The more things change... episode two

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The more things change... episode two

Post by Timsup2nothin » Wed, 18. May 16, 22:25

Obviously, since the title says episode two, there should be an episode one somewhere. There it is.


He opened his eyes. It felt, mostly, like he was prying them open with a stick. Not good, he thought...I'm not sure what happened, but it was definitely nothing good.

"You're awake."

His tongue felt...thick, and seemed to be covered with fur. "Pruno. Not...heaven...then."

Bruno "Pruno" Acks laughed. "No Red, not heaven. Not for us. You're not dead though. At least unofficially you're not dead."

The weapons officer, Hiram Purelle, was as close as they had to a medic. It took him about two seconds to know he was out of his depth, and less than a minute to get Red into the stasis pod. Then things got difficult.

The captain, York Sahkarna, desperately wanted to jump into Paranid space to look for his brother, and everyone knew it. Everyone, including York, knew that was the most pointless thing they could possibly do. York knew better than anyone, because he had seen the look in Red's eyes when his friend and mentor had shaken his head right before he passed out. Brent was dead. York had no doubt.

York pressed a stud on the sleeve of his enviro-suit, and when he spoke his voice carried through the announcing system. "Salvage team one to the airlock. Salvage team two to the transporter bay." He released the stud. "Weaps, get that salvage team on Red's suit. The power pack is damaged, and if the main core loses power we lose any data we may be able to dig out of it." He turned abruptly and headed back to the bridge.

When he arrived on the bridge his first officer slipped out of the command chair and back into her regular seat. One of the gunners was filling in for the weapons officer. As York took his seat he looked to the sensor station. "Status?"

"Screens are clear." Red had chosen Olmancketslat's Treaty for his emergency jump rendezvous because it seldom had any significant traffic. That was working in their favor. Unfortunately, the emergency jump had deposited the wreckage of Red's ship right in front of the gate. If someone did happen to choose this moment to travel to the out of the way sector they would be ripe for a crash.

"Comms, get me salvage team one."

A brief, very brief, delay and the Comms officer said "Salvage team one on line."

"Salvage one, I want the data recorder. The rest is junk. Rig it to blow to clear the lane." The leader of the team acknowledged the order. They waited, anxiously monitoring the gate.

Even though they were on a secure channel, and encrypted, communications through the gate network were never really secure. Brenna understood from York's report that there was a medical emergency. She knew from the fact that she was talking to York rather than Red that either Red was the emergency or that Red was dead. In either case the less anyone else knew, the better. She consulted a handwritten note that she kept on her person at all times. "Facility 203 dash 417," she said. "I'll arrange the personnel."

York checked his own copy of the same note. "203 dash 417. I'll see you there."

Brenna thought for a minute, calming herself and getting organized so that there would be no wasted movements. Then she established a comms link with Kleo Bracks in Herron's Nebula. "I need you to get to the shipyard in Argon Prime. Red has a personnel transporter there. There will be a pilot, who will have a list of people to pick up. When you have those people they need to be taken to 203 dash 417."

The use of Red's location code system told Kleo the magnitude of the emergency, though not the specifics. "I'm on my way," he said. He launched in less than ten minutes.

Brenna's next call was to Karl, her partner in life as well as the wheat business they operated with Red. Would be operating. They were in the very hectic final stages of construction and staffing. Karl had retired from the Argon Prime shipyard. "Honey, we need a pilot for Red's transport that's docked at your old shipyard. Someone we can trust. And we need them right now. No time for crew. They're going to have to single seat it for now."

Karl had been in Red's orbit for decades. Urgency carried all the message he needed. He dropped everything. "I'm on it," he said. Brenna was already on another line, assembling the best medical team Red's money could buy.

Location 203-417 on Red's list was the second of Pruno's two distilleries in Herron's Nebula. Everyone converged there.

Once the stasis pod had been moved into the station's medical facilities, which had been heavily upgraded by equipment gathered with the medical team, Captain Sahkarna welcomed them aboard the Zephyrus. No one was really comfortable about entering Red's office suite, but it was the obvious and most secure location for them to meet. They sat down at the conference table, with everyone avoiding the seat at the head.

Brenna looked at each person in turn. Karl, who was in charge of equipment and facilities at the Kingdom Wheat Company, where she was equal partner managing personnel, and Red managed the finances. Kleo Braks, Karl's son, now mourning the loss of his close friend and partner in Herron's Salvage and Shipfitting. She wasn't sure how the partners there had divided responsibilities, but she assumed Red had done most of the management of their finances as well. With Brent Sahkarna dead and Red close enough to it Kleo was going to face a heavy burden. Pruno Acks, Red's oldest friend as far as she knew, and as silent a partner in Red's smuggling operation as Red himself was. She actually had no idea who was involved or how that worked at all, but she knew that Pruno had introduced Brent into Red's family of partners and that he too was hurting. Her eyes went last, reluctantly, to York Sahkarna. To Kleo, Brent had been close friend and partner. To Pruno he was some sort of protege. But to York he had been a brother. York was captain of Red's flying home and office, commander of his privateer operations, and Red had told her himself that he thought of York as the son he never had. She considered Red to be almost a father, though he wasn't actually that much older than she herself. Looking at York she felt completely abandoned.

"Everyone at this table has suffered a terrible loss on Brent's death, and is no doubt feeling a bit lost without Red as well. When Red retired planetside nearly everything that he had built fell apart. We owe it to him, and to ourselves, to make sure that does not happen again. And we owe it to Brent, because what Red has built with us is our surest weapon for avenging his death."

She paused. Some large part of her wanted someone, anyone, to speak up. To put themselves forward as the leader. To take the responsibility she felt settling on her shoulders. Everyone looked to her, silently. Expectantly.

"Okay then, here is what we know."

She detailed what was known, and surmised, about the last mission Red had undertaken. Menika Silarne had sent Red to recover a ship in Paranid space, purportedly containing data vital to Argon Intelligence services. The recorder in Red's suit revealed that no such data was on the ship. They did not know if the data had been removed, or had never existed. Pruno had reached out to his contacts in Argon intelligence, who did not confirm that Silarne was actually one of theirs. Of course that did not mean that she wasn't.

Then she went on to the hardest part. "It is clear from the data recovered from Red's suit that Brent recognized some sort of trap aboard the ship. He warned Red, who escaped, barely. We can only guess, but it appears that Brent chose to warn Red rather than activating his own emergency transport.

"Red is seriously injured, but the medical team we have assembled gives him better than even odds of recovering. It will be a long process. It is clear that someone has gone to great lengths to kill him. Under the circumstances it seems wisest to let them believe they have succeeded. However, that is not a decision I can make myself.

"I was not aware of this until now, but Red listed me as his successor on all of his accounts. If he is officially reported to be dead, I inherit his shares in everything. All of you would officially have me for a partner in his place. You see why I can't be the one to declare him dead. And why, if we do decide that that is the best course I am counting on every one of you to help me maintain what is rightfully his unmingled with what is not, so it can be returned to his control intact."


"So yer out on yer ass, ya worthless vagrant," Pruno concluded with a cackle.

Red had recovered substantially during this recounting of events, fortified by copious amounts of water that had washed the staleness off his tongue. "How long have I been out?"

"Most of two months. The concussion was bad. The collapsed lungs were worse. We were afraid that lack of oxygen might have turned that useless lump you call a brain into something even more useless. You woke up raving a couple times and dropped back out though, so we've known for a while you were gonna be you when you woke up."

"I take it I'm still at your place?"

"Yeah. Me bein' an old timer I was picked for the duty of sitting around waiting for you to wake up. Besides, the distilleries are mine, no hint of you on the titles or licenses. If someone was sniffing around your properties to see if you had somehow missed the big kaboom we didn't want them to find you."

"Catch me up."

"Yeah, I knew you were gonna say that, first thing. And I already told Brenna I wasn't going to do it. Not right away, anyhow. You need to get it through that thick skull that you are too old for this crap first."

Red's eyes narrowed.

"I know that look," Pruno said. "Go ahead. Hop up on your busted legs like you wanna fight." He smiled. "Here's the deal, bucko. Brenna's running things, and doing fine. We all help her out. She doesn't need you looking over her shoulder and making her second guess herself when you are just a shadow of your old, and I emphasize again, OLD, self. Let it go. Get well. Then see if you really want the weight of the universe back on your tired old shoulders."

"Okay. I still want to know what's going on, just to keep my head in the game. I won't be telling Brenna what to do. You don't even have to let her know you are telling me, and probably shouldn't."

"Fair enough."

"One more thing."


"Starting now I'm keeping count. For every time you call me old from now on, when I get out of this bed I'm going to beat your geezer ass."

"Red, this is hard for me, but I honestly hope the day comes that you can."


Here we are again for round two.

Might be less "nuts and bolts" (the actual game reporting stuff) this time...or there might be more. Hard to tell. Mostly the set up of the Wheat Company will be old news to people who know me, since it will mostly just be me following my own guides on CLS networks. And I've never seen much point to detailed lists of captured ships and whatnot.

Mostly I do missions while my trade networks do their thing, and when a mission inspires a story I tell it. Hope you enjoy.
Trapper Tim's Guide to CLS 2

On Her Majesty's Secret Service-Dead is Dead, and he is DEAD

Not a DiD, so I guess it's a DiDn't, the story of my first try at AP
Part One, in progress

HEY! AP!! That's new!!!

Posts: 3187
Joined: Thu, 22. Jan 09, 18:49

Post by Timsup2nothin » Thu, 19. May 16, 21:31

"How are you doing, Red?" Brenna asked as she walked in.

"The docs are going to let me up soon."

Brenna had talked to the doctors. That was a lie. She let it pass. "Great. I'm looking forward to giving back the rat's nest you handed me. Do you remember the first thing you told me when I went to work for you?"


You said, even if I was only running a couple girls on a single station I should manage everything like I had an empire that spanned the universe. Keep order when your business is small if you ever plan on it getting big."

Red considered pulling the covers over his head.

"I got calls on your private comms from pilots looking for orders who were flying ships I didn't even know you owned. I found three comm link numbers and checked them out. They were ships you owned. You had an autopayment account that I still haven't found any record of paying leases on space for them. Know where I found the numbers?"


"Written on a napkin. You flew around in your luxury office taking notes on napkins."


As soon as she had everyone's agreement, and Red was established at Pruno's with his medical team, Brenna had filed the report that he was dead; killed in an explosion in Paranid space while recovering a ship. Data from his ship recorder, processed through the comm unit on board the Zephyrus to hide the fact that the ship had jumped out, backed the claim.

She flew back to the wheat farm in Three Worlds aboard the Zephyrus, trying to sort everything out. It was a monumental task. Red had obviously operated from "mental notes" which had been somewhat unreliable at the best of times and were now completely lost.

After a week in the docks York Sahkarna chafed to get going. He wasn't sure where he wanted to go. Brenna was pretty sure that he was going to go on a vendetta spree, killing Paranids at random. She didn't think that would be particularly productive. And she needed access to Red's office. That's where documentation, such as it was, would be found.

"You can ride along. Red worked from here," York told her.

"I have a farm to get running on top of this mess," she snapped back at him. "That job isn't portable."

"We could have Kleo just chop this piece of nonsense right out of the ship! This is supposed to be a fighting ship anyway."

"It's a transport."

York looked like he had just been slapped in the face. She was a little concerned that he would slap her back. "Red fought on this ship," he grated. "So have I. My crew needs to fight. We can't just sit here."

York needed to fight a lot more than his crew did, she knew. She nodded. "I know, York. Believe it or not I want you out there fighting too. Red's got ships stashed all over, but the delivery on time service is taking off. Every buyer in Elana's Fortune has signed on. Kleo has way more than his hands full trying to get the new equipment installed and the ships dragged into place, but if he ever gets organized he'll progress fast. Unless Red wakes up and tells me where there are another dozen or so salvaged freighters we can use we are going to run short. You out there capturing Paranid transgressors would make me happy and us money. But I can't let this office go until I get everything sorted through."

York sagged in his seat. He knew she was right. Then he sat up straight. "Wait. Kleo is hiring crews, moving ships all over the region..."


"He's working out of that little office in the trading station. Flying around in Red's old Buster. More likely working out of that most of the time."


"You're right. This ship is a flying office, not a warship. To be a warship a military transport needs fighters, not a couple runabouts for the owner to flutter around in like we have."

"Red always liked speed over firepower."

"Yeah, but we aren't likely to find anyone else who wants to buzz around in a scout ship getting their ass shot off."

"Red has plenty of cash," she said. "Get the ship prepped for a refit, then go to the OTAS shipyard in Legend's Home and get another one. You know anybody coming out of the military you can bring on to fly a fighter?"

"I'll take care of it."

"Good. See what you can do about getting a crew lined up for Kleo. He can use this ship once I get all Red's stuff off of it, but we don't want him flying this himself."


She found four Mercury transport ships noted as "refit pending" in Red's records. She contacted the shipyard.

"Those ships are gone. Our records show them as refits completed. They've been out of here for a couple months."

She called Kleo. "Did you do any work on these ships?"

"Nope. If Red had them in the shipyard they probably had hull damage. He didn't have us doing that kind of repair work. Grunt work, he called it. I only saw them if he wanted some kind of customization."

She called Pruno. "I don't want to just put out a general hail for them. What if Red has them involved in some scam and his name was supposed to be kept off of them? For all I know he might have sold them to pirates. Or terrorists."

"Red wouldn't have sold them to terrorists. Pirates maybe. But why would pirates be buying freighters from Red? And if he had them repaired at the shipyard he wasn't trying to keep them hidden. Just hail them."

There didn't seem to be any alternative. She picked one of the four at random. If it went badly at least the other three wouldn't be compromised in, well, whatever they were doing.

The face that appeared on the comm screen was...ordinary. "Pok Silarn, reporting," the Argon gentleman said.

"Ummm. My name is Brenna Gilharno, I'm..."

"Finally! I was starting to wonder if I was going to be shuttling e-cells for the rest of my life!"

"Red hired you..."

"Yes ma'am. He said I'd be working for you delivering wheat, and to just make this e-cell run until you needed me. Then I never heard from him again. I sent all my promotion reports from the pilot's union, no response. My commission chip always processed right on time, but a four stop route...frankly I was about ready to quit."

"Promotion reports. What's your rank?"

"Cargo messenger."

Brenna almost laughed out loud. "Complete your current run Mr Silarn. I'll wire you some credits to upgrade your ship. Then report to Kingdom Wheat Company headquarters, in Three Worlds."

She searched Red's message files using the name Pok Silarn. There was a file titled "new file (6)" that the promotion reports had been routed into and automatically marked as read. Three other Argon pilots had promotion reports in the file as well, along with four Boron pilots.

She recognized the names of Fumi Lo and Tata Pa. They were her designated delivery pilots for the distillery runs. Red had told her to never investigate their excessive cargo loss rates. She had no idea who the other two Boron might be, but they had obviously been under contract for a long time. All of the Boron were listed as Logistician, the highest rank in the Boron pilot's union.

She wasn't sure if she wanted to hug Red for having these pilot's on hand, or kill him for not bothering to even name the file he created to hide them in. She sent out general hails for them all.


"Thanks for thinking of me," Val Rana said.

"We needed a pilot, and you're a good pilot," Karl replied.

