032-1117 – Boilingbrook – Adar/Hinterworlds

Boilingbrook – Adar/Hinterworlds 0801 A9C9751-D 700 Na G0 II

So we’re at Boilingbrook. I’m at a place called the White Leviathan. Just me. Saahna isn’t here, but… I’ll get to that later.

Anyway, we got to Boilingbrook today. We tumbled out of Jumpspace about 1000. Almost immediately we were pinged by Boilingbrook STC, Space Traffic Control, asking what we were up to. Do’rex had been on the bridge of course and had already received our approach instructions by the time I got there. I dropped into my seat and started setting up an orbit.

Compared to Fugitak, or even Adar, space around Boilingbrook was crowded; there were dozens of targets on sensors as we approached. Do’rex didn’t want to even try orbit, which was full of communication, weather, observation, and defense satellites anyway, so I plotted a direct-in approach.

We passed just above a Leviathan-class bulk freighter; 100,000 displacement tons of pure cargo. It was several dozen kilometers away but I could still see it clearly on visual; a skyscraper, a mountain floating through space.

From orbit Boilingbrook doesn’t look like much; a yellow-tinged white sphere. As you get closer you start seeing variations in the clouds, but no breaks; the cloud cover is complete. Not that there is anything to see on the surface; sulfuric acid seas boiling under incredibly high temperatures and pressures. It’s a wonder that anyone lives here.

No one does. Well, not on the planet.

We settled into an approach just behind a Sub Merchant. At first I didn’t see anything. Then, as we closed in, I saw it loom above the clouds.

The imaginatively named “Boilingbrook Downport” was a roughly circular disc floating about a kilometer or so above the cloud tops. A torus several kilometers in diameter encircled a flattened dome. A few smaller domes floated around it. Carbon fiber cables dropped from its underside and into the clouds, anchoring it to the surface far below and holding the starport in the same relative position on the planet. I later learned that most of the cities here floated freely around on the upper air currents.

Beyond that the approach couldn’t have been easier. We were directed into a landing bay in the outer torus and Do’rex maneuvered us through the opening and onto the pad inside. We settled down with barely a bump. I switched off the internal grav as we settled into place and there was only a slight shift in “down” as natural gravity took over.

The next few hours were routine. Varan was taking care of the passengers and getting them disembarked while Saahna and I supervised getting the cargo unloaded, but had trouble staying focused on the work at hand.

Boilingbrook is an odd world. Odd even for a planet where everyone lives on what are basically giant balloons floating above a corrosive atmosphere. Inside you don’t notice; landing bay looks like every other internal landing bay you would find anywhere in or around the Imperium.

Then you take your first breath, turn to say something… and your voice comes out high and squeaky.

Remember those balloons? The entire population lives inside of them. And they don’t want to depend on gravitics when a single failure could cause an entire city to plummet to the ground. They’re actually lighter than the outside atmosphere; which is mostly carbon dioxide at this altitude. To help make that happen they replace about 20% of the inert gases in their breathing air with helium. Harmless, but surprisingly hard to get used to. Which is why Saahna and I kept cracking each other up when one tried to say something to the other.

Jami met with the ground crew to review maintenance, did a cursory review with them, then hurried out of the docking bay. I assume she was rushing to catch up with Amada. I frowned for a moment, wondering if she would be back at the end of the week, then shrugged. She’d probably be back. If not… I shrugged again… there should be plenty of candidates on Boilingbrook.

The port inspector finally showed up and I just flicked the cargo and crew manifests over to her. She glanced at her comp, made a few notes, then flicked our landing permits back. And that was it.

Remind me to never go back to Fugitak.

And then we were done. The cargobots had things under control, the last of the passengers were off the ship, and we were on starport power so we could shut the fusion plant down. I made a last walk-around of the Grayswandir then went to my cabin and packed my downbag.

I returned to the crew lounge, dropped my bag by the airlock, and went up to the bridge. Do’rex had apparently left already; his console was in standby. I checked mine long enough to see that Varan was the only other person still on board before shutting it down as well.

