Lance and I got our flight prep work done in half of the time that I it usually took. We were out of the station before the scientists arrived. I would have loved to see their faces when they found the ship gone.
As a miner you don't want any one following you back to a big find. Early on I had programmed several round-about routes into my computer. I told Charis to choose one. Then I decided to take a nap.
8 hours later Charis woke me. I usually sleep only 4 to 6 hours but I had been awake for longer then I care to think about. While we were eating lunch Lance told me that his full name was Lord Lance Bromiere of England.I had never met a Lord before. I had heard they never left Earth. The British nobility had been in a decline for a hundred years until the war in 2050. After that war the world looked to the British nobility for leadership and once again they were strong.
Lance must have been used to people reacting to this news with disbelief. His answer came back like a well-rehearsed speech. "I know that British nobles don't leave Earth and definitely don't take up trade. When I was young I constantly confounding my tutors by taking apart my computer to see how it worked while I was suppose to learn parliamentary law, world history and the other stuff future leaders should know. To make matters worse my younger brother was suppose to learn a trade, yet he loves studying law. He was really gifted. So one night we decided I should disappear for a few years. He could take the family's place in Government and I could continue working on computers.
"Why do you want to go to Jupiter station?" I asked. I was still baffled that anyone would not want the life that the nobles lead. Sure, they had duties to the world government, but they also had e.very luxury available to man
"Well... I have never been there. I am sure that some one could use a computer tech of my skill on Jupiter Station. Can you think of a better place to disappear, so that my brother can take my place?"
We started talking about how I could repay him for helping me fix Charis when Charis interrupted us. "Sorry to cut in guys, but I need you down in the cargo bay. One of the crates in the cargo bay is moving.” Both of us ran down to the cargo bay. Just as she said one of the crates was moving. Slowly Lance and I started to open the crate. I guess if we had been smart, one of use would have "covered" the other with some sort of weapon, while the other one opened the crate that had just stopped moving. But neither of us thought there was danger in the moving crate. Anyway, neither of us owned a gun.
The minute I got the side off the crate a black blur knocked me down. I yelled, "Charis seal this room. Make sure she does not leave this room. I don't want to repair your hardware again." The second I saw the blur I knew it was the same one that I had seen the night before.The next several minutes became a game of hide and seek. "Charis are you sure she is still in this room".
"No one has opened the door. I had closed it after you and Lance entered the room. I had an idea that some thing like this would happen."
Lance was amazed. "Does she always act without a direct command?"
"Oh I put all of the doors under her control right away. I am always forgetting to close doors. If there is a breech in space you want all of your doors closed. Charis saved my life once. A small stone punctured the hull in one of the extra rooms. Charis sealed the door before I lost all of my air. It is a good thing I am good at repairs. That small hole would have cost me a fortune to repair at Lunar Base III. “Charis can you tell me where she is in the room?"
"No, Bill, according to my sensors only Lance and you are in that room. I am not used to not knowing where people are located. You and Lance will have to find him or her on your own. I will try to keep the doors closed."
The cargo room on the skyway fills the entire lower floor. At this time it was empty except the supplies that Ted had sent, my mining equipment, some odds and end left from the old captain, and a small collection of minerals that I had decided not to sell. This pile was my insurance against a rainy day. I thought the black blur had gone in the direction of the mining servos. Lance and I started our search there. After we had searched the entire floor we started looking behind service panels.
An hour later, Lance and I found nothing unusual. Charis insisted that no one had left the room. I started thinking that 8 hours of sleep had not been enough. Maybe we had just imagined what we saw in down here. I think Lance was thinking the same.
Since we were in the cargo room, Lance and I started organizing the supplies. Everything that Ted had promised had been there. Now several people would start blaming Ted for the now empty box, but both Lance and I knew Ted too well. He would have never done something that would hurt his enemies let alone his friends.
While we were stowing the cargo more securely I made Charis keep talking to us. Even though we had found no one, I was still worried that I would loose Charis again.
When we had finished the stowing, Lance wanted me to explain some of the control panels that he had not understood earlier. As we entered the control room my heart stopped. Sitting in the captain’s chair was a small girl covered head to toe in black.
"Charis, Is there anyone in the control room?" Lance asked. I was amazed that he was able to even form a question.
"I assume that you are asking if there is any one in the control room other then yourself and Bill. The answer would be no." Charis responded.
"Charis check the area around the captain's chair again" Lance ordered.
"Don't bother," said the black figure “Charis has good sensors but she would not have found me. This outfit makes me invisible to any computer system built.” With this the girl took off her facemask. Is this better Charis?”
