Imogen thanks the starport attendant for his help and heads back toward Saffron’s berth in the large open-ceilinged space. She approaches the ship casually, though, as if it were not hers, concerned about the thoughts she picked up. There are other people in the area who seem to be just going about their own business. However one person, a white woman in her mid-thirties, is eying Saffron as she sits on some nearby crates, coiling cable. When Imogen’s eyes settle on her, she returns the gaze, then abandons her task and stands up. She approaches Imogen, idly flicking a switchblade open and closed. “Haven’t seen you around here before,” she observes.
“Well, I’m not from around here,” Imogen replies, her Umojan accent plain.
The woman looks at Saffron and then back to Imogen. She lowers her voice and says, “I saw it first, but someone of your heritage might be able to make good use of what’s inside, technological craft like that. Ehhh, eighty-twenty split,” she offers. “Or you scram.”
Imogen decides to play along. This shipjacker must not have been around when she stopped by Saffron earlier. Imogen sees no reason to disabuse her of the notion that she is not affiliated with the vessel, particularly not if she has been hired to mess with it. Shreev made threats, and Imogen is worried that the pilot might actually follow through on them. “Eighty-twenty sounds really unbalanced,” Imogen counters, “unless you’ve got some larger crew than just yourself. Who are you working for?”
“I work for myself, okay?” the woman snaps. “I might get some tips and take some contracts now and then, but I’m going to be the one who gets us in there. And I’ll be the pilot. I know how to move this type of equipment, sell the ship. There’ll be some extra things in there you might know how to move, I’m supposing. So you in? Or are you out of here?”
Imogen gives the shipjacker an incredulous look. “When are you proposing to make the move? Are you just going to boost this ship in the middle starport with people around you watching? Are you going to wait to do this in the middle of the night?” Even if this woman was not hired to target Saffron specifically, this encounter is hammering home to Imogen that she needs to understand better the actual risks involved when they park in the crappy lots in Augustgrad. “Have you seen the owners? Would you even recognize them if they came by?” She seems to have not recognized Imogen, but Lilly could come walking up at any moment.
Imogen overreaches herself with that last set of questions. The flicking knife misses a beat, suggesting that maybe the shipjacker sees through the act. “I got some tools in the backroom. Why don’t you help me bring them out, and we can get this started.”
Or you can stab me in the back. No, I don’t think so. “Aye, why don’t you head to that backroom, so that you’re out of range of my ship’s weapons, or a trip to the hospital might be in order for you. Wouldn’t want to have to liquidate your organs.”
Science vessels do not have mounted guns, but they have all other sorts of nasty things that might be installed. Liquidate my organs?! That is a very credible threat and quite a specific one, too. The Umojan did not just threaten to pump her full of lead. The shipjacker stops flipping her switchblade around. “You’re messed up,” she says, but the threat is enough to make her back down and clear out. She needs to get the word out about this organ-harvesting Umojan.
As soon as the shipjacker is gone, Imogen boards Saffron. She closes up the door and flips on all the external floodlights, worried now about any kind of sneaky attack against the ship. Imogen takes up a position at the sensor suite, monitoring the area for any sign of thugs. Under other circumstances, she would call Lilly in so they can leave, but she does not want to interrupt the date with Durian. Who knows when they will be back on Korhal again.
There is the clang of someone knocking on the side of the ship. “Hey, open up!” cries a raspy voice. The monitors show that it is the starport attendant, and he appears to be alone. Imogen could reply from within the ship, but the external speakers would project her response far further than she would like. The shipjacker is long gone, so Imogen opens the main access hatch back up. She stands at the top of the ramp, blocking the entrance to the ship, just in case. Her hand rests on her pistol, but she does not draw the gun.
The clerk clambers up the ramp a little so that they can talk at a conversational volume. “Hey, hey, is everything all right in here?”
“What’s the problem out there?” Imogen counters.
“There’s no problem out there,” he replies, tossing a look back over his shoulder at the nearby berths and work areas. Then he waves his hand about, gesturing around Saffron. “You’re just powering up your whole ship! You can’t just be doing that.”
“I’m getting it ready for take off.”
“You weren’t scheduled to depart yet, not for another three hours,” he says, business-like.
He starts to offer apologies about the scheduling, and Imogen cuts him off. “Well, that was fine earlier before shipjackers started circling my vessel like it was a downed Jarban glider.”
“Jarban what now?” The clerk must never have heard of that animal from the Umojan Protectorate. “Look, the point is, you can’t just be firing up everything. People walking by could get hurt…”
Imogen is not sure how too much light could be a problem, other than to foil shady deals. “Well what level of lighting am I allowed to have here?”
The clerk points to another ship nearby with just their camper lights on. “Standard lighting is fine. But I saw one of your dishes spinning around. You can’t be doing a full scan in here. People got their privacy. Look, you want to leave sooner, you can leave sooner. I can’t give you any refund, I’m sorry, but I have some space in the schedule. I can move you up, we just gotta schedule it. Clear out the air space, all this other stuff…” The next opening is in an hour, and Imogen snatches it up. She agrees to tone down the flood lights, as well.
* * *
Lilly’s comm goes off as she is browsing the discount racks at the Bunker. She answers, and with no preamble, Imogen tells her, “Departure’s moved up. You’ve got an hour.” She tells her partner she is at the store, and asks if she needs anything additional, but Imogen just says no. Lilly turns her attention back to the shelves. Turns out they will not be going tiger or pterodactyl hunting for a while, so there is no need to spend their few precious credits on tranquilizer or netting just yet. Instead, she picks up some more painkillers to refresh those dwindling supplies and grabs some boxes of recently expired MREs.
Near the counter area, there are some more kitschy items. Lilly supposes some of her friends who cannot safely come to Korhal might appreciate some of those. She selects a shirt that says, “I went to Korhal and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.” There is also an “I <heart> Umoja” mug, which she thinks Imogen might like. She picks up some candy, too, as well as more dog treats for Sunshine and some local sweet tea mix for Li June to try. She adds these purchases to the crate with her few belongings from the apartment and the extra growlers she picked up at Local Beer Shop.
When she reaches Saffron, the science vessel is already primed and ready to go. It is closed up, so Lilly lets herself in. “All right, I got the stuff on the list!” she announces cheerfully as she comes in and sets down her crate.
“It was Neiman,” Imogen states.
“It was Neiman.”
“Where? What?” Lilly’s hand goes to her gun.
“He’s not here anymore, but a couple weeks ago, he was. The ship matches his, the description I got from the clerk here.”
“Taking Shelley and Abdul—”
“And Elaina, aye. All the people that we let free from Rose.”
“For credits, I imagine,” Imogen replies, letting out her frustration with a long breath. “And for experiments, perhaps. So it’s looking like we might see him again.” Lilly looks at Imogen questioningly. “If he took them to the Sara system, I’m thinking it’s to Chau Sara, not Mar Sara.”
“Let’s get out of here,” Imogen says, done with Korhal and ready to face the coming unpleasantness.
“You got it.” In the time they have left before their takeoff window, Lilly unpacks her crate. The “I <heart> Umoja” mug she just sticks in their small kitchenette for now. This does not seem like a good time to give it to Imogen.