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A Thank You from Dellani

The Kahlea frontI want to thank all of you who have been following my Miracle, Mississippi books. I’ve gotten a great response! As a token of my appreciation, I wanted to share an excerpt from my upcoming sci-fi book, The Kahlea. This is Book 4 in my sci-fi series.

The Shakazhan Force has grown and is stronger, but they are still in need of help. Timokuan warriors from all over the galaxy have responded to the Maker’s call, but there still aren’t enough of them to fight off the Kahlea. Wil must turn his attention inside the planet, calling upon the residents of the artificial environments deep within the labyrinthine passages below. To this end, he calls upon experts in caving, linguistics and science to explore for him.

Kaz (Kazinski) is their unwilling caving expert. Claustrophobic in the extreme, he forced himself to explore underground, taking every specialty course the Galactic Marines offered. Even more terrified afterward, he reluctantly agreed to take the job. Now, he’s beginning to enjoy it.

Other members of the team are linguist, Hal Membray, as well as Ray and Benni Schmidt. Joining them is a woman who has traveled the interior for almost ten years. A native of the planet, she was separated from her people as a teenager. Now, Barengaria is working with them to help them find support.

Unfortunately, they can’t progress until they pass through a maze. Kaz is in the slow process of disentangling the ever changing series of tunnels.

Deep Within Shakazhan

Underground, Ray’s team was unaware of reinforcements arriving. They’d begun the slow, mind wearying process of threading the maze. Using a systematic, scientific approach, they’d tried to eliminate one tunnel or another only to have them change directions and shift on a daily, if not hourly basis. Each time they thought one was fully mapped, new entrances opened, intersected with old ones previously marked. Horribly frustrated, they sat around a small camp fire to discuss it.

“What a hell of a day!” Ray rubbed furiously at his short hair.

All of them were equally frustrated, but it was he who had the ultimate annoyance and scare. He’d been scouting one of the tunnels, only to have it shift with him inside. The way forward was blocked with a portion of another tunnel which was already marked. Behind him the tunnel closed as well, trapping him in a tiny cell of stone. He waited, praying all the while the walls would shift again and free him. It had taken three hours to get out again.

Ray had used the time to his advantage by running scans continuously and saving them to the nearly limitless storage of the Kindred scanner. He was looking for a pattern to the movement and so far it seemed hopelessly random.

“We’re missing something,” Kaz said for the fourth or fifth time in as many minutes.

“Obviously, Gunnery Sergeant, but what?” Ray snapped. Taking himself in firm control, he continued in a much more level tone. “I sat in that hole for three hours, Kaz. Excuse me if I’m not in the mood for your babble right now.”

Kaz waved it away as unimportant. “I’m just trying to be systematic, sir. I tend to think out loud. I’ve been going over these scans we’ve taken. I started with day one until now. I even put a remote device in the tunnels on an automated bot so it can travel around independently and gather information. What I’m seeing is fantastic!” Eyes glittering, he looked around at the others who eyed him with grim expectancy. All their faces held the same question, Well?

Clearing his skinny throat, Kaz swallowed, the lump of his Adam’s apple bobbing nervously. “‘K, mind you I’m not one for spacial mathematics or anything. Kinda failed that in school,” he blushed deeply, his face rivaling his hair for intensity. “There is a pattern, of sorts, emerging. On a crazy whim, I tapped into Sentience’s memory banks and down loaded some specs about the galaxy this planet was supposed to be the center of. Did you know there were originally twelve planets? This was the fifth one from the sun, optimal distance as it happened. Seven moons surrounded it, apparently artificial, stars all over creation, constellations of amazing configurations!”

“Gunny,” Ray interjected, “get to the point.”

“Yes, sir, sorry. Astronomy is a hobby of mine. So I fed all this into the Kindred device, color coded each of the tunnel openings, and made a Tri D schematic and voila!”

A punch of a button produced a Tri D projection. Twelve tunnel entrances all in a circle with a thirteenth hole in black.

“That’s the outside entrance, which remains static” Kaz pointed to the black circle. “There are twelve tunnels, one for each planet. Starting with the black one, running clockwise, that puts the tunnel for Shakazhan here.” He pointed to a bright green circle. “I also realized that it could run counter-clockwise, putting it here.” He pointed to a vivid blue one. “Little more playing, I thought, what if this is some kind of code key, a way to protect whatever’s behind there from interlopers like us. Maybe it’s not that easy. So I did a simple little math problem. I numbered the tunnels from one to twelve, going clockwise, then added the two together. Split the difference and, of course, ended up with six point five.” He held up a hand to still comment.

