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For descriptions of each episode, check out my Show Notes at the top of the page. This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to real people or events is purely coincidental.

WARNING: Some of the language may be offensive, but no worse than you would expect in an R rated movie.

Special thanks to NASA for the image of the galaxy.

Podcast of the novel BETWEEN EARTH AND ARCTURUS

Chapter Four



Elisa Santino loved the Exploration Corps, but after the violent takeover she got shuffled around until she finally ended up working for Admiral Fisher, and the only way out was to resign. If she had to quit the Corps, she might as well make herself rich first.

There were deep, dark secrets surrounding the construction of the new starship. She told no one she’d discovered Gentry Stokes Jr. and Captain Paul Poluka were up to their necks in some kind of sneaky business. Stokes used all his connections—even among his competitors—to hide the real design of the starship. She figured he would pay for her silence.

She got to her desk before sunrise—hours before anyone else—but kept her computer switched to keyboard instead of voice, so anyone who might be around wouldn’t hear how she hacked into secret files.

At six-thirty, her coworkers began trickling into the Department of Design Review. Elisa closed the files she’d hacked into after copying the interesting parts to a button disk. She looked up, smiled and said “good morning” to each person as they came in.

Most didn’t know much about her, except that she was good at office work and very pretty. Her looks sometimes gave her an edge, which she took full advantage of, but her height—only 147 centimeters—and her petite 50kg body made her seem childlike, which caused people to not take her seriously. In most cases concerning her career, it wasn’t helpful.

At five minutes before seven, the son of a bitch arrived. He always showed up 35 minutes earlier than scheduled, and this always surprised the newcomers, which was the whole point. When he barged into the room with that meaningless grin on his pasty white face, the new clerk named Julie almost screamed.

Everyone knew Fisher was trying to get Julie into bed. He’d tried with Elisa, too. In fact, he tried it with most young women whom he outranked. That’s what got Elisa demoted from lieutenant to ensign, she refused to spread her legs for the disgusting son of a bitch. Not that she had anything against sleeping around—she did her share—but never with creeps like Fisher.

“Admiral,” Julie gasped, “we weren’t expecting you so early.”

I was, Elisa thought.

“Uh-huh,” he grunted absently as he whisked around the office to see if anyone was late or goofing off. He loved catching somebody at something. It was his idea of power: his power over his people.

After completing a loop around the office, he left for the cafeteria. Julie sighed with relief when the door swung shut behind him. Julie needed something to do, something to keep Fisher from pestering her.

“Julie,” Elisa called softly. “Could you give me a hand with something?”

Relief erupted from the young girl’s face. “What can I do for you, Ensign Santino?”

She had a sweet face and was petite like Elisa, but not so short. Fisher went for the small women, especially the young ones. Elisa didn’t know for sure what a date with the son of a bitch was like, but she’d heard rumors about one girl who had to go to the hospital after a night with him. She moved to another city the very next day and changed her name so Fisher couldn’t find her again. Elisa never heard of a woman seeing him a second time.

“I need you to check some files.” Elisa explained. “Look for subcontractors who worked on the Hanno and got paid twice for the same job or materials. It happens sometimes.”

“I can do that,” Julie responded with an angelic smile.

“Sure you can. Use my computer. It’s all set up.”

Fisher came back with a cup of coffee in one hand and two donuts in the other. Elisa silently prayed his addiction to caffeine and sugar would lead to a heart attack—or at least a stroke.

“Ensign Santino.” Fisher loudly emphasized her reduced rank. “I expect the Hanno report finished by noon. I have a meeting with the president’s cabinet today.”

“It will be ready before then, Admiral.” She always called him Admiral instead of sir because, in her mind, sir indicated respect.

“It better be accurate and complete.”

“It will be, Admiral.” How would you know the difference, you son of a bitch?

“It better be.”

You said that already, asshole. “Yes, Admiral.”

