048-1117 – Kupakii – Tlianke/Hinterworlds

Kupakii – Tlianke/Hinterworlds 0101 C654352-A S 905 Cs K4 IV M8 D

I wound up staying at the Warm Hearth, the hotel Do’rex had found. Jami and Shelly are here too; I ran into them while checking in. I didn’t see Varan or Saahna. I think both of them are annoyed at me for different reasons. I shrugged at the thought. They’d either be back on-board next week or I would deal with it then.

This morning I thought I was getting up fairly early but was actually later than I had expected. I had also failed to set the ship’s day/night cycle to sync with Kupakii’s, so I was a few hours off.

On the other hand, our cargo still hadn’t been unloaded from the Grayswandir so I couldn’t do much with it anyway. I shrugged, cleaned up in the fresher, and headed out.

I grabbed what they claimed was a sausage flip from the hotel buffet, but if that was sausage the template was definitely from some animal I had never heard of before. More fishy than anything and heavy with a pungent spice of some kind, which gave it an annoying aftertaste. I made a mental note to never order it again.

I pulled out my comm to see if Saahna and Shelly were ready to head up to Coverton, but instead saw I had a message; a request from Mayor Moraz asking me to meet him at the government facility. I frowned. I had about 15 minutes to get there.

Fortunately, Kupakii Home, the town surrounding the downport, really isn’t that big. Well, it’s the biggest “city” on Kupakii, but even it only has about a thousand inhabitants. So I managed to make it to the government facility with only a few minutes to spare. I was quickly waved through to a conference room where I found Mayor Moraz, Minister Trakon, and two other humans, plus a non-human of a species I didn’t recognize waiting on me.

“So glad you could make it, Captain!”, Minister Trakon said, stepping forward and extending his hand. “We had not heard from you so we were afraid that Scout Commander Winters was taking more of your time than we would have liked. We were about to ask her about you.”

I smiled, but tilted my head. “Yeah. Well, if Winters had done what she wanted then I wouldn’t be here to talk to you at all. But the truth is a bit more prosaic; I overslept. How can I help you?”

Minister Trakon laughed politely. “Well, Captain. I certainly won’t begrudge you your time to relax. Not after last week.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Moraz was looking at me with narrowed eyes. “What do you mean by that, Captain? About Winters.”

I hesitated, then shrugged. I had no reason to keep secrets. “Scout Commander Winters made no secret of the fact that she wished Sir Gortor had succeeded in his assassination attempt. And, she was unhappy over the fact that, given the testimony of Dr…. Baroness Korvusar and Minister Trakon here she couldn’t execute me and my entire crew.”

Mayor Moraz’ eyes opened wider. “Did she… did she actually say that?”

I pulled out my remote and tossed it onto the table, then tapped on my comp. A few second later a holo projected in front of us, replaying my encounter with Scout Commander Winters.

What? I do it all the time. I never know when someone I make a deal with will suddenly decide they want to change their mind. My comp is set to record everything automatically. The main problem it causes is the time I lose going in and cleaning up recordings.

You really didn’t think I was doing these logs from memory, did you?

Minister Trakon frowned but it was Mayor Moraz who spoke up. “What? She cannot do that. I’ll….”

I held up a hand. “Don’t do anything. She’s stuck right now. She’s unhappy, but she can’t do anything to us without breaking the same Imperial laws she’s claiming to support. Yeah, she’ll give us the minimum amount of service she can get away with, but… we’ll survive.”

Moraz was still obviously angry. “This has always been the problem here. We could be so much more than we are. We could do so much for ourselves. But the Imperium insists on flexing its might here. We’re tired of being their client.”

“That’s why I’m here,” said Minister Trakon, turning to me. “We felt that… well, to be honest… with your Imperium suffering its own problems that we could pursue our own agenda a bit more freely. For once. We had hoped that if we supported Kupakii then, with the Imperium occupied elsewhere, we could convince them here to align themselves with us and break their agreements with the Imperium. But… It appears that Ms Winters has other ideas.”

I frowned. “It… may be even worse than that.” I told them Jami’s theory from the night before; that the Spoilsport fleet here may be attempting to set up their own pocket empire instead of supporting either the Imperium or the locals.

Mayor Moraz frowned at the thought but Minister Trakon, ever the diplomat, nodded slowly. “Plausible, but you really have very little evidence for that.”

I gestured towards the remote, still on the table. “Did you even watch what I just showed?”

“Yes. She obviously is opposed to the treaty I am here to sign. But beyond that… I don’t see that she is attempting to set up or become part of a pocket empire.”

