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(4) Donner

(4) Donner

Trigg reviewed his short list a final time before the pre-launch briefing started. There had only been three names on the list that were worth considering. Two were retired crewers, men with experience but it was doubtful if they’d willingly return to a post. The third name was that of the graduate student Cassandra Luckenbach.

He rubbed his eyes, fighting a headache born of stress and fatigue. It was doubtful that either of the crewers would take the offer – most retired for a good reason. That left only Luckenbach, with her too-wide eyes and easy, genuine smile. She had the air of an innocent girl with soft muscles and no knowledge whatsoever of how a ship was supposed to run. Her attempt at graduate school was the only reason she’d been added to the list – simply to be admitted was a mark of intelligence and adaptability. Field research also pointed to…to what? A sense of adventure, maybe? Not really a qualification that Trigg typically looked for but, what the hell. His gut was making decisions that his head wasn’t fully wasn’t fully wrapping around.

The briefing started out normally enough, with the typical warnings about pulling g’s during takeoff. The Rosebud sustained 2.5 g’s for (sometimes) up to three minutes on takeoff. That, plus the lack of gravity before the internal gravity plating came on-line, often caused motion sickness or fainting in passengers. As the captain of the ship was speaking, Trigg noticed what seemed to be a spark of excitement in Luckenbach’s eye. Or fear – he couldn’t really say which.

The captain wrapped up his remarks with brief warnings about smoking on the ship (which was prohibited) and the punishment for offenders (which was a fine of phenomenal proportions). A few passengers groaned, but Trigg knew that a stray spark in the wrong place on the ship could cause major problems, such as fires and explosions and even death. Rather risk a few disgruntled passengers rather than risk the whole ship.

The captain concluded and turned to Trigg. “Sir, your comments?”

“Thank you, Captain.” He stepped forward. “Captain Conerly has covered all of the major safety regulations on board this ship. More detail can be found in the packet in your quarters. If you have any further questions or concerns, they may be addressed to me.

“One other thing: my crew is a hand short. In the interest of maintaining a timely departure, I have selected a few names from the passenger roster for potential hire. It’s completely optional. Please remain behind if I call your name. Luckenbach, Crusoe, Wallis. Everyone else – thank you for your time and attention.”

He watched as the crowd dispersed, leaving behind the girl and the two ex-crewers. He approached them. “Thanks for taking the time to hear me out,” he said. “If you accept, you will be given an admin position on the command staff. A percentage will be discounted from your passage fare and refunded to your account. You will be given the power of refusal in order of relative seniority.” He glanced down at his notes. “Mister Crusoe?”

The older man shook his head. “Sorry, Commander. This is the fiftieth anniversary with the missus. I’d get my hide tanned should I attempt anything other than paying complete attention to her.”

Trigg nodded. “Fair enough.” He turned to the second crewer. “Mister Wallis?”

The second man made some noise about not being physically capable of duties, and also declined. Trigg thanked them both and dismissed them. He then turned to Cassandra and sized her up.

Her eyes were still too wide, not just with innocence but there physically was too much space between them, space filled with a nose that was too wide as well, but with a tip that turned up slightly. She was lucky (no puns, he told himself) that her teeth weren’t gapped and that the weak sunlight of San Pedro had allowed her numerous freckles to dim, or else she would have been a prime candidate for a space-going Pippi Longstockings impersonator. Her loose, dark tunic hid her figure, but Trigg had the feeling from the size of the tunic she wasn’t the scrawny kid that Pippi Longstockings had been. All in all, the picture the graduate student presented was one of perfectly forgettable plainness.

“I’ll accept the position, Commander Donner,” Luckenbach said suddenly, breaking into his musings.

He started, wondering how much time he’d just wasted memorizing every feature of her appearance before she spoke. He quickly tried to memorize his clipboard instead, wondering what it was about her previously considered “forgettable plainness” that had mesmerized him for so many moments. “Very well,” he said, his voice more gruff than he intended. “Please sign here.” He keyed the appropriate contract up on the clipboard screen and handed her a stylus. She quickly scribbled her name and handed it back to him. He motioned for her to follow him.

He led her to the bridge, pointing out various stations along the way. At the quartermaster’s office, he obtained a flight suit and a pair of boots for her, guessing at her size. Then he showed her to his ready-room, where Barnes was busily scribbling on flex-screens.

“My current aide, Benjamin Barnes. Mr. Barnes, this is Miss Cassandra Luckenbach, who has agreed to join the crew until Puerto Nuevo.”

Barnes did not look especially thrilled to be bumped from his admittedly cushy job as a Commander’s aide, but he greeted Luckenbach with the appropriate pleasantries.

“Mr. Barnes, after take-off and catapult, you’ll inform Miss Luckenbach of her duties. Then you’ll report to Lancaster in Cargo for reassignment.”

“Aye, Commander.”

Trigg turned back to Luckenbach. “You’ll remain bunked in your quarters below, as we don’t currently have an empty crew bunk for a woman. Quite honestly – you’ll be more comfortable down there.” At her nod, he gestured to the door. “I’ll show you back to the launch deck. Please, after you.”

Next Chapter: (5) Lucky