Aloin's Saga - a Solo Traveller Game


Aloin's Saga - Solo Traveller in the RimWorlds

Part 1


 Aloin Grathikka was born on the desert world of Golus in the Miazan Subsector. His father, Gealar Grathikka, was a Water Miner. Gealar worked on the Aldesarn Valley Project to bring ice slurry from Golus’ northern icecap south across the Jakabsan Range to the marginal farmlands in the Aldesarn Valley region, south and west of Tartesh, the capital town of Golus. Aloin’s mother, Imeneene, the pilot of a free trader, was offworld more often than not while Aloin was growing up. It was only later in life that Aloin learned more about his mother’s offworld activities and how many shades of grey she existed in.


When Aloin was fourteen, his parents separated and his father took up with Meccan Vesukka, a maintenance tech at Golus Downport. Aloin had spent a lot of time growing up as a latch key kid in Tartesh, hanging out after school with the native Olkathi younglings who would drift into the local parks while their parents were water-drunk, but his father’s new living arrangements necessitated a move to the bleak urban wasteland of Golus Downport. By the time he was eighteen, Aloin had little idea about what he wanted to do with his life, except that he wanted to get off Golus and leave the desert dry behind.

Meccan Vesukka was able to use her contacts to find a berth for Aloin aboard the free trader Iridium Queen, Captain Elera Lukk, out of Celephais, and currently shorthanded. And so on 104-1107 Aloin ducked through the main hatch of the Iridium Queen and watched it close tight against the desert vistas of Golus.





Commentary:
This is Aloin’s character sheet, created with the Mongoose Traveller rules – after the end of his first term. I do like the pre-enlistment Skill sets that come from the character’s home world. This part of the character creation process was absent in Classic Traveller but, I believe, was introduced in one of the later versions of the rules.



Backgrounder Part 1


Aloin Grathikka
Having introduced Aloin out of the blue, the next question is, “So, what’s he like? “

Aloin’s character was rolled up using the Mongoose Traveller rules. If we look at his physical stats, we see that he has a Strength of B (or 11), a Dexterity of 8 and an Endurance of 9 – or Above Average Strength (+1 DM in Mongoose Traveller terms), Average Dexterity and Above Average Endurance (again, a +1 DM in Mongoose Traveller terms). We have a picture of a physically fit young man, and if we check out the Height and Table (now thoughtfully attached to the main page of this blog), we see that he stands 5’10” or 175cm and weighs 155lbs or 77.5kg.

We now determine the surface gravity of the Aloin’s race’s homeworld and the surface gravity of his birthworld, Golus. Aloin is human so we determine that his “racial gravity” is Normal. Golus is a small, dense world with a surface gravity of approximately 0.4G.

This result, Normal Homeworld Gravity, Light Birthworld Gravity gives a result of:
Reduces Strength by 2, Endurance by 1, increases Height by 25% and decreases Mass by 20%.

So, Aloin’s Physical Stats become: Strength 9, Dexterity 8 and Endurance 8. His height increases to 7’2” or 218.75cm and his mass decreases to 137 lbs or 62kg. He is very tall and very thin, but wiry and strong, like a basketball player.

Aloin’s non-physical characteristic stats are Intelligence 7, Education 7 and Social Status 8. This means that Aloin is of Average Intelligence and Education, and of a middle-class background. As Aloin is yet to gain either Steward or Carouse Skill, he has yet to develop a “facility to learn languages”. He does, however, have a Language pool of 7 – being the average of his Intelligence and Education. His native language is Miazan Imperial Basic, the dialect of Imperial Basic spoken along the Miazan Main, which he speaks at level 3 – Good Communication. He also speaks Sahsah sai, the main Olkathi language spoken by the Olkathi tribes in and around Tartesh, to level 2 – Average Communication.

We now have a clearer picture of Aloin and what he looks like. I must admit that his height caught me by surprise, which is a good thing when your characters do that.
Aloin Grathikka - revised


Part 2

The main hatch of the Iridium Queen swung open just as Aloin reached out to push the call button again. A small, grey-haired man looked out, and then up. He kept on looking up until Aloin wondered if his head was going to fall off behind him.

“Hello,” Aloin said politely, trying not to loom over him. “My name is Aloin Grathikka. I was told to report to here. Meccan Vesukka sent me.”

The little man swallowed and blinked. “Aloin?” he said weakly. “Meccan sent you? I was expecting someone a little …”

“Shorter?” Aloin suggested. 

The little man grinned. “Kiirgun Atmai, Cargo Master,“ he said. “Come meet the Captain,” he added, inviting Aloin on board.

Walking down the corridor, Aloin found himself ducking instinctively to avoid the overheads and service runs. Stepping into the lift, they were whisked to the upper deck, and then Kiirgun ushered Aloin into the crew common area.

Pushing Aloin into a seat, Kiirgun passed him a fizz drink from a small chiller, and then took one for himself.

Captain Elera Lukk, Iridium Queen
A tiny, elderly woman sauntered into the common area and hoisted herself up onto a stool. Staring intently at Aloin, she pulled a curled, edron wood pipe from a pocket and tamped some dry leaf into the bowl. Producing a hot wire from a ring on one gnarled finger, she lit the pipe and drew heavily on it. “What have you brought me, Kiir?” she asked Kiirgun while continuing to examine Aloin through the cloud of sweet smelling smoke she wrapped about herself.

 “New crewman, ma’am, Aloin Grathikka,” Kiirgun replied.

“From this dust bowl? Recommended? “

“Yes, ma’am. By Meccan Vesukka, my shuttle pilot on the Arch of Heaven.”

“Pain in the arch, more likely,” the little old woman replied. “Why did she end up here?”

“This is her homeworld.” Kiirgun shrugged. “Not enough people here to make it worth bombing during the war, and during the peace it’s a good place for a quiet life.”

“Or to hide,” the old woman grumbled, relighting her pipe. She looked Aloin directly in the eye. He felt as if she was looking right through him. “All right, lad, I am Captain Elera Lukk,” she said. “I am master of this ship, the Iridium Queen, and represent the owner aboard. We are a free trader, out of Celephais, and we are honest. We don’t steal, we don’t smuggle, and we steer a course that’s straight and true. If you can abide by these rules, you will have a berth with us for as long as you like. Otherwise? You can walk home. Understood?”

Aloin straightened up. “Yes, ma’am,” he said. “Thank you, ma’am.”

Captain Lukk permitted a half-smile to flicker across her face. “You may be a little premature with your thanks,” she replied. “You brought him in, Kiir, so you can process him and see to his basic training.” She slid down off her stool and tapped her pipe out into a waste chute. She glanced back at Aloin. “We have a little time, dirt-side, while we’re waiting on a cargo. Use this time wisely and learn this ship,” she said sharply. “When we lift, we won’t be carrying passengers.” She strode out of the common area, heading forward.

Aloin looked downcast. “Cheer up, lad,” Kiirgun said, slapping him lightly on the shoulder. “She didn’t throw you off the ship, so you have a berth and a job. Let’s go get the paperwork squared away, and a bunk sorted for you. And then we’ll get to work.”



Commentary
So, that’s sort of how Aloin ended up as an apprentice crewman on the Iridium Queen.

His father’s partner had served with the Gunner/Cargo Master Kiirgun Atmai (oh, he didn’t mention that he is also the ship’s gunner? That was a bit remiss of him when meeting a young man he doesn’t know) on a previous ship. The fact that “the war” was also mention would seem to indicate that their mutual service was during, or soon after “the war”. The last war to affect the Miazan Subsector was the 4th Outrim War which ended in 1085. The Kalar-Wi War, which occured just to Coreward in Gamelea Subsector, finished in 1105, and as the current game date is 1107, and Aloin’s father and Meccan Vesukka have been together for at least four years, it is unlikely that “the war” Kiirgun was referring to is the Kalar-Wi War.

Captain Elera Lukk and Kiirgun Atmai would appear to have some history in that she trusts his judgement with regards to new hires, and she knows, or knows of, people that he knows. Lukk’s age and physical size changed a lot as I generated a bunch of Merchant characters to get the skill-set I wanted. I’m quite happy with the final result I achieved for her, and I’m starting to get a feel for her and what she is like as a character. 


I have found a piece of freeware called 'Traveller Character Generator', which is available from, amongst other places, CNET, and have been having some fun generating Book 1 characters to flesh out the crew of the Iridium Queen. I used to have a little programme that would generate Book 1 and Supplement 4 characters, but I seem to have lost it when my old computer died.


Background Part 2

Having introduced a couple of characters, I needed to finalise their stats so I could keep them consistent.  Captain Elera Lukk was obviously going to be a major recurring character, so I played around with the Traveller Character Generator application I mentioned in my last post until I had a Merchant Captain who mostly fitted my preconceptions of Captain Lukk.

It was only after completing Lukk’s character picture, and writing the ‘meet the captain’ scene with Aloin, that I realised Elera Lukk was a tiny woman. Generating a character whose Strength characteristic was reduced to 1 by failing aging rolls just confirmed the character in my mind’s eye. Lukk is old, tiny and frail, but she’s also very smart (which is why she trusts her off-sider, Kiirgun Atmai, and why Aloin felt she was seeing through him). Indifferently educated, Elera Lukk is of high status (which, strangely enough, was something I had already factored into her character before I rolled any dice), being a member of a Celephaizean House Minor of Baronial rank.

While Lukk’s character was generated to age 54, her character picture looks older so I have decided that she is in fact 60 years old and has been in command of the Iridium Queen for the last six years. As befits a well-travelled Captain of her age and experience, she speaks several languages, including Kassuriik, the language of the Purvian Minor Race of Lithia and Tallu; Aerrghvi – a dialect of the main Vargr language, Gvegh; Vriok – the main Kalar-Wi language; and Trade Lingo.





Part 3


Golus Downport - image from Pixel Atomicao
The Iridium Queen remained ground-side at Golus Downport for the next four weeks. For Aloin, the days passed in a blur as he struggled to master his basic training under Kiirgun Atmai and familiarise himself with the layout of the ship.

The Iridium Queen was a Harrana Class 200-ton, Tech Level 11, Far Trader – one of eight of this class to come out of Laargashu-Sulluvhan Yard 28 at Celephais. This facility, and much of Celephais Highport, had been heavily damaged during the Kalar-Wi War. While repairs to the Highport were still ongoing, the starship yards remained closed for the foreseeable future and this had resulted in the port’s downgrade from A Class to B Class.

The Harrana Class Far Traders, Aloin discovered, had a two-parsec Jump range and a 1G Acceleration Manoeuvre Drive. Able to carry 61 tons of cargo, 5 cabin passengers, and 4 passengers in Low Berths, the ship was relatively roomy inside. As he learnt the ship, Aloin met the other members of the crew. Aside from Captain Lukk, for whom Aloin acted as driver to various meetings at both the Downport and in the surrounding Star Town; and Kiirgun Atmai who cheerfully gave him piles of manuals to read and then quizzed him on them; the crew consisted of Engineer Holi Pradeen, and Navigator Miska Ilurrin. Experienced spacers, both Pradeen and Ilurrin were Celephaizons like the Captain, and shared a familiarity born of long association.

Aloin quickly became bored trekking backwards and forwards between the ship and various office suites on the Downport concourse, and then waiting attendance upon the Captain during long, dull meetings. A lot of these meetings seemed to degenerate into tea-drinking sessions, as far as he could see, where the Captain and whoever she was meeting with gossiped for hours over pot after pot of sweet, black, chi.

“I thought we were looking for a cargo”, Aloin said to Kiirgun eventually. “But they just talk. So why am I there?’

“What do they talk about?” Kiirgun asked in reply.

“They just talk about … stuff,” Aloin said. “What’s happening on Miazan; what the President of Kamperel likes for breakfast; who’s top dog in the Hunt of Rronurl this month.” He shrugged.

“And what does this tell you?”

Alorin shrugged again. “That these people gossip worse than the Vulpini Holochannel?”

Kiirgun sighed. “Information, lad”, he said.” Next to credits, information is the hardest currency in Charted Space for a merchant.”

A little light seemed to go on for Aloin. “Oh”, he said. “Oh! Oh, that explains the guy from Jarzeroon Petrochem.”

Kiirgun looked up at him and raised an eyebrow.

“The Jarzeroon guy has been at a couple of these tea-fests”, Aloin continued. “He hasn’t said a lot, but each time he’s moved a seat closer to the Captain, and has made a point of talking to her as the meeting has broken up.

“Today, there was a lot of talk about Miazan and plastics and industrial production numbers. And I think he’s expecting a petrochem shipment in from the wells at Jakabsan North – I saw several Olkathi mooching around the Concourse today who I know range that far north and often act as guides for hauler trains.”

Kiirrgun laughed and clapped his hands. “Yes! Well done. You see, your eyes and ears take in all this information, and you just need your brain to make the connections. We didn't know for sure that there was a shipment, but we did know that the Jarzeroon representative was suddenly very keen to sell.”

