- Apr 24, 2007
So to rip off aelf's post, I too have begun a story (novel? short story? comic book script?!?! who knows) which I will post here just to see if any deems it worth continuing or if it just plain stinks. Really I have no one to give me any feedback as I dare not show anyone I know irl until it's finished. Here goes. Sorry about formatting! Tabs don't work so well on forums, so I'll just try to double line everything for readability. Also I modified some of the more adult language for these forums so if a couple expressions sound cheesy, now you know why.
"Hey watch it!" Gerry heard as he stumbled around a corner right into a loader tech returning from break.
"Sorry," he mumbled as he regained his balanced and continued his frantic pace towards the central offices. It wasn't often one was called up to central and usually it was for something bad. And something bad usually turned even worse if you were late and Ger was down to two minutes until his scheduled time with five minutes of walking to go. Hence the frantic pace.
At this rate I might make it, he thought, provided he didn't collide with any more maintenance workers.
The call came in thirty minutes ago, Gerry got it from the loading dock supervisor that he was to report to central offices for something. No indication of what. Unfortunately powering down the loading equipment and changing into something presentable took the majority of those thirty minutes, not leaving much time for travel. Gerry figured itd be better to bust it and push it to the limit than leave his loader undocked and show up in hydraulic grease stained coveralls. Ger had personally never left his loading equipment out but had seen the repercussions of such an act.
Just last week a temp was promptly shuttled back down to Mainland for not properly stowing all his gear at the end of shift. Gerry couldn't risk that.
Here he was, a goshdarn great freighter pilot relegated to loading dock duty due to "lack of corporate experience," whatever that meant. He found it difficult to equate a professional smuggling outfit as corporate and wasn't sure how anyone got experience flying out on the lamb through FTO blockades without actually just doing it. But being a poor kid from Maynor V didn't afford him a lot of options, especially since losing his academy scholarship. Gerry was always one to take risks in the pilot seat, but risking a billion credit ship to impress your instructors in the frontier obstacle run exam probably wasn't the smartest move he ever made. Especially when he dinged up more than just the paint job. He can still remember the stinging words about responsibility, teamwork and hotshot flying from his instructor as he was being escorted to the academy commander's office for expulsion.
Still, it was his reckless style that got him noticed by the local smuggling talent scout Reggles. Though loading dock duty was far from what Reggles promised him with his recruitment spiel, Ger was willing to put in whatever dues necessary to one day get his shot. Then he would show everyone what he was really capable of. And for all he knew this call from central offices was his shot. Or it could just be something bad. Like it usually was.
With forty seconds to go he bolted down the final corridor, and flashed his palm by the dna security sensors with a little apprehension that he wouldn't have clearance yet.
"I've cleared you through," said Gina from behind the secretary desk.
"Glad someone's on top of things today," he replied, secretly wishing that wasn't the only thing she'd be on top of today.
"I saw the call come in with only a thirty minute window so I figured this clearance deserved my, special attention."
Ok now Gerry swore she was flirting with him and full out blushed. Fortunately Gina couldn't tell since he was already flushed from his frantic pace in reaching the offices. Gina was an extremely hard chick to read though, one minute it'd be all fun and games, the next pure cold steely business. And she was like that with everyone, from the CEO to every dock worker to her own aunt when she visited that one time months back needing a shipping order filled. Still Gerry was certain she was flirting with him this time, or at least pretty sure. But that would have to wait.
"Go on in," Gina cooed.
Alright, this is it, Ger thought to himself as hit stepped in front of the main conference door. The door slid silently open and he stepped inside.
The room was sparsely, yet tastefully decorated. A large, dark wooden table, polished to a high shine so it almost appeared stone, dominated the center of the room. Rectangular in shape, it sat a dozen people in chairs made of the same wood surrounding it. The designs were of a simple elegance, almost as if the designer didn't want to detract any from the beauty of the wood. One could understand why, since organic materials were rare this far away from any garden world. One chair alone was more than his yearly salary, Gerry estimated.
