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“So that's you done uh?”
I looked at Bob as he spoke those words as if challenging me to continue. After double digit trips I was ready to stop. Bob was defiant that he would make this place work. I don't mean just Jaques as a lot had happened over the time it took me to hop between the bubble and Jaques multiple times.
A little recap seems to be in order. Let me fill in the gaps.
I had left Jaques in it's desolate state and returned to the bubble, just as I had been requested to do. Once I had bought the meta-alloys from Maia and some extra limpets just on the off chance that I could sell them to someone at Jaques, I returned. As it turned out I ended up giving away the limpets to a miner. I kept a healthy supply just in case I was called on to help someone out.
After another couple of trips things changed a little, a request for different commodities was issued. Tantalum, power generators, structural regulators and energy grid assemblies were needed as a lot of the services at Jaques had been restored and other projects were now in the works. With the station being back on-line the traffic close to the slot had picked up but was still sparse to nothing while in supercruise.
It was a source of celebration that Jaques was back to normal and I had taken my time on leaving for my next run. Of course with all the services back up the miners were overjoyed and carrying extra limpets was a none issue. An hour or so before I left I heard that the call had gone out for Osmium in particular but other ores in general. That was something for me to think about on the next couple of runs of generators and regulators.
I wasn't a rookie to the mining scene I had done a little, just enough to think I knew how it worked, once I finished those runs I decided the time was right to try it again. So I fitted out the December with the best refinery in stock, a couple of collectors and of course the mining lasers. I could have stayed in system to mine as there was a pristine ring close to Jaques but there where so many untapped rings in systems around that I ended up using one that was a hop there and back.
Mining was relaxing and a nice change of pace. I knew that most of the ores we were mining were for a new settlement but for some reason what that meant and would lead to didn't occur to me, yet. My next and last two trips back to the big bubble were to pick up titanium, semi-conductors and robotics. After those I did a little exploring around the Jaques system.
I'd been out a good while and the large, blazing star that I had just scooped from was behind me as I brought up the navigation panel. I had just clicked on the station icon when I noticed a new name listed there. Colonia Hub. They had finished the settlement in my time away. Even at this late stage I still hadn't made up my mind to leave. It wasn't until I docked at Jaques that my eyes turned back toward the big bubble. I mean the stuff in the big bubble I cared about could look after themselves. Robert, well I was sure he knew where I was and what I was doing. Emma was as safe as I could have hoped for. The Rats, well the Rats were everywhere and more than a few were out here.
So what made my mind up for me.
“Look Bob. Everything you've tried to do out here is coming together.” Now I had to explain myself to a man I had come to respect. His single mindedness and determination had basically shaped the direction a bunch of ill matched ruffians had taken. “But, the amount of organisation and well, authority the colonists are expecting just isn't me.”
He stood there looking at me, he raised his arms and shook his head as if to say 'give me strength' before asking.
“What did you expect? What is you?” He remained calm and took a deep breath through his nose as I watched him.
“Expect? Dunno but certainly not the same problems we have in the big bubble to follow us out here. As for me I don't like that much authority, laws if they make sense sure but all this goody goody, let's band together for the good of all. Well that stuff can vanish into a black hole for all I care.”
“It's called community.” Bob answered still keeping his tone even. “You're not getting any younger you know. You are going to have to settle down sometime and here you get a fresh start.”
He made good points but I wasn't ready for the retirement home just yet. The small bubble may have taken a turn I hadn't foreseen but the big bubble for all it's faults, well it was still the same. Sure the backstabbing, the constant bickering about borders and other less savoury happenings were there also but those I knew. So I just shook my head.
“Well, I'm not going to beg. Your help has been appreciated. If you ever feel like coming back you know where we are.”
“Sure.” I answered. He took one last look at me, then turned and left the hangar.
Bay caught up to me just as was about to board the December and leave.
“I hear you're heading back to civilisation.” When I nodded he continued. “Ok, can you drop me off at Colonia Hub.”
“Sure. I see you got your stuff so let's go.”
It wasn't a long trip but I did get to hear why he needed me to drop him off at Colonia.
“Just in case Jaques decides to try for Beagle Point again.” He sounded doubtful but he was also being clever I thought. “ I'll pick up work just like I did at Jaques and I can keep an eye on the comings and goings.”
He did ask about Cmdr. Cain again but I put his mind at ease by telling the truth. I had spoken to Heinrich on a few trips out to Jaques and I got the impression that he had come out to the black to think about his future. He may not have been telling me the truth but either way I doubted my initial assessment that he was spying for the Empire. To tell the truth even if he had been, it didn't effect me one way or the other.
“So watchya lookin' fer?”
