Imago – S01E02 “Pilot Part 2” – Act III

This entry is part 6 of 12 in the series Imago

“Inertial direction matched!” PHOEBE’s voice was full of excitement and pride as the Supreme Eye‘s docking sequence played out. “Mooring pylons one-eight-zero through two-two-zero extended and locked to host docking arm. Extending umbilicus zero-five! Zero-five umbilicus… locked and pressurizing!

“Unaffiliated command cruise Supreme Eye, successfully docked at Linka Station! Total travel time from Hotor slingshot maneuver: seven standard days, eighteen hours! Remaining xenon reserves: point-zero-zero-nine percent of maximum fuel payload!”

Gable squeezed his eyes closed for a moment. While the AI’s enthusiasm (and programmed capacity for enthusiasm) concerned him, he had to admit, PHOEBE was a damn good navigator. In spite of himself, he praised it. “Well done, PHOEBE. Couple us to the station’s power conduits and get life support back on for the critical halls and rooms; I’ll use the longhaul suit’s emergency tanks to make for the umbilicus.”

“Yes sir, Commander!” PHOEBE said cheerfully.

Rolling his eyes, he stood and leaned over the seat to speak with Ckliika. The Carrig had the Voidhopper’s console on and was perusing the local data trunk. From what Gable could see, she was looking for facilities that made funeral arrangements.

He waited politely until she acknowledged his presence before speaking. “I’m going station-side to meet with a fiend and see what repairs and refits I can get done t my poor ship. Would you like to come along?”

Ckliika clacked her refusal. “She will go station-side as well, but her affairs are her own.”

“Understood.” said Gable. He retreated back to the rear seat and connected his suit’s emergency tanks before pulling up the cowl and facemask normally stored in the suit’s neck ring and sealing them shut. A nitrogen/oxygen mixture filled the cowl, inflating it and the clear section over his face enough that he could see. The suit was about as protective as his normal clothes, but it was all one needed to navigate powered-down sections of a ship. As for Ckliika, all she needed was a mask that fit over her mandibles and secured with a series of snaps in back.

Thus protected from ship corridors without life support, they two exited the Voidhopper—their home for the past week—and headed for Linka Station.

***

There were many types of space stations littered across the former Empire and Gable had seen them all. Cramped, hot industrial facilities meant to be run by robots, expansive and majestic self-contained bios, fastidious and utilitarian military installations… just to name a few.

Linka Station was originally a construction platform for starships and a refueling waypoint; a join operation of several Karrsian nations. The needs of visiting ships soon expanded it from construction to repair, to salvage and customization.

As any of those could take days or weeks and not every ship was in livable shape, their crews needed places to sleep. Then places to eat. Then places to get drunk and have fun. None of those things were fully automated of course, so there needed to be housing for workers. And so on and so forth.

In the end, Linka Station had become part space dock, part habitation. Its original core modules had been expanded upon again and again until it was composed of three outer wheels that span the generate enough force to mimic a comfortable level of gravity, all magnetically orbiting a large, open central space dock.

Gable was appreciating the high ceilings and yellow-shifted lighting that characterized the habitation ring of the station. Academically, nothing changed the fact that he was walking through a vast hall, but it felt open and the air felt fresh, especially to a man who spent ten days in a tiny fighter and months upon months without anything approaching sunlight.

It was a nice hall at least. Many other habitat stations were stark and empty. Linka Station had open hydroponics gardens breaking up the monotony of the main thoroughfare with edible flowers and berry bushes tended to by tiny pollenizer drones painted in bright colors.

The shops were built on three levels on either side of the hall, accessed by lifts at regular intervals. In the habitation ring, these were mostly vendors selling food, clothing and general goods imported from Karris below of traders that made regular use of the station as a waypoint. Others were hostels catering to crews stopping over for repairs and refits.

After parting ways with Ckliika, Gable headed for the bar he usually met Hala when he was station-side.

The walk there was notably more crowded as well. Among the usual hustle and bustle of a thriving space station, there were weary, directionless knots of Fenidra.

