Crystal Ball – A Rats Tale

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So what’s next?”

We were sitting at our usual table alongside our usual coffee kiosk. Shoshana had finished work for the day and we were having evening coffee. Let me explain why we use this particular kiosk and not some other stall or shop in The Ring.

First it’s close to the hangar area so I don’t have to go far when returning from where ever to have a cup if I can’t be bothered making my own. Second, it’s also close to the elevator Shoshana uses to get to her office. Oh and perhaps most importantly this stall has a great range of coffees from across the bubble. I sell it to them for cost, I don’t pay for coffee when I visit and they cut down on the shipping costs. Win, win.

Well I thought we could go and try out that new restaurant that opened one floor up.” I replied. It advertised as genuine Indian cuisine. I’d done a little reading about the old Earth country and wanted to see if their claim was close to the truth.

Not after the coffee, I meant what do we do next about the Thargoid Threat?” I glanced at her over the top of the cup I had at my lips. One eyebrow raising in enquiry. Putting the cup back on the table I responded with one word.

Nothing.”

Nothing? Really? Why?” A one word answered deserved a few one word follow up questions. I guess.

I really don’t see where the threat is from the Thargoids, if it is them. So from where I see it the next move is theirs. Sorry if that disappoints you but I don’t think we have enough information.” I picked up the cup again and took another sip.

You don’t think that 208 structures just appearing that close to the bubble is a threat? Wow.” Now it was her turn to take a drink from her cup. We sat there for a second or two looking over at each other. I knew she was waiting for me to answer, heck I was waiting for me to answer. I slowly shook my head.

Again we just don’t have enough information. Hell for all we know those things could have been set to start growing or whatever they do, millennia ago and it’s just coincidence that we stumbled across them.” I didn’t sound too convincing to myself never mind her. So the next question did not surprise me.

You don’t actually believe that do you?” Again I shook my head.

But that’s what I mean by not enough information.”

As you can imagine this had been the topic of conversation all over the station, system, bubble, I would guess. And no one had nailed down the reason for the sudden appearance of the structures. At least we were discussing it civilly. I could just picture the panic it was creating elsewhere in the bubble.

Feds have got to be crapping it.” As she spoke those words I tapped on the padd I had on the table and slid it over to her. “What are these? Oh.”

I took those when I had a look over what was left of the Fed Task Force. I had a refuelling close…ish, to the sector so I thought why not.”

They look intact and what’s the green stuff on them? By Jupiter it looks like it’s growing on the ships.” The surprise in her voice was real.

Like I said, just not enough information.”

C’mon Aitken, even you must see this as a threat.” She remarked as she continued to leaf through the images.

Nope. I don’t know who started that fight, indeed if it was even a fight. Do you know who shot first? Feds? Thargoids? All I can make out from that is who shot last. Also note the lack of debris from any other ship type. If it was Thargoids, does that mean the Feds weapons were unable to do damage or did the Thargoids take all their debris and damaged ships with them.”

Ok. I take your point. I’d just like to know what is going to happen next.”

As you know my Dad was very interested in ancient Earth history. Some of it rubbed off on me. There was a time when all of the worlds factions were at war. In the beginning though after all the declarations and political posturing there was a time over the first winter where nothing but moving troops and such took place. This could be similar, this could be our Phoney War.”

Of course for all my words and detailed description Shoshana managed to put it much better and in fewer words.

The calm before the storm.”

In system, I have visual on clients beacon. Approx. 220k from main star. This’ll take a minute or two.”

Roger Aitken. Since you have comms with client I’ll leave this one to you. If anything changes let me know. Dispatch out.”

After I had topped up the 32t tank of Bullseye I wheeled the ship round and headed toward the blue beacon shining in the distance. 220,000 out wasn’t the longest I’d had but I knew it was still going to take a little time.

