With a Little Help

“Come in Aitken. Where are you dammit. Just when I need you I can't get you to answer.”

That was the opening line of the message from Charity. The rest similarly had no information about WHY she needed me. The only specifics stated that I should not try to get in touch with her and she would try again in 24 hours.

After leaving Maia I had done just as I what I said I would. I had taken the Bennachie out to about 800ly from Sol and started landing on planets with no atmosphere. After a while I began to find the odd wrecked ship or downed satellite. The former with cargo cannisters containing a wide range of commodities. Tea, coffee, animal meat and even a few with gold amongst other things. I also picked up 10 occupied escape pods, these I left sealed up and would turn them in when I returned to the bubble. The satellites I scanned for any data and hoped they would be worth something to somebody. It hadn't taken me long to fill the Bennachies cargo hold up and so I had returned to the bubble. There I had sold all I had found and switched ships as I wanted to stay out a little bit longer this time. The Anaconda FRS December had eight times the carrying capacity even with a larger hangar for two SRVs. I felt it was a no brainer to use it for salvage operations and questioned my decision not to take it out the first time.

I had headed back to the Wregoe systems I had been flitting around in earlier and continued my barely profitable endeavour. Profit was not really my aim just staying out of sight was, but if I made a little money I was not going to complain.

I'd been out about a week or so, picked up some interesting and some valuable stuff. That type of stuff was usually guarded by drone ships. Skimmers was the common name I had heard them called by but there were different types, from the small Stinger, a medium size Sentry and the larger Guardians. Those, once I'd worked out the best way for me to take them out, were not too much of a worry. So the first time I came across I Goliath I nearly wiped my self out. I had thought it was just another Guardian, right up until it let loose with its missiles. To say that was a surprise to me would be an understatement. The only way I had survived was by throwing the SRV into reverse, fixing the hull and rearming through synthesis when I needed to. It had been a close run thing but the pay out at the end of it made it worth while. Next time I would be a little more careful, I told myself.

I had just left the mass lock of my Goliath planet where I had found tons of gold and a couple of occupied escape pods, bring the total of those to 43. I would try to return the them to their systems of origin or sell them as legal salvage when I returned to the bubble but at present I left them sealed up so as not to get in the way. Especially as when I cleared mass lock and entered super cruise a ratsignal lit up the Condas cabin.

A Commander had ran out of fuel 2,000ly on the rimward side of the bubble. Knowing I was out in that general direction I got myself assigned to the rescue, along with a fellow Rat, Cmdr Bolgan. Even though I was 800lys out of the bubble it didn't take me long to realise I was further out than Bolgan. The stranded Cmdr was on the same horizontal plane as the bubble and I was high above it. I informed Dispatch that I would be continuing as back up in case anything went wrong when Bolgan reached rescue system. Just to add to my frustration the hyperdrive was having problems and my jump times were taking longer than usual. Ah well such is the life of a Rat.

I was 500ly above the system when Bolgan announced he was in system and waiting for the wing beacon. Next I heard Bolgan was reporting instancing problems and so I resumed jumping. I had covered about 100ly when Bolgan transmitted that he was refuelling the client. I congratulated Bolgan on the rescue and praised his persistence. We chatted for a few more minutes and he assured me he would be fine returning to the bubble. With a “Fly safe Cmdrs” I started to retrace my jumps to explore some of the systems I had jumped through on my way.

I was in an interesting system with lots of land-able planets and moons, well interesting to me when I received the message from Charity. What ever she needed me for I had a feeling it meant returning to the bubble and so I started preparing the December for departure.

Once I was happy that everything was in order I grabbed a few hours sleep. A cup of coffee was the order of the day after I woke up. As I wondered through the Anaconda I took sips from the cup and had drank half of it before I made it back to the bridge. I brought all the necessary systems back on line and blasted off. I had laid in a course back to the bubble. When I say I was heading for the bubble, I was and I wasn't. I was heading for a system I had used before and still had an Asp Explorer stored there. Bunch Dock was in the Uracenufon system and run by the Purple Pirates. Since I had some questionable cargo on board I knew I could off load it with no questions asked. Uracenufon was on the very edge and I hoped not to go deeper.

