Steven Copley stood, in his quarters, staring quizzically at the small desk pushed into the corner, one of its drawers open.
“Captain,” came a voice from the doorway. “Is something the matter?”
“I seem to have lost another pen, James.”
“I'm sure it will turn up,” remarked the first officer. “Mia has reported that more food has gone missing.”
“What was it this time?”
“A loaf of bread, some butter, and six apples. Also, a roll of bandages.”
“Who do you think did it?”
“None of the crew did it, I am certain. We searched their bunks thoroughly.”
“Well, that only leaves two options.”
“Rats...or we have a stowaway.”
“A stowaway, Captain,” James asked. “This is not a large ship. Where could they possibly be hiding?”
“That’s what we are going to have to find out. Bring the non-essential crew below deck and we will start.”
James nodded and walked out of the room and gathered the crew.
“Everyone,” James began. “The captain believes that we have a stowaway.”
The crew muttered among themselves, most of them surprised at the thought.
“We must've picked them up when we were docked in Lilithia. Everyone, search high and low. Ellie, Karl, search your engine room, top to bottom.
They searched, tossed bunks, and even pulled up deck boards. Finally, after nearly an hour, Karl and Ellie emerged from the engine room. Accompanying them was a young girl, who looked as though she had been struggling and finally gave up.
“Where did you find her,” asked James.
“She had worked her way behind the engine and forced a board,” replied Karl.
“It would appear that she was living inside the starboard pontoon,” continued Ellie.
“Take her to the captain. He will want to question her.”
The two engineers brought the girl to the captain's quarters and then waited out with the rest of the crew. Steven stared at her for a moment. Though she hadn't said anything, he could tell that she was scared, her head hung and she was looking at the ground.
“What's your name.”
“Ari,” the girl responded quietly.
“Braanden,” Ari finished.
“Okay, Ari. I am Captain Copley.”
The frightened girl looked up and met his stare.
“What are you doing here?”
“I was brought in here by your engineers.”
Steven rolled his eyes and sighed.
“Why did you stowaway?”
Ari was silent again. The captain furrowed his brow, sat back in his chair, and crossed his arms.
“What am I going to do with you,” Steven asked nobody in particular. “I suppose I could torture you for information. After all, you could be a spy.”
Ari continued her silence.
“But I suppose you wouldn't talk anyway. Well, I guess the only thing to do is throw you overboard.”
Steven stood and walked over to the door. Ari, shifted in her seat. Before he could open the door, Ari spoke.
“Please don't throw me overboard!”
Tears began to fill her eyes. The captain looked down at her and then walked back to his seat.
“You had better start talking then.”
“I wanted adventure.”
“...adventure,” asked the captain. “Why not just join a crew?”
“I needed to leave,” Ari continued.
“Why was that?”
My parents were...forcing me to marry.”
“Forced to marry. How old are you?”
Steven just stared at her.
“I’m Seventeen. But I will be 18 next month.”
“Seventeen and an arranged marriage. Not that common in Lilithia anymore.”
“It's common enough.”
“Did you tell your parents you didn’t want to marry?”
“It was arranged. How would they understand.”
Steven paced in the cabin thinking. Ari watched for what felt like hours.
“I’m afraid we can’t just keep you on board,” started the captain. “We could be charged with kidnapping. I’m sorry, but we will have to return you to Lilithia.”
“No, Captain. Please. Let me stay. I can help around the ship.”
“Do you have any skills?”
Ari hung her head and shook it.
Steven looked at her for a moment before walking to the door and opening it.
“Ellie, you’ve been telling me that you need an assistant with the engines.”
“Yessir,” Ellie replied. “Why?”
“Ari, you will assist Ellie. She is my chief engineer. You can learn a lot from her”.
Ari’s eyes lit up and a grin shot across her face.
“Captain, are you sure,” asked Ellie.
“I am. And Ari, don’t be too excited. It won’t be easy work.”
“That’s alright, I will work hard!”
“And you will write a letter home to your parents explaining the situation,” Steven continued.
“But, Captain. They won’t understand.”
“Nevertheless, that is my condition.”
“Welcome to the Prelude, Miss Ari.”