The door to the Mule’s disembarkation zone swished open and everyone from the bridge walked in to meet the new arrival.
Granny took her cigar out and said, “Well howdy, Shakespeare!”
Dillon’s face fell as all the people walked into the room looking at him.
He said, “Oh. You saw that?”
“The whole performance, Sonny.”
“So, uh, where am I?”
Raleigh said, “You’re aboard the Ultima Mule, a private warship. I’m Captain Christopher Raleigh.”
Dillon’s face lit up.
“A private . . . Oh, pirates? Cool! Wait, which side are you on?”
“The Republic’s,” Raleigh said.
“Right, right. No way the League would hire pirates.”
He smiled back at everyone during the awkward silence.
“I mean, no offense or anything, but . . . well, you know how those Navy people are. All rigid and structured and everything. ‘We’re Navy, so stay out of our tight-laced, blue-uniformed, pinched-butt way, citizen!’”
He imitated a parade march, walking in a little circle. Everyone stared at him silently for a moment.
Raleigh said, “Who are you?”
Dillon stopped marching mid-step. He said, “My code name’s ‘Shark.’ That’s what they call me in the Resistance.”
Granny guffawed. Maxwell smiled.
Granny said, “Do they like ironic names over there? Like calling short fellas ‘Tallboy’ or something?”
“No. I’ve killed my fair share of SSI agents. It’s an appropriate code name, believe me.”
Raleigh said, “What’s your real name?”
“Oh. Well, I guess it’s okay to share it with pirates fighting the League. I’m Dillon Dvorak.”
Granny said, “How many SSI have you killed?”
Granny no longer smiled. She took the cigar out of her mouth and showed genuine interest.
“I’ve lost track. Got to be close to a hundred by now. Yesterday I almost got Admiral Cooper. My mortar was off by one second.”
“He’s not SSI.”
“No, but the guards I took out were. Got five, plus a gunship and pilot using the same mortar.”
Granny stared up at the ceiling.
“Any way to verify what he’s saying, Lootie?”
LuteNet said, “PLAIR’s spies on Juventas are reporting there was a disturbance at the Admiral’s mountain chalet yesterday, but there is a planet-wide blackout on news so we have few details. StarCen does have Dillon Dvorak listed as a known terrorist. Such a designation would ordinarily preclude him from travel to the Republic. I am willing to grant him an exception based on circumstances and his testimony. His biometric readings do not currently indicate any deception.”
“Is that LuteNet? Wow! I have heard so much about you. Pleased to make your acquaintance, ma’am.”
“As am I, Dillon Dvorak.”
Raleigh cleared his throat and said, “Our friend gave you a pocket computer. Hand it over, please.”
“Right! True to its name, I have it in my pocket here. Somewhere.”
Dillon opened up the chest armor and patted his pockets until he found it. He handed the device to the Captain.
Raleigh said, “Is this the one we’re looking for, Lootie?”
“Yes, Captain. I am notifying PLAIR we have it in our possession.”
A second passed, then LuteNet said, “Rather than returning it, in light of our current location she indicates she wishes it to be destroyed immediately and for me to verify its destruction. Afterward she will make the agreed upon deposit in the company’s account on Petra Roe.”
“Very well. Quartermaster, supervise its destruction.”
Granny grinned, the unlit cigar in her mouth tilting up.
“With pleasure, Captain.”
She took the pocket computer from Raleigh and left the room.
Dillon became aware of an extraordinarily beautiful woman with pure white hair and soft glowing skin staring at him. He turned slowly, and his eyes drank in the sight of her.
“Who are you?” he said, awe creeping into his voice.
She smiled and said, “Skylar Hawkens.” She extended her hand.
Dillon received a small static electricity shock when he touched her fingers. He jumped in surprise.
Skylar said, “Sorry. That happens a lot. I’m . . . an Intangible.”
“Really? Oh, man, that is so cool!”
Skylar blushed lightly, the red lighting up her face. She said, “You think so? It freaks most people out.”
“I’ve never met one before. I’ve heard you all can travel and teleport and such on your own. Is that true?”
She flickered out of existence, then tapped on the shoulder. He turned around wide-eyed.
Maxwell and Jillian smiled at each other.
He said, “I’m Elijah Maxwell, the ship’s First Officer. Talk to me if you need anything, LuteNet knows where we are at all times. Don’t bother the Captain with anything, okay? Come straight to me instead.”
“Yes, sir. Or do you guys say, ‘aye aye’ instead?”
“There’s not a lot of formality on a pirate ship. Stay polite and stay out of the way, and you’ll do fine. Skylar, why don’t you show him the ropes. Help him find a bunk. We’re short on crew this trip, Dillon, on account of we had to get ready and go at the last minute, so we actually have some room for a change.”
Maxwell walked out, leaving Dillon alone with Skylar and Jillian.
Jillian said, “I’m Jillian Thrall. I’m sort of new, too. This is only my third voyage.”
“Oh, hi. Uh . . . what do you do?”
“I’m the Captain’s girlfriend!”
“Ah. I see.”
Jillian said her goodbyes and walked out, leaving Skylar and Dillon alone.
A thought struck Dillon. He said, “Is she related to Tetrarch Thrall?”
Skylar nodded and said, “His daughter.”
Dillon’s face fell. “Oh . . . wow! I just shook hands with the Tetrarch’s daughter?”
Skylar smiled and said, “Don’t look so surprised. The woman who sent you up here was his other daughter, her older sister.”
She laughed at Dillon’s expression of sheer incredulity.
“Come on, Shark. Let’s find you an open bunk and I’ll show you around.”