2947-10-08 – Tales from the Service: A Mercenary's Way

With this week’s loss of contact with the fleet’s forward outposts and scouting forces on the Sagittarius Frontier, I fear that Captain Samuel Bosch and his light squadron – deployed to that area several months ago – may be beyond the Navy’s ability to help. Last we heard on this side of the Gap, a string of Tyrant squadron raids on the poorly-defended and partially constructed outpost at Sagittarius Gate had been beaten back with heavy losses, and all the Navy forces in the region were being recalled to that system.

My sources indicate that the lack of contact is not due to the destruction of the Navy’s presence at Sagittarius Gate, but instead a raid on the chain of specially-designed Hypercast relays which connect the far side of the Gap with the rest of the Reach. By the time the Navy repairs the relays, however, I fear Sagittarius Gate – far too distant to be reinforced effectively – will have fallen.

Bosch’s ships are of course only one of the formations deployed to that region to protect the few civilian interests which set themselves up in Sagittarius before hostilities began. Many lives will be lost there – such is war, to be sure, but I do hope this audience keeps the officers and crews of those ships in their prayers in the coming weeks. The Navy’s light patrol and scout squadrons have a reputation for resourcefulness and pluck, but it will take more than that to withstand what is undoubtedly descending on them now.

This week’s entry comes to us from a person who has appeared in this space before – Jacob Borisov, captain of the mercenary carrier Taavi Bancroft. His command has, as with most mercenary companies in good standing with the Confederated Navy, relocated to the Coreward Frontier, chasing the safe paycheck and generous terms of a Navy patrol contract. Like other mercenaries we’ve seen in this space, the Bancroft company has been hit by saboteurs – Ladeonist or Incarnation, he couldn’t say – but has managed to prevent their doing any major damage to ship or crew. Unlike the other companies we've seen here, the Bancroft crew has yet to secure a proper Navy wartime contract.

Jacob sent in this story form the Matusalemme system. In case you don’t know the system by name, its only major inhabited world is Adimari Valis, well known for the extensive Xenarch ruins found deep underground not far from the main spaceport. Since over a dozen university networks from the rest of the Reach have missions on Adimari Valis, the Navy has hired several mercenary crews to keep the system well-patrolled, and several wealthy patrons have funded additional mercenary companies. Though the Navy does not have a permanent garrison of the system, Matusalemme is one of the better-protected systems on the Coreward Frontier.

Our source wishes to brag that he leveraged this situation into a more efficient – and profitable – use of his mercenaries, allowing his company to be paid twice for the same tour of duty. In the process, he provided an interesting look into the disadvantages of the Navy's heavy use of mercenaries in this conflict. To be sure, Captain Borisov does not appear to have done anything wrong, but like most mercenaries he has no motivation to do anything right either, unless he's paid.

My only curiosity (which he specifically left un-satisfied in his message) is what exactly the local government paid him with, other than credits. On a world known for its Xenarch ruins, I have to guess it was some piece of valuable hardware salvaged still-functional from an archaeological site. I'll admit I didn't know if private transfers of Xenarch relics was illegal - Nojus helpfully told me it is legal, but only barely so.

Jacob paced up and down the hallway outside his temporary groundside tenement, hand cupped to his right ear to drown out all sound from that direction that didn’t come from his comm earpiece. Though it felt like two hours, the signal-response delay to Taavi Bancroft was only twenty seconds – twenty seconds of a shooting war where anything, including the total loss of his ship with all hands, might happen.

The pinch-faced little man acting as his local guide stood mutely off to one side, but Jacob knew better than to expect the Adimari local to tune out his guest’s conversation. Fully sixteen mercenary ships prowled the star system, and none of them including Jacob’s own could be bothered to inform the system authority or the planetary government whenever something happened. Mercenaries, though only too happy to swap intelligence with co-belligerent outfits, usually only reported activity to their paymasters, which the locals weren’t. Adimari Valis’s ample archaeological treasures never had translated into actual treasure with which the system could buy its own protection.

Finally, the comm circuit came to life with a reply from Lestat Pain, the newly-promoted Bancroft executive officer. “I confirm previous report, skipper. Two Tyrant cruisers on planetary intercept course.”

“Damn.” Jacob keyed the reply control. “As we discussed at the conference, Lestat. Captain Accorsi on Dervish has theater control. Keep your tac-feed open to my ship.”

Jacob doubted even a swarm of sixteen mercenary ships could pose a threat against two heavy cruisers. Most of the mercs in the system operated strike squadrons out of the converted cargo bays of lumbering hauler-carriers, and while that many carrier elements could give Nate strike squadrons heartburn, they lacked the munitions to do serious damage to the Tyrant cruisers themselves. The two antiquated frigates and one obsolescent destroyer of Accorsi’s formation theoretically could do more, but these fragile vessels would never survive a close-range slugging match with the raiders long enough to do so.

“Mr. Borisov, would you prefer to postpone your meeting? The governor will be waiting.”

Jacob whirled on the guide, fixing him with a glare capable of melting green recruits into quivering sludge, but which the dour local seemed immune to. “Postpone?” The attack had come at the worst possible time, with Jacob and a platoon of muscle ground-side in hopes of negotiating a side-contract with the planetary government. The troopers would be little use in a fleet action, even a haphazard mercenary fleet action, but Jacob hated being sidelined while most of his employees went into battle. “I’m not doing anything else. Let’s go.”

