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“There you are Aitken. We need to have a little talk.”
I could hear the voice of Rodger Clay but I couldn't see him. At that moment I had half of my body inside a maintenance hatch of a Type-6 Transporter. The bright yellow and duller black stripes on it's bodywork let people know that this was 'Horse' the T-6 I had brought to Perez Ring and had used in service of the controlling faction. Speaking of controlling, that's what I was busy refitting for the second or third time, Fuel Limpet Controller. I tightened up the last connection and let my body slide. As my feet impacted with the hangar floor I allowed my momentum to bend my knees and then I stayed in that crouched position as I looked over toward Rodger.
“You going to hit me with that?” He asked as I straightened up. I looked down at the tool in my hand and placed it on the small table close to where I was now standing.
“No, I'm just finishing refitting a system on Horse.” It was the third time I had done it but that wasn't a detail I shared with Rodger. Since picking up the Trade Data for him I had run a few more 'tasks.' After each I had refitted the fuel controller and of course the next task required me to take it out and put in a cargo rack.
“Problem with your ship?” He asked. He actually sounded a little concerned.
“No, no problem just routine stuff.”
“Good because I have another small task for you.” Right, here we go. “ Remember the Trade Data that you recovered a while back.” I nodded. “Great. It took our boffins a little while but they cracked them open and decrypted the information. I need you to go to these coordinates on Olgrea ABC 1b you'll find a small base there. Once there you take out the skimmers in and around it.”
“Sure. When?” I didn't ask about payment as ever job I had done for him had been profitable but I had a reason for asking about the timing.
“It'll be within the next day or two.” He replied.
“Alright, that gives me time to arrange a few things.”
“What's to arrange Aitken. You fly in, jump in a Scarab and take out the skimmers at the base. Have a little drive around and take out any more you find.”
I stood looking at him and wiped my hands with a rag I had in my back pocket. I gave a shrug and started to turn back to the T-6.
“Look if you think this is some kind of underhand activity you got it wrong. The skimmers will be wanted. They are part of an illegal breakaway faction that stole some important assets from one of our other systems. You'll be clearing the way for the personnel to reclaim those assets that's all.”
I had my back to him by this time and allowed myself a sly grin. It had dissolved before I turned back to him.
“No worries Rodger. As you said I need a SRV and Horse here doesn't have one fitted and I've messed around with it's internals enough. A day or two gives me time to arrange for a ship that has one.”
“Oh. Of course. I'll have the details and word sent to you when we've set the start time.”
With that he turned and walked out. Touchy subject I thought. Must be stressful being the CEO of a large business. Again I shrugged and headed into Horse to make my arrangements.
“So what's he got you doing this time?” Shoshana asked over lunch.
“Usually stuff, no biggie.” I answered as I caught a hint of worry in her voice.
“You forget where I work? I see the amounts you have been paid for the jobs you do for Rodger and they're a little high just for delivering beer.”
“What can I say, I'm good at what I do.” I gave her my most charming smile but had little hope she would drop the subject. She sat in silence for a few moments more as she continued to eat.
“I could take it up with Rodger you know.” She said between forkfuls of food.
“You could, yup.” I had finished eating so I took a sip of coffee.
“You're impossible.” She said as she slid the plate away from herself. “Whatever it is you are up to, be careful.”
Just then the PADD I had sitting on the table gave out a ping.
“Come on.” I said to her as I read the message. “I got something to show you.”
It was a short walk to the hangar area and as we walked we received the odd hello and acknowledgement from some of those we past. Once again I noticed the same old man in and around the area I was in. I had pretty much made up my mind he was keeping a close eye on me when I was at Perez Ring, I just wasn't sure whose eye he was employed by.
“It's a Cobra.” Shoshana remarked as we entered the hangar that held Horse and it's new stable mate. “And if I know my ship recognition, it's a Mark IV.”
“It is indeed a Mark IV.” I agreed as we moved beneath the newly delivered machine.
“Well, considering the amount of pilots that view it negatively and the amount of abuse it is given. I mean most look upon it as the red headed stepchild of Faulcon DeLacy. So why this and not a Mark III?”
“Internals.” It was a simple answer that I did mean to expand on and continued to do so. “Despite the lack of speed, lack of manoeuvrability and lack of range, it has enough room for everything I need to do surface missions and carry a fuel limpet controller.”
“So use an Asp Explorer.” She replied.
“I did think about it but the Mark IV is a little smaller and runs a little cooler.” I saw from her expression that she wasn't convinced. “Plus I like the way a SRV hits the front landing strut and is in perfect alignment to stow.”
“Hmm, well it's your choice I guess. Has this anything to do with what Rodger was talking to you about?”
“Nah.” I lied. I don't like lying to Shoshana but this one had twofold reasons. It stopped her worrying when I was absent and it might make her drop the subject of doing work for Rodger. Even if it was legitimate tasks I knew she would still worry. “I've been meaning to do some more surface salvage for awhile and as things are cooling down with missions and deliveries I thought I'd take the opportunity.”
I don't think I had totally pulled the wool over her eyes but perhaps just enough to make the time before I undertook Rodgers next mission less stressful for both of us. A quick kiss and Shoshana, lunch over, returned to work. I did tell her the ships name before she left.
“All the points you listed are the reason it's called Riffraff.” I informed her. At least she left with a smile on her face. I spent the afternoon making sure everything was in order and waiting for Rodgers call. It didn't arrive and so I was happy to spend more time aboard Perez Ring.
