An Elite Dangerous Story
Matt sat in the SRV as the micro winds peaked and howled, occasionally pushing the pumice pocked landscape aside revealing the dense and dark mica surface. Rock that had formed through millennia of punishing meteor impacts and volcanic eruptions long before human kind had ever set down on the planetoid's surface. The planetoid itself lacked an atmosphere, instead exhaling gases from its interior that would quickly spread into outer space in attempt to quell the vacuum and the constant bombardment of stellar radiation from it's nearby host star. These gases had enough of a life span to form pocket weather systems that would last for hours at a time before dispersing once and for all. At least until the next time the planet burped from one of its many geysers and volcanoes which was often enough. Ironically the phonetics of its name mirrored this fact for it was named Cooke, and that's precisely what it did on the inside.
The planet Cooke had been one of the many orbital children of Barnard's Star. As it happened, this system was located strategically within the stellar medium between the interior of Federation space and the rest of a vital trade network within the human occupied bubble of the Milky Way galaxy. In fact, it was one of the last shipping and distribution points before the Sol system. Located on Cooke was a facility where the Federation Postal And Communications service would sort the shipping containers arriving from various sources throughout occupied space on their way to the Sol System. Sol was Matt's birthplace and his one time home was the planet Earth. That was however a long time ago in the measure of one's life.
Matt had been born with the curse of wanderlust and wander he did from Toronto, Canada, the city of his birth traveling around the world often finding himself caught between amusement and mischief. It wasn't until he'd he'd arrived in Geneva, Switzerland that he'd he'd signed on with the Federation Navy hoping to see the stars. It was good for Matt, grounding him and giving him a sense of self discipline however instead of space travel he wound up with a desk job given his natural ability in dealing with numbers and details. He moved up through the ranks quickly finally ending up with the position of Resource Distribution Coordinator for the Federation Crises Center. He'd been tasked with solving the growing problem of food and goods shortages across the globe. Through his work he often found himself in the field amongst those in need. It was there that he'd befriended Salua.
Salua had been orphaned the prior year during the food riots of 3291. He'd since been acquired by one of the foster care camps run by the Federation where he lived amongst many other such children. Matt had been taking one of his assessment strolls around the camp trying to weigh in on the severity of their shortages when he'd been approached by Salua.
"Mister? Mister? Are you Santa Claus?" Salua asked Matt.
Matt paused in his walk through the camp stopping to address Salua who'd sat amongst a group of children.
"No. I'm not Santa. I'm Matt." Matt offered his hand to Salua.
"I hear that Santa brings food to all of the children around the world. Is this true?" Salua asked Matt.
The other children began chanting... "Santa! Santa! Santa!"
"I don't know. We're trying the best that we can to get you some food, clothing and medicine but some things are very difficult sometimes. Even for adults." Matt tried to assure Salua and the group of chanting children.
"Santa could do it. He's magic! He can do anything! I've even heard that he can deliver presents around the world in one night!" Salua replied hoping Matt would agree.
"Isn't Santa from the across the sea in the West?" one of the other children said.
"I heard that Santa won't come unless you believe in Jesus!" another child stated.
"I heard that he keeps a list of who has been bad and good. If you're bad he won't feed you or give you anything!" one of the little girls said.
"I don't believe that! I believe that Santa comes to all children! No matter what they believe! Whether they're good or bad, though Santa wants us to learn to be good!" Salua stood batting his index finger at the other children.
"Then why did they take our parents away? Were we too bad? Will Santa bring them back Mister?" the little girl asked Matt.
Matt found himself speechless and on the brink of breaking down in front of them. He took a moment to gather himself before he replied.
"No. Nobody took your parents away from you because you were bad. It's not your fault. Sometimes bad things can happen for no apparent reason and sometimes there's nothing that we can do about it. But also sometimes good things can happen for no apparent reason and there is also nothing we can do about it. There are some things that we have no control over. So we have to do our best to learn what we can and can't affect and not to let ourselves get down when things go wrong, or to get too proud when things go good." Matt tried his best to explain to the children.
"I heard that if you write Santa a letter, that he'll come to you during the Christmas holidays. Will he?" the little asked Matt.
"I don't know. I really don't know. I'm sure that he'll do his best though." Matt replied before breaking away and back to his office.
