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Greys. Well that's at least a little variety. Maybe I'd been a little early deciding I was blind. Still no movement from my limps but seeing greys was a step in the right direction.
Green. That was definitely green. Oh colours are coming back, please let colours come back. I never really thought about them when I could see but man I missed them when I thought I had lost them. Limps are still proving to be a problem but hey I got my eyelids to budge a little.
“Yes Charity, give him a little more time and I think he'll come out of it. Brainwaves are starting to return to normal. Vital signs are beginning to reach the proper levels.”
Ooo. Muffled sounds. Were those words? A glimpse of light, my lids must have opened. Limps are still not wanting to do as I command but I think I got a finger to twitch.
“Ah did you see that Doc? His finger moved, I'm sure his finger moved.”
Alright never mind the limps, let's try getting these eyes open and get sight back. Good grief the lights bright but at least they're open. Having a hard time processing the information they're giving me but dang I'm not dead.
“Ok Aitken I'm Doctor Baker. You are on the space station Frigschneck's Asylum. You were brought in unconscious and with a deep laceration to the left side of your head. You had a few burns but everything should heal.”
I couldn't get my eyes to focus correctly but lets try something else.
“H...how long?” Ok I really would have liked to finish the question about the time I had been out but that was all I could get out.
“12 hours Aitken. Not too long at all.” I think the doctor smiled but my eyes still refused to focus. I did manage to see the tubes in my arms before...black.
“Hey how you doin”?”
I felt like I had just woken up but with the galaxies worst hang-over. It made me glad I didn't drink any more, I wish it had been more fun to get this one though.
“Rotten.” I answered a worried looking Charity. “How did I get here?”
“Once I felt the air leaving, I guessed you had failed with the negotiations.” She smiled and gave a small snort of air. “So I floated out of the cabin just in time to see the Mk. IV turn away and you slumped in the pilots seat. The HUD said we had just under seven minutes of oxygen, so I left you where you were and started the reboot/repair system on the power plant. It took a while but it gave the plant 50%, just enough to get the Conda back to the station. So here we are.”
“Thanks.” It was my turn to smile, it hurt but was well worth the pain.
It turned out my injuries were kind of minor. Twenty self dissolving sutures in an 8 inch gash on my left forehead was the worst. The scar would heal but I'd have a mark that while fading would be there for life. The burns to my hands could have been worse but fire needs fuel and that was taken away when the canopy blew open. So those were just flash burns and nothing to worry about. Oh and joy of joys I had feeling in my limbs again.
“Doc says you'll need a week or so to completely recover. Modern medicine is wonderful but they still haven't found an effective way to help with concussions. You friend have a doozy.”
“Not a chance.” Just then Doc. Baker appeared. “Nothing personal Doc. but I don't like doctors and I like hospitals even less than that. If I can get a flight suit off of the December I'll head back to it and assess it's damages, thank you.”
“Typical pilot Charity. He's more worried about his ship than he is about himself.” I thought I detected a slight mocking tone but could not be sure. Hey my brain was a little scrambled. “Very well Aitken you can discharge yourself, I can't stop you doing that. However you should be aware that headaches and blurred vision might affect you for quite some time. We're not sure what hit you but hit you it did and hard.” He continued in a more concerned tone.
Charity gave a frown but headed back to the Conda for a clean set of clothes for me. I wasn't sure if the blood would come out of the others but they could wait till later or be disposed off.
Once dressed and escorted by Charity we headed off toward the December. Sure my legs were a little wobbly. As much as I tried I had real problems reading any of the signs through the blurry vision and yup it did feel like someone was playing kettle drums in my head but we made it. Charity only gasped once and tried to balance me when I nearly stumbled. Getting on board gave it's own set of challenges but again through pure stupidity we managed. Once back on the bridge I nearly wished I hadn't made it back.
My eye was drawn straight away to the line of cannon shell holes along the nose and how they continued into the bridge area. I could see by the angle they drew that the panel in front of the pilot seat had blown. The line continued then stopped about half into the bridge. That angle was the reason he had missed me, a degree or two to the port of that chair and it would have been a different outcome. Whatever it was that had hit me was of course long gone out into space but with the amount of damage done as circuits blew it could have been any of the metal parts that were missing. Looking out of the now glassless canopy made me wince even more. The whole upper nose section armour had been chewed to pieces and would need to be replaced. Now that I had seen the damage I had to have a word with the local engineer.