They were standing on the floor of a grow pod. Light streamed down through the plasteel dome arcing overhead. Karl's eyes roamed over the work crews, who were mostly clustered around the central well. Water, laden with nutrients, was piped up through the well and distributed to the rows of growing tables that radiated out from the center. Cooling systems, pumps, filtration...there was so much more to growing wheat than just planting a seed and sitting around waiting. Eventually the harvesting machinery would rise up through the well and process this pod and it would start all over again.

"Is it monotonous?" Val asked. "I mean, at the shipyard you saw all different kinds of ships. This pod is exactly the same as the one you started up yesterday, and the same as the one you'll be starting up tomorrow."

Karl shrugged. "All different kinds of ships," he said. "That's a pilot talking. You loved that old bucket you were flying, but if you asked the yard workers who worked on her it was just another hull, with just another gravitic drive unit. To a great extent, from a mechanic's perspective, ships are no more different than these pods are.

"Plus, just like your ship did, every pod will age, and age differently." He pointed to some workers clustered around the end of a growing table. "Those guys just banged that table with a lifter. Minor damage and they'll get it fixed up. But a couple months from now when the harvester is running in this pod a good mechanic would be specifically checking that table to make sure the repair hasn't shifted it. A little misalignment the harvester can work past, but when the harvester gets older it may not be able to compensate. So every pod will be different, just like ships."

"You're a good mechanic. I'll forgive you for calling my ship an old bucket." She smiled, and he laughed.

"Now, that's definitely a pilot talking. But I apologize. You did eventually sell her for scrap though."

"Had to. Too much of that 'little misalignments and older gear that might not be able to compensate' accumulated."

"There's older ships out there. She could have been refitted."

"You could write a book; 'Beyond the golden years, the sorry end for a personnel transport ship'. She served me well. Being scrapped and recycled seemed more dignified than getting sold to some shuttle company."

The versatility of the personnel transport made Val think that they shouldn't be considered just one class of ship. With her license she could pilot a luxury yacht, or a spartan rig perforated with airlocks to dump companies of spacesuited marines, or a sector shuttle that only turned a profit by shoving large numbers of people into cramped 'seat cabins' "Keep these VR goggles on and you won't know you are jammed in a row shoulder to shoulder, really! Well, except for the smell maybe."

Val had the license, but couldn't imagine herself doing any of it. Val was a charter pilot. No pampered rich owner thinking that groping the pilot was just a perk of owning the ship; no unwashed hoards on their way to work on a station where they couldn't make the rent; no dumping marines while trying not to get the ship shot out from underneath her. Her old ship had never been a luxury yacht, and it was just getting too worn down to attract charters. It was scrap her, or pass her on to a sector shuttle service after refitting and know she was out there somewhere falling apart and probably infested with roaches.

Which brought her around to the reason she had sought out Karl. "I talked to Brenna yesterday. She's so busy it seemed like she had forgotten about me."

"Yeah. Getting this place up and running was a big enough job. Then Red dying dumped a whole other job in her lap. Job and a half, really."

"I know. And she inherited a ship that Red really wasn't doing anything with. I guess it's a good thing she had a use for it right then, because I sure appreciate the job..."

"But collecting a paycheck for sitting docked at a wheat farm isn't what you were hoping for."

"Right. So I talked to her, and before I could work up to the point she told me to go hire a crew."


"I felt bad for taking her time. She had like five comm links blinking on her desk..."

"So you never asked what kind of crew."

"No." Val looked sad. "People always tell me I try too hard to be nice, and I just end up making things harder for everyone. If I had just asked on the spot it would have been done with. Now I have to interrupt her again, and a lot of people wouldn't understand why I would even ask. I mean, a crew is a crew, they think. You know ships, but a lot of people..."

Karl nodded. He looked off into the distance and Val knew he was thinking things through, so she kept quiet. Finally, he said "Look, she's never owned a transport, and neither have I. She only knew Red owned one because the bill from the shipyard for the hull repairs was in his inbox. We needed those people gathered...discretely, and 'hey we have our own ship' sort of jumped past 'we need to charter a transport' in our minds at that moment."

Val sniffed. "But truth is you don't need a transport, or a transport pilot. You could just hire charters when you nee..."

"That's not where I was headed Val. That probably won't be the last time we need a charter and we need discretion. Why don't you make a list of everything you need, for crew and for getting that ship set up, as if it were your own charter business? Then you can treat us sort of like a favorite customer."


York was standing at the viewport in the docking pod, looking out at the Zephyrus. His crew was wrapping up loose ends. He already had all his personal gear off the ship. Packing had given him an odd feeling. He had boarded the ship as a visitor, carrying everything he owned in a kit bag. He was leaving as her captain, but really everything he owned still fit in that same kit bag. It gave him a perspective on Red's office full of stuff that he hadn't noticed before.

"York!" He turned to see Latasha Nedley storming across the pod at him. "Where the hell is Red? I'm going to kill him!"

The lie was somewhat automatic. He'd practiced. He hadn't expected to say it to Latasha, and didn't really consider that he was saying it to Latasha. It just came out. "Red's dead." She stopped as if he had punched her square in the face, and burst into tears. "Oh, wait...damn..."

Latasha had worked for Red longer than York had himself. She had served as first officer on the Zephyrus, the same post York had before Red had promoted him to captain. He knew Red trusted her with his life. He looked quickly around to make sure they were alone in the docking pod. "Okay, he's not really dead."

Latasha was in a mood.

She had docked at the solar power plant in Bala Gi's Joy, as usual, to restock on jump fuel. She had just made a sale, and was checking data from the various sources where she looked for bargain goods when the sleazy Teladi sales agent told her that her account had declined. It had taken most of her pocket money to cover the 'handling charges' when the fuel was taken back off her ship. She practically had to beg to get the little lizard to allow her access to the station's gate link comm net long enough to locate the Zephyrus, and then she wouldn't let Latasha charge to make the call. She had seriously considered whether she would take out a hit on the scaly wretch once she got this account business sorted out.

She had flown, straight through. Eight sectors! With really limited hopes that the Zephyrus, and Red, would still be docked in Three Worlds when she finally arrived. Now York had jerked her chain with this "Red's Dead" business, and he had put on such a morose face that she had fallen for it. Totally fallen for it, and embarrassed herself bursting out in tears. It was all coming due here, and York was going to be footing the bill.

He put up his hands, palms towards her, and pleaded. "Tash, hold on, please...just stop and hear me out..." He had his sidearm in his kit bag. If it had been on his hip he would have thought about stunning her.


"I'm so sorry I hit you," she said again.

"It's okay." York had kept it together for weeks. Captain in front of his crew and all that. Plus he had to try to help Brenna as much as he could with what seemed like an endless job. He hadn't really thought of the loose ends that he and Red had been leaving behind all over the place at the time. Salvage it, set the autopilot for a nearby dock, and forget it, had seemed like all there was to this merchant privateer business.

He had kept it all together.

Then Latasha had punched him in the eye, with tears still dripping down her furious face. He had said, "Red isn't dead, but my brother Brent is," and just lost it.

Latasha understood the burdens of command. She had taken his hand and led him, blubbering, to her own ship. Where his crew wouldn't see him.


The bank had frozen the account on notification that Red had died. All Brenna had to do was acknowledge the transfer to her, as his successor, and everything about it went right back to normal. It took five minutes. If she had just known the account existed, Latasha Nedley would not have had to put her business aside and go trailing across the region.

She set up a search on Red's desk unit, using the account number. There had to be some record, if she had just known where to look. It returned another of Red's nameless files. The account number, with the notation LN. Latasha Nedley, apparently.

There was a list of similar numbers, with equally cryptic notes. She recognized quite a few, many with her own initials on them that were connected to the wheat farm. She wanted to do something about the others. Latasha had been in a pirate sector. A less scrupulous pilot could have just traded Red's ship for an anonymous cred chip. Account numbers...with nothing in the file to indicate which bank to call.

She sighed and went back to the four other things she had been trying to do. If some pilot sold one of Red's ships out from under him it would serve him right.

When Brenna had left, giving Red a soft peck on the cheek and telling him not to worry, Pruno wandered back into the room. "No talking business, right?"

"None that I asked for."

"You're lucky you were unconscious. The first couple weeks I thought she was going to murder you.


Okay, so I have to say that I let this game completely get away from me. The property list is freakin' chaos. I know better, too...which only makes it worse.
Trapper Tim's Guide to CLS 2

On Her Majesty's Secret Service-Dead is Dead, and he is DEAD

Not a DiD, so I guess it's a DiDn't, the story of my first try at AP
Part One, in progress

HEY! AP!! That's new!!!

Song Of Obsidian
Posts: 301
Joined: Wed, 19. Jun 13, 19:46

Post by Song Of Obsidian » Sat, 21. May 16, 00:47

Ah, Tim. Good to see you active again. Also glad Latasha wasn't the one you killed. She was my guess for some reason.

Despite not getting to actually see the individual characters much, they have a lot of depth. Do like.

Posts: 3187
Joined: Thu, 22. Jan 09, 18:49

Post by Timsup2nothin » Sat, 21. May 16, 02:02

Song Of Obsidian wrote:Ah, Tim. Good to see you active again. Also glad Latasha wasn't the one you killed. She was my guess for some reason.

Despite not getting to actually see the individual characters much, they have a lot of depth. Do like.

If Latasha dies it will be the game's decision, not mine. She's a CLS logistician, so it could happen but isn't likely and she's way too valuable for me to do it on purpose...probably.
Trapper Tim's Guide to CLS 2

On Her Majesty's Secret Service-Dead is Dead, and he is DEAD

Not a DiD, so I guess it's a DiDn't, the story of my first try at AP
Part One, in progress

HEY! AP!! That's new!!!

Posts: 3187
Joined: Thu, 22. Jan 09, 18:49

Post by Timsup2nothin » Sat, 21. May 16, 06:40

Red was recovering, slowly. The doctors had him up and about, some. Most of the regeneration therapy on his legs was still being done with what they called 'in place stimulus' that involved vats and wires and he didn't want to know what else, but he had reached a point where they said some actual function had to be programmed in through real use, or at least as close to real use as he could manage. It made him irritable, to say the least, and Pruno was making a point of getting as many visitors as possible to share the burden of putting up with him.

"Hear you practically bankrupted us," he said as Kleo Braks walked in. "Getting piloted about in some swanky flying office extravagance." Kleo had heard that Red was cranky, and his face showed that he was taking this seriously. "I'm kidding Kleo. No one tells me much of anything."

"Well, I did overstretch a little maybe, on paper anyway. And I do have a pretty swanky office now. Picked it up really cheap though at an estate sale from some dead guy."


The blossoming partnership, and friendship, between Brenna and his son Kleo had taken such a burden off of Karl Braks shoulders that he was still treading lightly whenever Kleo came around. Whatever magic was working, he didn't want to disrupt it. When he heard, while passing through the offices of the Wheat Company, that Brenna had "summoned" Kleo he got nervous. She was under a lot of stress, and Kleo had never been the type to respond well to being summoned.

Brenna had a lot on her plate, and the early stages of getting their Wheat Company running contributed a lot to that. His own demands for hiring the necessary technical staff he knew did not help, but they needed the people. She was also hiring in office staff and operators for the shipping facilities. All these people needed to be arranged into the living facilities, and of course those living facilities meant support staffing. Companies and individuals were clambering to lease space for places people could eat, or drink, or be entertained. The farm was like a town, or more like a small city, springing into existence all at once.

Karl generally left all of that to Brenna, since his own plate was overflowing as well with getting hundreds of grow pods started, along with the startup processes for every piece of support equipment when it was used the first time, establishing maintenance schedules, getting to know which of his hundreds of newly hired technicians knew what they were doing and who could be counted on to make a good guess among the ones that didn't. But, his son was his son, and Karl wanted to make sure his family made it through the stress. So he stopped in Brenna's office.

"I see you are here. Finally got everything off the ship? I hope you get to relax a little now that you don't have to be in two places at once."

She looked up from her comm unit. "I still need to be in two places at once. At least. But it's nice not having to beam out to the docks and muddle onto and off of that blasted ship."

The farm was what is known as a 'station complex.' Actually two wheat farming stations, each originally designed to operate independently, had been connected together. The docking facilities in the hubs of both stations had been replaced with industrial capacity transporter machinery. Product was beamed into the docking structure directly into shipping containers, and resources were beamed directly from containers into the processing facility intakes, eliminating any need to open or unload the containers. The processing facilities only handled goods, and the shipping facility only handled containers. Efficient.

While splitting time between her own office and Red's shipboard office suite, Brenna had had to use the personnel transporter to get to the docking facilities and back. Once the station was in full operation there wouldn't be much traffic, and that's what the personnel transporters were designed to handle. With new hires moving in every day there were delays. Brenna could bypass any wait times, but it was still hectic, and wasted time.

"I hear Kleo is coming."

"This afternoon. I'll invite him to stay for dinner, but I know he's incredibly busy so I don't know if we should count on it."

"Busy as he is I'm surprised he could come out at all."

"With Red...out of the picture...I'm Kleo's business partner too, and some things have to be done in person." She looked at him intently. "Something's bothering you. What?"

He smiled; what she called the "not wanting to step on your toes" smile that she had gotten comfortable with as they worked together. "I heard one of the office girls say that you 'summoned him.'"

She laughed. "Oh, no. I'm going to have to lighten up a little."

"Partners or not he might not respond well to..."

"Oh, not with Kleo. I certainly didn't 'summon' him. We just have a lot to go over. But if the people in the office think that I'm some sort of dictator on the pedestal summoning people I need to get that cleaned up. Kleo's fine. Eager, even. He's coming to pick up Red's old ship."

"He already has Red's old ship."

"Not the Buster. The Zephyrus. The company bought it for him."

"His company can afford a Zephyrus?"

"Well, no. Not at the moment. But that will get sorted out."


Karl needn't have worried about Kleo and Brenna. They were building a 'comradeship of the foxhole' together. Both had had so much unexpected responsibility fall on them that they both thought the only person who really understood was the other.

Ships Red had captured were stacked about, waiting for Herron's Salvage and Shipfitting to buy them, modify them, and sell them on to Kingdom Wheat. Kingdom Wheat didn't really have the money to buy them, and HSaS didn't have the manpower or money to modify them. Not all at once.

Kleo and Brenna cut through the tangled mess of paying for docks, partially processed ship registrations, all of it, by just selling the whole fleet to HSaS, on a float against Red's personal account. Then they had dinner with Karl, and Kleo flew off in his new office.


Toki Selek had served aboard the same military transport with York Sahkarna. They had shared similar views on the military, though she had hidden it better. She was more motivated to make rank. She wanted her own ship when she mustered out, even if it was just a little freighter.

She had the credentials, and she almost had the money. She had mustered out a year before York did, and not kept in touch. She had been amazed when he showed up at her door.

"I never expected to find you managing a traffic control unit aboard a station," he said.

"It pays the bills."

"But you wanted your own ship."

"Wanting and getting aren't always the same thing, York." His face clouded, strangely. She had been a little short, but the subject was a little touchy for her. The job paid the bills, but it always seemed like buying a ship was just out of reach no matter how much she saved. But York as she remembered was tough. A little snap in her response shouldn't have gotten to him. "What's wrong?"

"Ahhh..." he said, "I just lost my brother, unexpectedly. Still a little raw. You're right. Wanting and getting aren't the same. I wanted us to be closer, and we did get closer after I got out...but I sure didn't want him to die. All that time before we sorted things out. Just a waste."

They had served together. They had known people together who had died, and people who had survived other people dying. She knew there was really nothing she could say. She just cleared out any irritation about her own situation that York may have brought up, looked him in the eye so he would know she was there, and waited.

