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The Cleon Memorial Library For discussion of Traveller fiction, both official and fan-written. Fan-written drafts are explicitly welcome.

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Old July 19th, 2019, 05:17 AM
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The stars above the geodesic translucent dome (one of many dotting the starport, each covering a berth of varying size) were encrusted against a stark black with the sun spilling a dazzling white halo beyond the gray black mountain range on the exposed side of the planet some miles from the starport, made for a spectacular visual, but no amount of pleasant vacuum world scenery could compensate for the fact that Captain Robert Dolton had to pay his crew and then dish out more cash for fuel and life support, not to mention berthing costs. And patiently waiting for a newt to meticulously make payouts for each cargo, sometimes counting each gold imperial coin into Dolton’s hand, tried his otherwise near infinite patience.

The annoyingly glassy green skinned amphibian, whose name he couldn’t recall much less pronounce, counted out each gold Imperial coin into his hand for a delivery of a hodgepodge cargo of entertainment vids, computer parts of all tech levels, seeds, toys, and domestic incidentals from spatulas to toasters to the exceptionally poor and non-strategic Olorna merchants. The amphibian’s accent was a cross between a squeal and a buzz as he went from one set of a thousand to the next. Fortunately, this part of the transaction was only the cash portion, the rest being electronically transfers. But Dolton’s found his famous lack of prejudice being reshaped by his interaction with this creature.
The Schleper’s Dream was an extended type-R merchant, or “merchie” in navyese that had seen better days, but was functional and up to specs. It often reminded Dolton of himself as he watched the Newt pull out yet another set of gold coins for a different portion of the transaction. The Dream, as Dolton liked to call it, was middle aged for a starship having more then a century of service with several captains. The extension apparently was something built into her. Technically on her registration she was listed an RL—L for “lengthened”, but looked like any other type-R regardless. She had a few patches that had been painted over, and more than one recoating of her nose and replacement of various electronics. She was still in her prime, even though long in the tooth and perhaps on the high side in terms of mileage. But she ran, mostly flawlessly, though with a few quirks like any other ship in the merchant fleet.

As for Dolton, neutral brown-blond hair with a few lighter strands that ranged from light yellow to stark white gray., clean shaven, somewhat portly, but otherwise physically sound but not the trim athlete of his college days. As for his temperament Dolton had that unique cross between all business and good natured. As the years wore on he found his patience being tested, like now, but he never lost his cool, and unlike his body which was prone to aches, pains and the occasional spasm or Charlie horse, his mind was fairly stalwartly.

He again impatiently sighed as he tolerated the Newt’s bean counting style of business with another bag of coins metallically sloshed onto another crate from a mobile safe. Dolton didn’t have too many prejudices, if any at all, but as much as he was a stickler for detail when accounting for his cargo, the one thing he really hated was dealing with a Newt in any business matter. Apparently “take my word for it” didn’t register among the amphibians, or if it did, then it came with the qualifying clause of “trust but verify”. And like his ship, which held steadfast during parabolic refueling and the occasional meteor strike, he too steeled himself against the irritation of the amphibian’s stickler for financial detail.

“Any chance we can speed things up?” Dolton asked with a laconic tone that would have had his crew rolling in laughter were they in ear shot. One was, Sharon Patterson, the Terran accountant who doubled as navigator. Her sly reserved smirk spoke volumes for her appraisal of Dolton’s jab. A jab that, like most interspecies communications, was lost on the Bwap as he again started counting from another bag of coins.

“Three-thousand five-hundred ninety-two credits.” The Newt ended with its equally annoying and obligatory grin that was a natural feature of its face, and not some expression of gratification. Or, if it was, then it just sealed Dolton’s opinion of the species.

Dolton shrugged, then poured the latest batch of gold coins into another banker’s bag and passed it off to Sharon who vanished inside the ship to stash it in the ship’s safe. He stared at “the thing”, shrugged his shoulders and finally said, “Now what?”

“You pay us for berthing rights.”

“I already paid for berthing and landing rights, which were already put into your brokerage fee.” Dolton was calm but firm. “Maybe you need to recheck your books and your agreement.” And with that he turned his back on the thing, waving Steve and Quin over with the lifts to pile in the various empty crates for the next shipment.

But the Bwap stood there, his moisture suit dripping with condensation onto the tarmacadam amidst the flood lights above and the ultra bright halo of sunlight beyond the mountains illuminating the ship and pads. He stood there with jet black eyes and goofy grin aimed at Dolton’s back as he watched the human starship captain slowly climb up the ramp, and vanished into the ship’s interior.
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Old July 19th, 2019, 05:19 AM
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Olorna itself was divided into several political entities—nations, each claiming territorial rights over the other, and often this escalated into feuds, sometimes but rarely armed riots, though the rhetoric was always the same; access to fresh water, access to jobs, access to this, to that, to the other thing, and sometimes fueled with religious rhetoric praying off the poor, ignorant and dispossessed.

Dolton, climbed the ladder leading to the upper deck where the bridge and crew quarters were, keeping his emotions to himself, quarreling internally with his decisions and ramifications thereof. He thought he would make a killing by importing Imperial high tech to this back alley of worlds, but the profit was slim simply because the local merchants, much less their clientele, couldn’t afford much. And even though they were a few parsecs further than the average colony, and didn’t have access to the official X-boat route, private couriers with all kinds of news and data.

Dolton became philosophical for a moment. Apparently Terran or Soli influence was stronger in these parts than most people led on to believe. Private information networks, news channels, and something called “freedom of the press” permeated in the Rim. Not always. There were Terrans who had strong nationalist feelings, those who delved into extreme political or religious philosophies, and it usually meant that someone was spreading the word of some fringe or semi-fringe philosophy. Getting the word out seemed to be a Terran trait—no matter the content.

Olorna relied on a conglomerate of technologies to recycle or create fresh water, and grow crops or synthetic meat in special greenhouses and other facilities. They were a poor self sustaining world divided by the usual things that divide man and aliens.

And with that Dolton had had enough of Olorna and its vacuum wastes. The kind of man the crew respected and liked—a rare breed indeed. “The Dream” was a Terran hand me down from some Soli freighter captain who was either down on his luck or just fed up with trying to make ends meet with second rate cargos and politically divided crews; Terrans who were proud about being Terrans and held a grudge against Vilani or “mixed race” humans, and Vilani who didn’t care but otherwise feared or were wary of Terran social anger. Dolton got a deal on the vessel years back, and unlike his predecessor was able to make peace between fractious crewmen, clamping down on political rhetoric and firing anyone who disagreed.

But for all of his captain savvy, for all of his successful runs, for all of his cashing in on sweet cargo runs, he was still only a few payments away from repossession. Hopping around fringes of Terran and Hiver space wasn’t proving to be the big bonanza he had hoped. Still, for all that he had been able to make a living, and even found an instance or two to donate time and even a stateroom or two for a family that was down on its luck. But he couldn’t give a free lift to every hard luck case that needed it, but had only lost a few thousand in income by giving a free lift to poor families looking for a new start.

A combination of a good and charitable nature and a firm and even hand had warranted a kind of loyalty among his crew that few merchant captains experienced. For most crews there was a kind of friendly comradery. Not always. Some crews were all business, some even disliked one another but still did their jobs. For most it was just a business arrangement; skilled labor for pay. But pay came out of successful cargos. And in a high tech arena that was the combined domain of the Hinterworlds and the Old Expanses, it was difficult to find high paying cargo runs.

Not always true, but true enough that Dolton chagrinned more than smiled after the payouts and paying the crew. He grimly fantasized about firing the crew and landing the ship on a gas giant moon, putting up a “do not disturb” sign, and retiring—making a fuel run at the gas giant in question to keep the lights, life support and heat running, but otherwise just sleeping all day and night to the end of his days.

