Sunday, 26 July 2015


It had been four weeks since the ship disconnected the reactor. They had grown accustomed to the barren rock they had landed on.

A metal rich world with water ice at the southern pole and a very very thin nitrogen/methane atmosphere. The surface temperature where they had set down varied only slightly, at it's warmest it was a comfortable 28°C and at night which would fall around 17hrs after midday it would fall to -18°C. If they ever made it home the discovery would net them a good pay out from a mining company.

It was nightfall of the first day that was the biggest surprise.

The red sun fell below the horizon and a few moments later a small ice moon appeared. The ship's hull pinged and ticked as it cooled and thin webs of ice crystals began to form around the edges of the cockpit windows.

Just as they were getting used to this new vista Jared swore and nearly dropped his heated vitamin drink.

"Look! What the heck is that?!"

Taz turned to look out of the port side window. He could see a white mist on the horizon, boiling and rolling in curls and crests upwards. A moment on and it was clear it was heading towards them.

"Aurora? Some kind of geothermal thing?"

Taz looked up at the moon now passing almost overhead.

"Tide! It's the tide! The moon must drag stuff around the surface. There's such little atmosphere it doesn't have much stopping it"

As the swirling barrier approached the ship began to vibrate. It grew in seconds from an annoying buzz to a loud shaking that made everything blur.

"Crap, strap in quick. It can't be far off!"

The two scrambled towards the flight seat but Jared slipped in the low gravity. As Taz buckled in he jumped down through the companionway to the sleeping area. Then the wave hit.

Everything lurched sideways with a loud grinding and rhythmic pounding. Jared felt the floor turn beneath him just as he grabbed hold of one of the stores nets.

He could hear Taz swearing between spewing his guts up on the flight deck.

There was one last grinding lurch and then the roaring of the wave passed into a dull rolling.

The moon orbited once every 16 hours. But the freezing wave would only coincide with nightfall and moonrise over their location so it was a few days before they met it again.

Jared had been quiet since waking that day but spoke suddenly, obviously having been in thought.

"This rental thing, could we convince it we aren't safe?"

Taz sat up and scratched his neck.

"I don't know what it's sensors are. Anyway I recon most people would think a raging ice wave every few days that grinds the ship across the rocks isn't safe. Our best bet is to FUUUaaah!"

Jared spun around in his bunk coming face to face out of the window with a large myopic eye clung looking at him through the side window.

The creatures were apparently harmless to the ship but curious. They were greenish or purple with small drop shaped bodies around 30cm wide and 40cm tall with many tiny legs underneath. Their eye was at the end of a long strong looking single tentacle about 2m high. In between staring at the occupants of the ship the purple creatures would blink and look upwards every few seconds. They appeared to be keeping watch for the  nightfall-moonrise as they would disappear into cracks and burrows minutes before the icy waves returned.

Jared had spent the last few days trying to bypass the ARTS components and had managed to manually route power to the ships lighting and environment systems. The pesky thing was still getting in the way of the flight controls and had seemed to think they were at the Merlin station in the Ross 154 system..

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Relative Safety

"OK Kid, Granted you got us out of that one and I owe you but you have got to quit with the smug."

Taz grinned and relaxed back into the chair across the table.

"Fine, I'll tell you. But you have got to stop calling me Kid now"

Jared nodded and threw the silver can of Face Hugger over to him.

"Please, Taz."

"OK but you have to act impressed either way"

The cabin suddenly descends into pitch darkness. They both blink and freeze. After a second or two the luminescent  indicator strips near the hatch give them some measure of orientation.

"Engine is dead. No sounds!"

"Uh.. I'll save the story til later."

"OK Taz, you go up top and see if you can see anything. I'll try to get aux power on."

Jared felt his way past the clutter and hung stores of the living space to the cargo bay hatch and heaved it open by hand.

Normally the cargo bay of a ship such as this would contain a couple of dozen cargo canisters. This hauler however had been equipped for long range exploration so contained stores of long life foodstuffs and spares for things the auto repair wasn't programmed to fix.

With the cargo racks absent, the various conduits and cables that connected the different ships systems together were easily visible. Red, green and blue cables and pipes ran the length of the compartment floor and walls. The auxiliary generator was a fuel cell that would generate power directly from the ship's hydrogen tanks. Jared had inherited the fuel cell when he bought the ship. Normally they would start automatically but Jared had never felt inclined to attach it.

Jared toggled his suit radio.

"Taz, I'm manually starting the fuel cell. The flight system should boot when it gets power"

Taz's voice crackled over the small speaker.

"Nothing I can see outside. Just the same boring rock."

