“So you’re back.”
I was watching the last limpet being loaded by the automated system when I heard the statement. I knew the voice and was not surprised to see Shoshana standing there when I turned round.
“Yeah I finished up a rescue a few jumps from here.” I replied, shocked at how tired I sounded even to me. “Been kinda busy but I should have got a message to you.”
“That would have nice, first time I’ve seen you in four weeks.” A small smile graced her lips as she spoke.
“That long, wow, I really lost track of time.” The last limpet had been loaded and I really needed a coffee. “Well I’m here now why don’t we grab a coffee?”
“Sure. New ship?” The smile grew brighter and the tiredness within me lifted a little.
“Yeah, I’ll tell you about as we walk.” I stuck my arm out so it looked like a chicken wing. With a slight giggle Shoshana put her hand through the loop and held my wrist. We started to head toward the coffee stall that had become our favourite.
The bright orange DBX had become my ship of choice for Ratting. It fell a little short of the Conda in range but not by much and not enough to put me off using it. Sure the recent recalls of those ships so that they could lighten them by removing a fuselage spar and add an internal slot in it’s place had helped. The other thing that had drawn me back to it was the handling. Compared to the Condas albatross on ice turning, the little DBX was a humming-bird. I still looked at the Conda with fond regard and it still remained the best ship for out of bubble rescues but for in bubble ‘Bullseye’ was my go to ship. It’s one major drawback was the 4A fuel-scoop, it was really to small too fill on a single pass of a star but with a 32 ton tank and a 16 limpet capacity, it worked for me. I hadn’t run myself dry yet but that possibility was always there. This is what I told Shoshana give or take a word or two.
We reached the coffee stand and I escorted her to a vacate table and went to order our choice of drinks. As the barista made our drinks a thought floated into my mind, it made sense to me, so I acted on it. Usually these spur of the moment ideas can lead me into trouble but I could not see trouble ahead with this one. I sat the cups on the table after paying and sat down opposite Shoshana. Taking a small rectangular piece of what looked like plastic I spoke.
“Here take this.” I was greeted with a quizzical look. “When you plug this data stick into a computer or PADD with Galmap it will show you where I am or rather was, with the usual delay of an hour or two.”
She reached over and took the small stick from me.
“Will this also allow me to see where you’ve been?”
“Sure. It has a 30 day memory. Each new day pushes the last in the line out.” I replied.
“And what you have been up to?”
“To a certain degree, yes.” I took a sip of coffee knowing the next question.
“What do you mean “To a certain degree.”?” And I was right.
“Some of my customers do not like it when a trail is left for others to follow and before you say anything, no not just illegal transactions.” She sat looking at me for a second or two, took a sip of her coffee.
“You love all that Han Solo stuff don’t you?” She asked.
“Sorry you lost me. Who or What is a Han Solo?” I asked in return. The look on here face was of honest surprise.
“Han Solo, the famous smuggler in the ancient tale called Star Wars. There were cult movies released in the 20th and 21st centuries. Copied again over and over, even some remakes for the Holo-Net. You have got to have watched them, as a kid at least.”
“Nope. Was never much into movies.” I told the truth. I had not seen much of my father growing up but in the little time I did he had been larger than life, to me. That had reflected in my career choice. I had not wanted to watch others fly between the stars, no I wanted to do it too and had spent most of my childhood making sure I would have the chance.
“Uh, well you learn something new everyday they say.” Shoshana smiled as she said that, took another sip of coffee and then. “I’ll be right back.”
She gave me a quick kiss on the cheek and walked away. Less than a minute later the chair was reoccupied. The occupant was not the beautiful women I had been just looking at but an old man with a slight grin on his face.
“Long time no see Aitken.” The grin grew into a smile. My heart sank a little, which one of his contacts was he going to be speaking for today.
“Yeah, I’ve been busy.” I told him, waiting for the shoe to drop.
“So I gather.” Shaking his head he continued on. “That’s not why I’m here though. I have a message for you.” He took out a data stick, not dissimilar to the one I had just given Shoshana, and pushed it across the table.
“Whose is it from? Rodger? Smith? Or do I have other admirers?” I quipped as I took the stick from him.
“Not my place to say Aitken but I’d look at that soon. It’s been in my possession for a few weeks now and whoever it’s from seemed keen for you to get in touch.” With that he stood up and walked away.
I rolled the data stick between my fingers before giving a small shrug. Then I put it in the shoulder pocket I had taken the stick out for Shoshana. I’d get to that later, another few hours or so would not matter.
“Hang on a second. What exactly do you mean by “Normal Rescue”?”
Shoshana had returned fifteen minutes after the Old Broker had departed with a PADD that was Galmap capable. More importantly she had went to the stall for more coffee. Even thought her question had taken me by surprise I have to admit I could see her point.
“A normal rescue to me is one that goes by the numbers. No issues, client does everything that is asked of them first time. Friend Request, Wing invite and beacon. Their ship isn’t in the EZ and then listen to the debrief. All by the numbers.” I replied happy to let someone with no Rat experience into our methods.
