BLUE HORIZON 1261
— by Ted R. Blasingame
"SS Blue Horizon, PA registry twelve sixty-one," the gray wolf recited into tiny microphone of the Com system headset. "This is Captain Merlin Sinclair. What can I help you with?"
"Captain Sinclair, my name is Connie Davies. I would like to speak with your ship's medical officer, please."
"I'm sorry, Ms. Davies," Merlin replied, taking a seat at the station, "but I currently don't have a medical officer on my crew. Is there something I could help you with?"
There was a light chuckle on the other end of the voice-only connection. "I was hoping you might tell me something like that," said the woman. "Captain, I am calling in reference to your advertisement for crew positions, and I would like to submit an application as a medical officer for your space ship."
Merlin looked up in surprise, staring out the forward windows of the bridge at the spaceport activity all around the ship. "Yes, ma'am," he answered with a grin to himself at his recent fortune hiring for his business. "The Blue Horizon is docked on pad 39A at the Alucara Spaceport."
"Pad 39A? That's a stroke of good luck. I'm in the second-floor canteen of terminal thirty-nine right now."
"I know where that's at," Merlin told her. "I'll meet you there in ten minutes and we can discuss your application."
"I'm in the booth just inside the front door on the right. I'm a redhead in a tan skirt and white blouse."
Merlin looked puzzled. "You have a red head?" he asked. "Uh, what species are you?"
The woman gave another light chuckle. "Sorry, captain. I should have said that I am a red-headed human."
The wolf smiled. "Ah, I see. I've not seen many humans here in Alucara, so you should be easy to spot. I am a Dennieran gray wolf."
"I'm looking forward to meeting you, sir."
"I will be there shortly." In a light attitude for his good fortune, Merlin disconnected the communication and got up from the seat. He saved the flight checklist he had been writing up on a slateboard and then headed for the door with the unit in one hand. As soon as he stepped out in the corridor, Jiro and Samantha spotted him from a nearby open doorway.
"Merlin!" Jiro called, beckoning him toward them. "We need to talk!" Both he and Samantha looked seriously troubled, but the wolf shook his head.
"I'm on my way to meet someone in the terminal building," he told them, heading straight for the lift.
"Merlin!" Samantha tried. "We have a situation…"
The captain stopped, lifted his free hand to chest level, and splayed out his fingers. "Listen, you'll have to take care of it and tell me about it later. I'll be back in a bit, hopefully with our final crew member."
Without waiting for a response, he turned and strode to the lift. As the timing would have it, the carriage had already returned to the crew deck, so he was inside and gone before the others had time to stop him again.
When the wolf reached the outside airlock, he stepped out into a ray of evening sunshine filtering in through a mostly cloudy sky. Heartened by the prospect of filling the final crew position for his ship, he decided not to bother walking across the tarmac to the terminal building, so he took the rental van instead.
Moments later, he strode in through the front doors of Canteen Thirty-Nine. He looked to his right for a redheaded woman and found her almost at his elbow. She smiled up at him over her shoulder and then she stood up.
"Ms. Davies?" he asked. "I am Merlin Sinclair."
"Connie Davies," she said in a small voice. "I appreciate you seeing me on short notice, Captain Sinclair." The woman was short, barely taller than Ivy Sparks, but her straight hair of fiery red hung to her waist, her bangs cut straight across her forehead. She held out a hand to him, and the wolf took it politely.
"I'm pleased to make your acquaintance," he replied. He gestured toward the booth and the woman returned to her seat. Merlin sat opposite across from her and set his slateboard on the table before him. "How are you this afternoon?"
Connie gave him an easy smile with soft gray eyes. There was a smattering of freckles across her nose that tried to draw the wolf's attention, but he kept his eyes firmly locked on hers. "My day has gone well so far," she answered lightly, toying with a soda glass on the table in front of her. "I would like the trend to continue."
Merlin returned her smile and clasped his hands in front of him on the table. He was about to speak, but a tall coyote walked up to the table with an order pad.