After passing Aloin a fizz drink from of the crew common area freeze unit, Kiirgun opened one himself, and then toasted Aloin. “Well done, indeed, young Aloin. You asked why you have been dragged along to these ‘tea-fests’. I think you have your answer. If you have the aptitude to be a cargo broker, you have to be able to mingle and talk with a crowd. You have to be able to see who wants to sell and who wants to buy and bring these people, or their factors, together so a deal is done. You have shown me that you can put the information together, now we just have to give you the skills to extract it from the seller and the buyer in a way that both will trust you.”

Commentary:
I’m having a bit of fun teasing the story along and showing how “Basic Training” might actually work on a Free Trader. I rolled for cargoes on the Speculative Trading Table and got nothing of interest for four weeks. There is a reason that Captain Lukk can afford to sit dirt-side for four weeks waiting for a spec cargo, and this will be revealed later on – I have run this campaign out over a game year so there is still more story to come.

By “show”, rather than “tell”, I am trying to reveal more about the characters of the crew of the Iridium Queen, as well as information about the ship, itself. I’m also thinking that a game page on this blog might be a good thing for storing character UPPs and ship USPs as well.


Part 4

The Iridium Queen lifts off from Golus
Day 132-1107 dawned clear and cool on Golus with a light breeze from the north-west. At 0933 Local Time, as the heat of the day was beginning to build, the Iridium Queen lifted off from Golus Downport. Climbing over the Jakabsan range, the ship went supersonic at an altitude of 15 kilometres.

To Aloin, his rangy frame wedged into the Scan station at the rear of the small bridge, it was the greatest ride of his life. The dun-coloured dune lands and burnt-umber farm plots scattered around Golous Downport fell away beneath them like patches on the fabric of the planet. Through the bridge’s port-side window he could see the little white smudge of Tartesh, his home town, twinkling in the morning light and beyond it the green/yellow of the Aldesarn Valley and the thin black line of the canal marching southward, bringing meltwater down from the polar ice cap.

Captain Elera Lukk had the helm, guiding the ship spacewards with almost casual indifference. Navigator Miska Ilurrin was riding co-pilot, running Nav plots for the Jump on her terminal while keeping an eye on Lukk’s control settings. In her forties, the taciturn Navigator was a Celephaizon like her Captain.

As the colour drained from the sky, fading from pale blue to black, and the first stars began to appear, Ilurrin tapped her ear bud. “T'ank you, Golus Down,” she said, her voice a breathy whisper. “See you next time.” She paused. “'firmative,” she acknowledged. “Clear on 'eading 271, Azimuth 67. Iridium Queen out.” She tapped her ear bud again and glanced at Captain Lukk. “Hand off from Golus Down,” Ilurrin said, raising her voice slightly. ”Cross their 'orizon in two minutes. Golus 'ighport rising on 180 in seven minutes. We’re to switch to Channel 7 for COAC.”

Captain Lukk grunted and stretched. “As if we’ll need them,” she said, “now we’ve got Aloin on Scan.” She winked at Ilurin. “You awake back there, lad?” she snapped in Aloin’s direction. Aloin started, tearing his eyes away from the whirls and chords and harmonies of stars that filled the windows of the bridge.

“Yes, Captain,” he said.

“Scan clear?” Lukk asked and grinned at Ilurin, her left hand tapping a command on her console.

Aloin’s quickly looked down at the Scan screen in front of him. Golus’ icon filled the bottom third of the display, Golus Downport’s ID and call sign slowly drifting below the horizon. An ID that identified the Highport was slowly crawling up over the arc of the planet. Then, suddenly, the screen began to fritz and static. Frantically altering the signal filters, Aloin tried to compensate for the interference. “Ma’am,” he said, trying to keep the panic out of his voice, “we’re being jammed.”

“Did you see anything? Any ship that might be jamming us?”

“Uh, no ma’am, Downport’s below the horizon and the Highport’s … uh, I think the Highport was above the horizon. I didn’t see anything else, Ma’am.”

“You sure?” Captain Lukk asked. “What about that Suaryan freighter on the in-bound?”

Aloin shook his head. “I’m sorry, Ma’am, I didn’t see it.”

“And that bulk hauler? Did you see the bulk hauler?”

Aloin shook his head again. “No Ma’am. I’m sorry, Ma’am,” he said miserably.

Lukk swivelled her chair around and glared at Aloin. “Do you know what happens to a 100,000 ton bulk hauler when it runs down a 200 ton freighter?” she demanded.

Aloin shook his head and stared at the static on his scan screen.

“Nothing, “ Lukk said. “It might, if it is unlucky, get its paint scratched as the freighter blows itself to pieces.”

Pulling her pipe out of her belt pouch, Lukk clamped her teeth on the stem. “Bit tough on the freighter crew, though,” she added. “Especially if they were depending on Scan to keep them safe.” Tapping a button on her consol, she hopped down from her chair. Aloin gasped in astonishment as his scan screen abruptly cleared. He quickly checked the plot and the near-time archive.

Captain Lukk patted his knee as she hobbled towards the bridge hatch. “Don’t worry, lad,” she said. “There’s no Suaryan out there, and there’s no bulk hauler.” She paused and looked up at him. “This time,” she added.  Aloin flushed. “Good work on knowing where the ‘ports were, even if only at a glance,” she continued. “Sometimes you only get a glance at a screen, but you need to recall everything.”

“Take us out, Miska,” Lukk ordered, casting one last glance across the boards. “You have the helm until Jump. And you, lad,” she said to Aloin, “will watch your Scan until Kiir comes up to relieve you. And I will ensure that Kiir goes through Scan with you from screen to nubbin, until you know jamming from faulting and can fix either.”

Nodding to herself, Captain Lukk left the bridge. Two hundred and forty minutes later, and a little over 480,000 kilometres from Golus, the Iridium Queen Jumped Outsystem, bound for Miazan with a cargo of 50 tons of petrochemicals.



Commentary:
As I was writing this, I checked the speculative trade table in a pdf copy of Classic Traveller Starter Edition Book 2 Charts I picked up from DrivethruRPG during a sale. I was astonished to see that Petrochemicals are only available in 1d6 ton loads. So how had Captain Lukk scored 50 tons?

I checked the speculative trade table in my copy of The Traveller Book (1983 edition) and found the same notation – 1D tons of Petrochemicals. Then I pulled out my Little Black Book Traveller Book 2: Starships (1977 edition) and found Petrochemicals 6D * 5 tons. Wow! That’s quite a change, though Mongoose Traveller has Petrochemicals being available in 1D * 10 ton loads, Mega Traveller, as is its want, complicates things further by having three class sizes of cargo, with the cargo size further affected by the population of the originating planet. I like what my LBBs are serving me so they have become my Spec Trading table of choice.


Part 5

I am slowly getting over a bad head cold. My misery has been compounded by connectivity shenanigans perpetrated by my second-hand-reconditioned-back-from-the dead computer, and a case of writers’ block.

A Brief Recap
Aloin Grathikka was born on the desert world of Golus in the Miazan Subsector. His father, Gealar Grathikka, was a Water Miner while his mother, Imeneene, was the pilot of a free trader and offworld, more often than not, while Aloin was growing up.

By the time he was eighteen, and after his parents had separated, Aloin had little idea about what he wanted to do with his life, except that he wanted to get off Golus and leave the desert dry behind. Meccan Vesukka, Aloin’s step-mother, was able to use her contacts to find a berth for Aloin aboard the free trader Iridium Queen, Captain Elera Lukk, out of Celephais.

After a longer than expected lay-over, the Iridium Queen left Golus, outbound for Miazan, with a cargo of petrochemicals.



During the week in Jump Space, Aloin’s training continued. The 50 tons of Petrochemicals Captain Lukk had purchased from Jarzeroon Petrochem on Golus had cost the ship Cr 450,000, or Cr 9,000 per ton. This made Captain Lukk slightly happy as the base price for petrochemicals was usually estimated at Cr 10,000 per ton.

“Should have been able to talk him down further,” Lukk mused as they sat around in the crew common area. “We were the only ship in port, but that Jarzeroon guy, he knew we’d been dirtside for four weeks and we needed a cargo.

“Sometimes,” she added, “you reach a point of balance in the deal where everyone is equally unhappy, but you take it anyway, as you don’t have a choice.” She pulled up a series of charts and spreadsheets on the common area screen. “So, we take a not-so-good deal and we look around to see how to make it better.”

Tapping a map of the subsector, Lukk continued, ”We’re hauling petrochemicals, unprocessed raw materials, so Miazan is our obvious destination.” She began counting points off on her fingers, “It’s the Subsector Capital, and an industrial world with a large population; it’s two parsecs from Golus and within our range; and it has an insatiable appetite for raw materials.”

Bringing up another screen, Lukk began to enumerate the trade classifications of main worlds within six parsecs of Golus. Aloin scribbled notes on his handcomp, frantically trying to keep up.

One hundred and sixty four hours out from Golus, the Iridium Queen dropped down into Real Space, and the Miazan System. The Outrange buoys were soon detected, squawking real time navigational data, local system news and, most importantly, a raw data stream, with light-speed delay, from the commodities market. By the time the Iridium Queen slid into Miazan Highport’s Bay 35 Spinward, Captain Lukk had a fairly clear understanding of the current commercial market. Within hours the cargo of Golusi Petrochemicals was sold and hauler units were moving the pallets of barrels dockside.

Tying down the pallet jacks as the last hauler rumbled down the main ramp, Aloin turned to Kiirgun Atmai. “How did we do?” he asked.

Kiirgun checked the last of the way bills against the manifest on his handcomp, hit {send}, and glanced up at his lanky protégé. “Load out times' a bit slow,” he said. “You’ll need to practise some more. On a tight turn around, you can’t mess about getting pallets lined up for the haulers.”

Aloin pulled a face. “No, I meant the cargo,” he said. “Did we get a good price for it?”

Kiirgun walked over to the main ramp and hit the large button on the battered control panel. Compressed air hissing, huge rams began to close the hold doors. “Two things,” he said over the noise of the rumbling bearings. “One; we don’t talk about ship business on an open dock,” he winked at Aloin, “and two; 765 K, while not quite doubling our money, certainly keeps us flying.”


Part 6

Miazan Subsector
For the next three weeks the Iridium Queen remained dockside at Miazan Highport while Captain Lukk looked for a cargo. The enforced layover gave Aloin an opportunity to explore a little of the immense flying city that was the Highport.

With a population of four and a half million sophonts, and orbiting a planet with a population of 5.2 billion, Miazan Highport was a bustling centre for trade, commerce, manufacturing and shipbuilding. While small craft and small starships where actually built within the structure of the Highport, Aloin was able to take a Virtual tour of three of the major yards that occupied the outer orbitals around moonless Miazan. Pride of place in the Sharmon-Agilleur Yard was the nearly completed hull of an immense 20,000 ton Daiishaluur Class megahauler. Out beyond the commercial yards lay the Navy Yards, but these were all off limits to the public, much to Aloin’s disappointment.

By way of compensation, he was able to study two 60,000 ton Segaramii Class Cruisers, in port for crew rotation, from a public viewing gallery. The two behemoths kept station only 200 kilometres out from the Highport, and were clearly visible through the low-power telescopes in the viewing gallery.

Otherwise kept on a tight reign by Kiirgun, Aloin was on hand when six large harvesters were dropped on the Iridium Queen’s dock by a cargo hauler. After helping Kiirgun hitch up the ungainly machines to the ship’s crane boom, Aloin was given a quick lesson in stowing and securing non-container shaped cargo. They had barely finished fastening the last of the tie-downs when the call to secure ship for departure came through their handcomps. “Old lady’s in a hurry,” Kiirgun muttered as he swung the ramp in-board and secured the hold doors. “Double check the seals, lad,” he said to Aloin. “If we vacuum weld these things, the Captain will be very displeased.”

Falling away from the Highport, Captain Elera Lukk swung the Iridium Queen’s nose around onto her departure heading. Beside her, Miska Ilurrin finished feeding the datapoints downloaded from Miazan Traffic Control into the Nav computer. The navigator grunted with disgust. “Thrown us way out in the JZ,” she muttered. “At least 120 diameters. Says there’s a lot of traffic outbound. Says we gotta go deep to clear a megahauler bound for Exxilon.”

The bridge hatch hissed open and Aloin slid into his seat at the Scan position. Captain Lukk glanced back at him and raised an eyebrow. “Yes, Captain, sorry, Captain, I’m late, Captain,” Aloin said, quickly running a check on Scan. “Been helping Kiirgun tie down the cargo and thought I’d better have a shower before reporting.”

Lukk grinned at Miska and winked. She then glowered at Aloin. “In future, Mr Grathikka, please advise the bridge prior to your ablutions,” she said sternly. “We tend to have our hands full departing major ports and can’t spend time chasing around after laggards.”

Aloin blushed. “Sorry, Captain,” he said again.

As the hours passed, the Iridium Queen fell deeper to nadir of Miazan, dropping below the system ecliptic plane and into the outbound Jump Zone. At last Aloin could contain his curiosity no longer. “Where are we headed, Captain?” he asked.

