1414hrs 29 Apr 3201
Location: In route, departure vector - above Fomalhaut 5d
Planet: Planetoid orbiting Fomalhaut 5
Log system booted, voice to text conversion commences...
The little orange turd that was planetoid 5d fell away on the aft viewer as my head sank back into the leather headrest of my Silastoplaston seat. Yup, you had to be careful where and how you stuck your nose in things, this was one of those occasions...
Speed in ascent at 3000 kmh, just a slow scenic chug up through the puffy cloud deck. The red light of Fomalhaut 5 still bathed everything, including the Spruce in blood tainted hues. I liked the red light; it was cozy and reminded me of comfortable pubs, and the Christmas holiday season on Mars. Gear retracted, ready for sub-orbital burn, engines set to 15000 kmh.
Hmmm, a quick pilot’s review of vital gauges showed trouble. The Spruce had less than half a tank of juice in the fuel reserve. Guess that hot shot vertical landing onto 5d really sucked down the protons. Well, I’ll have to go and refuel someplace nearby. Time to check the navigation computer.
Punching up the system map I had a gander. The orbital position of Fomalhaut 5 made it a decent trip to the planet in the next orbit in... Anybody home? I got lucky. Fomalhaut 4 seemed to be a busy little place. A mini-system with lots of moons, similar to Fomalhaut 5. However, Fomalhaut 4 was a Jupiter type gas giant, whose moons were, for lack of competition, the hotbed of activity in the Fomalhaut’s outer worlds. The star system display showed a nice chain of moons; most of these having orbital as well as ground bases.
Let me see, what’s this jobber? Moon number one, closest in, was named Strauss - a barren rocky planetoid; surface temp. of -96 c. Guess I’ll wear my coat; the black beat up leather one with the furry collar. Yeah, this place should do for a fuel stop. Strauss had two settlements, one up and one down.
I decided on the terra firma and so set the auto-pilot for Fortress Edmonds on Strauss’s surface - 32 a.u.’s away.
Departing Orbit: 14:14 - 29 April 3201
Engaging auto-pilot robocruise, activating stardreamer.
Spruce’s landing gear deployment jostled me to full consciousness as I awoke
from the stardreamer’s induced slumber just in time to oversee the landing
sequence. Waking up to a completely new planet splashed across the cockpit
displays always got my interest up, and this was no exception.
Strauss had a smooth khaki shirt look to its soil and was strangely lacking the usual spattering of impact craters. The plain where the base was located was flat as the stuff in a chick's make-up compact and looked the same. The whole scene blended nicely
with the darker brown shadows of nearby mountains. Spruce flipped onto the
final approach vector in the distant late afternoon sun.
Suddenly, I got an irresistible urge to have a little look around - outside - before
going in. So, breaking protocol, I slipped out of the automated landing sequence
about 100 meters up to go have a quick fly-by tour of the base. The Fortress
Edmonds Docking control was probably a might bit upset when I fired up the
engine thrusters and broke out of the descent path, just seconds before landing.
So, I thought, I’ll give them something to gripe about. Hell, I’ll probably make the
“Rogue Pilot Bust-Balls at Spacedock.”
The iris like doors of the depressurised hanger shut unceremoniously below me.
Now, what’s to see - I banked Spruce left, then right, and flew low and slow
around the structures. Gee, they sure have some nice big biospheric domes here.
There’s one that seems to be growing lemon and orange trees, in the light
gravity. I'd heard on some outer moons these fruits could grow to the size of a
man’s head. With the light gravity of Strauss I wouldn't be surprised if it was
...And, there’s a large habitat dome. Wow, it's beautifully landscaped and its got a big recreation area - complete with an olympic size swimming pool. Hmmm, what's that? Altering course. Hey, there seems to be a babe in the water doing laps and wearing very little... I flew in closer, then closer. Oh yeah, no top on! Huh... no bottoms either!!! I tried to get closer.
The collision warning alarm had been going off for about 10 seconds before I
turned away - just a meter or two shy of the transparent membrane shield.
Yeah, she looked up, and she didn't look happy. Time to move on. I banked
left and throttled up.
The factory seems busy, your typical outworld big industry affair...
And damn if they don't have a spanking new deep space antenna. Figures a place way the crap out here would have one hell of a cable system. Okay, time to come in from play.
I called the spacedock to request landing clearance again. I received no answer.
After a fifth try, I got a sorely annoyed sounding controller utter a hostile
affirmative. Gee, wonder what he’s miffed about... Spruce came to a hover
above the opening hanger and we made our decent in...
