As The Splendid Two reached the outer approach beacon, the screen flashed with an incoming communication. Haley hit the accept button on the console and on the screen appeared an image of something which could best be described as a Venus fly trap with five human arms.
“What the hell is that?” she said, reflexively.
“I might ask the same thing of you. Don’t be rude, Earthling,” the thing said. Its flytrap-like mouth moving in response.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude. I’ve never seen someone like you before. I mean, to say is …”
“She’s charming Trelax, where can I get one? Ha ha ha.” The way the thing laughed sounded like it was reading from cue cards.
“Nice to see you again Captain Flotz. Haley, meet Port Captain Flotz.”
“Yes, ehem … back to business if you don’t mind. Please relinquish control for docking.” Captain Flotz was all business.
She suddenly remembered that all space ports require port docking to be done by one of their own personnel. Allowing control and movement of only a few ships at a time prevented any accidents where the space port would be found financially liable. It also allowed the ports to gouge the vessels with port insurance, port fees, Captains fees, and other fees that were unexplainable by any rational measure.
Flashing on the Navigator’s Panel was an icon.
She hit the ‘YES’ icon and suddenly her controls greyed out. A new message advised her that she could regain control by filling out the required forms and filing them with the front office; however, additional fees applied.
“Seems somewhat bureaucratic if you ask me.”
“Oh, you have no idea. Flotz is from a race of super intelligent, but overly bureaucratic people. And yes, before you ask, they all look like that.”
Finding herself with little to do, she learned forward in her chair, pushing her navigators console out of the way. Trazhidoria Space Port, as it was called, was not really a space port at all. It was actually a collection of maybe five hundred smaller space ports. She seemed to remember studying the great unionization of space ports a thousand years ago, which forced the smaller outfits to either go out of business, or set up shops in far flung reaches of the galaxy.
It was functional, but not terribly pretty. As they approached the main part of the complex, she saw ships moving in all directions. Undoubtedly all at the control of Captain Flotz, or someone of his ilk.
Flying past a dock, she saw bunch of creatures get out of a ship that looked like it might have started life as a sheep dog. Three creatures, which looked like melted plastic soldiers, slithered out of the thing and started communicating with another humanoid creature holding a clip board.
As she watched several other ships zipping from one part of the port to another, she marveled at the things going on. It was, from one perspective, a ball of chaos but there was something supremely organized about it all. It was exciting.
“There we are, platform Zeta Seven,” Trelax pointed to a landing platform in the distance.
It wasn’t much to look at. The entire platform was gun-deck grey. There were three crates sitting on top of the platform. A quick review of the other platforms revealed they all the same exact three crates sitting on them too. Kind of an odd coincidence, she thought.
“Trelax, what’s in those crates?”
“You know, I never really thought about it. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen them opened before.”
“Interesting. Aren’t you the least bit curious?”
“Nope, I just want to check into the suite, get some dinner, and gamble with my dad’s money.”
“Trelax, you’re such a big kid.”
Haley could hear the landing gear of The Splendid Two extend beneath them.
A few bursts from their thrusters, and Captain Flotz brought them down carefully to the dock.
Descending the ship’s gang-plank, a door opened in the wall opposite them. Haley recognized the small woman who came through the door from the conversation Trelax had with her on the bridge. It was Zhiara, the manager of the spaceport. Two men followed, at a respectful distance, behind her. One carrying a tool box and the other a clip board.
“Trelax, my favorite Bagorian son!”
“Zhiara, so wonderful to see you.”
“So, what are you doing to my ship here. She looks a little rough for the ware. Let’s see if we can’t fix her up for you, huh? And Haley, my dear, you are too lovely of a girl to be hanging around with this sorry sack of Bagorian.”
“Thank you so much, how nice to meet you in the flesh.”
“You’re too kind sweetie,” Zhiara said.
“Well, we had a bit of a run in with Dalrin. Haley here, gave him a black eye for it. I want her to have full station privileges. Anything she wants is to be charged back to the ship. All repairs I want to charge to my dad’s account with a little note.”
“Okay, and what note is that?”
“Forward all charges to Dalrin.”
“Haley, I’m not sure what you have done to this playboy, but I think I like the affect your having on him. Dalrin isn’t going to like that.”
“It is my sincerest hope that he doesn’t.”
