Freya's Tears

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Chapter Eleven - Lafayette Arrives

Mission: Book Two - Ginnungagap
Location: New Pacifica

Els struggled with her end of the auto-bed they’d discovered in the small sickbay of Kusanagi. The bed was a completely automated and mobile sickbay with robotic surgical arms and a multitude of diagnostic gear. Strap an injured person into one of these and the bed could run a series of tests, supply medications and even conduct most surgeries. The auto-bed would fetch an excellent price on the market, more than making up the money lost in this venture. Her contract with the Lafayette quartermaster had been to deliver aviation tires to New Pacifica—an impossibility considering the tragedy—creating a loss of revenue. The monetary amount was a drop in the bucket over the larger courier contract but every little bit counted when the bills came due.

She floated outside Freya’s Tears on a tether, Hrothgar and Tobias similarly attached to the ship, shoveling salvaged goods into the cargo airlock. Once her crew had stripped the yacht of easily-carried valuables through the inflatable ‘lock, Els had relieved Austin long enough for him to realize his dream and see the yacht’s interior first hand. He’d even found a handful of holovid games in one of the lockers that no one else had noticed. Naya also took a turn aboard the yacht to fine tune the tachcomm signal. Her expertise had resulted in an almost undamaged ship’s log at which Els had yet had time to examine. They’d transferred all larger, heavier goods into the yacht’s small cargo bay and detached from its airlock, taking up a position nose to rear to push the bulkier items across the short distance of open space between them. Kasli, Kolodka and Naya were suited up across the small gap, launching salvage from the yacht to Els’s team.

As Els had expected, the yacht had been a platinum mine of goods. Not only had they found the medical auto-bed, but several thousand credits worth of drugs and medical supplies in the sickbay, some of which she planned to use to replenish their private stock. The cargo hold had revealed trunks of personal belongings of the ambassador and his staff as well as crates of handheld weapons over which Tobias and Kasli had salivated. With the sacking of the two kitchenettes aboard, their foodstuffs had swollen to bursting with exotic dishes and spices that none of them had ever tasted. Fine wines and alcohols, a myriad of tools and spare parts that had been procured from the destroyed engines and a number of high tech entertainment systems rounded out the growing list. Els’s only discontent was leaving behind the ten ton flyer they’d located in the yacht’s shuttle bay. The only way to get it aboard would be to vent Freya’s Tears’s cargo bay to space and pilot the flyer directly inside. Els couldn’t justify the monumental use of fuel she’d need to re-oxygenate her ship even with the extra fuel they’d gleaned from the yacht.

“Skipper. Incoming transmission from Folsum.”

Els paused. “Local?”

“Yeah.” Austin hesitated a moment. “Looks like they translated into the system about three minutes ago on our old coordinates.”

Tobias snorted. “He’s probably already seen us then.”

A vague sense of guilt flickered through Els’s heart before she clamped down on it, the remnants of her military sensibilities warring with her mercenary sense of survival. She drifted away from the others, wanting to focus on the upcoming conversation. “Put him on a private channel.”

“Done.”

Hearing a faint click, Els knew she was connected. “Commander Folsum, looks like you made good time.”

“We did.” He sighed. “But not soon enough.”

Els commiserated with his dismay. “By our estimation, this disaster occurred over three months ago…about the time you lost contact with New Pacifica.”

“I’m just surprised it’s taken anyone this long before discovering it. New Pacifica isn’t exactly far off the space lanes.”

“No, but the shipping lanes run right through the planet’s orbital path. As I said in my message, anyone coming in on the normal routes would have translated right into the middle of the worst damage. I can’t imagine any ship could have survived it.”

A long silence grew between them, but Els heard the bustle of an active bridge in the background. His people were probably running everywhere, gathering information and confirming what sensor data she’d already given him.

“You’re not moving. Did you find fuel?” he asked.

“A couple of days ago. It took us that long to find a fuel tank.” She took a deep breath. “We’re almost finished with a salvage job we located along the way.”

“Salvage?” His voice stiffened. She easily visualized him, an expression of distaste on his face and the thought of lurking vultures in his mind.

Ja. Found an intact ambassadorial yacht from NIR in our path and thought to take advantage of it.”

“A ambassadorial ship?” He fairly growled. “And were there any survivors or diplomatic communiques aboard?”

She debated stringing him along, not liking his tone. They’d only done business with each other for a couple of years. She thought he’d known her well enough to understand that she didn’t deal in state secrets or murder. “Survivors, no. It looks like most the crew died during the initial catastrophe. From all evidence, three people survived long enough to pollute the interior air before one shot the other two and committed suicide. Their engines were destroyed and no one had the tech know-how to get them running again. They were dead within days. As for communiques, there were some aboard…and still are. We blew the ambassador’s safe, but left the diplo-pouch behind.”

