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I was sitting in an office next to the infirmary in Wollheim Vision
“Thanks Doc. If he needs anything let me know and I'll arrange for it to be delivered.”
“Sure Aitken. I take it you're not sticking around then?” He asked as he continued to write down some notes.
“Nope. I trust that he's in good hands so time for me to leave.” With that I stood up and started to make my way back to the Asp “Oxen Craig.”
I wasn't shocked or surprised that Paul had picked a fight at the Ball. What did shock and surprise me was that he had allowed himself to take so much punishment before finishing it. I slowly wandered back to the hangar, stopping to chat with a few Rats I knew. I made it back to the Asp before I got the first question about Paul. Not that the Rats weren't a caring bunch but you can't ask about something if you don't know about it. Nadzieja did know as she had helped me get him on to the gurney the medical staff had met me with. I assured her he was going to live, chatted about the ships condition and then boarded. She explained to me that after everyone had left she took a look through the Oxen Craig. Then her and her crew had set to work cleaning up the mess that had been left behind.
“We took out most of the secondary cabin and replaced those parts. You know a human body contains around 5 ½ liters of blood. I think 5 liters of Paul's was on those ship parts.” She said with a noticeable shudder. I thanked her and as she left I prepared the Oxen Craig for departure.
My eventual destination was to be Uracenufon to swap over to the Anaconda and then on to Aditi. One jump out of Fuelum I had a change of heart and headed for Shinrarta. Once there I put the Oxen Craig into it's hangar and bought another Hauler, stripped and refitted right it would do a smidge over 30ly's a jump. Not the greatest way to travel but very useful for times like these.
With that done it was off to Bunch Dock and the swap over. I had no problems getting back, sure a couple of surprises when ships had jumped in close to me but nothing that overly worried me. After docking I had the parts I could put back to the original specs and sold the Hauler. I didn't even bother haggling this time as I knew I was going to take a loss. I wasn't happy about it but I guess that's the price of doing business with second hand dealers.
Back in the Anaconda December the first thing I did was check the security logs. As happy as I was to use the base of the Purple Pirates, that didn't mean I trusted anyone in it. Everything checked out and it was time to move on to Aditi.
As soon as I had cleared the mail slot and started to turn the Conda toward the departure vector, I missed the manoeuvrability of the smaller ships I had been using recently. The Asp was a very capable ship but lacked the versatility of the larger Conda. Sure the Conda could not land at outposts but it made up for that in the amount of slots it had for equipment and cargo. I truly would have liked the Python to rat in but for me it lacked the range. Ah well such is life.
I was making good time as I descended toward Aditi when a call came in from Charity.
“Hey Aitken. We need to talk.”
“We do?” I asked a little perplexed.
“Well, I think we do. I just landed at Aikin's Inheritance on Doolhof.” A small smile creased her face as she said this.
“Ok Charity, I'll be there as soon as I can.” With that reply the screen darkened once more.
A check of Galmap let me see it would not be that big of a detour. With a shrug I replotted my destination and continued jumping.
As I entered the Fehu system I looked closely at the scanner and studied the traffic. Once I was satisfied that there wasn't a threat to my ship, I headed toward Doolhof.
Doolhof was your typical space rock. The only redeeming feature it had in my eyes was that it had a low gravity and was a breeze to land on. Dropping into orbital cruise and then glide took no time at all and soon I found myself 5km above Aikin's Inheritance. Landing clearance was quick in coming and I set the December down on Pad 11. Dropping into the hangar the mostly two and three story buildings vanished from sight, to be replaced with the metal sheets and girders of the hangar interior. I punched up the connection to Charity and informed her of the pad number I had landed at and waited. I didn't waste the time I had to wait, I got busy in the galley and had coffee made just as she appeared.
“Alright what's with the goofy smile.” Her expression was similar to the one I had noticed in our last conversation.
“Nothing really I just find the similarities in this settlements name and yours amusing.” Again with the silly grin. “Thanks.” She replied as I handed her a cup of freshly brewed coffee. “It's missing the T and of course you would have to replace an I with an E but it's close.”
