| Southern Glory
Alternate Universe (Star Trek - Little Ezra)
This is my take on a little Ezra story. The story is set in the original Star Trek Universe time period. This is an open universe and if anyone desires to they can use any of the original characters. Hope you like it.
Six-year old Ezra Standish held on to his Mother's hand tightly as they exited the shuttle. They followed Captain Natalie Scott across the freighter's shuttle bay; their footsteps echoing loudly in the silence for their shuttle was the solitary transport in the huge bay. They had to step carefully to avoid tripping over the debris that was scattered about the floor. As they neared the doors leaning into the ship's interior Maude Standish asked the Captain a question.
"Captain Scott, what condition is the ship in?"
Scott turned to her boss and co-owner. "All the major repairs are done, but she's still a mess, the last crew and Captain were " the Captain remembered at the last minute that there was a child listening to their conversation and ended with. "Weren't very tidy. The ship itself is sound. Once we clean up the clutter the last crew left and replace or overhaul some of the systems she'll be almost as good as new."
"Can you do that while we're underway?"
"We have a client "
"That was fast." The captain broke in pleased to hear they had a job.
"Who wants us to transport supplies to a colony word out on the edge." Maude finished.
"That's why. There are not a lot of ships willing to go that far out, not enough profit in it and it's dangerous." Scott sighed. A job would mean they'd have money coming in and they needed it to get the old girl into shape. "We'll need weapons, I won't put my crew at risk with out a means to defend ourselves." Scott told her.
"Of course Captain," Maude handed her a credit slip. "That's the last of ma funds, use it well."
Captain Scott took the slip. "You realize if we don't do the repairs while were in a space dry-dock it's going to take more time? Trying to get the repairs done while we're underway, with a cargo to deliver will definitely take longer least a year, maybe more."
Ezra looked around as his Mother and the Captain talked. He wasn't sure yet if he was going to like this place, but there did seem to be a lot of interesting stuff laying about that he'd sure like to get a closer look at. Maybe later he told himself as he followed his Mother into the freighter's interior regions.
A year later...
The freighter now named the Southern Glory was no longer showing her age. Not that she was an old ship, but she had been used hard and badly over the years. The large space freighter this day was a much happier ship. The Captain and crew that sailed on her now actually cared for her well being; a change from the crews who in the past stuffed her cargo bays and decks with freight. Then pushed for as much speed as possible, for as long as they could, till her engines screamed and threaten to fly apart or melt down.
The past year had brought changes. Slowly new parts were replacing old or damaged ones. Each piece was newer and stronger than what had been there originally. She even had weapons and shields. No longer would she have to turn tail and run when trouble popped up. She was a brave ship and knew she didn't always have to run. Sometimes it was better to face down a bully than have to deal with him another day.
The crew was gentle with her as they replaced parts. They talked to her as they went about their work and Glory listened. She learned many secrets that way. Not that she'd ever tell, this was her crew. She was going to be as loyal to them as they were to her. She could have pride in herself now. She had a real crew and Captain to care for and one that cared for her. A crew that was going to stay with her, not use her for one run and then discard her at the end of the trip.
Her Captain, the Glory liked the sound of that, her Captain. Captain Natalie Scott called her a lady and treated her as such. This Captain was staying, for she owned a part of the Southern Glory. Glory wasn't sure which part as all the ship was getting a make over and the Captain went everywhere. There was another owner; the Captain called her the majority owner. Glory wasn't sure what to make of the woman. She was frequently off ship and when she was here she and Captain Scott would often make loud angry noises at each other.
Afterwards they'd go to their cabins and habitually talked to themselves or address their remarks to her, as if a space freighter could help them sort out their thoughts. Glory listened to their worries, it was the only way she could help them. The ship learned much about the two women this way and wondered if they realized how alike they were.
Captain Scott worried about the crew and the ship. Could she keep them safe and employed. Was she fixing things on the Southern Glory in the right order? Was she doing right by everyone as the Captain? Would she be able to get them in and out of whatever foolishness Maude got them into on the next run?
The other owner, the Captain called her Maude. She also worried about finding jobs for the ship, keeping everyone working and the money coming in. But there was more for her to worry about. The Southern Glory was her only asset, the only home she had for herself and her young son. If she failed in this endeavor she would have to return to Earth and ask her family for help. They would help, but for a price. A price Maude wasn't willing to pay. For their assistance they would demand her son be placed in their custody. It was the last thing Maude wanted to happen. Ezra was all she had left of her late husband, Patrick Standish. All she had to do was look into their son's face to see him once again. She would make this business enterprise a success; she had to. She would not lose her darling boy.
The child, any child was something new for Glory. There had never been any children on the freighter before. Though she was just as big as any of the old generation ships, she had been build after their time. The time when the massive freighters had been family owned and operated. Crews had to bring their families with them as they worked the long trips that could last for years. Parents and their grown children worked side by side to keep the big ships operating. Younger offspring went to school and played on the lower decks. With newer and better technology, ships were faster and took fewer crewmen to maintain. A voyage that once took a year now took only a few weeks. Times had changed and the people who worked and owned the great ships had as well.