Fenidra were distant cousins of spacelings, drawn from the same stock species, but by a long dead and oft forgotten minor star empire. They were a good foot or two shorter on average than spacelings though with the same basic proportions. That was where the similarities ended. Where the spacelings, the Nictus-Trio, were genetically designed to be spacefarers, the Fenidra were miners and maintenance tunnel workers. Their eyes were large and vaguely luminous thanks to retinas refined for night vision. Their skin bore fine red and orange keratin scales to protect them from scrapes and the attendant infections of work in narrow spaces. Long, pointed ears aided direcitonal hearing. And their hips, spines and the bases of their skulls were designed so that they could crawl efficiently. Hala’s people looked like badgers, but Fenidra moved like them.

The ones populating the corridors of Link Station, however, didn’t seem to be moving like anything but people who were lost and had no idea what to do next.

“The Ghevet refugees.” Hala gave voice to Gable’s thoughts as he fell into step with Gable. For someone measuring almost four feet across and weighing probably twice what Gable did, the Lopec was remarkably stealthy. “The healthiest are all station-side trying to beg aid or sanctuary.”

Gable watched as a trio of the Ghevet Fenidras spoke with a tall, horned Kohvan woman. She didn’t look all that sympathetic, but she wasn’t sending them away. “How’s that going for them?”

“As good as they can expect, from what I see.” said Hala, “But that’s not good. They’re having to break up families, friendships… even lovers all across this galaxy and the next. Still won’t be enough though. There’s still a whole refugee fleet out there.”

By now they had reached Ketler’s, their customary watering hole, and Hala pushed the door open and held it for Gable. Years ago, the former Commander found it strange, but it was simply an aspect of Lopec courtesy that the ‘host’ did these little things for their guests.

Ketlers was a typical hub bar; tables that could be adjusted with a crank to fit many heights, backless stools designed the same way with multiple body types in mind. No backs or arms on te chairs meant more drunks on the floor during busy times, and a rainbow of drinks, many of which were poison to two or more given species.

It was the middle of the stations’ relative day, so there were few patrons—mostly a trio of Fenidra wh olloked less lost and haggard then most—and Hinrule, the Lopec bartender was keeping himself busy doing some inventory with a scanner and handheld computer. He put both down when he heard the two come in, ready to take drink orders even though they hadn’t acknowledged him yet.

“You sound a little bit concerned about them, Hala.” Gable observed, testing his friend’s reactions.

Halla’s brows knit and his nose quivered. “Fenidraal was a Zact protectorate. Just like Karris, just like Linka Station. They knew Ghevet’s neighbors in Tunion and Barghein were financing separatists to subvert them and stir up the radicals. Even if they wanted to let Ghevet die, they didn’t need to let the whole planet got to war, to the Ex-Laws to hunt down and kill the refugees.”

He cranked a stool down to the proper height for him and climbed onto it so he was sitting at the bar. His big hands repeatedly smoothed the fur between his eyes. “There are nutters on Karris too, Gable. Xenophobes and hard-liners… some of them want to take this station and make it a military satellite. After what happened to Ghevet, who’s to say it won’t happen here? That the Zact will just let them as long as the tributes flow?”

Without even a beat in between, he held up two fingers to Hinrule, “Two of your good brews, please Hinrule.”

Hinrule grunted and gave a little bow. He wasn’t as attached to his people’s traditions of courtesy as Hala. Reaching under the counter, he came up with two bottles large enough to have been wine bottles; the standard size for beer containers, given how station-side brews tended to be weaker.

“Thank you.” said Hala, pulling out his own handheld to pay.

Gable nodded to Hinrule, then tilted his head in thanks to Hala—one of the few Lopec customs he consistently remembered. “So what you’re saying is that you think it’s just a matter of time?”

Brows knitting like crazy, Hala cracked upoen his bottle, but contemplated it instead of taking a swig. “The Sheathed Sword of Vigilance was here a few days ago. Taking on supplies and such, you know?”

“I’m taking it that a Zact battle-carrier being in the system still didn’t sway your concerns?”

Just a supply run, Gable. They didn’t even link into the Karris local trunk. Didn’t check up on the planet, didn’t take on or even interview any of those refugees. From what I could tell talking to them, they didn’t even know Ex-Laws were nosing around here. They might not even know the Ghevet have fallen.” He took a long pull and set the bottle on the bar. “They just bloomed out as if it nothing were going on here.”

