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PostPosted: Tue Oct 13, 2015 3:51 pm 
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Collectibles

Why can't I collect commemorative coins or MMMCCC Edition Magic The Gathering cards?

I tend to start my day with as much CQC as I can handle, then cool down the rest of the day exploring. CQC has a way of getting my nerves on edge--in a good way, mind you. But too much of that and it feels like you've got extra-caffeinated coffee plugged into you intravenously. Exploring is the perfect way to chill out afterwards.

Or it would be, if I didn't keep coming across wrecked ships.

At first it was just one, then nothing for days. Now I've come across six more in one day, at six different planets. It can't be any kind of improvement on my sensors, Viaticus Rex II is kitted out exactly the same as on my last trip--D class sensors for weight savings.

I can't tell from the wrecks how old these ships are - things don't rust or degrade in space and many of our ship designs have been in use for centuries. At best you'd have some idea of how long it took for the paint job to be bleached white by the local sun. Assuming there's any paint left.

And now I have a growing collection of small data caches. Technically illegal to pick up, they belong to whatever company hired these poor saps to die out here, but I couldn't help but feel that the information might be useful to someone somewhere to help determine what happened to them.

Most of these ships are Clippers. That's worrying. Typically only a Cobra is faster than a Clipper, so if they can't escape whatever destroyed them, what chance have I got? I've been running over emergency escape maneuvers in my head every day in case I get interdicted. Lock onto nearest star. Submit. Boost as often as possible. If shields drop, silent running, drop heat sink, change vector. Those things should buy enough time to high-wake to another star system and pray whatever found me doesn't follow.

I'll tell you one thing, I'll definitely have my computer jolt me out of CQC if any ships show up on my radar. I don't care if it's an unarmed Sidewinder.

_________________
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Pilot: Mossfoot - Ship ID: Viaticus Rex (Cobra MKII)
Rank: Competent - Status: Clean

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 16, 2015 6:10 pm 
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Unintended Consequences

One of the problems I've been having in CQC is finding a team. Oh, there's no end of players, but even when we wing up they seem to be on the quiet side. As in silent. I've heard from some in the lounge that pilots think that the extra bandwidth used for chat causes lag which hurts their gameplay. The CQC techs say that's nonsense, that nothing short of video transmissions could affect lag, and even then that would only be once you're 500LY past the last relay. Problem is, rumors among gamers has a millennium long history of turning gut-instinct into scientific fact, and anything the simdevs say to disprove it is just some kind of false flag being waved to hide bugs in the code.

Sheesh. I got this damn sim in part so I could actually interact with people way out in the void, now they're shutting themselves up because of imagined bugs.

That's not to say there aren't real bugs in CQC, but it's something to be expected given that the whole network just expanded from planet side server hubs to a galaxy wide broadcast.

Galaxy wide... sheesh, thank goodness our communications are quantum entanglement based--basically that means that only our comm receivers can pick up the broadcasts, you can't pick that up in the background or even "hack" something like that. Could you imagine the ramifications if CQC was being broadcast across the galaxy in a way that any emerging civilizations could see? Imagine our first signal from an alien civilization back in the early 20th turned out to be non stop dogfighting. I think that would have gotten everyone on Earth in a panic. They'd think we were a blood thirsty warmongering race who cared nothing for the endless destruction going on all around... oh wait.

Still, here's the rub. While we don't need to worry about breaking any Prime Directive crap because our galactic transmissions are secure and point-to-point, our ships are NOT secure. I receive a transmission, my ship becomes a broadcast point that someone else CAN theoretically pick up on, albeit at the usual speed of light limitations, and degrading of signal over distance.

So if you're hanging out near an Earth-Like world, taking a break and playing some CQC, and they happen to be advanced enough to point the right kind of instruments in your general direction, they might very well see a in-cockpit view of you endlessly blowing away ship and getting blown up. Or picking up your GalNet feed, and while they might not be able to understand the words, they would understand the images. And if you know anything about the news, you know those images would be only slightly less traumatic.

Thing is, CQC has never mentioned any kind of etiquette or protocol in regards to this. Why would they? It's not their job. But neither has any exploration guild or Universal Cartographics, the tech is too new and they're probably still arguing over what kind of rules or safeguards need to be put in.

And by the time they get their act together and do something about it, how many civilizations will be affected and potentially damaged by this?

But you know what? Maybe it's for the best. If those guys know we're out here they'll have time to prepare before we arrive in force. Maybe watching and listening to us they'll figure out some things about space travel and escape their world. If Achenar 6c has taught us anything, it's that when the humans come, you better not have all your eggs in one basket.

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Pilot: Mossfoot - Ship ID: Viaticus Rex (Cobra MKII)
Rank: Competent - Status: Clean

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 19, 2015 4:36 pm 
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Outsourcing

Still more data caches. This is creeping me right out now. I've spent months out in the black and nothing. Now? One week and over a dozen wrecked ships to be found.

I talked in the lounge with other explorers taking part in CQC and they're reporting similar things. Conspiracy theories abound, the most common of which are "they" are coming (and we all know who "they" are). But, while possible, I couldn't help but wonder if there was a better answer out there. One that was both plausible and appealed to my cynical nature of how mankind behaves. And I think I found it.

While in supercruise, we often pick up USSs in deep space--unknown signal sources. While in Supercruise it's pretty difficult to get an exact reading of what can be found there. Sometimes it's traders waiting for an off-station exchange or trying to make repairs somewhere pirates won't notice them. Sometimes it's an interdicted ship and its pursuer. Sometimes it's a wrecked ship and what's left of its cargo.

In the latter case it's usually not the wrecked ship that is putting out enough of a signal for a USS to be triggered, it's the canisters themselves. Whether it's legal or illegal to claim a particular salvage is besides the point, if you find it your ship will log it being found and if you don't pick it up that information will end up in the right hands eventually. Those people will eventually send their own trawlers to collect them at their own slow, lethargic pace.

