EXT – day – parking lot outside Cobb’s
There are a lot of vehicles in the parking lot. Kaminski, Helton, Sar, and Kwon pull up in a light truck, park, and hop out. Kaminski, and Helton have small gun bags, and they are also wearing gun belts with holsters and pistols, as does Kwon. They head inside.
INT – day – Cobb’s School of Public Relations
It looks a bit different than before. The stacks of ammo are MUCH smaller, and the listed “special” prices are higher. It’s busy. They head for the counter, and see that Vera is just finishing up with a customer.
Vera: Sorry we can’t help you out. Nothing more in that caliber, I’m afraid. Don’t know when the next shipment will be showing up.
The man and woman at the counter look a little frustrated, make a face, shrug a bit, and turn to leave. Vera waves to Kaminski.
Vera: Howdy, again! Hope you brought your own, this time.
Kaminski: What’s up?
Vera: Been crazy the last few days. Rumors sparked a buying frenzy. We were already getting low, but now, (she waves around) nearly picked clean. Just about run out of ammo. Nobody wants to ship ammo, afraid of being considered a military target and being hit by either cops, customs patrols, Navy, or pirates. Rumors even some of the Customs ships getting vaporized. Everyone wants to stock up, no-one wants to sell.
Kaminski: Uh, yeah, we heard some pretty wild rumors about that, too. Don’t believe half of what you hear, though. You know how it is – see something odd on a screen, pretty soon it’s planet movers or pirates or something. If a ship really DID disappear, probably just the agents that stole it to sell and retire on. Can’t you buy any off world?
Vera: Got a BIG order waiting shipment on Emirate II, Capella. The boss found a shit-load of mixed-lot mil-surp. Can’t find a shipper, though. So, what CAN I do for you?
Kwon and Helton look at each other.
Helton: How BIG a shit-load? What kind of ammo?
Vera: (casually) Dunno. He said it was too good a deal to pass up, but sounded like he was stretched thin to finance it. I can check. Why?
Kaminski: Helton here owns the Dutchman on pad D9. He’s looking for cargo.
Helton: Can you check what it is, and what he’d pay to get it shipped here?
Vera: Sure thing! Hang out a few.
Vera trots of down the counter and disappears through a door.
Helton: That would be good – ammo is dense and high-value; wouldn’t take a lot of cubes.
Kaminski: -and I’m sure Lag would like to get first crack at buying a supply, too. He said things are tight right now for ammo he’s looking for, and we should keep our ears open.
Sar: Everyone looks like they are stocking up for the shit hitting the fan.
Kwon: (eying a guy with a hand-truck stacked with ammo cases) Big-time. We should lay in more E-rats as soon as we can, I’m thinking.
Vera comes back. She’s got a amazed expression on her face.
Vera: He says it’s about two hundred million rounds. Everything from small-caliber training stuff to 120mm canister rounds. About four thousand tons.
Kaminski whistles. Sar and Kwon raise their eyebrows, and they all look surprised.
They look at each other.
Kaminski: THAT’S a Burt-load, alright. Even by MY standards.
Helton: I think we need some details. We might just be in business, again! Kwon, Sar, see about getting supplies for a trip to Capella, talk to Cooper about times. Kaminski, see what Lag needs in detail. Vera, would you be so kind as to introduce me to your boss?
They all nod at each other, and head in different direction, Helton with Vera, the others talking into their person comm units.
INT – day – engineering
Stenson stands, working on a console to one side of the main room. Helton walks in.
Helton: So, you said it was ready for FTL for real?
Stenson: Think so. Got four cores hooked up and passing tests with the Harmon drives, two with the Sokolov’s. Should be solid, but I’d rather not test it with a shipload of injured soldiers on a long trip. And definitely don’t want to test them simultaneously until I get a better understand of what they were trying to do on the multi-core thing.
Helton: How about a four thousand tons of ammo from Emirate II, in Capella?
Stenson: That’s a pretty massive load. Should be OK if subspace is quiet. The quickie trans-light test after Transfer Station Two looked pretty good, if not rock solid. How soon?
Helton: As soon as we can get loaded up and you say we are ready.
Stenson: A few loose ends to take care of. Call it two days, maybe less. Capella has some good custom shops, too. There are a few parts we need made with very high spec tolerances – if we can beam them ahead on a message drone, we might even be able to pick them up while there. How much can you afford?
Helton: We can look at the details tonight at dinner, figure out the priorities then.
Stenson: Sounds good. Harbin and the kids coming with us?
