Privateer: Dark Deal


1st Lieutenant
Chapter 1, Part 1

Born poor. You'd think there was enough wealth in the universe that everyone could have a piece.

Ryerson reflected idly, staring into the dark pool of semi-sweet bitter in his mug. Out of all the places he could have chose to drink on a station the size of New Constantinople, he had settled for the Raging Devil, a seedy, most
likely unlicensed bar on Violet Deck. The lowest level of the station you could go before you hit vacuum. Where the gravity plating only worked 5 days out of 7. The poorly maintained neon-lights, the blaring synthesized music, the haze of cigarro smoke from an inadequate air filtering system and the smell of cheap booze threatened to overwhelm his senses.

Scanning the bar, he took a moment to drink in the diaspora of humanity that had encroached on this garishly decorated bar. A pair of bounty hunters, you could always tell who the bounty hunters were, they were the only ones in the bar openly showing guns that were too big for their hands. A group of hicks from some farming planet gawking at the holographic strippers occupied one booth. A freighter pilot and some cargo bay handlers in another. And at the corner of the
bar, was his contact. Dressed in a dark suit that probably cost more than the amount of money he made on his last job. Drax Suntova. Even the name sounded sleazy. He motioned for Ryerson to come join him at his table.

"Hey. I've got a job for you." No pleasantries, staight to business. Which is how he preferred it as opposed to socializing with someone who in all likelihood wouldn't have given him the time of day.

"The usual fare I suppose? Smuggling another crate of happy-pills to some piddly ass blackmarket on some rockpounder roid out in the middle of nowhere?"

"Naw, this one's different. An acquaintance of mine gave me a lead on some new kind of weapon that was found in this sector that's currently in the hands of an indy trader named Burrows. Real high-tech stuff, alien. Could fetch a mightly fine price to some gunrunners I know."

"You want me to swipe it? I'm not really a thief you know?"

"So smuggling drugs, outrunning authorities, bribing officials and putting hundreds of people into drug rehab makes you a good person?" Contempt.

"I never said I was an angel, I said I'm not a thief. What the hell do I know about stealing?" Rebuttal.

"It'll be a cakewalk. The guy flies solo, no crew, and leaves his ship out in the open hangar." Assurance.

"So why don't you do it, or find an actual thief? I'm a pilot. I move stuff from A to B." Indignation.

"Well, let's just say that there are several learned collegues in my trade that are also after it and the associates I would normally choose for this job are known to be connected to me. Whereas you are not. If you were to steal said item, there wouldn't be much of a trace to lead the others to me. You want the job or not? I can advance you 50,000 creds for this one and promise you 150,000 more on delivery." Placation.

When a man smiles and offers you an obscene amount of money in the shittiest hole in the universe, there's always a catch. Usually the kind that ends up with a bullet hole in your head.

"No thanks, I wouldn't know what to do, I'll take my chances and grab myself something a lil less shady."

"I won't offer you this again. So are you sure?" Veiled threat.

Ryerson nodded curtly and stood up to leave.

"Well then, I won't keep you, best of luck in your endeavours Ryerson, flysafe."

Stepping outside, Ryerson wondered if he had made the right choice. He had a ship that was in need of repair. A crew that was basically his family that he had to support. And debt. Always debts to pay off.

I'll just pick up a standard courier job when I get to the hub. Something nice and easy.

He walked out of the bar, out of the side street and into the cavernous corridor that served as the main transit line in this sector of the station. Cargo flitters and ground vehicles of every shape and size zoomed past him. He looked around the busling crowd and shouldered his way past street vendors, beggars and pedestrians and began the trek towards the docking bays when it began to rain.

Rain. It was raining on a goddamn space station. He craned his head up and 10 decks high above he saw that a water pipe had burst and was spilling it's recycled contents on the miserable mass of humanity below.

"Attention citizens. A water transfer pipe has suffered a malfunction on Violet Deck, Section 4. Maintenence Crews have been dispatched. We apologize for the inconvenience." a cloyingly sweet synthesized female voiced boomed over
the PA system.

Always a female voice. And a nice one at that. He mused that she could probably say "Attention citizens. We are now flooding the decks with poisonous gas and will rob your bodies once you're dead." and no one would care because
she had that sweet of a voice.

The rain continued to pour overhead and started to dampen his flight jacket. He hurried his pace towards the hub accessways. Ducking into an alcove to shield himself from the rain, he drew out and lit a cigarette.

"Please extinguish your cigarette. Oxygen is rationed on this level. Thank you for your cooperation."

"Sure thing honey." he said aloud as he took another drag and continued on his way. The rain was finally starting to let up as he reached the entranceway to the hub, the network of transit lifts and railcars that connected him to the merchant offices and docking bays in the station. Waving off an aggressive peddler of reconstituted soy mush and now thoroughly soaked, he stood waiting at the lift that would take him to the docking bay where his ship was berthed and where a mission terminal was available. Maybe he could find himself an easy cargo run to the next system, just a small job to keep things going just one more day.

