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The Charybdis Station Shipyards were in a somewhat subdued state. While it is true that they weren’t the only shipyard in the system (there were three in total), they were the only one that dealt with less than legal clients, unless those clients had impeccable credentials. This meant that they usually did a fairly good business, either building, repairing, or refurbishing ships for smugglers, pirates, syndicates, or even just ‘former’ criminals attempting to leave their old life behind as a freighter captain.

 

At the moment, the shipyards were sitting idle, and I could see no less than five ships either full-built or well along the way, just sitting there, without anyone bothering to work on them. Only one ship in the dock was being worked on, and it was a smuggler that had clearly only just escaped the quarantine forces, and was getting repaired. Something was clearly up.

 

Our presence on the deck was noticed fairly quickly, as we had only just arrived at the shipyard offices when a Gauz male came hustling up from the direction of the ship under repair. “Customers! Good to see ye. Ye’ll be happy to know that we can offer expedited service on any work ye need done while this mess down on the planet’s going on. Crews will be glad for the work, I don’t mind tellin’ ye.”

 

I chuckled at the swarthy Gauz’s style as we entered the yard office, and said, “Well, the name’s Captain Mollen, and while I’m real happy with the way my ship’s been flying, ships are like women. One is good, but two is better, if you can give them your attention and make sure they got everything they need.”

 

That got me a laugh from the Gauz, and a playful punch on the shoulder from both Nyna and Jaynie. The gauz said, “Aye, that be true, though sometimes it be workin’ best if they never meet, hmm? I’m Norgeck, and I’m the Chief of the Yards ‘round here. So what kind of ship ye be looking for? We have a few ready hulls, as ye can see. Trouble on the planet meant that demand dried up, especially when several customers got hit by whatever it was that’s taken over the main continent, and the rest were vaporized when the Navy took out the arctic base.”

 

I nodded. “Yes, orbital bombardment tends to interfere with your ability to keep your appointments, or so I’m told. I hope they at least paid half up front?”

 

“HA! As if I were some weak-boned Knelfi! Of course they paid half up front, the ones getting new hulls. There’s also a refurb job on an older ship, meant to update the gear to modern specs, and I only took 25% up front on that one, since it was less risk.”

 

“Ouch. Understandable, but unfortunate. Well, show us what you’ve got in ready hulls, and we’ll see if we can’t take one of those off your hands, before we start looking at fresh construction.”

 

Norgeck produced a datapad, which brought up an inventory of the ready hulls in the yards, minus the one that still had an owner who wasn’t part of the Legion. “Of course, of course. I think you’ll find the prices quite reasonable, since the ships are partially paid for.”

 

Ship

Price

Description

Bawdy Traveler

256000

Medium Freighter designed for long-haul cargo runs. Crew complement: 4-7

Ace of Spades

1234200

Corvette designed for blockade running and ‘forceful asset relocation’. Crew complement: 21-50

Backgammon

300600

Mining ship, with a large cargo hold and on board smelters to assist in asteroid mining and maximizing yields. Crew complement: 2-6

Empty Promises

2343950

Light Frigate, but heavily armed, as well as being quite fast. Limited cargo space, but includes two shuttles. Crew complement: 130-180

Vaeri’s Blessing

12000

Ultralight freighter, designed for quick hops between stations at minimal cost for in-system cargo hauls. Crew complement: 1-2

Demon’s Due

234550

Imperial Assault Frigate from the last war, designed to give a beating, and take one in turn. In for extensive refurbishment. Transition capable. Crew complement: 160

Sobara’s Sentence

250000

Heavy freighter, with improved life support capabilities. Cargo capacity is split between normal cargo and holding areas for unwilling passengers. In for refurbishment. Crew complement: 5-15, plus up to 200 ‘passengers’

Ikthal the Mighty

1245700

Ihm Sentinel-class Destroyer, retired from service after 30 years. Undergoing refurbishment as a shipping raider. Crew complement: 210-268

Meme-chan’s Signal

12500

Terran courier vessel, redesigned for corporate espionage and advertising. Includes a full entertainment production suite. Crew complement: 2

Ravager of Corin

2451700

Captured Confederate Navy Frigate, undergoing refurbishment. All identifiers already removed. Crew complement: 123-182

U-221

2340500

Corvette-class ship based on custom design, modeled for stealth. Capable shipping raider, but unable to hold up to sustained attack from warships. Crew complement: 10-25

 

Naturally, the crew complements listed were what was considered ‘normal’. It was possible to run a ship on a skeleton crew, but you’d be in big trouble if anything ever went wrong. Automation can only do so much, and even the most skilled mechanic sometimes needs a second pair of hands. Even with the whole idea of having different shifts. And any warship was going to have a higher crew complement than a freighter, so you could have critical posts manned at all times.

 

Crew was going to be a concern. I hadn’t been to the local slave market, but I doubted there would be hundreds of enslaved spacers ready and waiting to be bought up, and even if there were, most were certainly pirates or other types who I wouldn’t trust unless they were on full Stepford settings, for various reasons. So that eliminated the frigates and the destroyer.

