Galactic Guide: Kiel System

This Galactic Guide originally appeared in Jump Point 4.11.

The Kiel system was a major hub of military activity during the cold war, but since relations with the Xi’an have improved, the system has worked hard to redefine itself. The Senate’s recent official recognition of the system’s third planet, Severus, is considered proof to many that some of that hard work has started to pay off.

The system was discovered by a Merchant Marine fuel collection vessel operating in the Hadrian system. The ship’s captain, Adhama Schnauss, made it a point to take a different route on each collection trip to keep the crew on their toes. One day in 2514, Schnauss noticed a strange anomaly on their scans and redirected their course to investigate it. What they found was a large jump point connected to a new system with a white, F-type main sequence star surrounded by six planets and an asteroid belt. Schnauss named the system Kiel after a longtime friend who adamantly refused to leave his home planet of Mars. Schnauss hoped the gesture would motivate his friend to finally venture into the stars to see the system that bore his name.

Military pathfinders scanned the system to discover that none of the planets were naturally habitable and only the third one, Severus, was deemed suitable for terraforming. As the terraforming process was underway, jumps to two new systems (Baker and Horus) were discovered, igniting massive public and private interest in the system. Even though it hadn’t been officially inhabited, it was already well connected to the expanding eastern-edge of the empire. It had a mineral-rich asteroid belt, gas giants to be used for refueling and soon, a terraformed world to serve as the system’s nerve center.

Yet, all that changed when in 2542 when Marie Sante discovered a jump into Xi’an space from the Horus system. Being connected to the Perry Line, Kiel was now only one system away from Xi’an territory, so the UPE quickly re-designated the system. Much to the dismay of the companies that had begun prospecting as the terraforming process was completed, rather than opening the system for economic development, the government drafted plans to make Severus a massive military hub, a decision that would define the system for centuries.

Military Machine


Once Severus was habitable, the military moved into the system en masse. Ivar Messer had recently risen to power partially by cultivating fears over the Xi’an, so pouring government funds into Kiel was considered an impressive show of force against the new alien enemies.

Over the decades, the military’s strong presence in Kiel also proved beneficial for domestic pacification purposes. Its proximity to Terra was a noted concern amongst the growing anti-Messer activists, who saw it as a potential staging point for invasion. There were even rumors that Terran Senator, Assan Kieren, who mysteriously disappeared in 2638 after drafting a bill that would grant Terra sovereignty apart from the UEE, had been abducted and taken to a military installation on Kiel II.

Kiel’s military footprint was greatly reduced in the early 29th century after tensions with the Xi’an de-escalated and the Perry Line was dismantled. However, as the military moved out, attracting private sector companies to replace them in the system proved difficult. With large swaths of resources removed by the military, an aging infrastructure in need of repair, and without a significant population, it just didn’t make economic sense for many businesses to expand into Kiel.

That started to change under the guidance of Joona Tzur, who was elected Severus’ Governor in 2903. Tzur was one of only a few hundred people whose Kiel roots extended further than two generations, beginning with his great-grandmother who chose to remain in the system upon retiring from the Army. He knew Severus’ strengths better than anyone else and specifically recruited industries to the planet that could capitalize on the military’s infrastructure and abandoned bases. The strategy worked and numerous giants of the space industry set up factories in the system. In addition, Tzur knew that he needed more than businesses to grow his homeworld, and so he invested heavily in public leisure and green spaces, claiming that a happy population is one that grows.

One of Tzur’s most notable victories came when he convinced the Intergalactic Aerospace Expo to host the event on Severus. Tzur’s main selling point was the numerous decommissioned spacecraft hangars that could house the massive event. After a rapid series of upgrades were made to the facilities, the IAE was held on Severus for the first time in 2916 and has been one of the system’s main economic drivers ever since, creating additional hotels, restaurants, and attractions in its wake. Today, in addition to the Aerospace Expo, many other conferences use the facilities throughout the year, making tourism one of the largest growth sectors for the planet.

The economic turnaround and rebranding of Kiel has been considered a success by many, including the Senate who official recognized Severus in 2937. The system’s population has continued to swell ever since. With plenty of jobs and considerably less congestion than other systems (like Terra), Kiel was recently voted one of the “Top Ten Most Livable Systems” by the editors of New United.

Kiel I


This small mesoplanet is sun-scarred on one side thanks to it being tidally locked.

Kiel II


Kiel II is a rocky planet that features a thin atmosphere and a good deal of mystery. Scans of the planet reveal the presence of resources, yet the UEE has strictly prohibited any mining operations. This has led some to believe the planet may continue to house classified underground military installations.

Kiel III (Severus)


Severus is a rocky planet that was quickly terraformed after the system’s discovery. Named after a famous Navy admiral who distinguished himself during the Second Tevarin War, it served as a key military hub during the cold war with the Xi’an. Once relations thawed, the planet’s permanent residents worked hard to help it find a new identity.

Things started to turn around after RSI agreed to open a large factory to manufacture their improved line of thrusters. RSI brought a fresh flow of people and creds into the system, which encouraged other companies to follow suit. Soon word spread that the planet had plenty of work and an affordable cost of living. Blue collar workers arrived in droves, and the planet saw its populace consistently rise for decades. It wasn’t long before the Governors’ Council applied for and received representation status, with Tzur’s daughter Janna Thurville elected as Severus’ first senator.

The influx of people and business allowed the government to redesign parts of the planet for civic use. The planet’s capital, Eri City, received the most attention. A number of old, drab military structures were demolished and beautiful public parks built in their place. Though the planet still lacks a unique cultural identity, its fine dining scene is surprisingly strong. There have been great strides in making the planet’s soil arable again, and with housing expenses being relatively low, many people are more than willing to splurge on gourmet meals.

Kiel IV


A picturesque gas dwarf that’s a striking deep blue color. The planet’s rapid spin means it only takes 16 standard Earth hours to make one complete rotation.

Kiel V


This massive gas giant has a planetary radius of over 57,000 kilometers and an impressive set of planetary rings that extend well beyond that.

Kiel VI


It takes this protoplanet 44,512 standard Earth days (about 122 standard years) to make one trip around the system’s sun. A festival is currently being planned for the next time it reaches its perihelion.

TRAVEL WARNING

Miners have long coveted a chance to pull resources from Kiel II, and over the years, numerous unauthorized attempts have been made. Yet, even though the military no longer dominates the system, it still maintains a strong presence and is quick to go after those who disobey the mining prohibition on Kiel II.

HEARD IN THE WIND


“The true potential of the Kiel system is still untapped and unmolded. I don’t see its lack of an identity as a hindrance, but rather as the ultimate opportunity to create something new.”

– Governor Joona Tzur, inauguration ceremony, 2903

“The boring, nondescript building was originally constructed and used by the military when they controlled the planet. For centuries, it housed stodgy military bureaucrats, but now it’s home to Nocturne, one of the most exciting new restaurants in the UEE. Like much of the Kiel system, what looks dull and unimpressive at first blush becomes much more fascinating upon closer examination.”

– Gloria Budd, New United “Top Ten Most Livable Systems,” 2945

Source: https://robertsspaceindustries.com/comm-link/spectrum-dispatch/16895-Galactic-Guide-Kiel-System

OP.NET: Combat Haggling

Independent Mercenary News

Welcome to OP.NET. Your single source for all the news, tips, and insights that any independent mercenary could ever want. I’m your host Conva Maynard. And although we’re not Guild affiliated in any way, I’d like to give a special welcome to Local Guild 806 out in Ferron who comm’d in to tell me about their weekly OP.NET gatherings. While it may surprise some of you to learn that Guild members would be fans of the program, in fact, more and more of our audience are people like the 806 who are eager to get their hands on any solid information no matter the source. Basically, what I’m saying is that Skiv’s reviews are useful no matter who you are.

I know a lot of time it can feel like it’s an ‘us versus them’ thing. Independents and Guild members out there scrapping for the same work, arguing about what’s the best way to handle our business, but if you want to know the truth, we all have a lot more in common than not. We’re all trying to do the job the best we can. I’ve always felt an important part of being independent is respecting and learning from the way other people like to operate. Yeah, the Guild may not be for everyone, and it sure as heck ain’t for me, but for a lot of folks it makes sense and that’s okay. OP.NET is all in favor of making the choice that’s right for you, as long as you do the proper research and diligence first.

