For Cornelius H. Grimstead freedom after being demobbed from the Imperial Army is turning out to be not all that he thought it was going to be.
He never guessed that it was going to be this hard to find some work after mustering out. Mertactor seems to be a terrible place for finding work. It seems as if there are more ex-service types looking for work here than there are jobs for them – unless they fancy spending the rest of their lives drilling rocks on some god-forsaken asteroid belt for a living, or herding groats across the seemingly endless plains across one of the Ag Combine Worlds.
Things are starting to look pretty desperate. His cash isn’t going to last much longer at this rate. He’s heard that there are jobs aplenty in the non-Imperial worlds in District 268, but the idea of taking a trip there in a deep freeze with no idea what’s waiting for him at the other end is not so attractive.
He orders another cup of coffee at the ramshackle coffeeshop on the lower levels of Mertactor Highport. The ever constant whine from the nearby powerplant is a constant annoyance to him. Whoever is responsible for maintaining it is obviously a complete incompetent and he has half a mind to take his toolkit and go and fix it himself. The owner of the coffeeshop bangs on a malfunctioning aircon unit and Cornelius sighs again. These Mertactans might be pretty slick traders, but he wouldn’t trust any of them to keep a lawnmower fully functional, let alone a highport.
With a sigh, he once again starts the daily ritual of scanning the Help Wanted ads on his datapad, hoping that it’s not just returning the same garbage results it has been showing for the past few days. He notices that there’s a new ad that’s been posted over the past day.
Courier/Security Guards required to escort cargo from Mertactor to Collace. High Passage and attractive compensation offered. For more info contact djim.trading.mertactor.d268
With nothing else of any interest on offer, he decides to key in the contact details. The face of a smiling receptionist fills the viewscreen of his datapad.
“Djim Trading, how may I help you?”
He tells her that he’s interested in applying for the job.
“We’re holding interviews this evening,” she replies. “Can you come to our offices at 6pm?”
Having nothing else better to do, he agrees and the receptionist gives him the address on one of the upper levels of the highport.
He finds the address easily. It’s in one of the more expensive commercial areas of the highport. Djim Trading obviously has some money. He hasn’t been to this part of the highport before and is pleasantly surprised that it’s not nearly as decrepit looking as the lower levels. Maybe there are some Mertactans who know how to use a screwdriver after all.
Even though he is half an hour early, he has nothing better to do and so Cornelius rings on the buzzer and the familiar voice of the receptionist buzzes him in.
The receptionist smiles as he enter.
“I’m glad you could make it,” she smiles warmly. “If you can just have a seat over there for a short while, Mr. Djim will speak with you shortly.”
Cornelius settles down on one of the over-stuffed sofas in the reception area and watches the holoscreen that fills the opposite wall. A pretty reporter is reporting live from the floor of the Mertactor Stock Exchange, quotes and graphs springing from the screen. It seems as if everyone else on this world is earning good money apart from him.
Cornelius’s attention is drawn away from the screen as he sees someone else making his way to the receptionist. The man, a little older than himself, is also pointed to the reception area where he smiles politely before taking a seat on one of the other sofas.
The new arrival is William Shaunnessy.
William is a bit nervous. He hasn’t had to look for a job in many years and he’s not sure he can bluff his way into a “courier/security guard” role, but it was the only decent posting he’s seen in a while. Plus, it promises adventure! He hopes the “courier” part requires more brains than brawn.
Unfortunately, the chap on the couch doesn’t look too dangerous — wiry though — so he’s probably after the courier job too. Unless he’s a trained killer — they’re always small and wiry in the stories. On the other hand, the guy does have a look of thoughtfulness in his eyes and seems to be sizing up the place with a keen intelligence.
“Good evening,” William says. “I’m Bill Shaunnessy, late of Glisten.” He holds his hand out to the stranger.
Getting up, Grim shakes Shaunnessy’s hand.
“Nice to meet you. Cornelius Grimstead, also from Glisten. I’m an Engineer by training, though that work seems hard to come by this month. Served in the IISS and Imperial Army, you?” asks Grim.
