Saturday, January 31, 2004

LIGHTFOOT -- Day 14 (evening)

Jack came to see me a while ago. I could feel what he didn't have to say. I'd been feeling it, too.

I have a premonition that once we reach Banasdan we may never see each other again.

It has been building during this trip, this fear.

We sat on my bunk, facing each other and not speaking. Finally he reached for me with his long, gentle fingers and took my face in his hands. He caressed my cheeks and stroked my hair. He eased me to him. We kisses slowly, almost sadly. Like the movement of glaciers, we came together. Eternity passed while time was frozen by our emotions. Every second lasted a lifetime. The two of us, joined, were a universe of our own. We kissed: tasting, testing, teasing...

Gradually, we returned to ourselves. When we were done, it felt as if there was nothing more that would ever need to be said.

After a long quiet moment, Jack left.

I laid on my cot and wept until I had nothing left.
LIGHTFOOT -- Day 14 (late morning)

I am still floored by what I have just learned.

Herlioni is Zhodani!

He is a Prole, which is the lowest of the Zhodani class system. As a Zhodani he is telepathic, but is not permitted to train in the institutes because of his class. He actually trained in an underground institute in the Spinward Marches. He has contacts in the psionic underground and can help me find an institute. That had been the goal of my travels in the first place.

But my joy at this discovery is tainted by Juwanda's abduction.
LIGHTFOOT -- Day 14

We arrive at Banasdan the day after tomorrow. That only gives us a few more days to decide on strategies. Gray is pushing me hard to give in to Jack's plan. They are now saying that they want me to 'work from the inside'. If I let them 'turn me in' not only can they collect the reward, but then I can find Juwanda and we can escape together. If I can't sense her once we reach Banasdan I may give in. Not so they can collect the reward, but so I can find Juwanda. Not know where she is and if she is OK is killing me.

Dealing with the anxiety has taken a toll on me. I was sitting in the galley when I thought I heard singing in a strange tongue. At first I didn't even realize I was hearing it, it came on so softly and was soothing on a deep level. When I did realize it, I sat bolt upright and looked around. The music stopped instantly. Someone was in the doorway and had just turned away when I jumped. I'm sure it was Herlioni. No one else is so tall and fair. I'm certain he could not have sung what I heard, so maybe he was carrying a small portable music chip or something. There is definitely something odd about him.

Friday, January 30, 2004

LIGHTFOOT -- Day 13

We finally survived all the drills and satisfied Gray with our bloodlust. That is apparently the key for him. We have to smash and burn everything that moves without warning in these sims, because he has not programmed any innocent bystanders into the programs. I think he is nuts.

Jack finally brought up the old plan of pretending to turn me in for the reward money and then breaking me out. Only this time it is break both Juwanda and myself out. Of course, there is no way of guessing if I would be taken to Juwanda if I were captured, so the whole plan stinks in my opinion. Of course, Gray thinks it is a fabulous plan, the turd. I wish Jack would not have told him about the reward at all.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

LIGHTFOOT -- Day 12

I met the other mercs today. Josh is the youngest of the lot at a mere 19 years of age, but he has been with this group for the last 3 years. His older brother is Fret, who was wounded during the raid. They look a lot alike and their family is from a the Corridor sector, near the Spinward Marches, which boarders on the Zhodani Consulate, so they have travelled across much of the Imperium.

Raginer is Solomani, the only one of the team, and very into the whole 'Rule of Man' thing. He is VERY racist about other species, but is only somewhat prejudice against other races of Humaniti.

Cobalt seems to be a quiet giant type. The kind who is so convinced of his own invulnerability that he apparently fears no one. I think he is deeper than he lets on.

The lot of them really look up to Gray, who is still getting on my nerves with these darn drills of his. I guess he's pulled their fannies from the fryer before so they trust him. From what I hear though, it sounds like he leads them into danger and tends toward over reaction that gets the team into more conflict than what they might otherwise have had.

Herlioni, the other wounded merc, is a tall fair haired and fair skinned fellow. He is definitely different than most humans in this sector. I have not yet asked him where he is from. I have caught him giving me and Jack strange glances and smiling smugly to himself.

Of the drills we ran this morning I only died once. Of course everyone died in that sim, too, since the whole simulated ship went up in flames.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

LIGHTFOOT -- Night 11

Well, I'm dead. I died four out seven of the simulations we ran today.

I ran simulations on the STAR RAMMER that I thought was tough, but they were nothing like the ones I failed today. Gray yelled at me a lot too and I think part of it was meant to 'put me in my place', which is supposed to be subordinate to him. He's got a real 'command' attitude. If it weren't for Juwanda I would tell Gray where he could stick his attitude. But since all this is to save her, I am going to endure this agitation.

The tricky part is the way the bridge controls are designed. The two stations have all the controls available. So as Jack and I are running the sims we have to monitor our own areas and be ready to take over the other ones at a moment's notice. Jack is the pilot/navigator and has the starboard laser canon, and I have the sensor/comm and the port laser canon. In ship to ship or ship to ground combat, Jack flies the LIGHTFOOT and can monitor the sensors for incoming fire while he blasts away at the opposition. I monitor his flight path and call out sensor info that is vital in case he hasn't noticed it all the while firing away with my laser. Should he become disabled or wants to focus on a target I can take over the piloting. You really have to know and anticipate each other to work as a team in that kind of environment. We tried using telepathy but it is way to confusing to listen to each other and the monitors at the same time.

We'll try again tomorrow and maybe we won't die as often as we did today.
LIGHTFOOT -- Day 11

For this Jump Jack and I are both on the same 12-hour day shift. The other mercs are trading off the night watch. Jack trusts them, and I guess that means I should, too. It still comes slow after the whole STAR RAMMER incident.

We are going to begin training today. Jack found the layout of Treewrich's estate on Banasdan among Pope's papers. He and Gray, who seems to be the head-honcho of this little merc party we are Jumping with, have designed some attack strategies and we are going to train for those.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

LIGHTFOOT -- Night 10

We are underway. Jack and Toby and I are joined by the 6 mercs who participated in the raid. Herlioni and Fret are the only ones I've actually spoken with, and they are both laid up with injuries. They should be mostly recovered by the time we reach Banasdan.

Jack has scheduled battle simulations for the Jump. The LIGHTFOOT was made for combat and he's going to make sure we are ready to use her to her full advantage. I caught a hint of something that makes me think he liked the taste of looting and he may have designs on going mercenary. We are certainly moving in that direction with our current ship and crew and mission.
LIGHTFOOT -- Day 10

Herlioni and Fret are back on board the LIGHTFOOT and will have plenty of time to recuperate during the jump to Banasdan. To prep for the trip I've picked up Jack and the others and we are going to use the loot they pilfered from the remains of the mansion to pay the mercs and buy enough fuel to get us to Banasdan. All prisoners were left at the mansion with no comm and no transport. By the time they will be able to contact anyone we should be well under way.

I've looked over the comm files Jack found at the mansion. Pope did know about Juwanda's clairvoyance when he turned her over to Treewrich and he collected a handsome sum for her. Treewrich was still anxious to get his hands on me, though.

This rescue is taking too long. I fear for Juwanda and I know this has all been my fault.

Monday, January 26, 2004

LIGHTFOOT -- Day 9

I slept late and had terrible nightmares about yesterday. I left Toby to watch the ship alone while I checked on the status of our two wounded mercs, whose names I've learned are Herlioni and Fret. They are a lot younger than I had supposed and not nearly as intimidating physically as they had been while loaded up with combat armor. Thankfully their wounds were not as bad as I had first thought. They will be released tomorrow. I am to stay here until then.

Jack has found enough proof to confirm that Pope had taken Juwanda to Banasdan. They are still rooting through the place, but it is pretty torn up.

I am anxious to get going toward Banasdan right away.
LIGHTFOOT -- Night 8 (late)

Two of our number had been wounded in the raid. Toby and I transported the wounded to a nearby town to get medical care for them.

