We left the last resort together walking through the now busy streets of Logan's Stand, the once most prestigious part of Planetfall. It was here that a splinter group of the disillusioned colonists that had stranded here decided to take their fate into their own hands and kick it into submission. The houses here were still standing proudly in the streets. Compact, thick walled buildings none higher than twenty stories, designed in faraway worlds to withstand what ever environment they might end up in. The walls were made of tightly woven alloys reinforced with richly decorated local materials, blending the technology of the settlers with the materials of the new world. Millennia of storms and tempests had attacked these walls leaving their mark, however instead of diminishing these buildings it had just polished them like gem stones brining increasing the beauty of its architecture. Usually this would have been a place where the working rich would be found. On most other worlds this would be the place where you would see them either outside or through big panoramic windows in their workshops and offices showing off their wealth to the world by openly displaying their craft. They would walk along the streets in their high quality functional clothes and sit in their cafés and restaurants talking about their daily toils as if it was the most natural thing in the universe. Exchanging anecdotes of challenges they had to face, comparing the tools of their trades, often dreaming up wild joint ventures that would be incredibly costly but oh so satisfying to put together. The latter would most often just remain a fantasy because even among the affluent who could afford steady work there were limits to how far they could reach.
It was different here on Planetfall though. Logan's Stand was too far away from the new space-port located at the top of the orbital spoke. While down on Dead End's surface the spoke was built on the foundations of the old space-port and flooded by masses of the leisure class looking for a way to maybe find some kind of menial labour. Maybe even some unpaid job. That was the big dream landing a job one had not to pay for, maybe subsidised by a rich patron, that would yield enough money to be able to pay for the next one. Once one had broken in one would become part of that endless cycle of wealth where one job paid for the next. The number of stories about the poor creature of leisure who was taken by a wealthy altruist, invariably clad in many pocketed coveralls and sporting a real leather tool belt gleaming with bespoke tools, to a life of work and adventure.
The rich hated this people . OK. Hate is maybe the wrong word. But there was a very strong distaste for this crowd so they avoided Logan's Stand. There was something about the eagerness in this less fortunate people that was slightly to animal like for the rich to be comfortable with. It had taken myself a while to get used to these people. But as it is so often the case one tends to judge everyone by their most extreme examples. People in the leisure class are simply people. Most of the differences that are there are easily explained away by differences in experience. And once I got past those preconceptions I found a rich world full of its own wonders. Those who are not allowed to work often find a way to make their own work. True they may live in a city where they are constantly looked after, clothed, housed, fed, entertained. However there are ways to work. The space fearing species as different as they are all seem to have a deeply rooted creativity which led to some incredible work. It did not take long for me to feel right at home among them. Another thing that had connected me with Kira almost instantly. She had a deep understanding of this. She did not care about the labels defining work but just the craft itself. She would always look at things with an unclouded view that I always envied her for just seeing what was there.
"I have one question." I said turning back to Pentyl. It had just occurred to me.
"Yes?" she ask her face slowly fading away.
"In the bar you said we, should go to the Sentinel Fortress."
"Yes. So?" she asked her face now a blank surface, her body slowly starting to billow out.
"Why would you come with me? The fortress is over a billion light years from here."
"Because, James, you are my friend." with that she completely gave up her humanoid form, slowly powering down the containment field giving her form. She started expanding into the the air turning into a ever larger redish glowing cloud. "You are not the only one who has lost someone dear to them. And as strange as you organoids are, I can empathise." She was now drifting towards the sky using her containment field to shift her bulk into one direction and then expand from there slowly drifting away. "Besides Kira is my friend too. We will go out there and find her. You'll not be alone."
"She said drifting away." I called after her withdrawing form.
Her favourite face reappeared at the edge of her cloud form. "I'm just going to get a few of my things in order and meet you at the space port you muppet."
"I was being sarcastic."
"I thought as much, but I also not quite trust you not being an idiot right now." She said casting a meaningful look at me. Her face disappeared and her cloud form moved quickly away, leaving me standing looking up into the cobalt blue sky of Dead End. Someone once said that a man feels hope when he looks into the sky. I tried. I failed. I did feel conviction though. So I took my empty heart and walked to the nearest vortex station. I walked right into the next free entanglement cubicle entering the signifiers for my flat into the travel interface. However I changed my mind in the last moment. There was nothing left there that I needed. I had spent tomuch time there since Kira had vanished anyway. Usually I spent at least as much time in my ship at the orbital space port as I spent in Planetfall. In the weeks since Kira had vanished I had ignored my ship though using my little free flat as my base of operations. I told myself that I did so because it was making the search easier. That was of course a load of crap. I could easily spin down from the port to Planetfall without losing more than a few minutes. Besides I had been spending as much time on the orbital rail as on the planet looking for Kira. What I wanted to avoid were the spaces were I had spent the most time with her. Her apartment down here, a wonderfully large space with a sunlight drenched cozy central living space surrounded by her various workshops filled with all her projects in different stages of fruition. And of course the Void Dancer, my ship. Our home away from home. It had always been my real home. When Kira had entered my life she had also entered my ship as time went almost everything inside was changed by her touch in some way. Usually for the better.
