Short Story Excerpt—“Botany Bay”

“Okay, Hal, give me some good news.” It had been ten hours since I spoke with Kara, and the clock ticking in the back of my head wouldn’t let me rest. Hal, for his part, stood in front of my desk looking uncomfortable in that ridiculous uniform he wore.

“There isn’t much to tell, Jonah.” He tugged at his collar, an unsuccessful attempt to allow blood to flow freely to his brain. A man’s supposed to have a neck, right? “The cameras are non-functional in most of the ship, particularly in that area. Your description is more of the damn pistol than of the assailant, and even that was no help. Those things are pretty common,” he finished with a shrug.

“Yeah, but how did it get on my ship?” I asked, my voice flat.

“Jonah, you of all people should know that an operation of this size has holes that you could fit a troop ship through. There’s just no way to monitor the comings and goings of every scrap of material through our docks. Hell, I bet there are at least three people aboard right now without authorization.”

“Now that’s just unacceptable.”

“Don’t worry, they’ll be gone by the time we’re under way. People are pretty clear about the penalty for stowing away on a colony ship.”

I drummed my fingers on my desk while he stood coolly over me. “All right,” I said, “but make sure it gets dealt with before we leave.” I stood up, “And see if you can find the colossal idiot who is using a beam weapon on board a ship in orbit before they take another shot at me, okay?”

“Hey, if you can tell me who might want to kill you, I might have a little more luck in that department.” His grin told me he knew there were probably any number of people who might want to do me harm. None of those should be aboard, though. Besides, I was confident none wanted to kill me, especially since all those disagreements were long before I struck gold with the whole “I found an alien” thing. My old enemies were now more interested in hitting me up for a loan than exacting revenge.

“Can’t help you there. All my old sparring partners are, like you, on the payroll.” He just laughed and shook his head. Hal still bragged about the time I took him down in a fair fight. Fair, of course, was a relative term, and what he didn’t know couldn’t hurt me. Since he was nearly a head taller, and outweighed me by 30 kilos of mostly muscle, I felt no shame in how I managed the feat.

I waved him to follow, and we started out. I don’t think we got within a meter of the door before it burst open, and Graham barreled through like a tug hauling a loaded supply ship. That was because there were three people attached to his stern being dragged in his wake. Yes, the man was old, but as my security detail was learning, he was by no means frail.

“Get off me!” Graham, face beet red, shrugged off his human anchors like an old coat. The three men stepped back, but continued to eye him warily. Graham snorted once, and turned to me and said, “I heard something about you being shot at last night. That true?”

“Oh, I think he was more scared of me than I was of him.” Hal, for his part, snickered quietly.

Graham poked a surprisingly hard finger into my chest, and growled, “Don’t try to play the fearless leader with me, boy. You’ve got a problem on this garbage scow, and it needs to be handled properly.” He turned sharply on Hal and shook his finger in the man’s face, “And you! You need to get your shit together and find out where that damn pistol came from.”

Now anyone who knew Graham as well as I, knew this outburst was just a tad out of character. Okay, yes, the man had a temper, but I rarely saw it accompanied by fear.

Oh.

“Kara called you, didn’t she?”

He turned back to me to give me another load of crap, but I beat him to the punch. “And she gave you hell over it, didn’t she? Probably blamed the whole thing on you, and you figured to come in here and get things moving to get her off your back.” I smiled. “Am I right?”

Somewhere by the doorway, one of the guards whistled softly as the rest suddenly discovered something interesting about their boots.

Hal smiled from ear to ear and said, “Damn, that woman’s good. Got us dancing to her tune all the way from Earth.”

“Shut up,” Graham said, the wind gone from his sails.

“Tell you what old man, you can accompany Hal and me on our rounds.”  I placed a hand on his shoulder, and tried to look at him reassuringly.  I was pretty sure he didn’t buy it, but he at least nodded his head and turned to walk with me.

“You’ll tell Kara I gave it a shot, right?”  He leaned in a little closer and stage-whispered, “Between you, me,” he hooked a thumb at Hal, “and that fencepost… that woman scares me.”

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