The child, Ezra Patrick Standish was his name. Maude called him that when she had trouble waking him to start the day shift, the rest of the time it was just Ezra. He too talked to Glory mostly at night when he was supposed to be sleeping. In his exploration of his new home Ezra had made friends with the Chief of Engineering, a veteran of many a space voyage. She told Ezra about other ships she had served on and the adventures she had. One thing that stuck in the little boy's mind as he listened to Chief McNally's stories was all the ships the engineer had sailed on had had personalities. When asked if the Southern Glory had a personality the Chief had answered yes. You could tell that by the way the ship responded to the way she was being treated now. The lights shined brighter and the reprocessed air smelled sweeter now that she was being treated as a lady and not a piece of junk to be discarded after being used. She was trying her best to repay the kindness the crew was showing her. Everything responds to a kind word or a gentle touch be it organic life or a machine. The engineer told the child this and meant every word.
Ezra had thought it over and he agreed; the Southern Glory had a personality, therefore she must have feelings. He added Glory's name to his prayers along with Mother's, Captain Scott's and Chief McNally's. He had heard his mother talking to the ship after fighting with the Captain and decided he could too. The little boy needed someone to tell his troubles to. He didn't want to bother his Mother; she had enough to worry about. The nannies and tutors who were supposed to take care of him when Maude wasn't on board paid little attention to him when Ms. Standish wasn't around. As Ezra was an independent child he didn't mind too much the lack of attention.
He went off to explore the ship keeping in the areas he was allowed to be in (most of the time). He met some of the crew and made sure (as his Mother told him) not to get in their way as they did their jobs or make a nuisance of him self. The Captain wouldn't like it. Most of the crew liked the six-year old and tried to make him feel accepted. Still every thing was new and strange and he was lonely. He missed his old life on Earth. He understood why mother had to leave him behind on her business trips but he didn't like it. Daddy had never returned from his last trip and he lived with the fear that one day Mother wouldn't come back from one of hers.
It wasn't long after Ezra had come on board that he discovered the vent in his bedroom. It was for air circulation and maintenance. The duct behind the vent's grill was small by adult standards but huge by a child's. Ezra could fit in easily once he figured out how to get the grill off its supports and then fit it back on the wall. This was his gateway to explore the ship unsupervised. Ezra made his plans and gathered his supplies. This was going to be a great adventure and he wanted to be properly prepared for anything. The possibilities before him were endless, as long as he didn't get caught.
Patrick Standish had been a great fan of the western writer Zane Gray and had read the author's works to his son. He had given a complete set of Gray's books to Ezra when it became apparent that his son read and understood far beyond his age group. Both Father and son were Western fans and together read of the lives and times of people who had settled the North American continent. The characters in the stories had always taken supplies on their journeys out west and Ezra wasn't going to do differently on his quest.
He waited till his Mother was off ship and his nanny had sent him to bed. The nanny wasn't in the habit of checking on him so he wasn't afraid of her discovering him missing. Just in case he stuffed a few pillows under his blankets to make an Ezra size lump. Dropping down to the floor he pulled a knapsack out from under his bed and checked his supplies. He had bottled water, food-rations, a means to mark his path and a data pad with the ship's schematics on it. Ezra wasn't planning on getting lost. Once he discovered where he was in the ship's innards he'd used the schematics to plan his expedition. Till then he'd mark his trail like any good scout would.
He pulled the grill off the vent and made his way inside, stopping long enough to be sure the grill was back in place and secure. No reason to make it easy for anyone to find his escape route, he might want to use it again. Ezra made his way down the dark passageway, the vent lead to conduits that allowed maintenance and cleaning of the ship's internal systems. Ezra pushed out the grill and looked around for any numbers that might identify the area he was in. He didn't see any, so he climbed out and placed the grill back in position. Taking out his marker he carefully indicated on the wall next to the vent that this was his way back to his room with a symbol of home. If spotted it would be dismissed as part of the ship's own marking and not a North American tribe's symbol from the planet Earth.
Ezra wondered which way to go. Every ten feet there were other vents that Ezra figured must go to other people's cabins. He wasn't interested in those. The conduit he was in had it's own low lighting system so Ezra no longer needed to use his. Turning it off he looked down the corridor in both directions; it looked the same either way. It was kept too tidy by the cleaning robots to have footprints or anything else to help him make up his mind on which way to go.
"Ok, Glory which way do Ah go from here?" Ezra addressed the ship. He didn't really expect her to answer him but it seemed the thing to do at the time and he didn't have anyone else to ask. He reached for his knapsack, as he did so the lights to his left appeared to be twinkling down the corridor that way.
Ezra was being raised to be a polite child and it seemed to him that it would be wrong not to thank the ship. Ezra walked down the passageway till he reached an open fire door. The hatch had a number assigned to it. Ezra sat down where he was and pulled out his data pad. He'd find out were he was and go from there. Ezra's data pad was more of a mini computer filled with everything his Mother wanted him to familiarize himself with. Compact in size it held a great deal of information; everything from his school lessons to the ship's schematics. Maude had learned early on that her son had a question for everything he encountered and would not stop asking questions till he was satisfied that his original query had been answered. Making that information available to him helped cut down on the number of questions she was asked. Making him find it for himself on his data pad was a challenge for the curious child as well as a learning experience, as there was no simple way to find want he wanted to know.
