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Chapter 5 Alexandria bound

Ben's brain was spinning and he mumbled to himself, “This must be a scam, or some sort of reality vid show is being made, and I'm the brunt of the joke. Leaving Bliss on a ship? Twenty years of my income would barely buy a person a one-way ticket to any planet, and I would have one at my disposal?”

He looked at his card and checked his balance. The display showed precisely 100,000 credits. Ben shook his head as he contemplated the number, and hopped on the auto-bus headed home. Ben knocked on the super's door. He transferred credits to pay the rent in full and added an extra 100 credits to fix the dent in the hallway wall. “Thank you for paying, Ben, but I meant what I said, and I have already rented your unit. So be out at the end of the month.” “No problem,” Ben thought to himself, “I can afford something a lot better than this musty dive.”

Ben took the last pouch of Buzzed beer, tore it open and sat. Checking his watch, he still had 2 hours and 15 minutes left to make a decision. Looking back at the vid the small ad was now gone. The remaining help wanted ads seemed even worse than the ones he saw before. “Miner's needed for heavy metal extraction at the poles,” “Pseudo meat extruder operator position available for third shift.” “Yeee,” thought Ben. “My credit balance will last me for a year and then what would I do?” Looking around at his scruffy unit he noticed that the vid was now showing a travel log featuring an exotic resort planet. Attractive women were cavorting under a waterfall, and one with short hair was swimming in the pool at its base. It was all surrounded by a lush, and alien looking forest.

Looking around at his scruffy surroundings the concept of taking the job slowly coalesced into a great idea. In a burst of excitement, the small suitcase was found and stuffed full including a bathing suit. Taking a final look around, Ben thought, “The super can have all this junk,” Catching the first autobus, he checked the time. He had a little less than two hours left. Stepping off the autobus he walked in, and the place was bare. Ben's heart stopped for a second thinking. “Maybe this was all a joke after all,” when Jacob came striding through the front door. “Good to see you, Ben, are you ready to go? The car is outside waiting. Celeste said it would take you about two hours to decide, and she was right, as usual.”

Ben squeezed himself into the back seat next to the receptionist. “Congratulations Ben, I'm Rachel, Jacob's assistant.” “Nice to meet you again Rachel,” said Ben. “I knew you would accept Ben,” said Celeste's voice coming from the car's speaker. “I had calculated the probability at nearly 100%, I nudged you a just little bit to make it 100%.”

Ben thought about this for a moment. “Celeste, did you rent my apartment, arrange to have that old travel log appear on my vid, and makeup all those awful help wanted ads?" 

Celeste in a much lower voice said, “Well maybe. I just wanted you to take the job. I know you will be great at this. Sorry, I won't do those things to you again.” 

Ben laughed, “Apology accepted, but did I hear a small loophole in your apology?” “Just a tiny one Ben,” said Celeste. “It was for your own good. I knew I'd like you.”

They pulled into the dilapidated spaceport and up to a small freighter. This was the only ship present and one more than what was usually there. The hatch ramp had already started to deploy. Jacob got out and opened the trunk. Ben grabbed his suitcase and waited until all the gear was removed. Jacob pushed the return button on the car. It headed off to its rental lot, and Ben followed the group up the ramp and into the ship.

The interior looked like the inside of a yacht. Ben surveyed the comfortable looking lounge. He could see a short hall that had cabins. Forward was a galley on one side, and a conference room on the other. Jon secured Celeste into a cradle. “Thanks, Jon,” said a full-voiced Celeste. This is much better, I was feeling sensory deprived utilizing all of those primitive communication systems on this planet.” Jacob said, “Ben, please find a seat, we are going to depart. Celeste, would you please take us to Alexandria.” “My pleasure Jacob, and Ben you will find a seat belt under your cushion. I won't depart until it's fastened,” requested Celeste.

Ben felt a gentle surge and downward pressure. The vid on the wall showed the spaceport shrinking, and in a couple of minutes, the arc of Bliss's surface appeared. A brief moment of weightlessness passed, then gravity returned. “The first jump is in thirty seconds. The next jump will be in about three hours, give or take depending on our actual location,” announced Celeste. Ben felt his guts twist as gravity pulled on him from random directions, the vid went gray, and then it was over. “You are free to move around.” said Celeste, “I will give a fifteen-minute warning before the next jump.”

Ben looked around saw that Jon had disappeared. Jacob and Rachel were in the conference room. “Celeste?” “Yes, Ben.” “How long will this trip take?” “It will be about two days in subjective time, Ben. I have reset the clocks to Alexandria time. It is now 9:47 pm.” “Um, should I be doing something?” “You may do as you wish, but I have loaded a tablet with a variety of things for you to study over the next couple of days. You may use cabin four, and the galley is automatic. Eat whatever and whenever you want.” “Thank you very much, Celeste.” “You're welcome Ben and goodnight. Please don't forget to put on the restraints before you fall asleep, or I will have to wake you up and remind you.”