He got onto his holopad and checked the scheduled shipments of food and supplies. They would not make it before two weeks and by that time many of the children would likely starve. Matt buried his face in his hands and began to weep. There were some things that progress and technology could not overcome. Matt thought though that maybe Santa could. That's when he came up with a plan.
Matt had checked the shipping schedules for several major centers around the world. Many supplies were arriving from the orbital hydroponics stations around Venus while there were shipments of food coming in from one of the local grocery supply distributors in from the Federation sorting depot in Barnard's Star. It was being hauled by the Hutton Orbital Truckers by Ergan Dazong, a contact he'd made during his tenure as the Resource Distribution Coordinator. He quickly got onto the GalNet Communications grid and linked with Ergan.
"Ergan Dazong speaking, loud and clear! Go ahead!" Ergan spoke from behind controls of his Type 9 Freighter.
"Ergan, It's me. Matt Lavian. How are you?" Matt spoke professionally yet personably.
"Well hello Matt. What can I do you for?" Ergan asked through the GalNet Communications grid.
"I understand that you're hauling a large shipment for the Federation Urban Supply?" Matt confirmed with Ergan.
"You'd be right on that count, Matt. It's a big 'un too. They must be anticipating a boom in holiday sales." Ergan assured Matt.
"I'm sure that they are. Listen, I'd like to ask you a favour that you might not like, but I'll ask it anyway." Matt paused purposely drawing Ergan's curiosity.
"And what kind of favour would ya like?" Ergan asked.
"Well, I need that shipment of food here at Camp Starlight or a lot of children are going to go hungry and possibly die." Matt explained.
"Don't you have a backup plan or something? Aren't you guys supposed to manage crises like that?! I'm under contract Matt. You're not dealing with one of those independent haulers out there. I'm a tried and true member of the Hutton Orbital Truckers. I've got a name to keep and that name has to honour this contract." Ergan replied cold and hard.
"What if I get an equal quantity shipment to replace the one we're taking to save these kids, one that will cover for what you'd be giving us and ensure that you're fulfilling your rightful contract. Then what would you say?" Matt asked Ergan.
There was a pause on the other end of the communications link. Matt even heard Ergan punch his dash board console of the freighter in frustration.
"Dang! Alright Matt, but this had better work out. I ain't never missed out on a contract and I don't want to have to send my brothers at the Hutton Orbital Truckers after ya for breaking that flawless record. It is kids we're dealing with here and lives matter, so what do you have in mind?" Ergan broke down.
Matt began explaining his plan and in the end Ergan had agreed. Ergan would arrive at Camp Starlight within the next day. Now Matt had to ensure that he'd live up to his end of the deal and that involved commandeering another shipment of equal value to replace the one that Ergan would be providing for them while ensuring the absence of that shipment would not create famine elsewhere.
Matt searched the GalNet trading boards high and low for a shipment that he could abscond with to replace Ergan's when he finally found it. A shipment of food and consumer goods bound for the Sirius System that had been contracted by the Sirius Corporation itself, possibly to meet growing the same demand in time for the holidays. Sirius Corporation were a powerful entity. In fact they were as powerful as the Federation themselves and even competed with them for planetary resources on the galactic scale. If Matt was going to pull this off he'd best not get caught or there'd be a price to pay.
He jumped into his utility craft and made his way over to the camp's stockade where he commandeered the ship he'd need for the job. A military version of the Eagle Fighter, one of the craft in which he'd trained for the Federal Navy. It was light, well armed and armoured and certainly up for the task of taking down an unarmed bulk freighter. After verifying his identity for the Chief Officer of the stockade he strapped himself in and took to the skies in the direction of the Ross 154 star system.
The Frame Shift drive hummed as it warmed up readying for the 9.69 light year jump. Despite the technological marvels that humankind had achieved, it had still taken just over a century from the breaking of the sound barrier for us to finally break the light barrier. Science had conceived theoretically how it could be done, but it took a century and a bit before humankind could engineer these theoretical concepts to create their applied counterparts. The result had been the first Frame Shift drive which had opened up the rest of the galaxy to the conquest of humankind. Within a decade, land claims were being filed for first the nearest planetary systems and thereafter everything beyond. All of this resulting from the first Scientist who'd considered that to defeat the light barrier one must first reverse the roles of time and space in the equations that constrained their limits.
