018-1117 – Fugitak – Adar/Hinterworlds

Fugitak – Adar/Hinterworlds 0602 C5A027A-5 Lo Ni De A 125 Na F2V M3D

I’ve been here only a couple of hours and I already hate this place.

We came out of Jump on schedule and more-or-less in the right place; about 120 diameters out trailing the planet. There were no other ships in the immediate area so we set a course towards the planet. I made an announcement over shipwide comms that we were approaching the planet and that all passengers should start preparing for disembarkation.

We were almost to orbit before we got an actual contact; we had just been following the starport beacon in. The only thing on sensors in orbit was a Scout/Courier holding geostationary over the main starport, but even they weren’t saying anything; just their automated ident.

“Oh, hello… um… Grayswandir!” came a voice, finally. “Sorry, didn’t see you out there. So… you’re wanting to land?”

I looked over at Do’rex to see him looking back at me. I hesitated then opened the comms.

“Yes, this is the Grayswandir. We have a load of cargo for you, as well as a number of passengers. Requesting landing clearance.”

There was a brief pause. “Sorry Grayswandir,” said the voice, finally. “Guess we weren’t expecting anyone. I’ll have someone ready to pressurize the dome. Land on Pad 3, I’ll set the beacon.” A few seconds later a landing beacon appeared.

“Thank you, Fugitak,” I said, flicking the coordinates to the Pilot’s console. Do’rex made no comment but the ship immediately rolled towards the new vector.

We didn’t hear anything else until we were halfway through re-entry. The atmosphere on Fugitak is this ugly yellowish-brown color, with darker brown clouds of condensed particles.

“OK,” came the voice over the comms again. “I’ve got someone ready to close the dome once you’ve landed. Give it about five minutes to close and re-pressurize and you should be good.”

“Thanks, Fugitak. I think. See you on the ground.” I looked over at Do’rex who flipped a tentacle of his own in confusion. I figured we would see what they were talking about when we landed.

We broke through the cloud layer and spotted the colony. A surprisingly small dome was connected by covered walkways to three landing pads. One of them was covered with a dome while the other two stood open. Approach lights flashed around one of the open ones.

The Grayswandir settled onto the pad, its velocity dropping to zero just above it. Do’rex held it there for a moment before extending the gear and settling to the ground. Indicator lights blinked green and he killed the gravs.

I flipped off the ship’s gravitics and inertial dampers. The internal gravity had been slowly changing to match Fugitak’s over the past week and the ship was no longer moving so there was no sensation of anything having happened. I opened the shipwide comms.

“Welcome to Fugitak, everyone. We have been asked to wait while the dome is closed and pressurized but if you would like to make your way to the lower lounge we will help you secure your luggage and cargo for departure.”

I then flipped over to the crew channel. “We’re down. Start putting everything into standby.”

“Sure thing, Captain! And nice landing Do’rex!” I heard from Jami. No one else said anything, though Varan was probably involved with the passengers. I looked out through the canopy again.

What looked like large flakes of brown ash were falling around us like snow, slowly being cut off as what seemed to be a fabric dome moved over us. It was several minutes before it closed down on the opposite side and a ring of red lights around the perimeter lit up. External sensors immediately registered a change in atmospheric composition as unseen blowers kicked in. Another few minutes passed before the lights changed to green.

“You’re good!” came the voice from the comms. “See you inside!”

“Thanks Fugitak.” I said, cutting the comms. I turned to Do’rex. “Well, let’s go see what’s here.” He clicked once in acknowledgement.

By the time I got back to the lounge it was empty and the iris to cargo was open. I passed on through to find Varan, Saahna and all of the passengers except Dr. Korvusar already there. Saahna was opening the port cargo hatch while Varan was helping the passengers with their luggage and directing our two cargobots to collect the cargo of the Oligack team.

Then the atmosphere hit me. Even with the dome closed and pressurized there was a strong ammonia odor coming through the now-open hatch, mixed with something that smelled like something that had forgotten in the back of a cooler. I saw all the passengers react as well and I regretted leaving my filter mask back in my cabin.

The ramp extended and the passengers started disembarking. I moved through them, wishing them well and thanking them for traveling with us. The Borator’s seemed genuinely happy; the happiest I had seen them since coming aboard. I again hoped that they would find what they were looking for here.