“I thought you looked familiar! I too was with the Scouts on Glisten — Exploration. But that was a long time ago. Now I’m a retired field scientist looking to explore some of the galaxy’s more out of the way places. I have a smattering of engineering myself — picked up along the way fixing stuff mostly. We academics didn’t usually have the highest budgets and old hand-me down equipment needed a lot of love. Do you know anything about this job. I assume you’re here about the Collace work?”
Further conversation is interrupted by the arrival of a third person in the reception area, a suave looking guy in his mid-thirties, Arvor Pan Wiksaren. He sits down on the couch next to William.
“Greetings all, I take it we are all here in response to the courier / security opportunity” asks Arvor, mildly. “Hopefully they are looking for a team of professionals,” he adds, his glances sweeping across those assembled as he sits down carefully. Arvor is clothed in a robust suit-jacket of non-descript fashion, somewhat the worse for wear, worn buttons open. He places a rugged but battered attache case beside him, and adjusts his shoulders slightly.
“Excuse me – Arvor is the name. Navy. Security. Pleased to make your acquaintances.” he adds, before anyone asks.
Before they have chance to speak more, another figure enters the office and is directed to the waiting area. This time it’s a stunning red-headed woman, Taeva Traske. Cornelius is only too happy to move a little in order to allow her to sit next to him.
“Emm, hello Doctor” says the woman, shaking hands. She seems a trifle nervous and she is plainly not a local.
As she is introduced to the others she seems impressed.
‘Naval Security Mr. Wiksaren? Gracious what an exciting life you must have led. I bet you must have shot lots of Zhodani and been involved in lots of fascinating spy stuff. It’s the sort of thing an ordinary ships technician like me only sees in the holo vids."
Arvor seems about to say something when he is kicked hard on the shin and clamps his mouth shut. Nobody notices.
“And what of yourself young lady?” asks William (who is now quite worried about the apparent applicant overkill on the “courier” side of the job opportunity).
The door to the office opens once more. A young looking oriental woman stands in the doorway and glances at each occupant in the office including the receptionist behind the desk smiling at her. It is Jie Okasawa. She takes half a step back and re-reads the address outside in the hall, checks it against a scrap of paper (real live paper!) in her hand then with a sigh enters the waiting area. She walks with a stiff, almost parade-like, manner right up to the desk.
”I was told this…” glances at scrap of paper “Da-Jim guy..er..person was looking to hire an escort?” She shifts her feet uncomfortably.
“I’m glad you could make it, but Mr. Djim likes his escorts a little less dressed and with more make-up.” The receptionist smiles warmly with good humor. “However you look just like the kind of Courier/Security Guard he is needing. If you can just have a seat over there for a short while, Mr. Djim will speak with you shortly.”
The new comers face turns bright red at yet another social faux-pas. You guess just one of many. She walks to a wall area and turns and stands, hands behind back at parade rest. Then waits.
Grim chuckles in amusement. Without smiling. William is relieved to see an applicant that looks the “security” type.
“So, unless someone thinks they can take this job all by themselves, I suggest we cooperate and approach Mr. Djim as a team," Arvor suggests. “That way, we can all get taken on instead of competing with one another and having some lose out.”
“By way of getting started, my relevant skills are investigative and reconnaisance work, I am something of a marksman with slug-throwing small arms (a hobby of mine), I trained in ships gunnery, I have passable mechanic, computer and comms skills, basic pilot training, as well as a lot of general ship-board experience.”
He leaves it like that – perhaps challenging anyone to think they will out-compete him.
“I like that idea,” says William. “For myself, I bring a solid science background, I’m a journeyman starship pilot, I’m fully qualified on comms, and I can do some drive engineering and medical technician work as well.”
“I was in the Imperial Army. Sargent. Sargent Cornelius Grimstead, Grim for short.” volunteers Grim, “I’m trained on Power Plants, Life Support systems, and Electronics, but I’m good enough to take a solid swing at anything that needs a mechanic or Engineer whether it’s a stuck toilet or a jump drive on the fritz. I’m also trained in Cybernetics, Sensors, and Comms. I can use most slug weapons and have been trained on missile and grenade launchers as well. I can reconnoiter a site and I’ve lead men in battle.”
