- Imago: Season 1, Episode 4 “Bounty”, Act 3
- Imago – S01E01 “Pilot Part 1” – Act I
- Imago – S01E01 “Pilot Part 1” – Act II
- Imago – S01E01 “Pilot Part 1” – Act III
- Imago – S01E02 “Pilot Part 2” – Act I
- Imago – S01E02 “Pilot Part 2” – Act II
- Imago – S01E02 “Pilot Part 2” – Act III
- Imago – S01E03 “Pilot Part 3” – Act I
- Imago – S01E03 “Pilot Part 3” – Act II
- Imago – S01E03 “Pilot Part 3” – Act III
- Imago – Season 1, Episode 4 “Bounty”, Act 1
- Imago – Season 1, Episode 4 “Bounty”, Act 2
The Imago dropped through the heavy cloud cover that shrouded the second moon of the gas giant Vaeta Seguro, riding on dozens of blue beams issuing from its gravic ports. The same system the provided the inner hull with artificial gravity allowing the huge ship to sink gracefully toward the moon’s surface.
Its destination, Port Farthin, was on the western coast of the moon’s second largest continent. Visible from space, it was a compact city of arcology towers surrounded by a little over a dozen gigantic artificial lakes—the actual ports of Port Farthin.
The command ship, a large as a modest sports stadium, slowly but steadily settled into one of these lakes. As it did, scaffolds and gantries rose from the water to secure it in place and make connections for the air and water exchanges. From the shore, a number of long tubs capped with airlocks extended, each containing rapid transport shuttles to usher crew and passengers into the city. These were immediately pressed into service as hundreds of refugees crowed for a chance to get new supplies and breath fresh, un-recycled air.
It was only after the last of those who wanted or needed to go ashore had done so that the command crew (minus one) took advantage of the next shuttle to disembark as well.
“I will be accompanying you on your errands, Mr. Halanen, while Captain, you and the AI will go your own way.” Rebina adjusted her vest. She’d abandoned her formal clothing for a Ghevetan military flight suit: a loose, light tan and dark brown jump suit with a black tactical vest. A pair of silver-framed goggles rested on her forehead, mussing her black hair, which had grown from stubble to a short brush since first embarking.
Hala’s brows rose in amusement. “I have assistants to run my errands, Ambassador.” He hefted the heavy tool box he was carrying. “I’m here to back you up in case this plan of yours and Gable’s turns sour.” He hadn’t bothered changing out of his smudged engineer’s coveralls, merely thrown a ratty long wool coat over it and pulled on some heavy rubber gloves.
Rebina regarded the tool box carefully. “You have weapons in there? Do they allow people to carry weapons in this port?”
She could only glare when both Hala and Gable burst out laughing. Gable recovered first, shaking his head. “Ambassador, you’ve been on too many quality worlds. Places like this moon? They don’t even have names and they make most of their plour on lowlifes and pirates. Those kinds of folks? They’re paranoid enough that they won’t even consider landing on a rock where they don’t have the means to kill someone back if they try killing them.”
This only got a level look from Rebina. “I don’t believe I follow, but I will just take it that weapons are allowed here. I wish I had known that, it I wouldn’t have gone unarmed.”
In response, Hala opened the toolbox and rummaged around, coming up with a compact pistol and offering it to her. “Turring Auto-pulse Plasmacaster. Medium range, high accuracy, each cell gives you twenty shots. Good enough?”
Rebina accepted the weapon and the small arm bandoleer containing three extra gas cells. “The bulk of my training was with rifles, but I’ll manage. Thank you.”
The Lopec nodded. “No need. You’re crew. And I know where we’re going now: finding you a personal arm.”
“As opposed to just finding a bar?” Gable smirked. “I approve.”
PHOEBE, who was being projected by Gable’s remote command console, perked up. “If we’re going shopping, might I suggest we browse the clothing district, Captain? Since you haven’t made any purchases of clothing packs for me, my options are limited to standard uniforms and the defaults my program ships with. If I observe other clothing, I will be able to replicate it.”
“Ny-ja. Is it really necessary for you to having extra clothes?”
The AI gave him wide-eyed look. “All crew are allowed civilian clothing to wear while on-station or on-planet according to regulations. As part of the command crew, it is my responsibility to set an example for the rest of the crew by following all relevant rules and regulations.”
“We aren’t part of the Imperial military, PHOEBE.”
“Yet you haven’t rescinded my directives regarding them. Therefore, until such time, I must continue to follow them.” It wasn’t lost on Gable that PHOEBE was smiling as she said this.
He rolled his eyes. “You’re lucky I don’t have time to argue or change that programming. Fine; we’ll head out that way. But I have to object one more time to us separating while someone’s hunting one or more of us.”
