Elite Dangerously: Chapter V

ELITE DANGEROUSLY

DrKoobie’s Multimedia Quest for the Stars

Chapter V: Back to Black

“Astra, request permission to dock.”

Flight control responded immediately.

“Delacey Romeo Kilo, permission granted, proceed to docking bay two. Please regulate your speed on approach, Commander.”

Easier said than done. The ship’s thrusters had been ripped to shreds during my last misadventure. Out of eight stabilizers, only three remained; moving the flight stick was as hard as pulling a sword out of superconcrete. Somehow, I managed to get past the airlock.

“Atmosphere restored,” Astra said.

My Remlock helmet folded back into the flight suit. I balanced the River Volga over landing pad two.

“Deploy landing gear.”

Nothing happened.

“Astra, deploy landing gear.”

“Warning. Hull at three percent. Canopy integrity breached.”

“Yes, I know, I know. Deploy landing gear.”

“Warning. Systems malfunction. Hull at –“

“Deploy. Landing. Gear.”

The ship shook a little, which was a good sign.

“Landing gear deployed.”

I breathed in, breathed out, and half-fell, half-landed onto the platform.

The problem was, of course, that I couldn’t afford repairs. A quick chat with the station’s computer said it’d cost me about ten grand to get River Volga spaceworthy again; I had three, which was all the money I’d made flying CQC in Costeau Asylum.

Lex.

Wherever she was, there wasn’t much I could do to help her, at least not yet. Maybe this Archon character had some bright ideas. I reminded myself that the last time I’d consorted with a crime lord, it didn’t end well, but what choice did I have? I had a feeling that one way or the other, I’d be meeting Vasilyev soon enough, and if Archon Delaine cared about his people as much as Lex let on, the Russian scumbag was in for a world of hurt.

The top left corner of my cockpit’s holofac display lit up with an incoming call. The caller’s name read as Manager Aaralyn Guerro, of the Atata Natural Interstellar. If they were about to try to fine me for an ugly landing, they had another thing coming. Then again, it’s not like I could just take off and fly away. I took the call, telling myself to stay frosty.

A middle-aged woman appeared on the holofac display. She was wearing a checkered suit and a ridiculous purple cravat around her neck.

“Commander DrKoobie?”

“That would be me. How can I be of help, Ms. Guerro? Look, if it’s about the landing, I’ve –”

“No, no, that’s all right. The ground crew reported minimal damage to the platform, which is good news. Surprised you could land at all, judging by the state your ship is in, truth be told.”

“She’s sturdier than she looks.”

“You don’t say.”

I was getting tired of idle chit-chat.

“To what do I owe the pleasure, Ms. Guerro?”

“Aaralyn, please. Just Aaralyn.”

“What can I do for you, just Aaralyn?”

“Feisty, aren’t you, Doctor? As it happens, feisty is exactly what I’m looking for. We’ve a certain mutual acquaintance who, for all intents and purposes, is best left unnamed. He said you’re the type to bite off more than you can chew, and, judging by how your ship looks, he’s probably right.”

Archon, I thought. It’s like he was a spider, with his furry little legs everywhere I went. I wasn’t sure if that was necessarily a good thing, but I’d been dancing on the razor’s edge all my life; what was another interstellar crime overlord to deal with now? I cursed under my breath. The way things were going, I could’ve really used some space weed. What did this Aaralyn Guerro really want?

“I’m listening.”

“Our mutual friend says you’re a wizard behind the flight stick, although I’ve got my doubts.”

“Hey, my ship’s fine! A scratch here, a scratch there, it adds up.”

“Right. Well, as it happens, I’ve got a job for you. A rather lucrative contract, as a matter of fact. We’ve had some … difficulties with our newest trade route. A certain Pirate Lord decided we’d be easy prey.”

I waited for her to go on.

“I’m a businesswoman, DrKoobie. Business is conflict, but in a corporate market we prefer a more targeted, if extreme, response. The pirate’s name is Neil Crump, of the HR 8212 Crimson Raiders. The mission is simple: travel to the HR 8212 system and take him out. We’ve reliable information he’ll be in the system between 17:29 and 18:59 Galactic Standard Time. Do you think you can handle it?”

Of course I can handle it, I thought, but remembered the promise I’d made to myself to play it cool. It wouldn’t be the first life I’d take, nor would it be the last. My deep conviction that we were all essentially a supercomputer simulation helped alleviate any guilt I might’ve otherwise felt; besides, this Neil Crump sounded like a nasty piece of work.

“What’s the pay?”

“Two hundred thirty-five thousand credits. Sounds good enough for you?”

It was a fair offer, but my ship was in no state to leave the station, let alone engage a Pirate Lord on the outskirts of nowhere.

“Transfer me an advance of one hundred fifty thousand credits, and you’ve got yourself a deal.”

“One hundred fifty … you must be joking. Tell me you’re joking, Doc.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it. I need to equip my ship, get ready for the mission, that sort of thing. You do want Neil Crump gone, don’t you?”

“This is ridiculous. If not for our mutual acquaintance, I’d have you kicked off the station for even proposing such a preposterous thing.”

My stay frosty mindset went out of the window.

“Aaralyn, no need to get upset. Either pay me the advance, or find another pilot for your wet job, it’s as easy as that.”

She put her hand over her mouth, thinking.