“Oh, and I can pilot small craft. Been training on shuttle simulators recently.” adds Grim.
“Well I guess all you military types are much more qualified than me," says Taeva. "I can fix things a bit and I’m fairly reasonable with electronics. I’ve done some salvage work and know a little about explosives too.”
The quiet woman speaks. “I am Jie Okasawa, former lieutenant junior grade of his majesty’s Imperial Marines based out of Mille Falks.” She points a clean, unpolished finger at a shoulder patch that portrays a downward pointing sword with flaming bat wings for a hilt. Above it reads –HELLS BRIGADE-
“I am not what you would call persuasive, but I have spent 12 years training with a standard issue laser carbine, it’s the only thing I trust. I’m fairly good with a cutlass and have a working knowledge of how a human is put together and can be taken apart.”
She looks directly at Taeva Traske. “See this leg,” pointing at her own leg. “built it myself using duct tape, some gauss pads and my medic kit.”
She addresses the group again. “The last 4 years I spent aboard a destroyer class starship boosting my knowledge of communications and learning astrogation, sensors and “ Looks to Arvor as challenging as he looked to the group “turret gunnery.”
Jie rattles off her qualifications with a precise crisp tone. She is a little late to join the conversation. It’s as if she was analyzing the thoughts before they were put into words so she would not make a mistake. “Vacc suits…no training in them. Battle armor is more my style”
Further conversation is interrupted as a larger than life character bounds into the reception area. Standing a little over 6’ and in his early fifties you would imagine, although some plastic surgery makes him look a decade younger. It’s only his thinning, graying hair that gives his true age away. He is dressed loudly, as is the custom among wealthy Mertactans; his clothes a clash of colors and fabrics.
“Gentlemen!” hie voice booms as he stands before you with a smile. “Glad that you could all make it and sorry to have kept you waiting. Please come through to the conference room.”
The five applicants follow him as he leads them past the receptionist into a medium-sized room which contains little apart from a large oval table of chrome and smoked glass. Sat on one side of the table is a short, smirking character, dressed in a grubby crew coat.
The short character gets up.
“Awwight, mates?” he asks and then goes to shake each of them by the hand, starting with Arvor. As he goes to shake though, he pulls his hand away and thumbs his nose.
“Hahahahahaha,” Max finds this highly amusing.
When he comes to introduce himself to the ladies, however, he kisses them on the hand. He seems to linger as he holds Taeva’s hand, looking into her eyes.
“I’m sure I’ve seen you somewhere before,” he says. “Maybe it was in one of my dreams.”
“Probably one of the wet ones … hahahahahahaha.”
Once everyone has been introduced, Jannar asks for everyone to take a seat. He calls the receptionist through on the intercom and she takes orders for refreshments. Jannar makes small talk while waiting for the drinks to arrive. He seems a friendly enough type; very chatty.
Once drinks have been served and the receptionist has left, Jannar speaks.
“Right, so let’s get straight down to business, gentlemen.”
“As it said in the advertisement, I am looking for a small group to accompany a very valuable cargo from here to Collace. I need someone to make sure that nothing happens to it en route – no theft, no damage and no contamination. I need a group to watch it from the moment it leaves my warehouse until the moment the ship takes off and then from the moment that the ship is docked until it is warehoused on Collace. In short, I need constant surveillance on it all of the time apart from while it is in transit – and only then once it is assured that no one can tamper with the cargo during the journey.”
“In return, I offer everyone high passage to Collace and Cr.15,000 per person – payable half now and half once I inspect the cargo on Collace.”
“Here’s the thing,” Djim says, taking another sip of his coffee. “My competitors watch my every move. They know I have a shipment to Collace, they know that I am advertising for someone to watch my cargo. They don’t know what I have to sell, what ship it’s going on, who the buyer is… they actually know nothing. But this is a big deal for me. It will lock up a cross-border trade agreement with an associate on Collace which could mean quite a bit of money for me and quite a bit of work for some hardy spacers such as yourselves. Dangerous is too strong a word for what I’m asking you to do. I’m looking for insurance and everyone knows cheap insurance never pays off.”