“In fact, it may be as simple as realizing that if Kupakii rejects its Client State status then she might get recalled to the Imperium. And, since Scouts also operate as recon units, she may find herself in a more dangerous situation than she is in here.”

He smiled. “She may just be afraid of what might happen to her. No need to invent yet another conspiracy to explain it.”

I thought for a moment, then nodded. “And that is why you’re the politician and I’m a starship captain. Yeah, that makes sense.”

He nodded. “While I’m sure your experiences over the last week have made you start looking at every shadow, not everything is being manipulated by someone behind the scenes.” He laughed. “You would be amazed at what looks like shrewd political planning comes down to luck sometimes. People are people. They look after themselves and their friends first, then everyone else. It is actually very rare that an idealist like your friend Lady Corvusar comes along.”

I frowned. “Passenger. For now.” I paused. “Though I do need to thank her for her support yesterday; things may have turned out quite badly without her.”

Minister Trakon smiled. “She speaks quite highly of you. I would not reject her assistance.”

“Thanks…” I said, frowning and sounding a bit more dubious than I intended. I turned to Mayor Moraz. “I apologize, Mayor. You asked me to come here. How may I be of service.”

He glanced between me and Minister Trakon, then put on a professional smile. “I simply wanted to thank you in person for what you have done for us by helping Minister Trakon here. Commander Winters may control the starport but… the starport is not Kupakii. I want you to know that you and your crew are quite welcome here and, if there is anything I can do for you while you are here, do not hesitate to ask.”

I nodded in genuine thanks. “Thank you, Mayor. I just need to get my cargo out of customs then see what kinds of deals I can make.”

He smiled slightly. “I understand, Captain. Now… officially I do not intervene in the trade here but… I can let a few people know that you are someone trustworthy that needs our support.”

I smiled wider at that. “I understand Mayor. And.. thank you.”

He nodded. “Not that I would ever interfere in trade by doing something like that.”

I nodded in return. “Of course not.”

Minister Trakon coughed. “Not that I want to rush you away Captain, but we do need to have certain documents signed. Once they are, the Skesis’ Eye will send down a shuttle with a number of diplomats on board. And a few marines. For our protection, of course.”

“Of course.”

He smiled. “I would like to see you and your crew again before you lift, of course. Could you arrange a time?”

“Certainly,” I said. I could tell when I was being dismissed. “Send me a contact and I will notify you when things are a bit more stable.”

“Of course.” He tapped something and flicked it to me. “Thank you again, Captain.”

I nodded. “Thank you, Minister.” I turned. “Mayor.” They both nodded in return and I quickly exited the building.

Back outside I sighed. I had been more tense than I had expected. I then pinged Saahna and Shelly. “Sorry,” I said. “Got a bit hung up. Heading for the ship now.”

“Don’t bother,” came an almost immediate reply. “Shelly and I are at the transit station. They’ve got a full subshuttle system here. We’re at a coffee place called the “Daily Dose”. We’re waiting on you.”

“Got it,” I said. “There in about 15.”

The transit station was busy and it was actually a few minutes longer before I got there. Saahna and Shelly were sitting in a narrow booth and I didn’t see them until Shelly waved to me.

“So.. how’s it going?” I asked as I slid in beside Saahna. She shrugged as Shelly gave an exaggerated yawn.

“Jami snores,” she said with some annoyance.

“So I’ve heard.”

“Get earplugs,” said Saahna. “Only way I managed to share a cabin with her.”

Shelly groaned as someone stepped up to our table. “You need something?”

I looked up to see a woman looking at me, a comp in her hand. “What you need?”

“Oh,” I said, realizing that she was taking my order. They must really not like automation here. “Um… coffee.”

“What kind?”

I shrugged. “Just… coffee? Strong stuff?”

“Scout blend?”

“Yeah, that sounds good.” She tapped something on her comp and left.

“Get used to it,” Saahna said. “I don’t think there’s a robot on the planet.”

I gave a half-laugh. “If they met a few like the one we did I don’t blame them.”

Saahna frowned at that. “What happened to that thing’s head anyway?”

I sighed. “Turned over with the rest of our evidence. I’m sure Winters has found some way to ignore it.”

“Or she’s given it back to Dame Gortor.”

“Nothing we can do about it.”

She nodded as the waiter returned. She sat a cup down in front of me, pinged my ident to pay for it, waited while I added a bit to it, then left.

“OK,” I said as I took a drink. I winced, partially because of how strong it was and partially because of an odd taste to it. I frowned. “Where the hells are they getting their templates on this planet?”

