Though I only flew her for a few weeks, I really enjoyed the python. At first - after being so used to the vulture (oh, my poor heart...) - the python felt sluggish and reluctant. I'd been used to the slippy eagerness of the vulture, having to constantly manage her speed and vector as her engine to mass ratio was, well, ridiculous. The python was a much steadier ride, and once I'd moved away from the expectations the vulture had left me with, the python was, actually, a really nice bird to fly.
Once Ithallius and I were settled in Sirius, I needed a new ship to compliment the mamba: slick as shit, with a straight-line speed that will melt your eyeballs once fully engineered, the mamba pays heavily for her advantages in functionality. I
have a longer jump range than she does, and she's not an easy runaround for non-race stuff. Plus... she's just uncomfortable
to be in for long periods: cramped, hot, you sit at a strange angle and all the interior utility stuff - cabins, bathroom, galley, so on - were situated strangely and always cramped.
The Krait mk II wasn't
my first choice of runaround until I was intercepted by a pirate flying one and, though the fucker flew his ship as if she was a Fed brick (see: FAS - Federal Assault Shoebox) I was still impressed. All the firepower, for a start. Acceleration that, even on a shitty pirate ship, outstripped what the python - in my mind a decent comparison in the same class - was capable of even fully engineered.
So I bought one.
And then I engineered the living shit
out of her.
She's a good ship. Steady like the python: a real work horse of a vessel, decent sized hull able to carry a good amount of cargo as well as an SRV bay, fighter bay and
decent quarters an amenities all at the same time. And yet, in combat, she's flighty and fast, slippy and demanding and with many times more firepower than the vulture packed: there's a whole story I'm not telling about fucking Todd the fucking Blaster and my new multi cannons and a crate of very
expensive Eravate whisky while we made our peace.
I was instantly in love. With the Krait, not Todd. There wasn't a question about it: intended as a general runaround, multi-purpose replacement for the python, I got a ship that can do it all: fight, jump, haul. She's not the prettiest - especially compared to the smooth, sleek lines of the mamba - but she hasn't yet let me down. And now she has a fucking fighter bay and a goddamn Taipan to boot.
Or, at least, she will
I'm in "Aft Cargo Section 5-Charlie-Delta" (fucking Feds, honestly, the big one at the right, at the back, if you please...
) watching the installation of the fighter bay while Stanton is in the main hold unpacking and sorting through The Collection. Though I've had several ships whose arrangements I've ordered and overseen, I've never actually watched
an installation. It's a very satisfying and straight-forward process - I mean of course
it is as there are literally millions of vessels all needing outfitting flying about - but to see it happen...
Firstly, the side of my vessel is stripped away. It's brutal and I felt a moment of genuine panic as I watched the maintenance guys so casually rip off her layers of hull. But, of course, it's all designed to come away cleanly and expose the inner frame into which the specific units will slide and be fastened.
The bay - a size 5 beast - just slips right in. It even has little wheels in the frame's underside that get push back and click into recesses in the frame when they slide into place. The electrics, environmental, AI and utilities are hooked up next before the inner walls of the new unit are skinned.
Finally the pad the Taipan will sit on and be lowered into place for launch and retrieval is tested while the side of my hull is reskinned and, bam, in less than 3 hours the entire installation is completed.
"I've never seen that happen before," says a voice behind me as the last of the outfitting crew collect their tools and prepare to load the fighter from beneath the ship. I turn to smile at the voice's owner, only mildly surprised to have not heard a string of exclamations as he entered the bay.
"Me neither," I reply, walking back into the middle of the large space, nodding at Stanton who continues to catalogue and sort through the seemingly hundreds of items in Mira's Collection. "How you doing?"
"Good! I'm good," says Klausy. He's a cheerful chap, really - I feel instantly warmed by him company, his jolly tone and easy smile. And, of course, his clumsiness which is borne with patience and humour. I take a moment to look him over: he's maybe a couple of inches shorter than me, has a solid though handsome frame and posture which, even at rest, seems slightly awkward and stiff. His face isn't what a lot of women would consider to be "handsome" but there's still something about it that is pleasing to look at. A thick, full, slightly shaggy beard; warm brown eyes and a mouth that, even at rest, hints at a soft smile.
While I'm giving him the once over, he's looking at Stanton and the toys that surround him.
"Gosh," says Klausy, "He seems busy..."
"Ha, yeah," I laugh, "They're not his. He's just... you know-"
"I'm the curator," interrupts Stanton proudly. "I take care of them."
"Seems like you've got your work cut out, mate," says Klausy. Stanton gives a nod with the expression of someone who is patiently shouldering a familiar burden.
"What can I do for you, Klausy?" I ask, but his attention is still all on the toys.
"I can help you with all that, if you like?" offers the Beardy Bugger, surprising both Stanton and I.
"Oh?" says Stanton finally.
"Yeah, you know... sorting. Organising. It's all about classification and database management. It's all algorithmic when you get down to it. I just need, you know... just a... hmmm..."
I leave Klausy and Stanton to do... whatever the fuck they're up to and get to overseeing and securing (and decorating) the new Taipan which ends up taking longer than the installation of the bay itself. When I return to the large bay, the toys are all gone except for Beaujolais who, I guess, isn't really a toy
as much as, I guess, Stanton's significant other? She's flicking her blue hair over her shoulder and laughing prettily at something Stanton is saying while Klausy works on a panel in her forearm which is typically hidden beneath her "skin".
