Starheart – Chapter One
“We’re gonna get boarded, Jess.” Santh glanced up from his console, where Confederacy Battle Cruiser Defender, sleek, dark and weapons hot, dominated the display. Jess read the ‘oh shit’ in her first officer’s eyes.
“Santh, we’re chugging along on our way to the space station, minding our own business. It’s got to be routine. Let me do the talking.”
But even so, her heart hammered. She’d been boarded before, by teams from Nordheim Militia’s patrol frigates, but this was the first time she’d ever seen a battle cruiser in this part of the Confederacy.
“Saintly Maid this is Confederacy Battle Cruiser Defender. You will shut down all drives and prepare to be boarded. If you fail to comply you will be attacked.” A crisp military voice barked instructions, sharp and to the point, no visuals.
“Saintly Maid to Confederacy Battle Cruiser Defender. Message received and understood. Welcome aboard.”
If they brought InfoDroids with them and they searched thoroughly… She pushed the thought away.
“Shut us down, Santh. I’ll pop off and fix my makeup. Might as well look the part.”
Jess headed out of the bridge, through the freighter’s common room and into her own quarters. Let’s see now, what did she have suitable for a military boarding party? She rummaged through her wardrobe and selected the dark green uniform. The pants accentuated her long legs and if she left the jacket unbuttoned over a white shirt, she’d give them something else to think about other than the cargo. She pulled out the clasp holding her hair back and let the blonde mane hang around her shoulders. A little bit of makeup, but not too much, and she was ready.
“Just in time,” Santh said as she slid back into the captain’s chair. “Their cutter has attached to our airlock.”
The airlock status gauge flashed orange. Airing up prior to release. The numbers rose… seventy, eighty, ninety. The gauge glowed green. Jess pressed the hatch release. The boarding party appeared in her view screen, eight people, suited up in black, helmets on. The spheroid shape of an InfoDroid drifting beside them sent a shiver down her spine. Even her security couldn’t beat one of those. Still, even an InfoDroid would need to scan the right place and they hadn’t the other times. She crossed mental fingers and hoped her luck hadn’t changed.
Three of the boarding party, InfoDroid in tow, clumped off to search the cargo hold. Two started searching the common room, and the other three… She rose to greet the trooper who stepped onto the bridge. The other two, both armed with laser rifles, stood outside.
The leader took off his helmet, revealing an attractive young man staring at her with unabashed admiration. “Er… ma’am… Are you Captain Jestinia Sondijk?”
Jess smiled. “Correct, Lieutenant…” She checked his name patch, “…Douglas. And this is First Officer Santhias Dekstra.”
Douglas cleared his throat and stiffened into a more military posture.
“You and your first officer are to be transferred to Defender for interrogation, ma’am, while the boarding party makes a thorough search of your ship.”
Her nerves twanged. “Oh? Is there some sort of problem, Lieutenant? We’re on our way to the space station to dock. I wouldn’t want to miss my arrival slot.”
“Those are my orders.”
“We’ll comply, of course. Please,” she thrust out a hand. “Lead on.”
She followed the officer through to the airlock off the hold and into the cutter, Santh at her heels. This was unexpected. And scary. Usually they searched the ship, looked at the trade manifestos and left empty-handed. She exchanged a look with Santh. He’d know enough to keep his mouth shut. If this trip was intended to unsettle them the move had worked. The butterflies in her stomach were performing a salsa.
The warship’s side loomed like an apartment block with a few lighted windows. The cutter aimed for the window with the flashing light and slid into the vessel’s interior. A few minutes for the airlock to air up and they were out. Jess sniffed the air. Not even a hint of mustiness or cooking. Their filters were obviously better than Saintly Maid’s.
Jess and Santh walked together, the troopers behind them, while Lieutenant Douglas led the way to a transit foyer, where he pressed a button to summon a car.
Jess stared around her at clean grey walls and floors, and a row of no less than ten lifts. Strewth. The buttons went up to thirty. Thirty levels. This ship was huge. A group of people appeared from a doorway, also heading for the transit foyer. Three senior officers. She fixed her ‘not sure why this is happening but I’m being co-operative’ expression on her face as they approached.
Well, well, well. The captain, a senior commander and a rather dishy admiral. Tall, thick brown hair, heavy eyebrows over blue eyes that right now were shifting his gaze over her body and most especially down the carefully-judged split at the front of her shirt. She smiled at him, taking care to adjust her hair while she did so. Now what would a Star Fleet admiral be doing at Nordheim?
Beside her, Lieutenant Douglas and the two escorts stiffened to parade ground attention.
