Nightside Rock (1/2)

Phoebe Dracotarthius owned a star system.

Well, that wasn’t strictly true.  Her formal writ ran only to the three-mile-long rock that civilization – such as it was in these parts – was burrowed into, even if in the absence of any other authority its advisory traffic-control zone did run all the way out to system limit.  But sometimes, when she put on her suit, left the dome, and just gazed at the stars turning slowly from horizon to horizon, it was easy to forget that.

It was a pleasant thought, and when you were appointed to administer a backwater’s backwater like Nightside Rock, you needed all the pleasant thoughts you could get.

Not that it was an uncomfortable posting.  The Rock was a sprawlingly huge place by star-station standards, a waypoint build for a golden age when the Worlds were enthusiastic to have met another grand interstellar civilization, and the Csell colonies were about to boom, and the Uílel system was perfectly placed to bridge all three, and had been built to meet the demands of a roaring passing trade.

Naturally, they’d barely got the construction finished before it all went to Dark and damnation.  The Vonnies got back from their grand tour of the worlds with shock, horror, and a list of demands as long as a darcúlnó’s arm, which the Conclave was delighted to offer them some suggestions for; the abruptly-bordermarch Csell Reach was taken over by a bunch of surly self-emancipated AIs with little or no use for the Rock’s services; and the passing trade never came.

Galin Tarquelios was the first of her two subordinates, the port director of the Rock’s starport and all its acres of unused docking cradles, silent landing pads, and empty, echoing concourses.  Despite the almost complete lack of traffic – and the more so because despite his nominally lofty title he was the entire staff of the starport – Galin went about his duties with terrifying efficiency, punctilio, and cheerfulness, broadcasting status reports (“same as always”) and traffic bulletins (“none”) into the empty void and offering advisory control services to any ships his sensor arrays could pick up, much to the irritation of the motley crew of smugglers that still used the Uílel routing into Republic space.  Phoebe was uncertain whether his attitude came from a desperate attempt to earn a transfer out, or if he’d actually cracked, but on the whole thought it was best not to enquire all that closely.

<Topaz Andante Leitmotif> was the other, the disgruntled galari engineer responsible for the station’s infrastructure, who defying traditional galari serenity, had tuned vis translator to a bloody awful imitation of a south-coast Cestian drawl and learned to swear with… educational fluency.  Which would be, she thought, a reasonable enough if annoying coping mechanism if he hadn’t programmed the station AI to be just as disgruntled.  Even this far into the hinterworlds, telling any customers who did turn up to do that with their power couplings would not be the best of plans.

Laryn Katrian, manager and, like Galin, sole sophont staff of the Gloamin’ Home, their luxury hotel, had succumbed to the boredom long ago in the absence of guests, and with a full robot crew to keep the place running now occupied his days with extranet gaming and his nights with drinking his way through the entire opening stock of exotic liquor (estimated completion: 30.4 years) and sleeping in a different room every night (estimated completion: a mere nine years, with five gone, although pretty soon he’d be down to just the exotic-environment suites).

Crash.  Shit.  That would be the cerrúr

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