La Fregata

14 Apr

“Stay here for a moment,” said the astronave shiphand, helping Gino DiCapo step from the autoladder to the entrance portal. “Captain Rego will be present momentarily to welcome you aboard.”

“Thank you,” replied the tall, extremely thin man about to become the only passenger on the space freighter from the planeta of Romagna. He was a person with a special mission and responsibility on this frigate named “La Fregata”.

Gino barely heard a side door open behind him on the entry deck.

“Captain?” he asked, swiveling about.

The portly, rotund skipper wore a large white hat with a black leather visor. His coat was acquamarine, his trousers as white as his circular headgear. A brush-like brown moustache hung down below a large, long nose.

“I am happy to see you,” grunted the captain, extending his right hand for Gino to shake. “We shall be catapulting in a short time.”

“My superiors only assigned me to your vessel today,” apologized the new arrival. “I had to rush here to the porto with haste in order to make it on time.”

Rego fixed his milky blue eyes on the stranger in tan business suit.

“Romagna Assicurazion insists you be on this viaggio to Toscana for the sake of security. I myself see no need for your presence, sir. What is it that you can do to protect my ship from pirateria out in space? I do not understand the thinking by the executives in your company, not at all.”

DiCapo tried to smile. “It will be a long journey you are making, Capitano. Toscana is not even a part of our own stella system. There has been an increasing frequency of piratic attacks on the long voyages from Romagna. Our losses would be horrendously great should anything happen to the carico of rare metals in your hold.”

The round man in uniform glanced at the horologe on his right wrist.

“Soon we shall be catapulting. Come with me to the bridge, where you can meet my officers. Later, when we are securely in spazio, one of my crew will show you what it is we are carrying to our destination.”

Gino nodded, then followed the Captain into the interior of La Fregata.

Orlando Rego looked over one shoulder of the chief ingegnere, sitting at the schermo screen of a terminale.

The bald little engineer turned his head around.

“This is Nello Silvretti, my second-in-command. He acts as both ingegnere and navigatore of the ship. The fellow is a technical genius. I depend upon him for all these matters. The crew calls him “il carvello” because of the power of his great brain.”

The small man’s green eyes studied Gino’s face for a moment. The two then shook hands.

“I think you should show our passenger around the astronave, Nello,” commanded the Captain. “We are well away from Romagna and can turn navigation over to the servello elettronico.”

The engineer made a wry face. “You are an investigatore for the insurance company, I understand.”

“My mission is to observe and consult,” explained DiCapo. “My advice will be given only if asked for.”

“Take our guest on a complete tour, Nello,” said the owner-captain. “He will be interested in both the carico and the motore.”

Gino followed his guide off the bridge, down a central corridor, to the storage hold. Neither of them spoke till they were in a dimly-lit freight office.

“We carry metals that are not available in Toscana, so that their prices on that planeta are the highest in several systems.” Silvetti seemed to grimace. “The Capitano has a few, clever business agent, Luigi Brescia. I will introduce you two as soon as we locate him down here.”

“I have only a general idea of the nave’s cargo,” confessed Gino.

Silvretti stopped, staring intently at the insurance investigator.

“It used to be that we hauled mainly ferric loads like bulk pig iron. The value of any kind of ferro is sky high there. That was how it was done before Luigi came aboard. But now he had led the Capitano into more expensive carico. We began, about a year ago, with zinco and cromo, in great demand on Tuscana. I can show you hugh amounts of lastre sheets and lamiera plates. On the last voyage out, the ship carried great spools of copper file. The market for this rame-metal wire is insatiable out there in space.

“But this viaggio promises to outdo anything we have done previously. Nothing like this has been transported to Tuscana before, at least not from Romagna.”

At this moment, a side door opened. A gargantuan hulk of flesh entered slowly. Curly rings of black hair covered the massive head. Dark eyes were matched by dusty yellow skin. Gino at once thought of an enormous, lethargic reptile.

Nello Silvretti introduced the insurance detective to Luigi Brescia. The latter did not offer his hand to Gino.

“You think we might meet with pirates?” bluntly inquired the giant.

“There has been an alarming growth in the number of raids on Romagnan vessels,” carefully declared DiCapo. “La Fregata will be traveling through several zones of recently enhanced danger, especially in the Basilicata region. And I understand that this current trip includes some new, extremely valuable cargo. This could provide a tempting target to outlaw astronaves engaged in raiding and hi-jacking.”

