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Where is a Dodger? Just where he wants to be. That is the motto of Celdek's life. But when he finds himself caught up in the mess following Vilnek and Shawna, more often than not, Celdek isn't where he wants to be... or where he is even needed. That is never more clear when Celdek finds himself confronted, and at times confounded, by a sweet, young Companion and her illegal antics! Sometimes the best response to problems is a good old Piece Initiative Adjustment - and Celdek isn't afraid to wield one!
Originally published in 2011. Re-edited & released for 2015. if you've previously purchased this title, the new version is already in your library.
“I can't take you with me, Shawna. It's too dangerous,” Vilnek explained. Tall and broad shouldered, with short brown hair, the miner towered over his wife of three weeks by several inches. With any number of implements for spanking never far out of reach, it never ceased to amaze him how at ease she was with arguing any point she saw fit to argue. “The moon is just too unstable.”
“If it's too unstable for me, then it's too unstable for you,” retorted Shawna. Her logic was of a better brand than her good-sense sometimes and she pushed her husband's tolerance to the limit.
“I don't have any choice and we both know it. Do you want me to get extradited back to Trellian? Face the charges Falsan will level at me? How much of a chance do you think I'll stand in his courts on his planet run by his mining corporation? And that's assuming he lets it come to trial. His son was found dead on my minestead. The security cameras were disabled. It's my word against Bilvon's corpse. Do you think he's going to believe the truth of his son's attack on Willa and us? We've been over all this before,” Vilnek declared.
“Of course I don't want you extradited. But it can't be that dangerous on Plivit. If it were, the Mining Federation wouldn't allow the company a charter to mine it.”
“If it isn't that dangerous,” Vilnek countered logically, “why do they have to resort to extortion to recruit somebody to settle it for them?”
“You're the one who's studied the planet before. So you tell me. What's so unstable about this moon anyway? Why do they have to threaten to give you back to Falsan to make you take this job?”
“It's L-12, a compound as vital as it is volatile,” Vilnek quoted in a singsong voice. He was doing his best imitation of a narrator on a documentary. “That's a direct quote from the company pamphlet.”
“You remember it well enough to quote the pamphlet?”
“Heck, I wrote the pamphlet, girl. I've mined the stuff before and I know what I'm doing. I'll be fine.”
“Then if you'll be fine, I'll be fine.”
“There's no Radplant system in place. I can't protect you there. There are no signals there for the Radplant in my brain to receive.”
“Maybe there's nothing to protect me from,” Shawna put in sarcastically.
“There are just as many dangers as on Trellian but no warning. You just have to react to the emergencies the best you can. You have to be ready for anything at any moment. I can't watch out for you, watch out for myself, and get any work done.”
“I'm coming with you. You can't keep me away.”
“I wish I had a filamith. Those little drill bits sure were handy for applying a Peace Initiative Adjustment where it was needed.”
“But we're not on Trellian anymore, as you so kindly pointed out. There's no Companion Program.”
“I don't need a Companion, now I have you as my wife,” he interrupted.
“And no Peace Initiative,” she went on.
“I don't need one of those either to give me the idea to tan your hide when you won't mind me. You already agreed to it, and since we both want a peaceful home, the Peace Initiative is permanent.”
“I'm not disputing that,” Shawna gave in on that point, “and I wouldn't have it any other way, but I can't say I'm sorry we had no time to pack one of those darn filamiths when we escaped Trellian one second ahead of the security forces.”
“What I wouldn't give for a filamith about now, or even a piece of piping insulation. If I had one, you'd think twice about telling me you're coming.”
“Filamith or no filamith, I'm coming with you. It can't be that dangerous. It's just a moon. There aren't any volcanoes, or Serpiac, or packs of roaming Fensel. It's a veritable garden of Eden.”
Vilnek shot back, “That's the sort of attitude that's going to get you hurt. I can't take the chance of you doing something foolish.”