The admiral stopped in front of her, still staring. “What have we here, Lieutenant?”
The look in his eye sent a sexy shimmy down her spine. No prizes for guessing what was on his mind right now. And under different circumstances, she wouldn’t mind. No, not at all.
“Captain and First Officer of a suspicious ship, Sir. The Saintly Maid. They’re here for interrogation.”
Jess widened her eyes. “Suspicious ship? Oh, really, Lieutenant, you must have mistaken the Maid for some other vessel.”
The admiral grinned. The transit car the senior commander had summoned arrived with a gentle ping. The captain and the senior commander both had their bodies pointed towards the open door but the admiral lingered, gazing down at her.
“Delightful to meet you, Captain…?”
“Sondijk .And equally delightful to meet you, Admiral…?”
“Hudson. Ullric Hudson.”
She gave him a long, hard once-over, her gaze traveling slowly down his body and back up to his eyes. “Welcome to Nordheim, Admiral Hudson.”
He chuckled, jerked his head down in a brief nod and followed the two officers into the transit.
Douglas herded her into the waiting transit car, then selected a destination on the key pad.
“Just visiting, Lieutenant?” Jess said as the car rose. “We’ve never had a battle cruiser on our patch before. I thought they were busy keeping the ptorix hordes at bay.”
His lips jerked in a smile. “The admiral doesn’t share the orders from the High Command with the likes of me, ma’am.”
No, he probably didn’t. Admiral Ullric Hudson certainly looked like a man in charge. Those three wide bars on his shoulders denoted a fleet admiral, a very senior rank for a back-water like Nordheim. Interesting. She’d have to ask a few questions back home when she got a chance.
The transit car slowed, causing that familiar rising feeling in Jess’ stomach. The door slid aside to reveal an anonymous grey corridor lined with doors at regular intervals. A large sign between each pair of doors announced 4-D in red to the left, in green to the right. They took Santh off into one room and marched her along to another. Grey walls, sensors in the corners, a desk with one chair on the side nearest the door, and two chairs opposite, both occupied. She suppressed the sigh. These two wore Nordheim Militia uniforms. She should have known the local planetary border control would be involved in this raid.
She didn’t recognize these two. The middle-aged male commander’s swift up-and-down revealed suitable appreciation of her presentation but the hard-faced female sergeant looked like she’d swallowed vinegar. Knowing Longford, their commanding officer, he’d probably chosen the woman specially.
“I’m Commander Harcourt,” the man said,” and this is Sergeant Box. Please sit down.”
Jess walked the three steps to the chair on her side and sat.
“I expect you know I’m Jess Sondijk.” Jess put on an engaging smile. “What would you like to know?”
“Perhaps you can tell me where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing in this last voyage,” the commander said.
“I’m sure this warship’s scanners have already pulled my navigation system and my cargo manifests, Commander. And you would have had my voyage plan and cargo manifests from the space station. But … I left Nordheim with a cargo of local manufactured goods; vases, carvings, beads and jewelry, dresses, bolts of material headed for the markets at Kentor. I managed to sell most of my stock and came back with some precision cutting gear which should fetch a good price in the manufacturing sector here.”
The man grunted. He clearly already knew this. She’d play his little game.
“How long were you there?” he asked.
Jess pulled a wry face. As if he didn’t know? “Three days at the space station. It cost me a lot in docking fees, I can tell you.”
And gave her enough time to shift the cases of fine wine and Pyrrhian silk that weren’t on the manifest to the GPR ship parked in the level below.
“We have intelligence indicating you met with representatives of the Galactic People’s Republic.”
“Oh, ‘met with’ is a bit over the top. Exchanged a few words in a tavern, more like. When did that become illegal?”
“When the transaction involves smuggling.”
Jess threw her arm over the chair back and crossed her legs. His gaze strayed to her breasts. “I’ve nothing to worry about.”
“Your ship is being dismantled as we speak. If we find contraband you can expect a jail sentence.”
“Yes, I kinda guessed that. I hope the boarding party has a good time. I’m an honest trader, Commander. If those people break anything on Saintly Maid, I’ll send the Fleet admiral the bill. And a complaint to Longford.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Admiral Longford.”
She folded her arms. “Whatever. You report to him. I don’t.”
He jerked his lips. “In the meantime, you’re under suspicion. I’ll leave you with Sergeant Box,” he said, rising to his feet. “She will perform a strip-search. I’m sure you’ll understand.”
Jess kept her face straight. A strip-search? Strewth.
The door swished closed behind the commander.
The sergeant smiled, if that screwed-up expression qualified, stood and pulled a pair of thin gloves out of her pocket.
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