"A little better" Charis answered, "now I see a floating head. But that is better then nothing"
At this point I finally regained my ability to speak if not my ability to think. "How, did you get on my ship? Why are you here? How did you fool Charis? Why did you disable my ship?" The questions just tumbled out without thought. I would have continued with the pointless interrogation but Lance stopped me.
"Well I don't know about you two but I could use a cup of tea. I found that everything looks better after a cup of Earl Grey. Good thing we took the time to unpack. Ted always knows where to get the best tea for me."
Over a cup of tea Ann told us how she had been hired to steel my green rock for a rich man in Texas. "I have always been a thief. My first memories are of a man I called Uncle Steve. I don't think we were related, but he really did care for me. We had a skit we would follow every time we were in a jewelry store. The ending had always been the same. Uncle Steve would walk out with some valuable piece of jewelry in his pocket. We made enough money with this skit to keep food on the table, and cloths on our back. Uncle Steve also taught me the finer point of being a thief. I found that I was good at my job.
On day Uncle Steve died I decided to market my talents to the highest bidder. This time I was told to steal a rock that would arrive on Lunar Base III. I have never been off of Earth but the money was good so I took the job.
The rock had been difficult to steal. With the scientist working on it day and night I decided not to even try to get the rock. My first attempt was two nights ago. I sorry for hurting your, Charis, but I was only trying to get her to open the door."
"I forgive you,” Charis said from her screen. I could not believe that Charis could forgive her, especially since she had left Charis blind and deaf for several hours.
Ann continued, "Then I had the idea to ship myself to you then sneak out at night and get the rock. The only thing I did not count on was the ship taking off in such a hurry. I had head the ship was in quarantine so I figured that I would have a lot of time to get the object and get away. Now there is no way that I can collect the money that the Texan was going to pay me for the stone."
It was at that moment I was what Lance and Charis had seen all along. Ann was not just a professional thief; she was also a scared girl who had never been in space before in her life. Now I did not know what to do with her. Fortunately for me that question was taken out of my hands. Lance decided that Ann should take a nap in his cabin while he and I clean out the third cabin. Charis agreed with him that Ann should be immediately put to bed. But she insisted that Ann change her cloths. She wanted to be able to see Ann just in case she had any problems.
While Lance and Charis sorted out the details, I took a second cup of Earl Grey. I have been alone on the Starway for several years. Now I had not one but two other people to take care of. I was not sure I liked this. Unfortunately, this day of surprises was not over for me.
Lance and I started cleaning the final cabin. Though I had been in these two rooms I had never really looked at them. Each of the cabins had two bunk beds in them. The bed could fold into the wall when not in use. There where two built in desks and two built in dressers. Off both cabins there was a bathroom. Obviously, the skyway was built to hold a larger crew.
Toward the end of our cleaning, Ann joined us. After she assured us that she did not require more rest, we started talking about the future. I thought we should find a way to return Ann to Lunar Base III, so she could go back to Earth.
Lance stared at me incredulously. "Bill, she can't go back to Earth, not without that green rock of yours. She failed in her job. The Texan is not very forgiving."
"How do you know The Texan?” Ann asked.
"My family knows a lot of people. When you are in the business of keeping the law it is good to know about those who feel they are above the law."
"Surely there is some place on Earth that she would be safe" I answered. Both Lance and Ann just shook their head. "Well I guess she will have to stay with us. Does any one know anything about hydroponics? With two wanted people on board we will not be able to stop for supplies very often."
“I have a hydroponics unit at home." said Ann. At out look of surprise she continued, “Hydroponics is a way of growing fresh food in a small sunless area. Well that describes my apartment perfectly. I have Uncle's hydroponics unit. It kept us feed when we could not find jobs."
We never got to look at the hydroponics unit in the storage area because Charis announced that we should immediately go to the science room. Upon entering we saw the rock “cut” perfectly in half. The bottom half was lined with soft padding and the top half was cover in what looked like a computer system. It looked like a smaller version of my own life pod. In the middle of the life pod stood a man that stood about 90 cm. He was dressed in a short tunic and had a pair of wings come out of his back. As we enter he flew to eye level he said. "It is about time you got here. Err... I mean... My name is name is Captain Ritzer from the planet Tarna. I am one of the Faree people. I... Uh... Well I mean...I need your help."
Lance said, "I think we could all use another cup of Earl Grey."
With all of the exciting events of this day, I knew my life would soon be getting even more interesting.