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 Post subject: Re: Claymore Mine
PostPosted: Fri Aug 07, 2015 2:17 pm 
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I would be pleased and flattered if someone wanted to write an OXP based on the Claymores...
Be careful what you wish for! <grins> Writing the 'screenplay' for Coyote's Run caused me grief!

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 Post subject: Re: Claymore Mine
PostPosted: Fri Aug 07, 2015 5:45 pm 
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I'll cross that bridge when someone looks like wanting to pick this ball up and run with it. :lol:

As long as you’re a whole galactic sector from home, you might as well try having not so much as a tenth-credit to see if life can possibly suck any harder.

We got ourselves berthed and figured we might as well top off the fuel tanks with a little Quirium just to give us maximum injection capability, and then the situation started to dawn on us. Naturally I mentioned Macrae straight away, but the unfortunate fact was that neither The Black Bear nor Highland Cathedral was tied into any account that had access to any money at all. It was about then that I started to have a severe attack of the grumps concerning the pirates that were no longer threatening Inzaquma on our account, and wishing we’d had some way to bank the credits we should have earned at the time. But up to now the Claymores had stayed off the official record as much as possible, and the few thousand credits in bounty that the organisation could have pulled in were negligible compared to the running costs of the operation.

“Galcop law’s quite clear,” said the big green bug in charge of the docking bays. “As long as you’re broke, I’m not allowed to charge you any docking fees. The ones who are solvent get to eat the odd centicredit to make for this, because we don’t get many brokers through here and no-one else notices if we share that load around. Stay as long as you like. But I can’t let you have any supplies if you can’t pay for them.”

Tom purred in clear frustration. “But we did your system a favour on our way in!”

“Well, and Galcop’s set up to reward you for it. You’re not registered for bounty?” The Grasshopper leaned back on his hind legs and let out a baritone chirp from his forewings, which may have been an expression of sympathy but would have passed for a laugh on my first guess. “You’d better get that changed as soon as possible. Office is on the third tier.”

We attracted our fair share of attention on our way up, I in my checkered skirt (which Macrae adamantly insists is not the same as a kilt) and Tom, who like most felines is happy in just his fur, with a sash of the same stuff over his right shoulder. Of course you see all sorts in any Coriolis station, but some are more unusual than others – and round here, it was the human and the cat in funny clothes that got the attention, whereas the black horned birds were just the neighbours from the next system over and nothing to fuss about.

For what it was worth, the Galcop functionary in the registration office was a human, and not as unsympathetic as she might have been to a pair of space tramps with no money and no honest occupation that turned up to darken her door. She sat us down and heard us out patiently, then gave me a tiny shrug.

“The trouble with being in a clandestine operation such as you’re describing,” she said patiently, “is that there’s nothing to connect you with this boss you’re claiming to work for, much less his bank account, and I can’t do a great deal about that. At least you have a telltale, so I know there’s not a bounty on your head. The ships you totalled on the way in? Well, the telltale would have something to say if they’d been Clean and anyone saw you do it, but it won’t access the Galcop bounty system on its own.”

“Which means we’re screwed as far as money is concerned,” I said.

“I can unscrew you as far as the future’s concerned – quite easily and in a matter of minutes. There’s no charge to you for that. Even so, I’ve no way to make it retroactive… but perhaps you’ll find some more miscreants with a bounty on their heads.”

Tom yowled quietly, deep in his throat. I knew what the matter was, and I pretty much agreed. Neither of us minded picking up some bounties in exchange for services rendered – but neither of us felt like being full-time bounty hunters either. But it wasn’t clear what choice we had. Still, the registrar seemed to follow our thoughts easily enough.

“Alternatively… have you ever considered being hired escorts? There’s a bar on the station where you could ask around.”

Glumly I said, “Been there, done that. I started out that way, Tom too. I guess it pays, at least.”

“Think it over,” said the registrar. “And meanwhile, have a bite to eat on me.” She gave me an odd look. “There’s a rumour I’m hearing lately of some funny-dressed spacers in funny ships causing no end of problems for the pirates in this sector. I think that’s worth a little something from petty cash.”

Thankfully taking the credit note she held out, I ushered Tom out of her office. “Well, there you have it,” I said. “Looks like there may be nothing for it than going back to escort duties again.”

“May have to,” growled Tom. “Can’t haul freight, can’t get into metals with no seed money, can’t run passengers…”

“Could try parcels though,” I said, grasping at straws. Parcel delivery’s a tough business to break into. Until you’ve shown you really can sweat the petty stuff, you don’t get a sniff of the big contract; and when you do, that’s round about the time the Assassins start to take an interest.

