Opi Battles Space Pirates - Donna Maree Hanson - ebook
Opis

Ms Opeia Gayens, head of AllEarth Corp, has a problem—her company is rotten with Space Pirates. She wants to get rid of them once and for all. An unexpected invitation to dinner challenges her plans to be the bait that will draw the nasty pirates out. It’s been forever since she’s been on a date—just been Opi. Somehow, Owain McDevitt, mild-mannered, potato farmer from the planet Islay 2 is drawn into the intrigue. Yet, no one is who they seem, least of all Owain McDevitt.Betrayal after betrayal threatens Opi’s existence and she must discover who the traitor really is before she can find her true path to happiness.

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Opi Battles the

Space Pirates

By

Donna Maree Hanson

About Opi Battles the Space Pirates

Ms Opeia Gayens, head of AllEarth Corp, has a problem—her company is rotten with Space Pirates. She wants to get rid of them once and for all. An unexpected invitation to dinner challenges her plans to be the bait that will draw the nasty pirates out. It’s been forever since she’s been on a date—just been Opi. Somehow, Owain McDevitt, mild-mannered, potato farmer from the planet Islay 2, is drawn into the intrigue. Yet, no one is who they seem, least of all Owain McDevitt.

Betrayal after betrayal threatens Opi’s existence and she must discover who the traitor really is before she can find her true path to happiness.

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Copyright information

Title: Opi Battles the Space Pirates

Author: Donna Maree Hanson

ISBN 978-0-9757217-5-9 –ebook

ISBN 978-0-9757217-6-6 –print

Copyright © by Donna Maree Hanson 2017

All rights reserved. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted a non-exclusive, non-transferrable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.

All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown, any similarities are entirely coincidental.

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry : (ebook)

Creator: Hanson, Donna Maree, author.

Title: Opi battles the space pirates / Donna Maree Hanson.

ISBN: 9780975721759 (ebook)

Series: Hanson, Donna Maree. Love and space pirates.

Subjects: Science fiction.

Romance fiction.

Space pirates.

To Nicole Murphy who teaches me about love everyday

Contents

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Chapter One

Explosive Personality

Chapter Two

Dinner Invitation

Chapter Three

Take Off

Chapter Four

Disaster Date

Chapter Five

Into the Access Chute

Chapter Six

Crawling with Space Pirates

Chapter Seven

Nothing Fits

Chapter Eight

To the Potato Planet

Chapter Nine

Double Trouble

Chapter Ten

Horses for Courses

Chapter Eleven

Betrayal Most Deep

Chapter Twelve

Space Battle

Chapter Thirteen

Aftermath

Chapter Fourteen

Families

Chapter Fifteen

Missing

Chapter Sixteen

Daring Do

Chapter Seventeen

Battle Lines

Chapter Eighteen

It’s a Wrap

Disclaimer: This book is written using Australian English, which has different spelling conventions to the USA. For example, colour instead of color, characterisation instead of characterization, travelling instead of traveling and so on.

.

Chapter One

Explosive Personality

Opeia Gayens was having a bad day. She was tired, oh so tired, and a wee bit cranky. Running AllEarth Corp had its highs and its lows. So far today had been one of the lows. And it wasn’t getting any better. Not only had her daughter, Rae, just told her that she didn’t want to join the company or want her inheritance, this executive interview with Jors Finksy had taken a bad turn.

Finksy held out a hot pink, round object about the size of a tennis ball that looked suspiciously like a plastic explosive. ‘This is a bomb,’ he declared, waving at her. ‘I’m going to take you with me.’

Opeia let out a sigh, moved her knee to key her distress alarm. ‘That,’ she said, ‘is rather counter-productive.’

It had been a run-of-the-mill ethics appraisal. Obviously, the testing regime designed to filter out space pirates, or those likely to be suborned by space pirates, was more stressful than she anticipated for her employee to take such drastic measures.

Jors had standing-on-end, spikey, white hair and his red, sweating face sported puffy cheeks and very pale eyes. His burnished-silver body suit hugged his plump frame in a less than complimentary manner. Not the sort to bring a bomb to a meeting.

Her security chief, Mueller, was going to get an earful for his team letting this incendiary device through the screening procedures. It signalled a lapse that wasn’t acceptable. She eyed the bomb. It had no discernible controls or wires or lights. It looked like a lurid, ball of soft, mouldable plastic that a child might play with.