The normal stuff I could have taken deeper into habited space and sell for a slightly better profit but to tell the truth that would be more hassle than it was worth. The narcotics, battle weapons and other not so legal material would be welcomed at Bunch Dock and help me turn a little profit from my trip. I had worked out I should make a million credits for my week or so's work. Not great money but not bad for someone who was basically hiding out.

“There you are Aitken, where are you? I need to see you.” Charity looked a little harnessed and somewhat dishevelled.

“I'm about 1000lys out of the bubble and heading in. Where's the fire Charity?” I was trying to lighten the mood but I did not hold out hopes for succeeding.

“Everywhere. I can't talk about this over an unsecured channel but I need you to meet me. “ Too reinforce her seemingly dangerous situation she kept glancing over her shoulder.

“Where? I'll get there as soon as I can.”

“Good, I had hoped I could trust you. Do you remember the system we first met in?” She continued after she saw me nodding. “Great, well meet me in the first station in that system. If you are not here in 24 hours, forget it, I'll be gone before that. See you soon Aitken, I hope.”

With that the connection went dark. I had no idea what kind of trouble she had got herself into but she was a good kid and I as determined to help, if I could.

I skirted the edge of inhabited space as I made my way to Uracenufon. I met my contact and sold nearly everything I had picked up on my travels, I had been correct about the amount I should make and left a little happier. The 43 Occupied Escape Pods I kept on board a little longer. With those I took a note of the names on the outside of the pod and headed a couple of hundred light-years down into Empire space. With time permitting I may have spent it returning the occupants to their port of origin but I did not have the days or even weeks that might take. I did manage to return a few as I kept an eye on the “Lost Pilot” notices on the ports bulletin boards I stopped at. Those I didn't manage to return I sold at the last Empire space station I called at. If those occupants could still access their bank accounts they could buy their way to freedom, if not, well better the life of an Imperial Slave than the life of a pure slave. That is the fate that would have befallen them if I had sold them at Uracenufon or another Independent system. With the corruption and the amount of pirate gangs roaming Federation space I knew that if I sold them in a Fed system it would be just the same. I had done the best I could for them with the time I had available to me, life was cruel and hard in the bubble, this was just a another example of that fact.

I had first met Charity on Lounge Port in the 69 G. Carinae system but that's not where I was heading. The December was just a little to obvious and I wanted something a little more inconspicuous before I arrived at the rendezvous.

Before the Anaconda December and I began descending into the hangar area of Wright City, Elli, I had already pulled up the Station Services and started browsing the Shipyard section. Getting in and out of Lounge Port with as little notice was the aim. The Silver Boys were the controlling faction there and Crom was only a system over from 69 G. Carinae, I was flying into the heart of the operation I had been trying to hide from. I saw what I was looking for in the shipyard and departed the December, making sure that the security system was active as I departed.

It was a pretty ship, red with black and white stripes along its sides and the price was normal for its type. Talking to the dealer I arranged for it to have a few modifications that were normal for a trader and then I headed for coffee.

Sitting in a local coffee shop I looked over the mods I had ordered on the Hauler. Everything D specced, except the FSD, that was A rated. The addition of a Advanced Discovery Scanner may have taken away some cargo room but my idea was to look like a starting out long range trader. With the way I had the little Hauler set up she was capable of jumping 30ly in a single leap. Few ships with armament could match it.

To continue the ruse of being a new long range trader I took a mission from the bulletin board to the Umbrigua system. It was a good feeling I got as I eased the Hauler out of Wright City, I often used the little ship as a taxi to get between ships quickly but had not done so for awhile. After piloting a Conda for the past month it felt good to have a ship beneath me the could turn in less that what felt like half a day.