Gable opened his one beer and took a sip. It was a good brew even if it was weak. Hinrule had been perfecting his art for fifty years across three other worlds and stations. “While I was getting ready to have my little run-in with Saadis Mor, I heard talk of there being trouble in Zact core-space. Abaran, Helior—worlds like that. The ex-rebels who got fat and happy off the Empire’s corpse now think they could be fatter and happier if they weren’t locked into trade and protection agreements with the big guys back on Taerranos.”

A squealing Lopec curse left Hala’s lips and made old-fashioned Hinrule huff and lift his brows in annoyance. “Is the entire ny-jani universe going to war?”

Shaking his head, Gable took another drink, savoring the taste. “It just seems like it because you’re here on the station. You haven’t been off wandering the galaxies the past few years. There’s always someone at war. Not always big wars—planet-vs-planet—but big enough to leave scars, leave refugees like the Ghevet. I’ve sold my skills to them more than once, got a ship or two to a safe world or at least a neutral station.”

Usually. He didn’t like thinking about the times it wasn’t enough, or he got somewhere supposedly neutral to find out their allegiances has shifted. During the era of the Empire, there had been twenty-six known intelligent species with populations considered viable. There were twenty-three now. Gable knew all the members of one that had been removed from that list by name because there had only been seven survivors.

All hail the Peace of the Zact.

Hala swiftly changed the subject. “I got the ‘shopping list’ your AI sent and have some people and drones starting your refuel by now.”

“That’s good. Thanks as always, Hala.”

“The Sheathed Sword of Vigilance saw to it that I’m low on weapons stock. They laid in spares of everything they could store. Best I can give you is about sixty percent coverage for your point defenses and a new spinal or ventral photonic lance. That and four attack drones is all I got in terms of offense until some of the scrap haulers come in.

Gable nodded, contemplating his own bottle. Like Hala, he was thinking mostly of other things than business at the moment. “Do what you can, I know you’re apt to work miracles with what you’ve got. What about everything else, Saadis Vinto ripped out of my beautiful ship?”

“I don’t see how most of it is going to matter, Gable—you’ve got a crew of one. What are you even planning to do with that ship?”

It was a fair question. Gable knew. A command ship wasn’t a warship, it couldn’t take on battle-carriers or even cruisers and win without serous tactics. It wasn’t fast or maneuverable. Its purpose was to house and protect the officers and tacticians while they were close enough to see and direct the battle in real time. It required a fleet to be anything more than a heavily armed and armored version of the pleasure yacht Saadis Vinto wanted it to be.

“I don’t know.” he replied truthfully. “All I knew was that it was my ship and I didn’t want her in anyone else’s hands. Now that I’ve got her…”

“…and are being hunted like a dog by Saadis Mor.” Hala added.

“…and am being hunted like a dog by Saadis Mor.” amended Gable, who couldn’t argue, “I don’t know what to do. I suppose I’ll go back to wandering, taking odd jobs. I know I’m not going Ex-Law or anything if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Hala scratched his brows. “Alone again? A big fish like the Eye needs a crew.”

Snorting a laugh into his bottle, Gable gave Hala a side-long look. “You offering to sign on?”

“Considering.” the Lopec said. “Time running out here, I’m sure of it. And I’ve got this feeling that if you don’t have an engineer that knows his hafti from the shoonga that comes out of it, your time’ll be even shorter. I’ve heard your stories; how many times have you been saved by Stingler or Trenling when the Mighty knows you had every right to be dead?”

“Point taken.” Gable said, silently toasting the two officers Hala mentioned. He knew Stingler was dead and odds were less than favorable for Trenling. “But the Eye is designed for a much larger crew. The new AI…” He decided he didn’t want to explain PHOEBE at the moment, “…is good at what it does and I hand speak with most systems, but we’d need more hands on the deck for the mechanical maintenance.”

Taking another drink, Hala shrugged. “There’s a few that work under me that would go wherever I do if there’s pay, but not enough for that monster of yours.”

“What are you willing to pay for someone to solve your personnel problem?” a new voice cut in.

