I was a bit later getting to the ship this morning than I had planned. I had looked up some local wines the night before and had tracked down a few of the more recommended ones, but the place I had found them was surprisingly late opening.
When I did make it to the ship everyone except Saahna was already there. Varan was double-checking the loading in the cargo bay and Do’rex was already on the bridge. The Grayswandir told me that Jami was out doing a walk around. I quickly changed into my Captain’s jacket and went outside.
I started walking around the bay but didn’t see her. I was about to go back in when I heard her call.
“Heya, Captain!” I looked around, then finally up. She was standing on the top of the hull, near the atmospheric stabilizer. “Looking good?”
“You tell me?”
“Yeah. Just a second.” She stepped out of sight then reappeared on an airpod. The one-person grav platform swooped around the ship in a final checkout then landed next to me.
“The ground crew said there was a crack on the seal for the air raft so I was making sure they had fixed it.” She tapped on the ‘pod’s controls and it swooped up and out of the landing bay. “It looks like they swapped out the entire gasket, so that’s good.”
I nodded. “Glad they caught that; I wouldn’t want to discover it on a skim run.”
She shrugged. “It’s an airlock so the interior door would have held. We’d be fine. Would probably mess up the raft though.”
I nodded again and changed the subject. “See any problems this week?”
She shook her head. “Nope. Except for your mystery passenger.” She looked at something over my shoulder. “And I think they just showed up.”
I turned around. A large group of people had just entered the bay, some carrying imagers aimed at a smiling and waving woman. A flybot circled overhead, apparently carrying an imager as well, and behind her was a cargobot carrying a pallet. I groaned. High passengers are allowed to carry a d-ton of cargo with them but I had rarely seen anyone do it. She obviously was taking advantage of her space.”
I sighed, waved to Jami, and wandered over to the group. “Hello, I’m Derek Kodai, captain of the Grayswandir. Can I help you?”
The woman turned to face me. She was young, surprisingly young for someone buying a High Passage. I noticed that she was wearing a head-mounted imager and had a second one strapped to her chest, facing upwards. I wondered briefly what the view from it looked like.
“Captain Kodai!” she said, smiling a bit too widely and sounding a bit too excited. “So good to be coming aboard!” I noticed the “recording” light on her imager was live and the flybot swooped down near us. “I’m Therry! So glad to be getting this chance!”
I looked at her with slight confusion. “Glad to have you aboard Ms…. Therry?”
“What?” She laughed. “Oh, I guess you’ve never seen my stream! Therry is just my net name. I’m Sherry Tharis, I run a netlife channel here!”
I smiled slightly at that. Netlifers were people who carried imagers with them all the time and broadcast everything they did to the local nets. Everything. Some of them became minor local celebrities but for the most part most people paid little attention to them.”
“Oh!” I said, putting on my best smile. “No I haven’t, but we’re of course happy to have you on board!”
“I’m sure you are, Captain!” She smiled. “When I picked this ship I didn’t realize its captain was so… handsome. Your avatar doesn’t do you justice!”
I continued smiling though I winced inwardly. Even I knew that was a weak line. “Why, thank you!” I said.
She somehow smiled even more broadly. “Of course, Captain Derek. May I call you Derek?”
She was laying it on a bit thick, but I was pretty sure it was for her audience. “Of course.” I gave my best smile.
She turned back to face the people behind you. “And I want to thank all of you, especially all of my patrons who donated to make this trip possible. I’m sorry I kept the details secret but I couldn’t have others getting ahead of me, now could I?”
“Now, I’m going to be off-net for a while; can’t live broadcast from jumpspace now can I?” She laughed and the people around her joined in, even though she hadn’t really made a joke. “But I’ll dump all my recordings once we get to Kupakii and you should be able to see everything then. But, until then…” She made an elaborate hand gesture that ended in a wave. “Until then keep listening to the sky!”
She then went and said goodbye to her followers, hugging a few, before turning back to me. “I guess you’ll need this?” She pulled up her comp and flicked something to me. I looked at mine and saw that the high passage had decrypted itself.
“Yup, that works!” I gestured towards her cargo. “Is there something in there you will need access to during jump or is that for Kupakii?”
She frowned. “It won’t be in or near my cabin?”
I frowned at that myself. “No… There really isn’t that much space on a free trader, even in a High cabin. We can make sure it is loaded where you can get to it, but it won’t be quite readily available.”
She seemed to get more annoyed at that. “What? I was told I could take everything with me!”
I put on my most professional smile. “Yes, you can. But we are in very tight quarters and so need to only have the essentials readily available. I or Varan, our Steward, will make every effort to make sure you have access to whatever you need, but we have to make sure of the safety of our ship and our other passengers as well.”
For a long moment she looked at me, then smiled. “Of course Captain. I’m sorry. I guess I’ve been watching too many net dramas.”