But a man needed to do something. But running cargo wasn’t going to make him a millionaire, at least not anytime soon. True, he actually had millions in the bank, investments of various sorts, and tied to other ventures, but he had dreams of “making it big”. But whether it was his charitable nature or his just plain bad luck in getting cargos that could barely turn a profit, he didn’t know, and at this point in his life he was just happy to own a ship and keep it running. Still, the dream….








Dolton sat in the fluorescent lit confines of his office and cabin, reading through the list of messages from the local hub. There was the obligatory complaint from the Newt protesting against his s brushing off of the accountant, phrased as leaving before the conclusion of the transaction. Dolton gave it another willful ignorance and deleted the message. All that mattered were that the accounts were paid and goods received. The important message was the ship’s bank statemen—tottering on a thin line between lucrative black and debt ridden red. Dolton quietly sighed. Technically the ship’s account was still in the black, but only just.

Dolton and the Dream needed an injection of cash. He’d spent much of his life paying off the Dream, and this was just a repeat of what had transpired time and again ever since he first purchased her. He could sell his soul by buying some franchise and prostituting both himself as a captain and his ship to making cargo runs for some big faceless corporation that shipped to major hubs. But all that meant was he wouldn’t be paying the bank directly, but giving a portion of his take to said same faceless and heartless entity for the sake of slapping their logo on his ship’s hull. The ship would still technically be his, or that is until he could no longer make whatever financial objective was set for him. At which point they would try to lay claim to her. He ran into more than his share of captains and crew on the run from debt collectors outside the Imperium, and did not want to join their ranks.

Still, money was money…

Dolton sighed again. All his character as a standup starship captain couldn’t make up for bad luck and bad financial decisions. Technically he was a millionaire, but his nest egg wouldn’t cover what he owed on the ship. And that was the curse of the Dream. She had been mortgaged more than once, albeit at an extremely low rate, which made her an attractive buy when she was on the market. Even so there was still money owed on her, even after a century of use and plying the space lanes for a variety of captains and owners.

Of course, that’s when he saw the final message in his inbox. Rather than opening it himself he let the ship’s computer dutifully read it, and the male voice eviscerated the urgency with which it was written. But the phrasing said it all. Needed, urgently, a ship to carry a valuable cargo to Hudson’s Landing. Hudson’s Landing? That rang a bell. Hudson’s landing was an out of the way what used to be a no-where landing strip that had been transformed into a minor hub in the middle of mostly empty space. It was essentially a stopover, much like the stations along one of the J-routes that were constantly frequented by government and commercial traffic. Only Hudson’s landing catered to anyone and everyone; navy, pirate, smuggler and venture capitalist alike. Not exactly a no-questions asked affair, but nor was it run nor dominated by any one faction. Several pirate cartels had tried to annex it and call it their base, but there were too many rival clans coupled with the occasional private corporate navy or government squadron paying a visit to make any criminal takeover impractical. Still, it was essentially a freeport that was strictly a dirt affair with no orbital facility (or none to speak of) that welcomed all and pushed away only the most violent and maleficent.

Dolton resisted the urge to blow air from his cheeks. There was nothing worth buying here with what relatively little on hand cash he had. Buying any produce on a vacuum world to be shipped to some high tech world that didn’t have any agriculture was more a gamble than it sounded. That, and he still had to pay for fuel.

Against his better judgment he replied to the message.

Steve Haller, like Dolton, wasn’t very tall, a bit on the thin side and high side of his 20s, about to transition into his 30s with not much to show for it. He stood there amidst an empty berth with a pile of crates that had been unloaded from some ship that had taken off for greener pastures. Dolton knew it was a mistake to agree to meet the guy, but a prospective cargo was a prospective cargo, no matter far afield from the law it ran.

He stood next to his series of crates half smiling half concerned, a strange combination of self assuredness and doubt in his demeanor as he extended his hand towards Dolton. To Dolton it meant he was more on the level than his ad would suggest, which meant that maybe there was a real sense of urgency here, and not one to disguise some criminality. Still, what was the cargo?

“Captain Dolton?” Haller queried as the two men grasped hands and shook.

“That’s me. You have a cargo that needs getting to somewhere important?”

Haller let go of Dolton’s hand and moved to open the nearest prefab crate. The plasti-steel material flopped open to reveal a stone statute of some kind. Obviously an artifact.

Dolton shook his head, “I hope you have papers for this.”

“They aren’t Ancient artifacts. This is strictly stone age or rather pre-medieval era stuff.” Haller explained. “They’re artifacts from..."
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Old July 22nd, 2019, 01:02 AM
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“… Danis. Well, not Danis specifically, but one of the moons from one of the minor gas giants.”

Already the man’s story wasn’t adding up. Dolton was no archeologist, but lunar civilizations were a rare thing. They required the right orbits with the right tils around the right gas giant, which itself needed to be the right distance and the right orientation from the central star of whatever system it was in. It was not unheard of, but the odds of life, much less intelligent life, not just developing on a moon, but ascertaining technology of any type, was purely astronomical. Not impossible, but such civilizations fell into the realm of highly improbable.

“The full story is that one of the good will scout tours hit upon the site, but the powers that be weren’t interested in it … some religious thing, you know how them blobs get. They saw it as some kind of pretext to laying a claim on their space. Can you imagine?” Steve went on about him being a trusted observer.

Dolton didn’t doubt the truth of his story nor his integrity, but wondered what low IQ scout bureaucrat gave this guy a trusteeship.

“…so anyway, the blobs start going on about how they’ve scanned every square inch of their space, and the translator starts putting exclamation points at the end of the sentences. Next thing you know the high orange muckity muck says the scouts have to leave, and to take their fake rocks with them. Ha! Fake. Stuck in some powdered regolith for lord knows how long, and the blobs want them gone because they think they’re fake. Geeze. It takes all kinds, even with aliens … or especially with aliens, if you know what I mean.”

Dolton didn’t dignify the last comment, but had to admit that dealing with the blobs was just as easy or difficult as dealing with the Bwaps. He rarely ventured outside the Imperium, but on occasion had reason to make special runs to Whispering space. He didn’t like it all that much, being boarded, inspected several times over, then scanned by different parties, some human, some not, some purely robotic, but all trying to find a grain of whatever the Whispering Skiers considered evidence for detention, internment, or expulsion.

Dolton chagrinned. “You have papers for this lot?”

Haller looked at him bewildered for a moment, “Huh,, what? Oh yeah! Right here. Hang on.” He reached into his light jackets interior breast pocket and pulled out several papers folded together, each with the Imperial seal. Dolton pulled out his PDA and verified the seals. They were genuine. Even so that didn’t mean he could just load up the stuff, ask for money and jet off world.

“Okay, “ Dolton started, but was still unsure of the whole thing. “You got out of Whispering space, all the way here, and into the Imperium. How come someone doesn’t just pick you up and take you to … oh, wait … that’s right.” Dolton suddenly remembered; Hudson’s Landing. “Okay, different question. How come you want to go to Hudson’s landing?”

Haller shrugged, then sheepishly shook his head, “The guy who brought me here said that his network of transports runs through there, and that his other ships would pick up the freight.”

“Why didn’t he take you himself?”

“Ya got me. I just need to get to the regional capitol so I Can drop this lot off at the local university for research.”

“You know about Hudsen’s Landing, right?”

Haller shrugged, “Just the name here and there. I don’t know much about it otherwise. Some kind of rest stop for ships on the long haul or something.”

“Or something.” Dolton’s tone was more a a caveat than an affirmation. “Hudsen’s Landing is on Cold Rock—technically a type E port, but with lots of build up since the last survey.|

“Type E? That can’t be right. Captain Grudzielanek says his ships stop there all the time. Fuel up and load up on food and stuff.”