“Prrr. Parcels, when you need to hitch a lift every single jump of the way.” Tom didn’t sneer, exactly, but he wasn’t brimming over with enthusiasm at the idea. And he’d hit on the big snag, for a fact. It wasn’t impossible to deliver on a parcel contract when you were relying on someone else for the Witchdrive aspects of the job, but it was damned hard to guarantee delivery in the agreed time.

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 Post subject: Re: Claymore Mine
PostPosted: Sun Aug 09, 2015 5:36 pm 
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You can spend as long as you like wishing you had thought a little longer before jumping into something you shouldn’t have jumped into.

One thing that was bothering me was that it was going to be hard to get word back to Macrae – and while on the one hand I figured that even I wasn’t irreplaceable, not even on a personal level, I didn’t think it was unduly vain of me to guess that Macrae would be worried and upset to learn that I was MIA. Unfortunately I didn’t see that there was any way we could get word back home any quicker than we could get there ourselves. There are ways and means that Galcop and so on use, obviously; that’s how your bounty can follow you around from system to system and even sector to sector, and how your credit can be accessed anywhere in the galaxy. What I didn’t know was how to access the system – and it’s not for everyday use either by anything I ever heard.

We sat and discussed alternatives in the spacer bar, once the locals had got over our unusual costume and after they’d decided not to give us the bum’s rush on account of our not being part of the escort service any more. That wasn’t a foregone conclusion, but after a lot of humming and hah’ing they decided our prior service counted for something even if we were a pair of quitters and not really welcome when it got to party time. That suited us both in any case; even if we’d had the money to party, neither of us had any enthusiasm for it.

Fortunately, basic food and drink is cheap in the spacer bar, so at least we could get something to eat while we thought over what to do next. Tom had one creative suggestion to begin with:

“I don’t know what a Claymore’s likely to be worth on trade-in, but it’s got to be more than an Adder at least. If there’s enough left over for a few galaxy drives, then there’s our ride home at once. Even if not, an Adder’s Witch-capable and we could run parcels with it, or maybe a passenger cabin, and we’d still have Highland Cathedral to see we got through.”

I chose not to make too much of Tom’s automatic assumption that we’d be selling off my Claymore and leaving him with his. There was another objection that was higher priority anyway.

“Two things wrong with that,” I said. “Top problem as I see it is that Macrae wouldn’t like that at all. We’re flying mystery ships at the moment and the longer we can keep it that way, the more we can keep sucker-punching bad guys who don’t know what they’re up against. There’s precious little likely to be leaked when we’re just in for a fuel stop, barring the obvious. No-one gets to see inside a Claymore, how it’s equipped, what computer support we have, nor try out its performance. That adds up to military intelligence that, if we’re hard-nosed about it, adds up to more than our two lives are worth.”

Tom poked irritably at what was on his plate and said, “Not that I’m saying you’re wrong, and even if you are, you rank me. What’s the other thing wrong with trading in?”

“We don’t own the ships we’re flying. I never had the option of selling my Sidewinder, and I assume you didn’t either.”

Shaking his head by way of agreement, Tom growled, “Mamba, but no. Well, then. Can we join up with the Sector Two contingent – the Bull and his cohorts?”

“If we find out where they are. I’ve not been briefed on that. I’m assuming he either does have funds to keep his operation going or else there’s a support net in place in this sector.” I looked around, not exactly suspecting any passing escort pilots of wanting to spy on me but unsure how much I should let out anywhere that wasn’t secure. “The idea was that he was the first attack wave in Colesque, but if Macrae’s got this set up like at home, there’s an organisation that’s underwriting us, and the Bull would have been given contact details. But with no long-range comms, we’re going to have to listen out and figure out where they are and where they’re going. They’re at least a rumour in Inzaquma system – we know that already.”

“As these rather poor rations attest, though I shouldn’t sound ungrateful.” Tom stretched, which is a very involved process for a feline as they generally figure they might as well stretch every major muscle group once they’ve started. “Well. Better see if we can tap the rumour mill.”

I held up a cautionary hand. “Steady. Were you any too fond of strangers asking odd questions in a spacer bar, back when you were an escort?”

A Cat’s grin is not necessarily an expression of amusement. “Not overly. We would be better accepted if we dressed like escorts and were employed on their business – which would also help with the money problem, at least for now.”

“Yes. Let’s see what we can do about that. But let me be the one who asks questions. Humans forgive an awful lot from young females,” I said, with a lift of my eyebrows that may have meant much or little to Tom.

The first question was an easy one: where would we find a recruiting office? Inzaquma was too much of a backwater to have one. The barkeep couldn’t help us, but he waved over a couple of grey-clad escorts, both male humans a little older than me.

“That’s an easy one,” said one. “I got signed up and trained over at Onatbeza, just one jump from here. You can hitch a ride with a booze trader, maybe furs depending on the price; either way, you’ll find someone heading that way in a few hours if you watch the departure board.”

