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“Lookin' for a good time Spacer?”
She was in her early to mid twenties. Two or three inches taller than me, nice figure and good looking. The oldest job known to man or in this case, woman they called it. Prostitution while not exactly legal in Alliance space, it isn't exactly illegal either. A nod, a wink and the right palm greased and it's all good. It also wasn't my cup of tea.
“Nah.” I replied, I knew I had a hot date with a cup of coffee waiting.
“Prefer boys? Married? I don't look kinky enuff? Which ever one it is we can work something out.” She said with a saucy swing of her hips as I pulled even with her.
“No, no and maybe.” I answered. I seemed to have surprised her as she remained quiet for a moment or two. So I continued. “Nothing personal but I'm not interested.”
“Oh it's like that is it, not good enuff forya am I. Well you.............” Right here is where I interrupted.
“Shut up.” A look of confusion appeared. “Thank you and no, I said it was nothing personal and I meant it. I'm in a....Never mind, here.” I took a gently hold of here left hand and punched in a few numbers on her Net Access Wristband. “I have no problem with you or your occupation, use the credits to get drunk or buy Onionhead or what ever it is you are need them for.”
I continued and headed toward the hangar area exit. “I don't drink and I ain't no junkie thank you very much.” She looked at her wristband. “Thanks Aitken makes for a better months wage. Names Kimi, if you ever need some or even just to talk look me up.” I watched as she tilted her head to the side, watched her just above the shoulder blond hair swish, watched as she put a hand on her hip and in her high heel boots walked deeper into the hanger docks. After all that I only had one thought.
“Coffee for Aitken.” The barista said placing the cup on the table. “I hate to ask but is there any chance you can get more Any Na and Goman coffee?”
“Sure Zev. What about the Kitten Blend?”
“Well if it's not too much bother I would be grateful.” He replied.
“No bother, gimme a couple of days. Usual arrangement?”
“Of course.” With that he returned to the kiosk and his other customers. Usual arrangement was an agreement that Zev and I had. I supplied the coffee at cost and I enjoyed it for free when I stopped at his kiosk. I think we both came in at about even when all was said and done.
Alone once more. In a station of millions I know that sounds wrong but I cherished those moments when in a sea of humanity I can once again be a single drop of water. The chance to watch, gauge and measure the tide as it flows around the surroundings. Watching and wondering what the others are occupied or involved with. No surprise but I enjoyed my own company, guess that's why I have no problem being in the Black for months at a time. Watching people was just the next step, unlike when piloting a ship I had little control of what went on around me while sitting here. Times like this didn't come along often or last long.
“How long have you been back?” Shoshana asked after giving and receiving a welcoming kiss. I may have been comfortable alone but that doesn't mean I want to be that way all the time.
“I got back about an hour ago.” I replied with a smile. I still found it hard to believe that the beautiful, responsible, respectable and law abiding dark haired woman taking a seat across the table allowed me into her life. What ever the reason I was thankful each and everyday that she had. “Usual?”
She answered silently with a nod as I signalled to Zev. He silently mouthed “Two.” I answered with a slight smile and a nod of my own. The usual chit chat of people meeting at the end of the day commenced. “Nice trip?” “Did your day go well?” “What should we have for dinner?” You get it normal stuff. Once Zev dropped off our coffees Sho started to dip into my trip.
“How is Gabe doing?” I knew the look as she lifted the cup to her mouth, just what were we talking about.
“Good. He's still digging through the data and logs from the INRA bases.” A slight pause as I gather my thoughts. “He's also running through all the names we have for those that served at those bases. As you might guess not a lot of them reached pension age.”
“Lemme guess a few died from unusual accidents and strange health anomalies.”
“More accidents than health for sure.” I replied. “One entire facility left on a transport and were never seen again. One jump and gone. A few had more mundane at or near home accidents but nothing that could really be traced to assassination.”
“What about the ones that did reach old age?”
“Gabes looking into those now. Shouldn't take long as there weren't that many.”
As she lifted her cup to take a drink a slow nod happened as if she were processing the information and shifting focus.
“Any of this leading anywhere near Smith?”
Like a gimbled multi-cannon she turned her head and locked onto me. Now I have been told a have a good poker face and on some level I agree. It does come in handy when negotiating trades and proclaiming innocences when the need arises but usually that is on people I have just met or have a passing acquaintance with. It doesn't work on Shoshanna. She knows me way too well for that, weather it is my tone or body language I have no idea but she knew there was more here than a one word answer.
