“A D’kora, two Nausicaan escort ships and something I’ve never seen before,” Orelia announced from Ops as the Vondem Rose came to a stop a good million kilometres from what was proudly announced as the Hilke Mining Consortium’s Delta Dilithium Drilling Operation, or the DeDiDrOp. Apparently, in Ferenginese it sounded better and was some sort of play on words, but lost on the crew without Naroq around to explain the joke at the moment.
And which Lewis Chin and spotted sounded an awful lot like ‘dead drop’ in Federation Standard, then quipped about how Ferengi would work miners till they dropped dead, then charge the families for corpse removal service. A poor stereotype of rampant unrestrained capitalism to be sure, but it had earned a chuckle from more than a few of the bridge crew.
The other ship was brought up on screen and was a massive monstrosity. What looked like a large engine cluster at the rear, a command module at the front and a central spine that ran over the top of massive cargo bays large enough to store the Vondem Rose with room left over. And that was just one of the three large pods underslung along the length of the ship. It looked like it had seen better days, but was apparently well cared for if it was still running.
The foremost cargo pod however wouldn’t be taking much cargo for it looked to have been converted into a through-deck loading platform for barges coming up from the large asteroid to which all the ships present hung over. Large expansive openings secured by yellow flickering atmospheric forcefields let the barges pass in and out, unloading their cargo onto conveyors leading into the rest of the cargo pod.
“Transportation and refining in the foremost pod,” Tavol announced. “Storage in the other two. Large passages between the pods likely indicate they were used for transporting mining equipment as well which the barges were likely able to deploy.”
“Hey kids, who wants to go camping? We’ll load up the car with snacks and go dig up some valuable rocks,” Lewis joked. “Makes sense though. Fill up on what you need, and as you use it, fill up on what you find. Head home.”
“Essentially yes,” the Vulcan agreed. “A mobile mining outpost it would appear. Limited refining capability to allow them to minimise waste product transportation to better facilities. Support facilities and equipment for the staff and mining gear. A crude but effective design.”
“Can any of them see us?” Sidda asked after a moment, her hands together steepled under her chin in thought.
“No response from any of them.” Orelia’s response was accompanied by switching to a tactical display, showing the seven hundred kilometre diameter asteroid as a mere pinprick and floating boxes with lines traced to where the other ships had been detected in order over a large crater and patch of blood dilithium. Then she zoomed out, far out, till a pinprick was added for the Vondem Rose a total of a million kilometres away. “The Nausicaans probably need us to start shooting at them before they’d see us. The Ferengi…depends on how cheap his sensors are, but under cloak, I’d wager we’re invisible. We could knock on his hull without him seeing us.”
“Hmm…So this Daimon Hilke is working with aliens to mine dilithium. And we don’t know who they are.” Sidda was thinking out loud and no one interrupted her as she thought. Primarily because they didn’t get a chance to as she jumped to her feet. “Drop cloak and raise shields. Standby weapons in case they get fighty.”
“Aye,” Orelia replied and the tone of the bridge changed as everyone turned back to their consoles, ready just in case of the worst. As the humm of the ship shifted, then shifted again as the shield generators came up, the entire response was a series of chirps from Ops and Orelia grumbling. A disappointed grumbling. “Two incoming hails.”
“The unknown and the Ferengi?”
“Let’s start with the unknown.” Sidda crossed her arms tightly and straightened her back as best she could as a large disinterested-looking alien appeared on her screen. He, or she, it wasn’t immediately obvious, wore a rather plain uniform, practically a jumpsuit and wasn’t even looking at their communication pickup.
“Unidentified ship, this is the Corevel Mining Consortium Platform Prospector 17. Be advised this platform is armed and able to defend itself and Malon Security Forces have been contracted to provide cargo recovery and threat elimination services in the event of unlicensed piracy. You are to remain a minimum of two light seconds from this platform unless otherwise invited. Prospector 17 out.”
And with that, the channel went dead before anyone on the Vondem Rose could say anything else at all.
“Malon? Corevel Mining Consortium?” Orelia asked.
“A species that the USS Voyager encountered. Voyager’s encounters were primarily with radioactive waste disposal ships. This being a mere-mining vessel may explain the apparent good health that our caller was in.” Tavol’s dispassionate analysis was simple enough for most to understand.
“Well, best put the Ferengi,” Sidda said.
“Klingon ship!” a whiny, nasally voice screeched. “Go away!” it further demanded. The man was wearing a uniform, but not nearly as fancy as the one the file photo for Daimon Hilke had shown. That file photo was also excellently shot, giving the Daimon as heroic a posture as possible for a bureaucrat. This individual on screen was familiar in looks but younger and obviously less wealthy with his plainer uniform. “We’ve got Nausicaans and our ship is heavily armed as well. And we’ve got local friends too! Now take your stupid small little ship and go away you thugs!”
“Are you blind?” Sidda asked immediately after the Ferengi stopped speaking. “Did your optometrist overcharge for poor results?”
