033-1117 – Boilingbrook – Adar/Hinterworlds

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

I didn’t do much today.

I posted our trade cargoes and managed to sell most of them, but I did that without leaving my room. Once that was done I was at a bit of a loose end, so I started looking to see what I could do.

The population on Boilingbrook is mostly confined to the Floaters. That’s what they call them by the way; calling them “balloons” or “domes” or even “floating cities” marks you as an off-worlder. They have any kind of entertainment you may want on the various floaters, but nothing outside. There were local races where competitors took one-person floaters out and tried to be the fastest to circumnavigate the planet in the jet streams, but that was about it. There were a few tours to the surface, but being immersed in hydrogen sulfide clouds and enduring sulfuric acid rain was not my idea of a good time.

They also had a few factory complexes where they built the floaters, some to expand locally and some to ship off-world to other planets. There were tours to those but they were really just oversize factories; not something high on my list of sights to see.

So I just watched net vids for a bit. It was the typical mix of galaxy-wide programming that came in via the X-Boat network and locally created stuff. Sometimes I preferred the local programming but here I couldn’t get past the high-pitched voices.

I wondered if the voices on the off-world programming sounded comically low-pitched to the locals. Probably.

Eventually I gave up and wandered downstairs to the hotel bar. It was relatively early still, by the clock anyway, but it was the local “off-day”. It was fairly dark outside and there weren’t many people in the bar. Fine with me.

A waitbot came over as I sat down. I ordered an Imperial Boil and a basket of tama leaves, then pulled up local data on my comp. I idly looked through the local tours and sights but couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for them. I sighed and flicked off my comp in annoyance.

I wasn’t mad at Saahna. Well, not really. But I was a bit irritated that she wouldn’t confide in me with what was bothering her. I seemed to have something to do with that datastick from Fugitak, but that was hardly the first clandestine cargo we had carried. I wondered what it was.

“That bad, huh?” came a voice from beside me. I looked up to see a young man, barely of registration age, standing beside me. Without invitation he sat down on the next stool

“I’m not looking for company,” I said, more irritated than I should have been. He was clean-shaven and bald, wearing a sleeveless shirt and vest and cargo pants with boots. There was a complex tattoo on his upper arm and, despite myself, I tilted my head to get a better look.

“I’m not either,” he said. “I’m looking for a business partner.” He noticed my gaze and, with a frown, pushed a cuff up his arm to cover the tattoo. I looked away awkwardly.

“What kind of business partner?” I asked, waving the waitbot back over. “If you’ve got cargo you want transported we’ll probably be posting our next destination in a day or two.”

He shook his head. “Nope. I need someone on-planet.”

The waitbot arrived and I ordered another Boil. He ordered a Stemilk for himself. I raised an eyebrow at that. Stemilk is a K’kree drink that is basically fermented algae. What salad becomes when it gets left out in the sun too long. It was intoxicating but beyond that I couldn’t think of a single good thing to say about it.

I said nothing until the waitbot returned with our drinks. I took a sip of mine as he took a long swallow of his and coughed. I shook my head.

“OK,” I said, finally, when it became apparent that he wasn’t going to volunteer anything more on his own. “What is this about?”

He took another drink, grimaced, and set it aside. “I need someone who can get into someplace and be accepted there. Someone who has been there before and so won’t be scrutinized as closely.”

I frowned. “We only hit atmosphere yesterday; I haven’t exactly been to a lot of places.”

He smiled slightly. “Besides the Uptown Downport?”

I frowned further. What was this about? I took another drink.

“There didn’t seem to be any restrictions on who they let in. Why not just go there yourself?”

He made a snorting laugh, gesturing down at himself. “Do I look like someone who they would let in?”

I shrugged. “They let me in.”

He laughed at that. “You’re a ship’s captain. A Free Trader. That opens a lot of doors that us grounders can’t access.”

I sighed. “So what is it that you want?”

He reached into a pocket and pulled out a wafer-thin device. “Just take this in there and stick it somewhere. Under a table, on a wall, whatever. It’ll camouflage itself to fit in. That’s all.”

I looked at him skeptically. “Why? And what is in it for me?”

“You don’t need to know why.” He pulled up something on his comp and flicked it to me. “And that’s what is in it for you.”

I looked at my own comp. There was a voucher there for a High Passage; 10 k-Creds.

“We haven’t even said where we’re going yet.”

He shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. Do the job and you’ll have a passenger. Don’t and the voucher won’t activate. That’s all.”

He glanced at the Stemilk then got up, shoving the stool back into place. “It’s your call.” He left without looking back.

I sighed. Had Captain Anna put up with stuff like this? I drained my beer and called over the waitbot, handing it my glass and waving away what was left of the kid’s Stemilk. I looked at the menu quickly then ordered what looked to be a seafood pie and another beer.

When the waitbot left I pulled up the voucher on my comp again. It looked valid, but it wouldn’t activate until the passenger entered a pass-code upon boarding. Not entirely unheard of but I had only seen it done that way a couple of times before.

There was something about the whole encounter that seemed wrong. The kid was too young, obviously didn’t like the drink he had ordered, and I could only get paid if I accepted someone onto my ship after doing something, that while maybe not illegal, was definitely on the questionable side. Either I was dealing with someone completely incompetent, which I doubted, or they were doing everything they could do to confuse me. At which they were succeeding.

My beer and seafood pie arrived and I took several minutes to eat. I was hungrier than I had realized. That taken care of, I pulled out my comp again.

Normally I wouldn’t bother the crew with something like this. As I had told them at the on-planet meeting, we had done any number of weird deliveries or questionable actions before. But something had set them off this time.

OK, something had set Saahna off. And I didn’t know what it was, or why, but I didn’t want to alienate her further. So I composed a message describing my latest encounter and pinged the crew with it. If they were unhappy with me doing things without them then they couldn’t complain if I kept them informed about what was going on. Then, for what could only be described as irritation, I sent a second copy of the message to Dr. Korvusar.

I didn’t expect to hear back from anyone. Not directly, anyway. Varan pinged back that he didn’t think it was a good idea, but none of the rest of the crew responded. I had been hoping to hear something from Saahna, but wasn’t really surprised. I was about to head back to my room when my comm buzzed. I answered.

“Can you send me a copy of that voucher?” It was Dr. Korvusar’s voice.

I hesitated. “Sure… I guess?” I paused. “I don’t know why I sent that to you; I just thought you might possibly be interested.”

“I’m on your ship for the foreseeable future,” she said, sounding annoyed. “Of course I’d be interested.”

I hesitated, wondering if my impulsive decision had been correct. “I needed everyone’s input on this. You aren’t crew, but you’re with us for a while so I figured you’d want to be involved.”

“Very,” came the reply. There was a long silence. I almost thought that she had disconnected, then she spoke. “Are you going to do it?”

“Do what?”

“Place the scanner.”

I had assumed that was what she had meant, but I decided not to acknowledge. “No. I’ve already stepped in enough since getting here; I’m not going to get myself further into whatever is going on.”

There was a pause. “What does your crew think?”

I sighed. “Varan isn’t keen on the idea. Saahna isn’t talking to me. Haven’t heard from anyone else.”

“You know what you need to do,” she said.

I looked around. The bar was still fairly empty.

“I know,” I replied. “Something is off about this. And I don’t need to let someone on board my ship who might be determined to make sure there are no witnesses.”

“I don’t think you have anything to worry about that,” she replied. “Too obvious.”

I sighed. “So what do you think I should do?”

She laughed. “Why are you asking me, Captain?”

“Because you know something!” I said, angrily. “I have no idea what I have gotten myself into, but I think you do. That’s why you were so determined to travel with us! What the hell is going on?”

There was a very long pause.

“Do you trust me? And are you sure you want to know?”

I hesitated at that. Did I trust her? Finally I replied.

“If I didn’t trust you I wouldn’t have let you on my ship. And I know you know more than I do. You know I know your background; you even called me on it. So, what is this all about?”

There was another long pause. “Travellers come here to see the floating city factories, right?”

“I guess?” I said, irritated.

“Take the Boilingbrook Tours tour to the Mastodon factory tomorrow. You can still sign up.”

“What?” My irritation was now obvious.

“Just take the tour.” She abruptly terminated the call.

I sighed and looked around. The bar was still relatively empty, even for an off day. I waved over the waitbot to pay my tab and discovered, to my irritation, that my visitor earlier had left his bill for the Stemilk to me. I became more determined to not do what he wanted and headed back to my room.

Once there, I booked a tour to the Mastodon Floater Factory through Boilingbrook Tours. Now I’m going to watch local net dramas until I fell asleep.

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