The man who rescued me was named Hiroshi Kurihara, of Japanese descent. That's the accent Cajun had heard when his capsule was opened. Cajun had never met anyone with that kind of background, but he was grateful. Many questions were asked by the authorities, but they were still in Imperial space, and Cajun had no idea who he could trust. He made a weak excuse regarding a bet, and since no laws seemed to have been broken, they seemed to lose interest. As the medical bills had come in though, others did.
Mr. Kurihara was a family man with a very modest business. The "giant" ship turned out to be a worn out Hauler. The Kurihara's had been making their way to a new home with the last of their savings. His wife, her mother, two young daughters and a son around Cajun's age were seeking new opportunities in Federation space, and rumors of their destination had ostracized them a bit with the local Imperials.
Imperial officials approached Cajun about his medical bills, which Cajun could clearly not pay. They wanted him to "volunteer" to a term as an Imperial slave to pay off the debts, and when Hiroshi heard of this, he took on the debt himself. Cajun's determination had impressed him, and he and his wife couldn't bear the thought of Cajun having to enslave himself, possibly to the same people that had ravaged his colony. Hiroshi was the only one he confided in, and he sympathized deeply with Cajun's story.
They sold the Hauler, paid down the bills and opened a small craft shop and dojo with what they had left. With no where else to turn, Cajun pitched in with whatever he could, and for the most part, the family accepted him. The exception was Akio, Hiroshi's son, who saw Cajun as a rival. Cajun tried not to compete directly, but also wanted to do his best for the family. Akio resented the fact that the family had to interrupt their journey, possibly permanently. Cajun worked hard, and also started to learn the fundamentals of marital arts. Mr. Kurihara was no master, but he knew a variety of styles and was willing to pass on his knowledge. More often, Cajun would only catch glimpses of lessons while he went about his duties, but he often dreamed about performing the movements he had observed.
He also studied everything he could about the space industry, and watched the ships coming in and out of the station constantly. He also kept his ears open for any info about his family, but he knew better than to make direct inquiries.
A couple of years later, the family, sans Grandmother, who had sadly passed away a few months before, was finally ready to resume the journey. At one of the systems, inside Federal space, it was time to part ways. The friction with Akio had become too great, although much love was shared between the rest of the family and Cajun, it was time for him to strike out on his own.
"You have been like another son to me," Hiroshi said. Akio wasn't glaring quite as much as usual, but he still stiffened a bit at this open emotion.
"I wouldn't have survived without you," Cajun replied. "You've taught me so much, and I'm eternally grateful. I wish I could pay you back."
"You've repaid us many times over, Rai. Our family was richer with you as part of it." Hiroshi said as he squeezed his wife's shoulder.
They finished their goodbyes, and as his adopted family lifted off, a message popped up on his pad.
It said it was from an anonymous benefactor, but Cajun could see clearly through his tears who the 1000 credits and loaned Sidewinder had come from.
LHS 3447, Dalton Gateway wasn't the most auspicious place to start a career, but it would do for now.
It had been a productive week, and year, for that matter. The CGU fleet had been expanded to 37 named ships, all outfitted for their particular role and engineered.
The past week had been spent hauling goods and securing the area for the Galconda and it's passengers. By all accounts it had been a success, with "Kahlan Amnell" and "Wolverine" making a good showing. Several weapon fits were tried out on the Courier, including an all plasma, two pulse and one plasma, two pulse and a Packhound rack, but in the end, the "standard" loadout of two focused pulse and a long range cannon gave the most reliable results.
Overall, the CGU had expanded its scope over the last year, but quietly. A Keelback, Type-7 and a Hauler had been added to fill various niches most recently, both practical and for sentimental reasons. Credits on hand had finally risen above the 10 billion mark.
Further Guardian and human technology had been unlocked to bolster Fleet capabilities, including Gauss cannon and the XG8 Javelin and XG9 Lance Guardian Hybrid fighters.
The cargo hold was rather dark, and the automated cargo handling system had knocked off or damaged my few external cameras. Only one was still giving a grainy, jittery picture, as it dangled from it's cable, it mostly just pointed at a corner of the ceiling. A few indicators lighted the interior of my capsule, enough to let me know the outside wasn't fully pressurized. Did they even know someone was in here? Panic started to tug at me, as I imagined them just cruising around with their strange canister on board, while I suffocated...
The ship had jumped several times now, and realized I could be headed just about anywhere. Part of my plan had been to get the "authorities" on Planet 5 in my home system, but looking back, it would have been pointless, even dangerous to have survived to tell the tale. My family name might even get me killed. 10 days in the cramped capsule had given me plenty of time to thing about things. If the slavers had any sense, they would have forced new identities on the slaves, and flagged the old names as wanted or in need of medical detention. If I gave my real name to whoever had picked me up, the wrong people might be alerted...
Right now though, getting out of this container was priority number one. A short pipe that used to be part of the crude environmental system came off easily enough. My head was starting to hurt, and my muscles ached. Moving was starting to get painful. I started by tapping SOS on the wall of the module. I tapped harder. Nothing seemed to change. No jumps in the mean time, were we, uh... what's the word the traders used? Super traveling? No way to tell. It was getting harder to keep banging... A strange sound now, some sort of buzzing, and voices! Some sort of official sounding voice was echoing, telling ships not to loiter. That was funny. Loitering in this capsule was going to kill me. My banging was becoming feeble. My head hurt so much, and my arms were so heavy. The ship clanged and was still. Had it landed? A voice now, closer, excited. It wasn't booming like the big voice announcing departures and arrivals. I heard scraping on the outside of the container, and the whole thing shifted as it was removed from the cargo rack with a thud. My vision was starting to narrow and I gave what felt like a mighty swing against the wall. In reality, I doubt the tap was even heard.