The two old friends looked to find that one of the Fenidra that had been sitting at a corner table when they came in had approached them. She wasn’t more than four feet tall, but she carried herself like she was twelve. Her clothes were rumpled, as if she’d been sleeping in them, but they were nice with vibrant colors and metallic threads even though she covered them for the most part with a heavy leather coat. Where most Fenidra wore their hair long, she had shaded hers down to black stubble and slicked it with oil or gel. What really set her apart from her fellows, however, was choice of jewelry: a steel choker with a gold disc pressed into the center—the equivalent of a crown in many civilizations in the local galactic arm.

The Fenidran woman folded her arms in response to their curious aside glances to one another. “…as well as your need for parts. A significant percentage of my fleet is made up of survivors of the Ghevet Extra-Orbital Expeditionary Forces, which carried out that final successful evacuation of or colony on Tarna. They have experience and while our fleet is heavily damaged, the weapons and other systems are salvageable.”

Gable frowned. He didn’t trust royalty as far as he could bloom under his own power. The Empire, the Zact… no nobility he’d ever come across came to any good. “Well this all seems like amazingly convenient timing… Lady? Princess?”

“Ambassador. Ambassador Rebina tre’Ghevet. My cousin is the Serival—what you would call Princess. May Bharm and Hume rest her soul.” Her expression tightened for a moment before she took a claming breath. “And that is exactly what I said to my advisers. You are the captain of the gargantuan ship that docked just now, aren’t you?”

“Commander Adrian Gable at your service.” he saluted her with his bottle. ‘Commander’ was to job her memory, assuming she knew her history, and hopefully scare her away.

The name clearly registered, but she only looked more satisfied. “If I heard you correctly, you’ve transported refugees before.”

Wary of the fact that she didn’t reference the most well-known of his exploits and instead focused on what she overheard, Gable glanced over to Hala, who shrugged and twitched his nose. Rather than speak, he only nodded.

“Then your more storied past is unimportant. The truth is, my fleet is in tatters and the Ex-Laws will come here sooner rather than later to hunt me. I want them made safe before that happens.”

‘Me’, not ‘them’, Gable noted. And then she wanted the fleet safe, not herself.

“You don’t intend to come?” Gable asked.

Rebina looked back to the other two Fenidr she’d been sitting with. “That’s a possibility. The Ex-Laws want information from me—something only a member of the Royal Family has access to. I’ll die before they’ll have it, but I don’t want them taking my citizens hostage to force me to turn myself over.”

She straightened her back and folded her arms. “I’ll offer you the material resources of the fleet and whatever labor my people will volunteer in exchange for carrying sanctuary until they find a world or station that will take them. I would offer plour, but I’ve used most of our funds up bribing and placating other safe havens.”

Gable studied the little woman while taking a long drink. She wasn’t lying—he had seen that look before; she was fully prepared to die for her people. Was convinced that she was going to die for them. He sighed and slammed his bottle down on the bar. “Hala? Expert opinion: how long do you figure until the Ex-Laws get here?”

The Lopec let out a long, slow breath, as if he’d been expecting a different response and was glad to have been wrong. “They know most of the fleet won’t be able to bloom again. As far as the Ex-Laws are concerned, the Ghevets are trapped in orbit with no real prospect for say, reaching safety with an orbital slingshot maneuver. I’d say they won’t waste resources and will come here under engine and gravitational power. Call it two weeks.”

“Is that enough time to mount that spinal gun and get my ship up to one hundred percent life support?”

Hala’s eyebrows jumped and shimmied and he huffed. “For a normal work crew? No. For mine? I can make it happen, Gable.”

Giving his friend a smile and a nod, Gable stood up. “Good. Get on it then, if you please, my new Chief Engineer. I’ll pay whoever you can get to leave with you out of what I took off Saadis Mor—just make sure they’re packed and ready to go before the Ex-Laws arrive.

He then nodded to Rebina. “Ambassador, you’ve got yourself a deal, but we need to talk logistics.”

It felt like a fire was going in him again. Not so much the warm and fuzzy feeling of helping others, but the burning furnace of creation that stoked in him when it was time to plan, time to get clever. Adrian Gable was in hie element again and he felt like a new man.

Series Navigation<< Imago – S01E02 “Pilot Part 2” – Act IIImago – S01E03 “Pilot Part 3” – Act I >>

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