A tale of Asgard Space
It had been a long and interesting six weeks since the Catamount had left Keeler space. They were proceeding with caution, having stolen a fortune out from under the noses of Ayna's 'grandfather', the current President-for-life of the Keeler system. Some of the gems had been easy to sell, and for full price, but the rest were far too large and too closely associated with Keeler royalty to be able to sell on the open market. The Gamma Imperiax was too famous as a part of the Keeler crown jewels, and too famous. Their only option was to ransom it back to the Keeler government, but that was more safely done after tempers there had cooled down a bit first. Perhaps in a couple of years.
Smaller they may have been, but the lesser BloodCrys and Gamma Stones sold so far had the Catamount's bank balances swollen beyond healthy to prosperous. Perhaps even a little beyond prosperous. The immediate future only required a decision on the disposition of the Bugaboo. The crew was torn between keeping her or selling her. The yacht was capable of landing on a planet, and as opulent as it was, doing so far less conspicuously than the Catamount.
While they struggled with the decision, they continued to go over the ship with a fine toothed comb. A phrase that had tickled Dar, the fur-covered Sondag, tremendously. Kat had been tickled herself to see just how deviously the former Keeler ruler had been when it came to protecting his data, and had spend endless hours ferreting it out in the myriad of places he'd hidden it. Dar, using a half dozen of the Catamount's utility bots had been scouring every physical nook and cranny while Kat explored the electronic ones.
While Kat and Dar pored over the Bugaboo, Pete, Ross and Anya did the same with the Catamount. They were all learning everything Kat could teach them. Additionally, they continued to work out daily with the battle armor and, when possible, with the Sondag pulse rifles.
This had become the settled routine, until today, when Kat had asked them all to gather in the galley as soon as possible.
"You may be wondering why I called you all here today," Kat began, which drew groans from Pete, Ross and Anya.
"Well, you did say you had something important to tell us," Dar said, a bit nonplussed by the reaction from the humans. Kat in the meantime had part of herself begin a furious search of the comm nets for references that would explain the groan.
"I'm here to tell you," she told the gathered crew. "That the Bugaboo is less valuable to us than the data I've found."
"What? Another treasure hunt?" Pete laughed.
"No, something better than treasure. Ask yourselves, once Anya's great grandfather got out of the system in the Bugaboo, where would he go? Who would he be when he got there?"
"We have a bunch of grandfather's fake IDs stored in the Bugaboo's computer?"
"No. Better. Federation ship registrations. Six of them."Kat announced, unable to hold the information back any longer.
"Yes!" Ross crowed.
"How can he have six of them?" Pete asked. "I thought their assignment was rigidly controlled by the federation?"
"Of course it is," Anya snorted. "The Federation may be a political bureaucracy of the highest order, but politicians are politicians and bureaucrats are bureaucrats, the entire universe over. Everything has a price, and the higher up the ladder you are, the easier it is to find someone willing to accept your fortune for a favor – or six."
"I see," Kat said. "The Sondag military operated in a similar fashion."
"It's true, they did," Dar confirmed. "I always knew that politics was what kept me piloting assault shuttles. I liked the duty, and enjoyed socializing so closely with the marines, so I was content."
"How much of that contentment was a matter of being resigned to your fate though?" Pete asked.
"Some, to be sure," Dar sighed. "But I won't try to reinvent myself completely in the retelling. I was really, really good at the kind of flying needed for making planetary landings and pickups under fire. The Space Marines assigned to the Kadamon loved me, because I brought them back safely time and time again. I still regret deeply that I was not able to bring them back that last time. Their loss haunts me."
"Such loss is always difficult," Ross said. "Pete and I lost good friends and comrades when we were young. After all these years the questions still haunt us. Could we have done something different? What if we hadn't done this? What if we had done that? The questions never die, but the day comes when you make your peace with them and with the ghosts of those you've lost."
There was a long moment then of silent reflection as each of them thought to those they had lost in years past. For her part, Anya was reminded of those family members, closer to the throne, who had not been offered exile when the change of power happened. Few of them would have been called friend, but enough.
