Payback

gunpoint

Image: International Business Times UK

From the Flight Log of Freighter Pilot Camdon Rod

Oh crap! I just remembered that the Bio Research Center for Evolutionary Design located on Delta Epsiloni Four put out a hit on me over two years ago. Really, it wasn’t my fault that I lost their shipment of hundreds of thousands of biosamples developed on over a dozen worlds in the Consortium. It’s not my fault that a jump drive accident sent my former ship, the Cynnabar Breen, on a one-way trip out of known-space and into the ocean of a young alien world. It’s not my fault that all of their samples, mutated by radiation from the Breen’s ruined space norm drive, began to breed at a geometric rate, contaminating the planet’s biosphere and resulting in the Consortium quarantining said-planet for tens or hundreds of thousands of years.

It’s not my fault, but those crazy geneticists don’t see it that way.

Oh, by the way, my name is Camdon Rod and I’m the owner and operator of the hyperspace freighter Ginger’s Regret. Ginger, the ship’s named after her, is the co-pilot, engineer, and literal personality of the ship (long story, but if you’ve been reading these long entries for a while, you’ll know).

We took a job ferrying some DNA analysis equipment from our main port of Marconii to the Bio Research Center for Evolutionary Design on Epsiloni and now we’re approaching Marconii’s jump point about to deliver the goods. I remembered too late about how the scientists at that place hate my guts (I assume they still do) and hired an assassin to off me.

Oh well, that was a long time ago. Maybe they forgot.

Not damn likely. I destroyed years of research. It wasn’t my fault. In fact it was the Consortium’s for not keeping the jump point near Epsiloni clear which resulted in my accident, but the Bio Research people can’t get to the Consortium. They can only get to me.

“Three minutes to the jump point, Cam.”

Ginger’s sitting in the co-pilot’s chair but technically she doesn’t have to be here materially. Basically, the freighter is her “body” so all she has to do is think about it and the ship does what she wants.

“Got it, Ging. Jump plotted into the nav computer, drive’s powered up and we’re ready to go.”

Ginger just lets me do these little tasks because, after all, I’m the owner and pilot of the Regret, and of course, because we’re in love with each other.

I haven’t told her about the hit because I just remembered it myself. Too late now.

“Jump in three, two, one…”

Ginger’s voice trails off as the jump drive activates and we instantly arrive at the Epsiloni jump point. Well, it’s instantaneous for me and the ship, but I found out some time ago that Ginger experiences our transition through jump space. I did as well for a while, but it was driving me crazy, so we solved that little problem.

Since we discovered there are life forms in one of the hyperspace realms, I think her perceptions have changed, maybe even been blocked, but our lives have been pretty busy lately, and I haven’t thought to ask her about it.

Too late now. I’m acknowledging Delta Epsiloni’s ship arrival message. In a couple of hours, we’ll be taking the ship down into the atmosphere and docking at the freighter port.

Maybe those homicidal scientists won’t know it’s me. I’m in a completely different ship and the only information they’d get about the shipment is the registry name of the freighter. Who cares who the pilot is?

*****

The equipment is being off loaded by longshoremen and put on a ground transport. One of the technicians from the Research Center is present to supervise, but I don’t recognize him. I have to be present during off loading because it’s my freighter and I’m responsible for any cargo I haul until it’s transferred into the customer’s hands.

We do a brief meet and greet but he doesn’t seem to recognize my name, so maybe I’ll get away with this short little visit. Ginger’s monitoring the transaction with her external sensors and has a covert blaster covering us just in case.

Yeah, after nearly being hijacked, I added some light arms as a means of defense. I’d be helpless against a battleship, but my added weaponry will surprise any pirate we might come across.

It’s late in the day, so the routine but mandatory inspection of the Regret won’t be finished until tomorrow morning and we can’t leave until they’re done.

That means spending the night here, but that shouldn’t be a problem. I hope it’s not a problem. I’ve been concentrating on the guy from the Research Center and only been paying cursory attention to the longshoremen. As it will turn out, that was a mistake.

*****

Normally, I’d send out a “Freighter available” signal to the network and stay on Epsiloni until I got a response, but I can’t wait to blow this mud ball, so as soon as we’re cleared in the morning, Ginger and I are headed for the jump point and back to Marconii. I’ll spend the night inside the Regret with Ginger. I’m sure we’ll figure out a way to spend our time, hopefully involving lingerie, her’s that is.

We don’t get that far.

