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Catalyst

By PhildeVenn All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Scifi

The Girl

“The human spirit is formed by a triad of Will, Intellect and Soul.  The Will is the human ability to impose his purpose upon others and the circumstances around him.  It creates conquerors or tyrants.  The Will unrestrained is the greatest source of destruction throughout human history.  The intellect reasons, and creates.  The intellect is the tool of the human spirit, but has no conscience.  The soul has its own triad; Love, Hate, Compassion.  Whichever leg of this triad dominates, governs the soul, and the soul governs the human triad.

It has been the misfortune of humanity that great achievement has been marked by the partnership of strong Will with great Intellect, but the soul of this triad has never been governed by compassion.

Should the day ever come when strong Will and great Intellect is governed by great Compassion, then the course of human history shall change.  It saddens me that I shall not live to see that day arrive.”

The last words of Leung Huifen

Born February 3, 2423

Martyred November 19th, 2489

Founder of the Performing Arts Guild (PAG)


The girl’s world had no substance.  There was no horizon.  She could not tell what was near or far, or whether space and distance had any relevance at all.  She had no physical shape or presence.  Her form was a vapor, she couldn’t tell where she ended or what separated herself from the rest of the world.  If she concentrated, she could identify her center, the part that was definitely her, but it was difficult and exhausting. 

The only thing that was real was the demon and her fear.  Was the demon near?  She couldn’t tell.  In some ways it seemed right on top of her, her fear of it was so intense.  Yet, something kept it from devouring her.  Something kept it away.  Did that mean there was some distance?  That she was out of its reach?  She couldn’t tell,she was very confused, and very tired.  The one thing she knew was the demon was always there and it wanted her.

“Who are you?” the demon asked.  It spaced its words out deliberately.  It seemed more an accusation than a question.

The girl wept in despair, the interrogation was beginning again.  She had no answer.  “I don’t know.  Can’t you leave me alone?  What do you want from me?”

“I want to know who you are.  Who are you?”

“I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t know!” the girl cried.  “I just want it to end.  Please just make it end.”

“No, your time is not yet here.  You will end, I promise you.  But it is not your time yet.  You still resist me.  You must accept me before the finish.  You must want me before it ends.  You must be glad for the end to come.  Only when you are ready to submit will I devour you.  You will thank me before I take you.  You will be grateful.  Once again, who are you?”

The girl could only moan her answer.


There were two men in another room watching the girl on video.  One of the men was dressed in a simple navy blue blazer with tan slacks.  Around his neck he wore ID identifying him as a member of the Science Guild and as an employee of the John Hopkins staff.  The other man wore a white Nehru jacket with black slacks.  On his left breast was embroidered in silver the logo for the Security Guild.  From a distance it looked like the letter “A” without the cross piece.  But when close, you would see one leg of the A was an arm with the hand clutching the handle of dagger, and the blade of the dagger was the other leg of the A.  Both men were in their 40’s.  The Science Guild employee was clearly apprehensive about being in the company of an agent.  The expression of the man from the Security Guild was inscrutable.

“As you can see,” explained Dr. Hawkins, “even as heavily sedated as she is, she’s still experiencing nightmares.  Without her meds, she would be violently agitated and if not restrained, she would do injury to herself.”

Stefan, the agent, observed the girl.  Although his expression was passive, his emotion was seething with anger.  Autumn, Autumn, what have they done to you?  He remembered her as the student he once had.  She had been brilliant.  She learned everything the first time she was shown.  He remembered her as proud, intelligent and eager.  She had a will to win as well.  The few times another student beat her in any competition, she would analyze how she had been beat, and came back better than before.  Physically, she was unique as well.  She had been both graceful and athletic.  He believed that if the Cabal had not interfered, she would have been one of the elite members of the Guild.  In his 21 years of training, he had only recommended 4 trainees for special management.  All 4 had progressed through the guild with the highest of honor.  Autumn was the 5th and she had out shown any of the others.

“What has happened to her?  She was full of promise when she had been transferred to your care.  Now, she’s a vegetable.”

“She was the first to receive the treatment we use to boost psychic ability who had also been conditioned to receive the Agent’s Guild Oath.  Apparently, the two treatments are not compatible.”

“So what has happened?”