A trawler is kind of like what MF and I do when it comes to collecting salvage, only legal and a lot more street sweeperish in nature. A T9 with a small wing of sidewinders or other small craft will get a contract to go into a system, spread out, and start sweeping, the fighters bouncing back and forth out of supercruise, collecting what they can, then dropping them off at the T9 until its full. The contract is jointly held by all parties that have had recorded losses in the system. The trawler manages to do this affordably at bulk rates, meaning those desperate missions for retrieving lost cargo suddenly get quiet on the bulletin board for a while. But they're slow, and they're not everywhere. It's kind of like waiting for garbage day.

Anyway, one guy in the CQC lounge (I'd blown him out of the sky four times in a row and he was going to take it out on my face in the bar until he saw I was a babe... if only he knew) pointed out that the data storage for cartographic data isn't equipped that way. The black box, sure, if it survives. But Universal Cartographics have long had proprietary hardware installed for recording and retrieving system data. They've got a monopoly on the whole market, and want to keep it that way. So, when it comes to retrieving lost exploration data, they used a secure frequency that was locked out of ship sensors, unless it's one of their own trawlers. In short, about the only thing most explorers have of value is their exploration data cache, and we're blind to those signals.

Or, at least, we were.

Seem the last firmware upgrade on ship sensors "forgot" to lock that frequency. I use the air quotes because even though there hasn't been an official announcement yet, I'm pretty sure it was on purpose. Pilots are starting to report missions cropping up from factions looking for lost data caches in deep space. Now, they might simply be taking advantage of the opportunity, but my guess is UC and their trawlers weren't getting the job done on their own. Space is too damn big for them to expect to reasonably find these things with their pitiful fleet, and there's all kind of pressure going on to collect as much as they can. Hunting for hidden Emperors Dawn cells in this unstable time for the Empire, anything that might record locations of the Unknown Artifacts springing up in and around the bubble...

...and the fact I've found a dozen wrecked Clippers and Pythons in deep space in a week hints at the possibility that there are other reasons as well.

So, yeah, they opened up their monopoly, but not for altruistic reasons. We're basically doing their work for them now. The amount of money being offered for data caches is laughable unless you've got a specific mission looking for them, but the data inside is locked and keyed to the relevant pilot, so we're not able to download that data and claim it for our own. Swell.

Still, I don't think that data should go to waste, so I'm collecting them whenever I find them. Once I fill up, I'll head back to the Bubble, or an outpost somewhere on the fringe and dump it all off.

_________________
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Pilot: Mossfoot - Ship ID: Viaticus Rex (Cobra MKII)
Rank: Competent - Status: Clean

http://www.noahchinnbooks.com/


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 20, 2015 4:25 pm 
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A Look In The Mirror.

My cargo bay is almost full now, filled with small and large data caches. The latest was from a T6 wreck I came across, gutted, just a skeleton left behind. The cockpit frame was still intact, so the pilot couldn't have ejected. Or, if he had, half of him might have made the jump to a safe distress point, but the other half wouldn't have.

I'd been wondering what to do with all this stuff. I can't use it myself, and I don't want to go back to the bubble just yet. I'm enjoying having my cake and eating it too with this exploration/virtual bloodsport combination.

Then, back at the lounge, Simon the House Elf shows up while I'm sharing a beer with my wingmates for the evening.

"I'm sorry, madam, but I believe you wanted to know a discrete place where you could unload your acquired cargo?"

I turned in my seat. The guy had been hovering around me every day like some sort of valet. The slightest hint of a question and he pops up like a damned genie. I wonder if anyone else had these kind of problems with their Simons? Didn't he have an off button?

"Not that it's any of your business, but yeah."

"Might I suggest Takurua? It isn't too far off your current route."

My current route? God damned end-user agreements, I no doubt agreed to let them know where I was at any given time so of course they could track my general meandering path.

"Yeah, sure buddy, I'll think about it." I rolled my eyes and went back to talking with my wingmen.

Later, back in the real world, I decided to check out Takurua on the galaxy map. Not much to see. Population of 100,000. A terraforming project backed by Sirius Corp, and yet... huh. Pranav Antel seems to have taken an interest in the region. Can't imagine why, there's nothing much worth controlling nearby. The upkeep of having a presence there must be a drain on his resources. And there were other pioneering outposts in the region, so why suggest this one...

Of course. Simon's a sim. Even if the Feds are sponsoring the CQC tournaments, they're using Antel's tech to do it. Of course it's going to "suggest" things that are to his organization's advantage.

I just got my ass market researched. Sheesh.

_________________
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Pilot: Mossfoot - Ship ID: Viaticus Rex (Cobra MKII)
Rank: Competent - Status: Clean

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 21, 2015 4:52 pm 
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What a Drag

Spending time in the void you get to thinking about little things. Those little things start off being curiosities, and end up bugging the hell out of you.
Here’s something I can’t believe I never asked myself before: why is there drag in space? For that matter, why is there a speed limit to our ships?

The more I thought about this the more it didn’t mesh with my high school astrophysics class, or even my own experience. When I woke up inside a strange body over a hundred years in the future, supercruise was old hat, so nobody was really talking about why or how it worked, they just used it.

So, back in the days before supercruise you could clip along and accelerate as long as you liked. Of course, you also had to decelerate as well or overshoot your target. It took a hell of a long time, and there were plenty of ways to make the time slip by, but that was strictly a perception thing. You can trick your brain into thinking an hour is only five minutes by cutting down the mental frame rate until an emergency shows up, but that’s all it is, a trick.

It could at times make combat tricky, depending on what era you flew in or how smart your computer was. When I started out, if a threat was detected the flight computer would automatically match relativistic speeds with the object, and if there was a fight to be had, you could do so more or less like an atmospheric craft.

Then later, during my long nap, people began to favor making the most of Newtonian physics, and for novice pilots combat degraded into jousting matches at thousands of kilometers an hour.

But all that changed with supercruise.

Thing is, combat can’t occur in SC, so if you want to fight someone you need to drag them out into normal space with an interdictor. Dropping out of supercruise, either intentionally, accidentally, or by force, always brings you to a neutral speed relative to the closest strong gravitational body, like a star or planet.

Okay, that I get. But why is it after that you’re stuck travelling two to four hundred meters per second? What’s more, why is it that you actually slow down without thrust applied, even if you turn the flight assist off?