Speaking of, with this week’s Job Board, research all of these opportunities on your own to make sure they check out square before signing up for anything. We say it every episode, but any merc worth their body armor always vets their leads before making a move.

First up, we got an offer coming all the way out of Oberon. A growing refinery concern, Miguello Extraction, has expanded recently and it seems that a local outfit of marauders has taken notice of Miguello’s success. While the Navy have been flying more ships in system as of late, their priority is definitely dealing with any Vanduul threats, leaving folks like Miguello to fend for themselves. The company has been hit more than a couple times this year and they’re looking to hire a security detail to patrol and protect their spread of collector arrays, ASAP. What’s interesting about this contract is that they aren’t just looking for sluggers to tangle in the field, they’re looking for strategic consultants, someone who can help figure out the logistics of guarding such a large area. So, if planning routes, schedules, and security protocols gets your thrusters boosting, and you don’t mind how isolated the location is, then I’d snatch this one up right quick.

Next, we got something for those of you who might be a little less cerebral. An individual wishing to remain anonymous had their estate robbed of a so-called “sensitive item” by a local gang. Now, they’re being blackmailed for the return of said item unless they pay up. For various reasons, paying the ransom is not palatable, so they’re looking to hire a recovery team. Now you can see why there aren’t a lot of public details on this one. The crooks catch wind that their mark is hiring mercs and you can bet they’ll retaliate. For my creds, a job like this requires either a very light touch or a very heavy hand – i.e. sneak in so they don’t know you’re there or hit them so hard and fast they don’t have time to do anything but panic. Hard to say which is best without some more information but that’ll be up to you to acquire. Understandably, this contract’s looking to staff up fast, so if you’re interested, don’t wait long.

Finally, we’ve got an escort contract protecting a hauling convoy doing regular runs out to Tal. What makes this job a little bit different than your standard fly-along is that the escorts will be expected to directly interface with the Xi’an criminal houses in control of the sectors the route travels through. Since the passage of HuXa, I have seen more and more of these kinds of requests popping up, and I don’t know about you, but I pretty much know next to nothing about navigating the intricacies of Xi’an politics. Figured that it was about time I do something about my ignorance and hopefully help out any of you interested in operating in Xi’an space.

Please join me in welcoming to the show our special guest for today, former MISC security officer Jack Leong.

Jack Leong: Pleasure to be on the show.

Thanks for taking the time out of your well-deserved retirement to talk with us.

Jack Leong: Don’t worry, I’m having my granddaughter keep an eye on the fish for me until I can get back to my boat.

So, just for a little bit of history, my understanding is that you worked for MISC going on sixty-two years?

Jack Leong: Correct. Joined them right out of equivalency as an off-shift factory guard and worked my way up from there. I’m one of those odd people you meet who’ve only ever worked one job in their life. Didn’t even have to bother with the whole Guild or Independent debate. Just always been MISC.

Now, I’m sure with six decades in security we could fill a couple episodes with your advice and wisdom, but for today I wanted to talk to you specifically about your experience operating in Xi’an space.

Jack Leong: I’m happy to tell you what I can.

You were one of the first civilian Human pilots to officially be permitted to fly a combat ship through their territory correct?

Jack Leong: That’s right. Back in 2910. MISC had just signed their partnership deal and was going to be sending some execs and techs out to Tal on a regular basis. I was the lucky guy picked to go along and make sure all the important people got there and back in one piece.

What was that like? Flying into Xi’an space for the first time?

Jack Leong: Security-wise? Pretty darn easy to tell the truth. It was a big deal and all eyes were on us and the Xi’an to see how this whole thing would shake out. Nobody was going to risk anything happening to us. We got a military escort everywhere we went. For the first five years at least.

Turned out, that was all the initial lendlease agreement covered. After that, we were on our own and let me just say it was a damn pretty steep learning curve.

Sounds a bit like my dad teaching me to EVA by kicking me out an airlock.

Jack Leong: Not too far from the truth. First flight after our government protection ended, we ran into a collector for one of the major criminal houses, the Kuang.

Let me see, I have a list of terms here. That’s a yu’at.ōngh’uitā, correct?

Jack Leong: You’ll have to excuse me, I never did learn to speak much Xi’an. Blame it on me relying on my extremely competent translators too much.

No worries. We’ll post a bunch of terms to our spectrum page for anyone who’s inclined to look it up. For now, would you mind explaining a bit more about these criminal houses?

Jack Leong: Basically, the Xi’an have legal crime. I know that doesn’t sound like it makes much sense but that’s the way they do things. Criminal houses get permission from the government to run what amounts to a protection scheme; pay us and we’ll leave you alone.

I heard that’s what they do, but I still have a hard time believing it.

Jack Leong: I did too at first, but after having to deal with the system for a few decades I’ll admit the logic of it all is appealing. The Xi’an will tell you that they have just come to terms with crime being a fact of life and since there’s no way to get rid of it, why not try to control it?

The criminals have to follow certain rules, right?

Jack Leong: Exactly. For example, they’re limited to only taking a certain amount of profit every cycle. They’re not allowed to kill. They can’t take all your cargo. They can’t hit the same people too often. And that’s just a few of the rules. As with all things Xi’an, the list is long and complicated. One of the more interesting things is that a lot of the time these criminal houses wind up acting like security forces since it’s usually them who hunt down and catch rogue outlaw Xi’an who break the rules.

That thing about not being able to take all the cargo has to be pretty nice for haulers.

Jack Leong: Well, to risk sounding like the retired old dodder that I am, it’s a bit like fishing. Take all the fish out of lake in one go, and next time there won’t be anything for you to catch.

Wish some of the gangs out here showed that kind of restraint.

Jack Leong: It’s all a numbers game with the Xi’an. In fact, another way to think of Xi’an crime is almost like a second tax or an alternate form of insurance. Depending on how much you fly you can choose to risk being held up, or you can plan ahead and pay a fee. After being robbed a few times, MISC eventually figure out that it was smarter to just make regular payments to the Kuang.

Sounds like it would all be pretty straightforward after that.

Jack Leong: It would have been if it weren’t for the renegotiations. It was never clear if it was because we were Humans or if it was just because we were seen as valuable targets, but more often than I’d like our payments were refused.

Let me guess. They wanted more money?

Jack Leong: Yup. It meant that we would have to settle on a new price en route. Or as one of my associates called it, “Combat Haggling.”

Okay, definitely want to hear more on this, but I’m gonna have to ask you to hold that thought right there, Jack, as we need to take a quick break.

When we come back, we will have plenty more insights from Mr. Leong and Skiv will be by to provide his hot-take on the newly available fighter from Aopoa, the San’tok.yāi. All that and more as OP.NET continues.

Source: https://robertsspaceindustries.com/comm-link/spectrum-dispatch/16892-OPNET-Combat-Haggling

Something Every Tuesday: IAE

[ Music ]

Announcer: Don’t crawl into that the cryopod just yet. Not when there’s Something Every Tuesday, with your host Esen Landari!

[ Applause ]

Thank you! I’m absolutely thrilled to be here with all of you. Make sure to give it up for SET’s very own talented announcer, Christine.

[ Applause ]

Christine, just to check, were you implying that people out there are debating between putting themselves in to a state of frozen stasis and watching our show?

Announcer: Yup.

Great.

[ Laughter ]

I, for one, am very excited to see what they choose. Hopefully, they stick around because we have a fantastic show coming up. One of my personal favorite comedians, Langer Lewis, will be coming by fresh from his latest tour.

Plus, cleaning expert Daryl Hissup will explain how to transform your hab from funky to fresh. Something that I’m personally dying to know. No matter how hard I try to stay organized, stuff just always starts to pile up everywhere. My place has gotten so bad that I actually had to switch from hiring cleaning crews to contracting search and rescue teams.

[ Chuckle ]

Now, normally I break down all the biggest stories of the week for you, but I’m gonna be honest, there’s only one thing that I’ve been following: this year’s IAE.