"That's not why I'm here," he said. There was a pause while they both sorted out that such a totally obvious statement probably deserved a laugh, even if they both were wrestling their own somber issues. "So, starting over. I have had some really good luck since I got out. I don't own her, but I have command of my own ship."

"Captain for hire? I looked into that. That can be really good with the right ownership, and really bad if it's wrong. And it's a commitment. I'm guessing you at least think you have good ownership, but are you sure? And how did you know?"

"I signed on as first officer, and had all the chance I needed to get to know the owner. He was his own captain."

She smiled. "You must have impressed him. I'm not surprised." She gave him an openly appraising look. "You trying to bring me onto your crew?" She had outranked York. That would not make for a good subordinate, and she knew it, even if he didn't.

He did know it. "No. You were the first person I thought of...and I checked and you don't have your own ship yet. If you had I'd have to think of someone else. I'm getting a new ship...well, my boss is getting a new ship...and he...they...well, that part's a little complicated. Anyway, my old ship needs a captain, and you were the first person I could think of."

"So, this owner was so impressed with you that he not only made you captain of his ship, but he got you a new ship and trusts you to find a captain for his other ship? That doesn't sound really complicated, it just sounds a little far fetched. He checked you out as first officer before he gave you a ship, why wouldn't he check me out the same way?" Ownership that York Sahkarna had felt comfortable with she thought might very well be okay. A first officer hitch would be fine with her.

"Well, he's dead too, actually. That's where it gets complicated." She settled back for what looked like it could be a long story.


"I have to be honest. I never thought about hiring on as a captain. I intended to have my own ship."

Kleo smiled. "I never expected to have my own ship, much less a ship that needed a captain."

York had brought her down to the docks of the station. Her last shift at traffic control had ended with no ships in dock. The only thing there now was a Buster with a unique paint job.

"Kleo," York said, "you should have gotten a captain for the Buster, or at least a pilot."

Kleo looked at her with a sheepish grin. "I'm not much of a pilot."

"But he can draw the last graviton from an engine," York told her, "and he's never afraid to follow a new idea."


The decision to hire on working for Kleo was easy. They were about the same age. He had been business partners with York's brother. He clearly would make no demands other than getting where he wanted to go and would let her run the ship, which was where a lot of owner to captain relationships ran onto the rocks.

He let her fly the Buster without any hint that he wanted to fight for control. The two seat cockpit was unique, and she was impressed when he said that he had built it. There was a moment, when he made clear that he had built it with York's brother Brent, and she realized why York had seemed so eager to not be in the cockpit.

The Zephyrus was beautiful, even in the midst of a refit. She hoped that her enthusiasm wasn't embarrassing as she gazed out through the canopy of the Buster as it came down the approach pattern. The Zephyrus was two bays over in the same docking pod, and gleamed in the sunlight.

When they were together in the docking bay she asked York, "That ship is hardly old. Why did you need a new one?"

"Not so much a new one as another one. Red was involved in a lot of things. Kleo is taking over some of those things and I'm doing...other things for Red's successor. This ship is better for Kleo than for me, now.

Then she met Red's successor, Brenna, who was also Kleo's partner. Hiring on to work for Brenna might have been harder. Toki got the feeling that Brenna might not just let a captain run any ship that she was on, even if she wasn't the owner. "Forceful" came up a couple notches short.

There didn't seem to be any hiring process there, though. Kleo had been told he would have a captain, he was getting one. York had been told to find a captain, he had found one. Toki was it, and no questions about that seemed to cross Brenna's mind. She listened to York recite Toki's qualifications, then read off the payment and benefits section of a fairly standard contract with very few pauses to see if Toki raised a problem. Then she said "Welcome," handed the contract to Kleo, gave Toki a dazzling smile, and left the docking pod. Toki had been on the station less than ten minutes and had yet to step foot on what seemed to have just become her ship.

"She's..." Toki began.

"Yeah," York said. "She reminds everyone of their mother, sort of. Tough to work for, impossible not to."

"How can you be captain of a ship, be in charge, with her aboard?"

"Oh, she's never been on my ship, except in dock a couple times."

"She'll probably never have any reason to be on yours either," Kleo said. "Assuming you sign on, of course." He handed her the contract. "If she ever does she'll be looking for me, and that would mean I screwed up, badly, so you could get away with just going about your business at that point anyway."

"What exactly would my business be, at that point?" Toki mused.

York laughed. "Getting Kleo to the far end of the universe before she got on board."

When she saw the office suite on the Zephyrus she was amazed. "You could run half the universe from here."

"Red was working on that, I think," York said.

"I won't need a lot of this stuff," Kleo said. "It makes a good showpiece though. Pick up a client in the Buster, fly them here to meet. Marketing wasn't my part in the business, but this helps."

Toki looked at York. "Yeah," he said. "This is what the company you'll be working for does. Kleo built this too."

She signed on. Who wouldn't?


After he saw Kleo off to the dock, Pruno came back to check in with Red. The opportunity to pay him back for his irritability was too good to pass up.

"He stripped all the guns off your ship. Probably for the best, considering that you turned it into a flying bordello."

"It was an office, not a bordello. I had a lot going on. I needed an office. Now Kleo needs an office. It works out."

"I have an office. I don't need a pilot and crew to fly it around."

"Well, I was a little bit broke at the time. If I need an office now I can just set up at Kingdom Wheat."

"The universe is full of people who rent office space Red. It has been for a long time. You just want to have your office and to fly it too."

Red had no answer. Pruno was pleased with himself for getting the last word, so he doubled down. "By the way, the kid got a really hot captain for his flying bordello. You're clearly way off your game."

Trapper Tim's Guide to CLS 2

On Her Majesty's Secret Service-Dead is Dead, and he is DEAD

Not a DiD, so I guess it's a DiDn't, the story of my first try at AP
Part One, in progress

HEY! AP!! That's new!!!

Posts: 3187
Joined: Thu, 22. Jan 09, 18:49

Post by Timsup2nothin » Mon, 23. May 16, 05:36

The doctors were optimistic. Red had recovered faster than they had expected, and was starting to look like he would suffer no lingering disabilities. They were still insisting that he be allowed as much rest as possible. Pruno knew that meant not getting his old friend worked up, if it could be avoided. But some things couldn't be avoided.

Pruno and York Sahkarna walked in together. Red took a long look at their faces. "This isn't a social call, is it?"


Hatibmanckulot tended a bean field that stretched as far as his two eyes could see. The third eye, of course, was less limited. More accurately, Hatibmanckulot tended the machinery that tended the bean field. The soya beans thrived in the sandy soil, the machines hummed with a purposeful intensity, and his future stretched smoothly ahead in the view of that third eye.

Until it didn't.

The charge of heresy appeared in his future like a dark cloud on the distant horizon. He chose his paths carefully, yet his future grew smaller to his view. The darkness spread, and drew nearer. Eventually, it encircled his future completely and he knew there was no way to avoid it. He would be charged with heresy.

He was born there, on the desert planet in Preacher's Refuge. Not far from the bean farm, in fact. He had never been off the planet, or seen any reason to think that he would. Now, beyond the darkness that closed in consuming his future, he began to see stars.

The source of the charges against him was never revealed; a petty dispute in the market; a rival grower of beans with a long history of sycophantic groveling; the priests. Always the priests. Hatibmanckulot was arrested, and of course convicted. Tending the machines that tended the bean field fell to another. The future, in the third eye view of the priests, remained unblemished.

There was no need for guards, or shackles. His future had narrowed to a single path, which he could not avoid. He boarded the shuttle that took him into space.

In the trading dock, high above the planet of his birth, Hatibmanckulot retched into a bucket in his monastic cell. Many who came to space did not survive, he knew. The vision of his third eye seemed lost, and darkness prevailed, sickening his spirit and his body. But there were stars.

Eventually he could see that the blackness was not his future. The blackness was not the lack of any future, a lack that had informed his body that it was time to die. It was the black of space, not death. There were stars. He emerged from his cell; broken, but alive. The priests tasked him with dragging those who had not survived from their cells and casting them into the pyre furnaces.


With the guns and fire control systems removed there was actually quite a bit of room in the turret. Kleo enjoyed the wide angle of view. It gave him the feeling that he was sitting free in space, on the broad top of the ship. It got him a little buffer from the comms in the office when he wanted to concentrate on an engineering problem.

The indicator lights were green, indicating that the turret was locked in position. If it were 'active' the access port of the turret bubble would be moving freely rather than aligned with the ship access. Toki climbed up the ladder easily in the light gravity. She tried to avoid disturbing him in the turret, but Sahkarna had a ship for them. Climbing up to tell him in person rather than using the comms seemed a reasonable courtesy.

Even fully staffed for maneuvering the bridge wasn't crowded. The ship had been stripped of her combat capabilities, reducing the number of control stations.


In Elana's Fortune the other Zephyrus floated in space. She had full combat capabilities.

Routine watches were set, with the officer of the deck sitting in the command chair controlling the ship. Another officer sat at the first officer's station on the right hand of the command chair. A second opinion, a free hand; not necessary, but they had plenty of officers to fill the watchbill. York sat at the weapons officer's station, gazing out through the main port.

The flash of jump drives marked the exit of Kleo's headquarters ship, followed promptly by the Demeter freighter. Kleo and his crew were getting very adept at installing jump drives in the prizes and getting them on their way. York pressed some keys and the main port view was recreated on the console screen in front of him. He keyed another command and a dim speck was highlighted.

He looked up, finding that speck through the port. The screen could enlarge, light amplify, provide a much better view, but he wanted to see with his own direct line of sight. He wondered if the third eye perceptions of the Paranid pilot could feel his gaze. The spacesuited figure was moving away at what was no doubt the top speed the suit could manage. "I could launch a mosquito missile, Paranid," York said on a hushed breath that no one would hear. "Do you see that? Does it darken your future when I just think about it?"


"I'm working as fast as I can," Kleo told his father. "I've got three crews fully staffed, but they're not familiar with what we're trying to do. I have to supervise all three jobs, personally, at least partially. I can do that since they are all in Elana's Fortune, but once we're done there..."

"We can bring the customer docks on line sector by sector. That way you can keep working multiple sites but still keep them close enough. You're going to have to get your people trained though. Particularly, you need crew leaders on site."

"I know. Easier said than done, but I'm getting there."

"I almost don't want to suggest this, as busy as you are. But, when we have all of our docks on line..."

"The bread and butter of my business dries up. If you've got an idea for something else I can add..."

Among the salvaged ships Red had accumulated, which Kleo had taken possession of, there was a Hermes personnel transporter. It was too small to use in the delivery on time program. Karl's proposal was that it could serve to provide jump fuel to his delivery vessels.


There was a growing discomfort on the ship.

Some of the crew had served in the Argon military; fought the Paranids. For them the idea that Paranid traders had access to Argon space cut the wrong way, and attacking those traders made sense. But clearly there were profits being reaped as well. It did make it hard not to have a feeling of piracy.

Which was fine to those on the crew who came from the disputed territories, where pirate clans provided the only order. But pirate philosophy focused heavily on "live for today." Take a prize, make a profit; in their view the next step involved a dock, a mug, and a whirlwind of entertainments until the money ran out.

So many Paranid traders had fallen to their guns that they had left Argon space. In the disputed sector of Split Fire they were taking prizes that were just heading towards the gate to Argon space. To the former military crew this seemed to make them the aggressors. The others wondered if their captain had slipped into greed, and when they would see their shares and a port to spend them in.

Darron Dana was new to the crew. He had come aboard after the change from Red's office Zephyrus to this new, more spartan vessel. As a fighter pilot he had feared life after military service. Where else would he have the opportunity to fly the multi-million credit toys the military provided? Signing on with York had provided an answer. But he was starting to wonder if it had been a mistake. York had changed.

"Man battle stations." The announcement came, as it had come all too frequently. Darron headed towards the hanger bay at an appropriate rapid pace. He noticed that there were members of the crew moving more slowly. Their lack of enthusiasm was starting to affect their performance. He wondered if York would notice his ship was losing readiness before it made for a bad outcome.

York's first officer, Hiram Purelle, noticed. The target was reported as "just a personnel transport." The crew knew that the salvage company that bought their prizes needed larger freighters. They would take the Hermes, but not with enthusiasm. Coming into the disputed territory to get it would cut into the prize value as well. The wording of the report was a message to their captain that the sensor officer wasn't really interested, and Hiram could see that much of the bridge crew agreed, to at least some extent.

The helmsman, responsible for not only their course but for analysis of the target to be intercepted, reported "She's on course for the Brennan's Triumph gate." The emphasis she put on the information was enough to leave another message hanging in the air. Brennan's Triumph sector was deeper into the disputed territory; pirate territory. There was no violation of Argon space to be prevented here.

The captain ordered an attack vector. Purelle gazed sternly around the bridge. Orders had to be followed. Everyone's lives could depend on it. But he wondered if they were going to have some resignations when they reached their next dock.

A withering volley from the four particle accelerator cannons mounted on the wings of the raider model Nova stripped the target's shields in a single pass. As the hull began to vibrate under the impacts the Paranid pilot ejected, leaving the ship as fair salvage. Darron Dana took little satisfaction from such a "victory." He set course for the Zephyrus and the welcoming hanger bay.


The salvage team was on the Hermes. They were responsible for basics of damage control more than anything else. The real work would be done by the team from Herron's Salvage and Shipfitting when they arrived on the scene. As First Officer, Hiram monitored their progress, so the unusual circumstances were reported to him.

"Captain to the bridge?" the OOD asked from the command station.

"No. I'll go talk to him." He slipped out of his seat, which was taken by the assistant officer of the deck. How this situation was handled was going to be a make or break moment for the ship. Hiram Purelle recognized that, and also recognized that he lacked the confidence in his captain to have that moment happen on the bridge. He tapped at the access comm to the captain's ready room.

"Enter," York said as he activated the door. "What have you got, number one?"

"Passengers, captain. The target was a passenger shuttle."

York's first thought was "Space them," and he almost said it. To him, every Paranid could be the one responsible for his brother's death. But the atmosphere on the ship had not escaped his attention completely. "If I gave an order to space them, do you think it would be followed?"

Purelle considered, then answered as truthfully as he could. "I think so. I could make sure the right people were in place first and make sure of it."

"But we'd many?"

"I'd expect a quarter of the crew to resign and request. A lot more to leave at the docks. You'd be down more than half, at the least." 'Resign and request' meant to immediately resign, in space, with a request to be put off the ship at the first opportunity. It turned a crew member into an unwanted passenger. Not being part of the crew they received no pay, and would be charged against the pay they had coming for their berth and meals until put off the ship. It was a drastic action seldom taken.

"I'd be down half. Not we. So I take it you would be among them?"

"Yes sir, I would."

York looked him in the eye. Hiram didn't waver. "Red hated the Paranids," he said. "Sometimes it seemed like it might cloud his judgement. Most times it surprised me because it really never did. Even when I thought that it was, it really wasn't." He looked away. "How did he do that, Hiram?"

"He'd lived with it longer, Captain. Maybe he had paid a price."

"Like being deserted by his crew?"


"You did good work, bringing this in here. We've already lost some, haven't we?"

"Yes, we have."

"We. So you'll stay on?"

Hiram nodded.

"Announce to the crew that as soon as the salvage is complete we will be heading for the shipyard ourselves for a maintenance period. We'll do a full division of bonus shares and renegotiate every contract. Anyone who leaves to look for a better captain can leave with a clean slate and a good recommendation. Anyone who stays, looking for a better captain, will find one."

