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Donovan Paulwell; Captain of the Presidium
Donovan Paulwell, Captain
"We are all mercenaries, Captain Paulwell, " decrees Anisette Rhyse.
Decrees, because people of her status do not speak to mere Ship Captains.
Her holo stood before us. She was dressed in a plain black dress, the material costing more than I made in a month. I know this because my pilot, Cilla Mouchette, said,
"Rads, she's wearing firesilk, that costs more per yard than you make in a month!"
I looked at Madame Rhyse, wished I could cut communications.
When Syd Blum, a functionary of Hawking Corp, came on the com to tell me I had to take a Eugenic as a member of my crew, I locked off.
I ignored Sun Run Wong's hail.
Madame Rhyse overrode my A.I., my com system, life support.
She was, for all intents and purposes, Hawking Corporation. As I was currently employed by them to see that the cargo ship I escorted reached Belladonna, I was out of options.
I don't want a Gennie on my ship. That has been my bottom line from the day I made a Captain.
I'd heard the stories, all had the same theme; a Eugenic, out of vested self interest, jeopardised a mission, and all souls aboard, except his.
I'd never flown with a Gennie, not as passenger, loader, prisoner or corpse. Now, I am being ordered to take a Gennie mercenary to make up my security complement. That means, a Gennie with a weapon, worse than any other permutation.
I tried to explain to Rhyse, in simple words, using the term 'mercenary', which I assumed she understood. And that was her response; "We are all mercenaries."
There was no sense trying to draw lines, differentiate 'tween a normal who works for pay and maintains a semblance of civilised behaviour and a Gennie, who takes every breathing moment as a chance for self aggrandisement.
Ms. Rhyse, having made her orders, cut the link, activated our engines, (and even my ship geek didn't know about this facility) and we were bound for Smudge, to pick up our Gennie.
Smudge was a place where Trade Routes crossed. Everything and everyone could go to Smudge. There wasn't much law, in fact, I don't think any.
Rhyse had contacted us when we were not an hour out, so it wasn't much of a journey. We berthed, and waited, and then, into the Presidium comes our Gennie.
Our first look made my geek, Ian McGurk, whisper, "Houston, we have a problem."
Gennie was taller than me, (and I'm six six and a half). His arms, which bulged from his tank top, were enough to signal he really didn't need that large blaster he rested across the top of his shoulders.
Being a Gennie, his hair had not been cut so hit his kidneys. Being black, his hair grew in dreadlocks, if he swung his head quickly, they'd lash the skin off our bodies.
Because he was a Gennie he was handsome. Too handsome. And he stood,
looking at me with this expression;
"You actually think you're the captain, now?"
Cilla made a hum that suggested she found him sexy, Ian swallowed, (the Gennie's arm thicker than his body), and Shelly Carson said, "Welcome aboard," in her cheerful manner.
His large eyes made a half second shift to take her in; she could have been bread mold.
"Can I be directed to my quarters?" came his slow, deep voice.
"And your name is?" I stabbed.
He didn't give us the usual KricKracKrumKrow, just Gye. I didn't know where that fit, whether first or last name clip, and wasn't wasting a thought.
It was standard to have a minor crew member guide him, but this wasn't standard.
"Cilla," I say, and she stepped forward as if I was going to give her the keys to the kingdom; "you have the bridge, I'll escort our new...member."
She swished her eyes at me, I swished back.
I walked towards him, he seemed to get bigger as I neared,
"This way," I said with a false smile as if I were happy he was here.
I led him to a cabin far from everyone else. He didn't have much luggage.
"Now Gye," I say as I stand by the portal, "I don't want any trouble."
He looked into my eyes, blinked. It was the first I was seeing this 'gesture', it wouldn't be the last. But I read it and knew my only tactic was violence.
If he were normal I could flip him, for I was well trained myself. But his suspicion, the way he stood, I'd only embarrass myself.
In a cheery voice I add;
"If I think you're going to jeopardise me, my ship, my mission, I'll kill you."
