The Dragonstone made an uneventful approach to the planet and landed at the freight port on the outskirts of the only actual city on Faraway, unimaginatively called Faraway City.
“Colin, make us a reservation someplace that has a large bathtub and I promise I will tots make it worth your while,” Rory said to him as they went through the shutdown process for The Rock.
“Your wish is my command oh exalted leader,” he replied.
The comms console beeped for attention as their backload of messages downloaded.
“Our passenger has sent a request for her and her party to leave early,” Colin said.
“Like immediate departure.”
“Tough shit,” Rory said. “We need reactor mass and I need to soak in a tub for about a month and then fuck my Contract until he can’t move. They can wait until schedule.”
“As…absofuckinglutly amazing as that sounds, Skip, they’re offering double the charter fee.”
“FUCK I knew there was something hinky about this charter,” Rory fumed. “How iron clad is that contract? Can we break it?”
“Not without some serious penalties babe,” Colin said. “Like wipe out our savings penalties and that leaves us here without enough cash to get fuel or even pay the port fees.”
“Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck and FUCK,” she cursed. “Rock, what can you tell me about our passengers?”
“Our charter is for Sheila Livingston, citizen of Earth,” the ships computer answered in it’s mellow baritone, sounding like the bad guy in that silly space opera 2D Colin loved so much. “She is a physicist of some note. She’s published several works on quantum entanglement theorizing that…”
“I don’t need the details on that,” Rory said, stopping him. “Why is she on Faraway?”
“There is no data available for me to answer that,” the ship replied.
“Is she currently employed?” Rory asked.
“She is listed on the faculty of Universidad de Nueva Espana as a department chair. She’s on sabbatical.”
“What about the other 2?”
“They’re listed as employees,” Rock advised. “Luke and Lee Anderson. They are a contracted couple. Mercenaries registered with El Union Federale.”
“Shit,” Astra hissed.
“They weren’t on the manifest when she booked,” Colin said. “‘Research assistants’ was how the booking was made with biographical details to be supplied for customs and immigration upon boarding. It’s pretty standard.”
“What the fuck does a physicist need with a pair of mercs,” Rory swore. “Well, they’ve got us by the tits. Colin, dear, you and I will have words about this later. If we’re gonna get fucked we can make them buy us dinner first. Take the money. Accept the contract change with the caveat that we need to take on reaction mass. We can leave as soon as that’s completed.”
“Roger captain,” a subdued Colin replied.
“So much for my bath,” Rory sighed.
The comms panel dinged again.
“Uh, Rory, we just got bumped to the head of the line for fueling and the charter requests transport to the ship. Also, our bank account just got substantially fatter.”
“Rock, send the pickup to collect our…guests,” Rory said coldly.
The Dragonstone had a utility ground transport vehicle as part of it’s manifest. Colloquially called a pickup for reasons no one really understood, it was a basic box on wheels able to transport 8 humans or 10 tons of cargo. It had all wheel drive for it’s six wheels, was amphibious, could be pressurized and allowed for manual control or full control from one of Rock’s subroutines. In this instance Rock would handle the pickup.
“Dee, we’ve a change in plans,” Rory said, hitting the intercom. “The charter wants an immediate turnaround. We’ll be picking up reaction mass but that’s it. Issues?”
“None skipper,” she replied. We’re ahead on routine maintenance, I just wanted to see if I could tweak some extra efficiency out of the old boy.”
“Thanks Dee. We’re making more than we thought on this run so we may be able to buy some new toys to help you.”
“Fuckin’ A captain! Fuckin’ A.”
Rory killed the intercom. “Colin, how are we fixed for consumables?”
“We stocked up before we left Nova Terra so we’re full. Reaction mass doubles as drinking water and I got them to flush our gray water and black water tanks while tanking our reaction mass so we’re actually ahead of the game.”
“If you’re trying to get back in my good graces, this is the way to do it,” she conceded.
“What if I add in a backrub?” He asked.
“Minimum of forty minutes actual massage before you can fuck me and it’s a deal.”
“Babe, I can limit it to just a massage if you want.”
“Let’s not be hasty Purser,” she said. “Listen to your Captain.”
“Aye, aye ma’am.”
“Captain, I have the passengers,” Rock said. “The mercenaries are wearing body armor and are armed.”
“FUCK, just as I was starting to feel better,” Rory swore, rubbing her temples. “Rock please patch me through to the passengers.”
“Hello Doctor Livingston, this is Captain Rory Phillips of the MVV Dragonstone. Welcome. I’m given to understand that your research assistants are armed? May I ask why?”
