Another Chapter

“Hello Aitken. You seem to be healing well.”


The visage of Mr. Smith remarked over the comm. unit.


I suppose he was correct as I had not being doing a lot since the Purple Pirates had rescued me. In fact I had not been allowed to do a lot since then.


Chief Turner had arranged things so I was only doing legal haulage and even then the trips were not that far from Uracenufon. It seemed that the relaxing time I had been having was coming to an end. Then it suddenly struck me.


“How did you know I had been lying low?” I asked the well dressed man before me.


“Come, come Aitken. How do you think those ruffians out there found out about your predicament?” His lips tried to form a smile but failed.


“Uh. Sorry I didn't give it much thought. My thanks to you and The Consortium.” I meant it too. I had no idea what would have happened to me had I not been rescued. That was something else I had not given much thought.


'You are welcome and I will pass on your thanks to those that helped in that incident.” Another attempt at a smile and another failure. “And now to business. We have need for a person with your skill set to help out the Chapter of Isinor.”


“Skill set uh, not for my belief system.” I could not help but chuckle. The Chapter of Isinor were well known for being very picky in who they dealt with. For them to be turning to someone like myself who did not share their view of the Universe was very unusual. “Ok Mr. Smith what does this bunch of religious nu...”


I bit back the word “nutters” as a robed figure walked in to view. Mr. Smith raised an eyebrow before continuing.


“This is the 'Divine Harley Maxwell' he will be your contact to the Chapter.”


“Greetings my son and thank you for agreeing to help us in this matter.” I hadn't, I still didn't know what the help was and knew I was being railroaded. I gave a small shrug.


“You're welcome.” I paused as I had no idea how I should address a 'Divine'. So I took the easy way out. “Sir.”


“No need to be so formal Aitken, just address me as Divine Maxwell or Divine.” I gave a nod. “Now we have that out of the way please make your way to the Anotchadiae system. There will be instructions on the Mission Board in Malerba Orbital. Again thank you my son, your help will be gratefully received.” He pushed his hands together and gave a slight bow and retreated from sight.


“Any profit you make is of course yours Aitken. We look forward to the reports of your progress.” Mr. Smith failed once more with an attempted smile and the screen went dark.


“You'll be leaving us I take it?” Leopoldo Turner asked as I made my way through the hanger area.


“Yeah, got a tip off about a bunch of good paying jobs. I'll be using the Asp, so if you want it someone can use the Clipper.”


“ We might just take you up on that offer.” The pirate leader answered with a toothy grin. “Thanks.”


“It's the least I can do.” I blurted out as a meaty hand gave me a hearty thump on the back. “ I'll be back once the pay starts going down hill.”


The goodbyes said, such as they were, I entered the Asp Explorer Growler and prepared it for departure.


It wasn't standard nor did it have stock parts any more. Felicity Farseer and a few others had worked their strange brand of magic on it. It could jump further and travel faster in normal cruise than it had before. Sure it might heat up a little quicker but if it got to high, well that's what heatsinks were for.


“ Lakon Alpha India Tango you are approaching an Independent station. Be warned you do so at your own risk.”


Not the friendliest welcome I have ever had but by no means the worst either. Hey the station didn't fire at me, so that was a plus. I requested landing permission and received it quickly.


Malerba looked pretty much like most stations, a little run down perhaps but nothing out of the ordinary. As the engines shut down I flicked the request and I was heading into the hangar. The usual whirs, thunks and clicks followed. As soon as I was motionless I undid the chair belts and headed for the access ramp. Sure I could have brought up the Mission Board with the on board computer but I needed the walk and had decided to look around a little. I might also find a coffee shop, or so I hoped.


After a little rooting around I found a coffee stand that had a few tables and chairs arranged round it. So I ordered up a cup, dressed it and took one of those chairs. Everyone looked well fed and busy. I could only guess that the station was doing well and they had little time for it's upkeep. A gave a little smile, if the station had a boom going the profits should be good.


I rotated the always present computer screen toward me and punched up the Mission Board. As the Divine had told me a couple of jobs with his name tagged to them were present. I was guessing but I would have laid money on my hunch that if anyone but me clicked accept the missions would not be available to them. Not my worry as I looked through them.


Jump to a nearby system, scan it, locate the Trade Data capsules and then retrieve them. Sounded easy enough and the pay was not bad so I hit accept, finished my coffee and headed back to Growler.