Turns out supercruise is to blame. While it allows you to cut through swathes of space like a hot knife through butter, gravitational wells still affect it, and when not in use it still wants to drag your ship to a neutral point relative to the nearest gravitational body, just like when you drop out of SC.
This drag field, if you want to call it that, is kind of like a static charge that affects the entire ship and everything in it. This even applies to fighters like the Condor and planetary shuttles, which don’t have jump drives, but do use Class 1 supercruise engines to fly in-system.

Things such as hull shape and mass have an effect on your SC profile, which in turn affects how much impact thrusters have in normal space, determining the ship’s upper speed limits and drag bleed after boosting.

Now, you might ask why this was never a factor before, given that we use the same engines to punch through hyperspace and use supercruise. Well, while they both use the same basic technology, they also circumvent conventional physics in completely different ways.

With hyperspace you’re punching through to a point in space via another dimension, what’s still sometimes called witchspace. With supercruise you’re still in our dimension, but compressing the space in front of you, like the old Star Trek shows. And like a wise Scotsman engineer from that show once said, “Ya cannae change the laws of physics,” but it seems you can warp them.

But that sort of thing has side effects. You can’t just turn off the engine and let things go full Newton again. Even if the FSD is destroyed, that drag field takes ages to dissipate—there’s a strong resistance for things to go back to the way they were.

Heck, the drag field even affects things your ship touches. Bump into a cargo canister and you’ll see it slowly lose its spin and momentum and return to a null state, something that shouldn’t happen.

So basically all this changed the rules of space travel, and it took lifelong spacers a bit getting used to, but terrestrial pilots who later graduated into space adapted easily enough. It felt familiar. It’s part of the reason flight assist thrusting made a comeback, though a number of pilots insist on turning that off and having something that still approximates traditional Newtonian physics, even if it’s hamstrung by speed limits and drag now.

There. Finally. Glad I got all that out of my system.

You know what got me started on this whole crazy “tell me professor” rant? Because I bumped into a stupid data cache and noticed it slowly lose its spin and stop dead a few hundred meters away. For some reason I saw that and I just couldn’t let it go until I figured out why.

Of course, I got all this info from GalWiki, so I might have just read some crazy nutjob's pet theories on the subject and got everything completely wrong. Who knows, by next week someone might have edited it to say that drag happens because of an inverse coefficient of the speed produced by the cat and buttered bread perpetual motion dynamo housed inside the frame shift drive.

_________________
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Pilot: Mossfoot - Ship ID: Viaticus Rex (Cobra MKII)
Rank: Competent - Status: Clean

http://www.noahchinnbooks.com/


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 22, 2015 8:05 pm 
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Hello Old Friend

En route to Takurua I ended up receiving a call from a familiar voice.

"Zdravstvuyte!"

"Gesundheit," I replied. "Ivan! Nice to see you again!"

I've crossed paths with Ivan Shevchenko a number of times. Mossfoot got drunk with him after his first major exploration expedition, back in his Ranger M days, and got his Asp shot off in a combat zone. I'd flown with Ivan as well down in Empire space. Good pilot, sometimes questionable morals, but a good guy to those who know him. He's one of the few people we'd told the whole brain time share thing to who believed us.

When MF was recording his journal to broadcast, just about everyone assumed it was a persona thing. Like a shock jock DJ or something. On those occasions Moss was recognized (usually wearing his Ranger M mask) he'd get treated like a minor celebrity, but the assumption always was that he was an actor, and so Mossfoot and Violet were both just characters he played. I think that made it easier for him to keep on broadcasting, to be honest. Felt like there were fewer potential repercussions for being honest.

Me? I haven't hit the broadcast button once since I took over. These are just for me.

Well, hopefully not just for me.

"So who am I speaking to today?" he asked.

"It's Violet," I said. "It's only me now."

"Only? I do not understand."

It's a long story. Want to come on board?

"You are exploring in your rusty T-6, yes?"

"Trusty T-6."

"I have seen your ship. I stand by my original statement."

"Yeah, I'm still in her."

"Then I suppose it is you who should come on board my ship. Where would you like to rendezvous?"

We met up in a system I was scanning. I'd dropped down to check out some wreckage and gave him a Nav Lock to help guide him to me.

When Ivan dropped out of Supercruise I couldn't help but whistle.

"Where the hell did you get that?"

The Faulcon deLacy model Anaconda stretched out over a hundred and fifty meters long, three times the length of my T-6 and half the length of an old earth aircraft carrier. On those rare occasions that a pilot found themselves with more money than you knew what to do with, most of them went Anaconda.

"I called in some favors, got some deals. I can't quite cover the insurance yet, but no doubt I will soon. You wish to come on board, yes?"

"Mother may I!"

Once on board, Ivan was more than happy to give me the grand tour. The cargo bay, the forward observation deck, the cabins, and then the cockpit. One thing struck me right away.

"No crew?"

Ivan waved a hand dismissively. "Bah. They demand too many things. Like getting paid. I have had her controls redesigned to accommodate a single pilot."

I thought about how damn big this ship was. Seriously, half the size of an aircraft carrier. "Doesn't it seem a little... empty to you?"

He sighed. "At times, yes. Once I have enough money for insurance, I may consider hiring one or two. But for now... So, where are you going?"

"Takurua," I said. "I want to unload some exploration data and a bunch of data caches I found in the void."

Ivan shook his head. "I was there not long ago. There is a civil war going on, and I believe you are allied with Edmond Mahon, are you not?"

"Technically, yeah."

"Technically is all that matters. The system belongs to the Sirius Corporation, but Pranav Antal controls it. I suspect his lackies won't take kindly to you interloping there. You could renounce your allegiance before you enter, I suppose..."

I snorted, "Does my ship look like it has a yellow stripe down its back?"

"Then allow me to escort you there. I was looking for some long range smuggling missions anyway. An excellent way to boost profits these days."

"Sure. I could use the company."

Ivan slapped my back and lead me out of the cockpit. "Excellent. Now, what has happened to my friend Mossfoot?"