[ Cheers ]

For you planet-bound folks out there, I’m talking about the Intergalactic Aerospace Expo, where a few days from now all of the ‘verses biggest and best manufacturers will be coming together to show off their latest and greatest. It does not get better than this for a gearhead like me. Well, maybe if Consolidated Outland announced they were designing a gravlev called the Esen.

[ Laughter ]

Silas, feel free to comm my people.

[ Chuckle ]

Besides all the new ships and tech upgrades, the real excitement is that the IAE Board of Directors recently announced that there is not going to be just the one Expo on Kiel this year, but that they are adding an entirely new second location.

[ Applause ]

Of course, most of that excitement goes away as soon as you find out that the second Expo is going to be hosted on Hurston.

[ Laughter ]

Not quite sure what the Board was thinking on this one. My best guess is that they thought people would have fun if it smelled like the Expo was being held inside a fuel tank.

Okay, actually my real best guess is that Hurston Dynamics paid them a ridiculous sum for the honor. No one knows for sure, but the rumors have it well into nine digits. Apparently, the ol’ Colonel, CEO Gavin E. Hurston himself, has been growing tired of the bad rep his planet has gotten over the years. That’s why last year they built a giant new convention center just outside of Lorville. Guess how many conventions they’ve hosted since it opened? One. And that was for Hurston Dynamics annual management training.

I guess it’s hard to draw tourists when the two things your planet is known for is labor violations and toxic shock.

[ Laughter ]

Of course, having a second Expo isn’t all bad. While tickets to the main Expo on Kiel sold out weeks ago, IAE Hurston has plenty left. And according to the IAE, the Hurston Expo is going to have all the same vehicles on display. That means no matter which Expo you go to, you will still get to see in person all the Origin models that Ellroy Cass crashed this year.

[ Laughter ]

But not all ship buzz this week has been focused on the IAE. Did you hear about the capture of Kelligan’s Bazaar? One of the biggest Advocacy busts this year. A vice sting operation discovered a Kraken filled to the brim with just about every illegal contraband item you can think of, all thanks to some enterprising outlaws setting the massive ship up as a floating black market.

Shopper Impression: Excuse me, can you tell me where I can find the vials of Slam?

Store Clerk Impression: Of course, sir. Just make a right past the stolen kidneys. If you hit the cage full of crying Osoians you’ve gone too far.

[ Laughter ]

So much for Drake not making ships for criminals. CEO Anden Arden was quick to point out that just because some creative people were using the Kraken for illegal activities does not mean that Drake condones such activity. To which the entire universe responded by winking back at him.

[ Laughter ]

Okay! Our special guest Daryl Hissup will be joining us in a little bit. But first, we have a special edition of —

Announcer: The Headlines of Tomorrow!

[ Music and Applause ]

That’s right, Headlines of Tomorrow, where we give you a special preview of the biggest news stories that will be making headlines all this week.

First up, we have this headline straight from the IAE.

Anvil premieres their new ship: the Arrow. Vanduul respond by making their ships even pointier.

[ Laughter ]

Next up is a touching headline for the upcoming holiday on December 3rd.

UEE holds an Empire wide moment of silence to honor Anthony Tanaka Remembrance Day. Most people use that moment to think, ‘Who is Anthony Tanaka again?’

[ Sparse Chuckles ]

Okay, guess I need to wait a few more decades before making Tanaka Jokes. Our last Headline of Tomorrow is also from this week’s Expo.

Drake Interplanetary introduces a new Kraken variant called the Murderer. Claims it’s designed to help teach children how to read.

[ Laughter ]

All right, we have to take a quick break, but when we come back, cleaning tips with Daryl Hissup and comedian Langer Lewis, right after this.

[ Music ]

Source: https://robertsspaceindustries.com/comm-link/spectrum-dispatch/16869-Something-Every-Tuesday-IAE

Portfolio: Intergalactic Aerospace Expo

For spacecraft enthusiast Audrey Timmerman, Lo was the ideal place to grow up. Every day, a wide array of ships would make the trip into atmosphere from the bustling spacelanes above. Family members recalled Audrey spending her nights staring out the window of their flat in the Walden Towers housing development and identifying ships as they flew past solely on the configuration of their running lights. In an interview with the Terra Gazette, Timmerman couldn’t recall what first got her interested in aviation: “I don’t remember one specific ‘ah-ha’ moment. That love was just always there.”

Timmerman came from a family of modest means who couldn’t afford to own a ship, but her parents indulged her passion by taking her to New Junction’s bustling trade port to watch the ships take off and land. In 2656, Timmerman eagerly joined the Navy with dreams of becoming a pilot. Unfortunately, her piloting skill lagged behind those who already had years of flight experience.

Still, her vast knowledge of ships and eye for detail did not go unnoticed. She became a mechanic and rose through the ranks to became a pit chief aboard the frigate UEEN Solis. Assigned to patrol the Perry Line, the Solis spent its time as a mobile support ship for UEE strike fighters that monitored the Xi’an jump points. She described it as ‘long stretches of boredom punctuated by moments of terror,’ but that changed one day when a flight of fighters brought back something from their patrol: wreckage of a Xi’an ship. While Timmerman was intimately familiar with Banu ships from her childhood in Corel, seeing the Xi’an’s unique design approach was both fascinating and inspiring for her.

After ending her Naval service, Timmerman returned to New Junction and opened Intergalactic Aerospace Repairs in 2667. The shop quickly garnered a reputation for being able to fix just about anything. In her off hours, Timmerman devoted herself to her true passion, trying to reverse engineer the Xi’an tech she had seen in the Navy. Relations between the two species were antagonistic at the time, so it was impossible as a civilian to get her hands on Xi’an tech, leaving her nothing but memories and ingenuity to work with.

Humble Beginnings

In 2670, Timmerman finished installing Xi’an-inspired maneuverable thrusters on Poby, an old Aurora she named after her cat. Afraid to test fly the ship on a heavily populated planet, Timmerman and fellow aerospace enthusiasts loaded Poby and a number of other heavily modified ships onto a transporter and flew to the nearly desolate planet of Castor to test fly them. Though it was an informal gathering, historians now considered it to be the very first Intergalactic Aerospace Expo.

Poby’s first flight was a disappointment, as a power surge fried a number of her experimental thrusters. Timmerman wasn’t deterred by the failure — quite the opposite, she was energized by the process, and it wasn’t long before this group of experimental spacecraft enthusiasts were meeting regularly to discuss and examine various mods they were building. The annual test flights on Castor became a tradition and grew in popularity over the years.

One of the members of the group was Steffon Dillard, owner of Steffon’s Ship Emporium in New Junction. He recognized the popularity of the annual gathering and approached Timmerman about sponsoring the event. He would provide the latest ships for the enthusiasts to check out in person, and hopefully make some sales in the process. Timmerman agreed and, needing a name to put on the ads Dillard was creating, decided to borrow from her own company to get the name Intergalactic Aerospace Expo (IAE).

Over the next decade, the event became large enough that other retail outlets and parts manufacturers were eager to show off their own goods at the expo. Once that happened, it wasn’t long before the major ship manufacturers took notice. In 2683, RSI became an official sponsor of the IAE and has been one ever since. Each year, more and more sponsors and booths appeared at the event.

Purists decried its corporatization, but Timmerman vehemently justified the expansion. To her the Expo hadn’t sold out; it had adapted and improved. Her final act was to create a nonprofit to officially manage the event, and ensure a large percentage of the revenue went to a charity Timmerman created called Simpod Pals, whose mission was to give underprivileged children the opportunity to learn how to fly.

Spooling Up

In 2847, the board of directors made the decision to rotate the location of the IAE each year. The public explanation was that it would give more people the chance to experience the universe’s premier aerospace event.

Numerous systems clamored to host the event and enjoy the economic windfall that came with it. The event hopscotched from planet to planet for the next few decades until the 2913 event in Ferron was almost canceled due to Asura’s inability to meet the minimum hangar and power standards outlined by the IAE’s contract. Shortly after this scare, the IAE board was contacted by Governor Joona Tzur of Severus about bringing the event to the Kiel System. IAE officials were impressed with his presentation, but more so with the facilities his planet could offer. Severus contained numerous hangars (initially built and used by the military), plenty of available landing pads, and more than sufficient accommodations for visitors. After impressing the IAE board with Kiel’s facilities, Tzur went in for the kill. He offered to make vast upgrades and improvements to the existing facilities if the IAE agreed to make Severus the event’s permanent home. Still reeling from the Ferron controversy, the board of directors took a vote and approved the proposal. The IAE has been based in Kiel ever since.

