Imago – S01E02 “Pilot Part 2” – Act II

This entry is part 5 of 12 in the series Imago

Even though the Voidhopper’s power requirements were a fraction of The Supreme Eye‘s, they kept it running in conservation mode. That meant that the lights were dimmed and it was cold enough that Gable had pulled the rescue blanket out of his satchel and wrapped it around himself.

Ckliika refused his offers to share his rations, opting instead to consume the Carrig junk food she kept stashed in her ship for long patrols. The pickled meat strips and crispy-fried lumps of fat-filled dough that comprised her favorites made for a number of interesting sounds and smells coming from the front of the pilot’s cabin.

Similarly, she didn’t talk to him unless she had to. Instead, she spent the long days reading on a hand-held computer. Gable peeked over her seat once or twice to discover that his reluctant shipmate had a fondness for true crime novels centered on the crews of former Imperial raiders. Gable knew a few such crews and wouldn’t have written any books on them.

With Ckliika otherwise occupied, and having not thought to bring any other devices besides the remote command console, Gable son found himself falling victim to the greatest enemy of the long-haul spacelng: boredom.

He checked and double checked all of The Supreme Eye’s systems for anything that might be wasting precious power, did the calculations for reaching Linka Station long after there was nothing he could do to change things if he discovered a problem, and tapped into the Voidhopper to learn everything about the craft.

That was all on day one. It was now day five, and he was awake only because he was tired of sleeping. It was so bad that he was tempted—merely tempted—to strike up a conversation with PHOEBE.

Yes, it would be validating whatever idiotic marketing gimmick the Mushan Corporation was trying to pull putting so much pointlessly sapient behavior into a ship’s AI. It had already tried to sell him customization options, so it wouldn’t surprise him if that was the point and the ny-jani thing tried to sell him even more pointless frippery. Doubly so once it found out about the money he’d sent to a mostly neglected mercantile node on Linka Station.

A sales pitch was still be something though. Something more than stewing in his thoughts.

He’d done that too. Ruminating on the memories of friends and colleagues. Those who were gone. Those who were far away. Those who were no longer friends. So many of those raiders—murderers, thieves and oppressive bandits—had been people under his command. He thought he’d instilled honor in them, but desperation had taken whatever they’d had. Better to survive as a scoundrel than die honorably.

Not that he’d been all that much cleaner. Even before the fall of the Empire, the cracks had been starting to show. What they were really protecting was less noble than he’d come to believe. The full weight of what he’d killed and destroyed in support of didn’t fully hit him until after it was all over and even then he’d robbed and killed some more to avenge some of those fallen friends. Not that the Zact turned out to be saviors.

“Commander.”

Honestly, Gable didn’t know if he didn’t deserve the title, or if he felt the title beneath him at this point.

“Commander. Ansible contact with Linka Station . I’ve taken the liberty of downloading the local trunk directory for the Station and its principal.” PHOEBE sounded cheerful about the whole procedure.

Gable shook his head, clearing out all the cobwebs and ghosts. It felt like he’d been drifting off to sleep. When he tried to speak, his voice was rough from dryness and lack of use. “Good. ETA to the station?”

“I initiated deceleration burn fourteen hours ago. Estimated arrival at Linka station: thirty-eight hours.”

“A seven day trip from Hotor to Linka Station? It should be more like ten. How’s that possible?”

The remote console let out a warbling noise that prompted Gable to check it. As soon as he did, a holographic representation of the local solar system and the ship’s present course appeared. “Previous calculations were made using The Supreme Eye’s standard running mass and power usage. The calculation used to calculate the slingshot from Hotor was made using the new power calculations taking your strategy of using the Voidhopper as a lifeboat into account, but did not account for the current actual mass of The Supreme Eye. Saadis Vinto removed sufficient weaponry, attendant craft and internal decoration to account for a significant difference in mass that translate into greater efficiency from the engines.”

Gable groaned and rubbed his eyes with his free hand. “I must be getting old if I didn’t think to stop and take inventory so we could have accurate mass calculations. Good job catching that.”

