A Small Step

“Whoa, slow down man. For a little guy you sure move quick.”


I didn't slow down. Bay Kosmatka had to lengthen his stride, a little but eventually caught up to me as we made our way through Darnielle's Progress and back to the hangar. He kept talking up until we entered the hangar. There he fell silent and stopped walking.


“Holy crud that's a big ship.” He uttered and then fell silent for a few moments. I kept walking heading toward the entry point of the Conda. “They do say that if you are flying something this large you must be compensating.”


It was my turn to stop.


“Well 'they' have no clue what they are talking about. It's the best tool for this job. I'd really like to be in a Cobra or an Asp, neither of those will carry enough cargo.” I glanced over my shoulder at the grinning younger man. “It's also got a very decent jump range full loaded.”


“Sure Aitken, tell yourself whatever you need to.” The grin remained.


Shaking my head I walked on and boarded the December with Bay close behind. At the first crew cabin we came too I pointed to the door.


“This one is yours.” He didn't have much luggage, just a backpack. As he entered I continued to the bridge and started preparations for departure.


“Wow, so much room and it looks really nice.” Bay announced as he walked on to the bridge.


“Strap in. Once we have launch clearance we'll get this show on the road kid.” I said as I pointed to the command chair to my left.


“I'm 21 years old Aitken can you drop the 'kid' please.”


Young enough to still feel immortal, old enough to prove that wrong at some point in time. I glanced over to see him looking over at me as he pushed the buckle to lock it and himself in place.


“Sure. I can do that junior.” Before he could say anything the grinding of gears and the groaning of machinery started and we were on our way to the landing pad. With a thump and a jolt we returned to the surface. Clearance to launch was given quickly. Rising from the pad I pushed the throttle fully forward while lifting the nose to 90 degrees. As the mighty engines pushed the needle nosed ship upward I let my eyes wonder to see Bay gripping the arm rests tightly. White knuckle tightly. As the countdown to Supercruise wound down he seemed to shrink into the chair.


“Relax Bay. The December hasn't let me down yet and I don't expect it to start now.” I tried to be reassuring, not my strong suit.


“Sorry, I always get the feeling that the ship will explode at the end of the countdown. I'm not the greatest traveller around.” I heard a hint of relief in his reply.


“Well you've picked the wrong trip, cos I expect Betty to be calling that out often. Getting to Jaques isn't like popping down to the corner shop.”


“I'll be fine. The first one is always the worst.” With each word he sounded more and more relaxed. It wasn't long till he heard it again as I had lined up for our first jump. I glanced over as “Engage” was uttered and sure enough he wasn't gripping quite so hard. His tense seemed to ease at each jump over the next few and he started to take interest in what lay outside the ship.


The siren and flashing red lights made him jump out of his skin.


“What's wrong?” The panic his tone projected seemed very real. I tried to hide the smirk I felt appearing before I relied.


“Nothing wrong with us.” I said “Try to keep calm and let me deal with this.” Now it was time to ignore Bay and see what Rat Dispatch needed.


“Aitken, we have one close to your last reported position. Location should be in your computer, now.”


“2 jumps out. On my way.” I announced, while changing my plotted route.


“Roger Aitken. I'll advise client on what steps to take as you close in. Dispatch out.”


The new course wasn't that much different to our original and required roughly a 25 degree swing to starboard. As we burst out of hyperspace with one jump to go we received the clients request. I quickly accepted it and hit the FSD for the last jump. Arriving in system I engaged nav lock just as the wing request came in. Of course the blue icon showed up on the opposite side of the brown dwarf that lay before us. Pushing the throttle open I angled the Anaconda so that we were looking up at the L type star. Then the edges of my sight started to blur and we were dropping.


“Now that's a big ship.” I said to Bay as the Federal Corvette sat motionless in front of us, after the usual delay. A delay that was just long enough to make me think we had a problem but not long enough that I would jump back into supercruise.


I fired twelve limpets and chatted to the wayward Vettes Commander. The usual debrief was cut short as he knew most of the information I passed on. He had misread his Galmap thinking the Type L was a Type M. With thanks and after re-powering his modules he was on his way with an audible pop.


“That was impressive.” Bay said as he turned to look at me. “Mr. Smith didn't tell me you were a Fuel Rat.”


“I do what I can when I can. It used to be more but things get in the way.” I was looking over the Galmap so I didn't see if his expression changed.