Shelly laughed. “It’s their spices. That’s what they’re famous for here. All the high-end restaurants back on Boilingbrook always advertised that they had ‘Kupakii spice’ on their menu.”

“Makes sense. I guess since they work around it all the time they’re probably less sensitive to it than we are.”

“Yeah, probably. They are overdoing it a bit.”

Saahna was looking at me again. “I expected you to ping us sooner.”

I shrugged. “I got summoned. By Mayor Moroz and Minister Trakon.”

“Oh?”

“They have thanked us for our service. Oh… they’re signing their treaty today. Kupakii is going to drop its status as a client state and form an alliance with Boilingbrook. Then the Eye is going to land a troop carrier with a few diplomats and a lot of marines.” I sighed. “If we thought Winters was mad at us before>…”

Saahna shook her head. “I’d feel sorry for her if she didn’t want to execute me.”

I nodded. “Yeah, it’s going to be a mess. So, let’s see if we can get our business conducted as fast as we can and get out of here.”

“If Commander Winters lets us.”

“I’m not sure how she wants to do this. She can either inconvenience us as much as she can, or she can try to get rid of us as fast as she can. I’m not sure which one she’ll go for.”

“Is Dr. Korvusar still on board?” asked Saahna.

“I suppose. I haven’t talked to her.”

She looked at me in surprise at that. “I had assumed you had commed her last night.”

I shook my head. “Nope. I really didn’t want to talk to anyone yesterday and I’ve been busy this morning. Why?”

She looked away in thought. “There’s something about her. Something that scared Winters. It’s pretty clear that Winters only let us go because of something she did.”

I shrugged. “She’s apparently a Baroness. A real one, not one of those honorary titles the Navy likes to give out. She pulled rank, that’s all.”

Saahna was shaking her head. “No. It was more than than that. She had… something.”

I frowned. “Like what?”

She shrugged. “Maybe ‘Baroness” isn’t her real rank. She may be higher than that and using a lesser title. Or… maybe she has a warrant or something.”

I laughed. “An Imperial Warrant? On our ship? We are way too unimportant for that, no matter what Dr. Korvusar claims.”

She shrugged again. “I agree, but something she did has gotten to Winters enough that she is apparently going against whatever orders she has to let us wander around.”

I sighed, then thought. “Yeah, let me comm her. If she’s still travelling with us then Winters may expedite things just to get her off planet.”

“Sounds good.”

I nodded, drained my coffee, winced again, then stood up. “OK, let’s go see what Coverton looks like.”

—-

Coverton turned out to only be about 15 minutes away by subshuttle. It sat at the edge of the ice, a few hundred kilometres north of Kupakii Home. As with Home, it was mostly underground and we soon found ourselves in a large open area that apparently functioned as a town square. There were a large number of locals wandering around, most in cold weather clothing.

I checked the net and found the Rusty Stanchion; it was actually a level below us and a few minutes walk away. We headed in that direction.

We found ourselves in what seemed to be a maintenance level, but my comp insisted that we were heading in the correct direction. We finally found it, tucked in a side corridor near the main fusion plant. We went inside.

It was a smaller place; maybe a half-dozen tables and a bar. It was also fairly crowded, it was near mealtime and a number of workers seemed to be here, but we managed to find a stand-up table near the middle of the room that another group had just left. We stood as a waiter came over and cleared it off, wiped it with a rag that couldn’t have left it any cleaner, and asked what we wanted.

I ordered a beer and tama leaves. Saahna got a beer of her own and Shelly ordered a wine. A few minutes later the waiter returned with our orders and handed us a printed menu.

From Shelly’s expression at her first sip I realized she wasn’t much of a drinker and was just trying to fit in. I thought about saying something then decided against it. If she really wanted to be part of the crew, she’d have to determine what she was willing to do to fit in on her own.

The waiter was about to leave again when I stopped him.

“Do you know someone around here named ‘Elijah Green’?”

He stopped and frowned at that. “Elijah? No, don’t recognize the name. He certainly isn’t one of our regulars.”

I frowned. “We’re a free trader crew. The Grayswandir. We were asked by someone at our last stop to deliver a message to him and were told to find him here. You don’t know who he is?”

He shook his head. “No, sorry. There’s only about a hundred of us here and I know most everyone. He might be one of the spice farmers who come in off the ice. Was he expecting you?”

“No… there wouldn’t have been any way to notify him in advance. Obviously.”

He thought a bit more, then shrugged. “I’ll ask the others if they recognize the name. That’s about all I can do.”

I sighed and looked at the others. “Yeah, OK. Thanks.” He nodded and left.

“Are you sure you got your contact right?” asked Saahna.