Shawna tried a different tack. She hoped to get him talking about the moon itself and the details of the job so that he would quit thinking about leaving her behind. “Tell me more about L-12. How is it mined?”
“Well, it isn't exactly mined. L-12 is swept up in the dust and sediment of the moon itself and filtered out, depending on the quality of the product. That process is relatively safe since you add Tosamine which stabilizes the L-12 on contact.”
“Where did you work with it before?” she queried.
“On a neighboring moon, Stivit. That's where I met Choldor and Radnok, actually. How many years ago was that? Seems like ages. And that's where Choldor got his scar. In an L-12 explosion. He threw himself in front of a spreading flame to keep it from reaching the fuel cells and killing us all.” His tone became accusatory. “You were trying to get me off track, but it won't work. That just serves to remind me why I'm not taking you with me, much as I hate to leave you behind. I can't risk what happened to Choldor happening to you.”
“But Claire would go with Choldor if he decided to relocate to Plivit with you, wouldn't she? We are going to bring Radnok and Willa over to Plivit as soon as we can, along with Choldor and Claire? They're our best friends. And I was even hoping Talvok and Faith could be persuaded to join us. Talvok doesn't blame you for his brother's death and he's no fan of his father's either. He'd come.”
“Forget this 'we' stuff. And as for bringing Choldor and Radnok, good miners and friends though they are, I'm not sure how ethical that would be, little one. I can't go trying to steal all of Falsan's best staff, especially his son.”
“He's the man out for your blood and you still protect his business interests?” Shawna wondered. “What are you going to do, hire all new miners and hope for the best?”
“I'll start small is what I'll do. The mining company will provide some recommendations on staff, hopefully men who can act civilized without a Companion Program. It's too dangerous, and I'm not having one without a Radplant system in place. And that's another reason why I won't invite friends from Trellian. I don't want to separate these men from their new wives. I can't do that to an old mine-rat like Radnok. How many years has he got left with her, realistically?” Vilnek exaggerated.
“Oh, don't say that, Vilnek. Radnok's not that old,” Shawna chided, giving him a mock punch in the arm. He grabbed her hand and pulled her into his lap. All this talk of old friends and old times reminded him of how much better things were now, and he wanted to be holding the reason why.
“And how about Choldor? You want him to leave Claire behind? The only woman who ever looked past that scar and his size to the soft-heart inside him?”
“Don't separate any spouses, is what I'm saying. Press for a Radplant system,” Shawna encouraged him.
“I can't press for anything at the moment, remember. The only things that're going to get pressed around here are those murder charges if I get extradited back to Trellian. Falsan's company is powerful and they could pull it off. What's standing between me and the Federation's security transport is Turek Productions, Inc. I'm not about to make them mad by getting pushy. It won't be for long, little one. I'll get things set up for them and if I do my job right, I'll be able to leave there soon enough. By then, Talvok will have cleared my name with Falsan.”
“We've got two whole months before we meet Talvok. I hate to think of being apart that long,” Shawna complained.
“I don't like it any better than you, but there it is. Now, you remember the details, right? Blue Moon satellite station, two months from now, at the Thraxton Hotel. The satellite station is small and you should have no problem finding the hotel on your own. It's out of the way, but not unheard of.”
Shawna gave him a gentle squeeze. “Yes, I remember all the details.”
“And you haven't communicated with anyone on Trellian about all this?”
“I haven't communicated with anyone on Trellian at all except through untraceable public-use Linksets.”
“Good job. I know it's hard for you, but if Falsan can find me, he'll take me illegally. I've got to stay out of sight and out of reach until we can get him calmed down. He's not a bad guy, really. He'll see reason sooner or later and drop the charges.”
“Then we'll go back to Trellian?”
“I don't know, Shawna. I loved it there. I have great memories and I met you there, so I wouldn't mind going back.” Vilnek paused, choosing his words. “But I was getting restless. I can do more than just run one mine. I'm actually looking forward to being the boss on Plivit. I like delegating, being in charge, coordinating the work and making it run right.”