Dolton gave him the best sheepish eyebros and expression as a whole that he could give.
“Is there something you’re not telling me?” Haller was assertive.

Again, Dolton chagrinned, but politely. “I should be asking you that question.”

“What do you mean?” Haller looked genuinely perplexed, though Dolton thought it might be youthful naivete in spite of all of his confidence.

“I mean you advertise you need a cargo shipped fast to some out of the way … less than reputable stopover, and on top of that, the cargo turns out to be artifacts from a sector away in a place few people in their right mind visit. I mean, do I have that right, or am I missing something?”

Haller looked perplexed, as if he had been told there was no such as either the Easter Bunny nor the Tooth Fairy both in the same breath.

Dolton continued, “Look, if these are legitimate artifacts, and the seal attests to that, then whatever research facility you’re sending it to, a university or whoever, has got to have a better plan. A voucher at least.”

Haller looked off, not quite dazed, but searching for something. He finally shrugged, “Look, all of what you say may be true, but I’ve got my orders and documents to get me to where I’m going…”

“Just no cash and no ride.”

“Well, yeah. I mean that’s why I put the ad out. And I do have some cash, but just enough to get to Hudson’s landing—wherever that is.” Haller’s response was more of a retort than a nonchalant explanation of ignorance. And for that Dolton considered him to be genuine—though he had gotten screwed on similar deals before.

“Okay,” Dolton relented, “if you got the money, then I’ve a ship. But once we’re there and you’re unloaded, don’t expect us to protect you or anything.”

Dolton briefly looked up at the stars, but focused on the geodesic dome. Whoever brought him here brought him something that was two-hundred tons or less, which means The Dream wouldn’t fit. “One more thing, you transfer funds now and we’ll help you load and unload, but again, once we’re there….”

“I know, I know! I’m on my own.” Haller finished. “You don’t have to paint me a picture, geeze. Okay, transferring now.” Haller toyed with his PDA, and within seconds Dolton noted that the Dream’s bank account had swelled by several thousand credits.

“Fare enough. I’ll send some grav sleds to haul your stuff to my ship. Ask for Terry, his the ship’s steward, and will get you settled in.”
“Alright, thanks for the lift.”

Dolton professionally smiled, “Thanks for the business.” But secretly, as he turned away, he felt like he had just been had, and couldn’t help but sense trouble.
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Old July 22nd, 2019, 06:21 AM
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The truth of the matter was that Dolton had offered the ferrying of Haller’s cargo because he didn’t want his ship used as a skiff or air raft, travelling maybe a hundred meters at most from one berth to the next. To get the ship sealed up, clear the moorings by way of the massive depressurization exercise, then fire up the grav drive and maneuver drives simply to thunder their way here, was just a chore. More than a chore—a real pain that he didn’t need. If the man had been in another city, or on the other side of the world, then yes, he would let the Dream serve as an elaborate grav car, but not for this.

At least that’s what he told himself. A man willing to pay many thousands to get a freight load of artifacts to a world with something akin to a pirate haven? Well, he’d been in worse situations, and maybe his captain’s intuition could serve him with whatever scenario he worked out. He would have Quin or Steve as well as the ship itself scan the freight before going anywhere.

But, as it turns out, hours later, both hand helds and the ship’s internal security sweep confirmed that there were nothing but artifacts and huge oversized relics. Dolton mused to himself about the difference between the two terms, which were essentially synonymous , though relic had the implied yet unwritten definition of larger than a bread box attached to it. And going through the scans it looked like the usual flotsam and jetsam from an archeological dig; pottery fragments, statues, some bronze ware and other metal pieces of some ancient alien design or artisanship.

Dolton scrolled through the images and security scans, reading what both his crew and the ship had come up with. No threatening chemical agents; i.e. no explosives, poisons, nor precursors that when mixed could form either of the former. It was all legitimate stuff. And, just for chuckles and grins Dolton had Haller’s personal belongings scanned and searched as well. The man didn’t seem too pleased about it, but security was security, and safety at the cost of being a nuisance to the paying customer was a price many times worth its weight in gold—if concepts had a physical mass that is.

Once sealed up Sharon asked to have some private time Dolotn in his office. Dolton agreed and knew that she was going to come up with something on Haller, but he and the ship needed the funds, so whatever it was it would have to be dealt with by way of restricting his access to the ship and whatever else they could think of to keep patron and crew safe.

The Dream hefted herself from the reinforced tarmacadan, and gently and slowly glid in reverse after the berth had been depressurized and open to the world’s natural airless void. Unlike a running start down a runway on a world with atmosphere, the Dream’s bridge crew was used to the disorientation of merely leaving a world as opposed to ascending through layers of clouds and atmosphere to reach “real space” in near orbit and beyond. Simply put it was different from taking off with a world that had breathable air and large massive metropolises and traffic, and in many ways a lot easier than leaving major hubs.

Dolton gave Steve the go ahead to jump within the one-hundred diameter safe zone. There was no navy here to speak of to enforce any safety regs, and he wanted to get Haller to his destination as soon as possible. The empty black with the systems central star blazing away off the ship’s port side was always a welcome sight. Mostly. Again, this was a different kind of run, and the natural beauty of a massive nuclear fire burning bright in the black and filling the bridge with intense visual radiation filtered by the chemical engineering of the bridges cockpit windows, didn’t make Dolton nor the rest of his crew feel at ease.

But once the control panel and piliot’s dash showed all green lights, Dolton got up from the commander’s chair and waved Sharon into his office.

“Private time” might have served for an immature jab from Quin, but he kept his usual juvenile quips to himself, especially since he knew the gravity of taking on a cargo at short notice. Once inside Dolton locked the door and gestured for Sharon to have a seat on the other side of his desk, the rarely used “visitor’s seat” which Sharon mostly sat in.

Oh sure, there had been a few sessions of “captain’s mast” with a problem crew member in the hot seat, but most of Dolton’s work was done by himself, and didn’t require much of a secretary other than Sharon, who was far more than a secretary but a full fledged accountant with various rudimentary starship skills in case one of the crew got hurt or incapacitated.

“What’s up?” Dolton said iopenly, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

“Mister Haller’s records check out.” She confirmed with a reasonably self assured tone. “So does his story about the Government and Officials in Whispering Sky space. They, as usual, made protests and threatened incarceration and worse if Haller’s superiors didn’t get stuff they thought was a plant off their world.”

“Okay.” Dolton said evenly, “So what’s the problem?”

“The high-cultural ministry for Whispering Space is now demanding them back, and has put a price out on his head.” Dolton was about to swear up a storm, but Sharon put up her hands before he could. “It’s not what you think.”

“Not what I think?” Dolton protested, “The man lied to us, I better tell the guys to cancel the jump…”

“He doesn’t know.” Sharon stated with a hint of worry.

“Huh, what?” Dolton wasn’t sure who “he” Sharon was referring to.

“I mean Haller doesn’t know about the price on his head. This just came over the last databurst from an X-boat three jumps away.”

“But we’re not on the X-boat route …. Are we?” Dolton was a little hazy about the Imperium’s information network that relayed everything from sports scores to sector news to what the latest fashion was on the other side of the Imperium.

“No, this came by way of a private courier, which means that this information is months old since it came form Whispering Space, and then got reflected back here after being deliver to some system along the X-boat route.”

Dolton resisted the urge to slam his fist on the table, but instead let his fingers do a gentle table slap on the faux wood surface as he leaned back in his chair and stared off at the bulkhead. “That’s just great!”

At that moment the lights dimmed and the hull did its usual subtle vibrational tremor as she transitioned to jump space.