“Things like trips out to Jaques?”


“Yup, things like that.” I'd spotted what I needed and finished plotting in the route. “Well, we're going to make a stop so we can top up the limpets and get food supplies for Jaques.”


“Alright. Not too big of a detour I hope?” Bay asked in answer. He seemed a little more relaxed but still I got the impression that he wanted to get to Jaques quickly.


“No. We would be passing through it anyway so we're looking at an hour or two.” I hit the FSD button and started the jump process.


Barnwell Dock in the Nukaitu system was a nice place to visit. I had done some business there in the past, selling commodities that some of the population desired but their government deemed less than legal. The Orbis station orbited the water world ABC 1 but more importantly it had the food stuffs I wanted to haul out to Jaques.


While I negotiated the prices for the limpets animal meat, fruit, veg and grain, Bay disembarked and went into the station proper. He didn't tell me why he was going to be gone an hour and I didn't ask but felt confident that it would have communications involved somewhere.


Just before the loading was finished he reappeared in the hangar. He nodded at me and I nodded back. Once back on the bridge I asked him if he was ready to leave and he replied with a 'yeah'. Fifteen minutes later we made our first of what would be a hundreds of hyperspace jumps.


We were about 5k out when I decided it was time to rest. Some no name planet close to a no name star in a no name system. It was around 1G and caused no issues as the landing gear and thrusters on the Conda kissed the surface. Only another 17,000ly to go. Give or take a light year or two.


Six hours later I awoke, grabbed a cup of coffee and started to plot the next 1k of the journey. I was just bringing the last of the systems on-line when Bay appeared from his cabin.


“How long till we get going?” He asked as he walked across the bridge.


“You had better grab a coffee in a zero-G cup. I'm bring all the systems on line so we'll be outta here soon.”


I got no answer but heard the footfalls heading in the direction of the coffee machine. Another check to see everything was working and then I hit the upward thrusters and we were on our way again.


Bay had time to strap himself into the chair to my left and as the countdown started he looked a little less apprehensive, but only a little. Once again he had nothing to worry about as we slipped into supercruise. Of course the next system we were aiming for was obscured by the planet we were lifting off from. After the mass lock area I continued along the same vector until the altimeter disappeared then turning the Anaconda toward the exit, hit the hyperdrive and we started our jump, honk, scoop again.


“How long you been doing this Aitken?” The question came after our fourth jump. Up until then we had sat in silence and I was more than happy to keep it that way, but I still gave an answer.


“How long at what?” I could have been friendlier but that didn't suit my mood.


“Space pilot.” The younger man said.


“Most of my life. Dad was an explorer. I used to be a shuttle pilot in Sol. When Dad died I came out to the frontier to pick up his Cobra and ended up staying out here.”


Bay sat once again in silence. I gave him a glance or two as I continued the honk, scoop and jump sequence. He seemed deep in thought and then the comms came to life.


“Cain to Aitken. Come in Aitken.” I recognised the voice and the name so I opened Galmap and sure enough about 500ly from our position I saw the green icon of a friendly ship.


“I hear you wall to wall Cain. What the hell are you doing this far out?” Commander Heinrich Cain was a former client. He had been in a FdL last time I had seen him after he had misread his route.


“I got fed up listening to explorers telling their tales of the wonders of the universe. So I bought an Asp and decided to come out and see some of them for myself.” A pause followed, I guessed he was making a jump. “What about you? Business or pleasure?”


“A little of both mate. I'm heading out to Jaques.” I replied.


“You're heading right for my present position. Drop in by and say hello.” The Imperially aligned pilot stated innocently. “I've found a planet with supplies of polonium and another with arsenic.”


“I'll stop to say hello but I have no SRV with me. I'll certainly mark them for future use if I come back out this way.”


“Sounds good my friend. See you soon.” With that the comm once again went silent.


Good to my word and 14 jumps later the December dropped into normal space a couple of kilometres away from an Asp Explorer. Bay had returned to his cabin a system before wanting to keep his presence unknown.


“Scan detected.” Betty announced. I wasn't overly concerned as I was doing the exact same thing but it did raise a suspicion in the back of my mind. We chatted, idle chit chat of two pilots doing the thing they enjoyed. Heinrich told me about some of the sights he had seen and was hoping to see. I told him that I was heading to Jaques to help as a large part of why he was there was due to Fuel Rat help with the supplying of fuel for his journey. He did let me know that he had seen a few other ships heading there, which only made the thought in my mind grow a little more. We then both made our excuses and departed the system.


