A short time ago we witnessed a series of strange arrivals on Moab III: A pair of bounty hunters named Max Engel and Gobbrott and an enigmatic human named Gordon Frei who just might be the bounty. Barely a week has passed and yet another visitor arrives from foreign parts; this time aboard a cramped shuttle dispatched from a fast interplanetary cutter.
. . .
Dame Astrid Shaam (Royal Order of the Flowering Lamp) landed on Moab III just before midday in the capital city of Logansport. The weather was sweltering by then, made worse by her rather out of season clothing and the need to carry her grandson, Lord Ali Khan XIV, who simply refused to lie quietly in the absurd getup his mother had required for the introductory ball that afternoon. (Not that she could blame, him, really. But Astrid was increasingly certain his nappie was soiled. Ali's mother was otherwise occupied, there hadn't been any place to change him on the cramped shuttle, and he wouldn't let anyone other than daadi, granmother, carry him. So she walked across the tarmac at the closest thing to a dignified hurry ceremonial armor would allow.
. . . Only to be met at the gate by a harried looking shuttleport agent. Perhaps he worked in customs, but hadn't everything been pre-cleared when she'd boarded at Proserpine? What on earth could possibly be the matter?
"Dame Astrid, I presume?" the squeaky voiced official enquired. "I believe I have a message for you from a Lady January Rex-Avis."
"Indeed?" she asked genuinely taken aback. "What could be the matter?"
"Lady Rex-Avis wished you to know that a Gordon Frei is believed to be at large on the planet. And that he is pursued by at least one bounty hunter carrying an Imperial warrant for Frei's apprehension. Uh . . . Madame?"
At this the official hesitated briefly. "Yes?" Astrid prompted.
"The warrant wasn't terribly specific on how he should be arrested. Nor in what state he was desired by the Terran authorities."
"Oh dear. Thank you . . . "
"Nguyen. Inspector Amos Nguyen." The official replied. When he spoke it his name sounded almost like wing, but . . . not quite. Astrid weighed that in her head a moment before replying.
"Thank you Amos. Your information is most timely. If I might ask of you one favor?"
"Yes madame?" he said courteously.
"Please see to it that my shuttle is ready for departure as quickly as possible. I shall attend the function, meet Lady January, and then it seems I might need to leave here with some haste."
"Absolutely madame. We are ever at your service. I'll see to it immediately!"
Nguyen was clearly enthusiastic. Dame Astrid nodded at him and continued "In that case, I should get the young lord inside. I'm afraid he is in need of some refreshment and perhaps a change of attire."
With that Astrid calmly escaped towards the promise of cool in the modest terminal building, leaving the inspector to his work.
A few minutes later Inspector Nguyen returned to the tarmac accompanied by shuttleport security
and an orbital mechanic.
"Lieutenant Adams, could you see to it that your men keep a close eye on that shuttle over there? It's a diplomatic courier so I'd like to take extra precautions."
"Yes sir," the security officer replied calmly. "Consider it done."
"Very good. And Jenkins?"
"Yes sir?" the mechanic replied
"Could you get the ship inspected, fueled, and prepped for liftoff? I know we're jumping the queue a bit, but this is beginning to look like a sensitive mission."
"Sure. I'll get Johnson and we'll look it over right now. The only other shuttle that hasn't been inspected isn't scheduled to depart until early next week anyway," he said brightly, hefting his tank and preparing to walk back to the maintenance shed."
"Really?" said Amos a little quizzically. "And which shuttle is that?"
"Imperial pinnanace. Arrived last week. Our own lander is already serviced, and the alternate is docked with the scheduled liner. We're pretty much good to go."
"An imperial pinnance? Is there a cruiser in orbit? I haven't seen one, or heard about it."
"No sir. The pinnance came alone. She's registered to IMS Terror, which is a Horrible class battleship. Station ship on Mars, I believe. Long trip for such a light ship, but she's bigger than most Imperial light boats I've seen."
"Very interesting. Thank you."
With that Nguyen turned and walked back towards the safety of the terminal building.
The shuttle was parked in a spot between the terminal and the shop. Out of habit Jenkins looked it over as he walked past. He paused a moment when he noticed a small puddle of dark ooze forming below the port nacelle.
"Blast. Looks like they've got a hydraulic leak," he muttered to himself. He glanced up at the thruster and noticed the bead forming on the bottom of the cowling. When he reached the shop he logged onto his terminal and found the service bulletin he thought he'd remembered. The manufacturer was calling for inspections of the hydraulic lines to the propellant agitators. That had to be it. "Hey Johnson."
"Yeah Jenks?" Marguerite Johnson replied from behind a large stack of rather oily parts.
"If we have to pull an agitator from a L-440 do we have a spare? Or do you think you could fix one?"
"I've got some parts, but not a whole spare agitator. Depends on the damage, but I can probably fix it. Why?"
"Seems that hot shuttle that just came might have blown one. And it needs to take off double quick."
"I'll get on it."
. . .
Tune in next time for Episode II of the Sentinel Gate Affair: A Bounty on the Mutant