I nodded. “Yeah. I wouldn’t mess up something that basic. Why did he send us here?”

“Another test?” asked Shelly. “Seeing if you would do what he asked?”

“Or he was just trying to get rid of you,” said Saahna. She frowned. “This gets more messed up by the day.”

“Tell me about it,” I said. I pulled up my comp and did a search on the local net for “Elijah Green”. Nothing.

I had just put it away when the waiter returned and we busied ourselves in looking at the menu. Most of what they had seemed to be soups and stews, so I ordered a stiochi bowl. Saahan did the same and Shelly settled for a sandwich of some kind.

After taking our order, he spoke. “I asked a few of the others and none of them know who this Elijah guy is either. Sorry. Could someone be playing a joke?”

I shrugged and gave him a half-smile. “If they did, it cost them a hundred credits. Pays for our meal here anyway, so I guess the joke is on them.”

He smiled at that. “Hey, I’ll take the tip on that!”

I nodded. “Yeah. Thanks.” He nodded again and left.

Saahna sighed. “Another wild swilder chase. Now what?”

I shrugged. “Dunno. That was the only info I had.”

“I hope you aren’t planning to head back to Boilingbrook to check on it?”

I shook my head, frowning. “No!” I sighed. “Maybe I should be glad we’re out of it. We’ll head on to Gimisapun and see what happens from there.”

The waiter returned with our food and we busied ourselves with eating. I took a sip of my stiochi and frowned; it had that same overwhelming spice taste of everything else I had eaten here.

“I’m going to lose weight here,” I said, shoving the bowl away. “Do they have to put that stuff in everything?”

Saahna shrugged, pulling my bowl towards her. “You get most of your food in liquid form anyway. And nothing is as bad as the stuff they served us Marines.” She continued eating her own bowl.

I looked over at Shelly, who was slowly eating what looked like a lettuce and tomato sandwich. I saw she had set her glass of wine aside. “How’s yours?”

She smiled slightly. “OK… It is kind of… pungent.”

I nodded. “Yeah, tell me about it.” I thought for a moment. “So… this what you expected?”

She shook her head. “I… I don’t know. I guess I figured Travellers were always off doing exciting things. Not eating lunch in a run-down bar in some out-of-the-way town.”

I smiled. “Yeah… that’s what Travelling is. You learn to enjoy places like this. You may not always like the food, but every place is always new.” I grabbed a handful of tama leaves. “That’s the thrill. Every planet is different. Every city on every planet is different. And every Jump takes you somewhere new.” I shook my head. “I’ve done the Glimmerdrift. I’ve done the Old Expanses. I haven’t done the Hinterworlds. So… here we are.”

She nodded at that. “Yeah. I guess I can see that.”

“It gets into you,” I said. “You’ll find out. Everyone finds out pretty quickly if they are a Traveller or not.” I paused and took another drink of my beer. “I’m pretty sure you are.”

She smiled. “Thanks Derek. I mean, Captain!”

I waved her off. “That’s fine. We’re all together in this, right?” She nodded.

The rest of the meal passed in idle chatter. When it was done and I had paid, we left and returned to the central town square.

“Now what?” asked Saahna.

I shrugged. “Head back to Kupakii Home and enjoy your week off. And hope Commander Winters release our cargo at some point. Beyond that…” I shrugged again.

She frowned. “You really think we can leave all this behind us?”

I sighed. “I hope so. I really hope so.”

She nodded. “Yeah, me too.” We headed for the subshuttle station.

We had almost gotten back to Kupakii Home when I got a ping that our cargo had been released. Thank gods.

“OK, Winters has let us go,” I said to the others. “So it’s time for me to start doing my wheeling and dealing.” I smiled. “Anything any of you need?”

“You said you would get me a ship jumpsuit?” Shelly asked, somewhat hesitantly.

I nodded. “Yeah, on my list. Anything else?”

She nodded hesitantly. Saahna had already collected her pack and was heading for the exit. “See you in a few,” she said, waving over her shoulder. She joined the crowd passing through the iris.

Shelly looked from her to me but said nothing. “So… I guess I’ll go back to my room.”

I nodded. “Yeah, fine. I’ll see all of you in a few. I’ll ping everyone when I’ve decided on a place.”

She nodded. “Yes, OK. I’ll… see you then?”

I nodded again and, after looking at me for a few more seconds, she turned and left as well.

I took a few minutes to make arrangements for the freight to be picked up and for our cargo to be transferred from the ship to a holding warehouse. Then I headed back towards my room. I almost welcomed the chance to deal with mundane trading again.

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