02.10 – Cargo Inspectors

The next three days were strange. Cian worked, went home, logged in, ate and took his mineral supplement, then logged back out. Then he worked, went home, logged in, ate and took his mineral supplement, and got some sleep. Then he did it all again the next day and the next. It was weird working at the hospital again after six weeks of fighting aliens and pirates and ship combat and running for his life. He exchanged a few emails with Jolan, but Jolan was happily partying and barely logged out once a day to eat. Cian didn’t see him at all. Tina never did show up, and he only got troll replies to his forum post.

After his last hospital shift, Cian logged in again and sat in their ship’s mess. He was exhausted and felt dirty, despite showering before logging in and technically being in a totally different body now. After all the deductions, he should have close to $300. He would have to fill his car up soon, which would take $30. That was still close to 27k credits. It was actually pretty good for three days of working hard, considering the cargo job he had taken with Vanna before going to Vindale only paid 50k and took two weeks. But he would owe another $650 for rent and $250 for the TIVI unit at the end of the month, and he would have to buy food. If he was going to keep up this working on Earth thing he had to find a better job or find a cheaper apartment.

Then he had to worry about trying to save up for a ship since this one was a loaner. And ships needed fuel and parts. And if he was the captain he would have to pay his crew. Gah. Finances and budgeting and making money loomed over him. It sucked in any universe. Come to think of it, he didn’t even negotiate a payment with Bann. How much was he making on this cargo gig? Vanna had said the 50k job was a low paying humanitarian thing that they took to avoid running empty. How much did these jobs usually pay? Did he really want to be a cargo captain slash hospital janitor?

Jolan woke up and walked into the mess, interrupting his musings. “Hey man, we’re almost there right? I didn’t time it wrong?”

“Hey Jolan. We’re about six hours out. I was going to eat and sleep before we exited the jump. Even if my body isn’t tired, my mind is.” said Cian.

“Oh. Yeah that’s a good idea. I didn’t sleep yet.” said Jolan.

“You didn’t sleep at all the last three days?” asked Cian incredulously.

“Naw man. I had a big party with my girlfriend. I don’t know if she’s real or not, but she can party. She helped me clean up the place and invited some girlfriends over and we had a big bash at my place.” said Jolan.

“Oh. Didn’t that cost a bunch of money?” said Cian.

“Yeah, but it was fun dude. We’re making money on this job aren’t we?” said Jolan.

“Uh, sure. I actually didn’t negotiate payment, but I’m sure we’ll be paid fairly. I’ll split whatever we get evenly.” said Cian.

“Cool. So what’d you do the last three days?” asked Jolan.

“Uh. I tried to find Tina, a girl I worked with. But I think she quit the job and is focusing on playing the game. Nobody could tell me where she was or how long ago she quit. Then I worked to make some money since I don’t have a lot and I think I need to keep the rent and TIVI unit thing paid for.” said Cian.

“You spent all the time working? Boring. You gotta live a little man.” said Jolan.

“Yeah. It just seems like a waste to trade real money from here for dollars to spend on fake stuff. Didn’t we agree that almost everything out there was probably fake?” said Cian.

“It’s entertainment, dude. People pay money to do fun stuff. Even if our logged out world is fake, there’s a lot of fun stuff to do there.” said Jolan.

“But the money is going to the Dromon, the same people that are probably enslaving our entire species as slave soldiers.” said Cian.

“Eh, my few bucks are a drop in the bucket. The top players pull millions out of the game.” said Jolan.

“Yeah… they’re milking us for everything we make.” said Cian.

Jolan shrugged. “I’m gonna catch a nap. See you in six.”

“Okay.” said Cian. He finished making himself some food and took his mineral supplement, then went to the captain’s quarters. He stripped out of his armor and went to sleep. He set the alarm to wake him up five minutes before Weave exit.


Cian woke to his alarm and went to the bridge.

Jolan groggily walked into the bridge right as they were exiting the Weave.

