Of all the worlds to be marooned on, Algora had to be the worst, as far as Raven could tell. Sure, it had spaceport facilities but she couldn’t leave the port. This was a closed planet, its inhabitants subjected to archaic rules and regulations.
And her passenger… Raven ground her teeth. The annoying scientist had left a message for her at the front desk saying he’d be a day late. At least he pre-paid a room for her and he was paying good money to get off this rock. She’d wait for him, even though it irked her to do so.
She scratched her head, fingers grazing the tiny implant behind her ear, and pulled a few long strands of hair forward to cover it. The port’s medical facility had offered to remove the link-up to her navigational system but Raven politely declined. Artificial implants were one of the many taboos on this natural world.
Screw them. Her eyes glumly scanned the meager offerings on the menu of this backwater planet. For a pastoral colony, she’d expected the foodstuff to have more variety. At least they had transient spacer accommodations—if you could call a fold-down bunk and sonic-scrubber shower an accommodation.
Staring at the vid-screen on the ceiling while lying on her bunk—the only way to view the shivarking thing—Raven flipped through the channels. Nature shows and religious offerings bombarded her, all designed to promote their way of life. The only thing of interest was the history of the Oracle but Raven didn’t care to worship their deity so she shut the vid off and closed her eyes.
Why did her passenger want to get to Trivorn? Of the six planets Terrans colonized in this system over three hundred years ago, that one never became a real colony. Life was so difficult there the people soon abandoned it.
Raven imagined the next three weeks filled with scientific chatter from him and groaned. Maybe she could tell him he had to stay in his room.
Her implant beeped. Ben, her co-pilot, started speaking before she had a chance to acknowledge the call.
“Are you all settled in?” His quirky voice ran through a couple of octaves, making her smile despite their predicament.
“If you can call living in a shoebox settled in. I wish I could have stayed onboard the Vattra with you, blast their rules.”
“I’ll admit some of us have all the luck.”
“Yeah, well, just make sure they don’t find you. I don’t want to have to pay a shivarking fine on top of everything else.”
“I’m a BN-4. Discretion is my middle name.” Ben managed to plunge his vocalization into the lowest register of human hearing.
Raven snorted. “Just be careful. Hide or something until we’re ready to leave.”
“You worry too much. It stresses your delicate human digestive system. I can hear your bowels gurgling over the comlink.”
“Quit doing things to give me stress and leave my bowels out of the conversation. You’re disgusting.” Raven laughed as she disconnected. Leave it to Ben to put a smile on her face.
She left her sorry excuse of a room and headed down to the cafeteria, ordering a casserole that tasted like nothing more than protein paste. From her corner table, Raven watched the other patrons while she forced the bland food into her mouth.
One group sat with military precision, their uniforms clean and crisp. She didn’t recognize the insignia patch on the upper right sleeve but they must work for a large freighter. They ate quickly, without any conversation amongst themselves.
The other group sat at the small bar, voices carrying as they laughed and traded insults. One woman and two men, dressed similar to Raven in the unofficial spacer uniform—pants with multiple pockets, black boots, long-sleeve shirt and a vest with more pockets. She wondered if they were haulers or smugglers—or a little of both. Legitimate jobs could be hard to come by out here.
One of the men cast an interested glance her way but Raven ignored him. Casual romps weren’t her style and the last relationship she had didn’t end well. Flying solo suited her. Nobody to worry about but herself. Getting up from the table, she slid her food tray into the slot by the door and went back up to her cubicle to get some sleep.
The next morning Raven was down in the lobby by sunrise, looking for caffeine to clear the muddle from her mind. A nice-looking man walked by her, carrying two cups of coffee in his hands. He smiled as he passed, his dark blue eyes twinkling in the dim light. Raven surprised herself by smiling back. Too bad he wasn’t her scientist. The trip might not totally suck with him aboard. He walked up to the desk while she continued to scan the travelers.
“I’m looking for Raven Daniels. Could you call her room?”
Raven turned at the sound of her name. It was him, Mikael Something-or-other. “I’m Raven,” she said and walked over.
“Then this must belong to you.” He grinned and handed her a cup. “I’m Mikael Turner. I apologize for not being here yesterday. I stopped in to see my parents and say goodbye.”
Raven released the breath she’d been holding, chastising herself for reacting with her hormones. She didn’t know anything about this man. He could be married, for all she knew.
“That’s okay. I, uh, was expecting someone older.” Nice one, Jen. Complete your disgrace by getting tongue-tied. Would you like to kiss him next? “Thanks for the coffee. Are you ready to go?”
He held out his arm. “Lead the way.”
They walked in silence toward the pad that would take them to her ship. When they got closer, she called Ben on her comlink. “Start the check, Ben. We’re almost there.”
“Ben is your pilot?”
“No, I am but with Ben along I don’t need any crew.” She watched his eyebrows raise.
“I’m impressed. I have a confession of my own to make—I thought you’d be older too.”
Raven laughed and relaxed. This guy didn’t seem like a stuffy scientist type. Maybe she wouldn’t have to banish him to his room after all.