Authors: Bill Parker
Tags: #romance, #scifi, #aliens, #action adventure, #pirates
Jessica sat in the now quiet office of
StarQuake Engineers, Inc. The sign on the building said, “Union
Certified Starship Engineers. Redesigns, Upgrades, Repairs: No Job
too big. No job too small.” Mornings here were chaos. Jack and his
Uncle Henry, who everyone called Hank, organized work crews for the
various projects on starships in orbit. Well, they called it
organizing. Jessica only saw the chaos, but what did she know? This
was her first job since returning home to Benara-3 from college on
Etron. She busied herself with the next pile of estimates that Hank
left for her to do. Jessica much preferred it when young Jack was
around. While she took a break to get some java she ‘wandered’
through Jack’s office. His degrees were on the walls in nice black
frames. That is where his sense of organization seemed to crash and
burn. His desk was awash in papers and drawings. A picture of
Jack’s parents barely peered over the stack of papers in front of
them. They had been killed in the Jag wars. Hank told her that it
was still heavy on Jack’s soul and a subject to be avoided at all
Uncle Henry’s desk, on the other hand, was
much more organized. It wasn’t exactly clean, but everything
certainly had its place. There were books in strange alien
languages on his bookshelf next to some equipment catalogs. And
then there was that small crystal dragon. It sat out of the way
where most people would not even notice, but it reminded Jessica of
why her father had warned her that old Henry Morgan “did not have
both oars in the water.” She had to admit that he was certainly a
very odd person, but he was very nice to her and never said
anything at all to make her feel uncomfortable. He was incredibly
intelligent. All of the starship engineers trusted his technical
advice absolutely. In fact, she had answered calls from some very
exotic places for Hank’s expert advice. Even so, there was that
crystal dragon… and that workshop door with the padlock on it. Hank
didn’t even trust the office computer for its security. Now that
“Jess?” she heard the call come in from
“Yes,” she replied across the room to the
videophone on her desk.
“I ran into a problem here. I need you to get
me these supplies.” The list was already printing out.
“Can you do that?” His dimples deepened when
he smiled at her. She blushed.
“Of course, I can. I have an Engineering
degree, remember?” She recovered.
“Of course, you do. Okay, I need it on a
shuttle up here as soon as possible.” The screen went black.
What was going to be Jessica’s quiet morning
turned back into chaos as she now pressed suppliers for equipment
and fast deliveries. None of them was used to taking the orders
from her. They wanted word from Jack or Hank, but she stood her
ground and got her supplies.
It was late afternoon before she knew what
time it was again. Crews were beginning to come in. That was a bit
odd too. The work crews were made up of humans, not androids. Why
were humans doing heavy labor in this day and age? It certainly
wasn’t necessary. And they all seemed to call each other by some
very odd nicknames. She was sure that she had heard them refer to
Jack as ‘One-Eyed-Jack’ despite the fact that he obviously had two
perfectly fine eyes, at least by Jessica’s observation. There were
a few women amongst the contractors, but it was mostly men. Except
for the reprogramming jobs, work aboard the starships was mostly
hot, heavy, dirty, dangerous work. The contractors were all milling
about, talking and laughing and filing their job reports and time
sheets. Chaos began all over.
In the midst of this chaos, a woman in dirty
green millwright coveralls and grease on her face made her way
through standing groups of men to Jess’s desk.
“Hi, Calamity!” Jess greeted her when she
looked up. Her real name was Laura Jane, but everyone called her
‘Calamity.’ Calamity leaned down so that only Jessica could hear
“He’s up to something,” she whispered to
Jessica. “He has been all smiles all day… and he was busy making
all these private phone calls. He’s asking you out. It’s just gotta
Jess smiled. “That would be nice.”
“Yeah, look at her get all blushy-faced.
‘That would be nice.’ Okay. See you later.” And with that, she
Hank came in and went right to his office.
Jack arrived about an hour later. Jess was getting the routine down
now. When there were ships in orbit, it was going to be a long
“Thanks for staying late,” Jack said to her
when things had once more quieted down. “Would you let me take you
out for some dinner? It’s the least we can do for keeping you so
“Sure. I would like that.” She smiled at him.
He smiled at her. Then they left for dinner.
Hank watched them leave.
When they were gone, Hank unlocked the door
to the private workshop and closed it quietly behind him. Consoles
and equipment led the way to a flat panel display in the corner.
Hank looked at the display very carefully for some time. He
referred to an alien book for some time before turning out the
lights, locking up and heading for home.
Jessica and Jack talked mostly about work
things for the short trip to Hagar’s. She had heard of the place
but had never been there. It was very expensive. The view of the
river gorge and waterfall from the dining room was breathtaking.
Their table was right next to the window. Jack really had spent
quite a bit of time and effort setting all of this up. Calamity was
right on. The wine came and they returned to light
“… After college, I just felt that my heart
was with my family and so I came back to Benara-3,” Jess told him
before she realized what had just come out of her mouth. She
couldn’t take it back now.
“My whole family was captured by the Jags,”
Jack said to her in a low voice meant only for her ears. “We were
herded into a cargo container with four other families. By the time
that Hank’s ship caught up with the Jags, there were only three of
us left alive. I stayed with Hank and we settled here.”
“Oh my God! I can’t even imagine how horrible
that must have been,” Jessica gasped.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you strong. I
was pretty messed up at first. Uncle Hank helped me to find my
inner strength and turn my hatred and rage into a positive
“Well, you sure seem to have done that with
“Oh yeah, I guess that too,” Jack answered.
