Crewman Sharif Vega put his duffle on the carry cart with care. Then he piled a case of Centauri Blood wine, a crate of fresh binga fruit and a box of cleaning detergent around it. He rolled it through the crowded spaceport and onto the monorail that carried passengers and crew to their desired gates. He got off at Gate D32 and rolled the cart to the desk.
“Hey, Lyn,” he greeted his shipmate at the desk as he maneuvered the cart around the desk. “I have some last minute buys for the ship.”
Lyn checked her electronic pad and nodded briefly as she scanned the items on the cart. “Great. I love binga fruit. I’ve checked you in, Sharif, go on in.”
Sharif wiped his hands on his ship suit and gripped the cart handle. He had been sure Lyn would ask about the duffle. He sped down the access way and into the ship’s entryway. The fruit and wine went to the galley, the detergent in the cleaning locker and he hurried along the corridor to crew quarters.
He lifted the duffel and carried it into his cabin. Sharif put it on the bed and unzipped it halfway. “Are you comfortable enough?” He peeked into the bag.
“I’m fine,” a small female voice came from inside the duffel.
“Stay here. I’ve got work to do but I’ll be back in awhile.” He pulled the zipper nearly closed and left the cabin.
It wasn’t long before the ship lifted off and jumped into hyper space. When they came out the Captain said over breakfast, “There’s a forty kilo discrepancy in the mass of the ship. Sharif, after you take over the freight console from Hawk, check the records of the freight we on-boarded on Centauri. Either the canisters were mislabeled or one of the readers made an error.”
Sharif nodded, eyes downcast. He couldn’t look the Captain in the eye. “Yes, sir.”
“I know it’s a small error,” the Captain told the crew around the table. “But I don’t want it becoming a big error. Find out the problem.”
The whole crew nodded. Sharif choked down his coffee and hurried from the galley. An hour later, he excused himself from the bridge and knocked on the Captain’s cabin door.
The Captain was in his sleeping robe at the small desk. Sharif could see the manifest on the Captain’s pad. “Sir, I need to talk to you.”
Captain Teigen looked up. “You found the discrepancy?”
Sharif shuffled his feet. “In a way, Sir. Yes.”
An eyebrow rose. “Spit it out, Sharif.”
“Well, Sir,” Sharif began to twist his hands together. “You know how on Centauri the vids were full of reports of a search for a criminal’s grand-daughter?”
The Captain sat up. “I remember.” His tone of voice went level.
“The girl found me. Asked for help.” He stuck his hands in his pockets, thought better of it and pulled them out again. “I didn’t know who she was, at first. Just another beggar kid, you know. They’re all over the place.”
Captain Teigen’s eyebrows drew together.
Sharif licked his lips, then pulled himself up, squaring his shoulders. He blurted out. “I smuggled her onto the ship.”
“You did what?” The Captain’s voice went hard. His eyes bored into Sharif.
“They were going to kill her, Captain. You know that. All for some minor infraction her grand-father made. They kill the three generations, over some law that would just get a fine on Earth.” He twisted his hands again.
“Bring the girl here.”
Sharif nodded and dashed out of the door. When he got back, the girl in tow, the Captain was dressed.
“Captain, this is Annie, ten years old. Annie, this is Captain Teigen.”
The blue-eyed, blond girl stared up at the Captain. She stuck out her hand. “Nice to meet you, Sir.”
The Captain’s eyebrow twitched but he shook her hand. “Nice to meet you, Annie. You present me with a problem.”
“Yes, Sir. I’m sorry.”
A glare was shot at Sharif. “You have put me and the ship in a very difficult situation, Crewman Vega. We could be banned from Centauri, a very lucrative freight run for us. I could lose my ship for kidnapping a child from another planet. We could all be sent to prison.”
“But, Sir. I had to help. It’s not right that they were going to kill her for something she didn’t do. They don’t care about her, why should they care that she came with us. I didn’t kidnap her, Sir, she came willingly, to escape a death sentence. There must be a regulation for that?”
Teigen’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t go space lawyer on me, Vega. You’re in enough trouble. Get the girl a cabin and fed. Then you’re on report. You do your job during your duty hours, eat, and go to your cabin. That’s it. No rec time. Only the minimum gym time.” He turned Annie. “You may go to the galley to eat, work out in the gym, participate in any appropriate recreational activities. You are not allowed in any working spaces, the bridge, engine rooms, any other location that a passenger has no business being in. Understood?”
“Yes, Sir. I understand.”
“Good. Take care of it Sharif. Get out.”
The Captain and the Exec spent the next four hours going over System Law. They finally found a clause that would allow Annie to escape Centuri without bankrupting the ship. They turned her over to Child Protection on Minataur. Sharif hugged her at the access way, the assigned mentor watching. “Good luck, Annie.”
“Thank you, Sharif. I’m sorry about the trouble I got you in.”
“No worries, girl. Good luck on your new planet.”
“I knew you were the right spacer to approach.” She shook his hand. “Call me when you come back.”
“I’ll do that.”
He watched as the mentor took her hand and left for her new life.
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