Jeter glanced up and down the corridor. He had not seen Jillian Thrall since coming aboard. Quiet inquiries had led to the discovery she was holed up in the Admiral’s cabin.
Privately, this bit of information infuriated him. He had to share barracks with ensigns while she got to relax in privacy, that most precious and rare commodity aboard a Navy vessel.
He had waited patiently now for three days. And during those three days he had seen neither hide nor hair of Jillian. Evidently, she was not planning on coming out of her luxurious accommodations. Or was she confined there? More discreet inquiries led him nowhere. The men he bunked with had no idea. All they knew was that the VIP had been rescued and was returning home. That was good enough for them.
Frustrated, Jeter made the decision to try and see Jillian privately. Technically he was probably not supposed to be in this corridor, which included the Captain’s cabin and a couple other exclusive doorways. Nonetheless, such matters of decorum had rarely dissuaded the infiltrator in the past. And they were not about to now, either.
He tried his palm on the reader. It flashed red. This did not surprise him. He swiped a finger through the doorbell hologram and waited patiently.
A minute passed and he swiped the doorbell icon again. Could she be out? If she was out, confronting her would be much easier . . .
Lieutenant Steele walked around the corner and into the corridor. She tilted her head, surprised to see him standing at the door.
“What are you doing here, Mr. Jeter?”
“I’m trying to see Ms. Thrall. I was hoping to inquire as to her well-being since I had not seen her at mess or anywhere else since helping her escape.”
Lying came easy to Jeter, and he had this one prepared in advance just in case he was caught. He gave the Lieutenant a relaxed smile, and presented himself as if he had every right to be in this part of the ship.
Steele’s irises contracted as her eyes squinted slightly.
She said, “I will give Ms. Thrall your regards. She will not be seeing anybody. Move along please, this corridor is reserved for Naval officers only.”
Her tone, while courteous, made it clear she would suffer no argument.
He kept smiling and nodded in acquiescence. As he walked down the corridor, his smile disappeared.
There had to be a way, he thought, some way to get close to that girl.
As he walked down the hall, deliberately maintaining a leisurely pace under the watchful eyes of the Lieutenant, the weight of Raquel’s electronic trap jostled inside his pocket.
Steele watched the spy walk down the corridor and turn the corner, returning to the hall reserved for junior officers’ quarters.
Why would the infiltrator on the pirate ship want to see the Tetrarch’s daughter? She was flummoxed. It made no sense. Did Jillian Thrall want to see him? Was that it? Had she summoned him somehow?
No, surely not.
“Has Ms. Thrall tried to communicate with anybody, onboard this ship or otherwise?”
“No ma’am, she has not.”
“Has she been out of this cabin since coming from sickbay?”
“Has she had any contact with Agent Jeter?”
She shrugged, then palmed the door and it opened. Today, she resolved to glean more information from the Tetrarch’s daughter. That, she knew, was easier said than done. The girl proved surprisingly useless in transmitting actionable intelligence.
Jillian glanced up from the pages of a book in her mind’s eye as Steele walked in. She frowned and dismissed the book with a wave, but did not get up from her seat.
Jillian sat in a sumptuous leather recliner, one of four surrounding an elegant marble-topped coffee table. The Admiral’s quarters appeared even nicer than the Captain’s. Rank has its privileges after all, Steele thought.
It still rankled her that this young civilian would warrant so much consideration, but the feelings had been tempered somewhat over time. Jillian had not left the cabin, and appeared bored and morose. Despite accessing some entertainment options, mostly romance novels from what Steele could tell, she had little to do.
Steele sat in the recliner opposite Jillian. The Lieutenant could imagine rising through the ranks and becoming an Admiral herself one day. Then she could be the one entertaining guests in a large cabin like this, perhaps sipping snifters of brandy with other Admirals or inviting the Captain in to tell him how they were going to approach the next engagement with the enemy. Perhaps she might even—
“Who was ringing my doorbell?”
Steele blinked at the interruption to her daydream and refocused on the extraordinarily attractive civilian currently occupying her—the Admiral’s—quarters.
“That was Mr. Jeter. He evidently wanted to share a few words with you.”
With one disdainful word, Jillian summarily dismissed the notion of seeing the man.
Well, Steele thought, it would appear the desire to meet and discuss things was not mutual. She did not know if that was good or bad. She made a mental note to have StarCen keep a closer eye on Mr. Jeter.
“Now, Jillian . . .”
Jillian glanced up and her eyes frosted.
“. . . Ms. Thrall . . .”
Jillian’s eyes relaxed. They both knew she was not about to let anyone forget her family name.
“. . . Today I would like to discuss more about your experiences on Lute.”
Jillian had delayed the debriefing for a while, explaining her desire to simply rest the first day out of sickbay. Finally, on the second day, she agreed to begin. But her description of the events surrounding the taking of the Aquamarine proved completely useless. She had seen nothing of it, spending the entire voyage to that point in first class.
This was true. Steele confirmed Jillian’s movements before and during the battle with StarCen, who maintained control of the ship until Captain Hernandez officially relinquished it.
Jillian described boarding at Clarion, and gave excruciating details about Aquamarine’s food, the service, the entertainment, the other passengers . . . but nothing of military value as to the pirates and their tactics.
Steele had smothered her irritation, dictating her summary for the report anyway. Her superiors could review the holorecord StarCen made of the conversation if they wanted to, but they would find it all colorless and bland.
Perhaps today she could gain some valuable information . . .
“Please begin, Ms. Thrall.”
Jillian leaned back in her chair and stared up at the ceiling for a moment to collect her thoughts.
She said, “Well, my first experience of Lute was with the food. Aboard the Ultima Mule I was offered something called poshbird. I discovered this particular dish, native to Lute and one of their primary exports, is known as ‘chicken of the stars.’ I thought that was kind of funny. But it really does taste a lot like chicken.”
. . . Or maybe not. The girl’s fascination with food and clothing and other useless things was maddening. How many details about the current fashions on a backwater pirate planet was she going to provide for Naval Intelligence?
“Ms. Thrall, let’s skip ahead to your decision to join the pirates. Describe to me how that came about, please.”
“Well, obviously I could not let myself be ransomed by those people.”
Steele leaned in closer. Now maybe they were finally getting somewhere.
Jillian said, “Such a thing might change the outcome of the war. Or at least, cause some major trouble. I know that LuteNet would have demanded at least a million credits for my safe return. I don’t know what Daddy would have done. Maybe send in a fleet to attack Lute? And you know that the Republic would have responded, since Lute is a close ally. Besides, Lute is very heavily armed with warships, and who knows how many the Republic could have brought in on short notice? It would have been a huge battle. How many people would have died just trying to get me back?
“No, the better thing was to exploit their rules and apply for membership. Especially in light of the fact that Daddy was shipping hundreds of illegally forced indents on Aquamarine.”
Jillian raised her eyebrows and smiled softly at the Lieutenant.
Steele’s face dropped. The spoiled brat was not quite as dumb as she thought.