023-1117 – Fugitak – Adar/Hinterworlds

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

It was late in the morning before I left Saahna’s room. I was glad to see things back to normal between us. We may go our separate ways while on-planet but apparently we were back on again while in Jump. Which was fine with me.

As I approached my room I saw someone standing in the corridor. Every now and then I had come across someone else here but none of them had been wearing hostile environment suits with the helmet closed. Whoever this was they had apparently just come in from the outside; I could smell the ammonia even over the normal odors in the settlement.

I paused and was about to turn around when the figure spoke. “Captain Kodai?” The voice came from the external speaker and was modulated; I couldn’t even tell if it was male or female.

“Yes?” I said, cautiously. Given the amount of surveillance in the settlement I was pretty sure that someone was watching us and that I was in no danger, but for the first time since we landed I regretted leaving my snub pistol in my cabin.

“You are going to Boilingbrook next, correct?”

I frowned. “Yes, we’ve posted our departure time and schedule. Are you wanting passage? I’ve been holding passenger meetings in the common room and…”

The figure shook its head. “No. I have no desire to go to Boilingbrook. But I was hoping you could do something for me?”

I hesitated. “Depends on what it is.”

The suited figure stepped forward. “Nothing dangerous. Or illegal, I assure you.” It reached into an external pocket on its suit, pulled something out, and held it out to me. “I just need you to carry this. Just a datastick; nothing that would endanger your ship. Take it to a place called the Uptown Downport. It’s near the Starport. Tell the bartender there you have something for Jestin. They’ll know who he is and will get him. He’ll pay you a k-cred for bringing this to him.”

I looked at the stick dubiously. “What is it?”

“None of your concern,” the figure said. “But again, it is of no danger to you. As long as you don’t try to look at it. Try without knowing the codes and it will destroy itself. Which still won’t be a danger to you; you’ll just lose the thousand credits you would get otherwise.”

I hesitated, then reached out and took the datastick. “I assume I shouldn’t tell anyone about this?”

The figure nodded. “I assumed that went without saying.” They paused, tilting their head as if listening to something, then immediately walked past me down the corridor. “Thank you, Captain. And I was never here.” They continued down the corridor and disappeared around the corner.

I stood there for a moment, looking at the datastick. What was I getting into this time? After a moment I shrugged and stuck it in a pocket on my vest.

I had barely done so when two of the locals carrying tool-kits came around the corner. They seemed surprised to see me there and stopped, then one of them came forward.

“Oh, hello Captain Kodai,” she said. I recognized her as someone I had seen in the common room but that was about it. “Um… are you OK? Anything going on?”

I shook my head. “No, just heading back to my room. I spent the night… elsewhere.” I smiled, then put on a more serious expression. “Something wrong?”

She shook her head in return. “No, it’s just that the monitors in this section of corridor have gone out. Just wanted to make sure that nothing had happened while coverage was off. Glad to hear it wasn’t.”

I shrugged. “No, no problem. OK if I go on back to my room?”

She shook her head again. “No, go ahead. Sorry to bother you.” She waved to her colleague and the two headed on down the corridor. I went on to my room.

I stayed there a bit longer than I needed to before grabbing some things and heading down to the communal fresher. The techs were gone by then. I wondered about the person I had met. Who were they and what did they want? Things like this were not uncommon; I had been approached many times in the past to carry small, personal messages to the next planet. But usually whoever needed something carried approached a random crew member, not the captain. Either they didn’t know my status, didn’t care, or had something that they didn’t trust to anyone else.

Which pretty much covers every option, so it doesn’t tell me anything.

I cleaned up and returned to my room. After dropping off some things I headed for the common room, making sure to keep the datastick in my vest pocket. I wasn’t sure what it was but I didn’t want to leave it sitting around.

When I got to the common room I saw Saahna had already found a table, along with Jami and Amada. Saahna waved me over and I went and sat down.

“Got this for you,” she said, sliding a beer in my direction.

I picked it up and took a drink. “Thanks,” I said. “Breakfast of champions.”

Jami frowned. “I’m not sure that’s what the Ancients meant by that.”

“How do you know?”

She shrugged. “So, how are we doing, Captain.”

“We’ve got a nearly full cargo load and almost all the cabins are booked. We may still get something today or tomorrow but we’ll probably go out a bit light.”

“Sounds good!”

I nodded. “Better than I expected on a place this small.” I suddenly remembered Amada sitting there and turned to her. “No offense intended.”

“No, that’s OK,” she said in a quiet voice. There was a pause. “You said… you said you have cabins left?”

I frowned. “Yes, we have one. Why, do you know someone looking for passage off-world?”

She nodded slowly. “Yes… me.”

Jami looked surprised at that, surprise that quickly turned to discomfort. “Um… Amada… Look, I…”

Amada held up her hands. “No, please. I understand. It isn’t you. Well, it is, but it isn’t. It’s… complicated.”

