Imago – S01E01 “Pilot Part 1” – Act I

This entry is part 1 of 12 in the series Imago

Saadis Oasis on the System’s Edge. It was more than a mouthful for any thinking creature and it was branded everywhere he could see; the glasses, the napkins, the gambling machines; it was even printed on the left hand of the waitress who handed him his complementary drink.

An indentured servant, all the way out on the so called ‘free’ system edge. Adrian Gable managed to keep his face neutral as he thanked her and transferred two plour to her tip account using the touch pad on her serving tray.

Her expression was worth it. Even after the unfair charges for her room, board, meals and—likely given Saadis Mor’s reputation—oxygen intake, she would still make a fistful of plourets out of the deal, probably enough to shave a few months from her indenture.

It was a lot of money for a free tumbler of unidentifiable purple liquid and ice, but then again, it wasn’t his money. He gave the glass an experimental sniff, grimaced, and set it aside. Finally, he returned his attention to the kiosk in front of him.

It was a Linethian design; a game requiring both luck and skill to win. You put your money (minimum five plourets) into the slot and the machine would randomly present you with two dozen geometric shapes. The object was to arrange them into an equilateral triangle within four minutes. The luck part came in the fact that there was a large chance that the supplied shapes simply could not form the necessary triangle. The payout was a function of how quickly the triangle was assembled.

And Gable was likely breaking system-wide records with his speed and accuracy. The rate at which he was calling up winnable sets was also something not often seen. At least not in fair play. The digital counter on his account reader climbed steadily past eighty omi-plour. It wouldn’t be long now.

Anticipating that he’d benefit from a certain amount of numbness in the coming minutes, he slugged back the entire tumbler of purple. That was a mistake. It hit the back of his throat like a swarm of fire ants and continued in that fashion straight down to his belly where it seemed to set up as a solid, dense mass that rolled around tremulously.

He started coughing and couldn’t stop, each cough bringing up painful fumes from his gut. His head clipped the kiosk’s screen as he doubled over and his vision swam.

The next thing Gable knew, a strong hand had gripped the back of his jacket and he was lifted bodily from his seat. Slowly (because when you’ve picked someone up one handed, you might as well be theatrical about it), he was turned around to look into an enormous, gray face.

Saadis Oasis on the System’s Edge employed Dermitite heavies as floor security and dressed them in brown uniforms with pressed and creased white shirts beneath. That did nothing to take away from the fact that Dermitites looked like mobile brutal beating distribution engines. The one lifting Gable off his feet at the moment was a particularly intimidating example of the species; half again as tall as Gable and much, much heavier, he rested his transitional arms on their knuckles, evenly spaced from his feet while his primary hands were occupied holding Gable and gesturing menacingly.

“’scuse me, sir.” He addressed Gable with a rumbling basso that reverberated in the smaller man’s rib cage and in the depth of the ‘flight’ portion of his fight or flight response. “Mr. Saadis noticed how you play. He’d like a moment o’yer time.”

Thankful for his earlier shot of purple, Gable didn’t struggle. “Of course.” He said politely. “I thought he might. Can I get another drink before we go? They’re still free, yes?”

The Dermitite was already in motion, knuckling with his transitional arms down the aisle of machines. He grunted at the request, and when a servant passed within reach, snatched a tumbler of purple off his tray. “Here.” He said, upending the libation over Gable’s head.

It felt roughly the same taken externally as it did internally. Gable hissed in pain and tilted his head back to keep it from getting in his eyes. “That… Saadis told you to do that, right?”

“No sir.” the Dermitite rumbled. “Came up wi’ that m’self. Can’t stand cheats.”

Gable chuckled through his pain. “You’re pretty funny, bug guy. Why aren’t you over in one of the lounges telling joke instead of playing the muscle game?”

The Dermitite carried him through a set of double doors in back, pushing them open with his transitional arms. “I am on duty now, sir.” He said without a hint of humor. “’side, don’t really like comedy. Sometimes I do sing when de open tha stage ta amateurs.” He grinned, showing a double row of peg-like teeth. Dermitites were strict herbivores, which didn’t make them any less dangerous, considering that the plants of their home world fought back.

“Oh. Well good for you.” Gable said awkwardly. He hadn’t expected Saadis’s hired goons to be clever. They went down a hall and entered an elevator. Both fell awkwardly silent on the ride up, just watching the main gaming floor receded beneath them as they ascended the outside of the hotel tower.

