Part 53: Pirate - Part 01 - June 23rd, 1177NC: Space-sailing the space-seasI'm on a satellite internet connection right now, so updates will be slow - even as I type this the connection just cut out and will probably stay out for another few hours. We're so close to the end that I can't stop now!
June 23rd, 1177NC: Space-sailing the space-seas
Say hello to Coronne Harlock of the shuttle Majestic. Typical opening images are currently at the other end of the continent, sorry. To make a long story short, we deliver some fresh bait to some Cunjos and buy the Black Joke, a stock racing Viper, with the proceeds, equipping it with a single railgun. This will come in handy.
It mostly comes in handy for delivering a beatdown to any ships that get in our way. Since non-Auroran ships have terrible range on their weapons, and the Viper can outrun any missiles that are thrown its way, we can Monty Python many ships to their doom.
And some lesser opponents as well...
Picture these three images repeated over and over again. The space requirement for the railgun meant that the Viper had to be stripped of all equipment that was not stock - including solar panels and extra energy. It's a 2-jump craft, so if I wanted to return to port for... air or something, I would have to board and kill someone for the energy to do so. It's a great motivator.
We get into some great and highly risky battles in the course of building up our zero-g dog cred. After becoming a bounty hunter, a U.N. Shipper, and helping Temmin Shard capture a Leviathan (like beating paraplegic to death with a spoon), we have built up quite a reputation for ourselves and a rather large chunk of piracy-cash. Before I can spend it we are called to duty. Ah well, things can wait.
You duck into the small spaceport bar, and wait a moment for your eyes to adjust. The 'Hallowed Owl' hasn't changed since your Academy holidays. A little more rust, a little more stench; pretty much the same.
A man with immense shoulders and flowing gray locks sits at a table off to the side of the bar- your uncle Olaf. You can barely contain your joy at seeing him after ten years, and by the tears welling in his eyes you can see that he's similarly affected.
"Well, young'un! You've grown out of all proportion," he says, eyeing you up and down with avuncular approval. "Grub must be good at that Academy. But small talk can wait. There's little time, and much to do." He looks you straight in the eye, and asks, "Do you think you're ready?"
Oh boy, Uncle Olaf! And Sol is just one jump away! I like this plot already. It's still a fetch quest, but at least it's a nearby fetch quest.
As you nod in response to his question, he looks so proud as to almost burst.
"You're a credit to your blood, young'un, d'ye know? If Morgan was here he'd..." Uncle Olaf trails off as he becomes lost in memory.
"Well. You're here now; what am I to do with you? I suppose I'd better give you something to keep you occupied until I can make some better plans. Are ye up to taking care of some business for me? It's nothing arduous, just a shuttle run to the Sol system to pick up a cargo of data crystal replacements. Ye'll handle it for your old uncle?" he asks with that silly, beatific smile you remember from so long ago.
"Of course, Uncle," you reply.
He smiles again, and hugs your shoulders. "Good for you, Bonnie," he laughs, using the pet-name from your childhood. "Now, how's about a drink?"
With that, you become pleasantly lost in talk until you have leave to start the cargo run.
Pissing off Manticores, apparently, because one jumps in to attack us right after we blast off from Earth. Good thing there's a local garrison to help us loot it for sweet sweet credits.
You break quite a sweat as you load the cargo into the hold of your ship. As you work, you cannot help but wonder what your uncle has been up to for the last 10 years...
Dock-workers quickly off-load the data crystals. You get the impression that Olaf is pretty well known around Federation docks. You imagine it must be something to do with his work for the Sol Dock-worker's Union during the strike of '22. Apparently Olaf was targeted by the Bureau for upholding workers rights, and most of the guys remember him with affection.
Labour disputes? In my space opera?
Olaf greets you as you land. "Good to see you my brave Bonnie, how was yer trip?" You tell Olaf that your trip was fine, and that the dock-workers fast-tracked all of the data crystals through the off-loading process for you.
