"Five thousand credits just for THAT? Impossible."
Jack was infuriated. "But it's just a minor part!?!"
"Sorry. It cost us three thousand, and on something that expensive we need to make a profit." The mechanic was calm, and that really got on Jack's nerves.
"Four thousand. That's all I'll pay." He said through clenched teeth.
"Ohhh, I'll take it. Four fifty." He paid the mechanic and left on a rented hovercar with the part.
After a few hours of sweat and a minor electric shock the part was in. The freighter was complete. All ready to go. Just one more thing. Every captain needs a crew.
He walked down the ramp like a spacer would. He had a knapsack at his side. And he had a holster on his belt. He was obviously a spaceman out of a job. And he walked to the bar and sat right next to Jack.
Three rejections and two blank stares later, Jack admitted defeat. He would never find any crewmen. He would have to pilot and do the upkeep on the craft himself. Not the easiest of tasks.
He paid the bartender and left. He walked out to the street and headed towards his speeder. A drunk staggered across the street and bumped right into Jack.
"Whoa... one too many briskies..." The drunk was very unstable.
"Hey, let go of me fella." Jack pushed at him but the drunk wouldn't let loose.
"Gotta shack to drop at?" The man smelled worse than he looked.
Jack looked down in disgust at the disheveled drunk, then looked closer. The drunk had a patch on his shirt. A military patch. A patch of the Kankarian massacre at Golba.
"Hey, you must have been a pilot, huh?" Jack said to the drunk.
"Sergn Halsey sir yessir siryy..."The drunk started to fall over and Jack helped him back up.
"Mabey you should come with me..."
"So, what's your name?" Jack said.
"Sergeant Halsey yessiree." The stimulant was not strong enough to overcome the extreme alcohol level.
"But what's your first name?"
"Your parents didn't give you that name, did they?"
"No sir they did not." The drunk started to nod off, and Jack shook him a little.
"I'm not your superior officer. Quit calling me sir."
"Yer not? Well drop down and give me fifty!" His head lowered, then he shook himself and lifted it up again.
"This is not a military vessel. Nobody here has rank."
"Vessel? Since when was we in a vessel?"
"Since I dragged your sorry ass down here thinking I could hire you as a first mate. Now I see you're not even worth getting paid to pee on a street luma."
"Paid? What are ya talkin about?"
"I need a first officer. Are you up to it?"
"I can fly anything alive, drunk or not!" Halsey tried to get up, then tipped over. "And I can be a good engineer. I can keep up any ship at any place at any time. Where is it?"
"You're inside it."
"I knew that."
"So what do we do now?" Halsey looked a lot better after wearing clean clothes and getting a shave.
"Now we pick up a cargo and fly it to it's destination. We're supposed to place a request on the mainframe board for the starport."
"Good, that means we'll be in space soon."
"Yeah, I already put in the request. We should be getting some customers any time now."
A week later, someone finally called.
"So, what's the cargo?"
"It's confidential. You will carry confidential cargo, won't you? I'm not allowed to use government transportation for this. I have to hire a freelancer." The man seemed nervous.
"Sure, as long as the forms fit regulations, I'll carry it. When can I get it, and where do I bring it to?"
"I can bring it over to your ship in three hours. I'd like you to leave as soon as possible. Try to be at the coordinates I will give you by this time tomorrow. Go slow if you have to, they will only wait for ten minutes, and if you are there early they might get spooked. For your own safety do not deviate from any of my instructions, got it?"
"Oh, and I have a transmit pattern for you to send them when they hail you, so they can recognize you."
"No problem. Coordinates by this time tomorrow. Earth or Standard day?"
"OK. I'll see you in three hours then."
Three hours and twenty two minutes later, a someone knocked on the ramp. It was the man Jack had talked to earlier.
"You're late. And early." Jack said.
"The fuel guys still aren't here. I told them to be here almost an hour ago."
"Well, it's a busy starport. You have a crew?"
"Oh. Okay, well the cargo is in my speeder. You'll need a load lifter."
"Yeah, I got one of those. I'll go get it."
After some minor sprains and a few backaches Jack got it onto the ship. It was a crate about six feet tall and three feet wide on either side. Then he went to the cockpit and fed in the coordinates into the computer. The computer showed that it was a six hour journey, so he decided to take the ship up and get out of the system before he went into hyperspace. While he was doing so, the fuel guys finally came and filled it up for almost twice the price Jack had intended to pay. They settled for one and a half.
"Halsey, you wanna watch this baby clear orbit for the first time under my command?" Jack shouted over the intercom.
"Not really." Halsey shouted back.
"Oh. Okay." Jack switched from the com channel to the starport channel. "This is Delta Oh Four Niner requesting permission to enter high orbit then leave system."
