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Earth, 3000 AD
"They say the hijackers have hacked into some of the doorways to the stars."
"Piffle." Freya Kirkland eyed the miniature holographic newspaper that had been activated in front of her. It detailed the latest hacking attempt on Jupiter.
"We, as tour guides should be worried." Macy Smyth looked at her with wide doleful eyes.
"You are too jumpy for your own good, Macy. No one has ever been able to break into the Earth system, and I'm still placing my total faith into our security programmers."
"Have you seen some of our security programmers? They ask us to do some pretty dangerous tours and now this! They say the hackers are men from the Outer System looking for wives. They found out that most, if not all of our tour guides are women."
"Listen, I really doubt a man from the Outer System would want me--or you for that matter. We're both red heads, and it's rumored that the males from that region of space think redheads are curses upon humanity."
"Curses, my foot. Most of their females have either married men from other planets or they're infertile from the last war. I wouldn't put anything against those Outlanders."
"I don't know why they were dubbed Outlanders. Sure, they are not humans from Earth, but they're still humans in their genetic makeup."
"The first time Terrans made contact with them, they shot the ambassador. They're not exactly a civilized race."
"We don't have their worlds programmed into the doorway to the stars, so I don't even know why we're wasting our lunch hour dwelling on this. Jupiter's staff of tour guides always has been a bit nutty. Maybe someone entered in the wrong sequenceinto the database by accident. They probably had had too much Moon Wine the night before."
"Moon wine, my ass. I'm telling you, Freya, we should just quit while we're ahead. I heard they're looking for more tour guides on the space cruise ships that tour our solar system. That's a great opportunity for us, and we don't have to worry about being kidnapped while on duty, as we always have a military escort."
"I don't want to talk to you, today. There is just no reasoning with you. I need the money from this job, and you know it. It's the only way I'll get my Uncle out of debtor's prison. If I can't pay up his bills, he'll be in there for the rest of his bloody life!"
"I know. I'm sorry I even brought the subject up. Excuse me if I'm just a tad bit worried about you. I don't know why, we've only been friends for all of our lives!"
"Macy," She dropped her voice to a whisper. The other tour guides in the canteen were giving them funny looks. "I'm sorry. Why don't you take this afternoon off? I can handle the tour scheduled for 2 pm."
"No ... we're a team. I'll go with you. We--I mean, I can't lose you." She sighed, placing her hand to her temple. "But I do have one major headache. Maybe I will take it off, go back to the flat, take some pain meds, and have a lie in."
"Good idea. I should be home by eight, and I'll make you some pasta, you know how a good meal filled with carbohydrate rich foods helps your headaches."
She smiled. "You know what? We should have been born sisters, because you sure do treat me like the little sister. Problem is, I'm the older one." Macy laughed. "Do you think Mr. Callahan will have an issue with me crying off early?"
"No ... he understands how a bad migraine can affect your job performance. Don't give it a second thought. Just go home and try to think of happy things ... put all of your thoughts of nasty Outlander hijackers out of your system. I'll be fine."
"Yeah." She snorted. "You're right. The Earth System is the most secure in the galaxy. We don't have to worry, and, besides, we don't go out unarmed like the ones from Jupiter do."
"That's the spirit." She looked up at the clock. "Damn. It's late ... I have to go and get down to the Travel Chamber, and get my co-ordinates programmed into the system. I'll tell you all about my afternoon, tonight. Let's just hope I don't get someone with a gas problem like I had on my last afternoon shift. Having that Mexican restaurant move into the canteen was a really big bad idea." She laughed.
"Be careful, Freya. Don't forget to take your pistol."
"Right you are."
She stood up and walked away from her friend. Before she left the canteen she darted one last look back at Macy. She smiled. Macy was always a bit paranoid. She'd been a good soldier in her day--but now, she was more jumpy than a cat in heat.
She walked to the elevator and moved up to the twenty-fourth level of the building they were in. Using her security card, she accessed the restricted area meant only for certified tour guides. Walking into the Travel Chamber, she stared over at the operator that was on duty.
"Hey, Morris. How are you today?"
"I'm fine, Miss Freya. Mr. Callahan told me that the desk officer would be bringing up the tour group in five minutes. He told me that he hoped you already had your route mapped out."