Lukk chuckled. “We have a hold full of agricultural machinery, Mr Grathikka. Where do you think?”

“An agricultural world?”

“Very good. And what is the nearest agricultural world to Miazan?”

Aloin thought quickly. “Bromus, Captain?”

“Well done, Mr Grathikka. I am so pleased that I was not wasting oxygen when we discussed the systems of the Miazan Subsector and their trade classifications.” Lukk half-turned her chair to look directly at Aloin. “Now listen, lad,” she continued, “Bromus is a primitive little dung-hill of a planet, and it’s run by a tin-pot little cockerel. But remember, it’s his dung-hill and he’s in charge. We’re just going to slide in quietly, off-load our hold-full of machinery, buy a hold-full of beets or potatoes or whatever he’s got a surplus of, and get the Void straight out of there.

“I will remind you of this, closer to dirtside, but while down on Bromus I want you to stick close by me, or Kiir, or Miska. The Bromosians are a backward bunch and don’t like off-worlders. We’ve wasted enough time on this trip and I don’t have the time or patience to break you out of some backwater jail if you wander off on your own. You hear me?”

Aloin nodded. “Yes, Captain, I’ll stick close.”

Mollified, Lukk swung her chair back to face her board. “All right then, “ she said. “We’re about an hour from Jump. How about you go make us a hot cup of xhu and see if Kiir put any sandwiches in the pantry.”

Relieved, Aloin squeezed out of his station and headed aft towards the crew commons. As the bridge hatch slide closed, Miska glanced at Lukk. “You riding him, ‘lera?”

Lukk glared at her navigator. “I’m trying to put some sense in his damn-fool head before he gets it shot off,” she snapped and fumbled her pipe out of her pouch.

Miska shrugged. “He been off 'is homeworld a couple’a weeks, ‘lera. Can’t grow sense like ‘tatoes. Sometimes, gotta feel a little pain to learn.”

“You telling me my job, demi-sister?” Lukk muttered as she tamped leaf in her pipe. “And we’re keeping him close on Bromus,” she added, jabbing her pipe stem at Miska. “If he’s to learn a painful lesson, it will not be there, not with those inbred xenophobes. We’re only doing this run because we need the cash. In and out, no dramas, you hear?”

Miska touched an old scar on her throat. The gesture made Lukk wince and glance away. “No dramas, ‘lera,” Miska agreed. “Want the boy safe, and not terrified to death by a scared old woman.”

Clamping her pipe in her teeth, Lukk glared at Miska. “You have the bridge,” she said through gritted teeth as she slid off her chair, stood up, and stretched. “I’m going to see where that cup of xhu has got to.” Turning on her heel, she stomped through the hatchway and down the corridor towards the commons.

Commentary:
The game moves a little further on and I’m having fun exploring both the background of the adventure (the Highport, navigational regulations) and the relationships between the characters – Elera Lukk and Miska Ilurrin are demi-sisters, which is a surprise. And Miska is rather taciturn due to an old injury, perhaps the scar tissue restricts her ability to speak and/or shape certain words or sounds?

I still have the basic game plotted out, and very soon I start to use some of the encounter tables from the rules to throw wild cards into the mix. To date, the speculative trading is done purely on dice rolls, which is why Lukk has had to sit dockside for weeks at a time waiting for cargoes. Very soon she gives in and starts hauling freight which, while not as lucrative, at least guarantees a regular pay check. Also, I need to work out the Iridium Queen’s running costs as that will have a bearing on some of the storyline as well. And I need to write-up the Segaramii Class Cruisers I, oh so casually, created in my narrative.


Backgrounder Part 4


Having introduced two Navy vessels into Aloin’s story, the designs of which are now in the Starships and Space ships page, it seems appropriate to examine the Imperial and Subsector Navies as I see them operating within the RimWorlds.

When Kolin Venuraski (later Sector Duke Kolin I) launched the settlement of the RimWorlds by the 3rd Imperium in the 6th Century, he had at his disposal a small flotilla of Imperial Navy ships for the protection of his colony fleet. This flotilla was augmented by such armed auxiliaries as his supporters could buy, equip, or supply. And as they spread out and were granted, or took, planetary holdings, it soon became imperative for each Noble to possess at least a couple of armed ships to both protect his/her fief, and to send to serve the Sector Duke when he called for aid. Kolin I took his duties as Sector Duke, and head of his comitatus, very seriously and he did not hesitate to downgrade Houses Major to House Minor status if they did not fully support him.

While numbers of available ships, and the technology level of their build, have fluctuated over the centuries, the current system for the defence of the RimWorlds has changed little from Kolin Venuraski’s day, nor from the House Trumer restoration of the Sector in the 10th Century. There is an Imperial Sector Fleet, currently utilising Tech Level 15 ships, charged with defending the nine Imperial controlled Subsectors of the Sector. Headquartered at the Sector capital Thiroor/Gazolan, Sector Fleet has at least one base in each Imperial Subsector and regularly shifts squadrons between them to maintain a state of readiness. The Reserve Fleet of older, Tech Level 14, units is based at Raelmar/Thurgandarn. There is no mothball fleet as all surplus units are sold to Houses Major to augment their Subsector Fleets.

Each Subsector Duke maintains a Subsector Fleet as his or her comitatus and is responsible for the defence of that subsector, as well as being obliged to commit units to assist the Sector Duke as required. As the standing a House Major holds is dependent upon the resources it can both commit to the defence of its Subsector, and to the defence of the Sector, very few recalcitrant Houses have survived the refusal to render aid. "Send ships or grasp the diadem" is a saying that we might translate as "Do your duty, or take charge", with the implication that the act of taking charge involves irrevocably committing the resources and fortunes of your House to both overthrowing the current Sector Duke and dealing with whatever problem currently threatens the Sector.

Houses Major of Siridar-Count and Siridar-Baron rank can, and often do, maintain Planetary Navies which both defend their respective systems, and support their Subsector Duke as required. This ships may be built locally, or purchased from shipyard systems. Even System Defense Boats can be moved from system to system if there is sufficient Jump-capable transports of suitable tonnage available.

On the whole, this system works reasonably well with Subsector Fleets, usually backed up by a Sector Fleet squadron, being sufficient to maintain order or deal with most border incursions, and the heavy units of the Sector Fleet being committed only in the event of a major war.

In Miazan Subsector, the bulk of the 12.1 billion Imperial sophonts are concentrated in just three systems – Nakaya, Exxilon and Miazan.

The 6.2 billion inhabitants of the isolated Nakaya system make do with an average Tech Level of 7 – below Interstellar - meaning that they lack the technology to produce the machines that produce the machines that manufacture starships. While the Siridar-Baron of Nakaya maintains a few orbital forts and a large System Defence Boat flotilla, these have all been purchased from elsewhere and have to be maintained by expensive off-world technicians. Nakaya does contribute approximately one fifth of the annual Miazan Subsector Navy Budget of TCr 5.1.

With a population of 575 million sophonts, the Exxilon system is just on the edge of developing a native starship building industry at Tech Level 9 – or it will be when it develops its starport further. Like Nakaya, its greatest contribution towards the defence of the subsector is to finance shipbuilding elsewhere.

And elsewhere just happens to be the Subsector capital of Miazan. With a Tech Level of 12, an A Class Starport, and a population of 5.2 billion, Miazan has a yard capacity of over 6 million tons and the ability to produce ships of up to 100,000 tons in size. It is also the only major starship producing shipyard facility in Imperial-controlled space within the Subsector.

For the last decade, yard space at Miazan has been at a premium as House Geyukthi, Dukes of Miazan, have sought to replace Navy losses incurred during the 4th Outrim War and the Kalar-Wi War, as well as encourage the expansion of interstellar trade required to boost the subsector, financially. With such a bottleneck in the supply chain, and the smaller shipyards at Celephais out of action due to damage sustained during the Kalar-Wi War, the Miazan Subsector Navy is finding itself being out-built by neighboring polities that it is obliged to defend against.


Part 7

Captain Lukk spread an old knitted shawl over the small aluminium shipping box and settled herself down, just where a shaft of sunlight spilled through the open main cargo hatch of the Iridium Queen. She drew her jacket more snugly about her. Sertan’s orangey light cast a golden glow across the late afternoon sky, but the K2 star did not throw much heat at this time of year and at this latitude.

Casually checking that the butt of her autopistol was free of the edge of her pocket, Lukk nodded towards the scruffy idler loitering beside the hoist at the foot of the cargo ramp. The idler suddenly found something utterly fascinating in his infotainment sheet and settled down on one of the hoist’s tines, half turning away from the Iridium Queen’s open hatch as he scanned the text boxes. Lukk lit her pipe.

Hearing footsteps on the deck plates, she glanced quickly behind her and then relaxed as Holi Pradeen came into view around the end of some stowed cargo jacks. Wheezing in the thin air, the rotund Celephaizon Engineer plonked himself down beside Lukk on her rug-covered shipping box. “I see our little friend is still out there,” he puffed. “I’d like to know how the Dear Leader gets his watchers on the Starport Authority Payroll.”

Lukk blew a smoke ring. “Quotas,” she said. “The Bromosians are a xenophobic lot. They don’t like offworlders. They’ll trade with us, but they don’t like us.”

Pradeen chuckled. “We’ve been here three and a half weeks, Elera,” he said. “They don’t seem to want to trade with us either.”

Lukk pursed her lips. “That’s why I sent Kiir and the lad over to the terminal,” she replied, “to post our destination on the main board.”

Pradeen raised an eyebrow. “Freight?” he asked. “We’re taking freight? And passengers?”

The Captain glared up at her rotund Engineer. “Yes, we’re taking freight,” she snapped. “And no, we’re not taking passengers. We don’t have a steward, and the Dear Leader probably wouldn’t let any of his Joyful Companions out of their potato fields, anyway.”

“That’s a relief,” Pradeen said. “I like having a stateroom to myself. I would really hate to have to bunk with Kiir.” He cocked his head, listening. “Sounds like the mule, inbound,” he added, hauling himself to his feet. “Hope Kiir and the boy had some luck at the terminal.” He smiled down at Lukk, “And our watcher has vanished, too,” he said quietly over the noise of the approaching quadbike and trailer.

“Well, you’d better go throw some coal in the boiler,” Lukk said, gathering up her shawl and pacing across the deck to the main hatch. “I want to be off this cabbage patch as soon as we’ve got something in the hold. We’re going back to Miazan. At least folks there have got some money.” She quickly stepped aside as Kiirgun gunned the mule up the ramp and through the hatch. Aloin sat perched on a pile of boxes in the trailer, grinning as the trailer bounced over the lip of the hatch behind the quadbike.

“You better have good news for me, Kiir!” Lukk shouted over the noise of the mule.

Kiirgun cut the engine and gestured double-thumbs up. “Captain,“ he said. “We have freight.”

Fifty-six hours later, the Iridium Queen lifted from Bromus Downport, two twenty-ton consignments and a five ton break-bulk load stowed neatly in her hold. Two hundred and fifty-two hours out from Bromus, on 212-1107, she slipped into Miazan Highport Bay 42 Spinward. The docking seals were barely tight when Captain Lukk had Kiirgun and Aloin crack open the main cargo hatch and begin shifting the containers dockside, much to the initial amusement, and then growing irritation, of Miazan Customs and Excise.



Commentary

Time to rattle along the last couple of jumps before the use of encounter tables kicks in. It has been a nice, quiet run so far which has enabled us to learn a little about the characters, get a handle on how the ship operates, and do a little bit of trading. Sadly, Captain Lukk has had appalling luck on the Trade Tables. When Aloin begins to think about it, he may begin to wonder how she can afford to sit for weeks on a dock.

I’m very happy with how the background of the subsector has been developing, and the discussions on ships and shipbuilding have helped me focus various thoughts I have had off and on for years. Coincidently, I have recently seen two discussions on Citizens of the Imperium about both constructing shipyards and about what shipyards can construct, which have been both informative and entertaining.


Part 8

Slipping on his new Daiihousi sunglasses, an impulse buy just before the Iridium Queen cleared Miazan Highport, Aloin took a deep breath and ducked through the crew hatch. He looked around, surveying the wide, wind-swept field of Golus Downport. ‘Not many ships in today,’ he thought immediately, and then drew his jacket more tightly about him as he became aware of the bitingly cold northerly wind.

Even though a faint heat haze shimmered over the ferrocrete apron, when he looked north he could see pockets of snow high up on the shoulders of the Jakabsan Range. It was then that it struck him, he had been aboard the Iridium Queen for five months, four of them offworld. During that time, winter had returned to the northern hemisphere of Golus, and the Olkathi younglings he knew from Tartesh were long gone on their annual migration into the deep southern desert.

The rumble of the main cargo hatch opening drew Aloin back to the here and now. Swinging down the access ladder, he ducked under the stubby wings of the Iridium Queen, quickly checking the exterior hull for obvious damage as he had been taught, and noting his observations on his handcomp. Rounding the starboard landing jack, he walked over to where Kiirgun was running out the ramp. “Starboard side clear,” he called out to the cargomaster as Kiirgun began working locking pins and straps free from the nets securing the containers in the hold. “I’ll just check port side – oh, and it looks like Customs is on its way,” he added, spotting movement amongst the vehicles parked near the concourse.