I was afraid to go back. I afraid of my reaction. Afraid of again being confronted with what I had lost. It was strange. I had always enjoyed being alone but now there was a certain terror connected to the thought of being away from people. As long as I had company, as long as I was active I could ignore that a part of me was gone. But when there was nothing left to distract me I was left with nothing else than the great hole in my being always close to falling into it and collapsing into myself.
Suddenly I was incredibly thankful that Pentyl had decided to tag along.
I shook my head, tried to clear my mind, concentrating on the Void Dancer in her dock. The interface in front of me started to shimmer projecting a vague image of a large hanger with a sleek ship inside of it. I concentrated on the hazy image in front of me slowly brining it into focus immersing myself into it. The picture became sharp, detailed and finally real. I the vortex station had twisted me into the hanger where my ship was waiting for my return.
The Void Dancer was my greatest in many ways my greatest achievement the thing I was most proud of in my life. The ship was incredibly ancient, one of the first of its class and had passed through dozens of generations of owners. It retained its classic charm. Its long sleek hull still made of composite alloy plates, built for atmospheric and aquatic travel as well as space travel. Modern ships were hardly ever built this way any more. At this time and this place the preferred style were large spherical ships that had smaller vessels inside of them all specialised for different tasks. Sure they were better suited for the various environments but the lacked serious style. The Void Dancer was up to many modern standards but I had taken through great pains to keep it as close to the original state as possible. I had stuffed it with loads of subatomic machinery to make it more space worthy and secure however I had tried to keep the glaringly obvious modifications at a minimum. The biggest changes were the pulsar reactor which filled almost half of the original cargo hold. And most of the cockpit instruments of course. But as far as possible everything was embedded into the ancient style of the ship. Manual controls, mechanical read outs. Leather, wood, brass. Purists might turn up their noses and less enthusiastic people might wonder why I would want to use such an archaic design for my ship. But I liked it. And that was the important but.
Not wanting to wast any time I walked into to the space-traffic control booth to start negotiations with the hangar AI.
"Hey James. I was starting to get a bit worried about you." it greeted me with its omni directional voice that was as always like soft velvet. "I'm really sorry about Kira. I kept all my sensors open as far as my privacy filters allow, but I haven't seen her either."
"Thanks Portos I appreciate your concern." I said smiling. The port authority AI here was one of the warmest most genuinely caring intelligences I had ever known artificial or otherwise. Everyone who sailed into space from here loved the strange old construct which had evolved on its own into its kind form. Portos insisted that it was only logical to be caring of ones charges often wondering why other AIs often followed more cold approaches to interaction.
"I've made you a nice big cup of tea while I am running the standard checks for you." a large white ceramic mug filled with steaming tea twisted into existence on top a the little counter top of the AI booth. "Do you intend to set sail or did you just come to have a little chat?"
I smiled. "I was intending to set sail."
"Oh." said Portos with a slight tinge of disappointment in its voice.
"There really isn't much to talk about anyway. Kira vanished. Faded away in front of my eyes. Do you have any ideas how that could have happened?" I said. The light in the booth dimmed slightly to indicated the the AI was thinking. After a while the lights in the hanger flickered. I hoped that it wasn't because the AI was seriously considering my question. When the light became brighter a moment later Portos said: "I'm very sorry James but I can't find a viable explanation for you."
"It's OK. That's why I am going to take the Void Dancer and go for a little trip. I need to find out what happened to Kira and the answer isn't here. So I need to look in space."
"The Void Dancer is space worthy. All its systems are well within standard operating parameters. The pulsar reactor is working at 96% efficiency and I expect it to run for at the very least 500 billion light years before it needs to go into inspection. Life support and auxiliary systems are all up and running and right now I am filling your stores with a broad selection of vicutals so that you have something to eat during your quest out there."
"Don't mention it. To help is my pleasure. Do you want to go over the log-files?"
"There's no need for that Portos. I trust you." I said.
"This has nothing to do with trust young man, but with prudence. Please at least have a look at them. Knowing you you're not just going on a little jump into some neighbouring galaxy." Portos insisted.
"You're right I guess." I said.
"In this cases I am always right." Portos said with a perfectly cold AI voice. It loved to do that to make a point and it never failed the contrast to its usual warm soothing voice was so great that it sent shivers down my spine.
"Where do you intend to go anyway? Do you have any plans? I'd also like to clear the you a stellar lane for you to use. Any idea when you are going to leave?"
"I'm going through the checks and leave pretty much immediately. So I guess I two hours or so? I'm still waiting for a friend but she shouldn't be long,"
"She?" asked Portos.
"Really? Did you just ask that. First of all. She's a friend. Second 'she' is a nebulan."
"I'm sorry, James. Bad habit."
"It's not a problem."
"So where are you going?"
"First stop will be the Sentinel Fortress." I said.