Gepo sighed and he lifted the glass in front of him and swirled the liquid, examining the purple liquid inside until he drained the contents in one gulp. He looked over his shoulder and nodded at the waitress before he turned back to examine the empty glass.
He sighed again and placed it on the table as he leant back and closed his eyes. Life simply wasn’t going his way. It was bad enough that every day the base-engineers were finding another fault with Beebee that required more repairs and more testing and led to more things going wrong but after three weeks the Galcop inspector from Zaragete had still not shown up and Gepo’s crew was beginning to get restless. Milbron, their gofer, had already been found looking at vacancies on other ships, and Thorrrmas was showing ever more signs of anxiety, like a caged animal. The only one who kept behaving normally was Morgas, unfortunately. Every morning Gepo was woken up by another call from the base engineers with one more complaint about the blue dwarf and his persistent interfering with the ship’s repairs. It was good in a sense that the dwarf felt so close to the ship and if things had been different, Gepo would have continued to congratulate himself every day for finding the dwarf in a rundown rock hermit’s base. But it would be nice, even for one day, if Gepo could wake up undisturbed without the need for additional credits to smooth things over.
Gepo sighed again. Credits. These three weeks were eating faster into his savings than he had expected. He still had enough to pay for the repairs and find a new cargo but he wasn’t sure that that would still be the case in another two weeks. Plus there was the question of the ship herself. Gepo knew that she was aging and Gepo quite often placed her in harm's way because of the need to make a specific run in time. His savings were meant to provide a little extra for when the time came that a new ship had to be obtained and at this rate in another three weeks all he would be able to afford was an Adder with both engines missing.
The sudden clang of a glass being forcefully dumped on his table broke Gepo’s line of thought. He looked up at the waitress who sneered at him before turning back, causing another sigh from Gepo. That was another problem. People were starting to regard him as a fraud. Sure, at the beginning, just after the battle against the Thargoid fleet, they all had celebrated the pilots that had returned to the station as their saviours. But after several weeks, especially weeks where Gepo was the only Captain who had not come to the defense of the base when Thargoid war parties had attacked it, some people were starting to wonder if Gepo had actually participated in the previous battle or whether he was just another loud-mouthed conman, who had trashed his own ship just so he would not have to fight. It was easy to believe especially if you would have done the same, given the chance.
Gepo looked up.
“Burpo?”. He started smiling at the sight of the rotund trader, who he met for the first time when they were both assigned to the reservist squadron, Gepo with his Python and Meddelfurt Gangrist with his brand new Boa Class Cruiser. They had survived their first battle together and started drinking together and kept drinking together ever since.
“You still here?” Meddelfurt asked as he forced himself on the bench opposite Gepo, signaling to the waitress for another round of drinks. Gepo nodded with a frown after which the trader frowned.
“After three weeks???” The trader snapped his mouth shut then leant over to Gepo.
“You expecting someone?” he hissed. “There was this Galcop character in the entrance hall and she was asking after you. If you … uhhhh … need to skedaddle I would do it now, rather than later.”
“And go where?” Gepo said with a grunt. “The ship’s still in dock and there’s nowhere where I could be safe unless I give up my life as a trader and I do not want to do that just yet.”
“A wise choice,” a third voice suddenly spoke up as a woman, clad in black, nodded at the two before sitting down next to Gepo. “I’m Inspector General Talsi of the Galcop Investigation Bureau. I believe you were expecting me. Since I have been fully briefed on this case and I did my homework, I was aware of the connection between you and Burgher Gangrist so when I saw him, I asked him if he knew you, expecting him to lead me straight to you. Thank you, Burgher. It saved me some ….. legwork.”
The nod was brief, almost non-existing. The woman opened a bag and took out two cylinders and placed them on the table. Then she took a pad and switched it on before placing it next to the cylinders.
