Posted by on
"You're taking my cargo and transporting it in that bucket of bolts?”
With each word the tall, blond haired gentleman before me jabbed a dirty(ish) finger in the air. Well the first jab was at me, the second at his merchandise and the third was at the T6 Transporter sitting in the hangar we stood in.
“You'd be surprised at how little that bucket of bolts gets scanned.” I replied, a little put out that my competence was under question. Ok not mine but definitely my ships.
“That's the point, I don't want you to be scanned at all. If you fail to deliver those....” I held up my hand and butted in.
“I don't need to know what the cargo is. Probably best I don't know.”
“Alright. I just need it delivered with no complications. If you fail there will be.....” Once again I held up my hand.
“I'm well aware of the cost of failure but that's not going to happen.” I started to think by his expression that he didn't get interrupted often.
“Make sure it doesn't.” With that threat hanging in the air, he headed toward the group of workers loading the ship.
I'd dropped off Shoshana at the Ring. A few hours later Gabe had got in contact and asked me to get over to Atagat. No hurry he said. That suited me fine as I had been planning on visiting a potential new client, that just happened to be close to the route I would be taking. So I hopped into Horse and set out.
Slough Orbital sat about 440ls from the entry star Vesper-M4. I'd spotted it just before the Pleiades Sector had blown up, well six Aegis stations at least. I liked to keep a lookout for Anarchy systems as they could be quite lucrative, if you didn't mind dealing with shady characters and cargo.
Chief WM Conner and his goods certainly seemed to fit both of those criteria. It would be a short hop as the Othime system was close and the only station there was Levi-Montalcini Dock, that was just under 1000ls in.
“Well done Aitken. If you would like more work drop in when you can.” The unshaven, blond haired holo-image said as the 'goods' were being taken off the ship.
“I might just do that. Do I ask for Bill or William?”
“Chief Conner will do nicely. Thanks for your service. Credit transfer is complete. Till next time Cmdr.” The image winked out and I was left chuckling.
You may have noticed he didn't say anything about the bucket of bolts. A lot of pilots dismiss the T6 as a stepping stone to the next, usually bigger, ship. In their own way they're right but for smuggling loads below 100 tons it excels. Looking like a brick with thrusters is the very reason it doesn't get scanned often. That and the fact that the are prevalent and well, to tell the truth boring to look at. Job done, new contact made, that just left meeting Gabe in Atagat.
“You want me to do what?” I blurted out as I sat in Gabes living quarters.
“You heard. I want the logs from all the INRA bases that have been found. No not copies from the Galnet but originals.”
“That's no small job. From what I've read they're spread out and definitely need an SRV.”
“Yeah, I'd leave that part to you.” That statement got my attention.
“You want to come with me? Whoa when was the last time you left this station?” My mind was scrambling to go that far back.
“June 3272 if I remember it correctly.” A slight smile crossed his lips as a memory breezed through his mind. “I wouldn't leave now but I want to check out those logs before they go through all the connections they need to before I get to them. I also want to see those bases.”
“Alright. Hmm, gimme a little time I will have to arrange a few things as Horse doesn't carry a SRV.” With that I stood up and headed for his computer terminal.
“Good grief young man we don't need anything this grand.” Gabe and I stood on the bridge of the Anaconda 'December'. It had everything and more for his little jaunt. Twin SRV bay, fuel limpet and hull repair limpet controllers, AFMU even though I hardly used it. December was used for long distance exploration usually, so having a small back-up seemed like a good idea. Separate cabins so if one of us need privacy, we had it. Oh and a 50ly plus jump range to make the time a little shorter. Gabe was flicking through the systems like the old pilot he was.
“What armament does it have?” He sounded a little bemused.
“None. Well it has a heatsink launcher, don't think that counts.”
“You're right it doesn't. It'll do I guess.” He gave a small smirk and headed for the cabins. “I'll take the starboard one.”
“Sure. Stow your gear, I'll lay in the course for our first stop. Get some rest we'll leave within the next few hours. I want to check out a few things. This could take a couple of days.” If not more I thought to myself.