Finksy stood up suddenly, waving the ball around. Instinctively, Opeia leant back. Where was her security team anyhow?

‘You were going to dismiss me from my job. It’s all I have...’

Opeia blinked. She hadn’t been about to sack the poor fellow, but that outcome seemed inevitable now.

Distracted by security taking their time, Opeia was taken by surprise when Finksy thrust the bomb into her face. Instinctively, she slapped his hand and the bomb flew up. She leapt for it in case it would explode on impact. She caught it with one hand and with the other, punched her terrorist under the chin. The man wasn’t expecting it and went down.

Letting out a breath, she had one second of relaxation and then she noticed the bomb started to sweat in her hand and was slightly warm. Leaning down, she said into her intercom, ‘Polly, where the hell is security!’

‘Oh? We thought you’d triggered it by accident.’

‘I have a bomb in my hand and an unconscious executive who will come around very soon. Get the team in here now.’

Polly didn’t answer but in about thirty seconds her door slid open. ‘Don’t move,’ the lead security guy said. ‘Smithy, get up here with the analyser.’

Opeia swallowed and looked slowly down at her hand. ‘Geez.’ Bubbles appeared on surface of the ball. There was a chemical reaction going on. The hot pink bomb was definitely giving off heat. Why had she tackled for the bomb anyhow? Was she insane?

Smithy, face covered in a shock proof shield, aimed the pointy end of the analyser at her. ‘Plastic explosive. DNA key.’

‘Can’t you get a bin or something? I don’t want it going off in my hand.’

Smithy backed up, head titled on the side. ‘Containment possible,’ he spoke into the mic.

A rumble from the back of the door and a trolley came in, bearing a two metre by two metre metal box.

Smithy keyed a small panel. ‘Now, Ma’am, a drawer will slide out. Quickly place the device onto it and back away. It will shut rapidly and should contain the blast.’

Opeia looked up. ‘Should? Great.’

From the bottom end of the metal box, a square door opened up. It could hold a basket ball-sized object. With lips compressed, Opeia bent her knees, bringing the bomb closer. The bubbles on the surface of the bomb resembled boils now. The heat it gave off was starting to burn her palm. Carefully, she placed her hand near the bottom of the box and started tilting her hand to allow the ball to slide off.

Finksy sat up suddenly and shook his head. ‘Stop!’ he said. Opeia jerked her hand with surprise. The bomb dropped. She snatched her hand back. A security guard charged forward tackling her to the ground to shelter her with his body. The drawer shut with a snap. The containment box jumped and a loud boom sounded from inside. From where the little drawer had retracted, the metal had melted and fumes were rising.

The guard levered himself off her. ‘Pardon me, Ma’am.’ The label on his hazard gear gave his name as Muri. He offered his hand and assisted her to stand.

‘Thank you, Mr Muri.’

Another security man came up and sprayed her hands. The burning stopped as the spray cooled her skin.

Two burly ones grabbed Finksy. They brought him in front of her.

Her hands were red and the skin had started to peel. Compared to what could have happened. No hands. Or no body. She had come off lightly. ‘Mr Finksy. I am sorry to have to tell you but you’re fired...and under arrest.’

The containment box was wheeled out. The security team followed, along with Finksy who was quite verbal in his resentment. When they left, Polly buzzed. ‘Chief Mueller for you.’

‘Send him in.’

‘He’s not actually here, sorry. On comms.’

Too chicken to face her. Damn the man. Walking to her desk, she keyed her comms. ‘Mueller what the actual?’ she yelled at him. He opened his mouth and kept it open. ‘Nobody responded to my distress alarm and how did that goddam bomb get through screening?’

‘Ms Gayens...Opeia...’

‘Don’t try to sweet talk me.’ Mueller’s bull dog face loomed on the viewscreen.

‘I won’t. The bomb was a new type of material,’ he rushed on before she could interrupt again. ‘We had rumours of it being in production but our screening wasn’t calibrated. It is now.’ He let out a breath. ‘The non-response is a bit more difficult to explain.’ He ran his fingers through his short cropped hair. ‘It had been reported to me that you accidentally set off your distress alarm seven times in the last month. My men advise that you were pretty pissy at them for the repeated interruptions when they responded as per procedure.’

