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BLUE HORIZON, BOOK 4

— Episode 41

"Command Decision"
by Ted R. Blasingame

 

Captain Rezo Kegawa muttered beneath his breath as he watched the scarlet form of the Kokoro settle down on a nearby landing pad. He recognized its form easily, since he’d just seen it days earlier when it had rendezvoused with the Hidalgo Sun in flight to Crescentis to take his cargo load master away from him.  His protests had been overruled and then Mark Littlefeather was transferred to the newest ship in the company fleet.

This had left him without anyone to coordinate the offloading of cargo when they’d reached the watery world. He’d had to tackle the job himself, but somehow they’d managed to get everything unloaded onto a fleet of trucks that had arrived to take possession of the delivery. They were a day late and their client hadn’t been happy about it, having had to retain personnel on overtime to wait for them.

When Mark had been taken, he’d been told that a new cargo master would have already been hired and waiting for them by the time they landed, but as yet no one had arrived to claim that position.  Then, before he could release his crew to shore leave, he’d received yet another message from the home office requiring them all to stand by for another arrival of the Kokoro

It was freaky knowing that the little scarlet vessel with their new super engines could zip back and forth between worlds in minutes with only a twenty-four hour turnaround, but yet here it was again – probably bearing more bad news. All he’d been told was that an important passenger had immediate business with the captain and his first officer that would affect the crew as well. Who was this mysterious passenger he and Jonesy were to meet?  Was it another Silloni like Tristan, or were they bringing Mark back already? He sincerely hoped it was the latter so he could inflict his displeasure upon the human deserter.

The red panda narrowed his eyes and ground his teeth together, making his companion look over at him surreptitiously. Rezo’s attitude had already gotten him into trouble with the company president once this week. He’d always been in control over his crew, and it grated on the captain’s nerves to know that he had been powerless to prevent Mark’s departure. Making command decisions for others had suited him, and although he hadn’t always made sound choices, those responsibilities were his own and no one else’s, mistakes and all.

He shielded his eyes against the Crescentan afternoon sun and waited for the flight crew to shut down their systems and open the airlock.

The captain’s first officer stood beside him, a slateboard datapak in the orange feline’s hands.  The rest of the red panda’s crew was gathered a few yards behind them and all were anxious.

“Any idea what this is about?” asked the cat.

“Jonesy, I have no clue, but I hope they make this quick,” he said in annoyance. “We’re already behind schedule as it is and I didn’t like having to cut everybody’s shore leave by a day to make up for it.”

“Someone’s coming out,” Tsarina remarked from the back of the group. Rezo and Jonesy looked up from their conversation to see the hatch on the other ship recess back in to the hull and then slide sideways.  One of the unicorn-like Silloni in a one-piece uniform walked out into the sunlight and then stopped to await the personnel ramp to complete its descent to the tarmac.

Rezo frowned, recognizing the captain of Master Tristan’s new ship. He motioned to Jonesy to follow him and the two of them walked toward the Silloni vessel. The others waited a moment and then followed Patch as he went out after his captain. Rezo stopped at the bottom of the ramp and looked up at the unicorn.

“Hello again,” the tan and brown Silloni female said with a slight tip of her horn.

“Metra,” Rezo replied with a nod of his head in an approximation of her greeting. “Why are you back so soon? Have you come to take another employee off my hands — or bring the other one back?”

The unicorn frowned at the snide tone of the red panda’s voice. “Not exactly,” she answered. There were a few low spoken words from within the ship, and then a silhouette appeared at the airlock. Rezo’s eyebrows shot up when he recognized the face that emerged from the shadows.

“Hello, Captain,” Merlin Sinclair said. The expression on the wolf’s face was neutral, hiding the true nature of his thoughts. He nodded to the other and added, “Hello, Jonesy.”

“This must be serious if the company president himself diverts his resources to touch base with one of his ships,” Rezo said, stepping forward. “Couldn’t you have just contacted me online?”

Merlin straightened up to his full height, placing his hands into the pockets of the slate gray overcoat he wore over matching slacks and beige mock-neck shirt. He looked down at the short red panda and shook his head. “Something of this nature must be discussed in person,” he replied. “I will need to talk to you and Mr. Jones in private, right away.”

