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“I think you better come with us sir.” One of the security guards said to me. I noticed another one talking the young lady into a calmer state. “Sure, officer.” I replied and walked beside him as we headed toward the Security Kiosk. Ah the perfect end to a perfect trip home. the cynical thought pushed to the fore of my thinking.
It had started two weeks earlier on this station. A vacation, a trip home to see my Mother, Sister and my kid, a chance to relax. What could possibly go wrong with that.
Apart from the usual motherly and sisterly questions, not a lot I am happy to say.
My sister met me in the hangar just after I had landed. Cleopatra Aitken, I can not call her my little sister as she is a few inches taller than I am but she is my younger sister by two years. I opened the lower hatch and she climbed aboard.
“Wow, this is dads old ship, I can't believe you actually went all the way out there to get it” She exclaimed looking around as the memories came flooding back.
“Yup sis, it's the “Sair Fecht”. I said in return, a smile on my face for the first time in how knows long. The “Sair Fecht” had been my fathers Faulcon deLacy Cobra Mk. III. When I had inherited it just over two years ago it had been in near perfect condition, I hoped I had kept it that way.
“Everything is as I remember 'A', except that.” She pointing to the only piece of equipment I had added for my trip to Sol.
“It's a Fuel Limpet Controller sis, I kind of need it if I am to refuel other ships.” I tried to make it sound like it was just another piece of ship equipment.
“So you're a Fuel Rat, uh.” An wicked gleam appeared in her eye. “But I don't believe you have been all goody, goody, while you've out in space 'A'.” She continued to walk round the Cobras cockpit taking in all the sites and emotions that went all with them.
“No, sis not all goody, goody, as you put it. I've done want I've had to do to get by, just like most out there.” Again I tried to make it sound like nothing out of the ordinary happened out on the frontier. We were close, of course there had been the odd scuffle and disagreement growing up but we were just an ordinary brother and sister.
“Ok, 'A', I know that tone and I won't push it. After all I'm not the Security Services.” She said back to me with mirth in her voice.
“Thanks sis, come on tell me all about the kids and how work is going for you?”
We continued talking as we left the ship, reluctantly on Cleo's part. I did promise we would go sight-seeing around Sol later. The banter and catching up went on for most of the thirty minutes it took to reach where our Mother lived and then the real interrogation began.
“You look so thin dear, what have you been eating?”
“Usually stuff Mum.” “Nonsense. Not real food I warrant, just those nutrition bars.” “No Mum I don't like those.” “Well we'll soon have some meat on your bones again. It is good to see you dear.”
Part one was over and Elsa Aitken paused as I took her into a gentle embrace. “Good to see you to Mum and to see the old place.”
She gave me a smile and headed for the the kitchen area. Cleo and I followed her into her natural domain. It was the largest room in the apartment and one, I realised, I had spent a good deal of my youth in.
Elsa Aitken flitted about like a hummingbird, never seeming to pause longer than a few seconds in each spot. A stir of a pot here, a twist of a knob there, a small taste of a concoction and on to the next thing. I smiled, it was just as I remembered it all, the only difference was that the hummingbird was a little grayer, a little older. “Has everything been ok Mum?” I asked.
“Yes dear, better here than anything you have been doing. Have you met any nice girls out there?”
A small ripple of laughter escaped as I gave my rely. “No Mother, I haven't.”
“Tsk,” the sound that answered my giggle was of distaste “why not. Your fathers logs make it quite plain that women and nice women are out there or have you sworn off after the divorce?”
Well part two of the interrogation had started a little sooner than I had hoped, I continued the futile battle of defending myself. “No Mum not sworn off, the right time or person hasn't shown up yet.”
She stopped and using a spatula as a pointer let forth with another barrage. “No time. You make time dear if it's important enough to you. Hmm, you've just been smuggling and getting up to no good. Just like your father when he wasn't out in deep space.”
I may not be the most intelligent human in the universe but I knew when to shut up. Part two was over, for now. Since my split from Kathleen my Mother was determined to see me settle down again. I was in no hurry, the universe was big and I had so much to do that I felt I could not ask someone to put up with, not the way my Mother and father had. Even though they had been happy I still couldn't ask anyone to do that for me. On reflection and looking at my Mother perhaps I would have to reevaluate that thought, but some other time and place.
“I hope you have arranged to see Robert in your time back?” Again the spatula fired off a salvo.
“Yes Mum, we're to meet him whenever we get to Lincoln.” Robert was Kathleen's and my son, a good lad of twenty-four. Having left school he was working for the Federation as a civil servant. Doing what I wasn't sure and had never asked. Politics were not my thing.