"If I don't kill you first," he replied almost jovial, as if I'd wished him 'Happy Christmas.'
I tried again; "Don't underestimate me," I say.
"Don't threaten me," he retorts.
"I don't threaten Gye, I promise," and I gave him my boyish smile, and left him.
I didn't take five steps from where I'd left him before linking the A.I. to watch him, went to the to Bridge, and forgot about him.
Tried to forget about him.
I didn't see him the next three days, didn't look. The A.I. output when he left the cabin, his walkabout, familarising himself, (spying) and I changed the locks on all weapon and function areas so no one could open/adjust them.
We were seven days out when the first pirate ship appeared off the bow. The A.I. made the alert before I could stop it. In seconds Gye, who'd I prefer locked in his cabin, arrived on the bridge. He stood beside me, and in his soft voice;
"Fire now, that's a Sulieman Brigand."
"How do you know?" Cilla asked before I could.
"I have some familiarity with them," he said cryptically, looking at her, then shifting his eyes to me, "if you wait another six seconds, they will be able to fire accurately."
"I can't just fire on a suspicious ship..."
"Incoming!" shouts Cilla.
"Evade!" I order.
The shot hit, the damage enough to clarify they were not a suspicious ship, but a deadly one.
"Full About, fire!" I order.
Gye was at the weapons console, bouncing Frank Guthrie across the room. The Gennie focused, fired, the Pirate ship blew.
We are talking fragments of a second to line up and fire. To line up; distance, speed, trajectory, peculiarities of weapons and fire on target.
"Impressive," I say, nodding at Gye.
"It would be more, 'impressive', if you did not need to suffer damage first," he imparted in his slow dull voice.
I was thinking of a sharp retort when he added; "Be aware, there are three more out there." And he brought up a chart, took a few steps to it, and tapped the points with a finger, to indicate where we should look.
"Alright, Mr. Gye," I say to him, "Cilla, do a sweep of one of those sectors,"
"Not Mister. Gye," he says, "just Gye." and he looks at me with eyes which seem more befitting a cocker spaniel.
Cilla's voice cuts, we turn; sure enough there was a ship almost precisely at the coords Gye had indicated.
"Do the honours..." I direct Gye, though I didn't like firing on someone who hadn't fired on me...yet.
After we'd cleared the area, I asked the obvious; "How did you know?"
And he, looking directly into my eyes, "I told you, I have a familiarity with the Sulieman Brigand," then left the Bridge.
"Used to work for them, he means," snorted Frank, rubbing his arm. Obviously, Gye's push was more forceful than needed.
The pilot of the cargo ship we were escorting was reassured by Shelly, it was her only area of competence, welcoming and reassuring.
Ten days out there was another set of pirates. This time I didn't question Gye. He took over weaponry, the threat was cancelled.
Later that evening, when I was in the gym, Cilla came in. She didn't usually approach me. The sexual question had never been answered. Sure she was alluring, but she was also my first officer. The word 'feminine' could not be applied to her.
We satisfied our urges elsewhere with elseones, and our working relationship was good.
"Donnie," she says, "those pirates, those were his people. If he'd kill them, we are no where near safe."
"I know that," I say, continuing to press the weights, "but it wasn't my call."
"He's good..." she gave, because she had to, "but the same way he turned on his own, he'll turn on us."
"As long as it's not this trip..." I huff, putting the weights back on the hook.
She handed me the towel, I wiped my face, looked at her in her tight dull red uniform, (her own design), which was sexy and utilitarian at the same time.
I thought again of a random sexual liaison, but knew with Cilla nothing is random.
"Shelly likes him," she said in that snippy way women have.
"Shelly..." I chuckled in a false way men do, "I hope she hasn't made more of a fool of herself..."
Shelly was a blonde. She fulfilled every prophesy. She was giddy and childish and distracted by emotions and dreams.
"Does he talk to her?" I ask, knowing the answer.
