I look at the screen for a long, long time, then key in “RATSIGNAL” and hit enter.
Then, on further reflection, “DISPATCH: be advised, this is not a drill.”
This ought to teach me a thing or two about moving up in the world. But it won’t.
As narrators have said since time immemorial, “let me back up and start this story where I should.” Meanwhile, I’ve got time to microwave another Insty-Bruu(tm).
Months ago I was on a high-speed run with a Clipper-hold full of platinum, and stopped at a random station for refuel and reammo. It turned out to be a beautiful place full of palm trees and plush leather trim. There were gardens and parks and it was ridiculously posh and expensive. Just like I’ve become. But then I had to launch and complete my run, and forgot the name of the system. I thought, “If I ever find the place again, that’s my new home.” I stumbled back on it a week ago, and this time I noted it down in my log-book and underlined it a few times: Aramzahd.
I own a few ships. More like a small fleet. Actually, it’s more like a large fleet. The last time I relocated systems, it took me a half dozen trips back and forth: fly a ship, buy a hauler and spec it out, fly back, sell the hauler, repeat. When your relocation is 150ly, you wind up speccing the hauler for maximum jump range: no shields, no sensors, nothing but a great big engine and a scoop.
Pretty soon I’m down to doing what I do best: hammering through space like something’s chasing me, slinging down Insty-Bruu and jump-scooping back and forth. On my third roundtrip in my cheap little rental hauler, I jump in by a star and there’s a bunch of wreckage. I’m annoyed at first; it’s a navigational hazard. Uh… Uhoh. It’s full of people.
Four cans, and I have four tons of cargo space. After scooping stuff in a great big ship, collecting the cans is a piece of cake, and I continue my trip. It’s nice to be able to help someone out of trouble; can you imagine being in a can and seeing a ship … then it jumps out?
That’s precisely when my milk run falls apart.
I land at my old home station, and am assessed a whopping great fine for having cans of people in my hold. The whole time I am landing, I’m on the mic yelling to station security that I’m an Imperial Noble (in spite of the fact that I am flying a rented hauler) and under normal circumstances they’d be queuing up for the honor of buffing my Clipper’s landing skids. Remind me to take some lessons in how to talk to security goons. They remind me that they have the great big guns, so I put down and pay the fine. Meanwhile, I sell the expensive FSD and scoop out of the hauler, so I can flip it back to the rental company in its original condition. No sense wasting money!
I’ll just walk back to the cargo and let them go. If it’s a xenomorph or they’ve got some disease, the station security guards can deal with it. The tall one seemed particularly sensitive about my comments regarding his ancestry; I thought his head was going to explode.
The cans won’t open. Of course they won’t – this is illegal cargo and it’s on lockdown. I need to find a station that has a black market. This milk run is getting frustrating! No good deed goes unpunished! I punch in a system I remember from my days as a rare goods reallocator, and boost the little hauler for the mail slot like it’s a Cobra and I’m heading out to retire someone.
It isn’t until a couple jumps in that I realize I replaced the hauler’s aftermarket FSD with the original unit; the thing jumps like a slug. Then I realize that it hasn’t been scooping. Then I notice I am orbiting an unscoopable star. Then I notice there’s not a lot of fuel in my tank. Then I notice “not a lot” really means “hardly any.” Then I put my head down on the dashboard and start gently thumping it until I have a distracting level of headache.
Time to call the Fuel Rats.
Honestly, I’d have blown the rental hauler, except for the people in the cans behind me. What a rude surprise it would be for them!!! “We’re Saved!!!” BOOM.
DISPATCH is the usual pinnacle of steely professionalism I’ve come to expect from a Fuel Rat dispatcher. Three rats are headed my way immediately. Then I get a wing request from Ravenov, who happened to be “in the neighborhood” and in short order I hear the boom of him dropping, and he’s firing limpets.
“What are you doing out here in that thing?!” Ravenov asks, and I start to explain with some gabble about cans of people in the back. Another part of my mind keeps suggesting that maybe I should just say “It’s classified. Imperial Security stuff. Thanks.” But I screwed up and I owe The Mischief its merriment.
I’m refueled and I have enough to get me to the outpost with the black market. I wave to Ravenov and spool up the FSD, jump in-system and lay in a vector to the outpost. When I’m done there I’m going to upgrade this hauler back to something reasonable, then it’s going to be a while before you see me flying one of these things again..
Did I mention that I sold this piece of junk’s shields, to get better jump range? I never replaced them.
My milk run has now gotten awkward. I have 4 cans of people, a pirate that wants my cargo, and no shields. Of course I do what any self-respecting Fuel Rat would do: I run. Except I’m in a down-specced hauler. I limp really fast toward the exit. The thrusters on this thing are apparently hand-me-downs, too, because I’m jinking like mad and it’s not helping; I hear banging noises from the back and chunks of hull plating peel away. Thanks for lightening my ship!
Boost, boost, dodge, boost (not enough energy to boost)
Finally, the FSD engages and a few minutes later I’ve got the cans open in the black market dock. The fellow I’ve rescued is a merchanter; he’s a bit gruff because he’s wondering why I jumped him all over the back end of noplace and banged him around so much. When I show him the great big hole in the back of the Hauler, he gets really quiet. The rest of his crew nudge him; they’ll be ribbing him about it for years.
Time to finish my “milk run.”
Thanks, Ravenov and the rest of the Fuel Rats. “There’s probably some deeper moral to this whole story,” I think, when my comm chimes. It’s the nice insurance adjustor from the hauler rental company. “Insurance claim denied!” he says cheerfully!! “Because you were hauling illegal cargo when the pirate shot you up, subsection C-12 of your contract specifically states you are liable for any expenses we incur, plus legal fees and if you don’t pay up quickly we have an arrangement with station security at most participating orbitals; they’ll deny you docking rights until you pay or run out of air.”