As Aloin finished his checks and flashed his report to Holi Pradeen, the ship’s Engineer, Kiirgun was completing the customs inspection of their cargo. Even as the inspectors trekked down the Iridium Queen’s ramp, the first of two cargo haulers was backing into position, ready for the offload. Sprinting to join Kiirgun, Aloin was soon hard at work, wrestling awkwardly shaped pallet-loads onto the hauler’s flatbed.

“And that’s the last of them,” Kiirgun puffed as he flashed a thumbs-up to the hauler driver. Aloin vaulted off the hauler’s cargo deck just as the large vehicle jerked forward and then accelerated away from the ship. Kiirgun quickly scanned the electronic manifest on his handcomp, signatured it, and forwarded it to Captain Lukk and the shipping agent. “Not bad, lad,” he said as they walked wearily up the cargo ramp and began to strike the crane, “five tons of machine tools offloaded in record time, and a healthy four million credit profit.” Aloin gaped at him.

“Don’t get too excited, lad,” Kiirgun continued, stowing the crane arm. “Once the bills are paid and the backers take their cut, we’ll probably only have enough left for a protosteak dinner.” He grinned. “But it will be a very nice dinner. And maybe next time I see a bottle of ’64 Celephaisian Rum in a concourse gift shop, the Old Lady will let me buy it.”

“Get me a pay day like today and I’ll buy you a vat of it,” Elera Lukk said, stalking into the cargo hold. Kiirgun flushed and then casually wiped his forehead with the back of his sleeve. “On it, Captain,” he said.

Over the next few days, in between driving Captain Lukk to meetings and prowling the concourse with Kiirgun in search of cargos, Aloin managed to phone home. To his disappointment, he discovered that his father was still working north of the Jakabsan Range on the Aldesarn Valley Project canal. The Project company had been busily recruiting as Autumn semester had drawn to a close and a number of Aloin’s school friends were now overseeing heavy machinery or working survey parties in the steppe lands that ran up to the polar ice sheet.

There was no word from Aloin’s mother, Imeneene. As far as he could learn, she was still offworld. Meccan Vesukka, Aloin’s father’s partner, half-heartedly suggested that they catch up for dinner but, pleading an erratic work schedule and the likelihood of an earlier liftoff from Golus, Aloin had declined. He was grateful to Meccan for securing him a berth aboard the Iridium Queen, but he still felt awkward socialising with her.

As the days slipped passed, Kiirgun began to run short of manuals for Aloin to study. Even Holi had to admit that all the routine maintenance was up to date, all the deferred maintenance had been completed, and if Aloin had to polish the Jump inducers again, there was a high probability he would wear through the metal sheathing. Even the reclusive Navigator, Miska Ilurrin, was showing signs of boredom, playing adventure games on the crew commons wide screen rather than computing Jump solutions for all possible stellar bodies within 36 parsecs of Golus.

Finally, Captain Lukk arrived back aboard one evening, unannounced. Tiredly, she settled into a seat in the commons. Kiirgun brought her a glass of water and then went off to warm up some dinner.

“Well?” Miska asked. “Cargo?”

Lukk sipped her water and then nodded. “Yes,” she said, “we have a cargo.” She held up a hand to forestall comment. “Not the biggest, and not the cleanest, but it will keep us going a little longer.”

“Not the cleanest?” Holi asked. “What? Coal? Sand? Desert-beast doo-doo?”

Lukk shook her head. “Hot rocks,” she replied. “So you better break out the lead foil.” Taking the bowl of chowder from Kiirgun, Lukk stalked off towards her cabin.

“Hot rocks?” Aloin asked.

“Radioactives,” Kiirgun replied. “Hope your people don’t cut corners when it comes to sealing hot rocks in shipping canisters.”

A couple of nights later, a non-descript truck pulled up at the foot of the Iridium Queen’s ramp. Twelve pallets, each with a bright yellow armoured contained lashed to it, were swung off the truck and into the hold. Wearing full overalls and a rebreather unit, Aloin helped Kiirgun secure the pallets for takeoff.

“Double lock ‘em, lad,” Kiirgun said, handing Aloin another locking bar. “Holi says this stuff is pretty inert in this form, but it’s a real curse to mop up if it spills.”

The comm unit sparked into life. “You finished tying down?” Captain Lukk demanded from the bridge. “We’re lifting in ten. I’m closing the main hatch.

“All hands, “she continued, “secure for liftoff and get to your stations. Move it, people, there’s weather coming in from the west. If we stay any longer on this dust ball, we’ll get buried.”


Part 9

Aloin doubled-checked his reference points and then the star system master plot. This late into Seconday, the bridge of the Iridium Queen was quiet except for the susurration of life support, the regular pulse of Scan, and an occasional gentle snore from the pilot’s chair. “Uh, Miska,” he said hesitantly, his voice sounding suddenly loud. Miska made a half-snuffle, half-cough sound and then abruptly sat bolt upright in her chair. Reflected in the bridge main screen, Aloin could see her quickly checking her boards.

“I’ve just noticed this,” he said, switching a feed of Scan across to the main board. Miska stared blankly at the system schematic. “We got the master system plot off the Jump Zone buoy about five hours ago,” Aloin said. “Nav Comp runs the plot in real time, based on logged vectors.”

“Know this,” Miska replied, tapping her chest.

“I’ve logged master system updates off the JZ buoys, and Miazan Highport, on the hour for the last four hours.” Aloin brought up the Scan plot. “And here’s our Scan returns,” he continued, “ mapped onto the master plot and with vector probabilities computed.”

Miska stared at the second plot. “That one,” she said suddenly, indicating an icon, “’s out of place.”

Aloin nodded. “Yes,” he said. “It dropped down into Real Space about an hour before us, which is why its position and vector were in the original master system plot we received off the buoy.”

“In-bound on Exxilon track,” Miska said thoughtfully. “Approach vector logged by Miazan T.C.”

“It starts to diverge from track about two hours ago,” Aloin said. “About when their scan would’ve picked us up.”

“Scan return on them?”

Aloin quickly tapped a command into his board. “Data stream coming up now,” he said, switching the new plot to the main screen. He glanced down the scrolling column of numbers on the left of the screen. “She’s a free trader. Harran Class, just like us. Imperial registry. Out of Celephais ...”

“Emission sig,” Miska interrupted. “Clean up ‘mission sig’ture.”

Aloin concentrated on the spectrum display at the bottom of the screen, activating filters to reduce the signal noise on the other ship’s drive emission signature. “I think that’s as good as I can get it,” he said at last.

“Good ‘nough, lad,” Miska said and punched the comm key on the arm of her chair. “Captain to bridge, trouble.”

Aloin stared at her. “Miska? What’s going on? They’re from your homeworld.”

Miska glanced back at him as she brought her board to life. “Thieves and villains and will cut our throats!” she said. She pointed at the scar on her neck. “Didn’t get this shavin’. “ Gesturing at the ship’s icon on the main screen, she said, “That’s the Guard Amethyst. That’s Venhrait and her thugs. That’s trouble, dockside.”


Glossary:
Jump Zone – A controlled area of space specifically assigned for starships to transit to and from Jump Space. By convention, in-bound starships transit through the system zenith while out-bound starships transit through the system nadir, thus reducing the possibility of encountering hazards orbiting the parent star along the plane of the ecliptic.

Seconday – Second shift. Work time on starships is usually measured in two shifts; Primeday or main shift; and Seconday or secondary shift. The bulk of a starship’s crew are off duty during Seconday.

T.C. – Traffic Control. Usually refers to the control hub for tracking and routing interplanetary and interstellar traffic through a star system. Ships enter and leave a star system in a Jump Zone – an area of space at least 100 planetary diameters out from the system’s main world. Jump Zones, depending upon the amount of in-bound and out-bound traffic in the system, can be millions of kilometres across.

Backgrounder Part 5

In the last instalment of Aloin’s adventures, the crew of the Iridium Queen encountered another Celephaizon merchant ship as they approached Miazan Highport. From the reaction of Miska Ilurin, the Iridium Queen’s Navigator, Aloin was able to gather that there was little love lost between the Iridium Queen and the incoming ship, the Guard Amethyst, Captain Venhrait.

This was the first time in this game that I had attempted to use both the starship encounter table and the reaction tables from the Classic Traveller rules.

The Starship Encounter table appears on Page 36 of Book 2: Starships and is a simple little 2d6 affair. With a range of results from 8 or less (no encounter) through to 18 (patrol), the 2d6 result is modified by the starport type of the system main world, +6 for an A Class port down to -4 for an X Class port. This means that in a system with an A Class starport, the only time that there won’t be a starship encounter is on a roll of 2 –. This, perhaps, indicates the expected traffic volume in such a system. Encounter types are given as three types of free trader, two types of patrol, two types of subsidised merchant, two types of yacht and one pirate. Results of patrol and pirate can generate a Type-S armed scout, a Type-C armed cruiser or a Type-Y armed yacht. The assumptions evident in this encounter table are that starships are usually unarmed and that Traveller takes place in a “small ship” universe. Given that the starship construction rules in Book 2 seemed to max out at around 5000 tons then we’re looking more at Andre Norton’s Solar Queen than David Webber’s Honor Harrington series.

The starship encounter table from the Classic Traveller Starter Edition pdf essentially reprints the encounter table from The Traveller Book. This expands upon the Book 2 encounter table with the result spread now running from 2 – 15, and with each Starport type having its own column and selection of results. The presence of a Naval or Scout base grants positive dice modifiers and the ship encounters can also generate small craft encounters as well. All ship and small craft encounter types are now detailed and include all the standard ship and craft types that appear as “off the peg” designs in the rules. While still a “small ship” universe, this encounter table has both more detail and less freedom for the Games Master in that the ships are defined by class rather than primary function.

Standard 2d6 Bell curve
I had been considering expanding the Book 2 encounter table myself – perhaps by putting in a loading for location within the RimWorlds. With a standard 2d6 encounter table, one gets the standard bell-curve distribution. Dice modifiers simply move the bell curve along the X-axis which allows one to have different results or result ranges while using the same 2D6. On the other hand, an alternative would be to retain the basic encounter table and have a series of sub tables cascading off each result type – these sub tables would then be modified by DMs for location (frontier, Imperial interior, Outrim Space, Rimward Void, etc), starport type, Naval Base, Scout Base, and so on.

+2 modifier on 2d6 Bell curve moves the range to 4 - 14
This sounds like a project for a long, wet, Sunday when there’s nothing on the telly.

And on the third hand, I could just stick with the basic table, assume that any encounter rolled was significant to the characters, and play Interrogation to discover the What and the Why of it. Interrogation is a little thinking-assist brain-storming game I used to play where I would use a series of dice rolls to map out a story idea or plot.

In the situation where the Iridium Queen encounters the Guard Amethyst in the Miazan system, I rolled a Free Trader encounter type on the Book 2 encounter table. On the Reaction Table, I rolled “Hostile. May Attack.” Very interesting – who was this Free Trader and why was it hostile? I then posed a series of Yes/No questions and rolled 2d6 – 7+ for “yes”, 6- for “no”. Were they rivals? Yes. Trade rivals? No. Family rivals? Yes. From the same homeworld? Yes.

These answers told me that the Guard Amethyst was also from Celephais, and that the bad blood between the two ships was more of the nature of a feud between two families. This, in turn, gave me some insights into the nature of Celephaizon society (clannish). And also, by implication, it would appear that Captain Lukk, rather than owning the Iridium Queen herself, may actually be acting as agent for, and on behalf of, her family as Captain. With this revised ownership scheme, I was able to worry less about whether Lukk was meeting the mortgage payments on her ship and more about her meeting her running costs.

The naming of the rival ship, the Guard Amethyst, and her captain, Captain Venhrait, gave me two more plot hooks to begin hanging more story bits on, and an archenemy for the crew of the Iridium Queen to focus upon.


Part 10


“Target returning fire. Lasers and missiles. Three missiles inbound.”

“Launch sand. Run Gunner Interact programme. Engage Target with Turret 1’s beams.”

“Missile 1 destroyed. Missile 3 destroyed. Missile 2 locked on.”

“Launch more sand. Turret 1, point defence against incoming missile.”

“Missile has lock.”

“Run Evade programme. Launch more sand. Turret 1, engage missile.”

“Missile has lock. Impact in ten seconds.”

“Not again! Turret 1 engage! Run Evade!”

“Missile impact. Explosive decompression aft of frame 24 ... .”

“Darn it! Same again! Every time it comes out this way! I’m so bored!” Aloin pushed the game controller away. As the tacsym paused, and the commons lights came up, Captain Elera Lukk glanced up from her reader. “We’ve been here two weeks and I haven’t stepped out of the ship,” Aloin complained, stalking over to the chiller and pulling out a fizz drink.