"May I get something for you, sir," she said with a smile over bright green eyes.
"Kidwell coffee, please. Black," he answered.
"Yes sir. I will have it out in just a moment." She walked away and then Merlin looked back at his companion.
"The position you wish to apply for is on an Okami–class freighter called the Blue Horizon," he told her in a straightforward manner. "A typical crew consists of eight or nine individuals, but at the moment I have six working for me." He paused when the waitress brought his coffee. He took a sip with a friendly smile and then nodded appreciatively. The canine woman left to attend another table.
"How much time do you spend out in space?" Connie asked.
"Well, the business is new, so we've not yet launched on our first delivery," Merlin began, "but a typical voyage should typically take three or four weeks, depending upon the distance involved crossing to specific locations across the Planetary Alignment; some could take longer. I will be giving the crew three days of shore leave every time we land, excepting for deliveries made from site to site within a single planet's atmosphere. Salaries will be paid per voyage into each person's account."
"That sounds good," the woman replied with a nod. "Are there any other humans in your crew, or are they all lupine?"
Merlin shook his head. "We have a thoroughly mixed crew," he answered, "but you would be the only human on board. There are two raccoons, a lynx, a cougar, a brown bear, a Border collie and a wolf, that being myself. I am assuming you have experience with multiple Fur physiologies?"
Connie nodded. "It would be pointless to apply if that wasn't the case," she replied.
The captain gave her a lopsided smile. "True," he said. "May I ask why a registered nurse would want to sign up onto a cargo freighter? I'm sure you could get better work at a local hospital or clinic."
The woman shrugged and returned his smile. "That's simple, really. I have always wanted to go out into space for adventure."
Merlin chuckled and took a sip of his coffee. "On a common freighter such as mine, the most likely adventure you would find there might be treating mechanics' burns or removing splinters from crew fingers when loading cargo on wooden pallets."
"I don't look at it that way, Captain," Ms. Davies countered. "Space may be vast and relatively empty, but it's sure to hold mysteries and adventures that even a mundane cargo freighter is likely to have. I have plenty of hobbies and interests to keep my time occupied during the quiet times, but the dream of getting out into space has been a longtime interest."
"Well, I agree that we probably need more than just a First Aid kit on board," the wolf replied. "I enjoy the space travel myself, so I can understand your wish to get out there." He looked down at the slateboard on the table before him and tapped out a few commands. He turned it around, slid it toward her and said, "This is the standard crew application and contract, so you can take a look at them here and fill out your information. The salary for the position you want is listed at the bottom of the contract, as are the standard benefits for my crew."
"Thank you." The woman began reading the information before her and Merlin gave her time by drinking his coffee and idly gazing out the café's large glass window across the room that looked out across the spaceport.
The canine waitress had refilled his cup and brought him a cinnamon roll before Ms. Davies finished reading the contract and filled in her information on the application. Merlin wiped his muzzle with a paper napkin, and then his fingers, looking up at her with a friendly smile.
"All done?" he asked when she slid the slateboard toward him.
"Yes sir," she said in a slightly excited tone. "The contract and salary look good, and I have no questions on the benefits."
The wolf glanced over her references and nodded, feeling good about this. "I will check your refs later," he said with a smile, "but would you like a tour of your ship for now?"
The human's eyes lit up. "My ship?" she asked excitedly. "Have I been hired?"
Merlin smiled. "Checking your references is just a formality, Connie. If you're willing to take a medical position on a freighter, as well as take responsibility to help move cargo, I don't see why you shouldn't join us."
"May I sign my contract now?" she asked. "I accept!"
The captain laughed aloud at her enthusiasm and slid the slateboard back over to her as one more person agreed to work for him.
"Are you going to be okay?" Jerad asked the lynx seated in the passenger seat of his work truck. He guided the vehicle along the lines painted on the spaceport tarmac toward the Blue Horizon, but had to stop momentarily when an automated luggage cart crossed his path on its way to a public transport that had just landed.