Run out to Tokubei Station went well, all 99,000ls of it. I dropped off the synthetic fabrics and browsed the board for a delivery to 69 G. Carinae with no luck. With a shrug I obtained clearance for departure and plotted in my course.

The bright Class F star 69 G. Carinae greeted me as I jumped in system but I barely noticed it as I scanned the space a round me and glanced at the scanner. Nothing. My paranoia dropped half a notch and I throttled up and set out for Lounge Port. It wasn't far just 550ls but it was long enough for my paranoia to return to it's previous level as ships appeared and disappeared from super cruise. I let out a small sign of relief as the blue Safe Disengage Ready popped up on my HUD, as the sigh faded I pressed the correct button and the FSD disengaged. To my surprise I had gauged it perfectly and the mail slot was right in front of me and lined up. I continued to watch the other traffic as I cruised in at a leisurely 90m/s, hey I did not want to bring any undue attention to myself. I had been assigned a pad close to the back of the station, normally I like that but not today. At each one of the two ships that rose as I travelled past them my heart gave a little extra bump. A “suicide” attack by firing weapons inside a station was not unheard of and I knew it was still a possibility if I had a hit out on me.

I sat in the cockpit for a few minutes after the elevator had taken us to the hanger section to allow me to regain my composure. I could still feel the adrenaline flowing through me as I stood up and made my way to disembark from the Hauler. I pulled my datapad out from the breast pocket of my flight suit and pulled up the text message I had received from Charity after she had cut the comm-link. I had transferred it over to the datapad to make it easier as I walked the station. I ran through the list of times and places she would be in and grunted with little satisfaction of her choice of meeting place. Don't get me wrong, I quite like tea but only if there is no coffee around. As I knew from previous times in Lounge Port there were coffee shops here, so meeting in a tearoom didn't excite me. I made sure the Hauler was secure and made my way cautiously to the meeting point.

The sign on the door said “Time For A Cuppa!” so I knew I was entering the right place. It was brightly lit and decorated and I spotted Charity facing me at the furthest away from the door table. A small smile blossomed on her face and I could almost hear her sigh of relief from where I stood.

“Nice welcome.” I quipped as I stood before her. “Shall me go?”

“I'm not sure if I am happy to see you or happy it wasn't some else looking for me and yes, let's get out of here.” She replied picking up her hand bag and a small attache case. Not a word was spoken between us as I took her back to the hanger area by a different route. She did say something once we reached the Hauler.

“I thought you said you were in an Anaconda?” She asked.

“I was and we will be when we get back to it.” I answered.

“So you left one of the biggest and toughest ships in the galaxy to come get me in a tin can?”

I wasn't sure if it was a question or a statement of disgust but she continued before I could answer if it had been a question.

“Good grief man, if we're caught in that we're dead.”

“Dear lady the December is unarmed at the moment so you would more than likely be dead whatever I came to get you in.” I did manage to stifle the chuckle I felt rising before I answered. “And a big lumbering advertisement of my arrival and departure is not what I am going for.”

I heard the grumbled “Ok” as we made our way up the stairway into the ship. I settled down into the pilots chair as Charity took up the copilots position.

“You might want to rest in the cabin, at least until we are clear of another ships out there.” I suggested.

“Oh yeah, good idea.” She stood up to head back to the cabin.”Wait, you didn't jump straight here from the Conda?”

I didn't answer I just sat back with folded arms. With the non tucked arm I started drumming my fingers.

“Sorry, I'm a little nervous, I'll be in the cabin till we clear the slot.” She gave me an apologetic smile and vanished into the cabin.

We needn't have worried as the cruise to the slot and beyond to the jump point went without incident. I'd planned the route to go through Belenos, the Galmap told me it had no population, it's star type but nothing else useful as I had never been there, but uninhabited sounded good to me.

The sound of the ADS honk had just faded as Charity returned to the cockpit.

