Ophelia sat up on the bridge. Most of the crew had gone to bed. Only she and Yuri remained up. The android was useful for the late shift, since she didn’t need to sleep. Ophelia glanced at her. Yuri was holding a hand-held console set to automatically scroll. A wall of text flew across the screen, but Ophelia was too far away to make out any of it. Yuri’s left eye was fixed on her work station while her right gazed at the hand-held.
“We are receiving a transmission,” Yuri stated, setting the hand-held down. “Audiovisual. It appears to be from an alliance ship.”
“An Alliance ship?” Ophelia asked. “All right, patch them through on the main viewer.”
A grey haired man appeared on the screen. He was wearing the alliance’s traditional high command uniform and had his hands pressed together.
“Captain Ophelia Wester, I presume,” he nodded, curtly. “Well met.”
“Well met,” Ophelia returned. “And you are?”
“Admiral Jared Filin,” he said. “Currently aboard the alliance starship, Atlas. Hold your position and we’ll rendezvous with you at 0800.”
“Excuse me for saying so, Admiral,” Ophelia stated “but I have no obligation to follow your orders. What exactly do you need from me?”
“You’re right, of course,” he said. “You are under no obligation. However, we have a very lucrative offer for you and I’m banking on your curiosity to keep you in position.” He cut the transmission.
“Curious,” Ophelia muttered. “Very curious.”
“What are your orders, Captain?” Yuri asked.
“First we wake up Lucy and the others,” Ophelia said. “He wouldn’t have sent a transmission if he had hostile intentions, but I’d like the Cosmic Wyvern, Snarky Nebula, Radiant Healer & Elegant Simurgh outside and somewhere they won’t be detected. Just in case.”
Admiral Filin arrived in a transport from the Atlas at 0800 exactly. He left the ship alone Ophelia was outside of the docking bay to greet him, flanked by Lucy and Yuri.
“Captain Wester,” he said. “Take me to your conference room. Your Akumillian may join us but,” he glanced at Yuri “the offer I have is for you two alone.”
“In the interests of maintaining good relations with our clients,” Ophelia said “I will grant your request. But you really should watch your tone. It almost sounded like a demand. Yuri, please join Grace and Paul on the bridge. Follow me, Admiral.”
She and Lucy walked side by side, followed by the Admiral. It was a short trip to the conference room.
“He’s carrying a small concealed pistol,” Lucy whispered. “But he’s not here for a fight.”
Ophelia nodded. “What is this lucrative offer you mentioned?”
“The alliance has been reviewing your unique circumstances,” Jared stated. “We’re very impressed at what you’ve managed to do with just a small crew of miscreants. We would love to see you really make use of your skills, as a reserve member of the alliance fleet.”
“A generous offer,” Ophelia said. “Given that I was deemed unacceptable at the Academy.”
“There is question to the validity of that judgement,” Jared said. “Admiral Candore was a fine man, but he may have let his emotions impair his judgement in that one instance. It’s understandable and certainly not something that would affect his legacy.”
“well isn’t that lovely,” Lucy said. “But wouldn’t Akumil be so very disappointed?”
“It is our understanding,” Jared stated “that Akumil has no real attachment to your vessel. They sold you a registration and have let you do whatever you wish. As a part of the alliance reserve, you’d have the same freedom of movement and the benefit of backup should you request it.”
“We’d also have to come running if one of yours called,” Ophelia pointed out. “I don’t know if you could call it the same freedom.”
“Or go to war if the alliance got in a squabble,” Lucy added.
“It’s a small price for all you’d gain.” Jared leaned forward. “You could have legitimacy as a captain that you lack right now. With an alliance-certification you could charge twice as much for your services. You turned a bunch of trash into a functional crew, imagine what you could do with an experienced, alliance-certified staff?”
“So I could have the distinction of an alliance certification and all it would cost me is my crew?” Ophelia asked, feigning excitement.
“Your Akumillian would be welcome to stay with you, of course,” Jared said. “But the rest of these low-lives aren’t fit to serve on any alliance vessel. I understand why you might be hesitant to start again but it would be for the best. People like them, they’re poison. Stick with them and they will destroy you. I’m offering you an opportunity to keep doing the work you love,but with a stronger, more experienced crew. With the ability to earn what you deserve for your work instead of the paltry sum you are now.”
“It is a generous offer,” Ophelia said. “But I have to decline. My crew, these ‘low-lives’ have brought me where I am today. Their skills and strength have been proven far beyond any doubt time after time. A crew like this is worth far more to me than any certification.”
Jared’s fist slammed down on the table. “You’re making a mistake!” he cried. “Think of it from the business end? You would sacrifice all those credits, sacrifice any chance at getting business from the alliance to hold onto them? I’d heard that you were a reasonable woman.”
Ophelia shrugged. “There’s plenty of business outside of the alliance. And frankly, Sir, I’m tired of hearing you speak badly about my crew.” She hit the comm switch. “Yuri, please report to the conference room. Our guest is ready to be escorted from the ship.”
For a moment, Admiral Filin stared, his mouth hanging open. “Very well,” he said. “But remember, you had your chance.” He walked out of the conference room. Yuri was waiting and led him away.
“I’s suspicious,” Ophelia muttered. “Why an offer like that? Why now?”
“Who can say?” Lucy asked. She rose and put her arms around Ophelia. “But he was desperate for us to join him and he was hiding something. Something serious. I suspect we’ll find out what it was, whether we like it or not.”