I tilted my head. “You’ve not been off-world before?”
She brightened up at that and smiled. “No! This is my first time off of Boilingbrook! I’m really looking forward to it!”
I smiled slightly at that. “Well, I’m afraid you may find actual jump travel to be a bit less luxurious and a lot more uneventful than you are expecting.”
She laughed. “Oh, don’t worry Captain. Or is it Derek? Can I call you Derek?”
I smiled. “Yes. And you already asked that.”
“Oh?” I saw a moment of confusion, then embarrassment. “Sorry.” She leaned forward. “I’m not really live; I’ll upload this before we leave. I’ll edit it out. Just go along with it, OK?”
I fought back a laugh. “Sure. Let’s go on.”
“Great!” she said, in a different tone of voice that I somehow realized was her ‘”normal” persona. “Let’s get back to it!”
“So Derek,” she said, her voice regaining her excitement. “You can make sure I can get to my equipment, right?”
I nodded, playing along. “Of course. We’ll take care of it.” I gestured towards the airlock. “We’ll let the bots take care of the cargo, why don’t we go ahead on board?”
She nodded. “Of course, Derek.” She, to my surprise, slipped her arm around mine. I hesitated, then led her towards the airlock.
We cycled through to the crew lounge. The only person there was Saahna. She turned to our direction, saw Sherry, and a frown instantly crossed her face.
“Everything is ready for lift, Captain,” she said, a bit more curtly than normal. She looked between us, then away.
“Thanks Saahna,” I said, trying to quickly calm things down. “This is Sherry Tharis; she’s one of our passengers this trip.”
“I see,” Saahna replied. I felt myself getting annoyed but turned to Sherry.
“Sherry, this is Saahna Denan. She’s our security officer. She’ll make sure we get to where ever we’re going safely.”
“Welcome aboard,” Saahna said, smiling tightly. “I hope we’ll have a safe trip.”
“I’m sure we will, Lieutenant Denan.” Sherry smiled, then turned back to me. “Would you mind showing me my cabin, Derek?”
“Of course,” I said. I glanced at Saahna to see her frowning at us, but not in annoyance; it was her “something is wrong” look. I’d check in with her later.
I led Sherry to the ladder and she looked at it dubiously. “You don’t… have an elevator?”
I laughed. “We don’t quite have the space for those. I can have gravity lowered if you would like.”
She laughed and shook her head. “No, that’s fine. I guess space travel really is a lot different than what they show on the vids.” She directed her attention to the imager on her chest. “And I hope all of you appreciate what I’m doing for you.” With an exaggerated sigh, she climbed to the upper deck.
I glanced over at Saahna with an eyebrow raised. She shook her head and nodded towards the overhead iris before heading towards her gunnery console. I shrugged and climbed upstairs.
Sherry was standing beside the iris, looking around the passenger lounge. “…and so this is where I’ll be spending the next week,” she was saying to the imager. “And these are the people I’ll be spending it with.”
I looked around. Varan was there, talking to a man dressed up a bit too much for a Free Trader. A man, a woman, and a girl who looked to be just before her teens were standing in front of the dispenser going through its menu, and Dr. Korvusar sat in her usual chair with her usual glass of wine. She briefly glanced at me in acknowledgment then went back to looking at something on her comp.
The girl looked around, saw Sherry, and suddenly bolted towards us. “Therry!” she shouted, running up towards her. “Therry! It’s me! Jaya! Remember? I sent you those pictures from Echo Orbital!”
I saw a very brief moment of surprise cross Sherry’s face then she broke into a broad smile. “Of course! Jaya! I loved those! You could hear the sky so well in them!”
Jaya was nodding happily. “Yes, yes! I knew you’d like them!” She suddenly pulled out her comp and flipped out a built-in imager. “Can I get a picture with you?” Without waiting for a response she turned to face the imager and snapped a shot. I looked to see that Sherry had barely managed to get a smile on her face in time.
Any response was cut short when Jaya’s parent’s came running over. “Jaya! What did we tell you?”
Jaya’s mood immediately changed and she looked as if she were trying to shrink into herself. “Sorry Dad, but I saw…”
“I don’t care who you saw!” he snapped at her. “I told you that you needed to behave and stay with us while on-board.” He turned to face me and Sherry. “I’m sorry Miss… Captain… She’s just excited about this trip. I told her not to bother the other passengers and…” He turned to glare at her again.
“It’s all right,” said Sherry. “I’m always happy to meet one of my followers, Mr….?”
Instead of responding he turned his glare on her. “Oh? So you’re one of those net people who are filling her head with silly nonsense? People like you should be ashamed of yourselves!”
Sherry seemed to be a bit taken aback by that. “Excuse me?”