“Thank you, Commander!” PHOEBE chirped happily. She reminded him of many over-eager recruits that had served under him: overwhelmed at the man all the stories made him out to be and desperate to be acknowledged. They usually ended up not being anywhere near as good at their jobs because of that, so Gable decided to head it off in the AI as soon as possible.

“Right. Hit the trunk and send a call to Halanen Aendren of the Linka Station Salvage and Retrofit. Tell him it’s me calling.”

“I’ll connect you as soon as he replies, Commander.” confirmed PHOEBE and the hologram winked out over the remote console. Gable started to admonish the AI once again not to call him commander anymore, but it was too late. He groaned softly into the quiet cabin.

The seat in front of him creaked and a moment later, Ckliika was peering around it at him. “He has a friend at the station? Someone to make his arrangements?”

Gable nodded and met her gaze. “I’ve worked with Hala before. He’ll come through.”

That made the Carrig gnash and clack her mandibles together unhappily. “Not his arrangement. Chchakkaz still needs his tenaid. This ‘Hala’ can make arrangements?”

“Well he runs a refit shop, not a…” That wasn’t helping, and even with his limited understanding of Carrig expressions, he got the feeling that he might be headed toward his own tenaid if he didn’t square things with Ckliika. “Look. I don’t know what a tenaid entails. I’ll be happy to pay for services and however you care for your dead, but I need to know what kind of arrangements need to be made first, alright?”

The next time she clacked her mandibles, it was a quick report as she tilted her head. “Very well. In our homeland of Zzichch, going into space is unforgivable. The people there believe Carrigs should tend to our homewold and let the Zact races and the Empire deal with space. She and Chchakkaz can never return, even in death. Therefore, she wishes to return Chchakkaz to his real home: space.”

Gable met her gaze. “You won’t be able to do that at Linka Station: it’s inside Karris’s gravity well and any capsule they launch wouldn’t have enough thrust to break orbit.” Ckliika clacked once to remind him that ‘no’ was not an option.

“But The Supreme Eye isn’t going to stay at Linka Station. If you want, we can put your brother into cryo-containment, buy a burial pod from Hala, then have the tenaid here once we’re away from any gravitational interference. Is that acceptable?”

Ckliika didn’t have a chance to reply, as PHOEBE’s voice returned. “Commander, Halanen Aendren has replied. Sending his ansible call to your remote console.”

Without any pause, a holographic window opened between Gable and Ckliika, ending their conversation. It also replaced Gable’s view of the Carrig’s insectile features with Hala’s significantly more mammalian ones.

Halanen Aendren was a Lopec, a somewhat short, squat race haling from the second planet of the Thintil system. They were descended from burrowing creatures, and though their claws were no more, it still showed in their overly large hands with deceptively agile fingers, narrow muzzles, and generally wedge-shaped bodies. Hala’s thick fur was a medium gray color with darker stripes on his arms and large, bushy brows that were big enough to obscure his forehead entirely.

As soon at the called connected, his nostrils started twitching and his brows shivered. “I can’t believe you’re not dead.”

Not the greeting Gable hoped for, but one he had expected on some level. “Hala, you know nothing can kill me. Ask the hundreds of men who swear that had me dead ti rights and put an end to me only to find out half the men in the bar say the same thing.”

“Actually, I was thinking of something more than you legend.” Hala shook his head and fanned his brows up and down. “Your reputation precedes you, Gable: Saadis Mor had some of his flunkies here four or five days ago looking for you. Stealing from Saadis Mor usually means you’re already dead.”

Gable mustered a cockier smirk than he was feeling, considering he very nearly did die on several occasions in the past week. “Yeah, well when you steal as much from him as I did, it comes back the other direction and means you’re immortal.

Hala’s nostrils flared with interest. “How much?”

“It’s not just the money, Hala. I took something far more important than a few massive fistfuls of omiplour. I took The Supreme Eye out from under him.”

The noise Hala made sounded like a sneeze, but Gable knew him well enough to understand that it was a Lopec curse. “And you’re flying a fully-armed Imperial command ship here? No-no-no-no-no. Gable, you can’t! We have our own problems right now without The Supreme Eye making an appearance! Imperial presence of any kind could cause a riot!”

