042-1117 – Jumpspace

Jumpspace

Sometime later I was awakened by someone tugging on my jumpsuit. It was half off before I woke up enough to remember where I was and who I was with.

“Hey,” I said, grabbing the hand that was now pulling on the legs. “I thought we were just sleeping.”

“I never said that.” It was Saahna’s voice.

“Huh?” I said. “Where’s…”

“We talked,” she said, pulling my other leg free. She suddenly swung her leg over, pulling herself on top of me. “Now shut up.”

I’m not sure how long it lasted. We had made up before, but this was more than that. Something had changed but at the time I didn’t even think about what it was or why until we collapsed from what felt like hours of carnal extremes into a sweaty heap.

“I… really didn’t expect you to be here,” I said when my breathing was back to normal.

“Like I said, we talked,” she replied from the darkness. “A lot of us have talked. You’ve been out a while.”

I started to sit up at that. “What? How long?”

She pulled me back down and half-rolled onto me to keep me there. “About 12 hours; it’s around 0200.”

“Great,” I sighed. “Anything more happen.”

“No,” she said. “Except that we talked. All of us. Even Dr. Korvusar and Ms. Tharis.”

I closed my eyes. “And?”

I heard her sigh. “You are really the most frustrating sophant in the galaxy, do you know that?”

“So you keep telling me.”

She rolled away again. “We talked about what happened. How we got into this mess. If you hadn’t planted that scanner then none of this would have happened. The problem is… you weren’t wrong. At least none of us think you were, now that we know what you knew. We all know why you did what you did. And, only knowing what you knew at the time? We probably would have gone along with it as well, because it got us a passenger but in a way that didn’t alienate a possible patron. What we didn’t know was that there was another plan in motion that intersected with us.”

I felt myself relax, only then realizing how tense I had been. “Unfortunately it kinda blew up in our face.”

I heard her shift. “Yeah. But you know what? If Minister Trakon had been on a different ship, Gortor’s plan may have succeeded. You called that crew meeting because you, and me too I guess, had things we had been doing without keeping the others informed. Gortor decided to take advantage of that and moved his timeline up. If he hadn’t we wouldn’t have known about it until the life support went out.”

I sat up again. “Would that have happened?”

“Yeah, we had several logic bombs planted in the system. We’re going to have to look at how we have the passenger systems isolated again; apparently we have holes.”

“Are we good now?”

“Yeah, we’re good. Even Do’rex is getting some sleep now.” She paused.

“Or, Minister Trakon may have wound up on our ship anyway. And we would have been completely surprised when we died.”

I sighed and lay back down. “OK, fine. We got lucky. But we still need to get things back to normal.”

She rolled over onto me again. “Yeah, we do. But not now. You and I have something else to take care of first.”

Saahna was gone again when I finally woke up. I cleaned up and left the cabin.

Varan was doing something at a console and Dr. Korvusar and Minister Trakon were talking quietly at the far end of the lounge. Outside of the recently installed door to our impromptu cell there was no indication that anything out of the ordinary had taken place.

“Captain!” Minister Trakon called out. “Please, come join us.”

I raised a hand in acknowledgment and stepped over to Varan. “Everything OK?”

“Good as ever,” he replied, giving me a slight smile. “I guess you and Saahna talked last night?”

“Among other things,” I said, smiling slightly myself. “Is there any coffee around here?”

He frowned. “Hey, you know me better than that.” He paused. “We all need to talk in a bit.”

“Yeah, I got it,” I said. “Coffee?”

He nodded. “Got it.”

“Yeah, thanks.” I nodded and headed over to the others.

“And how are you doing, Captain?” asked Dr. Korvusar as I sat down. Varan came over a moment later and handed me a coffee bulb.

“I’ll be great in about 10 seconds,” I replied, holding up the bulb. I took a long squeeze from it, burning my tongue but welcoming the caffeine.

“Captain Kodai, once again I must compliment you and your crew on your handling of that incident yesterday,” said Minister Trakon, smiling. “I am going to be recommending all of you for recognition back on Boilingbrook. You do have our eternal gratitude.”

I smiled in return. “Thank you, Minister Trakon. That means a lot to me and the crew.” I frowned. “But right now I’m more concerned about what will happen once we arrive at Kupakii. While we were well justified, we did kill an Imperial Knight.”

