Master Chief O’Riley woke up that morning not realizing the quest he would be on in a few short hours. He went about his daily business without any reluctance or hesitation. He first woke up and pounded out a workout that would make a new recruit into the Union defenses and security forces puke their breakfast up before they even ate. He started with five hundred Hindu squats, one hundred dive bomber push–ups, fifty pull-ups and triceps dips, two hundred crunches, one hundred oblique crunches for each side of his body and ten minutes jumping rope alternating between one legged and two legged every one hundred repetitions. Wiping the sweat from his brow and sipping the remaining cold water from his workout cup, he made his way to the sparse kitchen for his single bedroom barracks apartment. His morning workout complete; it was now time for his typical morning breakfast.
He filled his cup with more ice and water and began drinking it again as he started to prepare his breakfast of scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon, potato hash browns doused in ketchup and orange juice. O’Riley had been making this breakfast almost everyday since he left was given his first command. He had it down to a science and just like his morning workout routine, he did not even have to think about it anymore; it was habit.
O’Riley was a creature of habit. Routine made it easier for him and his subordinates to know what he was thinking, why he was thinking it, and understand an order without questioning it. His commanding officers appreciated the consistency, too. In a sea of troublesome bureaucracy and corrupt politicians, O’Riley could be counted on if no one else could be. It was one of the reasons he attributed to his success as a Sweeper Squadron commander and gaining the rank of Master Chief, the highest enlisted rank in the Union security and defense forces.
Without even thinking of it, he had finished making his breakfast. He plated it, grabbed his orange juice and cutlery, and sat down at the sparse table in his kitchen. He said a small prayer to the Divine Storm, more habit, again, than faith, and started to eat.
As he ate he perused the headlines on his Personal Data Device (PDD). First he looked at headlines from his city, then planet wide on Synex Five and from around the other Union planets. Synex Five was by no means the center of the Union of Exiled Planets and Systems, but it occasionally made headlines on the major Union news feeds. Today was not one of those days though. Smuggling was usually a big story in Synex Five. The local security forces had captured a large number of smugglers and their contraband, black market goods and illegal merchandise over the last several weeks. News reports claimed that the officials had a contact that was leading them to all the right people.
O’Riley wished he had been involved in that collar, but it was some other Sweeper squadron who had put all the dots together. Oh well, he did well enough on this planet to ensure that he would not be relieved and discharged from command, but never seemed to get the big scores to earn a promotion to one of the central planets. It’s just as well; he liked it here on Synex Five, and the pressure in the central planets to succeed was higher. Plus, it would screw up his routine.
A message popped up on his screen. It was an alert from the local security forces. They had gotten a lead on another possible smuggler inbound to his city today. If he and his crew wanted a piece of the action they would need to report for duty by sixteen hundred hours. He contemplated the possibility of getting in an arrest, but thought better of it. He could flex some command muscle and get in the job, but there was no point. Local security forces had two squadrons allocated for the operation. A sweeper squad would be overkill for small-time smugglers. He had some paperwork to finish up at the office and his crew needed some rest. They had been working back to back operations the last few weeks with maybe only a day’s rest or less between assignments. They would enjoy the time off to rest. He would drill them in the afternoon, but other than he kept the day clear. He cleared the message, set down his PDD and set about the rest of his routine for the day.
He took a quick shower, shaved his face with military precision, and got dressed in his utility fatigues. Even though he was working around the office, the utility uniform allowed him the ability of doing other more active work without having to change out of his dress uniform. He laced up his boots and grabbed his necessary ID as he walked out his door, down the stairs to the open air from his barracks building. He could live off base but why. His rank afforded him a good living space and he had a five-minute walking commute. Should be an uneventful day, he thought.
A buzz in the captain’s ears woke him up, as he ordered the ship to do. The lights were off in the cockpit. He stood up and performed some light stretches to warm up since the air was cold and to get the blood flowing in his body. To conserve power during Gravity Jumps, all systems operated at minimal levels to conserve power. This included interior lighting, heating, and any other system that could be shut down without killing the crew. The Gravity Drive needed most of the power to operate and create the gravity amplification field to make the Jump. If all the other systems had to pull on the generator it would drain the energy from the batteries faster than the gravity from distant stars and planets could replenish it.