“Fine. Fine. You drive a hard bargain, but fine. I’ll transfer the credits right away. I expect to see you back here when the job’s done.”

I smiled.

“Where else would I go?”

“I’ll only say this once,” she said. “Don’t try to screw me, because I’ll find you, and, I swear to Randomius, make you see the error of your ways. Are we clear?”

If she was trying to scare me, she wasn’t doing a very good job. Besides, I wasn’t planning on running. I needed the second half of the money.

“Clear as ice.”

“Very well. Good luck, Commander. See you soon.”

###

No matter how many FSD jumps I made, I never got tired of the psychedelic colors of witchspace. It was as if somebody threw a bucket of watercolors on a rotating piece of glass and then used a high-pressure oxygen hose to blow the watercolors away; I was no poet, so it was a crude analogy, but every time I’d entered witchspace, my mind wandered to places unknown.

They said that these days ships got pulled straight out of witchspace by the Thargoids, but it was all nothing more than rumors and speculation. I didn’t know much about the aliens, only that the Federation sighted them hundreds of light years away from where I was, and that sounded good to me. A deep, low rumble came from the ship as I jumped out of witchspace: the wicked watercolors condensed to individual stars. I was back in supercruise. The HR 8212 system was nothing special, another system with an alphanumeric designation at the edge of anarchy space. I flicked through my weapons groups to select the Discovery Scanner and fired it up.

When the blue bar filled out, I received a new message from Guerro. It said that Neil Crump was last seen near HR 8212 2, a moon-sized planet at the far reaches of the system. I selected the astronomical object on my navchart and continued towards the planet. A couple of minutes in supercruise, and I was close enough to HR 8212 2 to make out the planet through the glass of my canopy. It was a grey rock peppered with meteor craters, a planet as insignificant as the system that birthed it. Probably that’s why Atata Natural Interstellar chose to run their trade route through it – they thought they’d be safe from pirates.

Clearly, they thought wrong.

“Mission objective detected,” Astra said.

A blue circle appeared on my Heads Up Display. I lowered my speed and jumped out of supercruise.

There were three ships: three Diamondback Scouts and one Vulture, and the Vulture was firing on the Diamondbacks without pity. Neither of the three ships retaliated. They were probably unarmed, just some unfortunate explorers caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. I scanned the Vulture: sure as the void, the pilot’s name was Neil Crump.

I deployed my hardpoints and prepared to engage. I had spent Manager Guerro’s advance outfitting River Volga with a pulse laser turret and a dumbfire missile rack to complement the dual beam lasers under my ship, and there was no time like now to test out the loadout.

I fired the lasers, making short work of Neil’s shields.

“Enemy shields down.”

Neil Crump’s Pilot Federation rank showed as Novice, but he flew worse than a Jameson’s grandma on a Leestian Evil Juice all-you-can-drink day, making circles around me as I continued to burn through his hull. My pulse laser went to work, all without the so-called Pirate Lord squeezing as much as a single shot in my direction.

My holofac showed an incoming call. I rejected it. A job was a job and I needed the money. Neil knew what he’d signed up for. The Vulture’s hull went from 60% to 50% to 46% in a matter of seconds.

I checked the radar: the Diamondback Scouts were making their getaway.

“You’re welcome,” I said, guesstimated a firing solution, and pushed the secondary fire button with my thumb. A rocket shot out from the River Volga and hit the Vulture straight in the power core.

Neil’s ship exploded in a ball of fire and flames.

I ran my hand through my hair, taking in the view of the Vulture’s twisted remains floating away into the blackness of space. A message appeared on the holofac. It was from the Pilot’s Federation: I got a Combat Rank promotion from Novice to Competent. About time.

I sent a quick ping to Manager Aaaralyn Gueero, punched in Atata system’s coordinates into the navcomp, and got ready to jump back into witchspace.

###

Gabriel Enterprise loomed in front of me like a bad omen. The station rotated around its axis, two lines of navigational lights directing new arrivals towards the airlock. I requested permission to dock.

“Granted, Commander. Please land at docking bay three-eight.”

Archon called, and here I was, right at the center of the Harma system, the spidery crime lord’s seat of power. I doubted there was a single act of violence committed from here to Imperial space that he didn’t know about. And yet, so far, he’d been good to me. Not to mention it was my fault Lex got into trouble. It was my debt she was trying to pay off, which, by my philosophy, meant that I had to at least try to get her out of whatever crap she got herself into. I didn’t have a name for my religion, but it was quite clear about the karmic laws of cause and effect. I was the cause. Her getting sold into slavery was the effect. Whatever Archon wanted with me, I needed him more than he needed me. Vasilyev was many things, but he was no patsy – I needed all the help I could get. I flew through the airlock and landed – this time, without incident – on platform thirty-eight.

“Ground crew dispatched,” flight control said.

A new message appeared in my inbox. It was Delaine. The short message read, “I’ll meet you at the Doyle Legacy bar in fifteen.”

He was courteous enough to attach directions. I stood up from my seat, put on my trench coat, checked my Watts disintegrator – charged to full capacity – holstered it, and headed out to meet Archon Delaine.


Elite Dangerously was created using assets and imagery from Elite Dangerous, with the permission of Frontier Developments plc, for non-commercial purposes. It is not endorsed by nor reflects the views or opinions of Frontier Developments and no employee of Frontier Developments was involved in the making of it.

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