Today marks the 500th day of my writing every day, thanks to the use of the Magic Spreadsheet (all hail the Magic Spreadsheet). The practice of writing a minimum number of words each day and logging it as public record has kept me honest in my writing and forced me to keep working, even if I’m not feeling particularly inspired to put words on a page. It has helped me to develop a discipline of writing, something that I’m going to need when I start the formal dissertation process. Most importantly, it has helped me to take my writing more seriously and put more practice into my craft.
Of course, after 407,698 words, there’s the question of, “What have you been writing,” that begs to be answered. Although I can point to the wealth of blog posts, some would demand evidence of fiction.
For those, I give you this: Days 499 and 500.
Charlie Duke waited for the security detail to continue around the corner before she ducked into the supply closet. Dressed in a set of maintenance overalls and her hair tied up in a piece of dark cloth, she passed for one of the countless grunts running around the Regulator-patrolled station. Few people noticed a dirty deckhand in a sea of deckhands and airdock attendants, and Charlie blended in with the rest of the exhausted and overworked laborers. Once the door closed, it didn’t take long for her to set the charges. She slipped out with a bucket of cleaning supplies and a rag in her hand, on her way to her real mission.
That set of charges made the last of the distraction packets. The actual target didn’t involve any munitions or explosives. With the right combination of stealth and surprise, Charlie wouldn’t need anything but her daddy’s gun for a show of force.
Kidnapping an unprotected heiress didn’t compare to any of the more difficult jobs she had orchestrated in her rise among the Colonials. Charlie had overseen takeovers, hostage scenarios, and sabotages of numerous Regulator installations. Most of those Regulator installations had some ties to the Pavori family, something that Charlie had not overlooked. The difference between this job and all of the others was the amount of support from other Colonial interests in the sector. This time, there would be no extraction team or secondary group to provide the distraction.
This time, it was personal. And since it was personal, Charlie intended to complete the job by herself.
She made her way up to the recreation level of the station, cleaning and polishing the fixtures in the high-traffic areas of the station. According to her contacts, the eldest daughter of Stanislav Pavori was on station for the next seven day cycles for business. While Charlie had not encountered the young woman personally, she figured that she knew what to expect from the daughter of the most powerful businessman and crime lord in the Outer Colonies. If Pavori trusted his daughter to represent him in business dealings, then it was likely that she would maintain his stiff negotiation tactics and unforgiving penalties.
Charlie gritted her teeth and polished the railing as a pair of people passed her. Neither of them matched the description of the young woman, although the conversation piqued her interest.
“Not a formal business meeting, not in the least. I say, to be invited for an elaborate announcement of engagement with no attention given to the current mining claims, it’s in very poor taste!” One of the men smoothed the front of his suit in a self-important manner. “Nothing can get done in that kind of atmosphere!”
“Too true,” the older woman mused. “Perhaps this is some kind of treaty, rather than a formal engagement? I didn’t think that the lady and Master Hinds were that well acquainted.”
“An arranged marriage?” The first man looked suitably horrified. “How tasteless!”
“One does not need to have taste when one has both power and influence,” the woman mused. The corners of her mouth curved up in a knowing smile. “At the same time, the gossip to cultivate from this meeting will feed our respective circles for quite some time.”
“Quite,” her companion agreed. “Shall we, then?”
The two continued past Charlie, presenting their identification cards to the sentry before continuing into the lift. It chimed before shutting its doors and climbing up to the executive level. Charlie watched them under the guise of cleaning and took the opportunity to follow them up to the lift.
It didn’t matter to her what brought the Pavori woman to her, as long as she could be held hostage for a fine ransom. If Stanislav Pavori didn’t pay her asking price to release his daughter, Charlie knew of several groups who would want the chance to punish him as much as she did. Highest bidder would win, and Charlie would have enough to fix her ship and keep herself comfortable for as long as she wanted to travel in the dark between the stars.
As the corridor began to empty, Charlie stuffed the rag into the bucket and made her way to the service lift. On her way to the executive level, she patted her pockets to check for her hypospray. Better safe than sorry, she figured. She could drug the woman and drag her to her ship if that was necessary. A quick consult of the station manifest confirmed that the business meeting for the Pavori family would take place on the executive level, and that Pavori, S. was on that deck in the executive private suite. Charlie took a quick breath and exited the lift, her steps swift and purposeful. Zeke was waiting at the dock, primed and ready to take them out at first chance. She knew the access tunnels and service corridors to keep them off the main paths, but none of that would matter if she didn’t get to the woman before the meeting started.