"I certainly do. I think I'll take this group to the Tropical planet, Willowbane."
"Excellent. I've always wanted to go to that planet with my wife, but we haven't been able to afford it yet."
"Yeah ... maybe Mr. Callahan will give you the trip as an Anniversary present."
Morris's eyes gleamed. "It will be twenty-five years on the 31st."
"Congrats, Morris. The two of you must be in love."
He looked down at his computer console. "I've entered in the co-ordinates for you, all you have to do is take your personal computer and open the doorway when the time comes."
She looked down at the nine wooden doors that were built into the wall in the travel chamber. If you opened one up without activating the planetary travel system you'd be staring at a brick wall, but once the system was activated a gateway formed between Earth and the other planet. She chewed at her lip. She had three minutes before the tour group arrived.
"Yes, Miss Freya?"
"Did you read the report in the Earth Chronicle this morning about the recent hijackings?"
"Yes, Miss Freya, I did. And Mr. Callahan has ordered the security programmers to be especially diligent this morning.... He doesn't want to lose any tour guides."
"Phew." Her heart stopped hammering.
"He isn't insured."
Morris's last statement did nothing to ease her rattled nerves. Ever since Macy had brought her attention to the article, despite the fact that she'd blown it off to Macy, it still bothered her. If Macy didn't have a heart condition, she never would have dismissed it, but her friend couldn't take the extra stress.
"Oh, boy." She shook her head, nervousness fluttering through her stomach.
"I wouldn't worry about it, Miss Freya, I can keep the doorway open so we can stay in constant contact if that would make you feel more at ease. Are you carrying your government issued pistol?"
"I certainly am."
"Then you shouldn't be in trouble. You at least have a way of defending yourself. They say the Outlanders only have ancient weapons at their disposal, and your laser pistol is light years ahead of the weapons they'll be using."
"Somehow, that doesn't make me any less frustrated about this. I don't know why Callahan doesn't just put the program on hold until this issue is resolved."
"Because he can't afford it ... and I can't afford not getting my weekly paycheck ... it might take the Interstellar Task Force weeks to catch the Outlanders that are hacking into the Doorway system ... and well, think of how many missed paychecks that would mean."
"I see your point, Morris. Thanks for pulling me back into the living reality as opposed to the one I wish I lived in."
"I don't understand how a lady of your fine breeding ended up working for Mr. Callahan, you are the daughter of an English Earl and American Senator ... and yet here you are."
"And yet here I am." She sighed. "You're right ... if we hadn't lost all of our money in the last war ... I probably wouldn't be standing here today, but that's what you get when you support the losing side." She looked up at the sound of the automatic doors opening. "We're going to have to cut this chat short, it's show time for me."
"Good luck!" Morris smiled at her, giving her an encouraging wink.
"Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen." She looked at the small group that Callahan had brought her. Cocking her head to the side, she looked at her boss.
He had a look in his eyes that told her he wanted to talk to her before she disembarked.
"Ladies, and Gents, I just have to have a short word with my tour guide. Mr. Jones here will give you some background history on the Doorway to the Stars and how it was invented, etc. Your tour will begin directly at 2 o'clock, have no fear! Here at Callahan Enterprises, you always get your moneys worth out of your inter planetary tours." Callahan had strength to his voice that she admired, even if he did get on her last nerve sometimes.
She started tapping her foot against the floor. Realizing that she was acting out with her nervous energy, she stopped when Callahan looked down at her foot.
"Miss Freya, I'd like to take this time to assure you that I have clamped down on the security of the system. I don't want you to fear for you life or those of your tourists."
"I have three people to take on the tour ... why don't you just cancel it for today? You can see that the news stories about what happened on Jupiter are having a negative effect on consumers."
"Nonsense. Today is the day of the...."
"I know what today marks. It marks the end of the last war."
"Yes, well, the war was won by the side that was acting in the best interests of Earth."
"Do you think so? I don't know. I really don't appreciate many of the archaic laws such as capital punishment, the right to own slaves, and the reinstitution of debtors prison among so many other negative institutions. We're supposed to be in the age of enlightenment, we're traveling amongst the stars, and yet, we've regressed in so many ways. I can't say I prefer this existence to the one I knew when I was a child."
