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"I hope the admiral knows what he's doing," snarled Carl, the pilot of the cargo ship SS Environ. "I mean, I don't doubt he's capable of pulling off this plan," he added quickly, "but I wish we weren't the bait. The man isn't infallible. He's been known to make mistakes, few as they may be."

Commander Hawkins, standing behind the pilot's chair, garbed in clothes deigning him the ship's commander, simply stared at his friend for a few seconds with sympathetic eyes then said. "I know that, and so does he. That's why he spent so much time planning this. And the fact that he managed to convince the council to let him take three ships away, instead of just one, from the navy's defensive perimeter says a lot. And don't forget all the highly trained men and woman assigned to those ships. You know as well as I do how stubborn the council can be," he said half jokingly as he gave the pilot a lopsided smile and a pair of raised eyebrows. Carl, caught off guard by the sudden humour, nearly erupted with laughter then caught himself just in time before alerting the rest of the crew behind them. "Somehow," the commander continued, satisfied with the response and sobering only slightly, "he managed to appeal to them on a level that makes sense to their overly cautious nature."

A few moments later. "True," Carl managed to say while trying to suppress another fit of laughter with limited success. "True," he said again after a few more convulsive moments, this time a bit more forcefully, "but there's always the chance that we get blown up in the process."

The commander nodded his head, "Yes, there is always that possibility but I have full confidence in the admiral, and I don't think it would do him any good if we blew up before he could pick up his men and the prisoners we're about to acquire. It's completely in his best interests to keep us intact and unharmed."

"About that," the pilot paused, contemplating whether or not he should ask the question on his mind, "I've been meaning to ask. How exactly are we going to convince the mercenaries that we're totally defenseless up until the admiral's ships arrive? Their boarding party is going to be in constant contact with SS Estrange and, if they see lots of extra men on board, they're going to suspect something is up and alert their own captain."

The End

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