Money on the Move
A Skrilxya and Ben Story
Money on the Move:
Once the veil was pierced the Gungnir and its fleet found itself in a new realm devoid of solid detail. The warp field generated by the Crimson Matter reaction sent the fleet into phase-space, the outer skin of the universe that encased it from the featureless and timeless outside.
Phase-space was not proportioned like three dimensional space, and therefore routes through it could be carved and plied by skilled navigators with appropriate reference points. It was easy to go toward nearby systems by following the gravitic shadows and the psychic noise waves that made lumps in the nebulous skin of this dimension, but further jumps required unambiguous reference-points to differentiate those destinations from other uninhabited, or worse, hostile systems.
That's where the Noahs came in. Cyborg psychics who trained their minds toward assisting and interpreting the phase-reader scanning machines on board Mind Imperial vessels. They would also over time come to see the ship as an extension of their body and become its nearly permanent pilot. Each Noah would hone their skills over many years before being assigned to a vessel. Even then, their skills would still improve with experience. Freshmen Noahs could make a jump of five lightyears in a day, while veterans of the brotherhood would be able to make the same jump in one hour. The Noahs who were recruited for the Armada’s capital ships were always veterans.
Skrilxya was still in her captain-chair with the neural interface linked to her skull. She was currently sharing control of the ship with Gungnir's Noah. She asked Ensign Naon to step forward and the cyborg Haman approached. “Yes Ma’am?” she asked meekly.
“I need a guide on the online ship. I’ve not piloted an L-1 before.”
“Right Ma’am, I’ll link up and show you the way.”
Skrilxya swiveled her chair to Ben next, who was standing at attention to her right. “Commissioner, you and the other bridge crew are currently on break until we enter Kang, I’ll have total observational control of bridge systems with Naon. If I need you I’ll call you.”
“Yes Captain,” Ben said.
Lieutenant Siwakoro was the only one to object. “Ma’am, I’m going to help Bumby learn the controls up here some more before I take a nap, is that alright?”
“Yes Lieutenant, but don’t take too long or you’ll miss your nap window.”
“Aye ma'am,” Siwakoro smiled. Skrilxya dismissed them all and turned facing forward to the currently blank window. She then felt the world melt away around her and woke up in the Gungnir’s online network.
The Captain found herself fuzzily coming to. She looked at her hands and first saw streams of digital code before they materialized into a facsimile of her hands. Ensign Ali Naon appeared to her left in a flash of code, looking just like herself only simplified. She smiled and said “Gungnir is going to give us a personal tour.”
Just then Skrilxya saw before them both another burst of code that materialized into a male figure. It was tall, Humanoid, and bright eyed. “I am the Noah of Gungnir, good afternoon Captain. I used to be known as Simon Ayyubi, but you can call me Gungnir or Simon if you wish. I am this vessel are one and the same.”
“Alright, Simon Gungnir. I am Skrilxya Yonamey, First Commissioner, and you have much to show me about this vessel’s inner workings.”
“Very well,” Simon G replied “let’s start with the bridge…”
Skrilxya’s eyes looked through the ship's cameras to find a mostly empty bridge. There were only four bodies there, her own and Ensign Naon’s were suspended in their seats, while Siwakoro and Bumby were clicking away at the computer, reading phase-space signals.
Simon G said “don’t think about your own body too long, I understand the temptation to observe yourself but it distracts from your focus here.”
“Right”, Skrilxya said, actually ignoring her body except for a quick glance and listening more to Lieutenant Siwakoro give advice to Bumby. The Ensign sounded alarmed “I’m picking up some noise here sir. It sounds like jumbled words: Task, Carry, Meet… and it keeps repeating.” “It’s nothing, just static, but save it for later just in case…” Siwakoro said politely. Skrilxya chuckled to herself before turning her attention back to the digital realm. Simon G and Ensign Naon were waiting for Skrilxya to follow them into the code. She accompanied them into the matrixes and data banks she would need to access as Captain both to help direct this ship and the rest of the fleet and for documentation. Skrilxya wasn’t sure how comfortable this digital interface was, but she’d have to get used to it to effectively do her job.