I had hoped to make Abraham Lincoln Orbital our first stop but as the day wore on I came to realise that I was not the one finalising the plans. As it had always been in our family, that was Mothers role. It was decided we would spend at least one day at each of Sols stations, all expect Burnell Station orbiting Venus. I have never found out where it came from but my Mother had a problem with landing on Outpost Platforms. When pressed on it she would only say that they looked incomplete and still under construction. Having visited many platforms I had no problem skipping another one. My first day back in the Sol System in two years was over. I had been badgered by my sister, interrogated by my Mother and soaked in the sights and sounds of Titan City. It felt good to be Home.
Next morning we followed the route Cleo and I had taken the day before in reverse. As we rounded the corner into the hangar and saw the “Sair Fecht” Mum stopped. Her entire focus for the next three to four minutes was the only ship her husband had ever owned.
I could only imagine the feelings and memories that she was experiencing, I could only relate them to the feelings I had when I first saw the black and white liveried Cobra after my journey out to it. Dad had been a deep space explorer and such is the nature of the job, he was gone for months, sometimes years at a time. He had been present for the births of his children and most other notable events in our life's but for the greater part of it he was out in “the Black”. We did not want for anything, my Mother and he made sure of that. Until I had made my way out to the edge of the human bubble of space I never really understood why. Now that I have been there and beyond, I have a small glimpse into why my father choose this lifestyle. The freedom, independence, living by your wits, call it what you will but I kind of understand him a little more and it went beyond a way to make money.
“Well Dear, you have kept it in good condition. It looks just like it did when your father had it.” My Mother said for all in the hangar to hear. “Thank you” She remarked at a lower volume so that only Cleo and myself heard her. “Shall we go, Mars High looks like a good place to start.”
I watched Mother as we strapped in and prepared for departure. I would have loved for her to tell me her thoughts but it did not feel right to intrude, so I was content with my own. As she settled into the right hand seat the memories of when a younger me would have been sitting there washed over me. Memories of trips to Barnards Star and Boston Station, of the Tau Ceti System and so much more. Even though we did not see him often the times that our father spend with us had been full of wonder, excitement and joy. As I said we did not want for anything.
With a push, pull and up, the elevator pad took us inside the vast flight area of Titan City. Ships of all shapes and sizes buzzed about, the smaller Sidewinders and Eagles flitting between the bigger behemoths of Anacondas and Type 9s. Adders, Type 6s and Cobras making their steady paths to and from designated landing pads. Well ordered chaos, as not one collided with the other.
Working a well rehearsed routine I obtained clearance, lifted up above the pad, retracted the landing gear and headed for the mail slot mist and the family road trip beyond.
Vortexes swirled round the edges of the Cobras fuselage as it exited the mist filled slot at a pedestrian 99k/s. Directly in front of it lay Titan and so I swung the “Sair Fecht” to port and lined it up with the vector to Mars High. Finally after what seemed like hours the No Fire Zone and mass lock were cleared and I engaged the FSD.
Obtaining landing permission and executing it took longer than the actual journey from Titan City. My Mother and Cleo remarked with excitement at the difference between Mars High and Titan City as I approached the round bulbous shape that identified it as a Ocellus Station. A small grin tugged at my lips as I realised just how for granted I took these a amazing feats of engineering. Operating on the edges of colonised space as I did I was more used to the cuboctahedron shape of the Coriolis stations and the seeming random shapes of Outposts. If I did enter a High Tec system the Ocellus, Orbis and rarer O'Neill Cylinder Stations were looked upon as destinations and not for their functional design properties. I know, my loss.
Once again the best laid plans where forgotten as we ended up spending two days and two nights at Mars High. I booked Mother and Cleo very nice rooms to retire to but I slept on the “Sair Fecht”, more so that I could have some alone time than security. Plus I felt more comfortable on board ship than in some swanky hotel suite. The next week and a half followed a similar pattern, a day and night here, two days and two nights there. While docked we would explore the malls and passage ways of each station. It never failed to amaze each of us that no matter how much the flight levels looked alike in each station, the malls and corridors had a character all of their own. When we only had two stations in system left to visit I sent a message to Robert telling of our impending arrival and received a very prompt reply saying he was looking forward to seeing us all but would be unable to meet us on the first day as he had work commitments to attend to. Lincoln, we had agreed would be a two day stop before we moved on to Columbus, Io orbiting Jupiter, then home to Titan City.
I had already booked everything for Mum and Cleo, so the familiar pattern of dock and shop was a little quicker than it had been. I did enjoy visiting the Earth orbiters as each one took on the flavour of old Earth area their name sake's came from. Gorbachev had a European feel to it, while Li Qing Jao was supposed to be Asiatic and of course Lincoln was an Americas experience. I hoped most of the residents could see through the over commercialisation of the styling. I also doubted the accuracy of the styling said to be late 20th – early 21st century chic, of course I couldn't prove it was over the top as I had never been to those times. I did not take it too seriously and I am sure that's why I enjoyed visiting them.