He waved his hands dismissively. “Do not be concerned. Remember, I’m going to Kupakii to sign a mutual defense and trade agreement. I’m sure once I give them my story they will be more than supportive of you.”

I felt another of my worries drop away. “Thank you again, Minister. That relieves me of a great deal of concern.”

“Of course, Captain. Oh, and if you are concerned that some of Gortor’s colleagues are waiting on us, I can now tell you that we will be met by at least one ship from the Boilingbrook fleet. The cruiser Skellis’ Eye left a bit ahead of us and will be waiting near the jump point.”

“And now I’m feeling even better,” I said sincerely. “Hopefully we can put all this behind us. Thank you again.”

“We do have a few things to talk about, now that you have waken up,” said Dr. Korvusar. “I apologize. I may have suggested that Steward Holt alter the life support in your cabin a bit to ensure you had sufficient sleep.”

“What?”

She shrugged dismissively. “There were a lot of discussions that needed to take place. We are in a precarious situation at the moment. Our concern, my concern, was not with you; it was with the rest of your crew and your other passengers. I trust you. I needed to make sure that we could trust everyone else as well.”

I frowned at that, still angry. “I trust my crew. They’re my friends. We’ve had our differences, sure. Maybe this last one was a bit worse than others. But we all know we have each other’s back. We couldn’t be a successful Free Trader otherwise.”

She nodded. “And all of them said the same thing. My main concern was what will happen when we arrive on Kupakii.”

I frowned. “What do you mean?

She sighed. “We need to determine how much of your cover remains intact.”

“My what?”

She sighed again. “The ‘Spoilsports’, as you call them, will quickly realize their assassination attempt here has failed. The question is if they will realize that you are actively working against them, or if you simply got lucky.”

“I wasn’t ‘actively working against them’,” I said, slightly annoyed. “I was defending my ship.”

She nodded. “Which will work in our favor, I think.”

“‘Our’ favor?” I asked, dubiously.

“You are involved now, Captain. I’m sorry, but you are. You will have to decide where to go from here.”

I sighed. “I’m with my crew. My friends. I won’t risk their safety on something like this.”

She nodded slowly. “Then I suggest you talk it out with them.”

I nodded in return. “Yeah. I will. In fact, I need to do that now.” I moved to stand up.

“No,” she said, holding up a hand. “I think we’ll all be more comfortable up here.”

I stood up anyway. “We? This is between me and my crew.”

She shook her head. “It is a bit more complicated than that now. As I said, we have talked. Now, we need to tell you what has been decided.”

“What!” I was angry at that. “This is my ship! No one has any right to make decisions for me.”

“And now you see how annoying that is.” I turned. Saahna was standing near the ladder and I saw Jami climbing up behind her. I hadn’t heard her arrive.

I frowned. “What is this about?”

“Demonstrating what it feels like to have someone else make decisions for you?” She smiled in amusement. “Oh, calm down. It isn’t as bad as you think.”

I stood there, annoyed but silent, as Do’rex climbed into lounge, followed by Shelly. I wondered what she had been doing in the crew lounge and noted that she wasn’t wearing her camera rig. Oddly, that detail bothered me the most.

“What is this, an inquisition?” I asked, looking around at them.

Varan shrugged. “I said I would tell them as soon as you woke up. We wanted to get this all out as soon as possible. Here.” He was holding out a beer towards me. I took it and popped the top without breaking eye contact, then took a swig.

“What is this? A mutiny?”

“Not exactly,” said Saahna. “You’re still the captain. We trust you. It’s just that…” she looked around. “It’s just that you need to trust us too. We’ve made a few… decisions.”

I frowned and drained the bottle, thinking. “Fine,” I said finally. “I guess I really can’t say anything. So what is this then?”

“Just talking, Captain.” Varan took the now-empty bottle from me and handed me another. “You should try it sometime.”

I sighed and sat back down. “OK, fine. I get it. Point made. Now what?”

Saahna sighed and sat down across from me. I saw the others relax somewhat and find places to sit as well.

“Like I said,” she started, “you weren’t wrong. You made the calls most of us would have made as well… If we had known what was going on. At least then we would have had some idea as to why someone was trying to kill us and our passengers and to hijack our ship.”

I sighed and opened the new beer. “Yeah, like I said. I got it.”

She nodded. “Good. Because things have gotten a lot more complicated for all of us.”