The Southern Glory was surprised to realize Ezra was wondering around in the conduits between her decks. These small corridors were designed to allow access to her internal systems and life supports. Former crews hadn't used them very often, but Captain Scott seemed to want them checked out regularly, as well as to be kept swept clean of dirt or dust by the cleaning robots. Jeffries tubes connected them between decks. A person could get anywhere on board by these conduits if they didn't mind the small cramped quarters.
Was the boy lost? Did he need help? Glory ran over what she knew of the child and decided Ezra must be exploring again. He had been in different parts of the ship before trying to learn his way around. Most of the time the crew was happy to see him and didn't mind explaining what they were doing. Some were not and told him to be on his way. More than once the child had been sent back to his cabin for being on his own without adult supervision. Glory decided she'd keep track of the smallest member of her crew herself.
Ezra soon located where he was, behind the officers quarters. Now he could always find his way back to his cabin by finding this hatch. He marked it so it would show the way to his personal vent. His nanny wouldn't be coming in to wake him till the day shift started. Ezra had all night to explore. He had set a timer on his data pad to warn him when to start back.
He wandered through the conduits marking every major turn and taking note of the hatches as he went through them, even trying out the manual overrides to see if he could work them. Chief McNally has showed him how to operate the different kinds of manual overrides, to be able to open or close the doors if he ever got caught behind one and needed out. McNally hadn't gotten all the bugs out of the automated systems yet and didn't want Ezra to be trapped behind a fire door if it closed on him. She also showed her young friend how to lock any door or hatch on the ship and keep it locked. Chief McNally didn't trust the people Ms Standish brought on board to teach and care for her son. Though she knew Ms Standish loved the boy, the woman didn't always take time to scrutinize the references she was given to find out if every thing stated on them was true.
Ezra strolled on. To his delight he found he could look out on the main corridors from the vents connecting with them without anyone being the wiser he was there. When his data pad started beeping he headed back. He had time for a few hours of sleep before the nanny came in to wake him.
On the way back Ezra kept checking the hatch's numbers to confirm his progress. He still had three hatches to go when he saw the twinkling lights again. They seemed to be coming from a Jeffrey tube. Ezra hadn't climbed any of the ladders connecting the decks. He planned to next time he got a chance to go exploring. This was too much of an invitation to ignore. Ezra made sure his knapsack was secured on his back. The Jeffrey tube's ladders hadn't been designed for a small child to climb, but Ezra managed one rung at a time. This was the only reason he saw the hatch setting in a recess on the side of the tube.
He had to hang on with an arm and one leg hooked on the ladder to reach the hatch's latch. It swung in exposing an access passage. With effort Ezra manage to swing off the ladder and into the opening. The corridor was a short one that opened into a small room. The space must have had a purpose at one time. Whatever it had been the ship obviously didn't need it any more and hadn't for years. Dust lay thick on every surface. Ezra sneezed, than sneezed again. He brought his sleeve up to cover his mouth and nose. He had to breathe through his mouth as he looked around to keep from sneezing.
The room was small, at one time a place to make assessments on the ship's relays in this area of the vessel and transmit information. Improvements in technology had made the room superfluous. A former captain had simply closed the hatch and forgotten all about it. The room didn't even show up on the latest schematics. Even the cleaning robots hadn't been in here for years.
Under the layers of grime Ezra saw lights. The power was still on even if the room wasn't used any longer. Ezra got an idea, since no one used the room any more for ship's functions why couldn't he use it? His very own hideout, a place of his own where no one could find him and he'd be safe. Ezra wouldn't admit it, but there were times when he got scared, when everything was too new and different. If Mother was off the ship, he had no one to turn to. Ezra took a good look around him. He could do this and no one would be the wiser. He lowered his arm and spoke to the ship. "Thanks Glory this will be a great hideout."
It was after Ezra's seventh birthday that Maude got a chance at a really big contract. In the last year and a half the ship had done well transporting goods for the worlds on the outer boundaries of charted space. Worlds well outside the customary shipping rotes where anything could happen. Captain Scott had acquired the reputation of always delivering her cargo. Anyone going up against her ship met with phasers and shields.
Unlike the big shipping fleets, Maude didn't demand a monopoly on future business from her customers. They had the freedom to keep their independence; an important issue to the men and women who lived on the outer worlds. It was as well to new first contact planets that were hesitant to do business outside their usual trade partners. They had no intention on allowing anyone to tell them what they could or couldn't do in future business. They'd do without before letting one of the big companies come in and take over what they had fought so hard to create. It had kept them coming back to Maude with their needs. The Southern Glory's bays were full going out and refilled before coming back. Maude made sure her customers got top dollar for their merchandise from the so-called more civilized planets. They either got the money or the goods they wanted in return for their merchandise. Both parties came away from their transactions satisfied with the results of these arrangements.
Maude was in a hurry. The Maxwell group was waiting for her. They had their own small spacecraft, the Providence. They had been using it to ferry them to different locations in their sector in hopes of finding an independent freighter willing to go up against one of the big freight lines out to force the Maxwells into a monopoly contract. The big lines justified the contracts by stating they lost money by traveling so far out of the way from main trade areas. A monopoly contract gave them a chance to regain their loses if or when the merchant got established. No matter what occurred they charged more to go outside the customary trade routes.