“Where are we?” She asked looking around the windows as she sat down in the copilots chair once again.

“The Belenos system, nothing much to see. Couple of stars and a bunch of icy planets. Don't think I'll even come back, a lot of other snowballs to land on.” I replied looking at the results from the scan. “Nothing on the scanner so we are safe for the time being.”

“Yeah for the time being but not beyond.” The weary sound in her voice led me to think she hadn't slept well or at all for sometime. “Sorry I dragged you into this but crossing the Silver Boys has us both in trouble now.”

I gave a “Hrmmph.” Gathered my thoughts and continued. “What makes you think this is the first time I could have crossed “The Boys”?”

“Cos if you had, in the position I was in I would have known.” She smartly retorted.

“Yes, well, maybe they don't know it either, yet. To tell you the truth I'm still not sure if I have but whatever, helping you out isn't a problem.”

“Thanks. Just what exactly do you think you have done?” The weariness lifting a little from her voice.

“It could be nothing but on the other hand. I took a mission from a bulletin board that now I think about it was basically to spy on The Boys.” I gave a small chuckle at how naïve it sounded. “Hold on.”

A blue rectangle had shown up on the scanner. I watched in case it turned toward us, I was just about to select it to see its type when it blipped out.

“Someone using that star to refuel at, probably a trader passing through.” I indicated the M class that was the entry point of the system.

“You think it saw us?” Charity asked a hint of fear creeping into her voice.

“Perhaps, but at this distance all they would know is that there is a Hauler in this system.”

“Ok, I guess.” She didn't sound 100% convinced by my reasoning but she continued talking. “Unless whoever gave you the mission talks, I would imagine you were safe. Of course that also means that no double agent working for?”

“I have no idea who gave me the mission and before you say anything. Yes it was a little stupid of me.” I gave out a small dry laugh.

“A little? By the stars Aitken, you're spying but you don't know who the spymaster is.” She slowly shook her head. “You might know how to smuggle but you really don't understand the world of organised crime too well.”

I had no answer for her because she was correct. I had expected it just to finish like any other mission. I had guessed a month or so ago that this was one mission that might never end.

“On the bright side.” She looked at me as if to say 'there's a bright side to this'. “I might not have upset them before but I have now.”

“Nutters, all you smugglers, crooks.....” She stopped to give out a small giggle as I sat there rolling my hand as if asking her to continue with the compliments.

“Good to hear you can still laugh.” I gave a her a smile. “Another thing I would like to hear is where I am taking you once we get back to the December?”

“I'm not sure.” Her brow creased as she gave the question some thought. “I'm open to suggestions if you have any.”

“Well we'll talk about it later, let's get to the December and get away from this area.”

I plotted in the jump to Elli and started moving the Hauler round to line it up.

“Well if we're jumping into a high population system I'm going back to the cabin, let me know when we land.”

“Yeah sorry about that but I had to be sure I could get a ship and out fit it with enough range to reach you.” I replied

“If I could have gotten further out without any help I would have but it cost me most of what I had to get away from Chorel and secretly transported to Lounge Port. No need to be sorry Aitken I appreciate you coming to help.” She gave me a wane smile and headed to the little cabin at the rear of the cockpit.

Appearing in Elli I checked the fuel gauge and was happy to see over half a tank left, I loved how the Hauler seemed to sip fuel. I selected Wright City as the target destination and turned on to that heading.

“Cadmium and Niobium are rare elements.” The direct message told me. I checked it a second time to be sure it matched the silly wanna be spy messages I had been given. Even though it did indeed match one I still felt my finger hover over the hyperdrive engage button. No way this was just a coincidence, no way they just happened to stumble across me, not here, not at this moment. The next message stopped my finger. “Drop from supercruise Aitken so we can talk.”

Damn, I so much wanted to run but that would do me no good, in fact it might do more harm. So I slowed down and dropped from supercruise.