I’m finishing cleaning up in the galley after dinner. Ginger doesn’t need to eat, but we enjoy talking over my meal. She’s nowhere to be seen now since she can’t always be material, but we’ve agreed to meet in my cabin as soon as I’m done here.

“Cam. Incoming message.” Her voice is coming over the comm.

“What is it? Answer to our ‘available’ query?” I close the dishwasher and push the start button.

“Nope. Local. One of the inspectors says he left a scanner on board near one of the landing struts. He thinks he’s talking to the ship’s automatic response system.”

“Okay, I’ll go and help him look for it. You stay out of sight.” I head down the corridor walking toward the main cargo deck. I’ll exit the ship out of the cargo port. He’s probably standing there waiting right now.

“Out of sight but not out of mind, lover.”

She’s flirting with me, knowing I’m annoyed at this delay to our rendezvous.

I walk down the ramp to the hanger floor and see him standing there waiting, just like I thought. Big guy. Lots of muscle. Cap slung low over his forehead puts his face in shadow. All I can see is a bushy beard covering his jaw.

Don’t recognize him as one of the inspectors. Wait. I do remember him. One of the longshoremen. What the…

For a guy his size, he’s fast. I barely see the punch coming before he decks me. I start to get up and that’s when he pulls the hand blaster out of his coat and points the barrel at my chest.

“Get up slowly, Rod. No funny stuff.”

Who the hell is this guy? I don’t recognize the face or voice. The Center probably made me and sent this thug to do me in.

Wait! I do recognize him.

I slowly stand up.

“Come back to finish what you started the last time I was here?” Yeah, I recognize him. He’s the same assassin the Center hired to bump me off before I managed to escape on the Cleric’s Hope by taking a job aboard her as First Mate.

“Not exactly. Turn around and start walking up the cargo ramp.”

I do as he says obeying that time-honored maxim “Whoever holds the blaster makes the rules.” I know Ginger’s monitoring all this, but she won’t take the chance of him shooting me if she makes a move. I’m counting on her to work something out and soon.

My back is to him but I can hear him hitting the manual control to close the cargo bay.

“If you’re going to shoot me, why do it aboard my freighter?”

“I won’t shoot you unless I have to, Rod. You’re my ticket out of here.”

I turn to face him but keep my hands in plain sight. “What? What are you talking about?”

“You screwed up my life but good, Mister. Now you’re gonna fix it.”

“Wait. You were the one trying to kill me. All I did was escape.”

“That’s the problem. I’ve never blown a hit before.”

“You obviously never had a hit with intelligence greater than a slug before.” Hard to believe this guy is good at his job or anyone else’s.

“Shut up. You ruined my rep. I got expelled from the Assassin’s Guild. My career was gone. No one would touch me.”

I know it sounds ridiculous, even to me, but in the Outer Regions of Consortium space, there aren’t a lot of rules. Professions considered illegal such as thieves or assassins can form guilds. Criminal organizations are tolerated out here and sometimes even embraced.

Of course, in the Inner Regions of the Consortium, there are still assassins and thieves but they work for the Consortium. Anyone who wants to freelance comes out here, joins the relevant guild, and starts building a clientele.

“I see you’ve gotten a job as a longshoreman. Not a bad life, really.”

“That’s a disguise, you moron.”

I can’t believe this dim lighting panel is calling me a moron.

“I still had a few friends. Got one to forge a new ID for me so I could take this job and wait. I figured you’d eventually bring in a shipment of something to Epsiloni.”

“You want revenge?”

“I want passage. After I lost you and got kicked out of the guild, those scientists who hired me to take you out still wanted blood. Since they couldn’t have yours, they decided to take mine.”

“They actually put out a hit on you, an assassin?”

“Yeah, that’s something, isn’t it? Good thing I know all the local guys and gals working hits. I know how to avoid most of them, and the few I can’t avoid, I bribed. That won’t last forever, though. Sooner or later, one of the bribed ones will double-cross me or one of the others will just get lucky.”

“So you want off Epsiloni.”

“That’s right.”

“Why wait for me? I might never have come back. Why not another freighter or transport?”

“You know it’s not that simple.”

He’s right. Forging digital ID to get a local job on an Outer Region world is one thing, but to get passage off world requires a deep background check and bioscan. Any competent assassin will monitor that data and zero right in on target.

Good thing this guy wasn’t that competent, or I probably wouldn’t have been able to leave on the Hope. Of course, I was on board the Hope before he would have had a chance to check outgoing passenger and crew data.

“Besides my life, what’s in it for me?”

“You owe me, Rod.”