“Obviously there is no six point five tunnel, however, add the two numbers together and you get eleven,” he pointed to the pulsing purple tunnel.

“So your supposition based on elementary mathematics, is that tunnel eleven is the one we want?” Ray sounded annoyed.

Kaz shrugged. “It’s an uneducated guess, sir. It could just as easily be two. Or they could’ve done something really sophisticated which would take years to figure out, if at all. But the races here on the surface were ultra sophisticated, high tech and extremely intelligent. I saw a genius, level twenty-seven programmer stumped by a simple math error on line four hundred seventy-two. Instead of two plus two equals four, he’d inadvertently coded it to say, two plus two equals five. It took three lesser programmers to catch the error and convince him he was wrong.”

“You’re saying then that whoever set this here used a simple code to confuse them?” Hal chuckled. “It’s so stupidly simplistic, he might just be right!”

“We’ve been down that tunnel before, why hasn’t it opened up for us?” Benni asked.

“Could be any number of factors, ma’am. Time, alignment of planets, configuration of constellations, anything. It could be completely random.”

Ray made a face. He didn’t like how many times random was cropping up lately.

“What do you suggest then, Kaz?” Barengaria had been silent during this entire conversation. Her Galactix was getting very good. It was in that language she spoke now. “We think we’ve the right tunnel, now what?”

“Now we wait for a pattern to evolve. We set up more bots, watch them and see what happens.”

“Or,” Ray rose suddenly. “We take the direct approach. Pack it up, people, we’re going in.”

Benni started to protest, but her husband looked at her with a blank, stony expression on his face. She knew that look, it said, Don’t argue with me. Snapping her lips shut on her comments, she merely nodded and started to break camp, the others joined her.

“First Lieutenant?”

Ray turned slowly and looked down at Barengaria.

“Do you think it’s wise, all of us going?”

He smiled gently. “Barengaria, if some of us got through and some of us didn’t, we’d have a deuce of a time getting back together. Suppose the conditions are right for only a short space and don’t occur again for a long time. Then what would we do?”

She nodded quietly. “I see your point, sir.” Her smile was soft and gentle in understanding. She gathered her few possessions, whistled to Ayonyo and declared herself ready.

When they’d all assembled, Kaz led them into the mouth of the tunnel and they waited. Tunnel number eleven looked perfectly innocent and completely normal, nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but then again looks were always deceiving around here.

“Just when you thought you’ve it figured out,” Ray muttered, “you get a jackhammer in the ribs.” Shaking his head, he led the tightly grouped team into the mouth of the tunnel, half expecting it to close up on him again. It took every ounce of his courage to keep walking, but he insisted they stay close together.

“If the walls move as we anticipate, I don’t want anyone cut off from the rest of the team.”

Nods of assent were all that he got and he didn’t need anything else. All these people were professionals. They walked slowly at first, warily taking each step. No one wanted to get too far ahead of the others, neither did they want to get left behind.

Hal could see Kaz was getting impatient. He wanted so much to be right but was prepared to be wrong. So many variables were here that there was no way to be certain they’d caught the correct one, all they had to go on was a guess. Somehow Hal thought Kaz was correct, but he said nothing, prepared to offer congratulations or support as necessary.

“It’s shifting,” Barengaria warned, taking a tight grip on Ayonyo’s jess, stroking his feathers ostensibly to calm him. Slipping into the mundane eased her fears as well.

The party moved close together, hoping the space around them wouldn’t contract or cut anyone off. They noticed gratefully that the walls moved around them, leaving plenty of space.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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The Fine Handcrafted Trailer

The following is a short story that is a spin off of my sci-fi series. This story shows the main character, Wil VanLipsig, as a little boy, before life grew hard and he found his dreams and innocence shattered.

Wil walked through the seaside resort with his maternal grandmother. He was nine years old. For his birthday present, his father, Pyle had allowed her to take him to the capitol city of Aenias Drax. It had been an amazing trip, full of adventures and fun. His grandmother took him to all the historical landmarks, famous buildings, museums, art galleries and concerts she could find. Although the smaller towns were provincial and stayed, this was a bustling, lively metropolis.