Helton: He’s been pushing them pretty hard – the first phase is over, and a bunch of them got farmed out to other units or cut. There’s only a handful left, not enough to start phase two with until we get some others. He said some R&R on Capella would be good for them, if he can work ‘em there and back. Lag has some business there, too.
Stenson: I think Alvarez has family on New Texas, too. Might be able to work in a quick transfer point stop for him, maybe?
Helton: We’ll see. Depend on supplies and subspace conditions. Let me know if you need anything else.
INT – night – officers mess
Helton, Bipasha, Kwon, Cooper, Harbin, Lag, and Sar sit at the table discussing details and thoughts, with Quinn listening in.
Cooper: The latest reports show a swirl going by New Texas. Shouldn’t add more than couple hours to stop at the transfer station there. Only about eight days universal in sub-space using the Harmons, eleven using the pair of Sokolovs. A day for a Capella stop. About two days subjective. Coming back should be about three either way universal, but about a week subjective, if we take the typical route.
Lag: Some of the units I’m working with could use the heavy stuff on the list. A stock of the medium would be good to have, too.
Stenson: Four thousand tonnes of cargo will be a good systems stress-test, too. Not much chance you’d ever have to haul more than that, unless you plan on strapping it on outside.
Bipasha: I can’t believe you found a cargo like this so fast! It’s about the one thing you can haul competitively. (shakes head) Just about fill the hold, good tonnage rates. And it just drops into your lap.
Helton: I thought you said that we couldn’t make this thing work?
Bipasha: Two lucky one-time freak jobs don’t make a business – they just delay the inevitable.
Kwon: One step at a time. As long as we are still in business long enough to find the next job. Nice to help people out, and if we can see a bit more of the ‘verse while we are at it… it’s all good.
Sar: Won’t have much extra though. Prices for a lot of the staples are twice what they were last week.
Sar: Everyone is nervous, stocking up. Not just ammo. Food, pretty much everything you can’t print at home. Even resin is up.
Quinn: Why does all of ‘em buy at once?
Sar: “why DO all of them,” Quinn; she DOES, they DO. Because they all got scared by the same news at once.
Quinn: What are they scared of?
Helton: The unknown. They MIGHT run out of food, or ammo, or whatever, and they don’t know when they can get more. People are like that.
Quinn: So why don’t they keep more around all the time? Do they think they might not need to eat next week?
Everyone kind of chuckles at that.
Lag: Lots of reasons, most of them not very good. That’s why you always hear Mr Kwon talking about stocking up on food, Mr Stenson stocking up on parts, Allonia socking up on just about everything, and Mr Harbin talking about ammunition supplies all the time. WE know things can run out, and re-supply might be difficult. We know difficult times can happen.
Bipasha: Maybe we could stop in on New Texas and get some supplies for cheaper on the way back? Time-line on the ammo delivery isn’t very tight.
Helton: Not many food product engineering companies there. Mostly just bulk producers.
Kwon: We can do bulk scratch, no problem. Beans ‘n rice can go anywhere. We could convert just about any room on the ship into a ‘fridge or freezer for fresh or frozen meats and veggies.
Helton: Really? How?
Kwon: Fire suppression system can chill just about anything – I asked the AI about it after a small galley fire – something about reversed microwaves, I think. Missed the technobabble. Iced a flaming pan-full of blazing bacon in a few seconds. Whole room chilled a bit.
Sar: REALLY slick. Back to work hardly missing a beat. Bacon was still good, even.
Lag: That’s a new one to me. Good to know fire-suppression works well, especially if we are hauling ammo.
Helton: Cooper, keep your eyes on conditions and see if it makes time-sense to swing by New Texas. We’ll see if we can clean out a closet or two to make a meat-locker. Now, then-
The main screen on the wall chimes, and shows and avatar of a knit orange cap.
Ship AI: (OC, brisk male voice) A call from Cobb’s about the contract.
Helton raises his eyebrows in surprise.
Helton: Put them on.
Cobb: (OC) Can’t do it. Sorry. Finance guys said they won’t do it unless you get insurance.
Helton: But, you said, I mean, what? Why?
Cobb: (OC) You have an uninsured ship more than four hundred years old, with no history of shipping, and you are asking to take nearly hundred million dollars of cargo through two war zones. They won’t issue the letter of credit unless you can post a performance bond or offer proof of delivery insurance.
Bipasha: But didn’t you fight off the-
Harbin: (cutting her off) YES, we are fighters. But Helton and his ship have no OFFICIAL track record of translight cargo transport. It IS a lot of cargo for an unknown.
Cobb: (OC) Exactly. I think I can trust you to do your best, but the money guys won’t unless you can offer a guarantee against their cash loss risk if you lose or steal the cargo.
