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?"