A round-robin story
Part 10 by Allen Billings © 2006

Sandra and Matthew entered their parents’ courier ship, Sandra carrying the package in her paws. Matthew closed the outer lock, as their parents started up the engines to depart the Starwave. As the ship left the hangar, Sandra began to scan the package.

While the pair of fox morphs were examining the package as per their parents’ instructions, the scanner reported only sealed biological materials within. Sandra smiled, before she shut down the scanner and picked up a pen. She wrote quickly, ‘Transported via Night Hawk by Sandra and Matthew Steppes, to Starbase 2.’

She set the package aside into a locker, as the twins’ father walked past the doorway.

"You two doing alright?" he asked. "We missed you being on the bridge."

Matthew spoke first. "We had to take care of a quick chore, Father."

"But now we're free," Sandra said.

"Good, because it's your turn to handle a rotation on the bridge, while your mother and I grab a short nap."

"No problem, Father," replied Sandra.

"We'll set the course to Starbase 2," finished Matthew.

"You know you don't have to talk like that," Colin snorted. "You're not exposed to anyone else."

"We know, Father," said Matthew.

"We just like to do so," spoke up Sandra.

Colin merely shook his head, then walked on down the hallway. His voice echoed back. "Don't forget to recall the Zulus, once we're out of the Starwave’s sensor range!"

The twins merely grinned, remembering the crazed older human they'd met years ago. The grapevine through the merchant’s subspace messages said that Neal had picked up a bunch of kids who were currently traveling with him. Of course, having met him, they had automatically disbelieved the news media attempt to smear him of having been part of the Humanity First rioting at the New Kiev spaceport.

It didn't help that their parents had known Neal Foster for far longer than they had been alive either.

When Neal had advanced the idea of several merchants combining their buying and transportation capabilities, their parents had thought it over for only a few hours, before jumping in. Now, over fifteen years later, they shared several ports with the Folly, exchanging cargo with Neal for cargo they could carry to other ports that were out of his path. In turn, Neal had left four Zulus with the Night Hawk and, when possible, assisted in keeping the Hawk’s engines tuned to peak efficiency.

The twins stepped onto the bridge, each taking a station control to check the Hawk’s status. Matthew smiled as he noted that the ship was running smoothly, while Sandra sent the pulse that alerted the Zulus that had been parked outside of the system, to charge up and speed past the Hawk. The Zulus took point and drag, along with one on each side of the ship in a rotating pattern to extend the Hawk’s sensor systems.

For the next four days, the Night Hawk blew through space, slowing down only when the Zulus had to stop and dock for reloading their fuel supply.

"We should be coming up on Starbase 2 in two more days," Matthew said, as the family was seated for the mid-day meal.

"I'll be glad to stretch our legs again on a planet," continued Sandra.

"Agreed," said their father, passing out the filled plates with food to the twins. "I'll be glad to have some fresh air once more," he continued.

"Well, I for one would like to know what's our next shipment is going to be," stated Samantha, their mother, as she took a bite of her ham sandwich.

"After this run, we'll be headed out to the Arios system, to drop off some extra supplies for the colony there," as Colin checked a PADD he'd brought to look over the cargo listings. He passed it to Samantha, when Sandra spoke up.

"Is there a chance we could meet with Neal?" she asked.

"We'd like to meet some of the kids he has with him," continued Matthew.

"Sorry, kids. Not a chance until after Easter," replied Samantha. She was the ship’s navigator, and was able to pull up the expected meeting places the rest of the Folly’s Friends network of ships had on their normal routes at need. "Unless something happens to cause him to speed up once more," she finished.

The two kids shrugged. They knew the odds of catching Neal was low, but at least they had the consolation that they would meet sooner or later. After all, that was the normal way of things when you lived on a merchant ship. You caught your friends when you could, and sent video messages when you couldn't.

The family finished their meal with the normal chatter of relaying information between them about different news they'd caught over the subspace net. The news from Earth about more Humanity First attacks caused Colin to shudder. "I'm just glad we're no longer having to go back to Earth anymore," he said. "It was bad enough just five years ago, but now...." He shook his head. "At least, I'm glad I got us all away from ever having to do anything with Raynor Industries ever again."

"Amen," replied Samantha. "I could never get over the feeling like they were just waiting to grab our ship, then kick us out of it once they had it."

The twins shrugged, not having known what their parents were talking about, but that didn't stop them from finishing their meals. Once the meal was over, it was study time for them.

The Night Hawk dipped into Chakona space, slowing down rapidly as it exited subspace. The four Zulus peeled away, to take up a holding pattern at the edge of the system until the Hawk was leaving Chakona space once more.

"Starbase 2, this is Night Hawk. We're inbound and our E.T.A. is estimated at just shy of four hours."

"Confirmed, Night Hawk. Be sure to follow your course for the next ten minutes, then turn onto a heading of bearing 21.4 degrees for six minutes. That way, you'll avoid getting too close to the Spinning Wheel."

"Acknowledged, Starbase 2. Ten minutes, then we make a course correction."

Matthew punched in the numbers under his mother’s watchful eyes, who nodded as the ship’s computers accepted the command.

"Confirm change in nine minutes, twelve seconds," she told Colin.


"What's this Spinning Wheel?" asked Sandra, curiosity evident on her face, as she ran communications. "I mean, just what is it?"

Colin chuckled. "Oh, that's right. Here, you'll all get to see what it is," he said as he shifted a ship’s long range camera, and pointed it towards the forward area of their course. On the screen, popped up a huge solar sail craft, its sail spread widely and reflective under the light from the star itself. "The Spinning Wheel was launched since our last visit here."

"Isn't that supposed to be the core of a new mining outfit?" asked Matthew, as the Night Hawk continued to slow down, before it began its turn. This caused the forward camera on the Wheel to lose the view, before Colin shifted back to a normal view of the ship’s forward course.

"Indeed. It was designed to be that, yet the main core was found to be too large to be built easily on site, so the core was built in orbit around Chakona. Then, the sail system was hooked to the core, and that's dragging it out here."

Once the Night Hawk was past the sail ship, the rest of the inbound flight was normal. Or as normal as possible considering the large number of ships that were parked with, or orbiting slowly along with Starbase 2 around Chakona.


Continued in The Package, part 11.

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