Many thanks to Bataav for his valuable input and written contributions to the Holoreel RP.
An ebook of all seven parts of this ficlet can be found here.
Dodixie IX – Moon 20 – Federation Navy Assembly Plant
Obsidian Dawn slid gently into Bay 8. The assault frigate’s glassy black hull reflected the interior of the Gallente station as it approached its berth, finally coming to rest above the pod gantry, which automatically commenced extraction of the ship’s large black egg-shaped capsule.
Suspended inside, Sakaane felt the slight jolt which accompanied the confirmation the pod was now connected securely to her station cabin’s catwalk and she could disconnect at her leisure. Squishing her toes through the pod’s goo one last time, she sent the command and waited to find herself among air and light once more.
Somehow, no matter how many times she’d done it, disconnection always felt like being flushed down a giant toilet. The worst part was the sudden sense of being small, of being limited to flesh and blood and bone. Mortal.
The pod split open and ejected her onto the steel landing with a splash of neuro-embryonic containment fluid. This drained away, leaving her wet, slimy and barefoot on the cold metal. The implants in her back tingled slightly as always; she resisted the urge to scratch and easily ascended the stairs to the balcony, peeling off her black podsuit as she went. Later, showered and dressed, she stood before the full-length mirror and decided today to leave her honey-blonde hair down, curling in soft waves around her face and shoulders. After all, she was on vacation.
A soft beep from a nearby panel indicated her personal affects were scheduled for transfer from her ship and the small crew had disembarked. They were free to enjoy themselves for the week; it was unlikely she’d hear from any of them before they turned up again for duty the following Monday.
She glanced from the panel to the main holodisplay. A welcome message flashed across it and reminded her of the convention taking place in three days’ time. She wiped the message and called up the station’s restaurant directory instead. It was just past 0700 and disconnection always gave her a hankering for real food. Time for breakfast.
An entry on the list made her pause. Deck 17 Bar ‘n’ Grill? What are the odds…? She grabbed her jacket and some minutes later stood before the doors to the Intaki establishment, oh so familiar yet completely out of place. Deck 17 offered a modest breakfast menu; she went in.
The interior of the bar was quiet and nearly empty save for an elderly man in the back corner sipping tea. She took in the familiar décor: the polished mahogany bar with its racks of liquor behind, the subdued lighting, the wooden tables and plush chairs. Most prominent was one wall bearing a time-delayed feed of Intaki Prime; the sun was just breaking over her homeworld’s horizon.
Suddenly, a familiar voice called out, “Kainta! My dear, it’s been years!”
A wide grin spread over Sakaane’s face as she turned to see the bartender approaching her from the kitchen. His long hair had turned completely silver since the last time she’d seen him but was still, as always, tied at the nape of his neck with a leather thong. “Njal, it is you! But what are you doing here in Dodixie?”
He swept Sakaane into a hug and planted a kiss on her cheek, the skin around his blue eyes crinkling from his own grin. “Moved the bar about a year after you graduated. It was time for a change of scenery, and the economy is better here in Dod. But you! Look at you.” He stood back and appraised her. “Quite a bit different than the cadet I knew, fresh-faced and chasing after adventure in the navy! What have you been up to? What brings you to Dodixie?”
“Still chasing after adventure. I think in my last letter I mentioned I signed up with ILF?” Njal nodded and gestured to the barstool she’d always habitually occupied years before in Duripant, and she sat down. “At the moment I’m on vacation—here for the conference.”
Njal stepped behind the bar and started mixing what he knew was her favorite drink, finally producing a tall glass with brightly-colored layers of juice which fizzed quietly. “A few days early, isn’t it?”
She sipped and nodded. “I just got in a little while ago. Settling in today, see who else has turned up already, though I expect the big influx of pilots hasn’t quite started yet. Bataav will be in late tomorrow night; I’ll be meeting up with him down on planet six.”
Njal wiggled his eyebrows at her. “Oh, I see…! Anyone I should know?”
She shook her head and smiled at his teasing. Though she and Njal had kept in touch over the last few years, they’d both been busy and their messages had been little more than snippets of text. He was just starting to look his age now, with fine wrinkles showing more deeply and age spots appearing on his hands. It was then she realized how much she’d missed his father-like humor and company, and, yes, even his occasional teasing.
Ignoring his animated face, she went on, “We’re taking a few days to tour. There’s a city down there supposedly done up like some place on the old Earth, painstakingly recreated from scraps of historical information scattered throughout New Eden records. It’s in the far north, so I’ll see some snow. And I guess last year a volcano erupted nearby? Should be neat to visit.”
“Very nice,” Njal said, and then winked at her. “Let me get you some breakfast, on the house. It’s great to see you again.”
Shortly thereafter he brought her the meal, and after they’d caught up some more she bid him goodbye with a promise to keep more closely in touch, as well as to refer everyone she knew to the bar. With an eye on the time she dropped by her quarters to pick up her bag and then made her way to the public docks, queuing up with other travelers also heading down to Dodixie VI.
The shuttle undocked and sped away from the station. Her seat had a window; she distracted herself by gazing out at the planet as they approached.
The shuttle angled down through the atmosphere, heading for an island in the northern hemisphere. From high overhead through broken clouds the island was a great expanse of white crisscrossed with jagged mountains which showed black where they had no snow. Along the southern shore a gaping pore stared up at the sky; this, she knew, was the caldera of the volcano. Sunlight gleamed across glaciers and she felt a shiver.
