Saturday, 29 June 2013

Aloin's Saga - Solo Traveller #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.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Finally! X-Boat enroute.

I received this email tonight:

Marc Miller was hoping to have all Kickstarter pledges shipped by the end of June. Looks like mine just squeezed in. A year in the waiting, I'm really looking forward to finally getting hold of it.

At 2.4 parsecs per week, how long does an X-Boat take to get from Illinois to West Auckland?

Rumour has it, the book looks like this:

I hope to confirm very soon.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Secrets in Sulfur Part 2: On the Trail of the Worm #1

Our cast of characters:
John – Boris Clapshaw, ex Army Infantry Sergeant
Jonathan – Riishaa Daanel, ex Marine
Dylan – Count Asenault “Chivers” Washington-Pipps, retired Marine Colonel
Chris – “Bunty” Staffburger, ex Marine Force Commander

Bunty Staffburger meets up with his old friend Count Asenault "Chivers" Washington-Pipps, Chivers' batman Riishaa Daanel and Boris Clapshaw, a friend of Daanel's, on Por’via. The three of them are heading off to do some mercenary work in the Geithurian Republic and have stopped over on Por’via before leaving Imperial Space.

Bunty’s girlfriend, Selia Vuir – a sulfur miner – is overdue from her shift. She has mentioned finding a cache of sunstones – opal-like gemstones – which she had intended to sell, under the counter, to Jorgan Kiorpanos, the local VenGems Holdings agent. Bunty and his companions venture out into the badlands above the sulfur flats to try and locate her. Instead they discover mysterious vargr, vicious alien lifeforms called irrijari, and a buried shuttle craft belonging to a mysterious methane-breathing species called the Mi’yargin. The ship has been on Por’via for around 200 years. The Mi’yargin have managed to save Selia, who was injured by the irrijari, by melding her mind into their Collective Consciousness, while they alter her body to better survive in a methane atmosphere.

Once the companions deal with the Vargr, and with the irrijari, the Mi’yargin shuttle takes off to rejoin its mothership, hidden in the rings of the Por’via system’s gas giant. While heading out-system, the companions realize that they are being followed by the Vargr freighter Akhska that was in port, and which was noted for its crew not speaking Gvegh – the standard Vargr language.

The Mi’yargin Nullship is a planetesimal-sized, icy structure, deep in the gas giant’s ring system. A crater near the equator turns out to be a large, external shuttle bay. Gaining access to the Mi'yargin's internal transportation system, Chivers and his companions are able to ambush Captain Vegh and the Akhska’s crew and seize their ship by emerging directly beneath the freighter through the nullship’s surface. The Mi’yargin Collective, having successfully reintegrated the Collective of the shuttle crew, are able to assist Chivers and his companions in translating some of the information discovered aboard the Akhska, and interrogating the one surviving Vargr crewbeing. The Akhska has come a long way – from Waystar in Cabria Subsector where someone called Aia issues orders to Captain Vegh and the crew of the Akhska. The Vargr aboard the Akhska speak an ancient Vargr language called Arrghoun - older than, and distinct from, Gvegh, the language of most Imperial Vargr. The Arrghoun Vargr refer to their employer as Aeroukh Doaengosra - “Lord (or Prince) Whipworm”. The Mi’yargin Collective wonders if Lord Whipworm may in fact be a Danshihabi, an ancient enemy of the Mi’yargin and referred to, by them, as “thieves and carrion worms”.

The Mi’yargin ask Chivers and his companions to journey along the Akhska’s back trail to Waystar to learn more about Lord Whipworm, and to report back to the Collective at a rendezvous point in the Yuar Outsystem in Cabria Subsector. The Collective turns the Akhska over to Civers and throws in a little something to continue their association – a large, sarcophagus-like object.

The sarcophagus-like object delivered to the ship turns out to be a very old Lowberth capsule, and when this is activated, Chivers and his companions meet Amin Soshousis, a Scout. Exploring the Por’via system in 922, just before the 1st Outrim War, Amin’s Scout ship collided with the Mi’yargin Nullship. She managed to get into her Lowberth before the catastrophic failure of her ship’s life support system. The Mi’yargin managed to retrieve her Lowberth, did a preliminary scan of its systems, and then put it into storage as events unfolded on Por'via, keeping it safe for 200 years.

Music tastes change in 200 years
It takes Amin several days to recover from her extended Lowberth time, and Boris and Bunty are surprised at how well she seems to adjust to the massive time displacement she has experienced. Apart from her slightly antiquated figures of speech, and her very old style Scout uniform, there is little to distinguish her from someone of a more contemporary origin. When asked about this, Amin admits that every day she is having to make little adjustments as she discovers items that work slightly differently, or products that taste or function slightly differently. But, having served as a Field Scout for a number of years, she is used to being transient - never making attachments as duty usually moves one on - and she is used to discovering and experiencing new things. Working a Vargr ship is actually less of a culture shock than discovering all the people she knew are gone and all the bands she used to listen to are now considered Classical Music.