Opeia nodded, recollecting the mayhem. The distress switch had been relocated to under the desk so she could call for help without anyone knowing, unfortunately she kept bumping it. Her annoyance at having important and confidential meetings and video conferences interrupted had been quite strong and verbal. May have involved threats too. She chewed the inside of her cheek. ‘Put the location of my distress alarm back on our regular agenda. I don’t want to be left vulnerable like that again.’

‘I’ll tighten security measures.’

‘No! Goddam it Mueller! They are so tight already.’ As it was she hardly saw normal people. Her children were exempt from the security procedures but not anyone else. At times it was a tad embarrassing. I hope the cavity search wasn’t too uncomfortable, Mr...

‘But not tight enough. Today is a good example.’

‘You’ve explained today. It won’t happen again.’ He opened his mouth to protest but she raised her hand. ‘Your hand to hand training came in useful.’ She thought this would divert him.

He growled. ‘Ms Gayens you aren’t meant to tackle people with bombs or grab the devices yourself. May I remind you that you could have died if it had been another type of bomb?’

‘I know. I’m sorry. I just reacted when he thrust the bomb in my face and no one had come to help.”

He let out a sigh and rubbed his hand through his hair. ‘I see.’

Opeia thought she could wrap this up with another diversion. ‘Say, can you send me an update on that bomb material. DNA triggered you say? Let me get across that.’

‘Very well. Done and agreed. The information will be sent to you by the end of the day. My advice is that you should not have ill effects from holding the bomb except for some superficial burns.’

She held up her hands. ‘I got that part.’

‘Although I wish you hadn’t tackled the man and taken it.

‘I know. I don’t know what came over me. Spur of the moment—panic. It was entirely stupid. It won’t happen again.’

Mueller grunted and she keyed off. Turning to her handheld, she entered in the information about Finksy’s dismissal and sent a memo to her personnel manager to start new recruitment activity. Then she slumped across her desk. She was sick to the bone of this. Over it. That’s why Rae’s message had gutted her. If she wasn’t doing this for her daughter why was she doing it? Essa, her other daughter, had already bailed a year ago.

Sometime later her office door chimed. ‘May I come in?’ Polly, her personal assistant, asked as she poked her head through the gap in the sliding door. Polly was a few years younger than Opeia and had such an easy going personality that Opeia thought of her as a friend. About five foot five, trim with a pixie-like face, she was a trendy dresser and was forever ribbing Opeia about her penchant for pantsuits for business or shapeless coveralls when travelling on space cruisers. Polly argued they marred her beauty, where Opeia thought they hid a multitude of sins, like a peach shaped butt, well-rounded belly, largish breasts and generous thighs.

‘Sure, Pol. What is it?’ Opeia sat up and self-consciously tugged at the tunic top of her pale lemon, pantsuit. The material was self-cleaning and wrinkle proof. What could be easier?

Polly raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips, then let out a sigh before continuing. ‘I have a priority-keyed message for you from someone called,’ she looked down at her handheld. ‘Owain McDevitt.’

‘Who?’

Polly sighed. ‘Owain McDevitt.’ She scrolled through the page on her handheld. ‘McDevitt Enterprises. You completed the takeover of his transport companies last year. All the official paperwork is completed.’

‘Refresh my memory. What did I do to him, actually?’

Chapter Two

Dinner Invitation

Polly checked her handheld again. ‘You bought out McDevitt’s stake in Spacefreight Expo. Overbid on his takeover bid of Buckley’s Bulk Transport Fleet. Gutted the ships in inventory in Spacefreight Expo and Buckley’s and on-sold them at a huge profit.’

‘I see. And?’

‘You left him the planet.’

‘Planet?’

‘Yes, small agricultural world. Grows potatoes mostly, I think. Islay 2.’

‘Why did I do that?’

‘My notes say you didn’t want to leave him desperate and you had no interest in grubbing in the dirt.’

Opeia smiled. ‘I was having a good day then.’ Her gaze rested on Polly, who shifted from foot to foot with nervous anxiety. Opeia frowned. ‘What does he want? My blood?’

Polly’s dark eyes flicked up from the handheld and tugged at her short cropped hair. She shrugged one handed. ‘It’s marked private. Do you want to see it or shall I zap it straight to trash?’