Dr. Hawkins explained, “We’re not sure whether it was the Oath of Loyalty Compulsion, or just she had exceptional latent psychic ability, but in either case the psychic boost we gave her gave her the ability to read minds beyond anything we have ever experienced.  Apparently, it was more than she could handle.  Her mind was bombarded by the thoughts of people all over the planet.  The mental noise must have been horrific.  But that is not all.  Apparently the conditioning to receive the Loyalty Compulsion weakens her psyche.  We should have realized that would be a problem.  You condition the members of your guild to suppress your own personal self-interest in order to allow your clients to imprint loyalty in you.  It stands to reason that this will weaken your sense of self.  With her exposure to millions of minds her sense of identity was shattered.  Unfortunately, for the girl, we didn’t realize our mistake until it was too late.  Now, she has no concept of who she is.”

“You mean, she has amnesia?”

“No, I believe she can remember everything.  That’s part of the problem she remembers everything from everyone.  She can’t determine what memories are hers and what belongs to others.  No, when I say she has no concept of who she is I mean her sense of identity is shattered. She can’t associate what facts are for her and what are not.  She has no frame of reference to say who she is and therefore she can’t distinguish herself from anyone else.”

“And her ability to receive the Guild Oath?” asked Stefan.

“It’s gone.  Without the ability to know who she is, how can she be loyal to anyone, or any thing?”

“How long has she been like this?”

“This is the fourth day.  It took her only three hours to degrade from normal to violently unstable.  We sedated her immediately.”

“Hmm, that’s not very long.  Maybe she is not such a threat after all,” suggested Stefan hopefully.

Dr. Hawkins shrugged.  “Who knows?  Every few hours we wean her off the sedatives to assess her progress and evaluate our prognosis.  So far there had not been any change, but the human mind is resilient, how can you prove that she’ll never recover?  Especially someone with her mental potential.”

“So, how will you repair the damage?”

“We won’t, we can’t.  There is nothing we can do.  If we take her into hyperspace, that may relieve her anxiety but she can’t stay there indefinitely.”

“You know she is taking in data from people around her?”

“We don’t know. She has not been lucid enough to test.  We have requested authority to take her out into hyperspace to enable a better evaluation but we have not been given permission by the authorities.”

Stefan gave out a cynical laugh.  “Since you know she can read minds, but you don’t know whose or how well or how much she can retain, it’s rather difficult to determine who can be trusted to be with her if and when she returns to anything approaching a normal state.  No, I doubt you’ll ever get authority to take her out into hyperspace or allow her to return to normal.  Your ignorance is her death sentence.  Do you have any idea how quickly she can receive data from others?”

“I believe she can absorb another person knowledge as quickly as you can process a thought.  We have no idea how much she can retain, especially in this state.”

“So let me summarize. You have created someone with unprecedented psychic ability but who cannot control how she uses it.  At the same time you have eliminated the means we have established for others in authority to control her, that is her guild oath.  You’ve done this here, on Earth, where every important Cabal official and Guild official lives and therefore, she may have locked away in that brain of hers just about every significant secret in the galaxy waiting for someone to figure a way to extract them.  Therefore, so long as she lives she is a potential threat.  There is no way she can be taken off planet because to do so maximizes the threat while she is in hyperspace.  Is there any point you wish to correct?  Naturally, I would defer to your superior intelligence on this matter.”  For the first time during the interview, Stefan’s anger began to be evident.  Dr. Hawkins visibly wilted under Stefan’s bitter sarcasm.

“Umm, I’m afraid that is accurate, although I don’t believe extracting any intelligence from her will be possible.”

“You believe is not enough.  I need you to know.”

“I can’t, this is unprecedented.”

“Then there really is no choice.”

“No there’s not.”

“Let me ask one more question.  If your life depended on the girl, would you still say there is absolutely nothing you can do to bring her under control?”

Dr. Hawkins was too engrossed in the details of the conversation to pick up on the significance of what he was asked.  “I can assure you, there is absolutely nothing anyone can do for the girl.  There is no choice, she must be executed; she can’t be allowed to live.”

“Neither can you,” Stefan replied softly, and left Dr. Hawkins to try to process what Stefan meant. What a pig, Stefan thought.  How it was possible for someone to be so stupid and think he was so intelligent completely escaped him.  Stefan placed a call on his personal communicator.