“Then you might not want to go back to Trellian? Where does that leave me?” Shawna sounded alarmed.
“If I get Plivit running the way I want, I can expand the staging satellite in orbit around the moon then do my job from there. In fact, I've got a few ideas about all the miners doing their work from there. It would take some major technology investment, but it could work.”
“And I could live on the staging satellite?”
“Just like you live here. It would be small, but you'd still have Linkset communications. It could work.”
“But how long will that be? I don't want to be separated from you. I don't even know exactly where this moon is. How could I find you if I needed you?”
“If you needed help, you would go to Pippa or Radnok. Since you are not to come to Plivit, you don't need to know where it is. And for your information, that's proprietary information for Turek Mining so you won't be able to find it on any computer search. Let it go, Shawna. We need to discuss how you'll get back to Trellian without being traced back here.”
“No, we don't need to discuss any such thing! I'm not going!” Shawna was getting worked up. She jumped out of his lap and started pacing the room.
“I'm warning you now, Shawna. Sit down and listen just a minute.”
“I won't! I don't want to hear it. If you would just be reasonable�”
“I'm not reasonable? That about does it!” Vilnek flipped her over his lap before she knew he had moved at all.
“Let me up off your lap! Be careful, you'll stretch my leggings pulling them down like that. Ow!”
“Say you'll go back to Trellian!”
“Let me go! I mean it!”
“Say it then and I'll let you go.”
“Ow! Ow! Stop that. It hurts.”
“I mean it to hurt. You've got to know I mean business.”
“OW! Stop! No! No! Not down there! That hurts worse than the bottom. Not my thighs! That's not fair! Ow!”
“Say you'll go back!”
“Let me go! You can't solve a problem like this with a spanking.”
“Vilnek! Be reasonable.”
“If that's how you're going to be, maybe I need a bit of help here. This should help cure your stubbornness.”
“No! No more! And not a plexilat spoon! Your hand was bad enough! Ow, that stings. Ow! Ow! Ow!”
“Your bottom's getting hot enough to melt the plexilat. Why are you being so stubborn? Now, take a minute to catch your breath and then say it. Don't make me get out the pipe insulation.”
“Me? Make you? I'm not making you do anything! It's you who's making me--ow! No! No! Please!”
“It's for your own good. I have to have your word. Say you'll go back to Trellian. Say it, Shawna. You're going to be sore enough as it is. I don't want to try out that Brigate tank tubing, but I will if you don't accept my decision.”
“No! I can't take any more. I'm sorry I'm crying. I know you hate that, but I just can't s--stand to let you go without me. I'll be worried the whole time we're apart.”
“And I'd be worried the whole time if you were there. I won't be able to work my fastest or my safest if I'm worried about you. So, what's it going to be, Shawna? Your word or your backside? Come on. Sit up here on my lap.”
He held her while her sobs subsided. Finally, she calmed enough to sniffle out, “If you put it that way,” she admitted, “I guess I'll have to go back to Trellian.”
“That's right. That's my good girl,” he soothed her as he carried her to their bed. “You are more precious to me than anything. Better a sore rump tomorrow than real danger to come.”
* * * * *
Shawna woke the next morning sore and out of sorts with Vilnek. Usually, an Adjustment like that would have made everything right in her world, and she wondered fleetingly why it hadn't this time.
Time to sort that out later, she thought. Her first job of the day would be to pack up her carryall. Vilnek should soon finish the repairs on the second-hand glider they had purchased the day before. She knew she had very little time left to make him change his mind and take her with him. She'd rather face a hundred dangers than leave him, even for a short time. Besides, she could take care of herself.
Trying out new and more convincing arguments in her mind, she went down to the guest quarters landing dock, hoping to find Vilnek. The glider was gone.
“He wouldn't have,” Shawna mused aloud to no one, but in her heart, she knew what he had done. With feet like bricks, she trudged back to the guesthouse. The attendant at the front desk handed her a communipad. She took it to their room for privacy. She read the opening sentence three times for clarity. Then she threw it against the wall.
