Chapter One




“Come in, Charles. Did you bring Knolls' report?”
“Sure did, Dewey, here it is,” the company president said, taking a small chip out of his pocket and handing it to the CEO.
These two were the highest ranking members of the solar system's largest shipping and transportation company. Together they had built the company from scratch, and between the two of them they held enough stock to completely control the company. It not only shipped people and goods, but also was the largest shipbuilding company as well. They built the ships and other machinery needed, and sold or leased the machinery, houseboats, and other small boats to private and government entities. They had been approached by various governments to construct warships, but had declined the offers. War is bad for the shipping business, it makes everything dangerous and expensive.
“Did you read it?” the CEO asked.
“Yes, I did, It took me all day yesterday, but there's a much shorter version on your chip as well as the version I read. I'd skip the long version.
“It's interesting, Knolls could be a writer if his grammar wasn't so atrocious. It was actually a good read otherwise, these reports are usually pretty dry. I hate reading most of them, but I didn't mind this one at all.”
“Well, Knolls is just a ship's captain. It's not like he's been to college or anything. How detailed is the report?”
“Heh, too detailed in places, I had them delete the days that didn't really give us any information. I didn't really need to hear about his bowel movements, but most are still in the short version. Like I said, there are two copies, but the shorter one is the one I'd read if I were you.”
“How much did Knolls leave out?”
“Nothing important. At least I don't think he left anything important out. All the important stuff is in the short version, anyway. But I'll tell you, Dewey, this company has some serious problems we weren't aware of. This report was invaluable. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”
“I heard he saved her life? Is that correct?”
“Yes, it is indeed, her life and everyone else's lives. He apparently kept a cool head, kept his wits about him and did everything right, even if he didn't always go exactly by the book. The times he didn't go by the book should be in the book, though. They were downright strokes of genius sometimes, plain common sense other times. Knolls is pretty sharp. It looks like he saved Kelly's ship and cargo as well as his own more than once by using his head and not going by the book. I'm pretty sure that when you've read it you'll agree that we need to change some policies and regulations.”
“Yes, I read the draft of the preliminary investigation report. Sabotage to Kelly's ship during the Mars overhaul so they could get his ship and ores. One of the workers was arrested, he'd been paid a huge sum of cash to do it. It wasn't very hard to catch him, they just looked at spending patterns to find who was living beyond their means. He confessed, but we need to figure out how to prevent that from happening again. They won't have the final report until Kelly gets back to Mars and they can examine the ship's systems.”
“We're on it already, old buddy. If Mark Johnson can't solve it, it's insoluble.”
“It had better not be.”
“I sure can't argue with that. If we can't find a solution we're in serious trouble.”
“What were damages to cargo?”
“Well, one specimen was severely injured in a fire but recovered long before reaching the port on Mars. A few of the specimens got into physical altercations but there was no lasting damage to them. The worst were some pretty bad accidental self-inflicted cuts from an encounter with pirates, but the damage was far less than we expected; we were pretty sure there would be quite a few fatalities, considering how dangerous the cargo was that was being shipped.
“A passenger associated with the company that hired us had a severe concussion, several broken ribs, and a dislocated shoulder as a result of interacting with their dangerous cargo, but was out of sick bay before the ship docked at the repair facility. She's still recovering. She should get some kind of a medal, read the report. We underestimated just how dangerous that cargo was. It was actually a good thing Knolls had that cargo or he'd be dead and pirates would have our ship.”
“Yes, we have to find a way to stop the piracy, there's way too much loss of life and loss of our property. I'm going to look into that myself.”
“I agree, and we should have started Ramos’ fleet a lot sooner, that's a good start. It’s hard to get that stubborn Griffins to understand the need for security; he doesn’t like spending the money. I ordered a report from Ramos and am thinking about ordering that all captains write a report after every run, although not as detailed as Knolls'.”
“Were there any other damages?” the CEO asked.
“One of the ship's two fusion reactors was ruined and will have to be rebuilt, as well as three of its ion drives. More most likely would have blown, and maybe all of them, if Knolls hadn't shut the two down that were next to the three ruined ones. That's not in the book, either, but Engineering tells me it should be. Two repairbots were destroyed while attempting to repair the first thruster that shorted out.
“The other fusion generator was damaged but easily repaired once he got a replacement regulator from Ramos. One battery was incinerated and one docking ring was badly damaged. Minimal damage considering the dangerous cargo it was carrying and the problems Knolls encountered. That battery was a great idea, even though it did damage the docking ring. I don't think any of our captains ever faced anywhere near as many pirates on one trip, let alone that huge swarm that almost got him. There sure was a nasty mess in the ship's engine section. May I ask, Dewey, why you allowed her on board with such a dangerous cargo?”
“Allow her? She's going to do whatever the hell she wants no matter what I think. She seldom even writes. I'm just glad it turned out as well as it did.”
“Sorry, that isn't any of my business. Anyway, I hope you read that report. It answers a lot of questions the investigators didn't.”
“Don't worry, I will, you can be sure of it. Afternoon open? Want to shoot nine holes?”
“Of course. But please, Dewey, read the report first.”
“Don't worry, I've been looking forward to it, especially considering... get the hell out of here, Charles. Let me read this thing and I'll see you on the golf course. I can’t spend the whole afternoon there, though, just nine holes and lunch. My afternoon is pretty full.”
“Okay, I’ll meet you in the clubhouse about... ten or ten thirty maybe?”
“Sounds good to me. See you there, Charles.” He put the chip in his tablet and started reading.


Chapter 2

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