28. Another Day, Another Space Station
Date: 186-993 Imperial.
Location: Kerin's Tyr system (0620), Warne Highport and approaches.
Sir David and Luan spent a lot of time talking about the worlds of the Ley Sector, late into the evenings, sat over drinks in the galley. Silea and the Fish wandered around the ship with big, dreamy smiles.
Fish spent time in his cabin doing sums, and started talking to Luan about how to best liquidate a small interstellar investment portfolio. His head was in a whirl.
He also borrowed the video journal they'd taken from the doomed ship Malfeasant, and the translation the Ursa of Miip had made, and watched it a few more times. He showed it to Maelcum, and gave him the story of the lost ship Vraidercalt and their tentative salvage plan. On his second view, Maelcum asked "why have they got so many of those?" and pointed to long, slender objects by the Malfeasant's salvage bay airlock.
"What are they?" asked Fish.
"They're shock rods, on extension poles. They've got a set, in the weapon rack, with their laser carbines. They're right next to the airlock, just where you'd want one of those strain gauges they're so fond of. Like they think they really need them."
"Why would they?"
"Good question, let's have another look"
They came out of jump without ado, and hailed the starport.
"Avarice Rewarded, welcome to Kerin's Tyr. Please proceed to Warne Highport for customs inspection, vector follows."
"Roger, control, wilco". Silea reeled in the vectors, plugged them into nav and gave them a reality check before executing. Another planet, another set of entry procedures.
They said goodbye to the Vargr passengers over lunch on the run in. They'd been fun, joking and gambling with Maelcum (who lost) and Fish (who won). The Avaricious learned all sorts of K'Kree barbecue jokes, and made mental notes never to tell them in front of K'Kree.1
Then they were docked, and the customs inspector came aboard. He cleared them without problems, but said "I'm afraid you drew the short straw on random safety checks. The port engineer will be in touch about the time."
They offloaded their cargo, which was all for delivery to the highport rather than the planet, and defrosted the low berth passengers. Luan started looking for sales opportunities. Fish got ready for the inspection. Sir David and Maelcum went off to see the starport authority about the hardcopy records for their charter. And then everything went wrong.
"They're on the planet, Sir. Apart from the through-system transit records we keep here, which I can have sent to your ship. But I'm afraid you'll find the nations on Kerin's Tyr are very… proud of having their own starports, and they like to keep their own records. It's a sovereignty issue, you see."
"Just how many starports are we talking about?" Sir David asked the highport official.
"Well, four starports. Unless one lot are on the, um, train."
"The Confederation of City States keeps the high profile parts of their government on a steam train that shuttles between the cities. Since the starport is a point of pride, I wouldn't be surprised if they keep the records on it. I could ask them, informally, if you like."
"Asking formally would be a problem?"
"Well, ah, maybe. You never know."
"I don't suppose we can get them to just forward the records to the highport?"
The bureaucrat, who'd been quite decent and helpful as un-bribed bureaucrats at a rather seedy orbital starport go, shrank within himself a little. Sir David recognised the look. "So we'll have to visit them then."
"I'm afraid it will probably come to that sir, yes."
"Oh well. We're probably taking the ship down to sell cargo, anyway."
"It's a stitch up!" ranted Fish. "There's nothing wrong with the port aft fuel transfer pipe. Cracks on the x-ray, my arse! And twelve and a half thousand credits is a rip-off!"
It seemed they had a fault. Or at least the inspection said they did, and they weren't cleared for space until it was fixed. It was a pack of lies of course, the yard was generating a bit of business in a slow patch and the inspector was earning a nice backhander. At least, it looked that way.
Sir David went to work on the officials, and Maelcum went to work on the bars. They came up with the same story, phrased in different terms: the shipyards were run by the local mob. So were the safety inspectors. So was the highport, barring selected parts of the Baron's residence and marine barracks. And every so often, a ship failed its inspection, and a local yard which happened to have capacity would do a Cr7500 repair job for Cr12500 on a "rush basis".
As somebody in a bar parked in an odd curved corned of the station told Maelcum: "Think of it as an extra starport tax, it's just your turn to pay. It's nothing personal. But it's probably best to pay it, rather than argue with them behind it."
They paid, and got a timetable for the passenger/cargo shuttles down to the surface.
1 Vargr are genetically uplifted wolves, with a residual pack carnivore mentality and a chaotic society. K'Kree are genocidal militant herbivores with a rigid herd culture who would exterminate all meat eaters, sentient or otherwise. They are two of the major races on or beyond the Imperium's borders. They mix poorly.