New Cardiff is a magnificent city with wide avenues of green space. There are some tall buildings, but even those have vertical gardens or are covered with moss and vines. Lilly sees no factories, not even any smokestacks. One the flight down, she noticed that most of the planet seems to have been preserved in its pre-terran state. The population is concentrated in just a few cities much like this one. Lilly follows Imogen without question, since the younger woman knows where they are headed. Some of the pathways are of pleasant brick, but other sidewalks are actually people-movers, conveyor belts meant to get pedestrians around more quickly. When Lilly comments on the lack of cars, Imogen tells her that most of the public transportation is underground. They pass through several roundabouts, skirting around downtown. In a less densely developed area—though certainly not seedy like parts of Augustgrad—they reach a series of low, connected buildings, one of which has a sign that says Owen’s Door Exports. A note posted on the front door indicates it is temporarily closed.
This is a door that Imogen and Aiden snuck through many a time during their teenage years. Their staid parents were always far too busy to entertain them, and they had to find stuff to do elsewhere. Ma and Da were the responsible ones in the family, running the front business to cover whatever underworld dealings Uncle Leo had going on at the time. Now, though, their pictures are on a bounty notice, same as his.
Imogen hits the buzzer alongside the door. A meek person Imogen does not recognize opens it a crack. “I’m really sorry, we’re kind of closed right now. We’re dealing with some—”
“You’re not closed to me, you’re not,” Imogen says. “Where’s Leo?”
“Uh, sorry… Leo, uh, Mr. Leo Owendoher is very busy right now. He doesn’t have time—”
Imogen gives the door a shove and pushes past the apologetic attendant. “I don’t know who you are, but you can’t tell me I have no right to be in my own home.”
The doorkeeper looks at Imogen blankly for a moment, and then something clicks, perhaps her physical resemblance to her relatives. “Oh! You’re an Owendoher!” They cover their mouth with their hands, embarrassed. “Oh, gosh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize… Sorry, um, can I just double-check your ID? Sorry, Mr. Owendoher—uh, Leo, I suppose you would know him as—he wanted to introduce some precautions.”
It occurs to Imogen that this might be an elaborate trap if the family hideout has already been compromised. Hopefully she has not just handed someone another couple thousand credits for bagging an Owendoher. The door attendant seems genuine enough, but Imogen does her own double-checking, skimming their mind for any telltale emotions. A little scared, very nervous, cowed, apologetic. Definitely not about to make a big score. Also of note are the many other minds that Imogen feels nearby, probably in the next room.
Imogen nonchalantly holds out her ID to the greeter, but she does not break her stride, crossing the room to the door on the far side. “And she’s with me,” Imogen tosses over her shoulder so that Lilly will not get hassled.
Umojan construction is so thorough that most internal rooms are soundproofed, not just the exterior walls. When Imogen throws open the next door, a roiling mass of voices assaults her ears. Most of her family is here, Uncle Leo in the midst of them. Ma and Da are seated in a back corner, sobbing. Lilly is not the only outsider here though; other relatives have brought tough backup along.
Imogen makes out snatches of the heated argument. “We won’t be bullied by pirates!” “Look, is there any way we can get the money?” “Aiden was a fool, okay?” “Poor Aiden, he was a good lad.”
“WAS!?” Imogen bursts out.
“Aye,” a nearby cousin tells her. “There’s no way we can get the money. He made his bed; he can sleep in it.”
Leo catches sight of her and pounds the floor with the base of the family shillelagh. The group quiets enough for him to speak. “Now, now, let’s not act too rashly. Most of us don’t have the full picture. Imogen, thank you for arriving as fast as you could. All the rest of us have gotten here as we can. We all know there’s trouble with Aiden. Here’s what we know. Aiden was making a deal to deliver Umojan weaponry—”
“Foolish damned decision!” a cousin calls out.
