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A Word of Caution

Welcome to the realm of the Unseelie Court. Feel free to wander and browse, but know that the content you will find here is not for the faint of heart. The visions portrayed are often darkly erotic, even disturbing, and should be traversed only by those with the appropriate character and mental age.

You have been warned.


The Farmer’s Daughter

Chapter 1 – The Arrival of a Visitor

When the hovercar first appeared on the scanners, I happened to be the one who spotted it. I was using the computer to download the latest soap-opera viddies from the main receiving station back in the central city of Portov, when the system blurped an alert and switched views to show me the incoming craft on long range radar. I don’t normally watch the soaps. Crap like that makes me realize just how out of touch our little homestead really is. But, I was also bored out of my mind, and after three months of seeing no one but my dear ol’ dad, I was ready to watch weather forecast re-runs.

As it was, I nearly broke the chair I was in I turned so fast. An incoming craft would mean visitors, and that meant people! Real people! I knew that the computer would alert my pop as well, so I made a beeline to the airlock and punched the comm console from there. Dad would be just as curious as I, but hardly as eager.

“I got it pop!” I said cheerfully as I stripped out of my clothes.

“Who the hell is it? Is it a single?” He asked, his tone bordering on anger. He knew the dangers of being out this far from the city proper, so he was understandably cautious with visitors. He also knew that I was the horniest girl for twelve-hundred clicks and ready and able to find a mate. Which is just what he didn’t want me to do. He needed me to help him with the computers, and without me, he would have to hire someone to do the work. Pop was stingy.

“Don’t recognize the signature. Single hovercar. One occupant.” Wearing only my undergarments, I stepped into my environmental suit and tapped the cycle panel on the airlock even as I zipped up the front and clipped my helmet into place. It was dangerous, and pop would have smacked me upside the head if he knew, but I had done it a hundred times before. Besides, it wasn’t as if we lived in a vacuum. The air outside was incapable of sustaining life, but you could hold your breath long enough to cycle back through the lock if there was a problem. Hell, you could probably even survive for ten or fifteen minutes before you did any permanent damage due to oxygen deprivation. The real danger was the heat. Once, during a tunnel failure, I was forced to make a dash across the compound without my EV suit. It was only a couple of hundred meters, but the initial burst of heat nearly knocked what little breath I had right out of me. It was like running through a giant oven, and it made you want to hold your hands over your head to block the sun. Now though, I was cozy and cool, and my suit informed me that everything was in the green.

Pop was too much of a miser to spring for an auto docking tube, so the only way for a visitor to get into our complex was to wait until one of us came out and manually affixed the tunnel. That, or they had to come in wearing an EV suit, and that didn’t happen often. The things were just too damn uncomfortable to wear for any duration unless it was an emergency, despite what the manufacturer said, and big transports just didn’t come out this way. Add home schooling to that and what you end up with is a girl who doesn’t get any, if you know what I mean. There I was, a vibrant twenty-three, and I had gotten lucky all of two times, both on field trips to the city as a teen.

The single occupant of the hovercar was obviously male. I say obviously, only because I was practically throwing myself over his canopy to get a look inside. The man sitting in the single control seat had a surprised look on his face as though I might be some alien life form, ready to break through the glass and tear his skin off. He was partially right, but it wasn’t his skin I wanted to tear off…

Now, don’t get the wrong idea about me. Yes, it’s true, I’m a nymphomaniac, and yes, at that moment the guy could have looked like Elmer Fudd and I would have screwed his brains out, but I’m also a lady, and more than that, if my father ever saw me slobbering over a man like that, he would lock me away in my room and cut the power to my computer terminal so that I couldn’t hack my way out. It would be hell.

I straightened up and tried to look official.

“Please identify yourself and your business,” I said with mock authority.

“Andrews…” He said quickly. “Timothy D. Andrews. I’m a representative for Marhead Solar Collectors. I was invited here by a Mr. John McConnelly.”

That was my dad.

“Pop, you acknowledge?”

