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The Early Years

It wasn’t easy for a lowly pilot like me to make my first million. After I got out of the civilian flight school, I bummed my way around Gallente space, working for any rinky-dink local line that would hire me. Sometimes the jobs would be for just a few trips in suborbital craft ferrying livestock from one spot to another. Sometimes I was a scab that had to race through rough-and-tumble mobs of pissed off striking pilots, just so I could do a single run between a shithole surface base and it’s associated shithole orbital station. Yeah, I got the crap kicked out of me plenty in the early days by people that didn’t want me to succeed.

For a while, I was worried that my entire career was going to be spent mostly in sub-orbit and in-system runs to desolate moons and rat-infested stations overloaded with people. I can’t even remember how many scumbags I’d come across in those years – officials with the authority to deny my transit paperwork extorting me for extra cash, other pilots doing everything in their power to snake a gig away from me, system defense pilots with bad attitudes and itchy trigger fingers that would just as likely blow me out of the sky as let me proceed unhindered to my destinations. It wasn’t a fun time at all.

But my first real break was when I landed a gig as a permanent copilot for an upstart line running along the Gallente/Caldari border. It was solid, paid well, and I got plenty of stick time to boot. Most of the pilots seemed to like me, and they gave me enough flight time that I could show the powers that be that I could be trusted with millions worth of their precious hardware. In no time I earned my captain’s wings, and things just seemed to snowball from there.

What I hadn’t counted on was all the cargo being loaded into the holds wasn’t always – shall we say – “appreciated” by those whose space we traversed. “Those” people, of course, being anyone in the government, military, local warlords, raiders, pirates, competing merchants, and sometimes I think every single person in every star system I ever went through.

At first the cargos I hauled were just controlled sensitive materials we’d get fined for if we didn’t have the paperwork filled out in the proper way, or didn’t pay the proper tax in the correct kow-towing procedure to the proper official with an over-inflated sense of self-importance. But gradually I found out that as I succeeded more, the higher ups trusted me more, and the cargo became increasingly, um, “exotic”. Unlicensed prostitutes, narcotics, weaponry, stolen naval electronics warfare gear, and even families of political prisoners… no idea whatever happened to any of it, and I learned quickly not to care. The fewer questions I asked, the bigger my bonuses got. All I know is that as time went on, I was more and more inclined to stay as far as possible from anyone even remotely associated with any government or military.

The runs were becoming more and more dangerous, but they were also increasingly profitable. I was making a lot of money for my employers, and they knew my value. They knew I could be trusted with their most sensitive secrets, and to keep me happy they made sure I was taken care of. In time, I managed to skim enough of my own profit off of the profit that the owners were getting so that I could strike out on my own. But it wasn’t an easy break. The guys I used to work for knew I was getting restless, but I was valuable to them, and for the longest time they refused to release me. It was only after I’d trained a few other pilots up to their accepting standards that they finally agreed to let me freelance under the conditions that I’d do work for them whenever they called, and I’d keep my mouth shut about everything or I’d be found floating out in some nameless asteroid belt in 10,000 years by an alien exploration probe. With that kind of offer, how could I refuse?

At first I leased one of their old hauler industrials, and it was a piece of junk, but it was my piece of junk. I managed to keep it patched together and flying, but the occasional local-yocal enforcement crews liked to leave my ship with reminders not to come again – typically in the form of projectile holes throughout my depressurized hull, or close run-ins with missiles fired in anger. I may have started as a civilian pilot in the beginning, but the nature of my work quickly made me become familiar with military weapons systems, avionics and sensors of every variety imaginable, and I began to hone my combat techniques.

Officials weren’t my biggest problem anymore, it was competing merchants and pirates that could give a rat’s ass about my desire to be successful – they wanted my ship, my cargo, my money, and my head. I, too, began to leave others with reminders about how I’d like to never see them again, and there were a number of times where I guaranteed I’d never see some of them again by laying waste to their ships and crews.

But in time, I learned whom to grease and when, and whose wife or mistress liked what exotic substance or gift. I swear, that alone saved me the hassle of countless patch jobs and haul-assing away from system defense boats. I managed to work my way into circles with contacts into certain pirate organizations, and ended up doing side jobs for them too, just to have them cut me slack on future runs for others without giving me grief. I learned that making friends quickly of the people you hate wasn’t just good business sense, it was a survival necessity. I wasn’t working any harder than before, just smarter. And some of these folks were real scumbags. Not just criminal masterminds, but some of them were wanted for legitimate war atrocities and even put militaries at unease… but money was money, and they had it. If they didn’t have it, they knew somebody who did, or somebody who’d not want to kill me so that I could get to the people who had it. It was all becoming a game in time, the ropes increasingly familiar.

Eventually I paid off the old hulk, and managed to finance a new and bigger commercial ship. It’s funny as hell going to a commercial starship financing office to get a loan using fake papers, using as collateral a ship that was itself bought using dirty money, in order to get a new ship to make more dirty money. If they didn’t know what my play was, they were either stupid or they knew what I was up to and how much money they could make off of me. Either way, they set me up with the front money. I have to believe that somebody, somewhere, knew what I was up to and was pulling strings for me, and it was only a matter of time before they emerged from the shadows and told me what they really wanted from me.

From that point on, things went well. I was hassled less, and I earned a reputation prominent enough that other pilots came to me looking for contract work. I bought some new birds, hired on some new pilots that weren’t likely to have my ships shattered and salvaged by some other corp, and things were really looking up. Things were good.

As I look back, it’s been a long road. As I look at the brand new Mammoth that I just purchased, sitting in the hanger bay here in Teonusude, I can’t help but reflect on those early days. I’d come a long way from scraping and groveling for crumbs from the table, to being the guy that owns the table and the house the table is in. This new Mammoth was the very first all-cash purpose for a new ship, and she’s a big sucker. I’m excited thinking about all the, um, “exotic” goods I can put in her holds, and what I’m going to do with all the money that I make from her.

Dirty or not, I ain’t gonna’ owe nobody no more.

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