Operation Starfold 28

On a rooftop in the AWD, a sensor appeared, the size and shape of a soup can. It showed up in the same geographic vicinity the last time this particular sensor appeared on Sporades.

It popped into existence a quarter meter above the rooftop and fell the rest of the way, landing with a Clink!

Immediately it began taking readings, sending them up to LuteNet via the Ultima Mule. It sent back readings on current temperature, wind velocity, even the orbital direction and speed of the planet from its terrestrial viewpoint.

In its next second on the surface, the sensor branched out and measured the layout of nearby structures, noting the burned-out shell of a nearby building and other details like copious quantities of dried blood in the courtyard below.

Then it took bio readings and looked for electronic signatures. To the relief of everyone on the spaceship, LuteNet found what they were looking for almost immediately.

In the following seconds, the humans held a discussion over who should go down to the surface. Granny, Biff, Jillian, and Raleigh all wanted to go. At first, Raleigh thought it might be good for only one person to go down, mainly himself. Granny looked like she would lead a mutiny, and Biff did not like that idea either. Neither did Jillian.

He capitulated, and they rode the elevator to the disembarkation zone together.

A few moments later, Granny Wilcox and Biff Jones popped into place next to the sensor. They moved out of the way and Jillian and Chris Raleigh appeared next.

Everyone looked around for a moment. They were alone on the roof.

Granny said, “Where are they, Lootie?”

In their neural implants LuteNet said to all four, “Gina Wilcox and Julia Jones are on the ground floor of this building. There are stairs to your right.”

Together the group found and headed down the stairs.

Moments later, they had a tearful reunion. Gina and Julia were speaking with a priest and a few other people in a large area set up like a soup kitchen, with tables and chairs and a serving line.

When the crewmembers came out from the stairwell, they saw their loved ones immediately.

Granny cried and hugged Gina fiercely. The big woman towered over her mother, and hugged back, trying not to squeeze too hard.

Biff hugged his wife, then kissed her long and hard on the lips, even though she wore a different face than the one he was accustomed to.

The women introduced them to Father Verrick, and the priest shook hands all around.

When Jillian got a chance to hug Julia and the initial clamor died down, Raleigh said, “Are you two ready to go home? Or at least, back up to the ship?”

“Very soon,” Julia said. “We’ve got a few more loose ends to tie up first. Captain, may I introduce you to somebody who was a big help in some recent firefights?”

Julia waved at a short, thin, brown haired teenage girl nearby, urging her to come forward. She smiled back nervously and took a couple hesitant steps toward the group. She was wearing some ill-fitting blue shorts and a white cotton t-shirt with a large assortment of stains, rips, and holes.

She said, “Hi.”

“I’m Captain Christopher Raleigh, of the Lute ship Ultima Mule.”

Raleigh maintained a formal but polite tone, and extended his hand. She shook it.

“I’m . . . Trinadee.”

She smiled uncertainly.

“Trinadee Emerson.”

“So you’re pretty good with a gun, huh Trinadee?”

Her ears and cheeks grew red, making some freckles stand out.

Julia said, “She’s killed at least ten SSI agents, Chris.”

“Mostly with grenades,” Trinadee said, sounding embarrassed.

Eyebrows went up among the crew. They all looked at her with renewed interest.

Jillian said, “So, Trinadee. What are you doing here? Do you go to school? What do you do?”

“Uh, nothing,” the girl said. “My parents are dead and . . . I’ve been on my own in the AWD for a few years now.”

Looks of understanding passed among the crew. An orphan.

Biff said, “Ever thought about cashing in on the indentured servant deal?”

Her face darkened and her back stiffened.

She said, “No one’s ever going to put a collar on me.”

Everyone nodded. No one could blame her for holding that sentiment. Even though the program solved a lot of problems, there were some that refused to willingly take a deal like that, no matter how many credits the state offered.

Raleigh cleared his throat.

He said, “Well, Trinadee. How would you like to join our crew? Some call it a pirate ship, but we prefer the term ‘private warship.’

“We have room onboard the Mule, and you can start earning a cut of the profits. We might even be able to take into consideration the help you’ve already given our friends down here.

“And the planet of Lute along with the Alliance they are building has a very liberal immigration policy. Basically, anybody who wants to can become a citizen.”

Trinadee smiled and no one could miss the look of hope and optimism flashing in her eyes.

“I do have to warn you,” Raleigh said, “that we’re in the war on the Republic’s side. Privateering can be a dangerous business, and there are times you might get shot at. You could die if our ship gets taken out in battle, too. But, if Julia says you can handle yourself in a firefight, against trained SSI agents no less, I don’t think the danger should dissuade you too much.”

Trinadee shook her head and said, “No. I mean, yes. I would very much like to join your crew . . . and become a citizen of Lute.”

Father Verrick reached out and hugged her from the side.

He said, “I can’t say I really agree with the privateering part, but I do think this is an opportunity for you to leave the planet and start a new chapter in life, Trinadee. May God bless you on your journey.”

“Thank you, Father.”

“Captain, I’m getting a message from Mr. Smithers.”

“Put him through, Lootie.”

Raleigh turned his back to the others so he could concentrate on his neural implant.

Smithers said, “Captain? I trust you’ve found our mutual friends by now?”

“I have. We’re just about to port back up to the Mule with them.”

“Well, if I could trouble you to have them make their way to the Administration Building in Rostin instead, I’m afraid I have another assignment. It’s rather important”

Raleigh turned and looked at the others. They watched him with varying degrees of trepidation.

He said, “Alright. We’ll make our way over there.”

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