Elera Lukk frowned and turned her reader off. “We’re waiting, Mr Grathikka,” she said. “We are practising the art of patience.” She glanced at the chrono on her wrist. “I am expecting a call within the next 80 minutes which will determine whether we go out light or heavy.” She touched a couple of buttons on her hand comp. “Until then,” she continued, getting to her feet, “might I suggest you re-run your last exercise on the tacsym as I have just altered the parameters.” As the tacsym sprang into life and Aloin made a dive for the controller, Captain Lukk serenely headed for’ard towards her cabin.

“Right! We have a cargo,” Captain Lukk said, bursting into the crew commons. “Nine tons of the finest, laser-etched, Miazan blade ware. Or so that cutpurse, Itato Surviiros, tells me. Which probably means,” she added, “they were actually stamped in some Vargr-run sweat shop on Tonivar and Surviiros tricked them out of a dim-witted Outrim trader.”

Kiirgun Atmai pulled a face. “Nine tons, Ma’am? We’ll be running practically empty.”

Lukk nodded glumly. “I’m aware of this, Kiir,” she said. “Light up the board. We’ll take freight for Ektra, via Omega Vasali IX.”

“No passengers?”

“No passengers. More trouble than they’re worth.”

Kiir raised an eyebrow. “And we’re ignoring our angry cousins?”

Lukk grinned. “With Miazan Traffic Control climbing all over them for leaving their slot on approach? I suspect they’ll be staying quieter than fauxmice.” She chuckled. “The anonymous complaint probably didn’t help, either.”

“You dropped a blank call to M.T.C.?” Kiirgun asked. He laughed. “I think you’ve just made our angry cousins just that little bit angrier,” he said with a grin.

Twenty-seven hours later, and with 30 tons of freight for Omega Vasali IX aboard, the Iridium Queen departed Miazan High Port, dropping away to nadir into the outbound Jump Zone. One hundred and five planetary diameters out from the blue-gray orb of Miazan, the Iridium Queen’s Jump Drive began to spin up. As the ship’s transponder automatically synced departure time and destination with the Jump Zone Buoy, the Jump Drive wrapped the Iridium Queen in a bubble of energy, ripped a small hole in the fabric of the Universe and hurled the ship through it.

With a flash and a burst of neutrinos, the Iridium Queen vanished.


Commentary:

I do feel a bit of a tease after the big build up, but sometimes you roll “no encounter”. And in a Solo game, you then have to come up with a plausible reason as to why the expected confrontation did not occur.

With busy shipping lanes around a major starport, I would expect that Traffic Control would keep a very tight rein over what starships do or not do in the vicinity of the Highport. While space is very big, with traffic converging on a volume only several miles in diameter, the chances that someone not sticking tightly to plot ends up where they shouldn’t be and causes a major accident must be reasonably high (the wrecking of the Rena on the Astrolabe Reef, off the port of Tauranga, is a rather salient reminder of what can happen when a navigator attempts to cut the corner on what should have been a simple approach).

Given the agitation evident amongst the Iridium Queen’s crew over the appearance of the Guard Amethyst, a combination of a Traffic Control investigation (into a retro-written illegal manoeuvre) and a policy of staying pretty much aboard while in dock seems a likely explanation as to why there was no encounter – this time.

Anyway, the Iridium Queen is now bound for a new area of space – Ektra and the Kamperelian Republic – where, surely, adventure and daring do must be done.



Part 11

From space, the little planet looked like a tiny rocky ball, rolling around the rim of Omega Vasalai’s gravity well. Occasional flares from the sullen M2 primary had blasted the planet’s tenuous atmosphere away eons ago. Uninhabitable, and uninhabited until a little over 250 years ago, the ninth planet in the Omega Vasalai system had been unnamed and ignored by Aldeed Golus and the other Imperial Scouts who mapped and explored the Miazan Subsector in the 7th and 8th Centuries.

While a small colony of Gas Miners clung to a precarious existence around the system’s gas giant, no one had really cared when Derbu Handark Zavtavol had offered to buy Omega Vasalai IX from Sector Duke Admiral Kranan hault-Lerneister. When the deed was done, it was discovered that Derbu was Handark Zavtavol’s title and that it translated as “Shepherd”. Zavtavol’s flock consisted of a couple of hundred members of a religious sect known as the Pilgrims, and this group of Pilgrims had decided that the caves of Omega Vasalai IX would make a good resting spot on their journey to meet their Arisen One.

Within a year of selling “that forsaken rock”, Sector Duke Admiral Kranan hault-Lerneister was dead, abandoned by the fleet that had raised him to the Sector Ducal throne, and the RimWorlds Sector was engulfed in Civil War. When the shooting finally stopped, fifty years later, the Pilgrims were still on “that forsaken rock”, and anyone who might have objected was long dead, or fled.


Discharging the freight from Miazan, Aloin caught glimpses of the huge cavern the Iridium Queen was secured within. High overhead, enormous clamshell pressure doors sealed the cavern from the vacuum of space. The ceiling and walls had been reinforced with steel and ferrocrete through which buttresses of native stone projected. Fuel and service lines snaked across the cavern floor, or swung from gantries like lianas, linking the Iridium Queen to the guts of Omega Vasalai Downport.

After securing the service umbilicals, Aloin and Kiirgun began man-handling the freight containers out onto the hard of the dock using their pallet jacks and the mule. It was only when the last container was clear of the hold that Aloin spotted the three hooded figures approaching the ship through the pools of light cast by the overhead floods. Simultaneously, both Aloin and Kiirgun’s handcomps chimed. “Company,” Miska’s voice whispered through their comm. buds.

“See ‘em,” Kiirgun replied. He glanced at Aloin. “Stay close,” he said, “and stay alert.” Stepping forward to meet the approaching locals, Kiirgun held up his handcomp. “Greeting, gentle sophonts,” he said. “We are the Iridium Queen, out of Miazan, with freight requested for this world.”

The three hooded figures emerged into the pool of light bathing the Iridium Queen. Aloin could see that even though they had low gravity lanky frames, there was still a solid musculature about them that denoted years of physical hard work. Beneath their hoods, all three wore bushy beards, framing broad, unsmiling, faces.

“I am Pershu Salsuda Gavanak,” the middle one of the three said, his accent hard and clipped. “I require all documentation and proofs that this freight has not been tampered with while in your charge.”

As Aloin began to bridle at Gavanak’s tone, Kiirgun said smoothly, “Would you prefer these documents and proofs in electronic or hard copy form, Pershu?” When Gavanak paused, momentary nonplussed, Kiirgun turned to Aloin and said, “Please ask the Captain to print off the documentation that the Pershu requires, and notarise it with the ship’s seal. If she could also lodge a copy on our file with Traffic Control, the Pershu’s peers will be able to reference it at their leisure.” He gestured for Aloin to head back into the ship.

As Aloin walked up the ramp he heard Kiirgun say, “It is strange, Pershu, we were here four hundred and ninety standard days ago, perhaps one year local, and our honesty was not questioned at that time.” Glancing down, Aloin realised that Kiirgun had left his comm. channel open and his conversation was being relayed to the ship, and the crew’s handcomps.

Captain Lukk was waiting for him, just inside the main hatchway into the cargo hold. “What’s going on, ma’am?” Aloin asked.

“Politics,” Lukk muttered. “Starport Authority is obliged to recruit local staff. Locals sometimes want to control access to their world, in spite of the Starport Authority Charter guaranteeing free and unfettered access. Factions within local society want to be the ones with that control. Our uppity Pershu is from a more conservative Pilgrim faction than the one we dealt with last time, but our record is good. He can’t push too hard or the Starport Authority will get rid of him.”

With a clatter of boots on deck plates, Kiirgun trotted up the ramp and into the hold. He grinned at Captain Lukk. “The Pershu has graciously accepted our documentation that we have not wrought our evil foreignness upon the freight destined for this world.”

“The Traffic Control Pershus light a fire under him?” Lukk asked.

“Either that, or a Derbu was beginning to wonder where his freight had got to,” Kiirgun replied. “One of the Pershu’s minions took a call – not on a S.A. handrig, either, I noticed – and suddenly the Pershu was all sweetness and light.” He thought for a moment. “Or about as sweet and light as a block of solid hydrogen ever gets.”

Lukk grunted with annoyance. “Well, hopefully he’s clear of our jump zone,” she said. “Good work on the off-load, you two,” she added, “that was pretty much a record time. Now, get us fuelled and prepped . I want to be clear of this rock within 50 hours. We’ll ride light into Ektra as I really can’t be bothered with internal Pilgrim politics. So, no passengers and no freight. We have the spec cargo from Miazan and I can’t think of anything this lot have to offer beside aggravation and ulcers.”


Part 12

“Thank you, Omega Vasalai Traffic Control. Confirm Iridium Queen outbound on Nadir track 237. Jump in 190 minutes at 320,000 kilometres. Iridium Queen, clear.” Aloin closed the comm. and time stamped the ship’s log. Then, careful not to touch anything, he double-checked the ship’s course and heading.

“Very good, Mr Grathikka,” Captain Lukk said approvingly from the Scan position, behind him. “You have handed off from T.C.; confirmed outbound course and jump time; updated the log; and checked your heading. Now, what have you forgotten to do?”

Anxiously, Aloin scanned the pilot station control boards in front of him, desperately looking for a warning light or a switch in the wrong position, but the boards were green, green, green. Silently, from her seat at Nav, Miska tapped a large display that was currently dark. Aloin groaned. “I forgot to load and run the countdown clock,” he said and mouthed a ‘thank you’ to Miska.

“And?” Lukk said. She sounded slightly amused.

“And ...,” Aloin hesitated. Suddenly he made the connection. “And advise Engineering and deck crew, ma’am.”

“Well, we got there eventually,” Lukk sighed. “Precisely, Mr Grathikka,” she continued. “Now, Holi knows his business, and as soon as you run the clock, he will begin his prep for Jump. He knows that at ten minutes to jump, the Nav Computer and the Jump Controller will sync and run us up to jump. He also knows that he has to have completed any prep work or repairs by then or he will have to abort the sequence. At a busy starport that could cost you your slot and you’ll be given a stand down while other ships jump ahead of you.

“As a courtesy,” Lukk continued, “I always advise Engineering of our time to Jump. If Holi’s got his head in a drive unit, or is getting a sandwich, he may not see the countdown start to run. By getting his response, I know that he is focused on the run up to Jump and that I can then worry about getting us there on time.” Aloin nodded his understanding.

“Now,” Lukk said. “Advising the deck crew, on the other hand, allows them to ...”

“Clean, stack and rack,” Aloin interrupted, “Ma’am,” he added.

Lukk chuckled. “You have been hanging around Kiirgun too long,” she said. “That’s Navy talk but, I take it, you understand the implications?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Aloin said. “We clean and secure all common areas, and ensure all passengers and their effects are in their assigned cabins. Time permitting; a final check of the cargo holds is done to ensure everything is secure.”

“Correct, Mr Grathikka,” Lukk said, both amused and impressed. “A lot of merchant ships are a little casual about these sorts of things, but I like knowing that if there is trouble at Jump, or at Drop Down, and we have to do some hard manoeuvring, all these things have been cleared away and secured. Now, if you would be so good as to run the clock and advise the crew, we can begin the pre-Jump checks.”

The countdown clock glowed bright red as its numbers wound remorselessly down. Lukk, having dismissed Miska and Aloin to take a break and get something to eat, enjoyed the solitude of the bridge. Through the forward view port, she idly watched a scattering of stars slowly roll across her horizon as the ship followed its preplotted course deeper into the Jump Zone.

Scan chimed.

Lukk pulled the feed up onto the main screen. Ship in the zenith, inbound. The plot was being routed through at least two buoys, plus Omega Vasalai Traffic Control, so the position was over an hour old.

‘Poor sods,’ Lukk thought as she chewed on her pipe stem. ‘Hope you’re only fueling.’ Omega Vasalai IX had always been a marginal port of call. With a C Class port, a Non-Industrial and Non-Agricultural economy, and a self-perpetuating religious Oligarchy of Pershus and Derbus, the planet teetered between ‘stagnant’ and ‘regressive’. Only the system’s location, two parsecs from Ektra in the Kamperelian Republic, and the presence of an in-system gas giant, encouraged any sort of through traffic.

Lukk pulled up such stats on the inbound ship as Traffic Control had thought to pass on. She paused, and then rubbed her eyes. ‘Oh, Void’, she thought. The inbound ship’s drive signature was hitting seven points of recognition on the spectrum analyser. “That’s all we need,” she said to the slowly wheeling stars. “The Guard be-Voided Amethyst, in all her glory.” Checking the plots and probability cones on Scan, Lukk killed the autopilot, tweaked her course, and ramped up acceleration by a quarter of a G. No one aboard, besides perhaps Holi, would notice the change and, with a bit of luck, no-one in T.C. would be any the wiser either. But, a few degrees now and a few extra metres per second per second would mean hundreds of kilometres off plot at Jump, and that could be vital if someone had decided to throw something dark and nasty down range at where they thought the Iridium Queen should be.

