Episode 103: The Amber View

Vox Cul-Dar stared at the expanse of space. The planet Mandrake filled the lower right-hand quadrant of his window, taunting him with brief glimpses of the vessels and asteroids that allowed everyone but him to be on that side of the planet. He periodically tapped the serrated ridges of his arm against the wall, drumming a tattoo that would start as one of the ancient mantra-pats from his home world. Sometime between the third or fourth repetition he would realize that it was morphing into one of the pop songs that he’d heard among the humans again, a realization that would jolt him back into silence.

His one consolation was that the orbiting was not geosynchronous. If the racing federation would not leave his landing site, then the tedious passage of time would bring the landing site to him. The thought started as a sarcastic barb in a passing conversation with one of the Amber Sting’s crew, but it was becoming more and more viable with every second. Was investigating The Phantom Matador truly worth the three hours that had been spent?

Three military-style fighter vessels careened from the other side of Mandrake and past his window. The flight was over in an instant, and didn’t register as having occurred until it was already over. Vox leaned forward to look back, knowing that the ships would likely already be too far for him to see but curious enough not to care.

“Sir?”

Vox looked back over his shoulder. The Amber Sting’s captain stood behind him. Vox smiled, turned back, and stood at his full height.

“There’s been a problem,” said the captain.

“Does it have anything to do with the ships that just rocketed past my window?”

“Probably. System-wide communications are down. We’re limited to light-speed data and local networking.”

“That’s implausible.”

“Very. Just before communications went off, instructions were being relayed to all ships in the system to make their way to a safe port.”

“Safe port? No, we need to go to Mandrake.”

“I understand, sir. That’s why I bring this trouble to you. The magnitude of the crime for taking you to Mandrake has increased, as has the scrutiny of every ship en route to anywhere. Taking the time to swing by Mandrake will be harder.”

“Then take the more difficult steps to finish the mission.”

“Sir, the price you paid for this job is no longer worth the risk.”

Vox clapped his arms together rapidly, a staccato rhythm that perfectly recreated the mantra-pat from his culture. He focused his mind on his resources.

“I can offer you an extra twenty percent right now. Will that be sufficient?”

“Ordinarily, I’d require an extra thirty-five, but given your situation we can probably meet you part way on this.”

“The magnanimity of humans again rears its head. Without system-wide communications I won’t be able to secure the other fifteen percent until after this situation resolves itself.”

“Don’t worry about that.”

“I insist,” said Vox. “I always pay my debts. In time.”

“Good to hear. Hopefully the racing federation’s investigation will be broken up quickly thanks to the system-wide emergency. Barring any direct intervention from authorities we should be landing quickly.”

Vox nodded, folded his arms, and sat. He again turned to the window and looked toward Mandrake, his attention drawn by strange flashes of light near what few scattering ships he could see. It wouldn’t be long now.

The captain turned to head to the cargo bay. The conversation with the Pyrhian would be more pleasant. She’d already paid extra for the trip as “added security”, and this situation fell directly under those sorts of circumstances. But she should, at least, be informed about the complications.

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