“You have clearance to depart December. Follow the greens on your way out.”
“Landing gear retracted.”
Flight control and then Betty, the on board computer, reinforced that the journey was under way.
From Atagat to Hermitage was only a couple of jumps. I was sure that all members of the Pilots Federation had access to the IRNA base locations, if they knew were to look. Both Gabe and I did so having the list of the ten bases, with names and coordinates should have made it easy, well easier. I left the surface navigation to Gabe so I could give all my attention to flying.
Bursting into the system we were greeted by a dirty brown looking star.
“We can't scoop that can we? Will that be a problem?” Gabe sounded a little concerned, showing that it had been a while since he had been out in space.
“No, we're good. Plenty of reserve in the tank.” He gave a small nod with a smirk.
“Planet 4A is our target.” At a little under 1,200ly out it wouldn't take long to get there.
As we got closer Gabes attention remained glued to the read outs the ship was receiving.
“Think we got it. Transferring the data to the forward scanner, it should show up in the nav panel when we hit orbital cruise.”
True to his word as we reached the required distance of the icy body “Hollis Gateway” popped up. We were close to it but travelling over speed to try orbital glide. I watched as the solid dot on the forward scanner morphed into a hollow one. Knowing the Anaconda as I did it was at this point that I started to pull back on the stick. By the time the 180 had been pulled our speed was below safe limits and the base was long behind us, so I start to slowly increase power to the engines. With everything looking good the long snout of the Conda dipped till it was pointing straight at out target. BHAM. When the the speed hit 2.5 a blue haze entered my peripheral. BHAM. The nose eased up a little and we watched the distance figures tumble down until we jarringly exited cruise 14km from the base.
There it sat, surrounded by a small carter in an undulating sea of frozen rock. Right here at this point I started to think I should have taken a smaller ship, but I hadn't and as the landing gear came down 500 meters above the surface the ship icon turned blue. Hmm, maybe it wasn't such a bad idea after all.
“What you're looking for is the Settlement Comms Log Uplinks.” Gabe reminded me for the third time as I headed for the SRV.
“I got it, really I have.” I gave him a mock salute as I left the bridge.
It looked like what it was. Modular housing and labs, horizontal and vertical tanks and the ever present communications towers. I'd seen places like this before but never deserted and never with the IRNA logo covering them. It was eerie. These should have been temporary but for whatever reason then had been left intact, for the most part. As I drove round looking for the uplinks I saw what looked like corrosion on the tanks. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't and I sure as hell wasn't getting out to check.
I found and scanned the first uplink I came across. The numbering indicated 3 of 4. Ok three more to go. Zipping in and out the alley ways between the structures it didn't take long to recover all four. I left the data untouched as I wanted Gabe to be the first to listen to the logs. It was his idea after all and I didn't want to be the one that ruined it for him. He wanted the original untainted logs. What better way than unopened.
As soon as the SRV was back in the bay the logs were available through the ships computer and so it was not a surprise to see Gabe listening to them as I walk back in.
“So far everything sounds the same. But I'll want to check it all again when I get back to Atagat. My instruments are better suited for the task, more sensitive, no offense.”
“None taken Old Man. This thing isn't built as a spy ship....” That's all I got out as a klaxon type sound and a red light filled the cabin. I saw Gabe go pale and smothered a laugh as I waved at him.
“It's alright Gabe I know what this is.” I reassured him as I stepped toward the comms panel. I checked the destination and called my jumps for the Ratsignal.
“Aitken here Dispatch, 4 jumps out.” As I passed on my position from the stranded pilot the December was already up and tucking it's landing gear away. Gabe was strapped in and watching all that was going on. At 2.2km from the surface the Condas FSD started to charge. With the nose at an angle of 50 degrees and full power pushing the large ship up Betty started her countdown.
At each jump the 7A fuel scoop drank it's fill without slowing down and as soon as the stars hologram icon turned orange the FSD was charging again.
FR+ I told Dispatch to let them know the comms connection was good.
