USD: ~3 days after SubCore A-3123Y deployment

Location: Ackman Station, Mooring Arm D-1, Tears of Fire


Alex watched from the observation deck as the Ackman station crews rigged the final few lines to the ship. Unlike their first visit, she could see that there were at least a dozen people waiting for them in the mooring arm. She had been using the StationNet to auction off their inventory of newly produced goods to whoever was interested in them the entire flight back.

There had been a lot of buyers.

She’d had Nameless focus on things other than weapons, although she had still included some small arms in the list. Advanced pistols and rifles just sold for so much compared to other items, although the advanced prosthetics were almost as hot an item.

It turned out that even with the high prices she had charged for them; they were still ten times less than what a big corporation would charge for something that didn’t even work as well.

She’d have charged more, but she felt terrible for the people who needed the help but couldn’t afford it. The Solarians claimed the treatment was too expensive and not needed, while the Corpos would suck them dry until they had nothing left to give, then it’d spit them out.

Alex did not like what she gathered from either faction, and they both had laid claim to the sector. She wasn’t sure if it was simply because 92 Pegasi was so distant that it had been considered unimportant and forgotten, or if those uncaring methods applied throughout their entire territories.

The news clippings and information she had gathered had indicated the latter, but she didn’t want to just accept that information without seeing for herself or someone she trusted sharing their views.

She hoped that none of the customers were afraid of cargo drones. Elis had worried that someone would notice that the two of them were the only two people on board the ship, which would have been quite dangerous for them. Especially if whoever tried to kidnap them figured it out.

They’d probably try to steal the ship, and Nameless would be a very unhappy MainComputer and probably do a lot of expensive to repair damage to the station and their attackers.

Alex let out an annoyed ‘urrrgh’ sound.

“What’s up?”

“Nothing, just thinking about all our problems and how to solve them.”

Elis came up and leaned on the bulkhead, looking out the large glass window. “Yeah, to be honest, I am not sure what to do.”

“I think we need to hire employees. Although I would prefer to keep them off the Tears. We’ll need to purchase a shuttle or something that can go between the orbital and Ackman for them, preferably with a way to carry some cargo.”

“At that point, you probably should just consider a small tramp freighter.”

“Yeah, but the problem is, Ackman isn’t known for selling ships. There’s only one large ship for sale even, and it’s pretty much scrap, and it’s still over a hundred million credits.”

Elis shook her head, “Sounds like we have excellent prospects for selling ships to people, then. Plus, not everything has to be done super-fast. We have time.”

Alex bit her lip, “Maybe, but there is only so much money in the system. Honestly, I feel like if we don’t keep moving forward as fast as possible, someone is going to call our scam a bluff and send our whole stack of cards tumbling. I’ve had that sort of feeling ever since I woke up…”

Elis frowned and went over to Alex, wrapping an arm around the other girl. “Hey, you’re not exactly alone anymore now. You have Nameless, me, and now A-3123Y. I don’t think the Portmaster or Captain-Major think poorly of you, either. Whatever trouble you’re borrowing ahead of time, I think you’ll be able to manage just fine. All the jokes aside, you have a pretty good head on your shoulders.”

Alex looked up and smiled at Elis, “Thanks for the support. You have no idea how grateful I am that you are here. I don’t think I could have handled all this on my own.”

“I’m sure you would have managed.”

“I am going to go help Nameless get our remaining construction bots ready and go over the dismantling operation again. We can’t afford to do any damage to the station as we take the Manufactory loose.”

Elis nodded, “I’m going to go station side for a bit on my own. There are a few things I wanted to take care of.”

Alex opened her mouth to ask what those things were but closed it. It was the first time Elis and her were going to be physically parted since Alex had woken her up. She felt a worrying worm of fear trying to slip inside her chest at the thought of Elis disappearing on her.

Something must have crossed her face because Elis flicked her forehead.

“I’m going to go organize our dinner and maybe go shoot the shit with a few of the IHMC soldiers that are off duty. You look like I’ve given you a death blow.”

Alex gave her a weak smile, “Sorry… just you are my best friend, well, my only friend. Nameless tries, but he’s not a good conversationalist.”

“Yeah. Maybe hiring some employees is a good idea. Set up a Starlight Revolution office somewhere, hiring some people to organize purchases/sales for you would take some of that workload off your hands and let you focus more on the big picture. Plus, I think you need some more people to interact with on a regular basis. I’m probably a terrible influence.”

