2100hrs 06 May 3201
Location: Fortress Edmonds Starbase
Planet: Strauss, Orbiting Fomalhaut 4
Log system booted, voice to text conversion commences...
Before departure, I took a run through the ship's screens. A good pilot always goes through a full check. 93,809 credits. Not a bad stash - and I own my ship, outright too. I refilled my internal fuel tanks with mil-juice and, as usual, got two regenerated tonnes of radioactives. Looks like another dump pass is in my future. Happily, Strauss's mother; Fomalhaut 4, was nearby and on my way. A
quick jettison and I would be inbound to Conversion. So, what else is in the hold.
Hmmm, did Eva give me a little gift at the market or did I click on the wrong
button at the buy screen? It was easy to do. Anyway, I had a one tonne crate of
hand weapons mysteriously loaded aboard and 18 tonne of space free.
Spruce's ship information display also showed I was running with cargo bay life support (it was needed for Joey's couch), a radar mapper, auto-pilot(of course), and atmospheric shielding. I had my trusty 5 megawatt pulse-laser in the front gun mounting and a shield generator in case I screwed up. And oh, I forgot to mention... I picked up a couple of missiles at the market with Eva. They make great friends in a pinch. I disliked buying equipment out in the sticks, but with weapons and ammo - the quality was usually the same wherever you went.
Requesting Launch. Transferring from hanger bay to airlock. Door opening... Ship up, and clear of the tower. Go for throttle up.
Fomalhaut 4 looked massive in Strauss's cloudless sky. The large blue-green
banded gas planet floated motionless beyond, like a huge oriental paper lantern.
Strauss disappears behind me as I set speed at 20000 kmh. A quick buzz over Fomalhaut 4's polar region should do it... and.... drop time. We're out of here.
Speed up to 41000 kmh - don't want to get sucked down in the gravity well.
On the dark side now, adjusting course to Conversion, nav screen set to what
city? Now where did Joe say he wanted to be set down?
Oh yeah, it was Francis Spaceport. The business meeting with the Planetary Agricultural Consortium. I remember. I wonder if he would? I think he's going to be really late for that gang. What would I tell him? No doubt the guy will be absolutely ripped about being in stasis so long. When did I leave Dobson Terminal with him? April... 20th, 25th? Ahh... guess I'll figure it out when we get in. Robocruise on,stardreamer on...
The pads at Francis Spaceport were quiet; arriving 10 May 3201 at noon; not a soul to be seen around the hangers. Conversion was a finely created delight. Another tailor made terraformed world with induced life. In its recent past, Conversion was like so many other uninhabitable worlds - a torrid place of primordial gases and howling storms. However, the invention of the planetary air processors, about 700 years ago changed all that. Now, it had gotten to the point where a world could be tailor designed to exacting standards... the perfect oxy/nitro mix, a spattering of wildflowers in the soil matrix - whatever was needed.
Here on Conversion in the Fomalhaut system, I was once told - "Restraint was the tone and rule was the order." They only got wild here once a year, for something called the "Corn Maiden Festival". I knew little about the party... and didn't want to know more.
I noticed I had not hit the pad exactly square on with the auto-land software. So, I made a manual hop forward, to move up a little, and announce my arrival. Yup, there we go...
A dispassionate male voice came over the comm speaker and said, "Welcome to Conversion, a landing fee of 4 credits has been charged to your account. Please feel free to move about the terminal and the starbase - and have a pleasant stay."
After shutting down the Spruce's systems, I looked over at Delos - asleep like a baby in his couch; cuddled within the frozen acrylic confines of a hibernation tube. I decided to go for a bit of a walk to stretch my legs and figure out what excuse I would give the guy. It was a stunningly beautiful day.
The brilliant white light of Fomalhaut sparkled down upon expansive rolling fields of golden grain and green vegetable crops - which radiated away from the starbase in several wedges, as far as the eye could see. Food growing was serious business here, as it was one of the bread basket worlds of the Federation. The air was clean, crisp, and a gentle breeze fluttered over the crops making their grasses and leaves stir in casual cadence.
