I got up early, packed my few remaining items, and headed back to the Grayswandir. I didn’t even bother hitting the common fresher before I did; I almost preferred the tiny one on the ship by this point.
I stopped by my cabin long enough to drop off my downpack, use the ship’s fresher, and switch into my Captain’s uniform. I stuck my head onto the bridge to see that Do’rex was already there and setting up our course, then left. He flipped a tentacle in my direction to acknowledge me while continuing his work.
I next went outside to supervise the cargo loading. They had a few cargobots here but most of the work was being done by humans driving loaders. Most everything had already been delivered and I watched it get carried into the cargo bay and latched down. One cargo was running late, which irritated me, and I contacted the Broker responsible. She seemed annoyed, I had apparently woken her up, but she swore that she would have it delivered well before our departure window.
While I was working I had seen Varan come aboard. I went up to the passenger deck to find him checking the cabins to make sure the configuration was correct. He was already in his Steward’s uniform.
“Ready to head out?”
He nodded but I noticed that he looked away from me as he did. “Yeah… sure. Ready to go.”
I frowned. “Something wrong?”
He shook his head, still looking away. “No! No…. I’m good.”
I hesitated. “OK,” I said finally. “Let me know if there’s anything, OK? Anything.” I emphasized the last word.
He nodded. “Yeah, sure…”
I stood for a few seconds, then shrugged. “OK. Passengers should be getting here in about an hour or so. Just get them to their cabins and run through the usual ‘welcome aboard’ speech. Oh, we’re going to have to make a scoop run on the way out, so make sure they get the emergency briefing.”
“Got it!” When he didn’t add anything I turned and headed for the hatch to the main level. I was a few steps down the ladder when he suddenly turned.
“Oh, Captain? Derek?”
I stopped. “Yes?”
He hesitated. “Thanks. I… may take you up on that sometime. OK?”
I wasn’t quite sure what he was responding to, but I nodded. “Yeah, sure. Let me know.”
“Thanks, Derek,” he said. “Captain.” He turned back to his work. I stayed on the ladder a moment, shrugged, then finished descending.
Jami and Amada were in the common room when I arrived. Jami was pointing out various features around the ship while Amada was looking around wide-eyed.
“…and Saahna is usually back here,” Jami was saying, pointing to the Gunnery console at the back of the room. “Well… not when we’re in Jumpspace, nothing to worry about then, but when we’re coming in or heading out.”
“And you live here? All the time?” Amada sounded surprised.
Jami nodded. “Yep. Except when we’re on-planet.” She suddenly noticed me. “Oh! Hi, Captain!” She threw me a half wave, half salute.
Amada turned as well. “Thank you for letting me on-board, Captain!” she said. She hesitated, flushing slightly. “I hope you aren’t mad at me for taking advantage of Jami here…”
I shrugged. “Hey, what advantage she gets taken of on-planet isn’t my concern. As long as it doesn’t affect her work once she’s back on board.” I turned to look at her, smiling slightly.
Jami was immediately uncomfortable. “Um… yeah. So… I… kinda have to get to work. I’ll… see you later?” She looked at Amada.
It was Amada’s turn to laugh. “Sure!” She leaned forward and gave her a quick kiss. “I’m sure your Captain can get me to my cabin.” She turned to look at me.
Jami flushed again. “OK, sure. I’ll… see you later.” She glanced at me. “I’ll… just head for Engineering. Captain.” She turned and almost ran to the aft hatch. As soon as it closed both Amada and I laughed.
“She’s really embarrassed about this,” said Amada, turning to face me. “I wasn’t trying to take advantage of her. I mean, I didn’t mean to.”
I nodded. “Like I said, I don’t care what she does on-planet. And to me you’re one of our passengers, so the services of the ship are available to you.” I hesitated. “But I can’t treat you differently because of your relationship with Jami, OK?”
She smiled and nodded in return. “I understand and wasn’t asking for anything more.”
“Good.” I looked around. “Any extra cargo or special requests? Anything we can do for you?”
“This is it.” She picked up a duffel bag that had been sitting near the airlock. “Just show me where I’ll be sleeping and we’re good.”
I nodded and gestured towards the ladder to the passenger deck. “This way.”
