The maintenance team worked double quick time to get the Cobra fixed. It had been designed with replaceable panels which were quick and easy to lift out of position, even bent and beaten as they were by the cannon shells from the sidewinder.
The removed panels disappeared into the goods lift and into the bowels of the station – Vin liked to imagine that they were recycled into beaten looking sidewinders, but in reality, they probably went into the docking back entrance to strengthen it against the next high speed reverse docking attempt.
“I swear that the crazy lady was listening last time….” Vin mused to himself as he was refused launch clearance. The ship just hovered loosely above the pad.
The shipyard interface re-appeared and he mashed the controls for launch clearance again.
“That’s it, now I’m SURE I’ve offended her.”
On the fourth attempt, launch clearance was granted and he headed out for the vastness of space. 4k out and he spun on the spot to look at the station. Swinging around, he could see ships like insects floating around it. One commander had lost control of his lasers and was shooting the outer hull of the giant floating city, carving black lines into the station’s metalwork.
Vin would love to see what effect that would have when the contract viper team arrived at the station. At the moment, it only appeared to have internal defences, which were more than enough to punish any rogue behaviour – or act on the whims of the docking control.
For a change, and to see how the cobra handled, he dropped the jump destination over to the area of asteroid field that they’d all been using for testing.
He hadn’t been there since Snuffler had last handed him a drubbing and he was hoping that the upgrade to the comms systems meant that more commanders were able to be there at the same time.
As usual, he arrived at the jump point with a giant asteroid spinning slowly in front of the ship. Minor moment of panic – he had forgotten to throttle back before jumping and the cobra lurched forward. The lateral controls took a beating as he weaved around the side of the rock – hoping no one was watching.
Twisting the flight stick, he added some yaw to arc in a circle round the asteroid and glanced down at the scanner to see who else was there.
Only one hollow triangle on the scanner. Lining up and targeting, the commander’s name popped up under the ship. CMDR Lee Irving. Not someone he’d met yet around the station.
Slowing down to a crawl, he could see the other cobra manoeuvring slowly, a cargo cannister floating just in front and below the ship. Tapping the top thruster, he shifted down to see the cargo hatch. Scooping cargo was much harder than he remembered. The modifications for in-atmosphere flight meant that the hatch was smaller than previously, but the addition of a radar interface meant that as soon as the cannister moved out of line of sight, it could be angled into the bay.
The cannister had clearly been tapped already, as it had leaked black “matter” out into the void, obscuring the cylinder with a rough square of nothingness.
These new cannisters were fragile….
Watching CMDR Irving creep up on the cannister, it was tempting to open up with the beam laser and claim a hunter’s bounty from him. Frontier had added a pseudo-piracy bounty scheme to the testing to test the inter ship data comms.
Flicking to the left panel, he checked the bounty on CMDR Irving – just over 1500cr – not worth it, especially if he had a good weapon loadout.
Sliding across on the interface to the subsystem targeting, Vin checked – Irving had a full weapon loadout versus Vin’s lonely gimballed beam. Definitely not worth it.
“Right – follow my leader”
Vin watched as Irving scooped up the remaining cannisters and then throttled up towards the nearest Anaconda.
“He’s not going to?”
The Cobra opened up with a full set of cannons – clipping the asteroid spinning between him and the Anaconda. As he cleared the horizon of the asteroid, the guns came to bear and the Anaconda’s shields started taking hits.
One of the turret operators must have been wide awake as lasers started pinging back into the cobra’s shields.
Irving must have panicked at this point as his ship nosedived into the asteroid, a screeching, rending noise coming over the VE system.
Irving slapped it into reverse and collided with a smaller boulder, getting in to a flat spin.
His luck must have been with him, as the retaliating Anaconda launched itself straight into the asteroid between them, venting atmosphere and cannisters before blinding Vin in a ball of gas and metal.
Just then, Irving’s hull gave out and he exploded, ejecting the pilot into space….
“Scratch that, lucky me….”
One glance at the radar showed that there were no other ships in the vicinity and a stack of cannisters floating unclaimed in space.
“It would be rude not to, really.”
Can after can clanked into the cargo scoop and Vin set the co-ordinates for home.
Docking at Zelada, the maintenance crew were nowhere to be seen, so he threw the lever for the lift and decended to the hangar.
Clicking on the “Black Market” option, he wondered why Frontier had put a placeholder in for breaking the law.
A screen popped up and a cowled face, half covered in some monster shades appeared.
“Um. Cannisters for sale?”
“You didn’t see me, right?”
“Michael, is that you?”
Vin grinned as he recognised Michael Brooks from the Frontier management team. He’d drawn the short straw this morning, clearly….
The face behind the glasses frowned.
“No, this is the black market. A dark and mysterious place….”
“Michael, don’t ham it up, I need to offload these cannisters.”
“I don’t know anyone called Michael.”
“Mate, I can see the beard from here. Igor’s planetside working on the ship systems, so it’s got to be you.”
Michael lifted the glasses off. “Look, I’m trying to make it feel realistic – don’t spoil the surprise.”
Vin grinned. “Next time, buy one of those fake scars and a skullcap. Try talking like you’ve been gargling with gravel and fags for a week. Will give us all a laugh.”
“OK. Cannisters. 4000cr do you ok?”
“That’s fine, thanks. Whilst you’re at it, can you have a word with CMDR Braben about the docking lady.” Vin thought he’d get in a word about her. He wasn’t the only one she was being difficult for.
“We’re aware of it. She’s… um…. under investigation at the moment. I’m sure we’ll get it all straightened out soon.”
Vin was only too aware that the testing had left the Frontier team overworked and struggling under a pile of error reports. Personnel issues were probably way down the list.
“Cheers mate. See you in space.”