Brescia, stepping closer, examined Gino’s face closely, studying the coffee brown eyes and bronze ski. He appeared to be making an internal calculation of some sort.

“I convinced Capitano Rego that the most profitable metals for future trade are the ones that Toscana has, so far, been unfamiliar with. Once new uses are found for them, though, there will be no limits to the possibilities. And we will be the pioneers who exploit this potential demand.”

Gino noticed a skeptical cast in Silvretti’s green eyes.

“What, precisely, does this new cargo consist of?” he asked the business agent.

The latter lowered his voice.

“Vanadio, tungstenio, molibdeno, germanio, and titanio,” he uttered. “The Toscani will go crazy over these metals, because no one has ever brought them there for use in their smelters and forges.”

“I was about to show Mr. DiCapo through the hold, Luigi,” said Nello with a smile. “We’ll see you later in the dining room.”

He led Gino away from the human mountain in charge of the precious carico.

Silvretti finished the astronave tour in the bottom engine room.

“I use a specially compounded composto of fuels in the accensione chamber. The main ingredient is liquefied idrogeno. This is then mixed with benzolo and fenolo in order to give it added punch and power, if you understand what I mean.”

“Yes,” said Gino. “These additives can add to propulsione speed with augmented potenza.”

The engineer moved toward a large pannelo of gauges and indicators. “These show how the combustibles are being combined in programmed proportions. The ship’s l’elaborate digitale controls the mixing process. Each serbatolo that holds one of the fuels feeds into a separate gasifying cilindro. From there, a complex iniettore injects it into the canale of the central motore. All the valvolas are coordinated by the flow programs set into the memoria of the main cervello that runs the entire ship. Controlled vacuum bubbles move the fuels along. Can you guess how these empty vuetos are produced in the tanks and tubes?”

“No,” confessed the confused investigatore. “You have lost me on that.”

Nello smiled with triumph.

“I devised that myself.” He pointed to a small gauge on the side of the monitor board. “Etherized ammoniaca is pumped into each of the basic fuels. Just enough to create some minute bubbles. Then, when these rise to the top of the tank, the resulting vacuums help to move the combustibles forward through the cilindro. Thus, the motore chambers are continuously fed with fuel.”

“Ingenious!” spiritedly said Gino. “And you devised this yourself?”

The ingegnera nodded that he had.

“La Freggata is fortunate to have you, Nello. Your blend of combustibles should provide the speed and maneuverability needed to evade any possible attackers.”

Silvretti suddenly turned serious and solemn.

“That will depend on on our luck, as well,” he drily muttered.

The passenger was assigned the sedile opposite the Captain’s at the main dinner table. Silvretti sat to his right, Luigi Brescia on the left.

Orlando Rego reminisced about how he had come to own his own freighter.

“I started as a fifteen year-old on a carbone carrier hauling anthracite to scattered furnos about Romagna. It was fascinating to see the glow of the fires from great distances above, then descend downward and approach the crogiuolo directly.

“My first journey to another planeta was an intoxicating thrill. Calabria was a joyful adventure. I became addicted to the trails of spazio, unable to leave even if I wished to. Voyages to Stromboli, Lucca, and Amalfi, then Pavia and Modena followed. Wherever the Italian peoples have settled, there I went on various vessels.

“In time, I became a navigator. Finally, they granted me pilota papers. Year after year, I labored and saved. Finally, it became possible to buy an antiquated, derelict barca, a barcone barge in which ferro ores could be transported. After many carrying jobs in the vicinity of Romagna, I decided to enter long-distance trade on my own account. My first ship was a little disco volante of limited range and capacity. It was only a stepping stone to a middle-sized goletta. Two decades later, I was able to have La Fregata built to my own plans and specifications.

“So, today I own and command the best veicola spaziale in intersystem trade with its base on Remagna.”

“You have much to be proud of, Capitano,” declared DiCapo. “May your success increase without obstacles.”

Rego’s milky eyes flared. “Obstacles? What obstacles? Are you referring to these pirati who raid and steal? I have no fear of such scum. They hold no threat over me. My nave can outrace anything those bands might possess. And if it ever comes to a battle, my crew will fight beside me to the end.”

The brown moustache appeared to bristle for a second. Gradually, the portly Captain calmed down. The red that had invaded his face disappeared. He picked up his vitro and took a sip of his Chianti.