I had to leave Jack, the rest of the team and even the two prisoners who poses as passengers that we'd kept in the brig until now, at the mansion. Jack is going to look for evidence that verifies what Pope told us.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

LIGHTFOOT -- Night 8

While Jack and the mercs made their way across the slopes of the hills toward Pope's mansion in the air/raft I remained intensely watching the scanners and monitoring their comm link. I hate waiting and feeling so helpless.

They reached the mansion in less than five minutes and stormed the structure from the landing pad on the roof. I could follow the individual ID tags of the mercs and Jack as they spread out, but without a floorplan, they just appeared to be floating in the air and spreading out in erratic circles. I crewed on my fingernails and listened to the cross chatter and back ground noise of gun and laser fire.

My hopes for a swift and successful mission quickly faded. The ID markers began to regroup and the tone of their voices rose with panic and once even with a wrenching scream of pain. I charged up the engines and before I could lift off I saw the ID tags cluster together and someone shout that they were being slaughtered.

I piloted the LIGHTFOOT into a tight strafing run and used the IDs to target close, but not on top of my team. The explosions and chaos over the comm was deafening. I carefully blasted a hole in the exterior wall, bringing down hundreds of pounds of concrete and stone as the upper floors collapsed in places.

That turned the tide, and the mercs were able to out flank the guards and secure the structure.

I ran off the LIGHTFOOT and found Jack with Jonathan Pope. A section of wall had crushed his lower body. It was awful and I had to force myself to look him in the face.

"Where is Juwanda? Where have to taken her?"

Pope, in a rasping final breath, said, "Treewrich."

He'd taken her to Banasdan. To Baron Treewrich who, for reasons I can only guess, has a price on my head.
LIGHTFOOT -- Day 8 (late afternoon)

We flew low to avoid any radar devices and settled in a hilly region west of the mansion. I shook off my nerves as best I could and scanned for Juwanda. Since we had been so close I could read her from across town, so I certainly should be able to hear her from this close distance. I didn't pick up anything.

Jack joined me to try and boost the range. He took my hands and the contact was electric. We have been avoiding physical contact since that intense experience outside Ganesh. It felt like my nerves were on fire, but I was able to channel that into the sending. I still did not feel Juwanda, but I did feel Pope. I have never made contact with someone for the first time without at least being in eye contact, but I was certain it was him.

I'm not sure if he felt the contact, but I would not be surprised if he did.

Jack broke our connection. "You stay with the ship. The troops and I are going in."

"Wait," I cried. "She's not there."

"I know, but I saw his defenses and we have to act before he realizes what we just did."

"I'm coming."

"You're staying. You're our bargaining chip if we run into trouble."

"What? Wait!"

That's when he planted the most sensuous and splendid kiss on me that I have ever experienced.

"For luck," he said and he left me on the bridge, too stunned to argue.
LIGHTFOOT -- Day 8 (afternoon)

We have added 6 mercs to our crew compliment. Jack assures me he knows them all and that they are trustworthy.

I am flying us toward the reported location of this mansion. I am going to try and pick up Juwanda telepathically before we do anything else. I am worried about Jack's idea to storm the mansion. We don't know if Pope or Juwanda are there and we don't know what kind of defenses there may be.

I have a bad feeling about this.
LIGHTFOOT -- Day 8 (mid-day)

At the second port city bar we checked, Jack got a lead on where Pope lives. We checked with the planetary register and a well-fortified mansion in the Southern Hemisphere is registered to him. Jack and I are going to take the LIGHTFOOT rather than hitch on local transportation. This is exactly the kind of thing the LIGHTFOOT was designed for.

Before we go, Jack want to make sure we are completely ready. The ship's weapons are loaded and now he has gone to hire a small band of mercs that he knows. I am a bit uneasy about it. I have not had the best of experiences with mercs.
LIGHTFOOT -- Day 8 (mid-morning)

We completed the chores.

I'm wearing a disguise since this Pope guy has seen me before. I cut my hair to just above my shoulders and went with blonde and strawberry streaks, which came out bolder than I intended. I applied some insta-tan to darken my skin. I'm wearing a hat and some dark filtered glasses. I am armed with two laser pistols and the boot knife Jack gave me. Jack has also given me two interesting bits of electronics. One is a tracking device which will allow him to find me if we get separated, and the other is a small lockpicking device which will work on digital locks. Both of these are from the arsenal left by the mercs who previously owned the LIGHTFOOT.

Catania was one of Jack's usual stops when he was captain of the DUCHESS, so he is also going in disguise also so Jim won't find out Jack's alive. It also means that he has several of his hiding holes here. Since Jack is familiar with this port, he knows some places to go to find out about Pope.

Jack is going to lead the way and I am going to stay back, but within empathy range.

If you can see us with your clairvoyance Juwanda, we're coming!
LIGHTFOOT -- Day 8

I did sleep last night, but it was the unhelpful kind where the night seemed to pass in a blink. We are on final approach. I triple checked the comm logs before sending the standard approach messages to the starport. Once we arrive, Toby will stay with the ship and prisoners. Jack and I will take care of escorting the two passengers off the ship and delivering the cargo to the cargo master.

Once these routine requirements are complete, Jack and I will go in search of Jonathan Pope.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

LIGHTFOOT -- Night 7

The two elder ladies we have on board was toasting us at dinner. They have never has such an exciting adventure before. Well, I'm glad they are enjoying the ride.

For myself, I can't stop thinking about Juwanda. What has she been going through? Have they been mean to her? Have they been giving her food and drink? Is she in a warm dry place?

We've dropped into normal space, and now I am supposed to be getting a good night's sleep in preparation for tomorrow.

I don't think I'll sleep a wink.
LIGHTFOOT -- Day 7 (mid-day)

Jack questioned the prisoners. They are actually a father-son team. They were hired by Jonathan Pope to watch for my return to Ganesh and then to ride along or follow in another vessel to alert him when I arrived.

I hope this means we'll be able to take him by surprise. According to the message he left me, I am to contact him to arrange to meet. Jack and I are going to try and track him down instead, and only if we can't find him will I send word as instructed. We are going to keep these two rats prisoner until we resolve the situation.
LIGHTFOOT -- Day 7

We will be coming out of jump-space later tonight. Jack and I have already agreed that we'll wait until tomorrow morning before we approach Catania, so we both can get a good night's sleep with Toby watching over things.

I have been so anxious to help Juwanda, but now that we are on approach I feel hesitant. This is so obviously a trap. Will Jack and I be smart enough and skilled enough to defeat it? If we fail, will Juwanda die?

Returning to Ganesh, and now Catania has been odd. When I was here last I took the first test to become a Sensor/Comm Op and now that I have returned I only require another 8 hours to qualify for the next level test.

Friday, January 23, 2004

LIGHTFOOT -- Day 6 (afternoon)

I was on the bridge when I heard a commotion coming from the galley. Straight away I sensed from Jack that he was fighting. I hurried out of the bridge just in time to see Jack sail out of the galley and smash into the wall in the hallway. I started to run to him but he shouted, "Man the bridge!"

I turned back to the bridge just in time to see the businessman trying to sneak in the doorway. I snagged him by the back of his shirt and yanked him out and, as he flew backward, he tried to hit me. I, luckily, had been overbalanced and fell out of reach. He lunged at me with a shock stick but I managed to dodge the first three jabs with it. Finally I caught his wrist, tore the shock stick free and used it on him. Whoever he is, he certainly not a trained fighter or I would not have been able to use such and elementary move on him.

While I had been struggling, Jack and the student had been wrestling around on the floor outside the galley. Finally one of the elderly ladies bonked the student on the head with a pan, knocking him cold.

Jack said he tried to scan the student, and that he had sensed it. Still, the scan had been successful and Jack knew that the student and businessman were working together. They had been avoiding me, but they didn't know Jack was also psionic.

