Flying out of Thim orbit proved to be slightly more treacherous than arriving had, due to several pieces of space junk that were bigger than the Nova Dancer. Starr managed to reach clear space though, hitting nothing larger than a person’s fist. Missing the tiny pieces was impossible, since they were as thick as soup.
“I’m glad we’re going to Gateway next,” he told Viv. “A good hull inspection is probably warranted after this.”
“Have you plotted a transition point yet?”
“No, I’m going to do it right now.”
“I’ll get out of here then,” she said, getting up.
Starr spent more than the usual time calculating the positions of the gravity wells in the system. It wasn’t that it was a more difficult job than usual. It was just that his mind kept becoming distracted.
Finally, he punched everything into the console, and then got up and started for the bunkroom. Just before entering, he stopped. Strange sounds were coming from around the corner—gasps, moans, grunts. He carefully peered into the room. The first thing he saw was Viv’s naked back, and then her naked bottom. She was facing away from him as she bounced up and down on top of the new passenger.
His breath catching in his throat, Starr quickly turned around and retreated to the flight deck. There he sat, his mind replaying what he had seen. He was bolted back to awareness by the transition alarm. He hit it and the ship jumped into hyperspace.
“What’s going on?”
“Hmm?” Starr turned to see Viv back at her station, fully clothed.
He glanced at the ship’s chronometer and realized he had thrown the transition switch almost two hours earlier. Two lost hours.
“Nothing,” he said, climbing out of his seat. “I’m going back to check on the cargo.”
As he stomped past the common area, Prinda fell into step beside him. She was probably the only one who would have fit beside him in the narrowness of the hallway.
“I’m not upset. What would I be upset about?”
“You’re attracted to her and she’s procreating with that other male.”
“She’s not procreating, and lower your damn voice,” hissed Starr. “She’s just having a little fun, and she’s entitled to. She’s not mine, and she’s too young for me anyway. Besides, she has terrible taste in men, apparently.”
“All right. It’s just that you seemed upset.”
“I’m not upset.”
The captain opened the hatch to cargo bay eight and looked inside. It was filled with stacking cargo containers, presumably full of recyclables. Nothing looked amiss.
“Was there something else you needed?” he asked the Castorian.
“No, not at all,” she said, turning and heading back the way they had come.
Starr stepped into the cargo bay, closing the door behind him. He grabbed a packing blanket and spread it across one of the cargo containers. Then he lay down and tried to sleep.
“What are you in here for, Starr?” asked Huppy.
Starr opened his eyes to realize that he had actually been asleep for a while.
“Just taking a nap.”
“You need to get up. It’s time for dinner.”
“I’m not really hungry.”
“Okay. That’s good. With two passengers, there’s no more room at the table.”
Though he wasn’t hungry and really didn’t want to sit with the others anyway, he followed Huppy back to the common room. There actually was room at the table, though Starr still didn’t join Viv and Lexxon, who were sitting way to close, facing Prinda, and Huppy. Instead he pressed the button for coffee and leaned back against the counter and listened to the conversation.
“I still have a hard time telling you apart,” said Prinda. “Starr said the Karendians are the pretty ones. You’re Zarian. How do Zarians compare to other humans?”
“We’re the normal ones,” said Viv.
“I’m a Zarian too, aren’t I, Viv?” Huppy asked.
“Sure you are.”
“What about you, Mr. Lexxon?” asked Starr. “I don’t place your accent. You’re not Rialtan, are you?”
Lexxon’s mouth formed into a thin, mirthless smile.
“My people are from a little planet called Leonis-4. It was a backwards little world, having just developed steam technology before it was invaded by the Nakh. A good portion of the population was exterminated, and the rest were scattered about. I grew up on a racially diverse planet claimed by both the Ozolians and the Providers.”
“The Providers!” gasped Viv. “You weren’t slaves?”
“No. We weren’t slaves.”
Starr turned and picked up his now full cup of coffee, as he mused over Lexxon’s story.
The Providers. They had been a major force in the galaxy for thousands of years, based on the trade of slaves—mostly human slaves. There were countless minor human races who were the results of genetic manipulation by the Providers—like the Forty-fours, one of which had worked in the brothel on Armiger. Then the Providers had picked the wrong side in a long series of interstellar wars. They weren’t gone though. They were still around, one of a few races that humans generally avoided.