‘Pirate the pirates’ he’d said. ‘Easy’ thought Matzov. So long as they were small time acts, and petty smugglers. Wouldn’t want to risk going after anybody who might be in a position to actually fight back. As much as Matzov had liked doing business with Caplin, had almost considered him a friend, and wanted to find out where he was (just as his superiors did), he also didn’t want to die in the process. Or indeed have to pay for any ship damage, or fines. Still, a deal like this would help business relations in general in Tangaroa, where commercial activity had been slack recently, and that was all grist to the mill.
The operation proved straightforward, as expected. The only slight annoyance was picking up local fines in Tarangoa and Baldr, but ultimately they should prove to be nothing more than an expenses write-off in a grander scheme that now presented itself in Matzov’s mind.
‘Carpenter, send this message to Premji. Tell him I am calling in a favour, and I want to be made a gift. A gift of a fully kitted mining vessel, top of the range, over a hundred in tonnage, and an able operator. His man Vauban preferably. Tell him I want it in the next 48 hours. Be blunt’.
Matzov swivelled his chair back round to his desk and signed the deeds of incorporation on Pan-galactic Mining, his newest creation. It needed one other signature to muddy the already murky ownership model, and send credits flowing around the galactic financing community, in little, delicate ripples.
‘Pirate the pirates’ Matzov whispered to himself. ‘We can serve the community, and we can personally profit. Nothing wrong with that,Vauban. Nothing at all.’
3rd October 3301 – 18:12
I came back to Ravenclan’s Astro Lab after returning the Diamondback to Sirius’ Head Quarters, not entirely sure if our mission was a success. Tangaroa seemed to have quietened down significantly when we left.
I wasn’t even done with docking when traffic control informed me that I was expected in Dinda Universal’s head office.
Mukesh Premji was waiting for me, furious.
“When I say you can take a leave, I don’t mean for you to disappear for over two weeks! I protect you, feed your family, provide you with all you need and this is how you repay me?”
I might had been away for a little too long, but what has got into the man, I have no idea…
“You think you can rob me like there’s no tomorrow? You and that ‘colonel‘ of yours can go rot in hell, you hear? You want my ships? Why not my company while you’re at it?”
“Sir, I’m not sure what is going on, here. Surely this must be a misunderstanding, have you contacted Goldstein’s offices?”
“Those ungrateful turds? Yes I did… Always a one way street with them. They could never stomach our federal laws in the first place… They can die too as far as I’m concerned… Now pack up and get out of my sight.”
I’m still not quite sure I understand what just went on in there.
Shiv walked me out of the office and said I was expected in Wrangell City. He apologized for his father’s outburst but argued that Sirius might have gone a bit far this time. Ivan Matzov had asked for a ship to be donated while Sirius insisted on that ship to be the Melville, Premji’s pride and joy. They needed a status symbol for their new branch in Snoquot while the colonel was only asking for a mining vessel.
All in all, I must have spent less than fifteen minutes on Ravensclan’s Astro Lab.
4th October 3301 – 20:40
Wrangell City – Snoquot System
The maintenance guy met me outside the ship and said that colonel Matzov was waiting for me at the ’42-A01′ office, right beside the docking pad 42.
I left the Melville to its maintenance checks and made my way to the offices…
Ivan Matzov was standing in the middle of an empty room, clearly proud of himself and spreading his arms as to emphasis on the potential of this newly acquired space. He walked towards me and said:
“I present to you Pan Galactic Mining Corp… and Vauban, I also have a surprise for you.”
He told me their liaison in Ngulungbara had finally identified and removed the onboard tracking device on my Cobra MkIII. He also said that the ship had left Filippenko Dock yesterday morning and was just about to dock here, on Wrangell City – pad 42.
He took a few steps near the window and said:
“There it is.”
And there it was.
My obviously vandalized Cobra MkIII, covered with distasteful graffitis… now the ugliest ship in the galaxy, most likely.
Matzov insisted that beside the look of it, the ship was exactly as I left it. It’s funny how dearly I have missed that vessel and yet, I can’t feel the joy of being reunited with it right now.
7th October 3301 – 11:49
I slowly realized I might have had the wrong idea about Matzov new investment.
A short visit to the depot opened my eyes. They were located a few levels below the offices, in another empty space but with a capacity well over 500.000t for various ore canisters. The Sirius Corporation must have thrown an enormous amount of credits our way. A flotilla of Lakon Type6 and 7 had been made available to us, along with a handful of pilots and over a hundred employees working in the depot.
