Hroljarus, Alran, and Ryramorl were watching for any signs of the errant ship.
"According to the data we got from the Wanderers, the last time he went off course was here," Alran was saying, "so we should be close to him."
"I was thinking," said Ryramorl, "It might be quicker just to wait for Fellnaro. We have no idea where he might be. If he's travelling in a circle..."
"Have we got anything from that homing beacon?" asked Hroljarus.
"Nothing. Hroljarus, we have somebeast on board that ship. That means that whatever is going on is being caused by someone other than the ship. Fellnaro could have disconnected the beacon."
"What Ray'an said. Fellnaro seemed to be living in a Utopia, whatever his Utopia might be. If he finished his mission, that would mean he'd be obliged to go back. That means he's probably not interested in finishing his mission."
"What could have made him do this?" wondered Hroljarus. "Just doesn't make sense."
"Think for a moment. If I didn't have you and Alran, and Aponaphelma, and Atorell to pound on once in a while, I'd be going stark raving mad by now. Now, I want to suggest something more. We have a top-of-the-line HoloSim on board. The other ship is likewise. I think, to ward off his loneliness, Fellnaro created on his HoloSim a reality that he liked. And now he doesn't want to leave it."
"Where did you learn so much about the mind?"
Ryramorl laughed. "My mother and father used to be fortune tellers. It's not all fakery, I assure you. A good fortune teller has to be very good at psychology. My mother actually had a licence for a while. I learned the workings of the mind at my mother's knee."
"This is all well and good, but how do we find him, then?"
"I have no idea. Why don't you ask the Wanderers?"
Lieutenant Orrin was beginning to wish he had never answered that ad. This job was Hell. Correction. Facing Grand Admiral Syral had been Hell. This was facing Grand Admiral Syral on a daily basis.
Orrin had been smacked upside the head, pinned to the ground, shoved into walls, and every other torment imaginable for various slights, insults, and breaches of etiquette as well as being constantly reminded of his low rank.
In desperation, he had bought every book on etiquette he could lay his hands on, and had applied those lessons to the best of his abilities. Thinking back on how he was doing, he realized he hadn't been beaten up for the past two weeks.
He hoped that meant he was making progress, and not that Syral was saving up.
It had been several weeks since the meeting with the Wanderers, but there was no sign of the first Exceldor. Hroljarus and the rest of the crew had trained on the HoloSim to the point where Aponaphelma was being given a run for his money.
Ryramorl looked at Atorell askance. "You're certainly in a hurry for our training."
Atorell nodded. "Sure am. It's about the only thing interesting these days."
Ryramorl was a little uneasy, but he said nothing.
After the training, he listened hard.
"Too bad it's over," remarked Hroljarus to his fellow crewmates. "Maybe Androv should program in simulated opponents."
"And longer matches," agreed Atorell.
Ryramorl called for their attention. "I think I know what happened to Fellnaro."
The others looked at him strangely.
"You are disappointed because your time on the HoloSim is beginning to feel too short. And the programming is now less than satisfactory. Why?"
"Because we're bored?" snapped Hroljarus.
"Because I think you're becoming addicted to that thing," sighed Ryramorl. "You're beginning to look forward to it more than before. And this could be very dangerous."
"What I want to do is find that stupid captain and haul him and his ship home!" snapped Hroljarus.
Ryramorl smiled slightly. "Then let's keep how much we want this mission to be over with very firmly in mind. I don't want to end up not wanting to finish this mission."
Hroljarus nodded. "Point taken."
The others soon found other things to do to offset their boredom. Hroljarus started increasing his reading, Aponaphelma worked out more, and the rest diverted themselves. They did not give up the HoloSim, but they did use it less.
Ryramorl kept an eye on the scanners. "Hroljarus, I think we have something here."
Hroljarus looked at the readout. "What is it?"
"Emissions from a HoloSim. I think Fellnaro is coming closer."
"Finally. Some good news for a change!" Hroljarus commented. "What is he running?"
"I should be able to find out when he comes closer."
A few hours later, Ryramorl had it. "Well, I found out that this guy has been using the HoloSim a lot. You can see that, as time went by, his times there became longer and longer. The last time it was turned on was about a month ago. It hasn't been shut off since."
"What kind of simulations has he been running?" asked Hroljarus.
"See for yourself."
Hroljarus looked at the readouts in disbelief. "We often teased him about being a little on the romantic side. He did enjoy a female's company, but..." he sighed. "When I knew him, he was nothing like this."
"He needed something better to get his 'fix.'" replied Ryramorl. "Sure, in the beginning, it would have been a woman to keep him company, but soon, company wasn't enough."
"And then one woman wasn't enough. And then... this."
Ryramorl looked straight into Hroljarus's eyes. "This was why I became worried about the time we spent on the HoloSim."
Hroljarus called the crew together and revealed what had happened to the captain of the orginal Exceldor.
"Now all we need to do is capture the Captain, and go home." said Hrala.
"If he's living in Utopia, it might not be easy," muttered Hroljarus.
"Less easy than you think." replied Ryramorl. "According to the readings I'm getting, he's adjusted the range of the HoloSim to include the entire ship. We'll be tripping over his fantasies everywhere we go."
"Okay. Aponaphelma, Ryramorl, Hrala, and I will go and fetch him. The rest of you keep tabs on us."
"Got it," chorused the crew.