"I'm sure we will. About the passengers..."

"Consider them cargo. HS and S can add them to the value of the ship, less their disposition cost. Of course they have no cash value, and Gunne only knows what they will charge for disposition costs, so we take a loss there. But I'm not sure I trust myself to sort out what to do with them....right now. If this comes up again in the future I'll have a plan."

"Yes, sir. I'll see to the arrangements when HS and S arrives."

York nodded, and Hiram went back to the bridge.


Hatibmanckulot and the others were in transit. They had been assigned to labor in a food factory, where Argon products were made for distribution into Argon space. The Priest Duke who governed his planet received profits from this enterprise. Effectively, it was a penal colony. The corridors were made for smaller framed Argon, making the living quarters a perpetual misery for the Paranid workers. Aboard the shuttle they could see a cramped and unpleasant future at the end of their journey.

Then, from the darkness that surrounded this path, streaks of fire flashed. The searing lights were so close in their future that they cowered in terror. Their ship began to shake violently, throwing them to the decks. Then there was a great stillness.

Most aboard had only recently passed through the harrowing introduction to the blackness of space obscuring their futures. Their bodies again responded to the darkness as the absence of any future and accordingly shut down into death. Hatibmanckulot concentrated, holding onto the stars shining distantly, knowing that they were the tiny lights that distinguished a future in space from no future at all, and he survived.

The first of the Argon to board the ship were wary, and dangerous. Hatibmanckulot and the rest of the survivors had formed a prayer circle. Their visions re-enforcing each other in the knowledge that they did still have a future. The dead lay on the deck. The Argon could not understand any of it. The ship was barely damaged, and life support systems were functioning. How had there been so many casualties?

Again, Hatibmanckulot found himself as a survivor of space sickness left to dispose of those who had not survived. The Argon invaders had no idea what to do with the bodies. There was talk among them of clearing them into the bitter cold of space. Hatibmanckulot took two others with him and approached them, hands raised. "I beseech you. Allow us to send our fallen into holy fire. This ship bears all that we need for their pyre, unholy ones. Allow us to tend to them."

The Argons refused, at first. They consulted their own leaders, who did not consent. But they stopped talking about disposing of the bodies themselves. Soon other Argon came. Their leader boarded the ship with them. Hatibmanckulot began to discern a future for himself as this new leader approached. They were allowed to operate the pyre, and the dead were sent to paradise on holy fire.


Allowing the surviving Paranids to take care of their own dead took care of that part of the problem, but Kleo was at a loss as to what to do with the rest.

As his crew dealt with the ship he watched them, and watched the prisoners. His men worked in full enviro-suits, generally. Were it not for the prisoners one of their first objectives would have been to reformat the life support systems, adjusting the atmosphere and dialing back the abominable heat. Kleo had bypassed this first major task, knowing his crew could tough it out for their brief business aboard, and not knowing what to do about the suitless Paranids.

The suits made the work slower, a delay he would rather have avoided here in the disputed sectors, and so close to the gate to Paranid space. York kept his ship lingering nearby. Kleo appreciated the protection, but thought that it was the least York could do after saddling him with this situation. At least the Paranid had been willing and able to deal with their own dead.

He was surprised to discover the function of the incineration chamber. He had seen them before on other Paranid vessels he had salvaged. It was strange that the Paranid felt the need to be ready to deal with death aboard ship. Then again, there were so many casualties here, and no explanation for them.

He approached the survivors, and signaled for one who seemed more willing to meet his eye than the others to approach. "The ship is barely damaged. Why did so many die?"

"They saw no future, so they believed it was their time."

"So, they just...gave up?"

Hatibmanckulot pondered. Explaining things of a holy nature was difficult. Explaining them to a lower life form seemed impossible, and perhaps blasphemous as well. But as he thought about it a future began to form. A future with light and heat and shape that pushed away some of the blackness of space. He kept the stars in focus, tiny points of light barely visible through this brighter future. He did not want to lose them, should this future fade into darkness and leave only space. As long as he had the stars he could survive, even if space was the only future he could see. "The power of the three...the third eye that you shows me my path. If my path is only darkness my body, my mind, all that I am, knows that there is no going on."

"So you would die."


"Why did you live when others did not?"

"My future. There were stars. It was black, black as space, but I knew it was my future because I saw the stars. On my planet I never saw such a dark future. These others, if they did not see the stars, could not focus on their tiny lights..."

"They did not know they were seeing a future."


"So, you see your future now. Is it just space? And stars?"

"My future forms in front of me," Hatibmanckulot said.

"May I ask what you see? I mean no offense, but I have to figure out what to do with you...all of you. If you already know and can tell me it might make it easier."

"My future is forming, but the path is unclear."

"We know your destination. I can't get you there, directly. I hold no docking privilege at a Paranid station. There are stations in the sector where you were bound that are operated by Argon even though they are Paranid factories. Many Paranid live and work there, and I'm sure there would be shuttles that could get you to where you are going."

Hatibmanckulot gazed inward as futures formed, swayed, and dissipated. The most obvious thing, to him, was that futures involving his original destination were bleak. "Some may wish to get where we were going. Some may stay on this station to which you say you could deliver us. I will speak to them."

"And you?"

"My future is unclear, but I choose not the future you have described. What becomes of this ship?"

"I thought you were the one who could see the future," Kleo said with a wry grin. "Once we get the passengers off it will get mothballed until I have a buyer for it. I'll modify the life support to make it comfortable for Argon, add some cargo handling equipment to it, and sell it."

As he listened to the Argon a future took on greater substance. "This 'mothballed,' it would be at a huge space station, gleaming gold in starlight?"

"Gleaming gold...that could be the Cloud Base shipyard. Huge, for sure."

"My future goes with the ship."

"Uh...okay. Let me know what the rest of your people think." Kleo had no idea what future this Paranid might think that he had aboard an Argon shipyard. All he could imagine, himself, was that the big alien was destined for the stockade, locked up as a spy.


"So," Red asked, "how much of your crew did you lose?"

"Four officers," York replied softly. "Thirteen crewmen."

"Well, you know how to hire replacements. Which you better get bloody good at if you keep on the path you are on. I'm not going to hire them for you." York was looking at the floor, and Red waited for him to look up, then went on. "I don't know what you want from me. Sympathy? You won't get it. I left you a good crew. If you pissed that away that's your problem."

"What would you do with a ship full of Paranids?"

Red snorted. "So, you told Purelle you'd have a plan, and you're here hoping I can give you one. Here's the problem, York. If I was the captain I could have spaced those 'nids. Or invited them aboard to snack on soya. Or anything in between that struck me at the time. Your crew was lost before you latched on to that ship. If that wasn't true the answer would be simple, just don't attack bloody passenger transports and you will never face this problem again."

York was listening. He knew that what Red was saying was true. The specific situation may have been the critical moment, but it wasn't the problem.

"York, you said I hate Paranids, and that may be true enough. At the very least I can't deny it. But when you signed on to my crew did I sign you on to kill Paranids? Follow me on some path of genocidal vengeance?"


"We took ships, from the Paranids. We killed more than a few when they wouldn't give up their ship. But killing them wasn't what we were about, it was just a part of what we were doing. Everyone justifies that part in their own way. I'll just admit, I justify it the same way that you do now. I feel like the Paranids have done such wrong that they all just need to pay. But when I hired you you used to justify it with some patriotic 'for Argon' business. Now, it isn't just a part of what you're doing. You aren't leaving any space for your crew to come up with their own justifications. You are killing Paranids just to kill Paranids, and they can't justify being part of that.

"So the only crew you could have would be made up of people who agree with killing Paranids just for the sake of killing Paranids, and the loot, the ships, all that is just an offshoot of their task. And what you have to know about that crew is that most people who will kill Paranids just to do it will kill you just as easily."
Trapper Tim's Guide to CLS 2

On Her Majesty's Secret Service-Dead is Dead, and he is DEAD

Not a DiD, so I guess it's a DiDn't, the story of my first try at AP
Part One, in progress

HEY! AP!! That's new!!!

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Joined: Thu, 22. Jan 09, 18:49

Post by Timsup2nothin » Sun, 12. Jun 16, 03:53

Red was trying to tell himself that he was running out of patience, but failing. Truth was that he was starting to think Pruno might be right. He had gotten old. Being able to roam around in the light station gravity without folding himself in and out of a cockpit was feeling pretty good. The stiffness in his legs wasn't age, but it certainly helped make his old cockpit lifestyle less attractive.

But, he was medically fit to fly, finally.

"Never thought I'd have to worry about those 'old age' comments that got you so worked up," Pruno said, "but it looks like you recovered better than I ever expected. I still wouldn't advise starting any scraps though. I'm likely the only person you'll run into that would fight as dirty as you."

Red laughed. "I was just thinking that you may have been right all along. Getting soft from all this station living. Just like you did."

Pruno nodded. "It is the good life, no doubt about it. You may notice that the universe has gotten along quite well without you also. Judging by the financial reports from Brenna you're way better off dead than you were alive."

"I've noticed."

"There are...things...that no one else can do quite like you though," Pruno said sadly. "Not that they really need to be done. Revenge never brought anyone back from the dead."

"Revenge is for the living. Brent died saving me, and a lot of people lost a good friend."

"Brent died because someone wanted revenge on you. That cycle never ends, Red."

"It can. I just need to stay dead. What have you learned?"


After the big meeting, while Brenna was getting started sorting through Red's financial affairs, Pruno had taken on investigating the plot that had almost killed him. Obviously, Red had enemies. Just as obviously, most of those enemies were Paranids. It seemed an obvious place to start.


The most expensive real estate in the sleepy Ringo Moon sector, like in most Argon sectors, was in the huge wing structure of the trading station. The wing counter rotated with the barrel, holding the main freight handling facility steady. The rotation of the barrel provided simulated gravity without the annoying pulse of field generated artificial gravity. Far out in the wing that simulated gravity actually reached planetary normal levels. Life there did not involve the constant battle of exercise to maintain bone mass.

The residential corridor where Pok Harno had his apartment was quiet, tastefully decorated, and clearly monitored by a high quality security firm. Pruno wasn't surprised when Pok was waiting at the door. "Guess there's no way an old friend could sneak up on you, eh?"

"Or an old enemy, more importantly."

"Yeah, no doubt you have those. You heard about Red?"

Pok nodded. "You think that was an old enemy? You should pay more attention. Since Red came back from planetside he's been on a tear. Plenty of new enemies to be found." He stepped aside and led Pruno into the front room of his apartment. As the door hissed shut behind them he went on. "I made my share of enemies back in the day myself, but they aren't interested in blowing me up. I retired, and stay that way. Red should have too."

"Is that your official opinion?"

"I don't have an official opinion. That's what being retired means. No more mucking about trying to see who is doing what with which Paranids. No more monitoring people like Red to make sure they don't trigger open warfare with the empire."

"And no concern when an old friend gets blown up?"

"Red and I were never friends."

"Fair enough. But how much of the pension that pays for this place is due to the one great achievement of your career, Pok? And who handed you that on a platter?"

"Red handed me a can of worms, and you know it. And he handed it to me for his own self interested reasons. He was well rewarded himself. In fact part of that reward was clearing your record so you could get in the distilling business. Don't pretend I owe that mad pirate a Gunne blessed thing."

"Okay. But Pok, as you point out, I do owe him. So help me out here. You're retired. That's fine. But someone took your place. If a couple of smugglers like Red and I were stumbled onto a Paranid plot to enslave Argon captives and put them to work in hijacked Argon factories today who would wind up with that 'can of worms' on their desk?"

"If you had something like that you should have led with it. But you don't. Red didn't die because he stumbled on some grand plot. He died for any one of a hundred petty reasons. But, fine. I can contact some currently active agents and see if any of them want to talk to you. Someone might think it's a chance for a career making break."

"It worked out for you."

"Yeah. But getting involved with you and Red is still the dumbest thing I ever did."

"I'll be staying at my complex on the trading station in Argon Prime for the next couple weeks. Wouldn't want any of our faithful government agents to have to risk being seen at a distillery."

"If no one wants to talk to you, don't blame me. And don't come back."

"It won't be blame. But you should know that if this doesn't get me anywhere I won't be coming back. I'll go back down the other branch into my roots, and despite all your fancy security a gang of pirates will roll you out of here and bring you to me. I owe Red, and I plan to make good on the debt."


The two weeks in Argon Prime passed quickly enough. Pruno was rich, though he seldom lived like it. The luxuries of the AP trading station were all within his means, and he took the opportunity to sample them freely.

His personal aide commed him. "Sector police are here. They don't have a warrant. They say there's no trouble, and there won't long as they get to speak to you personally. It seems like a shakedown of some sort. I can blow them off and get legal on it."

"Sector police? I can't think what they might have to shake me down about. Let's see what they have to say."

The uniform was in order. So were the credentials. But Pruno knew from the way the woman moved that she was not just a Lieutenant in the local sector police. Leave it to that snit Pok to wait until the last day. He went through the motions until the woman cut to the chase.

"So, local police is a pretty convenient cover, but you don't really look the part."

"It serves well enough," Belle Lannet replied. "I don't use it much. Clandestine meetings are so cliched. But your old friend suggested it would be best not to be too open about meeting you."

"That would be true. The part about us being old friends would be a lie. But what matters is the here and now."

"Agreed. Here and now we have a wealthy businessman who reportedly presents an unspecified threat to a former member of Argon Intelligence, but may also have some sort of useful information."

"Are you here to neutralize the threat, or trade for the information?"

"Neither. Or both. Or whichever seems appropriate."

"Well, let me start off by volunteering part of the information. Pok is feeling threatened because the great achievement of his career wasn't as much his as he likes to let on. The slave transport full of witnesses he produced was a gift, from a pirate. His testimony about his personal heroism to the senate in that regard was total fabrication, and the pirate in question was clever enough to hold ample evidence of how things actually happened. There is no practical way to neutralize that threat, but it isn't really necessary. No one wants to see Pok ruined at this late date."

Pruno continued, "That said, the same fail safes that kept Pok from trying to remove Red Ellis are still in place, though they have passed on to me. It would be best for his reputation, and Argon Intelligence, if we all just find a way to get along."

Belle Lannet laughed. Pruno thought the laugh might be too pretty for an assassin. Maybe he was just hopeful. "I've been read in on the whole story. Pok Harno may have lied to the senate, but he was nowhere near clever enough to even try to lie to his handlers. If the truth comes out now, even well documented, it's old news. It's doubtful it would really have any effect on him at all, and certain that it wouldn't have any impact on the agency."

"And yet they sent you."

"I volunteered."

Pruno kept the surprise off his face, but not out of his voice. Getting old, he thought yet again. "Why?"

"Because I already knew the true story, even before I joined A. I. My parents were on the transport."

"No one on the transport saw what really happened. Red turned it over to Pok without releasing the prisoners. Pok told them that he had been busy getting the ship to safety up until he released them. As far as they knew his story was true."

"There were two cells damaged in the attack. Two prisoners got loose."

Pruno had not given this story any credence at all up until this point. "Grand coincidence. Two broken cells, your parents."

"No. My father was in one of the broken cells. He had the presence of mind to lock himself in an empty cell before Red Ellis or Pok Harno knew there was a witness to their minor alterations of reality."

Pruno shrugged. "A fable. So what supposedly happened to the other witness?"

