Chapter 4 Alexandria bound

Ben's brain was spinning. “A year's worth of credits were in his account, and a job offer, as intriguing, or decidedly odd as the position seems. It must be a scam, or some sort of reality vid show is being made and I'm the brunt of the joke. And leaving Bliss on a ship? Twenty years of that income would barely buy a person a one-way ticket to any planet, and I would have one at my disposal?” Ben pulled out his credit reader and checked his balance. The display showed 76,000 credits. Ben shook his head as he contemplated the number, and got on the auto-bus to head back to his efficiency. Entering the lobby, Ben knocked on the door of the super's unit. When the super answered, Ben, grinned, transferred the credits needed to pay the rent in full, and added an extra 100 credits to fix the dent in the hallway wall. The super said, “Thank you, Ben, but I meant what I said, and I have already rented your unit. So be out at the end of the month.” Ben just smiled, and said “No problem,” thinking to himself, “I can afford something a lot better than this dive.”

Walking into his unit Ben grabbed the last pouch of Buzzed beer, tore it open and sat down. Checking his watch, Ben saw that he still had 2 hours and 15 minutes left to make a decision. Turning on the vid he again checked the help wanted ads and noted that the ad he responded to was no longer there. The remaining help wanted ads, if anything, seemed much worse than the jobs he had looked through before. “Miner's needed for heavy metal extraction”, “Pseudo meat extruder operator position available for third shift.” “Yeee,” thought Ben. “My credit balance will only last me for a year even if I'm careful, and then what would I do?” Staring around at his scruffy mini unit he noticed that the vid was now showing a travel log featuring an exotic resort planet with attractive women cavorting under a waterfall and one with short blond hair swimming in the pool at its base. It was all surrounded by a lush, and alien looking forest.

Slowly the concept of taking the job coalesces into a great idea. In a burst of excitement, he grabbed his small suitcase and filled it with all the things he imagined he might need on an exotic planet, especially his bathing suit. Looking around at the rest of his stuff, he mutters to himself “The super can have this stuff” and he heads out to the street. Catching the first autobus he looks at his watch. He had an hour and a half left. Stepping off the bus at the interview offices, he walks in and the place was now bare. Ben's heart stops for a second and he starts to think maybe this was all a joke when Jacob came striding through the front door and said, “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.”

Outside was a four-seat rental with Jon inside holding Celeste in his lap, and the receptionist was seated in the back. Jacob opened the trunk and Ben tosses in his suitcase, then squeezes himself into the back seat next to the receptionist, who promptly smiled and said: “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 emanating 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 second, and said, “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 contritely said, “Well maybe Ben, I just wanted to make sure you accepted. I know you will be good at this. I'm sorry, I won't do those things to you again Ben.” Ben laughed, “Apology accepted Celeste, but I think I heard a small loophole in your apology didn't I?” “Only a tiny little one Ben”, said Celeste. “And it was for your own good you know. 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 it was 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, and it headed off to its rental lot. Ben followed the group up the ramp and walked into the ship.

The interior looked like the inside of a yacht. Ben surveyed the comfortable looking lounge he was standing in. He could see a short hall that seemed to have cabin doors off of it, and forward was a galley on one side, and a conference room on the other. Jon walked forward and secured Celeste into a cradle. “Thanks, Jon,” said a now very melodious Celeste. This is much better, I was feeling sensory deprived utilizing all of those primitive, and slow 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 feels a gentle surge and downward pressure. The vid on the wall showed the spaceport quickly shrinking, and in a couple of minutes, the arc of Bliss's surface appeared. Ben felt a brief moment of weightlessness, and then gravity returned to a normal feeling. “The first jump starts 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 if gravity was pulling 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 looking around saw that Jon had disappeared. Jacob and Rachel were now in the conference room. Ben tentatively asked aloud, “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 whenever you want.” “Thank you, Celeste.” “Goodnight Ben. Please don't forget to put on the restraint belts before you fall asleep, or I will have to wake you up to remind you.”