Imago – S01E03 “Pilot Part 3” – Act I

This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series Imago

Last Time On Imago…

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.”

***

If I am the last, then the twenty-first migration fleet was captured 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.”

***

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.”

Hala? Expert opinion: how long do you figure until the Ex-Laws get here?”

Call it two weeks.”

Ambassador, you’ve got yourself a deal, but we need to talk logistics.”

And Now, The Conclusion…

At the edge of the Grauss System, far out past the furthest orbit of its planets, the Ex-Law Battle Carrier Sanguine Rain sat in stationary orbit above one of the larger asteroids in the local Oort cloud. Shuttles full of mining crews and ore traveled to and from the surface. A ship the size of the Rain couldn’t afford to sit idle; given the cost of keeping it operational and its crew complement of over nine hundred hands, it needed to generate wealth where it could, be it from mining, salvage or piracy.

Normally, the Rain resorted to the last one, but it had a special mission in mind and was thus far away from lucrative trade lanes and vulnerable independent colonies.

The Sanguine Rain was a behemoth; built to carry and protect scores of smaller fighters and destroyers and carry them via bloom into the heart of battle. It resembled nothing so much as a colossal mace: it’s bloom core extended out from the main body by fortified pylons in a design that loowed the core to be shielded even while the main shield battery was dropped in order to disgorge craft too large for the sectional shield breaks to allow through.

On the bridge, located in the same hull section as the bloom core for maximum protection, the command crew had been ordered to stand down to essential personnel only for maintaining orbit, running the mining operation, and communications. The pilot and navigator were in the standby offices one floor below the command bridge, wile the Captain sat at his console, monitoring the goings on of his ship and reading reports.

His console chirped and threw up an icon with the legend ‘RECON OFFICER RETLIEU’. While the ship was on special assignment and away from its primary revenue stream, all intra-ship communications we voice-only to limit power consumption.

“Speak.” said the Captain.

“Sir,” said Retlieu’s voice, rough from injuries sustained in the war with the Zact. “Scout Five is within ansible range. They’re transmitting reconnaissance video. They say a refitted Imperial Command Carrier docked at the station several days ago. No ID on the crew and compliment, but sir, they’re taking on Fenidraan refugees en mass. Apparently, the crew of the carrier is taking them on in return for salvage from the fleet.”

The Captain took a long, deep breath. “The refugees and their fleet are of no consequence. What do they have to say about the Ambassador?”

“The scout reports that our people on the station say she’s still there. She hasn’t boarded the carrier or returned to any of the fleet ships.”

“She’s trying to be a good leader to her people.” The Captain observed. “Getting as many of them clear before the destroyers arrive.” Then he frowned and fingered one of the bronze X’s pinned over his heart. The Ex-Law uniform was a tarnished mirror to the Imperial uniform: gray and rust instead of white and silver. For every Imperial medal an Ex-Law officer had at the time of the Empire’s collapse, they wore a bronze X in its place.

“But I am curious: Not many Command Carriers survived the Zact’s little victory dance of dismantling flagships and melting them down to built new halls for their ‘elected’ leaders.” His already displeased expression took on a quality akin to a thunderhead in search of someone to pour its frustration down upon. “As if any of the figureheads and fools they put into office were any more chose by the people than the nobility they replaced.”

He took a moment to compose himself, not that he’d ranged too far than was standard for the Ex-Laws. Every one of them—the officers at least—had held rank in the Imperial Fleet. Each one had been raised on the promise that enough victories and enough battlefield heroism would result in elevation to that same nobility.

It wasn’t just a golden promise for them; when a spaceling was elevated to nobility, so was their entire family. Parents, children, aunts, uncles and cousins all suddenly found their fortunes transformed. The Zact had closed the door on all that, but while the imperial remnant factions fought to scrape by and survive, the Ex-Laws sought to get what they’d been promised by the sword: taking territories in order to carve out their own new order with themselves ad the nobility.

“Relay the video to me. I want to see this carrier.”

“At once, sir.” replied Retlieu. A moment later, the video appeared on the Captain’s. It took him a moment to figure out the angle, as the footage evidently came from another craft docked to Linka Station in a section that didn’t line up in any meaningful way with the docked carrier. What he saw made him flinch. He’d served on a command carrier and it was hard seeing what befell this one.

