March 8, 2268
As he sat at the main bar of the Echo 3 Club, one of the numerous taverns in Coridan’s sprawling capitol, Garadun took a sip from his tumbler of Andorian ale before fingering the leather thong around his neck. He drew it from beneath his shirt and held the small jewel dangling there, looking at it thoughtfully. To him the flawed, five centimeter-long crystal wasn’t much more than a token, a thing of sentimental value because it’d been a gift. But to the galactic population at large it represented enormous wealth and power because this rare mineral was vital to the heart of most starships. It was dilithium, something Coridan had in abundance.
The sliver in Garadun’s hand was too small and too filled with imperfections to be of any industrial use. Similarly flawed crystals were sold as jewellery all over Coridan; it was in fact where his had come from. He didn’t find its semi-translucent, pinkish colour very appealing and never would’ve bought it for himself. But when a good friend, your best friend in fact, gives it to you as a present, you accept it gladly.
A chorus of laughter made him look away from his crystal shard, and he turned in his seat to see a group of five Starfleet officers having a boisterous time at a nearby table. They were still in uniform, which of course made them all the more noticeable. Two tables away were three more, although less noisy.
Garadun frowned. Coridan wasn’t what he’d call a full-blown regular destination, but he’d been to the planet several times since starting his new life among the stars, and he was noticing a lot more red, yellow and blue shirts walking around these days. The world had only recently joined the United Federation of Planets; yet despite that, Starfleet had made an effort to make its presence felt. It had nothing to do with the Federation’s high-minded (and in his opinion hypocritical) principles. It was all about the dilithium and nothing more. They wanted to make sure the Orions and the Klingons and the Tholians and everybody else knew that one of the galaxy’s richest sources of dilithium was theirs now, so stay off the grass.
He’d heard on the grapevine that the latest Starfleet vessel in orbit and waving the flag was the USS Darwin, a Ranger class scout ship. The officers here had to be part of its small crew. Well, small when compared to something like a Constitution class, which had a crew compliment of over four hundred. The Ranger carried less than fifty.
Tucking his necklace back under his shirt, Garadun rolled his eyes at the latest bout of alcohol-assisted laughter and turned away just as someone dropped into the seat beside him. Well, perhaps dropped wasn’t the right word. The way the woman sat down was sensual and graceful and alluring, her movements precise and artful; like a dancer but a hellavalot sexier. A cropped shirt that exposed her arms and entire midriff, a knee-length skirt slit to the hip, calf-high boots, and some pieces of tasteful jewellery comprised her outfit; exposing a lot of soft, green skin. Her long black hair was artfully tousled and her deep blue eyes were filled with promise, as was the smile she gave him.
To not look at her would have been impossible, so he didn’t bother trying. He took in the sight of her, appreciated what he saw, and then looked away.
“You’re not Starfleet, are you?” she said, her voice sultry and alluring.
“What gave it away?”
His sardonic tone threw her for a moment, but she rallied. “I’m Aaleen.”
Garadun lifted his glass. “Cheers.”
“What’s your name, handsome?” she asked, gliding a finger along his left arm.
“My name is Not Interested,” he replied in passable Orion, giving her a smirk. “Look, sister, forget it. You either working girl – and no offence but I not sleep with pros – or you setting me up for fall. We talk, get cosy, you seduce, we go somewhere private at you suggestion, and then couple ‘friends’ will beat my ass and take all I have. And if lucky, I be able walk afterwards. Have I got it right?”
The girl gaped at him in total shock. He laughed.
“I served on a ship where half the crew was Orion,” he told her, switching back to English. “Look, I got nothing against you. Lady’s gotta make a living, right?” He jerked his head. “Try the Starfleeters. They’re on leave. Bet they got loads of credits.”
The Orion woman stared at him, and her expression of shock turned to amusement. She gave him a slight bow of the head. “I apologise. I took you for a punter.”
“No problem,” he said affably.
“Have a good evening,” she said, laying her hand on his arm, and he could see now that she meant it. He gave her a smile.
Aaleen winked, slid off the chair, and sauntered over to the table where the Starfleet crew were drinking. Garadun chuckled. They wouldn’t know what hit them. Everyone knew about Orion women, had heard all the stories. But the thing was this: if you didn’t actually spend time with them – not sex, but real social time – then you didn’t know a damned thing. Yes, they were beautiful and erotic and naturally talented in bed, and had the pheromones to back it all up. But they were as complex and intelligent as any humanoid women out there, with an equally wide range of personalities.
“So who was that?”