We reach Catania tomorrow evening. Until then we are locking them both in the tiny brig, which is actually a small state room designed to double as a brig when the need arises.

And the need has arisen.

I don't know what we'll do with them when we reach Catania. I've gone ahead and deleted the message they planted and done another search to be sure no other messages were hidden in the comm or other computer files.
LIGHTFOOT -- Day 6

I found the elder woman passengers easy to scan last night. They are 'hand patters', by which I mean whenever they sit around the galley table and talk with me, they frequently reach over and pat my hands. With the physical contact I was able to read them clearly. No deep dark secrets there. Toby, however, has a couple of admirers. I think he already knows, though. He's been flirting with them since we left Ganesh.

That means it has to be the student or the businessman, and it means that Jack will be danger too if they figure out he is also psionic.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

LIGHTFOOT -- Night 5

Of our four passengers, I usually see the two elder women and Jack usually runs into the student and the businessman, so that is how we divided them up. We are going to try and scan them discreetly over the next day or two. If we still don't know which one left the message we are going to try more drastic measures.

For now, we've left the piggyback message in place in case someone checks on it. No sense in tipping our hand and letting them know we are onto them.
LIGHTFOOT -- Day 5

Late last night Jack and Toby deciphered the message. When I came in this morning they were both waiting for me. Jack showed me the message.

It read, "Isis has arrived at Catania on the LIGHTFOOT."

Jack said, "Don't worry. Toby consented and I checked him out. He didn't plant the message."

"But someone on board did," I said. "It wasn't there until yesterday."

"Which means one of our passengers aren't who they claim to be."

Suddenly I understood, "Jonathan Pope left a spy behind."

"And they are onboard."

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

LIGHTFOOT -- Night 4

Jack and I ran all the decoding algorithms we know and we still have not deciphered the message. We could simply delete it, but we don't want to do that until we find who put it there and why.

We summoned Toby to the bridge and he is having a crack at it now. Jack and I have discussed the possibility of scanning the passengers and Toby to determine who put it there.
LIGHTFOOT -- Day 4

I found a strange message programmed into the communications log. It is set to automatically piggyback the standard communications when we reach Catania. I knew to look out for this because I did something similar when I was transferring my crew log from the STAR RAMMER to the starport on Zayeel, but then I was the comm officer and I knew no one else would be looking at the programs.

This message wasn't there yesterday, so someone on board must have put it there. It is encoded so I can't read it...yet. I've left a note for Jack to come to the bridge as soon as he wakes up.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

LIGHTFOOT -- Night 3

Jack dropped by the bridge early and we discussed what to do once we reach Catania. The message from Jonathan Pope included contact instructions. Jack thinks once I send a message I will be instructed to go somewhere alone. Although he will be there to back me up, Jack wants to inject me with a subdermal tracking device just in case. It sounds like a good idea, but they are impossible to remove without professional help and anyone with a tracking meter within a kilometer radius will be able to locate or follow me. I guess it is a risk I have to take.
LIGHTFOOT -- Day 3

Jack and I are nearly back to normal now. I can only 'feel' what he is feeling when he wants me to or when his emotions are running high.

He is very upset with one of our passengers, the business man named Clarkins. He's been asking questions, particularly about where we have been and how Jack and I met. Jack's got a bad vibe about him. I have not even met him. Whenever I am off duty I have not encountered him in the common areas of the ship.

The two elder ladies, on the other hand, are like giggling school girls. They want to hear about all the adventures we've had. I have not had many that I wish to share, but the engineer has regaled us all with some tall tales.

I like Toby, our new engineer. He's kind of gruff and has been jumping through space since before I was born. He's seen a lot and I think he knows Jack and I are stressed out, although we have not told him about Juwanda or about our adventures on Muan Kwoyen.

Monday, January 19, 2004

LIGHTFOOT -- Night 2

I've been thinking about what my folks said. Juwanda told Jonathan Pope she could help find me. There is only one way she could have done that, and I thought she would never tell another soul about that. We became close as children because we were both unusual. I had some small skill with telepathy. She had sizable talent with clairvoyance. She can see what is happening with people or things that are important to her, but certainly not in separate solar systems and not in the past or future.

I wonder if, in her concern for me, she confided in Jonathan Pope. Maybe that is why she agreed to come with him, so if he could get her close enough to where I was she could 'see' me and help locate me. For all the trouble I have had because of my psionics, I fear that she could be in serious danger if she revealed her abilities.
LIGHTFOOT -- Day 2

When there is someone who knows how to care for the engines, the LIGHTFOOT is humming along beautifully. I can see how she would make an ideal fighting ship. She has speed and far jump capability. The weapons are state of the art. She is very responsive for her size.

As a cargo and passenger ship she lacks the room. After we complete this mission, Jack should consider selling her in or going in to the mercenary trade.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

LIGHTFOOT -- Night 1

Jack and I have decided to trade off 12 hour shifts. We won't be seeing much of each other that way, but I think we need the time and space. The empathy we share has quieted down, or at least has become manageable with practice. However, when we are in the same room there is an echo effect where the emotions seem to travel a circular path round and round between us, making it hard to concentrate on the work at hand.

I can't help but feel worried and guilty regarding Juwanda. That Jonathan Pope guy better not have harmed her.
LIGHTFOOT -- Day 1

We are loading up the last of the passengers now. The crew numbers only three. Captain Jack Turner, engineer Toby Westworth and myself as the Sensor/Comm Op and pilot. As the pilot I also have weapons' controls.

We have four passengers. Two elderly women who think it is an adventure to travel aboard 'war ship', a business man returning home and a student enrolled in a university on Catania.

We'll be underway in an hour.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

GANESH -- Night 1

Jack sensed my return and ran to meet me on the dock. He brought me aboard the BRANDED, now renamed the LIGHTFOOT. I explained the situation to him and he has agreed to go to Catania with me. He hired an engineer and the repairs were indeed minor, for someone who knows what they are doing. We'll be ready to be underway tomorrow. The LIGHTFOOT is a vessel of war, not commerce, but he is making arrangements to transport small cargo and a few passengers, as much as what the LIGHTFOOT can carry. The small advanced payments will provide enough income for the fuel and rations we'll require.

GANESH -- Day 1 (mid-day)

I'm on another air/raft and I am heading back to the starport as fast as I can.

My parents were so delighted and surprised to see me alive that they cried. When I finally got them calmed down they told me what had happened. A man showed up a few weeks after I left and he told them I was in trouble and he needed to find me. He said I had been kidnapped by mercs.

Juwanda believed him and she told him she could locate me. He took Juwanda with him. The next day a note arrived at my folks for me. It was from Jonathan Pope, the man who chased me on Catania and the reason I first met Jolly. The note said that he wasn't going to let Juwanda go until I come to him on Catania.

I'm going to see Jack. He has to help me save Juwanda, even if I have to agree to his plan in exchange.

Why must everyone I care for come to harm because of me?
GANESH -- Day 1 (mid-morning)

It is so nice to see the familiar landscape racing by the air/raft. I will be home in a few minutes. I've only been away two months, but it feels like years. I've changed a lot. I've experienced a lot. It'll be so relaxing to be home and know I am safe for a change.
GANESH -- Day 1

We're docked at the high port orbiting Ganesh. Jack is going to make arrangements to have the engines repaired. I'm taking a shuttle to the planet and I'm going to visit with my family and my friend Juwanda. They will certainly be surprised to see me.

I have not decided what to do next. I promised Jack I would return in a few days to talk, but even with the experience we shared I don't want to attempt his plan. I know I can trust him now. I've seen his soul as it were. But I still don't like idea.

