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.
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..