Revelation (Demons Of The Past 01) – Chapter 16
With a distant whining screech, her eponymous starship disintegrated and reassembled itself. Where am I?
The D-scanners determined her position relative to the calculated exit point and an overlay on her vision system showed that Picket 10 should be nearly dead ahead of herâ€¦ and she realized that there was in fact a brilliant almost-star in that exact position. Great Darkness, I can see it!
Even as the D-comm light began blinking furiously for attention, she grinned, and remembered that time that Commander Sasham Varan had done something similar to Tangia Station. The difference here being he was only doing it for the best reasons. Me? I have more personal reasons. That ought to have given those lazy tzil a jolt! She activated the comm. “Come in, Picket 10.”
“Who in the Towers is this?” The panicked undertone was particularly gratifying; it wasn’t often she was able to get away with scaring Imperial military, especially here. The scanners showed that a half-front of warships were already being diverted in her direction. That’sâ€¦ a lot more than usual. Someone’s increased security here in the last couple of years.
She decided she’d had as much fun as she could afford here. “This is The EÃ¶nwyl. Transmitting authentication now.”
“The EÃ¶nwyl.” The name was repeated with a combination of understanding and annoyance. “Of course.”
Another voice came on the channel, rougher, but not entirely hostile. “Do you realize we came that close to sending a salvo of skip-missiles your way, Heln?”
As always, the use of her old designation made her lips tighten, even though Ferr was one of the very few that could get away with using it. “You wouldn’t fire unless I refused to answer, and we both know that. Your soldiers need an occasional alert, 45.” Using his number was the closest she could come to his use of her old designation.
The chuckle showed that her retort had failed to find its mark. “You’re probably right. That was hot piloting as usual, EÃ¶nwyl. Calculating the emergence point to within visual range isn’t easy, and I did rather like seeing the Lieutenant spit out his brew when you popped up on his screen.”
“Shut up, Ferr.” The other voice was clearly the Lieutenant in question. “All right, EÃ¶nwyl. You’re cleared for in-system travel. You know the designated ports and courses. Do not stray from them, especially in the direction of any secured areas, or you will be destroyed.” The Lieutenant’s tone showed he wouldn’t particularly mind giving that order.
“Understood. I will be landing at the central hub this time, however.”
“That is a restricted zone; what is your business there?”
She grinned, though with vision off they couldn’t see it. “I am carrying a courier packet from Tangia Station. If he’s in residence, I’m to carry it directly to Borell Dellitama.”
She grinned wider at the long pause; the Lieutenant had obviously hoped to deny her the chance to land at the hub. “Transmit the packet ID, then.” A moment more passed, and then the grudging voice of the Lieutenant said, “Authenticated. You’re assigned landing slip 5. Follow standard landing approach requirements.”
“Thank you, Picket 10. EÃ¶nwyl out.”
The grin faded as she approached; though the planet was mostly lit, it seemed to her that space was becoming darker. I hate this place. Then she corrected herself. No, I don’t hate the planet; perhaps it hates us. But the people here, the ones who ruleâ€¦
The landing slip was open as she approached, and locked on with efficient little clangs when she shut down the landing drives. She picked up the courier package and stepped out.
The oppressive atmosphere seemed to descend on her like a weighted cloak, despite the brilliant lights of the underground port. Part of it’s my own knowledge of what this place hides outside of the oh-so-civilized hubâ€¦ but no one comes here without feeling something.
Two soldiers wearing the insignia of the Five Families, Dellitama uppermost, stepped forward; one, wearing a Green Sergeant’s rank wheel, saluted. “We’re to escort you directly to Observer Dellitama, Free Trader.”
She returned the salute; the soldier had spoken respectfully and without the suspicious or hostile edge she was used to. Looking closely, she saw a lighter area on the Sergeant’s neck as he turned. Tanning would eventually make that fade, if he took tanning treatments regularlyâ€¦ but she recognized the pale rectangle. “Thank you, Sergeant. I see you’re native.”
“Like you.” He grinned with pride. “Sergeant Jogon Engrin.”
“Ahh, it’s a while ago. Almost a year. But thanks.”
“Free Traderâ€¦” the other soldier was hesitant; his rank wheel showed he was just a Shipman First Class, but his accent was offworld. “If I could ask, how could you tell? That Sergeant Engrin was native?”
She smiled, unable to keep a slight edge of bitterness from the expression, and tapped the back of her neck. “Service designation, Shipman; only when you get your own name do they take it off.”
He’s a smart one. Knows it’s a touchy subject and doesn’t push it.
