Chapter 3- Chigara

 

“This is the Sunrider, requesting permission to dock,” announced Ava over the communications system as Sunrider drew closer to the large, skeletal framework of the starship dry dock Asaga had directed them towards.

Kayto eyed the construct, impressed.  Large enough to easily accommodate the Sunrider’s hull, the dock had clearly been built with the intention of servicing even larger vessels, such as the slow, lumbering behemoths that carried extracted ore from Tydaria to the various clients the Mining Union dealt with.  Large robotic repair drones skated around on the skeletal frame of the dock, as though eager to attend to the work Sunrider brought to their home.  Slung underneath the dock, a series of large modules, undoubtedly containing all manner of starship supplies, fuel, and the like opened and closed their doors as robotic dollies carried goods to and from.  At the very front, a single habitation module, dwarfed by the sheer size of everything else on the dock, was revealed by the band of warm light pouring out of the window wrapping around the outside of the structure.

“Uhh… yes!  This is the Stardust Bakery, may I take your order?” came a young woman’s nervous voice.

Ava’s eyebrows nearly disappeared, rising up behind her bangs.  “Stardust… Bakery?”

“Yes!  We have fresh bread, muffins, sandwiches, and… Cupcakes!”  replied the woman, her avatar materializing on the bridge.  Slim and of light complexion, with pale lavender hair and sapphire eyes and wearing a baker’s outfit, the woman was clearly anxious, playing nervously with the bow on the top of her head.

“Captain…” sighed Ava, exasperated, “Don’t tell me…”

“Ahh, yes!  This is Captain Kayto Shields!” said Kayto, relieving Ava’s burden.  “We were given to understand that we might be able to negotiate for the repair and resupply of our vessel here.”

“Oh, of course… I should have known…” sighed the avatar from the dock with disappointment.  A second later, the avatar’s clothing morphed, putting the woman into a white lab coat of sorts.  “We do that here too.  With your permission, I’d like to scan your ship, Captain.”

Kayto nodded, surprised by the courtesy.  “Please.”

“Let me see… yes… nothing that we can’t handle here,” she said, consulting a scan of the Sunrider.  “Dock your ship, Captain, and I’ll come aboard.  We can discuss the details then.”

“Copy that,” agreed Kayto as running lights activated around the dock, guiding Sunrider into the cradle of machinery.  “We’ll meet you in our hanger bay; your partner is already on board.”

******

“Chigaraaa!  I’m home!” called out Asaga, waving happily as the mauve haired woman stepped aboard the Sunrider.

“And you’ve brought friends, I see,” said Chigara in a quiet, melodious voice.  Slightly shorter than Asaga, Chigara looked even younger than her partner, although she was clearly the more level-headed and mature of the pair.  Wearing a long white lab coat over an armored Ryder suit, blue, Chigara seemed to be a strange blend of professions; case in point the bakery/repair dock hybrid she operated.

“This is Kayto Shields, Captain of the Sunrider.  And the lady with him is Commander Ava Crescentia, the First Officer,” introduced Asaga, gesturing at the two of them.

“Ugh,” sighed Ava, disgruntled.

Kayto saluted, “Welcome aboard the Sunrider.  You must be Chigara; Asaga told us a little about you.”

Chigara giggled a little at the salute, a hint of pink entering her cheeks.  “Chigara Lynn Ashada, nice to meet you Captain Shields.

“So what’s all this about the bakery?” asked Kayto, curiosity piqued.

“Ah,” said Chigara, her face breaking into a passionate smile.  “Stardust Bakery is the best place in Tydaria to get any baked good; bread, pastries, cream puffs, sandwiches, we have them all!”

“It’s the only place!” butted in Asaga enthusiastically.

“Uhh… how’s business?” asked Kayto awkwardly, having a hard time imagining a team of burly miners placing an order for cream puffs.

Chigara sighed with resignation, “Not that great.  Everyone seems so much more interested in getting their ship fixed.”

“So why not just call it a dry dock?” asked Kayto blithely as Ava rolled her eyes behind his back.

“Oy, Oy!” interrupted Asaga, putting a protective arm around Chigara’s slumping shoulders.  “You can’t just shut down a girl’s dreams like that!  Chigara’s always wanted to run a bakery!”