Maude and Captain Scott had been approached when they stopped at Deep Space Seven, a space station on the outer edge while unloading a cargo and picking up one for their next stop. They checked out the Maxwell's story carefully and discussed it before Maude agreed to go with the Maxwells on their return trip to their home planet of Gaspar. Scott would deliver their present cargo and meet Maude there in three weeks. Captain Scott made sure that the Maxwells knew that she'd be annoyed if any thing happened to her partner. That night the crew of the Southern Glory found the crew of the Providence at the station's saloon and bought them a round of drinks, filling them in on how terrible an annoyed Captain Scott could be.
At the last minute the latest nanny quit declaring that no one could manage such a child as Ezra Standish. She walked off the ship leaving Ezra without supervision for the next three weeks. Maude was at her wit's ends. She couldn't ask Scott for help. One of the things they agreed on when they began their partnership was that Ezra would not be the Captain's responsibility. Maude couldn't take Ezra with her as much as she might want to. The people of Gaspar preferred that children be not seen or heard. Their own children were raised in group homes till the age of eighteen when they were allowed to join the adult world ready to be useful members of society. Till then there was no mixing of the age groups.
To each their own ways, thought Maude. But where was she going to find someone on short notice to care for her son? Just as she was about to call the Maxwells and give them her regrets the chimes on her quarters' door rang.
"Yes?" she called out.
The doors slid open revealing a well-dressed middle age man. "Do I have the honor of addressing the Lady Standish?" he asked before entering.
Maude walked over to him. "Yes, is there something Ah can help you with?"
"I am here to help you with your problem. I've heard by way of the station's gossip mill you are in need of a tutor for you son and I dear lady am in the need of transportation to your next stop where I have a teaching position waiting for me."
"You're a teacher Mr. ?" Asked Maude, hoping this man was all he said he was.
"Ranney, Austin Ranney, and I am indeed a teacher and scholar." he told her.
"You understand Ah have to verify your references, Mr. Ranney," Maude told him. If this man checked out he could be the answer to her problems.
"Of course, a responsible parent wouldn't have it any other way." Ranney said with a smile as he handed Maude Standish a data chip. "I will await your call, but you must understand I will be continuing my quest for transportation in the meanwhile."
"Of course Mr. Ranney, Ah will call you with in the next hour with ma decision," Maude told him.
A quick check with the station's security put Maude's mind at rest. According to the head of the station's security Mr. Ranney was all he claimed himself to be. What she didn't find out was that the head of the station security wanted the penniless drunk off his station and would say anything to get rid of the man. While Maude was talking business and charming the Maxwells on Gaspar, Ezra was trying to keep out of his new tutor's way. It didn't take long for Ezra to figure out that his new tutor had no patience with children or their antics. Even though Ranney had assured Ms. Standish he had no problems with handling an active and inquisitive child, he had lied.
Austin Ranney was a down on his luck ex-playboy who had wasted all the money his family had given him over the years. Finally disgusted with his behavior and drunkenness they had disinherited him, cutting him off from the family wealth. Without the family money to back up his life style, Austin Ranney was forced to sober up and found himself penniless. Worst was the considerable amounts of debts he owed. Faced with creditors wanting to be paid, Ranney ran as far away from his problems as he could. Advertising himself as a teacher and scholar; he'd con wealthy families into hiring him as a tutor for their offspring. It didn't take long for his drinking to become apparent; he'd get fired and sent on his way. Usually with more in his pocket than he started with. Ranney had become skilled as a thief as well as a con artist. He had made himself unwelcome on the station and the station security wanted him gone.
Ezra found himself using the conduits more and more as he avoided his tutor. The man had a heavy hand and Ezra had the bruises to prove it. Once the tutor had found the liquor cabinet in the main room of their quarters he left the boy alone. Ezra hid in his bedroom with the door locked and waited till the man drank himself unconscious. Using the vents he quickly went to his Mother's room and locked the door from the inside and changed the combination to be on the safe side. He knew a thief when he saw one, so he took his treasures and his Mother's to his hideout for safe keeping.
Ezra didn't know what to do. He had over heard his Mother and Captain Scott arguing and knew he wasn't the captain's responsibility and he knew he wasn't to make a nuisance of himself. He wasn't sure why that was important but he knew it was. If things got too bad before Mother got back he'd go to Chief McNally. She had told him repeatedly that he could never be a nuisance to her and to come to her if he needed help of any kind.
Ezra made his way back to his room by way of the ventilating shaft that connected his room to the conduits. He had been using the passages a lot lately so not to run into Ranney. The man seemed to spend most of his time in the main room of the Standish's cabin drinking the contents of the liquor cabinet. Only once did Ezra try to cross this space to gain entry to his bedroom, he hadn't tried to be quiet not yet knowing what Ranney's condition meant or what the man's temper would be on being awakened when he had a hangover. Ranney had gotten to his feet, yelling at Ezra to be quiet. Ezra had asked what was wrong with him even offering to get the ship's doctor. Ranney had grabbed him and shook him screaming obscenities all the while, terrifying the child, Fortunately Ranney soon grew tired and dropped him allowing Ezra to escape.