Aside from that the walls were plain but with holo feeds integrated into a paneled display on the far end and a comm system pod in the ceiling. The lighting was minimal conveying a warm, relaxed atmosphere which seemed a bit at odds with the minimalist decorations.
Seated at the head of the table was the CEO, Mr. Brundaiseum. Gerry didn't know his first name but he did recognize his face from a company brief. In fact he wasn't even sure he had a first name, as most of the company employees never even called him Mr. Brundaiseum, just the CEO of Chief.
Seated to his right was one other person whom Gerry didn't recognize.
"Ah, Mr. Breaker, Geremiah," the CEO began. "Won't you please sit down." It was definitely a statement more than a question of invitation.
"Yes sir, thank you," Gerry said as he slid into a chair several down and opposite the stranger.
"Please call me Bjorn, sir is such a formality, and we don't have the luxury of formalities tonight, as you shall see." He spoke with a very smooth, yet deliberate cadence in a low tone. Yet his voice carried despite the volume, in a way that enhanced his authoritative appearance even more.
"Well in that case, call me Gerry. Only my grandpop and school teachers ever called me the long version."
Mr. Brundaiseum smiled slyly. "Alright Gerry. We chose a closer chair for you, if you don't mind. The crucial nature of this conversation merits a more intimate feel, not impersonal raised voices across the span of this office."
After having it pointed out to him Gerry noticed the chair to the left of the CEO was pulled out for him.
Stupid! He thought to himself, he ought to be more observant, especially if he wanted to make a good impression here.
Removing himself from his prior choice of seating, he also subconsciously tried to place the CEO's accent. It didn't sound native Sol, but the depth of his voice mixed a strange feeling of inviting warmth mixed with cold and deadly precision. It sounded almost noble but with a harshness of life experience behind it, not a pampered nobleman's life. Somewhere definitely off world, like how the ruling class from Maynor V, his own home world, used to talk, though that wasn't quite it. He couldn't place it.
"There that's better," Brundaiseum continued as Ger took his seat. "Now, the matter at hand. Of course it goes without saying that anything said here is purely confidential and will be known to no one except us three present."
"Of course Sir, I mean Bjorn. I'm a man of discretion," Gerry replied.
"Good. The Captain gleaned as much from your dossier. He's very astute in analyzing such documents- speaking of which, I don't believe you've ever met- this is the Captain."
The man seated to Brundaiseums right barely nodded. But his eyes bore deep into Gerry's skull like tiny mining lasers searching for something deep inside his soul. It was unnerving.
"Its uh, Gerry stifled a small, nervous cough, a pleasure to meet you sir."
"The Captain only speaks when he finds it undeniably necessary, as a precaution to preserve his anonymity, as I'm sure you understand." Of course Gerry did not. "And since I can convey all of his thoughts on this particular matter it will not be necessary for him to address you, though he saw it necessary to be at this meeting so he could meet the man first hand who would be entrusted with his company's security and future."
His company? So who is this guy if the CEO is calling it his company? Gerry thought.
The man was not old, but one could see the years of experience in the lines of his face. He had full jet black hair, cut business like, though his clothes looked more like the other smuggler pilots than a sharp business executive. They were clean though, unlike most pilots, but they spoke more to simple utility than style. Gerry could see no expression on his face or in his posture. He was a blank slate aside from those burning eyes.
"I'm sorry sir-, Bjorn, I don't quite understand." Ger wanted to ask many questions but decided it better to simply wait for instruction. "I was only told to be here, not given any information regarding the purpose of this meeting."
"Of course you weren't, as I said before, this is all fully classified, as well as off the official company records. Let's get right down to it." Brundaiseum slid a small datapad over to Gerry.
"Two weeks ago we sent out top team out on a high priority delivery mission to Hephaestus Prime," he continued. "The manifest declares their cargo as medical research data and samples belonging to the private firm Prime Galactic Industries. I assume you're familiar with them as we do 20% of their commercial shipping and handle over 80% of their more discreet shipping projects."
