Book was intrigued, either Pei was bluffing or she was more than she appeared to be. Then he remembered she had plastered his primary target’s brains all over the back wall of the bar. “So how do you know how to pilot a star ship?”
Ju Pei smiled, “If you’re going to be a closed book, so shall I.”
Book rubbed his temple, “But it doesn’t make sense why would you give up flying to work in a dive?”
“I guess you’re just going to have to wrap your head around that one by yourself then.”
Knowing he wasn’t going to get anywhere he went to the galley. He opened a few cans and began making a stew. A few minutes later Pei wandered in from the living quarters.
“What are you making? It smells horrible.”
“Move over. One can eat to survive, but I’d like to survive eating.”
She shooed him out of his own galley so he ended standing in the doorway watching. She moved with the grace and conservation of movement of someone who had worked in the cramped quarters of a ships galley before.
Book puzzled trying to figure out her past. She must have worked on a long haul freighter in her youth. Once she became pregnant she decided she couldn’t raise a child in deep space, so she decided to settle on a planet. But unless she had ended up destitute somehow why would she have chosen a hole like Regina. He imagined a barefoot young woman in rags clutching her child to her chest disembarking from a spaceport with no money to speak of and everything she owned in a worn shoulder bag.
A few minutes later she finished the meal and slid out the dining table and stools from the bulkhead. “Supper’s ready! Oh… I didn’t think you were still in here. Were you standing there watching me like some hwoon dahn?”
He ignored her, “My ship… oh and if I do recall you mentioned something about poison earlier?”
She nodded and sat. Book took his seat across from the mysterious woman and spooned up some of the mixture. After nearly scalding his tongue, he found the food to be quite good. “How…?”
“Ah, now a true chúshī never reveals her recipes.”
“Fair enough.” He turned his attention back to the food, and was surprised when it was gone so quickly. She ate at a slower pace and he had time to let his mind wander and escape the metal confines of the little ship.
“Thank you for rescuing the meal.”
“You’re welcome, but I did it because I’m not fond of burnt food.”
“Fair enough.” He said as the collision warning alarm sounded.
Book scrambled to the bridge crossing the distance in a few moments his mind racing at what could be causing the most frightening alarm for a space faring vessel.
Pei trailing half a step behind him yelled over the noise, “Who’s navigating this goram ship?”
He slammed into the pilots console and pressed the flashing scarlet button. A debris field was only a few hundred klicks away.
“Stop the ship!”
“No time! Taking evasive action, hold on to something!”
The ship lurched as Book jerked the controls, firing the main engines and secondary thrusters. He came off the floor, as the ships high g maneuvering overcame the inertial dampening, slamming his head into some comm. equipment.
Pei managed to hold onto a grab bar “Book! Are you alright?” She asked his bloody limp form. “I guess not.” She said as she slipped into the pilots chair and buckled in. The debris field was coming up fast and it looked like the scout ship would still hit the edge of it. She grabbed the helm and fired a hard burn from the port engine. Everything was coming back to her now but she still was incredibly rusty in the cockpit. It had been at least twenty years since she had flown a space fairing vessel.
Book’s lifeless form slid across the floor coming to rest against the opposite bulkhead. Thankfully on a ship this size he didn’t have much room to gain speed. The collision alarm mercifully quit as the SERC glided past the debris. Out the window she saw something flash in the starlight. Was it metal? She slowly brought the ship to a halt and reversed course to the debris field. She programmed the Nav computer to bring the ship to a halt well away from the wreckage that had nearly claimed their ship.
Book was unconscious bleeding all over the floor of the bridge. She found a med kit bolted on a nearby bulkhead and applied pressure to the nasty gash on his head. It was bleeding fast and bright red. He would die if she did nothing. The gauze quickly became soaked with blood; she grabbed more from the kit. She noticed her hands were soaked with his blood. But it wasn’t just his blood. She had another man’s blood on her hands, Slim Toni’s. She tried to push that thought out of her mind. He deserved to die, he was a thug and rapist. He had violated her daughter. Death by shotgun was too quick for him.
Book moaned and she removed the blood soaked trauma pads. The gash had stopped bleeding but it was wide open, roughly four centimeters long. He would need to be stitched up. Pei thought back on her experience on the freighter Deep Horizon, when someone got hurt, the old man, what was his name? Doc… took care of them.
She found a bottle labeled Emergency SkinBond, and applied it to the wound while pinching it shut. In a few moments she had it closed. It didn’t look pretty but she doubted an assassin cared too much about his looks.
