“Hey, Marcy! Where’s that spanner?” Paul Ellers yelled. He was buried underneath the access panel of the DL White’s starboard power relay coupling. The coupling had blown two weeks earlier along with most of the other plasma transfer conduits and transformers, turning the ancient freighter into a rudderless lump of metal carrying eight people and four thousand tons of Terran sand. Originally on course to Mars, the ship had long since passed the red planet, and was now well into the solar system’s asteroid field. Since they were limping along at less than 225 kilometers per second, the still fairly reliable repulsor systems had kept the ship from being flattened into oblivion by an asteroid.

But knowing all that didn’t get the spanner into Paul’s hand any faster. He shouted for his assistant again, but the naked plasma stream directly above his head seemed to suck up the sound, so he squirmed out of the access bay and onto the corridor floor, banging his head on the panel jamb.

“Well, that’s just great!” he yelled, rubbing his head and standing up. The blood resettled in his body and he staggered against the wall, swearing. A light laugh came from behind him.

“Watch your mouth, Paul! I’m still an impressionable young lady.” Marcy stood there, holding out the powered spanner. “Here. You left this back in engineering, doofus. I had to go fetch.”

Paul tried to growl at the bouncy girl, but couldn’t. It wasn’t that Marcy Raimondo was the niece of Captain and owner Ronaldo Raimondo, though that in itself would be good enough reason; Ronaldo had a fierce protective nature for his niece that blew the cool wind of caution on even the most overheated would be Romeo. And it wasn’t because she was an incredibly beautiful woman, having emerged from her coltish years with a grace and form that would do her proud in any beauty pageant if she were so inclined, which she wasn’t. It was impossible to stay angry with Marcy because she not only truly meant well, she actually did well. She’d been living on the DL White since the death of her parents fourteen years prior, running up and down the corridors of the DL White, learning and watching and playing.

“Thanks.” Grinning despite the pain, Paul accepted the spanner and crawled back under the access panel, Marcy squatting beside him to watch. “So, have you heard anything from you uncle yet?” he asked.

“How rude!” she accused. “You should know that as future owner of the DL White, I couldn’t tell you anything Uncle Ronny might have told me.”

“Oh, yeah?” he called back, his voice muffled. “Well, you might be a future owner, squirt, but you’re a present crew man. An’ we crew always spread the rumors.”

“In that case,” Marcy stated promptly, “listen up. Uncle Ronny just got done talking to Hollow Stump Industries. You know, the company that we’re hauling the sand for? Well, they were plenty mad at him and canceled the order. They already have someone else shipping more sand to them and they got it last week.”

“I’ll bet he didn’t like that.”

“You’d win that bet. Only worse is, Uncle Ronny had to buy the sand up front and was ‘sposed to sell it to Hollow Stump, using the mark up as his freight charges. So now we’re broken down in the asteroid field, carrying four thousand tons of sand that we own and don’t want, and the ship’s registration fees are coming up in three months.” She made a sour face that Paul couldn’t see but only too well imagined. “And ITA doesn’t take sand for creds. This kinda living sucks.”

“It’s not all that bad, kid. I haven’t seen you complaining too much over the years. Besides,” he paused and there came a loud, assured hum as the repaired coupling came on line, restoring power to the forward starboard systems. “at least we’re not broken down anymore.”

“You did it, Paul!” She applauded and gave him a quick hug as he slid out and sat up. He held his breath, only a little uncomfortable. He’d been hugged by her since she was two years old. But she was almost nineteen now and it was... different. He was old enough to be her father, and frequently reminded himself of that.

She let him go and looked up at him, her blazing green eyes even brighter in contrast to her raven black hair. “Let’s get this stuff put away and get to the bridge. I wanna help put in the flight path back to Mars.”

“You take off, Marcy, and I’ll take care of this. I still have some calibration to do down in engineering. Your grandpa had some hot shot gussy up the engines about fifty years ago, but they haven’t been really worked over since. Stan wants to get them running smooth again, especially after what’s happened.” He jerked a thumb. “Thanks for the help, Marcy, but you’re bridge crew. Besides,” he added with a grin, “You’ve got a right of passage comin’ up. Take off.”

“Okay, Paul! See ya’ at mess!” She waved and ran off, leaving Paul behind.

She went quickly forward to the starboard ladder, tracing her fingers along the bulkhead. Despite her earlier comment, Marcy really did love this life. She could walk the corridors in utter darkness - and had more than once - completely at home on this 230 year old vessel that had been both a blessing and a curse to her family for three generations. The DL White hadn’t made them rich, nor even close to rich. But she’d never starved them, either. Though now, Marcy thought sadly, perhaps her borderline run of luck had finally played out. Having drifted from bouncy to melancholy in moments - as was the wont of many teenage girls - she descended the welded rungs down to the bridge, located on the lowest deck of the ship.

It certainly wasn’t melancholy that greeted her. The spacious, antiquated bridge was reverberating with the sound of laughter and shouts. Scurrying down as fast as she could, Marcy dropped expertly the last few meters to the bridge deck, the Martian gravity - one-third that of Earth’s - making the jump possible. The shouting had increased, both in volume and intensity. She landed and was immediately swept up by Hank, the navigator, who twirled her around and planted a kiss on her cheek. Dropping her, he ran over to Bobby Travers, the youngest crewmen other than herself, and began slapping him on the back. Stunned at his outburst, she wiped her cheek, feeling the jubilant atmosphere soaking into her.

“Marcy, honey!” Uncle Ronny also picked her up and swung her around, laughing with relief and happiness. He smiled at her with a goofy, face breaking grin.

“Please! Allow me to carry the heiress to the Captain’s chair!” He lifted her into a threshold position and carried her over to the well worn chair, placing her into it with great ceremony. She looked at him, more than a little confused.

“What’s going on, Uncle Ron... I mean, Captain?” On the bridge, she tried her best to call him Captain, since she was crew now. But since this was her first voyage as an actual paid crewman, she still wasn’t in the habit. “Why’s everyone gone hyper?”

“Because, sweetheart, I’ve just made the deal of a lifetime! And that not only means we get paid, but everyone gets a nice bonus and you and I get to keep Whitey.”

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End Excerpt

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Passage

Copyright ©1998 by Peter Prellwitz All Rights Reserved.