The following is a free chapter from the first book in my Starships at War military science fiction series Strike Battleship Argent
“Alright, Hunter, let’s have it.”
Deep space pilots called the Jupiter Skyway Approach Port “Max Boomtown.” The value of the cargo passing through the facility on any given day could easily rival the total output of one or more colonies along the Reach. The man in charge of it all was a no-nonsense merchant marine inspector by the name of Jeremiah Foobing.
“Honestly, Inspector, I can’t believe you, of all people, could think I would violate fleet contraband policy.” Jason Hunter was standing with his hands folded behind his back and wearing his most un-threatening expression along with his flawlessly pressed and shined Skywatch officer’s uniform.
Around the inspector’s office hummed the vital operations of Merchant Customs Authority. Max Boomtown was one of the largest civilian freight inspection stations in the Core Sector, often processing more than 100 ships a day ranging in size from personal interplanetary cruisers to billion-ton star trains.
“Sure you don’t want to come to the party?” Hunter asked, trying to distract the overworked customs officer.
Inspector Foobing sat at his desk, fiddling with fiddly scraps of paper. He believed computers were 100% of the reason his numbers failed to add up correctly, so he kept all his records in writing. His prodigious weight scarcely fit between his sagging desk and the wall. The office looked like an 18th century British librarian’s closet, with tiny wooden drawers, brass cabinet fittings and enough accounting books to sink a small rowboat. Out the window behind him, Hunter could see the line of ships docked for inspection. His shuttle was the closest and the smallest by a factor of at least six.
“Hunter every time you come through here, we go through the same dance. You and I both know you’re carrying illegal booze. I call you on it. You deny it. Then I have to decide if I want to send a squad of officers out to climb through your ship deck by deck looking for it. The next time I’m just going to shoot you. It’s less paperwork. Get that juiced-up hot rod off my docks.” Foobing shoved a customs clearance into Hunter’s hands and waddled towards the door, wheezing impatiently.
“It’s going to be a bash, Inspector. Sure you won’t–”
“Get out, Hunter!” Foobing shouted across the bustling customs office.
“Just one drink?” he called back.
“OUT!” The voice echoed.
Moments later, Hunter spied his favorite Boomtown official. She went by the name Tisalee, and she had been persuaded on multiple occasions to let the Captain skate by when the Inspector wasn’t looking. He snuck up on her desk and appeared from behind her overhead cabinets.
“Hi,” Hunter grinned. “Miss me?”
“You get out of here!” Tisalee whispered urgently. “The last time you and that–that creature almost got me fired!” The Captain was leaning over the half-height wall to look down on her desk. He picked up her tablet and flipped through the pages nonchalantly.
“I see you’re still reading those naughty books with the shirtless pirate captains on the covers,” Hunter teased as he raised an eyebrow. “Ooh, the pirate has a tomato…” Tisalee ripped the tablet out of his hands and put it in a drawer.
“Do I have to call security?”
“Oh, don’t be like that,” the Captain replied, reclining his chin on his arms and over-doing the smoldering look. “I was going to invite you to our party. Annora got her SAR ticket. We’re flying in to Scary’s for a drink and dinner and maybe a little something extra. That sounds like something you would have jumped at before you turned into Tisalee the worker bee.”
She actually hesitated, looking into the Captain’s dancing eyes and gazing at his sandy boyish hair for a moment and remembering how many times he was the only reason she smiled. Then she remembered the time she had to be bailed out of jail half-dressed and her expression darkened again. “I have plans.”
“Oh well, I tried. Say hi to your mom for me.” Hunter sauntered off. “Hey Mike! How’s the new sled?” Tisalee watched as the Captain greeted at least five more people before walking out into the softlock.
She quickly suppressed her second thoughts and went back to her rows and columns of numbers.