The Oligack team was less appreciative. Dr. Cotran confronted me again as they prepared to leave.

“Well, Captain!” He gave undue emphasis on the word. “I cannot say that this has been an enjoyable trip. I will certainly advise my superiors that they not book passage on your ship in the future.”

I gave him my best fake look of concern and shook his hand. “I’m sorry we were unable to meet your expectations, Doctor. Perhaps next time your superiors might approve a High Passage instead of a Middle. Our services may be more to your satisfaction then.”

He responded with a dirty look. “Goodbye, Captain. Once our cargo is unloaded I will be happy to have nothing more to do with this ship.” He turned and without a word stalked down the ramp. Dr. Cotran followed after him without looking back. Parah looked at me and mouthed “sorry” before following as well.

I looked over at Varan who shrugged. He was right; the odds of our ever having anything to do with them again were low enough that I shouldn’t care. Still, the population here was low enough that anything negative they had to say against us could influence who we picked up towards our next destination.

A pair of locals with cargo lifts appeared at the bottom of the ramp and I could see another couple of workers behind them. I waved them towards Varan and walked down the ramp, looking for whoever was in charge.

I found them quickly enough. No one seemed to be wearing any kind of uniform but this guy had a ridiculously tall hat on and approached me right away.

“You the captain?” he asked without preamble.

“Derek Kodai,” I said, extending my hand. He looked at it then back at me. I pulled it back.

“You have your manifest?” he continued without pause. There were two other people with him, a man and a woman, both holding tablets and seeming to be making constant notes on them. I later learned that they were transcribing everything we were saying.

“Sure!” I said. “I pulled up our passenger and cargo manifests on my comp and went to flick them to him, but he simply looked at me.

“What do you expect me to do with that?” he said, obviously annoyed.

“Um… You wanted the manifest?”

He sighed and looked at one of his companions. “Fifty credit fine: Administrative delay.”

“What?!”

He looked back at me. “Computer records can be altered; paper is forever. Please submit your manifests on hard-copy within the hour or face additional fines.”

I looked incredulously at him for a moment, then opened the ship’s comm. “Gray? Give us a hard-copy of the crew and cargo manifests please?”

I turned back to him, trying to give a polite smile. I didn’t like the way this was going. “What else do you need from us?”

“So, where are you staying?”

I shrugged. “Probably near the port, whatever is available.”

He frowned at that. “Not many places to stay; we don’t get a lot of tourists here.”

“We’ll manage.”

He looked dubious for a moment, then looked over his shoulder again. “Tell Alek he’ll need to open up a few more rooms.” He turned back. “How many you got?”

“Five.”

“You willing to double up? We don’t have a lot of room here.”

I glanced around. Varan was supervising the cargobots as they hauled the containers down the ramp and stacked them based on where they were going. Saahna had come up behind me and the passengers were standing in a cluster near the entrance. I didn’t see Do’rex or Jami; presumably they were still on the ship. I didn’t see Dr. Korvusar either, for that matter.

A utilitybot hovered up, a folded printout on its upper surface. I took the printout and handed it to the waiting official.

“Here you are, Mr…” I trailed off, realizing that I hadn’t gotten his name.

“It’s Commissioner!” he said. “Commissioner Harter.” He frowned. “Not properly addressing an official should be a fine, but since you cooperated so quickly in getting your manifest I will ignore that. This time.”

I managed to not frown openly and instead gave him my best fake smile. “Thank you, Commissioner.”

He nodded. “Fine. Now, let’s check out your passengers then your cargo.”

The next few hours were spent in an unbelievable maze of bureaucracy. Harter interviewed each of the passengers at length; asking what they were here for, how long would they be staying, and so on. Eventually all of them were let through the airlock and deeper into the starport.

We then went though a long process with the cargo. Harter insisted that every container be opened and personally inspected the contents. Finally, he seemed satisfied.

“Very well, Captain,” he said, looking through the manifests again. “It appears everything is in order.” He stopped, looking at something. “Wait…” He held up the paper. “Where is this person. Dr… Korvusar?”

I looked around myself. “I’m… not sure actually.” I opened the ship’s comm to her cabin, but there was no response. I switched to the general channel. “Can someone find Dr. Korvusar and ask her to come outside please? The local officials… the Commissioner needs to speak to her.”

“I will be there directly, Captain,” came Dr. Korvusar’s voice. “I’ve been sampling your atrocious wine selection while waiting.” I frowned but looked back to Harter.

