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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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  #11  
Old July 31st, 2019, 07:56 AM
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At least the deck was clean, though the scent of industrial strength cleaner would be with the ship for weeks. Dolton walked on the bridge with intent, and sat in the commander’s chair as Steve and Quin got the greens from Jake to fire up the drives.

Dolton exchanged professional but firm words with the ATC, got the launch window and within minutes the Dream was backing out of the depressurized berth and thundering for stars and black. A hundred thousand went a long way to clearing up some of the Dream’s obligations, but no where near to paying her off.

That, and the purchasing agent had sent him back to Lannor for more of the same. Apparently he had a distribution deal with the worlds’ private starports, and Dolton wasn’t one to pass up an opportunity. Even if it meant landing on the hellish landscape of a near totalitarian regime like Lannor.

For all of its visual dreariness Lannor was clean, and the spartan decentralized population, along with a massive industrial base, kept the place relatively crime free. Still, Dolton had to deal with more of the local lord’s hooded and monastic dutiful servant class with those polite smiles.

Dolton wasn’t one to be suspicious, Steve Haller and his Whispering Sky relics not-withstanding, but the whole thing had the ring of a scheme of some kind. He had to be honest with himself, and not mince words; had they tried to use him as a drug mule? Only instead of some hard mind destroying drug it was slaves, and female slaves to boot and all that entailed. But … Dolton took a moment to burn a thought or two … for a noble? Maybe on some destitute world that only had a steam tech license from the Imperium, but a high tech world with access to the best life had to offer? It didn’t make sense.

Still, he sent a formal complaint to the local capitol through the X-boat route, and waited for the daily boat to arrive before sending it off—just in case his communications were being monitored.

The trip home was just as noisy and uneventful with a newer version of the old combat-chess game. This time instead of some medieval warfare between pieces using swords, maces and whatever else, this one had been updated with wrestling moves, complete with the animated pieces fist pumping and edging on the computer generated crowd to cheer for him. Quin, as usual, got the better of Steve. But Steve held a grudge and wanted to prove that he could take the kid out and that all this time he was just luring him into a false sense of security.

Jake and Holly skimmed the spilt cleaner off the loss column on the manifest, and gave the engineering section a good scrub. When all was said and done the engineering spaces were cleaner than the galley, which wasn’t saying much at times given the cooking assignments didn’t always pan out. Quin, in spite of being a hot shot navigator and copilot, was, in many ways, still the immature teenager who couldn’t clean his room, and often slept on the floor of his cabin. And he was equally organized when it was his turn to cook. Ergo the cleaner. Dolton had come down on him more than once to keep his cabin clean, and wouldn’t let him sack out on the common area sofa in front of the holo entertainment center. He was an employee in spite of the informal and good natured relationship Dolton fostered among his crew.

Lennor was different the second time around. A type-T intercepted the Dream, and a crew of vaccsuited troopers casually scanned the type-R.

“My compliments, Captain, on keeping your ship so clean. It’s virtually spotless.”

Dolton resisted the urge to sheepishly grin and make a quip. In the end he kept his usual business reserve and good customer service front. “Well, it was more serendipitous than anything.”

The commander, perhaps in his mid thirties, looked at Dolton confused, “Serin-what?”

Dolton politely smiled, “It’s not important.”

The young officer went over his note pad, scrolled through the various scan results, and looked at Dolton with a professional navy smile, “You’re clear to go. Just a warning though, the sector duke is thinking of requiring a class-three license for hauling hazardous chemicals. That would include the solvent you were carrying.”

Dolton was emotionless, but his tone betrayed his bewilderment, “For cleaner?”

“There’ve been a few spills over the recent years,” the officer explained, “and native species on a variety of worlds are said to have suffered by way of damage to their environment and overall ecology. Anyway, I think that’s about it. We’ll detach, and then move away. Give us five minutes, and then you can go ahead and restart your main drives.”

Dolton gave a muted “okay”, but didn’t thank them. When he was a young cargo officer he often saw various captains he served under put on the pretense of being kind or just polite and nice to guard and navy units that had boarded their vessels. It didn’t make a difference how nice or polite anyone was to the professional soldier, they would arrest or kill you regardless of how fond they were of you. It all depended on circumstance. And so it was that Dolton waited for the airlock to seal before shaking his head and going back to the bridge.

Lennor hadn’t changed in two weeks. Not that Dolton had expected it to, but why he was boarded and inspected on this particular occasion only raised his suspicions that much more. If he didn’t need the money so bad, the parents of Vreeland’s young noble paying him a cool one-hundred kay not withstanding, he would have left the subsector weeks ago for greener pastures.

