I always have a few on the last jump to Krig. Don't know why. Hyperspace has always made my dreams more intense, and the last jump on this trip always makes them bad.
Maybe it's the loneliness. There's no one out here, no one for six jumps around. You hop out of the rabbithole, scoop some fuel from the upper layers of a gas giant that no one has bothered to name, and hop in again; you have to do it three times to get to Krig, even in a Far Trader like Jenny. You don't even bother turning on the comm; all you get is the eerie howl of deep space, screaming like the wind across a frozen plain. Listen to that for too long, you go crazy.
The Order told me the rules when I signed on for this run, almost two years ago. No crew comes with me; I man the ship myself, all systems on automatic except the ones I can handle alone. Pick up supplies all along the Chain, and fill out two cargo manifests along the way-a fake one for the harbormasters, a real one for the Order. The Dawnies don't want anyone to know they have a base on Krig, so they have their base at Valerian-5 sign me in and out at around the time I should be there-but the Spinning Jenny really makes sail for the Krig system, way out here in the Big Black.
They sure made it sound easier than it is. Keeping my mouth shut isn't the problem, and I know how to run two sets of books. And sure, I'm not squeezing through a naval blockade or having to open up my guns on privateers three times a week. But these empty places in the universe, where mankind hasn't left a trace of himself yet-they get creepy sometimes.
I need this milk run, though. I need a break from war-hell, the whole human race needs a break from it. Back when I left Earth thirty years ago, I thought I was leaving the worst part of my life behind me-the food riots, the crime, the hopelessness. There's 10 billion people living on the edge back home, with the remains of World War III still staring them in the face-just big round radioactive lakes where most of the world's great cities used to be. It's been 200 years, you'd think they'd clean up some of the mess.
I understand why they banned war on Earth. After the human race crapped in its own nest that badly, you can see why they'd stomp down hard on anyone who tried kicking up another fuss. And all the Corporations have their high-faluting spiel about why war is counter-productive, and blah blah blah, life is just a big business deal...but that sure doesn't stop 'em when it comes time to "protect their interests" out here in the colonies-or hey, maybe just take a big bite out of the other guy's interests. Because really, who's counting? All's fair out here in the bush. Last I heard, there's three- and four-way brawls going on all over this sector. VOLSAAB, Kenji Industries and Neotech are slugging it out on Meridian-4; Globecom and Vortex are at each other's throats on New Pamplona, with S-Core scooping up everything that the big two are too weakened to protect. And the Church is no different-the OND has at least five wars in various stages of completion going on, from Mars all the way out the Chain.
Fortunately, nothing ever happens out here on the way to Krig. I'm glad of it; I need a milk run. I'm sick of the fighting; World War III didn't teach us anything except that you shouldn't blow up your own Corporate hq. Men and women are dying out here in greater numbers than ever before, but no one cares—life is cheap. They don't even have to pay 'em much to come out here and fight. Just the promise that you never have to go back to Earth is good enough for most of these dumb kids.
Did I say that nothing ever happened out here in the Krig system? If I did, remind me to find someone who still has legs, so they can kick me in the ass.
Who would've thought a war would break out in a place like this?
This is Krig. It's nothing but an old yellow star six jumps from Sunday—eight satellites orbiting the thing, and not one of them worth the fuel it takes to get here. Jackson Wright Krig surveyed this system sixty years ago, and it's been a write-off since the first human laid eyes on it! There's not a decent world for as far as the eye can see, or even a good heavy rock for mining; when the Good Lord was handing out fissionables and nickel-iron, this system was last in line.
So what the hell is the Crayven Corporation doing here?
I mean, I never really asked myself why the Dawnies would want to set up a colony out here—when folks get religion, they throw out common sense. When they set up camp Krig's 7b-just a cruddy little moon orbiting the system's biggest gas giant—I figured some loony archbishop had seen it written in the stars. It was the only explanation I could think of.
It's a miserable rock by offworld standards-deserts that take up over 40% of the planet's land mass, ice caps that take up another third, and between the two you got jungle belts so thick and tangled that you can't hardly move without a flame-thrower. Even Earth would be a better place to live, if you didn't have to push and shove in line with ten billion other people every time you want to take a dump. In other words, not the kind of planet you leave home for-not when there's hundreds of better places out there, just waiting for someone to lay down homesteads.
I guess if I'd really put on the ol' thinking cap, I'd have thought they were worried about getting soft-Dawnies do all kinds of fasting and mortifying the flesh. Maybe they just wanted a place to run naval maneuvers without having all frequencies clogged with passing traffic. Or maybe just that they wanted a place they'd never have to fight over...I sure would've thought that was a safe bet.
You could've knocked me over with a feather when I heard those Crayven Corp transmissions. There wasn't a whisper of it anywhere along the Chain when I was picking up the goods for this delivery; whoever planned the ambush kept it so deep and dark that there wasn't a squeak of warning. The Crays caught the Order with their pants down, and they just about caught me too; when I didn't get a burst from the Order's orbiting satellites, I thought there was something wrong with my communications rig. I was just about to open a channel when I saw the big Cray cruiser, big as life and twice as ugly. She'd just opened up her main guns on an Order freighter.
Watching those Crayven dropships fall through the ionosphere of 7b gave me the cold chills. Thank god I'm an old smuggler; setting up my rabbithole on the dark side of Krig 7 saved my life today. Old habits die hard-you don't show your jump point to a planet's defenses if you can help it.
Another thing you don't do is mess with the Crayven Corporation. I served almost eighteen years in the Kenji ground forces, and I saw a lot of action, but our boys were never hard like Crayven troops-we didn't get bonuses for rounding up enemy civilians and gunning them. Those Crays are some tough, hard-assed mofo's. I don't know why they're here or what the hell they want from the Order, and I don't want to know. All I want is to get the hell out of here before someone spots Jenny and me and decides to have my butt for breakfast.
All I've got to do is wait until this game of orbital slap-and-tickle ends up on the other side of the planet; then I'm going to make a break for it, see if I can engage Jenny's jump engines before either side can get a lock on us. We'll be low on fuel when we come out of jump, but that's a chance I'm willing to take-the one thing I sure the hell can't do is stay here. When I get back to the Chain, I can notify the Order what's happening out here; Lord knows, that information should be good for a few credits.
Maybe it'll be enough to see me through, just until I can find some other milk run.
This one has gone sour.