“Isn’t it always…” said Saahna, looking at me. I flushed slightly.

Jami’s discomfort was increasing. “Look, Amada, I like you. I really do, but…”

Amada shook her head and took Jami’s hand. “No, really. It isn’t that. I like you too, but I knew what I was getting into. It’s not that. It’s…” She looked around, then looked off into nowhere, not fixing her gaze on any of us.

“I grew up here. I’ve never known anywhere but here. I never even thought of leaving, even though I’ve known any number of ship’s crews. But talking to you, the way you talk about the worlds out there…” She paused, then turned to look at Jami. “I want to leave and go to another world with you. Don’t worry, I’m not asking for any kind of commitment. I’ll leave at Boilingbrook, or where ever it is that you are going. I just…” she looked around again. “I just need to get out of here.”

Jami was looking between Amada and me with something between shock and panic in her face. She obviously hadn’t known about this. I held up a hand and looked at Amada.

“I know you and Jami have spent time together but I can’t give you any kind of special treatment. It’s… just the way things are. You’ll have to get a passage just like anyone else.”

She nodded immediately. “Yes Captain, I understand.” She reached into her bag and pulled out a double stack of physical credits. She counted out eight k-creds and handed them to me.

I took them and put them in my own bag. What was with everyone using physical credits here? Then I remembered what Commissioner Harter had said after we landed about not trusting computers. Did everyone here think that way?

I shrugged. It didn’t matter; Credits were Credits. “Welcome aboard,” I said. “We’re departing in two days; on 025. Boarding should be between 1000 and 1200. You have any special cargo or needs?”

She shook her head. “No. Thank you, Captain.”

Jami was looking at her almost in a panic. “Uh… Amada. I wasn’t trying to… I didn’t mean…”

Amada smiled and held up a hand to her. “It’s OK Jami, it’s OK.” She leaned forward quickly and gave her a brief kiss. “I wasn’t expecting anything more than a week with you. But the stories you told? I don’t want to stay on one planet anymore. You gave me the push I needed to go. That’s all.”

Jami’s expression hadn’t changed. She turned to me. “Um… Captain, I….”

It was my turn to hold up a hand. “She’s a passenger. She’s welcome aboard.” I looked to see Amada looking with some concern at Jami. “Listen, I think you two need a bit of time alone.” I looked over at Saahna, who nodded. “Saahna and I have some business to discuss. We’ll leave you to it.”

I stood up and Saahna, almost too fast, stood up with me. “We’ll… see you two later,” she said to Jami. I nodded and led the way to a table on the far side of the common room.

“That was awkward,” she said as we sat back down. “Six years on the ship and I’ve never seen that.”

I shrugged. “I have, once or twice. She’s handling it about as well as the other times I’ve seen it.” I looked over. Amada was leaning forward, both of Jami’s hands in hers, talking earnestly. Jami was looking anywhere but at Amada.

“Jami told me that her old captain, Captain Barikus, never let them interact with the locals when they landed. They seem to have primarily been smugglers, so he probably didn’t want them giving anything away. She probably didn’t realize how much allure Travelling has. Or how little opportunity most people have to actually do it.”

She smiled. “Didn’t you just turn someone down yourself?”

I grimaced. “She wanted a free ride for her and her friends. Not exactly the same thing.” I gestured in their direction. “She’ll get off at Boilingbrook, stay there until she’s saved up for another passage, then move on. Will probably wind up on a ship herself someday. I’ve seen it before. She’ll be fine.”

“How about Jami?”

I frowned slightly but shrugged. “She’ll be a bit more careful about what she says from now on. She’ll be fine too.”

She leaned forward at that. “So… should I be more careful about what I say on-planet?”

I smiled. “That’s up to you. You’ll be back on the ship at the end of the week.”

She smiled and nodded in return. “For some reason I was afraid you wanted something exclusive.”

“That’s up to you.” She frowned at that.

“Um… Captain?”

I sighed and shook my head. “And don’t start calling me ‘Captain’ again. I’ll never ask anything of you that you don’t want. You know that by now.”

She leaned back and looked over at Jami and Amada. Both of them were leaning towards each other now, talking quietly. Finally, she turned back towards me.

“Yeah, I know. Thanks. But let’s… not mess things up now, OK?”

I nodded. “Sure.”

She sighed. “OK, so did you really have something for me or did you just want an excuse to get away from them?”

“No, I actually have something.” I related to her my weird encounter in the corridor.

“I’ve had these random deliveries before, but this one seemed a bit… off. I’m not quite sure what to make of it.” I pulled out the datastick and handed it to her. “The guy… or gal or whatever said that if I tried to look at this it would destroy itself. Think you can make anything of it without blowing it up?”

She frowned. “I can probably look at it read-only, but if they’ve got some really deep ice on it I’m not sure I can punch through it.”