“Maybe he’s right…” replied Chigara, somewhat dejected.  “It feels so awkward making and selling cupcakes next to starship fuel.  Probably illegal in most sectors too…”

“Way to go, Captain,” muttered Ava so that only Kayto heard.

“Uhh, well, this is kind of a strange planet to find two girls like you two…” observed Kayto, switching topics quickly.

“Not at all,” refuted Chigara, “The Mining Union operates tons of ships out of Tydaria.  With all the wear and tear hauling ore, pirate attacks, and what not, I’ve got my hands full repairing their ships.  Being close to all the ore and smelting facilities here also keep my costs lower than if I were to start up in another system.  So when Asaga and I got here, I rented out this dock from the Union and we’ve been patching up their ships since.  With all the good we do here, they’ve been very supportive of our efforts… except for the bakery.”

“I guess I meant more from a personal perspective.  Not too many folks who weren’t born into it come out to these mining worlds.”

“Oh, well I guess you could call me an adventurer too, just like Asaga,” said Chigara, waving dismissively.

“You freelance too?”

“Oh… yes, freelancing.  I do some of that too,” shrugged Chigara in a disinterested tone.

Maybe Ava’s paranoia was rubbing off onto him, but Kayto sensed something amiss with the story both Asaga and Chigara put forward.  Nothing malign per say, but not the entire truth either.  Internally shrugging, Kayto decided to drop the line of questioning; if the two of them weren’t sharing the full story, it wasn’t his business to pry anyways.  “Well anyways, let’s get down to business,” said Kayto.  “Sunrider needs a whole mess of repairs and we’ve got a pretty long shopping list of things we’d like to resupply on.”

Ava handed Chigara her holo, showing the ship’s depleted inventory and highlighting critical supplies they needed.

Prior to docking, Asaga had contacted the Mining Union to collect the bounty on the pirate ships they destroyed.  After verifying the combat records of both Black Jack and the Sunrider, the Union had obliged their request for a split fee, transferring the agreed upon funds to an account with their bank, one of the larger such institutions in the galaxy.  Although the fee had been reasonable for the work entailed, Kayto kept his fingers crossed that their account would cover the repair costs and leave enough for resupply.

“Looks like the damage is worse on your outer hull and electronics system,” said Chigara, showing them the scans from her dock.  “It won’t be too difficult of a job; I can probably have it done by the end of the week.  You and Asaga split the fee from the Mining Union, right?  The repairs here won’t cost more than half of your share.”

“Now I think you’re underestimating the job here,” said Kayto, crossing his arms skeptically, “Sunrider’s a top of the line military vessel; fixing her won’t be the same as scraping a meteoroid impact off a mining freighter.  Even my crew could barely get her critical systems back in a week; and they were trained to do that sort of thing.”

“Don’t worry, Capt’n!” assured Asaga as Chigara smiled demurely, “Chigara’s a crazy genius, you’ll see.  She’s never met a machine she couldn’t fix or optimize in her life!”

“Take a look at that relay over there,” challenged Kayto.  “Normally it regulates power for the whole hanger, but we’ve had to bypass the whole thing just to power this one bay.  When I overloaded our shields, it fried half our electric systems to hell, including this thing; it’ll take more than a prayer and whistle to fix something like that.”

Chigara pulled out a set of mechanics goggles from her coat’s deep pockets, pressing them onto her face.  “Doesn’t look too bad… the auxiliary feed looks like it too most of the hit.”  Reaching into a different pocket, she drew forward a multi-tipped tool Kayto had never seen before and a patch of conducting putty.  “I’ll just cut here and…”

“Hey, just a minute!” said Kayto with concern, stepping forward to stop her.  “That’s a live circuit, you can’t just-”

A sudden whirring stopped him in his tracks as the ventilation shafts coughed out a plume of dust and ash, coming back to life.  The catwalk’s lighting also intensified as the rest of the hanger’s berths lit up one by one.

“I’ll be damned,” coughed Kayto, brushing off his uniform and looking at the massive, now lit hanger, dumbfounded.

“Relay efficiency improved by roughly twenty percent,” announced Chigara.  “That’s probably all I can do until I get the rest of my kit.”

“See?” demanded Asaga smugly, “Told ya’ Chigara’s a genius!”