Alex thought about it. Elis’s plan didn’t seem like a bad idea. Having more people would be a big help just because Nameless couldn’t do everything at once. Well, Nameless probably could have, but the fear of what could happen if she wasn’t there to supervise him itched at the back of her mind.

One thing was sure though, they needed to move a lot of stuff between the orbital and the station, regularly. That would be true no matter what, unless—until the orbital rivaled Ackman in size and potential population. Although she was worried that if they grew too fast, Mr. Whitely might not view them in a positive light anymore just because of the competition.

“Well, until we get a shuttle or something else, I’m going to have Nameless keep the outer hull hangars in place. Maybe upgrade them more. We might end up ferrying a lot of stuff back and forth between the Orbital and the Station ourselves.”

Elis nodded, “Least it’s not a long flight. Otherwise, we’d be looking at some expensive fueling costs, too.”

“We can actually produce that in the belt easily, thanks to all the icy asteroids, but yeah, we can save a lot of time not worrying about it yet.”

Looking out the window to where Alex had been looking earlier, Elis continued with her thoughts on hiring, “I think the first person we should hire is someone that hires more people. A manager. I can ask around while I’m on station. Maybe one of our contacts might have some ideas.”


USD: ~3 days after SubCore A-3123Y deployment, a few hours later

Location: Ackman Station, Mooring Arm D-1, Tears of Fire

Alex hummed to herself as she multi-tasked at the engineering station. Her display had a grid of cameras allowing her to overwatch the continuing transfer of goods from the ship to the mooring arm via cargobot delivery. Each transaction leaving a little positive beep and an increasing bank account.

She’d already paid off their docking fees and sent purchase orders for the relatively low volume, high rarity items that they could not easily acquire via other means. Some of those were hazardous or radioactive and had to be transported via shuttle.

That wasn’t much of a problem. Alex actually preferred shuttle transfers because fewer people would question why drones carried out all transactions with the Tears.

Hopefully Elis would find someone to help jumpstart their office at the station. Alex made a note to look for an office space near Mooring Arm D-1 for Starlight Revolution to rent.

Turning her attention back to the Manufactory operation plan, Alex did a final double check. “Nameless, this looks good to me. Do you want to start? First, we’ll have to seal off the sections so clear that with station maintenance. Then we’ll air it out and start taking it apart as ordered on the list. At least until we get to the structural bits, we need to make another run for structural elements from A-3123Y before we get into the real work.”

[Informative: No defects in operational plan detected.]

“Great, let’s start.”

[Notice: A StationNet call has been placed to your account. ID: MilTech Arms, Wyles.]

“Put him through.”

Alex picked up her datapad and leaned back in her chair before the screen suddenly lit up and Wyles Hammock appeared sitting at his desk.

“Hello Captain, I was calling to see how you were getting along, as well as to ask you for some assistance.”

Alex tilted her head but straightened as she caught herself. She was supposed to emulate a disciplined ship captain. Maybe she should have been wearing her full uniform…

“Wyles, nice to hear from you. The Tears is doing just fine. I just got off duty, but I can make time to hear you out as long as you don’t mind me not dressing back up.”

Alex gave herself a little pat on the back at the improv.

“No worries, Captain. Everyone must let their hair down sometime. I’ll get right to it then. There is an emergency on Dedia IV. Inbound freighter is coming to pick up supplies, but it’s slow and they need help fast.”

“We had not really given any thought to leaving 92 Pegasi yet, Mr. Wyles. There are some ongoing actions we are involved in that require the Tears’ presence. We’ve multiple shipments to deliver and retrieve between Starlight Revolution’s new orbital and Ackman, and I have no other source of transit.”

Wyles nodded, “I understand, but my techs believe your ship might be the only one capable of helping. Unless I miss my guess, it’s fitted with the Federation standard Bi-Linear drive, and from the amount of cargo transactions you’ve been processing, you have extended storage or rigged hangers inside the outer hull.”

Alex winced. She didn’t like to think it was so easy to discern what they had been up to by observation.

“Both things are true, but like I said…”

Wyles frowned and punched a few keys on his console, “What do you know about the fauna on Dedia IV, Captain?”

“They are supposed to be dangerous and are the major hurdle to the colonization efforts there.”

