040-1117 – Jumpspace


I had reviewed what records and paperwork I had, then just crawled into my bunk and gone to sleep. There didn’t seem to be anything of enough importance that it couldn’t wait until tomorrow.

I don’t know how long I had been asleep, but I was woken when Saahna crawled into my bunk beside me. I rolled over and put my arm across her.

“Hey…” I said, awake but still groggy. “Didn’t expect you tonight.”

She sighed and shoved my arm away. “I told you I would stop by. Or has our passenger enthralled you so much that you’ve forgotten everyone else.”

Annoyed, but slightly more awake, I rolled back over and sat up. “Hey, even I can tell she’s trying a bit too hard. Don’t underestimate me.” I sat up and rubbed my eyes. “OK, fine. You’re not wanting company. What then?”

She sat up and looked at me. “I told you we needed to talk. This is the only way we can expect any kind of privacy.”

I looked back at her. “That why you had to get undressed?”

“No! Yes! I…” She looked down at herself, obviously annoyed. “Never mind. Habit. Now, do you want to talk about what is going on, or are you just going to stare?”

I sighed and looked away. “OK, fine. What is this all about?”

I heard her sigh as well. “You don’t know?”

I looked back at her. She was sitting up but hadn’t bothered to cover herself. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“Sure you do.”

I shook my head. “I know what I know, but I don’t know what you think I know. Fill me in.”

It was her turn to look away. “You planted that scanner.”

I nodded. “Yeah, I told you that. That’s how we got Shelly as a passenger.”

“Shelly?” She turned to stare at me at that.

“Ms. Tharis then,” I said, shrugging. “But… yeah.”

“You seem to be pretty attracted to her.”

I shook my head. “She’s pretending to be attracted to me and I’m not sure what will happen if I dissuade her.” I paused. “Besides, I thought we were on a break.”

I saw her tense up in anger at that. “You are really the most frustrating sophant who has ever lived, do you know that!”

I shrugged. “So you keep telling me. And you’re the one who started the break.”

She glared at me for a moment, then suddenly rolled over and got out of the bunk. I thought she was about to stalk out, but instead she went to the table and picked up her comp, typed something on it, and flicked it to mine. She then picked mine up and tossed it to me.

I caught it and looked at the new ping. It was a certificate indicating that Saahna Denan had completed her Navigation certification, and that her license would become official once we checked in at our next Imperial facility; which would be the Scout base on Kupakii.

I looked up in confusion. “You never told me that…”

She interrupted. “That was the whole point! Varan was studying Gunnery, I was studying Navigation. We’ve both gotten our certs. We’re ready, but we need to get to Kupakii to file the paperwork so that it’s ‘official’. That’s why I couldn’t stay with you on Boilingbrook; I was taking the tests. So was Varan. But you,” she made it an insult, “had to assume it was because we were mad at you for some reason.”

“No! I…” I trailed off, looking at the cert again. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

She sighed. “I was hoping to surprise you. Hoping to make you happy for me. But you have to take everything personally and then take up with a random passenger.”

That got me mad. “You were the one keeping secrets from me! And I am not taking up with a random passenger!”

“Then why don’t you trust me!”

“I do!” I shouted. I got out of bed and walked towards her. “You’re the one who doesn’t trust me! You kept your and Varan’s training classes a secret. You want 2nd officer that bad? Fine. You’re 2nd officer.”

“This isn’t about an arbitrary position on the ship,” she said, almost hissing through clenched teeth. “This is about acceptance. And honesty.”

“Like your classes?”

“That. Was. A. Surprise,” she said, pausing after each word. “And it didn’t affect you or anyone else on the ship. Unlike whatever deals you’re making behind our backs.”

I flushed. “I’m not doing anything like that!”

She looked at me angrily. “Like planting that scanner at the Uptown Downport? What will your contact Jestin say?” She must have seen something in my face because she smirked. “Yes, I remembered the name even though you claimed you didn’t. You wouldn’t have forgotten it; I know you too well to believe that. So… What is going on?”

I stared at her for a long moment. She was clearly angry and… She was right. I don’t know if Captain Anna had ever held anything back from us. Probably. But she had been our Captain.

I had to decide. Was this my crew? Or were they my friends. I lowered my head. I hadn’t wanted this.

“I… didn’t think it involved the rest of you.”

I didn’t look but heard her sigh in indignation. “What have you done?”