Metal screeched and seals sighed as the capsule was opened, and sweet, sweet air flowed in. In a moment of clarity, I realized I could have opened the capsule when we landed. The voices would only travel through an atmosphere. I grinned like an idiot at the figure silhouetted in the opening, and from the way they drew back and wrinkled their nose, the air wafting out of the capsule wasn't pleasant at all. I promptly vomited, and only vaguely remember the stretcher and trip to the medical bay. The man that had freed me asked in a slight accent what my name was. I had enough presence of mind to keep my real name to myself. In that brief moment, the faces of my family, my home and the bodies left in the wake of the slavers all flashed through my mind. The culture and traditions shouldn't die. Those people should be remembered, and I was the only one able to carry their memory.
My mouth was dry, I was exhausted, and I could only croak: "Cajun"
Swish (squeak) swoosh (squeak)
Swish (squeak) swoosh (squeak)
Swish (squeak) swoosh (squeak)
Swish (squeak) swoosh (squeak)
The ventilator was sounding worse. At this rate, I didn't think it would last much longer. Ironic, considering it was running out of atmosphere to pump... The handful of indicator and visual lamps flickered just a little each time the reciprocating ventilator drew power from the cells. They would outlast the pump, that was sure.
The beep had long ago become a torment, but it's small signal was the only thing that might attract another ship to investigate the pile of junk drifting towards the 5th planet. I thought I had heard there was a station in orbit, but the primitive navcomp I had rigged up only picked up the larger bodies nearby. Station or not, there wasn't enough fuel to slow down or really maneuver. The beep of the transponder was either going to alert someone in time, or I would briefly become a small bright streak of molten alloy and composites in the upper atmosphere...
Atmosphere... a lack of it inside the "ship" was just as certain to kill me as too much, too fast, outside the "ship". Calling it a "ship" almost made me giggle. I had done my best, but almost immediately after launch, the cabin had started to leak. Duct tape could only do so much, and some leaks weren't reachable. A can of expanding foam hadn't had much success either.
My timepiece said it had been 10 days, but it felt like months, or years. The cabin alternated between freezing and roasting as the craft slowly tumbled. My last nav check said I was on course, and I knew I was finally starting to pick up a little more speed. If my calculations were correct, I had about 45 hours left of this existence.
The swish/swoosh of the ventilator was drowned out by the ventilator squealing loudly and then producing a low humming as it finally locked up. The lights dimmed noticeably as the frozen motor strained to move. I killed the circuit, and then.... nothing... I strained to hear that now familiar swish/swoosh, knowing that I wouldn't...
The beep was was even louder now, and yet, it seemed tiny, feeble. It wouldn't take more than an hour of gasping to choke on my own waste gasses, panting like a fish out of water...
Minutes passed as I contemplated whether to break the main seal and skip the gasping... I had manually vented the last of air tanks into the cabin, there was nothing left but the beep, and the hiss of leaking atmo...
I almost missed the brief, bright flash on one of the monitors. They had been my only windows to see outside of the modified cargo canister I was using for a capsule. I had no radio, just an emergency strobe on the outside, flashing SOS. I quickly moved down the the bottom of the canister to turn the crank that was holding what was left of the powerplant, cells and thrusters that had gotten me this far, and switched over to the smaller cell inside the container. I was already feeling a bit lightheaded, and the extra activity wasn't helping. As I turned the crank, the power pack was pushed away, and the various plugs and wires disconnected from the outside mountings, leaving the module almost exactly the same size as an unmodified cargo canister. Without the extra mass, my slow tumble quickened a little, and it was hard to stay oriented.
In the glimpses I got from the handful of external cameras, the giant ship moved closer, and I saw the cargo scoop deploy. My heart was in my throat. It didn't matter at this point whether it was slavers, pirates or even something worse. All of that was secondary to seeing a human face, of being released from the confines of what moments before was in fact a coffin. With a bump or two, the canister rattled into the hold of the Hauler, and it gathered itself for a moment before leaping into hyperspace.
My origins are murky, at best. My homeworld is lost to me, although I have given up searching for it. Nothing left to go back to. I was dozens of kilometers away when I saw the white ships scream overhead. The smoke was rising before they left, and still I was hours getting back.
Our small, rural settlement had been founded by descendants of Cajuns from Louisiana. It was a good life though, mostly farming the rich, fertile valley. I had been on a hike while the autotractors had been readying the ground for planting. The slavers didn't care that the fields wouldn't get get finished planting, though. They swooped in and took anyone who was able-bodied, and killed the rest, young and old. Wouldn't be good to leave witnesses. When "volunteers" were lacking, the fringe systems provided the cheap labor that the Empire depends on.
The settlements' one inter-system transmitter was taken out quickly, and the occasional trader wouldn't bother coming down without a beacon. The local system bureaucracy had been well paid to look the other way, and had probably resettled the area with vassals from one of the Empire's Great Houses, while my immediate family was sold to the highest bidder.
Some of this is speculation, because I truly don't know exactly what became of the place. I was able to make my way to a larger settlement that had been abandoned. It did however have a modest junkyard. With no way to get a message out, it was either stay and give up hope, or cobble together an in-system lifeboat and try and get to the systems' capitol. It took weeks, and several trips back to my home settlement for fresh power cells and fuel. Patching together a flight suit and the ship, it would just be able to break orbit and start a transfer to the 5th planet.
That's all I knew at that point. I had never given much thought to what lay beyond our settlement, although the traders that came down during harvest always had stories to tell of life among the stars. Now, I'd have to reach those stars if I were to ever hope to see my family again.