“So if you call that Normal most of your rescues are like that?” She was asking questions as if I were on trial but I knew it was just because she was interested.
“I’d say about 50% go that smooth, maybe less.” I do think I was generous with that estimate as the next point she picked showed in spectacular fashion.
“What about this one?”
This one had seemed normal until I was in system. It had told dispatch my jumps being on the Maia side of the bubble and had been given the go ahead. The DBX ‘Bullseye’ was able to jump over 50lys a jump and as I headed toward the shining blue orb of the clients wing beacon I was thankful that it did.
“Hey man my emergency oxygen timer just came on.” A very calm sounding voice announced in my ear. “Should I inform your dispatcher?”
I checked the distance once more and did some maths in my head, I was about 30 seconds away. Even if he had not upgraded his Life Support Module he had 5 minutes.
“Nah mate I’m nearly on top of you, hopefully you aren’t running stock equipment.” I said in what I hope was as calm a sounding voice as his was.
“Stock? No way I upgraded this baby to A spec, so you got a good twe….”
His voice was drowned out by the sound of a Diamondback Explorer being torn from supercruise. As his words faded my vision momentarily blurred, a blue hue blinding me for a split second. Instinctively my left hand closed the throttle and I felt the forces of the deceleration like I was getting kicked in the gut. A loud BOOOM heralded our return to normal space and even before my vision cleared properly I was locking my targeting computer onto the hollow blue rectangle that floated off of my rear port side quarter. Two fuel limpets launched and arced across the black cold void toward a black Viper Mk. IV as I rapidly pulled the trigger.
Breathing easier I continued to refuel the Viper and while the limpets flew I also sent his Navigational Computer the Fuel Rats standard KGBFOAM package. It told the client about star type, route planning and what certain symbols on the Galmap meant. It also explained how to fuel scoop and it was at this point I made a startling discovery as I glanced at his outfitting in my left hand panel. We were a good third of the way to Maia and he didn’t have a fuel-scoop. To make matters a little more complicated his hull was at 3%.
What I wanted to say would have come out like “How….Why……Wha……” but instead I managed to calmly say.
“Would you like an escort to the nearest station?” I had the Galmap open and was starting to look back toward the bubble when I noticed a yellow dot below our position. Of course I had never been to that particular system before and had no information on it.
The Viper pilot agreed that I should go on ahead and check out the system. Bullseye would make it in a couple of jumps but the Viper was going to need a few more than that.
Coming out of Hyperspace I fired up the ADS and then opened the System Map. 1,200ls out was the only place we could land, repair, refuel and restock, or so I hoped. Not having any information about the system I also had no data on the planetary space port. Not something I had been looking for, I would much have preferred a large Orbis station to dock at but beggars can’t be choosers.
Opening the throttle wide I headed in. I hit orbital cruise and managed to time the entry to the Glide phase perfectly dropping out just 6km from the base. Docking permission granted I landed and quickly entered the hangar.
My heart sank as I opened the station services and noted there was no repair facilities. According to my contacts list the Viper had arrived in system and was heading toward the base. I passed on the sorry news that he would not be able to repair here and not to risk a landing. As we spoke I checked the Galmap for the next closest system. Once found I past on the name and asked if his Viper had enough fuel to reach it. The affirmative cheered me a little but I still informed him that I had 8 remaining limpets and if we needed to I would refuel him.
Leaving the surface base I suddenly realised my mistake and I did not repeat it. After the ADS scan and confirming this system had an outpost, only 300ly out. I dropped out of supercruise and scanned the Nav. Beacon. Jumping back into SC I opened the System Map and let out a whoop of joy.
Not only did it offer repairs but restock and outfitting too. I confirmed the situation to the Viper and waited till he had docked. Once repaired and refuelled I made sure that he bought a fuel-scoop for the return journey.
“What was he doing that far out with no scoop?” Shoshana asked, the first time she had spoken since I had started the retelling.
“He was chasing a bounty and lost track of where he was.” What I had been told, so I retold.
“Do you believe that?” She inquired a sound of doubt in her sweet voice.
“Doesn’t matter weather I believe him or not. The only important thing is that he survived.” I was ready to drop the subject but could see another question forming in her mind and lips. “Yes, he got the bounty, again so he told me. And yes that part I believe.”
My coffee was still lukewarm not my favourite temperature for coffee but still good enough to drink. I finished the cup and watched as Shoshana continued to look over the PADD.
“Well I can see you are going to be busy for a while. I got to go back to the ship and make a call.” She looked up briefly.
“Sure. I’ll wait here for you. I’ll even get the next round in, though it really should be your turn.” Again a dazzling smile took the sting out of the rebuke.
“I can get them when I get back.” Her response was to admit she was teasing and ask if it was an important call.
“Nah, if I’m right I just have to see a dog about a man.” It produced the look of puzzlement I had been aiming for.
As I walked away heading toward ‘Bullseye’ I pulled out the data stick and started to roll it through my fingers.