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 Post subject: Re: Claymore Mine
PostPosted: Mon Aug 10, 2015 2:35 pm 
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You never get tired of seeing how different planets look from orbit.

Onatbeza was pretty near as high-tech as they come – in the top thirty-odd for the whole Galaxy, and near top for its sector. When you look down at a planet like that, you notice a couple of things: The air’s real clear, and the night-side is dark. Especially if the planet’s populated by humans, that’s what mainly sets it apart from a mid-to-high tech place.

Go to somewhere like Gerete, and there’s a lot of light on the night side, where the cities are, where the traffic’s running, where the streets are kept nice and bright for the safety of whoever’s about after dark. But a place like Onatbeza doesn’t need all of that. There’s plenty of industry that’s active day or night, but where they do need light, they don’t see the sense in wasting it on lighting up the night sky; and a lot of the factories are run by three men and a few thousand robots, and each of the men are just there to see the other two don’t muck about with the robots, and the robots, along with all the street traffic, is computer-guided and doesn’t need light. Meanwhile the folks that are walking the streets are all watched over by the security drones, which have all the low-light sensors you can imagine, and you could walk the streets naked and juggling diamonds without ever being in the least danger of harm.

The first time I saw a place like that groundside – and I’ve not been groundside often – it nearly reduced me to tears. There’s next to no crime on a planet like that. Why would there need to be? You have six billion people living in comfort, most of the grunt work gets done by machines so you can pretty much spend your whole life doing something you like without much need to worry about either paying your dues to society or earning a living. The planet’s run like a business and it aims to make a profit, but it’s not in the Company’s interest to make people’s lives a misery while they’re at it, and the few people you get whose brains are wired wrong and that want to hurt other people for some sick reason… on a planet like Onatbeza they can cure people like that. And they stay cured, and they are taught to deal with what they used to be, and everyone knows they’re cured and they won’t hurt anyone again.

When I look at somewhere like that and think about the mud-hole I grew up in, I kind of want to scream at the universe for not evening things out a little more. But it’s not the universe’s fault. We do it to ourselves – as a species. Qudira’s the way it is because not enough of us wanted to make it like Onatbeza, and too many of us wanted to screw each other over today rather than build a better tomorrow. That’s why maybe a couple of percent of the people in the galaxy live the high life, and too many more don’t know where their next meal is coming from or whether they’ll actually be able to build something that lasts long enough to matter.

Of course, then you learn that even though Onatbeza medicine’s little short of miraculous in most respects, they do have this horrible flesh-eating disease that the research labs are on constant overtime trying to find a cure for, and so it turns out that even paradise has a serpent. But the quarantine on Onatbeza station is something fierce, and once I knew how the land lay I was dead against attempting an unofficial ground landing even if I’d figured it was safe to try it.

We found the recruiting officer for the Galcop Light Escort service easily enough, and I guessed we might as well trust him with the whole story; it turned out that he knew some of it already. His name was Agent Braden and he made us welcome in his office, which at that time of day had a good view of the dawn crescent below.

“So you’re a couple of the famous Claymores, then,” Braden said, pouring out three shots of something harmless and inviting us to join him. Tom sipped at his dubiously, but a Blue Cat can eat and drink most of what a human can and mostly enjoy it, and this turned out to be no exception. He wriggled a little in his seat, which hadn’t been designed with his anatomy in mind.

“Famous?” Tom asked.

“In a manner of speaking. I’ve had some retirement papers through from a few pilots over the course of the last year, along with one or two messages from fliers who’d received some interesting offers but not seen fit to take them up. You’re the latest thing in pirate hunting, I hear.”

I didn’t want to tip my hand too early in the discussion, but I tried the fruit nectar, which I later learned is locally produced rather than shipped in, and found it delectable, before saying “Where do you stand on that? Assuming what you hear’s the truth.”

Braden grunted. “I’m certainly not up in arms because I think you’ll be killing my business, and that’s a fact. You’ve been escort pilots, you know how the land lies. We find likely recruits, give them all the training we can, outfit them with fighting ships…”

“And their median life expectancy is one minute from first contact with their first enemy,” I quoted.

“That’s improving all the time,” said Braden. “We’re up to the dizzy heights of one minute twenty-five seconds, median. So if there’s a new player in the league and the other side are getting some of their own handed back to them, I’m all for it.”

“In that case, Officer Braden” I said, “I think that we might be able to do each other a favour.”

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 Post subject: Re: Claymore Mine
PostPosted: Fri Aug 14, 2015 6:25 pm 
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A friend in need will help you hide the bodies.

