A Smuggler’s Dilemma
My heart pounded like an orchestra made entirely out of percussion instruments. No matter how many times I did this, smuggling large amounts of illicit goods always reduced me to a nervous wreck. I tried to focus as my ship sped as fast as it would go towards the station entrance. Smugglers had all sorts of tricks to avoid getting scanned, some even turning off their ships systems to bring the heat signature as low as it would go, and coast on inertia alone. I found it much simpler to throttle and boost and outrun the scan. In fact, running as fast as I could was my number one life strategy, in a ship or otherwise.
My paranoia and nervousness did not end the moment I docked. I still felt like I wanted to throw up as I watched Bosco, my local contact, direct his men to unload my illicit cargo. I kept an anxious eye for any inspectors that might decide to check out the goods coming out of my ship. I liked Naddoddur station. Trouble in this station was the last thing I wanted. I had a room here, if you could call the glorified broom closet a room. Plus, this is where Frame Shift Taco is, and they make the best burritos in a hundred light year radius. The best case scenario, in case my goods got scanned, would be a small fine, maybe a reprimand, depending on who it was that caught the transaction. The worst case would be a larger fine followed by shooting at me.
Some systems are very strict about certain illicit goods. Yembo could be quite relaxed one day, and be on lockdown on your next visit. It always paid to play it safe.
The moment the offloading was complete, I hurried down and got my ship, Granuja’s Eidolon, tucked away in its designated hangar. Almost automatically, I headed to Signal Source Spirits Tavern, the local CMDR hangout and one of my favorite pubs overall. I felt I deserved a bit of celebration after my successful shadow run, and my nerves could use some calming in the form of distilled drinks. Signal Source generates a constant sound that is not too loud but not too quiet, noisy enough to boast loudly or have private conversations, depending on your mood and preference. It’s the kind of place that if you listen closely and carefully and for a long time, you start to pick up on the interesting bits in the banter. Tips and valuable pieces of information. The kind of thing a smuggler needs.
Or you just meet with one of the couple of regulars that seem to live on the premises. These people, like furniture or decoration, make pubs like Signal Source Spirits feel like home.
I spotted a round old man with a hearty laugh sitting in his usual table. Eggen was always going on about how good a bounty hunter he was. He would tell stories about how, thanks to his efforts, all systems within a 30 light year radius were a safe and friendly place for traders and travelers. At the slightest indication of interest, he would take out his datapad and start showing pictures of Miranda, his Vulture, and rant on about the superiority of the Core Dynamics manufactured ship.
There was even a drinking game based around his anecdotes. Nobody had ever won, as it required to stay sober until Eggen ran out something to say about either his abilities as a combat pilot or the virtues of the Vulture. Most people either suffered severe ethylic poisoning while trying to soldier through his tales, or ran away in order to conserve their sanity.
I liked Eggen. In the end, he was mostly harmless. No one had actually seen him in combat (or anywhere other than this bar for that matter), and the only people hurt where those that took part in the drinking game, but they had only themselves to blame. He was a warm, friendly face in an otherwise cold and cruel environment.
I noticed he was seated with what looked like two members of Elysium Corp, recounting one of his highly improbable encounters. This was a well-known story of how he faced off with a couple of pirates from The Code, and how he had managed to send them out running with their tails between their legs. Every time I heard the story it grew in danger and drama. It had started with him facing two Eagles, and turned into fighting and beating two heavily armed Pythons, all thanks to his incredible fighting skills and the Vultures superior maneuverability.
I made my way to another table and nodded to the group as I took a seat not too far from them. Eggen did not break his stride and kept on going, acknowledging me from a distance. I had heard that story many times before, and after my latest run, found myself more in the mood for a bit of peace and quiet, a stiff drink and then off to my cabin to dream of credits and illicit goods.
A few hours later, a loud banging noise and the dissonant ringing from the intercom made me feel like I was being interdicted from my pleasant dreams. I rose, grogginess dissipating fast as my mind ran all possible scenarios. None of them were good. You don’t get abruptly woken in the middle of the night for good news. Could it be an old debt come to collect? Had someone placed a bounty on me? Did it have to do with my latest smuggle? With only one door and no room to hide, I had little choice but go to the door.