“Hala.” Gable started, but the Lopec was lost in his own little world of panic. “Hala! Slow down! What kind of problems are we talking about?” He knew the Empire’s remnants weren’t welcome anywhere civilized, but enough salvaged and stolen ships were circulating that a command ship wouldn’t make everyone instantly think he was a raider, especially one with all of its weapons gutted.

Rubbing his fuzzy temples with his dinner plate-sized hands, Hala shook his head. “The refugees, Gable! Have you been out of ansible range for a month? Fenidraal’s largest nation, Ghevet’s government collapsed. Most of the planet is at war now, and everyone is calling in off-world allies to help. Refugees are fleeing and the Ex-Laws are picking them off to rob or enslave.”

Most people would have said ‘bandits’ or ‘remnant forces’. Hala was respectful even to those who didn’t deserve it by using their preferred name. In this case, the loose confederation of raiders, bandits and other criminals that declared themselves exiles from civilized space and were trying to establish their own miniature empire. Exiles and out-laws. Ex-Laws.

“A small fleet bloomed—more like limped judging by their ships—here two weeks ago, hoping to gain sanctuary down on Karris, but none of the governments down there want them. So they’re stuck with their fleet and the station—and if I can give you my professional opinion, the former isn’t going to last much longer.”

None of that was new at all. The Zact tried to set up new governments in the former Empire, but without an iron fist to back it, a lot of them folded and then it was every power hungry warlord for themselves. With oribtal bombardments and exotic chemical and biological weapons available from now-unguarded armories, the only safe path for refugees was to flee to more stable planets… where they often destabilized such places thanks to their sheer numbers and needs. So places like Karris simply refused them entry. Some of them with resources and numbers to spare tried their hands at the partially terraformed worlds. Others turned to the Ex-Laws even if it meant selling their own int slavery. And still others died in orbit, unable to move on and find safety.

“How bad?” asked Gable.

Hala shook his head, the whiskers on the sides of his muzzle drooping. “Those that can have solar sails. They can stay up for months if it wasn’t for all the damage they sustained waiting for the bloom that got them here. Most of them are falling apart. They have breakdowns every day, and even with all able hands doing whatever work they can on the station… they can’t afford upkeep.”

He fidgeted a bit before adding. “Plus, in the last couple of days, we’ve seen Ex-Law scouts on long range scanners—out past Karris’s moons. If whoever attacked them comes here to get them, Karris’s orbital defenses will protect the station, but not the fleet.”

Gable frowned. “They would come all the way into this system to pick off some refugees? Are they really getting that hungry out there?”

“Seems like.” said Hala. “So as I said, as much as I’d like to catch up, it’s probably not a good idea for you to come here, Gable.”

“Oh but if I had the choice.” Gable glanced past the window to find that Ckliika has retreated back around her seat. “We’re coughing up xenon fumes right now. Plus Saadis’s kid gutted the Eye to turn it into a pleasure palace. I need fuel, I need diagnostics—I need every ny-jani thing, Hala. And I’d love to clean the moronic paint off the hull somehow.”

Hala lifted his brows. “Paint on your hull?”

“Yeah, Saadis Vinto was overhauling her completely; Most of the weapon mounts are welded over, the entire hull’s been painted… the Eye looks nothing like herself anymore.” He didn’t go into his thoughts on the AI, as PHOEBE was probably monitoring the call and he didn’t know if she was capable of feeling vengeful.

Instead of commiserating though, Hala gave the Lopec version of a smile, flattening his whiskers back and opening his mouth to display his many tiny sharp teeth. “Actually, they might work to your advantage, Gable. Ex-Laws and other remnant factions don’t do much modification: they’re proud of their service.”

Left unsaid was the fact that Gable wasn’t. “Everyone knows this, so your arrival won’t spook the refugees as much.” He waggled his brows. “The only thing is, you’re still show up under the Imperial name to the port authority. I suggest you hack your registries to change that.”

Gable merely stared at him for a long time. Nostalgia had driven his risky quest to reclaim his ship. He missed home, and regardless of its origin, The Supreme Eye had been his home for longer than any other place. It already pained and annoyed him that so much had been changed and now one of his oldest friends wanted him to get rid of the last thing that was the same?”

