Solaris – Part 2: Liaisons11th July 200411th March 2018Iron Wolf

Darius opened his eyes and stretched as his command pod opened and he breathed the must air in his ship. Many people find the smell of re-circulated air rather unpleasant compared to the fresh oxygen of the pod, but for Darius, it was the smell that greeted him with open arms every time he set foot out of his pod and back at a station where a real bed awaited him. It was the smell of home. As his ship was towed into the docking area, the soft orange glow of the station’s lights that line the access tunnel dripped through the bridge windows like nectar, creating strands of light that danced over the control panels.

Darius enjoyed this part of the docking process at Minmatar stations. Regulations on ship safety were quite clear that the crew must remain in their pods until the ship is secured at the docking point, but Darius knew that it was rarely enforced. And, though to many captains it was a simple matter, Darius never liked to miss the sight in the station as the airlock opened at the end of the dimly lit access tunnel. As they approached, the doors opened slightly as the old gearing caught hold of the door and a shaft of light raced forward to greet his ship before the doors finally began to open and his ship, and his bridge, slowly flooded with light. The light was not too bright and was quite bearable, though this was more by necessity than design as the lights were cheap and produced little light.

Darius recalled the first time he docked at a Gallente station. He opened his pod and stepped onto the bridge of his ship as he was towed into position. As soon as his ship entered the access tunnel, the lights that led the way to the airlock were bright white and stung his eyes a little. Soon they were used to it but he often wondered if this was a good thing for such an advanced race. After all, pilots had just emerged from their pods after several hours with their eyes shut. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise that their station owners were so tight with their money?

Darius had just returned from a successful cargo run for Ramar. His job had been to locate and deliver some rare gunnery upgrades to another courier for their fleet of cruisers. He had also accepted a courier job from a private corporation to deliver some food supplies to another station that would take him past his rendezvous. It was a fairly large shipment but would not take up all the room in his Probe frigate, Razorback. There was still room to smuggle the various components inside the boxes and crates. The real problem was customs checks at stations. Though again, easily controlled as Ramar’s people had a man on the inside who could manipulate records. It was a simple matter to let him know what the order number was for the official delivery and what weight to change it to. Then new documents were delivered to Darius that day at the station so he could substitute them for the old ones if checked before he drops of his real cargo. Then the changes would be made again to restore the original weight stats for the cargo once a specific time was reached when the drop was to be made. The fake documents were discarded safely and the originals were then presented at the receiving station with his delivery order, and as needed if he had to dock before getting there.

Of course, this system was not perfect but it was safer than just taking the risk. And it had served Darius well so far as he was a reputable courier from a well-known tribe on Matar, so little questions were asked as long as the paperwork was in order. Another trick he had learned in the last few months while in the employment of the resistance cell was to make runs at peak time while the space lanes were busy and stations were full of traders and couriers. Customs inspectors with a busy schedule tend to be less willing to spend time searching through cargo for illegal goods.

Darius had been at this for several months now since that day he shared a bottle with Ramar and mused about the past. Darius was not sorry that he had chosen this path. He was, in fact, happy that he was making a difference. Once a month he would meet with Ramar, who had since become his handler, and would be briefed on his upcoming month’s work and Ramar would also share some stories of the deeds of his cell’s fleet. It warmed his heart to hear of slaves being rescued with the equipment that he supplied them with. And it was for that reason he was at this station today.

Darius made his way over to the hatch to his ship and stepped out onto the gantry that led to the lifts down to the habitat area and the commercial sectors of the station. It was here that he was to meet Ramar in a bar. It always struck Darius as strange that they should talk business in such a public place, but it also made sense to hide in plain sight. Darius entered the bar and suddenly found himself wishing that “plain sight” would look a little cleaner. Something about Ramar that he could never figure out was that he always seemed comfortable in dirty surroundings. Maybe it was the curse of the life he leads. Such places were frequented by like-minded people, branded criminals by the state, who would not raise an eyebrow at the matters they were to discuss tonight. Some with good cause, others out of necessity, but more a controversial policy within the Republic. Such people are labeled terrorist, but prefer to be called “freedom fighters”. It was, however, a mute argument as it depends on what side of the fence you stand on. Darius had to walk that fine line along the fence posts to try to say objective. He could ill afford to fall off and into either camp as it would surely jeopardize his business.

He scanned the room and quickly found Ramar sitting in a corner booth with 2 glasses and a bottle of something dark, thick and most likely high proof. Darius knew then that this would be a long night guaranteed to end in a headache in the middle of the night while being jabbed in the ribs by a security officer who found him lying in a shop doorway. Either that or the security lockup’s drunk-tank. Ramar saw him enter and waved him over to the table.

As they started the bottle, Darius realized that the drinking might not be as prolonged as he originally assumed. It did not take Ramar long to get down to business. After Darius had gone over his last month’s work, they moved on to the next month.

“I have a new route for you Dar,” stated Ramar, “if you are interested that is.”

“Where to?”

“We have managed to get a cell in Ammatar space.” Darius looked up from his drink, set it down and leaned forwards in interest. “We need to get a supply of weapons to them and some ammo. A local factory owner is making ships for them but he has no blueprints for weapons and we have none to spare at the moment. Until then they are defenseless and we need to arm them, pronto” Darius nodded in agreement. He was guessing that most of the people there were new to the cause since they needed new ships. Darius was about to ask about it but he decided the little he knew the better. And it was likely that there would be experienced people there too, and not just a bunch of rookies. Otherwise, it might be a short-lived enterprise, to say the least.

