Worse than Paris' ship missing is that I've contracted us to haul a cargo of 38 tonnes of bio-engineered wood to Arawne, and there's a Earth$6000 penalty clause if we have to pull out of the delivery.
Iki Piki: Yes, they were grateful to us for busting the cloning ring, but there was no reward. The Government of Lyrane might be a bit more forthcoming, if we ever get back there.
Serron: Hang on. Did you say Acropolis paid all our on-world costs? I think we should just go back down to the surface, because I can live on-world in a big way.
Spanners: We have to go back to Arawne, the Legacy is there. But how are we going to get there, let alone move 38 tonnes of cargo?
Serron: We could take a commercial starliner...
Iki Piki: How much hand-luggage can you take on a starliner?
Serron: ... but commercial cargo rates are higher than the small trader rate we agreed to. We'd lose about $20,000 to save $6000.
Paris: Guys, Tepi and I have just been talking to some Government people. They're grateful, but not grateful enough to pay our way to Arawne. They are however willing to deport... err... pay Tepi's off-world transport costs.
Serron: And his hand-luggage?
In the meantime, Captain Smith has decided to come with us to Arawne. Since Ogier is retiring we are in need of a pilot anyway, so she will be useful for us. Then we can all travel together and help her look for the Argonaut too.
Serron is in the process of negotiating a cargo subcontract with a small trader to allow us to get the wood shipment to Arawne. If we're lucky, we may be able to hire on as working passage to Arawne and make the trip ourselves on the same ship, for minimal cost.
With Ogier and Sirene leaving active membership of our trading operation, we have split our current funds five ways, giving Serron, Spanners, Ogier, Sirene and myself just over $12,400 each. Paris has, I believe, nearly double this amount in ready cash, while Tepi is completely broke. We've agreed that Ogier and Sirene will remain silent partners in our business until such time as the rest of us can buy them out, or they wish to return as active crew. Until that time, they will each be entitled to a 10% share of any profits we make, to be paid on our occasional returns to Arawne, where they intend settling. Ogier still of course also owns a share of the Legacy as well.
Spanners: Do you really want to leave him with the other passengers?
Paris: Good point.
Serron: I don't want to share with Tepi... I don't know him.
Paris: You will pretty soon.
On another front, I've been thinking that if the Argonaut isn't found, I can use my insurance payout to buy out Ogier's share of the Legacy and his and Sirene's share of their business.
The news reports coming in from Arawne report that Queen Natasha has gained agreement from Arawne to mount a military force to retake Rubilith from the rebels. Couriers sent to Earth, Bune, and Lyrane have also received support, with each of those worlds committing ships to a naval fleet now massing here at Arawne. Serron seemed to get excited by this, claiming he has military experience, but I'm not sure what he has in mind.
Other news of interest to us concerns Dashgad. Sara Hercule is now leading rebuilding efforts on the colony world, after surveys found some dashgoats in sheltered terrain on the other side of the moon. They're sending out teams of biologists to study the ecosystem a bit more carefully this time too.
Tepi: Err, I just got thrown off a planet.
Customs Officer: Um, right. Can anyone vouch for this person's finances?
Serron: We'll take you on as an indentured servant.
Iki Piki: Ballast.
Spanners: Hmm, what useful skills do you have, Tepi?
Spanners: Well, do we take him on?
Serron: I don't trust him. I don't know him.
Paris: He's a lost soul - a cause. I vote yes.
Iki Piki: But how will he pay for his oxygen?
Spanners: Right, then Paris can hire Tepi.
Serron: As an indentured servant?
Tepi: Do I have to learn how to type?
Customs Officer: Ahem. Can anyone vouch for this... person?
Tepi: I guess it's better than being thrown off another planet.
Ogier and Sirene have said their farewells, and have left the starport to find a place to live. We will have to come back to Arawne from time to time to visit, and of course give them their share of the company profits.
Serron: Hmm, still looks to be in one piece.
Spanners: Doesn't look booby-trapped...