The Intergalactic Aerospace Expo has come a long way since its humble beginnings on Castor. Due to insurance and legal issues, it’s no longer about amateurs test flying experimental ships. Instead, renowned pilots like Chelsea Yan and members of the Navy’s famed ‘Wreckless’ Squadron 999 dazzle attendees with impressive flight maneuvers, while ship and component manufacturers unveil their latest wares. At its core though, the Intergalactic Aerospace Expo is made for those young dreamers who find themselves staring up at the sky to count running lights.

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Source: https://robertsspaceindustries.com/comm-link/spectrum-dispatch/16841-Portfolio-Intergalactic-Aerospace-Expo

Far From Home: Best Laid Plans

Best Laid Plans

Hey there, folks. It’s me, Old Jegger, calling out across the void. Glad this installment of Far From Home has found you. Here’s to hoping I can provide you some companionship on your journey. Heck, maybe even a smile or two. Those looking for wisdom might be disappointed. Sure, my life has been a crazy trip with more twists and turns than the Defford raceway, and a lot of it I only weathered by white-knuckling life’s flight stick and not letting go. Still haven’t figured out if that makes me ‘wise’ or not. But you know, with everything I’ve been through, it definitely makes me lucky to have survived.

Shana and I are currently in the outer edges of the Charon system, waiting for an old friend. We’re gonna keep them company on a run and reminisce a bit. It sure is a sight out here. Most folks just consider Charon IV a regular ol’ ice giant, but she’s got a special place in my heart. Starlight reflects off her in a way that’s always stayed with me. Glad I made it back here to see her again.

Normally, this is where I answer some questions commed to me, but I was reading through a few and got a bit overwhelmed. If I’m being honest, many of y’all are asking for advice that I can’t provide. Either ‘cause the subject is outta my league or something I don’t feel right weighing in on, and I’m too old to start pretending otherwise.

Guess this is the long way of explaining why I picked the question I did for this show. Among the various inquiries about how to mentally prepare yourself for life on the drift, or pointers on how to avoid grief from unruly types, there seemed to be one simple question at the heart of those being sent my way… why?

As in, why in the hell did I decide to live my life like this. Drifting all alone amidst the vast expanse without anyone but myself, minimal supplies, and Shana. It sure as hell isn’t the life I planned, but I learned a long time ago that you don’t plan for your future, you prepare for it. That might sound the same but trust me, there’s a difference. Planning is aspirational. It’s what you want to happen. But preparing is practical. It’s what’s left of your plans when life knocks you off course, which has happened to me more than I’d like to admit.

This might surprise some of you, but I once lived in Charon. Built a little homestead on Charon III with the plan of putting down some roots. I’d been wandering ever since I left Vann and was ready to return to solid ground and enjoy a nice quiet life.

I found a spot in the Dellin desert that was desolate but beautiful. It was by a small oasis, which sounds more impressive than it actually was. Let’s just say the water was way too salty to drink and not even deep enough to drown if you passed out drunk in it. A few other folks lived nearby. Close enough to create a sense of community but not get in each other’s way. I hadn’t really experienced anything like it before, and I… well, I began to understand the appeal.

I fixed things for my neighbors and developed a reputation that had folks from other parts seeking me out. I even entertained the thought of opening my own repair shop. After growing up in one and watching all the stress slowly drain the life out of my ma, I had always told myself I wouldn’t live that way, but for the first time the idea didn’t seem like such a bad one. Funny how I left home all those years ago searching for something different and somehow ended up in a place that felt familiar. A strange feeling to be sure. That itch to escape had faded and I had begun planning a future for myself that I would never have believed possible.

Then a terrible drought hit Dellin. I knew they occurred from time to time, but I wasn’t prepared for it. Didn’t take long before the oasis evaporated, leaving nothing but a salt flat in its wake. Some folks picked up and left right then and there. They were the smart ones. Leave it to Old Jegger to learn his lessons the hard way.

Water became particularly hard to come by. A hauler hired to bring in regular shipments was ambushed by some desperate folks and the pilot killed. After that no one was willing to make the delivery, at least not at a cost we could afford. Lacking any other options, I began making water runs myself. First I went to Acheron but the second someone got wind I was from Dellin the price doubled. Bastards knew the terrible situation we were in but didn’t give a damn if it meant they could squeeze a few extra creds outta it.

Soon I was making runs out of system to load up on food and water. The experience provided quite the crash course on how to run your ship sigs low enough to not attract attention. Folks desperate for supplies are willing to do just about anything. It wasn’t long before I was spending more time in my ship than at the homestead. Soon, I was justifying extending my hauling runs even further out just so I wouldn’t have to return to Dellin quite so soon. And when I was home, I was missing the drift something fierce. Wasn’t long before I had to admit to myself that the old itch had come back worse than ever.

I chewed on the decision over my next few runs. Returning to my wandering ways wasn’t so easy. People depended on me, and I wasn’t so sure what they would do if I left. Finally, I made up an excuse for Langston, one of the remaining residents, to join me on a run. Didn’t take long for him to figure out that I was showing him the ropes. When we got back I broke the news to everyone else. They didn’t give me no grief and thanked me for all I’d done. They even threw me a little going away shindig. That only made me like ‘em more.

I hadn’t been back until this trip. I kept telling myself that it’d be too dangerous, what with the terrible war between Dellin and Acheron still raging. Deep down I was also worried that going back might stir up thoughts about settling down. The trip definitely triggered some strong emotions but none of ‘em had me questioning my decision.

My old homestead’s still there, barely, but all my old neighbors were long gone. Not too surprising. The water’s still all dried up and the ground as salty as a Snaggle Stick. It was good to be back, but I’m glad it’s not my home no more.

Guess that was the long way of saying that the reason why I live the way I do is because it’s complicated. It’s partly because I’m just a restless soul who prefers his own company, and partly because life pushed me that way. This life isn’t for everyone but it’s definitely the right one for me.

[ Beeping ]

Damn, has it been that long already? Sitting here, recollecting the past and enjoying a slow drift by Charon IV has sure been fun, but it’s time to move on. There’s still so much out there for me to see.

This is Old Jegger, signing off.

Source: https://robertsspaceindustries.com/comm-link/spectrum-dispatch/16835-Far-From-Home-Best-Laid-Plans

Galactic Guide: Leir System

Galactic Guide: Leir System

This Galactic Guide originally appeared in Jump Point 4.10.

Leir is an unclaimed system that some once thought would develop into a major hub for Humanity. Discovered by an ICC scanning team canvassing Banshee in 2677, the pathfinders were thrilled to discover an A-type main sequence star with three mineral-rich and potentially habitable planets. The system’s initial assessment sparked interest in both the public and private sectors. Imperator Illyana Messer VI, still tightening her grip on the reins of power, decided not to commit resources to the system, leaving Leir’s official status in limbo.

Small time miners still went in droves. Many of them didn’t come back. Strange stories circulated and the system soon had a bad reputation both for danger and for its lack of basic services. There was only one settlement with any kind of longevity in the system. Located on the second planet, the settlement of Leir was a nexus of shiftless travelers, greedy miners, fugitive criminals and cold mercs looking to make a cred. Though the settlement was subsequently wiped out by the terraforming process, the name had been so firmly established in the public imagination that it became synonymous with the entire system.

In 2743, Galor Messer IX decided to capitalize on the still unclaimed system and opened the floodgates of commercial progress. He authorized the auctioning of a terraforming permit for Leir II, the system’s clear crown jewel, in an effort to fund his legacy, a complete foundational redesign of UEE government buildings. The winning bid was so high that many assumed it was a mistake. Turns out, it wasn’t.

The aggressive bid was the UEE’s introduction to Hatfield & Harding, a new venture between Clarence Hatfield, an eccentric trillionaire from Lo, and Olive Harding, a selfmade mining baron. The two had big plans for the planet. Now all they needed was someone to carry them out.