“How many runs to I need to do?”

“For now we can get all we need there in one run as the unit is rather small for now, but you would do better to take a bigger ship than your Probe.”

“What’s wrong with my Probe?” Asked Darius. “It’s faster than any cruiser and has more cargo space too.”

“It’s not that. Cargo space and speed don’t matter too much. It’s just that Ammatar security can be a little pushy with people in smaller ships. Especially Minmatars. Take a cruiser instead in case you need the fire power for show.”

“OK but I don’t have one anymore. Lost the last one in a belt in low sec.” Ramar nodded, an amused smile on his face.

“I know you can fly one, though. I will let you borrow a Stabber we have in reserve. It’s armed to the teeth too so you have little to worry about.”

“Who would I be dealing with there?” Ramar looked at him, and then around the room before standing up. Darius looked puzzled for a second until Ramar nodded his head towards the door.

Darius followed Ramar, who had not said a word about where they were going. He followed him out of the bar and round the back into a dirty alley where the trash resided. Nice, he thought. Why was Ramar acting like this? They rounded the corner and into an open space that was empty. Darius was about to open his mouth and ask what they were doing here, or even if Ramar thought they were being watched when he caught a glimpse of movement in the shadows out of the corner of his eye. Ever quick to react, Darius lunged into the figure and as quick as that he was up against the wall with his gun to the intruder’s neck.

“DARIUS!” Shouted Ramar “Wait!” Darius looked into the eyes of another Minmatar peering out of the shadows cast by his robe, then looked at Ramar who was, by now, half laughing while gesturing for Darius to let him go. “Damn Dar, feeling a little jumpy? It’s ok, he’s with us, and he’s here to meet you.”

Darius backed away slowly and put his gun away, a crude but effective variant of an age-old shot blaster with a smaller, but deadly cartridge at close range. These were fed through from a cylindrical drum magazine that holds 20 cartridges loaded with a dozen ball bearings each, and fired down a short barrel with a wide bore. It could also be loaded with thick slugs and anti-armour rounds, though these were more effective with a longer barrel in a rifle configuration.

“Nice to see the man can take care of himself.” Said the stranger with a slight chuckle in his voice.

“Sorry about that,” replied Darius, “you kind of caught me on high alert.”

“Darius gets a few drinks down him and he goes all paranoid” laughed Ramar. “Dar, this is Tourvel, he is the second in command of the new unit I was telling you about.” Darius nods in Tourvel’s direction. “This is the man you will be dealing with on your supply runs for them.” Darius and Tourvel shook hands. Tourvel’s grip was a little weak, usually a sign of nerves. Already Darius asked himself why such a man would be nervous. As their hands parted, Darius glanced down briefly and caught sight of a tribal pattern tattoo extending from the man’s wrist up his sleeve. It was a simple criss-cross pattern like Darius had never seen before. However, there was something familiar about it that Darius could not quite place in his mind.

“So,” continued Ramar, “When can we begin supply runs?”

“I was hoping to get the supplies delivered by the week’s end,” said Tourvel seriously. Darius looked at Ramar.

“I should assume that the usual security procedures would be in place that I use for existing runs?” He asked his friend.

“Yes.” He said. “I will see to it at both ends. I know some people who can set it up on this route. So you’re going to piggyback the delivery with some legit cargo?” Darius nodded at that. Tourvel simply looked at Darius for a few second as if deciding something.

“Have any questions?” Darius asked him.

“No, that’s fine. I am not specifically familiar with the method you speak of, though it doesn’t matter. As long as you deliver with no problems.”

“I have been doing this for months now. It works, I assure you of that.”

“Forgive me for being a little doubtful. It is nothing personal, just that I am always a little skeptical about working with new people. If you say you can deliver, then I shall take your word for it.” There was a slightly tense pause between the two men as Darius weighed up what he had just said. Why would it be personal at all? They didn’t know each other so why make such a statement to begin with? Darius dismissed it as a simple figure of speech.

“OK guys,” said Ramar, breaking the silence. “Let’s do business. Tourvel, I will fill you in on Darius’ methods of delivery in full next time we talk business. Trust me it’s reliable.” Tourvel looked at Ramar, smiled and bowed slightly. “Fancy a drink with us?” he asked.

“No, I must leave quickly. I have much to attend to.” With that, he bowed to the two men again and quickly left the alleyway. Ramar slapped his hand on Darius’ shoulder firmly.

“Well, it looks like it’s you and me and a bottle of the good stuff.” Darius groaned. He too had hoped to make a swift getaway and avoid the sickly feeling that often followed one of these meetings.

When they settled back down at their table, their bottle still present oddly enough, Darius took a quick drink and gazed deep into the table.

“Something wrong?” Asked Ramar

“I’m not sure.” He replied. “Are you sure he is trustworthy? Something about him doesn’t add up.” Ramar simply grinned.

“You will get used to him. I have been working with him since I joined by brothers band of rebels. He is… he’s just like that. A little off to the side of most people. I don’t know if that’s just how he is or if he does it on purpose to try and see how people react to him. I haven’t decided yet.” He grinned again and poured another glass for each of them. As they drank, Darius was still back in the encounter in the alley. He was still troubled about it for some reason. It was more than just putting people off balance, it was almost as if he didn’t want to be there at all. Especially in the final moments of the conversation when he excused himself. And the way he was looking at him was more than skepticism, maybe borderline distrust. OK, that is only natural when working with new people. Or maybe it was Darius and his dislike for change in what had become routine for him. Only time would tell, in the way that it always did.