Gino went back to the gelato sundae he had been finishing off.

All at once, there occurred the noise of a door being slammed shut. Looking to his right, the investigatore caught sight of an odd, unfamiliar figure approaching the main table with rapid stride. It was a tiny young woman wearing a velvet gown of iridescent scarlet. About her neck hung many strings of Sardinian pearls.

She stepped up to the head of the table with flaming rose eyes, focused on the ship’s Captain. Dark brown hair fell in wild disorder. She seemed to be shaking as she glared at Rego.

“What is it, Gemma?” whispered the latter. “You should be in your compartment, eating dinner there.”

The newcomer looked away, scanning the rest of the table. Her scansione took in first Brescia, then Silvretti, and last of all the stranger she was unable to recognize.

Her rose-tinted eyes stared questioningly at DiCapo.

“This is a passenger traveling to Toscana with us, Gemma,” said the ship-owner. “You should say hello to him, my girl.”

A crazed grin spread across her round face. “Hello,” she chirped. “My name is Gemma. What is yours?”

“They call me Gino,” he succeeded in saying, his coffee eyes taking in her every twitch and waver.

Rego has a daughter, yet he never mentioned her. Nor has anyone else. The detective was confused by the situation he was now in. He decided to ask a question.

“This is my first viaggio to Toscana. Have you Have you ever been there before?”

A sudden blush came over her pale face. “I cannot remember.” She suddenly turned toward the Captain. “Have I seen that place, father?”

“Yes, Gemma. We have journeyed there several times. You may have forgotten. Now, it is about time for you to return and finish your dinner in your room. It might grow cold.”

She gave him a nod of her head, then turned around and rushed away. Within a few seconds, the young lady had disappeared.

For a short time, no one said anything.

Rego picked up his vitro and drank a little wine. The others returned to their iced desserts. A server brought a tray with bottles of varied wines to the table.

“Excuse me,” said the Captain, rising from his sedile. “I am going to my cabin to take my needed rest.” He looked across at DiCapo. “We will speak again in about eight hours. Someone will show you to your quarters. Good evening, my friend.”

With that, he withdrew hastily from the dining room.

Silvetti poured a vitro of Chianti and offered it to the investigatore.

All of a sudden, Luigi Brescia began to address the engineer. “She looks bad. The Captain should have left her on Romagna, not brought her aboard this vessel. That girl brings nothing but trouble with her to La Fregata.” He turned to Gino and gave him an explanation. “Gemma is the only child of his marriage with a woman he found on Basilicata. She has been under the care of medicos for a considerable time, I understand. Nello knows more of the story than I do. He can tell you what happened, should you be curious about the subject.”

The business agent excused himself and departed for the hold. Silence reigned while the two who remained took a few more sips of wine. At last, Silvretti spoke to his new acquaintance about the family history of the Regos.

“The wife of the Capitano left him and vanished when Gemma was only a small child. He took her with him on his goletta and later on La Fregata. The two of them became inseparable, completely devoted to each other to the exclusion of everything else. She has spent much of her young life on spacecraft and knows a great deal about how they are run and operate.

“As far as I know, Gemma has never had any friends anywhere except aboard her father’s space ships. She grew up among the crews working for him, taking lessons from those with special knowledge and skills. I myself have taught her a lot about physico and matematico.”

He paused for a swallow of Chianti.

“Last year, we took a special load of metals and chemicals to Toscana. As I recall, we carried barrels of calcio in the form of polvere. There were sbarres and slabs of aluminio and drums of l’etano and benzino in the hold. A number of new members were added to the crew for this unusual shipment. One of them was a young meccanico assigned to assist me in engine maintenance and inspection. His name was Primo. I’ve forgotten the lad’s family name. What happened was this: Gemma became acquainted with him and the sly rogue succeeded in seducing her. The naïve girl had never had any experience in the hard areas of life. She was totally unable to judge character or read intentions. Her heart and affections were stolen in this wild infatuation with Primo.”

Gino grew increasingly intent and fascinated. “He had evil aims?”

Silvretti frowned. “So thought the Capitano once he discovered what was up between them. What was this rogue called Primo after? It could only be La Fregata itself, for whoever won the daughter would, one day, control the ship through his wife. Orlando Rego feared for his own eventual retirement and replacement by a greedy son-in-law. He became delirious with paranoia and fear of the ambitious meccanico. I dreaded that the young worker might be murdered here on board. The situation was a perilous one.”