The ship quietly dropped from the Weave. Their ship’s sensors took in the Yienna system. It was a K type orange dwarf with three planets and a sparse asteroid belt. Cian pulled up information about the system from the database. The second planet was a temperate world with water covering about 60% of it. It was sparsely settled by the Coalition of the Far Reaches and was rich in metals. There was a significant mining and refining operation on the planet. Yang Station was a trade station and gas refining operation orbiting the third planet, a large gas giant that was rich in elements of starship fuel. Yienna II didn’t have a large spaceport, so Yang Station handled most of the trade for the system. It sold cheap fuel and operated as a trade hub between the markets in Redstone and other Coalition colonies in Zavus and Xias. Cargo was ferried back and forth from Yienna II using in-system shuttles.

“Setting course for Yang Station. Their current orbit puts them only two hours from us.” said Cian.

“Cool. Uh, I’m gonna catch another nap.” said Jolan.

“Alright man, I’ll wake you when we get there.” said Cian.

Fifteen minutes later, the ship’s passive sensors detected a heat signature on an intercept course. Cian changed their course, and the signature changed course to match them.

“Why can’t we just have a milk run go like a milk run.” said Cian. He switched to ship’s comms, “Hey Jolan, we got company. Looks like we might have contact in thirty minutes. They might not be hostile, but with my luck? They’re definitely hostile.”

Cian hopped up and went to the armory to get his gear. He put his armor on, strapped his knife to his leg, and made sure his gauss rifle was loaded and ready. Then he went back to the bridge. Jolan was just getting up and walked in about the same time.

“You said we have company? What kind of ship is it?” said Jolan.

“The signature we’re getting suggests something small and fast. It’s burning hot but doesn’t seem to be very big.” said Cian.

“Can’t you scan them?” asked Jolan.

“This rust bucket doesn’t have active sensors. I’m going to send in a mayday to the station.” said Cian.

He sent a tight beam toward the station on the emergency channel. “This is the LT Flying Brick on approach to Yang Station for trade. We have an unidentified vessel on an intercept course. Please advise.”

Static.

“I think they’re jamming us already. I can’t even tell, this stupid ship has the technological equivalent of a couple tin cans with a string and a set of toilet paper roll binoculars. I can’t even tell what class of ship they are.” said Cian.

“Well that sucks.” said Jolan.

“I’m gonna try communicating with them, maybe they’ll identify themselves.” said Cian.

Cian got on the ship’s comm and sent a tight beam on all channels to the ship’s location. “LT Flying Brick to unidentified ship. Please identify yourself.”

Cian waited a few minutes. The ship was getting closer.

He tried again. “This is the LT Flying Brick to unidentified ship on an intercept course with us. Please identify yourself and your intentions.”

They were only twenty minutes out now.

A reply came over the ship’s comms. A woman’s voice spoke, “LT Flying Brick. Nice name. We’re just your friendly neighborhood cargo inspectors. Kindly pull over and let us inspect your cargo.”

“Unidentified ship, we have no cargo. We never even made it to the station to pick up any. Give us a break, huh?” said Cian.

Another reply came back, “I find that hard to believe, Flying Brick. That’s a mighty big ship you have there, and I just saw you jump out of the Wastes. People don’t take leisurely strolls through the Wastes and come out without some loot. We’re a small ship, we can’t hold much. Just share a little and we’ll let you be on your way. Call it a not getting blown up tax.”

Cian sighed. He got back on the comm. “Fine. Cutting engines. You can board us at your leisure and we will open the doors. We don’t need any new holes in this ship.” Cian cut the engines and let the ship drift along their course.

The woman replied after a moment, “Wonderful. For being so courteous, we’ll only take 20% of your cargo value. But no funny business!”

“You’re just letting them board us?” asked Jolan.

“Oh no, we’re going to be fighting. I’m tired of this crap. Everywhere I go, someone is trying to hunt me or rob me or shoot me for no dang reason. We’re going to open the doors, let them come in, and take them down. Then we’re going to board their ship and capture it.” said Cian.

“Uh, there’s only two of us. What if there’s a bunch of them?” said Jolan.

“We’ll figure it out.” said Cian.

“Alright, you’re the boss. I just hope you’re not getting us killed on our first mission.” said Jolan.

“Hey, let me see your helmet.” said Cian.

“What? Why?” asked Jolan.

“I want to set up a secure comm. Vanna showed me how to do it.” said Cian.