Olaf doesn't look surprised. "Most o' those fellas used to crew ships at one time or another. Most of 'em were good crew as well. The Bureau kicked a lot of arse after yer father's death, and a lot o' fellas that wouldn't be told what to do found 'emselves without a crewer's ticket. Now most o' them fellas are uneducated, and only knew how to crew. So when the stinkin' Bureau revoked their tickets, it was illegal to put them into any ship, from shuttle to Leviathan. Most of 'em lost the only livelihood they had, so I pulled a lot of strings through some contacts and got 'em jobs on the docks. The Bureau tried ta remove vital parts of my anatomy fer that li'l stunt, but the lads stood firm and showed how a Dock can close down pretty quick. Soon enough the situation settled down. Come to the bar and we'll spend some o' yer hard-earned."
He throws his arm around your shoulders and you head off to 'Club Scrun' for a couple of cold ones.
"Now that I've given ye a li'l test, and found out that ye can sail that pretty li'l ship o' yers around the universe, I need you to take some more supplies to Misfire in the Trishka system and then return here. I've been stockpiling some supplies and stuff o'er the years, and soon enough I think we'll have enough cash for ye to buy a better ship and start doing some real work t'wards yer destiny. I know that the day o' reckoning seems far off, but while ye wez learnin' to sail and lead and navigate, I wez puttin' inta place all the mechanisms fer ye to retake what wez rightfully yers in the first place."
You feel a lump rise in your throat. You heard from Uncle Olaf often enough during your years at the academy, but he would never tell you exactly what he was doing. Now you know, and feel a swell of pride and affection for the big man before you.
We're accosted by pirates on the way over, but thanks to the railgun this is more like being attacked by a wallet full of cash. Though the Black Joke's fuel tanks are still quite small, our reputation gives us plenty of free recharges along the way. We reach Trishka without landing once.
The stock turns out to be a number of Data Cubes. It all looks to be pretty bland stuff, educational films and the like. You find a copy of "Jaws 557 - Sharks in Space" and chuckle to yourself. The shark still looked fake. Olaf returns with a loader and the two of you begin to push cargo.
Chased on the way back, by fighters this time. Only my railgun makes short work of them.
An officious looking woman named Ms. Hilary Crosby-Roberts meets you as the dock workers begin to off-load the Holo Cubes. She stares down her long, pointy nose at your dirty coveralls, and quickly pushes a non existent hair back into place in the wire-brush growth on her head. You get the impression that Ms Crosby-Roberts doesn't come down here too often, nor anywhere where dirt might exist. She quickly thanks you for making the delivery, and passes you a chip for 30,000 credits. You whistle under your breath. She must have REALLY needed those Holo Cubes.
Is random plot-dumping better or worse than contrived exposition in a silly accent?
You return to Viking without too many problems. The occasional pirate skims past you, but as your beloved Black Joke is fairly new and has not been on the shipping lists of many ports, the pirates have little to no idea of what you may be carrying. You have no doubt that as your ship becomes better known, you will have to consider escorts, or the purchase of needed upgrades. But for the meantime you are more than happy to let them think you are too small to hassle. Piracy was once the random attacking of many smaller ships by loosely organized fleets. Now many of the larger groups had banded together, creating a highly organized criminal network. The largest fleet is run by a pirate called McGowan. He has been the scourge of the Galactic North for over twenty years, but his tentacles reach further than that. It is rumored that he even had control of large sections of the Main shipyards on half a dozen major Federation worlds. You hope that one day the Federation finally finds a method of capturing the man, but until then, most shipping lanes will be at his mercy.
You have barely stepped into the bar when Olaf pushes you back out.
"Sorry kid," he says, "But I've got a rush delivery to Spacedock III in the Alphara system. You need to get going right away. Feel up to it?"
You sigh. Olaf has always been keen on keeping things working overtime. You nod your assent, and turn and start heading back to the port.
We're jumped by a fairly large fleet. I take the more expedient route of luring them into a Vell-os patrol. Hilarity ensues.
Olaf walks beside you, and briefs you on your up-coming trip on the way.
"You've got to get to Spacedock III, but I'm afraid it might be harder than ye might think. Ye're going to be shipping some incredibly expensive military hardware for the Federation Navy. In an attempt to avoid being attacked by a huge Pirate fleet while so much action is going on the Auroran Border, the fleet is shipping the most vital components on private freighters. The mission is very hush-hush, but ye should take care anyway. The criminal underbelly would love to lay their hands on this stuff, not to mention the Aurorans. Take care, and be as quick as possible. Once ye're done, come back and see me here. I'll have more work for ye. What we will make from this will speed up my plans by a substantial amount. So god-speed, and good luck."