"Yes I'm familiar with their account," Gerry replied. He had loaded up freighters with containers marked for PGI numerous times. So far everything on the datapad and Brundaiseum was telling him seemed routine.
"Everything on here looks pretty normal," Gerry said as he looked over the shipping report, "except hold on, there's a discrepancy here."
"Oh?" Brundaiseum lifted an eyebrow.
"Yeah, the receipt of goods electronic signature reads E. Lasater on 03.05.800 T-date but departure date shows the ship left on 29.04.800. For one thing E. Lasater is head of business development at PGI, he wouldn't be signing for something research and development related. I suppose that could be overlooked, but..." Gerry sort of trailed off in thought.
"What's the problem?"
"Well, four days simply isn't enough time for a class-E freighter to make the trip. It would take at least six. And none of the faster ships have the climate controlled cargo compartments necessary to accommodate research samples. Pardon me for jumping to conclusions, but it looks like someone copied an old delivery receipt and simply changed the dates and manifest ids."
A slow, eerie smile spread across Brundaiseums face. "I knew you were the right man for this job. You are very observant as well as having a strong knowledge of all our shipping activities, which is precisely the skill set required here. You see, the ship Maiden's Fancy was the class-E freighter assigned to this mission. She did indeed leave for PGI on 29.04.800 but she went dark two days into her trip and we haven't heard anything since. This receipt was forged a week after that to prevent further inquiries into the missing shipments, though obviously it wasn't up to our usual standards of excellence, I have to check into that later. Regardless I cannot disclose everything aboard that ship. Suffice it to say among the normal samples were some more sensitive ones and PGI does not want any outside exposure here. What we need now is someone who can follow the Fancy's trail and determine what happened. That's where you come in."
It was starting to make sense. But Gerry couldn't quite grasp why they would want him, a cargo loader who hadn't captained a single mission yet to undertake something so important.
"We've outfitted one of our recon ships for you," Brundaiseum continued.
"Unfortunately since you need to be fast and keep a low profile a recon ship is necessary, even though it won't be the most comfortable."
The Stellar Industries recon ship the company used had a four man cockpit with two seats facing forward and two swivel seats behind for utility crewers. You could get a nice nap in one of the seats at full recline or throw a cot across the back two but it would be a pretty rough go for anything over a night or two. And the sanitary facilities consisted of a small washroom only with no shower. But the ship was fast which would hopefully make for a short trip.
"You should start in the Hephaestus system, where we last had contact with Maiden's Fancy. Go there and determine their fate Mr. Breaker. Once you've ascertained their location we will follow up with further instructions. Any questions?"
"Just one," Ger replied. "Why me sir?"
At this point Gerry forgot about dispensing with the titles. His subconscious was forcing him back into a subservient mode, since he was being tasked with a high priority mission from the highest ranking members of the entire organization.
Brundaiseum took a short pause before replying. It was surely only a few seconds but to Gerry everything seemed to hinge on the next words out of his mouth and those seconds took hours to elapse.
"Well the truth is, there simply is no one else at this point in time. Our best crew was on this delivery and due to the sensitive nature of this assignment we can't pull anyone off of regular detail. Of those left you are the only one qualified both in technical flight skills as well your keen attention to details that will be needed to make this a success. Now if that's all you'd better get going. We've posted a cover for you in the flight plan master schedule for you to depart in forty-five minutes. It's all on the datapad. For your eyes only of course."
"Yes sir, Bjorn, sir, I won't let you down," Gerry said as he began to get up from his seat.
"I'm sure you won't," Brundaiseum replied.
Gerry had taken two steps towards the door- "Breaker," came the gravelly call. Gerry turned around slowly in a stunned silence. Had the Captain just spoken? And then he made eye contact with those piercing lasers and his question was answered. "Don't mess up."
Gerry took a couple seconds to let it sink in. The words hit him like a hammer and felt like a bag of bricks on his chest. It was so double sided. On the one hand they had picked him for his keen awareness and flight skills, Brundaiseum had said as much. On the other hand they chose him because he was literally the only one qualified who wouldnt draw suspicion, their last resort, and now the Captain was delivering lines like that. It didnt exactly feel like a vote of confidence.