“She’ll be here in a moment,” I said.

He frowned and looked at his assistant again. “Administrative delay. 50 credit fine.”

I gritted my teeth but said nothing.

A few minutes later Dr. Korvusar appeared, carrying a small pack over her shoulder. She walked directly up to the commissioner and handed him her ident.

“I’m sorry… Commissioner?” Please forgive Captain Kodai here, I was waiting on-board so as to not waste time down here.”

Harter frowned but shook his head. “The Captain is responsible for his ship, even here.” He looked directly at me but I said nothing.

After a moment he turned to examine her ident. He paused then looked back at her.

“You’ve been to Fugitak before,” he said. I couldn’t tell if it was an accusation or a question.

“Yes,” she said without expression. She continued looking at him, saying nothing further.

He frowned and looked at her ident again. “Then you should have known the fine for delaying arrival processing.” He gave a final flick through the ident then handed it back to her. “May I ask where you are staying?”

“Does Madida have her room still?”

He frowned again at that. “I don’t know for certain, but I don’t think she has a guest right now.”

Dr. Korvusar smiled. “Thank you, Commissioner.” She nodded at me. “Captain.” She turned and started walking towards the airlock herself.

Harter turned back to me. “Now, do you and your crew know what is expected from you here?”

I frowned. “We’re just staying at the starport.”

He laughed at that. “This isn’t the Imperium, Captain; their exterritoriality doesn’t apply on Fugitak. Besides, there’s only about 50 of us here, and only about 20 permanent. You want to stay here, you follow the rules.”

I sighed. “Sure, no problem. As long as you have beer.”

He laughed even louder. “Captain, no one could stay on this planet if it wasn’t for beer.” He gestured to one of his assistants who handed over a stack of papers. “Here’s the rules. When you’re ready we’ll have someone take you to the inn.”

He paused, then continued. “Most of the rules should be self-explanatory. We’re in a hostile environment here so there are severe penalties for doing anything to compromise life support. You’re a starship crew so I’m sure you can appreciate that.We also are limited in supplies and organics for the fabricators so you need to make sure you don’t leave with more than you came here with. And don’t interfere with any of our normal operations.”

“We’re all family here,” he said, looking levelly at me. “There are only a few hundred of us on the entire planet. We all know each other. We don’t know you. You’re a guest in our home. Act like it and there won’t be any problems.”

He turned and left, one of the assistants following him. The other looked at me blankly.

We’ve already alerted Alek and he has opened three rooms for you. I will lead you there when you are ready.

I nodded. “OK, fine. Let me grab what I have and we’ll meet you back here.” I looked around. Varan was talking to someone else near the cargo. I started walking in that direction but he saw me and waved me away. I waved back and headed for the ship.

Back on board I went to my cabin and threw a last few things into my downpack, making sure to leave my snub pistol locked in my safe. I then headed back to the lounge.

Jami was there, leaning back and reading something on her comp. She stood up as I came in.

“Ready for this, Captain?” she asked.

I shrugged. “A bit insular, aren’t they?”

She laughed. “Yeah, we always hated stopping here. You can make some good profit, but they’re really picky about what you can get away with.”

I shook my head. “I can’t imagine living on a planet with only 250 people on it.”

“But you live on a starship with only a dozen people on it, at most?”

“Starships move! We’re on another planet every couple of weeks! Can you imagine being trapped in this dome for months? Years?” I shook my head again. “The smell would kill me if nothing else.”

She tilted her head at me. “You know, not everyone is lucky enough to be on a ship’s crew; much less actually own one.”

I sighed. “I… guess. I always had it pretty easy back home. I was used to space even before I got on my own ship.”

“Oh?” She sighed, shaking my head. “I wish it had been that easy for me.”

I shrugged. “Ask me about it sometime. Preferably after I’m a couple of beers in.”

She narrowed her brow. “If it isn’t any of my business…”

I shook my head. “No, I just don’t want to go into a long set of details now. And most people around here have heard me complain about it enough. I don’t want to go through it again right now.”

“Thank the gods,” said Saahna, entering the lounge from her cabin with her downpack over her shoulder. She looked at Jami. “Don’t get him started. You’ll have soggy shoulders for weeks.”

“Hey!” I said, offended.

She shrugged. “It’s the truth and you know it.”