The temperature was perfect, 22 C. For some reason, the heavier gravity did not seem to be bothering me and I walked away from the terminal at a snappy pace. Being outside, without a space-suit on, was delightful. I passed by some farm houses, then a church. The place wasn't exactly what I had expected. I thought Francis would be a real hub of commerce - an urban center. What I found, had just a touch of that, then quickly fell away to almost an idyllic farmland setting. I passed some locals; they were working with rakes in a small field near the road. The men seemed to be wearing a type of uniform: black pants, white shirt, a straw hat with a wide flat brim.
One older fellow with long white hair and bad teeth called to me, "Good day to ya Stranger. Come to Francis for the festival, aye ya?"
"Nah, just out for a stroll, friend." I returned the hail.
"Well, watch were you be go'in then son and know your way home." He turned around and returned to his work, moving a rake ever so slightly across the soil.
As I walked on, I saw other men laboring in fields. They said, “Hello” or waved, but nothing more. It was not until I was on my return to the terminal that I noticed I did not see any electro-mechanical equipment or power. Oh, I saw windmills and work horses with carts (which seemed strange enough) in the fields... but no hover cars or trucks. No harvesters, no youths in speeders, no solar collectors, no farm droids. I saw no power lines or energy distribution nodes. Then it happened...
Like from out of a time machine , a thin man in a black horse drawn buggy comes over a hill and up the road; and stops beside me. "Would you be need'in some help find'in your way there Fella?" he said.
"No, I'm just heading back towards the spaceport. It's a couple of kilometers over that hill to the west." I explained. "It's a great day for a walk and I wanted to get out of my ship for a bit. You understand, right?"
"Never go over there myself. Never been in a spaceship - never want to be," he said slowly dropping his tone.
"Huh... really? why not?" I grunted.
"Nothing there's plain, Sonny. We live plain here. Very plain. You're a bright boy, you can see that can't ya?" He shook his head a bit. "Now good day to ya." He sounded disgusted. He looked forward towards his horse and in a loud and raised voice said, "Move on Joshua." The carriage receded in over the next hill and disappeared.
Hmmm. Plain. I'm not sure what he meant by saying that or all that was intended; but if plain meant simple, I could get that. Plain and simple where often the best way to deal with a problem, and that's when I decided I would just come clean with Joey and tell him the truth of what happened.
Back on the Spruce, I activated Joe's wake sequence and the coffin-like pod made a gasping sucking hiss as it decompressed and slowly opened. After a couple of minutes, he began to stir from his long stay with the stardreamer as the Zillman effects came to an end. Then he sat up - his eyes tightly shut.
Slowly there appeared slits between Joe's upper and lower eyelids. "Afternoon Pal," I smugly stated, handing him a tube of water to suck on. Delos took a drink. He looked like a young boy being awoken at four o'clock in the morning for a fishing trip he really didn't want to go on.
"Hey," Joe whispered. "Guess we're here, at Francis, huh?"
"Yes you are Joe," I recanted.
"So why are you standing there acting like you're my personal nurse? Something wrong Pal?" His voice, raspy but still soft, developed a sarcastic quality and rose in pitch.
"Well, I think you may have a problem with the meeting here. You know, the one you had to go to with the Ag Consortium? I Ahhh... well... I think you must have missed it."
"What? Whaaat? Great Spacely's Ghost... what the hell's the date space boy?" He asked this slowly, speaking through teeth, clenched no further apart than his slitted eyes.
"Joe, We left Dobson Terminal the 22nd of April, 3201. Its now the 10th of May..."
"Oh shit, please tell me its at least the year 3201?"
"Yeah, yeah... it is. You've been in stasis for about 18 days. Now before you get all ripped."
"I already am," he wined in an exasperated exhale.
