Long Distance

Captain Pora Hairfoot looked at the half-dragon monk who had been such a lucrative – and entertaining – deck-hand for the last several months, and sighed. Yep, as soon as a monk starts acting a little strangely they end up becoming completely unpredictable. By all accounts this guy just had a pleasant, boisterous conversation with his old mentor, and now he wants to leave… immediately.

The young – well, young to her eyes am I really that jaded? – man stood there with a slightly apologetic look on his face. She quirked an eyebrow at him before she spoke. “So, I am guessing all that talk was some sort of code, and your old mentor has informed you of some terrible danger about to befall… what… your family back at that monastery?”

Sunar shook his head at her slowly. “No, there were no codes or hidden messages in our words.” The half-dragon blinked rapidly for a moment and drew his eyebrows down, then refocused on her. “Well, maybe there was one: Whatever has happened was touched off, in some way, by me sending that care package of seeds.” He then gave her a somewhat sly smile. “I think the rest was to make it sound like we might be speaking in some kind of code, which means that Master Ikthan either believes the line is tapped or someone with ill intent was there watching the call, and he wants to keep them guessing. Either way, I need to get back there – now – and find out what is going on.”

She cocked her head sideways at him. “What makes you so sure he wants you to come back? He seemed intent on reassuring you that everything was fine back there and you should keep traveling, or at least that seemed to be the only thing he mentioned more than once.”

Sunar simply nodded. “Master Ikthan hasn’t repeated himself to me even once since I was out of diapers. Once he tells you something he expects you to remember and understand it. So if he said it more than once then that means something other than what he stated. I don’t know what is wrong, but I suspect someone told him to call and reassure me that everything was fine at home.”

She sighed heavily and waved a hand at him while she winced inwardly. How much of my desire to stop him is about him, and how much about not wanting to replace him? “I was afraid you’d say something like that. Still, kid, you sure about trying to rush back there? By the time you get there whatever…”

A slight drop of the chin cut her off. How does he do that? How does manage to interrupt people with such subtle gestures? “I thank you for your concern on that score, Captain, but I assure you I expect to be home in no more than two hours. Less if you don’t mind letting me use the terminal in your office for a secure link, and send a picture of the cargo hold to an old friend.”

Unpredictable, and full of surprises. Still, something has a real bee in his bonnet. “I generally don’t care for having random spellslingers ‘porting into my cargo hold, but if you can vouch for them…?” She let the question hang in the air. How does someone who grew up in a monastery have an old friend who is capable of that?

Sunar simply nodded, but he seemed to have understood the unspoken part of her question. “It would be more accurate to say that he is an old friend of Master Ikthan’s. I will be honest: I am not sure exactly what sort of relationship the two shared, but they seemed to be close friends on the one occasion I met him.”

Pora shook her head again and threw her hands up in the air, but let a resigned grin show on her face. “Well, if this Master Ikthan of yours is half the man you make him out to be, then I’m willing to take his wizard friend on faith. Let’s make that call.”

She reached for the keyboard to authorize the interstellar call, but Sunar sat there and blinked rapidly. She looked back at him and raised an eyebrow. He noticed her look and gave his head a vigorous shake, then answered her unspoken question as she punched up the call. “I… thank you, Captain. I wasn’t expecting you to be willing to bend those rules for me, nor for you to be quite so forgiving of me departing the ship without notice… at least, not without a lot more explination.”

She chuckled a moment and answered. “People come and go in this business, m’boy. Granted, once you get a good crew together most of ‘em will stay for life, but there are always those who are only with us for a while, and it isn’t like you were ever going to put down roots in these bulkheads.

“That said, it is polite to give some warning, and just running off without either notice or a good reason is a good way to get complaints registered with the guild – trying to reduce that sort of thing is half the reason that Captains are willing to pay guild rates after all. But, you’ve been a good hand and demonstrated that you have a level head on your shoulders, so I will trust that whatever is going on fits into the latter category. Besides, as badly as I’ve been underpaying you, at this point I owe you.”

He gave her a questioning look, so she spoke with a smile. “No, son, I’m not making a joke at your expense. You’re stronger than anyone else on this ship, good in a scrap, keep your head about you even when you’re drunk off your… tail – or should be – and you have no qualms about working like a dog when asked.

“I’ve been able to take a few cargos I might have balked at before you got settled in, and that has netted us extra pay. Add to that you picked up more in a few weeks than most do in a year, and you slotted yourself into this crew almost like a salted veteran.

“So, yes, I have been underpaying you for a while now, and if your ‘leave of absence’ ends up being long enough that I have to hire permanent hands to replace you – which will mean hiring at least two reasonably experienced people, I might add – then my commendation letter on you to the guild is going to glow in the dark.”

Sunar got a strange little smile on his face and lifted an eyebrow at her. She guffawed when she realized his point and swatted him on the arm. “Yes, yes, the letter will be electronic and so technically glows in the dark anyway, but you know what I mean. Anyway, I say all that to say that yes, you have certainly earned the chance to make a few odd requests of me, and to be willing to trust you – and those you trust – enough to let this wizard ‘port into my hold.” She gave him the best side-eye she could muster. “Just don’t make me regret it, ok?”

He smiled at her and nodded, then the call went through. The wizard picked it up almost before it started ringing… seems he expected the call. It only took a few moments for the matter to be arranged, and the wizard told them he’d arrive in a few minutes, to give Sunar time to have his injuries tended to and pack.

When they got to the infirmary she set to work on his injured wing and frowned. “That wound is from a firearm!” She gave him a hard, sharp look. “No one assaults one of my crew without answering it, even if he is off the ship… and something tells me that whoever did this is in some way related to that call you just got. I know I implied I’d stay out of all this business, but you having been shot while a member of my crew changes things. Start talking Sunar.”

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