Published by Ashley Griffin at Shakespir
Copyright 2016 Ashley Griffin
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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First mate Lance Ashford stood in the crow’s nest of the ship, leaning back against the mast as he peered through the telescope. The thing was so tiny, a bit rubbish to be honest, but he could see the stars just fine all the same.
He stared at the infinite cosmos around him. The stars and planets of the Sunflower galaxy twinkled in and out of existence, and he watched them, naming each star in his head, as the ship soared through space.
“Is there any sight of them?” A voice called from the deck.
Lance leaned over the rim of his perch to peer down at the tiny man standing on the deck of the Achilles. He stared up at the first mate, shielding his eyes from the artificial light shed by the sails.
“Not yet, Captain!” the young man replied, leaning further to yell back.
“You’d better hope you don’t fall out of that nest! It’d take a miracle for the nurse to fix you!”
“I don’t think I will, sir,” Lance chuckled back.
“Better knock on wood,” offered John, Lance’s fellow crewmember, as he tied up the sails port side of the ship.
The first mate looked around, then reluctantly knocked on the mast. The older man laughed in retort. “You really think a ship that flies through space is made of actual wood?”
Lance supposed not.
He went back to his stargazing, despite his job being to search for The Vastilla.
A sudden wave of energy sent the ship tipping starboard, nearly sending Lance flying out of the crow’s nest. He gripped for dear life onto the mast of the ship, hooking his legs all the way around.
A second ship rose up on the port side, and only then did Lance realise that it was the field of the ship that had nearly knocked him to his death. Perhaps his Captain was an oracle.
“You’d better get down there,” offered John, finally securing the last sail. “Cap’n might need ya.”
“I doubt it,” Lance laughed, hauling himself over the rim of the nest.
“You didn’t graduate top of your class for nothing, boyo.”
Perhaps not. Being the first mate on a resource acquisition ship was quite an honour.
Lance landed soundly on the deck of the Achilles, straightening his uniform and fixing his hair, then took up his place beside Captain Argost.
“You look well groomed,” the captain remarked, standing expectantly on the polished floor.
Most days, Lance would be dressed as simply as the rest of the crew; in slacks and a button-down shirt. He most often didn’t even brush his hair.
“Well,” the young man watched as a platform was beamed between the Achilles and the Vastilla. “I wanted to look presentable.”
“You scared of Captain Taylor?”
“Aye, the rumours aren’t pretty.” The man tilted his head with thought. “I’ve not met him before. Not from the Milky Way, after all.”
A young woman, a Captain’s hat perched atop her black hair, stepped up onto the side of the Vastilla, her boots touching lightly on the ‘wood’. The shadow of her hat under the bright sails fell over her reptilian eyes.
“Even I don’t say “ahoy” anymore,” Lance muttered curiously to himself.
The woman’s hair fell long and wavy over her shoulders, decked in an Andromeda navy uniform. She held herself high, blue-green scales glinting in the sun. Confident. She was beautiful.
She stepped firmly over the field connecting the two ships, surveying the Achilles carefully through hidden eyes. Her heels clicked as she dropped to the deck before the two men.
“You must be Captain Argost,” she said, offering her hand to the Captain.
“I am indeed,” the man replied, looking sidelong at his first mate as he shook her hand.
Wasn’t the captain they were supposed to be meeting an old, wise sailor? He’d heard countless stories about the famous Captain Taylor, but never had he been portrayed like this.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” Lance began, looking up over her shoulder at the other ship. “But you wouldn’t happen to be Captain Taylor… would you?”
“Why yes, I am,” she confirmed, removing her feathered hat and giving a sweeping bow. “Ruby Taylor. Did the hat tip you off?”
Lance stared at the woman. Her eyes glinted with the light of the sails, her lips coloured as her name. Surely his eyes were unworthy to witness her beauty. He had to force himself to look away.
“Well, no, ma’am.” Captain Argost stood up straight, composing himself. “The simple fact of the matter is that we hadn’t expected you to be so…”
“Well, yeah,” Lance admitted flatly.
Argost nudged him in the ribs, silently telling him to show some respect. Or, at the very least, professionalism.
The woman smiled to herself. “That’s good to hear.”
The two men looked at each other, as if it would somehow help them to figure out what was going on.
“And if you wouldn’t mind,” she continued. “I’d like to keep it that way. For… professional purposes.”
“If that is what you wish, Captain,” Argost assured. “Now, if you please, we can discuss the matters at hand in my quarters.”
“Of course.” Ruby looked back at the members of her own ship, all as scaly as she. They nodded in return, deciding she’d need no escort. She could clearly handle herself.
“Lance, would you please see Captain Taylor to my quarters? I’ll organise the trade between ships to begin out here. I’ll be with you shortly.”
“Uh, yeah, sure.” Lance motioned to the stern, leading Ruby to the Captain’s quarters at the back of the ship. He opened the door for her, to which she smiled and nodded in thanks.
The room was filled with wonders of the universe, souvenirs from far-away galaxies. Books lined the shelves on the walls in all sorts of languages, and the desk faced the windows that peered out into the trails behind the ship. A dining table with more chairs than would be occupied in a single event sat in the furthest corner of the room. It was dressed with the finest Earth food for the occasion.
“You can sit at the dining table, if you want,” Lance offered, leaning up against the Captain’s desk. “You can have whatever you like.” He watched her as she moved around the room, peering curiously at the trinkets. “Is there, uh, anything I can do for you?”
