You'd think by now that I would have learned about accepting supposedly simple courier jobs from shady organisations, particularly after the last time when such a mission saw me taking on a fight with a massive Funnelweb transport at Zaria on behalf of the Ramazan Liberation Front. And especially when I set off to battle in “the piñata of the spaceways”: an Anaconda-class bulk transport that's the size of an asteroid and half as manoeuvrable. Right?
Obviously not, if my latest exploits are any indication. I suppose that's what comes of being a native of Esdi – that is, an actual Esdi native as opposed to the later colonials. Always sticking our noses in, can't leave a mystery well enough alone. Must be how Esdi got the reputation for “ancient mating traditions”... but I digress.
Anyway, it all started when Atomic Annie jumped into the Ramaza system again in the north-east corner of Galaxy Two, and while futzing about with the ANC after exiting the wormhole I discovered a beacon I'd never seen before: “L - Link Base”. I suppose a more cautious (or sane) commander in charge of a large bulk transport ship that regularly risks getting overtaken by Commie system Worker's Commuter ships would have flicked past that setting and resumed heading for the regular station... but I was instead thinking this could be something interesting. Who knows, whoever this “Link” outfit is might be interested in buying some of this couple of hundred TCs of food I've been trying to dispose of since my contract at Ersoonve fell over! So I set course, engage torus drive, and soon I'm requesting docking instructions at what looks to be a Rock Hermit base in a hollowed-out asteroid before completing docking on autopilot.
Well! Not only were these “Link” fellow friendly, they were definitely in the market for food – and they were willing to pay over three times the going main station rate for it! Fantastic! It seems like they don't get many callers out this way, so this is a market well worth selling to. And just as the crew and I was celebrating our good fortune in Annie's wardroom with a few snifters of Isbeusian Onablo Brandy from the booze cabinet, a request from the “Link” base commander comes in: could we possibly make a courier run to Cevera and pick up a package for them? The commander did point out that they were assisting the Ramazan Liberation Front in overthrowing the Ramazan dictatorship, and that the Ramazans would not take too kindly to our interference... but having done one of these courier runs for the RLF themselves a while back I didn't think it would be that risky a journey. Hell, just operating normally in an Anaconda can be risky in itself, but I've got a “Dangerous” rating and Atomic Annie has demonstrated her toughness and survivability on a number of occasions. Not to mention that you definitely want to cultivate a relationship with a customer who pays triple the going rate for foodstuffs!
So I said yes. How hard could it be? (Does this sound familiar?)
It wasn't long before we found out. Although we'd refuelled at the Link base and jumped out of Ramaza to Soorte without calling in at Ramaza station itself, the Ramazan government had obviously gotten wind of our current mission. It wasn't long before Atomic Annie found herself to the the subject of some unwelcome suitors, as we got bounced at Edater by some Ramazan Government vessels of unknown make (I wasn't hanging around much to find out, preferring to get the hell out of there on full injectors), and again at Quriti. Thankfully, we made the last leg to Cevera with surprisingly little incident – that is, not counting one rogue pirate who fell foul of Annie's forward military laser. So far, so good. We picked up the package, did some trading, restocked on missiles and prepared for the return to the Link Base.
But if I thought the outward trip to Cevera was tricky, it was nothing compared to the trip back to Ramaza. By now the Ramazan Dictatorship was desperate to prevent us from returning to The Link with whatever our package was, because when we witched into Xeraqu Ramazan forces were firing on us before we'd even fully left the wormhole. Our shields were rapidly failing due to the sheer concentration of fire they were absorbing, so I armed the “emergency” Q-mine and dropped it, the expanding blue bubble of a Quirium Cascade forming a protective shield between me and the Ramazan fleet as Atomic Annie fled on full injectors. Two enemy ships succumbed to the blast, and I was able to reach station aegis with no further incident – but it was painfully obvious that the Ramazan Dictatorship meant business!
Once at Xeraqu station, while half the rest of the crew blew off some steam in various sordid establishments I considered our routing options over a tankard of Reidquat Ale on the Promenade Deck. Returning to Ramaza by the way I'd come in via Edsodi and Soorte was too obvious, and there was bound to be a concentration of Ramazan forces on the way. But there was an alternative route: via Cebior and Isbeus to come “up” via Isonza. Would it work? Only one way to find out.