A Cobra Mk.III dropped in front of me, as far as I could tell it was the same ship as before but a different twist was the Cobra Mk.IV that dropped in behind and to the left of me. Trap? Ambush? I would have to wait to see if those questions were answered. The Mk.III came to about 50 meters looking directly into the Haulers cockpit. The hard points remained retracted, for the moment.

“Hello Aitken, got anything to report.” The familiar voice asked. I watched the scanner to see what the Mk.IV was up to and it was about 200 meters off my aft.

“Nope got nothing. If you guys are watching me this tight you would know I haven't been near Crom since the last time.” I replied, telling the truth.

“Oh we know. We also know you dropped out of sight about two weeks back. A week or so after that your contact, Charity Nascimento vanished from Chorel Survey and then you reappear in a system controlled by the Silver Boys. You see what I'm getting at here Aitken?”

My heart rate slowed a little as it dawned on me they had as much clue about Charity as I did, ok a little less as I at least knew where she was.

“Sure I do, you're adding two and two together and getting the answer five.” I replied

“Do you want to explain yourself or should my friend and I deploy hard points.” My stranger employer growled at me.

“Sure I'm here because I haven't heard from Charity in a while, that's one of the reasons I went to Lounge Port to see if I could contact her, fraid I got no reply so I'm in the dark too. Oh and I was out scavenging and ratting in the black for a week or so. No hiding just doing my own thing.” Ok that was an out and out lie, a whopper I know but I saw a glimmer of hope and jumped toward it.

“So why the Hauler? Why go through Belenos? Looks like you are trying to throw someone off your trail.” Damn it had been one of them that had spotted us sitting there. Where they had picked up the trial I wasn't sure but by the sound of it they still had no idea Charity was aboard, I hoped she would stay in the cabin or this could get nasty, quick.

“Taking an Anaconda to deliver 8 tons of fabric seemed a little over the top. I went through Belenos cos I wanted the chance to scan it, it's got some snowballs in it I might land on later.” Now I had to wait and see if my horse manure story was good enough for them to have believed. I guessed by the silence they were chatting to each other. While I waited I made sure I had a near by system targeted, one as close to the maximum range of the little Hauler. Believe me I was under no illusion my, sorry, our chances of escape if this went bad were close to nil.

“Where you deliver the fabric to Aitken?” The voice asked, I could almost feel him wanting me to answer incorrectly.

“Tokubei, Umbrigua.” I answered, deadpan. Silence.

“That checks out.” Was that disappointment I heard. “If your contact shows up be sure to let us know next time we chat. Till next time Aitken.” The voice comms clicked off before I could answer. I sat there and watched as both Cobras manoeuvred around me and jumped out.

A low nervous laugh sprang from my throat not that I had gotten away with it but that my planning had worked, but not in the intended way. I shook my head and powered up the engines, jumped into supercruise and continued on to Wright City.

Charity was fast asleep when I looked into the cabin. With the jump, interrogation stop, dropping, requesting docking and then docking she had at least a whole 30 mins of sleep. I felt bad but I had to wake her. I woke her as gently as I could but the I was still not gentle enough. The shock and disorientation were very evident as she sprang up from the bunk. I calmed her down and explained we were docked and that there was a cabin for her on the December. I also told her that we should make this switch quickly so that anyone monitoring the station security cameras couldn't follow us easily. Once aboard the December I showed Charity to her cabin, it's first ever occupant as far as I could remember, then I returned to the Hauler. I arranged for it to be de-specced back to near the way I had bought it. Then I sold it back to the dealer taking a 10% hit on the original price. I put up a token effort to get my the full price back but was told bluntly that he didn't care if I had bought the day, the hour or the week before that was as much as he was going to give me. Happy that I had made myself seem like just another trader trying to get his money back I left and returned to the Anaconda.