Chigara gave a delicate laugh, like china clinking, shrinking from the praise.

“Well… I guess that’s that,” decided Kayto, his mind settled.  “I’ll have Ava give you a temporary access all areas chip; you can start repairs as soon as you’re ready.”

Ava nodded, “I’ll oversee the repairs, Captain.”

“Great, looks like we’re in business,” smiled Kayto, shaking Chigara’s hand and closing the deal.  “If you need anything, give a call to the bridge or my office.”

“Will do, thank you Captain,” agreed Chigara happily.

******

“Captain’s log,” dictated Kayto to the ship’s computer in his office.  “We’ve been in dry dock for the better part of the last week; the crew’s been getting some well deserved rest and sleep while we’re in for repairs and resupply.  That engineer, Chigara, is really something; so far, we’re two days ahead of schedule for repairs and she’s gotten the Sunrider back to full combat capabilities.  The techs aboard Sunrider can’t stop talking about her and the repairs, bypasses, and fixes she’s been implementing all over the ship.  If we had someone like her for a Chief Engineer, I think we’d be set.  Well… I guess we’ll have to wait until our next paycheck before I can offer anyone a position; we spent the last of the fee from the Mining Union to resupply Sunrider’s armory and general inventory.  Not that I can complain, Chigara’s given us more than a fair deal and it’s less than half of what we would pay getting the goods off the black market.  I guess that Mining Union license is good for something.”

“We’ll be ready to set out again soon, so we’ll have to decide what to do about our two guests.  First Officer Crescentia still probably doesn’t trust them, but Asaga and Chigara have been invaluable to our mission since we arrived at Tydaria; I think they’d do well on this ship if they stayed aboard the Sunrider.  Maybe we should take Asaga up on her offer to take out those pirates and have her join our crew.  As for Chigara… my gut says she’ll go where Asaga goes.”

Kayto looked out at Tydaria’s orange globe and breathtaking rings for a moment, taking interest in what appeared to be a dust storm scouring part of the planet’s northern hemisphere.  “End Captain’s log.”

Stretching his legs and straightening his uniform, he walked out of his office with the intention of making his way to Ava, likely on the bridge during his absence.  As he walked casually down Sunrider’s corridors, he stopped to exchange salutes and pleasantries any member of the crew he ran across.  The general atmosphere was as upbeat as one could expect for a ship with a conquered homeworld, although Kayto arrived to the Sunrider’s CIC with the impression that his crew felt the same way as he did; eager to give some payback to the PACT in return for the favors they had received at Cera, but level-headed enough to understand that Sunrider needed to bid her time until the opportunity to strike presented itself.

“Captain on deck!” announced Ava, saluting as she saw Kayto enter the CIC; the bridge crew followed suit.  “Captain, I thought your shift didn’t start for another three hours…” inquired Ava as the bridge crew returned to their duties and Kayto approached the command dais.

“That’s right,” he nodded.  “I just wanted to touch base and plan out our next moves.  What’s the Sunrider’s status?”

“All systems green,” answered Ava with satisfaction.  “I’ll hand it to Chigara; she knows her way around a ship.  I expect she’s putting the finishing touches on her work here.  We’ll be ready to leave dock within the hour.”

“That’s good news,” agreed Kayto.  “Now we just need to figure out where we’re going.  Thoughts?”

“First things first; like you said, an assault carrier without Ryders doesn’t make sense.  We need to find Ryders and pilots before Sunrider even thinks about taking the fight to the PACT,” said Ava, putting a hand on her hip.

“We’ve already got one interested candidate,” pointed out Kayto.

Ava’s eyes narrowed slightly, pinning Kayto with her gaze.  With arms crossed, she was the model of skepticism.  “You should be careful with that one; I know her type.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Ava sniffed, “Asaga’s the type to look for thrill and danger.  You’re going to want someone more dependable than that.”

“Uhh… right…” said Kayto slowly, not entirely sure whether Ava was still talking about staffing Sunrider’s empty hangers.  “How do you even know that?” he demanded.

“Woman’s intuition.”

“But of course,” Kayto sighed, putting a hand to his brow, imitating Ava’s favorite move.  “Carry on, Commander.  The bridge is yours.”

“Aye, Sir.”

