Memoirs of a Rockjack

Prologue

Well, well, well... so, you've come to me lookin' for the story of the century, eh? You figure I might have a little wisdom to impart to you before I shuffle off this mortal coil? You imagine I must have some magic nugget of information tucked away that just might lead you to fame and fortune beyond your wildest dreams? Well, that may be true. Hell, I've lost track of lots of the stuff I learned and forgot over the years, but the one thing that I'll always remember as being a universal constant, wherever you are, whoever you are, is this:

Nothing's free. Ever.

That's the biggest piece of wisdom my old man gave me before I set sail from Lave for the first time. Hell, that was way back... about 3200 A.D. I think it was in the middle of July. The monsoons that had a habit of overtaking our home city of Schuller's Landing were in full force. The rain was constant and it wasn't long before the two-meter-deep drainage ditches were filled, the streets were closed once again and you had to take the elevated pedestrian transit tubes everywhere you went. Ground cars, which Schuller had plenty of, remained parked in their garages. Hell, they were just about useless until the monsoon passed. Two months of this kind of weather and it's a wonder that we weren't living in a friggin swamp! Well, after the rains, we'd have ten months of veritable drought, so any rain that came down on us, we were actually rather grateful for.

Anyway, I'm sure you don't want to hear about life on my home planet. Lave's a nice place, and, as everyone knows, the Lavian Tree Grub is still an ever popular delicacy. But that's enough of that.

As I said, my Pop imparted that last bit of advice before I left home. I'll always remember that day. Everything around me seemed so new... almost alien... as I stepped on board the orbit shuttle that would take me up to Lave Station. I'd bought myself this old ship, a Salamander, for a reasonable price. I'd saved money from the excess of my student loans so that I'd have something to fly after graduating from the Starpilot Academy. I wasn't sure just what I wanted to do, but I did know that doing the regular cargo runs just seemed so boring. I needed some kind of excitement, though in the part of space I lived in, excitement usually meant a close encounter with someone brandishing a nasty beam laser. For that reason, systems like Riedquat and Uszza were places to avoid like the plague... for the time being.

For the third time in my life, I wandered around Lave Station. The old Coriolis class station had been up there seemingly forever. Nobody could quite remember just when it was built. All we know is that it was put there because the locals didn't want any space traffic polluting the air of their new paradise, which was exactly what Planet Lave was to all of the colonists who fled the core systems back in the 2500s.

I'd been to the station twice before, both times were to say a quick hello to my grandfather William, on my Father's side. Grandpa Will was what everyone calls a rockjack: A professional planet and asteroid miner... as opposed to the folks who stick a lousy mining laser into their ships in the hopes that they could profit from the stray boulder that passes across their inbound flight paths. Will looked for planets out on the frontier that were uninhabited... and preferably unexplored and would stake claims on them. By that, I mean he'd set his ship down on their surface and erect this really complex mining station to extract as much raw ore out of the area as he could. Then, he'd take off, fly to some other point on the surface, and repeat the same procedure. He'd come back after about a month or so and have his hold just filled to the brim with valuable metals and precious gems!

I asked him why he never went into any kind of real business and he said it was because he didn't want to have anyone else to worry about other than himself and his seven-man crew. Will owned a Python class Star Cruiser that he called the Lucky Strike and he and his crew were quite a team, despite their high turnover rate! Their profit margin was sky high and everyone from Zaonce to Reorte looked forward to the next time the Strike would set down in their landing bays. That's 'cause it usually meant some shop keepers were about to get quite a bit richer... and some other qualified ship hand just might land a job with the richest one-man mining company in known space!

Well, that was my grandpa's business and, I must admit, it appealed to me too! But, to start off, I knew I needed to make some money through more... mundane methods. I ended up caving in to the fact that cargo runs did bring in the cash, so I established a route trading liquors from Lave to the nearby system of Zaonce and then bringing back a load of high-tech computers, robots, and other kinds of machinery. It actually did make some good money. Not only that, but my combat rating even went up a few of notches as I smoked a few pirates who thought they needed my goods a little more than I did. If I remember right, it took me about eleven months to go from Harmless to Average. Considering I very rarely ventured off my trade route in that time, I'd say that's about right.

After eleven months of going back and forth between Lave and Zaonce, I was about ready to pull out my hair. I needed a change of scenery, maybe even a change of job, before I totally lost it. There were plenty of opportunities for a guy like me flying a Salamander and having a bank account of over fifty grand. I was getting so bored out of my skull that I wanted to get into the action zone, and I didn't mean going hunting in the Riedquat system. I'd done that a few times already, just to try to relieve the monotony. I was still alive, so I guess I did all right and, by this time I felt I'd done my share of bounty hunting. Fortunately, there actually was a place for me to go.

Several years ago, humanity had finally made first contact with an alien race. They came from quite a distance away and flew in these big octagonal ships that looked for all the world like the flying saucers that captured people's imaginations in the days when video entertainment was in its infancy. Unfortunately for us, the aliens, who called themselves the Thargoids, were apparently not too pleased to meet us as they opened fire on our merchant shipping on sight. The result was a war that started just after I was born and was still going on after I had graduated from the starpilot academy and made my first fifty thousand credits! Supposedly, the Thargoid invasion managed encroach upon and then slice right into a group of star systems surrounding the white giant known as Alioth. Rumor had it that that cluster of systems were on their way to becoming a brand new fledgling star nation! Talk about crunching potential sovereignty into dust!

Anyway, Alioth and the trailing systems were the largest hotspots in this war. There were reports of Thargoid incursions even into the systems near to where I was. The casualty rates on both sides were ridiculously high and, for the first time in over seven hundred years, the Empire of Achenar and Federation of Earth actually had to cooperate in order to gain any kind of advantage in the fight! They created a joint task force called the Interstellar Navy Representative Amalgamation (I guess they weren't feeling too picky with naming things) and they were the ones doing the bulk of the work with the official Federation and Imperial navies standing ready to assist them. Lots of brave men and women joined the INRA and some had even established reputations that reached the ears of pilots living as far from the main battlefront as my home system!

I wasn't sure just what I was thinking, but I found myself transmitting an electronic copy of my resume, which included my combat rating, to the local Federation recruiting station. I included a small memo stating that I was strongly interested in joining the joint task force. Maybe I wanted to bask in the glory of the war and fight the good fight. The last thing I was expecting was that INRA and I would end up having a dispute on just what the "good fight" was supposed to be!

Chapter One

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