Beyond the bright lights and chrome of the casino dome, Ophelia, the planet Saadis Oasis orbited, was a beautiful blue sphere with brilliant swirls of white and the occasional small splotch of brown and green. It was the last naturally habitable planet in that arm of the galaxy. Beyond that were three dwarf planets also orbiting the star Naison, and then the interstellar void between one galaxy and the next. Thus, System’s Edge.

Business was good for Saadis. Even in the time of the Empire, the reach of law seldom touched Ophelia and it’s tiny mining outposts, so all manner of criminal, corrupt official, and the wealthy elite looking for an extralegal time flocked to the place. Eight years later and the only difference was the names of the corrupt officials and who was wealthy.

They reached the top floor and the beefy Dermitite manhandled Gable up another hall and into an ornate office.

The place looked like the inside of a mussel shell, all smooth, opalescent curves instead of normal walls, floor and ceiling. Gable blinked. It didn’t look like the inside of a shell, it was the inside of a shell, a truly gargantuan one, probably fished from Ophelia’s global ocean.

He didn’t have much time to contemplate the integration of the shell into the space station, or the other highly expensive furnishings, because the Dermitite sat him down roughly in a chair, leaving him face to face with Saadis Mor.

The casino owner and crime boss was a Rainic, which were built along the same lines as Nictus-Trio like Gable himself; two arms, two legs, no tail. That’s where the similarities ended. Saadis’s skin was waxy yellow and more vibrant than most of his species. A thick, light gray beard ran down the sides of his flat nose and helped hide his short muzzle, but could do nothing to hide the display of predatory teeth.

He was dressed finely, as could be expected, with a blue and white shirt that flowed down to his white and blue pinstriped kilt, which was long enough to hide his feet. There was a fur hat of indeterminate former species atop his bald head with beaded tassels hanging down at the nape of his neck. Heavy steel rings decorated his long, rigid ears.

Reaching up to scratch his beard with delicate looking claws, he regarded Gable with electric blue eyes. “I’ve heard that someone was cheating me.” He said with a voice that was a rolling purr. “And not just plouri and plouret-ing me either. I hear you came near to a hundred omi-plour.” He leaned forward slightly, still showing off his murder of teeth. “You can see why this concerns me, yes?”

Gable didn’t flinch. In fact, he grinned at the Rainic crime boss in an almost unnerving way. “Indeed I do, Saadis. But does it help if I tell you I intend to give it all back?”

Saadis rumbled a purr deeper than his voice, a Rainic laugh. “I was getting it back no matter what. Your bank transactions in and out of here have to go through my service boxes, and there’s no way I’m letting that much plour get out from under my nose, spaceling.”

‘Spaceling’ was the derogatory term for Nictus-Trio that referred to how Emperor Nictus bred them into existence from a now extinct race for spacefaring. It was so widely used now that most usage was no longer meant to be a slur anymore. Saadis, however, clearly meant it as such.

“You would think that.” Gable says, relaxing back in his seat. “But your Linethian Triangles kiosks have already shown you one thing: I’m very good at talking to machines. Machines like your communication service hubs.”

Silence settled on the room as Saadis stared down Gable. Thee was nothing in those eyes that suggested he was lying, so he snatched up his personal interface from the small table beside his throne-like chair and tapped on it. Moments later, his eyes narrowed.

“I might have asked them to move a bit more than the eighty-odd omi-plour I won.”

“Sixty-thousand.” Saadis snarled. “Untracable.”

“And you can have it all back in exchange for what’s mine.” said Gable.

Saadis bared his teeth. “Do you really think you can survive extorting me, you worthless spaceling stillbirth?” An even more dangerous edge entered his voice. “I know who you are, Commander Gable. And I know what you’re after.”

Gable was stunned into silence as the crime boss tapped on his interface, bringing a holographic screen into focus between them. The image showed a live feed from a docking bay somewhere on Saadis Oasis. There was a single ship docked thee; a monstrous, one hundred and fifty meter leviathan with a rounded hull that tapered on either end and was split lengthwise along the equator, exposing the engine section, crew quarters and bridge within. The outer hull was given over to flight decks, nav stations, and gunnery emplacements.

“The good ship Supreme Eye of the Eternal Empire.”Saadis intoned mockingly. “The command cruiser for the First Imperial Galactic Fleet. But you know this, yes; High Commander Adrian Gable?”