Agent Braden didn’t take much convincing that our ships didn’t ought to be registered as Claymores. As far as possible we’d been keeping our existence nothing more than a rumour, even in Santaari sector where we’d been carrying out most of our operations, and while I knew that something had leaked out I didn’t see the sense in making our lives in Colesque any harder than they needed to be. It was one thing for people to know the word “Claymore”. It was another matter entirely for anyone to have the chance to get a really good look at them, let alone turn a trained technician loose to see what they could find out. So the less said the better, and Braden helped us through the slightly unorthodox procedure of listing a pair of off-the-books ships on the escort service’s registry.

“We can give these any name you like,” Braden said. “As long as they’re not offered for public sale, there’s not much restriction on what you can and can’t call a spaceship. It’ll be assumed that one of the shipyards is trying out a new type they’re developing; maybe even a new manufacturer that doesn’t want to tip their hand too soon for the sake of their share price.”

“That’s not even too far from the truth,” I agreed. Tom was letting me handle the formalities, and the gentle snooze he was enjoying in his chair wasn’t meant for insult or even mild cheek.

“Which is a help, really. Let’s see… No-one’s ever used the name ‘Ouroboros’ before as far as I can see. A mythical snake that was said to swallow its own tail, the computer says. How’s that?”

I grinned. “Mysterious, exotic… I like it. All right, list us as Ouroboroses, then.”

Braden obligingly made up some performance data for the ‘Ouroboros’ that would conceal the full capability of the Claymores while making them tempting enough to hire. He set the hiring fee at 750 credits for the pair, the same as a pair of Sidewinders. Privately I thought we could take on Vipers or Cobra IIIs in a fair fight, but I saw the sense in what Braden was proposing; if we set the fee any higher then we were likely to be pricing ourselves out of the market.

Giving Tom the merest hint that it was time to bring his nap to a halt – it’s never a very good idea to wake a sleeping cat, no matter how slothful he might look – I let him know that we were now back in business and could look forward to be making a living soon. He stretched, yawned, and looked a little peeved.

“Point seven five kilocredits,” he grumbled. “That’s seven trips before we can even afford a galactic hyperdrive, let alone persuade someone he wants to try his luck in a new sector. Or… eighty-seven trips before we can buy an Adder of our own, and then…”

There was nothing wrong with Tom’s mathematics, even if he was only half awake. But I shook my head. “Let’s not call this our top plan for getting home, then. Whatever we decide on, we’ll be better with a few thousand in the bank, and meanwhile, we’ve got an excuse for travelling around and seeing what rumours we can pick up on.”

We took our leave of Braden and headed for the spacer bar, still attracting odd looks and comments on the strength of our Macrae uniforms even though I wasn’t in my best-dress; the Macrae fighting kit was a little less fancy than what I’d worn to dinner with the boss although it was designed along similar lines. However, now we had the necessary proofs of our bona fides as escort pilots, and we weren’t even the most unusual-looking ones in the bar, so we were left largely alone.

“We should hear some rumours, at that,” Tom said, nursing a glass of something that looked milky but certainly contained alcohol of some sort. “A dozen or so Claymores should have been making bigger ripples than they say the Constrictor did when it got loose.”

Everyone knows that story, of course; and half the spacers you meet are a friend of a friend of the Jameson that ran the Constrictor to his lair, just by following the stories of a real deadly pirate the next system over. But while it was fair odds that the Bull and his detachment were doing all they could to spread alarm and despondency among the lawbreakers of Sector Two, it was an equally sure thing that they were keeping the lid pretty tight on their own whereabouts.

I didn’t see the sense in asking too many questions too early on, not until I’d exhausted all other more discreet avenues of inquiry. With a whole nightcycle to kill – we were already on the schedule for nine hours hence – I figured I might as well start with a good skim through the news archives from the past few weeks. What’s on the GNN is three-quarters fluff, and most of the rest wouldn’t be at all relevant to us even if some folks were keenly interested in the latest developments in edible poet society, but at least to begin with I had nothing better to do than sift through it, and it was clear that I’d have plenty to keep me occupied for some time to come. Fortunately the Claymores come with a lot of modern conveniences that the average escort ship lacks, including a data link to the pad I was carrying that would let me stream a lot of newscasts for me to look through when I had a few hours to kill in Witchspace.

But I turned down the hot young Mamba pilot who thought I needed some company between now and dawn. I’d been apart from Macrae for longer in time before now… but being a whole sector away was altogether different.

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 Post subject: Re: Claymore Mine
PostPosted: Sun Aug 16, 2015 4:57 pm 
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Escorts don't have to wait very long for a job to come along.

Even though Tom and I had opted to be picky enough to wait until the nightcycle was officially over, we had no trouble finding someone who wanted our services. No-one knew what an “Ouroboros” was meant to be but we'd barely had time to eat a light breakfast before we found that someone was prepared to take the hiring price as enough evidence in its own right. The display board pinged, showing our names and the details of our proposed employer: “If The Price Is Right”, a Boa freighter rated “Clean” and headed for Abege system. That's all the information you get – and for that matter the destination is only an invitation to treat; if the trader in his wisdom chooses to open a wormhole somewhere else then that's his business. It doesn't happen very often and you could expect word to get around in time if a captain made a habit of signing you up for a nice safe Corporate system and instead plunged you into the biggest hellhole in the sector, but in the ordinary way no-one much minds where they go as long as the money's good – which it invariably is – and they get to arrive alive.