“How did things come out?” inquired DiCapo with evident curiosity. He leaned forward toward the ingegnere, eager for the outcome of this odd romance of Gemma and Primo.

“Our route was suddenly changed, so that an unscheduled stop occurred on the planeta of Basilicata.”

“What happened there?” demanded the detective.

“Primo was expelled from the ship and taken aground. Rego warned him not to try to see Gemma ever again. He threatened to kill the young man himself should they ever cross paths again.”

“How did the daughter react to that?”

Nello grimly pursed his lips. “You saw how uncontrolled and distracted she has become. No one in Romagna was able to treat this sickness of hers. It is an unusual form of madness for which there is, so far, no remedy.”

“This must weigh heavily on the Captain,” sighed Gino, reaching for his vitro.

“He blames the lover who seduced her for this present condition she is in. If the two encountered each other again, I am sure that Orlando Rego would kill him with his own hands.”

In a short while, Silvretti excused himself and left for the engine room.

A good sleep allowed Gino to feel like a youngster on awakening. But when he reached the astronave’s mangeria an anxious mood seemed to prevail among the group of breakfasters.

“The Capitano wishes to see you on the bridge when you finish eating,” one of the food servers told him.

Gino gulped down his omelette, then rushed to the front area of the ship.

Rego and Silvretti stood at the terminale dell’ elabotate, looking over the shoulders of a technico seated at the control board.

The engineer turned and spoke to DiCapo.

“We are having a problem maintaining our squad. At present, the various parameters are undergoing testing in order to locate the source of this problem.”

The Captain pointed to a large gauge. “I believed, for a time, that there was something wrong in the compass gyroskopo, perhaps the main bussola. But several experiments show that is not the source of the trouble.”

“We are now testing the servostorzo, to see whether the ship’s steering system is operating properly.” Nello indicated the wheel-shaped volante that the technico was manipulating and calibrating.

Captain Rego, straightening up, turned to the ingegnere with his brow furrowed. He was not wearing his round white hat of command or dress uniform, but green work fatigues.

“I do not believe the problem is anywhere up here,” groaned the owner of La Fregata. “You will have to make a complete ispezione of the motore and all its components, Nello. Take our friend along so that he can see how it is done.”

Gino followed the short, bald engineer off the bridge. Neither said a word as they traversed the long central corridor toward the rear of the vessel. As they approached the door of the engine room, a large figure came toward them.

“What is going on?” grumbled Luigi Brescia. “Why has our velocity gone down?”

“No one knows,” replied Silvretti. “That is what I intend to find out as quickly as possible. Why don’t you step inside with us?”

The three entered the chamber containing the control panneli for the motore system.

Two engine monitors sat at terminale desks, overseeing the operation of the razzo rocket. One of them turned around and made a succinct report.

“Everything appears to be regular, within the normal parameters, sir.”

Brescia made a sardonic face.

“If that’s what the dials say, then they are dead wrong. The nave is losing speed by the second. Something suspicious seems to be going on.”

“What do you mean?” shot back the engineer in a sharp tone of voice. “Are you hinting at something once again?”

The giant spun around without making a reply, then angrily stalked out of the engine room.

Gino looked inquiringly into the face of Silvretti. What was this about? his coffee brown eyes asked.

“Luigi has formed some dark theories about La Fregata,” whispered the little man with the bald head. “I will tell you about them later, when we are alone.”

One of the monitors rose so that Nello could take his sedile and study the engine gauges closely.

DiCapo scratched his chin. What did the cargo agent think was behind this slowing down of the veicolo spaziale?

The velocity of the spaceship was finally stabilized at an extremely slow rate of speed. No one could say why this happened. It was as much a mystery as the original trouble.

Gino and Nello decided to take a rest in the small exercise gym in the mid-section. No one was there. Good, thought the detective. I can find some answers. “What was Luigi referring to?” he asked the engineer as he climbed up onto a stationary bicycolo.

Silvretti turned sharp green eyes on him as the exercise apparatus began to rotate his legs.

“On our last trip out, Brescia told me of a nasty rumor he picked up in an astronaut dive from an old-timer who has spent a lot of time on Basilicata.”

“What was this rumor?”