"Red got her off the ship before he turned it over to Pok Harno. Red Ellis was a pirate, so I assume she met a bad end."

"As a witness to the real events she'd have met a worse end if Pok Harno got hold of her," Pruno suggested. Then he finished weakly, "If she had ever existed." Damn. After all his badgering of Red, it was him who had gotten too old for this.

She laughed. Politely, not right in his face, but enough to let him know that she hadn't missed the obvious gaffe. "Listen," she said, "I'm not trying to rewrite history any more than you are. My parents have kept the secret, and so have I. I only told you because I know that you already know the whole truth. Not the altered truth that the public and the senate know, and not even the almost truth that Pok Harno and Argon Intelligence knows. You know the truth, and I know the truth, so we can work together. We both owe Red Ellis, though I'm glad he's dead, myself."


"If he hadn't rescued my parents I'd never have been born, but my father was terrified that if he ever let slip that he hadn't been secured in a cell the whole time Ellis would come for him. Take him away like he took that girl."

"Hmmmm." Pruno's face was revealing things he wasn't sure he wanted to reveal.

"What?" Belle asked. She was a top agent in Argon Intelligence. She could tell she was missing something. Pruno felt like his face was peeling off, exposing more and more truth.

"Your father might have been right to be worried...about Pok. He'd not have taken well to knowing there was a witness. Red didn't care...though having Pok under his thumb did serve him...and me, for that matter...really well. That's the main reason that Red took the girl; to keep her away from Pok Harno. He didn't mean her any harm...or do her any harm."

"You know her." It wasn't a question. Just a statement that reflected off of him as verified fact. She was too good at interrogation and Pruno was way out of his league.

He just nodded.


Red interrupted the story. "So you just gave Brenna up? Just like that? Gunne's blazing guns, Pruno, what were you thinking?"

Pruno sighed. "I was thinking I was too old for this crap, and that you should have stayed retired and not brought everything back up to start with."

"Does Brenna know?"

"Of course she knows. And it isn't like I handed her name and ID over on the spot!"

"Okay, okay." Red was visibly calming himself. "So, then what?"


"I don't understand why you want to talk to her?" Karl said.

Brenna knew that hearing was not producing understanding, but she repeated herself anyway. "She's a trained field operative. If anyone can find out who blew up Red, and why, she's the best chance. Pruno is feeling his age, because she pretty much stripped him to nothing. We can't have him roaming the clandestine world of Argon Intelligence. Gunne only knows what he would let slip next."

"She can investigate without you talking to her."

"She thinks Red abducted me. Hauled me off like some trophy. If she's going to do this she should know that isn't Red. The more truth she knows the more likely she is to find out more."

As she had predicted, Karl heard it all again but didn't accept that it was a risk she needed to take.

"It will all work out," she promised him, then kissed him goodby and boarded the transport.


Belle walked into the docking pod looking like just another ordinary Argon. No police disguise; just regular clothes chosen to minimize any reason for someone to give her a second glance.

She wondered, as she walked along the docking hood, how the electronic war raging around her would turn out. She was armed, heavily, and carrying state of the art stealth modules to hide the fact. No doubt whoever was on the transport had every kind of sniffer trying to penetrate the defenses put up by those stealth modules. Whether the state of the sniffer art exceeded the state of the stealth art on this particular occasion was a curiosity. Probably a meaningless curiosity. They would assume that she was armed anyway, no doubt. Walking onto a transport, alone, to meet a mysterious stranger at the behest of Pruno Acks would be flatly stupid otherwise.

Val Rana met her at the access port. "Welcome aboard," she said with a neutral expression.

Belle knew that she was the captain-pilot of the ship. The Express personnel transport was a typical charter craft; not so luxurious as to be beyond the reach of the well off, and not so run down as to put off those who might be rich enough to have their own ship but didn't want to make the effort. The registry went through a Teladi shell company and disappeared into the void. There was no way for Belle to sort out, on the short notice she had been given, whether she was meeting the owners or if someone had just chartered the ship. She shook hands with the captain and said, "Thank you." There were questions she wanted to ask, but she didn't ask them.

Val answered the most important one without having to be asked. "It is my understanding that you will be leaving after your meeting." Good to know, Belle thought to herself. "The hatch will be secured, to ensure the safety and privacy of yourself and the other passengers. Please contact me whenever you are ready to depart so I can access you out." Apparently no one planned to take her anywhere, Belle mused. Or if they did this young pilot captain was in on it, and was very good at being circumspect about their intentions.

"Your host is in the midships lounge," Val said. She keyed a command on a wrist unit, and a soft blue glow appeared at the base of both sides of a passageway. "Follow the blue indicator and it will lead you there. When you leave the lounge it will lead you back here. The lounge is electronically isolated for privacy."

"Thank you, captain." Belle understood the point. The blue indicating light stayed ahead of her every step of the way. She was being tracked to and from her destination, and not invited to roam around the ship.


When the agent walked into the midships lounge, Brenna was settled on a plump sofa. She rose gracefully and shook hands. "I don't think we need to introduce ourselves. My name isn't important. What matters is that I knew your parents. Or at least I shared a ship with them, once."

"You're the one."

"So I always thought. But apparently I'm one of the two. Or so you told Pruno."

Belle nodded. "And you are here because?"

"To see for myself if what you told him is true, first of all. Once I'm satisfied with that, to ask for your help."

"The same help Pruno wants."

"Yes. To find out who killed Red. And why."

"Why do you want to know?"

"Red rescued me from the Paranids. He was my benefactor, my mentor, the closest thing to a real father that I ever had." Brenna shrugged. It seemed obvious enough.

"I can't let you start a war with the Paranids. I understand revenge, but there are bigger considerations."

Brenna looked her straight in the eye. "I give you my word that I will take no actions without your approval, and neither will Pruno, or anyone who answers to us. You can weigh any consequences that may result for yourself."


Red interrupted again. "That's how it's done, old man," he told Pruno with a laugh. "Nothing to do with a skilled agent but tell them the truth. Of course, I don't answer to Brenna, or you."

"And any actions that are taken, you'll be taking. No matter who tries to talk you out of it," Pruno said with a sigh.


Belle Lannet had told the truth. Her parents were on the prisoner shuttle that Red Ellis had captured. She believed that the mystery woman had told her the truth as well; things that she, her parents, and Argon Intelligence, had never known.

Lies within lies, wrapping a kernel of truth, she thought.

Pok Harno had confessed to his handlers that his tale of heroically capturing the transport had left out the key element that someone else had done it. But in his version that someone was a pirate, who just stumbled into this rescue in the course of the usual assault on the shipping lanes that was expected of such an individual.

Now Belle was confronted by a deeper truth. Red hadn't picked that transport at random. He had known it for exactly what it was. He had attacked the transport, forcing the Paranid pilot to abandon the ship and flee...because his contact at Argon Intelligence, Pok Harno, had ignored the evidence Red had collected.

That was the unflattering truth that had forced Pok, later in his career when he was enjoying the benefits of his "heroism," to arrange a pardon for not only Red Ellis but his pal, Bruno Acks. She was badly unsettled by this, because of the larger question that apparently Red had never answered. Why did Pok Harno not take any action himself?

She went through the recordings again. There was no doubt in her mind. Red Ellis, basic pirate, had penetrated a Paranid plan to use Argon slaves in factories deep in Paranid space; factories they had captured as cargo in Mammoth station transporters. The evidence he had gathered seemed irrefutable. And he had secretly recorded his meeting with Pok Harno where he tried to present this evidence, and been dismissed out of hand.

Like a rattle in the cockpit that stops every time the pilot tries to trace it to its source, a thought gnawed at her mind. One reason for Pok to ignore the evidence could be that he already knew what was happening. Trying to focus on that thought put her on such a slippery slope that she had to look for another possibility, but eventually she would turn back to it.

"So, you, or more accurately Brenna, got this agent on the case," Red summed up.

"Right," Pruno confirmed.

"I assume you're telling me all this because she made some sort of progress."
Trapper Tim's Guide to CLS 2

On Her Majesty's Secret Service-Dead is Dead, and he is DEAD

Not a DiD, so I guess it's a DiDn't, the story of my first try at AP
Part One, in progress

HEY! AP!! That's new!!!

Posts: 3187
Joined: Thu, 22. Jan 09, 18:49

Post by Timsup2nothin » Wed, 15. Jun 16, 04:35

"We have scanned your ship. The amount of Argon Whiskey aboard is far beyond the acceptable personal consumption limits. You will be charged with smuggling and possession of contraband substances. You are ordered to dock at the trading station immediately."

You-Four gazed at the comm link screen, her crest drooping. She considered her options, and rapidly concluded there were none. "I will comply," she said listlessly.

She lined the little Harrier scoutcraft up between the approach beacons and activated the autopilot. Usually she flew the ship into the rotating barrel of the trading station and got permission to dock manually. The autopilot moving the ship sedately down the approach path invited scans from the local police. No need to worry about that now.

She monitored the auto pilot, but most of her attention was directed outside the canopy; appreciating the stars, the tumultuous asteroid fields, the glittering space stations. She saw the huge viewports of the Rim Club rotating past on the edge of the great barrel of the trading station and thought wistfully of the sitting bank she had come to think of as "hers." For obvious reasons she was popular with the management of the Rim Club, and they directed any other Teladi patrons to lesser banks that did not offer the favorable view she enjoyed so much.

The ship stopped, cradled by grav fields that lowered it through the deck of the hanger bay. You-Four peered out at the container it was lowered into curiously. It was pretty typical in most ways, she decided, other than the remote turrets mounted high on the sides and the vid feed cameras peering down from all angles. When the atmosphere read normal she lifted the canopy and climbed out of the cockpit. The turrets tracked her as she climbed down to the deck.

She logged in to the comm console. It only accessed a single channel, and all she got from that was a message to stand by for the magistrate. The comm link in her enviro suit was dead. Apparently the hanger pod contained a dampening field. She had more than enough time to wonder how long she would have to wait, consider the consequences of returning to her ship and not being at the comm unit when the magistrate appeared, set herself to wait patiently, and then repeat the cycle several times.

Finally the magistrate, a surprisingly kind face she thought, appeared on the screen. He introduced himself as Magistrate Loman Kettel, read off the charges against her, and offered her the opportunity to consult an attorney or access the legal aide files in the station database. She asked what the punishment would be if she were convicted or plead guilty.

"As you are a representative of the Teladi Company there will be a fine charged to the company and you will be extradited to Teladi space. You will be prohibited from returning to conduct any business in Argon space for a period of at minimum six months and at most three years," said the face on the screen.

Her crest drooped so low that it obscured her right eye. She pushed it back with her foreleg. "I am not a representative of the Teladi Company," she said in a very small voice. "They will not pay my fine. Nor will they accept my extradition, though I suppose they would let me debark onto one of their stations."

Loman Kettel was completely taken aback at this. "Not a representative of the Teladi Company?" No Teladi who had passed through his court had ever made such a claim before. He wasn't the most diligent at keeping up with the cutting edge of legal precedent, so maybe something had gotten by him, but he had never heard of such a thing.

"No sir," she said sadly. "I am what your race calls an 'independent trader,' and have no company affiliation at all."

The magistrate stared out of the comm screen. He was clearly unhappy. Herron's Nebula was a busy court, but simple. Fights between miners; drunk, completely drunk, and every now and then sober, sometimes ended in prosecutions. Settling civil matters resulting from crashes between small craft, or small craft and stations, was pretty common. Smugglers caught leaving the distilleries were a regular event with very predictable results. He really had no interest in dealing with a precedent setting oddity in his mundane court.


"What do you expect me to do, Kleo?" Pruno sat behind his expansive desk, putting on what he called his "professional air." He had been a smuggler, and an outright pirate, made suddenly a respected citizen and allowed to purchase the only licensed distilleries in the entire region. Inside, even all these years later, he still considered himself to be 'playing businessman.'

"We have to get her out of there," Kleo Braks repeated.

"You said that already. What you haven't suggested is how to go about it. She's a Teladi. The Teladi Company is supposed to handle this sort of thing. It's part of the service when you hire one of their pilots."

"Nobody hired one of their pilots. She doesn't work for them, she works for you."

"Well, I can't very well say that, now can I? 'Smuggler employed by distillery owner' makes me no longer the distillery owner. Get it? By the way, I also don't see how that gets her out of jail anyway."

"Plus, she doesn't actually work for me," he continued. "She doesn't even buy from me. Technically, the liquor she carries is stolen from me by those miscreants on the freighters that you have docked at my stations, with their tricky little transporter rigs."

"The same transporter rigs they use to give you the resources your stills consume, so don't go all indignant on me now."

"I was just making a point. We are all involved in what is, at heart, a criminal enterprise. If I get caught I take the heat, and our little lizard friend needs to do the same."

"You can't get caught. Neither can I. She's the one flying around in a ship full of space fuel. She took all the risks, for all of us."

"That's how the deal was put together. How Red put the deal together. I had no idea he didn't get her from the Teladi Company. I had no idea things would get so complicated if she got caught. She should be on a transport to Teladi space by now would have been my guess."

Kleo slumped back in his chair. This was going nowhere, clearly. Pruno was right, in that he really had no idea what Pruno or anyone else could do.


Karl Braks was fighting down panic. "Is she going to talk?" he asked. His son had a record already. Being caught up in a massive smuggling operation would send him to prison for an extended time.

"Dad! That's not the issue here. No, she isn't going to talk." Kleo paused. He actually had never considered that possibility. "She isn't going to talk," he repeated. "But we have to get her out of there."

"Okay," Brenna said. "Everybody calm down. Red had to have had a plan for this, and I know who he'd have made that plan with." Of course, this vastly overestimated Red's inclination towards forethought and planning, but it pointed her in a useful direction and eased Kleo's mind.


At the law firm of Hurley, Linder, Ponder and Hinch there had been a general sadness at the news that Red Ellis was dead. Orrem Hurley, one of the senior partners, had risen to that status long ago on the strength of fees collected from Red. He wasn't sentimental. The sadness over Red's death was no different than the sadness when Red had retired planetside.

He was happy to take Brenna's call when the receptionist told him that she had identified herself as Red Ellis' successor. He was even happier when she had explained the problem. The lack of any precedent promised no shortage of fees.


"Yes, that's correct," Kleo said. "She works for my company as cultural adviser and art director." He pressed his comm unit and images transferred to the court computer for the magistrate to review. The Buster adorned with Teladi designs was prominent among them.

"Were you aware of her...other occupation?" Loman Kettel asked.

"No your honor, I was not aware of that."

Orrem Hurley spoke somberly from his portion of their screens. "Your honor, just like the Teladi Company is allowed to pay fines without acknowledging criminal liability, Mr. Braks company is willing to take financial responsibility for their employee's actions. This offers the possibility of following established precedents with regards to criminal activities by a Teladi immigrant."

The judge pondered that. It did seem to be an elegantly simple solution, in many respects. "So ruled," he said eventually. "Fines shall be paid by the Teladi's employer; Herron's Salvage and Shipfitting. Extradition is waived. The defendant shall be allowed ten days to vacate Argon space, and shall not return for a period of one year. The ship and all physical contents is confiscated, data to be transferred at the defendant's expense."

You-Four perched on her sitting bank in the Rim Club. Kleo sat in a chair, sharing the view. "I am very grateful," she said. Her crest drooped, and her shoulders were slumped. "I can repay you for the fines, once I am clear of Argon space and can access my accounts. I'm not sure where I will go though."