I frowned. “Tell me about it.”

She shook her head then tilted it towards Minister Trakon. I felt that sinking feeling again.

“What?”

He smiled slightly and coughed. “I may have… I may have made an offer to your crew while you were… resting. I thought they would be interested as well and, since I needed their support as well I didn’t see any need to wait for you to awaken and deliver my offer to them.”

I turned to Saahna in annoyance. “OK, what have you committed me to?”

She shrugged. “Nothing more than what you committed us to. If you don’t like his offer you can turn him down. We’ll still follow you; it’s just that this time you can’t do something without us knowing.”

I closed my eyes and shook my head. “I admitted I was wrong,” I said, sighing. “I got it.” I opened my eyes again. “So… what is this ‘offer’ you made my crew?”

He seemed to be amused by my discomfort. “Nothing that you should be too upset about, Captain. In fact, you will likely welcome it.” He paused, looking away, then turned back to me. “The government of Boilingbrook is prepared to offer you a patronage contract.”

I sat up straighter at that. “What?”

He smiled at my reaction. “The Imperium is having… problems. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know by saying that. Your crew here has told me that you were in denial for a while but that you now understand the gravity of the situation.”

“And you would be helping us too,” said Dr. Korvusar. “Minister Trakon and I have had some very productive talks as well. It appears our goals are aligned. If the Imperium pulls back its influence in this sector, as it seems Margaret is already doing, then we need allies here. We can’t let the Solomani, the Hivers, or the K’kree think they can expand here. If the Imperium can’t maintain influence here, then we need to encourage someone else to do it in our stead.”

I shook my head. Now things were moving too fast for me. “OK, wait… We’re just a Free Trader. What can we do?”

“Travel,” said Minister Trakon. “You can go anywhere, travel to any planet, and no one will be particularly suspicious of you. If, from time to time, you happen to carry a cargo or drop a message off for us, then it will not appear out of the ordinary.”

I frowned. “And if someone in your government finds out about this arrangement? Someone already figured out you were on this ship. They’re already looking at us.”

He nodded. “Which is what makes you perfect for our needs. No one will ever expect us to work with you after this. And our opponents will not believe you are with them either, given that you killed their agent. You may actually attract less attention than other ships.”

I looked around at the others. “And all of you agreed to this?”

They looked between themselves then back at me. Finally, it was Saahna who spoke.

“It seemed like a reasonable offer,” she said. “We stumbled into this by accident. And, before you say anything, I’m not blaming you for things anymore. Like I told you; we would probably have done the same thing if we had known.”

“Just don’t pull stunts like this without telling us again, OK?” asked Varan.

I nodded. “Yeah. Got it.”

Saahna nodded. “Since we’re the one’s involved.” She gestured around the lounge. “I figured we needed to stick together. If the Spoilsports, or some overly patriotic Boilingbrooker, want to take revenge on us, there is safety in numbers.”

I closed my eyes for a long moment. “Thanks,” I said, finally. “I thought I had completely screwed things up with all of us.”

Jami laughed. “Hey, you never did anything as assholish as Captain Barikus used to do to us. For a first time command decision you didn’t do too badly.”

I looked around at them. “Thank you. Really.” I then turned back to Minister Trakon. “So… what does this patronage involve? And what is required of us?”

He shrugged. “Not very much. Not initially anyway. Just continue with what you are doing. Just… send your flight plans back to a contact I will give you. They won’t be on Boilingbrook, but they will get to us. Occasionally, that same contact will send you a request that will be waiting for you at a planet on your route. Just pick up that message, cargo, or passenger and carry them with you.” He paused. “We’d like to know your plans a few jumps ahead, if possible, just so we can work out X-Boat scheduling. That’s all.”

I frowned. “OK… that’s doable. But… what’s in it for us?”

He smiled. “You took out a rather aggressive loan to purchase this ship, didn’t you? Not even a down payment?”

I frowned at that. “I’m confident in my ability to repay that loan. And early. We’ve done quite well so far.”

“Yes, you have. But, given the current state of galactic affairs, are you sure you will be able to continue that?”

“If things get that bad then it won’t matter much if I can or not.” I continued to frown. “But you still haven’t answered my question.”

He glanced around then back at me. “I can arrange for Boilingbrook to provide you with a Subsidy contract. You won’t be held to a particular route, beyond staying in the Hinterworlds or the Glimmerdrift. Since you will be providing a service for us it seems reasonable to provide some support to your operations.”

