I was working on some hydraulic issues with Frodo's landing gear trying to sort that out before the big trip when I was approached by a shipping agent I knew pretty well from Colonia Cooperative. His slow indecisive walk told me that I was about to be hit-up for a favor. I was not looking forward to this because he's helped me get some... off the books... cargo moved through the port without even the usual low-level of scrutiny so I was going to be on the hook for it.
"Shit", I muttered to myself.
I got up and cleaned my hands off as he approached.
"Tom", I said greeting him, "What brings you down to the hangers, bud"?
"Um, Not much, just wanted to say hello and shoot the breeze after shift. I haven't seen you coming and going so often as the last few days wondered what was up... if you don't mind me asking", he said.
"Yeah", I replied in a slow draw, "So I'm about to head back to Alliance space for a bit, got some things I need to get accomplished back in the cesspool before I can really settle down out here so I'm trying to finish up business and pad my nest-egg a bit before I'm off". His expression looked like I had just farted, so he does want a favor and he needs my ships for it.
"Look Tom...", I said, "Go ahead and ask me what you need here. You need to call in a favor and I need to get going, so it's fine. Just tell me what it is you need".
He momentarily tried to look wounded but it didn't take and he came out with it.
"Alright. I've got a big personal problem. I have a VERY deep interest in a pallet of 9 containers of skimmer components.... don't ask, yes, skimmer components. I had them on my dock when some asshole from Tenjin Pioneers barges in and slaps an impound on them. They claimed they had a court order giving Tenjin the right to impound search and seize these containers. The order is signed by a magistrate here in Kojeara so it's valid and instantly that cargo is locked in the system. The Tenjin asshole proceeds to load it up into a DiamondBack and takes off leaving me standing there with my thumb up my butt, and nothing to do. Those containers had product that a 3rd party is very interested in. Like interested enough to take it out of my skin because it's easier to peel my finernails for my account numbers than fight with Tenjin."
"So you're jammed up with the law then", I asked with annoyance in my voice?
"Yes, and no", he said. "They, aren't going to arrest me for the cargo, they stole it". Seeing my expression, he continued: "They didn't steal it with a gun, they used the best wingman you can buy, the 'authorities'", he said with contempt. "They bought off the right guys and got that order and loaded up that little pirate ship and took off with my money and probably my ability to walk and eat solid food".
"Okay, so they aren't government, but they are being covered by government", I said. "Alright, so I see what's up, and I guess you want me to find and "collect" this cargo by some means"?
"Just collect, the finding has been done already, and there's some money in it for you", he replied. "Not enough, I know, but it's what I can turn loose of right now".
I took a moment to consider this. I wanted to get out of Colonia clean, but he sounded sincere and there was no way around it, I owed him the favor. He looked like a kid waiting to pee, he was practically bouncing.
"Okay. Give me what you know on the location and if it's there, we'll get it out for you.", I said.
"God", he sighed and his shoulders slumped. "I can't thank you enough for this, I...", he gibbered.
"Get gone, the less we are seen together for now the better. This would have been better done in an encrypted video drop", I scolded him.
"Shit....", I muttered as he scampered off down the corridor, "This is not what I needed right now".
On the bright side, this would be a good opportunity to introduce the new crew I'd hired on the other side of being an independent pilot. The endless favors and hand washing that needed to be done just to keep things running. I need Tom's eye's to divert when needed and now it's time to pay the bill to keep those eyes in the job and in his skull. He'll not tell me what's really in those containers, and I wont ask, but we will be getting them. Edwin Dean and Karoline West are the newest members of my crew. Hired on at 4% and 2% of profit respectively. As they were both good engineers with lots of connections in Colonia and in The Bubble. In order to get them to leave their existing employer I had to offer a stake in the company. 2.5% each. So that puts us at 40% outstanding, but I expect they will be in it for the long-haul if they can stay alive.
We prepped up Edelweiss for this job and had a quick meeting with the team. Edwin and Kaylen were both good with it but Karoline was a bit pissed to be involved in something... not legal... and wanted no part of flying. That was fine, I didn't need three in the Krait anyway, but I did make a note against her on this. She said she understood the nature of operating as a freelance pilot but I'm not sure that's true. We decided Kaylen would handle the fighter and Edwin would handle the other ship needs. I was going to be the SRV jockey. We had a decent plan of attack but without detailed maps, the actual event would be improvised. We plotted a course for Amatsuboshi and jumped off the dock leaving Karoline at the terminal building looking grave. Time was critical here. The goods would not be in this location long, if they were even still there.
A few minutes later were in the target system and heading for the rocky planet in the coordinates. One last check that everyone was ready for this? I didn't know if there would be serious resistance or not and if there was we could end up with a bounty. Both said they were ready and I think Kaylen's confidence rubbed off on Edwin, who said said "Hell, yes sir. I'm all in". I could tell Kaylen was not very enthusiastic about the idea of having to shoot down an authority ship though. So we made our decent to the planet surface and began the search with the ships sensors. As expected the location was not exact, but we quickly located a small surface base that fit the bill. No doubt they had seen us coming in but I didn't need to give away our landing position. I dived into a small ravine that ran up to the base to stay low and out of sight. Fifty meters and 350M/s makes life exhilarating. We set down just inside 1.7K and put all power to shields. I took the SRV and ran further up the ravine. This was going to take multiple runs and I didn't want to give away the landing site right away.
Each run, I came from a different bearing and left on a different one as well. It appeared the site was not manned yet, just skimmers so if I worked fast I could beat the trespassing timer and be in and out before the alarms went off. I grabbed my first two containers knocking the rest all over the site making the collection easier. On the last run though, don't know if I was slow or they were finally onto it but the alarms went off and the skimmers started firing. "Be ready for incoming air support", I shouted over the comms to Edelweiss. With 6 skimmers I had to engage and drop a couple or they could overwhelm my shields. I grabbed the last container, brought down 3 skimmers in short order at the turret and ended up with a bounty and then hauled ass back to the ship the direct route this time. We got the SRV loaded, not pretty, but in and launched off the surface as fast as possible. An Eagle had showed up at the last second but we were gone before it could actually engage.
"Well done gang", I shouted! "We got all nine containers and didn't take a scratch"! Kaylen said, "I was worried we might have to fight that Eagle". "Nah, that Eagle could have fired half the afternoon and never got through the shields. We avoid killing at all costs. I mean that". I said making eye contact with both. "I'm not a pirate, we may take some shady work but I'm not ready to enter the pitch black of murder of civilians or law enforcement. If it comes to a fight, we run. If we can't run and we can't submit then and only then do we use the force we must to get away."
They nodded and Kaylen smiled a bit, I think relieved to know that this was not a prelude to jacking cargo ships. For my part, I couldn't help wondering if, despite all my words, was it really a first step down a very slippery slope. I couldn't hide that it had been an exciting experience. After getting the cargo back to Tom, Kaylen asked how we get rid of these bounties. I know a place. Her expression sank. "Really, Them"? she sighed. "Yeah, them", I said. "We have to get the ship clean before we head out and that's the best place I know to do it".