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  Chapter 2

Belle of the Ball


Time: CY 10090 AD Dec 5166
Location: The Andromeda Ascendant's officers' mess

" Good night, Beka," said Trance as she walked into the Andromeda's officers' mess. "I'm calling it an early night tonight."

"Good night, Trance,"replied Beka."Don't let the bedbugs bite."

"What are bedbugs, Beka?"

"I haven't a clue but it was something my father used to tell me when I told him I was going to bed and now I'm telling it to you."

"Oh, OK then. Anyway, good night." With the last goodnight Trance left the officers' mess.

"You treat her just like your daughter," commented Andromeda's holographic self, who had been sitting in the mess with Beka. Both women were at one of the mess tables enjoying a cup of coffee, though in the case of Andromeda the coffee was virtual. As a hologram Andromeda couldn't actually drink but she did enjoy spending time with Beka talking and learning about the new world that she, her sister self and their captain now found themselves in

"Actually she is my daughter," answered Beka. An instant later she learned something new about Andromeda; a hologram can choke on a virtual drink.


Chapter 1

Time: CY 10089 AD Feb 5166
Location: Winnipeg Drift

Eureka Maru, this is Winnipeg Drift traffic control," came the voice over the ship-to- planet communicator. "We have you on our screens. You have been assigned to berth delta 10, tack four eighty six. Do you require pilot assistance for berthing? Over."

"Winnipeg Traffic Control, this is the Eureka Maru," Beka responded. "That is a negative. I do not require pilot assistance."

"Very well Eureka Maru," came the voice. "Bear in mind that by refusing pilot assistance you will be held financially liable for any damage that a may occur to the drift as a result of pilot error. Oh, and welcome to the party. Over."

""I'll be careful not to scratch your pretty little asteroid," replied Beka. "And, thanks for the welcome. How many Salvagers are here?"

"You're welcome Eureka Maru. According to the tote board you are the 214th vessel to arrive. It looks like your guild will be having quite a party. Over."

"Not so much as it used to be. I can remember there being over four hundred ships here when I was a girl."

"That was before my time. This is the largest I've seen in the time I've been here. Eureka Maru, you are cleared for berthing, follow the beacon and guide lights to berth delta 10 tack four eighty six. Winnipeg Traffic Control out." The ship to planet communicator went silent.

"One advantage of a class C freighter," commented Harper over the intra-ship communicator. "we get to park indoors out of the vacuum. Take a look at the ships as we approach our berth, babe," he said to Trance, knowing she was at her usual position at the Maru's environmental systems station. "You won't see a gathering like this very often."

Trance craned her neck so she could see out the Maru's cockpit. From her vantage point she could see dozens of Four Freedoms class freighters, some resting in landing bays on the surface of the asteroid while others were drifting motionless above the surface of the orbital facility. Blunt nosed and hunched backed, their projecting communication antennas and engine nacelles giving the impression of fins on a fish, Four Freedoms freighters were the workhorses of small transport companies and family-owned businesses. Fully five times the volume of the Maru and requiring a crew of 10, their capability to be equipped with numerous weapon systems. as well as their ability to withstand substantial amounts of damage. meant they were often seen on the fringes of civilized space carrying cargo, passengers, and mail to places the large companies that made up the Free Trade Alliance considered too dangerous or too insignificant to be worthwhile. As the Maru rounded the curve of the asteroid another ship came into view, one that dwarfed the Four Freedoms freighters. A Leviathan Roused class freighter, fully a kilometer in length, was visiting the drift. Next to the massive vessel was a much smaller one, smaller in relationship to the huge freighter that is. It was still larger than the Four Freedoms class freighters, and much larger than the Maru. Unlike the other vessels that gave the impression of ponderousness, this one gave the impression of speed and grace. It was a racehorse amidst pack mules. It was a killer, a warship.

"I see the Bellamys are here," commented Beka to Trance. "It's not every family that has a corvette to call their own."

Beka maneuvered the Maru into her assigned berthing. The hanger bay doors closed behind her, the air pressure began to increase, and power and communication connections were established between ship and drift. Within a very short time the air pressure had become drift normal. It was time to go to the Salvagers' Ball.

"You're going to have a blast, babe," said Harper to Trance as he came up into the command deck after the Maru's engines had been secured, "and it'll be good to catch up with old friends, especially since we missed the last Ball."