I sighed and looked up at her. “I planted the scanner.”

She was staring at me, arms crossed. “Yeah, we know that. And?”

I looked around the cabin, anywhere except where she was. After an awkwardly long pause, I responded. “I told Jestin I was planting it before I did.”

There was a brief silence. “You what?” I heard the anger in her voice.

“It seemed like the right thing to do!” I shouted again, standing back up and turning to face her. “Look, I had to make a decision. I told all of you about it. I checked some other sources. I found out what I could about him. And…” I looked away again. “And I think, if we have to choose a ‘side’ out here, he’s the one we need to support.”

“Then maybe you can explain why you think that to me?” she said. I heard ice in her voice.

So I went into the details of what I had found. My conversations with Dr. Korvusar and Kori Methasa. The additional info I had found on the nets. And my thoughts since then.

“I’ve thought about it,” I said. “About Margaret. About the Imperium. And I realized that I don’t support the Emperor, no matter who they are. I support the Imperium. The thing that lets me live the way I want. And that is the thing I support. Jestin doesn’t support any other factions. He supports an independent state that believes in the same things as the Imperium, and seems to have the network and resources to back that. We’re going to be out here for a while, and it would be nice having someone watch our back a bit, since we apparently won’t be able to expect to have the Navy or even the Scouts showing up to bail us out if things go rimward. And so I decided to support him. That’s all.”

There was a long silence.

“You could have told us.”

I shook my head. “You had broken off with me. And everyone else seemed to be taking your side. I didn’t know it was because you had a ‘surprise’. I just thought all of you were turning against me, so I followed my own instinct.”

“So,” she said quietly. “After all this time, all we’ve been through together… you didn’t trust us.”

I looked up to see her staring at me. “You… broke off… with me…” I said, flatly. “What else was I supposed to think?”

“That I loved you?” she said, trying to keep her own voice neutral. “That the rest of us were your friends?” She turned away and started picking up her clothing, getting dressed again. “I guess all of us were wrong, Captain.”

“Wait!” I said, stepping forward. “Look, I…”

She turned and snapped at me. “You know why I almost did break off with you back on Venad? Because I knew something like this would happen. I knew that the Captain has to make decisions that affect the crew, and that sometimes those decisions would be things they didn’t like. That’s why Captain Martin never socialized with us. Just Jacobs. And he wasn’t with the rest of us most of the time anyway. There was Captain Martin and him, then there was the rest of us.”

She sighed and looked away. “I thought you would be different, that you really would stay as part of the crew instead of isolating yourself. Captain Martin would sometimes ping me with ‘Hey, just… keep the lasers warm as we transit to jump, OK?’, but that would be it.”

“You? You stay close enough to keep us somewhat involved, but then still hold things back. So you can be proud of yourself for being ‘Captain’ or something. You need to decide if you are our Captain or our crew-mate. You can’t be both.”

“It isn’t like that!” I shouted again.

She pulled her jumpsuit back on and, after zipping it up, turned to me. “So you keep saying. Maybe if you tell me what it is like we’ll have something to talk about.” She turned, cycled the door, and exited.

I sat for a long time, staring at the closed door. I thought about getting another beer, but then pulled a sleepy-stick from the cabin dispenser. There wasn’t much else I could do.

Lying there in the darkness, waiting for the stick to kick in, I wondered; why hadn’t I included the crew in what I was doing?

It had never been an issue before. But that was when Captain Anna was in charge. Now? I sighed to myself. I was the Captain and I was trying so hard to be Captain. Which meant doing everything on my own. I hadn’t even thought about asking the crew for input.

I thought a bit longer. Captain Anna had done that. I hadn’t really thought about it at the time, but she had asked me, and the others, about random things; asking what we thought. I hadn’t been doing that. And now we were deep in… Actually I have no idea what we were deep in. But here we were.

My last thoughts before I faded out were of Saahna. I wondered if we would ever be right again. Whatever happened, it would be up to me.

It was a bit late in the morning when I finally got out of my cabin. The crew lounge was empty and I went upstairs to see what was happening with our passengers.

Up in the passenger lounge I saw Shelly in an animated conversation with Varan, whose polite smile and nodding indicated that he had been listening to her for a while. Dr. Korvusar and Minister Trakon were engaged in a quiet conversation near the forward screen, and I didn’t see the Gortors anywhere. I frowned. They would be crowded in that cabin. Somehow I didn’t feel sorry for him.

