It took less than two hours to go over the plan and get my ship ready for launch. I received the certificates and credentials from Kirea, which included an actual physical ID badge and a lab coat which she promised I could keep. I could think of a couple of ways to impress the locals showing up at distant stations, pretending to be a scientist. Kirea uploaded a layout of the facility in my datapad, as well as the locator code for the case I would be stealing. ‘Retrieving’, she corrected me.
After his tirade about the origins of animals and his mention of the Cerberus plague, the last thing I wanted to do was open it or know what was inside it. With the locator code I had no need to fumble around and open it to check the contents, the thing was sealed and all I needed was the reference number and my pad would guide me directly to it. Walk (or rather float, as most outposts don’t have gravity) out as if I were just another researcher going about my business. Hell, my Diamondback Explorer would even help me look inconspicuous. Imagine docking in a Cobra Mk. III armed to the teeth? That would be some kind of researcher.
Making my way to Hughes Gateway was easy. I didn’t even have to jump systems. My nerves slowly crawled up on me as I approached the outpost and requested docking. Everything that could go wrong came to mind. One mistake and I would be hopelessly facing an enraged pack of nerds floating in zero G. Ok, that didn’t sound so bad. Station defenses could fire at my ship as I made my way out if they activated any alarm, but my shields could take the few seconds of fire as I sped out of there.
In reality, I had no reason to be nervous. It was more a force of habit, a tradition, to think of the worst. Because once you make a list of all the things that can go wrong in space, simply being shot was not so bad.
Carefully following Keira’s instructions, I got out of my ship and went through the airlock sequence into the outpost. I tried to look as noticeable as possible. Everybody knows not to bother someone who looks pissed and busy. Try being inconspicuous, and you might as well walk around naked with neon Thargoid painted in your chest.
Every step went as planned. I was not even thinking of what I was doing, just following instructions and trying to get the case so I could get out. It must have taken me less than thirty minutes from the moment I docked to the moment I stepped back into my ship, Canico’s case under my arm.
It all went by in a blur. It felt like I had held my breath the entire time, and only exhaled as soon as I felt the momentum of my ships thrust engines carrying me away from the outpost.
As far as smuggling runs went, this was easily amongst the easiest ones I had ever done. No loading/offloading big cargo containers, no need to avoid being scanned by System Security or station sensors, all I had to do now was supercruise my way to Kirea and Canico, request docking, and bring my ship in.
I fired up the Frame Shift Drive with a big stupid smile on my face.
I was barely halfway to my destination when my comms board came to life and a very rude and menacing message came through, accusing me of theft and making very graphic threats towards my personal health and well-being. I did not question the genuineness of the threats because a second later I was being interdicted. I was about to type a reply when my ship shook violently as my pursuer tried to knock me out of supercruise.
I fought the controls as I spun and twisted, my organs squeezed to the back of my chair. My kidney reminded me it had been kicked not too long ago by recreating the pain one more time, this time with the added bonus of prolonged pressure. I wrestled with the interdiction, attempting to keep my ship pointed at the escape vector, trying not to pass out from the pain in my organs. A Security System ship or a pirate might fine you or strip you of your cargo respectively, but my pursuer seemed to be neither of those. I had no scannable cargo, my hold was empty, and the threats had been quite graphic. That pretty much narrowed the options down.
My ship sped out, escape vector maintained, and I lost my pursuer. I threw up a little in my mouth from the effort. Sweating and cursing, I glided into the smooth sail of supercruise, not taking my eye off my radar. I may have escaped interdiction once. I was not looking forward to trying my luck again.
What was supposed to be a short trip felt like ages as I approached the station as fast as I could without overshooting it and ending up on the other side of the system. There is this moment every pilot knows, just as you drop out of supercruise and into normal space, where all your atoms seem to hang for a second and then form back around you.
Giraud Ring, the station where I was to meet Keria, appeared before me as I felt my atoms materialize, my kidney picking up a few extra bits from the feel of it. But instead of enjoying that moment as I normally did, I pushed the throttle and speeded straight to the gate, risking a fine.
To where my pursuer was awaiting.
Suspended there between me and the station.
