16. They Sent A Whole Freighter?
Date: 163-993 to 164-993 Imperial.
Location: Miip system (0819), aboard the free trader Avarice Rewarded.
Sentry had been lively but uneventful. They unloaded their cargo, delivered the first set of starport records, and did a bit of shopping on the bustling, high-tech commercial hub. The ship now owned a very swish TL14 vac suit, and the crew had been taking turns to show Luan how to use it. They'd also beefed up the collection of weatherproof gear in the ship's locker.
And here they were, a week later, just out of jump at the Miip system and trying to get the starport on radio. The ship had no passengers, and there was nothing in the hold apart from forty tons of fuel in blisters to replenish that used on the jump in. It looked like there'd be no fuel for sale on Miip.
"They may not keep a continuous comm watch" said Sir David in the astrogator's position.
"I... suppose not" said Silea. "I haven't been to a port like this for a while." She consulted the computer. "It should be early morning down there. We'll land in the evening, if we just punch in a 2g transit. We can hail them every hour."
Starships obviously didn't visit Miip very often. The first sign of recognition they got was when workers in the fields south of the starport looked up to wave as they coasted in at a polite 200km/h, checking out the scenery. They flew up a valley and found a village at the top of a saddleback ridge. The low buildings were wood and stone, with turf and log roofs. Everything was obviously built to last, and the village was surrounded by an earth embankment.
The landing area was a couple of hundred meters away. It featured the only expanse of concrete in sight, sat in a sunken pit, and surrounded by another twenty foot earth embankment.
"The weather must really be something here" said Silea. It was clear for the moment.
She put the ship down in the landing pit, and they started to disembark.
The four of them headed down a vestigial track to the village, leaning into the wind. By the time they got to the embankment a reception committee of eight or so locals was waiting. They were all in natural fibre clothing, with bright cloths over their faces to filter the tainted air and weather-beaten skin around their eyes. As the Avaricious approached they saw muskets and a couple of modern carbines, but they were all resting easy on shoulders. The villagers' body language seemed friendly enough, they were clearly just being careful of strange spacers. As they arrived one man, who stood at the front, moved forward a little and spoke.
"Hello folks. I'm Andrew Karrilane, the elected Elder here in Arodu village. Glad to see you've got your masks on already. Welcome to the village, what brings you here?"
"Rampant bureaucracy" Sir David grinned around the edges of his facemask. "We're here instead of the mail ship to collect your quadrennial starport records".
"They sent a whole freighter?" There was general amusement and bemusement. "Did you bring any mail? Was there any?"
"Oh no," said Sir David, "it takes a five ton safe welded to the ship to carry mail. You can't just put it in the hold."
Karrilane shook his head ruefully and turned to one of the other villagers, a man in his fifties or sixties who was wearing a Marine NCO's ceremonial cutlass on a gleaming belt. "Do we keep such a thing as quadrennial starport records, Garren?"
Garren seemed to grow 5cm as he replied. "Of course we do, this is a proper starport. I've submitted four sets of records before and they were all fine. I'll check them over tonight and you can have them in the morning."
Karrilane turned back to the Avaricious and, with one eyebrow bent knowingly, asked "So, do you want to sample the local cuisine then?"
The local cuisine was pleasant enough, and the villagers friendly. The crew stayed the night in a couple of village houses. They enquired after Ursa, but none lived in Arodu since they liked to stick together and their herd animals ate the vegetation at higher altitudes. There was an Ursa village about 4km away, uphill, so they decided to pay it a visit next day if the weather was amenable.
Karrilane advised them against taking the ship up to the higher ground – there was always the risk of a mudslide taking away whatever area they decided to land upon. He also warned them that the Ursa of this village liked to keep to themselves, and they were liable to just ignore humans who hadn't earned their trust over time. Sir David tried to find out what the Ursa wanted or needed, i.e. anything he could offer in payment for translation services. Karrilane couldn't think of much, and nothing that the humans of Miip didn't trade to them already. He didn't actually say that he didn't want the Avaricious cutting in on his trade, but...
In the morning the weather was clear but windy. They collected the starport records – fourteen handwritten sheets of paper – and "stowed" them aboard ship. An hour later, clad in heavy weather gear, they stood and looked at the hill leading up to the Ursa village.
"If we're going to make a habit of this", said the Fish, "we should buy a ship's jeep."