“It concerned how the Capitano made the money he used to build La Fregata. This veteran of many space voyages said he heard tales of insurance swindle concerning the old golotta that Orlando once owned. Twice he collected from small companies outside the planeta system for hi-jacked cargo belonging to him. Some people believe there was a conspiracy with pirate gangs involved in both cases. The raiders obtained some inexpensive loot, while the Captain raked in a fortune from his insurance proceeds. He supposedly gave a band from Basilicata a slice of what he illegally gained for himself.

“Rumor had it that was the means by which he financed the construction of this great frigate.”

Gino could see perspiration form on the exerciser’s bare brow.

“You believe that is true, Nello?” he gently asked.

Silvretti began to pant for breath.

“Of course not. Orlando Rego is not that type of person.”

“Why does the big fellow say that, then?”

The engineer suddenly pushed the interrutore that stopped the spinning pedals of the stationary bicycolo.

“His mind is sly and devious,” he muttered. “Luigi thinks everyone is like himself.”

Climbing off the exerciser, Nello made for the door with rapid steps.

In two days time, La Fregata cruised into the zone named for the planeta of Basilicata. It speed was smooth and cautious, setting the ship far behind schedule.

Gino stood on the bridge beside the Capitan, gazing into the exterior schermo.

“This is the area of greatest danger,” declared Rego darkly. “I will be spending most of my time up here on the lookout for possible trouble.”

“Too bad we cannot travel faster,” commented the detective. “The ship will be in this zone for a longer period than anticipated. And no one can say what is the cause of our slowing down.”

“It is a perplexing mystery,” groaned the other.

Gino excused himself and left for his compartment. He had turned off the main corridor into a side wing when a door he had not noticed previously opened.

Gemma Rego, in sweater and slacks, stood in the doorway. She raised a hand, motioning him closer. “Come in. I wish to talk with you.”

Surprised and confused, he did as told. The tiny woman with the rose eyes closed the door behind him.

What sort of room was this? wondered DiCapo. It looked like a small office of some kind. Books, spools, and nastra of all sorts were piled on shelves along the walls. This appeared to be a library or study, he concluded.

The two stared at each other, until the young woman spoke.

“You have been told that I am crazed, but that is not true. My time is taken up with various projects that I carry out here, in my private little den. How do you like it?”

Gino scanned the room once again. “Small, yet comfortable,” he judged, smiling at the Captain’s daughter.

She grinned back, but then turned serious and concentrated.

“You represent my father’s insurers, don’t you?”

He nodded yes.

“Is there fear that pirates may attack us, then?”

“This is a gigantic freighter with very valuable carico. We are already in the vicinity of Basilicata, where raiding bands have their well-hidden bases. I am here mainly as an observer, since there is little that any one person can do for himself.”

“You seem to be a realist, then,” she murmured.

“I try as much as possible to find the truth.”

For a moment, neither of them said anything.

“An attack on this vessel would be highly lucrative for my father, if you tell your superiors that they have to pay.”

“I haven’t thought of it that way,” admitted DiCapo. “But perhaps that is the truth. I am here more as a witness than any sort of protector of property.”

“But the opposite is also true. Should you report that there was fraud involved, then no money would have to be paid. My father, in fact, might be in deep trouble with the law back in Romagna.” She paused to let him absorb all of this. “Do you see what I am getting at? You can make or break him financially. It would all depend on what you report.”

Gino swallowed hard.

“There would have to be first a successful pirate assault, of course,” speculated DiCapo. “And the Capitano would have to be clearly involved as a co-conspirator in the crime. But it that something that lies in the future, Miss Rego?” He gave her a piercing, searching look with his coffee eyes, then waited for her to respond.

“My father is not at all what he seems. I once had a close friend who was expelled from the crew because of what he discovered. It was too dangerous to keep him aboard.”

She is talking about her lover, Primo, the detective instantly surmised.

“This person found out about past fraudulent claims?” he inquired.

“He broke into and explored about in the business office, coming across certain discrepancies in the cervello memoria, in the section dealing with pirate raids in the past. The figures did not come out right, this friend of mine informed me. There had been secret payments made to bank accounts on Basilicata. These were traceable to the insurance proceeds.”

“Who received the funds, then?”

“My friend knew people on that planeta who made inquiries for him. The beneficiaries were people in different professions. This was their payoff for cooperation in my father’s invisible scheme.”

“Is there any documented proof of what you are saying, Gemma?”