"Hey listen, I told you I had to make a trip to the outer system before heading down to Conversion. You know... to dump the drive waste. Well, a couple of things came up and..."
"Oh Gaaaawd, I hope this doesn't involve some new babe?" He looked up towards the roof of the cabin and started shaking his head.
I went on to tell the story. The whole tale - truthful and complete. The signal at 5d, the rum, Eva on Strauss, and the two jettison runs with radioactives. He listened quietly, looking down from the roof at me and back up again a couple of times. Finally he just laid back in the hiber-sleep couch and starred at me. Funny, Joey didn't look half has steamed as I thought he would. In fact, he wasn't all that upset at all.
"Joe, I'm really sorry about the delay. Do you want to call the folks at the Consortium and explain what happened. I'll be glad to help anyway I can."
"Don't be a slug, Moron. Guess you skipped the course on Interstellar Multi-Cultural Geography when you were at the Academy. No wonder you dropped out. Well, lucky for you, I'd be a lot more upset if you got me here - after - Festival. It starts every year on the 15th of May and goes on for three weeks until they pick the Corn Maiden. And, my friend, the Consortium doesn't begin their negotiations on giving out contracts for the upcoming harvest until that time. So I was going to have to wait around for a while anyway. See stupid? You just saved me some hotel fees not to mention the transit fare; which I'm putting through on my monthly expenses sheet as a huge charge from you." He broke into a large grin.
"Now, help me get my butt out of this hiber-tube before my bladder bursts."
Seated back up in Spruce's cockpit, I was going over Francis's BBS screen postings when Joey came forward from the head. "All freshened up I see compardre." I continue to look at the message base.
"Well, how would you know, you haven't even looked at me yet." Joe returned in a rather gay and sarcastic nasal tone.
"I can smell my cologne you must have helped yourself to..."
"Yup, I smell fine and I'm ready to face my public - I guess." There was a awkward pause for a minute or so. "So friend, I'll get out of your hair now," he leaned forward and extended his right hand for me to shake. "Sure is cramped up here, I don't know how you stand it."
I brought my right hand across my chest and met Joe's. "Take care of yourself, good luck with the meeting," I retracted my paw back to the keypad without looking up.
"Trying to decide where to go next?" He was looking into my nav display, currently centered on Altair.
"Yeah, there's a gal on the BBS called Ruth deGaul. She's got a party of four that is looking for passage to the Altair system. She'd pay 2250 credits - but I don't think it's worth it. Altair's 12.6 light years away, I would have to strip the ship and load in four passenger cabins. Nah, not worth it." I shook my head in affirmation with my own statements.
"So, don't feel like being a moon shuttle conductor this week - not even to meet
some new babe, huh? Gee Mic, you sound like you're slip'in." Joe giggled.
"Well, I'm sure you'll find someone or someplace to get in trouble with... now you watch your back out there Moron. I wouldn't want to see anything nasty happen to this nice ship... So, ahh - I'll see ya, then."
Delos punched open the airlock and walked off the Spruce. Good-byes between space-faring friends where always a bit strained - you never knew when, where, or if you would ever see the guy again. It had become the custom to not make a big deal out it and Joe and I stuck to the routine. Besides, I really didn't even like the guy much. I turned my attention back to the ship's information displays.
Yes, where to go indeed. It was always an interesting, often ponderous, question for a commander. I had been Down-spin for a while and now thought about working my way up a bit. Where could I go, and what could I bring with me... It was the time tested question - how to make a little cash in the process?
I took a look out the front viewer. The breeze had picked up now and the distance rows of grasses and plants beyond the starport rolled back and forth with intensified rhythm. Then it hit me, I'm at the grocery store of the Federation; I should just go with the flow and take out some fruits and veggies. So I went to the stockmarket screen and loaded up.
I tucked aboard 19 tonnes of fruits and vegetables at 74.9 per tonne, and 4 tonnes of military fuel . I grabbed a little extra so I didn't get caught with my pants down again. While I was at it, I sold my mysterious tonne of hand weapons. Now back to the nav station.
