The Pilot checks his assignment creds again, somehow wondering if perhaps they have changed from the other dozen times he has looked them over. There is no change. He is headed to Exxos, the Fifth ring. More specifically, he and a squadron of his fellow pilots employed by the Traders Union of the Five Circles of Cosmerrium are headed to a prison facility named Hvalkatar. The place is tucked away in some remote corner of the sector, but it is clear that the facility is important to the organization. You don’t send a whole team of Red Jets out on an assignment unless you are serious.
The Outpost is busy and crowded, like most of the travel hubs in Cosmeriumm. Thankfully his T.U.5.C.C. credentials afford him special privileges and access, and as a Red Jet those benefits are even greater than what other employees within the organization enjoy.
The Pilot removes his helmet and places it before him so that he can see anyone approaching from behind him in the reflection of the black visor. The removal of the helmet allows the Pilot to use his full range of peripheral vision, and with the helmet he has a nearly 360-degree view of the room. It wasn’t too long ago that he supplemented his wages by reporting the whereabouts of those wanted by the organization. While the Outposts were considered Neutral Zones, the Trader’s Union paid decent bonuses for information on who was traveling through those hubs, especially if that information led to the capture of undesirable individuals who had run afoul of the Union in some way. They couldn’t be apprehended within the confines of the Outpost, but once they were out and on their way, they were fair game for freelance hunters and thugs looking to make some quick funds for a retrieval.
Of course, the Pilot no longer needed the extra income he could make by providing intel. His recent promotion to a member of the Red Jets had set him up very well, but old habits are hard to break, and he found himself taking in everything around him, looking for likenesses that he recognized from the T.U.5.C.C. information feeds.
To his left the Pilot sees a slim individual draped in a large cloak. A bag with an insignia he recognizes sits nearby. He thinks for a few moments before he can match the company logo to their name - AEXOR3. They are an outfit that operates mostly on the outer rings of the system, a salvage operation that does business in Thyrimos and Exxos - exactly where he is headed.
Travelers are not the only things that pass through Cosmerrium’s Outposts. Information flows just as freely through those transportation hubs, and the right information can be a very valuable thing.
“You a pilot?” the red-armored T.U.5.C.C. flier asks as he approaches. A helmeted head turns, its symbol-marked visor hiding the identity of whomever wears the head gear.
“I am not,” comes the reply. “I run security for my crew.”
The Pilot nods, seeing the unusual armor she is wearing for the first time. Up close, he realizes now she has the build of a fighter, not a flier. He is actually a bit disappointed. He enjoys meeting other pilots, as his status as a member of the T.U.5.C.C. flight corps is something that he can brag about and hold over other fliers with less impressive credentials.
“You and your crew spend much time in Exxos?” he asks.
“A bit,” the security agent says. “Our ship spends most of our time in the Fourth ring, but we’ve done a few jobs in the Fifth.”
“You ever do anything near Hvalkatar? It’s a T.U.5.C.C. facility out in Exxos.”
“Is that where you are headed?” she asks the Pilot. “Must be important if they are sending in Red Jets. I hear that you guys are the best that the Traders Union has to offer. What the heck is so important at a facility all the way out in the Fifth that they would send you guys to handle it?”
The Pilot is proud, which is not an uncommon trait of those who don the distinctive red armor of the T.U.5.C.C.’s flight corps. He should realize that the security officer from AEXOR3 is playing on his vanity, but he barely considers that possibility before his ego replaces any sense of security he should be using when speaking to someone outside of his organization.
“Word is that there was a breakout over at Hvalkatar,” he says, revealing information that the Traders Union has this far only shared on the closed channels that they use to communicate internally. “The place is apparently a manufacturing facility as well as a prison and there was some kind of problem there. Some inmates broke out and messed the place up from what we are hearing. I imagine there are some repair crews headed out there as well, but we got the call to track down the escapees.”
The Pilot laughs before continuing.
“They won’t get far,” he says, his voice thick with confidence. “Once we pick up their trail, they won’t be able to get away far enough or fast enough to give us the slip.”
“How many escaped?” the security officer asks.
“Reports aren’t clear, but apparently it is quite a few. That’s why they are sending so many of us, so we can split up and track multiple leads since a number of ships were reportedly stolen from the facility by the escapees.”