"No, she talks to him, he looks at her, blinks, walks away."
"Yah, I noticed that...affectation."
"What does he do all day?" she asks.
Tossing the towel over my shoulder; "He reads, he exercises, he eats, he sleeps."
"Outside of reading, he reminds me of a Wolfhound I once had."
"Occasionally, a wolfhound wags his tail," I give, and we make the laugh.
Later on I'm taking a tour of my ship, realising that it's pretty simple to distinguish a Hawking ship. Nice big logo; orange with a few vertical red stripes and the name 'Hawking Corporation' in forest Green; plus ; a Hawk with a Crown stamped on every side.
I'd had to put a decal of the logo on the Presidium, (but only one, as we were freelancers). Real Hawking Boats are painted entirely in a blinding orange with the red stripes And the Logo on every possible flat space.
This meant that the attackers had to know they were coming up against Hawking.
As I reflected on Hawking Corp I got the alert three Hawking ships were off my bow, the hail was expected.
"Captain Paulwell, we'll take over from here, please log aboard the Cornucopia to gain your emoluments and consider a further contract..."
Reporting to Hawkings
Dressed in my best uniform I took a shuttle to the lead vessel as the other two took conduct of the supply ship we had been escorting.
Once aboard, I was met by pompous bureaucrats, who dithered and babbled, then I was paid by an over weight clown, whose heavy lifting was spoon to mouth.
I got a bonus and the offer of a return to Cyberus to motherduck another cargo ship. We'd be paid for our empty ride out.
The Escort Detail had not been an arduous journey, the two Pirate attacks exciting, but brief. However the fact there was no shore leave was a negative.
I asked if we couldn't have four days on Ceres, which was not far off the route.
"I'll clear it with Ms. Rhyse, please enjoy our bar," Fatso clipped, leaving me in a large room with a robot.
Hawking never used androids or cyborgs or anything that looked human. They had developed the tech, you could buy a robot that looked and acted human, but they didn't use that series domestically. The 'bartender' was a tin man.
I ordered a Punchback, a popular drink amongst Spacers. A thick gluey topping kept the liquor in the glass and added a spicy bite. The best Punchbacks, like this one, were made with single malt under a coat of crushed cinnamon pepper.
Before I finished, the flunkey waddled back.
"Your terms are acceptable. Four days on Ceres, we'll pick up the tab if you stay at any of our Crown Hotels," and he gave me a card.
I finished the drink, hopped back to the Presidium.
Everyone was in the galley, discussing 'what ifs' as usual.
Interestingly, Gye was there. Way far in a corner, languid, his chair against the wall, his large legs on a table.
As paymaster, I called names, Gye was last. He didn't move right away. While he was in transit, I announced the bonus, and the four days on Ceres.
While the others whooped, Gye asks, "What is my portion of the bonus?" taking his pay.
"I figured we'd use it on Ceres."
"I want my portion," he says in a soft threat.
I gave him a steady eye;
"When we get a bonus, we use it for a party."
His eyes dug into mine;
"And if I don't partake of this,'party'?"
I didn't like sitting with a Gennie looming above me, so stood;
"Then you lose your portion. In fact, you can leave now."
"And go where?" Gye asks as if it's real option.
Someone spoke, I turned to respond, Gye wasn't there when I turned back.
I'm a Captain, not a psychologist, not a counselor, if Gye wants to play dog in the manger or whatever was the best analogy, that was fine.
I ordered the 'keg' opened, we all had a few drinks, then were underway to Ceres. I went to my cabin. There was Gye.
"Excuse me?" I say, seeing him looking through my private things.
"You have eclectic tastes..." he says.
"Get out of my cabin," I say with as much force as someone not fully sober would.
"How much was the bonus?" he asks in a seductive voice.
"Gye, if you don't get out, I'm going to shoot you..."
"We both know you won't shoot me. I'm unarmed."
Looking at him, knowing his reaction time, his prowess, I laughed. He joined me. When he did he had an innocent look. In fact, he looked more innocent than a child.
