Six hours later, the Smashing Star briefly touches down in Dead Man’s Port and disgorges its unwelcome passengers. If ever there was a quintessential junk planet, Dead Man’s Rock is it. It has a temperate climate, but much of the surface is a wasteland of humanity’s making. Unlike Mar Sara, it is a moist world, so the wreckage is coated in places with rust and slime. What passes for settlements are built around ship graveyards, and detritus clogs the streets between the buildings erected around them. Outside Dominion control—regardless of what their propaganda claims—it is a lawless world, an unfriendly place run by mercenary companies. Unfortunately, the War Pigs are not among them. The two largest players in the field are Orlan’s Raiders and Mira’s Marauders.
There is no quarantine to pass through, but Imogen has done the best she can to decontaminate herself in the Smashing Star’s shower. After all, she was climbing up a zerg and rolling around in creep. She wipes the outside of the jar of cerebrate tissue and stuffs it in the very bottom of her backpack, hoping that no one will go looking there.
Lilly volunteers to pay the docking fee. “I’m the reason why we’re doing this whole thing.”
“If that’s what you want,” Imogen agrees as they step off the ramp.
An extremely greasy old man with a beer belly hanging over his belt accosts them after the Smashing Star takes off again. “Hey, you here to dock for a while, the minimum fee is a hundred credits.” He lets out a puff of cigar smoke.
Imogen steps in front of Lilly before she can get the money out of her wallet. “We’re not docking for a while. We’re barely docking at all. Didn’t you see? We just jumped off the ramp, and the ship took off.”
“Aw, I dunno. My eyes ain’t so good.” He blows a stream of smoke in Imogen’s face.
“Then let me count this out for you.” Imogen plucks sixty credits from Lilly’s wallet and gives it to the man. “That’ll be enough, it will.”
Seeing Lilly looming behind Imogen, he decides not to press his luck. “You shoulda used the drop-off zone. Oh, but it’s closed today, sorry. Under construction.”
“We’ll remember that for next time,” Imogen says flatly.
“Yeah, next time,” he laughs. “What you in town for?”
“We’re looking for a lift off this rock.”
“Lift off? You just got here!” he sounds vaguely affronted. “So many attractions in Dead Man’s Port! We got that big junk pile.” He flings his arm out to the right. “We got that other big junk pile.” He points to the left. “Look, we’ve got a sludge river. So many things to do.” He breaks down in a coughing fit.
“And where would I find some pilots?” Imogen asks.
“You could try a bar. That’s where most people go.”
Imogen sighs, then tries to make the best of it, infusing her voice with an energy she does not feel. “All right!” she says, turning to Lilly. “Looks like we’re going to a bar.”
“Let’s try to find a less stressed-out pilot,” Lilly suggests.
* * *
They wade their way through the muddy streets past broken-down, abandoned equipment and slapped-together shacks to a crashed battlecruiser. Once upon a time, this was a large, serious military vessel. Now it is a rusted-out hulk decorated with neon lights spelling out, “The Cruiser.”
“That’s a bar?!” Imogen marvels.
“Let’s not hire that pilot,” says Lilly, eliciting a laugh from her teammate.
They enter the bar and find a mix of people in it, all terrans. Most of them look rather dirty and also sick to some degree. Imogen attempts to adopt the slouched posture of the other clientele, but she cannot help how clean and healthy she looks. Lilly does a visual sweep of the room, making note of the broken old surveillance cameras that used to monitor parts of the ship. She doubts they are still recording.
The two new arrivals are clearly not locals, which attracts some attention. A tough sitting at the bar growls at them, “Who the hell do you think you are? I don’t recall inviting you to my bar.” He slams his glass down on the counter and lets out a drunken burp.
“You don’t look like you’re the owner of the place,” Imogen observes.
“Didn’t say I was,” he challenges her. “Didn’t say I wasn’t.”
Imogen spots the bartender and redirects her attention to that person. He looks Imogen over and asks, “What can I getcha?” She slaps ten credits down on the bar, and he looks at it disdainfully. “Ten credits. Big spender.”
“This has bought top-shelf whiskey on other planets,” Imogen tells him.
“Well, you’re not on other planets,” he counters. “If you were, you wouldn’t be here.”
“So do you not accept credits? Is that the problem?” This rotten world is not part of the Dominion, but she expected money to still work.
“I’ll take your credits,” he concedes. “But it will cost you twenty. A pop.”
Lilly shakes her head at the rip-off. “I don’t even taste it going down.”
That price would be ridiculous even in trendy Augustgrad nightclubs, not that Imogen can afford to frequent those. “I’ll be taking my credits back, then, I will,” she says, closing her hand around them.
Someone new walks into the Cruiser, and it is as though the whole room draws a collective breath. People look down at their drinks; voices lower. No one wants to be noticed. At the doorway stands a short, pale-skinned woman with a brilliant pink mohawk. More unusual than her hair, though, is her right eye, a cybernetic implant that glows pink. Unlike Rory Swann’s clunky clamp-hand, this looks top-of-the-line. “Oh, don’t stop the party on my account,” she says as she approaches the bar.
