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A Freighters’ Tale

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My boots crunched on the gravel of the landing pad. It always seemed strange, that first few steps on a planet’s surface after months in space ships and stations. The gravity belt kept the gas planet’s high gravity from breaking my legs. I took a second to look at the massive black industrial space ship parked on the pad behind. Smiling a wide grin, I turned and headed to the planetary freight office. It had taken years to get that ship, there was a fortune tied up in her, and she was my money maker. There was a contract here for me to take to Juhtha. It paid enough to clear all my debts and leave me some operating cash. “This isn’t a milk run, but they never are.” I thought as I opened the door to the office supply chain logistics.

An assorted assembly of characters stood, leaned or sat around the office. There appeared to be no notice of my entrance, but I was certain that every group of eyes or sensory organs were taking a quick scan of me. There hung a cloud of smoke from tobacco and other smoked substances in the air, along with the smell of unwashed flesh, dirty socks, rotting excrement, and the oils and fuels used in space ships. All of the races were represented here. Each species mingling with his own group or associated ally. The station manager asked, “What’s your business pilot?” “Come to pick up a contract haul, here’s the voucher.” I replied. ” Um… Hmmm.. ok.. yep.. cargo hanger 7E, Slim, get off your arse and take the lift over there, get that shipment, and bring it to …” shouted the manager to a tall heavy Minmatar fellow and turned to me as if to ask where I wanted it. “Ah.. Pad 23…” I stammered. Reaching quickly for his stamps, the manager pounded the voucher and invoice with stamps. “All official and ready to go, Slim will have the crate there in a few.” stated the manager with a broad grin as he handed the papers back to me. I smiled back and gave an appreciative, “Thanks”. As I turned on my heal I noticed that at least three heads dropped quickly. This gave me reason to think that there might be some interest in my cargo. My alarms started a low buzzing, and I knew I would have to be careful moving this freight.

My mind kept going back over the interest that was shown in my cargo as I waited for Slim. “Who are they, how can I identify them, are they sending a report to their mates to prepare a gate camp, what if they follow me?” I pondered while standing in my cargo bay door. A screaming whine of electric motor and gears going too fast with too much weight brought me back to the job at hand. A huge crate appeared to be flying down the dock, heading for quick trip into the midst of the planet. Then just as quickly it slowed to a crawl revealing the huge form of Slim on an electro-lift. “Any prefer as to placement in bay?” he yelled above the quieting scream. I shook my head to indicate no. He deftly spun the lift ninety degrees and up my ramp and into my bay he came. His placement was nearly centered fore to aft and port to starboard. I hooked my lock down straps to the deck and threw them over the crate as Slim pulled out from under it. He stepped off of his lift to hook the other end of the straps and activate the pull tight switch. I came around the crate and handed him a fifteen isk credit for his help. “Gee, thanks, guess this shipment is worth a bunch, “he said as he stuffed the isk in his pocket.”Why do you say that?” I asked feigning ignorance. “Just some of the talk, you hear,” his head and eyes dropping to the deck. “Hell, I don’t know what its worth; I just haul this trash back and forth.” I grinningly replied. His eyes jumped to my face, and a grin appeared. We shared the truth of knowing that information was wanted. “Has this crate been talked about a lot?” I asked hoping to gain a small piece of info. “The Red Dogs have been laughing about what might happen to somebody taking the contract, getting ganked or such.” Slim drawled out like a little child telling a secret. My worst fears were true. I had taken the bait, and now the hook was in my mouth. There was only one thing to do give it my best effort, and be certain that the Impel was insured. “Sounds pretty bad for me, they must be waiting for my lift off.”, I replied. “Could be, but none of them are in station today, you must be lucky.” he said through a wide grin. Maybe I was, but did they have friends to tell them I had taken the contract? “In that case I better get gone.” I told Slim as I pressed another ten isk credit into his hand for the information. He shoved the cash in his pocket as he got on his lift and headed out the cargo door, waving goodbye.

Somehow knowing that there might be trouble, put me at ease. The tension of wondering what was going to happen was much less. I set about to get my own plans ready. If there was going to be a scrap, a little help couldn’t hurt. As the tanks filled with fuel, I messaged ten of the members of my corporation. Some were close, some were not. Then I called in some favors. In twenty minutes, there would be a group of five attack fighters from a pirate friend to escort my ship through the gates to its destination. I proceeded to start my preflight, and listen for the call sign of my escort. I had a plan, and some help, now to make it all work.

