Citraxx

Continued from Night Station…

I woke late, my mouth dry though thankfully from the coffee in the early hours rather than the ale. I slung my clothes in the valet and pulled on clean. It was too late for breakfast in the crew room so I sat and watched Galnet broadcasts while I waited for restaurants to open. Some prominent scientist had gone missing. There were local wars in systems throughout the Galaxy but none very close. There was no news of Jenckque but I didn’t expect any. I decided to pop along to the Security Office to see if they had any information. “No one of that name inbound.” said the officer behind the desk. There were a number of ships coming in – the station was busy as usual – but no Jenckque. I made my way up to the shopping malls and headed towards Dayzie’s.

Border had beaten me to it and he motioned me to join him. I slipped into the chair opposite as Daisy miracled a coffee in front of me. She must have known I needed it! Staring at me from beneath his eyebrows Jaxon came abruptly to the point – “Your friend never left Tlapana.  In fact he never got there – his ship was destroyed a few days before you arrived here, in LHS1599. It’s clearly registered in the system records.” He turned his hand pad towards me to read. “There is no record of his escape pod reaching any station or base there either.” He sipped his drink while I took in the import of his information. “Your friend appears to be dead… But…” He continued “An escape pod arrived at Melchiodi Base in Tlapana a while after the ship was lost – the name of the owner was Anson22.” He looked curiously at me before continuing – I may have registered surprise but I don’t remember now.

“I did briefly wonder who you really were” he said “but I know you’re Anson – the exploring records don’t lie – so why the subterfuge in Tlapana?” I thought for a few moments and then understood! “Jenckque’s alive – it’s a message to me to tell me he’s alive!” “But he can’t know you’d get that message?” said Border. “No – but he’s sent in it hope and in case I’m still waiting. But where is he?” I wondered. “He’s not registered as a pilot on any vessel leaving Tlapana or from any station between there and here.” Border flipped through the pages on his pad to show the records “So I’d guess he’s travelling as a guard on a freighter. Can’t be on a liner – he’d need a ticket and that would be registered. It would explain why he’s taking a long time to get here.” I sipped my coffee and pondered Jenckque’s whereabouts.

“There’s more” said Border “Your two ‘friends’ for want of a more descriptive word… They are really very strange. I’ve seen all types of pilot over my time bounty hunting. I check you and I find criminal records… Nothing major and all bounties paid or deferred. I check these two and there’s nothing – they’re archangels of godly pure behaviour! There’s no such thing in my experience as a clean pilot! They don’t ring true.” “Someone shot at me when I arrived here!” I said. “I agree” Border responded “But the record seems to be missing the details of the attackers! – Someone has wiped it. Do you understand what that means?” He asked. “I’m not sure?”

“This is Citraxx” He said, indicating the screen of his tablet – “The only people who can change records in this system are ISS themselves or approved bounty hunters like me… And we can only update records to show prosecutions or terminations. No records are deleted – only amended! For records to disappear, someone has to have influence in at the core of ISS… Someone very powerful… Just what did your friend get himself involved in?” Border slumped back in his seat and I stared into my coffee. “I wish I knew…” was the best I could offer. “Well, he’s still coming otherwise they wouldn’t still be here… I guess you wait!” Said Border and then he scraped his chair back and wandered out of the restaurant.

Continued here…

 

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Night Station

Continued from Waiting…

I awoke in the small hours, station time. This time there was no feeling that someone was outside my door – no raised heartbeat. Instead I just felt dehydrated… That ale again! I sat on the edge of the bed for a minute or so and then wandered over to the chill box and picked out a water carton. It tasted foul but it was probably the best thing for me. My clothes looked like they’d been slept in – which they had. I splashed water on my face and decided to pull on my boots and take a stroll to get some air.

Night is always a strange time on space stations. It’s a time of half-lit truths. As the station orbits around the planet, so the daylight time moves until daytime on the station can be night in relation to the star. But you get no idea of the relative times when you’re in the pilot’s quarters below the docking area – all the light is artificial and adjusted according to the Sol Standard day. The malls and leisure areas are shut down and only security normally venture there. But a station never sleeps. Ships arrive and depart at all hours as privateer traders do their best to cut a profit.

The corridor outside my quarters was very dimly lit although tiny footlights came on as I stepped outside illuminating the walkway. I looked both ways along the length of the corridor but saw no one else in the gloom. At the first junction I looked along the corridors that curved upwards – the station’s cross walkways. Some night maintenance work was underway in the right hand corridor and I could smell the acrid burning as I watched the showers of sparks falling onto the walkway. I turned left and found the entrance to the offices attached to my docking bay just a few yards along.

