I was up early today. Really early, considering how late I was at the bar last night. I was at the Grayswandir by 0600.
Jami was there only a few minutes behind me. I had suspected that she would; one of the reasons I was there that early myself. Had to set an example after all. She only had a few bags with her and, after dropping them off in the crew cabin she would be sharing with Saahna, she headed down to Engineering.
The others trickled in over the next hour or two. Varan was already in his Steward’s uniform and almost immediately started checking on the status of life support and the passenger cabins. Do’rex didn’t even go to his cabin; he went straight to the bridge and started running diagnostics.
Saahna was the last to show up, almost exactly at 0900. Melant was with her and I’m pretty sure she made a point of giving him a passionate kiss goodbye directly in front of me. I did notice that she watched him as he left but that he never looked back.
After that I went down to the cargo bay and started overseeing things as the cargobots arrived. Half the cargo was already on-board and it was just a matter of making sure it got to the designated point and tethered down.
Cargo done, I came back out to find Varan welcoming the first passengers aboard. They were Hirin and Kalen Borator, the two heading for Fugitak. From the way they were dressed and what little they were carrying with them I realized that they were spending everything they had to get there. I hoped they would find whatever they were looking for.
I went to my cabin and changed into my Captain’s uniform. OK, it’s just a standard ship’s jacket with a few more bits of braid on it, but the passengers seemed to like it. Captain Anna had always impressed on me that a bit of a show of rank somehow made the passengers feel better, so I was following her example.
When I came back out, Dr. Korvusar had just come aboard, carrying a single duffel bag and a small case.
“Ah, Captain Kodai!” She stepped past Varan and came up to me. “I’m glad to see you again!” She sounded sincere and I took her pro-offered hand.
“Welcome aboard Doctor Korvusar.” I said, shaking what felt like a sincere grip. “Good to see you as well. We’ve got our best cabin ready for you. Do you have anything else we need to bring aboard?”
She shook her head. “No, this is all I have.” She glanced at the bag beside her. “I’m looking forward to our many trips together, Captain.”
I nodded. “Glad to have you with us.” Varan offered to show her to her cabin and, after another nod towards me, she followed.
I hung around the main cabin until the Oligack team finally showed up, just before our scheduled launch and with more luggage and gear than we had expected. I got Saahna to come help me and Varan and we managed to eventually find a place to stuff everything. Almost immediately I headed for the bridge, leaving Saahna and Varan to deal with our late arrivals.
Do’rex clicked in annoyance with me as I arrived.
“Sorry,” I said, dropping into the right seat. “Late passengers. As usual.”
The captain’s seat was behind us; sitting at a right angle to the main seats and with enough programmable consoles to replicate any position on the ship. But I was used to sitting in the right seat.
Honestly, the Grayswandir could probably have flown itself. Probably. The on-board AI could handle 98% of anything we encountered.
But that left that other 2%.
That’s why we still have Pilots and Navigators and Engineers and every other human (or non-human) position. The AIs could handle everything most of the time, but most of the time isn’t all of the time. Sometimes you needed a human with that flash of insight that gets usually called “instinct” to handle whatever has just come up. And if the AI had been handling everything up to that point, precious seconds would be lost while the human came up to speed with what was going on.
So ships had human crews. I mean, the X-Boats operated on AIs, but there’s a reason they don’t carry passengers.
Well, Scouts fly them but… they’re Scouts. There’s more than one reason they have a higher mortality rate than Marines.
I rechecked the calculations I had done earlier and indicated my approval to Do’rex. He, in turn, contacted Venad Space Traffic Control and advised them of our intent to depart. Clearance was granted and I opened the ship-wide comms.
“Good afternoon everyone,” I said in my most professional-sounding voice. “This is Captain Kodai up on the bridge and we’ve just received our clearance from Close Orbit and Airspace Control and we are ready for departure. While we don’t anticipate any problems with our inertial systems, we do ask that you remain seated until we have cleared atmosphere and achieved orbit. Until then, relax and enjoy our flight. External sensors are on ship’s channel 7 if you wish to watch the departure.”
I closed the channel, checked my numbers one more time and flicked them over to Do’rex’s console. He looked over at me.
“You failed to mention they should call the Steward if they have any discomfort,” he said, clicking slightly to indicate he wasn’t being too serious.