“Oh, okay.” said Jolan, handing over his helmet.

Cian tinkered with it and his own communicator for a few minutes. “Okay. Channel 8 is an encrypted channel now. We can communicate without anyone listening in.”

“Nice. Thanks.” said Jolan, putting his helmet back on.

Eight minutes later, they got a visual of the approaching ship. It was a small gunship, not unlike the one Cian and Vanna had sold – albeit in much better condition.

Cian got up and slung his gauss rifle over his back. He went back into the open cargo bay and waited.

Jolan walked out and stood next to Cian.

Cian invited Jolan to his party. “Party up.”

Jolan accepted.

Joined with Jolan. All experience will be shared equally. Current party bonus: 20%

Two minutes later the ship came alongside theirs and slowly backed into their back door. The docking clamps engaged and the two ships were secured back to back.

Cian pushed a button and their cargo door opened, revealing the door of the gunship.

The gunship door opened and four armored figures walked out. Two had swords, one had an axe, and one carried a rifle.

The one with the rifle spoke up. “What the hell. Where’s all your cargo?”

Cian was silent.

The four of them walked across the hold. The two swordsmen had their blades out.

The rifleman spoke again, “Hey. I’m talking to you. Where’s your cargo? Is it in the front of the ship?”

Cian used Surpass Limits to enhance all of his physical attributes. Then he reached out his hand and channeled an empowered neural spike at the closest swordsman. Immediately the man crumpled to his knees. Cian kept channeling.

“Whoa, what’s that? Stop!” yelled the other swordsman.

Jolan pulled his sword and moved in to engage the swordsman who spoke.

The swordsman Cian was attacking fell over. The attack only took five seconds.

The one with the axe leaned over the downed swordsman to see what was wrong.

Cian focused on the downed swordsman and sent a tendril of control at him like he had the Pa’Ran before. It took a bit more push than the Pa’Ran had, but he broke through after a moment. Immediately he could see through his eyes. He had the swordsman get up and attack the one with the axe standing over him. In one smooth motion, the swordsman stood and rammed his blade into the chest of the one standing over him. It partially penetrated the armor and stuck an inch into his chest.

The rifleman finally pulled out his rifle and started firing at Jolan. It was a pulsed laser rifle of some kind.

Cian hit him with an empowered neural spike, but it didn’t seem to affect him nearly as much as it did the swordsman and he didn’t even stop firing. He must have higher mental attributes.

Jolan took a few hits as the lasers burned into his armor. He met the other swordsman. The swordsman swung at him and he parried and pushed his blade into a thrust. His sword ignited in plasma and he lunged for the swordsman’s chest. The swordsman stepped back and attempted to dodge, but Jolan’s blade found his shoulder and cut deep.

Cian unslung his gauss rifle and unloaded full auto into the rifleman.

The swordsman that Cian controlled slammed his fist onto the axeman’s back while he pushed the sword deeper.

The man with the axe fell back and finally swung his weapon, hitting the controlled swordsman in the side.

The axe bit into the armor, cutting into the swordsman’s side, but he ignored the pain and rammed into the axeman again. This time the blade pushed through, impaling the axe wielder through the chest and scraping the cargo bay floor.

The rifleman kept trying to fire at Jolan as he maneuvered to put the fighters in between him and Cian.

Cian walked to the side and continued to fire on him. His armor looked ruined and bullets were obviously penetrating. After another few shots, the rifleman stopped returning fire and Cian stopped firing. He had fired 25 rounds over five seconds.

The rifleman fell over.

Jolan pushed his foe down and pressed his plasma sword through his chest. The blade melted the armor and burned through.

The axeman managed another hit on the controlled swordsman, his axe biting deep into his side and drawing a gush of blood. The pair of them fell to the ground, their weapons still embedded in each other.

Cian pinged the three downed opponents with his neural spike. He found no resistance. “You good?” he asked Jolan. Cian’s armor had a few burnt slots from laser fire, but it wasn’t penetrated anywhere.

“Dang man. You got good at this. I’m hit in the leg and a few times in the side. I’m down a lot of health but I’m not bleeding.” said Jolan.