Friday, January 16, 2004

BRANDED -- Night 5

The navy starship has attached the tow cables and is bringing us to the starport orbiting Ganesh. Jack and I have not spoken since what happened earlier. I am not ready to talk to him yet and I can tell he understands. That is a side effect that he didn't expect. I feel everything he feels. And I know he feels everything I feel. It is a crazy sort of duality, like having speakers on either side of your head playing completely different music.
BRANDED -- Day 5 (afternoon)

We have been in radio contact with the rescue ship. Much to our relief they are only going to haul us to port, not actually board us.

The issues with the ship, believe it or not, are the easy ones to deal with right now.

My issues with Jack have become much more complex.

I am attracted to him, and I have felt that he is attracted to me. With all that has been happening, those feeling were set aside as a matter of survival. Most of this morning we have been doing nothing but talking. I finally just flat out told him I can't afford to trust anyone, especially someone who wants to collect a bounty on my head. It appeared to just have dawned on him that I don't trust him.

His wounded expression nearly tore my heart out, that damn traitor of an organ.

We were sitting on the bridge on opposite sides of a display table. Jack took my hands in his and placed them softly on the sides of his face. He closed his eyes and I could feel him pushing his thoughts to me.

I could feel HIM pushing his thoughts toward me.

Jack is a telepath, too.

He opened his eyes and it all came flooding out. Thoughts. Feelings. Memories. His and mine both. We were locked together as if gripped by electrical current. We shared everything and it ripped us to the core. It didn't subside until there was nothing that had been held back.

When it finally passed I didn't know what to say. There WAS nothing to say. I needed some space and I went to the galley to be by myself.

I am still trying to sort everything out.
BRANDED -- Day 5

I've been monitoring the sensors and a naval rescue ship has been deployed. They should reach us tonight. Jack is not as relieved as I am. We are in a stolen vessel and we have no documentation. Not to mention we are in a merc vessel, and the navy isn't know for cutting mercs any slack.

With things in the state they are in there is no use in doing anything now. We might as well wait to get towed to the starport and let the professionals fix the ship.

That has brought up an interesting point. Once we reach Ganesh we could just go our separate ways. Jack still wants me to go on to Banasdan with him for the bounty. I think it would be foolish, and dangerous to play games with the nobility. Not only that, but after Jolly's betrayal how can I trust anyone again?

Thursday, January 15, 2004

BRANDED -- Night 4

The computer is finally on-line enough to get a barring on where we are. The nearest port is Ganesh, my home world. The emergency signal uses regular radio waves. At the rate they travel the outer patrol of the Imperium Navy should hear the signal sometime tomorrow morning.

I am so relieved! Rescue is certain now. And to be so close to home I feel safer already. I can't wait to see my folks and my dearest friend Juwanda! I have so much to tell them.
BRANDED -- Day 4 (mid-day)

We found the burnt out control and replaced it. The computer booted back up on start-up mode. What that means is that the computer has lost its memory. We have to upload all the programs again and reprogram everything. This will take the rest of today and the better part of the night. We have not even LOOKED at the cooling system yet. There is no point. There is no way we can fix it.
BRANDED -- Day 4

The engines are still shut down. We are drifting. The computer is still not booting up. Life support still works, thank the stars. We've got to get the computer online first. We are searching through the banks of digital cards to try and spot a burnt out control, which Jack is sure must be the problem.
BRANDED -- Night 3 (late)

CRAP!!!!!

The entire cooling system just blew! We had to shut everything down. The ship mis-jumped, and we fell into normal space. We have not yet determined where because the computers froze up. I've activated the emergency beacon requesting aid from any starships in the area, wherever that may be.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

BRANDED -- Night 3

Well, we THINK we have the primary cooling system repaired. We are going to stay on the back ups unless they begin to fail, just in case. Tomorrow we are going to tackle the computer systems.

That's what we did today. What we talked about, or rather argued about, was what we are going to do once we reach Catania. With this ship's capabilities, we could reach Banasdan with one more jump. That's that last place I want to go. I may have been the reason the DUCHESS was bombed, but I think the BRANDED squares that debt. Jack still wants to collect the bounty on me. He swears up and down he can make his plan work. There is no way I am going to risk some unknown fate at the hands of royalty just for a big pay out.
BRANDED -- Day 3

We've completed the routine maintenance to the engines that we felt we could safely undertake during a jump. That managed to get some of the warnings lights to turn off. Switching to the back cooling system stopped that strange whirring sound and now we are going to try to tackle the repairs on the primary cooling system.

Now that we are not so stressed about the engines, Jack and I have had a chance to chat a bit while we work. From the logs on board we discovered that Jolly must have stolen this ship. If we intend to keep it, and at the moment that seems to be the plan, we are going to need to reprogram the ID beacon and rename the ship before we leave Jump Space.

I also found out that Jack grew up on merchant vessels owned by his large and extensive family. He hasn't explained why he was passed around between family members during his formative years, but I get the impression his parents died or abandoned him when he was young. I guess it was this insecurity that led him to create small refuges on starports, like the one we hid in on Muan Kwoyen. Apparently that wasn't the first time he had to use it either.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

BRANDED -- Night 2

The grease takes forever to completely wash off with the tiny facilities we have on board. We only have simple survival meal packs since the galley had not been replenished. The ship has far more space than two people need, and that gives it a creepy, deserted feeling. We've taken to crashing in bunks in the engineering room so we can keep an eye on things there. Jack is concerned about a funny 'whirring' sound the engines keep making.
BRANDED -- Day 2

The BRANDED has Jump-4 capability. The course is set for Catania, of all places. It is the place where I first met Jolly and is where I was chased by some guy called Jonathan Pope for reasons I still don't know.

I have not discussed Jack's reason for choosing Catania yet. We have been reviewing the engineering manuals, such as they are, to try and troubleshoot the engines. From what I can tell, routine maintenance has not been performed on the engines in a long time. I'm sure a real engineer could do it all in a day and could tell what was important and what could wait. Jack and I are covered in grease and grime, wearing 'borrowed' clothes left by the mercs who last inhabited the vessel since we have none of our own.

We set the bridge readouts to sound an alarm if one of them goes in the red since we can't monitor them closely, especially at night. We decided not to split the shift so we can work together on the engines during the day.

Monday, January 12, 2004

BRANDED -- Night 1

Today has been hectic. Jack and I are the only ones aboard the BRANDED, which means we have to do everything the entire crew normally would do. Luckily, the BRANDED is a small Blood Raven-Class merc vessel. It has only a few rooms for the crew/passengers, an arsenal, a bridge and engineering.

I know how to pilot and I know the Sensor/Comm. I can tell enough about the navigation to determine if we are on course. Besides some minor weapons experience, that's all I know how to do. Jack has the navigational area covered and is excellent with the piloting, Sensor/Comm, and weapons. He only has basic engineering knowledge.

We transferred bridge control to engineering and spend most of today trying to check the systems. We are getting warning lights and we don't know if that will be problematic before we exit the jump in a week.

Muan Kwoyen, High Port 2 (RAVBAK) -- Day 3 (mid-morning)

I staked out the berth where the BRANDED was docked. I still had the two laser pistols and the boot knife Jack had given me. It didn't seem like much against the firepower Pitre, Kent and Jolly were packing.

I waited and watched.

Finally, Jolly hauled Jack down the platform leading out of the BRANDED. All three mercs wore the helmets and they even had one on Jack. I could see his face through the clear plastic visor. They'd gagged him. His hands were bound behind him. Jolly pushed him and Jack hit the ground hard.

That was enough. I drew the laser pistol from my boot holster and using the techniques that Jolly himself taught me, I snapped off two shots. Both Pitre and Kent took hits in the torso, their clothes burned in the spot where the bolts hit them.

Jack shook his head and his helmet fell off. He stared right at me and I 'heard' him think, "Behind you! It's a trap!"

I swung around just as two mercs I'd never seen before were pouncing on me. I shot one in the throat, beneath the helmet, killing him. The other one was on me before I could fire again. We wrestled and I knocked his helmet off. Since we were already making physical contact, I blinded him with a head ache that left him in too much pain to care about me any more.