We spent nearly three hours in the empty offices to sign my name on the deed.
I meticulously read each pages before signing them at first, trying my best to decipher this lawyer’s gibberish. A few minutes later I was already skim reading, only pretending to pay attention to some details, let alone understand any of it. At this point I could have been signing my life away, I wouldn’t have had a clue.
One hour later, I finally dropped the act and was rushing through pages to get them all signed.
13th October 3301 – 12:53
I took me about two days to clean up my ship. It appears someone had been living inside all this time, probably hiding. Even after having cleared up all the empty bottles and food cartridge packagings, a foul smell was still lingering in the cockpit.
A few hours of scrubbing and sanitizing later, and the cockpit is now almost breathable. Bad news is I can not afford a fresh paint on the CobraMkIII just yet. I guess I will have to get used to be scanned twice as much while leaving the starport.
Pan Galactic Mining Corp is already making its fair share of credits, from the few pilots mining Snoquot reserves. However those few asteroid rings are almost dry, which brings me to my first assignment today. I am leaving Wrangell City in order to find good mining prospects around Snoquot.
The shipyard’s engineers fitted a prospector controller and loaded a dozen limpets to do the job. The rest is up to me, and up to the top of the line scanners Hugh Caplin and his team had fitted on the ship back in Bumbindal.
14th October 3301 – 16:59
No luck so far… And it seems that finding proved ore reserves in the region might turn out quite a challenge when you don’t even have the outline of a plan. Regardless, I am feeling ecstatic flying my own ship, and being back in the void. This is where I belong, where I finally feel myself again.
I received a communication from Snoquot this morning. Several independent transport ships had just docked in Wrangell City and delivered a very large amount of Palladium. A furtive investigation of their flight log revealed they had left from Thiini, only one jump away from my position.
We might have a plan after all…
This is interesting, my scanner reports the only ring system to be a potential pristine reserve.
I will have to get closer for a more detailed analysis.
From the approach onto the ring system, it looks an awful lot like it is mainly containing ice. I don’t think I will find anything worth the effort in this place, yet the information at hand on the Thiini system tells me I’m in an extraction colony, surely they’re getting resources from somewhere.
I activated the prospector drone controller and dropped inside the ring for a complete scan…
Crystalized water; Worthless minerals in a very low density; This ring has remained untouched for a reason… There is nothing there to mine.
Den Berg Stop is the only outpost in the system, a few light seconds from here. I will dock here for now, treat myself with a drink and maybe find out where this palladium is coming from…
16th October 3301 – 14:28
De Berg Stop, a lonely outpost of a few hundred souls. The place is fairly run down and the deserted platform didn’t give me the impression of a thriving industry. Before leaving my ship, I had a look at the trade data available…
Only 56t of Palladium for the taking, at a reasonable price, mind you.
I read the Wrangell City report again… wing of four ships, a Diamondback Scout, a Vulture and two Lakon Type 9. Delivery just shy of 800t of Palladium.
This can’t be right. I still remember chuckling when we had docked the Melville at Hutton Orbital, seeing Mukesh Premji getting in a RemLock Suit and space walking to one of Hutton’s airlocks. But two Type 9 loading 800t of cargo seems a bit far stretched.
I sat at the bar and ordered a Den Berg Gin, more like battery acid, really. I looked around me and everybody in this place seemed depressed. A couple of workers next to me were watching the CQC results, and shredded their betting tickets. One of them commented:
“Maybe we should go to Baraluhet too, seems that’s were the money is made.”
“Don’t be daft”, replied his partner.
Baraluhet, I made a mental note of the name and closed my eyes to finish my drink.
21st October 3301 – 16:29
I left Thiini with high hopes, thinking I would be finding the mining spot I was looking for… But once again, not so lucky.
It took me a few minutes to understand what was supposedly so attractive about Baraluhet and what those two gamblers from Den Berg Stop were referring to.
A quick look at the System Map was enough to figure it all out.
Both Thiini and Baraluhet where surviving through extraction and refinery activities despite their apparent low local reserves. Both systems were endowed with a single outpost and a very small population. A small population of inmates as opposed to the utterly dejected workers of Den Berg Stop, the cheap labour from a Prison Colony, was what differentiated Baraluhet from Thiini. Moving to Baraluhet was a daft idea, indeed. Only I didn’t see the humor in that.
I decided to scan and collect all astronomical data in Baraluhet to justify the trip. If I could at least sell these data to Universal Cartographic, the day wouldn’t have been completely wasted, and so a few hours later, I was ready to dock at Ziljak Outpost before planning my next move.
