by Gregory Hansen
Orin spun around and shouted for Reynold. “We’ve got company, a Starfleet cruiser!” Reynold’s giddy smile went out like a light. “Blow the coupling, now! And you girls... sit down and buckle in!”
Daphne took a step to the center of the cabin where she stood between Orin and the controls, hands back on her hips. “Why should we make it easy for you?” she challenged.
The racer shuddered as the airlock coupling blew and sent the girls’ empty spacecraft into the path of the oncoming cruiser. Heart pounding, Orin looked from Daphne to the controls and back again. “Will you please sit down and buckle in?!” he exclaimed.
“Please?!” Daphne shot back. “What kind of pirate says please? And what self-respecting pirate would wear such a ridiculous hat?!”
Orin’s mouth went dry. “If you don’t sit down right now your life is in grave danger,” he said, but it sounded hollow even to him.
Daphne gave him an appraising look, then leaned in close. “I don’t think you’re a pirate at all,” she whispered. Turning, she eased into the co-pilot’s seat with the air of an amused spectator.
Orin shot a glance toward the rear of the cabin — the auxiliary acceleration couch was barely large enough for one, but somehow Reynold and Vivian had managed — then dropped into the pilot’s chair. He muted the communicator, mashed the throttle and the chase was on.
Escape looked doubtful in the early moments, as the battle cruiser was already making headway when Orin lit his thrusters. But the racer’s power and agility began to tell and Orin opened up a small but growing lead. He nearly lost hope, however, when a half-dozen additional cruisers suddenly appeared and forced him back toward the heart of the asteroid belt.
Evading the coordinated battle cruisers took every ounce of Orin’s skill and a deal of luck besides. Twice the cruisers got close enough to launch grappling beams; but a pilot who was vulnerable to such tactics didn’t last long in the wild and wooly world of spaceboat racing. In both cases the beams skittered off the advanced composite hull of the racer and into space.
Finally, Orin swung around a largish asteroid and shot the racer through a gap in his pursuers’ formation. He hurtled out of the Rings, engaged the mass-energy drive and the racer vanished in a flare of blue light. Safe for the moment in an isolated corner of the Sector, Orin throttled down and slumped into his chair.
“Very impressive,” Daphne said with grudging respect. ”Now, exactly who and what are you?”
Exhausted, Orin looked at her and surrendered. “You’re right, I’m no pirate,” he moaned. “I’m not even good at playing one.”
“Then why?” Daphne’s eyes narrowed. “My uncle put you up to this, didn’t he?”
“Bosphorous Clark... fat, balding, arrogant little man.”
“No, the fellow’s name was Stapleford. Pretty ordinary guy, except for his eyes,” Orin said, remembering. ”They were the strangest shade of...”
“Yes! How’d you know?”
“His name isn’t Stapleford, its Avaniel Clark and he’s my pathetic excuse for a first cousin.” Daphne was angry again, but this time it was an older, premeditated emotion, and Orin was glad not to be the focus of it.
“That intergalactic scoundrel!” she fumed. “How many people has he swindled and ruined... his own family among them. And now this!” She waved a hand at her surroundings. “Ah well, what more can I expect from an insurance salesman.”
Orin felt the blow and groaned. “Is it that obvious?” he asked miserably.
“That I’m an insurance salesman.”
“I never said you were an insurance salesman, I said my uncle was.”
Orin blinked a few times. “Your uncle...?”
“...Is the founder and sole owner of Barclay & Clark Insurance, a fairly big agency on Varfleet.”
“But, if he owns Barclay & Clark, then why...” Orin struggled to comprehend the pieces in front of him. He blinked and grimaced, a half-formed word on his tongue. Then, suddenly and with an almost audible clunk, it came to him. “Hey!” he shouted and jumped out of his chair. “Stapleford didn’t need a kidnapping policy! He gave me that money so I’d... so I’d fly out to the Rings and try to kidnap you girls!”
“Doubtless he tipped off the Fleet, too,” said Reynold from the auxiliary couch, which he was still co-occupying with Vivian. “You don’t see seven Fleet cruisers in one place without them knowing what’s going down.” Orin gaped at the truth of it.
“And we’d all have been transported to Fleet Headquarters for processing... which would have taken days, weeks maybe,” Vivian chimed in. “And you two would have been locked away forever,” she said, staring into Reynold’s eyes.
“And old man Clark gets rid of a pesky niece and a competitor, in one easy stroke,” Reynold concluded.
Daphne shook her head. “That dirty, rotten...”
“...scoundrel,” Orin finished. The four paused in the wake of realization.
Reynold broke the silence. ”So why is he so anxious to keep you away from Varfleet?”
Daphne grinned mischievously. “Because if I reach the planet before 10:00 am Friday morning, I can ruin him entirely.”
Orin leaned forward, eyes wide. “Oh, really! How?”
“My mother loaned Uncle Bosphor ten thousand shekels to start his company. As security, he gave her an option to purchase Barclay & Clark shares for one million shekels, should they ever come up for sale.”
“How many shares?” Orin asked.
“All of them.”
Orin gasped. “All of them! Those shares must be worth thirty, forty million shekels!”
“Oh, Barclay & Clark is worth a little more than that,” Daphne said knowingly. “At the close of business yesterday the total market value was seven hundred sixty two million shekels. Give or take a few hundred thousand.”
Silence again in the cabin, then a low whistle from Reynold.
“But what about the option certificate?” Orin asked. “Last I saw your spaceship it was headed straight for that battle cruiser. Chances are they blasted it to bits to avoid a collision.”
“Don’t worry, we girls have been hiding things from pirates for centuries,” Daphne said, reaching into her bodice and withdrawing a folded, yellowed piece of paper. She opened it and the dim cabin light glinted off of a faded holographic Commercial Court seal. “How about you turn this ship toward Varfleet, and we’ll teach my uncle a lesson he’ll never forget!”