The fuel cell indicator lights flash an unsteady orange and then flit to light blue.

"Console is booting. I'll get a diagnostic when its ready."

The display on the fuel cell had two read outs. One showing the amount of reactant consumed and the electricity produced. The other display appeared to be counting time in seconds. No wait, there was a minus prefixing the timer. Just over three minutes were shown.

Taz's voice burst out of the suit radio.

"Ah Shit Jared. You better get up here"

Jared fumbled for the talk button.

"I'm coming up! What is it?"

"It's Shit. That's what it is."

Jared pushed through the cargo area hatch out into the living space, now dimly lit in emergency orange. Through the companionway he could see Taz staring at the holofac screen to the right of the pilot's seat.

"Give me the bad news kid!"

"It's Shit, and don't call me kid!"

"OK fine. Got anything more specific than shit?"

"I used to work at the breakers in Tionisla. We called it Shit. Shipboard Internet of Things. It was a huge pain in the dock."

Taz gestured to the second holofac display.

Electric ARTS
Automated Rental Tracking System has detected that your craft is in relative safety and has come into operation.

"What the hell?"

Jared stares in disbelief at the screen.

"All the ship's modules are linked by the power system. They are pretty much just a bunch of computers that do what the console says. But these ARTS things are bolted inline somewhere by dealers that do ship rentals so people don't run off after renting a ship. Where'd you get this tub?"

"I got her from George Lucas. A guy named Krystof at the shipyard. But that was a good month before I set out."

The holofac screen displayed another message.

Your rental period on unit 3.1.2 has expired and it has been deactivated in accordance with section 8.9.8b of your rental agreement.

"What the hell is unit 3.1.2?"

Taz taps away at the virtual keyboard.


"Very funny the first time! What is it really?"

"It.. It thinks it's the reactor."

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Traveller's Gambit

"Pull the next one out!" Jared screamed over his shoulder.

Everything was orange. The star was pumping out far more heat than the astrogation system had said, it was also much wider than the chart details noted. The Canberra Song was being baked by the star's radiation and brutally smashed up and down by the turbulent hydrogen in its outer atmosphere.

Taz was begin bounced around the small crawl tube underneath the sleeping space. Hot and burnt electronic boards spun about him as he reached further into avionics cabinet.

"That was the last one!"

Jared pulled hard on the controls, an accompanying whine rose up from aft of the ship but the hauler's Nose remained pointing just above the fiery orange horizon.

Warning, temperature levels at 120%. heat damage detected

"Could we speed up?"

Taz was back up in the flight deck, gripping the back of Jared's chair.

"I tried already, it just pitched the nose down more, and if we slow down we drop out of super cruise and get instacooked."

Jared dropped his hands from the sticks, and pushed his head into the back of the seat.

"What now!? We could just try jumping?"

Jared remained silent, the view up through the transparent triangles in the roof was orange too. Streaked occasionally with specs of material evaporating off thee hull. You could just about make out a slightly brighter dot. A planet perhaps? Or another star.

"It's over kid."

"What? Come on. We must be able to get out of this!"

Jared reached around behind himself and grabbed Taz's arm pulling it down painfully. To bring the kid's face level with his own. His eyes were wide, angry and his jaw set.

"Over Taz. Over! The only choice we have now is of how long we want it to last!"

Taz turned away, he pulled himself along the grab rails leading back down to the cabin and paused half way down looking back to Jared.

"I know it's all my fault. I know.. Sorry Jared."

Jared didn't ever imagine his final minutes would be like this, cooked alive, resenting rescuing a stupid kid from a mis jump and yet still feel responsible for him, mixed frustration and fear welled up inside him as he let out a kick at the flight console. The metalized plastic that helped project the holofac scanner split.

Jared was suddenly flung sideways in his seat as the ship started to spin and twist. There was a howl of pain from below.

"What the hell are you doing?"

The spin slowed and started back the other way as Jared pulled himself free of the pilots chair and over to the hatchway.

The kid was in the avionics box again. There was blue smoke drifting about weirdly and the sound of shorting electrics.

"Argh, just a bit more power."

Jared reached the entry to the access space.

"What are you doing kid?"

"Trying to drop us out of cruise, but it won't disengage"

Seems that the kid wanted to end it quick too.

"Taz. It's OK. This isn't your fault, its the will of the void."

"I'm not going to boil alive in a Hauler Jared!"

The determined statement seemed at odds with his actions. The heat from the star in normal space would be even worse.

A sudden bang threw Jared forwards as the ship burst out into normal space. Alarms sounded and a loud creaking came from the roof. A second of juddering movement upwards and then a huge blast threw them both backwards to the rear of the cabin.