“In order to create some confusion for my competitors and to keep them guessing about my true agenda, I will not be accompanying you. Instead I will be journeying to Collace on my own yacht.”
He nods towards Max. “Max will be taking care of my interests during the journey.”
“I will be arriving a half-day or so after you and will make contact with you as soon as I have landed at Collace.”
He leans back in his chair.
“So those are the basic details. If this job is not of interest to you, then better you leave now so that we don’t waste any more of each other’s time. The rewards package is non-negotiable. It is a more than attractive offer whichever way you look at it. I am not prepared to haggle over it like some Egyptian. If it’s not rich enough for you, then no one is forcing you to take the job.”
“For those of you who are interested, however, I would be delighted if you could tell me why you think that you would be an asset to the group.”
Jannar sits back and listens as each of the members of the group take their turns briefly mentioning the highlights of their former careers and the useful skills that they could bring to the mission. Jannar nods constantly, but says nothing as each one has their turn.
Once everyone has finished, he nods then looks to Max who nods back at him.
“Well I am quite satisfied with your credentials. I am willing to offer the job to all five of you if you are willing to accept it.”
“Please let me know if you have any questions at this stage.”
William is satisfied with Jannar’s answers. “Sounds good to me,” he says.
Arvor asks “so we are only responsible for drisk ores that you are shipping to Collace, right?”.
He eyes Max pointedly as he says this.
Jannar nods. “Yes, the cargo is your only responsibility. Get the cargo to my warehouse on Collace with no theft, no damage and no contamination and the job is done. I’m not interested in anything else. Whatever else you want to do on the trip is up to you as long as my goods arrive safely, then you’ll get the other 50%.”
“I would like to examine the cargo containers before we embark,” adds Arvor. “Just to make give us a basepoint to enure that no tampering occurs.”
“That’s not going to be possible, I’m afraid,” Jannar replies with a shake of the head. “The goods are already in the bonded warehouse with customs seals on them. There isn’t time to get the custom agents to unseal the containers and reseal them again afterwards, and it would be am additional cost I am not prepared to absorb.”
“In any case,” he continues, “There isn’t a lot of time. You will need to go to the bank as soon as it opens tomorrow morning where the bank manager will release payment to you and the codes for the cargo. You will then need to go to the bonded warehouse almost immediately. The Vindaar’s Gambit is the Type-M merchant you will be making the journey on and it is scheduled for departure at 17.00 tomorrow. So if you have any remaining business you wish to conclude before you leave Mertactor, then you only have the rest of the day to do it.”
“So any last questions, or shall we formalize our deal now so that you are able to get on?”
The group members all look at one another, but it seems as if everyone is satisfied.
“Very good then,” Jannar says. “I have made a contract. If you would just like to check it and sign it with a thumb print if you are in agreement.”
“One by one, they check over the contents and then give a thumb print.
“Excellent,” Jannar says. “So I will not see you again before you leave. I wish you all the best of luck and look forward to seeing you all on Collace in a little over a week’s time.”
“Right,” says Max. “Now that’s all sorted, who fancies a pint?”
Everyone likes the sound of that idea and so they readily agree. One the way out, Arvor tries to plant a bug on Max, but it’s a clumsy attempt and Max spots him. Max doesn’t make a big deal out of it though – the look of embarrassment on Arvor’s face enough for him.
Max leads the others down a few levels of the highport to a bar called The Spinning Lady and buys the first round. He spends the next couple of hours drinking hard, flirting outrageously with Taeva and Jie and bullshitting until he realizes that he has had enough. He says his farewells to the others and then staggers out of the bar. Still suspicious about him, Arvor follows him, listening in on his conversations. Max doesn’t appear to be up to no good though – he’s just up to his usual bullshitting to some girls again. Arvor follows him to a hostel before returning to join the others.
The others finish off their drinks and then they too head off to get a good night’s sleep ready for the meeting with the bank in the morning.