“What was that all about?” Bay asked as he floated toward the chair he had occupied earlier.


“An old client just wanting to chat. Nothing for you to worry about. He had no clue you were here.” There was more truth than suspicion in my statement but Bay did not need to know what I was thinking.


Continuing onward we managed to get 5k out from Jaques before fatigue got the better of me. Finding a land-able rocky planet I shut down all non essential systems and grabbed a few hours of sleep.


“Your old client sounded Imperial. Should we be worried about that?” Bay asked when we were both awake and preparing to depart. He must have been mulling over the encounter since it had happened.


“I dunno, should we be?” I asked in return.


“Well we are both working for a man that has Federal ties.” Bay stopped what he was doing and turned to look at me.


“Mr. Smith did not recruit me for this little venture and while he may have Federal leanings, I don't think anything we do is officially sanctioned.” I didn't stop the task I was working at. There were so many things that were being hidden behind silence that it was time to end one.


“How long were you in the military?” I asked Bay. He floated to my left one hand hold on to the seat at that station and let the question sink in before answering.


“I joined up when I was 18. Got badly hurt in a minor skirmish a little over a year ago. I lost my right leg and have a cybernetic one now. The Marines released me as soon as I got out of the medical facility.” He sounded a little bitter and for that I could not blame him.


“And along came Mr. Smith giving you the chance to continue fighting for the cause.” I sounded a little cynical and for that I could be blamed.


“Yeah, something like that. I'm still not sure why agreed to help him. What about you?” I knew he was looking in my direction, waiting for my answer.


“I'm the same. Still not sure.” I lied. If Smith did know about Emma with her new identity he hadn't said anything to me and if he didn't, good. Helping The Consortium might stop him looking deeper into my past. “Well, we should reach Jaques today so let's get going.”


After the 'Sure' I fired up the thrusters and started the trek once more. We hardly spoke over the rest of the journey. The density of the stars near the core did slow the nav. computer down a little but nothing else of note happened.


Bursting into Eol Prou RST-T d3-94 my head started it's usual scanning of the space around us and looking for ships on the scanner. Nothing. I targeted 80 DD-D 774-CE-2 or Jaques as I knew it to called and started the short 1,500LS hop.


If I had been trying to show off and be cool with an excellent drop out of supercruise I couldn't have done it better. As the blur faded there was Jaques perfectly lined up and 9km from the nose of the December. Usually Flight Control would be chirping at me to ask for landing permission and to watch my speed, not here. The other thing that made it a little eerie was the lack of traffic around the mail slot.


“It may look quiet but if you don't want people to know you are here, I'd hide in your cabin.”


Bay answered with a 'yeah' and floated away. I knew that I was not the first ship out here and so the lack of traffic made me a little weary. I requested landing permission and in what seemed to me a normal time it was granted. All the time I was looking out of the large bridge windows and checking the scanner.


As the Conda slid through the airlock of the mail slot my senses were on high alert. Not only was it eerie on the outside but that feeling followed me to the interior too. The station seemed to be running on emergency power as most of the lights on the flight deck were not illuminated. I had been assigned Pad 10 which was near the back of the station. Under normal circumstances this was one of my favourites but making my way to it through the dimply lit and quiet station I could feel the hairs on my neck and arms starting to raise. A loud sigh escaped from me as I felt the gear touch the pad. The gears and pneumatics started and we were heading for the hangar decks below.


“Do you have an inventory of your cargo Commander?” A figure asked as I disembarked.


“Right here.” I held out the padd and the man dressed in coveralls took it from me. “And you would be?”


“Names Bob. I'm organising the effort to try and get this station back into operational condition.” He replied as he read the manifest of my cargo and nodded his head.


I had manoeuvred myself so that Bob had his back to the ship and I watched as Bay slipped away into the shadows and darkness of the station.


“Meta-alloys and various foodstuffs. Excellent. We'll get that damned UA bombing fixed soon I hope.” He paused and looked at me. “More of the same for your next load Commander.”


“Next load?” I asked as he started to walk away to get his crew for the unloading.


“Well this is only the start Commander....” He stopped to read my name from the padd. “Aitken. It's going to take a lot more than one trip to fix this mess.”


“Of course.” I answered his back.


Just what the hell had I got myself into this time.

Categories: Rat Tales
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