The contents of the liquor cabinet were nearly gone, it was time Austin Ranney decided to find out what there was around here he could take with him when he left the ship. Figuring that Maude Standish had to have something in her room worth stealing he tried there first. He was surprised to find the door wouldn't open to him and that his skills as a locksmith were foiled. Even after trying to override the locking device the door still wouldn't open. Worse, it seemed to have frozen the controls. Damn, maybe the brat would know the combination, where was the kid? Ranney realized he hadn't seen the little monster in a while. He tried Ezra's bedroom door and found it locked as well. Annoyed at the locked doors he was encountering he tried the door release again, didn't work. This time he didn't try the over ride he simply wrenched off the control panel. If he had tried this first with the woman's door he'd been in there by now. By pulling the circuits out of the wall and rewiring it he was able to open the boy's door, bypassing the locking device.
The brat wasn't in here; Ranney looked around anyway. Maybe the kid had something worth pocketing, an expensive toy or something. Ranney started looking around, going through the closet, then pulling out drawers and dumping them out. Nothing. Well he'd just wait for the brat to get back and make him open the door to his Mother's room. Ranney made himself comfortable on Ezra's bed to wait and promptly fell asleep.
It wasn't long before Ranney woke to a sound coming from near the floor. Looking toward the noise he saw a small hand coming through the grill on the room's air vent. So that's how you been getting in and out of here without me seeing you, Ranney thought to himself. He waited till the grill was completely open and a small brown haired head started out. He reached out and grabbed the front of Ezra's jumpsuit pulling the child out of the vent, standing up at the same time, holding the child up close to his face so as to look directly into the boy's face.
As Ezra open the grating to his room and started to climb out a large hand seized the front of his jumpsuit and pulled him the rest of the way out and up. Ezra found himself several feet off the floor, face to face with his angry tutor. Ezra was terrified; the whiskey soaked breath of his tutor turned his stomach. It shocked him out of his fear and before he thought it through he sank his teeth into Ranney's nose, hitting and kicking his captor at the same time.
Ranney screamed in rage as he threw Ezra across the room to hit the far wall with a loud thud. Ezra fell to the floor breathing hard as he tried not to cry out from the pain running through his shoulder and down his arm. Picking himself off the floor he couldn't help whimpering, his side hurt where it impacted the wall. But he couldn't let that slow him down, if Ranney managed to get his hands on him, Ezra knew he'd get hurt a lot worse. Keeping his eyes locked on the man, Ezra slowly tried working his way toward the door that led out to the stateroom.
The kid was going to pay for this thought Ranney. With one hand on his nose to stop the bleeding Ranney headed for his antagonist, cutting off Ezra's escape route through the cabin's door. Ezra saw him coming and switched directions. Grabbing a nearby chair he pushed it between him and the grown-up as he headed in the direction of his bed. Ranney lunged for the boy, falling over the chair in the process, crying out in pain as the chair jabbed into his groin.
Ezra ran not for the door but for the vent, rolling over his bed and to the floor on the other side. He was through the opening before Ranney regained his feet. He didn't slow down, for in his mind he could still see the man reaching out for him. Ezra's fear didn't let him realize that the bulky adult would not fit into the vent. Ranney was a big man; too big to get through the opening, though he did try.
Austin Ranney wasn't thinking clearly or he'd never have attempted to go after the child. His mad dash into the vent came to a sudden halt when his forward movements stopped. As much as he tried he couldn't make it farther into the opening. With a curse he started to back out only to find he couldn't go that way either. He was stuck tight in the dark space headfirst.
Ezra ran and he kept running till he was out of the air duct and into the main conduit. He didn't slow down till he was at the first fire door. Stopping to close and lock the hatch, only than did he chance a look behind him to see if Ranney was there. He wasn't but Ezra wasn't taking any chances as he headed for his hideout. There were two more hatches he could lock between him and Ranney to keep the man from getting to him. In his panic Ezra didn't realize that Ranney was no longer coming after him. The fearful child kept running.
He made it. Ezra's fear carried him all the way up the ladder and into his hideout, locking the hatch behind him. He was safe in the forgotten relay room. Ezra crawled over to a pile of blankets he kept there and wrapped himself up in them. Feeling safe at last the exhausted child relaxed only to start to shake as the memories of Ranney came rushing back. He finally cried himself to sleep, but not before making up his mind to find out tomorrow if Chief Maggie McNally would keep her word.
The room Ezra was in had changed in the year since he had found it. Gone were the layers of dirt and grime. Ezra had carried one of the cleaning robots in and let it take care of the worst of the muck. The rest he handled himself as well as reinstalling the system checks to allow him to access the ship's communication and computer systems. Over time Ezra had brought his treasures to this room, pictures of his parents, his books as well as his most treasured toys. On makeshift shelves a herd of toy horses roamed next to Gray's westerns and Walter Farley's stories of the great Black Stallion. A stuffed bear was there as well, he knew he was too old for one but couldn't part with it. Pillows and blankets made a comfortable nest when he wanted to hide from the world.
Here were his Mother's treasures as well; family pictures and her jewelry, Ezra had brought whatever he thought his Mother wouldn't want to lose. They were piled in a corner awaiting her return. Ezra hoped that would be soon, he had lost count of just how long that would be while being preoccupied with keeping out of Ranney's way.