“Just to make sure we all understand each other, this is a simple, routine investigation. No crimes have been committed that I am aware of and nobody is under suspicion. You, Burgher Twoggler, are here simply to assist me with finalising the investigation and once we are done, we can all go our own merry ways. And as this is a simple investigation, you may choose a witness to be present at all times during the proceedings. In fact, I would strongly suggest that you do, to prevent any misunderstandings later on. I assume Burgher Gangrist will be acceptable to you?”
The Inspector General turned away from Gepo before he could nod and stared at Meddelfurt.
“Just so we understand, Burgher Gangrist, your role will be solely as witness, you are not required or even allowed to take an active part in these proceedings. And neither will be ……. Now where did he go?”
The woman looked up and along the row of tables in the bar.
“He was behind me just a moment ago…. That’s all we need, more delays. Oh, there he is.”
She nodded towards a man who had just run into the bar, breathing heavily. The heavily sweating man approached their table and looked down at the benches on both sides of the table, the one that was fully occupied with Meddelfurt and the other where GIB-officer and Gepo were sitting.
The officer didn’t shift as she briefly nodded at the newcomer.
“This is Burgher … Mitfurst, wasn’t it? Anyway he is here as the representative of His Most Sincere Father Lorgnum, the present ruler of Zaragete. It is on his behest that I am here. Are we ready?”
“It’s Milfirst,” the man hissed as he looked at the table, figuring that there was no place on the bench carrying the heavy trader but when he moved towards the GIB officer she made no attempt to move clearly blocking the man from sitting down himself.
Talsi didn’t seem to have heard him or if she did she made a point of not acknowledging him. She picked up one of the cylinders and turned it round to flick a switch on the bottom of it. A black cloud emerged from it which formed a black globe that completely enveloped the four people, creating a separate universe for the inhabitants, ensuring that no sounds or light could enter or leave the globe.
“Good, now that we have some privacy, the reason for this all is this.” Talsi said as she activated the other cylinder, which formed a holographic picture of a spaceship.
“This is the SS Durocotorum, one of the five Aegidius class spaceships that were built twelve hundred years ago. Burgher Twoggler, I assume that you recognise it? Anyway, this ship was owned by one of the forefathers of Burgher Lorgnum and has been in the Zaragetan Navy ever since as flagship and personal transport of the Zaragetan ruler. Unfortunately six months ago the Dauff, the person destined to take over the rulership of the planet once the current ruler dies, took the ship out for a …. I believe the correct term was .. a little spin? He was jumped by a squadron of Thargoid warships and the Dauff apparently panicked and activated the escape pod. The problem is that the ship is more than just a ship. It’s a status symbol, a sign that the ancestors approve of the actions of the current holder. And Burgher Lorgnum lost it. But now over to you, Burgher Twoggler.”
Gepo looked at the woman then at the holo-image. He nodded.
“I remember her. She was a beauty. Quite big, as well, as long as a Python but with a lot more grace and beauty. When I found the abandoned ship, I made several tours around her, not having seen one before. Every curve of the ship was deliberate, almost exquisite in detail. There were no ungainly bumps, just one surface of smooth curves. I would have loved to make her mine but all I had was a salvage droid. I had despatched of the Thargoids with the assistance of a Viper Cruiser, who had come to the scene, probably alerted by the calls from the …. Dauff? Strange though, the way the Thargoids behaved. They had already launched their thargons and had them surround the ship but didn’t fire on it. It was more like the thargons formed a shield around it with the warships protecting the shield. Anyway, we were able to take out three of the warships and the Cruiser took care of the other three and then left me with the ship as it returned to the starbase. I scooped up the tharglets and then, according to space law, as the ship was clearly abandoned, I salvaged it. The salvage droid had some trouble accessing the ship’s systems but finally managed to make the correct links. I received a message that the HMS Braben was awaiting the ship. There were some pirates along the route to the space dredger but they didn’t really persist and we received a salvage bonus of about five thousand credits.”
The Zaragete-representative made a sound like he was being throttled but kept quiet after a stare from Tasli. She then nodded to Gepo.