Matt took and held his breath as the Frame Shift drive engaged. The only way to describe it to someone of the early twentieth century might be to liken it to cresting the first climb of a roller coaster. There's that moment of stillness as the forces grab hold of the roller coaster before it is pulled speeding through its course. Faster than light travel was very similar and in its beginnings had found the breakfast of most early pilots on the cockpit floor or at very least, their laps. They had come a long way since the early days to providing a more stomach pleasing flight though some still had to rely on Nerve-Stims to avoid regurgitating their last meals.
The flight was a short one, taking less than thirty seconds of his time before his Eagle lurched back into regular time space close to Ross 154. The fighter's windshield and armour filtered the heat, light and radiation, keeping it from entering the cockpit lest Matt become instantly blinded, sunburned and cooked from both the inside and out. He marveled at the blazing giant for a moment before turning his attention to his navigation panel. The ship he'd sought, the freighter Sirius Corp. Pinnacle would be leaving from Birkeland City, one of the many orbital facilities that humankind had erected throughout the planetary systems of a small bubble of the Milky Way galaxy. It had become an artificial satellite of Aster, an immense gas giant and the second planet from the star Ross 154.
Matt piloted his Eagle taking it to a point just 50 km from Birkeland City waiting where he anticipated that the Pinnacle would attempt to make its jump to the Sol system. A quick check of his chronometer indicated that he had ten minutes before his quarry would show. He kept his eyes on the station, jumping between the docking bay and the surrounding Federal Navy patrol ships that had been tasked with protecting the station. There was a tense moment where he suspected that one of the bigger ships, a Federal Gunship may have caught glimpse of him on it's sensors. The Gunship moved slowly and lumbering in his direction before veering away still 35 km from him. He sighed with relief as it returned to its patrol route. He watched it carefully just to make sure before returning his attention to the station. A moment later and the Pinnacle emerged from the docking bay heading directly towards his Eagle. He was in business.
His plan was simple. He would reduce his thermal signature by disabling the cooling equipment on his ship. That in turn would prevent him from being picked up on sensors though he would still be visible to the naked eye. He would only be able to maintain this ruse long enough to circle around to the rear of the Pinnacle where he would fire a warning shot and announce his presence.
The Pinnacle approached closing its distance slowly as Matt disabled the Eagle's thermal signature. He quickly accelerated the Eagle in a long arc so that it close in from the Pinnacle's starboard flank. The Eagle closed in just as the heat alarms started to wail in Matt's ears. He quickly restored his cooling system firing a warning shot in front of the freighter just as he did.
"Open your docking hangar. If you have a fighter in it, then I'd suggest you eject it. I'm commandeering your ship in the name of Feed The Children. If you comply, you will not be harmed. If you don't, I will disable your ship and blast open your cargo hold and you'll lost your whole shipment and possibly your life." Matt advised the freighter pilot calmly.
"Children eh? That's a new one. I'm unarmed. I'll open the hangar now." the freighter pilot did as Matt had instructed.
Matt maneuvered the Eagle into the larger ship's docking hangar where it was pulled into the freighter's interior. Matt then popped the canopy of the Eagle, brandishing a stun gun firmly in his hand. He set his helmet visor to opaque, which obscured his face so as he could not be recognized visually. He quickly made his way up towards the freighter's cockpit.
"So you've taken the path to piracy have you? So is it going to be murder as well? You know what the penalty for that is?" the Pinnacle's pilot asked Matt.
"Look, I'm not going to hurt you. I need this shipment in order to make sure that a whole lot of kids on Sol get fed for the next two weeks." Matt explained keeping the stun gun focused on the Pinnacle's former Captain.
"I hate to break it to you son, but there's no food on this ship. Only industrial parts and consumer goods. I think you targeted the wrong ship." the Pinnacle's former Captain explained.
"Look, I can't explain right now. I need your cargo and we have to deliver it within the next few hours or a lot of kids are going to go hungry." Matt pleaded coaxing the freighter's pilot with his stun gun.
"Alright. I'll fly it for you. Where are we going?" asked the freighter pilot.
