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Watch the AUDIBLE VIDEO reading from the author, by Michael Azzolino.

Pilot Tales

by Michael Azzolino

“Sounds like a lot going on, Fenell,” Zebb said, helping Arven to his feet. “While you handle matters on your end, we’ll get set up in a safe location and then I’ll circle back with you in a cycle or two for updates.” Fenell nodded, giving them a reassuring smile and placing his hands together in a mock gesture of prayer.

“Keep your heads down and eyes open, my friends.” Fenell pushed a button near him, opening the heavy bunker-style door. “And when you do return, Zebb, make sure you aren’t empty-handed. I don’t think my stomach could endure another disappointment.”

Zebb and Arven moved quickly through the HUB of the station, navigating an indirect path of twists and turns to avoid being followed. They moved with urgency, ducking in and out of crowds. At times relying on the shadows between the massive shipping containers lining the promenade to conceal their direction and destination. This section of the HUB looked familiar to Arven despite having never been there before. He suspected that Zebb had doubled back on their route a time or two to make certain that they didn’t pick up a tail. He struggled with his thoughts, trying to grasp for some clarity on the situation. A raging storm of emotions churned in his guts. The rest of the journey was a blur to Arven.

“Help me with this, Arven.” Zebb’s request brought Arven back to present. They were standing in front of a huge storage container with an enormous “7” embossed on the door. Zebb was holding the release handle, looking impatient. “Sometime today?” he added sarcastically.

Arven grabbed the thick metal bar and together they lifted it and pulled it to the side. Knowing how physically strong Zebb was, Arven wondered why he would ask for his assistance.

The door squealed with a high pitch of grinding metal, followed by a deeper resonating groan as the container door swung open. Zebb took one last look in both directions and motioned Arven inside. To Arven’s surprise, the interior of the container was decorated like a living module, with a bed, a food replicator, and a data terminal. The electronics and lights came online automatically as they stepped in and closed the portal behind them.

“This is one of several ‘safe places’ that I maintain on the station,” Zebb explained while activating the food replicator. “You’ll be able to hide here until Fenell works out the next phase of the plan.” Zebb lifted the beverages from the replicator tray, handing one to Arven. “I am glad that you decided to trust him, Arven.”

“I don’t trust him, Zebb,” Arven corrected. “I trust you.”

After a moment, the silence was broken by a loud blast of static from the comms speaker, causing both men to flinch. Zebb reached for the console, tweaked the squelch, and quiet was restored. “There’s more to the story, Zebb,” Arven confessed. “I didn’t tell Fenell everything. I nearly didn’t drink while we were there, suspecting that he might poison or drug us.”

“It’s okay bud, I get it. I’d be scared too. Fenell is a rarity. A businessman with a sense of honor. No, Fenell would never do that to us,” Zebb admitted as he removed a silver flask from inside his cloak. He unscrewed the top and poured the remaining synthohol in two glasses. “I bought this replicator from a Seymorian trader several revolutions ago. Fun Fact: It’s against the dietary laws of the species to drink synth. I attempted a modification and discovered that the unit just can’t do it. Certain compensations remain necessary.” Zebb rhythmically tapped the flask with the titanium tips of his fingers and returned it to his pocket.

Arven took a long swallow and a deep breath before continuing. “I wasn’t completely honest about my motivation to pilot the mission. I convinced Ilanna that I wanted to be part of the crew to better protect the investment. She wasn’t thrilled about the idea, but eventually conceded.”

“Spill the Spores, man!” Zebb commanded impatiently.

“The real reason I had to be there was the PAL,” Arven admitted.

“Captain Harris’ PAL?” Zebb interrupted, his tone steeped in confusion.

“No,” Arven continued. “The PAL assigned to copilot my ship on the mission. I had flown with her in the past, several times in fact, so when the opportunity presented itself….”

“Wait a tick! How the hell did you even know the PAL’s identity prior to pulling the mission card?” Zebb interrupted again.

“That’s one part of the puzzle I can’t explain. I got a DCM from an anonymous source. It included the flight plan navigraph, the ship’s transponder numbers, PAL ID numbers, and both the crew and cargo manifests. When I saw Qorax’s ID number in the message, I knew it was our destiny to be together again.”

Arven could see Zebb on the verge of bubbling over into anger as he tried to wrap his head around what Arven was saying. “After we flew a few times together, we started developing feelings for each other. She allowed me the honor of giving her a name. I chose the name Qorax from a long-forgotten, ancient language. It means sunshine.”

Arven smiled but didn’t allow Zebb to break his continuity. He pushed forward, “I trust my sweet Qorax. She protects me. It was Qorax who warned me about Cpt. and Mrs. Harris. They were always unified in their treachery, from the very beginning. The pretense of the affair, his jealousy, and resulting act of revenge were all part of the elaborate charade.”

“Just when I thought we were past the exciting portion of the cycle,” Zebb joked sarcastically, “you drop another bomb in my lap! Even with the latest chips installed in this melon of mine, it’s still a lot to process, bub.”

WYRMBYTE PRESENTS STORIES FROM THE WARP NEXUS.

“Tell me about it, Zebb! I wasn’t lying about missing big gaps from my memory. It’s likely that Qorax saved me from dying in the accident. She wouldn’t intentionally hurt anyone, so I can only guess what happened to the captain. I mean, I know the outcome. Just not the details that led up to it.”

Arven began having trouble focusing. He blinked hard a few times, trying to get his blurry eyes to work properly. He noticed the lights began to slowly dim. He looked down into his glass, there was a grainy residue at the bottom. He tried to say Zebb’s name, but only an unintelligible vowel movement came from his mouth. He succumbed to unconsciousness and fell to the ground.

(To be continued…)

STARLTOKEN.COM

Join the conversation on the Official Discord or Telegram for Warp Nexus by Wyrmbyte. For more information on the STARL Metatverse Project, visit STARL Overview.

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