They all look at one another around the table.
Helton: Any ideas?
Bipasha: A couple -(pitched to the ship AI to send to Cobb) Could you please wait a minute?
Cobb: Sure, if you think you can still swing it.
The screen shows a MUTE icon.
Bipasha: (to Lag) You said you were interested in buying a chunk of it, right?
Lag: Not me personally, but some of the units I’m working with, yes.
Bipasha: What percentage, value-wise?
Lag: About a quarter of it.
Bipasha: Do you think Cobb’s money-guys know you?
Lag: Almost assuredly.
Bipasha: You were going to be going with us anyway – if you posted a payment bond for a quarter of it, and you told them you and a squad of Plataean Space Marines were going as escorts on contract, would that carry enough wight with them?
Harbin: What squad?
Bipasha: You two, Kaminski and Kaushik, the rest of them.
Harbin: All ten of them, if you include Stenson and his engineering and maintenance crew?
Bipasha: Technically, it’s a squad, isn’t it?
Lag: (with a grin) If you stretch the words far enough.
Helton: Which is seems you are good at.
Lag thinks it over.
Bipasha: Maybe you could get a discount on your portion?
Lag: (kind of thinking out loud) Hmmm… Yes, that might be doable. Hmmm, Hmmmm, hmmmm… Yes. (louder, pitched to the ship AI) Back on screen.
The MUTE icon goes away.
Lag: This is Col Lag.
Cobb: Hey! Haven’t heard from you since that, uh, job we did a while back. Didn’t know you were with them. A colonel, now, eh?
Lag: Just to see if we can get on the same page: sell me a third of the ammo at cost, and-
Cobb: A THIRD!? Are you CRAZY?
Lag: -a third at cost, I’ll put my name on a bond post for delivery here for the whole package. I’m going with them on other business, and bringing some men along, and we can officially act as armed escort.
Cobb: I work my ass off to get this KILLER deal, and you want to walk away with a THIRD OF IT at COST?
Lag: Pretty much.
Cobb: You greedy bastard!
Lag: And of course YOU want it all to just GIVE away, right?
Cobb: ‘COURSE NOT!
Lag: Last I checked, the markup on two thirds of SOMETHING was a LOT more than the profits on a hundred percent of NOTHING. And knowing you, this deal likely fell in your lap.
Cobb: Ah, HELL, man… You sure know how to kick a guy when he’s tied into a corner.
Lag: Pass the offer on to the money-guys. Let us know.
Cobb: (discouraged) Shit! Knew this deal was too good to last. Out here.
The screen goes blank.
Bipasha: That didn’t sound too smooth.
Lag: He’s in. He’s just got to convince the financiers.
Sar: I don’t like the sound of him. Can you trust him?
Lag: We understand one another. He knows I’m honest, and I know he’s not. He ALSO knows he’ll die in a heartbeat if he tries to double-cross me.
Helton: What if they don’t bite?
Lag: Unlikely, but if they don’t, then we find someone else who WILL trust you, and buy it from him at a quarter-percent markup, as-is-where-is, and ship it and sell it ourselves. That much ammo would make a tidy profit in a war zone.
Bipasha: I thought you were a soldier, not businessman.
Lag: I’m in business to resolve disputes, and there are no good military options without profits. The non-military options without profits are even worse. No profits means few good options for ANYone.
Harbin: As I’ve tried to tell you many times – we fight when it’s the low-cost solution for US, and we make others NOT fight by making it their HIGH-cost solution.
Bipasha: That’s a weird way of looking at it.
Helton: EVERYONE trades in lives – soldiers are just more obvious about it. Wages trades money for a part of a persons lifetime. The price-tag is just a measure of the portion.
EXT – night – above the planet Newoz
The curve of the planet arches across the lower edge of our view, the horizon’s atmosphere aglow from the distant star. Above the horizon, against the black, in the near distance, is a large space-station, glinting and rotating slowly in the sunlight. A small shiny glint rises, barely seen, from the planet below. As it it gradually picks up speed, music starts swelling – Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild. The glint moves faster, becoming recognizable as Tajemnica, slowly rotating as it arc up and away. It rises, faster and faster. Heavy metal thunder. Smoke and lightning. Born to be wild. Explode into space. Indeed.
Fade to black.
[side note: just in case it’s not clear from future conversations, Emirate II and the planet Capella are both habitable planets in the Capella system, sharing an L4/L5 Lagrangian orbit, i.e., roughly at the 12 o’clock and 4 o’clock position around the same star (Capella), at the same distance]