From the Flight Log of Freighter Pilot Camdon Rod
“Spire destroys four small satellites from Cygnus.”
Normally, I wouldn’t care about headlines like this at all. Spire is a small band (probably) of rebels and revolutionaries who not only dislike the Consortium, but actively fight against them, usually by sabotaging their holdings in the Outer Regions. Cygnus is a subsidiary of the Consortium that produces and distributes automated spacecraft for colony worlds or planets newly joining the Outer Region.
Thanks for joining me. I’m Camdon Rod, the owner and operator of the jump freighter Ginger’s Regret. My co-pilot and engineer is the original Ginger, who just also happens to be the ship. No, she’s not AI. About fifty years ago or so, she was caught EVA outside the Regret when it spontaneously jumped through hyperspace.
Ginger’s flesh and blood body didn’t survive, but everything else important about her fused with the freighter. Although she can manifest as a warm-blooded woman for certain periods of time, she is the heart, soul, and personality of the ship.
For the most part, we make an honest living, but let’s face it, this is the Outer Region of the Consortium, sort of a frontier where things like “rules” and “laws” can be pretty relaxed. It’s why I work here and don’t mind having some shady dealings from time to time. It goes with the job description.
The Regret was recently retrofitted with a specialized jump drive capable of arriving at any destination without it having been swept of debris first. More accurately, this drive projects an energy field into the destination space while the ship is still in hyperspace, sweeping a 1,500 kilometer sphere clean. The ship arrives safely in that sphere milliseconds later. If we didn’t have this drive, we’d be stuck plying our trade only between worlds where the Consortium maintains clean jump points.
A mysterious being from a realm in hyperspace disguised as the son of one of the twelve who run the Consortium gifted us the advanced drive in exchange for returning him to his realm.
Ginger and I have managed to keep our possession of the drive a secret and it allows new business opportunities…such as smuggling.
Even in the Outer Regions, smuggling is frowned upon, but it’s not entirely unknown, either. In fact, there’s a network of us.
Any competent Outer Region freighter pilot knows how to send and receive encrypted messages through a portion of hyperspace known as the Dark Web or Dark Network. It’s one of the frustrations of the Consortium that they can’t read traffic in this portion of hyperspace, and it lets freelancers like me send and receive private queries, such as letting potential customers know I can jump to where 99% of commercial freighters can’t.
That’s where the news headline comes in. I received it on the D-Net, so Cygnus and their bosses, the Consortium, don’t know a thing about it.
“Cam, all I’m reading is dust orbiting the Shellik colony world. Energy signature matches standard blasters and the decay indicates the satellites were destroyed about a week ago.”
“Consistent with the news report, Ging. In this case, Spire is good for business.”
Oh, did I mention that we were hired to take four replacement satellites to Shellik and put them into orbit? No, they weren’t made by Cygnus which means the Consortium can’t take control of the colony’s communications, weather projections, and geothermal monitoring, among other things. Colonists tend to be rather independent folk.
If the Consortium ever finds that out, penalties will be severe for the colonists. If the Consortium ever finds out I was hired to deliver the satellites, I might was well use my advanced jump drive to leave known-space and never return.
“I’ll handle communications with the colony and let them know we’re deploying their satellites, while you put them in their proper orbits, okay Ging?”
“Roger, roger.” Now she’s just goofing off. No one says “Roger, roger.”
“Right.” I’m chuckling.
“Shellik colony, this is freighter pilot. Proceeding to deploy replacement satellites.” They don’t need to know my name. They don’t need to know the ship’s name. They just need to send my payment to my anonymous “offshore” (bit of a misnomer) account.
“Copy that, freighter. Proceeding with transfer of funds for balance of payment. Advise when satellite deployment complete.”
“Acknowledged, Shellik colony.”
I got half up front to pick up the satellites, never mind where, and transport them. The rest gets paid upon delivery, which is now.
It’s a sweet life and all tax-free.
Technically, Shellik doesn’t have a jump point in its system. One is proposed, but the Consortium sweeper device which will establish it won’t arrive for several more weeks. It’s the Consortium’s way of maintaining control of what supplies arrive at the nascent colony world.
