038-1117 – Boilingbrook – Adar/Hinterworlds

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

Didn’t do much today. I packed up; it’s amazing how much you spread out when being in a hotel room for close to a week, then checked the Net to make sure everything was ready for our departure tomorrow. It looked like the last of the cargo had been delivered to the pad so I dropped by the ship to see if there was anything I needed to take care of.

Saahna was already there, directing the cargobots as they moved stuff around the bay. I noticed that she had already moved everything that I had loaded the day before. She barely acknowledged me as I came up behind her.

“You shouldn’t have tried to load cargo until everything was here,” she said, not looking up from her comp. “Something will always throw the balance off if you do.”

I shrugged. “Just didn’t want to leave it sitting out on the pad.”

“Why?” she asked, flicking a final command to the bot then turning to face me. “No one is going to bother it here.” She paused. “Or are they?”

I frowned. “What do you mean?”

She tilted her head. “You tell me. You’re the one making secret deals behind our back.”

I thought about my last meeting with Jestin but waved my hands in dismissal. “Look, I didn’t know where that was going. And I showed you that data stick. Anyway, I haven’t picked up anything for this Jump. We’ll clear atmosphere in another day and it will all be behind us.”

She looked at me for a moment longer, then seemed to relax. “OK. Sorry. Just a bit on edge.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

She frowned and shook her head. “Nothing you need to worry about.”

I recognized her tone. “OK. Got it.”

She nodded. “Good.” She turned her attention back to the bots. I waited a bit longer to see if she would say anything more but she didn’t look back up.

I went back aboard and dropped my downbag in my cabin; I had just left a daybag back in my room. I checked to make sure that the Grayswandir hadn’t picked up any more unexpected transmissions. It hadn’t.

I stuck my head in the bridge, half expecting to find Do’rex there. He wasn’t, but I saw maintenance lights on from Engineering. I went in that direction.

Jami was there, with one of the consoles open. Fiber optics were dangling from it and protruding from the floor and ceiling and she was half-buried in an open deck plate.

“Something wrong?”

“Huh?” Jami pulled back from her work and looked at me in surprise. “Oh, sorry Captain.” She started to give me a salute then caught herself. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

I shrugged. “Is OK.” I pointed to where she had been working. “So… is something wrong?”

She looked at the tangle of optics. “Oh, no! Everything is fine. I was just installing some remote monitoring equipment.”

I frowned. “Don’t we already have that?”

She nodded, standing up. “Yeah, but the Grayswandir only transmits high-level stuff. This will give me a more detailed feed of what is going on without having to be down here.”

I frowned a bit more at that. “Isn’t the Engineer supposed to be down here?”

“Well, yeah. But not 168 a week. I need to get out of here sometimes.”

I nodded. “OK, sure. Just make sure we’re ready to break atmosphere tomorrow.”

“Sure thing!” She gave a quick salute then crawled back below the deck again. I shrugged and headed back out.

The cargo doors were still open so I left that way. Saahna was in conversation with one of the maintenance crew. I didn’t have anything to add there either, so I headed on out.

I went on over to the Singularity. It was still more than a few hours before the crew meeting but I had some paperwork to do before lift and I could do it there as well as anywhere else. I walked in and sat down at the bar, then noticed that everyone seemed to be staring at the wallscreens. All of them were showing a bunch of talking heads pointing out things on galactic holos. I frowned and pulled up the newsfeed on my comp.

Apparently Archduchess Margaret had accepted the Moot’s appointment and declared herself Empress. She had activated the reserve fleets in the Old Expanses while declaring the Domain fleets as the”Imperial” fleet.

I waved the waitbot over, ordered a Boil and a Vilini Club, and read through the news again. This didn’t make sense. I didn’t know what bothered me more; the fact that she was pulling back from the Expanses or the fact that she now claimed to be Empress.

Lucan was Emperor by inheritance. Margaret had been appointed Empress by the Moot. And Dulinor claimed that he was Emperor by right of assassination. I had assumed that everyone would see that Dulinor was a traitor and an idiot that would just get slapped down, but now that Margaret had accepted the Moot’s assignment? This wasn’t a hunt for an assassin anymore. It was a civil war.

I sat there, rethinking a lot of things for a while. I was on about my third beer when Saahna showed up. I hadn’t noticed her until she slid into the booth next to me.

“Have you seen?” she asked immediately.

I nodded, gesturing towards the screens. “Yeah. What is she thinking?”

“That she’s Empress?” She looked at me, seeming frustrated. “The Moot appointed her. Lucan may have dissolved it but she was named Empress before that. Legally, she is.”