“Sure.” It was the only response I could think of, the similarities did not bother me one bit. Just one of those things. “You wanted to talk to me?”
“Yeah. A question I suppose.” She sat down in the copilots seat as I sat down in the pilots. “In all the time since you picked me up at Lounge, why haven't you asked me why I'm running from the Silver Boys?”
“Simple. It's none of my business.” I gave a shrug as I answered.
“But it is. When you agreed to rescue me it became your business and I feel you should know.”
“Nope. I don't need to know and to tell the truth I really don't want to know. The less I know about the dealings of the Boys the better.” I sat back holding my cup before me and waited for her come back.
“Ok. I doubt I'll change your mind at the moment but we'll see later.” Again the only thing I could think of in the way of a reply was “Sure.”
“The other thing was I think I've been in this system long enough, not exactly a holiday resort is it?”
“Agreed. Time we moved you on. I have a couple of places I have looked over since I left you here but we'll talk about that once we return the Cobra to Frigschneck's.” I said.
“Right. I'll finish up here and meet you up there then.” Charity said as she rose out of the seat.
“Bulletin Board mission?” I asked as she made her way to the galley with the two empty cups. She turned before she answered.
“No, I did a little scavenging on the other side of Doolhof and since this place was missing a T I thought I'd sell them a few tons of it.” The goofy grin reappeared. I shook my head and hid my own silly grin.
“I'll see you on Frigschneck's. Enable your Nav-Lock and I'll leave the beacon on once I reach Frigschneck's.”
“Aye aye sir.” Drifted back to me.
Once Charity had departed for the Cobra I warmed up the December and asked for clearance back to the surface. With a barely noticeable thump the pad stopped and I was staring at the bare landscape that was Doolhof. I sat a few seconds and watched the skimmers, SRVs and the usual aerial traffic, then I asked for departure permission. There I sat for a moment or two as an Orca lifted off for the pad next to me. Clearance received, the dock clamps released and I was free to apply power to the lower thrusters. Landing gear up I applied full power to the engines and pulled back on the joystick until the HUD display read 90 degrees from the horizontal. All I had to do now was wait until the mass lock light blinked out until I could engage the FSD. When it did I hit the button and watched as the alignment was correct and I heard “4, 3, 2, 1, engage.”.
I was half way through my small trek when I heard. “You're a lucky jumper when you find Yttrium.” A look at my contacts panel and sure enough a Cobra Mk. III was out there. “Drop from SC Aitken and let's talk.”
I did consider jumping out of system but that would just delay this meeting until they found me again and pulling him out of SC would leave the path open for Charity.
“Where is she?” The familiar growl came at me through the comms as I sat staring at the Cobra. The hard points were still retracted but I had no idea if they would stay that way.
“No idea.” I lied.
“Come on Aitken. Don't leave me with only the one choice.” He sounded not the least disappointed if I did. “I know you know where Nascimento is.” With that the hard points on the Cobra started to deploy.
I'm happy to say that in my time as a Fuel Rat I have learnt quite a few things. Most of them would probably not help in every day life but one of them sure would here. When refuelling a client I always offset myself a little below and to one side, my former employer was about to see why.
I hit the boost button and the December ploughed through the ship before it. I hit the cycle ship control and the Cobra came up as a target.
“Target shields offline.” Betty informed me. As I pushed the throttle to max. I noted that I had done some hull damage too. I was hoping that I had rattled him up enough to get the time to jump back into SC but no such joy. Watching the scanner and the graphical target display I saw him start to manoeuvre almost instantaneously. Not a rookie I thought as I hit the chaff dispenser. Sure it seemed a little underwhelming but dropping a heat sink seemed pointless, getting a Conda cold was easy, hiding the dang thing was another story. Medium Pulse Lasers started hitting my shields as soon as the chaff dispersed and made me wish I still had the A5 shield generator on board. I had down graded to a C5 Bi-weave as I did not expect to be in combat with this ship. The C5 BW was for landing on higher than normal gravity planets and even then I thought they were over powered for that task. Some days it doesn't pay to get out of bed. The only advantage left to me was the fact that I mass locked him, if I high waked out there was nothing he could do. If he had a wake scanner he could see where I went but that would do him no good as I have yet to meet a Cobra that could out jump a Conda.