Burst laser fire shot straight at the canopy of my ship. My shields barely held as I put all system resources into the engines. My only hope was getting close enough to the station to enter the no fire zone. If the ship attacking me decided to carry on with the laser barrage, it would risk being blown to bits by the station defences. Stations don’t like other ships opening fire in its vicinity. They also don’t like idlers, people who go in without requesting permission, and clowns. And will treat them all the same violent way.
I could see my shields about to be depleted as the station got closer. Even without shields, my ship’s hull would be able to withstand a bit of punishment before exploding into bits in the vacuum of space. Just as I had hoped, all firing stopped the moment I entered Giraud Ring’s no fire zone. Hull integrity intact, my pursuer could fly right beside me and wave, and do nothing without risking death by space station.
Once my ship was secured and the engines disengaged, I unstrapped myself from my seat, took the small case under an arm, and half-walked, half-ran down the station terminal. Kirea and Canico had neglected to tell me something crucial, warn me about something critial, but I was beyond caring or asking. I just wanted to get rid of the package, get paid, and put all this behind me. Smuggling was not worth getting killed over.
I sped through corridors and alleys inside the station, trying to get the most direct route to the rendezvous point. Most stations look alike from outer space, and the docks follow a similar pattern, but once you get inside, they are all assembled in a confusingly different, seemingly haphazard, way.
Our meeting point was in a semi residential area, a few shops and storefronts adorning the block. Local time put me at roughly four in the morning standard hours. Either Kirea was awake, expecting me, or was about to get her beauty sleep rudely interrupted.
I turned the last corner and a narrow alley stretched out in front of me. According to my datapad, the house would be nearby. I couldn’t make sure, because the moment I looked down to check, a loud bang echoed through the alley, and I felt the force of a projectile fly a few millimetres over my head. I instinctively jumped towards a wall and pressed myself against a dumpster as a second shot rang by. Kinetic weapons! Whoever was shooting at me was using projectile missiles! I was outraged.
“Give it up!” I heard someone shout. Male voice. Little to no patience, from the tone. “No need for this to end violently!”
“Hey!” I shouted back. “We entered the no fire zone a few kilometres back! Put down the gun and I’ll pretend nothing happened!” I doubted his sincerity. My attacker had demostrated a penchant for violence from the start.
Another shot grazed my hiding spot. No sense of humour, either. I could hear his footsteps getting closer. I looked frantically for a way out, but other than cowering behind a dumpster, there was not much else I could do.
Yet another shot. I added ‘not a good conversationalist’ to my prospective killer’s list of attributes. So far, it made for a charming character. From the sound of it, he was no more than three to four meters away, his footsteps slightly muffled by my ringing ears. Turns out gunshots are loud. Wasn’t prepared for that. Not much sound in space, after all. Turns out I would go deaf before getting killed.
A fifth shot rang through the station night. This one had a different ring to it. I attributed it to the relative proximity of my assassin and the fact that I probably had irreparable hearing damage by this point. Not that it would matter in a few minutes.
I realized I was clutching the smuggled case tightly against my chest. I loosened my grip. If the attacker was still willing to avoid things ending violently by the time he reached the dumpster I was hiding behind, I had no qualms of handing it right over and letting bygones be bygone.
What happened instead was I heard a rather loud thud very close to me, then silence.
I turned to the side and saw a big bald head with a nose that looked like it had had intimate contact with many fists throught its existence. Wide open eyes stared lifelessly at me. The body had fallen forward in an awkward manner, and blood started to pool under it. Kinetic weapons are so messy.
Kirea stepped toward the body and prodded it with her foot. She crouched, went through the attackers pockets, collecting some of the belongings. She stood up and streched out a hand towards me, helping me up. I realized I must have looked like an open-mouthed idiot, crouching there besides the dumpster. I tried regaining my composture and handed over the case.
“You ok there?” She asked, inspecting the case.
I tried playing it cool. “Yeah, caught me by surprise is all.”
Kireas datapad made as series of beeps at it scanned the case, and she grinned, a satisfied look on her face.
“We better get out of here,” She said. “You did well. Our client will be pleased. I represent Elysium Corp. How would you like a job?”