Matt looked closer at the pilot's flight suit seeing a name tag.
"We're going to Camp Starlight in the Sol System, Charlie." Matt answered him.
"Well I'm at a loss here. What can I call you?" Charlie asked.
"Charlie, you can call me Santa." Matt answered.
An hour later and the large Type 9 Freighter had landed at Camp Starlight in the Sol System. Ergan's freighter was parked beside theirs already waiting. Matt led Charlie outside to the landing tarmac where they met with Ergan.
"I didn't think you'd make it." Ergan said to Matt.
"I wouldn't miss this for the world." Matt responded to Ergan.
"Alright, then lets get this done." Ergan said authorizing the release of his shipment of food into the Camp.
A small convoy of Robotic Autoloaders arrived on the scene and began removing the food cargo from Ergan's ship. When it was empty, they began transferring the Pinnacle's cargo to Ergan's ship to make up for the cargo he'd given to Camp Starlight.
"Are you sure that you want to do it this way, Santa?" asked Charlie.
"I'm sure as I'll ever be. I couldn't let those kids go hungry." Matt replied.
Ergan shook hands with Matt and then took off in his freighter leaving Charlie and Matt with each other.
"Looks like you just have to grab your Eagle and go." Charlie avised.
"That's right Charlie. Thanks for being a sport." Matt said as sincerely as he could muster given the circumstances.
"Alright. Let's get this done." Charlie replied solemnly.
As Matt approached the Pinnacle to retrieve the Eagle, he was quickly surrounded by a group of armed men.
"Freeze! Hands up! Keep them there! You're under arrest for piracy against the Sirius Corporation!" one of the men shouted through his communicator.
"...how'd you know?" Matt asked having dropped his stun gun now holding his hands high in the air.
"I'm sorry Santa. I had to report it..." Charlie's voice echoed through Matt's communicator.
"Not as sorry as I am..." Matt replied and it was over.
Matt stood before the Holographic Magistrate, the Auto-Jury just having listened carefully to the entire case (which took less than two seconds) weighed the wrong doing and calculated the recommended penalty. The Magistrate began:
"We the jury find you Matthew Harris Lavian guilty of piracy and theft against Sirius Corporation of goods to the value of 3 million credits. Sirius Corporation has chosen to pursue this case against you to the fullest of the law. Since the goods were never found you will be held libel for the price of these goods during your sentence of fifteen years on the Stafford Penal Colony on WISE 1506+7027 1 C. Having served said time you will be have paid for the entirety of the goods and be free to go. Until that time you are to be remanded into the custody of the Stafford Penal Colony Administration. Do you understand?" the Magistrate presented the sentence.
"Yes. I understand." Matt replied descending into his depths.
"Then let this sentence be served. This court is adjourned." the Magistrate brought his gavel down driving the last nail into the coffin of Matt's hope.
Matt was suddenly startled awake in his SRV. He was on Cooke again, watching the activities of the Federal Postal and Communications depot. He'd fallen asleep while keeping an eye on the facility. He dreamt of his past. Of Camp Starlight. Of Ergan and Salua. Of Stafford Penal Colony and his fifteen years there served. He dreamt of Charlie having to pull the trigger like that. That must have been a hard choice Matt thought, and he pitied the man. They'd both made a choice that day and it was theirs to keep. He wondered whose choice was more haunting and ultimately decided that it must have been Charlie's. Poor Charlie, but that was then and this is now and Santa still had a job to do Matt thought to himself.
Salua was now all grown up and had kids of his own thanks to people like Matt and Ergan, he'd had a chance. Matt had often wondered himself if he would have taken the same path again if he'd have had a chance to relive his fateful journey. Perhaps if the resources were available for problems like the plight of those kids, he wouldn't have had to though ultimately the choice was his in the end. Perhaps in this case and this case alone, it was the lesser of two evils. With that being the case then why was he sitting here on Cooke in his SRV waiting for the opening that he needed to plant the device? As he considered that very thought, the opening that he'd been waiting hours for occurred.
The Sentry Skimmers, automated hovering drones tasked with acting as the security's eyes for the facility had hit their inspection time limit. It was protocol in such facilities to conduct inspection and maintenance on half the Sentry Skimmers so that the facility was never entirely unprotected. It just so happened that the inspection and maintenance schedule affected all of the Sentry Skimmers watching the facility's North sector. The very sector where Matt had been waiting patiently for such an opening.
