Raleigh and Jillian watched on the bridge’s holoscreen as the crewmembers on Coral Reef’s bridge were escorted to their quarters. They switched to the engine room when Kim and Pak ported in. They were quickly followed by their team members and the tandem drive.
Pak said, “Okay, everybody knows what to do. Let’s see if we can set a new record.”
The Mule’s crewmembers nodded and went to work hooking up the tandem drive.
Kim grinned at the Captain through the holo and said, “Maybe we won’t have to blow the electrical system this time.”
“No kidding,” Raleigh said.
He glanced up at the ceiling and said, “Show me first class, Lootie.”
The image switched to an elegant corridor opening into a spacious, chandeliered dining area.
“Any VIPs onboard?”
LuteNet said, “Yes, Captain. In particular, Mr. and Mrs. Sanford of Epsilon Weaponry are on the passenger manifest, as is Niles Sergio, heir to the Sergio Productions family fortune.”
Raleigh grinned. He said, “Estimate potential fees we should ask for their release.”
“It is possible military leaders on Diego will want to spend some time questioning the Sanfords before their release. In fact, PLAIR may decide keeping them for the war’s duration is a preferred option. If such an eventuality occurs, we may be able to request a bounty from PLAIR, particularly if they provide her with useful intelligence. I will start by requesting half a million credits each, which is inline with what similar high value targets have netted in the past. There is a possibility that PLAIR will determine they have a lower worth, but I am 75 percent certain she will agree to that request.”
“Okay. A million for the Sanfords. That makes up for missing the Excelsior. We’ll take it if PLAIR agrees. What about the rich boy?”
“His family fortune is one of the largest in the galaxy, over a billion credits in public assets and possibly half a billion more in hidden resources. I suggest asking for three million credits from his family. They will likely want to negotiate, but there is a possibility they may leave him in our care if they deem the fee to be too high.”
“Okay. Wow. That is a lot of money. What do you figure the odds are they would pay that much without balking?”
“I have little to go on from past data, but from analyzing the Sergio family’s business decisions over the past decade I conclude there is a 30 percent chance they will simply forfeit him for the duration of the war.”
“Should we ask less? I mean, a million credits is better than none.”
“The odds do not change much at lower amounts, in my calculations. Thus, I suggest we ask for three million. If they are going to accept, they will pay quickly. Otherwise, they will introduce delay tactics.”
“So, you’re saying there’s a decent chance we’re not going to get anything off him.”
“Yes, Captain. But several unknown variables may change in the coming months. He remains a valuable asset, and you are in a better position for having him.”
“Alright, good. Identify the Coral Reef’s available storage capacity, and port up any additional merchandise that is worth it from Pegasi into their hold. We’ll take it with us.
“Now get me over there, I want to look around and see what we’ve got. Take me to first class, then I’ll want to visit their indents in the hold.”
“Hey,” Jillian said, grabbing his arm. “You wouldn’t let me go down to Pegasi. Let me go with you over to this ship.”
Raleigh nodded. He said, “Okay. But stay with me. Don’t wander off alone.”
The lights stopped flashing red in the ceiling and a new voice Julia did not recognize came out of the PA system.
“Everyone please return to your quarters. The ship’s hull has suffered a breach but is structurally sound. For your safety, please return to your personal quarters.”
Many passengers in first class obediently headed toward their cabins. The Sanfords left to walk to the elevators so they could go up to their suite. Not knowing what to do, Julia absently followed some other passengers down the corridor toward her cabin.
A couple in front of her palmed their door and walked inside. The door swished shut behind them and the panel glowed red.
Julia said, “Locked?”
She turned across the hall to look at the other door facing the couple’s. It too glowed red. Walking further, she noticed many more were red. Presumably those not yet red remained unoccupied. She came to her own cabin and noted the panel glowed green.
She decided not to go in. Instead, she turned around and headed back toward the elevators and dining hall.
The control panel on the elevator glowed red too, and remained unresponsive when she palmed it.
She wondered where the stairs were. Surely there was emergency access somewhere. In the old days before redundant reliability subroutines, stairs were an essential part of buildings and ships, she knew. In modern times, their importance as a backup to failed elevators diminished. They still existed, but were rarely used. Julia mentally berated herself for not finding out where the entrance to the stairs were on this ship.
Two people popped into existence in front of her, a man and a woman. The man stood tall, with dirty blond hair, fit and muscular. The woman was . . .
Both stopped and stared at her. Jillian said, “Do I know you?”
Mentally, Julia groaned. But, she thought, if the ship were under control of the Republic now, maybe it wouldn’t matter.
She glanced both ways, looking to see if anybody else stood nearby. Then she touched the charm hanging from her neck. A line went up her face and it shimmered, then changed.
Jillian’s eyes bulged. She said, “Julia?”
Julia smiled at her, showing her real face for the first time in almost a year.