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“Your mother seemed to like me.”
I looked over at Shoshana as the Python 'Diamond' cleared the toast rack of Titan City.
“Yes she did.” I replied with a smile. This had been our third stop on our vacation tour. Not the one I had hoped for or planned but sometimes we have to make compromises.
Shoshana had been delighted when I suggested that we take some time off and take a break. My plan was to take a tour of a route I had been given. One that took in some of the most wondrous and unusual products the galaxy had to offer. Yes, I had expected to do a little Rare Trading as we travelled but it still counted as a holiday to me. Shoshana kind of agreed but asked that we add in a few stops. Gabe had loved her, the Purple Pirates had been happy to see me and mother thought she was the greatest thing I had ever found. After those three we only had one more stopping point before we could get on to my planned vacation trip.
“Course laid in, we'll be in Fuelum soon.” I told her as I started the first jump.
I had been doing a lot of work for Rodger and was getting close to burning out. The last job before I took my vacation was the one that convinced me I needed time off. It had also been one of the reasons I had the Python 'Diamond' moved to Perez Ring. The Python was renowned for being the most versatile ship in the Galaxy and I had the Diamond fitted with some passenger cabins to go a long with the cargo racks.
The job had sounded simple enough, take a CEO and her two aides back to their home system. Even better it was one jump from the Ring. Of course the station was 160,000ls away but not to worry the pay out was good enough.
The first warning I should have picked up on was when I got a look at the 'aides'. Two rather large gentlemen that screamed ex-military special forces or mercenary gorillas.
The second came and did raise my eyebrow when the passengers were strapped in and I was finishing my preflight checks.
“Pilot.” The voice came floating through the comms. “This ship does carry armaments I take it?”
Once I replied that it did indeed have the means to defend itself the comms went silent and we proceeded on our way.
The real warning came once we were in system for their destination. The ghostly voice floated once more to pilots cabin.
“Pilot, we may have some unpleasant company join us along our journey. There will be a bonus for each one you manage to destroy.” The comms fell silent before I could reply.
I'm not a combat pilot, I've done combat of course but in my opinion I am not very good. I get through either because the ship I am in can survive against inferior opposition or I run. In the case here,the former proved to be the case.
There were three, each with a bounty on their head and each one flew a Viper Mk. III. The Viper for it's size is a very capable fighter, much favoured by security forces through out the Bubble. These were not security forces pilots though, nor were they a match for a Python. Sure they beat up on the shields a little but I picked up their bounties and each bonus for their destruction. I wasn't happy having to kill people, my only source of comfort from this was that they attacked me first. Of course they may not have if I hadn't been carrying the passengers I did but they did and I had to defend myself and my passengers. After the third Viper was dispatched the remainder of the journey was uneventful. Once I had dropped off my passengers the trip back to The Ring was a shorter and incident free affair.
“Well done Aitken, no problems I hope.”
“No problems at all Rodger. A milk run.” I replied as I exited the hangar heading toward my favourite coffee stand.
“Good. I have the next job lined up for you.” As he spoke he reached out with a PADD in his hand.
“Nope. I'm on holiday.”
“Pardon?” A slightly startled Vice President asked.
“I'm taking a break Mr. Clay. I've earned my vacation time as per our contract.” We stood looking at each other slight smiles playing on our lips.
“Alright Aitken. I am not going to quibble over a a little time off. Go do what you need to do.” Rodger flashed a smile, turned and walked away toward his office.
“As far as I am aware you don't have a contract Mr. Aitken.” A voice from the shadows said.
“You can drop the Mister stuff. Just who are you old man?”
“Sorry. Aitken it is then.” The old man stepped out from a dark doorway. “No one important just a simple broker.”
“Really, good cos I have some Imperial bounties I want to cash in.” He was a little taller than I was, similar build and not as unkempt as I had previously seen him.
“I'm not that kind of broker Aitken. I trade in information not in the price of human lives.”
As we had been talking we had continued walking until we reached the coffee stall with is tidy array of tables and chairs.
“This one's on me Aitken, the usual?” The Old Broker asked. I nodded and continued watching him as he ordered from the stall. I found an open table and sat down.
“I hope I have fixed it the way you like it.” He said as he placed a mug full of a caramel coloured liquid. I took a sip of the coffee and nodded. Perfect.
“So you work for Rodger uh.” I stated as I watched him sit down.
“He is one of my clients yes.” He took a sip from the cup he had brought along with mine. I started to feel a slight sinking feeling in my gut.
“Well, I knew they would find out where I was eventually. Perhaps I should have kept moving.”
“Wasted effort Aitken. They have known nearly every movement you have made since you left what is being called Colonia.” A smile played at the edges of his lips. “I must admit I like the name you gave them.”
“So you're the Alliance member of The Consortium?”
“Me? Oh heavens no.” A light ripple of laughter escaped him. “As I told you I am a simple broker of information.”
“So why have you come to me at this time?”
“I've been paid to pass information onto you and I have.” He replied as he took another sip from his cup. “You now know that they know where you are and always have.”
Nearly always have, I corrected him in my head. I nodded and gave a shrug.
“Ok. Thanks for the information but I have a holiday itinerary to plan out.”
“You're welcome Aitken.” He took a large gulp from his cup and set it back on the table. “See you around.”
With that he stood up and sauntered down the boulevard. I watched him go with thoughts swirling through my mind. No surprise that The Consortium had tracked me down, I'd been in Alliance space for a long time, longer than I usually spent in one area. Having a middleman contact me was a new twist and I still had no clue who their Alliance member was. If there was such a person. That could wait though, I had a trip to plan and a person to ask if they would come with me.
