Elsewhere in Kythera System

Kythera System, near Lunar Transshipment One
OTV Mucker’s Bucket
Líse Varavelen, captain-owner.

“…object appears to be a fragment of nucleonic battery casing, damaged by internal explosion. Remaining piece bears serial code gilek-two-four-eleven-nine-one-illegible-corse. Further identity not confirmed. Object stowed aboard for return. Entry ends, mission elapsed time six, twenty-one, fourteen, mark. What’s up next?”

“Unknown metallic debris fragment, smallest size class by radar return. Range two-six-niner, through controlled space. Maneuver on your glass now.” The computer voice paused for a moment, then added, “Quandry Versine.”

“Leaves today on a shardcruiser, won’t be back in these orbits for more’n a year. Hm. Far side of the lane.” The commander of the tiny vessel reached up and flipped a switch. “Lunar Transshipment One, Station Ops, this is OTV Mucker’s Bucket on contract to Lunar Dejunkers, operating free-flight. Request clearance to cross outbound lane lirek tarse at downrange two-five-zero-zero, course zero-three-four desc one five station prograde relative, estimated dwell two point one five. Over.”

Mucker’s Bucket, Station Ops. We need you to hold or divert, estimated wait one niner one, we have an outbound freighter wishing to make transit. Specify intentions. Over.”

“Station Ops, Mucker’s Bucket. Check your debris feed, guys, our target will be into the lane in one six three. It’s under k-min for the lane, but we’d rather not have it stirred up, read? Over.”

“Wait one, BucketMucker’s Bucket, Station Ops, you are cleared to transit lane lirek tarse outbound one at downrange two-five-zero-zero, clearance valid from mark plus four to mark plus seven, at which clear lane for approaching traffic. Station Ops, clear.”

“On your glass now,” the computer said quietly. “Warming up the main drive. Tessil Lirendocius?”

That mudhog? If you’re that far off the axis, I should fly this on full manual.”

“Twelve pulses, running the count.  I thought he bought you lunch last week?”

“Yeah. And then,” her finger flipped up the shield over the burn key, and punched it as the count flipped to zero, raising her voice over the clatter and hiss of the main jet, “he dropped me at the airlock ‘cause he didn’t want to go outside. Who lives on a space station and can’t take a walk in space?”

“Coming up on skew-flip.”

“Cut.” Expert hands released the burn key, gripped the reaction controllers, flipped the OTV end for end, and punched the key again. “And burn. Why’re you working so hard to set me up, anyway?”

“I’m your friend, Líse.” The ship paused for a moment. “And our efficiency’s been down almost a whole percentage point this last month.”

“And for that, you’re trying to get me laid? Station Ops, Mucker’s Bucket, we’re clear of the lane. Returning to free-flight. Over.”

Mucker’s Bucket, Station Ops. Clear of the lane, back on free-flight, acknowledged. Good hunting. Clear.”

“There may not be causation, but there is correlation. Target on the glass, range one four at oh-nine-eleven asc three.”

“Spare me the graphs, and give me manual translation control.”

“Done and done.”

A clatter of reaction jets. “Go to station-keeping, and fire up the arm.” The trigraphic representation of the OTV’s manipulator arm wrapped itself around Líse’s hand. “Let’s see, now. Give me a point-five plus-X and hold.”

“Executed. Rotation?”

“No, I can match it with the grappler at this angle. And… got it.” With a twist of the arm, she brought it up before the pilot’s viewport. “And log retrieval: object is a bolt key with an IN stock label, reading corse-lirek-four-one-three-ten-six. Object stowed for return. Entry ends, mission elapsed time six, thirty-two, eight, mark. Next up?”

“Kirill Meliane’s just arrived back on-station.”

“She and I were pretty good friends last time our orbits crossed, but there’s a bit of an interface problem there, ship.”

The computer emitted an electronic chuckle. “Picky, picky. Always with the little details. Besides, the lifelog I’m looking at says she’s been a he for six months now.”

“Oh, fine. Then invite him for lunch next time we’re both off-shift, and give me the next item off the feed. This junk won’t clear itself.”

