(44) And Then There Were Two

The Misha Campaign (250-1121 to 253-1121)

074 / 322 local ( 250-1121 - 251-1121) : Spirelle / Lunion / Spinward Marches

    Helia Sarina and Kalida Siena go shopping for resort clothes.  They gather quite a wardrobe for all sorts of activities and weather.  Items like skis and so on they leave until they get to the resort -- they can always get them after they come back, if they want them on the ship.  They discuss setting up a ski slope in the solarium, but it would admittedly be rather difficult.  Perhaps a water slide...?
    Also, of course, they shop for books.  Helia finds some good local interest ones.  Kalida can't find anything on any worlds she's interested in, but does find plenty on wine-making, distillation, and so on.  Here on Spirelle, fine alcoholic drinks are a specialty, and she picks up several books of varying technical difficulty.
    Ed "Shark" Teeth goes shopping with them but finds nothing that would add to his wardrobe.  He already has clothes that suit this culture.

075 / 322 local (251-1121 - 252-1121) : Spirelle / Lunion / Spinward Marches

    Waiting at the airship terminal across town is Callisto.  Shark of course has not met her before, although he's been told a lot about her already -- including, by Helia, that she's "his type."
    The whole crew of the Nightshade is there.  Robert Morris of course is of the opinion that they could call for the ship to come and collect them, and Shark trusts that belief.  Even Sagan is with them -- not only because sie might want to observe mating rituals, but also because Shark doesn't trust the hiver to be the only person left on board.  A hiver, a larian, a man with a large sword across his back and a dragon on his shoulder, and a robodog -- quite an odd group.  Everyone's using their "alternative" names, when they remember to do so that is.

    The dirigible leaves at 9 am local time.  The trip is scenic, comparatively sedate, and extremely comfortable.  It's two days travel to Allys Hollow.  There are private cabins for the passengers, rather like a compartment train.  Each room has sleeping quarters and seating for privacy, and there's a public lounge, dining compartment, and so on.
    All are officially on vacation.  Teri Cralla and Shark can relax from their bodyguard duties, as even they see no credible danger here -- aside from keeping an eye on Callisto, of course.  They have been sure to bring some klatrin with them, just in case the locally available drinks are too tame.

076 / 322 local (252-1121 - 253-1121) : Spirelle / Lunion / Spinward Marches

    On the second day they approach the mountain range, with peaks towering over 5000 m.  They've been travelling over a desert, probably in the rain shadow of the large mountains.  As they pass through the 2000 m altitude Janakra Pass, the view of the green valley and lake (below sea level) opens up ahead of them.  The airship settles down onto the landing pad at Allys Hollow, and the passengers disembark.
    They are met by a receptionist, who tells them how to find their nine-room building, and to arrange for their luggage to be delivered.
    They are staying in a large chalet.  There is a central courtyard, with nine suites arranged around the courtyard.  The building is two stories.  It contains a kitchen (should they choose to use it), a private lounge, a game room, a gym.  Food can be served here, although of course the menu is not as extensive as at the resort's restaurants.

    The first day at the resort, they just settle in.  They unpack, and from the directory get a feel of where things are.  There are nightclubs and a casino.  As Shark finds out, there is target shooting available (out away from the resort), archery and knife throwing ranges, and so on.
    There are nine rooms among eleven people.  Teri shares with the new girl Cal, while Shark shares with Sagan.
    That takes up time until lunch.  There's a large central dining room at the top of one of the tallest buildings they've seen on the planet.  The round revolving restaurant, four stories up, provides wonderful views of the lake and (on the other side) the mountains.

    The group is, of course, rather conspicuous as off-worlders.  Even if it wasn't for the aliens among them, they still stand out as not from this world.  They're getting a lot of attention from the other customers, especially when the hiver sits on hir food.

    From a nearby table, Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne also notices them with interest.  Offworlders are uncommon here at Allys Hollow -- he's seen just one other group, a human couple, pass through during his stay.  This place is not advertised offworld, so the only way others find out about it is either visiting Spirelle by accident, or via a Scout who's heard about it from someone at the scout base.  Nevertheless, Jaek doesn't want to introduce himself yet -- he doesn't want them to think he has an agenda before he says he needs a ride offworld.  It's common here among Spirelleans to introduce themselves to strangers and so on, but these folks are quite clearly not Spirelleans.