It is possible to get into this storyline by getting Michaleen killed, in which case you aren't anonymous, but people figure you're still working for the Wild Geese. The story actually acknowledges this if you did so, which is a nice touch.
A group of Federation dockworkers is being escorted by a large squad of Security Police. You begin to think about how many eyes are watching the cargo being loaded, and noting the name of your ship, its armaments (or lack thereof) and passing the information on to much more dangerous others. It makes your skin crawl, but it would do serious damage to your reputation to back out at such a late stage. You just have to go ahead with it, keep your eyes open, and hope for the best. It is with a rueful smile that you kiss goodbye your anonymity.
Another Manticore tries to ambush us, leaving a nice gift of a disabled Fed Destroyer alongside its death explosion. Another 100k to add to our coffers. The Feds aren't too happy about us blowing the ship up afterwards, though.
Friday the 13th MCXII, obviously.
You cannot help feeling that you may as well not have bothered with all the time you spent on repairs now that the various pirates know that you handle major cargo. Much of the entire trip back was spent hastily jumping into hyperspace to avoid any pursuing pirate ships. You have never been happier to set down in your life.
The Federation Navy cargo handlers whistle under their breaths at the extent of the laser scarring and armor damage. To say that you are glad to be rid of this 'secret' cargo would be an understatement. It feels as if every pirate in the Universe has been trying to kill you, and all for the crates that are being unloaded. You don't even know what's in them.
I have my eyes on a nice Pirate Valkyrie...
You ask one of the cargo handlers what is actually in the crates, but one of the Naval Officers steps forward and says, "Sorry, that information is 'classified', and only released on a 'need-to-know' basis. Unfortunately, you don't need to know." He spins on his heel and walks away.
You feel like telling him that you do need to know, as you are about to spend hours and credits repairing a ship that was pounded half to puss in getting the goods here. Before you can say this, however, a junior officer steps forward and hands you a chip for 50,000 credits. Your protests stop in your throat, and you start planning the upgrades to your ship you can now make thanks to the Federation Navy.
Prepare for plot dump.
Olaf turns to you as you enter the bar. The last run has left you feeling a little drained; your clashes with pirates have left you short on fuel and patience. "Rough trip?" Olaf says as he raises a quizzical eyebrow in your direction.
"I am sick to death of having to deal with pirates," you say, waving for a drink. "They are making life increasingly difficult for honest folk to make a living. I'm going to have to kill a few people if this keeps up, but I have to admit that I don't mind saying that I'd kill off a hell of a lot more if I had the opportunity. Why doesn't the Federation Navy just clean them out once and for all?"
You see a dark look cross Olaf's face, and you catch yourself wondering what could have left Olaf so bitter. For as long as you have known him he has held a grudge against the Central Government. You have always felt it was because Olaf is a fair man, and one who is not afraid to speak out to expose injustice. In his lifetime he has seen many horrible episodes, including the death of your parents. He has never spoken of it to you, but you know that the scars still run deep in his heart from the events of that day.
His gaze returns to your eyes, and you get the impression that the time is coming near for him to unburden himself of the horror he has carried for too long.
"Listen," he whispers as he takes your hand in his. "Back in the old days, yer father was feeling much the same way. Cut-throats intercepted his shipments, and the Federation made legal trade almost impossible, with their export taxes, and their exorbitant charges for escorts and other protection. The Federation bled the small companies dry with their tithes, while cultivating the old Leviathans and their rich hereditary owners. They maintained their monopoly with their kickbacks.
"Seeing as Unions and Associations had been outlawed, yer father decided to form a secret organization. 'The Association of Free Traders' was formed. We shared information and risk by travelling in our own convoys with ships modified to carry armaments. We built our own shipyard, out in the Galactic North where I was chief designer.
"It wasn't that we were criminals. We just realized that the system wasn't fair for people like us, and that it was our duty to find ways to circumvent its holds. As yer father used to say, 'When injustice becomes law, then resistance becomes duty.'"
"So what happened?" you ask.
Olaf's expression darkens. "McGowan."