In the mess hall, Ivan listened and nodded as I told the story over bags of coffee. I took a while.

"And do you think he is dead?" he asked when I finished.

"I don't know. I haven't felt him. I keep expecting to see a message left from him when I wake up, like maybe he could take control when I was asleep. Or maybe have a dream with him trying to make contact. Nothing. I have no reason to think there's anything of him left."

"But...?"

"But, I also can't access things I could when I was just hitching a ride on his brain. So if parts of myself are closed off to me..."

"Maybe he's in there."

"Maybe."

Ivan nodded. "The question then becomes, how do you get him back."

I snorted. "Small problem with that, the guy who implanted me probably died a hundred years ago. I say probably because I can't find any records of Brother Mathias's Order anywhere. I checked every database in the Old Worlds I could find. Nothing. Granted, they kept low on the radar even when I knew them, but it's as if they never existed."

"Well then, it's settled. They most definitely are still around."

"How do you figure?"

Ivan shrugged. "If this much effort has been made to erase them, there are only one possibility--someone does not want their existence to be known. Since they always kept a low profile, as you say, then they were never a public threat that required, shall we say, Stalinist revisionism. The only possibility that remains is that they did it to themselves, to keep an even lower profile. And if they no longer existed, then there would be nobody to erase all knowledge of them."

I wasn't as certain that was the only possibility, but it did give me some hope. It was at least an angle I could use to make further inquiries.

_________________
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Pilot: Mossfoot - Ship ID: Viaticus Rex (Cobra MKII)
Rank: Competent - Status: Clean

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 23, 2015 5:00 pm 
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A Smelly Job

Whatever spat had been going on at Takurua was long over now, instead the system was full of "Psst, hey buddy" signals from traders looking to buy goods away from the prying eyes of the station.

I thought it would be easy getting into the station there, but Murphy's Law was in effect and I got interdicted by a member of Sirius security. Guess he thought Mahon had sent me here in my fearsome unarmed Type 6 to get up to no good and was going to put a stop to it. He didn't even say anything, just opened fire.

Pity he didn't notice the black Anaconda drop in behind him five seconds later.

I jumped back to Supercruise and made it to Foothold Orbital, an Orbis class station that was still under construction. I took the time to circle around and admire the buzzing blue lights of welding droids working on the outer hull... aaaand promptly got scanned by station security. Dammit. I forgot all those data caches I was carrying were technically illegal.

When I got inside I learned from the fines officer that I got dinged for 370,000 credits.

"Do you intend to pay the fine now, or after your stay with us?"

"Yeah, yeah, you'll get your blood money. Sheesh, try and do the galaxy a favor. Can I at least sell the data to Universal Cartographics from here?"

"I'm sorry, but UC does not accept illegally acquired data. They require confirmation of authenticity through a direct scan of the original ship's hard--"

"Fine, whatever. I'll just sell them all the crap I found on my own. Geeze, give a girl a break."

"Girl?"

"Never mind." I clicked off the comm.

I sighed and linked up to Universal Cartographics, starting to download what I'd found. I'd deal with the data caches somewhere else. I'd racked up a lot of systems in only a few weeks. I was hoping it was enough to put me over the top. I'd feel better if I was ranked Elite again, even if it wasn't for combat.

"Zdravstvuyte!" came over the comm while I dumped data and glazed over what wonderful new discoveries I'd made.

"Gesundheit," I replied. "What kept you, Ivan?"

"That man who tried to shoot you down, I think I may have done more than simply dissuade him from firing on you."

"What do you mean."

"One moment. Coming in hot."

Hot? That meant he was boosting into the station... in an Anaconda. This I had to see. I looked out of the cockpit towards the mailslot and sure enough, a black Anaconda slipped in like an obsidian knife, powering on reverse thrust before it smacked into the opposite side of the station. He stopped right over my head.

"Sorry, there were some security ships looking at me funny. I did not wish to be scanned."

Looking up at his observation deck, I could see why. "Yeah, you got bits of Viper all over your hull."

"Damn. Is one big problem with the Anaconda. Very big blind spot. That explains the bounty on me."

"Sorry, dude. I didn't want you to get in trouble."

"Is not a problem. I see what kind of missions there are on offer here, and take one that gets me far far away until bounty is called off."

Dumping stellar cartography data can be very slow at times, so by the time I was done Ivan had already found several jobs he could chain together. Turned out being this far from the bubble people were desperate to find people to deliver goods back to civilization. He had several million worth of contracts standing by.

"What are you hauling?" I asked.

"Biowaste."

I paused. "Sorry?"

"The canisters say biowaste."

"How far are you taking them?"

"About three hundred light years."

"You're hauling several canisters of biowaste three hundred light years... for millions of credits? You realize that stuff is basically poop, right?"

"So?"

"So, who the hell spends millions of dollars to ship poop across the galaxy?"

"Eh, is not my place to question, only to deliver and get paid."

"Yeah, well, I'd be careful. Something tells me the poop is just a smelly cover. God knows what they've hidden in those tanks."

Ivan laughed as he got his clearance to leave. I suspect that in an Anaconda he's not really afraid of much these days. I just hoped that overconfidence didn't get him killed.

Though I have to admit, if you were going to smuggle something somewhere, a big can of crap would indeed be the last thing anyone would want to have to search through.

_________________
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Pilot: Mossfoot - Ship ID: Viaticus Rex (Cobra MKII)
Rank: Competent - Status: Clean

http://www.noahchinnbooks.com/


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 25, 2015 3:46 pm 
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An Inch Is As Good As A Megameter.

With Ivan gone and the last of my cartographical data uploaded, I got out a bottle of champagne I'd been saving. The credits were rolling in, and more importantly, that last tick towards Elite status.

I'm actually glad the Pilots Federation recognizes achievements outside of death and destruction these days. Back in my time, the only way to be considered Elite was through the blood of other pilots. And while in some ways the galaxy has gotten more violent, it's gotten less bloody as well. As a result, the achievements of business tycoons carry more weight, as do those of explorers. Maybe it's a sign that the galaxy is on the way to a more stable and peaceful state of being. Maybe someday there won't be a need for people like me. Heck, we even have the Pilot's Federation recognize CQC achievements recently. Maybe they'll phase out real combat altogether. People have argued forever that it only encourages pilots to be violent.