To Wil it had been like heaven, the most beautiful place on earth! Tree lined sidewalks skirted canals that were clear and clean, sparkling in the sunlight. Small cafés were scattered everywhere, dotted with striped umbrellas of yellow, blue, pink and green. Flowers grew  in pots and window boxes. Splashes of color caught the eye, dragging it artistically to the focal point of every garden. Wil’s sense of smell was acute even then, and he was able to pick put the different scents of each flower.

Walking one day from one museum to the next, they came upon a small building that sat directly on the edge of the canal. No bridge crossed the water, and a large garden stretched for nearly three blocks west of the canal. Wil could not see the other side, it was so large. Consulting their map, they could see that nearly a quarter of a mile of garden lay between them and their goal. Wil was anxious to see the displays at the next museum, and did not want to walk around because it would take them so much longer to get there. There was a man standing by a gate in the garden fence. He was letting people through, smiling and tipping his hat.

Wil’s grandmother approached him. “May we get through your lovely garden? It’s a long walk around and the boy is tired.”

Smiling, the old man answered her. “I’m sorry, Ma’am, this is the exit. Only way to get in the garden is from the south entrance. You’ll have to go around.”

“Can we go through the building?” She pointed to her left with her white gloved hand.

“Well now, you can try,” the old man said with a shrug.

“Thank you, we shall,” she said and took Wil by the hand, leading him to the business doors.

It was a pretty building, all glass windows and white painted French doors. When she opened the door, a tiny brass bell tinkled.

A strange sight met their eyes. To Wil, everything he had seen in this city was unique and new, but this was peculiar even to him.

They stood in a small, cobble lined foyer. To their left was a set of large windows overlooking the canal. To their right was a beautiful, delicately tooled wooden bench whose scroll work was dusted with gold leaf. Behind it was the wall of an elderly looking, wooden building. Directly ahead of them was a small picket fence that sat upon a wall, making the entire edifice about four and a half feet tall. Two small, cement steps led up to the fence. An old man, similar to the one outside, sat on the other side, reading a newspaper. He was hunched over in his chair, reading glasses perched on the end of his nose.

He did not look up when they entered, just kept reading. As Wil and his grandmother approached the fence, his hand hit a lever and a short, yellow gate, like the kind at a railroad crossing, came down in front of them at the top of the steps.

Undaunted, his grandmother approached, opening her handbag. She extracted several bills and offered them to the man. He looked askance at her, shifted in his chair and flipped his newspaper.

“May we please come through?” Wil’s grandmother used her most sweet and charming voice. Her look was expressive of a willingness to comply.

“Nope! Got to come into the garden from the south. Ain’t coming through here.”

“But we don’t want to see the gardens. We’re passing through. The child is tired and anxious to see the art museum on Brach Street. Surely we could walk through your building to save steps?

“Nope!” He looked at her over his glasses. “What’s that you’re doing?”

He was glaring at her hand. She had rested it on one arm of the delicate, wooden bench to her right. As if she had been stung, she pulled her hand away.

“I’m terribly sorry. May we pass?”

“Nope! You look careless to me. You might scratch my fine, handcrafted trailer.”

He jerked his head to his left. They saw that the building to their right was indeed a small trailer that was lined with light gold wooden paneling. It already looked quite scratched. The other old man wandered in and out of the door, brushed against the wall, and passed into the garden on the other side. He seemed to be laughing. The doors opposite them opened. Tourists entered, turned left and passed into the garden, brushing past the back end of the trailer.

“I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous in all my life!” Wil’s grandmother was getting angry. Two bright spots of color rose in her cheeks as she stuffed her money away.

Wil, being only a child, wandered up the steps, slipped past the yellow guard gate and down the other side. He sat on a bench looking out the window at the canal. The old man hardly seemed to notice. Wil’s grandmother stood paralyzed with anger.

“You’ve just let my grandson past!”

“Yep. He’s small, he won’t scratch my fine, handcrafted trailer.”

“I won’t scratch it either! Now raise this ridiculous gate and let me take my grandson and leave!”

The old man scowled at her over his reading glasses. “Nope. Ain’t gonna let ya pass. You might scratch…”

“Your fine, handcrafted trailer! I got that part! If you won’t let me in, let my grandson out!”

“He can wait here while you walk around.”

“He can’t! He’s just a little child! This is a big city and I don’t know you! Now let him out!”

A young couple walked through the other door. Wil had the impression that the woman was beautiful, with blond hair. The man wore a bright red shirt. He didn’t really look at them, but gazed out the window. His grandmother continued to fuss at the old man. The young couple stopped and stared.

