USD: ~20 days after Tears of Fire arrival to 92 Pegasi
Location: Ackman Station, Jaco’s Kebab Place
Alex and Elis sat in the corner finishing their meal at Jaco’s while they waited. The entire place was full of customers, but that was partly because there were a dozen armed Iron Horse MC guards scattered about eating as well. Elis had not commented on their casual formation and decision to eat while they all waited, but Alex had seen her looking at them and frowning.
Thankfully, there didn’t seem to be any inclination by whoever had attacked them to repeat the attempt. That had worried her on their first few trips off the ship, but in the interests of safety the IHMC had provided them escorts each time.
Alex had worn a newly improvised Captain’s uniform that nearly matched the Federation standard one. She’d replaced the arm emblems with the new logo for Starlight Revolutions, as well as reduced the number of ribbons and every single one of the medals. She hadn’t even known what any of them had meant other than a few of the little metal bars denoting command levels and general category of operations. Her front felt a lot less cluttered now.
Very importantly, she had working pockets.
Elis was geared up in a full suit of tactical gear, combined with a black hoodie that had the best armored vest that Nameless had been able to supply over top of it. She’d spent two hours arguing with the bot until it surrendered the time needed on the fabricator to make her one to her personal specifications and requirements. Added to that was a row of pouches, two side arms on her hips and her compact SMG, front slung on top of her body armor. It certainly wasn’t standard uniform for a non-combat operation, but the other girl had said she wanted to be prepared while they were on station.
If her marine friend felt any discomfort or pain from her wounded shoulder, she didn’t show it. Nameless had given her additional medicine with the autodoc to help speed recovery, but Alex didn’t think the gunshot wound would have healed in just two days. That worried her; Elis hid her injuries and pains and Alex didn’t like it.
An IHMC lieutenant approached.
“Ma’am. Captain-Major Thraker’s shuttle has arrived. He’s waiting to meet you at the IHMC Mooring Arm, A-1. If you’re ready I’m to join you and your escort.”
Alex applied a 100% tip to their order and then stood up. As the three of them headed to the entrance an exodus of the other guards began to file in behind them.
Other than a few courtesies and a few required words for orientation, the lieutenant remained silent while Elis kept a few steps behind her watching her back. She would have probably tried to strike up a conversation with the lieutenant since it was her job as the higher-ranking officer, but her mind was already awhirl with her incoming meeting.
The section of the station that the IHMC occupied had multiple patrols of two and three roaming around, and while there were some merchant stalls outside the area, most looked like they were actually being run by off-duty mercenaries still in their fatigues. Their biggest customers being other mercs. It felt different from the MilTech compound, having its own flavor of atmosphere. There was much less hustle and more people standing about.
There was one building that stood out, with IHMC signage. Inside there were a few receptionists and other officer workers tending to the realities of paperwork for a few different lines of mercenaries turning them in. It rather reminded her of the Port Authority office, except there were no chairs so everyone was expected to stand. The lieutenant led them to one of the doors marked employees only and then through a corridor. There was a door at the end.
The lieutenant opened a door for her, and she realized they had arrived.
“The Captain-Major is waiting for you, Ma’am.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. Elis, would you wait outside? I’ll find you when we are finished.”
The warmth of the room caressed Alex’s face as soon as she stepped inside, there was no bare metal on display here. A polished wooden desk stood centerpiece at the far end of the office, but in the middle space were cushioned seats and an end table settled around what looked to be a stone fireplace. Fake flames flickered from it, and she realized that the warmth she felt was true in both meanings of the word.
Captain-Major Thraker stood up and came around from his desk to shake her hand. She studied his profile as he approached, he was tall and broad shouldered and his full white beard was well kept. He was not overly muscled nor heavyset and there was an odd sense of presence. His dark navy blue, almost black, uniform was adorned with a few different medals that she didn’t know the meaning of. Of the books Elis had foisted on her, Alex had focused on the practical ones first.
“Captain, it’s nice to meet you.”
“Captain-Major, it’s a pleasure.”
He gestured to the seats in front of the fireplace, “Please, have a seat. Would you care for some coffee or tea?”