“Ok. What has Gabe uncovered?”
“Nothing of substance but we really still don't know what the hell we are looking for.” I could have and maybe should have stopped but I knew she would continue on with questions, so. “He could be linked to INRA or Aegis, a corporation like Sirius, a Superpower, a minor faction.....”
“Alright I get the picture. In fact you aren't telling me anything we already didn't know. What else has he come up with?”
“You ever hear of The Dark Wheel?” My turn to ask a question.
“Sure. A shadowy off shoot of the Pilots Federation but that's about it. You two think Smith has something to do with them.” A slight pause before. “If they actually exist.”
“That I don't know either but it's not just Smith, Gabe thinks he might know why he keeps coming back to get me involved. One of the theories about being a member is through lineage....”
“Your father? How is that possible? Gabe would surely know if he had been a member.”
“You would think but they don't work that way. Their a secretive bunch that I'm not even sure are out there.” I took a slug of coffee as I tried to gather my thoughts and how to express them. “Dad might not have been a member anyway. One theory is that it is passed down from generation to generation but no one says they can't skip one or two. It is possible that my Grandfather could have been part of The Dark Wheel.”
“You have proof?” Shoshanna seemed keen to help us get to the bottom of this mystery.
“Quite the opposite actually. The lack of any evidence could also lead to the same result.” The puzzled expression on her face allowed me to continue. “Dad never knew his father. And I don't mean that he just never met him, he had no record of him at all, nothing.”
“Wait. How in this day and age is that even possible. I mean we have so much surveillance on most stations that they know when someone breaks wind.”
“I have no idea but I do know that Dad was raised in an orphanage until he was about five or six. Then he was adopted by the couple I came to call my grandparents. Oh and you can use the word fart if you want.” I received a look that said that I shouldn't be so crude.
“Did he ever try DNA tracing?” The question was asked as I nodded.
“Yeah, it's how he found his birth mother but there was no trace for his father. That doesn't mean he had never been test, a possibility a remote possibility, it could have been lost or destroyed.”
“Or hidden.” Shoshanna finished for me.
“Another possibility, yes.”
“What about Robert, you might want to run this idea by him.”
“Ah no. Hi son. How's work going? Found any interesting intel about the Goids? Me? No nothing special just want to tell you we think your Granda and Great Grandfather were part of a sinister, secretive Faction. See nothing important.”
“Sarcasm is one of your least attractive qualities you know.” She smiled as she delivered the rebuke.
“You mean most right? Not sure I agree with Gabe on this one. A little too far fetched for me. To use an old expression 'Follow the money.' I'm going with Smith working for one, if not a bunch of corporations.” I paused to picked up my cup. Empty. “Come on.”
“Where we going?” She asked as she grudgingly pulled herself out of the seat. I was sure that she had worked a hard shift but hoped what I had in mind wouldn't be to taxing.
“Hangar first, then a ship and lastly the Amber system.”
“Aitken I have work in the morning, this better not be one of these trips that turns into month long mission.” I could hear the weariness in her voice so I tried to reassure her.
“Nope one hop to Amber then we land on A2 so that you can take in the sights. Some I would wager you haven't seen before.” I took her hand in mine and we set off.
As we walked I explained the new software update to the discovery scanners. It had taken a little while to make the adjustment to the new method but once done I was starting to like it. The highlight for me at least, was the ability to find and pinpoint geographical and biological areas on the surface of a planet or moon.
It was taking longer to return to the hangar than I had taken to get to the coffee kiosk, why? Shoshanna had to stop and talk to everyone who said hello to us, well more her but a few did acknowledged my presence. To be fair she was part of the station management, so to speak and as far as I could tell they were doing a pretty good job of it. Those who were to distant would throw a friendly wave. A young blond girl waved at us and we both returned it as we entered the hangar area.
“You know Kimi.” We both said at the same time. Even though it was a statement I still felt I should answer the unsaid question.
“I....I.” How do you explain to one of the only women that are important in your life that you know a hooker. “I only just met her and you know I would never do anything on purpose to hurt you.”
“I know and that feeling is reciprocated.” As she finished a thought struck my mind.
“How do you know her?” Fair question I thought.
“I help her with her accounts.” I guess my face said something that I could never ask. “I said accounts not customers. So if you're not a customer what do you hope to obtain?”