I turned Amada over to Varan then went back to the bridge. There, I spent some time setting up our Jump. We’d be leaving from near the second gas giant, the name of which I had never bothered to look up. It was the easiest to reach based on where it and Fugitak’s orbits were and one source of hydrogen and reaction mass was as good as any other.
When I finished I checked the status board again and saw that the remaining cargo had shown up and I went back to check on it. Varan was still upstairs handling the passengers so I directed the cargobots to the designated points for the containers.
That done, I went out to the bay. Saahna was already there, doing a walk-around of the ship. I caught up with her.
“So how’s it look?”
“We’re good,” she said. “Varan is getting that family settled in. I’m out here while they get the kids to settle down.”
I grimaced. “Yeah, it may be a fun week.”
“No, we’re good. They’ll stay occupied.”
We rounded the tail as I saw the Commissioner and his entourage enter the bay. I was ready for them this time and walked up.
“Good afternoon, Commissioner Harter.” I handed him two printed stacks. “Our cargo and passenger manifests.”
He took them, frowning. “You have been a disruptive influence on our settlement here, Captain. What do you have to say for yourself?”
I hadn’t been expecting any kind of congeniality, so I just shrugged. “We’re a Free Trader crew, Commissioner. We can fit in anywhere but…” I trailed off and raised my hands.
He glared at me, but I hadn’t specifically said anything negative so he couldn’t call me on much. He looked through some paperwork on a clipboard of his own. “I see you have fines of 17,000 credits?”
“17,218, actually,” I said. “We paid this morning.” I handed another printout to him.
He frowned but took the printout and looked over it intently. “Everything seems to be in order then, Captain.” He emphasized the last word a bit too much. He flipped to another page on his clipboard, scribbled something on it with an ornate, feathered pen that one of his assistants gave to him, then handed it to me with a flourish.
“Thank you for visiting with us, Captain. I hope we’ll see you on Fugitak again.”
I shrugged. “Never can tell. And thanks.” I took the paperwork, waved it in the air in his direction, then turned and headed for the airlock. Saahna followed.
As soon as we were aboard I hit the switch to cycle the airlock closed. “I’m glad we’re out of that!” I said to no one in particular.
I heard a matching sigh from Saahna. She turned to look at me. “We’re never coming back here… right?”
“Not unless we have to.”
“Good.” She started walking towards her cabin, then turned to look at me. “Ever wonder why Captain Anna dodged us around some worlds? They were like this one. Keep us away from these insular, unwelcoming ones. Unless we can make a shit-ton of credits there. OK?”
I sighed. “Yeah, sure. Got it. I’m new at this… OK?”
She stopped long enough to laugh. “Yeah, OK. I’ll forgive you. This time.” She started walking towards her cabin. “We’re leaving in about two?” she asked over her shoulder.
I thought. “Let me see if Do’rex and I can recalculate our launch window. The sooner we hit vacuum the happier I’ll be.” She waved a hand over her shoulder and continued on. I went up the ladder to the passenger lounge.
All of the passengers except for Amada were there. The kids, Jeorge and Kyla, were running in circles around the passenger lounge. Gherome and Atana were talking with Varan and Dr. Korvusar was sitting in her chair off to one side, somehow ignoring everyone around her.
I walked up to Varan, Gherome, and Atana. “Welcome aboard the Grayswandir” I said, extending my hand. “I’m Captain Kodai, as I’m sure you remember. Is everything to your satisfaction so far?”
“Yes Captain, it is!” Gherome took my hand and shook it furiously. “Atana and I…” he glanced at her, “are so grateful for your giving us this opportunity.”
Kyla ran up to me. “I like the way your spaceship smells!” she said, smiling brightly. I sniffed. It smelled like carbon-scrubbed air to me, but I guess compared to Fugitak’s local atmosphere it was an improvement.
“I’m glad you like it!” I said, kneeling down to be at her level. “We’re going to go to a gas giant after we take off to get fuel to take us to Boilingbrook. You’ll get to see it.”
“No she won’t!” said Atana sharply, glaring at me. She knelt down as well. “I’m sorry sweetie, but that’s after your bed time.”