Kayto walked out of the CIC, chuckling to himself slightly.  Even after so many years, Ava hadn’t changed a bit since high school.  Those days, she had warned him from more than one girl he had dated, citing some fatal personality flaw.  In retrospect, he mused, she had been right more than once.  Still, Sunrider needed pilots and Ryders, and that was a fact independent of any intuition, a woman’s or otherwise.

Taking the lift to Deck 2, Kayto exited to the Sunrider’s hanger, now, comparatively, a hive of activity with the restored power and repairs aboard the ship, serving as a repository for the materials and equipment Chigara had brought aboard for her work.  Through the window, he saw that Asaga had scaled the Black Jack’s right shoulder, tinkering with an open panel on one of the laser cannons mounted onto its back.  Waving to catch her attention, he motioned for a word.

“Did you need me for something Capt’n?” asked Asaga, a smudge of engine grease on her cheek, after rappelling down the Black Jack and coming up to the catwalk via the lift.

“Sorry to interrupt, I just wanted to talk over our next few moves,” offered Kayto, apologetic at having made her take the trip.  “Is everything alright with the Black Jack?”

Asaga belted out a loud laugh.  “Thanks for askin’, but nothing ever troubles mah Black Jack,” she said, crossing her arms and closing her eyes smugly.  “Just doing a little tinkering to see if I could boost the power to Black Jack’s lasers.”

“Maybe you should let Chigara handle that,” suggested Kayto, Ava’s words fresh in his mind.

Asaga waved him off, “Hey come on, a pilot knows her Ryder best!  Besides, I was just installing a minor upgrade.  With the haul we got from the Mining Union, I figured I’d replace some of Black Jack’s older parts.  All it takes to upgrade a Ryder is cash for the parts and a ‘pretty please’ for Chigara!  She’s always got some kind of idea to improve Ryder systems.”

“How’d you two meet anyways?” asked Kayto.

“She and I go back pretty far,” started Asaga, happily launching into the story.  “I think we met about five years ago; we were both girls back then.  She was a refugee from a planet destroyed by a natural disaster or something.  Anyways, one day, I was walking and I saw a bunch of dirty guys scaring her in the middle of the street, so I stepped in to scare them away.”

“How’d that turn out for you?” asked Kayto, making a mental note to apologize for dismissing Ava’s intuition.

Asaga grinned sheepishly.  “Ehh… let’s just say I might have bitten off a little more than I could chew.”  Eyes misted with the past, the pilot touched her chin with an armored gauntlet, smearing more grease onto her face.  “I would have won in the end, of course, but luckily for those guys, Chigara took out this gadget and zapped them silly.  It didn’t seem fair to space a bunch of unconscious dudes, so I let ’em off the hook that time.”

“Lucky for you Chigara was there,” rebutted Kayto.

“Weren’t you listening to the story, Capt’n?” demanded Asaga.  “The fight was as good as over when she zapped ’em; I was just about to bust out my finishing moves.”  Waving aside Kayto’s disbelief, she continued.  “Anyways, we’ve been comrades in arms ever since!”

“So… about joining the Sunrider,” transitioned Kayto, getting to the meat of things.

Asaga’s eyes twinkled with excitement, “So have you decided to take my offer?  Help me take out these pirates and I’ll join your crew on the Sunrider.  Tydaria’s going to turn boring once those guys are gone anyways.”

“So that’s all you’re after?” probed Kayto.  “Just another chapter in your adventures?”

“Come on, Capt’n!” Asaga’s cheeks blew out slightly with exasperation.  “How often does a girl get to join up with an assault carrier?  You and your crew seem like a decent bunch, even that Ava lady.  Plus you’re after the PACT, right?”

“After what they did to our homeworld?” asked Kayto stoically.  “You bet.”

“We all heard about what they did to Cera,” said Asaga, her tone turning glum.  “A hero of justice can’t just stand by while they’re going around glassing planets for fun.  Somehow, I didn’t think you were the type that was going to just take it laying down either.  If we don’t do something now, the PACT’s going to keep on gobbling up planets and hurting people until they own the whole galaxy.  That’s bad for you, bad for me, bad for anyone who cares about justice or freedom.  The way I see it, we’ll be able to do a lot more together against the PACT than either of us can manage alone.”