Meanwhile, Ben Rikaron found his way back to his quarters in the company of Lieutenant Oryon. She was helping him break in his new First-Mate suite. After testing out some of the furniture they found themselves inhaling an aromatic herb on his couch, trying to elevate themselves while influenced by phase-space. She wore a silk nightgown while he was in a bathrobe of similar material.
Reclined, Ben said with a chuckle and a cough “do you ever think we should just give in Othalia? Both our parents want us to make more heirs for the families…”
“Have kids just to make your parents and my old man happy? Never. Also, who's going to take care of them? I’ve got a job I like, and I know raising kids would be a challenge for any man but especially you.”
“I think you’re being a little hard on me,” Ben said, shrugging. “
“Well it’s not like you’ve shown any real inclination toward child rearing. And what’s the rumor about Helen Midas-Vulcon I heard? That her twins aren’t her husband’s?”
“No one has any proof.”
“That’s odd for a cadet branch of the Imperial family. I thought their genetic tests were regular and impeccable. Well, I guess when the mom is the Vulcon it doesn’t matter.”
“Anyway…” Ben said, trying to move on. “I don’t know if I actually want a family yet anyway. I’m just trying to find ways to get my own folks off my back and who knows, maybe I’ll like it?”
“Maybe you would,” Othalia said. “But we are not gonna start today.” She laughed to herself and shook her head “thank the Holy Ghost for modern technology. No pregnancy unless we want it.”
“Thank the spirit indeed” Ben smiled as he inhaled. “You like this ship so far?”
“Oh yeah” Othalia said contently. “This L-1 is almost like an L-2, such a nice interior frame, and the computers work so smoothly. The Engines purr in the most delightful way through the steel walls. If the ship could talk it’d be one of the most relaxed ships I’ve ever been in. Shame what it had to go through to get this refit though.”
Ben nodded “Yeah that’s a real doozy. I can’t believe it. Against Ombroj to use your ships so recklessly. I don’t know what these wine-soaked sycophants do to get these kinds of command assignments and waste money and lives for the Armada. Whatever it is, they need to quit and let trained professionals handle the safety of the Empire.”
“Easier said than done, Ben” Othalia said with wry concern, taking in another breath of the herb.
“Yep” said Ben, joining her for a puff. “I know that from personal experience.”
Skrilxya spent nearly thirty minutes at lighting speed following Ensign Naon and Simon G around the inner workings of the ship’s databanks before unplugging and returning to her own Captain’s quarters. She perched herself on a reclining sofa, set a timer, and turned on a heat lamp above her body and fell asleep.
Her timer woke her up first. Being plugged in knocked her out for she remembered no dreams. Turning on the sofa to click the alarm off Skrilxya rolled herself up and re-dressed in her Navy Greys.
She was still groggy when Ben chimed her suite’s doorbell. She opened the door noticing his smell first. “The herb” was strong on him and his attempt to mask the fragrance with cologne was only marginally successful. She looked at him and said “have we breached real space?”
“We are about to, let’s get ready.” Ben said with a salute. Skrilxya saluted in return, splashed water from her sink in her face to wake up more, and followed Ben to the bridge. She noticed Ben was somewhat chipper and striding while he walked. Deciding to tease him she remarked “you must have had a very restful nap.”
“Hm? Oh, yeah definitely.” Ben said. “I’d say the same for you but it looks like you’re still waking up from yours.”
Skrilxya grinned “As long as you and the rest of my officers are still working hard I won’t inquire too deeply, but make sure you don’t let your adventures interfere with the operations of this ship.”
With a sigh Ben said “yes ma’am.” His step fell from a stride to an average pace.
“Very good,” said Skrilxya as they approached the door to the bridge. “You know I’m telling you this for your own good, and I’d expect you to give me warning as well.”
“Certainly,” said Ben, “I appreciate your warning Captain.”