We launched to find ourselves by no means the only escorts. A fair few trader captains keep their own fighters permanently on hand on the sort of long-term contract that most escorts dream wistfully about, and maybe hire another pair temporarily if they've taken recent losses but have a contract to make good on. A Boa might well be delivering something like that – a hundred tons of desperately-needed machinery halfway across the sector for a premium price – and if you get good at that kind of job then sometimes you'll trade all the way up to an Anaconda, which can suck up just about all a Coriolis station's trade goods in one go, or else start shifting bullion in huge quantities, the way I thought Macrae might be doing when I first met him. You don't see so many Boas around these days as the Boa II does anything the older model can do, faster and in more quantity for not much more money – but the older ship's still about the place, partly out of loyalty I guess and partly because, if you've managed to get your hands on one without actually paying the list price, that “not much more money” can be a stumbling block nonetheless.

But our freighter captain was used to managing half a dozen escorts – he had a set of tactical plans all ready to beam over just as soon as we left the station, giving us assigned positions in line astern as we got ready to jump through the wormhole and in the usual two-wing formation once we'd come out of Witchspace. I wasn't surprised to see we were on the tips of the two wings, Tom on the left and me on the right. That's where you put either the ones you're expecting the least out of, or the ones you consider most expendable. Your regular escorts, the ones you're already trusting to stick to the freighter through thick and thin, and the ones you've already invested the most time and effort in keeping alive, loyal, and used to your ways, are the ones you tuck in closest to you.

Still, I figured it might actually turn out for the best that way, if we met any trouble; and I was certainly ready for trouble since no-one drags half a dozen escorts around with him when he's not expecting to need them.

Abege, the guidebook helpfully informed me, was a middle-of-the-road system run by bony cats under yet another of the galaxy's Soviet collectives. You hear rumours that the Communist systems are actually all part of the same outfit, and even that they'd like to see the rest of the galaxy brought into the fold. You'd need to go to someone wiser than me in the ways of galactic politics to be at all sure of the actualities, though. When I was little, even the idea that the ten or twenty nearest farms might get together a local council to fight off evildoers and manage their business a little more efficiently would have been considered forward-looking; and, by all I ever heard, no-one who ever tried even that much organisation on Qudira lasted long enough to see any benefit from it.

One thing I did glean from the info was that our trader wasn't going to Abege with much of a profit in mind – not unless it was the last end of a contract cargo run. Like a few other places in the sector, Abege ran a mixed economy – more industrialized than not, but not so as to be dumping tons of bargain-price computers or factory hardware onto the market, nor yet attracting kilotons of agri-produce from off-world; they made enough of their own food and booze to be somewhere near self-sufficient, and while there was some demand for maybe someone else's eatables, Communists generally go for good-enough so far as that goes.

If our Captain had some hold space looking to be filled – and a Boa's got more room aboard than a Python, never mind a stretched Cobra III – then he might find something cheap in one of the orbital stations Commies are fond of; sometimes the space mines and zero-G factories can cut you a good deal. Still, the volume's low there and wouldn't justify the visit by itself.

And when I start to listen to myself talking through an analysis like this, I can't help laughing at myself a little. For a semi-literate kid who grew up on a backward dirt-ball where the only living consisted of scratching at the dirt until the planet's lowlife murdered you, I'd sure learned a lot. That's what education does, clearly.

_________________
"Sidewinder Precision Pro" and other fiction is now available for Amazon Kindle at a bargain price. Kindle previews: here, here and here.


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 Post subject: Re: Claymore Mine
PostPosted: Mon Aug 17, 2015 9:54 am 
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You get used to spotting the signs of trouble early.

If you have the IFF Police Band Scanner – and it's money well spent for the warning it gives you – you can see straight away if the bunch of ships loitering a few kilometres off the beeline from the Witchpoint beacon to the station are Clean or have a bounty on their heads. If they're Clean then they may be OK, but if they're all broadcasting Offender or worse then the chances are they're looking to shake down passing travellers. It's not always the case, but it's worth looking out for and maybe acquiring one or two of them on spec, to save time for later.