And, sure enough, once the Dream had landed and was sealed up in her translucent geodesic dome of a starship berth, he was scanned again—ship and crew both. Dolton let out a mild curse in front of everyone, letting it be known that his suspicions were more than just a little aroused, and that he wondered what was really going on between Lennor and Vreeland.

Both worlds were diametrically opposed in terms of society, but both were essentially the same size and run by nobles in spite of Vreeland being democratic by nature. The dim red dwarf of Lennor and sub-giant yellow star that was Vreeland’s sun, seem to artistically and allegorically fit the mood of both worlds, but whatever political differences there were, they still had a pair of nobles that, to Dolton, seemed to be clandestinely at odds with one another.

At least that’s how he read it. Whatever was really going on he couldn’t say, only guess at. And guessing political intrigue was not a hobby of his. Firstly because it wasn’t his field of expertise, and secondly, because of the first, he was bad at it.

And, as if that weren’t enough, right before the shipment was about to be loaded onto the dream, another platoon of security personnel arrived. This time comprised of Imperial security. Normally it would be battledressed marines, but these were shore patrol. New recruits fresh off the latest transport from the looks of it. At least they weren’t the weren’t the house huscarles. But again, more climbing, more scanning, more questions, and when all was said and done, a clean bill of health.

But it didn’t stop there. Once beyond orbit Dolton and the Dream were stopped yet again, only this time for a drive inspection, requiring the Dream to fire up her drives and run them at full burn for several minutes, which ate up a lot of fuel. Dolton was about to order Steve and Quin to take her down again to fuel up, but instead ordered a microjump the system’s smaller jovian body that had a near earth sized moon covered in nitrogen snow. This time it was snow shovels and a the ship’s mostly never used hand crank pump to suck up nitrogen slush, and pump it into the Dream’s fuel tanks. Jake and Holly didn’t mind the work out with snow shovels, but Quin and Steve weren’t particularly happy. Especially Steve since he was the actual pilot and senior to Quin. But, blue and white below freezing crystals would do wonders and give life giving fuel for the high energy converters that took chemistry and physics and turned off world liquid frozen crystal into superheated energy.

And when Steve started to protest too much, Dolton merely replied, “It builds character.”
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Last edited by Blue Ghost; October 5th, 2019 at 08:59 AM..
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  #12  
Old October 5th, 2019, 10:20 AM
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Scooping up snow on some sub-zero world wasn’t what Steve and Quin had planned on when they signed onto the Schleper’s Dream a couple of years back, but, Dolton was the captain, and especially since he was shoveling snow into a bucket, they did the same. Truth was the ship’s own vacuum was taking up the supermajority of the subzero elements and compounds, and shoving them into the ship’s fuel tanks. The power plant would crack the chemistry and convert it to life sustaining power. Power that would scrub the air and water, and keep the lights on and engines roaring until they hit upon their next fuel stop.

That, and Dolton needed a break in the constant “let’s keep an eye on the Dream and her skipper” nonsense that was pervading his cargo run. Go to Lannor, pick up shipment, go to Vreeland. Put up with the local nobility inspecting his ship. Wash, rinse, repeat.

However, this time he didn’t hit the primary starport, and insisted on unloading at a private port to avoid the rigmarole of the whole exercise. Vreeland, like most other worlds, had other ports. Most of them were private, but Dolton didn’t care, and paid the extra fee to land at one of the space ports in the southern hemisphere, arranging for a grav truck to ship the load to its usual port.

And that’s when it happened. The last cargo container burst open. More packets of solvent spilled out onto the cargo deck, but so did a false wall revealing a virtual small space cabin with a fresher, food, water and air supply. That, and one female dressed head to toe in a purple velvet robe like gown trimmed with gold. Well groomed, or at least for a woman who had been cooped up in a personalized cargo container for the last week, she even sported a tiara with a diamond crest at its fore.

She sat there, stunned, on the edge of her cot, and a mixture of aromas, good and foul, revealed themselves as she stopped in mid puff to do her makeup.

Dolton and his crew stared at her. She stared back, wide eyed. Apparently this was not how this was supposed to go. But the moment she was revealed one set of mysteries was replaced by another. Had this creature been residing on the feudal hole of Lannor? If so, then why? Dolton really didn’t care.

“Uh, ma’am, Get off my ship, if you please.” For Dolton it was about as close to an outburst as he had ever come, even though his language was plain and correctly stated. His good nature and professionalism had been challenged and tested to their limits. If he hadn’t needed the money so badly he would have cursed this run and head towards the core of the sector for greener pastures.

“Quin, or Steve, one of you fire up the vents and clean out the air.”

“On it skip.” Replied Quinn. Moments later the ship’s ventilation was on full, sucking air through the scrubbers, and kicking out the exhaust.

Dolton looked back at the woman who was looking down her nose at Dolton and his crew. Dolton wasn’t amused. “Ma’am. I don’t care who you are. Get off my ship.”