I was just about to select a destination when the sound of a ship dropping from SC made me look at the scanner. Alarmed as I was and expecting to see the Mk. IV of my former employers back up, it took me awhile to realise what was happening. The black Mk. III was lit up like a Zippo as multi-cannon shells rained down on it. It twisted to one side and the lunar coloured Mk. III stuck with it, firing as it went. I was undecided as what I could do, should do to help as the two Cobras danced round me like a pair of angry fire flies when Betty suddenly announced.
“Target destroyed.” All that was on the scanner was the blue triangle of a wing mate with the hard points deployed.
“Are you alright Aitken.” Charity's distorted voice asked over the comm.
“Yeah, all good thanks.” If there was relief in my voice it was all too real.
“Ok. See you at the station then.” With a click the comm link fell silent.
Once we had both landed and the Cobra had been stowed away in a hangar, Charity rejoined the December. After placing her belongings in the second cabin she joined me on the bridge.
“What was that all about?” She asked, referring to the hostile encounter.
“Just a pirate.” I once again lied.
“What do you think? Loot. When he found out I only had limpets he had a hissy.” Again I lied, it was becoming a habit.
“Good job you had the wing beacon on or I would have sailed right past you.”
“Yeah, I thought you said you weren't much of a pilot, you looked like you knew what you were doing earlier.” I complimented and this time I told no lie.
“Compared to others I'm not and thanks.” A small hint of satisfaction laced her reply.
“You are more than welcome. Right let's get out of here.”
Charity agreed with that and excused herself before retiring to her cabin.
Once all the necessary permissions and clearances had been received the December pushed her way lazily back into open space once more. Cruising at 95 m/s getting beyond the no fire zone took a little time but I was not about to draw unwanted attention not this close to leaving the system.
The left the no fire zone indicator popped up and as I increased the power to the engines I swung the nose of the large ship toward the exit vector. Almost at once Betty announced some new problems. “Shields offline” was the first. “Under attack” followed it quickly and the third was just as alarming as the previous two had been, “Taking damage”.
I looked at the scanner just in time to see a red triangle simmer into nothing. My eyes went straight to the canopy windows in the vain hope of seeing want was shooting at us. Of course I saw nothing.
“What the heck was that?” Charity shouted from the cabin.
“I have no idea and stay where you are.” I replied. I actually did have an idea and I didn't like it. Something with Rails or a PA, neither appealed to me.
If we could make it past the mass lock area of the station we would be fine. A Conda was more sluggish than other ships but I had little doubt that it could cover the distance in time.
Two more slugs of something hit the December and a streak of red flew in front of the canopy window. I instinctively pulled back on the joystick as the module damage warning flashed across the HUD. Pulling up of course meant I was looping, making the time to exit the station mass lock longer. Not what I was looking for. Two more teeth jarring hits to the December and it started to drift. What ever it was firing at us, it had just taken out the power plant.
“Hey Aitken, how's that feel?” A voice I did not know asked. I would love to have answered with “Not too good.”or something similar, but I didn't have the power to switch on the comms.
I looked out over the long tapered nose of the Anaconda to see a red Cobra Mk. IV raise up before it.
'I have no clue as to what you did or how you managed it but my partner was coming here to see you. Well considering I can't raise him on comms or see him in system, I have to conclude that you have something to do with it.”
He paused, I have no idea why as he knew my power plant was shot and I couldn't answer, which I must admit was rather upsetting.
“I have enjoyed our little chat but I must leave however. I do hate to think of you having a slow, lingering death once your life support kicks in and then runs out, so let me speed that up a little for you.”
I saw the flames from the barrels as the multi-cannon started to fire. I watched as the shells walked a long the nose of the Conda. I heard the air rush past me as the canopy glass shattered. I felt the heat from the console I sat before as those same shells torn into it.
And then black.
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