Skrilxya nodded silently in agreement as the doors opened. The Lieutenants were all at their stations and organizing the bridge for the descent from phase-space. Skrilxya ordered everyone to their stations for the shift and they quickly took their seats and buckled in. Chimes from the other ships of the fleet were patched through that they were ready too. Suddenly the crackling began and a light static could be felt on everyone in the room. The window outside the bridge, a holographic projector, was currently blank. The feeds were cut while in phase-space because the sights were sometimes too much for biological organisms to handle long exposure too. Skrilxya opened it to view the psychedelic patterns surrounding the ship, and the light popping in and out around them bubbled up like a waterfall and immersed the ship into the stable Universe once again. The inky void of realspace was once again around them and the static wore off. The only landmark apparent to everyone was the orange-white light of Kang beaming in the distance, while smaller dots of blue and grey and yellow light reflected dimly on the margins of the screen.
Simon G. called over the loudspeaker “The veil is pierced… all crew stand by for reentry diagnostic review…”
Skrilxya was shown the reports from all decks by Ensign Naon, and Lieutenant Oryon confirmed that all systems were currently operating at standard capacity. Lieutenant Siwakoro reported that local Armada listening posts patched through and confirmed their ships I.D. signatures. Skrilxya was pleased that so far, everything was proceeding smoothly.
Taking up the loudspeaker mic embedded in her command chair, Skrilxya announced “All crew stand by, our present destination is the orbital dock of Bob.”
En Route to Planet Bob:
Skrilxya was walking through the habitat bulb with Lieutenant Oryon as they discussed the improvements made to the vessel to prevent easy strikes from Ombroj. “The improvements we have made to the nanite field are the key to all of this,” Oryon said frankly. Skrilxya hummed and asked “how do you mean? I thought the nanite field was the weakness they could exploit.”
“That was the case, not anymore.” Oryon said proudly. “The nanites that were present on the old frame were vulnerable to ionization strikes. And while it’s completely impossible to avoid compromise of the field in the event of a direct ion strike, the team has been able to buff the nanites with a localized reaction pulse of particles to nullify the imbalanced charged.”
“I see. Is this new model failproof?” Skrilxya asked.
Oryon slowly replied. “It is… as long as there is a suitable power source to channel the particle wall from. As you know we can’t create or destroy mass easily at that level.”
“So where are the particles coming from?” Skrilxya pried.
“The primary and secondary fusion reactors.” Oryon said.
“So we need to vent fusion exhaust to the nanites then. Does that risk backfiring?”
“No ma’am, not if we use the radiation vents throughout the hull to channel the spare particles.”
“But that does risk overheating the ship! If the channeling isn’t precise we could blow ourselves up. Now tell me again, is it full proof?” Skrilxya demanded an answer intensely with her teeth beginning to bear. Oryon shrank back cautiously, “as full proof as I can make a work in progress” she replied with a gulp. She straightened and said “better to malfunction on our own and know the cause than die at the hands of brigands.”
After a brief pause, Skrilxya smiled and said: “not to worry. I approve of your plan. It’s the only solution we can think of on our feet. And if it works for us, it solves one more problem for anyone facing down this new generation of pirates. I want you and your team to let the other captains know about this and install the new nanite program on all seven galleons. We’re not going into battle until we are all upgraded.”
“Yes Ma'am,” Oryon said with silent relief. “I’ll have the blueprints sent to the other captains immediately.” As she turned to leave and move along the walkway toward the door she and Skrilxya beheld Captain Pilsen and Captain Toganey walking toward them in the midst of an argument. Lieutenant Oryon saluted and said “Good day Captains, I’m sending a blueprint to you both”
“Yes yes, very good Lieutenant,” said Captain Pilsen with a huff. Captain Toganey was only marginally more polite with a: “Much obliged Lieutenant Oryon.” The two Captains continued to their commanding Captain and saluted Skrilxya.
“Captain Yonamey we must discuss our strategy,” Captain Pilsen said with an urgency that she couldn’t discern the source of. “Toganey here think’s we are going on some fantasy roleplay! She’s of the opinion we can charismatically convince the Ombroj to side with us and avoid conflict.”