As they both were pushed backwards Jared caught a final view through the hatchway out of the cockpit window to see fragments of the ship silhouetted against the boiling orange surface of the star and then a thud and darkness.


A bitter sweet taste was the first thing he noticed, Coffee of some obscure cheap blend. And the smell of toasted almonds.

Jared opened his eyes to see the messy inside of the old Hauler. Was this a joke? He'd never really believed in an afterlife. Perhaps this was it, like one of those stories where you'd live your final day forever.


The kid's voice came from the engine bay behind.

"Had a nice kip boss?"

Jared's head hurt, judging by his insides he'd been out for quite a while.

"What happened?"

Taz had a smug grin on his face.

"You can thank me later"

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Signature of the Stars

Thanks to its additional 39t of aluminium carapace the Canberra Song would now literally 'sing' when they attempted to scoop fuel. The turbulence around the oddly shaped upper hull and fuel collectors caused a harmonic buzz that would start off merely irritating but rise to a loud, teeth jarring low pitched hum if they flew too quickly. This unbearable maelstrom of sound and vibration was nearly at the point the fuel collectors kicked in. Not only was it highly unpleasant, it was taking it's toll on the little ship's systems.

"That's the last of it, she's full."

Jared pushed firm on the flight stick and opened up the throttle. The little Hauler streaked away from the massive red star into cooler space further from it's surface.

"We have got to get some real sleep Jared. Let's park her in the shade!"

Jared wasn't going to argue. This was the first star that hadn't threatened to roast them after more than a few seconds scooping. The discovery scanner also showed a handful of rocky planets in the system too.

"All right. You drive kid. And stay away from anything impressive. I don't fancy you glueing any more crap on to my ship."

Jared pushed out from the pilots chair and propelled himself towards the rear of the flight deck and down into the ships tiny living area. 

Jared batted aside Taz's coffee stained sleeping bag hanging from the top of the compartment like the cocoon from some giant coffee fiend moth, clipped his mag boots onto the floor and pulled himself into the small diner space.

Taz's tired voice issued quietly from Jared's suit radio. "Ok, were entering orbit of the second planet, dropping out now."

Jared held on tight to the table as the ship shuddered and wheeled unevenly back into normal space. 

The buzzing, droning and thundering of super cruise stopped. Only now did Jared realise how much sound there had been. He almost felt weak at the sudden relief brought by the abrupt end to the sound barrage.

Taz emerged from the flight deck and propelled himself into the cabin feet first.

"Night, Jared. Maybe this is all a dream and I'll wake up with a hang over in Hoopys Bar or something"

"You ain't in any of my dreams kid. Get some sleep. We've got some hard choices tomorrow."

Jared awoke first. He felt slightly nauseous. This was unusual for him, he usually only felt this way after a bad meal or a worse night on the tiles.

The ship was moving weirdly. Jared opened his eyes to see Taz still asleep vertically in his bag but swaying ever so slightly. He fought for a moment to unwrap himself from the webbing holding him against the sleeping area and pushed himself over to the companionway. As Jared passed up into the flight deck he could see that the ship was slowly rotating clockwise. As he neared the pilot's seat the star appeared in the corner of the canopy window dazzling him for a second.

After a second the star flipped away, obscured beneath the ships nose, but as it did Jared could make out a feint white line of gas trailing out infront of the ship.

"Space! Taz, get up here quick"

Jared pushed himself into the pilot's seat and flicked up the holofac display for the ships's systems.

Taz appeared from below, looking wide eyed and slightly green.

"What?! what is it?"

"We're spinning, I can see a trail. We must be venting gas or fluid or something. Instruments not showing any loss of resources though."

Jared flipped through the info pages and came to the mass indicator again.. 71.2t.

"We've lost 200kg of mass?"

"Yeah.. maybe a chunk of our shell..  Turn the lights on out there."

Jared punched the small toggle to operate the flood lights attached to the ships nose. The trail of vapour was a repeated loopy line. Probably made as the ship rotated.

As the two of them stared out at the whispy handwriting their ship was leaving behind a small rock sped past from behind the ship.

"Did the scanner show any orbital debris? has this got a moon?"

The kid shook his head as Jared engaged the flight assist and stopped the ships rotation.

Taz was about to suggest taking more of a look when another rock sped past from below. And then two more smaller ones.

Jared looked up in time to see the two smaller rocks collide and disintegrate in a cloud of brown dust.

"Uh.. I have a bad feeling about this."

