002-1117 – Venad – Adar/Hinterworlds

Venad – Adar/Hinterworlds 0402 A221621-B Ni Po Na 324 Im M0V M6D

Venad is hot. Yeah Yazeal, the primary, is a red dwarf but those things put out a lot of heat when you get close enough. Here it takes up a huge chunk of the sky.

We had landed at the main starport of Yamar. Apparently they were down to the end of the alphabet on the name list when they got to this place. Anyway, Yamar is situated between a small sea to the east and a mountain range to the west, so it is cooler than it could have been, but it was still around 30°. Fortunately the Venadians prefer doing their business via the local net rather than in person so I didn’t have to leave the hotel for most of the day.

I did have to make one pickup before heading out to meet the crew at the Garan. I stuck my snub pistol under my jacket before I left. I normally wouldn’t have been too worried, but after the news of the assassination had come in a few weeks ago everyone had been a bit on edge. Venad had been a part of the Ral Ranta Federation until about 20 years ago. Then the Imperium had annexed the place during a local civil war that got a bit too hot in order to protect their trade nexus here. The locals still resented the Imperial “occupation” and were openly hoping that the problems back in Core would cause them to leave.

Like that would happen. The Imperium loves to protect its trade.

About an hour after leaving the hotel I was at the Garan. It was a typical Startown dive, crews of the various ships that were passing through hanging out and making deals before heading back to the Jump lanes again, while lower-tier brokers and more adventurous locals hung out hoping to talk to them.

As I stepped through the pressure door the first thing I noticed was a pair of Hivers sitting at a table in the middle of the room. The few tables around them were empty and the other patrons were giving them a wide berth. It was rare to see Hivers hanging out in a Human bar, even this close to the Federation. I wondered what they were up to.

Of course they were up to something; they were Hivers.

I pulled my breather mask off and looked around. Most of the screens in the place were set to various news channels, and of course the main topic was the Assassination. The screens had most of the attention of the room. Finally I saw my crew sitting in a booth near the corner in the back. As usual.

Saahna waved me over and Varan shoved a chair towards me as approached. Do’rex was sitting in the back of the booth, looking uncomfortable. He always did when off the ship. Vegans were a lot rarer to see than Hivers and he always got some curious looks.

“Heya, Number One,” said Saahna, pushing a beer towards me. “Um… sorry. Captain Kodai.”

I shook my head. “Derek is fine. I’m not going to stand on formality as much as Captain Martin was.”

She frowned at that. “Rank and order is important, Captain.” She emphasized the word.

I shrugged. “OK, we’ll see how it goes then.” I dropped my pack and reached into it. “Presents for everyone.” I had stopped at a clothing store and had new ship’s jackets.

Saahna had been wearing her Phantasmal Hope jacket and immediately shrugged out of it. I noticed she was wearing her gauss pistol under it. I guess I wasn’t the only one a bit paranoid. On the other hand, it was her job to be paranoid, so…

She pulled the Grayswandir jacket on and looked at it. “Like the darker colors,” she said. “A bit less obvious in the dark.”

The Phantasmal Hope‘s colors had been white and light blue and I had changed them to dark blue and black. I hadn’t been worrying about being seen that much when I picked them out; I was more thinking that the old colors had shown every speck of dirt that landed on them.

Do’rex had been simply wearing street clothes but immediately put his jacket on as well. Varan was in his ship’s jumpsuit and just put the jacket in his pack.

A waitbot hovered over to ask me what I wanted to eat and I ordered stioshi pods. Stioshi was a local aquatic plant, long stalks held up with thick-skinned air sacs. The locals harvested the sacs, filled them with some kind of cheese, then breaded and deep fried them. They were spicy enough that you could probably use them to strip paint but were insanely good and slightly euphoric. I always had them whenever we were near this end of the Hinterworlds.

Saahna shook her head. “I never understood how you can eat those.”

I shrugged and pointed at her bowl, strips of almost raw meat in some thick sauce with noodles. “I never understood how you can eat anything that raw.”