As if rousing from a drunken stupor, Jasper Martyr, a Red Dog informant, wiped his face with a rag he had pulled from his pocket. All he appeared to be doing was moving the dirt and grease spots around on his face. Slowly he got to his feet and headed out of the freight office. A quick turn to the left belied his former drunken state. The dense shadow hid him as he pulled his communicator from a pocket, pressed a few buttons and waited for the signal to be accepted. The faint glow of the phone showed the basic view of his face. The avarice was taking over. “Jasper, old buddy, you just hit it rich. This info will get you off this back water planet and back into flow of real life again.” he muttered to himself as he waited. The signal jumped and was answered by a voice that seemed annoyed at being interrupted. “Hey, boss, you know that shipment you wanted me to watch?” Jasper gasped out in a quite but activated tone. “Well, a guy named Vitriolic Fattah just picked it up and is headed to deliver it. He is just about to jump off the surface…” and his words stopped as a large wrench collided with his head, busting his skull. “Hello, Hello, Jasper are you still there?” came from the phone until Slim crushed it to bits with his boot heel. “I hate Amarr pirates, especially the Red Dogs”, he muttered as he turned to head back to the repair shop, wiping the green slime from the wrench.

PART TWO

DOA Killer threw the phone across the room as he realized what had happened to his informant. Then he started to grin, and laugh out loud. “I don’t have to pay that poor cretin a dime now, because he is most likely dead. A million saved, and not a drop of blood on my hands.” He laughed all the way over to pick up the communicator. After making sure it still worked, a call was placed to a group of his pilots waiting to go after this pilot, Vitriolic, and his ship. DOA grinned wide as he was already counting the rich loot in that cargo. His boys would do their job, and do it well. “Yeah boss,” grunted Halfknot, the leader of the squad, as his comm sputtered to life. “Seems one Vitriolic Fattah has acquired the package and is lifting toward you now. Scan the registry and bays until you locate him. You know what to do after that.” Halfknot chuckled, “Yeah, Boss, Can do easy. We will be home for supper.” With that the device went silent. KOA smiled an evil smirk, as he thought of the glorious battle and destruction of Fattah’s ship. This kind of excitement called for an excursion with a slave girl. A hunger which he promptly sated.

Vitriolic had converted the heavy industrial ship to be able to carry a medium fighter, as well as have a cloaking device. He rendezvoused with the escorts at a volcanic planet in the same system, launched the fighter with the cargo in the bay. The huge industrial was then cloaked and left with a robotic crew to keep it in orbit. Within twenty minutes the two groups of fighters arrived at Vits’ location. There were eleven of them total, five were cloak able. “Glad you could make it Reg”, said Vitriolic to Reggie Van Death, of the Pasha Pirates. Vit had smuggled ammo and parts to them when they had a war with another pirate band. “Always ready for a little target practice and gunnery training.” replied Reg in his Austrian-German accent. “I brought four of the better pilots from this year’s crop”, he jokingly quipped. Vit knew each of his flyers were battle hardened veterans, dead eye shots with steel nerves. “They should earn their wings this time. There are some Amarr heavies who want my cargo but are not willing to pay the freight.” Vit replied in a laughing tone. “Ha, good, this will be fun”, laughed Reg. “Be sure and leave one or two for us Reg”, chimed in Bud One, my corporation executive officer. He dropped out of warp with four other battle vets in his wing just after Reg arrived. “Most certainly, but do not be too slow the ducks die fast”, replied Reg happily. “We will be with Vit waiting on you fellows for reinforcement”, stated Bud. “Friends, Corporation members this is not a suicide mission. I want you all to survive. If our opponents prove too strong for us, just leave the area. I will jettison the cargo. There is no reason for any of you to die. We will regroup at my industrial, or I will gather you up if your ship is too damaged. Is that understood?” Vit announced over the inter ship communicators. “Aye, Captain” was the resounding reply. The strategy was for five fighters and Vitriolic to fly to the gate as normal, and make the jump to the next gate. The cloaked fighters would wait until the other group came out of jump and signaled on sub-space before coming through, provided there were no unwanted ships jumping between the groups. The biggest problem to be had was the uncloaking to make the jump. You had to hit it just right to get an enemy, if they were cloaked, to uncloak and jump before you uncloaked and jumped.

There were a total of fifteen jump gates to cross from the Nagath system to the Juhtha system. Jump gates are the stabilized entry and exit points of worm holes that exist between systems. They are powered from the energy of the worm hole and do have limits as to how large a ship may pass. Each jump carried the risk of being attacked by enemies when coming out of the jump gate. The crazy thing about the jump gates is that you have a one or two second dead time when you get to the connecting gate where you come out. This short period of time can allow some other pilots to hold you with tractor beams, energy drain beams, and shoot at you while your controls are still frozen. This is where having a backup wing should make a big difference. Vitriolic hoped his plan would get them safe to the Juhtha station even with some gun play. “Fate has a way of twisting things around” thought Vit as they approached the first gate. Vit knew it was unlikely that they would get ganked until they got into the area that was bordering the Outlands. The Outlands harbored all of the pirate, highwaymen, war lords, and criminal corporations. The Imperial Police don’t even enter this area, and rarely do they approach the edges of territorial contact. This is an area of gun fights, ship destructions, cargo thefts and slaver operations. Money can be made quickly here, and a life can be lost just as quickly. If it were not for pre-selected clones in safe storage, many a pilot would be gone forever. They would not come to that area until their sixth and seventh jumps. “OK Bud, take your group on through,” Vit calmly said. “Roger” replied Bud. As Buds’ wing went on through, Vitriolic had the glimmer of an idea. “Reg, can you get a message to some of your friends in the Fectrola area, to do a little watching and information gathering?” called Vit over the secure commo link. “Hmmm, I have an idea what you want, also I know exactly whom to call, can you afford half a million credits for the service?” replied Reg with a big smile in his voice. “Has that ever been an issue Reg, you can tell them they can have the salvage also to sweeten the deal.” Vit jokingly retorted. Bud broke in with “All clear, this side, you can jump.” “Roger, on my way” answered Vit.