Hmmm, what do we have here? I centered the cursor on a little red blob,
unnamed, until I spun the map around. Luyten 789-6. I punched up the commerce and trade data for the system and damned if they weren't looking for the Green Grocer to pay a visit in a big way.
It was a small fry, backwater system; but it was in the right direction, Up-spin, and only 5.04 light years away. Hell... it'll be my good Samaritan deed for the month.
Spruce left the pads of Francis and we were once again sky bound to the dark blue ocean of space. Conversion's heavy gravity made me keep the ship's nose oriented upward at a considerable angle for parallel flight, as we departed.
I flew low past the outskirts of Francis where I had walked, and took a final view on the aft viewer. I then headed up.
"We live plain here," he said. Huh.
The routine of departure quickly set in. Throttle up, gear retracted. The atmosphere began giving way to the vacuum of space, and once again, I impatiently waited for the hyperdrive display to flash - ready for jump.
The icon appeared... We're out a here. I took a deep breath and activated the jump sequence.
There was a single isolated click, a ghostly ringing noise, and a total immersion into blue light, as if being driven head first into the center of a gigantic sapphire. The powerful drive motor whirled, throwing the Spruce and myself across the fabric of time, space, and countless kilometers of interstellar void.
There was a feeling associated with using the hyperdrive, and the only comparison I could give stemmed back from my childhood on old Earth...
I had spent my early years in a small grave of a resi-sector called Liverton, about 70 clicks east of San Francisco Spaceport. Liverton Valley was an area situated between grass carpeted rolling hills, and there was a park near our house with a large scattering of sycamore trees in it. If memory serves, the place was called Sycamore Grove. I used to like to go and play there after school, often climbing the twisting towers of wood, and sitting in crooks, gazing skyward.
One afternoon, I spent too long in the park and was going to be late for dinner. I had been climbing an old man of a tree, bigger than most there and located in a little visited spot in the southeast corner. I was comfortably straddling a large limb when I decided to jump out of the tree to save time - instead of climbing down. I was rather high up, about 4 meters. I didn't think long about the act; I just did it with the abandoned confidence of youth.
On my way down, something happened. In that split instant of no-time, there seemed a world of time. And, it appeared that the moment, slowly washed over me, as I traveled through the air. It was a fleeting experience; but to this day, I cannot forget the imperceptibly long period I seemed within my own thoughts. When I hit, spraining my right ankle in the process; the sudden stop and pain shocked me awake - but I couldn't fully comprehend just where or what was happening on the curious descent... It was an unknown realm. Using the hyperdrive was like that.
The next thing I was aware of, was the reassuring sound of the ship's thrusters bring the Spruce to a stop. It was part of the jump sequence - that the hyperdrive always set the I-drive velocity to zero on system entry. If a pilot did nothing, in a minute or two he would find himself floating nearby his blue flickering entry cloud.
In safe systems, that was no problem. But on the Frontier, the entry cloud was a perfect beacon for pirates and bushwhackers in the area to come-a-calling, hailing, "Dump your cargo - or die."
I moved off the cloud heading roughly towards the red Luyten sun. I had made a slight oversight in not completely finishing the flight plan when I jumped in. I didn't check the type of government that was present in this system, nor did I get the name of the spaceport I planned to go to. I accessed the nav screens and gave myself an education...
Luyten 789-6. A faint class-M star. 7 planets: one fat-boy gas giant. All the
action's on planet number one. A hopping world called deGaul's Hole? I wasn't
sure if that name came from something deGaul dug, or something others dug
about deGaul... And, I wasn't going to ask if I went there. There was a mining
settlement with the usual factory pack and went by the name, Nakasome.
But wait, what do we have here? Ah yes, in orbit around deGaul's Hole was one of the old Do-Deca style stations - Biggs High Orbital Trading Post. Yeah, that'll do... 9 a.u.s away. Engaging robocruise, stardreamer on... Nite.
