Saturday, 3 November 2012

Aloin's Saga - Solo Traveller #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, rack and stack,” 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 if there is trouble at Jump, or at Drop Down, and we have to do some hard manoeuvring, that 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?”

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.

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