“Your beef with them seems to run deeper than just that,” pointed out Kayto.

“Ehh… well… nothing as bad as planetary bombardment,” evaded Asaga.  “It’s more… personal.  Let’s just say I’m in it for the heroics, alright?” she said, pushing back.

“Fine,” said Kayto, letting the subject drop.  Honestly, it didn’t matter why she had pitted herself against the PACT.  The Neutral Rim was full of tales of woe regarding the PACT and digging for her personal tragedy was neither helpful nor appropriate.  Whatever her personal reasons, Kayto’s gut told him her grudge against the PACT was sincere and, that, he could appreciate.  “Tell me more about these pirates we’re going after then.”

Noting the “we,” Asaga’s expression brightened.  Crossing her arms with determination, she answered, “They’ve been terrorizing this sector for ages!  Nobody’s safe from them; merchants, what passes for military here, not even unarmed civilians.  That kind of thing just makes my blood boil!  Their main base is hidden in the Tydarian asteroid belt; I say we take Sunrider and go mess that nest up.  Let’s show them they can’t pick on civilians like that!”

“Hidden?” inquired Kayto.

“Well… not exactly.  We all know where they’re operating out of, but nobody’s got the muscle to make a move on them,” said Asaga unhappily.  “But now, we’ve got ourselves a bona fide assault carrier!  We’ll make quick work of ’em, Capt’n!”

“Alright,” said Kayto, coming to a decision.  “Let’s do this.  Welcome to the team, Asaga.”

“I knew you’d agree, Capt’n!” said Asaga with a smile, punching the air.  “Let’s whack those pirates good and, after that, I’ll put on one of your uniforms and we’ll take it to the PACT together!”

The two shook hands again, Asaga saying, “I won’t let you down, Capt’n! AH-HAHAHA!”

“Keep on practicing and you’ll give Cosette a run for her money,” smiled Kayto, turning back to the lift. “Try to keep out of trouble until the operation, Asaga.”

Asaga’s laughter doubled as the lift closed behind him and whisked him back to the Sunrider’s main deck.

******

“Eahh!!!”

Kayto took a hasty step back from Chigara, who dropped the holo she was carrying and inexplicably snatched the the hair ribbon off the top of her head, spinning to face him, breathing hard.

“Whoa!  Hey, I’m sorry; didn’t mean to sneak up on you like that,” explained Kayto, holding up his hands.  Curious as to why the lights in Sunrider’s workshop/engineering bay were on, Kayto had apparently startled Chigara in his investigation.

“Oh…” Chigara’s face flushed and she knelt to retrieve her pad and returned the ribbon to her hair.  “Captain Shields, I didn’t hear you coming…”  Calming down, she took a deep breath.  “Was there something you wanted, Captain?”

“Just taking a look around; I don’t think I’ve been here since Sunrider launched.  We’ve been flying without a Chief Engineer, so this workshop’s been kept dark since we left dock at Cera,” said Kayto, gesturing around the empty room.

“I see,” said Chigara thoughtfully.  “It’s an impressive set up; I didn’t expect a warship to have something like this on board.”

“I think Sunrider was always intended to have the capacity to independently upgrade or outfit her Ryders or even her own hull.  The brass meant for this ship to be the first in a new generation of multi-purpose starship,” said Kayto with pride.  “It’s impressive you’ve been able to repair our systems; it’s the only thing my engineering staff can talk about.  Even on Cera, these repairs would have taken a lot longer with a lot more labor to finish.  Where did you learn to handle machines like that?”

“Hmm…” thought Chigara.  “I guess it’s always been like that.  The people on my world were experts in technology, so I grew up around tech as long as I can remember.  There are only a few of us left in the galaxy, so it probably seems really amazing to you, but, honestly, back on my world, I was nothing special.  I wasn’t even particularly good at the sciences.”  Chigara paused wistfully before continuing.  “You should have seen my parents; they were amazing.  They were researching some amazing technology; advanced life support, Femtotechnology that allowed us to synthesize complicated machines from thin air… To tell you the truth, what I do here would have seemed like child’s play to my people.”

