The Back Bacon Express

I recently wrote a novel set in the Elite Dangerous universe that I’m hoping (fingers crossed) to get licensed to be published. I really think it’s a solid standalone story, even though it ties in with the fan fiction I’ve written in the past, which I now consider “preliminary research.”

However, as I continue to play the game the urge to keep writing in the universe persists, if only as a fun exercise. ┬áThis is one such exercise, and I’ll be posting it in my fan fiction section. ┬áThose who got a chance to beta-read Lost Souls will recognize that this takes place after the events of that novel.

The Back Bacon Express

The customs officer on Abraham Lincoln station on Sol was giving Moss the eye. The eye that says, “This might be a little pond, but I’m the biggest damn fish in it, yahear?”

It was the eye that pretty much every pilot faces at least once a week. In any given station inside the bubble of human inhabited space you have thousands of inhabited systems, tens of thousands of colonies and space stations, and millions of pilots flying between them.

So when your job confines you to staying in one place all the time, watching these people come and go as they please to have their little adventures while you do paperwork working a grind that has little in the way of job satisfaction, it can make you bitter. But hey, you have authority, right? What better way to make yourself feel better about your place in the universe than to use it? Show people who’s in charge.

The mantra running through these people’s minds tends to be, “Just give me a reason.”

There isn’t much you can do about them, either. They can give you a bad day, but you can never do anything about them, and they know it. So you smile and nod and tell them exactly what they want to hear.

Unfortunately, that was where the trouble started.

“You’re from the Canadian District?”

Moss was not, but his new identity said he was. It had never come up before. Not once in a hundred worlds. But then, this was his first time back on Sol since he got the identity.

Moss answered out of reflex. “Sure am, eh?”

The guard raised an eyebrow. Moss could have kicked himself. He’d used humorous sarcasm on a man who clearly considered those to be the traits of a terrorist.

“I mean, I was born there, but I’ve been flying the spaceways since I was a kid. More of a citizen of the galaxy.”

“You mean citizen of the Federation, don’t you?”

Ah hell, and some kind of hammerheaded patriot to boot. The man brought up Moss’s flight history on his computer, frowning at every line he saw. “You seem to spend a lot of time in Alliance space, and the Empire more than is proper.”

“I go where the credits are, you know how it is.”

The customs officer did not. “Where about in the Canadian District are you from?”

“Don’t you mean aboot?” Moss grinned, but his teeth were pressed so tight he was afraid they might fuse together into a single piece, then shatter. Why could he not keep his mouth shut? He had one skill, one skill that he prided himself on and that was how to handle people. But every so often it seemed the universe would throw him a curve ball to keep him honest…or just for a laugh.

Again there was that frown. That frown and the eye, deadly combination. For one thing, he didn’t get the joke. Nobody in the Canadian District said “Aboot” anymore, it was a 20th-century stereotype, but the more important thing was that this officer felt he was being disrespected. And that was on par with high treason in their twisted reality.

Instead of swiping Moss’s virtual ident to the left, allowing him to pass, he swiped it to the right–meaning it was going under extra review.

“You’ll need to check back in with us before you can leave the station,” he said without elaborating. “Enjoy your stay. Next!”

Moss’s face fell. “Can I ask what the problem is?”

“I’m not convinced you’re from the Canadian District. We’ll be reviewing your records and you’ll need to speak to one of us before you can leave the station. Next!”

And that was that. Great. Moss had been assured that his new ID was as good as the real thing, but the didn’t mean squat if a guy with a datapad in his hand a stick up his butt decided that you were up to no good.

*****

Hel was waiting for Moss inside the station. She’d gone on ahead to move their things to their hotel on the outer ring while he’d dealt with the dock workers in securing their ship. That was before the hold up at customs. She was waiting at a coffee shop near the exit for their docking bay.

“That’s a more disappointed look than usual on your face, boss.”

“We’ve got trouble.”

“Isn’t that why we’re here?”

“Different trouble.”

“Great.”

Hel’s time as Moss’s co-pilot had not exactly gone smoothly. She’d come into his life as a runaway slave who had stowed away on board his ship, a chimera cobbled together from several different Lakon transports. He’d taken her on as an employee, and after that, she hadn’t experienced a moment’s peace. Escaping assassins, hunting for lost colonists, fighting off pirates, losing friends, and most recently getting stranded with an empty gas tank in a brown dwarf system.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, while they waited for the Fuel Rats to come and rescue their sorry butts, it turned out the repairs done to their ship, Viaticus Rex II.I, weren’t holding they way they were supposed to. Moss had no idea what was wrong, but wondered if maybe not having Violet on board was the reason.

Violet. It still hurt to think about her, if only because it was so complicated. She’d died a hundred and fifty years ago, but her memories and personality had survived, and had eventually become part of their ship. They’d had long philosophical conversations about the nature of the soul and whether she was just a simulation or even alive. She doubted it, but he didn’t.

But she was gone now, and it was like the ship was dying without her. Maybe she’d been holding all the mismatched Lakon parts together without even realizing it. He had no way of knowing.

That was what had brought them to Sol. In part, because Hel had never seen the birthplace of humanity–and given her background there was a certain symmetry in her coming to where it all began–but also because he knew someone who might get the Rex back in proper working order.

Now he had to explain to his copilot how that was the least of their problems.