Opeia keyed up her own handheld. ‘Give me a minute. I want to refresh my memory.’ She read her takeover notes. It was McDevitt Enterprises who owned the stake in Spacefreight Expo. Asset rich. Low profits. Possible source of pirate activity. It had been a fat fish waiting to be fried. It had been an odd setup. Who structured their business that way? Underutilising assets. The balance sheets were a beacon for any shark who was looking for prey. It was almost too good to be true. Or it was suspect.

As she considered it the latter, she’d wanted the outfit gutted and closed. She scrolled to the next page. She’d left McDevitt a planet. It was small, agricultural and was of limited interest to her. She could have taken it too, but hadn’t. Her notes did say that she had to leave the man something. Her notes said: were space pirates interested in potatoes? Her memory stirred. AllEarth Corp invested, divested, took over and reconfigured companies daily. She remembered feeling soft-hearted for McDevitt. He hadn’t owned the business long. A new kid on the block and she’d never met the man. Was it because she couldn’t find that he was linked to pirates himself? She flicked to the next page. He had a daughter, Lucinda, aged fourteen. His wife had passed away in a terraforming accident five years previously. It was probably the daughter that had made her soft around the edges. A quick scan of the photo reminded her that Lucinda McDevitt looked a bit like her own daughters. Same dark eyes, same brown hair cut into a bob.

Another page flicked over. McDevitt was ex-military. He specialised in security. How did he go from security to owning a number of companies? Was he that good at his job? Or did he come into an inheritance or was he up to something dodgy? Well, if he had been, he wasn’t doing it now. She’d taken those transport companies and ended them. He could hardly use his planet to help pirates, except as a base. She checked the coordinates of the planet. It really wasn’t central enough to be useful to them. It was in a backwater, barely within reach of the last jumpgate in the sector.

And he had a message for her. Interesting.

She looked up from her handheld. ‘Okay. Send it through, Pol. Is Rani still around?’

‘No. She is off until we leave tomorrow. Do you want me to call her up?’

‘No, it can wait. We’ll have time while the ship is in preflight and we will still have comms.’

Rani was Opeia’s second executive assistant. Polly looked after the social, but Rani was the numbers gal. She’d worked on the McDevitt takeover bid. Must have done as Rani had some role in all of them. She figured McDevitt wasn’t going to challenge her on the numbers as the deal was done and dusted. His signed share transfer was lodged with the galactic registry on Earth. The file in her handheld said the deal was closed. There were no loose ends. So why had he sent her a message?

Polly left the office and went back to her desk. A moment later, her comms unit buzzed.

‘Putting the message through now, Ms Gayens.’

‘Thanks.’

A smiling face greeted her. It was a prerecorded video message. A bit hard to have a live conversation across space due to the distance and resultant time lag so recorded was the way to go. ‘Ms Gayens. Forgive this intrusion on your time. I know it has been some months since our deal was sealed, but I wanted to convey to you my thanks for leaving me Islay 2. It was very kind of you and for some time now I felt...’ he shrugged, looked down at his hands clasped on his knees. ‘No, needed, to express my gratitude.’

McDevitt looked fortyish. Opeia was tempted to check his stats but decided to do that later. He had dark hair, conventionally cut around the ears and neck, bright blue eyes, the colour of a summer sky, set wide. A round, open face, with cheeks that dimpled when he smiled. He was seated outside, on a balcony or patio. In the background was a mountain range, backlit by a setting sun. A smattering of clouds turned purple and pink in the evening sky. Opeia cocked an eyebrow at the backdrop. It looked real, not a vid display.

On Earth, it wasn’t often you got to see a sunset like that, not in the city at least. Islay 2, she supposed, was impressive for a potato farm. It looked rustic but including the planet scene as the backdrop was a nice touch.

She paused the message. Had she been kind? She was uncomfortable with the label. Had she really said to Rani that she didn’t want to make him desperate? She hadn’t taken him over to enlarge her corporate empire, but to gut the pirates’ access to transport ships. Did he even know what was happening in Spacefreight Expo and Buckleys? Did he understand her motives? For sure, she’d made a nice, tidy profit, but in the scale of AllEarth Corp’s annual earnings it was a drop in the bucket.