With the medical emergency over with Pei washed her hands and returned to the diminutive bridge Book hadn’t moved from his undoubtedly uncomfortable position on the floor but at least he was breathing.
She left him to sleep in his forced slumber and peered out the alumaglass window at the debris field. Hitting the external searchlights she lit up the space junk. At first all she saw was random pieces of shredded metal. She burned the rear maneuvering thrusters for second sending the ship gliding slowly forward. She swiveled the lights looking toward the center of the field.
“Who were you…” She asked the jumble of steel, titanium, scandium, and plastic. A few minutes into searching Pei was about to plot a course back to Santo… or wait, she was now the captain. She could fly wherever the black could take her. Briefly she thought about dumping Book into the airlock, but thought better of it. Despite the evidence to the contrary Pei was not a killer. This strange man had saved her from an unfortunate fate back on that hole.
She felt alive again; it had been too long since she felt the freedom of roaming the stars visiting a new world every few days or weeks. A freedom that she now enjoyed due to the unconscious man lying but a few feet away.
“It’s time to open this book.” She said as she unbuckled her harness and began searching through his clothes. She found his document pouch and unzipped it. Inside was a standard Alliance Identcard, with his face and the name he had told her earlier, “Derrial Book.” Either he had been telling the truth or it was just another layer of deception.
She fired up the Cortex terminal and inserted his card into the console. Moments later she did a public records search. Once she found the right file she saw nothing remarkable or interesting, in fact his file was rather boring, only minor ship infractions nothing to tip off that he was a highly trained operative, or assassin. Pei laughed at herself thinking the public files would tell about secrets someone wanted left off the records. One interesting note was according to his documents he actually owned this little piece of go se they were flying in. She squinted at the display, the ship had been renamed, Blade of Lelantos. She would have to look up what that meant later. It sounded like something out mythology of the earth that was.
She disconnected from the Cortex and replaced his documents and returned to staring out the window at the debris. “I wonder what happened to this ship.” She asked the darkness. Her memories turned to her time aboard the Deep Horizon. It had been a grimy old rust bucket, but it had been her home for a few years. One day they came across a ghost ship, and old freighter drifting through the black, its crew presumed dead. Captain Kovaleski had wisely left it alone but Pei had remained curious as to why a ship that looked intact would be floating along with no one inside. Had she been the captain and not just a crewman she would have investigated it.
Now that she was acting captain Pei could scratch her curiosity. As she approached the debris field she found the largest part of the dead ship, a standard interplanetary container cluster. One of the four containers had a large hole that looked like it had been peeled open from the inside out. Jagged metal “petals” reached out from the box looking to shred any overly eager explorer’s vac suit.
Pei matched speed with the container with a short maneuvering thruster burst. The box was drifting and rotating slowly along, probably with leftover velocity from the explosion that had pierced the container.
“What secrets are you hiding?” She asked the micro meteor pockmarked steel box. Unfortunately it wasn’t telling.
Pei checked on Book again. He was sweating and his breathing was shallow but he was alive. Pei though about disabling the grav system so she could float him to the dorm but thought better of it, even in microgravity his mass wouldn’t be a picnic to maneuver.
Pei headed down to the airlock and looked around she hesitated at doing a solo EVA. As part of her pilot training she had to perform the three required simulated spacewalks and one live mission, but she hadn’t done it since then. Was there anything really that important in a piece of floating fānchuán? That’s when she found it. In a small vac safe container next to the space suits was a small Unmanned Vacuum Vehicle. Pei wondered how Book had the scratch to afford such an expensive piece of hardware.
She opened the container and examined the machine; it was top of the line Alliance. “So Book, where did you steal this?” Pei asked the little vehicle as she wheeled it into the airlock.
“I didn’t steal it.” He replied. Pei jumped and spun around, her heart pounded as adrenaline shot though her veins. The assassin was leaning up against the door frame, hand to his head. “What are you doing?”
“I… I was going to check out the cargo container.”
“What… cargo…” he winced and looked for a moment like he might hit the floor.
“The one you avoided causing you to bleed all over the bridge.”
“So, I blacked out then.”
“You probably shouldn’t be standing up for a while.”
“Pei, so you’re a waitress, pilot and surgeon?”
She shook her head. “No but working in Ben’s for so long I’ve seen my share of head injuries.”
Book would have laughed if he didn’t feel like splitting his skull open and scooping out his own brains to stop the pain. “Alright nurse Pei, you can play scavenger but I am going to watch.”
She closed the airlock and grabbed the portable control unit and they headed back up to the bridge.
“Let’s see what’s in Pandora’s Box.” She said as she piloted the UVV out the airlock into the black.