I thought. I had never considered a Subsidized Merchant as those tended to be trapped on a loop of about a dozen worlds and I enjoyed the freedom being a Free Trader gave me. But the restrictions the Minister was suggesting were hardly an inconvenience.

“How much?” I repeated.

He shrugged. “The least we can do is to provide for the down-payment you avoided. Say… 20%?”

I shook my head. “Standard Subsidy contracts are usually more like 60%. Or more.”

He shook his head. “Yes, but those usually require that you carry that percentage of your cargo capacity as freight for the subsidy owner. We aren’t asking that.”

I continued looking at him. “True, but I get the feeling that what you will be asking of us will be a bit more dangerous than just carrying some freight. 30%, or we’ll just take our chances.”

He held my look a few moments longer, then shook his head with a slight laugh. “All right then, Captain. 30%. I know better than to try to negotiate with you; your reputation does proceed you.”

I stood up. “Then you have yourself a subsidy, Minister.” I held out my hand then heard a click of amusement and a sigh behind me. I turned to see Do’rex holding out a tentacle as Varan dug into his jumpsuit pocket and pulled out a handful of credits.

“I can’t believe you’re giving away the ship after you just bought it!” I couldn’t tell if he was more surprised or angry.

I smiled as I turned back to Minister Trakon and shook his hand, sealing the deal. “You will notice that my 70% is still a 2/3 controlling majority. I know how these contracts work.”

Minister Trakon laughed lightly at that too. “Ah yes.” He shook his head. “You would have made a dangerous politician, Captain Kodai.”

I shrugged. “And deal with meetings all day? I’ll stick with running a ship.”

He nodded. “I understand. Believe me.”

I nodded in return. “So, who does the paperwork?”

“I’ll have it done when we get to Kupakii. Everything should be complete by the time you are ready to leave.”

I frowned at that. “If we leave. We still need to get through the mess we are in now.”

“Which is something I am wanting to discuss with you,” said Dr. Korvusar, interrupting us. “Having… some experience with these things, I believe I can provide some input for you.”

I sighed. “Yeah, sure. Don’t worry. I’m sure we can ‘forget’ to mention the involvement of the Embers in this.”

She sighed in return. “Actually, we called it ‘Project Torchbearer”, but I guess ‘Embers’ works as well. Either way, that was not my concern since our presence had nothing to do with the situation we are in.”

I frowned. “So, what do you want to discuss?”

“I would suggest you not reference anything to do with Project Spoilsport.”

“Why? Neither us nor you are involved with that.”

She nodded. “We aren’t. But, if you start talking about Imperial conspiracies then it may delay things. You, all of you, were definitely in the right by defending your ship, even if you killed an Imperial Knight in the process. And, just between us, Imperial Knights are barely recognized as nobility anyway. There are so many of them.”

“Anyway, if you simply relate what happened without mentioning the other meta-events, then you are clearly in the clear with what has transpired. Your own computer records will show that. And any protestations by Dame Gorter won’t last long enough to make a difference. As you have said many times, Captain, the Imperium loves to protect it’s trade. And there is only one punishment for attempted hijacking.”

I nodded slowly. “Yeah… right.” I sighed. “Anything else will just give us more problems.” I turned around to face the rest of the crew. “We all on-board with that?”

There were general nods and waves of agreement. “It’s… really the only option that makes sense,” said Saahna, finally. “Bringing up anything else just leads to more questions that we really don’t want to have to answer.”

“Fine.” I turned back to Dr. Korvusar and Minister Trakon. “Looks like you’ve got a new subsidy and a new ally.”

Dr. Korvusar smiled slightly. “And you have an ongoing passenger, Captain. At least, I hope you will continue to allow me to travel with you.”

I gave a slight smile of my own. “We’ve probably already made a few enemies. I’m not about to make another one.”

“We wouldn’t be your enemy, Captain. But I thank you for your concern.” She seemed a bit unhappy with the way I had responded but gave away nothing beyond that.

“And we will always take care of our friends,” said Minister Trakon, stepping into the opening. “Hopefully ours will be a long and fruitful relationship.” He held out his hand. “Now, Captain, I need to start putting together the paperwork for our agreement. If you will excuse me?” I nodded and he moved towards his cabin.