As the Fuel Scoop glugged away from the star I fired up the ADS. 'Hooonk', as the sound faded away I brought up the newly acquired system map. Two Class M stars and six other bodies. The return echo from the scanner showed that the data capsules were close to the fourth body that orbited the second star, only 71,000ls from where I was. Oh well, the pay was good so I targeted the proper body and settled down for the journey.


Everything was quiet, a few other ships in supercruise but that was normal enough. Sure it was an uninhabited system but miners, scavengers and those just looking for new places to land or looking out for new canyons to race through were common enough. I still kept an eye on those contacts that did show up but nothing gave me a sense of alarm, piece of cake I thought as I swung the Asp around the target body.


I had just finished the second orbit of the fourth body when the data flashed up on my sensors. I flicked the targeting system to lock onto it and glided the Asp in it's direction. The lock was good and as the range decreased I hit the 'safe disengage' control.


On a larger ship I would probably have a limpet collection controller on board but as the Asp is a medium sizes ship and quite manoeuvrable, I had forgone that luxury. Deploying the cargo hatch I lined up to scoop the first of the four cannisters I had been contracted to rescue.


As I listened to the beep, beep, beepbeep, beepbeep, for the third time a new sound interrupted me.


“Dang, I don't believe this worked.”


“Yeah no kidding, we caught this guy cold.”


“Alright buddy I don't know who hired you to pick these up but back off this is our find.”


The rumbling sound of the third capsule entering my cargo bay signalled to me it was time to leave. Checking the scanner display I noted a FdL and a Python slipping in behind me.


The cargo hatch was closing and I was a fraction of a second from hitting boost when I heard one of the voices again.


“You were warned.”


The next sound was the splash of lasers on my shields. Followed very closely by the growl of the Asps modified thrusters kicking in. The flash of lasers and tracer rounds lit up space around me as I boosted, twisting and turning to escape my rivals. Thankfully I had paid attention to the warning in the mission brief warning of possible other interested parties and had an escape route plotted. I had thought about high waking out but the long haul back from the entry point had ruled that option out for me and so I jumped back into supercruise. I kept the throttle walled all the while checking the scanner display to see if I was being pursued. Reacquiring the signal source as I turned I waited and throttled down. As if on cue two new contacts popped up on the display. Just as they began to turn I hit the safe disengage again and dropped.


Quickly I targeted the last cannister I needed and lined up. As sure as Sag A* is a black hole my two new friends dropped in for a visit. They were way too late. I had the cargo hatch closed and was boosting the Asp onto the high wake vector before their fire started. Four, three, two, one, engage and I was gone.


I noticed the next interesting piece of the mission as I scooped from the star Anotchadiae.


ILLEGAL CARGO shone brightly on the HUD. I shook my head wondering just what a religious order need with smuggled data. Not for the first time on a job I decided that it was none of my business and headed onward to Malerba.


Everything was routine after that. Well routine for smugglers, request docking permission, get within 5 or 6 kilometres out, hit silent running and sail through the slot.


The next few days were not so harrowing and I fell into a familiar pattern. Browse Missions, accept and usually end up delivering data or miscellaneous goods. Day four was shaping up to be a copy of those but fate had other plans for me as I sat in Growler.


The red lights and blasting siren could only mean one thing, RATSIGNAL.


“Hey Aitken you up for a little long range rescuing uh?” Dispatch joked as I responded.


“Sure, all dressed up and waiting for some place to go.” I replied. This was no Case Red, if it had been Dispatch would not be so relaxed.


“Alright, it's out past the Horsehead Nebula. I'm sending you the location now.” I confirmed receipt of the information and requested clearance to the flight deck from Malerba Flight Control, all thoughts of missions gone.


“CMDR Wildc4rd is gearing up to run out too. Looks like we got a Rat Race.” After gaining permission to leave, I exited the slot. I then pulled up the comms contacts.


“Hey Wild you ready to go?” I ask Wildc4rd.


“Already on my way Aitken. How about you?”


“I just left the station, looks like you got the lead what's the plan?”


“I'm going to head for Betelgeuse and then up. You?” I nodded to myself. Wild was probably taking the route most travelled and the one I would most likely have plotted myself.


“Well I'll take a different way, see if we can't meet up at the client. Wregoe systems and then down.” To us I didn't think it mattered who was first as long as the client was refuelled. Taking different approaches meant if one of us hit trouble the other should be clear.


