Tag Archive | Under the Milky Way

Under the Milky Way – part 10

Overcome by her excitement, Storm grabbed his neck, kissing him enthusiastically on the mouth. Instead of pushing her away, he pulled her close, enjoying the kiss to the fullest. Shocked by her own behavior, she would have pulled away, but found she didn’t want to. There was something magnetic about Lukas Houston and his cobbled together alien ship.

A delicate clearing of a female throat made them part. The bridge was empty except for them and Gabrielle. It was she who had cleared her throat.

“Lukas, we’ve arrived as you desired.” She smiled shyly, lowering herself once more into the console.

Storm, followed closely by Luke, went to the portal. As he had specified, they were on the dark side of the moon. Limned by the sun’s light, a golden glow surrounded its cold, pocked surface.

“Now you see,” he kissed her neck. “Why you’re going to give this job to me?”

“Mm,” she replied, relishing the touch of his lips on her skin. With a shiver, she brought herself back to the present. “Don’t, Luke,” she cautioned.

“Don’t what?” He nibbled her neck, lips traveling to her earlobe.

“Don’t do this. Don’t seduce me for the job.”

“I already have the job,” he mumbled, his tongue tracing the curve of her neck. “You gave it to me the minute we hit the maze run, you just didn’t realize it.”

“Then why this?” She stepped away from him, gesturing angrily. “Why all the kissing and nibbling? The seduction is wasted if you’re already working for me.”

“Is it?” He stepped toward her, looming over her. “Hasn’t a guy ever made love to you simply because you were beautiful?”

“No.” She stepped away. “A man always wants something. It’s never just ‘because’.”

“Storm, you’ve got a lot to learn about me,” he said with a sigh. “Gabrielle.”

“Yes, Luke?”

“Take us home.”

“As you command.”

The ride home was amazing as the trip over. Five minutes, or five hours later, Storm stepped off his ship, the electronic contract ratified and thumb printed by them both. Luke stayed behind on the ship and Storm went back to her room alone.

Sophie met her in the hall, smiling happily. “Hey, cuz! How was the ride?”

“It was good,” she mumbled. “He’s got the job.”

“Then why so down? I thought you’d be happy. It’s your first major deal since you got your promotion.”

“I know,” Storm sighed. “It’s just—I screwed up, Sophie. I let him get to me.”

“It’s okay, kid. Come have a drink. We’ll drown our sorrows.”

“Mr. Wonderful wasn’t so wonderful?”

“He let slip that he’s married with two kids back on Earth. After that, the magic was gone.”

“We’re a hell of a pair, huh?”

They headed to Sophie’s bar. It wasn’t open for business yet, but the two young women got out a bottle of peach and jalapeño moonshine, sipping cautiously. The liquid heat warmed their throats, exploding in a fireball of flavor when it hit their stomachs.

“Good stuff,” Storm gasped, eyes watering.

“Smooth,” Sophie agreed, tears running down her cheeks.

The door behind them slid open. Luke stood silhouetted in the doorway.

“Can I come in?”

Sophie nodded, beckoning him in. “I need to hit the head.”

Storm put the glass against her forehead, wiping a tear that wasn’t just from the alcohol. Luke picked up the bottle, asking silently if he could have some. Storm nodded, looking away, blinking hard against the tears.

“I’m sorry you misinterpreted my actions,” he said softly. “I thought maybe you and I could share something special. I guess I was wrong.”

“I guess so,” she mumbled, turning away.

Luke touched her cheek with his thumb, sliding his copy of the contract in front of her.

“Here.” He put her hand on it. “Take it back. Give the job to someone else.”

“What? Are you out of your mind? This contract could make you a millionaire.”

“Yes, it could. But it’s not worth it if you won’t talk to me again.”

“You’d give all that money up for me?”

“If it will convince you that I didn’t try to seduce you just for the job.”

“You did try to seduce me!”

“But not,” he emphasized with a tap on the bar. “For the job.”

Laughing, Storm shoved him, nearly knocking him off the stool. Righting himself, he took a sip of the moonshine. Gasping, his eyes began to water. Storm thumped him on the back, laughing at his discomfort.

“Thanks,” he wheezed. “Nice. Sympathy.”

“It’s an acquired taste. You’ll live.” She shoved his contract back at him. “Keep that,” she laid her hand on his shoulder. “You’re the best man for the job.”

“And for you?”

“I don’t know yet. I’ll have to take you for a trial run to be sure.”

“I won’t disappoint you, Storm. I promise.”

When his lips touched hers, she knew beyond a doubt that he was telling her the truth—again.