“All she does is watch those ‘amateur’ vids like yours on the net then comm her friends about them. Instead of learning actual skills or how to behave herself as a ‘proper’ lady.
Sherry shook her head. “I’m sorry, Mr….”
He interrupted. “Bershaman Gortor. Sir Bershaman Gortor to you. You would do well to respect your superiors.”
Sherry frowned. “Boilingbrook is not an Imperial planet, Mr. Gortor. We don’t have to recognize your nobility. And we have none of our own.”
He became angry at that. “And look at you! A planet where they let people like you say whatever they want! Even if it is lies! Nothing but lies!”
Sherry flushed red and I stepped in between them. “I’m sorry Mr…. Sir Gortor, but surely this isn’t the place to discuss planetary policies. We’re all here to go to Kupakii, so we have at least something in common with each other. Why don’t we start there?”
He turned his anger on me. “Oh… Captain, is it? Do you at least know how to address your betters?”
I hesitated at that. I knew. Far better than he did. But that was a long time ago. And I never cared for people who expected anything just because of who they were instead of what they did.
I put on my best, liaison-trained smile. “Of course, Sir Gortor. We will be sure to give you as much attention as we can. However, I am sure you know that a Free Trader such as ourselves has limited resources available.”
“Of course!” he said with a snort. “I wouldn’t be on a ship such as this unless there was no other way to get to Kupakii! Unfortunately, you were the only ship available.”
I found that highly doubtful, given the traffic here and the fact that Kupakii was next on a major trade route, but I continued smiling. “I understand, of course. That is what we Free Traders excel at after all.”
He gave a sigh in obvious annoyance. “Yes, yes, I understand. But still, I must complain about your facilities here. And our cabin is incredibly small for just the three of us.”
I nodded sympathetically. “Yes, space is at a premium here, but I have already allocated you cabin space as if you had a fourth passenger with you. I’m afraid we don’t have any additional space to allocate more to your cabin.”
He frowned. “Seriously, Captain? I am a Knight of the Imperium. Surely you can do better than this?”
His brandishing his title did nothing to help his case. “I’m sorry,” I said, returning to my best fake smile. “Improved accommodations are available to our High Passengers, such as Ms. Tharis here. Of course, we will make every effort we can to take care of you, within those parameters.”
“What!” He took a step towards me. “Perhaps you didn’t hear me, Captain. I am a Knight of the Imperium! I see no need to pay extra to pretend to be more important than I really am!”
He had now gone beyond my threshold of what I was willing to put up with. “I’m sorry, Sir Gortor,” I said, my politeness crossing over into mockery. “Perhaps you didn’t understand. I am Derek Kodai, Captain of the Grayswandir. You have paid for a middle passage on my ship. I fully intend to treat you with the respect and benefits I give any other middle passenger on my ship. Of course, I will be happy to upgrade you and your family to a High Passage if you wish to gain the additional privileges. Our Steward Varan Holt will be happy to process the upgrade fee for you, if you wish.”
He glared at me, almost shaking. “The Emperor will hear about this!” he said, almost hissing the words.
“Which Emperor?” I asked politely. “I understand we have three now.”
He clenched his jaw at that, then turned. “Maris, Jaya… come with me; we are retiring to our cabin.” He stalked off across the lounge. His wife fell in immediately behind him while Jaya gave one last half-wave to Sherry before following.
I gave myself until the door slid shut behind them before allowing myself a deep breath. That could have gone better. I then turned back to Sherry.
“I’m sorry about that Ms. Tharis; some people don’t adapt to the cramped quarters of a free trader as well as others.”
She shook her head but smiled. “Oh don’t worry Derek, I thought you handled that very well. Thank you for rescuing me.” She quickly leaned forward and, to my surprise, kissed my cheek. “You’re my knight!” She smiled again and I felt myself turn red, which prompted a laugh from her.
“Oh, don’t worry Captain. I’ll try not to be too much of a fan.” She laughed again, then became more serious. “Still though, I’d like to get to my cabin, get some of my equipment, and edit together an upload for today before we leave net range. Can you show me there?”
I smiled slightly. “Easy enough.” I took her elbow and led her to a door a few steps away and tapped on the panel. We stood there for a few seconds, long enough for the biometric scanner to get a good look at her, then the door slid open.
“Welcome aboard,” I said. I gestured towards Varan, who looked up at me at the motion. “Our steward will make sure you can get what equipment you need from cargo.”
“Thank you Captain, for everything.” She leaned close again and whispered in my ear. “And I mean… everything.” She repeated her cheek kiss and stepped back. “You will give me a tour of the ship later, right?”
I hesitated a fraction before nodding. “Certainly. Of course. Once we’re in jumpspace you’ll have my undivided attention.” I smiled.
“Thanks again, Captain.” The door slid shut and I turned around with a sigh. How did I get myself into these things?