21:00 06 May, 3201
Spruce was indeed low on military go-juice. I activated the comm system to bring up the base’s stockmarket screen and order fuel. When I tried to access the stockmarket button, I received a message on my screen in green flashing letters. “Stockmarket data link off-line until further notice. Market supplies can be bought or sold, in person, only at the stockmarket office. Please follow the signs from the docking bay. Thank You.” So I was going to do it the old fashion way... Well then, it was off to pick up a couple of tonne.
I didn’t get five meters pass the airlock when I got stopped dead in my tracks by a tall slightly bent over husky fellow of the blue uniform. He was about 60, with greasy white-yellow hair poking out in a rather unkept fashion from under his cap. He was gaunt about his face and had tired steel gray eyes. He spoke in a pitch that seemed to come out of a grave and whispered to me a few inches from my nose.
“I am police officer Lee; what’s the meaning of that auto-dock stunt you just pulled outside?" He paused, took a deep breath like he suffered from a lung ailment and said quietly, "Please accompany me to your ship. I’ll need you to get out your starship manual.”
"Oh gee, here we go," I said silently to myself. The same old routine happened around the galaxy time and time again. Officer Lee stepped aboard the Spruce and stopped, “I’ll need you to tell me the first letter of the first word on page 24, paragraph 5.”
Yes, it was an odd procedure, and odder still that the practice continued over all known space. You see - at one time all pilots were required to read aloud their starship manual into a database for voice-comp recognition. It was a paranoid new edict from the Federal government. This information was kept on file and when needed, pilots could be confirmed as being the rightful owner of their "program" (I mean "ship"), whenever security felt like hassling them. Well, since I always had the manual handy, and I was indeed a rightful owner; it was no big deal for me. However, with Lee hovering over me and standing so close, I could hardly reach the book.
"Excuse me," I said "Of-fic-er," squeezing past his square monster frame. I never thought tall guys ever fit too well about a ship - but his height wasn't his most irritating problem in my world. He had a foul body stink about him that made me think he had not bathed in years, or was a fancier of some exotic curry spice. He was a joy to be with in the confined spaces of my cabin - to be sure!
Lee prowled around the Spruce for a bit sighing a lot as he went. His sloth-like gate and ponder made him look more like an old gent visiting an art museum on a Sunday, starring at impressionistic paintings, than a cop doing a custom's check on a ship's data displays. He asked about Delos. I told him he was just a friend hopping a ride and liked napping. He stood quiet for a time. A long time. Finally, He gave me the traditional, “We don’t take too kindly to strangers,” speal. He turned and headed for the airlock and voiced flat and soft, "You'd better behave yourself." He exited murmuring something I really didn't get about needing a local pastry called a “Yo-nut”.
I turned Spruce’s life support on high to clean filter the olfactory remembrance of big boy Lee. Finally, I got out of the docking bay and headed over to the market.
Folks in the station corridors were giving me the unfriendly eyeball - so much more than usual I wondered if Lee's cologne had permeated my threads. Leaving the docking bays, I took a left, a right... another left, then went down a dimly lit long sloping corridor that must have descended at least two underground levels. It was cool and musty, and it all smelled little used, like the inside of an old woman's hope chest. The walls were all painted the same; halfgreen / half gray. It would have been easy to get lost if it was not for the pointing neon signs on the walls. Many of these class-L worlds had extensive facilities deep underground. It was a necessity for radiation protection and it was easier to build than above ground structures. The oldest parts of the bases constructed were always underground. I passed a worker in a white painter's suit. He was carrying an open can of gray paint and a small ladder. I said, "Hey Pal." He looked down after seeing me, stopped, and waited till I past him. He didn't look up. He said nothing.
When I found the stockmarket office, the door was open. I walked in to find not a soul inside. A small blue lighted button on the desk had a sign next to it, nicely hand written, which said,
The place was starting to give me the spooks; it would have been a good location to tell a ghost story. It seemed everybody at the settlement had a bit of an attitude, even the signs. I pushed the button and sat; and I must have waited twenty minutes before someone entered the office from the back door.
She was petite, about 1.3 meters. She looked about 35ish, maybe 40. She had small breasts and a decent butt and it was all nicely packed into a tight navy blue jumpsuit zipped to the neck. She had warm dark brown eyes, the color of the mountain shadows outside, and flawless porcelain white skin. Her long brunette hair flowed around her face and neck like a bending river and her lips could probably curl up in a nice smile if she tried. She was good to look at.
The woman carried herself with a direct authority; appeared at the console and said simply - “What?”