As if reading his mind, Haala spoke more sympathetically. “I know you’ve waited a long time to have her back, Adrian. But the name is a dead giveaway. No one who just picked up and refitted a command ship like that would keep the name—the names all espouse the ‘greatness’ of the Empire and no one wants to be seen as a sympathizer this side of civilized space.”

Deep down, Gable knew he was right. He wanted to be angry with his friend, but couldn’t do it. The universe had changed. He had changed. Now it was time for his ship to change. To become something better.

“Fine. You win, Hala. I’ll have something hacked in by the time we hit the dock. Just be ready with all my refits.”

“I assume I’ll be paid in Saadis Mor’s money?” Hala was wearing a Lopec smile again.

“It’s already on your local mercantile server. Just deduct what it costs before I retrieve it.”

Hala shook his head. “Always the clever pirate, Gable. Well if you can mind the refugees, I’ll see to it that you’re sent to dock with minimal scrutiny. Good luck my friend.”

“Thanks, Hala. My debt to you continues to grow.”

***

The Trelvekkian started life as a priority hauler for the Ghevet royal family. It was now the command ship and lead bloom core for the twenty-second migration fleet of Ghevet. Not having been designed for anything but carrying cargo and blooming from planet to planet, it had none of the usual comforts of a diplomatic craft.

The high security cargo bay had been cleared out and hastily furnished to serve as a makeshift council chamber—though the bulk of the Council and most of the royal family weren’t present with the fleet—assuming they were alive at all.

Not having holographic tech, Ambassador Rebina tre’Ghevet, third in line to the Ghevet throne, was forced to improvise a tactical map using the game pieces from most of an uevi board in the migration fleet with the Grauss system delineated by painting it onto the surface of the table.

At the moment, it was only her and Councilor (it was too early to suggest she was a former Councilor even if Rebina had no illusions that they would never return to Fenidraal) Crycell, who was currently the fleet’s liason to the rest of civilized space.

The Councilor bowed as she offered her report. She was in her later years, the red stripes that marked the orange skin on her arms and cheeks fading and her long, pointed ears starting to droop even if wrinkles hadn’t started to appear on her face. “Ambassador, the Rheminni Protectorate of Kaal IV says that they are willing to admit two hundred families with young children…”

“..but no elderly.” Rebina finished for her. It wasn’t a rare stipulation. “They only want strong backs or future strong backs. Never mind that we still have three hundred families with elderly kin. Did you know that some are asking to be taken off their families’ roster in order to give them a better chance of escape?”

Councilor Crycell ducked her head. “I am aware, Ambassador. I am also aware of your… arrangements… to ensure it won’t come to that and must disagree vehemently. The Ghevet Legacy is more important than any one of us. If you truly are the last of the royal family, then it dies with you and—”

“I am aware.” Rebina cut her off. “And disagree vehemently. If I am the last, then the twenty-first migration fleet was capture or eliminated. Ghevet as we know it consists solely of this fleet and the tenth, fourteenth and sixteenth fleets. If the war continues as it has, we may well be the last Fenidra in general. At that point, the Legacy means nothing as there will be no one left to benefit from it. So no, Councilor, I will not sacrifice any of our people for it. Should the Ex-Laws come to this system, I will take away their reason to be here.”

“If that is how you feel about it, Ambassador, I won’t bring it up again.” said the Councilor. “But please do wait until the last possible moment. We may yet find alternatives.”

Series Navigation<< Imago – S01E02 “Pilot Part 2” – Act IImago – S01E02 “Pilot Part 2” – Act III >>

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One Comment

  1. Typos & similar

    the Voidhopper’s power requirements
    I think you mean power supply, power supplies, power capacity or something like that.

    Gable son found
    soon

    long-haul spacelng:
    spacing or spacer

    A sales pitch was still be
    would still

    As soon at the called connected,
    as the call

    you’re still show up
    showing

    that was the same?”
    Gable’s thinking rather than talking and there’s no opening quote, so lose the closing quote here.

    was capture or eliminated.
    captured

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