“Captain, all passengers and cargo onboard the Aquamarine are secure. Our tandem drives are installed and ready to go. All equipment used for our trap, and all drones that could be recovered are back inside.”
“Very good, Mr. Maxwell. Roddy, plot a course for home and let’s be on our way.”
“Aye, aye, Captain.”
Roddy did not have a lot to do, actually. The course plotting was handled entirely by LuteNet. However, a human did have to engage the system by hand, to get things going. There were other times when a human needed to be at the controls, too.
One moment Ultima Mule and Aquamarine were floating near one another in space. The next moment they popped out of sight, reappearing almost 200 million kilometers away.
In the early days of space travel, the Wu Drive could send a ship one astronomical unit (AU) in a single teleport. An AU is the distance between Earth and her sun, that is 93 million miles or 150 million kilometers.
A light year is about 5.88 trillion miles, or 9.5 trillion kilometers. Even teleporting an AU every second meant ships took 63,000 seconds (that’s 1,050 minutes or 17.5 hours) to travel one light year. Fomalhaut Outpost, at 25 light years from Earth, took about 18 days to reach.
Since then the AIs developed ever more efficient jumps and some longer ones as the Wu Drives advanced, resulting in incremental decreases in flying time. But it still took a while to travel between planets.
The hologram at the front of the bridge switched from a view of the exterior to a space map, with an icon showing progress. The ship was represented by an icon on the left and Lute’s icon floated on the right. Above, a countdown clock showed their estimated time of arrival with the seconds ticking down.
“Okay,” Raleigh said. “Six days to port. Good job everybody. Mr. Maxwell, we’ll make our first stop in 24 hours. I want a daily report on food supplies and the state of our guests over on the other ship. If we need to send an attitude adjustment party over, we will. Otherwise, let’s let everybody sit tight until we get home.”
“Aye, aye, Captain.”
“You have the bridge, Mr. Maxwell.”
Raleigh turned and walked into the elevator capsule.
Maxwell stood behind Roddy for a while. They both stared at the icon slowly progressing across the map as the seconds ticked down.
Finally Maxwell said, “Not much for a pilot to do right now, is there?”
Roddy grinned at him and said, “I still get three shares, just like everybody else.”
Maxwell raised an eyebrow, acknowledging the point. Then he turned and went to the elevator. A capsule arrived and took him away.
After a while Roddy stood up and stretched.
He said, “Lootie, where is the Quartermaster?”
“She is in the mess hall.”
Roddy headed to the elevator and asked Lootie to take him to the mess.
Roddy found Granny sitting at a table with several crewmen, telling them about her visit to Aquamarine’s hold.
“And then, bless my heart if I did not see at least 800 young girls looking back at me, just as pretty as you please. And I thought, these here women are too nice for the likes of my crew. . .”
Good-natured chuckles flowed around the table.
She looked up as Roddy approached.
She took the unlit cigar out of her mouth and said, “Ain’t you our pilot? Who’s flying the ship?”
“You know who’s flying the ship,” he said. “The same entity controlling everything else.”
“Well then what are you good for? You know, our cook does more than you do on this ship.”
“We don’t have a cook.”
The crew laughed at this exchange. A couple of them slapped Roddy on the back. He knew Granny well enough to know she was not serious. Almost everybody suffered a rebuke, curse, or cutting remark from her at some point or other. Roddy thought he perhaps received more than his fair share, but he knew better than to complain.
Instead he smiled and said, “Hey Quartermaster, can we have a private conversation? Ship’s business.”
“Uh oh, boys. The VIPs gotta talk in private. Run along now and find something to do that doesn’t involve money.”
The group broke up, everyone heading in different directions.
Granny made a beckoning motion to Roddy and said, “Let’s go to my office.”
She walked over to a food pantry and palmed the door, then let him enter first.
When it shut, she said, “Lookee there! Instant privacy. Now, what can I do for you, sonny?”
“I’d like to purchase the bond of one of the indents.”