The Shipping Trade (3): Outbound

“Lunar Transshipment One, Station Ops, this is CMS Greed and Mass-Energy in slot ailek corse three five on flight plan code niner-three-zero-eleven-one. Request taxi instructions for orbital maneuvering transfer zone, over.”

“Greed and Mass-Energy, Station Ops. You are cleared to proceed from outer docking to transfer zone via outbound lane lirek tarse in nine-five pulses, cold-gas only. Maintain station-relative velocity below ten fips within outer docking zone. Forbidden thrust vector map available on subchannel gishalel; exercise caution and separation for crossing minor traffic at range from station two-five-zero-zero, OTV Mucker’s Bucket. Contact Kythera Orbital for further clearance holding at range from station one-zero-kay, no need to recontact Ops. Ack and back. Over.”

“Station Ops, Greed and Mass-Energy, acknowledge clearance to transfer zone via lirek tarse in nine-five, cold-gas only, maintain sub ten fips inside zone, forbidden thrust vectors on gishalel, watch out for crossing minor traffic at two-five-zero-zero, hold and contact Orbital at one-zero-kay. Executing in one-zero-zero mark, thanks for your hospitality. Clear.”

“Kythera Orbital, this is CMS Greed and Mass-Energy holding one-zero-kay downrange of Transshipment One, zero relative. We are bound outsystem to Wynérias, our flight plan code niner-three-zero-eleven-one – request you open our flight plan at first convenient block. Standing by. Over.”

“Greed and Mass-Energy, Kythera Orbital, wait two… Greed and Mass-Energy, flight plan is activated as filed. Squawk ident, no subcode. You are cleared initial for transfer to lunar outbound transfer orbit level four, slot three-gilek, initiate two-gravity prograde burn per route-book in four-one-five pulses, circularize at apoapsis, skies are clear. Call back once established. Ack and back. Over.”

“Kythera Orbital, Greed and Mass-Energy, squawking ident only, acknowledge clearance to outbound transfer level four slot three-gilek, two grav prograde in four-one-five, circularize at apoapse, callback when done. Clear.”

“Kythera Orbital, Greed and Mass-Energy, established at outbound transfer level four slot three-gilek and standing by for further clearance, over.”

“Greed and Mass-Energy, Kythera Orbital, you are cleared continuance for transfer to planetary outbound transfer orbit slot eleven-seven, initiate two-gravity burn per route-book at next apoapsis, circularize on slot entry, skies are clear. Contact Kythera SysCon on channel one-one-four-point-ten once established, no need to recontact Orbital. Ack and back, and fair voyage. Over.

“Kythera Orbital, Greed and Mass-Energy, acknowledge clearance to planetary outbound transfer slot eleven-seven, two grav by the book at apoapse, circularize at entry, contact SysCon on one-one-four-point-ten. Thanks, and clear orbits! Clear.”

“Ah, Kythera Orbital, Greed and Mass-Energy, bit of a flutter there, give us an eccentricity check, please? Over.”

“Greed and Mass-Energy, we show five balls on current orbit, a one in the last digit. Orbital, clear.”

“Much thanks, Orbital. Kythera SysCon, this is CMS Greed and Mass-Energy in Kythera outbound slot eleven-seven, bound outsystem to Wynérias, flight plan code niner-three-zero-eleven-one, standing by for instructions.”

“Greed and Mass-Energy, Kythera SysCon, we have you in the zone. Clarify preferred vector and acceleration profile, over.”

“SysCon, Greed and Mass-Energy, proceed on direct brachy to Wynérias Stargate, acceleration four point eight for zero/zero gate intercept, over.”

“Greed and Mass-Energy, SysCon, you are cleared to initiate brachy burn in seven-one-eight pulses, acceleration as specified. Proceed direct, confirm variances and skew-flip on this channel. Ack and back. Over.”

“SysCon, Greed and Mass-Energy, acknowledge clearance for brachy burn in seven-one-eight, proceed direct, confirm skew-flip and any variances on this channel. Clear.”

