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