The call came next morning as I sat drinking coffee. Shoshana had left a few minutes before to start her work shift and as was usual for me I wrote a quick note and sent it to her personal account. I imagined she would read it when she took a break and by that time I would probably be in Olgrea.
Lifting the half cup I had remaining I stood up and headed toward the hangar area. An old man across the corridor gave a smile and a head nod as I walked away, I lifted my cup in mock salute and continued on.
According to the mission outline I had received I would have about an hour to clear out the base and surrounding area. Climbing aboard Riffraff and firing up all systems took less time than obtaining clearance to the flight deck and station exit. Having plotted the route, once clear of the toast rack I pushed the throttle open, aligned the Mark IV and jumped out as soon as we cleared the NFZ.
ABC 1b was 5,778ls from the entry point so I settled in for an easy journey. I had no plans to drop into any Signal Sources to add any difficulty. It was a moon described as an icy body but as I entered orbital cruise it looked just like any other hunk of rock I had dropped in on lately. I was hoping to drop out of the glide so as to get a look at the lie of the land round the facility. I misjudged it completely and exited the glide nearly on top of the trespass zone but by banking quickly to the right I missed setting off the alarms. It did back up what Rodgers briefing had told me about it being completely automated, nothing stirred from the pop of the Mark IV exiting it's glide and coming close.
One good thing did come from my poor glide management, as I banked away I saw a gulley running along one edge of the facility and it was this I followed as I looked for a landing site. With Riffraff requiring a small area to land on it didn't take long and I set it down on a flattish patch 4km away.
Once in the SRV I deployed to the surface and dismissed Riffraff. Applying power to the SRV I entered the gulley. It was a perfect topographical concealed route to the base and showed that it had been placed there by someone who didn't know what they were doing. It was an error I intended to use to my advantage.
It was a bumpy trip as the low gravity tended to kick the little Scarab up at every little rock. As I crept closer a white blip showed up on the scanner and confirmed something I had hoped I was wrong about. Rodgers intel. about the structure was a week old and with the modular building techniques of the day, a lot could be built in that time. The first thing that popped up on the scanner was of course a defensive turret, something that had not been there a week ago. Added difficulty for sure but nothing I hadn't dealt with before.
I got to where the scanner indicated I was opposite the turret and looked for a high area in the gulley, not so that I was out of it but just enough so that the Scarabs turret was above it's lip. Once I had, I stopped and popped into the SRVs turret viewer. I saw pretty much what I expect to see. A fairly large building with a few smaller ones dotted around it, what looked like a refuelling depot and not a lot else. Oh and of course more than one turret, four to be exact. From previous experience with this type of facility I knew I was safe until I opened fire or broke the trespass zone.
I closed down the turret view and drove out of the gulley heading for one of the smaller buildings. I was careful to not stray into the trespass zone but once beside the small building I lined myself up so only one turret had line of sight to me. A few flicks of my thumb, four pips to shields and two to the twin plasma repeaters. Thuck, thuck, thuck, thuck, thuck, thuck. I was surprised at how quickly it's integrity went down. A bright flash and a trickle of smoke and the turret was gone. I also knew what that meant to the skimmers and sure as heck multiple new contacts appeared on the scanner.
One flew straight behind me, a quick push of a button and I was back to the turret view. It's shot hit the shields but mine were hitting hull. A flash and it fell to the ground with an eye blinding explosion. Inching the Scarab forward another was soon in it's sights and fell. The third and fourth fell soon after but not before the second defensive turret picked me up.
Out of the turret view I turn into the fire and returned it. If I had been expecting this turret to behave like the first, and I had, I was mistaken. I had thought the it would destroy as easy as the first but no it was made of sterner stuff and so I hid behind the fuel depot. Once out of it's sight it ceased firing. Again I was thankful that everything was automated. If I had been using the defences I would have targeted the depot and destroyed it and whoever was hiding in it.
Popping in and out from cover I took out the second turret and sat allowing the shields to regenerate to full before moving on to the third. It was another tough nut to crack, the fourth not so much, more like the first. I cruised outside the trespass zone, setting it off a couple of times as I cut the corners. When no more skimmers appeared I recalled the Mark IV.
I hadn't been lying to Shoshana when I told her the SRV could hit the forward landing support and be aligned to load. Once back in the cockpit of Riffraff I powered up the thrusters and climbed up to 2.5km. Now I had to make sure there were not any skimmers close enough to the base to interfere with the recovery team. Landing gear up I slowly started a circle out from the base. If I spotted any likely site I dropped in and took the skimmers out. After repeating this a few more times I was just returning to Riffraff when I heard the pop of a ship exiting orbital glide. Whatever Rodger was keen to get back there was a lot of it, a Type-9 Heavy descended toward the now unprotected base.
“Aitken, the recovery team is down and heading in. You can return to Perez Ring. Clay out.”
Well that was that then. Fire up the thrusters, quick plot in Galmap and line up for the escape vector.
Exiting the Cobra Mark IV I looked back at it and gave a smile. Sure compared to it's better known stable mate it was a bit sluggish, even after the modifications I had asked for. Still, I liked it, don't ask me why but it had a certain charm that allowed me to look beyond it's faults. Next modification I thought as I walked away was a coffee machine.
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