“Are we getting one of the new ships too?” the orange cat asked.

“Not yet,” Sinclair replied, not taking his eyes off the short captain. He didn’t appear to be in a good mood and the orange cat looked back and forth between Merlin and Rezo.

“Let’s go up to your office on the Sun,” the wolf directed.

The red panda crossed his arms and looked up at his imposing employer, trying his best to keep from being intimidated. “Why don’t we discuss it right here?” he asked with a swallow. “If it affects the whole crew, they should hear too.”

“In private,” Merlin insisted.

Jonesy looked behind him at the others and exchanged concerned looks with the chief engineer. Rezo stared up at the wolf for a moment longer before he turned and walked away. “Suit yourself,” he said. The orange striped cat followed his captain, and then Merlin turned to Metra.

“Thanks for your help,” he told her.

“You are welcome, sir,” the Silloni captain replied. “Let us know if you need anything. We’ll be preparing for the return flight, to leave as soon as you’re ready.”

Merlin gave her a nod and then followed Rezo’s crew back to the Hidalgo Sun.     

*** 

Rezo, Jonesy and Merlin rode up to the crew deck in silence, leaving everyone else down outside the ship to wait. When they stepped out into the corridor, Merlin followed the Hidalgo Sun’s command personnel to the captain’s office. Once inside, the wolf shut the door behind him and gestured the others to take their seats. He remained standing, his hands back in the pockets of his overcoat.

Without preamble, he moved directly to the purpose of his visit. “Rezo Kegawa,” he said in a somber tone, “In accordance with the written conditions of your signed contract with Blue Horizon Freight Transfer, I am terminating your employment on the grounds of multiple accounts of insubordination to your superior officer.”

“What?” Rezo exclaimed in shock. Jonesy opened his mouth and shut it quickly, swallowing hard. This had not been what either of them expected.

“You have openly challenged me on several occasions and I won’t tolerate it further. You have been treading on dangerous ground ever since you came to work for me, and since you apparently don’t appreciate all I’ve done for you, that ground has now given away beneath you.”

“You… You can’t fire me!” Rezo sputtered indignantly. “I have the title! I own this ship!”

“Captain, as of this moment, you no longer work for Blue Horizon Freight Transfer,” Merlin said in an even voice. “It’s true you purchased the Hidalgo Sun from me with the split in the profits, so I can’t take that away from you.”

The red panda snorted triumphantly, crossing his arms.

“The crew, however, belongs to me,” Merlin reminded him, “and my personnel will be returning to Dennier aboard the Kokoro.”

“What do you mean the crew belongs to you?” Rezo spat. “These people are mine and they aren’t going anywhere with you!”

“Wrong.  As I’d already reminded you when you challenged me in front of everyone on Pomen, the contracts of the personnel serving on your ship all belong to me. Those contracts were made with my company, Kegawa, not to you. I have no intention of cancelling their employment, so I’ll try to get them set up right away on another freighter.”

Despite his short stature, Rezo Kegawa stood to his full height and glared directly up into the wolf’s amber eyes. “I’m not afraid of you,” he hissed. “Get off my ship right now. My crew’s staying put.”

“Do you really want a legal battle with my lawyer? If you want me off your ship, so be it. The others are coming with me.”  He turned to the orange cat and said, “Mr. Jones, inform your crewmates of the circumstances. Since we are all unwelcome here, we must leave immediately, so you’ll all need to gather your belongings as quickly as possible. Once back on Dennier, I will grant them the shore leave they won’t get here.”

Jonesy swallowed, glanced quickly at Rezo, and then nodded slowly to the wolf. “Aye, sir,” he acknowledged before getting up from his seat.

“What am I supposed to do with a ship and no crew?” Rezo spat after he’d gone.

“That’s not really my concern. You’ve had your own ship and crew before. You already know how to hire people.”

The short captain glared at the wolf for a long moment. “All of my profits went to buy the Hidalgo Sun from you,” he said in a quieter voice. “I don’t have the startup capital in reserve to hire another crew and set up as a new business.”