You'll also come across a gang of politicals in a lot of systems. They look about the same as regular pirates and there's not much difference from the customer's point of view, except that they'll maybe try to persuade you to donate a few tonnes of your cargo to their cause. They squeal worse when they're starting to get beat, too. For some reason a lot of the revolutionaries start yelling about the cause they're fighting for like they were trying to convert you to their side, only they leave it until after they've tried to blow your freighter up for the cargo and loosed off any missiles they were carrying, and their energy's almost gone and they're shedding plasma. Maybe the figures show that this approach works sometimes, but I guess I'm just a meanie, 'cos if they wanted to just talked to me about the Cevege People's Front or whoever, they could have doorstepped me without waiting until they'd got their ass kicked to do it.

Offenders – even Fugitives – aren't always dangerous, especially if you look iron-assed and maybe have a history of dealing harshly with attackers. You'll see the odd lone trader with a bad rep who really does seem to be just trying to “fly casual” and not be noticed, and unless you're bounty-hunting you might as well leave them alone. If you're the cautious type, and yet don't like spacing some poor guy who just got himself the wrong side of the law and is trying to run far enough to leave his bad name behind, you can cover yourself by giving him a warning shot, and if he responds by dumping a TC or two and saying something conciliatory then you're generally safe turning your back on him and letting him get on with it. There's not much point saying sorry and even if you did the other guy could be forgiven for wanting to let actions speak louder, so it's best just to clear off and let him come back for his cargo if he figures it's safe to do so.

But of course it's not just people officially registered with a bounty who are the problem, because it's really easy for your freighter captain to have signed himself up for the kind of deal that's going to see someone willing to pay money to have him rubbed out, and you along with him. And these rubbers-out are professional gentleman with a reputation to consider, and take care to keep themselves Clean and give their ships the kind of names that suggest they want nothing more in all the universe than to punish evil-doers and protect the innocent, and avoid starting anything dubious within sight of an actual police officer.

Still and all, even these guys aren't too hard to spot once you know what to look for. Genuine traders anywhere near the Witchpoint are usually exchanging the kind of chat that you'd expect spacers who've been making a long dangerous to be chatting – where to get the best prices, who's going to set up the drinks once they hit the station, that kind of thing. Assassins don't say a lot while they're vectoring in on you and confirming that you're the target they were after, although once they've confirmed you're on their hit-list they aren't shy about discussing their plans for your immediate termination whether you can hear them or not.

The Price Is Right seemed to have two separate contracts on her head today, which isn't unusual. Contract hits are usually put on people who have important passengers or secret messages on board, even if the passengers seem harmless, nervous even, and the message tapes are supposedly recordings of zero-gee cricket or something of the sort. There's nothing to stop a trader taking on both kinds of business and having several customers on his books at once, but if he does, that drives up the chances of being interrupted by someone with strong views on the matter, and possibly more than once in the same system.

We had our scanners slaved to our freighter's, which is another time-saver because it lets you pick up which of the local traffic actually has evil designs on your employer. It's possible you might miss out that way on someone who'd only targeted you, and not your freighter, but that's rare enough that you don't lose sleep over it. I looked at the red lollipops on my scanner and snorted a little when I saw what a target-rich environment we had today – and we were barely getting into formation as it was.

The nearest bunch of Assassins were the wrong side from my point of view – well to starboard of my freighter, which put me the nearest of all the escorts and Tom the furthest. Price's commander was set on giving the escorts the best chance he could, though, and turned to put the other group dead astern so we could try cleaning up one pack first. I started out the way I like best, picking up a target twenty kilometres out and letting him close to beam-laser range before letting him have a sustained-fire blast that would let him know he was in a fight. Stick to what you know, I say.

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 Post subject: Re: Claymore Mine
PostPosted: Wed Aug 19, 2015 7:12 am 
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It's a big help when your trader knows what he's doing.

The Price Is Right lurched forward a few kilometres on injectors, not out of any hope of making a run for the aegis but to cluster the ungodly in a zone broadly to her rear, which let four of her escorts slot in behind the first wave of Assassins even as her own rear laser stabbed out at one of them. He was a fair shot with it, too.

A Boa's not a bad fighting ship taken altogether. She makes a big target but has room for quite hefty generators, and the makers fit her out with beam lasers to both fore and aft. The Boa Class Cruiser's better, with the edge on speed and the necessary hardware for the military-spec shields, but there are worse freighters to fight off pirates with, for a fact. But any ship's only as good as the man, woman or horned humanoid flying her, and this one had the sense to draw his attackers to where his escorts could get the best shot at them, and the gunnery to help thin the wolf-pack a little, which were both a joy to see from my point of view.

It turned out that the Gecko I'd chosen to light up first couldn't duck quite fast enough, after all, which left the bad guys one man down before I'd even brought The Black Bear up to full thrust and start to look for a second target. Tom, so far as I could tell, was in his element and very, very happy about it. He was making himself insanely hard to hit with the occasional touch on his injectors and the kind of gut-wrenching turn that you'd swear would leave his belly heading one way while the rest of him and Highland Cathedral both were already five hundred metres away on the perpendicular course. But if that confused the Assassins' marksmanship, it had no effect at all on his, and a luckless Cobra I barely had time to screech “I'm taking heavy fire from the Ouroboros! Help!” before he was a white fireball fading swiftly to orange.

