“What’s our destination?” Kozue asked as Atom sat at the yoke, lost in thought, staring into the void ahead.
The silence persisted.
“Atom,” Kozue raised her volume.
Snapping from his deliberation, Atom blinked to clear his eyes and glanced over his shoulder. On some level he expected to find Kozue standing in the doorway with a soft smile brightening her face.
The bridge, however, lay empty.
“We’ll head to the Bayerlein System,” Atom sighed. “Word on the sub-net is they have a need for lumber. I know Masai is closer, but this should let us turn a tight profit and hopefully swing by one of the outer mining planets and haul some ore on the cheap.”
“Sound,” Kozue replied.
“You want more, don’t you?” Atom said after a moment of silence.
“Well, you don’t need to know.”
“Atom, I’m your AI,” Kozue said. “The more information I possess the better council I will afford you. If you insist on keeping data from me how can I complete my primary objective? How can I hope to guide you if I have gaps in my knowledge frame?”
“You’ll just have to cope, Kozue.”
“If some of your dealings are illegal I can program myself to overwrite any incriminating data should we find ourselves in a compromising situation.”
“I give you what I think you need. When I keep things off the record, they stay that way,” Atom rose to leave the bridge. “Your primary objective is to keep Margo safe. If we die together I’ll die happy, but when she’s out of my hands you will do everything in your power to preserve my line.
“Oh, and Kozue,” he paused at the door. “Be a dear, initiate burn for the Bayerlein System.”
* * *
A week later the One Way Ticket slipped into orbit above Rommel, the system’s largest planet. Atom plotted a lazy course that dropped the ship on one of the smaller, but more affluent continents. A desert world, Rommel lacked surface water, but its people lived on rocky continents surrounded by oceans of sand and shallow dune seas.
Atom recalled visiting the planet once on an imperial tour, but their hosts had confined their stay to the capital city, and Atom had seen little of the actual populace.
Now, however, as he settled the ship into an assigned docking slip he looked over the bustling people who skirled just beyond the boundaries of the slip. Shi poked her head in the bridge door and scowled at the market scene outside.
“Why here?” she complained with a roll of her eyes.
“Why not?” Atom retorted.
“Look at this ball of rock,” she leaned on the back of the pilot’s seat to look outside. Subtle tension flitted through Atom’s limbs, but her attention remained focused on the dusty throng outside.
“See any trees?” Atom spun the seat, forcing Shi back a step.
“Then what price do you conjure timbers will bring us?”
Shi paused. Her brows knit.
“Exactly,” he grinned up at her with a knowing nod. “Now just picture your cut. You might not want to spend it on this rock, but I’m sure you’ll find something to spend the chit on at our next drop. I’ve laid it for you, we stay clear of the law and we all come out richer on the other side.”
“I ain’t tight with lawmen, so you’ll get no problems from me there,” Shi pulled her hair back behind her ears and looped a leather thong twice about her head to hold it in place. “Where you need me?”
“First off I’ve got to find a buyer, so I’ll have you keep an eye on the ship for the moment. By’s a good lad, but I don’t know that he’d have much hope holding off a pack of dogs, much less someone more interested in what we’ve got aboard.”
Shi barked a coarse laugh. “I’ll keep our hold safe.”
“Once I’ve a buyer, you’ll be free to wander the port ‘til I have need of you,” Atom rose, standing head and shoulders taller than Shi, and stretched his cramped back. “Just make sure you sync up your internals with Kozue before you leave so I can be in touch when I need to.”
Knuckling her brow in mock salute, Shi nodded.