“What?” the man asked, visible confusion on his face twitching to his ears.
“I asked if you were blind. Then implied you got scammed by an eye doctor.”
“Now listen here Orion! I’ll have you,” the Ferengi started, only to stop as soon as Sidda threw her arms up in the air.
“Oh, so you can see! Excellent! Now tell me, how many Klingon warships do you know with an Orion in command, at least two others on the bridge, humans and even a Vulcan? And not a Klingon in sight! Hmm?” She stepped forward towards the pickup. “We. Aren’t. Klingon.”
Everyone could see the cogs in this man’s brain working for likely the first time in ages. Individual pieces of information being accepted, weighed against each other and then conclusions reached. “Orion pirates!” he gasped, pushing himself back from his monitor.
“Orion traders,” Sidda corrected him.
“No, see, we’re traders when outnumbers, pirates when not. Right now, as you pointed out, you’ve got protection, so that makes us…” she rolled her hand at him, indicating for him to continue the thought.
“Traders.” He scooted back towards his monitor, then spoke quieter, conspiratorial even as his face took up the entirety of the Rose’s viewscreen. “There’s only one commodity here to trade Orion and Daimon Hilke isn’t in the mood for small-time deals.”
“I want to speak with Hilke. I’m wanting to trade for some information he has and am willing to make it profitable. No loss of profit on his dilithium trade and he makes money off of just telling me something.”
The young man stroked his chin and thought about it for a moment. “There’s a scheduling and appointment fee. An entourage fee applies as well, double for extras that aren’t prepaid.” The way he spoke hinted at someone making things up on the spot, but decent enough at the improvisation game. “Ten strips for the appointment, three for each entourage member up to three, then four for each after that.”
She sighed and turned her back to the viewscreen, giving Orelia the hand gesture to mute the channel momentarily. “Any takers on this fee going directly to whoever this is?”
“Not a chance Boss.” Lewis swivelled in his chair with an exasperated look. “He’s gouging because it’s the only money he’s going to see on this whole trip.”
“Orelia? Orin? Tavol?”
“Gambling is not something I indulge in during duty,” Tavol replied. Orelia and Orin both just shook their heads, unwilling to take the bet.
With a hand gesture the channel was unmuted. “Eight strips for the appointment and two strips, two slips per each entourage member. And you pay me six slips not to tell the Daimon you’re marking up appointment fees by double and pocketing all the extra profit.”
It only took a moment for the Ferengi to nod in agreement before taping at keys, a corresponding chirp at Orelia’s console when he was finished. “Clearance to approach the DeDiDrOp granted. The appointment fee will need to be paid upfront before meeting with the Daimon. Payment details will be provided shortly.” And with that the channel was closed.
“I’m thinking nephew,” Sidda said as the screen went back to the forward view if the bridge had a window that was.
“Cousin,” Orelia said.
“Idiot son,” Lewis added. “No, wait, the actual Daimon Hilke and what is on file is his assassin distraction.”
“That would seem highly unlikely,” Tavol countered. “But as we have no further information on the Ferengi personnel here, we won’t know unless we ask.”
“And pay the genealogy fee of course.”
“Of course,” Taovol replied to Lewis’ joke.
“…still though, he’s a funny guy for a Vulcan,” Sidda said over the fading hum of the transporter, her conversation cut in half from one place to the other by the transporter as she, Orin, R’tin and Deidrick all transported down the domicile that had built on the surface of the asteroid claimed by the joint Malon-Ferengi mining operation.
A crater, rimmed with blood dilithium like an exposed geode, had been sealed against the ever-hungry vacuum of space by a vast triple-layered atmospheric forcefield whose sheer size made it an impressive engineering feat in its own right. The crater was nearly ten kilometres across, extensive for the size of the asteroid and as such Tavol had opted to stay aboard the Rose to undertake scans. The asteroid was large enough that its own mass had sphericalised the mass. Still, even from orbit the effect of the impactor that made this crater was evident with subtle waves radiating across the surface, frozen in time from ages past.
“The way Lewis tells it,” Deidrick said, his German accent faint, the edges worn down likely by education and his time away from home, “Tavol is hilarious, retelling the jokes constantly. I suspect something is lost in the telling, no?”
“Oh, certainly,” R’tin said. “Tavol’s got this dry wit and deadpan delivery. He could tell a joke and give a casualty report without breaking stride. Honestly, he’d have killed in a comedy club on Romulus. Or been killed. Take your pick.”
“Honestly I think Lewis just has the hots for Tavol,” Sidda said as she watched a Ferengi with two Nausicaans behind him striding their way. The beam-in coordinates they’d been given were a large gallery looking over the crater from where the domicile had been perched high up on the rim, serving as a primary control point for the atmosphere shield, glamorous residence for the Daimon and his staff and more importantly a place to look down upon ‘the staff’. “This should be Assitant Deputy Manager Lek if we’ve been steered correctly.”
