From space, the little planet looked like a tiny rocky ball, rolling around the rim of Omega Vasalai’s gravity well. Occasional flares from the sullen M2 primary had blasted the planet’s tenuous atmosphere away eons ago. Uninhabitable, and uninhabited until a little over 250 years ago, the ninth planet in the Omega Vasalai system had been unnamed and ignored by Aldeed Golus and the other Imperial Scouts who had mapped and explored the Miazan Subsector in the 7th and 8th Centuries.
While a small colony of Gas Miners clung to a precarious existence around the system’s gas giant, no one had really cared when Derbu Handark Zavtavol had offered to buy Omega Vasalai IX from Sector Duke Admiral Kranan hault-Lerneister. When the deed was done, it was discovered that Derbu was Handark Zavtavol’s title and that it translated as “Shepherd”. Zavtavol’s flock consisted of a couple of hundred members of a religious sect known as the Pilgrims, and this group of Pilgrims had decided that the caves of Omega Vasalai IX would make a good resting spot on their journey to meet their Arisen One.
Within a year of selling “that forsaken rock”, Sector Duke Admiral Kranan hault-Lerneister was dead, abandoned by the fleet that had raised him to the Sector Ducal throne, and the RimWorlds Sector was engulfed in Civil War. When the shooting finally stopped, fifty years later, the Pilgrims were still on “that forsaken rock”, and anyone who might have objected was long dead, or fled.
Discharging the freight from Miazan, Aloin caught glimpses of the huge cavern the Iridium Queen was secured within. High overhead, enormous clamshell pressure doors sealed the cavern from the vacuum of space. The ceiling and walls had been reinforced with steel and ferrocrete through which buttresses of native stone projected. Fuel and service lines snaked across the cavern floor, or swung from gantries like lianas, linking the Iridium Queen to the guts of Omega Vasalai Downport.
After securing the service lines, Aloin and Kiirgun began man-handling the freight containers out onto the hard of the dock using their pallet jacks and the mule. It was only when the last container was clear of the hold that Aloin spotted the three hooded figures approaching the ship through the pools of light cast by the overhead floods. Simultaneously, both Aloin and Kiirgun’s handcomps chimed. “Company,” Miska’s voice whispered through their comm. buds.
“See ‘em,” Kiirgun replied. He glanced at Aloin. “Stay close,” he said, “and stay alert.” Stepping forward to meet the approaching locals, Kiirgun held up his handcomp. “Greeting, gentle sophonts,” he said. “We are the Iridium Queen, out of Miazan, with freight requested for this world.”
The three hooded figures emerged into the pool of light bathing the Iridium Queen. Aloin could see that even though they had low gravity lanky frames, there was still a solid musculature about them that denoted years of physical hard work. Beneath their hoods, all three wore bushy beards, framing broad, unsmiling, faces.
“I am Pershu Salsuda Gavanak,” the middle one of the three said, his accent hard and clipped. “I require all documentation and proofs that this freight has not been tampered with while in your charge.”
As Aloin began to bridle at Gavanak’s tone, Kiirgun said smoothly, “Would you prefer these documents and proofs in electronic or hard copy form, Pershu?” When Gavanak paused, momentary nonplussed, Kiirgun turned to Aloin and said, “Please ask the Captain to print off the documentation that the Pershu requires, and notarise it with the ship’s seal. If she could also lodge a copy on our file with Traffic Control, the Pershu’s peers will be able to reference it at their leisure.” He gestured for Aloin to head back into the ship.
As Aloin walked up the ramp he heard Kiirgun say, “It is strange, Pershu, we were here four hundred and ninety standard days ago, perhaps one year local, and our honesty was not questioned at that time.” Glancing down, Aloin realised that Kiirgun had left his comm. channel open and his conversation was being relayed to the ship, and the crew’s handcomps.
Captain Lukk was waiting for him, just inside the main hatchway into the cargo hold. “What’s going on, ma’am?” Aloin asked.
“Politics,” Lukk muttered. “Starport Authority is obliged to recruit local staff. Locals sometimes want to control access to their world, in spite of the Starport Authority Charter guaranteeing free and unfettered access. Factions within local society want to be the ones with that control. Our uppity Pershu is from a more conservative Pilgrim faction than the one we dealt with last time, but our record is good. He can’t push too hard or the Starport Authority will get rid of him.”
With a clatter of boots on deck plates, Kiirgun trotted up the ramp and into the hold. He grinned at Captain Lukk. “The Pershu has graciously accepted our documentation that we have not wrought our evil foreignness upon the freight destined for this world.”
“The Traffic Control Pershus light a fire under him?” Lukk asked.
“Either that, or a Derbu was beginning to wonder where his freight had got to,” Kiirgun replied. “One of the Pershu’s minions took a call – not on a S.A. handrig, either, I noticed – and suddenly the Pershu was all sweetness and light.” He thought for a moment. “Or about as sweet and light as a block of solid hydrogen ever gets.”
Lukk grunted with annoyance. “Well, hopefully he’s clear of our jump zone,” she said. “Good work on the off-load, you two,” she added, “that was pretty much a record time. Now, get us fuelled and prepped . I want to be clear of this rock within 50 hours. We’ll ride light into Ektra as I really can’t be bothered with internal Pilgrim politics. So, no passengers and no freight. We have the spec cargo from Miazan and I can’t think of anything this lot have to offer beside aggravation and ulcers.”