Cian walked over and put his hand on Jolan’s side. He channeled mend into him for five seconds, healing the laser burns and restoring his health.

“Wow, you can heal too? Thanks.” said Jolan.

“Let’s move. Bound to be more in the ship.” said Cian.

“These are all players. Shouldn’t we try to reason with them or something?” said Jolan.

“Alright. I’ll try to talk to the rest.” said Cian.

“Okay, I’ll take point. I got the sword.” said Jolan, hurrying to get ahead of Cian.

The two of them stepped into the enemy ship.

A woman came down the hall with a pair of pistols. She was much more lightly armored than the others. “What the hell? Where are my boys?”

“They’re dead. If you want to play nice, drop your pistols and surrender. I’ll drop you at Yang Station. I won’t even turn you in for piracy and you can keep your gear.” said Cian.

“How about no?” she said as she pulled two large caliber pistols and started firing at Jolan.

Jolan took two hits in his chest and fell to the side.

Cian took aim and shot her in the head.

She fell limply to the ground.

“So much for diplomacy.” said Cian. He walked over and checked out Jolan. He had two bullets in his chest. He channeled mend for a couple of seconds to stabilize him. The bullets were still in the wounds.

“Gonna have to get those out.” said Cian.

“Ow.” said Jolan. “Did you get her?”

“Think so.” said Cian. He channeled a neural spike at her. No response. “Yep. She’s down.”

Cian walked to the bridge and checked the ship’s internal sensors. Him and Jolan were the only life signs.

“We’re good. There was only five of them.” said Cian.

Cian checked through his combat log.

Surpass Limits activated. +22 Agility, +22 Strength, +22 Endurance. Cost 44 Willpower.

Channeled Empowered Neural Spike on Yolosword for five seconds. Hit for 330 Willpower (66/s). Cost 40 Willpower.

Yolosword rendered unconscious.

Attempted mind control of Yolosword. Success! Lose 100 willpower.

Empowered Neural Spike on XPatheos. Hit for 66 Willpower. Cost 8 Willpower.

Cian skipped over the twenty five messages about shooting the gunman, suffice to say he shot him a lot and he died. He continued reading.

XPatheos killed.

Channeled Mend into Jolan for five seconds. Cost 187.5 (Influencing external body +50%) Jolan Healed for 220.

Neural spike on invalid target. Cost 4 willpower. x3

Attacked Reb3cca with Gauss Rifle. Critical hit x5! 650 damage.

Reb3cca killed.

Defeated Yolosword, Xpatheos, Henrry, Futility, Reb3cca. Assessing. Self defense, no penalty points. Gain 1/10 total target experience of: 3,602,000. Split for party. PvP, party bonus not awarded. +180,100 experience.

Level up! +1 Will

Level up! +1 Wit

Level up! +1 Presence

Level up! +1 Will

Level up! +1 Wit

Level up! +1 Presence

Level up! +1 Will +5 Character Points.

Level up! +1 Will

Level up! +1 Wit

Level up! +1 Presence

Marksmanship increased by 4% to 16.9%

Mental Projection increased by 2.7% to 30.1%

Mind over Body increased by 2% to 47.6%

Small Arms increased by 5.2% to 25.1%

Channeled Mend into Jolan for two seconds. Cost 75 (Influencing external body +50%) Jolan Healed for 94.

Surpass Limits faded. Attributes returned to normal.

“Holy crap. I just gained ten levels.” said Cian. He checked his character screen.

Name: Cian Kemp
Class: Boundless
Strength: 25
Endurance: 25
Presence: 47
Health: 250/250
Willpower: 119/590

Nanites: 39.5%
Agility: 25
Wit: 47
Will: 59
Stamina: 210/250
Level: 23
Total Experience: 284225/300000
Traits: Iron Will
Character Points: 10

“Yeah, I got three myself. PvP is pretty good experience. These guys were fairly high level. Kinda sucks to know they died for real, but I guess they’ll respawn. Wait, how did you get ten? Did you get a bigger share somehow?” asked Jolan.

“I was only level 13. Now I’m 23. No bonus from party, though.” said Cian.