"Well, first off, I already got repaid. Turns out that even the Teladi bank has to accept the succession arrangement Red set up, so Brenna has access to that account. She never knew it existed, because of course Red never bothered keeping any kind of record. You could have just flown off with all the money."

"I could never do that. A deal is a deal. I put profitsss in and withdrew my agreed upon payment. The account belongs to Red...Brenna now...and I must repay her for the fines. In the Teladi Company I would be required to live in the lowest quarters no matter my position until the losses were recouped. I have some personal funds..." She was perplexed by this, as she had never had anything like that before she had joined Red's ventures.

"Well, we aren't Teladi. Your fines are a business expense, and we all knew the risks. We didn't know quite how complicated things would be, but in a business like this no one gets left to face the charges on their own. You'll need your cash to get settled."

She slumped even further. "I have nowhere to go."

"Sure you do. It's a big universe. A year is hardly any time at all. I talked to Brenna dad..." he had stumbled over not mentioning Red, "and they think you could help us all by making some contacts in Split space. Particularly around their twenty-five meg shield factories. The local plants are always committed to military contracts, it seems. I've had some tough times meeting delivery deadlines on salvaged ships for lack of proper shield generators."

She was still slumped. "I have no company to work for. I told the judge I was an independent trader, but I don't even know what that means. If you had not claimed that I work for your company I would still be in jail. Even the judge did not know what to do with me."

"Well, since I told the judge you work for me, you can just keep on working for me. Like I said, I need access to those shield generators, and I don't have time to go make friends with the Split."

"How will I 'make friends' with them?"

"Same way any Teladi would. Trade with them. Provide their supplies."

"I have no ssship."

"You-Four, we are in the salvage business, remember? We have plenty of ships."


Kleo had been right. Making 'friends' with the Split was mostly just a matter of trading with them. Fortunate, since she was not inclined to spend much time with them. She would conclude whatever transaction there was to be made, then scurry back to her quarters on her Vulture freighter while the cargo was transferred on or off by the ship's automated freight handling equipment.

Her quarters were remarkable, especially considering the standard Teladi 'functionality maximizes profits' design that Kleo had gutted out of the ship and replaced. She had become accustomed to the soaring high ceilings of her apartment on the Argon trading station. It was a wonder to her that no Teladi had ever considered there would be obvious advantages to making their ships accessible to representatives of the taller species of the universe. The small conference room of her remodeled Vulture had seen many deals already, and just by its welcoming existence had sweetened those deals enough to pay for itself.


The screen of her comm unit was split down the center. Kleo's friendly grin was a comfort on the right side of the screen, but You-Four could never seem to get over being intimidated by Brenna.

"We need those shields," Brenna was saying. "You-Four, you've done a great job. I can hardly believe how profitable you have made that ship. Who knew there was such opportunity for trading in Split space?"

"They ssseem to think trading isss lessss honorable than combat, so they are very lax about keeping up their sssupply chainsss." You-Four was dismayed that her hiss had returned so strongly. Brenna was complimenting her. She consciously puffed up her crest and stood straighter on her hind limbs.

"You've done great, You-Four," Kleo said. "Our permit to buy the shield generators has been approved by the Ronkar government. That came faster than I expected, actually. The problem is that even with You-Four keeping the factories supplied they are still way behind on their existing contracts, because they had so many production problems before she arrived. We got our permit, but we have no priority. Certainly no priority over their previous existing contracts."

"I understand all that," Brenna said. "But you are drowning in red ink Kleo. You're leasing space all over the region for ships that you could sell. I know the market for unshielded hulls is weak..."

"More like non-existent. Nobody has any better access to shield generators than we have. So no one is really interested in buying an unshielded ship. We'd have to practically give them away."

"Giving them away saves the lease payments for parking them."

You-Four followed this exchange. She was perplexed by the lack of a hierarchical structure in their company. Kleo treated her like a friend more than like an employee, or even a business partner, but he always told her she had an equal place in these meetings and should speak her mind. "Could the sships not be operated profitably?" she asked. "I am making good profitsss with this ship. Enough to have paid back the storage fees, at least."

"More than enough," Brenna agreed. "Even though Red had that Vulture sitting at the shipyard in long term storage for months. I think he was holding it for the inevitable day when you would need it. But operating the ships requires pilots, management..."

"And doesn't solve the immediate problem. The pilots' union would require shielding, and we don't have shielding," Kleo finished.

"There may be a way," You-Four offered, "but it will be expensive. Profitable, but the initial investment..."

"We have cash," Brenna said. "Salvaging pays. It's just that mostly it seems we make money so we can pay storage fees, which is just pointless."

"The Ronkar shipyard is the highest priority customer for the shield factories. If you buy ships there you can get them with spare shield generators. Family Ronkar gets their cut on the sale, ssso they will sell you as many as you want."

Kleo shook his head slightly. "So the solution to having too many ships is to buy more ships?"

You-Four was trying to keep the embarrassment from flushing her scale plate. Unexpectedly, Brenna came to her rescue.

"That's brilliant! You-Four! Have you met any Split that would make reliable pilots for trade ships? Is there enough opportunity for a few extra traders?"

You-Four considered. "There are a few pilots I've met who are out of work. And there are goods. And there are also opportunities in the nearby Teladi sectors that I cannot pursue myself."


She put down her paintbrush. Her wrist comm unit beeped again, and she pressed the acknowledgement stud. The beep was a signal that was not urgent and she took a moment to settle on her sitting bank in front of her desk unit rather than deal with whatever the problem was from the small screen of her wrist unit.

"Incoming communication," her master program informed her. She brought up the communication console on her screen. The unit in her quarters was capable of handling any function that could be handled from the pilot seat. The craggy face of a Split appeared on the screen. She held back a sigh.

"Chu t'Ktt! What can I do for you?" Her four Split pilots needed constant help, it seemed. But, buying their ships had been her idea, so it was up to her to manage them. She reminded herself that she had had plenty of opportunity to study the pilot's union trading manuals while she was just puttering back and forth in Herron's Nebula. The Split had been hired and put directly on more complicated work. Her pilots were handicapped, possibly, by circumstances more than by being Split. Possibly.

"I am doing well. En route to Siezewell. Fully loaded." Chu t'Ktt was proud of his work. Other Split may not find honor in trading. Other Split may not be able to take orders from a tiny Teladi who enjoyed painting more than combat...more than piloting a ship even, Chu suspected. But other Split were languishing on stations with no job at all, fighting among themselves over nothing. "I have encountered something of interest."

"What would that be?"

"At my last stop I was approached by a warrior. The Split is unemployed." No surprise there, You-Four thought to herself as she nodded. "I am familiar with this Split, and he is truthful, if not diligent."


"He wanted a ride aboard my ship."

"Where did he want to go?"

"He knows the location of a ship. An abandoned ship. He wants to salvage it."

"Does he have a salvager license?"


"We want no part in that."

"I know. I told him so. But I also told him my employer may be interested in purchasing this information. He does not have the license, or the skills. He would take a reasonable payment."

You-Four considered this. "You have his contact information?"

"Uploading now."

"We'll see how this turns out." You-Four did not promise any sort of bonus, but Chu was hopeful.


"Great Gunne!" Toki exclaimed when she saw the image on the long range scanner take form. She keyed Kleo's channel. "We just came into range. You should get up here. You'll want to see this." She looked again at the image and pressed the throttles to maximum. The Zephyrus surged ahead.


Neither Toki nor Kleo had left the bridge since the ship appeared on the long range scanners. Now it hung plainly on the main viewer and the Zephyrus had glided to a stop. Kleo tipped his head towards the captain's ready room. Toki slipped free of the command chair. "Comm silence," she told the duty officer as she led Kleo towards that portal.

As the door hissed shut behind them Kleo said "Is there anyone on board that we don't have complete trust in?"

Toki sat down behind her desk. "Ship's force? I trust them, but what do you have in mind? No one would even consider stealing it, but if you are asking whether we can count on them to never speak a word of it..."

"Different question, I know," Kleo finished. "Never is too long. For anyone." He slipped into the opposite chair. "What we need, as a minimum, is this. Can we pull into port long enough to do some work on the ship? A couple weeks, at least. And count on them to not say anything?"

"There will be bonuses here," Toki mused, "and they will all know it. Not that real loyalty comes with a price tag, and we have real loyalty on this ship. We should be okay. There are a few who have a hard time keeping a secret, but we can put in a group liberty only policy and have an eye kept on them. What about your crew?"

Kleo's 'crew' were the salvage workers, who were basically passengers aboard the Zephyrus. "They will be working around the clock. They can be trusted, mostly, and the ones who have a tendency to gossip I can work to the point that they never leave the ship."

They mounted a salvage beacon on the prize. They didn't activate it. They could find their way back without any signal from it. In the unlikely event that someone else came along their claim was established. Two or three weeks was a long time to be left floating in space in a Buster, but they had no problem getting two volunteers to stand guard. As soon as that was settled they activated the jump drive. When they cleared the gate traffic control they set course at best speed for the wheat farm.


Kleo and Pruno walked in together. Red was passing the time as best he could, but feeling like a prisoner.

"Up for a walk around the station?" Pruno suggested.

Red gave him the eye. They had both agreed that wandering the corridors and being seen by workers or other station residents was a bad idea.

"We're having a maintenance issue," Pruno said blandly. "The corridors are clear between here and the docking pod. Temporarily. And the gravity has been dialed down."

Red was cleared to fly, and certainly anxious to be out of his quarters, but his legs were not really full strength yet. "Let's go!" he said. There was more enthusiasm than he intended in it...maybe desperation.


The Zephyrus was gleaming, especially in contrast to the somewhat grimy docking hood of the distillery. The three men stopped at the viewport to take in the view.

"What is that?" Red asked.

Kleo didn't have to guess what he meant. "Well, it could be additional cargo space filling in one of the hanger bays. I pulled a bulk-stor unit off a freighter hull to build it."

"Why in the world would you do that?" Red asked. "Freighters are a dime a dozen. Turning a Zephyrus into a freighter doesn't make any sense."

"Actually, the freighter wasn't a dime a dozen, it was free. Come aboard and I'll show you what it's all about."


The hanger bay was pretty much unchanged. The force fields had been adjusted so the sides from the bulk-stor unit didn't interfere. From inside it was obvious that the sides had been carefully cut free and rigged onto the ship, serving no function other than obscuring the view into the hanger bay through the force fields. From inside the reason was obvious.

Red whistled. "Great Gunne," was all he could say as he came to an abrupt stop. The purple hull seemed to glow slightly from within, putting out more light than there was available to reflect in the dimness of the hidden hanger bay. After a few breaths of silence he turned towards Kleo, but kept the ship in his field of view, warily. "Interceptor class?"

"Yeah. Tentatively. Their ships didn't necessarily fit cleanly in our classification system, of course, but it would fit the specs in a general way."

"You've flown it?"

"Not me." Kleo laughed. "I don't even fly the company Buster. Toki always seems to have someone available to shuttle me around. But it has been flown. Took a little work adapting the controls. The Kha'ak had more limbs, and some functions apparently they controlled with signals from their antennae."

"Tell him the main point Kleo, so we can get back to his room and open the corridors," Pruno said, impatiently.

"Okay," Kleo agreed. "I think it's the nividium in the hull." Red furrowed his brows. "It doesn't register on the gate network."

Red took that in. "No doubt that was useful to the Kha'ak. Though it isn't like their ships were invisible."

"Pop through a remote gate with no record. Pull away from the occupied area of the sector and lurk," Pruno mused.

Red nodded. "Explains a lot. How many people know you have this?"

"Not many. The fewer the better I figure. Makes it useful."

"Useful how?"

"It doesn't register on the gate, even in here. Sit in the pilot seat when we go through gates and you won't register either."

Red's unique bio signature going through a gate would trigger a response from sector security, since he was officially dead. This ship presented opportunities he hadn't even considered. "Your modifications are clever, but they are going to attract too much attention. We need a ship with an enclosed hanger bay."

Pruno almost laughed. "Red, no one is going to sell you a warship. Sell anyone representing you a warship I should say."

"Doesn't have to be a warship. Latasha Nedley has the license. Start her up in the station building business and get this thing settled on a Mammoth. I am finally going to get out of here!" He looked at Pruno. "Not that I don't appreciate the hospitality."

"Don't worry. I won't cry to see the back of ya."
Trapper Tim's Guide to CLS 2

On Her Majesty's Secret Service-Dead is Dead, and he is DEAD

Not a DiD, so I guess it's a DiDn't, the story of my first try at AP
Part One, in progress

HEY! AP!! That's new!!!

Posts: 3187
Joined: Thu, 22. Jan 09, 18:49

Post by Timsup2nothin » Fri, 17. Jun 16, 22:56

The bridge was quiet. Toki Selek enjoyed these times. The duty officer never minded having her around; it was that kind of crew and she was that kind of captain. The ship floated a few thousand meters off the docking pod. The station leased one bay, where a Paranid freighter hung, to the company. Her passenger, boss, and friend, Kleo Braks, was aboard the station checking on the work their crew was doing to restore the freighter. Rather than tie up another docking bay they waited for him here, docking intermittently to rotate the duty section with other crewmen who were enjoying a liberty call.

"Captain," the duty officer said, "a military salvage bulletin coming in." Toki slid into the seat at the comm station and pulled the latest message up on the screen.

"Tough to pass that one up. Good catch." She smiled at the duty officer as she activated Kleo's direct link. He answered immediately on his wrist unit.

The military had a list of approved salvage companies. They had no preferences among those companies. When they needed a ship salvaged they put out a general notice and whichever company brought their ship back to them they were fine with it. To get a military salvage, and the large payday that came with it, Herron's Salvage and Shipfitting would have to be quick.

Kleo responded with the enthusiasm she expected. She issued a liberty recall. The crew, those who were not on duty, would almost certainly be gathered at the docking pod within a couple hours. What she didn't expect was Kleo donning a space suit, punching out through an airlock, and getting himself beamed aboard. Getting him aboard ahead of the crew would not get them underway any faster, and she had thought he would have taken the time to wrap things up. Plus, he spent more time in space suits than he wanted to anyway, so it wasn't like him to do such a thing without a good reason.

The mystery deepened when she reached his office suite and found the portal locked. It took him almost five minutes to let her in.

"Sorry," he said. "I had a message and had to check in with Brenna." She nodded. "We have a stop to make on the way. There's a Paranid leaking twenty-five meg shields in Cloud Base Northwest."

She considered that. The company was always short on shield generators. A Paranid "leaking" meant that cargo was being jettisoned in an appeal for mercy. Why the attacker wasn't gathering up the loot for themselves was one mystery. An obvious possibility would be that they were a friend, or at least willing to take payment for letting HSaS have the goods. But if they were a friend they could gather them up and sell them to the company, since responding to the military salvage was an obvious priority. She could see no reason why Kleo would have to take their headquarters ship on this side jaunt while a military salvage hung up for grabs. That either deepened the first mystery or presented a second.


The Zephyrus, powered by its jump drive, emerged from the gate into the Cloud Base sector. As promised, there were a pair of cargo containers floating at the edge of their scanner range. The range was limiting, but the scanner returns were consistent with shield generators.

"I'll take the runabout and pick them up," Kleo said. The Buster was quite a bit faster than the Zeph, so that seemed the fastest way to go about collecting the containers.

"I'll have Charon meet you at the hanger," Toki replied. Endy Charon was the usual small craft pilot.

"No. I'll do it myself this time."