Varan walked over. “You seem to be getting along with at least one of our passengers, Captain.”
I shook my head. “It isn’t like that.”
He smirked. “Sure it isn’t. So, what do you need from me?”
I pointed over my shoulder. “She needs to get some equipment from her cargo. It should be the last thing on, so should be easy to find. See what you can do for her; we don’t need more passengers unhappy.”
He continued the smirk. “Sure Captain, I’ll make sure you look good.”
I frowned and shook my head again. “I said it isn’t like that.”
“Don’t worry,” he said, slapping my shoulder. “I’ve got your back.” He started to step around me then stopped. “Oh, Saahna wants to talk to you.”
I sighed. “Of course she does.” He stepped around me as I took the few steps forwards back into the lounge.
Dr. Korvusar was still reading in the corner, apparently ignoring everything going on around her. The only other person remaining was a older man wearing a tailored business suit, cravat and cape regarding me with a polite expression. I walked up to him.
“You must be Mr. Chardon,” I said, extending my hand. “Welcome aboard the Grayswandir. I’m Captain Derek Kodai, and I apologize for that situation earlier.”
He took my hand and shook it warmly. “Actually Captain, I believe you handled that about as well as you could have. But one thing first. My name isn’t Chardon. It’s Trakon. Minister Neil Trakon.”
“Oh?” I frowned. “That’s a bit unusual, at least. May I ask why?”
He nodded, still smiling professionally. “I fully understand your concern, Captain. Which is why I am revealing my… necessary deception to you now.” He pulled out his ident and flicked it to me. I pulled it up on comp.
I was briefly taken aback by what I saw. “Oh! Mr…. Minister Trakon.” I hesitated as I reorganized my thoughts. “It is an honor to have you on board, sir. I’m afraid I haven’t spent much time on Boilingbrook and so did not recognize you. I apologize.”
My comp had confirmed his ident. Trakon was a member of the Boilingbrook High Council. One of the five highest-ranked politicians on the planet. And he was on my ship.
I could tell he recognized my surprise and confusion. “Don’t worry Captain, I won’t ask for anything more than a normal passenger would. Some of us don’t lean on our positions.” He tilted his head towards the Gortor’s cabin and smiled a professional politician’s smile.
I nodded slowly. “Certainly, thank you. But I must ask… Boilingbrook has its own fleet; its own Patrol and Navy. Why travel with us?”
He nodded with practiced seriousness. “Fleet movements are tracked. People pay attention when the Patrol leaves the system. But Free Traders such as yourself?” He gestured around the cabin. “You can come and go as you please. Go where you wish. And no one will be surprised. We have some negotiations with Kupakii that required a high council member to complete, but we did not want to reveal those until absolutely necessary. Hence the deception.”
I frowned. “Someone may have seen you come aboard.” I paused, a sinking feeling in my stomach. “And we have one of your local net celebrities on board with us.” I pointed towards Shelly’s cabin.
Trakon smiled and nodded. “Yes, I recognized Ms. Tharis. My son is a fan of hers too.” He paused. “It was inevitable that someone would see and recognize me as soon as I left Capital for Downport. But we’re now, or soon will be, on our way. And shortly after I arrive our negations will be announced. In fact, they will probably announce them here in the next day or so. After all, everything is agreed; we just need an official signature.”
I nodded. “I suppose. Well, I hope you will find the Grayswandir and its crew and accommodations to your satisfaction.” I glanced at my comp and winced. “And I hate to have to break off minister, but we are already at if not past that departure time you mentioned and I need to get down to the bridge.”
He nodded politely. “Of course Captain. Please forgive me for delaying you. We will speak more, later perhaps? I would like to hear the opinions of a seasoned Traveller such as yourself.” He smiled. “Those of us who stay on one planet always run the risk of getting too set in our own ways; it is always good to get the viewpoints of an outsider.”
I smiled in return. “Of course, Minister Trakon. I would be honored.” With a final nod I headed towards the ladder back to the crew deck.
There, I stopped long enough to compose a ping to the crew informing them of Trakon’s status. I’d worry about Gortor later. I looked around. The passenger lounge was empty. Minister Trakon had apparently gone to his cabin, and Dr. Korvusar had left as well. I sighed and descended the ladder.
Once down I looked up to make sure the iris was closed, then placed both hands over my face, rubbing my eyes. “Oh gods, this is going to be so much stress,” I said to no one in particular.
“That good, huh?” I lowered my hands quickly and looked around. Saahna was leaning against the wall behind me. She had apparently been waiting on me to come down.
I sighed. “We haven’t even lifted off yet and we’ve already got passengers fighting. And why didn’t anyone tell me we had a VIP on board?”
She tilted her head. “You booked the passages; you didn’t know who you were making them for?”
