This wasn’t the first time Tio had been off-planet. However, the last time he’d come to space he’d been so young as to make it a non-event. He had only the barest memory of the starfields opening up before him, marking the vastness of space. Now, as he sat on the bridge with Destyn, he was awed again at the infinite void of space. To be sure, they were just at an He3 refueling station, one of thousands just like it, but it was still a marvel. Destyn had gone inside to haggle over some supplies for the journey ahead, but Tio was still largely unsure as to where they were going. Mars was very much martianongrata, but that left another seven planets and so many moons that they could end up at. Tio was pondering this as Destyn came in the doorway to the bridge, looking very pleased with himself. Tio said so.
“Damn straight. I’ve got us enough material to get us to Triton and back if we so desired. And at a steal, too.”
He took Tio’s place at the console, and brought up a local map of the Sol system. Each of the planets and the habitable moons were highlighted, with fine print running alongside them to help the untrained eye differentiate between, say, Io and Europa. Tio was very glad of this. He’d never been one to excel at exogeography.
“So,” Tio said, looking over the map. “Where is it that we’re heading?”
“That,” Destyn replied, “is a good question.” He gestured broadly at the map before them. “The system is ours to command. But,” he paused for a moment, looking to Tio, “I do have a lead.”
“A lead on what, exactly?”
“On G.C., and on the mob’s target.”
Tio frowned. “Who and where?”
“Some doctor on a station near Titan.”
“That’s the best we have? ‘Some doctor’”?
“Well, no, but that’s just what you asked.” Destyn grinned, continuing, “He’s on the Xanadu, one of the TriSigma stations in orbit around the moon. They do observation work there. Something about methane and cryovolcanoes, I don’t know.”
“So what does the mob want with him?”
“That’s where my info dries up, I’m afraid. My contact was in a bit of a rush, and that’s all I could squeeze out of them before they had to take off.”
“How well do you trust this contact?”
“Enough to have already set course for Titan.”
“How soon can we get there?”
Destyn turned to the console and typed a few strings of queries before turning back to Tio. “Eight hours, Martian.”
Titan grew, large and orange, on the viewscreen. They had made good time, and were closing in quickly on the Xanadu station in orbit above the Saturnine moon. Tio had seen pictures of it in textbooks, and through the astronomy lab’s telescopes, but they didn’t do justice to Titan. It gleamed in the dim sunlight, a vibrant spot in the darkness. The dense atmosphere shone brilliantly, and the gradient of yellows and oranges put Tio very much in mind of a peach. A massive, methane spewing peach, but a peach nonetheless. Destyn had been sleeping, but Tio couldn’t find a way to release the nervous energy that had been building inside him. There was also his shoulder. The wound was still fresh, and it left his arm stiff and aching. Destyn had good drugs, and they took the edge off, but they also clouded Tio’s mind, and he had started taking only half, then a quarter, of the recommended dosage of the analgesic. The pain was manageable, and it kept him sharp. At least, that’s what he kept telling himself.
The Xanadu was currently occupying his focus now though. It was a magnificent structure, that much was clear. It started at the top, if there could be a top out here in space, with a massive transparent steel dome. Tio swiped his hand over the viewscreen and the image zoomed in. Inside the dome there seemed to be a terrarium, given the number of trees he could make out. They were vividly green against the backdrop of the yellow Titan that reflected off the surface of the dome. The rest of the Xanadu seemed to be made of a repurposed Dreadnaught, given the stark angularity and general viciousness of the overall design. But where once would have been a massive array of various and sundry death-dealing weaponry, there were now several smaller domes affixed along the side. Each of them seemed to house the same greenery as the greater one on the top.But what all of that was doing on a decomissioned warship he couldn’t begin to imagine.
“How close are we?” Destyn asked, strolling onto the bridge. He scratched absentmindedly at his left armpit, yawning broadly.
“We’re on approach now.” Tio swiped at the viewscreen and a map appeared, superimposed over the image of the Xanadu. It showed their current trajectory and a small red timer in the bottom right corner counted down the time remaining. “It looks like we’ve got fifteen or so.”
Destyn patted Tio on the shoulder, producing a groan from the other man. “Oh, shit. I’m sorry.” Destyn patted the other shoulder, grinning with what he hoped was an apologetic air. “I figured you’d be dead to the world from that black market juice.”
“That ‘black market juice’ is the real deal, for sure.” Tio shrugged with his good shoulder. “I just can’t take the whole lot or I’d be no good, for either of us.”
“You should take better care of yourself. Have you even slept?”
“Arm hurts too much. But I’m fine.”
“Fine? When was the last time you got shut-eye? We’ve been on the move for a while now.”
“It’s been a very long day, let’s just leave it at that.”
“Whatever you say, chief, I’m not your mother.” Destyn swiped at the viewscreen and the map vanished, just leaving the Xanadu on screen. “That’s one hell of a station. Looks like it’d kill you just as soon as let you board, doesn’t it?”