After his stretching, Davik double checked the readouts on the ship’s displays. According to the ship’s sensors, the Eagle’s course was correct and they were right where they should be in the galaxy. They were moving faster than light towards one of hundreds of systems in the center of the galaxy. He watched the timer tick down to the Gravity Jump termination point for a few seconds and then looked out the window. Nothing special to see, just the infinite blackness of space and countless stars whizzing past his window. He always thought it was interesting that each one of those points of light that appeared to be only feet from his cockpit window as they whizzed past was actually millions of miles away. It baffled the mind sometimes.
After about a few minutes of staring into the void, Davik made his way out of the cockpit. Out of the back of the cockpit, was the communal area of the vessel. It included a full service kitchen, a table that the crew ate all their meals at together, and a random mix of chairs for lounging around between jobs. The kitchen made up the back wall of the space between two hallways that led to the crew’s quarters. It had all the regular elements of a kitchen, but these were all powered by a system of generators run on propane. This was so that the crew could use the systems without draining the Gravity Generator during a jump.
Quarters weren’t much, but sufficient for the needs of the crew. Each room included a bed with storage underneath and above and anywhere else you could stick another drawer or cabinet. Very functional, but not very comfortable. The crew shared a communal bathroom made out of several quarters with the walls knocked down. They honestly were about the size of a large jail cell, but they were home. The faint glow of lights poured into the hallways from open doors. As he walked past, Davik could see his crew at work on their own projects.
Fælløn Höngår’s room was first (Call sign: Guns). She had detached one of her prosthetic arms. She wiped it down and was cleaning out the crevices with a rag and solvent that he could smell feet from her door. It smelled horrible, like a mix of spoiled bovine milk and human waste. Both of her arms were not your standard issue prosthetics. Where she got the money to pay for them came way before she started working on the Eagle because Davik knew he didn’t pay her enough to buy them now. She kept them in good working order though. The most significant upgrade of the arms was that they doubled as firearms. As weapons they could use virtually any caliber of rounds, from your nine millimeter to the fifty caliber monster. The fact that both arms looked like standard nondescript prosthetics also gave the crew the element of surprise. in violent engagements.
Fælløn lost both of her arms during her involvement in the Unification Wars. Her right arm just below the elbow; the other midway up her biceps. Despite the years together she had never revealed which side she fought for during the wars. If she fought for the Union, she never let on. Davik didn’t care. Her faithfulness to the ship and her crew, despite the Chief’s and Davik’s rebel leanings, is all that mattered. “See something interesting captain?” she asked. Davik had not realized he was staring. While she was a beautiful woman with a short compact frame and long black hair Davik never really thought of her in way other than one of the crew.
“Sorry, Guns,” he replied. “Just admiring the meticulousness you take with your arms.”
“Well, it’s not a fun job, but necessary,” she said. “Wouldn’t want these to jam up or misfire when we need them.”
“Indeed, there shouldn’t be much excitement on this run, but as always it’s good to know you’re prepared.”
“Always am captain. Any particular rounds that I should arm for the mission?”
“Whatever you like. The mission profile is the standard covert insertion with a cargo pickup and escape. I don’t expect any Union involvement. Our contact on the planet is trustworthy, at least that’s what I have heard from my sources.”
“Sounds good. If you don’t mind cap, I got lots of work to do and not a lot of time to get it done,” She turned her head back to her work. She reattached her first arm and then removed the other. She poured some more of the foul smelling solvent on the rag and proceeded to wipe it down as well.
“As you were,” Davik said as he walked away with a fake salute. Davik continued down the hallway to its end and turned the corner to the left. To his right was a short hallway that led to the stairs on the port side of the ship. These stairs led down to the cargo bay. As he strolled down the connecting hallway, he neared the door to his quarters. The noise coming from the Gravity Drive generator got louder as he got closer to the engine compartment and his personal quarters.
