Memoirs of a Rockjack

Chapter One

I was absolutely overjoyed when the message came in and almost forgot I was on final approach to La Soeur du Dan Ham! (Yep, I decided to go hunting again in the meantime!) Fortunately, I didn't start doing a "drive dance" and run the risk of an untimely demise.

The message I received was sealed in a Class Three Military Encryption, which took my computer about an hour to decode and unscramble. In the sealed orders was a set of coordinates pointing me in the direction of an unremarkable satellite of some gas giant or other. I don't even remember the name of it, but it wasn't all that important to begin with. Needless to say, two days later, I'd purchased a new ship and aimed myself away from the Frontier where I'd lived all my life and drove ahead into the Core systems.

The Poisoned Dagger needed consistent refueling and, unfortunately, it had such a short range on its original drive that I had to go and purchase a larger engine to make the ship cost effective. Fortunately, the trade in value of my Salamander was quite decent and, even after I'd finished paying off my loans, I had a decent amount of cash to play with. I purchased a Class 2 Military Drive for the Dagger and I knew it was worth it! Having to stop somewhere and refuel was a minor annoyance, but it balanced itself out by the fact that I was able to cover four times the distance that my original engine was capable of traveling. I also enjoyed checking out strange new places. One thing I remembered about that particular trip was the fact that every place I visited was a first for me. Even simply seeing a space station with an unfamiliar name painted below its docking bay was a signal for me to get out and explore once I was docked.

It took me about three weeks and four hyperspace jumps to reach the designated star system. I was still over a month ahead of schedule and I grinned to myself as I thought about the many surprised looks I'd probably get when I announced my presence! It was quiet and that was something else that had my attention! I always expected to run into somebody who felt like picking me off. Heck, I'd managed to cover the cost of all my fuel in the last system I was in! Elite Federation bounties were nice incentives for pilots to blast each other out of the sky. You can only hope that there isn't a bounty on your head!

I'd landed and, sure enough, I got lots of surprised looks. Unfortunately, they weren't surprised and overjoyed. Actually, when my ID check confirmed that I really was Maximillian Weaver, there was a noticeable air of annoyance from the deck coordinators. After all, I was going to be taking up a berth for a whole bloody month, but they couldn't order me out because I actually was where I was supposed to be, just a little early. They certainly weren't going to send me back home, but they needed to do something with me!

After a half an hour of discussions with various enlisted folks who managed personnel assignments, I went to see Lieutenant Schroeder, the senior personnel officer.

"Son, I understand you're wanting to get here in good order, and I used to own a Krait, so I know about hyperdrive upgrades. The problem is we simply can't provide long-term berthing space for you. So, either you ship out and either pass the time away in a parking orbit, stop off at a civilian port in a neighboring star system, or we could assign you to an earlier training unit. The only problem with that is the fact that the squadron we're assembling this month isn't joining up with the joint task force, which is where you requested posting and were approved for."

"Hmmm..." I said as I mulled the idea over. All that waiting to be approved for an INRA assignment only to be denied because I arrived on station early? That's bureaucracy for you! I thought. I knew I only had one choice.

"I guess I might as well go see what Barnard's Star is like."

Schroeder nodded, understanding.

"I appreciate your understanding in this, son." The dark-skinned older man in the navy blue jacket with the gold stripes gave a wry grin, "Don't worry, you'll be out on the front line before you know it!"

"I'm sure I will. I'll see you in a month, then."

"Take care, son."

I turned and left the office.

* * * * *

I'd never seen a Federation system before and that made it all the more exciting. No, the recruiting station didn't count as one as far as I was concerned. Anyway, I set the Dagger moving toward a planet called Birminghamworld, the outermost of the system's two habitable worlds. There was an orbital station there called Boston Base that I figured would be a nice place to start a half-credit tour of Federation living.

It took me the better part of three days to travel across the Barnard system to arrive in the vicinity of Boston Base and the trip was, once again, without incident. I guess the Federal cops do a much better job of policing their systems than the Interpol of Lave and Zaonce does! Well, in a way, I guess I'm not all that surprised, considering the fact that the Federal government pays for all the Vipers used by their systems' police forces.

On Day Three, at around noon-ish, I let the autopilot guide the Dagger into the cavernous docking bay of Boston Base while I got up, stretched my legs a bit, and then gobbled down a couple of breakfast bars along with some black coffee. There was the dull thud and shudder which announced my ship's landing on the docking bay conveyor. I checked myself in the mirror, making sure my nice gold trimmed jet black Commander's Suit was properly fitted. I usually wore this outfit whenever I left my ship as, to me, it was an important symbol that I had all the right credentials to be a true starpilot. Graduating from a pilot academy was one thing that made me quite a bit different from many of the spacers out there. There are the rich kids who simply had enough cash to buy themselves a shiny new fighter. They usually ended up getting themselves killed because they figure having a fast little fighter with a good laser in it makes up for them not being able to fly the damned thing! Even worse are those scumbag pirates who steal ships or buy from illegal sources in order to own one! They start their careers with bounties on their heads for those reasons, though some actually turn legit after a few close calls. Others... I don't know, they must be just plain nuts.