Under the Milky Way – part 9

“Great! Sooner we go, the sooner we can get back.”

“I have to let my cousin know I’m leaving. Otherwise she’ll have the authorities on your tail faster than you can spit.”

“Okay. Where is she?”

“She’s next door.”

He followed her to Sophie’s room, waiting impatiently as Storm spoke to her. She brought her up to date on the attempted assassination as well as her trip with Luke.

“I’ll be gone awhile, Soph. I’m following up a lead on that transport issue.”

“What if folks need to talk to you?”

“Take appointments. They want to deal, they can wait.”

“You got it, cuz. I wish I could go with you, but Mama would have my hide if I put a joyride ahead of her tavern. Besides, Mr. Wonderful is waiting. Y’all have fun!”

“Baby!” A man’s voice called from the bedroom. “You coming back to bed?”

“Coming! See you later, sugar.” She hugged her cousin and went back in her room.

The security officers escorted them back to Luke’s ship. Somewhat the worse for wear, he gave the orders for the ship to leave port.

The crew assembled on the bridge, all of them looking at Storm with curiosity. Busy taking the ship out of port, Lukas didn’t introduce her right away, so the intensity of the stares increased by the minute. Feeling the pressure of their scrutiny, Storm gazed out the portal ahead of her, watching as they left the space station behind.

When the station was out of view, Luke turned to the crew. “Hey, everyone. This is Storm. She’s going to be taking a ride with us to the moon and back. If all goes well, we’ll have a real job when we get back.”

Storm wasn’t expecting the explosion of sound that followed that statement. The five person crew yelled and cheered, thumping Storm on the back.

“Gabrielle,” Luke said quietly. “It’s time.”

“As you wish, Lukas,” came her disembodied answer. “Destination?”

“The dark side of the moon.”

“Of course,” she replied calmly.

“Oh, you might want to sit down,” he told Storm, pointing to his seat.

Taking a position behind her, he held a strap that was bolted to the wall. She noticed that all the crew members did the same thing, legs wide to steady themselves.

The ship paused. A shiver ran through it from prow to stern. It leaped forward as if it had been launched from a catapult. Storm lost her balance, sliding to her left. Lukas caught her, holding her to her seat as the ship sped up.

Stars flashed by, their light becoming silver streaks against the black of space. Soon, the light blended together, a white glow surrounding them. With a push, they hopped forward once more, gravity releasing long enough for their feet to leave the floor. Gradually, it reestablished itself, though Storm could tell it was less than normal. The view outside had changed subtly. The stars passed at the same furious rate, their color changed to pink and lavender.

“What’s happening?” Her voice sounded strange, hollow.

“Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore,” Luke quipped. “We’re in a maze run.”

“A what?”

“That’s what we call it. Gabrielle didn’t have a name for it.”

“I’m confused,” Storm shook her head, holding it as her equilibrium failed her.

One of the women took pity on her, bringing her a carbonated drink. “The ship makes a sort of tear in the fabric of space,” she explained. “Then it slides in, covering the distance much faster. The pathways are interconnected, so we called it a maze.”

“How much faster?”

The ship slowed, paused and leaped forward once more. The stars looked the same again, twinkling happily around the ship as they established an orbit around the moon.

“Oh, my God!” Storm walked to the portal in disbelief. “How long were we traveling?”

“Altogether?” Lukas looked at his watch. “Longer than you’d think. One thing about the maze run, time isn’t the same as it is in our reality.”

“It felt like five minutes.”

Lukas showed her his watch. Five hours had passed since they took off from the space station. Storm grabbed his wrist, incredulous.

“No way!”

“Way.” He laughed.

Under the Milky Way – part 8

Luke let himself be searched, giving up his weapons gladly. Storm explained what happened and a security team went in to flush out the hired killers.

“They were waiting for us,” Luke said as they walked to her quarters.

Storm nodded, unsure of her voice. They walked a little further until they came to her door.

“Here I am,” she pointed.

Luke followed her inside. For an apartment on the space station, it was spacious. She had a kitchen, living room and sleeping area with bath. She even had a porthole, not something that everyone could brag about.

“Nice view.”

Gazing out, he could see the moon. A different angle from his, to be sure, a first class view. He saw himself in stark contrast with her. She was well known in the corporate sector. His name was bandied about the dockside usually with laughter at his crazy ship.

Hunching his shoulders, he shoved his hands in his pockets, wondering what the hell he was doing. How did he expect to make anything of himself? Having tenacity didn’t matter for shit if you didn’t have money or connections.

