There is No Escape

“Hello Aitken, I do hope you have been keeping well.”

The damn computer woke me up with it's incessant bleeping. I made a mental note to switch it into “silent running”. As grumpy as I was at being woken before I was ready the young brunette that spoke those words took a little of the sting out.

“Ah, Miss Nascimento, to what do I own this unexpected pleasure?” I asked with just a hint of sarcasm.

“Please, if I have to drop the “Mr.” you must call me Charity.” Urrghh, just what I needed a little early morning flirting. “And we have a job for you.”

That woke me up pretty darn quick. The Silver Boys of Crom paid for their work to be done and paid pretty well too.

“Please continue, you have my undivided attention Charity.” A slight smile crossed my lips at the hypocrisy between my thoughts and actions. The unruffled younger woman continued.

“We need you to go to New Dawn Station in the Ceos System and pick up a job from the Bulletin Board. With you being in Wirigans it shouldn't be too much of a hop.” She paused awaiting confirmation from me, so I gave a slight nod. “The job will be on the board for only 8 hours, starting now, so try not to dilly dally too much Aitken.”

She gave me the code words to look out for in the bulletin message, wished me a good day and then closed the connection. I stood up and made my way to the galley, made myself the first cup of the day and stopped in my tracks half way to the cockpit. I hadn't told Charity where I was but she knew. I sat down in the pilots seat and looked out into the hangar wondering which one or how many of the workers here where in the employ of the Silver Boys. Taking a sip of my morning coffee I gave my head a shake, not my worry or problem I was just passing through.

Coffee finished I brought up the Galmap and checked a route out to Ceos, a little over 600lys. I had time so I decided that taking the “FRS December” would be a better, I only knew I had a job to do, no specifics had been given and the Anaconda would give me more flexibility than the Asp I was currently in. The “FRS Bennachie” was a wonderful ship but it had been fitted out with exploration and ratting in mind. Whatever the Silver Boys wanted done out on the frontier I was pretty sure it didn't involve scanning or fuel limpets. Even if it did the “December” was out fitted for those two jobs and more. That decided I prepared to depart.

The clunk and whirrs of the ship elevator accompanied the sound of my voice as I requested permission to take off. The gently thump and a slight rocking announced that we had arrived on the flight deck.

“Geston Horizons control to Asp Bennachie, cleared for take off and exit. Fly safe Commander.”

Acknowledging controls commands I powered up the thrusters and headed for the mail slot. Appearing through the mist I glanced at the scanner, looked up and with no ships near by push the throttle to 75%. As the speed built up I pulled up and to the left on the stick and aligned with my Frame Shift vector. My thumb hovered just above the FSD engage control waiting for the mass lock indicator to go out. A fraction of a second before it did the cockpit was bathed in a pulsating red light that was accompanied by a loud two beeps a second assault on my ears. RATSIGNAL.

I pulled the throttle back and listened to Rat Dispatch as my acceleration bled off. I'd been ratting since close to the start of the Fuel Rats and my response to calls had changed over that time. When I started, like most new Rats I would try to get in on any rescue that came along. I learnt, fairly quickly too, that you couldn't help everybody. Sometimes you were just to far away, sometimes even if you were close, others were even closer and that it did not matter if I was involved. What did matter was that the client was saved. With all that in mind and knowing I was on the edge of the bubble, I did not expect to be racing to any ones aid today. Didn't stop me checking though, you never knew what other Commanders would do. All that meant nothing this time, a Sidewinder pilot had under estimated his range and could not jump from the system he was in, a system two jumps from me and also in the opposite direction I was heading.

“Aitken to Dispatch, two jumps out. Over.”

“Roger Aitken, GO.”

With an “On my way” reply to Dispatch I flipped the Bennachie to it's new exit vector and charged up the FSD.

Commander Aude turned out to be another newly qualified pilot, who was very thankful to the Fuel Rats for saving him and embarrassed at his situation. Along with two tons of fuel he got a little education in fuel scoops and scoopable stars. Neither of which he was aware of, hopefully it would help him in the future. I watched as he jumped out and returned to the Galmap once again. The rescue had been by the book, no issues at all. That's not to say I was getting over confident as I knew that the universe had many hidden obstacles waiting to try and defeat us.