“You weren’t complaining the other night,” she said with a smirk. Varan laughed and even Do’rex made a staccato clicking sound. Saahna and I had been on-again/off-again for the last few years, depending on if either of us was with anyone else at the time. Neither of us were at the moment.

“Anything new?” I asked, tilting my head towards the screen as the waitbot brought my food over. I popped the first pod into my mouth, grimaced, and took a drink of my beer. The first bite was always a killer.

Varan shook his head. “Same thing as the last few weeks. A bunch of the nobles are still complaining about Lucan dismissing the Moot and about him sending most of the Core fleets to Ilelish to try to catch Dulinor.”

“I hope they just glass whatever planet they find him on.” Saahna said under her breath. “Dulinor was an idiot.”

I sighed. The Assassination of Strephon was all that anyone had been talking about for the past month-and-a-half, ever since the news from Core arrived by X-Boat. Since then we had learned that Lucan had become Emperor, over the objections of the Moot, and had immediately declared the assassin Dulinor, the Archduke of Ilelish, a traitor. He had sent most of the Core fleet after Dulinor. The Moot had objected to the rapid transition of power and he had responded by dissolving them for one year. But all of this was a few weeks old by now. There was very little new news, if any, and the talking heads on the nets were doing nothing but rehashing what we already knew and providing wilder and wilder speculation as to what might happen next.

“Look,” I said, sighing again. “Strephon was popular. I don’t know what Dulinor thought he was doing, but he didn’t win any friends, anywhere. The Fleet will go in, flatten him and anyone and anything around wherever he happens to be hiding, and that will be it. It’ll give the tabloids something to argue about for the next few years but that’s all.”

I finished my beer and waived the waitbot back over. “Besides, that’s on the other side of the Imperium from us. It won’t affect anything here.”

Saahna exchanged her own beer for a new one as well. “I hope you’re right.”

I shrugged. “The Imperium has gone through worse. Sure, Strephon was probably the best Emperor we’ve had for a long time, but in the end he was only one man. We’ll survive.”

“I guess you’re right,” said Varan. “We’ll just have to wait and see what the next X-Boat says.” He finished his beer, looked to see that the waitbot had just left, sighed, and summoned it back over again.

“So let’s talk about our more immediate concerns. Where are we off to next, Captain?” He emphasized the word a bit too, but his was more in amusement.

“Well, first off, are all of you still on board?” I looked around the table at them. Saahna nodded in a way that indicated she was surprised the question was even being asked, Do’rex waved his tentacles and clicked in agreement, while Varan hesitated a moment before nodding as well.

“Good,” I said. “Glad all of you are still with me.” I pulled out my remote and dropped it on the table, then hit a few buttons on my comp. A three-dimensional holo of the Adar subsector appeared on the table. I tapped again and it collapsed to a two-dimensional chart. Despite being in space for a few thousand years we humans still found it easier to look at flat maps.

“We just came in from Kaggits,” I said, pointing, “so I don’t want to just turn around and head back. Besides, maybe we should stay out of Imperial space for a while.”

“Didn’t you just say we had nothing to worry about here?” Venad said with a smirk.

I shrugged. “Well… let’s just play it safe anyway.” I gestured at the chart again. “That gives us Luki, Dermif Na, Fugitak and Ginshar. If we head up to Ginshar we’ll either have to head right back or go on up into the Glimmerdrift. Both Luki and Dermif Na lead us into Ral Ranta space and I’d rather get a few Jumps under my belt before I deal with them again. So that leaves Fugitak.” I tapped it on the table.

“Amber Zone.” Saahna observed.

“Yeah,” I nodded. I flicked the dot on the table and Fugitak’s UWP popped into view, then I swiped down to reveal the full details.

“It’s an Amber because it has a ridiculous Law Level. Spitting on a sidewalk there probably gets you tagged for organ harvesting. Then there’s the fact that if you walk outside without an E-suit it’ll be a race to see if you suffocate before your skin melts off. We’ll just stay in the Starport.”