I got back to the lounge in time to see Varan exiting his cabin, carrying his downpack and an oversize hard case.

“Got your own trade goods in there?”

He shook his head. “It’s a simulation console. I’ll set it up in my room and keep practicing my Gunnery routines.”

I shrugged. “Just don’t overdo it. You’re supposed to be relaxing on your downtime. Not studying.”

“It’s OK. Don’t worry. I’ll find something else to do.” He smiled.

I nodded. “Good.” I checked my comp and saw that Do’rex and Saahna were already outside. “OK, I’ll try to set up a post-landing review for later tonight, then you’ll be off for five. Need anything?”

He shook his head. “I’m good.”

“Then let’s get out of here.”

We both cycled through the airlock. A ground crew representative was there waiting on us; I have no idea how long he had been there. I turned the ship over to him and asked for a recommendation of a place to stay. He suggested the White Leviathan. Varan and I headed for the bay airlock.

Saahna was there waiting for us. “Looks like we’re at the White Leviathan,” I said as we came up.

She hesitated a bit too long, then shook her head. “Actually… I’m going to find my own place this planet.”

I felt my breath catch. I had thought things were going well with us this time. And after she had broken it off back on Adar then came back on Fugitak I had started to let myself think that, maybe, this time would be the one that stuck.

Looks like I was wrong. Again.

I had thought I was keeping my feelings out of my expression but Varan glanced at me and suddenly moved towards the airlock. “I’ll… see you at the Leviathan.” He hurried through the iris and cycled the lock.

I looked back to see Saahna looking at me with a look of vague irritation. “You could have said something earlier,” I said, letting more of my annoyance drift into my voice than I had intended.

She sighed. “I’ve been with you, with all of you, for the last few weeks. I just need to re-calibrate myself a bit; remind myself what it’s like to be around other people.”

I lowered my head. “Yeah, yeah… I get it.”

I heard her snort laughter. “And I can’t possibly take you seriously when you sound like Felix the Ferimunk.”

I did smile at that. “Yeah, there is that.” I looked up to see her expression had turned serious again.

“Why do you always do this?” she asked.

“Do what?”

She shook her head and looked away. “How long have we been together?”

“This time?” I shrugged. “Two weeks?”

She swung back to glare at me. “Really? Don’t you mean five years?”

It was my time to shake my head. “We’ve been through this before.”

She held her glare. “We’ll all be back on board next week. I’ll be back on board next week. Why can’t you accept that?”

“I know!” I threw up my hands and turned towards the airlock. This was hardly the first time we had had this argument. I think we go through it now out of habit more than anything else.

She was right. She would be back on board next week. We’d probably keep our distance for another week or two then would be back on again.

I guess I’m always afraid that the time will come when she doesn’t come back.

Anyway, I left the starport ring and made my way into the main dome. The initial view was almost overwhelming.

The central dome was one vast, open space. The entrance from the ring was about a hundred meters from the “ground” and I was looking out across a city that filled the space. The dome was either transparent from the inside or was a giant screen and it showed the view of the outside As I watched a pair of shuttles flew overhead, banking to intercept the ring.

I watched for several minutes before calling an air cab to take me to the White Leviathan.

The next thing I did was find a place for us to meet that night. I remembered the datastick I was carrying, the one for the Uptown Downport. I pulled it up on the net and found that it was on the far side of the balloon. I started to look for someplace else, then shrugged. I had no idea where the rest of the crew was staying anyway.

I pinged the crew channel to tell them we were meeting at the Uptown Downport at 1900; about three hours later. Then I picked up the datastick, stuck my snub pistol under my jacket, and headed out.

The Uptown Downport was a couple of kicks away, almost directly opposite where I was in the dome. I could have called an aircab, but I had been on the ship for a week. And cooped up on Fugitak for a week before that. And another week on board before!

I decided to walk.

