Scillies 6a is a “hopper planet”, so called because no one actually wants to live on one, but they are placed at critical junctures in space for refueling, getting gear, and sending targeted high-frequency radio transmissions to communicate between planets. The other method of sending messages across the galaxy was to send it to the nearest planet receiver, and then wait for a ship going to that planet to bring it onboard and send it, for some nominal fees of course. It was a common way to earn a few extra credits when you were working as a transport fleet.
What makes Scillies 6a intolerable wasn’t the planets relatively small size, but the amount of methane gas on the planet. Pure oxygen masks and rebreathers were essential to life on the planet, even though the constant methane gas burning provided both atmospheric cover and energy for all the stations. It still literally smelled like shit.
After docking both ships in for repair, the team hauled all of their cargo off and started to shop for vendors. The vendor stations on the docks were mobile transport units with a kiosk stand that enabled you to browse for goods. Small transactions didn’t warrant the vendor actually appearing, but if the transaction amounts were high enough, you could request the vendor appear to make a deal. Most of the vendors couldn’t support the level of transactions that Mark needed.
Thus after shopping around extensively, Mark found himself talking to the most prominent amongst them, a trader named Goro Zgiet. Goro wasn’t exactly fat in the way that you normally associate morbid obesity with, but he still had some extra padding on his face and shoulders, which looked more like shoulder haunches than shoulders. His body spread the fat across him evenly so that it almost looked like muscle, except it lacked the firmness of muscle. His skin was a dark orange brown as opposed to the light brown of Mark’s skin. He had unnaturally large lips, wisps of a mustache that you see on teenagers trying to grow facial hair but that aren’t fully developed enough yet to pull it off, and a sloping forehead.
Goro sat on a mobile market transporter, which looked like a miniature bridge aboard a ship. The machine was built with hardened composite steel that encased the person operating it except for the front glass, which was made from reinforced glass. The unit was bullet and laser proof, and required serious firepower to take out, above what most people would be carrying on hand and certainly above what any sane planet legally allowed to be carried around in public. Kiosks faced outward so that a person could interact with the unit and negotiate transactions. Stools and an extendable walk-up ramp were available for parties, and it could fit four people comfortably, and maybe eight people very uncomfortably aboard it.
“So”, Goro said, smacking his lips, “I can’t help but notice that these crates aren’t tagged. You wouldn’t have happened to acquire these throw extra-legal means?”
All precious cargo was tagged by either Earth or the Federation planets, a laser inscription that validated where, how, and when the metals were acquired. Of course, pirates typically stripped those identifiers off, as that would leave a digital trail showing where the goods had been acquired. The shipments that Mark stole were untagged, as they would have received their tags when they docked at Earth. This was designed to limit the amount of illegal cargo moving around, and to give jobs to various space freighters and lobbying companies to ship goods around for the sole purpose of stamping the goods at official log points.
Mark pulled up his stat menu and looked up business class skills. A menu popped up.
Business skills are useful for traders or others who wish to pursue non-combative roles. The World runs on money, and having it can ease a lot of pain. Conversely, being a poor businessman can make you hemorrhage money.
Note that some skills can be substituted for others. Economics can be substituted for market analysis, for example.
Accounting (IQ) Difficulty High. Accounting allows you to keep track of your gains and losses. Record keeping can help show forgery, tampering, and if anyone is skimming from an account.
Administration (IQ) Difficulty Advanced. Allows you to deal with bureaucracy and managing large payrolls.
Current Affairs (IQ) Difficulty Easy.
Knowledge of the current affairs of the galaxy will help you know who to negotiate with and what their allegiances are. Note that this also includes, sports, science, technology, popular culture, politics, etc.
Diplomacy (IQ) Difficulty High.
The art of getting people to do what you want and thank you for it. The art of negotiation, compromise, and making others like and/or respect you.
Economics (IQ) Difficulty High.
Theoretical knowledge of markets and influences. Useless in direct negotiation, but useful if you want to bet on future trends and markets or get a loan for future activities.
Finance (IQ) Difficulty High.
Economic knowledge applied.
Law (IQ) Difficult High.
Knowledge of legal codes, jurisprudence, and local common law. Note that law is not universal, law is both provincial and contextual. Knowing the law of one planet for tort law does not translate into knowledge of law for another planet’s criminal law.
Market Analysis (IQ) Difficult High.
The ability to predict the short-term behavior of bonds, stock, currency markets, futures, and shorts.
Mathematics (IQ) Difficult High.