Robert met us at a very nice restaurant on the second day for lunch. After the hugs and cheek kissing we sat at a table that was tucked into a rear corner of dining room. During the meal the chat was of normal life. Cleo's work, how her kids were doing, was Grandmother still happy living on Titan City. After the meal Mum and Cleo set off for a spa afternoon that I had set up for them, more hugs, cheek kissing and promises to stay in touch were passed back and forth. Coffees were ordered and Robert and I sat looking at each other. I guess it's up to the old man to break the ice.
“So, how you doin' Kid?”
A slight arching of an eyebrow told me that the use of “Kid” rankled a little.
“I'm doing good Dad. Enjoying my work, it can be a little stressful but over all it's good.”
The waiter arrived with the coffee and silence returned for a moment or two.
“Mum got remarried when you were out retrieving Grandpa's ship.” Robert said, no hint or trace of malice he his voice.
“I hope she is happy.” I replied, telling the truth as I held no ill will toward his mother. “Good guy?” I asked, more for Roberts sake than Kathleen's or mine.
“He seems ok. Owns a import/export business here in Sol.” My senses perked up hearing import/export as in some circles and systems the phrase stood for “smuggler”. “Not in the same way as you in the past couple of years, he is actually bonded and licensed.”
I took a sip of my coffee as I eyed the young man across the table from me. Just how much do you know and where exactly are you getting your information? I left the question as a thought in my head and unasked.
“You have been working for some very interesting clients Dad.”
“They pay the bills and I don't ask too many questions. I gather you have been speaking to Gabe?” That was one of the ways my work exploits could be getting back to him.
“Gabe and few others, yes.” Robert replied with a slight nod of his head. “You're popping up on a few organisations radar, just be careful our there Dad. Ok.”
Another sip of coffee as I viewed the situation that seemed to be working in reverse. Shouldn't the father to giving the son advise on being careful? I appreciated the warning and started to consider what I would do once my vacation was over.
“I'll watch myself Kid, thanks for the heads up.” I smiled and gave a wink.
“I mean it Dad, you're moving in different circles now that you're out on your own. If you prove to be a liability to some of the groups you work for they will not hesitate to remove that problem. The intelligence I see is that you are still useful to them but with these types of organisations that can turn in the blink of an eye.” I nodded, I knew the types of jobs I took from Bulletin Boards had ambiguous phrasing and I knew the reasons for that too.
“Robert, thank you for the concern son, I mean it. I know I'm not a shuttle pilot any more and I have thought through what to do if things go pear shaped. It is nice to know that you're watching out for me.” Again I smiled and was happy to see Robert cheer up a little as a grin appeared.
“I kind of guessed you had things covered Dad but I just wanted to be sure. I don't think I could get married if you were not there.” How a beaming smile crossed his face and I knew that interrogation number three was finished with. “We don't have a set date yet but it will be in the next couple of years, I want you there so don't do anything dumb in the mean time.”
I gave a small snort and laugh. “I hear you loud and clear son. How's your mother taking the news?”
“She loves the idea, she thinks Song is the perfect match for me.”
“You mean that pretty little girl you hung around most of your final year?” If I was correct I knew the girl and her father. He had been a shuttle pilot at the same company I had flown Orcas for. Robert blushed a little but the silly boyish grin remained.
“Yes Dad the very same. We ended up going to the same college and some of our classes over lapped. We struck it off well and things kind of went from there.”
“Well I must admit I approve then, not that me disapproving would stop you.” Again I was being honest with my son. From what I remembered she was a lovely girl, pretty, even tempered and an excellent scholar.
“I'm happy to hear that Dad. Well my free time just ran out. Next time you are heading this way let me know and I'll arrange some decent time off so that Song and I can spend time with you.”
I of course agreed that it was a splendid idea and that I would do just that. Although I had a suspicion that he would know I was in system long before I contacted him. We shook hands and hugged and Robert then made his way to the exit. I sat down and continued to sip at the coffee on the table before me. As the tall figure in the well tailored suit that was my son left, I reflected on the conversation we had just had. I knew that he was working for the Federal government but he had never said which branch and I had never asked. I couldn't be sure but I was starting to think he was working for one or more of the Intelligence Agencies the Feds had. I stored the information away at the back of my brain, hoping I never had to use it, but you never knew what life was going to throw at you and it might prove useful some day. I finished the coffee and left the restaurant through the same exit Robert had taken five minutes before. The floor I walked onto had a view of the bustling passage way below, as the inhabitants of Lincoln carried on with their busy lives.
After a few minutes of watching a familiar voice reached my ears.
“Everything go as you had hoped 'A'?” Cleo asked as I watched an old guy carrying what looked like a basket of clothes.