I frowned. “Yeah, and Lucan and Dulinor both think they are legally as well.”

She frowned back. “You don’t accept the Moot’s ruling?”

I shook my head and leaned back. “I don’t care about the Moot. Or Lucan or Margaret’s egos. I care about stability. This will divide the Imperium. This will lead to another Civil War!”

She gave me a look I knew all too well. “You follow the Emperor over the Moot?”

“I follow whoever keeps Pax Imperium!” I said a bit more loudly than I had planned. “This is making things worse!”

She nodded slowly. “Now you know why I was so worried before. Do you get it now?”

I sighed and waved the waitbot back over. “Yeah, yeah. I get it. And some other things might make sense.”

She frowned at that. “What other things.”

I was saved from answering by the appearance of Varan, sliding in on my other side. “Hey crewies,” he said, snagging the attention of the waitbot before it left. “You see the news yet?”

“Yes!” both Saahna and I said in unison.

He shook his head. “Why would Margaret do that!” he said, sounding incredulous.

“Because the Moot said she was Empress!” said Saahna in frustration!

“I don’t know!” I said at the same time. We stared at each other again.

“We’ll, I’m glad we’re heading away from the Imperium for a while,” he said, glancing over the menu. “It’s going to get ugly over there.”

I nodded. “Yeah. We’ll stay out here for a while.”

He was about to say more but was interrupted by Jami as she came rushing up to the table. “Hey everyone! Have you seen…”

“YES!” all three of us said in unison. She winced slightly then slid in beside Varan.

“It’s OK,” I said, waving in her direction. “We’re all a bit concerned about it.”

“No matter what we think of the cause,” Saahna said, answering her but glancing at me. “The result is the same.”

“The Solomani or the Hivers showing up?”

I frowned and shook my head. “Civil War. No way around that now.”

“Oh?” She looked at us for a moment. “Oh yeah, all of you are Imperials, aren’t you?”

It was our turn to look around at each other. “Well… yeah?” said Varan, finally.

She shrugged. “I’m not; I’m from Ane. Unaligned Hinterworlds. We’ve always had kind-of-a distant relationship with you; we try to ignore the fact that you’re sharing a bed with us but every time you roll over we know about it. And, well, better to be in bed with you than the Sols or the Starfish.”

She paused as the waitbot returned with our orders and took hers. When it left I spoke.

“We’ll be OK,” I said. “So we’ll be getting direction from Anaxias instead of Capital for a while. It should work out about the same.”

Saahna snorted. “Always the optimist.”

I shrugged. “It can’t get that bad. It can’t!”

I wondered who I was trying to convince.

“We aren’t part of your Imperium,” said Jami. “We don’t pay your taxes or fees. It sounds like your Imperium, whichever one we have here now, will be more interested in its own problems. Which means our other two neighbors will start looking in our direction.”

Varan sighed. “Great.” He looked at me. “I guess my Gunnery training may prove useful after all.”

I shook my head. “I hope not.”

I tossed my remote onto the table, glanced up at one of the wall screens, and flicked the audio for it to our table.

“…unknown how Lucan will react to this development. What do you think Sayra?”

The video switched from the studio to the interior of what I recognized as a deep-mount meson battery. A reporter, Sayra I assumed, was standing in front of a planetary holo.

“I’ve been talking with officials from the Boilingbrook Self Defense Force,” Sayra said, brightly, “and they assure me that we are well defended no matter what the Imperium, or Margaret’s Imperium, decide to do.”

The scene switched to an obvious pre-recorded segment. Sayra was standing with an official wearing a uniform far too elaborate to be functional while battlesuited Marines worked training exercises in the background.

“We’re safe,” the man was telling her. A pop-up identified him as ArchGeneral Gavin Kran. “We have technological and economic advantages over most of our neighbors in that we can be self-sufficient if necessary. Even if things get as bad as some of the nay-sayers are predicting then we will be able to seal ourselves off and maintain ourselves indefinitely. We may lose out on some unique items and templates but,” he shrugged, “our way of life will continue.”

“While some seem to think this is a disaster, others are far more optimistic,” said Sayra as the feed flipped back to her. “But everyone on Boilingbrook can feel secure in that, whatever happens to our neighbors in the Imperium, we will continue to enjoy our freedoms here. In fact, if the worst-case scenario predicted by some occurs, it will be us who is the beacon of civilization standing against the coming of a new Long Night.”

“Thank you, Sayra.” The feed switched back to the studio. “In other news…” I shut the audio off.

“Well, glad they’re happy,” said Varan.