I opened it cautiously, and a very frightened looking Eggen stood outside. He looked like he had shrunk a couple of centimeters, or shifted them to his sided, and wrung his hands nervously.
“May I come in?” He asked, his gaze shifting up and down the corridor. At least he was polite. Most late/early cycle visits just barged right in, disrespectful of my private, if small, space.
He rushed in the moment I stepped aside to motion him in, and started pacing across the small room, his large size making the space feel even more cramped. I sat on the bed and rubbed my eyes. The one stiff drink to calm my nerves had turned to a couple of more, and my body felt like it was time to cash in on the damage done.
“Oh, I’ve done it now!” Eggen muttered, I wasn’t sure if to me or to himself. “I’ve gone and done it now, my boy. Oh, oh, have I gone and done it now!” Panic was threatening to overcome him.
“Slow down, old man,” I said, trying to sound more reassuring than groggy or hungover. “What have you done?”
“Remember those Elysium folks I was talking to at Signal Source?” Was he about to cry? It sounded like it. So they were EC people after all. “Well, they seemed interested in my stories, I mean, of course they would, who wouldn’t? And, well, I may have agreed to do a job for them…” he trailed off.
He sounded like he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. “Well, there is no better pilot than you in this sector, of course they would want your services!” It was cruel of me, seeing him in this state, but I could not help myself.
“You don’t get it!” He almost shouted. “They want me to go to Wonneriti and destroy the power generator on the turret! On a surface base! It’s suicide!”
“Well, why did you agree to it, then?” I asked. As far as I knew, no one had seriously offered him a job in ages, and even if that were the case, he always had a good excuse to weasel out of flying.
His voice was beginning to break. “I don’t know! I was drunk! They caught me unawares, they said they needed a pilot of exceptional skill and discretion!”
Well, if those were the qualifications they needed, they had chosen most poorly, I thought to myself. I looked up at the mess of a man pacing in my cramped room. I didn’t know what to say or ask without risking sending him overboard.
“You!” He exclaimed. “You need to do this for me! You’re a good pilot, I know you, you can take Miranda and do the job!”
I thought he was joking, but his watery, pleading eyes said otherwise. “Wait just a second,” I muttered “I’m a smuggler, not a combat pilot. No, old man, no way I am doing this for you.”
He slumped heavily on my bed, and threatened to spin the whole station out of orbit. I had not realized how fat he actually was. “You don’t get it,” he sobbed. “It’s a lie. It’s all a lie. I’m no combat pilot, son. I may have bounty hunted when I was younger, but those stories I tell? They… they’re… not true.”
I did my best attempt to look surprised and patted him on the back. “There there,” I said. “we all add a little polish to our tales, I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“No,” he mumbled. “No it won’t. I…” He seemed to be having an argument with himself. “I… can’t fit in the cockpit of my ship anymore.” He covered his face in his plump hands and began to sob uncontrollably. “I’m finished. I’m done. The gig is up. I can’t continue to live a lie.” He looked up with pleading eyes. “Just one last tale of glory. Will you do that for me, boy? Do this for me, and… and… and Miranda is yours to keep.”
I felt as if my stomach was being tugged at by a black hole.
I was a smuggler. I’ve had my share of combat, but usually against small, weak ships that thought my Asp was easy prey. Nothing like proper combat. Nothing like what he was asking me for. My mouth went dry, and it suddenly felt as if the station was spinning slightly faster.
Before I could say anything, he took my hands in his, and placed a small object between my palms. I started to mutter, but he cut me off. “You are doing an old pilot a great service, boy.” He said. “Miranda is yours now. She is your ship now. Just do this for me. And… and take good care of her. Please.”
He stood up, his great weight shifting my small bed, looked back once towards me, and shuffled out the room without saying goodbye. My mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out. My brain was undergoing module malfunction. I looked down to see the Vulture’s ship access chip.
What had I gotten myself into now? Or rather, what had old Eggen gotten me into?
To be continued…