“Very well,” his grandmother sighed heavily. “You leave me no choice. Wil!”

He looked up at his grandmother. She wore her no-nonsense-will-be-tolerated face, the one she wore when she was about to do or say something extremely important. When she looked like that, he was to do exactly what she said, no questions. He faced her, solemn and quiet.

“Wilhelm, go over to the trailer. Take out your pocket knife and scratch the hell out of it!”

Startled, he did not react right away. Hand at his pocket, he stared at her a moment. Then instinct took over and he walked obediently to the wall of the trailer, grabbed his knife and extended his hand toward the wall before the old man had a chance to react.

“Now look here!” He rose, dropping his paper to the ground. “Stop that!” He grabbed Wil by the collar of his shirt, yanking his feet off the floor.

The young man stepped forward and grabbed the old man by his collar. He could not lift him off the floor, but he was enough taller he was able to make the old fellow stand on his toes.

“Here now, you can’t do that to a little kid! Let him go!”

Wil’s grandmother used the distraction to raise the gate and follow Wil over the wall to the other side. Deftly, she extracted her grandson’s collar from the startled old man. Thanking the young man for his assistance, she spun Wil toward the door and propelled him forward, crashing through like a bulldozer.

Over her shoulder she called loudly, “Your fine, handcrafted trailer is already scratched, you old coot! And by the way,” she turned to face him, still gripping Wil’s hand tightly. “It’s made in a factory in our town, and they don’t craft them by hand!”

Lifting Wil nearly off the ground, she stormed off toward the museum. They had walked only a few blocks when another café came into view. Wil’s grandmother made directly for it, and ordered a glass of lemonade and a plate of cookies for Wil.

“And I’ll have whiskey,” she told the waiter. “Neat.”

The waiter brought their order, she paid him and gave him a handsome tip to keep her drinks coming. “Wilhelm,” she told him in her no-nonsense-will-be-tolerated voice. “You are never to speak to another living soul about this as long as you live.” She did not mean the incident with the old man, rather the fact that she was drinking whiskey.

They had never gone anywhere near the large garden with the grumpy guard again, but it was such a vivid memory for Wil, it drove much of the rest he had seen that day completely out of his mind. However, from time to time when they were alone, Wil would crack a wicked grin at her, and say, “Grandma, do you remember the yellow gate?”

© 2011 Dellani Oakes

Under the Milky Way – part 8

Luke let himself be searched, giving up his weapons gladly. Storm explained what happened and a security team went in to flush out the hired killers.

“They were waiting for us,” Luke said as they walked to her quarters.

Storm nodded, unsure of her voice. They walked a little further until they came to her door.

“Here I am,” she pointed.

Luke followed her inside. For an apartment on the space station, it was spacious. She had a kitchen, living room and sleeping area with bath. She even had a porthole, not something that everyone could brag about.

“Nice view.”

Gazing out, he could see the moon. A different angle from his, to be sure, a first class view. He saw himself in stark contrast with her. She was well known in the corporate sector. His name was bandied about the dockside usually with laughter at his crazy ship.

Hunching his shoulders, he shoved his hands in his pockets, wondering what the hell he was doing. How did he expect to make anything of himself? Having tenacity didn’t matter for shit if you didn’t have money or connections.

“What did they want?” Storm asked. “And how did they know we’d even go that way?”

“I’m guessing they had two teams,” Luke said. “Either way, they’d have jumped us. We walked right into it.”

“Who ordered the hit? Did you make someone mad enough to kill you?” She walked to her closet, flinging the doors open. She walked in, grabbing pants and a sweater, changing while he watched without caring.

“Me? Those boys were after you, sweet cheeks.” She had a great ass, he thought as he watched her change.

“What? Me? Why? I’m nobody.”

“You and your uncle just pissed off a whole lotta people, baby. Folks like that don’t lie down and take it up the tailpipe. They’re gonna fight back. My guess is that they hired those boys based on the rumors that were flying around here prior to tonight’s show.

“Because of the teleporter? That’s insane. As if killing me could stop Uncle Ralph.”

“Maybe, that would’ve been the start. Thing like this could start an all out corporate war. You die, he retaliates, they return fire…. It’d get mighty nasty, mighty fast.”

Storm sat heavily on her bed, holding her head in her hands. “Oh, my God! Do you think they’ll still do it?”