She gave me a fixed wide-eyed gaze and waited for my response. It was a frank, no crap attitude. I liked her at once. I told her about the fuel, she said I was lucky I was getting any since they only had about 20 tonne of the stuff on hand, and often kept it for locals using mil-drives in Sidewinders - bringing corporate execs in and out from the Sirius system. She told me that the base and factory were largely involved with the production and export of hybrid citrus crops (as I had suspected). After a couple of minutes of small talk she seemed to relax a bit and began warming up a little - I asked her why folks around here were all giving me the “cold shoulder”.
“Well, for starters, you’re an off-worlder - idiot. And, I can’t speak for anyone else but I’ve been having a bit of a bad day. I had the hell scared out of me a couple of hours ago!”
“Wow, really”, what happened?” I said.
“I was over at the habitat dome, having a nice swim for myself - before my shift started, in the rec. section; when some jerk-off in a blue cobra gets so close with his ship, he almost punches a hole in the dome’s transparent membrane right above the pool. The decompression would have sucked me clear up and out of the water - not to mention kill me and everyone else in the hab! If I could've seen the I.D. numbers on that ship he’d be in big trouble.”
“Boy, that surprising. Didn’t Tracking get an I.D. on his ship?”
“No, he was flying too low," she said irritated.
“Well, perhaps the pilot had engine trouble or something.” I quickly changed the subject. “So, what time can you get out of this cave? How about a bite to eat in the spaceport cafe?”
From her look, I could tell I wasn’t the first guy to pop this query halfway through a transaction. She half shrugged her shoulders and without even a look up from her data console simply said, “Okay.”
I found out the girl was named Eva... Eva Gally. I had the local Astro-burger; she had Plumeek soup. I learned she had been born on Strauss and had worked at the settlement most of her life. She said she had recently transferred over to the stockmarket from the shipyard operations deck and wasn't too keen about the switch in duty. At the shipyard she used to run the database for the parts' department. She asked when my ship’s drive was last serviced, and I jumped at the chance to get her back to the Spruce - without thinking.
“I’m -ahh- not really sure when the last time the hyperdrive was serviced. Perhaps we should go check?” I was feeling a tad sly with this line since I did know the drive was just serviced a couple of months back; but thought she was giving me some pretty positive signals so far; Why not go for it. In short order we walked out of the lounge, Eva reiterating to me the dangers of hyperdrive mis-jumps and that I should be more careful, as we went. It wasn’t until we were halfway down the docking bay corridor that it hit me that she'd recognize my ship from her “pool-scare” incident. Duh!
I stopped walking. “Whoa.” I said.
Eva stopped and looked at me with concern, “Huh?”
“I just remembered the drive was serviced a couple of months ago - so, -ahh- its fine. But... I'ya... I do have to go over to the shipyard and pick up a couple of parts and upgrades. That is, if you don't mind?” She seemed more excited with the detour to the shipyard than with the idea of going to the Spruce in the first place. I guess she really did miss her old job.
At the shipyard most of the all male engineer review seemed to know her... or rather... "had known" her all too well.
“Hi Eva", "Hey Sweets", "Howdy Muffin Cheeks," said the mechanics as they strolled about. She gave them all the same quaint Old Earth single finger gesture. They smiled and went back to work.
The bays were rather sleepy - just a few ships in for sale and repair. Eva was a bit taken with a used silver Viper with blue undercarriage sitting lonely in a darkened corner. She explained she had worked on her step-father’s police viper when she was young and always like that design of ship.
“Oh, so you're step-father was a police officer?” I said.
“Yeah, he still is,” She exclaimed. “His name is Officer Lee, he works here at Spacedock.”
I suddenly got a pale look on my face; paler even than Eva's flawless complexion. I took a step back and cleared my throat. She asked me if I was okay? I told her I didn’t feel too well all of a sudden and thought the Astro-burger was not sitting in my gizzard right. I said, "Listen, I think I'd like to go back to my ship and lay down for a bit. Can I give you a call later?"
She gave me an odd look as if to say, “What, you were fine a minute ago. Is this a blow off or something?" Then, with no hint of emotion in her tone she said, "Right, O.K. see ya." She turned her back to me and walked over to speak with one of the mechanics about 20 meters away. I slipped out and got back aboard the Spruce...
I sank into my seat and reclined back. She's a nice babe but there's no sense tempting fate too much at one spaceport. Besides there's the little matter of the Joe-Meister, still in the freezer, and bound for Conversion. He's late, real late. Time to start the departure sequence... and some other time for Miss Gally.
Well, is Mic leaving? You can find out right away by reading on... (See guys, no year long wait for the next chapter!) Chapter Five is ready...
Continue on with Chapter Five
Hey, Feedback is needed. Its a ton of work putting all this stuff together. Why not try the clipboard and give me your thoughts... THANKS. Hope you enjoyed the story and graphics.
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