“Well Capin' if I pull everyone off of every other job I could have it done in a week.” He paused for dramatic effect. He was wasting his time as both he and I knew that would never happen. “But with our current schedule it will be closer to two, especially since we are replacing all the armour.”
“Ok, go for it. You have my account details.” With a nod he headed off to get his work detail as he prodded a grubby finger on to a pad as he went. For Charity and I it was the Lunar Gray Mk. III. Since she had been in the largest cabin for the time she had been hiding in Fehu I let her move into again and I took the slightly smaller of the two. When I say largest I mean it had a locker extra so it wasn't that large.
The happiest person out of all this, apart from a well paid engineer, was the Doc. I had daily check ups and he seemed happy with my progress. Right after him on the happy scale was Charity. She was happy for the company and someone to talk too. Poor girl must have been going stir crazy while I had been gone. So that went, engineer, doctor, gangster moll and then me. Believe me I do not mind spending money, heck that's why we earn it but I had a lot going out and nothing coming in. If I could have got a FSD for the Cobra I would have been gone but I knew from previous experience that no station in Fehu had one. Well not one that would reach a close system, so I felt trapped. For exercise every day I would leave the doctors office and check up on the Conda. It was coming along on schedule, which seemed to be crawling for me but flashing by for the engineer. I think the poor guy was sick of seeing me by day three.
The only highlight for me came out of the blue one day on the Cobra. I was checking personal messages when I let out an oath. Charity just happened to be there to hear it.
“What caused that?” She asked a little surprised as I tended not to swear often. I waved her over and let her read it. Her response was very close to my own.
----Sender has hidden Name and point of origin----
----To: Cmdr Aitken----
Please accept our apologies for actions of two pilots of our organisation. One it seems you have taken care of and the other will be reprimanded and demoted. While we do not condone the death of our pilot we understand that it was in self defence. We have completely reviewed the mission directives that were given to our pilots and feel they over stepped their authority. Further review revealed that you have completed the mission as described in the original BB outline. We thank you for your service and with the final payment in your account, we now consider this mission complete.
“Well that's one bogey man off of our tails.” I quipped. “Would still like to know who I was working for but oh well. Lesson learnt.”
“Happy to hear you have picked up something from the ordeal, just the Silver Boys to worry about now.” She replied with a small hint of a smile.
“Just.” I murmured under my breath. “Come on I have a doctors appointment. We'll grab something to eat at that restaurant you like on the way back, ok.” She nodded and so we headed off.
I must admit I enjoyed her company. She was bright with a ready wit and not afraid to speak her mind. Which might have been why I agreed she could come along for a week or two when we departed. Of course the other reason might have been that as the December got closer to being fully repaired I did not seem to be matching it. I still had headaches and while my vision was getting better, it was far from what it had been. The doctor did not seem to be worried and assured me everything would be fine in due course.
“It's white.” Charity remarked once see set eyes on the December for the first time after the repairs were finished.
“It's called Tactical Ice. I thought it would be a nice change and well if anyone is looking for us it might throw them off for a little while.”
She gave me a sideways glance. I knew that meant 'no chance of that' but I had to try and keep the situation positive. If my former unknown employers could track us down here so could anyone else. I gave a shrug and headed into the formerly black Conda.
Once on board I checked all the systems and was happy to see that everything appeared to be in working order. All parts of the repair and refit had been done and so we were ready to depart.
“Have you ever flown a Conda before?” I asked Charity, a little late in the day but it was not that big a worry.
“Just the once a few years ago, a meeting that went bad and we had to get out of there quick, I just happened to be in the right place.”
“Alright, I'll be in the left seat so I can take over if I have to. Aim high when you exit the slot and take it slow. You'll be fine. When your ready.” She asked for permission to return to the surface, we sat there for a moment as Charity composed herself. Her eyes closed and I could see her walking through the procedure in her mind. Clearance for take off was given and the large white triangular ship ascended to the mid point of the flight path.
“4 pips to engines and give it 50% power, that should get it up to 90m/s or so and just glide it out.” I said encouragingly or I hoped it sounded that way. We tapped the toast rack but just enough for the shields to give a brief flash and then we were out.
“Nicely done. Now as soon as we clear the “No Fire Zone” give it full power. I'll give you the vector once I have the course laid in.”
“Where we going? It can't be Robigo as this thing is too big for the Mines.”
“Nah. I stopped going to Robigo when it became popular. Just asking for attention when everyone and their mother is flitting in and out of there.” I responded while I scanned Galmap.
“Ok. Not Robigo, so where?”
“Uracenufon. We won't get the amount of jobs we could if we switched to a smaller snip but one or two big jobs is all I am looking for.”