“So, you’re screwed,” Hel summed up once he had finished.

“Depends on who we meet when we try to leave. I have every reason to believe that my ID will hold up, but that won’t mean squat if the person we talk to wants to give me a bad day, and for all I know the officer that set it aside for review will have added a note saying, ‘may this guy suffer.'”

“That does sound like something that would happen to you,” Hel agreed. “So, what are you going to do?”

Moss shook his head. “Not sure.”

“Well, the key here is convincing whoever you see on the way out that you’re on the up and up. Shouldn’t be hard to make sure we don’t meet the same guy as we leave, right?”

“Yeah, that’s the easy part.”

“So what we have to worry about is whatever note the guy left for whoever’s looking into your background. What was the actual reason he gave for setting your ID aside?”

“He said he wasn’t convinced I was from the Canadian District.”

“So what can we do to convince them?”

“Not a clue. Boning up on Canadian history and dropping random facts is a sure way to make anyone suspicious. They’ll probably ask me questions about where I was born and how long I lived there. That’s no problem. The thing is, you say anything to these people when they’re having a bad day and they’ll twist it against you.”

Hel considered the problem. “Then maybe we need to be more subtle, and not say anything at all. Let’s check the job boards. I have an idea.”

*****

The new customs officer hadn’t yet looked up from his datapad, forcing Moss and Hel to wait till he was good and ready to address them.

Finally, his eyes barely lifted from the screen. “Leaving so soon?” he asked. “In a new ship?”

Moss looked back at the Cobra they had docked on the landing pad. “Hardly new. Bought it used. Used to be a meat hauler. Turns out my ship is going to need a lot more servicing than I thought, and I still need to pay the bills. So I’ll be sticking around Sol until my ship’s ready to fly.”

The officer nodded, looking over his notes again. “Do you understand why your ID was flagged for review?”

“Not really. Figured it was just another spot check.”

“What’s your cargo?”

Moss knew the officer already knew the answer to that. It had to be right there on his datapad. But he obliged. “Twenty-four tons of beer.”

“Destination?”

“Europa.” He didn’t add that it was for the Zero-G Lacrosse finals being held in orbit out there. That would be overkill. He’d see it on his datapad as part of the manifest.

At this point the guard almost smirked. “And the paint job?”

Moss looked back at the Cobra again, and it’s striking red and white color scheme with a bold red maple leaf visible on the underside. An even larger one was visible on the top, though there was no way to see it from their position.

“What it came with. Name, too. It was either that or a bright pink ship with a cartoon cat on it.”

“Wise choice.”

“My co-pilot would disagree.”

The guard looked at Moss, Moss’s ship, and his datapad again, then swiped the ID left. “Fly safe, Commander.”

Moss smiled. “Thanks.”

Once inside, Hel took her seat and strapped in. Moss got in the pilot’s chair and let out a sigh of relief. “I fully expected your plan to backfire.”

Hel shrugged. “With your luck, I wouldn’t have been surprised.”

“I admit it. I’m impressed.”

“It didn’t sound like you were flagged with any details attached, just a general note questioning where you’re from. A basic job from Canada for a Canadian event seemed like the way to go without being too obvious about it. So, are we sticking around here until the Rex gets fixed, or try to collect on your other ship?”

Moss had been asking himself the same question earlier. His pride and joy, an Imperial Clipper called the Troubadour, was waiting for him deep in Empire space, hopefully in one piece. But he had his concerns on whether retrieving it would be an easy job or not.

“She can wait. You’ve had enough excitement for a while. Seems like every time I try to show you what a normal day is like out here we have a very un-normal day instead. We’ll stay close to Sol, stick to the high-security sectors. Give you a chance to learn to fly some more. Believe me, there’s no better class of ship for that than the Cobra.”

“Aye aye,” said Hel with a mock salute.

The traffic controller contacted them as they prepared to launch. “Faulcon deLacy ship registry Back Bacon Express, you are cleared for departure.”

“Roger that traffic control. Back Bacon Express out.”

With that the pad raised and Moss took the Cobra smoothly out of the slot.

Once out in the void, Hel looked over at her boss. “Back Bacon Express? Really?”

Moss shrugged and laid down a bobblehead on his cockpit dash, shaped like a female pilot. “It’s kind of from a movie. Something Violet liked. We probably watched it a half dozen times.”

Hel looked at the bobblehead and nodded her understanding. “Well, at least you didn’t choose the ship with the cartoon cat on it.”

Moss frowned. “I still think that looked great.”

“It looked stupid.”

You’re stupid.”

“Whatever.” Now that they were clear of the station, Hel got out of her seat. “I need a drink before we go. You want anything?”

“Naw, I’m good. Thanks.”

Once Hel was out of the room, Moss looked at the various ships flying to and from Abraham Lincoln station. He tapped the bobblehead so that it was nodding at him, smiled, and turned on the comm panel, broadcasting to everyone locally.

“This is Moss Foote in the Back Bacon Express, and I’m talkin’ to whoever’s listenin’ out there. You just listen here now and take his advice when you’re flying through the cold void of space, when the lasers start flashin’ and the missiles are flyin’ and the multicannons are raining down on you with lead. Just remember what old Moss Foote does when the ship quakes, and the canopy’s breakin’ apart, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Moss Foote just looks that big old void right square in the eye and he says, ‘Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it.'”

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