The paper of the cigarette was wrinkled. There was a slight bend in the roll, and bits of tobacco were poking through the small tear that had formed as a result.
Richard frowned and placed it between his lips. Five hundred years after the commercialization of smoking tobacco and the cigarette lobbies were still fighting good fight. It had probably been colonization that had saved most of the major corporations from going under. Up, up, up the taxes went, and people just couldn’t stomach the money anymore. Then along came the New Frontier, and the Marlboro man had been one of the first cowboys to explore it. Go figure. What was surprising is that they had managed to beat Budweiser.
He flicked up the top of his lighter and brought the flame up. The end of the cigarette burned red-orange, and smoke started to swell up at the tip. Richard inhaled and then released a breath of hazy gray smog.
The rhythmic vibrations of the shuttle’s rear thrusters gently dissipated as their ship descended upon the rotating series of rings that was Colony A16, or Canaan. The Chinese Confederation saw most colonial ventures like this in more numerical terms, monetary even. You were either profits or red marks on a budget. Canaan, unfortunately, held the latter distinction. But, despite its dwindling success at remaining useful, in this part of space, it served as a semi-convenient meeting ground for freelancers, travelers, and ship captains looking for either work, passage, or men.
“Don’t act like I haven’t done anything,” grumbled a coarse voice.
Richard sighed inwardly as he took another drag off of his beat up cigarette. “You’ll get your cash, but damn, I fly better than you drunk. Put another dink on a loaner like this and you won’t be worth the pot you piss in. We could find five other pilots here that could out preform you, and I’m willing to be at least two of them are desperate enough to go without the pay.”
Laurie, the ugly fuck of a pilot they had hired a few jobs back, didn’t respond. As irritating at the boisterous son of a bitch could be, another job with them and he could be a permanent stay-on, which was less than amicable and seemed to say more about their current financial state than most other things. More likely than not, they weren’t going to find a new pilot, and until they got another pay-day, there wasn’t like to be a cheaper one. “Once, we get some fuel, go head and warm up the engine. I don’t plan on staying long.”
“Why the hell did we dock on Canaan, anyway?”
“The A.M.C. referenced us to a few freelancers operating in this area. A couple of them are looking for work, and we’ll probably need a few more hands for this job.”
"Fuck's sake..." Reiker muttered under his breath. He hated docking on colonial planets. Even so, he could not deny that his crew was desperate. What was left of his crew, that is. After the the conflict with Lao Tzu everything had gone to shit. While they managed to find the traitor, over half the team was killed in a showdown against EPE Imperial Guards. As a result, all that was left of the team happened to be Laurie, Richard, Cassandra, and himself. Despite that, they were given a new contract without any supplementary equipment from the AMC. They didn't even have enough people to man the ship, let alone form a strike team on top of it. So, it was up to him to try and increase their numbers, and that was not working very well either. Reiker was already picky about adding members for the team, and he was loathe to recruit colonials, or anyone from outside Earth, for that matter.
Even so, desperate times called for desperate measures...which also were not turning out very well. Canaan's patron nation was the Chinese Confederation, mostly composed of colonists originally from Israel and the Samaritan communities. This was part of the Chinese Confederation's negotiations to convince Israel to join the Confederation and solidify their Middle Eastern borders. This included giving them the leading province in the Middle East, as well as the funding for their own colonial project.
That said, the colony is mostly geared toward agricultural terraforming, and of the few combat capable individuals there were, the vast majority of combat capable pilots are part of the Confederate Naval Forces, nearly all of which were dedicated to defending the developing colony.
As such, there were even fewer people interested in working for an extension of the North American Union. Nevertheless, this was the closest planet to their next mission, and they only had a small window of opportunity to complete it.
"What the hell are the AMC thinking?" he growled, looking around for the-would-be recruits on the planets. All the while he clenched his fists, holding back his desire to slam them against the wall. 'And more importantly, where are the freelancers?'