PART THREE

The jump gates seemed to be coming rapidly, or was it the nervousness that made it appear that way? “Timing, it all depends on timing” thought Vit. “One more jump and we may have some company” grumbled Bud. “True there is a chance that a surprise will await our company also” said Vit steeled but nervous. “If this works it will be epic, the magnitude of battle alone will set records across known space” laughed Reg. “What are you hearing from the Lorcets” queried Vit. “In position and they have sold their information on the Red Dogs to several interested parties, this could be fun to watch” chuckled Reg. “Aye, if we don’t get killed in the cheap seats watching” replied Bud jokingly. “I’d like to know that some of these interested people are close enough to save our bacon, can you get a confirmation of an eta on any of them Reg?” snapped Vit, dispelling the jovial mood. “Yes Sir, checking now” replied Reg with a military stiffness. “We will hold at this gate until there is confirmation of an emanate arrival, that will give us the time to get past the gate camp and leave them a little present,” said Vit with authority. Vit knew that it might require him to play the entire scenario by ear, using wits and luck. “Remember, if you are in danger of getting blown up and need help, sing out, if you have damage and can get away, go, live to fight another day, and for Petes’ sake be at least five kilometers from the gate when I shout ‘Bingo’ announced Vit to all of the pilots in the fleet. An assortment of ayes and yes sirs followed on the comm. channel.

For what felt like a month, Vit waited for Reg to bring him the ready signal. He went over the plan six or was it eight times looking for a weak spot, a flaw, and some reason to think it would fail. “Orgehorde is three jumps away from our friends’ tea party, shall we proceed to join them?” stated Reg, snapping Vit back to the present. “Roger, move out Bud” Vit spoke almost whispering. “Roger” echoed Bud, as his ship moved to jump through the wormhole entrance. “Good hunting Bud” called Reg just before he launched. The jump through this gate was uneventful, although the warp to the next gate showed signs of wrecked fighting ships. The Red Dogs had enjoyed their flight so far it would appear. After Bud was through the gate, he called out, “under attack, they have battle cruisers with webbing rays.” “Reg, I think I heard him call your name” Vit called out to Reg as he was preparing to jump. “Tallyho!” cried Reg with his men behind him. I followed on their heels.

The scene when I arrived was looking very sad for our guys. Buds’ pilots were down to half strength as two wounded ships limped away. They had taken out one of the battle cruisers with torpedoes and magnetic bombs. Reg and his crew were destroying turrets on several of the ships. I could see they were still taking heavy damage, although holding their own. It was about three seconds after my entrance that a huge blood red fleet entered the field. “Orgehorde” I spoke into the comm. system. “Let them do the rest and get out” I shouted to all my pilots. Immediately, the fleet opened up on the Red Dogs. One battle cruiser exploded in flames and another showed bulkhead damage. “Here you go guys, a party favor, hope you enjoy” I thought as I toggled the drop cargo switch of my ship to release a box that looked a lot like my original cargo box. A tractor beam from the Red Dog leader ship snaked out and grabbed the box. A slow retrieve was taking it into the cargo hold, when a tractor beam for the Orgehordes’ lead ship latched on to it as well. “Tug of war, have fun guys” I muttered. With that, I punched the warp drive and headed away from that area. My guys started checking in they were all well clear of the battlefield. I looked at my range that read five point five kilometers from the gate. “Far enough I though” as I pushed the destruct button for the ten megaton bomb in the box that the two sides were fighting overand yelled “Bingo”. Behind me, there was a flash like a super nova, bits and pieces of this and that were sent flying away in all directions.

The Lorcets reported that ninety percent of the Red Dog Fleet was vaporized and thirty five percent of the Orgehorde fleet was vaporized. The rest of both fleets were total wrecks, for which they thanked me and did not even charge me for watching and scattering information. They stated that the salvage of electronics and biomaterial would keep their planets in work and food for years. Our group proceeded on to the original destination, to deliver the shipment. Those that needed repairs were left at friendly stations. The rest of the journey proved to be without incident. The cargo was delivered, shipping was paid, Reg got repair and beer money, and Bud and I looked for another well paying cargo run.

THE END

Or is it?

 

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