“Enough about me, tell me about your family.”
The food came as Jessica switched into high
gear and began speed-talking about her brothers and sisters. It’s
what she did when she was nervous. Jack just kept smiling at her
the whole time and nodding as he ate. Jessica’s narrative went
speeding through the wonderful qualities of her mother, Alice and
then to her father, Ben.
“My Dad is a veteran. He fought in the Battle
of the Benaran Nebula. He was a gunner’s mate.”
She stopped. “I am speed-talking. I am boring
you to death.”
“Oh No. No, not at all. Please go on. I can’t
remember the last good conversation I’ve had with anyone but Uncle
Hank. I am enjoying this. Go on… please.
“Well okay, but you have to talk too.”
“Okay. I’ll do my best.”
“I really like Uncle Hank,” Jessica began
“You say that like maybe you didn’t think you
“People did tell me that he was…” Jessica
searched for the right word.
“Crazy,” Jack filled in for her with a half a
mouth full of steak.
“Well… yeah. They said he believed in the
“And you don’t?”
“My Father said that the Crystal Dragon was
just a myth, a legend. It never really existed. It was just a story
that some people told.”
“And so then, I’ll only be asking you this:
If the Crystal Dragon didn’t save all of those people that terrible
day, then who did?” Jack asked her.
“My Dad says the nebula was so thick that the
Union starships couldn’t even see ten meters. He says that their
sensors were useless. He says that in that blinded confusion, the
Jag ships just started shooting at each other until they all were
Jack looked her right in the eyes. There was
fire in his eyes as he told her, “The way I heard it, those Jag
ships knew perfectly well where their other ships were and in all
probability knew exactly where those Union ships were too. They
were closing in slowly for the kill when the Crystal Dragon hit
them from behind. The Dragon just plain out-flew them and out
gunned them. The Dragon tore them to shreds.”
A long moment passed. Women hear more than
the words that are spoken.
“You say that like you were there … like you
saw it with your own eyes.”
Jack hesitated. “So I heard,” he said looking
down and went back to his steak.
“But the Crystal Dragon was a Pirate ship,
Jack put down his fork and thought for a
second. “Now that would all be a matter of opinion.”
“Opinion? How could that be an opinion? Story
has it that she was declared an outlaw ship by the Union. I would
think that should be pretty clear.”
“Yes, opinion,” Jack told her. “So you
discover this ‘technology’ on a planet that is well outside of
Union space. It cannot possibly be subject to Union laws. There is
just no way that the Dragon is an outlaw ship.”
“Then that would be exactly what any Union
Court of law would declare.”
“Yes. I expect that it probably would, for
all of the good that it would do you.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“While you would be standing there
empty-handed except maybe for that warrant, with your mouth hung
open, your ship and all of its ‘discovered alien technology’ would
first be impounded as evidence and brought into space dock. The
Feds would boot your boney butt off of your own ship for three to
five years, which is how long the court battles would last. It
would cost you a fortune in legal fees to get back what was
rightfully yours in the first place. In the meantime, they take
your ship and move it from place to place to make it all but
impossible for you to keep track of. They disassemble it, dissect
it, and just plain steal all of your valuable intellectual property
and there would be precious nothing you could do to stop them. In
the end, you would win back a derelict dysfunctional disassembled
and totally unspaceworthy ship.”
“Oh, I see,” Jessica considered. “I guess you
are probably right.”
“I know that I’m right. While you would be
fighting the battles in court, the Admirals would all be getting
rich doling out your valuable alien technology to their corporate
cohorts and you would be left with pooka. That’s just how the
system works.” Jack picked his fork back up and finished his
“So why do the guys all call you
‘One-Eyed-Jack’?” Jessica changed the subject.
Jack laughed. “Well, there was this card
game. I was just a punk kid. I took that game so life-and-death
serious. I won it by drawing a One-Eyed-Jack. I was so excited. The
guys all had such a good laugh over it that they have called me
‘One-Eyed-Jack’ ever since. I kind of like it.” Conversation turned
to lighter topics after that. Jack flew her home after dinner and
kissed her goodnight.
Jack and Jessica grew closer every day. He
gave her a beautiful crystal necklace that she wore all the time.
Things were going so well between them that Jessica quickly forgot
how intense their conversation had been that night …
Jack was asleep when the crystal charm that
he wore as a necklace began beeping and flashing red. At first it,
was on the fringes of his consciousness but he awoke with a start
when he realized what it was – Jags! Uncle Hank burst into his
Ten thousand kilometers away, Jessica was
awakened by an incessant beeping and the sound of Jack’s voice,
“Jess! Jess! Wake up!”
“Okay! Okay! I’m awake. I’m awake but how
“The crystal necklace, but no time for that.
Don’t you hear the Jag Alarms? Why aren’t you all scrambling?
Didn’t anyone come to wake you?”
Come to think of it, she could hear something
in the distance.
“No one pays any attention to those old
alarms anymore. There haven’t been any Jags for the last fifteen
years. What are you talking about?” She was confused and not really
“Jess, you listen to me and you listen good.
I am not crazy and I am certainly not I delusional. There are four
Jag Cruisers in orbit right now and three more on approach. Listen
to me. Listen and live. You have to do what I tell you or you and
your family will surely die ...”