The two of them walked out of hangar and down the hall. Several other uniformed crew were walking down the hall, but they kept to themselves and didn’t greet Cian or Jolan. They found hangar six after a bit and walked in. There was a large, boxy cargo ship inside. It was basically a big rectangle with engines on both sides and bridge on the front. Three bulky landing gear was extended and holding it up, and a small ramp was extended from the back. It must have several times the cargo space of the Equinox, but wasn’t pretty.
“There you are. We need someone to make a supply run. It should be quick, the link to Yienna from here is only three days and Yang Station is close to the edge of the system. The round trip should only take you a week. Get in, buy some supplies, and get out. There may be humans in the area, so we can’t make the trip – but you two shouldn’t have a problem. Neither of you have Coalition bounties, do you?” said Bann.
“I don’t.” said Cian.
“Never been to coalition space, so I don’t think so.” said Jolan.
“You two can pilot a cargo ship, right? You owned one Cian, but I never asked.” said Bann.
“Yeah. I can handle it.” said Cian.
“No clue how to fly a ship, but I can provide moral support!” said Jolan, smiling.
“Okay. Two is better than one from a security standpoint. I took the liberty of repairing your armor and we had your gauss rifles maintained. Do you need other weapons? We can outfit you from our armory. We need you to buy a lot of expensive supplies. You’ll need to be discreet and don’t tell anyone you’re heading into the Wastes. This cargo ship doesn’t have weapon systems, try not to attract attention.” said Bann.
“I use swords. You got any plasma swords?” asked Jolan.
“I’ll have a plasma sword delivered.” said Bann.
“The gauss rifle is fine. Did you happen to find my Pa’Ran knife in the armor?” asked Cian.
“Augh, yes. I have the disgusting thing. Do you realize that thing is alive?” asked Bann.
Cian shrugged. “It works. I took out Gumbo with it. His armor was so thick, the gauss rounds wouldn’t penetrate it. Even Jolan’s sword didn’t cut through it. The knife did.”
“Fine. I’ll have it returned to you.” said Bann.
“You have a Pa’Ran knife that’s alive? That’s creepy, dude. Is it like the spears they were using?” said Jolan.
“Yeah. It’s a spear tip I took from them. I had a bunch of them in my bag, I’m not sure what happened to it. I guess it must have gotten left behind at some point.” said Cian.
“I can’t argue with its’ effectiveness, but I don’t understand how you can hold and use that thing. It pulses and moves. It feels like a viper in the hand, just as eager to strike me as the enemy. I didn’t realize it was your sidearm when we found it in the armor’s storage compartment. Can I at least make you a wrapped handle for it?” said Bann.
“Sure, I would appreciate that. It was a weapon of convenience, but seeing how effective it was I don’t want to give it up. I killed a very powerful cyborg with one of those things, too.” said Cian.
“I’ll see what I can do. I transferred control of the ship to you, Cian. It’s in your name for the mission, but it’s a loaner. If this works and you want to keep helping, there is a lot of stuff we need done. I’m trusting that you’re with us. I’ll be transferring ten million credits to your account to cover the purchases we need. I have a list, we need you to source everything you can in a day. Don’t linger. The elements and alloys with the star next to them are the most important, we can manufacture a lot of the stuff if we have the raw materials.” said Bann.
“Okay. I have to be honest, Vanna would be better at this stuff. I’m not that experienced with sourcing materials. I’ll do my best.” said Cian.
“I’m sure you’ll manage. Are you okay with leaving Vanna here? We will take good care of her. I can understand if you would prefer to take her with you. She is not a hostage and her treatment does not depend upon your acceptance or performance on this mission.” said Bann.
“No, she’s better off here where she can get proper medical care. I never thought she was a hostage. You guys are the best link I have to getting answers, okay? I’m with you.” said Cian.
Bann smiled. “Good.”
“Oh, what’s the significance of this?” asked Cian. He pounded his fist over his heart, “Strength and valor. Till freedom or death.”
