Lackhove is a bit curious - it is a sizable port, more active than the nearby Steiner worlds that send most of its business. I guess many merchants prefer the local tax level to those a jump away in Steiner space. Most Periphery merchantmen stop here, in the misplaced fear that the Steiner government would put a lien on their ships and dispossess them - or that some of them are fleeing debts and so on in Steiner or Kurita space - and don't trust either government.
Lackhove sports a nadir jump station, a couple orbital posts, all of which have seen better days, and a large but run-down starport that seems to be surrounded by a run-down district on one side and an ocean on three. I saw little else of the city other than a very few tall buildings in the distance. It was to the neighboring district that we were bound in local chill weather. P Bernadette was down for a brief trading stop. The Pride had been on its way out from Kooken's Pleasure Pit when they got the call for the charter. Charles Trudeau, the family's loading master, had bent my ear about the killing he hoped to make at this stop in soft-core products. He offered to show us some, but we declined. Jones, I believe, later went for a sample. I remember it making its rounds later in the trip.
Captain Trudeau, a son and grandson of his, and our party dressed in civs (though armed), embarked from Bernadette after we were cleared by the port authorities. After an hour's hike that seemed to have taken us through the same section of bazaar three times, though my sense of direction tells me it did not, we stopped outside an ill-kept offical-looking building that appears to have not been well-scrubbed in over 100 years. No ConstroMechs, I guess.
We were not invited in. Captain Trudeau came out after a brief meeting and told us we owed him a couple hundred Stars. I asked why, and he told us he had found out about our pirate friends: "They jumped out less than twenty-four hours before we jumped in. They had been here for some three weeks having a Leopard- class dropship repaired." The 200 Stars were a bribe. "It confirmed what by sons told me after they went around the port when we first touched down."
We marched through the chilling breeze occasionally punctuated by the roar of a lifting ship for another half hour. Jones kept stopping as we passed by booths, conferring with a list in his pocket. Apparently, he was shopping for the crew of Fall Safe - if not the entire Harrier's aerospace flotilla! Indeed, he slipped off entirely while we went into the next building.
This time, Captain Trudeau, his son, Flight Lieutenant Khruschev, and myself went into the inner office. This was perched on a small floor of offices over a warehouse. The secretary had her large boyfriend hanging about. Wondered how she was supposed to get any work done with him there.
The man we saw in the inner office was fairly stout and short, with kempt hair and a scraggly beard, both dark brown shot with gray, in tan robes. He spoke quietly to Captain Trudeau for few moments before turning to us. He smiled thinly. "Captain Trudeau tells me you are looking for a quiet way into the Beta Ionus system. I take it you are from the passenger the *Pride* is carrying? What a strange place for adventuring....But no matter. I can supply what you need. The price is 50 Stars. Cash, of course."
"Half now, half on acceptance," said Khruschev. The other fellow nodded once. He reached into his jacket and pulled forth a small lockbox. He dropped five 5K C-bill chips on the table. I was about to protest, but Khruschev touched my arm and looked at me. "When?"
"You have other specifications you wish included?"
"Yes," said Khruschev. He handed over a folded flimsy.
The man scanned the sheet, glanced once Khruschev, and once at Captain Trudeau. "Four hours. 'Til then, Captain Trudeau?"
Captain Trudeau nodded. "'Til then, Mr. Bellsen." Bellsen swept the chips in one hand, and shook ours each in turn in the other. Then we left.
Near the aerospace port entrance, Captain Trudeau left us for a couple other errands. He told Khruschev to meet him at the entrance in a couple hours to examine the data. Once alone, I asked Khruschev about the money.
"It's from Captain de Pantolli. He was given funds for this. We knew it would cost something like that. The Trudeaus will reimburse us for part of it. With the pirate point and some time observing the planets, they may be able to use it again. So they'll kick in 10K. Surely, sir, you don't think they'd just give info away?"
I shrugged. I had not known the sum would be that much, nor that we were carrying that much cash. I'd take it up de Pantolli later.
Hsui asked to be excused as he too had a list from several members of the ground force. I shrugged that off, too. No sense being harsh without purpose and the market seemed safe enough.
I, too, wandered through the bazaar for a couple hours. I pointed out to a gentleman selling milsim programs that his wares were clearly inferior remakes based on holos, not the Star League training materials he professed to be selling. I left when he became hostile.
I lunched on some local creature's fried haunch, which had a sweet tang, but was a bit stringy. The strange air tasted of the different sea somewhere beyond the spaceport. The bazaar covered several acres and included semi-permanent booths, built up ruins, and I noticed four different types of paving in different parts of the bazaar: flagstones, asphalt, cement, and gravel.
I managed to find a reasonable history of the Amaris campaign, refreshing only in its number of primary sources. It also in- cluded a small stellar atlas. A quick view of the index showed a mention of Butte Hold, so for that alone, it was worth the 12 Stars I paid for it.
At the appointed time, Hsui Zhiao returned with his arms full of packages. "Long list, Master Dysart. In two weeks, Miss Blake will be nineteen. Lt. Taylor-Wu wishes to throw her a party." I waved him back to the ship. Surely I'd survive the next hour without a bodyguard.
Captain Trudeau and his grandson returned a few minutes later and led me to a nearby dive of a bar, where Mr. Khruschev seemed to have spent his time. He seemed rather smug, and explained himself as having made a bit of spending cash from the outcomes of a number of taped bouts from the Solaris arenas - tapes shown on Somerset a few week earlier.
Upon returning to the office above the warehouse, Mr. Bellsen was waiting with a data cassette. Trudeau requested a terminal, which Bellsen wheeled out from the wall with a polite "of course." After a few minutes of viewing and comparing it to a set of notes, both Trudeau and Khruschev seemed satisfied with it, so Khruschev brought out the lockbox and handed over another five 5K chips. We left immediately after another round of handshakes.
Fortunately, by the time we returned to the ship, Hsui Zhiao had stowed all his spoils away somewhere. There was not THAT much room in our cabin.
We remained overnight on the ground, as Bernadette was waiting for a couple more shipments to trade places before lifting up in the morning. Lackhove is a rather pleasant .86 G, so staying the night was quite relaxing for me. Most pleasantly, they flushed the ships air system, and we piped in fresh, live smelling air.
Julienne, one of Bernadette's crew who spoke with me during many of the dinners aboard, complained that it was unpleasant after such a long period of zero-G (for her, several weeks) but admitted that it was a treat after our sprint at 1.6. I mentioned the fresh air, but she said she only noticed the odd new air replacing the familiar ship smell and the inevitable search for "new verm" - vermin, I suppose - after each stop.