37. The Pay Off - Charter Complete
Date: 217-993 to 219-993 Imperial.
Location: Sentry System (0921).
"Welcome to Sentry, Avarice Rewarded. Please proceed on transit vector sent via channel 237."
"Roger Sentry, channel 237" Silea sent back.
"Look at all the blips. There are hundreds of them." Luan gestured at the ship's main situation map.
"We're zoomed out, most of those are non-local. Sentry's fancy, they're relaying their overall traffic plot via the outer system buoys. Normally we'd be on our own sensors and we'd only see a fraction of that. Still, it's a lot more ships than we've seen lately."
Five minutes later, a great big pulsating blue blip appeared near the middle of the screen, pulsing with highlights, as event flags fired on a couple of other console displays. "That's not small," said Sir David, reaching for the telescope controls, "and it's not far either."
"One of the Marquis's freightliners" Silea read from the transponder details. "Watch them rearrange the traffic for it. It'll go in to his moon at one gee and everybody will divert around it. We'll probably be running in front of it for a while, like a little fish fleeing an Orca."
"Would you look at that. Ten thousand dee-tons. You could fit us in the cargo hold about thirty times over. You can actually see it." Sir David got a lit pixel on the video feed from the 60cm telescope.
Avarice Rewarded proceeded towards orbital insertion at 2g, leaving the great freighter behind. They made turnover, listening to occasional comm chatter as ships within their sensor range groused about traffic control being all over the place today. After about twelve hours and a couple of watch changes, they got close enough to see shipping around Sentry on their own sensors as well as system traffic control relay.
Traffic control sent a matching orbit to bring the ship onto downport approach as their landing slot cleared, and they made de-orbit after a three-quarter circle of the planet.
Soon, they were sat on the plascrete waiting for customs. As the passengers disembarked up a docking tube, they were treated to a flyby from four SDBs on their way back from a long tour in the belt. They flew over the port slow and low, letting the watchers pick out hull details, then stood on their tails and headed for the navy base on the moon Yrech at 6g.
News of Cochrane's Burden had preceded them. The unresisting ship's destruction at the hands of the navy, with around fifteen civilian casualties, had been quite a story a month before and Luan's impromptu news interview was well known.
The naval vessel responsible was long gone, off to the Solomani Rim at J4 to serve in the war. An official investigation order was headed after it. Sir David made some discrete enquiries, and got the word that the navy was taking it seriously. Luan decided she didn't want to talk to the many reporters who obviously wanted to talk to her and stayed abroad. Sir David gave a brief interview, saying that he was sure the navy would investigate properly and do the right thing.
The ship got one last free refuelling courtesy of Kursis Mail LIC of Shanape, their employers on the charter mission to collect starport records from around the cluster.
The last of the records went into the high jump mail system, and Sir David took the receipts to the Hortalez et Cie office complex. Hortalez were local acting factors for Kursis. They were to make the final payoff for the starport records job, in the shape of a voucher paying for Avarice Rewarded's refit at Fonneien Orbital. They were also, as it happened, the Shetland family's bankers.
Sir David got his refit voucher without trouble. Then he went over the road for his second appointment, with the merchant bank.
"You've traded profitably on the slim pickings in the Linkworlds since our last loan, Sir David. What makes you want a second against this Jorjiak Miilaki's lands?" The banker looked up from Avarice Rewarded's accounts, which looked pretty good alongside the business plan from some months before.
"Two things. First I want to fit a fuel purifier, which will greatly improve our profitability. So far we've had free fuel courtesy of Kursis, but from now on buying unrefined will save us about sixteen thousands credits per jump. Secondly, I want to stake a speculative mission in the cluster. If it succeeds, it should be quite lucrative. If it fails... Well, you've seen that I have the profitability to pay off the second loan."
"And this speculative mission is..."
"Confidential" Sir David confirmed.
"Well, confidential usually costs about four percent extra. Since we know you, and since it's secured, we might shave a little. The next loans committee meeting is this afternoon, we should have an offer for you by sixteen hundred. I take it you want an early repayment option?"
Sir David headed back to the ship. On his way back he stopped at the Spacers' Guild office, then at a milliner's shop.
In the end they got their loan at four percent, three over base and two over commercial, a little cheaper than a standard ship mortgage.
"So it's on, then?" said Fish as they heard the news over dinner.
"Yes, we're going for it. Time to go flying around in gas giants again. Oh, and speaking of flying around..." Sir David reached under his seat and brought out a flat square box, wrapped in deep blue silk. He handed it across the table to a surprised looking Silea. Fish deftly lifted her bowl away so she could set it down and open it, then mimed eating the (non-existent) remains of her dessert once she was so engaged. Off came the silk, then the lid, then the tissue, and out came... a hat, blue and white, with a peak and a certain amount of gold braid.
"Congratulations, First Officer Crossflow" said Sir David in a "public occasion" sort of voice. "I sorted you out with the Spacers' Guild this morning. There's a fancy certificate too."
"Make sure he gives you a pay rise" said Fish, gesturing with his spoon for emphasis.
The next morning, they jumped for 069-526 to refit at Fonnein Orbital.