by Jared Oliver Adams
Listen to the audio version
"That's a fine noose you're knittin' for yourself, Boy," Grandma had said when Lochlan told her
he'd enrolled in TradeFleet Academy on the indenture track. "Three years o' school an' you'll
owe them fifteen by the time you're through."
But Grandma had grown up when jobs were everywhere. Nowadays, indentured service was a
small price to pay for something guaranteed.
Grandma didn't understand that. "When I gas out, take my ship and free yourself, yeah?"
Well, Grandma had gassed out. And now it was Lochlan's job to sell her antiquated tub of a
spaceship. Hopefully he'd make some money off the deal. He'd borrowed so much from the
Bursar just to get out to the backwater station where her ship was docked that he was starting to
worry he'd come back to the Academy no better off than before.
As he opened the airlock doors and stepped into the cargo bay, Grandma's powdery scent wafted
over him and he suddenly felt guilty for his preoccupation about money.
How many times had he played here as a boy amongst the crates and netting while Grandma
looked on? The faux-wood paneling on the walls with their dated scenes of space adventures had
thrilled him back then. Grandma had made up stories to go along with them and she'd shared
them from her rocking chair as he passed his fingers over the cheap prints. Now they were just a
campy relic that had to be melted down so he could clear the ship for sale.
Lochlan spoke the command relays Grandma had left him in the will, took control of the ship's
computers, and ordered the synth systems to deconstitute the panels. As they began to melt into
stipple, he left the cargo bay. It was too painful to watch.
He passed through the kitchen with its busy floral wall skin and knew he'd have to reprogram
that later, too. The kitchen smelled of savor-bread and sweet candied noodles, which he supposed
would be lost when he vented the ship of the powder smell. He didn't linger, but walked onward
to the command deck.
That was where her body would be.
Grandma's service bot had placed her inside a glass coffin, flash-frozen in a peaceful sleeping
position. Oddly, she was wearing an old jumpsuit with an antique blaster at her belt, like in
Lochlan touched his hand to the cold glass. What was Grandma doing with a blaster?
At his touch, the glass surface came alive with text and images. Lochlan staggered back in
surprise, only to jump when the door to the command deck whizzed shut behind him.
"Undocking from station," declared the ship's computer.
"No, belay that," Lochlan said. "Stop." He didn't have the money for redocking fees!
"Belay denied," stated the ship.
"Navigational command key: Hangarden Alpha JJ3255."
"Belay denied. Quoted command key invalid until completion of current mission. Prepare for
active propulsion in ten, nine, eight . . ."
"Cancel current mission!" Lochlan shrieked, but the computer continued its countdown.
He scowled at Grandma's casket and threw himself into the command chair, fumbling frantically
with the old-fashioned buckles. He barely got them latched before the ship kicked off and pressed
him into the musty seat cushions.
"Where are we going?" he shouted at the computer.
"Destination: Justice Bureau station, Alfari quadrant 17."
"Mission parameters: deliver Captain's body to nearest Justice Bureau station following
activation of casket display."
Lochlan looked over at the glass casket, still dancing with text and images.
The pictures were of Grandma as a young woman, dressed in this very jumpsuit, brandishing the
very blaster at her hip. "Escaped Convict," the text read. "Approach with caution."
More words scrolled across the casket's surface: "Reward for delivery: 5 million federal dollars.
Body may be delivered in any state."
Lochlan couldn't believe what he was reading, but it only got weirder. The casket displayed
newsfeeds and personal logs detailing Grandma's exploits. There were heists and cons. There
were smuggling operations and covert diplomatic missions that the government disavowed.
She'd changed names several times. Once, she'd apparently stopped some sort of interstellar war.
Grandma lay inside the casket unmoving, yet changing in Lochlan's mind. The stories she'd told
from her rocker in the cargo bay had been stories about herself. She'd been an honest-to-God
space pirate. Now she was providing for Lochlan even in her death. Five million federals.
Enough for an entire year at the Academy. Together with the sale of the ship, he'd be able to pay
off all but five years of his indenture, maybe more.
"I can't say anything to change the destination, can I?" guessed Lochlan. Grandma had planned
this too well.
"Correct, Sir," said the ship. "But I would make a suggestion."
"I suggest you reconstitute the wood paneling in the cargo area. There were things behind it
which you would not want the Justice Bureau to see."
"Weapons of questionable legality, stolen artifacts, contraband awaiting delivery. Would you like
to view the full manifest?"
Lochlan looked for a long time down at Grandma while the ship's question hung in the air.
Maybe he didn't want to reprogram the floral wall skins in the kitchen. Maybe he didn't want to
vent out the powdery smell.
Maybe, he didn't even want to go back to TradeFleet Academy.
"Is one of the items in question a blaster like she's got?" Lochlan asked.
"Just so, Sir."
A smile crept over Lochlan's face. He rested a hand on the cool glass of Grandma's casket and
looked up at the command deck's display screen. Grandma's words repeated in his head: "When
I gas out, take my ship and free yourself, yeah?"
Who was Lochlan to go against her wishes?
"Show me the manifest," Lochlan said. "And reconstitute those panels."