Fisher moved around the desk to look over Julie’s shoulder at the computer screen. “What are you doing?”

The young woman paused but didn’t turn to face him. “I’m checking financial records, sir.”

Elisa added, “We’re looking for signs of fraud.”

The Admiral hovered about a moment longer, fidgeting, as if trying to think of something to say, before finally going to his office.

“Ensign Santino?” Julie whispered when he was gone.

“Call me Elisa. He’s like that with all the new girls. He was probably going to have you do something that involved working closely with him, but the thought of finding evidence of fraud distracted him. It’d mean having power over someone else.”

“Is that what he wants? Power over everyone? Over me?”

“Listen, he doesn’t have as much power over you as he’d like you to believe. You’re a civilian. Just refuse, and there’s nothing he can do.”

“He could fire me.”

“There are better jobs and better bosses. If I were you, I’d just quit and file a complaint, but don’t tell anyone I suggested it.”

Julie became absorbed in her task, unaware that Elisa already did this research weeks ago and covered up everything she wanted to remain hidden. The secret transactions of Stokes Industries would only be valuable if they stayed secret.

Admiral Fisher returned at noon in his dress-gray uniform.

“How do I look?” he asked, standing straight, shoulders back.

“Very nice, Admiral,” Julie said.

Like a jackass in a uniform, Elisa thought.

“Where’s my report?” he demanded.

His report—as if he’d done any work on it. Elisa handed him a button-disk, knowing how he’d react.

He looked at it, and rolled his eyes in disbelief.

“You should know, Ensign Santino, that for a meeting like this, I need it printed on paper.”

“Of course, Admiral.” Elisa handed him a large envelope. “Here’s the printed report.”

He took the envelope and made an exaggerated show of hefting it to check the weight.

“How many copies?”

Elisa hesitated. He had her. “Five copies.”

He rolled his eyes again. “Five? I need six or seven, Ensign. You should have known that. I thought you were trained. Well, I don’t have time now. I’ll have to see if the vice president’s secretary can make more copies for me.”

She was gritting her teeth by the time the son of a bitch finished scolding her in front of everyone. When he finally left, the reduced tension throughout the office was almost palpable. Most of her colleagues would have a long lunch to celebrate the admiral’s absence.

Elisa spent her lunchtime in the office, taking advantage of her coworkers’ absence. The admiral slipped up when he mentioned the vice president’s secretary. It meant that the meeting was not quite what it seemed. He’d be seeing Vincent Batastia, the new vice president and the architect of the New Federation, who was also the scariest thing to happen to the planet Earth in a long time.

Elisa went to the admiral’s office and hacked into his protected files. This last year had taught her a lot about the complex networks of information that were going to make her rich, and she’d gone to a lot of effort to discover all of Fisher’s most secret passwords.

In a file of archived correspondence she found that Fisher was working closely with a Navy admiral named Higgs who was guiding the son of a bitch up the ranks of the political insiders. There were vague references to new government programs dealing with redistribution of wealth, and—what the hell? —forced relocations? She didn’t like the sound of that.

There was also one mention of ­The Blacklist­, which Elisa wanted to find out more about. There were several comments from Fisher concerning “the perks” which were available to the most privileged insiders. Fisher’s references to perks came across like a dog begging for a treat, and Higgs’s responses promised that Fisher would soon qualify to enjoy such privileges.

It was too much to read during lunch. She’d take it home to study later. She went through an elaborate procedure of creating a mirror archive that the network recognized as legitimate, and copied everything into it before redefining it as a deleted archive so that it would slip through the security protocols and allow her to copy it to a button disk. She broke several laws getting the job done.

By the time people returned from lunch she was back at her desk reading a magazine about beach houses in Croatia. She might get one of those, after taking what she knew to Gentry Stokes Jr., and extorting a piece of the Stokes family fortune from him. The thought of retiring with both her youth and a lot of money sent a tingle of anticipation through her tiny body.

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