“Yup, that’s right. Hook ’em up Rachael,” came his voice in my ear. “I’ll meet him while you cycle through.”

This was good. This was very good. I was practically glowing as I made the final connections of the tube to his door. Instead of hurrying back to the airlock as I usually did, I waited until the man opened his craft and stepped into the clear tubeway so that I could get a better look at him. It was worth waiting for. Tim wasn’t Fudd, he wasn’t even the grizzly, weathered space hands that we normally got as visitors. Tim was… beautiful!

Of course, I was biased. Any guy within ten years of my own age would look beautiful to me, but Tim had the distinct quality of being genuinely good looking. He was even clean shaven for cryin’-out-loud! Nobody did that out here, it just wasn’t practical.

Mr. Andrews looked up at me standing outside and smiled. Then he did something that nearly took my breath away. He bowed. It was a perfect, from-the-hip kind of thing that looked authentically noble, even if it wasn’t. I felt my cheeks grow warm and remembered to breath as he straightened up and headed down the tube to the inner door.

Timothy had just told me two things. One, he knew I was female, which wasn’t as obvious as it might first seem. Remember, I was wearing a full EV suit. I could have been an orangutan and he wouldn’t have known. Even the faceplate is mirrored with gold foil to reduce glare and UV rays. I suppose my breasts might have shown a little, but not much. I mean, I’m well endowed, but those suits aren’t exactly form fitting. No, something else had tipped him off.

The second thing his bow told me, was that he was a gentleman, which was both good and bad. You see, there are two kinds of gentlemen. One is that way because custom or position dictates. The other kind of gentleman is that way because he chooses to be. The first kind is bound to being the way he is all the time. He must never be caught being any less than perfect, or he will lose his position or status. The second isn’t interested in status, or at least not enough to change the way he is. I was hoping that Tim was the second kind of gentleman, because the things I wanted him to do to me were certainly not very noble. Or maybe they were… The Galactic Royalty was a rowdy bunch these days.

Playing back the scene again in my head while I cycled through the outer lock, I decided that Tim’s slight smirk as he straightened was too cheeky for nobility. That bow was a down payment on a possible rendezvous, and he knew it. What he didn’t know was that the goods were being given away with a smile. Hell yes! By the time I had the inner door open, I was once again in my undies, stowing my suit. I had to slow down for this last bit. Maybe I’m square, but I had been born out on a crystal farm, and so had the suit drill pounded into my brain since before I could walk. When you live in a part of the universe that doesn’t naturally support human life, you need to take real good care of your EVs. Aside from literally keeping you alive in the event of a power failure, the things are damn expensive. One of the reasons mine was so big was that we couldn’t afford to have me refitted but once every two years. The one I was in now was pretty new. My backup, which was my previous suit, was so tight that my head bumped the top of the helmet. In another year I’d have trouble putting it on at all. My pa said I was done growing, at least upwards. I wasn’t so sure, but if my chest developed any further my head wouldn’t be the only thing crammed in there. Chances were I wouldn’t even need to put on the old suit anyway, but on a farm you ALWAYS plan for catastrophic failure.

Once my gear was cleaned, checked and locked, I dashed down the tube to the main living quarters. I took a chance and bee-lined across the main living space to my room. It was a risk because I wasn’t at all sure where pops had taken Mr. Andrews to talk and I was still in my panties and a tank top. It was customary to offer a guest some refreshment, so I figured they were either in the kitchen or the Nest. The Nest was the control center for the entire crystal farm complex. Whatever Mr. Andrews had come to discuss, it would almost certainly relate to that room in some way. I lucked-out and made it to my room without embarrassing myself, then stripped out of my undergarments. Comfortable as they are, doing anything in an EV suit is sweaty work, and I wanted to be as fresh as possible for our guest. I even considered a shower, but decided that it was more important to present myself before my pop had somehow quarantined the object of my lust.

Still, a quick pit wash might not hurt, so I turned to the bathroom… and walked right into Mr. Andrews coming out.

“Ahhh!” I yelped, completely stunned and frantic.

