- Location - Urgawaraz System - Ariik Edge -

As soon as the Gray Lady emerged from warp the coms began flashing with a priority alert message. Kali opened coms to receive it. An automated voice was repeating a message in Galactic Standard.
“Urgawaraz IV Station is currently in restricted status. Only emergency traffic is permitted at this time. For emergency clearance, contact station control on distress protocol.” She silenced the message as it began to repeat again.

A quick glance toward the station’s landing bay confirmed the message. The normal blue glow of the landing pathways had been replaced by the angry red illumination of the pressure field that would keep any unauthorised vessels from even approaching, let alone landing. A small convoy of merchant freighters and their escorts hung in space between the station and the nearest planetary neighbour. Kali engaged the pulse engine and made her way toward the lead freighter. She activated her transponder and opened coms.

“Freighter group, this is Pilot Ishmael of the Gray Lady, I am approaching you at 900ks from bearing 67 mark 80. Requesting general information.”
“Gray Lady, I have you on scope. Hold at 20,000.” The freighter control replied.
She cut the engine, reversed course and killed her momentum with short booster bursts.
“Freighter Azanti to Gray Lady, this is Lieutenant Mast, what is your inquiry?”
“Do you know details about what’s going on with the station?”
“The station was already on lockdown when we translated in-system. Communication with the station has been minimal. Whatever it is, it’s got them wound pretty tight. They did ask us what medical personnel and supplies we might be carrying. We are thinking it is some kind of contamination.”
“Do you know if private coms are being blocked?”
“I don’t think so Pilot, we have picked up what sounded like private chatter from time to time. Nobody seemed to know much about what the real deal was.”
“Thank you Lieutenant. Clear Ether.”
“Clear Ether Pilot.”

Kali input the index of the private coms included in the prospective client’s communication that was used to set this meeting. An excited voice burst from the coms with a rasping gabble of Ariikspeak.
“Take a breath Pulegimog, my Ariik is not that good!” Kali interrupted forcefully.
“Many apology, Gray Lady.”, the Ariik trader rasped after a pause.
Kali gritted her teeth, she knew that for many that knew her she and her ship were synonymous, but she didn’t have to like it. The fact that she was seldom seen in anything other than the dark grey flight suit, and the silver/grey highlights on of her genetically modified skin had made the name stick. She told herself that none of those who called her that knew of her painful past and the memories attached to the nature of her appearance. It still irritated her, though.

“Where are you now?” Pulegimog sounded tense.
“I am in-system, about 25,000ks from the station, what is the situation there?”
Pulegimog hissed and moaned in a stream of exited panicked chirps.
“We are not entire cert. Have been requested to stay in cabin. Rumors of radioactive coolant leak, but no interruption of services. Med bays full of sick bodies.
Kali frowned.

“Normally I only deal face to face, however, I really need to collect the item you secured."
Pulegimog’s voice calmed a bit.
“Small but valuable cargo needs be delivered. Time most important. Low profile most important. Reliability most important. You asked, we came, we deliver!”
“How much?” she asked.
“We exchange you for 10,000 units of Thamium9.” The Gek responded.
“The price agreed was 5,000....” Trading with an Ariik was never anything but a crooked path. She had never known one that was not genetically disposed to haggle.
"Harder to secure data was. Price needs to be more...We exchange you…” there was a pause and a barely audible gabble of Ariikspeak away from the com. "7,000 Thamium and 750 units of… Ri….Rigogen.” Pulegimog finished nervously.

Kali’s vision shifted. The cockpit became a glowing pattern of reds and yellows. She blinked rapidly and shook her head. The translucent membranes that had reflexively snapped closed over her eyes were meant to protect them from water-bourne irritants and provide additional visual capabilities while submerged. Unfortunately, they were also triggered by her startled reflex. 750 units of Rigogen was a significant amount of the bio-metallic substance. It was expensive and difficult to obtain as the aquatic plant that produced it grew beneath very few oceans of water worlds scattered through the galaxy.
Pulegimog would not have brought out an offer this rich without extensive research into the item she wanted. The old trader had probably worked out that it was more than it met the eye. If she was face to face with the old slug she would probably have slapped some terror into him.

“I believe we have an agreement. I will need full details and payment arrangements.”, she told the trader.
“You will please to see Rovax named Mohan at Dobu Spacestation near Olian Cloud. He has the item. Usual terms, half fee now, half fee upon delivery, vechenbak?”
“Agikichai” Kali replied, sealing the contract with the traditional Ariik ritual.

The name Moham was known to her by reputation. It didn’t make her feel any easier about what might be coming.

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