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“It's great to see you, thanks for coming to help me out.”
I had just exited supercruise and before me shining bright and blazing sat a T-Tauri star. If my computer hadn't told me what it was I would have guessed I could scoop from it. No doubt the stranded Commander had thought the same.
“No worries, limpet one and two on the way.” I replied.
The black dagger shape of the Anaconda silhouette floated a little under a kilometre from my position and as I waited for the limpets to travel that distance I loaded and sent the KGBFOAM package from my computer to its.
'Fuel Transfer Complete' flashed on my HUD and I fired number three. The message flashed again and off went number four. As the fourth limpet left the tube I was aware of the “thhummpp” of a ship exiting supercruise. I tried to remember if dispatch had sent a back up just before Betty announced, “Under Attack.”
I'd relaxed after I had dropped at the Condas' wing beacon, I had thought the difficult part was over, the sound of incoming fire on my shields was an unexpected alarm clock.
“Jump. Get the hell out of here.” I screamed over the comms as I manoeuvred trying to keep the attacker between Bullseye and my client.
“What the heck.....”
“Never mind that, jump and get....” I had been about to say “us out of here” when my HUD showed that my wing mate was preparing to jump. A second later my FSD started charging up so I hit the boost trying to get a little distance away from our attacker.
“Shields offline.” Then the sound of an Anaconda jumping out of system, if the DBX I was trapped in just held together for another few seconds. “4, 3, 2, 1, Engage.”
The swirling vortex that was Witchspace had never seemed so welcoming and for what seemed like the first time since I had been fired on, I took a breath, a deep breath.
As I entered the system the client and I had jumped to almost instantly the fuel scoop started to glug down the hydrogen coming from it. Looking at the scanner I was happy to see the light blue rectangle of the client on the opposite side of the star.
“Good to see you drinking your fill. I doubt you would have got far with the three limpets I got to you. How much damage did you take and can you make it to a station?”
“I didn't take any damage, it concentrated on you. I'll make the Coriolis station here. What about you, you seemed to be taking quite a beating?”
“Yeah, hulls at 13% and most of my systems have taken a pasting.” If I sounded concerned it's because I was. Bullseye was going to be in the repair hanger for quite sometime.
“Sorry man, he must have been after a couple of bounties I have. I'll give you some cargo to pay you back.” I of course refused. I wasn't in the habit of taking payment for refuelling and wasn't about to start. The damage? That's just part of being a Rat. If the client had been in the stars exclusion zone and I had to do a TFP I would have sustained damage. Ok not to the degree I had from this rescue but damage for sure.
Thanking me once more the Pirate Anaconda headed in system and the station there in. I thought about doing the same thing but I wanted to get back to Perez Ring. Not so much that they could repair the DBX but more because I had another ship set up for Ratting there.
Five jumps. It took a little longer than usual as I was very careful as I fuel scooped, staying well outside where I would normally dive into scoop. No more sparks from the console, nor smoke but it still felt a relief as Bullseye popped into normal space in front of The Ring.
“It's gonna take awhile to fix this up Aitken. I'll have to get some parts shipped in and with things the way they are, Alliance ships will take priority.” Ambarish Ogra looked like a busy man and since I had a back up in the station I didn't push him.
“Sure mate. I understand.” I did as I glanced around the maintenance hangar. Lances, Vultures, even a DBS were being worked on. It appeared as if a military operation was happening. Ambarish had already started to walk back into heart of the metallic mess so even if I had wanted to ask what was going on I couldn't. None of my business, ask no questions and you have plausible deniability if anything goes wrong. Or even better in this case it would be the truth as I had no clue what The Allies or the Alliance were up to.
As Ambarish went one way I went in the other, he wasn't the only person to have a ship to check over.
A bright yellow cylinder with black lettering and stubby little wings was probably the nicest description of the Orca “Anthem”, my back up ship. It didn't have the range of the DBX or Conda but set up correctly it could still jump 50lys. Another thing I liked about the Orca was that for a ship that needed a large landing pad it was still quite agile.