On the bridge of the Southern Glory the first shift was just starting, Captain Natalie Scott sat in the Captain's chair as she looked over the crew manifest one more time. Of the fifty-five names on the list, there wasn't anyone she could afford to reassign to the odd jobs that kept popping up. Modernization had shrunk the numbers needed to run the big freighters. But it still took sentient hands to care for the big ship and she had some of the best under her command. Thirty of them had followed her from the ill-fated Champion, their last ship. The Champion thought Natalie. It had been a long time since she had thought of the unfortunate voyage that had compelled her into the role of captain.
The Champion had been the pride of the Wagner Freighting Service, the biggest shipping line in the business. She carried both freight and passengers. If Captain Wiggins had stayed on his route and not tried to make up lost time traveling through a dangerous region of space he'd be alive today and Scott wouldn't have been blackballed by Alan Wagner owner of the Champion and head of the freight line.
Captain Wiggins had delayed their departure to wait for a dawdling passenger by the name of Baxter, which put them well behind their scheduled departure time. Baxter was a wealthy man and a friend of the Wagners. It was only after they were finally under way did the Captain receive word that he had to get the Champion back into her homeport on schedule if he wanted to keep his job. He was to make up the lost time no matter what.
Alan Wagner and Stan Baxter had a bet going and if the ship were late in arriving then Wagner would lose the bet. To keep his job Captain Wiggins tried something foolish, something dangerous. He took his ship through a section of space some joker had nicknamed Harmony, the name was badly chosen but it stuck. For the section was a harsh, unforgiving region full of space anomalies and drifting clouds of energy charged dust and mammoth rocks. The stars in the vicinity had few planets, they were mostly barren and offered little in the way of hospitality, but they did offer a safe haven for a price. If you had money it was a place to lose yourself or obtain a new identity. Outlaws and pirates had the run of the area. It was no place for a cargo ship carrying passengers with little in the way of weapons.
The only way to safely navigate through Harmony was to drop out of warp. The space anomalies made it too dangerous to do otherwise. Hit an anomaly at warp speed and there was no telling what could happen to the ship. One vessel had been found turned inside out, still intact but there had been no sign of the crew. Since then the area had been avoided except by the foolish or the desperate.
Captain Wiggins was desperate. He was almost a week behind schedule thanks to Wagner's friend Baxter and another delay from a stationmaster at their last stop whom Wiggins was willing to bet was on Baxter's payroll. Going through Harmony was the only way to make the time up quickly. He gave the order to change course and braced himself for the objections of his First Officer. He wouldn't have long to wait for as soon as they dropped out of warp speed Wiggins knew she'd be on her way to the bridge.
First Officer Natalie Scott felt the ship drop out of warp and wondered what had gone wrong now. This voyage had been plagued with problems from the first. There had been the wait for late passengers and a stationmaster wanting endless paperwork filled out and the cargo double-checked before allowing them to dock. Then he had insisted that the same paperwork be filled out again to allow them to leave. A lot of little problems had added up to a lot of trouble and she wasn't sure if Captain Wiggins was up to handling it. She'd find out soon enough when she got to the bridge.
Scott walked onto the bridge and looked over at her Captain. Wiggins wouldn't meet her eyes. Not a good sign Scott told herself as she walked over to the navigator's position. What she saw had one eyebrow climbing up her forehead. That was the only outward expression she allowed herself to make at the insane course she saw plotted there. She walked over to the captain's side.
"Sir if I might have a moment of your time in private?" Scott asked quietly.
"No Mister Scott we have no time for discussions. I need everyone keeping a sharp lookout just now. It will take us less than a day to get through Harmony and we'll be back on schedule, maybe even a little ahead for once." Wiggins said this with a smile on his face. The smile that didn't reach his eyes, he was worried. He was gambling with the ship and the lives of everyone who was sailing on her.
First Officer Natalie Scott knew this as well. The chance of them getting through without anyone spotting them or hitting an anomaly was slim to none. She was about to inform the captain of that when the ship shuddered and every light on board went out as an anomaly passed through them. It took a full two minutes for the back up lighting to kick in. Calls were coming in from all over the ship wanting to know what was wrong.
Scott ignored them all as she called down to engineering. "McNally, what's going on with the power?"
"How the hell do I know, I'm not driving this tub. All the power cells went down to zero. It will be a while before they build back up. Hope you're not wanting warp speed any time soon cause that went off line too." Maggie McNally told the first officer. "What went through us anyhow?"
"A space anomaly, we need to get all the power back on line as soon as possible."
"Where the hell are we? There are no anomalies on our course."
"We are in the Harmony. Maggie arm your people just in case."
McNally swore softly before answering, "I'll get the power up as fast as possible. You take care of getting us out of here."
Captain Wiggins was settling in his chair answering calls from frightened passengers. He turned to Scott and asked her. "How soon will McNally get the power back up to speed?"
"As soon as possible, I told her where we are. That should be enough of an incentive to get her crew working at warp speed. Speaking of which the warp engines went down as well when the anomaly went through us."
"Very well I'll be in my quarters till then, let me know as soon as impulse power is back on line." With that the Captain got up and walked off the bridge leaving Natalie to clean up his mess.
An hour passed before impulse power was back on line, in that time Natalie also got what weapons they had up and running before informing the Captain that power had been restored. As he came back on the bridge he ordered the ship to resume its course through Harmony.
"Sir, I must object, the Harmony is too dangerous. We are not armed to take on pirates or any of the outlaws that reside here." Scott told her Captain.