If someone like me can reach to the stars without ever harming another soul and reach... ninety-seven percent...

What?

NINETY-SEVEN PERCENT?

Of all the fricking... WHERE'S MY CLIPPER? I need to blow something the HELL up and then MELT the wreckage with my afterburners!

The local Pilot's Fed rep was absolutely unsympathetic to my plight. Hey, I COULD have gone neutron star farming like some pussies. I COULD have hit all the easy scores that others have already found. But no--I went out and did it the hard way. I went into the true unknown, boldly going where no woman in a man's body has gone before. Do they care? Does that score me any brownie points? Noooooooo. Of course not. Fan-frickin-tastic.

Good God I'm starting to sound like Mossfoot.

Sigh... there's really only one option, isn't there?

Back into the goddamned void.

_________________
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Rank: Competent - Status: Clean

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 26, 2015 4:48 pm 
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Missed Connection and Crossed Wires

Brother Sparks was late.

He'd made arrangements to fly to Takurua the moment he knew the Violet entity was en route. Unfortunately, it took time to do such things without raising suspicion. It had to appear as though this was something planned months ago, not yesterday.

By the time he'd gotten there, she was back in deep space, where Sparks could not follow--not without raising questions from the Simmentor that he could not answer.

But it was simply a delay. When she came back this time, there was one place he knew she would go. It was simply a matter of having a good reason for being there, and waiting until she arrived.

*****

If only all my trips into the black had been this interesting. I don't think I've touched CQC since I started, but then, that's because I'm pretty focused on getting my Elite status.

My guess was I was only a hundred or so system shy of their requirements, but I wanted to give myself something else to do as well. So, after selling the data caches at a black market in a nearby system, I kitted Viaticus Rex II with a mining laser and refinery. I figured at some point I'd find a gas giant with untouched metallic rings, and I could load up the cargo bay with metal to haul back. Give myself a little bonus.

I was two days out when I came across another wrecked ship. This was in a completely different direction than before, and I hadn't come across the string of wrecks like I had before. Whatever had wrecked all those ships I found before, this wasn't tied into it.

Most notably because there was a survivor.

It struck me as odd that there was an escape pod out here. I hadn't seen an old school pod since I woke up in this century. In my day they were the only way to survive if your ship was getting melted by a military laser, but these days it's all about the ejection seats with their micro jumps and RemLok fields to keep your brain in a nice Ziplock bag until a Galactic Search And Rescue ship picked you up and defrosted you at your last registered station.

Of course, if you were on a big ship, the crew might have to use old school pods, but even they'd be fitted with the same safety features.

So what was the deal here?

I closed in and opened the cargo scoop. There were life signs, and active ones at that--no RemLok stasis going on here. Once inside, I went down to the cargo bay, but not before slinging on my holster and making sure the pistol had a full charge in it. I didn't feel like taking any chances out here.

I opened the pod to find a middle aged man with a beard that looked wild enough to attack me of its own free will.

"Hallelujah! I thought I was done for!"

He looked harmless enough. Looked. "Not to be rude, pops, but that has yet to be determined. What are you doing out here in such an outdated piece of machinery?"

The man's eyes narrowed. "You a Bowman, or a Forty-Niner?"

"This time out? Bit of both."

"Look, I'll make you a deal. I'll show you a place with pristine reserves of metallic asteroids, and you can load your ship up to the brim, just so long as you take me back to the bubble no-questions-asked after."

Now it was starting to make sense. Pilots with a, shall we say, "colorful" background wouldn't want to have GSAR pick up their distress signal. Inconvenient questions might get asked. Pirates might end up being taken to prison instead of their last station.

In this case I suspected the guy was a Hatter--a lone wolf miner who had been out too long. He was probably paranoid, always worried about some unseen 'them' looking to claim jump them. If this guy was offering up a pristine metallic ring for a safe ride home, then he found something even better somewhere else.

I didn't care, let him keep his secrets. It would be nice to have some company.

"Okay, deal. This ship doesn't have a co-pilot seat, I'm afraid, so you'll have to hang out in the kitchen or whatever."

At that moment Trouble came trotting out like a furry salamander, sniffing at the wild haired man's pant leg. Ferrets are big into new smells.

The prospector looked down at Trouble and I swear he licked his lips. I quickly picked her up and placed her on my shoulder.

"Err...on the other hand, you know what? You stay in the cargo bay for now. You clean up, I'll get you some food, and maybe you can join me when you stop looking at my pet as a walking shish kabob."

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 30, 2015 5:20 pm 
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The More The Merrier

The prospector's intel was solid - a pristine metallic ring located on the inner ring of a small gas giant. He must have claimed it before, because it had his name stamped on it on my nav computer. Probably why he wasn't shy about giving it up.

Once the hobo had something to eat and had a shave, I let him into the rest of the ship... though I kept Trouble in my cabin and kept the door locked.

He said his name was Ryan, but I can tell when someone fake names me the first time I use the name back on them. I didn't mind. This guy had his secrets and I had made sure I was the only one on board with a weapon. Didn't need him trying to hijack me to ruin my day.

I spent a while in the ring, long enough to load up with the most valuable metals, and headed back towards the bubble. I figured that would get me my last three percent.

I stopped off at the nearest industrial world, made a few million in metals and exploration data and....

99%

I grit my teeth. Goddammit! Without even thinking I went back to the T-6 and blasted off, heading to parts unknown... well, partially unknown. Unknown to me anyway.
Ryan came out of the shower room drying his hair. "We're leaving now?"

"You're still here?"

"You didn't give me a chance to get off!"

"I've been here an hour!"

"I wanted a shower first!"

"You could have showered on the station!"

"They charge you a credit for that! Besides, it was a Fed station. I'm... I'm not very welcome there."

"Oh for the love of..." I wasn't bothering going back. I had to scratch this itch once and for all. "Get dressed before your junk starts doing the zero-gee hula. I'll drop you off the next time I land."