“What else was in there?”

“Nothing of interest to you, unless you want a necklace?” She grinned, succumbing to her annoyance at his subconscious aspersions against her honor. “Looks like Biru rubies set in rhodium. Very expensive. Well worth the four hundred forty-five thousand credits we initially contracted for.”

He snorted without amusement. “Like you could find a buyer for that amount.”

Els automatically shrugged though he couldn’t see the movement. “Speaking of money—”

“Were we?” he interrupted.

“I was,” she informed him. “You’re the ultimate authority in Lafayette, and I made a deal with your quartermaster to deliver a ton of aviation tires to New Pacifica. Since we’re unable to complete our end, do you want to cancel the contract?”

“Really? You’re worried about a metric ton of rubber when you’ve just hit the motherlode of an ambassadorial yacht?”

“I’m worried about my contracts and reputation, Commander. I paid thirty grand collateral for these tires on the promise of receiving fifty upon delivery. I’m not a pirate, I run a business.” She heard voices in the background, someone reporting to Folsum.

“I’m locating heavy helium plasma residue in the area, Commander. It’s off the charts in the center of the debris field.”

The sounds muffled and Els heard only his voice, not his words as he shushed whoever had been speaking. “Captain?”

Ja, Commander.”

“I’ll stand by my quartermaster’s contract. Keep the tires, sell them for what you can and where you can. If you can’t get the fifty, I’ll deposit the difference into your accounts.”

Els felt vague relief, her hand-to-mouth existence overshadowing the fact that she’d make so much more by selling off the Kusanagi’s goods than she’d ever get for the tires. “Thank you, Commander.”

“If you have nothing else for me…?”

“Actually, I do. On our way across the system, we came across an oddity. A photon frequency change. Scan for our beacon. I left a buoy with the pertinent sensor scans and data at the site.”

Folsum murmured off the comm, probably ordering someone to look into it. “I’ll dispatch a team.” He paused. When he spoke again a little of his usual warmth had crept back into his voice. “And thank you, Captain. I do appreciate the danger you’ve put yourselves in coming here.”

His tone seemed promising. She had no doubt that he’d already sent a shuttle to intercept the Kusanagi and confirm her story that nothing of political interest had been taken and homicide hadn’t been committed to provide her an excuse for salvage. As soon as he had proof of her honesty, their working relationship would continue. She resolved to set out another buoy, this one loaded with a copy of the recovered log, before leaving the yacht’s vicinity. Lafayette was a steady, reliable business with the PX cargo and courier duty, one she didn’t want to lose. “Thank you, Commander. We’ll finish here in about an hour before continuing on to our translation point. I plan to be out of the system within the modular day.”

“Safe travels, Captain Ulfarsdottir.”

“Safe travels, Commander.” Els closed the communication between them, using her chin to re-access the intercom traffic with her crew. “How are we doing, people?” She used the suit’s power to shift back to the open cargo airlock.

“Just about done, Els.” Kolodka waved. The auto-bed sat inside the airlock with a myriad of other items.

“Sending over a pallet of weapons crates,” Tobias announced.

Els looked across the short gap to see the item in question floating toward them. Hrothgar had already pushed out to the farthest reach of his tether to intercept the package that was three times his size.

Kolodka announced, “We’ve got room in the ‘lock for two more of those before we have to process them through.”

“Good. We’ve only got three more after this,” Kasli said. “We’ll get them loaded out while you guys finish on your end.”

“What did the commander have to say?” Austin asked.

Els pushed out to assist Hrothgar. “Not much. He’s not happy about this salvage op, but knows he doesn’t have much say in the matter. I expect he’s already sent a shuttle to confirm the deaths here.”

Naya chuckled. “Doesn’t trust us, huh?”

“Can you blame him?” Tobias said.

Considering you were the one to insinuate we kill any survivors? Els rolled her eyes. “It’s the nature of the business. We’ve ridden the edge of local legalities before and we’ll do so again.”

The conversation devolved into one-upmanship the crew discussed their experiences in the black of space. Els allowed their talk to wash over her, enjoying the relief that her working relationship with Folsum hadn’t been irreparably damaged by her current actions. Some military officers had sticks up their asses when it came to legal operations such as this, proclaiming all scavenging ops as piracy. It pleased her that Folsum wasn’t quite so rigid in his definition of independent haulers.

With the last pallet in the airlock, she reeled in her tether and stepped inside with Kolodka and Hrothgar to assist with moving the gear inside. She couldn’t wait to get out of this system.

 

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