Resetting the autopilot, Lukk stood up and stretched. Hearing footsteps in the corridor outside the bridge, she flicked the main screen to a generic display of the Omega Vasalai system and updated the Iridium Queen’s outbound plot. She then slipped into the jump seat at Scan as Miska stepped through the hatch.

“Rested?” Lukk asked.

Miska looked quizzically at her and then slid into her seat. “Pre Jump?” she whispered. “Hardly.” She touched her temple. “Too many numbers dancin’ inna head.” She glanced down at her board and then glared at Lukk. “You meddlin’? Or you wanna fine?” she hissed. “We’ll be k’s off plot at Jump.”

Lukk shrugged indifferently. “We aren’t coming back here, so who cares?”

“I care! Why you messin’ w’th my course?”

“The system’s pretty much empty. After the lad’s fine handoff, T.C. will have gone for lunch, or prayers, or whatever they do when there aren’t any Offworlders to harass.”

“Don’t change subject, ‘lera,” Miska spat. “You changed a logg’d plot, plot logg’d with T.C. And you didn’t tell me!”

“I didn’t tell you because you weren’t here.”

“Well, I’m here now!”

“Okay, okay,” Lukk drew a breath. Reaching over, she shunted the Scan feed back to the main screen. Miska’s eyes rapidly scanned the plot.

“Ship inbound. Outbound clear,” she said, slightly relieved. Lukk brought up the Spectrum Analyzer. Miska quickly read the data points. “Oh my,” she said, a hand rising instinctively to shield her throat.

“Feed’s off the buoys,” Lukk said, “via Traffic Control. Light speed lag messes with the probability cones. I finessed our course a little, I’ll admit, and our Acceleration. Just in case someone was watching for us. Given the Time Distortion, even the worse case p-cones were nowhere near your plot. All I’ve done is randomise things a little further, and given us an opportunity to throw something back if all our comets get ringed.”

Miska settled further into her seat. “Don’t know how much longer I can do this, ‘lera,” she said, her face ashen. “Even on scan, Void-eating ship makes my heart want to stop.”

Lukk reached over and hesitantly patted Miska’s shoulder. “I know, demi-sister, I know. And it breaks my heart to see you like this.” She cocked her head as she heard footsteps in the corridor. “Sounds like the boy’s finished his chores.” She squeezed Miska’s arm. “Jump in twenty. You want to tease him while I go make a pot of xhu?”



Commentary:
I rolled a negative reaction roll for the encounter with the Port Authorities on Omega Vasalai IX, as related in the previous post. I then rolled to see exactly how negative the reaction was and got a fairly neutral result. Interpreting this for the story, I decided that the local Port Officer was hostile, but backed down quickly and this was explained by internal politics amongst the Pilgrims, and the fact that the Iridium Queen had a clean slate from a previous visit.

Outbound to the Jump Zone, I rolled a starship encounter and then determined that the ship was known to the Iridium Queen. The encounter type was, again, neutral, and a simple YES/NO question of the dice indicated that the known ship was the Guard Amethyst, the Iridium Queen’s great rival/enemy. From that basis, the encounter pretty much wrote itself with Elera Lukk’s little act of deception – finessing the ship’s acceleration and heading – leading to a blowup with Miska Ilurrin over the altering of the Navigator’s plot, and then exploring both the demi-sister’s relationship with each other and with the Guard Amethyst.



Part 13

“I’m open,” Aloin shouted, dodging between two of the stocky defenders. Bel Karmhen paused, jumped, and passed as a defender cannoned into him. Both men went down in a flurry of limbs. The ball arced over the court.

Time seemed to slow down for Aloin as his consciousness expanded. He was aware of the ball rising from Bel’s hand, even as Bel was thrown backwards by the defender. In Aloin’s mind’s eye, he saw the equations computing the ball’s velocity, and the atmospheric and gravitational effects upon the ball in flight, and the velocities and trajectories of the players swarming across the court.

Aloin took two long steps and launched himself into the air, aware that two more defenders were converging on him. He stretched out in flight, straining towards the point in space where the ball would be in time. His hand, fingers dagger-pointed, swept up as the ball flashed past, deflecting its course towards the backboard behind the goal. Even as he fell he twisted. The ball struck the backboard with a crack and rebounded. As the ball struck his hand again, stinging, he pushed back, flicking it up in a parabola. Shedding velocity, the ball shot through the goal hoop. With a bone-jarring crunch, the two defenders collided with Aloin, spinning him around and throwing him to the ground. The goal buzzer sounded and then the full-time hooter blew.

Slightly dazed, Aloin looked up and then took the hand offered to him. Bel Karmhen helped him to his feet. “Amazing shot, Aloin,” Bel said, his Kamperelian accent clipping the ends of his words. “You ‘kay? Needo and Jymi are pretty good blockers. Needo played for Karystar Tower United back before call-up. “

Aloin stretched, trying to pop the kinks out of his aching back. “I’m ‘kay,” he said. He had started to pick up some of the conscripts’ slang. “Great pass,” he added. “Could see all the numbers running, just like plotting for Jump. Set me up, extra fine. “

Bel laughed. “Navigators make pretty good shooters in Jumpball. Got time for a drink, after?”

Aloin checked his chrono. “Not due back onboard until 1500,” he said. He headed towards the public showers. “’kay, see you in the cafeteria.”

The Iridium Queen had been docked at Ektra Downport for nearly a week. The cargo of blades had been quickly discharged and sold. It was only then that Captain Lukk had discovered the 10% sales tax the Kamperelian authorities had imposed on all goods crossing the XT line. Protests to the Starport Authority had been met with the advice that, as the Kamperelian Navy was providing enhanced security within the Ektra system, visiting merchant ships were invited to contribute towards the cost of that enhanced security. When Lukk was tempted to point out that the Kamperelian Navy was actually an occupation force of dubious legal standing, Kiirgun was obliged to remind her that arguing about the legal status of a Navy patrol from the bottom of a gravity well was a potentially futile pastime, particularly when no longer in Imperial Space and so not under Imperial Charters or Regulations.

After a couple of days of light duties while Lukk hunted down another cargo, Aloin decided to investigate a sports facility and gymnasium attached to the starport. It was here that he discovered freely available pickup games of Jumpball, and a semi-regular group of bored eighteen to twenty-somethings to play with. Having established a friendship with Bel Karmhen, one of the regulars at the gym, Aloin learned that Bel and his compatriots were Kamperelian conscripts, performing their two years of compulsory military service as members of the Kamperelian garrison on Ektra.

For Bel, compulsory military service was just a fact of life. All Kamperelian citizens were called up for at least two years service upon completion of compulsory schooling. And while it was possible to gain a service deferment if attending a course of higher education, most citizens chose to perform their service and get it over and done with.

Bel had thought he had lucked out when he drew Offworld garrison duty. Any sort of escape from the bleak and dreary tower blocks of crowded, over-populated Kamperel was a lifeline to hope. Ektra was not what he expected, though.

Smaller than Kamperel, Ektra was a dry world with a very thin atmosphere. The population lived in a series of warrens that had been so mutually hostile as to effectively be at war with each other. The one thing they had agreed upon, however, had been their hatred of the Kamperelian Business Houses that had dominated the Ektran economy prior to the Kamperelian annexation. This hatred had spilled over, one seconday in 1051, to become the series of riots and massacres known as “The Night of Knives”.

The Kamperelian response consisted of six cruisers and a gross of thermonuclear bunker busters. When the firestorm burned itself out, a Kamperelian garrison dominated the warrens – a state of affairs that, over fifty years later, showed no signs of changing.

Aloin had been surprised at just how little Bel and his squad mates either knew or cared about the origin of the occupation. This was probably because the Kamperelian conscripts were disillusioned and angry. They had been told that garrison duty was a lighthearted lark, a break away from the grindingly grim reality of the barrack towers and prole estates of Kamperel. While bashing a few heads to keep the Ektrans down was little different from the casual brutality of the corridor gangs at home, the reality for the conscripts was that they had exchanged the vertical mazes of the towers of Kamperel for the subterranean warrens of Ektra – only the lighting and graffiti were substantially different. Even disarmed by their NCOs, bored Kamperelian conscripts were a constant source of incidents – both on their fellow troopers, and on the Ektran populace.

While Aloin liked Bel, and enjoyed the opportunity to get back into shape with a bit of Jumpball, he found the casual, simmering, undercurrent of violence amongst some of Bel’s squad mates very disturbing.

“Vacc suits!” Captain Lukk exclaimed, slapping a bill of lading on the table top in the Iridium Queen's Crew Commons. She beamed. “Tech Level 8, no fancy nonsense, keep the air on the inside, vacc suits. There’s an Ektran company, Gaspourishidaminda and Sons, that’s been making vacc suits for two hundred years. They’ve survived the annexation; the Long Knives; the Warren Wars; the Outrim invasions; everything, and they’re still in business. They refused the Kamperelian Business Houses; survived the nuclear bombs; and secured a contract with the Kamperelian Navy to supply basic suits for all non-Jump capable ships.”

Kiirgun looked up from reading the lading bill. “But, thirty tons?” he asked. “And Tech 8 vacc suits?”

“The Kamperelians love them,” Lukk said. “They have a lot of conscripts in their armed forces, and they like stuff that is simple, efficient, and idiot-proof.”

Aloin nodded. “Some of my friend Bel’s squad mates are pretty low wattage,” he said, tapping the side of his head.

Kiirgun looked at him with surprise. “Since when are you all friends with the Kamperelians?” he asked.

“Since ‘e been goin’ to the gym,” Miska wheezed and then snuffle-laughed. “Where you think his new slang come fro’?”

Aloin looked puzzled and then shrugged. Kiirgun laughed.

Captain Lukk tapped the tabletop with the stem of her pipe. “It’s going to take us a day or so to get all the export paperwork lined up,” she said. “But as our destination is in Kamperelian space, believe you me, this simplifies matters a great deal.” She tapped a series of commands on her handcomp and pulled up a local area starmap on the Commons main screen. “That’s where we’re heading, ladies and gentleman, the beautiful water world of Floranna.”

“Beautiful?” Holi smirked.

“That’s what the Kamperelian Ministry for Truth and Tourism says in their brochure,” Lukk replied. “I read all two hundred and nine pages twice while waiting for the export licence to be processed.” She held up a hand. “But fortunately, we are not going to Floranna itself, as it is a water world and does not require vacc suits. Our buyer will be at the local High Port.” Elera Lukk smiled smugly. “This will be an easy run, and then on and out to Imperial Space.”

“When’s loading?” Aloin asked.

“0545 tomorrow,” Lukk replied. “We’ll look for an 1100 launch window.”

Aloin looked dismayed, and then shrugged. Miska snuffle-laughed and poked him in the ribs. “They still be here when we come back,” she whispered. “Those kids’re not goin’ no where.”



Commentary:
A hard post to write as nothing really happens during the lay-over at Ektra. Aloin's friend Bel shows up later (another NPC thrown up by a reaction roll) so I actually developed him a bit more here than as he features in my notes. I also took the opportunity to look more closely at how Kamperel came to dominate Ektra. All the information was in my notebooks from 20-odd years ago and just needed a little polish and cross-check against other material I've written on the Kamperelian government.

Jumpball, like basketball and tlachli, is one of those games were a group of, predominantly, young men get together and throw a ball around. This seems to be a very common, human, thing and something that will probably outlast the N.B.A.


Part 14


“Are they still out there?” Captain Lukk asked, craning to see Scan over Aloin’s shoulder. Aloin settled back in the chair at his station, presenting Lukk with an unobstructed view of the display.

“Yes, Captain,” Aloin said. His pointer highlighted two returns on the Near Range Field. “The Progressive Advancement is holding station about five thousand kilometres off us on 155, azimuth 62. She’s actively scanning us, but her guns are cold.”

“Could be a missile barge,” Miska whispered from Nav.

Aloin shrugged. “Could be,” he said. He tapped the second return. “The Glorious 2nd Ferami, however, has us painted with active LIDAR. Which probably means active scan and targeting as well. She’s at about one light second – say 300,000 kilometres – so I’m having difficulty getting fine energy reads off her.”

“And they’re both Kampies?” Lukk asked.

“Yes, Captain,” Aloin replied. “The Library Data isn’t so hot on frigates and monitors, but looking at their drive and transponder emissions, and watching their comm patterns, Kiirgun and I are pretty confident that they are both Kamperelian Navy frigates.”

Lukk looked at Aloin, expecting to see uncertainty or youthful messing around - 'Kiirgun and I are pretty confident' indeed. Instead, she saw a confident young man, seriously studying his boards and analyzing the data to provide his Captain with the information she needed to make hard decisions. She smiled to herself. It had been a long voyage, but Meccan Vesukka hadn’t let Kiirgun down when she had recommended her stepson as a crew member for the Iridium Queen.

“Do we have a visual for the Progressive Advancement?” she asked Aloin.

