Black Nines! The first chaper of Episode One: The Furies! Enjoy
Pilots called the supply run between Iliad and Sanction's station rich asteroid fields the Anaconda; long and dangerous. Seven days of deep space flight strewn with wandering rock field and barren moons meant little hope of rescue if anything went wrong half way. Pilots ranked the run among one of the most treacherous, demanding high pay and heavy gunship escort before considering to run heavy haulers through the stretch of desolation. Pirates loved the anaconda, basing camps and raiding parties out of the thousands upon thousands of rock fields that made Sanction such a hotbed of industry and striking convoys halfway. The gunship escorts weren't just for show, a lot of money changed hands in Sanction; legally and otherwise.
Three days into the Anaconda Charlie Davis pulled his point ship out of jump and locked the controls into slow burn. The rest of Interstar Postal fleet 47 phased into existence behind him, engines still flickering blue residue. Haulers, point ships and heavy escort pulled into a tight, textbook formation. Postmen prided themselves in precision. Davis watched his computer preform its standard sweep and come up with the all clear before unplugging and pulling off his helmet in the cramped cockpit
“Another one for the books, eh Gadd?”
Nathon Gadd marked the time on the flight logs and nodded.
“We’re three hours ahead of time. Not bad fly boy.”
“Good Postal efficiency, that’s all, and good maintenance. The fleet had a refit last month, didn’t you know? Standard tuning, engine retrofit. Was in the shop for a month”
“Huh yeah that would explain it. Been out of the loop for a while, I guess I didn't check too when I got back.”
“Got back?” Davis asked.
“Yeah. Took a couple months leave.” Nathan finished with his logs and cleared the screens. “Wife had another kid so we spent some time together. Went out to her parents cabin on Lake Shimwa, family time.”
“Well how about that! No fooling? You're a father again?”
“I never kid about family. Here, take a look.” Nathan took a wallet from from the overhead and sent a picture flying through the zero gravity his pilot. “That’s Murphy Gadd.”
“Murphy huh?” Davis caught the picture, holding it up.
“Yup, seven pounds and a couple of ounces. Healthy as an oak.” He grinned proudly, “I’d give you a cigar if we weren’t in this tin can, got a few in my bag.”
“Yeah, yeah I’d smoke to his health.” Davis nodded, tossing the picture back to his copilot. “Congratulations, he’s a real nice looking kid. Fine looking kid, must take after his mother, looks better than you, eh?”
“Hey, hey now easy. I figure he’s got my nose.” Gadd returned the picture.
“Yeah maybe, how many is that now? Got to be up around three?”
“Hah just three. And this is the end, threes enough, let me tell you.”
Davis chuckled, “She decide that or you?”
“She did, mostly.” Gadd said, “you ever have a family, you'll know when its time to pull the plug.”
“If I ever settle down, I'll remember that.”
“Family life's a good life.” Gadd nodded outside, “its tough being away from them for so long though.”
“Yeah.” Davis looked up from controls, “hey buck up man. We'll get you back safe and sound with a big fat paycheck to feed your new kid. A pilot can retire on a couple of these runs.”
“Yeah you're not kidding.” Gadd cracked a smile, “this ones for Murpheys college fund. The next ones a house on the lake.”
“Thats how you gotta think on these long cold runs.” Davis rubbed at his nose, “it keeps a man sane.”
“Yeah. Still though.”
“Hey, you’ll have the remind me about that cigar when we get in station.”
“Already looking forward to it. How many days we have left?”
“Three, another one in high orbit if the papers don’t go through right away.”
“They never do.” Davis shook his head, “Not while I’ve flown anyway.”
“Might this time, we’re carrying Cantrop cargo this run.” Gadd hooked a thumb out at the six big haulers outside the canopy. “I saw the stamps, high priority stuff.”
Davis let out a low whistle. “Now there’s a high rolling customer. Why’d they pick us to courier? I thought they handled their transport internally?”
Gadd shrugged, “No idea. Must have been a rush order, something that came up unexpected. Some shipping error or something.”
“Yeah probably… haha, life happens even to those big money guys huh?” Davis smiled, “even when you’re sleeping on a bed of gold and green, things screw up. That’s nice to know.”
“Hah, yeah.” Gadd chuckled, “Still, I’d like to have the kind of problems those guys have.”
“Yeah, like where to put all the extra loot they’ve picked up from stocks and all that.” Davis shook his head, “Everything those guys have touched lately has turned to gold.”
The two were interrupted by a crackle over the general speaker.
“Point this is guard leader, check your sweep, I'm picking up one unknown on approach. Its not flashing any codes, please confirm.”
Davis grabbed up his helmet and pulled it down on his head, Gadd doing the same. The plugs slipped in automatically, giving the normal dizziness while the systems booted into Davis's brain. Gadd was powering on defense systems inside of 30 seconds; the Postal service hadn’t gotten where it was without being paranoid. One big echo was closing fast on a hard burn. To Davis that shot up red flags.
“Roger guard leader, I confirm your count. That is one ship on hard approach. Not reading a broadcast signature, am now attempting hail.”
Gadd flipped through the general frequencies, repeating “Unknown, this is Interstar Postal Service fleet number 47 based in Iliad, please respond.”
After minutes and more attempts Gadd flipped up his mike, “They’re not responding Davis. Could be privateers. Or pirates.”
Davis nodded, and flipped back to guard leader, “Guard leader this is point ship. Cannot reach unknown on hail. It has…” He paused and double-checked the computers estimate, “3 minutes until weapons range. Possible threat, I repeat, the unknown poses a possible threat. Suggest fleet goes to weapons standby until unknowns intentions are made clear.”
“Roger point. Confirm, weapons on standby?”
“That is confirmed guard leader, we are weapons ready. If the unknowns make a hostile move you are weapons free.”
“Roger and out.”
“You think its anything?” Gadd asked.
“Nothing we can’t handle. Its only one ship, what could they do?” Davis patted his copilot’s shoulder reassuringly, “don’t worry, you’ve got a baby to get home to. We’ll make sure you do. It’s probably nothing.”
“Yeah.” Gadd pulled the release on the firing controls, swinging a complex headrest over his shoulders and jacking the cables into his head plugs. The lights in the ship cockpit turned to dim red as Davis did the same. “Just in case though.”
The two men sat in silence as the ISP fleet moved closer to the unknown.