“The Traders Union has intel on lots of activity in the rings, right?” the security officer asks, changing the topic.
“Only in areas where we have an interest.”
“Yes, but there are T.U.5.C.C. facilities everywhere,” comes the response. “I bet your intelligence network is nearly as good as the M.A.Z.E.?”
“Why do you ask?” the Pilot says, suddenly suspicious and realizing that he started this conversation to get information on Exxos, but instead he seems to be the one sharing details.
“I work for AEXOR3," she answers. "We are trying to make contact with a ship of ours that went dark about half a ring cycle ago. Nothing official has been reported on the feeds about any attacks in the sector, so I figured I’d see if there was any ‘unofficial’ information that you may have seen.”
“Information is worth something,” the Pilot replies. “What have you got to offer?”
The AEXOR3 security officer reaches into a pocket and pulls out an asset chip. She hopes that her balance will be enough to buy the information the Pilot has. She also hopes her company will reimburse her for the expense, since she is on AEXOR3 business after all.
“I can transfer 3000 to you right now,” she says.
The Pilot pulls out a chip of his own and lays it on the counter in front of him, nodding his approval.
The security officer completes the transaction, seeing her balance empty out.
“It’s done,” she says. “So what do you have for me?”
The Pilot drops his asset chip back into his pocket and replies, “I’ve got nothing. There’s been nothing on our feeds about AEXOR3 or anything out of the ordinary in the regions you operate in. No attacks have been reported.”
“What?” the security officers snaps. “You said you had information!”
“I did not,” the Pilot laughs. “I said that information costs money. And I did provide you with intel – it just so happens that what I had to share was that there was nothing to share. That is information, and the deal is done.”
The security officer steps forward, her hand moving towards the handle of the weapon she wears at her side.
The Pilot tenses, but the smug smile remains on his face.
“Outposts are neutral zones,” he says. “You take a shot and it will be the last thing you do outside of a cell. Plus, you really want to start something with a Red Jet? Your little company is nothing compared to the Traders Union. One call from me and you and your crew will be working to salvage your careers and not much else.”
She knows she has nothing she can do. She has been cheated, and the truth is that she should’ve known better. The Pilot just seemed so arrogant and loose lipped that she figured she could get what she needed from him. Instead her bank balance is at nil and she is now on the radar of one of the Union’s fly jocks.
She turns to leave and the Pilot moves to block her path, but just then a group of other T.U.5.C.C. pilots emerges from a side corridor of the Outpost. The red-armored flier at the head of the group calls out and gets the attention of the Pilot before her. He looks into the visor of her helmet, but then moves aside and lets her pass. She walks away as the PIlot turns his attention to his fellow Red Jets. Moments later, the security officer has vanished into the hustle and bustle of the Outpost.
“What was that about?” the Commanding Pilot of the squadron asks.
“Just making friends and killing some time,” the first Pilot replies as he places his helmet back on his head. “Are we ready to go?”
The Commander nods at the Pilot before him.
“We are in Bay 033123,” he commands. “Get over there and get ready to roll.”
The Pilot signals his understanding of the assignment and follows the rest of his squadron to the designated bay where their ships are being prepped for the mission ahead.
The Commander watches the others go. His second-in-command is the only one who remains by his side.
“That one is a problem,” the Commander says.
“What is wrong, sir?”
“He is a little too free with the information he chooses to share.”
The Commander presses a button on his wrist armor and a holo-clip begins to play. It shows the Pilot’s recent conversation, including his casual revelations of where their squadron is headed and why, information that was strictly meant to be kept with the organization. The feed also shows the Pilot cheat the AEXOR3 employee, cutting off right when the rest of the squadron entered the room.
“You had his armor tagged?” the second-in-command asks.
“Standard procedure for all new recruits to the Red Jets. We need to make sure they can be trusted with the information they are privy too, and that they are not a security threat - the way this one clearly is.”
“So what is the plan? Do we report him to Management?”
“Not yet,” the Commander replies, smiling at his second. “We are headed to a prison, aren’t we? We will let him fly himself to Hvalkatar. He just won’t be leaving with us when the mission is done.”
"Being a Red Jet is the best assignment in the Union," the second-in-command says.
"Sure is," the Commander agrees. "Until you mess up that is. Red Jets get to fly high, but that means that when you fall...it is a long way down."
Published on 03.07.23