Aloin frowned and tapped a couple of keys. Layers of data from Scan - energy emission signatures, mass spectography, visual occulting against the background starfield - spawned a wireframe silhouette. Details slowly mapped onto it as algorithms refined the data. Revealed, the stubby, cylindrical hull of the Progressive Advancement slowly rotated against the distant starfield, four massive 100-ton missile Bays gaping open and ready to fire.

Captain Lukk cursed under her breath. “Good call, Miska,” she said, finally. “Missile barge, alright. Gut us with the first salvo.”

“Hailin’ us,” Miska replied and switched Comm to the main speakers.

“This is the People’s Republic of Kamperel Naval frigate Progressive Advancement hailing unknown Imperial ship,” the clipped, neutral tones of the comms officer boomed across the bridge. “Identify yourself and cut your drive in preparation for boarding.”

“'Unknown Imperial ship'? Can’t they read a transponder?” Lukk snapped and then gritted her teeth. “It’s nice to see that the Kamperelian Navy has improved its customer service,” she grumbled. “They used to hail you after the first salvo.” She reached for the comm key and glanced at Aloin. “Get aft and tell Kiirgun we have visitors inbound. Make sure he does a quick cabin and access way check for any contraband on the Kampie list. We are not going to get grounded because someone has left a copy of Interspecies Hotties lying around.”

The Navy boarding party duly came aboard – a nervous, young, Midshipman with five marines in full combat armour. Aloin thought that, in other circumstances, the Midshipman might have even been pretty, but her pale skin only accentuated her rather bad acne. Also, extreme nerves had sharpened her clipped Kamperelian accent to an irritating nasal whine, which grew increasingly wearisome as Aloin escorted her around the Iridium Queen. Eventually, with all paperwork in order and no copies of Interspecies Hotties in evidence, the Midshipmen and her marines trooped back aboard their cutter and returned to the Progressive Advancement.

To Captain Lukk’s relief, the Iridium Queen was escorted insystem to Floranna Highport and then the Progressive Advancement, and her silent companion, accelerating hard, headed outbound to resume patrolling the Floranna approaches.



Aloin struggled as he hefted the freezer bins onto the cart. The metal boxes were slick with condensate and heavy. “Four, five, six. That’s our lot,” Kiirgun said, tallying the boxes into his handcomp as he checked the seals. He scanned the barcodes on each box and updated the e-docket. “Looks good to me,” he concluded as he signed off the docket and copied it to the supplier and to the Iridium Queen.

“Happy?” the burly Floranni supplier asked as he acknowledged receipt of the e-docket.

“Ecstatic,” Kiirgun said. “Marine life form is back on the menu.”

“Could always eat at the commons,” the supplier suggested as he packed his trolley away.

“No I couldn't,” Kiirgun said with a sad smile. “They only serve three kinds of marine life form, and I've eaten all three, cooked every which way possible, over the last four weeks.”

The supplier chuckled. “Welcome to Floranna,” he said as he headed for the cargo lift to the planet-bound shuttle dock.

“Do you think the Captain’s found a cargo, yet?” Aloin asked as he pulled the cart towards the access lock to the Iridium Queen.

Kiirgun checked his handcomp and then slipped it into his belt pouch. “If she has, she hasn’t announced it,” he replied as he glanced up. He stopped walking. “Oh, my,” he said.

Aloin walked another couple of paces further on, and then hesitated as he realized Kiirgun wasn't following him. He glanced in the direction that had grabbed Kiirgun’s attention. Over the access port to the Iridium Queen, the service and destination board was lit up. “We’re taking freight, again?” he asked. He knew that freight runs were marginal at the best of times.

“Yes,” Kiirgun replied, and stomped towards the access hatch. “And we’re heading for frakking Naltor!”



Commentary:
Another hurry-up-and-wait session. Rolled a ‘Patrol’ result on the Ship Encounter table. As we’re in Kamperelian Space, the patrol was obviously Kamperelian Navy. Reaction rolls produced a fairly neutral response and given the political situation between the Kamperelian Republic and the Imperium, I decided to downgrade this to Neutral/Hostile.

As Lukk runs a tight ship, there was little chance of a slip-up that would have got the Iridium Queen busted for contraband. As the reaction rolls were fairly neutral, I decided that, after a bit of hassle and bluster, the Kamperelians would have escorted the Iridium Queen into orbit and left it at that – especially given that the Iridium Queen’s cargo of vacc suits was actually bound for the Kamperelian Navy station at Floranna.

And once again, useful cargos eluded the Iridium Queen for four weeks, until Lukk gave in and decided to take a load of freight.

And just to round out the year in the real world, for the first time in about twenty years, my old Traveller group is all in the same country at the same time. We’re getting together for a game on Friday night which should be very cool.


Background Part 6

Now that the Iridium Queen has entered Kamperelian Space, it’s time to look at the Kamperelian Navy.

With a Tech Level of 11 Kamperel, on the face of it, should not stand a chance against the might of the Imperium. In reality, the Kamperelian Republic controls over 80% of the population of the Miazan Subsector. With a wartime military budget of TCr32 (that’s 32 Trillion credits), the Kamperelian military budget dwarfs the TCr6.78 that the Duchy of Miazan is able to raise, while the Kamperelian Navy Yards have over nine times the capacity of the slips at Miazan.

As Miazan Subsector Navy can, at best, draw on about a squadron of Tech Level 15 Imperial Navy ships, the Kamperelian Navy is a current and growing threat.

Amongst the numerous classes of escort deployed by the Kamperelian Navy, the Revolutionary Class Frigate and the Van Dransiquor Class Missile Barge Frigate are two of the most common.

Ship: Glorious 2nd Ferami
Class: Revolutionary
Type: Frigate
Architect: David Billinghurst
Tech Level: 11

USPFF-E2266D4-790000-65000-0 MCr 5,749.5945 KTons
Bat Bear 123 Crew: 66
Bat  1 23 TL: 11


Cargo: 37 Crew Sections: 4 of 17 Fuel: 1,300 EP: 300 Agility: 4 Marines: 10
Craft: 2 x 50T Type-103 Cutters
Fuel Treatment: Fuel Scoops and On Board Fuel Purification

Architects Fee: MCr 56.228 Cost in Quantity: MCr 4,625.035


Detailed Description
(High Guard Design)

HULL
5,000.000 tons standard, 70,000.000 cubic meters, Cone Configuration

CREW
13 Officers, 43 Ratings, 10 Marines

ENGINEERING
Jump-2, 6G Manuever, Power plant-6, 300.000 EP, Agility 4

AVIONICS
Bridge, Model/4fib Computer

HARDPOINTS
3 50-ton bays, 20 Hardpoints

ARMAMENT
3 50-ton Plasma Gun Bays (Factor-5), 10 Triple Beam Laser Turrets organised into 2 Batteries (Factor-6)

DEFENCES
10 Triple Sandcaster Turrets organised into 1 Battery (Factor-9), Armoured Hull (Factor-7)

CRAFT
2 50.000 ton Type-103 Cutters (Crew of 1, Cost of MCr 63.400)

FUEL
1,300 Tons Fuel (2 parsecs jump and 28 days endurance)
On Board Fuel Scoops, On Board Fuel Purification Plant

MISCELLANEOUS
37 Staterooms, 37 Tons Cargo

USER DEFINED COMPONENTS
None

COST
MCr 5,679.022 Singly (incl. Architects fees of MCr 56.228), MCr 4,498.235 in Quantity, plus MCr 126.800 of Carried Craft

CONSTRUCTION TIME
148 Weeks Singly, 118 Weeks in Quantity

Revolutionary Class Frigate

Book 5 Crew Breakdown
Command section: 7 officers and 4 ratings; Engineering section: 2 officers and 17 ratings; Gunnery section: 1 officers and 9 ratings; Flight section: 1 officers and 4 ratings; Service section: 1 officers and 9 ratings; Medical Section: 1 officers and 0 ratings; Marines: 10

HULL
Hull: 0.000 Td; MCr 550.000
Armour Factor-7: 1,200.000 Td; MCr 1,200.000

ENGINEERING
M-Drive Factor-6: 850.000 Td; MCr 425.000
J-Drive Factor-2: 150.000 Td; MCr 600.000
P-Plant Factor-6: 900.000 Td; MCr 2,700.000; +300.000 EP

FUEL
P-Fuel: 300.000 Td; MCr 0,000
J-Fuel: 1,000.000 Td; MCr 0.000
Scoops: 0.000 Td; MCr 5.000
Purification: 7.000 Td; MCr 0.034
L-Hyd Drop Tanks: 0.000 Td; MCr 0.000

AVIONICS
Bridge: 100.000 Td; MCr 25.000
Computer Model/4fib: 8.000 Td; MCr 45.000; -2 EP

WEAPONRY
3 x 50T Plasma Gun Bays: 150.000 Td; MCr 16.500; -30 EP
10 x Laser Turrets: 10.000 Td; MCr 30.000; -30 EP
10 x Sand Turrets: 10.000 Td; MCr 7.500

SCREENS

CRAFT
2 x Type-103 Cutter: 130.000Td; MCr 0.260; Cost of craft: MCr 126.800

ACCOMODATIONS
37.0 x Staterooms: 148.000 Td; MCr 18.500
Cargo: 37.000 Td; MCr 0.000



Ship: FM-3227
Class: Type-103
Type: Pinnace
Architect: David Billinghurst
Tech Level: 11

USPKG-0106621-A00000-00002-0 MCr 79.25050 Tons
Bat Bear       1 Crew: 1
Bat        1 TL: 11

Cargo: 3 Crew Sections: 1 of 1 Fuel: 3 EP: 3 Agility: 4
Fuel Treatment: Fuel Scoops

Architects Fee: MCr 0.793 Cost in Quantity: MCr 63.400

Detailed Description
(High Guard Design)

HULL
50.000 tons standard, 700.000 cubic meters, Needle/Wedge Configuration

CREW
1 Officer

ENGINEERING
Jump-0, 6G Manuever, Power plant-6, 3.000 EP, Agility 4

AVIONICS
No Bridge Installed, Model/3 Computer

HARDPOINTS
1 Hardpoint

ARMAMENT
1 Triple Missile Turret organised into 1 Battery (Factor-2)

DEFENCES
Armoured Hull (Factor-10)

CRAFT
None

FUEL
3 Tons Fuel (0 parsecs jump and 28 days endurance)
On Board Fuel Scoops, No Fuel Purification Plant

MISCELLANEOUS
12 Acceleration Couches, 3 Tons Cargo

USER DEFINED COMPONENTS
None

COST
MCr 80.043 Singly (incl. Architects fees of MCr 0.793), MCr 63.400 in Quantity

CONSTRUCTION TIME
24 Weeks Singly, 19 Weeks in Quantity

Type-103 Class Pinnace

Book 5 Crew Breakdown
Command section: 1 officer; Engineering section: 0 officers and 0 ratings; Service section: 0 officers and 0 ratings; Medical Section: 0 officers and 0 ratings

HULL
Hull: 0.000 Td; MCr 6.000
Armour Factor-10: 16.500 Td; MCr 21.450

ENGINEERING
M-Drive Factor-6: 8.500 Td; MCr 4.250
J-Drive Factor-0: 0.000 Td; MCr 0.000
P-Plant Factor-6: 9.000 Td; MCr 27.000; +3.000 EP

FUEL
P-Fuel: 3.000 Td; MCr 0,000
J-Fuel: 0.000 Td; MCr 0.000
Scoops: 0.000 Td; MCr 0.000
Purification: 0.000 Td; MCr 0.000
L-Hyd Drop Tanks: 0.000 Td; MCr 0.000

AVIONICS
Bridge: 0.000 Td; MCr 0.000
Computer Model/3: 3.000 Td; MCr 18.000; -1 EP

WEAPONRY
1 x Missile Turrets: 1.000 Td; MCr 2.250

SCREENS

CRAFT

ACCOMODATIONS
12 x Couches: 6.000 Td; MCr 0.300
Cargo: 3.000 Td; MCr 0.000



Ship: Progressive Advancement
Class: Van Dransiquor
Type: Missile Frigate
Architect: David Billinghurst
Tech Level: 11

USPFM-E3244D4-A90000-00008-0 MCr 5,633.5945 KTons
Bat Bear  1       4 Crew: 72
Bat   1       4 TL: 11

USP
FM-E3244D4-A90000-00008-0 MCr 5,633.594 5 KTons
Bat Bear 1 4 Crew: 72
Bat 1 4 TL: 11

Cargo: 35 Crew Sections: 4 of 18 Fuel: 1,200 EP: 200 Agility: 3 Marines: 20
Craft: 2 x 50T Type-103 Cutters
Fuel Treatment: Fuel Scoops and On Board Fuel Purification

Architects Fee: MCr 55.068 Cost in Quantity: MCr 4,532.235


Detailed Description
(High Guard Design)

HULL
5,000.000 tons standard, 70,000.000 cubic meters, Cylinder Configuration

CREW
13 Officers, 39 Ratings, 20 Marines

ENGINEERING
Jump-2, 4G Manuever, Power plant-4, 200.000 EP, Agility 3

AVIONICS
Bridge, Model/4fib Computer

HARDPOINTS
4 100-ton bays, 10 Hardpoints

ARMAMENT
4 100-ton Missile Bays (Factor-8)