WR+, connection had been established and I was in touch with the client. Dispatch replied to keep him up dated.
“I have the beacon Spatch, 144k out from entry star.” I informed Wollheim Control. A simple “Roger” answered me. All good, all calm. Seven or eight minutes to reach the fuel less pilot.
Then like getting kicked in the pants the mighty Anaconda dropped from supercruise and slowed dramatically. I hoped Gabe had his belts tightened as I targetted the blue rectangle that had shown up on the scanner. Before we had come to a rest two limpets were streaking for the Sidewinder. I sent the KGBFOAM package to his nav computer after calling fuel + to Dispatch. The next few minutes were spent answering questions and giving some helpful advise. The top one being to fit a fuel scoop. A little wiser and with a little more experience the rookie pilot jumped out on his way to his destination.
“That went well.” A voice from behind me piped up. “Does it always go that smooth?”
“By the book and no they don't. The one I did before this was, tricky would be a good description.” He nodded so I continued telling the tale. “I had been out to Sag A, cos I could and to try out a new ship, an Orca. I had planned in heading in the opposite direction but I was closest to the signal so went for it.”
“How close was closest?” Gabe interrupted.
“A little over 3k. That wasn't the tricky part though. I plotted a course to a star close to the client and set off. Reaching my target star I discovered that he was so far 'down' that my star was still 300 or 400ly short and stars down there were sparse. So every 40 to 45ly jump only got me 5ly closer to him. I eventually got to a star 80ly from him after an hour and using jumponium. It worked out in the end.”
“You guys don't sound like you give up easy.” Gabe replied after listening.
“We're in it to save people, whatever it takes.” I gave a grin to show I wasn't being defensive and then asked my question. “Where next?”
“HIP 15329, body A 3 C so a moon of a larger planet or gas giant.” I signalled for Gabe to lay in the course and started to get December moving.
“Is that the reason you delayed the take off? Course laid in.”
“Yeah, I was having 32 limpets loaded in. Only takes four or so light years off our range and as you just saw, worth the wait.”
“Indeed.” The older man remarked.
We started jumping. The rescue had taken us off out intended course but that was all to the good. It allowed Gabe the chance to see more of what modern FSDs were capable of compared to those in his era.
Everything went as it should and as we exited orbital cruise the base was directly in front of us. Stuart Retreat was quite an impressive sight. Not the buildings as they were much the same as Hollis Gateway but it's location atop a plunging cliff face looked rather dramatic. Landing again proved to be uneventful, much to my surprise. I didn't hang around as I collected the logs from each uplink. There was something about the sites that gave me an uneasy feeling, I couldn't pin it down but well, something.
“Hmmm. Again sounds the same. No name give, no form of identity. At least the first ones had a name attached. Not to worry. On to the next one?” I nodded and Gabe lay in the course for HIP 7158. Our final target in that system was another moon A 2 B.
Hogan Depot was a little difficult to find. Not because Gabe didn't find it using sensors but because it was on the dark side of that body. The buildings were similar to the other two sites and again I didn't hang around to sightsee the base. The headlights of the SRV shone on the INRA logo that was everywhere and that was enough to spur me on.
I laid in the course for HIP 59382, 1 B as Gabe listened to the three latest logs. Our jump out point was below the horizon as we roared away from Hogan Depot. We were in no hurry so I held the direction we were travelling in until we completely escaped from the gravitational pull.
As if on cue just as I had lined up with the jump point and activated the FSD the bridge was bathed in a red light and a klaxon sound started to be emitted. As I cancelled the jump I looked over to Gabe, he'd learnt the first time and had no sign of shock at the interruption. I pulled up Galmap and checked the distance to the system given.
“Aitken to Dispatch. Five jumps to Case eight.”
“Roger Aitken, this ones yours. Dispatch out.”
With the course replotted I dipped the nose of the Conda down and to the right and had the new vector lined up just as Betty began her countdown.
“Sorry Cmdr I just lost track of the stars I was jumping into.” With communications established talking to the stranded client was a good sign.
