Reaching The Summit

Entry by: Alobear

20th April 2015
Reaching The Summit

Esteval looked at the shipping schedule, scanning down the available jobs to find one that matched his ship. Merryweather wasn't fast, so courier runs were out, and she wasn't pretty, so nobody would choose her for a pleasure cruise. There were some long haul cargo contracts up on the board, but Esteval ran the ship alone and didn't like being out in deep space for too long. It made him go a bit strange, not to mention being dangerous for a solo pilot. If anything happened to him or to the ship, it would be a hell of a long time waiting for someone to find them.

A listing caught his eye, and he smiled.

“Dependable ship with reliable pilot needed for diplomatic run to Argus III. Quarters required for three passengers with luggage. Must arrive before start of third quartile. Fee negotiable.”

Perfect. Diplomats always had interesting stories to tell, and there was plenty of time to get Merryweather to Argus III by the deadline. Plus, there was always the chance of pirates around the Argus system, which might put other pilots off and potentially push the price up. Esteval had no qualms, though – Merryweather's armour could see off most attackers. It was what made her slow and awkward, but it was worth it in Esteval's opinion for the added security.

He posted his name and ship ID on the board next to the request, with what he thought was the top end of reasonable for his fee, and sat back to wait. The board pinged within a few minutes, with a counter-offer that slightly upwards of insulting, and the negotiations began. It didn't take long for pilot and passengers to reach an accord, and Esteval was fairly happy with the result. As long as they didn't have too much trouble on the run, he would make a tidy profit.

Even better, they wanted to leave right away, and Esteval hated sitting around in port, waiting on a contract. He posted the location of his current berth and opened the hatch. Then he glanced around the cabin and spent the next five minutes scurrying around, desperately trying to make the place look presentable. The sound of someone knocking on the bulkhead caused him to straighten up a bit too quickly and he clonked his head on the edge of the console. He managed to stop himself from swearing, and spun round to see three people waking up the hatch into the ship.

A tall, almost skeletal man led the way, openly sneering as he took in his surroundings. He glanced back over his shoulder at the young woman behind him.

“Are you sure about this, Selestra?” he asked, his tone contemptuous. “This ship doesn't exactly look the part...”

Esteval bristled, bringing himself to attention and addressing the man with dignity.

“Merryweather's record is beyond reproach,” he said. “As is mine, both as her owner-pilot and prior to that on other ships. If you would like to check our references before we disembark, they are freely available on the guild board.”

The young woman pushed past her companion and stepped forward, extending her hand, a bright smile on her face.

“Don't mind Brodin, Pilot,” she said in a breezy voice. “He's never satisfied. I checked all the references before accepting your services and I am convinced Merryweather will suit our needs perfectly. “Diplomat Selestra Abrava,” she concluded.

“Pilot Esteval Karanor,” Esteval replied, taking her hand and shaking it firmly. “I know Merryweather may not look like much, but she's safe as houses and twice as reliable. We'll get you where you need to go, perhaps not in style, but definitely in one piece.”

“Excellent,” Selestra said, her smile widening even more. She flipped her chestnut curls over one shoulder. “See, Brodin? Safe as houses.”

“I shall believe it when we dock at Argus III,” the unpleasant man muttered.

“This is Diplomat Brodin Garvin,” Selestra introduced, though Brodin did not step forwards to greet Esteval formally. “And this is Oblulawa Onmitra of the Lalaley Empire.”

Esteval turned his attention to the third member of the party for the first time and had to restrain himself from staring when she lowered the hood she had been wearing and revealed her face. Her skin was a shimmering blue and her head moved fluidly on an over-long neck. There was no hair on her head, and she regarded him solemnly through large, silver eyes. He had heard of the Lalaley Empire, of course, but had never met one of its people before.

“Greetings,” he said formally. “Welcome aboard Merryweather. I trust you will find the accommodations suitable.

Oblulawa raised a small device to her mouth, clutched in slender blue fingers. When she spoke, Esteval heard a sound like softly chiming bells before an incongruously flat voice emanated from the translator.

“I thank you for your kind welcome, Pilot,” the voice said. “I would be further grateful to be shown to quarters.”

“Of course,” Esteval said, and ushered all three down the hall before him.

He keyed open the doors to three different rooms and allowed them to arrange themselves as they saw fit. Oblulawa and Brodin each chose a room, entered and closed the doors firmly behind them. Selestra, on the other hand, stepped inside her room briefly, dropped her luggage and then came back out into the corridor.

“I'd like to see the launch from the bridge, if that's permissible,” she said.

“Absolutely,” Esteval said brightly, and led her back to the control console.

Unexpectedly, she flopped down in the co-pilot's chair and heaved a huge sigh.

“Here's hoping those two just stay in their rooms for the whole trip,” she said, then glanced at him sideways. “I assume I can count on your discretion not to tell either of them I said that.”

“Well, it's a bit late now if you can't,” Esteval quipped, happily matching her informal tone.

“True,” she replied with a wry smile, “but by this point, I'm not sure I really care.”

“Tough crowd?” Esteval prompted.

“Oh yeah,” Selestra agreed. “No sense of humour, either of them. Plus, Brodin's got his panties all in a twist about the mission, so he's even more up-tight than normal. Oblulawa's all right, really, just a bit difficult to talk to, what with that awful translator voice. I could just do with a bit of a break, and some more human company for a while.”

Esteval started warming up the ship for take-off while they talked.

“That's fine by me,” he said. “I've just landed after a week's run back from Cosmos VII all on my own, so I'm pretty desperate for some company myself. That's why I took your request. Am I allowed to ask you what's taking the three of you to Argus III?”

Selestra grimaced. “Brodin would probably flay me alive for telling you, but since you're taking us there, I don't see that there's any harm. The Lalaley Empire has been at war with the Hondar Federation for three generations, and they're finally ready to start talking about a truce. They're holding a peace summit on Argus III because it's neutral ground, and the Lalaley Empire have hired Brodin and me to act as their agents at the negotiating table. Oblulawa is the official Lalalian representative, and she has the authority to agree terms on behalf of her people, which is why Brodin has such a stick up his arse about this trip. She's a pretty important statesperson, and the negotiations are likely to be quite sensitive, so reaching the summit on time and in one piece is vital.”

Esteval was a bit intimidated by all this information, but he had confidence in his ship and in his own piloting skills, so he tried not to let the high profile nature of the commission get to him.

As he fired the engines and the ship raised itself smoothly off the landing pad, he grinned over at his passenger.

“Merryweather and I will do our utmost to ensure your safe arrival,” he said, and punched the button to send them into hyperspace.