“Why not Aditi? They still have a few jobs for smugglers I hear.”
“I've had enough of Imperial systems for a while, haven't you? It'll be good to mix with some Independent scum again.” I looked over to her as I relayed the vector for the jump out. She looked calm but the stiffness of her posture gave away that she was concentrating on her every action. She gave a couple of small nods for my statement about Imp. systems and to acknowledge the vector. Betty gave her usual countdown and we started our journey toward Uracenufon.
The journey was happily uneventful. I say happily as it gave me the chance to check over the newly installed systems and look out at the long white nose. Every time I looked out I had to remind myself that I was indeed in the December and not some other ship. Replacing the the image of the black nose in my mind looked like it was going to take a little longer.
“Aitken, we just entered the Uracenufon system.” I heard Charity as I put away the coffee cups in the galley. I took my time, Bunch Dock was close to the entry point but the Conda would take a little while to pull out from the star. I also had no plans on interrupting her, this was her show.
We dropped outside of Bunch at an acute angle to the mail slot. Should be interesting I thought and was happily disappointed went Charity just pushed the throttle open and headed in. It took a little of using the lateral thrusters but after obtaining landing clearance we slid through the rectangular entrance with no problems.
“I'll be back in around an hour.” I said after we were nicely tucked up in a hangar. “Get some rest. I hope we're going to be busy.”
I enjoyed working for the Purple Pirates, they gave me the goods, the system to deliver too and of course they paid well. I met my contact in the usual place and we started going over the jobs he had. I ended up taking four missions to two systems for quite a handsome profit. With a handshake I left his office and headed for a coffee shop. A freshly brewed cup sat in front of me as I planned the best way to deliver the cargo that was I hoped being loaded onto the December. I ordered two cups to go and headed back to the ship.
I received a wave from the crew loading the cargo into the hold and raised the cup in my right hand in mock toast to their efforts. On entering the bridge I saw Charity looking through the ships systems.
“Brushing up before me leave?” I asked as I handed her one of the cups I carried.
“I'm grateful for all the help you have given me Aitken and don't want to mess this up, that's all.” She took a sip from her coffee and went on. “Mmm, so what we got?”
“Four drop-offs, two in LHS 3666 and two in CD-61 6651, a station and a planet settlement in each.”
“Any shadows?” The question came as she lowered the cup from her lips.
“No. Not in this run.” I saw disappointment flow across her face. “Hey, I still don't know if your up to this type of piloting. I don't mind the fine if we get scanned with the contraband but if it were shadow deliveries, well, I don't want my rep. with the Pirates being damaged.”
“Sure. Sorry, I forget that this isn't a game, it's how you make a living.” She paused and looked around the newly refurbished December. With a smile gracing her face she showed me there was no hard feelings. “A comfortable living at that.”
“Pfft, just a tool for the job young lady. The way I have this thing set up it carries a heck of a lot more than an Asp and still gets similar jump range. The fewer jumps we have the less likely we are to get interdicted by some hotshot System Security out to make a name for themselves.” I saw a light on the control panel wink out. “Ok, we're loaded, let's get this show on the road.”
The December wasn't full but with the tonnage in the hold it was going to take us eleven jumps to hit LHS 3666. I gave a small grin as Charity remarked at the difference in the handing as we took off. I left it there so that she could give her full attention to leaving the Ocellus station. I didn't have a home system as most pilots did, I had a few I visited but none that I would call home, Bunch was one of those few. It was a splendid looking station and more than once I had marvelled at the way it seemed to change colour depending on the stars angle. When we had entered less than two hours ago it and been a glowing white, now that the orbit had change it seemed a dark grey, almost black. The blinking navigation lights and the light from habitats giving its position away, Charity roused me from my imagination.
“No fire zone left, opening her up and heading to exit vector. I guess that's the last easy exit we'll have uh?” She asked.”
“Nah, our first drop-off, Meyrink Orbital in LHS 3666 is an anarchy port and the two surface stations should be good too. I only see one tricky entrance on this run but interdictions will probably come into play somewhere.” I replied as we began our first jump. Just as Betty's voice faded Charity began to close the throttle, I place my hand on top of hers and set it to maximum again.
“Flying style changes a little when you start smuggling.” I told her with a light tone. We burst into the system staring at the bright orange/yellow star. Charity whipped, well as much as you can call it that in a Conda, us to the port and down. “Fuel scoop engaged.”
