The offer was simple enough and very lucrative. One ton of cargo express to its destination. No other cargo allowed, no other missions allowed, no touching the cargo, and no questions asked. Payment on delivery.
Alex couldn't believe what he was seeing. Five million credits for a one ton delivery! Sure, the hop was long at just over three hundred light years, but there were plenty of suns to scoop along the way. All in all, it looked like easy money. And that bothered him...What's the catch?
, Alex thought. It was a good question, so he repeated it out loud.
"What's the catch?"
"The catch, as you call it, is that you must do exactly as we have requested." replied the shipper. He was a pale, fat, bald man with a bored demeanor and the annoying habit of seeming annoyed. Alex didn't like him much.
"My employer wishes to avoid any damage or delays," the plump man continued. "His request is simple: you deliver the cargo unmolested to its destination. We will load and unload it. After delivery you will be paid and free to go about your business." He paused briefly before asking "Do we have a deal?"
Although he doubted it would be that simple, Alex replied flatly "We have a deal." He placed his hand on the scanner, and a green light indicated his "signature" had been accepted. The man didn't offer his hand, so Alex turned and left the office. He was glad they hadn't shook hands - he was sure it would have felt like a dead fish.
By the time Alex got back to the Star Ranger, a group was waiting to load the cargo. He opened the bay and watched as two men went aboard to verify it was empty. They returned and positioned themselves at the bottom of the ramp as the rest of the party loaded the mysterious cargo.
It looked very much like a single cryo-tube to Alex, but it was obvious he'd have to wait until later to verify this. The men at the bottom of the ramp had a definite "don't mess with me" air about them. They remained there until everyone returned and Alex closed the bay.
As the loading party made their way out of the docking area, Alex made his way aboard the Star Ranger. He quickly ran through the pre-flight checks, plotted his course, then strapped in and took the controls.
"Flight Control, this is Star Ranger requesting departure." he spoke into the comm.
"Roger, Star Ranger. You are cleared for departure. Have a safe trip Commander. Flight Control out." came the reply.
He waited for the station to release the docking clamps, then he bumped the lift jets, retracted the landing gear and headed towards the mail slot. His timing was good, no one else was vectoring in or out of the station. As he cleared the slot, he hit the boosters and aligned with the first jump point.
Alex boosted a couple more times before he was free from the mass lock of the station. He initiated the Frame Shift Drive and sat back as the computer counted down to the jump. 4.. 3.. 2.. 1.. Pop! The swirling chaos of Witch Space spun around him. It always reminded him of traveling through a tunnel, or better yet, of falling down a rabbit hole. He was sure Alice would agree.
The first few jumps were uneventful. Drop, scoop, align, jump. Lather, rinse, repeat.
About four jumps in, he decided it might be a good idea to check on the status of his cargo. Sometimes things broke free or shifted due to all the boosting and jumping. The ship was flying on course in super cruise, and the radar was all-clear at present. Alex unbuckled and headed back to the cargo bay.
The cargo turned out to be exactly what he thought it was: a single cryo-tube. Somebody or something was locked away inside in frozen hibernation. Alex could only imagine what it could be. Maybe some important person with a deadly disease.
He had heard stories of such before... best not to open some boxes.
His curiosity sated, Alex returned to the flight deck and strapped back in. Just as he was ready to make the next jump, he was hailed.
"Star Ranger... Commander Granger, please, we need to talk!", a female voice requested.
It sounded more like pleading to Alex. There was only one ship, a Diamondback Scout, on the radar. Not much of a threat,
"I'm listening..." Alex replied. Let's see what this is all about.
"Commander Granger, we have reason to believe you have a diplomatic hostage on board."
Hostage?!? It was true that Alex had dealt in Imperial Slaves from time to time, but they were people that had been such willingly. He didn't do hostages. So that's the catch...
"Who is this and what do you want?" he asked.
"May I come aboard to explain?", she replied.
"How do you propose to do that, exactly?"
"If you could drop and throttle down, I'll pull alongside and come through your airlock."
Alex paused for a moment to consider the request. It was doubtful that there was much of a threat posed by the stranger. Still, it was highly unusual to do ship to ship transfers in space. In the end, the offer intrigued him more than it concerned him.