They passed through several checkpoints in silence, stopping finally before a more ornate door (which, The EÃ¶nwyl knew, was almost certainly both armored and shielded as well as a warship). The door rolled open at Engrin’s signal, and a tall, broad man with a huge beard spread across his chest rose from behind a shining, natural-wood desk to greet them. “Sergeant, thank you for bringing her here so quickly. Free Trader EÃ¶nwylâ€¦ what a pleasure.”
“As usual, Observer.” And if those soldiers can’t hear the snarls behind the greetings, they’re deaf.
Clearly Engrin heard them, because he bowed out and excused himself — with the Shipman First Class. As soon as the door closed, Dellitama dropped the unconvincing smile. “All right, hand it over, Heln-23.”
“My name is The EÃ¶nwyl, Borell.”
His lips tightened until they were white, and she felt the oppressive atmosphere thicken. It’s worse than the last time. Why, though? It seems like it’s around him, but he’s not actually any worse than the rest of the Empire. Still, she felt a faint throbbing headache beginning.
“Very well,” the massive Borell Dellitama said through his teeth, “Hand it over, EÃ¶nwyl.”
“I get paid for being a courier for the Empire,” she said with a poisonously reasonable smile. “In this case, I want two things.”
This was what made it worthwhile to do the courier job; it was almost impossible to force Borell Dellitama, head of the Dellitama family, to do anything he didn’t want to do, especially on a planet which he was given almost sole responsibility for. But independent couriers did have to be paid, and paid well, and were allowed to set their prices within reason, by ancient Family and Imperial tradition that even Borell Dellitama wouldn’t dare violate.
“What two things?”
“First, I get to sell my cargo direct through the hub, at the core market.”
He grunted. “I suppose that’s reasonable. Agreed.” He took a crystal from the rack on his desk, touched it to the terminal port. “Market clearance, EÃ¶nwyl,” he said; the crystal glowed golden and he handed the crystal to her. “Second?”
“I want to visit my parents. Give them five days off.”
“They’re working a very tricky excavation and I’ve had three others get shadow-mad in the past three weeks in the same excavation. No.”
She handed back the golden crystal and started to turn away. “Then I’ll have to wait on the courier package until they’re free.”
“You think because you got a name from your worthless uncle and his dumb luck that you can demand I set back the Emperor’s work for days or more?”
She whirled on him with a snarl, barely checking her movement; she cursed inwardly as she saw the smile on Dellitama’s face. She glared into his eyes without moving until the smile faded. “I think that because you have to take this packet and we have to agree on price that I can demand you let me see my family. And the review board would agree.”
Borell knew that both points were true; news from far-away points of the Empire could only travel as fast as the fastest ships, and even dedicated courier vessels were not much faster than her own EÃ¶nwyl. There might be critical pieces of information in that packet, even news of war or new orders to Borell direct from the Emperor, and his failure to obtain and read it could spell kattasi for him.
As far as the review board was concerned, when one of the Five Families was involved, it would include a member of one of the OTHER Families, a monitor, and three officers of the military who weren’t in any of the Great Families, and the military took family seriously. So she did have him backed to a wall. “You’re still demanding too much. I’ll give them one day.”
“Two, and that’s as far as I go.”
“Three, or I’m walking out this door.”
Borell growled something under his breath, then threw the gold authorization crystal back at her; she caught it without visible effort. “Three, then, and may the tunnels collapse on you while you visit. But those three days begin in the next few hours; I’m not giving you all the time in the world to do your buying and selling and then have you decide when theirâ€¦ vacation begins.”
She knew this was as far as she could push him; and with central hub authorization, she could probably sell all the cargo she’d brought in a few hours anyway. “Done.” She handed Borell Dellitama the sealed courier package.
“Now get out.”
“I assure you,” she said, turning away, “You couldn’t pay me to stay.”
She felt his glare boring into her as she left, and found that she couldn’t repress a shiver, the pain in her head even stronger; for a moment there was a phantom sound, almost like a shriek, in her head, but it faded almost instantly. Something’s worse about him, or Fanabulaxâ€¦ or both.
As she moved down the corridor (now bereft of escort, since she was no longer carrying sensitive data), The EÃ¶nwyl suddenly found herself thinking of Commander Varan. If he could see this place, that man, he might understand why I hate the Empire. But she remembered how he had looked when she last saw him, and realized the last thing she wanted was for him to see that part of the truth, at least now. Leave him that much to believe in, until he’s stronger. The Empire owes him that.
She shook off the strange reverie, and focused on the moment. A profitable visit to my birthplace; a visit with my parents. And I’ve wrung it out of the false-smiling tzil who runs this secret hellhole. She smiled again, the pain in her head finally receding. It is, indeed, a good day!