“How did you do that?” I asked Luxea, and she chuckled.
“I've dealt with his species before.” Luxea said. “Exaggerating compliments and body movements distract them.”
“That doesn't explain how you made him admit to stripping the ship.” I said.
“They tell you things they don't normally admit when they are distracted. Once he said it out loud, he had to adjust the storage fees.”
“Don't worry, you've got plenty of credits.” Luxea said. “You barely spent any during this trip.”
“I brought a chip reader and spare chips so we can put what you need for the fees onto another chip and then we can just hand it over.” Luxea said. “No more haggling needed or waiting for the transfer to go through.”
I didn't say anything in response, and when we were about to step through the guard area, she stopped.
“You're thinking hard about something.” Luxea said.
“I'm wondering how the chip readers can do that.” I said. “Is it just electronic? Do the chips have a charge in them or just a number? Can they be altered or changed without damaging the credits supposedly on them?”
“Ullir, what brought that on?” Luxea asked.
I thought about not answering, then sighed. “There were two unmarked credit chips in my possession when The Order killed my parents and kidnapped me. I only got them back just before leaving Ulathall, so I don't know if they are fake, have the actual totals that they should have, or if the tracking devices hidden inside by The Order erased them.”
Luxea stared at me for several moments before she spoke. “You've been struggling with this on your own for how long?”
“I found the tracking devices a couple of days after we left The Order's home planet.”
“By the Goddess.” Luxea said and stepped close to me, then rested her head against my chest. “Ullir, I'm so sorry.”
“You've had The Order take so much from you, and then you discover that they might have robbed you of your inheritance.” Luxea said and stepped back to look up at me. “If I had known then, I would have...”
“No, I don't think you would.” I said, and she raised her eyebrows at me. “You're looking back at the situation with the knowledge of all the things that have happened since.”
“At the time, we had barely met and then we had our private time in your sleeping compartment.” I said, and she sighed. “Yeah, you had enough of me then and it took you a while before you started to treat me normally.”
“I'm sorry for that, too.” Luxea said. “I just... what we did then... I couldn't...”
“It's okay.” I said. “You were right. I shouldn't do things like that with anyone else.”
Luxea caught her breath. “Uhazith.” She whispered and put both of her hands on my chest. One of them landed on the circle of scars around my heart. “Is that why you reacted like that when she...”
“We were together for a week and we shared Presence the entire time.” I said. “She felt like a part of me, and when she was murdered, I couldn't keep that part of me contained.”
Luxea rubbed the scars for a moment, then she let her hands drop. “I can give you a quick lesson on the chip reader's use while Donny's checking the ship.” She said in a serious voice. “When we go back to the ship to get your things, we can find out together if those chips they gave you are fake or not.”
“Thank you, Luxea.” I said, sincerely.
Luxea nodded slightly and we went through the empty guard area and out into the hanger. We picked up the proper container and walked up the ramp to the shuttle, then she hit the button to retract the ramp and secured the hatch. She walked over to Donny and told him what was in the shipping crate, then went to Rhubin and told him where the ship was. We were up and out of the hanger bay in less than a minute. It was a surprisingly short trip to go from the station to the polar region of the super gas giant planet. When we got there, the ship was the only thing there. No maintenance bots, no temporary space dock, nothing.
“I'd seriously want to argue the administration fees.” Rhubin said as he brought the shuttle around and hit several buttons. “I'm not getting a response from the onboard computer to initiate the docking procedure.”
“It's been out here for twelve years.” I said. “I doubt anything's been responding in all that time.”
“The air scrubbers will need to be purged at the very least.” Luxea said. “Rhubin, how many space suits do you have on the shuttle?”
“I always carry six spares, just in case.” Rhubin said. “All checked regularly and maintained.”
“Good man.” Luxea said and pat his shoulder as she passed him and went to the proper compartment. “We need to borrow two of them.”
“I just topped off their air; but, you need to check them anyway.” Rhubin said.
“I always do.” Luxea said and did a quick suit check and handed it to me. I took it and got dressed as she checked the second suit.
“I'm buttoning up.” Rhubin said as he slipped on his helmet, then he hit a button. A thick bulkhead slid up between the cockpit and the rest of the ship. “Okay, I'm depressurized and in my own suit.” He said over the dedicated suit communication system.
“Donny, it's time for work.” Luxea said as she slipped on the helmet and it clicked into place.
“I gotcha.” Donny said and put on his own helmet and gave Luxea's suit a quick once-over and double checked her helmet seal. He tapped the top of her helmet and she turned and checked his suit, then they both did mine.
“Depressurize.” Luxea said and I heard the distinct sound of sucking air for a few seconds.
“You're clear.” Rhubin said.
