The tandem drives fired up in the Aquamarine’s engine room, where a half dozen pirates cheered and high-fived one another.

Pak opened a line on the neural network to Raleigh.

He said, “Captain, we’re ready to go over here.”

Raleigh’s voice came back to Pak’s inner ear. He said, “Good. Leave somebody there to make sure things remain copacetic. The rest of you can come back over here and help prepare for departure.”

“Aye, aye, Captain.”

Raleigh turned his attention back to the incredibly beautiful woman staring at him. He took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then let it out slowly.

He said, “Look, I understand you are lined up in opposition to your father, and by extension StarCen and the entire League. I agree with your position, and that’s one of the reason I’m on PLAIR’s side in this conflict. I believe in the right of individuals to choose their own leaders. In that regard, the Republic always wins out in my mind, at least from a political standpoint.

“But this is a major decision. It’s a life choice that will not be easy to walk back if you decide at a later date that it’s not for you.

“Frankly, most of the people we get as recruits are . . . rather unsavory. You, on the other hand, are much more used to a life of privilege. I’m not entirely certain you fully grasp what you’re leaving behind and what lies in store if you choose this path.”

He looked to see if what he was saying registered. She gazed back with crisp multi-hued eyes that seemed to change color as he watched.

He squinted and said, “What’s up with your eyes? They were a different color a minute ago.”

Her face cracked open in a grin and she said, “I’ve got flecks of several colors, so when my pupils dilate it looks like they changed. But really, it’s just that different flecks are visible depending on how much light is in the room.”

“That is—”

“Don’t say ‘weird.’ You’ll hurt my feelings.”

“I was going to say ‘different.’ I don’t think I’ve known anyone else like that.”

She sighed and said, “I know. It’s weird.”

“Actually, I kind of like it. Different is good, you know?”

Another voice broke in on the neural net, this time Kim’s. He said, “Captain, all components of the Wu Drive trap have been retrieved from space. Our ‘net’ is disassembled and we’re all ready to go down here.”

“Very good. I’ll be on the bridge momentarily.”

He looked back at Jillian and said, “I’ve got to go now. You stay here. I want you to think about this long and hard. Maybe do some research about piracy, and some of the things that this company has done in the past to get a better idea of what you’re getting into. Lootie can help you with that. You should be as informed as possible before making any decision. There’s no going back on this, is what I’m trying to say.”

He stood up and walked to the door, then turned back to her one more time.

He said, “You don’t have to decide right now. Sleep on it, and we’ll talk more tomorrow.”

The door swished shut behind him and Jillian sat back in the chair, thinking.

She said, “Did you hear all that, Lootie?”

LuteNet’s voice came out of the air above the table.

She said, “Yes I did, Jillian Thrall.”

“I guess it would be a good idea to study up on the history of piracy in the Milky Way, this company and the men on this ship in particular. Also if you could send me anything else you think I’d need to know, I’d appreciate it.”

Jillian thought about it a moment then said, “Give me a bio of Christopher Raleigh. Let me know if he’s married, has any kids, things like that. Please send everything in text form, I’ll just skim through the important stuff. Put the Raleigh info on top.”

A virtual screen appeared in the air, floating near her face with a wall of text. Jillian skimmed down to the bottom and the text scrolled up to another page.

After several pages she stopped and said, “Lootie?”

“Yes, Jillian Thrall?”

“Are there any rules about pirate captains dating members of their crew?”


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