I got to my feet.

"That's enough, Isis," Jolly growled.

I spun and saw he had Jack in front of him, blocking my line of fire. His gun was aimed at Jack's head.

"Drop your weapon and come with me and I promise to let him go."

Jack shook his head, but still could not speak because of the gag.

I bent down to lay my pistol on the ground. Just as I let it go, Jack spun and dropped. Jolly tried to get a grip on him again, but I slipped the knife from my boot and threw it. I had meant for it to hit him in the arm so he would drop the gun.

Instead it shattered the face shield and embedded into his skull.

Pitre and Kent, both wounded but thanks to the body armor, still alive, were recovering enough from the initial hit to start toward us.

Jack got to his feet and pushed me toward the BRANDED. Still gagged and bound, he shoved me with his shoulders to get me inside. He hit the controller to close the hatch behind us. I untied the gag and Jack gasped, "Get to the bridge!"

He lead the way. The BRANDED is a very small vessel. We reached the bridge in a second and I started the ignition sequence. We departed the station without clearance and warning alarms squealed as we narrowly missed a collision. I maneuvered away from the station and set the course to move us far enough away to initiate jump.

With that set, I freed Jack from the handcuffs and he set the navigational controls for the jump. We jumped as soon as we could.

We are now safely in Jump Space. I am still trying to catch my breath. I don't even know where we are heading.
Muan Kwoyen, High Port 2 (RAVBAK) -- Day 3

I knew it. I knew it!

I spotted Jolly and Kent, both wearing that stupid helmet. I over heard them talking. They think Jin would be interested to find out Jack's still alive. They know he owed Jin money. Jolly said they are going to take Jack to the Vegans in the morning.

I wish I could read them! I wish I knew if Jack is all right.

I don't know what to do!

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Muan Kwoyen, High Port 2 (RAVBAK) -- Night 2 (late)

I'm back in the secret room of Jack's. He's still not here. I couldn't find him any where.

I found out Jolly and the mercs came in on the BRANDED. It wasn't had to confirm. Pitre was guarding the docking area. He was wearing one of those darn helmets, so I couldn't read him.

I don't know what I am going to do. I can't wait here forever. Jack might be in real trouble. I've tried 'listening' for him, but I have not heard a peep.

That's it. I'm not waiting any more. I have to find Jack, even if I have to tear this port apart.
Muan Kwoyen, High Port 2 (RAVBAK) -- Night 2

Jack has not returned. He was supposed to get tickets on a hop to a different high port and come right back. I am really worried. I am leaving him a note and going out to look for him. I rummaged through the boxes and found a change of clothes, a blonde wig and a hat. I don't think it looks too bad.

I am not sure where to start looking. I guess I could ask about him in the passenger transport lounge. If I don't spot him there, I will check with Starship Services to find out what ships from Zayeel arrived after the DUCHESS.
Muan Kwoyen, High Port 2 (RAVBAK) -- Day 2 (mid-day)

Jack and I had a long talk this morning. Primarily about what to do next. We've been declared dead, but I don't think Jolly chased me to Muan Kwoyen just to kill me. He wants the bounty for bringing me to Baron Treewrich. Jack said that Jolly survived the laser blast to the shoulder, so either Jolly wasn't responsible for the explosion, or he knew we were not on board.

Which still leaves the problem of Jolly and his mercs coming after me.

Jack, on the other hand, seems content to let everyone, especially Jin, believe we are dead. He admitted that he borrowed the money from Jin to buy the DUCHESS, without her he'll never be able to raise the money to pay him back. And Jin would take his due out of Jack's hide if he didn't pay. Unless he thinks Jack is dead.

So it is to Jack's advantage to slip away and start over somewhere else. It is to my advantage to slip away without Jolly catching me.

Up to that point, we seem to have a common purpose.

The problem is, I told Jack about the bounty. His idea is to 'turn me in', collect the bounty and once he has the money, he'll help me escape, and then we split the take.

The problem is, after he gets the money, he could just leave me to whatever dire fate awaits me and take off. Or, even if he truly intends to 'rescue me', he may be unable to.

Jack put on a disguise and is checking into travel options. We'll at least need to transfer to a different high port before we can leave Muan Kwoyen. I'm waiting in the secret room of his, staring at the star map on the ceiling, wondering why the more I try to escape trouble, the more trouble I get into.
Muan Kwoyen, High Port 2 (RAVBAK) -- Day 2

When I awoke this morning I was startled to discover that Captain Turner, I mean Jack, was laying behind me with his arm wrapped around my waist and one of his knees between mine. I jolted with surprise, and that woke him up. We were still dressed of course, and with the confines of the small space our entanglement could be explained... perhaps. Anyway, Jack didn't make mention of it, only opened the doorway to check in the hall. He showed me the fresher and I went first. I am now waiting in the small hide out for his return.

He still hasn't said anything about what I told him last night. I don't know what to expect, and I refuse to go prying around his mind to find out. He could have turned me over to Jolly or kicked me out to face whatever fate awaited me if he wanted to, but he did not.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Muan Kwoyen, High Port 2 (RAVBAK) -- Night 1

Captain Turner returned about an hour after the explosion. He was projecting his emotions so strongly it nearly made me ill. He felt as if his guts had been torn out. The pained expression was one of grief and confusion.

"They've destroyed the DUCHESS. Blew it up."

I couldn't answer due to a lump lodged in my throat. I didn't have any words, even if I could have spoken.

"Dill is dead," he continued, slumping to the floor. "You and I have been declared dead." In reply to my confusion he clarified, "I had contacted Dill and told him to log us as being aboard. I wanted to be able to check into those attackers without them knowing we were on station. I can't believe they blew up the ship."

I wanted to say something, but what could I? He'd lost his ship, Dill lost his life, and it was because of me. I fought back the tears, but they rolled out anyway. We sat quietly for a while, silent tears streaming down my face which I hid by pulling my knees to my chest and resting my forehead on them.

After a while, Captain Turner made a couple survival meals from the boxes. We ate quietly, and I regained my composure.

When we were done, I said, "Thank you, Captain."

He replied, "Don't call me 'Captain'. I don't have a ship anymore." I stared down at my hands, guilt ripping me up. Finally he said, "Just call me Jack."

He unrolled a sleeping pack. The small space was only large enough for one. "We're staying here for now. We'll have to share." He stretched out and stared up at a star map on the ceiling. I sat cross legged at his feet, my hands in my lap. After a few minutes he finally said, "You once told me that unless I asked, you wouldn't volunteer information."

I hadn't used those exact words, but that was true.

"I'm asking you now." Propped up on an elbow, he gazed deeply at me with his dark, compelling eyes. "What exactly have you done? I want you to tell me everything. Leave nothing out."

I couldn't lie to those eyes. I told him everything. Starting with the reason I left Ganesh, the incident on board the PARABUS, Jolly taking me under his wing and then betraying me, and finally my escape from STAR RAMMER which lead me to the DUCHESS in the first place.

He listened without asking any questions. After I was done, he laid back and contemplated the star map on the ceiling again. I think he has fallen asleep. I am about to try and lay down and sleep myself.
Muan Kwoyen, High Port 2 (RAVBAK) -- Day 1 (evening)

I must have dozed off, because a violent shutter rocking the station woke me up. I am still alone in the secret room where Captain Turner left me. The alarm indicating a hull breach is bleating. I am debating if I should risk leaving this hide out to see what has happened.

There was just an announcement over the public address system. It declared the 'minor' hull breach contained and advises everyone to stay where they are unless otherwise instructed by emergency personnel.