Luke shrugged. “You might have been the only target, at least so far. Wax you, they’ve got a show of strength. Kill me, they smack your uncle in the face.”

“I’ve got to warn him,” she said quietly.

Whipping out her cellphone, she called Ralph’s base under the mountain in the heart of Shine Clan territory. He answered somewhat bleary eyed. Storm apologized, not realizing it was so late. Once she explained, he woke quickly and completely.

“You don’t worry about this, darlin’. You go on that run with your man. I’ll handle this.”

“He’s not my man, Uncle Ralph.”

The old man waved her words away. “You go on. I’ll send word when all’s done. Best tell Sophie on your way out.”

“I will, Uncle Ralph. Be careful.”

“I will, baby.”

Storm disconnected with a heavy sigh. Gathering a few more necessary items, including her weapons, she stood, facing Luke.

“I’m ready.”

Luke turned away from the view, seeing a very different woman from the one he’d brought here. She was wearing jeans and sweater with leather boots and a heavy leather coat that went to her ankles. Her white blonde hair was pulled up in a ponytail. The fancy earrings were gone, replaced by a pair of gold posts in the shape of dolphins. She had a sizable pellet gun strapped to her hip, a short sword on her belt and a variety of throwing knives. A small duffel bag hung from her left shoulder.

Under the Milky Way – part 5

Lukas is trying to convince Storm that she needs to hire him to transport the equipment for the teleportation device her clan is installing. Since his ship looks like something cobbled together with bubble gum and duct tape, that’s going to be a hard sell.

A panel slid aside revealing a very sophisticated virtual keypad. Smiling up at her, he tapped a command on the keypad and a projection screen hummed. White light burst from it, flickering as a figure emerged.

“Besides, not every ship has this. Storm, I want you to meet my own, personal angel. Gabrielle, say hello to Storm.”

The figure of a woman stood before her on the console. Nearly four feet high, she was not quite opaque. The projection smiled politely. Her ears were pointed, her lithe body sporting a pair of graceful wings.

“Hello, Storm. I am Gabrielle. Are you a friend of Lukas’?”

“Business associate,” Storm smiled. “Pleased to meet you, Gabrielle.”

“What is a bizniz assoshut?” Gabrielle turned to Lukas with a puzzled frown.

“She means we just met and we aren’t quite friends yet. We’ll be working together.”

“Oh, I see. Pleased to meet you, Storm, bizniz assoshut.” She bowed.

“Gabrielle, how’s everything?” Luke asked her.

“All systems are operational, Lukas. The damages from our last run have been repaired. You have six messages from the harbor master. She warns you that if….”

“Yes, I’ve been given the message. Thank you.”

“Certainly. Is there anything else?”

“Not at the moment. Thank you.”

“You’re most welcome. Farewell, Storm.”

Stunned, Storm realized her mouth was hanging open. Luke rose languidly from his seat, walking over to her. He leaned toward her, lips a mere breath from hers as he gently pushed her lower jaw closed with his fingertips.

“That,” he said, still leaning toward her, “is the reason you’re gonna give the job to me.”

“I ….” Her mouth worked silently as she tried to put her thoughts together.

“Take your time.” He smiled, propping himself against the console across from her.

She pointed to the place where Gabrielle had been moments before. “You…. She—there was a woman.”

“Yes. Go on.” His smile was smug.

“She wasn’t human. She was—that is….”

“Alien. Yes, I know. She came with the ship.”

“That’s impossible! We don’t have that kind of technology. There are AI’s and projections, but nothing that sophisticated.”

“Humans don’t, no. But Gabrielle’s not human.”

“Then the ship?”

“It’s not human either. Why do you think we’ve added all this on her? Camouflage. If I look like a hunk of junk, people leave me alone. If everyone knew what I had, they’d all want a piece of the action.”

That statement was loaded with so many double entendres, it took Storm a moment to form a reply. This was business, not pleasure. Though Luke was smooth and talked a good game, she couldn’t base her decision on how well a man talked, how good looking he was, or the fact that he had an alien AI on board.

“I can’t give you a contract until I see how she performs. You say she’s fast, you have to prove it.”

“Very well. Give me a task. Hire me for any run you want. I guarantee we’ll do it faster than anyone else.”

“My cousin needs a load of building supplies brought up from home. I was going to have them teleported….”

