Each second the two ships made a jump, and each second they closed the distance to Lute. The seconds stretched into minutes, the minutes into hours. Each jump brought them closer to home.
On their second stop, the away team found what remained of the Aquamarine’s crew in a foul mood. They had cleaned up the carnage left behind by the Intangibles, as well as their Captain and other bloody messes. They found a place to store dead bodies in a corner of the hold and LuteNet reduced air temperature in that room to help stymie the smell of decaying corpses. LuteNet found a way to route emergency power to enough doors and elevator pods to make it all happen.
Then the crew retired to their quarters again, where LuteNet kept them occupied with access to games and holos. They fed themselves in the mess hall with non-perishable food supplies. The rest of the time, they griped to one another. Their original destination was out of the question now. They had no idea how long they would be stuck on Lute. And the lights were out. Despite their foul mood, they caused little trouble.
The counterfeit indentured servants remained placid. They clustered in the common areas and ate soy wafers at mealtime. Despite comprising the largest segment of Aquamarine’s passengers, they were the least troublesome.
The first class passengers, on the other hand, started a mini-riot. Unfortunately, there was no one available to listen to their complaints. No humans, anyway. Porter Kent had retreated to the crew’s zone, which LuteNet allowed him to do. That left nothing but the server bots in the First Class areas. While useful for fetching food and drinks, server bots just stared blankly back when someone berated them. Fussing at them about the sudden lack of electricity proved eminently unsatisfying to those who paid a premium for better accommodations.
So, the first class passengers turned to destruction as a means to vent their outrage. There was no one to stop them. Maybe, the prevailing sentiment seemed to be, by causing destruction they could garner some attention and have their needs attended to. They tossed all the chairs into the lagoon, wrecked the bar, threw the food supplies onto the floor and broke anything else they could find.
When their pent up fury was spent, they eventually realized nobody was around to clean things up. Also most of their alcohol was gone. And food.
When LuteNet gave Raleigh her report on the deteriorating conditions there at the next stop, he had her port over a hundred liters of water. Another riot ensued as they fought over the water bottles. The next time, he had LuteNet port over bottles in clusters of five at different areas around their deck. This eliminated the need to fight over the water, but it did lead to hoarding as everybody tried to hide their water from the others. The unrest and general unhappiness over there continued.
For a while he considered forgoing food since they had wasted so much. On the second to last stop with 24 hours to go, he changed his mind and had LuteNet port in several boxes of soy wafers from the indents’ stock.
The first class passengers were not happy with his food choice. But, they did not go hungry.
Between stops, Raleigh spent long stretches of time with Jillian Thrall. One night, with about 48 hours to go, he walked into her cabin with two covered plates.
He said, “I thought you might like some company for supper tonight.”
She smiled and cleared off the table.
He took the metal covers off the plates and said, “It’s called ‘poshbird.’ It’s native to Lute. You know how people say things taste like chicken? This really does. The resemblance in flavor is uncanny. Back home it’s known as ‘chicken of the stars.’ We actually export quite a bit.”
They sat down and she bit into the meat.
She said, “Not bad. You’re right, it does taste a lot like chicken.”
When they finished he put the metal covers back on the plates and leaned back in his chair.
He said, “So, have you read up on everything? Do you have a better understanding of what you’re getting into?”
“I think so. You are head of a company chartered in Lute. Investors fund your ship in return for a chunk of the profits. Crewmembers sign a contract with the company for X number of voyages and they receive corresponding shares in the ventures they participate in. It all seems pretty straightforward.”
“That part is, yes.”
“What do the crew do between ventures? Do they hold down other jobs?”
He smirked and said, “Not hardly. Mostly they spend what they made from the last voyage.”
“I see. And, are there a lot of things to spend money on? I mean, Lute’s not that big, is it?”
“Ha! You’ve obviously never been to Lute before. You can buy anything and everything there.”
“No. I mean, it’s a pirate enclave. Of course I haven’t been there.”
“Well, you’re in for a treat. I’ll show you around when we make port. There are some places you should probably steer clear of. But overall, I think you’re going to like it.”
As the hours ticked down, and their time together increased, Jillian realized Raleigh was not going to make any affectionate overtures. Despite her dropping multiple hints that he was more than welcome to kiss her at any moment, he never did. He always remained polite, and seemed very interested in spending time with her. In fact, some of his excuses for visiting were on the flimsy side. But she was always happy to see him.
She became increasingly certain he liked her. But, she had no one she could confide in and discuss the matter. What she really needed was a girlfriend to talk it all over with. She considered pouring her heart out to LuteNet, but dismissed the idea. LuteNet seemed loyal to the Captain, and she was uncertain the AI would not share her musings with him. So she spent most of her free time when he was not present thinking about him. And the more she thought about Captain Christopher Raleigh, the more she liked him.
For his part, Raleigh kept thinking back to the night she fluttered her eyelashes. The signals she continued to transmit cemented the idea that feelings between them were mutual. However, this was still the voyage on which she had been captured. He would not influence her decision in joining the company by allowing a relationship to develop. That could happen later, if it was going to happen.
His mind made up, he deliberately sidestepped physical contact and ignored her apparent willingness to smooch.
Meanwhile, the hours ticked by until at last the ship’s icon grew very close to Lute’s on the map.