“Yes, everything went well Sis.” I turned to face her a grin spreading across my lips. “You know you are the only person I know who calls me 'A', every body else calls me Aitken.”
“I'm too lazy to use that name every time I talk to you.” A chuckle accompanied her obvious lie. “Come on Mum is waiting for us at a cafe close to the hangar.”
When we reached the cafe and Mum I told them both of Roberts up coming nuptials. Both were very happy for my son and started to talk about presents and attire for the still in the distant future wedding.
The visit to Columbus and the return to Titan City went without a hitch, as did the following day when I hung around my Mothers home and started planning what I was going to do next. Next hadn't included a visit to the local security office but that's where I found myself.
“Does the name Matt Geier mean anything to you Mr. Aitken?” The thin hawk nosed security officer asked me. I was seating in a comfortable chair behind a non descriptive table, the kind that could be found in thousands of offices in thousands of systems through out the galaxy. The officer opposite me looked at the screen that he was getting his information from before asking any questions. He didn't seem particularly hostile and I got the impression that it was just another complaint he had to deal with. A little bigger than the usual shoplifters he may have dealt with but a complaint none the less. I genuinely searched through the memory banks of my brain trying to place the name but came up blank.
“I think I may have heard it before but to tell you the truth I can't remember where or when.” I replied with a shrug.
He tapped at the screen before him and with his appearance he reminded me of a large bird pecking at a feeder.
“You have done some interesting assignments for some interesting clients Mr. Aitken. Smuggling, assassinations, bounty hunting, delivery of some suspicious packages for groups like the Sublime Order of Van Maanens Star and the Brotherhood of Terra Mater amongst others. Not the friendliest bunch of people you will meet.”
“You're making me sound like a infamous villain.” I shifted a little in the chair, uncomfortable with the situation.
“More like a petty criminal Mr. Aitken.” The bird like officer replied with a smug expression.
“Ok then, I like the sound of that better.” The smug expression faded as he tried to understand what I meant.
“The last known report of the ship he was piloting was in the Procyon System, his wife, the young lady who is your accuser, confirms he had a business meeting at Pontes Gateway. Does any of that help.”
It did indeed but I was not about to surrender the information. Matt Geier had been involved with the Sirius Corp. and it was they that had put the hit out on him. I had found him in the Procyon System a few weeks ago. As I followed him in super cruise I had noted that he was wanted in the system and so I interdicted his Python. I had brought out a Vulture I keep for these type of jobs Kill Warrant Scanned him and made some extra credits from the mission. Once I claimed the bounty and the fee from the Sirius Corp. I had quickly forgotten about it.
“As far as we can ascertain Mr. Aitken, someone had exercised a contract against him.” The bird man of Titan City Security told me. “His wife, Annabelle Geier, seems to think that you were the assassin that carried it out.”
“Not to tell you your job or that I carried out this crime I have been accused of but if you run a check of the Procyon bounty files and I show up as 'wanted' wouldn't that indicate if I am innocent or not. I would imagine that with both systems being under Federation control that it should be possible.” I was now trying to point the officer in the direction to prove it hadn't been a murder, meh, some people need a little push now and again. He looked at me and gave a slight shrug and started tapping this bony fingers over the screen.
“Well Mr. Aitken it seems you do not have a bounty in the Procyon system. A bounty for Matt Geier was claimed nineteen days ago by, you.” A disapproving look greeted me over the top of the screen. “You could have told me this as you remembered and saved yourself from my interrogation.”
“Where would the fun be in that.” I cheekily replied.
“You don't seem to be much fun for the Geiers. There is a warrant and bounty out for Annabelle Geier too.” The officer remarked with a hint of surprise in his tone. “And since you where instrumental in her apprehension, that money is yours to claim.”
I stood up and now it was my turn to shrug.
“It's money I never had Officer. I'll donate it to the Sol Security Orphans Fund. It's my thanks for clearing my good name and the nicest interrogation I've had since I got hear.”
“Your good name?” The question sound like an accusation, all I could be was smile and give a small laugh. “You do realise that the reward is 125,000 Crs?” His tone changing to one of disbelief.
“Doesn't matter the amount, it's a gift and if putting my name down is a problem just say it's from an anonymise Fuel Rat.”
The tone of disbelief returned as he blurted out. “You're a Fuel Rat?”
Still laughing I left the room and headed toward the hangar area and the “Sair Fecht.”
I still hadn't made up my mind about where I was heading once I reached my other ships but leaving Federation controlled space, considering what had happened here and the warnings from Robert, seemed like a good idea. I still had a few friends in a little independent system close to the Empire, visiting them could be fun and maybe profitable. The closer I got to the hangar the more convinced I was that once I had put Dads Cobra back in storage I would head toward Empire controlled space and the independent system of Quivira.
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