Markov was in the ship’s galley, loading his pockets with water packages and stews-in-a-pouch. He was scheduled to take over in the pilot seat in ten minutes, and he wanted to have plenty of edibles before going on his twenty-four-hour run. During his past shifts, he had finished his food early and ended up feeling sick by the time he clocked out.
After his last shift almost twelve hours ago, he felt off. Not sick, but not…right. Thankfully, the uneasiness in his gut and chest was gone, but he didn’t want to repeat yesterday’s ordeal.
Just as he was about to reach for a six-pack of Nebula Greens, Dov, the crew’s weapons expert, stood next to him and grabbed two of the six.
“You d-d-don’t drink Nebulas,” Markov said as he grabbed the other four. When he looked at Dov’s pitch-black eyes, he waited to see if the Allus would admit who he was grabbing the drinks for.
“You’re right, I don’t. But the pale-skinned sea urchin from the depths of the cargo bay does.”
Markov smirked. “Henna w-w-would kill you if she heard that.”
Dov used the green Nebula can to point. “That’s why I said it to you. So, if she finds out, I’ll just tell her you said it.”
“She knows me b-b-better than that.”
Dov snorted. “She knows you’re scared of her.”
“You’re s-s-sc—afraid of her more than me,” Markov said as another female entered the galley. She was a Bolark with green scales and long, black hair and wore a pristine outfit that accented all of her curves. Her nails were longer than natural with a silver hue to them and matched today’s getup.
Markov didn’t usually take the time to look at females on the crew. Mostly because he knew they would never go for a guy like him: big and yellow with a stutter. But something about the female caught his attention.
He didn’t know what it was, but he found himself staring. So much so that when she noticed, she cut her eyes at him and said, “You wish.”
Markov turned and stared at the stacks of nutrient bars. He didn’t exactly look at them because unease churned in his gut. Not as bad, but it was there.
Dov used his arm to bump Markov. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” Markov said just as his Minky pad’s alarm rang out. Pulling out the black electronic communication device, he read the alert. Apparently, he had two minutes to get to the bridge. Showing Dov, he said, “See you in twenty-four.” Returning the device to his pocket, he walked out.
Dov followed. In the elevator, Dov hit level three for the cargo bay before Markov could select the bridge. Which meant he might be late, depending on whether or not the elevator stopped at any other levels on the way down.
Markov didn’t usually get upset over things like that, especially knowing that Dov was trying to give Henna—the logistics and cargo specialist—her breakfast before Dov had to clock into his shift, too.
However, Markov felt the heat of his irritation. Words danced on his lips, ready to jump out given the opportunity, but Markov kept them in.
Seconds later, Dov exited the cab, and Markov took a relieved breath as the elevator headed back to the bridge.
It stopped two floors from his destination, and the uneasiness in his stomach compounded, making him feel as if he had drunk acid. Pressing his hand to the cool metal wall, he steadied himself. The smelly male who entered the cab moved to the side and remained silent.
At his stop, Markov rushed out and entered the bridge. As he walked in, the captain turned and told him, “Medical said they sent you a message to stop by.”
He nodded to let Captain Grom know that he’d heard him. But whatever medical had to say could wait. He had been in there the day before, and they had no answers for him. He doubted they would have anything new today.
The transition of pilots took a few seconds, and then Markov was in control of the ship. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a water package and consumed the liquid in three gulps. He did the same to another. Within a minute, his nausea and uneasiness were gone, and he proceeded to eat the first of his nutrient bars.
“Markov,” a male called from behind him.
Turning, he saw the cyborg doctor who had sent him two more messages in the past six hours. Exhaling with irritation, he turned back to the navigation screen, “I’m b-b-busy.” Tapping the console for another flare to keep an asteroid from hitting the ship, he focused on what he was moving in and out of.
He was flying through an asteroid field because traveling to Angny was a really long flight. It went much quicker if a sound pilot navigated the billions of small to monstrous-sized rocks.
Markov dipped the ship and let the tail end drift before getting another burst to hold them until a bigger asteroid floated past.
“I need to see you as soon as possible,” the cyborg said.
“Is he dying?” Captain Grom asked.
“No. But…I have something I need to discuss with him.”
“You can discuss it when we are free of the asteroids,” Grom said.
Making an educated guess for time, Markov said, “We’ll b-b-be on Angny in four hours. I can wait.”
“Captain, it’ll take seconds to take Markov’s scan, and ten minutes to go over a few things. Please send him to medical as soon as he’s able. It’s important.”
Markov didn’t say anything else because, suddenly, three asteroids collided. He jerked the controls and gunned the engines to avoid impact. The rest of the flight was just as dangerous, but he got through it with minimal contact. Nothing was damaged, so it was all good.
“All right, take a breather. Set it to autopilot and go see the damn doc. Whatever it is, get the pill or the shot and come back and finish the flight.”
Markov turned, astonished that the captain was willing to send him to medical when there was nothing truly wrong. “C-c-captain?”
