Jaques Station Noir
This is a fiction post, the second episode in the Librarian Conspiracy. Kestrel, an investigator from the Imperial Flight Operations Bureau, has been sent to Colonia to investigate a strange secret society made of people who seem to be collecting strange objects from a forgotten era : books.
Emma Patton was looking at the ships slipping in and out of Jaques Station in silence. Most of them were liners - Orcas, Belugas, a few Dolphins - and they call came from the Bubble. For the vast majority of them Jaques Station was the final stop, the terminus, the end of the journey, the last bastion of civilization before the great void. The passengers in these ships came to Colonia just to see Jaques Station, hear about its strange story, and come back. A 22,000 lightyears journey costing several dozen million credits just to see the last outpost before the neverending swathes of uncharted stars. The vast majority of them didn't care for Colonia at large. Why would they? What was Colonia compared to the Bubble? 9 million inhabitants, short of 75 inhabited systems, a speck of dust compared to the Bubble and its thousand systems. Barely an outpost, really. For Emma, Colonia had been nothing more than that at the beginning. She had embarked on a ship going for Colonia not because she had any interest for deep space travels but simply because she had to make some room between her and federal authorities, and 22,000 lightyears seemed more than sufficient. Then she had armed up to Colonia. It was a small place, almost cramped, sure, but it also felt more human in a way. The Bubble was mind-blowingly huge, with some of its planets housing dozens of billions of people. It was a place of sprawling fleets crossing endless systems, of metropolises so huge one could easily forget there had once been a pristine planet underneath, and rulers whose schemes were so grand the regular folk couldn't even begin to grasp their consequences on their daily lives. Colonia was less orderly. It didn't have any great powers, just factions vying for the control of a few dozen of star systems. There were skirmishes, cutthroat diplomacy, betrayals and alliances, black markets and conspiracies, but it was understandable. It all worked at a scale the human mind could comprehend. Soon after her arrival Emma had found her place in Colonia. In her former life in the Bubble she had been part-bounty hunter, part-smuggler, a strange double life that had allowed her to see both side of the curtain. In Colonia she worked for the Colonia Citizens Network, the faction controlling the Tir and Centralis systems. Sometimes she would fight in the rings of gas giants against Colonia's scum and villainy, sometimes she would trade between stations, sometimes she would work as copilot on exploration ships looking for mining sites...it was a simple life, far from the golden hallways and gleaming stations of the Bubble, but it was a good one.
For once Emma's presence at Jaques Station had nothing to do with her line of work. It was a common joke in Colonia that there were two kinds of pilots stopping at Jaques : liners and the pilots shooting down liners. The station's shipyard was - and by far - Colonia's best outfitted venture and it was the go-to place for anyone wanting to convert their ship back into a killing machine after the long journey in the void. But Emma's current ship, an unassuming Python named "Myth and Moth", wasn't there to recieve a shiny new laser beam or a shield. It was there for something much more important.
Emma Patton had a book to return to Jaques Station's semi-legal library.
Jaques' refitted Orbis station had a pretty strange layout which had mostly been caused by the cyborg bartender's attempt at turning it into an FSD-capable ship. Installing the massive drive inside the station had spawned a sprawling mess of tubes, access corridors and hallways alongside what was supposed to house the main fusion reactor in a regular Orbis station. Compared to what could sometimes be seen in Bubble stations, these hallways weren't a home for slums and illegal activities. Quite the contrary, in fact. Jaques had always made a point of keeping his station nice and orderly, and even the underbelly of Jaques' Station was a rather pleasant place. Beneath the last level of docking bays and shipyard facilities, one could find small shops, inhabited areas, condominiums and hydroponic gardens teeming with life and activity under the mostly efficient surveillance of the station's security drones. In fact Jaques' underbelly was probably one of the safest places for newly arrived pilots and passengers in Colonia. It gave an interesting snapshot of Colonia's vibrant life, freed from the shackles of the Bubble's governments, yet was safe enough to come in relatively uninformed. Emma wandered around the main hallway for a while, bought a few snacks (Jaques' famous sugary snacks!) and walked towards the library, which was nested right below one of the main hangar bays.
She was passing by a deactivated hallway when she noticed something was off. The usual humming noise of the old security drone near the library was nowhere to be heard. For a moment Emma assumed that the ancient thing had finaly died out until she found the drone lying on the ground by an access shaft, its camera and CPU unit cleanly cut off. The pilot slowly leaned towards the shaft that went towards a dark, damp alleyway. The library at Jaques was a haven for half-legal documents and books, and while Jaques himself was tolerating its continued existence, it wasn't necessarily the case for other Colonia powers. It would have been easy to sabotage the library. Books - contrary to digital memory sticks - burnt very, very easily. And this was especially true in a space station's warm and dry atmosphere.