The laughter broke the wall I'd built between us. Maybe because I was a little drunk, I said;
"Two thousand. I take half, divide the other half. Which considering how many members of staff there are, works down, to you, to about three guilders. Hence, I blow it all on a party. It's the only fair way. You drink, you eat, you listen to music, you dance, you get drunk, you have a few laughs, and eventually, you go to bed, probably not alone. That's what I usually do with a bonus."
He looked into my face when I spoke, there was, if I can use the word again; innocence.
Quietly, letting a few beats pass;
"I don't drink, I don't like common food. I don't like modern music, I don't dance, I don't get drunk, laughs are rare, and I would probably not want anyone who would appear at the party to share my bed."
"So what do you want for your three guilders?" I flick.
"I'll think about it," he said, gave me a tip of his head in lieu of good night, and left my cabin.
There was no outward change, he still hid in the bowels of the Presidium unless summoned and ate alone, I felt different towards him. Not that I trusted him, but I trusted him more now than I did when he first logged on, more than I had before he entered my cabin.
Before we got into Ceres orbit, I had the A.I. locate him. He was in an unused part of the ship.
The Presidium had began life as a mid range war ship. After ten years, it was put on the market, bought by Hawkeye Security. After two years, it was for sale. It wasn't cheap, but I was able to purchase it with the condition it had to be available when necessary to Hawking.
As the point of the purchase was to hire the Presidium out as security for cargo shipments, and Hawking was the largest corporation, it was a double gift.
I thought of the Presidium's history as I journeyed to the forsaken corner Gye occupied. He was reading, as he usually did, and looked up as I entered.
"We're docking in about two hours. We have rooms at a Crown Hotel. I'm deciding to go to Terrafin..."
"I'll get my own room?" he asked.
"Yeah, no one would want to share with you." I tossed, then added; "In four days we'll leave for Cyberus, another escort job."
He continued to look at me.
"If you want to be part of that, be back here in four days. If you aren't ....you aren't."
"I think I would..." he said so softly it tickled my ears.
Four Days Shore Leave
We berthed and took a shuttle to the planet, Gye pretending he didn't know us.
At the Terrafin I argued with the concierge, got everyone in double rooms, got myself a single, asked for another, telling him it was for a Gennie, pointing at Gye, who was standing in the crowded lobby doing his impersonation of a cannibal selecting dinner...the snotty manager handed me a key with a hissed; "Get him out of my Lobby!"
I choked a laugh.
Gye, head and shoulders above the average, was getting a wide berth.
"Here's your key," I say, unnecessarily. He took it, looked around, moved off.
I went to my room, which was the best, took a nice hot bath, using all the crap set out for my use. I dressed in a white shirt and dark pants, went down to the restaurant, the buffet was dazzling. Surprisingly, Gye was there, taking vegetables, fruit, a few other items.
"You don't have a change of clothing?" I ask.
"No," he said without looking at me.
"You're scaring the guests." I impart.
After a pause, in his soft voice,
"I don't kill unless I'm paid to," he admits.
"Would it kill you to dress like me?"
He gave me an eye; "Possibly," he replied, moved to the patio. All the tables were taken. He sat down on a vacant chair, the guests got up and left with noisy haste.
He looked at a terrified busboy, wiggled a finger, pointed. The boy didn't move. I came to the table, stood with my plate in my hand, glared, and the kid came over and cleared.
I sat opposite, began to eat. Gye looked over the beach front, the sea.
"That's an ocean?" he asked me.
"Yeah, the Summer Ocean," I reply. It took me six more mouthfuls to add, "You've never seen an ocean?"
"No," he replied as if bored.
"I suppose you don't have a suit."
"To wear, in the water. Look, see?" I point to a man on the beach who wore an average short.
"Why bathe if you don't undress?" he asks.
"It's not that kind of a bath, it's exercise, recreation. After we finish, you want to take a dip?"
"Dip," he repeats, concentrating on his food.
