Vin kicked back when he got back to his quarters. “His” was a little bit of possessiveness – the Shady Lady, the Asp and his usual home were 200Ly away, along with his collection of 21st Century music and early 20th Century books.
For the last few weeks, a storm had been brewing in the occupied systems. There had been a glitch in the computer systems that ran both the Federation and Empire’s market trading. No word had been released from the Alliance, though he suspected they suffered in the same way.
The factions really were just a choice of way of life. With the exception of the Imperial Clipper, available to high ranking nobles in the Empire and the Federation’s brutal looking Dropship, there was little to tell between them once you were alone, away from station control.
Many of the Empire’s barons were playing both sides – fuelling speculation of rifts within the Empire causing dissatisfaction amongst fringe worlds and bringing Clippers to Federation conflict zones, on the side of the Federation.
So – the market trading systems had broken…. Fleets of Type 9’s had arrived in many boom systems and begun advertising for this month’s “must have” product – which turned out to be performance enhancers. Vin didn’t like to ask what they were for, but rumour had it that it involved the kinds of evenings that could throw your back out and leave you with an embarrassing itch (and someone else’s ship keys).
The type 9’s had bought up every single one they could lay their hands on for well above market price – fuelled by their systems telling them that they were the product to buy. No one had the heart to tell them that they were now sitting on warehouses of stock that would make a forest of weeping willows stiff.
Commanders had cashed in on this error – where once Eagles, Haulers and the odd Cobra were in and out of the stations, Pythons and Type 7’s were the mainstay. Briefly, many were millionaires many times over.
Once the systems were rebooted, small riots broke out in many places – cities and stations that had benefited from the boom, as well as some of the “simpler” commanders had protested about the sudden drop in their income. Many had overstretched themselves on borrowing connected to the new income and were left in negative equity on everything from ships to houses.
A knock at the door to his quarters disturbed him, followed by the very Imperial “swoosh” on opening.
“Vin, you’ve had an hour, where are those pictures?”
“It’s been half an hour and you know they take time to download from the ship and process.”
The station’s press officer, Brand, frowned, looked over at Vin’s console which was doing singularly nothing.
“You’ve been paid for these photographs, in advance and as of yet, we’ve seen nothing. Stop fornicating us around and get off your backside.”
“Look – I’ve travelled 200 light years to get here, I’ve secured you an interview with some of the area’s most notorious pirates, serviced Gutamaya’s request for some shots of the Clipper and in the process managed to get myself cooked making the Asp look sexy.”
Vin reached over to turn off the terminal. Brand looked unimpressed but raised a hand.
“You’ve got an hour. If nothing’s with me by then, we’ll invoke the penalty clause in our contract and you’ll be fined, then ejected from this station.”
Vin didn’t hear him leave. He’d turned his back and plugged his headset back in.
Clicking through the terminal menus, he cursed the ancient ship systems on the Sidewinder. He hadn’t bothered to name it – for this job, it was a disposable tool. He’d stored the other ships, bought a beaten up old Hauler and travelled over at speed, cashing in the Haluer for nearly all he paid for it (the local used-ship salesmen hadn’t been anything other than typical of his breed). The sidewinder was perfect for the job – pilot’s chair was right up against the canopy – which was clear, flat and didn’t distort images. The ship was easily fitted with equipment to take shots of other ships and easily replaced if he crashed it.
“Time for a beer,” he said to no one in particular.
An hour later, he was walking back to the station bar, mentally counting the credits. The interview with ZaphodBeeble and his brother had been the clincher, along with the photographs of the Python/Viper combination. He had no idea on the pirates’ real names – Z was certainly a lover of 20th Century literature, just the talking point that gained the interview.
The Gutamaya shots were easier. Oz was the kind of pilot that enjoyed the trade grind, a bit of combat, some bounty hunting and cashing in wherever he could find it. Much the same career as Vin, he’d jumped at the chance to get a framed print for his ship.
As for the Asp – luckily nearby there was a sapphire blue sun surrounded by a wide range of planets and moons. Two hours later, he’d clinched the last one and bid CMDR Heater farewell.
X and his brother had been patrolling extraction zones, hunting for pirates. Unusually for their type, they were as happy on the right side of the law and hunting down other criminals as they were stealing their way across nearby systems. Nearly a year ago, the Pilot’s Federation had been up in arms when they blockaded Freeport, demanding a slice of every trade coming in or out of the station. Running a pair of Vipers with cannons and a heavy loadout of ammunition, they had stood their ground until Frontier had reinstated the local no-fire zone.
Vin reached the bar with the prints tucked under one arm. For every one he had sold to the Empire, he had a spare that remained his own property and these would be the prints that bought him his ticket back to the Shady Lady.