“Oh my goodness!” he said, turning around quickly.

“What the hell is going on here!!?” bellowed my father from the doorway of my room.

I shut my mouth and did a freeze.

A “freeze” was another farmer habit learned early. Basically, when things start to go really wrong, my pop had taught me to take a second and breath. Sometimes, especially when the air might not be all it’s supposed to be, taking a proper breath can make all the difference in the world. So, I stopped, took a deep lung-full to get some oxygen to my brain, and then thought hard. First of all, I snatched my robe from my bed and held it in front of me. Then, I turned to my pop and went on the defensive.

“Dad! What the hell is this man doing in my room?!”

“I, er… I mean…” started Mr Andrews. My pop cut him off and pointed at me.

“Where are your clothes!”

“On the floor. You didn’t answer my question.”

“It’s my fault, Miss McConnelly,” answered the man. “It was a very long trip from Laynard Port, and er, I was a little desperate. Your father graciously offered me the use of your bathroom as it was closest to the docking tunnel.”

I was frowning, but not for the reasons I’m sure he thought I was. “You came all the way from Laynard in that little one-man?”

Timothy actually looked surprised. “It, er… It was all that was available. I misjudged the distance as well as the speed of the craft. I’m not exactly used to colony world ports, I’m afraid. In retrospect, it probably would have been a wiser choice to wait an extra day for a larger craft.”

“Ya think?!”

“Rachael,” snapped pop with a touch of venom. “Mind your manners. Mr. Andrews here has come a very long way just to speak with me in person. The least we can do is show him some hospitality.”

I sighed. My plan had apparently convinced pop that I wasn’t trying to seduce our guest, which I certainly was, just not at that moment. Standing naked in front of him had been my intention all along, just not so soon. “Fine,” I said graciously. “Now if you don’t mind…”

“Oh! Sorry,” apologized Andrews, and headed for the exit. I pretended not to notice that his eyes lingered for a half second or so on my bare shoulders and cleavage as he moved passed me.

Once they were out and the door closed, I dropped the robe to the floor and dashed into the shower for a thirty second quickie. Simply washing my pits was out of the question now, as I’m sure my aroused state had me smelling like a port city whore house. Such scents had their place, but for formal introductions and dinner they were right out. I was going to have a hard enough time keeping my natural perfumes in order, and I didn’t want Mr. Andrews thinking I was too eager, which I was, but that’s hardly the point.

Three minutes later I presented myself cleaned, hair brushed out loose around my shoulders (I normally wore it in a ponytail), and wearing a light sun dress, sandals, and a smile. Pop and guest were predictably in the Nest having a technical conversation. Men… all business. I knew my father would forget the finer points of that hospitality he spoke of, so I detoured one more time and joined them carrying a tray of lemonade.

“Take a break and have something cool,” I said, carefully setting down the tray on a nearby table and pouring three glasses.

“Um, Dr. Andrews… my daughter, Rachael,” introduced pop, reluctantly.

“Doctor?” I noted, my heart rate spiking slightly.

“Please, just Tim. I’m not a medical doctor. I’m a researcher. My degrees are in chemistry and physics.” He accepted the glass I offered and I passed the other to my father before taking up mine.

“All the better,” I said smiling.

Tim looked at me somewhat confused until pop cleared things up.

“Er, Rachael is a programming specialist. She runs most of the facility actually… by remote.”

“Really,” replied Andrews, impressed. “Then perhaps I need to speak with you as well. You see, I’m here to discover what’s so special about your father’s crystal farm production.”

Now it as my turn to be confused and I looked to pop.

“It seems the last harvest of crystals we sent in has a collection capacity that’s almost twenty percent higher than normal.”

“Out in deep space, that kind of improvement in efficiency is tremendous, so it’s imperative that I find out what’s so different about your father’s farm and try to replicate it elsewhere.”

“I’ve agreed to let Dr. Andrews stay for the week,” said pop holding my eye. “Hopefully, with our help he can see what we’re doing differently and integrate it into the other farms.”

