2950-02-22 – Tales from the Inbox: A Mercenary’s Charity 

[Note from the C.B. main office on Planet at Centauri: We have reached out to the Fifth Fleet press office to ask about restoration of contact with embed teams with the fleet, which is rumored to be engaged with the enemy at Håkøya. Fifth Fleet’s representatives at Maribel say they’re working on it, and not to worry in the meantime, but they would not confirm a]ny communication with Admiral Zahariev or the fleet in the past seventeen days since we lost contact with our embed team on their departure from the Berkant system.]  

Looks like we didn’t get a story into the feed system before ingest time this week. That probably means our embed team aboard Saint-Lô has not been near a hypercast relay for at least eight days.  

This is an expected consequence of wartime maneuvers and operations, and as such your Cosmic Background Embed Team has prepared a number of interesting accounts to publish in advance should the vagaries of war cause a lapse in communication with the greater interstellar datasphere.  

Most likely, last week’s entry warned that this might be the case; if not, Duncan or Nojus will give an account of what’s been happening on the battle front in weeks to come.  

The names used in this account are all pseudonymous. 

“Come on, Neza.” On the screen, Anders Gioconda’s wide, humorless grin revealed several gaps in his dentistry. “You really going to do this? You know there’ll be trouble.” 

Sabine Neza gritted her teeth. “Might have kept paying if you hadn’t raised your take.” Her voice faltered as she switched on a parallel comms channel, making sure to leave the link to Gioconda open. “Commander Evans, consider any approach within fifteen thousand klicks as a hostile act.” 

“Understood, Boss.” Milo Evans, the leader of the mercenary squadron Sabine had hired, didn’t sound scared. Though technically Gioconda’s band of brigands had just as many strike rigs as answered Evans’s command, most likely the pirates’ ships were in poorer repair, and Evans probably thought his pilots better flyers in any case. 

“Move on, Gioconda. Find another route to squeeze.” Sabine shrugged. “This one’s getting too hot.” 

“This isn’t over, Neza.” Gioconda’s grin vanished. “A small-time outfit like yours can’t afford to keep hiring muscle forever. We’ll be back.” 

Sabine shrugged. “We’ll be waiting.” With a wave, she cut the comms channel, and Gioconda vanished. 

“The pirates are breaking off, Skipper.” Sid Borivoi, Sabine’s second in command, breathed a sigh of relief. 

“I believe him about coming back, though.” Sabine stood from her command chair. “Thank you for your assistance, Commander. Once we’re past them, you can bring your flyers back aboard. Helm, resume previous course.” 

With the eyes of her compatriots on her the whole way, Sabine left the freighter’s command deck and headed down toward her cabin on deck five. She managed to keep the trembling at bay until the door was shut and privacy-locked behind her. Collapsing onto her bunk, she let the shaking overcome her. Scaring off Gioconda was the right thing to do, but she knew the pirate would leave no good deed unpunished. She’d acquiesced to the brigand’s pillaging and extortion for years. Sure, it’d hurt her profit margins, but the man and his goons had never hurt anyone. When he came back, she knew he would not be so easy to deal with.  

Sabine’s door chimed. She ignored it, but after ten seconds, it chimed again. 

“What is it?” Sabine tried to project a weary, disgruntled voice to hide her condition. 

“Can I come in, Boss? Got some figures to run past you.” 

Sabine recognized the clipped accent of the leader of the mercenaries she’d hired. hurriedly standing, she took a few breaths to try to calm herself and smoothed her uniform. She hadn’t expected them back aboard for at least an hour, so either she’d lost track of time, or the pirates had cleared out faster than expected. "Come in.” 

Evidently her attempts to conceal her distress hadn’t worked. Milo Evans looked her up and down and a worried frown briefly escaped his usual professionally neutral expression. “I can come back later if it’s a bad time.” 

“No, it’s all right.” Sabine shrugged. “You had something for me, Mr. Evans?” 

“I ran the rates for an extended contract.” The mercenary unfolded a small tablet display. 

“Thank you, but Gioconda was right. I can’t afford to renew your contract past the terms we’ve already agreed.” Sabine shook her head. “Hopefully by the time he realizes you’re gone, he’ll have found a better take than he had here.” 

Evans offered the tablet again. “I think you can afford us, Captain Neza.” He smiled in an odd way that suggested he knew something Sabine didn’t.  

Frowning, Sabine took the tablet. Her eyes widened as she read the figure at the bottom of the screen. “There’s got to be an error. Your company can’t possibly stay flying if we only pay this.” 

“There is no error. Your pirate sounded familiar, so I ran a voiceprint and ran it past our records. Turns out Anders Gioconda’s real name is Anders Thu, and there’s a price on his head in Farthing’s Chain to the tune of thirty thousand credits. I doubt it’ll take more than a month to find him and put him out of business for good.” 

Sabine looked at the various line items listed on the tablet. “Put him out of business? How- Oh, this isn’t a close escort contract.” 

Evans nodded. “The way we see it, the cheapest way to guard against pirates is to go out and kill the bastards where they live. Since there’s a bounty involved...” 

“You’re cutting me a discount.” Sabine closed the folding display and looked up to the mercenary. “Thank you, Commander. I know you didn’t have to do this.” 

Evans shrugged. “Way I see it, Boss, I did.” He turned and left Sabine’s cabin without another word.