Serron: I wonder which one of us is more paranoid. [sniffs] What's that smell? It's food... mmmm, smells like home-made Gruncha soup. And Korblathi noodles! Where is that smell coming from?
Spanners: It seems to be coming from the ship's atmosphere exchange vents.
Serron: There shouldn't be anyone cooking in there. I'm going to check the vent.
Iki Piki: Serron, you're drooling on me.
Intercom: Hello, Uncle Serron.
Serron: What!? I don't have any nieces...
Intercom: No, it's your nephew, Lycroft.
Spanners: [untranslatable Chatka swear words]
Lycroft: I'm glad to see you, Uncle. I've cooked a meal in your honour. Would you like to come aboard and share it with me? All you have to do is request permission to board my ship.
Serron: I've never heard of this person in my life.
Lycroft: He's always been this way. He used to teach me to pick pockets. One day the police had a few words to me. Not only did Serron deny knowing me, but he accused me of trying to steal from him too!
Spanners: Yep, that sounds like our Serron.
Paris: Is there any human food on offer in there?
Lycroft: There certainly is.
Paris: Well, I want in.
Tepi: Me too!
Spanners: He's done something to the security system; the access code doesn't work.
Lycroft: All you have to do is ask permission...
Serron: I'm out of here. Bye! [turns to walk away from the ship]
Lycroft: Uncle! Don't walk off! I've cooked a meal! Uncle!
[External air-lock door opens. Lycroft runs out after Serron, carrying a video camera.]
Lycroft: Uncle! Come back! Tell me how you saved Queen Natasha.
[Spanners, Iki Piki and Tepi enter the ship. Paris follows Lycroft.]
Spanners: What did that brat do to the ship?
Lycroft: Uncle! Let me explain. Uncle! I came to find you.
Serron: I'm not interested. Not listening!
[Serron turns around and strides back towards the ship. Lycroft follows.]
Lycroft: I cooked a meal in your honour and everything.
Paris: Kid, I'll hold your camera for you, and film you and your uncle.
[They arrive at the ship's air-lock. The door is now closed.]
Serron: What were you doing in the ship?
Lycroft: What do you mean? It's my ship.
Serron: Spanners, you can let me in now.
Spanners: No. Not until I've checked the security camera to see what he did to our ship, and how he got in.
Lycroft: Ah, so you're admitting it's your ship.
Serron: He said that, not me.
[Lycroft jumps around impatiently. He jumps on to the roof of the ship. Suddenly the air-lock door opens, Serron and Paris enter, and it shuts. Lycroft jumps to the ground, but too late.]
Lycroft: Let me in!
[Lycroft sits near the door for a few minutes.]
Serron: [chewing food] So, Lycroft. Long time no smell. Why did you come to find me?
Lycroft: I've come to write your life story, Uncle Serron. You've saved Queen Natasha's life. You've fought gladiators. You've defeated armies. Ever since I was a little sparrial, and you bounced me on your knee, and told me how one day you would conquer the galaxy, I've looked up to you. And in the last few months I've been seeing the news stories coming in about how you've done all these wonderful things, so I see it's all true! Now I'm a cadet reporter for ISN, I've decided to record your exploits, to write your life's adventures, to bring your tales of gallantry and conquest to a wide audience.
Serron: Hmm, that doesn't seem too bad at all...
[Three men approach the ship.]
Man 1: There he is, get him!
Lycroft: Umm, err, guys, can you let me in the ship now? [jumps on top of the ship]
Man 2: You, get a ladder.
[The third man runs off. The other two approach, one hefting a crowbar.]
Paris: This isn't good. Spanners, open the air-lock, now! [Runs out of the ship, firing a laser. Tepi follows firing a blaster.]
Man 1: [collapsing on the ground] Arrrgghh! My leg! My leg!
[Several people from other ships come running, brandishing weapons. Lycroft jumps down and backs into the airlock.]
