Djabara, part 1

Djabara had been on my mind for days. I was out of the ‘bubble for almost a week, outside radio contact and isolated from anyone or anything familiar. I was hardly in the bubble for a day when the message came through encrypted channels without sender or subject. Djabara 2, it said, was important. And a series of coordinates that would guide me to a surface location.

This smelled like a trap. I jumped three systems just to distance myself from the point of reception before I stopped to consider the mission. Alix scanned the file seven times that I know of and probably a dozen more I didn’t. It wasn’t a honeypot. It wasn’t a trojan. The file was safe.

So that meant the coordinates were likely a trap. So I sat on the data while I considered what to do.

Meanwhile reports of Duval and Patreus posturing in the Empire started sounding more and more like civil war. Djabara was smack in the middle of Empire space. If I was going to go I had to go soon, before the shooting started.

Back in the swing of logistics and economics, I was moving cargo when an agent of my organization approached me. I should note that I’m abnormally cagey about revealing who I work for since I have enemies, they have enemies and I’d would behoove me to avoid openly discussing their habits using pronouns and titles. Suffice it to say, I met with a person and they offered me some work.

Seems a group of pirates, not necessarily aligned with each other, had taken to harassing a nearby system and my name came up in conversation. While the technicians looked over the ‘Augur I carefully considered the contract. I’d done a minor refit two stations back so while my jump range wasn’t as robust as it usually is, my defensive measures were more than adequate. Loaders heaved 70 tons of Gold out onto the dock and with a resounding clunk completed their task. With little else on my plate I accepted all the contracts and set course.

The fight itself was almost boring. Two of the would-be assassins jumped me almost immediately. As though working in tandem they arrived at the Nav Beacon just after me and began their campaign of harassment. My shields, reinforced with some unusual tech I picked up along the way, repelled their attack with such ease I hardly noticed. “Weapons Hot” I called out. Alix, my smart agent and COVAS responded by allocating power from engines to defenses and weapons in equal measure. Laser-fire flared out and railguns hammered one target then the other and amidst the fray transports, explorers and other travellers near the beacon gave us wide berth. Within a minute it was over. Normally I’d feel accomplished but these targets were too easy. So bad at their job they were barely pirates. I noted the idea that this was a setup as I conducted a short-range scan for my other targets.

In all I think I was in-system less than 20 minutes. Quiet work, relative ease and minimal danger. I collected my bounty and loaded more cargo for another hop out-system. Keeping on my toes and moving, keeping trouble a step behind me.

Deep Space is quiet. Treacherous and exciting. Preparing for an expedition beyond the reach of Humanity requires careful planning. No laser will fight off the boredom, no shields will deflect the feelings of loneliness or isolation. You’ve got to prepare your mind. Pack sufficient distractions and enough trappings of home. You’re likely to be out there a while. ~14,000 light-years to the Heart and Soul Nebula. I went, I charted some worlds and scanned many systems. Through this I achieved Elite Exploration and learned a thing or two about myself.

Firstly, I’m no explorer. Too many hours in deep space, too long away from a station with cold beer and a warm bed.

Second, I’m a Python guy. The Krait is a fine ship. Thrusters amenable to landings, adequate maneuverability for asteroid fields. No, there’s nothing wrong with the Krait Mk II. I’m a Python guy.

So once I returned to the bubble I put a word in with a guy I know and trust. He arranged for me to buy a fresh Python in exchange for this well used Krait I was looking to get rid of. I paid a premium for fresh tags and identification codes. Overly cautious but I’m doing everything I can do discourage my pursuers.

Camping in 3305

Getting away from it all takes on a new meaning when you can move hundreds of light-years in a day. When ‘civilization’ is so far away you forget there are people back home.

Day 1 on my self-imposed expedition to the Heart and Soul Nebulas. Many light years crossed, many more to go.

As I started shutting down systems for the night I listened to the hum of the ship dwindle to barely a whisper. Systems slowed, the electrical hum of the shield system diminished while the air cyclers carried on in their solemn duty.

It was here, on this lifeless rocky planet so far from home that I settled in for a few hours of sleep.

//Signal Interception//

Alix chimed at me, pulling me out of the reverie of combat patrols.

//Signal Intercepted – Operations Command
//Relay data package to target coordinates
//Accept Y/N ?

