Five ships, in this region, meant trouble.
Truth be told, five ships in any region meant trouble - at least when you were flying only one, and your brother had seen fit to put quite a nice bounty on your head, preferably to be delivered with it no longer being attached to the rest of your body.
A wise man would have plotted a different course the moment they'd first shown up on the scanners, thus missing being hailed by the distress beacon, thus staying nice and safely out of the whole thing. He might have returned here in two or three years' time, to find the ships still there, their crews long dead, and tell himself that there was no way he could have known that aid, rather than flight, had been called for.
So. Trouble, really, any which way you looked at it, and bad luck thrown into the bargain.
A sorry lot, and no doubt about it, Elissa Dido, Captain of the Carthage, thought to herself.
She'd had one of the holding bays cleared out, rather than allow their guests to wander the Carthage. Simple common sense, really; the Carthage was only a medium-sized ship, and while its medical bay and canteen were spacious, they never could have accommodated the crews of all five ships.
"Fugitives, do you think?" Iris, First Mate of the Carthage and self-proclaimed advocate of sensibility, murmured.
"It seems likely." It was in the way they stumbled around, the reports filed by the medical officer, listing what ailed these men. (And they appeared to be, all of them, men, which was a potential source of extra trouble all its own.)
"Poor bastards." Coming from Iris, it wasn't so much an expression of compassion as it was an assessment. The Carthage did well for itself, but not quite so well that it could feed and render medical aid to five ships without feeling the loss.
A regular ship, run into poor luck, might have offered a prospect of future recompense. Of a favor owed, and eventually repaid.
A regular crew, also, would know better than to misbehave and put at risk the unwritten compact of space, saying that when one ship asked another for help, it would be given. Should be given, for next time, the situation might be reversed.
"We weren't that much better off, some time ago."
Iris snorted. "We were well-prepared, well-crewed and well aware of what the hell we were doing, casting off."
"Say that we were lucky, then," Dido amended.
Captain Aeneas appeared refreshingly sane, for a madman who imagined he might captain five ships all by himself. He'd expressed his gratefulness for aid rendered quite prettily, and with many flowery phrases boiling down to so much hot air.
Well, and what did you expect? To have the man reveal himself rich? It would have been nice, Dido reflected wryly. The Carthage had done well for itself, yes, owed to hard work and harder work. Not so good, though, that they could fail to feel the loss fate had dealt them here.
The fugitives came from the colony of Troy, apparently, which had been destroyed in vengeance for one thing or another. Local politics. There might be profitable trading to be found in another few months, when the victors would be looking to rebuild and repopulate.
Meanwhile, the losers, according to Captain Aeneas, sought to establish a new colony elsewhere.
Appearances of sanity, indeed. Still, if he played it well, he might find someone sufficiently gullible and naive to welcome him on their planet. And much joy may they have of him.
Repairs were undertaken, as more precious supplies vanished from the Carthage's hold day by day.
Captain Aeneas entertained with stories of daring adventure and perilous travel. There might, Dido reckoned, be quite a profitable career for him on some planet where they liked that sort of thing. A weekly holovid show, perhaps, or a series of movies.
She still listened, of course - in part because it was the polite thing to do, and in part because in between the space monsters and oracles, there would be a nugget of useful information, of possible future profit to be had.
"Got that weapons and crew report you wanted me to get you," Iris said, looking smug - as well she might, considering.
"It might be polite to wait for me to verbally express my wishes, next time."
A shrug. "Figured I'd save you the breath."
Dido glanced at the report. Frowned, as she scrolled on to the conclusion. "This is - "
"Exactly what you've been thinking of, this past week, and don't you try and deny it, Liss."
Well. And that was her being told, she supposed.
"A colony?" Captain Aeneas was most definitely interested.
Perhaps, then, he was not quite as much a fool as she had assumed him to be, to imagine he might build a colony from nothing.
"Ruled by a cruel tyrant," Dido said. Not an exaggeration, probably. "Its people crying out for a savior." That might be, slightly. "Its army weak and grown lazy." And if it were not, well, then superior numbers and technology might well still carry the day.
"Ah. Surely, it must be the duty of every righteous man to overthrow such a king."
Dido bowed her head to hide her smile. "Indeed."
"I am, it would seem, in your debt once more."
"Please, think nothing of it."
"Gonna take some fancy flying if he plans to get his hands on the treasury without your brother Piggie burning it down first."
"Hm. Well, it should help that I gave him the codes to the security system," Dido said, comfortably. There would be money in Tyre, and shortly, if all went well, a good portion of that money would make its way to the accounts of the Carthage. All in the name of fair trade and profit, of course.
Iris looked at her sharply. "I thought you were saving those for when you got back."
"I'm a captain, Iris. What use do I have for a colony, except to trade with?"
"Ha!" said Iris, and then she smiled.
A miracle in truth, Dido thought, and smiled back.