“Told it in there. If it gets to warm yaw out a little, if you start drifting, easy back a touch on power. You shouldn't have to do that on a one jumper, maybe the star after an unscoopable. As soon as you are full or a little before we should be lined up. If you see any Security ships in system hit the FSD as soon as you start pulling away, we have heatsinks for a reason.” Again I said it lightly with a smile. “ If there is nothing in a system with us wait for the scoop to disengage. Anything else comes up, just ask.” Her brunette hair bobbed up and down as she let me know she understood. “It'll be second nature before we hit Crouch Orbital.”
Everything was going fine as we headed deeper into the bubble. Very little appeared on the scanner and I started to think it was going to be a milk run. That changed when we were two jumps out from LHS 3666.
“Anaconda please submit to a scan. This is a routine system scan as this is a known smuggler route.”
Charity look at me with a questioning expression on her face.
“Ignore him, line up with the exit vector and gun it.” My hands were poised over the system distributor controls as I continued to watch the scanner. Just as Charity started the FSD spool up it happened. BLAM, tether activation. I set four pips in the systems control, two in the engine control and pulled it back to half power.
“Keep it centred the best you can and we might slip this one.” I said encouragingly.
The fight was on, an Anaconda with an underpowered Power Plant against a Viper Mk IV with security systems installed.
I watched and waited. Charity was putting up a decent fight with honours even when the tether marker drifted over the exit point, I slammed the throttle wide open and broke the tethers hold on us. Blasting in to the next system Charity turned to me.
“Where'd you learn that trick?” She said, the sweat matted hair sticking to her forehead.
“I've had a lot of practice, smuggling and Ratting. Smuggling cos you don't want to pay the fine. Ratting cos if you submit it takes away valuable and some clients don't have any to spare.” I was resetting the distributor and trying to make it sound like it was no big deal.
“People interdict Fuel Rats?” The shock in her voice was all to real.
“You have no idea.” I replied with a chuckle. “Alright line up for the next jump, we've got some, er, questionable cargo shall we say. So, be alert and expect trouble.” Again the brunette hair bounced up and down in reply.
“Illicit Cargo” popped up on the HUD for about the fourth or so time on our journey and for the fourth or so time we ignored it.
The short run to Meyrink Orbital went well and with there being an anarchy faction in control, the entrance had no security set up to scan ships. Apart from Toxic Waste, nothing else was on their prohibited list.
Once we were in the hangar the unloading didn't take long. 25 tons of cobalt was unloaded. The crew at Bunch had loaded the hold well, I also had a funny feeling that they could liberate a cargo from a hold well too. The irony of this delivery was not lost on me either. The cargo we were delivering to an anarchy port was probably the only cargo that would be deemed legal in our next three ports of call.
“Where to next?” My eager young assistant asked as I returned from supervising the unloading and collecting payment.
“Eisenstein Landing in system, on LHS 3666 A5A. You up to landing this thing on a planet?” My turn for a question and to tell the truth it was more a moon than a planet.
“Should be similar to the Cobra, right? A little bigger and a lot more sluggish.”
I nodded and plotted in the course as Charity got clearance to leave the station.
Everything went smooth. Landing bay 7 was quiet and the 5 tons of battle weapons were offloaded and gone into the dark.
“What do you think they want those for?” Charity asked as cannisters vanished from the dock.
“Don't know and I didn't ask. Best not to in this line of work.” I gave her a side ways glance to make sure the warning sank in. She mouthed 'I know' and started to prepare for departure.
Dropping into CD-61 6651 my eyes went straight to the scanner again, nothing, good.
“And before you ask.” I began to regale why we were doing the 10,000ls jaunt before we went to Crouch Orbital, which was only 1,000ls into the system. “We'll get the easier of the two out of the way. Once that's done you have a choice. Fly the 10,000ls back or jump out and then back into the system.”
“I'll wait till we reach Polansky's Inheritance before I make up my mind but I am leaning toward the jump options.”
“I'd do the same. 10K isn't that far really but if we can cut down the time all the better.” I truthfully answered. Time wasn't an issue with these missions but it was always good to practice shaving a few minutes off a route.
Twenty Five tons of narcotics slipped into the dock. Charity gave me a look as I returned, all I could do was shrug. It wasn't the way I chose to enjoy myself but if others enjoyed the sensation that they produced who was I to deny them there pleasure.
As we rose from the surface of CD-61 6651 B1 I laid in a jump to the nearby system of HDS 3215. The jump out and back posed no problems.
“Ok, when we drop at Crouch Orbital back up to 10 or 12ls out from it.”