    Shark (now using the name Roger Jolly) notices that some middle-aged guy -- the only other offworlder here, noticeable by his high-tech clothes and hand computer -- is watching them fairly intently.  He is apparently not carrying any weapons, so Shark isn't too worried about it yet.  He points out the guy to Kalida, just for her information -- everyone else in their group is drunk or having too much fun to pay attention.
    Misha Ravanos, Mich Saginaw, and Vonish Kehnaan are comparing the local beers and discussing their relative merits.  Teri has already decided what she likes, and is happily enjoying the meal just as you would expect an off-duty marine to behave.
    When he's done with the meal, Shark tells Misha that he's planning a camping excursion alone for a few days.  At the concierge desk at the center of the restaurant, Roger Jolly immediately finds out what he needs to do.  He's spent ages cooped up on a ship with these folks, and wants to get out to be by himself for a while, "Time away from this weirdness!" as he puts it.  He arranges a three-day camping trip to the unspoilt wilderness of Lake Kharon.  He explains that he was a Forward Observer, and is thoroughly capable of handling himself while camping and hiking alone.  He is directed to the resort outfitters to set up the trip, although he won't need too much gear as he has a zack.  Something soft to sleep on and some food are all he really needs, although to avoid raising eyebrows he'll be taking a "normal" amount of gear.  He looks over to the Baron and calls, "James, you remember where that unusual outcropping of rock was?  The one you found last time you were here?"
    "Yes," replies "James Cox" Bridgehead.  "It was somewhere northwest of where we met Anastasia.  That was in a green valley on the way to the lake.  It was just tucked away somewhere, that's all.  Have fun, don't get shot down."
    Shark has walked back to the table.  He asks quietly, "Shot down?  What happened?"
    "Well, we were in an airship, but there were more troubles than that.  The scoutship got shot down."
    "Whose scoutship?"
    "One from the base.  They were delivering an urgent message to one of our people.  They never quite delivered the message.  But it's OK, the thing that did the shooting isn't there anymore.  In fact, as far as I know, it's blown up somewhere else entirely."
    Shark thanks him and drifts off.  He wanders around the resort for the rest of the day, just enjoying being outside.
    Meanwhile, Kalida discretely takes in Jaek's appearance.  He's wearing a ballistiflec jacket, similar pants, and has a hand computer hanging from his belt.  He has jump boots, Scout issue.  Perhaps he's just mustered out...?

    Jaek himself gets up and walks over to the concierge desk.  He does need a ride off Spirelle, after all, and he'd just as well see what he can find out about this group.  He hears that they booked for a week in advance and reserved the entire nine rooms of chalet #4, about 300 meters from this building.  They're the crew of a ship that came in recently and just came here for a vacation after spending a couple of days in Heliopolis.  It is odd that they booked as soon as they arrived, since most offworlders don't know about Allys Hollow.
    From his observations, the short guy who just left was the one taking charge of the group.  With him gone, it's not clear what the chain of command might be.  The old guy he was just talking to is clearly someone of high social standing with an inflated opinion of himself, and looks like he would expect everyone to do what he says, although the others aren't treating him like he has any authority.  On the other hand, it looks like the little girl is making sure everyone is going to get back to the chalet safely; whether that's from a mothering instinct or whether it's a chain of command thing is not immediately clear.  She makes sure the staff will escort them back if necessary, and seems somewhat surprised to find that the staff don't accept tips.
    The group is clearly well funded, which is a shame -- it's easier to buy your way offworld if the ship is hard-up.  Jaek did notice a flash of high denomination credits pass between the old gentleman and the young girl, and from the cut of the clothes of the old guy and one of the other women, there's some serious money and status here.  Now the barbie doll is wearing a skin-tight leather catsuit, with a brightly colored backpack and brightly colored dress, and it's impossible to figure out where she might be from, but her actions indicate she's probably older than the ten years or so her stature would indicate.
    As soon as the girl and the finely dressed woman leave the restaurant, Jaek heads off himself to the beach for more drinks with umbrellas.  He knows where they're staying, and can keep an eye on them or run into them pretty much whenever he likes.

