Editor: Thor’s Stone
We docked Krishna inside Black Lotus, left Refill IV and went up to space, then headed straight for the Refill Prime colony.
“Are they following us?”
“It’s very faint, but the Lotus’ sensors did pick up a reaction. Right here, see?”
“Yeah. They’re definitely following us.”
The hyperspace sensor is, as the name suggests, a sensor that can detect other ships or objects even while in hyperspace. That sensor was now picking up something. It was probably that small-class recon ship. It was tailing us again. Unfortunately for them, I had Space Dwerg supply the Lotus with “the best equipment they have available” when we bought it. No matter how small and stealthy their ship was, it still wouldn’t be able to escape detection.
“They really are persistent. I was hoping that maybe I was just overthinking it previously, but it looks like my gut feeling was right on the money after all.”
“Yeah. I was hoping that was the case as well. But seeing how persistent they are when tailing us, it looks like there’s no doubt now.”
“Uhuh. We really can’t dismiss it as a coincidence anymore……”
According to the info caught by the hyperspace sensor, the ship tracking the Lotus was affiliated with the Mercenary Guild and was currently cooperating with the system garrison as a recon ship. In other words, it was the recon ship that belonged to Crimson Lance.
By the way, we were staying on stand-by inside Krishna for any eventuality. You can call it being overcautious. Letting your guard down against an opponent that clearly has the ability to slay you is something only fools would do.
“But with this, it’s gonna be hard on us. Are we gonna have to stay on our toes like this all the time from now on?”
“Nah. Things will go back to normal once we’ve used the gateway. Then we just have to set it so we’ll immediately get alerted once a Crimson Lance ship is detected by the sensors. Or rather, haven’t we always stayed on alert for any ship that might be tracking us even before this?”
This was a habit I gained from my days spent playing SOL. SOL was an MMO, so naturally, there were a lot of players hanging around. There were guys like me who preferred to take it nice and easy while enjoying competition between other players, while others liked to form teams in order to explore the far reaches of the universe in the game.
Of course, there were also people who formed teams to act as space pirates, PKing, and looting other players. The usual method used by those people was to place seemingly innocent and harmless reconnaissance ships with low combat ability but high speed near a colony to scout prey for them, analyze the behavioral patterns of the target with multiple people, set an appropriate ambush point, finish off the prey in the shortest amount of time with maximum firepower, loot anything of value, and finally make their escape before the local system garrison or worse comes after them.
Judging from the movements being made by the scout ship hanging right behind us, we’ve definitely been designated as prey by those Crimson Lance guys. It looks like preparing a countermeasure was the right call.
『Master, we will be arriving at the Refill Prime colony soon.』
“Roger that. Well then, let’s go and meet up with our cavalry, shall we?”
“Three Irons, four Bronze, and two Silver. So that’s a total of nine people. Well, it’s good enough, isn’t it?”
“Iron and Bronze rankers can only serve as distractions at best though.”
“But they’re still much stronger than your average pirate, right?”
“That’s true. But we’re gonna go up against Crimson Lance this time after all. Well, if worse comes to worst, it would be good enough already if someone other than us makes their escape, or if they can serve as proper shields so we can escape ourselves.”
Even though I’m aware that I was proposing to use an underhanded method, it’s actually expected among mercenaries to be treated as such in the event of an emergency. It wasn’t all that unusual. Of course, I was going to do my best not to let things come to that, but I won’t hesitate to do so if the situation calls for it either.
By the way, the official rewards for the request were 30,000 Enels per day for Iron-ranked mercenaries, 50,000 Enels per day for Bronze rankers, and 80,000 Enels per day for Silver rankers.
Our departure time was just four hours from now, and the number of days we’ll be hiring them for was two full days, including the time navigating the hyperlane. In other words, a total of 48 hours. If no incident happens along the way, we can arrive at our destination in as early as 24 hours, but even in that event, we’ll be paying them for two days in full. Furthermore, if we encounter pirates along the way, the ones that shoot down their ships will get full custody of the resulting loot. The conditions offered were pretty good considering that we also offered free use of the Lotus’ cargo space to store any excess loot for them.
The system housing the nearest gateway was just five systems away from our current location via hyperlane, and the traffic and trade between it and the Refill system was pretty lively because the Refill system was rich in nature and resources. Since they primarily traded for crops and handicrafts made from natural materials, the merchants normally took about one or two weeks trading with the locals to obtain the best deals. The merchants usually don’t keep employing mercenaries while they’re busy trading with the locals, so those who served as escorts to private merchant ships often took up requests that brought them outside the Refill system. I anticipated such a demand for requests and placed my own through the Mercenary Guild.
Most of the star systems housing gateways serve as active commercial trading hubs, and the imperial military had a substantial presence within them, so the security situation was pretty good. Good security and public order coupled with lots of economic activity meant that private merchant ships frequent them. And for Iron and Bronze rankers, these star systems offered plenty of opportunities to cut loose and have a good time. This is due to the abundance of low-difficulty escort requests.
Escort requests from neighboring systems near the one with the gateway were also pretty common. They had comparatively worse security situations, so the jobs offered from them were perfect for Silver rankers. In fact, in SOL, the systems around the gateway were pretty lively with activity. There were many players who have placed their roots in such star systems. Hunting pirates normally was a bit more leisurely, so I decided not to actively seek out such systems and jobs first and endeavored to get used to things before anything else.
“Isn’t being treated as disposable shields a bit too cruel…?”
“That’s basically what’s to be expected if you take on an escort request. A mercenary’s job is to at least buy enough time for the client to escape. If all goes well, you can easily earn tens of thousands of Enels doing the escort gig without any incident happening. And even in the event of an attack, the system garrison should come running to the rescue once you’ve bought enough time.”
“A Bronze ranker will most likely get promoted straight away if they manage to fend off an attack in the event that the system garrison forces fail to arrive right away.”
“……Um, but given the situation, isn’t the request we made this time pretty black?”
Oops. It looks like Mimi noticed huh. Right. The request I made this time was actually a pretty dangerous one since there was a chance that a mercenary fleet led by a Gold ranker might launch an attack against us rather than just regular space pirates. But it wasn’t even sure that they’d launch an attack, so I didn’t put it in the request details. It was still all up in the air. In the first place, it was still possible that we, or rather, I, might just be overthinking things.
“Mimi, this world is basically filled with unfairness.”
“In other words, there’s always a catch to seemingly good deals.”
“Is that really okay……?”
“We’re no heroes of justice after all. We’re just trying everything in order to survive. Well, with us increasing our numbers like this, they might not even attempt to launch an attack in the first place.”
If we were to get attacked, the Iron rankers would probably run straight away to alert the local garrison or the imperial military patrols anyway. If they were aiming to capture us instead of finishing us off, they probably won’t use stuff like anti-ship reaction torpedoes or reactive warhead missiles against us. If so, then we only had to endure until the Iron rankers manage to escape and call for help. There were also some other countermeasures we can employ as well.
In the end, it would be enough if the star system garrison or imperial military detects an anomaly in order for them to sortie and check things out. Getting in contact with them directly wasn’t the only way to bring the military over, and I’m prepared to use everything at my disposal in order for us to get through this predicament.