“What did they want?” Storm asked. “And how did they know we’d even go that way?”

“I’m guessing they had two teams,” Luke said. “Either way, they’d have jumped us. We walked right into it.”

“Who ordered the hit? Did you make someone mad enough to kill you?” She walked to her closet, flinging the doors open. She walked in, grabbing pants and a sweater, changing while he watched without caring.

“Me? Those boys were after you, sweet cheeks.” She had a great ass, he thought as he watched her change.

“What? Me? Why? I’m nobody.”

“You and your uncle just pissed off a whole lotta people, baby. Folks like that don’t lie down and take it up the tailpipe. They’re gonna fight back. My guess is that they hired those boys based on the rumors that were flying around here prior to tonight’s show.

“Because of the teleporter? That’s insane. As if killing me could stop Uncle Ralph.”

“Maybe, that would’ve been the start. Thing like this could start an all out corporate war. You die, he retaliates, they return fire…. It’d get mighty nasty, mighty fast.”

Storm sat heavily on her bed, holding her head in her hands. “Oh, my God! Do you think they’ll still do it?”

Luke shrugged. “You might have been the only target, at least so far. Wax you, they’ve got a show of strength. Kill me, they smack your uncle in the face.”

“I’ve got to warn him,” she said quietly.

Whipping out her cellphone, she called Ralph’s base under the mountain in the heart of Shine Clan territory. He answered somewhat bleary eyed. Storm apologized, not realizing it was so late. Once she explained, he woke quickly and completely.

“You don’t worry about this, darlin’. You go on that run with your man. I’ll handle this.”

“He’s not my man, Uncle Ralph.”

The old man waved her words away. “You go on. I’ll send word when all’s done. Best tell Sophie on your way out.”

“I will, Uncle Ralph. Be careful.”

“I will, baby.”

Storm disconnected with a heavy sigh. Gathering a few more necessary items, including her weapons, she stood, facing Luke.

“I’m ready.”

Luke turned away from the view, seeing a very different woman from the one he’d brought here. She was wearing jeans and sweater with leather boots and a heavy leather coat that went to her ankles. Her white blonde hair was pulled up in a ponytail. The fancy earrings were gone, replaced by a pair of gold posts in the shape of dolphins. She had a sizable pellet gun strapped to her hip, a short sword on her belt and a variety of throwing knives. A small duffel bag hung from her left shoulder.

Under the Milky Way – part 7

Grappling for her weapon, she found herself outweighed and outclassed. Thick Neck wasn’t just big, he was well trained. She was a black belt in Krav Maga, but he obviously had training in more than one discipline. He blocked her attacks with ease, like he was swatting a fly. She raised her gun to fire, he took it away, turning it on her.

“I don’t think so, baby. You and me are gonna party while my friends take out your boy.”

Storm risked a glance at Luke. He fought valiantly, but he was outnumbered. She couldn’t do anything for him. Thick Neck would shoot them both before she went three feet.

She felt another tingle on her neck, but this one was different. Instead of a threat, it felt warm, calm, secure.

“Storm,” a gentle voice whispered in her ear. “It’s Gabrielle. Let me in.”

She opened her mind to Luke’s angel. Like a massive download, her mind was suddenly filled with visions of fighting styles she’d never seen before.

“Relax,” Gabrielle breathed. “I’ll take care of it.”

“What?” Thick Neck had advanced on her, undoing his belt.

Had she spoken? “I’ll take care of it,” she murmured, reaching for his pants.

Too excited to think rationally, Thick Neck groped for her as she undid his fly. Smiling, she let her hands drift down.

“Storm, a little help!” Luke was taking a beating.

Dodging and evading his attackers, he blocked one blow after another, but was starting to slow.

“I’m busy,” she said in a singsong voice.

“Play later,” he replied in the same tone.

“I’ll take care of it, Lukas,” she said with Gabrielle’s voice.

Exhaling seductively, she pulled Thick Neck toward her. Her knee pounded his groin. When he bent over in pain, it was waiting for his forehead. Stunned, he staggered, falling down. A well placed heel to his head insured he wouldn’t rise again. Her first attacker was coming around. A complicated series of blows sent him back to sleep.

In a shiny blue whirlwind, she flew into the bigger of Luke’s two opponents. Knocked off balance, he grabbed for his companion, making them both stumble. Storm kicked him hard in the midsection while Luke pounded the other with his fists.

They stood over their attackers, aware that others were watching. They moved neither to help nor hinder, waiting and evaluating. Breathing hard, Luke and Storm searched for weapons, placing them in a disposal shoot. Storm kept the best of the sidearms.