“Oh. Yeah party bonus doesn’t apply to PvP. I was 45. I’m 48 now. Man, how are you so much stronger than me at level 13? Boundless is OP.” said Jolan.

Cian laughed. “You seem pretty okay with killing all these people, considering what you were saying before.”

“Eh, it’s like you said, they made their choice. They’ll respawn anyway. That stupid chick at the end should have surrendered.” said Jolan.

Cian sat down at the bridge and tried to access the ship’s systems. “Yeah. Man, I wish I had Vanna here. She knows how to hack stuff like this. She would have us in control of this ship in no time. Then we could fly it into the station with us and sell it.”

“Oh, I got you bro.” said Jolan. He sat down and pulled out a small device. He connected it to the console and pushed a few buttons.

“What’s that thing?” said Cian.

“Been wanting to put this thing to use. I spent a bunch of money on this thing. It’s a cracker, supposed to circumvent control of ships. It will take like half an hour, but if it works like it’s supposed to we’ll have control.” said Jolan.

“Wow. I didn’t know they made those. Vanna hacked the last one by hand.” said Cian.

“Well, I don’t know how to do that. And this thing cost me 250k.” said Jolan.

“Dang. I hope it isn’t single use?” said Cian.

“It’s not supposed to be.” said Jolan.

Forty five minutes later, as they slowly drifted toward Yang station, Jolan’s tool finally beeped.

“Did it work?” asked Jolan.

Cian tried to access the ship’s systems again. The ship’s control computer was reset, it was asking him for initial settings. “Yeah, I think it did.” he said. He quickly set it up for him and Jolan to have full access to the ship. The ship’s name was the Voidraptor and it was still licensed to Reb3cca. It was a patrol gunship that had been retrofitted to include a Weave drive, and it had an armament of eight Peacekeeper missiles onboard. The transponder had been disabled, and Cian didn’t see a way to turn it back on.

“Sweet! I was worried that thing was a dud. Glad to know it works.” said Jolan.

“Okay. Which ship do you want to pilot?” asked Cian.

“Wait, what?” asked Jolan.

“Well, we have two ships now. One of us has to fly the cargo ship in, the other has to fly this gunship in. We can sell this thing and then fly back in the cargo ship.” said Cian.

“Uh. I guess I’ll take the cargo ship, it’s the only one I’ve flown before. And it’s less likely to be shot down by system security forces.” said Jolan.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m filing a salvage title.” said Cian. He was filling out the same paperwork him and Vanna had filled out before.

“Okay. Um. So should I go to the cargo ship?” asked Jolan.

“Oh, we still have to get those bullets out of you. This ship has a medbay, let’s go.” said Cian. He hopped up and led Jolan toward the medical bay.

“You sure you know how to do this?” asked Jolan.

“Nope. But we have to get the bullets out if the wounds are going to heal. I can heal them once they’re out. Just take off the armor and lay back.” said Cian.

“Alright. I guess I trust you.” said Jolan. He carefully removed his chest armor and lay back on the medical bed. He had two open wounds, one on his shoulder and another at his ribs. The bullets were embedded in the flesh and bone beneath.

Cian looked at the medical tools, then looked at Jolan. “Uh, let me try something.”

“Shouldn’t I get anesthetics or something?” asked Jolan.

Cian looked over the medicines available. “Uh. I don’t know which ones are anesthetics. Don’t worry, this will be quick.” said Cian. He held his hand over Jolan’s shoulder wound and let his nanites float down into it. He could feel the slug and some broken pieces embedded in his shoulder. He pulled at it like he had done before with the broken bits in the jammed turret. The bullet and a few pieces slid out of the wound and Cian caught them.

“Augh, that hurt!” said Jolan.

Cian channeled mend for a second and closed the wound. “Doesn’t that feel better?”

“Okay, yeah, that’s a lot better. Just… just do the other one quick, okay?” said Jolan.

Cian repeated the process with the one in Jolan’s chest. It had bounced off a rib and was dangerously close to penetrating his lungs, but Cian eased it and a few broken pieces out and quickly closed the wound. A huge headache came over him as he used the last Mend. He had nearly bottomed out his Willpower.

“Okay. I’m tapped out. But I got everything out of you.” said Cian.

