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I found it hard to disagree with him but I did know of over 160 fortunate souls that might disagree with his statement. I kept that thought to myself. Paul Kavinsky was, well, as close to a friend as anyone else I knew out here.
“I didn't call you a hero. What I said was that you are going from hero to villain a little fast.” I replied.
“Same thing.” He snapped back at me.
Hang on. I'll back up a little here so you get the background to this.
I'd left Fuelum and had started to head out to the edge of the bubble when I received an incoming call, yes you guessed it. Paul Kavinsky.
“Hey Aitken I need to talk to you about something.” The dark haired Fuel Rat had said. “Can you meet in Liaedin.”
“If you want to talk you got me now, go ahead.” While I had no problems about helping him I was nearly at my destination and really did not wish to travel back into habited space, yet.
“No. No, not over comms. others could be listening and I want to keep this between you and me.” His voice dropping in volume with each word until he was whispering the last few to me. “I really need you to come here.”
By the end of his request I had already powered down the Bennachies engines to idle. So much for staying out of sight.
“Okay mate, I'll be there before the end of the day.”
“Good, good. Meet me in the Kohl Bunker.” He smiled back at me and before I could answer the screen went blank.
“Sure Paul, you're welcome Paul.” I started to plot the route as I muttered to myself and pulled the joystick to head back deeper into the bubble. “Why don't I stick a big banner on the back of the ship with my name, so people can find me easier Paul.”
With the new destination laid in, I hit the FSD and started the multiple jumps to Liaedin. I'd been to Liaedin before, before I had crossed paths with Paul and since. I hadn't liked it much and no it wasn't because it was an Imperial system. Rather it was because where it was. It lay right in the middle of the Federation and had been the site of a conflict earlier in the year. Even now months later, you could still get a good punch up happening in the local bars, like the Kohl Bunker, between Feds and Imps, Alliance and Imps or any combination really. Imps v Imps was not unheard of due to the amount of differing factions that had sprung up. Not my major worry, all I had to do was meet Paul, see what he wanted and then head back out to the fringe.
Just before the last jump I changed my mind and jumped to LP 390-16. A nice little Independent system of just under 11 million. I had been to it often and liked it a whole lot more that Liaedin. I preferred doing business in Independent systems, oh and this one had a couple of black markets. Once in system I locked onto Readdy Orbital and started the 3,720ly run in. I upgraded the thrusters and shields to A grade just in case I had to make a quick get away, better safe than sorry. I also fitted a planetary hangar and bought a new SRV to go inside it. With that done and the jump to Liaedin plotted in, I left.
For those that have never been been to Liaedin it has two stars and three planets that orbit a F class star, Liaedin A. The first two after the F class star have no atmosphere, Ulrich's Rock and Moore's World. Both have Starports in fact Moore's has two, the third planet Schneider Colony is similar to Earth but I have not been there so I have no other information on it. Schneider also has a moon called Camp Ashfield I'm told it has structures on it but again I've never been there. Liaedin B is a K Class star and has no orbiting bodies. Each planet has an orbiting space station around it and it was to the first I was heading, Kohl Terminal and then the wittily bar named Kohl Bunker, I hope you heard the sarcasm there.
After docking, shutting down the Asp and setting the security system, I checked it, twice, I made my way slowly through the station. There was no hurry to get to the bar, the end of the day was still hours away and so I stopped into a coffee shop. It also gave me the chance to people watch and gauge the mood of them. I didn't find it to be good, not toward me anyway. Those with Imperial insignia and other decoration of the type got a friendlier attitude extended. I would have given a shrug but feared that such an action would be seen as hostile and be met with a bullet or knife aimed my way, I joke but not by much. Thankful the coffee was good and so I spent a good thirty minutes just watching. Once finished I returned the cup to the serving area, the sideways glances and whispered, barely audible exchanges between other patrons only reinforced what I already had made up my mind to do. This was a place I was going to have to be on my best behaviour to avoid any unpleasantness.
Entering the Kohl Bunker was another reminder to not aggravate the locals. I swear even the holographic band playing at the rear of the bar stopped and looked me over. I saw Paul sitting at a table close to the bar, a half glass of some drink before him. I nodded to indicate if he wanted another, he shook his head and I continued toward the bar. Once I had ordered something non-alcoholic and received it I slid over to the table and sat down. Once the locals saw me sitting with Paul the hush that had fallen picked up to the usual bar noise again.
