For the first time in eight months the First Armada of the Imperial Navy had gotten some much needed reprieve from their daily lives of combat. What remained of the Armada was quickly relived by two others who, once on the front lines, allowed Erich and his unit to return to Imperial Space where they were to undergo repair, rearmament, and resupply.
After arriving back in Imperial Space, Erich felt as if an enormous weight had been lifted off his chest. He had served well over five thousand hours in combat, and by now, he felt as if his blood had been permanently ignited by the adrenaline which seemed to never leave his system.
If there was one thing that was capable of bringing his nerves back into proper order, it would be alcohol. In fact, he felt a burning desire to have a drink, no, not just one drink, but a dozen, maybe two. However, such quantity of alcohol was illegal for consumption, and the only way to get his hands on it would be through the black market, which had been driven deep underground due to the intense nature of Germanic law enforcement agencies.
If Erich wanted to truly relax in what limited time he had, then he would have to visit one of these black market space stations, which existed hidden away from the public eye, primarily in asteroid fields. Of course, Erich did not even possess his own starship, and thus he had no way of actually travelling to one of these locations.
However, after eight months of active service as lieutenant in the navy, as well as the credits he had accrued via winning the virtual reality starfighter tournament, which now seemed like a lifetime ago, Erich could easily afford his own starship. However, despite the Empire having a vast military industrial complex, which even offered civilian equipment, he hadn't the slightest idea what ship to purchase.
At the moment, Erich was sitting on an industrial world, whose primary purpose was manufacturing and repair. In the orbit of this world was a large tech ring, which acted as a massive shipyard. This was where the First Armada was currently undergoing repair. As for the crew who served upon its vessels, they were given free rein to return to their families for the remainder of their leave.
But Erich did not have a family, at least not any longer, thus he spent a considerable amount of time wondering the planet's primary city. The world of Quadi had a primarily savannah climate, which was mostly destroyed by the many factories which littered its surface. Yet, the heat that accompanied such an environment did not dissipate. In fact, it had only been intensified by the heavy industry which was active at all hours of the day.
Thus, Erich found himself sweating quite profusely as he made his way to the local Starport, where he would be able to purchase a starship for himself. After stepping foot in the facility, Erich's face was blasted by a cool atmosphere which was generated by the building's life support system, and as a result was able to take a deep breath and sigh in relief now that he was out of the blazing light of the star.
After approaching a kiosk which had access to the inventory of ships which were available to purchase throughout the entire star system, Erich was approached by a young woman who was dressed in an employee uniform. She took one look at the solid black jumpsuit, which Erich wore, and exclaimed in shock, before introducing herself.
"Oh, my! Are you perhaps a member of the legendary Black Sun Squadron? My name is Anna Paulsen, and I would be happy to assist you in finding the perfect starship for your personal use!"
Erich looked around, believing that perhaps the woman was speaking to someone else. Maybe another member of his unit. After all, he had never seen a store clerk treat him with anything but suspicion before, due to his so-called genetic defects. When he realized that the woman was speaking to him, he pointed at himself and asked for clarification on the matter, just to be sure he was not imagining things.
"Me? Are you talking to me?"
The woman looked at him with confusion in her deep blue eyes, before wearing a pretty smile and nodding her head.
"Of course, you are the only one here wearing the uniform of the Black Sun. You are a pilot in that legendary squadron, are you not?"
Erich smiled as he shook his head in disbelief. Never before in his life would he believe that a random stranger would treat him with the same politeness they did everyone else, and thus he was quick to voice this shock, even if he did not mean to do so.
"I can't believe it…"
The woman tilted her head with a confused expression on her face before asking for clarification about just what Erich was talking about.
"You can't believe what, sir?"
Looking around at the shop, and all the astonished gazes that people were giving him, only added to the confusion that Erich currently felt. Thus, he shook his head once more and sighed, before finally answering the woman's question.
"It's nothing… Yes, I am a member of the Black Sun, Lieutenant Erich Jaeger, it is a pleasure to meet you miss, and I would be honored if you could assist me in finding a good starship for my personal use, especially since I am not entirely sure what I am looking for. I could use a professional's opinion."
The woman smiled once more and giggled slightly as she made a remark about Erich's status in comparison to her own.
"You're going to make me blush. If you're not a qualified professional, then what could I possibly be? But, I would be happy to assist you. Is there anything in particular you are looking for?"
Erich thought deeply on this question for several moments. There were many requirements were a must in a personal starship, and he did not know if there was actually a model that meets his needs. But simply gave caution to the wind and voiced what he desired most outright.
"I would prefer that my starship have the ability to traverse across the Empire with relative ease, and perhaps even beyond Imperial Space, if I ever get the clearance to do so. Thus, a large fuel supply is mandatory.
It should also be capable of being operated by one man if needed, but no more than five men in total. I will need proper living quarters for each crew member, along with a mess hall and a functional restroom.