"Nonsense. Scott, you can't believe all those rumors they tell about this section of space, It's mostly hearsay anyway. We've been here for over an hour and no one's bothered us. All we have to do is get through without hitting any more space anomalies and we'll be fine."
The ship shuddered as it took a hit broadside, than again as it took another hit. The freighter was being fired upon. The bridge's crew was tossed about and part of the ceiling caved in. Scott picked herself up and helped the navigator Eric Johanson back to his post at helm. Harris, the ship's cargo master was checking on the Captain who was lying under part of the ceiling. Scott looked their way, Harris shook his head, Captain Wiggins was dead.
Natalie took a deep breath and said. "We need to see what's going on out there. Urso, get the screens up." Scott hit the con and called down to engineering. "McNally I'm going to need all the power you can give me."
"You got impulse, warp's going to take another twenty minutes at least."
Natalie took in the sight on the screens before answering. "We don't have twenty minutes Maggie, we got three wasps sitting outside."
The scout ships were small but very fast, they got the name wasp for their size as they often went up again ships ten fold their own mass. They were designed to scout out prey and report back to larger ships that would then come in and take down the luckless vessels. A Wasp's sting could cripple but they were not heavily enough armed to destroy or stop a ship on their own. Right now the Champion had three sitting off her port bow.
Natalie knew she had to get her ship out of there now, before a bigger pirate ship arrived. The wasps would have already sent their location before they fired.
"Boas, stand by the weapons, target the lead wasp, Johanson on my order I want you to transfer all the impulse power we have to the starboard engines. When we're facing back the way we came level out the engines and set a course out of here at full impulse. Urso let me know if you seen any one coming after us."
Scott got a round of 'Aye captains' to her orders, only Harris protested,
"You can't swing the ship around like that, she wasn't designed to take that kind of stress. You'll damage Wagner's property."
"Better the ship than us Mister Harris." Natalie told him as she studied the two scout ships closest to the Champion's side. "Now Mister Johanson, Mister Boas."
The engines on the starboard side fired, the ship groaned as she was suddenly swung around. People and objects went flying before she righted her self. Two of the scout ships didn't have time to get out of the way before they were crushed against the sides of the freighter. Boas fired on the third ship sending it spinning out of control and away from them.
"Captain, we've got a ship coming toward us." Urso said from communications.
Natalie called down to engineering again. "Maggie I need warp speed."
"I can give ya warp two, but the rest you're going to have to wait for Captain." Maggie answered back.
Damn, well warp two was better than nothing. Natalie turned off her com and addressed the communications officer. "Urso check for any anomalies in front of us. Johanson get ready to go to warp two.
Urso called out from communications. "Captain that ship is almost here and there no anomalies that registered on our scams."
Good news and bad news thought Natalie to herself. There were no anomalies to stop them from using warp speed, but they couldn't out run the pirate ship at warp two.
"Harris we are going to have to eject the cargo bays."
"Harris it's the only thing we have to slow the pirates down enough to get away."
"It is a Alan Wager's standing order to never to allow any thing to endanger the cargo. I'm not going to jeopardize my career by following an order like that nor will any of my people."
"Harris you won't have a career if we are all dead." Natalie told him, but he wasn't listening.
"Fine I'll do it myself."
"No," cried a distraught Harris as he tried to grab Captain Scott, only to find Eric Johanson and Tu Boas between him and his goal. They spun him around than pushed him into the small maintenance room just off the bridge locking him in.
"Thank you gentlemen" Natalie turn to Urso and asked. "What are the pirates doing now?"
"They're closing in fast."
Natalie ran her hands over the controls releasing the first of the four cargo bays and watch as it floated away from the freighter. The pirate ship didn't even slow down to check it out.
"Boas target the next bay when it's far enough away from the ship, try not to damage it too much." This time the pirate ship sent out two shuttles to safeguard the damaged compartment. "Wonder how many of those shuttles they have?" Natalie said to herself. "Boas lets do it again," This time the pirate ship slowed and started to fall behind.
"Captain we've got a message coming in." said Urso
"Let's hear it."
"Captain of the freighter, we want your cargo undamaged. Release the last bay and we will let you go unharmed."
"Can we trust them?" Asked Johanson.
"No, but we've got no choice but to gamble on them keeping their word." Turning to the crew Scott gave her orders. "Mister Johanson, as soon as the bay clears the ship jump to warp two. Mister Boas keep a watch for anyone following. Mister Urso when we clear the Harmony send out a distress call."
It took a month for the badly damaged Champion to make it back to her homeport. The Federation Starship Constellation answered her distress signal and helped them limp home. Wagner Lines sent another ship to take the passengers to their destinations. Alan Wagner was furious at the loss of his cargo and the damage to his ship. He blamed everyone but himself for what had transpired. Even Stan Baxter releasing him from the bet didn't change his attitude. He wanted someone to pay and Wiggins was dead, which left Scott and the crew. He demanded a board of inquiry to determine fault.
The board of inquiry cleared Scott and the crew of any wrongdoing. But Wagner let it be known that he held Scott and the crew who had testified on her behalf to be responsible for his loss. He also made it known that they'd never work on one of his ships again or any other ship in the freighter fleet if he had his way. Wagner had the money and power to force the other companies to follow his mandate.