“Also not my concern,” Merlin said coldly. “I take challenges very seriously, Mr. Kegawa, but I gave you ample opportunities to straighten up your act. You’ve apologized and made empty promises to do better, but your open challenges to my authority have come to an end.” His eyes softened for only a moment. “I don’t regret giving you and your people the chance to contribute to my company, and the profits from our association have been worthwhile, but — you aren’t irreplaceable. Another captain who can follow orders will be happy to have the job.”

“You already knew I couldn’t afford to hire another crew,” Rezo grumbled. “My only alternative would be the sell the ship, putting me out of the business altogether.  I suppose your next move is to offer to buy her from me; you’re doing this just so you can get your hands on my ship!”

Merlin looked surprised. “Actually, that had never occurred to me.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet.”

The wolf arched an eyebrow at him. “If all I wanted was your freighter, I could buy another one myself. With the economy still trying to recover from the Siilv War, there are plenty of ships to be had at a good price. By taking these people with me, I’ll have to do just that, since they’re contracted to crew a ship for me and I still have a delivery schedule for them to maintain. I don’t need the Hidalgo Sun herself. She’s all yours to do with as you will, Captain.”

He turned his back on the panda and took a step toward the door. Rezo looked in panic at him. Without the first officer in the room, his demeanor crumbled and he rushed forward to face the wolf. “Don’t do this to me,” he pleaded. “I lost my ship once, and I don’t want to do it again. Please, give me another chance! Don’t fire me!”

Merlin sighed inwardly. “Mr. Kegawa,” he said in a quieter voice, “I have warned you against insubordination many times. Despite constant reprimands, you have continued to rebel against me when you don’t get your way, even though you have openly admitted that your life has been better off since you joined the company. As someone in authority over others, you should be well aware of the dangerous position you placed yourself in every time you defied my orders, especially when you have flatly refused in front of others. Since you joined us, I have allowed you to run this ship in the manner you wished, but there have been numerous complaints against you by members of your crew.

“I am well aware of the way you treat your people, but that’s not the issue here. The issue is with my patience, which has finally run out. You have given me promises to adjust your attitude, but you have constantly proven otherwise. Morale under your command is dangerously low, and that isn’t healthy.  The chances you want have run out. Your latest temper tantrum on my decision to transfer Mr. Littlefeather to the Blue Horizon was made without regard to the repercussions. Instead of trying to talk me out of it in a civil manner, you chose to contest me by openly refusing. You have apparently never enjoyed working for me, so as of now, your association with my company is at an end. I have cancelled your contract, so you are now free to do as you wish without my interference.”

Kegawa sat down heavily in the chair behind the desk and closed his eyes. He was silent for several moments before he buried his face in his hands and spoke without looking up.

“You win,” he muttered in resignation. “I want nothing more to do with you, Sinclair. If you want it, I’ll sell the Hidalgo Sun to you and then I’ll clear out.” He paused for a moment, and then added, “I think I’m tired of freighting anyway. Perhaps I’ll use the money to buy a boat and take up fishing with the Crescentis fleets.”

Merlin took a seat opposite that of the red panda and sat back with a sigh. “I am sorry, Rezo,” he said in a soft voice. “I think that you were your own boss for so long that you were unable to accept my authority over you. I didn’t want to do this, but I can’t allow you to challenge my decisions anymore.”

“Yeah, whatever,” grumbled the panda.

Merlin nodded. “Have it your way. You can sell her to me or you can sell her to someone else. I don’t care which. Name your price.”

Rezo still didn’t look at him. “What I paid you for it.”

The wolf stood up and looked down at the former captain. That was half the cost of one on the market — an older, used one at that;  Rezo could have easily demanded more, but Merlin was just as weary of the argument as the red panda was and simply nodded.

“Prepare the Hidalgo Sun’s title to be signed over to me. I will arrange a transfer of the funds directly into your personal account.”  Then, without waiting for another disgruntled reply, he reached across the desk and toggled the intercom control for a ship-wide announcement.