    Helia and Kalida leave to take a walk around the resort.  The lake is the central point.  On the shores are beaches, and above that boardwalks for pedestrians and the electric carts.  Then there's the buildings, and above that trails go off into the forest.  At higher altitudes, the forest gives way to snowfields, glittering in the brightness of the orange-yellow sun.  Ski slopes are accessible only by airship ride, but no more than half an hour away.
    By contrast, Shark's trip to Lake Kharon, planned for tomorrow, will be a couple of hours long.  Later this afternoon he goes by the outfitters, then returns to the chalet.  Rather than sit on the front deck and watch people go by, he chooses the back deck and the view of the mountains.  With plenty of beer by his side and nachos supplied by the chalet staff, he settles back to relax.

    It's hot here, well into the twenties, but nevertheless Helia is very comfortable in her black suit.  She and Kalida are enjoying walking around and watching people.  Aside from the one guy they saw in the restaurant, everyone here is a local.  All greet them cheerfully as they pass on the boardwalk.  The walk around the lake, of the order of 100 km for the entire way, is not at all what they have in mind.  There are boats, both motor and wind powered, with or without crew.  Water skiing is available, but there are no jetskis.

    Towards late afternoon, the three drunk gourmands are showing absolutely no signs of slowing down.  In fact, it seems to be a matter of honor for Mich and Bridgehead to match each other drink for drink, although Mich is drinking beer and Bridgehead wine.  Clearly neither will be first to give up.
    Callisto is getting bored with watching them.  She suggests going for a swim in the lake, or building sandcastles.  Teri, Vonish, and Robert jump at the idea.  They return to the chalet, pick up swimsuits, and walk on to a quieter beach that Cal knows about two kilometers north of the chalet.  Shuttle service is available, but they all welcome the exercise.
    On the beach, Callisto muses about this group.  For one thing, once Teri gets into a bathing suit, it's obvious that she's extremely athletic.  Also, Vonish is clearly a genuine chef.  What kind of ship has a real chef?  Well, Misha, did call their ship a "yacht."  But whose yacht?

    Shark hears the others come back, but remains on the back deck.  He's in no need of companionship.  Later, he notices that Bridgehead and Mich are brought back from the restaurant and poured into bed in one of the chalet rooms.  Shark smiles in anticipation of waking them early tomorrow with one of the Doc's hangover cure concoctions.  Misha joins him sitting quietly drinking and eating.  Shark in particular is enjoying the way the temperature changes over the course of the day, unlike on the ship or in the Digitis forest.
    Kalida and Helia come back from their walk and hang out at the chalet for a while.
    Eventually Sagan returns too.  Sie's been down on the beach watching people, how they interact, and how they react to hir.  It's been good to be able to pursue hir interests again.

    Evening approaches.  The Baron and Mich are unavailable, of course, and Shark and Misha are still just relaxing silently on the back deck.  So Callisto, Kalida, Helia, Robert, Teri, Sagan, and Vonish decide to go to dinner themselves.  Vonish suggests the top level formal restaurant, and the others as usual are very willing to take his advice on dining.
    "Isn't is a shame the Baron will miss it?" says Kalida with a grin but quickly waves off Shark's offer to wake him -- it's been such a peaceful relaxing afternoon.  She dresses herself in one of her top outfits from a prominent Rhylanor designer.

    Jaek leaves the beach, changes into evening clothes, and plans to look for the offworld group.  He wants them to get used to seeing him around, so he can naturally bump into them and eventually strike up a conversation leading to his ticket off planet.
    He notices them pretty much right away, dressed for the formal dining room.  He's underdressed for that place, so as soon as he's sure that's where they're headed, he returns to his room to change and catch up with them.  At the restaurant he sits reasonably close to them, trying not to be too conspicuous.  Unfortunately they're the only customers in the room.  He will be conspicuous no matter what.