“It doesn’t seem like this is the sort of place that wants parties,” Imogen remarks to the newcomer.
“Regus, make it a triple, if you would,” the woman tells the bartender. He quickly fulfills her order, and she slides a drink to Imogen and one to Lilly. “I don’t recognize you two from around here. What are you doing in my fine establishment?” She takes a sip.
These are essentially the same questions the drunk accosted them with, but this woman looks to Imogen like she is definitely worth engaging. “You own this place?” the Umojan asks.
The woman sets her drink down. “Ah, from a certain point of view, yes.”
“We’re just looking for a pilot,” Imogen explains, unable to keep a little exasperation out of her voice.
“A pilot! Do you have a ship in need of one?”
“Ah, so you are looking for a ride.”
“Aye. But there doesn’t really seem to be any sort of organized spaceport here.”
“You just need to know the right place to look, is the problem.”
“This doesn’t seem to be it,” Imogen comments, looking around the joint.
“No! This ship no longer flies, you see. But you probably already knew that.” The woman smiles. “Now, come, come! What do you have to offer in exchange for a ride?”
Imogen shrugs. “I suppose that depends on what the cost is.”
The woman nods in agreement. “How far you are trying to get, how nice a ride you want…. It might even depend on where you’re headed.”
“We don’t need a nice ride,” Imogen clarifies.
Lilly laughs. “Just something that doesn’t crash on the other side would be good.”
“We could go to Korhal, or we could go to Mar Sara,” Imogen tells the woman, feeling like she is finally getting somewhere with someone.
“Korhal is not a very good place for most people here to go. Mar Sara—little bit easier to swing. Mar Sara…. Mar Sara….” Her voice fades as she seems to be trying to remember something. She pulls out a datapad and flips through it. “Ah! Do you happen to know someone by the name of Matthew Horner? Dashingly good looks, wonderful hair. Absolutely oblivious.”
“He sounds dumb,” Lilly mutters.
Imogen starts listing people she does know on Mar Sara. “Well, we met somebody named Marcus—”
“No no no no no. I was just curious if you knew my Matthew,” the woman says. “If you don’t, that’s fine. Do you have a way to get in contact with, oooooh, a Mr. Jim Raynor?”
“Oh, you know Jimmy, do you?” Imogen asks, brightening up.
“Ah, yes, Jimmy, as he is known.” She pulls a folded slip of paper out of her chest pocket and taps it against her other hand. “If you would deliver a letter addressed to my dear Matthew to Mr. Raynor, I’m sure he could get it to him. That might be useful to me.”
“We know where Raynor was a week ago, and if he’s still there, we can certainly get this to him. And if he is not, then I’m pretty sure I know someone who can,” Imogen offers.
“Who do you know who can get to Jim Raynor?”
“Well, he seems to frequent Joey Ray’s.”
“Aye, that he does,” the woman agrees. “He takes a bit too much to the drink, I think. Now, suppose I give you this letter…” She waves it in front of Imogen tauntingly. “How do I know you won’t just take and read it?” She jerks the letter back abruptly.
Imogen laughs. “Oh, you want to specify that we’re not to read the letter! That’s adding some extra terms and conditions there, it is,” she teases back.
“Oh, you are cute, aren’t you?” the woman chuckles. One of the patrons sitting further over along the rail slumps over, smacking face-first into the counter, where he remains, unmoving. It is the first loud sound they have heard in the bar since this woman walked in. Everyone else remains quiet and nervous. The woman smiles widely. “I just want to ensure that you are trustworthy, you see.”
“Have you got tests you want conducted, things we need to do to prove ourselves to you?” Imogen asks resignedly. Is it going to be one wild goose chase after another to get the information Lilly needs from Li June? she wonders.
“Ah, I think I can figure out if you are trustworthy. You see that man who slumped over? He is three weeks behind on his tab. And the last job I sent him on—not to deliver a letter to my dear Matthew, but to say hello to my dear friend Colonel Orlan—he did not do. So I gave him a little something extra in his drink. He won’t be a problem anymore.” This statement hangs in the air for a moment. She cocks her head to the side. “So, do you understand?”
Lilly looks on, wondering what all the posturing is for. Who cares what is in the letter!
The woman then pulls out a small pistol. The bar was quiet before, but now it is dead silent. Everyone is still, poised as if ready to dive under a table. She reaches out her arm and calmly shoots the unconscious man in the head. “Just so we are clear,” she says to Imogen, without batting an eye.
“Seems like a waste of a roofie,” Lilly observes, unruffled. “Or a bullet.”
“You will find that bullets are cheap in Dead Man’s Port,” the woman states. “It is bodies that are pricey.”
“And drinks,” Lilly adds.
“That too,” the woman agrees.
“We won’t read your letter,” Imogen soberly tells her.