He watched as the last of the Skimmers disappeared into the service hangar and then accelerated the SRV towards his target: the sorting and distribution facility. He pulled up beside the building and popped the canopy on the SRV, jumping out onto the facility grounds. He peeked around the corner looking for the access door he'd needed to gain entry to the building. Upon spotting it he made a dash sticking close to the wall to avoid being spotted by any security detail he'd missed. When he arrived at the door, he pulled a small Weevil-Drone from his belt pouch and stuck it to the door's security mechanism. The Weevil hummed to life quickly deciphering the security and encryption method used by the lock. It then applied the measures needed to bypass the lock then jumped back into Matt's hand. Matt nearly jumped when the Weevil leapt from the door into his hands but quickly caught himself. He pocketed the Weevil and hit the door's button. The door slid open revealing the sorting facility to Matt.
The entire facility was itself automated though there was a small pilot's and maintenance colony close by that kept the facility running. Most of the Freighter Captains who delivered or picked up goods from this site never left their space craft, so Matt would most likely not encounter another human being during his personal project.
The interior of the facility looked much like any factory might, with conveyors, queues, stacks and branch points all geared towards arranging each package to its most optimum shipping schedule. The packages themselves were grouped into containers all destined for the same vicinity in the surrounding star systems. There were sixteen freighter bays in all. Eight incoming and eight outgoing where the Freighter Captains could land, deliver or load their cargo and be on their way. Matt had to deploy specially designed Nano-Pods (which he referred to as his "Elves") to each of these bays. They'd each been programmed for the task he had in mind. Santa's work was never done as would be the case for his "Elves".
Matt went quickly to work deploying each of the Nano-Pods to the docking bays as quickly as he could. He had just finished placing the last one when he noticed a Skimmer hovering through the facility. They can't be finished the inspection already? Matt thought to himself. He pressed the initializer button three times on the Nano-Pod which started its Self Test Diagnostic.
Come on! He thought to himself as the Skimmer passed around the neighbouring bay towards his position. The Nano-Pod whirred to life counting down the time until it would start its assigned task. The Skimmer passed as Matt shrunk into a ball in the shadows covering the Nano-Pod with his body. He thanked himself for wearing a thermal and magnetic shielding suit because the Skimmer passed right by him as if he wasn't even there. Rather than take a chance moving near the Skimmer, he instead took the long route out of the facility trying to avoid it all together. When he arrived at the door through which he'd entered the facility, he stepped out placing the Weevil on the door lock once again. The Weevil undid it's prior work on the security lock and the facility was once again sealed. Matt made his way back to his SRV and then on towards his ship which he'd hidden a few kilometers away. It was not long after that he was back into the stars and on his way home.
He'd managed to land himself a small pad land side in the newly terraformed tundra of north Hudson's Bay. It was very modest, a bachelor pad at best in an populated district. He sat in his favourite seat and watched his holovision set for the festivities to begin. After all, it was the 24th of December and a magic night at that.
Salua and his family sat around the tree sipping their Egg Nog marveling at the tree that Salua had managed to procure this year. He'd grown into a strong man working long and hard for his family though his source of inspiration came not from his strength, but his heart. He'd never forgotten the day that the miracle of food had arrived from the stars. From the Santa of the stars that day many years ago. He'd only been a child but he'd believed in something. In the greater goodness of being and perhaps that's what Santa was and is to us all. It was that food that had given the children of the camp the hope they'd needed to continue and to pursue their own dreams despite the fact that they'd been so close to their own demise. It was their hope that had prevailed and that hope is what Santa had represented.
Salua and his former Camp Starlight allies had put together a Christmas Fund to help those in need just as they had been so long ago. Their monies might make a difference but it still needed that extra something that only faith in the greater good could provide. Sometimes that faith had a bumpy path.
"I wonder what happened to Matt that day? I do so miss him." Salua professed to his wife Lali.
"Maybe he is wondering the same thing of you?" Lali tickled Matt just between his ribs and he laughed without the help of the Rum in his Egg Nog.