    Kalida notices him walk in.  She doesn't watch him as such, but glances over occasionally.
    Soon they happen to make eye contact.  Jaek inclines his head slightly in acknowledgment; Kalida smiles in return.
    Helia notices him too.  She says quietly to Kalida, "Who is that guy?"
    "Shark noticed him at lunch.  He was kind of -- watching -- us."
    Next time the guy glances over, Helia stares at him hard.  He smiles and raises his glass in a toast to her.  Without changing her expression, she raises her glass back and looks at him, then takes a sip.  He goes back to eating.
    Helia tells Vonish to join him in the game called "What is the strange guy doing?", but he's busy explaining to Robert the fine points of the wine and the meal.  So Helia tells Callisto to watch the man, and next time he looks over, to raise her glass at him and smile, and look him up and down.
    Callisto does so.  Jaek returns it.
    Cal suggests they take turns at it, Kalida next.
    This is quickly getting weird.  Kalida does the raise and smile when Jaek looks over.
    Jaek gets up.  As he scans the room, the three women raise their glass to him and look him up and down.  He folds his napkin and walks over to them -- what else can he do at this point?
    Helia whispers, "He's coming over here.  Now what do we do?  Callisto, you're the one that's auditioning, you handle him."
    Cal looks up as he approaches and raises an eyebrow.  "May I be of some assistance?" she says sweetly.
    "We crossed paths at lunch," Jaek replies.  "I was just saying hello."
    "Hello."  Cal smiles at him.
    Jaek is momentarily lost for words, not surprising given the strange group staring at him.  Even Sagan has hir "head" hand fixed in his direction.  Helia notices the man is wearing a full tuxedo, and a pretty good one at that.  It's not a designer one-off like Kalida's gown, but it's certainly a good high-credit item.
    Helia says to the man, "Our head of security noticed you seemed more interested than the normal people in the room?  While we seem to garner a fair bit of attention, your attention in particular seemed to be... of a special degree that our security head noticed it."
    He replies, "Well, I didn't want to frighten anybody or make anybody nervous..."
    "OK, so you made the head of our security team nervous."
    Sagan (or rather hir translator unit) says, "That's his job."
    "Yes, but if he didn't want to make us nervous, he didn't do a very good job.  So why are you more interested in us than the others?  You seem intrigued and amused by us.  You seem to have a different quality of interest."
    Cal nods, "Certainly an interesting coinkidink."
    The man says, "Let's say I've been here a while and the place is growing stale.  You guys... are obvious visitors."
    Helia asks, "How long have you been in Allys Hollow?"
    "About twenty days.  I finished up my last contract, and I've just been looking for another opportunity."
    "A place like this and you're bored?"
    "Sand.  Surf.  Sun.  I'm not a big skier either.  Anyway, all this relaxation comes at a price, and I can't afford to relax much longer."
    "So you're bored.  Certainly the other people at lunch didn't seem as interested in us."
    "That's part of my job."
    "I thought you were finished with your last job.  What is your job?"
    "I freelance.  I'm unemployed right now, although when I am employed it's under a contract of sorts."
    Kalida asks, "What was your last contract?"
    "I'm a freelance observation-acquisition specialist, so having a..."
    Callisto bursts out laughing and splurts her drink.  Helia says to her in a stage whisper, "Does that mean thief to you?  Yes?  OK."  Helia makes an obvious move to check all her belongings.
    Jaek continues breezily, "My transportation on the rock was simple enough, and my transportation off is not.  You guys may provide that answer.  There's not a lot of transportation coming in and out, so I'm..."
    Helia says, "You know, it's very rude to hit people up for a ride offplanet when you meet them under suspicious circumstances."
    Teri smiles broadly and looks straight at Callisto.
    "Yes," says Jaek politely, "I apologize for my intrusion."  He starts to back away.
    Teri beckons to him, "No, come sit down, have a drink."
    "Oh yes," says Helia, "Come sit with Madam Teri."
    "I don't want to intrude," says Jaek.
    "You've been invited," says Helia.
    "Have a seat!" insists Kalida.
    Jaek sits down.
    Helia says suddenly and enthusiastically, "Let's grill him!  Do you want alcohol for your grilling?  A nice barbecue sauce?"  She smiles.
    Jaek hands her his business card.  Among other things he's ex-Scout Service.  It has the name Jaekovic Ils-Nevronne.
    Helia says, "So what means do you have to get offplanet?  Aside from your reputation as a thief?  And why would we want to risk taking a thief offplanet?"
