Now available, The Fugitive Snare, book 3 of the Adventures of Matt & Michelle. Click the title to view it.
Chris and Jade are on their way to the Academy.
I’d thought the trip to the Scout Academy was going to be the best time of my life. In one way, it was. Jade and I could spend as much time together as we wanted. Heck, we could even have slept in the same room—in the same bed, even—if we’d wanted to. We didn’t, of course. Oh, we kissed and cuddled together on her bed or mine, as the whim took us, and one evening we even both fell asleep while cuddling.
Waking up in each other’s arms felt both right and wrong. Right, because I knew this was how most of my mornings-to-come would and should be. Wrong, because we weren’t properly joined in wedlock and did not want to tempt ourselves to act as if we were. We were more careful, after that.
As much as we enjoyed spending all of our time together, we hated having nothing to do. Neither of us had shipboard duties, or any duties at all, unless we assigned them to ourselves. One can only clean one’s clothing so often, though, and we could think of no other ‘duties.’ The ship’s vid library kept us entertained for several days—especially since they gave us a chance to work on our understanding of the galactic basic language. But, the whole language was designed to be easily learned and we had undergone some kind of automated teaching process for it at the Federation Embassy. The main thing we learned from the vids were a lot of curse words not included in our lessons.
Anyway, I can honestly say Jade and I were quite ready to get off the ship by the time it reached Sescaga. Before boarding the shuttle to the surface, we took a few minutes to thank the crew members. For some reason, that surprised them. It obviously pleased them, as well.
“That was odd,” Jade murmured, as we settled into our seats on the shuttle. “Don’t galactics have any manners?”
“Maybe the ship doesn’t carry passengers very often,” I suggested.
Unfortunately, we quickly learned that Jade’s guess was closer to the truth than mine.
Debarking the shuttle, we found a stern-looking woman nearing her middle years waiting for us. Without looking up from her data pad, she barked, “Marlow and Cochran?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I replied, fighting the urge to gawk at all the activity going on around us. “Marlow, here.”
“I’m Jade Cochran,” Jade added.
“Right.” She looked up at us. “Have you got everything, or is some porter fetching half-a-dozen more trunks for her ladyship, here?”
“I’m not a lady,” Jade bristled, hefting her one bag, “and, yes, this is everything.”
“Good.” The woman snapped her pad shut. “Come on, we’ve got to stop at another landing zone.”
Spinning on her heel, the woman marched off into the crowd, pushing and sliding her way through the mass of people with practiced ease. Jade and I, without her experience with crowds and hampered by our luggage, steadily lost ground on the woman. Whenever we found ourselves in the open, we sprinted after the woman. After our third sprint, we finally caught up to her. I caught her arm and pulled her to a stop.
“Ma’am, we are neither used to these crowds nor capable of moving through them as rapidly as you. May I humbly request that you temper your pace to accommodate our inexperience and luggage?”
The woman’s face screwed up in confusion. “What?”
“Slow down,” Jade said. “We can’t keep up with you.”
She pulled her arm free from my grip. “Not my problem.”
“Yes,” Jade insisted, “it is your problem. How will your superiors at the Academy respond if you lose two of their cadets?”
“I don’t work for the Academy, missy. They just contracted with my boss to pick up a bunch of their cadets.”
“If the Academy hired you, then you work for them until you complete your contract,” Jade insisted. “That means delivering all of us safely to the Academy. Or, does your boss have no interest in future contracts with the Academy?”
“Are you threatening my job, missy?” the woman demanded.
“No, ma’am,” I interjected, “we’re just requesting a little consideration for our situation. We’ve never been on such a modern world as this.”
“Sescaga? Modern?” Our driver barked a laugh. “What kind of hellhole are you from, if this place is modern?”
My tone stiffened. “We are from Aashla, which is most assuredly not a hellhole.”
She concentrated for a moment. “Is that the place with the flying balloon things? The one that got a bunch of action vids made about it?”
“We have airships, yes. Jade and I have both served upon some of them,” I replied, my tone remaining cool. “I cannot comment on action vids, as I have only seen a few of them and none of them were set on Aashla.”
“You served?” she asked. “How?”
“I am a lieutenant in the Mordanian Navy. Jade is a pilot.”
“No kidding?” Interest crept into our driver’s tone. At the same time, she turned and, setting a more sedate pace, led us through the crowd.
“Most assuredly not, ma’am.”
“I spent a hitch in the Federation Marines, myself.”
“If the Federation Marines are anything like the Mordanian Marines, I’m certain it’s a fine service.”
“Damn straight, son,” she nodded. “Damn straight, indeed.”
