“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 realised 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!”
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.