Not knowing whether to reply, salute or run out he just stood there dumbfounded. Thankfully the CEO gestured towards the door and Gerry was dismissed. He turned and walked out.
Another few seconds of silence passed. Then the CEO broke it.
"I know he's capable and he'll need to be for this to work for us, but that's what worries me, what if he's too capable? Do you think he'll ask the right questions?"
"No," came the low reply, again in that gravelly tone. "He's perfect. He has no idea the hailstorm he's flying into. By the time he puts it together, it will be too late."
"How'd it go?" Gina asked as Gerry was rushing to exit the lobby.
"Oh, uh great," he said hastily, followed by an awkward pause. Gina often put him at a loss for words due to her gorgeously distracting looks, but right now Gerry was more distracted by the events at hand than the possibility of any future events with the secretary.
"Well I see you've got flight clearance at 1400 for Hephaestus. Gina didnt miss a beat and continued like nothing had happened. She had the looks and great personality. Drumming up sales leads huh?"
"Yeah, something like that," Gerry had not had time to check his cover story yet, but apparently it was scoping out possible business around Hephaestus. Made sense, that whole sector was a natural waypoint between the inner worlds and the rapidly developing garden worlds in Nebula and Omicron further out. The inner worlds were running out of resources and space so it was a natural migration once the garden worlds had been discovered some 50 years ago. It was a great time to be a legitimate hauler, and even better time to be a smuggler.
"Sorry to rush, but I've really got to go to make this departure," Gerry said, trying not to sound rude or just plain stupid.
"Oh I understand, just bring me back something ok!"
"Sure, you got it!" Gerry said maybe a bit too exuberantly, and with that he was out the central office lobby and on his way.
See I knew she was flirting, he thought. Too bad he wouldn't be back for at least a week, probably longer.
Gerry heading directly for the campus apartments, packed a few changes of clothes, some personal hygiene items and grabbed his vid player for use on any possible downtime he might have. And he was off. Half an hour later, at his exact scheduled departure time, he was pulling out of the landing dock B. Dock A was where main cargo craft were loaded up. B was used for everything else, mainly for housing and launching smaller craft for support missions like he was embarking on.
Gerry was a great pilot even before joining the academy. He was naturally gifted, so navigating the sparse traffic outside the docking area was a breeze. Once clear of the launch zone he keyed in his sublight drives for the nearest jump beacon. Independent faster than light travel was just becoming available to the public, after decades of military and galactic wide government research, but it was still prohibitively expensive for average spacecraft. Only the most lavish transports for the ultra rich, a few successful mercenaries and smugglers, and military had them at this point. The slower ships had to still rely on the jump beacons, large satellite installations that created a series of worm holes for ships to travel between. As long as a ship had the proper insulation to keep it from breaking apart at faster than light speeds any ship could use the beacons, though most were privately owned and charged tolls.
Gerry was nearing the beacon now and transmitted his jump pass credentials. Most of the beacons were fully automated. You just needed to submit some form of payment and your destination and sync your auto nav up to their navigation systems for the jump. Gerry sat back and relaxed into his seat as the auto nav kicked in. In a few hours he'd be arriving in the Hephaestus system. That would give him plenty of time now to formulate a search plan.
All of the company ships carried tracking systems which is part of what made losing the Maiden's Fancy so out of the ordinary. The tracking system was an active system where the ship had to transmit it's location back to company central, but it was also fully automated and fairly well protected via firewalls and physical barriers. In other words the only way to disable it was intentionally with some know how or by serious damage to the ship, enough to ground it for sure and most likely destroy it altogether. But if that were the case it should have also transmitted damage reports or some other incidentals before it was destroyed and central had gotten nothing of the like.
Only one other time had a ship's tracking gone completely dark so abruptly. It was a vessel carrying mining equipment that somehow got a bad jump from a beacon and ended up only a couple thousand clicks from a small sun and instantly vaporized. It didn't take too long to figure out what had happened though once the data from the jump beacon was acquired and computer projections were made. That sure led to some major lawsuits, bankrupting the top beacon developer at the time, and causing the Intergalactic Standards in Navigation Council to revisit some safety guidelines and pass a whole slew of new regulations.