“Say, as long as we are charging things to Dalrin, can you change the navigator’s seat on the bridge?” Haley, pointed back to the ship.
“Not to offend, but that seat was made for a massive Bagorian behind, not mine.”
Zhiara laughed at her candor. “Okay, will do.”
Trelax walked off with the guy who was carrying the clipboard. She could see that they were talking about repairs and structural things on the ship. “Oh yeah, one other thing. Can you check into our stuck engineering door? It won’t open and the door seems to be locked.”
There was a sudden flash of panic in Zhiara’s eyes. The comment had, struck a nerve.
“Engineering door … which engineering door?”
“A3A-4, I believe it was.”
“I’ll look into it. One piece of advice, Haley, be careful where you poke your nose around. Some things are really not your business.” Zhiara seemed suddenly cold and distant.
Haley had definitely struck a particular nerve. That flash of panic had turned to a momentary look of anger. There was something special about that door and Haley had a feeling Zhiara knew something about it. Haley decided she was going to make it her mission to find out what it was. “My business? Well, I’m the named First Mate and navigations officer.”
Zhiara’s demeanor suddenly changed. “I mean, with the engineering is all. Don’t worry, I’ll look into the stuck door. Just leave the engineering to me. I have people for that. Really, it is below your station on the ship to go tinkering around. When you leave our fair sector of the galaxy, I’ll have you Ship-shape and Bristol fashion, as you earthlings say.”
Haley got the impression she was being talked to by Zhirara. “Sure, absolutely. I mean, what would little ole’ me know about variable positronic thrust engines anyway?” She quickly walked away, glancing over her shoulder to see a shocked look on Zhiara’s face. She assumed Haley was dumb, an assumption Haley was itching to disapprove.
“Oh, also add a new sensor array. This one is old and I know they have some new upgrades. And remember, we pay for it and then a bill needs to be sent to Dalrin.” Trelax pointed to the array on the top of the ship.
“Seriously, Trelax, why can’t you two get along.” Zhiara had rejoined them. “You two have been kicking sand at each other for as long as I can remember.
“He did damage the ship, Zhiara, he deserves to pay. But really, Trelax, what is your beef with that guy?” Haley asked.
“C’mon, let’s let them work. We’ll go get something to eat, and I’ll tell you the story.” Trelax pointed to the door Zhiara and the men had entered from.
Walking through the doors to the main part of the space station, the world of Trazhadoria opened up. It looked like the coolest mall Haley had ever seen. While the docking pads outside were full of ships, the inside was cavernous and filled with shops, casinos, and hotels. It had hundreds of decks going either direction. The sides had been optimized for businesses of very type. Trelax explained that if you wanted to buy a whole new space craft, you could simply walk into a store and it would be waiting for you the next day. You could then go into another business, dubiously called, Papers and Things, and get a new fake registration. You could also buy, for you and your entire crew, new identities. And, speaking of crew, you could walk into the Delerium Spacebar and have a whole new crew. But, Trelax warned, you could also get your throat cut in there too. In Trazhidoria you could show up one day, fake your death the next, and fly out with a whole new identity the next morning.
They entered a place which was built to look like a stateroom on an early ocean going vessel, but it was larger than that. The walls were all wooden and the lights and metal work were all in a brass. Although it reminded Haley of a pirate ship, the waiters were all dressed in formal wear.
“Good evening Sir, the usual table for one?”
“Good evening, no. Tonight my First Mate and I are dining together.”
The creature, visibly shocked by Haley’s presence, brought them to a table in the corner where they were away from the other people.
“You should try the Bagorian rum, it kicks like an Earth mule, but tastes like heaven in a glass.” Trelax said.
“No thanks, I’ll just stick with some tea.” She said to the waiter. “Besides, I have to go to the ship later. I forgot something. So, what’s the deal with you and Dalrin anyway? If we’re going to be blown to space dust because you two have a school yard pissing contest going on, I want to get off this ride sooner rather than later.”
“Dalrin, what an ass. Don’t worry, he’d never blow up The Splendid Two, that’s what he really wants.”
“The power really.”
“I’m confused. Explain. What power? The ship has no weapons on-line, it’s actually a repurposed freighter. Granted, it has some sweet upgrades, but it’s really not anything to write home about. So, why is he so hard-up to take something of yours?”