Her attempts to clean up her company had been extensive and expensive: ethics training, internal reviews, doubling of approvals required for financial expenditure, personal interviews with candidates for new executive positions and performance reviews for the existing ones, background checks, including government security clearance processes. It had been exhausting. Nothing seemed to work completely. She’d cut out some rot, but the source of the infection remained.

Her pending trip was to root out more of the rot, draw out the source of the infection. A big gamble. Last time, the space pirates had come close to taking the whole damn thing. She had been tortured, her daughters kidnapped. It had been close. She’d taken steps so it couldn’t happen that way again, even if her plans failed this time. She was hoping her plans wouldn’t fail.

She checked the time left to play on the message. McDevitt had more to say it seemed. She released the hold button. ‘I understand you are heading into this sector shortly. I wonder if it would be possible to meet so I can thank you in person. Dinner at Hotel Magnifique? Space station Beta C? My treat.’

He grinned.

She froze the image, heart thudding.

That sounded awfully like he was asking her on a date. Nah, that didn’t sound right. Opeia didn’t go on dates. Even though now she was a widow, and technically could go on a date, she wouldn’t know where to begin. She did business meetings, working coffee breaks and high-powered lunches where deals were made. When she did do the social thing it was still business, cocktail parties, boring, elaborate meals and stuffy functions where a speaker harangued one on whatever topic was topical. All that effort was to further the prospects of AllEarth Corp, not her social life. Besides being too busy, she was rich and that made her a target for all kinds of things: scams, hold ups, black mail, abduction, seduction and death. Her bomb scare just now was just one attempt in a string of many failed ones. Not that she’d had much seduction in her life. Her security team would have kittens if she started going out with random strangers on dates. God forbid if she had a sex life. Her security detail would be examining the condoms to ensure they were sound to protect her from disease and testing the champagne to make sure she wasn’t drugged. She laughed and then stopped suddenly. It was too stupid, too awful, too sad but true. Her security would do those invasive things.

Sitting back in her chair, she tapped her finger on the desk. She hadn’t been on a date since she had been in her late teens. That had been with her ex-husband, Carl. God forbid she repeated that mistake. These days, she didn’t even know what to do on a date. At the thought of it, her palms became all sweaty and she wrung her hands together. It was impossible wasn’t it?

Immediately, she replayed the message, trying to play it down. He couldn’t be asking her on a date. Her mind was on a broken record. No one asked her on dates. She never met people socially. It was all business. All of it. Government soirees. Business conventions. Board meetings. Those horrible, emotionally bereft meetings stretched to infinity in her mind. No real connection. No unscripted conversations. No free ranging. No touching! Why did the thought of doing something so ordinary as going on a date send her into a panic?

On the fourth run through the message still sounded like he was asking her on a date. There was something in his manner, his smile, the intimacy of a dinner or was that just her response to his message? She was attracted to him? Oh no! She started to sweat. That meant personal time. No business. Woman versus man. No shield. Nothing to hide behind. Raw Opeia and a man. Her nails were getting rather short as she gnawed on them. Mind working overtime. How did he even know she was going to that part of space? He’d obviously accessed her flight plan. She’d have to ask Polly if publicity had released it yet. Cheeky!

Had she met Owain McDevitt face-to-face previously? She ran his name and image through her personal database where she logged all her personal contacts. Everyone she met was listed there. Useful when you met so many people, sometimes just once. It came up blank.

Considering the idea, she rubbed her chin, and then eased back into her chair. Her stomach rumbled and her handheld chimed. She looked at it. Dinner meeting with the head of AllEarth Corp security, Chief Mueller. How long had she been wallowing here over this invitation? She sent a message asking the security team for an extra ten minutes. Why she needed that long escaped her.

She keyed a short response to McDevitt. At first it said ‘No, thanks’ and ‘Can’t possibly’. Then she squinted at the screen and chewed her bottom lip. That’s just chicken, she observed. Well, what was she going to do then?

Letting out a pent up breath, she retyped her response. Not quite up to recording a vid message. She didn’t have the time or the inclination. The words ‘Happy to meet over dinner, Opeia Gayens’ glowed on the screen. She hesitated. Her hand hovered over the send key. Was it too short? Should she thank him? No, that was too gushy. Damn it just send the thing. Then she hit the button. The message was gone. Her heart raced so hard she thought she was having a cardiac arrest. She’d just said yes to a date with a complete stranger. It wasn’t earth shattering so why was she close to a panic attack? So stupid!