“Attention all hands,” he said, “This is Merlin Sinclair. I need everyone to assemble on the Recreation Deck in thirty minutes. Mr. Jones, please return to the captain’s office immediately.” He closed the circuit and then waited for the orange feline.

Rezo sat back in his chair and then looked up at the wolf darkly. “May I go to my cabin and start packing,” he asked, “or do you intend to embarrass me further in front of the crew at this meeting?”

Annoyed with the whole issue, Merlin just said, “Go.”

Rezo Kegawa got up from his chair, fighting off the urge to give the wolf a rude gesture, and then quickly departed the compartment. He bumped into Jonesy out in the corridor, but didn’t bother to excuse himself as he stormed away.

The orange striped cat entered the office with a frown. “You needed to see me, sir?” he asked.

Merlin sighed, nodded and then gestured toward the chair that Rezo had just vacated. “Have a seat, Mr. Jones. There’s been a change of plan.”      

*** 

Merlin and Jonesy stepped out of the lift together onto the tan-themed Recreation Deck. With the exception of the red panda, the rest of the crew was seated on chairs and couches in front of the forward vidscreen. Jonesy had changed out of his jeans and tee-shirt and was now in a crème colored polo shirt and gray slacks. Since the cat had not had time to carry out Merlin’s previous order to inform the crew of the whole command mess with Rezo, no one had an idea what the assembly was about. All they knew was that the Kokoro had brought the company president out to them on urgent business, so there were several worried faces amongst the crew.

Merlin was aware of what they must be thinking, assuming their jobs were on the line; fortunately for them all, the news was not that dire. Only one of them had lost his job today, and he had elected not to take part in the assembly.

Dr. Carmen Burgess watched him from her seat with rapt attention; the polar bear felt that she’d miss something if she looked away. Beside her on the end of a couch was the raccoon, Jasper Porter, gnawing silently on the end of an unlit cigar. The chief engineer was familiar with Merlin’s tactics and quietly waited for the wolf to spring a nasty surprise upon them all.

Next to him was Roger Paxton, his Palomino mechanic, who was nervously grooming his mane with an old brush. He swallowed and licked his lips several times, but kept his eyes on the floor at his feet. Riki Nori watched him in concern and put a gentle hand on his arm. He jumped, and then gave her an embarrassed smile.

Upon a second couch, Sheila Aval and Tsarina Ahnya sat together, the kangaroo and the jaguar talking animatedly in soft whispers. The bobcat, Danaher sat stiffly upon a chair by himself, slightly removed from the others. He tended to be a loner, but the accountant was good with numbers and had never turned in an error to the home office.

When Merlin and Jonesy walked together to the front of the room, all eyes went to them. There was some confusion when they realized that it was Sean Jones who stood with Merlin, rather than the absent Rezo Kegawa.

Assured he had everyone’s full attention, Merlin put his hands behind his back, unconsciously standing in a military parade rest stance. He had shed his overcoat, as he didn’t wish to intimidate the crew.

“Hello, everyone,” he said in a calm voice. “I won’t take up any more of your time than necessary, but this meeting is an important one. I will ask you not to comment or open up discussion until I have finished.”

Several faces displayed open anxiety. He’d hoped to give some background behind his decision before making the announcement, but there was no time. From the way the scent in the room was growing, he’d have to make this quick before there was a panic.  “As many of you have noticed, Rezo Kegawa is not in attendance. This is because I have relieved him of command of this vessel.”

Stunned expressions gazed back at him, and the scent of fear wavered in the wolf’s nostrils. Several voices started up, but Merlin raised a hand with his palm out toward them.

“Quiet, please!” he commanded. “I am not finished.” 

Patch scowled openly toward his former captain and crossed his arms across his chest. Of all those on board, the raccoon had gotten along with the temperamental red panda best of all; he had considered Rezo a friend.

“From the start of Mr. Kegawa’s employment with Blue Horizon Freight Transfer, many of you have contacted me with complaints against your captain. So long as deliveries were made on time and expenses kept within budget, I’ve allowed this vessel to operate under the captain’s discretion. However, at times when personnel complaints were on the rise, I did talk to him as requested. I have since learned that often afterwards, he would threaten retaliation on those who spoke out against him. This in itself was inexcusable, but was unknown to me until this afternoon.”

