Having served a brief term in the military gave Kina the start for her training as a better-than-average pilot of large spaceships. Using that training to give her a jump in her career, she lands a job in one of the system's best passenger and freight companies. It doesn't take her long to move up to one of the supreme spots as captain of the best passenger liners going from the busy civilized worlds. Kina and her crew thought she had it made until a stalker began to show up wherever her ship was docked.
Because that put her crew and passengers in danger, the company moved her over to a different division hauling freight. But nothing could catch or halt the large mysterious figure who was ruining her life.
What was worse, he began to put thoughts in her mind that there might be a better life for her out in dark space—one where her life wasn’t run by the rules of a corporation but where she might be free on her ship. What was the secret this stalker knew that she needed to discover?
Captain Kina Russel knew she was being followed. She was on her way to work, and on purpose she’d taken a long way down the back halls of the shopping area. The company ships were docked at satellite stations for standard routes over busy commercial planets.
Many corporations had spaceships flying the standard routes for the many heavily colonized planets among these nearby systems. The different companies all hauled visitors, businesspeople, and supplies of all sizes.
The ship that Kina flew was a good one, not the newest, but a fast one, kept in top condition, and mainly handled people. It had a couple of small bays for reasonable supplies. It always brought in extra funds for the company to put something in the bays.
All clothing that the employees of Shayde Transport, Inc. wore was in different tones of purple. The large ship had the trademark name in large letters on both sides of the nose in deep purple. Kina's uniform as an officer was dark purple, and she wore a one-piece suit under a jacket of the same color. The jacket had all the fancy buttons and epaulets befitting her rank, in addition to emblems on the sleeves.
Pulling up her pad, she opened it and set it as if to take a picture of herself. This allowed her to see behind without turning around or glancing over her shoulder. Just coming into the dark hall, outlined by the light from the grand walkway, was the tall figure.
Frustrated, Kina turned off her pad, grasped it tight as she turned, and began running back.
"Hey, what do you want?" But before she had taken several steps, the tall, dark shadow was back out and around the corner. It or he was gone. When she reached the wide corridor, there was only the usual traffic and no unusually tall person in dark clothes.
Damn. She had hoped to approach him at least once to find out what this whole thing was all about. Having this shadow behind her, no matter where she went, was beginning to wear thin on her nerves. She was proud of her nerves, as they had gotten her to the position of Pilot on the ship Ascher Shayde. The line was long and cutthroat for a position as a pilot on any of the big corporation travel ships.
Even being top of her class did not count, as it the position required two years of pilot service for the Federated Union. A special Badge of Courage was what had probably topped off her resume. Bravery was not a problem for Kina, but to have a significant question unanswered was like a sore tooth that couldn't be treated.
Kina had not cheated. She had started at the bottom in the Shayde transport group, flying short hops as single or co-pilot with old ships from odd ports to stops right down on planets. But she played by the rules and did extra work, volunteering for trips no one else wanted. Kina spent more hours on the bridge than was required and slowly worked her way up, quicker than most. Okay, being an attractive woman, she might have added some special treats to get some recommendations. Her thought was to use what you had, and her talent behind the navigation bridge was great, but if a trip to a bunk helped, well, that was useful.
Months before, the hair on the back of her neck had begun to stand up when she saw precisely the same tall figure wherever she went off the ship. Kina never saw a face, as there was always a hood from a cape or a heavy cap pulled low and sometimes a breathing mask. But the shape was the same, about six foot four, broad shoulders, strong and fast moving.
It reminded her of the assassins she had read about in her romance books, but he had plenty of time to kill her. He merely followed her or stood outside her assigned room.
The police had been useless since she was in so many different locations. The first group of the local police had asked many questions that she mostly had negative answers to. He wasn't always there and never in the same place. She didn't have any enemies and did not have a job that led to secrets or danger. They promised to keep an eye on her while she was at their location.
Making a report to the Security of the Shayde Corporation had the same results. Did she have any old boyfriends? Maybe her family was checking on her. She explained she was an orphan and her boyfriends were now flying for the same company.
She hit her emergency comm button the next time she saw him in a crowd of passengers getting ready to board her ship, but he disappeared before security arrived. She apologized and gave up on outside help. She was going to have to trap her stalker somehow and get some answers. Her nerves were beginning to show as she drank too much coffee on the bridge.
The hostess in the light purple dress had suggested that she bring Kina some tea or decaf coffee. But Kina barked at the woman and had several cups of the straight black stuff before she remembered to apologize to the hostess. It wasn’t the woman’s fault. It was a big guy following her on every satellite that they nosed the big ship into the dock.
Sitting at her dashboard, she looked over at the second pilot, who was assisting and communicating with the satellite's control system. A thought suddenly hit her. How did her stalker get to all the systems that she traveled to each time she landed?
“Sha One, how many people did we carry this time?”
Sha One was the name of their AI that helped run things on the ship.
"Captain Russel, we carried two hundred and five passengers.”