2949-11-02 – Tales from the Inbox: Messinan Machinations

There isn’t much to report here at BerkantFifth Fleet is still orbiting Berkant proper, and the enemy fleet is still at Hallman. A few Incarnation ships have arrived to reinforce our opponents, but not enough to seriously change the tactical situation, especially since a fairly sizable group of mercenary auxiliaries has also arrived to relieve fleet units of guard and escort duties. 

While I can’t speak to the plans being worked on in Admiral Zahariev’s command conferences, the delay seems to be giving the F.D.A. even more time to reinforce and ready its ground-side garrisons and anti-ship batteries, so I would guess that the Fifth Fleet is going to make its stand over Berkant. 

This week, since there’s not much going on here worth telling, we won’t be covering the experiences of one of the many service personnel waiting for the Berkant situation to explode into open battle. Sheila Ruzzier, an independent trader and regular Cosmic Background viewer and reader, has brought to my attention the strange behavior of Sovereign Security Solutions forces in the remote (and so far largely ignored by conflict) Frontier system of Messina. 

Messina sits on the far side of Margaux and closer to Adimari Valis than Maribel. Though it is still nominally a Confederated system, any ship traveling there must bypass several occupied systems, and most of the supply runs to the small colony of Burgh Messina are accomplished by small independent haulers, with the big corporate vessels deeming the route too perilous. The only defense the colonists have against the Incarnation is a small force sent apparently pro-bono by Sovereign Security Solutions, though one gets the sense they have other things than protecting the colony on their minds. 

Sheila prepared her best irritated scowl before the doors opened, and managed not to let it falter too much when she saw the wardroom table on the other side laden with food – real food, not food-fab swill.  

The two men who had roughly escorted her up from the docking bay to the destroyer’s wardroom gave her a gentle push forward, then shut the door behind her. 

“Welcome aboard Tantalus, Captain Ruzzier.” 

Sheila whirled to face the voice and found herself face to face with a trim, gray-haired man whose garish Sovereign Security tunic was accented by a crimson sash studded with gold medallions. As someone more used to the casual wear of civilian spacers and the muted greys and navy-blue of Confederated military uniforms, Sheila found the bright ensemble almost clownish. 

“Do pardon the enthusiasm of my spacers.” The gray-haired man gestured to the table. “Please, help yourself. There’s no sense discussing business on an empty stomach.” 

Sheila glanced at the table, eyeing a spread of enticingly sliced cheeses. She hadn’t had real cheese since... well, she didn’t know how long it had been. A spacer rarely enjoyed such luxuries, except when binging away a big score, and Sheila’s crew had never found a properly big score worthy of celebratory binge. “What you’re doing is piracy.” 

The man smiled thinly, moving smoothly to the opposite side of the table and plucking a piece of candied fruit from a tasteful arrangement there. “Stars around, Captain, there’s no call for such slander. We have taken nothing from your ship. We have harmed no-one. We intend this to continue.” 

“You overhauled us with weapons hot and ordered us to surrender.” Sheila glanced once more at the food, then back up at the man. It had been nearly seven hours since she’d been forced to surrender her ship to the mercenaries, and in that time she’d been given no answers, no explanations, and nothing to eat. She hoped her stomach’s rumble wasn’t audible to her opposite number. 

“Unfortunate, yes. With so many enemy agents infiltrating the Frontier these days, we could not be too careful. Your ship and crew do seem to be in order, however.” 

“And you think a few hundred credits of food will get me not to file a complaint?” 

The man held his chosen morsel up to the light, then tossed it into his mouth, letting her question hang in the air as he chewed. Finally, he turned back to Sheila. “File your complaint if you wish. As soon as you hand over the supplies for Burgh Messina, you’re free to go.” 

“So piracy it is, then.” Sheila gripped the back of a chair pushed in below the long table. 

“What did I say about slander?” The mercenary captain held up one long-fingered hand, palm upward. “Whatever your broker on the planet promised you, Sovereign will double it. Don’t worry about the colonists, either. We’re handling distribution directly.” 

“Double?” Sheila blinked, at a loss for words. Even cutting out local middlemen, there was no way the mercenaries could turn a profit distributing a few hundred tons of medicines and electronic components to the settlers on Burgh Messina if they bought them at double price. Even if they gouged every family on the planet for everything they were worth, Sovereign would just end up owning the better part of the land on a backwater Frontier world, and by all indications the company was not in the real estate business. “What’s your game?” 

“Trade secrets, I’m afraid.” The man shook his head with mock regret. “Do try the salami, there. It’s all the way from Earth.” 

Sheila glanced at the indicated platter, then back up at the mercenary, “You’re really paying double?” 

“Try us.” He grinned. 

“And if I refuse?” 

The way the man’s smile twitched just momentarily into a shark’s grin told Sheila exactly how such a refusal would go. “The details can wait while we eat, don’t you think?”