"What's the news?" I ask, genuinely impressed with the scene.
"Well," replies Klausy, nodding at Beaujolais and releasing her arm. Stanton hurries to gently replace and rebond the skin patch that had been peeled back - much like the hull on the krait - to allow whatever rejigging Klausy had just been doing. Klausy turns to look at me, immediately falls over some minute piece of lint on the deck, almost barrels head-first into Stanton, recovers, swears a little, recovers again and then says, "Just a little bit of systems engineering."
I watch this entire process with gentle bemusement - I'd be furious but he's good-humoured enough to laugh it all off and is soon sitting up in the bridge with me (having managed to negotiate the stairs without any further incident), two feet firmly planted on the floor while I kick off my boots and rest my feet on my dash.
"So. Mamba racing, eh?" I ask him.
"Er, well, actually... not really. I don't want you, know you. I thought I'd give it a go. Have a bit of a laugh. Mostly I wanted a change."
This is unexpected. Not
a wannabe raceboy? "Change from what?" I ask gently.
"Work. Life. Need something new. It's all been a bit... you know."
"Samey?" I offer helpfully. Klausy nods.
"What did you do that was so boring?"
"Electrical systems analyst and database specialist. In Coriolis specifically."
"Ooof, yeah. I see your point," I nod and wink. He smiles in return and gives a gentle chuckle. "But you can fly."
"Well, I'm learning... it's tricky. That other fellow, Tags, he was much, I mean, he didn't-"
"He was in a vulture that was familiar to him. How long you had that cobra?"
"About 3 weeks."
"About 3 weeks?" I ask. Klausy nods in confirmation. "What did you fly before that?"
"Oh, I didn't fly. I took shuttles. You know, transports and stuff. Gave me time to get on with my work. In transit, I mean. Remotely. On a datapad."
I can't help but smile: I adore
this man's gently deliberate manner and comprehensive way of talking. And he is an utter surprise: flying only three weeks?! No fucking way. I make a mental note to check this fellow out more.
"And anyway," says Klausy, "I'd not want to fly for your racing team."
"Because your pitboss is cheating."
This accusation stays hanging in the air for a moment while I churn it over. On the one hand, it's a suspicion I've had for a while. On the other, it's a little, well, it's just fucking rude
to say your new boss is a cheat. I decide to try to be diplomatic about how I handle this: look how I've grown.
"How do you know? What's your evidence? I've looked and looked through my telemetry and found nothing to, you know..." I trail off, not knowing how to say "To explain the bullshit victories that my meagre talent and experience in this field keep picking up".
"You won't find it on your ship," says Klausy. "And I don't think you have anything to do with it in any case."
Klausy shifts uncomfortably in his chair. I suspect he hadn't intended to share this information with me and has now painted himself into a corner. He clears his throat, shuffles a bit more, and then says, "The other entrants have been compromised."
' how?" Something is clicking in my mind: something I knew but hadn't seen. Like how fighters bays are installed. Like how sex dolls are made of circuitry. Like how Mira had a huge sex toy collection. Something is there, itching in my mind. I stay silent and nod at Klausy, but I already know: I already fucking know
what he's going to say.
"The three or four closest competitors in your races were all docked in the same station as you. A little money here, a discreet bribe there and their ships get race-tuned slightly less well than they would have. A loose valve; a slightly blocked conduit and their ships still look fast, still feel the same, still perform better than most people would need them to. But in a race where margins or error are literally balanced on the speed a fuel injector can open and close, they make a difference." He abruptly stops talking, looking almost shocked at himself.
"And they can't be traced: it just looks like poor mechanical working." I can hear my pulse throbbing in my ears: it all makes sense.
Klausy nods again.
"Then," I say, looking at Klausy closely. That beard: I suddenly have the urge to touch it. To rub my cheek against it. I push that away and force my mind into this uncomfortable new territory. "How did you figure it out?"
"Oh, I didn't," he replies.
"Then who did?"
Klausy doesn't reply to me right away. Instead he reaches for the coms panel, sends a quick tightbeam, waits literally no more than 30 seconds before a reply is returned and then says, "Let's go for a fly, shall we?"
"Okay..." I reply, a little curious but also wary. "Where to?"
"These co-ordinates," replies Klausy, punching the contact into my nav panel. It's a location on Lucifer, confusingly. I look at Klausy who nods in return. I shrug and message Stanton to let him know we'll be going on a wee space jaunt and taking off in about 90 seconds.
"So what's there?" I ask Klausy as I run a quick post-installation hull integrity test before conducting my regular pre-flights.
"Marco Qwent," he replies. "My old boss, actually."
Stanton send confirmation that he's ready for launch while my mind races. Marco Qwent, I thought, was some fucking made-up scapegoat legend of the Sirius Corp; Lui Yong-Rui's boogey man, used to explain away weird thargoid tech and slightly below-the-belt ship shit. To learn he's not only real but on a planet I've been flying about on for months is... it's a surprise to say the least.
Launch permissions are granted and my Krait's landing pad spins and is raised into the huge main space of Patterson Enterprise. Clamps are release and Slippers floats gently free. I throttle up and leave the station, boosting out of the envelope and turning to point my nose at Lucifer.
At Qwent Research Base.