“So you saw the donation I gave her?” She shook her head as we rounded the last corner. “Oh, well I was hoping that she could provide information on comings and goings, perhaps any titbits she may pick up about trading opportunities.”
“You mean smuggling opportunities?” She stopped as she saw the Cobra Mk. IV sitting next to the Orca. “Why are we going in the little ship?”
“Sure but I do honest trading from time to time too.” I answered the first question and onto the second. “ The Orca doesn't have an SRV and it's a larger footprint, Riff Raff is the better tool for this job.”
Once on board I climbed into the pilots seat while Shoshanna settled into the other. I would love to have taken the Orca so that she would have had a better view from the larger glass panels, heck a Dolphin would have been good too but I didn't have a Dolphin here and waiting or buying one would take to long. Anyway as much as the Mk. IV gets a bad rap I quite like it. It doesn't have the problem most small ships suffer from. Lack of module space.
As I'd told Shoshanna once we had obtained clearance reaching Amber didn't take long, one short hop of about 22ly and we were in system. A quick refill of the fuel tank as we scooped orbiting the K class star and I had to decrease the throttle soon after as the planet A2 only lay 13.6ls away. I'd been to A2 before so I didn't need to switch to analysis mode, FSS or probe it, I just waited for the sites to show up as we cruised in over the ring.
Once in orbit I picked a site that was on the dayside of the planet and once I was happy with the distance and angle I pushed the nose of Riff Raff down. We entered glide and I watched as the altitude tumbled down steadily. Exiting glide we were a little over 5km away and so I held the Cobra at the descent angle and wait until we were 2km from the surface, then pulling back on the stick till we hit 0.0 degrees I dropped the landing gear and let the speed bleed off. The planet had a gravity of 1.6g and with all the thrusters lower thrusters firing I only had the last 200m to worry about.
“Nicely done, I thought we were going to hit the surface.” Shoshanna observed.
“Wouldn't be the first time I had a bounce on landing, probably wouldn't have been the last either.” I was searching for a suitable landing area on the edge of the steaming geysers. As I spun Riff Raff round and eased it onto the surface I started to think I could have taken a bigger ship with a SRV. Some of the other planets I'd been on had the geological sites in mountains and other areas that had proved to be difficult to access but here it was on an open plain with gently rolling elevation changes. Oh well, some you win, some you lose.
“Wow, I not seen anything like this. It's kinda pretty in it's own way.” We were sitting on the edge of a sulphur dioxide fumarole field. It must have stretched for a good couple of kilometers or more and yes in it's own unique way, it was kind of pretty. I would have preferred
to be showing off some water geysers but we only had an hour or so. Still the steam rising and then slowing rolling to the surface while not as impressive was still a sign of natural beauty.
The SRV bumped along, on a planet with lower gravity it might have jumped up a few meters or spun out. I had heard of commanders using this to their advantage to fly-drive. A technique I had not used and on planets of 1g or above one I didn't think would be useful, I could be wrong and I'll look into it some other time. I'd just shot a piceous cobble and picked up the iron it had deposited and was checking the left hand panel to look for, got it a needle crystal. I trundled the 200m over to the fumarole it was in bedded in and opened fire. After a few plasma rounds the crystal broke free and started to roll away down a shallow slope. Targeting it and with the cargo scoop open I set after it. It didn't take to long until it was in the materials hold and I went looking for another needle crystal. This one was on the opposite side from which I approached but once past it a quick three point turn had me looking right at it. Repeating what I had done earlier I expect the same results and they would have been but one of the parameters had changed. The slope wasn't as shallow and I set off once again in hot pursuit.
“When you're finished playing out there, coffees ready.” I heard on the comm.
“Lost it. Good to hear you sounding so happy. On my way in.”
After docking once again sat on the bridge over looking the view.
“Sorry I didn't mean for you to lose that crystal, it just looked funny seeing you bounce after it.”
“Nah, not your fault took my eye off for a split. It happens.” Checking my cup I discovered it empty again. Another great benefit of being on a planet of 1g or a little above. Nothing floated away from you, especially coffee. “You ready to head back?”
“As much as I'd like to stay and watch the sunset, yeah better get back. Work in the morning.” The sound of her seat harness being clicked into place followed so I started switching on ship systems. “Got anything planned for tomorrow?”
“I have actually. I got to get some more coffee.”
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