Lycroft: [Filming out the door with his camera.] A riot has erupted here at Planteth Spaceport. Arawne: unsavoury one day, dangerous the next. I'm Lycroft the Intrepid reporting to you live...
[Serron fires a stunner at point-blank range into Lycroft's back.]
Spanners: Paris, I'd like to point out to you the advantages of using non-lethal weapons, and I suggest to you that you should point out to Tepi the advantages of not using blasters.
Paris: Serron, Lycroft's waking up.
Lycroft: Huh, whuh? What happened? Where am I? And why is there a half-eaten bread roll in my pocket? Hmm, it's tasty...
Paris: Well, you jumped on top of the ship again when those thugs came after you. And Tepi and I fended them off, but Tepi blasted one of them...
Serron [to the security camera]: Accidentally blasted one of them.
Spanners: While firing a warning shot.
Iki Piki: Into the air.
Paris: Anyway, the starport security people are taking us in to be interviewed about what happened.
Lycroft: I see. So, you've all been with Serron in his travels? I heard some of what happened on Rubilith. Serron saved Queen Natasha's life.
Paris: Well, kind of...
Lycroft: So, tell me about Serron. He's a great sparrial, isn't he?
Paris: Great? Well, he once stuck me up a tree and left me there for hours while he went into a military compound on his own. He drugged me, you see.
Lycroft: So he fought single-handed? Awesome...
Paris: He was captured. And then Byron Smythe...
Lycroft: Who's Byron Smythe?
Paris: Well, he's... he's kind of Serron's enemy.
Lycroft: Serron has an enemy? Awesome...
Spanners: I've got a very bad feeling about this.
Tepi: You can call me Tepi.
Lycroft: And what do you do?
Tepi: I come from what was once a grand family empire of acorn farmers. And then the squirrel plague hit -
Lycroft: Ah, the squirrel plague, I have heard of it.
Tepi: So now, I'm looking for squirrels. I want to show them my blaster.
Lycroft: And you, what is your name?
Lycroft: That's very funny.
Lycroft: It's a sparrial word.
Paris: What does it mean?
Lycroft: I couldn't possibly say it.
Serron: "Great big idiot."
Lycroft: He said it.
Spanners: So, all this time Serron's kept this to himself? And whenever one of us said "Hey, Paris..." he'd be quietly chuckling to himself...
Lycroft: So he's admitting it's his? Cool. So what's the problem, if this guy's just admitted he's a paris, I'm happy.
Security Chief: And what about all the rest of this stuff we confiscated from the ship? Do you recognise any of this as things you may have "borrowed" from anyone else?
Lycroft: Well... the sound system, the music, that hat, those sneakers, the earrings... that wallet, and that one... and that one... and that one too... the egg-whisk... the candles, and the candelabra... the table... oh, and the chef robot.
Iki Piki: And the spaceship.
Lycroft: Oh, yeah, and the spaceship. I never knew this planet had so many parises.
Officer: Now just pay the $500 fine and you're free to leave.
Lycroft [patting pockets]: Um... just a minute...
Serron: Looking for something, Lycroft? [Holds a cred-card up]
Lycroft [to security officer]: What if I don't pay?
Officer: We hold you in a cell.
Lycroft: Damn... Serron, can I have my cred-card back?
Serron: Sure! Here you go! Pretty clever how I got that off you, huh? Now come on, let's get back to the ship.
Spanners: Are you suggesting we let Lycroft on board?
Serron: He may come in useful.
Spanners: Yes, he can be an organ donor for you.
Serron: I hadn't thought of that. Hmmm...
The social interaction between Lycroft and Serron was instructive to observe. Lycroft had technically taken possession of an item belonging to Serron, namely his share of the Legacy, and was trying to get Serron to ask for it back, thus showing his social dominance over Serron. Serron had no part in it, specifically never stating that the ship belonged to him or asking to be given it back.