Any further thought was interrupted by a yell from Shelly. “Derek!” She launched herself across the lounge, flybot racing along behind her, and locked me in a sudden embrace and surprised kiss.

I let it last a bit longer than I should have before finally pushing her away. “Um… Good to see you too, Ms. Tharis.”

She frowned at that. “Shelly! Or Therry. Don’t call me ‘Ms. Tharis’.” She sighed. “You make me sound like my mom.”

I smiled. “Well, we try to be polite to all of our passengers, Shelly.”

She smiled again. “That’s more like it! And I hope I’m not just a passenger.”

I smiled a bit more broadly and raised an eyebrow. “Oh, of course not.”

She gave me another hug. “So,” she said, looking up at me. “When do I get a tour?”

I waved towards the ladder. “How about now?”

She almost jumped in excitement. “Oh? Yeah! Sure!” She looked around to confirm that the flybot was still following her. “Now?”

“Sure! Let’s go.” I walked over to the ladder, cycled the iris, and gestured for her to descend. She immediately hopped onto the ladder. I looked around and saw Dr. Korvusar looking curiously at me while Varan gave me a frown and shook his head slightly. I shrugged and followed her down.

She was waiting in the lounge. “Thank you for taking time to show me around, Captain,” she said, slipping her arm around mine. “Where do we start?”

I smiled back. “Just part of my job while we’re in jump.”

She gave a mock pout. “And I thought it was just for me.”

I patted her hand. “Well, some passengers get more detailed tours.”

She squeezed my arm at that. “So, where do we start?”

I gestured. “The bridge is usually where I start the tour, but you saw it last night.”

She nodded. “Yeah, it was kinda crowded up there.”

“Want to see it again?”

She frowned and shook her head. “No, I’ll pass. I got all the footage I needed anyway.” She gestured around the lounge. “So this is where all of you hang out?”

I nodded looking around myself. The space down here was less than the lounge above; there were two fewer cabins but we lost space to the main airlock and the gunnery suite. There was a sofa and a couple of seats around the main table and holodisplay, a couple of other chairs and… that was it, besides the ladder we had just come down. Most of the walls were taken up by doors without the large wall-screen that took up the front third of the passenger lounge.

Shelly looked around. “What are all of these doors?”

I slowly turned, gesturing and naming each in turn. “Bridge, which you’ve seen. Airlock, which you’ve also seen. First Officer’s cabin; that’s Do’rex. Varan’s cabin. Cargo, that’s also how we get to engineering, Saahna and Jami’s cabin. My cabin.” I paused with a smile at that, but she didn’t react. “And the gunnery suite.” I turned back to her. “So, what do you want to see first?”

“How about one of the crew cabins?” she asked.

I smiled. “Only one I can show you is mine; the others are private, of course.”

She frowned a bit. “You can’t get into anyone else’s cabin?”

I waggled my hand. “Not normally, no. I can get the computer to override, of course; I own the ship after all. But they would know and I certainly wouldn’t betray their trust.”

I paused at that. But I had, hadn’t I? That was what Saahna was upset about. I betrayed their trust. I was lost in thought for a moment and missed what Shelly was saying.

“Derek?” she asked, looking at me curiously.

I shook my head. “Sorry. Still waking up I guess.” To cover myself I went to the dispenser and pulled a coffee. I turned to Shelly. “Want one?”

She hesitated, then nodded. “Sure!” I pulled a second and handed to her then popped the seal on mine.

“So,” she asked, apparently for the second time. “Can you show me your cabin, at least?” She gave a mischievous smile at that.

I smirked. “Sure.” I approached the door and tapped the panel. Normally the biometrics would have just opened it, but since there was another person with me I had to use the pad to insure I wasn’t being coerced. If I had typed a different code, the entire lounge would have been flooded with knockout gas.

Yeah, we’re a bit paranoid. We’re free traders. It comes with the job description.

The door hissed open and Shelly looked inside. “It’s so… small.”

I pretended to look hurt. “Hey!”

She flushed bright red when she realized what she had said. “No! No! I mean… the cabin!”

I nodded slowly. “It’s big enough.” I hesitated, then smiled. “I can give you a personal tour, if you would like.”

For a fraction of a second a look of panic crossed her face. Most people wouldn’t have caught it. Almost immediately she broke into a seductive smile.