"Delta Oh Four Niner, this is clearance control, permission is granted. Wait until we transmit the holding pattern, just to make sure we don't have any crashes. Is that okay with you, pilot?"
"Roger control. Standing by"
A moment later the computer came alive with chatter from the mainframe. It projected several courses for Jack to follow. Jack took the longest one.
The ship was in orbit. After an hour, Jack got bored and started to spin the ship in circles for no particular reason. Halsey came up into the cockpit.
"You know, you can leave orbit right about now." He said.
"No I can't. They'll fine me at least a hundred credits for not waiting until they tell me to leave."
"No they won't. They can't transfer the fine to other starports, can they? And when are you planning to come back here? They just have that rule so most suckers won't break the other rules."
"Oh. Which way do I go?"
The ship was heading past Mars, and soon it disappeared out of view.
"You're lucky. You got Mars and Jupiter and Uranus right in a line. You can fly within a few thousand kilometers of them and not stray off course."
"Cool. I've never actually seen a gas giant planet. Just in the sims. I've seen solid planets in real life, though. Which way do I go?"
"I don't know. Check the computer."
A moment later he switched direction, and set the ship for a high speed course, meaning that he couldn't maneuver in the slightest unless he slowed to a reasonable speed. Suddenly, there was a loud bang on the top of the ship.
"What was that?" Jack said with startled surprise
"Oh, musta been an asteroid. We're passin through the belt."
"What? You mean to tell me that we are flying into an asteroid field with no maneuverability and going at a speed of..." He glanced at the display. "thirty eight space units!!" The speed of most fighter craft that he had flown was only eight or ten. Jack hadn't done any high speed courses before. Not even in the sims. All of the ships in the sims used hyperdrives to get out fast. This one was too big and bulky, it had to fly through the asteroid belt before it could go anywhere.
"Yep. We better make sure there are no big ones up ahead. If there are, we better slow down. But first turn the shields on, just in case we run into a little one."
"We just DID run into a little one!!"
"Oh, no. That was just a pebble. Mabey an inch diameter at most."
Jack immediately hit the retrothrusters and turned on the shields. He looked at his scanners.
"We got a big clump of asteroids dead ahead, a little less than five hundred kilometers!" He said.
"Well, slow us down!"
"I just did."
"Good. You better hope this thing has a good deceleration unit."
"It does. I checked it."
"Good. Now pump all your extra power into the engines."
"Pump all your power into engines. But keep your shields."
"But the thrusters will blow! This is just a bulk freighter! It is a fast freighter, but that still doesn't mean much! Last time I checked it could only push up to a four."
"Well, push it to five. It'll hold together. It's a bulk freighter. Bulk freighters don't just break. They either get blown up or they survive."
"Okay, if you say so."
"I just did."
"I heard you!"
The asteroids were getting closer. The ship was vibrating as the thrusters were straining to keep it from being overcome by the extra power pumped into the engines. Within a moment they were in the asteroid cluster.
"Just keep her steady. And don't aim towards the big ones!"
"Okay!" Jack said. "What do I do if a medium one comes at me?"
"I don't know, I'm just used to small ships."
"Well this is a big ship, and it's yours so you better learn to drive it!"
Jack dodged another asteroid and yawned. "Here, can you take over? I'm getting a little sleepy. We've been dodging asteroids for almost an hour."
"Sure" Halsey chuckled. "Just hand her over to me!"
Jack awoke with a slight headache. There was an insistent beeping somewhere.
"Ack... turn off that noise!"
"Hey boss!" a voice said over the intercom. "We should be coming out of hyperspace soon."
"When did we go in?"
"About an hour ago. Why?"
"Never mind." He was going to have to talk to Halsey about the little 'permission' thing.
Jack looked out the cockpit window at the planet below him. It was an Earth like planet, very green with a lot of blue. Demeter was beautiful on the surface, all covered with exotic plants, but now most of that was turning into cultivated farmland to feed the rest of the Earth alliance. The only other habitable planet in the system was Sarcophi, the dead planet. It was once very abundant, and had a species living there, but now all that is left is desert and archeological digs. The only native creatures are a few plants and variations of a lagamorph/rodent like creature.
He looked away from the view as the ship pointed downwards. He looked over at Halsey to make sure he was still awake while piloting the ship, then went back to looking at his instrument board.
A few minutes later, they landed. Jack talked port control into letting him get off for an hour, then get back on and leave. He left Halsey in charge, and went to a bar.
After he got back, he ran through the pre-flight checkup. Halsey was snoring so loud that Jack could hear him all the way in the captain's(his) quarters. He took off and left orbit. Then he set a course for the rendezvous point, and set the computer to slow them at the end so that they would not get there early. Then he went to bed.