The city was easy to walk in; like most cities that had been founded after gravitics moved transportation to the air its streets and walkways were designed for pedestrian traffic. The area I was in at the moment was fairly upscale; brokerages, financial centers, high-end shops, hotels and entertainment, that sort of thing. There was a TAS resort and casino just down the road. Crowds of people, both locals and obvious off-worlders were walking the streets in droves as air rafts and vans sailed overhead.

But as I walked I started coming across more warehouses and fewer shops, and the general ambiance started becoming less opulent and more shabby.

On the other side of the warehouse district the ambiance took another drop. Now a number of the buildings were empty; some just unoccupied, some boarded up, and still others abandoned and home to people who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, qualify for Basic. The crowds of people moving through the streets became clusters of people just standing around on corners and looking at me suspiciously as I walked by.

I was about to regret coming here when, as suddenly as crossing the street, everything changed again. The buildings were now full of new, bustling businesses and the streets were crowded with young professionals, mostly locals and mostly wearing the latest designs; primarily those weird scarf/drape things that were so popular back on Capitol. Or, at least, had been popular there when the most recently arrived X-Boat had left. Who knew what was trending there now? Probably body armor being worn ‘ironically’.

I spotted the Uptown Downport ahead of me. It was the upper floor of a four or five-story building. Larger than the floors below it, it gave the building the appearance of a mushroom. I entered the ground floor, most of which seemed to be boutique clothing and food shops, and took the lift to the top.

I had only taken two steps out of the lift when a quiet buzzer sounded and a red light flashed. A large Aslan stepped out of an alcove and into my path.

“No weapons allowed, sir,” he said quietly. He gestured to one side. “You can check it over there.”

I looked and saw a window with a bored-looking human reading something on her comp. I turned back and nodded. “Sure. No problem.” I was serious. I had no desire to tangle with an Aslan. I wondered what he was doing on this side of the Imperium.

I went to the window and surrendered my snub pistol, getting a chit in exchange. From the looks of the cubbyholes behind her I wasn’t the only one who had brought a weapon. I thought about the area I had walked through getting here and wasn’t surprised.

I headed back towards the inner doors and this time there was no light. I went on into the Uptown Downport.

It was a nice place. Definitely nicer than the places I usually went to and much nicer than where I would expect to be making a clandestine delivery. Most everyone there was wearing the latest trends as well and I felt a bit out-of-place in just my ship’s jumpsuit and captain’s jacket. Then I saw a few people in planetary navy uniforms and spotted a Scout crew at the far side of the room, so I wasn’t completely out-of-place.

The far wall was all glassteel and, due to our height, gave an unobstructed view of the starport ring and the operations there. Boilingbrook’s sun was descending in a deep blue sky while the yellow-tinged white clouds stretched to the horizon below us. A far better view than I would have expected on a toxic-atmosphere world like this.

The bar was in front of the window so I went over and sat down. A human bartender came over and I immediately added another 50% to the price I was expecting. “What do you need?” she asked, dropping a coaster in front of me. She glanced at my jacket then added “… Captain.”

“Whatever your local Imperial Pale is,” I said. “Just landed and haven’t been here before.”

She smiled at that. “Well… welcome to Boilingbrook Downport, Captain….” she trailed off.

“Kodai,” I said, returning her smile. “Captain Kodai. But call me Derek.”

“Certainly!” she said, smiling a bit wider. “One Imperial Boil coming up, Derek.” She turned and busied herself at the bar.

I pulled out my comp and pinged the crew, letting them know I was there. “And watch out at the entrance,” I added. “They’ll ask you to check your weapons at the door. But don’t go out empty; the area around here is a bit slummy.” I cut off as the bartender returned.

“I’m Delenda,” she said brightly as she placed an elaborate stein in front of me. “Can I get you something else?”

I hesitated a moment. “Yeah,” I said finally. “I’m looking for someone. Jestin?”

Her face immediately clouded. “Who?”

I frowned. “Jestin? Someone back on Fugitak asked me to deliver something to him.”