“Of course, Captain. I’d like to see how you… handle yourself.”

I hesitated a moment longer than I liked. She was good.

I was better.

Being a broker is a lot of things. You have to understand how planetary ecologies and economies affect the prices of goods there. Some things are obvious; food is cheap on garden agricultural worlds and expensive on asteroid habitats. Others take a bit more training; like how certain goods from a tech 10 world will sell well on a tech 9 one, because the former has manufacturing capacity for grav modules but the latter doesn’t, but sell horribly on tech 7 worlds because they can’t maintain them locally; they don’t even have the tools.

But that’s just training. There’s also a psychological factor involved. You have to be able to read the other person. Know when they were lying, or just uncomfortable. And when they were being a little to happy or relaxed. And, when they were pretending to be those things.

I’m a very good broker.

I knew she would go along with anything I suggested at that moment, but not because she wanted to. It would be because the role she was playing required her to.

And I couldn’t do it.

I laughed and shook my head. “Well… maybe we’ll talk about that later in the jump.” I stepped back and let the door slide shut. “Where next?”

She did a convincing job of looking disappointed, even though I was pretty sure she wasn’t. “Oh…” She spent a moment lowering her head and shaking her head in disappointment. “Well.. I’ll take you up on that later then, Derek.” She smiled again.

I nodded. “Sounds good.” Both of us knew we were both lying.

She looked around. “Can I see the gunnery console?”

I nodded again. “Sure!” I walked over and opened its iris. This one required the keypad; gunnery is one place you really don’t want anyone getting into.

She looked inside. There really wasn’t room to enter the suite. A gimbaled chair with attached consoles was suspended in the middle of the chamber. In actual use the gravity would be off on the chamber and the seat free to spin in any direction while wall screens provided a real-time display of our exterior with overlays from everything the computer could provide. The gunner could aim and shoot without distractions.

“Lieutenant Denan… Saahna. She’s your gunner, right?”

I nodded. “For the moment anyway.”

She frowned at that. “Oh? Something wrong?”

I shook my head. “No,” I lied. “The crew has been doing training. She’s going to be moving up to Navigator while Varan takes over as Gunner.”

“Oh!” She seemed surprised. “So, you keep training?”

I laughed at that. “Hey, not much else to do out here.”

She nodded. “I… guess so.” She sighed. “I haven’t been out of university that long, so I didn’t think about wanting to keep taking classes. But… I guess you have to.”

I nodded. “Yeah, if you don’t keep up you fall behind. That’ll work on the ground, but if you want to Travel?” I gestured around. “You have to keep up with people like us.”

She nodded her head in surprised understanding. “I… get it. Thanks, Captain. Um… Derek.”

I smiled. “Hey, no problem. Just learn it earlier than I did.” I gestured towards the back of the lounge. “Want to continue the tour?”

Her smile returned and she took my arm again. “Lead on, my Captain.”

We passed through the cargo bay, walking single file between the stacked crates. “So you’re talking all of this to Kupakii?”

I nodded, pausing to touch one of the crates and examine its display. “Yeah. This isn’t one of ours, it’s just a freight shipment. Looks like machine parts.” I tapped it again. “Thermal control equipment, to be precise.”

“One of yours?”

I nodded again. “Yeah. We carry freight for other brokers or corps, but most of what we do is buying goods on our own and selling them at our next port. It isn’t guaranteed credits like freight, but you can make more credits at it if you’re lucky.” I paused and gave her a smile. “A lot more credits.”

She smiled at that too. “So you’re very lucky?”

“I’m just very good,” I replied.

Her smile turned into a smirk. “You turned down a chance to demonstrate that earlier, Derek.”

I raised an eyebrow. “It’s only the first day of the jump.”

She laughed. “I get it. So, where next?”

I gestured. “Engineering.”

The first thing I saw as the door opened was a half-dozen removed floor panels and the bottom half of Jami who was buried in them. She didn’t react as we entered, so I called out.”

“Something wrong?”

I saw her jump and heard a muffled curse. A second later she backed out, rubbing her head.”

“Ow, Captain. Let me know the next time you’re…” She suddenly saw Shelly. “Oh! Ms… Therry is it?”

Shelly laughed. “Just Therry is fine.” She waved her flybot forward. “So, you’re the Engineer on the Grayswandir?”

Jami glanced at me and I nodded. “Yeah,” she said, still a bit subdued. “I keep us flying.”

