Farah sighed heavily. Another day without any luck. There were no jobs, at least not for her. Well, none that anyone in their right mind would want to do. She was starting to get desperate. Her savings were nearly gone. If she didn’t find something… or take one of the unsavory options, she was going to be on the street soon.
She tensed up instinctively as she approached her apartment building. There were three of them. A dark-skinned woman with black hair going down to her shoulders and light brown eyes stood in the centre. She looked to be slightly taller than 170 centimetres. She was flanked by a man and a woman, both muscular. The man stood at her right. He had short dark brown hair complete with a short beard and mustache and bright brown eyes. He had an intense look and was slightly over 185 centimetres tall. The woman was shorter than Farah, only 150 centimetres tall. She wore glasses and had short blonde hair and bright blue eyes.
Farah contemplated calling the peace keepers, letting them deal with the three. But she stopped herself. If they weren’t up to anything untoward she’d just make herself look like a fool. Besides, she had been an elite peace keeper herself. She was confident that she could handle them, should they prove to be dangerous.
She strode slowly but confidently towards the door. As she passed them she heard a slightly husky but decidedly feminine voice “Farah Jilani?”
She froze. She tried to keep composed, but she felt her muscles tense up. “Yes?”
The dark-skinned woman held out a hand. “Good to meet you, Miss Jilani. I’m here to offer you a job.”
Farah looked at her hand, but didn’t move to take it. “I’m not a criminal,” she said, firmly.
“Good,” the woman said. “I don’t make a habit of hiring criminals.” The woman laughed at the expression on Farah’s face. “No need to be shocked. I’m neither mafioso nor am I a pimp. I’m here to offer you a legitimate job.”
“A madame,” the other woman interjected. “A female pimp is a madame.”
“Don’t be so stuck up on terms,” the first woman said. “She knows what I meant.”
Farah hesitantly reached out and shook the woman’s hand.
“That’s better.” she said. “I’m Ophelia Wester. My companions are Katie Horne and Leon Judd.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Farah whispered, nodding towards them. “You say you have a legitimate job for me?”
“Of course,” Ophelia said. “I’m the captain of the Starship Cerberus. As it turns out, I’m looking for crew.”
“Oh,” Farah said, her heart sinking. “I.. I can’t. I’m barred from serving aboard any alliance vessel.”
“That doesn’t matter,” Ophelia said. “We aren’t an alliance vessel.”
“But you’re human,” Farah said. “Aren’t you?”
“Of course I am,” Ophelia said. “But my ship is registered to Akumil. I can hire whoever I damn well please.”
She leaned close to Farah, prompting the younger woman to take a step back. “I know all about you, Farah. Third in your class over at the peace keeping academy. Served proudly as a member of an elite unit for the past three years. Until the hostage situation four months ago. I’ve seen the footage. You took your unit in, undoubtedly under orders from your superiors. You nearly took out the entire group, but one survived. She began opening fire at the hostages. You got two children out of the way, shielding them with your own body. But MP Cerny’s husband was killed. You were sacked for unacceptable losses.” Ophelia shrugged. “Probably should’ve protected Mr. Cerny and let the kids get hit. As far as the alliance is concerned, they don’t matter.”
“They matter!” Farah declared.
“I’m not going to disagree with you,” Ophelia stated. “But you’d still have your job if they’d been killed. Course, I like to think the alliance’s loss is my gain. Farah, when I saw that footage I saw a courageous, quick-witted young woman and I knew that I wanted you for my crew. I won’t lie, the job is quite mercenary in nature and it is going to be dangerous. Furthermore, if you take the job you’ll have to live on the ship. I don’t know when or even if you’ll see Loralai again. But, it is honest work and you’ll get to travel across the stars and see sights that most people can only dream of.”
Ophelia gestured towards the sky, her eyes seemed to sparkle. “We have some other business to attend to, but we’ll be leaving Earth in six hours. Before we go I’ll drop by to get your answer. Sorry that I can’t give you longer.” She turned to go, Katie and Leon taking up position behind her.
“Wait!” Farah called. Ophelia turned and looked at her, quizzically. “I’ll take the job.” Farah said.
“Hmmm,” Ophelia muttered. “Is your situation really that bad? I guess we came at a good time then. Kat, help her pack up and take her to the ship.”
“Shouldn’t I stay and guard you?” Katie asked.
Ophelia shook her head. “Our mission here isn’t exactly dangerous. Besides, I’ve still got Leon with me, just in case.”
“All right,” Katie said. She turned to Farah. “I guess I’ll be your escort today.”
The two packed quickly and Katie led Farah to the docks. The Cerberus was on the small side as far as ships went. It probably only had enough space for a crew complement of ten people, if that many.
Katie took her to the bay first. “This is our docking bay. We’ve got four small fighters and a shuttle.” She gestured towards the fighters. “They’re cramped as hell, even for someone as short as me but they’re good for various situations. The Cosmic Wyvern is mine. the Radiant Healer is Leon’s. The Snarky Nebula is Allison’s. This one,” Katie pointed to the final one. “This one will be yours, after you’ve been cleared by Lucy and completed flight training under me. You can name it what you want then.”
“My own little fighter,” Farah muttered. She reached out and touched it, feeling its smooth metallic texture.
Katie led her to the bridge next. It was largely bare with a view screen, and stations for three people, plus the captain’s chair. A red-skinned woman with sleek black hair, golden eyes and tiny horns was lounging in it. An Akumillian. She rose when they entered, letting Farah see that she was barely over 120 centimetres tall.