Well two jumps out of my way was not that big a deal but it did make me decide that I would stick in the Asp for whatever it was the Silver Boys had waiting for me in Ceos. I plotted in the course, hit the FSD and headed out.

The 600 odd ly hop to gave me time to think and wonder at the glory of the universe. It was like a mini exploration trip. It felt comfortable, like an old friend welcoming me into their home. It really didn't fool me for a second as I knew the universe could turn on me in a second. It did not take long, relatively, to cover it and the honk/scoop I was used to when in the black would put some extra credits in my pocket.

As the Bennachie broke the mist into the station that familiar feeling returned. I could not count the number of times I had looked upon the sight before me. The inside of space stations all looked similar, if it works why change it I guess, but each one had a unique feel and character, imparted upon it by the locals.

As the Asp settled onto landing pad 15 the raspy growl of the engines faded and I was pleased that I had been assigned one of the back pads, less people this far from the mail slot and it gave the Asp plenty of room to power up, just in case I needed a quick exit.

I left the Bennachie and asked the first mechanic I saw to resupply it with limpets. With that taken care of I headed to the nearest coffee shop for, well coffee and a chance to look through the Bulletin Board.

The coffee and computer pad where delivered at the same time but before that I had time to take in the atmosphere of the station. The occupants seemed to be a little on edge. It could be that it was due to the fact the station was newish or there was something going on in the background that I knew nothing about, heck it was probably both. Not my worry as once I had done this mission the chances I would be here again were slim. The New Dawn Station Bulletin Board looked the same as every other bulletin board I had seen, simple and easy to read. Finding the trigger phrases for the mission proved just as easy, once I had finished reading it I swore under my breath. I had been expecting the usual delivery mission that the Silver Boys fed me. What is it the say about “assuming” well I felt like an as I sat there.

It was an assassination mission, Liam Pierce had escaped justice and I was to dispense the sentence for his crimes. This did now ever pose me a few problems. My conscience was good with it, killing a criminal was not below me as I had done it many times before. My problem was I was not equipped for such a mission. Oh well, time to improvise and adapt. I looked through the ships for sale, a Sidewinder. Nope. Good ship I still enjoyed flying one from time to time, but just not up to this type of fight. Same went for the Eagle. A Lakon Type 9. I clicked on the outfitting screen ignoring the last ship I saw for sale. Pickings were slim and it would require some major re-equipping to get the Bennachie set up in any useful way. It was set up for exploration and Ratting, by that I mean unarmed and with low shielding. The complete opposite of what I needed. As much as I did not want to use the Asp that I had been through so much with, I had little choice as time was running out. I upgraded the shields, down graded the FSD, the target system was Sothis and close. Down grading FSD gave me the buffer in power I needed to fit weapons. Again here I was not happy. They did not sell lasers, which blew my mind. I ordered the Asp to be fitted with Multi-Cannons and Frags. Not the choice I would have made normally but beggars can't be choosy. I had hopes that once I reached Sothis, that Newholm Station might have a better selection of weaponry.

I finished my coffee and went to help the engineers refit the ship. It didn't take long. The banter and humour where good and what ever was happening on this station did not bother them. Perhaps they supported the winning faction if there was a power struggle going on. I thanked them and paid before I set up the Galmap for Sothis.

Everything powered up as I expected, even the interdictor we had fitted had power going to it. The short hop to Sothis felt like it was over before it had begun. Newholm was not far from the arrival point and docking there went with no problems. I sat for a few minutes to gather my thoughts and then decided to repeat what I had done in Ceos and I could use another coffee.

The coffee was good, the weaponry selection wasn't. In fact the only upgrade I could get was the interdictor, from B to A. Meh, it could give me a better chance if I had to pull him out of Supercruise. I finished the coffee and headed back to the Bennachie.