His quarters were situated just in front of the engine room. So from his room he could hear the thrum of the Gravity Drive generating power; it made it easier for him to sleep. The Federalists equipped their starfighters with a modified Gravity Drive generator, capable of short jumps between points. Federalist standard operating procedure included deploying their fleets and starfighters an hour or two outside of the battle zone and then jumped all the ships into battle at the same time. This was done to avoid deployment time once they reached the battle site. When Davik served as a starfighter pilot, he would often sleep while en route to the next battle; now he found it next to impossible to sleep without that sound in his ears. So his quarters, while louder than most, was the easiest place for him to sleep.
The captain had the largest quarters of all the crew. He had removed the walls between the rooms and made his living accommodations larger than the rest. His quarters included its own separate bathroom facilities, even though the rest of the crew shared a common bathroom. The burden of command comes with its privileges.
While it was not exactly quiet in the engine room, the Chief Engineer of the Iron Eagle, Siinguler Chondock (Call Sign: Chief), slept in his chair. His portly stature filled the worn out chair at his desk leaning backwards and his feet were up on the console. He had not shaved in a few days and the grey sprouts of facial hair had sprung up randomly around his face. Davik could never truly comprehend how this man kept the Eagle in ship shape. “Duct tape and luck” the Chief would always say. The captain would respond, “Better lucky than good.”
A red glow permeated the engine compartment. A general warning light was lit up on one of the many panels in the room. Davik never took the time to familiarize himself with the way the Gravity Drive worked; he knew just enough to get himself in trouble. But that is why he kept Chief around and he did a damn good job of it. Davik tapped the light with his finger and it went out. Must be nothing, he thought. He’d talk to the Chief about it later.
He had known the Chief for the majority of his adult life. He had been the chief mechanic and engineer for the first squadron Davik had flown with during the Unification Wars. It was Chief who gave Davik the call sign, Five, after this first mission.
He had popped his head in the window of his starfighter just seconds after Davik had landed his ship in starfighter storage and maintenance. “By the Divine Storm, Eagle Five!” he shouted at Davik. Davik jumped. ”Five kills in your first combat mission. That’s impressive even for man of my age to see. Even more ironic that you got the same number of kills as your ship designation. The Divine Storm must be with you that’s for sure. An ace in your first mission! Wow!” The irony continued in just four short missions later when Davik was promoted to squadron leader after just five missions with the squadron and the deaths of the five other squad members in that same mission. Those deaths still weighed heavily on his mind even to this day.
The squadron saw huge amounts of success under Davik’s leadership in the mission that they ran during the Unification Wars. As he successfully lead and trained his squadron, the perks piled up in his lap. The commanders he worked under gave Davik everything he ever asked for, including one of the commanding officer’s favorite mechanic and engineer, the Chief. Since that first fateful day with the Iron Eagles, Chief and Davik never ran a mission without the other. But all the victories and success were never enough.
The Union had more money, more fighters, more resources, and more people apathetic enough to not to care about the final outcome of the war. Davik and Chief escaped the purge of dissidents and rebels that followed the signing of the peace treaty and the formal expansion of the Union of Exiled Systems and Planet (more commonly called The Union). They made their way to the outer reaches of the Exiled Systems and started over. They changed their names and identities to hide from the Union Sweeper squads that were dispatched to track down anyone who fought or actively spoke against the Union. They hadn’t been caught yet, and never planned to. Davik and Chief were still the only ones on the crew to know each other’s real names from before the war.
He backed out of the engine compartment and went down the starboard side stairs to the cargo hold of the vessel. It was a fairly large, open, and empty space, right now. On the starboard side of the vessel, the all-terrain vehicles had been locked into their parking positions, next to their trailers. Attached to the back wall was the basketball; the ball stood stationary in the middle of the cargo hold.
Like this afternoon, the crew often played basketball on their down time. It is a modified version of what Exile records report as a game known as Basketball on Earth. Supposedly, some people were paid large sums of money to play this game for the amusement of the population. Most Exiles don’t understand why our forefathers would pay someone to watch them play a game, but many Exiles don’t understand much of old Earth culture here in the center of the galaxy.
Davik could hear gears moving throughout the cargo hold; the sound came from the ship’s quartermaster and robot. It carefully stacked boxes and cleaned up around the area. Its body is made up of multicolor metallic and plastic pieces. Exposed wires poke out in between the gaps of the plates. His eyes shine red at the moment to compensate for the lack of light. The robot spotted the captain walking around started to speak, “Hello Captain.”