A little over 3.7 a.u.s out I got a wake up call from a familiar, but unwelcome klaxon. The ship's hostile proximity detector had gone off. In "programs", I mean "years" back (ahem), proximity detectors were not so advanced and the meeting of ships, heading in or out from starports or other destinations always woke the pilot. Now, the sensors and software had gotten good enough that when you came out of the stardreamer and heard the alarm, it always meant the same thing - trouble.
A little rusty in combat now, it took me a moment or two to gather my thoughts. I could already hear the sound of his blurping pulse laser getting closer. I tracked and locked onto him with the external camera. Shit, he was close... 2.41 clicks off my port quarter and moving fast. I punched up the radar mapper and got his colors.
He was a little red Gecko, a fast and agile spud of a craft with a class 2 hyperdrive packed in. I.D. ER-376. I wasn't looking for a rumble, but he was. I thought I had a bit more time than I did and tried to lock him up with the auto-pilot. It was a mistake. He came in, skidding across my bow and pelted me with two nice shots.
I heard the sickening sound of the shield generator taking a big hit. --Waaaaaaan. I also heard an accompanying sound; an unmistakable sound like that of a caseload of glassware being dropped.
It was the noise of hull armor being cooked off.
The heads up display revealed the Spruce had just lost 12% of her hull armor. Damn, this was turning into an expensive trip in - no more fooling around. I clicked off the auto-pilot and went to manual. I performed an old pilot's trick, a Split-S. Now we were going head to head.
His pulse gat was coming on again. I was going to go for my laser when I saw the display read him at just a tad over 1 k.m. I let fly with a missile instead. It caught him dead on. It was a surprise; a big surprise, and he didn't like it.
The little Gecko blossomed into a starbust of debris and light. In the fleeting moment of the explosion rushing past, I caught glimpse of a dismembered blood streaming arm - with hand still clutching a joystick, flash past.
I'd fight two more Geckos this day. It seemed a hard written code they traveled in threes. The second came calling shortly after his pal sucked vacuum, and I was glad to make a cool 150 credits when I toasted his butt. The final in the trio proved to have the worst combat skills of the bunch, and I ruined his day with good series of tags from my 5 megawatt pulse. I was getting back in the groove, and the Spruce took no more damage from the additional brawls. This was certainly not a Federal system; I was slugging my way in with three more kills under my belt.
Arriving 15 May 3201 11:25 a.m.
Hmmm, some big ships outside the station. Clearance granted. Proceeding to docking bay 3. I would have to get Spruce's hull armor repaired while I'm here, I thought.
I wasn't long on Biggs before I was looking for a drink and a place to relax. Space combat had a way of twisting a guy up good and I didn't much like feeling that way. Fortunately, mining systems were usually pros at the entertainment racket, and Biggs was no exception. As soon as I left my ship there were signs in the hanger stating, "Need to relax? Come to the Pilot's Lounge." I read and obeyed.
The place was big, dark, and dimly lit in red and blue lights. The music was the typical fare, too much beat and not enough tune. The walls were draped with heavy curtains, and multiple cylinders of pink lighted water, with bubbles rising in them, lined the room. There was a small bar, smack in front of me when I entered, and it seemed natural to take a seat. I did. In the background, I could see two blond topless dancers on a rectanglar platform, slowly plying their wares.
I was taking a long gander when a blue eyed cutie in a tight corset peered over the counter and asked what I'd have; I responded with the usual... some Old Earth rum... If they had any? ...And surprisingly, they did.
I took a swig. It wasn't the good stuff, like that hidden aboard the Spruce, but it was palatable. Mmmm, good old Capt'n Metrons - for sale throughout the known Frontier. They hadn't changed the recipe in a thousand years, and they shouldn't.
The place was pretty dead, not much action happening. The girls on the stage were giving the strip routine a half hearted effort, and it showed. There was only about 9 other stiffs in the joint, and it wasn't long till I had some company. It was always that way. And, it was expected.