Once the satellites are deployed, stable in their orbits, and I notify Shellik the job is done, I head toward the proposed jump point. When I get there, Ginger will fire up the jump drive projector field and sweep the area clean. She won’t have to do that at the other end, because we’re headed back to Marconii, our home port, and it’s been established for fifty years.
“Cam, we’re receiving a message on the comm.”
“No, it’s coming through hyperspace. It’s from the D-Net and there’s no ID.”
“Put it through. Maybe word of mouth has gotten us another job.”
“Camdon Rod aboard the Ginger’s Regret. This is Spire.”
I’m startled by two revelations. The first is that they know my name and the ship’s registry, and Spire is contacting me personally. They shouldn’t know anything about me. The D-Net thrives on anonymity and I don’t want what the Consortium calls a “terrorist organization” to know too much about my illicit activities.
What choice do I have? I respond.
“This is the Regret acknowledging transmission from Spire.”
I can hear Ginger in my head which means what she says doesn’t go out over the open comm. “Can’t trace it or ID it, Cam.”
It would have been the wildest stroke of luck if she could, but I know she had to try.
“Are you available for another job?”
“Depends. What’s the job?”
“Jump to the coordinates being transmitted to your nav comp and we’ll talk.”
They can send me co-ordinates and they’re automatically routed to the Regret’s navigational computer, but they can’t make me jump there.
“What’s in it for me?”
The voice, I can’t even tell if it’s a man or a woman, quotes me an obscene price, something like ten times what I got for the Shellik job. My first reaction is greed immediately followed by extreme caution. A price that big means a big job with big risks.
“As a sign of good faith, we’ve already transferred ten percent of the total to your encrypted account.”
Ginger checks this a lot faster than I’d be able to and she’s still in my head. “It’s there, Cam. Damn.”
Even Ginger is impressed which is hard to do with someone who was vaporized then left to haunt a jump freighter for a half-century.
I can “sense” Ginger’s anxiety about all this and believe me, I share it. This could be some sort of trap. Maybe Consortium agents have found a way to penetrate the D-Net, maybe Spire has it in for me for some reason, or maybe it’s not even Spire but someone else who wants me out of the way.
Or maybe it is Spire and the job is so dangerous that what they say they’ll pay me is for hazardous duty or even death risk.
There’s been enough of a pause that Spire must be wondering if I’m going to bite or not. On the other hand, I’ve never been known for passing up business or risk.
“Acknowledging receipt of payment. Acknowledging receipt of co-ordinates. Preparing for jump.”
I can “feel” Ginger tense up but she’s not saying “no.” I’ve checked the co-ordinates and they’re outside of known-space. Ginger gets the jump drive projector ready.
“We await your arrival. Spire out.” They close the comm before I can ack.
“Jump in 3…2…1…” Ginger’s voice momentarily fades as the Regret stops being in Shellik’s system and starts being…where?
“Scanning the system, Cam. One inhabitable world approximately six hours away at space norm.”
“I can’t get a clear reading of the planet. Looks like some sort of sensor scattering field, but check this out. At 180 degrees opposite, in the direction of known-space and the Consortium, is a massive dark dust cloud. Seems to absorb all EM radiation.”
“Meaning you can’t see this system from the Consortium, Ging. A convenient hideout for pirates, smugglers, and terrorists.”
“Comm coming in.”
“Ginger’s Regret. This is Spire. Please pilot to planet three of this system and enter standard orbit. You will receive more instructions upon arrival.”
“Ginger’s Regret to Spire. Acknowledging transmission. We’re on our way.”
Ginger has now manifested in the co-pilot’s chair. I’ve gotten used to her suddenly appearing next to me, so I just turn toward her. “Too late to back out now.”
“I was afraid you were going to say that, lover.”
The six-hour transit is uneventful unless you count my sweating bullets the whole way in. Ginger keeps trying to scan the planet but the scattering field, or whatever it is, prevents us from gathering much detail.
“Oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere. Mass approximately that of Marconii, 62% of the surface covered with oceans. A prime colony world, Cam.”
“If anyone knew it was here.”
“I wonder how Spire found it?”
“We’re about to enter orbit, Ging. Maybe we’re about to find out.”
Ginger takes the Regret into a standard orbit about the planet. We wait.