“Commissioner, the Grand Admiral didn’t say that we needed to destroy them or even fight them, just to prevent piracy in the here and now” Toganey replied calmly.
Pilsen faced Skrilxya “Permission to vent Ma’am.”
“Granted,” Skrilxya said.
“The Ombroj respect violence and money. They won’t respond to idle chit-chat.”
“Remember what we agreed on in the meeting” Skrilxya said “we can use the money in our treasury to make our job easier and save us from needing to make repairs in hostile territory. Toganey, we won’t be making true friends out here, but Pilsen’s only right insofar as the Ombroj need to know our strength. We might find allies if we show our strength, and are generous with our money. Understood?”
“Yes Ma’am” they both replied.
“Very good Captains’, you can return to your ships or remain here at your pleasure, we need to prepare for our arrival at Bob.”
The two Captains agreed. As both Pilsen and Toganey agreed to stay on board the Gungnir they told their first mates Needa and Dilongey to guide the B-5s in the right direction. The seven vessels took the fuel saving route from the cold side of the system to the station of Portalbin, over Bob’s equator.
Over Bob, Portalbin Station, Ben:
Second Commissioner Rikaron was the leader of the away party into Portalbin Station. He took a few Ensigns with him including Bumby. The small group in their Navy Greys would be recognizable enough to the transients of Portalbin Station. Lieutenant Siwakoro chimed in over Ben’s earpiece “you’re looking for a blond guy named Valence Rayden, he’s probably waiting for you.”
“Understood,” Ben almost whispered as he led the group into the main concourse, a large spherical room with a dozen floors and escalators throughout. As they descended a nearby escalator to the bottom courtyard Ben saw a blond man in a red shirt and black vest standing idly by a large fountain. Ben signaled silently to his posse to follow him toward the man and then scatter. Three went one way direction to the left side while Bumby and Ensign Dreyfos went to a beverage vendor to the right. Ben by himself approached the fountain and produced a coin from his pocket. He flipped it off his thumb and directed it into the water.
The blond man whistled “Man that was a nice toss.”
“Mhm” nodded Ben. “Are you trying your hand at luck at all today?”
“I threw one in earlier, just a little wish for my Mom. Haven’t seen her in a long time.”
“I respect that. My own mom deserves a bit of luck for me every now and then.”
“I’ll bet” said the vested man. “Name’s Val, or Mr. Rayden if you’re looking for business.”
“I’d like to be friendly but I’m afraid it is business,” Ben sighed. “We’re your escorts out-system.”
“Finally!” Val said with a smile. “You all should be aware that the boss is a bit more skittish than me.”
“Then why is he taking up with Ombroj?” Ben enquired with a raised eyebrow.
Val shrugged, still smiling “Lets just say he’s got some investments that only the Tribes can handle. It’s nothing against IRDaC mind, we’ve got our letter of marque.”
“We know about your credentials, remember…” Ben said pointing to his rank insignia.
“Right you are,” Val said. “Are you all riding with us or will I be joining your crew for this one?”
“I was hoping I might catch a ride, my boss is just collecting fuel and food for the trip, we aren’t heading planetside today.”
“That’s a shame, Bob’s a pretty planet. But I guess the void calls us all back out one way or another… you get your folks ready and I’ll meet you at Tube 27.”
“Cya there.” Ben said quietly, turning around and walking to Bumby and Dreyfos, tapping both on the shoulder and silently moving them along. Once all six were together again they met Val and a couple of his crew at Tube 27. It was connected to a shuttlecraft of older make but sturdy looking. They got inside without incident and buckled up. Once they took off Valence dropped the pretense and talked straight.
“To be honest Captain Tomadillo is happy you all agreed to this. Like I was saying he’s got some investments he only trusts the tribes with, but he also trusts other investments squarely with the Navy.”
“What is he after?” Ben asked plainly.
“He and Tiluddu struck Crimson! They agreed to share the vein but it’s turning into a cluster.”
“Lemme guess” Ben pondered “The hostile tribes?”