"McGowan," he glowers. "Y'see, yer dad had became known as the "Pirate King" and life was good. His ship 'Unrelenting' was one of the greatest ships I or anyone had ever built. She was a heavily modified Carrier, with a better weapons platform and more powerful engines. Slowly we began to lose more and more shipments to the Federation, and yer father sent McGowan to investigate why. Yer father had seen his smarts and put him on the Board of Advisers, the controlling body of the Association. McGowan organized a meeting between yer father, the Board of Advisers and the other privateers who hadn't joined the Association. He said that they had information vital to the Association's survival.
"So the 'Unrelenting' and the others exited hyperspace at the meeting place, a far off system inhabited by no bugger, only to find the mother of all Federation battle-fleets waiting for them.
"It was a trap, and McGowan had betrayed us all. Yer father marshalled a fierce last stand, allowing most of the fleets to jump to safety, but was killed in the process along with yer mum and almost every friend I had ever known. I was one of the few to make it off 'Unrelenting' alive, and I brought ye with me.
"I vowed that they would be avenged, but I knew that I was not the man to do it. My responsibility was to keep the promise I made to yer mother, to keep ye alive, so that ye may take yer place at the head of the organization of Free Traders. And so that ye could make the Federation pay for their corruption, and avenge your parents, by killing the black hearted McGowan."
Get a cool ship, get lots of money, avenge parents. Sounds like a plan. We head to Codec, the bioweapons planet.
The story that Olaf has told you has made your blood boil.
"Where do I begin?" you ask.
"Remember, the secret of having a strong organization is to have lots of members. Even now, many old hands keep at their trades, slipping secret shipments of contraband through Federation Space. The structure of the Association is still pretty much in place, less those who joined the rebels.
"The first thing ye have to do is convince 'em ye're trustworthy. I's held as much together in these past years as I could. I know I prob'ly should have told ye about it, but I didn't want to place ye under any pressure. The past few runs have been very good, and the people I have kept in contact with are happy to sign on.
"You should go to Codec in the Codehaven system and speak to Dace. She was yer father's bookkeeper in the old days, and she's minded things as best she could. I'm afraid that some of yer father's money has gone to funding things for the Rebels, but I knew that was where yer father's allegiance would have been if he had lived. However, there is still a large inheritance to be collected from Dace.
"Also let her know that the Association is back under way again, and to expect membership fees to be coming in soon. Once ye have done all that, head back here to me."
Officially, the main exports of Codec are the results of its enormous medical and computing research centers. Unofficially, Codec is the center for Federation bio-weapons research and its information technology warfare department. Many of the doctors and young computer professionals of this world are engaged in technically illegal activities, but because they give some of the results to the Federation military, they remain free from persecution. As a result, if information or illegal biotechnology is what you want, you can get it all here, if you can pay the price.
Codec's Bar posted:
As you walk in you cannot see a lot in this dark smoke-filled bar. As your eyes adjust you notice many small groups leaning closely together furtively discussing things which you would prefer not to know about. You quickly reach the conclusion that you should probably spend as little time in here as necessary.
This puts us up to over a million credits, and no excuse to avoid decking out a very nice ship. I think this is the largest single mission payment you can get in the game, and it's within 10 minutes of starting the storyline!
Dace's office is in a dingy back alley far from the Spaceport. On entering you're surprised to see the obvious opulence of the furnishings. Dace appears, smiling at you as she recognizes you.
"Ah, you must be Coronne Harlock." She waves behind you, and you turn to see a large man step out of a hidden alcove. He is huge, with bulging arms and long, black hair. In his hands is a painful looking blaster pistol, so large that the recoil from it would tear your arms out of their sockets.
"This is Hargor Both Barrels, an old friend of mine. Your father found him in a burnt out wreck of an Auroran Cruiser. He was the ship's boy - the only survivor. He swore an oath to serve your father as long as he lived."
"Most of us call him Gor." His handshake nearly crushes your hand, and Dace smiles knowingly. In a back room, she hands you a credit stick.
"It's not much, but it's all we have lying around right at the minute," she notes quietly, and you raise your eyebrows. The credit stick is worth 480,000, which is a fair chunk of cash in anyone's vernacular, and if this is 'lying around cash' you cannot wait to see what the serious money is like. After a couple of moments you shake off your surprise you quickly pass on to her that the Association of Free Traders will be up and running and to expect membership fees.
"It will be an honor working with you," she concludes quietly.
With that you head back, with a healthier bank balance, but with a feeling you are about to spend a lot of money.
Next time: Spending money.