Docking Bay 21
Paesia System (Imperial Space)
James drummed his fingers on the cockpit as he watched blurry holographic transmission of a middle - aged man clad in white overalls, who was presently shaking his head.
"I am sorry, commander. That is all they were able to tell us. They do not know who kidnapped them nor why the ship they were abroad has crashed. They are happy to be alive - and, may I say - also extremely lucky. All that to large extent thanks to your actions".
"Just did my duty, doc. If ya hear anything else.. any detail - let me know, will ya?"
"Of course. I will, commander".
"Grand. Thanks" - James pressed a switch and transmission ended. He sat there for a moment, looking outside at the busy docking space of Ramon City. He had another job to do - mining, what else - but he didn't really feel like it. He has almost forgotten how it was to be on this side of starship pilot's trade. Solve riddles, explore, ask questions. To live. Sure, the grind was nice, yet one could endure only so much of it at a time.
"Incoming priority message" Betty announced.
"Thanks, Betty. Put it on screen"
Type of Transmission: CLASSIFIED
Origin: The Office of the President of Platinum Imperia Mining Ltd
Nature: Raw survey Data
Commissioned by the President and the Board of Directors of Platinum Imperia, and data collection by Commander A. Sanchez of the surveyor ship PIV ECHO 1. A brief analysis by M. Smith:
Finding of unknown structure on planet HIP 76713 1, no recorded presence previous or public beacon. No attempt of communication from structure or public identification broadcast.
Three building groups compose this structure, one main to north west flanked by 2 auxiliary buildings south to south east. Dueto the size and unknown nature of this compound, measurable defense level is suspected. Such assumption conforted by the presence of 3 tower like structures arranged in a triangular formation away and around the main site.
... End of preliminary and brief analysis.
Below were two photos of a small, rectangular structure. That was it. James read the message several times, then leaned back in his chair. So the report he has written to President T'Sanak
made it through, and PLAT did react by sending their survey ship to HIP 76713 1. But what about this structure? Why was it so special? It looked like dozens of other small warehouses that were dotting many of the planets' surfaces. He brought up the system map and typed in the coordinates, trying to pinpoint this exact location on the globe, when he heard Betty:
"Commander, incoming video call from Vice-President Wolf".
"Patch him through".
"Commander! Good to see you. I trust you received our previous message?"
"Aye, was looking at it now. Do you have anything else for me?"
"As a matter of fact - I do. While scanning the structure in HIP, we've found some of the cargo that we thought was lost with the vessel transporting those hostages you rescued a few days ago. I want you to get back to HIP 76713 1 and retrieve these missing parts. Then we might be able to find out who brought them there - and why. It may be a coincidence, someone just picking up illegal salvage... but it may also well be connected with the recent kidnapping. Keep me posted about your findings, commander".
"Sure thing. I'm on it".
Near HIP 76713 1 planet
HIP 76713 System
As he approached the planet, James ran the scanner at full range, checking for contacts. Nothing. He began his approach, then entered the glide, dutifully following the search zone indicator on his screen, until he finally saw faint lights a few klicks away from him. He glanced at the radar screen - still nothing. He slowly came closer to the structure, until he could make out small shapes moving around it seemingly without a pattern. Skimmers. So this place was guarded - which meant that probably PLAT parts didn't arrive here by chance...
James deployed his hard points and disabled the lasers, leaving only multicannon fully operational. He aimed carefully and pressed the trigger. In a matter of few seconds hundreds of rounds left the spinning barrel and filled the area between the buildings with hot lead. Where it connected, sparks erupted from the small guardian robots. Soon all 5 of them were turned into smoking heaps of junk.
Happy with his actions, James found a suitable landing spot and carefully put his Courier on the ground. Just as he was about to enter the SRV, he noticed a single blip on the scanner, hovering at the very edge of maximum detection range. It faded and then reappeared, refusing to become solid - until it did once, which allowed Barrett to lock it up and have a look at pilot's profile.
Viviane Dehairs, Diamondback Scout, clean. Co-op of Assiones, corporation running this system from its military base located on the very planet he just landed on. James tried to open the comms channel, but to no avail. The ship kept fading in and out, staying just outside his reach - but watching closely. Barret shrugged and jumped into the Scarab.
He was soon speeding towards the buildings. The skimmer wreckages lay scattered around, sparks flying here and there. Luckily the canisters with the cargo he came to collect were neatly stashed against the far wall and unharmed. Took him three trips between the ship and storage in order to transfer all six containers before getting back onboard.
First thing he checked after powering up was the scanner. Diamondback was still there, this time much closer. Hardpoints were retracted, but the pilot - whoever she was - kept a close eye on Barrett. He shrugged again and set Paesia as his next destination, rammed the throttle to full and soon made the jump.
As the Witchspace closed around his Courrier, James started drafting yet another report for the PLAT authorities. Something was not right in HIP 76713 system. Somebody kidnapped PLAT operatives and tried to get them to some discreet location on the planet. Somebody took precious parts from the very same ship that carried PLAT technicians - before it was destroyed. And somebody was watching James' movements. Whomever it was and whatever his motives were - James would find out.
Yes, it was certainly good to get out of the grind...