Garadun looked over and his smile became a grin. “Oh, just some girl.”
“Really,” said Cera as she sat in the vacated seated.
“Her name’s Aaleen,” he explained as Cera watched the Orion woman. “She mistook me for a mark. I clarified things.”
“Well, fair enough,” she said, looking at him again.
“So, birthday girl, whaddaya wanna do?” he asked cheerfully, swivelling in his seat. “The whole day’s yours and I’m buying.”
“I appreciate that,” she said fondly, then glanced around. “How about we go back to the hotel for a bit? I’d like to rest before dinner. Then we can go somewhere fun.”
“Sounds like a plan to me.” Garadun downed the last of his drink, wincing slightly. Andorian ale definitely had kick. He rarely drank, but it was Cera’s birthday and she’d turned thirty years old, a traditional milestone. Although by Vulcan standards she was still a very young woman. However, she thought of herself as a Human with pointed ears and green blood. She’d never even been to Vulcan.
As they left the bar together, Garadun noticed Aaleen looking at them. She met his eyes and gave him a congratulatory nod and smile. She probably figured he and Cera were a couple. It was a common mistake people made. Women assuming he was taken did nothing to help his non-existent lovelife, but he was long past caring.
Garadun was alone in the universe, a man literally out of his time, and if you’re in those circumstances and have even a gram of sense, then you cherish your friends. Cera Rigel was his very best friend. The closest friend he’d ever had, actually. That she was beautiful and half-alien was simply a really cool bonus. Her pointed ears were exquisitely shaped and her green eyes held a merriment Vulcans couldn’t grasp. She kept her long, lush, dark brown hair in an easy-to-manage style, and she had an amazing figure which she adorned in fashionable attire.
Cera slung her arm through his and they started walking back to the hotel. “So you think we’ll be able to find some new positions anytime soon?”
“I don’t see why not,” he said, shrugging. “You’re the best engineer I’ve ever known, and I’m not a bad pilot.”
“You’re an excellent pilot,” she insisted, squeezing his arm. “Especially in a shuttle.”
“But they have to take us together or forget it,” she said emphatically.
Garadun grinned. “I’m good with that.”
The Coridan InterStellar was one of a handful of Earth-imported establishments that could be found in the capitol. It was a mid-range hotel; not luxurious, but the place was clean, safe, and the rates were affordable. The décor was authentic Earth-style (as was the food on the restaurant menu) and the vast majority of the staff were Human. Garadun wasn’t xenophobic in the least. Most of his acquaintances these days were aliens. But after trolling around the galaxy for a few years he’d come to value a taste of home. Especially when it came to food. For him, being able to eat an actual hamburger with a side of fries, all made from genuine Terran ingredients, was priceless.
They were crossing the lobby and discussing dinner plans when the concierge called out to Cera from the front desk. They walked over.
“What is it, Mr Berman?” Cera asked.
“This gentleman has been waiting for you all afternoon,” Berman informed her with a wave of his hand, and they turned to see a well-dressed Human man get up from a lobby couch and start over, briefcase in hand.
“And you are?” said Cera curiously.
“Samuel Cook, special counsel for Caswell, Peters & Ledwith,” he replied, offering his hand. Cera shook it, and then he passed her an old-fashioned business card.
Oh great, a lawyer, Garadun thought, managing not to say it aloud.
Cera gave the card to Garadun. “And what do you want with me, Mr Cook?”
“I’m here because of your late grandfather, Anthony Rigel,” Cook told her. “I don’t know if you’re aware of it, Miss Rigel, but you were in his Will.”
A look of reawakened grief crossed Cera’s face. “No, I had no idea at all. Grandpa died over a year ago. Why are you here now?”
“You turn thirty today, Miss Rigel. That’s when you come into your inheritance, according to your grandfather’s wishes and instructions.” Cook glanced around. “But these are matters which should be discussed in private. May we go to your room?”
“Of course,” she said, still a little disoriented. She took Garadun’s arm for moral support and they escorted the lawyer to the room they were sharing. Cook noted the two separate beds but said nothing. A good attorney was nothing if not discreet. Cera sat on the end of one of the beds and Garadun stood by her, his body language very protective; something else Cook took note of. He put his briefcase on a table and opened it.
“I’ll come directly to the point,” said Cook, taking a set of papers from his briefcase. “As you know, your grandfather was a member of Starfleet, serving for much of his long career aboard the USS Pearson.”
“Yes, of course I know.” Cera felt her temper rising. “Was that a crack about my own very brief stint with Starfleet?”