“You doing okay, Eight–Ball?” Davik asks.
“Without a doubt,” it responded. “Just making sure the cargo hold is in tip top shape for the new items we are taking on later today. I assume the rest of the crew is asleep.”
“Cannot predict now,” the captain responded and chuckled. The robot just stared at the captain without any response. “I will leave you to your work,” The captain traveled up the stairs at the other end of the cargo hold and back up into the crew quarters area.
Another light shone in a different one of the crew quarters. This was probably Chris Carrington (Call sign: DC) the crew’s doctor, she was almost always reading something during their down time. Usually anything she could pick up on the history of the planet the Exiles called Earth (For a brief history of the Earth Exiles see Appendix A). He made his way to her doorway and just watched her read by the light of her private book light. She seemed oblivious to his presence. “What you reading about now, DC?” the captain asked.
She jumped and let out a small shriek. “By the Divine Storm Captain! I hate it when you sneak up on me like that,” She caught her breath and continued, “Just some data I found about the nation once known as the United States of America.”
“Sounds familiar,” the captain replied. “Remind me again about them.”
“A unique nation state that existed between the 18TH and 22ND centuries on Earth. Originally a series of colonies, controlled by a smaller, yet more powerful, yet distant home nation. They fought against the home nation and actually won despite the fact that the home country was significantly stronger militarily wise.”
“I wonder how they did it?” the captain asked.
“I am not sure. I have not found much information on that period of time, called..,” she typed some information in the her personal data device (PDD), looking for the answer. “Ah, here it is, the American Revolutionary War.”
“So what are you reading about this unique nation?” he asked.
“Just a copy of a government textbook used in the schools of the individual states that were part of this nation,” she replied.
“Anything interesting?” he asked again probing for more information.
“It’s system is remarkably similar to the beginnings of the Exiles way of governing, before the wars,” Davik shook his head in acknowledgment. “A strong emphasis on local power instead of centralized power. There are very clear limits on the power of the centralized government as well as on the ’several states ’as the constitution says. At least that is what I pick up from all the subsidiary reading about this nation.”
“Fascinating,” Davik said dripping with sarcastically.
“I know it’s boring history, Cap,” she replied rolling her eyes. “But if you can’t remember the past you are doomed to repeat it.”
“And who said that?” he asked.
“Some other figure from Earth’s history. I can’t remember the name right now.”
“Don’t bother, I prefer to live in the present since that’s what keeps me alive and this bird flyin’ That and any job in the future; no use dwellin’ on the past since it can’t be changed.”
“You’ve got a point,” Chris said as she returned to her PDD. The Captain took the hint and walked out of her quarters. As he peered down the hallway there was some movement in the communal area of the ship forward of the crew quarters. That must have been the remaining member of the crew: Cace Dak (Call Sign: Monk). He liked to practice a form of meditative martial arts that he picked up from his time at the monastery for the Divine Storm. Davik was not a religious man, but he was familiar with the beliefs, monasteries, and monks of the Divine Storm well before Cace joined the crew.
They believe that there was some divine intervention that guided the Exiles ships to the systems that they now inhabit. There was some evidence in the crashed and landed ship records that indicate something intervened or affected their original course heading. The monks from the religious order this information spawned call it the Divine Storm. The monks seek its will in all their actions. They claim it saved the lives of the Exile forefathers, therefore they should never take a life. The storm spared the Exiles, the refuse of the planet called Earth, what right is it of ours to take the life of another.
The way that Cace could zone out during his routines was truly a sight to see. He could cut off the rest of the world and all that was happening around him. Davik had seen countless routines since Cace joined the crew, and he was sure there were hundreds more. Or Case could just be doing the same routine over and over again and the captain never noticed.
Cace’s arms and legs moved with fluid motion as if pretending to fight off enemies surrounding him. The dimmed lights played with the shadows in the room, making it almost appear that there were people trying to harm Davik’s second in command. Cace’s steady nature and calm demeanor was what made Davik choose him as his first mate, replacing Fælløn, even though he had known her longer. She could be a hot head in high stress situations and had an itchy trigger finger; Cace was the opposite. They paired well with each other on missions when balance was needed. But they could also annoy the crap outta each other. It was fun to watch, but hard to control.