“This channel is secure, proceed,” was the abrupt answer.

“The Science Guild is completely incompetent in this matter.  It must be taken out of their hands immediately and all artifacts eliminated,” replied Stefan.

“What about the girl?” Stefan’s contact asked.

“We can’t do anything yet,” replied Stefan.  “There are protocols for eliminating a guild member.  Keep in mind, she completed her training and received the Loyalty Compulsion.  She has completed every mission.  She is a member of the guild in good standing.  This disaster is not her doing.  She deserves the proper protocols.” 

Relieved his contact replied, “I’m glad. The Guild Oath should always mean something.  It should take precedence over politicians interests. The girl’s time will come.  Her suffering will be ended in the proper way.  It is the Guild’s way.  Are there any further instructions?”

“Negative, inform the Guild Master as previously instructed and proceed with the established instructions.”

“I have sent the Master the alert just now.  Disconnecting now.”

As Stefan shut off his communicator a lab attendant approached cautiously.  “Officer Meiner, The subject’s father is in the lobby.  You wanted to be informed,” the lab attendant murmured.

“Yes thank you.  I have to speak to him.”

As Stefan entered the Johns Hopkins lobby, he saw Naresh Ritesh.  Well, here is another stupid man, Stefan thought to himself.

“Good afternoon Mr. Ritesh, I am Stefan Meiner of the Security Guild.  You are here regarding your daughter I assume.”

“Security Guild!  Why is the Security Guild concerned with my daughter?  She has been under the care of the Science Guild.”

“Responsibility for your daughter has been transferred to the Security Guild, after all she is a Guild member.”

Naresh paused a moment evaluating this change in circumstances.  He was afraid of the Security Guild.  When his daughter, Autumn had been recruited, he had been pleased.  A close family member in the Security Guild offered the family significant security.  Now, he wasn’t so sure.  Carefully he plead his case.  “I see, they haven’t let me see her in several months.  I must find out how she is.  The Science Guild has been very obstructive, maybe, since Autumn is one of yours, you will be more helpful?”

“You’re daughter is gone,” Stefan replied bluntly.  “You must do your best to remember her how she was before she left home.”  Stefan turned and walked quickly away, not wanting anything further to do with this fool who so naively allowed his daughter to be used by the Science Guild in one of their irresponsible experiments.

Naresh reached out to grab Stefan, but Stefan eluded him easily and climbed into his vehicle and was gone.  Naresh stared after him wondering what to do.  He had had such high hopes for Autumn and now there was nothing?  He couldn’t comprehend what could have happened. 

“Are you Naresh Ritesh?” a young boy asked him from behind.

Naresh whirled around, “Where did you come from?”

“I was paid to deliver this message.”  The boy handed him the message and then he left.

Naresh opened the note and read.

“If you care for your daughter, come to 22 Shetland Cir.  Reisterstown, MD.  Be there as quick as you can after you receive this message.  You are running out of time.”

He cursed to himself.  Reisterstown was clear on the north side of town.  He was supposed to drop everything and go to Reisterstown?  He wondered if Agent Meiner had anything to do with this.  Naresh considered ignoring the note going into the hospital and ask around as he originally planned?  However, this is the third day he had tried to find Autumn and he wasn’t getting anywhere.  Maybe this note is the result of the questions he had been asking.  As he considered what to do, he realized he didn’t have any choice.  This message seemed to offer more than the polite refusals he had been getting.  At least it acknowledged there was a problem.

He hailed an air cab and gave the address.

“Five milli-credits,” the computer told him.

Snap, this had better be worth it he grumbled as he swiped his card through the scanner.

He arrived at the address in 10 minutes.  It was an old housing complex.  He found the unit on the ground floor and knocked.

“Who is it?” a woman called from within.

“Naresh Ritesh,” he called back.

“Is there anyone with you?” she asked.

“No, I’m alone.”  I am alone he realized.  This could be anything, a mugging, or a murder.  He was about to turn and leave when the door opened.  The woman stood there.  She was wearing a long robe with a hood over her head.  Because of the hood and the lighting he could not make out her features.

“Come in, quickly,” she hissed.  “I know it is too much to ask whether you knew if you were followed so we have to be quick.”

Baffled, Naresh entered the apartment.  “Who are you, and what do you want with me?”