“You can tell me your name, sweetheart,” she turned to smirk at him, placing a large chunk of quartz back on its perch in a bookshelf.
Lance’s studded ears pricked up at her tone.
“Lance Ashford, ma’am.”
“Oh please, Lance,” the woman took up a seat at the head of the dining table, taking an apple into her gloved fingers. “Based on what I’ve seen in the little time I’ve known you, such propriety doesn’t suit you.” Nor was it really even required.
“No, I guess not,” Lance chuckled, approaching the table to stand beside her.
Ruby turned the apple in her hands, examining it. “You know, Lance,” she said, “word travels fast, even between galaxies.”
Lance took a seat beside her, curious as to what she had to say.
“And I hear that Lance Ashford is the most recent, youngest, and most achieved graduate of the Milky Way Galactic Navy Academy.”
“Is that you?”
“Uh, yeah,” Lance smiled to himself, scratching his head to avoid meeting the gaze he felt. “It’s not much, though.”
“No, it’s not.”
He looked back up at Ruby, who still watched him closely. She watched him knowingly.
She seemed so wise, so refined, like her eyes had seen more than any plain man could ever hope to imagine.
“The universe is infinite, Lance. There’s so much out there, and you’re going to see it.”
“But the Achilles is just a resource retrieval ship,” Lance looked out the window.
He had dreamed of seeing the wonders she’d alluded to. He wanted to see the flowing rivers of lava on Sandraia, and he’s always wanted to feed the fish that swam through air at the edge of the universe. But would he ever reach those places?
“You’ll get there.”
Lance looked sidelong at her, her lips curling in confidence. He wondered if the confidence was in her own self, or in him.
He found himself staring, but couldn’t find reason to care, as her all-seeing eyes returned his gaze.
“You’re,” he began, searching for words as he did answers in her eyes. Who was this woman? “You’re gorgeous,” his brain spat out in a lapse of thinking.
She laughed, breaking their shared gaze. “Thank you,”
Lance jumped at the crash outside of the door, nearly falling from his chair.
“God, it’s about time.” Captain Taylor’s smile turned to a sneer. She got up from the table, placing her hat back atop her head. She reached into her pocket, and before Lance could react, pulled out a plasma knife and held it to his throat.
“Ah, fuck,” he growled, disappointed and defeated.
Ruby grinned, nicking his chin with the blade. She giggled as It bled.
“Now, Lance,” she began, beckoning him to his feet. “If you’ll escort me outside, it’d be greatly appreciated.”
“Anything for you, my dear,” Lance droned sarcastically, moving toward the door.
The Achilles was in chaos. Shots of plasma flew through the air between the two ships, the hulls splintering and sails torn.
Lance looked back at Captain Taylor, and she only smiled.
“You should have trusted your instincts, Lance,” she grinned, pulling her own plasma blaster from the holster beneath her coat, taking back her knife.
“You were never Captain Taylor.”
“Bravo! Give the boy a prize!” Ruby retorted. “We’re not here to trade resources, Lance. We’re here to steal them.”
A beam flew past her head, and as she turned to look at the scorch marks, Lance dashed back inside the Captain’s Quarters.
“Oh well,” Ruby shrugged, surveying the scene. “Not like he’ll find anything useful in there.”
She was wrong.
Lance hooked one of the rusted swords he’d retrieved from the wall under the blaster, flicking it from Ruby’s hand. It flew over the side of the ship.
“Whatever. I could beat you one-handed against those flimsy things.”
The young man threw her one of the swords. “Humour me,” he grinned.
Ruby smiled back at him, almost sweetly. “No.”
Ruby grabbed hold of the nearest rope, and sliced at the bottom of the pulley. She shot up into the air. “Catch me if you can!”
Lance grinned and raced to the mast of the ship, climbing up the roping. A shot singed the tail of his coat. Ruby ran across the beams holding up the sails, jumping right up to the top of the ship. She stood, balanced above the crow’s nest.
“See you, sweetheart!” Ruby winked and blew a kiss to Lance just as he reached the nest, catching a stray rope as it flew past.
Lance watched as The Vastilla rose away from the Achilles, helpless.
Ruby Taylor’s hair swept around her as she held onto the rope, removing her hat and waving down to him.
“Thank you, Lance Ashford,” she called, grinning at the helpless man. “For your help in my heist.” He looked up at her in awe. “I hope to meet you again someday!”
And with that, the Vastilla flew off at light speed, vanishing into the infinite cosmos.
Lance continued to stare out into space, as if still searching for her. He fell back against the mast and sighed to himself. He sunk down to the floor of his perch in the crow’s nest.
“Yeah,” he admitted, smiling. “Me too.”
Ashley Griffin is a fiction writer from Perth, Western Australia. Her love for fiction bloomed early in her life with the help of nurturing teachers and endless novels, and was inspired to show the world what she had to say. She is currently studying a bachelor of arts at Edith Cowan University, and hopes this path will lead her to the authorship she strives for.
Writing is Ashley’s greatest joy, and although short stories are the bane of her existence, her first published work Solar Sailing is a piece very close to her heart.
In the far future when all of Earth's resources have been depleted, humans are forced to venture far from their own galaxies to find what they need through resource collection and friendly trade between neighbouring systems. The Achilles is on it's way to meet up with the Vastilla of the Andromeda galaxy, and first-mate Lance Ashford is completely off-task. Enticed by the wonders of the infinite cosmos around him, and fascinated by the mysterious captain of the Vastilla, Ruby Taylor, Lance fails to notice what's happening behind it all.