Natasha ported down from the Parasol to Petra Roe first, even though she was not in First Class.
Rather than playing the role of hussy, intent on ruining the cohesiveness of a crew, Natasha pretended to be a tourist. She remained intentionally vague about her past, but coming from Lute this was not at all unusual. She had a ready smile and won over the crew and other passengers, steering most conversation away from herself and toward them.
“Most people love to talk about themselves,” one of her instructors informed the class during training on human psychology. “In fact, it’s usually their number one topic of conversation.”
Most of the skills in espionage and working as a field agent involved listening to people. The best way to listen was to get people to talk about themselves. That was usually easy.
The dining area on the small ship was shared by all, and Natasha got to know, and listen, to almost everybody onboard. The most interesting passengers aboard the Parasol were Mr. and Mrs. Donald Sanford. They were wealthy industrialists running a weapons company, and the war had made them richer than ever before.
Unfortunately they had been caught by pirates when the ship they were on, the Coral Reef, made an ill-timed stop at Pegasi Station. The pirates demanded an astonishing one million credit ransom for the Sanford’s safe return. Even more astonishing, their company could pay for it and did so.
Natasha discussed their time with the pirates extensively, interested in gleaning anything she could about the enemy. Unfortunately, the Sanfords had little to offer her in the way of new information. They were allowed to stay in their luxury suite in the Coral Reef, which remained in orbit around Lute, during negotiations. They actually saw very little of Lute, except from space. They also saw little of the pirates during their stay. Natasha realized they would have very little actionable intelligence to offer when they returned.
Now they were anxious to get back home. Thespar, the name of their company, happened to have a private ship that would be waiting for them at Petra Roe. It was bringing a cargo of four-meter gun tubes to Juventas. The company contacted the captain and asked him to divert temporarily to Petra Roe to pick up the couple. From there, they would continue to Juventas and the Sanfords planned to book passage on another ship and finally reach Epsilon, their original destination.
Natasha decided the Sanfords were good to know. She wondered briefly if having an affair with Donald was a good idea, but quickly dismissed it. He and his wife Tina were inseparable, and seemed to operate as a single entity in many ways. Affairs, her instructors had taught her, were almost always discovered. Something that intimate was next to impossible to keep secret forever, and those closest to the target either found out, or the target became guilty and shared it with their beloved.
So, an affair with a married man was a weapon to be used against him and his family. Natasha decided having the corporate heads of one of the League’s most important companies remain in love and working well together was definitely for the better in terms of the war effort. So, she made no efforts at seducing Don Sanford.
At long last the Parasol reached orbit around Petra Roe, and Natasha passed through Customs. She looked around for the information kiosk and headed that way.
An attractive female android sat permanently attached to the chair at the kiosk. She smiled when Natasha approached.
“May I help you?”
“Yes, I need to book passage on a ship to Epsilon, please.”
A holosign appeared to the droid’s right, listing departing ships.
“Okay. The next ship heading from PR to Epsilon Prime is the Riptide. It departs in six days. Would you like information on local hotels?”
“Six days? I need to get to a League system as soon as possible. It doesn’t have to be Epsilon. When is the next ship departing for the League?”
“The Delta Diamond is scheduled to leave for Morvana in less than 48 hours. That is the soonest a ship is heading for League territory.”
Frustration bubbled up in Natasha’s chest, and she struggled not to curse at the droid. It could take it, of course, and had no feelings to hurt. Some planets had civility laws that would result in fines for public temper tantrums, though, and the agent had no desire to draw attention to herself.
She looked up and saw Tina and Donald Sanford heading her way from the disembarkation zone. Natasha hid her irritation and flashed the middle-aged couple a winning smile.
“Hi Tina. Hi Don.”
Donald said, “We thought you were just going to flit away without saying goodbye!”
Everybody laughed, including Natasha.
She said, “Well, I guess I got so anxious about getting home to Epsilon that I ran here as fast as I could to catch the next ship out.”
“Oh, when is the next ship out?” Tina said.
“Almost a week for the next one to Epsilon. Two days for one that’s even going to a League planet.”
Natasha let some of her irritation seep into her tone as she said this.
“Well . . .” Donald said. He glanced at his wife and raised his eyebrows. Tina nodded at his unspoken question.
He said, “If you want to get back to the League as soon as possible, why don’t you hitch a ride on our company ship? It’s in orbit right now and the Captain informed us he’ll be leaving within the hour. We’re just going to stretch our legs a bit out in the sunshine before porting back up.”
“Aww! You would do that for me?”
Both of the Sanfords smiled at her and nodded.
“That is so sweet! Where is the ship going?”
“Juventas,” Tina said. “You will be able to easily catch a ride to Epsilon from there.”
“Well, if it’s not too much trouble . . .”
Donald said, “No trouble at all. I’ll call the Captain and have him get a room ready for you.”
LuteNet stretched the port locations out on the Ultima Mule and made up some time, but even so she arrived in orbit around Petra Roe about three hours after Parasol.
After some debate, Raleigh let Biff port down by himself. Both men felt the Thrall sisters should stay onboard, although neither woman cared for that decision.
Granny tried to mollify them.
“If trash needs to be taken out, or some other dirty job needs to be done, I’m all for lettin’ the men do it!”
Raleigh gave Biff a sensor so Lute could see things, and two 10,000 credit tokens in case he needed money.
Biff felt decidedly uncomfortable carrying more than a year’s worth of his own salary in his pocket, but he took the money and the sensor, and ported down to the planet’s embarkation/disembarkation zone. The same lady in Customs greeted him as the last time.
“Welcome back, Mr. Jones.”
She let him into the outer hallway without further comment. He wandered down to an information kiosk manned by an attractive female droid.
She smiled at him and said, “May I help you?”
He held out his thumb and forefinger and the holo of his badge appeared between them, a yellow rectangle with a silver star in the middle. He held out his other hand palm up, and a holo of Natasha Krizinski hovered above it.
“I’m Officer Biffender Jones of the Capital City Police Force on Juventas. I’m looking for this woman and I wonder if you could tell me anything.”
The droid looked at both holos and nodded. She had been programmed to be compliant with law enforcement, no matter what jurisdiction or territory. PR always sought to maintain the highest level of diplomatic relations with everyone.
“Ms. Krizinksi arrived this morning from Lute aboard the PRS Parasol. She has since left, about two hours ago. She boarded the Osprey, a private cargo ship owned by Thespar Enterprises. It is en route to Juventas as we speak.”
“I see. And when is the next ship headed to Juventas?”
The hologram of departures appeared to the droid’s right.
She said, “The Phosphorous is scheduled to arrive here in 13 days time, and head out two days later for Juventas. Would you like to arrange passage?”
“No, thank you.”
He left the kiosk and walked a ways further down the hallway, out of range of the droid.
He said, “Did you guys hear that?”
Raleigh responded. He said, “We did. Get back up here, Biff. We’re going to Juventas.”