Several eyes went to Jonesy, but the orange feline kept his face and focus carefully neutral.

“Nevertheless,” Merlin continued, his hands still clasped behind him, “Rezo has constantly challenged my business decisions and commands, usually openly in front of others, and as many of you know, I handle all challenges to my authority with a serious single-mindedness.” He looked around at their faces and saw that the fear had mostly been replaced with curiosity, and everyone was now focused on his words. “Normally I try to work with those who have a problem with me, but despite promises of respect to my authority, Mr. Kegawa never changed his ways; this became a constant issue not just with me personally, but with the company too.”

He unclasped his hands and raised one up to gesture around him. “When I first brought you all into the company, it was done out of a sense of responsibility to pay back a similar favor done for me. I set Mr. Kegawa as captain of my second freighter, and even allowed him to name this vessel. Thanks to scheduling by an efficient home office, the Sun managed to pull in a good profit for the company and I allowed half of those profits to go toward the purchase of the ship for Mr. Kegawa. Last year, the purchase debt was paid off and I transferred the Sun’s title to him, with the option of staying with Blue Horizon Freight Transfer or buying out your contracts and going into business for himself. He chose to stay. I have counted you all as good assets to my company, but despite all this, your numerous complaints against him have been heard, and his insubordination against the chain of command has unraveled all this.”

“Wait a minute!” Patch exclaimed, sitting up straight in his seat, “Rezo owns this ship. How can you remove—?”

Merlin held up a hand. “Quiet!” he commanded. “I’ll take your questions and listen to your discussions after I have finished. However, I will go ahead and answer this one. Mr. Kegawa has offered to sell the Hidalgo Sun back to the company and get out of freighting altogether.”

“Did you strong-arm him to sell?” Patch asked with a growl.

Merlin narrowed his eyes at his former crewmate. “It was his own decision to sell the ship when I informed him that I would be taking the crew back with me to Dennier.”  There were many surprised looks at this. “Your employment contracts belong to me, not to this ship. He admitted that he didn’t have the funds to establish another crew and set up a new business on his own, so he offered to sell.”

“So you did strong-arm him!” Patch exclaimed.

Merlin stood his ground. “The idea to sell was his own, and there was no coercion to do so. The only other alternative would have been for him to buy out all of your work contracts, but if he didn’t have funds to hire a new crew, he didn’t have them for that either.”  He crossed his arms and stared down the brazen raccoon. “Now, shut up and let me continue.” The engineer couldn’t meet his direct gaze for more than a moment and had to turn away.

“Mr. Kegawa is now taking his leave from us. He has expressed a possible interest in joining the local fishing fleets, so he is already taking his future in hand.” Merlin looked over at the orange feline beside him and his expression softened. “At my behest, Sean Jones has agreed to serve as your captain to keep the crew and the business in operation. He has requested that he fill this merely as a temporary promotion, so I have allowed him this caveat. If his performance is satisfactory and he wishes the position to be permanent at a later date, he and I will work out the particulars of his contract at that time. Effective immediately, he is now your captain.”

With the possible exception of Jasper’s perpetual scowl, the rest of the crew seemed to be okay with Jonesy as their new commander. He’d been their first officer for years and he seemed to be universally well-liked among them. Merlin had never received a complaint about the feline, and Jonesy was already familiar with the daily routine, so he felt the ship would be in good hands.

Merlin had nothing more to announce, so he gestured to the cat to take over. Jonesy cleared his throat and seemed embarrassed by the attention of so many pairs of eyes focused upon him.

“Well,” he said in hesitation, “I don’t have anything else to add. Any questions?” Tsarina held up a tentative hand.  “Yes?”

“Do we call you ‘sir’ now?”