This wasn't really the kind of engagement the Claymores had been intended for, of course. Macrae's big innovation, backed up by the best analysis Hugh Fitzroy-Badgerson could give him, involved spotting pirates before they spotted their prey and, ideally, before they even realized there was a threat in the vicinity, and then let a force with overwhelming speed and firepower decide the issue in the first moments. But the Claymore had such an edge in sheer performance that we could let an assassination hit get under way before we even started fighting back, and still fight off several times our own weight in attackers.

The other escorts were good enough in their way – as good as hired escorts generally get, and well worth what The Price Is Right's owner had fronted up in wages. Even so, the two of us were scything through more of the ungodly that the other four escorts and our heavily-armed freighter put together. I went scorching past one of the Mambas in pursuit of another Gecko who was starting to think this job wasn't worth the pay, and my commset passed on the message “What in shaitan's name is that you're flying, I want one!” a moment later.

We let the last couple of Assassins go haring back past the witchpoint, burning the last of their injector fuel to put themselves a step closer to safety, and the entire escort reformed around our undamaged freighter. Our trader was maybe as curious as the rest of them, but he quietened down the chatter in a suitably professional manner and got on with the job on hand.

It was several hours before we docked. The Price Is Right visited a couple of Astromines and a zero-gee factory before checking in at the Coriolis station, which let me have a good look at the system; the usual Worker's Commuters, the least inspiring ships ever to hit the spacelanes bar none; the regular Soviet police as well as the ones who go around making sure the population are thinking the right kind of thought; and the slow, dangerous, soul-destroying mining ships that keep the space manufacturing facilities fed. Once we saw a Commissar Limousine hurrying by with a police escort, possibly on a tour of inspection and possibly to haul in a counter-revolutionary for a mock trial and a summary execution, and once we saw a gorgeously-painted Sun Ray, which makes a pretty fair courier or executive taxi, so they tell me. There are some points of interest in a Communist system, if you care to go and take a look.

On the whole though, I spent our whole time there feeling as though I ought to be checking over my shoulder and talking in whispers, without making it obvious that I was doing either. On the one hand, it was certainly true that Abege had my home system beaten coming, going and back the long way by any measure you cared to make. On the other... you can feel the Government controlling everything you do, say and think, every hour of every day.

But even on a Communist station, there's a large section where the local planetary remit doesn't run, and it's business as usual for anyone who's spent time on any GalCop-run station anywhere in the galaxy. Which, of course, for escort pilots means heading for the bar once the freighter's safely docked, possibly getting stood the first round by a grateful trader – and that was certainly the case today – and having a look at the local talent. As for me, though, I was already quite clear on one thing: it was going to be a few quiet drinks and to bed by myself, tonight and for a long time to come, whether the clientele in the spacers' bar thought it odd or not.

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 Post subject: Re: Claymore Mine
PostPosted: Wed Aug 19, 2015 1:46 pm 
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Ah, as a "voyager" series goes. I can see that this is going to be a good one!

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 Post subject: Re: Claymore Mine
PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 11:25 am 
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Having a little money is enormously different from having no money at all.

Of course, the shared payoff for a successful escort mission, at the price we'd pitched ourselves at, wasn't huge, though it was a lot more than the proverbial Jameson starts out with. If we'd had a Cobra III to play with, we had enough between us to have filled her with something cheap, although Abege wasn't the kind of place you'd have looked to start out. The mixed economy worlds don't have anything going really cheap, and although you can clear a profit on almost anything they do have provided you find yourself the right market, your margins are pretty small.

But the big If was the part about having any hold space, which we didn't. There was pin money to be made out of precious metals, which don't take up much space – you can fit a bag of bullion or a pouch of gems into a fighting ship with no difficulty – but the mark-up on them isn't huge. I'd picked up a little of the basics while working with Macrae, and I knew enough to realize that you can buy gems below twenty credits and sell them at over twenty, often enough to score a small gain. No trader relies on just that to earn his corn, though.

“Recreational pharmaceuticals are about the biggest earner in the Eight, if you pick your time and place,” Macrae told me one time. “Some places look to off-load them for single-figure prices – which usually means they're hotter than a Type O star right then an' there. Other places'll take 'em off your hands for the sort of prices you'd see computers going for. But GalCop takes a dim view o' such shenanigans, an' ye have to accept that you're tradin' in human misery, pure and simple. There are folks that'll do that, but I've yet to hear a convincing excuse for it.”

And I was thinking over that, along with many another thing Macrae had said, when Tom found me in the plaza enjoying a cup of bitterleaf. He settled opposite me and favoured me with a twitch of his whiskers.

