All of the party members are up early for the now familiar routine of preparing for departure.
Grim is in the engine room and Will going through all his pre-flight checks. Max together with Jie, Arvor and Taeva are out to take onboard the 30-tonnes of freight that the Princess will be shipping to Dallia.
The freight turns out to be nothing more interesting than polymers. Taeva and Arvor check the freight carefully, but find it to be exactly as it says on the documentation. Once they have given the thumbs up, Max takes care of the paperwork while Jie starts to load the containers into the cargo bay. It’s a tight fit to get everything in – the Princess has never been so full and there is barely a square centimetre empty, a sight that brings a smile to Max’s face.
Once the cargo doors have been sealed, everyone changes into their dress uniforms in order to receive the passengers.
The five low-berth passengers are the first to arrive – the usual assortment of blue-collar workers, students and backpackers, all of whom look nervous at the thought of being frozen. Autumn reassures them that it is all fine and that Will hasn’t lost a low-berth passenger yet as the doctor seals each of them in the coffin-like containers. One berth remains empty as Autumn was unable to sell the last ticket.
Two of the four remaining high passengers arrive together. As Autumn checks their ID’s and checks their particulars, her eyebrows raise in surprise as she passes them to Arvor and Taeva on security duty.
The passengers are a delegation from none other than SuSAG. Michael Chambers is CEO of SuSAG Dallia and is accompanied by his Senior VP of Marketing, Seljuk Timbs. The three of them are relaxed and chatty, announcing that they are on their way back from a SuSAG Subsector Conference which was held on Mertactor.
The next passenger is a suave, handsome and well-dressed man in his early-thirties, Chad Palmerstone. He turns out to work for Reutberg Financial Information as Head of Sales for District 268, selling data systems for banks, analysts and investment funds.
The final passenger arrives just before the doors are about to close. She is dragging a huge suitcase behind her and apologizing profusely for being late. Even in her harassed state, she is absolutely gorgeous, a slim brunette in her early twenties. Her passport shows her as being Devon Verda, a native of Dallia.
As soon as he sees her, Max immediately stops chatting with Raylene and rushes over to help her with her bags. He’s too late though, as Arvor beats his to it, much to Max’s annoyance. Taeva checks through her bags, but finds nothing untoward in there. None of the passengers brought weapons onboard.
Autumn closes the airlock and then helps the passengers to settle in while Arvor goes to join Will and Jie on the bridge.
At 12.00 on the dot, Will pulls the Princess away from the dock and starts taxiing to the main runway. A few minutes later and the A2 takes off, quickly exiting Mertactor’s atmosphere and heading for the blackness of space.
Just before 14.00, Jie announces that they’ve reached jump diameter already and so Will sends the ship into hyperspace. With the tricky manual work of manuevering through Mertactor’s busy spacelanes now out of the way, the bridge crew are able to relax a little and mingle with the passengers.
This continues through the enormous welcome dinner that Miranda has prepared for everyone. She excels herself, even by her high standards.
By the end of the meal, everyone is full and chatting around the large table in the passenger lounge, with many enjoying some of the fine brandy on offer.
It’s a pleasant time for all.
Apart from Max.
Autumn seems to have taken a fancy to Chad, the Reutberg Salesman. She’s laughing too loud at all his lame jokes, playing with her hair and batting her blue eyes at him, leaning in far too close.
Although he has Raylene sat on his lap again, it’s obvious that Max is insane with jealousy.
To make matters worse for him, Devon is locked in deep conversation with Will, her eyes wide as she picks a piece of lint from between the pens in his top pocket.
“So you are the Captain and the Pilot and a Doctor and a leading Planetologist and you speak fluent Zhodani?” she says with amazement. “I am honored and delighted that you’ve spent so much time chatting with a simple girl like me whose achieved nothing more than being crowned Miss Dallia 1105 and just works as a plain old Arabella’s Secret swimsuit and lingerie model.”
Max is going insane with jealousy and frustration now. He keeps trying to attract Devon’s attention by telling her lame and crude gags and making constant references to his out-sized prosthetic members, but all he gets from her is whithering stares before she returns her attention to Will.
“Well, I’m ready for bed, lover boy,” Raylene says to Max as she gets off his lap. “Are you coming, honeybun?”
“Errm … no,” Max says between gritted teeth. “You go ahead and I’ll be along later.”
Will keeps reminding himself that this delightful, gorgeous, and obviously very perceptive young lady is young enough to be his daughter. Or she wants something.
A bit from an old terran flat-vid comes to him. Something about a fish. Named “Wendy” or some such thing. Will tries a little romantic Zhodani poem, with just a hint of rolling r’s, while staring deeply into Devon’s beautiful deep green eyes.
“Just testing to see if she’s who she says,” he tells himself, oblivious to all else around him.
Devon continues to look lustfully into Will’s eyes as he recites the poem. There is no reaction to what he is saying other than a broad grin.
Once he has finished, she starts clapping:
“Well I have no idea what that was all about, but the way you said it, it sounded beautiful. You are so very clever, Will.”
Max curses under his breath once again.
A short while later, when Devon has to make a restroom break, Will can contain himself no longer.
Under the table, he whips out his implement and starts working it furious.
“It’s coming,” he moans. “It’s coming. Oh God it’s coming – yes, yes, YES, YES!”
He looks up to see everyone else around the table is now staring at him open-mouthed.
His cheeks reddening, he sheepishly reveals his handcomp where he had been anxiously awaiting the search results coming through.
He shows the picture of her to the others around the table. One of her being crowned Miss Dallia 1105 and another of her from the 1107 Arabella’s Secret Calendar.
She looks even better in lingerie than fully clothed.
Max can’t take any more of this. He gets up, knocking over his chair in the process and gives it an almighty kick as he storms off to the stateroom he shares with Raylene.
The remaining passengers and crew stay chatting over drinks for a while until they gradually, one by one, head off to their staterooms, leaving just the party members remaining. Max comes back to join them claiming that he can’t sleep (although it’s quite obvious that he’s really checking up to make sure that no one else is sharing a stateroom with any of the guests).
Teave looks amused:
“A little professionalism please guys. These passengers are in our custody and hence our care. Trying to shag them is essentially a breach of that contract, willing or no. I realise you don’t know what I’m talking about, Max, but lets keep it mind huh? The Teacher gets debarred for fucking the students.”
“That ain’t fair,” Max moans. “We spent plenty of time on Glisten and Tarsus so you could spend time wiv your friends an’ family. I was lookin’ forward to a nice week off and I wasn’t even there for 24 hours before I got dragged off to start work again so we can go lookin’ for some bleedin’ missin’ cakemaker.”
“So that was my deal. If I couldn’t bring Mohammed to the mountain, then I ‘ad to bring the mountain to Mohammed. Not that Mohammed was desperate to go shaggin’ a mountain wiv ‘is new ShagMeister Superchunky XL, prob’ly. But you know what I mean.”
Will is also on the defensive:
“What? She’s an intelligent, beautiful woman who finds science fascinating. Just making sure its not too good to be true. You know our luck."
“I do know our luck. I say space her now, before things head South,” mutters Grim under his breath.
“And speaking of decorum young lady,” Will continues. "You need to wash your mouth out with soap!”
“I’m not rude to the passengers Will, and I don’t chat them up,” Taeva replies.
“A good shaggin’ might do you good, girl,” Max replies. “Might melt that frosty ’eart of yours.”
It’s getting late now and it has been a long day what with the early start and so everyone heads for their staterooms. Alone, except for Max.