He woke up to hear that annoying beeping again, and this time Halsey was already in the cockpit by the time he got there.
"We're coming out now, captain." Said Halsey. "What're yur orders now?"
"Where are we?" Jack asked.
"The rendezvous point, of course."
"Yeah, but where did he say that was?"
"Uhhh... I dunno. You put it into the computer."
"So look at the navcomputer display."
"Oh." Jack said. "Good idea."
He looked at the display. It was on the edge of an uninhabited system, near the asteroid belt.
"Are we on time?"
"No, we're about two minutes late."
"That's good. Let's just wait here."
"If you insist Boss."
Three minutes later, a transport came towards them. It transmitted some signal, and Jack transmitted the pattern set that his employer had given him. The transport flashed a welcome signal, and then came over and docked on the top hatch. Jack left the cockpit, and pressed the button on the airlock to enable it to take commands from the other lock it was attached to. A moment later, two men came out.
"You have the cargo?" One of them said.
"Yeah, it's back this way." Jack replied. He led the two to the cargo bay where the case was strapped down in the middle of the hold, all by itself. He unlatched it and the two men picked it up and brought it into the airlock without a word. They set it down inside, and the second man pulled out a bank card, and handed it to Jack. Then they went back into the transport with the cargo, and cast away.
"Funny guys." Jack said to Halsey, who had come up from the cockpit to see if he was needed. "Great conversationalists." Jack remarked wryly.
The smaller transport rocketed off into the asteroid field, and the bulk freighter was left there. Jack was in the cockpit, and Halsey was closing down the empty cargo bay.
Jack stared out at the bright points of light that signified other stars, many with planets. And the brightest one, which was only ten light-minutes away. Some of the asteroids could be seen by visual, the rest as light blobs on the sensor array. This was the first cockpit Jack had ever been in that didn't have any 'threat assessment' or 'weapons boards'. It was an interesting change. He wasn't sure if he liked it that way or not.
Halsey came back into the cockpit and plopped himself down in the copilot's chair.
"So, are we gonna leave or what?"
"Yeah, in a minute. They told us to wait until that ship was out of short sensor range, then leave. I set our computer not to recognize their signal, so it's just a white dot on the radar right now. Just like the other asteroids." Jack pointed to it. It was moving a little faster than any of the other objects on the sensors. "It's almost out of range."
The two waited for another few minutes. Then Jack started to spin the ship around. It was time to go.
Three more blue dots appeared on the long range sensors. Moments later, they were already within the short range.
"What are those?" Halsey asked, pointing at the screen.
"Don't know. Let me check." Jack turned over to one of the other panels. The panel lit up, and the sensors focused on the first one. It was an I-wing, scout ship. Very high speed. He targeted the other two, and they were the same.
"Hmm. I-wings." Halsey said. "Wonder what they're doing here."
"I don't know, but they're coming at us full speed. And they have their weapons and shields up."
"Why do they need shields? We're unarmed."
"I don't know, but let's raise ours." Halsey turned to a board on the other side and activated shields and engines. Jack started to turn the ship slightly back the way he had been facing earlier, when he was coming in.
Lasers lanced out at them. Two lasers hit his shields, but dispersed. The shields held.
"Ten layers of shielding left. We had thirteen originally." Halsey reported. "No damage yet."
"Drain some extra power from somewhere. But not speed."
"I dunno. This thing is pretty underpowered for something this size."
"Yeah, well work with what we have right now." Jack continued to steer the ship around, dodging various lasers. Another laser glanced off, taking away one layer of shielding and damaging the one below it. A moment later, the one below was back up.
"Do you mind if I turn off the gravity?" Halsey said. "That is, if you don't mind free fall."
"Go ahead. I'm strapped in."
"Okay." He turned off the gravity. All weight left the cockpit.
In most ships that doesn't change much, but in something with huge cargo bays like a bulk freighter, well, that just might give it the extra edge it needed.
Jack turned the ship, and once the I-wings came in range his rear end was pointed towards them. A few blasts hit the back, and one actually burned through the shields, but did little damage. The I-wings peeled off without formation, except for one jockey who flew between the two huge cargo bays and the middle cockpit/engineering area.
A few moments later the shields were back on. But a few more shots came, and went through.
Halsey had only a few yellow lights on his board. The hotshot who had flown through was coming back around, pulling an intricate flip maneuver, bringing him rightside up and on exactly the same course as he was on before. At the last second he shot twice, burning the portside cargo bay slightly, but doing no structural damage. The pilot aimed towards the middle, expecting to be fine.
He wasn't. Jack flipped the freighter sideways, at the last second. The ponderous ship took almost a full second to turn diagonal, but once it did the shields of the I-wing clipped the edge. It went spinning out of control. According to Jack's sensors, it's weapons and shields were out, and it had severe structural damage.