Bann smiled again. “Have you been talking to some of our Rastlin crew? That’s an old Rastlin creed from the time of their slavery under the Dromon. It spread to the Heralds when we joined with them and became a sort of farewell among our people, especially when going on dangerous missions. It has fallen out of use of late, but the Rastlin among us keep it alive.” said Bann.
“Ah. That makes sense. I like it.” said Cian.
“Yes. It is a fitting symbol of their people. Even under twenty two years of harsh oppression and complete desolation of their world, they were never broken and never stopped fighting. Hundreds of thousands died fighting the Dromon. Their resistance movement was key in freeing the Celdurans and they have operatives on Drom to this day working to free those who are still enslaved there. Technically they act as an arm of the Heralds, but we are no longer in communication with them. They are the only Heralds operation that still exists outside the Wastes” said Bann.
“Cool. Rastlin are badass.” said Jolan.
“Well, if you need any more information just ask. I’ll leave you to review your ship and the details of the mission. I’ll have your weapons brought by soon.” said Bann. He turned and walked out of the hangar.
Cian and Jolan walked up the ramp into the ship. It was a huge empty cargo space. A small living area was toward the front of the ship, with a small captain’s quarters and communal bunk room on the left and a mess and armory on the right. The bridge was a small room at the end of the hall.
“So you’re the captain, huh?” said Jolan.
“Guess so. Captain, pilot, and engineer. Do you have any skills associated with ships?” asked Cian.
“Nope.” said Jolan.
“I can give you some piloting lessons on the way if you want. It’s a useful skill to have.” said Cian
“Cool. I’m gonna check out my armor and see what I have left of my stuff.” said Jolan.
“Okay. Me too.” said Cian.
The two of them went into the armory and checked their gear. The two gauss rifles they had on the Equinox were there, along with two sets of armor. The armor had been repaired, with armor plates replaced where it had taken damage. A discolored mark could still be seen in Jolan’s set where the spike had penetrated his chest. Otherwise it was all in order. Jolan sat down and started cleaning his armor, despite it already looking as pristine as it was going to get. Cian went to the bridge.
Cian found the list of things they needed to source for the Heralds. He checked his account and found that they had already transferred 10 million credits to it. The list was a laundry list of various mechanical parts and materials. The items marked with a star were all elements. They wanted a variety of rare earth minerals, metals, and alloys. They also wanted several tons of tungsten and an even larger amount of star alloy, which was a proprietary alloy produced by a Boralan company that most ships were made from. It was a big list. There was a route to the jump point and a map of the Yienna system, with a similar route to and from Yang Station.
Cian looked over the route and the list and started checking over the ship systems. It was basically a flying cargo brick. It had a basic flare and chaff system, but had zero defenses. It was a Pack Mule class Freighter. It was a licensed trader but didn’t have a name, so Cian dubbed it the LT Flying Brick.
Half an hour later a Boralan woman came into the ship. “Hello! I have a delivery!”
Cian and Jolan both walked out to greet her.
“Hello, I’m Cian and this is Jolan. You have something for us?” asked Cian.
“Hello Cian, Jolan. I’m Brakka. I have a plasma sword and a knife for the two of you.” She pulled out a large plasma sword, much like the one Jolan had used before, and a small cloth wrapped parcel.
Jolan grabbed the sword. “Sweet! Thanks!” he said. He had already dressed in his armor and was quick to strap the sword to his back.
“You know, you don’t have to be battle ready all the time. We’re going to be flying through the Weave for days.” said Cian as he took the package. He unwrapped it to find his Pa’Ran knife with a leather wrapped handle and a sheath made to strap around his leg.
“Uh. I knew that. Um. I might just log out until we get there?” said Jolan.
“Uh. Okay. Thanks for bringing this stuff over Brakka. Have a great day.” said Cian.
“You too! You guys have a good trip! See ya!” said Brakka as she left.
“Huh. Are we supposed to leave now?” said Cian.
“Beats me. Ask Bann.” said Jolan.