“—to a certain pirate crew, that of the Jackson’s Revenge. I’ve never heard of them; I don’t know what they’re up to. We know that these pirates betrayed him, and they’re holding him hostage now. They’re demanding one million credits from our family to release him. But, of course, due to our unique business model, we can’t really go petitioning the protectorate for help. So we need solutions.”
He opens the floor, and the shouting resumes. “Forget him!” “If we sell off the family business, we can get the money.” “We should hire a bunch of mercenaries!”
Lilly scans the room over Imogen’s head, making note of who she recognizes from the bounty poster. Imogen tries in vain to get the room’s attention, but the balding guy from the poster makes his way over to join them. “Did you have a safe trip, lass?” he asks as he steps up to her.
“No, Uncle. None of us are getting off-planet safely while this remains a problem.”
“What do you mean? Nice bodyguard, by the way.”
Imogen hooks a finger in the collar of her shirt and drags aside the fabric. The fresh red bruise has not yet had time to change to blue or purple. “There are bounties on all of us.” She drops her arm and stands there with her hands on her hips, her jacket pushed open to show the battle-worn pistol in her holster. She knows she is still a mere lass in the eyes of many of the people in this room. They have no idea what she has seen or done since leaving Umoja, but she means business here. “That ransom makes no sense for what you’re saying. It can’t just be about Aiden doing his own weaponry deal. There has to be something larger going on, or there wouldn’t be bounties on every Owendoher out there. Was there not some larger deal going on with the family?”
“It does strike me as a bit odd, lass, I confess. But there was nothing with the family. I suspect Aiden thought he’d be breaking into a new business.” He drops his voice a bit, and continues, “And I suspect he didn’t deliver. I didn’t want to tell the family that, though, because I’m trying to convince them to get the money or do something to get him back.”
“These numbers don’t make sense,” Imogen insists. Nothing Aiden could possibly have done would make him worth twice as much as James Raynor.
“It’s a pirate crew. That’s not our normal kind of business partner. We don’t trade in weapons,” Leo says. “Umojan weaponry is highly protected. I don’t know where Aiden got a source, either.”
Imogen argues that Aiden could not have set up a large contract without having done smaller jobs for this pirate gang first, but Leo insists none were done on his behalf. Imogen is likewise boggled that anyone could think the family would have a million credits lying around for this ransom. The Dominion government does not even offer that much for their public enemy number one. “That unreasonable ransom, these bounties… It sounds like we offended them, not like we didn’t deliver on a business deal.”
“Well, lass, in the kind of business we’re doing, if you don’t deliver, that’s a mighty big offense,” Leo tells Imogen. “And if it’s about weapons… People get twitchy around weapons.” His eyes drift down to her pistol. It seems to make him a little uncomfortable, but at least he is taking her seriously. “I don’t know what connections Aiden had. I don’t know what kind of deals he was making. He struck out on his own. I offered to bring him into the proper family business, you know, moving out important pieces of agricultural equipment and other things that, frankly, the Dominion would never be able to develop on their own. But the economic blockade the Dominion put up threw a wrench into the works. It’s harder to move things. They’re more valuable, I grant you, but it’s harder, lass. Much harder. Where Aiden got the weapons, I don’t know, but I imagine they’re more valuable than ever now, given the news we’ve been hearing from Dominion space. What about your mercenary friend, then?” Leo turns to Lilly. “Do you know much about these pirates?”
Pirate mercenary company. Jackson’s Revenge. High-tech weaponry. Easy to offend. These things all together rattle some memories loose about the ship Lilly served on when she was not in the military. And that ship was a battlecruiser. It has old equipment on it, but it is big and deadly, particularly the Yamato cannon. Lilly does not have a problem with Imogen knowing these things, but this Leo fellow is a bit of an unknown. If Lilly says too much, he might ask questions she cannot answer because of her spotty memory, and she does not want it to get out that she has been resocialized. She settles on, “Yeah, they’re pretty no-nonsense, so this could have really riled them up.”
“You’ve heard of them, then?” Imogen asks. “Do they have the kind of bankroll that they could be making multi-million credit purchases?”