“Once a symbol and mechanism of leadership on the field of battle and throughout the cosmos; now a garish ornament fit for a brothel’s signage. More than half the hardpoints for weapons are bolted over. How depressing. What kind of craven, disrespectful idiot does this to one of our old girls?”

“If you would pardon the intrusion, sir, it might be a ruse.”

The Captain’s eyebrow raised. “How so?”

“I’ve had some weapons engineering experience before transferring where I am now. The ship looks stripped down and half-crippled, but the spinal gun and most of the point defense turrets are, whiel not top of the line, fairly new—upgrades from what the carrier would have had at the end of the war.”

This made the Capetian look closer. The Command Carrier’s hull was open and many of the fleet ships were visible in docking bays. Mos of those were in the process of being dismantled by an army of maintenance robots. Some of those parts were already clearly integrated into age-worn parts of the hull’s superstructure.

“A scavenger then. I didn’t know that any of the remnants managed to scuttle away with a prize that big—not while keeping it from us at least. What are the chances they’re taking on rfugees for the same reason we’re tracking them? That they know what we know?”

Retlieu hummed under his breath. “Unlikely, sir. Our data comes from the estate of Koummon Thrae, former pilot of the Emperor’s personal pleasure yacht. Thrae himself didn’t know the Emperor hid them until a year before he took ill and he willed them to Commander Shirogumo. There hasn’t been any opportunity for a third party to learn about and intercept the knowledge.”

The Captain grunted and shook his head. “Yes, but what if the Ambassador, in a fit of desperation over the fate of her people, told them. That way, when we arrive, these remnants will fight back, and in the confusion, she either escapes or kills herself.”

“Our best profillers suggest that the Ambassador, unlike her siblings and parents, is far more likely to try and die fighting, sir.”

“Profiles mean a great deal up until a person is put on the spot.” The Captain pointed out. “But they quickly revert to type when caught off guard. Mister Retlieu, how long until the destroyers reach Linka Station?”

After a lull, presumably to check, Retlieu responded, “Six days, sir. They’re moving under gravitational sling and don’t have the space-compression nodes the scouts do for… obvious reasons.” Those obvious reasons being that compressing space in order to move anything larger than a light aerospace fighter generated gravic effects that could trigger tectonic quakes, super-tides and volcanoes on nearby planets. The laws against building a compression nodes that size were an Imperial law that Zact, Ex-Laws, Independent Holders and remnants alike all held to. Because no one wanted to be on the other end of it.

“They’ll expect that—or know it, depending on if they have access to long-range sensors.” He smiled grimly. “Time to give them something they won’t expect.” He cut the connection to Retlieu and rose from his seat, directing his attention to a spaceling woman sitting nearby—Hannah Grovener. “Miss Grovener, order general alert. I want all hands at the ready and the mining equipment recalled as soon as possible. Order engineering to begin bloom calculations to within three thousand miles of Linka Station.”

He smiled grimly as his second in command started barking orders. “It’s time to force the Ambassador into the open.*

***

Like most stations of its kind, Linka Station offered plenty in the way of rooms for travelers. Gable spent some of his ill-gotten gains from Saadis Mor on a nice one. Nice, but not extravagant. The bed was large and comfortable, there was an alcove with a small kitchen that the chambermaid had stocked with all the appliances a spaceling could ask for to cook simple meals for themselves, and it had a full bath with an actual bathtub. A shower would have been outside of his self-imposed budget, given that it used up far and away more water to take a long shower than an even longer bath.

It was in that rented room that he’d holed himself up the past week, directing the Supreme Eye’s refits via the remote console and PHOEBE. The AI proved to be just as adept at helping with and improving his and Hala’s ideas as she—it, he had to remind himself—had when it came to navigation.

The logistics of housing the refugees, however, was daunting to all three. Entire families had been moved into quarters meant for a single crew. All three mess halls had become overflow housing, and so had every recreational and training room on the ship.

Food and water had been less of an issue, as a number of cargo haulers that made up the fleet still carried their loads and had been rationing them to their fellow refugees. As the Supreme Eye was only meant to carry one tenth of the people and therefore necessities now residing aboard her, PHOEBE finally gave up trying to find room to store all the food and simple docked the cargo ships and patched them into the ships systems. She also started running their life support resources in concert with the ship.

