Together, Charlie and Raakor controlled the Pacifica from the cockpit and carefully maneuvered the ship closer to the beautiful planet named Kander. The terrestrial sphere was one of the three other planets in the tiny solar system that had two stars. Distantly a floating, metal object reflected the solar light from the twin suns, but Charlie did her best to ignore it. Once they had the ship floating near Kander’s moon, they stared at the planet that awoke unspoken memories.
Kander was over ten percent larger than Earth, by Charlie’s estimation, or at least what once was Earth. Kander also had more landmass, which made it a greener and browner planet than Earth with its once vast oceans. At either pole were soft white caps of water, locked as ice for millenniums. But the most unusual feature about the solar system was the dual suns, where one sun acted as the primary and the second, weaker one hovered near it.
“How long until the meeting?” Starr asked as she entered the cockpit.
Raakor was quietly using the touch panel from the co-pilot’s seat.
With a glance at Kander’s local time on the control panel, Charlie replied, “In forty-five minutes local time.” Starr’s heavy sigh made Charlie reconsider saying something about her joining them on Kander. “Maybe you should—”
The cockpit was deathly still, and Charlie barely halted her eye roll. Forty-five minutes was just enough time to get down to the ground, but none of them were rushing to the shuttle bay. She climbed to her feet and ordered, “Come on. I hate to be late.”
Starr led the way to the shuttle and sniffed when Charlie passed her. “You showered?”
Charlie knew it was rhetorical and merely replied, “I’m not taking any risks.” They knew how damn easily the Kalmar could scent anything, from an alien to a bug. The last thing they needed was for the Kalmar to think that Charlie, Starr, or Raakor were lovers simply because of their close quarters. The tight confines of their ship forced much of their scents to comingle. Starr’s hated that the hybrid scent was enough to stir trouble, but mixed scents with a hybrid could cause a war. They couldn’t leave the possible job to chance, no matter how small.
Raakor pretended to sniff himself but questioningly looked at Starr.
“You smell like oil,” Starr promised. She rolled her eyes when Raakor flashed a grin, then climbed into the vessel’s open door and buckled up for the ride to the planet below.
Charlie patted the outdoor hull, which was looking a little shabby. They really needed those stills. But like the Pacifica, the shuttle was a sturdy piece of thick alloy, which had always been enough to protect them. Once loaded into the craft, Charlie brought it to life with the panel’s controls.
Starr leaned away from the co-pilot door as it came down and locked them in securely. “Can’t you let it fly in auto this time?”
Raakor chuckled from the back.
“Please,” Charlie argued, “when have I ever put anything in auto except for cruising?” She knew the real problem for Starr, even though she’d spent most of her life in outer space, it was against her nature. Starr’s feet were bred for solid ground, and the shuttle’s lift from the bay floor was a reminder of her jitters.
Slowly, the shuttle reversed out of the bay with the spaceship’s automated assistance. Once clear of the bay, the Pacifica’s bidoors started sealing back up. The craft continued reversing farther from the ship to gain more clearance, then it banked to the left and headed for Kander.
At the helm, Charlie switched on the communications system and searched for a specific channel. “Not sure they monitor a frequency,” she muttered but still made an attempt. “Kander, Kander this is the shuttle Pacifica. Our estimated time of arrival is twenty minutes,” she reported over the frequency. A long silence followed, and Charlie nearly switched off the communication system, but a static sound gave her pause.
“Shuttle Pacifica, this is Kander. You are cleared to enter Tarrak airspace. I am sending you the exact coordinates for landing.”
Charlie exchanged a look with Starr before she replied, “Roger that, Kander.” She hesitated because she was unsure if the Kalmar on the other end even understood what “roger” meant. She shook it off and said, “We will call back when we enter Tarrak airspace.” She shut off the mic and watched the landing coordinates pull up on the control panel. “Damn. I guess they beefed up air and space security.” For the most part, the Kalmar stayed grounded on their planet and rarely took interest in air or space travel.
Charlie sighed at Starr’s quiet demeanor, but she knew that the flare-up and the meeting were wreaking havoc on Starr. She refocused on the trip to the planet and increased the throttle. She hated being late.
Starr began shaking her right leg, and her nervous energy multiplied incrementally as they grew closer to the planet.
With an eye roll, Charlie reached to the panel and opened her favorite music list.
Starr glanced at the list and growled when Charlie picked one. “Char—” She was cut off by the sudden noise in the cockpit.
Charlie already felt better and could ignore Starr’s negativity. She danced in the pilot’s seat and tilted the nose down, the music burning in her blood. While she had sung every lyric, she tapped on the panel and locked on the coordinates to Tarrak.
Starr groaned heavily and bitterly stared out the side window.
Early on in their relationship, Starr often turned off the music in Pacifica’s cockpit, commencing a war every time. Charlie would get mad and argue with Starr until one of them demanded Raakor to pick a side. He always declined to get pulled into their ridiculous fight. Ultimately, Charlie would simply restart the music but blast it through every speaker in the entire spaceship.
