Several days had passed since their encounter with the enemy at Thalia. Raleigh stopped several jumps out to check on things. The Mule had the Aquamarine in tandem drive still, although the bare hull was in bad shape after taking out so many League Navy ships.
The Republican Navy showed up at Thalia and ported aboard the surviving League crewmembers on Bronze Iguana. They also took the crew of the Iguana, with plans to prosecute them for smuggling.
They would have taken the Iguana, too, but the door to the engine room was sealed shut. When the last sailor left at 19:00 local time for chow, with plans to return the following morning with tools and equipment to tackle the door, LuteNet ported the ship away.
The Navy lodged a protest with PLAIR, but the AI set the brass straight. The Ultima Mule Company had a legitimate claim on the Bronze Iguana, and was taking the ship.
With the remote control unit, the Iguana became essentially a drone. Rather than sending her to Lute as Raleigh originally intended, LuteNet diverted course and sent her to Halcyon instead. It followed a day and a half behind the Mule.
The Mule now floated in orbit around Halcyon, for the second time. Raleigh stood on the bridge with most of his top people surrounding him.
The planet looked peaceful, Raleigh thought. But then, all planets do from above.
It was not going to remain lightly populated for long. The only question was, which side got to keep it as people immigrated? If he could help it, Lute was about to link up with a second planet. And this libertarian-minded frontier world would shrug off ownership by both of the two large rival systems of government in the galaxy.
He thought, what would they call themselves once the two united? The Federation? No, that’s been used. The Confederacy? Hm. Too much baggage with that one. United Planets? Nothing really sounded right that he could imagine. It was a question for the politicians to decide.
But first, before everything got started, he wanted to set a perimeter and watch his back.
You don’t survive long in this business without being at least a little paranoid, he thought.
Out loud Raleigh said, “Kim, Pak. Establish a grid. Let’s make sure this isn’t some kind of elaborate ambush.”
The engineers nodded, even though he could not see them down in the engine room. They had LuteNet port drones throughout the solar system.
Raleigh said, “Everybody be on the lookout for trouble. LuteNet, I want you to take us out of there the first indication something is out of order.”
“Will do, Captain.”
“Okay, let’s go.”
He led Granny, Skylar, Dillon and Jillian to the disembarkation zone.
Moments later, on top of the Administration Building in Winthrop, a sensor appeared a few centimeters in the air, the size and shape of a soup can.
It dropped with a slight Clink! and LuteNet began taking her first readings from the surface of Halcyon.
Staring at it, Governor Seldom stood in a small group of people that included members of her cabinet, Taggert, and Kilmeade.
On either side of the roof, armed police working her security detail stood, trying not to appear hostile. Taggert had also taken the liberty of placing several snipers in windows of the surrounding buildings, much like they had done when the crew of the Excelsior first came to Winthrop. He had given them strict orders no one was to shoot unless something threatening happened.
But the Excelsior’s people showed up without an AI, and LuteNet was used to intruding on planets to which she had not been invited. Unbeknownst to all present, she dropped sensors on all the tall buildings in Winthrop, and down into some alleys and storm sewers as well.
She quickly identified all the snipers and maintained a watchful eye on them, ready to teleport them away should they try and fire on her people.
This entire process took two seconds. Satisfied all was well, she ported down Raleigh and Jillian, Granny, then Skylar and Dillon over the following three seconds, taking care they all arrived unharmed.
Raleigh smiled at the crowd and the woman in the center of it.
He said, “Governor Seldom, I presume?”
She reached forward and shook his hand.
Raleigh said, “This is my wife, Jillian. This is Gertrude Wilcox, Dillon and Skylar Dvorak. They are all crewmembers of the Mule. Ms. Wilcox is our Quartermaster.”
Seldom smiled and nodded at them. When she saw Jillian, she did a double take and her jaw dropped.
She said, “Jillian Thrall? What are you doing here? I recognize you from the holo.”
Jillian’s face reddened. She raised her eyebrows and said, “I got married. It’s Jillian Raleigh, now.”
“Wow! How did that happen?”
“It’s a long story. A lot of people have changed sides in this war, though. All of us here, except for Chris, used to be with the League.”
Dillon and Skylar nodded.
Granny said, “Not me. I’m a Republican. Born and raised.” She smiled proudly and stood a little straighter.
“Well, almost all of us, then,” Jillian said. “Anyway, war changes things, you know?”
“Wow. Well, I am honored . . . I’m flabbergasted that you’re here,” Seldom said. “Your celebrity status in the League is phenomenal. You’ll have to tell me all about how you changed sides over dinner.”
Dinner on Halcyon was a delight, especially after eating on a spaceship for weeks on end.
The entire delegation took over a restaurant called Mama Sicily’s, on the ground floor of a store two blocks from the Administration Building.
The young couple running the place went out of their way to provide the very best home cooked meals for the Governor and her party. The Mule’s crew were suitably impressed, sipping wine and eating caponata, fried rice balls, and a variety of pasta dishes.
“I’m gaining two kilos just by looking at this food,” Granny said, munching down her second cannoli.
Taggert and Kilmeade found themselves sitting near the center of the table, next to the Governor and across from Raleigh and Jillian.
Raleigh said, “We have a ship under Lootie’s remote control coming in tomorrow sometime. I’m going to have her leave it parked in orbit for now.”
Seldom said, “Why?”
Raleigh shrugged. He said, “Who knows, you might want to get somebody off planet at some point. You need a spaceship, Governor. It’s not right that you don’t have any at all in orbit.”
She shrugged and said, “We’re not going anywhere.”
“Just humor me,” Raleigh said. “We might be able to do something in terms of defensive measures with it.”
“Okay. Park a ship up there. If we need it, we’ll . . . How are we going to get up there? We’ve got the Excelsior’s old transport, I guess.”
“I’ll have to check the timeline, but soon . . . I’d say in a few days . . . a group of ships from Lute will arrive. They will have one of LuteNet’s spare cores. After the signing ceremony and everything is official, a group of technicians will install the core here in Winthrop. That’s assuming they can get the electrical connections to work. It may take them a while.
“Anyway, once that’s done you will have teleportation abilities. They’ll also try and configure a receiving station for your orbital com and tune you into the quantum matrix again.”
A cheer went up across the table from those who heard the Captain’s words.
Raleigh smiled and held up a hand. He said, “That’s if they can make everything work. I’m not sure how much effort it’s going to take to cobble everything together.”
Seldom smiled and said, “We’ve gone three years without a connection to the outside galaxy. I’m sure we can go however much longer if needed.”
Raleigh nodded and said, “Also, some of my guys are going to try and assemble some additional planetary defenses for you. If the League comes back and stirs up trouble, we want to give them what for.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“We’ve got some weaponry we hope to salvage off a couple Eagles and a Hawk.”
“How did you get that?”
“Oh, the Captain’s real good at downing Navy ships,” Kilmeade said. Then she smiled to let the Captain know she meant nothing by it.
“Yeah, sorry about the Excelsior,” Raleigh said. “We, uh, did not really do much at the end. I think it was pretty much gone by the time we got here.”
“Don’t worry about her,” Taggert spoke up. “She killed the Captain.”
He nodded for emphasis as the Mule’s crew looked at him.
He added, “Blew her head off.”
“That’s another long story,” Kilmeade said, blushing slightly.
“To long stories,” Granny said, raising her glass.
Everyone around the table raised their glasses for the toast and took a sip.
Seldom said, “To Halcyon, and Lute.”