Rhavas remembered that in his youth, Jita had been a near-mythical place that everyone dreamed of seeing someday. Now was finally the time – on his budget, he couldn’t pass up saving over a million ISK on the purchase of a cloak for the Percheron, which would greatly improve her chances of survival, and he had promised some of his corpmates to deliver and retrieve some things there as well.
Like anyone in New Eden, he was aware of the mother of all trade hubs; since his younger days working for Thukker Mix and Kaalakiota before becoming a capsuleer, he was aware that almost everything that ended up in the offices, factories and homes of every planet in the Republic had at one time passed through Jita.
Now that he would need to fly there, he was less excited – he now knew the dangers.
He also now knew just how far it was – 20 jumps one way. Sure, there was a shortcut through lowsec from Hek to Jita that would reduce that by more than half. But Rhavas had long ago come to the conclusion studying the maps that if he ever turned to a life of piracy, he would find a goldmine in that corridor. With an uncloaked Mammoth, his chances of successfully reaching Jita would be negligible. So it was to be the long way.
The preparation alone was a daunting task. Despite the huge ship, he was only taking a skeleton crew. 30-40 jumps in one round trip would be brutal on the minds and bodies of those who joined him – he hoped to take the shortcut back with the cloak installed, but had no idea how effective it would be. So he had taken the nearly unheard-of step of giving most of his crew a real planetside vacation. Rhavas smiled, recalling the gaping look of disbelief on the Personnel Manager’s face when he had suggested it. But good crew were hard to find. Rhavas would only be taking the dregs, who he could afford to lose, and the indispensables, who he couldn’t fly without. Even with that light a crew load, the fuel and sustenance for ship and crew was taking up far more room – and weight – than he was used to.
The Percheron had a well-outfitted bridge. While Rhavas himself piloted from the pod bay atop the ship, his flight officers occupied the bridge while underway. The station-based department heads awaited him in a briefing room off the bridge, and they stood as he entered.
Rhavas spoke tersely, very aware of the minutes passing – each one another potential opportunity for expected prices in Jita to move the wrong direction from his current information. He called each department out for the report.
The Trade Manager nodded, “Ready sir. Cloak price is where we expect it, trade goods have a comfortable margin. The cargo hold is only half full, but filling it would add even more distance and time.”
The Cargo Manager nodded as well. “Hold is loaded and locked down. Fully fueled and provisioned. The meal arrangements you requested for the first night are set. Clear for departure.”
“Per your instructions, the Tactical staff is all on shore leave, and the Medical is overstaffed. I also took the liberty of upping some other parts of the staff request slightly, sir. Given the distance, I don’t want you to run too short,” said the Personnel Manager. Rhavas touched a panel for a nearby screen, which brought up a personnel list. “Put Velas and Theilaka on vacation, as well. The rest look fine. I will need you to have some replacement hires lined up in Jita for the return trip.” The Personnel Manager nodded and hurried out of the room.
The lone woman in the room nodded. “I’ve reviewed the logs from the last trip and tested all security systems. You have the normal complement of guards, and a slightly larger than usual group of investigators this time.” Rhavas frowned. “Is that really necessary for this trip?” She nodded again. “I’m afraid so, sir. I still am not excited about that pirate you reported on Gulfonodi and what he might have infiltrated, and at Jita – no offense, sir – you’ll be fresh meat. Who knows what might stow aboard there. This is a big ship.”
Rhavas sighed and reluctantly nodded. “Very well.”
Hephast Gehrt, the new Chief Engineer that Rhavas had hired off the hangar floor not long ago, smacked a meaty hand on the bulkhead nearby. “She’s a pig, but a solid one. Engine and hull look good, and I’ve preconfigured the engine to be ready for the attachment of the cloak. Microwarp drive has been re-tuned as well.”
Rhavas supressed a smile as he turned to the next man. “Navigation.”
“All coordinates and paths are entered for the long route, and I’ve recomputed everything for the shortcut if we can use it, sir,” said the Helmsman. Rhavas smiled. “I intend to come back the short way if we can.”
Rhavas turned to the last man, his Chief Scientist. “Have a good vacation, and keep training that Astrometrics Officer. I need him sharp when we get that Cheetah. I also expect to have some significant salvage work opportunities when we return, so hire a backup Salvage Assistant while I’m gone.” The man nodded. “Will do.”
He glanced around the room. “Any other concerns?” No one spoke up.
“Prepare for departure. You have 15 minutes.” They sprinted out of the room in their separate directions to get the last of the preparations complete.
Promptly 16 minutes later, Rhavas eased the Percheron out of dock, and angled toward Uttindar. While he could not talk in the gel within the pod, his voice carried over the speakers throughout the ship. “We are underway. We will be making the best possible speed. Please see the Doctor in the infirmary if you have any health concerns. Security will be monitoring the ship for your safety and the safety of others.”
Might as well get the good news out first, he thought. The potential for bad on this trip was high, and everyone knew it – so better to start on a high note. The usual rations on board were freeze-dried on the smaller ships, or on a ship like the Percheron was generally served in giant cafeteria lines. This trip, he had part of the kitchen redesigned for more upscale fare. Any ship captain knew that the crew performance was remarkably well-correlated with food quality. He re-engaged the sound system. “For those of you who feel up to it, I am happy to report that, despite the smaller crew, we spent nearly the same amount on food – so it’s steaks for all this evening. Consider it a token of my thanks for this extended trip.”
And now, he thought, for the bad news. He engaged the warp engine, shot to the first gate, and bounced through, pushing the ship to her speed limits. A mere three jumps later as the hauler hurtled through Sinq Laison, he watched as the infirmaries began to report incoming patients.
Not everyone would be enjoying dinner.
OOC: Departure is the first of a three-part story about Rhavas’ first trip to Jita. Next: Transit.