Once aboard I started preping for departure and looking over the Bulletin Board. Nothing, maybe nothing. The more I looked at it the more convincing I became sure using a ship of the Decembers size to deliver a message was over the top and sure I had no real wish to re-enter Imperial space at this time but it was random enough that no one would guess that's what I would do. With clearance granted I started to lift off from the landing pad before I could change my mind, four jumps to BPM 590 and a docking at Foster Vision sounded simple enough. They would have been but as I was scooping in Apam Napat something I had not taken into account happened, RATSIGNAL.

“I'm two jumps out Dispatch.”

“Aitken go.” The calm voice of Capt. Shinobi answered. “You're on your own with this one, report in at each stage if you can. Dispatch out.”

Basically he was going to talk to the client and the rest was up to me. Perfect, as an old time Rat Shinobi knew me too well.

“Friend Request is positive.” I transmitted as I clicked on the accept icon. “In system and in contact with client.”

Now I was on my own, well except for the client that was. Cmdr. Brannon texted me he was about to send me a wing request and after that he would deploy his beacon. I responded affirmative and was quietly happy to find a client that knew these things. Probably a bounty hunter, remembering what had brought me to my present predicament I made sure that I had a near by system ready to jump to, just in case you understand.

“Acquired beacon and I am heading toward client.” I informed Shinobi, I received a “Roger” and didn't expect any more as he was dealing with other cases.

Brannon was around 30k out from the star, so it didn't take long to reach him. As the edges of my vision started to blur I thought about letting dispatch know but decided against it as he was busy with other cases. Damn, I could see his wake from where he had dropped in but no ship appeared on the scanner. A quick text conversation ensued and I jumped back into supercruise. A short time later a hollow rectangle appeared and I clicked on it to target it, then it was gone. I checked the nav lock and I started to drop, success the hollow rectangle was in my instance.

“Hey there good to see you. Just so you know I have a Oxygen Depletion Timer showing.” Cmdr. Brannon informed me. How I had a choice, should I call this in as a Case Red or...Programming Limpet...Schwoosh. Fuel transfer complete. I fired off the remaining seven limpets I carried and reported a successful refuelling to Capt. Shinobi in dispatch. I chatted a little with the rescued Commander and then watched as he and his Vulture jumped out of the system.

“Impressive.” A female voice said behind me. I turned in my chair and saw a just a wake Charity. Except from a couple of hiccups the rescue had went well and basically by the book. To someone who had never witnessed one I would imagine it was impressive. I tried not to be or sound blasé about the situation or Fuel Rats operations in general but this one had not been too difficult. The pilot had been saved and that was the important part.

“Happy you think so but this one wasn't that difficult.”

“You didn't panic when you didn't see the ship you were looking for. You didn't bat an eye when he informed you was on life support. With all that you still saved him, I call that impressive.” Charity informed me.

“Uh. I've never looked at it that way. Panic would have done him no good, the procedures we have used are sound and following them leads to a rescue. Most of the time. The supercruise hop worked this time, remind me when we get to BPM 590 to see if Foster Vision stocks Interdictors, I didn't need one this rescue but they sure come in handy for more stubborn ones.”

“I've never watched a Fuel Rats rescue before and had no idea just how difficult and complicated they can be.” She remarked. “Why are we going to BPM 590?”

“Believe me there are much more complicated rescues than the one you just saw and Cmdrs. far more capable than I.” I swivelled my chair so I was looking at the instruments again.”Oh and as for BPM 590, I took a mission to deliver time-sensitive data there.”

“What? Why would you do that? Have you forgotten we're on the run from one of the biggest crime syndicates in the galaxy?” I didn't answer right away so she carried on with her little tirade. “Even with that you still can't stop from trying to make credits.”

“Hold up. I have not forgotten anything. An Anaconda jumping out empty might be normal for me and others would know that if they have been tracking me. To jump out with a real mission might give us an edge and right now we need whatever edge we can get. If The Boys know you are with me.”

“Alright, it does make sense in a strange kind of way and being here in Empire space is a good move. Of the three major factions the Empire is the one they have least influence in.”

