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*Freelance Traveller

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Story 1, Scene A1, by Brian Perkins

Nick glanced around nonchalantly and hitched his scabbard around to his pants seam. Guns weren't allowed outside the starport in the domed city, and he suddenly felt naked.

As he stepped into the street the skin crawled on the back of his neck. He decided not to look around for a sharpshooter. Paranoia wasn't dangerous in itself - just looking scared. That was dangerous...especially for a free trader.

By the time he reached the starport proper, he had remembered much of the incident that was about to regain center stage. The Navy officer had to be LT Archer. CDR Archer now? And he had given the card to Archer when the man had saved Nick's ship from a corsair bent on looting.

His ship. Nick looked up at the Emma B as he approached. It gleamed against the black jeweled sky. Not boxy and long like other merchants on this vacuum world, but sleek and solid like a Far Trader used to dense atmospheres and buffeting winds.

"Hi, Capt," greeted Amy stepping from behind the stern and lowering her shotgun.

"Careful with that thing, Gunner," warned Nick. Wouldn't want to pop the dome without a vacc suit on. The locals might not like it."

"No worries, sir. The dome is self-sealing. I heard it in the gun shop. Besides I always watch my backdrop. Would have dusted the hangar door a bit, that's all." Amy safed the double-barrelled weapon and rested it on an ample hip. "What's up?"

Nick pushed the access code and opened the ship's outer hatch. "Not now and not out here. I'll send Ace out to relieve you so we can talk in my cabin. Oh, and Amy...?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Watch for a tall man. He may or may not be in a Navy uniform. Either way, cover him and send him right in."

Amy arched a brow. It made her look younger than her 32 years - much younger. Nick stirred uncomfortably.

"Sure, Captain." The cute, if no longer young, brunette stretched sagely, arching her back and ensuring that her blue body suit stretched pleasantly. "Cargo is loaded and we're ready for passengers at any time. Or trouble."

Nick shook his head. Trouble, he snorted. The veteran captain never fooled around with female crewmen. It was dangerous. But the thought did occasionally occur to him. And he knew when he was being teased.

"Look sharp, Gunner. I don't know if he's to be a passenger, but I do know he will be followed by trouble."

Amy pouted, but returned to her watch. The hatch slid shut behind Nick. His last image was of his gunner's backside framed by the hatch and wiggling it's way back to Emma B's stern.

Within minutes Nick was in his cabin pulling out a library tape. He needed a quick refresher on the corsair incident...and the profitable salvage that had followed.

"Computer, tell Ace to relieve Amy. Summon Sparks and commence warm up sequence."

"Acknowledged, Captain. Warm up commencing."

Nick slipped the tape into the table slot and fast forwarded. Just as he found the part he wanted there was a knock at the door.

"Permission to enter, sir?" The door slid open before he could reply.

"Come in, Sparks. I think we have a favor to pay back."

The heavy-set engineer sighed and plopped into a chair without permission. "Aye aye, Captain. What dangerous haul do we have now?"

The computer interrupted. "A stranger is approaching the ship. Amy is on station and moving to intercept. Ace is providing cover."

Nick looked up and winked. "Sparks, old shipmate, I believe we are about to find out."

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