With a very forceful thrust of his arm and a loud “kai” Cace finished his routine. His hands came up in front of his face. He bowed to his imaginary opponent and opened his eyes. It was only then that the captain felt comfortable opening his mouth to talk. “Feeling balanced?” he asked.
“Very,” Cace replied.
“If the monks of the Divine Storm preach and practice nonviolence why do they practice and teach a form martial arts?” the captain asked.
“While we may not take the life of another being, there is nothing within our teachings that state we cannot defend the life of another that is being threatened, including our own. The greatest and most revered among our order were those who willingly lay down their lives to the point of death for those we were protecting. This is similar to a teaching of an old Earth religion, Christianity. Their leader, who was martyred and supposedly raised from the dead, spoke to his followers once saying, ’Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.’We follow in that spirit.”
“Then why did none of the monks get involved during the Unification Wars, or why don’t they speak up at the purges by the Union?”
“The Divine Storm did not pick sides when it transplanted the Exiles in this part of the universe, neither should the monks. There were monks who did leave the monasteries to fight for both sides of the war. To do so meant exile from the monasteries for the remainder of their lives. Now if you will excuse me captain, I must return to my quarters for some silent meditation to feel the flow of the Divine Storm for our upcoming mission.”
“As you were,” Cace walked down the hall and into his quarters. The captain looked around the space of his ship and was pleased. A second later he turned and returned to his quarters. He had killed an hour of their ??? hour Jump to Synex Five; only a few more to go. He went to his quarters and jumped on his bunk. He pulled out his PDD and check for any new messages. The only new message was the instructions from his contact for the mission he and the crew were moving towards. He downloaded the details to his PDD and ran through them to make sure he knew what was going on so he could brief his crew.
He checked the news feeds on Synex Five. It appeared they were in the middle of a big smuggling crackdown. Davik had heard that before. Nothing he could not handle. No other big news in the surrounding systems either. It was a rather boring day in the Exile corner of the universe.
He checked the entertainment feeds. He was behind in several of the shows that he liked to watch. He picked one and started watching. He then watched a second and third episode. When he caught the smell of food cooking wafting down the hallway he suddenly realized that it was almost dinner time. He grabbed his PDD and headed out the door to the kitchen.
The rest of the crew were already seated at their long wooden dinner table. The head seat was always saved for the captain. Plates were set at each position with the appropriate flatware. It was all mixed and matched, but it fit with their mismatched crew. Food was steaming out of pots and bowls waiting to be put on each crew member’s plate and eaten. Davik indicated to Cace who bowed his head along with the rest of the crew. “May the Divine Storm which fatefully blessed our ancestors to this place of plenty, bless this food and guide our actions in this life.”
The rest of the crew joined in on the “Amen,” even Davik. They all then passed around the bowls of food. Chris had prepared one of Davik’s favorite recipes that she had picked up from an Earth cookbook. Sloppy Joes, macaroni and cheese, with mixed vegetables. Usually he would have an alcoholic beverage in front of him as well, but because this was a pre–mission meal, Davik stuck with water in a large glass with lots of ice. The crew all chowed down on the food. They barely spoke a word before a mission. Everyone focused on the upcoming task at hand. When everyone had finished eating, all the dishes had been washed, and the kitchen cleaned up, they all sat around the table again.
Davik pulled out his PDD and pulled up the information from his contact. All eyes were focused on Davik. “The mission is a simple mission of extracting black market goods from Synex Five to Acamar Prime. Our LZ (landing zone) is outside the city limits to avoid the usual Union trade laws. Our contact will meet us at the LZ and lead us to the cargo. We will extract the cargo using the ATVs. How many will we need Eight Ball?” he asked.
There was a pause as Eight–Ball ran the appropriate calculations of the cargo manifest that had been sent to them by the contact. On these black market missions, Eight–Ball was the only crew member that knew what they were hauling. Ignorance is bliss for the captain and the rest of the crew. It was standard operating procedure for them so no one questioned it at this point. “Four ATVs and their trailers will be required to complete this mission,” Eight–Ball stated.
