“You are a leaf on the wind Hoban. Nice and easy. Remember she is a big ship and the hanger bay is tight, but she will fit, but you gotta work with her.” Explained Ray Washburne.
“Kwai jio kai, dad I got this” Hoban said to his dad through gritted teeth.
Just then a clang rang through the interior of the ship. Hoban and Ray checked the monitor just in time to see a chunk of the aft starboard stabilizing fin roll off into space. Luckily for them the hanger bay wall they had just struck was solid enough to take no damage. “Your mom is going to kill me.” Ray said to his son.
“Looks like I’m still more of a rock in the wind, huh?” Said Hoban a little sheepishly. “So, it might be a few more days until I'm ready for a Crazy Ivan.”
“Don’t worry. That’s why we do this. You don’t become an expert pilot overnight. You’ll get it. This ship is large and slow but with a little finesse you can make her do some incredible things. It’s not just about handling the controls, you need to feel how she wants to move.” Ray was explaining.
“It’s a ship, dad. How can it want anything? If I want it to go forward I push the controls forward.”
“Flying an Albatross is like making love to a warrior woman,” said Ray. ”She is powerful and will take care of you, but if you push her the wrong way she will eat you up.”
“Ugh, dad. Who would want to make love to a warrior woman?”
Ray laughed. It was a hearty laugh that Hoban heard often, and he knew his dad was teasing him as much as teaching him. Hoban enjoyed these outing as much as he knew his dad did. By the letter of the law Hoban was too young to fly. He had three more years before he would be eighteen and old enough to take the pilots test, but his dad let him take the helm when they were in open space between the central planets and those in the Rim. There was nothing like flying. His mom didn’t approve because it put Ray’s job with the Alliance Currier service at risk, but she turned a blind eye.
Ray Washburne sat at the helm of his Albatross class cargo ship waiting for the Alliance Inspection team to finish with their routine inspection. Normally he would wait in the crew lounge of the warehouse, but this was one of the newly terraformed planets in the outer sector and the stories he had heard from the pilots made him uneasy. Not for his own safety, but he had Hoban with him on this trip and didn’t want his son exposed to any of the procedures used on these new planets.
Ray liked to bring his son on his deliveries. It gave him an opportunity to teach Hoban the finer points of flying. Hoban was a quick study but lacked the drive to refine the finer details of piloting a cargo ship the size of an Albatross.
The communications link chirped and the image of the lead inspector popped on the screen. “Thank you for your patience Capt. Washburne. The Inspection was satisfactory. We will have your cargo shortly so you can be on your way. Alliance HQ is eager for you to get moving on you next pick up.”
“What next mission?” Ray’s mood shifted to business quickly. “This was supposed to be a single leg and return trip.”
“New orders just came in. You are to head out to a research facility and pick up reports on the planets progress.” The inspector ordered and then the transmission dropped.“Stay on the ship Yè. I need to find out what this is about.” Ray told his son.
“Orders are orders Capt. Washburne” Inspector Greene said. “You are the closest ship and the Alliance needs these reports delivered quickly."
“I am flying one of the largest cargo ships in the Alliance fleet and they want me to pick up data that can be transmitted through the Cortex in a matter of seconds. It is a Yee yan waste of time and resources. I will not take my crew and my son to a planet that is still forming. Those planets are unstable at best.” Ray argued.
“You will if you want to keep your job and your family safe.” Greene countered. “You and your crew work for the Alliance and your son is not my concern. You have nothing to worry about, Miranda is safe. The data you are collecting must be delivered by ship, and you are closest so it will be your ship. With or without you as the pilot.”
“Yeah, I got it.” Ray walked out of the office. As he exited he passed two men in suits wearing blue rubber gloves entering the inspector’s office. There was something off about this whole thing, he couldn’t put his finger on it but he didn’t like it and he didn’t want Hoban caught up in it.
“Then just tell those Bu lang bu you Purple Bellies you’re not going.” Hoban suggested.
“First off watch your mouth. Secondly, it’s probably nothing Yè, I just don’t like you being that far out from the central planets. If the Alliance says it is fine, it’ll be fine.” Ray told his son. “Besides it gives you more time to practice flying.”
“Where are we going then?” Hoban asked. He like the idea of seeing more of the ‘Verse, but was sensitive to his dad’s concerns.
“Fang xin, it will be a quick trip and you will stay on the ship when we break atmo.” Ray said.
“O, zhe zhen shi ge kuai le de jin zhan, I never see anything good.” Hoban whined.
“What about the geese juggling you saw on the last trip? That was pretty impressive.” Said Ray, trying to move past the subject and overlooking Hoban’s routine of only using Chinese negatively.
“Capt. Washburne, you have a visitor,” interrupted Luna, the ships mechanic.
Ray turned around to see the two men he had passed outside Inspector Greene’s office, still wearing their blue gloves and grim expressions. “Thanks Luna, please take Hoban down to the Galley. Once they were gone Ray addressed the visitors. “What can I do for you gentlemen?”
“We understand you have some concerns about Miranda. Let us assure you that any rumors you have heard are completely unfounded, the Alliance has taken every precaution to ensure the safety of its citizens, your crew, and family. But be advised the nature of this cargo is highly classified and must be protected Capt. Washburne. Your reputation as a pilot is well earned, but failure or deviation from this delivery will not be accepted.”
“Who are you to come onto my ship and question my loyalty to this organization? I have never failed to deliver on time, and give my best to the Alliance.”
“Who we are is of no consequence. Your success is.” With that the two men walked out.
Ray watched them leave, confused and angry. He turned to his Tele Fonix link and called on an old friend. Alex picked up on the other side. “What’s going on Ray?” He asked.
“What do you know about Miranda?” Ray asked.
Alex’s Smile dropped and Ray knew instantly that he knew something and it wasn’t good. “Stay away from that planet. I can’t go into details now.”
“Alex, I need details. I just got orders and a threat that I have no choice. Hoban is with me on this run and I need to know what I’m getting into.”
“I’ll make a few calls. How long until you depart?”
“Maybe a few hours. What’s going on?”
“Ti wo de pi gu, that’s not much time. Stall as long as you can.” Said Alex.
“I’ll do what I can. These guys don’t seem very patient.” Alex cut off the transmission.
Hoban returned to the pilot house after his lunch to find his dad still at the helm. He was staring at the Tele Fonix link anxiously. “Trouble with the cargo?” He asked.
“Yeah, they are offloading it too fast. Listen Yè, we will be refueling at Persephone on our way to my next pick up. You are going to catch a transport there for home.”
“What..?” Hoban started to protest.
“This is not open for discussion. I have no choice in me going but I can protest you. You are going home.”
Any further argument from Hoban was cut short by an incoming Cortex transmission. “Go to your quarters and pack your stuff to go home.” Ray told Hoban. As Hoban left the bridge Ray clicked the screen to answer the call.
Hoban heard the voice from the screen say “Capt. Washburne, my name is Lt. Derrial Book of the I.A.V Cortez. We have a mutual friend Alex Master. I understand you have a problem involving Miranda.”
Bu lang bu you: Good-for-nothing.
Yee yan: Do something for nothing in return, or wasted endeavor without a payoff, literally "a charity show"
Fang xin: Don't worry.
O, zhe zhen shi ge kuai le de jin zhan: Oh, this is a happy development.
Ti wo de pi gu: Kick me in the butt.
Kwai jio kai: Get lost.
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