"Yeah, sure, whatever. You want me to make some mac and cheese for dinner?"

"Alright."

Geeze did THAT sound domestic.

* * * * *

Ivan had sent me an email. He knew how close I was to reaching Elite in exploration and perhaps anticipated this moment.

The email simply read "In Case Of 99%, Break Glass" and I'm pretty sure he didn't mean my canopy.

The email was just a system name. Not far, only 400LY away. So I went, dragging Ryan the prospecting hobo with me.

I scanned systems along the way, of course. Every little bit helps. But just outside of one gas giant's orbit I came across another wreckage signal. Dropping in, I came across not one, but five escape pods.

Now I was faced with a quandry. Like Ryan, if they weren't already being rescued, then it was probably because they didn't want to be found by official channels. Maybe they had their own S&R that would come for them later. We weren't that far outside the bubble after all.

The other problem was, why they were so eager to stay off the radar. They could very well be pirates. If I picked them up, they would outnumber me by quite a bit.

It didn't take me long to scoop them all up. I decided not to worry, I had safety protocols in place, namely the big red button on my control panel. I turned on the intercom.

"Welcome aboard Mossfoot Spaceways. Your pilot today is Violet Lonsdale. Now that the cargo bay has pressurized, please remain in the cargo area for the remainder of your journey. The cabin and cockpit are for first class passengers only. Any attempt to sneak into first class will result in the immediate expulsion of you and your fellow passengers. The emergency exit is located the same way you came in and only takes one button to open up, so bear that in mind. An in flight meal will be provided, and I understand today you have your choice of mac and cheese or cheese and mac. Thank you for flying Mossfoot Spaceways."

I clicked off the intercom and hailed Ryan to make enough food for seven.

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 02, 2015 6:12 pm 
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The Last Flight of Viaticus Rex II

Ivan's coordinates were easy enough to follow, but I didn't know exactly what I'd find there. Just that it would be worth a lot.

When I dropped out of Hyperspace and checked the system map, I quickly saw why.

"My God... it's full of stars."

I couldn't resist saying that. I think every Bowman has at some point.

Even Ryan, who annoyingly had taken to hanging out in the cockpit even though he wasn't properly strapped in anywhere, was impressed. Three black holes, fourteen stars, gas giants, and a half dozen worlds that looked ripe for mining.

Ivan wasn't kidding, this system just might help put me over the top, especially combined with all the other finds I had along the way. Sure, none of them were going to be new claims, they'd all been discovered before, but Universal Cartographics is always willing to pay for updated information and fresh surface scans. A snapshot of a system is only so useful, having information over time provides a better picture of what a system is like.

The black holes here weren't impressive like Sagittarius A* had been, just little ones that made the background stars flip over like acrobats. Still, they were worth a pretty penny. I'd always wondered why, though. Not because they were rare. Water Giant worlds, for example, were far rarer, but not worth much at all. Not because they were a navigational hazard, they were easy to avoid--supercruise easily negates the effects its pull. I suspect it has to do with scientific research. Neutron stars are worth almost as much, and they're just shy of a black hole in terms of their nature (though a bit more dangerous due to heat output). I can only assume the effect of gravity on space time are of great interest right now, and certain people are willing to pay a premium price for fresh data.

Once the scan was complete it was time to head back, but something had been bothering me for a while. I wasn't going to take this ship out again in all likelihood. It had become something of a personal mission for me. A challenge, but I was much more at home in The Troubadour docked back in Tellus.

But this had been Mossfoot's home for the longest time. It was the ship he became Ranger M in. That point in history was a mixed bag for him, but it was still defining in a way. It was the first ship we'd bought together, after I woken up in his head. And I realized that in all that time, since he'd been defrosted and I'd come back on the scene, he had never once returned home. Lave.

I never got a chance to ask him why. Word was Lave was far from safe these days, filled with hotheads looking for a fight and pirates trying to claim it as their own. Officially the situation was well in hand and Lave was safe and tourist friendly, unofficially you took your chances going there.

But I wondered if he avoided it because he didn't want to be reminded of his old life anymore. The Navy brat with a rich daddy who'd been, let's face it, a complete jerk. He'd never gotten a chance to reconcile with his father before the end, even though MF had indirectly saved his bacon and made him a hero.

Before we left Lave that last time, before I died, he'd taken me to see his dad's place...albeit from a safe distance. We were on a hill overlooking the city. I wonder if even then he was thinking that was the last time he'd be coming here? I don't know.

I knew where I had to go.

*****

It turned out the people I'd rescued on route were more than happy with my destination. As I suspected they were of the less law-abiding sort of people, and knew all the right things to say to curious ships passing by to make sure I landed at Lave Station safely. Their people paid well to see members of their crew safely returned.

Ryan got off as well, no doubt planning on going back to whatever hidden secret he'd found out there once he could get a new ship.

Me? I took a shuttle down to the surface while my cartography data uploaded.

I hardly recognized it. Lave used to be a dictatorship, but that had changed a long time ago, and aside from a few preserved historical buildings, everything was different. Everything had been torn down and replaced. Including the house Moss grew up in.

The hill was still there, though not the tree we'd hung out under. This was where I'd told him I was going to die, and what I wanted to do before that. A pointless little gesture based off a movie I loved.

But Moss had lost everything, his old life. We were doing all right for ourselves, but it was freelancers flying around in tin cans and parking at larger tin cans. We had money but couldn't settle down, there was always someone still looking out for us.

Part of him missed having a home, and realized how little he had deserved the one he once had. But he was able to accept that. What he couldn't accept was the idea of me not being around for company. That had led to a visit to Brother Mathias.

Damn... I never asked for any of this. I had been okay with dying. I figured it was my time. But I could tell how hard Moss would have it trying to get along without me. And I figured even if Mathias's proposal was crazy, even if it didn't work, it might at least give Moss some hope.

So I agreed, and look where it got me. Look where it got him.

I got up and left, taking the next shuttle back to Lave Station. This place had too many ghosts, and I was one of them.

My cartography data had uploaded, and there waiting for me in my message box was a congratulatory letter from the Pilots Federation. I was now officially considered Elite among their ranks in exploration. I now had a permit to visit the Shinrarta Dezra system, where the Pilot's Federation was based out of on Founders World.

