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N'tone and his gang of loaders and just finished stowing two hundred tons of cargo aboard my ship.
“Yes, yes it is. The old one was becoming to well known in Security circles if you follow my meaning.” I replied. N'tone let out a booming laugh.
“I do indeed my crooked friend, I do indeed. Fly safe Commander.” He gave me a mock salute before leaving. “Until next time.”
Yes, I had tried other ships after Char..sorry Emma had left Shinrarta. I had jumped into a Cobra Mk. III too. Man I love that little ship. Fast, manoeuvrable, a pure delight to fly but little as I said. Even if I had removed the shields it would still not haul the amount, I and my clients were used to. The other thing was I did not like running shieldless and I was also looking for more range.
I thought about another Asp. Sure it had the range and more than doubled the carrying capability. I ruled it out, nothing screamed SMUGGLER more than a high cargo, long range Asp.
I did have some fun in an Imp. Clipper. Big cargo bay, loads of speed. Agile for it's size too but again it came back to the range.
Now you could say greed played apart in my final decision but I could counter with what was expected of me from said customers. So I went back to the Anaconda, not the December but a whole new boat. The December sat in Shinrarta, set up as an ExploRataconda. A bit of a mouthful so I'll stick to December. D modules, except the FSD and thrusters. The power planet may have been A rated too but it wasn't the largest you could fit. I added a two SRV hangar, a fuel limpet controller of course, ASD, DSS and whenever the fancy took me it was ready to go into the black. Cargo capacity may not be the best but it could scavenge if I needed it to.
Back to the two hundred tons though. This customer had two deliveries to the same system. Again it was one to a surface base and one to an orbital space station. Even better was that the station orbited the planet with the base and since I was piloting, one was a 'shadow' delivery. 20 tons of Nerve Agent to the surface and the rest was narcotics to the station. I did not know or care, ok maybe I cared a little but the profit from this one run would make up for the loses I had being suffering of late. Again I didn't mind helping friends but my credit balance had taken a hit. Some of it was spent on business expenses, like the new unnamed Conda. That would take a little longer to make up, the other outlays would be covered by this one trip.
It was shaping up to be a near perfect job. Independent system to Independent system. I'd laid in the course to Mandhrithar, obtained clearance and eased the Conda off the pad. I'd made a few adjustments to this ship as it's main task was to be smuggling, larger thrusters, distributor, power plant and more cargo space. I added an ADS but didn't bother with any SRV hanger, this one was built to haul large amounts of contraband and faster than the December.
I'd lined up with the slot and pushed the throttle open a little, I eased over to the right so as to be on the green side. Just as the nose reached the slot mist I pushed the throttle wide open and hit the boost button. Erupting from the station like a rocket propelled grenade I held the course straight, boost, boost and the mass locked light winked out. Frame Shift Drive charging. As soon as we were in supercruise I pulled back on the stick, shifted it gently to the left while adding a little roll and the exit vector lined up sweetly. It was only the second time I had tried out the new power configuration and was pleased with its performance, even if it had only been a practice run leaving an anarchy station. Practice makes perfect.
As you can guess my vision was close to being back to normal. During the week I spent in Shinrarta I had seen a local doctor. He diagnosed migraine headaches, gave me a different medication which seemed to work. As soon as my vision starts to blur I had to pop a med and it reduces the effect. I hope over time I will be able to dispense with them altogether.
The journey to Mandhrithar went without incident, as always I was checking the scanner and looking for possible threats. I wasn't sure if things were quiet because of ridding myself of past problems, not Emma as she had never been a problem, or I was just being lucky. Whatever the case I wasn't complaining and enjoying the relative peace.
Of course that was short lived once entering Mandhrithar.
“How have you managed to get so far with such a big haul?” Boomed from the communication speakers. I saw no point in replying and prepared the ship for what was to come next.
BLAM! The tether took hold and we began the tug of war dance that could lead to one of our deaths. Death didn't happen for either one of us as I fairly easily broke the hold and continued on my way to Mandhrithar B3.
A moments inattention can cost any pilot and so it nearly did for me as I came closer to the planet. I was checking over my systems preparing to enter orbit, then land at Sato Vision and vaguely heard the transmission of “Moving to intercept now.” I honestly thought it was some other ship that the Security Ship was after until I felt and heard once again, BLAM!