The latter gazed downward at the floor. “My father destroyed all the records,” she moaned, then lifted her head up so that she could see his face. “But if he should attempt that again, you must find and expose the truth. Isn’t that so?”

“Yes,” he nodded. “The truth, whatever it happens to be, regardless of who may be hurt. I will help you, Gemma, however I can. Trust me.”

He turned around and opened the door, making a fast exit.

Gino lay sleepless on his letta. How could Capitano Rego be such an evil swindler? His own daughter had related to him the story first heard from the lips of Luigi Brescia. How could this be so? The investigatore had always considered himself a skilled judge of character. Had Orlando Rego somehow fooled him? Nothing made sense to the detective.

All at once, the letta began to shake.

Gino jumped to his feet. What was happening to the ship? It took a moment for him to realize that he could no longer feel any forward motion. Within seconds, Gino had put on his pants and coat and was out in the corridor.

Something critical was occurring, an inner voice seemed to cry out.

A kitchen hand came toward him in a rush.

“We have halted!” shouted the terrified crew member. “There is no contact with the bridge! No message can go out or be received!”

DiCapo stopped, blocking the cook’s path. “What do you mean? Are no radio calls possible?”

“No. The doors to the bridge are closed and locked. No one can understand why.”

Thinking fast and clearly, Dino reversed direction, heading back toward the engine room and the cargo hull. Nello should be there, on duty. He would know what the situation was and what could be done about it. His steps became nearly a run as he approached the room from which the motore was fueled.

He reached for the circle on the door that would open it.

It was, thankfully, unlocked. The moment the ferro slid open, Gino could see who was seated at the terminale.

Gemma Rego turned her face toward him.

“Come in and close the door,” she cried, rising from the sedile she sat on.

Once inside, the astounded investigatore noticed a small, uniformed body lying on the floor next to the outside wall.

What had brought Nello Silvetti down? he wondered.

Was the engineer still alive?

Gemma answered the question that had seized hold of DiCapo’s mind.

“He will be fine when his consciousness returns. It was only ether that knocked out your friend.”

Dino, staring at her, moved close to the terminale.

“What is going on?” he curtly demanded. “The bridge is locked and we are no longer in motion.”

She grinned devilishly.

“My lover is coming aboard to take me away. He will be here any moment now.”

“I don’t understand…” stumbled Gino. He heard the door slide open behind him. Turning about, the detective stared at the bulky form of Luigi Brescia.

“The two naves are now connected,” announced the newcomer. “Primo is setting his crew to unloading the hold. I am to bring you down there at once, so that you can cross over to the other vessel.” He stared at DiCapo while still speaking to Gemma. “What do we do with this fellow, use a little ether on him?”

“No, he poses no danger.” She rose from her sedile and made for the door.

Suddenly, she turned and spoke to the investigatore.

“Luigi is uncle to my Primo,” she declared. “He came aboard to work for my father in order to help me make my escape from here.”

“What happened on the bridge?” sharply asked Gino. “Will there be any harm done?”

“None. My father and his companions have received a moderate dose of l’etere through the ventilator that serves the bridge. Luigi helped me accomplish the job.”

“How was La Fregata brought to a stop?”

Gemma now stood in the doorway, in front of Brescia.

“How else? It was ether that was used. We had to avoid Nello’s discovering anything. I showed Luigi how to manipulate the tubes from the fuel tanks so that the amount of ether could be doubled, then tripled. That is what slowed, then halted La Fregata in its flight.”

“Your lover is really a pirate?” persisted Gino.

“I am the one who owns the ship that is now coupled to this one we are on,” confessed Luigi. “My trade is that of a space raider. You see, I too am a Capitano.”

“Primo was on this astronave as a secret agent for his uncle. We fell in love, though that was not in the original plan.” Gemma stepped out of the engine room. “Warn my father that it would be perilous for him to pursue me. This is the Basilicata zone, where piracy reigns supreme.”

“What will now become of you?” called out Gino.

The answer came from Uncle Luigi.

“Her knowledge of space freighters will be invaluable to my band. She can work alongside Primo, for I plan to retire soon and give my ship to my nephew.” All at once, the man mountain grinned. “Tell Capitano Rego he should never have grown too big and important to cooperate with people like me.”

Gino watched the twosome disappear into the corridor, his ears ringing with the loud laughter of the pirates.

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