One last walk around, checking everything, chaff launcher full, heat sinks full, ammo boxes full, thrusters clean and clear of any debris. We where both ready to go. Still not happy with my choices I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind, adept, improvise and overcome. There was little more I could do to improve the load out so I set out.

Bounty Hunting can be a tedious, sitting, waiting for your target to appear. For such an out of the way system Sothis was still busy. Every contact that appeared on the scanner I targeted. Eagles, Vultures (That must have been a horrible journey), T6s, a vast assortment of vessels sailed past. At each one the interdictor who give out a slight hum as if asking to be used.

The Orca jumped into Supercruise about 50lys out from me. I clicked on the targeting system and the interdictor seemed to growl not just hum. It had good reason, Liam Pierce was in that ship and he had brought friends. His wing of 3 included two Vipers, normally I would not hesitate about those odds but with this load out I was a little concerned. I pushed the throttle into the sweet spot and the chase was on.

The hunt was not that difficult, he had no idea that I was there. I had thought he would be on high alert but he seemed to feel safe this far from the bubble. His mistake not mine.

BLAM, tether established and the wrestle commenced. I was losing him and I could not understand why, my thruster vector adjustments were keeping me right in the white zone. I was just reaching for the distributor control when I felt the Asp being torn out of Supercruise. Interdiction failed popped up on my HUD. As the FSD cooled down I saw my mistake and readjusted the distributor to all pips in systems. A rookie mistake and one I chastised myself for. Pierce would be on his guard how, heck he may have left the system and I could be wasting time.

I jumped back into Supercruise and began the stake out again. Eagles, Asps, T6, even an Imperial Clipper and than the Orca reappeared. I shook my head. He was either really stupid or thought I was no threat, I hoped it was both. Again I had no real problems getting behind the Orca, so again I hit the trigger. BLAM. The adjustments had worked and in what seemed like no time at all the Bennachie with me inside was spinning back into normal space.

“What the hell do you think you are doing?” The question was spluttered over the comm.

“You are Liam Pierce? Correct?” I knew from the scanner ID he was but there was no harm in asking.

Over the whine of my hard points deploying I heard, “Well yes I am. Who wants to know?”

It true movie style I answered by starting my warrant scanner and two multi-cannons. I preferred lasers for taking down shields but that luxury had not been granted to me. While the MC were not the best for shields some of the rounds could go through and damage the hull too. The comms lit up as Pierce scream protests at me and called for his wing mates. I had wanted to make this quick or at least quicker than this. I had really wanted to remove the Orca before those damn Vipers jumped in. What I wanted and reality were not destined to meet, they rarely did. The warrant scanner finished I switched my fire groups and brought the Frags online.

Frags are the shotgun of space. Great for damage if you are close but the spread is an obstacle if the distance is too great. I hugged the Orcas hull, it was nearly filling my forward view as I let loose with the first volley. Again those damn shields pulsed blue as the rounds hit them. Two orange blips showed up on my scanner as finally the Orcas shields dropped. Pierce had hit the boost button and I was hard behind him, the MCs and Frags chewing into his hull and engines. Lasers from the first Viper splashed across my shields and I noticed them starting to decrease. The second Viper piled in to. My shields dropped to one ring, damn he has at least one rail gun on that thing. I had caught up to the Orca and started hugging his hull again. That gave me the best chance to get his hull down with the Frags, hopefully a stray shot or two from the Vipers would help me too. Some hope I knew as the Asps plan view was about the size of a barn door, hope was eternal though.

“Shields Offline” Betty announced. If I could at that moment I would have hit the mute button but I found myself a little busy as pieces of my hull start to take MC and Laser hits. The Viper with the rail was holding off. Good I thought he is worried about hitting the Orca. I had been firing the Frags and MCs like a maniac as I manoeuvred round the Orca when it suddenly bloomed into a bright orange and red fiery flower before me. I had been so busy watching my hull I had lost track of the Orcas damage. Job done, let's see if I survive the aftermath.

