Starr strode down the ramp that led from cargo bay three. Seven pallets of freight, each a collection of blue plastic containers wrapped in clear plastic sheeting still sat on the gravel-covered ground. Viv stood beside one of them, clipboard in hand.
“What do we have?” asked Starr.
“Seven pallets of ceramics, as if you could find anything else on this planet.”
The planet, Tan Seven, was completely uninhabited, except for a large and mostly automated facility, owned by an Argaelian corporation, which manufactured high quality ceramic parts for electronic systems. There was a small domed village, where the few employees of the plant lived, and a starport. The starport was little more than a flat place covered in gravel, and a prefab freight building where outbound ceramics waited merchant ships bored enough or lost enough to have stopped here.
“Are they going to Armiger?”
“No, they are going to Thim.” She rubbed her cheek and inadvertently smeared grease across it. “I got seven hundred a piece PH.”
Starr smiled. Viv was almost as good at negotiating transport prices as he was himself. That was the reason that he allowed her to check outbounds.
Viv had been a member of his crew for almost two standard years now. She was a Zarian, like he was, and to Starr’s mind, way too pretty to be a crewman on a freighter. She was however, perfectly suited to the job, reveling in the hard work and enjoying the strange sights that went along with it.
“At least we’ll be able to buy food,” said Starr. “Let’s get them onboard.”
“Aye aye, Captain. Huppy’s bringing the grav-loader around.”
“Good.” Starr turned around and tramped back up the ramp to the ship.
As he made his way through the cargo hold and up the main corridor toward the forward section of the ship, Starr kept his eyes open as he always did for anything amiss. The Nova Dancer was an old girl, having hauled mail and supplies to a mining colony somewhere and ore back to Zarius for more than twenty years before being sold off at auction. Starr had purchased her for a bargain price with the money he had stashed away during his own twenty-year duty in the Zarian Interstellar Scout Service. He smiled. He had been hauling around space just about as long as the Dancer had.
The control section was in the forward third of the ship and consisted of five compartments. The flight deck was in the front center, while on either side and slightly behind was the automed and crew common area on the left, and the bunkroom and the head on the right. Then suspended out on either side were the massive stardrive engines, each with a small engineering space reached through a narrow corridor.
Stepping through the door into the flight deck, Starr sat down in the pilot’s seat, the centermost of three spots. He busied himself plotting a flight plan out of the system. It was pretty complicated work and took him a while even with the computer. He was so immersed in his work that when Viv sat down in the seat beside his right shoulder, it startled him.
“Ready,” she said simply.
“Start her up then,” he said as he climbed out of his seat.
“I already made sure everything was ready to go,” said Viv.
“I’m sure you did.” Starr was sure too, but he had never let his ship take off without personally checking for himself. The engines started to come to life as he examined the systems monitor just behind the flight deck. By the time he had made a visual check of all the hatches and the cargo bays and made sure that both Huppy and Reed were onboard, the entire ship was humming. The old girl wanted to get back into the empty.
Starr stepped back into the flight deck and squeezed back into the pilot’s seat. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Viv’s cleavage, but he quickly pulled his eyes back to the front. He hit the large red button with his clenched fist, releasing the grav-lock. Then taking hold of the controls, he guided the ship as the engines lifted it from the ground. Pulling the nose up toward the wispy clouds, he threw the throttle forward with his left hand and felt his body pressed back into his chair.
“I love this part,” said Viv.
There was an advantage to landing on an almost uninhabited planet. You didn’t need to go through lengthy clearance procedures before landing or taking off. You just threw it open and flew. The clouds grew lighter and lighter and then just disappeared, as the sky grew darker and darker and then just became the black of space. Starr punched in the flight plan and leaned back.
“Have you figured out where we are going after Thim?” Viv asked.
As Starr swiveled his chair to look at her, their knees touched. She had managed to increase the size of the grease smear on her cheek to reach her ear and her eyebrow, and now there was a large smear across the top of her right breast. Starr stared at that perfectly formed though messy breast and its unsoiled twin for just a moment too long and when he looked up into her eyes, he saw a question there. It was a question he didn’t want to have to answer.
“You have grease on you,” he said, pointing. “Just there.”
“Damn,” she said, looking down. “How do I do it? If there is a spot of grease anywhere on the planet, it’s going to end up on me.”
“You’ve got some on your face too.”
“Well, that figures.”
“Did you have someplace in mind?” Starr asked, now that his indiscretion had been covered up. “To go after Thim, I mean.”
Viv shrugged. “Makes no diff to me.”
“We can talk it over at supper.”
“Do you need me now?” she asked. When he shook his head, she continued. “I’m going to take a shower.”