They proceeded toward the exit on the opposite side of a large, open area. Though Storm could see no one, she knew they were still being watched. The tingle of a telepathic scan warned her again, but this time her wall didn’t come down.

Fear gripped her and she stopped walking, clutching at Luke. Her body shook as she tried to fight the attacker.

“Gabrielle!” She gasped. “Help!”

The same warmth filled her with confidence. Turning, she spotted the telepath in the shadows. He was focused, transmitting, he didn’t notice that something had changed.

Storm’s mind filled with a ball of orange light. She pictured it traveling to her fingers. Her arms and hands prickled with energy. Putting up her hands like dual stop signs, she pushed.

The telepath staggered, gasping for breath. Storm pushed again and he fell, gagging and foaming at the mouth.

“Hurry,” she told Luke like nothing had happened. “We’re not safe here.”

“What? Huh?” He was too surprised to react.

Storm grabbed his arm, yanking him quickly across the room. They hit the doors leading to the corporate area. Security scans activated sending corporate solos flooding into the corridor, surrounding them.

“Storm Westlake,” she called. “Shine Clan. We’re under attack!”

The solos formed a meat wall behind her just as the doors burst open. More solos than she could count, faced the security team. They stopped, raising their hands in defeat.

“Who’s this?” The head of security asked Storm.

“Lukas Houston. He’s with me. He saved my life.”

“Mr. Houston, you’re welcome here as a guest, sir. I’m gonna have to ask for your weapons.”

Under the Milky Way – part 5

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.”

“What?”

“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.”

Under the Milky Way – part 4

Lukas Houston met her by the door to the banquet hall, hands in his pockets, looking smug. He placed his thumb on the electronic claim panel and the bodyguards at the door handed him his weapons. As he collected a variety of throwing knives, a short sword and a very lethal looking, gas propelled pellet gun, Storm smiled.

“I do like a man who can defend himself, Mr. Houston.”

“My friends call me Luke,” he flashed a winning smile.

“Well, Luke, what sets you apart from all those other, more established companies? Why should I put Shine Clan interests in your hands?”

“Because,” he touched the small of her back as the bodyguards opened the doors for them. “I have cojones the size of Texas. And because I have something those other fellas don’t.”

“Oh, really? You have more than ten thousand intergalactic ships at your disposal?”

He shook his head. “Nope. Only the one ship so far.”

“One ship? You’re talking to me about a multibillion dollar enterprise and offering one ship?”

“That’s right. Wait until you see her. If what I have to show you doesn’t convince you that I can deliver, I’ll leave Crystal Palace and never come back.”

“How do you propose to do that?”

“Come see my ship. Once you see her, you’ll understand.”

Storm agreed to accompany him to his ship. Had she not had quite so much to drink, she might not have agreed as quickly. However, something about him appealed to her. If Lukas Houston was anything other than what he claimed, she’d soon find out.

The areas they walked through grew gradually more seedy, run down and disreputable. They reached the docking area commonly known as the harbor. A tall, gray haired woman greeted them.

“Luke, the harbor master’s looking for you. She said you owe her rent for two months. If it’s not paid within the next forty-eight hours, I’ve got no choice but to put a station lock on your ship.”

“Thanks, Penny. That’s not the least bit embarrassing for you to tell me right now.”

“Oh, sorry, Luke. Is this your newest girlfriend?” She gave Storm a sneering appraisal.

“No, she’s a business associate.”

“Right,” she said, smirking as they walked past. “Why’s your business associate in an evening gown?”

“That’s my business,” Storm answered, annoyed by the woman’s attitude. “I came to see Mr. Houston’s ship.”

“Oh, that’s what they’re calling it these days?” She replied nastily.

Storm smiled sweetly. “Yes, though later it will be called, ‘I rocked his world and then some.’ Can we go now, sweetie?” She hooked arms with Luke, kissing his cheek.

“Sure, baby.” He patted her ass, snuggling next to her as they passed the angry woman.

Once they were out of sight, she let go of his arm. “Thanks for warning me there was a bitch patrol.”

“I didn’t know she’d be on duty. She’s usually off at night. Feel free to rock my world, though. I liked the sound of that.”

Storm tried to stay angry but couldn’t. Rolling her eyes, she nudged him with her elbow.

“Ex-girlfriend?” She nodded toward the harbor entrance.

“No, she’s a wanna be. I try to make it a habit not to get involved with women who have power over my ship. If I pissed her off, she’d lock my vessel. Ship ain’t worth much if it’s not moving.”