“That ties up nicely with the report I received from the cruiser commander. Only he was quite certain that you took care of four Thargoids and he despatched two. But that is a moot point. Is there anything else that you wish to add? Anything else that you want to share, anything strange?”
Gepo frowned trying to remember the circumstances. “Now that you mention it, there was something strange. The captain of the dredger, a Commander Bell, invited me for a visit. Apparently he was quite pleased with the ship and he wanted to know everything I could tell him about where I found it and what the circumstances were. I assumed that he wanted to make sure that the ship was obtained completely legally. I didn’t get the impression that he wanted to sell the ship on, though, which is what dredgers tend to do with derelicts that they receive. I got the feeling that he wanted to repair her and make her his own.”
The Inspector General looked at Gepo.
“And do you know where the Braben is now? Did this Captain say anything about where he intended to go next?”
Gepo shrugged. “They go wherever they want to go. They would not share that information with anyone outside their clan. Perhaps they might hint something to other dredger captains but they are quite secretive and insular. They trust no-one from the outside.”
“Not even you? I understand you have a history with a dredger? Which is why you are called Dredgerman?”
Gepo looked at the woman then looked away.
“Especially not me. Even on the DSD Hood I was nothing more than a slave, just allowed to perform certain tasks for them. I was made aware that my presence on that ship was only tolerated because I was picked up by them as a baby from a wrecked ship. Use me? Sure. If there was an asteroid that needed mining, I would be called upon. But trust me? Hell no. It might have been different if I have decided to stay on the ship, continuing these menial tasks. Then, after thirty or forty years they might give me a second look. Until then, I was nothing to them. But instead of continuing these tasks I decided to leave them and make my own mark on the universe. And for that I am a pariah. Which is why the invitation was so strange. I am sure Bell knew about my background, they all do.”
Talsi pulled a face.
“I see. So much for finalising this investigation then. We knew about the HMS Braben already since you logged it when you returned to the station but as you may have deduced, we are currently having a few difficulties making contact with the HMS Braben. We know she still exists but wherever we look, we get a door slammed in our face. But that is not your problem. Thank you, Burgher Twoggler. We will continue our investigations. Oh, and for your information, since there were only five ships built and the designer died almost immediately afterwards, the estimated current price for one is seven and a half million credits, give or take a few million. It would look that you were taken for a ride, Burgher. And quite severely. Five thousand credits? Ridiculous. But that is not my concern. I would suggest to make it yours though. I would impress on the both of you the need to keep whatever you have heard here to keep amongst yourselves. I do not want anybody to waylay my investigation. Officially, since this is not a criminal case, I do not have the authority to demand your silence, but you would do well to remember that GalCop has means to make life difficult. Like ordering a tax-review for a trader who had gained access to some ….. questionable income from the Dramaga sector, was it not, Burgher Gangrist? Not that I am particularly interested to find out but if I get cross I might be. But again, thank you for your time.” She nodded then turned off the holo-cylinder first before switching off the other and the dark cloud disappeared instantly. She got up from the bench and waited for Gepo to get up, once he got the notion that it was indeed over and he was expected to leave.
He looked almost helplessly at his friend who shook his head with a warning look at Gepo. “Come on,” Dredgerman,” Meddelfurt said as he extracted himself from the bench. “I have a few bottles of Mazargian schnaps on the Rose of Samarkand. Let’s have them like in the old days, eh? Officer Talsi, Burgher Milfurst.”
Gangrist nodded to the two then laid his arm around Gepo and guided the man away, squeezing him a few times, just when Gepo tried to open his mouth. Gepo looked at him, a million questions running through his mind. Finally he decided that a stiff drink and a safe place to talk would be best in these circumstances and he let himself be swept away by his friend.
-To be continued-
Flying The Sizzlin' Suzie VI, a trusty and venerable Boa Class Cruiser in Oolite 1.84 on
under Windows 6.1.7601 Service Pack 1 64-bit
with a Geforce GT610 videocard