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, of course.

We probably wouldn’t have stayed together while down anyway, but we had a bit of a fight last night. She started complaining, again, about how I was too demanding of her, wanted too much of her time, and got jealous when she even talked to another person. Again. We have this argument every few months, it seems. I’ve told her my feelings but never tried to insist what she do or how she should run her life, but she was just looking for an argument to give herself an excuse to pull away. I think.

She left and kicked Amada out of her cabin. That made Jami upset, but she couldn’t say much since technically passengers aren’t supposed to be in the crew cabins. But when I got up this morning I had both Jami and Saahna being short with me.

I don’t know how I feel about Saahna. I like being with her, but I understand we both need time to ourselves. Or, maybe I’m just saying that because that’s what she says and I’m trying to agree with her.

Yeah… I’d like something more stable with Saahna. Maybe I do get jealous. A bit. But I know she doesn’t want anything like that. I know. I’ve asked. So… I take what I can get.

Which won’t be much for the next month or so. It will pass. Again. She’ll show up one night and we’ll be back on for another couple of weeks. Then I’ll start thinking that this time is the one, she’ll accuse me of being possessive, and we’ll split up again.

We’ve only done this, what? Seven or eight times now? I’m losing track.

Anyway, we got to Boilingbrook today. We tumbled out of Jumpspace about 1000. Almost immediately we got 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 approach.

Compared to Fugitak, or even Adar, space around Boilingbrook was positively crowded. I counted almost four dozen 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, 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 flying through space.

We settled into an approach just behind a Sub Merchant. Apparently they were directing us independents (or semi-independents) to a secondary starport to the south of the port city of Tidepool. The main starport was further off to the west and the ocean was to the east. I was a bit unhappy. I suspected that our passengers and cargo deliveries were scheduled for the main starport and I wasn’t looking forward to having to pay for the transfers.

Beyond that the approach couldn’t have been easier. We were directed to our landing pad and Do’rex dropped onto it with barely a bump. I switched off the internal gravs 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, carefully keeping everything we said to the work on hand.

Boilingbrook is an odd world. Well, from space it looks normal; a blue planet circling an ordinary yellow sun. Mostly water, with a single small continent (or large island, depending on your point of view) and a pair of widely scattered archipelagos. Breathable atmosphere, reasonable temperatures. Should be a perfect world, right?

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

Boilingbrook’s atmosphere is around 20% helium. Helium is inert and so harmless (beyond making everyone sound like a ferimunk when they talk) but Helium atoms are so small they can squeeze through any crack, no matter how small. There’s no good way to keep it out. So the Survey Service flagged it as an “Insidious” atmosphere and called it a day.

So yeah, it’s probably the only class “C” atmosphere in Imperial space that you can walk around bareheaded on.

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 like that 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 walkaround of the Grayswandir then went to my cabin and packed my downbag.

I returned to the crew lounge, dropped my bag by the airlock, then went up to the bridge. Do’rex had apparently left already as 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 entering from his cabin, carrying his downpack and an oversized hardcase.

“Got your own trade goods in there?” I asked.

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 for the time. “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 standing there. I turned the ship over to him then asked for a recommendation of a place to stay and he suggested something called the White Leviathan. Varan shrugged and the two of us went there, and both of us got rooms for the week.

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

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

I couldn’t head directly to the Uptown Downport since that would have required me to cut directly through the Starport. 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. So I decided to walk.

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. But as I walked I started coming across more and more warehouses and the shops and facilities started becoming less opulent and more shabby.

As I exited 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. The buildings were full of new, bustling businesses and the streets were crowded with young professionals; all of who were wearing the latest designs, mostly those weird scarf/drape things that were so popular back on Capital. Or, at least, had been popular there when the most recently arrived X-Boat had left. Who knew what was trending there now? Probably wearing body armor ‘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 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 had expected to make 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. I did see a few people in planetary navy uniforms and a Scout crew was seated at the far side of the room, so I didn’t stick out too much.

The far wall was all glassteel and, due to our height, gave an unobstructed view of the Starport and the operations there. 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. 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 shrugged. “I was told not to.”

“Did you try?”

I hesitated, then shrugged again. “Long enough to see that I couldn’t without you 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 pulled a pouch from inside his tunic. He pulled a handful of credits 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 data stick across two parsecs. You need to know anything else?”

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

He smiled. “Good. You passed that 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 meet Jestin before?”

“No idea who he is,” I said, still irritated. “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 met him for the first time a few minutes ago! 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.” 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 forward further. “Look. Jestin is… well…. We don’t know who, or what, he is. But even the gangs around here avoid him. Everyone in Startown avoids him. OK? He’s… dangerous. And relishes in it. 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 acknowledgement 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. Adaptation to breath underwater.”

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 downport 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, 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?”

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 data stick, how I had gotten it on Fugitak, and how I had met Jestin here.

“That’s the data stick 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 got angrier than I should have at that. “You don’t like the way I’m doing things? Feel free to leave anytime you like. No one is making you stay on board.” I immediately regretted saying that, but tried my best not to show anything.

Do’rex and Varan suddenly became interested in anything around except us. Saahna stared openly at me for several long seconds before speaking.

“No, Captain, I wasn’t saying that!” Her anger was obvious. “But you need to keep in mind that you are the Captain now. Anything you do affects all of us, not just yourself. And if you keep forgetting that… well… I’ll keep what you said in mind.”

A half-dozen responses ran through my mind before I settled on one. “OK… Yeah… OK.” I sighed. “I’ll try to remember that.”

She nodded. “Thank you, Captain.” She looked down at her half-eaten meal. “I need to be going; have someone to meet.” She gave me a sarcastic smile at that. “I’ll see all of you in a few days.” She got up without another word and left.

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, holding my gaze. “We’re a Free Trader crew. Everyone’s private life splashes onto everyone else. Try remembering that.” He stood up without another word and left as well. Do’rex flipped a slow tentacle in my direction and followed Varan.

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 four Jumps, then break up again in six. We should be used to it by now.”

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. By your entire crew, it looked like.” 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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