I won’t say our driver warmed to us, exactly, but after that exchange she was civil toward us. That is more than can be said for the other four cadets she picked up.
Three men and a woman, all at least two or three years older than me, climbed into the bus—that’s the word our driver used to describe her vehicle—several minutes after the driver went in search of them. The driver glared at their backs, before dragging about a dozen pieces of luggage to the back of the bus. I found her behavior odd, since she had expected Jade and me to put our own bags in the rear. The driver tossed the first case into the rear compartment just as the four cadets settled into their seats.
“Treat our luggage with respect, woman,” one of the men drawled in gal base. His accent was considerably different than ours, but I understood him easily enough. “You’ll pay for any damages out of your own pocket!”
The woman with him giggled, while the two men nodded in agreement.
Jade gave me a significant look, one I had no trouble interpreting. Oh, hell, they’re just like the Supercilious Six.
“What are you looking at, girl?” the woman sneered.
“Him,” Jade said, inclining her head in my direction. “What are you giggling at?”
“Him.” The woman nodded to the man who had spoken. She also mocked Jade by imitating—poorly—Jade’s accent. “From what backwater rim world did you get that atrocious accent.”
“From what snobby world did you get that atrocious attitude?” Jade asked, mocking the woman in return by imitating her accent.
I thought she nailed it. The woman must have, also, because her eyes flashed in anger. She kept her mouth shut, though, so I called it a win for Jade.
Pointedly ignoring us, the four fell into a conversation in a language we didn’t understand. I assumed it was their planetary tongue. Since our fellow passengers—after our brief encounter, I’ll be damned if I’d call them ‘companions’—felt no need to display any manners, Jade and I switched from gal base to Mordanian.
“David did warn us that galactics came in all shapes, sizes, and temperaments. It’s just our luck that we ran across the…” Jade thought for a moment, then she flashed a smile. “The Fatuous Four before we met anyone else.”
I couldn’t help laughing at Jade’s title, which drew irritated glances from the four. “I do wonder why the Scout Academy would accept people like that.”
Jade shrugged. “I expect it’s just like home, Chris. These four probably have important parents.”
We spent the rest of the trip to the looking at the sights of Sescaga. The Academy was several miles outside of the city. I got the idea the FF were none too pleased about that, though I don’t know why. Academy guides waited for us when we climbed out of the bus.
Our guide was an attractive-looking woman who appeared to be in her early to mid-thirties. To our surprise, she spoke to us in somewhat broken Mordanian. “Well came to Scout Academy.”
“Thank you,” Jade said in the same language.
“This come way…” the guide stuttered.
“We’ve learned gal base,” I said, “and, if you don’t mind, are anxious to practice it.”
The guide grinned and switched to gal base, “Is that a polite way of stopping me from further mangling your home tongue? There’s no need to answer that, by the way. I am Master Scout Linda Miles and will be your guide while you get your bearings at the Academy.”
“I’m pleased to meet you, Master Scout Miles,” Jade said, dipping into a curtsy. “I am Jade Cochran.”
“I am equally pleased to make your acquaintance,” I added, bowing. “Lieutenant Christopher Marlow of the Mordanian Navy, at your service.”
“Please, there’s no need for such formality right now. Until classes begin, please just call me Linda.” She motioned for us to follow her into the building before us. “Being from Aashla, may I assume you know—or, at least, know of—David Rice?”
“We have both had the honor of fighting at his side during the Weather War, ma’am,” I replied, “and count him a close friend.”
“Combat? At your age?” Apparently, that was a rhetorical question, as she continued, “I’ll look forward to hearing that story sometime. I asked simply because David and I were at the Scout Academy at the same time. He was a year ahead of me and didn’t know I existed. I, on the other hand, secretly mooned over him until he graduated.”
“Mooned?” I asked.
“I entertained romantic notions about him.” Linda shook her head, I assume at her younger self’s silly dreams. “Apparently, crash landing on your planet was just the thing for his romantic notions, though.”
“He and Princess Callan do love each other deeply,” I said.
“Since Aashla was rediscovered, I’ve only seen vids of them. Experts can do so much to enhance images these days,” Linda mused, “is the Princess truly as beautiful as she appears?”
“More beautiful,” Jade replied. “Having someone who looks like Callan really isn’t fair to the rest of our sex.”
I put an arm around Jade. “How many times do I have to say it? Jade, you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”
Linda smiled at us and Jade leaned into me. Then the doors to the Scout Academy slid open, as if welcoming us to our future.
What lies ahead for Chris and Jade? Find out in Chapter 15, coming sometime this weekend.