A week later found Natalie and Maggie in a port side tavern comparing stories. Both had been trying to find anyone willing to hire on any of the crew who lost their jobs because of Wagner. As they talked a woman walked up to their table and asked.
"Are you Captain Scott?"
Natalie studied the blond haired woman who stood beside her, she was well dressed, expensively so, younger than Natalie's thirty years but not by much. This woman didn't appear to be some spoiled rich kid out to get her kicks at a bar by socializing with the riff-raff. There was too much intelligence in those eyes, there was also need. Maggie kicked her under the table reminding her of her manners.
"I'm Natalie Scott, the Captain part is a bit premature. Is there something I can help you with Ms ?"
"Maude Standish and there is indeed something you can help me with. May Ah sit down?"
"Suit yourself Ms. Standish." Natalie pushed a chair out with her foot and got another kick on the shin from Maggie. Natalie shot her a look, Maggie couldn't think that this woman had a job offer for them. Natalie crossed her legs trying not to be too obvious as she rubbed her leg where Maggie had kicked her.
Maude Standish sat and hoped she wasn't about to make a mistake, but she was desperate. Captain Scott and her people were her last chance of getting her plans launched.
"Ah'm a businesswoman, Captain Scott. Ah know ma way around a transaction, how to obtain and deal with customers. What Ah do not have is the experience with is how to operate a freighter or manage a crew to run one. Ah'm here to offer you and the crew who backed you up on the Champion a job."
"You own a ship Ms. Standish?"
"Yes, a class G. A. M. Seven, she's not a new ship but Ah've been assured that she's spaceworthy.
Maggie broke in to the conversation. "I've heard about you, you must be the woman who won it off of Grafchik in a poker game." Maggie, who always listened to the gossip when in port, knew all about the game.
Maude admitted to the fact, she had won the ship in a high stakes game. She had sold nearly everything she owned to buy her way into it; gambling everything to win big and win big she did. Walking away with the huge pot that had included a freighter, one player had used it to buy his way in. This had given her a idea to start a new business and be independent of those who wanted to run her life now that she was a widow with a young son to raise.
Maude couldn't understand why after Patrick's death that people (especially family) insisted that they knew what was best for her and Ezra. She and Patrick had worked side by side in their small export/import business as equal partners. She was a strong woman and never allowed anyone to walk over her. It was one of the things Patrick told her that had attracted him to her in the first place. If he could see she was capable of doing what she set her mind to, why couldn't others see beyond the attractive face and blond hair. Maude pulled her thoughts back to the table and Captain Scott.
"What's the deal Ms Standish?
"Ma plans are to offer services to smaller businesses and to the out of the way colony planets whom the bigger established lines ignore. To do this Ah need a Captain and a trustworthy crew to man the Southern Glory."
"You've named the ship." Broke in Maggie again, the Grafchiks didn't named their ships only gave them designation numbers. That had always seemed wrong to Maggie who believed that ships always lived up to or down to their names. Maggie McNally was a shrewd woman but she was also a romantic at heart.
This time it was Natalie who kicked the engineer for interrupting. "Please go on Ms. Standish, how do we fit in to your plans?"
"Ah have enough credits to do the major repairs while the ship is in space dock. What Ah do not have is the money to pay the crew before the first delivery of a consignment."
"Sell the ship, you'll be rolling in credits." Natalie told Maude.
"No, Ah do not intend to sell even if the Grafchiks were willing to pay what the ship is worth which they are not. What Ah'm willing to offer is a business arrangement, ownership of a small percentage of the Southern Glory in exchange for being the captain and getting the crew to wait for to the end of the trip to be paid."
"How small?" question Natalie as she sat up straighter listening closely to what this woman was offering. Every captain in the Fleet dreamed of owning their own ship. Did Maude Standish realize what she was offering?
Maggie spoke before either of the younger women could say anything, this time she was serious. "It's got to be big enough so the first time you two argue you can't walk away or be throw off the ship." Maggie was speaking to both Natalie and Maude. "There's got to be an understanding where each of your authorities lay so you won't be stepping on each other's toes."
Both women nodded their heads in agreement. "What do you suggest Ms. McNally?" asked Maude.
"You're the business woman Ms. Standish, you line up the jobs and Captain Scott doesn't question what we haul or where we go as long as it doesn't put the ship and crew in danger and it's not illegal." Maggie turned to face Natalie. "On matter's pertaining to the ship, the crew and safety you have the last word. Is this agreeable to both of you?"
"Yes" answered Natalie Scott keeping eye contact with Maude.
"Yes" answered Maude Standish. She'd still be the majority owner and the responsibility of running the ship would be all Scott's. "How did you get to be so insightful Ms. McNally?"
"I grew up on the last generation ship in free hands. I understand the need for a clear understanding of each person's authority and the responsibility that goes with it." Maggie said, "Now ladies, let's settle how small a percentage we are talking about."
In the end they agreed on twenty-five percent ownership of the Southern Glory for Natalie. More than Maude wanted to give up, but enough to make sure Natalie had a viable interest in the well being of the ship and Maude's new business. Standish Enterprises had been launched and Natalie and her crew had found themselves with jobs on the Southern Glory. The rest was history.
Please send any thoughts or comments to Nsscbs1978@aol.com