2950-06-07 – Tales from the Inbox: The Professor's Adventure

Today, Fifth Fleet announced the resignation of Admiral Reneer Zahariev, effective immediately. In theory, the investigation into the battles in the Håkøya system is still ongoing, and nobody in the government or in the Navy’s central bureau has openly declared Zahariev at fault for losing the system, but it seems all but certain that Minister Neirin and the Admiralty Council requested his resignation shortly after the Causey War Memorial dedication. 

Though I cannot confirm this, rumor has it that Captain Kirke-Moore departed the Maribel system three days prior to Zahariev’s resignation, apparently on a ship bound for Allsop. As this embed team has enjoyed positive interactions with the Fifth Fleet staff through Captain Kirke-Moore, we wish him the best in his apparent desire to return to retirement. 

Though no official announcement has been made, it is expected that Admiral Tamara Venturi, the second in command of Home Fleet who was part of the Navy delegation to the memorial dedication, will be Zahariev’s replacement. Venturi, young for a flag officer at 49, has apparently occupied ground-side postings in the Core Worlds for most of her career, but Captain Liao informs me that she has a good reputation as an out-of-the-box thinker, at least in terms of military theory and performance in simulated fleet battles. A formal announcement of Zahariev’s replacement is expected in the next few days. 

Yes, I will attempt to set up an interview, but I offer no guarantees. 

“You’ve gotta be kidding me. Twenty-five thousand?” 

Rachel Aldershoff stared down the scowling man with only a single raised eyebrow. She’d been flying too damned long to let a penny-pinching customer intimidate her into slashing her profits. 

“It’s only what, fifty ly to Saunder’s Hoard?” The man, waving a slate and trying to loom over Rachel, banged the device against Rubicelle Randy’s nearest landing strut. “I could almost buy a wreck like this for twenty thousand!” 

“You’re welcome to try.” She knew all too well that no ship on Maribel that was anywhere near spaceworthy could be had for less than five times that amount. Just the previous day, she’d seen someone sell a forty-year-old Albatross Explorer for three times its going market value on any other world. “Twenty-five thousand is the fee. Load what you want, as long as it fits, it’s yours, and it’s no trouble with the authorities. I know you can afford it, Mr. Velasquez, and moreover, I know you won’t find anyone willing to take you for less. I could charge you forty, and you’d probably still have to pay it.” 

“You spacers are all the same. Greedy, heartless pieces of-” 

“Finish that sentence, and the fare is thirty thousand.” Rachel turned back toward the gangplank which led up into her little ship’s belly. 

Velasquez sputtered and fumed for several seconds before tossing the slate onto the landing pad and storming off. 

Rachel smirked and patted the familiar hull of Rubicelle Randy above her head. Though it had started life as a humble Columbia personnel transport, Randy had been overhauled so many times that it only superficially resembled its numerous sisters. It deserved to carry better than Velasquez and his various pointless posessions, but Rachel didn’t discriminate; she’d move whoever could pay, wherever they wanted to go, as long as it was legal or she had plausible deniability. 

“Excuse me.” 

The timid voice caused Rachel to turn around, and she found there a figure almost perfectly matching the voice. Tall but stooped, slim and grey-haired, with an almost stereotypically academic bearing, the man leaned on a carved wooden cane. “Would you be Captain Aldershoff?” 

“Captains fly ships bigger than this, Mister.” Rachel shrugged. “What do you need?” 

“I’m looking to book a trip off-world. To visit family.” 

Rachel nodded. The “visiting family” euphemism had become quite popular among Maribel’s well to do citizens for their flight from the world that seemed poised to fall next. “I’m in that business. Fee is-” 

“Twenty-five thousand?” The tall man smiled. "It is a bit farther to Adimari Valis than to Saunder’s Hoard.” 

“That would be-” Rachel stopped, blinked, and held up one hand. “Are my ears finally going, or did you say Adimari Valis?” 

“Is there a problem?” 

“What rock have you been living under, Mister? Adimari Valis has been an Incarnation world for more than a year. If you really had family on that rock, God have mercy on their souls.” Rachel waved her hands. “I don’t do runs to enemy systems. That’s suicide.” 

“Come now, Captain Aldershoff, we both know it's not suicide. You just need to have the right ship, and the right pilot.” The tall man brought his cane up to tap the stubby nose of Rubicelle Randy, which extended almost to where he was standing. “If it is an issue of money, I can pay more.” 

“You’re serious.” Rachel glanced past the man, seeing no-one who might overhear. She had no idea what he knew about the real capabilities of Rubicelle Randy, but anything at all was bad news. “Why don’t we discuss the details inside.” 

The man nodded and gestured for Rachel to lead the way. Thinking furiously about who might be leaking information about Randy’s capabilities to the general public, she escorted him up into the ship’s main passenger compartment, currently configured as a sort of lounge. 

Once he stooped to pass through the hatch, the man looked around. “Quite comfortable.” 

“Who are you?” Rachel pressed a button on her wrist computer to close the hatch and activate the various anti-surveillance systems built into the compartment. 

“My name is Jarvis Courtenay.” The man’s name matched his appearance so perfectly that Rachel almost giggled to hear it. “I’m a professor of xenoarchaeology at the Slaine-Wyrick Institute, and my son really is on Adimari Valis.” 

“I don’t know what you’ve heard about me or my ship, but I’m not a miracle worker. If your son was there when the Incarnation landed, he’s probably dead.” Rachel shuddered, remembering stories she’d heard about the other alternatives. “He’s lucky if he’s dead.” 

“Oh, Raymond is not dead. At least, he was not dead twenty days ago, when he recorded a message for me. I pray that has not changed.” 

Rachel shook her head. There was, obviously, no direct way to get information in or out of Adimari Valis, but she had heard of foolhardy spacers who snuck in close to Incarnation-held worlds to collect covertly-transmitted messages and deliver them elsewhere. If these illicit post-men survived, they could make quite a profit, but there was no way of knowing if any message they carried was sent by someone compromised by the enemy. “He sent you a message asking you to come? That sounds like a baited Inquisition trap.” 

“Oh, no.” Courtenay shook his head. “His message only said that he is faring well, despite everything, and that he’d found something marvelous. He dared not say much more.” 

“Then why?” Rachel gestured to the man. “You’re an academic. No offense, but you’re in no shape to be skulking among the rocks and avoiding chip-head patrols.” 

Courtenay shrugged. “Raymond was at a dig in a very remote part of the badlands when the Incarnation landed. He is probably still there, and I doubt the foe has visited even once.” 

“And you came here to ask me not to help you rescue him, but to help you join him?” Rachel waited a few seconds, hoping the obvious insanity of this position would become clear to what seemed otherwise to be a reasonably sensible person. 

Unfortunately, Jarvis Courtenay seemed impenetrable to reason. “That is precisely what I want, Captain Aldershoff. Trust that an old academic has done his research.” He winked conspiratorially. “I know you can help me. What would you charge?” 

Rachel winced. She could turn the old man down flat, of course, but if he knew too much, he could make a lot of trouble for her with the authorities. Worse still, she didn’t really want to turn him down – suicidally crazy or not, she knew she’d enjoy a week aboard with Professor Courtenay. “Make it forty thousand up front. We leave tomorrow at zero six hundred local time.” 

“Forty.” Courtenay nodded, then reached into his pocket, withdrew two one-thousand credit chits, and set them on a shelf near the hatch. “I’ll have the rest when I arrive tomorrow.”  

Rachel opened the hatch and the old man ambled out, seemingly impervious to the peril which he had just signed up for.