Prosperous: Chutes & Ladders

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Chapter 2

21 April 2660

CAPTAIN TRUMAN ‘TRU’ BARNET WAS TALL AND LEAN, ATHLETIC. His blue eyes were light enough that even in the darkest room there was no mistake as to how blue they were. His light brown hair had that magic beauty that men are often graced with, and women often envy. Tru’s natural beauty made him popular among women, and men. When he smiled and turned on his charm, there weren’t many species he’d encountered who could resist. Of course, that trick was one he’d learned in his previous profession as a xeno-psychiatrist, and it had come in handy on several occasion. It was even more effective with his easy going, often jovial, nature.

However, today, he was not feeling jovial. He stared at the 8 x 10 doc-slip he held in his hand which gave him the list of his new Merchant Raitor crew, and unfortunately, more information than he cared to know about each of them. The glowing text listed mostly aliens, but regardless of race, nearly everyone on it had citations, arrests, restraining orders, mental disorders, and pages and pages of remarks of insubordination. Some ran eight or more screens.

Perhaps they thought because I’m a xeno-psychiatrist I would want this crew. Tru considered that for a moment. No. It’s because I’m the youngest captain in Merchant Raitor and someone thought this would be a great initiation.

He looked up at Admiral Greg Larson. Larson was a small man, just at one point five meters, and sitting behind his large desk he looked smaller. He was getting up in age and his gray, thinning hair held testament to that. His dark blue eyes watched Tru with open expectancy.

Was he expecting Tru to fly off the handle? Tru had lost count how many times he’d witnessed Merchant Raitor captains throw temper tantrums (in his professional opinion) when things didn’t go their way. But why would Larson, who had known Tru since he was six, think that of him? Tru reserved his ‘flying off the handle’ moments for really important events – like when he learned his parents died in a shuttle explosion or when his husband confessed infidelity for their entire marriage. His easy going attitude was considered unusual for a half human, half Silerium.

To be a Silerium was like being of African origin and living in the southern United States during the early nineteen hundreds. Sileriums were children of Lunar miners who mined the mineral of the same name — it was a mineral critical to reinforcing the hulls of space ships and spaceports. Like the miners who had once mined coal on Earth hundreds of years ago, these miners couldn’t get away from the mineral. It slipped into their homes, their clothes, their bodies – and their DNA. It caused mutations in infants which manifested into psychic abilities, and caused humans and other species to discriminate them. During the years Truman practiced as a xeno-psychiatrist, he had treated Silerium patients and knew just how emotionally unstable some could be. Yet most, like his father, never displayed emotional instability.

None of that changed the present fact and getting a little emotional right now might be the only thing that would fix the problematic manifest.

Tru cleared his throat. Quietly he pointed out to Larson, “I requested a human crew for my first stint, Greg, and I filed that request two days before deadline. Why did I get a xeno crew?”

Larson frowned, looking at his own doc-slip. “I just couldn’t make it happen on such short notice, Truman. I’m sorry.”

“Doesn’t owning my own ship mean I can have the crew I requested?”

“Owning your own ship gets you a larger paycheck, better retirement pension, more benefits, and you get to choose your stints. Merchant Raitor has control over everything else, including who is on your crew.”

“Isn’t there a regulation against sending a captain out with a xeno crew on his or her first stint?”

“No. Are you saying you can’t handle them?”

“This crew is a disaster waiting to happen, Greg.”

Larson smiled as he leaned forward on his desk. “I told them you could handle this crew because of your father.”

Tru’s eyebrows drifted up. “What does Dad have to do with this?”

“Right after we received word your captain had been killed in the marauder attack, and you were in command of his ship, he took me to dinner and demanded I recommend you for captain. He said it would be a perfect marriage of your two loves, and that you would be the one captain that could turn bad crewmen around. And I agree. Of all the captains under me, I know you will not do something damn foolish with your ship or crew and you can cope with them.”

“Gracie wouldn’t let me do something damn foolish with her and I disagree. I want a different crew, Greg.”