“Roger. See you there.” Wild replied and then the comms went dead.


It wasn't going to take us too long, about the time it took to go from one end of the bubble to the other, times six.


I was about 1,400ly outside the bubble when dispatch called.


“Dispatch to Aitken, how you doing out there.” I must admit it was good timing as a few minutes before the call I had started to have a problem.


“I hit a wall out here Dispatch. My FSD doesn't seem to want to lock onto a few systems, even though I am within range. I'm going to keep plugging away in the hope of punching through.”


“ Roger that Aitken, thanks for the update. Let me know what's happening. Dispatch out.”


It was a bad habit of my, not keeping the dispatcher updated. I guess I have been operating on my own for too long. Right now that was not foremost in my mind. I continued to plot and continued to be denied. In frustration I started plotting in a direction I did not want to be going in, a direction away from the clients system. I'd plot three or four systems to my right and then see if I could find something to lock onto ahead of me. When I say right and ahead it is relative to the direction I wanted to go. Of course once I found a system 'ahead' of me, I then could not find away back 'left' in the clients direction. I kept plugging away convinced that even if I didn't find away through that Wild would. Then....


“Aitken to Dispatch. I have gotten over the wall. Ten jumps to client.” With the modified FSD it had cut at least five jumps off of the distance I had to cover.


“Roger Aitken I'll inform the client you are close by and to power up comms with you. Dispatch out.”


I heard a new voice calling me over the comms and responded with my ETA. The rescue went well, no fuss, no drama, just a happy explorer who had misjudged his fuel level. I then talked to Wild once the client in his Asp Explorer had departed. Wild informed me he was going to stay out a while longer and do some exploring of his own, so we never got to meet up. I followed Wilds route in reverse to return to the bubble. It was my first time visiting Betelgeuse and I was happily impressed by the red supergiant.


Arriving back in Malerba I had the FSD checked out, just in case one of Felicity's mods had made it mess up. Apart from some unusual modifications everything was working as intended the station mechanic informed me. Befuddled by the problem, especially since the FSD had a clean bill of health I but it to the back of my mind and looked through the Mission Board once more.


The next few days were consumed by delivery missions, recover missions and a few source missions thrown in for variety. As I was looking through the board on the sixth day the Divine Harley Maxwell decided it was time for a comms call.


“Aitken, we are very happy with the work you have done for us over the past week. We now feel it is time for you to change locations and would be delighted to receive you here in Charnas Terminal in Isinor.”


I thanked him back and set off for Charnas Terminal, a surface city on Isinor 5 A.


After landing I was shown to an office where the Divine was seated talking to a stunning red haired woman. She was dressed in a flight suit and was obviously not one of the cults followers.


“Ah Aitken my son, let me introduce to you a friend of Mr. Smiths.” As they both stood up I had a sinking feeling in my gut. Another one of Mr. Smiths friends was unlikely to be good news for me. “This is Lapin and I believe she has some work for you.”


“Really.” I remarked as the tall, elegant woman stood before me.


“Do you remember hauling fuel to Jaques Station?” She asked coolly. All the time eyeing me for a reaction.


“Sure, wasn't that long ago. He was getting ready to jump, that was maybe a month or so ago.”


“Yes. We'd like you to go there and help him out in anyway the station administrators see fit.” She picked at an invisible piece of fluff on her flight suit.


“Uh hu.” I replied “He was in one of the Gliese systems if I remember correctly.”


“Was being the correct word. He has since jumped and is in need of help.”


“Wait, he was jumping to Beagle Point, 56,000ly from here. What kind of help can I give him out that far?” I meant it, sure I could take a Conda and have it modified but even with larger jump range it would still be a one way trip. No way could anyone be expected to shuttle supplies that far.


“He didn't make it to Beagle Point. He fell short due to having unknown artefacts on board.” She said it as if she was asking me to pop down to a local shop and pick up some groceries. She then reached behind her neck with her right hand and flicked hair long hair. Giving a quick shake of her head so it resettle on her back.


“Where is it?” I'd had enough of the deflecting the answer to that question.


“Eol Prou RS-T D3-94.” The calm answer was given. “Before you ask that's a little over 22,000ly from here.”


22k, they don't ask for much do they I thought. Very little else went through my mind as I tried to fathom the scale of the task at hand.


“Well Aitken, can I have an answer?”

Categories: Rat Tales
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