Boost, close throttle and pull back on the stick. The Asp did a fairly good flip and I was head to head with the first Viper. My hull is taking a pounding as I let fly with the Multis. The Vipers shields drop and it's my turn to grind down his hull. Just as he is about to pass below I let off a volley of frags. Checking the scanner, I see the second Viper above and too my left. 61% hull, out numbered two to one and one enemy has a weapon capable of doing enormous damage to my hull. FSD charging. Discretion got the better of me and I jumped back into Supercruise.

Selecting Newholm Station as my destination I pushed the throttle to wide open. No one is going to interdict me ran through my mind as the sweat and adrenaline flowed out of and through my body.

With one eye constantly on the scanner I cruised over to Newholm and docked. I must have sat in the cockpit for a good 5 minutes, waiting until my body and emotions returned to near normal. Then I headed for the coffee shop. There I cashed in the local bounty Pierce had on him. Sitting sipping at the coffee I contemplated on the dogfight I had just been in. I started to think I should have took on the Vipers when the little voice in my head gave me a slap. Yeah, I had made the right call. The escort Pierce had must have been hired guns, I had no fight with them and after the head to head, probably a run started before the Orca blew, they had no reason to continue either. All three of us got to live for another day.

Content, or as content as one can be after ending a man's life, I walked back to the Bennachie and checked out the damage. It wasn't as bad as I had first feared. I got the worst of it patched up but decided to leave any refitting until I returned to Ceos.

Again I kept a close eye on the scanner, checking every ship I saw just in case those Vipers showed up, they didn't and I docked at New Dawn with no problems.

I stayed in the hangar to talk over the remaining repairs with the engineers. We browsed through the outfitting screen and I managed, with weapons removed, to get a decent jump range. Not as good as it had been but good enough to get back to the bubble where I could pick up the parts I wanted.

“You been in a scrap by the looks of things Aitken.” Nadzieja the chief engineer remarked.

“Yeah couple of Vipers, if they come by, at least one should have damage, you let me know.”

“Sure, sure. They after your cargo or you?” She asked. I took a moment to think that one through but ended up telling the truth.

“Probably me. My know fault, I picked the fight.” I gave a shrug, some you win, some you lose.

“Alright. You're a good guy and a good customer but I'll still service the Vipers if they come by you know.” She was a tall dark haired woman, I could see some of it peaking out from under the cap she wore as she stood up to her full height.

“I would expect nothing less Nadzie, I bit off more than I could chew, you got a business to run. No worries. Oh before I forget, ok if I use your terminal to access the Board?”

“Sure Aitken, go right ahead. Me and the team going to be busy fixing this for a while.” She gave a smile and wandered off toward the parked Asp.

I walked in the other direction and sat down beside the terminal. With a little navigation I was able to pull up the local Bulletin Board. I scrolled to the mission description and hit the “finished” tab. The screen flicker and switch over to a video feed.

“Hello Cmdr.” A pause as the man before looked down, shook his head a little and carried on. “I have just finished speaking with Miss Nascimento. Congratulations and thank you for carrying out the mission.” A guy about my age but with a heavier build and greyer hair stared back at me. The sharp, dark suit reminded me of a Banker, perhaps it was the image he was going for.

“My pleasure and of course the credits didn't hurt. I don't believe we have been introduced.” I replied in an even tone. Before he answered he glanced to his left, gave a small nod and returned to looking at the screen.

“You are correct, we have not. My name is Mr. Smith.” You have got to be kidding me I thought. “I am Lead Controller for Special Operations for the Silver Boys of Crom. Charity is my assistant and liaison to 4 or 5 of our reliable contacts. Which you are one Aitken.” He seemed to pause, so I took the chance to interrupt.

“Ok back up Smithy.” Smith stopped, folded his arms and nodded for me to proceed. “Thanks.” I said with a sarcastic tone. “When you first opened this transmission you couldn't find whatever you had my name on. So you have either found my name, I didn't see you pick up anything or the mystery person in that room with you told you. Which is it?”

The screen picture split and a younger man appeared in the left hand side. Oh good grief.