And sure enough once introductions had been made, the Ferengi’s identity confirmed, they proceeded to follow as a tour along the gallery window was given. Below them, patches of the crystals had already been cleared, more every minute by muscle and machine power. But mine entrances could also be seen with tracks bearing automated carts trundling along, unloading crystals into hoppers for the barges before returning down the mines for more bounty.
From this distance the only workers that they could make out were all Malon, all the others in the distance across the crater rendered into small motes operating toy-like machines as they went about their duties. There had to be thousands of workers just in the fields along the crater floor, unknown numbers in the mines beneath. Eventually, though the tour ended, an offer for an extended tour was made for a price, of course, promptly refused, and the team were finally seen into the office of Daimon Hilke.
To call it garish and over the top would be an insult to garnish and over-the-top design choices. While latnium was a liquid, typically traded safely encased in worthless gold, its reputation for being bonded to plate surfaces was well known as was its use for the extremely and obscenely rich alone. So by plating so much of his office in latnium, Hilke was making an unforgettable declaration of his wealth.
Or compensating for something.
Still, knowing Ferengi banking fees, plating everything in latnium was probably not a bad choice either.
“Don’t talk,” Hilke declared in a nasal voice as he focused on a screen before him, its contents rapidly flowing as his eyes whipped over it. “Grubs down, starship manufacturing up, Troika Arms up…” he was muttering as the news feed continued. “Pah! Another union forming! The Grand Nagus is going to ruin everything! More then he already has!” His exasperation was evident for all before he pushed the monitor away in anger and looked up.
He squinted at all of them, then glared at Sidda directly before literally clamouring over his desk, jumping off of it and walking over to her, pulling out an actual monocle to look at her. “Hmm…tall, healthy, young enough. Five bricks for her and not a slip more,” he said to Orin without hesitation.
“Oh fuck,” R’tin muttered, rolling his eyes. There was no question about stepping back when Deidrick tugged on his elbow.
“Excuse me?” Sidda asked.
“You let her talk?” Hilke demanded of Orin. “Four bricks since I’ll have to sort that out.”
Before Sidda could respond, her hand already starting to brush her jacket out of the way of her holster, Orin stepped forward between Hilke and her and signed at her, turned enough to let Deidrick and R’tin see. ‘Calm cousin, we can’t shoot our way out just yet.’
She squinted up at him, anger all over, then let out a breath and pulled her hand away from her weapon as she nodded then mouthed to him ‘I’m at least worth a pallet of bricks.’
‘Likely ten pallets,’ Orin replied then looked to Deidrick, gave the man a single nod and he stepped forward.
“Apologises Daimon Hilke, but Master Orin won’t be parting with his…” Deidrick hesitated a moment, “negotiation enhancer.”
“Hmm…well it won’t work! To much snuff you see,” Hilke commented, then looked around Orin’s bulk at Sidda one last time. “Shame. Now, what do you want?”
“Master Orin is after the location or last known trajectory of the ship known as the Martian Thorn which was contracted to make a delivery to you.”
Hilke turned on Deidrick immediately, eyes squinting, then shuffled hurriedly back to his desk and his throne-like chair behind it. “No. No no no. Don’t know what you’re talking about. Don’t know this ship. Don’t know anything about any delivery.”
“We’re just after the ship and the crew. We have no qualms or interest in any business you’re engaged in,” Deidrick said, talking a couple of small steps forward. “If you could just…”
“No! I said no! I want you to leave now!”
“We can pay you,” R’tin chipped in from the back.
“How much?” Hilke asked, almost as if it was a trained reaction before he shook his head. “No! You haven’t got enough latnium to make worthwhile…though…” He tilted his head again to look at Sidda.
A few minutes later they all rematerialised on the transporter pad of the Vondem Rose, though some were less dignified than others. Deidrick was sporting a red mark on his left cheek the size of a fist, but that was the least undignified thing. That wholly belonged to Sidda who was being carried over Orin’s shoulder, though her fit had given way to resignation as she now let herself be carried off the pad and set on her feet.
“Misogynistic capitalist scumbag!” she exclaimed.
“So…a Ferengi?” R’tin clarified.
As Sidda barged out of the transporter room she barely missed Orelia, who let her go, then stepped in, looked over Orin, Deidrick and R’tin and shook her head. “So they aren’t shooting at us, that’s nice.”
“Didn’t get the info either.” Deidrick said. “First Hilke wanted to buy the Boss for five bricks, then wanted to trade the information for her. Then declared we get out of his office and take ‘our wild creature’ with us. He’s some pre-reformation Ferengi.”
“Five bricks?” Orelia asked. “Boss is worth at least ten bricks.”
“Orin thinks she’s worth a pallet,” R’tin said as he stepped past the man, giving him a pat on the arm. “You know you don’t have to suck up to her right?”
‘Never hurts to suck up to the boss,’ Orin signed. ‘But someone has to do damage control with her.’
“Not me,” everyone else in the room exclaimed in quick order.