrol?”

Folsum shrugged, his face a study in distaste. “You know how the Pacificans are. If I showed up with a squad of ships outside of my jurisdiction there’d be hundreds of official complaints to the Republic within ten minutes.”

“Plausible deniability.”

He grinned. “Guilty as charged.”

“Four hundred fifty thousand,” she stated after a long moment of consideration. “We can’t guarantee the availability of fuel there. Besides, Freya is a mid-range hauler, not a battleship. If we’re attacked, we’re dead.”

“Four twenty-five,” he countered. “You’re assuming it’s a war zone. It could just as easily be a planetary plague that’s disrupted services and shipping.”

She snorted. “And plague is better than war? What if my ship gets quarantined? No work will kill us just as quick as a laser battery. Four fifty stands.”

“Four thirty.”

“Four forty-five.”

His eyes narrowed. “Four forty, final offer.”

Els studied him, recognizing the set of his jaw. He’d probably been authorized to pay as much as five hundred thousand but had been pushed to his personal limit. Four hundred forty thousand credits would see this month’s ship payment covered in full and a hefty bonus to the crew upon completion of the contract. The extra credits would be welcome upon their arrival in Bliss. “Half in advance, half upon arrival?”

“Yes, of course.”

Standing, she grinned and held out her hand. “Done!”

Folsum smiled as well. “I’ll have my aide draw up the contract. Come back in a couple of hours. We’ll finalize it and I’ll have your initial payment ready.”

“It’s a pleasure doing business with you, Commander.”

“And you, Captain Ulfarsdottir.” He chuckled as he escorted her to the door. “You can drive a hard bargain. That’s not a skill many people have.”

Els smiled. “In my business it’s a survival skill.” She thanked him for his time and left his office, easily finding her way out of the building.
The suns burned bright and the pale green sky was clear as she strolled across the star port grounds toward her ship in the distance. Providing Folsum’s concern about New Pacifica proved unfounded, the ship would be in Bliss within ten days. Ten days!


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