Dolton closed his eyes momentarily and grabbed the bridge of his nose with his free hand. “And now we’re in jump. Why didn’t you let me stop the jump? Do you know what could be waiting for us on Cold Rock?”

“The Imperium’s responded, and has made protests about their good will tour being kicked off world by the locals, so they know about Haller’s situation. In fact I’d bet they probably no more about it than he does.”

Dolton thought about the Emperor’s “good will” gestures. Rumor had it that scout ships sent abroad were really spy ships, but that didn’t make sense as they couldn’t jump very far. Besides, there were better means of collecting espionage data than a scout ship. Or so he thought.

“So what do you recommend?” Dolton asked. Sharon had had some navy experience before signing on with various merchants, to eventually wind up on Dolton’s crew as the ship’s accountant and jack of all trades when it came to running the vessel.

“For now, just keep an eye on him. My guess is that they’ve tracked him this far, but, since he only just put up that advert this morning before being dropped off by whoever got him this far, that means that …”

“That the big nasty orange blobs won’t know about it until a few hours before we hit Cold Rock space.”

“More like minutes.” Sharon stated with professional worry. “The minute he posted that ad I’ll bet some bot or agent spotted it, and relayed it back to whoever their local coordinator is in this region. More like they hacked his PDA and knew what he was up to before he finished typing it up.”

Dolton shook his head. “All you’re telling me is that they’re probably hot on our trail, or possibly jumped out and will arrive there hours before we do!” Dolton sighed, scrunched his lips in frustration, then rubbed his temples with his left land. “Okay. Tell the crew that we have a passenger who may or may not be an issue. Tell them to stay armed, and that Cold Rock may be between a rock and a hard place, if you get my drift. Tell them to keep wary of our passenger, but don’t tell them why until the day before we exit jump. Got that?”

“Understood, captain.”

Dolton dismissed her, then opened his desk drawer to see the hypersonic needle gun and five magazines next to it. How did he let himself get into this?”
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Old July 23rd, 2019, 07:03 AM
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Hudson’s Landing seemed to fit with Cold Rock’s name. It looked like a dystopic version of a starport gone awry with heavy overtones of flea marketism as a combination of converted bulk storage containers serving as shops and starship’s with open cargo bays serving the same purpose, lined a single strip of reinforced tarmac. Some containers had counter high windows cut into them with cloth awnings to shade both wares and customers, while starship crews did double duty as retail workers selling directly from their ship’s cargo bays. In the distance, and even nearer, both robots and skilled maintenance technicians turned wrenches or wielded torches to weld or cut metal as the need arose on the mass of starships parked in this barren patch of no-man’s land. Captains, rich and poor alike hawked merchandise amidst a wide sand stone valley that catered to starships from a thousand tons to the small one-hundred ton scout ships. It was an ATC’s nightmare, though through the confusion there did seem to be some kind of order to the chaos as a ship would land kicking up sand and rock, while another thundered away into the orange yellow heavens, seemingly without the need for a central hub of control telling who could go where safely.

That was the other thing. The air was breathable, again this was not Cold Rock proper, but a world a couple of orbits out away from the local knight who called the system his domain. Hudson’s landing was out of sight and out of mind for him, and probably served as a combination of intelligence and illicit good’s market for things that could only be gotten for the right price. Perhaps that explained the various scents from sulfur to cordite to precursors that made TDX and more. Sharon called it a “soup”, which Dolton gathered was her navy lingo for air that was barely yet technically breathable.

The yellow sky and orange horizon that seemed to stretch all around the large open valley was a combination of the planet’s proximity to the central star, the chemical makeup of the “air” (Dolton found himself liking the term “soup”), and the world’s slow rotation. Still, for all that, gravity was only slightly heavier than norm—something like one-point-one meters per second every second. A little on the heavy side, but not uncomfortably so.

The Dream’s main nose clam bay doors were wide open as Steve and Quin operated the loader to quickly, yet carefully, unload Haller’s relics, or whatever he liked to call them. Dolton and his crew all had their sidearms on. It drew a little attention, but not much, especially since they were unloading freight and not taking it from someone else at gunpoint. Still, even for Hudson’s reputation, Dolton couldn’t help but feel a little conspicuous. But looking around, trying to act as both a toughened spacer and nonchalant veteran. He’d been to tougher open air ports, but not one where international intrigue was on the heels of his well paying passenger.

Over the crest of the valley mountains was that yellow orange halo, and through the yellow directly above there was the feint trace of black with points of light. No direct light reached the valley. It was all reflected from the atmosphere giving it a kind of golden even lighting that cast one shadow in all dreictions. It was like being in an office building with a kind of twilight fluorescent lighting that brought out the browns and other earth tones of the landscape. Ethereal and strange all at once, which didn’t help Dolton’s emotional outlook on what might happen next, if anything. But physically Hudson’s Landing was much like Olorna’s tidally locked vacuum world, again only here there was an atmosphere, and hopefully no irritating bean counting amphibians to make life difficult. Again, this was contrary to the official write up from his majesties own survey and explorer paramilitary, more commonly known as the Scouts.

But the other truth was that this was not Cold Rock proper, but one of the ancillary worlds that was not on the regular databases for a variety of legitimate—though questionable—reasons. Again, not quite a pirate haven nor smugglers’ den, but a place where nearly anything could be bought, sold, bartered, given, stolen or otherwise merchandised for the right price—as long as the paper work was clean. And that’s when it hit Dolton…

“You look nervous, skipper.” Quin, the young twenty something who was the ship’s navigator serving under Steve when they weren’t flying the ship.

Dolton looked at the young man, dark hair, light skin, thin faced, but otherwise smiling and with the optimism that usually came with the over-confidence of youth. “No, not nervous, well, okay, maybe a little nervous, but more anxious than anything else.”

Quin nodded for one of the robots to reset for the next crate as he marked the container unloaded, and assigned a number and noted it’s unloading on the manifest. “Eh, looks like a huge swap meet to me. We’re still in Imperial space, right?”

Dolton gave a single nervous laugh, “Yeah, well, so is the Marches, and the trouble they have there with pirates and Vargr corsairs is legendary. I don’t want us to become another statistic.”

At that moment voices were raised some meters away at another starship, a sleeked up version of a Marava with the optional spoiler canted aft on her after-section above her engineering spaces. The name “Splendorous Star” emblazoned in bright three-d lettering that canted and curved across her cockpit could be seen and read at this distance. One group of men dressed in black suits, or more specifically their leader, was going toe to toe with the tan jumpsuited Star’s captain. Both ship’s crew and the other man’s entourage made efforts separating them, and just as blows were about to be exchanged, the captain’s crew hauled him up the ramp just as the entourage pulled back their head man. More words, profanities that would make a sailor blush, and the two separated. But for all that, no one reached for their sidearms.
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Old July 24th, 2019, 06:39 AM
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Then, as if on cue, shots were fired, but off in the distance. It raised the hackels of some of the newcomers, like Dolton and his crew, but much of Hudson’s regulars merely glanced in the direction and then continued on as if nothing were out of the ordinary. A rapid succession of reports that faintly echoed off the valley walls. It wasn’t intense nor a mix sporadic of pops like a firefight, but more steady. Like a demonstration, and sure enough once Dolton went topside to see what was going on, he saw a makeshift shooting range a couple hundred meters away from the main drag and activity, with various groups, some in customized uniform, some even in armor, but otherwise milling about at one end while equally makeshift targets suffered their aim. Thankfully all were rubber mannequins, or what was left of them.

Dolton went back through the topside maintenance hatch, sealed up both doors of the mini one man air lock, and went back to the cargo deck where Haller was coming back from his look around. Dolton had barely known the man, but he could tell that the young Scout looked very dismayed.

