“Ah Aitken, I was starting to think you were avoiding us.”
Mr. Smiths’ near smiling image said to me. He wasn’t far wrong but I did not let him know that.
“I’ve been busy.” Again the truth and still his smile persisted.
“Oh we know that. You do get around don’t you?” I took it as a rhetorical question and said nothing. “You are also probably aware that the mission you are communicating about is long past complete.”
I gave a small nod. Sure the Old Broker had hinted at having the data stick for a while so I kinda suspected that what ever Smith was wanting me for was done.
“So I’m guessing this is a social call or you have something you wish to discuss. Knowing you the way I do Commander I hardly think it’s the former, so please come to the point.”
“I’ve been calling you and your cohorts ‘The Consortium’ but you are actually working for INRA.” He wanted me to come straight to the point so I did. I wasn’t good at being subtle, in fact most people would call me tactless. If they meant that as an insult I didn’t take it as one.
“Hmm, what interesting ideas you do have Aitken. I’m guessing you have heard or heard of the messages the recently departed Senator Loren and her associates made public? Don’t answer as it’s of no consequence. The ranting of a now dead Senator are rather flimsy, don’t you think.”
“Maybe but together with your lack of Alliance contact I can only come to that conclusion.”
Now he paused. His hands came together so that the fingers intertwined, slowly his head bowed down as thoughts weaved though his mind. Now it was his turn to give a nod and as he raised his head once again the light seemed to vanish from his eyes for a brief second. I saw coal black orbs look me over as if measuring my worth.
“Well whoever we are it seems you have made up your mind to severe our relationship. I will be sorry for this to be the end of our little chats but if that’s what you desire I will not stop you. We can end it right here and now Aitken if that is your decision.”
I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I had been having those thoughts. I really didn’t like being at Smith’s or really any ones beck and call but, yup there is that word again, the money from all the spin-off missions and quests that occurred while helping the Consortium was good. Who am I kidding, it was excellent. So thinking like that I of course could only say.
“Nah, we’re good.” I might live to regret those words but life’s too short to worry. They also got very little reaction from Smith.
“Good.” His only movement was to sit a little straighter. “Yes, good. Things appear to be moving in a direction that yours and others talents could be needed. We’ll be in touch Aitken.”
I did manage to get out a “Sure” before the connection was broken. I sat there in cockpit of Bullseye looking at the reflection that the black screen threw back at me. As I did the image made a slow and small shaking of it’s head. Sure he hadn’t said they were INRA but he also hadn’t denied it. The jury may have been out on that one but I knew what my vote would have been. I was half way out of the chair when a red light started blinking on a console to my left. I’d switched the usual audio warning off so that I could talk to Smith without distraction but the angry looking red pulse had just been in standby, waiting for it’s moment. Ratsignal.
I pressed the appropriate button and the face of the Dispatcher came into view.
“You look the closest Aitken, I hope you got your climbing boots on for this one.”
I typed in the system that Gawaine gave wondering just what he was meaning. As the Galmap started to calculate the jumps I saw what he was getting at. The route line went straight up from my position to a system eleven jumps above me.
I strapped in, requested clearance to the flight deck before replying to Gawaine.
“Tell them I’m on my way.”
“Will do Aitken. Dispatch out.” Another image vanished to leave a black screen to look back at me. I had just completed my second jump when a green light flashed on from the screen to my left. As I lined up once more to jump I tapped at the controls and the light became a steady green glow. It wasn’t until the exiting hyperspace for the fourth time that a blinking blue light started its rhythmic pulsing. Once again as I lined up to jump I tapped at the comms panel controls and I had communications. I was a little concerned to find I only had voice and no visual but gave a shrug and jumped ever upward.
“I’m sorry Commander I made a miscalculation.” A voice heavy with exhaustion reached out to me through the cabin speakers.
“No worries, sit tight I am just a few jumps out from your position.” I replied hoping that he would be reassured.
The last few jumps went without incident with each star being scoopable, I paused when one jump out to top up my tank lamenting that the DBX could not fit a larger scoop. Everything looked good and as I pulled away from orange ball that had just filled my tank I hit the FSD jump control.
Bursting into the system I noticed straight away why there had been no visual communications, pulling hard up and to the left I managed to avoid the exclusion zone of the Neutron Star. That would teach me not to ignore the the star type warning as it flashed up in the HUD next time. I could use the excuse that I was used to jumping into L Types, T types or any other non scoopable star systems when on a rescue but I should and I did know better than not to check.
As I had hoped, there just 30ls away from the star the Anaconda sat idling waiting for limpets to carry fuel to it.
Dropping in went without a hitch and as the first two limpets flew the short gap between the two ships I sent the usual KGBFOAM package to his navigational computer.
“Thank you. This is rather embarrassing to admit but I honestly thought the neutron boost would give me fuel to jump as well as the boost.” A tired but relived Conda pilot admitted.
I reassured him that he was not the first to have his problem and that I would have him on his way soon. With a 3A Transfer Controller pushing out limpets two at a time emptying my hold of the sixteen I carried did not take long. While the limpets flew we chatted and I wished him luck with his Neutron jumping. Once finished the Anaconda and the Diamondback Explorer flashed lights at the other. I watched as the larger ship lined up with it’s exit vector and winked out of the system, the boost retained from his earlier scooping.
Now it was my turn to make my way home. I had done a little neutron boosting but had never tried it with the DBX. I knew how an Anaconda and an Asp reacted so was very interested in seeing how the much smaller ship would handle within the plume.
Jumping up into super cruise I aligned Bullseye with the edge of the exclusion zone where the plume was intersecting it. Easing the throttle open I pushed the little space craft into the blazing white light. As the turbulence bucked and rocked the Diamondback I pulled back on the stick till the star was roughly behind it, keeping the throttle steady. After ,the first warning telling me the FSD was taking damage the next thing to appear was the confirmation that the scoop had taken in enough of the neutron energy. With one jump of 250ly, roughly, and the other jumps of a little over 50lys it did not take long to return to Perez Ring.
As I unbuckled the safety belts and stood up out of the seat I could here the muffled sound of the station announcer reminding pilots that loitering could result in death. A little harsh, in fact a lot harsh but that was the law. Some I flaunted but that one was a no no. A warning, a bounty and if you did not move quickly enough a deadly light display from the station. I’d seen it in action and had no wish to be the display ending firework.
I returned to the coffee stall where Shoshana was still looking over my travels on here padd. I ordered us each a cup before returning to the table and placed it next to her right hand.
“Oh you’re back.” See looked at the cup, picked it up and took a sip. “Thanks. You were gone for a while, everything ok?”
“For the moment, yeah, everything is fine.”