Her response was instant, “Tea. Thank you.”
He nodded and by the time she had sat down he brought a tray to set on the end table beside the two chairs, apparently, he had a device that could produce the drink on hand. That was something she was going to have to look up as she watched a little trail of steam rising from the cups.
“First, let me thank you for staying your hand during our engagement, although I wish we had been able to communicate better in a way that would have precluded such things from happening in the first place.”
Alex nodded slowly, “I am sorry as well. I made some bad calls myself, and let my preconceptions about a few things cause me to make some questionable decisions. I don’t plan to repeat them.”
“Understandable. Captain, let me ask you frankly: How old are you?”
Alex blinked back surprise, “Sir, it’s not polite to ask a girl her age.”
“I was born over forty years before the Nanite-Federation war, Captain. I’ve been in this business for over a century. I recognized your uniform, belatedly I admit, but considering your ship’s actions I believe you and your crew are a long way, and a long time from where you thought to find yourselves.”
Alex smiled, but rather than answer immediately she reached down and collected the small plate and teacup that Thraker had prepared for her. She took a sip–it was not sweet, but it was much better than coffee.
“Captain-Major, its true I was wearing the uniform you recognized. My crew and I have been disoriented since we arrived. We are truthfully still slightly out of touch and gathering as much information we can. Sadly, we confirmed that the Federation is no longer an entity, so we found ourselves at loose ends with no desire to be noticed in more populated areas.”
Thraker nodded, “I have been thinking about your situation, Captain. I have a proposal for you. I would like to invite you and your crew to join the Iron Horse Mercenary company. I believe we can help each other.”
Alex couldn’t hide her surprise, and Thraker continued.
“I will be able to assist you in ‘catching’ up with current events; you are not the first person to wake up from cryostasis and likely not the last, but you seem to certainly be the first I’ve heard of with such pre-collapse resources. I am afraid to say that they would likely be coveted by every government you are likely to encounter, and FedTech is usually restricted to known associates of local polities.”
Alex listened quietly, sipping her tea.
“I have connections that will partly remove that risk, particularly in the Imperium and in Meltisar. Working with us you would be able to help us take more lucrative missions as well as charge a higher price for our services. You would retain command of your ship and keep your crew, as well as take replacements and such from the company when they are inevitably needed.”
Alex shook her head, “Captain-Major, I appreciate the offer, but...”
“There is some intel you might not have yet. I’m sure you’ve already picked up on the tensions on the station, indeed they are rife throughout the entire frontier. What you might not know is we have intelligence that there is buildup on both the Corpos and Solarian sides, both have been reinforcing their fleet bases along the border. Something could happen within the next six months or maybe year, but I doubt they will wait longer than that, and it is doubtful either will be interested in the interference of any independent forces, so we will likely be moving out to Meltisar to look for some escort work, or the Ertan-FPA border where things are often much like you used to find here and with no lack of local system governments looking to hire protection.”
Alex shook her head, “We’ve already decided on part of our course. That is, we’ve formed a new company, Starlight Revolution. I was actually hoping to speak with you today about hiring the Iron Horse MC for some security services. I’ve a lack of security personnel on my ship and would like to estimate the cost of hiring one of your frigates for protection for a new orbital facility we had planned to construct near the asteroid field.”
It was Thraker’s turn to try his cup of tea as he considered Alex’s words.
“Captain, I believe you have skipped a few steps, going from a military vessel to an incorporated business venture. Setting up a new orbital? If this was anywhere else you’d be months in negotiations and red-tape for even getting such a thing considered, at least anywhere near an orbital body. What did the Portmaster have to say about this?”
“Mr. Whitely and I discussed in-depth for several hours on the matter. After working out several contracts and deals we came to a mutual understanding and agreement, so I have his full blessings in the matter.”
“It seems we might be able to assist you, then, but as I explained earlier, we are planning to move out, likely within the next six months. Any services would be terminated when we left. There is also the question about the costs. We did notice your transaction with MilTech Arms, but hiring a warship is much more expensive than the station’s docking fees.”