I shook my head. “One was under a false name and the other was that secret one you knew about. And I didn’t expect a family to know who our secret passenger was, much less start insulting her in the passenger lounge.” I rubbed my eyes again. “This is going to be a fun week.”
“Oh, it’s even more fun than that,” she said cryptically.
“How much did you tell our ‘secret passenger’ about us before escorting her in?”
I frowned, thinking. “Not much that I recall. Why?”
She smirked at that. “Yeah, I can see she was being distracting to you. Did you tell her about the crew?”
I shook my head. “Just as I introduced you.”
She smiled and nodded. “Yeah. So how did she know my rank?”
“When you two left for the passenger deck, she called me ‘Lieutenant Denan’. You didn’t mention my rank when you introduced me. So how did she know?”
I sighed and rubbed my eyes further. “I can’t deal with this IBIS shit…”
I felt her hand on my arm and looked up to see her looking at me sympathetically. “I wish…” she started, then removed her hand and looked away. “Gods, if you weren’t so frustrating!”
“What?” I felt myself getting annoyed, my frustration turning on her.
She looked at me and I saw anger in her eyes as well. “If you weren’t so into yourself instead of thinking about how I felt, then maybe I could have talked to you and avoided this, but you can’t deal with that!”
“Wait, what!” I stepped back, raising my hands. “Hey, you were the one who broke off with me!”
“I didn’t break off with you!” she snapped. “I took a break from you. Those are two different things. You’re the one who doesn’t get that. Though I’ll point out that you didn’t have any problem taking advantage of a ‘break’ back on Venad.”
“Forget it. Forget I said anything.” She turned and stalked off towards the gunnery suite. I hesitated, then called after her.
“I’m just afraid every time that this will be the one where you don’t come back!”
She stopped at that. For a long moment she paused, then turned to face me.
“Do you love me?”
“Of course!” I said, instantly. “I’ve told you that!”
“Do you believe that I love you?”
I hesitated this time. “You say that. Then you say you ‘need a break’.”
She sighed, shaking her head. “So why don’t you believe me?”
“Because you keep needing those breaks….”
She hesitated, then took a few steps back towards me. “Derek, I…” She paused, thinking. “Look,” she said, finally. “We have a lot to talk about. I’ll meet you at your cabin later.”
I must have shown something in my expression and she held her hands up. “To talk! We’ll… discuss other things after that.”
I hesitated, then nodded. “OK, sure. Once we’re in jump stop by.”
She nodded. “Yeah, we should be good then.” She turned and headed for gunnery again. I watched her go until the hatch cycled, then went up to the bridge.
Do’rex was already there and clicked at me in annoyance as I entered. “Waiting on you for departure.”
I waved at him in acknowledgment as I crawled past the captain’s seat. “Yeah, yeah, I know. We’ve got… an interesting mix of passengers this time around.
He waved a tentacle. “I am glad you are dealing with them instead of me, but ground control is asking when we will be ready for departure.”
I pulled up the data from STC and merged it with our own sensor data. The area around the floater and close orbit were packed. STC was feeding us departure windows on two minute intervals. That had apparently been going on for a while.
I grunted in annoyance. Dealing with Shelly, the Gortors, and Minister Trakon had annoyed me, whatever was up with Saahna had increased it, and now I had an annoyed Space Traffic Control to deal with. I looked over my console.
Do’rex clicked and flicked something from his console over to me. I saw all our airlocks were sealed and that we were on internal power. I waved acknowledgment and opened the ship-wide comms.
“Good afternoon everyone, this is Captain Kodai up on the bridge. We are currently standing by for departure clearance from Boilingbrook STC but we are now on internals and are ready to depart. We shouldn’t experience any problems but for safety we request that you return to your cabins or find seating during our atmospheric ascent. We will let you know when we are in orbit. Until then, sit back and enjoy your flight.” I closed the comm and looked over at Do’rex.
He clicked and raised a tentacle. “That was good, Captain. But you might want to tell STC we are leaving first next time.”
“I was planning to contact them,” I said, still slightly annoyed. I opened the comms. “Boilingbrook, this is the Grayswandir. I think we’re finally settled in here; ready to depart.”
I heard a slight chuckle from the speaker. “Yeah, sounds like you’ve got a couple of VIPs on board with you; you’re all over the nets, you know.”
I sighed. “No, not really. But I guess I can see that.”
“Well, good luck, that’s all I can say.” There was a slight pause. “OK, you should have your latest departure window. That’ll get you to orbit. Ping us when you’re ready for transit to your jump point; you’ve got a lot of traffic ahead of and behind you. Opening bay doors now, depart when you hit your time slot.”
“Thanks Boilingbrook,” I said. “Catch you next time.”
“We’ll be here, Grayswandir. Hey, that rhymes!” The comm clicked off.
