No Ordinary Voyage, Chapter 1: Off Again

I remember the day I stepped aboard The Interloper. The skies were clear - perfect spacing conditions; the solar sails would fill and allow us to get out quickly. My mother was standing on the dock, waving goodbye. After only two years at the Academy, I was already off. It wasn't as a full-fledged spacer yet, of course. I just needed to get rid of the cabin fever I felt often on Montressor. Cooped up in the school buildings, all I wanted was the find myself back on a ship. I wanted to be back in space so badly, I didn't care that The Interloper was an ordinary ship that shuttled people and goods back and forth between planets.

I remember the shock I got, seeing the captain of the Interloper. He was eighteen and therefore old enough to own a boat and call himself a spacer. Remember, the Academy is for those who want to be part of the government's fleet - and for those like myself who prove promising to other spacers like Captain Amelia. But this boy had never gone to the Academy; The Interloper was a family ship, and he'd just inherited it.

Peter Helikos was his name. He had dark eyes and dark brown hair, though his hair also had reddish tones from being out in the sun.He was confident and bursting with youthful exuberance - now I know why Captain Amelia had said that we might or might not get along. As he walked around the ship, I could see how much his men respected him, even though some of them were born one or two generations before he had. It was the small group of passengers that were doubtful, but I could also see that Captain Helikos was used to that.

I remember how nervous I was when I finally met the Captain, and how he put me at ease. "Welcome aboard the Interloper. You must be the Academy boy, Hawkins. Glad to have you." He gave a winning smile and continued, "Captain Amelia told me all about your adventures, Mr. Hawkins. I know several men aboard who'd love to hear about them. I'm afraid I have some bad news for you, though. If you're expecting an adventure, you won't get any. This is just an ordinary run to Takara." He was wrong.

I tried to smile back at him and said, "I don't care, sir. I just wanted to be back onboard anything." He gave me a hearty slap on the back - not unlike Captain Amelia's.

"That's the spirit, Hawkins," he said. Then, with his hand still on my shoulder, he pointed to the person at the helm. "Go on up there and meet the First Mate; you'll get help settling into life on the Interloper. I still have to get some last few things in order." Before I could say anything, he was gone.

I looked up at the person standing there, and my mouth dropped open.

Yes, oh, yes, I remember the First Mate. That was mainly because I didn't expect him to be a her.

"Come on up," she called, smiling. I slowly climbed up the stairs and stood a few feet away. She smiled up at me expectantly - yes, I was taller than her. "Hawkins, right? I'm sure the Captain welcomed you aboard. We'll get you settled in as soon as we push off. Don't worry, you don't have to be cabin boy on the Interloper."

Her face was strangely familiar. It was framed by short auburn hair and swept into a bandanna - obviously the Interloper wasn't as formal a ship as others; just seeing the captain made that clear. Anyhow, the First Mate's almond eyes were a pale green, and the corners of her mouth turned up slightly in a cat's smile. She had a slim, limber body and long, tapered fingers. These fingers now moved toward me from her outstretched hand as she began to say something. Suddenly, there was a piercing whistle, and Peter's booming voice filled the air.

"Let's go, people, we're pushing off! You there, get moving! Felix! Felix, get down here!"

The girl rolled her eyes. Apparently, she was Felix. "Let's go," she said. I moved toward the stairs, but she sprung up onto the railing in a headstand and then flipped off, landing nimbly on her feet next to Peter on the deck. They exchanged smiles, and then Felix started barking out the orders. As the Interloper began to move, it crossed my mind that this was not going to be an ordinary voyage after all.