I’m on my way to you Cmdr. If you see a countdown in the right middle of your HUD tell dispatch and myself what time you have left before you activate Stasis Mode on your Remlock.” I knew dispatch had already relayed these instructions, at least twice but reminding the client that this was important didn’t hurt. Also it gave me time to target the star know behind me so I could stop close to their position. Then all I had to do was wait for more Rats to help out on a Case Red. That wasn’t going to happen though or I hoped it wouldn’t go down that path.

Gotcha but I think I should be good. I have all modules powered down so that I am only using 0.03 per hour. I have just over half of the reserve left so I look ok for the moment.” A static riddled voice said in my ear. Even with my poor maths skills it sounded good to me so I settled down for the haul out to them.

Hey, my canopy has started to ice up. Is that normal?” A tinny voice asked.

Yup, perfectly normal. You’ve reduced your thermal signature close to nothing. With minimal modules running you are not producing the heat you normally do.” This little exchange told me a little about who I was dealing with. That and being close to Eravate and LHS 3447. It mostly likely was a newish graduate of one of those systems flight school. Probably a Sidewinder, Eagle or Hauler without a fuel scoop. Not that there was anything wrong with being a recent graduate, we all had to learn somehow and the hard way was as good as any other.

Ok. Thanks first time I’ve seen this.” Yup definitely a green pilot.

We chatted as I closed the distance but even as we did the chat I had earlier with Shoshana kept resurfacing in my mind. I fought and won the battle to stay concentrated on the rescue and not allow myself to become distracted. I rechecked the nav-lock, cycled through the fire groups to make sure the limpet controller was ready and passed on any tips I could think of.

I was just about to say that I should be dropping soon when movement seemed to freeze and the blue haze appeared around me. I zeroed the throttle and hoped that as I dropped out into normal space I would not ‘bump’ the client. It happened occasionally with minimal damage to the client, not a great way to announce your entrance but it sure would get your attention.

As soon as I broke out of supercruise I had the hollow rectangle targeted and even before the momentum for the drop had stopped a limpet was on it’s way. As I manoeuvred the DBX round to face the Eagle, told ya, the second limpet was out.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.” An excited voice shouted into my ears.

As I sent the third and fourth limpets I also sent the KGBFOAM package to the Eagles navigation computer. Even though we had gone over most of the information the package contained we still went over again and yes there was no fuel scoop fitted to the Eagle.

How did you know I didn’t have a scoop before you got here?” The Eagle pilot asked.

The entry star is scoopable.” I remarked as the shields on the Eagle started to come on line. “If you had a scoop you probably wouldn’t have end up stranded in this system.”

Oh. Well I’ll fit one in the next system.” A little embarrassment tingeing the voice that answered me. “One more question before I go. You said you don’t make money doing this. So why do you do it?”

I sat silent for a few moments. I could have said to make up for all the bad stuff I normally did, smuggling arms and drugs may have paid me well but I was still aware of the moral implications or lack of. I could have said it was because I wanted to be a hero but that would be a lie. I could have said I wasn’t sure which was closer to the truth but what I did say was.

Cos it makes me feel good and someone has to do it. The surge of satisfaction I feel when, just as you did, those rescued erupt with relief and excitement of being saved is one I haven’t found in any other part of my life.” That’s not to say I was happy with my lot in this universe. I had a lot to be thankful for and believe me I was but Ratting was the cherry on top of the whipped cream that crowned the ice cream sundae. Finding Shoshana again could not be beaten. Evading Security as I slipped unnoticed with a hold full of landmines was gratifying but saving an unlucky Commander was sweet in it’s own way.

Uh. Didn’t expect that to be the answer but ok. Thanks again Aitken I hope the next time we meet it’s under better circumstances.” With that the comms went dead.

I watched as the Eagle flew around me, “Surge Detected” Betty informed me. A boost from the Eagles thrusters, a bright flash of light and then I was looking at a high wake signal.

There was one reason I hadn’t mentioned for saving pilots. But I did speak it to the wake signal as it started to fade.

Cos we just might need every pilot we can get in the not to distant future.”

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