“Your father would get process patent rights, of course, and I daresay such an advance would be worth quite a bit to the Federation.”

“How much?” I blurted out, and then blushed.

“Er… well, I’m not really the one to say, but I know that the last advance in crystal tech help found one of the larger farming divisions on Camadon. Have you ever heard of the Kiley brothers?”

My eyes went wide. “You mean of Kiley and Kiley Ltd.?! Are you kidding, they own the deeds on half the farming plants on the planet.”

“Well, I know for a fact that most of their fortune came from patent rights on crystal harvest processing, and that the efficiency increase they introduced was a mere five percent.”

I made a low whistle.

“So I hope you can understand how important this is, Rachael,” said pop. “I want you to help Tim any way you can.”

“Yes, sir!” I replied, thinking that the coming week was going to be very interesting indeed.

Sadly, the next day was taken up by my father escorting Tim around the facility, explaining the basics of crystal farming. That pretty much left me stuck in the Nest doing monitoring. I watched the two men on my remotes as they moved from one dome to the next, and decided that Dr. Andrews was not only easy on the eyes, but he had a brain as well. He took in everything my father put before him without a hiccup, and even impressed him by correctly regurgitating some of that information at dinner. Normally, shop talk was strictly forbidden at the dinner table, but since it was one of the few times we were all together, pop allowed it in the name of science. The thought of being financially independent for life was probably a pretty good motivator for him as well, I would think.

That evening, however, I decided to turn up the heat a bit. I wanted to let the good doctor know that I was able and willing without alerting pop, which was tricky because he almost never left us alone together. He knew I was a cat in heat as well as I did, and wasn’t about to let me get my claws on the man without a fight. Still, there are only so many ways he can restrict me. For example, while he might be able to stay in our presence during waking hours, he can’t really dictate what I wear during that time.

Since we had done as much research as possible that day, and dinner was out of the way, we all moved to the central living space to relax. Pop took his normal recliner and pulled up the latest news on his Paper, and Tim found a place on the couch and produced an honest-to-god paper bound book. Such items were pretty rare out on the colony worlds because of the sheer cost to transport them. When cargo is rated by mass, digital information was cheap. A single stack of cellulose bound together and stained with ink in a non-rewritable way was considered terribly inefficient, and as such, expensive.

“Is that real?!” I asked as I lounged on the loveseat with a portable terminal. I was wearing a night robe that caused pop to give me a look, but wouldn’t cause a riot. It had the added benefit of being bulky enough that it could “fall open” strategically. Pop might not be able to see the line of flesh from my collar nearly down to my navel, but Dr. Andrews certainly could.

“I’m embarrassed to say that it is,” he replied. “I’m a bit of a collector. I would never condone the destruction of plant forms for paper. But since the practice still exists on many of the outer worlds, I find that there’s just something… special about permanent data.”

“Not very practical,” I said with a half smirk, though I thought the notion a bit romantic. Perhaps that was his intention… I hoped.

“No, but substantially more durable and stable when it comes to archiving. Unlike your terminal, it requires no power, no licensing, is fully transferable, has no operating system, can’t be corrupted by virii, or hacked, subverted, or erased. Transfer of ownership is as simple as handing it to someone, and so long as you can read, its use is entirely intuitive. I daresay your terminal will stay functional for more than a decade, but the tome in my hands could easily last a century or more if treated properly.”

“Hmm, I see your point. Of course,” I replied, sitting up a little and letting my robe fall open just a tiny bit wider in the process, “the book in your hands becomes much dead weight after you have become bored with its contents, and doesn’t do so well when accidentally left in the elements. My terminal can be used two hundred meters underwater and generates its own light. Your book’s a bummer in the dark.”

Tim just stared at me for a moment, then, smiling, he reached up and tapped his shoulder. A micro-light embedded in the collar of his shirt came on.

“Touche,” I said sighing.