“Nice bunch.” I quipped across the table. I received a grunt back. Paul was wearing his usual near permanent scowl, the only time it lifted was when he laughed, so not often. When standing he was around 5'7”, a lean frame that didn't hide the agility he possessed. Meeting him for the first time people got the impression that this was one mean, tough, bad man. They were not far wrong either. Just the kind of person you would expect to meet in this type of bar. It may not have been much but it was busy as I could only see one free table and it was close to the band.
Paul raised his glass to his lips and took a sip of the amber coloured liquid it held. His usual was whisky and this one was still well stocked. Putting the glass back on the table he looked over at me for the first time and started talking.
“I need you to do something for me and it will be worth your time.” He got my attention with the “worth your time” part of the statement. I nodded but stayed quiet. “I need you to scoop some cargo for me.”
Simple sounding request, but this was Paul Kavinsky so there had to be something I was missing.
“You broke your cargo hatch?” I asked. Sure there was something else behind his request.
“Not broken, just powered down.” I did not reply but instead cocked my head to one side with a quizzical expression on my face. “It's like that so I can keep the weapons online at all times.”
“Ok, just turn it back on, scoop to your hearts content, problem solved.”
Paul took another pull on his drink before coming all the way clean.
“Not a good idea. I would expect the ship that drops them will start firing as soon as my weapons go offline.” I nodded as the penny finally dropped.
“Sorry but no. Piracy is not my style. You're going from hero to villain a little fast aren't you.” I said bluntly.
“I ain't no hero!” He spat back at me.
“I didn't call you a hero. What I said was that you are going from hero to villain a little fast.”
“Same thing.” He snapped back at me a slight pause and then he continued on. “I'm not asking you to be a pirate, I just need you to scoop the cargo while I keep the target under control.” Another sip of whisky.
“And it's still no. Stand and deliver style operations are not my thing. Sorry mate not going to happen. You're going to have to find someone else.”
“What's wrong with scooping some cargo? Heck you do it all the time with those black box, trade data missions.” He still sounded calm and I was hoping it would remain that way.
“Completely different and you know it. No one is getting guns pointed at them there. Even the ones set up as a trap, it isn't their stuff I am scooping. You and I know that the pirates that set up those just came across the wreck and seize the opportunity in the hope that some sucker comes along.”
“Too good to help uh? A little beneath you or so you think. You've done worse and you know it.” The calm exterior was starting to slip.
A waitress placed another glass of whisky in front of Paul before he really got going. I silently thanked her as she walked toward another table. One more interruption stood up from the table to my right.
“Glory to the Emperor, Bask in her Greatness.” A pilot stood up, swaying a little and raised his glass. A male and a female Imperial sat with him, it was the female that answered.
“Sit down Alberto. You know I grudgingly support the emperor, at least till the Princess has earned her rights to it.” She responded, tugging at the first man's flight suit. The third member of the party decided it was time to join in.
“What do you have against Arissa, our glorious Emperor? What has she done to bring your scepticism to bear, Xanthe? “
“I would not speak against our chosen emperor, Caleb. Only I feel, that the Princess of the Prismatic Imperium was the rightful heir. I believe forces in the senate had ensured she and her father were cut off from the line of succession.” Xanthe laid out her conspiracy theory for her companions.
“The late Emperor himself wished for Arrisa to succeed him. That is all I need to know.” Alberto chimed in as he sat down. “May he rest in peace, it was one of his final requests.”
“My general feeling is that something is afoot in the Empire, and I don’t trust the senators. The only way Arissa Duval became emperor was through the late Emperor’s death. That is enough for me to stay clear.” Xanthe proclaimed setting her drink on the table.
“Stinking Imperials.” Paul said quietly, but not quietly enough for my liking. “ I fly for me, I don't trust any slimy Imps.”
“I fought on the side of the Federation in Kausalya against the Emperor's Dawn.” Xanthe chimed up, probably trying to silence Paul. Some hope he was looking for an argument and I wasn't inclined to try and stop him at this point.
“Good for you Boyscout.” Paul calmly replied, picking up his glass he took a swig of his new whisky. “Did ya get a medal?”
“You see,” looking at her two Imperial wing mates, “this is the thanks we get when we fly alongside Federal pilots. Show some respect Federati!”
Paul's hand started to slowly move off the table, now I did feel inclined to butt in. Quietly so as not to be over heard by the Imp pilots I said the word “No” and gave my head a shake. The last thing I needed was a bar fight with stabbed Imp pilots to bring notice to it. Looking at me from under the scowl Paul stayed his hand and the knife would stay where it was, for the moment at least.