I don’t know what pushed me to look left when I saw a new contact appearing on my radar, as I was already committed to dock…
Another Type 9, at an outpost, coincidence?
This one was about to leave the area when I decided to turn around an identify its signature…
Call-sign: Hangnail, to my surprise, one of the transport ship from the Snoquot report. I followed him for over a hundred light years to a system called Harma where he finally disappeared, leaving a low wake near Gabriel Enterprise.
There is now near to no doubt as to where the Palladium is coming from, the system is filled with pristine reserves of all sorts. Yet it seems like quite a long journey, unnecessary even, to set forward for a few tons of ore. I know I could not find anything until now, but I refuse to believe that Hangnail has to travel this far every time to collect the goods.
I set course to Gabriel Enterprise too, and followed Hangnail all the way. It was only a few seconds prior to entering the Starport that I realized I was in hostile territory.
This might not have been such a good idea after all…
23rd October 3301 – 14:22
I docked at Gabriel Enterprise without trouble but could not see Hangnail’s Type 9 around. It probably had already been stored away in a hangar somewhere.
I left my ship and walked down to the commodity market’s depot to nose around, with no real purpose. Part of me hoped that I would find someone negotiating Palladium prices there but let’s be realistic, I don’t even know what the guy looks like and there must be a hundred people in this depot. As far as I know, Hangnail might as well be placing his order from the comfort of his cockpit, through the Starport Services Uplink. I seriously doubt I will ever see the man again…
I was just about to leave when a man walked up to me. He looked behind his shoulder a couple of times before muttering:
“I see you following me around. You have no business here, Commander. I can tell you’re not one of Delaine’s men so please, do yourself a favor and go back from where you came from.”
I tried to ask what he was doing in a Type 9 around Thiini and Baraluhet when he raised his hand to interrupt me, signaling me to keep quiet, while looking behind him once again…
“Look man, I can tell you mean no harm… But you really need to listen and stay away from this or you’ll get both of us killed.”
On these last words, he turned around and walked back to another group of men who were busy moving canisters to the loading area. One of them seemed to be modifying the canisters’ identification tags before moving them out of the depot. Hangnail looked back at me, scowling at me in exasperation. I understood it was time for me to go so I headed back to my ship.
I could have sworn I heard muffled voices coming from the canisters as I left… I’m not sure Hangnail is shifting Palladium anymore, but the one thing I know is I’d better get back to Snoquot before attracting unwelcome attention.
“Carpenter, come in will you. I need you to take a message for Vauban.”
Taylor, I need you back at the office as soon as possible. I have set up a meeting with a local politician, Mandalay Chin, and Taka Wakamatsu, the CEO of Snoquot Plc. The rest of the board of Snoquot Plc and some other local movers and shakers will join us afterwards for drinks. Its vital you are here alongside me and that we have The Melville to hand. I’m going open kimono, and will tell them about our strategy for mining other local systems and funnelling the money through Wrangell, as well as our longer-term goals for surface mining in Snoquot itself. Moreover, I want to propose a joint philanthropic donation of resources to Kaushpoos in support of the proposed nebula station. It will be great for PR.
“And Carpenter, source some Witchhaul Kobe Beef and Fujin tea for the dinner on The Melville. I understand Wakamatsu is a big fan of it.”
24th October 3301 – 19:43
Message from Carpenter on behalf of Ivan Matzov:
“Taylor, I need you back at the office as soon as possible… “
I like Carpenter. A genuine good soul, although I can’t help but think he is milking it sometimes. Fact is I was just about to jump into Snoquot when I received the transmission and would have already been docked at Wrangell City by now if it wasn’t for his little errand.
Fortunately, Fujin and Witchhaul are just around the corner so my job is now done and I can finally head home. However, I didn’t leave Hornby Terminal without getting the fresh paint my Cobra MkIII desperately needed, billing Pan Galactic, off course…
Repainting the Cobra MkIII was probably the best idea I had all day. I just got allocated pad 42, right outside our head office, and the picture of a beat up Onionhead smuggling ship docking just under the nose of some of Snoquot’ hottest VIPs wouldn’t have been my best entrance.
I removed my Remlock suit and was just about to power off the ship’ systems when I noticed an old newsflash on the Starport Services feed. Not so old, actually, and by the look of it, the Snoquot Herald had not been wasting any time and was already taking an interest in our little endeavor.
25th October 3301 – 13:12
Big day today.