THE NEW DOCTOR


Hatfield and Harding scoured the universe and eventually found Dr. Marcus Fayel. A terraforming expert at UPARQ, his peers subsequently described him as brilliant, charismatic and ideal for the position. Dr. Fayel secured the job by the end of his initial interview.

Once operations began, Dr. Fayel established Leir II’s first terraforming colony atop the planet’s largest mineral mother lode. It wasn’t long before a clandestine mining operation was up and running. For years, Dr. Fayel hid the operation from Hatfield and Harding and funneled the profits to himself and a close cadre of associates who oversaw the operation. No one knows exactly when, but the stress of overseeing a massive terraforming project and hiding an illegal mining operation got to Dr. Fayel.

In 2803, the Hatfield and Harding board of directors named Dr. Fayel the company’s “Employee of the Year.” He declined an offer to receive the award in person, and instead sent a vid to the banquet. In it, Dr. Fayel consistently repeated the phrase “purity of purpose” and spoke in grandiose terms about the world “I am creating.”

No one batted an eye, though. According to multiple banquet guests, Dr. Fayel was hard to hear over the roar of company board members, who were more focused on advancing their own inebriation than hearing Dr. Fayel.

On May 3, 2812, the company abruptly lost all communication with their operations on Leir II. A few hours later, a looped message was broadcast from the planet. Dr. Fayel, dressed all in white, stood in the foreground while rows of workers stood in perfect order behind him. He announced that the planet’s “purification” was accomplished, but control of it would remain in his hands. He spoke at length about Humanity’s hubris and declared his intention to separate his believers from the rest of society. Dr. Fayel ended by declaring his intentions were peaceful, but that his followers would defend the planet to their death if anyone attempted to overthrow their authority.

Hatfield and Harding were furious. The company had been hemorrhaging money for decades and were in desperate need of a revenue stream. Quietly, they scrounged together credits and hired mercs to retake the planet. Archival records would later reveal that the company’s executives doubted the workers would stand with Dr. Fayel when push came to shove. They had no idea how wrong they were.

Though no one knows exactly what happened the day the mercs struck, scattered comms between them paint enough of a picture. The invading forces entered atmosphere and landed to find the population center deserted, only to be ambushed after they separated into teams to search for Dr. Fayel. The attack was designed to draw the mercs away from their ships and allow the craft to be taken intact. Some believe those ships constitute the backbone of the fleet that still patrols and protects the planet to this day.

Word of the failed operation spread fast, and Hatfield and Harding were brought before a Senate subcommittee to discuss the events. Investor confidence plummeted along with their stock price. It wasn’t long before the company folded and the fate of Leir II was left in Dr. Fayel’s hands.

Meanwhile, the UEE kept their distance since the system was officially unclaimed. Hatfield and Harding’s attempt to retake the planet only proved that the residents were willing to fight to the death to protect their new home. And after only recently ousting the Messers from power, the UEE had no stomach to use military force to impose their will upon more people.

To this day, many have theorized, but little is truly known, about Dr. Fayel’s tactics to convince the workers to stand by him for this grand experiment. Some believe it was decades of masterful information manipulation and brainwashing. Others have wondered if some unknown event triggered a mass psychosis upon the workers operating in an extremely stressful environment. Records turned over by Hatfield and Harding did show that no workers had requested to leave the planet in the project’s final five years. It is unclear whether everyone truly believed Dr. Fayel or whether dissenting voices were imprisoned or faced a worse fate. Following the merc invasion, Dr. Fayel and his disciplines were effectively cut off from the rest of the universe, earning the name that is still used to describe them — the Outsiders.

So the Leir System has subsequently languished. It doesn’t receive updated infrastructure and still lacks traditional trade routes and opportunities, all of which makes Leir one of the most fascinating systems around.

LEIR I


This small, rocky planet is naturally habitable, but not an ideal place to live due to its lack of infrastructure and amenities. A small mining population does call it home and is happy to trade with haulers.

LEIR II (Mya)


Descendants of the original Outsiders still control Leir II, though they call it Mya. Some of Dr. Fayel’s hardline stances have been softened since his death, but most residents still treat visitors with contempt and most of the planet is deemed ‘off limits’ to visitors. Some are willing to sell items, but all refuse to buy anything.

Some visitors find the lack of commercial hustle and bustle unsettling, while others see it as soothing. Even without the appeal of trade, the planet is worth a visit solely for its stunning mountain ranges. It’s easy to see why so many believed this was a paradise worth protecting from the greater universe.

Purporting to be a “pure” planet, its population centers are unique. Due to the lack of building supplies from the greater universe, many structures use the same type of rocks, or are even cut directly into the mountainsides.

LEIR III


The third planet in the Leir System is a rocky orb teeming with resources. Early scans detected an abundance of graphite and crystals, encouraging many miners to risk landing on the planet despite the deadly storms that plague the surface.

Today, the planet has no permanent settlements since the large indigenous sandworms, known as Valakkar, seem to have a predilection towards destroying them. Some brave miners and outlaws do live in temporary encampments around the planet, but most embrace a nomadic existence and move regularly to stay ahead of the storms and worms.

TRAVEL WARNING

Though the Outsiders shun external influences, don’t assume they aren’t equipped to protect themselves. A local militia patrols the planet in reliable yet aging ships, and they are not afraid to engage those seen as a threat.

HEARD IN THE WIND


“As I stood, gazing upon what I had perceived to be Humanity’s magnificence, a thought struck me, piercing my skull like a nail of light. It is only through purity of purpose that a planet such as this can be created to not only survive but thrive. I had been led astray. I had believed that I was righteous. I was not. But I will be.”

– Dr. Marcus Fayel, Hatfield and Harding “Employee of the Year” acceptance speech, 2803

“There’s a potential for greatness in this system. The second world, in particular, features stunning landscapes, appears to be overflowing with resources, and is ripe for terraforming. If easy access to the system is ever attained, the UEE needs to ensure everything is done to bring it into the fold.”

– Katherine Oliver, ICC Stellar Surveyor’s initial assessment, 2677

Source: https://robertsspaceindustries.com/comm-link/spectrum-dispatch/16805-Galactic-Guide-Leir-System

Portfolio: CitizenCon

Today is meant to remind everyone that the future of the UEE is what we make it. If we want a better universe for not only ourselves, but for the generations to come, then we must create one.”
• Imperator Erin Toi, CitizenCon 2793

For over a century and a half, CitizenCon has celebrated those that strive to make the UEE a better place. This annual conference spotlights the civic-minded, celebrates their achievements, and focuses on how to make the UEE better by highlighting and discussing the vital topics of the day. In short, CitizenCon embodies the hopes and dreams of those working to improve the universe for all.

CitizenCon typically occurs every October 10th SET and is the marquee event celebrating the Empire-wide holiday, Citizen Day. While people across the UEE observe the holiday in various ways, only one city gets to host CitizenCon itself. The event rotates locations each year, and hosting it is considered both an honor and a significant undertaking, much like achieving citizenship.

2948 brings CitizenCon back to New Austin. Over the decades, Terra has hosted the event numerous times. Only Earth has hosted it more, going back to the first ever CitizenCon in 2793 at a time when the Empire was still grappling with rebuilding itself after the fall of the Messers. Imperator Toi pushed the event as a way to provide hope and optimism that the UEE so desperately needed at that time.

Citizen Day Creation

The UEE celebrated Citizen Day for centuries before holding the first CitizenCon. When the governments of Earth first introduced the modern concept of Citizenship in the 22nd century, Citizen Day followed soon after as a way to celebrate civic responsibility. It would also become the day on which new citizens were sworn in. For hundreds of years, it was seen mostly as a bank holiday in which people would get a day off work and children would be reminded of the importance of achieving citizenship.

However, this would change under the Messer regime. While Galor Messer IX is generally credited with creating the modern elaborate version of the holiday in 2734, records released under the Historical Truth Act revealed that it was actually proposed by high-level military advisors. At the time, a surge in Vanduul raids in the Tiber system had the military concerned. Their troops were suffering losses, resources were stretched thin, and they worried that redeploying forces from the Perry Line to Tiber would be perceived as weakness by the Xi’an. The military needed more pilots, starmen, and soldiers to properly address the issue, but their recruitment numbers had been dropping for decades. Thus, they proposed that Messer IX inspire the masses into service by refocusing Citizen Day as a holiday that “celebrates citizens and the sacrifices they make in creating a better UEE.”

