Grim is the first one up today as he has the busiest day.
By the time that the others are up, he has written up a shopping list of spares that he hands to Max for replenishing the consumables that he will be using during the day.
Max, Autumn and Miranda head off shopping. Max heads off to the bank to make the latest mortgage payment and then goes to the shipyards and places the order for Grim’s stocks, while Autumn and Miranda restock the galley. By lunchtime, everyone is back and the ordered goods arrive during the afternoon.
With no cargo that needs to be loaded, everyone can afford to relax during the afternoon. Between reprogramming the cleaning drones, Autumn keeps an eye on the numbers that have booked passage. With just a few hours to go, middle passages have been selling well, although there are no high passengers yet and low berths aren’t selling too well either.
Miranda prepares an early dinner and then everyone puts on their dress uniforms in order to welcome the passengers onboard.
The passengers start to arrive at 21.00.
First to arrive are a family of three, a husband and wife in their late forties and their surly teenaged son who just grunts as he plays a game nonstop on his holopad. They are natives of Dallia and, from the quality of their clothes and luggage, they seem like they are a cut above the usual standard of middle class passengers. The wife is quite friendly, but the husband is not terribly chatty.
The two low passengers arrive together – another couple – although these are younger in their early thirties. Again they look too well-dressed to be the usual type of low passengers. They are travelling on Collace passports. Both of them seem scared witless by the idea of going into the berth and it takes a lot of reassurance from both Will and Autumn to settle them in and send them off to a chilly Land of Nod.
The fourth middle passenger arrives just after 22.00. Suzie Brinks is a rather bookish-looking girl in her early-twenties and she too is travelling on a Collace passport. She’s an ecology student who is heading to Pagaton to study the native aquatic lifeforms there.
There is just one passenger remaining now and it’s getting close to the time that they need to close boarding to start the pre-flight routine.
Stian Lokkeberg arrives just before 22:30. Slightly shorter than average (1.75m), slim, brown hair, slim wiry build. Wearing a grey tailored vac suit, non descript, low profile logos but the velcro ID panels are all empty. The suit looks as if it’s been lived in, for some time. He’s carrying a small day pack on his back (which has the helmet for the vac suit attached to the outside in a protective case) and towing a rented U-Haul cargo grav sled on which are several black, locked hard cases, 3 approximately 1.2 × 0.4m x 0.3m and one 2 × 0.6 × 0.5m plus several smaller hard cases and a large duffel bag. A cargo net secures it all to the sled.
He introduces himself, apologising for my last minute arrival. His accent is hard to place but he is well spoken. He’s looking tired and rushed but not stressed.
“Guys, I have a problem, this U-Haul is telling me my baggage is weighing in at 140kg. I’ve been trying to find a decent rate to ship some of it on to Windsor but it’s been proving harder to find something affordable. Can we come to an agreement to get it all on board please?”
“You’d better speak to our stewardess, Autumn,” Will says.
“Max looks after the cargo bay,” Autumn says. “I’ll have a word with him.”
“I dunno Captain. The Princess is older, more careworn now, and the strain of the extra weight might cause her hull to collapse. I don’t know if we can even move with the extra mass given that no one’s bothered to upgrade the Manuever Engines.”
Grim looks around in exasperation, then inspiration strikes.
Hurrying away to the crew quarters, he comes running back a few minutes later, groaning under the weight of five or six large dusty tomes he’s carrying.
“Here we go, we can save the space by dumping Arvor’s Pavabidian Guide to Behaviour for the Righteous Penitent, How to Weave Your own Hair Garments, Out of Your Own Hair, Vol IX, and these three copies of Showing Disdain for Nonbelievers without being Insulting. That’ll cover the gentleman’s overage I think.”
Autumn speaks to Max. Max is already flirting with Suzie:
“Yeah, I’m doing somefink similar actually,” Max is bullshitting. “Advanced sexual mating habits of sentient species. That’s my speciality. I need someone to give me a little help with the practical tests though. Maybe you’d like to pop around my stateroom/laboratory later?”
He seems irritated by Autumn bothering him:
“Yes, yes – we’re a good five tons under so that’s OK,” he says. “He’ll need to stow it ‘imself though as ’e’s only a middle an’ I’m busy.”
Autumn directs him to the cargo hold. Stian is about to enter when Taeva suddenly calls out:
Stian looks confused.
“Sorry,” she says. “Max is obviously so tied up right now that he forgot that I have already activated the robodog and spiderbots which are trained to shoot anyone entering the cargo hold that they don’t recognize on sight.”
Stian raises an eyebrow and waits for the ship’s security to stand down. Taeva and Jie help to stow his luggage as Max seems far too occupied with Suzie to be of much use and Autumn is still not 100% over her mauling by the Aslan yet.
Stian returns the U Haul and takes himself and duffel to his stateroom:
“What time’s the safety brief?" he asks upon his return. "Have a copy of the ships rules?”
“Ummmm – safety brief,” Autumn ponders. “Usually we wait until everyone is assembled for cocktails and then Taeva drops some subtle hints that, if the passengers do anything stupid, then she will probably kill them.”
“You can find full details of the ship’s plans and evacuation routines in a book which is in your bedside cabinet,” she continues. “It’s the one with the pink cover entitled When Bad Things Happen To Good People.”
“Sorry, that’s a throwback to the Princess’s previous owner.”
“You’ll find it next to the copy of the Horkalite bible/cookbook which Miranda has helpfully supplied every stateroom with.”
“I am going to need to check your hand luggage too,” Taeva says. “All weapons and explosives need to be handed over for secure stowage.”
“Hey, I asked for the rules,” Stian replies.
“These are standard rules for passengers on all commercial starships," Taeva replies. "They apply to Imperial Agents as much as to Passengers. Your weapons please.”
“Apologies, its been a while since I was on a commercial ship,” Stian says. “The locked cases have my weapons, my permits I have here.”
Jie’s ears prick up as she hears mention of her favourite word – ‘weapons’.
Once Stian’s possessions have safely been stowed away, he heads off with the other passengers to the welcome cocktail party arranged by Autumn while Jie joins Will on the bridge as he finishes his pre-flight check.
By 23.00, all is complete and they pull away from th Heaven’s Gate starport once again, heading for jump distance.