“Aitken, you old son of a gun.”
The loud voice cut through the whine of the Asps engines as they shut down. I had just exited the “FRS Bennachie” and before me stood a bear of a man. Adolphus “Nova” Collins looked like a bear in oh so many ways. The man had hair sprouting out of every pore on his body and a smile that shone like a wing beacon in deep space.
“Nova, you piece of space garbage. How you doing my friend?” I replied. And then the air from my lungs was squeezed out. A bear that could act like a boa constrictor. I attempted to reach around his body and join hands so I could squeeze back. I failed and submitted to the bear hug, I was also smiling like a buffoon.
“Not bad little man.” Yes at five foot three I was a little man compared to Nova but then again so were most men. “What do you think of the new decorations?”
The first time I had been in Godel Dock in Quivira it had been an independent system. An industrial economy run democratically by “Peoples Quivira For Equality”. What I didn’t know was that the government had taken loans out, quite substantial loans and not from a local bank either. Oh no, being on the edge of Empire space they had taken these loans from a certain Senator Denton Patreus. They and I had not known it but it was a set up, the good Senator had established a pattern. He loaned target systems vast sums of money with decent interest rates. After a while he raised those rates until the system could not pay them anymore and he then peacefully took control. This was all done behind a shadow company so that the good Senator did not look like the bad guy.
Quivira had been a little different. They would not give up peacefully. So Patreus funded a local faction and fought back. Now I hate politics but if there is something I dislike more, that something has to be bullies. As I watched all this happen from my unbiased, kind of, position I saw Patreus as just that. Not just a bully but a crook and a thug. It was around about that time that Nova approached me and ask if I would pilot my ship and fight for his cause. I of course said I would not fight for his cause but I would fight against what I saw as an injustice. Ok, the cause and the injustice were technical the same thing but we all have ways to justify our actions, this was mine.
The civil war that followed was not pretty, what war is and the independents were putting up a good fight. So good in fact that Patreus showed his hand and threatened to send in his Battle Cruisers if his forces had not settled the war within his time frame. The political war was a different story with the Imperial faction gaining control of Godel Dock. The population fled, most to the nearby system of Summerland into squalid refugee camps. I added that all together and didn’t like what I saw. The war was heading toward a loss for the Independents and so I striped the weapons off of the Python I was using and started to haul medicines and food for the refugees. Over the next few days Quivira went from Independent to a not to willing Imperial system and I was long gone.
I looked around the hangar at all the trappings of so called Imperial grandeur, turning back to my friend Nova I uttered, “Pretty tacky if you ask me.”
Nova gave out his big booming laugh and slapped me on the shoulder. “A good description Aitken.” Wiping tears away from his eyes he stepped back and looked at me. “And one I agree with. So what have you been doing since I last saw you?”
“The usual, a little of this, a little of that. It’s a big Universe out there and I hope I have taken advantage of that.”
“I am sure you have Aitken.” He stopped, as we had been walking toward an exit, his normal voice dropped to what to Nova was a whisper but in reality was a normal mans conversation voice. “We have not given up you know and you could help us while you are here.”
“I didn’t think for a minute that you had and all you have to do is ask my friend.”
I ran a few missions in the next couple of days, weapons, covert messages, food for the resistance, nothing that any other smuggler could not handle but it made me feel better about the situation.
It was after one such mission, as I stood on a gantry overlooking the unloading of my Asp, that Nova walked up.
“Not the same, is it Aitken?” He asked.
“No my friend it’s not.” I had tried to put my finger on it over the past few days and of course I knew it would not be the same as the last time I had been here. The difference was more stark than I had imagined and I thought I had finally figured it out. “They’ve given up. People think the Empire is here to stay and freedom as they knew it won’t return.”
“Most, true but not all of us, no not all.” He stood up from the railing we were both leaning on. “It’s been good seeing you again Aitken. Good luck till the next time you visit.”
“You too.” I had a feeling that he would need it more than I would. Weather it was political or physical something was about to happen, this was Novas, not too subtle way of telling me.
The “Bennachie” was empty again as I checked over the systems preparing for departure. Departure to where though? I’d been warned that Federal systems were getting a little too hot. Now I could see that at least one Imperial system would be similar. What did that leave? Alliance or Independent systems. Structured political systems did not seem to agree with me at the moment, however loose the Alliance maybe, it is still somewhat structured. Large political groups were leaving a bad taste in my mouth so that made up my mind. I shouldn’t have too much trouble finding work in other Independent star systems.
First stop was Shinrarta. This was the place I had picked up my Fathers Cobra and knew it had all the modules I could ever need and I wanted to refit the “Bennachie”. I took out most of the cargo racks and added those modules I thought would be handy to have. It went from being a cargo/fuel tanker to a truly multi-purpose ship that still had decent range.
I was aimless, no particular path made out. I would stop at a random Indy system and do a few missions, just enough to pay for fuel and a little profit. A few days after I set out I bumbled into Dhathaarib. I started doing the most profitable jobs I could find there and in the two close by systems of Amalangkan and Chuelchs. After a few I started to notice that they were mostly being given by Hodack Prison Colony. After a few more missions I received a text communication telling me that if I continued doing work for them there would be an invitation for even better paying missions. Intrigued, I did as I was bid and after killing pirates, smuggling narcotics and delivering numerous kill lists, the invite appeared, again in text form. After landing at Evagelisti Settlement I was met by a smarmy looking guy in a not very good suit, who greeted me in the name of the Hodack Prison Colony. He did inform me that more lucrative work could be had directly from them and that I was welcome to do as much or as little as I wished. The words friend and trusted ally were banded about and I was given the access code to the stations bulletin board. He didn’t lie, then paid well and after doing a few I decided to move on.