“Excellent,” the captain continued. “Cace, Fælløn and Chris will accompany me with the contact to pick up the cargo,” They all nodded their heads in acknowledgment. “Chief?” Davik asked.
“Yes Captain,” he replied.
“During the start of our jump I noticed a red light in the engine compartment. I don’t know what the problem was or is, but check it out; I don’t want any surprises on this mission. Give me the long and the short of it by the time we come back.”
“You’re right captain. I had seen the light come on right as we made the Jump, but it blinked out a second later. The warning light was on when I woke up. I already have the ship’s computers working on the problem. I am running an in–depth diagnostic right now. It should be completed by the time you get back from the run. I will have a complete action report ready for you by the time you return.”
“Thank you Chief,” Davik said. “Eight–Ball, I will need you on standby to receive a scan of the cargo for verification purposes.”
“Yes sir,” he replied.
Davik looked at the rest of his crew. Chris raised his hand. “Speak,” Davik said as the rest of the crew looked at her. “I read news reports that the Union is clamping down hard on smuggling out of Synex Five. Is that anything we should be concerned about?”
“How many times have we heard about the Union’s attempts to stop smuggling?” Fælløn asked. The question hung in the air for a second.
“Too many,” Chief replied. “It’s all bluster. Otherwise we wouldn’t get any work.”
“Yeah but the news reports say that several crews have already been busted,” Chris replied.
“Did the news reports give any details of when they were captured?” Cace asked.
“No, those details were left out,” Davik said. “But Chris is right. I saw the news feeds as well. This should be an easy mission, but in light of these details let’s prepare for them anyway. Make sure our ATV ammo boxes are loaded up. Chris, Case, Fælløn, Eight–Ball get the ATVs ready to go. We have a customs window at Acamar Prime so being discreet will not be necessary at the drop off point. The customs window is only open for another ?? hours. After that we get paid. There will be a double share of pay on this job if we can pull it off, plus no fuel expenses.” The crew clapped at that news. “Any questions, comments, or concerns?” Davik asked. He waited a few seconds, seeing none he continued, “You all have your jobs to do. Get to it.”
With that the crew got up out of their seats and got to work preparing their ATVs for the mission. The captain headed back to the cockpit to pilot his ship. He checked the countdown timer. He had about twenty minutes left before he had to pull the Eagle out of his Gravity Jump, so he took the time to center himself and prepare mentally for the mission ahead.
He took out his PDD and accessed the directory on the ship’s mainframe computer that was reserved just for him. The files inside this directory had been with him since he was a child. It include every paper that he wrote in school as well as some clever messages with friends he had saved over the years. Books and movies. Pictures and games. Today he was just interested in one file. It was a book that had never been read by anyone else in the world. It was his book. He looked at the words on his screen and attempted to find where he had left off.
Once he found the location he started typing. Very few members of the crew knew that the captain enjoyed writing. The story he was currently writing was a fictional novel set back on Earth about teacher and his daily struggles in life in the classroom. He had lots of stories, but none of them had ever saw the light of day. No one else needed to read these stories, they were just for him.
While he was engaged in his writing the cockpit com line buzzed. He responded. “Go ahead!”
Cace responded, “The ATVs are all locked and loaded for the mission.”
“Sounds good,” Davik replied. “Get everyone locked down; we will be at our Gravity Jump point momentarily.
“Roger that captain,” he replied “We’re strapping in down here. Over and out.” The line went dead. In the cargo hold four ATVs and attached trucks were sitting in the middle of the empty space. The magnetic field on the floor was holding them in position. The rest of the crew hurried to the sides of the cargo bay and pulled down temporary seats with harnesses. They strapped themselves in nice and tight. This was the safest way to come out of a Gravity Jump.
Inside the cockpit, the timer was counting down the last thirty seconds before they needed to exit their jump and either overshoot or run right into their target, depending on the position of the planet to the sun and their current trajectory. The captain counted down the last ten seconds into the ship’s com lines, “Ten... nine... eight.... seven... six... five.... four... three... two... one...” As he said, “zero,” he pulled back on the engine throttles out of their locked Gravity Jump positions. They were immediately pulled into normal speed with a small jerk. “Jump completed. Everyone to battle stations. Chief get my engines back up and running.”
