They had met at the outer fringes of the Oort Cloud of the Lalande 30999 system. The yellow-white sun was only one of the many silver dots against the Milky Way. Apart from some chunks of rock and debris nothing out here even hinted at the fact that they were in a solar system.
Andrew Gaspurr had bridged the gap of a dozen meters between the two ships in his spacesuit. It was an awkward feeling, being so vulnerable and out of his own ship. She had requested a personal meeting, though, and that certainly meant something. Her ship was a Diamondback Explorer, painted black and drifting in a kind of orbit around that rocky chunk.
Inside the ship, nothing hinted at exploration. After having left the airlock, Andrew was escorted down the small hallway between the CCC (Crew & Cockpit Compartment) and the modular compartments that made up the rear ‘belly’ of the ship. His escort was a man apparently in his mid-forties in a dark grey uniform, which was neither Federation, nor Empire, nor Alliance. It was just an unremarkable set of rather tight trousers with an equally tight blazer. It looked vaguely bureaucratic.
While the explorer’s crew was pretty unremarkable, the interior wasn’t. On his way, Andrew took careful note of a series of countermeasure suites, jamming equipment and low emission platings that were clearly not a standard design. The explorer was built more for stealth than to survey nebulae. He liked it. This was going to get interesting.
“We have met, you and I,” she stated matter-of-factly. Now they were sitting at a table in a refurbished passenger cabin. There was electronic equipment all around and a holographic panel showed the miniature of a sector map, together with a multitude of dots, lines, triangles, bleeps and blips. The woman in front of him wore an imitation of a tunic over a dark blue jumpsuit. She had long blonde hair and a pretty ordinary face. She was playing with a small black box in her hands and eyed Andrew expectantly.
“Yes, we have,” he said. “There was that courier job in the Lower Alrai region and your final words at the shuttle terminal. You said we’d meet again and that I should remember. Whatever it was you meant that day.”
She smiled her nondescript smile. “I also said ‘do what you must, but do it for yourself’. Did you?”
Andrew didn’t really know what to say. “Well, yes? There were some lose ends anyway but eventually we went back to Founder’s to improve our equipment. Apart from that, I don’t know what you mean. It’s not like I took some days off or planned a holiday or something.”
She ignored the holiday part. “Yes. It was on Founder’s World we first met. Although not in person. I also told you we’d get back to you in time.” She spread her hands as if welcoming him again. “And here we are. Welcome aboard the Nanshe.”
“Well, I certainly did not expect to meet you in an Oort Cloud, lady. There are more convenient places to get to business, even such places where you have the security to do it in private. Still,” Andrew had a look around at all that tech. “Some day you have to tell me how you manage to exit witchspace not close to a star but right in a system’s outer halo. It’s making secret meetings a lot easier I guess…”
“Yes it does. Although it has its own risks and you need very sophisticated equipment to get it done. Consider the wake exceptions I transmitted to you a token of trust.”
Andrew put on a wry smile: “And who are you to trust me so?”
She smiled back: “There is a package that needs delivery fast. It’s quality data and it’s destined for Serebrov Terminal in the HR 6421 system. A ground meeting would have been too awkward so this Oort Cloud must do. We need your ship’s databanks for a direct transfer. If you are interested that is.”
“Serebrov,” Andrew hesitated for a moment. There was something. Something he had heard in a militia bar not so long ago. “There is a civil war going on, isn’t there? I heard some logistics company was recruiting freelancers to fight over market data or something? A civil war in an anarchy system, that’s about as absurd and ironic as it can get.”
“You are well informed, as usual. It’s one of the reasons I want to entrust this job to you. As concerns this logistics company: There is an outside – how shall I put it? – ‘shareholder’, who seems to have a certain interest in Serebrov being locked down. Investigating the war will take weeks and meanwhile system security and paranoia will skyrocket. I on the other hand need that package delivered to a certain Mister Delarue before that happens. Before that ‘shareholder’ appears on the radar. Delarue is your contact there. Deliver the package to him, and him alone and in person. He rents out warehouse and storage space and has a small office near the Nadir Docks.”
Andrew considered that for a moment. “Serebrov is under siege, lady. In anarchy systems this weighs double. With all those pirates around and self-proclaimed ‘bounty hunters’ buzzing through their conflict zones and checkpoints everybody is fair game. And those who get caught beyond their ‘checkpoints’ are fair game, too. It’s cat and mice really, with lasers and rockets.”
“That’s why I need one of the best. A data runner with a certain… reputation.” She was playing again with that black box in her hand. Every now and then it let out a faint ‘beep’ and a small blue light would flash on one of its sides.
“Suppose I take this job, what’s your offer?”
“Credits. Or…” She paused briefly and looked at the electronics suite on the cabin’s wall. “We could arrange for your ship to be modified in terms of stealth and evasion. Again, do not consider this a gift that is lightly given. But there are certain …elements… in the Pilots Federation who vouched for you. Elements we in turn are associated with.”
Andrew smiled: “Well, who am I to turn them down… or you? I’ll see it through.”
Without another word she handed him the small black box she had been toying with all along.
“What’s in there?”, Andrew wanted to know.
This time her smile was genuinely warm: “Your ticket to HR 6421. And instructions how to contact Delarue once you have docked.”
They both stood up and exchanged a handshake. The woman’s hand felt strangely warm and soft, almost a wispy touch. It left a slight tingling in his hand.
“Thank you, Andrew.”
15 minutes later, back in his Asp, Andrew fell back in his pilot’s chair and thought about all this for a very long moment. Whatever group that woman was working for, they sure knew how to leave an impression on people. Finally, he activated the intercom: “Johnny, you awake?”
“I need an itinerary for HR 6421, Serebrov Terminal. The system is in anarchy and under war conditions so take all sensor shadows you can get: Debris fields, moons, gas giants. Such things. Remove all decals. We also need ‘silent waters’ for the station. It’s a Coriolis so sneaking in between the hab ring modules won’t work. And it may well be blocked by some heavy hitters on stims with a sleep deficit.”
“Roger that. Is it right away or are we gonna swap ships?”
“No time for that. It’s an FNF (fast’n’furious) data run, hopefully with a happy ending and flying into the sunset. Prep the course and then let’s be on our way.”
“What about 6421’s Nav Beacon? Compromised?”
“We’re not going for the Nav Beacon.” Andrew was juggling the small black box in his hand. “We will come from beyond the sun. I give you the coords for plotting the in-system course. Just make sure you correlate it with current positioning data of all the bodies in the system. Then make us a shadow.”
“You got it. Ready in five.”
With that Andrew put the small box into the I/O of the navigation computer and summoned the HR 6421 system map. With astonishment he saw the navigation crosshairs move outward from the central star, past the checkpoints, past the system’s celestials and stopping in nowhere-space at the very fringes of the system, in its Oort Cloud next to a rocky object aptly named 6421 b28.000518+.45.
Perfect. Next, Andrew summoned the Galactic Archives and ran a query on the word ‘Nanshe’. What he got in part confirmed his theories.