To be sure, Bancroft was probably the least likely ship to suffer serious damage, but Jacob’s squadrons would go into the fray with the rest – squadrons he couldn’t replace, since Bancroft didn’t have a sweetheart contract with the Navy like some of the other crews. On a Navy contract, operational losses would be replaced by newer and more capable tech from the fleet’s ample logistics train; Jacob’s employer was a civilian research consortium which had no such resources.

Following the guide to his small aircar, Jacob listened to the occasional status report from Bancroft on the brief flight to the planet’s modest administrative complex. The city below him, though extensive, was a ragtag and mismatched affair which still reminded him of the dusty colonial outposts on newly-settled worlds. Adimari Valis was a treasure-hunter’s wet dream; a whole poorly-explored planet of unclaimed terrain, on which at least one massive Xenarch ruin had been unearthed. The possibilities lurking below its pebbly soil and beyond thickets of spine-throwing pincushion trees had drawn in many of the Frontier’s most reckless fortune-seekers even before the war, though few had yet made more than a modest fortune prospecting for unclaimed Xenarch artifacts.

After landing on the administrative center’s roof, Jacob allowed the guide to lead him below, into the air-conditioned bustle at whose heart lurked Governor Yamaguchi. The brooding, overworked and under-paid administrator had reached out to Jacob almost as soon as his ship had nosed up to the orbital refueling docks, and it was only too consistent with Jacob’s luck that his careful nursing of this connection over five weeks in-system would be jeopardized by a Nate attack.

The guide stopped in front of a door and ushered Jacob inside, and he stomped in without delay. The governor’s office was smaller than he expected, but clean and well-appointed. Yamaguchi stood and offered a quick bow and handshake, sealed the door, and pointed Jacob to a seat.

“Good to finally meet you, Governor.” Jacob said, turning the gain on his earpiece down as far as he dared while he settled into the offered chair.

Yamaguchi, in no mood to talk around matters, leaned forward in his oversized chair. “Is it true? The foe attacks us now?”

Jacob shrugged. He was in no mood to give away intelligence for free, even as agitated as he was. “I heard some rumors on the way over.”

The governor scowled, resistant to the idea of paying for information a Navy garrison might have given him for free. “If the Incarnation has come to Matusalemma at last, I may need to act quickly to save lives.”

“That’s true.” A corner of Jacob’s mind processed a status report from his executive officer, twenty seconds delayed, and knew that the opposing forces above had not yet clashed. He had plenty of time to spar with this new potential client. “As it turns out, my company has experience with groundside disaster relief and-”

“Mr. Borisov.” Yamaguchi’s interruption, though quiet, was iron-firm. “Even with lives at stake, you play the salesman?”

Jacob did his best to look hurt. He knew how valuable the face-saving game of shaming mercenaries for needing to be paid shortly before negotiating the terms of employment was to the social orders which got themselves into enough trouble to need mercenaries in the first place. “Governor, I sympathize with your plight, but you know I have investors and creditors. We run tight margins, as I’m sure you know. If I took a pro-bono contract and it went bad, Taavi Bancroft would be bankrupt.”

Jacob wished this last was farther from true than it was. For several months his outfit had shambled along on small, dull contracts while he tried to arrange a big score with the Navy like so many other companies, and the bottom line showed it.

“I see.” Yamaguchi nodded slowly. “I can hardly ask you to risk bankruptcy.”

The acid tone in which these words lashed out across the governor’s desk might have demoralized a less experienced mercenary, but Jacob knew he had the governor hooked. The other outfits in orbit didn’t have sizable ground teams aboard their ships, and Jacob, after a little bit of digging, had guessed what Yamaguchi wanted, other than intelligence. He was the only company commander in the system with the ability to solve the governor’s groundside problem. He could nearly name his price, and the local administration would pay it. “My company’s standard operation pricing is easily available on the datasphere. Since this is an emergency, I’m sure your government has an emergency fund capable of absorbing our expenses.”

Yamaguchi nodded vaguely. “Do you consider… non-monetary payment?”

On a one-trick economy world like Adimari Valis, Jacob had expected this tactic, too. “You’ll have to be more specific, but usually no.”

The governor slid a data-slate across his desk. “Is this sufficiently specific?”

Jacob reached for the device, and his eyebrows went up as he read it and zoomed in on the rotating full-capture imagery. He had expected offers of the planet’s only valuable export, but nothing like what was being dangled in front of him. “I think…” It was a risk, to be sure, but as long as he took at least half the fee in hard credits… “I think we can work something out, Governor.”

For the first time, the man smiled. He thought he was in control of the negotiations – and Jacob would let him think that right up until a strategic walk-away would increase his company’s share of the local treasury. “Are you prepared to discuss terms with the… rumored trouble in the sky yet unresolved?”

Negotiating anything with the situation in orbit unresolved was a risk, but he was a mercenary – he always played the risks. “I don’t see why not.” He replied with a disinterested shrug.

At that instant, Jacob heard Pain announce the launch of his company’s entire operational strike wing against the raiders, simultaneous with launches from every other mercenary outfit in the ragged flotilla above.