Jolan felt at his chest and shoulder. “Dang dude. I’m still missing a few hit points, but I feel good. We gotta work out how I become a Boundless, those powers are epic.”

Cian laughed. “Yeah, it would be useful if you had them too. I don’t know how class change even works.”

“You can opt to change every ten levels. I guess it probably still works the same. You set it before you reach a multiple of ten, then when you get there you can select a different class. You have to have all the prerequisites, though. All the attributes, and you have to already have whatever the starter skills are to swap mid-character. Do you know what Boundless needs?” asked Jolan.

“It takes really high mind attributes. Fifty Will and forty Wit and Presence. And it has a bunch of special skills. I don’t know how you would learn the skills.” said Cian.

“Oh. Dang. I’m not even close on the mind attributes. I don’t get any on levels, so I would have to save up a bunch of character points. I guess it’s probably not doable. Wait, how are you so strong? Your physical attributes should suck if you pumped your others so high.” said Jolan.

“Oh, back when everything glitched out I wound up getting a new body and it reset my physical stats to 25.” said Cian.

“What? That’s so unfair.” said Jolan.

“Yeah. Let’s get these ships to Yang Station. Use the encrypted channel eight for communication. It should have enough range if we stay close together and should reach across most of the station once we get there. Help me move the bodies to the gunship, it will be easier to hand them over to the authorities that way.” said Cian.

“Eh. Okay.” said Jolan.

The two of them hauled the four bodies to the gunship. Cian got out a mop and cleaned up the blood.

“Okay. That looks better. We don’t want the delivery guys to see blood all over our cargo hold when we buy supplies, we’re trying to not draw attention. I’m headed back over to the gunship, you take control here and we’ll get moving.” said Cian.

“Right. They definitely won’t notice the laser burns.” said Jolan.

“Laser burns?” said Cian. He looked around and realized the gunman had hit the interior of the ship in a few places, leaving burn marks. A few places had splashes of slag where it had melted the hull a little bit. “Dang. I’m sure that will buff out.”

“Sure. Okay, let’s do this.” said Jolan. He walked toward the bridge of the Flying Brick to take control.

Cian went back to the gunship and sat down at the bridge. “Okay. You got this man. I’m going to close the doors over here, you need to do the same. Then I’m going to release the docking clamps.” said Cian over their comm as he closed the ship’s door.

“Right.” said Jolan. He closed the Flying Brick’s door.

Cian released the docking clamps and gently fired thrusters to move the ships apart. “Okay. Now we just have to set course for the station. I’ll follow you in.” said Cian.

The Flying Brick’s engines came to life as Jolan set course for the station. “Got it! We’re only an hour and twenty minutes out now.”

Cian matched his course.

Suddenly a message came over Cian’s Ship’s radio, “Unidentified ship, you are approaching Yang Station. Please turn your transponder on and identify yourself.”

Cian replied, “Yang Station, this is Captain Kemp. I am escorting the LT Flying Brick, whose transponder is currently on. We were boarded by pirates and defended ourselves. I am aboard the Voidraptor. I have claimed this ship as battle salvage. Its transponder is currently disabled and I am unable to turn it on. I am sending you the appropriate salvage forms, as well as details on the ship’s prior occupants and records of them attacking our ship.”

There was silence for a few minutes before a reply came back, “Captain Kemp, this is Yang Station. Received and verified. You are cleared to approach and dock. Please contact station security when you arrive to discuss the situation.”

“Uh, I just verified that you were with me by the way. The station asked me if I was in need of assistance and if I was under duress. I just told them we got jumped and we fought them off and took their ship.” said Jolan over their communicator.

Cian replied to the station first, “Yang Station, this is Captain Kemp. Acknowledged. Coming in now, ETA 1 hour 20 minutes. I will see station security as soon as I arrive.”

Cian switched to his communicator to reply to Jolan, “Don’t worry about it. Everything should be fine. Just dock where they tell you and I’ll do the same, we’ll meet up on the station.”

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Alexis
Alexis
25 days ago

thanks for the chapter

Horathio
Horathio
24 days ago

Thanks for the chapter, glad to not be stuck at the RR level 😉

Last edited 24 days ago by Horathio