I grimaced, then shrugged. “Oh, well. First time jitters. Let’s get out of here.”
He clicked, then opened the crew channel. “Engaging drive.”
He lifted us vertically then tilted the nose up and engaged forwards thrust. Out the canopy and on the displays I saw Yamar moving past beneath us at steadily increasing speed, then falling behind us as Do’rex continued to tilt the nose up. I felt a slight moment of disorientation as we switched over to internal grav and the inertial dampers kicked in, making it seem as if we were still stationary with the floor “down” even as the ship stood on its tail and accelerated towards orbit.
I watched until we were almost all the way across the small inland sea to the east of Yamar then pulled my own displays back up. I saw our projected course to orbit and, starting from there, started plotting a course to the designated Jump point; just over 100 planetary diameters ahead of Venad in its orbit.
I had finished about the time Do’rex cut thrust. I looked out the canopy again. The curve of Venad lay below us and I could see the flashing running lights of another ship about 50 or 60 kilometers ahead of us. A quick check of my console showed that it was the Marek Baleron; a bulk carrier maintaining its orbit while waiting for its cargo remoras to return from the surface.
I flicked the course I had set to Do’rex and he waved a tentacle. “Thank you Derek… Captain. We should hit maneuver point in about 20 minutes.” He released his safety harness and stood up. “I’m going to get some food. Do you want anything?”
I shrugged. “Just grab me a soda. I’ll get the Jump calculated then head back to see how the passengers are doing.”
He clicked in acknowledgment and left the bridge. I bent over my console and started making the computations to take us to Fugitak.
He was gone for a while, finally returning. He handed me a soda then started strapping himself back into his own seat.
“Those Oligack people are going to be a problem,” he said as he finished. “They’re already complaining that they didn’t have time to get unpacked before they left.”
I shrugged. “Varan will take care of it. And they were late; who cares.”
Do’rex looked at me. “Oligack might?”
I shrugged again. “Next time we hit Imperial space and have Oligack passengers then I’ll worry about it. Until then, they can deal with it.” I flicked my console, sending the Jump data I had come up with to him.
“Here’s the data.” I unfastened my own restraints. Then, rethinking what I had just said, “I guess I better go calm them down.”
He clicked. “Yes. I do not think they were taking me seriously.” He busied himself with his own console and I left the bridge.
I went back to the common area, only to find it empty. I shrugged and took the ladder up to the passenger lounge.
There I found them. Two men and a woman were standing around Varan, holding his hands out in a placating gesture. Dr. Korvusar was sitting on the far side of the lounge, drinking a glass of wine and pointedly staring at the outside view displayed on the wall screens. I didn’t see our other two passengers.
Saahna was standing beside the iris and looked at me as I climbed up. She tilted her head towards the confrontation but didn’t say anything. I sighed quietly and walked over.
“Hi,” I said, extending my hand. “I’m Derek Kodai, captain of the Grayswandir. Sorry I didn’t get to meet you earlier; you were a bit late coming aboard and I was busy getting us ready for departure. How is everything going so far?”
The first man turned to me, anger in his face. “Things are not going well… Captain! This man is refusing to allow us access to our personal belongings! We need that access!”
Varan smiled pleasantly, though I could tell from the overly polite tone in his voice that he was about to hit his breaking point.
“Was there something you didn’t pack in your cabin luggage?” I asked, politely. “We have basic fabrication capability on board and we can…”
He interrupted. “No! No one mentioned that to us!” He looked around and his companions nodded agreement. “We packed everything together so that we wouldn’t have to worry about carrying anything around in this heat! And now it is locked in your cargo bay and this… your Steward here is refusing us access!”
I nodded and put on my best apologetic face. “I’m sorry about that Mr….”
“It’s Doctor!” he snapped. “Doctor Hamal Bertoan. And this is Doctor Emala Cotran and our assistant, Joh Parah.” He gestured behind him. “Don’t you even know who you have on your ship?”
I smiled politely. “I’m sorry Doctor Bertoan; but I didn’t have time to meet your party before we had to leave to make our departure window. It’s unfortunate that you were delayed and couldn’t make the boarding time, that would have given me time to address your needs, but we had to make that slot or be delayed another day.”
He frowned at that. “We didn’t think we needed to get here before departure. Why should we?”