“You’re looking at it the wrong way. He’s not really out to hurt me specifically. It’s the ship that’s important. See, years ago there was a great war for control of the underworld. Lots of factions fought over it. I wasn’t even born yet. My great grandfather was just a baby when it happened. There were five principle families involved. Three of those families have essentially withered into nothing. Their empires were taken over by the remaining families in the galaxy.”
The waiter brought Haley her tea, which smelled heavenly. “So, let me guess, the two families remaining were Bagorian and Tal-Severn?”
“Exactly. We’re getting ahead of ourselves here. You see, when the five families were vying for power, it almost broke the galaxy in half. I’ll tell you a secret. You remember the dinosaurs? Of course not, no one has ever seen one. You know why? A guided missile went … unguided. Slammed into Earth. Sorry about your dinosaurs, Earth.
“But I digress. So the five families almost tore the galaxy in two. They met, in secret, to discuss the matter. Everyone wanted control of the galaxy, but no one wanted to rule over a destroyed galaxy so a compromise was reached. They would share the Galactic Order. Every five years control would switch. All of the information from their predecessor would be uploaded onto the databanks of a special ship. Which was outfitted for command of the order.”
“Okay, wild guess, The Splendid One?”
“Correct. After it was down to just the two families, this arrangement carried on. Control passing from one to the other every five years, like clockwork. Until about a hundred years ago. I was just a kid then. The Tal-Severn crime syndicate decided they wanted it all for themselves. Well, you can imagine my dad didn’t think too kindly of that. But, he decided to give into their demands for the moment, for the sake of galactic tranquility. He sent them all invitations to a formal ceremony cementing their uncontested leadership of the Galactic Order. Even had a new Splendid One built. Then he rigged their engines to catastrophically overheat. Ooops.”
“Dalrin’s parents were on-board?”
“Yep, and now he is the theoretical head of the Tal-Severn Syndicate. But it isn’t what they once were. Without his parents to run things, it fell into hard times. Once they had over a thousand ships. Now they only have about three hundred. Most of them are smuggling vessels. He has no real leadership skills and no one respects him. The Tal-Severn follow him because the last time he had a significant temper tantrum, he started a war. It killed a quarter of their people. Essentially they follow him out of fear.”
“Okay, so that explains why he hates you, but why does he want The Splendid Two?”
“See, The Splendid One is really the figure head of the Galactic Order. If you control it, you control the entire galactic crime syndicate. However, The Splendid Two is a good thing to have as well. The ships are linked. We essentially work as a traveling relay station. The outposts and affiliated organizations send data through us to The Splendid One.”
“So, whomever controls The Splendid Two could theoretically control the flow of information in both directions?”
“See Haley, this is why I knew you would be a great First Mate.”
Haley Raised up her cup in a toast. “To us then!”
“To us then!” Trelax raised his cup in response.
The dinner, she had to admit, was excellent. Surprising, given Trelax ordered something which looked like a living jello mold which seemed to scream every time he took a bite.
Leaving the restaurant, she excused herself, and told him she would meet him back at the suite. There was something she needed to do.
She snuck her way back to the ship. Ducking behind the pile of boxes on the landing platform, she hid as people were coming down the gangplank of the ship. It was Zhiara and another man, she hadn’t seen before. They were deep in a serious conversation.
“So, you’re sure you can take care of this problem?”
“Yes Maam, I promise it shall be done. But, I have to ask, what happened to Dalrin?”
“He’s a putz, as stupid as he is unimaginative. I told him I needed that ship if he was going to have any chance of taking out The Chiny’ll. He had Trelax in his sights, but he chose to just babble like an idiot.”
“Well, Zhiara, then why not just kill Trelax and be done with it?”
“We need him for now. If we kill him here, his father will be suspicious. Besides, the Earth girl complicates things. She was asking about the engineering section. I can’t have her figuring out what we are up to. I want her taken care of. Make it look like an accident.”
Haley swallowed hard against the lump in her throat. She just witnessed a hit taken out on her life. She had only been off Earth a short while, and now she had to deal with something like this. Way to fail hard, Haley. She needed to get back to Trelax and tell him everything she’d heard.
But first, she needed to get into that engineering section to see what was really going on there. As soon as the coast was clear, she climbed aboard The Splendid Two.