The Ultima Mule popped into orbit around Thalia towing the Aquamarine via tandem drive. Raleigh thought they might find a use for the hulking shell of the former Mammoth-class ship, since it was no longer needed to contain their captured bank drone.
Raleigh scanned the horizon of the planet once they were in orbit, and took a look at readouts provided by LuteNet. He stood on the bridge along with Granny, Dillon, Maxwell, and Jillian.
Raleigh said, “It looks like the Chaucer Company beat us here. The Chanticleer is already in orbit.”
“I’ve always wondered, what the heck is a Chanticleer anyway?” Granny said.
Dillon said, “He was a rooster in the Canterbury Tales.”
Granny glared at him. She said, “You know, if there’s one thing even more useless than a pilot, it’s an English major. That tells me absolutely nothing.”
She dismissed Dillon with a cursory, “Hmph!”
A connection lit up in his mind. Raleigh answered the call, touching the neural implant below his ear. He transferred it to the bridge’s main holoscreen, where the face of an attractive young woman with light brown skin and long dark hair appeared.
Seeing her, Jillian immediately took a protective step closer to Raleigh.
The woman smiled at everyone. She said, “Well hey there, Chris. Fancy meeting you here.”
“Hello Krystal. This is my wife, Jillian. Jillian, this is Krystal Lightfoot. She inherited the Chaucer Company from her father, who passed away not long ago.”
Lightfoot said, “I heard you married the daughter of our main enemy. You gonna switch sides on us, Chris?”
Raleigh chuckled. He said, “No. I can vouch for Jillian. So, do you want to team up in this system? If the League Navy makes an appearance, it wouldn’t hurt to have a partner.”
“Okay. Let’s call dibs on any civilian ships that show up.”
“Why don’t we take turns? You can have the first one since you got here first.”
“Okay, even better. I like the way that sounds. You always were the reasonable one in our relationship. See you around, Chris!”
She winked and cut the transmission.
Jillian gave him a sharp look. She said, “Do you know her very well or something?”
Raleigh flushed in embarrassment.
He said, “We, uh, used to date back in the day. I haven’t gone out with her in well over a year.”
Everyone on the bridge paid very close attention to this exchange. Nobody said a word, letting the Captain dangle under Jillian’s sharp gaze. Maxwell and Dillon looked on with interest. Granny openly smirked.
Raleigh turned and noticed they were the center of attention.
“Alright, everybody. Let’s get back to work.”
He pressed his implant again and said, “Kim and Pak, make sure the Coral Reef is ready to go in case we need it.”
“Will do, Captain,” Kim responded back. “We were following the bridge transmission down here in the engine room. Are you going to tell Jillian about your relationship with Captain Lightfoot?”
“Very funny. Just so you know, I don’t have you on speaker, so no one else can hear you up here.”
“Aw, man, I was just—”
Raleigh cut the connection, turned and noted Jillian remained staring at him. He saw anger smoldering in her eyes, and briefly he wondered about her father’s reputation for extreme fits of rage and how much of that she inherited from him.
“Come on,” he said, nodding toward the elevator. She followed him to it.
Over his shoulder he said, “Granny, you have the bridge.”
When the door dinged shut behind them, Granny snorted again.
She said, “Like there’s anything going on here. I want to go with them and listen to the argument. That’s where the real action is.”
In the privacy of the Captain’s quarters, when the door swished shut, Jillian unloaded on him in a burst of bile.
“Who is that slut, and how long were you together?”
She pointed off in a random direction where she thought the Chanticleer might be floating.
“Don’t ‘look sweetie’ me! How long?”
“I have had prior girlfriends, Jillian. I’m 30. I have dated lots of women in my time. But I never married one of them, until you.”
That, as it turned out, was the best thing to say at the moment. Jillian’s anger simmered down several notches. She seemed to literally deflate. She stopped pointing off into space and placed her hands on her hips.
“You can’t use that one every time, Chris.”
He shrugged and gave her a lopsided smile.
He said, “Nonetheless . . . it’s true.”
“Just answer the question. I want to know. How long were you two together?”
“We dated seriously less than three months. We left on good terms, and we’re still friends. We just don’t . . . match. Our personalities clash. I don’t talk with her on a regular basis, but we’re polite in public.”
Jillian sat down on a plush leather sofa and crossed her arms, lost in thought. He sat down beside her and gently placed an arm around her.
After a minute, she laid her head on his shoulder.
She said, “It’s just . . . I had visions of a storybook romance, you know? I think every little girl does. But, you get out in the real world and you find the storybooks aren’t . . . accurate. They don’t tell you everything. I mean, none of them ever mentions that Prince Charming dated other girls before finding the Princess. That’s not part of the story.”
“The important thing is the story we live out from this point forward,” Raleigh said.
She looked at him, searching his eyes to see if he meant the words he said.
“And we will,” he said, nodding. “We’ll live a good one. There will be some villains to fight. I don’t think your father is going to like me very much. And there’s always trouble of some kind or other to go through. Everybody has trouble in life.
“But we’ll face it all together. I promise. I am completely, thoroughly, and most of all whole-heartedly committed to you, Jillian Raleigh. I love you. And we’re going to go through the rest of our lives as man and wife. I’ll be here to the end, however long we have together.”
She melted at these words, and the final vestiges of her anger faded. They kissed and remained on the sofa together for a long time.