I feel an awful dread in my stomach.
Muan Kwoyen, High Port 2 (RAVBAK) -- Day 1

Nearly fifteen minutes had passed since Captain Turner left me in the cantina. I had my hand over the device with the two buttons that he had given me. I was just about the hit the top button when a sudden emotion of surprise and an expectation of violence swept through the cantina. I moved my hand to the 'trouble' button just as the blow knocked me down.

I hit the button on the fall to the floor, but then the control skid away on the floor. Just as I twisting around to see what had struck me, something jammed into my chest and jolted me with a massive electric shock. My entire body felt like it was frying from the inside and when it passed, which felt like an hour but probably was merely seconds, I could not even move.

I looked up at my assailant. He tossed aside the table and chairs that separated us. Then I got a good look at him.

It was Jolly.

He wore a strange helmet, which he tapped as he stared down at me. He said, "You won't be using your mind tricks on me again." I guess he meant that the helmet blocks telepathy, which was probably why I hadn't felt him approaching. Still holding the shock stick, he lifted me with one hand by the front of my shirt, but before he could hoist me up half a dozen laser rifles were pointed at his head.

"Drop her," Captain Turner ordered.

Jolly did. Since I still could not move, my head bounced painfully on the metal floor.

Jin's Vegan guards were surrounding Jolly with their weapons on him. Captain Turner stood over me, his pistol aimed at Jolly's head.

In that instant the sizzling discharge of a laser riffle burned the air. The entire place seemed to explode with the battle. Pitre and Kent, mercs from the STAR RAMMER and friends of Jolly, were firing on the Vegans. Jolly reached for me but Captain Turner shot him in the shoulder, knocking him backward.

The next few seconds were a blur. Captain Turner dragged me out of the cantina through one of the secret doors and we left the fighting behind.

I was starting to regain feeling in my legs and I managed to get to my feet, and with Captain Turner half dragging me we kept running until we emerged in the large passenger pavilion. We didn't stop. He hooked an arm around my waist and he helped me run. We entered a maintenance accessway. Not far down that hallway, he opened a secret panel to a small hidden room barely large enough for the two of us and the dozen boxes already stacked in there.

He shut the door behind us and we caught our breath with only a small survival lamp illuminating the space. Captain Turner kept his pistol aimed at the entrance for several minutes, but no one followed. Finally he looked at me, his fine features a mask of concern, "Are you hurt?"

I nodded. I'd bumped my head pretty good, but when I gingerly touched the spot there was no blood. Captain Turner looked at the bump and proclaimed it 'not bad.' He then opened my vest and ripped open my shirt to examine the shock burn. He hissed, "That's bad."

He searched through his boxes and found a burn kit. He applied an oxygen gel to the wound, which was frightfully cold, but soon soothed the pain. The gel solidified to a patch, which is to stay on until the burn heals in a few weeks.

Captain Turner told me to stay put, and he left me in the secret room where I am now. I have a powerful urge to sleep, but I am fighting it. I have one of the laser pistols trained on the door in case someone but Captain Turner should try to enter.
DUCHESS -- Day 8 (mid-afternoon)

Meeting Captain Turner's friend, a Vegan named Fasdjinii (Call him "Jin," said Captain Turner), was entertaining in a frightening way. The room where we met was entered through a secret door behind a false wall in one of the high port cantinas, which I assume Jin owns. He must be extremely wealthy, for all the exotic Vegan antiques that overflow off the tables and into piles on the floor. His guards kept their weapons trained on us during the entire short visit.

Captain Turner explained his intention to go to Dzadwahtyan instead of Khalikkam. Jin jokingly asked if Captain Turner was going on one of his treasure hunts. The captain said no, but that I, one of his new crew mates, had a lead on a possible shipping deal and he felt it was worth exploring. He continued, "I'll be stopping back through Muan Kwoyen with the details."

Jin nodded and instructed one of his guards to escort Captain Turner somewhere. I am to wait in the cantina for his return. Captain Turner handed me a small device with two buttons on it. If he is not back in 15 minutes I am to hit the top unmarked button, if there is 'trouble' I am to hit the bottom button. He didn't explain any further than this, so now I am people watching in the cantina waiting for the captain's (hopefully) safe return.

I think some of my assumptions about Captain Turner were incorrect. I assumed he owned his starship, but now it appears it may belong to Jin. Or perhaps Captain Turner is in debted to Jin somehow. That is the only reason I can think of for his explaining his travel intentions. I also didn't think he had shady dealings with 'businessmen' that one must meet in secret rooms with everyone loaded down with firepower. And I wonder what the 'treasure hunting' remark refers to.

Captain Turner is much more mysterious than I first suspected.
DUCHESS -- Day 8 (afternoon)

We're docked at High Port 2, also called RAVBAK after a Vegan constellation. The passengers have departed and the cargo is in the process of being off-loaded. Captain Turner has invited me to accompany him to meet a trader friend of his who is supposed to hook us up with some cargo bound for Dzadwahtyan.

I said I was ready and he looked me up and down a second and asked, "That's all you're wearing?"

I glanced at myself. I was fully clothed, in tough trousers with ample pockets, long sleeved water proof top and comfortable knee boots. "What do you mean?" I asked.

He brought me to his cabin. That was my first time in there. He has some interesting artifacts in there, but when I went to examine them he told me to leave them be. He strapped a laser pistol around one of my boots and shoved a rather large knife into the other one so not even the flat handle could show. He laced a shoulder holster on my chest and gave me another pistol and covered it with one of his vests that had DUCHESS embroidered on it.

"Now you're ready," he said.

As soon as he grabs a small processor from the bridge we are going to meet his 'friend'. I hope Captain Turner doesn't really expect us to have to use these weapons.
DUCHESS -- Day 8

Oh, crap!

We're on approach to Muan Kwoyen. The planet is a center for commerce and as such, has 5 high ports and 7 down ports. Traffic is phenomenal. I can't take much time to enter this log. Incoming and cross comm traffic is picking up and keeping it all straight is a challenge.

Friday, January 09, 2004

DUCHESS -- Night 7

I just had an interesting vibe.

Captain Turner, Dill and I were meeting to prepare for the transfer out of Jump-space later tonight. When I was leaving the bridge I felt a rush of attraction wash over me like a wave. I spun around and Captain Turner quickly turned away. He'd been checking me out. It surprised me, since he's been nothing but completely professional in his dealings with me. I know I feel the same, but with the future uncertain, I think pursuing a romance is unwise. I already should have refused to stay on longer.

Still, it is nice to know.
DUCHESS -- Day 7

Tomorrow we arrive at Muan Kwoyen. Depending on how long it takes Captain Turner to drum up cargo and passengers for Dzadwahtyan, we may lay over as long as three days.

I am nervous about the lay over. I have not yet visited a starport without some problem. I feel like I did on Zayeel, as if there is danger around every corner. Captain Turner and Dill both asked me what's got me as nervous as a bush-cat in zero gravity. I can't say exactly, but it is rubbing off and we are all a bit tense.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

DUCHESS -- Day 6

Captain Turner just made a proposal I have been half expecting. He suggested that I stick with the DUCHESS, and after we stop at Muan Kwoyen, we take a load to Dzadwahtyan where I help him locate and negotiate with the same arms dealers as Captain Landom. He said that if it is as lucrative as I suggested and that I stick with him through the delivery, he'll give me a generous cut of the profit.

My head was telling me to say 'no.' I had already decided to move on from this subsection, and this mission would have me cross it again.

My heart, of course, welcomes the excuse to stay with Captain Turner.

My heart won.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

DUCHESS -- Night 5

I got to talking with the navigator, a Solomani fellow named Dill. He was explaining the navigational concepts to me that I had struggled with on the STAR RAMMER. It makes more sense without the technical jargon. He gave me some files to upload onto my processor that are much easier to comprehend than the ones the STAR RAMMER had.

