Jillian slowly returned to consciousness. She found herself lying on her back atop a sickbay gurney, her head propped up at an angle and resting on a sterile pillow.
She glanced around the room nervously, and tried to regain her bearings. A droid doc stood in the corner, inactive, his head angled down. He had a different face than the one on the Mule. This one had short gray hair and had been designed to appear older, like a friendly stereotypical family doctor one might have seen in ancient movies or television shows from Old Earth.
To her right stood a woman, fit and trim, medium height and build. She wore a crisp blue Star League Navy uniform with long sleeves and starched trousers tucked into shiny black boots. Her brunette hair was pulled back in a bun and she wore a traditional two-pointed cap on her head. She stood at ease, hands behind her back, facing Jillian.
Jillian disliked her at first sight. The crisp uniform, the casual demeanor of someone completely in their element, combined with the unspoken yet clearly evident implication that Jillian was merely a guest visiting her domain . . . all contributed to Jillian’s negative impression.
The officer’s attitude, unspoken yet palpable, grated on Jillian’s nerves. She found it everywhere in the League, but even more so among military types. And these days, military types ran the show.
When the woman spoke, it was with a mildly condescending tone, too.
“Good morning, Ms. Thrall. Welcome aboard the Star League Ship Polaris. My name is Lieutenant Noreen Epsilon-Steele. I will be conducting your debriefing and accompanying you the rest of the way home.”
Jillian nodded, accepting this. There would be little reason to protest. She would have zero say as to where the ship went, even if she wished to continue to her original destination before the Aquamarine was captured. There would be no sense protesting a return to Clarion.
Instead she said, “How long have I been out?”
“You have been asleep for eight hours. We injected you with nanobots to repair your eardrums, and gave you a full physical. We were pleased to discover you were evidently not mistreated during your time away.”
Jillian raised an eyebrow. While hardly unexpected, the invasion of privacy that a medical examination would have involved felt . . . disturbing. A tendril of irritation curled inside her, threatening to ignite into full-blown anger. A complete physical examination meant they had inspected her for—
“I’m sure you’ll understand, Ms. Thrall, why Captain Fontenau authorized our droid doctor to administer a thorough examination, in light of your recent capture and time with the enemy.”
Jillian said nothing, but the look on her face expressed her displeasure quite well. Her multi-hued eyes reflected anger and righteous indignation. She looked very much like her father right now.
Steele’s back stiffened. She was not about to be intimidated by this girl. Besides, the procedure had been approved by the Captain and he would be the one suffering the consequences from the Tetrarch should this young . . . brat . . . complain to her father.
Steele took a deep breath and said, “Anyway, I wonder if you feel up to beginning the debriefing?”
“Yes. About your time in enemy territory. We are going to require a thorough debriefing from you. The knowledge you may have gained should prove useful to the Navy.”
Jillian looked down at her clothes. Her t-shirt, pants and boots were gone. In their place she wore a hospital gown, an outfit that covered little and exposed a lot. It did not inspire confidence, especially in light of the examination she had undergone while she was out.
She said, “I want a bath, some decent clothes, and private quarters. I could also use a bite to eat. Once I have all those, we can talk.”
Jillian smiled at Steele, but her eyes remained cold. She had plenty of experience with people like the Lieutenant. These individuals held nominal positions of authority, and they thought that meant something. Perhaps it did, in their little spheres of influence. While Jillian had no authority, especially in the Navy, the ties to her father lent her an impalpable yet undeniable prerogative everywhere in the League.
And Jillian would not be intimidated by this woman, regardless of her rank or position on this ship. She was the Tetrarch’s daughter, and she was much more important in the grand scheme of things than Noreen Epsilon-Steele would ever be.
The lieutenant lowered her eyelids, silently acquiescing to the younger woman’s will. The requests were not outside the bounds of reason, after all.
She said, “I will bring in some clothes. When you are ready, I will escort you to your quarters. We have an Admiral’s cabin onboard you are welcome to use.”
Jillian allowed herself a small smile of triumph.
“Thank you. And how many days are we from Clarion?”
“We are still eight days out. Your father has been notified and is expecting you.”
Jillian nodded and sunk back on the gurney, crossing her arms and staring at the ceiling. Steele realized she had been wordlessly dismissed.
Chagrined, she turned and left, intent on finding this spoiled child some clothes. The initial interview had not gone at all the way she expected, and she left the room before that thin little bitch could see the flustered look on her face.
When the door swished shut behind Steele, Jillian said, “StarCen?”
The high-pitched voice of the League’s AI system said “Yes, Ms. Thrall?”
“What is the status of the crew aboard Ultima Mule?”
“Captain Christopher Raleigh and everyone else who were aboard Ultima Mule are dead according to LuteNet’s biorecords, with the exception of yourself, Raquel Kirkland, and Avery Jeter, all of whom are safely aboard this vessel.”
Jillian’s face appeared blank. Her breathing remained stable, as did her heart rate.
She closed her eyes and remained still for a moment.
Then, quietly, she said, “Good.”