Friday, 6 July 2012

Solo Traveller - Aloin's Saga #4

The Iridium Queen lifts off from Golus
Day 132-1107 dawned clear and cool 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 pole.

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. “Thank you, Golus Down,” she said. “See you next time.” She paused. “Affirmative,” she acknowledged. “Clear on heading 271, Azimuth 67. Iridium Queen out.” She tapped her ear bud again and glanced at Captain Lukk. “Hand off from Golus Down,” Ilurrin said. ”We cross their horizon in two minutes. Golus Highport will rise 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 freight 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.

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, I think, 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.