Apparently the rank came with a hat as well, which had been delivered to the ship by one of the maintenance crew and left on my chair. I picked it up and left the cockpit.

Leaving Viaticus Rex II, I took a last stroll around her. Her green paint was worn and pockmarked, looking like she really had been all over this quadrant of the galaxy. I had the dockers add the Elite logo to the hull, but asked them to make it look just as worn as the rest of the ship. It seemed more fitting than adding a fresh coat.

One of the dockers came up to me to tell me the hull integrity had been fixed and she was ready to fly.

"No. I want to put her into deep storage. Take good care of her. There's a lot of history there."

The docker nodded. "Any idea when you're going to come back for her?"

I put on my Elite hat and gave my wandering boat a final look. "When I need her."

I left. I would catch a ride on a hauler or some other ship heading to Tellus and pick up the Troubadour there. But for now my mind was still on the T-6, and what it represented. I wasn't just leaving the ship behind, or Lave. I was also leaving behind the one thing that I hadn't been able to come to terms with.

Despite the hope Ivan had given me, my further investigation into the Order that Brother Mathias had belonged to had still come up empty. Maybe they had wiped out their records, only to get wiped out themselves afterwards. Yet another dead end, and the last one. It was time to stop living in the past. Time to accept what had happened and move on.

"Goodbye, Mossfoot."

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 03, 2015 6:36 pm 
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Shinrarta Dezra

The Hauler dropped me off at Telus and I took the Troubadour out of cold storage. Some moron had given her a fresh coat of paint. Sheesh.

Don't ask me why, but there's something inherently pleasing to me about having a posh Imperial Clipper and having the paint job worn down. Feels like taking a rich yuppie and forcing them to live in the wilderness with only a survival knife for a week. Builds character. The Clipper is a great ship, but she looks even better with her hair down and tumbled, if you know what I mean. Find that naughty side to the buttoned up prim and proper librarian and...

...damn I haven't been on a date in ages, have I?

Well, the Troubadour still looked good even with a fresh coat of dark olive paint. Just the kind of style I wanted to arrive at Founders World in. I'd never been there before. Fact was, when I was alive I didn't even know it existed. Much like Sol, it had drifted off into legend until the Old Worlds opened up to the rest of the galaxy again. Long story, and one full of contradicting historical evidence--best not to think about it too hard.

Anyway, I fueled her up, set a course, adjusted my baseball cap, and left.

I wondered what I was going to find there. What kind of secrets did Jameson Memorial station have? Was there a secret handshake? Did I need to pass a secret initiation? Did I get to secretly put out hits on people I didn't like? Were there cookies?

I didn't encounter any trouble in Shinrarta Dezra. It was like any other system... kind of disappointing. Part of me had expected fireworks or our secret Thargoid overlords to show up and dance the can-can. Some kind of revelation. Something big.

Same thing happened at Jameson Memorial orbiting Founders World. Just a station. Ships and parts were cheaper here, I noticed, a Pilot's Federation perk, but that was about it.

I sighed. I made sure Trouble was in her cabin before I left--the last thing you want is a ferret having free reign of a ship twice the size of a jumbo jet when you weren't around. With my luck she'd have taken a nap inside the main thrusters while they cooled. I was sure at least the spacer bar here would be full of interesting people with tales to tell.

Nada. Maybe they were in a different bar on the opposite side of the station. All I had here was a single drunk nursing a shot like it was his last. He looked like fun.

I sighed again and left. I'm not sure what I was hoping to find here. I suppose I felt the thought of leaving Mosfoot behind was supposed to bring some kind of karmic reward to make me feel better. Instead it was the same old same old.

How anticlimatic.

I guess I could have gone to the planet's surface, checked out the sights, learned about the history of the Pilot's Federation. I heard they had a derelict Thargoid ship as a tourist attraction at their main spaceport. Never seen one of those intact before. I decided against it. If there is one true thing about the universe it's this-- if you want meaningful things to happen, you just can't wait for them to happen to you. You have to make them happen.

Back at the hanger I noticed my ship was surrounded by more technicians than usual. Only, it turned out they weren't technicians.

Technicians don't carry guns. Or point them at pilots.

There was one among them who stood out. He vaguely reminded me of Simon from CQC, in that he affected an ethereal elf-like quality to him. Long blond hair, flowing robe, looked like a solid sneeze would knock him on his ass.

"Might I ask if I have the honor of speaking to Mr. Mossfoot, or Miss Violet?" he asked.

My jaw clenched. So much for the hope that these guys had the wrong hanger bay.

When I didn't answer, he simply smiled. "No matter. We'll have plenty of time to be better acquainted soon enough. You are coming with me."

My eyes narrowed. "What for?"

"There's the little matter of what's going on inside your brain. It seems you are connected to a project we have proprietary ownership of, from over a hundred years ago. From a group you may know as the Order? We are very eager to get to the bottom of it all."

I threw my hands up. "Finally! What took you guys so long?"

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 04, 2015 6:35 pm 
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Let Me Pick Your Brain

Okay, so the goons with guns should have been my first clue that this joker wasn't going to be won over by my charm and diplomacy. I've talked my way out of a number of hairy situations, and into just as many.

In this case it didn't matter either way. The guy already had it in his mind where he wanted me, and it wasn't sitting across from him at a Starbucks sipping a mocha latte and shooting the breeze.

(Geeze, of all the franchises to survive a thousand years...)

He didn't even have the courtesy to say something cheezy like, "Sieze her!" He just pointed, and the guards, guns aimed straight at me, moved to surround me in a wide circle, while two of them moved in to no doubt secure my arms.

But he'd still made a rookie mistake. He'd made it perfectly clear that he wanted me alive. I was in no way under the same obligation.

The moment one guard was behind me ready to restrain my arms, I knew he had to put his gun away to do so. Once one hand was on mine, I knew where the other would have to be. With a twist and spin I had him chicken winged in front of me. The other hand already had his gun, and I was ready to use this meat shield to cover me while I fought my way out of the hanger. It's not like they could fire back.

