Cian stood there staring at the empty space where his gunship had been less than an hour ago. The men in sleek black power armor were scanning the site and questioning bystanders, but hadn’t noticed him yet. He was still standing there staring at them when a pebble suddenly pegged him in the side of the head.
Cian looked over and spotted Vanna behind a building, motioning to him frantically. He quickly stepped back and away from the docking area and moved to meet Vanna.
“What’s going on?” asked Cian in a hushed voice.
Vanna shushed him and motioned for him to follow.
Cian followed Vanna through alleys and around buildings for a good twenty minutes before they came upon a large building. Vanna punched a code into a keypad and a door opened to let them in.
Inside was nothing but a huge empty space, and in the middle stood their little gunship. The roof had enormous retractable doors. It was a private hangar.
“What’s going on? Where are we?” asked Cian again as the door closed behind them.
“Private hangar owned by a friend of Borano’s. I had to pay two thousand credits to use it, plus another three thousand to scrub the dock logs. I don’t know what you did, but it attracted some real bad attention. Kitani Syndicate, or some other black ops with serious power who don’t like flying their colors. You do something with that artifact we found?” explained Vanna accusingly.
“Uh… Yeah. I forgot about it until you and Borano left. Sorry, I didn’t mean to do it without you.” said Cian sheepishly.
“Don’t worry about that. What’d it do? Where is it?” Vanna asked.
“It said it was a nanite projection amplifier. It was letting me move stuff with my mind, but it did something weird when I activated it. It said something about restoring my mental function and replacing nanites. Then it just dissolved, and I feel different now. A hundred mil down the drain, sorry.” Cian said, looking at the ground.
Vanna paled. “Nanite projection amplifier? And it let you move things with it? Oh, hell. Forget the money, we might be in deep. That kind of nanite tech is military grade. Military Weaveborn tech is highly desired by damn near everyone. Especially the Kitani Syndicate. It must have emitted some kind of signal.”
Now Cian looked pale. “Oh. It, uh… may have connected to some kind of remote storage?”
Vanna shook her head. “Leftover Weaveborn tech. Controlled by the Syndicate or I’m a raging rinjorn. You just kicked up one hell of a janga’s nest.”
Cian had no idea what a janga was, but got the idea. “Yeah. How did you get the ship away from them?”
“Stealth shuttle buzzed right over us. Real low, in restricted airspace. Had a bad feeling so I booked it back to the ship. They were buzzing the area triangulating whatever signal they had. I messaged Borano and as soon as they set down I took off for this hangar. Figured a couple thousand credit gamble is worth being wrong if wrong means dead.” said Vanna.
“Dang. Good job, I was in the market and didn’t even see anything. So what do we do now?” said Cian.
Vanna put her hand on her head and sighed. “Gotta get out of here. Whatever that artifact did, if it left a residual on the ground it prolly left something in the ship an’ on you too. Need to unload the ship somewhere and you gotta lay low for a bit. We aint been here long enough for too many lips to be talkin’ about us or know the ship’s registry. Pretty sure I got the dock log scrubbed ‘fore they tracked it down, so we may just get outta this.” She looked terrified.
“You know, you could just walk away. We already set the bounty payout to be split between us. If I manage to sell the ship I’ll send you half that too. I don’t want you to get killed because I screwed up.” said Cian.
“You didn’t walk away when I was bleedin’ out in the sands. I aint walkin’ just ‘cause things got more interesting. I’m with you, captain.” said Vanna, clapping Cian on the shoulder.
“Heh, I won’t be much of a captain when we sell the ship. But I appreciate the sentiment.” said Cian.
“We should head out soon, ‘fore they track us here. I’ll coordinate with Borano and make sure we launch when they aint looking. Let’s head to Valcim. It’s the biggest ship market on the planet, and I’m sure we can unload this thing quietly at a decent price. The weapon systems on this thing are restricted to most civilians unless you buy ‘em used or get ‘em in a salvage haul, so it should fetch a nice price. The missile fire control alone should fetch close to a mil, even without the ammo.” said Vanna.