    "I think you misinterpreted the title," says Jaek.
    Helia turns to Kalida.  "Do you have any other interpretation?"
    Kalida shakes her head.
    "Ma'am?  Teri?"
    Teri grins, "Opportunistic real estate agent."  She's obviously thoroughly amused.
    This just encourages Helia.  She says, "See?  Vonish, what kind of a job title do you think it really means?"
    The vilani observes, "Sounds like Shark to me."
    Jaek explains, "You have me mistaken.  I don't think you quite understand what I was trying to convey.  You see... it's like -- if someone is acting suspiciously, I watch them.  It something goes missing, I find it.  I guess you could say -- I help people.  All for a price, of course..."
    Helia asks, "So what planet are you originally from?"
    " Jewell," replies Jaek.
    "Where are you looking to go?" asks Cal.
    "Back to the mainstream.  All I need to do is get to the starlanes... again, transportation is few and far between.  I can pay."
    Helia says slowly, "Mainstream?  Are you willing to pay for us to go out of our way to get back to the mainstream?"
    "If that's what's necessary."
    "How much have you got?"
    Helia's question is met by raucous laughter, except by Jaek who says, "What's the going rate?"
    "How much have you got?" asks Helia again.
    "I can pay."
    "Where's your proof?"
    "I can show you cash if we come to some sort of an arrangement, but typically in a suit like this you don't carry a lot of it because you don't have many pockets."
    "So how much do you think you can pay?  A million?"
    "I can buy one of the ships at the base for that!"
    "But you want to ride on our ship."
    "Yes.  I want to ride on..."  Jaek pauses.  "I seem to have bothered the wrong group."
    Helia grins, "No, no, no, no, no!  Just sit and have your drink.  We'll talk about other things.  Teri, what shall we talk about?"
    Teri says, 'Why don't we give Callisto a hard time instead?  You can join in."  She smiles at Jaek.
    "I haven't even met her yet," says Jaek.
    Teri introduces them.  "She's looking for a ride off too, aren't you?  But she has a marketable skill, something we can use."
    "That's right," says Helia.  She turns to Jaek.  "What do you have that we can use, aside from being a thief?  Oh, wait, we're supposed to be grilling her.  Sorry!  Go ahead, Jaek, you grill her.  You ask her something."
    Jaek says, uncomfortably,  "How long have you known these guys?"
    "Three days," replies Callisto.
    Helia interrupts, "Ask her something we don't know!  Waiter, can I have a margarita?"
    "I have no questions for her," says Jaek.
    "But you're an observer.  Tell us something you've observed about her that would be interesting for us to find out."
    "She's working in the bar, she doesn't have that much money."
    "We didn't say anything about her working in a bar."
    "It's where she's been working."
    "So you've been to her bar?"
    "A couple of times."
    Callisto says, "I don't recall him, but we do get quite a few people coming through."
    Helia asks, "OK.  Got a copy of your resume?"
    Jaek says, "I don't have anything on paper with me today.  I was not actually expecting to make contact."
    "So what did you do on the contract?"
    "Last contract...  I am not at liberty to discuss that.  Most of my work is confidential.  But as an example, if a noble was vacationing, I might be contracted to forward some videos to her spouse."
    "OH!  So he's a thief and an asshole."  Everyone laughs.  Helia continues, "Just because you were contracted to spy on somebody without their knowledge in order to mess up their marriage because the other spouse wanted it to happen that way doesn't mean you're a nice guy.  It could make you an asshole."
    "Indeed," agrees Jaek.
    Vonish says, "At least he gets paid for it."
    Helia says, "So you're a professional asshole."
    Jaek explains, 'People come to me and say, 'I need this,' and my service training has given me opportunities to learn skills which can benefit them."
    "Does this sound familiar?  'I need you to get close to these people.'"
    "Hey," says Teri, "At least he didn't meet us in a bank."
    "That's true," chime Kalida and Helia together.  Helia turns to Callisto and says sarcastically, "That was just a real coincidence, wasn't it?"
    "I was just cashing my paycheck, and happened to know the bank manager," explains Cal defensively.
    Jaek says, "I'm not under contract right now.  I'm just trying to get off."
    Helia says, "And if you're not under contract, what does that do to keep you from practicing your... professional trade in a way that might be negative or harmful to one of us?"
    "What have you got to hide?"
    "Everyone's got something to hide," observes Kalida.
    "And that's why people pay me."