“Them yes… and a rogue Nebulan queen.”
“Well… that IS interesting,” Ben said, almost shocked. Nebulan queens didn’t just go rogue. At least not without good reason, and he could only think of a few good enough to shake anyone out of the Queens’ Alliance. He figured he could get a more solid answer from Tomadillo when he met him.
Marc Tomadillo’s ship was registered as the Gabriel Cielos and was a modified A.R.E. class mobile-factory, the primary modifications being to the habitat and the engines. It was accompanied by two B-1s and five A-13s, all cargo ships of larger class. Skrilxya’s fleet was outnumbered, true, but anyone could tell that a skirmish would end solidly in the Gungnir's favor. These ships were not originally built for fighting. The tell-tale signs of after-thought modifications for armaments were apparent to Ben as the shuttle passed the fleet toward the Gabriel Cielos. A machine turret disguised as an antennae here and there, and flak cannons painted like adjustment thrusters to throw unobservant spacers off their guard. It could not compete with the Armada’s finest but this was a fleet that could fight.
Good, thought Ben.
The shuttle ride was quick. The craft placed itself daintily on the Gabriel Cielos’s hull like a mosquito on a sleeping arm. It extended its departure tube to the port-hole like a thirsty bug and Ben’s party followed the troupe of mercenaries through the now open hole. They jumped head first down the tube and found themselves flipped upright in the entrance hallway of the ship. They moved out of the way for each other and once inside followed Val to the bridge.
The bridge of an A.R.E. is more utilitarian in function than other types of commercial craft, in part to save mass when attaching themselves to prospect asteroids. That doesn’t stop people from making changes to suit their own aesthetics. Marc Tomadillo clearly had a thing for tropical environments because the bridge looked absolutely beachy. The walls were painted pastel pink and blue and yellow, with hanging coral and starfish fossils adorning them. The window-projection was even modified to make the background of space brighter. The stars were dimmed on a radiant blue field that seemed to extend beyond a dock-like edge. It made the 6x7 meter bridge feel like an open air space.
The Captain swiveled in his chair to face the new arrivals and he smiled in approval. He wore a thick moustache-sideburn combo and thick curly black hair. He was sun-tanned and burly, with an open collared shirt unbuttoned near the chest and comfy shorts. He was wearing leather flip-flops. “Welcome aboard Mons and Monas” he said brightly..
“The pleasure is mine” Ben said politely “you must be Captain Tomadillo.”
“The same, a pleasure sir… Second Commissioner I see there, but I don’t recognize your family sigil.”
“Rikaron” said Ben, “my Captain and our fleet are the squadron of the 5th Order assigned to protect you.”
“Just like I ordered, now we’ve got to pick up our friend Tiluddu, shall I be patched through to your Captain?”
“Of course!” Ben smiled, he nodded forward and said “She’s awaiting your signal now.”
Skrilxya was in a meditative state in her captain’s chair waiting for the eventual signal. Ben had patched through to Siwakoro on his transit to let her know the situation. Everything was shaping up to be interesting just as they suspected.
Eventually she heard the familiar chime and ordered the channel open. She saw the curly and burly figure of this mercenary spacer and to his right the big dumb grin of Ben Rikaron.
Captain Tomadillo seemed startled at first and then laughed “My my, good day Captain! Forgive me I didn’t expect to see a Malluman on the other side. I’m happy to be under your protection Mona.”
“Certainly,” Skrilxya said unamused. “My ships are taking formation around your fleet, we shall prepare to head to Casserole in t-minus 20 minutes. Can you tell me a bit about what you and Tiluddu found?”
“Right, Captain” said Tomadillo. “Tiluddu and I go way back, and we’ve been scouting 61 Cygni on behalf of some IRDaC benefactors interested in cataloguing the system. Well we found a vein of Crimson Matter on a dwarf planet near the L-2 of Volador. And you probably know how hard it is to find Crimson Matter outside of gas giants.”
“I’m familiar,” Skrilxya said “please continue.”