Cian tapped his comm and spoke, “Hey Bann. Thanks for the knife. Uh, are we good to go right now? I reviewed the supplies needed and I see the route you have for us.”
Bann’s voice came back over the comm a few seconds later, “Yes, you are good to go. Huh. Did you name our ship the Flying Brick?”
“Uh. Yes?” said Cian.
“Hmph. I guess it’s fitting. Everything is ready on our end. Just power up the ship and talk to the traffic controller, they’ll open up your hangar. Channel 1 on your ship’s comm.” said Bann.
“Great, thanks. We’re heading out in a few. See you in a week.” said Cian.
Cian put his knife away in the armory and went to the bridge. Jolan joined him and tried to maneuver his sword so that he could sit down. He eventually strapped it to the side of the seat.
Cian just shook his head. He was still in his regular clothes. “Gimme a sec. I’m gonna leave a message for Vanna in case she wakes up.”
“Okay!” said Jolan.
Cian started a recording. “Hey Vanna. If you’re seeing this, I’m still away on a mission. The Heralds picked us up and you’ve been in a coma. I’m getting supplies for them. I hope to see you soon!” He finished the recording and sent it to Reema, then called Reema. “Hey Reema, can you make sure Vanna gets this if she wakes up before I get back?”
Reema’s face appeared on the screen. “Hey guys! Sure Cian, I’ll put it on a tablet and keep it in her room for you. Have a good trip, thanks for getting us supplies!”
“Thanks Reema. See you in a week or so.” said Cian.
“Bye! Good luck! Don’t forget to take your supplements, they’re stocked in the mess!” said Reema. She disappeared from the screen as the call ended.
“Okay. Now the traffic controller.” said Cian. He flipped the ship’s comm to channel one. “LT Flying Brick preparing for takeoff. Permission to launch?”
“LT Flying Brick, this is Rising Star control. Permission to launch granted. Depressurizing hangar and preparing to open bay doors. Strength and valor, till freedom or death.” came back over the comm.
“Strength and valor, till freedom or death.” Cian replied.
“Rising Star?” Is that the name of the ship we’ve been on?” asked Jolan.
Cian turned to Jolan. “Huh. You know, I never asked. I guess it must be. So, we’re on another mission together. Once we launch we can head to the jump point and be on our way.”
“Sweet. Make it so!” said Jolan.
Cian looked at Jolan. “I’m the Captain here.”
Jolan smiled sheepishly. “Sorry, I always wanted to say that.”
The hangar doors opened. The gravity in the room turned off. Cian punched in the command to withdraw the landing gear and carefully maneuvered the ship out of the hangar. The ship’s navigation labeled the system they were in as “WL-1026.” Once they were out, he turned the ship toward the jump to Yienna and set off toward it. It was two and a half hours away.
“Why don’t you take the wheel here? Free flying with no obstacles to hit, it’s a perfect time for you to learn to fly.” said Cian.
“Uhhh. Okay.” said Jolan.
Cian spent the next three hours teaching Jolan the basics of flying a starship, the same way Vanna had taught him.
“Sweet, I unlocked starship piloting.” said Jolan after the first few minutes. Soon he was looping and flipping the ship like he was performing combat maneuvers.
Cian showed him how to set a straight course to accelerate and then turn and decelerate to reach their destination. Jolan punched in several different destinations and flew a bit before setting it to the jump point.
“Wow, this is really fun. Thanks dude. I’m getting a bunch of skill gains.” said Jolan.
Starship Piloting increased by 1% to 36%.
“Heh, I apparently learned something from teaching you. I gained some skill too. We’re at the jump now, do you want to do the honors?” said Cian.
“Uh, I think I’ll leave this part to you.” said Jolan.
“Alright.” said Cian. He punched in the calculations and spun up the Weave drive. A minute later, they entered the Weave toward Yienna system.
“So. Are you really just going to log out while we’re flying?” asked Cian.
“Uh. What else is there to do? We’re in here for three days, right?” said Jolan.
“Well, we could play cards or something.” said Cian.