It had also been theorized that a ship could be lost if a weapon powerful enough to instantly destroy it was developed, but no known government or planet had that kind of tech. Even the most advanced nukes and particle cannons, the weapons capable of destroying craft in one hit, showed the shots incoming, during which time any black box tacking computer would had transmitted those events back several times over, even if it was a point blank shot from mere kilometers away and hit within the span of a few microseconds. Gerry of course knew all this, since staying current on the latest tech was a sort of hobby for him. It was thus his conclusion that someone had deliberately disabled the tracking on the Maiden's Fancy. It not only seemed like the most obvious answer, but also as the only one with more than a remote possibility of occurring. Now the only question was why?
"But I'm not here to find out why," thought Gerry to himself. "I need to figure out what happened, not why it happened."
Still, he couldn't help but wonder if there wasn't something more to this event than was being told to him. He laughed to himself about that thought. Of course there was more than was being told to him, Brundaiseum himself said there was, said he couldn't disclose all the cargo contents. It wasn't exactly unusual for smuggling ships to disable their trackers. In case they got caught the trackers not only showed everything the ship had been doing, but if it was relaying positions to some central navigation they would be put at risk as well.
The thing is on contract jobs like this one there was nothing overtly illegal about it. It was possible, even probably, that the cargo Brundaiseum refused to disclose to Gerry was illegal but it was also more than likely that one, it would never be found by any routine customs procedures, and two, the proper wheels had already been greased to allow it through even if it was. So there was no reason for anyone on Maidens Fancy to disable the tracking, none that Gerry could think of anyway. At least, no reason that would benefit the company.
Gerry thought of Occams razor once more, "The most obvious answer..." as he mulled it over. The most likely possibility was that someone on the crew figured out that what they were transporting was worth a lot on the black market and decided to steal the ship and sell the cargo for personal gain.
"That has to be it," Gerry thought. And he wished that thought had occurred to him sooner. If that were the case all the company had to do to retrieve their cargo was monitor their black market channels, put out some feelers, and either attempt to buy their own cargo back or show up at the meetings of any potential customers. If the cargo was this valuable and unique it would be pretty obvious it came from Maiden's Fancy, no matter how much the thieves tried to wash it.
Gerry kind of struggled with this. "I mean Brundaiseum is a smart guy, I'm sure he already thought of that. Maybe the timetable for retrieval is too tight. Maybe the company can't wait the months it might take before this stuff shows up on the market."
In the end Gerry decided it didn't really matter. What did matter was tracking down the ship, then the crew, then the cargo.
He was pulled out of thought abruptly as his arrival alarms starting chiming. He was only a few minutes from dropping out of FTL. He would be on the edge of the Hephaestus system, since that was where the ship was lost, still about 12 hours of sub light travel from Hephaestus prime.
"Contacting freightliner AA dash seven zero one... we see your ID info coming up now... awaiting transmittal your current travel visas."
Gerry heard over the comm as he came out of hyperspace. It was a real live human manning the customs and immigration station, a nice change of pace from the usual automated stations. Although he supposed it could still be an AI with a human voice. Maybe even an android, a lot of them sounded extremely realistic compared to their organic creators.
"Transmitting now," Gerry replied as he hit the buttons to make the transfer. It wasn't really necessary to announce the transfer but he felt like being cordial today. Who knows, he might end up having to bribe the officer on duty for information later, so it wouldn't hurt to be polite up front.
He waited a few seconds for the reply. "Alright Captain Breaker, you're cleared for entry. But only for two days."
"What, why? My visa approval says I get ten," Gerry replied.
"Recent pirate activity in the neighboring system has flooded us with refuges as well as a lot of black market sellers. If you want to stay longer than two days you need to fill out additional forms CZ eight and nine as well as have corporate sponsorship. Read you data feed, it's all there in latest news and regulations."