    "I don't have that much to hide," says Helia.
    "You have something," says Kalida.
    "Well, it's like a gossamer sort of thing."  She sighs, and turns back to Jaek.  "So how much could you pay?"
    Jaek says, "I have 25k.  That's more than double normal passage."
    "What about if we locked you in your stateroom as much as we can, and let you out for meals?"
    "You can even bring me room service if you want, but I'm not going to be locked up like a prisoner all the time.  Even low passage isn't as bad as that."
    "Vonish, you up for room service?"
    Vonish says, "No, he comes and eats in the lounge with everyone.  We don't have a steward."
    "Good point.  You want to double as a steward, and maybe we'll find some other job for you and then take the 25 thousand too?  That would work."
    "And pay?  If I pay, you can just take me as a passenger."
    "But if you're not paying enough, you might have to work off the rest of your passage."
    Vonish smiles, "That's two and a half times the rate for high passage."
    "I know that!  By the way, how's your drink?"
    "Mild," says Jaek.  "I've gotten used to the alcohol."
    "Do you need a refresher?"
    Jaek nods.  The waiter is there in a moment, to refill his drink and with a fresh margarita for Helia.  The Jewellian continues, "So I take it you're in charge?"
    Helia glances around.  She says, "Can I be in charge?  For now?"
    "Oh, sure," smiles Kalida.  "Actually you are ranking officer here."
    "Oh, right!  I'm in charge right now,"  Helia says brightly.  "I can at least perform the interview and take the deposit!"
    Jaek laughs, "So, we have a contract, then?"
    "No, I'm going to take a deposit, and then we'll review your application, and if we cannot accommodate you we'll give you back your deposit.  Ten thousand."
    "I'm not carrying that much on me," says Jaek quietly.
    "OK.  You can give it to me tomorrow at breakfast.  You can send your application and wire the money to, uh, my room.
    "Well, you know, we need your personal information, your career, and a copy of your resume.  Just so we know who we're dealing with."
    "Well, let's come to an understanding as to whether I'm going to be a passenger or a crew member."
    "Well that depends.  Pay the deposit and give us the application for being a passenger, and then we'll see.  We're not going to let just anybody on our ship!  We are not a cruise ship!  No, I'm not offering you a job.  I'm saying give us a deposit and we might get you off this planet."
    Teri is literally rolling with laughter.  Helia continues, almost managing to keep a straight face, "So far you haven't shown me that you have any skills worth giving you a job, unless you're good at cleaning garbage bins."
    "I didn't know I needed a job.  What do you need?"
    Teri manages to giggle, "A designated driver."
    Vonish asks, "Can you drive a gravcraft?"
    Helia asks, "Would you rather work or pay?"
    Jaek says, "Working passage is a lot less strenuous on the pocketbook."
    "That's true.  Ten thousand credits, and a resume."
    Robert says, "I can take it electronically tomorrow if you like."
    Robert says they'll see him tomorrow, and Jaek thanks them and gets up to leave.  He definitely had the sense that Helia is in charge in this group, but also that she's just having good spirited fun with him.  She surely can't be serious.
    Helia continues, "So what have you done?  Military?"
    Jaek turns back.  "Are we interviewing this evening, or tomorrow morning?"  The girls wave him back to the table, and he sits down.
    "I tell you what.  Think about it, and we'll follow up in the morning.  But you do dress nicely."  Helia herself is wearing a skin tight black leather catsuit, over it a diaphanous gown with a hood draped over her head, a colorful backpack, some jewelry, and large heels.  She turns to Cal.  "Callisto, you tell us a good story.  Tell us something scandalous."
    Callisto tells them a story from her days as a cadet.  It is certainly amusing, if not as scandalous as Helia had in mind.
    Helia asks Jaek, "Did you ever do the military?"
    "Scout service," says Jaek.
    "I was in the Scouts," says Callisto, "What unit were you in?  What year?  How long have you been out?"
    "I've been out about a year."
    "I had tutors," says Helia.  For some reason known only to her she thinks that's hilarious.  She's clearly getting quite drunk.  "So you guys were both in the Scouts?  Boy scouts, girl scouts?  OK, I know what the Scout service is.  You ever done any technical stuff?"
    "I have a little bit of experience with computers, some with drives, some mechanical engineering.  All around handyman -- the nature of the service..."
    "Can you fly anything?  Gravcraft?"
    "Yes, actually..."
    Kalida high-fives Helia.  "Score!" she says.