Toki bit back her questions. Kleo owned the ship, and the runabout. If he wanted to go gathering up salvage she certainly couldn't tell him no. But things had progressed from mysterious to outright strange. Kleo was not a great pilot, or even a good one really. Him getting the ship lined up for the handling equipment to drag the crates in through the cargo bay doors would likely take twice as long. For whatever mysterious reason, Kleo was in no hurry to salvage the wayward bomber the Argon fleet had mislaid.


The last crate disappeared into the Buster. Toki had best speed on, to shorten the return trip as much as possible. The gathering of the freight, eight shield generators in all, had gone smoothly. Too smoothly. She watched the Buster glide to a halt a couple thousand meters from a Discoverer that had been hanging idly and nodded. The Buster accelerated in a sweeping turn towards them, and the Discoverer disappeared out of scanner range at remarkable speed, even for a scout craft. She turned over the bridge and wandered down to the hanger.

Now things were back to normal. Kleo and the auto-pilot in the Buster couldn't seem to manage the approach on the first, or the second or third, pass. Finally, he was back on board. Toki was ready to get back to the bridge for the jump, but Kleo suggested...again, as the owner and her boss...that they should get the shield generators off loaded from the Buster and stowed first. She gave the appropriate orders, then followed him to his shipboard offices.

"So, who was that?" she asked as he settled in one of the comfortable chairs in the informal area he liked to meet in.

"Hmmm?" He looked up at her. "Have a seat."

"You are the best boss," she said as she sat. "You never interfere with how I run the ship. Except today. I know that wasn't you scooping up freight. It had to be the pilot from that Discoverer. Obviously, you went out there to meet them."


"So, they slowed us down on the way to a military salvage. They must be important."

"He was the one that made the Paranid vent freight. Source of the tip. I had to thank him."

"Conventionally, such gratitude is expressed with a credit transfer."

He laughed. "I knew you were going to be all over this."

"Yet you didn't explain it, and still haven't."

"So I will. But first we need to have a serious talk."


"You are ex-military. I need to know just how ex you really are."

"What do you mean?"

"I'm loyal to Argon. You know that, right?" She nodded. "Sometimes, there are grey areas."

"We are in the salvage business," Toki said. "Sometimes, ships that we salvage have just been abandoned. By pilots who might say that the attack was piracy. A Paranid in Argon space has no official protection, but if they are contracting to haul goods for an Argon company there are expectations. York, in particular, tends to ignore those expectations...since his brother died, anyway."

"Right. That's a good example. We do know York is going to call us. We don't know when, or where, or what sort of ship we will find. If we 'placed an order' with him for something specific, that really would be piracy. But, as I said, we do know that he is going to call. Some people would say that was piracy, some wouldn't. We have lawyers for that."

"Grey area, and I'm fine with that."

"So, what if we went on this military salvage call, and the ship was gone?"

"Like, another company beat us to it? That's seeming more and more likely. But as soon as they make the claim we'd be notified, so it isn't like we would just find the ship gone."

"Right. If the ship was just gone, it wouldn't be another salvage company that got it."

"You didn't."

"Didn't what?"

"Pass on the location information from the notice!"

He looked at her. "That could violate our salvage license. Depending on who I may have passed that information to."

"That could be treason, depending on who you passed that information to."

"Whoa there. No one has said that I actually passed the information to anyone. Obviously, I did have the opportunity, and you are rightfully concerned, but as of right now the Gladiator, as far as you or I know, is still waiting for us to salvage it. But since you mention treason, that's what this talk is about. Do you, really and truly, think that I would do something actually bad for the Argon Federation?"

She was getting the point here. "No," she said slowly. "You might break the letter of the law. York would, certainly. But both of you, I truly believe, have the best interest of the federation at heart."

"Thanks, I think."

"You think?"

"Well, you don't sound all that certain."

"I'm certain."

"Okay then." He looked at her for a half a minute. "They should be just about done unloading those shield generators. We should get up to the bridge."

"There's really no hurry, is there?"

"Do you want me to answer that? Really?"

"No." She knew the Gladiator bomber wasn't going to be there when they arrived. She knew that she was putting trust in Kleo that the government might not consider him to merit. Best to maintain some deniability. Who had that been in the Discoverer?


They reported that the Gladiator was not at the designated location to the liaison officer listed in the notice. Toki let the watch officer make the report. He had the appropriate tone of irritation, since he was assuming another salvage company had collected the ship, and the military had just neglected to update the bulletin.

The liaison quickly informed them that was not the case. Certain somewhat unfair terms of their license kicked in at that point. Even though they weren't going to get paid, since the ship was gone, they were expected to do some immediate investigation for the military; collecting information that would be gone before any military investigation team could arrive.

Sure enough, there was enough residual jump drive energy to analyze and draw some conclusions. They were in Ore Belt, an Argon sector, so the military could tap the gate network and knew the ship had not left the sector that way but the presence of the residual, in itself, proved that the ship had jumped away and there was no point looking for it in the sector.

Based on the decay rate and the amount of residual still remaining they could estimate an approximate time for the jump as well as the energy used. Not too long before they had reached scanner range the Gladiator had jumped, and it had jumped a long way.
Trapper Tim's Guide to CLS 2

On Her Majesty's Secret Service-Dead is Dead, and he is DEAD

Not a DiD, so I guess it's a DiDn't, the story of my first try at AP
Part One, in progress

HEY! AP!! That's new!!!

Posts: 3187
Joined: Thu, 22. Jan 09, 18:49

Post by Timsup2nothin » Sun, 19. Jun 16, 23:27

The investigation into the death of Red Ellis was a low priority item as far as her supervisors were concerned. Very low priority. Belle was getting nowhere in the little time she was allowed to pursue it. But the case gnawed at her.

"So, now you know the truth," Pok Harno said to her. As a child she had known Pok; friend of the family, the hero that had saved her parents. Only later had her parents told her he really wasn't a hero. They had always wondered if he was really being friendly, had just adapted when their lives had been thrown together after the rescue when the media had covered the story from every angle, or if he was keeping tabs on the rescued looking for someone who knew the truth to slip up. Now she was wondering herself.

"Yes. Not a big surprise, me. The agency is always looking for a hero. You were caught in the spotlight either way. And you looked the part," she finished with a smile. "When I was little I remember thinking you were superhuman, like in the vids."

"Now you know I just happened along in the wake of a pirate. Disappointed?"

"No. I mean, no telling what might have happened to those people, to my parents, if they had been left to the mercy of Red Ellis."


Delicacy, she reminded herself. "I heard a rumor that he did take people off the ship."

"There was speculation, of course. It's not like the Paranid had a passenger manifest. I wondered myself, at the time, if he had disposed of bodies. No casualties? It seemed pretty far fetched. But there was no immediate evidence that he had and of course under the circumstances investigation was a problem."

"So you only thought that he had because it seemed like there should have been casualties?"

"Yeah," Pok said.

You are hiding something, she thought. But what? "Did you ever ask him?"


"I mean, you talked to him when he turned the ship over...and..."

"I didn't ask. I was in a hurry to get him off the ship, and he was in a hurry himself." That "and" was hanging in the air. And, yes, I did talk to him later, Pok thought. Too much. The threat of exposure was a problem, right from the start. Threat to Pok himself, and threat to the agency. He couldn't tell if she knew anything about that, or was just fishing.

"I can hardly believe the agency gave him a pardon. Him and that Bruno Acks character. I spoke to him."

Pok was thinking fast. She was probably fishing, but she knew what hole had deep water; the kind where secrets might float to the top. How much had Red told Bruno Acks? "I was in favor of just killing them both. Couple pirates more or less. The agency was changing. Softening."

The agency hadn't been that soft, Belle knew. It wasn't that soft now. Red had something. He had the girl. And the agency had known that he had the girl. Pok was their source. Pok had to know, or at least believe, that when Red said he had a witness he really did have one. "Maybe they were afraid he had a witness," she said. "Maybe the rumors are true."


"With Red Ellis dead, I wonder what this witness would be doing?"

Pok was wondering the same thing. "Old news. If someone came out of the woodwork now and could prove they were on that ship and Red took them off it would be embarrassing, but not the end of the world."

That was the same thing that she had told Pruno, and it was true, she knew. But she also knew that Red had made some recordings that were even more embarrassing, and that the woman had those as well. "Seems like that wouldn't even have been the end of the world by the time Red Ellis came looking for a pardon. You were about to retire anyway, right? As you said; old news. Could he have had something else? Something that had nothing to do with you or that shuttle? Pictures of the director smoking spaceweed?" She laughed.

Pok laughed too. Fishing. She was good at it. Scary good. "Maybe of the president with a Paranid hooker."

"Probably something like that. Just as well the old pirate is dead," she said. "My boss told me to keep you up to date, and I will, but I have a lot of other cases and this doesn't really seem to be going anywhere."

"I appreciate it just the same," he said. He walked her to the door of his apartment. When the door closed he leaned against it and reviewed every word, every expression. He wasn't happy.


The break in the case came from a totally unexpected direction. Routine monitoring of Paranid communications was always going on. She had put a flag out for mentions of Red Ellis. And here it came; over a year after the fact, because analysts weren't exactly sitting around on their hands waiting for the next word. She listened to the clip twice, then started doing whatever verification checks she could do.


Brenna didn't mind meeting the agent again. She picked the location, gave no notice, and had all the security that substantial money could buy. She just didn't like the outcome.

"So, Red was working for the Paranids?" she asked for a third time. Disbelief was in her voice, on her face, and she was clearly making no effort to subdue it.

"Everything lines up that way," Belle told her. "We have an intercept on some Paranid chatter, mentioning him by name as being 'inside' with the pirate clan. The Paranids subsequently destroyed the pirate's base. We have solid intel from our own infiltrators that Ellis was on the base, and ingratiated himself with the leader; guy named Ramsey. Not a nice guy. And the base was run by a big Split. Not people that Red Ellis should have made unhappy."

"So these two pirates did in Red Ellis?"

"Contracted for it, more like. I'm still running that part down."

Brenna just stared. She didn't doubt that eventually that part of the story would be 'run down' and verified, if Belle Lannet were to pursue it through the usual channels. "Do you want to believe this, or do you have doubts about Pok Harno?"

"I have doubts about how things really went down on that transport. You saw what you saw, my dad saw what he saw. You've got a recording that I can never put completely aside that tells me Pok Harno ignored a report about Paranids trafficking Argon slaves. But, he would no doubt say that Red Ellis was a pirate of no particular reputation and ignoring that report was the only sensible thing for him to do, and that may even be true. But, it's a lot easier to believe that Red Ellis got killed over something that just happened than whatever happened so long ago."

"If this thing that just happened actually happened."

"And you don't think so, clearly."

"I knew Red. He wasn't working for, or with, the Paranids. I also know Ratface Ramsey. If he thought Red had been working with the Paranids he may have done something, but lure Red into paranid space and blow him up? Or contract someone else to do it? Ratface couldn't spell contract, and luring isn't in his very extensive skillset. Same for To n'Spt, your 'big Split.' If Red had been ripped limb from limb in a dark corridor somewhere I might buy into this theory."

"And you know this To n'Spt also, no doubt."

"Yes, I do. In fact, if you would like I can introduce you, and you can tell him and Ratface to their faces that Argon Intelligence suspects that they blew up Red Ellis. That should be a hoot."


The cahoona bakery hung profiled against the surface of the planet. Althea Penn stood next to Brenna on the bridge of the Express Hauler. Normally Val Rana wouldn't allow passengers onto the bridge, but since Brenna owned the ship this wasn't an ordinary charter.

"Thank you for giving me this chance," Althea told the older woman.

"You earned it," Brenna replied. "And don't thank me yet. You haven't seen the place." Althea had been like a good right arm to Brenna. Getting the right mixture of services into the right spaces in the residential areas of their station had been a challenge. Maintenance, entertainment; there was so much more to keeping workers than just giving them a job and then charging them rent for a compartment to live in.

The ideal station ran "labor neutral," that meaning that all the wages paid out eventually made their way back in the form of rents from the workers themselves and the service providers and other businesses that rented space as well. To actually meet that ideal a station needed to be a 'destination' for outside credits. Every time her workers on the wheat farm took a shuttle to the trading station to shop, or go out for a special dinner, or whatever else, their credits went with them and didn't always come back. But for such a new station they were doing pretty well, and Althea had been a lot of help.

The cahoona bakery they were headed towards, in the Ringo Moon sector, was not doing nearly as well. The ownership, a planetside corporation, employed a management company to take care of the residential and commercial sections of the station. The management company had convinced the ownership that a 'costs low/wages low' strategy would work. In the corporation's perspective, being accustomed to a planetside environment where workers were paid and lived 'out there somewhere' beyond the factory walls such a strategy made sense. In space, as long as you could get them to spend most of their pay where the credits would eventually come back to you it really didn't matter if you paid high wages.

When Brenna was negotiating the wheat delivery contract with them she had noted their situation. Labor loss rate was very high, because many ordinary products were not available in the local market. Shuttles to and from the trading station were crowded with shoppers. Turnover was high, and Brenna was well aware that the expenses of recruiting, moving new employees aboard, and getting them trained up and familiar in their jobs made high turnover a backbreaker.

At some point the station manager, a planetside factory manager the company had 'promoted' into a position where he was failing badly despite their confidence and his excellent prior record, had poured out his troubles into Brenna's always sympathetic ear. He was surprised when she returned months later with a proposition. She had patiently explained the differences the environment made, and why in space a low wage shithole was never going to work in the long run. Then she had taken over the contract for managing the residential and commercial areas of the station.

It was a risky arrangement. Althea would have to produce results; lowering turnover and generating increased return percentages on labor cost, before the station manager would be able to push higher wages through his own company. Credits to boost the economy had to come from somewhere, and that would require investment...and if the bakery never raised the wages eventually that investment would have to be written off.

It was Red's money, and he was willing to take the risk...for a number of reasons.


Gil Lannet was torn.

On the one hand, he could not bring himself to be unhappy that his employer had lost their contract. The management company bore as much responsibility for the sad state of the station as the owners did, and Gil knew that better than most. He had argued constantly that maintenance was more than just keeping life support and other critical systems operating well enough to keep people alive. Most times he had been told that if he couldn't do whatever he was thinking without any expense then it was not going to happen. It had been a long string of frustrations, plus he and his wife were stuck living on this crummy station themselves. They made enough, and had enough, to be able to get off station more than the poor devils who worked directly for the bakery, but it was far short of a good life.

But on the other hand he wasn't really interested, at his age, in the whole job seeking thing. The new management company was probably going to take on most of the employees from the previous company, since they needed to get the same things done, but there were no guarantees.

He arrived for his interview on time, in his best suit. He had heard from coworkers that the new company was run by a pleasant young woman who was eager to see things improve and seemed to understand what it would take to make that happen. There were some people who were concerned that the demands placed on them would be higher, but Gil generally thought those people needed higher demands put on them anyway. If the new company thought they were dead weight and replaced them he wouldn't cry about it.

What worried him was the "young" part. This new young manager might be thinking that starting with a similarly fresh young worker in Gil's place would be a good thing. But when he walked into the interview room there was no pleasant young woman to greet him. Brenna sat behind the desk, attractive enough and with a cheerful smile, but no one would call her young.

"Good morning," she consulted a file on her desk, then concluded "Gil Lannet. My name is Brenna." Not giving a last name struck a tiny odd note, but Gil had more than enough on his mind to not register it.

