“You see, at the dawn of the Interstellar Age, one species had mastered the science of long-range space travel. They searched for new worlds and sentient life. And they shared their knowledge and inspired countless
“You see, at the dawn of the Interstellar Age, one species had mastered the science of long-range space travel. They searched for new worlds and sentient life. And they shared their knowledge and inspired countless races across the galaxy to take to the stars themselves. But then the Voyagers vanished, never to be seen again. Those who searched for them, following traces of their cosmic path, invariably found others the Voyagers had visited, but nothing of their origin or ultimate destination.”
Radley held up a hand to stop the jabbering Filtonian. “I asked where you wanted to go, not for a history lesson.” The air in the station was heavier than he was used to, making him more irritable.
But Crowe would say he was always irritable.
The man’s naturally bulging eyes and slightly parted lips lent him a perpetually shocked expression, but the scales of his face shifted into a greener shade of blue.
Radley couldn’t remember if that was annoyance or embarrassment.
“I am trying to tell you.”
“Well, try faster. I haven’t got all day.”
It wasn’t true. Captain Gadwall had said the Broc Mor was grounded at this backwater until they found a job lucrative enough to cover fuel costs.
“Right. As I was saying, No one has seen the Voyagers in hundreds if not thousands of cycles. Nor has their homeworld ever been found. It’s as if they just vanished into the cosmos.”
“Planets die. Nobody knows that better than us humans. Odds are your ‘Voyagers’ suffered the same fate.”
“Oh, no doubt they’re long dead. But they came from somewhere, they must have left something behind. What if their planet is still out there, lost between the stars? Imagine the wonders that might be buried there, waiting to be uncovered.”
“So, you want to go to a planet that no one’s ever seen, in a star system that probably doesn’t exist anymore, and that no one could find when there was a trail to follow? I can tell you right now, we’re not going there.”
“No, no, you don’t understand. I’m not looking for a ship to just take me there. No one knows better than I how impossible that is. I’m looking to hire a ship so that I can search for the lost planet.”
The Filtonian raised a credit stick. “I can pay handsomely.”
Radley glanced past him at the rest of grungy spacedock. It was mostly deserted, but a handful of dockworkers and Filtonians milled about and passed to and fro through the airlocks. “Look, um, what’s your name?”
“Drurary, Hicklepeck Drurary.”
“Right, Mister Dreary—”
“Dru—Mister Hicklepeck, no offense, but you look like you’ve never been outside of an archive before, so let me give you some free advice.”
Hicklepeck’s scales shifted into a pale turquoise.
“First, put that away before someone takes it from you.” Radley pushed the credit stick back against the Filtonian’s chest. “And second, when you try to hire a ship, start with coordinates. Or a planet. Hell, even a system will get you a serious response. But none of this hunting for lost planets nonsense. Got it?”
Hicklepeck stared at Radley with his protuberant eyes in silence for a moment. “So….if I tell you a planet, you’ll take me there?”
Radley sighed. “Maybe. Once again, where you headed?”
“Chryl Seven. There’s rumors of—”
“No, I shouldn’t tell you about the rumors, or—“
“No, we aren’t going to take you to Chryl space. And I doubt anyone around here would. Or hasn’t word of the war made its way into your little corner of the galaxy?”
“It has, but there’s only so much I can learn in…archives. If I’m going to find the lost planet, I need to examine real artifacts from the Voyagers. And I have reason to believe that the wreck of one of their ships is at Chryl Seven.”
“Well, best of luck to you, Hicklepeck. But you need to find a different ship, cause I’m not risking this one so you can chase some ancient legend.”
“Oh.” His scales flattened into a dull blue. “Thank you for the advice, I guess, and your time.”
“Have a safe trip.” Radley waved at the receding Filtonian.
“Things must be going well if you can afford to turn down clients.” A raspy, digital voice said from behind him.
Radley cursed under his breath. “Ronle. What are you doing so far off the beaten path?”
“Looking for low-life scum trying to avoid paying their debts.” Ronle was a squat, flat-faced Dathel. His beady eyes glared out over the top of his breath-mask.
Radley had never seen him without it, but he imagined it covered sharp rodent-like teeth.
Two lean Dathels rounded the corner to stand menacingly behind Ronle.
“So tell me, Radley, does Gadwall have Mister Manodor’s money, or do we take the ship?”
“Captain Gadwall will pay Manodor when the bill comes due. Not before.” Radley stepped forward and glared down on the lead Dathel. “And not through you.”
“There’s nothing sadder than an old fool who doesn’t know when he’s finished.” Ronle turned to his cronies. “Take it.”
The two rushed the airlock.
Radley kicked the first into the nearby wall.
The other made it all the way to the control panel before Radley got a hold of the thug by his jumpsuit and hauled him back into the corridor.
The Dathel’s mask clattered to the deck, just out of reach, as a coughing fit took him.
But the first was back on his feet and bounding toward the airlock again.
There wasn’t time to try the same trick, even if the little brute was dumb enough to let him. Instead, Radley dove head first into the lithe alien’s back.
The Dathel twisted, flailed, and scratched at him as they tumbled to the floor.
Radley winced as two claw-like nails caught his arm. His own movements were too slow, sloppy. He needed to adjust for the heavier atmosphere.
But he wasn’t the only one.
The Dathel hissed and coughed as his exertions forced him to inhale more of the slightly-toxic air than his cheap filter could handle.
A swift kick to his side knocked the breath, and the fight, out of him.
Radley rose to tower over Ronle. “How about you? You want some of this nasty old oxygen?”
He pulled a small pulse-pistol from the inner pocket of his jumpsuit. “You humans, always thinking with your muscles.”
Radley tensed. There was less than a meter between the two of them.
Could he make it?
“Is everything alright here?” A Filtonian stood at the end of the hallway in a red uniform Radley didn’t recognize.
But there was no mistaking law enforcement.
“Of course, officer.” Ronle slipped the pistol out of sight. “I was just asking this gentleman for directions. As you can see my…companions haven’t adjusted well to your atmosphere.”
The officer’s scales shifted to light purple. “Yes, well, let me escort you to the medical wing. I’m sure they can get your friends back on their feet.”
“The help is much appreciated, officer.” The digital projection of Ronle’s voice lacked the disgust his eyes cast at Radley.
“See you around.”
The Dathels were just leaving with the Filtonian officer when Captain Gadwall emerged from the airlock.
He took in the retreating aliens at a glance. “Trouble?”
Radley shook his head. “Just some of Manodor’s debt collectors. Nothing I couldn’t handle.”
“Hmm. And what about the real business? You find anyone interested in leaving this patch of nowhere?”
“Just one old coot who wanted to go to Chryl space.”
“Why would anyone want to go there?”
“He had some crazy theory about a lost planet full of ancient technology.”
“The Voyagers’ planet?”
“That’s the one. He thinks there’s a clue to its location in some old wreck out in the Chryl system.”
Gadwall stroked his graying beard. “And he could pay?”
“I don’t like where this is headed.”
The captain turned back to the airlock. “Go find him. If he’s still interested, we’ll take the job.”
To Be Continued…