He wasn’t going to eat her. A giggle escaped her. Not on the first date, at least. Where were these aberrant thoughts coming from? She screwed up her eyes, wondering about her vid movie collection. If her therapist knew where her thoughts tended she’d put her on medication. Opeia shrugged. Maybe she wouldn’t. Maybe her therapist would pat her on the back and say good girl. Well, not in so many words.

After a few calming breaths, she coded the date into her personal itinerary and put a reminder in for Polly to lock down the details, such as the local time and date.

As she stood up to freshen up for her next meeting, she cringed. She’d said yes to a dinner date. She baulked at the thought and tried to keep calm about it. She coded the appointment priority so Polly would know not to quash it without checking with her first just in case she ran out of time or had to juggle meetings.

If she had time she was doing the dinner thing with McDevitt. That was one scary meeting. Just thinking of it had her heart stammering. Get a grip! All the things that could get in the way of meeting with him loomed large in her mind. It helped calm her down. The date was most likely not going to happen. She was likely to be inundated with business. Business came first. At least, for the time being.

With five minutes to spare, she went to freshen up before her next meeting. It was a short trip to AllEarth Towers through a direct underground tunnel on a mag lev vehicle.

In the company dining room sitting across from Chief Mueller and his two top aides, Fritz and Frantz, Opeia picked at her salad. The salad indicated a good food choice for the weight conscious executive, but did nothing to inspire her in the face of her least favourite meeting. The head of her security team looked serious, glowering at her with his bushy eyebrows sprinkled with grey that bobbed up and down as he spoke. A face that had avoided any rejuvenating treatments, seamed with creases from nose to mouth. Jowls wobbled under his chin. A craggy faced bear, she thought of him. From the intent look in his eye and the length of the agenda, Opeia knew this meeting was going to take ages. Their earlier spat over the DNA coded bomb was forgotten, except for the extra five items added to the agenda. Eyeing her salad, she decided she needed something more, something that would assist her to endure the next hour or so. She scanned the menu and ordered a very big ice cream sundae with extra whipped cream, dense caramel sauce and additional peanut ice cream for dessert. She was going to need the pick me up.

‘Ms Gayens,’ the security chief continued. ‘About this latest change to your itinerary...’

She began to roll her eyes and stopped, realising what change he meant. He knew about her date. Damn it. She took in a breath, and toyed with a slice of tomato. It was beneath her to treat her security chief with so little respect so she asked, ‘Is there a problem?’ in her most calm voice.

‘Yes, but not an insurmountable one. Provided you approve these preliminary security measures and abide by these restrictions,’ he said handing her a list. ‘Then we should be able to allow this McDevitt fellow on board the ship.’

She winced. ‘I believe he invited me to dine on Space Station Beta C.’

‘Out of the question.’

Opeia lowered her eyes, flicked the plate of salad to the side and dived into the ice cream sundae that had just been delivered to the table. ‘Why? I’m going to be on Space Station Beta C anyway.’

‘The venue does not allow weapons. Your security team will be disadvantaged.’

Opeia licked cream and caramel topping from her spoon. ‘You’re not going to station a security team outside the restaurant, are you? I mean station security is acceptable isn’t it? Surely you have plans of the station and can work out if there are any vulnerabilities from where our ship is docked to the hotel? I’m already sleeping on ship rather than the station under your recommendations. I’d really like to meet Mr McDevitt. Can’t you do a risk assessment or something?’

‘We have. I don’t like the risk you’re taking. What do you know about this man?’

‘As much as anyone does, I suppose. I’ve never met him though. You have some intel that I should know about? I thought he was ex-military and a security specialist before he went potato farming.’

Mueller checked his handheld. ‘No, Ma’am. Nothing extra to add. That all checks out. I know nothing more than you do.’

Opeia scanned the list of items to be discussed. They were still stuck on item two. Fatigue was starting to wear her down. The caramel and ice cream was helping but if she didn’t finish, she was going to be wiped for their launch the next day. She keyed up another sundae order. She was going to need the sugar and the fat.