I was still reviewing the materials when Dill and Captain Turner switched shifts. Dill had told the captain what I was working on, I guess, because when he came to the crew lounge he came right up behind my chair and leaned over me to look at the nav stuff on my processor. Normally, it annoys me to have someone stand over top of me. With Captain Turner -- Jack -- I could hardly breathe. He even placed a hand on my back, which sent sparks down my spine. He was talking about navigational stuff, but I barely heard what he said because my heart was pounding in my ears.

I feel like a silly girl with a crush!
DUCHESS -- Day 5

There are slight differences in the sensor aboard the DUCHESS than those aboard the STAR RAMMER. These are less sensitive. I've been reviewing the sensor logs and drilling myself for the first Sensor/Comm Op test. After a while I went ahead and recalibrated the sensors and made some adjustments that I learn from Uli on the STAR RAMMER and improved the efficiency of the sensors by 20%. Not as good as the STAR RAMMER's, but still a great improvement.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

DUCHESS -- Day 4 (afternoon)

I wasn't sure if I should expected Captain Turner to show up early again today or not, but he did. I certainly didn't expect him to speak to me, but he did that also.

He wanted to know what the important cargo was that the STAR RAMMER was transporting. After what Captain Landom and Jolly tried to pull, I feel no loyalty to them. I told Captain Turner about the weapons and operators that STAR RAMMER had picked up from Dzadwahtyan and what names and companies I could recall. I didn't know what the profit was for the STAR RAMMER, but I knew it was substantial.

We talked for the rest of my shift and even a while after I was supposed to be off duty. Captain Turner seems to have forgiven me for withholding information. He even was smiling and joking a bit by the time I left the bridge.
DUCHESS -- Day 4

Maybe Muan Kwoyen will be the best place for me. It is on an X-boat route. X-boats connect the Imperium despite the vast distances by travelling as far as Jump-4 at a time. If I could get a crew slot on an X-boat I could make good time and distance. I wonder if only Imperium Naval personnel get those jobs. I'll have to check on it.

I have not spoken with anyone since that disastrous chat with the captain last night. I hope the rest of the jump doesn't pass uncomfortably.

Monday, January 05, 2004

DUCHESS -- Night 3

The question I've been dreading since we left Zayeel has finally been asked.

Captain Turner found me in the crew lounge after his shift. I immediately felt my heart race seeing him, even my own body is betraying me these days. Captain Jack Turner has a tall, athletic frame which moves with the grace of a dancer. His dark hair is a bit longer than I'd prefer. He has black eyes that seem incapable of deceiving and expressive features that make him easy to read even without telepathy. He smiles easily and has an unusual accent I've never heard before, which sounds almost musical. His habit of neglecting to fasten all the buttons of his shirt reveals a smooth chest that I...

(Stop it! Stop it!)

Anyway. When Captain Turner joined me in the crew lounge this evening he obviously had something on his mind. Not one to play games, he asked me directly what I knew about the STAR RAMMER. I really don't think he expected me to know much, just rumors perhaps.

I had played this scene over in my head already. I actually expected him to ask me about it much soon. In all my rehearsals I deny knowing anything.

But Captain Turner was sitting across from me at the table. Leaning forward on his elbows, expectantly, like a child waiting for a story.

I... I caved. I couldn't lie to those gentle, inquiring eyes.

I admitted I had been a crewman of the STAR RAMMER, and had parted under poor circumstances.

He face was a mask of hurt when he asked why I didn't tell him this before.

I said, "Because you didn't ask." I told him I never expected they would me or put the DUCHESS in danger, but when they did, I knew we had to act quickly.

"I happen to know they have a special cargo they must deliver to Onathy, so I don't expect them to give DUCHESS any further trouble."

He stood up, staring at me. I felt awful.

Finally I told him I would leave DUCHESS as soon as we reached Muan Kwoyen, so he wouldn't have to worry about me attracting more trouble.

He said nothing, just stared at me with a confused, hurt expression. Finally he left, walking backward like he didn't trust me enough to turn his back on me. He headed back to the bridge, without saying a word.
DUCHESS -- Day 3

I've come to a startling realization. Ever since boarding the DUCHESS I have been feeling tense, or nervous. I was crediting it to the narrow escape from Zayeel or from the recent discovery of Jolly and Captain Landom's betrayal, but that shock has faded some by now.

I felt it again when Captain Turner again showed up midway through my shift today. I'm afraid I am attracted to him. Normally, this would not be a bad thing. He is very handsome and not much older than I am. However, I have every intention of moving on as soon as we reach Muan Kwoyen. I have been jumping back and forth across the same stretch of space, and I have managed to make a peck of trouble for myself here. I am planning to push out further into Imperium, toward the Zhodani Consulate like I originally intended. So becoming attached to a merchant with a small trade route isn't in the cards.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

DUCHESS -- Day 2 (afternoon)

Captain Turner mans the watch after mine, but he showed up on the bridge several hours early today. He was working on the computer for a while before I realized what he was doing. He was trying to identify the ship that attacked us and determine who had sent it after us. I decided not to volunteer any information.

He did commend me for my quick action that prevented the STAR RAMMER from suceeding.

I didn't know what to say.
DUCHESS -- Day 2

I've learned a lot about the DUCHESS in the short time I have been aboard. After the jump initiation was complete, Captain Turner sat with me in the crew lounge and we talked. Well, he talked. He is obviously very proud of his vessel and the budding shipping business he has. The ship has 3 staterooms for high passage passengers and seven cots for low passage. The rest of the main level is for cargo. DUCHESS specializes in shipping goods between Muan Kwoyen, which is on an x-boat route, and Imperium worlds jump-2 away, namely Arrukir, Zayeel and Khalikkam. Competition for such a lucrative route is fierce, and he dismisses the attack by the STAR RAMMER as a further attempt by his competitors to get rid of him.

He is also used to crew coming and going, with as much as a 50% turn over after each jump. According to Captain Turner it is because the crew becomes bored with the monotony of visiting the same starports repeatedly. If he is correct about the violence, I imagine that contributes to it as well.

I'm actually surprised the captain is satisfied with repetitive trade routes. He strikes me as a romantic. Someone who would be interesting in striking out and seeing the universe.

After our long talk, I slept in my own private cabin. It is the nicest cabin I have been in so far. I'm heading to the bridge shortly. DUCHESS has 8-hour shifts, with only one bridge crewman on duty at a time. The equipment is similar to what I was accustom to, so I am comfortable with the idea of manning the bridge alone.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

DUCHESS -- Day 1

The DUCHESS lifted off almost as soon as the captain and I were seated. I completed all the final departure communications and we were maneuvering to a safe distance to initiate jump, when I noticed the STAR RAMMER was breaking orbit without clearance. I only had to monitor it for a few seconds to verify it was giving chase.

I immediately declared an emergency, requesting assistance from the Imperium fighters patrolling Zayeel's space. The captain only questioned my actions for a minute, before he saw for himself that the STAR RAMMER was heading right for us.

The STAR RAMMER began charging weapons, and I reported this. The captain, who is also the pilot, took evasive maneuvers to put the Imperium fighters between us and the STAR RAMMER. He activated the sandcaster in time to block laser fire meant to disable our engines.

The Imperium fighters fired warning shots and ordered the STAR RAMMER to stand down, telling them to file official charges if they had a just cause for attacking us. For several tense seconds the silence over the Comm stretched out.

Then I heard Captain Landom's voice, "You can have her. She's been nothing but trouble."

Without further explanation the STAR RAMMER swung away back toward the Zayeel starport. The Imperium fighters asked if DUCHESS wanted to file charges against the STAR RAMMER, but Captain Turner declined.

I didn't breathe easy until we finally completed the Jump initiation.
ZAYEEL -- Day 2 (late afternoon)

The captain of the DUCHESS is a rogue named Turner. As he was arguing with the starport official I could tell he was trouble. (Possibly, not as much as I am!) He was laying on such a act, but the weasel starport official wasn't buying it. Captain Turner apparently didn't have the credits to pay the expected bribe, and his trade offerings weren't sufficient for the official to approve departure.