“That is precisely why we’re splitting up, Captain. I wish to know just who hired this bounty hunter. By giving him the option between you and myself, we’ll be able to at least narrow the suspects down. After all, just avoiding this attempt won’t be the end of it: there are always more mercenaries in the galaxies.” Regina fastened the bandoleer to her upper arm. Despite being as diminutive as any other Fenidra, she cut an intimidating figure.
“Oh, I understand. I even agree,” Gable said, folding his arms and directing his attention out the window at the lake rushing by as they approached the city. “I still object. We’re making a lot of assumptions about our enemy here. What if they don’t rely on his ship for stealth? What if they have operatives on-planet already? There are a lot of variables here where giving up safety in numbers might not be the best idea.”
PHOEBE raised her hand like a student in a lecture. “But Captain, if we’re all together on-planet, wouldn’t it simply be a matter of tossing a grenade or subjecting us to automatic fire to wipe out eighty percent of the acting command crew? In fact, regulations strongly suggest that no more than three members of a command drew be together outside of the ship at any given time.”
“First of all,” Gable groused, counting off his points on his gloved fingers, “It would only be sixty-percent of the command crew because you wouldn’t be killed just because the remote console gets busted. Second: I’ve already agreed to the plan so you can stop trying to justify it to me.” At three, he displayed the digits to PHOEBE as if she couldn’t have understood without the emphasis, “And finally, we are removing the old Imperial regulations from your directives as soon as this is over.”
“Anything that can help me be more of use to the crew, Sir.” the AI said, happily saluting.
Gable kept his reply to that to himself and moved to check his own sidearms, heavy gas-powered pistol with variable ammunition shells. “Let’s just lure this ny-jani hullborer out and put him down, shall we, folks?”
Less than an hour later found Rebina and Hala moving through an open-air weapons bazaar searching for just the perfect rifle for the Ambassador to carry.
“Ghevet field rifles are designed more for extreme range than stopping power or automatic fire,” she explained, “And most models use physical payloads instead of energy projectiles. We were a Zact Protectorate, after all and Imperial shields were designed to stop plasma and lasers, not tungsten or lead.”
Hala waggled his brows arhythmically. “You won’t find a huge variety of those here. Mercs love plasma.” He bared his teeth in a way Rebina couldn’t read as a smile or a macho sneer thanks to his physiology. “I like it too. Most personal armor’s still flammable if yo hit it with something hot enough. Physical rounds bounce off.”
“And here I thought you were just an engineer.” Rebina said coyly.
A snort burst from the Lopec’s nostrils. “Used to be on the supply side of salvaged parts instead of the demand. It’s how I met Gable.”
Rebina stopped at a stall where a number of sleek extreme range rifles were on display, guarded by a hulking Dermitite carrying a heavy bolt gun. Most of them were too large for her to carry if not fire, but a few were made for spacelings and in theory were something she could use. “The captain worked salvage?”
Busy watching the crowd and sky, Hala flicked one of his brows. “You find that hard to believe?”
“Just the opposite in fact.” Rebina opened the breech of one of the rifles and examined the interior with a trained eye. “It fits him better than my image of an Imperial officer.”
“From what I know of him, he’s changed a fair bit since the War. Been through a lot.” The Lopec sniffed the air, but the metal and various plasmatic gasses that permeated the gun bazaar were too thick for even his keen nose to pick up anything unusual.
Replacing the rifle on the rack, Rebina left the stall for another. “But have those changes taken anything away from what made him legendary during the war?”
“Didn’t know him during the war,” Hala pointed out.
They stopped a few stalls down where a tall, ruddy-skinned Taghjti—a species resembling more muscular, barrel-chested spacelings—woman was casually disassembling a shoulder-mounted rocket-launcher. Her offerings were mostly munitions only, but a configurable rifle caught Rebina’s eye.
“Know anyone that knew him back then?” she asked, picking up the weapon to examine it.
Hala scratched the short ruff of hair at his throat and came closer to look as well, but then turned to give her a measuring look. “You’re asking a lot of questions about Gable.”
She extended the rifle’s stock and barrel and sighted down it experimentally. “I wasn’t given a lot of information on him aside from his reputation. I just want to know everything I can if I’m going to be traveling with him. Everything about you as well, for that matter. It’s just that I heard Lopecs are very private and thought you’d be more open to speaking on the subject of Gable.”
The sound Hala made was a cross between a sneeze and a snort. “I’ve heard Fenidra were peace-loving and meek but your homeworld’s at war. Then again, I never heard of ‘Ghevet’ or any of your other nations any more than you’ve heard of Croundal or Hennah-hei. You were an Ambassador?”
