We are on Deciat less than a day. I have made a list of the shit I've got to "square away" and get to it immediately - after getting some actual clothes, food and more of those little hypos - my contract demands sobriety so I figure I'll stay on those things another week: won't kill me, eh? I find I'm oddly eager to get off this space ball and into the work, though that could just be because I've not flown in a fucking age and I want to get the next few piles of crap tasks out of the way with as little fuss as possible: I sign the papers to confirm receipt of my parent's estate: I blankly note that I've inherited a reasonable swathe of land on Earth - hilarious as I'm still in exile - which I sign immediately over to Not-Dave's name and possession: it's the very least I owe him, after all.
I have just over 50 mill in uncollected bounty credits which, again, I barely register as I present my chip to receive. Similarly, the fines I pay with equal disinterest, though Tor would have been delighted with the trail of chaos they seem to indicate: 29 infractions across 18 systems. I believe that's a new A-Team record.
The only thing that really ruffles me is the shit about Mira. I had to endure a face-to-face holo chat with some high level administrator to receive my official pardon, and there's some bullshit that Mira left me in her will that I've requested they courier over to Deciat and leave in storage for me. I'd expected this to be the worst job of them all, so I put it off until last, mostly so that I can go immediately from the Coms Office to the new bird.
The python has been well-fitted as a dual purpose combat / mining bird. The design adjustments Ithallius made to systems, internals and so on are well-thought-out and, while somewhat generic (to be expected given he has no idea who'd be flying her) betray the thinking of a man well accustomed to flying combat missions. Of course, I like things the way I like them, so there is a bit of balancing and tinkering, then - happily as we are in Deciat - I test-fly the bird by taking her out on her maiden flight to my old friend Felicity to get some work done on my core internals.
As an amusing sidenote, the Skaccoon I once dumped in her cargo hold
has somehow managed to endear itself to Ms Farseer, found itself a mate and now rules over three generations of terrifying shit-rats. See, Universe, I can give back, too.
Ithallius has agreed to give me a little time in the python while he does whatever Fed shit he needs to do, so I've got a little window to take the newly engineered python out for a wee spin. A couple of interdictions and some stupid antics later and I feel I've got a feel for her. She might not be as zippy and flighty as the vulture, but she's certainly more solid and has better staying power. I grudgingly admit that my employer has done a good job putting her together, and, no matter, it feels good being back on the wing. A small voice in the back of my mind tells me it's also no hardship to be flying a vehicle that Mira never fucked me senseless in, which is when I learned the bird's name - Tabula Rasa.
Our pre-jump meeting is brief and takes place in the hangar beneath his T9's landing pad. I agree to everything he asks without question - there's nothing outrageous or overly demanding, and as I'm being paid very well indeed it would be churlish to haggle. In response, I have but a single request - demand, really. I want all communications routed to his coms and to be buried until our contract is completed. I don't need any distractions, I just want to get on with the fucking job, and there's not a soul in the galaxy important enough to pull me off this new beam I've found.
"Maintain open coms at all times while on mission."
"What if I'm taking a dump?"
"What if I'm puking my face off?"
"What if I'm wanking. You know, really banging one out - feet up on the panels, sweating, maybe moaning your name. Really beating on myself? I mean, I'm pretty disgusting - you really wanna hear the shit I do to myself when I'm bored? You want to hear your name over the top of that fap-fest?"
He pauses a beat, gives a very subtle smile and, with a slightly lower tone, replies, "All
Well fuck me, I do believe I just... well, it's not charm
, but there was a moment of something there - just a little one. The man does
have a dick, after all.
Our destination - he reveals - is HIP 21991, just a few jumps for me in the python, especially with Felicity's tinkering, but more than double that for him in his T9. He is unconcerned about maintaining my protective stance while in transit - he assures me that he is more than capable of outrunning or out-jumping whatever bullshit comes his way, but just in case, we both mask our FSD wake signatures to ensure any pirates have to work harder than pirates generally work if they want to follow us.
9 hours later, after really pushing the limits of the python's FSD, I arrive in our destination system, some 11 hours ahead of Ithallius. The first thing I do is hit the nav beacon. Then I check the local Galnet law enforcement channels, then I head to Charlois City, power down and sleep (with my coms set to "Wing" and "Always Open") until Ithallius arrives.
I wake, shocked at how refreshed and alert I feel, with my employer's voice in my ear.
"Socks, game time."
"Copy that, welcome to the Back Water, Captain."
"Don't-" he starts to protest, but seems to realise that there's no point and, in any case, I wasn't calling him that to be a prick. "Meet me ten clicks out of Charlois. Time to form up."
I am releasing docking clamps and rising from the landing pad less than 8 minutes later.