“Hello Captain,” a slightly accented contralto replied. “I’m sorry there must have been some confusion with my travel agent. These aren’t my assistants, they’re my bodyguards and are registered as such. They’re licensed to carry blasters by El Gubernamento. Transmitting all the necessary permits and clearances to you now.”
Rory looked at Colin who nodded and gave her a thumbs up as he read them on his screen.
“I see. Well you really should have words with your travel agent as that’s a rather large…mistake. Of course they’ll need to surrender them to my Purser as they board. We allow no personal weapons on The Dragonstone. They’ll be locked in the ship’s armory for the duration of the flight and will be returned upon arrival at our destination.”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” Dr Livingston replied.
“I’m afraid I must insist,” Rory overrode her, “and if you look at our contract, page seven, para six you’ll see weapons are on the list of prohibited items. Your failure to comply is a violation of your charter and revokes our agreement as well as penalizing you the full cost of the charter. That’s standard Federale Contract language.”
After a moment, Livingston responded brightly, “Of course Captain. It’s not like they’ll be needed anyway, we’re perfectly safe in your care. My bodyguards take their jobs very seriously is all. We’ll be happy to abide by all the terms of our contract.”
“Thank you doctor, looking forward to meeting you,” Rory said and killed the call.
“Want me to armor up to meet them?” Colin asked seriously. Colin’s role on the Santa Maria had been Marine Detachment Commander. He held a reserve commission as Major (Retired) with a very impressive rack of ribbons. There was a lot more to him than his somewhat buffoonish persona let on. He liked to be underestimated.
Rory thought a moment. “No babe, let’s play this like a normal charter. Be Guy Smiley to my Captain Ahab but scan the shit out of them. I don’t want them to keep so much as a pocket knife while they’re onboard. Rock, you’re authorized to monitor these passengers at all times while onboard and you will notify Colin or myself immediately if there’s any deviation from normal routine.”
“Aye, aye, Captain,” Rock replied.
“Astra, Dee,” Rory said, cuing the intercom. “I want the ship prepped for immediate lift once these people are onboard. Astra, Rock, don’t engage the turret yet, but I want the pickup to stop 50 meters out from the ship. If those mercs point a weapon at Colin or me I want them vaporized. Record this order.”
“Ready to record Captan,” Rock said.
“I am concerned with the safety of the MVV Dragonstone and his crew. I, Rory Phillips, Captain, authorize the use of deadly force in the event one of our passengers, see manifest 453-21, creates the threat of violence or disobeys a lawful order of the crew. End recording.”
“Wow skip, you think that’s necessary?” Astra asked.
“Fuck if I know but I’m not taking chances.”
“You got a feeling babe?” Colin asked.
“Agita maybe but no, not yet. But this stinks Colin.”
“Yeah it does.”
The pickup stopped where directed and Rory and Colin went down the ramp to meet them.
“That doesn’t look like any physicist I’ve ever seen,” Rory whispered in an aside to Colin.
Colin snorted. “What does a physicist look like?”
“Not like a cross between a sim star and a high priced courtesan,” Rory replied.
“Don’t be parochial love,” Colin said.
“Put your tongue back in your mouth and go greet the passengers Purser,” Rory chided.
Colin did his welcome to the Dragonstone spiel, all smiles as he greeted the passengers. The woman, wearing resort wear and simple jewelry that cost as much as the pickup, stepped forward. The two bodyguards, heads on swivels, scanned the landing field for threats. Colin couldn’t help but approve their technique.
“Dr Livingston, I presume? Welcome to the MVV Dragonstone, or as we call him, The Rock. I’m Colin Phillips, the Purser and this is our Captain, Rory Phillips. As you might guess, the Rock is a family owned business and we like to think we treat all our guests as family. Your cabin is ready and we’ll get your baggage stowed. I will need to collect your blasters and any other personal weapons you may have.”
“Lee, Luke, please comply with Mr Phillip’s request,” Dr Livingston instructed them.
While they unloaded a small arsenal, Livingston went on, “Captain and Mr Phillips, thank you for accommodating my last minute request and for your understanding. Please call me Shiela. I’ve made a very startling discovery and simply must get back to the Universidad with my findings without haste. I appreciate your flexibility.”
“Dr Livingston,” Rory replied, ignoring the invitation to first name status, “Is it usual for a physicist to have armed guards?”
“Frankly Captain, it’s very unusual but sadly necessary in this case. I’ve received some very credible threats from some very unsavory parties.”
“I see. And do those parties pose a danger to my ship and crew?” She asked coldly.
“Likely not once we’re off planet,” Livingston said.
“In that case, let’s get off planet,” Rory replied.