* * * * *
The shuttle ride was directly to the Caldari Contructions station in Perimeter system was short and although I saw some Navy personnel in the cabin give me dirty looks, no one said anything or did anything stupid. Kor and I chatted the whole time with me telling stories about my adventures in space and him relating tales of management follies. It was a good time and all too short.
Stations in Perimeter were always busy and I felt safely anonymous in the crowds as we disembarked from teh shuttle. I waited around while Korannon and his bodyguard friends booked a flight back to Vouskiaho.
"Are you sure you won't take some money to get started? Buy a ship, get back into space?"
"No Kor, I'll be fine," I said with mock exasperation. It must have been the fifth time he offered since leaving Kisogo. "I'm sure there is some shuttle company looking for a pilot."
"But you are a pod pilot, not some civilian cockpit monkey. You should have your own a pod ship and able to use that military training!" he said.
"Brain wipe and implant removal, remember?" I replied pointing to my scars on my skull.
He angrily waved my denial away. "You still have your basic flight training and are still a pod pilot, goddammit. Don't throw it away."
I put my hand on his shoulder and squeezed. It was nice to have someone still in my corner. "Look, let me see what I can dig up first. The capsule interface is not going anywhere, and I still need to get licensed no matter whose ship I will be flying. Better if a company picks up the tab, right?" He was still frowning. I added, "if I can't find anything good then we'll talk about setting ourselves up again. Only this time we'll do it right, OK?"
He grudgingly smiled in response to my own. We hugged and parted ways, him towards the shuttle gate and me further into the station.
* * * * *
I rented a modest room at a Four Planets chain hotel for a week. This close to the centre of Caldari space it was expensive but I had saved up a decent amount of credits and had nothing else to spend them on. There were cheaper hotels in station but I had had enough bare bones accommodations in the Navy. It didn't take long to unpack my single bag and have a shower, and once clean again I decided to make use of the hotel dining room before exploring the promenade and the directory for possible employers. I didn't have much of a plan beyond that.
The food on my plate was edible if not inspiring. Station time was mid-afternoon so I was alone except for a couple people at the bar having drinks and watching the vidscreen of some sporting match or another, both obviously checked out but with time to spare before their shuttle judging by the bags at their feet. I was reading a complimentary data pad, catching up on news from around the State, when a well dressed man walked into the dining room, scanned it quickly before seeing me and walking straight over.
Now, I've mentioned a while back that 'Kodachi' is not my family name (which I'm obscuring to protect my family's anonymity), its the call sign I adopted in the Navy. But this guy didn't use my family name which I had registered under; he actually said "Kodachi". This caused alarm bells to go off in my head despite the quality of his clothes and the obvious lack of a weapon on his slight frame. I put down the pad and dropped my right hand to my lap while my left stayed lightly on my dinner knife. People will wonder what the hand out of sight is up to and usually ignore the hand in sight with the potential weapon.
"May I sit down?" he asked without waiting for my to confirm my identity. He obviously knew me by sight which made me all the more suspicious. He also didn't wait for my permission to pull out the chair and sit down. What the hell was going on, I wondered?
"Please, relax!" he said amicably. "I'm sorry to surprise you like this but someone of your talents being unemployed is a rare phenomenon and my boss was adamant we get to your first."
"Your boss? Talents?" I asked now totally perplexed.
"I represent a contractor that works very closely with the Caldari State government and Navy. They contract out to her tasks and problems that need to be addressed but that her clients can not take care of themselves fast enough. Bureaucratic red take and forms in triplicate, I'm sure you understand."
"Go on." I said, relaxing a little.
"Yes, well, as an agent for her clients she can subcontract to qualified pilots like yourself to complete the work in a fraction of the time and without the reams of paperwork."
"Yes, a capsuleer." He smiled, seeing that he had my interest. "Capsuleers require a lot less equipment and oversight to complete activities than normally crewed ships. Plus fewer death settlements and life insurance payouts when things go wrong."
"You and your boss realize my military implants were removed?" I asked cynically.
"I know, but not surprising given the circumstances of your discharge. However, we also know that many pod pilots start small with few skills and use the pod interface to learn new abilities that can be purchased through the proper channels. Everyone starts somewhere," he added with a laugh.
"I have no ship, no license, and not enough money to get either," I said, playing along. They obviously knew all of this since they tracked me to this dining room mere hours after arriving here.
"We'll provide a ship and your pilot license. In fact, there is a 109 Ibis in a hanger here that my employer owns for just this kind of situation. We also have a situation needing handling soon so its like a perfect confluence of ship and pilot all at once."
"How much and what's the 'situation'?"
He brought out a datapad with a small system map on it. "There is a small mining colony 34 AUs out here in Perimeter. Some security drones got a virus in the last firmware update and have attacked any ships approaching the colony. System security forces are stretched to the limit with border and gate patrols and the Navy has no time to deal with some rogue drones. A mercenary force would be too expensive, but a pod pilot.." he trailed off.
I leaned forward for emphasis. "How much?"
"15,000 with a 10,000 bonus if you can get this done within 24 hours."
I kept my face impassive while I leaned back but inside my heart thumped. Twenty five thousand credits was a lot of money; I only made seventy five thousand a year while in the Navy at my rank. Old rank, I reminded myself.
"I'll need to think about it," I said noncommittally.
He smiled a smile that said he knew I was sold. "Of course! Here is the hanger info." I accepted a small card. "If you decide to take us up on the offer, just go to the hanger. We'll take a sample of your DNA and run it up to the cloning facilities here in station, your license is ready to go pending your digital signature, and the ship's engines are warmed up, weapons loaded."
"You guys don't waste any time," I commented as he stood up.
"Statisically, a new private pod pilot sticks agents of the first corporation to hire him for at least a year. If someone else hires you first, we might not have a chance for twelve months or perhaps never. Competition for pod pilot services is very high."
"For killing a few rogue drones?" I asked jokingly.
He gave me a serious look. "Yes," he said seriously, "a few rogue drones." He turned and walked away. "For now."