“Give me something more challenging, huh? Any old scow can pick up building supplies. How about…? Gazing out the portal of the vessel, he saw the moon in the distance. “How about I make a moon run?”

“I don’t need anything from the moon.”

“Neither do I, but it would be a perfect test of our speed. How long does it take the average ship to make the moon run one way?”

“Seventeen hours and fifty-six minutes,” she replied. Everyone who’d been on Crystal Palace more than a week knew the answer to that.

“Correct. What if I told you I could be there and back again in that amount of time? Would I get the job then?”

“How do I know you wouldn’t just tell me you’d been and turn around halfway?”

“Because,” he leaned toward her. “You’re coming with me.”

“What?”

“I’ll need my docking fees paid,” he commented over his shoulder.

“I can’t go like this!” She indicated her evening dress and heels.

“Go change. Pay the docking fees and I’ll be ready to go as soon as you get back.”

“Oh, no. I’m not falling for that. If I pay your fees, you’ll be gone by the time I get back.”

“Fine. I’ll go with you. The crew can get her ready.” He sidled up to her. “Of course, I could tell them to be ready in the morning and we could spend some quality time at your place.” He slid in close, his body heat making her skin tingle.

“Or,” she shoved him roughly away. “We could go now and come back right away so I can make my decision.”

“Fine.” He shrugged, not caring that she’d just rejected him. “Come on. We’re burning moonlight.”

Under the Milky Way – part 4

Lukas Houston met her by the door to the banquet hall, hands in his pockets, looking smug. He placed his thumb on the electronic claim panel and the bodyguards at the door handed him his weapons. As he collected a variety of throwing knives, a short sword and a very lethal looking, gas propelled pellet gun, Storm smiled.

“I do like a man who can defend himself, Mr. Houston.”

“My friends call me Luke,” he flashed a winning smile.

“Well, Luke, what sets you apart from all those other, more established companies? Why should I put Shine Clan interests in your hands?”

“Because,” he touched the small of her back as the bodyguards opened the doors for them. “I have cojones the size of Texas. And because I have something those other fellas don’t.”

“Oh, really? You have more than ten thousand intergalactic ships at your disposal?”

He shook his head. “Nope. Only the one ship so far.”

“One ship? You’re talking to me about a multibillion dollar enterprise and offering one ship?”

“That’s right. Wait until you see her. If what I have to show you doesn’t convince you that I can deliver, I’ll leave Crystal Palace and never come back.”

“How do you propose to do that?”

“Come see my ship. Once you see her, you’ll understand.”

Storm agreed to accompany him to his ship. Had she not had quite so much to drink, she might not have agreed as quickly. However, something about him appealed to her. If Lukas Houston was anything other than what he claimed, she’d soon find out.

The areas they walked through grew gradually more seedy, run down and disreputable. They reached the docking area commonly known as the harbor. A tall, gray haired woman greeted them.

“Luke, the harbor master’s looking for you. She said you owe her rent for two months. If it’s not paid within the next forty-eight hours, I’ve got no choice but to put a station lock on your ship.”

“Thanks, Penny. That’s not the least bit embarrassing for you to tell me right now.”

“Oh, sorry, Luke. Is this your newest girlfriend?” She gave Storm a sneering appraisal.

“No, she’s a business associate.”

“Right,” she said, smirking as they walked past. “Why’s your business associate in an evening gown?”

“That’s my business,” Storm answered, annoyed by the woman’s attitude. “I came to see Mr. Houston’s ship.”

“Oh, that’s what they’re calling it these days?” She replied nastily.

Storm smiled sweetly. “Yes, though later it will be called, ‘I rocked his world and then some.’ Can we go now, sweetie?” She hooked arms with Luke, kissing his cheek.

“Sure, baby.” He patted her ass, snuggling next to her as they passed the angry woman.

Once they were out of sight, she let go of his arm. “Thanks for warning me there was a bitch patrol.”

“I didn’t know she’d be on duty. She’s usually off at night. Feel free to rock my world, though. I liked the sound of that.”

Storm tried to stay angry but couldn’t. Rolling her eyes, she nudged him with her elbow.

“Ex-girlfriend?” She nodded toward the harbor entrance.

“No, she’s a wanna be. I try to make it a habit not to get involved with women who have power over my ship. If I pissed her off, she’d lock my vessel. Ship ain’t worth much if it’s not moving.”