“Oh, wow. I guess the salvage fees weren’t as bad as I thought. Ok. Let’s go, then.” said Cian as they started toward the boarding ramp.
Cian hesitated for a moment as they entered the ship. This was all still a game, right? He still needed to get a player to contact support for help. But avoiding death when he was stuck in game like this seemed prudent, and he reasoned that Valcim had more players to ask for help anyway.
Vanna contacted Borano on the ship’s communications. “Hey Bee. Need a clear day for our picnic. Got a weather report for me?”
It only took a few seconds for Borano’s reply to come back over the comms. “Hey girl. Got a clear day for now, but the rain clouds are moving in here from the west in another five. Maybe make that picnic quick, yeah? See you out there girl. Thanks for catchin’ up.”
“Thanks Bee. See you when I see you.” Vanna replied.
Vanna sent a command to the hangar, and the doors above started opening slowly. As soon as they were open enough Vanna gunned the engines and zipped out, narrowly avoiding the doors. She darted toward the northeast and dipped into the other traffic heading into orbit. Vanna pointed out the sleek black ship flying low over the city, heading toward the hangar they had just left from the west. Only her keen eye spotted them, the ship’s sensors hadn’t detected them. If their pursuers saw them, they didn’t make any effort to follow.
Now that they were out of harm’s way, Cian used one of the ship’s computers to quietly send Vanna five thousand credits to cover the money she had spent saving their ship. If she noticed, she didn’t say anything.
Valcim was on the opposite side of the planet, but with Vanna’s orbital flight path and the speed of the gunship the trip only took thirteen hours. Vanna spent some time explaining the controls and the basics of space flight to Cian before letting him take the first shift at the controls. Both of them had a turn sleeping for a few hours, and they arrived at the city in the early morning.
The city was much different from what Cian had seen the last time he was here. Billboards were lit up everywhere he looked, projecting advertisements for shops from restaurants to scrap dealers to about anything else you could imagine. A steady stream of small shuttles flew through a giant rotating hologram of a grenade launcher, detailing the specs of it and a list of local arms dealers that stocked it. The airspace was full of shuttles and all manner of flying vehicles.
The ground traffic was even more diverse, with large animals, mechanical walkers, hovering vehicles, and wheeled vehicles moving along the same roads. The sidewalks were crowded with foot traffic, with humanoids of all shapes, sizes, and colors among the crowd. A hulking reptilian looking creature stood out in the crowd, wearing simple clothes but towering above everyone else, but Cian’s interface didn’t provide any helpful hints anymore on what its species might be.
There were a few signs of the Pa’Ran attack – a damaged building here, a bit of rubble there – but for the most part the city looked to have bounced right back to the status quo.
“You ever been here?” Vanna asked, interrupting Cian’s musings.
Cian nodded. “Yeah. Right before the attack and a bit during. Was a lot different then. Looks like they bounced back pretty quick.”
“Always do. Can’t stop capitalism. I aint ever been too fond of the bigger cities. Too crowded, lotta crime. But Valcim aint bad. It’s the best place to get pretty much anything ya need. Or to quietly sell anything ya don’t.” said Vanna.
“Yeah, it’s pretty impressive. So, where we headed exactly?” asked Cian.
“DD Shipworks. Already got us docking clearance. My brother has done some work in, heh, formerly owned ship acquisition. He’s used these guys before. Salvaged patrol ships like these are tracked with a keen eye, but most of the customers who want the firepower don’t want the attention. They’ll pay us a good price and piece it out as upgrades for their other ships. Most of the stuff on this thing aint available on the open market without expensive licenses, but having a valid salvage number gets past that if they ever get searched.” said Vanna.
“Won’t the Kitani guys just track it down here and figure out that we’re involved, then come after us?” asked Cian.
“Even if they track it down, in a couple days there won’t be enough left to scan. There won’t be a record of the ship being sold here, it’ll just be scrapped and listed on the docket of some company that don’t exist. In a couple months the transponder code will be sold on the black market. The parts’ll digitally pass through a couple holding companies and won’t show up as part of any ship, unless they get tagged by the authorities and their salvage history traced. At this point we’re just bein’ paranoid, they prolly don’t even know this ship was parked in that spot when it happened. But if they’re extra thorough and scan every ship that had been spotted in it, they won’t find this one. No chance of ‘em tracking us down.” said Vanna.