Fifteen minutes later, the anonymous voice comes over the comm, still encrypted and scrambled so I can’t be absolutely sure it’s coming from the planet.
“Ginger’s Regret, this is Spire. Welcome.”
“Thanks. What’s the job?”
“We have a proposition for you Mr. Rod. I understand you are the sort of person we can rely upon, someone who shares our interest in privacy and dislike of the Consortium.”
“We require certain items to be ferried from various worlds to this one and done so in a discrete manner.”
“If you accept employment, you will be provided with a list for the first cargo run.”
“How many runs total.”
“We estimate ten to twelve.”
That explains the high price tag. They want me to haul multiple shipments of whatever from secure locations to this one. Makes me wonder.
“How do you know you can trust me?” I’m thinking, how do I know I can trust you? I’m guessing Spire wants to make this planet their colony hidden away from the Consortium. That knowledge might be my life insurance policy or it might make me an extreme liability once they get what they want.
“We can trust you because we possess certain knowledge about your co-pilot.”
I don’t know if my heart really skipped a beat but it sure felt like it.
“Elaborate.” I give away nothing…I hope.
“We know about Ginger Phie. We know of her demise over fifty years ago. We know of her…role aboard the Regret.”
“So what?” I mean even if they do know the whole truth, who are they going to tell and how would they prove it anyway?
“Cam!” Ginger winks out of existence just after screaming inside my skull.
“We know how to stop her.”
“Bring her back you…” I’m getting ready to plunge the Regret through the atmosphere, find whoever is on the other side of the connection, and break their neck.
Ginger’s instantly back in the co-pilot’s seat. She’s trembling. The poor kid is terrified. Much as I’d like to comfort her, I’ve got to deal with Spire first.
“Don’t you ever do that again!” I have no idea how they did it at all or how they found out about Ginger.
“Of course not, Mr. Rod. We just wanted to make the conditions of your employment clear, including the fact that you will tell no one of our deal or the location of this planet.”
“I’m no double-crosser. Once I make a deal, I stick to it.”
“So do we, Mr. Rod.”
I receive a set of coordinates located within the Outer Region, a manifest of the cargo I’m supposed to pick up, acquisition and delivery dates and times. I’ll have almost two weeks to complete the first part of the job.
“Acknowledging receipt of your last transmission.”
“The completion of the projected number of cargo runs does not necessarily end our relationship. We always have work requiring a resourceful and covert pilot such as you. Please keep that in mind. This conversation is at an end, Mr. Rod. We will see you again when you deliver the first shipment. Spire out.”
They break the connection on their end.
I grab Ginger and pull her to me the second Spire stops transmitting. “Honey, what happened? Are you okay?”
She snuggles against me. “It was horrible, Cam. It’s like I stopped…being.”
I let her cry on my chest for a while. She calms down.
“I’m okay now, Cam.” She eases herself back in the co-pilot’s chair.
She’s still shaken up, so I plot and execute the course back to the point we entered the system.
We’re about thirty minutes out from the planet. “What are we going to do, Cam?”
“I don’t see we have much choice. Money has changed hands. I said ‘yes’ and I suspect if I’d said ‘no’, we might be a slowly cooling dust cloud orbiting the planet right now.”
“You mean we’re stuck working with Spire.”
“For the time being. Maybe for a long time. Spire suggested that we could end up in an ongoing relationship with them.”
“I knew that going in. I just didn’t know how dangerous.” She knows what I mean. Spire is dangerous to Ginger.
Whoever, whatever Spire is, they’re a lot more than just some bunch of disgruntled Outer Region mavericks who formed a grass-roots rebellion to push back against the Consortium.
But what does that make them and what happens to us now that we’re involved with Spire?
First those creatures from hyperspace inject themselves into our lives and now Spire. We jump back to Marconii and an increasingly uncertain future.
I read an article the other day called Spire deploys four satellites from Cygnus, however I misread it as “Spire destroys four satellites from Cygnus”. I immediately imagined Spire to be a terrorist organization and Cygnus being an alien world they opposed. I adapted that “mistake” to become the basis for this short story in the Camdon Rod series. Hope you like it.
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.
The next story in this series is We’re Either Stopping Genocide or Starting It.