Grom was an older Terran-Hetten hybrid. He wasn’t mean, but he made sure that everyone on the crew knew that if you were scheduled to work, you’d better be at your post for the whole shift. No late arrivals and no early checkouts.
“He’s worried,” Grom said dismissively, his hand pointing to where the cyborg stood. “Just go and get it over with, yeah?”
Markov stood and looked over the scans, the flight path, and made sure no other ships were around. Something caught his eye. One of the asteroids—or what he’d thought was an asteroid—was no longer on the same course. It had changed its trajectory to head directly towards him.
“We have a t-t-tail,” he announced and sat back down.
Grom grunted. “I was starting to think this would be an easy mission.”
Markov didn’t speak, he checked out of the Federation flight path, slowed the speed, and searched for the nearest solar system to hide near a lava planet and disguise their heat signature.
The doors of the bridge opened, and Markov was about to snap at the cyborg if he came back in, but it was Dov. He slapped his palms together and began rubbing them. “How many ships?”
“One,” the captain said as Dov took a seat at weapons control.
“Where is it?” he asked, squinting at his navigation screen.
“B-b-behind us. We’re hiding b-b-behind a hot planet to hide us.”
“No, we are not,” Dov said. “I didn’t just count all six thousand and forty torpedoes for me not to use them.”
Markov turned to the captain to see if he agreed. The older male shook his head. “We’ll fight if we have to, but I don’t see them following us. They are still on the Federation flight path.”
“Wait, did they actually fire at us?” Dov asked, and Markov wanted to glare at the Allus. Markov was being cautious. Considering Dov had been on the last mission when they had been attacked and kidnapped by pirates, he should have understood why Markov responded the way he did.
Ten minutes of silence lingered until Grom cleared his throat. “The ship has transitioned to the Lotus Nexis flight path. We’re clear.”
Markov pulled the ship around and readied the engines for FTL speeds. No one said anything as they got back on the path and headed to their destination. The captain’s Minky screen pinged with an incoming call.
Grom accepted it, and Markov recognized Avenell’s rushed and slightly frantic voice. “Captain Grom, thank you for answering.”
“I haven’t ever ignored your call,” Grom said slowly as if trying to calm the female down.
“Yeah, I know. I mean…I’m just hoping you haven’t passed out of the asteroid field yet.”
“I’m sorry to say we have,” Grom admitted.
Avenell cursed. “Okay, fine. Um, how close are you to Marnak?”
“Pretty far. I’m not headed that way yet. We’re about to pick up the cargo from Angny, and then we’re headed to Marnak.”
Markov could hear the confused hope in Avenell’s tone when she asked, “I thought you said you were out of the asteroid field?”
“The ship had to fly into the asteroid field to get to Angny. We’ll fly through it again when we leave. So now that you know that, what can I do for you?” Grom said with a hint of sternness.
“Okay, well, I thought everyone flew around the asteroid field. But, whatever. I need you to go to Lotus Nexis and pick up a package at the visitors’ center. I was under a time crunch and couldn’t think of anyone else’s name on your crew, so I put it under your name, Grom.”
The captain grunted. “You could’ve called and asked first.”
“I didn’t have time. Clalls came in, told me to get him something, and then stood behind me until it was done. I’m sorry, but there’s more.”
Grom exhaled with frustration.
Markov could only assume what more she would ask for. Drifting Treasures wasn’t like the other companies Markov had worked for. Most hired cargo pilots and crews and had specific things they sold and shipped. Drifting Treasures was a spaceport run by a Night Demon named Clalls, and he didn’t do anything the normal way.
He had a rotation of cargo ships. Most crews never even knew what their jobs would be or where they were going until they were assigned.
Avenell was one of the Night Demon’s two personal assistants. They had never officially met, but most males on Drifting Treasures knew who she was and knew she was a Terran who dressed in classy but sexy dresses with high heels. She always looked like she was seconds away from throwing her hands up and quitting, and from what Markov had heard, plenty of people made bets on when she would do it.
“What else?” Grom asked pointedly.
Markov tapped the console, readying the ship to begin slowing its speed because they were approaching the planet. But he did so quietly so he could hear what Avenell wanted.
“Madam Amri, who sold the items, was willing to do so after I agreed to accept her gift for Clalls’ birthday celebration. The thing is, I have no idea what it is, and Clalls threatened to fire me—for the fifteen thousandth time—if that gift gets anywhere close to his spaceport. So, I kinda need you to take it but also keep it in case Clalls has to send pictures to the madam should he need to do more business with her in the future. And, lastly…”
Markov shook his head at the catastrophe of a deal.
“The madam says that it has to be picked up in the next ten hours, or she’s taking the items back.”
Markov hit the button and looked back at the captain to say, “D-d-down in ten minutes.”
Grom rubbed his mouth and the stubble on his jawline. “I should be able to make it.”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you. I promise I will find a way to repay you.”