Orin beamed for a few moments, then his face fell. “Oh, I can’t do that,” he said. “If you reach Varfleet tomorrow morning I’ll owe your cousin one million shekels. Contract’s been signed and registered with the Commercial Court.”
Daphne arched an eyebrow. “Captain Bennekoff...”
“Orin, what name did my cousin sign on that contract?”
“William Stapleford... hey, there is no William Stapleford, is there?” Orin said, brightening. “So the contract isn’t valid!”
“You catch on quickly for an insurance salesman,” Daphne replied drily.
Orin’s face clouded again. “Then there’s the matter of the Galactic Starfleet...”
“No problem,” Daphne declared. ”It’s only kidnapping if you’ve taken us against our will, right?”
“That’s right!” Vivian agreed quickly and with great feeling, admiring Reynold from close range.
“But what about the high-speed pursuit?” Orin asked, unconvinced.
“Let me handle it,” replied Daphne.
Orin relaxed, brightened, found and displayed his best insurance agent smile. Reynold objected to the return trip on grounds that his crimes were a fair bit more extensive than the local authorities realized, and that his former colleagues would only be discreet up to a point. Daphne countered by offering to buy the racer from Orin at a fair price and turn it over to Reynold once the party had disembarked on Varfleet. Orin agreed in principle, but his efforts to negotiate a more lucrative sale were interrupted by the arrival of two well-armed Starfleet patrol boats. Daphne casually reminded Orin that with one word from her he’d be rotting in prison forever, and a deal was struck.
As the patrol boats approached, Daphne quickly manufactured some tears and sat down in front of the video communicator. She turned it on to reveal an angry, agitated Starfleet Lieutenant.
“Oh officer!” she sobbed, “we were attacked by pirates in the Rings...” — Orin and Reynold exchanged nervous glances — “...and they chased us for hours, but we finally escaped, and... and... I’m just so glad you’ve come!”
The officer’s face went from anger to confusion, then settled into irritated understanding. “Those weren’t pirate ships chasing you,” he spat, ”they were Fleet battle cruisers! We were there to rescue you from pirates! Didn’t you hear us hailing you?”
Daphne’s eyes widened beautifully and her red lips parted to take in a surprised breath. “No!” she exclaimed. “We didn’t hear... oh! The hailing frequency has been muted!” She reached across the console to adjust the communicator setting, leaning over and giving the officer a view of her lovely neck and a bit more besides. “I’m so sorry!” she said, straightening, her still-moist eyes glistening with sincerity.
“So you weren’t abducted?” the officer asked, still suspicious.
“Well, yes, I mean no, not really...” Daphne blushed and gave her eyes a sensual roll. ”See, Viv and I just find pirates soo exciting,” she said breathily, “and so we had Orin and Reynold meet us in the Rings...”
The officer grimaced and peered past Daphne to where Reynold and Vivian were coiled on the auxiliary couch. They waved. The officer harrumphed and grumbled; Daphne gushed apologies; after a few minutes he beamed over a citation for reckless flying and closed the vidcom link with a disgusted shake of his head.
Orin burst into applause when the screen went blank, joined by Reynold and Vivian. Daphne nodded and smiled until the cheering subsided.
“All right then!” she said brightly. “Let’s go buy an insurance company! Now if I could just find someone to run it for me...” She raised an eyebrow at Orin. “I don’t suppose you’re better at insurance sales than you are at piracy?”
“No, not really,” he glumly admitted, “I could never run Barclay & Clark.” He paused for a few moments. Then, “But I know someone who can!”
Later that morning, Orin and Daphne sat in the second to last row of the Commercial Court gallery. Not surprisingly, Vivian had opted to stay aboard the racer when they’d touched down at the spaceport; she and Reynold were on their way back to the Rings, and, presumably, a life of romance and petty crime.
Just then the judge asked for objections to the sale of Barclay & Clark, and Gerta Griswold sprang from her chair and marched down the courtroom aisle. Orin suddenly saw her with new eyes. She looked every inch the CEO that she soon would be: trim business suit, salt-and-pepper hair, eyes flashing with determination as she waved the faded option certificate over her head. He wondered why he’d never seen it in her before.
Gerta had proven a tougher negotiator than Orin, securing from Daphne a fat, incentive-laden contract and a small equity stake in the company to boot. Daphne’s uncle was no match for Gerta either. The haggling was impassioned but fruitless, and within a few minutes an ashen-faced Bosphorous Clark left the courtroom with a cheque for one million shekels and no clear idea of what to do next. In the months and years that followed, Daphne and Gerta turned Barclay & Clark from a prosperous backwater business into the largest insurer of women in their sector of the Galaxy. Within five years they sold the company for an undisclosed sum, and Gerta built an enormously opulent villa on the site of the old Bennett Insurance building.
As for Orin, the sale of the spaceboat paid most of his debts and the balance of Stapleford’s premium took care of the rest. Thus relieved of his creditors, he resolved to stop working altogether and take up writing instead.
He spent several months turning Hartman’s as-yet unsold space pirate novel into a screenplay, and the two were pleasantly surprised when it was optioned by a small Onarian film company. The option fee, however, wasn’t quite enough to cover the cost of the party they threw to celebrate.
Still, flushed with success if not currency, Orin and Hartman hired a literary agent. They promptly ignored her advice by starting work on their next project, a novel about Reynoldo Bennekoffsky, Swashbuckling Interstellar Insurance Agent.
“You’re wasting your time!” the agent declared, “no one wants to read about an insurance salesman!” But Orin pressed on regardless. It was, he had learned, a big Galaxy out there, and you never knew what might happen. You just never knew.
Copyright © 2004 by Gregory Hansen