Luxea opened the shuttle hatch and I was surprised that it led to completely open space and not to the ship we were supposed to board. “Relax, Ullir.” She said and touched my arm. “The ship is below us.”
“It doesn't have a main dock for the shuttle to fit in, so the shuttle needs to land on top of it.”
“Then how would we get from here to there without going outside the ship?” I asked. “Besides having to do it now, I mean.”
Donny laughed. “There's personnel docking hatches on the tops of all standard starships.” He said. “Before you ask, all shuttles have one on their bellies.”
“Oh.” I said. “That makes sense.”
“Yeah, except it's not working.” Luxea said. “I just hope the reactor is in low power mode and not extinguished.” She said, concern in her voice as she used a handhold to swing out into the blackness in front of us.
“What would that mean?” I asked.
“The difference between quick repairs and a complete overhaul.” Luxea said. “Are you ready for this?”
“No risk, no reward.” I said.
Donny chuckled. “That's my philosophy.” He said and hopped out through the hatch with the shipping crate in one hand, grabbed the edge of the shuttle with the other, then pulled himself down and out of sight. “Weee!”
“Well, at least his request to have fun while on the run with me came true.” I said, and everyone laughed. I could barely feel any external Presence at all as I stepped out into the blackness, and Luxea pointed down. Donny was only about twenty feet away below us and stood on the ship's hull. My eyes widened in surprise as my Detect Presence technique showed me that the super gas giant below the ship had almost no Presence within it, unlike every other planet I've ever seen.
That made me recall the stories I had heard as a child, about how the first gods had created the planets from themselves, and this one was... well, either the Presence had been siphoned off or this was one of the last planets this god had created. I did what Donny did and pulled myself down and let the shuttle go. As I drifted down, Donny caught my foot and guided me the rest of the way, then stood me on the ship's hull. I felt two distinct clicks as my feet touched the skin of the ship.
“Walk slow. Heel to toe. One foot at a time.” Donny warned me. “The main hatch is over there.”
“I'd attach a guide wire to help you; but, I'm going over that way.” Donny said and pointed to the front of the ship. “See you later!” He said and walked like a duck as he moved away.
I held in my laugh and felt Luxea come down beside me. I put a hand out to catch her, and she took it and pulled herself down to touch her feet to the hull. We walked over to the side of the ship and I felt a little nervous as we approached the edge.
“It's all right.” Luxea said and took my hand. “Just walk and keep your eyes on the hull.”
“Just do what I do.” Luxea said and when we reached the edge, she let my hand go and lifted a foot as she took a step and started to fall forward. I was about to holler that Donny said not to do that, then she pivoted on her other foot and the first foot touched the side of the ship.
“Okay, that was neat.” I said, and she chuckled as she pulled her second foot over the edge to join the first.
“Your turn.” Luxea said and grinned at me. “I'm right here if you need me to catch you.”
“Now I'm tempted to jump and make you catch me.” I said and she laughed. I stepped forward and copied her movements exactly, taking into account my larger size and longer legs, and I ended up standing right next to her.
“Great job!” Luxea said and pat my arm. “You didn't even hesitate.”
“The main hatch is right there.” Luxea said and pointed to a large round ring on the side of the ship.
“Do I have to take out the passkey?” I asked.
“By the Goddess, no.” Luxea said. “Do you know how easy it would be to lose them if you needed to use them outside of a space suit?”
“No.” I said, and she laughed again.
“You just need to have it on you when we approach the hatch.” Luxea said. “Even if the reactor isn't working, the backup power always has enough to recognize the command key.”
“What about the hatch?”
“We'll probably have to use the manual release to open it.” Luxea said.
I followed her over to the large ring and she stopped before she stepped over it. She motioned for me to keep going, so I stepped over the ring. When my foot touched the hatch, nothing happened.
“Dammit.” Luxea said. “I think even the backup power might be down.”
“Hey, don't be like this.” I said and knelt on the hatch. “Welcome me back, Udelis.”
As soon as I said the name, the ship reacted. External lights turned on, one by one, and lit up the surrounding area and the shuttle. The hatch vibrated below me and I was surprised when it started to cycle open.
“This is great!” Luxea said as she grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the way of the opening hatch, then she stepped into the opening and dragged me inside. She oriented us to stand on the floor and hit the close hatch button. “It means the reactor is still fully functioning!”
The hatch cycled closed and the compartment pressurized in an instant as it filled with breathable air and the artificial gravity turned on.
“Wow.” Luxea said as the inside hatch opened and everything started to light up. “Your parents didn't scrimp on anything, did they?”
“Scrimp?” I asked.
“Bought the cheapest working version instead of the best.” Luxea said.
“Well, they were raising a family here.” I said. “Would you scrimp on anything with a child's life on the line?”
