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“Sure. Thanks for the practice, it will come in handy.” I did not admit I had any apprehensions, no point, I would make it work or I wouldn't. That it could cost a pilot his life if I failed was also pushed to the back of my mind. Simple, I wouldn't fail.
“So you heading back to the “bubble” now?” The Fu Manchu mustached Imp pilot asked.
“Yeah, that's the plan. I see that this Fuel Limpet Controller is a tad heavy so I'll swap it out for a D1.” I replied as I continued to run what I had just done and agreed to do in the future.
“Ya, good idea you'll save yourself some credits too.” Badger said nodding sagely. “I'm going to jettison some palladium for you. Heck you might as well lug it back and make a little more off your trip out here.”
“It's ok, I really needed the chance to try this out, I don't want to cut into your profits.” I tried but he would not hear of me going back empty handed. Profits that would not be easy getting. Traveling 500 or so light years out in the Asp “Bennachie” hadn't been to bad but in a fully loaded T9 Heavy it would be a pain.
I had bought the Asp “Bennachie” not for Ratting but for exploration and it still had all the tools for that fitted. As much as I loved the Asp, I had been thinking about an Anaconda or trying out one of the new Diamondbacks that Lakon had just released. That was the future though and credit dependent, right at this moment I had more pressing concerns. I made a quick one system jump and reopened the Galmap. I also kept a close eye on the Rat Channel incoming text messages. Surly had explained that some time in the near future we would have a more open communications system but at the moment a basic text board would do.
Interesting things were afoot as I diverted my attention between it and Galmap. A Cmdr had gotten himself stranded in Epsilon Orionis and any ship with less than a 36ly jump range could not reach him. That counted “Bennachie” and myself out. That was beyond our range, even if we were not carrying limpets and 2 tons of palladium. I plotted my new course but continued to read the debate about if the commander should burn off fuel or if a Fuel Rat with an extended range Conda was available to help. When a post that had appeared in the midst of all the to and fro caught my eye.
Arthur Locke had also become stranded but not in such a precarious situation. I searched Galmap for the system he reported from and found, nothing. If I just took the general area I could see I was 500 to 600 light years from it. A little reworking of the figures given and I narrowed it down to 400 light years. With all the hub bub of a major rescue going on around me, I told Arthur that I was “On My Way.” Just as the “Cmdr Anuranium, on his way” to Epsilon Orionis rolled up.
My re-plotting, again, came up with 14 jumps, not a problem I thought, just go into a long exploration mode and jump, scoop, scan but on a smaller scale.
Frame Shift Drive Engaged, I found it highly amusing and appropriate that I kept hearing “Friendship Drive” as so many other pilots did. I typed Arthur to ask he start the process for inter-ship communications when I was two systems out. Just as I has accepted his message I felt the “Bennachie” lurch, the controls became sluggish and it seemed to be being pulled off of course. Interdiction. No not now, I thought as I decided to submit to try and save time.
Whoa, I was spinning like a top and my vision blurred. Instinctively I fought to keep the Asp on an even keel, blam, normal space returned. I pressed the proper sequence and out popped the hard points and target acquisition systems. An eagle and by the way it was maneuvering, an angry and hostile pilot at the controls.
“Can I hel.......” Was all I got out.
“I want it all, give me it all.” I heard as the Eagle continued to try and get behind my Asp.
“Hey look buddy, I'm not carrying anything of value. I am on my way to try and help another pilot.”
“You lie scum. Give me all your cargo or I take your life.”
OK, one, only my close friends get to call me “scum” and two, I really didn't like being threatened and accused of being a liar. It suddenly dawned on me, the palladium. Well, Badger it seems both our good deeds will not go unpunished.
While being dual fitted for exploration and fueling, the “Bennachie” still had teeth. Not the best weapons, a pair of beam lasers and four small multi-cannons but enough to hold its own, I hoped.
“You were warned, now die!!” Comms were cut and laser fire splashed against my shields.
Reallocating power distribution with a flick of my thumb I noticed no discernible difference to my shields,low powered pulses, I thought. I began twisting, diving, climbing. Ok there is no up or down in space but you get the idea. The beams had soon stripped his shields and the multi-cannons began chewing his hull when I heard Betty announce, “Frame Sift Drive detected”. It seemed the pirate had decided that discretion was a wiser choice than valour.
As the Eagle jumped out of system, so did I. I had re-selected the route to Cmdr Locke and was now one jump out. I initiated voice communications and jumped.
The Asp exploded into the system and all the thoughts and concerns I had when practicing came bubbling back to the fore. What if I had “instancing problems” or I forgot how to activate “beacon drop out”.
“Can you hear me Arthur?” I asked tentatively.
“I hear you wall to wall Aitken, thanks for coming out here.” A friendly enough reply came back. I also noticed that no visual communications had been activated.
“I have your beacon, sit tight I'll be with you soon.” If I had relief in my voice it was all too real.
“I'm not going anywhere till you visit.” The chuckle in Arthur's voice was not grim but of a man who had resolved himself to his fate.
A blue open rectangle glowed on my scanner as I wheeled round the unscoopable star. With a shudder and once again a vision blurring thump, we appeared back in real space. Of course as it usually works out the blue rectangle was behind me when I had come back to my senses.
I maneuvered the “Bennachie” to be facing the target and pressed select. Ah, now the lack of visuals made a little more sense. A Vulture wire frame appeared on my target acquisition system. Probably a wanted criminal, or perhaps one that hunted the wanted criminal. Time to find out.
“Thanks Aitken, I was out chasing some criminals for Hudson and a squad of Patreus bully boys decided I needed to be taught a lesson.” A hard edge to his voice told me I was dealing with a fighter.
“No worries, Arthur. Let me get lined up and I'll fire over some fuel soon. I'm not affiliate to any power, one's as bad as the other to me.” I could nearly feel the other man nodding in agreement.
“Yeah, well Hudson pays well at the moment. If another opportunity turns up, I'll be on my way.” Bounty Hunter, fighter and mercenary. Yes, I now knew why I was not getting visuals. One day he might be looking for me, if things went wrong and letting me know what he looked like might be to my advantage. Not a problem, I would probably do the same in his situation.
I fired two limpets and watched as the streaked across toward the Vulture. One entered the cargo hatch and the other waited til the first had been drained and disposed of. I fired another two and thought that those should fill his tank.
“Much obliged Aitken. Good luck in the future, I do hope not to need your services again.”
“You know how to reach us if you do Cmdr. Best of luck to you too.”And I hope I am never on the wrong end of you looking for me, ever.
I watched as Arthur jumped out and then plotted a route to the closest system with a station.
“Cmdr. refueled and moving again”, I typed out as I sat in the hanger aboard “FRS Bennachie”.
“Anuranium is thirty minutes out, you can't mean that one?” Badger typed back to me.
“No, this was a stranded commander in the Col. 285 sector.”
“You went on a rescue straight after our training exercise? Nice job Aitken, congrats”. I was asked. And congratulated all at the same time.
“Yeah and it went even better than the first time.” I replied with satisfaction and a few of the doubts and fears slipped away.
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