"So," Anya broke the reverie. "Six registrations. All assigned to the Bugaboo?"
"Six unassigned registrations," Kat clarified. "There's something unusual about that, wouldn't you say?"
"I wonder if grandpa Keeler paid a little extra for these somehow."
"I could see it," Pete mused. "He might have paid to have these registrations automatically reset to unassigned after a set period of time."
"More likely he paid a separate fee now and then to wipe the registration data." Ross suggested. "It would require someone with full access to the Federation secure data net to be able to program in an automatic reset. It would only take bribing an upper level bureaucrat in the registry section to get them reset it when requested."
"So we can assign these six as we want, but once we use them, they're permanent?" Dar asked.
"Unless the less likely scenario proves true, but even so, we have a registration for the Catamount," Pete refocused them. "We can now go anywhere in Asgard space we want, or even into Federation space itself."
"So at last we can plan for something more concrete than the charter contracts we've been settling for?" Dar asked.
"We didn't settle for those," Pete reminded him. "We could have been mining in the rift or even in Keeler's outer belt if we'd wanted to. The charters were more lucrative, and gave us other opportunities."
"Speaking of the rift," Kat said.
"The rift? I know the story, that Pete and Ross were mining there and that you survived transition through it from Sondag space. Is there more to it?"
"Yes and no, Anya. I would like to propose we return there."
"The rift is not a safe place, even in something as formidable as the Catamount," Pete reminded them. "We were there only because we couldn't afford to go anywhere else at the time."
"Are you anticipating more debris?" Dar asked.
"I am. Anything else that drifted into the Volmon rift at the same speed and approach we did may have arrived here as well. I would expect that whatever we find will be terribly broken up, and certainly not immediately usable, but even the salvage value would be tremendous."
"You would recommend doing that now?" Anya asked.
"It is a logical next effort," Kat argued. "We've sold everything we can for the moment from the Keeler haul. We've got these registrations, which solves that pressing problem at no cost to us. Anything else we do would require spending more time finding clients. Also, if anything did come through the rift after us, the longer we leave it, the more likely it is to be found by someone else."
"Anyone have an objection?" Pete asked. No one spoke up.
"Al right then, lets top off our stores with fresh fruits, vegetables and the like, and we'll plan on breaking orbit after breakfast tomorrow; destination Tenerif station."
Tenerif station is a misnomer, as it is not a station so much as it is a navigational aid, designed to warn ships away from the nearby rift. As the rift moves, so does the station. Since it's precise location was variable, it had powerful broadcasting features and a small crew of three Asgardian Naval ratings whose job it was to keep the station functioning and its broadcasts updated.
Ted Riggins was the man on watch when the Catamount arrived. Ted was typical of those who found themselves assigned to Tenerif Station. He was a screw up and an underachiever of the first order whose only true interest was in counting the time until his exile to this dust speck on the underside of nowhere ended and he could return to the comfort of a ground-side station somewhere civilized.
"Tenerif Station, this is Catamount, inbound towards the rift," came the call.
"Ahh, affirmative Catamount," he returned a moment later after managing to clear his head well enough to trigger the transmitter. "Ahh, be advised of the current conditions. Broadcast is on the secondary nave frequency."
"Confirmed, Tenerif Station," came the reply.
"Are they always so matter-of-fact here?" Anya asked aboard the Catamount.
"This was a relatively verbose exhcange," Ross laughed. "Usually we get a grunted reply: 'turn to nav 2', and nothing else.
"Well, if there's nothing else to worry about from that end, lets keep our eyes focused on the rift," Dar reminded everyone. "Kat has the best eyes, but the more sets we have peeled, the safer we are."
The rift was a shifting, unpredictable region of gravitic tides and surges. Light was known to do strange things here, and the normal assumptions regarding mass, momentum, and speed could not be expected to match the usual norms a good bit of the time. It was this, along with the isolation that made mining the rift dangerous.
.... There is more of this story ...