I was sitting in the Melville’s cockpit, entering today’s flight plan, and could already tell by the small crowd gathering on the platform that Pan Galactic was about to skyrocket into something much bigger. A large delegation from the Sirius Corporation was present. They were, after all, the most significant stockholders of Pan Galactic Mining Corp and were legitimely anxious to see the new branch settling as smoothly as possible. It looked, from above, that about fifty or more people were about to board the Melville.
Once all that smart group had finally boarded, I fired up the engines, took off and headed for Snoquot 5, the Water World outside Wrangell City. Within a few minutes, I had set the ship on a high orbital cruise around the planet and left the deck to join Matzov in the main cabin.
A diagram of Snoquot 5 was up on a screen and Ivan Matzov was in a middle of his presentation, describing a terraforming project that would open up an array of new possibilities for every Snoquot partners. It was question of mining the metal rich sea bed, developing a biological research center and exploiting the waters to cut down on the system’s agricultural imports. While some local politicians seemed middy impressed by the project and more interested in the selection of food we had provided, the Governor of Wrangell City, Mandalay Chin, appeared very inspired by the terraforming project. She was looking out the windows down on the Water World, asking questions, like she could already see the working structures on the surface. Mr Wakamatsu, our main competitor, was also sold on the presentation and warmly welcomed the new partnership. I believe that having Sirius financial power vouching for us was probably enough for anyone to get excited.
25th October 3301 – 14:18
The meeting was going well, and while the reunion was getting into more details, two men I did not recognize approached me.
“Agent Kyle Turner, Sirius Intelligence Services and this is my associate. Can we talk?”
They followed me outside the cabin, onto the main deck, and Turner continued:
“Congratulation on Pan Galactic Mining Corp, Commander Vauban. We came from Alvares City in Parenni. Snoquot belonging to our jurisdiction, Mr Rui has tasked us to make sure you’re settling without complication. We’re actually here to protect Sirius assets from industrial espionage, but this is not why we wanted to talk to you. We thought you might be pleased to hear that we have located Dr Hugh Caplin.”
Agent Turner handed me a map…
“He is being held captive by the Emperor’s Dawn, in a small settlement located on the dark side of Tabaldak A3. An extraction operation is in place but we are waiting for Tabaldak to quiet down before giving the green light. Now the new Emperor and Senator Patreus have made a personal matter in dealing with the terrorist group, there is far to much activity in the system that could jeopardize the operation.”
“What could Emperor’s Dawn possibly want from Caplin?” I asked.
“For a long time, we focused our investigation efforts on Harold Duval, but we now have reasons to believe that his involvement in Project Magellan was temporary and of a financial nature only. We are almost certain Emperor’s Dawn originally initiated the project, they are only trying to regain control over it. What they want from Caplin is what they want from you and every actor involved in the project: intel, and ultimately, control.”
“Vauban, really? I know these people operate on a need to know basis but I can’t believe you of all people don’t know what I’m talking about. The probe you delivered in Sagittarius A* is only the first step of an exploration mission, Project Magellan, that has been in development for the last fifty years at least. The exact location of the Relay Unit you left near the galactic core is without a doubt the reason why Emperor’s Dawn have been trying to locate you.”
“Are you telling me I am in danger again?”
“Rest assured, as far as they know, you no longer exist.”
“What are you on about? Did you fake my death?”
“Well yes… We needed to deal with a rogue operative in LHS 3447, and since Emperor’s Dawn was already looking for you in this system, we disposed of him and falsified the coroner’s report. His dead body is the reason why Emperor’s Dawn has given up looking for you. We pretty much killed two birds with one stone.”
This is madness. I don’t know how pleased I should feel about this. I was still trying to cope with the shock when Agent Turner said:
“Needless to say it would be wise to avoid LHS 3447 in the future. Oh and again, congratulation, and best of luck with Pan Galactic Mining Corp.”
25th October 3301 – 17:54
The day is drawing to an end and coincidentally, Snoquot 5 is falling into darkness.
Today’s meeting was a complete success and Ivan Matzov instructed me to return to Wrangell City for himself and our guests to disembark and where my job would actually begin.
Only one of Taka Wakamatsu’s associates will remain onboard as a Snoquot PLC representative. Sushi and cocktails will make way for indium and beryllium canisters and the two of us will be setting course for Neville Horizons in the Kaushpoos system where we will be spending the next few days, helping with the planned construction of a new Starport in the Pleiades.
This donation will be the first official partnership between Snoquot PLC and Pan Galactic Mining Corp, and the perfect opportunity to shine outside of Sirius territory.