Though he sends me the nav data for where we're heading, I really don't need it as I just target him: he's
my job, and flying escort for him isn't challenging at all, meaning I can toggle my contact panel on and keep an eye on local traffic. It isn't long before an FDS catches my attention, hanging back but tracking our vector as we approach the nearest gas giant and head towards the innermost ring.
"Potential fuckbag," I muse, "nothing serious. Let's not alert him he's been clocked."
"Eyes on the prize, Sir. Let me work - you do you, boo."
There is a brief chuckle over the coms. I find it deeply satisfying to have made him in the slightest part amused: it's reassuring to know both that he has a sense of humour and that I'm still, on some level, still a bit fucking funny, even when sober.
The FDS continues to track us as we descend, headfirst, like fucking death-or-glory ram jockeys directly into the ring. We don't politely drop out of supercruise but, instead, crash heavily out which leaves my blood a little cold as it delays our ability to jump back into SC should we need it. It is 35 seconds before our shadow joins us but, sure enough, there is a flash and the FDS appears some 15kms off my left wing.
"All in hand. Go shake your money maker - I got you."
The T9 double-flashes its engines in acknowledgement and then slowly readies itself for work, opening its enormous cargo scoop, powering up its mining lasers and popping out the first of many prospecting limpets which shoots away toward the nearest lump of rock. If the FDS is tracking us (which it totally is), it'll see the nose of my bird still following the space cow. But my eyes are on the scanner and I'm watching him slowly approach; he's even got some limpets so he can pretend to be a miner. I'm guessing he's not going to make a move until Ithallius has been at work for a bit, but he's also not going to hang about too long.
After about 30 minutes, Ithallius' voice says in my ear. "Being scanned."
"About 8 ton."
"Keep going - just keep working."
My worry is that the FDS's gambit is to pull me away toward him, to challenge him and leave the T9 unprotected. And then he'll call in some fucking clipper or 'conda which will pop open the T9 like a pinata before I can get back to its side. Fucking idiots: it's an old-school play, but still an effective one. I don't budge my nose from the T9's arse. And my eyes don't leave the scanner.
"12 tons now."
"Keep going. May I remind you of my career in piracy?"
"I've read the file."
"Yeah, but you fucking Feds have no style when it comes to writing that shit up - you leave all the good bits out."
"What's your play here?"
"I got no play. I'm wanking. I warned you. Your T9 is sexy as fuck and I can't resist myself."
He sounds a little nervous. I can understand it.
"You know how you kidnapped me? Forced me to come along?"
"Not how it happened-"
"Fuck you. I've got this. You chose me - now let me do my work my way."
There is a pause. Then, "Roger that."
The FDS is drifting away a little. I switch my bird to combat mode, flick power into weapons and change fire groups: my get rich mining debut is about to kick off and I prepare to boost from standing and flip around to greet whatever bullshit is about to jump into range.
A python, as it happens.
Ithallius is also prepared and puts a giant spinning rock between me and him while I boost, get pressed heavily back into my seat, groan a few curse words and flip to face the pirate python. It is a brutal maneuver, but incredibly effective and the python is still preparing for combat, having banked on having 15 more seconds to get into the game.
I throw down immediately, boosting forward a second time, now with my nose pointing directly at the python. At the last moment I pull up so my belly - the thickest point on the hull, scrapes brutally over the pirate python's nose, blasting away its shields and stunning the pilot. "Thanks, Dawg," I murmur as I fire a warning shot off at the approaching FDS and flip to lie along the back of the python which is only now starting to move. But I'm inside its circle and can easily track its motion with my beams. With no shielding, its hull is quickly in tatters. I hit it with a scan while I shift my head to see where the FDS has gone.
The dropship has flicked its way over my left side and seems to be trying to flank the T9 through the rocks. "Pips to shields, sir," I mutter as I spin off the heavily damaged python to take on the dropship. I am easily faster and more nimble than this ugly brick of a machine and while it has far more firepower, it can't turn worth a shit and has, hilariously, hampered itself by putting a shit-ton of rock and debris in its own line of fire. I break heavily, spin to the left and open fire. The drop ship turns to face me, but is already pulling up its nose to clear the grav-lock of the belt and jump free. I give it a little laser blast, mostly to be a bitch and make it have to pull power from engines and throw it to shields, before turning back to the pirate python.
242, 000 credit bounty: A specialist miner-feeder. Even if the KWS hadn't returned such an utter dickhole, I'd have finished it off, but there's something deeply satisfying about taking down someone who really, truly deserves it. The python blooms around my nose as I power down my weapons, flick back to my mining lasers and slowly come about off the T9's wing.
"Want me to chase the Dropship?"
"Negative. Let it go. Nice work."
"Thanks. Now... back to wanking."
"Nah, mining's for losers."
"Fill your hold three times and you've got a conda."
"I already got a buttplug - wearing it right now."
And do you know what? The bastard actually chuckles