CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

"All systems are green, Captain Michaels," said Alpha. "The hyper drive generators are fully charged and the hyper sleep tubes are fully functional. The coordinates for Europa have been programmed into the navigational computers and we're ready to make the jump to hyper drive."

"Thanks, Alpha," said Trent. "What about the radio signal to Earth?"

"I sent it ten minutes ago," said Peter. "Once we lost contact with the Solwi the interference dissipated. The signal should reach Earth in approximately three weeks."

"When Ulysses receives the signal he'll know what to do with it," said Raven. "I'm sure he'll upload it to the Marshal's computer system right away."

"Ulysses?" questioned Jennifer.

"Yeah," replied Raven. "He's a real big fan of The Odyssey by Homer. I think he's read it about fifty times. When we started hacking systems he decided to go by that name."

"I've all ready started work on the paper I plan to present a number of scientific institutions on Earth," said Doc. "This is going to be quite an eye opener to a lot of astrophysicists. Mankind has been speculating for centuries what extraterrestrial life might look like. Now I'll be able to give them a firsthand account of one such life form."

"I imagine there's probably a Nobel Prize in your future," said Trent. "Although in what category I'm not really sure."

"Well I certainly wouldn't say no to a Nobel Prize," said Doc. "I just never thought I'd ever do anything to warrant such an honor. Especially after…."

"That's all in the past," said Jennifer. "Doc, you know that none of us hold you responsible for what happened to that little girl. You need to accept that it was a mistake and move on with your life."

"I know," said Doc. "Intellectually I know that. But the emotional reality of it has to sink in. That can often take quite a while."

"Well," said Peter, "I'm planning a little paper of my own. To the International Engineering Society. I've been going over some of the readings we got from the Solwi. I'm convinced we might be able to adapt some of what I learned. It might help improve engine efficiency or power. It's worth a shot."

"Good luck," said Doc. "I'm sure that once word of this gets out there are going to be a lot of people wanting to know everything each of us knows about this new life form."

"So, I guess I'm going back first class this time," said Raven. "No cargo bay hyper sleep tube this time?"

"Actually, what you did was quite dangerous," said Doc. "If the system hadn't been calibrated properly you could have died in it. This time we'll make sure the tube is properly calibrated. And Alpha will be able to monitor the progress on all of us while we make the trip back to Europa."

"I suppose that means I can expect a visit from the Marshal when we get back," said Raven.

"Yeah, about that," said Trent. "I had Peter send a second message back to Earth."

"I sent it right after I sent the one to Raven's friend," said Peter. "It should get there about the same time I should imagine."

"Message?" questioned Raven. "To who?"

"To whom," corrected Doc.

"Yeah, whatever," said Raven. "To whom?"

"A friend of mine," said Trent. "His name is Jack Miles."

"Your attorney?" Jennifer questioned.

"One and the same," said Trent. "Now, he doesn't really handle criminal law. But I'm sure he knows a good criminal attorney. And I've proposed something to him. He'll be checking into for us while we make our way back to Earth. I've asked him to meet us on Europa and fill us in on what arrangements he'll have had a chance to make."

"Arrangements?" questioned Raven. "What kind of arrangements?"

"For starters," said Trent, "you voluntarily turning yourself into the authorities when we get back. I know that if you turn yourself in and don't have to be tracked down the courts have a tendency to go a lot easier on people. Especially when it's not a violent offense. Computer hacking isn't exactly a violent offense."

"What good will that do?" Raven asked. "It'll just mean I'll end up in prison."

"Not if Jack can make a deal for you," said Trent. "What I've proposed is that you will make a deal with the District Attorney. He'll get you the best deal he can. Or rather his friend will."

"Deal?" questioned Raven.

"Yes," said Trent. "He's going to offer that you will plead guilty to the deal. In exchange, he'll try to get you probation. Alpha tells me that , based on past case law, that probation is a pretty good option. Which means no prison time."

"And that's it?" Raven asked. "I plead guilty and get probation?"

"Not exactly," said Trent. "I do know that any agreement you make will be based on you not getting into trouble again. So, if the court will go for it, you'll be released into my custody. With the provision that you stay out of trouble and you go to school and get your degree in computer science."

"You want me to go to school?" Raven questioned.

"Trent," said Jennifer, "based on what I've seen her do she could probably test out for most of the classes. She'd have a degree in no time."

"That's what I figured," said Trent. "Then she can sign on as a member of the crew. We can always use someone with her computer skills. And it will keep her out of trouble in the future."

"You want me to join your crew?" Raven asked.

"Why not?" Trent asked. "You've handled yourself pretty well while we've been out here. And it will clear up your legal problems. Not to mention you make a pretty good living in the salvage business. You can pay for your schooling with what you're making on this trip."

"You're paying me?" Raven questioned.

"You've been a big help out here," said Trent. "We've all discussed it and we're all in agreement. Everyone on the crew gets an equal share in the salvage. As far as we're concerned, you're a part of the crew on this salvage. Whether you remain a part of the crew is up to you."

"Well," said Raven, "it does beat going to prison, I guess. And being on the run isn't as glamorous as I thought it would be."

"It never is," said Jennifer. "I think you should take Trent up on his offer. I'm sure there's quite a bit you can teach me about computers."

"Sure, why not?" questioned Raven. "Guess I need to start doing something besides hacking into computers. And it would be nice to get a regular paycheck for a change. Okay, if your friend can arrange it, I guess you have yourself a deal."

"Well, you would have to do more than just go to school," said Trent. "Everyone of the crew is cross-trained with everyone else. Everyone except Doc, of course. You'd have to learn how to pilot the ship, communications, some engineering skills, basically everything that we do on the ship. We all help each other out as much as we can."

"No problem," said Raven. "I'm going to be a salvager. Cool."

"Yes, well that's going to have to wait until your legal problems are cleared up," said Trent. "But I don't think that's going to be much of a problem. We'll know more once we get back."

"Speaking of which," said Peter, "it's about time to get in the hyper sleep tubes. We can't make the jump to hyper drive until we're all secured in the tubes. And I think I've had enough time out here. I'm looking forward to getting home."

"I think we all are," said Trent. "Let's all head for the hyper sleep tubes. I plan to make the jump to hyper drive within thirty minutes."

"What about the dishes?" Raven asked.

"I shall attend to the dishes," said Alpha.

Everyone left the galley and headed for the hyper sleep tubes. Before Trent climbed into his he thought about TJ, Patricia, and Walter. It would be strange not having them on the crew. But at least their families wouldn't have to worry about money. He had decided to give their shares of the salvage to their families. It was the least he could do for members of his crew.

He climbed into the hyper sleep tube and Alpha activated the sleep system. Within twenty minutes the crew would be asleep and Alpha would make the jump to hyper drive. When they awoke they would be in orbit around Europa. Their long ordeal would finally be over.

As the Orion sped through space on its way to Europa, Alpha attended to his duties making sure that the trip went uneventful.

The End