It was good that he knew the company so well, else Eli Carter would have been shitting himself by this point. A corporation this big usually had someone very, very evil at it’s top wring, and getting called to the office of that person could mean a jettison from an anonymous airlock. But this was Isely Corp., and that meant something completely different. The corruption ran in a different direction. So, Eli knew he wasn’t going to die. However, death might be a rosier dream by the time Tovar Demine was through with him.
The office wasn’t really an office. It was an annex on Alhambra almost as large as the station itself and wildly more opulent. It had floor-to-ceiling windows and polished, black-glass floors. It was like walking in space. Eli found himself slightly physically off-balance walking in.
“Mr. Carter,” Tovar greeted, and even had the graciousness to rise from behind his sprawling desk. “You are prompt. Good. It’s a pleasure to have you in my office.” The slightly intruding Russian accent only made the man seem more formidable. He was perhaps only a year or two past forty and handsome in a way that he couldn’t have been in his twenties. This age was Demine’s prime, not his youth as most men. He gestured to a comfortable chair opposite the desk and politely waited until Carter had seated himself. It made Eli more nervous. He could handle bosses who acted like bosses. This was altogether disconcerting.
“I have a very special job for you, Mr. Carter, and I hope that you will be willing to accept it,” Demine began. Eli shifted in his seat. Why couldn’t the man just tell him he had a job to do and was going to do it?
“Well, naturally, sir, I’d be happy to -…” Eli began.
“Good,” Demine replied, cutting him off. “It’s a delicate and most important expedition to the Carina Arm of the galaxy. Our scientists have detected an anomaly there and we would like a crew to do an initial investigation of it.”
“Th-the..Carina Arm? All the way out there?” Carter swallowed. He’d never been anywhere even close to that far away. Hell, he’d only left Earth twice before this, and only to go to the Port Alhambra. “Sir, not to cast aspersions on your decision-making skills, but perhaps someone with a bit more…experience in space travel…?”
“It is not your experience with travel that made the decision, Mr. Carter,” Demine countered, and seemed totally nonplussed by Eli’s contradiction. “Rather your…highly-prized loyalty to this company and your excellent judgment.”
For a moment, Eli didn’t understand. Then, slowly, he blinked. “I see,” he murmured…and he did. So, then. It was going to be one of those ‘excursions’. “Standard protocols apply, I assume?”
Tovar nodded. “Indeed. I’ve done my research on you very carefully, Mr. Carter. I know I can trust you to make the necessary decisions if they are called for.”
Eli nodded slowly. “What’s the ship?”
“She is the Valdosta, and she will be captained by a woman named Avery Crane.” Demine’s voice had changed almost imperceptibly. Eli was sharp enough both to catch it and not comment on it.
“I’ve heard of her. She had a planet or something named after her. Galactic Campaign hero. Good ship, too. Best of the Georgian-class.”
“Yes, yes, indeed,” agreed Demine thoughtfully. “Well. You leave from Alhambra in two weeks, Mr. Carter. I wish you the best of luck.”
Eli knew a dismissal when he heard one. He rose. “Thank you, sir.”
Demine was quiet for a moment, regarding Eli. “Be good to her, Mr. Carter,” he said, finally.
His tone suggested he may not have been talking about the ship.
Eli nodded, and left.