I shrugged. “It doesn’t matter that much. We’re outside the Imperium here, so as long as we avoid any local entanglements either here or on Boilingbrook we should be fine. I’m just curious, really.”

She took the stick and placed it in her own pocket. “Don’t know if I can find out anything while on-planet, but I’ll see what I can do once we’re back on the Grayswandir.”

I nodded. “All you can do. Oh, we’ll probably have our pre-departure check off tomorrow night. Any problems?”

She looked offended. “Of course not!”

I nodded again. “OK, I’ll ping everyone and let them know.” I frowned. “Maybe Do’rex will even show up.”

She laughed. “You know he’s been staying on the ship.”

I was surprised to hear that. “Really?”

She nodded. “Yeah, he decided pretty much immediately that he didn’t want to hang around here.”

“So we’re paying for the room that he isn’t staying in?”

“It’s cheaper than the penalty for not staying at the settlement.”

I sighed. “As long as we don’t get dinged for it, I’m OK. We’ve racked up enough fines as it is.”

“So… what next here?”

“I guess I need to stick around the common room in case someone else shows up with some kind of cargo.”

“How short are we?”

“11 tons. One good load should do it.”

“Low pop Amber Zone? Good luck.”

I shrugged. “It’s either that or hang out in my room. Or yours.”

She smiled at that. “I… think we’ll wait until we’re back on board again. Captain.”

I frowned expressively. “OK, fine,” I said with mock disgust.

She raised an eyebrow. “You could get in some range time with me?”

I hesitated. “Where are you shooting?”

“Outside. Someone set up a firing range about a quarter-klick from here.”

I frowned. “Are we allowed to go there?”

She shrugged. “No, but no one has stopped me either.”

“OK, sure. Let me go grab my suit and I’ll meet you there.”

She nodded. “OK, leave the main airlock… you know where that is, right? Leave the main airlock and head south. There’s a huge cluster of rocks a bit past the settlement. Go around them to the left; you’ll find a narrow canyon. I’ll be there.”

I was a bit surprised. “Sounds like you’ve been spending some time out there. Any problems?”

She shrugged again. “Not much else to do around here.”

I shrugged in return. “It isn’t the most exciting planet we’ve been to.”

She smiled. “You aren’t wrong, Captain.”

I frowned. “I told you not to call me that.”

“So… you want to meet me?”

“Sure. I’ll be there after I hit the ship.”

She nodded. “See you there… Captain.” She emphasized the last word just to annoy me, then got up and headed for the exit.

I headed back to the landing pad. There was some activity around the ship; a few cargobots were arranging containers for loading and someone was on a scaffolding over the starboard engine.

“How’s it going?” I yelled up. A few moments later a worker stuck his head over the edge.

“Oh, Captain Kodai!” He seemed flustered. “Didn’t expect to see you here.”

I waved towards the airlock. “Just needed to pick up something from my cabin. I’ll be out of your way in a minute.”

“Should be OK,” he said. “I think Nami and Kell are working in there but that shouldn’t be a problem.” He disappeared back over the edge of the ship. I shrugged and headed on through the airlock.

The outer door was closed so I had to wait for it to cycle to get in. There was no one in the main lounge so I crossed to my cabin.

I pulled my snub pistol out of the safe, then stuck the stack of physical credits I had been accumulating into it before closing it back. Then I went back out and to the suit locker beside the airlock.

My ship jumpsuit would technically serve as a vaccsuit. It had an inner lining that would tighten and reinforce my own skin against vacuum; all I would have to do is grab a helmet, gloves, and breather pack. Useful for ship’s crews that needed to deal with vacuum, but it provided no protection against things like extreme heat or cold, radiation or, in this case, toxic atmospheres. I needed my full suit for that.

It takes a while to climb into a full suit, but eventually I found my way back into the landing pad. The worker I had seen earlier was now working on the starboard fuel scoop. I waved as I cycled out of the airlock.

“Going outside, Captain?” He asked, seeming surprised.

“Yes.” I nodded, then remembered I was in the suit and activated the external speaker. “Yes. Just need to get out a while.”

He laughed at that. “Yeah? Spend a few minutes out there and you’ll be happy to stay in here.”

I waved my arm in that exaggerated gesture you use when in a suit to indicate acknowledgment and headed on to the tunnel. There, I found the exit Saahna had mentioned and cycled through the airlock.

Outside I had expected the yellowish fog and the light “snow” of brown flakes falling from overhead, but I had been a bit unprepared for the winds. After a moment I got my balance and started heading around the dome in the direction given by Saahna. Several paths led away from the airlock, looking like someone had taken a walk through fallen leaves, but one that looked recent seemed to be in the direction I wanted to go. I followed it.

It took a bit longer than I expected but about 15 minutes later I saw the cluster of rocks she had described. Then I saw her light and headed towards her.

