He didn’t recognize anything. The entire room was transformed. All the decoration and furniture was new to him. These weren’t faces of people he’d ever met. But that wasn’t the shock. He was used to such surprises.
The ship employed top-notch designers. In an afternoon, they could retrofit the craft to match with whatever theme the party host or hostess wanted. Sometimes he enjoyed the themes. Jungle safaris, the Grand Canyon, and Paris were his three favorites, and rather common themes. Generally, time-period or city themes worked well, whereas animals or movies became stale halfway through the party. Occasionally, there were oddball themes like a hedge maze or the Black Plague. But eccentric themes tended to correlate with quirky guests.
He chartered the same course for every party. Take-off was promptly at eight-fifteen, and he’d guide the craft into a low Earth orbit. The ship took two full orbits, each approximately 92 minutes. Just after the first orbit, he always put on autopilot, and snuck a quick look at the party.
He had been slightly apprehensive about this party. The Great Train Robbery seemed a dubious theme. But the guests appeared to be enthralled. They had all arrived in traditional old west costumes. Looking out, he counted nearly sixty guests. The craft had a capacity of ninety, but he preferred the smaller parties.
Down the middle of the room, a train car ran back-and-forth across a short track. It wasn’t worth trying to figure out how the car functioned in such low gravity. The room was almost unrecognizable except for a small signal flashing on the ceiling. A black circle with a smaller blue circle inside: he recognized it, and knew there would be trouble.
Too late, he tried racing back to the control room. One train robber blocked his path, another grabbed him, and three more surrounded.
“Stop the music!” cried one of the train robbers. The guests turned to see the commotion. “We are the Exploration Group, an organization opposed to the commercialization of space travel.”
These guys are worse than pirates, he thought. At least space pirates were reasonable, and could be quickly paid off. The Exploration Group’s demands were political fantasies. He knew their whole platform too well. He had an exceedingly direct connection to the group’s founding member.
He decided to speak up, “I’m the pilot. Let go of me and I can return this ship safely to Earth.”
“How can we trust you?” asked a lanky robber.
“Because I can call your leader,” he answered. “And he’ll tell you to let his brother land the ship.”
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