“Alright. I don’t know how any of that works, but I trust your judgment.” said Cian.
Vanna showed Cian a list of valuable parts in the ship and what she had expected to get from them. If they played their cards right, she expected they could get four million for the gunship. It was more than Cian expected, considering the little gunship didn’t have an FTL drive and had so much damage. The two of them made a plan to let Vanna do most of the negotiation.
Soon they arrived at DD Workshop. Their logo was a flying dog with ship engines on its sides, and the DD stood for Dependable Dog. Cian hadn’t really noticed any dog references until now, but it seemed man’s best friend made it into the game after all. It was a busy used ship lot on the side of the city, with a massive automated ship garage and a lot of paved real estate. It looked like they had quite the stock – most of the outside space was taken up by large cargo ships.
They landed on the top level of the garage and were secured with an overhead docking clamp. A series of tracks whisked the ship along to an elevator and down into the building past many other hangars. Some were empty, but most were occupied by ships of varying types and sizes. After about five minutes, their ship was dropped off at a small hangar at the far end of a basement level.
As they disembarked a tall, lithe man with flawless pale skin and an equally flawless white suit came out of a doorway and headed toward them. He was about seven and a half feet tall, and his short hair was trimmed neat and had a metallic sheen to it like polished chrome. As he approached, his eyes flashed in the light – a bright aquamarine, almost glowing in the dim lighting. Cian’s interface wasn’t offering any details, but from what he remembered he was pretty sure this guy was Erisian – a species known for being ridiculously tall, having freaky blue glowy eyes, and for the pale skin and shiny metallic hair.
As he approached, the man smiled with a smile even brighter than his hair. He moved with effortless poise and style and spoke eloquently with a lilting, sing song tenor. “Ahh! You must be Cian and Vanna! I am Lorian Kenratha, but you may call me Lor! You spoke to my secretary on the comms. I am so tremendously pleased to make your acquaintance!”
Vanna said “Hi Lor. We’re here to sell.” and offered her hand for a handshake.
Lor bowed, grabbed the offered hand, and quickly kissed it. “Oh, no talk of business yet, lovely one!” He smoothly switched targets and gave Cian a firm handshake. “Come, come! You must be famished from your trip! I have delightful sandwiches in my office!” At that, Lor beckoned them to follow and glided off toward his office.
Vanna and Cian shared a look as they were led into the office. This guy was slick, and Cian recognized a used car salesman in any universe. The office walls were covered in images of captains and crews standing in front of newly purchased ships, huge smiles plastered on their faces. A family photo was prominently displayed on his desk. His wife was also Erisian, and her and their three kids were immaculately dressed and groomed – it was a picture perfect family.
Lor gestured to the sandwich platter on his desk, and didn’t sit until everyone had taken one. “So, tell me of your adventure! How did you come to fly a patrol gunship? I love to hear what brought friends to my door!” enthused Lor.
“We acquired it as part of a salvage venture. Now we are looking to liquidate and reinvest. Just business, friend.” said Cian.
“All claims and salvage licenses have been filed. The ship has been checked and acquisition approved by the patrol base who formerly owned it. Here is the relevant paperwork with the choice components highlighted. You’re a friend of my family, so we came to you first. We want fair market value.” added Vanna as she handed Lor a tablet with all the information on it.
“Oh, just business is so boring! Your brother always has a wonderful tale to share! But fine, fine. I’m a professional after all! Let’s have a look.” Lor said as he pulled out his own tablet and started looking up the parts that Vanna had marked.
Cian tried to follow along as Vanna took over the negotiations. She obviously had more experience with these kinds of deals, so Cian let her do most of the talking as they had agreed. The two went back and forth over every little piece of the ship, and it seemed Vanna was getting the upper hand.
“Ah, I can do six for that and one for the launcher.” said Lor.