That particular one stayed back a few kilometers for the rest of the fight. The other two came around again, and Jack could feel the lasers hitting his ship.
He turned at full speed. "Our shields aren't helping. Let's just hope that those little peashooters won't hurt this behemoth all that much. All power to engines, high speed trajectory into the asteroid field."
"Yes sir." Halsey replied. "Turning off our transponder."
Jack felt the engines almost double in thrust. All three I-wings turned after him at full speed. One started to catch up, and flew overhead. The powerful fusion engine blast pushed down at what little shields were left, then the I-wing was left behind. They too started on high speed courses. Now they were starting to catch up.
Small meteorites were bouncing off of the hull. Jack was starting to get worried. Then he saw a cluster of asteroids almost dead ahead. He made the necessary course corrections, and started slowing a little. Not much, just enough to maneuver.
He weaved in and out between the large asteroids. Nothing that the smaller and more agile I-wings couldn't do, but it was worth a try. They slowed, but followed him easily.
A small, fast moving comet appeared on Jack's sensors. He flew up behind it, and followed it. He was now inside the tail. He started charging the shields up again, and lowered his engine speed only to make up for the loss caused by the tail material hitting him. Then he shut off everything else in the ship, even life support and navigation. This one he could do just with engines and shields.
Twice the board came to life with information, when the I-wings' sensors came by. But neither time they were noticed. Then they were gone.
Jack waited another few minutes. Eventually, his shields were back up to full. He slowly turned everything back on and pulled out from the comet's tail. He turned his short range sensors on. If they could sense the energy emissions from his ship's systems, than they could sense his short range sensors. There was nothing.
He turned on the long range sensors. Still nothing. Simple glimmers of white asteroids and comets.
He set the computer to register anything unusual in it's scans, any energy sources or metals. Then he turned to Halsey.
"Good work, Cap'n. Didn't think you had it in you." Halsey said. "Now I'm gonna go get myself something to eat."
"No, you're not." Jack replied. "You are going to check out that battle damage while I keep watch in the cockpit. You can eat after you're done."
"Aww, darn it cap'n. Those lasers couldn't a' done too much. Just burned through the shielding some, that's all. That's what the hull is for!"
"I want you to check it anyway. And that I-wing probably hurt our cargo bay as much as we hurt it."
"Okay, whatever you say." Halsey shuffled off down the corridor.
A moment later, the computer bleeped. The computer had done a scan, and found a small amount of unused fuel and metal components in the area. Jack leaned forward, and keyed in for a closer scan of the metal fragments.
The computer bleeped again. Three dead bodies floated outside. Three pilots. With the remains of the three I-wings. There were also some heavy plasma trails.
Jack tried to sort out the trails from those of the I-wing's engines, but the computer had no success. It wasn't made for rigorous tracking, only simple scanning of ships and bases.
There was a haze of plasma exhaust in one direction, presumable where the I-wings had come from. Then there was another line, thicker and blurrier. Jack turned towards it and did a quick scan.
It led to another asteroid, farther away from the clump. The I-wings didn't go there in there search, did they?
Jack opened up an intercom to the whole ship. "Halsey, get up here."
A few moments later, Halsey ran in the door. "What is it, boss?"
"Our I-wing friends got attacked. See?" He pulled Halsey down so he could see the sensor data. Halsey looked, and narrowed his eyes.
"Check for ion cannon residue in the ships. And for evidence of missile strikes."
"The sensors aren't all that great, but I'll try." Jack typed in a few more perameters. The computer stopped, then bleeped once more.
"Yeah, some ion cannon residue on some of the remains. About two thirds. They were trying to take some prisoners." He looked closer, "And it looks like one of the ships got hit by a missile or a torpedo. Can't tell which."
"Probably a C-wing." Halsey said, "They're the only ones with such wide and dispersed trails, and that have ion cannons, missiles and plasma beams."
"How do you know it was plasma beams?"
"Because the ships are both ruptured and melted. Has to be plasma."
The ship rocked.
"Well, there goes our shields again." Halsey said. "Two torpedoes. Slight hull damage on the starboard cargo bay."
A ship appeared on their short range scopes. It had been coasting silently at long range, then turned everything on at short. Jack took a look at the sensor data.
It was a C-wing alright. Heading straight towards them at full speed. It's shields were down, but it's weapons were fully operational. Four plasma bolts splatted against the ship's hull, doing some damage. Red lights were now all over Halsey's board.
Four ion bolts hit the hull, then four more. The whole panel shut down.
Any resemblance to any other characters, fictional or otherwise is purely coincidental. I am innocent. Please don't sue.