I didn’t know why I got stuck on this bloody task force in the first place. All I wanted was to join my ship and start my career.
“It’ll help your career, Kate,” Admiral Leung had said signing off the papers that temporarily transferred my assignment. “Heck, you save the Earth, you can write your own ticket. You’ll be a Starship Captain before you’re 35. You may even make Admiral before 45.” He laughed though I didn’t think anything was funny.
“Seriously, sir? Save the Earth?”
“Well.” He leaned back in his chair. It creaked under his weight. “It could come to that. We think ARCA will be able to recover possession of the chip but the fusion device will be a little trickier to negotiate. ARCA, as you know, concentrates its efforts on Earth and Sol. When it comes to the rest of the galaxy, they basically pretend we don’t exist. You were chosen because of your diplomatic skills in dealing with alien cultures not to mention your firearm rating and pilot cert. You’ll need to befriend the traders and somehow convince them to return the device to you. Once you secure it, the ARCA agent will arrange a spaceplane for your escape. Bring the device back here and you’re home free.”
“You trust him?”
Admiral Leung looked out his window. A starship floated past tethered by a long cord to the spacebase. On her tail, the numbers 2732 were visible which meant she was the Excalibur. A twinge of jealousy washed over me. The Excalibur wasn’t going to be my ship. I was assigned to the Discovery but the Ex was my second choice. Now I didn’t know if I’d ever make it to either one.
“You’ll get there.” The Admiral nodded at the window apparently reading my thoughts. “Do this and I’ll make sure your next assignment will be a vacation for you. I’ll have you inventorying the sickbay or testing software protocols in a lab. You can sleep late and cut out early, spend your time on the Rec Deck.”
“I don’t want that,” I insisted tearing my eyes away from the ship.
“What do you want?”
“The bridge. Navigation and Controls.”
He nodded again. “You got it. Do your job now.” He shoved my orders across the desk and turned his back, dismissing me.
So here I was in a Starbucks on Mars sitting with the ARCA agent who couldn’t manage to lift his eyes higher than my chin and Jerry Waldman, who stared at me as if his life depended on my every word. I was tempted to take the Glock out of my purse, the one my dad had just given me for graduating the Academy and shoot the both of them. I supposed that would have been a really bad career move though so I didn’t. Instead, I just tried to smile and find out what they knew.
“I think they’re still down in the conduits,” Derrick was saying.
“I don’t want to go back there.” Jerry shook his head. “I don’t think Katie should either. It’s not safe.”
“You’re not assigned to this anyway,” Derrick snapped. “Let the lady decide what she wants to do. If we go back down, I’ll make sure she’s well protected.” He smiled broadly. “You can stay right by me, Sweetheart.”
“I’m just saying that we should try to lure the head trader up here instead.” Raising his voice, Jerry half stood up and pointed at Derrick’s arm which was hanging at an odd angle. “Look how well you managed to take care of yourself down there.”
“I don’t need to be protected,” I hissed, “by either of you. But, I do agree with Jerry. Rogarians live in tunnels. By going down there, we are giving him the advantage. We need to bring him up here where the simulated daylight will affect their eyesight and make him more vulnerable.”
“Rogarians?” Derrick leaned across the table. “I thought we were dealing with Martians.”
“They’re similar. Genetically they’re cousins as we think the Rogarians populated Mars sometime in the last thousand Millenia. However, Martians are very gentle people whereas the Rogarians can be downright nasty.”
“I noticed,” Derrick grumbled.
“See,” Jerry added. “Here you’ve been verbally brutalizing Fogweet for the last few hours for absolutely no reason.”
“What’s a Fogweet?” I asked.
“Don’t go there.” Derrick rolled his eyes. “So any idea how we can get him up here with the fusion device?”
“We have to offer him something he wants instead,” I replied and pulled a pic out of my handbag. “He’s a trader, remember?”
“And what would that be, smart lady?” Derrick smiled patronizingly as I laid down the pic so they could see it.
“Ew,” Jerry frowned.
“It or rather she is a female Rogarian. We need to find someone willing to dress up like this and uh…do that with the head trader. You guys know any volunteers?” Derrick and Jerry exchanged glances.
“Marla,” they both said.