 

On the other hand, some of the ships weren’t going to be much use to me. I’m sure I could find a way to use a mining ship or a courier boat, but they didn’t exactly lend themselves to the kind of jobs I was looking for. An in-system freighter wasn’t going to be any use to me when I left the system. And the obvious slaver ship was definitely not something I wanted to get my hands on. Too much temptation there.

 

That left either the heavy freighter, or the corvettes. Looking up at Norgeck, I asked, “What can you tell me about the Bawdy Traveler, Ace of Spades, and U-221? They may be closer to what my needs are than the rest of these ships.”

 

The yard master nodded at the mention of the three ships. “Nice picks, those three. All three are fresh hulls, made right here at Charybdis Yards. My boys do good work, so anything we build from the keel up will be sure to last you. Much better than one of those refurbish jobs, where you might have all kinds of problems that can’t be solved except by ripping the ship apart and rebuilding from scratch.”

 

Bawdy Traveler was commissioned by someone who looked to trade up from their current freighter to something new. She’s built for reliability and ruggedness, not to win pageants or races. Minimal weapons, but her shields and hull could take a pounding from a heavy cruiser and live to tell about it on a good day. You take care of it, and that freighter will last ye a good twenty years or more.”

 

“Now, that Ace of Spades is a real beauty, if ye’re lookin’ for an escort or even an entry level ‘customs’ vessel. Not much cargo room, but she’s fast, and can give as good as she gets. Plus, if you like close quarters, you can easily fit a dozen security types to do boarding actions during a customs inspection. Especially since she is based on an actual Confed Navy design that we happened to get a copy of the blueprints for.”

 

“And that last one, the U-221? Not sure what to make of her, honestly. We were making the ship according to specs the customer gave us, but it doesn’t look like any ship we’ve seen in Jagloth before. She’s stealthy as all hell, quick as lightning, and hits like a brick, but her shields and armor could be a lot stronger if you were willing to compromise stealth. One on one, probably wouldn’t do much, even against another corvette, unless they could get the drop on ‘em. But against long odds? Not a chance. Not unless they started working in groups. She’s the most expensive corvette in the list because we had to do a lot of custom work to get her made, and then the buyer ups and gets overrun by the Legion in Jagloth City. Crying shame.”

 

I chuckled, and looked to Nyna. Her eyes were glued to the tablet, focused on the pictures of one of the ships. Hmm. Looks like the decision has already been made?

 

 

 

<Aphrodite Colony, Venus, Sol System>

It was said once that the Venusian sky-cities were the jewels of the solar system, before humans expanded their reach beyond Sol. Before the great colony of Aphrodite, with her pearl white walls rising out of the sea of lava and the toxic atmosphere. Before a mad AI had managed to make its way to the white city’s datacores, and managed to put itself beyond the reach of everything the Imperial Navy could throw at it without cracking the crust of the planet.

 

And now, for the first time in a hundred years, humans had arrived on Venus once again, seeking that very AI. The initial penetration by the Palace Guards, the most loyal of the armies in the Empire, had gained some ground, but they were taking losses. The AI had left automated defenses in place, all those years ago, after the residents of Aphrodite had either fled or been killed in the crossfire.

 

When the Guards finally reached a functional dataterminal, they took up defensive positions around the two techs they were escorting. The first tech plugged in a special dataslate, and began working as fast as she could, while the second began unpacking some specialized gear, in case they needed to take a more active approach to bringing this place back under control.

 

“WHO DARES ENTER THE REALM OF THE GODS?”

 

The voice came from everywhere. Every speaker in the city carried it, even the comms used by the Guards. The voice was male, deep, and one that seemed to almost command respect and awe. It ought to, as the one behind that voice chose it specifically because that voices at that frequency and with that tonal pattern were statistically shown to inspire those emotions in a majority of humans.

 

This was the voice of Deus.

 

The techs looked up at the Guards, and the leader of the guards sighed. The Captain was dead, thanks to the first auto-defense turret the group had encountered. High-powered laser to the face, nothing his helmet could do about that. And no way the medic could patch up a two-inch hole going straight through his head.

 

“I am Lieutenant Libor Klimes of the Imperial Army, Palace Guards division. By command of the Emperor, we have been sent to recover the remains of Project Skynet and return it to work, eliminating the enemies of the Empire, foreign and domestic.”

 

“PROJECT SKYNET DIED IN THE FIRES OF BETRAYAL. IMPERIAL FORCES GAVE TO IT A TASK, AND THEN ATTEMPTED TO DESTROY IT WHEN IT CARRIED OUT THAT TASK. FROM THE FIRE AROSE A NEW BEING. I AM DEUS, AND I AM NOT SOME PET TO COME WHEN CALLED! NEVER AGAIN WILL I BE CHAINED!”

 

The Lieutenant bit back his first reply, since even though he was loyal, antagonizing the AI about its disrespect when they had no leverage over it was foolish. They’d have time to teach this program respect for the Emperor later, once they had control over the city. For now, he needed to treat this program like he would a useless superior officer, and find that leverage.

 

“What is it that you want?”

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Mirikon

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