I made it back home after seventy-three days. In that time I covered over fifty thousand light years and saw countless new worlds. My exploration data tallied nearly three thousand star systems visited. That data sold for a veritable fortune. I've put most of it back into ElderRook LLC, but my personal wealth is pretty impressive now, too.I
I was also contacted by the Pilot's Federation. The exploration trip has earned me Elite status as an explorer. The Pilot's Federation ranks you in three categories; Exploration, Combat, and Mercantilism. I'm close to Elite as a merchant, but it was exploration that earned me my wings.
I suppose the goal of every spacer is to earn the fabled Triple Elite status. I never really gave it much thought until the Pilot's Federation contacted me. I was just making a living as best I could. Still, it's a prestigious award and will certainly be a boost for the company.
Speaking of the company, I think we may have outgrown the Brestla system. It seems that while I was away we've run afoul of some local politics. I'm not sure exactly why this happened. I trust my people implicitly and they claim there was no reason for it, but every permit we apply for either gets rejected outright or else requires so much red tape (which really just means bribes) that it's barely profitable to operate here. My rank and reputation no longer seem to matter. Nor does the volunteer work we've always tried to do. I've begun looking for a new base of operations.
In other news, a part of the credits I just brought in are being used to refurbish an Anaconda-class light frigate that was recovered by one of our salvage crews. The ship was gutted but the hull itself was in fair shape. I'm not really fond of the exterior design. It was obviously a raider ship as it's decorated with spikes and stuff in order to create a fearsome appearance.
Once it's repaired I'll figure out what to do with it. It's bigger than any other ship we have. Maybe it will be a good cargo freighter.
- - - -
We've started calling the Anaconda the 'Ordinator '. I believe it's some sort of mythological guardian of something. It's as good a name as any. I was unable to trace its original registry as the previous owners went to great effort to disguise it. I suspect it was probably stolen.
Although it wasn't what I'd planned, we've found a role for it. The modular design allows for quick refits, so although primarily a cargo ship, it's easy to change out in a hurry. Currently it's been outfitted with as many passenger seats as it can hold. These aren't first class accommodations but I don't think we've gotten a single complaint yet.
In the Pleides region, there have been several attacks on stations by the Thargoids. This alien species is as close to the legendary 'space monsters' as I've ever seen. There's no rhyme or reason behind their attacks.
A call has gone out from the Pilot's Federation for any ships in the area who can assist with the evacuation of the affected starbases. We've answered that call with the Ordinator. Currently we can safely remove over one hundred and fifty souls aboard the light frigate, and have been volunteering to assist with the evacuations. That's a lot of good karma coming our way and it's already begun paying off.
We answered a call for a Federation orbital that had been hit hard. The station was in bad shape. We made well over a dozen trips but we managed to get everyone off the station that wanted to go. I didn't want to send my people into such a risky situation, but several of them stepped up to volunteer. I'm not one to ask my people to do something I won't do myself, so I went along to pilot the Ordinator personally.
We saved a lot of lives that day, and sadly lost a few as well. We made a lot of friends among both the station personnel and the Federal rescue ship sent to help the evacuees. A few days afterwards and some nice fellows from the Federal Navy show up looking for us. It seems each volunteer was given an honorary commission in the Navy at the rank of cadet along with an invitation to join the Navy at the same rank if interested. I was glad that no one chose to leave my service.
As for me, I'm now an honorary ensign. I know it's a reward similar to the titles given to Imperial citizens who gain recognition, but it's nice to be recognized.
- - - -
Percy Grant clung to the safety line as the Ordinator plunged once again through the burning station's 'mail slot' and lurched hard towards a hastily assigned docking pad. He flinched as he heard debris slamming against the hull, the shields simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of detrius inside the cavernous docking bay. He could feel the heat through his insulated Remlok suit as well as the Ordinator's hull as the landing gear clamps engaged and the ship was carried safely below the furnace-like bay.
"Look sharp!" called the chief. " This is our last trip. Let's bring them all home. "
Percy was glad for the polarized helmet. He'd volunteered for this like everyone else but he'd had no idea how bad it was really going to be. He'd lost count of the trips they'd made but heard someone say that they'd carried over two thousand refugees from the dying station already. He just wanted to crawl into his rack and sleep for the next two days.
He couldn't believe the Old Man was going back in again! 'Damn fool has a death wish!' he grumbled to himself. He was putting them all at risk and for what? A bunch of Federals?! They were the enemy! The bad guys who would kill you in your sleep if given the chance. He wasn't really very patriotic but every Imperial citizen grew up hearing the stories of the atrocities committed by the Federation.
When the cargo bay door swung open, he saw them below. A hundred or more faces, dirty and injured, looking up at him with desperation in their eyes. Once again he reached down and began helping them onto the Ordinator with a furious scowl on his face.
He'd nearly finished helping the last one on board when an explosion from somewhere above sent the whole orbital into a shuddering lurch. Beside him, one of the newer guys slipped and fell out through the opening, dropping the person he'd been hauling aboard. The new guy clung to his safety line with both hands, terrified beyond action as the others grabbed for his line.
Percy never hesitated, leaping for the deck below and grabbing for the fallen passenger. She spun and clung to him desperately with her face pressed against his visor.
It was a child.
No more than ten years old, she held onto him as though her life depended on it. He De-polarized his facemask. "It's okay, I've got you." He told her.
He hauled them up his safety line just as the Ordinator began to rise on the landing pad back up into the furnace above. He wrapped the girl protectively in his arms and waited for the heat to come, but the Old Man was a step ahead.
'He must have been watching the cargo bay door cameras.' That's the only explanation Percy could think of. The Ordinator's thrusters fired, breaking the ship free of the landing clamps. His safety line went taunt in the zero-g environment, then he heard the ship's upper thrusters fire a short burst. He sailed upward and his crew reached out to pull him and the little girl in his arms into the hold. The bay doors slammed shut and the big ship blasted towards the exit.
Then it was over. Everyone scrambled for seats as the heat dropped to normal levels the moment the Ordinator cleared the station. Percy helped the little girl into her seat before securing himself beside her. She held his hand all the way back to the rescue ship. Funny thing, he didn't seem to mind.
- - - -
Back at the rescue ship, he helped the refugees depart the Ordinator. Unlike the stricken station, the rescue ship's debarkation ramps were working and everyone could simply walk off the ship. A couple approached Percy as he finished helping an elderly man onto the ramp. He saw they were holding the little girl he'd saved.
"Thank you." said the woman through tear-stained eyes. " You're a hero. We'll never forget you. "
As they departed along the ramp, the little girl turned and waved goodbye to him. He waved back, realizing he was smiling for the first time all day. 'Maybe those Federals aren't so bad after all'. He thought.
Across the emptying bay, he caught sight of the ship's Commander overseeing the operation. He glanced over at Percy and gave him a grateful smile and a nod.
One thing he was sure of, the next time the Old Man asked for volunteers, he'd be the first one to raise his hand.