“Six hundred? Not a credit less than ten! You can get twelve for it easy, these fire control systems are in high demand. You can see the logs, it locked onto the other patrol craft and took it down in under fifteen seconds despite countermeasures being launched. And the launcher has two second auto-loading. Twelve for the set.” Vanna countered.
“But you didn’t bring me the missiles! Ten for the set.” said Lor.
“Missiles are easy. Eleven and a quarter, but only if you give us three quarter for the chaff system.” Vanna said, pointing at another item in the list.
Lor punched a few buttons on his tablet, threw his hands up in the air theatrically, and said “Fine!”
“Now on to the retractable Gauss turrets. Two on the belly, one on the top. Linked fire control system included. Standard belt feeding ammo loader. Perfect hidden defense system for a cargo ship. I know you can get at least twenty for it. I want eighteen fifty.” said Vanna.
“Eighteen fifty? Are you trying to starve my family? The absolute most I can do is sixteen!” countered Lor energetically.
“What do you think Cian? Can we let that beauty go for sixteen? I know you wanted more.” said Vanna calmly.
Cian did as they had rehearsed, shaking his head and pretending to think. “Maybe seventeen fifty?”
“I’ll do seventeen, not a credit more!” shouted Lor.
The two went back and forth like this for over an hour, with Cian occasionally being pulled in and agreeing or commenting on something. The ship’s reactor system was another big ticket item, fetching another eight, or 800,000. The dual engines were a bit damaged, but Vanna managed to get 200,000 for each of them. Just the biggest items added up to 4,100,000. They negotiated another 477,000 for the rest of the ship in misc parts, leftover cargo, and scrap value.
Lor transferred the 4,577,000 credits over to their accounts, evenly split. Cian was surprised to see that he had 1,629,600 in his account already – the bounties must have paid out sooner than expected. Now he had 3,918,100 in his account. Plus he had the credit chip with 30,000 on it.
“Are you sure I can’t interest you in a quality pre-owned ship? I have an almost new Razor courier with Weave capability that I can let go for only three mil. Racing engines and genuine leather seats!” pitched Lor.
“Clean title?” asked Vanna.
“Erm, well. A few entanglements. Nothing in system. Still a great deal! I also have a gently used Merchantman cargo vessel. Clean title, one working engine. I’ll let it go for three and a half mil.” insisted Lor.
“We’ll think about it. Thanks Lor, we’ll be in touch.” said Vanna as they walked out. They headed back into the ship to grab their equipment.
Both of them dressed in their power armor and grabbed their weapons and backpacks. Cian grabbed the tent, canteen, and other equipment and stuffed it back in his backpack. Cian mused that you never knew when survival gear might come in handy. Plus, it wasn’t part of the sales price. Since they didn’t expect to be seeing any combat, they both hooked their helmets onto the side of their bags.
Vanna laughed as they left DD Shipworks and headed toward the nearby taxi stop. “Great place to sell ships discreetly. Not the best to buy from. Good work in there, went better than I expected. Not a bad deal.”
“Yeah. So, what now?” Cian said.
“Well, up to you. The Syndicate aint no joke, if I were you I’d get out of Kiana for a bit. Either get a spot on the crew of a ship heading out system, buy a ticket to somewhere else on a transport, or get your own ship and head out. If you do want to get your own ship, I might be persuaded to come on as engineer.” suggested Vanna with a smile.
“I do, and I would love to have you – but I need a first officer more than just an engineer. How about as partners?” Cian said.
Vanna smiled. “Partners it is then. You’re still the captain, though. I can chip in my share for the ship sale. We’ll need it to get our new ship. And if we’re partners, I should be in on the investment. ‘sides, I already got over a mil and a half from the bounties this morning. If we need it I can invest it too. No need for us to be flying a clunker, our lives might depend on it.” she insisted.
Cian smiled back. “Okay. I’m glad to have you with me Vanna. So, where should we go to buy a good ship?” asked Cian.
Vanna winked. “I know a guy.”
Cian chuckled. “Of course you do. Lead the way.”