“Good to know.” I quipped, just before the FSD took us to the next jump on the route to BPM 590.

“So are there Boys spies here?” I asked Charity as we sat in a hangar in the depths of Foster Vision.

“Not sure, but it's a good bet they do. Although as it's not aligned with any of the more powerful senators I can't be sure.”

“Interesting. So you are saying that The Boys have a tenuous grip on non aligned Empire systems? If that's so, would the further out from Achenar a system is make any difference?”

Charity's brow furrowed as she pondered the questions I had posed. She stood up from the copilots chair and turned to look at me.

“What another cup?” She asked, nodding at the empty coffee cup sitting on the panel before me. Seeing my nod she picked it up and made her to the galley at the rear of the bridge. I heard her stirring, the spoon making a grinding sound as it spun round inside the cup. Good she was doctoring the coffee to my taste. The cup plonked down in front of me before Charity answered my questions.

“I would have to say, yes to both. I've known you for a little while and this is leading somewhere. Where Aitken?”

“Fehu.” I replied. “It's a system 400lys out, it's unaligned, has four places to hide if the worst happens.”

“I'm aware of the system yes, used to be a smugglers haven. Might work.” The brow creased once more. “There is one other option. I could stay aboard the December.”

“Nope. Not an option. I work alone. I am not responsible for your life, staying aboard means I am and I'm sorry but I'm barely responsible for mine.”

“That's what I thought you would say but I had to throw it out there. Fehu it is then but how will I get from one station to another?”

“I have a Cobra sitting in Frigschneck's Resort. Due to the modules they sell it is incapable of jumping to another system but it's the perfect ship for running around in system.” I had already requested clearance to return to the flight area and waited as the elevator moved us there. Permission to leave came almost instantly. The large bulk of the Conda lifted slowly and I aligned it to the slot and moved out at a sedate speed.

The double figure jumps to Fehu worried me a little but once we were clear of the bubble I started to relax, a little. I still watched the scanner like a hawk at every jump point. Very little appeared and since I was only carrying limpets we were left alone all the way to Fehu.
Docking at Frigschneck's was routine and once all systems were shut down I took Charity to the stored Cobra.

The Luna Grey Mk.III sat in the hangar as we looked it over. It bore no decals but the hard points were deployed and the weapons drew Charity's attention.

“Multi-Cannons, why? Any special reason?” She inquired.

“Nothing more than they were available. I fitted it the best I could with the limited outfitting here. It's yours for as long as you're here. It has a 40 ton capacity so if you want to make some cash go ahead. Running missions from here to the two stations on Doolhof or to Thompson-Keen Asylum, they might not pay much but if you find yourself a little low on funds.”

“I'm happy to hear you think this is a temporary fix to the current situation.” Her voice a little muffled as she ducked below to examine the underside of the Cobra. “Chaff and Heat Sink Launchers, done a little smuggling in it I see.”

“If the missions show up, sure. You don't have to smuggle in it, it's a good little courier ship and will pay it's own way.”

“I'm not that good a pilot but I may take her out for a spin or two. The other good thing is I can use it as accommodation, no trace of room rental. Yeah this might work out till we come up with another idea.” A smile that had been long absent from her face grew as she gave it further thought. “Oh and a vehicle bay with an SRV. Well out running anyone that comes looking for should at least be fun.”

“If that happens you shout for me. I'll stay close by in Empire space. Not that I particularly want to run around there but if needs must.” I replied with a small shake of my head. “ I'm heading for Aditi and I'll make sure I'm always within 30 minutes from here.”

“Aitken.” She called after as I reached the exit from the hangar. “No smuggling, you don't need to tell everyone where you are.”

“You assume I'll get caught.” I gave a chuckle and left.