“It’s not you. It’s the job,” Grom said, but Markov wasn’t stupid. He knew that Grom wasn’t happy, and he blamed Clalls for the sudden change in plans. However, that was to be expected on Drifting Treasures.
Markov engaged the thermal covers and initiated the thrusters to get through the atmosphere faster. Once through, he took the ship down fast but landed with enough grace to keep everyone from jerking in their spots.
Markov unbuckled his harness, needing to relieve himself, and figured that he should see medical before they took off.
Grom pointed a finger at Dov. “Tell Henna to be quick. We have to drop off, pick up, and take off in less than forty minutes.”
Dov stood. “Will do. But I politely request that Markov join me because telling Henna anything could get me shot.”
Rubbing his face again, the captain agreed, and both Markov and Dov walked out of the bridge. In the elevator, Dov shifted from one foot to the other. The male looked far too uncomfortable and nervous for simply passing along a message.
“She w-w-won’t kill you.”
The doors opened, and Dov exited while saying, “Why do you think Grom gave me the message instead of telling her himself? He’s scared of her, too.”
Markov, for all his astuteness, hadn’t noticed that.
The ship’s ramp door was open. Dov cursed and started to run. Markov followed, not sure what they were running for. At the top of the ramp, they stopped, and Dov said, “She was planning on going to the market to buy pims for Seajay’s mate. Apparently, Riva’s pregnant and craving pims. Seajay said her planet called them something else, but they taste the same, I guess.”
Markov saw the issue. “I’ll g-g-get the cargo.”
“Thanks,” Dov said, and they both headed down the ramp. Once they hit the landing pad, they set a brisk pace. Between breaths, Dov added, “The market is a mile away, but it’s three or four miles long. Henna took the hopper in case she had to go into the city.”
Markov hoped she didn’t check the city first.
Markov’s Minky rang out in his pocket, an incoming call. Assuming it was the doctor, he silenced the call and figured he’d check it when he was back on the ship.
The run took just under ten minutes. Dov pointed to the right and said, “You check there. And I’ll check this side.”
Markov had not taken three steps before Dov’s arm slammed into his chest. “Wait,” he said as he pointed to several columns of boxes. Between them was an Angny. He wasn’t grey like their race usually was, but he had the lower tusks protruding out of his mouth, and his chest was bare, showing his fighting scars.
As big as the male was, he looked uncomfortable as hell with Henna yelling in his face.
“She’s the most insane female ever born,” Dov snapped as he ran around the table, directly for her. Markov followed, pleased that everything was starting to fall into place.
Henna must have heard them coming because she turned and pulled her phaser, pointing it right at Dov. Seething, she said, “What the hell are you doing here?”
Dov pointed at Markov and stepped out of the line of fire. “Markov has a message from the captain.”
Henna moved the phaser back to Dov but spoke softer to Markov, “What is it?”
“The c-c-captain has to g-g-go to Lotus Nexis. He needs to leave in thirty minutes.”
She hissed and then pointed the phaser at the light-brown-skinned Angny. “Well, then, we have a problem. Because this good-for-nothing bastard doesn’t have our cargo.”
“What do you mean?” Dov asked, cutting his eyes at the other male.
The Angny pointed off in the distance. “There’s a sandstorm.”
“When d-d-did it start?” Markov asked, knowing a bit about sandstorms from his planet.
“Thirteen hours ago,” Henna answered for him. “Just in case you want to do the math, he had two weeks to get the ring he sold Clalls. But the lazy ass waited until the last minute.”
“Can’t you just fly over the sand?” Dov asked.
Both the Angny and Markov shook their heads. Driving through or around a sandstorm would get an engine clogged for sure.
Dov groaned. “We have to leave, or the items Grom needs will be gone. It’s a time-sensitive pickup.”
Henna tossed Dov the phaser. “Fine, you stay with the idiot here since you two are probably related. We’ll go back to the ship.”
Dov tossed the phaser to Markov, saying, “I’m the only weapons guy. I need to be on the ship. Markov has a backup, he can stay.”
Markov tossed the phaser to Henna. “I have a b-b-belt knife.” He expected Henna to object to him staying, but she said, “Fine. Markov, you stay with the idiot here. We’ll be back in half a day.” To Dov, she said, “And you can walk back.”
Dov gave Markov a look and then took off. Henna got on her hopper but came back to say, “If the sandstorm lets up soon, make him go and get the ring. I trust you.”
Markov nodded, pleased she’d said so. He watched her as she flew away.
The Angny didn’t seem concerned that Markov was there to keep an eye on him. The male turned around, lifted the lid to a wooden box, and grabbed a bag of something. “Thirsty?”
“It’s not water. You sure?”
Markov shook his head and watched as his ship took off.
As soon as they were gone, he pulled up his Minky pad and saw the many messages from the doc. All saying the same thing. Your hormones are rising. If you don’t get back to the ship and let me adjust your Krant band, you will go into full mating heat.
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