The lower office was sparsely lit. Normally the flight clearances were handled here along with the pre-departure briefings. “Don’t block the docking bay, don’t block the air-lock, don’t discharge weapons”. In fact there are lots of don’ts but when it comes to money then it’s all do’s. Do pay your fine, docking fee, taxes… you name it – money and the word do go hand in hand whenever you’re dealing with stations and officials! Trade money always moves both ways though and you’d better have judged the prices right or you’ll be selling that nice new ship to cover your losses!

There was normally someone in the briefing room at all hours but it seemed empty – then I heard a low rumble from behind a half closed door. Snoring – the briefing officer was gambling that I wouldn’t be leaving overnight and was booking some Zee’s. He was right – I was going nowhere tonight. I decided to climb the stairs to the control office. Technically it’s out of bounds but most officers welcome a chat with visiting pilots if it’s not too busy shipside.

“You leaving us Pilot?” he said by way of a greeting. He either had eyes in the back of his head or he’d spotted my reflection somewhere. “I couldn’t sleep – needed some air. Too much of your local ale!” He guffawed loudly – “Coffee’s over there.” He waved in the general direction of a shelf that ran the length of the back wall – “Help yourself – it’s on the dock.” A large coffee maker was bubbling and there were some clean mugs beside an auto-wash – I picked one up. A picture of our new Emperor gave me a calculating look from above the words “Bask in Her Glory”. I wasn’t sure how much basking we’d be able to do this far out. But, as a loyal citizen, I acknowledged the reach of the hand Imperial – and then poured in the hot coffee.

Back at the window I admired the view across the landing pads towards the Airlock – taking in the massive cylindrical space within the station. As I watched a large transport thrust its way through the shimmering light of the airlock force field and began to climb towards a pad far above our heads on the opposite side of the station. The air behind was darkly hazy with the exhaust from its engines – too hazy it seemed. “Smoky going into pad 7” muttered the control officer and he keyed a message into the desk pad. “Sending maintenance over to offer an engine overhaul” he said to me; “Keeps the ship good and makes the station some money.”

Looking along the row of pads in front of the office I could see people. It took me a few seconds to realise that one of them holding a conversation with an overalled loader was Border – it had to be; there couldn’t be more than one person that tall on the station. So I wasn’t the only one having trouble sleeping. But then I guessed that Jaxon Border was too much the predator to sleep easy – his nights were probably spent hunting!

A loud scraping sound caught our attention and the controller and I found ourselves staring at the spectacle of a small ship – a Sidewinder – in contact with the station wall just above the airlock. “John – we’ve got a Boomer!” shouted the commander and the office rang to the sound of pounding feet as his assistant hurried through from the back office. We all watched in dread fascination as the pilot struggled to bring the craft under control and move it away from the airlock. I could hear the loudly broadcast station warnings of deadly force. Then the internal guns opened fire on the ship and before our eyes the shields went down in a blue haze and the hull was shredded into small pieces. It was all over in a matter of seconds – just a litter of wreckage and dust floating inside the docking area.

It was a harsh lesson for the pilot on the price of infringing one of the don’ts of stations. His escape pod returned to the pad the ship had recently left. Maintenance droids moved out and started collecting up the shards of metal along with one or two cargo canisters floating aimlessly around the docking area. “Station commander will be pleased… That’s another load of scrap he can sell on.” observed the controller in a warm-hearted obituary for ship and pilot. I knew the pilot would be ok as long as he was insured – He’d have a replacement ship in a few days and a bit more experience under his belt.

I looked to see if Border was still around but he’d disappeared along with most of the dock area staff. I finished the coffee, drank another and, after some small talk, retired to my quarters to sleep the rest of the night away before meeting up with Border the next day.

Continued here…

Waiting

Continued from Contact unexpected…

Tiredness crept over me by mid-evening. There was no sign of Jenckque so I left the Ax-cellar-on Bar and returned to my quarters in the docking bay area. I watched the Galnet newsfeed for a while; catching up on distant skirmishes between clans and factions. It was all rather remote and I gave in to tiredness, ditched the day clothes and collapsed into bed. I slept fitfully, ill-defined dreams preventing deep sleep. In the small hours I awoke to a feeling that someone was outside my door but as much as I strained my ears I could only hear the background sounds of a busy star port at night. After a while I fell asleep once more and remembered nothing more until I woke at around 9:15 local. My head felt heavy and my eyes were sticky but I forced them open and swung myself out of bed. I had a long and uncertain day ahead.