"Good morning," he replied while taking the seat she had indicated.

"I'm going to get right to it, Gil," Brenna said as soon as he was seated. "Your record indicates that you are a bit of a troublemaker. Now, it seems to us that the company you worked for needed someone making trouble. In fact, I made trouble for them myself, you might say. But I need to know what kind of trouble you made, and why."

Gil's collar felt tight. Clearly, he was going to have to fight for his job. This woman was probably tasked with interviewing the people they had already decided not to keep on. This whole line of question and answer could very well just be the window dressing to make him feel better than he would if they had just met him with "time to move on, buddy."

Before he could say anything, Brenna continued. "I see that you previously had your own maintenance company. Many people who run their own businesses never seem to adapt to working for someone else. They think that they know how things should be done, even though their own business failed."

"It didn't fail." Gil was pretty sure he was out of a job, but he would go down swinging. "I sold it to a man who was working for me. He had some rough spots, but he is still in business."

"Why did you sell it? He kept it going, but it seemed to have been doing better when you were there."

Gil was confused. He had not expected this new company to have delved into his past. If they were just getting rid of him it seemed even more strange that they would have made the effort. "I had to get out of that business for personal reasons."

"Gil, you do maintenance. You are in the same business now that you were then."

"It's different."

"You work on this crappy station. Maintenance guy; people trust you, let you in their compartments without a second thought. Here, those people are just factory workers. When you had your own business it was on a trading station. Sometimes important people let you in their homes. People with secrets."

This was some kind of setup. Gil would have to have been completely brainless not to know it. He considered just walking out.

"Gil, I know how you started that business. I know the money came from people who pretended to be helping you for other reasons, but really just wanted you to find out things for them. Spies, Gil. You got caught up with spies. Not surprising, after the shuttle."

Gil sighed. So it came back to the shuttle. After all this time the media had long since moved on, but every once in a while, still, someone would trot out the old story. "Prisoners of the Paranids; where are they now?" he said bitterly, mostly under his breath.

Brenna smiled. "Not easy, being a celebrity I guess. You should know that you are certainly not the only one Pok Harno and his merry men recruited, Gil. What makes you unique is that you got out of it. At quite some cost, apparently." Her gesture might have taken in just the little office they sat in, but he understood she was referring to the entire station.

"So, what is this?" Gil asked tiredly. "Argon Intelligence can't possibly want me back. Too old, too much water under that bridge. Did they just send you here to rub my nose in it? Get a story for the next guy who tries to walk away from them?"

"Not at all. I'm here because of the other thing that makes you unique among the people who were rescued from that shuttle. You know that it wasn't Pok Harno, hero from Argon Intelligence, who saved you."

Gil was pretty good, Brenna thought. The fear that flashed across his face was gone so quickly that a lot of people wouldn't have noticed it. She let him know that she was not most people. "That flash. The fear. Why are you afraid of what you know? You were out of your cell. You saw Red Ellis turn the ship over to Pok Harno. What is the danger in that?"

"I don't know what you are talking about," Gil said tightly.

"Yes, you do. But you have nothing to fear from me, Gil. I was there too. What I'm trying to understand is why you would be afraid of Red Ellis. Why would Red Ellis care if you, or anyone, knew that it was him that took the shuttle? I've always been afraid of Pok Harno. He's the one who had a lot to lose."

"You're the girl. That explains it. But how do you know what I saw?"

"It just came up. Since Red was killed. So you know there's nothing to fear from him, not that there ever was. But I'm guessing that at some point you realized that Pok Harno was someone to fear. What happened? Did Argon Intelligence show some steel when you walked away from their little project?"

"Not really. I always new that Pok Harno was a danger. He testified to the senate, and he lied. I doubt that my word on it would have done him any real harm anyway, but I knew better, know better, than to take that chance."

"Me too. But I had Red to point that out. Of course, I was Red's real ace in the hole. I might not have been believable, but I was on the shuttle and it would be hard to explain how I could turn up with Red if Pok's story was true. Pok knew I was out there, somewhere, and it kept him from going after Red. But that brings us back to Red, and why you were ever afraid of him?"

"He was a pirate. I never knew why he gave the ship to Pok Harno, but I knew he was the one who attacked it. He skirted the law for years, and he got that pardon. I was an eye witness. He wouldn't have left me alive had he known. I always assumed he killed you."

"Well, here I am. Alive and well. Red wouldn't have killed you either, witness or no. He might have explained that he didn't attack the shuttle out of piracy, but because he knew what it was. All the information Pok had, the stuff he said made him aware of what was going on and led to him capturing the transport, he got that information from Red. The whole story was basically true, except it was Red every step of the way, not Pok. You were afraid of someone who went out of their way, on their own, to rescue us."

Gil shrugged. "It doesn't really matter. Me being afraid of him didn't make any difference to Red Ellis. He never knew that I saw anything at all, and I was fine with that."

"I know. Had he known though I'm sure he'd have looked out for you, like he did for me. So I feel like I should share with you."

"Share what?"

"Red left me a lot of money. I'm using it to build a factory. I'd like your help running it. You could be vice president over maintenance. Run the place right and not let it decay like this place has. And, just to make sure that you would be listened to and not have problems with management wanting you to cut corners I'll give you enough of an ownership stake so you'll have a seat on the board of directors."

Gil looked stunned, then suspicious.

"I know," Brenna said. "Argon Intelligence made you a sweet offer and it turned out to have a hook in it. I won't pretend there are no strings here. I'm going to be chairman of that board, but I won't be able to be around all the time to make sure things are running the way I would want. I trust you to do that. I also have to take on at least one partner that I'd rather not have and am not sure that I trust. I may need allies on the board."

"I'm not for sale."

"I'm not buying you. If it ever comes down to me against Met Gisler I'm just counting on you to make the right choice, and if he's right so be it. But he may be able to pack some cronies onto the board who will take his side even if he is wrong and I need to counter that."

Gil was drawn in, despite his doubts. "Who is Met Gisler?"

"Met Gisler runs a heavy missile fabrication company in Herron's Nebula. There is a critical shortage of missiles and money to be made. He wants to expand into other lines of missiles, and I have the money to build the factories. He has the connections in military supply, and I have the money to build the factories. I need him, and he needs me. But once the factories are built he might think that he doesn't need me, and I'll always need him. It isn't like I can just appear out of the woodwork and start snapping up military contracts.

"There are other ways to make money."

"I know. For example I can take one of my best workers from my main business and set her up as my partner in a management company. And you could probably work for her. But someone who has kept such a secret for so long...I'd like to do better by you, and I'm sure Red would want me to."


"You always said that transport is the key to everything. Now I see what you meant," Brenna said.

"Good work," Red told her.

They were standing at a large viewport in Red's living and office suite aboard the Mammoth station hauler. Kleo had built it into one of the hanger bays after removing all of the docking equipment. The Kha'ak craft was locked in, but offered Red sanctuary any time they passed through a gate in the Argon controlled portion of the gate network. The crew of the Mammoth knew the owner lived aboard, but took their orders from Latasha Nedley and seldom saw the man himself.

Outside the viewport construction crews were wrapping up the final steps in their part of the process. The Herron's Nebula Tomahawk Facility would be taking on occupants and material very soon.

"I control shipping and receiving myself," Brenna said.

"And we have the right pilots," Red concluded. "Diverting a few missiles won't be a problem."

"Once we get organized I'll be expanding the supply side of the operation to include other missile fabricators. We'll already be supplying Gisler's plant. It shouldn't be too hard to take over the shipping of the product as well. Once that's done you'll be able to get anything you need. You'll have to pay though, to keep the books in order."

"I don't mind paying. I just need access. Quiet access. If I showed up at the front door trying to buy tomahawk missiles someone would ask what I planned to launch them from, and we can't have that."

"No," Brenna agreed, "we can't have that. We also can't have you suddenly turn up in your stolen Gladiator lobbing tomahawk missiles at every Paranid that looks at you funny. People would wonder where you are getting them."

"Not to worry. I have other ways of dealing with Paranid that 'look at me funny.' Tomahawk missiles are for special occasions. Especially bad occasions."

She nodded.

"By the way," he said, "I prefer the word salvaged. Stolen sounds so...I don't know..."

"Accurate?" she suggested. But she smiled.
Trapper Tim's Guide to CLS 2

On Her Majesty's Secret Service-Dead is Dead, and he is DEAD

Not a DiD, so I guess it's a DiDn't, the story of my first try at AP
Part One, in progress

HEY! AP!! That's new!!!

Posts: 3187
Joined: Thu, 22. Jan 09, 18:49

Post by Timsup2nothin » Sat, 16. Jul 16, 23:21

"What am I doing here?" Belle Lannet asked herself. The case was closed, as far as Argon Intelligence was concerned. She had...well, not exactly fabricated...yes, she had fabricated reasons for making this trip, as if it applied to a current case. She couldn't justify that she was still investigating the death of Red Ellis.

She also was taking a risk that was so far out of the norm that she couldn't even justify it to herself. The woman, who she now knew as Brenna Braks, formerly Brenna Gilharno, was manipulative, had been raised by a pirate, and now had her hooks into Belle's parents. Belle's parents; who absolutely adored the woman. Belle couldn't really help herself, she liked her too.

So when Brenna had told her they needed to meet once again she had agreed. Not knowing the location, and agreeing to transport, by herself, on a ship Brenna arranged was a serious breach of every intelligence protocol she had ever been taught. But she had agreed.

It had been no comfort at all when the transport captain she had met the first time she met Brenna showed up at the docks. Obviously that, and this, had not been some random charter. The woman worked for Brenna, probably operating the charter company as a front.

"The first time you came aboard my ship you were heavily armed," Val told her as she led her to a luxury suite.

"So the sniffers did win that round," Belle replied.

"Your stealth is good, but there is better on the black market. Brenna pays for the best."

"And this round?"

Val listed every weapon Belle had on her person, or secreted in the two small bags she had brought aboard. "I don't mind," she said. "Many passengers feel more comfortable armed. Besides, I'm no fighter. If you wanted to harm me there's no doubt in my mind that you wouldn't need any weapons anyway. You just need to know that where we are going they also have state of the art tech. If you try to take any of that onto the station you won't make it the length of the docking hood."

They were still docked. The captain had told her this because she could have, at that point, just turned around and left the ship. She didn't.

"I will need to relieve you of the tracking system woven into your jacket sleeve," Val concluded. "Brenna says you agreed to meet at an undisclosed location, and holds me responsible for keeping it undisclosed." Again, Belle had not turned and left. Instead she surrendered her jacket. "It will be isolated in a stasis chamber and returned when we have completed the journey."


So, here she was. Unarmed. Walking down a docking hood towards, of all things, a Paranid trading dock. The ship's viewports had been opaqued. The docking hood had no viewports. She had no glimpse of a starscape that could tell her where she was, or even what sector she was in. She had seen the station, briefly, as she left the ship.

Brenna met her at the head of the hood.

"I have to say that the absolute last place I would have expected your undisclosed location to be was a Paranid trading station."

"Well, that's reasonable. Red hated the Paranid, and I did inherit quite a bit from him. That's why the official finding that he was working with the Paranid should be immediately ignored. First good reason, anyway." She turned and led the way through the portal into the docking pod proper. The air was a little hot, but not like a Paranid normal. It was a little thick also, which was more strange since the Paranid normal was a lower pressure than Argon standard. "I assume you are recognizing this isn't a Paranid station. Environmental control is set to the best manageable compromise. Breathable for Paranid, Argon, and Teladi. Thick enough for Boron to maneuver. Enough hydrocarbons to keep a Split's scales oiled so all they need is a breather unit in their gills."

"I saw it from the end of the hood..."

"Oh, it was a Paranid station. Hijacking Paranid station transports is the source of most Yaki installations."

Belle faltered a step. Yaki. The Yaki did hate the Paranids. Unfortunately, they hated Argon Intelligence just as much, if not more. To some extent Argon Intelligence had created the Yaki; a pirate clan founded on principles of freedom and positioned as a thorn in the side of the Paranid. They had been equipped and encouraged and often directed, and had risen to the very top of the Paranids' priorities...and then been abandoned by the Argon.

Brenna steadied her. "Again, the compromise. Gravity here is a little bit off normal. The Yaki welcome all races, and they try to make their stations as comfortable for all as can be done." Belle looked her in the eye. She knew that Brenna was flaunting the danger that she was in. "You are a guest," she said. "Unless the Paranids happen to nuke the place you are as safe here as you would be anywhere in the universe."

"You're Yaki?"

"No. I'm a...friend of the clan, you might say. But you aren't my guest. Your sponsor isn't part of the clan either, but he is a very good friend. If he wants to meet someone on one of their stations that someone is safe. Yaki operate strictly on their honor. They've given their word not to harm you, and they won't."

They started walking again, and soon reached a portal into a darkened compartment that was obviously a bar. "See you later," Brenna said, then she continued along the corridor, not looking back.

An Argon man sat at the bar, his back turned arrogantly to the door. The Split behind the bar was looking right at her though, so it wasn't like there was a real risk that she would try anything. She slid onto a stool at the bar, leaving one open between them. The profile had already told her who the man was, but he introduced himself as he turned. "Ramsey," he said.

Belle knew better than to call him 'Ratface,' though that was the only thing close to a first name in his file. "Captain," she said instead.

"I understand Argon intelligence is accusing me of killing Red Ellis."

"That's the conclusion they've reached. At least one side of it."

"Ah. Can't be bothered choosing between me and To n'Spt." He gestured towards the towering Split behind the bar. "He didn't do it either."

The scaly face split in a grin, showing rows of sharp teeth. Belle was distinctly aware that not everyone was equal when they were disarmed. "Name your poison," the Split rumbled.

Ramsey laughed. "He does mean to fix you a drink," he said. "If he were going to kill you he would most likely bite your head off. Literally. One above each collarbone to sever the meat, then a snap of the spine with those big mitts of his. Seen him do it. Nasty bit of business. I prefer a knife."

"Point being, of course, that neither of you blow people up. Or poison them." She named her preference, requesting that the Split go light on the alcohol. "I'm sure you didn't bring me here to protest your innocence."

"We didn't bring you here at all. We just came to show you that we had nothing against Red."

"Which you think is obvious from the way he was killed. That makes sense enough. But from what I understand Red Ellis wasn't someone who would have stood still for getting his head bitten off, or getting cut up in a back corridor somewhere. No offense, but maybe the target called for exceptional methods."

"Well," Ramsey said as the Split set her drink in front of her, "we can debate whether how he was killed proves anything about who did it, but there's better proof that we had nothing against him."

"What would that be?"

"You might want to drink that," Ramsey suggested. She heard the portal iris open and closed behind her, and resisted the urge to look despite the itch between her shoulder blades.

"If they had anything against me I wouldn't be here," Red said as he took the stool between her and Ramsey.


So. I got sidetracked with another game, and also by the fact that this game was really a shambles. Getting it sorted out and getting the wheat farm and missile operation up and running was managed while flying around doing missions. The new passenger transport missions in AP are interesting.

Anyway, all delays aside I'm now pretty well organized and ready to move on with the big conclusion of part two. This little piece is intended to set the final stage and regather everyone's attention, because it is going to be fast, furious, and messy from here.
Trapper Tim's Guide to CLS 2

On Her Majesty's Secret Service-Dead is Dead, and he is DEAD

Not a DiD, so I guess it's a DiDn't, the story of my first try at AP
Part One, in progress

HEY! AP!! That's new!!!

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