Gable licked his suddenly dry lips and tried to swallow. “I’m pretty sure that man’s dead and the Supreme Eye was blasted at short range with orbital bombardment ordinance. There’s nothing left of it but a debris field in orbit around Trinion Segundus-Beta. I know; I’ve talked to the Zact gunnery coordinator that called for the strike.”

Saadis let out another purr-laugh. “I’ve talked to a dozen coordinators that say they did the job and a dozen more gunners that swear they fired the shot that ruptured her bloom-core. Thirteen Hells, I’ve even talked to fighter pilots who say they penetrated the outer hull and shot Gable right in the chest with a seek revolver salvo—all thirty-nine missiles of it.” He sank back onto his throat, smug. “And yet here you are and here is the Supreme Eye.

“But you know this already. Here’s something you don’t know: one of my salvage crews found her in stationary orbit on the dark side of Tousen’s Moon. Most of the shuttles had been deployed the supply stores ransacked, and she was completely powered down, but my, she was a catch: The weapons and fighters she was carrying alone bought in more than two hundred thousand.”

He grinned widely, though the gesture might not have meant the same thing to Rainics. “I considered turning the rest in to the Zact nobility and hoping for a reward, but then my son said he wanted it to convert into a pleasure cruiser, and I cannot say ‘no’ to my son. Saadis Vinto is thirty-eight Imperial years old and almost out of his adolescence… I like to indulge.”

Gable frowned. There explained why the Supreme Eye’s Imperial standard white hull had been painted black with purple and magenta plumes to simulate plasma bursts. The younger Saadis was turning his ship into a party boat!

The elder Saadis sneered at his discomfort and continued. “Vinto has done extensive modifications already, but he still has a way to go. I think it’s good for him to have a project, don’t you?”

“I think I want my ship.” replied Gable. “And after seeing what your son’s done to it, I think sixty thousand omi-plour is a bargain.”

“Ha.” Saadis say. It was clear that he knew that was the way spacelings and several other species vocalized laughter, but it was just as clear that he’d never actually heard the sound being made. Clumsy as it was, though, the effect was chilling.

“Let me tell you something about yourself now, Commander Gable. You have machine telepathy, yes? This is how you managed to hoodwink me, yes? Of course it is. That is a very rare ability. They only bred five bloodlines of that, I believe and it is a recessive trait, so in time, it will become only more rare. However, it is an ability that has been extensively studied. So when I heard you would be visiting my establishment, I logged into the Intelligence Trunk and learned all I could.

“It seems that you are more limited than what most people believe. For example, you can only communicate with physical hardware nearby, not across wireless transmission networks and not through anything that lacks a software operating system. Which is a pity for you, because I have a second set of service boxes located on a satellite in Ophelia’s orbit. Which is where I stopped your transaction.”

Now Gable flinched. “But… then why did you…”

“Because I am a very kind man, Commander.” Saadis gestured and the Dermitite clamps hands down on Gable’s shoulders. “And I wanted to give you something to think about on your trip. You see Mr. Gable, out of the kindness and compassion within me, I am not going to kill you. In fact, I’m sending you, as we say out here on the System’s Edge, on one way jaunt out into the void at sub-light.”

“Wait a minute!” Now Gable was panicking. The Empire exiled dissidents that way; picking a direction with not planets or traffic and slingshotting them out into nothingness. It was a bad death; either you slowly starved or you blew the hatch and took a walk in the void. For spacelings, it was worse: they could last quite some time even in hard vacuum.

So Gable struggled. “I have to be far more valuable to you selling me off to someone else that wants to execute me!”

“This is true… in a way.” Saadis motioned for the Dermitite to wait a minute. “After all, you are a symbol of oppression to anyone with even a sliver of allegiance to the Zact, or who had relatives at Miriam’s Gate, Rittemach, Kurounagi… The list goes on and that is your problem, Commander: I have many friends who want you dead and I don’t like to play favorites. So I plan to hurl you into the void, give you a few days head start, and then sell all of them your capsule’s transponder code—first to reach you can do what they want to you… if you’re alive by then.”

With that, he motioned for the Dermitite to take him away.

“Saadis, you’re making a mistake!” shouted Gable.

“Try and have a bit of dignity, Commander.” Saadis purred with laughter. “And be grateful to me: my launching you out of the same bay as the Supreme Eye. That way you can say goodbye to your girl before you go.”

Series Navigation<< Imago: Season 1, Episode 4 “Bounty”, Act 3Imago – S01E01 “Pilot Part 1” – Act II >>

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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