Later, after her crying had subsided, she went to a public Linkset kiosk with a privacy barrier where she could Link Pippa without being traced.
“He's gone, isn't he?” Pippa asked as soon as the video function of the link cleared of static. “I can see it in your face.”
“He didn't even say good-bye. He just left me a communipad.”
“And from the way you're shifting in that pod, I can tell he left a few marks on your seat. So what are you going to do now? You know you can always come back here.”
“I can't be a Companion! I'm married! Vilnek would just die if another man tried to give me an Adjustment.”
“I know that, and of course, you'd go to someone Vilnek trusts. Or you could work here with me at Headquarters. We're nominally included in the Peace Initiative but since we don't have assigned miners to keep peace with, it never comes up.”
“Before he left, Vilnek tried to tell me what he wanted me to do, but I wouldn't listen. I guess I'll have to read the rest of the communipad message and see.”
“You haven't even read it yet?”
“Not the whole thing. I had to Link you first, Pippa. I need a friend.”
“Then come home.”
“I'll be on the first transport I can find.”
* * * * *
“Are you sure he wanted you to use a public transport?” Talvok asked Shawna several days later. He was as surprised to see her as she was to see him. Public transport passenger manifests, while not stored long, were easy pickings for anyone with any hacking skills at all. She could be traced if anyone cared to look within a few hours.
“How else was I supposed to come?” Shawna wondered. She thought of the broken communipad and her scramble to get back to Trellian the best way she could. “I didn't come directly. I've been jumping around,” she lied.
“There are ways, and our mutual friend,” he hesitated to speak Vilnek's name, “knows them all. His acquaintanceship with the shadier side of life in the mining community might surprise you, but it does come in handy on occasion. Let me Link Pippa and see what I can find out.”
Talvok Linked Pippa and the conversation was brief and low. “She can't be on that transport with you.”
“Well, she can't disembark. The surveillance cameras will pick up her face as soon as she sets foot in the docking area.”
“What is she supposed to do?”
“Let me see who the pilot is.” Pippa tapped a few keys and noted the contents of another screen. “Thank goodness it's him. He's a friend of mine. I'll Link him and get word to you.”
A few more words were exchanged then Talvok came back to Shawna. “Pippa says you're in big trouble and better be glad she's not a miner or she'd Initiate your Peace from now till the next True Dark. All kidding aside, you'll have to by-pass Trellian and contact her once you get someplace else. She'll give you instructions from there. Apparently, our mutual friend isn't the only one with shady connections. Pippa seems to have some herself.”
“Where else can I go?” Shawna asked. “What's the next stop for this transport?”
“There is no 'next stop', but I asked the pilot and he said since he's a Turek employee he's going to their Production Headquarters, which is about two days away. He'll drop you wherever you want on the way there. He's not too particular once his other passengers disembark at Trellian.”
“That's what I'll have to do, then, I guess,” Shawna sighed. “I was looking forward to going home.”
“You think of Trellian as home, too? I know none of us is really from there, but it does feel like a good place to belong. That's one reason I'm fighting so hard to make my father see reason.” He lowered his voice and looked around. “The reason you can't land on Trellian now is that there's a problem at Headquarters. My father is pressing charges and called in a special investigator to look into the matter. He must have arrived while I was gone to that conference at the University.”
“What are the police saying? Surely they have cleared Vilnek by now, or will clear him soon,” Shawna protested. She hadn't thought of a special investigator.
“You know how things are, Shawna. A company owner as powerful as my father can keep an investigation alive for as long as he wants. The police are siding with 'our friend', but as long as Falsan raises objections and questions, the case will remain open. If the police wanted you-know-who for questioning, he would already be in custody. But they know what happened. They're satisfied with the testimony of the witnesses involved, namely me, Faith, Radnok and Willa. Willa's injuries also helped the case, though she's fine now.”