“Do you like it?”

She again glanced at me before replying. “Well, yeah. It’s a challenge sometimes; this ship is about 60 years old after all and so needs a bit more work than one fresh out of the shipyard. Of course, the Captain here and the previous owner put a lot of upgrades into it, so we aren’t too old-fashioned.”

Shelly nodded. “Yeah, my cabin is really nice. Just smaller than I expected.”

“Yeah, well. Not much we can do about that.” She shrugged.

“So, do you like being on the Grayswandir?”

Jami nodded, warming up a bit. “Yeah, so far. I’ve only been on board for a month or so, but it seems like a good crew. And a good Captain too!” She turned and smiled at me, then leaned conspiratorially close to Shelly.

“He’s only been Captain for about as long as I’ve been here. He’s having some bumps, but he’ll be a good one. Trust me.”

Shelly turned to me with a laugh as the flybot swooped over to catch my expression. I smiled, a bit more tightly than I had planned. “Yeah, and as my first recruit Jami seems to be working out as well.” I gave her a raised-eyebrow look trying to communicate “What?”

She sensed my attitude, if not my exact intention, and became a bit subdued again. “But yeah, it’s great to be here.” She didn’t sound completely convincing. “So… this is your first jump, right? Want me to show you around Engineering?”

“I’d love it!” Shelly said, a bit too excitedly.

“OK!” said Jami, now fully in her element. “Over here we have the power plant…” She walked off, Shelly following after a glance and a smile over her shoulder at me.

They were gone for a while and I took the time to just lean back against the wall and close my eyes. Not that I was tired, but I was mentally exhausted. And it was still early. Again I wondered what Captain Anna had gone through. She, at least, had Jacob to confide in. I should have talked to Saahna but… to much going on and too much bad timing on everything. I’d have to fix that.

I was trying to think of what I was going to say and how I was going to say it when they returned. “…and that’s it!” Jami was saying. “See why I love doing this stuff?”

Shelly’s expression carried nothing but confusion, but she nodded and smiled. “Yes! I can see that it’s… that it keeps you busy.”

Jami laughed. “Good! Now try to convince our captain here of that.”

I did my best to look offended. “Hey! I’ve got an Engineering cert too!”

She smirked. “Yeah. And I noticed you didn’t want to have anything to do with this mess.”

I did frown a bit at that. “Is there something we need to take care of?”

She hesitated, then shook her head. “No… Not really. No.” She paused again. “Well… we’ll talk next planetfall.”

I lowered my head to glare at her. “If there’s something I need to know about…”

She took a step back, raising her hands. “No! No. Nothing like that. There’s just a few… improvements we could make.”

I nodded. “OK then, sure. We need to keep Gray here running as best we can. Put together what you think we need and I’ll look at it.”

She seemed a bit surprised, but nodded. “Sure thing, Captain!” She gave her usual salute. I sighed.

Shelly seemed amused. “Well, I guess you do listen to your crew, Derek.” I did my best to look offended and she smiled. “Oh, I didn’t mean anything. Where next?”

I hesitated. “Well… that’s about it, really. The Grayswandir really isn’t that big. Unless you want to see the air-raft bay.”

“Oh? Where is that?”

I pointed upwards. “Basically directly above the cargo bay and behind the passenger lounge. We use it to bring passengers and cargo aboard when there’s no starport and the local environment is bad. It doesn’t get used much.”

She nodded. “Yeah, I guess everyone out there really doesn’t care about that.” She waved towards the flybot. “So… I guess I need to get to editing this tour, huh?”

“Up to you.” I smiled and gestured towards the iris to cargo. “Ready to head back?”

She nodded and, waving to Jami, motioned for the flybot to follow us.

We passed through the cargo bay in silence and entered the crew lounge. There, I was surprised to see Jaya near the airlock, seemingly examining the console.

I quickly stepped over. “We… probably shouldn’t be playing with that in flight,” I said, stepping between her and the controls. She stepped back and looked hurt.

“But there’s nothing to do around here!” she said, sounding more annoyed than angry. “And I’m bored!”

I smiled. “Well, this is the crew area; we really don’t have anything interesting or fun down here. Maybe you should go back upstairs? Do your parents know you’re down here?”

She pouted a bit more and stomped her foot. “No. Daddy’s up there arguing with someone again. All he does is argue anymore. He…” She suddenly noticed the other person in the lounge. “Therry!’ She rushed over and threw herself into a hug.