Broadcasts from Ops weren’t very common. I reviewed the target coordinates. 300k Light-seconds was a bit far for my normal routine but not impossible.

//Accept Y/N ?

I accepted and Alix processed the point-to-point transmission while I throttled up for the FTL jump.

Special Operations

x-HFPY – Frail Harpy
Krait Mk II – Special Operations vessel

As I retired the Vigilant Bard I prepared myself for a new ship. One a bit faster and more aggressive, able to out-maneuver many ships in it’s size class and capable of mounting a short-range fighter bay. No, this will certainly be an interesting ship to fly. New opportunities in my organization will have me monitoring and supporting several systems as well as the occasional foray into deep space.

Briefly when it was introduced to the public I tested it as an alternative to Python. The same internal configuration as the Python and Krait Phantom means that should I wish, I could easily transfer between three ships with relative ease. But I’m a one-ship kind of person. I live in this beast, for better or worse. While she won’t be moving hundreds of tons of cargo or dozens of passengers she’ll jump farther and fly faster than anything else I’ve flown recently.

Rescue

I had been briefed, I reviewed the analysis and I had the necessary tools. But nothing prepares you better than live experience.

I reminded myself of this as the station burned around me and secondary explosions pushed my ship off of landing alignment.

The station groaned around me, like a great beast that had been struck a mortal blow.  I knew it would recover, in time all things do.  But time was not my ally right now.  Explosions pushed debris into my path.  I carefully dodged them, setting down on the assigned pad.

Funny how in a crisis we have to cling to what scraps of order we can find.  Clamps secured and my ramp lowered I hastily descended to meet with the technician coordinating evacuations.

“I’ve got room for 96 and not a person more!” I bellowed, trying to be heard over the roar of alarms and fires raging out of control.  The tech nodded, started waving at another tech and together we ushered them into my waiting ship.

All passengers aboard I carefully threaded a path through the tumbling debris and out of the station.  Heat sinks trailing behind me as I struggled to escape without melting a critical system or overloading thruster control.

The FTL hop from damaged station to rescue ship was less than 2 minutes.  Awaiting rescue teams helped disembark the passengers while I had technicians reload the heat sink magazine.  It was only 11am and the day was already looking long.

Hunted

It’s not enough to hope answers come to you. You have to search them out at times.

It wasn’t enough that I was chased, they were waiting for me. Three Federal Assault Ships were lurking near the belt in tight formation. Ambush. The fight was quick but brutal and as my shields started to buckle I devised a hasty plan. I punched up my remlok and braced for the explosion and ejection of atmosphere as my canopy was ruptured. Secondary explosions crippled my ship and while the hull was battered my suited body tucked into a ball and drifted away. Too small for conventional sensors to detect with no mass or heat signature I waited. A minute later, satisfied their target was done for and my ship riddled with holes they leapt into FTL and were gone in a flash.

Rescue ships were quick to pick me up once I’d activated my recovery beacon. The insurance payout was sufficient and while recovery of my ships wreckage and subsequent repair would be forthcoming I set about arranging for another ship. Changed IDENT codes and registration, the Frail Harpy was waiting for me in berth. As her systems were installed I’d thought about my next steps.

I had been looking into my fathers’ death closely. More so recently than I had been. The clues all pointed one direction. First to a shipping station in Ao Qin. A system now controlled by pirates. A pirate faction that was demolished in a brutal wave of “pacification” conflicts as some agency bankrolled a small war designed to ‘clean up our system’. If you looked closely you could see the money trail vanish behind anonymous donors and faceless bureaucratic agencies. Someone had clearly hired pirates and was now cleaning up the trail. But the more I poked the more someone poked back.

At first I thought the attacks were convenient, that the cargo I was carrying was tagged or the agents I worked for bought. But the ships coming after me escalated and the pretense of “hand over your cargo” faded. No, whomever was after me wasn’t interested in the cargo. They came guns blazing.

So now I planned my next steps. Opened some quieter lines of inquiry, reaching out to some people I knew with ties to criminal operations. And I waited.

SADR Logistics Depot

1800 Light-years, 48 jumps with only me and the quiet hum of the FrameShift Drive to keep me company.

Everything seems so far away now and I know I’m not even a tenth of the distance to the far edge of the Galaxy, let alone the farthest anyone else has been out. No, I’m practically down the road picking up milk.

And yet, pad 37 is a welcome respite from the short journey.