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Same Shift, Different Day

The constant dull rumble had now given way to tinnitus. It was getting hard to concentrate. For three days now they had been going through the same routine. Jump, scan, jump, scan, scoop. With the final and most important part becoming worryingly less often.

Six, or was it nine days ago? It was getting harder to tell. They had scooped fuel from a blue gas giant but had gotten slightly more than hydrogen. By some quirk of nature the giant pumped plumes of silvery vapour into high altitude streams, almost like solar flares. The little hauler pulled out of the climb just skimming the edge of one of these streams when her engines bitterly complained and ejected them out into normal space spinning wildly amid an assault of alarms.

Jared came around to see the kid at the controls frantically silencing alarms and bringing up holofac read outs of the ships modules.

"Taz! What the crap just happened?"

Taz continued to close and re open the same screen several times.


The kid cupped his head in his hands.

"We're screwed Jared! Utterly screwed!"

Jared broke out in a cold sweat.

"The frame shift drive?"


Jared felt puzzled, the frame shift drive was the only thing that the haulers auto repair unit couldn't fix itself. They had enough spares to fix most things at least twice. He'd planned for a long exploration run, you had to take spares if you wanted to come back.

"What then?"

Taz continued to press his palms into his eyes and said nothing. Jared got out of the second seat and pushed himself over to the holofac screens.

It was the ship's general information screen. Not somewhere that you'd usually see bad news unless you were looking at an empty cargo list and a red cred balance.

"I don't see it Kid, are you ok?"

"Mass Jared, look at the mass"

Jared stared for a second then closed his eyes in disbelief at the orange text under the image of the ship. The hauler would have a mass of about 24t in it's explorer role. Giving her a good range. This couldn't be right..

71.4t. Jump range 11.6Ly.

The hauler had a good jump drive, she could make 26Ly..

Jared looked up at Taz. He was now sitting head back looking into the roof of the canopy.

"Its probably just an instrument glitch, we only have an 8t fuel tank."

"It isn't fuel. Look up there."

Jared looked up, the edge of the hull glints back at him through the roof window. Only.. You shouldn't be able to see the edge of the hull from where he was. The roof was flat.

Taz took a deep breath.

"The good news is we are a couple of hundred thousand creds richer"

"What? What in the name of Randomeus have you done to my ship kid!?"

"Those clouds.. They were aluminium. We've got forty odd tonnes of aluminium fused with the hull.."

And so there it had changed, going from a mildly annoying 25 jumps to civilisation to a daunting 178 jumps.

They had been far enough out from the core for most stars to be further apart here. Many stars were spectacular but also too dangerous to scoop from. The fact that their jump range had come down so much meant not only was their route more convoluted, sometimes doubling back on itself but also that any choice in the types of stars to visit had all but vanished. They would see scoopable stars just half a light year into to "Excess Mass" list. And now due to being covered in aluminium the fuel scoop was only half working.

Jared and Taz had spent the last three days either in hyperspace or supercruise. The stars they were passing through were all too massive or hot to stop near for break. They either scooped or jump onwards.

Their ears were assaulted with either the rushing sounds of hyperspace or the juddering whine of super cruise constantly. They only had three more jump's worth of fuel and none of the stars in the next three jumps would be safe to scoop from.

They had three chances, three that could end equally in enough fuel for another few jumps or simply death..


"Look, Taz. You are not going to get home in your ship. Not without a fuel scoop. Even if you had one, it is over 500 light years to known space. For my ship that is about 25 or 30 jumps. For your sidewinder that is more like 60! If we jump together and I refuel you by hand it will take about a month and we don't have that much food do we."

"Ok.. But.." Taz sputtered.

"How am I going to get into your ship?.. I don't have a remlock."

Jared loosened his flight harness enough to smack his head into the nav desk several times out of resigned pity for the kid. The holofac scanner display swirled around his head blurring out of focus into wisps of red and blue.

His head still resting on the warm holofac emitters, Jared takes a deep breath. This was going to be a long few days.

"Ok, listen, I'll put my remlock in the cargo chute and drop it. You can scoop it and then jettison any med packs or food so I can scoop it here. Then you jump out and I scoop you before you freeze to death."

Jared would be prepared to bet an entire case of Lavian Brandy that the kid had probably only scooped a cargo can before. The remlock would be tiny and tricky to see against the backdrop of space. If it were lost or damaged then he'd be doomed. The kid probably didn't need reminding of it now though.

The first few things thrown out of the Sidewinder were water and food packs tied together with cable straps, the second a small bag of clothes that turned out to contain a now empty bottle of zaonce hydroplus coffee that had blast out inside the bag when exposed to the vacuum of space and stained everything inside with a greenish sticky residue and bitter aroma of cold coffee.