“Not what you expected?” Dolton took a subtle jab. He figured Haller had it in his mind that Hudson’s Landing would be more formal, perhaps that even though it was listed as a Type-E on the charts, that there would be at least an office or some official Imperial establishment of some kind. But then again, that was Cold Rock proper, not the planet that was in the fifth orbital slot.

“I couldn’t find an office.” Haller replied with a mixture of disappointment, worry, and anger, as if betrayed. “I can’t leave this cargo here for a pick up. Look at this place!”

Dolton resisted the urge to say “I told you so.”, and so left the door open by offering, “So, what do you want to do?”

Haller continued to look at the place with suspicion and worry, “Look, can you take me back?”

Dolton had had a few unofficial dealings with the IISS, but enough to know that they were good on their word, and not just some bureaucratic mess of an agency that required people to go through gobs of red tape for compensation. Truth be told he wished he had thought of it before, but didn’t know nor trust Haller’s character. He still didn’t, but had a better appreciation for his situation, and as he had guessed, the young man’s overconfidence was his undoing of not doing proper research before agreeing to terms of a contract.

Dolton didn’t know who had put Haller up to this long haul back to Imperial space, but knew that there was something not right, and to leave Haller hanging on some god forsaken rock like this one, with a cargo that was worth millions, but only to the right people, was akin to criminality, if not just plain indecent and wrong on a number of levels. He had planned on leaving the kid here, but had anticipated trouble once they set down. But there was no trouble, just a lot of curious and suspicious circumstances, with the specter of danger in the form of a possible alien hit squad hot on his trail.

Did he really think of him as a kid? Sure, why not. A flat statement of a thought, and not a question. He was a young inexperienced Scout who had been caught flat footed and in some ways hamstrung with promises that he thought were genuine. Dolton couldn’t believe the story to be honest. Did he really get kicked out of Whispering Space to drag their artifacts millions of miles from their proper place, only to have the same breed of alien nut cases flip-flop with the promise of violent reprisal if he didn’t give back what they didn’t want before? Well, stranger things had happened, and so far there was no sight of any orange knee high intelligent species carrying guns and ammo and headed their way.

That’s when Haller’s PDA sounded. He lifted the device from its belt holster and put it to his ear. “Hello?” A heartbeat later, “Speaking.” And then, “Oh hey! Yeah! I’ve been here waiting for you! I tried looking around for an office, but couldn’t find one. The guy who dropped me off at Olorna didn’t tell me what kind of port this was. Where are you?!” And then a few more moments, “The what? The ship with the what? Okay, hang on.” Haller looked at the PDA before putting to his ear again, “Got it. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

Haller then re-holstered his PDA and turned to Dolton with a smile. “They’re here! He’s at the far end in a Special Trader down the strip! Wait here! I’ll be right back … don’t go anywhere!”

Dolton merely smiled as Haller jogged into the milling crowd and vanished among their numbers. “He didn’t have the heart to remind him that they agreed that once they were here and unloaded, that he was on his own. Dolton figured his inner decency would be the end of him some day.

“Lock up, skipper?”

Dolton glanced at Quin, “Eh, go ahead. And tell Steve to go through pre-flight. The sooner we’re out of here, the better.”

“You got it, skip. Where did that Haller guy go?”

“His people showed up, on a speculative trader, down that way somewhere.”

“I’m almost going to miss him.” Quin left and hit the ladder to go up to the flight deck, saying a passing “hi” to Sharon as she came forward to the cargo ramp.

Dolton noted that there was something different about her. She wasn’t her usual tall thin blonde who was all smiles, but a serious woman with her hair tied back in a pony tail. Sidearm and all. And that’s when he noted that she was sporting a Hawking Seventy-Eight, a machine pistol that fired a special armor piercing round by way of each round being a miniature sabot projectile, and not the semi-auto nine-millimeter that he had purchased for her when she first signed on. When did she buy that thing? And why?

“Is he gone?” was her first question, with a flat tone that was all business.

Dolton gestured with his chin, “He vanished down that way. Apparently the pick up he was expecting came through. I ordered Quin and Steve to start preflight. Quin’s going to seal her up in a few minutes.”

But Sharon didn’t respond.

“Hey.” A different voice. Male, singular, standing near Haller’s shipment, and a voice that was aimed at Dolton.

He knew he shouldn’t reply, but felt the need to keep up the innocent merchant captain out of his depth. “The owner will be back shortly, You can negotiate with him.”

“I’ll give you ten million for it.” A tall man with a mid range voice, with a sense of wanting to deal and mild urgency.

Dolton knew he had to make a stand, “We just ship. It’s not ours.” Dolton gave the man a friendly but all business smile before turning a shoulder to him as signal that he’d better take his business elsewhere. But instead he carefully and deliberately walked up the ramp.

This time his smile was all business as he looked Dolton squarely in the eye. “You don’t understand. I’m telling you that you’re going to be a rich man, and I highly recommend you accept my offer.”

Dolton heard Sharon quietly pull back the slide on her sidearm. Dolton was old enough to have a couple of near confrontations with assailants, but not like this, and certainly not in a freebooting port like this one. Suddenly getting a corporate franchise for the Dream wasn’t such a bad idea right now. And at that thought Dolton noticed that this guy, whoever he was, wasn’t alone, and his entourage was surrounding his ship.

Oh boy.
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Old July 25th, 2019, 08:47 AM
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“I really don’t think you understand. This shipment is coming with me and my associates.” Then in a quieter tone, “You can leave a rich man, or get shipped back home to your mama in a box.”

Dolton felt the adrenaline taking over his body. He was too paralyzed to say anything, but looked at the man with the best angry expression he could muster. But inside he was gripped with fright. A franchise. He swore up the thought thinking that safety came first, and even if a corporation wanted his ship, it beat getting killed on some backwater world where the local noble didn’t care who did what on one of his worlds.

“I am armed.” Dolton replied, but a small stammer polluted his tone. He quickly looked at the contingent forming a perimeter around the Dream. A collection of men dressed in cheap suits and other knockoffs, but each with a bulge in the jacket.

Meanwhile Sharon looked busy with her nose buried in her clipboard as she made notes after pretending to count and appraise the empty yet sealed cargo containers still in the cargo bay.

Dolton realized that whoever this guy was, he wasn’t phased by him wearing a weapon out in the open. If the presence of a weapon didn’t put a little fear in him, or at least apprehension, then he had probably made a career out of dishing out violence. And by violence Dolton figured him a killer. A career life ender. A hit man? Dolton didn’t know. His expertise was in captaining a ship, not security nor law enforcement, much less criminology. He had had close shaves in civilized space with criminals and gangs who were out for a quick buck, but he had never had someone just ignore the fact that he and his crew were armed, surround his ship, and then make him the proverbial “offer he couldn’t refuse.”

Dolton, out of sheer fright, looked to the masses crowding the area a mere meter beyond his cargo ramp, often shoulder to shoulder as they milled about trying to find bargains. Somehow and in some way Dolton had hoped that onlookers would see his plight and call the authorities. But, this was Hudson’s Landing, not a Type-C or better port with a contingent of Imperial marines at the ready. Here freedom and a form of anarchy ruled letting anyone settle their matters in any way they could, as long as it didn’t involve the rest of the regulars.

Didn’t this man realize that if shooting started he would hurt people? Dolton dismissed the thought as soon as he generated it. Of course he didn’t care. A fire fight could break out, and no one would care one way or the other, as long as it didn’t involve them. And if it did, it only meant that they would shoot anyone they didn’t recognize as a friendly, and this man knew that.

“No!” Dolton heard Sharon speak emphatically into her PDA, “I don’t have twelve tons of fuel to spare!”

What? Twelve tons of fuel? What on Earth was she talking about? And to whom?