“Hi Dad. I didn't know you were doing work for the Federals.” Robert Aitken said.

“Believe it or not Son either did I. I thought these jobs were for the Silver Boys.” It was the truth, I really did not care who paid me as long as they kept their word and paid me what was agreed upon.

“They were but we sometimes have to push jobs out for reasons no one needs to know. The Silver Boys are good at keeping things quite, as are you, I have never heard your name when talking to them.” My 23 year old Son looked a little puzzled.

“Well, if they are good at keeping your secrets I would imagine they are good at keeping their own. I was under the impression that you had someone keeping an eye on me, what happened there?” Robert looked a little embarrassed at the fact I knew about my tail.

“We lost track of you about three or four weeks ago,” He admitted. I could not help myself and started to chuckle.

“I was following in your Grandfathers footsteps Kid, I was out in “the Black” for a few weeks.”

“Really!!”He exclaimed. “We ruled that out as Grandpa's Cobra was still docked at Shinrarta.” He said with genuine surprise in his voice.

“I have other ships Kid, I don't use the “Sair Fecht” often, I was out in an Asp this time.” I gave him a smile, just to let him know there were no hard feelings on the tail.

“Well Aitken, it seems today is full of surprises.” Mr. Smith piped in. “I think the relationship between you two should stay between us here, that's if you wish to continue doing work for the Silver Boys Aitken?” It was a honest question, I was sure the Silver Boys did work for more than just the Federal Government, a few other Super Powers sprung to mind.

“Yeah, I have no problem with either of those.” I looked at Robert and he gave a slight nod. “Plus it might help the Kid here keep a closer eye on me.” I quipped.

“Excellent. We do so much like keeping good independent operators. The other surprise is that your Federal rating has been increased to Lieutenant grade. Again my congratulations as this means that certain Federal jobs will open up for you.” A small smirk appeared on his lips. I do believe that was what he thought was a smile. I answered truthfully again.

“I wasn't even aware I had a “Federal” ranking.” I admitted.

“Oh yes Aitken. You have an Imperial one too. Would you like to know it?” Now a crease blossomed on his brow. He seemed to be thinking how could I not know that the Powers kept tabs on us all. That I did know, or guessed. I declined to know that ranking as none of them interested me. For work sure, personally, nope.

“Well if Robert and yourself are finished I think we can wrap this up.” Smith waited for us both to acknowledge and then closed the transmission. Once again I found myself staring at the Board.

“Hey, Aitken you sure you want these here guns taken off. You got 600ly to go back to the bubble.”

“Yeah Nadzie, strip the scummy things off. If I hit trouble I know how to run, right.” I replied with humour in my voice.

With a laugh and a wave of her hydro-spanner she went back to work.

I'd learnt a long time a go that I could drink coffee at anytime of the day. It drove some people nuts, my ex-wife included. Just as they were getting ready to turn in for the day I would be knocking back “another” coffee. Big whoop, to me it was their problem to deal with. So with this in mind I left Nadzieja and her crew to their work and headed for the local cafe.

I found a booth in the diner and sat down. Fairly quickly a waitress came over to take my order. Eggs, bacon and don't forget the coffee. The eggs? Sunny side up will be fine if you have that brown sauce stuff, you do, cool. Thanks. Off she bustled.

I needed time to go through everything that had happened in the past 4 or 5 hours. Not just the assassination, bounty hunt or whatever that had been. I knew one thing for sure the “FRS Bennachie” was going into storage. As stupid as it sounded, even to me, we had been through too much out in the black for me to do this to it again. That's not to say I wouldn't use it, for exploring or ratting but that was it. So I would need another ship of some type to do the other types of jobs I took on, food for thought. As if on cue the food for my body turned up. The Feds had just released some new ships so I might take a look at them. I was in no hurry and could use my Conda the “December” until I made up my mind.

The food was good and once I had the “Bennachie” back in the bubble and refitted as it should be, I'd be happier. With that all decided in my mind the only thing left was to travel back to the bubble and see what transpired.

So that's just what I did.

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