“Yes, take a look at these photos.”

Her pad blinked, and she put them on the main screen. A vicious looking quadruped with four eyes and two dagger like front legs appeared.

“This is a Rexxor, a pack hunter that has eradicated most of the other wildlife on the planet. It’s the most common non-insect lifeform on the planet. They live in hives that are controlled by queens, forming colonies not unlike old Earth ants. Except their nests are full of multiple species.”

The scene shifted to a large bi-pedal creature with a long tail with thousands of vicious looking spines.

“This is also a Rexxor, but another caste. It travels in smaller groups and can shoot semi-metallic spines from its tail. These spines travel fast enough that they can pierce several inches of hard plating. Worse, on impact they emit a gaseous acid cloud that can dissolve flesh and other materials in a few minutes.”

The scene shifted to a massive creature with two large, curved blades for tusks. It was standing atop a crushed tank that had its turret ripped off the top.

“This is—”

“Mr. Wyles, I understand that the fauna on the planet is vicious. I’m not sure how it affects your request.”

Wyles took a deep breath, “Sorry Captain, I just know some people there and I’m worried about them. The major issue is the super freighters that just recently arrived dropped their entire contingent on top of a Rexxor Queen’s hive. Five hundred thousand people.”

He paused for a moment, his face grim, “Many of them are dying as we speak, the colony’s military is fighting to save them. Those Solarian bastards cited their job was only to transport the settlers and the ‘super freighters’ already broke orbit and are heading back to Xi Bootis.”

Alex frowned, “What about the IHMC? This sounds like it calls for a military operation.”

“Unfortunately, the Iron Horse ships can’t transport the needed material. The Iron Horse itself might be converted, but that would take longer than waiting for the incoming freighter. Your ship is already ready. The IHMC ships aren’t atmospheric capable and have no orbit-to-ground weaponry. I believe your ship is and does. Part of the reason for sending you is that once you are there, the governor will likely ask for your assistance. With proper payment attached, of course.”

Alex considered. She was torn. Helping felt like the right choice to her, but she was worried about A-3123Y and the manufactory.

“I won’t say it’s impossible, but our orbital station is just newly deployed, and we have our contract with the station that is in progress in order to acquire the old Manufactory. You probably saw that in the news feed.”

“I have. Besides payment for a fast-as-possible delivery, I’ll arrange for my incoming freighter and several shuttles to exclusively service your orbital until you return. I’ll also include the shuttles as payment and transfer them to Starlight Revolution ownership. I can also help smooth things over with Portmaster Whitely if that is a concern. Here is a list of the items being prepared for transport and the delivery fee.”

Alex flipped the page of her data pad and her eyes widened.

|Transport Offer|

|500,000,000 SE |

|Time sensitive stepped payment|

Alex glanced down to the list of cargo.

“There are tanks on this list.”

Wyles nodded, “Tanks, IFVs, APCs, and fourteen hundred pallets of mixed arms and combat gear. Essentially everything I have to spare, including the pulse weaponry you recently sold us.”

“This might be a tight fit. I also have no way to get this from orbit to the ground. Our storage solution is only suitable for zero-g.”

“Understood. I’ll provide you two atmospheric drop shuttles—you can have permanent ownership of them as well, and the Governor will have several in service to help facilitate delivery.”

“This payment it says it is time stepped.”

“Yes, the faster you can get it there after departure, the more you will earn. Time is of the essence. If you can burn twice as fast as the freighter, which I suspect is the case from what I heard from my contact in the IHMC, you’ll net between one hundred and two hundred million. I’ll forward to you the first hundred million of your payment as soon as you accept as well.”

“You’re making this very lucrative and hard for me to refuse. Do you have enough money to pay for the entire fee?”

“Yes, we can. I’ve already received funds from the governor for the shipment. I’m not sure it’s at all possible to get there that fast, but if you did, every single Ertan-cursed credit would be well spent on how many lives it would save.”

“I’ll have to discuss this with my XO and crew. I’ll get back to you with an answer as soon as possible, Mr. Wyles.”

“Thank you Captain, if there are any issues that I might resolve to expedite things, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly.”

“Understood. I’ll be in touch soon.”

A note from Erios909

Thanks for reading!

If you are enjoying the story, please leave a comment, rating, or review! They help the story out! And I love you for them!

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Next: Chapter 34 – Standing Orders and Transit

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