The evening was mostly quiet after that, and sadly, my father made sure to stay up until I finally relented and indicated I was going to bed. I thought about sneaking out in the middle of the night to give the doctor a “night cap”, but decided pop would almost certainly leave his door ajar. I had fantasies of our guest silently joining me in my own room, but was disappointed to find myself alone in the morning.

Work starts pretty early on the McConnelly farm, and I was up, dressed in my standard work jumpsuit, and in the Nest almost two full hours before sunrise. I calibrated my sensor units and had just started making the morning’s changes to the harvesting routine when I felt a presence behind me. I saw Tim’s reflection in my monitor.

“It’s not a good idea to sneak up on an operator without announcing yourself. We get in the habit of being up here alone. Tend to get a little jumpy with others about.”

“Sorry,” said the man, coming forward. “Should I go?”

“NO!” I nearly yelled my response. “No… Please, sit. You mentioned you wanted to ask me some questions about my process, yes?”

“Can you do that while you work this thing?” He was watching me as my fingers danced across multiple controls and the large central terminal.

“Sure. This stuff is routine,” I said truthfully. “I could probably do this asleep. Speaking of which, did you do okay on the living room couch? Sorry we don’t have a guest room.”

“Why would you? The couch is fine, really. I travel a lot within the central worlds for Marhead, so I’m pretty used to sleeping wherever I can.”

“You like working for them? I mean, some people think Marhead controls the Federation, and not the other way around. A lot of farmers think of Marhead as the enemy.”

“Do you?” He asked simply.

I took a moment to think about it.

“No. They may not always have the interests of the little guy in mind, but all in all, the outer worlds would be lost without them. As for controlling the government, I’m not sure I see the advantage, especially out here, but so long as things get done, I could probably care less.”

“Interesting point of view. To answer your question, yes. I do like working for them. The pay is pretty good, and they take my work seriously. Beyond that, I would have to say that I am just a tiny fish in a very big ocean. I try not to think about galactic domination. Like you said, so long as things work. Does that system control the collection bots?”

I was working on a screen that showed the whole of the farm from a top-down view. “That’s right. Most farmers harvest a patch at a time. They work three or four fields in rotation, that way they can concentrate their harvesting resources in one place at a time.”

“But you don’t?”

“We used to, but when my pop finally figured out that I had a real knack for programming, he let me run some alternate routines. First I tried just optimizing the motion patterns of the bots. That got me a little bit of an improvement, but I had a feeling. I started changing the actual harvesting patterns, and that’s when I saw just how inefficient the original routines were. Doing things in whole field rotations is far less complicated, but striping the bots over all the fields simultaneously allows for huge savings in motion economy. You see, moving a harvester around takes energy. They’re pretty bulky, and the more they harvest, the slower they go. Ideally, you want them to drop their loads off as often as possible. If you do an entire field at a time, they only get to drop maybe once or twice and end up crawling at the far side of the field by the time the run is done. But by striping, I can have them empty at the central hub three or four times more often. The result is that their average speed is almost twice that of a conventional harvester setup.”

“Very impressive,” said Tim with genuine interest.

“The down side is that it’s much harder to track the fields. The bots have to be precisely aligned and in the right stripes for that day or they will harvest a part of the field that hasn’t matured. The last thing you want is to send a bot out and get nothing but nubs back.”


“Oh, those are crystals that haven’t grown large enough to be useful. They tend to turn a shade of iridescent green when they’re ready. Instead of rotating whole fields to allow the nubs to mature, I rotate stripes. It’s one of the reasons our fields look so uniform. Taken as a whole, it always appears as though they’re are about three-quarters to maturity.”

“Fascinating. And you came up with this on your own?”

I smiled. “Jus’ little ol’ me.”

“I’m sorry,” he said frowning. “I didn’t mean to imply…”

“It’s okay. I’m young, and female, living out on a hick farm in the middle of a nowhere planet, educating myself off of free Federation terminal schooling…”

“No, that’s not at all what I meant, really!” He looked a little panicked so I let him explain. “I only asked because if this really is all your production, then the patents for the process belong solely to you and your father… and no one else. Please believe I had no intention to imply that your education is somehow flawed or inadequate. You seem like a brilliant woman, truly you do.”

