Joseph walked with the salesmen to his new ship. It was used, but new to him. It had been rebuilt after crashing into EPSO 8, out on the perimeter of this solar system, killing everyone aboard, including the copilot bolted and sealed in her stasis room. The crash had flickered off the inertia canceller permanently and everyone on board was lost in a rather tragic and messy accident.
According to the record's sphere, a meteor of just enough volume had slammed into the vessel cutting off most systems just as it was landing on that distant atmosphere free moon, and that was that.
"There you are Mister Wately. She's all yours," smiled the pretty saleslady Have a good lift."
"Thank you Marian for all your help. So long."
Josef followed the cargo ramp up its rather steep artificial hill and entered the medium sized, one man cargo ship. He tapped the door closed to the strong temperate wind blowing off the north end of the field and was glad to be onboard and alone for once. It was a local run government facility, on this planet that controlled all space ports, here, and he wanted out of there. He never liked these anal kind of worlds where the locals controlled so much, especially free trade.
He dropped his one personal flight bag on the deck plates and rushed forward. He was anxious to get out of there and report to yard sixteen for his cargo he'd set up before the sale had been completed. He wanted a good used ship and this one being a rebuild and re-supplied, especially with that somewhat questionable copilot, was all bought at a bargain-based price. It fit the bill perfectly.
"Can you start the warmers, Angela? I want to get out of here as soon as we're cleared."
"Certainly, Captain. So. You bought us, huh?"
"Yes. Quite the deal, too."
"I suppose I had something to do with it, didn't I?"
"Yes. They did mention it but without specifics and I didn't ask what they were. All they said was you were a bit quirky."
She didn't seem to be offended. "Warmer on line. Grave field ready when you are. Why didn't you ask about me?"
"Okay. We've got clearance," he said without answering her question. "Let's take her up," he announced without strapping into the pilots chair, pulling back on the control stick and guiding the craft in a low altitude adjustment to the ground. Those six meso's to the cargo yard would only take a minute or two.
"Would you like me to strap you in, sir?" she asked, seeing he wasn't.
"No thank you. I'm too nervous to be confined right now. I just want to get our cargo and get the rocket off this planet."
"I know you're looking out for me. Thank you, but we're okay."
"I am, but we're traveling at a hundred and twenty meso's a minute. If something else hits us, you're going to bounce around a bit."
"Isn't the inertia canceller on?"
"That only works after a six minute warm. We're just barely into hover stage. I really wish you'd strap in. We've still got more than half a minute till touch down."
"Any traffic around us?"
"Quite a bit, yes."
Joseph sat back in the chair and said, "Okay, go ahead. She could strap him in faster than he could do it himself. The crisscrossed webbing fluttered into place and Joseph moved the chair closer to the dark bordered flight consol to guide the ship in the last few seconds of flight.
When they touched down Angela announced, "Yard sixteen, bay seven," while he stabbed at the strap release button beneath the cockpit chair's arm, then jumped to his feet.
"Keep the warmers going," he told her. "We won't be here long."
He almost jogged to the ramp opening, and quickly lowered it. The loading crew and small, compact cargo were already on the perimeter, waiting. He walked briskly their way and took care of the formalities, noticing a first time fee on the electro sheet for cargo severance. They didn't know him and so couldn't trust him, completely, this first time. He hated that fee, even when he worked for Epsilon Industries, his former employer. It could sometimes mean as much as three percent of your profit margin and that was almost stealing, in his opinion, which didn't matter to cargo transfer companies a whole heck of a lot, did it? He'd just have to live with it.
It took roughly ten whole minutes to load and secure the draft pallets and Joseph actually jogged back to the pilot's consol this time. He had asked Angela to get lift clearance as he came back.
"Don't you want to check the securing mechanicals before lifting, sir?"
"Thanks for reminding me, but no. Not this second. I noticed a bunch of aggravated people on the other side of the office, trying to get through. I think they were coming for me."
"I see," the voice said, and then, "You're clear to lift on vector three, seven..."
"I see it, thanks."
Just as the ships landing struts retracted and a micro second before the grave drive threw up its protective atmosphere shields, they both heard a pinging noise, and then several more, and then it was silent except for the ship's engines and machinery getting up to speed.
"Looks like they got through and took a couple of shots our way. Any damage?" he asked.
"No sir. It was small arms fire. Who were they?"
"Some people that didn't like it that I won a lot of money from them. That's how I paid for this ship."
"Did you cheat them?"
"No. I won it fair and square in a card game. They're gangsters, though, and in their world no one wins but them. They'll cool down in a couple of years but it'll be a lot longer than that before I return to this place. They'll learn to accept the fact that they lost this one, eventually."
"I see, sir."
"I hope you don't, completely. Gambling for me is a bad habit. I've sworn it off a number of times but it's always a weakness in me that takes me back to those smoky rooms."
"So this wasn't a casino?"
"Oh, heaven's no."
"Why go to gangsters to gamble, then?"
"They give better odds but usually no one collects even if they do win. They just wake up in an alley somewhere with a big head ache and some broken bones, if they're lucky. The casino's have a nicer tactic. They merely ask you to leave and you can't make money if you're winning all the time. They don't like it either, but their refusals of letting you be there are just about the same results, in the long run. They black list you from playing, too, from world to world. It's all crooked."
"So what 'is' the appeal?"
"I don't know. I don't need to gamble. I've got plenty of money. I suppose it has a lot to do with the excitement and surprise of the winning. In my case, though, how many times I can win hands in a row."