“I don’t care that much for you,” the woman snapped her fingers.  “It’s your daughter I care about.”

“What’s your interest in my daughter?”

“That is none of your business.  What you need to ask is how we can help you to save your daughter.”

“Does she need saving?”

“By tomorrow morning, an execution order will be signed.  By tomorrow afternoon, they will take her to the Security Guild’s Headquarters for her Death Ceremony, and by that evening she will be dead.  So what do you think, does she need saving?”

“How do you know this?”

“You ask useless questions.  It is none of your business how I know it.  You still haven’t asked how we can help.”

“You say ‘we’ who is we?”

“Idiot, do you care nothing for her that you persist in questions that I won’t answer?  We are going to help you to rescue your daughter before the Agents take her.  That is, I am assuming you want to rescue her.”

Naresh trembled.  He knew he was on the edge of destroying his life.  What she was offering him was a life on the run.  He would be a fugitive, if he was successful.  If he failed, he knew the Cabal would not let him live and he knew this had to involve the Cabal.  No one else could instruct the Security Guild to execute one of their own.

“What has Autumn done?” he whispered.

“Wrong question again.  What has she done?  She has proven herself to have too much potential and they have ruined her for it.  Have you ever heard the child’s fable of the goose who could lay eggs of gold?  What was done to the goose?  Did it deserve its fate?  That’s how it is with Autumn.  People in power can’t accept people with special talents just for the service they can do.  They have to own or destroy them.  So, what are you going to do?  The time to decide is now.  If you ask another wrong question again then we’re done and your daughter is dead.”

If Autumn was such a threat to the Cabal, did he have any real choice?  If Autumn is executed the likelihood is that he would be killed next.  If he cooperated with these people, whomever they are, he might be protected as well.  He sighed in resignation.  There was no choice.  “Yes, I’ll ask the important question, how can you help us?”

The women visibly relaxed.  “Listen carefully, every detail is important.  When you leave here, an air cab will be waiting for you.  The driver knows what she is doing and will make sure you are not followed.  She will take you to your office.  Your position with the Science Guild gives you access to their financial accounts.  Access the account number on this paper and transfer all the money into this other account.  Once we see the credits are transferred, we have someone ready to get Autumn out of the Hospital.  Meet her at a spaceship called the Liberty.  She will be placed in stasis and will be packed in a crate for transport.  Book a passage on the Liberty for yourself and your freight.  It will cost you 5.5 credits.  Once out of Earth orbit, release your daughter from the crate as she will begin to come out of stasis.  They are keeping her sedated, so it will take a couple of days to regain consciousness.  She will need help.  We hope the help that she needs is on the ship.  Remember this, we know how much money is in the account and we want all of it.  Don’t mess with us or your daughter’s life is over, and yours will be too, not that that will be any loss.”

“You want me to embezzle money from the Science Guild?  I’ll be an outlaw!”

“Your already an outlaw, you just don’t realize it yet.”

“Will I get any of the money?  The cost for the Liberty is going to take all I have.”

“Do you want to save your daughter or make a few credits?” the woman sneered.

“They’ll track us down and catch us.”

“If you do as we say, you have a good chance.  It will take several days for the Cabal to realize you’ve gone off planet.  By that time, they won’t know for sure what day you shipped out.  Do you have any idea how many space ships leave Earth each day?  We have you booked on a few decoy ships to help them waste more time.  Finally, the captain of the Liberty is very skilled at coming and going without detection.  The odds are better than 60/40 that the Cabal will never identify how you left and I have resources that can improve those odds dramatically.  The only real uncertainty about this is Autumn, whether she can be helped, and that is really up to Autumn herself.  Her mother’s genes are strong and should give her a chance.  I can’t conceive what the PAG saw in you.”

“You knew her mother?  You knew Cynthia?”

“It’s time to go.  No more questions,” hissed the woman angry that she had let any information slip to this fool.

As Naresh left the apartment and boarded the air cab, the woman removed the hood.  She was strikingly beautiful, even though she had just turned 50.  Her hair was still auburn and didn’t require any coloring to maintain its shade.  It hung long and lush down to her shoulder blades.  Well, she mused, the plan has begun.  It should work up to a point.  Autumn will be rescued from both the Science Guild and the Security Guild.