“Why, thank you, doctor, but you sound suspiciously like a lawyer to me.”

He was silent for a moment as he slowly took a deep breath, perhaps his own version of a freeze.

“I plead guilty and throw myself at the mercy of the court,” he quipped. “Before I went into the sciences, my family had me pegged as an attorney. I wasted half a decade on that profession before finally pursuing what I wanted in life. But bad habits die hard.”

“You had me worried for a moment there, Tim,” I said, leaning back in my chair and fixing him with a very sultry gaze. “So… Is there… anything else I can do for you?”

The poor man’s mouth actually dropped open. He realized it and snapped it closed again.

“While your harvesting patterns are certainly increasing the efficiency of your operation, and are patentable in themselves, it doesn’t account for the increase in actual crystal efficiency I’m afraid.” He turned and looked out the window of the Nest. “There has to be something else going on here. Are you doing anything beyond your patterns that’s different than the other farms?”

“I don’t think so. We all do things a little bit differently, I suppose, but crystals only grow one way. You can’t change the ecology of the planet.”

“It might be an external factor… Can you tell me a little more about the local geology?”

“Now that’s really not my area, Doctor. But I’ll do the best I can, if you like.”

He smiled. “Please.”

“Well, the crystals form out of a certain combination of minerals and metallic ores that are found throughout Camadon. That, with the heat and semi-toxic atmosphere, produce perfect conditions for growth. They form incredibly quickly here on the surface where they are harvested, but only on the surface. The Haley-Bower Energy Lattice Crystals, as they are less commonly known, do not seem to grow in any of the cave structures found just under the surface of Camadon.”


I tilted my head at him. “You’ve never heard of the Camadon Caves?”

“I guess I should have paid more attention to the LPG pamphlet.”

I clicked my tongue. “The Local Planetary Guidelines are given out to all incoming visitors for a reason. There are dangers on any world, both natural and political. On Camadon the dangers are a little more obvious… Just step outside for an example.”

“I see your point.”

“The Camadon Caves are a lattice structure of sub-surface open spaces, some small, some huge, that have been created by the planet’s indigenous plant life.”

“Plants?” I noticed that Tim’s brows rose in a cute way.

“Yes, I know it seems hard to believe, but there’s actually massive amounts of vegetation just below the surface. No one is exactly sure how it survives without any light from above, but we’re certain that it’s the plants that are making the caves.”

“But, isn’t it rather… inhospitable toward life down there?”

“Normally, I suppose it would be, but the plants thrive around the natural aquifers and highly metallic soils, and literally pump enough oxygen into the underground network that we can mine it to survive on the surface. The below ground temperatures are much much lower than on the surface, well within human norms.”

The man considered this for a bit. “Just out of curiosity, why don’t people live below ground as well. If the conditions are so much better…”

“You really should have read that pamphlet. First of all, the whole reason for us being on this planet to begin with is the crystals, and they’re on the surface. But the main reason we don’t go underground is the plants themselves. They’re not like typical Earth plants. Most of the vegetation on Camadon is, er… active. It moves. Fast. And although we humans aren’t much of a food source, those plants see our nice, watery bodies as a perfect place to germinate spores and seeds. The first researchers to Camadon had a really bad time. The only ones that survived were found to have been impregnated by the damn things. We still don’t know that much about them, but it’s a certainty that they are still far too dangerous to risk a subterranean lifestyle.”

“Rachael?” I heard my father’s voice from below.

“We’re up in the Nest, pop.” A few moments later he stuck his head in and eyed us both.

“Breakfast in ten. You set the day’s routines yet?”

“Yup. Just finished. I was giving Dr. Andrews a run down on our programming as well as a biology lesson.”

“Er, your daughter’s system is quite impressive Mr. McConnelly. And I have also discovered that I should avoid the caves unless I want to be, um… impregnated.”

He laughed outright.

