Captain Gratham’s gaze scanned the crowd. He put up his hands, palms out. The urchins gathered in front of Thelkor, Olath, and I. Thirty-some-odd children forming a defensive line between my crew and the Captain of Diana’s Arrow both terrified me and filled my heart.
“No one needs to cause trouble. We will cooperate with Captain Gratham.”
Captain Gratham eyed the crowd of children before him. “Please, calm yourselves. There is no need for trouble.”
The urchin we had arranged to meet eyed Captain Gratham down, tapping his shank against a palm.
“We have proof Captain Timcur and the crew of The Golden Meridian saved Diana’s Arrow no matter what the news feeds say.”
“I believe you. We watched the entire thing on the security cameras.”
Captain Gratham removed a memory drive from his pocket and offered it to me. Every shank and shiv disappeared within a moment. The crowd released a collective sigh.
“We found every video we could, as well as a list of witnesses who have provided video testimony on behalf of The Golden Meridian.”
The urchin fished a memory drive from his own pocket and held it out to me, as well. Profoundly moved, I dropped to my knees before the urchin. I accepted the drive.
I could think of nothing more to say. These people, strangers one and all, believed in Goldie, believed in our innocence—believed in me. Captain Gratham closed the distance between us, placing the memory drive in my palm, next to the one the urchin had given me.
“Captain Timcur, your crew saved this starferry. Every soul onboard owes you and your crew their life. We saw your struggle on the security cameras, your bravery… I dispatched backup as soon as I could, but they didn’t arrive in time to assist. Thank you.”
The crowd cheered. I rose to my feet, humbled.
“Captain Timcur, on behalf of the ten-thousand and seventy-nine souls aboard Diana’s Arrow, I guarantee The Golden Meridian, her captain and crew, sanctuary, safe passage, resupply, repairs, and anything else you may ever need for as long as I remain captain.”
I stood, stunned, unable to speak. Captain Gratham slapped me on the shoulder, chuckling.
“Well, Captain Timcur, I think this calls for a celebration.”
“Oh, you don’t need to go to any trouble.”
“Nonsense! You saved all our lives and my starferry. First Officer, Plit!”
The Chawwaw standing behind Captain Gratham saluted, focusing all four of his eyestalks on Captain Gratham.
“Notify the head chef. Emergency party, right here, ASAP, to honor those who saved Diana’s Arrow.”
The four-foot tall, neon-pink Plit grinned ear to ear, saluted, and dashed off to the nearest teleport pad. The urchin we had originally docked here to meet pulled his shiv again.
“Is there going to be enough for everyone, Captain Gratham?”
Gratham laughed. “Of course. This is a party.”
The shiv disappeared. The urchin smiled, then tapped a code into his comms bracelet. Urchins began teleporting in. I turned back to Olath.
“XO, notify the rest of the crew there is a party in their honor.”
Olath trotted back into Goldie. Five minutes later, Rachel, Storgin, and Evelyn, carrying her kehppû, peeked out. Mr. Fluffbutt sauntered out behind them. He took one look at the gathered urchins and flopped on the floor.
Soon, the corridor filled with the happy shrieks of children, kehppû, a cat, Rachel and Evelyn wrestling in a pile. I worried someone might get hurt, with all the weapons the urchins carried, but figured Rachel and Evelyn had it all well in hand.
A hand thrust up from the pile. With a great roar, Thelkor appeared from the bottom of the pile. The children screeched, and Thelkor chased them. DNA matches, mates, and offspring being so rare among the Mahdfel, spending time with children felt like a treat.
With two of my crew now mated, perhaps soon if we are very fortunate, Goldie could welcome children, too.
Perhaps I will get lucky, as well, and find my own mate…
I sat at a table, munching on the finest slox I had ever eaten when Captain Gratham returned. He slid into the seat next to me.
“Captain Gratham, I’m a little concerned about spending so much time here. What if Earth or Mahdfel authorities track us here?”
“Well, first of all, anyone looking for you will experience extreme difficulty and delay getting permission to dock. Then, they will experience great difficulty accessing the teleport network and the doors of their docking bay…well, those will have trouble, too…”
“You’re a good man, Captain Gratham. I suppose the only thing left to do is figure out how to distribute all this evidence. I mean to clear Goldie’s name and the names of my crew.”
Captain Gratham waved away my concerns.
“That, Captain Timcur, is something to worry about after this party. Besides, I wouldn’t dare discuss this without the UIN. As long as I stay on their good side, they stay out of trouble.”
I laughed, thinking of the small army of armed children chasing Thelkor through the corridor.
“Have they no families?”
Captain Gratham shrugged.
“Some are runaways. Some are orphans. There are so many reasons…well, the same reasons as any city, I suppose. Diana’s arrow sees so much traffic, it can be difficult to tell where they all come from.”
“Children are so rare and precious to the Mahdfel, it is hard for me to imagine leaving even one behind.”
“I can tell you their circumstances have greatly improved since you first came here. As I understand it, your pilot, Rachel, has set up services for them. Clothing, housing, education… You have much to be proud of, Captain. Even before your crew saved Diana’s Arrow, The Golden Meridian’s reputation had reached us all.”
Stunned, I couldn’t find words.
“When the newsfeeds began to call your crew terrorists, none of us could believe it. Had we detected Goldie’s transponder, we would have greeted you with open arms. No one who invests in a way to care for so many could have done the things of which you are accused.”
“Thank you, Captain. I am humbled.”
Captain Gratham grinned. “Next time you change your transponder, just let us know it’s you.”
He stood, winked at me, and trundled off to the extravagant buffet the chef had sent our way.