Quantar Core . . . home!
After a full month of self-exile, Rix was finally home again. QC, by nature of its location, was a busy station on the edge of the galaxy’s main trade routes. Huge industrial ships running to and from Quanus rumbled past the EEA expedition, while small mining shuttles buzzed around the nearby asteroids, extracting minerals found within. Deftly slipping past one of the several asteroids near the station -affectionately named “Rookies’ Bane” by more than a few Quantar pilots — the trio of ships maneuvered into position and glided into the docking tube.
The three EEA pilots dismounted from their ships as soon as they were deposited on the hangar floor. Rix pulled off his flight helmet, cracked open the canopy of his Typhoon, and hopped down to the ferrocrete deck. “Good flight,” he called out to RazorX and Venom, who were making their way across the hangar to his position.
Venom nodded in agreement. “Quiet enough, just how I like it. I’ll get to work on those Purgatories we need. Shouldn’t take more than an hour or so. Unless…” His voice trailed off, and Rix followed his gaze. A burly customs official was jogging toward the trio, face already slightly flushed from the uncommon exertion. “Nuts, I was hoping we wouldn’t have to go through customs.”
Razor cocked his head questioningly. “You’ve been here enough, haven’t you? I didn’t think we’d have problems.”
Any reply from Venom was cut short by the officer. Stopping a few paces away, he sucked in a breath, composed himself slightly, and attempted a weak smile. “Good morning, gentlemen, welcome to Quantar Core. If I may ask, what is the purpose of your visit today?”
Both Razor and Rix looked over at Venom, who did nothing more than pull several sheets of paper out of his flight suit and hand them to the official. After a few moments of silence: “I do believe these are in order, correct?” prodded Venom.
The man cleared his throat importantly. “Well, immigration is, yes. You are here only for a few hours?”
“And you are here to make a purchase, I assume?”
Venom nodded, keeping his expression neutral. “Yes, I’m here for a load of copper. Five hundred tons’ worth.”
“I see.” Another quick scan of the immigration papers. Then the official nodded in satisfaction, and the papers were handed back. “Well, everything seems to be in order here. Enjoy your stay.” With that, he tucked his clipboard back under one arm and strode off.
Razor raised an eyebrow. “Just like that?”
Venom smiled and nodded. “Just like that. Give me an hour, tops.” “Sounds good,” replied Rix. “I’ll see you in a bit, then.”
RazorX matched Rix’s pace as they left the hangar. “Hey dude,” he began, “we are here for purgs, right?”
Rix nodded. “Yep. Venom knows what he’s doing. He’s got a few ‘gray-market’ merchants he can talk to. We’ll have our missiles, don’t you worry about that.”
“They won’t check our cargo before launch?”
A laugh. “Nope. As far as that customs guy is concerned, we have copper, and that’s all.” Rix didn’t bother mentioning there was a five hundred credit note tucked inside the sheaf of papers…
Venom had been to Quantar Core more times than he could count. He knew the station inside out. Knew where the best deals where, where not to shop, which merchants would overprice their wares, and which would give deals to repeat customers. But occasionally there were brick walls even he couldn’t get around. And he had just run head-on into one.
“What do you mean, six hours! Mikhail, I don’t have six hours to wait for a delivery!”
Mikhail, the shopkeeper / backroom weapons dealer, bobbed his head in submission. “All apologies, sir, but I have no Purgatories to sell you. I do have an order coming in from Tripoint, but it will be some time before they arrive. If I could speed things up, I would…”
Venom scowled. Six hours, plus another hour to inspect and load cargo…he would be woefully behind schedule. “What’s stopping me from going next door and buying from your competitor?”
The answer did not disappoint. “The fact that my competitor will not give you a five percent discount for this purchase, as well as further discounts on your next three orders?”
“Deal. If you would contact me when your shipment has arrived?”
“Certainly. I believe you already know which bay the pickup will be at.”
A wry smile. “That I do. Security is still light, I take it?”
“Light as ever.”
“Good. I’ll see you in a few hours, then.”
Stepping out of the cramped shop, Venom returned to his ship and coded a transmission back to Evening’s End. ‘Ixholla: Extend return schedule to seven hours. Had some trouble finding what we need. Coming soon. Send a few more ships here for trip back.’