An ice land indeed, she thought, fascinated. Having grown up on Intaki, and since then spent the majority of her time in space, Sakaane had never really seen snow and had very little idea of what it would be like.
The spaceport was some distance from the island’s central city. On the ground the land was more hospitable than she expected, though it was snowing gently. She stood outside in the cool breeze and tilted her face to the sky, reveling in the sensation as each snowflake landed on her skin and melted.
A bus took her and the other shuttle passengers away from the port into the city. Sakaane stared out the window, her eyes scanning the landscape hungrily. Regardless of where she looked, there were no trees or other large plants anywhere, save for a few scrubby bushes here and there on the lee of piles of lava rock. The lava fields were blanketed with snow which contrasted sharply against the black rocks, and as the sun peeked out between the clouds she could see colorful moss hugging the rocks’ jagged contours. Out the window on the opposite side of the bus was the grey ocean and a stormy horizon.
A half hour later the city itself came into view. Here there were trees in ever-increasing quantity, tall pines and deciduous with their naked limbs clawing at the air. She caught a glimpse of a sign proclaiming WELCOME TO REYKJAVIK with a great deal more text below, likely describing the historical nature of the city, but it whizzed by too quickly for her to read.
Finally, the bus dropped her at the hotel. She checked in and went up to her room, and then stood for several moments at the window admiring the view.
The local time was near midday and she suddenly felt the lag of travel. A nap, and then dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, and soon enough it was time for bed.
The next morning after breakfast, Sakaane decided to take a tour of the city. Bataav was not due to arrive until late that evening so she busied herself by walking the streets of Reykjavik and taking in the sights.
When the sun finally set, Sakaane hurried back to her hotel to reconfirm the location of Bataav’s, scribbled the directions on a scrap of paper, and headed out.
The slightest nervous tremor lanced through her as she walked the city’s dark streets. Although they were in different divisions, they often flew together and had spent many hours in conversation since she’d joined ILF eight months before. Yet she’d never actually met the Karna Pasha in person. She had a great deal of respect and admiration for Bataav and considered the quiet, well-spoken diplomat a close, trusted friend. Even so, she wondered if he would be any different in person. How much of their friendship was tied up in the cool and impersonal façade of pod communication relays? Did people change after disconnecting?
As she neared his hotel, excitement grew and eclipsed the nervous tremor. The lobby was warm and inviting after the chill night air. The desk clerk greeted her; she replied in kind and indicated she was just going to wait for someone who was coming in from the spaceport.
Sakaane chose a plush chair with a view of the hotel’s courtyard and gazed out into the night, waiting for Bataav to appear.
21 March YC113
200km Below Dodixie IX – Moon 20 – Federation Navy Assembly Plant
Aunia’s Grace slipped silently from the undock and slowly began aligning toward the gate, the Iteron Mark IV-class vessel starting its journey to some unknown destination. It was followed by the Atron frigate Sprite quickly warping into the void away from any marked celestial, clearly on an errand for one of the agents that regularly employed capsuleers looking for ISK or good favor.
Other craft came and went, all watched by the quiet ship below the station.
After a short time the Guuhpala turned and approached the station, requesting permission to dock as it approached. Access was granted and, unnoticed by other ships, a small ripple of space revealed the Nemesis moments before it entered the station and moved to its berth.
It wasn’t long before Bataav was rising to his feet from his knees, his spinal plugs almost numb from the quick withdrawal of the cables that linked him to his ship. Collecting a towel and heading up the steps to the walkway that led to the quarters he’d been assigned he considered for a moment how much he disliked being spat out of his capsule onto the cold metal like that. Technologically advanced though they were, the Jove clearly had little time for a dignified entrance.
Less than an hour later the notion was forgotten. Having collected his effects and confirmed all was well with his ship and crew, Bataav made his way through the station to the commercial shuttles that would take him to the surface.
He smiled to himself as he passed others along the way. It seemed easy enough to spot those who were attending the conference and more than once he made brief eye contact, as they clearly thought the same of him. In the waiting room for the shuttle he overheard the conversations of those introducing themselves and enquiring about each other. He was looking forward to the next few days, especially being able to meet fellow ILF pilot Sakaane face to face at last.
The shuttle trip itself was uneventful and Bataav divided his time between the anticipation of meeting Sakaane and trying to glean some useful intel from his fellow passengers. Some of them were actually from groups with less than favorable standings with ILF. Clearly they didn’t realize who was on board or they didn’t care. Either way, he eventually gave up; it seemed he would learn little of any value and so waited patiently to arrive at his destination.
His journey came to an end as he stepped from a surface transport and collected his luggage from the hold. The small group of passengers made their way into the hotel lobby.
Spotting a lone figure sitting in the lounge area Bataav turned and made eye contact, a smile crossing his face. The pilot returned his gaze. He looked at the other passengers at reception all trying to check in at the same time and realized it would be a few minutes before he would have his keys and so took the opportunity to have his first face to face conversation with her at last. He moved closer and said hello, asking how she was and hoping she’d not been waiting too long for him.
Instantly comfortable with each other’s company despite having never actually met, Bataav and Sakaane dropped his luggage in his room and made their way back into the street, walking into the night in search of food while chatting about their trips, the conference to come, and their next few days together.
Next in this series: Holoreel Convention – Part 2