Ivy looked over at him with a smile and nodded. "I'm fine now," she assured him. "Thom's funeral was simple, but respectful. He and I were not really close, but I'm glad we went. Thank you for taking me."
"Anything for a friend," the raccoon said with a smile. "You were really quiet on the ride back."
"Sorry, I just have something on my mind," she replied.
"Is it because of Sam?" Jerad asked as he continued on toward their ship.
Ivy looked up sharply. "What do you mean?"
"I got the impression that I interrupted a disagreement between you two."
The lynx fell quiet, choosing her words carefully. "I inadvertently offended her," she said with the simplest of explanations, "and I was trying to apologize."
"Ah," replied the raccoon. "I hope it'll be okay, but it's better to find out what sets people off before we launch out across the cosmos with them. I like Sam and hope you two can still be friends."
Ivy gave him a gentle smile. "I think we can," she said. "You shouldn't worry about it."
"I'll worry about it if I want to!" the mechanic quipped with mock seriousness. The stern expression looked out of place on his face, and it made the lynx laugh aloud. She had not known him for long, but this raccoon’s face simply looked more natural with a smile. Jerad grinned at her with bright eyes, pleased to have amused her.
He pulled the truck up to the designated parking area near the ship. Jiro's van was gone, but Samantha's car occupied the spot next to his truck. When Ivy unbuckled her harness and started to get out of the vehicle, she noted that her companion kept his seat.
"Are you coming in?" she asked.
Jerad shook his head. "Just thinking. I should try to sell my truck before we get our first customer," he replied. "There won't be room on the Horizon to store it once we start filling the hold with cargo, and I doubt we'll be back in Alucara for a while."
"Yeah, that's probably a good idea, but shouldn't you discuss it with your brother?"
"Why? The truck's mine. He lost his little car in a card game a few weeks back, but I'm master of my own vehicle!"
Ivy frowned. "He's a gambler?" she asked.
"We both are," Jerad replied with a smirk. "I'm just better at it than he is."
The lynx sighed and shook her head with a smile. "I keep finding out more and more about you each day."
"Stick around for a while, and you might learn some of my dark secrets!"
Ivy laughed again. "I dare say I will. Okay, I'm going inside so you can go con someone into buying your truck."
"It shouldn't be too difficult," Jerad mused. "The truck's in good working order."
"Too difficult for what?" Ivy asked, walking away. "To sell it, or to con someone to buy it?"
The raccoon grinned again. "Take your pick!" Once she was away from the vehicle, he backed out and retraced the route back out to the spaceport exit.
When Ivy started toward the ramp, she was startled to see Samantha standing just inside the airlock, her arms folded across her chest. Her face may have been unreadable, but her tail swished behind her in agitation. The lynx frowned, looking up at her.
"Hello, Sam," she said quietly.
"Hello," replied the canine in a neutral tone. "How was your… outing?"
Ivy swallowed the lump in her throat and walked up the ramp toward the other woman. "It was simple, yet respectful," she said, repeating what she had told Jerad earlier.
Samantha stepped back inside the compression chamber to allow the lynx entrance into the vessel. "Uh, Ivy… when you get changed, may I have a few minutes of your time?"
The feline looked up her with a gentle smile. "Of course," she said, taking a peek at her delicate techwatch. "It will be a while before I need to start preparing supper."
"Please let me know when you're ready," the Border collie said.
"Come on up with me now," Ivy replied. "We can talk along the way."
Samantha put a hand lightly on the cook's shoulder. "I would like to continue our earlier discussion," she said. "I'm sure you understand that I would like a private audience with you."
"Of course. We can talk in my cabin."
The pair walked to the lift in silence, their footsteps echoing in the empty cargo area. On their way up to the next level, Ivy broke the quiet with a casual question. "Do we have a customer yet?"
Samantha shook her head. "Not as far as I know. Merlin's getting frustrated, but he's holding it well." They saw no one else on their way to the lynx's cabin, so they went right in. Samantha was going to wait outside, but Ivy waved her inside. She locked the door behind them for privacy.