“I don’t owe you anything. I left to stay alive. Same reason you’re leaving now.”

“Look.” He lowers his weapon and I lower my hands. Good thing. Holding my arms up was killing me.

“All I want is a little off-the-books trip out of here to whatever world you go to next. After that, we part company. No harm, no foul.”

He puts his blaster back inside his coat. He knows he can’t kill me if he expects me to pilot the Regret off world after those pesky inspections are done. Fortunately, they already inspected crew quarters.

“Is it a deal?” He holds out his hand.

I kind of feel sorry for him. I know what it’s like when your luck turns bad.

“Yeah, sure.” We shake on it. “You’ve got yourself passage.” I must be nuts.

I only have one crew cabin, mine, so I set him up in the infirmary after making sure everything’s locked up.

Ginger meets me in the control cabin. “Are you crazy, Cam? Didn’t he try to kill you?”

“Maybe I am nuts Ginger, but he needs our help.”

“Since when did you become altruistic?”

She’s right. I don’t usually do anything unless there’s something in it for me.

“I can’t help it, Ging. I just have a feeling this is the right thing to do.”

“You make no sense.” She’s pouting, and part of it is now we don’t have the ship to ourselves. No hanky panky in my cabin tonight.

“We just off load this guy on the next world we visit, no muss or fuss.”

“We still have to pass inspections tomorrow before lift off and where ever we land will have inspectors too. How are you going to get him off the ship? Even Outer Region worlds are strict on smuggling.”

“You’ve got a good point, but I have an idea.”

*****

I file a flight plan that takes us to the Cecil mining outpost in the neighboring Gamma Epsiloni system. It’s where I bought the Regret from Oberlin Phie, Ginger’s former husband. Technically, she made him a widower fifty years before his death made her a widow, but either way, Ging isn’t thrilled with my idea.

I noticed on the jobs wanted board, there was a shipment of drilling equipment and food stuffs waiting to be hauled to Cecil. The regular supply ship was delayed due to maintenance problems, so I agreed to do the job.

It’s a little unusual for a jump freighter to ship cargo that strictly goes space norm, but not unheard of. Besides, I had other motivations.

If the Outer Region worlds have more “relaxed” rules than the interior of Consortium space, then mining asteroids and the like are practically lawless. They don’t give a rip who comes and who goes as long as it doesn’t effect profits. I figured an assassin turned longshoreman could find work on Cecil.

*****

Cargo dock on Gamma Outpost Cecil. I stake my would-be killer a few credits and some supplies to get him started. Turnover on hellholes like Cecil is tremendously high, so I figure he’ll find work soon enough, like in an hour or so.

“Can’t tell you what this means to me, Rod. You probably saved my life.”

We’re standing at the foot of the cargo ramp. Equipment and supplies were off loaded hours ago. The Regret can take off at any time. Ginger’s stayed out of sight and hasn’t said a word to me since I told her we were coming here. I don’t blame her. Lots of memories on this rock she’d just as soon forget.

“I’ve been in tough spots before and gotten an even break. Figured I’d pass that along for once.”

He extends his hand. “Name’s Domik Xando.”

I take it. “Camdon Rod, but you already know that.”

“Just want you to know you made a friend today. I was wrong about you owing me. I owe you one, Rod. I probably won’t be able to repay, but if you need help, look me up. I’m likely going to be here for a while.”

“I’ll keep you in mind, Domik.”

“Thanks again, Cam.”

He shoulders the duffel I gave him and walks toward the outpost. I hope I never see him again.

*****

I plot a course to the Gamma Epsiloni jump point, but we’re pretty far off the beaten path, so it’ll take over a day to get there at space norm. I give the Yizzkah Anomaly a wide berth. I don’t want to go anywhere near that thing. I had enough trouble with it last time I was here.

Ginger’s still not speaking to me. Like I said, I don’t blame her. Not sure why I did Xando that favor. It wasn’t to save my life. Xando had no intention of killing me. So why did I do it?

If I figure that one out, I’ll let you know. Maybe I’m just getting soft in my old age.

If you want to read Camdon Rod’s adventures from the very beginning, start with The Last Flight of the Cynnabar Breen and keep clicking the links to the subsequent short stories. Eventually, you’ll get back here. Don’t forget to let me know what you think.

Thanks.

The next story in the series is Spire.

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2 thoughts on “Payback

  1. Nice change of pace…the guy might develop a heart instead of just gonads, and Ginger might like that. Besides, no risk, no conflict, no story, and no future favors to be collected in the future.

    Like

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