I was in a second-hand shipyard looking for, I wasn't sure, so I didn't answer but kept walking through the yard that had Asp Explorers, Asp Scouts, Diamondback Explorers and other small to medium sizes ships.
I had time to think on my way back from Jaques and I did. I was fed up being at the Consortiums beck and call. So I had dreamed up a plan of action. I kinda guessed that I couldn't really drop off their radar but I could make myself difficult to track. To start with it meant mothballing the ships they knew I had flown. With that done stage two was being enacted as I walked through the shipyard.
Then I saw it. Tucked away at the back of the yard, black, yellow and white with the unmistakeable Lakon canopy.
“Ah the Type-6. Aye she's seen better days that one but a grand wee workhorse she is.” The owner of the yard said. He was probably a few inches tall than I was but quite a bit older by about four decades. We talked about the history of the ship in question but even before he had finished telling me about rare routes and tug duties it had done I already knew I wanted to own it.
We haggled a little over the price and in the end I got it for under a million. The old man didn't know it but he had already given it a name, Horse. It was going to take a little work and a visit or two to see a couple of engineers but for the first time in over a year I was the owner of a Lakon Type-6 Transporter.
Next stage was easy too, a fuel limpet controller was fitted, I also thought about fitting a collection controller but decided against it. I would scoop manually if it game to the crunch.
After Farseer Inc. had finished it's modifications I paid a visit to a few of her colleagues to take care of the drives, distributor and the hard points. Now that Horse was ready to go I just needed to make up my mind where.
I was looking for a very specific set of systems that I could use. They could have been anywhere but I headed out to Alliance space. Not because the Consortium hadn't used me for that area yet, I was sure there where operatives working in and around Alliance systems. I wanted to go somewhere I wasn't know too well and one that I didn't know too well either.
As I said I'd been thinking. I'd made a promise to Gabe and I had kept it, no slaves. So now was the time to forgo some other less that reputable commodities. Imperial slaves and narcotics were the next to go. That left weapons, all weapons. There was enough diversity that I didn't see myself getting bored to quickly only selling one category of illegals.
So, that meant I needed a system that sold weapons legally and it had to be close to a system that was having a war, civil war or even at a push, civil unrest. That could wait till I made it closer to Alliance space. I opened Galmap and plotted a course to Alioth, it seemed as good as any other Alliance system to start in.
As it turned out I wasn't going to get there in the time I thought. One of the additions to Horse was an improved communication system and right on cue, RATSIGNAL.
I tuned to the Rat Channel and saw that things were a little busy, then checked my jumps to the clients system, 3 jumps out, Aitken go, on my way. Quick, easy and damned efficient.
As dispatch worked with the client I just accept and clicked at the proper times and soon enough I was floating in space with a Cobra Mk. III floating, dead before me. I fired six limpets, one after the other as the previous one exploded and then chatted to the unfortunate commander for a little while. I waited until the Cobra jumped out and then filed the paperwork. Once I was happy that everything was in order I re-plotted the course to Alioth.
It had been awhile since I had been in Alioth but some things seemed the same. The Alioth Independents were still in charge of Irkutsk and Aachen Town so I docked at the former. It was still sparkling and the palm trees along side each pad added to the feeling that the station was well looked after.
The zero-G coffee machine was something that I had taken off the December before putting it up on blocks and then plumbed it into the T6. I grabbed a cup and pulled up Galmap. Even with Galmap set with the proper filters it took awhile. I was half way through the second cup when the pair jumped out at me. I marked them on the map, drained the cup and fired up the engines.
I'd been looking for an independent anarchy system and had surprised myself when the one I did find was a dictatorship. I was a little unsure about doing business with that government type but they sold what I was looking for and there was a system at war just one jump away. I decided to risk it as I couldn't have asked for a better set up.
Landing at Fisk Colony as soon as I had shut down the ship systems and secure it, I went for a stroll. Sure I could have just bought them from the Commodities Market and left but that meant I might miss out on some info I could use. Were others running the route? Were there security checks in the war torn system? And if so just how good were they? For those answers talking to a salesman and the locals was the perk.
I stopped off at a coffee shop and ordered a coffee to go. As I was paying I asked who I should see if I was interested in buying some weapons.
“These would be to transport to Tiralya I presume?” The young man asked as he checked my credit transfer. When I answered with a yes he continued. “You'll want to see Felip Sutton, you'll find him in his office. You can't miss it, about 300 meters after you turn right out the door.”
As directed I found Felip with no problems. He was a big man and I don't mean tall. As I walked into his office he turned round in his swivel chair to see who had just walked in.
“Welcome to Karbudji Commander, my name is Felip Sutton and I am at your service.” He said in a gravelly voice .
“Names Aitken and I'm interested in obtaining some weaponry, if the price is right.” I replied taking the seat on the opposite side of the desk.