The four engines that propelled the Iron Eagle through a planet’s atmosphere were typical ion engines and were shut down during Gravity Jumps. Chief needed to go warm them up before they hit the atmosphere so they could be used to maneuver the Eagle to their drop point. A second later Cace and Fælløn entered the cockpit and took their positions on either side of the bridge in their gunnery positions.
Before the vessel lay the fifth planet of the Synex system. It was only a spec of light in the distance. The Exiles who colonized the planet had never named it, as evidenced by the information in his star chart. It was not an atypical planet. It had multiple climate zones and large continents separated by a few minor saltwater oceans. It did have a large number of rivers and lakes of various sizes that provide more than enough fresh water for the millions of inhabitants of the planet. It did not lack resources to sell to the other planets in the Union. If Davik remembered his history correctly, this system was not on the Federalists side during the Unification Wars. Figures, the richest of the planets and systems had the most to gain from the Union’s unified system of trade.
Looking at his long range sensor nets, Davik saw no fewer than four Union Planetary Defenders; which probably meant there were more just out of view. Any one of these was enough of a threat to the Eagle, but they would probably, hopefully, not be bothered by them either inbound or outbound. The fact that this planet probably had this many vessels means it was a highly valuable planet to the Union. The oval shaped Planetary Defenders ships had massive engines on both the port and starboard side of the vessel. These engines could be used in either direction to make the ship more maneuverable than you would think a ship of that size could be when you first looked at it. Each Planetary Defender was equipped with enough starfighters squadrons to adequately defend a single planet by itself long enough for a larger defense force to arrive on the scene.
The Eagle drifted in space as the engines warmed up and came online. Their momentum from the Gravity Jump and the planet’s own gravity was slowly pulling the vessel closer to its atmosphere. It would take several hours for them to actually make it to the planet at these speeds, so Davik was not worried about needing the engines anytime soon. Green lights started to flash on his console, indicating that the four engines of the Iron Eagle were up and running. The engine power control sliders and the lit speck of light grew brighter in just a few minutes.
Davik slipped between the Planetary Defenders without even so much of a short range sensor net scan. Good sign, he thought. He was not close to puncturing the atmosphere. He simultaneously pulled back on the Gravity Drive sliders while he pushed forward on the engine’s power. The sound of them whirling and twirling could be heard through the metal of the ship. The sound of the engines along with the friction of the upper atmosphere on the hull of the ship made it very noisy. A few minutes later they were flying straight and true in the planet’s lower atmosphere on the way to their contact point.
Davik pinpointed the coordinates given to him by his original Warren; they laid on the outskirts of a settlement to avoid the regulations required of shipping vessels in major Union outposts and ports; documents like bills of lading, regulated manifests (filled out in triplicate), and other things that just got in the way of regular commerce, especially black market commerce. The bureaucrats checked and double checked these items for any discrepancy that might tip the Union off to black market good or other contraband. On some runs a crew or contact could have all the paperwork lined up so that you don’t need to avoid the Union, but not on this job. They were flying strictly under the radar, both figuratively and literally; well, technically outside the radar.
Davik had to fly skillfully and precisely with pinpoint accuracy. Landing outside of regulated ports is obviously against Union regulations. Thankfully Davik had upgraded the Eagle’s sensor suite to the point of being able to identify the borders of each outpost’s long range sensor nets. The large contingent of Planetary Defenders led Davik to believe that this planet appeared important to the Union, but the major outposts and ports on this planet seemed spread apart. Maneuvering through the gaps in the sensor nets was not as hard as it would be on a more inhabited planet. The remaining minutes to the landing zone were uneventful.
There was a clearing in the middle of a dense forest, marked specifically in the Eagle’s sensors as the landing zone. The Eagle slowed its momentum as the engine cowlings moved from a horizontal to vertical position to hover over the site. Due to the large size of the break in the trees the forward wings did not need to retract into landing position. A four wheeler approached the front of the ship as the Eagle touched down. The Eagle’s short range sensor net passively scanned the face of the man and identified him from his physical features using the Union cortex system. It was their contact.