“Kythera SysCon, Greed and Mass-Energy on direct brachistochrone routing ex Kythera Actual to Wynérias Stargate, flight plan code niner-three-zero-eleven-one, confirming skew-flip as requested, initiation in five-one-eight-four pulses from… mark. No deviations. Over.”

“Greed and Mass-Energy, SysCon acknowledges skew-flip in five-one-eight-four from mark. Clear.”

“Kythera SysCon, this is CMS Greed and Mass-Energy approaching the Wynérias Stargate, gating out-system to Wynérias at this time. No return flight-plan to file. Over.”

“Greed and Mass-Energy, SysCon. We show you departing Kythera System at 5158-11-10:4+35-11. You are clear to gate at your discretion; squawk null. Come back and see us sometime. Over.”

“SysCon, squawking all zeroes, will do and thanks. Greed and Mass-Energy, clear.”

“Gate in range. Initiating integration sequence. Computing transit mass/volume parameters. Gating fee transaction has cleared. Gate is hot; receiving transit vector.”

“Time to gating initiation point, seven-two pulses. Main engine shutdown; switching to thrusters. Time to zero/zero, six-four pulses.”

“Preferential-frame buffers integrated and slaved. Frame trap executed. Timelike axis locked to empire timebase.”

“All stations secure for transit. Board reads blue across. Gate commit.”

“Gating confirmed.”

“Drift nominal, under one-kay. Longscan update-squirt received and on the glass. Local space is clear, ‘weave is up, spinning down from transit.”

“Wynérias SysCon, this is CMS Greed and Mass-Energy, gated in-system from Kythera, identifying. Over.”

“Greed and Mass-Energy, Wynérias SysCon, we have you arriving at 5158-11-10:4+37-20; squawk ident. Specify intentions. Over.”

“SysCon, Greed and Mass-Energy, squawking ident. Request clearance for direct brachy transfer to Wynérias Actual at four point eight gravities, intend docking at Port Sung Orbital. Over.”

“Greed and Mass-Energy, you are cleared to proceed as stated at discretion. Contact again before reaching Wynérias orbital control zone boundary. SysCon, clear.”


The Shipping Trade (2): Preflight

Kythera System, Lunar Transshipment One, outer docking zone
CMS Greed and Mass-Energy

The bridge of Greed and Mass-Energy was a typical example of Middle Empire Baroque – which is to say, wood paneling over the glassboard walls and be damned to the mass penalty, polished brass fittings, subdued lighting, comfortable and well-padded reclining couches for all – arranged five on each of the room’s opposing floors – surrounded by the various trigraphic displays each officer needed, and an auxiliary tracked-arm running about to serve drink bulbs and other comforts. Like any starship bridge, it was a room in which people went about the serious business of navigating the void between worlds without getting themselves killed in the process, but the designers of the Cheneos-class clearly thought that there was no particular reason why they couldn’t enjoy a few civilized niceties while they were about it.

Captain Athné eeled into the bridge with the ease of long practice, glanced at the data pillar in the center of the room (currently showing the critical path map to launch with all but a few of the topmost nodes glowing a cool ready-blue), and flipped expertly over the back and into his couch, shifting slightly as the gripfabric took hold of his shipsuit and the virtuality-port synched with his internal network.

“How’s the preflight coming, gentlesophs? By departments. Helm and guidance?”

“Guidance systems are on-line and tracking; five beacons, sunlock, starlocks, and inertials have concurrence. Gyros are spun up and RCS coupled. Prospective courses laid in as per flight plan. Flight controls are active for station-keeping and ship is aweigh. Helm and guidance systems are go flight in all respects.”


“Internal timebase is synched to empire time per station, no deviations. Frame differentials are go in inertial mode. Flight recorder is running. Mission Elapsed Time clock is reset and holding. Relativistics systems are go flight in all respects.”

“Eyes and ears?”

“All passive sensors are active and operational. Short-range actives are up and pinging. Shortscan is go and on the glass. We have valid longscan signals, station and three sources, with reciprocation, also on the glass. Comms systems are up and channels are clear; we have ‘weave interlink, listening watch on distress, guard, and hailing, plus open links to station, orbital ops and SysCon. Sensory and communications systems are go flight in all respects.”