I flicked our departure path to Do’rex even though he probably had already pulled it. He simply clicked in acknowledgment. I flipped on the compensators and internal gravs as I scanned my console. Everything was green.
Do’rex lifted the ship slightly and we slid forward out of the docking bay. I briefly saw a Type A-10 trader –pretty much the largest ship that could still call itself a free trader– hovering ahead of us. I wondered if it was waiting for our dock and how long it had been there. It didn’t matter, and Do’rex pitched us over and around to hit our departure path almost immediately, taking it out of my view.
Ascent was clean and 10 minutes later we were in orbit. Boilingbrook was a yellow-dusted white sphere below us and I could see the running lights of another ship a few dozen klicks ahead. I pinged STC to let them know we were ready to head for the jump point and they gave us a window about 90 minutes away. I shrugged and clicked off.
I got on the ship-wide channel long enough to tell them we had made orbit, then unfastened my harness and stood up.
“Need anything?” I asked Do’rex.
“A stim-stick would be nice,” he said, concentrating on his console. “I’ll set up the transit.”
“And when I’m back I’ll set up our jump.” He tentacle-flipped an acknowledgment as I left the bridge.
I was at the dispensers, had just pulled a beer for myself and was waiting on Do’rex’s stim-stick when someone came up behind me. I turned, somewhat surprised, to see Saahna there.
I picked up the stim-stick. “Sorry,” I said. “Didn’t expect to see you outside the suite.”
She shrugged. “At Boilingbrook? One of the major worlds in the sector? Nothing is going to happen to us here.”
I stepped aside as she pulled a drink from the dispenser. I noted that it was hard liquor; something a bit out of the ordinary for her. “Everything OK?” I asked.
She shook her head. “No. But we’ll talk about that later, remember?”
I hesitated, then nodded. “Sure. So…”
She shook her head again. “I’ll be fine, but….” she hesitated. “Any problem with me joining you up on the bridge until jump?”
I frowned at that. “No, but… anything I should know about?”
She shook her head yet again. “No… No… I’ll… just feel better up there.”
I looked at her for a moment, but she didn’t volunteer anything more. “OK, sure,” I said, finally. “See you in a few?”
She nodded. “Yeah, sure.”
She didn’t seem to want to say anything else so I went back to the bridge. I had just settled into my seat when my comm pinged.
It was Varan, looking a bit exasperated. “Sorry to bother you, Captain.” I guessed he was with one of the passengers, otherwise he wouldn’t have been so formal. “High Passenger Tharis is asking if she can watch from the bridge as we enter jump.”
I frowned. It was a major breach of safety protocols to let someone on the bridge during jump. On the other hand… I looked around our bridge. On the other hand I had not gotten a read from her indicating that she intended any harm to us. She was up to something, sure. But that could be said for most of our passengers at the moment. So I found myself nodding.
“Sure,” I said. “Sure. She can come down. I’ll let her know about… 15 minutes prior to jump? That’ll give her time to get down here. I’m sure she just wants to document it for her net audience.”
Varan looked away and said something, then came back. “Yeah, that’s fine. Just let me know. And she says thanks, Captain.” I nodded and cut off.
I started setting up our jump. I was in the midst of calculations when I heard the door cycle and turned to see Saahna entering. I waved in acknowledgment then went back to my console.
When I was done I flicked the jump equations to Do’rex’s console. He clicked in acknowledgment as I turned to Saahna. She had climbed into the captain’s seat, which didn’t particularly surprise me, but she was in her Combat Environment Suit and her gauss rifle was hanging from a hook above her, which did.
“Um…” I said. “Anything going on that I should know about?”
She had been looking at the console, but turned towards me and shrugged. “No, but we’re carrying a couple of VIPs this trip. I’m not worried about someone attacking the ship, too much of a patrol presence between here and jump-point for that, but we don’t know what may happen with the people we have on board.”
I frowned. “Is there a problem?”
She gave a vague shrug. “Half our passengers don’t seem to get along with the other half. And half of them are also on-board with encrypted passages or outright misleading ones. I’m not sure what to believe.”
I sighed. “Yeah, you’re right.” I sighed. “This is going to be a tense jump.”
She nodded. “Yeah. Let’s see if we can get rid of everyone on Kupakii.”
She nodded again. “Everyone. Let’s get back to only having to look out for ourselves.”
Do’rex had been apparently ignoring our conversation but suddenly spoke up. “We are approaching our departure window to jump-point, Captain.”
I nodded and turned back to my console. “Sounds good. Let’s get out of here.” He clicked in acknowledgment. A few seconds later, the view of Boilingbrook below us rotated, then the planet dropped away below us as he re-aligned the ship to our departure vector and started the engines. I saw from my displays that we were on our way.