Galor Messer IX wholeheartedly endorsed the idea and planned lavish celebrations across the UEE on 2734-10-10. Messer IX wished to rally support for massive tax hikes to pay for his biggest obsession, constructing and remodeling government buildings in the Meta-Baroque style. Meanwhile, the military used the holiday to stir up xenophobic fears and launch a successful new recruitment effort. On the surface, this Citizen Day celebration achieved its goals, though it also made an impact in ways that Messer IX or the military never intended.

While many people came to greatly enjoy the yearly celebration, for years, Citizen Day festivities were forced upon the inhabitants of Terra and other systems opposed to Messer’s fascist and militaristic regime. A move meant to remind them of who truly ruled the UEE. Yet, celebrations in those locations took a very different tone. With massive protests against the Messer regime effectively illegal, activists turned Citizen Day into a chance to gather and subvertly celebrate the true power in the UEE – the citizens. Speeches given at events in Terra reinforced the idea that it was the sacrifices of citizens that made the UEE great. They strongly implied, but never outright stated, that the Messer regime would only remain in power as long as the citizens allowed. An Advocacy investigation from 2741, which was released as part of the Historical Truth Act, found that following Citizen Day there was a ‘substantial increase in membership of subversive groups.’ The civic holiday proved itself equally good at stirring loyalties, no matter which side of the political spectrum they lay. The fact that Citizen Day actually helped empower citizens to create a better future makes it a rare remnant of the Messer regime that persists in a positive way to this day.

A Celebration of Citizens

When the Messer regime fell in 2792, Erin Toi, the UEE’s first freely elected Imperator, understood the importance Citizen Day had in the early days of Humanity’s expansion. Facing a seemingly impossible task of restoring faith in the UEE government, Imperator Toi hoped Citizen Day could now be used to rally people to a new cause, the rebuilding of a wounded Empire. To lay out her case for the potential future of the UEE, Imperator Toi held the first ever Citizen Day Conference in New York on 2793-10-10. The symbolism of having it on Earth, the former center of the Messer regime’s power, was not lost on anyone. Imperator Toi used the occasion to give a rousing, inspirational speech about how the future of the UEE was now truly in the hands of its citizens.

Most people deemed the inaugural CitizenCon, as it would come to be known, a success. Some critics called it nothing more than a bloated campaign rally in the spirit of the former regime’s antics, and pointed out that the proceedings lacked specifics on how to improve the Empire. Imperator Toi took the critiques to heart and adjusted the format for the following year. Prime hosted CitizenCon in 2794, which officially focused on ‘Solutions for the Future.’ A not-so-subtle acknowledgement that Terra was the center of anti-Messer activism and the progressive politics that lead to their ousting. The second event featured a variety of booths and speeches tailored to a specific theme. The format set the standard for CitizenCon, though as history has shown, the organizers are not afraid to make further adjustments if necessary.

CitizenCon has produced many memorable moments, from last year’s unveiling of the revolutionary Consolidated Outland Pioneer to the often mocked ‘talent competitions’ of the early 2850s. For over a century and a half, CitizenCon has both informed, entertained, and inspired. Many of today’s current political, cultural, and economic leaders can point to a past CitizenCon as a source of inspiration. It is on this day that all the people of the Empire are reminded just how important Citizenship is, and hold it up as an ideal to be strived for and earned, no matter how humble the origins or difficult the journey.

In 2948, Citizen Day is set to be observed with great enthusiasm across the Empire, with a record crowd expected to attend the CitizenCon celebration in New Austin, with even more people joining to watch Drake Interplanetary’s keynote address on Spectrum. It reflects that the true heart and soul of the Empire is its citizens, who deserve to be celebrated for making the UEE what it is today. As Imperator Toi famously said during her opening speech at CitizenCon 2793, “The UEE is a dream that’s only possible with the support of the people. It’s a reflection of the universe they want and will fight to maintain. As long as the citizens stay strong, so will the UEE.”

If the sustained success of CitizenCon is any indication, the UEE is in good hands going forward.

Source: https://robertsspaceindustries.com/comm-link/spectrum-dispatch/16799-Portfolio-CitizenCon

Empire Report: Sataball Scandal

ALAN: Welcome to Empire Report. I’m Alan Nuevo.

BECK: And I’m Beck Russum. Today’s trip across the Empire takes us to New Austin where Victoria Hutchins has the latest details on preparations for CitizenCon 2948.

ALAN: But first, an update to the ongoing controversy in Fora. Marcus Carino, the leader of a local militia group known as the Defenders of the Free, spoke publicly for the first time since being accused of running an unofficial Customs checkpoint that led to the near-fatal shooting of four civilians. We go now to a vid of his comments from earlier today in Shoel.

[ Marcus Carino stands amidst a scrum of reporters before his Drake Buccaneer outside the Shoel Advocacy office. ]

MARCUS CARINO: The Common Law Initiative enacted in 2526 guarantees ‘fundamental personal freedoms’, which includes the right to defend yourself. That’s all we’re doing here, because the government sure isn’t. Look at the system’s crime data. Look at the current threat level. Fora’s getting worse each and every year, and I’m not waiting any longer for the UEE to do something about it.

Far as I’m concerned, the government’s guilty of dereliction of duty for not defending the residents of this system. More contraband passes between the UEE and Banu Protectorate here than anywhere else in the Empire. Known criminals and smugglers openly break the law each and every day, and none of them face justice. All they get is a damn smile and a wave coming through Customs.

It’s clear that the current enforcement mechanism in this system is broken, and the Defenders aim to fix it. I stand by our right to operate these checkpoints to defend the interests of Fora’s residents.

[ Back to Alan and Beck. ]

BECK: The alleged incident occurred last Thursday around 16:30 SET. Carino and other members of the Defenders of the Free were patrolling the area around the jump point when Giorgio Hwang’s ship emerged from interspace. According to witnesses, Carino and other militia members opened fire on Hwang’s ship without provocation, leading to the death of two crew members and seriously injuring Hwang himself. When local law enforcement arrived to secure the scene, they discovered that Hwang’s vessel was carrying several crates of stolen military weaponry in smuggling holds.

ALAN: The aggressive actions taken by Carino and the Defenders of the Free have been widely criticized by some but defended by others. Both the Advocacy and Customs Bureau claim to be monitoring the situation and weighing their options as an investigation continues into the legality of the attack. Carino claims that they scanned Hwang’s ship and found signs of contraband which led to the attack, however they have been unwilling to produce proof. We will continue to update this story as it develops.

BECK: Sataball fans across the Empire were stunned today when an anonymous source leaked comms between Terra Gryphons’ superstar Benedetto Bodie and members of a New Babbage drug syndicate. The messages explicitly discussed both the purchase of illegal drugs and how to beat drug tests administered by sataball’s Banned Substance Task Force. Here to discuss the developing situation is Colt Legrande.

COLT: Sad day for sataball, Beck. Benedetto is a certified superstar in the sport. To hear this news came as quite the shock to a lot of people.

BECK: What has Bodie’s response been so far?

COLT: Bodie has released a statement vehemently denying the allegations and the authenticity of the comms. It seems, though, that the Gryphons are approaching this whole thing cautiously. Bodie was missing from practice today, and Gryphons’ manager Maiko Shapiro refused to comment on either Bodie’s status or his participation in Sunday’s big match.

BECK: How is the league handling the allegations against Bodie? Is there any indication that disciplinary action may be imminent?

COLT: I spoke with Eldon Agawa, head of the league’s Banned Substance Task Force, who said that they will be opening an investigation into the matter to verify the facts of the case and determine if any league rules have been violated. Not only that, but word is the Advocacy will also be investigating this is a criminal matter. You really hate to see this happen to a player in their prime.

BECK: Is there anything we do know for sure?

