With no further reason to linger at Aiden’s apartment, Imogen announces, “I think we’re ready to head to Jarban Minor now.”
“Aye, we are,” Lief agrees. He is pleased that the older folks do not object to him coming. “But how are we getting there? Do we have to find a ride somewhere?” The day just gets even cooler when his cousin tells him she has her own ship. “You’ve got a ship!? Your mercenary company has a ship!? Does everyone in the Dominion have a ship?”
“No, but most mercenary companies do. That’s how they get around and do business,” Imogen explains as they head to the starport.
“I guess that makes sense,” Lief murmurs. “Sorry, I’ve never been a mercenary before. What’s the pay, by the way?”
“Not very good,” Lilly says, thinking of how her whole FRAWD paycheck went to rent.
“Aye, getting paid’s not something that really happens,” Imogen agrees glumly.
“That doesn’t seem like a very good business to be in then, does it?” Lief says, incredulous.
“What about you?” Imogen counters. “Are you in business yet?”
“Well… a little bit of this, a little bit of that. There’s an awful lot of eyes here on Umoja. I’ve been thinking of moving to one of the colonies and trying things out there. There’s just not that much money to be had here. Pretty much everything is automated and it’s just carrying on. If people want to do something with their credits, they can find an automated way to do it. I put on a magic show,” Lief begins, a flourish of cards appearing from nowhere.
“Nice!” Lilly says.
“People just aren’t interested in that,” he concludes, collapsing the deck in a moment and making it vanish.
“Short show,” Lilly comments, sounding less impressed now.
“I’m working on it!” Lief protests.
Imogen understands what Lief is saying though. “Aye, someone sees craft like that, and they say that their automatic card-shuffler works just fine.”
“With the economic blockade, it’s gotten even worse,” Lief adds morosely. “People don’t like to say it, but they’re a little hard up on credits. Regular trade has fallen off a cliff. The family’s getting by, but most people are not doing as well. If we didn’t have all this automation we’d be in much more dire straits, though.”
Imogen elaborates for Lilly, “Umojans have automated away all the normal jobs, so all they can do is artisan stuff. But they can no longer export their products to the Dominion, so there’s no one to sell anything to.”
That fits with what Lilly knows. “Everyone knows that if it’s Umojan made, it’s better,” she says.
“Is the Dominion military as tough as their propaganda makes them sound? Could they crush us?” Lief asks.
Imogen gives her opinion based on what she has seen. “If they brought their whole military to bear, I’m sure they could cause problems. But there’s a lot of zerg that they’re still taking care of.”
“So, what about these zergs? Are they coming for Umoja? Oh! Is the emperor really one of the zergs? Is their whole government controlled by zerg-people?” Lief again starts to get carried away with wild ideas.
“No,” Lilly simply says.
“But zerg are used as tools,” Imogen allows. Lief gawks, and she elaborates, “There are devices that can attract or repel them. The Dominion government has used some. That’s probably a bigger threat than their battleships.”
Despite these more serious topics, Lief’s excitement boils over again when he actually lays eyes on Saffron. “This is so cool!” he says of the globular science vessel. “What does that part do?” he asks, pointing to the big red mass of metal stuck to one side.
“It affects the stability of the ship,” Imogen says with a straight face.
“Oh! A flight stabilizer! Amazing.”
“It’s a vulture bike,” Lilly tells him.
Lief asks if he can fly the ship, claiming that he might need to swoop in and rescue them from some dire situation. Imogen invites him to watch what Lilly does while she flies it and see if it makes any sense to him. She warns him, though, that its controls are not like those on Umoja. She brings him aboard and shows him all the knobs and dials and the cables hanging down from the ceiling. Lief is perplexed by what he sees and tries to issue some simple commands, “Ship, turn on. Fly! Take off!” When none of those work, he asks what the command word is.
“So, no, I don’t think you can fly it,” Imogen says with a bit of a chuckle.
“I turned it off,” Lilly offers as explanation.
“Oh! It’s keyed to only your voices, it is,” Lief concludes from his Umojan experience. “Clever, very clever.”
Lilly steps up to the piloting station. “Nothing else we need to do planet-side?” she asks Imogen, who shakes her head. With that go-ahead, Lilly brings all the systems online, gets clearance from Umoja Traffic Control, and launches Saffron. And as Imogen disappears through one door off the central hub, her excitable cousin opens the other. “What is that?!” he cries.