“Something on your mind?”

“Trying to think like Macrae, Tom. He sent The Bull through to this sector with a detachment of Claymores and instructions to raise all the hell he could, but he must have had some support planned. Back in Sector One there was a recruiting framework and manufacturing facilities – and I know something about one of them, nothing about the other, and less than nothing about what he was setting up in this sector or any others.”

“Hrrm,” grunted Tom. “I'd have thought, since you were his mate... humans share a lot more with their females than I would.”

“Or than, say, Fat Birds do with their males. It's a human thing – most near-humans too. But we've not talked much about this, no. I mean, I know a lot more about what goes through Macrae's head than just about anyone except his son, but it's about personal things, not planning and strategy. Hopes, dreams, even fears...”

Tom signalled for something a little more to his taste than bitterleaf. “I don't read human fears at all well, admittedly, but Macrae strikes me as having less than most.”

“Agreed, but the human doesn't breathe who goes without fear every day of his life. Macrae's got a lot of responsibility on his shoulders – you can see what I mean.”

“Of course. He's managed to inspire a lot of young sentients to follow him into battle, and no matter how great his cunning, some of them will die as a result. If you get the chance, please tell him that I for one know the risks very well and agree to run them.” Tom grinned, knowing that I knew what the expression meant. Most Cats would rather live a short, adventurous life making as much trouble as they can for people they dislike than live to a dull old age.

I finished my bitterleaf and tapped at my datapad in some irritation. “And if I can figure out how to get us home, I'll be glad to. But that brings me back to where I was a few minutes ago – where to make contact with the Claymore set-up in this sector. I don't mind whether it's the Bull and his fliers, or whoever's building the ships, or whatever intelligence network he's got behind them, or...”

“Or...?”

“There's another 'or', I just know it, if I can work out what it is... The recruiting agents, he must have them. Macrae picked me up on his own account, but...”

“But not all of us, in person. No. Sooner or later we may get a similar approach – as I did – from a stranger in a Coriolis station; or hear of them mentioned by one of our fellows in the spacer bar, especially if they mark your clothing.”

“Or hear gossip about mysterious ships bringing grief to pirates. I suppose we need only be patient,” I said, still thinking there was something else I was overlooking. “I've been searching the newscasts for anything I can find, but nothing so far.”

And that, unfortunately, left us no further forward for now, and meanwhile, we had our living to consider, and the chance to visit some more star systems in search of news. We put ourselves in for an eight-hour interval before we'd next become live on the roster board, and hope the word would get around about what amazing value for money the “Ouroboros” offered. Meanwhile, my datapad pinged softly to let me know that thirteen kilos of gold had just come onto the market at thirty-seven point six credits, and that spelled maybe forty to fifty credits profit if I could tie up the money for long enough. It was better than nothing.

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 Post subject: Re: Claymore Mine
PostPosted: Wed Sep 09, 2015 6:59 pm 
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(Sorry! Less writing than I hoped got done while I was on holiday, and now I am back at work - teaching, so very busy right now. I hope to resume the adventures of the Claymores in due course but can't promise a timescale.)

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 Post subject: Re: Claymore Mine
PostPosted: Wed Aug 10, 2016 9:17 pm 
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Dear all,

Claymore Mine has now been finished and is being proofed for release on CreateSpace, which will also result in a (cheaper!) Kindle version being released. I will not be posting the remainder of the story in this thread but I will post links here and, after I've investigated the business of discount vouchers on Kindle, I will certainly look to post a voucher code for the ebook here. I'm waiting on the paper proof copy at the moment but will be on holiday for two weeks from Friday and I am unsure what wireless access I will have, though it's been getting steadily better on the last few summer holidays I've been on. One way and another, the ebook is unlikely to be available before the end of August but will not take very much longer than that. As in the first story, a few characters popped out of the woodwork, said "Write about me!" and the plot took some unforeseen turns. The end result was another 48,000 words in just over a fortnight despite a school reunion in the middle of it and I hope the result is readable. :mrgreen:

Thanks, as usual, to all whose work on this game has helped to inspire my writing, which I am more than happy to acknowledge in the books. You guys are amazing and the game keeps getting better. 8)

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 Post subject: Re: Claymore Mine
PostPosted: Sun Aug 28, 2016 3:48 pm 
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Just released for Kindle:

https://read.amazon.co.uk/kp/embed?asin ... WxbR6FMAV6

and also available in paperback via Amazon Createspace https://www.createspace.com/6485767

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 Post subject: Re: Claymore Mine
PostPosted: Tue Oct 04, 2016 8:38 pm 
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I hoped to run a coupon discount for the community, but all I've actually found out how to do is a sales promotion. From Thursday morning UK time, UK customers can get a 50% discount for one week. Still getting used to marketing things via Amazon. 8)

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