“Whats say we talk a little. You take my money, my men and I walk away with the merchandise, and no one gets hurt, and, more importantly, you never heard of us.” The man’s tone wasn’t menacing, but his words were. Unlike villains in the holo-vids real criminals didn’t have a flare for the dramatic, and let their words and actions speak for themselves as opposed to trying to sound menacing or dangerous like so many actors.

And that’s when Dolton felt the relative metal cool of a barrel pushed into his side. He had been so gripped with fear of looking at this man’s face and wondering why no one from the throng would leap in to help him, that he hadn’t been paying attention to the rest of this man’s movements. And now here he was with what looked like a large caliber sidearm ready to blow his guts out at the pull of a trigger.

“Okay.” Dolton replied. “It’s there. You can take it.” Dolton couldn’t muster any emotion, just the actions or words that would get him out of this situation. “Are you going to kill me now?” He didn’t know why he asked the question. Truth was he was trying to make himself look tougher than he actually was or felt, but looked the man square in the eye as if daring him. Probably not a smart thing to do, but something inside him dared this man, whoever he was, to take action. A subconscious bit of bravado made manifest in this one act of daring.

Dolton figured if he didn’t reply, then he would just shoot him. But he didn’t reply. He just stared at Dolton. What did this mean? With all the people on the main drag shopping for everything from guns, to drugs, to whatever, did he dare pull the trigger? Maybe that’s why he was hesitating. Maybe he was evaluating the risk. Was it worth it to kill him and take both ship and cargo at the risk of the rest of the makeshift port opening fire on him? Dolton figured that’s what was going through his mind.

Dolton knew this was it. He anticipated the excruciating pain and shock his body would feel in those few brief moments they locked eyes. But again, the man’s face was expressionless. Again, a far cry from all the action and crime holo-vids watched by him and his crew during jumps.

There was a muffled protest, then several others. The man looked away to see uniformed and armored troops take down his gang.

“Dolton, get-down!!” Sharon’s words commanded.

Dolton dropped in time to avoid the trigger pull and the revolver’s ear shattering blast as a round missed him by mere inches, only to mushroom and get caught both in the space worthy containers designed to resist multiple mach impacts from space born stone.

Sharon’s cross draw was lightening quick, and the Hawking spat twenty micro-sabot rounds into the man’s chest, dropping him into a lifeless expanding pool of blood oozing out of his shirt, armor and body.

Everyone stopped, looked, most hunkered down, some drew weapons and looked around, but then either ran or tried to make their getaway as casual as they could to avoid both any unwanted attention from whoever was trigger happy.

More armored troopers. Some in light armor sporting the crest of Sir Reginald Archer, knight and ruler of Cold Rock, while heavier elements in heavy camouflaged battledress with the Imperial red sunburst and carrying large bore energy weapons (probably heavy combat laser rifles) stormed the ship, a couple stopping to talk to Sharon.

One battledressed soldier knelt down, and through the armored video feed eye slit and speaker, looked Dolton in the face, “Are you okay sir?”

Dolton, his mouth agape, wide eyed, unsure of what to say, gave the best immediate normal reply he could, “I think so.”

“I’ll have our medic scan you for injuries, stay down on the deck for just a few moments, I’ll be right next to you if you need anything.”

Dolton briefly nodded, “Okay.”

More soldiers, and that’s when Dolton looked out under his arm, and outside the ship’s cargo bay he could see a three ship formation of type-Ts orbiting the area. He figured it was just his luck. Someone, something, had gone wrong, and he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and probably under arrest.

Dolton heard orders of “Get down!” “Freeze!” “Surrender!” and a variety of other expressions. Then minutes later he heard some ships fire up their drives, but that was soon later accompanied by the sharp electric snap of a starship laser carving a warning shot across the desert floor. Whoever wanted to get out of here in a hurry would have to brave the small flotilla of patrol cruisers lazily roaring high above, with turrets trained on Hudson and her attendees.

Likewise the area had cleared, shop fronts made from converted cargo containers were closed up, as were the cargo bay doors from every ship lining the strip. At first the commotion was confined to Dolton and his ship the Dream, but with the arrival of Imperial forces, everyone was wanting, or tempted, to make a getaway. But a starship laser spoke volumes, and since most here were dealing in illicit or questionable goods, there was no solidarity of rushing “the fleet” to give everyone a chance of getting away. It was every man, every starship captain and his crew for themselves.

One ship kicked up orange dust, sand, rock and earth as she and her crew braved an attempt at take off, but the minute she nosed up and got a meter above the ground the flotilla seared several crimson beams across and through her hull, turning her into a laser scarred lifeless hulk as she crashed onto the desert floor with a metallic crunch.

After that the din of activated starship drives that had turned the scene into a deafening roar of high-tech thunder, died until only a few ships were still running. But eventually they shut down too under the threat of being open fired upon if they didn’t cooperate.

The medical technician, in full battledress, arrived with a kit, and immediately opened it to pull a scanner from it to wave over Dolton’s body.

“You check out okay, sir.” Came the transistorized voice. “I don’t see any trauma, though you could stand to bring down your cholesterol levels.” With that he and another soldier helped Dolton to his feet.

“Thank you.” Dolton replied. Dolton looked around and saw Sharon talking with one of the battledressed soldiers, his rank in clear stenciled black on both helmet and shoulder pads, with black piping down his armored leggings.

As if things didn’t get weird enough, Haller came walking back, escorted by two Cold Rock huscarles, looking as bewildered as Dolton felt. He looked up at Dolton, mouth agape. All Haller could do was stare at Dolton wide eyed, but otherwise expressionless. Dolton didn’t know what to make of it. As long as he and his cargo were gone by the end of this, he didn’t care.
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Old July 28th, 2019, 12:51 AM
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Haller was gone, Sharon was gone as she apparently was part of the whole operation the entire time. And Dolton wasn’t sure what to make of the whole thing. If he read him right, then Haller was just as amazed, but Dolton wondered if perhaps he didn’t have fore knowledge either. You never knew with law enforcement, nor the people they were combating.

The Dream’s bridge crew were none the worse for wear, both Steve and Quin being forced to the deck with their hands over their head by Imperial marines in full battledress. The ship had been scanned and searched from fore to aft. Not a bolt nor wire, rivet, or plate was left unexamined. And when all was said and done Sharon, Imperial marines and Archer’s own left with little word. Dolton couldn’t help but feel a little put out.

He was left without an accountant who also doubled for various positions when one of the crew came down with the flu or had to take leave for whatever reason. Well, it was now his job to go back to doing the books, and passing it off to his pilot or navigator. Jake Henry, his engineer, and his young protégé wouldn’t touch the manifest, and being ten years older and bulkier, he made that known up front during the interview for the engineer’s position. Dolton didn’t have a problem with it. He preferred his engineers to be focused on the task of juggling physics, chemistry and mathematics in practical applications to the ship’s circuits, control surfaces and drives as opposed to him worrying or overseeing some shipment of some ambiguous value.

Jake hadn’t been spared the search, but reportedly he refused to get down on the deck as he and young Holly, his engineer’s mate, were busy pulling a converter coil for cleaning. For whatever reason they didn’t shoot him. Dolton was thankful not just for moral and ethical reasons, he was glad Jake and Holly were spared the violence and would continue to live their lives, but his more morbid side also told him that Jake and Holly were excellent at what they did, and he wouldn’t be able to find another pair of their like had anything happened to them.

But now the ship was back in jump, the familiar edge on view of the Milky Way as a faint blue translucent tunnel dimly swirled between the corridor of jump space the Dream and his crew were in, and normal star studded space as high lighted by the band of glittering light and dust stretched across the cockpit view. His sidearm back in his desk, the rest of the crew’s arms back in the locker, and the scent of pizza wafting from the ship’s galley through the ventilation system put the Dream and her crew back to a state of relative normalcy—the odd raid by the Imperium’s anti-piracy task force not withstanding.