Then she saw them. A man in a worn-out Remlok suit, lying on the ground, his leg at a strange angle. And another person, standing above him, ready to give him the coup-de-grâce with a combat knife. Emma felt her heart skipping a beat, then something cold coming up her spine. The unassuming pilot snapped in an instant, finding back some of her old reflexes from the dangerous stations of the Bubble. She reached for the stun gun she always carried with her and aimed it at the agressor. The gun buzzed as she unlocked the safety.
"Hey! Get off him!"
The person with the knife turned around in a swift gesture that Emma immediately identified as a soldier's typical reaction. She pulled the trigger. A metallic dart left the stun gun and pierced the damp air of the hallway. Emma's aim, perfected in the Bubble's crime-ridden stations, was perfect. The dart hit the agressor right in the chest, yet nothing happened. They reached for their own gun - this one wasn't a non-lethal weapon. The pilot immediately understood what had just happened. They're wearing some kind of bulletproof vest, she thought. No, not a bulletproof vest. She couldn't see the characteristic bulge of such an equipment under the agressor's shirt. It was more likely to be some kind of lighter protection, probably a reinforced skin cover. Something that her gun could pierce. Before the agressor had the time to fire, Emma pushed the fire mode switch of her gun and pulled the trigger again.
This time she felt a noticeable recoil in her wrist and a full-powered dart screamed towards the agressor. This time it pierced their protective equipment with ease, and the agressor collapsed on the ground.
Emma lowered her gun, ready to fire again in case the agressor would start moving again.
"WARNING : THIS SETTING MAY CAUSE PERMANENT INJURIES OR DEATH WHEN USED AGAINST UNPROTECTED TARGETS" blinked the side display of her stun gun.
"Yeah." she sighed. "A bit too late for that warning, don't you think?"
Kestrel blinked. His leg hurt like hell. It was probably broken. No, he thought as he glanced at the medical drone that hovered above him, it was absolutely broken. He was badly bruised, but the pain was started to recede under the effects of painkillers and medi-gel. It took him a good minute to realize that he wasn't at the local hospital or at a security station, but in what looked like some kind of private appartment with strange ornaments on the walls. There was a woman leaning over him. Middle-aged, dressed like a pilot, her eyes the color of a dwarf star.
"Hello..." she said as she showed him his Imperial Flight Operations Bureau ID. "I have two questions for you : what does an imperial investigator do in Colonia and why is he getting beaten up by local thugs?"
"Local thug?" Kestrel remembered how effortlessly his agressor had disarmed and neutralized him. "That's what you call a local thug?"
"Well, yes...local thug doesn't mean harmless. This guy was a Likedeeler. A local faction of pirates and drunkards, who have some bounty hunters in their ranks. Unless he has something against 40-something hard-boiled detectives with a look that's about two decades old, it means you've got a beautiful bounty on your head."
"What did you do to this guy?"
"I stunned him. Station security grabbed him later, I think. He's not going to come back."
"And you didn't bring me to station sec because ?"
"You've got a bounty on your head, inspector. You're in Colonia. This is the Wild West, out there."
"Never mind. Point is, station sec isn't going to help if Likedeeler wants to cash in on the bounty on your head, which might be pretty hefty if you're a imperial officer."
"And I should trust you?"
"Look, if I wanted to collect the cash that's attached to your pretty face, I would have done it before tending to your leg. I work for the Colonia Citizens Network. We're not exactly friends with Likedeeler, to say the least. Plus, I'm intrigued. I've taken the liberty to, erm, look a bit in your PDA's files."
"You spied on an Imperial officer?"
"Look, Aisling Duval might have long arms, she's 22,000 lightyears away."
"She's not even the emperor, what's with you people and your obsession with Aisl..."
"Shhh. So you're after people who trade and store books?" Emma glanced at the bookshelves of the library, bathed in the reddish lights of the station.
"Original paperback books, mostly from Sol. Let's see, where did we put this one again..." Emma reached a book stored in one of the shelves. "This one's a classic. Dashiell Hammet's The Maltese Falcon. It's more than a thousand years old, but it's got a detective in it who would not look out of place in the Imperial Flight Regulations Bureau, judging from your look."
"More than...are all these books that old?"
"Most of them, yes. Nano-preservation techniques work wonders for printed books. The vast majority of these paperbacks are between a thousand and seven hundred years old. Have you ever read a story written in a book, Kestrel?"
"No. I don't think I've ever done that."
"You should. In any case, the weirdos who hoard books and store them in strange places? You've found them. Congratulationsl."
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