Our transfer orbit was going to take about 90 minutes so after a while I took the opportunity to stop by my cabin long enough to ditch my Captain’s jacket. That done, I stopped by the dispenser for another beer for myself and Saahna, then remembered Shelly’s request. I pinged Varan to send her down then waited by the ladder.
It was only a few minutes before she appeared, still with her imager rig on and the imager flybot following her.
“Thank you, Derek,” she said as she stepped onto the deck. “I’ve never seen an actual jump before, and I’m sure a lot of my viewers haven’t either. It will be exciting!”
I laughed. “Don’t count on that. It really doesn’t look like much from the inside; everything just fades out.”
She sighed. “Yeah, I guess the vids have to make it look exciting. But still I, and they, will get to see it for real!”
I nodded. “Sure. Ready to go up?”
She returned the nod. “Yes! Let’s go!’ She stopped when she saw the beers I was carrying. “Is that for me?”
I pulled it away from her with mock anger. “Are you old enough to drink, Ms. Tharis?”
She laughed, shaking her head. “Yes I assure you I’m old enough, Derek.” She gave me a mischievous smile. “For everything.”
I nodded. “Yeah… well, we’re a bit outside of Boilingbrook’s actual jurisdiction anyway.” I handed it to her. She twisted the top and waited for me to remove mine as well before clinking bottles with me. “To a week in jumpspace!”
“To jumpspace!” I said, smiling. Inwardly, I was frowning. What the hell was her game? She was trying way too hard with her innocent infatuation act. What was she really after?
I led her to the bridge and waited for the door to cycle, then waved her through ahead of me. She stopped, looking at the crowded space.
“I… I thought it would be bigger than this.”
“Yeah, you’ll get used to that with him,” Saahna said from the command chair. She had apparently been monitoring us from her console. Shelly burst out laughing and even Do’rex clicked in amusement.
That caught Shelly’s attention more than the joke. “A… Vegan, right? I’ve never met one of you before!”
Do’rex gave an embarrassed set of clicks. “Yes. Welcome aboard Ms. Tharis. I understand you wish to see the jump?”
She nodded enthusiastically. “Yes! Absolutely! I’m sure it’s a lot different from what we see on the vids.”
“Way less exciting,” I repeated, still standing awkwardly behind her in the lounge. “But I kinda need to get to my seat if we’re going to do that.” I awkwardly squeezed past her and under the command seat to my own console. As I fastened my harness, I looked back to her squeeze herself into a crouch under the command seat and between me and Do’rex while her imager flybot swooped above Saahna, who regarded it dubiously.
“Are all of you always up here for a Jump?”
It was Saahna who answered. “No, usually I’m in the gunnery suite. But with Minister Trakon on-board I thought it would be better to keep an eye on what is going on internally, and I can do that better from here.”
“Oh?” Shelly seemed surprised. “Is there any danger?”
Saahna continued to watch her consoles. “Minister Tharis came aboard using false credentials. You came aboard using secret ones. Who knows how sincere any of our other passengers are? Dere… Captain Kodai here pays me to be paranoid. So I’m being paranoid.”
“And we appreciate it,” I said as I went back to my own console. I glanced at my displays. “And we’re about ready. In fact, it looks like the ship ahead of us is powering up.”
I flicked the view from my console to the overhead display. It was a Jenova-class heavy cruiser; a bit out-of-date for the Imperium but very popular with independent navies. Like Boilingbrook’s. I suspected we would see it again at Kupakii. We watched as its hull grid lit up as the entire ship faded out into jump.
“Looks like our turn,” I said. I announced our imminent jump over ship-wide, then dimmed the lights. I watched until both Jami and Varan pinged in as ready, then turned to Do’rex.
“Jumping,” was all he said, but I could see he was exaggerating his movements a bit, making sure that what he was doing was readily visible on Shelly’s imagers. The familiar glow formed around the edges of the canopy as the blackness of normal space was slowly replaced with the mottled grays of Jumpspace.
When transition was complete I tapped my console to close the canopy then looked back. Shelly was staring with rapt attention at the view outside, only looking away when the shutters completely cut off the view.
“That was… amazing, Derek!” She turned to me and I felt I saw genuine emotion in her eyes. “All their voices… fading out to silence. And now nowhere to be heard. I… I never quite realized what that would be like. Thank you, Derek. Captain. Thank you for letting me witness it.”
I smiled at her words. “You are quite welcome. I hope you got some good vids for your audience.”
I saw a brief moment of surprise cross her face then panic as she quickly checked her imagers. She sighed and relaxed.
“Yes, Derek. Captain. Everything looks good.” She suddenly became excited again. “So… is that it? That’s all there is?”
I nodded. “Yep. That’s the hard part. Now we just get to wait a week and hope we come out at the right spot. Do’rex?”