Dolton wasn’t given any kind of briefing on what happened, why, nor all of who was involved, and was given the option to leave the scene as long as he stayed within the Imperium for the time being. If he was needed to make an appearance in a court, then the Imperial courts would track him down and issue a summons.

It had been exciting to say the least, but Dolton couldn’t help but feel used and discarded all at the same time. Some days later Lannor’s traffic transponder sounded over the ship’s speakers after Schleper’s Dream exited jump. The image of the Milky Way melted away to familiar star studded black with a central dim red star glowing in the distance, and sending an equally dim red glow to the bridges interior surfaces.

Dolton didn’t know much about Lannor. He had flown through here once or twice before but had never stopped long enough to look around. Until now.

Landing on Lannor was nothing unusual, save for a shift in gravity from the natural ultra light pull of Lannor prime, to the standard one-gee pull of the municipal artificial gravity grid. The natural exterior was a desert red with equally dark red skies. There were no geodesic domes, at least not at the startown, but a disparate array of sealed skyscrapers, with few windows, and huge refinery and mining complex, which was in contrast to the poor and non-industrial label of the last IISS survey.

The long nearly empty expanse of the starport’s main corridor was one of the most empty ports Dolton had ever been in. Again, technically, Lennor was listed as pre-industrial, though the sealed buildings, electrical grid, and presumably indoor plumbing that came with living on a world whose atmosphere came close to being a virtual vacuum, told a different story. In dim red haze was mixed nitrogen whose blue hues was tainted with reddened earth tones reflected from the planet surface. There was air. It wasn’t breathable, at least not by human nor most living creatures’ lungs, but it was here. Held down by what little natural gravity there was, and polluted by the planet’s industry, making it even less breathable to the most hearty of respiratory systems, but again, as per the world data, it was an atmosphere.

Dolton often wondered who in the Scout Service did the write ups for worlds. He mused that if he were in charge he would have whoever did them put down the honest truth; “You can’t breathe here!” or something like that. It brought an amusing smirk to his lips.

Dolton rented a light duty vacc-suit from a starport vendor in the main corridor, suited up, and then walked into the great Lennor outdoors to be met with a city of pipe and steel outside the miniscule downtown area, churning fuels and a variety of other chemicals to be shipped to worlds unknown. Massive cooling towers and vats were connected with a seemingly infinite network of pipes extending as far as the eye could see. Below his feet was a dust covered concrete with grooved tracks created by maintenance bots through a reddish orange powdery dust with elements of sand and pebbles, but it told Dolton that maintenance probably wasn’t what it should be.

The other thing that Dolton noted was that he was essentially the only one walking around outside. Lennor had made it known through the merchant network that they had goods to sell through contracted corporations to provide machinery to generate industry and income for the some sixty million people who called Lennor their home.

Dolton had been authorized to purchase and shop the industrial complex, which again, was a sprawling city that rivaled any city on any other high population world. For all that available lighting was spartan, with pools of white light from public lighting being oases of illumination in a vast dim complex of black shadows and dim red natural illumination.

Dolton couldn’t imagine anyone willing coming here to make it their home lest they were really down on their luck. And for a system that had “tens of millions” according to the last IISS survey, the world seemed more populated by machinery than any living beings. The one up side was that because of the thin atmosphere he could barely hear what would otherwise be the subtle hum of the churning of vats and fluid flowing through pipes, pumps and being churned for whatever ends.

For all that, he preferred Lennor to the lawlessness of Hudson’s Landing, and for all that preferred the economic prospects of this world for the tight purse strings of Olorna. Still, he would have preferred to talk to a merchant or wholesaler in a starport office rather than be given the so-called privilege of walking around a lifeless refinery.

Dolton had been walking for an hour and a half, but seemingly to no avail. He checked his PDA by way of his suits datalink, and the helmet’s HUD showed him a map with his relative position to his destination. Dolton was pleasantly surprised in that he was essentially there, just a few more steps, a turn, and there it was.

It was the first door he had seen in this massive complex. Lit by a single overhead light, Dolton approached the door, was tempted to knock, but instead pressed the control panel’s obvious large button next to a standard numerical keypad. Within moments he was talking to the merchant inside, and was let through the airlock.
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Old July 28th, 2019, 12:52 AM
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Once inside Dolton removed his helmet and inhaled deeply to get a lungful of sterile air that still had the taint of the world’s natural geochemistry—a mixture of sand, rock with a tinge of sulfur and petrochemicals. From another sliding airlock like door came a man perhaps ten years Dolton’s junior, wearing a one piece of what Dolton could only assume was the local fashion. A kind of hood that draped over the upper torso that draped over a pair of pants, but with an oval opening to allow for the face, but covering the ears.

“My lord.” The man’s face was gaunt, but smiling and polite as he bowed before sitting at his work desk.

Dolton looked around wondering if a knight or some other noble had snuck in behind him.

“Please, my lord, I would beg you to sit.”

“Uhm,” Dolton managed, “Thanks, but I’m not part of the nobility.”

“As you please, sir.” The man immediately corrected his speech as he gestured to a metallic folding chair.

Dolton looked at the thing and wondered if it would take the weight of him in the vacc-suit, but then again it was a light duty suit, so … It was a welcome comfort after all that walking, and Dolton found himself sighing in relief. “Oh that feels good.”

“I am pleased for you ease, sir. How may I be of service to you this day.”

“Ah, yeah, the network said you sell dry-solvents for lanthanum grids.”

“Yes, sire, we sell reagents for off world chariots.”

Dolton raised both eyebrows. “Sire?” “Reagents?” “Off world chariots?” He was speaking Galanglic, but Dolton wasn’t quite sure what he was saying. Nevertheless he continued the interaction, “Uh, sure. I’m looking to buy in bulk, enough to fill my hold … a type RL freighter. I think I put the specs in my purchase order.”

The merchant bowed. “I will peruse our records.”

“Okay, great … I’m sorry, what’s your name?”

“I am, Rishay, sire.”

Sire? Lord? Dolton ignored it since apparently Rishay, or whatever he called himself, was ignoring Dolton’s own gentle admonishment.

Rishay dutifully scrolled through a series of records as Dolton looked around at the plain office. Not so much as a picture, just four plain white-gray walls, a desk, fluorescent lighting, and a desk with a computer terminal. And of course the chairs. For a merchants office it was functional, though exceptionally plain.

The TAS rundown described the world as a feudal holding based on restricted distribution of technology based upon birth and caste. It would explain the lack of people and this man’s garb and attitude, though Dolton, by this time, knew to take the rundown’s on systems with a grain of salt.

“I have completed the order, sire. You should find the shipment arriving at your berth shortly.”

“Okay.” Replied Dolton. “Is that it?”

Rishay dutifully bowed with eyes closed, then looked up, closed his eyes again and did a half nod as he tilted his head. Dolton wasn’t sure of the entire meaning of the gesture, but he guessed that it meant that they were done. He walked an hour and a half, in a rented vacc-suit all the way for that? Well, he had had stranger business transactions, and with stranger people, though not as perfunctory as this one.

Dolton got up, redonned his helmet, but someone entered before he could fasten the helmet and turn on the suits life support. Similarly dressed in a drooping gown, this newer and younger man leaned down and spoke quietly into Rishay’s ear. Rishay nodded, then waved him off before looking up at Dolton.

“Sire,” Rishay spoke to Dolton, “What is your next port of call?”

Dolton looked puzzled, “Vreeland. You know that. What does it matter?”

“Are you transporting any people?”