The bars and restaurants wouldn’t open until 13:00 local – the station was on a Sol-Standard 25 hour day. I caught some breakfast in the crew area. There were a few other pilots there along with some maintenance staff but no sign of Jenckque. I was a bit concerned – We’d had roughly the same distance to travel and he should have been here by now. A quick check on Humourist satisfied me that there was no damage from the previous day – they hadn’t got through the shields before I was out of range. Then I went off to check the bulletin boards and security office for any arrivals news. The desk officer in Security shook his head – “No pilot of that name registered inbound.” He said. With nothing else to do I went up to the main promenade area of the station to do some window shopping.

The window shopping became real when I spotted a casual jacket that I liked in Oakes and remembered that I needed some more under-suit disposables too. While I was paying for these I noticed two pilots standing outside the store opposite. They weren’t actually looking at me but then again, there was something about the way they weren’t looking at me that I found disconcerting. One glanced in my direction and then they moved off. By the time I left Oakes they had disappeared into one of the other shops or down one of the arcades off the side of the main promenade. Everyone else seemed normal – just station staff, other pilots, husbands, wives and even children going about their daily lives. I wandered back to my quarters and dropped off my goods before heading for the bars and lunch.

I knew Jenckque would look to find me in a bar when he arrived. I looked in at the Ax-cellar-on but decided it was too large and too busy – we might miss each other – so I looked for somewhere smaller. I found a place called Dayzie’s in a quiet arcade. It was quieter, smaller and boasted home cooked food. A chat with the tall lady behind the bar revealed that she was Daisy, the proprietor. “Is it always quiet like this?” I asked. “Gets busier late evening but steady regular customers during the day.” She replied and added – “We let the larger bars attract the rowdies with loud music and cheap drinks. You’ll get a peaceful drink here.” She recommended a dish made from mushrooms indigenous to the Zagoro system and when I looked dubious, reassured me “They’re actually quite filling – a bit like a synth-steak pie but with galaxies more flavour!” I acquiesced and took my drink to a table by the wall to wait for the food.

I’d finished the mushrooms – they were everything she’d promised – and was sipping my drink with one eye on the newsfeed and the other on the door when a very tall flyer walked in. “Hey Jaxon!” Daisy greeted the newcomer – “Hi Dais’, the usual please.” He would have got my attention on height alone but the thing that caught my eye was his sidearm. Most pilots and quite a few other people out here wear a sidearm. I wear a light-weight but quality laser-pistol as an aid to peaceful negotiation when trading goods of dubious provenance. Some people wear their sidearm as a fashion accessory. I’ve seen ladies with sidearms that were chosen more for the way the holster belt accentuated their curves than for any use it might have in a fight! But this guy’s sidearm – well, it wasn’t a sidearm: More like a Cannon. The barrel would have been down below his knees if he wasn’t so tall! It was clearly a heavy projectile weapon and I guessed that made him either a mercenary or a bounty hunter.

Daisy and he exchanged some chat and some eyes while she served him then he glanced around the room and approached my table – “Ok to dock?” he asked and was almost seated before I’d nodded my head. “Noo here” he asked, humorous accent and all innocence… “Yes”. He pulled out a handpad and started scanning it. “So whatchyer doin?” I wondered briefly if he was ‘Doin’ the anger causing course! “Passing through” I responded. “Explorer? Right?” – I was starting to get a little fried by now and about to chew his ear when he turned to look me direct in the eye… “Sorry, I’m a bounty hunter here and you are not what I need – times are bad – no bad guys for a couple of weeks. I’m getting hungry and short of excitement too! In fact – don’t think I’ve seen a visitor soo clean!” Then he apologised for not introducing himself – “Should have given my name – Border, Jaxon Border” I looked him over – it took quite a few seconds – he was big! His clothes would have looked big on a bear! He was also telling me something like the truth – I’ve had enough dodgy dealings in the past to know when something smells right. “Anson” – I offered. He looked at me closely for a second or so and then… “I guess I’ve no need to ask for a second name?” he said. I shrugged and let him run with that. So when he asked me “So why are you still here? – usually you explorers sell your data and run off out there again”, I gave him the truth. “Waitin’ for a friend.” We spent an hour or so talking over my predicament – the missing Jenckque, the pilots who seemed to be watching me, the unprovoked attack as I flew in. He was that sort of person – I told him the lot and his ears must have been bleeding by the time I finished.

“I may be able to help” He said – “Give me a while – meet you back here Lunch tomorrow?” “Ok” I said and he left. I spent a couple more hours into the evening watching the door and saw no sign of Jenckque. My pilot ‘friends’ popped in but left after a quick drink. With the station closing down for the night I crept back to my quarters and crashed out – note to self…”Mushrooms good – Local Ale too strong!”

Story continues here…