“Yes, yes. So of course we apply jointly for the rights to mine it and our benefactor, some snobby nobleman from Sol, decides to advertise our claim on the grey-market channels looking for a higher bidder. So now even though he technically gave us the right to mine and profit from this dwarf planet, it got out that he gave it away to us! And now we’ve got the hostile tribe Huuk and a Nebulan Queen who seems to be blacklisted from their Alliance both trying to sabotage our rig. It’s turning into a real rubble-show out there.”
“I see, how many Huuk ships do you think we’ll encounter?”
“It’s one of the lesser warlords thank goodness, he’s got a fleet of six longships and a few bigger corvettes. It’s Kirimella we have to worry about. The Queen’s got a proper Hive-Carrier and a defense fleet to boot. It’s a mobile factory by itself!”
“I think we can work something out,” Skrilxya said confidently. “Is Queen Kirimella on the same side as the Huuks?”
Thinking about it, Captain Tomadilla said “I’m not sure, they do appear at different times.”
“Then we can make a strategy. I’ll let you prepare your fleet Captain, let's go pick up Tiluddu.”
“Affirmative, much obliged Captain,” said Tomadilla before cutting off his screen.
Skrilxya knew what she was up against now. Ben also probably had more information on his host too now that she had questioned him. The only unknown factor left was Tiluddu, what kind of person was this Ombroj?
Within a few hours they were now closer to the Orange-Yellow star Kang around it’s innermost planet. The fiery and dark clouded Casserole hung heavy in the sky as the fleet of over a dozen ships rounded the light magnetosphere toward a geosynchronous orbiting trio of spearlike ships. The Ombroj longship design was distinctive, and usually painted stark white no matter the tribal affiliation. This was all the fleet that Tiluddu had, he was clearly an up and coming new leader to those who knew Ombroj customs. Skrilxya patched another channel through and the alien replied.
Tiluddu was a regular looking Ombroj of yellow and peach skin and rich brown fur on his body. His slit-lidded eyes concealed where he was looking, but he faced forward, turning his anteater-like trunk down, and showed his cone-shaped head in its full figure. It was accentuated by pointed ears that framed his pointed skull topped by brown fluff. He clacked claws on the arm of his chair and said “Good day Commissioner.”
“Good day Tiluddu, do you have anything to share about this mission that Captain Tomadilla may have missed?”
“How much has he told you?”
“About the vein of Crimson Matter, and about your two saboteurs the Huuk and the rogue Queen.”
“Aye, that is the essential gist. You’ll see everything else when we get to the system. Not much aside from it, just the situation is complicated…”
“I see, would it get less complicated if I offered something more to our services?”
Tiluddu’s ears twitched. “I think I hear you. Send me your question and your suggestion and I’ll let you know.”
“Very good.” Skrilxya nodded, “are your ships ready to depart for 61 Cygni?”
“We will be ready when you are” Tiluddu nodded in return “Good day, Commissioner.”
Skrilxya was pleased with that transaction. She sent over the generous figure and her questions to Tiluddu’s private communication channel. Only three questions: What is the actual Ombroj activity in the system? Tell me more about Kirimella? Do you trust Tomadilla?
Tiluddu’s answer followed as soon as the money left the Gungnir’s treasury:
1: Seven Tribes operate irregularly in 61 Cygni. Yothask and Othask are the largest Allied Tribes here, while Huuk is the largest Hostile Tribe here. They are not balanced so this system used to be just for refueling. Now we trade with the Nebulans here.
2: Kirimella’s hive Kirmyl are one of the merchant tribes but her mother was blacklisted by the Alliance for heresy against the Alliance. Now Kirimella and her sisters have been helping other rogue Nebulans on the fringe. She works with the Ombroj, regardless of allegiance. She might listen to money, but I haven’t talked to her, only her Barons.
3: Tomadilla helps me make money, and we can’t argue against finding the vein together. But I don’t trust him.
With that information in mind, Skrilxya commanded the ships take a loop around the star to launch the fleet into the outer system above the star’s north pole and made another phase-jump to 61 Cygni.