“Well you've come to the right place Commander. We of the Karbudji Purple Organisation have the finest personal and battle weapons in this sector or any other sector of space.”
With the introductions and posturing over we got down to negotiations. In the end I ended up with a reasonable price and managed to get some further information that made me happy about the whole endeavour.
The Pro-Independant Union from HIP91906 were at war with the Tiralya Silver State group so taking in arms should equal a profit but, and this was a situation that had to have been made for me, there were two system factions involved in a civil war also. To make things even better Mr. Sutton let me know that the security around the outpost I would be delivering to was very lax.
The way I had the T6 Horse set up it was capable of carrying 40 Units. Eight of that would be devoted to limpets, so I loaded it with 16 Units of each, personal and battle weapons for the first run. The runs after would depend on profit margin and on the customers preference. With four potential customers I couldn't see how I could lose.
Ok, I admit it. Profiting out of the misery of others is a horrible thing to do. An enabler to those who revel in death and violence. Yes it could mean I am a low life, scum even. A despicable individual who has no empathy for the suffering my dealings are doing. I get it I really do but the hours are short and the money is good. I do have rules though. I won't supply to a dictatorship, I'll buy from them sure but not help them in their fight to take over a station or system. I won't supply a superpower in trying to overthrow an Independent system but apart from those, everything is fair game.
I needn't have worried about the four warring factions as I didn't have to contact any of them. There was a thriving black market operating in Hugh Post. Getting in touch with it had been as easy as falling off a log or walking out of the ship and talking to a docker.
“Yeah mate, let me get the supervisor over and he'll sort ya out.”
Indeed the supervisor did sort me out. Money was transferred and the cannisters of weapons and weapon parts went. To whom? I didn't ask, I had made money and that was all I needed to know. Not a great deal of money but that wasn't my only reason for being out here and in a T6. Due to that reason of keeping off of peoples radar I didn't milk it. Battle weapons were in vogue, so I did a few more runs over the next couple of days and bid farewell to both systems.
Then I did something I haven't done in a long time, I wandered aimlessly through the bubble. Well a specific, small part of the bubble this time but it still felt good. I picked up the odd job here and there, with no real target in mind.
I'd pick up a mission from Sarmiento de Gamboa Settlement in Pie delivering a couple of Units of explosives to LHS 2637. Perez Ring to be exact.
Another Coriolis station in another star system, the comms interrupted my wandering mind.
“Lakon, Alpha, India, Tango. Welcome to this Alliance station please observe local speed limits and please submit a request before trying to dock.” A rather chirpy female voice announced.
I reached over and hit the automated request and waited.
“Lakon, Alpha, India, Tango, your automated voice request was garbled please request docking using voice comms.” The chirpy voice asked. Well this was a first, I'd never heard of any problems with the automated docking request before but I guess anything is possible.
“Perez Ring this is Lakon, Alpha, India, Tango requesting permission to dock.” And again I waited.
“Permission grant, please proceed to Landing Pad 8. Flight control out.”
I made sure I was below 100 m/s as the bulbous canopy of Horse gently pushed the airlock mist gently to the side and I was greeted by the inside of another space station. A little anti-climatic after such a promising beginning but oh well.
I was happy to get Pad 8, tuck away at the back of the station, quiet, just as I liked it, even if I wasn't smuggling. With the T6 down and the elevator lowering I unbuckled the seatbelts as I felt gravity pull on my body. I was already thinking about the coffee I intended to order as I descended the down the exit staircase. Just a quick word with the dock gang and then off to find a coffee shop.
“Aitken?” A male voice said as I reached the hangar floor. I turned to see a tall, long hair guy in his late twenties staring at me. It took a moment but it came back to me.
“Ren? Oh man I haven't see you since Summerland.” I asked astonished to be seeing another Quivira veteran. The younger, taller man had closed the distance between us and held me at arms length as we spoke. I in turn held on to his arms, happy to find another old friend.
“I remember. You left O'Hare's Hangar on another medical run and you never came back. We all thought you were captured or dead. Chaotic times my friend.” A smile had grown on his face, which was mirrored by the one growing on mine. Suddenly a thought crossed my mind.
“Wait, if you're here, did.......” I was interrupted by the feeling that someone was watching me, so I let go of Ren's arms and turned round.
She stood there in her pristine white flight suit, in contrast to my dirty, faded black one. Her hair was shorter than I remembered, the luxuriate black lines ending as it brushed her shoulders. I hadn't expected to see her ever again and I just froze as she approached me.
She stopped before me, the centimetres between us suddenly became the whole of existence. The back of her hand gently brushed my cheek.
“I know this face.” She said quietly. I replied with one word.
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