Luke led Storm down the corridor nearly to the end. Eventually, they came to his ship’s berth. He ushered her through an open airlock onto the oddest looking ship Storm had ever seen. The nose and tail fin were parts of an old American space shuttle. The wings were from two different space vehicles and each of the rooms looked like it had been salvaged, welded in place and cobbled together like a chaotic jigsaw puzzle.

Luke led her to the bridge which was as mixed and motley as the rest of the ship. Here, he flopped in a padded seat that had been taken from an old fishing boat. Placing a thumb on the scanner, he waited.

“I know she don’t look like much,” he swiveled the chair, taking in all points of the bridge. “But there’s no ship that’s faster.”

“There’s more to life than speed.” Storm smirked, leaning against a console since there were no other seats. “Sometimes slow and steady’s better.”

“True, but if you’ve got freight to move, then you need to be on time.”

Under the Milky Way – part 3

A spot of light grew, wobbled and cleared. Ralph’s homely face filled it, his four hundred pound body invisible below the level of the camera. A pleasant smile wreathed his coarse featured face.

“Where’s my girl?” He spotted Storm, still standing behind the head table. “There you are! Any problems?”

“None so far, Uncle Ralph.” She smiled. “Everything is ready for you to do the honors.”

“Thanks, baby.” He smiled again, glancing around the room. “I want to thank y’all for coming. It pleases me to see that so many of you have come to join in our celebration. Now, without further ado, the main event of tonight’s proceedings. I proudly present the next stage of human transportation. Live and in person from planet Earth!”

A blue-white glow filled the center of the room between the lower tables and the buffet. There was a platform, concealed by a heavy curtain. The curtain dropped as the machinery hummed and thrummed.

The form of a man appeared, silhouetted by the light, his body nearly transparent. A moment later, he stood, fully formed, in the center of the teleporter pad, grinning happily. He held a bottle of the Shine Clan’s famous beverage in his hand. Stepping off the pad, he smiled, waving at the assembled corporate heads and their wives.

“Howdy! Y’all wanna try it?” Taking a swig from the bottle, he invited them to hop on.

Everyone stared at him with mixed emotions. Those corporate officers who worked for transportation companies glowered at Storm, blaming her for the incident. One by one, they and their wives left in silent anger, furious that their most lucrative contract, space transportation, was about to be terminated.

“Hm, seems we upset some folks,” Sophie murmured.

“We knew it was bound to happen,” Storm answered just as quietly. “They don’t matter. The only ones who matter are the folks who intend to use the teleporter service.”

Sophie tossed her long, dark hair over her shoulder, smiling at the assembled crowd. “And those that want Mama’s moonshine will come to me.” Waving at the younger businessmen, she walked over to meet them, flirting shamelessly.

Storm envied her cousin’s ability to make men swoon and grovel at her feet. Her own talents were of a different nature. She was the Shine Clan’s fixer. She negotiated deals and drew up contracts. It was an important job, one she’d trained and hoped for the last three years. Now that she had it, she felt somewhat overwhelmed.

Movement caught her eye. The man in the beige suit walked forward, standing in front of them. He bowed formally.

“Mr. Boone,” he said in a soft Southern accent, “it appears as if some of your guests had a mind to leave early.”

“Boone grinned. “More dessert for the rest of us, eh? And you are?”

“My name’s Lukas Houston of Texas. I have a proposition, sir.”

“What could you possibly offer, young man?”

“Well, that teleporter is a mighty fine piece of equipment. But I reckon that since you need a sending pad and a receiving pad, someone’s got to take those pads to the location to set ’em up. And since they need a mighty big power supply, that’s gonna need transport too. Those fellas that left, they ain’t lookin’ at the big picture.”

“And you are?”

“Yep. I figure you’re gonna be setting up those pads and could use a man like me to do it. I also figure that if something goes wrong with those pads after installation, you’re gonna need transportation for techs and parts. Am I right?”

“You’re certainly a man of more vision than your colleagues,” Boone grinned. “Is that what you needed to talk to me about?”

“Well sir, right now, I was figuring that you’re not the person to speak to about all this. With all due respect, I think I’d rather talk to her.” He pointed at Storm.

Feeling all eyes on her, Storm blushed. Sorry she was still standing, she felt lightheaded as if the gravity had just gone off again.

Boone laughed, tossing his napkin on the table. “Boy, you’ve got cojones the size of Texas! Storm, go talk to that man, see what he has to say.”

“Yes, sir,” she mumbled, trying not to trip over her skirt as she walked toward the exit.