It is said that greed is fueled by a lust for power, a pursuit from the insecure.
I couldn’t say I disagreed with that philosophy even though I liked to consider myself an altruistic philanthropist at times. Truth be told, even that could be seen as self-serving. “Look at what I did for the good of many.” The hero complex was far too common in people and almost never born of truly heroic motives.
“That simply isn’t going to happen with your current cashflow and wealth generation initiatives.” she said flatly and to the point. It was a trait I had always admired about her; one of the many reasons I had hired her firm to manage my investments.
“Then what would you suggest?” I replied, a little deflated. I had done my best over the years to plan ahead; immortality was expensive. It was always good to have a nest egg. The problem was that to win big you had to risk big and risking big often ended up costing me big. Every single time it had felt like I was getting ahead, something would happen to set me back again. Maybe it was cosmic balance, I snickered to myself.
“For starters, stop dying.” she smirked, pausing the appropriate moment for the joke. “War is profitable for us, always has been. Not so much for you. You’re constantly hemorrhaging funds to cover ship repairs and replacements, your crew benefits package is ridiculous, and you simply refuse to stop overfitting everything. They aren’t trophies you realize, they are war ships.”
I wasn’t used to being chided but such was our relationship that I could remain silent and take it in stride.
She continued on. “Simply put, the best way for you to meet your longterm goals is to take the job I am about to offer you.”
My ears perked up immediately. She wasn’t an Agent. She had never offered me work before. She could see the curiousity etched on my face.
“Good. I have your attention.” she began. “My sisters and I have decided it’s time to expand the operations of Sana Industries and to do so is going to require a less than delicate touch. We’ve explored blackmail, corporate espionage and all the other usual and unusual channels, and are left with little choice but to resort to massive violence; something you have proven yourself to excel at.”
I felt great pride at her rarely given praise. We quickly settled in to discuss the higher level details of what they hoped to accomplish in this alliance. The finer details would be left to my discretion.
“Dammit, Rudolph, I don’t care!” I barked into my ship comms. “You were to be on target 45 seconds ago. Hold up your end of the bargain if you expect me to hold up mine!” The DUST mercenaries I had hired weren’t the best. That much was obvious. To be fair, these type of mercenaries were an entirely new commodity few of us had really experienced. They had a few good referrals. Their rate was acceptable. They were available within my timeframe. Looking back, it’s possible that I had been too focused on the immediate payout and longterm recurring profit sharing percentage when I should’ve guaranteed the job was able to be pulled off flawlessly, if there was such a thing.
“ETA 60 seconds, Colonel. Resistance is heavier than you let on. We’re pushing through!” Rudolph yelled through his helmet.
Before I could reply I was interrupted by one of my squad, a cloaked scout two jumps out, sitting 50 km off the gate, watching for unusual traffic patterns. “FC, we’ve got hostiles jumping in. Chances are, they’re coming for us.” Another scout from my squad, in the system over confirmed. “Roger that, FC, they’re warping to your gate as we speak. They’ll be on you about thirty seconds. Sensors are counting upwards of thirty ships.”
“We need to do this now, Rudolph. I’ve got company up here.” I hissed, bringing my systems active, aligning my ship towards are pre-arranged exit vector. I had five other ships with me, destroyers and cruisers. We might be able to get away unscathed but there was no way we were going to succeed here. There goes my profits.
“We’re still 30 seconds out, Colonel! We’re not going to make it out again without your strike. Maintain position!” he screamed, the sound of intense weapons fire pouring through his communication.
Being a fleet commander had often led to tough, spur of the moment decisions. You had to rely on your past experience, your gut, knowing that there was no right or wrong, only choice and consequence.
“Kirtz, Granite, break formation and run interference for as long as possible. I’m going to need time to target the surface and bring my cannons around. This all rests on your ability to buy me another thirty seconds.”
They each acknowledged the order, breaking off and warping towards the system gate. I gave the order for all scouts to return to our system and do what damage they could. We had chosen stealth bombers this time round and while they weren’t optimal in this situation, they might be able to cause enough noise for me to pull win out of my ass.
Ten seconds later, Kirtz and Granite, along with their ship crews, were dead.
“Rudolph, we’re out of time up here.” I began, only to be interrupted by his panicked voice.
“My team still needs 15 seconds. We’re so close. Hold them off a little longer, Colonel!” He seemed a good leader, genuinely concerned for the welfare of his men. I hope their Duster cloning technology delivered them through this successfully.
I opened the common communications channel so both ground forces and my small fleet could hear my orders at the same time.
“Full retreat! Regroup and meet at our rendezvous waypoint.” I ordered, no emotion to my voice at all. Comm silence ensued.
I had failed the contract. My business partners were sure to be none too pleased. I needed this more than I had let on to them.
I had no time to wallow as the enemy fleet exited warp right on top of us. It wasn’t glorious. It wasn’t pretty, but the majority of my squad managed to escape to warp, exit the system, and meet at the pre-determined rendezvous system.
Rudolph and his team never arrived.