Lockan Station, Angel Reach system.
"E-F-T-Convoy One, Lead, to Lockan Station Control. Cargo is loaded, systems are green. Request clearance to depart Loading Bay Twelve, over." EFT Whistle's captain, one Lori Jameson, spoke into the intercom as she strapped herself into the old freighter's flight chair.
"Locakn Station Control to E-F-T-Convoy One, Lead. Hold position until advised, ship leaving Bay Eleven. Over." The controller replied.
Lori looked to her co-pilot, who looked concerned. "What's up, Mac? You're not worried are you?"
Mac sighed. "No, it's just..."
"It'll be fine. My dad used to run convoys out of Korol all the time, pirates don't usually pick on the small fries." Lori tried to comfort the man, as a Federal Navy Cheetah-type Patrol Corvette swept past the loading bay, out into space. "Look, maybe they're headed out on patrol? We'll be fine." She smiled.
"E-F-T-Convoy One, Lead. Clearance Granted to depart Bay Twelve. Standby for clamp release..."
The magnetic docking clamps holding the pair of Lifter Transports into the berth released with a metalic hiss; steam venting from the pressurised locking mechanisms, as the transports floated into zero-g.
Lori took the control column, steering the transport out of the bay of the station; pulses of blue light burning from her many lateral manouvering thrusters.
"Lead to Two, you all good back there?" Lori spoke into the intercom.
"Yeah, all good back here. Not sure about the Korol run, though Jameson. Heard about that attack last week? News said it could've been the Sharks." a voice crackled over the intercom, as Lori's co-pilot ran his fingers through his hair.
"Don't worry about it, it's a short run. We're not going into the Crystal Passage like those other convoys, too much open space for pirates. Anyway, follow my lead and keep radio contact to a minium. Lead out." Lori flicked a switch on the over-head dash on the freighter; dimming the normally bright white lights into a dim yellow glow, as the running lights engaged.
Whistle cleared the Landing Berth, followed closly by Peris, her sister ship; a pair of second-hand freighters bought by Lori's father for their fledgling logistics company. They had a decent deal; Lockan's Operator; Exoflux Corporation - a larger outer system robitics company had a shipment of mining parts to the Angelis Base on Korol. Lockan's Administrator thought he'd shave a couple hundred-thousand plates off the price by hiring Lori's company. It was a win win, she'd have enough money to hire a third shipper after this run. If it all went well, that was. The Angel Reach is a dangerous place; she knew that. But it was worth the risk...
"Lockan Station Control to E-F-T-Convoy One, you've cleared Station Space. The 'Weather' is good, no reported incidents. Be advised that after you leave the system; Lockan Control can no longer accept communications through this channel. Good luck out there." The final message from the Stationmaster crackled through the intercom as the convoy entered the darkness beyond the base, steaming on full power as the pair of transports left kilometre-long vapour trails behind them; burning off towards the Angel's Reach Sun.
There was no sign of the Cheetah they saw leave Lockan, probably headed off on a patrol mission somewhere. But Lori wasn't worried; she'd seen her dad make this run many times.
"We're almost at the gate, ready to enter the Reach, proper?" She laughed, nudging Mac in the arm.
"Let's just get this over with. The pay-day is good, and that's all I'm thinking about." the co-pilot replied.
"Starting Gate Activation Protocols." She said, punching some controls on the dash; flicking a few switched on the overhead as different combinations of lights lit up.
"Welcome to the Federal Interchange Gate System. Your registered Desintation is Korol, Sector Four. Your craft and/or crafts exceed the maximum civilian tonnage permitted during a jump. Please enter a valid Trading Key or contact the local Trade Port for further information. Thank you." An automous voice sounded over the intercom, as the console screens lit up with a Federal Star Map.
"Okay, so this key should work..." Lori said, punching in an authorisation key; allowing the specified tonnage to go through.
"Key Accepted. Please maintain your trajectory during the Gate Activation Sequence. Thank you for using the Federal Interchange Gate System. If you encounter an issue during your voyage, the Federal Navy Emergency Response Channel is listed on this system. Have a safe journey." The transmission terminated.
"Ugh. I hate this part..." Mac said, as the light from the gate illuminated the cockpit, prompting him to shield his eyes.
"You get Jump sickness?" Lori replied.
"No, but have you heard what happens when these things fail?" He raised his eyebrow.
"System boy. You signed up for this!" She joked.
The pair of freighters engaged automatic navigation systems as they approached the gate; slowly being drawn into the Static Field. The cockpit shields slid over the observation glass as they entered. "Standby. Jump in progress."
"Here we go." Mac said over the myriad alarms and rumbling and creaking of the old freighter.
The jump took roughly fifteen seconds, in that time, the ship's gravity was non-functional due to the static field, and your ears had a tendancy to pop several times as the pressure increased and decreased. It wasn't uncommon to see 'Jump Ghosts' either; flashes of light as charged particals impacted upon your retina. Whistle was a notorious Ghoster; her magnetic shields were aging not too well.
