Canto 40 – The Thin White Duke
Castle Orpheum was a completely enclosed and very unusual under-water city. The Dancer Downport was on a floating platform anchored nearly a mile above the city dome. The vast underwater dome could only be reached by commuter submarine. It was isolated and difficult to reach, yet a critical link in the chain of interstellar commerce, as well as the shadier parts of the “package industry”.
To reach it, one normally had to surrender all personal security to the good will of the Blackhawk Corsairs. They were as much pirates as they were protection, though. Aero and Cloudstalker both didn’t want to risk trusting them. So, Ham Aero had flown the Leaping Shadowcat straight into the world-wide sea on the planet Dancer. When they located the entry base on the top of the city dome, Arkin Cloudstalker communicated his intentions directly to the Thin White Duke. Miraculously, Castle Orpheum opened to them and allowed them in without ever consulting the Blackhawks who ruled there. The ship was parked in the main vehicle bay where it had ample room. The crew locked it up and headed down a lift shaft into the city itself.
“We are going to have to be careful here,” said Arkin to the crew. “Razor Conn is a good man, but his organization is full of less than trustworthy types.”
“Didn’t this planet once belong to a Mechanoid?” asked Ham.
“Khoolbas DiQuiri, yes. He was half computer, half lard. The fattest Mechanoid ever re-animated. Razor Conn took over this planet and this city from him.”
“Is he dead then?” asked Duke Ferrari.
“No, Han,” said Arkin. “Half of this planet’s artificial systems run through his computerized brain. If Razor had killed him, this planet would lose atmosphere and become a giant ice ball again. He’s a prisoner, but he’s still alive somewhere here in Castle Orpheum.”
As the access port to the lift shooped open, the crew stood looking at a Chinese man in a black suit with a gangster hat and black cape.
“Greetings, gentlemen. I am Shad Blackstone, Razor Conn’s number two man. I’ve come to take you to the White Duke.”
Nothing more was said. In a single file line, the group followed the mysterious caped Chinaman into the city streets. Castle Orpheum was a detailed reconstruction of 1930’s Chicago back on the planet Earth. Everyone dressed like Al Capone and the only vehicles allowed in the city were 1930’s-style roadsters with photon-battery engines. Many openly carried ACR’s (advanced combat rifles) shaped like Tommy guns. Molls and urchins roamed the streets trying to con the toughs into cutting them in on the action. It was like an alien culture to the crew of the Shadowcat.
“What’s with this place?” asked Duke Ferrari.
“It has style,” said Blackstone mysteriously.
Most of the buildings they passed were styled as theaters, speak-easies, and pool halls. Most, however served functions different than they appeared to, and almost all had private dwellings in the upper stories. The dome’s sun-source and artificial lights were set on a kind of permanent twilight, making the whole place eerily like the set of a film-noire movie.
Shad Blackstone led them into a building marked as Keyser’s Old-Style Brewery. The six guards they saw wore Blackhawk combat armor and carried plasma guns.
“No one breaks in here, do they,” said Ham.
“Are we gonna get shot at?” asked the Lupin boy, Sahleck Kim.
“No,” said Blackstone, “at least, not by us.”
The party entered a small computer room to be scanned.
“This is Fortunato Tomb,” said Blackstone, introducing the Kritiian with the four scanners. Tomb was an insect-man from the planet Kriti 5. He had a brown carapace and four hands. He walked upright on his hind two legs. In the face he looked like a huge praying mantis with multi-faceted eyes and big, sharp mandibles.
“Hold still and this will go quickly,” said Tomb with a creepy voice coming through a universal translator device he wore on his abdomen.
“Where’s your hat, bug man?” asked Trav. “Everybody else in this place has a gangster hat. Or maybe I should call it a Ged Aero hat?”
“I ate mine, monkey man,” said Tomb, “but I’m still hungry. Maybe you’ll be so kind as to hand me yours?”
Tomb ran the scanners over everyone, though no one would say what he was looking for. Trav held his gob hat in his hands the entire time.
“Gentlemen,” said Blackstone, “it is time to head into the inner sanctum of the Thin White Duke.”
A bookcase rolled away from the wall to reveal a secret staircase. Shad Blackstone led the way up the stairs, which re-sealed after they all had passed. The inner sanctum was styled after a public library with numerous book racks and tables that left ample room for study. There were computers and holo-displays built into the surface of every table. A few leather-bound paper books were open and spread about on the tables.
The Thin White Duke himself was obviously well nick-named. He had white hair, a white suit like Mark Twain, and was rail thin in an almost emaciated way. He also wore a white half-cape over his left shoulder.
“So, I am honored by your visit, Hannover Ferrari,” said the White Duke.
“We had no choice,” said Duke Ferrari plainly. “You are the Sector Duke, and we can’t operate in your sector without your permission.”
“Nothing illegal, I suppose?” The White Duke arched an eyebrow.
“Well,” said Cloudstalker, “we plan to rebel against the Galtorr Imperium.”
“I know your plan. I dispatched agents to this planet Don’t Go Here and I have information for you about Ged Aero’s journey to a planet called Gaijin. I would like to know what you are planning to do about the ancient relic that your Goofy Dalgoda plans to steal.”
The group was astounded by the revelation of the depth of the White Duke’s intelligence sources. Ham Aero turned red in the face on Goofy’s behalf, but Trav himself showed no change of expression at all.
“Uh…” Arkin Cloudstalker tried to say, “we never actually… um… approved Dalgoda’s plan.”
“Don’t panic, my friends. Razor, Shad, and I have talked it over carefully. We want you to take the thing. It is dangerous beyond belief and we don’t trust anyone to handle it more than Ged Aero.”
“What is this thing?” asked Ham, alarmed.
“We’ll examine it tomorrow. For now, let’s just say that we are planning to give it to you. In return for taking it off our hands, I will help you with your rebellion. The planets Dancer, Regal One, and Inchon will join your alliance. We no longer claim White Palm. That was Nefaria’s planet, and the Count disappointed me greatly in his recent dealings. He and his Expedition One archeologists have another ancient device buried somewhere that, if I knew where it was, I would give to you. My agents are supposed to try to make things happen in the Imperium, especially since the Emperor went insane, but Nefaria started dealing in the darkness with things I can’t control. I won’t have it. My agents all answer to me. My allies merely have to swear that they are on my side.”
“You aspire to be Emperor yourself, Duke Keyser?” asked Duke Ferrari.
“No, Han. I expect I will be supporting YOU for the next Emperor of the Galtorr Imperium.”