Jami frowned at him. “We’re used to living without the Imperium out here,” she said almost condescendingly. “We’ll be fine.”

“I hope you’re right,” said Saahna. She looked as if she was going to say more, but stopped when Do’rex arrived. He looked from side-to-side for a moment, then slid in beside Jami.

“How’s it going, man?” asked Varan, holding up his hand. Do’rex looked at him briefly, before clicking quietly and tapping his hand with a tentacle.

“You OK?” I asked. He rippled his tentacles in unease.

“I apologize. I am simply concerned about my family back in Vega. If the Imperium pulls it’s fleets back, it may give the Solomani confidence to intervene in the affairs of the Autonomous Zone. The Imperium at least gave us autonomy, I doubt the Solomani will continue their example.”

Jami patted his upper tentacle. “Hey, us unaligned folks will stick together.” He clicked but didn’t respond otherwise.

There was an awkward silence.

“So…” I said, finally. “Anything else of importance come up this week?”

“I don’t know. Has it?” Saahna frowned as she looked at me.

I sighed loudly. “No, I haven’t picked up any more encrypted data sticks. Or any other deliveries for maybe crime lords?”

“Crime lord!” Jami was suddenly excited. “Hey, maybe they’re one of our old contacts. Who is it?”

I shook my head. “Doesn’t matter. We aren’t dealing with him anymore.”

“Good,” said Saahna.

Jami looked disappointed. “Well, who was it?”

I tried to downplay the encounter. “It’s not important. And I can’t be expected to keep track of the names of every random delivery we make.”

Saahna frowned at that. She didn’t say anything, but she looked at me curiously.

I looked back, shrugging slightly and trying to keep my gaze level while I thought about how much deeper I had gotten us over the last few days. After a moment she shrugged as well and, with another frown, drained the last of her drink and waved the waitbot back over.

Varan had been tapping on his comp. “It was at the Uptown Downport,” he said, reviewing something there. I didn’t track the guy’s name.”

Jami sighed. “Oh well. Probably safer to stay away from people like that anyway.” She started flicking through items on her comp.

“So…” Varan turned to me. “What do we have for this trip?”

“Off to Eskafet,” I said. I brought up the subsector on my comp and flicked it to my remote. “It’s just across the border to the Anubis subsector.” I tapped the UPP. “Non-industrial, so we’re carrying a lot of machinery. Mostly agricultural equipment it looks like.”

Jami was frowning at the data my remote was displaying. “Farming equipment? They’re not flagged as agricultural.”

“Specialty goods, apparently.” I flicked a planetary details report to the remote, replacing the sparse UPP with the full library entry.

“They grow herbs. Probably wouldn’t make a good meal on their own, but apparently they’re quite in demand for the ‘haute cuisine’ types.”

Varan grunted. “Population around 6k; I thought we weren’t going to any more low pop worlds.”

“Best choice we have,” I said. “Looks like we can make some good deals there. And specialty foods like that sell very well.”

“Heading towards the ATC?” asked Saahna, looking interested for the first time that evening. “I thought you didn’t want to deal with the Anubians.”

I shrugged. “They have cyonic chips. I’ve got instinct. We’ll see who wins.”

Varan lowered his head to his hands in mock misery. “Oh gods, we’re going to starve.” Everyone else laughed.

“Yeah, probably,” I said. ” But we’ll go down swinging.” I turned to him. “We’ve got a full passenger load again this jump. Well… probably.”

That got his attention. “Probably?”

I nodded. “Yeah, had a weird one. Had someone book a High for someone else, with an encrypted ticket.”

That got Saahna’s attention as well. “What?”

I shrugged. “We get them sometimes. People going off-world who don’t want anyone else to know. It isn’t our business to wonder what our passengers are up to.”

Saahna was frowning. “I never like those.”

I nodded. “Yeah, I get it. But it’s a High. If they were planning something why not just go for a Middle and save the credits?”

She furrowed her brow in thought. “Can you send me the ticket?”

“Sure.” I pulled it up and flicked a copy to her.

She nodded. “I’ll see what I can find out.” She looked at her comp and frowned. “This is pretty heavy stuff; our mystery passenger really doesn’t want to be traced.”

“Hey, they want to go to Eskufet, we’ll jump them to Eskufet. Not our business.”

“Any special requests?” That was Varan.

I shook my head. “No one has asked for anything. Oh wait, Dr. Korvusar wants us to get some better wine templates.”

He rolled his eyes. “Why do we put up with her?”

“20 k-Creds a month?”