I thought quickly. “You know, we’re about 7 hours out of sync with the starport on Boilingbrook. Normally we slowly shift our on-board clocks to match, but we can go ahead and cut over today. That should make it to where she could see it.”
Atana smiled tightly. “Thank you, but it’s been a long day for us already. I’m sure Kyla and Jeorge will be asleep by then.” She turned to look at Kyla. “Won’t you.”
Kyla lowered her head. “Yes ma’am.”
I stood up. “I’m sure you know them better than me. Well, I guess I’ll go get ready for launch. I’ll see you around.” I nodded to them and to Varan then headed back towards the hatch.
Saahna was standing there and went down the ladder as I approached. She was waiting for me when I got down to the crew lounge.
“Smooth move, Captain. I can tell you’ve never had children.”
“Not my fault,” I said, shrugging.
She sighed. “Don’t they teach you anything about dealing with children in that Steward training you went to?”
I shrugged again. “Yeah. They say everyone is different and you need to learn how to deal with them. Picked the wrong approach this time…”
“OK, it happens.” She paused. “You know what Jami’s up to this leg?”
I hesitated. “No? What is going on now?”
She waved a hand. “No, nothing like that, I… I was just wondering what was going on with her and Amada.”
“Amada is a passenger. I expect all of us to treat her as one.”
She flushed. “Well yeah. Which means it would be awkward for Jami to go up to the passenger deck. But, we let passengers come downstairs…”
“Oh,” I said. “That’s up to her. But if you’re wanting to give her some privacy… you know my door code.”
She smiled. “I’ll keep that in mind. And let Jami know.”
She shrugged. “She didn’t want to ask you herself.”
I sighed and shook my head. “She’ll get used to us. I’ll let her know.”
Saahna smiled. “Thanks. See you tonight, then.”
I waved as I turned to the bridge. “Yeah, when we’re all exhausted from a skim and jump.” I heard her laugh behind me as I went through the hatch.
Inside I ducked under the captain’s seat and dropped into mine. Do’rex waved in acknowledgment.
“We’ve got our launch window opening in about a half-hour, captain. We can leave whenever we’re ready.”
I shrugged. “No point in hanging around.” I opened the ship-wide comm. “Good afternoon everyone, this is Captain Kodai up on the bridge. We’re planning for departure in about 30 minutes, so please complete any last preparations and return to your staterooms. We don’t anticipate any problems with our inertial and gravity systems, but on the off-chance that something does go wrong it is best that you remain seated during our launch phase. In the meantime, enjoy your time on the Grayswandir”
Do’rex looked at me as I switched off. “You really need to work on your speeches.”
I shrugged. “I got the info across, didn’t I?”
He didn’t say anything but started running through his pre-launch checks. I opened a channel to Fugitak. “This is the Grayswandir, anyone there?”
Almost a minute went by before we got a response. “Sure thing, Grayswandir; you ready to leave?”
“About 30 minutes. Just letting you know.”
“Got it,” said the voice. “Just ping me about 5 minutes before and we’ll pull the dome back. Are all of you in? We’ll go ahead and vent the dome if you are.”
I glanced at the console and saw all the airlock and hatch lights were green.
“We’re good, Fugitak; feel free to pull your O2 back.”
“Thank you, Grayswandir,” came the response. “Talk to you in about 30.”
Immediately the external sensors showed the oxygen levels dropping. They would probably do a nitrogen flush before opening the dome. It didn’t matter, we were on internals now.
I went ahead and flipped on the inertial and gravitational systems. There was a brief moment of disorientation as “down” changed slightly, then everything was normal again.
The next 30 minutes passed quickly and I was soon talking to Fugitak control again. “Fugitak? We’re ready to go.”
“Sure thing!” came the voice. “Been waiting on you.” Outside the canopy the lighting changed almost immediately as the dome started rolling back overhead and brownish flakes of not-snow started blowing across the pad.
I flipped on the comms again. “All passengers and crew, stand by for lift.” I cut off and checked the console. After a few seconds all the lights switched to green and I looked over at Do’rex. “Get us out of here.”
“With pleasure, Captain,” he said, already activating the controls. Outside I saw the landing pad drop away below us then disappear behind us as he applied forward thrust. He pitched up almost immediately and within a few seconds we were climbing vertically though yellow and brown clouds.