I frowned. I was about to say something when Do’rex arrived.

“I have coordinated with the local starport authority, what there is of one, to get the ship turned around and ready for launch.” He paused. “There is no fuel available here, but there is a gas giant in system. We will have to refuel there before our next Jump.”

I nodded. “Yeah, I figured as much. Passengers seem to like it, so we’ll give them a show on the way out.”

Saahna shook her head. “You think we’ll pick up any passengers here?”

“Would you stay here if you could go somewhere else?”

“Everywhere is home to someone,” she said. “But no, I’d leave the first chance I got.”

I nodded. “Yeah.”

About that moment Varan came into the lounge from the cargo bay. “OK,” he said with a deep sigh. “I think we’ve got everything taken care of. By the gods, these people are picky.”

“Tell me about it,” I said. “We’ve already racked up about a hundred credits in fines.”

He frowned. “Wasn’t what I expected.”

I shrugged. “We’re only passing through. Oh, by the way, you and I are roomies for the next week. And you two,” I gestured towards Saahna and Jami, “get to be roommates as well.” I pointed to Do’rex. “You, at least, get your own room.”

Do’rex clicked but didn’t say anything. Saahna frowned. “We don’t get our own rooms?”

I shrugged. “You want to go argue with these people, go ahead. But any fines you rack up are yours.”

She shrugged in return. “Can’t hurt.”

“Hopefully.” She shrugged again.

“OK, everyone,” I said. “Let’s head out. They claim to have beer so let’s call them on it. We’ll get to the lodging, drop our stuff off, then head down to the nearest thing they have to a bar and decide what we’re doing next.” I picked up my downpack. “Let’s go.”

The “hotel” we were staying at turned out to be maybe a dozen rooms off to one side of the complex. It was underground, like most of the rest of the facility. The room I would be sharing with Varan was almost smaller than the cabins on the ship and the air smelled of ammonia, cleanser, and that unidentifiable odor that comes with air that has been recycled one too many times. I looked dubiously at the bed, kicked my downpack into a storage locker and headed back out to find the bar.

Which turned out to just be a corner of the single common room that apparently served as bar, restaurant, meeting room, offices, entertainment venue, and general place to hang out. There were three or four of the locals sitting around but I saw Jami and Saahna sitting at a table near the back. Of course. I wandered over.

“Have a seat, Captain!” said Jami, kicking her downbag off the chair. “We’re already ahead of you!” She held up a glass.

I sat down and looked around. I finally saw a waitbot sitting in the corner and waved in its direction. It trundled over on an annoyingly squeaky set of treads. I saw the locals look over and Jami winced.

“Yeah, you’re better off getting it yourself.” She pointed to a row of dispensers along one wall. “This thing isn’t much use.”

I sighed and stood up again, waving the waitbot away just as it arrived. As it trundled back to its corner I went and checked out the dispensers. There was a surprisingly varied menu available but I was sure everything would be fabricated. I ordered a beer and a plate of fried tama leaves and headed back to the table.

Varan was just sitting down as I arrived. “Thanks, Captain!” he said with a grin, reaching for my beer. I made a mock show of pulling it away from him and taking a drink.

If there is a Platonic ideal of an “average” beer, this was it. Definitely the output of a fabricator. I tried the tama leaves and made a face. Also fabricated. I supposed there was no other way to handle food on a planet like this. I should have gotten used to it by now but I never have.

Varan handed a sheaf of papers to me as he stood up. “You probably should read these.” It was part of that stack of paper Harker’s assistant had handed me back in the landing bay. He headed off for the dispensers.

“Have you read this yet?” Saahna looked up from a similar set of papers. “Biological balance? Seriously?”

“What?” I asked, taking another handful of tama leaves and crunching on them as I started looking through my own papers.

“Their ‘environmental’ laws,” said Jami with a smile, taking a leaf for herself. “They measure how many organics you consume while you’re here and how many you… ‘leave behind’. They hit you with exit fees if you take any home with you.”

I frowned. “They measure our poop?”

She laughed. “Basically… yes. And how much you breathe and that sort of thing. They’re a closed environment here, kinda like the ship, but without the ability to replenish life support every time you land. They have to be careful.”

“Been here before?”

She shrugged. “We had… contacts here.”

I shook my head. “Not sure I want to know.”

“I wouldn’t tell you anyway.”