On returning to the December I laid in Aditi as the destination and requested clearance to leave. As the December pushed the mail slot mist to each side of it's needle like shape I had to admit to myself that Charity had a point. Having an authority fine me for smuggling would be a big flag for anyone with access to that information. Dang it, that was fun, not to mention the whole idea of smuggling, not getting caught. Oh and the money came in handy too. Ok, I'd wait and see what Aditi had on the Board before I made up my mind.

As I continued jumping I also kept ruminating on the problem I may have just dropped myself into. I say, may because I still wasn't sure I had put myself on The Boys radar, so to speak. Just on time, as if by plan, RATSIGNAL.

Now I was suspicious but someone really could be in trouble.

“Three jumps from me Dispatch.” I could not help myself but I could help someone in trouble.

“You're the only one close Aitken, go, go ,go.”

I wasn't sure who was on dispatch but I kind of liked their enthusiasm.

“Got Friend Request.” I broadcast to dispatch.

“Roger Aitken, handle over comms and report any problems.”

I answered with a “Roger” and started to scoop before I made the last jump. It didn't take long with the A7 Scoop. The little time I did have allowed me to give a mental thanks to dispatch for leaving it to me over comms. I had to text but no great problem, after giving the instructions on how to wing up and deploy the beacon I made the last jump.

Checking the scanner was always the first thing I did when jumping in to a system, more so when it came to being a Fuel Rat. Adding in the extra layer of a possible ambush from suspected enemies made it an important task. I saw the lone blue rectangle of the wing beacon and headed that way, I also saw the warning of my temperature rising and the exclusion zone rapidly approaching. As I dropped a heat sink I became aware that I was doing a tactical facepalm as the dropping due to being to close warning flashed across my HUD. I waited for the spinning to stop and the audible warning about hull damage faded. Once all that ended my attention went straight to the scanner again. There it was a light blue open rectangle 20.6km away. I lined up and started to head his way, telling dispatch and the client that I had him in sight.

As it turned out apart from being a little too close to the star and not having a fuel scoop it was good, a straight forward rescue. Alright I had to jump to Fehu and buy more limpets as the eight I fired only allowed the Asp to do two jumps. I made sure I bought more than enough to fill his tank the second time around. As it was I didn't think I was ever going to make it to Aditi, I returned to Fehu again, just to make sure the client made it. I also had a long chat about the clever idea about jumping to Fehu with no fuel scoop. He promised to buy one at Frigschneck's and had done so before I dropped from supercruise. I didn't dock but replotted my course to Aditi hoping this time that I made it.

I'm going to take a time out here and explain the term “tactical facepalm.” Its a Rats manoeuvrer that I believe Cmdr. Radlock helped to introduce. When a client has dropped inside the stars exclusion zone and doesn't have the fuel to leave, usually the nav lock will not engage. Lining up the Rat ship as close as possible and slowly entering the zone until the Rat ship auto drops usually gets the rescue ship near the stranded client. There are a few more problems, the client is usually a Case Red, that means the client is on emergency oxygen. Doing a facepalm can and usually does cause a lot of heat damage, which I avoided in this case by dumping a heat sink on the way in and one on the way out. I had been about to warn the rescued Cmdr. about heat damage as he jump out but he had already jumped. I never found out if he knew or if I had just come in at strange angle. Also as can be seen from my retelling the Rat lands close. 20.6km may not seem far but to a Cmdr. watching an oxygen timer count down it could just be far enough away for it to hit zero. Mine was accidental, I became aware of just as it happened, the stranded client had no timer so no real harm was done. It was a good example to me of how to do it if I did it again.

I was half way through the 124ly trip to Aditi when I received a message on the computer. I had been invited to Cubeo to attend a grand ball. I have no idea what a grand ball is but since the invite was from my just rescued client, I decided I could give it some thought. What was the harm, a little free food, absolutely no dancing but a chance to relax for an evening. The Anaconda was perhaps a little over the top for the event but I could always make a quick trip and fetch an Asp. Yeah, sounded good. RSVP, invitation accepted.

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