He’s a charmer, that’s for sure. Handsome, too.
Those were the thoughts crossing Julia’s mind as she took stock of Jillian’s new beau. She had no doubt the two were head over heels in love with one another. All the signs were evident, from the way she looked at him to the subtle protective gestures he made. Yup, these two were an item. Her sister had found a man.
Right now, the man in question did not trust Julia. At all. For that, she could hardly blame him. She appeared out of the blue on an enemy ship, and in disguise to boot. Consequently, there would be little opportunity to catch up with her sister any time soon.
“I’m sorry Ms. Thrall,” Raleigh said. “But at this point in time I’m afraid I simply must invoke company policy and ask you to return to your stateroom. I’m aware that you two are close but the policy stands, even for relatives.”
Jillian looked at him with pleading eyes. But Raleigh looked back with a firm expression. He was the Captain of this ship now, and his word ruled.
That did not stop Jillian from trying. She said, “Chris, this is my sister. I grew up with her! Can’t she come back to the Mule with us? I haven’t seen her in almost a year!”
“I tell you what. We need to get going right now, but we will stop tomorrow for an hour and check up on things over here. At that time you two can meet and talk. Okay? For right now, Julia needs to return to her quarters.”
“It’s okay, Jillian. He’s right, I should go.”
“Well, let’s at least walk with you to your room,” Jillian said.
Together, the three of them headed down the corridor toward Julia’s door.
Jillian said, “Where have you been all this time? I’ve been worried sick about you.”
“That is a long story. We don’t have time to get into it right now.”
“I’m more interested in that device around your neck,” Raleigh said. “I’m not familiar with the technology.”
Julia smiled at this but said nothing.
Raleigh said, “Can it make you look like another person completely? Can you gain or lose weight or height? Change gender?”
Julia looked back at him with a twinkle in her eye. She said, “It changes the face only, Captain. Don’t worry, I can’t pretend to be you.”
Jillian laughed at this, but Raleigh just nodded. I hit close to home on that one, Julia thought.
They reached Julia’s door and she palmed it open. She lingered in the doorway a moment longer.
She said, “And how did you wind up on a Lute pirate ship, Jillian? Are you . . . a pirate now? Does Daddy know about this?”
“Oh yeah. And have I got some stories for you! We’ll talk tomorrow!”
Julia waved goodbye and the door swished shut. In the corridor, the panel on her door turned red.
Jillian turned to Raleigh and said, “I can’t believe my sister is here! I can’t wait to see her again.”
Raleigh nodded. Mentally he sifted through the list of who to bring along with Jillian for her visit. There was no way he would allow her to visit Julia alone. It took him a while to learn to trust the first Tetrarch’s daughter he met. This second one would have to prove herself, too.
But right now Jillian did not need to know that.
Out loud he said, “Let’s go visit the hold and see if we’re rescuing another batch of forced indents.”
Raleigh asked LuteNet to port them, and they went down into the hold. They popped into existence at the edge of a large feeding area, much like the one in Aquamarine.
Granny turned around to look at them. She stood with three other crew members. She took the unlit cigar out of her mouth and said, “Whelp, Lootie says these are for real. At least, their records seem to indicate they are genuine indents. She says nothing looks out of place.”
Granny cocked a suspicious eye toward the ceiling, as if to say she did not fully trust LuteNet’s decision.
Raleigh said, “Okay. Just by the looks of things from here, you can tell this is a whole different batch. For one thing, they’re not all women.”
Indeed, several young men were mixed in the crowd, staring back at the pirates with docile expressions.
“And look,” Jillian said. “There’s some older people here, too.”
She pointed at a man who appeared to be in his mid-50s, then at a woman who looked to be about 60.
Granny nodded and said, “Debtors. That’s true. Out of all the women in Aquamarine’s hold, none were said to be debtors.”
“Okay. Well, this is good,” Raleigh said. “If we don’t have another humanitarian crisis, then we can collect the auction money from their bonds. Lootie, give us an estimate.”
“There are 452 indentured servants onboard,” LuteNet said. “Auction prices fluctuate, and some of these servants are far older than typical, bringing the average down. However, a fair estimate at current prices puts the hold’s value at about 18,000 credits per indent. In round numbers, and assuming known variables remain constant, the hold represents about 8.1 million total credits. Note, this is only an estimate.”
“That’s not bad,” Raleigh said. “Figure four million for the ship, another two million in ransom, and we’re up to 14 million for the trip.”
Granny said, “That’s 140,000 credits a share.”
“We’ll still have to split something with the Slender Sylph Company. Even though Lee and his crew all died, we would not be here without them. Granted, we did all the work in capturing the Coral Reef and looting Pegasi Station. But it’s only fair to send something over to them. He took out a Navy destroyer, after all. Lootie will figure out a proper amount.”
Granny snorted. She said, “Don’t worry, Captain. I never count ’em before I get ’em, anyways. Look what happened our last time out.”
Pak’s voice came over the neural net into Raleigh’s ear. He said, “Captain, we’re all set over here. I’m leaving a couple guards in place, but otherwise we’re ready to go back to the Mule. As far as the engines are concerned, we can leave whenever you want to.”
Raleigh said, “Thank you, Mr. Pak. We’ll be departing shortly.”
He turned his attention back to the hold. He said, “Granny, are you happy with the materials lifted from Pegasi? Anything else you think we should take before leaving?”
She shook her head and said, “No, when I found out we’d have a Mammoth-class ship to haul things for us, I gave Lootie the list of stuff I wanted but thought we’d have to leave behind. It was prioritized. Critical materials were already in the Mule’s hold. Secondary and tertiary items are now onboard the Reef.”
Raleigh nodded. “Good. Let’s get everybody back on our ship and get out of here before somebody else comes along.”
They began popping away in pairs. First Raleigh and Jillian, then Granny and one of the men, then the other two. All aboard the Coral Reef, pirates popped away to the Utlima Mule.
Back on the bridge, Raleigh looked at the holoscreen showing the giant ship nearby and Pegasi Station.
He said, “Lootie, take us home.”
Both ships blinked out of existence, instantly transported an AU away.
Several hours passed, during which time the citizens of Pegasi came out of their homes and shops and found the entire station bereft of food, supplies, merchandise and money.
Now that the threat was gone, their fear quickly turned to anger.
Several more hours passed before the first League Navy ship settled into orbit around Pegasi, the Malevolent. It was an Eagle-class vessel. Her Captain, a man by the name of Patel, immediately ported down with a team. They were met by an angry mob. Whereas the people of Pegasi had cowered in fear from the gun-wielding pirates, they felt perfectly safe in berating the Navy, which had come to their aid so late.
Over the following hours, five more Navy ships showed up, including two Hawk-class vessels, a Harrier, and two Sparrows.
Ordinarily the citizens would have embraced such a large influx of new customers, but their agitation simply increased with each arriving ship.
Following the second riot, Patel called all his people back to the ship and suggested the other Captains do the same. He sent out repair drones to take care of the damaged quantum trunk lines, but otherwise the Navy stayed away.
StarCen suggested they send emergency food rations down, and each ship contributed. Eventually, after another 72 hours passed with no more threat of pirates, all but a lone Sparrow-class ship left. Despite their current indignation, StarCen determined the populace would become even more upset if the Navy did not keep a presence there to “protect” the station. So she let one of the smallest ships remain, complete with its eight-person crew, who were under orders not to visit the station for a while. Their presence in orbit seemed to mollify the locals somewhat.
But the pirates had no further use for Pegasi Station, and they had no plans to return.