"Ok, we'll try it your way. I'm dropping and throttling down. You have permission to come aboard," he replied, then added "Just you."
"Don't worry, it's just me," she responded. "I'll swing alongside after you stop."
Alex did as he agreed to do and soon the DBS was moving into position above his ship. He watched as a lone figure left the smaller ship and descended onto the aft deck behind the bridge.
Alex moved to the airlock with his sidearm in hand. Be friendly,
he thought, but don't be stupid.
He unlocked the outer door controls and watched the monitor as his visitor entered the airlock. She didn't appear to have a weapon, which was good, and didn't seem too menacing, so he cycled the airlock and stepped back from the door.
The visitor entered and removed her helmet. She was an attractive women with dark, short cropped hair. She noticed the sidearm that Alex was pointing in her direction. "Thank you, Commander Granger. I appreciate you letting me in, but I'd feel better if you'd point that in some other direction."
"I'd feel better if I knew what this was all about. Why don't you start by telling me who you are and why you're here?"
"Very well. My name is Sheila Vasquez. I'm following--". Suddenly, an explosion rocked the ship.
"What the hell?" Alex interrupted. He shot an angry look at Sheila, then bolted back to the bridge console. She followed close behind crying "No, no, no!"
As he sat at the flight controls, Alex quickly took stock of the situation. A debris field floated by the Star Ranger, no doubt the remains of Sheila's DBS. The Anaconda's shields had absorbed the damage, but they were in a weakened state and rebuilding slowly. Five new blips were on the radar. A quick scan revealed three Federal Assault Ships and two Eagles. All had their weapons deployed.
As Alex was weighing his options, which didn't look great, a hail came over the communications radio. "Star Ranger - stand down. Do NOT deploy weapons. You have a fugitive on board. We are here to take her into custody and escort you to your destination."
Alex turned to Sheila, who was standing next to the damage control station. "Understood," he radioed back. "How do you want to do this?" As he said this he pointed his sidearm back at Sheila. It was then that he noticed she had a weapon of her own pointed at him. "Are you SURE you want to do this?" he asked Sheila in an exasperated tone.
"I'm sorry, but I can't let you go through with this," she said, nearly hysterical. "I wanted to explain to you and try to gain your trust, but I don't have any choice now."
Something about that statement stuck with Alex, and time seemed to slow as he contemplated it. He was aware that Sheila was advancing towards him. He was aware that someone on the radio was talking through the process of transferring Sheila to them. Yet all he could think of was why would a person that meant him harm talk about wanting to gain his trust?
Alex snapped back to reality. He holstered his weapon and buckled his flight harness. "Sit down and strap in!"
Sheila froze in disbelief. Alex looked back up from the controls. "I said SIT DOWN AND STRAP IN DAMNIT!" Sheila put her weapon away and did as he said. Alex went back to the controls and transferred full energy to shields and what was left to engines.
"Hang on, this could get rough!" he said as he engaged full throttle and activated the FSD.
The Anaconda surged to life and blew past the surrounding ships as they all opened fire.
"Get on damage control, and keep popping chaff!" Alex shouted.
He flipped off flight assist and started twisting and bucking the Star Ranger in an attempt to confuse the rain of fire striking the aft shields. The shields failed before they made the jump. The thrusters died next. The frame shift drive was still charging.
"Chaff's gone," Sheila reported, as she slumped in her seat. "Looks like that's it."
"C'mon baby, just hold together a little longer..." Alex begged.
They were losing hull and taking a significant amount of internal damage as the ship's computer began the countdown to the jump. There was one last big explosion, and then only the swirling chaos of Witch Space.
The second they exited the jump, Alex dropped what was left of his ship out of super cruise and initiated a system reboot. As everything went dark and quiet he turned to the woman at the next console. Before he could speak, she did. "I'm not sure why you did that, but thank you."
"You're welcome, I think. You sure messed up a good thing, not to mention my ship."
Sheila threw her hands up in the universal gesture of placation. "I'm sorry, I just didn't know what else to do!"
"For starters, you can tell me what just happened and why you're so interested in my cargo!"