Do’rex was looking in my direction in what I could tell was amusement. “Jump looks good, Captain. We are on a nominal track and should tumble back into normal space in seven days.”
“Sounds good,” I said. I tapped the console to return ship’s lighting to normal to indicate a successful jump.
“So… what now?” Shelly asked.
I shrugged. “We enjoy a week in jumpspace. Jami will make sure everything keeps working, Varan will make sure all of you upstairs are taken care of, Saahna will keep us safe, Do’rex will make sure nothing goes wrong, and me?” I exaggeratedly yawned and stretched. “I’m going to take a nap.”
“Notice who does the actual work around here,” said Saahna. I looked at her and rolled my eyes.
“Thank you again Derek,” said Shelly. “Now, I guess I need to go back to my cabin and edit my vids for the day; it has been a busy one.”
I nodded and turned to my console long enough to shut it down. “Do’rex? You got us?”
He clicked. “Certainly Captain. I’ll monitor for a few more minutes then return to my cabin as well.”
“And I’ll head out once all of you get out of my way,” said Saahna, looking down at all of us. “How did Captain Martin ever deal with this?”
I shrugged. “I’ve been up here for years and the last few weeks have shown me I didn’t know half of what she was doing.” I pulled myself out of my seat then squeezed uncomfortably close to Shelly and under Saahna until I got close enough to the door for the biometrics to register me and open it. The bridge really wasn’t meant for four people and a flybot.
I entered the crew lounge, sighing a bit in relief. Shelly and her flybot followed. The door slid shut a few seconds later. I waited another few to see if Saahna was leaving as well, but apparently not.
Shelly was busy stowing various imagers away. I noticed she had finally taken her headband off. “Well, Derek, that wasn’t what I was expecting.”
I smiled. “You really haven’t travelled before, have you?”
She frowned a bit at that. “No, I haven’t. I told you that; this is my first time off Boilingbrook.”
I hesitated a moment, then shrugged. “I dunno. I guess you just act more like a seasoned Traveller.”
She smiled again. “Oh! Well, thank you, Derek.” She looked around then back at me. “So this is where all of you spend your week?”
I nodded. “Yeah, this is it. You passengers get the good sofa upstairs.”
She laughed. “Well, you can come up and visit anytime you want.”
I shook my head. “Yeah, you don’t need me to come up all the time.”
She leaned over and gave me a hug. “I’d be happy to see you anytime, Derek.”
I held the hug with her a bit longer than I should, then pulled away. “It’s… bad policy to spend too much time with the passengers.”
She frowned at that. “Oh? I was hoping to spend some time with you on the trip.”
I smiled politely. “I’m sure we can… work out something.”
She smiled wider at that. “I’m sure we can. But…” she paused. “I do really need to put my footage together.”
I nodded and gestured towards the ladder. “Well, let me walk you to your cabin then….”
There was no one in the passenger lounge; not even Varan, which surprised me for a bit. I guess the rest of our passengers had already turned in and he had left Shelly to me. I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or annoyed.
Shelly stopped outside of her cabin as its door slid open and turned to me. “Thank you again, Derek.”
I smiled. “Anything for a favored passenger.”
She smirked at that. “Just ‘favored’?”
I knew it was a bad idea, but I couldn’t help myself. “Well… it’ll be a long week in jumpspace.”
Her smile returned. “I was serious about what I said, Derek.” She hugged me again then gave me an unexpectedly passionate kiss. I’ll admit, I let it go a bit longer than I should have before pulling away.
“Um… I kinda need to finish my status checks.”
She gave me what I (perhaps selfishly) interpreted as a disappointed smile. “Well,” she said, “I guess I’ll have to wait until later. See you, Derek.” She leaned forward and gave me another quick kiss then stepped into her cabin. The door slid shut and I was left standing alone in the lounge.
I closed my eyes, lowered my head, and shook it. What in the seven hells had I gotten myself involved in? I was too good of a Broker to not realize that she was wanting to make a deal of some kind. But what was it? Dr. Korvusar, Jestin, that guy from the bar, and Shelly, who was connected to him somehow. And now Minister Trakon. What had I gotten us involved in?
I wished I had never taken that datastick from Fugitak. Or at least had never delivered it. I shook my head.
Then there was the entire galactic situation. The Imperial Civil war. They weren’t calling it that. Yet. But they would. Dr. Korvusar had known. I suspect whoever had given me that datastick, and Jestin for that matter, had known what had happened. It was connected, somehow.
I wondered what would happen during the week were would spend in jumpspace. And what we would find when we tumbled out? I sighed. I no longer envied Captain Anna.
I descended to the crew lounge and stopped at the dispenser long enough to pick up a beer. Or two. Well… three. I looked at the bridge door and thought about going back, then shrugged. What could I say to anyone, really? I just went to my cabin.