"Jump Completed." reported the ship's navigation computer, transfering controls to Lori as the two freighters drifted at speed from the Exit Node. As the cockpit shields retracted; the deep orange light from Korol's Giant star filtered in; rays being cast in the dust of the cockpit. "Welcome to Korol System. Primary Trade Port is Angelis Base. Please do not deviate from recognised Navigation Paths. Enjoy your stay." The automatic voice from the Jumpgate crackled over the intercom.
Lori squinted. "That wasn't too bad." Taking a small device from the overhead, she spoke into it. "Lead to Two, status?"
"We're good. Trashcan nearly shook itself apart, but we're good, over." The Peris replied.
The two transports burned their engines brightly, as they set course for Angelis Base; the journey would take several hours.
"Get some shut-eye, Lori, I'll watch the helm." Mac said, getting up from his chair, walking over to hers.
"Sure?" She replied.
"Yeah. Go get some sleep, I quite enjoy the view in this system anyway." He smiled, gesturing at the shadows being cast in the Korol Sun's light by the streams of asteroids orbiting a massive gas giant. "It's like, what? Five hours to Angelis?"
Lori smiled, before getting up and walking to the rear of the cockpit; to the entrance to her cabin. "Shout if anything goes terribly wrong, okay?" She said, smiling.
Mac nodded and shook his head. "Right." he said to himself, strapping into the cockpit chair, and placing his hand on the control column, before taking it off again sighing. "Better not touch anything."
Couple of hours passed, the two transports neared the notorious entrance to the Crystal Passage, except their course took them around the outside of the Korol Crystal Clouds; but rather close the dust fields orbiting them...
Mac squinted at the view before him. "It's gonna be fine. Smooth run, no problems..." He said to himself, feeling his eyelids getting heavy. "Absolutely fine."
"Attention freighters tagged 'E-F-T-Convoy One'. This is Navy Corvette Daybreaker. You are subject to a Navy stop and search program. We do not have you on our... arrival roster. Cut your engines and prepare to be boarded. You will comply." A voice crackled over the ship's local communications system, on a priority channel, as a single contact appeared on the readout console.
Mac snapped out of his daydream as the request sounded over the intercom. Looking up, he squinted at the view from the cockpit, before taking the tranciever from the overhead and holding it to his mouth. The dash-readout displayed Navy Tags for the contact, Mac didn't suspect anything at this point.
"Uh, understood Daybreaker. I wasn't aware of an arrival roster, but we have no intention of disobeying the Navy, please hold a moment..." He said nervously, hooking the tranciever back onto the overhead.
"Lori!" He shouted. "Hey, Lori, get up here please!"
"What is it?" She replied, rubbing her eyes as she entered the cockpit. "I don't see the station, what's the matter?" She said, placing one hand on Macs chair, looking at the console.
"The Navy, they want us to stop for a surprise inspection or something? Something about not being on an 'arrival roster'?" Mac said, getting up so that his captain could sit down. "I've got a bad feeling about this..."
"That's strange... The Navy doesn't usually operate searches out here, and I've not heard of any Arrival Rosters on Angelis, free trading station and all." She said, un-hooking the tranciever. "Well, we've got nothing to hide, and if the Navy wanna check us out, suppose we'd better do as they say".
"EFT Whistle to Daybreaker," Lori spoke, glancing at the IFF readout. "We're cutting our engines for routine inspection, we have nothing to hide." She said, slowly pulling the throttle control lever towards her.
"Whistle to Peris, we've got the Navy here wanting to do an inspection, keep cool and go along with it, okay?" He said over a channel to the other freighter.
Captain of the Peris; Seth Rylo, squinted at the approaching ships. Tapping the readout of the IFF, he grunted and turned to his co-pilot. "You ever seen the Navy do searches out here? This ain't right." Seth used to co-pilot TLH Cargo Lifters from Korol to Eridonia back in his day, the company paid him off with a lump some of cash and access to the Federal Navy's Patrol Database. How he got stuck running free-lance jobs out of Lockan was only his guess. "I'm gonna run this through the Database." He said, swiping at the touch-display.
Whistle and her sister ship slowed to a drift as they cut their engines, falling short of the approaching Cheetah-class corvette.
"Oh, fuck." Seth said, getting the attention of his co-pilot, who looked over. "UTNS Daybreaker-4-2-9-0; suspected to be under illict control, lost on Patrol in Angel A21-B eight months ago."
"Peris to Whistle; Lori, something's up here. These guys aren't Navy, the IFF doesn't check out on the database. They're not who they say they are." Seth shouted over the intercom.
"What?" Lori panicked, looking at Mac with a not-so-comforting expression. "This isn't going to be as simple as I thought..." She said.
Mac felt sick. "I knew it. I fucking knew it." He uttered, wiping the sweat from his face.
"Just calm down, okay? We'll deal with this." Lori tried to comfort him.
"I'm gonna try and raise the Federal Emergency Channel, I don't know, stall them?" Seth replied, frantically trying to get a signal out to the Navy; the transmission would likely be picked up by the pirates.
"Uh, Whistle to Daybreaker, we're, uh, experiencing some technical difficulties with our..." She looked to Mac, her heart pounding.
Mac shook his head and shrugged. "I don't fucking know?!" He said under his breath.
"We've got docking port issues, we need time to fix the system so that you can board, over." She replied, desperately trying to hide her anxiety and fear from her voice.
To be Continued in part 2.