‘Look. Do some more in-depth work on McDevitt. It is by no means certain I will meet him anyway. Draft up a security plan based on the station’s and the restaurant’s restrictions. Then you can brief me on the drill beforehand. Okay?’

Mueller nodded. ‘Now item three. The flight plan. My team have gone over it and we think that you are going too close to Praght space. There has been some pirate activity there. We suggest you alter the route to go through the Prime Five jumpgate.

Opeia gave the flight plan a cursory look. ‘Fine,’ she replied. The navigator would complain tomorrow when she boarded. Let them fight it out.

She was finishing off the second sundae when they had done with the first five items on the list. Chief Mueller ground his teeth. When she protested item six. ‘You can’t be serious. You want to interrogate McDevitt for three hours and have him undergo a strip search before you will even let him enter the restaurant? No!’

‘Ms Gayens. We have your safety to maintain.’

No wonder she didn’t date anyone. ‘Look, you can do more in-depth searching on his life, his activities. If you find anything nefarious we’ll talk again. If you come up with something bad, I won’t meet him. But you won’t be subjecting my ‘date’ to those,’ she tapped on the agenda item, ‘procedures. Understand?’

‘Yes,’ Mueller replied. ‘So one bodyguard and possibly Polly to accompany you to dinner?’ He made some notations.

Opeia clenched her jaw. ‘Yes. No. Oh I don’t know. Check back with me later though. I may change my mind about the whole thing.’

‘Change it? But you haven’t’ decided.’

Opeia let out a big sigh. She was a rich woman after all. She couldn’t possibly go alone. Could she? She’d talk to Polly. Polly went on dates. She’d know what the deal was.

Hopefully, McDevitt understood the difficulties she had to go through just to meet for dinner. He wanted to thank her for not wiping the floor with him. That took guts. Besides, she mused, he had a nice smile. She may be an older woman, but she did still have hormones. Fortyish wasn’t old these days. Her daughters weren’t the only ones who liked good looking men. That started her thinking down a particular path. When was the last time she’d had sex? A very long time ago. She’d been too busy and married to Gayens, who she hadn’t touched with a barge pole once she knew what his whole motivation was. Come to think of it, her love life hadn’t been that good anyway. Gayens was always thinking about his experiments and hardly noticed his young wife. Once he’d got the funding he required, Opeia had faded into the background.

Was she bitter? Opeia hardly knew. She’d got a daughter out of it, and a cloned daughter. It was something she supposed. Could one forget how to have sex?

Later, as she went to her quarters, she mused about her life while she brushed her hair and got ready for bed. At forty-two, she technically still ovulated. If she wanted to she could start a whole new family, a whole new life. She poked a tongue at her reflection.

If only she wasn’t the majority shareholder of AllEarth Corp. She had a duty to the firm. Her family had built the business empire up over the years. People depended on her for their livelihood. Then there was those blasted space pirates. She couldn’t rest until she had ripped them screaming out of the bowels of her firm. She shuddered at the memory of being held hostage by Masher and his crew. That had been a painful and dangerous lesson. She wouldn’t be caught out like that again. This time she was going to be ready. Her own plans were still unfolding.

Compartmentalised in her system too, plan A through to E. There were many strings in her bow. Not all of them were known to her team. A woman had to keep some things secret.

Too wound up to sleep, she put on an exercise program. Her virtual instructor put her through her paces. After an hour of that, she fell on the bed, her eyes closing after a few breaths. Knackered.

Chapter Three

Take Off

In her suite on her sleek, little cruiser Holdfast, Opeia ran down her ‘to do’ list with a finger, while the ship’s crew completed the last of the preparations to break orbit. She ticked off a few items, approved some acquisitions and reviewed some interview records and personnel background checks. Comms chimed. She looked up from her handheld and saw the light blink green. It was a secure transmission. She keyed the receive button. ‘Dayton?’

Dayton’s dark features filled the viewscreen. His smooth scalp gleamed in the light. ‘Ms Gayens. I’m glad I caught you before you left.’ He looked down, possibly at his own handheld. His eyes flicked up. ‘I’m afraid I don’t have your final itinerary. I may need to contact you while you are away.’

‘It is probably finding its way to you. Update?’

‘I was able to divide up the lots to pass unnoticed by most of the players. However, my activities did catch the eye of a certain senator.’

‘Which one?’

‘Burr.’