“I'm no Federal young lady, I fly for no one. Your young Princess is a good looking wench I'll give her that.” It was the closest Xanthe would get to an apology, I was hoping that she would let the whole thing go.
“Show some respect mercenary. You are talking about a Imperial Princess not some common harlot of the street.” Looking to her friends she said. “I would expect nothing less from hired thugs.” Well that was my hopes dashed.
Paul shot out of his chair, knife in hand. Xanthe stood up just as quickly with her two wing mates right behind her. I was half way out of my chair before I became aware of the loud tapping sound coming from the bar. All of us looked in the direction of the, thud, thud, thud noise.
“That will be the end of the political talk for this evening gentle pilot folk.” The barman said raising and letting fall what looked like shotgun onto the bar top. “Or do I have to start asking people to leave?”
Everyone sat down again, the knife in Paul's hand had disappeared as quickly as it had shown it's presence. With an uneasy calm returned to the bar I decided it was my cue to leave.
“Paul, we're friends so I'll hold my tongue about your business proposal. And before one or both of us say something we'll regret I'm going to go. I hope there are no hard feelings but I can't help you with it.” I stood up leaving my untouched drink on the table. “Try not to kill them once I've gone, ok.”
The alcohol fuelled eyes glowered at me from under the scowl but he did manage a “Sure” before I walked away. Once outside I took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. I hadn't been lying to Charity when I had called him unstable, this was just another example of it to me. I shook my head as I walked away and stopped into the same coffee shop I had on my way to the bar. The coffee was good just as it had been earlier, unfortunately the attitude of the locals was also the same, a shade below hostile.
I left the shop and once back in the Bennachie, the station too. I had plotted the course to Maia before leaving for a couple of reasons. The first was that it was about as far as I could get from Liaedin and still dock at a station. The other reason was that for the past few weeks I had been hearing rumours of minerals and wreaks being found on planets. I wanted to look into these hints a little further out to see if they were true. I was just lining up for my fifth jump when the cockpit went red and a high pitched sound pierced it.
I jabbed a finger at the comms unit,listened and had a quick glance to see who was on dispatch.
“Aitken, we have you three jumps out from a stranded commander, are you able to respond?” The steady, smooth lilt of Derry asked as he patched the location to me. No sign of worry or panic on his face. Just another day at the office.
“Yeah Derry I got this one. On my way.”
“I'll advise client to send the request direct to you. I know you like to work alone so I'll leave it to you to direct the client on what you need them to do. Report in if you have any problems or at the end of refuelling. Dispatch out.” He nodded and with a click the comms unit went blank again. Three jumps out not a problem, the second jump was scoopable so I filled up the tank and jumped into the clients system. I had been able to text him so everything was set up.
As soon as the blurring of hyperspace cleared I started to turn the Asp and check my scanner. There was no need to as almost immediately the blur of a beacon drop kicked in. BOOM I was in normal space and scanning for that open blue rectangle. It took a couple of seconds longer than I had been hoping for but we were close to the star but appear it did.
“You should know better than this commander.” I typed as I spotted the word Elite in the scan report of the Federal Assault Ship.
“Sorry, damn Brown Dwarf caught me out. I must have misread my Galmap.” Came back at me as I moved the Bennachie into position and fired the first two limpets.
“No worries mate, happens to the best of us.” I typed back. I shot the remaining six limpets at him. With a “Thanks” and a reminder from me to think about fitting a fuel scoop if he wanted to travel distances with a FAS, he was gone. I reported to Derry to clear the rescue off the board and that the client had been debriefed, such as it was. I filed the necessary paperwork, replotted my course to Maia and started jumping again.
Obsidian Orbital wasn't far out and in no time I was docked inside the squat shaped Orbis station. I got the engineers to restock the limpets and check out all the systems on the Asp Bennachie. I did not plan on being out a long time but old habits die hard and I wasn't sure exactly what I would find.
I undocked and blasted back into space, narrowly avoiding an incoming T6. I was a little surprised to see the amount of traffic and slowed to 99 km/s until I exited the no fire zone. Once clear I took my time laying in a course to, well no where in particular. I was hoping for a slightly slower pace but whatever happened, happened.
It was just the beginning of another adventure.
Special thanks to Olivia Vespera for additional dialog
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