Personal correspondence from a Ms Amandine Gerard, Citizen of the Empire, 453 Baron’s Walk, Horrocks Gateway – February 5th, 3302.
So, it has come to pass – one of my greatest fears of recent months. I’m sure you’ll have heard from other sources. The Emperor has withdrawn her fleet from Candecama.
The change has been quite sudden. The garrison has been pouring out – Horrocks didn’t house the lion’s share (God forbid) but we felt it, just the same. They call it ‘consolidation’, which I suspect is diplomatic talk for ‘retreat’. We are still firmly under Imperial protection, of course, but I trust that Senator Patreus not one bit. Awful man. I suspect he’ll be sniffing around shortly, moving his great big battleships in before long.
We haven’t felt it too much from a business point of view, which is a relief. A few of the more itinerant tenants have left, or plan to do so. Most of whom won’t be missed.
One of them sticks in the mind – I shall tell you about it. He came to the house to give his notice. Quaint, coming in person, but it broke up the afternoon.
The Help cleared her throat while I was reading. I waved the book away and frowned; now I’d need to look vaguely presentable.
“A Mr Soovreen to see you, madam.”
I told her to bring him in. He was familiar – a tallish, young, pale man in a knee-length dark frock coat and high neckerchief. He wore those high boots you sometimes see Navy pilots wear. I fretted briefly that he’d track dirt in, but they seemed clean. I vaguely remembered him from the beginning of his tenancy but had probably not seen him since then.
“Hello, do come in. I’m afraid you’ve caught me unawares. It’s… Phineas, isn’t it?”
“It is. Hello, Ms Gerard. Nice to see you again.”
“And you. Can I get you a drink?”
“Why not. Tea, if you have it.”
“Of course. Fujin, no less.” I smiled brightly, nodding at the Help, who disappeared to sort it.
I gestured to the armchairs and my guest sat down. His hair was an unruly dark mop that extended down both sides of his face in the form of enormous sideburns, flanking a face that was drawn and pensive.
“I’m afraid I’ve come to give my notice on my apartment,” he began.
“Oh, right. Which address is that?”
“Three hundred and sixteen, Grand Canal Overlook.”
“Ah, yes. Well, thank you for the notice. Do remember to submit it in writing, too. Where are you going?”
“Off to do some contract work, I think. No long term plans as yet.”
“Oh, that will be pleasant. What sort of work is that?”
“It’ll be varied, I expect. Likely mostly logistics.”
“How exciting. I’m sure that’ll be a good move.” At that moment a memory popped into mind. “You have several ships berthed here, don’t you?”
“I have, yes. Although they’ll be moving too.”
“Of course. Quite a few.” I remembered a check on the man’s hangar some months ago – six or seven interstellar vessels, some rather menacing-looking. I highly doubted that he would be doing much ‘logistics’ in them.
The tea arrived. My guest took his and sipped it thoughtfully.
“How do you feel about the Emperor withdrawing her fleet from Candecama?” He asked, making conversation.
“Oh, I don’t know. The machinations of politics are above my head. Should I feel unsafe?”
“I wouldn’t have thought so. Better to stay under the radar, I’d have thought. You’ll have fewer privateers and the like coming through here now.”
Privateers like himself, I had no doubt. I agreed and sipped my tea. His eyes had a penetrating intelligence to them, and took on a mischievous look when he spoke. It struck me that he wouldn’t be be awful-looking, if only he sorted his hair out.
The holoscreen which I’d left on was playing a recurring news feed about the strange growths they’d found.
“Such a bother, those amateur scientists flocking out there to poke at those things,” I observed casually. He turned to look at the screen briefly.
“Mmmm. Must be appealing to see for oneself though, don’t you think?” He asked playfully.
“Me? Heavens, no. I can’t think of anything worse. Or more stupid, come to think of it. Surely if they are alien the last thing we should do is poke at them. Besides, I hate space travel. So uncomfortable.”
He smiled enigmatically, declining to agree or disagree.
“Besides, they’re minding their own business,” I finished.
“Awfully close to us, though,” he mused.
“Are they? They’re four hundred light years away, I thought.”
“Yes. That’s pretty close. Put it this way: if this city was the galaxy,” he opened his arms, as if encompassing the whole station, “it would be like they had suddenly appeared on your pillow one morning, relatively speaking.”
“Really? Gosh. That is close.” I didn’t know what to think about that. I didn’t feel the point worth arguing so I changed topic.
“What is that you do for work, Phineas?”
He glanced to the window briefly, a smile playing on his lips. “I’m a prospector, for the most part.”
“That must mean you spend a great deal of time out in the spaceways, I imagine,” I said sympathetically.
“It does. Out beyond the Frontier, often. I’m also something of a cartographer.”
“Oh, how lovely. That must be exciting.” I’ve always been slightly proud of my ability to convey enthusiasm I don’t in the least feel, as you know.
“It has it’s perks. I like the solitude,” he said thoughtfully.
“People can be so tiresome,” I agreed.
We made similar chit-chat in this vein for half an hour or so, after which my guest drained his cup and stood up. He thanked me for the tea and said that, though his last month would be fully paid, he would be vacating his apartment the next day, and his hangar over the following week. I thanked him for his courtesy and showed him out.
After he left I enquired with the staff – his apartment had been barely used. He tended to come and go in a rather shabby-looking explorer-class ship, in which he mostly slept, and his tiny apartment was full of boxes. Odd. He always paid his rent on time and in full, though, which is better than some.
Likeable young man though he was, it would be no bad thing if recent developments meant that we had a more permanent class of tenant come through the city. Too many of his sort have tended to drift through in their horrible-looking ships, bristling with guns, doing freelance work for the Emperor. We’ll have to see what happens now.
It seems we are living in interesting times, my dear.
Give my love to the family.
My best wishes,