I could see him thinking.
Did he want to go on the beach with me?
Did he want to be outside, among normals?
Did he want to go into the water?
It's funny, I wasn't staring at him, I was looking in his direction because he was opposite, but I could feel him thinking.
"Alright," he replied.
It was the first I was noticing the 'Otherness' of a Eugenic.
As we rose for the table, he moved like a dancer, perfect balance, graceful. As we walked to the shop in the basement of the Hotel, I was overly aware of his movements because they were too 'perfect'.
Of course, being a Gennie he was created to be perfect so unlike normals who have Mother's thin legs and Dad's fat knees, his legs were the exact size/shape/heft that matched with his knees and hips.
I did my best to not look at him as we entered the shop. I picked the suits, modest dark blue, saying,
"Put it on, take the robe and towel from the room.." about to give him a place to meet me, but decided instead, "I'll knock your door when I'm ready."
I paid, (his three guilders) and we took the lift. He got out on the third floor, I went up to the fifth, stripped, put on the suit, the robe, the towel over my shoulder, came down, knocked his door.
He was dressed as I, and we went down, came out on the 'boardwalk' which was made of rockcrete, down the steps, onto the sand.
He stepped carefully, testing the ground, as we walked towards the sea.
I found an empty spot, dropped my robe and towel, Gye mimicked.
I'm built, I work out, I don't look bad. But standing next to him, I looked like a flabby bureaucrat. My skin was...skin. It didn't gleam, it wasn't perfect.
Every eye on the beach was on Gye, and I stopped joining them, moved to the sea. I went in, the surf splashing against my legs. I dove, swam out, forgot about Gye a few seconds.
He was stepping, the wave broke, put him off balance. He looked at it, as if he didn't understand. He walked a little farther out, beyond the soft breaks.
The water was at his waist, and he studied it. He seemed unaware of the attention he was getting as he lifted hand fulls of water, sniffed them, tasted. It was embarrassing, but he didn't know it.
I swam in, stopped a few feet from him.
"What causes the movement?" he asked me.
"Tides, the turning of the planet, the winds, the friction of the air against it..."
"You can't swim."
"No, but I'll watch you, and learn."
I was going to toss a remark, but didn't. He was a Gennie, let's see if he could watch and learn.
I swam back and forth a few times, emphasising my stroke, my breathing, my kick, then stopped.
He fell into the water, tried it, sank, stood.
"There is trick you did not show me," he says.
"Well, look at this," I say, taking a breath, lying face down, letting my feet come up.
When I righted, more than a few fems were moving in. One, drooling at Gye, "Hi, my name's Barbie."
"Do I care what your name is?" he snapped ferociously, as if he'd remove her throat.
She hurried off, taking the others with her. Gye turned back to me, never missing a beat;
"So you inflate your body with oxygen...?"
"Something like that..." I mumbled, off put by his dismissing of the fem.
It wasn't just the words, it was obvious he'd spoken like that many times before.
He was a Eugenic, the result of careful breeding, genetic manipulation, etc. He believed he was as superior to us normals as we are to apes.
That was what he was taught, what he had experienced during his life, hence that he was talking to me the way he was did set my ego on a pedestal.
Then Cilla and the crew found us. Before they were in arm's distance, Gye had left the water, collected his things, and the show was over.
"I'd love to get him into bed," Cilla said to me, "but without his...lack of personality," she tried.
We enjoyed the day, Gye being gone made it normal. Fems came, guys came, after a few hours we'd made a circle, and would all meet in the bar in two hours.
It was the usual good behaviour until the fourth drink, and we soon 'owned' the bar. We were chased out by three. I wound up in bed with a voluptuous brunette.
Breakfast was in the room around noon. I met the crew on the beach about three, and there was some mixing and rematching, and we all went separate ways.
On the fourth day we checked out, returned to the ship, the A.I. told me Gye had arrived day before yesterday.
I had a feeling he was on the Presidium to stay, at least until he found somewhere else to go.