COLT: One fact that I can currently verify is that Bodie did spend time in New Babbage this off-season. On the books he was there discussing a potential sponsorship deal with microTech, but that leaves a whole lot of room for what he may have been doing off the books. In the wake of this story breaking, several vids have surfaced of Bodie reportedly dancing at an exclusive club rumored to be popular with a less than savory crowd.

BECK: This wouldn’t be the first time that a vacation in New Babbage became a problem for a sataball player. The Stanton Knights’ Myles Mason was suspended for part of the 2945 season after being found in a New Babbage hotel lobby riding out an intense maze trip.

COLT: That’s right. The city’s growing popularity as an up and coming tourist destination for the young and wealthy has definitely drawn its fair share of players looking to blow off some steam. Unfortunately, it seems a few too many are crossing a line and partying just too hard.

BECK: Back to Bodie, if the comms turn out to be authentic, what kind of punishment could he face?

COLT: As far as the league is concerned, if Agawa’s investigation determines that Bodie both used a banned substance and tried to hide it, then he could be looking at a full season suspension.

Of course, talking about something versus actually doing it is a very different thing. Even if these comms prove to be authentic, Bodie could argue that he never went through with it and force the league to prove that he did. If he chooses to take a combative stance with the league, who knows how long this could drag out. Really though, it may end up being his teammates and fans that are punished if he’s not able to play.

BECK: Thanks, Colt.

ALAN: We need to take a quick break. Don’t go anywhere, because when we return Victoria Hutchins will join us from New Austin with some exclusive details about next week’s CitizenCon 2948 celebration, including a sneak peek at two new exclusive Big Benny flavors that will only be available at the event.

BECK: That and more when Empire Report returns.

Source: https://robertsspaceindustries.com/comm-link/spectrum-dispatch/16784-Empire-Report-Sataball-Scandal

On The Run, pt. 2

Part One of the story can be read here.

Alex leaned over the railing to look down at the sprawling plaza below. Streams of Banu flowed in and around the stalls and shops that crowded the marketplace. The near deafening noise was a constant presence. Sellers shouted proudly about their wares, shrewd traders loudly haggled over sips of sloma, while young runners darted about trying to lure potential customers back to their Souli’s Merchantman where the finest fuel cyclers or crog berries or whatever it was they happened to be selling was waiting for just the right buyer.

And even over all that noise Alex could still hear her stomach rumble.

It seemed the one thing that wasn’t for sale on the Bacchus flotilla was a decent breakfast. After a harrowing experience with a ‘Human Breakfast Special’ that had resulted in a shallow dish filled with sliced hot dogs and popcorn covered in what she could only describe as very thick orange juice, Alex had sworn off eating till she could get back to the few ready meals still safely tucked away inside the Belligerent Duck’s stores.

That would have to wait though. Pushing her hunger aside, Alex searched the crowds below for anything suspicious. Which, when you’re inside a Banu flotilla, is sort of like looking for uptight swegs when on Earth. More specifically, she was looking for any undercover Advocacy Agents or bounty hunters who had the gall to follow them into Banu territory.

Typically, the Advocacy would pursue a thief for a system, maybe two, before they called back their resources and left it to the Bounty Hunting Guild to chase the culprit down. It wasn’t that the Advocacy weren’t eager to see justice done, they just had more important things to spend their time and efforts on (like vicious outlaw gangs and crazed serial killers). It was why the Empire relied so heavily on the bounty system in the first place. Doubly so when the jurisdiction crossed into the Banu Protectorate. With a high enough price, you could have hundreds of bounty hunters searching for free and only have to pay the person who collected. It saved time and credits.

The Advocacy’s focus was on big fish, and Alex had worked hard at staying a medium fish at best.

Yet, her and Mas’ escape from Terra had proven to be anything but typical. Instead of having to deal with the normal gaggle of cocksure guilders fumbling all over themselves to get paid, the Advocacy had mobilized dozens of Agents across multiple systems in one of the biggest dragnets she had ever seen. Every jump point had been swarming. Plus, there had been the daily dispatches encouraging citizens to share information with the authorities. Why was it that law-abiding types were always so bored they couldn’t just mind their own damn business?

The Duck could barely stop to refuel without some good Samaritan recognizing them from the wanted posters plastered all over the spec. Mas had to work overtime blocking or delaying comms until they were away, and even then, they still had to fight their way free more times than was healthy. They had always pulled through, but only by the slimmest of margins. Their Mercury had the scars to prove it.

On top of that, Alex had been forced to call in just about every outstanding favor she had. In Pyro, a crew that owed them for a records wipe had agreed to tangle with the bounty hunters who had cornered them there. Though, to be honest, she suspected they would have done it for free with the amount of joy they seemed to take in the fight. In Tram, Alex not only had to wipe Old Mac’s debt clear to get him to help distract the Advos tailing them, but now they owed him a favor. And knowing the gummer, he was likely to milk it for all its worth. A problem for another day.

All in all, they had been pursued across seven systems and hadn’t been able to rest for a moment. Well, Mas barely slept on a good day so he seemed relatively unperturbed by the whole experience. In fact, having the chance to coordinate an intrusion on the Meridian Transit network in Garron had the hacker humming louder than she had ever heard him. And admittingly, Alex had laughed herself watching the hacked starliner routes stymy their pursuers. But that had been days ago. Now, here she was in Bacchus, tired, hungry, surrounded by a hive of Banu, and she could tell that her brain was far from firing with all thrusters.

Something about this job wasn’t adding up. Being paid to delete files at Behring instead of stealing them was strange enough, but now with the way the law had been after them? Even with a big player like Behring involved the response had been above and beyond. Alex felt like she was staring at a big red warning sign, but she was so exhausted she couldn’t read it.

What she really needed was about a month on Cassel with nothing to do but float, drink, flirt with Navy, and spend all her hard-earned credits.

Speaking of which, Alex brought up her mobi to check the time. Only a half hour until they met with Mr. Grouse and received the rest of their payment. Pushing herself up from the rail, she turned and headed towards the docking tube that connected Donosi Souli to the rest of the flotilla structure. Hopefully, Mas had been able to make progress on untangling the project data they had secretly downloaded from the lab.

A few steps behind, Mr. Grouse quietly followed.

To say that Donosi was Mas’ old Souli was a bit misleading, but it was easier for Alex to think of it that way. A programming guild, Donosi had been formed when the previous guild leader, Essosouli Olosso has died. Mas had used the turnover to buy his freedom, while most of the other guild members had joined Olosso’s heir Donosi when she established her ‘new’ Souli. So basically, all the same people working out of the same place, doing the same thing.

Fortunately, while Mas was no longer considered family, Essosouli Donosi was inclined to temporarily hire them both whenever they needed a place to lay low for a while. In exchange for Mas doing some work for them, he and Alex received the protection that being part of a powerful Souli brought, keeping would-be Bounty Hunters at bay thanks to the intricacies of Banu politics.

Alex arrived through the old airlock that marked where the Donosi’s ship connected to the flotilla. Not that it was much of a ship anymore. The thing hadn’t flown in decades and was so hemmed in on all side by other structures it was unclear if it could take off even if it had wanted to. Carefully stepping over thick cable bundles, she made her way inside. It was cluttered for sure, but compared to some of the other Souli she had visited, Donosi was neat and organized. Rather than the usual overflowing collection of odds and ends that most Banu seemed drawn to, the computer guild’s wealth was all in data. Racks and racks of drives of various makes and models lined the walls, some of them older than her. In the center of the room, several Banu half-reclined at terminals pouring over lines of code. Over the sound of typing, she could hear Mas happily humming to himself.

“Any luck, Mas?” asked Alex.

“Oh, yes. Much,” replied Mas with a wide smile. “We have confirmed that Project Stargazer is particularly worthless.”

Alex turned to see Essouli Donosi enter the room. You could always tell when Donosi was approaching because the dozens of mobiGlas that she wore clacked together as she walked. “Oh, yes,” said Donosi. “Complete garbage.”

That red warning sign in Alex’s head started flashing a little faster. “What do you mean? We got paid a fortune to wipe this stuff.”

Mas walked over to Alex with a datapad and gestured to the screen. “This is Project Stargazer.”

“Looks like a targeting reticule.”