Turned out I was the one who made the rookie mistake. None of them were carrying live ammo.

One Butch and Sundance freeze frame later and I was one the ground with about fifty tranks in my back, watching the pretty colors before I passed out.

Next thing I knew I was strapped down to a table, hooked up to a bunch of medical devices in a featureless room. Not even a poster on the wall of a kitten hanging onto a tree branch saying "Hang In There." I was pretty sure I was still on Jameson Memorial, but that was only because of the gravity.

See, it didn't have to be like this. If he had just asked nicely, I'd have been more than happy to play along. I wanted answers too, and this guy looked like he might be able to give them or figure them out. But that possibility never registered with him. I was property in his eyes, and the restraints were to ensure that said property wouldn't go wandering off. And he certainly wasn't interested in sharing his findings with me.

The douchebag in question never gave his name, but a guard once called him Simmentor. If I had my galactic politics straight, that meant he was part of the Utopian movement, one of the higher ups. Okay, so what did the Utopians want with little ol' me? I had some theories, but they didn't really make sense. The Utopians were all about cutting edge technology and anything I had in me was over a hundred and fifty years old.

Clearly it was my brain they were interested in, since most of the devices they had were plugged into my head. What little I could see in the way of monitors showed they were watching Mossfoot's brain activity as well as the neural net wrapped around it hitching a ride.

Ordinarily this would be the part of a story where you'd have the villain explain their evil schemes, monologing, boasting, lines like "No, Miss Violet, I expect you to die," all that good stuff. Didn't happen. They weren't even asking me any questions. I tried engaging the doctors and the Simmentor, but they ignored me. I figured if I tried too hard to be annoying and force their hand they'd just sedate me, and I didn't want that. But still, they didn't have to be such about it.

What really should have been worrying me was what that meant down the road. If they weren't talking to me, it was because they didn't want to humanize me, and that to mean meant laser beams and skull caps popping off to get at the gooey center at some point.

Great. Just great.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 05, 2015 5:14 pm 
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Enter The Janitor

Obviously, since I'm dictating this, that did not happen.

I wish I could give a more detailed account of how it happened, but I can't. First there was all kinds of activity and hustle and bustle going on in the room. Then there was an odd high pitched noise, like a severe case of tinnitus, and I passed out. When I came too, there was a face looming over me holding a flashing device over my pried open eyes.

"Are you awake?" he asked, helping me up. I realized I wasn't strapped down any more. Then I realized that there were a whole lot of prone bodies on the ground, including the Simmentor.

I'm a quick study, so I knew that this was some kind of rescue. My rescuer was bald, dressed as a janitor, but whatever he'd been flashing in my eyes hadn't been for sanitizing toilets. Well, I hope not anyway.

"I'm awake. I assume questions come later."

The man nodded. "Yes. Let's move. I'll take you to your ship. We'll talk once we're safe."

I was able to figure out a lot in this short exchange. If the Simmentor's team were at all competent, and they certainly appeared to be, they would not have kept my ship in a regular docking bay, but put it into long term storage. If this guy had already made arrangements to have the ship put back on the main pad, ready for lift off, then he'd planned this escape to the last detail.

Also, it was telling that he was escaping with me on my own ship. If he had come on his own ship he'd be leaving it behind, so odds were he hadn't come on his own ship. So assuming he didn't already live here, which was unlikely, he'd traveled here as a passenger with the intent of escaping with me.

I looked down at the bodies as I grabbed my clothes. They'd stripped me down to boxers and a T-shirt, and I wasn't going out like that. Nobody seemed to be dead. My guess was they were all unconscious and without the janitor's special flashy device would stay that way for a long time.

"Hang on," I said. I went to the Simmentor and mounted his body on top of one of the female doctors in a very compromising way. Maybe I'd get lucky and he'd get his with a reprimand for workplace harassment over it.

I looked around the rooms. "Cameras?"

"Taken care of. We have a clear path to the hanger. Hurry."

"Just one second..." Not able to leave well enough alone, I stuffed the Simmentor's hand down the pants of one of the guards as well.

The bald man sighed. "We don't have time for... oh screw it." He tapped his wristpad and a virtual camera took a picture of the scene. "I'll see to it he gets a copy. Happy?"

"Ecstatic. Let's go."

We hurried down the corridors, the janitor leading the way. "I figure we'll have a ten minute head start by the time we launch. More than enough time to clear this region of space."

"Are they going to track us?"

"They'll try."

"So, not to sound ungrateful, but I'd like to know why you're helping me at some point. Did I get your cat out of a tree or something?"

"Not now. Cameras are off but that doesn't mean something here might not record what we're saying."

It was a fair point, and a good sign that this guy didn't want to take any chances. I noticed two more unconscious bodies along the path we were taking, and another two by the doors leading to the hanger. They seemed like ordinary station staff, not Utopians.

Inside the bay was the Troubadour, surrounded by a half dozen unconscious technicians and dockers. Baldy went out of his way to move those who were laying too close to the landing struts or vertical thrusters.

"Get her prepped. I'll be inside in a second. Do not leave without me."

"Wouldn't dream of it, Baldy."

Something about all this reminded me of how Mossfoot and I escaped from his father's capital ship. His XO had been running a cell of a secret wetwork operation right under his nose, and had planned on disposing both of us once they had what they wanted. Fortunately Moss had known someone on board who was even more burrowed in than they were, albeit it in an entirely self-serving way, and helped orchestrate our escape.

Baldy got in and closed the cargo hatch. "You're all clear. Launch."

"Way ahead of you," I said. The pad was already rotating by the time he joined me on the cockpit.

Suddenly a warning flashed on my HUD: "100,000 Bounty for Murder"

"The hell?"

Baldy shook his head. "Someone must have woken up early. It'll disappear once someone verifies it's in error. In the meantime, they want you shot down and hope you survive getting ejected."

"Like hell," I said, "hold on to your butt." The Troubadour boosted out of the mailslot before the station or anyone else could scan us. After that it didn't take long to make a few random jumps and lose any possible tails.

Now it felt like time to get some answers.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 05, 2015 10:18 pm 
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