I saw my chance, and I took it.

I strutted up to the pair like I was the dictator of Zayeel, and laid a hand on the official's arm as if I were flirting. I 'suggested' he'd be better off just letting this little fish go, and hit up a big bribe from the wealthy captain of the STAR RAMMER. With a slightly 'push' and a smile, the official agreed and left, but not before stamping the departure clearance.

Once he was gone, I handed the captain my (edited) crew log and asked, "So, are you still looking for a Sensor/Comm Op?"

"Sure am," he replied, and swung my bag over his shoulder. "Let's go before old ferret-face changes his mind."

As the hatch closed behind us, I spotted Jolly. I couldn't resist. I flicked him an obscene gesture.
ZAYEEL -- Day 2 (afternoon)

I'm in full fugitive mode now. I've seen both Pitre and Kent, the other gunners from the STAR RAMMER, racing around the starport. I managed to keep out of sight, moving with crowds.

I've found a cubby hole between some shipping crates on the launch pad where an Empress Marava-Class Far Trader called DUCHESS is berthed. She is slated to lift off within the hour, heading for Muan Kwoyen, which is back into the Vegan District. I'm going to speak with the captain as soon as he is done with the starport bureaucrat. If he's already filled the Sensor/Comm Op position, then I'll pay for passage, but one way or another I'm leaving on that ship.
ZAYEEL -- Day 2 (mid-day)

When I left the testing room, Jolly was waiting for me.

I think he could tell by the expression on my face that I wasn't thrilled to see him. He asked if I passed the test, and I admitted that I had. Then he offered to walk me back to the cutter. I pulled away as he attempted to put an arm around my shoulder. There was no one else in the narrow hallway where the testing rooms were. No one to see if he attacked. No one to hear if I screamed.

"No, Thanks." I said, trying to smile. "I want to walk around a bit, maybe visit the shops."

"We really should get back," he insisted. He smiled, but it wasn't the one I was used to seeing. This one was stiff.

"I have until tomorrow before I am due to report back." I eased away from him, even as he stepped toward me.

"The captain wants you to return now."

I blurted, "I'm not coming back."

Jolly lunged at me. I leapt aside, but he swept me with his meaty arm and we both hit the deck. Struggling was useless. I kicked and squirmed, but he hooked me into a headlock, choking me. He was on my back, crushing me into the metal floor grates.

With his bare forearm around my neck, I reached into his mind. He resisted at first, squeezing me harder, but I persisted.

Finally, I had him. I made him roll off me and release his grip. He lay on his side, and I knelt over him, keeping my hand on him.

I said, "Now you are going to tell me everything." I pressed my hand to his forehead. I saw enough in the first few seconds that I didn't need to pry any more. I 'suggested' he go to sleep, and I got out of there. I swung by the Starship Services office and grabbed a printout of all the open positions and of all the departures scheduled for the next few hours. I am heading to the most promising ones on the list.

I don't know if Jolly was alone in looking for me or how long it will take before he wakes up. I can't believe I ever trusted him. I now know that he and Captain Landom had planned to betray me from the time I ran into him again after missing the flight on the MAGNUS. They sent an inquire to Baron Treewrich to find out how much he would pay in a bounty for me. The messenger reached them at Khalikkam, with a massage that the bounty would be paid when they delivered me to Banasdan.

I have to get off Zayeel, NOW!
ZAYEEL -- Day 2

This morning was far more interesting, in a frightening way, than I had expected. I arrived at Starship Services to take the pilot's test early and when I signed into the computer I was able to see the personnel record they had on file for me. This should have been what I downloaded and no more. However, there were two additions that I didn't expect. One was a copy of my record on Catania that the captain had shown me; the one with the accusation of illegal use of psionics on board the PARABUS. The other was a note from Captain Landom himself, detailing my illegal uses of psionics while a crewman of STAR RAMMER, including the casino incident (minus the teleportation 'blinking').

I was speechless. With that on my record I could never find a decent starship to accept me, and I'd be lucky if the Imperium military didn't show up to arrest me.

After taking several minutes to calm down, I spoke with the woman from Starship Services who was going to administer the test. I explained to her there were errors on my record. She was distracted with the test preparations, and I took advantage of the situation. I lightly touched her arm to be sure of the telepathic communication, and I urged her to erase the added material from my record, which she did without a second's hesitation. Then, I released her and she shook herself lightly, as if she were waking up from a daydream, and she gave me the test.

I passed the test, which is a small comfort.

I need to get on another ship and I need to do it now, even if I have to pay for the passage. I'm concerned about what else Captain Landom has in store for me.

Friday, January 02, 2004

ZAYEEL -- Night 1 (Late)

The meeting was a flop. The captain of the GANIKITS is a Vegan and would rather be short handed than have a non-Vegan crew member.

The detour produced some even more disturbing results. I noticed Pitre, Jolly's pal and fellow gunner onboard the STAR RAMMER, on the dock. The cutter is berthed at the other end of the starport. That and the way he ducked behind a cargo bundle when I glanced in his direction convinces me that he was tailing me. Pitre shouldn't dye his hair white with purple tipped spikes if he wants to blend in to the crowd. Although he maybe following me of his own accord, I believe Captain Landom probably asked him to follow me.

Escaping Zayeel will be tougher than I hoped.
ZAYEEL -- Night 1

Slipping away from the cutter was difficult. Everytime I tried to grab my stashed bag, someone would come into the cargo bay to unload more packages. I finally had to lie to Kent, telling him someone was asking for him outside, so that I could snag my stuff and sneak off early.

I found the small Starship Services office and signed up to take the pilot's apprentice test tomorrow morning. There are processor stations in the cramped lounge where starship crew between tickets could browse the open slots for docked or orbitting ships. The pickings are slim, but I have arranged to meet with the captain of a small merchant vessel in a half hour.
STAR RAMMER -- Day 12 (afternoon)

Earlier, I told the captain that I'd like to go to the starport to take the pilot's test. At first I didn't think he was going to let me go. He said he'd think about it. Then, just as we achieved orbit, he assigned me to pilot the cutter with the passengers and cargo down to the starport. The captain is coming down as well, along with some of the other crew to help unload and reload. I'll help them unload the cutter, then I'll have shore leave through the third day, when whatever passengers and cargo they can pick up for the next leg of their journey will be loaded and the cutter will make the return to the STAR RAMMER.
STAR RAMMER -- Day 12

The transition went well. I'm on duty until we reach orbit, which should be around mid-afternoon. My things are loaded in the Cutter. I have already established the comm link with the starport and transmitted all the messages, including my crew records.

Everything seems to be going well so far.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

STAR RAMMER -- Night 11

I'm staying in my cabin tonight. I've already packed and repacked my small satchel. I swiped as much as I safely thought I could from the mess, mostly small ration packets loaded with vitamins, protein and carbs, but not much flavor.

I've been planning my departure. Early in the morning before I am supposed to go on duty for the transition from Jump-space to normal space, I am going to hide my pack on the Modular Cutter. When the passengers and cargo go down, I will ask permission to go along to take the pilot's test. I will take the test, but I will also start looking for a new ship right away.

I'm more nervous about tomorrow than I probably should be. I just can't shake this feeling that something bad is going to happen.
STAR RAMMER -- Day 11

I looked up the information about Zayeel. It only has a level III starport, and is technologically behind. The planet has a thin, cold atmosphere and about half the gravity I am used to. Planets Jump-1 away are more sophisticated and have more traffic. This may limit my options when I go looking for a new ship.

I've arranged to have my crew log downloaded during the standard communication link up with the starport, so my hours of experience for all the training I've had aboard the STAR RAMMER will transfer with me on my next starship. It should reach Starship Services before I disembark, and since it is hidden in the standard comm files it shouldn't attract notice.

Waiting is the hardest part.