“If you were to officially request one, I’d have to remark that you refused command of this crew, as you noted, your first crew, on your service record and it would be months before I could arrange a replacement, all human, crew. All cargo routes are booked for the next seven months and all crews have been assigned.”

Tru didn’t want that kind of a remark in his record and he didn’t want to wait seven months to ship out.

Deflated he replied, “Then I’ll see you in seven months, sir.” Tru started to stand.

“Not yet. There are a few issues with this crew that we need to discuss.”

Tru sank back into the chair. “Such as?”

“About these bunk arrangements…” Larson tapped the screen on his doc-slip.

Tru changed screens on his doc-slip. A deep frown creased his brow.

“Who did this?” Tru asked.

“Your First Executive Officer, Amanda Wrigley. We discovered she has issues we were previously unaware of.”

Tru looked up. Suspiciously he asked, “What kind of issues?”

“I don’t know for sure, but she does not handle stressful situations well. I saw it myself during the promotion banquet last week.”

“What happened?”

“Her last captain, Emery Lewis, showed up drunk. He started ridiculing her for always running when things got rough and that the only reason he promoted her was to get her off his ship. She started arranging dishes and clearing tables, and became extremely agitated. He grabbed her arm and she started screaming and hitting. Two officers pulled him off and she ran out of the room. To be honest, I didn’t expect her to show up when her assignment was issued, but apparently she’s waiting on the ISS for you.”

“And this condition is undiagnosed?”

Larson nodded. “After Lewis sobered up, I asked him about what he said. He told me she became irrational and hid in her room when situations became stressful. He couldn’t rely on her to take command of the ship when he was off ship. She snapped at crew and everyone on board hated her.”

“And she hasn’t seen anyone for her condition?”

“Not anyone in Merchant Raitor. I’ve heard she’s visited with a doctor on Mars, but it may just be a friend and not to help her.”

Tru tried to wrap his head around the information. “She’s had to have gone through a dozen captains. How is this just now be discovered?”

“My best guess is that her other captains did the same thing Lewis did; they promoted her to get her out of their hair.”

“Lewis shouldn’t even be a captain,” Tru growled. “He’s an alcoholic and dangerous.”

“We’re not the military, Tru. As long as the cargo gets to its destination on time and no one gets killed, it’s our policy not to care about a captain or crewman’s disorders or addictions.”

“Now that’s an intelligent stance,” Tru shot back. “Is my XO good at anything?”

“She was a high school science teacher before she entered Merchant Raitor and specialized in botany when she enlisted.”

“So my XO has an unknown condition, knows plants, and can teach? Can’t wait to meet my second officer.”

“You don’t have one.”

“What?”

“He was extradited this morning for selling controlled supplies to the Gwiraten, all other Second Officers have been assigned, and the very soonest another would be available is in seven months. On the upside, because you’re shipping out without a second officer on your first stint, as long as there are no more than the average number of complaints filed against you, you’ll be able to choose whether or not to have one at any time.”

“That isn’t a benefit at this time, sir. You know that.”

Larson offered an apologetic shrug.

Tru sighed before asking, “Is there anyone on this crew that doesn’t have issues?”

“You have one of our top medical doctors, a decent ship psychiatrist, and I stole the best cook in the fleet away from Captain Ric’ta. You’ll have good health, a sound mind, and a full stomach.”

Tru pressed his lips into a thin line. With a flat voice he replied, “That hardly compensates for this crew.”

Larson smiled apologetically. “I know, but on such short notice, I did the best I could.”

“I can’t ship out until these bunk assignments are changed, or my crew will kill each other. I need a twenty-four hour delay.”

Larson nodded. “I’ll do better than that. I’ll make it a four day delay and contact the Righel Prime spaceport authority myself.”

“Thank you. What else?”

“That’s all. You’re going to do fine, Truman. Fly safe.”

“Thanks, Greg.” Tru left Larson’s office, frowning at the docket.

Tru headed for the transport room.


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