"You're that good?"
"Well, yes. I have some hidden abilities most people wouldn't appreciate my having, if they knew."
"I don't suppose you'd like to share them with your co-pilot, would you?"
"The less you know, the better off you'll be. And no. I'd don't want to share them. No offense."
"None taken. In a galaxy of wonders, I have no doubt you have hidden abilities. There are a number of races that are banned from gambling. Apparently you're from one of them, though I can't distinguish which one. You certainly seem completely human."
"I'm not exactly from one of those races, but that's a good guess. I came about it by accident, actually, my, shall we say, gifts."
"Plural, huh? You have more than one, apparently."
"Clear for flash drive. Grave fully on line," she supplemented.
"Coordinates set?" he said.
"Lane clear and field open."
The ships readouts jumped to impossible abbreviation of alpha numeric numbers, though inside the craft, no feeling of accelerated motion was present with the inertia canceller active.
"ETA is fourteen hours, 'S', (standard time), twenty-nine minutes to Queka Industries, Eppie one, zero, five.
The two continued their conversation as if nothing had interrupted it.
"Yes. I have some, uh... , well, several things I can do to help me win, but I'm not infallible. I have my limits and silly human weaknesses."
"Can I get your card info? I'd like to know who I'm working for."
"Um ... in a little while, yes. I've got some things to take care of on the pin-beam. I want to know what happened in that bay after we left."
"If you mean the gangster's coercing information about your heading from the ground crew, it probably hasn't happened, yet, don't you think?"
"Maybe you're right."
"So -- the card?"
"Something first. I want to be addressed as simply Joseph, Okay."
"Yes sir. That will be easy enough to adapt to."
"And please, no sirs. Just Joseph."
"Alright, Just Joseph."
"No! Simply, Joseph."
"I was joking, Joseph. I am alive, you know and with a sense of humor."
"And kind of a smart aleck, too, I take it?"
"Yes. Are you sure you don't want to know why you got a ship's symbiotic so cheap?"
He thought about it for several moments.
"Well, don't over think it, will you?" she said.
"I'm sorry. I don't like getting close to people. I don't need to know."
He didn't answer.
"People get hurt and die, it's been my experience in the past. I've been close to people before. I haven't been able to cope well with their passing as well as some people, maybe. Forgive me if I'm a little cold or distant. I don't purposely mean to hurt your feelings. I'm just trying to relieve my own pain for the future."
"But doing that, you will only be more lonely than necessary, and in pain, all the more, whether you loose someone close to you or not. It's a flawed philosophy to live by."
"Maybe it is." Joseph paused and then reached into the inside breast pocket of his leather flight jacket. He rifled through his several cards and found his I.D. which contained his qualifications, histories, and education, and a myriad of other bits and pieces of information. He put it in the reader slot for her.
"Don't make a big deal out of this, Angela, like most people do," he said, and tapped the 'READ' bar on the consol.
The electronic feeds to her mind filled up almost instantly with his life and nearly every detail of it. It took less than three seconds and was usually kind of a rush for a symbiotic copilot.
Joseph heard a gasp over the speakers that gave very life like sounds of the sealed off copilot in her chamber. Everything had hit as if at once, he knew. They, the copilots, were so acute to that reading that most listeners felt the voice was being spoken right beside their heads and it often caused the passengers, or in this case, a single man flyer such as his, to let themselves sympathize and endear themselves very intimately to the poor souls that ran and looked after most of the ship, most of the time, encased and helpless insider their protective chamber. He wasn't immune to it, he knew, but tried very hard to be, though that simple gasp had gotten to him. He hope she was all right.
Joseph waited, and pulled the card from the slot, knowing the download was completed.
"You poor thing."
"Do you ever talk about it?"
"Going through that much surgery and rehabilitation, don't you think you should?"
"That's what they tried to tell me at the institute. I declined."
"Seventy percent, though?"
"Yes. I'm almost an android, it seems."
"So -- that's your secret to winning. You can see through things, calculate and predict outcomes, almost everything a gambler or an explorer, or even a spy, would need and envy. You're almost a computing robotic. You'll probably never age or die, either, will you."
"So it would seem -- I'm told."
"And you are of royal lineage. Why are you running around the galaxy risking your life when you don't have to?"
"You're making a big deal about it."
"No I'm not. I'm your co-pilot. I can't be forced to release any of these intimate details and you know it. Get over it and talk to me. I'm your symbiotic slave, your friend. No one's ever going to know what we say here. Talk to me."
Joseph stood up and walked around the smallish cockpit compartment, and then left.
Angela let him go without comment. With the thousands of micro sensors and hi resolution micro camera's on board, both inside and out, she knew where he was, exactly, and could continue to edge him on, if she wanted to, but she could easily sense his difficulty at discussing his past. Something they hadn't touched on was the loss of his young wife, barely two months married. She wouldn't bring it up, either. It was way too painful for him, she knew from the medical reports. She couldn't, wouldn't do it.
She sensed something unrelated to their discussion and with her full capacity of mind at her instantaneous disposal, she needed to inform him immediately and activate their counter measures. She did and the small, almost feeble, defensive arms they had at their disposal, were quickly put into play.
"Unknown object approaching aft. Intersect in eighty-three seconds."
Joseph dashed back to the flight controls and checked the readouts.
"A transition missile?" he said, unbelieving. "That's gotta cost more than what I won from those clowns."
"Intersect in sixty-three seconds."
"Fire everything we got for a three second burst, then release a counter drone with ship's hallow."
Science Fiction /