“Not at all, Miss Rigel,” said Cook, genuinely surprised. “I’m simply stating facts.”
“The reason I mention it, Miss Rigel, is because it relates directly to your inheritance.” Cook handed her the papers. “Anthony Rigel made a lot of friends and contacts during his career, and his estate was considerable.”
Cera nodded. “I know. He made sure Grandma was well looked-after.”
“Indeed. But not all his estate went to her. There were bequeaths throughout the Rigel family, as you know. Nor were you forgotten. This is yours now.”
“What is it?” Cera asked, looking at the papers.
“A starship,” Cook supplied, and she and Garadun stared at him in disbelief. “The details are all there. But in brief, it’s an old freighter. From what I understand it’s seen better days, but it’s space-worthy. You now hold the title. The ship is waiting for you to claim it at the Vegan Maintenance and Refurbishment Centre, at Vega VII.”
Cera was flabbergasted. “Grandpa left me a spaceship?”
“And this letter.” Cook handed her an envelope. Cera put the entitlement papers on the bed and opened the envelope. Inside was a handwritten letter.
If you’re reading this, it means you’ve turned 30 and have come into
I know I was the reason you joined Starfleet. Your ol’ Grandpa sat you
on his knee and told you amazing stories of his adventures out in space. Your
Uncle Morgan just retired from his post at Starfleet Command, and as I write
this your cousin Zoe is serving at Starbase 6.
Do NOT let ANYONE make you feel bad about yourself, Poppet. If I’d’ve
been there I would’ve decked that son-of-a-bitch myself. NO-ONE talks
about my daughter like that, or my granddaughter. I’m PROUD of you for
defending your family.
To be honest, Poppet, I was always a bit surprised that you did join up.
Of all my grandchildren, you were the wild one, the one who refused to play
by the rules. Seems ironic, considering you got that logical-minded blood in
you. Then again, Vulcans are all hotheads under the surface, aren’t they?
Never get them to admit it, though.
When you walked away from Starfleet after decking that son-of-a-bitch,
that didn’t surprise me. Nor did it surprise me when the Jack-A-Dandy
snatched you up for Engineer’s Mate. You’re a hell of an engineer, Poppet,
and I’m very proud of you.
But it’s time for you to really make your own way in the world. You’ve got
the skill, the talent, and the guts. All you need is a ship.
Which I now leave to you.
Give ‘em hell, Poppet.
All my love,
Cera’s vision blurred as tears filled her eyes, some of them dropping to splash on the letter in her hands. Garadun quickly got her some tissues from the night table and she wipes her eyes and blew her nose.
“You okay, love?” Garadun inquired softly, kneeling beside her.
Cera gave him a smile, wiping her eyes again. “Yeah, I’m okay. Thanks.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Here, read.”
Garadun read the letter, and a smile grew on his face. He wiped the corners of his own eyes at the end; it was very moving and touching. He gave it back.
“Your grandpa sounds like he was a great guy.”
“He was the best,” Cera agreed wholeheartedly.
“If you’ll just sign here, Miss Rigel,” said Cook who’d been discreetly waiting, and offered her a document and pen. Not electronic, but the real thing. Evidently Caswell, Peters & Ledwith was an old-fashioned law firm. Cera looked for an empty space at the bottom, put the paper on her leg, signed it, and handed it back.
“Thank you, and congratulations.”
“Thank you, Mr Cook,” said Cera. “I appreciate you coming all the way to Coridan.”
“All part of the service, Miss Rigel.”
“I’ll see you out,” Garadun offered.
“Thank you,” said Cook and quietly left the hotel room. Garadun strolled back to Cera who was rereading her grandfather’s letter.
“So, your own ship,” he noted with a grin. “Congratulations, Captain Rigel. And Happy Birthday! Talk about an awesome birthday present.”
Cera looked up, wide-eyed. “Captain?”
“It’s your ship, so you’re the Captain, right?” he said, spreading his hands. Garadun laughed. “Captain Cera Rigel! Oh, this is too amazing! All your Academy classmates are stooging around on their Starfleet ships and Starbases; and here you are, now the Captain of your own ship! You deserve it, beautiful.”
Cera jumped up and hugged him, whooping with joy. “Thanks, Gar. And you’ll be my First Mate! I’ll look after the engines, and you can fly her. Deal?”
“Me? First Mate?” said Garadun, his turn to be surprised.
“Of course! As if I’d choose anyone else,” she said warmly. “So, deal?”
“Deal.” He hugged her tight. “You and me, girl.”
“Always.” Cera let go and beamed at him. “Now we just have to get to Vega.”