“I believe I will do the same,” said Dr. Korvusar as well. “I have a rather lengthy report to prepare.” She only gave us a nod before moving towards her cabin as well.

I nodded then stood up, looking towards the crew. “OK everyone, downstairs.” I walked towards the ladder without looking to see who was following me.

I was already at the dispenser and pulling out another beer before I heard someone behind me. I dropped into a chair and looked to watch everyone descending the ladder. All of them either took seats or headed to the dispenser, but I frowned as Shelly came down into the lounge.

“Um…” I started. “I kinda wanted this to be just a crew meeting. I’ll… talk to you later.”

She frowned. “Wait… I thought…”

Saahna was in line for the dispenser and waved at me. “She’s… fine. Listen. There’s a… few things we need to talk about.”

I frowned. “What?”

Varan took up the conversation. “Yeah. We… had a few conversations while you were out.”

I turned to glare at him. “This is my ship!”

He looked levelly back at me. “Yeah. And we’re the crew on this ship. You want us to be here? Listen to us for a bit.”

“Shut up, Varan,” said Saahna, heading for a chair with what looked like an oversized mixed drink. “Derek will understand what we did.” She looked directly at me. “I hope.”

I sighed and threw up my hands. “Ok, what have you done while I was asleep.”

“Nothing, really,” said Jami taking her own seat. “At least, we haven’t involved you in anything more complex than what you involved us in.”

I leaned my head back, staring at the overhead. “OK…”, I said, finally. “I guess I still can’t say anything. What is this all about?”

Saahna took a drink and smiled. “Oh, I think you’ll like this one. Shelly here is joining us as Steward.”

“What?”

Shelly looked at me almost apologetically. “It’s just that… with what has happened… and being out here…” She hesitated a bit longer, then her words came out in a rush. “I didn’t want to go back to Boilingbrook. I want to Travel! I want to see all the things you’ve seen, all the worlds you’ve been to, all the stars you’ve listened to. And… maybe it isn’t a good idea for me to go back home right now anyway.”

“Anyway, I asked the others if there was a way I could stay on board for a while. Dr. Korvusar offered to give me a passage, but Lieutenant Denan… Saahna said that you needed a Steward. I studied Media at University, so I have what counts as Communication and Liason certifications, and Varan tells me that’s pretty close to Steward, and he’ll help me in jumpspace when he doesn’t need to be running the guns. And I grew up on a hostile environment planet, so I know environment suits and life support protocols.”

“And I can keep sending my videos back to Boilingbrook! WhisperDayle will put them on the net for me. Probably. I hope. And that will make it look like we’re just doing normal trader things. That might make the people after us think we just got lucky and leave us alone. And so…” she suddenly realized she had been getting louder and faster as she went along and cut off, cheeks flushing in embarrassment.

“So… is it OK? I mean, you’re the Captain, but everyone thinks it’s a good idea…”

I stood there for a moment, looking between her and the rest of the crew, all of whom were watching me expectantly. I wondered what else they had decided while I was out.

Still… as Saahna had said to me before they weren’t wrong. It was actually a pretty good plan, under the circumstances. And it at least kept all of us who were involved together.

“It sounds good to me,” I said, stepping towards her and extending my hand. “Welcome aboard the Grayswandir.”

Saahna, Varan, and Jami clapped and Do’rex clicked in approval. Tears appeared in Shelly’s eyes. “Oh! Thank you Derek!” She threw herself at me in a hug and game me a surprisingly passionate kiss, then suddenly stiffened and pushed herself away. “I mean, thank you Captain. Sir.”

I sighed, trying to suppress a smile. “You’re welcome. And don’t call me ‘sir’.”

“Sorry sir,” she said, trying to sound formal. “Sorry. Derek. I mean Captain!”

I laughed. “It’s all right.” The others stepped forward to congratulate her as I looked up at the ceiling in thought.

“We’ll need to get you a vacc suit,” I said, thinking out loud. “And a couple of ship’s jumpsuits and a jacket. We can fab basic versions of those for now but we’ll have to wait until we hit planet again to get decent versions. We’ll need to file your certifications then too.” I frowned. “And we’ll have to work out crew accommodations.” I looked at her and smiled. “Sorry, it’ll be a bit more cramped than the High Cabin upstairs.”