As I smoothed out my coveralls, I knew that this time was likely to be the last instance I'd be seen in them. In a couple of weeks, I'd be exchanging my civilian Commander's uniform for the black and red of the Interstellar Navy Representative Amalgamation. Neither the Federation nor the Empire wore their traditional uniforms when they joined up with this task force. Everything about the INRA uniform was meant to reflect the united cause they fought for: the elimination of the Thargoid threat. This meant that there wasn't a scrap of Federal Blue or Imperial Gray on it.

A chime sounded from my control board, indicating that the Poisoned Dagger had been delivered into her assigned berth and the two-credit landing fee had been deducted from my bank account. I left my tiny sleeping cabin and headed further aft toward the main airlock. The iris hatchway of the inner door spiraled open and I stepped into the decompression chamber. Of course, the seal of the connecting tunnel was likely to be a hundred percent perfect, but I still ran an outside pressure check just to be sure. That was one of the things the Starpilot Academy back on Lave stressed as being an absolute must. Naturally, based on their reasoning, I decided to adhere to the rule as well. I do enjoy living, after all!

Once the pressure gauge had registered an equal amount of breathable atmosphere was on both sides of the hatch, I hit the "open" stud on the outer door control panel. The large hatchway opened itself like an eye adjusting to darkness, though on the other side of the door was a brightly lit tunnel leading away toward the weightless hub of the space station. I stepped one foot past the red-outlined perimeter of the Dagger's artificial gravity zone, leaned forward, felt my insides become slightly disoriented by the sudden shift to weightlessness, and reached for the bright red hand rail. I pulled the rest of my body into the tunnel and experienced the still-highly-enjoyable sensation of suddenly having grown a huge pair of invisible wings that kept me aloft. I turned back toward the open hatch and brushed my fingers against the airlock control panel mounted on the ship's exterior. The Dagger's outer hatch closed as I effortlessly pushed away from my craft and glided up the connecting tunnel and into the very center of Boston Base.

The station hub was a large doughnut shaped tube encircling the main docking bay. From here, I proceeded toward a large elevator sitting idly nearby and entered it. On its control panel were two buttons, one marked "Starport Lobby" and the other marked "Station Hub." Naturally, I pressed the button marked "Starport Lobby" and felt the elevator start to move. Soon after, I began to feel the slight fingers of gravity start to clutch at my extremities and I wisely aimed my feet at the floor. Within seconds, intending my feet to stay anywhere was quite unnecessary as gravity had finally reasserted itself enough and, when the lift stopped at the lobby level, I was, once again, back in the more familiar grip of a gravitational pull. Granted, it was only about seventy five percent of a normal Earth gravity, but at least it was something. It just meant I walked with a bit more spring in my step than usual.

In those days, Boston Base was nowhere near as crowded as it later becomes, but I'll be getting to that part later. Right now, I was eager to see the sights and enjoy some Federation cuisine. I left the spacious starport lobby and wandered through wide corridors until I came to the main lifts. The four huge cargo bay sized elevators were always on the move, but waiting for one was no problem. A few seconds after pressing the call button, one of the large pairs of doors slid open and I entered. I pressed the button marked "Residential Level One" and stood back as the door closed. Then, the giant glass-walled room began its slow descent.

I watched out the window as station maintenance and administration levels slid upward and out of sight. Then, the lift entered an area looking a lot like a well-landscaped inner city park. There was even a nicely-done artificial sky! I was very impressed. None of the stations I'd been on had parks like these! Independent systems didn't get Federal backing for their construction, so their visitor areas looked a good deal like replicas of those high-tech all-metal-and-concrete urban metropolises you see in those "dark future" videos from the early Third Millennium.

It was at the "ground level" of this park that the elevator ground to a halt. The big doors slid aside and I stepped out into what could have been Earth on a bright summer's day. The artificial sky was clear except for a few scattered clouds. The sunlight, which I knew had to be either some sort of directed spotlight or refracted into the place via mirrors, shone brilliantly on the concrete walkways and the well-trimmed hedges. There was even a large attractive looking clearing where a few old style park benches were standing in clusters beneath some tall trees. I saw a few people sitting on the benches, either alone or in couples and decided not to bother anyone.

"Hey, Commander. Where ‘ya from?"

I turned toward the sound of the tenor voice and saw a portly, yet still handsome young man with sandy hair and green eyes. I was so busy admiring the scenery that I'd been caught off guard. Not good for a future INRA pilot! I thought to myself.

I quickly recovered, however, and answered the question, "I'm a Lavian." Then, remembering my manners, extended my hand, "I'm Max Weaver."

"Ron Dreyfuss," the other gentleman responded and lightly shook my hand with the typical aristocratic limp handshake. I knew a rich kid when I saw one. His attire was definitely high class and, of course, spotless. He also had that particular air about him. It was as though his very presence said, "I can buy you, I can buy anything I want, and don't you forget it!"