"You're right. As I was trying to explain, I was following--"
The power came back on and Alex interrupted "Wait, we need to get moving first! And if you can refrain from trying to kill me for a little while I'll see if I can get us somewhere less risky where we can sort all this out."
Alex pulled up the nav computer and reviewed his choices. He was looking for something close, but not too close. Anyone still searching for them was likely to check out all systems within a jump or two. Finally, he found what he was looking for and set his course.
He throttled up and engaged the FSD. As the computer counted down the jump he checked on the status of his ship. The shields were rebuilding, but the hull had taken significant damage and several weapons were offline. They were all out of chaff, and he knew if they got into any more trouble they wouldn't last long.
"Well, we're pretty beat up, but we can't risk putting in for repairs just yet," Alex said. "So, we're going to have to make a few jumps first and take our chances." He sat back in his chair and turned back to Sheila. "I guess now is a good time for you to tell your story."
Sheila cleared her throat. "As I was trying to tell you, I was following rumors that your ship was being used to transport someone the Federation wants as a diplomatic hostage. I made contact with you as soon as I could to see if the rumors were true. That was confirmed when the Feds jumped us. I wanted a chance to convince you to change your mind, but it looked like you were going to turn me over to them."
"Well, I'm glad you didn't, " Sheila continued, then she asked "What changed your mind?"
"Something you said about 'trust'. It just didn't jibe with everything else so I followed my gut."
"So you trust me now?"
"Let's just say I don't distrust you and go from there. You were explaining why I just lost five million credits on top of a hefty repair bill."
"Five million credits?!? Wow, they must've been desperate... or had no intention of paying."
Sheila paused to gauge the look on Alex's face. She could tell she had given him something to consider. "C'mon, didn't that seem a little excessive? What else are you running for them?"
"Nothing. Just one cryo-tube. That was the deal... hey, wait a minute! Who's doing the talking here, you or me? I don't have to explain myself to you! Last time I checked, you were the one who got her ship blown up and almost destroyed mine."
"Calm down! I was just pointing out that I don't think they ever intended to pay you. Regardless, I think you have what I'm looking for. Can I see it?"
"If it will help you finish your story, sure." He got up, then thought better of turning his back on his guest. "Ladies first. That way," he said pointing to the cargo bay.
As they entered the cargo bay, Sheila rushed forward to look through the viewport on the cryo-tube. Leaning down to look at the face within, she let out an audible cry, part anguish, part relief.
"Nuh uh uh!," Alex said. "No touching!" He moved closer to block Shiela's access to any controls.
She looked up at him with tears streaming down her face. "We have to get him out of there!"
"Hold on a sec," Alex interjected. "We don't know why he's in there! He might be contagious for all you know. I say we wait until we dock and get him off the ship before we open this thing."
"He's not contagious!!" Sheila cried out.
"How do you know WHAT he is?" Alex asked.
"Because HE'S MY BROTHER!"
Now it was Alex's turn to be dumbfounded. "Your what?"
"He's my brother! They kidnapped him from our estate on Beta Hydri. They were going to use him as leverage to control my father's vote in the Senate."
"Wait a minute. If this is your brother and they were going to use him as leverage, what made you think it was a good idea to come looking for him? They almost captured you too!"
"I had no choice! Father wasn't going to do anything. He said they promised to return my brother after the vote. I didn't think they would, but there was no convincing him otherwise."
"Wow," Alex said, rubbing his brow. "Does this sort of thing happen often?"
"Too often," Sheila answered. "And most of the time, they don't come back."
"Ok, ok. So we need to get him out of there. But I don't know much about opening one of these things. Are you sure you wouldn't rather wait until we get someone who knows what they're doing?"
Sheila looked at the container holding her brother, then back at Alex. "I guess you're right. What do we do now?"
"We change course," he said heading back to the bridge. Sheila followed.
"Where to?", she asked.
"Quivira," He replied as he sat down and made a few changes at the flight console.
"What's at Quivira?"
"Repairs, which we badly need... " Alex explained, "and hopefully some old friends of mine."
"These 'friends of yours' gonna help us out?"
"I hope so." he replied, but he thought I doubt it.
"We'll find out soon enough," Alex said as he adjusted course and engaged the FSD.
Part 2 - https://elitepve.com/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=6508