LHS-1067: Kuhn Port
I sat patiently mediating in the cockpit of (...)Gravitas(...) as it sat motionless in the hangar beneath landing pad 12 of Kuhn Port, a Coriolis-class station in the independent system of LHS-1067. I was waiting for a response to my request for a call to Laure, as the maintenance crews refuelled and rearmed my ship. I was still unsettled by Stenberg's revelations during our brief conversation following his apparent surrender at LHS-1163, even though I wasn't simply willing to accept Stenberg's claims at face value. In any case, assertion that he was somehow connected to my father didn't explain why his encounter with Agent Zeta at Kappa Fornacis had resulted in a conspirators conversation, rather than a battle. I was still missing vital clues that might help me decode the mystery, clues that I hoped Laure would be able to provide me.
"Aemon, are you there?" Laure's soft voice broke the silence. Her intonation was calm, reassuring and steady, not even betraying the merest hint of concern. "Sorry to keep you on hold. I was in a meeting with the system council, and you know what they're like. No interruptions, not even in the event of a supernova."
"Stenberg is dead." I told her, my voice flat, betraying nothing.
"I know, I received confirmation from Imperial Intelligence about an hour ago. The Naval review board just promoted you to Baron. Congratulations." I didn't need to see Laure's face to know that she was beaming with satisfaction and pride. I could hear it in her voice. "You're halfway there. When you get back here after you've finished dealing with Zeta I'll have a little something waiting for you at the shipyard."
"Do you have any more information on where Zeta might be?"
"We haven't had any confirmed sightings since Kappa Fornacis, I'm afraid. But my people were able to track down where that cargo limpet came from. Feynman Orbital, an industrial station in the Hai Ho system. It's a Federal Corporate State. Plenty of local bylaws to allow the production of contraband tech illegal in the rest of the Federation."
"That's just shy of 50 light years from here. Zeta might have headed there to resupply."
"That's a definite possibility. Be careful if you do enter the system. Word's gotten out that you were responsible for Stenberg's assassination. You've got price on your head in Federation space."
"Half a million credits. Killers of members of the Admiralty carry a premium." Laure told me, wryly.
"Great. A bounty that big should put off amateurs and chancers, though."
"You could come back to Imperial space to lay low until the Kill Warrant clears." Laure suggested.
"And let the only lead we have on Zeta go cold? I appreciate your concern Governor, but we'll never track down Zeta if we wait another week for my bounty to expire. I'll have to take the risk."
"It's your call, Aemon."
"Any sign of movement from the Thunda Crew?"
"They dropped completely off the grid about three hours ago. Kurgan left Harvestport with two escort ships in tow and hasn't been seen since."
"Great. Let me know if you hear anything."
"I will." Laure paused, sounding worried. "Are you alright? You seem a little... off colour."
"It's probably nothing. Mind games. Stenberg claimed that he knew both my parents."
"What?" There was no hesitation before Laure's outburst of surprise. "That's ridiculous!"
"You haven't heard the best part yet. He claimed that he and my father were brothers."
"Bulls-" Laure started, before regaining a modicum of calm. "I don't even know where to start with that. Did he give you any proof?"
"He was trying to tempt me back to his station to show me the evidence, but then half a dozen Vipers rocked up and everything went to hell."
"Sounds like he threw you a hook to chew on while his friends turned up. Just as well you didn't bite."
"I reached the same conclusion myself. It's just..."
"What if he was telling the truth?" I asked Laure. There was a long, silent pause before she replied.
"What if... In the wrong hands, 'what if?' is one of the most useless questions ever invented by mankind. What if humans had never invented spaceflight? What if we had never discovered alien life? What if the Thargoids had never attacked? What if the INRA hadn't practically wiped them out with a bio-engineered nerve agent?" Laure ranted, exasperated, saving her most fanciful example until last. "What if... the Emperor was a fucking unicorn?!?"
"Whoa, Laure... calm down." I replied, aghast.
"Aemon, don't waste your time and energy thinking about hypothetical crap. Stenberg was just messing with you, trying to catch you off guard so that his reinforcements could ambush you. There's nothing more to it than that." Laure counselled me sternly.
"Yeah, but..." I wanted to believe her, but a tiny, nagging doubt at the back of my mind simply wouldn't go away.
"But nothing." Laure interjected, vehemently. "Get yourself over to Feynman Orbital and see what the manufacturer of the limpet can tell you. If Zeta is in the area, you sniffing around one of their suppliers might be all it takes to draw them out into the open."