Taz's voice popped and crackled over the hand held narrow band unit Jared carried back to the cockpit.

"Ok, I guess I'm next.. Just let me get my last things."

The landing lights on the old blue Hauler flickered on, painting the way between the two ships. Jared slowly inched forward towards the rear boarding hatch of the sidewinder. There was a soundless flash of white cloud as the door de-pressurised. The figure of Taz appeared and leapt with his arms wide from the frame of the hatch..

Taz had pushed off too hard, he tumbled past the Haulers' extended cargo scoop. Jared cursed and spun the ship around in time to see Taz stop spinning a few metres ahead, flashes of white light at his hands. Micro thrusters? surely not based on the poor kit in the hold and the battered Sidewinder.

"It.tts c coold.." chattered Taz's voice over the narrow band.

Jared approached, and after a short pause there was the familiar sound of the cargo scoop retracting and sealing the hull again. Jared quickly freed himself from the flight chair harness and stomped as quick as his mag boots allowed towards the hold.

As he descended the ladder from the flight deck he could see the cargo bay's pressure indicator lights flashing amber.

"Cmon, green damnit!"

The old hauler had only really been used for exploration. Even it's previous owner had only used her for short passenger runs. The cargo system was old and Jared never paid much attention to it, after-all he had no cargo racks fitted. But just as he reached the rear bulkhead, the lights flicked to green and sounded a welcoming tone, not unlike that of the ships' basic galley equipment.

Jared bashed the door release with the palm of his hand. Taz hovered in mid-air, remlock still on but shivering violently, patches of frost on his extremities. Jared whistled..

"Close one Kid, Welcome to the Canberra Song."

The Long Haul

The bottle of zero-g cola bounced off the canopy, split and flew back towards Jared's head. Ordinarily he'd curse about the mess and fret that it might short out some instruments but he was preoccupied with the shuddering surroundings, bleating warnings about heat damage and frameshift interdiction.

The Canberra Song had been scooping fuel from the star, some 450Ly from the core. Jared had been admiring the list of planets and rocks in the system deciding which few to scan before jumping onwards when a Sidewinder had ripped his little Hauler out of supercruise.

"You're all mine now space pilgrim!"

Jared had removed his shields and weapons before he left George Lucas two days earlier. The extra 3t of weight would drastically cut his jump range and would be idle weight for most of his trip. The 1t of shield generator now suddenly seemed highly worth the 0.5ly jump range it would have cost him.

"This guy must by a nutter" Jared said to himself.

Out here scooping in a hauler! Any ratbag pirate with half a brain would know that anyone trading with a hauler wouldn't waste 4t of cargo space on a scoop.. Let alone 100ly from the nearest major port. He was either stupid or deranged.

Jared opened the narrow band comms just as burning shafts of orange fire flashed overhead before scoring into the aft hull.

"What the hell are you doing? I don't even have any cargo pods! I'm exploring!"

"77% damage, temperature warning, heat damage detected"

The laser fire stopped. Hull temperature hovered around 125%. The smell of expensive things melting reached Jared's nose. He needed some time for things to cool before jumping away, the engines were still in safety lockout.

"I have no cargo, we're light years away from anywhere that even has people and your ship is too small to fit any of my modules in for scrap! Who are you!?"

A worried, slightly squeeky voice broke the silence.

"Exploring? Why would anyone explore this dump?"

CD-2112 X-BD-29 A was not especially remarkable. But hardly somewhere anybody could have spent long enough in to call it a dump.

"Er.. This isn't Orrere is it" came over the comm.

Jared would have head-butted the console if he wasn't strapped into his pilots seat.

"No.. Why don't you check your undercarriage.."

Jared was sure the fool had mis-jumped. He sounded too young to be a seasoned pirate and the uncertainty of the voice told him that if you ignored his compulsion to shoot unarmed cargo haulers for a moment; that it sounded more neonate than nut.


The sidewinder stowed it's weapons.

"I'm in deep shit aren't I." Came over the com in sheepish slightly sing-song words.

Jared scanned the Sidewinder's modules. No fuel scoop and an empty cargo bay.

The last outpost was nearly 250ly from here, he'd not make more than two jumps before running out of fuel.

"Why the light show kid? What was I and my empty hauler supposed to have done that was so bad?"

Jared figured the other pilot was barely out of flight school, maybe he'd not even been. 'Kid' should be feeling like a right plank about now.

"We were ordered to stop the weapons traders.. Sorry about the paintwork. Er.. "

There came quite a long pause.

"How do I get home.. Can you.. Er.. Give me a lift?"