"Any more sign of those pirates?" Hroljarus asked Ryramorl.
"Zip. Just like the way they left."
It had been almost two months since their encounter with the pirates. Warned by the battle, the crew had increased their physical training.
Hroljarus shrugged. "I don't think we've seen the last of them, though. Those pirates aren't known for their forgiving nature."
Atorell showed up on the bridge. "It's boring down in the engine room. Everything's working absolutely fine, so there's nothing to do."
Aponaphelma shrugged. "It's better than running yourself ragged trying to keep everything in one piece."
"True. Any sign of that captain?"
"So far, we've stuck to his original flight plan. We haven't got a clue."
"Wait a minute!" interrupted Ryramorl. "It's another ship."
"Pirates?" asked Hroljarus.
"No... Wanderers. If anyone knows space, it's them. They might know where he is."
"Hail them. I want to speak with them."
There was a special meeting called for the Grand Admirals at the Stellar Navy headquarters to discuss the bizarre behaviour of Hroljarus.
"Absolutely unnatural. I just don't get it." Grand Admiral Sorak, an aging fox, was completely baffled.
"For the fifth time, what is wrong? " Syral snapped.
Sorak turned to him. "The behaviour of Admiral Hroljarus. You know the lengths we went to to force him to behave. The worst ship we could find, and we crewed it with a pack of misfits that made us wonder why we ever drafted them. Twelve years, and he never gave up. He took the first chance to get rid of the ship, which was fine, but... He actually pulled rank to keep the crew! That's what doesn't make sense."
Syral shook his head at the other seven Grand Admirals. Finally, he decided that, for once, he would speak his mind, and stood up. "It has become very clear that I am truly different than you," He announced. "Particularly, in the fact that I actually qualify for the position of Grand Admiral."
The others looked at him in total shock. Sorak spluttered, "How can you say such a thing?"
"How many of us have ever served on a Navy ship?" asked Syral. He raised his hand. The others didn't. "How many of us have flown a private ship?"
Again, his hand alone was in the air.
"How many of us have ever been in space, even as a passenger?"
Dead silence. Syral held his hand aloft, clearly stating what he meant. The others looked at each other uncomfortably.
"You see what I mean," he sighed.
"But this doesn't explain why Hroljarus would..."
"I'm getting to that. I was just making sure you knew who was talking." Syral leaned back. "What is it that you, for many years, have considered the most important thing that crews should learn?"
"Teamwork," was the unanimous reply.
"Then why hasn't it happened?"
The other admirals shrugged.
"Okay, let's take this question from another angle. How long has Hroljarus been stuck with that useless crew?"
The admirals consulted with each other. "Twelve years."
"Okay. Have you any idea what sets them apart from any other crew?" Syral looked around at the puzzled expressions of the other Grand Admirals. "They work as a team. After twelve years, they've learned to work as a team. Hroljarus can count on them. And that is why he requested them to stay with him. He wanted to keep his crew."
"Then he actually wanted them to stay with him?" Sorak could not believe his ears. "The crew we assembled to force him to give up flying? The-"
Syral cut him off. "During the fight to keep flying, Hroljarus told me something that I think should become known to you all. If he had given up, he would not have taken the desk job." He leaned forward. "He would have resigned. Hroljarus would never have given up the skies. For all the titles and honours you've piled on him to increase the pressure on him to take a desk job, he is a spaceman at heart. Ask the corporate flyers, the freelancers, Hell, the Wanderers why they fly. And you will learn why Hroljarus never took the desk job." He sat down. "You were thinking that the crew would make him give up the stars in disgust. On the contrary. To be blunt about it, you almost made him give up the Navy in disgust." The others were still reeling in shock. Syral had one more thing to add. "You are very lucky that you still have his loyalty. If I were you, I wouldn't test it any further." He stood to leave. "That's all I have to say. Shall we adjourn?"
Wanderers' ships invariably looked like they were ready to fall apart. This one was no different.
Hroljarus was not fooled by its decrepit appearance, though. That ship was undoubtedly in good condition, a wise choice for the migratory race.
The captain of this particular ship looked somewhat like a fox in appearance. However, he had dozens of other species mixed in and it was impossible to tell how much of his background was vulpine. He grinned at Hroljarus. "Well, it seems we have another lonely captain. Not a good idea being all alone out here. The solitude can have strange effects on your mind."
"I'm not alone. I have a small crew with me, and we keep each other company. A crew of hyena pirates already found that out."
The Wanderer laughed. "We've heard all about it. They were whimpering about an army boarding their ship and firing at them, and so on. Tell me, how many did they run up against when they boarded?"
"There's about a dozen of us."
"I see. Why don't you come over to our ship, and we can speak of affairs."
"I'd prefer if you'd come here. Then you can't kidnap us and steal our ship."
The Wanderer laughed. "You are wise in our ways, Hroljarus."
Hroljarus was startled. "How do you know who I am?"
"We have ways."
Hroljarus signed off with a polite Wanderer phrase of farewell.
The Wanderer was surprised. "How did you learn that?" he asked.
Hroljarus grinned broadly. "I have ways."