Once Amin, and Knaes – the captured Vargr whom Daanel has convinced to join the new pack – have worked out the basic bridge control layout, the Akhska leaves the Nullship. Slipping back to Por’via in an attempt to recover Selia’s Sunstone stash, the companions find that it has been picked clean. An attempt to hunt down the scavengers, thought to possibly be associates of Jorgan Kiorpanos, the VenGems agent who was killed by the irrijari, proves fruitless, so Chivers and his associates decide to leave Por’via and set out on their mission for the Mi'yargin.

The Akhska is a Gaeouz Class Far Trader, with a three parsec Jump range and 3Gs of acceleration. Having extracted more data from the Akhska’s log, Chivers and his associates have learnt that the ship transited through Evvikkim while heading for Por’via, and that there seems to have been some message traffic between Captain Vegh and an agent of Aia's operating on-planet. Amin is very reluctant to enter Geithurian space, even when assured that some time has passed since the last Outrim War (the 4th which, Amin argues, proves her point as she entered her Lowberth just prior to the 1st Outrim War). Having assured her that they will not remain longer than necessary in-system, they eventually plot a course from Por’via, via Jul'ni and Hiona in Geithurian space, before jumping on to Evvikkim.

On approach to Evvikkim, Amin informs Chivers and his companions that she is picking up an automated message being tight beamed to their ship. The message is in code and in Arrghoun, which the Bunty and Daanel are able to crack. The message appears to be from a local agent of Aia’s, saying that a strange ship has been spotted in the Evvikkim system and asking the Akhska to get word to Aia.

Evvikkim Downport shows signs of decay, as if it was once a lot busier than it now is. Very few Evvikkimians are evident, and all look pale and drawn. Also, no children are evident within the starport concourse, while the bulk of the service work at the starport is performed by gangs of Vargr of different origins. Large areas of the starport have been mothballed, or partially shut down, and many areas are dusty and unserviced, as if no-one has ventured into them in many years. Even snack food dispensers are lightly coated in a film of dust, and are stocked with older style packets of snacks.

Chivers and Boris Clapshaw meet Sholoam Kharii, Head of Security for Evvikkim Downport, a tall and cadaverous Vilani and who, like all Evvikkimians, wears slightly archaic styled clothing. Amin is convinced that she recognises him, and that he was head of security when she last passed through Evvikkim – over 200 years ago. Sholoam seems a little suspicious when Chivers talks of picking up a cargo, and advises Chivers and his associates to be wary of the Vargr groups that frequent the starport, and in particular a group lead by Angtuez.

While Chivers and his companions are out looking for cargos and news, Amin is abducted from the Akhska by a Vargr gang. Giving chase, Chivers and company track down her assailants in an abandoned maze of tunnels between the starport and Evvikkim City and, after a shootout, rescue her from the band of Vargr led by Angtuez.

Getting back aboard the ship, Chivers and his associates are thoroughly convinced that Evvikkim is getting all a bit too creepy, and so they perform an emergency takeoff, damaging the access tunnel to their docking bay in the process. With threats of legal retribution reverberating from the ship’s comm., the Akhska heads for the system gas giant, Lamo VIII, to refuel while a debate rages over their next move.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Iain M. Banks has achieved a Zero Point Energy State

A post on G+ alerted me to the news, this morning. Iain Banks has lost his battle with gallbladder cancer and passed away.

I am currently reading Matter, and have The Hydrogen Sonata to look forward to. And then I can return to the origin point, I guess, and read all his books again.

The BBC News has more details - with various other UK news sources pretty much regurgitating the same press release.

As he was a humanist, I suspect Mr Banks might get a little annoyed about people suggesting that he had gone to a better place. I would prefer to remember him for his "big ideas" science fiction, and suggest that he has now achieved a Zero Point Energy State. My thoughts are with his wife and family.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Website Update #23

I've had a productive week or so adding some new content to my website - a 'How to' guide for assembling a rather nice little Armoured Car from RAFM, and updating my modelling log with a bunch of stuff I finished painting in May - including a number of grav vehicles for my Imperial Marine unit and a Vargr grav tank. The Vargr tank was originally for an alien race called the Kra'vak, but I converted the commander into a Vargr, and that did the job.

As usual, the website's front page is here, the modelling menu is here and the Modblog is here. Hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Aloin's Saga - Solo Traveller #15

This picks up the Solo Traveller game I was relating back in December ...

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.”