Callahan's eyes darkened. "You should learn to keep quiet. Those three tourists happen to be fervent supporters of our new government. I'd keep your liberal views to yourself if I were you when you're out on the tour. I don't want to lose their patronage. They book monthly, if not weekly, tours when they're hectic schedules allow."
"Where are their bodyguards? If their supporters of our current government, shouldn't they have a bloody team of bodyguards?"
"Freya, my patience is straining. I could dismiss you and take this tour out myself."
She thought of the money this tour would bring her and bit her lip to keep from saying more.
"I apologize. My passions got the better of me."
"I'll say they did. Just don't let it happen in the future. You know I value you as a tour guide. No one knows more about the worlds than you do, Freya, not even Macy."
"Thank you ... and you do know that I enjoy my work here ... you gave me a job when everyone else turned me away because I was part of the...."
"Shush. Don't say it ... they could be listening. Look at Master Gold, he isn't paying attention to Morris anymore. I'm sure that man is just itching to hear something that he could string me up by my balls for ... anything to make him look good."
"Okay. Well, I'm taking them to Willowbane. It should be a planet right up their alley."
"Yes, yes, I'm sure it will be. I told them to dress for a hot climate since you told me you'd be taking them to one of the tropical planets. Just be on your guard, Freya. Watch your back, your front, and your side. I don't want anything to happen to you--I might be money hungry, but I'm no bastard."
"Hey ... I served in the last war, I should be able to handle a few rough and ready Outlanders if they do somehow manage to get through our security barriers."
"Now you're talking. I like the way you think. You had your pistol checked at the last maintenance update, right? I don't want you to get into a fix and find out that your pistol is jammed...."
"It's been checked out thoroughly by one of the weapon engineers. Don't fret, I'll be back on Earth by 8 pm our time."
"Good. They're only paying for a six hour trip anyway."
"As always it's excellent to know that you're consistently on your toes when it comes to running this business." She smiled. Callahan had a wife and children to think of, and, though he seemed totally fixated on money, specifically making more of it, he was a good man at heart.
Clearing her throat, she walked down the ramp to the lower level where the doorways stood ready and waiting.
"Ladies and Gentleman, thank you so much for choosing Callahan Enterprises once again, for your off planet excursions. Today we will be traveling to the Earth protected tropical planet of Willowbane. The native inhabitants of this planet co-exist in harmony with the colonists from Earth."
"And well they should. They should be grateful that our great civilization has allowed such primitives to mix with us." Master Gold snorted and thrust his chest out in a pompous gesture. She wished someone would deflate his gigantic bubble one of these days.
"Indeed." She narrowed her eyes at Master Gold. Her stomach churned. At this moment, he was probably trying to pass legislation that would make it legal for slave hunters to take the natives from Willowbane for their interplanetary slave network. She hated the man. Her side should have won....
"I can't wait to start the tour, Miss.... "The one lady that was Gold's wife looked at her name badge.
"Freya. My name is Freya Kirkland."
"Kirkland ... I must say that name does ring a bell." Master Gold looked at her in newfound interest. If he recalled her for her hand in the last war, this wouldn't be an easy tour--not easy at all. In fact, it would be more like pulling teeth, without the anesthetic.
"Does it? Well, it's quite a common name."
He nodded his head. "No doubt it is. Let us start the tour, Miss Freya. I have been anticipating this all week. Long days spent cooped in my office behind a desk ... and now it's time for some excitement. Lead the way, my dear lady." His eyes flared as they raked over her entire body. She stiffened. She didn't like the hungry look in his eyes. Reaching into the bag she wore slung across her shoulders, she withdrew her traveling device and pressed the activation button. "I will be the first one through as is customary, the tour guide is the first one through en route to the destination, and they are the last one through on the return trip. This way, we are protecting our tourists to the best of our ability." Reaching for the doorknob, she turned it, and opened it. White light streamed out at them. Through a slim tunnel, she could barely make out the outline of a palm tree. "It looks as if our destination is secure. As soon as I am through please follow me."
Dragging in a deep breath, she stepped through the doorway.
Posted November 20, 2012
I haven't read this author before and was pleasantly surprised at how good the book was. I enjoyed the action and the strenght of the heroine. This author isn't on my automatic buy list yet, but I definately look into buying more books in the future.
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Posted November 5, 2009
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