She was about 155 centimeters, but looked a lot taller in her 13 centimeter pumps. She seemed about 30, and had long dark sable hair, that hung straight from the top of her head and ended about mid arm in a silky bounce. The girl had a good nose. It was straight, the right size, and her small nostrils looked cute at the end of it. Her upswept eyes were big, tapered, the color of chestnuts; and she had them done up in a makeup routine that made her look like an ancient exotic Egyptian goddess. She was wearing a long flowing white night gown, open most of the way down, tied with a sash at the waist, and with only the barest of undergarments beneath. Her chest was ample, more than ample, and I made a conscious attempt not to stare.
She came up on my left side and asked politely if I minded if she took a seat. I didn't say no. She turned and stretched out her right hand for me to shake, with the frankness of a rookie politician running for office, "Hi, I'm Lisa, welcome to the Pilot's Lounge."
Her voice was smooth, gentle, with just a hint of hoarseness in it. She had a tempered firmness to her manner and a relaxed way of carrying herself that at once gave you a comfort, as if chatting with an old friend. She was good. Very good.
Lisa asked about me and my ship. I spun the tale of my combat saga involving the 3 Geckos and my fight to get in. I'm sure she'd heard a hundred space battle stories before, but she listened well; and I hadn't forgotten... she did it for a living.
I ordered up another drink and the small talk continued. She was looking even better to me now and we chatted on. She was an open book. Lisa told me of her young son, and a rather detailed and confusing account about his missing father. She hopped subjects like an Altairian tree frog getting chased by a Banta snake. After a long monologue, she sighed deeply and said she was very tired from working too many shifts last week. There was a good minute or two of silence. I didn't mind the silence. Eventually, she popped the question - they all did.
"Care for a private dance?" She leveled her hypnotic portals at me and smiled. It was now time to pay. I had been lead into camp and made a pal. Her time was money and she spent some on me. It was my turn now. The going rate was only about 20 credits. I shrugged and said, "Sure, why not."
Lisa took me towards the rear of the room, and I could see some large comfy looking leather chairs lining the walls. They were very near the pink bubbling water tubes I had seen on my way in. We entered a comfy nook and I sat down. She stood in front of me. Another disagreeable sounding tune began.
"Ready for your show, Commander?" She made with a smile and the twinkling eyes.
I relaxed, dropped my head back against the padded upper seat and acknowledged, "Yeah, lay it on me kid."
Lisa did her routine. Anyone could tell she had done it a thousand times before and she made no attempt to cover the sameness of it. She slowly slid out of her night gown and dropped her top; continuing her art with only her bottoms on. She was beautiful and she knew it.
She danced and let me take in the full front view, then turned her back to me and sat in front of me in a small space between my parted legs. She leaned back and laid against my chest, nuzzling her neck and head up to mine, and it felt for a second that we were quietly and deeply in love. She stayed there for a moment or two, not talking, then moved around, stood up and danced, twisted and turned, floated about with her arms, and finally sat down and repeated the nuzzle. It was nice. I liked it. And, though it was absolutely just an act, there was a quality of "instant intimacy without obligation" attached to the whole thing, that made it well worth 20 credits.
Lisa spent a little more time with me, then made a good excuse, and moved on to a fresh customer - where I'm sure he got the same fine treatment. I had a little more booze, walked around the joint a bit, and got relaxed enough to return to the Spruce.
Yeah, I liked the Pilot's Lounge, and I put it on my list of places to go....
Well, there you go guys. Hope you enjoyed the story... Believe it or not, all this writing and graphics work took over a year of spare time to put together. I'll be writing a little Frontier Log program, before continuing on with Chapter Six... But, if you must know... Commander Mic gets involved with a little slave trading (You just never know who'll you meet in some bars). All the best... and thanks so much for taking the time to read.
All the best... and thanks so much for taking the time to read.
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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