“It’s one of those old Fourth War machines. Probably got it surplus from some government or other. Since the peace treaty there hasn’t been much call for things like that.”
“What’s in those domes? Trees?”
“Looks like it.”
“I wonder what kind of research they’re doing, needing all those plants.”
Tio half-shrugged again, then stood, stretching. “I’m going to make some coffee. You need anything?”
“Nah, I’m good. I took my pep pills. You want some?” He reached into one of the many pockets attached to his pants and pulled out a small amber bottle. “The way you’ve been carrying on, you should probably have something a bit stronger.”
Tio eyed the bottle warily, then shook his head. “No, thanks. No speed for me. Coffee will have to do until we get some place more civilized.”
“What’s more civilized than the Honeybadger?” Destyn sounded affronted.
“I can think of at least twenty moons.” Tio laughed, ducking as Destyn threw the pill bottle at his head. “Anyway, I’ll be in your tiny ass kitchen. Let me know if something comes up.”
Tio left, and Destyn was alone in the bridge. He sat heavily in the chair, watching the Xanadu as they came nearer and nearer to the docking bay. He leaned back, staring up at the ceiling. He had to give Tio credit. He was a decent co-pilot. Hadn’t seemed to have destroyed anything in his absence. To be fair, the bulk of the work was done by the auto-pilot, but still. Even Destyn himself managed to screw things up a fair bit of the time. The Honeybadger was home, but she could still act like a heap more often than not. As he was musing over the events of the last two days, an alarm sounded, startling him upright.
“The hell?” Destyn swiped at the console and a bright orange warning flashed across the viewscreen.
“TRESPASS WARNING!!!” it read in bold, flashing letters. “TURN BACK OR BE FIRED UPON!!! TRESPASS WARNING!!! YOU HAVE ONE MINUTE TO COMPLY!!!”
“Well ain’t that some shit,” Destyn muttered, punching in a halt command on the nav system before raising a hailing signal to the Xanadu. Almost instantly, a reply came, drowning out the alarm. It did not sound pleased.
“Callsign Honeybadger, you are in restricted space. You are to disengage your current route or be fired upon.”
“Hold it, hold it, hold it. What restricted space?”
“Due to circumstances currently on the Xanadu, we are restricting all coming and going of vessels. Be advised, you are to come no closer to the Xanadu.”
“What circumstances? Look, I-” he waved his hands around in the air, as if trying to pull something from the aether, “I’ve got a Solar Marshall! On board with me!”
“A Marshall already? We haven’t sent out any-”
“That’s right, a bona fide Solar Marshall, here to save the day.”
There was a hushed argument on the other end and Destyn waited with fingers crossed, hoping against hope. It was a bluff, a massive bluff, but one that could pay dividends. Where there was trouble, he had often found, there was money to be made. Suddenly, a command flashed up on his video feed.
Please enter Solar Marshall IDN for credentialing: _
The flashing cursor was an unwelcome sight, but it was nothing compared to the relief he felt when Tio tapped him on the shoulder. He almost didn’t punch him for startling him like that.
“Ow, the hell was that for?”
“Number one, don’t sneak up on me. Number two, I need your IDN.”
Tio paused a moment. “Why?”
“Because these idiots-”
“Hey!” came the reply from the audio monitor.
“Because these fine upstanding people need to make sure you’re on the up and up. So step up and do your thing.”
Tio eyed Destyn warily, taking a bite of his mustard sandwich. There hadn’t been much in the kitchen, and he’d had to make do. “But I’ve been let go. You know-Ow! Stop hitting me!”
“Ha ha!” Destyn made his best attempt at sounding jocular. “Let go, he says. For vacation. Isn’t that right, Tio?”
“What? Vacation? Ow! Yeah, right. Right. Vacation.” Tio rubbed his right arm, sure there was going to be a bruise starting, and stepped up to the console, where he input his IDN. “Sure hate to call it off so early, right? But duty calls.”
Tio and Destyn both held their breath, hoping against hope, and then the reply came across the screen: IDN Accepted. Welcome to Xanadu, Adjunct Solar Marshall Lenz Tio. Both their breath came out in a rush of relief. Destyn wiped a bite of sandwich off of the screen, then grabbed his microphone.
“Like I said, I’ve got a Solar Marshall here-”
“Adjunct Solar Marshall…”
“…Adjunct Solar Marshall here, so let us come on through, yeah?”
“Right, fine. Yeah. You’re clear. I’ll send a detail to the hangar to escort you when you arrive.”
“Thanks just so much,” Destyn replied, killing the comlink. “Bunch of assholes. They threatened to shoot at the Badger! No one shoots at my baby and gets away with it.”
“Well, it looks like whatever the hell you were doing paid off, so,” Tio took another bite of sandwich, “shall we?”
“Let’s.” Destyn re-entered the coordinates of the Xanadu into the NavCom and let the autopilot do the rest.