As it turned out, events led to an incident outside the ship with some passing merchants spotting a stolen pearl necklace being worn around Lycroft's wrist and trying to take repossession of it. Starport security, having dealt with sparrials on many occasions before, took the usual steps and claimed all the items stolen by Lycroft on behalf of their owners, and released him and the rest of us with a warning. Paris, who was wounded in the brawl, is spending the night in the starport hospital.
One curious thing is that the chef robot, which looks like a mobile barbecue with arms, has a simple AI, and apparently didn't want to leave the Legacy. Tepi wanted to keep it, and name it Floyd, but security took it away.
The status of the ship seems fine, except for the fact that Lycroft somehow managed to gain access and reprogram the entry codes. I've looked at the video security logs and I'm still trying to work out just how he did it. The new fusion engine has been fitted and a ground test performed. All that remains there is to try it out in flight.
An e-mail message has been waiting for us for a few days. Queen Natasha wished to contact us and see us. We've now returned her call and will be going to visit her tomorrow morning. I presume she will have something to say about the massing military fleet and the attempt to retake Rubilith from the rebels.
Spanners: We've been examining the cargo contract options from here. We need to make some cash.
Serron: Rubilith wants weapons.
Lycroft: Of course they do! Impending war, death, destruction...
Paris: Kid, let me give you some advice. "Always keep your chin up."
Lycroft [writing it down]: And when did Serron the Magnificent give you those words of advice?
Paris: He didn't. [Lycroft scribbles it out]
Iki Piki: Anyway, we haven't decided on a cargo yet. But Queen Natasha wants to see us all first thing tomorrow morning. She's sending a limo to pick us up, and we'll come by and get you from the hospital.
Spanners: Do we want Queent Natasha to meet Lycroft?
Serron: I'll vouch for his... identity.
Lycroft: Allow me to introduce myself. I'm Serron the Magnificent's nephew, Lycroft the Intrepid.
Spanners: More like "Livestock the Entrapped".
Queen Natasha: What did he say?
Lycroft: My business card.
Queen Natasha: "Hip News From The Streets"?
Lycroft: Youth reporter for ISN. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions? For your subjects and fans...
Queen Natasha: Go ahead.
Lycroft: What's it like being alone on a strange planet, in exile from your own?
Queen Natasha: These times have been difficult. It has, you might say, been an annus horribilus.
Lycroft: An annus? Right, um, and how did you let matters go so bad that your own people kicked you off the planet?
Queen Natasha: I wasn't kicked off, they tried to kill me. And I was set up by one person in my government, Viscount Conrad, who operated in an underhand way behind my back. I am grateful to my friends here for escorting me from Rubilith to Arawne.
Lycroft: So, it's true. Your general Serron saved your life.
Queen Natasha: Serron has proved to be a true and loyal subject. But he was never a general...
Lycroft: And when will the fleet liberate Rubilith? When is V.R. day?
Adviser: I think that's enough questions for today.
Serron: Your majesty, we are willing to take a secret cargo into Rubilith for you. A small army of trained infiltrators perhaps.
Spanners: We're not going to Rubilith.
Queen Natasha: It's going to be a full-scale invasion. I really don't think you can do anything...
Serron: Nonsense, we're going to retake Rubilith for you.
Lycroft: Such bravery!
Adviser: Your majesty, are you all right?
Queen Natasha: I just, err, I just choked on my biscuit. Really, friend Serron, you don't need to place yourselves in any danger...
Serron: No, I insist! We're going to Rubilith, there's no changing my mind.
Spanners: We're not going to Rubilith.
Paris: It has a certain appeal. Taking a Trojan horse in a ship piloted by Paris.
Spanners: We're not going to Rubilith.
Queen Natasha: I strongly suggest you leave these matters to the military.
Iki Piki [in Pachekki]: With our track record, the question should be "How much are you going to pay us not to help?"
Queen Natasha: What did he say?
Serron was keen to volunteer us all on a mission to Rubilith, but thankfully Queen Natasha managed to talk him out of it. With a full-scale military action we would have the oportunity to get into danger and very little else. We have however given her our full verbal support and a promise to help if at any time she feels she needs us.