“Not much going on,” Varan said, looking at his own comp. No water, poisonous atmosphere, only a few hundred people live there and even they don’t get along with each other.” He looked up at me. “Why in the world do you want to go there?”

“I don’t really.” I indicated the chart. “But if we aren’t going into Ral Ranta space or back towards the Imperium then this is the only direction we can go. Past there takes us to Boilingbrook.” I pointed. “I’ve always wanted to see how they make their floating cities.”

Saahna shrugged. “I guess. I’d be just as happy heading up into the Glimmerdrift again but you’re the Captain.”

I nodded. “OK. Anything else?”

Varan stared at the chart for a few moments longer then leaned back. “Sure, it’s fine I guess. When are we leaving?”

Now it was my turn to pause. “Well… we aren’t going anywhere without an Engineer.”

“You haven’t started looking for one yet?”

I shook my head. “Honestly, I wanted to make sure all of you were still on board first. I’ll post it on the net tonight.”

Saahna frowned. “Don’t you have your Engineering cert?”

I nodded. “Yeah. My level-1 Engineering cert. You really trust that? Besides, I’m still our Navigator and Broker. Kinda hard for me to be on the bridge and in engineering at the same time.”

“That does bring up something… Captain.” Varan looked around the table uncomfortably. “Are we all… are we still the same positions?”

I had actually expected that question earlier and was a bit prepared for it. “For the moment, for the most part, yes.” I hesitated, then pointed at Do’rex. “Except for you. You’re 1st Officer now.”

I heard a gasp of surprise from Varan and Do’rex’s head jerked upwards as he emitted a string of startled clicks. He said something in Vegan before switching back to accented Standard.

“I am honored as always, Captain Kodai. Thank you. But why?”

“I was wondering the same thing,” said Varan, sounding more angry than was normal for him.

I held up my hands. “Merchant’s Guild rules state that the First Officer must have their Pilot certification. That’s me and Do’Rex. So I could either leave the position open or give it to Do’Rex. And he’s kept us out of trouble enough times that he deserves it. So, congratulations.”

“Congratulations, Number One!” Saahna said, throwing him a sloppy salute. “Lt. Denan at your command.”

“Yeah, sure,” said Varan, after a pause. “Congrats, man!” He held up his hand and Do’Rex slapped a tentacle against it.

“OK,” I said, relaxing a bit. “So, I guess my next order of business is to find an Engineer.”

“Who gets to be Second?” asked Saahna.

I shrugged and shook my head. “That one I have to leave open. Those same regs require a Navigation cert for 2nd Officer. We’ll have to see what happens there.”

She nodded. “Yeah, I guess so.”

I nodded in return. “So, everyone ready for another round?”

We didn’t talk much business the rest of the night. We wound up in a rather loud discussion of the latest Cross-Spiral Buckyball Run. A pair of Scouts at the next table got involved with us and the night ended with me somehow possibly owing the Scouts a case of wine depending on the outcome.

Several hours later we were heading back to our rooms. My air-cab was just arriving when I turned to Saahna.

“One more? There’s a pretty good bar back at my hotel.”

She hesitated a moment, then looked away. “I… can’t.”

I paused. “Why? What… what’s wrong.”

She turned back towards me, her face set. “I’m sorry. I… we can’t anymore.”

I frowned. “What? Why?”

She sighed. “Because you’re my Captain now.”

I started to say something but she held up her hand. “Look, you’re the Captain. I’m your third officer. There may come a time when you have to ask me to do something dangerous. Have to give me an order that neither of us will like. And you have to be clear to give that order and I have to be clear to take it. And neither of us can do that if there is anything between us.”

She stepped forward and put her hand on my chest. “For what it’s worth, I’m glad we had the time we did together.” She gave me a quick kiss on the cheek then stepped back and gave me an overly formal salute. “Goodnight, Captain.”

I felt a sense of loss but gave her a smile and a salute of my own. “You too, Lieutenant.”

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