The information she had received stated that there was no way to predict whether Autumn’s psyche could ever heal, but the only chance she had was in the isolation of space and with someone strong like Angela to help her.  Angela darling, I’m afraid you will have quite a problem coming your way and I can’t tell you anything about it.  I believe you will be up for it.  I’ve staked my own reputation that you can cope.  I certainly hope so. 

In any case, the calamity with Autumn coupled with her escape and the embezzlement of all their money will certainly put an end to the Science Guild’s dabbling in psychic ability.  Especially when the Cabal believes Naresh took the money to aid his escape.  Discrediting the Science Guild in this way had been her number one priority.  She smiled to herself.  It was all very well for those fools to occupy themselves with their toys, but they could certainly not be trusted with the human mind!  Only the Performing Arts Guild possessed the patience and restraint to deal with the subtleties of a human’s mind and that was one of their most closely guarded secrets. 

Well, she had a good shot at a triple success.  Discrediting the Science Guild was number one, getting a nice chunk of cash to the PAG was number two, and would be good for her own finances as well (especially with receiving 10% commission of course). If Autumn can be restored to health, that will be number three.  The guild would be very appreciative to have Autumn healthy with all her abilities intact, and beyond the reach of the Cabal.  Autumn was the only unknown.  Cynthia, she thought to herself, I will do my best for the child.  I promise you that.

As Naresh was traveling to his office he talked with the driver.  “Who are you with?” he asked her.

“Haven’t you learned yet to stop asking stupid questions?” was her amused reply.

He realized she must have been listening to his conversation with the other woman.

“Thank you for helping me.”

“I’m not helping you,” she said contemptuously.  “My Guild shouldn’t have allowed Autumn to have been used like this.  I met Autumn during her training ….”  She stopped talking.

“You know Autumn?  Can you tell me what has happened to her?” he begged.

“I’ve said too much.  When you see Autumn you’ll have an idea what was done.”

“Did your guild do this to her?”

“Don’t insult my guild in that way!” the girl snapped.  “Just be quiet will you?”

From her comments, he gathered she was a member of the Security Guild and disgruntled that her friend, his daughter, had been treated this badly.  Naresh was a little surprised the Security Guild would have members capable of this rebellion.  They arrived at his office and he turned and said goodbye.

“Don’t be silly,” she said.  “I’m not going anywhere without you.  You have no way of knowing where the Liberty is.  You’ll end up telling the entire planet where you’re going before the day is out.”

Naresh nodded.  “So, you’re going to wait here?”

“Exactly.”

Naresh was reassured and went into his office.  After he left the driver, Natalie, spoke in her communicator, “He’s gone in.  Spring the girl.”

“Does he think you are part of the Security Guild?”

“Yes, I’m sure he bought it.  I don’t know if an interrogator will buy it if he’s caught.”

“We’re not trying to fool an interrogator.  We want Captain Singleton to buy it.”

“No problem then.”

Naresh found transferring the money to be simple and he was done in less than 10 minutes.  It’s easy to steal if you don’t worry about getting caught.  He was shocked at how much he was stealing, over 370 credits and he wasn’t going to be able to get any of it!  He was going to be penniless and exiled from Earth.  He got back into the air cab in a foul mood.

“Problem’s?” asked Natalie.

“No, everything went smoothly.”

“Why the attitude?”

“You people, whoever you are, are making quite a fortune from your kindness.”

Natalie chuckled.  “What did you expect?  Next stop Liberty.”  Natalie laughed at her pun.

At the hospital, a young man wearing the Agents tunic presented his paperwork to the attendant claiming custody of Autumn.  The attendant was a little surprised, this was sooner than he expected.  However, it made sense, he knew the delicacy of this problem.  So it made sense the matter would be expedited.  He read the instructions.  “She’s to be put in stasis!” he exclaimed.  “What on earth for?” 

“She is being shipped off Earth.  They don’t want her body lying around to be discovered and triggering questions.”

The attendant shrugged.  No problem for him.  He called for help and they got Autumn and placed her in the stasis capsule.  In the meantime, he sent a message to Dr. Hawkins that Ms Ritesh was leaving the hospital.

“How long will she need to be in hibernation?” the attended asked. 

“Only 8 hours,” the agent replied.

“She won’t get far in 8 hours.”