She frowned and I could tell the name made her uncomfortable. “OK, yeah…” She hesitated. “He’s not here right now, but I can let him know you’re looking for him.”

I hesitated myself. What was I getting into? I shrugged. “Hey, I’m just running a delivery. Free Traders like us do it all the time. Can you just let him know I have something for him? Thanks.”

She smiled slightly. “OK, sure. Just a minute.” She left.

I sat there for a while, watching as the sun slowly set off to the west. Boilingbrook has a relatively slow rotation period so one “day” is about 38 standard hours long. The locals have adapted to it by having an “early day”, a “late day”, and then an “off day”. Fortunately, we had landed on a “late day”. Otherwise most everything would have been closed.

Delenda stopped by a few times to check on me but I could tell she was a bit apprehensive every time she did. I got another beer and a basket of tama leaves. I was about halfway through both when someone walked over and sat down on the stool next to me.

“I understand you have something for me?” he asked, without introducing himself.

I turned to look. He was young. Well, younger than me anyway; I had expected someone older for some reason. He was wearing one of those scarf/drape things over a loose tunic. Clean-shaven, but with a long ponytail tied in an intricate knot.

He also had a tingler hanging from his belt. Apparently a few people were allowed to carry weapons inside.

I frowned. “And who are you?”

He turned and looked levelly at me. “Name’s Jestin. Jestin Former. I understand you have something for me,” he repeated.

I hesitated, then pulled the datastick out of my pocket and handed it to him. “Someone back on Fugitak asked me to deliver this to you.” As he took it from me I added, “They said I would get a k-cred for delivering it.”

He didn’t say anything. Instead, he plugged the stick into his comp and looked at the display for a moment. Then he pulled it free and turned to me.

“You didn’t look at it.”

“I was told not to.”

“Did you try?”

I hesitated, then shrugged. “Long enough to see that I couldn’t without someone knowing. Didn’t seem worth it.”

He smiled. “It wouldn’t have been.” He tossed the stick back to me. “The only thing on it is a program to see if it had been accessed. It hasn’t been.”

I stared at him. “What?”

He shrugged and retrieved a pouch from inside his tunic. He pulled a handful of credits out and handed them to me. “I’m looking to see who I can trust and who I can’t. And who will follow instructions willingly, but who will take proper precautions first. You’ve passed both tests… Captain.” He stood up. “We’ll be in touch. Maybe.”

I stood up as well. “Wait! Who the hell are you? Who is ‘we’? And what is going on?”

He looked levelly at me. “Someone who just paid you a thousand credits to carry a useless datastick across two parsecs. You need to know anything else?”

I hesitated, then sighed. “No. I guess not.”

He smiled. “Good. That was a test too, by the way. Have a good visit, Captain.” He turned and left without looking back.

I looked after him for a few moments, then turned and sat back down. Delenda was there, looking at me.

“What?” I said, overly irritated for no reason.

She stepped back but shook her head. “Nothing…” She paused. “You’ve… never met Jestin before?”

“Never met him before a few minutes ago and still have no idea who he is.” I was still more irritated than I should have been. “Someone asked me to deliver something to him. That’s all.”

She seemed to relax a bit. “OK, sure.” She paused. “You don’t work for him?”

I started getting angry. “I just met him for the first time! Look, I’m just delivering a package, OK? I run a Free Trader, it’s part of what we do!”

She stepped back, holding her hands up, but relaxed a few seconds later. “OK, OK, sure. Most of you independents don’t make it to this side of the ‘port so I’m not sure how this ‘delivery’ stuff works.” She paused, then came closer and leaned forward. “You really don’t know who he is?”

I sighed and rolled my eyes. “No! That’s what I keep saying!”

She sighed in return then leaned even closer across the bar. “Look. Jestin is… well…. OK, I don’t know who, or what, he is. But even the gangs around here avoid him. Everyone on Downport avoids him. OK? He’s… dangerous? This was your first contact with him? Make it your last. Nothing good comes from associating with him. OK?”