“Uh, no offense, but I think I would strangle you after three days cooped up in this brick together.” said Jolan.
“But what are you going to do while logged out? I thought you said everything felt plastic?” said Cian.
“I don’t know. It does. But it’s still my normal, you know? This whole thing is messed up. Maybe I’m dumb, but I want to feel normal. My girlfriend is probably fake, but she’s… fun. Life’s too short to skip out on the fun.” said Jolan.
“Okay. Um. I guess I might try logging out a bit too. Maybe I’ll learn something. You should log in at least once a day to eat and stuff though. It’s probably not healthy to go days without drinking, even with these crazy nanites. We’re recovering now anyway, so they probably wouldn’t work like they used to. We need to drink the mineral supplement so we can regenerate the nanites.” said Cian.
“Huh. Yeah, that makes sense. Guess I should eat before I log out.” said Jolan.
The two of them went to the mess and made some food. They had stocked them with a big supply of the burger patties along with a variety of vegetables. The two of them mixed up a serving of the mineral supplement, then Cian had Jolan help him chop some things and they made a stir fry.
Cooking increased by 9% to 10%.
“Huh. I just gained 9% in cooking. I guess this was the first time I showed that I knew how to cook?” said Cian.
“It ist pwetty gwood” sputtered Jolan as he shoveled his mouth full of food.
“Gross. Chew your food before you talk.” said Cian.
Jolan shrugged and kept eating.
Cian ate his food and drank down the chalky drink.
“Kay. I’m gonna log out now. Um, I guess I should lay down or something first.” said Jolan. He walked into the bunk room and lay down on the bed. He grabbed a strap and strapped himself to the bed. He strapped his sword down next to him.
“Uh, see you I guess. Is there any way we can communicate while logged out, in case we need each other?” said Cian, walking over to Jolan.
“Oh. Uh, maybe my email address? Here’s my email and my phone number.” said Jolan. He grabbed a tablet from a pouch at the side of the bed and entered them into it before handing it to Cian.
“Oh. I don’t think I have cell service anymore, I didn’t pay the bill. Email might work, though. We shouldn’t send anything too detailed, they might read it or something. Just like hey lets meet back in game asap or whatever.” said Cian. He gave Jolan his email address too.
“Cool. I’ll write it down when I log out and send you a test email to make sure we got it right. See ya.” said Jolan. He sealed his helmet and lay back. Sixty seconds later, he went limp.
Cian sat in a bed next to Jolan’s in silence for a bit, thinking. He really didn’t want to log out. He was afraid of what he might find. Was anyone he knew real?
He went back to the bridge and went over their route. There wasn’t anything he needed to do – the trip through the Weave was automatic, as long as some crazy person didn’t jump them in the Weave they would exit in three days. Could Cian relax? What if there was another Gumbo out there, flying through the Weave and ready to jump them? Thinking about it, it seemed pretty far fetched – they would have to somehow be in the WL-1026 system without the Heralds detecting them.
Cian procrastinated for another hour before he decided to try logging out. He put his armor on, just in case the ship lost pressure while he was out, and went to the captain’s quarters to lay down. Laying down in the armor wasn’t all that comfortable. He hit the logout command and waited. Sixty seconds later, he woke up in his TIVI pod.
His room was the same as it was a couple days ago. He hopped up and got himself a cup of water. He looked over his email. The email from Jolan had already arrived. He sent a reply back confirming receipt and telling Jolan to have a good time. Other than that, he didn’t really have anything important. Pretty much every service he had been paying for had been canceled for non payment. He still had the TIVI system, since it came out of his game account automatically. The internet he was using was tied to it. All his streaming channels were canceled. He was kind of glad they weren’t on auto pay – at this point everything felt like a waste of money. His crappy car was paid off, so it was still in his parking space.
Cian hopped in his car and drove to the hospital he had worked at. He wanted to see how people responded to him being gone for six weeks. Maybe he could get in touch with Tina. If anyone in his life was real, surely she was. She played the game.
