The council chamber in Ultima Mule Tower was full, with over 100 crewmembers in stadium-style seating.
Raleigh stood at the podium up front. On the dais with him sat Granny, Max, and Jillian.
He said, “Welcome, everybody, to our monthly meeting. And it has been a particularly good month.”
A light round of applause went up in the chamber. News of the haul from the banking drone had spread.
“So, those of you who missed out on the Petra Roe heist will probably be interested in our next venture.”
A ripple of excitement stirred through the room.
“As you may have heard, the Republicans took Juventas recently.”
Raleigh paused as the holo in front of the chamber lit up, showing a graphical representation of the Juventas solar system.
“There are three other planets in the quadrant controlled by Juventas: Palisades, Aegea, and Thalia. Minor historical note: Thalia is also the name of an asteroid circling Old Earth.”
Granny cackled at this, behind him.
She said, “There’s only so many Ancient Greek names to go around. They had to recycle them.”
“Right. So, the Republicans have put out a call for assistance with those three planets. They’d like us to maintain a presence and patrol the area. There won’t be much to plunder, I’m afraid. At least, they are not expecting much, and have implied we should tamper down our expectations. They do not want us messing with the planets themselves, by the way.
“However, there may be some stray ships trying to get in and out. If I’m reading between the lines correctly, the Diego Fleet is expecting the League Navy to attack again soon, and try to wrest away Juventas. So, they are unwilling to spare many official ships to mess with the minor planets in that quadrant.”
A hand shot up in the crowd.
“And they’re willing to pay for this?”
“Now that they have Seychar back in the Republic’s column of assets, they are able to afford hiring some private warships. We’ve been offered half a million to show up in one of the neighboring systems and intercept any hostiles. A quarter million per incident, if we encounter a League Navy ship and destroy or disable it. Best of all, any civilian ship flying under League papers we get to keep. Cargo and passengers.”
This stirred considerable interest.
“What’s out there?” Kim said. “Are there a lot of civilian ships still flying around those planets?”
Raleigh shrugged. “Dunno. I’m sure some of them beat a hasty retreat when the Diego Fleet showed up at Juventas. On the other hand, there may well be individuals still wanting to leave, and there may be smugglers willing to ship people and products in or out for the right price.
“It’s a gamble, and a bit of a shot in the dark. But, we can afford to go on a venture at this point and come back empty handed.”
Granny openly glared at his back with this statement. Everybody facing him noticed it, and smiles went up around the room.
He continued and said, “However, there’s always the possibility we could turn up something lucrative, or at least interesting. I asked Lootie to give us the odds of finding something worthwhile, and she thinks Thalia might be the best choice to have something coming or going that we could intercept.”
Raleigh looked across the crowd and took the measure of the room. He sensed a mood of excitement at the prospects.
“Alright. We’ll take volunteers for a trip to Thalia. Figure a three month minimum excursion. We’ll leave first thing in the morning.”
The following day, a fully provisioned Ultima Mule began taking on crew as they ported up in pairs.
Jillian and Skylar ported up first, each carrying a backpack.
As they walked down the hall outside the embarkation/disembarkation area, Skylar said, “I think Dillon and I will take that small bunkroom next to yours and the Captain’s.”
Jillian said, “Oh! Is that allowed? I thought there were all kinds of rules about fraternization and such.”
“We got married yesterday.”
“Get out! You did not! Why didn’t you tell me?”
Skylar shrugged. She said, “It was kind of a spur of the moment thing. But yeah, a lot of it had to do with the separate quarters issue. Three months is a long time, you know?”
“Where did you . . . Did you go to a church or something?”
“No, we went to the Administration Building. Paid the fee, did the paperwork, and had a civilian ceremony on the spot.”
“Are you sure about this, Skylar? I mean, you haven’t really known Dillon for very long.”
“Yeah, I’m sure. I’ve known him long enough. He doesn’t freak out about the glowing skin and the Intangible stuff. He actually finds it attractive. And that goes a long way. I’ve never met anyone this . . . interested in me.”
“I’m so happy for you,” Jillian said, giving her a hug. “I wish you had said something. We could have thrown you a party!”
Skylar shrugged. “We don’t want anything, or for anybody to make a fuss. Dillon’s like me. We’re happy to stay out of the spotlight. I think we’re both somewhat introverted. You and the Captain can go grab the glory while we stay quietly in the background.”
Over the next hour, additional crewmembers ported up to the ship along with their personal luggage. Finally, the Ultima Mule popped away from its orbit around Lute and began the long journey to Thalia.