We launched from Xeraqu and set course for Cebior – and once again Atomic Annie was met by a very unwelcome reception committee at the navigation beacon. Having already used our only Q-mine and receiving sustained laser fire from six Dictatorship vessels while still in the wormhole, there was nothing for it but to run on full injectors. Luckily we were able to leave the Ramazans behind with no significant damage beyond losing planetary landing capability: it would appear that the Ramazans were in no mood to start a conflict with other systems by chasing us further into “neutral” space.
But the Ramazan attack pattern of a massed ambush at the witchspace beacon was set for virtually the entire length of the journey – and Atomic Annie had no choice but to run the gauntlet, for failure was not an option.
At Isbeus we deployed another defensive Q-mine on the awaiting Ramazan squadron (having reloaded at Cebior), but already it was apparent that merely Q-bombing our way out of trouble wasn't going to be a long-term option. Not from the cost aspect as Annie's trading account was nearly at the half-mil credit mark and could cope with a few 2500CR hits, but from sheer tech availability – our evasive route turned out to be woefully short of sufficient tech level planets to purchase Q-bombs from in the first place. Even keeping up a full warload of full-spec Faulcon de Lacy hard-heads was a headache, as we frequently had to substitute either standard missiles or the inferior SM-1s.
We got a welcome break from Ramazan ambushes at Cemabe – ironically, a Feudal system – but it was full-on again at Verave where yet another Ramazan squadron was lying in wait. This time I opened up on them with the rear beam laser as we sped past, scoring three kills before they drew blood on us, hitting Atomic Annie on the aft section and causing a hull breach. Seconds later the Master Alarm sounded with the dreaded words “FUEL LEAK”, and immediately Annie's fuel gauges started plummeting towards zero. I automatically hit full injectors, burning what fuel remained recklessly while praying to Giles that we'd be able to clear the foe before our fuel was exhausted, and switching to the rear viewer I watched with growing dread the snaking trail of gaseous Quirium spewing into Annie's wake like blood from a great wounded beast. Eventually what fuel remained was exhausted and our frantic run was halted – fortunately, the Ramazan ships were by now out of range so we were able to proceed the remainder of the leg to the station on torus drive. I discovered that Annie's Escape Pod Locator had petulantly disabled itself during the battle... it seems that we'd gained “Offender” status (5CR bounty) in the process of defending ourselves. 'Stards!
Docked at Verave station, repaired the tanks and loaded missiles and another Q-mine. I debated loading a second Q-mine instead of a hard-head, but decided against it as my reputation with use of WMD is bad enough as it is...
Jumped to the Anarch system of Ladibe, once again got ambushed, and “sent them (the Ramazans) up the Q-bomb” for five more kills. Attempted to dock at the local Seedy Space Bar – and had to fight through another damn furball on the way in, racking up another five kills. Refuelled and witched out to Soreisbe – and this time hit the injectors before fully exiting the wormhole, a tactic that caught the Ramazan interceptors by surprise as we got relatively few hits - that is, apart from the one shot that disabled the HyperRadio! Our spirits rising, we used the same trick successfully at Teonan, then finally at Ramaza, blasting through the waiting Ramazan squadron at full speed with minimal laser damage received before turning on an intercept heading for the Link base and engaging torus drive. Soon the asteroid field where the Link Base was located came into view, and without further incident we docked and turned over the package that was the source of the trouble (as well as selling the base commander another hundred TCs of food at triple the normal rate).
The base commander – a “Major Tom”, he called himself – was well pleased with our efforts, and it seems I'd really made the grade with their organisation... a lone Anaconda surviving multiple military attacks in a single run would appear to be a real space oddity! We were given the 'honour' of going after Ramazan government vessels with promises of free fuel and missiles if I did so, and I'm back to a “Clean” GalCop status too which is nice. I am however disappointed that after such an epic run for the cause no-one at the Link base wanted to know whose shirts I wear!
Flying the Anaconda-class transport Atomic Annie
through Galaxy 2.
"Big ships take more booty on your interstellar flights..."