Data Ops raised an eyestalk from hsis screens, tentacles twitching. “Yes, yes, Shipboard Information Service is up and running in onboard mode. Cache dump is downloaded. Packet routings and link pointers laid in all the way from here to Wynérias. Data systems are go flight in all respects.”

“Drive, heat, and power?”

“Reactors are up and running at warm idle. Radiators are flowing, ready to extend at clearance. Station docks an’ locks confirms that microwave beam is off; she’s on internal power. Drive mode is primed and ready for thrust at your discretion. Dampers are on and interlocked. And the tanks are fully topped off; we have all the delta-v we need and twenty-three percent over commercial reserve t’boot. Drive, heat, and power systems are go flight in all respects.”


“We have full function active on all internal mechanical systems. External mechanical systems are full function inactive and stowed for maneuver and burn. Mechanical systems are go flight in all respects.”


“Recyclers, conditioners, and distributors show blue, blue, and blue. Atmosphere is nominal. Reserve, aux, and emergency are all fully charged. Meat vats and aeroponics are growing away nicely, and the pantry’s fully stocked. Tonight’s dinner will be a roast leg of non-vat ftark, for a change, thanks to our Mr. mor-Tarvek and his gambling habit. All-in, life-support systems are go flight in all respects. Oh, and” – she took a moment to straighten some unruly black curls – “we think we’ve finally managed to clear the damn sulphogen out of the secondary gray-water ‘cycling loop, so give it a couple of cycles and the brimstone smell in the ‘freshers should go away, and you can all stop reminding me ‘bout it, ‘kay?”


“Container cargo is onboarded and locked down. And I got a good deal on a mixed seven-thou lot of Kytheran biologicals that’s riding in the spec space. Breakbulk is lashed and thrashed; cee-oh-emm-inert is in the computer and transferred to guidance.” He glanced up at the sailing master’s position, beneath him. “We had to run power cables out to some of the breakbulk in reefer pods; they’re rigged and running. Cargo department is go flight in all respects.”

“Docks and locks?”

“All natives are inboard and latched; all foreigners are clear. Airlocks and auxiliary connections show straight-line shut. Docks and locks are go flight in all respects.”

“Very good, all. Let’s get underway. Start the MET clock, and give me station ops.”


The Shipping Trade (1)

Kythera System, Lunar Transshipment One, Docking Ring Gilek, Third Quadrant, Afterquay Level
Offices of Hyneral, Myninine and mor-Vertak, Bonded Cargo Brokers

“Good shift, brokers. Athné Calaris-ith-Calandia…”

“…master of Greed and Mass-Energy! Cheneos-class free trader, I seem to recall. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen you in-system, Captain. Good trading?”

“Still flying.”

“So, what brings you to us – anything to offload this trip?”

“No, not this time. We just came off a charter – unloading thirty and a half of reaction-control assemblies out of Kerbol System. Hold’s empty, lookin’ to fill it.”

“Got commitments, or free-course?”

“Thinking of heading out spinward, but no contracts as yet. And I’d like to keep ten free for spec. Apart from that, we’ll go where the cash points.”

“Spinward, huh?” The broker rattled his terminal’s keys. “Quiet out there this week. I can fill your mail locker, and give you… twenty of laser pigs, containerized, delivered ex-ship High Transit Station, Wynérias System, pays out at market local.” He steepled his fingers, thinking. “Now, if you’ll yield back some of that ten, I can throw in 12,750 of assorted breakbulk for Wynérias and points on a spinward routing from there, pays three points over market local for lash comp.”

“Any liquids in that?”

“None on manifest. You’ve got one-twenty drums on-board from here to Losen Actual highport, but they’re listed as ‘powder, ceramet, special formula’ – yard consignment. Will you take it? It’s cutting out warehouse space, and I’ll owe you a favor for the inconvenience.”

The captain hesitated only slightly.

“Sure. Deal. We’ll be done unloading and cleared to metal by top of the second.”

“I’ll have the cargo and my longshorebots lockside by third of the second. Want to grab some lunch while the contracts clear down?”

“Don’t mind if I do.”