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.
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.
Action Force - helicopters
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