“OK, sure!” I said, almost leaning back from her intensity. I drained my glass then held it up. “Another?”

She sighed then stepped back. “Sure!”

I spent the next hour or so at the bar and had another beer or two. I admit that I was feeling a bit buzzed when I happened to see Do’rex enter the room. I waved in his direction and he came over.

“I took an aircab,” he said without preamble. “I didn’t want to risk a confrontation with the locals.”

“Understandable,” I replied. I waved towards Delenda. “We’re heading over there,” I said, pointing to a booth to one side of the window.

She waved acknowledgment from across the bar. I took my beer and we crossed what would probably be a dance floor later tonight and claimed the table.

“So…” I said as we slid into the circular booth. “What’s up?” I frowned. “And why do you sound normal here?”

He flipped a tentacle. “My vocal tract is separate from my lungs. Amphibious adaptation.”

I raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t know that.”

“Most humans know very little about us,” he replied. His tentacles twitched slightly, a sign of irritation.

“Hey, sorry man!” I said, holding up my hands. “Wasn’t meaning anything.”

“Of course you weren’t,” he said, his voice neutral as always. “But as far as anything going on, I have found accommodations and unpacked. Then I came here.”

I smiled. “A bit better than Fugitak, huh?”

He clicked. “Definitely.”

A human waiter came over to take our order. Neither of us had looked at the menu yet, but Do’rex ordered a Moru; a strongly intoxicating, very hot drink. The waiter nodded and left.

“Ready to relax?” I asked.

He flipped a tentacle. “I feel as if I have been confined for several weeks. It is good to be somewhere open.”

“I hear you, believe me.” I was about to say more when I saw Varan enter. I waved until he saw us and slid over as he arrived.

“What’s up, Captain? Do’rex?” He seemed relaxed as well, and waived towards the waiter as he sat down.

“Not much.” I said. “Did my private delivery, then came here.”

“Private delivery?” Do’rex asked.

I waved my hands. “I’ll go into it when everyone gets here.” He continued to look at me for a moment, then returned his attention to the menu.

The waiter returned a few minutes later with Varan’s drink. We ordered and I got a katari; that’s a vegetable lasagna-ish dish with an insanely spicy pepper sauce instead of tomato.

Yes, my stomach hates me a lot of the time. Why?

We had just gotten our food when Saahna came up to the table. “You’re all starting without me?”

“No, come on in!” Varan slid further in, forcing me to slide further around as well. Saahna dropped in beside him.

“So, what’s up, Captain.” She emphasized the word a bit too much.

I decided to let it go. We were both still edgy; no need to drag things out any longer than I had to.

“Just recapping the last week, then off for five. Same as always. Anything?”

She shrugged. “Not sure why we needed to come all the way over here. Anything special about this place?”

“I had a delivery here,” I said. “That stick you looked at.”

She sighed. “So, just because you had to come here you made the rest of us come here as well?”

I frowned, then shook my head. “It was as good a place as any, so why not? And we’re inside a balloon; nothing is really that far away.”

She hesitated for a long moment, then shrugged. “Whatever.” The waiter came over at that point and the rest of us took the chance to refill our drinks while she reviewed her choices. She eventually ordered and we made small talk for a bit.

The waiter eventually returned with her meal, one of those stews she always preferred, and we got back to business.

“Where’s Jami?” asked Varan.

I looked around the room again, then shrugged. “No idea. I’ll talk to her later. So, anything on the past week?”

The crew looked at each other for a few seconds, then Varan looked back at me. “What was this private delivery of yours that made all of us come over here?”

I shrugged, then told them about the datastick, how I had gotten it on Fugitak, and how I had met Jestin here.

“That’s the datastick you asked me to look at?” Saahna asked.

I nodded. “Yeah. I have no idea. Who pays a k-cred for no reason?”

She frowned. “There was a reason. He thinks he can trust you now.”

I shrugged. “So we avoid him. That’s all.”