If you can’t do math, you can’t do anything else. Specialized programs can help buffer the problems not knowing math creates. Note that there are numerous branches of mathematics, knowledge of statistics does not make you a cryptographer.
Merchant (IQ) Difficulty Average.
The skill of buying, selling, trading at an advantage.
Politics (IQ) Difficulty Average.
The ability to know political players and involve them in your affairs. Note that even if this skill is high, it doesn’t help you unless you actually know people who can pull favors for you, or at least bluff people into thinking they can and will.
Propaganda (IQ) Difficulty Average.
Use the power of media to influence political or financial outcomes. Propaganda works on groups, not people, and must be setup and targeted in advance.
Public Speaking (IQ) Difficulty Average.
Public speaking allows you to influence groups or people, and includes sub skills of debate, rhetoric, fiery oratory speaking, diplomatic speech, and storytelling.
Savoir-Faire (IQ) Easy
Knowing the code of conduct appropriate to a subgroup such as high society, criminal elements, military, police, and civil servants. Can help negotiate a trade in your favor if someone is from one of these sub-group backgrounds.
Mark knew that he had almost no relevant skills for trade. He was a military/police investigator, not a trade master. Still, it meant he would need to hire at least two new crew members to maximize his new profession: A trader and a Quartermaster.
“You should hire at least two other people, but they don’t need to be aboard the ship.” EVE told him in his head. “You should also get a stock broker to manage your financial assets so they aren’t sitting uselessly while you’re on missions, and a bookkeeper to keep all three parties honest.”
“Great, so I’ll need to expand my crew even further, and I’m already iffy on the funds.” Mark thought. He looked back at Goro, who was busy calculating values.
“Well, as I see it, the total damage to repair your ships will cost you 400 million credits. Now, that smaller ship you have there is worth 350 million credits, fully repaired.”
“That battle-class frigate is worth 500 million credits. That’s a custom extended and modified military grade ship,” Mark growled back.
“Oh it would be.” Goro said, almost apologetically, “If it were fresh off the shipyard and if it had all of its original transfer papers and if you could vouch for all these modifications from licensed vendors with proper paperwork. Can you legally transfer ownership and document all ship modifications?” Goro asked, with a look that said he already knew the answer to that question.
“No,” Mark mumbled in acknowledgement. He wasn’t sure exactly how the game figured out persuasion between PCs and NPCs, but he was certain he was getting the shaft right now.
“So, 350 million fully repaired. But it’s not fully repaired. I see damage to the port side and stern. Nothing that will prevent it from flying, seeing that you arrived here, but a good 50 million in repairs, another 10 million to resupply it.”
“Now, that larger ship,” he continued, “lots of damage to it, a big gash on the top, five of the laser turrets are destroyed on the starboard side, damage to the missile turrets again on that side, and damage to the main particle beam. That’s 350 million credits of damage, and 20 million to re-outfit it. That brings its worth down to 400 million credits.”
Mark also knew that ship was worth 850 million credits. Goro had knocked off a cool 100 million credits for himself, but was certain that bringing that up would also bring up the exact same set of objections that he’d heard about The Calrusian. He had no idea what the actual repairs cost, but he did know that Goro was the only person who had the resources to make it happen. A big fish in a tiny pond.
“That brings us to the question of the shipment. Normally, it’d be valued at one billion credits, but without proper tags, well, I’ll be stuck smuggling it off piecemeal and attaching it to various outgoing cargo, it’ll take me months to get it all off-world. I can only give you 30% credits on it.”
Mark’s shoulder blades scrunched together, his anger rising.
“Metals are one of the most fungible goods in the universe. I can get a better deal selling it off myself, and make double the profits. There hasn’t been a fleet investigator through this region in years, you can offload the shipments to other Worlds far quicker than you’re pretending. Cut the shit.” He growled out the last sentence, and when he tried to take deep, calming breaths, he just inhaled methane that made him even more angry.
“Further”, he continued, “I know someone like you has a spare, and illegal, tagger somewhere on this planet. You’ll be able to launder these shipments without much hassle. It might not hold up under a full investigation, but it’ll pass the usual, cursory inspections that investigators usually do.”
That last part was true. There weren’t enough investigators to disperse through the galaxy, and
He felt the urge to throttle the trader, but knew that the man had sights on him from all around, and he’d be stunned or killed if he tried anything. The fantasy in his head over, he turned back to the business at hand.