"It would've been kind of hard for you to dance with a compound fracture of your leg," said Beka.

"Hey no problem," said the irrepressible engineer. "I could have sat in a wheel chair. Trance would have pushed me. Wouldn't you have, babe."

" Yes," answered Trance, "right out the nearest airlock. I know the Ball's not for another three days and I know what we'll be wearing for it, but what should we wear between now and then?" she asked.

"What's wrong with what we're wearing now?" asked Harper who was wearing a florescent lime green shirt with equally lurid orange palm trees painted on it.

"Nothing," responded Beka. "As long as you don't mind having a freighter land on you because they mistook your shirt for landing signals. Fortunately for you I planned ahead and did some shopping the last time we were on Sinti IV. Wait here." She went into her stateroom and came back a few minutes later holding two packages. Handing them over to her crew members she said, "Put these on and meet me in the airlock when you're dressed. I'll be changing as well."

Trance and Harper went into the crew's berthing room, which they had converted to their own stateroom and opened the packages. As Beka had promised they contained clothing. Harper's package held a shirt and pair of pants, both a deep black in color. The shirt had a bluish metallic thread woven through it, and when the light hit the shirt just right it gave the viewer the impression of a deep space star field. Trance's package contained a dress and a pair of boots The dress came down to just above her knees, and was made of the same material as Harper's shirt. It had a scooped out neckline that suggested, but didn't reveal, her cleavage. The boots were black as well, made of soft duroc leather, and for just a moment Trance wondered if the leather came from the hides the Maru had transported from New Texas a few years ago. She slipped them on and they clung to her calves like a pair of gloves.

"What do we do with these, Harper?" asked Trance holding up two pieces of fabric about 3 feet in length and about 4 inches wide. The fabric was a deep maroon in color, so dark a red as to be almost black Accenting the red were narrow bars of silver thread running the width of the fabric. The bars were in groups of three, and there were three groups.

"That's a sash, babe," explained Harper, "and those are the Valentine family colors. Each family in the guild has their own colors. The Valentine family's are maroon and silver, and since we're crew on a Valentine family vessel we wear Valentine colors." He placed his own sash on so that it ran from left shoulder to right hip, and then helped Trance adjust hers. "OK," he said "now you're perfect in every way. Lets go see if Beka's ready."

Beka was waiting for them in the airlock. She was wearing what Harper immediately thought of as a designer flight suit. It was a one-piece outfit, cut to flatter the curves of her body. It was the same shade of maroon as the sashes Harper and Trance were wearing, with black accents and silver piping at the wrists and around the neck. The suit proclaimed her status as a pilot but at the same time left no doubt that she was an exceedingly attractive woman. Both Harper and Trance both oohed and awed over the outfit giving Beka an odd mixture of pleasure and embarrassment.

"OK kids," she said, "lets go, and remember what I taught you about courtesy. Some of the families are very much into such things."

Beka led the way through the hanger, into a bare corridor, and to a set of service elevators. After what seemed like a very long time to the excited Trance and Harper, the elevator stopped and they stepped out into another corridor. This time there were signs in the corridor proclaiming in Common. and several other languages. that the reception area for the Salvagers' Ball was 'this way'.

They followed the directions indicated on the signs. As they progressed they encountered a few more individuals wearing guild family sashes heading back the direction the Maru's crew had come from. Most of the individuals were inebriated and heading back to their ships to sleep it off. There were also a few couples walking arm in arm, heading back to their bunks as well, but not to sleep. There wasn't time to chat. Beka kept them moving, like a drill sergeant chivying along a platoon of recruits until they reached the reception area.

There was a desk at the entrance way where Beka announced their presence to the bored looking clerk manning it, who scribbled their names down on a flexie, and then had them lay their hands down on a scanner for palm print and DNA scans. Satisfied that they were who they said they were, he motioned for them to enter.

The reception area was almost disappointing, being nothing more than a large room with a couple of couches and some potted plants. There were several doors leading out of the room, one of which was manned by two burly looking drift security personnel. The guarded area was the domain of heads of families and their immediate family members. Theoretically Beka was allowed entrance, but the rental fee for the rooms was prohibitively high. She would be sleeping aboard the Maru, as many other heads of the lesser families would be doing on their own vessels. Other than the guards, the doors, and the furniture, there were simply a number of people standing around chatting and holding drinks.