It was all a stopgap measure though: the refugees would only be able to stay aboard in those numbers a few weeks at most before they taxed life support, electrical and plumbing into oblivion. Linka Station’s own formidable life support machinery was keeping that at bay for the moment, but once the Supreme Eye undocked, the clock would start counting down and it would be imperative that they disembark before it ran out.

Ambassador Rebina and her advisers were taking responsibility in finding a new home for the refugees, holed up in a room of their own paid for by Gable. As he’d explained, the Ex-Laws would definitely have someone on the station itself to keep an eye on her and he wanted himself and her hidden from tham as long as possible.

Gable had also given the Fenidraan Ambassador one more advantage in her search she hadn’t had before: charts and survey reports from planets the Empire had terraformed but never got a chance to colonize before the Zact overthrew them. Many had been terraformed to support different lifeforms than spacelings or Fenidra, but a few were meant to be new Throneworlds onto which the Emperor planed to nstall new nobility and those would be hospitable to the refugees.

In Gable’s room, he, Hala and PHOEBE (via the remote cnsole) were taking inventory of the latest salvage taken from the fleet. Hala was going over what still had to be ordered, reading his estimates from a digital tablet strapped to his wrist. The thing was so large that it looked as if he was wearing an archaic shield the wrong way. His nose waggled as his eyes fell on one entry.

“Gable, I know you’re a man with strange methods, but why did one of my mechanics take delivery of a burial pod yesterday?”

“Oh. Almost forgot.” Gable said, sitting up from where he’d been slouched over his own, smaller tablet. “It’s for Ckliika.”

Hala’s eyebrows nearly tied themselves in a knot. “The Carrig? What? You mean to kill her?”

Scoffing, Gable shook his head. “Of course not. It’s for her brother… who I did kill in a way. They were in the Voidhoppers attacking us when we bloomed out of Saadis Mor’s place. He… he didn’t make it. Paying for the pod is just my way of trying to make it up to her. I’ll never be able to read a Carrig, but she cared about her brother… it seemed like the right thing to do.”

The Lopec sighed. “You’re a good man, I suppose, Gable. But what a time to be a soft good man. IF they were working for Mor before, what makes you think she won’t sell you out for Mor’s bounty?”

“Commander…” PHOEBE started, but Gable was already leaping to argue with Hala’s point.

“Hala, I know people. And believe me when I say that Ckliika isn’t going to turn me in. She had all the opportunity in the world to incapacitate me on the way here.”

“…while you were aboard your ship.” Hala countered. “The one with an advanced AI that may very well have been programmed to deal with her if she attacked you. Do you really believe a fighter pilot could turn down the kind of money Saadis Mor is offering for you?”

PHOEBE tried again. “Commander, I….”

“I saved her life!” Gable said, affronted. “Hala, I know you’re a cautious guy, but you have to have faith in people.”

The Lopec’s teeth clicked together in a chattering that sounded like ice being rattled in a glass, which was as good as rolling his eyes. “Like people had faith in the Zact to fix everything? Like how you had faith in the Empire? Caution is a survival trait my friend.”

It was around that point that PHOEBE took the initiative to abandon subtlety, protocol and decorum. “Gentlemen! She shouted as loudly as the remote console’s speakers would allow. “Commander! I’ve been monitoring the station’s long-range sensors. An Imperial Battle Carrier, HF-10042 ‘The Emperor’s Falling Tears of Mercy’, has just bloomed into near-Karris space. It’s current position is three thousand five hundred and thirty-four miles from Linka Station and it is broadcasting with an Ex-Law code: Sanguine Rain. The comm officer is currently negotiating public ansible linkage.”

Gable rose from his seat, eyes fixed on the remote console. “Ny-ja. They’re early. They’re very kultan early. PHOEBE, button the ship up and begin the undocking sequence—I’ll be hitting the bridge at a run. Hala, you’re with me, we need to talk with the Ambassador.”

He’d only just started getting his allies in motion when the station-wide announcement system sounded a tone and a calm, slightly-tired sounding male voice came in over it. “Attention Linka Station,”

That was all it took to stop Gable in his tracks. He turned to stare in shock at the speaker. “Ny-ja, you can’t be serious.” Hala gave him a questioning look.

“I know that voice, Hala.” said Gable with a heavy sigh. “The last, best pilot I ever had: Nichol Trenling.”

Series Navigation<< Imago – S01E02 “Pilot Part 2” – Act IIIImago – S01E03 “Pilot Part 3” – 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.

You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed

  • Descendants Serial is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.