I shrugged. “It would have given us time to get your personal possessions out of the cargo bay.” He started to say something else, but I held up my hand. “Unfortunately, there isn’t anything I can do right now about that.”
“What! Captain, I assure you…”
I held up my hand again and interrupted. “I’m sorry, but there is nothing I can do. I have no idea where your cargo is in the bay, but we would probably have to move cargo around to get to it and allow you to take out what you need. That changes the balance of the ship and we’ve already plotted our course to the Jump Point and our Jump to Fugitak. We can’t make any major changes to our mass distribution until after the Jump takes place. As soon as that happens, I assure you we will retrieve your personal belongings.”
He frowned. “Can’t you change that?”
I nodded. “Of course. It will delay our departure for several hours, at least, because of the amount of traffic around Venad, but it that is what you want…”
“No!” Dr. Cotran stepped forward and held a hand up to Bertoan. “Look, we’ll be OK for a couple of hours.” She turned to look at him. “Let’s not make more delays.”
Bertoan frowned then looked at Varan. “We can get to our luggage then?”
Varan nodded, glancing at me. “Certainly. I will notify you as soon as the Jump is complete and we will go get what you need.”
Bertoan hesitated, then sighed. “Fine, if that is the way it is going to have to be.” He turned to me. “You said you have basic fabrication available?”
I nodded. “Nothing fancy, but anything you immediately need should be there.”
He nodded in return. “Thank you, Captain.” He and the others retreated towards the far end of the lounge. Not that it was that big, really. There isn’t a lot of space on a Free Trader. I looked at Varan and tilted my head in their direction. He mouthed a “thank you” then followed.
I looked around. Saahna smiled at me, nodded, and took the ladder down. Dr. Korvusar caught my attention and waved her empty wine glass at me. I walked over.
She handed me the glass. “Your wine selection on board is atrocious. May I have another?”
I smiled and nodded. “Of course.” I took the glass and turned to leave when she touched my arm. I turned back. “Yes?”
She tilted her head, looking at me. “They were the last ones to come aboard,” she said in a low voice. “Their cargo would be the easiest to access. And the removal of a few personal possessions wouldn’t change your mass balance as much as us walking around do.”
I smiled and nodded. “Yes, but telling someone ‘you’re being an asshole’ isn’t very diplomatic.” I don’t know why I decided to be open to her but I felt she would understand.
She nodded in return and gave me a slight smile. “You handled that very well. I knew I was making the right choice.”
I frowned at that. “What does that mean?”
She smiled again. “In time, Captain. In time. Now… about my wine?”
I hesitated, wanting to confront her, but decided that doing so in front of everyone else wouldn’t be the best idea. I nodded, went to the dispenser, checked to see what she had been drinking, and drew another glass. I took it back to her.
“Thank you, Captain.” She took the glass. Anything else she might have been planning to say was interrupted by an announcement over the ship-wide comm.
“All passengers,” said the voice of the Grayswandir’s computer in a quiet, modulated voice. “We are about to start our transition to the Jump Point. Please find a place to make yourself comfortable. We will begin maneuvering shortly. Thank you.”
I looked at her. “I guess I need to get back up to the bridge.”
She nodded. “I understand, Captain.” She turned to look at the exterior view again.
I glanced around and saw that Varan was ushering the other passengers into their cabins. I took the opportunity to head down through the iris to the crew deck.
Saahna was standing there as I came down the ladder. “Thanks for handling that,” she said as I stepped onto the deck.
I shrugged. “They were several hours late. It was their fault but I didn’t want to directly call them on it. We’ll be fine.” I hesitated. “OK, Varan will be up late to get their stuff but that will be the end of it.”
She nodded slowly. “I hope so. But I can tell by the way they’re behaving they aren’t very experienced Travellers.” She paused. “You need to get to the bridge right away?”
I shook my head and frowned. “Not until Jump; Do’rex can handle the orbital transfer better than me. What’s up?”
“I did some research into our Dr. Korvusar.”
I nodded. “And?”
“Something doesn’t add up. She was active-duty Imperial Navy until recently. Three days ago, actually.”
I frowned. “That was after she talked to me.”
She nodded. “Yeah, she retired right after we gave her a ship to leave on.”
“So… what happened?”
“Nothing that I could find. She’s been in for seven terms. She had hit mandatory retirement but was asked to stay on. She had apparently agreed to do that at first, then abruptly changed her mind.”