Rix looked up from his pool shot just as the cue connected. The strike was poor; the pool cue slipped off the edge of the ball and sent it spinning sideways directly into a pocket. “Damn it!”
Razor laughed, retrieving the cue ball from the pocket. “In four shots, you’re gonna owe me a hundred creds, dude.”
“Okay, that wasn’t fair, who distracted me?”
Razor simply pointed towards the door of the QC pub while lining up a shot. “Nine – eleven – twelve combo, corner pocket.” Strike. Tap, tap, tap.. thump. A grin. “Perfect, eh?”
Rix snorted and lit a cigarette, throwing a glare at Liet and Shiva as they made their way towards the back of the pub. “Thanks for the interruption, Liet.”
Liet didn’t answer, instead picking up Rix’s pack of cigarettes and pulling one from the carton. Lighting one, he puffed on it a few times, looking very much dignified. “You know these things can kill you?”
“So does barrak fire, you crazy Oct, but you don’t see me complaining! What are you two doing here?” Throwing a glance at Shiva, “And aren’t you a little young to be in a pub?”
“I’m old enough!” the fiery Quantar returned. “And Ixxie sent us down here after he heard you three got delayed. He figured you might need more of an escort force to bring Venom back with all those Purga–”
“Copper!” interrupted Razor. “Five hundred tons. Got it?”
Shiva’s eyes widened. “Oohh…got it.” He sidled up to Rix, dropping his voice to what amounted to a whisper. “So, uh…since we’re in a pub, and you lived here at one point, think could…ahh..hook me up?”
Rix raised an eyebrow. “With?”
“The ladies, of course! I hear that Faith comes by every so often.. .true?”
A shrug and a grin. “Sorry man, you have to lock your targets yourself, if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah”, said Razor while lining up another shot. “Besides, Rixie’s already attached.” Tap. Thump. Rix spitted Razor with a glare, which was largely ignored.
“Mhm.” Tap, tap. Thump. “Supposed to live around here, too.” Tap. “Hmm. Your shot, man.”
Rix accepted the pool cue and lined up a bank shot. “Razor, if you concentrated more on pool and less on gossip, you would’ve won ages ago.”
Razor again ignored Rix on purpose, instead giving Shiva with a wink, a sign to play along. “flee Shiva, his girl is the red button, right? Mention that and it gets him all pissed off… right Rixiepoo?”
A growl from the pool table. “I’m gonna break this cue over your head if you don’t shut up.”
“See? In fact, I hear she left him for someone about your age…”
Tap. Nothing. “In Roh’s name…” Rix muttered. “Razor, you and me are going at it in the sims as soon as we’re done here.”
Razor was all innocence as he took the pool cue again. “You’re not mad are you? Oh dear, I don’t know what I would do if you were…” Tap. Thump. “I would have to let you win this game just to make you feel better…” Tap, tap. Thump. “Nah, I don’t think I’ll do that. Eight ball, side pocket.” Tap…
The cue ball went wide by an inch.
The snickers from Shiva and Liet were almost as satisfying as the shocked expression on Razor’s face. Rix lit another smoke, deadpan. “Scratch. You lose.”
Razor muttered something unintelligible as he threw a hundred credit bill down on the table.
Rix motioned for Shiva at the note. “Use that, go grab everyone here some drinks -nothing alcoholic, we’re flying in a few hours — and the rest is yours.”
“Cool!” Shiva nodded enthusiastically, scooping up the credits and threading his way through the crowd. In his haste, he nearly ran head-on into a waitress carrying a full tray of drinks. The tray wobbled, but did not tip. She smiled down at him. “Be careful, young one.”
The fact that she was clad in far less than what was normally deemed acceptable was not lost on the younger Quantar… he replied with what he hoped sounded like an apology, then with great effort tore his eyes away and fled for the bar. The waitress shrugged, bringing the tray to the back of the pub and to a table of visiting Sol rains.
Few words were exchanged. Drinks were placed on the table. Credits changed hands. And the waitress motioned only slightly at Shiva’s departing figure to the Solrains. One of them nodded almost imperceptibly, sliding another wad of credit notes across the table. What happened next was of no consequence to her. She had performed her duty for Solrain and was paid well for it. What more did one require?