“No worries, it happens. I'll be there in a couple of jumps so hang in there and we have some info that should help you out.” I felt confident that everything should be fine as I jumped into the target system. The bright blue wing beacon showed up immediately, a little close to the star be not in the exclusion zone, so all good. I flicked the nav lock on and we dropped.
I had the ship targeted and four limpets on the way before I switched on the Anacondas lights.
“Geeezzz, what the hell.” A small startled scream came from Gabe. He had just looked up as the lights shone on a purple Federal Corvette. “Sorry, I didn't expect to see that large a ship.”
“Yes, it's not always Sidewinders.” I told him, hoping it was a reassuring tone. I fired off another four limpets and the KGBFOAM package for his nav computer. We chatted for a while and I became convinced that the package with it's guide to setting up route filters would help him out. Gabe and I watched as the Vettes systems came on line and then jumped out.
“HIP 59382 here we come, I hope.” Gabe commented as we started to jump out.
Mayes Chemical Plant was pretty much the same as the other sites, except it seemed to also have missile silos. Why? No idea and there was no one there to ask.
Valasquez Medical Research Center on LP 389-95 7 was next, here I started to see another pattern. All the bases so far were either in a crater or a valley. Hidden but not too well hidden. Happily I was glad to see no silos at this base.
As we touched down on Conn A 3 A the first thing we noticed was the lack of tanks in Almeida Landing. Once I had retrieved the uplink logs it became clear why.
“So this was an engineer base messing around with Thargoid tech.” Gabe informed me as we listened. As the final word from the sixth uplink faded away I turned to Gabe.
“Let's look up the authors of these logs when we get back to Atagat to see what their fates were.”
“You're thinking along the same lines as I am. I will not be at all surprised if there are reports about some of them having an accident.” Gabe grimly reflected. “Come on Alnath A 2 AA is next up.”
Leaving the blue red icy ball felt good. INRA were obviously not the nicest of people. I don't believe it started out that way but power, greed and a sense of desperation had crept in at some point.
Things got even grimmer when we landed by Klatt Enterprises. As I hunted for the uplinks I came across 'The Pit.' It appeared to still have Thargoid parts in it. Ok let me be straight, I'm not pro or anti Thargoid. Sure they've shot at me a few times but I was probably to close and they looked upon me at that time as a threat. I also have no problem with firing back at them, heck we were in a sort of war with them but after listening to the chilling voice in logs I had some sympathy. They had tortured and used them as lab experiments at this site, again INRA was showing itself in a truly horrible light. I know it was a real war back then but this was just a step too far.
We sat in silence as we left the crater, lifting over the lip the only sound was the growl of the thrusters. As Gabe entered our next destination, HIP 12099 popped up on the nav panel. Three jumps later 1A was shown as the target and then Gabe spoke.
“Got the base, it's call 'Stack'.”
Deep in an icy ravine sat the base called 'Stack' and as we glided in I saw a familiar shape with in it.
“We got another Pit Gabe.”
It looked like the same lay out as Klatt Enterprises had been used here. Four octagonal holding pens grouped in twos with a long rectangular building down the middle of them. That building lead to a ramp which led to the Pit. I didn't hang around, I found the uplinks got the logs and got back to the December as quick as I could.
Listening to the logs made our uneasiness worse. Not because they were chilling but because then sounded normal, as if the person recording it was just reading out a grocery list. Perhaps to them they were.
“Sometimes the human race disgusts me. To take a sentient, highly evolved species and subject it to torture and painful experiments.....I don't have the words, I really don't.”
“You'll get no argument from me.” I replied over my shoulder as once again we lifted off. We had known what was in the logs, if they hadn't been altered, before we got to the bases but to actually be in them and listen as we looked over the sites being spoken about brought it home and brought it home hard.
“Thargoids have attacked another three stations. Most of the nine have been Aegis stations. It looks like they might be looking at them as they did INRA.” Gabe must have been reading Galnet. “I'm not sure if they're that evil yet but I don't think the Goids aren't going to let them get that big.”
