This is the fourth episode of the Elite Dangerous – Tales from the Black travel journal.
Previous entries of the Tales from the Black series
Moving Goal Posts
Having evaded my foe with only a little bit of stress to the Sidewinder’s hull, I considered myself pretty lucky, all things considered. It could easily have been my first experience with waking up in a fresh body, something I dearly want to put off as long as humanly possible.
That is an interesting choice of words. Is it possible to still be human after having one’s consciousness moved from one shell to anther? First there is the physical condition issues to ponder — does a body need to be born to be human and not just human in shape? If it is a body grown to function and never quickened, how then can it be anymore human than any other piece of synthetic meat? Secondly there is the moral question, “Can immortality be anything other than morally corrupting?” If the ultimate punishment to life is the ending of that life, doesn’t it stand to reason that the ability to forever cheat death should make one immune to punishment?
Without punishment and cost, human beings, even those who use the term only loosely, are prone to mischief.
Once I punched up the local mission terminal to close out the Dahan welcome mission, this proved to be abundantly true. Not only had the local broker no idea what I was talking about, on further review by the agent it appears that the mission posting back at Baker’s was fraudulent. Evidence suggests that “some organization” create these posts to lure new pilots into dangerous space to then destroy them to improve the combat ranks of their followers as well as for the various salvage from the ship. On the bright side, the law was on my side and since I arrived safely with the tag intact, the post was obligated to honor it and pay me.
And then things took a turn for the strange. The mission broker, a tall pale woman named McFarland, in a federal uniform, suggested that if I was interested in getting some payback for the inconvenience she would be happy to open up a bounty ticket for me on imperial supporters in the system to the tune of 50,000 credits per confirmed kill!
For a moment my greed nearly got the better of me. I had visions of strapping guns to my little sidewinder and making a fortune over night. Then again, what if the whole thing is even more of a setup than I realized? Maybe the whole idea was still part of the initial trick. The goal isn’t to get the salvage from a stupid sidewinder but to conscript fresh young idiots to fight for the federation? The agent’s cool, yet slightly knowing smile suddenly slid off her face and she demanded an answer or to clear off her line so she could get back to work.
The Path Most Traveled
Something just wasn’t right at all. For her to go solicitous and then harsh at a moment of hesitation, no something just was not right here, best to keep to my course. I closed up the federal channel and looked into the open mission log once again. I found a couple data transfers and I was off again before anything else could change.
This pretty much became a pattern for me. Over the course of the next week I flew laps here and there for what ever data I could find, moving spreadsheets and population surveys from station to station, picking up a couple thousand credits here and there. With those funds I upgraded my frame shift drive to be able to make fewer jumps and put on a fuel scoop to further maximize my little ship’s efficiency.
After that week I had reached a little bit over one hundred thousand credits to my name. I was in Broglie Terminal, in the Cygni 61 system, when I got the first nudge off of my simple route. The federal mission agent for Broglie could not have been more different from the one at Dahan. Instead of a cool and precisely uniformed woman, this older man was decidedly worn around the edges. Instead of offering smirking promises to pay me for going into harms way, he was frantic to find a transport ship.
The agent’s name was Aron Harrell, the balding once fat man was clearly stressed to the edge of his endurance. His face seeming melted at the edges as his skin as the supporting layers of fat had melted from his frame.
“You don’t happen to have any extra capacity do you commander?” he asked. “An important station is facing a famine and people are starting to perish.”
While I didn’t have any capacity at all, having traded even my small cargo space to bring no the fuel scoop, I asked what exactly he had in mind and how I could help and that I had been thinking of a change of ship and plans for a little while. Aron had two missions to transport food processors and emergency rations to the Levi-Strauss installation in Barnard’s Star. For which he was going to give me thirty thousand in rewards.
I asked him to hold on for a few minutes while I called up the local shipyard’s system. With my current balance, and the value of my now modestly upgraded Sidewinder, I could rig up an Adder or a Hauler and more than meet his requirements with a bit of extra on the side. I dialed back Aron told him to flag me for the missions, and I would have a ship ID for him in a few moments once the shipyard managed my transfers.
In a surprisingly short time I found myself sitting in my new Adder and once again paying silent homage to my father’s ghost and appreciating the difference between a single seated scout craft and a side by side cockpit.