Writer’s Note: The Second Run: A Sorri Lyrax Delivery was published originally in Jump Point 4.1.
I stumbled into the airlock, wiping the last bits of a Teeyo energy bar from my jumper as the mechanism clicked into place behind me. The whoosh of air being recycled was muted by the blue-green steel walls of the synch-orbit waystation above Jata.
The ride up from planetside had been a bumpy mess. I should’ve known better than to eat after the fresh-faced pilot with far too much acne on his forehead had told me upon my arrival: “You’re my first real passenger, y’know, besides the training runs.”
But I’d been new once too, and he did bring me in alive, despite hitting every air pocket in the atmosphere, and then somehow, despite the physical impossibility, hitting a few more while we were in space on the final leg to the station.
I unhooked my backpack and stretched my neck while staring at the grey biodome I’d just left back on the rocky surface of the planet. I could still make out the sprawling facility that housed the Aegis production center, just as daunting from above as it had been when I was making my drop. I can’t say I wasn’t happy to be finished with that delivery for FTL. While the corporation claimed they were no longer focused on the military market, I saw far too many crew cuts to believe that bit of branding nonsense. Plus, seeing the Avenger-class ships in the showroom only reminded me of when I’d almost been killed during my first real delivery.
My gurgling stomach reminded me that most of my Teeyo bar had ended up on the floor, so I set out to find the falafel vendor I’d eaten at on the way down. The creamy hot sauce provided the perfect match to the crunchy fried chickpea mash in the wrapped sage-infused flatbread. I had an afternoon to kill while I waited for my next FTL delivery.
The waystation was a confusing maze. The original structure had been built with military security in mind, which meant the different sections were segregated by tubes, so each area could be safely cordoned off in case of an attack. Then later, when it started going civilian, and regular commerce started passing through, they added roomier areas with crimson carpet over the plasticrete, and places to eat and stay the night between journeys.
The walls had been painted with murals — actual hand-painted murals rather than the normal holo-crap — with happy families walking through hand-in-hand, or smiling businessmen pulling trade cases behind them. There were even a few paintings of the ridge-headed Banu on the walls, harkening back to when a significant amount of alien trade came through Jata.
I rounded the corner to the delicious smells of my falafel vendor when I heard a familiar shrill voice.
“What is taking so long? I’m gettin’ freezer burnt here. I put my order in three years ago,” declaimed Betrix LaGrange, rubbing her pale arms and stomping her feet for warmth in front of the falafel vendor.
Maybe if you actually dressed for the job, you pasty-headed twit. No space station manager or ship captain ever wants to spend their hard-earned credits on keeping people warm, I thought as I backed into the tunnel so Betrix couldn’t see me.
I couldn’t think of a worse FTL courier to run into. If a hyena had been transformed into a person and given perfect blonde hair, then that would be Betrix. She was sleeping with the dispatcher at headquarters, so she got all the premium deliveries and her routes actually made sense.
Rather than deal with that human scavenger, I headed towards the other vendor area. The food wasn’t as good, but at least I’d avoid Betrix. The falafel vendor probably had spit in the cream sauce after her nasty outburst, anyway.
As I chowed down on a questionable curry, I pulled out my mobiGlas and thumbed to life my dream ship: the Aurora LX. I had bookmarked the custom package I had spec’d out. Bare bones, but it was the perfect vehicle to branch out on my own as an independent courier. So much space-faring goodness, and I was only five more years of courier work away.
I blew a kiss at my dream ship, and switched to the local networks, bringing up the independent courier display. My display name was SILVERKHAN, a reference to my father’s bar, the Golden Horde. I lingered on my name before toggling my availability for hire into the ‘on’ position, then I quickly marked the locations I was willing to deliver.
Sorri’s first rule of the efficient courier: Never travel empty handed.
I smiled to myself as I repeated the rule in my head. Most of the other couriers I’d met during my first year with the company seemed to treat the job like a prison sentence, drudging through their deliveries with their eyes closed. There was so much more to do if you were paying attention.
A soft ding! in my ear alerted me to a job offer on the independent courier channel.
My jaw hit my chest when I saw the credits offered for completing the delivery. It was a colossal sum. At least fifty times my normal fees and it would take a year off my quest for the Aurora.
I had to convince my shaking hand not to just jam the ‘accept’ button and review the terms first. That was my second rule, a hard lesson from my first delivery: Nothing illegal.
The request entailed a traveling case that needed to be transported to Tyrol IV. The job was bonded, so I knew it wasn’t illegal.
Then I checked the delivery date, and realized why the fee was so high. They needed it delivered in less than sixty standard Earth hours. From here, Tyrol was five systems away, involving multiple jump points and a significant amount of in-system travel time, not even counting layovers or delays — which were frequent — so there was no way to deliver the case on time using the normal routes. The high fee was to entice independents who had their own ship to make the journey. It was a helluva-lot of fuel to make that trip, especially when there wouldn’t be time for taking other business, which again, made the fee astronomical.
As I stared at the red ‘accept’ button, I knew there were multiple couriers considering the same thing: can I make the delivery on time? Because if the delivery wasn’t completed on time, the payment fee minus the late delivery penalty minus all the out-of-pocket expenses would drain my savings. No Aurora, no falafel, no nothing. So the only couriers who would be seriously considering the job had their own ships. Plus, given the time frame, only couriers already in the Davien could take the job and still make the delivery date.
The Davien system, where I was currently located, was connected to Ferron, Kilian, Cano, Sol and Cathcart. The competition couldn’t be worse for this job — a job that I didn’t even have a ship to use for transport.
But cutting a year off my plan for the Aurora would be worth it. I loved being a courier for FTL, but I really wanted to be my own master, see the galaxy on my terms.
So I jammed my thumb down on the screen, sending my bio-signature to the broker to signify my acceptance of the job. As I did, an ephemeral shiver went down my back, a potent mixture of dread and excitement.
Then I actually looked at the job blinking on my mobiGlas, a countdown timer signifying the time remaining.
[ 60:25:05 ]
What the hell did I just do?