Now he was really confused. “Just my crew. Why?”

“Our lord often asks us to inquire if anyone on board your ship would wish to remain behind and serve his fief.”

Dolton cocked an eyebrow, “Ah, no, but thanks for the offer.”

“You should have a receipt and manifest on your device, and logged onto your vessel’s itinerary.”

Both men smiled and bowed as Dolton fastened his helmet and exited into the airlock and once again into the dimly lit red lighting and black shadows beyond.

Dolton didn’t know what that was all about. Why in the world would anyone want to stay here? But Dolton figured that living in a feudal system had finally gotten to them, or perhaps it was a cult thing. Heck, maybe psychiatric drugs were involved for all he knew. Either way Dolton felt like he had wasted his time. He thought he had to pay these people a visit to inspect the merchandise and do the usual horse-trading and schmoozing, the semi-ugly side of being a merchant captain, but necessary all the same.

Still, he could have saved everyone by doing the deal over the local com-net, but had been beckoned to do this completely unnecessary formality in an office that looked like a reject from some high school on any other Imperial world.

The dim red and black shadows continued to pervade his vision until he caught sight of the pressurized and equally dimly lite buildings which resembled multilevel corporate parks on any other world, minus the fact that there were a handful of starships parked in the background in open air berths, the Dream being one of them.

Back through the nearly empty corridors, back to the vaccsuit rental booth, and back through the pressurized gantry to the Dream’s airlock where he found Quin and Steve in a heated combat chess match by way of the ship’s holovid suite.

“I’m glad to see you guys here hard at work.”

And without looking at Dolton, Quin replied “The shipment came while you were out. The hold’s packed with bulk containers. The kind designed for type-Rs … No way, dude!” Quin’s rook couldn’t hold out against Steve pounding him with his Queen’s scepter as the animation showed the crenelated tower disintegrating into a pile of bricks with the Queen fist-pumping her scepter against a black background with the words “VICTOR” flashing above her head.

Dolton shook his head. He was never much for hologames, especially flashy ones that revamped classics that were millennia old.

He walked by his office, tossed his jacket onto his bed and then went down below to find the hold packed to the gills with half rounded containers with what he assumed were tons of concentrated dry-solvent. He ran a quick hand held scan, but discovered the containers to be shielded. He let out a quick sigh, then climbed up the side to the top, and put a small hand held scanner to the container’s inspection port.

A chemical formula and technical name flashed on his PDA. He repeated the same process again and again and again for each container before finally being satisfied that he had gotten what he had ordered. There was a small bump, Dolton turned around half expecting to see Quin or Steve, but there was nothing. It sounded like it was coming from inside the container, but he looked over the side of the last one and saw that his scanner had fallen to the deck.

Dolton wasn’t sure, be he could have sworn he smelled the scent of lavender. He shook it off and went back to the flight deck to interrupt Quin and Steve’s game. At some point he would have to hire a replacement for Sharon. Hopefully one who was just as capable but not sporting a secret agent badge under her credentials.
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Old July 29th, 2019, 11:48 AM
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Dolton, freshened up with a nice long hot shower and in a new tan-gray jumpsuit, stepped out into the closed air tight berth. It was some what akin to Olorna’s vacuum world berths, save that there was a little more atmosphere here, and a regular yellow star brightly illuminating a world that was not tidally locked, and a people who, quite frankly, wore more adequate and fashionable clothing as opposed to the technologically and enshrouded feudal servants of Lannor.

Dolton met with the purchasing agent and a custom’s official. Why customs would be involved he had no idea. True, they were near the border but Dolton didn’t know of any vessel that could do jump seven plus. At least he hadn’t heard of any such vessel. Then it occurred to him, even though Vreeland was listed as a democracy, there was an Imperial noble here. Maybe he had some strange policy regarding trade. Whatever. Dolton was essentially carrying starship cleaner, not some insect attracting produce or livestock that needed vetting.

That’s when Dolton noted someone coming down the gantry. Someone dressed in a lot of purple and gold with an entourage to match, consisting of what appeared to be an older couple, several young women, and what looked like a platoon of young men armed with ceremonial sabers and sidearms. ‘Oh geeze, what now?’ Were Dolton’s only thoughts. Again, at least it wasn’t Hudson’s Landing.

Both Quin and Steve looked to see what Dolton was starring at, and slowed the loaders. The robots patiently waited for instructions, their yellow spinning light continuing to flash a warning that they were still in operation.

Dolton looked back over his shoulder, “Keep working.” He flatly stated, as if somehow the arrival of VIPs were a daily thing. Dolton then politely and professionally smiled at the new arrivals, extending his hand to the young man leading the retinue. “Hi, I’m Captain Robert Dolton of the Schleper’s Dream.” He extended his hand.

But someone other than the well dressed young man took it and gave it a shake. Dolton was mildly taken aback, if somewhat bemused. Even on this world nobility had an attitude.

“Have you unloaded all of your cargo.” The young man said without looking at Dolton, but examining both the unloaded containers and the ones remaining in the hold—he should have had his answer, but knowing nobility, Dolton figured he just wanted an answer for the sake of it.

“Ah, no. We’re in the middle actually. Well, almost done. Just a few more to go.”

Four individuals of the personal guard, pulled out scanners and started going over all of the containers. Dolton wanted to protest, but wasn’t sure what the status was of nobility on this world. Given their free hand he assumed they probably had privileges above and beyond the normal upper class world residents.

Dolton watched, trying his best to not be put out by a bunch of unauthorized non-government types crawling over his cargo and electronically probing them. An ounce of the stuff was enough to clean the guts of a ship like The Dream. Maybe the noble, whoever he was, had a fleet of merchants that needed some deep cleaning. Dolton didn’t know, but had been around enough nobles in passing to know to not to interfere in “noble business”—whatever that was.

The sound of feet and hands climbing over scaffolding and on ladders as well as the electronic beeps and whistles of hand held units filled the cargo hold and echoed off the transparent alloy that comprised the translucent dome covering the berth.

“Is she here?” The young noble finally stated with purpose.

“Nay, my lord.” Replied one guardsman with several chevron stripes on his upper sleeve. “This is the last container. Her scent, but she is not present.”

The young noble’s face twisted in anger before turning to Dolton, “You are master of this vessel, are you not?! Where is she?!”

Dolton looked back with a combination of puzzlement and frustration, “Where’s who? And who gives you the right to come in here and scan my shipment?” Noble or no, technically this man was violating Imperial law by rummaging through his ship without cause much less a warrant. Dolton was about to break character even more and read the man the riot act when the noble’s parents intervened.

“Many apologies, Master Dolton. We suspected an illegal shipment. Contraband. You understand.”

“Contraband?” Dolton replied. “A woman?” Dolton usually didn’t dare try to probe another person’s business unless it effected the operation of his vessel, but last he heard smuggling people was a supreme violation of the Emperor’s shipping edicts, not to mention a violation of commercial, civil and criminal law—the emperor’s declarations not withstanding.

“We’ll compensate you for your time and aggravation. We do hope you understand.” The wife added with aged but melodic tones. The father was perhaps twenty years Dolton’s age, well groomed white and gray hair over chiseled and well maintained facial features. His wife, presumably the mother of the demanding young man, was equally well dressed and had super-model looks along with a plentiful amount of gold and platinum adorning her wrists, neck and digits.

Dolton wasn’t sure whether to raise more of a ruckus or write off the whole matter. That’s when the door to the final container burst open, and an avalanche of packets spilled powder out onto the cargo deck, a few bursting filling both hold and berth with the scent of industrial strength cleaner.

Dolton angrily sighed.

“A hundred thousand credits will suffice?” The father stated as an offering with a half grin and an apologetic expression.
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