Sherry had smiled and lowered herself to Jaya’s level. “Well hello, Jaya!” she said, brightly. “It’s good to see you again. But Derek… Captain Kodai is right; you really shouldn’t be down here by yourself.”

“But it’s so boring!” Jaya said in a long whine. “Why do we have to stay here?”

“Because we’re in jumpspace, sweetie,” Sherry replied. “There isn’t anywhere outside to go! But you know what? Soon we’ll be on another planet. And it isn’t like home; we’ll be able to walk around outside on the surface and everything! And see the sky! The real sky! Without having to wear a suit and mask. Think of how well we’ll be able to hear it! Won’t that be nice?”

Jaya frowned into a pout again. “But why can’t we be there now!”

Shelly gave her another hug. “The Captain and all of his crew are doing the best they can, Jaya. But you know what? They can get us there faster if you stay upstairs with your parents. And I want to get there faster too, so we can hear the sky sooner. You want to do that too, don’t you?”

Jaya nodded enthusiastically. “Yes! I want to hear the sky again!”

Shelly gave her another hug. “Then let’s go upstairs, OK?”

Jaya smiled as Shelly stood up and took her hand. “OK! Let’s go back.” She turned to me and frowned a bit. “I’m sorry Captain Derek.”

I smiled and nodded. “It’s OK. But Shelly… Therry is right. You need to go back upstairs now.”

She nodded. “OK, Captain Derek. Thank you.” She started towards the ladder, Shelly following her. Shelly glanced back at me with a raised eyebrow and I mouthed a “thank you” to her.

After they climbed the ladder I hesitated. Bridge or follow? Then I realized that Sir Gortor was probably starting another fight with Shelly. With a sigh, I climbed after them.

In the lounge, Sir Gortor was indeed involved in a verbal fight, but not with Shelly. Instead, he had Minister Trakon in his sights.

“…but none of this would be important if you had just joined the Imperium!” he was saying. Well shouting. “How can you not see the benefits it would have brought you?”

“What benefits?” Trakon asked. “The ‘benefit’ of sending our best troops and ships to the Old Expanses to defend worlds left undefended by your Empress Margaret? Or should we have sent them to Emperor Lucan so he could use them to fight Emperor Dulinor? Meanwhile we sit here vulnerable to the Solomani, the Hivers, and even the 2000 Worlds? Which of those do you think we should acquiesce to?”

Sir Gortor was turning red. “This is preposterous! How can you compare us to one of those… barbarians?”

I decided this was something that needed to be defused and stepped forward. “Excuse me, Sir Gortor. We found Jaya wandering on the crew deck. It isn’t disallowed, but there are some sensitive areas down there and we would prefer that you or your wife accompany her if she wishes to go down there.”

“What?” he snapped, whipping around to look at me. “Jaya? Where?” He looked around and saw her standing with Shelly.

“You!” he shouted, stalking towards Shelly. “Ms. Tharis. I told you to stay away from my daughter!”

Shelly smiled with fake pleasantness. “I brought your daughter back to you. She was playing with the airlock. You should be thankful the Captain and I found her in time.”

“What?” He turned his attention to Jaya. “What are you doing, young woman?”

“I went downstairs!” she whined. “You told me to…”

“I don’t care what I said!” he snapped. “You go to the cabin and tell your mother what you did. Now. And not another word.”

Jaya had lowered her head. “I’m sorry… father.”

He frowned. “You should be.”

She nodded, still looking down. “I’m sorry Therry. And thank you, Captain.”

“I said not another word!” She winced and, silently, went to their cabin. The door cycled.

When it was closed he stepped over to Sherry, leaning in so that his face was almost directly against hers.

“And you are not to talk to or interact with my daughter in any way, ever again. Do I make myself clear?”

Sherry stepped back with a look of disgust. “We’re on this ship for another week. It will be kinda hard to not have contact with anyone else.”

“Then I suggest you stay in your cabin,” he said, his voice a low growl.

“You don’t tell me what to do!” she replied, though I could tell she was shaken by his intensity.

He flushed brighter red and his breathing deepened. I stepped in again.

“Sir Gortor,” I said. “We will make all attempts to keep Jaya away from dangerous places or situations,” I glanced at Shelly, “but she is a minor so it is ultimately the responsibility of you and your wife to take care of her. While we make all attempts to meet the needs of our passengers, the safety and operation of the ship must always come first.”

