Into the Black – Lushertha 33010726

It’s now been some months since I entered the Eta Draconis system and took up with the 8th Dragon squadron in their fight for justice for Gold Vision Co. It sure made a change from the grind of trading and the Dragons are a great bunch of Commanders to share a few beers with, that’s for sure.

Then there was the Gliese 900.1 campaign, where we’d been fighting to help Emperor’s Grace gain control of the system. I’d had a little trouble with this one as I’d had some financial problems paying off the loan I took out when I bought the Cobra back in Eravate. Seems that the bond I’d set up to ensure my regular payments had gone sour for some reason after I’d left there, and the previous owner, who’d been quite anxious to pass on the ship at the time as he needed to get out of the system quickly, had been tracked down by the Feds and arrested for defaulting on his payments. Of course, in an effort to save his sorry ass, he’d squealed about who he’d sold the ship to, and before you could say “Septimus Draconis” the repo squad were looking for me. Now it was clear exactly why he’d been so keen to offload the ship so quickly – but that left me with a bad credit rating, plus the need to keep the Objects… out of the way of the inspectors for a while until the heat died down and they decided that it would be cheaper and easier just to write it off as a tax loss than waste any more time and money looking for us. Luckily I’d set up my payment bonds using a secure money-laundered account that couldn’t be traced back to me, so all they had was my name and the Cobra’s flight plan that I’d filed on Eravate. Still, for a determined investigator with high-level Federal access privileges, that would be enough to track me down eventually, so I couldn’t afford to take chances if I wanted to keep the ship.

Near the start of one of her exploration runs, it so happened that CMDR Star of the 8th Dragons had overheard a couple of heavies in a starport bar making enquiries about the location of a certain CMDR Calvert. Suspecting that they might mean me, she’d kindly tipped me off on her return and suggested that I might want to lay low for a bit. Thanks, Talynn. I owe you one for that.

Now by this point, I’d had the Cobra’s registration code changed and also repainted her in good old Dragon red, as well as upgrading several of the systems. She looked like a totally different ship, and it would be hard to trace the ship back to me. Hard, but not impossible for a persistent investigator prepared to grease the right palms. If there was even a rumour that I was hanging around in one place for any length of time, trouble was sure to come knocking at my door at some point. So I bailed out of the war in Gliese, left the system completely and earned a few million credits helping Senator Patraeus over in the Quivira system for a while. During that time, the Dragons had been called to help tip the balance in the Lushertha system, so I’d headed over there as soon as I could – too late to catch much of the action however. As a result I spent way too much time drinking in the Star & Garter listening to the other Dragons boasting about their campaign adventures, which to be honest got a bit boring after the ninth or tenth iteration of the same battle story. I was happy for the guys, but as I hadn’t played much part in the campaign I had nothing to contribute apart from another round of drinks.

It was after a particularly brutal solo encounter with a couple of Anacondas where I was down to 12% integrity before I’d managed to boost out of the action that I noticed that I seemed to always get the same engineer organising the repair squads on my ship. Normally you never notice these guys, but this one stood out somewhat. She had the brightest green eyes that I had ever seen, sitting atop a pert nose and a broad smile. A mess of tousled red hair crowned her head and she wore a worn but still serviceable coverall with an engineer’s logo and the name ‘Mcleod’ on the left breast. There always seemed to be a tiny smudge of a grease stain on her right cheek that never went away, a result of her constantly pushing her hair back behind her ear with dirty hands. It was an endearing habit that I was too gentlemanly to point out, although it didn’t stop us flirting outrageously over the repair manifests on the ship every time I saw her. There was definitely chemistry there, and after a while I’d asked her out for a drink in the Star & Garter after she finished her shift.

So that’s how I met Sammy. She’d obviously had her eye on me for a while and I’d been too morose to notice. Sammy was a Chief Engineer and there wasn’t much she didn’t know about what went where as far as ships (and men) were concerned. After that first night back in her quarters we were pretty inseparable when I wasn’t out fighting with the Dragons. I’m a pretty independent guy but it had been a long time since I’d had any sort of serious relationship, so I was going to make the most of it while I could, even though I knew it probably wouldn’t last beyond the next mission calling for the 8th Dragons. At least it cut down on my drinking and kept me out of the Star & Garter.

After the war in Lushertha was over, I made contact with CMDR Furieux to see if anyone had been asking about me. Sure enough, there had been some guy from out-system poking his nose around asking after a commander going by the name of Culver or Carter or something. Luckily I knew Furieux well enough, and had bought him enough drinks over time, for him to brush the guy off before warning me that I’d best take a break from the Dragons for a while. “It’s not that we don’t value your contributions to the Dragons, Marcus”, he said, “But we can’t afford any outside interference in our campaign, and who knows who this guy is really working for?”

“Yeah, I understand, Furieux. No big deal. I’ve been thinking of doing some sightseeing anyway. Now that I’ve got some credits together I’m going to invest in a new ship and hit the Big Black.”

“Good plan”, he said. “We’ll keep in touch and once the coast is clear and this little… ah, situation of yours calms down, as it surely will, we’ll be glad to have you back with the Dragons.”

“Thanks, man. Appreciate it.” I bought him another large Lavian brandy.

“And don’t worry about this guy,” he added. “We’ll make sure he’s discreetly taken care of.”

“Amen to that.” We clinked glasses.

And that’s how I came to have my beautiful Cobra, the ‘Objects in Mirror are Closer than they Appear’ moved into the deepest, darkest, most remote hanger that Sammy could find, her plant completely powered down and half of her hull plating removed so that it looked to the casual observer that she was being stripped for spares.

Meanwhile, I switched ships and systems a couple of times before spending most of my credits on a shiny new Diamondback Explorer, the ‘Slippery When Wet’. Old habits die hard though, and I had already kitted her out as a combat ship before realising that I didn’t need all the weaponry if I was heading out into the Big Black. Cursing the unneeded expenditure, I stripped out and re-sold much of the unnecessary kit. But I kept a brace of gimballed beams – just for old-time’s sake, you understand.

See you in a few weeks, Dragons.

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