I popped back to Malcy’s maintenance after breakfast to get an idea on how long the repairs to Humourist would take. Old man Malcy said “7 days… 5 at a pinch. It depends on some parts I need for your frame-shift drive. I’ve ordered them in from HR 394 – they should be here tomorrow.” “Ok” I said, feeling a bit depressed, “No rush.” He grinned – “I know you’d rather be out there but I’ll do you a proper job! Safety first…Yes?” “Yes” I agreed. “Your AFMU needs work too. We can’t do that here so you’ll have to go to HR 394 yourself for that.” – He added.
I mooched around Pacheco Outpost – there was nothing to do. The big Orbis and Ocellus star ports had shopping malls and entertainment for the partners of naval personnel, diplomats and just about anyone else. There was nothing here at Pacheco except the fly-blown canteen, a small general store and a bar. I popped into the Pilots Briefing Room only to find it empty – the miners already knew everything about their system and any explorers would be going into the unknown anyway! I pulled off the latest space weather sheet just to show good form along with the details of HR 394.
Over the next couple of days I got into chats with some of the miners in the cafeteria. Miners are a suspicious bunch – newcomers are not welcome – more miners means less profit to go around. Eventually I convinced them that I was exploring and had no intention of mining… “Cobra’s no good for mining anyhow.” I said. That drew some sage nodding of heads. Then one of the younger miners offered me a run out to the resource site on the belt around the gas giant. It was good to get away from the confines of the station into the open space outside. He was flying an Asp named ‘Cheese Grater’ – his Father’s old ship– and he handled it well. As we moved in close to the rock field surrounding the planet I caught a glimpse of a slim dark ship sitting tight to some rocks in the planet’s shadow. “There’s someone over there!” – I pointed in the general direction. “That’s a bounty hunter doing protection for us.” “We all pay a percentage of our profits to hire them – the law can’t keep the pirates away so we have to look out for ourselves!” He got on with mining the ore and I stared at the rocks drifting past a lot closer than I usually like to see them.
I thought I should check the pirate situation before setting out again when Humourist was fit, so next day I decided to pay a visit to the Security Office. I found it on another dull corridor close to the maintenance office. “Come ahead!” was the response when I knocked on the door. I was greeted by reflective shades peering at me from behind a pair of well-appointed boots resting on the desk. The boots told me this was an Elite pilot – they were synonymous. “You here to claim a bounty or pay a fine?” “Neither, I’m passing through and wanted some security info regards pirates.” He eased his shades up over his eyes – “What sort of work are you doing?” He asked. “I’m exploring – just passed through dropping off data and going out again when the ship’s been cleaned up.” “I heard there were pirates here and, as I have to pop over to HR 394, I thought I’d better check.”
“We do get pirates here”, he said, “but not so you’d notice. They’re all third rate. You want pirates… Go over to Ilmeno – they’ll shred you!” “What about HR 394?” I asked… “Some over there but no real bad boys.”, He replied. “The local miners here think they’re not getting protection.” I said, “I see they’ve employed a bounty hunter. Is that something I should worry about?” He burst out laughing and then composed himself to look serious… “You know what I’ve got to protect these people? Two young kids who scraped Mostly Harmless on the last Pilots Federation test. They’ve got Vipers and they’ve got enthusiasm. But that’s about it. I told ‘em – stick together and be prepared to run away – they’re no good to me dead. When it gets bad, I go out there myself and sort it! Hell! I bet you’re ranked at least Competent and probably higher – I’d sign you up tomorrow but I don’t think that’s your thing!”
“You’re right”, I said – “Not my thing… at least not yet. Maybe in the future?” I glanced up at the wall and the piece of fuselage hanging there – nose art of a horned pig firing a very large weapon. “Yours?” I asked. He nodded slowly – “A long time ago – a piece of the past – now I keep the law.” We parted company and I went to seek solace in the bar.