Lukas is trying to convince Storm that she needs to hire him to transport the equipment for the teleportation device her clan is installing. Since his ship looks like something cobbled together with bubble gum and duct tape, that’s going to be a hard sell.
A panel slid aside revealing a very sophisticated virtual keypad. Smiling up at her, he tapped a command on the keypad and a projection screen hummed. White light burst from it, flickering as a figure emerged.
“Besides, not every ship has this. Storm, I want you to meet my own, personal angel. Gabrielle, say hello to Storm.”
The figure of a woman stood before her on the console. Nearly four feet high, she was not quite opaque. The projection smiled politely. Her ears were pointed, her lithe body sporting a pair of graceful wings.
“Hello, Storm. I am Gabrielle. Are you a friend of Lukas’?”
“Business associate,” Storm smiled. “Pleased to meet you, Gabrielle.”
“What is a bizniz assoshut?” Gabrielle turned to Lukas with a puzzled frown.
“She means we just met and we aren’t quite friends yet. We’ll be working together.”
“Oh, I see. Pleased to meet you, Storm, bizniz assoshut.” She bowed.
“Gabrielle, how’s everything?” Luke asked her.
“All systems are operational, Lukas. The damages from our last run have been repaired. You have six messages from the harbor master. She warns you that if….”
“Yes, I’ve been given the message. Thank you.”
“Certainly. Is there anything else?”
“Not at the moment. Thank you.”
“You’re most welcome. Farewell, Storm.”
Stunned, Storm realized her mouth was hanging open. Luke rose languidly from his seat, walking over to her. He leaned toward her, lips a mere breath from hers as he gently pushed her lower jaw closed with his fingertips.
“That,” he said, still leaning toward her, “is the reason you’re gonna give the job to me.”
“I ….” Her mouth worked silently as she tried to put her thoughts together.
“Take your time.” He smiled, propping himself against the console across from her.
She pointed to the place where Gabrielle had been moments before. “You…. She—there was a woman.”
“Yes. Go on.” His smile was smug.
“She wasn’t human. She was—that is….”
“Alien. Yes, I know. She came with the ship.”
“That’s impossible! We don’t have that kind of technology. There are AI’s and projections, but nothing that sophisticated.”
“Humans don’t, no. But Gabrielle’s not human.”
“Then the ship?”
“It’s not human either. Why do you think we’ve added all this on her? Camouflage. If I look like a hunk of junk, people leave me alone. If everyone knew what I had, they’d all want a piece of the action.”
That statement was loaded with so many double entendres, it took Storm a moment to form a reply. This was business, not pleasure. Though Luke was smooth and talked a good game, she couldn’t base her decision on how well a man talked, how good looking he was, or the fact that he had an alien AI on board.
“I can’t give you a contract until I see how she performs. You say she’s fast, you have to prove it.”
“Very well. Give me a task. Hire me for any run you want. I guarantee we’ll do it faster than anyone else.”
“My cousin needs a load of building supplies brought up from home. I was going to have them teleported….”
“Give me something more challenging, huh? Any old scow can pick up building supplies. How about…? Gazing out the portal of the vessel, he saw the moon in the distance. “How about I make a moon run?”
“I don’t need anything from the moon.”
“Neither do I, but it would be a perfect test of our speed. How long does it take the average ship to make the moon run one way?”
“Seventeen hours and fifty-six minutes,” she replied. Everyone who’d been on Crystal Palace more than a week knew the answer to that.
“Correct. What if I told you I could be there and back again in that amount of time? Would I get the job then?”
“How do I know you wouldn’t just tell me you’d been and turn around halfway?”
“Because,” he leaned toward her. “You’re coming with me.”
“I’ll need my docking fees paid,” he commented over his shoulder.
“I can’t go like this!” She indicated her evening dress and heels.
“Go change. Pay the docking fees and I’ll be ready to go as soon as you get back.”
“Oh, no. I’m not falling for that. If I pay your fees, you’ll be gone by the time I get back.”
“Fine. I’ll go with you. The crew can get her ready.” He sidled up to her. “Of course, I could tell them to be ready in the morning and we could spend some quality time at your place.” He slid in close, his body heat making her skin tingle.
“Or,” she shoved him roughly away. “We could go now and come back right away so I can make my decision.”
“Fine.” He shrugged, not caring that she’d just rejected him. “Come on. We’re burning moonlight.”