Luke led Storm down the corridor nearly to the end. Eventually, they came to his ship’s berth. He ushered her through an open airlock onto the oddest looking ship Storm had ever seen. The nose and tail fin were parts of an old American space shuttle. The wings were from two different space vehicles and each of the rooms looked like it had been salvaged, welded in place and cobbled together like a chaotic jigsaw puzzle.

Luke led her to the bridge which was as mixed and motley as the rest of the ship. Here, he flopped in a padded seat that had been taken from an old fishing boat. Placing a thumb on the scanner, he waited.

“I know she don’t look like much,” he swiveled the chair, taking in all points of the bridge. “But there’s no ship that’s faster.”

“There’s more to life than speed.” Storm smirked, leaning against a console since there were no other seats. “Sometimes slow and steady’s better.”

“True, but if you’ve got freight to move, then you need to be on time.”

Under the Milky Way – part 3

A spot of light grew, wobbled and cleared. Ralph’s homely face filled it, his four hundred pound body invisible below the level of the camera. A pleasant smile wreathed his coarse featured face.

“Where’s my girl?” He spotted Storm, still standing behind the head table. “There you are! Any problems?”

“None so far, Uncle Ralph.” She smiled. “Everything is ready for you to do the honors.”

“Thanks, baby.” He smiled again, glancing around the room. “I want to thank y’all for coming. It pleases me to see that so many of you have come to join in our celebration. Now, without further ado, the main event of tonight’s proceedings. I proudly present the next stage of human transportation. Live and in person from planet Earth!”

A blue-white glow filled the center of the room between the lower tables and the buffet. There was a platform, concealed by a heavy curtain. The curtain dropped as the machinery hummed and thrummed.

The form of a man appeared, silhouetted by the light, his body nearly transparent. A moment later, he stood, fully formed, in the center of the teleporter pad, grinning happily. He held a bottle of the Shine Clan’s famous beverage in his hand. Stepping off the pad, he smiled, waving at the assembled corporate heads and their wives.

“Howdy! Y’all wanna try it?” Taking a swig from the bottle, he invited them to hop on.

Everyone stared at him with mixed emotions. Those corporate officers who worked for transportation companies glowered at Storm, blaming her for the incident. One by one, they and their wives left in silent anger, furious that their most lucrative contract, space transportation, was about to be terminated.

“Hm, seems we upset some folks,” Sophie murmured.

“We knew it was bound to happen,” Storm answered just as quietly. “They don’t matter. The only ones who matter are the folks who intend to use the teleporter service.”

Sophie tossed her long, dark hair over her shoulder, smiling at the assembled crowd. “And those that want Mama’s moonshine will come to me.” Waving at the younger businessmen, she walked over to meet them, flirting shamelessly.

Storm envied her cousin’s ability to make men swoon and grovel at her feet. Her own talents were of a different nature. She was the Shine Clan’s fixer. She negotiated deals and drew up contracts. It was an important job, one she’d trained and hoped for the last three years. Now that she had it, she felt somewhat overwhelmed.

Movement caught her eye. The man in the beige suit walked forward, standing in front of them. He bowed formally.

“Mr. Boone,” he said in a soft Southern accent, “it appears as if some of your guests had a mind to leave early.”

“Boone grinned. “More dessert for the rest of us, eh? And you are?”

“My name’s Lukas Houston of Texas. I have a proposition, sir.”

“What could you possibly offer, young man?”

“Well, that teleporter is a mighty fine piece of equipment. But I reckon that since you need a sending pad and a receiving pad, someone’s got to take those pads to the location to set ’em up. And since they need a mighty big power supply, that’s gonna need transport too. Those fellas that left, they ain’t lookin’ at the big picture.”

“And you are?”

“Yep. I figure you’re gonna be setting up those pads and could use a man like me to do it. I also figure that if something goes wrong with those pads after installation, you’re gonna need transportation for techs and parts. Am I right?”

“You’re certainly a man of more vision than your colleagues,” Boone grinned. “Is that what you needed to talk to me about?”

“Well sir, right now, I was figuring that you’re not the person to speak to about all this. With all due respect, I think I’d rather talk to her.” He pointed at Storm.

Feeling all eyes on her, Storm blushed. Sorry she was still standing, she felt lightheaded as if the gravity had just gone off again.

Boone laughed, tossing his napkin on the table. “Boy, you’ve got cojones the size of Texas! Storm, go talk to that man, see what he has to say.”

“Yes, sir,” she mumbled, trying not to trip over her skirt as she walked toward the exit.