“That’s amazing,” said Kayto with wonder.  Likely, Chigara’s people had wielded technology not seen since the fall of the Holy Ryuvian Empire and, perhaps, even exceeded it in certain capacities.  “You’re from Diode, aren’t you?” he asked, the pieces clicking into place in his mind.

Chigara nodded.  Everyone across the galaxy had heard of the wonders of Diode, where technology rivaling magic and the legends of the Holy Ryuvian Empire were real.  A society built from intellectuals without peers, some had even postulated that the planet was established in secret as the flames of the Holy Ryuvian Empire burned low as a way to safeguard their secrets and technology until the time was right to reintroduce it to the galaxy.  Compared to the people of Diode, the other starfaring  planets and civilizations of humanity must have looked uncouth and barbarous.  And yet, despite their technology, Diode was no more, consumed by a backfiring experiment, resulting in the infamous “Diode Catastrophe” six years ago.  Save for a scattering of refugees, Diode had left no legacy beyond the stories children grew up hearing.  Although Chigara’s background explained her apparent affinity for the work aboard the ship, Kayto marveled at the odds of meeting someone from the legendary planet firsthand.

“I’m sorry,” he offered sincerely, having now known the pain of losing a homeworld as well.  “The Diode Catastrophe was a really terrible event… micro-blackhole wasn’t it?”

“Mhm,” affirmed Chigara sadly. “I was on my own after that, at least until Asaga found me.  I’m sorry… I don’t really like to talk about that day.”

“Of course,” Kayto nodded, “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to pry.”  The two stood in silence for a moment, each reflecting on their respective homeworlds.  “Asaga mentioned that you built the Black Jack for her, is that true?” asked Kayto, restarting the conversation.

“That’s correct,” said Chigara, coming to with a smile.  “Asaga used to pilot this old, surplus military fighter from the pre-Ryder era that she pulled out of the junk heap.  I was always scared to death she would crash, blow up, or something, so I built her the Black Jack.”

“It’s incredible,” said Kayto with wonder, “I’ve never seen a Ryder like it.  Back on Cera, even our most advanced Ryders would probably be outdone by the Black Jack.”

“Well… I didn’t need to worry about standardized parts or mass production for the Black Jack,” dismissed Chigara, blushing again and waving aside the compliment.

“You know, if you worked for an engineering company, you’d change the entire galaxy,” insisted Kayto.

“Well… then I wouldn’t be able to open a bakery…” Chigara’s expression was shy, but earnest.

Kayto laughed, “That’s true.  Do you pilot a Ryder too?”

“Yup!” said Chigara happily.  “I pilot the Liberty.  I built it around the same time as the Black Jack.  The Liberty is a support Ryder; I leave the gunning and fighting to Asaga, but if the mission’s tough enough, I’m right behind her as her wingmate.  Usually she doesn’t need it though; the Black Jack’s tough enough to fly solo most of the times.  The Liberty’s got automated repair drones, a full electronic warfare suite, and shield projectors.  Speaking of which, your shield generator’s fried beyond repair; you’re going to need to get a new one somewhere and I don’t have one just lying around the dock.”

“Ah… that will complicate things for the operation we’re planning…” mused Kayto.  “Asaga probably mentioned this to you, but we’re planning on taking out the pirate base in this sector.  I was hoping to have shielding on our side for this one.”

Chigara smiled, “That won’t be a problem, Captain.  I’ll take the Liberty in with you two and provide support.  So long as you stay within range of my Ryder, the Sunrider will have shielding.”

“You’d do that for us?” asked Kayto, impressed.  “I like the sound of that; we’ve got an awful lot of empty Ryder bays that we need to fill.”

“Sure, like I said, whenever there’s a tough mission, I’m right behind Asaga in the Liberty,” beamed Chigara.

“Great, bring the Liberty aboard; you can use hanger bay 02.  I’ll let the bridge crew know,” said Kayto, spirits high.

“Actually…” Chigara looked sheepish again, “Liberty’s already on board.  Asaga called me as soon as you two finished talking and I had the autopilot dock with your ship.”  Waving her hands defensively, she continued, “Liberty’s in bay 02 though; just like you wanted.”

Kayto laughed, “And I’m supposed to be Captain aboard this ship; sheesh!  No worries Chigara; thanks for the talk.  We’ll probably get ready to undock and find these pirates as soon as we batten down the hatches.”