Jonesy suddenly smiled, the first time since the Kokoro had arrived. “Only if you want to,” he replied. “Don’t expect me to be making a lot of changes. We already work well together, so I’m hoping things can go a little more smoothly now that… uh, now that…”

“…Now that the arrogant little snot is no longer in charge?” Sheila finished for him cheerily. Although unknown to the rest of her crewmates, the kangaroo lass had suffered greatly under the red panda’s acidic tongue and she had lodged the most complaints with the home office. Several of the crew looked at her in surprise, but Jonesy nodded with the return of his frown.

Roger Paxton held up a hand, and the orange tabby pointed at him. “Yes, Pax?”

“As Mr. Sinclair reminded us,” the equine mechanic said, speaking with a southern drawl, “the name of this ship was chosen by Captain Rezo, after his old ship. Now that he’s neither the captain nor the owner of the Hidalgo Sun, will you rename it?”

Jonesy looked surprised and looked over at the wolf. Merlin raised an eyebrow and then placed his hands into the pockets of his slacks. “Things have happened so fast regarding all this,” he said, “that I hadn’t even considered that.”  He looked at Jonesy and then back out over the faces of the crew. “Mr. Paxton has a valid point, but at the moment I don’t have an answer for you. If you all wish to choose a different name for your freighter, I have no objections. Mr. Kegawa is now preparing the title to be signed over to me, and I will submit it to PA Registration when I get back to Dennier.  If you wish to talk it over between yourselves, you will need to let me know what you’ve chosen no later than tomorrow so I can register that along with the title transfer.”

Jonesy looked around. “Are there any other questions?”

No one else raised a hand or said anything more, so the orange feline nodded. “Okay, then. Merlin is going to take me to meet the new cargo master he’s hired to fill Mark’s vacant position before he departs with the Kokoro. The rest of you are free for shore leave, but remember we only get two days this time in order to meet our next delivery and get back into a routine. I’ll introduce everyone to our new crewmate when you come back, and then I’ll announce who I’ve chosen as my first officer.  For now, you’re dismissed.”

Jonesy turned toward the gray wolf while everyone else began to disperse amidst new conversations. “Well, that went better than I expected,” he said.  Before he could say anything more, however, Patch approached them.

“Yes, Jasper, what’s on your mind?” Merlin asked of the raccoon. He was reluctant to hear anything the engineer might want to say, but he had long offered an open door policy with those he employed.

“Am I next?” Patch asked with a dark look at the wolf. “Are you going to can me next on insubordination for questioning you?”

Merlin knew he was being baited, but shook his head at the shorter male. “You had a valid question,” he responded diplomatically, “even if you ignored my orders to keep your questions until I was finished. I can’t fault you for asking, but I shall warn you not to challenge my authority. That was the mistake that Mr. Kegawa made, time and again.”

Patch pulled a partially chewed cigar from the shirt pocket of his coveralls. He studied it for a moment and then looked up at the wolf. “What would you say if I requested that you terminate my contract as well?”

Merlin raised an eyebrow. “Why would you request that?” he asked in genuine surprise. “Do you have a problem with serving with Mr. Jones in command?”

“No, I think he’s capable enough. It’s you I have a problem with,” replied the raccoon boldly.

“I see,” Merlin said with a frown. “You’ve always seemed to harbor something against me, even though I gave you and your brother an extraordinary amount of leeway running my engine room.”

Patch looked up at the wolf and was able to hold his gaze, perhaps because Merlin wasn’t glaring at him this time. “You were never the commander you should have been,” the raccoon answered truthfully. “With your prior military training, you should have kept a tighter ship than you did, and I sincerely believe that a lot of the difficulties we ran into were caused by your lax attitude.”

Merlin’s expression darkened. “Despite my background training, the Blue Horizon was not a military freighter, Jasper, and I refused to treat her as one. I gave everyone on my crew the opportunity to serve in a relaxed atmosphere for reasons of morale; I’ve never regretted that decision, though I am sorry if you didn’t appreciate what I did for you all.”

Jonesy directed a rare scowl at the raccoon. “I suppose that’s the reason why you were sticking up for Rezo,” he said in annoyance. “He’s been beating down this crew’s morale for far longer than you’ve been with us, Patch. The greater majority of us were sick and tired of his iron fist, and you can bet your cigar that I’m not going to follow his lead!  I was bothered that his actions had resulted in getting himself fired, but not anymore. He pulled that down upon himself. Is that what you want for yourself?”