Again the brunette hair moved up and down. The angle we dropped out at wasn't as acute as the one earlier at Bunch but a little realignment would be needed once we were far enough out.
Charity settled for 11ls and realigned the Conda so we were staring straight at the letterbox shaped entrance.
“When your ready, floor it. Do not touch the throttle after that, I'll work the power settings ok?”
She looked over at me, took a breath and nodded. Then she pushed the power lever fully forward.
Crouch was another Ocellus station but because of it's distance from the star the light did not make it as eerie as Bunch. That wasn't my main concern as I watch the distance counter roll down. At 7.49ls from the station Charity requested docking permission. I was delighted to hear that we had been assigned landing pad 40, being near the back of the station it meant we had more space to slow down in.
At 3km out I fire chaff and dropped a heat sink. Opinions varied amongst pilots as to if these made a difference. I wasn't sure but if and it was a big if, they gave me an edge I would be silly not to use them. Charity looked over to me quickly, I kept a hand on the power lever and gave a nodded toward the mail slot.
“Aitken we're 2km out, please tell me I am not going into this station at 190m/s.”
“190, nah. We should be down to about 185 as we go through the slot.” I lied a little. She was doing fine.
Just as the long white nose started to enter the toast rack I set the power to 50%, we had bled a little more that the 5m/s I had told Charity but not much more.
“Ship scan detected.” Betty announced right at that moment.
“As soon as we clear get her down below the entrance level. Don't worry about lining up with the pad, we'll have time.” I calmly requested.
We dropped 10 or 20 meters as she nosed the large ship down. We had slowed to 90m/s before we were half way down the flight path. I dropped the landing gear and Charity guided all of us onto pad 40.
“Piece of cake right?” I smiled at Charity.
“Well kind of. There's quite a lot to do if you don't want to get scanned. The flying straight in at speed seems to be the easy part.”
“You'll get used to it. Well that's until the Security guys come up with better sensors or procedures. Come on, lets get the payment and grab some coffee.” I stood up and made my way to the exit.
“How's the head doing?” I heard genuine concern in her voice.
“It'll be fine once the gnome rock band gig stops.” I quipped.
“Still that bad uh?”
“Bah, I'll be good after a coffee.” I gave her a wink as we reached the hangar floor.
“To tell the truth I think I could go for something a little stronger.” I could see that the adrenaline from her first high speed entry into a station was still flowing through her. Her hands were shaking and her breathing was still rapid.
“Well I'm sure we can find a bar that sells both.” I said as we started to head toward the elevators and then the stations main level.
“Sounds like a pl....” Just then a shot rang out. I dived behind some crates that lay close to the exit. Charity, well Charity dropped lack a sack of potatoes. I crouched behind the crates and looked down at my hand. As if by magic the .45 I had started to carry with me was in it. Where had that shot come from and why wasn't Charity moving?
“Aitken. Aitken let me know if you can hear me.” A voice from above called. I started to scan the dark upper levels of the hangar but could see nothing in the shadows.
“Oh I hear you alright.” If I could get him to keep talking I might zero in on his location by sound. For some reason my already blurry vision was becoming worse. I glanced at the unmoving body laying just a meter from me. Oh keep talking bio waste for brains, keep talking.
“Ok man just stay where you are and you can live. The hit was on her, not you. The Silver Boys can't find anything on you or they would have upped the payment. You know how these things are man, nothing personal. Just business.” I could hear movement he was pulling out, I might have one chance. “Don't. I don't enjoy killing man and you have no bounty on your head so don't make me waste a bullet on you.”
I looked up just in time to see the light of a door closing. Well, there would be other chances for him. Sure it might take a little detective work but I knew who had put out the contract, so finding who had carried it out shouldn't be that difficult. I stood up and tried to blink my vision clear.
“Aitken.” A weak female voice whispered my name. I looked down at the body of Charity to see it looking back at me. I knelt down beside her. “Let me catch my breath. Has he gone?”
“Yeah and how the...” She interrupted me.
“Come on old man.” She teased as she rolled over and came to a sitting position. “They've had body armour for centuries. Kevlar I believe was invented in the 20th century and is still very effective today. Never leave home without it.” It was her turn to wink
I rose from my knee and stood there looking down at a smiling young lady. Stuck out my right hand and helped her to her feet.
“Now about that drink.” She continued as we both resumed our original course toward the exit. “Whoever said diamonds were a girls best friend did not see this situation ever happening.”
All I could do was shake my head as the elevator doors slid shut.
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