Goro smirked. “Let’s say 40% then. Still, you have 17 crew members that are dead. So, that’s 170 million extra to bring them back. 170 million for your crew, 400 million for repairs, 30 million to re-outfit the ship, and then there’s all these extras. Upgrades to the big ship’s computer system, adjustable floor gravity pads to simulate terrain obstacles, flavor packs and recipes to upgrade ship consumables to something more edible than raw protein, fat, and carbohydrates, two combat drone repairs, unless you’re willing to sell a ship, you can’t pay for all of this.”
Goro looked expectantly over at Mark. Mark’s face showed that he was not willing to sell one of the ships.
“Well, if you’re not parting with one of the ships, there are alternatives. I have two business acquaintances on this planet that could use someone with your ships and crew. I’ll give you the 400 million credits for the goods. That’s enough to fully cover restocking and patching your small ship, plus reviving all of your teammates. The repairs shouldn’t take too long since it’s only external damage, nothing vital harmed there, no strenuous system checks to undergo and all that.
I’ll also start the upgrades and repairs on your big ship, but under loan. Should you fail to secure the necessary payout from one of my two colleagues, the ship will become my property.”
A message popped up in the kiosk.
Loan Contract, guarantee of planet Scillies 6a
Goro Zgiet (The Loaner) agrees to provide Mark Thomas (The Loanee) with the necessary funds to repair, replenish, and upgrade (The Services) the ship Void Terror (The Asset) in exchange for completing a task for one of his two associates (The Transaction).
All Services have been explicitly stated through prior verbal contract, addended to this contract as Exhibit A: Verbal Contract.
Should Loanee fail to perform the Transaction, Loanee agrees to give Asset to Loaner in lieu of the Transaction.
Do you accept this contract? Yes / No.
Mark didn’t really have a choice. He could revive his crew and perform the minimum repairs necessary to get his fleet off this planet. But he wouldn’t. He needed to get to a larger planet to get new crew members and hire new personnel based on EVE’s recommendations. Limping around at his current rate, that would take months. He needed a fully repaired fleet capable of making those types of jumps, and he needed the larger ship to perform the sort of training that would be necessary to make sure that another debacle like this didn’t happen again.
He hit “Yes” on the contract and Goro smiled.
“I’ll tell my two associates Kenichi and Sheela to expect you. Remember that you only need to perform one task, but nothing is stopping you from completing two. If you only do one, you’ll be leaving here pretty much broke, and as a wise man once said, ‘An Army crawls on its belly.’” He gave a quick wink at Mark.
“You’ll get your first set of credits once the goods on your ships are offloaded.” With that, he clearly dismissed Mark from the conversation, and Mark didn’t have anything else to discuss with the man. He stood up from the mobile market transporter unit, the walking ramp extended downward, and he left.
Back onboard the ships, Mark worked with his team to offload the cargo from both ships. The gravity boards underneath the ship could be turned to the opposite effect and remove gravity, which helped with offloading crates. Mark settled into the comfortable military routine soldiers went into when they were assigned a boring task of inventorying a crate and then helping offload it. A few hours of doing this, and one of the crates caught his eye as he went around inspecting it.
A carving into the steel of the crate looked too regular to be from typical scraping and shifting around. He peered close into the carvings. Two simple words were carved into it. “Rescue Me”, written in English.
This gave him pause. The game’s language of choice is Unish, which meant that anyone literature should be able to translate what was saying into their language, ‘me resku’, but the fact that it was written in English meant that this wasn’t a NPC who wrote it. It was a player character.
New Quest: Rescue Me
Someone has scratched “Rescue Me” into a crate aboard the ship that you took from pirates. Find out what has happened to that person and why they scrawled that message into the crates. Rewards determined by performance of mission.
His breath caught in his throat. He hadn’t thought when he undertook the entire mission from the Reapers that he’d actually be the one to break the case. There were thousands of Proxima Galaxies, and this sort of World appealed to two types of people: People looking to earn a little extra cash on the outside via the cryptocurrency transactions or people who had military training or fantasies about having military training. Godsick’s son sounded like a wimp who was into elves and goblins, not boarding crews and carbine rifle fire.
Still, if he found out about the kid, or even rescued him, the real-life rewards would be immense. Everyone assumed he just got trapped in a Proxima World, but maybe something else had happened. Regardless, if Mark found out about it first, he’d live like a king.
He took extra precautions inspected all of the other crates, but that single crate was the only one with useful information on it. He decided to finish unpacking the rest of the crates with his team before logging out. After finishing up with the tedious task, he went to his captain’s room, closed his eyes, and logged out.