“So you want us to go on holiday but you still want to do a little trading?” Shoshana ask in what I hoped was mock annoyance.
“The trading part is unimportant, it's the destinations that are important. We don't have to buy or sell anything, I just thought it would add to the experience.” I was being honest when I said that but adding in a little profit couldn't do any harm, could it?
“Alright.” Shoshana answered as she typed on the PADD. “We can do that as long as we go to these systems as well.” Yes it could, Atagat, Uracenufon, Sol and Fuelum were added to the trip.
Obviously I had agreed as we were on our way to the last of the additional destinations.
Wollheim Vision, Fuelum.
After landing the first person to meet us was Nadzieja. The tall dark mechanic gave us both a hug and was delighted at the introduction of Shoshana. After the formalities and introductions my focus turned to the two ships I had stored at Wollheim.
“Both are ready to fly at a moments notice Aitken but even you can only fly one at a time.” Nadzieja replied to my inquiry on the condition of the December and Growler.
“Why don't you go look them over while I take Shoshana for a look round the station.” Nadzieja suggested. I didn't think I had been obvious in my desire to check them out but both of them shooed we toward the elevators as they turned to leave through the hanger door.
I checked out Growler first and was happy to find that at a flick of a switch the systems fired up straight away. Both ships were fitted for long range operations or exploring if the mood took me. I unflicked the switch and left the Asp moving onto the Conda.
Being a little bigger than the Asp I knew it would take a few more flicks of switches to bring the systems on line. I trusted Nadzieja to have taken care of the December as well as she had of Growler so only fired up the electrical systems. I fired up and shut down one or two other systems as I browsed through the ship and listened to the comm traffic. The usual docking and clearance requests followed me as I slowly wandered the ship. The blare of the Rat Signal every so often announced that another unfortunate pilot had run out of fuel and had found themselves in a sticky situation. Rats were responding to each unlucky soul with calls of their jumps out, dispatch would then assign a Rat to each case and monitor it by sending out the appropriate instructions. Everything sounded under control as I headed back to the bridge to shut down the electrical system when an incoming call peaked my interested.
“Correct Rats I am stranded in the Pyraleau Sector.” A static laden voice said.
“Acknowledged Cmdr. Please close down all non essential systems and stand by as we rustle up a Rat or two to refuel you.”
I had reached the bridge and thumbed the comms transmit.
“Dispatch, Aitken. I'm up for the trip to the Pyraleau. Gimme five minutes and I'll be departing.”
“Aitken, Dispatch. Rodger I'll send the necessary info to the client. Good speed Cmdr.”
As I fired up the rest of systems the comms from the stranded Cmdr came in, 6,710Ly from the Bubble. I sent a quick text message to Shoshana via her PADD, checked the inventory to make sure I had limpets and then requested clearance.
The large white and orange hull rose from the depths of the hangar as the station hydraulics did their work.
“Exit approved, follow the greens to the airlock and fly safe Commander.”
Once clear of the NFZ and out of the stations mass lock shadow I lined the Anaconda up with the exit vector and hit the FSD. As I exited at the star and started to scoop the comms crackled to life.
“Master Loon to Aitken. I'm refitting at Wollheim and will be joining you on this rescue. See you in the black.”
“Aitken to Master. Roger Commander I'll keep an eye out for you.”
I'd reached my first waypoint when Master Loon left Wollheim. We chatted a little and I must admit I had not even thought about what he was going to do. In fact as I pointed out to him I fully expected him to pass and surge ahead of me at some point if he was using Neutron Stars to fuel his FSD. With my second leg plotted and no AFMU on board I continued on.
At each replot point I had a look for Master, he was indeed catching up but not at the rate I had expected.
At 5,000ly out from the bubble the stranded Cmdr got in touch with me.
“You guys are moving. It's appreciated, I have a few months of data on board and planned to stay out a while longer.”
5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Engage. The feeling of watching a fabulous show of light and cloud. Thuuu-kwak. Fuel-scooping. Gluuug, gluuug, twiddle, twiddle, BLLLAARRT.
The sights and sounds of jonking toward a rescue were familiar to me and some how soothing light year after light year.
With one system to go the stranded Cmdr made the necessary steps for the refuelling as I made sure my nav-lock was on. Betty started her count down and we jumped. Master was still a little under a thousand ly behind me and the danger of the client running out of breathable air spurred me on. Entering the system the T Tauri star greeted me with it's dull red glow but did not hide the bright blue call for help 500ls away. Wrestling the long nose of the December round to the proper heading I opened the throttle and waited.
It didn't take long before a blue haze entered my peripheral vision and the big ship started to drop from super cruise. Targeting the other Anaconda the first limpet flew across the blackness of space that separated us and was quickly followed by the second. After firing off another six limpets and a brief chat the other Conda jumped out. I next informed Master that the rescue was complete. He took it all in his stride, congratulated me and was happy to hear that the client was safe. Now all I had to do was make my way back to the bubble. I decided that I needed to rest first and 2,000ly to Eagle's Landing was a preferable choice than floating in space.
It didn't take long and with the December tuck up in the planetary hangar I sent Fuel Rat Dispatch the mission successful message and a separate message to Shoshana saying my ETA back at Wollheim would be in 12 hours.
I slept a good six hours and after coffee set off back to the bubble. Of course with there being no hurry to return to the bubble I had time to think. The things occupying my thoughts were an old man in Perez Ring, a group of high powered people and what exactly they were trying to do and a dark haired forty something year old I had just ran out on. For what looked like the second time. That last one was the only one I could alter at the present time. We still had a holiday to finish or in my mind start. A small smile came to my face, I was content with those plans at least.
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