“Snuffing out Aegis before they become a problem. I'm not convinced that's the answer. I still think INRA is out there. Taking down Aegis might not be such a good move.” I hit the FSD for the first jump of two, HIP 16824 was next.
“So they laid a trap for them here and it blew up in their faces.” At each base since Conn Gabe had become grimmer and grimmer. To tell the truth I think both of us had. Which led to my next remark.
“Maybe it was supposed to.” That produced a questioning look from my older companion. “I didn't hear anything about the Mycoid being used.”
“This could have been before it was developed.” He paused and looked at the read out that went with the logs. “Dammit, didn't these people believe in dating stuff. Not sure it makes much of a difference.”
“Not to us sure, but we weren't here whenever it took place.” I had one last look at Carmichael Point and then started to prep the Conda for take off.
In a crater within a crater, at the end of a dead end valley and hard against a sheer cliff face sat Taylor Keep surrounded by defensive turrets and I mean surrounded. INRA had made sure that nothing that they didn't want to come in could. Not Goids but human ships would be toast if they had not obtained permission to be there. It was a dark and moody setting for the base and the uplink logs did not disappoint that feeling of dread that the place gave off.
Once again I tried to spend as little time as possible in and around the abandoned base. I weirdly found myself slowing down a little as I approached the long dead turrets. I did sit on the landing platform for a little while imagining what the place had looked like in busier times. Lights blazing to guide ships into land, SRVs bustling about, the office windows of the tower block shining as INRA personnel went about their business. December was to big to fit on the pad so we had landed outside the compound. I found the three uplinks, downloaded the logs and scurried on back.
“They sound the same.” Gabe said spinning around in his chair to look at me. “Setting Jameson up doesn't sit well with me.”
The anger we had both felt over the treatment of the captured Thargoids had cooled a little. C'mon it was war and a war mankind was not doing very well in. If you or I were faced with the dilemma of knowing how to defeat a superior foe by questionable methods or allowing the human species to be wiped out. What would you do? Listening to the logs and doing a bit of reading about those not too distant times gave me the impression that the Goids had no such misgivings about wiping out mankind.
“What they did to the Goids was nasty and debatable if necessary but deliberately setting up one of your own.” The old man sat talking to me but also debating with himself. “I don't know Aitken, it's not something I would liked to have been faced with. The whole business is just unsavoury and here we are years later faced with the same dilemma and the same mistakes seem to be happening.”
“That's why I'm happy I'm just a pilot. I'm sure they justified it to themselves. Might even have given themselves a pat on the back. For the Goid stuff sure, it's questionable but I'm sure in their minds it was the best way to deal with them. What they did to Jameson. That's murder.”
We had been sitting talking and listening to the logs for a while and night had fallen. Looking out into the darkness with no outside light we could see nothing.
“I know this is the last base we have listed but I think I know where we should go.” I nodded to the old space pilot. I left the lights off, Taylor Keep remained in the dark so neither one of us saw it as we lifted off.
This was the time when I was sorry I hadn't taken a ship with a smaller footprint. It took a little while but I did manage to set down with the Anacondas lights shining on the downed Cobra Mk. III.
“We're gonna need a smaller boat.” I caught the quietly spoken words from Gabe. They meant nothing to me but I guessed he was trying to lift the gloom he felt. I did pop out in the SRV to get the logs from JJ-386. I know that Gabe sent me the logs, perhaps he didn't trust the source he got them from but we were there so we got them again.
It felt like I was disturbing a grave, even though there was no body left to find. It was a sombre and thoughtful smuggler that returned to the Conda. As Gabe started to listen to the retrieved logs I tuned out. Not that I wasn't sympathetic to Jameson plight but there was only so many times I could stand to listen to it.
“What next for you?” Gabe inquired.
“I'll take you back to Atagat, then head over to Shinrarta. Dust off dads Mk. III and pay my respects back here. After that not sure but I feel we are missing something. What that something is I dunno.”
My thanks to all those Cmdrs that had the time and patience to discover the INRA Bases.
The author does not allow comments to this entry