“Ah, Senior Drone Pilot Severin,” Director Maxwell said extending his hand, “thank you for meeting with me.”
Rachel extended her hand cautiously. Something was not right. The Director was a cold, calculating man who saw everything as revenue and expenses. “My pleasure,” she said with a smile.
“I’m sure you’ve noticed that we moved up launch time to just over twenty hours from now. I apologize for the change in schedule but certain…issues have occurred and we need to move now.”
“I hope nothing that will affect the mission” Rachel said.
“Thankfully, no,” Maxwell replied. “Please have a seat.”
“Thank you,” Rachel said as she sat in the leather seat. It was likely the most comfortable and expensive seat on the ship.
“Did you know Captain Benavides well?” Maxwell asked as he placed his elbows on the table and folded his fingers..
“I’ve worked with him before if that is what you mean. He’s a good man and good leader. You did well to choose him for this mission.”
Maxwell smiled for a moment and studied the woman. “As you know, working out here in deep space is dangerous and accidents do happen.”
Rachel frowned at the bullshit coming from the corporate shill. “We all know the risks.”
“We’ve experienced one of those unexpected things, I’m afraid. Captain Benavides passed away during Null sleep. His pod malfunctioned and he never regained consciousness when we slipped back into real space.”
“I see,” Rachel said trying to hide the sadness that flowed over her. She steadied herself before the tears flowed down her eyes. She did not want to show any emotional weakness in front of the Project Director.
Ben was the best Captain she had ever worked for. When she first applied as a drone pilot, no one wanted to risk a contract with the daughter of a miner. Drone pilots trained for years at the prestigious flight academies on Earth, not in the Asteroid Belt driving mining drones in between floating rocks. But she was one of the best pilots on any ship and only needed the chance to prove it. Ben gave that opportunity to her and her service was always in demand ever since.
“Are we returning to the Sol system?” Rachel asked hoping the answer would be yes. She was here only because Ben asked her to join the expedition.
“Not quite. We know Captain Benavides would want to complete the mission as planned and the Executive Officer agrees. Carl Morrison is now the acting Captain and will complete the mission. Then we will return to the Sol system and give Captain Benavides the proper burial he deserves.”
Rachel wanted to vomit. After the last mission, when the crews typically got together one last time before going their separate ways, the command staff hosted a party at the nearest bar desperate enough for the credits to deal with a rowdy crew. At the party, a drunk Carl grabbed her and tried to pull her into one of the private booths. She tried to push him away and yell for help, but the dark club and loud music prevented any of the party goers from noticing the assault. As he tried pull her pants down, Rachel kicked him in the groin and fled the club back to her quarters. She never reported the incident. When Ben asked her to join the mission, she declined because of his Executive Officer but after a significant pay increase and the purchase of a few contraband weapons, Rachel agreed. Carl avoided her completely during launch and assigned himself to the shifts when she was scheduled to sleep. Now that he was the Captain, her life became a lot more difficult.
“I’m not sure you knew Ben that well if you think that is true,” Rachel commented without thinking. She knew that Director Maxwell could blacklist her and this would her last mission.
Maxwell nodded. “I am sorry for your loss, Pilot Severin, but we also have a job to do here. I also requested this meeting to ask about your drones. What are their defensive capabilities?”
As the conversation turned to technology, Rachel found it easier to remain strong. “All of my drones have turreted pulse lasers. A little more expensive but much better than replacing them. Are you expecting trouble? I didn’t think we would run into any pirates out here.”
“No, no,” Maxwell responded with a steady, calming voice. “We’ve picked up some life signs on the planet concentrated in areas we want to explore and possible mine…”
Rachel stared at the Director. “What life signs? I thought this rock was supposed to uninhabited and a simple dig.”
“It seems our first probe made a mistake and the planet does have native lifeforms, none intelligent, of course. But there is a large bovine type animal in great numbers on the planet and we do not know how it will react to the drones. I would rather avoid a confrontation but, as you said, it’s better to be safe than replacing drones with the few parts we have available. After this mission, every explorer in the Sol system will be jumping out here for a chance at our rock. I intend to leave them only with the table scraps.”
“We normally scout with a minimum charge on the guns but per the contract rate, I can have my crew charge the batteries to full before launch.”
Maxwell smiled as Rachel provided her solution to the problem. “And I will make sure your account is credited the fee specified in the contract this evening. I do appreciate your help in this issue, especially since the mission has started on such a difficult path.”
Rachel did not wait for permission before standing up from the chair. She wanted to get out of the room as quickly as possible. She needed to update the drone techs before launch and she needed some time alone to mourn the loss of the only man she considered a father.
“Then I’ll get to work immediately,” Rachel said as she walked between the two security guards protecting the Director and out the door.
* * *
As the door closed, Director Maxwell stared at the holographic computer display on his desk. The bovine clusters turned into cities.
“Alice,” he said to the omnipotent computer AI.
“Yes, Director,” the female voiced AI responded.
Maxwell tapped his desk a few times as he decided his next move. “Add Senior Drone Pilot Severin to my watch list. I want her location and activities logged on my personal server until I say otherwise.”
“As you wish, Director Maxwell.”