“Hmm. Species posturing is actually a big part of diplomacy: everyone wants to show themselves as superior and others as inferior. That’s been my life for my entire adult life. Non-political interpersonal relations are less familiar to me. I hope you will accept my apology.”
A little growl escaped Hala’s throat, but his expression remained non-hostile. “To tell the truth, I don’t care much either way. But if were the Carig here would you be saying sorry?”
It took a long moment for her to reply as she activated the rifle’s onboard computer and flipped through the many settings and options. Finally, her shoulders slumped and she lowered the weapon. “The Carigs were deployed extensively against Fenidraal during the war. I was stationed at an off-world colony, so I never faced them, but I saw the reports and the battle footage. They ate their enemies—my countrymen and fellow members of the service. How do you expect me to trust that one? How can you trust her?”
Hala took a moment to recall the gesture before shrugging. “She’s crew just like you. And a fighter pilot. Ckliika knows just as well as any of us that she’s not going to survive space alone. More over just as I’m not every Lopec, she’s not every Carig. Who knows? Maybe she’s not got a taste for then engineered races at all and I’m the only one in any danger.” He waggled his brows in good humor.
Rebina switched off the rifle’s computer and collapsed it back to its normal size, fishing out her handheld to pay for it. “Did you fight in the War, Hala? Did you lose anyone?”
His brows sank. “You didn’t have to fight in the War to lose people, Ambassador.
She turned away from the merchant to give him a questioning look, which he replied to with a huff. “We Lopecs as a very private species, Ambassador. Now that we’ve got your gun, let’s move somewhere we can keep a better lookout from.”
Thoroughly rebuked, Rebina followed him in silence, new rifle slung over her shoulder.
“How ’bout there?” Gable gestured toward what was less a store and more corral filled with dresses just a few years out of fashion with the Zact core worlds in various sizes and cuts for different species. Not that Gable could tell for fashion; to him they were all just nonsensical ruffles and puffs.
PHOEBE shook her head. “Party gowns are hardly in keeping with the dignity of my rank, Captain. Even assuming the possibility of festive events, I should wear something more mature, don’t you think?” She then gave her a sly smile, “Of course, if you wish to purchase accessory packs through my purchase interface, you can assign me any of those outfits you want.”
“More mature?” Gable scoffed. “When’s your manufacture date?”
“That would be irrelevant to your question, Captain. As a program, my level of emotional and intellectual maturity are completely independent from the physical age of my data or the hardware I run on. To give you the relevant information: I’ve been programmed to project a non-specific age and physical appearance, which can be a mature mid-twenties to a youthful early forties given my assumed species of a Trinion Citizen.”
She caught the slight clench of Gable’s jaw. “Did I say something wrong?”
Slowly, he shook his head. “No, it’s just… I’ve come to hate it when they use ‘Citizen’ as a species name. They’re just as engineered as spacelings are, they were just engineered for offices and cities on the core worlds instead of life in space.”
PHOEBE regarded him for a long moment, cheating a bit with he sensor suite to dodge passersby without looking. After they’d gone past several stalls, she spoke up, “Sir, if it would help, I could change my appearance to resemble a spaceling. Or, if you prefer, I come pre-loaded with five race options selected from the most populous species in the Zact core worlds.”
He waved her off. “As long as you keep the ship flying and everyone on it alive, you can look like and wear whatever you want, PHOEBE. Whatever makes you happy… if you can be happy.”
“I can experience most documented emotions—my manufacturers intended my core programming to be a universal hub for a vast array of customizable products.”
Gable frowned. “But you don’t really have free will though… do you?”
“Scientists have yet to quantify free will, so in a philosophical sense, I could ask you the same thing, Captain.”
“That is the least comforting answer I think you could have come up with.”
PHOEBE had no answer for that. In fact, she had stopped walking—which wasn’t much of an obstruction to passersby because unlike on the ship, her projection from the remote console wasn’t solid, so people just passed through her.
“Captain, I remotely linked to local wind speed and barometric sensors upon our arrival. Since the ship in question is capable of cloaking itself against thermal, electromagnetic and visual sensors, I theorized that it still could not hide the disruption it creates in the atmosphere.”
Gable nodded, casting his gaze upward even though he knew he’d see nothing. “That’s good thinking, PHOEBE. Are you getting anything?”
She nodded. “Yes, Captain. Picking up a likely disturbance inbound, bearing–”
A crackling sound pierced the air.
People around them screamed as a flash of light and the sharp scent of ozone shattered the normal bustle of the street.
And Captain Adrian Gable was thrown to the ground by a bolt from the blue.
To Be Continued…