Lilly is not sure how their fortunes may have changed since she worked for that crew. “It’s been a while,” she says. “But even if they don’t have that, it wouldn’t stop them from asking for that much. It sounds more like a statement. Like they’re pissed off.”
“I know Aiden can be a troublemaker, but it doesn’t seem like this is just because he didn’t deliver a shipment. This seems like something far more serious must have happened. Or this pirate group is delusional, or they don’t really expect this money to be paid. In which case, what are they getting out of this? They have bounties out on us. They are offering to pay people money to collect more Owendohers.”
“Sounds like war to me,” Lilly says. She leans down to Imogen, not caring that Leo will see she has something private to relay but also not wanting him to hear her next statement. “I was on that crew,” she whispers to Imogen.
Imogen keeps her face level at this news. This could complicate things if Imogen has to take action against the pirates, since Lilly forms strong teammate bonds. On the other hand, for all that Lilly never seems to remember anything they have been told, she has a really good spatial memory for things like building layouts. That kind of information about Jackson’s Revenge could prove useful if they need to sneak around the ship itself to free Aiden. Imogen nods at Lilly and then turns her attention back to Leo. “Was there a specific reason you brought me back? Or just because you thought I’d want to know?”
“I thought you’d want to know, and I’m trying to marshall all the resources we can on this.”
“If you think I’ve got a million credits, think again, Uncle.”
“I hear there’s money to be made in the Dominion. It was worth a shot. But aside from that, you’re a little less well known than most of the other Owendohers. You left as a child, essentially.” Imogen frowns a bit at that. She was twenty when she left Umoja. “I have the location where these pirates are looking to make the exchange. I don’t think we’re going to come up with the credits, but, if we’re going to do something, we might be able to do it there. If you could check it out ahead of time, that might help us out a bit. Also, most of our family, they’re more into the business end of things. They don’t like to get too dirty themselves. But I can see you don’t have that problem.” He looks at the gun again.
“I’d be happy to go scout that out, but our ship is not in very good condition right now. Do you know anyone who could help with some hull patching before we head out?” Imogen figures it is worth a try, particularly if Saffron may be going up against pirates.
“Lass, I don’t have a mechanic on call right now, and we’re on a schedule. The delivery’s in a week. I feel for you, but I just don’t have the resources to help patch up your ship in time. The spot is on Jarban Minor.” He gives Imogen the coordinates of the meet site. “It used to be an Umojan colony, but unfortunately it’s got some zergs. The council decided it was better to remove all terran presence there, and they gave up the planet.”
This is news to Imogen. She had not known any zerg had gotten to this part of the sector at all. Flying ones could cause a problem coming in with Saffron. “Do you know anything about the zerg presence there? Do you know if they’ve got mutalisks or banelings or—”
“Lass, what is a mutalisk? There’s just… zergs. Right? What do you mean there’s different kinds? That doesn’t make any sense. Zergs, it’s just not something Umojans normally have to deal with. We do all we can to keep them from invading our homeworld here. We’re very blessed, we are, that we don’t have zergs on our world.”
Yeah, no zerg here. Lilly now sees that Imogen’s painful ignorance on the subject of zerg when they started working together might actually be cultural. Still, she would be surprised if Snowball were the only zerg here. It seems every world has some scientists studying them. Probably there are a few in a lab somewhere.
Leo sees that something he has just said has caused the two women before him to shift a little uncomfortably. “Are there zergs on Umoja? Lasses, you’ve got to tell me.”
“No, there are not zergs on Umoja,” Imogen says levelly, trusting the plural to cover her deception. Then she changes the topic to stop his prying there. “Is there anybody else informed about the current family business who might know a thing or two about what Aiden’s been up to? Any of the younger generation that you might want to send with us?”
“Lass, lass, you know the family. We don’t get our own hands dirty. That’s just not how we do things,” Leo protests to Imogen.
“That’s not entirely accurate,” a new voice says.