Having just had a little practice with a potential pirate I found the Security to be as effective as that would be pirate. Having broken the tether and double backed a few light years the landing at Sato Vision was an anticlimax to the whole experience.
I watched as a bunch of thugs, with the appearance that only a mother could love, unloaded the 20 tons of nerve agent. I hardly spoke to any of them and was more that happy to see the squad of SRVs exit the hangar to drive to parts unknown. I was paid electronically and returned to the bridge a happier man.
At Fox City in orbit around Mandhrithar B3 the crew of Longshore men unloading the 180 tons of narcotics were a little more approachable and directed me to a place I could eat. It was the docks canteen and while the choice of fare might be sparse, the quality and amount were not.
I was sitting at a table with bench seating tucking into a dish of stew when a shadow moved across my vision.
“Aitken, isn't it?” A roguish looking guy asked. I had a mouthful of stew so just gave a shrug. “Well whoever you are I have some information for you. Rumour has it that United Epsilon Indi Flag are looking to start producing Indi Bourbon again and are looking for pilots to smuggle in other boozes.”
“Why?” I asked after I had swallowed the stew.
“So they can use it to bribe Indi officials. Of course they could also blackmail the officials once they have it in their possession.” A not very pleasing grin appeared on his face. “I'll send you the details and then it's up to you. No skin off my nose if you don't want to make some easy credits.” I saw the details flash on to my padd as the messenger for the drunk left.
As I read through it my mind was made up. I started to look at routes that would make a decent loop. Once I had worked out what I would haul and from where I also decided that a Conda was a little overkill and an Asp would do better. It was a four legged loop from Epsilon Indi to Leesti, then Wuthielo Ku, then Eranin and back to Indi. If they really wanted the Bile Distillate from HIP 59533 I would make the trip but as the outpost was so far out I left it out of my planned run. I finished the stew and the coffee I had bought to go with it, returned the dirty dishes to the proper area and returned to the ship.
The easy credits may have been the reason some were making this a goal and they wouldn't hurt. For me though there were other reasons too. Prohibition didn't work in my mind. It had been tried multiple times over the centuries and people always found ways to get their fix, whether it be alcohol or some other drug. I wasn't complaining as it was strict rules, however misguided they may have been, like these that kept me in a job.
Once I had plotted in the course to Shinrarta, I noticed that Leesti and Eranin where only a couple of jumps away for an Asp, with that mentally noted I departed Fox City and started heading back to Jameson Memorial.
I'd renamed the Oxen Craig, the RJ Mitchell with plans to run it in a Buckyball race that I had backed out of. It appears I am not meant to be a racer. I had thought that since smugglers use similar tactics as racers do, I would be able to set a decent time. I never managed and so I decided to stick to what I was good at. I reworked the internals a little and even with a A6 scoop I could still fit 50 tons of cargo, more than enough for this job.
I performed a couple loops before I began to tire, it had been a long day. I decided to get some sleep and continue the next day. I returned to Shinrarta and got some much need rest aboard the tactical crimson Anaconda.
I awoke but did not feel refreshed until I had my first cup of coffee. Once that was taken care of I hopped back into the RJ Mitchell and headed for Leesti. At George Lucas I bought 14 tons of Evil Juice and as much Azure Milk as I could find. Course plotted in for Tarter Dock, Wuthielo Ku and I was off. Once docked I sold the Azure Milk and bought 16 tons of Froth, then I plotted the course to Eranin. 150Ly or so later I glided into Azeban City and bought up my share of Pearl Whiskey. I paused a moment as apart from the previous day this was the first time I had been in Eranin in over a year, I think I was buying fish to deliver to I-Bootis but I could be remembering it wrong. Once my bout of nostalgia had passed I prepared for the final two jumps to Epsilon Indi and another delivery to Mansfield Orbital. Everything went according to plan and I completed 3 or 4 runs for my days work, apart from hearing Scan Detected a few times, I was moving too fast for them to be completed, it all went without a hitch. I returned to Shinrarta, had supper and turned in.