This time, Charlie ran through the corridor without seeing anyone. She counted the doors, coming upon the unmarked private suite. With one hand on the hypospray in her pocket, she knocked on the door and affected a nasal accent. “Station engineering,” she called. “Environmental sent me to —”
The door flew open and a woman wearing a similar pair of coveralls knocked Charlie over in her hurry to get out of the room. She paused to check the hallway before offering a hand to the stunned mercenary. “Sorry. Did my father send you up to the room? What about Signore Arravecchi, did he put in the call?”
Charlie sized up the young woman and decided that getting her out of the station might be easier than she had initially imagined. “Ah, no,” she answered. “We had a sensor go off and decided to come up and check. Did you plan on trying to fix it yourself?” She motioned to her clothing and smirked. “These ain’t exactly fashionable.”
“It’s complicated. Listen, you look like the understanding sort,” the woman said as she grasped Charlie’s free hand. “Do you have a place where I could hide on the station for the next three shifts? I really don’t want to be in that room or around anyone important enough to be in that room.” Her grip tightened and her dark eyes widened as another set of footsteps approached. “Please, at least get me into an access corridor or auxiliary ventilation room! You don’t know what those two men are capable of doing!”
The next words tumbled out of Charlie’s mouth so fast, she surprised herself with the offer. “Want to leave the station? I’ve got a ship, fueled and waiting.”
The woman in the other set of coveralls nearly burst into tears, but her expression showed nothing but relief. “I’ll follow. I can pay, trust me. If you can do that much…”
“I can do more, but we’ll worry about that once we get to the docks.” Charlie let go of the hypospray in her pocket and pointed toward the service lift. “For now, we run.”
The two young women arrived at the docks slightly out of breath. Charlie had unzipped the top of her coveralls, using the sleeves to tie it around her waist. Her thin thermal shirt showed a few inches of scarred but taut belly skin, and she marched up to the pair of dock attendants nosing around her ship with every intent to make that visible skin work to her advantage. She didn’t say anything to her new passenger, but inclined her head toward the entry hatch. “Gentlemen,” she drawled in greeting. “Don’t mean to tell you how to do your jobs, but you might want to clear the area for departure. Got an environmental issue on board, and I’ll need to take Zeke outside station orbit to vent before starting repairs.”
They grinned and waved her off. There was something to be said for providing coffee and drinking money to the everyday souls who took care of her ship while in station. Charlie ducked inside, making her way to the bridge and sweeping a hand over the primary console. The other woman sat in the other seat. She kept her hands folded in her lap, and she craned her neck to check the view of the dock through the main window. “Calm down, woman. You’re here and Zeke’s engines are hot. You get sick on the orbital exit or wake riding?”
“No to the first, and I don’t know what the second is.” The woman looked like she might empty her stomach before they even took off. “Are we ready to leave?”
“More than ready. Hang on, and don’t toss your breakfast onto my console. This ship maintains a crew of one, so you clean up any mess that you make.” Charlie strapped herself into her seat and started the take-off protocol. The station granted her clearance – again, the result of good manners and a few rounds of quality libations at the station’s primary drinking establishment – and the Regulator station rapidly faded into a small point on the console as Charlie brought the Ezekiel John out of the station’s orbit.
The other woman didn’t relax, but leaned forward to investigate the monitors. “Are we being followed? Did anyone put out a rescue, or a missing person’s report, or…”
“No. At least, not yet. So, how about we make with the formal introductions and figure out just where we go from here?” Charlie swiveled her chair around and stretched her hands above her head with an obnoxious yawn. “Of course, I’m gonna take a wild guess and say that you’re Seraphina Pavori.”
“I’m not Seraphina.” The woman’s face twisted into a half-smile. “She’s smaller and wouldn’t be caught dead in coveralls. I’m Elena.”
Charlie tried to recover. “Elena… Pavori?”
The mention of the surname made Elena grimace. “How about we drop that for now, if you don’t mind. I’d rather not have anything to do with them.”
That answer caught the cowgirl-captain completely off-guard. “You wouldn’t?”