“This is our security officer, Luciverianna Wester,” Katie introduced her. “Everyone calls her Lucy for short.”
Lucy closed her eyes and smiled. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Farah.” she said. “I do hope that you pass inspection and we become good friends.”
“Thank you,” Farah said, shakily. It was like Lucy could see everything about her even with her eyes closed. In spite of her diminutive stature, the woman was terrifying.
“Oh,” Lucy muttered, her eyes remaining tightly shut. “Kat, have you been bullying our poor guest? She sounds terrified.”
“Not at all,” Katie said. “That’s you.”
“Me?” Lucy asked, innocently. “Whatever could you mean? I’m the very model of a friendly demeanour.” She sank back into the chair. “Oh, take our new friend for her pre-flight checkup.”
“I will as soon as I show her the engine room,” Katie said. She motioned for Farah to follow her.
The two were heading down the corridor when a 170 centimetre tall brown-haired, brown eyed woman approached.
“Yo, Kitty!” she greeted. “And this must be the newbie.” She reached out, grabbed Farah’s hand and shook it vigorously. “Allison Aiza.”
“Farah Jilani,” Farah said.
“Just don’t take the hazing too hard,” Allison said. “Most recruits survive it.”
“Hazing?” Farah asked.
“We don’t haze recruits,” Katie said.
“You’re no fun, Kitten,” Allison said. “I wanted to see her sweat a bit more.” She gave a mock salute and headed away. “Later, Newbie.”
“Sorry about that,” Katie said. “She’s… odd.”
“She seemed nice enough,” Farah muttered.
The two promptly arrived at some double doors. Katie knocked loudly before hitting the button to slide them open. “Always knock before entering engineering,” she advised.
The two walked in. A woman with a greasy jumpsuit and glasses was doing some maintenance. She had bright red hair that was tied back. Farah estimated that it probably went to the small of her back when it was loose. She was roughly 177 centimetres tall.
“This is Grace Albrecht, our engineer,” Katie said.
The woman looked over to them. Farah noticed that she had beautiful light blue eyes.
“No one told me the new recruit was so cute,” Grace said. She gently took Farah’s hand, brought it up to her lips and kissed it. “Milady, it’s the greatest pleasure to meet you.”
“Charmed,” Farah said. She felt her cheeks flush.
“We were just on our way to medical,” Katie said. “Tell the Baron to prepare for her welcome party.”
“I’ll tell him,” Grace said. “But he’s kind of lazy so I’ll probably have to do it myself.”
Katie shrugged and led Farah out.
“Baron?” Farah asked.
“He’s in charge of morale,” Katie explained. “You’ll meet him at the party. But first, we need to go to med bay.”
The medical bay wasn’t far from engineering. Katie didn’t bother knocking. She just opened the door. “Doctor?”
A bald man with a rusty red coloured goatee and a lab coat was stooped over a microscope. Glasses rested on his forehead. He moved away from the microscope, pulling his glasses down. He had dull grey coloured eyes and stood at 179 centimetres.
“I suppose you need a pre-flight checkup for the new recruit,” he said, sounding annoyed.
“If you please,” Katie said. “Farah, this is Doctor Paul Albrecht.”
“Good to meet you,” Farah said.
“Likewise,” he muttered. He had already begun the examination. It didn’t take him long to complete it and he barely spoke as he worked. “She’s in good health,” Paul said. “No surprises either. I’ll clear her to fly.”
“I’m sure the captain will be happy,” Katie said.
“If that’s all I really must get back to my experiment,” Paul said, curtly.
“Of course, Doctor,” Katie said. She led Farah away.
That night, Katie picked Farah up and took her to the Canteen for her welcome party. Everyone was waiting for them except for Paul and Grace.
“Grace is coming soon,” Lucy said, her eyes were still closed. “She just had to prepare the Baron. I don’t know if Paul’s coming.”
“He’s working on an experiment,” Leon said. “I can get him if you’d like. He won’t refuse me.”
“I’m sure he won’t,” Ophelia said. “But we’ll let him work. This isn’t a mandatory event. Say, Farah, what do you think of the siblings anyway?”
“Well,” Farah said. “She seems really nice but he’s kind of scary.”
Ophelia burst out into laughter. “Sorry,” she said after a moment. “I’ve just never heard it reversed like that before.”
“I said that he was nice and she seemed scary,” Allison confirmed. “I guess everyone does, except for you, you cute little oddball.”
“Do you still think she’s scary?” Katie asked.
“She threw a wrench at me the other day,” Allison said. “I certainly don’t think she’s well adjusted.”
They heard a loud scoffing sound. “Presenting,” Grace’s voice said. “His eminence, Baron Wolfgang Andres Von Erstein.”
Farah turned. Grace was holding a tiny, scruffy looking white dog with a little top hat held in place by an elastic band.
“This is the Baron?” Farah asked. “I was super nervous. I thought he was an actual aristocrat.”
“Why the hell would we want one of those?” Grace asked. “Wolfie is the best morale officer.”
“Can I pet him?” Farah asked.
“Go for it,” Grace said. “He doesn’t bite.”
Farah reached over and stroked the tiny dog’s head around his little top hat. He sniffed her hand and licked her.
“I hate to interrupt,” Ophelia said. “But I’d like to make a toast. To Farah Jilani, our newest crew member.”
The others raised their glasses and drank. Farah looked them over. Her comrades. She had the feeling that it was going to be a fun trip.