“She’ll go far enough,” replied the agent.  The attendant cringed as he processed the implications of that simple statement.

“There you go, she’s ready.  I need you to sign the paperwork,” said the technician.

“No problem,” said the agent.  He signed at all the marked locations and was about to go on his way when Dr. Hawkins came running in.

“What do you think you’re doing?  I haven’t authorized anyone the right to this girl.  I’m not done with her.  Who has sent you?”

The Agent turned and faced the doctor.  “She is no longer under your authority.  The Security Guild is reclaiming one of their own.”

“Alert the Hospital Security!” exclaimed the Doctor.  “I’ll not let you get away with this.  The girl is our property.”

As the technician ran for help, the agent brought his left hand behind the Doctor’s neck and pulled him forward into the Agent’s knife held in his right.  “Her name is Autumn Ritesh and she is nobody’s property, especially not yours,” the agent whispered in his ear.  “Thank you for saving me the trouble of having to find you.”

However, the Doctor was past caring about the girl or saving the agent any trouble.  He would not ever care about anything again.

With the hospital alarms beginning to sound the agent ran away from the marked exits, pushing the girls stasis chamber in front of him.  He pulled out his navigator as he ran.  He made several turns and then proceeded another 8 meters before he stopped.  On the floor next to the wall someone had left a black brief case.  The agent made some key strokes on his navigator and then took Autumn and ducked around a nearby corner just in time to escape the ensuing explosion.  When the agent came back to inspect the results he saw  a nice size hole had been blown out of the wall providing an avenue for escape from the hospital.

The Guild had really cut it close on the timing there, the agent muttered to himself.  He went to the hole in the wall and looked out.  They were on the second floor.  As the agent considered what was to be done, he heard yells from down the hallways.  The sound of the explosion had attracted some unwanted attention.  The agent was beginning to wish he had come armed when he saw a large truck come racing towards him.  The agent glanced nervously around to asses how much time he had when he saw the truck perform an expert brake and spin causing it to rotate 180 degrees and stop perfectly against the wall of the hospital.  Immediately several men climbed onto the roof of the truck from a door in the roof and took Autumn into the truck.  The agent followed in immediately after and was thrown to the floor as the driver wasted no time accelerating away from the scene.

The agent clambered to the front of the truck and was surprised to see the driver was an attractive young woman.  “Your people really cut things close there,” he complained.  “There was a moment I thought that I would be facing the entire hospital security detachment with nothing but my dick in hand.”

Amused the woman glanced at him, “Being crude isn’t going to phase me.  If we had been late, I’m sure you could have handled yourself quite well.  I’m sure you’ve had practice.  In any case, I’m never late.  Get ready, I’m dropping you off soon.”

“What do you mean?  I’m suppose deliver the girl to the Security Guild!”

The driver began slowing the truck, she pushed a button under the dash and the passenger’s door sprung open and the agent heard a mechanical click as his seat became disconnected from the truck.  “I’m afraid you weren’t in on the entire plan, dear. Have a nice fall.”  The woman gave a quick shove to the seat and it easily slid out the door and landed on the pavement as the truck sped away.

“How’s the girl?” the driver asked the team who had retrieved Autumn.

“Everything is fully functional.”

“Fine, I’m going to leave you at headquarters and I’ll take Autumn as planned from there.”

It was about 20 minutes after the incident at the hospital when a delivery truck pulled into the space dock.  It drove slowly as the driver was carefully consulting her instructions.  She pulled up to a nondescript freighter loading freight and supplied.  A woman was standing by directing the operation.  The driver of the truck pulled up and parked close to her.  The driver dismounted and walked to her and looked her over.  The name on the woman’s name tag was Crystal Gombos, First Officer.

“Are you with the freighter called Liberty?” the driver asked.

“I’m the First Office, what do you want, I’m kind of busy.”

“Here is a crate for transport for Naresh Ritesh.  I need him to sign for delivery.”

“He’s not here, and I haven’t seen him.  If he doesn’t show with the rest of the money, this ship is leaving and we’re not taking responsibility for that crate without its owner.”

The driver nervously checked her watch.  “He still has a few minutes doesn’t he?  My instructions were to he’d be here by 13:00.  It’s 10 till.”