“It is a targeting reticule. Part of a design that was supposed to help gunners recalibrate their weapons if the sighting was off during combat. The project was shelved last year when it was proven in tests to only be slightly more efficient than not using it.”

“The datapod you stored it on is worth more than this terrible information,” said Donosi. “Total refuse. Utter trash. No one would ever pay anything for such a thing as what you have brought.”

Alex’s stomach sank when she realized that Donosi was repeating herself. A sure sign that the Essosouli was negotiating. Part of the agreed upon price for the Souli’s protection had been the info they’d stolen and now it seemed that Donosi was no longer satisfied with that deal. This was not good news considering that both her and Mas were technically indentured to the guild currently.

“You can keep the datapod then,” replied Alex. “Let’s go, Mas.” She pulled on his arm, trying to get him to follow her.

“Mas, stay where you are,” said Donosi in a firm voice. “Your debt has not been cleared.”

Mas stopped and Alex found herself uselessly pulling on what might as well have been a brick wall.

“What are you doing? Let’s go.”

“I am sorry, Alex,” said Mas. “I cannot leave until Essosouli Donosi approves.”

“Are you serious?”

“I will not break a given bond. I am not like a Human.” With that, Mas winked at her.

Alex had been the one to teach Mas to wink and it had quickly proven to be a terrible idea. More than a few deals had gone south thanks to him winking when Alex was attempting to stretch the truth a bit. However, since none of the other Banu knew what winking meant, the skill might finally have payed off. Mas wanted her to find a way out of this.

“And what do you think our debt is?” asked Alex.

“A month of labor. Mas will gain access to some difficult locked drives we have acquired and you will clean.”

Even if they hadn’t needed to make their rendezvous, there was no universe that existed where Alex would have taken those terms. A headache began to grow behind her eyes. Like she didn’t have enough on her plate without becoming a Banu slave for a month. Actually, Alex thought, why am I having to deal with this?

“And I say there is no debt. You agreed to take the info on the datapod and that’s what you got. A deal’s a deal.”

“Information that is worthless.”

“Yeah, that sucks for you. Next time negotiate better.”

A smile broke across Donosi’s face. “Very well. You are free to go.”

“Oh,” Alex responded a bit taken aback by the sudden shift. Even though she lived with a Banu, she still could be surprised by how alien the aliens sometimes felt. “Thanks.”

“Come on, Alex,” said Mas, getting up from the terminal. “We don’t want to be late.”

Mas worked the star runner’s scanner as Alex guided the ship towards the rendezvous coordinates the courier had delivered to her a few days earlier.

The relative quiet of the Duck proved to be unnerving rather than the relief she had expected. And even though she should have been able to take a break from looking over her shoulder now that she was back aboard her own ship, Alex still felt on edge. Nothing about this job was sitting right. Why would Grouse want them to purge useless data? Why would the Advocacy be treating them like the Empire’s most wanted? Why did Grouse want to meet again rather than just sending the credits. Why couldn’t she figure out what the hell was going on?

“This is a trap, yes?” asked Mas, having similar thoughts.

“Yeah,” agreed Alex. “You want to forget the credits and bail?”

“It is a lot of credits.”

“It is so many credits.”

Mas thought for a beat. “We can always get more credits. I am a very good hacker and you are also good at things.”

“Yeah.” Though she was sad to be losing the money, a huge sense of relief came over her now that the decision had been made. “Where do you want to go? Spider? Maybe finally check out Kayfa?”

“Neither, I’m afraid,” said Mr. Grouse from behind them, the energy pistol in his hand trained at Mas’ head. “You will maintain your current course.”

Alex, cursing herself, swore that from now on she and Mas were going to search all the berths for stowaways before taking off.

“Let me guess, Advocacy are waiting for us at the rendezvous?” asked Alex.

“Correct, Ms. Dougan. You will be arrested, tried and convicted. Of course, there is a chance I will be forced to kill you both before then, but I would prefer not to.”

“You know we’ll tell them about you, right?”

“That has always been the plan. The only surprise was you managing to evade capture this long. I was certain they had you at the Davien jump point. It was most impressive when your Mercury gave them the slip once again.”

“Wait,” said Mas. “If you wanted the thieves arrested, then why did you hire us? Why not hire bad thieves?”

“The job needed to be successful. A lesser team would have been caught before deleting the project.”

“But the files were worthless!” protested Alex.

“Enough, Ms. Dougan. We should be arriving at the ambush any moment now.”

“What about Prairie Lightning Delta?

“What?”

A moment after she had uttered the phrase-key, the EMP rigged under the main console went off.

With a sickening lurch, the ship powered completely down.

Mr. Grouse, unprepared, tripped forward off balance. Mas, very prepared, slipped his knife from its sheath and slashed at their captor’s arm. The pistol dropped to the floor and Alex dove, recovering the weapon before Grouse could.

“An EMP. Clever,” said Grouse, breathing hard, the deep gouge on his arm dripping blood onto the floor.

“Mas’ gets full credit,” said Alex. “Now, if you don’t mind, why don’t you start explaining what in hell it is you’re up to.”

Before Grouse could respond, bright headlights suddenly shone into the cockpit. An Advocacy Vanguard flanked by two Banu Defenders was quickly approaching their ship. The Agents must have negotiated their way in with the Security Souli in this sector.

“I am afraid it’s too late,” said Grouse.

“Comm them and tell them we’ll kill you if you don’t stand down.”

“Why would they care about a corpse?” asked Grouse, reaching his fingers inside the wound on his arm.

“Mas! Stop him!” shouted Alex.

Mas reached out, but not fast enough.

“Your Empire thanks you for your service,” said Grouse as he used his fingers to sever his brachial artery. The trickle of blood turned into a gushing flood. Grouse collapsed to the floor unconscious.

Alex was certain that the memory of what Grouse had just done would hold the top spot for the most terrifying thing she’s ever seen for a long time to come. “Crap! Do you know first aid?”

“No.” said Mas, looking down at the body and its widening pool of blood. “Did we ever buy more medpens?”

“Crap. Crap. Crap. Help me get some pressure on him or something.”

It was then that the ship’s power kicked back on.

—gent Duck. This is the UEE Advocacy. Prepare to be boarded.”

It seemed Alex and Mas had a choice. Either tend to Grouse before he died, or try to avoid capture. It was a very easy choice. “Mas, dump his body in the lock and strap in!”

Alex threw herself into the pilot seat and opened up the throttles to max. The Mercury burst to life and hurtled towards the Vanguard, rolling to bring their port side to the Advocacy’s ventral. The shields flared as the twin Sawbucks on the Vanguard’s turret scored a direct hit. They held for now, but a few more hits like that and the Duck would be done for.

A head to head fight wasn’t an option here. They were outclassed. Emergency escape maneuvers were the order of the day.

Gaining a bit of distance from the pursuers as they rushed to turn around and give chase, Alex quickly opened up the rear ramp and turned off the cargo grid.

“Mas, special delivery!”

Alex pulled hard on the controls and Mercury flew straight up, leaving the ten crates in their hold floating behind them. She grabbed the blackout helmet she kept nearby for just this moment and quickly slipped it on, giving all new meaning to the phrase ‘flying blind.’

Mas began counting down, “Three… two… one… “

Alex heart skipped a beat before she remembered that Banu counted down to zero.

“Zero!”

Behind them, a small new sun burst to life as the crates exploded. Or at least that’s what it looked like. Or would have looked like if Alex could see anything.

Each of the crates had contained the equivalent of a hundred flares. The ten crates combined was enough to overload any nearby sensors long enough for them to clear range. And forget trying to track them visually. Those poor pilots would be lucky if they got their vision back any time soon.

Alex pulled off the helmet and lined up a QT towards the Bacchus asteroid belt.

“If we are going to be on the run again,” said Mas. “I think I would like to go visit Leir.”

“Sure, Mas.” said Alex. “It’s your turn to pick anyway.”

Alex let out a deep sigh and for the moment tried to ignore the pool of blood at her feet by concentrating on flying.

No answers. No money. But for now at least, they had their freedom.

THE END.

Source: https://robertsspaceindustries.com/comm-link/spectrum-dispatch/16762-On-The-Run-Pt-2