“Look at the birds, Mommy!” a child’s voice exclaims.

You snap awake, checking for your weapons automatically before you remember you’re on a civilian transport.

“Bout time, Zee. We left underspace half an hour ago,” Hinsman says from beside you. “Smooth as butter. They have stabilizers set up here now, I didn’t know that. This system’s really had some work put into it since I was here last.”

In his fifties but not yet looking his age, he’s supposed to be dressed as an asteroid speculator out on holiday and is struggling in the narrow confines of his seat to tug his coat on. Hinsman’s on the short side, and the garment is a couple of sizes too big. All around you others, tourists, businessmen, and families, are starting to collect their things as well.

“Anyway, just waiting on our transfer now.”

You unsnap your safety belt. “Okay.”

Hinsman’s got the aisle seat, just one more factor in his unspoken role in keeping you from too much direct contact with the public. Fine by you. Your job has always been to protect these people, not make conversation. Gazing out the window, you have a good view of the green planet. Camarov IV. It’s supposed to be beautiful, but it’s not like you’re here to sightsee. This is just your fastest route back to work.

The Order cruiser you’d been using got enough of a beating on your last mission it needed to be taken to a real shipyard for repairs, and meanwhile this transport was headed directly for Camarov and had two vacancies. There’s another Order ship en route to here which you’ll transfer to to be taken back to the Outer Rim. You’ll never even set foot on this planet.

There is a gentle thud as the landing ship locks on and the crew starts shepherding passengers towards the exit. Hinsman combs his dark hair and tends to the mustache he’s been cultivating. You just sit and wait.

Both of your wrist comms beep at the same time, and you see the Order ship has left underspace. There’s a little flurry among the crew when it requests to lock on, but Hinsman flashes a badge and his signature smile and the two of you transfer over without incident.

Once aboard, the ship unlocks and moves to a safe distance for a jump. Then there’s a delay as the pilot seems to have no intention of leaving until he downloads whatever media Camarov IV has to offer. Images of green hills and misty lakes and crystal spires and dancers on a stage and some sort of historical reimagining of Old Earth tumble across the viewscreen.

The pilot, Karoff, is middle aged, tall and with thinning blond hair just starting to shade to grey. His mustache however is much more impressive than Hinsman’s. You’ve worked with him before. You don't always get his sense of humor, but he's okay.

The next stop will be The Last Outpost for refueling, then you'll be taken along a scenic tour alternating between the most boring and dangerous parts of the Outer Rim as you go down the list fulfilling your various obligations there and being available to lend assistance in emergencies.

You lean against the wall and mentally check out until it’s time to strap in for the jump to underspace. Hinsman was right, the in system stabilizers do improve the experience quite a bit.


The Last Outpost is dark when you approach.

“Well that’s not a good sign,” Karoff mutters. The station floats in place like a fat black spider against the pale backdrop of the system’s single barren planetoid. Karoff makes a few adjustments to make your approach less obvious and then starts running scans from a distance. It took you nearly a week to get out this far from Camarov and you’re all aware that if there’s trouble it’ll be just as long before you can find any backup.

The Last Outpost was once a research hospital on the edge of protected space. Now it’s a ways past the official line, although after the rollback it persisted as a stopover and fueling station for both the military and any junker the colony worlds could put together to evacuate in. Officially out of service and abandoned now as far as anyone outside the Order is supposed to know, it’s still got enough automated defenses that any scavengers looking for scrap will be sent packing in a hurry. Or it used to, anyway. Hinsman is frowning over the console now too.

“That’s a lot of damage.”


Hinsman shakes his head. “I don’t think so. The way some of the plating is buckled, this looks like a string of explosions from the inside. Mostly just in that one arm, but the defenses are offline and there’s no more than basic life support anywhere on the station.”

There’s a soft beep as a scan is completed.

“One life sign,” Karoff grunts.

“Even if they pulled out everyone on mission, there should’ve be at least three here for maintenance still.” Hinsman joins you at the window as he finishes speaking and stares across the distance. “But...I’ll hail them I suppose.”

“You sure?”

“Might as well. Doesn’t look like they have much left to shoot at us anyway.”

“Let’s hope appearances aren’t deceiving.”