Dolton looked over his shoulder and saw Steve standing there. “Get the bot to remove that container.” Dolton’s slow burn knew no bounds. He didn’t care if she stepped out of her clandestine stowaway’s nest or not, he would kick her out if he had to, and let the robot do it’s thing and set her aside like some toxic or irradiated piece of cargo ready to be dumped at a superfund cleanup site.

“You wouldn’t dare.” Her tone was that of a young woman of culture and upbringing, which was in direct contrast to her current position of luxury-comfort stowaway. But the forklift meter long tongs of the bot came slowly at her and her container, intent on lifting it and setting it down with the rest of the freight.

She opened her mouth in shock, made a noise out of protest, then dutifully picked up her velvet dress and attempted to adroitly leap out of the way, only to stumble and fall on the deck right in front of the lifts steel inch thick blades. Fortunately the robot stopped sensing a living creature was in its way, and waited until the woman, whoever she was, protested, got up, and moved to the side of the Dream’s hold.

“I’ve never been treated so.” Her indignity didn’t ring with Dolton who merely looked at her with professional contempt.

“Get off my ship.” He repeated. But she didn’t move, still dumbstruck that anyone would address her so. “If you don’t get off my ship, I’ll pull you by the arm, and call starport security to throw you in the lockup for stowing away on my vessel. Do it now.”

The woman, with much indignation as she kept her nose pointed upwards, stepped down the cargo ramp as the loader bot smoothly moved her customized berth and set it among the rest of the shipment.

“Get the bot stowed, and then get up to the flight deck and go through preflight.”

“Aye, sir.” Steve hit the self stow routine on the loader bot, then quickly climbed the ladder leading to the top deck.

“Do you know who I am?!” the woman protested.

“No, I don’t. And I don’t care. To me you’re the cause of a lot of trouble, and I don’t care what fancy title you have before your name, nor how many zeros you have after a number in your bank account. You’re a dirty law breaker, and if I didn’t want to get out of here so badly, I’d see to it that you were thrown in jail. Maybe you can make yourself useful and take one of those packets that was disguising your presence, and clean yourself up. If that isn’t too much of a chore for you.”

“Oh!” she protested. “Oh!”

Dolton resisted the urge to give her the full riot act. Instead he merely stepped up the ramp and sealed the Dream as, what he would refer to as “the drama queen”, began a tirade of how she was to be treated.

Dolton didn’t care. He gave her ample warning before manually ordering the ship to interface with the berth and go through the evacuation exercise. From the bridge windows Dolton and his two young bridge crew scoffed and laughed at her running for the safety of the air lock. Once it was closed and pressure was normalized, once again the Dream was backed out of her berth, and into the very thin atmosphere of Vreeland and all of its faux-geodesic greenery splendor and thundered skyward to hopefully jump for more lucrative prospects in the Imperium’s interior.

The whole thing had been some kind of game between rival houses. A kind of hide-and-seek “done on a lark” to see which rich overprivileged jerk could outdo the other. Apparently, Dolton had broken the rules of the game by landing at a private port and dumping the whole lot off in a chillier portion of the planet. True, everything was as per Lennor, artificial environments and everything, but the idea that if that woman, whoever she was, wanted to catch a lift, then she would have to get a vaccsuit and brave the elements with some commercial rig, or sit it out and wait for her over-paid and over-unimportant peers to come send a high tech luxury coach for her from the other side of the world. And how long would that take? Days? Weeks? Well, first they would have to find her, and as far as Dolton knew, she didn’t have a single coin to her name. Well, too bad.

Dolton wrote up an official account and protest, and sent it off to the local hub. To heck of whatever would become of it. He was trying to be an honest merchant captain, not some noble’s plaything. Dolton decided right then and there that he did not like nobility. The term was a contradiction. There was nothing noble in being overtly wealthy and serving no purpose in society. In ye olddenn times a count counted money. A duke oversaw provinces. A knight fought with a group of soldiers on behalf of the king or local lord. They practiced with weapons, went after criminals, did things, did stuff. They didn’t sit around thinking about how important they were and what fun it would be to pick out some merchant to screw with his business, crew and shipping schedule. That kind of petty game belonged in the Imperial criminal code, but apparently it was “a thing” that nobility partook in, much to Dolton’s chagrin.

Odds were some high level muckety-muck would come calling on him for his misbehavior. Well, the Dream, Dolton and crew were in deep black for the next several months. If they were fast enough, they could jump deeper into Imperial occupied Solomani space, where the cities were huge, and trade was plentiful, and let the local Imperial courts come up with some reasonable ruling should it come to that. But, as for now, he was out of the noble plaything business … for good.
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Travels with Blue Ghost; musings of a knight of the Imperium.
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