He spun to me. “Oh? You take this… charlatan’s wishes above my own?”

I smiled my most artificial polite smile. “We do give priority to our High Passengers, yes. If you wish to upgrade your passage, I’m sure Steward Varan will be happy to accommodate you.”

Varan, who had been watching the exchange from near one wall, widened his eyes at that. Any further reaction was cut off by Gortor’s response.

“So that’s the way it is going to be. Captain. We’ll see how much you are laughing after our next stop.” Without a word, he turned and stalked to his cabin.

I looked around the lounge to see everyone staring at me. I walked over to Minister Trakon.

“I apologize for the behavior of our other passengers, Minister Trakon. I assure you that…”

He held up his hands, cutting me off. “Apologies are unnecessary, Captain. I, and I think most of us here,” he looked at the others in the lounge, “are quite aware of Sir Gortor’s… shortcomings.”

He gave a polite frown. “I do wonder what your Imperium thinks it is doing sometimes with its nobility. I can tell that Sir Gortor probably received his patent due to connections instead of any actual diplomatic skill or ability.” He sighed. “But, it is not up to me to judge Imperial politics, beyond how it affects us here.”

I nodded. “Yeah, we don’t seem to be making the best choices lately, have we?”

He nodded politely at that. “Yes. And I do speak for the people of Boilingbrook when I say that we will all of the best for you in the Imperium. May your troubles be short.”

I smiled and nodded. “We can hope.”

He nodded as well. “Now, if you will excuse me? I need to review some documents in my cabin.” He nodded in turn to Varan, Shelly, and Dr. Korvusar then retreated to his cabin.

“I should probably look over my recordings too, Derek,” Shelly said, coming up to me. “I need to edit what I got from the tour today.” She leaned over and gave me a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll see you later, right?”

I nodded. “You know where I’ll be.”

She smiled brightly. “It’s a date, then.” She turned and entered her cabin as well.

When she was gone I sighed and rubbed my eyes. “Gods, what a mess.”

Varan was looking curiously at me. “Sorry Captain, but…”

I waved at him. “Don’t worry about the Gortors. Five minutes with him and anyone will know what is going on. He can’t hurt us.”

He shook his head. “No, I’m talking about Ms. Tharis. Are you sure…” He cut off as I looked at him.

“No, I’m not sure. Let’s just say that Gortor is the least of my concerns.”

“What? Why?”

I shook my head. “Look, I… need to think on some things still. A lot of things. I’ll let you know.”

“Looking forward to it, Captain.” His expression was neutral but I could tell he was irritated with me.

“Don’t worry. It’ll be worked out before we exit Jump.”

“I hope so, Captain.”

I was about to turn and leave when I heard a door slide open. “Excuse me, Captain.” Even before I turned I recognized the condescension in Gortor’s voice.

I turned, smiling politely. “How can I help you, Sir Gortor?”

He smiled tightly. “My family and I would like a tour of your ship as well.” He paused. “Unless that is restricted to ‘High Passengers’ also?”

I hesitated. It wasn’t, but I really wasn’t looking forward to spending that much time with the Gortors. But… It would be hard to explain turning them down and I didn’t want to dig the hole I was in any deeper. Instead, I just smiled.

“Certainly, Sir Gortor. This way?”

The next hour or so was spent with the Gortors. It was probably one of the most annoying ship tours I had ever led; Sir Gortor asked about literally every piece of equipment he saw and demanded a full explanation of it, while Jaya ran around unsupervised in whatever compartment we happened to be in. I even had to pull her out of the Captain’s chair on the bridge. Fortunately the biometric scanners prevented her pounding on the consoles from doing anything.

The whole time Maris Gortor walked around almost in a daze. She responded if someone said something to her, but otherwise kept to herself. She even ignored Jaya’s exuberance, requiring me or Sir Gortor to bring her back to us when we started to move on.

Sir Gortor even demanded to see the air raft but eventually he seemed satisfied.

“Thank you, Captain.” He looked around while rolling his eyes. “While it pains me to travel on a decrepit ship such as this, I believe it will at least get us to Kupakii.”

“We will get there without any problems, I assure you,” I replied. “Is there anything else you require?”

He shook his head. “No, that is fine. You are dismissed, Captain.”

I fought back a frown and smiled instead. “I’m glad to be of service, Sir Gortor.”

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