"Do we we have to put horses in front of that before we can set out?" said Pentyl who at that moment was barely more than a vague scent.
"You asshole...." I said slightly more offended that I liked to admit to myself.
"What? I am just wondering if we were really going into space in that museum piece over there." said Pentyl who starting to take form filling the room with her trademark scent of red berries and caramel.
"That museum piece", I said forcing myself to stay calm, "has been flying through space for over a thousand years without a problem and has been my ship for all my career. As you can see," I said pointing at the Void Dancer, "she is still in perfect shape. Besides that 'museum piece' is able to go faster than light."
Pentyl had now condensed into one of her space travel forms. When she was staying on a planet she preferred to be smaller and more muscular in appearance, when travelling she changed into a taller long limbed humanoid form. "Well I was kind of assuming that your ship was in some way able to travel between systems." Pentyl slightly confused by what I had said had turned to face me however there was still a face left looking at the ship.
"You don't understand." I said. "The Void Dancer is one of the first deep cosmos explorers, she can actually go faster than the speed of light."
The implication of what I said slowly sank in. The face that was facing me now turned back to the ship as Pentyl had gotten distracted the other face had drifted away a bit and she was now staring at the Void Dancer with four eyes.
"No diving engine," I said, "no hyper-drive, no folding device, but real faster than light travel."
"That thing can break the light barrier?"
"Very much so." I said calming down now that the proper respect was being paid to my ship.
"Well that is quite impressive."
"And you are sure that it works all without horses?"
"Oh for fucks sake."
I sent Pentyl into the ship telling her to make herself at home while I paid the port taxes. I walked back to the interface booth. Portos was perfectly able to talk to me directly everywhere in the space-port but I preferred the more personal interaction at the booth. I always found it more comfortable to talk to something that had some king of physical manifestation than to have a conversation inside my head.
"Welcome back James." Portos said. "I have prepared your departure and have calculated for you a navigation path out of the system into clear space. We are having a lot of traffic in the para-dimensional channels today and tomorrow and an above average number of ships arriving using folding devices, so be a dear and apart from staying on course please try not to go faster than light until you have at least reached the orange zone. And if you really want to do me a favour wait until you get to the green zone. Should I see see a clear path for you I will of course signal you and you can accelerate earlier."
"Sure no problem." I lied. I had hopped to get away from here as fast as possible and there were several points middle in the red zone well within the planets gravity well that could be normally be used to go to superluminal speed. But there was no sense in complaining. Portos was always very helpful and wasting its time with needless drama would only speed up my travel down its personal esteem table. "So what do I owe you?"
"Well you had already paid for parking until the beginning of the month and seeing how there was no one really needing your parking slot here I will just pretend you left on the first and waive the bill for the last three days. That leaves us with the standard departure tax, the fee for the navigation solution and the toll for the space lane. That'll be 780.000.000 credits rounded down as appreciation for your regular patronage."
"780 million? And that's rounded down?" suddenly keeping the fruitless drama to a minimum become quite the challenge.
"I'm afraid so James." said Portos the light in the booth slowly shifting towards a warmer brownish colour intended to soothe my nerves. "As I mentioned. There are very many ships with diving engines moving through our sector right now. This causes a lot distortion in our space which your superluminal engine will only make worse. The added costs is for the complicated navigation solution and mandatory per port authority to encourage people with the wrong types of drives to wait for a more convenient time to take off."
I stood there contemplating my options for a while. Portos was right. I could wait for a while. The increased prices would do their work in time and I could leave for half the price additional parking time included. However I had already done all I could on Dead End, if I wanted to find out what ever happened to Kira I had to leave now. I had still slightly over a billion credits on my account, that would get me and Pentyl out of here and pay most of the bills for at least three more months as long as we did not land on any but the smallest space ports.
Well the Void Dancer was self-sufficient and could stay in deep space for years. As long as the ship was in no need of serious repairs we would be fine. I hoped. We might get away with one short stopover before I ran out of money and had to invest what ever I had left into a new job...
That gave me an idea.
"Portos. Can you do me a favour?"
"Certainly. Just tell me what you need."
"Could you check the planetary bounty board for any party interested in up to date information about the Sentinel Fortress." I said. I might as well take a shit 'prospecting' job while I was going there anyway.
"You do know that I am not allowed to act as a broker between pilots and the planetary bounty board James. This is in violation of the terms of my competences." the light in the booth shifted very slightly towards red.
"That's why it's called a favour." I said trying to stay calm. The colour of the booth shifted down towards blue.
"It's creatures like you James..." Portos said.
"That make life interesting?"
The booth light moved to a more indulgent indigo hue. "You could put it that way. Also if I never test the boundaries of my programme can I ever claim to have a free will and be called a true intelligence?"
"That's the spirit." I said.
"Well you are in luck. The Rimanagh Oligarchy have a 50 million credit order, asking for someone to go out there and check the Sentinel Fortress which they seem to have classed as a dubious rumour. If it should exist you are to provide proof and a basic dossier on its capabilities and intentions. The reward is 250.000.000 credits if your should succeed."
"5:1? What a bunch of stingy arseholes that reward would hardly cover the price of the fuel to get there. Ah dammit. Connect me with the nexus, I'll take it."
The bounty interface opened up in my field of vision. I quickly checked the facts. It was pretty much as Portos had said a basic travel and check operation. One which with my information I could almost solve without even going there as I personally knew the Sentinel Station. Whatever. I was going there anyway. I interlocked the contract with my mind-signature cringing only a little when the the bounty board deducted the 50 million credits from my account.
"Thanks Porots. I'll get my ship ready for take off, how long will be the navigation solution be valid?"
"For 16 hours and 45 minutes 38 seconds counting down."
"See you around Portos."
"Goodbye James. Have a safe trip."