A few minutes later we broke out into clear air and Do’rex pitched us over again, gathering speed for orbit. I watched as the curve of the horizon appeared then dropped beneath us. Within a few more minutes we were in orbit.
I checked the sensors. The only other thing in orbit, beyond the usual communication and planetary observation satellites, was a scout/courier hanging above the settlement. I frowned and checked. It was the same one that had been there when we arrived a week ago. I wondered what it was doing. Nothing I cared to know about, probably.
“We’ll break orbit in about 20 minutes,” said Do’rex, checking his console. “Then it’s about 10 hours to the gas giant.”
“Great, thanks,” I said, pushing my seat back and unfastening my harness. “Need me up here?”
He flipped a tentacle. “No, it’s already programmed. I’ll make sure the maneuver kicks off properly then go catch some rest before the skim.”
“Sounds good,” I told him. I leaned forward and opened the comms again. “Everyone, this is the captain again. We’ve achieved orbit around Fugitak and you are now welcome to move around the ship. Be aware that we will begin our transit to the local gas giant for refueling in about 20 minutes and plan to execute our skim in about 10 hours. That’s pretty late ship’s time so if you wish to watch you may want to get some rest between now and then.”
“We will be entering Jumpspace soon after the skim. Estimated Jump time to Boilingbrook is one week; we will have a more accurate schedule once we initiate Jump. Until then, enjoy your flight.” I clicked off and stood up.
“Much better, Captain,” said Do’rex, clicking slightly in amusement. “You’ll get the hang of this yet.”
I sighed. “Everyone’s a critic.” He clicked again as I left the bridge.
The crew lounge was empty. Saahna was probably in the gunnery suite, even though there was likely no need, and Jami was probably still in engineering. Varan would be working with the passengers.
I passed through the lounge and through the cargo bay, heading for Engineering.
I entered to hear a conversation on the far side of the room. I walked around the currently inactive Jump Drive to find Jami and Amada. Jami was enthusiastically pointing out aspects of the drive while Amada looked on in what I could tell was vaguely feigned interest.
“Giving our passenger a tour of the ship?” I asked.
Jami jumped. “Oh! Captain! I… didn’t expect to see you down here. What’s up?”
I gestured dismissively. “Nothing of import. Just checking in on everyone. Probably going to catch some rest before the skim and Jump and wanted to make sure everything else was under control. Any problems?”
She shook her head. “Nope. The ship’s doing great!” She paused. “Um… Captain. Can I… see you for a moment?”
I held up my hand. “I talked to Saahna. You’ll have the cabin to yourself tonight.”
She flushed brightly at that. “Um… that wasn’t… I mean…” She glanced over at Amada, who was smiling and shaking her head in amusement. “Um… thanks, Captain.”
“No problem,” I replied. I looked at Amada. “Enjoy the trip.”
It was Amada’s turn to flush. “Oh! Thank you, Captain.”
I nodded. “Like I said, just making sure everything was good.”
We were interrupted by the sound of the Grayswandir‘s computer. “Attention. We are starting our transit to the outer gas giant for refueling. Be aware there may be sudden, unexpected ship movements. Thank you for your attention.”
“Well, that’s my cue,” I said. “You’ll be ready for skim?”
Jami nodded. “Yep. We’ll be ready.” She frowned, suddenly. “You do have a purification plant on this thing, right?”
I did my best to look hurt. “Of course! What kind of ship do you think I’m running?”
She laughed. “Yeah, I should have known. We’ll be ready. See you in ten.” She gave me her usual salute. I waved a dismissive hand in response and turned, leaving Engineering to her and Amada.
Back in the lounge I debated checking in on the rest of the crew then decided against it. I headed back to my cabin.
Despite what I had said I hadn’t planned on taking a nap, but I found myself in my bunk anyway. I dozed off.
I’m not sure how much time had passed but I awoke when someone climbed into the bunk with me. I looked up long enough to see Saahna crawling in beside me.
“Time to get up?” I asked.
“Time for some sleep,” she said. “Looks like we won’t hit the giant just after midnight. No way I’m staying up until then.”
I nodded, putting an arm around her as she moved closer. “Yeah. Sounds good. ‘Night.”
“You too… Captain.”