“She watches too many of those viddies. The indigenous life isn’t quite as bad as all that, but it’s persistent, and it does have some rather disquieting tendencies. We leave it pretty much alone, and it leaves us be for the most part. Once in a while a ranch will just up and disappear, but it doesn’t happen often.”

“Father!” I chided.

“Just kidding. It only happened once, and they’re not at all sure it wasn’t just a cave collapse. It’s easy to demonize the local lifeforms. Come on down and wash up. Food’s almost on the table.”

My father likes to cook. It’s one of the few things that my mom passed on to him before she died. I like to cook too, but pop really gets something special from a well set table, so he usually tries to do at least one formal meal a day. I’m sure, since we had a guest in the house, that he was eager to show off his skills to someone other than me. We came down from the Nest to a full spread. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, toast, cream and fresh fruit… the whole works.

“Wow, you’ve really outdone yourself, pop. This looks great!”

“I have to agree, Mr. McConnelly,” said Tim. “I hope I’m not putting you out…”

“Not at all, son. Have a seat and dig in. Today is sure to be a strain on all of us, so I thought it would be right to start it with a solid breakfast.”

We all found seats and started piling on food. Pop had his first forkful of pancakes halfway to his open mouth when there was a whoop from the alarm console.

“Attention! Attention!” Blared an automated female voice. “Incoming code 7 emergency communication. I repeat, incoming code 7 emergency communication. Please acknowledge!”

Pop set down his fork. “This can’t be good,” he grumbled and went to the terminal in the other room.

“What’s going on,” asked Tim.

“Code 7 is the local net. It’s only used by other ranchers, and only in a dire emergency. You see, out this far from civilization, the farming settlements really rely on each other. We have to, even though most of us are in competition. It’s sort of an unwritten code that when one of us puts out an emergency request, the others are bound to try and help if they can.”

“What should we do?”

“Just sit tight until my father comes back and tells us what’s going on.”

It didn’t take long. Pop came into the kitchen a few minutes later looking grim.

“Megan Reese has herself a downed flitter. One dead, three others critical. Don’t ask me why an operation the size of theirs doesn’t have a backup transport, but they don’t. I’m going to take the Pig and see if we can jump them straight to Laynard General. The clinic at Woodson won’t have the facilities to help them.” He then moved briskly out of the room again.

I was up out of my seat and collecting pop’s breakfast into containers at once. “Hold these,” I said to Tim as I then jogged over to a supply rack and started pulling down cases. When I had what I wanted, I leaned over a house terminal and typed a fast set of commands, then went back to Andrews, who looked completely lost. I took the containers from him.

“Do me a favor and shove those cases into the airlock, would you please?

“Uh, sure…”

“Damn fools,” said my father coming back in wearing his EV suit, helmet in hand. “What the hell were they doing with six people and a full harvest packed into a Moffet 381? Completely irresponsible. Rachael, we’ll need to spool-up the drive on the…”

“Already done, pop. Tim’s loading the emergency medical gear into the airlock now. I’ll cycle it through as soon as you’re aboard.”

“Good girl. I’m not sure what the Reeses are going to need, but I wouldn’t count on me being back until the day after tomorrow at least. Damnit,” he said stopping and taking me slightly aside. “I didn’t count on you having to be alone…”

“I’m not alone, pop. Tim will help out. You don’t have to worry about me.”

“It’s not entirely you I’m worried about.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Don’t you trust me?”

“Not since the day you got your period,” he replied seriously. Then he placed a hand on my shoulder. “Look, you’re a big girl. You can decide for yourself about Tim. Not that there’s really anything I can do to stop you… Just try to keep it under control, okay? Remember why he’s here. It’s important. He’s not just your personal plaything…”

“I love you too, pop. You better get going.” I handed him the container with his pancakes.

“Right.” He headed for the airlock, but not before fixing Andrews with a penetrating gaze. Then, as the lock began to cycle he said, “Send Megan an alert that I’ll be inbound in approximately thirty eight minutes.”

“Got it,” I replied. And then he was gone.

“Is breakfast always this eventful,” asked Timothy Andrews behind me.