It developed into a pattern that I would enter a system and do a few missions, get contacted to continue, which of course I did. Get an invite to a nearby system and be met by an almost identical smarmy man. As the week worn on I nearly convinced myself that it was really the same guy who was just jumping ahead of me and greeting me after every invite. Of course it wasn’t the same guy, I said I nearly convinced myself.
The last system I had this pattern occur in was Crom, well it was here the pattern was broken. It started off normally, I did a few missions and expected the usual text communication. It didn’t arrive, so I thought I either miscounted or this faction had a different routine.
It had been a longish day so I headed for the nearest coffee shop. I ordered my usual mug of coffee, added cream and sugar to taste and found a quiet table off to one side. I did enjoy people watching. It meant I could imagine my own background for them without actually interacting. Some of the patrons of “Cafe Franchitti ” were what I would call interesting. No doubt a large percentage were passing through but trying to identify residents of Lounge Port was a fun activity.
“Mr. Aitken I presume.” I looked up to the source of the voice. She was in her late twenties, maybe early thirties, of medium build and height and brunette. “My name is Charity Nascimento. May I join you?”
“Be my guest.” I replied warily. I had been in 69 G. Carinae less than 24hrs and already someone knew my identity. Alarms bells in my head were primed, set to go off.
“I represent The Silver Boys of Crom and would much appreciate a few moments of your time.” The alarm bells remained primed but did not ring. I recognised the faction name from the board and had being doing work for them during the day.
“You don’t look like a silver boy to me Ms. Nascimento but I’m all ears.”
“Quite. My employers want to pass on how happy they are with your work today and that if you continue to choose working for them, that more lucrative employment will be forthcoming.”
“Uh huh. You do realise that I am not looking for permanent position?” I was independent and wanted to make sure they understood that.
“We do indeed Mr. Aitken and that is your appeal to my employers. Having independent contractors allows us to do things in places we could not usually be.” A smile graced her young face as she nodded.
“Uh huh. You can drop the Mr, it’s Aitken.” I paused and took a sip of my coffee. “You could have sent this by personal text, most other factions do.”
“Yes Mr. Sorry no Mr.” Another smile. “Yes Aitken I do but The Silver Boys of Crom are not just any faction, we like the personal touch. We try to be more like family than employers.”
“Uh huh. Well all sounds nice and cozy.” I replied with just a hint of sarcasm. “Thanks for the invitation and vote of confidence.” Just a little drop more sarcasm. Charity either did not hear the sarcasm or chose to ignore it.
“Well, I must be going Aitken. I do look forward to talking to you in the near future.” She gave another smile, stood up and departed.
It took most of the next day, hauling questionable cargo and the odd hunting for pirates but Charity Nascimento turned up as I was exiting the “Bennachie.”
“Very efficient Aitken. As promised here are the access codes for the bulletin board on Chorel Survey in Crom. If you have any questions or need help with anything I am your liaison, so please contact me.”
With that and another smile she was gone. Chorel Survey was an outpost platform that orbited the star Crom, there was nothing else in the system. I accessed the board and did a few jobs that paid well, there was not much difference between it and any other board I seen but the little boost in profit made me happy enough.
During my travels I did fit in some “ratting” too. Two stick out in my memory, I’ll forego CMDR names to protect the innocent, or not so innocent.
The first was a Viper pilot who contacted me direct. That’s why it sticks out, usual channels be damned I guess. The other reason it sticks out is because he called when I was thirty minutes into a Hutton Orbital run. Luckily I equip most of my ships for “ratting” so I still had room for over two hundred tons of scrap in the Python. Jump range was truly awful but the client was saved and I hope happy. Hey could have been worse I guess, I could have been thirty minutes out from Hutton.
The second was a little different. Everything went normal until I jumped into system, spotted the clients beacon, locked on and was pulled out by the Nav-Lock. Empty space greeted me, voice comms were still good, so I jumped back into Super Cruise. I was hoping that if I changed my approach vector the instancing might improve, my hopes were dashed as I appeared for the second time. After a brief conversation with the client I asked him enter Super Cruise and followed as soon as I could. After locating him and maneuvering into position, I interdicted him. Not only pirates and bounty hunters have a use for it.
I had losses too. Losses that still, and probably will continue to, haunt me. The crushing feeling when I hear those final gasps of breath and the thanks for trying bring me close to throwing in the towel. Then I look out through the canopy to see the universe grinning mirthlessly back at me, I hear the cruel sounding laugh. I’m gaining on you Aitken, pretty soon I’ll get ahead of you. You can’t win, I was here before you and I’ll be here after I’ve taken you too. My resolve is renewed. If I could, I would give my Rat brothers and sisters all my saves if it brought back those I have lost. The universe, space, while being the place I love to fly through, explore and live is also my enemy. One day it may claim me as another victim but not today, no not this day.