Everyone is up for an early breakfast so as to prepare for taking onboard the passengers. Max arranges for the fuel, supplies and life support systems to be topped up to replace what was used on the trip to jump distance and back, plus that which they have consumed during their week in dock. After the fiasco with the Swordies hiding in the containers of venison, Taeva gives Max a hand with opening and checking each of the new cargo containers as they come on board in order to avoid any new, nasty surprises.
After a light lunch, everyone changes into their dress uniforms in order to greet the passengers.
The three low passengers are the first to arrive. The first is, Mikel Squires, a student from Aki who has been on an internship with the SDC and is returning back home for a vacation. The second is Ben Klein, a native of Weiss – a half caste with a Swordie father and an Impie mother. Having not fitted in with either ethnic group, he is moving to Aki in the hope that he can escape the ethnic tensions of his homeworld and start a new anonymous life on Aki. The third is a nervous young man from Aki who is not at all talkative, Bryan Fairbrother. He seems quite anxious to get put in the low berth as quickly as possible, which is unusual as most low passengers like to participate in the welcome drinks party as long as possible before it’s time for them to get frozen.
Arvor is immediately suspicious of the behaviour of Bryan.
“Maybe you should make a scan of Bryan Fairbrother, Will, to see if he has any unusual chemicals/drugs in his system,” he says.
Will nods and then escorts the young man to the low berth area.
“If you could please strip down to your underwear,” Will says.
“Do I have to?” Bryan replies nervously.
“I’m afraid so,” Will replies. “Your clothes would be ruined by the chemicals otherwise.”
“Oh … OK then,” Bryan stammers as he starts to get undressed.
Will produces his mediscanner.
“It is standard practice to do a toxicology scan of all low passengers in addition,” Will says.
“Some compounds react negatively with the tetrafreon freezing agent.”
“Wouldn’t want you to catch Popsicle Disease!” adds with a chuckle.
“No … no … we wouldn’t want that now,” Bryan chuckles nervously.
Will scans Bryan, his face showing no reaction as he scans Bryan’s body from head to toe.
“That’s fine,” he says. “Now if you just pop in the low berth, we’ll send you off to the Land of Nod. Don’t be surprised if it takes a while to go under – a fit young man like yourself often takes a while to drift off.”
Will closes up the lid to the berth and then hurries to meet up with Arvor.
“Hmmmm, interesting,” Will says. “The scanner picked up some very faint, low-frequency radio waves emanating from him. I’ve never come across anything like that before in my medical career.”
“What was the frequency exactly?” Arvor asks.
“2.3MHz,” Will replies.
“That’s the frequency of money,” Arvor replies. “Very high denomination money of some kind. The Imperial Mint doesn’t bother with it unless it’s really high value.”
“Are you sure?” Will questions. “He was stripped down to his underwear. And I can assure you that there was nothing in his underwear other than what was meant to be there.”
“So we can safely assume that Bryan is a courier,” Arvor deduces. “His anxiety to ‘get into berth’ implies that he might be nervous about someone following him who would be booked in medium or high passage. He would be relying on us keeping them separate and processing the lows before the others came on board.”
“I’ll change the password to the low berth area and kick up the resolution of the motion sensor in that compartment in case someone tries to get to Bryan,” Will says. “Good eye Arvor. We might want to be on extra alert against a general hijacking or piracy attempt.”
“Jie, what do you think about routing us in a less optimal flight path? Might throw off any would-be pirates.”
“No problem, Captain” Jie says with a rare smile. She gets out her crayons and begins to re-vamp the flight plan. Her brow furrows and her tongue absently lolls out to one side of her mouth as she summons up all her military training and mental prowess.
The medium passengers arrive shortly afterwards. One is David Chester, a structural engineer from Aki who has been working for SDC on some of their infrastructure projects and is returning home for a vacation. The next other three are dressed in the style of mid-level executives. One announces himself as a Colin Havers, manager at the Sparkasse Weiss bank, on his way to his to Aki for meetings with another bank group where he has a job interview. The second is Maria Chan, who has a passport that shows that she is from Bleak in the Gazulin subsector, so she is a long way from home. She tells the party members that she has been seeing the sights of the ‘Verse for the past year but that she is on his way back home now. The final middle class passenger is polite and well-dressed, but avoids questions regarding the purpose of his visit. His passport shows that he is Jan Ceglarski, a native of Weiss. From all of the passengers, Ceglarski is the only one who checks in a weapon – a Swordie issue machine pistol.
Arvor watches all of the passengers carefully as they come on board. Once the airlock doors are shut and no more passengers are left to arrive, he seeks out Autumn and has a quiet word with her.
“Can you tell me the order that the passengers booked their tickets?” he asks.
“Sure,” Autumn says, checking her handcomp.
“So Colin Havers the bank manager was the first to book very shortly as soon as I announced the departure. Maria Chan booked a couple of hours later and then Bryan Fairbrother about an hour after that.”
“The other two low passengers booked together later the first evening. Then Jan Ceglarski booked around noon yesterday and finally David Chester, the engineer, booked late in the afternoon.”
Autumn makes everyone feel at home while Will shuts the remainder of the low passengers in their berths and then heads to the bridge, where Jie is already inputting the coordinates to jump distance.
After two hours, Jie she triumphantly hoots and holds up the new ‘less optimal’ flight path.
“Er…that is very, less optimal.” Will says as he studies Jies’ work. “Uh, that to say, you have devised a …unique design. Looks almost like a…”
“A puppy!!” Jie states with pride.
“Capn’? I overheerd that last wee comment from our ‘Navigator’, an’ I can tell yoo; the Engines cannae handle a ‘puppy’ trajectory. Now, if our very creative pilot and his crayon wielding friend were to come up with a course that looks more like a ‘duckling’, I think I can manage the fuel consumption and power requirements…Grim out!”
All of the crew members call in the fact that all their systems are operating and so Will obtains final clearance from the tower, which is immediately granted. He pulls away from the dock and the Princess fires its thrusters, heading off towards jump distance on a course that provides a compromise between Jie’s puppy-shaped course and Grim’s duckling – the result of which can best be described as ‘aardvarkesque’.
After a few hours into the journey, Autumn serves dinner for everyone. All of the medium passengers seem to be getting on well and the atmosphere onboard seems to be relaxed and friendly. Arvor keeps a close eye on Jan Ceglarski and Maria Chan during the dinner, having an idea that they might be mercenaries. They give no impression of being up to anything untoward, however – just making pleasant and general conversation with each other and the crew members who are in attendance.
After dinner is finished, everyone apart from Will and Jie who are on the bridge assemble in the passenger common room and drink a toast for a safe voyage at midnight, which is when the Princess effortlessly slips into hyperspace.