DEFENCES
10 Triple Sandcaster Turrets organised into 1 Battery (Factor-9), Armoured Hull (Factor-10)

CRAFT
2 50.000 ton Type-103 Cutters (Crew of 2, Cost of MCr 63.400)

FUEL
1,200 Tons Fuel (2 parsecs jump and 28 days endurance)
On Board Fuel Scoops, On Board Fuel Purification Plant

MISCELLANEOUS
40 Staterooms, 35 Tons Cargo

USER DEFINED COMPONENTS
None

COST
MCr 5,561.862 Singly (incl. Architects fees of MCr 55.068), MCr 4,405.435 in Quantity, plus MCr 126.800 of Carried Craft

CONSTRUCTION TIME
148 Weeks Singly, 118 Weeks in Quantity

Van Dransiquor Class Missile Frigate

Book 5 Crew Breakdown
Command section: 7 officers and 4 ratings; Engineering section: 2 officers and 11 ratings; Gunnery section: 1 officers and 9 ratings; Flight section: 1 officers and 6 ratings; Service section: 1 officers and 9 ratings; Medical Section: 1 officers and 0 ratings; Marines: 20

HULL
Hull: 0.000 Td; MCr 500.000
Armour Factor-10: 1,650.000 Td; MCr 2,145.000

ENGINEERING
M-Drive Factor-4: 550.000 Td; MCr 275.000
J-Drive Factor-2: 150.000 Td; MCr 600.000
P-Plant Factor-4: 600.000 Td; MCr 1,800.000; +200.000 EP

FUEL
P-Fuel: 200.000 Td; MCr 0,000
J-Fuel: 1,000.000 Td; MCr 0.000
Scoops: 0.000 Td; MCr 5.000
Purification: 7.000 Td; MCr 0.034
L-Hyd Drop Tanks: 0.000 Td; MCr 0.000javascript:void(0);

AVIONICS
Bridge: 100.000 Td; MCr 25.000
Computer Model/4fib: 8.000 Td; MCr 45.000; -2 EP

WEAPONRY
4 x 100T Missile Bays: 400.000 Td; MCr 84.000
10 x Sand Turrets: 10.000 Td; MCr 7.500

SCREENS

CRAFT
2 x Type-103 Cutter: 130.000Td; MCr 0.260; Cost of craft: MCr 126.800

ACCOMODATIONS
40.0 x Staterooms: 160.000 Td; MCr 20.000
Cargo: 35.000 Td; MCr 0.000


Part 15



Across the field, the A.K.I. Interstellar freighter Carsuhlan lifted off. The roar of its thrusters cracked through the sticky, summer air. Flocks of small, seed-eating avians whirled and skittered in panic amongst the warehouses and gantries that lined the rim of the loading apron. Lying in the shade of the Iridium Queen’s dorsal turret, Aloin glanced up from the book he was reading on his handcomp, automatically watching how the skipper of the freighter handled her heavily ladened ship. The Carsuhlan slowly circled the field, climbing into the green-blue Naltor sky in a long spiral. A kilometer high, it straightened up and began to accelerate hard. Going transonic, the flare of the main drive slowly faded against the light of rising Secthon as the jet stream gently pulled the vapour trail to pieces.

His eyes tracking down from the departing ship, Aloin spotted movement through the heat haze near one of the warehouses. Checking the chrono on his handcomp, he keyed the send button. “Kiirgun, I think our freight’s on the way.” He winced as he heard a metallic crash from the main cargo hatch below.

Grabbing his handcomp, Aloin eeled through the turret’s escape hatch, dogging it closed behind him. Sliding down the service ladder to the gunner’s station, he quickly checked that the hatch was sealed and armed, before sprinted down the corridor to the downladder to the cargo hold.

Sliding down the hand rails, he arrived in time to see Kiirgun scooping tools back into the toolbox trolley. “Frakkin’ thing fell over,” Kiirgun muttered, flinging wrenches and spanners into the toolbox. Holi Pradeen, the ship’s portly engineer, was sitting in a hammock chair in the breeze by the main hatch and shaking with laughter. As Aloin paused, confused, Holi waved a hand. “I told him the tool trolley wasn’t a good seat,” he wheezed, wiping his face with a handkerchief. “The brakes weren’t on. And then his ‘comp went off, and he jumped, and it all fell over.” Holi began laughing again.

As the haulers pulled up in front of the main hatch, Captain Elera Lukk stumped onto the cargo deck, leaning heavily on her stick. She made a great play of casually filling her pipe and lighting it as the driver from Odinventox was obliged to exit his air-conditioned cab and walk up the ramp to present his waybill. Glancing disdainfully at the proffered paper, Captain Lukk extracted her handcomp from her belt pouch. As the driver glared, Lukk downloaded an electronic copy of the waybill from the local Odinventox server and pinged the request for acknowledgement to the driver’s ‘comp in his hauler’s cab.

As the last hauler pulled away from the Iridium Queen, the starport floods were lighting up. Errai, the system primary, was setting, though Secthon was high and bright and Ninix was rising. Lukk glanced at Aloin. “Yes,” she said, “it was a petty thing to do, but Odinventox – the multi-system megacorp – has messed us around over this freight for nearly ten days. And I took it out on one of their drivers. But, you might have noticed, the arrogance of the masters is reflected in the minions.

“Now, we are not a rich ship, but we are owned free and clear by my family. My family is by no means House Major in status but, on Celephais, we are House Minor, and war heroes, and not without lineage or standing. And so as the Captain of a Free Trader, and as the representative of a House Minor, I think I might expect just a little respect from a truck driver, even one employed by a Megacorp such as Odinventox.”

Lukk blew a smoke ring from her pipe. It hung in the still, sultry evening air as she stared moodily out into the growing darkness. The starport floods were not yet bright enough to blot out the conflicting shadows thrown by the two moons, Secthon and Ninix. “When you and Kiirgun finish the tie-downs, report to the bridge,” she said at last. She glanced at Aloin. “You do have permission to shower first,” she added, and then smiled. “We have a launch window at 2315 and you’re plotting our transit to Jump. I would recommend grabbing something to eat, as well.”

As the Iridium Queen climbed out of Naltor’s gravity well, Captain Lukk stared glumly at her boards. “Four frakkin’ weeks being messed around by three megacorps,” she muttered. Aloin glanced up from Scan. “Kiirgun was right,” Lukk continued. “He said Naltor would be a waste of time. Megacorps fill their own, first, then shipping lines they want favours from, and then what’s left goes to the bottom feeders.”

“Where are we heading, now, Captain?” Aloin asked.

“Kamperel,” Lukk said, succinctly.

Miska glanced at her. “Really?” she whispered. “After all the neg’tive chatter we hearin’? You want t’go there?”

“No!” Lukk snapped. “I do not want to go there but, in case you haven’t noticed, we haven’t exactly been swimming in cargo lately.”

“Word is, they want a war.”

“As long as they don’t want it within the next 1400 hours, we will be in, out, and over on Miazan having a jarus steak dinner with Celephaisian Rum Cocktails.”


Part 16

Iridium Queen, you are clear on approach vector 231, azimuth 140, at 0.85g deceleration,” the Floranan Traffic Control Officer sounded bored. “Switch to Channel 21421 at 100,000 klicks for Close Orbit TC and docking instructions.”

Aloin tapped the comm key. “Affirmative, Florana TC. Iridium Queen inbound on 231, azimuth 140, decel 0.85,” he said. “Switching to 21421 for Close Orbit TC. Iridium Queen, clear.” Closing the channel, he glanced up at the back of Captain Lukk’s head, even as he reset the main Comm . “We good on that, Captain?” he asked.

“Eh, what?” Elera Lukk asked, starting awake and sitting up suddenly in her chair. Miska Ilurrin snuffle-laughed from Navigation.

“Don’ worry, ‘lera,” she whispered. “Course lock’d. Three hours to Close Orbit. You want t’go lie down fo’ bit?”

Lukk glared at her and then yawned. “Three hours, you say?” she said at last.

Miska nodded. “Me ‘n’ the lad will keep an eye,” she said. “Scan’s clear. One outbound freight’r. Kampie. No sign of Kampie Navy.”

Lukk pulled herself out of the pilot’s chair and stretched. She turned and glared at Aloin. “You keep a sharp eye on scan,” she said. “I don’t want any surprises. Speak that freighter once the Light Speed delay gets down to a reasonable factor. They should have news from Kamperel, things like traffic, cargos, or other information we can use.”

Aloin bobbed his head and shunted Scan up onto the main screen. “Yes, Captain,” he said. “The outbound is the Flower of Kamperel, Kamperelian registry. She’s on track for Ektra, by the look of it. We’ll be in under ten second delay in forty minutes.”

Lukk examined the main screen display. The boy’s numbers and analysis looked spot on. She grunted. “You call them in forty, and me in sixty,” she said at last and then hobbled off the bridge, heading for her bunk. Frak, she hated getting old.



“... and average temperature was around twenty-six degrees celsius when we left there, about 178 hours ago,” Aloin said. He laughed. “Humidity was high, though. Afternoon swims were almost compulsory.” The light speed delay was still seven and a half seconds, which made casual chat a chore, but Eisther, the Seconday comm tech on the Flower of Kamperel, was bored, patient, and rather pretty.

“Twenty-six degrees?” she asked. “Gosh, it was just over freezing when we left Kamperel. Van Zaquerl Downport was under fifteen centimetres of snow. We had to de-ice before takeoff. Didn’t want to drop lumps of ice on the housing estates around the starport.”

“Once we offload at Florana, my skipper’s talking about making a run into Kamperel. Anything we should look out for?”

Eisther glanced over her shoulder and then leaned into the comm pickup. “Might not be such a good plan, at the moment,” she said quietly. “Security was at ‘Heightened’ when we left. We had a twelve hour hold because the purser hadn’t completed all documentation. Missed our slot, and the Captain went mega-bilious on him. Busted him a pay grade, too. Then, the System Guard was all over us, outbound, put us in the low acceleration lane and pinged the Captain for not keeping to schedule. So she had another go at Primeday crew, and they passed the proverbial onto us on Seconday.” She shook her head. “Kamperel’s tight for us, and we’re local. You Impies would get old and die in a decaying orbit.”

Aloin laughed. “Okay, thanks for the head’s up,” he said, gesturing “hold” to Elera Lukka as she entered the Iridium Queen’s bridge. “Hey, I’m back through this way from time to time. Perhaps, we can catch up, dockside?”

“Perhaps, Iridium boy, perhaps,” Eisther smiled and then sat bolt upright in her chair, listening. Aloin could hear a muffled announcement over the Flower of Kamperel’s internal speakers. “Thank you, Iridium Queen,” she said, speaking clearly and carefully, “safe travels. Jumping in ten. Flower of Kamperel clear.” She winked and cut the connection.

Smiling to himself, Aloin swung his chair around. Elera Lukk was watching him intently, a quizzical look on her face. Aloin sat up straight. “Captain?” he said.

“Mr Grathikka?” Lukk replied. “I trust you have something to relate, other than tales of your conquest?”

Aloin swallowed nervously. “Yes, Captain,” he said. “Word from the Flower of Kamperel is that the Kamperelians are on high alert ...”

Lukk waived a hand. “Yes, yes, yes, I heard all that,” she snapped. “Kampies on the warpath, a fairly regular occurrence. One day, they’ll actually do something about it, rather than moaning and whining, and then they’ll get their posteriors handed to them on a plate.”

Aloin cleared his throat. “Kamperel’s a High Population, Poor, Industrial world,” he said. “Florana’s a Non-Industrial world. We could pick up a cargo of raw materials of some sort, or even food stuffs, at Florana and make a reasonable profit shipping it to Kamperel. The downside, from what Eisther ... ah, the comm tech on the Flower of Kamperel, said, is that with the Kamperelians so stirred up, we’re likely to hit delays and searches – especially if we get tangled up in their red tape. Also, the “Protection Against Piracy” levy we encountered at Florana is still in place at around ten percent. So heading to Kamperel could be an expensive, and lengthy, trip.”

Lukk cocked her head. “Your recommendation?”

“We unload our freight at Florana, as planned,” Aloin said prompltly, “and then pick up either cargo or freight for Ektra or Omega Vasalai IX, and then do a sweep down the Miazan Main.”

“You’ve given this some thought, haven’t you?” Lukk asked.

“Yes Captain,” Aloin replied.

Lukk, settled herself into the pilot’s chair. “Okay,” she said at last. “Go grab a sandwich and see if there’s any xhu left – you know how I like mine. I need a little time to think.”

As Aloin clattered down the corridor, Miska glanced at Lukk. “’e’s a smart lad,” she whispered.

Elera Lukk grunted. “Wonder if the Flower of Kamperel is headed for Ektra or Omega Vasalai IX?” she grumbled as she began to set up her board for docking at Florana Highport.