I was up early next day but in no great hurry as I pondered my next move. As I said earlier I loved the Cobra Mk. III and was thinking about using it. The only thing that put me off was the thought of the long haul down to Tarter Dock. I had some breakfast as I worked out my little problem. Just as I finished my second cup of coffee the idea hit me, just miss out Wuthielo Ku and jump between Leesti and Eranin. If I was requested to go to Wuthielo Ku I would just head back to Shinrarta and jump in an Asp. Simple and it should still net me a tidy profit. With my mind made up I boarded the chrome finished Cobra the Ythan and set out for Leesti. Everything was going well once again I had sold the Azure Milk at Azeban City and had just entered the Epsilon Indi system. I can only think that it was due to the fact that I had not encountered any problems in the two days before that I failed to see the Clipper on my six. BLAM! The tether of an interdictor grabbed the Cobra. I instinctively began to fight it but too late, I found myself spinning as a blue haze appeared on the edges of my sight. I had just opened the throttle and started to glance at the scanner when lasers began to hammer my shields. Twisting and turning I watched as the FSD cool down went, what seemed to me at a snails pace, toward operational.
“Stand and fight you cowardly pirate.” “At least die like a man and not the dog you are”
Were two of the phrases I heard over the comm.
As my shields failed I managed to send a message back.
“I don't have any guns. I am a trader on my way to Mansfield.”
I felt and watched as apart of my hull was eaten away and then the firing stopped.
“A trader you say. What would a trader be doing here in a ship favoured by pirates?” I heard once the firing had ceased.
“Sorry to disappoint you but pirates are not the only ones you pilot Cobras you know.” If the Clipper pilot heard distress in my voice it was real. I didn't like being shot at when I knew I was guilty but to be shot at for just being there, well I really did not like that.
“I'm aware of that. My apologies if I caused damage and any undue anxiety Commander.” I would take the apology and depart with my life, it could have been worse.
“No worries Commander, good hunting.” His heart was at least in the right place, even if his trigger finger was a little itchy.
“And good smuggling to you.” With that telling remark he was gone. I returned to supercruise and had no further problems reaching Mansfield.
I did another couple of trips without incident. I was about to climb the steps back to the cockpit after helping unload my third load when I was approached by a member of the United Epsilon Indi Flag.
“Greetings Commander. I have a request of you. Could you return to Eranin and return with more Pearl Whiskey, we have an official who is rather fond of it and would like another batch, so we can bring him round to our way of thinking. If you get what I mean.”
I got what he meant alright and agreed to his request. So I missed one run over to Leesti, no big deal in the grand scheme of things. I fired up the Ythan and did the two jumps to the Eranin system. Bought the booze and did the two jumps back to Epsilon Indi.
I have no excuse for what happened next, I did everything wrong, I reacted to slow and the actions I did take were very predictable. I saw them coming in and fumbled as I tried to select a system to jump to. Before I had done that a tether had been attached and I was spinning back into normal space. I saw two, perhaps three ships appear in front of me as I turned and boosted in the opposite direction. The hail of fire quickly stripped my shields and then it was beating at the hull. I'd messed up big time and I could only see one way out, I closed the throttle and waited for the pirates to catch up.
“Hello there. Happy to see you came to your senses, now give us the booze and we'll let you live. Deal?” A mocking voice advised me.
“Alright I'll give you what I have.” I replied. I attempted to jettison the 12 tons of whiskey and nothing. Laser fire started to ping at my already damaged hull.
“Hold on, I'm not going anywhere.” I said into the comm unit. Then I remembered that to get more range I had fitted an A2 power plant and that meant shutting down the supply to the cargo hatch. I switched the shields offline, well they were down anyway, and powered the hatch up. With that done I abandoned the whiskey, open the throttles and got out of there.
“Thank you for your contribution to the fund Commander.” The mocking voice followed after me.
I stayed in normal space for a good while, berating myself and waiting for the shields to come back on line. When they did and I had calmed down, I jumped back to Eranin and bought more whiskey. I wasn't thrilled about returning to Epsilon Indi but I had agreed to deliver the whiskey and all I could do was die trying. In fact that was a very real possibility.
I don't know if the pirates were busy or had bugged out but I made it back to Mansfield without any further problems. There I was met by the customer.
“Good grief what happened?” He asked as the damage to the Cobra was easy to see.
“Pirates. It was only a matter of time before they got here.” I answered with a shrug.
“I am sorry for the trouble and grateful that you got the whiskey to me.” I helped his men unload the whiskey and when they had gone I surveyed the damage to the Ythan. With the two attacks the hull was down to 31%, modules had taken damage and I wasn't happy with my performance. Shaking my head I climb aboard and limped my way back to Shinrarta. I wanted the engineers there to fix it up, I had used them before and knew their work. Once I had arranged for the repairs to start I called it a day. I found a coffee shop and ordered the biggest cup they had and sat down. I must have sat for an hour or two drinking coffee and trying to forget the events of the day. I was not very successful and knew if anything like this happened again I had to perform better.
