Part 6: Stranger

Ironclad Saga

Part 6: Stranger

Drogen had never dreamt of leaving Dorvala. Not truly. He’d dreamt of serving within the Space Corp, and leaving the planet to battle enemies. But that wasn’t the same thing. It wasn’t the same thing at all.

Can Shogar hear me here, so far away? Will the Three Ladies watch over me, when I’m under a different sky than their own?

The spaceport on Malva was a busy place. Individuals from alien races he’d never seen before strode past him. There was a creature with wriggling tentacles where a mouth should be, another with giant pincers instead of hands, others that he’d originally mistake for children they were so small. He recognized the reptilian Mon’dabi from Gho’s notes. And he thought he might have spotted one of the bestial looking Ackalians from a distance. There were no Malvans in sight. But, he was beginning to realize, Gho’s notes were hardly comprehensive.

It had been a long journey. Longer, in many ways, than the actual time it took. He’d been alone on the ship with no more than his own thoughts and Scientist Gho’s notes for him. He hoped his father lived. He trusted Rhega to do her best, it wasn’t any fear on that score. He just was worried. Again and again, he went over his time in the lab, the accident, everything Gho had ever said to him. It nearly drove him mad before he put it aside. This was a time for him to look to the future. And he’d sworn himself to the Three Ladies, which meant his life would be changing under their guidance, not Shogar’s.

So he’d read Gho’s notes on the alloy. And learned that Gho had also included notes on Malva. “A strange, decadent species, the Malvans are golden skinned and slender and far more interested in their own pleasure than anything else. They are flighty and not trustworthy.” Drogen snorted. Less trustworthy than Dorvalans? Gho’s recommendation had been to take service on a merchant ship.

He found his way to the Service Hall. It was exactly where Gho had predicted. He had only to step inside there and they would give him a contract. According to Gho, they would sell his ship for him and put the proceeds into an account. After taking their own cut of the profits, of course. But that account would be his to do with as he willed. It was a strange thought. On Dorvala, the Empire gave you what you needed. Having control of his own resources was at once heady and terrifying.

“Good grief,” a very languid voice caught his attention. “A Dorvalan in the midst of the Malvan space port? The hells have clearly frozen over.”

He turned to find what must be a Malvan standing behind him. The fellow was wearing a floor length black coat, which emphasized his height, and white lace spilling out from his neck and hands. He had the feathered eyebrows Gho mentioned, but his were black, not red or violet. Likewise, his shoulder length hair was black. But his skin was gold. He wore violet colored lenses over his eyes.

“I just might faint from the novelty.” He tilted his violet lenses down, revealing one red eye and one violet. “And no ordinary Dorvalan at that. A metallic one?”

“I’m looking for employment,” Drogen told him, and volunteered no more than that.

“Of course. And do you speak Malvan? Or Ackalian? Venwordian?”

“No,” Drogen answered. No. He didn’t speak any languages other than Dorvalan.

“Ah. You do realize that no one here speaks Dorvalan?”

“You do,” he noted.

“Oh, well observed. Yes, I do. But I am the only one, and I am, as anyone will tell you, an oddity among a species of oddities. I recommend, my friend, that you make your way back to Dorvalan space. You will be dreadfully unhappy anywhere else. Dorvalans do not do well in other societies. They lack the necessary flexibility.”

“I am not a standard Dorvalan,” he told the man. “Thank you for your concern.” It was time to go to the Service Hall. Surely someone could make use of him.

“Of course, there is always the Gladiatorial Arena,” the Malvan murmured. “You might do quite well there, if those muscles of yours are any indication of your true strength.”

“I thank you for your concern,” Drogen repeated, and turned his back on the man.

“Well, should you think better of your decision, ask for Tateklys at the Wayfarer’s Cantina. You can’t miss it. It’s the only place here with a Malvan bartender.”

Drogen snorted. If all Malvans were like that, he could see why. Who wanted to go to a bar where the bartender never shut up?

Inside the Service Hall, everything was gray. Dull gray metal walls, dull gray counters. Individuals in dull gray shipsuits. There appeared to be a line to speak to a lavender skinned man in yet another dull gray shipsuit. Why, Drogen wondered, would a bureaucrat be wearing a shipsuit?

When he finally reached the front of the line, the lavender man greeted him in a language he didn’t know.

“I’m sorry,” he told the man, “I’m Dorvalan.”

The man’s brows knit together. “Do’valla?”

“Dorvalan.” Drogen bowed.

The man slapped a small metal box onto the counter and pressed several buttons. He spoke again. The box, in a tinny little voice, repeated in Dorvalan, “Ship of service?”

“I’m not serving on a ship,” Drogen answered. “Yet.”

The man frowned again. “Port of origin?”

“I’m from Dorvala.”

“Military service?” he asked.

“No,” Drogen answered. Best not to make mention of that at all.

“Languages known?”


Again, the frown.

“I do have a personal ship I wish to sell. If the Service Hall would take my contract…”

At that, there was some interest. The lavender man took down the ship number and docking port, and plugged those into his terminal.

“Cost of ship,” he muttered, “one thousand standard. Cost of language training, 540 standard. Cost of shipboard training, 800 standard. Cost of contract negotiation, 300 standard. Your debt, 640 standard to the Service Hall. Full wages to the Service Hall for two years time. Room and board covered.”

“Wait,” Drogen protested. Two years of unpaid service to the Service Hall?

“Do you wish to accept the contract?”

“May I have time to think about it?” he asked.

“This contract will remain valid for three hours.” The lavender man handed him a slender sheet of plastic, with the terms written out upon it in both Dorvalan and some other looping script he’d never seen. “Return within three hours.”

“I understand,” Drogen said.

And he found himself completely ignored in favor of the orange skinned  snakelike person behind him in line.

Two years of servitude to the Service Hall? He didn’t like the sound of that at all. On the other hand, they were willing to provide language training. And shipboard training. Of course, they hadn’t said what kind of shipboard training. For all he knew, he might end up a cook on some third tier cruise liner. He sighed. It wasn’t a wrong choice. He just didn’t know if it was a right choice.

…Gladiatorial Arenas…

He’d heard of the Malvan Gladiatorial Arenas. Who hadn’t? Some of the best fighters ever to have lived battled in the Arenas. But… The Arenas were about entertainment, about creating spectacle. He shuddered; he was quite sure he never wanted to create another spectacle in his life.

And yet… The idea of testing his skill against an equal was tempting. He had no illusions about his fighting ability. He was a decent brawler, but he had no finesse. The alloy gave him new advantages, but in a place like Malva there would be others with equal advantages, wouldn’t there? He wouldn’t be so unfairly strong in comparison to his competition.

What would the Three Ladies want? They were goddesses of space and stars. Of travel and adventure, in addition to mercy. Perhaps they were the only gods who could follow him here.  Shogar dwelt in the heart of the planet, in fire and magma. And Dorall’shan was limited by the Dorvalan sky.

He looked again at the contract in his hands. Would it hurt so much to talk to that fellow? Tateklys?

He nodded. It was his responsibility to learn his options. After all, he didn’t have to accept any offers. He just needed to know what they were.

With that thought, he set off to find the Wayfarer’s Cantina and that annoying Malvan.


To be continued…

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