"Then let us drink to Matt. Here's to Matt on this glorious Christmas. Remember children that we'd have never had this chance without the likes of Matt!" Salua raised his glass and his family followed in joy.
Matt sipped from a glass of brandy and anticipated his next move. He'd spent fifteen years in a penal colony for this moment and could possibly spend the rest of his life in prison for what he was about to do.
It was at that moment that Matt decided to click the button, and that's just what he did.
It is at this moment important to speak of the Nano-Pods Matt had set up for they were very pertinent to his current endeavor. The Nano-Pods after all had produced a small army of Nanites, that is very tiny robots, millions of them who collectively had a mission. That mission was to gain entry to the cargo holds of every ship that had passed through the Cooke Federal Postal And Communications depot and to deploy their cargo on Christmas Eve.
The Nanites themselves had worked feverishly if not incredulously fabricating Christmas wrapping and parachutes and from the molecules of materials local to their presence. They worked atoms at a time building the molecular structures of gift wrapping and parachutes for all of the shipped goods. Much of these goods were consumer goods such as Holovision Sets, Gravity Inducers, Nano-Playbots, Boo-Boo Make Betters, Happy Teach Sets, Real Friend Bots and many others not to mention. The Nanites helped each of these gifts out of the cargo holds of the ships that were supposed to deliver them that night, though not through their own cargo holds.
The Nanites marched these gifts from the cargo holds of these ships one by one marching them out of the ships having activated their hatches one by one.
These gifts leapt from the back of these ships (with the Nanites help) each of them labeled with the name of a specific family. The Nanites steered these gifts throught their descent into Earth's atmosphere and to their destination homes.
Matt watched as the breaking news interrupted his current viewing on his holovision set.
"Breaking news here as what is being called the greatest Christmas Caper unfolds! Santa Steals From Sirius!" the new caster announced incredulously.
"It appears that some malicious entities have taken to hijack the cargo from the cargo ships of Sirius Corporation, one of the biggest sponsors of Christmas and an advertiser on this very station!" the announcer spoke.
Matt watched on his holovision as the cargo was marched one by one to the cargo hatches by tiny little carriers and then thrust out the hatch before their parachutes deployed, steering these gifts each earthward to their destination homes.
There were no families spared this occasion as the cargo fell planet wide, gracing each and every home of the planet save one. Matt's home.
"We have just received news that Sirius Corporation is responding to the situation and will follow up with a report live in the next twenty minutes." the correspondent replied to the anchor person.
"This is incredible for this night! Just incredible!" the news anchor person announced.
The tears began to flow as Matt watched this moment for which he'd planned for years. He knew that it would only be a matter of time and that it was. Sirius was here and they'd eek their revenge upon him both physically and legally.
The door to his apartment exploded and a variety of armed troopers took up tactical positions in his confined apartment.
"Is this the living dwelling of Matt Lavian?" asked on of the troopers.
Matt sat still in his seat as behind him enough firepower was leveled at his back to obliterate an entire city.
"I am he." Matt answered.
There was a moment of silence where only the footsteps of a single man could be heard.
"A little modest for a man of such endeavors don't you think?" a single voice spoke.
"Aren't you going to arrest me?" Matt said allowed holding his hands up in no struggle for them to cuff him.
"Arrest? For what? You're a genius. Why would I want to arrest the man whose done more for our public relations since the Inbashivek Global Revolution?" asked a solitary voice.
"I just stole more than nine hundred thousand tonnes of cargo from Sirius? You're calling it a genius move. Why?" Matt asked of the mysterious voice.
"Why. Well you've hit upon something for which our corporation has stood long, though few in my organization were will to stand. Against their competition. Against me. Yet you were willing to do both." the mysterious voice responded.
"And what is that? Greed? To watch while our fellow human kind starved and suffered?" Matt asked in response.
"No, Santa. We're supposed to stand for our product. For the customer. For people. For the merger of the them all. You've just come up with the best marketing campaign we've ever had..." the voice suggested.
"Honesty and integrity is the best marketing campaign? Well I should hope so!" Matt responded.
"You don't understand. You stole all of our stock but yet we're grateful to you." the voice responded.
"Why is that?" Matt replied.
"Because , we'd like you to work for us." replied Li Yong-Rui, the CEO of Sirius Corporation.
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