"So, what's the interest in where a ship commander's from?" I asked, genuinely curious.

"Oh, I like to see what sorts of people frequent my dad's space station."

That remark caused me to do a double take, "Your dad's space station?" I did my best to keep my mouth closed.

The kid sighed and said, "Well, it's not exactly his station, but it may as well be," he then looked at me with a quizzical expression, "Wait a minute, you've never heard of the Dreyfuss Mining Corporation?"

Dreyfuss Mining Corporation? Think! Didn't Grandpa Will say something about them? How they were buying up all kinds of real estate but that they'd never be able to get around to digging on it in less than a century? Yep, that's them!

"I know a little," I answered, "Out in the Frontier area you don't deal with too many corporate types. Most of it's all small businesses, usually never any more than two or three ships."

Ron seemed understand that and nodded, "Yeah, you folks mostly do family businesses, don't ya?"

I shrugged, "Well, they seem to work."

Ron also shrugged, "Yeah, I suppose so." He decided to change the subject, and that was just fine with me, "So, what are you? A trader, bounty hunter, or what?"

I grinned, "Well, I used to be a little of both, but not for long."

"What does that mean?"

"It means I'm about to go off and join the INRA."

The younger man's eyes widened, "You mean that joint task force that's fighting the Thargoid invasion?"

"Yep, that's the one."

Ron's expression was one of a man who'd just seen something really disgusting. He gave a brief chuckle, then said, "Well, I'm glad I got to meet you before you got turned into vapor!"

Now it was my turn to be taken aback, "And just what the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Well," the rich kid sputtered a moment, realizing he'd spoken before he thought, "It's... It's just that I've heard all kinds of things coming from the battlefront. The casualty rates are pretty high!"

"Yeah, I know about all that," I answered, and it was true, "but not every single person who joins the INRA gets himself wasted."

"Well, I suppose that has to be true," Ron conceded.

"Right, so who's to say that Max Weaver couldn't live through his tour?" I was a bit surprised by my rather brazen ego trip. Truth be told, I simply hadn't thought about not making it back and Ron's comment suddenly got me thinking. I was getting defensive and that wasn't good.

"I'm sorry," he said and lowered his eyes briefly, "I didn't mean anything by it. I wanted to serve in the military but my father wouldn't allow it. He wants me to stay here. I guess he's grooming me to take over the business when he passes on."

I couldn't believe it! What ever happened to freedom of choice here? I thought. This is the Federation, isn't it?

"Do you actually like working for him?"

A look of distress crossed the young man's face and he sighed and shook his head, "I hate it. I don't know anything about this kind of business that he runs. I only pretend to be paying attention to him when he lectures me on how to maximize corporate income. It's all Greek to me. I'm usually daydreaming while he talks and all I'm thinking about is getting my own ship and going far away from here. Maybe I'd have a girlfriend sitting in the copilot's seat. My dad talks to me about my responsibility to my family, but I'm not anything like my dad and he just doesn't seem to care!" He kicked at the ground, putting a nasty scuff mark on the toe of his black leather shoe.

That struck me as very unfortunate. I'd always known that my family supported me in anything I ever did. A couple of times my old man thought it risky business to be a starpilot, but he knew how well his own father did it. Truth be told, my pop had his share of experiences in space and really did enjoy traveling between the stars. I think he chose a more land-based career working in the agriculture labs because of the unfortunately high mortality rate among starpilots. But he never told me I couldn't go to the academy. All he expected of me was that, if I were to do something, I'd commit myself all the way. I definitely made him proud of me, especially when he got to see my new Above Average rating just before I shoved off for the recruiting station.

"Well, why don't you just leave?" I asked, "I mean, if you hate it this much, why not just get out? I'm sure you've got enough credits to enroll in the academy."

"I wish it were that easy," replied the dejected rich kid. "What would my father say if I just ran off?"

"Well, who cares," I don't know what made me say that, but I pressed onward, "If he really loves ya, he'll understand you want to be your own person. It may take a while, though. Have you even really talked to him about what you want to do?"

"Not really. I've just heard him go on about how he thinks his friends in the military must be a bunch of loonies to be going up to the battlefront."

"Maybe he'd be singing a different tune if you told him what you wanted to do."

"I don't wanna get myself killed either."

"What, by the Thargoids or by your father?"

Ron Dreyfuss laughed, "Oh, I know he wouldn't ever get that mad at me. Maybe if I stuck to the courier runs here in the core systems, I could still make a decent living and earn some rank and pay."

I shrugged, "Well, you do what you gotta do," I finally decided to go elsewhere, I proffered my hand once more. "Nice meeting you, Ron. I'm sure something'll work out."

Ron shook my hand, "Good to meet you too, Max. Good luck with the war. Zap lots of Thargoids!"

"Thanks. I'll do my best," I said, then turned and strode back toward the lift.

Prologue

Chapter Two

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