If there is one universal constant it is Navy crewmen at berth. Man and woman alike disembark with the sole intention of satisfying the three basic Fs of survival.
Feeding, fighting and fu-
Icaria in her docking cradle was a ghost ship, bereft of the life that filled her bulkheads when she was underway. It was empty of the decade-long hubbub of noise and industry that had echoed within its decks. The silence was almost physical, filling the entire vessel like a rancid miasma that settled in every cabin, compartment, and room.
After ten minutes of this, Admiral Konstantin leapt to his feet, straightened his uniform and strode out. It had been a definite mistake to return to the ship. He walked, definitely did not run, down the gangway and onto the busy dock. Sailors with Icaria’s patches made way for him as if he had his own personal shields projected ahead of him.
The nature of command was ever to be a distant figure, but at least the ambient noises made him feel less alone.
The realisation was sobering.
After ten years on a cramped warship and now on a station where a mass of humanity teemed and coalesced, would any human ever be comfortable alone? Mankind would never see a horizon anymore, would live a life of bulkheads and hulls, and would forever know as fact that there was no mystery beyond the exterior panels.
Only the vacuum and death.
The Hedone dens and the dives that Kharon Corp provided on the berths were a stark contrast to his maudlin thoughts. Life. Lively. Every one of them was packed with crew, his and others, all seeking the thrill of affirming their liveliness in as debauched a manner as possible.
And worse, they were still owed backpay by a government that no longer existed.
Konstantin had never in his life regretted his appointment as Admiral until today. A less moral man might sell his ship, pocket the credits and live out a life of unfettered luxury on Hades. A less moral man would feel no remorse at leaving what remained of his people behind.
But Admiral Konstantin had spent ten years nourishing the spark of hope in his crew and had no intention of snuffing that spark if he could help it.
Besides, he reasoned, if this tenuous civilisation collapsed it would be better to be the man who owned a ship and weapons than the man who didn’t.
Which meant he needed information and allies.
He knew just where to start.
“Skoutelovariskos!” Konstantin said, grinning.
Gonna knock your forehead!
“Ki ego ‘ntisteko ‘mesos!” Sten replied.
And I promptly resist!
They each raised their glass to the height of their foreheads and clinked them together. It went down like tar and settled in their stomachs like a brick. There was a moment of wheezing as both tried to appear unaffected by the drink and failed miserably.
“So, Sten, you’re a berth rep.”
“Well, yes, but that’s only because I thought I was signing up to be a midwife! Hah! No? Hmm, that one usually gets a chuckle at least.”
“My point is, you’ve been on Hades a while?”
“Oh yes. Parents shipped here way back looking for a better life and settled for a different life instead. Pretty much what most people coming here end up doing.”
Konstantin found the sentiment hard to dispute and instead filled the silence by querying the bar for the menu.
“Hey, why are the alcoholic drinks greyed out?”
“There’s shortages at the moment. Hops, yeast, potatoes, you name it. You already had your allotment.”
“But I can still order beers?”
“Pfah. 10% proof? It’s more like 10% hearsay.”
Sten toyed with his glass as he eyed the Admiral thoughtfully.
“It’s been fun, but this wasn’t a social visit. You want to ask me something, but you don’t know how.”
Admiral Konstantin startled but nodded.
“Sorry, was it that obvious?”
Sten waved his hand dismissively, “Don’t worry. Is it the credit concerns? You wouldn’t be the first.”
“Exactly that.” Konstantin said, relief in his voice. “We have our own credits, but with the Helliin Ministry of War gone, there’s no money coming in. I still owe backpay which I’ve had to hold back for the dock fees. I never thought I’d miss the tight arsed payroll officers.”
“It gets messy, but everything after the Extinction has been bloody messy. Hades 9 was a pirate outpost by the time the second admiral got there.”
“Well, the first had turned it into a pirate outpost. Anyway, the point is, after some rather violent disagreements, we ended up with Hades running in a semi-civilised fashion.”
Sten had arranged three glasses on the table, one each for Konstantin and himself, the other between them. The middle glass he filled with water. He then poured the middle glass into his.
“The corps all got greedy. Every commodity they produced and service they provided shot up in price.”
Sten’s glass emptied into Konstantin’s.
“Then the Navy said, piss off, we have guns. We’re not paying squat. The Megacorps said, alright then. They started cutting corners to save costs. Repair jobs were just welded steel slapped on holes. Cheese more plastic than food. You get the idea. The Navy eventually relents and says, fine. We’ll pay, but we set how much.”
The Kharon rep leaned over and poured Konstantin’s glass into his own.
“Money bleeds out of the fleet as everyday expenditures build up. Food, clothing, crew. No one is happy. Then the first food shortage occurs. Riots. Hades 9 threatens to implode as people target the corporations.”
“The Navy stand back and think, serves them right. Warlords declare areas of Hades 9 as being theirs. And then the Navy realises that a Hades torn apart by civil strife is one where the Navy loses its only safe port. All those powerful Admirals would end up penniless and shipless if Hades’ industries melted down. The Peacekeeping happens.”
Sten poured water out, splitting it amongst the three glasses.
“And here we are. Corps keep an eye out for supply shortages and start generously paying Admirals to help end them before they’ve started. Admirals pay to get what they want and everybody pretends that life is civilised by policing each other.”
Konstantin’s face was open with shock and dismay.
“How the hell does that even work?”
“Oh I wouldn’t say it works, but it’s better than the alternatives. Speaking of which, I’m authorised to tell you that if you go underway and return with a cargo of alcohol related products. Either finished, raw or otherwise, I can waive this month’s berth fees. In addition, Hebe Consolidated will provide a bonus 20 billion credits above the usual purchase fees for such cargo. An additional bonus if you obtain Bakkusi hops or finished products.”
Admiral Konstantin appeared lost in thought before he tapped the table thoughtfully.
“Well, that would cover a month and a half of operations… won’t make much of a dent in the back pay…,” he paused, “And I assume some Admirals, like say, Antel, would prefer to ambush a fleet carrying such cargo back to Hades for his own gain?”
“You would assume right, Admiral. Would you like to know perhaps the estimated salvage value of an Icari class battleship? Intact, value at 50 billion. 30 less than the laying fees because it’s second hand. Wrecked, maybe around 10 to 15. It’ll boil down mostly to the material value.”
“Where would Antel choose to lie in ambush?”
Sten looked distinctly uncomfortable, “You know I can’t disclose information that would affect Kharon Corp’s business.” He looked as if he might say more, but his eyes focused on Konstantin’s hand which placed a credit chip on the table and slid it across. He swallowed.
“There’s two million in there for a good friend.”
“Well… Look, I cannot disclose information that would affect corporation business.”
Konstantin sighed in disappointment, but grew silent when Sten took the chip.
“But I can offer some advice for your safety. You should not jump into Meridian Green. I hear pirate activity is on the rise there.”
“Excellent. Thank you.” Konstantin stood, paid the tab with a quick Sphere query before alerting his officers to recall the sailors.
It was time to go underway.
Opportunity and vengeance beckoned.