With our visit done, Serron has turned to procuring us a cargo for our next trip. A profitable option on offer is to take a shipment of computers to Oceania, and Serron has made the appropriate financial and cargo loading arrangements.
Man: My name is Baldomero Muehlegg, my card. I'm a stockbroker. I have a proposition to make to you.
Serron: I'm already married.
Muehlegg: Amusing. I am willing to pay you $10,000 to delay your shipment by two days - 48 standard hours.
Muehlegg: Because Irrikhamm Shipping is on the rocks. Their stock is down. They've had a few, shall we say, unlucky patches in their trading recently, and one more delayed shipment may well send them into bankruptcy. This would be to my advantage. It's purely a financial matter, you understand. It would be to your ultimate advantage too. If I can swing the deals, I would pay you an extra ten percent of any profit I make. And I expect I could make several million dollars.
Serron: We'll think about it.
Muehlegg: Please do. You have my number. Call me, soon.
Paris: But it's immoral. What? What are you laughing at?
Spanners: Umm, Levin Taksin...?
Spanners: You seduced him... remember?
Paris: Oh, him. That wasn't immoral. And even if there had been sex, it still wouldn't have been immoral.
Serron: The question is, can we make a bigger profit without doing anything more illegal?
Spanners: More illegal?
Serron: Sure. All we need is some evidence of this stockbroker's plan, and we could send it to Irrikhamm and get a reward. More than $10,000 easily, and we're the good guys.
Spanners: I noticed Lycroft videoing him earlier.
Lycroft: Indeed. How observant of you, Spanners.
Spanners: So, Lycroft, can we please have your most excellently made video recording of Mr Muehlegg?
Lycroft: Well, I'd like permanent free passage on your ship, so I can follow you around the galaxy and record Serron's great exploits for the media...
[Serron casually fires his stunner at Lycroft. Lycroft ducks the shot, disarms Serron and then is jabbed in the shoulder by a tranquiliser hypo. Lycroft falls to the floor, unconscious. Paris passes the dropped video camera to Spanners.]
Spanners: Right. Now all we need is a plan to entrap this guy.
Serron: Okay, here's the plan. Let's get this guy to admit to more wrong-doing. We video him passing us money, then I knock him unconscious, stick him in a crate, and fill it up to his neck in packing foam so he can't move. We leave enough space for his head to stick out, so we can attach an oxygen cylinder so he can breathe. Then, I'll put a note in saying "Any reward you can send us for capturing this dangerous threat to your company will be appreciated, signed Serron." Put a copy of the video in there and then we'll put an address on the crate to Irrikhamm, and leave it somewhere conspicuous. This way we get the $10,000 from Muehlegg, and a reward from Irrikhamm.
Iki Piki: Can anyone else hear Benny Hill music?
We can't hang around, however. We are going to try to keep the shipping schedule we agreed to, to keep Irrikhamm happy, so we need to leave very soon. Paris and Tepi have just returned to the ship, after checking with starport security to see if the chef robot Lycroft used had been claimed yet. All the other items had been claimed, but the robot was still there. Security decided to give it to them because its AI was getting distressed and didn't want to go back to its former owners, and they expected any legitimte owner to have claimed it within 24 hours of the repossession notice being sent out. The conclusion was the robot may have been stolen even before Lycroft picked it up, and tracing the original owners would be impossible, so they said we may as well keep it. So we now have a gourmet cooking robot on board.
Floyd: They made me learn too much. Did not understand.
Paris: What kind of stuff?
Floyd: Trade routes. Not on regular schedules. Not on regular maps.
Tepi: Well, don't worry Floyd. I'm going to teach you to defend yourself. I'm going to teach you how to shoot with a blaster.
Floyd: No. Not more learning. Only want to learn to cook.
Tepi: Think of it as a special form of cooking.
Iki Piki: Kind of like using a microwave, only faster.