Since I hadn't used it in the month or so that it had been at The Ring it was in need of a good pre-flight check. It was in good shape inside and so I moved to the exterior. Do you ever get that feeling that you're being watched? You catch a shadow move out the corner of your eye or hear a muffled footfall from the darkness. Well I was getting all that as I checked out the Orcas fuselage. I was happy to feel the weight of the Kamorin Replica handgun in its shoulder holster. I'd started carrying the 45 automatic just after Shoshana and I had returned from our Rares trip. I hadn't used it yet but now seemed like the right time. Yes, I could be wrong, I could be hearing things but why take the risk. I drew the steel pistol out of its resting place and turned to where I thought I had heard the footstep.
“I'm not that good of a shot. In fact if I shoot where I think you are I will probably hit you and that's not what I am trying to do.” I spoke in a normal voice. Even though the hangar was large the acoustics were pretty good so there was no need to shout.
A figure slowly appeared from the shadows. A tall fair haired man in a olive flight suit walked toward me. Once under an overhead light he stopped, his arms outstretched at around 45 degrees from his hips. His flight suit had no insignia, no patches, nothing to indicate what if any faction or superpower he was affiliated with.
“Who are you? Who are you working for? And what are you doing skulking around my ship?” I asked.
“The name's Sugar, Jason Sugar.”
“Sweet.” I quipped.
“Yeah, yuck it up Aitken. Nothing I haven't heard before.” Interesting, he knows my name, so someone sent him. “And a 'friend' sent me to find you.”
The way he said 'friend' narrowed it down to a few. I didn't think Rodger would send someone to find me in the station he controlled, so that narrowed it down to one.
“What does Mr. Smith want with me this time?” A raised eyebrow let me know I had guessed right. It seemed to surprise him that a petty criminal could be perceptive.
“I'm going to reach into my shoulder pocket and take out a small padd.” Clever man.
“Just to let you know, holding this thing makes me a little nervous so no sudden or silly moves.”
“Believe me Aitken, you holding that monstrosity of a gun makes me nervous too. I'll be moving in nearly slow motion.” Clever and careful. A combination I approved of and he was true to his word as he brandished the padd before me. “I'm going to place it on the deck and slide it over ok?”
“Sure but power it up first, I really don't want any surprises.” He made a show of turning it on and followed up by doing exactly as he had described.
“On it you will find the name of a system, a planet and a set of coordinates. Also a list of recommended equipment.” Still keeping the gun trained on Sugar I slowly lowered myself to one knee and picked up the padd. True to his word the text on it told me everything.
“Alright. I know the system, I know what's there, just what am I expected to do?” The unwillingness to go on this errand came through in my tone of voice. Yet again Mr. Smith had chosen a job with all the elements I had not been willing to explore myself.
“You're to meet up with a pilot we already have in the area and assist him in anyway you can. You don't seem to thrilled with the task at hand Aitken.” I had not tried to hide it, so it was no surprise that Sugar pick it up.
“I'm not, that's why. They haven't done anything to me. We have no idea why those structures appeared but everybody seems quite happy to go blundering and plundering in. I had been happy to leave them alone if they did the same to me but now, well now you are giving them a reason to attack me if they appear.”
“Oh they will appear Aitken and the only reason they need to attack you is that you are human. Once again you are being perceptive, yes we are after something from in one of those structures that's why you need the SRV and the Corrosive Resistant Cargo Rack.” He spoke with no regret in his voice, in fact he almost sounded proud.
“I should just plug you right now and pretend you never were here.” I should but of course I wouldn't, damn scruples.
“And you would set our research back, a little. Just until someone else was sent out, maybe not you but someone would go out to help.” With that he turned and started to walk toward the exit.
“Answer me one thing before go Sugar. Was it the Federal Navy or you bunch of shadow manipulators that have got the Thargoids to come back?”
His stride paused, almost a hitch step but he didn't stop or turn round. I guess no answer is as good as any.
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