Jeter was assigned a bunk in the junior officers’ quarters, a cramped place with 15 slender mattresses on shelving that folded in the wall during the day for added space. Twelve were claimed, but ships this size usually kept a handful of extra sleeping berths just in case.

He had no luggage, and few concerns. After willingly surrendering his firearm and a handful of remaining egg grenades, he insisted on keeping the trap holding Raquel Kirkland. When questioned by the ensign assigned to him, he said the device, about the size and shape of a deck of cards, was a classified intelligence-gathering contraption that he needed to personally deliver to his superiors.

The ensign bought the story and let him keep it.

Two days passed while Jeter acclimated himself to the ship’s routines. He would not be able to escape StarCen’s observations, but he could keep Raquel away from the crew. Finally, knowing that she had to eat and drink, he decided to ask StarCen some questions to see how troublesome revealing her presence would prove to be.

He found a moment to himself in the junior officers’ quarters, pulled out the trap and set it on the mattress.

“StarCen, what do you know about Raquel Kirkland?”

“Ms. Kirkland is an indentured servant involved in Gemini Exponentials’ series of teleportation experiments on Raton Five. After blending in with a group headed to Epsilon Prime from Clarion aboard the Aquamarine, she was captured by pirates aboard Ultima Mule. Most recently she was retrieved by you with the portable electronic radiation absorber used to contain her.”

So, he thought, StarCen knows.

“I want her bond, StarCen. I retrieved her from her previous bondholder who is now dead, and it rightfully belongs to me.”

“Very well, Mr. Jeter. It has been so noted in the records. Since her previous bondholder is deceased and was killed in a wartime act of piracy, no exchange of money is necessary to transfer her bond.”

Jeter smiled. He picked up the device and left, making his way to the ship’s mess. There he sneaked a couple sandwiches out along with a bottle of flavored water, then returned to the room.

Making sure they were alone again, he pressed the button on the trap. A stream of pixels sprayed out, quickly forming into the attractive blonde.

She glared at him.

He handed her the food and drink.

She threw back the bottle and chugged it down, then shoved a sandwich in her mouth, never taking her eyes off him.

When she finished, she started on the second sandwich, eating slower this time.

Between bites she said, “Where are we?”

“We’re onboard the Polaris, a League Navy ship.”

Her eyes widened.

“Where’s Roddy?”

“Roddy and everybody else aboard that tub are dead. Well, except for the Princess. Seems her daddy threw a fit and demanded the Navy bring her back home. So, we are headed for Clarion.”

“I see.”

She looked around the room, chewing her food. She glanced up at the lights in the ceiling.

“Nah, ah-ah . . .”

Jeter waved the trap at her.

Her shoulders slumped a little, but she never changed her expression. She quickly finished the second sandwich.

She wiped the crumbs from her lips with her tongue, taking every last bit of nourishment she could.

Raquel looked at him again and said, “What now?”

“I’m your bondholder now,” he said, reaching out and touching her cheek.

He rubbed her skin with his thumb.

“I know you were giving Roddy something. It’s time you gave that to your new owner.”

Her cheek pixilated and his hand slipped through her face.

“Now cut that out! Stay solid.”

He reached for her again, this time for her middle, intending to pull her close. But his hand went right through her waist.

“Stop it. You need to submit to your bondholder’s request. I’m your bondholder now, so submit!”

He swung his hand up to slap her on the face, but he whiffed through her cheeks again. She gave him a disdainful stare and began pixilating, floating up to the lights above.

He said, “Oh no you don’t!”

Jeter grabbed the trap and pressed the button on top. A red ray came out. The silver pixels swarmed into the device, like dust sucked into a vacuum cleaner.

He looked at the container, its edge pulsing red now, and said, “You better behave or I’ll let you starve in there.”

He shoved it in his pocket with a frustrated snarl.


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