Saahna coughed. “We’ve… already worked that out. She’ll be in the cabin with Jami.”

I looked at her in surprise. “What about you?”

She smiled. “I told you that you would like this.”

“Huh?” It took me a couple of seconds to realize what she was saying. “Oh? Oh!”

Her smile turned into a laugh. “Hey, I figured it was the best way to keep an eye on you. Kinda hard to pull another stunt like this with me looking over your shoulder.”

I couldn’t suppress my own smile. “Well… I guess I can’t complain about that!”

She laughed again. “Yeah, I know your one weakness.”

I walked over and embraced her. “Thank you, 2nd,” I said with a smile.

She kissed me quickly. “You’re welcome, Captain.”

Varan cleared his throat. “Before we get too relaxed, we need to get through what is going to happen when we get to Kupakii.”

I pulled away from Saahna and shrugged. “What we decided upstairs. We made a private delivery that led to a request to do something that got us a passenger, then we stopped a hijacking. We don’t mention the Embers, the Spoilsports, or anything else we did involving them. None of our records will show anything other than that so there is nothing to contradict us. There will be questions but we will be fine.”

“But…” Shelly looked concerned. “But what if they give us truth drugs or something?”

I shook my head. “You’ve been watching too many net vids.” She looked hurt by that and I waved my hands in dismissal. “No, really. Truth drug doesn’t work that way, and they aren’t going to us it on us anyway. The only person they might use it on is Dame Gortor, and probably not even on her. And besides, nothing I just said involves us lying. It just involves… omitting a few details.”

Shelly smiled slightly. “Yeah, I guess so.” Her smile widened. “Minister Trakon was right; you really should be in politics.”

I laughed and shook my head. “Couldn’t take the hours.” I looked around. “So, is that it?”

“Yeah,” said Saahna. “I think that’s it.” She sighed. “I guess we’re working for Boilingbrook now.”

I shrugged. “More credits for us. And it can’t be any worse than where we’ve already gotten ourselves.”

She nodded. “Yeah, I guess.”

I nodded in return. “So… when are you moving?”

“Already have.” She laughed at my surprise. “See, we can do things without you.”

I sighed. “Well, I guess I’m the redundant one here…”

Varan looked up at that. “Hey, you keep the credits flowing. We’ll handle the ship.”

Shelly smiled. “And I’m going to stay upstairs for the rest of the flight. At least I’ll have a little more time in the fancy cabin.”

Jami gave a mock frown. “Oh, everyone is leaving me alone?”

Varan pulled another drink from the dispenser. “Hey, if you really want some company…”

The mock frown turned a bit more real. “OK, I’m not that upset.”

He shrugged. “Can’t blame me for trying…”

Jami looked as if she was about to say something, then abruptly turned to Shelly. “Don’t worry, I’ll have the cabin cleaned up by next jump. At least you won’t have to worry about finding a field-stripped gauss rifle on your bed.”

“Hey!” said Saahna. “That was only that one time!”

After that everyone started back towards their stations. Do’rex had already gone forward to the bridge and Jami, after another glance towards Varan, headed through the cargo hatch towards engineering. Varan excused himself a few minutes later and headed back upstairs.

Shelly came up to me. “Thank you for letting me join you, Derek. I mean Captain.”

I shook my head. “Derek is fine. I need to change my thinking on that. It may be my ship, but we’re all the crew. We’re in this together.”

She smiled. “Well, thanks anyway.” She leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek. “Now, I think I’m going to go back up to my cabin and see what I can come up with for a script.” She sighed and shook her head. “Gods, the best part about being here will be not having to be ‘Therry’ all the time! But… on with it!” She followed Varan up the ladder.

I turned to see Saahna looking at me. “What?”

She stepped closer. “Don’t get any ideas.”

I raised my hands. “About what?”

“Shelly. She’s part of the crew now, but I was here first.”

I frowned at that. “What? Hey, she isn’t interested. I told you that.”

“That didn’t look ‘not interested’ to me.”

I took a step backwards. “What, jealous?”

She sighed but looked away. “Let’s just not mess ourselves up again, OK?”

I smiled slightly. “I thought you were going to be keeping me in line.”

She looked back, eyes narrowed. “Yeah. I’ve got my eyes on you.”

My smiled widened. “Just your eyes?”

She hesitated, then came over and put her arms around me. “Well… that depends on how well you behave.”

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