He sighed. “Yeah, I get it. I’ll hit the local nets tonight, find some recommended wines and have the templates sent to the Grayswandir.”

I nodded. “Good. I wouldn’t have any idea what a good vintage was.”

He shrugged in return. “I don’t either. That’s why I’m checking the nets.”

Jami looked between us. “They don’t teach you about wines in Steward certification?”

“Nope,” I replied. “Wine is apparently really sensitive to what planet, or even what part of a planet, it comes from. The same wine from two different planets will taste completely different. So wine drinkers usually prefer the wine from ‘their’ planet. Best we can do is get whatever the locals think is good and stock it.”

“And no one is ever happy,” added Saahna. She seemed to be relaxing, finally. She was also on her third drink, which may have had something to do with it.

“But still… why is Dr. Korvusar travelling with us?” asked Varan. “She’s never asked me for anything special, and I really think she only complains about the wine to give herself some kind of ‘quirk’.” He looked around. “Why would anyone choose to stay on a free trader when they obviously have the funds to stay anywhere in the Imperium?”

Saahna snorted and gestured towards one of the wall screens. “Would you want to be in parts of the Imperium right now?”

He shook his head. “Me? Not really. But…” he gestured as well. “She came on-board before any of this happened.”

A thought struck me. “No… it all happened months ago. It just took that long before the news reached us way out here.”

“So? She still couldn’t have known before we did.”

Saahna realized what I was thinking. “Maybe not. X-Boats are J4, but we know the Navy has faster ships. A J6 Courier could have gotten to Adar with this news about Margaret before we left there. Remember, they probably knew about it there a week or two ago.”

I nodded. I didn’t want to admit I had figured that out a few days ago. “Yeah. Given the choice of jumping with us or on an Imperial Naval ship during a civil war, I’m pretty sure I’d take my chances on us.”

Jami laughed. “I hope so, given that you’re the Captain.”

Varan laughed as well. “Yeah, if you ever don’t show up for a jump, I’ll probably stay behind.”

We all laughed at that. For the rest of the evening we tried to ignore the news still on the wall screens and mostly talked about random events from prior jumps. Eventually everyone started to drift off, after I made sure that everyone would be at the ship by 1000 the next morning.”

Later, back at my room, I packed my downbag to be ready to leave the next morning. I was about to go to bed when I glanced at my comm. I picked it up and tapped in a code.

“Do you realize what time it is?” Dr. Korvusar didn’t sound upset. Or surprised.

“When did you know?” I asked without preamble.

“Know what, Captain?”

I sighed. “You knew about Margaret accepting the Moot’s appointment. You knew we were heading for a civil war.”

“But the Imperium has survived worse!” she replied. I recognized my own words.

My anger came out. “OK!” I shouted. “I was wrong! Happy? You can tell everyone you know that I admitted to being wrong! Is that what you want!”

There was a long silence. I was about to think she had disconnected when she finally spoke.

“Derek, please believe me. I had hoped you were correct. I didn’t want you to be wrong. But…”

“But what?” I was still angry. I dropped my comm on the bed. I started to grab another beer from the dispenser then stopped and keyed for a raw scotch. I downed it in one gulp, feeling the forgotten burn. It had never been near Earth, much less Scotland, but I felt the sudden surge as it hit my system.

Dr. Korvusar had been talking. “…but the models were giving a non-insignificant probability of a non-optimal outcome. So, we needed to start working on contingency plans.”

“Contingency plans?” I interrupted.

“Yes.” There was a long pause. “I would prefer not to discuss further over an open channel. While I understand your frustration, can we delay this until we hit jumpspace?”

I paused. Was she willing to tell me the truth, finally? My instincts said yes.

“We have an extra passenger on board,” I said.

“Oh?” I could tell she wasn’t surprised.

“I planted the sensor at the Uptown Downport. We were to be paid with a high passage. I don’t know who will be claiming it, but they will likely be with us this jump.”

“Well, I assume you will watch out for more sensors?”

“Already found four. Got rid of them.”

“You should have left them until you hit vacuum, then dumped them overboard. Now they know you’re onto them.” I could hear irritation in her voice.

I sighed. “I’m new to this IBIS stuff, OK?”

“It’s minor,” she replied. “The only thing lost is that they know that you know. You know?”

“No!”

She laughed. “That was a joke, Captain. Now, I have something more important to ask about; did you find me some better wine?”

I closed my eyes for a long moment. “Yeah,” I said finally. “Varan is grabbing us some new templates, and we have a couple of recommended local bottles.” That last was a lie but I would have them before lift. See you on board?”

“Where else would I be, Captain?”

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