“Won’t work,” she said, shaking her head. “Someone else comes up asking us to carry a private package. Do we know it is him or not?”

I thought a moment, then sighed. “OK. Fair point.”

She glared at me. “Be careful of what you involve the rest of us in, OK?”

I frowned. I knew Saahna well. Really well. You don’t live on a starship with someone for years without knowing just about everything about them. Something was bothering her that wasn’t our familiar breakup cycle. Normally I would just ask, but… we were on our breakup cycle and I knew not to pry too much.

So I just shook my head with a puzzled look. “We’ve carried personal messages and packages before. Every few jumps. I think that I got most of them as First, but I know Captain Anna got them too. Hell, I think every one of us has picked up at least one over the past year. What is so different about this one?”

I saw her gaze shift to the view over my shoulder and out the window, and I could tell she was thinking of what to say. Finally she turned back to me, shaking her head.

“Nothing, I guess. Maybe I’m still a bit on edge after being cooped up for the last few weeks.” She slid out of the booth. “In fact, I think I’m going to go stretch my legs a bit. Need anything more from us?”

I hesitated, wishing she would have said what was really bothering her, then shook my head. “No? No.” I waved towards the exit. “Enjoy your week off.”

“Thank you, Captain.” She again emphasized the word a bit too much. I was starting to find it annoying, regardless of context. She turned and left without saying anything else.

The others looked around uncomfortably for a few seconds. “Well…” said Varan, finally. “I guess that went well.”

I stared at him for a few seconds before replying myself. “Yeah. Sorry… don’t mean for our private life to splash over onto everyone.”

He shrugged. “We’re a Free Trader crew. Everyone’s private life splashes onto everyone else.” He hesitated, looking around, then turned back to me. “What did you do this time?”

I shrugged helplessly. “I have no idea. You’ve been around us enough to know this happens.”

He shook his head. “Yeah, but usually you’re the annoyed one. Something has gotten to her about this one. You sure you didn’t do something?”

I raised my hands. “Hey, if you find out let me know.”

He shrugged and stood up. “Well, hopefully she’ll have it worked out before next week. Until then, I think her idea about moving around for a while is a good one. I think I’ll head out as well.” He looked over. “Do’rex?”

Do’rex clicked. “Yes. I think I will return to my room.” He stood up with Varan and the two left, Do’rex giving a final tentacle flip over his shoulder.

I looked after them for a moment, sighed, then pulled up the tab on my comp, checked it, and flicked a payment. I then took a last bite of my katari, drained the last of my beer, then headed back to the bar.

I had barely sat down when Delenda came over. “Business done?”

I nodded. For tonight anyway. Have some cargo to sell, but that can wait until tomorrow.

She tilted her head. “Everything OK?”

I frowned. “Yeah, sure. Why?”

She shrugged. “I’m a bartender. I notice things. Someone didn’t look happy as they left.”

I sighed. “We’ll make up again in three jumps then break up again in six. I should be used to it by now.”

“You aren’t?”

I sighed again and turned to look out the window. “No… I guess not.”

She laughed and shook her head. “I’ve never understood you Travellers. How do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Different planet every two weeks? Half your life on a starship? Stuck with everyone no matter what you think of each other?”

I shook my head. “It isn’t like that!”

She nodded. “So every one of you who comes through here tells me. But you know what? When I go home tonight I’m going home. And I have a partner there, and two children, all of who will be happy to hear what I tell them about my day. And I’ll tell them I saw another ship’s crew arguing among themselves and then trying to convince me that it’s better than what I have?” She shook her head. “I’m Boilingbrook born and bred. And I wouldn’t trade it for the galaxy.”

I frowned. “It was that obvious?”

She nodded. “Yeah. You got shut down hard.” She smiled, in obvious irony. “So… want another beer?”

I hesitated, then nodded. “Yeah. Sounds good.”

I stayed there another few hours. I don’t want to talk about my tab. I took an aircab home, ostensibly because it was late, but actually because I wasn’t sure I could find my hotel otherwise.

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