“First order of business: new members.”

Raleigh looked around at the council chamber, with men and women seated stadium style around him. A handful of telepresence holograms were scattered throughout the crowd, from people attending while elsewhere on the planet.

The entire company consisted of 104 members, although the Mule had room for a maximum of 25 crew. It worked out, though, because not everybody wished to sail on every outing. Plus, some of the crew earned wages planetside, taking care of Mule Tower and the company’s varied financial interests. All told, for any given voyage, Raleigh typically had a pool of 40 or so he could choose from when asking for volunteers.

“Jillian Thrall comes to us as a prospective member. Some of you might have heard of her father.”

Chuckles rippled around the room.

“The floor is open for comments before we take a vote.”

Granny raised her hand out in the audience. Raleigh pointed to her.

She stood up and said, “Does Ms. Thrall know what she’s getting into?”

“I have spoken with her at length about it. She has read our history, and spent most of the voyage home considering it. Yes, she is fully aware of all the complications and considerations.”

He looked around and for a long moment nobody else raised a hand.

Finally, Jeter lifted his. Raleigh pointed at him and said, “Avery Jeter has the floor.”

Jeter stood and said, “I just want everybody to remember, we’re missing out on a potentially huge ransom by taking her on. The Thrall family has some serious assets.”

This, Jillian thought, would be the main sticking point. She swallowed nervously, from her seat behind Raleigh.

For his part, the Captain expected this objection, too. He was delighted at its source, though.

Smiling he said, “Funny you should bring that up, Jeter. As I recall, your family is very well-to-do also.”

Jeter’s ears turned beet red as laughter spread around the room. He finally nodded at everybody and shrugged as if to say, “What can I do?” and sat down.

Raleigh said, “Again, I have spent a lot of time interrogating Ms. Thrall,”

Granny said, “I’ll bet you have.”

The entire room erupted in raucous laughter this time. It was the Captain’s turn to grow red in the face. But he smiled along with everybody else.

When they finally settled down, he said, “I am convinced, and Lootie was too, that Ms. Thrall is not joining us out of monetary convenience. She is genuine in her desire to fight against the Star League, and joining us offers her just such an opportunity. Now, let’s take the vote. All in favor raise your right hand.”

About 70 hands went up. Privately, Raleigh felt relieved. He had already decided to “hire” Jillian as a “consultant” or some other convenient title if the company members voted against her. He was happy that he would not have to resort to such measures to keep her around.

“All opposed?”

This time fewer than 20 raised their hands, the remainder choosing not to vote. Raleigh noted both Jeter and Escobar voted against her.

“Okay. Let’s welcome our newest crew member, Jillian Thrall.”

A smattering of applause went around the room. He turned and smiled at her. She smiled back.

He returned to face the crew and said, “Next order of business, Michael Pak will give us an update on LuteNet and what the police have found out so far about our sniper.”

Raleigh sat down next to Jillian while Pak approached the podium.

Pak said, “Basically, our government in their infinite wisdom discovered the basement of the Admin Building with a couple guard bots is insufficient protection for Lootie.”

Some guffaws and snorts of derision flowed around the room. No one present thought much of governments to begin with.

“So a couple egg grenades, and that was that. The good news is, she is spread out globally, and things were backed up. But the core is going to have to be rebuilt. That means it’ll be a while before our AI system is operating at a hundred percent again.”

Granny raised her hand.

“Yes, Quartermaster?”

“Is that going to delay our next voyage?”

Pak turned to the Captain. Raleigh stood and said, “Probably. I’m not sure how comfortable I feel going back out there without her. We’ll know more in a few days.”

Some grumbles of discontent bubbled up in the crowd. Granny frowned, but she sat down.

Pak continued. He said, “Very little details on the sniper. Skylar’s headshot ruined facial ID chances. The police are waiting on more of LuteNet’s capacity to return before they run the other biomarkers on him.”

“So we got nothing?” Maxwell said.

The murmurs in the crowd grew louder.

“At the moment, nothing. There is one more thing, though.”

The crowd quieted down.

“The digital assassin, the woman called Raquel Kirkland, escaped during the sniper attack. Tony and I both saw it happen.”

Kim nodded as everybody looked at him. Then Pak continued.

“As you know, this is the same woman who killed Samuel and the Captain of the Aquamarine, and she almost took out Roddy. We are worried that she is going to attack again. Now, it’s kind of hard to prepare for her appearance without Lootie’s help. But, Tony and I have rigged up a detector on our electric grid in this building. We thought of some things the AI might not have considered. Lootie couldn’t ‘see’ her in the Aquamarine, but we think we fixed that. If she shows up, her presence in the grid will sound an alarm and the routine will allow us to track her.

“Also, now that we’ve come home and we’ve been able to access all our equipment at the shop here, we’ve been able to develop this handy thing.”

He took out a small black device about the size of a deck of cards. One edge was shiny and Pak pointed it at the crowd.

He said, “This is a radiation trap. It’s almost as powerful as the big one we used to capture her on the Aquamarine, only small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. We’ve got a dozen of these with more on the way. If there’s a chance you might see her, or if you feel the need to have one, take one. Here, Roddy, you can have the first one.”

Roddy stood and met Pak halfway, thanking him.

Granny said, “Hey, Roddy. Did you ever get your money back for what you paid for that gal?”

Everybody laughed as Roddy pocketed the radiation absorber and returned to his seat. He took it well, though, and chuckled along with them.

Pak relinquished the podium to Raleigh.

The Captain said, “Alright. Catholic Charities, the Red Cross, and the Salvation Army have teamed up and are handling the forced indents for us. Hasselbeck’s has the equipment to remove their biocollars, and they’ve taken off three or four dozen so far. It appears the women’s memories have been wiped. They’ve lost the last few months. They are very confused, to say the least. Planetary Republic representatives are running with the story about how they were wrongly placed into indentured service and already they’ve ginned up some decent anti-League propaganda out of this, so that’s good. Outrage over forced indentured service is brewing.

“Now we’ll hear a report from our Quartermaster on what to expect about ransom demands for the first class passengers, the crew, and salvage fees for the Aquamarine.”

Granny came to the podium and said, “Well, boys and girls, we ain’t quite as rich as we thought we’d be . . .”

A note from jaxonreed

Bonus Chapter 1.1, "The Ambassador Meets Deadeye," is available on Patreon.

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