Half an hour later, he was at his old job. Ms. Hawthorne, the head nurse, was at the front desk talking to others there.
“Uh, hey Ms. Hawthorne. How’s everything?” said Cian.
She looked up. “Cian? You looking for a job again? We’re short staffed, I’m sure you could start again.” she said.
“Uh. Maybe. Is Tina in?” said Cian.
“Tina? No. She quit too.” said Ms. Hawthorne.
“Oh. Uh, how long ago was that?” asked Cian.
Ms Hawthorne looked puzzled for a second. “I don’t know. I don’t keep track of you kids. In one day, back the next, gone the next.” she said.
“Uh. Do you know how long I was gone?” asked Cian.
“Stop asking me stupid questions. You know how long you were gone. I have work to do. If you want a shift, talk to Barry. If not, get out of my ER!” Ms. Hawthorne yelled and stormed off.
Cian asked around, but nobody seemed to know how long Tina had been gone. Some of his old coworkers acted like they had just seen him yesterday. It was surreal. Was everyone here fake?
Cian tracked down Mike, one of the other janitors he and Tina had worked with. He was hanging out in the break room. “Hey Mike. Long time no see. Do you know when Tina left?”
“Hey dude. She’s been gone for a while. She quit like you did. You coming back to work?” said Mike.
“Uh, maybe. Do you have her phone number or email address?” asked Cian.
“Nope.” said Mike.
“Any idea where she lives?” asked Cian.
“Nope.” said Mike.
“Okay. Uh. See you, Mike.” said Cian.
“Bye.” said Mike.
Cian went to Barry’s office. He was Cian’s old boss. If anyone, he should know when Tina quit and maybe he could get her contact details from him.
“Hey kid. You back for work? We’re short, we need you. I can rehire you, no questions asked. I can’t offer a raise, but I can put you back at your old salary.” said Barry as Cian walked in.
“Uh, maybe. I’m trying to reach out to Tina. I have something of hers and need to return it. Do you have her email or phone or anything?” said Cian.
“Sorry kid, that’s confidential. Tina’s left us on good terms but she didn’t authorize giving out contact info.” said Barry.
“Uh, can you contact her on my behalf? Just send her an email or something?” said Cian.
“Sorry kid, no can do. So, you want a shift? You can start now.” said Barry.
“No thanks, maybe another time.” said Cian. He left Barry’s office. This whole thing was a waste of time. Maybe he could find Tina on the game’s forums? He didn’t know her username, but he knew she wanted to be a fashion designer.
Cian left the hospital and went back home. When he arrived, he went back in and got on his computer. He made a post on the forum. “C looking for my fashion designer friend T” and wrote out a few details that she should recognize. Maybe she would see it and send him a message.
He was hungry again, so he ate another can of soup. His pantry was almost empty. If he stayed here, he would have to go grocery shopping and transfer more of his credits to buy stuff. His car had almost a full tank still, but that wouldn’t last forever either. Was there some way he could make money here without working at the hospital? He didn’t really want to do that. What else could he do? He had three days in the Weave and another three days back for the return trip. Did it make sense to work a crappy job to get money? It felt like a waste of time. Everything here felt fake. But the money could be transferred to credits… He didn’t have any other way of making money while flying in the Weave, and sitting around by himself on a ship wasn’t very appealing.
Cian called Barry at the hospital. “Hey Barry. Uh, I’m pretty busy, but I might have some time to work certain days. Could I be hired part time and just come in when I have time?”
“That’s not how we usually do it kid, but we do need the help. When were you wanting to work?” said Barry.
“Uh. Maybe six, six hour shifts over the next three days? I’ll need a couple hours in between the six hour shifts for personal reasons. Then I can do it again after the weekend.” said Cian.
“Sure kid, I can make that work. That’s almost a work week. When can you start?” asked Barry.
“Uh, how about now? I can be back there in half an hour.” said Cian.
“Alright. I’ll get the paperwork together. See you soon.” said Barry.
Cian put on his old uniform and drove back to the hospital.