“Thank you, Captain,” smiled Chigara one more time before returning to her holo as Kayto turned and left Engineering, making his way to the bridge once more.

******

No sooner had Engineering’s doors hissed shut behind him, Kayto’s bracelet chirped.  “This is the Captain, go ahead,” he said, answering the ping.

“Captain,” Ava’s voice came from his bracelet.  “Incoming call for you from the Mining Union.  Looks like Asaga’s contact wanted to speak with you directly.”

“Did they say what they wanted?”  he asked, although he suspected it most likely had something to do with the Sunrider’s newly restored Vanguard Cannons.

“Business, probably,” replied Ava.  “The Mining Union’s one of the biggest corporations in the galaxy.  They control everything from mining ore to refining it into high-grade starship armor.  Last I checked, they probably supplied half the navies in the galaxy with raw materials.  With all their investments, they contract a lot of their security needs out.  After what we did to the pirates, they probably want to talk about something along those lines.”

“I thought as much,” mused Kayto.  “This might not be a bad way to keep ourselves operating.  I’ll take her call in my office.  Thanks, Ava.”

“Roger that,” confirmed Ava, cutting the channel.

******

Making his way back to his office, Kayto settled into his chair and activated the FTL transponder which allowed the Sunrider to access real time communications across the galaxy.  A holographic projection of a severe woman, blonde and in her mid-thirties, dressed immaculately in an expensive suit,  appeared.  Straightening her glasses and picking at a microscopic speck of dust, the woman spoke quickly in a cold, professional tone.  “Captain.  I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.  My name is Sophita Brooks, Vice President of Operations for the Mining Union.”

“Captain Kayto Shields of the Sunrider, Cera Space Force,” said Kayto, introducing himself as well.  “To what do we owe the pleasure?”

Sophita’s expression betrayed a hint of amusement at his use of “Cera Space Force,” however, she let the moment pass without comment.  “A business opportunity,” she answered. “The Mining Union is always on the look out for reliable partners and… well let’s just say we don’t get the chance to work with a prototype warship or her Captain every day.”

“I’m listening,” invited Kayto.

“If you’re agreeable, I’ll have my staff forward you a dossier of contracts whenever our corporation wishes to engage the Sunrider’s… services,” said Sophita, all business.  “Of course, it’s entirely up to you whether or not to undertake the contracts, but, rest assured, the Mining Union will see you and your crew fairly recompensed.”

“What sort of contracts?” probed Kayto, not entirely certain he liked the executive’s tone and expression.

Sophita sighed, “Contracts of the sort that require a Big Stick, Captain.  We’re not hiring your crew to attend dinner parties and social functions; when the Mining Union requests your assistance, let us simply say we’d prefer a more direct and conclusive solution.  I’ll leave it to your imagination as to what that entails.  As I said; the contracts will be offered to you and your crew on an entirely voluntary basis.”  Shrugging as though she didn’t care one way or another, she continued.  “Furthermore, should your ship require our services, I would be happy to serve as your trade contact at the Mining Union.”

“Well that all depends on what you have for sale,” shrugged Kayto in return.

“All the basic necessities of a modern life and polite society,” offered Sophita with disinterest, examining her perfectly manicured nails.  “Tactical nuclear warheads and other such staples… Just remember, Captain, so long as you have the will and the money, the Mining Union will be more than happy to offer you our assistance.”

“The two forces more important than any starship,” nodded Kayto cynically, half-sarcastic.

“I’m glad we’re on the same page, Captain,” said Sophita dismissively.  “Finally, as a gesture of goodwill, I’m having my staff forward you the latest intelligence regarding those ruffians in the Tydaria system.  Needless to say, they’ve been a thorn in our side too long for comfort.  Although we appreciate your crew’s enthusiasm in pursuing them, we would rather the job be done properly.  We leave the rest to your discretion, Captain.”  Without waiting for his reply, the FTL transponder deactivated, ending the call from her end.

“Charming,” remarked Kayto to his empty office.  Studying the forwarded scans and documents, his face grew longer.  Raising his bracelet to his lips, he called Ava.  “Ava, ping Asaga and Chigara.  I want the three of you to come up to my office as soon as you can.”

CHAPTER 4 >>>>>>>