2950-06-14 – Tales from the Inbox: The Professor’s Calculations

“This is not going to work.” Rachel Aldershoff shook her head, turning one of the flexible-mounted displays to face her passenger. “There are two cruisers in orbit. That means a lot of strike patrols. We’re going to have to wait and see if they leave. I think they will, but we’re going to be here a while.” 

“Hmm.” Professor Jarvis Courtenay perched his chin on his fingers as he watched the two huge warships drift over the dull-brown face of Adimari Valis amid the silhouettes of smaller, boxier ships. “Why are they here?” 

“Convoy escorts for all those transports, I’d guess.” Rachel shrugged. “Could be days or weeks. We’ve got supplies, but there are other problems.” 

“But you aren’t being paid to sit out here and watch them.” The professor sighed. “I can pay you more than we agreed if this takes too long.” 

“Are you daft?” Rachel turned her chair around. “For what you’re paying, I’d sit out here near a month, if we weren’t going to be found out by then.” 

“Found out? I thought this ship was hard to find when you wanted it to be.” 

Rachel scoffed. “Sure, Rubicelle Randy is sneaky, but it’s not invisible. Out there, you’re looking at two military grade optical surveillance suites which are scanning the sky in all directions. They’ll see us eventually, probably just as a weird piece of metal where it shouldn’t be. Then they'll send a flight of Coronachs out here to have a look.” 

“Presumably, those will shoot us to bits.” Courtenay nodded. “How long do we have?” 

“I’m not staying here more than three or four shifts, not for a hundred million credits.” Rachel stood up and pushed past her passenger, heading for the food-fab machine in the ship’s passenger lounge. “I’ve got some decent monitoring gear too, though. Maybe good enough to detect when they send someone out to get us with time to escape.” 

Courtenay followed her through the narrow gangway and down into the lounge. “You don’t seem all that worried.” 

Punching in a request for coffee, Rachel flopped down in one of the more comfortable chairs. “There will be time for that later. Since we’re stuck for a while, though, maybe you should tell me something, Doctor Courtenay.” 

“Eh? What was that?” The man, leaned on one bulkhead, his head stooped down as if in thought, looked up. 

“You told me your son is down there at a dig.” Rachel gestured forward, to the planet far ahead. “You implied he was a xenoarchaeologist, like you, but he’s not, is he?” 

Courtenay’s eyes went wide, then his face became an unreadable mask. “What makes you say that?” 

“I know my business, Professor.” Rachel leaned over to take her coffee from the machine and watched her passenger over the top of the cup for several seconds. “You told me your son’s name, and I looked him up before we left Maribel. He’s no xenoarchaeologist, but it was more interesting to me that, at least officially, he’s been dead for two years.” 

“Ah.” Courtenay met Rachel’s eyes, and a slight smile tugged at his thin lips. “You read the records correct. But did you read deeply enough, I wonder?” 

Rachel shrugged. “The records say his ship was blown up trying to flee Adimari Valis a few hours too late. That ship was a mercenary troopship, not a research expedition vessel. Your son was a merc ground-pounder on a protection contract. Perhaps you were not lying when you said he was at a dig site, were you?” 

Courtenay arched one eyebrow. “My son is not very much like me. That did not seem relevant to our arrangement.” 

“You knew he wasn’t on that ship.” Rachel pointed to Courtenay. “You let the authorities score him dead, when you knew better. I found no record you even contested it.” 

“You stand at the edge of a precipice, Miss Aldershoff.” Jarvis Courtenay stepped away from the wall. “Care you do not fall in.” 

“What was he wrapped up in that-” 

A harsh beeping from the cockpit controls interrupted Rachel’s question. Scowling, she hopped up and rushed to see what was the matter. It was too early to have been spotted by Incarnation surveillance, at any rate. 

“Before you finish your question, be sure you will want the answer when you have it.” Courtenay called after her as she slid into the pilot’s seat. 

Rachel rolled her eyes and scanned the displays, noticing that the alarm had been raised by a change in the formation of ships orbiting the planet. The transports had grouped up into a tight formation, with one big Tyrant cruiser moving out to break orbit and the other falling in behind them. 

“Looks like our luck is holding.” Rachel squinted at the displays. Somehow, she knew Courtenay had come to her to barter passage already knowing something about the movement schedules of the Incarnation ships. She could never prove it, of course, and was hesitant to ask. Something about his suggestion to be sure she wanted the answer made her shiver. Who was the man she had aboard her ship? 

“Ah, excellent.” Courtenay appeared behind Rachel’s chair. “I trust this lessens your concerns about being detected?” 

Rachel looked up at the man, but not even a twinkle in his eyes suggested what he knew, or what he was thinking. “A bit.” She switched on the stealthy hooded-ion drive and carefully eased the throttle up to a tiny fraction of one gee acceleration. “Let’s get you down there.” 

This week, with everything here at Maribel still settling down after the leadership change, I have little to report. The fleet’s command staff has been pretty tight-lipped about Admiral Venturi’s first days as Fifth Fleet’s commander in chief, though I suppose that won’t last long. Rumors have been circulating about a big shakeup, but nothing has happened yet.