Once in the city of Tarrak’s airspace, Charlie radioed ahead that they were only three minutes away from landing at the specified location, then focused on the last of the flight. She enjoyed traveling in outer space, but she loved flying in a planet’s atmosphere. Landings required specific skills and the more difficult the landing site, the better. “The louder the music, the better the landing,” Charlie hummed.
Starr glared at her singing boss but made no effort to mess with the music.
“Whatever it takes,” Charlie sang out the title and pointed at Starr. She was hardly surprised by Starr’s annoyance.
Charlie placed her other hand on the yoke when the shuttle entered half a march above the landing spot. She flipped a few switches and decreased the throttle, all while singing the song and focusing on the environment around them. Their angle toward the ground rapidly ate away the distance until the landing point was visible to Charlie.
Starr leaned to the side and peered out the door’s window, fidgeting with her lectra gun.
With expert skill, Charlie navigated the craft to the landing spot and allowed it to slowly sink down, then hover over the spot. After a few more taps on the control panel, she lowered the shuttle to the grass and started the shutdown process.
Normally Starr would jump out once on solid ground, but she only unbuckled and sat there until Charlie was done.
“Ready?” Charlie looked at her two crewmen.
Starr sighed and replied honestly, “No.” But she tapped the door’s control and climbed out when it started to open.
Raakor, who sat behind Charlie, also activated his door.
Charlie shook her head at Starr’s attitude. She exited the vessel too and smiled at the stern features of the four Kalmar guards, assuming the others were near Starr. Their laser rifles were noteworthy and also new technology, at least to the planet. “We’re here to see the High Commander,” she attempted in Kalmarese, their native tongue.
The four soldiers remained silent and still, other than their breathing, which confirmed they weren’t statues, at least. It was hell of a welcoming party to such a beautiful planet.
Damn these Kalmar, Charlie silently cursed. She had expected them to at least be surprised by her ability to speak Kalmarese.
“They’re not in charge,” Starr said.
Charlie glanced across the shuttle’s roof at Starr’s similar situation. Starr’s guards were just as motionless except for one, who had a slight curl to his lip. The guards were well aware of Starr’s hybrid background after a single sniff, and one guard was having a hard time hiding his displeasure.
“But I am,” a strong, thick voice announced.
Charlie cut her attention to the Kalmar who had stepped through the guards. She straightened herself in hopes to gain an inch of height against the Kalmar’s taller stance. However, it was fairly pointless as the Kalmar towered over her.
“I am Commander Gaveston.” For a moment, he stood in front of the two foreigners, who had been called to his planet. He had a shaven head and broad shoulders, and he wore slightly tattered clothes, including a jacket. Behind his back, a sword’s hilt protruded next to his head, but his main weapon was the laser handgun tied to his hip. His tattooed forehead wrinkled slightly when he studied the guests.
Charlie took one step closer to Gaveston, who was clearly an Alpha among the Kalmar. She received the offered arm and shook firmly. “I’m Charlie, and this is Raakor.” She indicated to her left, then signaled Starr, who joined her side to protect her. “And this is Starr.” She ignored his narrowed eyes glaring at Starr. “We’re here to meet with the High Commander.”
“I am well aware,” Gaveston stated. A low rumble shook in his chest when he turned his attention to Starr next. He raked his gaze over the despised hybrid, but he managed to appear neutral to her presence. “Follow me.”
Charlie, Raakor, and Starr were guided through the field, and the eight guards shadowed them. Several yards from them were two crude hover trucks, and Gaveston indicated for them to get into one. Once seated on the truck bed’s bench, two guards joined them. All the other guards loaded into the second truck.
It took nearly fifteen minutes to get to the city’s entrance. The ride was quiet, and the landscape was changing as autumn approached the planet. Charlie enjoyed the chance to soak in the blue sky, bright sun and secondary, weaker sun, and one of the slightly lit moons in the daylight. The city’s neighboring fields had new grain, and a few farms had cattle. Sadly, it reminded Charlie of her lost planet and her past that she’d emotionally boxed away when she went to space. Her nostalgia died sharply when the capital city of Tarrak’s dark stone-face filled her view. A shiver raced down her back, and she looked over at her team.
Starr seemed stoic, but most likely her stomach was a mess. Unlike Charlie, she expressed hating the damn planet more than anything. As they passed the open gates, she sniffed the city’s air that had hundreds of scents, including motor oil, horse, food, and fucking Alphas.
Raakor, for his part, appeared indifferent but still studied the changing landscape.
Eventually, the trucks arrived at a gated stone building that was round and at least fifty floors high. It had a Greco-Roman feel to it, yet it had been clearly modernized at some point. Its paler stones contrasted against the city’s dark stone buildings giving it a godly appeal. It was also the only structure in the city that had a small lawn around it with trees. Charlie recalled it was named the Great Tower among the Kalmar.