"Where's the party?" asked Trance to Harper. Instead of answering Harper whispered a warning. "Look alive, babe," he whispered. "Here comes Richard Bellamy and his wife Sasha." He pointed with his chin to the man and woman making their way through the crowd towards them.

"Who are the Bellamys?" asked Trance. Taking her cue from her husband, she whispered as well.

"They're the richest family in the Guild. Richard's grandfather was a reformed pirate, and rumor has it that the family may have gone back to their old ways. He's the master of Bellamy's Belle, the corvette you said you saw on the way in. And the family owns at least a dozen other ships. The only family that comes close to them in wealth are the Ephinghams."

Trance took a moment to study the might be pirate. The most remarkable thing about the richest man in the Salvagers' Guild was that he and his wife were totally unremarkable. Of medium height and build, the master of Bellamy's Belle was dressed in an well tailored but plain suit. The material was obviously expensive but not ostentatiously so. The ring on his finger spoke wealth, but didn't shout it. His spouse was, likewise well dressed but restrained. Trance would have expected the wife of a man such as Bellamy to be voluptuous of figure and beauteous of face, but Sasha was neither. The rumored pirate's wife was pleasingly plump and her face, while attractive, was not one that would draw a second look. Like her husband, her clothing was of good quality and cut, but nothing extraordinary. In fact, compared to many of the other outfits Trance had seen so far, the heads of the richest family in the Guild looked positively ordinary.

The Bellamys stopped a few paces before Beka and her crew members. "Captain Valentine," said Bellamy, "it's a pleasure to see you again. Patrick will be delighted to learn that you made it this time. He was quite disappointed that you were unable to attend the last ball. He speaks a great deal about you."

"Richard, Sasha," Beka gave just the slightest bit of a nod. By guild law, as owner of her own vessel, she was, at least theoretically, the equal in social standing of the Bellamys, and she would be damned before she would curtsy to them. "It's nice to see you again as well, but I swear that whatever Patrick said about me was a lie."

Bellamy gave a short laugh. "I can assure you Captain, Patrick's words have all been complimentary." He turned his attention to Harper. "Mr Harper, how are you doing? I see you have so far successfully escaped the fair Hortense's attentions." His eyes strayed to Trance and lingered for just a second over her swollen abdomen. "I don't think avoiding her attentions will be a problem this time, however. Captain Valentine, is your engineer's companion a new member of your crew?"

"Captain Bellamy, Lady Bellamy," said Beka, " may I present to you Trance Gemini Harper, the Eureka Maru's environmental systems technician, and wife of the Maru's chief engineer, Seamus Zelazney Harper."

As she had been coached, Trance did a full curtsy before the captain and his wife. Harper, as the spouse of the one being presented, simply gave a deep nod of his head rather than a formal bow. It rankled him to do so, but he knew the respective positions of the Bellamys and the Valentines in the Guild's food chain, and that Beka considered it important that he show the proper courtesies, so he gritted his teeth and inclined his head. After all, he had been forced to do worse on Nietzschean occupied Earth.

"Charmed," replied Lady Bellamy. "My dear," she said looking at Trance, "I've never encountered one of your species before. What do you call yourselves?"

"You wouldn't be able to pronounce it, and it would just be a noise to you anyway," protested Trance.

"A translation will do then," pressed Sasha.

Trance gave a small shrug "It translates to human," she said.

Bellamy gave another laugh. "What were you expecting dear?" he asked his spouse. "Most species' names for themselves translate into Common as human. Captain Valentine, why don't you send your crew down below to warehouse section five. The majority of the ships' crews have gathered there. I suspect your crewmen will be more comfortable with their own kind, and the entertainment should be more to their liking. I'll expect to see you at the Owners Dinner tonight. In the meantime, allow Sasha and me to escort you to see my son. I'm sure the two of you have much to discuss."

Beka glanced at her wrist chronometer, and then at her two crew members. "It's 1530 now, be back here by 2030. The Owners Dinner commences at 2100 and I want you back aboard the Maru before then. Go on down to the warehouse section, have fun but try to stay out of trouble. No, let me rephrase that. Trance, keep Harper out of trouble."

  Chapter 2