“So if the police know that Vilnek had to kill your brother in order to save Willa's life, not to mention mine and probably Radnok's, why is Vilnek still on the run?”
“Keep your voice down! And don't say the name. Voice recognition technology can identify key words and names they program it to listen for. We don't know what surveillance equipment is operating where.”
Shawna dropped her voice to a whisper and covered her mouth with her hand as Talvok was doing in a casual way. “Sorry. I keep forgetting. I just don't see why he has to keep hiding. If the police believe us, what's the hold-up?”
“My father is keeping the investigation alive in order to try to get his hands on our friend, if only for a day. That's all it would take. He's insane with grief, Shawna. He's not in his right mind. I don't know what he'll do if he succeeds. Legal or not, that won't matter.”
“Do you know where 'our friend' is?” Shawna probed.
“No, and I don't want to. And neither should you. It's dangerous.”
They landed on Trellian without incident, but before the doors swooshed open, the pilot approached Shawna. He gave her an appraising look and then nodded to Talvok. “I've got her,” was all he said, as he motioned her to precede him through the door that lead to the command hallway and module.
“Where are we going?” she whispered over her shoulder to the pilot.
“The less you know, the less you can tell later,” came his ominous reply. “Pippa told me to mention to you one thing�that Choldor's Claire rode with me in this very compartment when she came to bring you your identification documents from Headquarters four weeks ago. I don't know why she wanted you to know that, but I thought it couldn't do any harm to pass on the message.” With that, he pressed a very normal-looking panel and it slid sideways.
Waiting in the cramped space behind the sliding panel, Shawna wondered what sort of contraband this oh, so innocent looking pilot usually carried in there. It wasn't big enough for a person to fit comfortably. Her arms began to ache and her legs were going tingly when the panel at last moved to release her from confinement. She rubbed her arms and stamped her feet while the pilot seated himself back in his command pod.
The pilot beckoned Shawna over to the pod next to his. She noticed for the first time that, while handsome enough, for some reason his face did not attract her to look at him. Whether from mistrust of someone so obviously used to extra-legal activities, or from embarrassment at being in his debt, Shawna kept her eyes forward as they conversed.
“So, where to?” he began.
“Wherever you're going, I guess. I already feel like I'm imposing on you enough, continuing on like this when all the other passengers have gotten off. And I only paid the fare as far as Trellian.”
“Don't worry about that. There's no fare for little private trips like this. I owe Pippa, anyway. She just got me a job there on Trellian. I'm going back to Turek Headquarters to pick up my gear. This is my last run for them and I really can't show up there with you in tow, now can I? So again, where to?”
“I have no idea, really,” she admitted. Under her breath, she muttered, “Where I'd really like to go is Plivit.”
The pilot heard her and gave her a questioning look. “Plivit? How do you know about Plivit? That's proprietary information.”
“So I've heard. And if Plivit is proprietary information, maybe it's also proprietary information as to how I found out about it,” she retorted.
A surprisingly warm guffaw greeted this answer. “Touch�! I deserved that. You've the makings,” he complimented her.
“The makings? Of a cigarette?”
“Of a Dodger, of course,” he replied as if everyone should know the term.
“Well, thank you,” she answered. “By the way, what's a Dodger?”
Another heart-felt belly laugh. “There's no such thing as a Dodger,” he grinned. “If you have to ask, you can't know.”
“Do you always go on like this, Mr... uh, what is your name anyway?”
“The less you know, the less you can tell,” he winked knowingly.
“You might as well tell me. We'll meet again on Trellian,” she reminded him.
“And be properly introduced then,” he instructed her. “Until such time, you can't let a name slip that you've never heard.” Her look of disgust had him chuckling again. “But I haven't had such a good laugh since Croyden was in his cradle, so I'll take you to Plivit and see which one of us they hang first.”
“Sounds good to me,” she rejoined with a wry smile. “Just one more question. Who's Croyden?”
His laughter echoed through the empty transport.