“Then I think we can make this arrangement.” She holds the paper out to Imogen. “Do be cautious, and don’t let it fall into anyone else’s hands. Only for Matthew to read, and by way of Mr. Raynor.” Imogen nods. “I can get you transport out of here in a few days. You’ll just have to keep yourselves entertained until then.”
“So what sorts of sights are there here?” Imogen asks, trying to distract herself from the pool of blood spreading across the bartop.
“Well, there are numerous piles of junk, if you’re into that. There’s what passes for water; I don’t recommend you drink it. It’s not a very tourist attraction sort of place. If you are flush with credits, you could hire Mira’s Marauders. If you are hard-up for credits, you could hire Orlan’s Raiders. I don’t suppose you’re in either of those situations, though, are you?”
“We don’t really need a mercenary crew just yet,” Imogen remarks. “How would you say these groups compare to the War Pigs?”
The woman adopts a look of disgust. “Ugh, the War Pigs are such a corporatized chain mercenary company. They use almost purely resocialized marines. They’re only good for going in and causing a ruckus. If you need high-end fire power or precision strikes, you need someone else; you need Mira’s Marauders. We also employ our namesake, heavily-armored heavy infantry marauders who can fire rocket-propelled grenades at significant distance and for significant destruction.”
“Would you be Mira, then?”
“I would be her. How may I call you, then?”
“I’m Imogen, and this is Lilly.”
“Ma’am,” Lilly acknowledges with a nod.
“It is nice to meet you, but please, no ranks here. I have to always remind my dear Matthew of that. He is so insistent on being admiral.”
Another common local activity is salvaging in the junk for useful technology, though Mira warns them that one must be wary of angry squatters. She asks what they are looking for, other than a ride off planet. While Imogen considers how to answer that, Lilly asks about good weapon shops. Mira says that this is not the place to find a large uniform collection of weapons, but individual pieces or customizations are possible. Taking in Lilly’s current armaments, Mira suggests Lilly might find a rifle that would suit her at one of the weapons shops. As for illicit drugs—for Imogen is still in search of terrazine—that is not Mira’s area of expertise. She does not doubt it could be found somewhere on Dead Man’s Rock; she just does not herself know exactly where.
Lilly inquires further about the sorts of rockets used by her marauders, growing more engaged as Mira’s discourse turns to the superiority of the new marauder suits over the older firebat suits. They are the same base model but the marauder suits have a built-in manufacturing capability to produce punisher grenades for the suit to launch. Less than fifty percent of marauder soldiers are resocialized, compared to eighty percent of firebats. Marauder life expectancies are measured in days, rather than minutes. The suits can dish out heavy damage at long range and can punch through heavy armor. Two marauders would probably be able to take out a siege tank, heavy firepower indeed. They are slower than marines, because of the weight of the suits, but they can use the same type of stims, which can compensate for some of that. And these suits are not loaded down with vespene tanks like those of firebats.
Aside from the marauders, Mira’s company also has some siege tanks and banshees. They are not an officially recognized mercenary company like the War Pigs, as far as Dominion space goes. Mira’s Marauders mainly operate on planets, though if the money is right they can go anywhere in the sector. It sounds to Lilly like turf wars, and she asks if they can handle larger threats, like zerg. Mira says that zerg are not a big issue on Dead Man’s Rock because of the large number of armed people and small amount of resources to attract the creatures. However, she insists that her organization is a fully capable, fully professional mercenary company able to take on all threats. For the right credits, they will fight zerg, other terrans, and, if necessary, even protoss.
That catches Imogen’s attention. She asks about protoss in the area, and Mira says there are none on the planet. “I do not know any protoss myself, but I’ve heard they’re all connected in some way. To be on a planet alone would be jarring for them, I would think. Why do you ask? Do you know some protoss?”
“We’ve met some,” Imogen admits. “I wouldn’t exactly say we’re friends with any.”
“I hear that is the most you can say of any protoss,” Mira agrees. “Though supposedly Jimmy has met protoss and made friends as well. That is what I heard once from Matthew, anyway.”
This is news to Imogen, and she files it away for use later. “Has your Matthew met protoss?”
“You know, he has not mentioned it. I shall have to—Let me have that letter back. I will add a little PS. But do not read the PS, very important.” Imogen turns over the document, and Mira scribbles something on the bottom before returning it. Imogen slips the letter into the inner pocket of her jacket.
“We can carry two letters as easily as one,” Lilly points out.
“No no, the deal was for one letter. I do not wish to provide two rides.”
Mira tells Imogen that there are a few wrecked protoss ships scattered about the planet, but she is not really sure where. Technology dealers may have scavenged protoss tech as well. The planet is mainly covered in terran wrecks. As for the zerg, anything of theirs would have rotted away. She supposes there might be some bones around.
Mira says to meet back at the Cruiser in three days for their ride. She recommends a place Lilly and Imogen can stay for a few days that is reasonably priced and relatively secure. It is an old command center that has been converted into a hotel called the Commander’s Bunker. She parts ways with, “Do not let any of these drunks hassle you too much…. And do not read my letter.”