Jasper’s eyes widened. He’d never seen the orange tabby so animated before, and he unconsciously took a step backward in surprise. Momentarily flustered, the raccoon didn’t have a reply. Merlin looked down at the engineer.

“If you feel that I have been too lax with you, Jasper, I’m about to grant you your dream,” he said with a hardened gaze. “Your request for the termination of your contract has been denied. You still have a little over a year on your contract to fulfill before you have the option to seek employment elsewhere. Until that time, I expect you to give Jonesy your best in military efficiency as his chief engineer. Is that understood, mister?”

To the surprise of both the wolf and the cat, Jasper gave them a lopsided smile. “Aye, sir. You can count on that.” He gave his captain a crisp salute and held his pose until Jonesy smirked and returned the action.

“Unless you have anything further,” said the feline, “you’re dismissed.”

Patch nodded and stuck the chewed end of the cigar between his lips. “I’ve said my piece,” he said. “Despite how everyone seems to claim that Rezo treated them, he’s always been fair to me. I don’t intend to shut him out for the reminder of our stay here. He is my friend.”

Merlin relaxed and said to the raccoon, “I am glad to hear that, Jasper.  Everyone needs a friend, especially when life is not going well.”

The raccoon nodded and then excused himself. The three of them had been the only ones left on the recreation deck, and soon it was just Merlin and Jonesy.      

*** 

The Kokoro departed an hour and a half later. From the window of a nearby hotel, Rezo watched the scarlet cruiser’s running lights shrink into the distant darkness of space. The vessel’s Hyld system still had the greater part of a day to recharge before it could be of use on the return journey to Dennier, but it could make headway using its LightDrive engines. The Hidalgo Sun would launch in a couple of days to resume its delivery schedule without him.

The red panda uttered a mouthful of curses directed at the lupine passenger of that Silloni ship, and then he took a drink of amber liquid from a square glass of crystal he held in both hands. When he turned from the window, he moved to the computer desk and called up his personal account. He was now several hundred thousand credits richer than he had been a few hours ago. He had signed over the title of the freighter to Sinclair and he was now just a local tenant of the hotel.

With the credits in his account, Rezo planned to play tourist on Crescentis for a few days before looking for a job with one of the ships in the fleet. He’d considered buying his own boat, but he had to admit to himself that he lacked the necessary skills to start his own fishing business right away. He would seek out a local boat in need of deck hands and learn the ropes before trying to run one of his own. He knew it would be hard work, but if it meant that he would never have to take another space flight, it would be worth it.       

*** 

Merlin Sinclair relaxed upon his bunk in the small cabin that had been assigned to him on the Kokoro. He hadn’t needed it for more than a few minutes on the flight out, but now that he had hours to wait out the Hyld recharge, he had taken advantage of the time to rest and reflect upon the situation.

After the Blue Horizon had departed Dennier on its return trip to visit the lapin community on Se’rei, Merlin knew that it was time to confront Rezo Kegawa while he had certain resources available to him. With the birth of Samantha’s cubs and the prototype Kirin freighter delivered as the new Blue Horizon, Master Tristen would soon be returning to Sillon. Merlin had begged the use of the Kokoro for one final voyage so he could put an end to Rezo’s insubordination once and for all, face to face. With this trip alone, he was already convinced how such quick transportation would be greatly coveted by every world in the Planetary Alignment.

He had already transmitted the freighter’s title to the Dennier branch of the PA Registration office in Grandstorm, but the name of the ship would remain Hidalgo Sun, as voted upon by her crew. None of them could agree upon a new name, so in the end they had chosen to remain with what they were used to, despite its origin. He agreed it would make things easier with the company paperwork.

Later, when the ship-wide intercom beeped for attention and then the captain’s voice announced the jump time was imminent, Merlin roused himself to prepare himself for the gut-wrenching that was associated with a Hyld jump. Once through on the other end, he would soon see his family again. That alone would make the discomfort worth the trip.

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Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.