“Also after she talked to me?” She nodded. I frowned again. “Did you find where she was stationed? Her position?”
“Yeah. She was on the Ahrhi’s Needle; that’s a thousand-ton Border Picket operating out of the Old Expanses. Crew of 37. She is –well, was– their Medic for the past 8 years if not longer; I couldn’t find posting info before that. Several commendations as a combat medic, but that’s it. Nothing negative that I could see.”
I nodded approval. “Good work. Glad you got all that on such short notice.”
She shrugged. “My little drummer boy played a long set. And fell asleep almost immediately after.” She frowned briefly. “I had time for some research.”
I nodded sympathy. “I kinda felt bad about pulling you away from your date.”
She looked at me, smiling mischievously. “Not jealous, are you?”
I shook my head. “We’re crew-mates with benefits; I know where we stand…”
She laughed. “You met someone too, didn’t you?”
I flushed slightly. “Yeah, I kinda did.”
She tilted her head. “What happened to her?”
“Wanted to continue her tour. Was upset that I didn’t volunteer to fly her and her friends around the sector.”
“You always fall for the ones like that.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.”
“I know you too well. You’ll be looking for a shoulder to cry on in about three or four days.”
“Yeah, probably. I guess we’ll see.”
She turned serious again. “So… what do you think about our Dr. Korvusar?”
I shrugged. “As long as her TAS vouchers are good, I don’t care. I doubt she’s trying to take over the ship or something like that. At some point, when she needs help for whatever she’s up to, then she’ll have to tell us. Until then…” I shrugged again.
She nodded. “I hope you’re right, Captain. I’ll see what I can find at our next port.”
“Probably not much; it isn’t that big of a port.”
“Sometimes those are where you get the best data.” She turned back towards the turret console. “I guess I better pretend to be doing something. In case one of our new passengers come down here and wonders why I’m not ready to defend us against those dangerous space pirates.”
I laughed and waved. “Yeah, I guess I better get back up to the bridge too.”
Back up front I climbed back into my seat and strapped in. Do’rex flipped a tentacle in my direction but otherwise didn’t say anything. I ran my diagnostics, found everything to be as expected, and settled back into my seat.
For the next few hours there wasn’t anything to do. I pulled up a drama on my console and started watching it, knowing the Grayswandir would let me know when we got close to the Jump Point.
I was two and a half episodes in when the alert chimed. I flicked the video away and looked up. Do’rex was already setting up our tumble so I started charging the zuchai crystals for Jump.
I looked at the sensors. There was one other ship in the area; a Subsidized Merchant called the Breath of Rigel. As I watched its hull became crisscrossed with lines of blue light as the lanthanum grid activated. There was a brief flare of light and the ship was gone.
Then it was our turn.
I hit the switch to dim the internal lights, the universal sign that we were preparing for Jump. I then opened the internal comms.
“Attention everyone, prepare for Jump transition.” I clicked off immediately; there wasn’t any need to say more. I watched as green lights flashed on my console, indicating from Jami and Varan that the engines and passengers were ready to go. I looked at Do’rex and nodded.
Do’rex nodded in return and tapped his own console.
Jump doesn’t look like much from the inside. I could see a faint glow from the hull grid at the edge of the canopy but the only real sign was the slow fade out of the stars and planets until there was nothing left but a vaguely shifting pattern of blacks and grays. A pattern that almost, but never quite, formed into a recognizable shape. I sighed and hit the button to close the shutters over the canopy. Some people never got used to looking at raw jumpspace. Our internal displays would be showing simulated views based on our estimated position until we returned to normal space.
I unfastened my harness and stood up. Do’rex glanced in my direction as he went over his console, shutting down the maneuver drive until it would be needed again. I leaned forward and restored the lights.
“Everything looks good, Captain,” he said, not looking up from his work. “We should be at Fugitak in seven days.”
“Good,” I said, sighing. “It’s been a long day. Head on back as soon as you’re done.” He clicked in agreement as I left the bridge.
The crew lounge was empty. I hesitated, wondering if I should wait to see the others as they came through, then shrugged. I could talk to them tomorrow. If anything went wrong in jumpspace we couldn’t do anything about it anyway. I went to my cabin and will be going to sleep as soon as I finish this log. Captain out.