“Took you long enough,” she said through the suit comms as I came up.

I waved my arms in an exaggerated shrug. “Couldn’t get the waist joint to close.”

She grunted. “I hope you did. The air out here won’t kill you quite immediately, but it’ll take days to get the smell out.”

I waved my arms again. “So, where’s this ‘firing range’.”

“Over here.” She gave an overarm gesture and pointed. I saw a narrow crack in the rock, only a few meters wide, but when I got closer I saw that the far end of it was about 50 meters away and that someone had spray-painted targets on it and on some rocks along the way. Mostly human silhouettes, but a few were Hivers and I saw one K’kree at the far end.

“All yours, Captain,” she said, gesturing down the crevice. I pulled out my snub pistol and a speed-loader from my belt pouch, loaded it, and looked down range.

A snub pistol looks like an oversize revolver, but it’s a specialty weapon designed for use on ships. It is oversize and has no trigger guard so that you can still use it while wearing a vaccsuit. The rounds themselves are under-powered so that they are less likely to punch holes in the walls you are using to hold your air in, but are larger so that they still punch holes in whatever you are trying to shoot at.

“Trying” being the operative word in my case.

I took aim at a rock about a third of the way down, one painted with the Solomani flag, and slowly squeezed off six shots. The first two missed, but after that I compensated for the wind and managed to at least hit the rock with the other four.

“Not bad, Captain,” I heard Saahna say. “You’ve been practicing.”

I gave an over-emphasized shrug. “I got lucky.”

I heard a laugh. “Of course, given that you should have been able to do as well with a thrown rock, that isn’t saying much.”

I stepped back and gestured forwards. “Let’s see you try then?”

She didn’t say anything, but stepped forward, pulling out her gauss pistol as she did. The gauss was the opposite of my snub. It fired tiny needles, magnetically accelerated to extremely high speeds. The net result on starship hulls, and potential targets, was the same.

She fired and I heard the distinctive low-pitched “thrum” of an ultra-rapid-fire weapon. She was aiming at a target about halfway down the crevice and I saw a spray of rock chips as she swept it across the target, obliterating half of the painted silhouette.

She ejected her clip, picked up the empty, and replaced it with another from her harness. “Let’s see how you can do at that range.”

I exaggeratedly shrugged and broke open my pistol. I had nothing to eject; it was a revolver and like just about everything around it used caseless ammunition, so I started to drop another speed-loader in. Then, I paused and switched to a different load; the red one with the silver ring instead of the blue one.

I took careful aim and fired. My first shot missed, but the explosion at the impact point behind the rock kicked debris a dozen feet into the air. My second shot hit the rock.

The armor-piercing round buried itself several inches into the rock before the embedded high-explosive went off; shattering it into several pieces. The target fell apart.

That round you don’t want to use while on a ship.

I couldn’t see her face through her visor but I heard the annoyance in her voice. “That’s cheating, Captain. And probably illegal here.”

I exaggeratedly shrugged. “We’re outside the settlement. And it isn’t cheating if it works.”

“Just don’t forget you have those loaded.”

“Yeah, I’ll be careful.” I broke open the snub pistol, ejected the remaining rounds into my pouch, then pulled out a blue loader –normal rounds– and dropped them into the chambers.

She had been watching me carefully and may have nodded, but I couldn’t tell through the helmet. “Fine. Now try it.”

I shrugged and took aim at a similarly distant rock. I managed to score three hits. Not bad, but not the best either.

“We don’t have a single open space that long on the ‘Swan”, I said.

“Oh, and you never go off ship?”

I waved arms again. “Who is going to be shooting at me off ship?”

“Jealous husband?”

I laughed at that. “He’d never know I was there.”

She laughed in return. “No, you’d never make a husband jealous. Trust me.”

“Hey!” She laughed harder.

“OK, Captain,” she said finally. “Let’s try a few more rounds.” We spent almost an hour switching off between each other and aiming for further and further targets. After a while we got to the point where she was consistently hitting hers while I was consistently missing mine. We stayed there until I finally ran out of the ammo I had brought with me.

“That’s it?” she asked.

I arm-waved shrugged. “Unless you want me to start firing HEAP again.”

I heard her sigh. “No, that’s fine. Why do you have that, anyway?”

“Jealous husbands?” I suggested?

She did laugh. “OK, fine. You’re getting better. You need to get in some more range time, though.”

I arm-waved again. “That’s what I hire you for, right?”

“And here I thought it was my wit and charm. Or maybe my breasts. I’m not sure.”

I laughed. “A little of A and a little of B.”

“They’re actually C,” she responded. My helmet kept her from seeing me turn red.

She came over and put an arm around my suit. “And I’m glad to be on board, Captain. Ready to head back.”

I nodded invisibly in my suit. “Sure.”

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