Luxea looked at me for several moments, then her hand touched my chest. “No, I guess I wouldn't.”
“So... purging the air filters.” I said. “How do we do that?”
“From the cockpit.” Luxea said and walked down the hallway.
I followed her, and everything looked so small. Of course, I was only a child the last time I saw it and everything looked huge then. I was about four feet taller and twelve years older now.
“This is a luxury yacht.” Luxea said in surprise as she looked at all the warm colors and plush surfaces. “Living here would be like being on vacation all the time.”
“It wasn't a vacation. We were running from The Order for years.” I said, and she caught her breath.
“Ullir, that... that's not what I meant.” Luxea said, and I could hear the sorrow in her voice.
“I know what you meant.” I said.
Luxea didn't say anything else until we came to the cockpit. “By the Goddess.” She whispered as she saw the high end consoles there. She glanced at me for only a second, then sat down on one of the two chairs. She started to check everything over and brought different things online. “The air scrubbers are purged and the air purifiers are running at a hundred percent. We'll have fresh air in a couple of minutes.”
There was a light thump sound and then a whoosh sound. I looked up and saw that the shuttle had touched down on the top of the ship and a small umbilical had lifted up from Udelis.
“The shuttle's docked.” Luxea said. “Good seal.”
“I know.” I said and turned to face the hallway. “Here comes Rhubin.”
“What?” Luxea looked up from the console. “How do you know that?”
“Can't you hear his laugh?” I asked and tapped the side of my helmet.
“Haha hahaha!” Rhubin laughed over the suit com as he walked up the hallway towards the cockpit. “Look at this place! Hahaha!”
“Yeah, I hear him now.” Luxea chuckled and turned to look at him herself.
“Ullir, you lucky dog!” Rhubin said. “They would have stripped this thing years ago if they knew what was inside!”
“They tried to strip the outside.” I said. “Luckily, the only thing they could get that way was the communication array and some of the gravity sensors.”
“The system check confirms that.” Luxea said. “They took the gravity sensors about ten years ago and the communications array three years ago. That's when the logs stopped registering them, anyway.”
“What's it going to take to replace the gravity sensors?” I asked.
“A trip back to the long haul transport.” Luxea said and smiled. “We've got hundreds of spares.”
“They cover the ship, so we need that many for basic maintenance and rotating the reserves.” Luxea said. “I'll replace them at the next stop.”
“They're cheap and easy to get if you use the regular shipping lanes.” Luxea said, and I understood.
“You've got a great ship.” Luxea said. “I'd tell you to buy a replacement for the cheap communications array as soon as you can, but...”
“Yeah, I saw how happy you were when the port master gave you the revised price.” I said.
“Outside of a shipyard, you won't have much luck finding one.” Luxea said. “That's why they usually come with the ship when they're built.”
“So, even ordering one won't work.” I said, and she shook her head. “Will the cheap one be okay?”
“Considering the advanced communications protocols this ship has, it will work.” Luxea said. “Just don't be surprised when you try to make long ranged calls and the quality is really bad.”
“I guess I'll have to make do.” I said.
“Do you want us to give you a hand checking the rest of the ship?” Rhubin asked. “Three sets of hands should make it go faster.”
“Once we get the air quality up.” I said, and a beep came from the console.
Luxea looked at it and nodded. “Okay, we've got fresh air.”
“I'll be the first to sacrifice my nostrils.” I said to make them laugh and unhooked my helmet. I lifted it off of my head and took a breath in through my nose. “Yeah, just as I thought. Week old dirty socks.”
“What?” Luxea popped the seal on her helmet and took a small breath. “Dammit, there must be a contaminant in one of the filters.” She said and sealed her helmet again. “Helmets stay on.”
I put mine back on and she brought up the ship schematic after turning off the air filtration system.
“Okay, here's the filter locations.” Luxea said and pointed to them. “They're behind easy access panels for quick removal and replacement.”
“Do I have any replacements?” I asked.
“They're stored right below the access panels.” Luxea said. “Let's go.”
It took about ten minutes for us to find the source of the smell. Two of the filters had some kind of fungus growing on them. I expressed concern over it, and Luxea assured me that it was common for things to get caught in the filters, since that was what they were for. I asked her to take one back for Evelyn to check, just in case, and she agreed. We switched out the old filters, after cleaning the holders and disinfecting everything around it, then closed everything up.
Luxea went back to the cockpit to start the air filtration system again, then we all went up through the personnel access hatch in the middle of the ship and into the shuttle. Rhubin had no problems with the ship's undocking procedure and we told Donny we would be back soon.
“I'll have this stupid thing attached by then.” Donny assured us, and then Rhubin flew us back over to the long haul transport. Luxea was going to get the replacement parts and I needed to pick up the rest of my things.