A Suspicious Job

Karsuki Ti. For Commander Anwen Hunter it was the epitome of dread. She had spent a fair amount of her youth here, and she had hated every moment of it. Her parents had dropped her off in this system to give her a proper education that went beyond repairing a burnt-out power plant without a space dock and survival in deep space.

Sure, the school had been expensive and the teachers were good, but she never got along with all the people. The cities, the spaceports, the stations: everything was loud and crammed.

When she first arrived in Wilson Gateway at the tender age of twelve, she had been running back to the space ship and hid under her bed. She hadn't known that there were so many people in the world! And all of them were talking, shouting and -worst of all- smelling.

She had gotten used to it eventually, of course. It was months for the noise and years for the smell, but she learned to cope. But still, she felt safe and calm only in the enclosures of a spaceship.

She hated the fact that she couldn't be with her family and that she couldn't see the stars from her window. Adapting to the constant gravity of the planet was hell for her, and, although she was an athletic kid, in the 1.1 standard g of the planetary surface she was clumsy and the other kids laughed at her. Being the only child in her school that was born in space, she was an outsider from the start. And the people she formed relations with were not so much her classmates than the people who lived and worked around the school.

Much of the work in the school, such as cooking and cleaning, had been done by slaves, something that had been the way of the empire for centuries. Since politics, and especially slavery, had never been a topic aboard her home ship she had no idea that such a thing even existed. The idea that a human being could be owned, like screwdriver or a re-breather, abhorred and disturbed her.

When she learned that one of the girls who worked in the school, and who she had been friends with, was a slave owned by the school she made a scene to her teachers that brought her six weeks of detention. The girl, whom Anwen had been very close to, was sold and she never heard of her again.

Anwen had never complained about the slavery at her school again, but her dislike of slavery had turned into a fierce hatred, and she became a passionate abolitionist.

When she had completed her sixteenth year, her parents did not return from a trip. She waited for months for a life-sign, but nothing was heard or seen from them again. The year Anwen graduated form school they were pronounced dead. Anwen held a small wake for them, but she was never convinced that they were really gone. In her imagination they where still out there, waiting for rescue.

After graduating she couldn't leave the planet fast enough. From her parents estate she bought an old Lakon Spaceways Type 6 freighter, and started doing trade runs in the systems around Cubeo. The first few years were a struggle, mostly because she refused to transport slaves or make deals with slave-holding-corporations.

Everything changed rather suddenly, only a few years ago, when, after the sudden death of her father, Harold Duval, Aisling Duval became heir to her father's tenure. An abolitionist herself, her first legal act had been a ban of slavery in all the systems in her county. Besides some civil unrest, it had -much to the dismay of her enemies- brought progress and wealth to her subjects. With manual labour becoming more expensive, wages were rising and many systems under Duval's influence boomed economically.

The abolition of slavery was the main reason Anwen had pledged allegiance to Duval. Another was said boom. An ever increasing economy craved raw materials, and mining companies fed that hunger by exploiting new systems. Duval herself made much of her fortune with mining operations, and was said to own more mining shares than the Empress herself. Her government therefore paid good money for accurate maps of unknown systems. If you were willing to spend months on end on a space ship, hundreds of light years from the next outpost, you could make a good fortune.

Anwen herself had made enough money to buy a second ship, and -while a hired crew guaranteed a steady income by running hauls between Karsuki Ti, Cubeo and the surrounding systems, she had been on the rim, exploring. The fact that her freighter had been attacked by pirates had brought her back here, and showing up in court to claim the insurance for her ship had stressed her out greatly.

Luckily, the crew was unharmed, but they had to submit 50 tons of terraforming equipment worth half a million credits to the pirates. And of course the insurance company had tried to stall any compensation.

Anwen sat in the command-seat of her space ship, staring through the windows at the buzzing terminal on Wilson Gateway's docks, lost in her memories.

A beeping sound brought her back to reality.

"Yes, ASTRA?"

"You asked me to inform you about available missions that lie on our path to Maia." The soothing voice of her ships AI informed her. "You have one new message pending"

"Thank you, ASTRA." Anwen replied. "Show it on screen, please."

"As you wish."

Anwen was still surprised how the gentle voice of her ships computer always made her talk in a polite and educated manner. ASTRA was programmed to bring out the best in people, and Anwen loved her for it. Of course the simple AI didn't really understand what was said to her, she could, in many aspects, easily be outwitted by a three year old, but maybe these child like properties brought forth the urge in people to be nice to her.

The job offer now flashed in the screen area above her dashboard:

MessageID: 72cb7d262ce8e8a22551f289fb328242
From: Office for Homeworld Security/Prismatic
To: Cmdr. Anwen Hunter
Encrypted: Yes
— Begin of Encrypted Messsage — Greetings Commander, your Lady Aisling Duval calls for your assistance. We need a trustworthy pilot with a fast ship to transport three passengers to the Auserid system. You will rendezvous with the ship to pick up your passengers in HIP5549 at 1100 hours standard time on Feb 5th 3302. You will receive a fee of 120,000 Cr upon arrival in Abe Landing/Auserid System. You are informed that this job is to be treated with the highest level of confidence, and any reporting of even the existence of this message is seen as an act of treason against Lady Duval herself. The exact coordinates of your rendezvous will be transmitted to you, should you decide to accept this mission. regards, A. Vernon (Major of the Prismatic Guard) — End of Encrypted Message —

"My masters voice!" Anwen sighed. She didn't think she had much choice but to take the job. Of course she could decline the offer, but that would seriously damage her standing with the Duval faction. She knew from the GalNet-News that Auserid was planning on joining Aisling Duvals faction, and this might have something to do with it. The Prismatic Guard were the household troops of the Duval family, so this mission came from really high up. Anwen was surprised that they even knew about her up there. She came to the conclusion that this must have something to do with espionage, and she should be prepared for anything.

But hey, after all it was good money, although it meant a detour and a few extra jumps, but two or three jumps more wouldn't be that bad for an extra 120,000 Cr, which meant she would be able to upgrade her surface scanner before she went to the rim.

She sighed again, and pressed the confirm button.