“That’s fine, and considering what you’ve told me, we might reconsider your offer when that time comes. Nothing says the orbital has to be immobile. I plan to make it capable of interstellar travel if needed. As for the cost, I was hoping to strike a deal with you.”
“A mobile orbital refinery? Either the scale you are envisioning is slightly smaller than I had been thinking or you have quite a lot of work to do in the next few months. How in the worlds do you intend to staff such a thing? I have perused the Shrike II’s schematic, but it’s not an exact match. I am assuming the workshop on the ship is still working and that’s how you plan to accomplish much of this.”
“It works, yes. Quite well. As for staffing I intend to have much of the system automated. It shouldn’t be an issue.”
“And this ‘deal’ you were hoping to make with us to pay for our services?”
Alex swallowed and collected her thoughts for a moment, “We noted that you used all your missiles during our unfortunate encounter. I’m quite conscious of how expensive they were. Once we have the facility operational, we will be able to collect anti-matter from Ackman’s magnetic field and produce anti-matter catalyzed nuclear warhead and missile delivery systems among other things. I propose in return for receiving the first twenty of these missiles to replace the ones you lost in addition to an ongoing discount for services Starlight Revolution provides you, that you would be willing to cut the prices for security for us to at cost for the time being until we can get our feet under us as well as provide us all relevant intelligence pertaining to us that you acquire.”
“AMCNs, not tri-cobalt?”
Alex smiled at him.
Thraker took another sip of his tea, “Let’s discuss exactly what services you would be expecting of us…”
Alex fist pumped internally; she had hooked him! Now she just needed to reel in the deal very carefully.
USD: ~27 days after Tears of Fire arrival to 92 Pegasi
Location: Ackman Station, IND Tears of Fire
Alex looked at the camera view of the inside of the ship’s inner hull on the CIC main monitor. She was sure that if Mr. Whitely had been able to see the dozens of robots being formed on the new internal hangar bracing that he would revoke her purchase privileges on the station immediately. She had directed Nameless to begin producing them as their number one priority, in preparation for their upcoming trip to the belt.
Before they could get to work on the manufactory, they needed more raw resources. They would need to produce a stable platform for them to tow the construction to when they successfully detached it, and to make the needed repairs to the station. She’d given Nameless the go ahead to rig all kinds of new things on the inner skin of the outer hull. Temporarily.
It would severely compromise the safety of the ship if it went into combat, but right now the Tears was their only mobile asset and anything else that might have worked was out of their price range or impossible to construct with their resources. A new ship was high on her priority list… although that list had grown by an order of magnitude since her early days of repairing the Tears.
While musing about their new projects, Alex heard Elis approaching down the corridor.
“Alex? I wanted to talk to you.”
Alex turned and smiled at her, “Yep?”
“It’s about the armory.”
The armory. Alex had completely forgotten it existed since she had Nameless weld the door shut and seal the holes in it.
“Oh. The armory.”
“Yes, I’ve been reviewing some of the items in it and I would like to open it up and do an inspection. Nameless said it required Captain’s approval.”
The first thought to come to Alex’s mind was since when had Elis and Nameless been on talking terms without her there to be the go between?
The second was a instant acceptance, “Ok, consider it approved. Did you hear that Nameless?”
[Affirmative: Armory access granted to qualified crewmembers and command personnel.]
Elis came and scooted up next to her, poking her head up against the airlock’s glass to look out at the robots as well, “Looks like a lot. How long until we are ready to go?”
“Tomorrow. I was going to ask you if you could call the IHMC and get us an escort, to go to Jaco’s and then bring a few days… maybe weeks of kebabs with us!”
Elis rolled her eyes, “While you were busy buying every scrap of free iron on the station, I went and purchased what we needed for the galley. We will be cooking our meals for now on. Eating kebabs everyday probably isn’t healthy.”
Alex felt two conflicting interests war inside of her. “Kebabs are life, cooking kebabs… this is going to be fun!”
Elis rolled her eyes and laughed reaching out to pat Alex’s head, “Just wait until I show you how to use the ship’s oven and introduce you to something called cake.”