One more day. He brooded.

He was brooding. Clenching a fist and gritting his teeth, he swore under his breath.

What a fool! No one refuses a job from me. I'll find someone else to take this job. I always get what I want. And I'll get someone to get rid of that asshole. No one refuses a job from Drex Suntova. NO ONE.

If Drex had been paying more attention to his surroundings rather than plot the demise of a lowly spacer, he would have noticed the barrel of a gun pointing right at his head.

Space. Gemini Sector. New Constantinople System.

Born poor. If Jesus had been a spacer, he would have had a Tarsus like this one.

The Fat Betty ploughed her way through space. Her overworked and undermaintained engines, rattled and groaned to keep up with the demands her pilot put on them. But keep up they did. They propelled The Betty faster than her standard specs and gave the flying metal brick the agility of a master ballerina. Or so Ryerson's engineer thought.

"Jake! Check the engines again, I'm seeing a 10% output variance in the left engine, it's playing havoc with the autopilot when you can't even fly in a straight line."
Ryerson's middle aged engineer poked his head through the hatchway. "Sure boss, but I keep on telling ya, the engines are fine, it's the nav puter that hasn't been calibrated yet to the changes I made to the injection manifolds in the primary transfer conduits. But I'll check it just the same."
Pointing in the general direction of the engine room/cargo hold access, "Thanks Jake, make the final check on systems before we jump. And make sure those cargo containers are secured down properly. I don't want a million packs of vacu-sealed chicken curry to explode all over the hold if a microid nicks us."

"You got it boss."

Swivelling his chair back around, he stared into space. Once, long ago, he would have been awed and slack-jawed at the inspiring view outside the windshield. But now, it was just space, empty black space. Like driving along an endless road surrounded by nothing but prairies. He saw he wasn't alone, dozens of ships, large and small An ungainly Orion class armed merchant ship shot past the viewpoint, engines ablaze with the fire of a star. Through the rear windows of the ship he glimpsed as a fellow starfarer waved at him in a friendly manner.

"We should have station personnel give the engines a once over next time we dock Rye." said his co-pilot Hendricks as he settled down into his seat. A burly man, who's calm demeanour seemed to resonate menace and who would have looked more in place brawling at a spaceport bar than sitting behind the controls of an aged cargoship. That is, until he cracked a smile and a hearty laugh that would make anyone believe he was more gentle than tissue paper.

"Yeah? How am I suppose to pay for those wrench jockeys?"

"Didn't you pick up a job from Suntova?"

Hiding a flash of irritation from surfacing on his face, Ryerson quickly replied, "Just wasn't up our alley, we'll find something a little more lowkey after we drop this shipment off." and left it at that.

An insistent beeping sound started to permeate the control cabin and a blinking blue light bathed it in a soft glow. They were coming up on the Jump Point, a nexus of warp energy in the cosmic symphony of the universe where if played correctly, would hurl a ship dozens of light years to another solar system.

"Coming up on the jump boss, better strap in."

Like the hundreds of jumps that he made before, he said a little prayer to whomever was listening.

A silent mantra, a small plea to the gods of fortune. Please. Please, let the next jump lead me to wealth.

The universe screamed. Space twisted, folded and tore itself apart as the energies of the jump engine warped and shaped the ethereal void around them and hurled the ship to it's destination. Varnus System.

Born Poor. The government will nickel and dime you even when you're on your deathbed. No breaks for folks like me.

"I'm sorry Captain, but according to our records, your ship," and he said the word ship as if wondering if the word qualified for the hunk of metal he was looking at, "has unpaid and overdue docking fees at this facility. I cannot let you disembark your cargo until the outstanding balance has been paid in full."

"Look here, ah Officer Reynolds" sparing a moment to glance at the man's nametag "I don't know what you're talking about. The last time I docked here was well over a year ago, and I was ordered to undock by the station administrator to help fight off a Kilrathi raid. Afterwards I went about my business and never re-docked."

Without missing a beat, the agent replied in the same officious tone,"Yes sir, that may be true, but the fact still remains that you docked here a year ago, undocked, and never paid the fees."

Ryerson quickly shot back, "Well, you never paid for the energy I expended fending off that Kamekh corvette that made a run at the station. How about that?"

Clearly non-plussed and with the barest hint of annoyance in his voice, the agent replied, "You can always take that up with station management sir, but they will just tell you the same thing, Article 7, Section 27 of Confederate Spacefaring law clearly states that an officially recognized government high official can commandeer any vessel in his or her jurisdiction and press them into serv.."

"Fine fine fine, whatever, I'll pay the fees, just charge it to my credit account." cutting the agent off.

"We did try, over a year ago, but it seems your credit account with Gemini Savings & Loans is in arrears."
With a gasp of exasperation, Ryerson threw up his hands in an overexagerated gesture of surrender
"Oh for Chri-... fine, here's my biometric print, charge it to my personal account."

Questions? Comments?