“Thanks?” I said. I turned to Saahna. “So what else is in there?”

She shook her head. “There’s a curfew here. A curfew! Everyone has to be in their rooms by midnight and stay there until 0600. We can’t leave the facility. And the common area is reserved for net vids at 2100 every night. Oh, and we have to have all food and drink here in the common area; no food allowed elsewhere.”

“Sounds kinda regimented.”

“Yeah, and don’t say that too loud. There are also fines for ‘expressing dissent’.”

I frowned at that. “We’re off-worlders.”

“Doesn’t matter. Still applies to us.”

I sighed. “Maybe we should have stayed on the ship.”

“Can’t do that either,” Varan said, sitting down again and putting a beer and something that I think was supposed to be fried meat pies on the table. He took one of the pies then shoved the rest forward. “Up for grabs.”

“Why not?” I asked, ignoring the pies. Jami took one but Saahna didn’t look up from the papers.

“All visitors are required to stay in the ‘transient’s facility’. That’s where we’re staying. Apparently we’re doubled up in case another ship comes through.”

“And if one doesn’t?”

He shrugged. “You have to pay a ‘commerce fee’ to cover lost income from not interacting with the local economy. Such as it is.”

I shook my head. “They’ve got all their bases covered. Wish we could do that well.”

“I wondered why we came here.”

I sighed. “First stop on the Alike Run. Just a place to stop on our way to somewhere else. We can deal with it. There are worse places we could be. They’ll get the ship turned around, we’ll pick up some cargo and hopefully some passengers and head on out.”

“Where to next, Captain?” Jami was the only one of us who was even vaguely happy. She took another couple of leaves off my plate then helped herself to another meat pie.

“Boilingbrook.” I said. I tossed my remote onto the table and activated it. The subsector holo appeared and collapsed as I pointed to it.

“Why there?” asked Saahna, putting down the rules and regulations and leaning forward.

“It’s a high-tech, one of the highest in the sector. Pretty good population too.” I flicked Boilingbrook’s profile out. “High-tech industrial. We’ll be able to get some good cargo there.”

Varan grunted. “Another unbreathable atmosphere.”

“Won’t matter,” I said. “A few million people live there, mostly in floating cities. Very different from here.”

“Speaking of ‘here’, do you really think you can pick up something?”

I shrugged. “Everyone has something to sell; something they want to ship somewhere. We’ll get something. And I’m sure there are a few people who want to go somewhere else.”

“I hope so.” Saahna shook her head. “I know I wouldn’t want to stay here.”

The conversation returned to generalities. We wound up spending a good part of the afternoon in the common room, heading over to pick up something from the dispenser every now and then. After two or three you stop noticing how average fabricated beer is. Somewhere along the line Jami struck up a conversation with one of the locals and after a time I noticed she was at their table more than ours. I shook my head. I was the one who could fit in anywhere; I had done it quite a bit. But I felt awkward for some reason. I think the reality of being the captain was setting in and I felt the need to be the leader instead of letting someone else deal with things while I went out to have fun.

I went back to the dispenser for another beer. Which one I had actually lost track of; there wasn’t much else to do on the planet. There were a couple of the local residents at the dispenser taking an inordinate amount of time to make their choices. Eventually I got my beer and a batch of chew-sticks and returned to our table.

When I got there I was surprised to see Saahna sitting alone. “Where is everyone?” I asked as I dropped the sticks on the table and slid back into my seat.

“Jami hooked up with one of them and left. Now Varan is over there seeing what he can do.”

“Good luck to him.”

“You aren’t trying your luck?”

I shook my head. “On a planet where everyone knows everyone else? We might come back here again someday.” She laughed at that.

“So,” I said, leaning forward. “You looking for someone?”

She leaned back and shook her head. “No… actually I’m looking forward to having a room to myself tonight. Where I don’t have to listen to Jami’s snoring.”

“Jami snores? Just hit the sonic dampers.”

She smirked. “I have. That woman can really put out the sound.”

I looked around. The common room was starting to fill up. I didn’t see Varan anywhere.

“Well, it looks like I get a room to myself too.” I stood up and made a show of stretching. “I guess us old folks will go to bed and leave our young crew members to their fun.”

She kept sitting. “Actually, I’ll probably hang out for a while.” She swung around to watch the room again. I looked around one last time then headed back to my room.

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