The capsule door opened and the words floating in the air nearby read, “Engine Room.”

Raleigh and Maxwell walked out with a handful of other crewmembers. More people from Ultima Mule were there, securing additional equipment to the floor of a room filled with machinery.

“Where are Kim and Pak?” Raleigh said.

One of the crew pointed toward the back of the room where two men of Korean descent directed the work of others. When the Captain approached they glanced up and nodded, acknowledging his presence.

Anthony Kim and Michael Pak came as a package deal. They were inseparable. Some companies back on Lute might have grumbled their presence amounted to a double share of the profits for the same work. Raleigh, having used the pair previously, found himself impressed with their knowledge and work ethic. He happily kept them employed and let them fly on any voyage they desired. They knew the Ultima Mule well, and kept her in top condition.

Pak addressed Raleigh as he and the others approached. He looked very similar to Kim, leading to speculation about their family relationship. Rumor had it the men were brothers, despite their different surnames. Or at least cousins, which seemed eminently plausible. But no one knew for sure because neither Kim nor Pak ever grew very close to anyone else. They kept strictly to themselves during free time.

Pak said, “We will be ready to go within an hour, Captain.”

Raleigh nodded while looking at the equipment his men were installing.

He said, “So our trap worked well, huh?”

Pak nodded and said, “The suggestion to use teleportation suppression technology was excellent. We have a crew retrieving the grid components as we speak.”

“How did that work, exactly?” Maxwell said. Mechanical things intrigued the First Officer, although he had little practical knowledge about their inner workings.

Pak said, “It’s the same concept as anti-teleportation measures on a ship. The field prevents porting. We set up a large suppression grid at this point in space, where LuteNet predicted an enemy ship would show up. As you know, they pop in at the limits of their range and remain at a point in space for one second before porting to the next spot. Our suppression grid activated the moment Aquamarine appeared here, taking out her Wu Drive. Once she popped in, she couldn’t leave.”

Raleigh said, “It was a brilliant idea. I’m sure StarCen is busy thinking up ways to keep it from happening another time.”

Pak nodded and said, “Or how to use it herself. But thwarting it is fairly easy. She can simply randomize the jump points, making it harder to predict where a ship will materialize. LuteNet was able to predict this area because it is a common point along League shipping routes. I doubt it will be used again anytime soon. It will probably take a lucky break to snare another ship this way.”

“So it was kind of like a big electro-magnetic pulse the second they ported in, I get that,” Maxwell said. “And I take it the Wu Drive was destroyed beyond repair? So what are you doing, installing a new one?”

“Exactly. We are putting in a tandem drive so we can tow her into port.”

Maxwell smiled and his eyes roamed appreciatively around the men hard at work on all the machinery. The tandem drive, he knew, would port at the same time and to the same place as Ultima Mule’s drive. Essentially, Aquamarine would follow Mule wherever it went.

“That’s just brilliant, man. Glad to see this plan working out so well. Lootie really outdid herself this time.”

Pak stared at Maxwell expressionlessly. “Yes she did, Mr. Maxwell.”

After a final glance around and telling Pak to carry on, Raleigh headed back toward the elevator. Maxwell joined him.

“Pak’s tone seemed kind of snippy there toward the end, don’t you think, Captain?”

Raleigh smiled at his First Officer and said, “The Wu Drive trap was Pak and Kim’s idea, not Lootie’s. She just figured out where best to spring it.”

Maxwell’s eyes lit up with understanding, and he glanced back at the work crew with newfound appreciation.

Raleigh said, “When they’re done, maintain enough people onboard to keep the peace and prevent sabotage. We are leaving within the hour. I’m going back to the Mule and check in on our new recruit.”

“Somebody actually volunteered to join us? What are they like? Who’d be crazy enough to become a pirate, especially in the middle of a war?”

“Crazy is not the word you’re looking for, Max. I think it’s more like, ‘desperate.’”


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