I would prefer if the ship had a decent sized cargo bay, but not so much that it diminishes its combat capabilities. The vessel would need at least size three gimbal mounted weapons, with missiles of a similar size. As for the shield generators, it would be ideal if they were large.
While Erich was speaking to the woman about his requirements, he saw that her eyes lit up with a DataStream, signaling that she had connected herself to the grid, most likely in search of a ship which met most, if not all, of his requirements. After several moments of searching, a wide smile lit up her face, before she placed her hands together and jumped a little in excitement.
"You will be happy to know that I have several starships that meet your requirements. All of these models are marketed as expeditionary craft, but if you are really looking for more offensive capabilities, then I suggest the Hydra Interplanetary Privateer.
I would just be careful when dealing with the authorities while piloting such a vessel, because Hydra's line of ships have a reputation for being used most commonly by pirates. And though piracy has all but been eliminated within our borders, many of our more... shall I say unruly citizens have begun operating beyond Imperial Space, committing a number of heinous crimes with ships like the Privateer.
After saying this, the sales representative transferred the information on the Privateer, as well as the other offerings to Erich via the grid, to which he began to closely scrutinize each and every vessel. In the end he could only sigh, and nod his head in agreement with the woman's opinion.
The Privateer was exactly what he needed in a starship. There was just one problem: he could not afford the three million credit price tag. With a heavy sigh, Erich bowed his head before admitting defeat.
"I'm sorry, that is just out of my price range…"
The woman looked slightly taken aback. She knew how much money officers made in the military, and if this man was a special forces pilot, then his yearly salary was no less than a hundred and fifty thousand credits. Assuming he was soon retiring, and had been in service for twenty years, then he should definitely have the money for the ship. It suddenly dawned on her that this man might actually be the age he appeared to be, and with an astonished look on her face she asked Erich a question which he was not anticipating.
"Excuse me, sir, if you don't mind answering my question, just how old are you?"
Erich chuckled as he heard this, before informing the woman of his age, which only further increased the shock she felt.
"I have just turned twenty-one this year. Why do you ask?"
In the Germanic Star-Empire, people aged very slowly, largely due to their genetic enhancements. There were men and women well over one hundred years old who looked as if they were in their twenties. Anna herself was actually seventy-five this year. She never would have guessed that this man, who should by all means should still be at the Military Academy, was actually so young, and a lieutenant no less.
However, in the next moment, her lips curved into a sly smile as she whispered something in Erich's ears that he never thought he would hear from a woman as respectable as this sales representative.
"You know, if you are short on credits, I know a way that you can quickly make some fat cash…"
Erich had a bad feeling about what the woman had just said. The only way to make three million credits before he was forced to redeploy was through criminal means, and he did not want to end up on the wrong end of the law if he could avoid it at all. However, Anna continued to whisper sweet poison into Erich's ear, and he continued to listen.
"Naturally, as someone who sells a lot of Hydra's products, I have come into contact with some unsavory individuals. It just so happens that I know of a crew which is looking for an experienced pilot to help them with a little task. I won't lie to you. It is incredibly dangerous, and will certainly result in a harsh sentence if anyone were to find out, but you could easily make three million or more from a day's worth of work. Are you perhaps interested?"
Despite every single instinct in Erich's body telling him to decline the offer, he did not dare do so. For him, who had always skirted the line of what was considered legal, and a serious offense, it was too tempting to make that kind of money in such a short amount of time.
While he could wait, and save his money for two decades before buying such a ship, Erich was not exactly the most patient man in the world, and he had no idea how he was going to spend the next three months of leave, if it were not drowning himself in alcohol.
The level of stress he had endured these past few months was enough to give any man a serious mental condition, with adrenaline and endorphins flooding through his veins as if a dam had broken, his mind never stopped thinking about the things he had seen and done during his brief tenure as a combat pilot.
If he was going to get the rest he needed to continue his job, then he would need to get his hands on some illicit substances, and if he was going to do that, then he would need a starship of his own. Thus, he bit the proverbial bullet and nodded his head in silence after several moments of contemplation.
Seeing that Erich had accepted her offer, Anna transferred some coordinates to him via the grid, before giving him some proper advice.
"These men aren't looking for anything more than a skilled pilot, so do your job, and you will get paid your share. However, I would recommend that you wear a flight suit and helmet that is... less conspicuous.
Luckily, I can sell you just what you need. After you get changed, meet my contact at those coordinates, and he will tell you everything you need to know about the job. Good luck, and I hope to see you soon!"
It took Erich several moments to realize that he had just sent himself on a path that could very well lead to a lifetime of service in a penal battalion. And if there were ever a time to turn back, it would be now. Still, he did not do so, instead he did as Anna suggested and purchased a less flashy flight suit and helmet, one with a visor that was tinted so that his facial features were not revealed. He then took a shuttle to another point in the city, where a small bar was tucked away between several larger buildings. Here, he would begin his first foray into the criminal underworld.