    Jaek continues, "...a lot of what we've done on a planetary level has been with subcraft.  We being the scout unit, of course.  I can arrange to drive my own gravcraft, but my missions usually came with someone already assigned for piloting a..."
    Helia says, "A starship?  Piloting a starship is much easier than driving a gravcraft."  By the laughter at the table, there's clearly a story behind that somewhere.  Helia ignores them, and continues, "Didn't you ever notice what pilots do?  They sit there, set the calculator up, the calculator does the work, they punch in the numbers the calculator tells them to unless they can do the math faster than the calculator and who can do that, and then they just push a button and the computer does all the work.  The only thing easier than piloting has got to be astrogation because that's doing the math, and then the astrogator just hands the stuff to the pilot and the pilot punches it into the computer.  Are they not cush jobs?  Aside from the fact that you can't drink on duty as a pilot or astrogator, wouldn't you want to be one?  I mean, after that I guess being a gunner would be easy, because everybody wants to blow stuff up, right?"
    Kalida agrees, "Blowing stuff up can be fun."
    Helia adds, "We have one of the best engineers in the universe.  His assistants keep blowing themselves up.  Or dying."
    Teri adds, "And Vonish here destroyed a gcarrier."
    "Yes, he did!  Very nicely!  But he is working on being assistant pilot.  He's been practicing."
    "Remember that time we crashed the gcarrier, and then crashed the air/raft trying to rescue people from it?"
    "I remember that!  That was cool!  Nobody died.  Except the assistant engineer.  No, that wasn't on that trip.  What did the assistant engineer do, he blow off somebody's head?"
    "His head blew up.  A different place."
    "Oh.  Wait, did his head blow up because of the mind-sucking joes?"
    "No, it was the natives."
    "That's right.  We haven't really had any injuries due to mind-sucking joes.  Probably because they're all after Mich and he wears that cap.  What do you think of mind-sucking joes?"
    Jaek says, "My contact with the enemy has been... limited."
    "Well, that's good!  OK, so when you were in the Scouts you played engineer and drove around."
    "Actually I was in charge..."
    "You were an officer?  What rank?"
    "What's that translate as?" Helia asks Callisto.  Callisto doesn't really know, she was what she calls a real scout, in the Field.  Helia continues, 'What's that, like planning or something?"
    "You were a bureaucrat!  No wonder he spies on people and steals things!  That's a step up!"
    "IS16 is equivalent to O7.  That would be Brigadier General."
    Kalida laughs -- that was her rank.
    Helia asks her, "Should I be nicer to him?"
    Kalida says, 'If he's an O7 he can take it."
    "Oh good, I'm glad you can take it!  So are you looking for a job more, or are you just looking for a ride more?  I mean, are you the kind of guy that's going to sign on to work, and then oops! I got to another planet, good-bye, and by the way I'm taking some stuff with me?"
    Kalida asks, "Are you trying to get somewhere specifically, or are you just trying to get out of here?"
    Jaek says, "I'm just trying to get off of here.  You know, the nature of the life I chose is one of wandering, travelling from place to place, exploring, and seeing new things.  I just happened to land here and don't actually have a way off."
    "How did you get here and end up stranded?  If you had a way to get here, why don't you have a way to get off?"
    "I no longer was employed by the craft once it was impounded."
    Helia asks, "So what happened to the owner?"
    "That's confidential.  I am not at liberty to discuss it."
    "Her name wouldn't have been Robin Sherwood, would it?"
    "I can't say."
    "Is the ship still impounded?  Robert, can you check that when you get a chance?"  Robert nods.  It should be a matter of public record, but he can't get to it from Allys Hollow.  Helia continues, "Well, you're bored of here anyway.  We're going to be here another week or two.  Why don't you hang out, meet us in the morning with your resume, and we'll go from there?  We're obviously interviewing another candidate, and I don't know if we've got room for two people on the ship, but you know, a ten thousand credit deposit could go a long way in your favor."  If they hired both Cal and Jaek, that would be a crew of twelve -- the exact number of staterooms on board.
    Helia's margarita is just about done, and it seems like time to pack in for the night.  Tomorrow they'll do outdoor sports, perhaps skiing, or hang-gliding, or water-skiing --  "They say it's just like flying," says Helia.  Anyway, they get up to return to their respective rooms.  Tomorrow will be another day.