The assignment was clear: Scout the Heart and Soul Nebulae for potential forward (or rear) bases of operations. And here he was, sitting in a ramshackle bar trying to gulp down one of these instameals with a greater than usual swallow of Scoontch. The local folk were mostly doing the same, when they were not in the outer system mining resources or in their zero gee habitats that littered the hollowed-out asteroid that was Farsight Expedition Base.
With all the turmoil going on in the Bubble, several corporations managed to break off from their core business and build remote bases in several parts of space that had been heavily explored over the last couple of years. Commercial Frameshift technology and space tech miniaturization had made it possible to mount large scale operations and harvest resources even in remote places with a profit. Farsight was one of these bases, and it still was under active construction. But naturally, more and more people were brought in with each habitat completed and more and more jobs on offer. The Farsight Logistics Company headed it all: A consortium of corporations and holdings sharing the risks and profits of deep space operations, holding it all together with bureaucracy, security patrols and the promise of a share of all the riches.
Not only the prudent, law abiding corporate workers came flocking in naturally. The system was also rapidly becoming a haven for mercenaries, scoundrels and fugitives. An explosive mix with an overworked (and mostly corrupt) police force to handle it.
This bar was the quintessence of it all, the very essence of what the system had to offer. And Andrew forced himself to try and get along with them somehow to see whether these folks were reliable or at least aloof enough to allow the Children a port of call after some rough waters.
It … wasn’t easy. He had taken a seat with one of the ‘ground’ crew foremen, a swarthy giant of a man whose job description obviously required him to smell of various coolants and lubricants. But when asked for a few spare parts for his ship, everybody had pointed to him.
“I need a few parts for my love, got ‘dicted by some of the local muggers one system down. Any guess as to who’s handling the hardware sales around here?” It seemed like a decent ice breaker.
The man took a good measure of Andrew. He was so big he had to look down at him, which made the situation just a bit too menacing. It reminded Andrew of one of those mafia holovids where honest men were forced to make shady deals with some shark.
“I seen you. You came in that Diamondback, yeah? Nice ship. A bit uncommon maybe, but nice. We don’t see them shinies out here mucho. Most of ‘em are battered Cobras and the odd Python or two.” He inserted a fat grin. “That’s all what we’re worth out here apparently. She’s all yours or are you running for a corp?”
Andrew felt the guy was eyeing him very cautiously and by the hair on the back of his neck he knew that others around were also listening. The air suddenly seemed very dense. He decided to play the ‘we’re pals’ card and offered a handshake with an almost equally broad grin.
“Yeah, name’s Dean Strutton. I’m with the Rifters. You might’ve seen a few of us around, we’re doing survey work for the suits back home. It’s all about rocks and metals. Ship’s mine, though. Traded her for my old Keelback and some cash back home.”
“Them Rifters you say? I know ‘em. Jackasses, all of ‘em. Self styled pioneers and frontiersmen. Hah! Yeah, come here quite often since Farsight went live. Ever begging for spare parts and stir things up with their shit and ghost stories. Don’t like them mucho around here, younow?”
This wasn’t going so well. On instinct Andrew had a quick glance around, scanning the bar for exits, dead ends and breakable glass. Luckily, most of the crockery was made from polystyrene.
The man continued: “Like I said, seen your ship. It’s a lightweight by the looks of it, standing nimble footed on the landing gear. Not mucho cargo I think. Sealed hardpoints, too, and the odd sensor poking around. I’d say it’s not an off-the-rack one and modded with a fat wallet, Mister Dean Strutton. And you’re looking for spare parts? Really?”
“No worries man. Like I said, I was a trader before that. Just wanna see stuff out there for a change and maybe…” He grinned at the man: “Maybe find some buyers for all the things that you find out there when you only look around. You’ve seen the sensors? Good. I like looking around.” He folded his hands around the tumbler. “You’d be amazed by what people tend to drop when they’re all too hasty or otherwise not so very cautious.”
The man finally raised an eyebrow, greed being written all over his face. Andrew had seen this lot at many outposts.
“You got stuff to sell?” He all too eagerly blinked with his eye, nodding towards Andrew’s tumbler with booze. “I mean like, real stuff?”
Andrew leaned forward a bit and absently turned his glass a couple of degrees. “Salvage maybe. Yeah, I may have some salvage I came across somewhere. You buyin’? Or trading for parts?”
Now one of the guests at one of the other tables turned around in his chair. He was a greasy fellow and a blue collar worker by the looks of it. Or, more likely, it was his charade.
“Nah, he’s not buyin’. He’s doin’ the talkin’ with scum like ya. But, if scum wants to sell stuff or buy some, who are we to turn ‘em down? All’s gotta make a livin’, no?”
Later that day, in the bunk of the Nanshe, Andrew compiled his report for their Recon team. There were a few other Children out here and there was a secret comms relay in the near Eafots Sector that could beam the report away on safe channels. It wasn’t very promising:
More than 2,000 people, all cramped together in a big rock; full of self interest, corporate loyalty maybe, definitely too paranoid to trust outsiders (who were all others except them) and too keen on gossip, rumors and drugs to provide a reliable basis for meaningful social interaction. It was a harsh judgement, but the Children had to look elsewhere for a base. Here at Farsight, they couldn’t possibly fit in or stay below the radar. Andrew doubted it would be any different at Base Camp, the under construction asteroid base in the neighbouring Soul Nebula.
Still, he’d give it a try.