It was back to the Asp when it was time for me to go next day. The Cobra was still under repair and probably would be for a day or three. I returned to the three booze route I had been using and quickly fell into a routine. Dock, buy, jump and drop. I also took the chance to gain more proficiency with planetary braking. It was a skill I had never been very good at but with all the docking I was doing I could see an improvement, I still missed more than I hit perfect but even that was better than missing all the time. Even if I did miss it still reduced the interdictions by security forces and it sped up the times between systems.
It wasn't until the fourth lap round the loop that I hit trouble in Epsilon Indi. This time I saw the four man wing in plenty of time. I had selected a new target system when I heard “Target acquired moving into position.” Sure it sounded very ISS but I was friendly with the controlling faction in this system and these guys were not green. I had lined up with the exit vector and was just about to engage the FSD when another transmission came over the comm. “Break off Hades Wing, I repeat break off attack run.” My thumb remained over the FSD engage button as I paused to see what would happen next.
“Cmdr. Aitken, you rescued me some months ago when I ran out of fuel. For that I owe you and the Fuel Rats my life. We will leave you alone to pay some of the debt back. If we see you again I may not be able to call the dogs off.”
I thought about replying with a thanks but after the previous days events I found it hard to thank a pirate.
“There is no debt, we saved you because you needed help. Nothing more, nothing less.” Good grief, now I was trying to change his mind.
“I know that. I'm going to pull my wing out of here for a while. Just to make sure one of these rogues doesn't take a pot shot at your cargo hatch. Fly safe Commander. ”
“Sure.” I could think of nothing else to say to him. I watched as the hollow rectangles formed up in formation and jump out.
I relocked my target to Mansfield Orbital and continued on my way. After landing and unloading my wares I chatted to the dockers. Yes, pirate activity was up, yup, roving bands had been reported all through the system. I took little comfort in knowing I was not the only one to have suffered.
I decided that I had pushed my luck far enough for one day and returned to Shinrarta once again. As I walked into the hangar the way the light struck the new Conda reminded me of the colour of my mothers favourite flower, Sakura. Uh, funny how names can come to you and have a strange meaning. I don't think my mother would approve of the direction my career had taken and she would have a very dim view of today's events. She might approve of the Condas name, and then again maybe not.
Even with its home away from home feel I didn't sleep too well on the Sakura. I had thought I could handle most situations out here, well I was still alive. Perhaps that was why, I usually knew when to throw in the towel and call it quits. The promise of easy credits must have blinded me this time around. Well that was easily fixed.
After coffee I jumped into a DBX. The Cooper had not been used for sometime but due in no small part to the attention it received in Shinrarta, it fired up first time.
I headed to Eranin and picked up a shipment of Pearl Whiskey and then onto Epsilon Indi. Once it was unloaded I thank the dockers for all their help and slipped each guy a tip. In this heavily electronic economy this was one of the few times that real currency came into its own.
“That's you quitting then Commander?” The lead of the crew asked.
“Yeah, enough is enough and I think I hauled my fair share. Time to grab a bite to eat and head out back to the edges.” I replied trying to sound cheerful. 'They' might hate quitters but if 'They' saw away out and 'They' could still survive, better to retreat and live to fight another day. I think 'They' would hate dying even more.
“I think you did, yup. You might want to try the diner about a block down, turn right as you leave the hangars. Hope to see you again Commander, fly safe.” We shook hands and he departed.
I found the diner he had recommended and ordered a Tex-Mex Omelette, I had no idea what a Tex-Mex was but it looked good in the picture, toast and of course coffee.
While I ate the same representative of the United Epsilon Indi Flag that had asked me to pick up a shipment of whiskey for a fussy official came to see me.
“If you check your account Commander you will see a bonus we are paying all the pilots who helped us out. It is with our thanks and gratitude.”
A quick check on the padd and I was happy with the unexpected bonus. “My thanks to you and your organisation, pleasure doing business.”
“Those funds will be released at the end of our venture.” A genuine smile rose on his lips.
I stood up for another round of handshaking and then he too departed.
I pondered what I was going to do next. I was considering heading deeper into the bubble, sounds silly I know as I had a yearning to get away from most people. Visiting friendly places and faces sounded good.
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