“He’ll get his 10 minutes, but no more.  The Captain is real allergic to Earth.  It seems he always gets a bucket of trouble every time he comes this way.  We’ve been lucky so far this time, and he doesn’t want to push his luck any more.”

“Too late,” the driver said to herself as she saw Naresh’s air cab pull up.  “Your bucket of trouble has arrived.”

Naresh jumped out of the air cab and ran up to Crystal.  “Officer Gombos, I’m Naresh Ritesh.  Are you the one I should talk to about paying the balance for my ticket?”

“Yeah, I’m the one.  Scan your card here, you owe 5 and a half credits.”

Naresh scanned his card and saw his remaining balance was one fourth credit.

Crystal looked over his shoulder and saw his balance.  “Hope that’s not the only cash you have when you arrive at New Dublin.”

Naresh looked up, “New Dublin?  Is that where we’re heading?”

Crystal narrowed her eyes in suspicion.  He had just plunked down 5 and a half credits for a trip and he didn’t know where it was going.  He must be on the run.  Great, trouble.  Oh well, the money was good and we should be able to dump him easily enough.  Sometimes trouble can be profitable.  She’d have to advise the captain though.

The driver spoke up, “Mr. Naresh, I need you to sign some paperwork.”

Naresh was startled as he realized what the crate contained, but he signed the necessary documents.  In spite of his tension the computer engineer in him still wondered that in the 26th century, they still used paper.

“Remember sir, to check on things in seven and a half hours.”

Naresh was puzzled for a moment then remembered, she was in stasis.  He nodded his head.

The truck driver waved goodbye and drove off in her truck.  Natalie followed in her air cab.

It didn’t take long for Crystal to load the crate as well as the rest of the cargo.  She became very annoyed with Naresh, with the way he was fussing about how rough they were.  Crystal initiated her ship communicator.  “Sanjay, report to the loading bay.”

Immediately a short but powerfully built man emerged from the cargo hold.  “Hi, First, do you want this cargo secured or not?  What do you need?”

Crystal nodded towards Naresh. “How much do you lack to finish?  I have a passenger who needs to be strapped in for take-off.  Get him out of my hair will you?”

Sanjay laughed.  He knew how passengers irritated his First Officer.  They irritated the Captain even more.  Problem was, they didn’t know how to deal with passengers.  All you have to do is just pick them up and set them wherever you wanted them.  You only had to do it once.  They got the message.  Sanjay had been born and raised on Jupiter.  The terra-forming made it very habitable, but they could only get the settlement down to 1.8 G’s.  Living under that kind of gravity caused everyone to be short and stubby.  But, it also made them strong, and Sanjay was very strong.  “Actually, First, I just finished.  If you take care of any last minute items, I can take care of your passenger.”

Relieved Crystal replied, “That’s fine with me.  Get this pain away from me, will you?”

Grinning, Sanjay extended his hand to Naresh, “Good day, sir.  My name is Sanjay Kavanagh.  Welcome to the Liberty.  Passengers and crew who are not directly involved in take-off are secured in the galley.  Follow me and I’ll assist you to your launch chair.”

“Thank you.  What title should I call you?” replied Naresh shaking Sanjay’s hand.

“Sanjay will do,” he replied amused.  “We’re not much on titles around here, accepting the Captain of course.  When we’re at port we call the First Officer ‘First’ but once in space, we call her Crystal, although, I would call her ma’am if were you.  She gets annoyed pretty quick with passengers.”

“You’re from Jupiter aren’t you?  That would mean you are very strong.  I imagine that can be valuable on a freighter like this.”

“More valuable than you can imagine,” he responded wryly.  “But, I consider myself Irish.  You’re Asian aren’t you?”

Naresh nodded.  Of course his ethnic background was obvious, both from his name and his skin color and dark hair.  “Yes, my grandparents grew up in Calcutta, but I have been in either North America or on the planet Enterprise my entire life.”

“Yes, that’s the way it is for all of us.  Well, get strapped in.  Usually take-off is smooth but sometimes they make some unexpected maneuvers.  Our pilot, Michelle, likes to hot dog now and then.”

Once Sanjay had his passenger strapped in he signaled Crystal.  She got the ok to launch from the port authorities and gave the word that everything was loaded.  The Captain gave the okay, and Michelle fired up the engines.  They lifted off and left Earth behind, right on schedule.

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Chapters
1. The Girl
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