The captain powered down the ship except for essential power systems and made his way back through the ship; Cace and Fælløn followed him. Chris followed along as well as they made their way through the crew quarters. They all reached the cargo bay a few short seconds later. Chris, Cace, and Fælløn mounted their own ATV for the run. Each crew members’ ATV was distinct to their character and personality. Each crew member got to choose the color scheme and different attachments available. The nonstandard modified looks of the ATVs made them harder to track and associate with a single particular vessel.
Davik approached the front of the ship and flicked a few switches. The front of the cargo hold began to lower as a ramp at the front of the ship. Fresh air rushed in and as the ramp hit the ground their contact started to walk up the ramp. He extended his hand to the captain. “ You’re late,”he said.
“I know,” the captain replied. “We’re gonna be later if we don’t get going. So shall we?” The captain hopped on board his ATV, started the engine, and drove it down the ramp following their contact, who already had mounted his transport. Chris and Cace followed on a second and third ATV and Fælløn followed fourth as rear guard. Davik looked back as they exited the ship and saw Chief standing in the enormous doorway for the cargo hold. He waved; Davik waved back and then turned his attention back to following their contact.
Very few words were spoken by either the captain or the contact as they made their way through on a well worn paths into and through the woods. The captain just tried to enjoy the view and keep his mind on the job. The lack of talking was not unusual in their line of work. The less you knew about the contraband product, person selling it, or the person you are selling it too, the less you could tell Union officials if you got pinched, protecting yourself, the client, your contacts, and crew.
The crew rode along for ten minutes before they cleared out of the woods. When they broke from the forest of trees, they saw the walls of a moderately sized city in the distance. A few minutes later they had to slow down their ATVs as they entered the city and the streets were crowded. This made it slightly easier for them to blend in with the crowd. The contact led the crew through the winding streets of the city doubling back and using side roads whenever possible. This was to make sure that they were not being tailed by Union police forces. This added even more time to their trip inside the city.
Finally they came to what appeared to be an abandoned building on the middle of a busy industrial district. Their contact signaled them to wait in the alleyway across the street from the building while he approached the warehouse. He pressed a few buttons and the metal doors of the building rolled open enough for him and his transport to slid in easily. He appeared at the door again a minute later. He looked left and right and signaled for crew to make their way into the building. This took several minutes as they had to contend with the heavy shipping traffic on the street in front of the warehouse.
The door shut behind them when all of the crew entered in the warehouse. It was a mostly empty space. A set of stairs led to an elevated office with windows to look out on the floor to one side of the building. There were racks of boxes and equipment running in neat parallel lines in the center of the building. In front of the door they entered was a large space for loading and unloading cargo. In that space sat three large pallets of unmarked, nondescript boxes. Their contact was standing beside them. “ This the cargo?” the captain asked.
“It is,” the contact replied.
“I hope you don’t mind if I verify the contents.”
“By all means,” The captain pulled out a device from his pack. It looked like a large camera. He scanned it over the boxes and crates in front of him. This device was military grade technology that he pilfered off of a Union security check team years ago. A miniature device that could see through most any material and provide a brief analysis of the contents based on density of the materials and other factors. Like many other things in this world, Davik did not understood how it worked; it just did. And for that he was thankful.
After scanning the crates he attached the camera to his comm line and punched in the frequency number for 8-Ball. “Eight Ball you there?” he asked.
“Without a doubt,”he replied.
“I am sending you a scan of the cargo. Run the standard double check on the cargo while we load it up. Ping me when you’re finished.”
“Affirmative captain,” Davik punched a few buttons on his scanner and the data was sent to their quartermaster droid. Meanwhile, the rest of his crew had started loading the crates onto the cargo beds attached to the back of their ATVs. The captain joined in. A few minutes later the captain’s comm pinged; it was Eight Ball. “According to the manifest given to me by our contracting agents and the scan provided for me by you all the appropriate cargo is there. Would you like me to do a higher resolution analysis of the cargo?” the droid asked.
“Don’t I always?”the captain replied.
“You may rely on it,” The captain and his crew went back to securing their cargo.