The canine took a seat at the computer desk. Ivy pulled a casual, pale yellow dress from her closet and then stepped into the lavatory to change.
After a moment of quiet, Samantha looked down at her feet and said, "Now that you know who I am, what do I need to do for you to keep it quiet?"
Ivy stepped out of the lavatory, adjusting the split in the back of her skirt around her short tail. "I'm not asking you for anything," she told her.
The lynx gave her a friendly smile. "Sam, that's not who I am. Maybe you're in trouble for accounting problems, a threat against your life, or you are running away from a lover, but it's really none of my business. I probably wouldn't have made a connection between you and the newscast if I hadn't overheard you and Jiro talking. Another week and I doubt I would have even remembered enough of the newscast for it to mean anything to me by then."
Samantha's frown stayed in place. "If you figured out who I am… then why did you tell me you knew, if not for extortion?"
Ivy took the woman's hands in her own, giving her an easy smile. "Because you're my friend," she replied. "I've only known you for a few days, but you've been nice to me and we've gotten along well; we're going to be spending a lot of time together on this ship, so I would like to continue our friendship. Honestly, I just wanted to let you know that I am aware of who you are, but if you want to keep others from knowing too, you and Jiro should guard your conversations behind closed doors."
"Ivy… I, uh…."
The lynx shook her head. "I don't need to know what's going on with you, and I won't ask you to trust me with your story. I'm good with secrets and will keep your identity to myself, but there's no need to give me any more details. You can trust me not to breathe a word of it to the captain or the rest of the crew."
Samantha finally sighed in relief. "Thank you, my friend," she replied with emotion. She held onto the lynx's hands and said, "I appreciate your silence, but in truth I'm not in any trouble, and Merlin already knows about me. My reasons for hiding out are not as dire as you're assuming, and you'll probably just think I'm silly when you hear them."
"Oh?" Ivy shook her head and then chuckled. "No, there's no reason to tell me. I can keep your secret as far as I know it."
"Actually, I think if you know what's going on, it will probably be easier for you to keep that secret," Samantha countered.
The lynx stepped to the bed and scooted up to the head, her back resting against the curved wall behind her. She wrapped both arms around her pillow and then gave her companion a friendly smile.
"Okay then," she said. "I'm ready to hear your story so I can call you silly."
Connie Davies hugged herself and made a small pirouette in the middle of the small freighter cabin that Merlin had assigned to her. Their tour of the vessel finished, the captain had excused himself to put away his slateboard and make a visit to the bridge, and the red haired human woman was alone in the room.
Making a life out in space had been a dream of hers since she had been a small girl watching cheesy science fiction programs. She knew the shows were fictional and that real life out between the stars was typically boring and uneventful, but she wanted that experience for herself. The only space flight she had ever taken was when she had immigrated from Kantus to Alexandrius with her boyfriend six years earlier, and she had loved the full three and a half weeks it took the transport to journey there. Until she had browsed the local classified ads during her lunch break at the clinic where she worked, there had never been another opportunity to get back out into space. It was true that she made enough money to live on, but it was not enough to afford a space cruise.
In a dead-end position for a job she really didn't care for, Connie felt that the advertisement was her lifeline to leave Alexandrius. Her boyfriend long gone after some other woman, she had no other ties to this world, and since the clinic only served other humans, she counted herself fortunate to be accepted on a ship staffed with Furs.
She preferred their company to her own species, but she was not as experienced with anthro physiologies as she had led the captain to believe to get the job. As the wolf had originally supposed, a cargo freighter would be unlikely to need medical services beyond that of a First Aid kit. All she would have to do is help move a little cargo on and off the ship once a month and the captain would gladly pay her to just sit around and travel the stars.
Connie smiled to herself. If she had known how easy it was to join the crew of a space ship, she would have done it some time ago.
— NEXT CHAPTER —
Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.