Parsec - June 1995
The Flight - Ambrose Poons
(page 10/13)

The Flight

Barnard's star. 12th January, 3521 AD Earth standard time. A dozen light minutes away from the planet known as Barnard 3, or Timothy to the locals, a rip in the fabric of space time appeared. Well, not really a rip, more of a perfectly round pinhole - but when dealing with multidimensional space time, round is merely what it looks like to those who perceive it in 3 dimensional space time, and to truly visualise and understand what happens is beyond the scope of this narration, not to mention the author's ability to make up far fetched ways of Faster Than Light (FTL (tm)) space travel.

Not that anyone would notice this hole in space suddenly appear. If someone had seen it, this extremely sharp sighted person might have remarked, "Oh look captain!/number one!/Yer planet lubber !/darling! (delete as appropriate). Isn't that a 500m radius sphere of almost perfect blackness thats suddenly appeared on a background of almost perfect blackness about 2000 km away! Yes! Can't you see? That tiny round black silhouette on a black background!"

However, while there was a largish freighter cruising through the Barnard system at the time which was some 2000km away from this rip in space, no one on this ship made any remarks about black circles on black backgrounds or interdimensional rips in space time. Most of the crew were having a heated argument in the recreation room about who had the hairiest legs. The first mate was currently favourite, but the chief engineer had still to make an appearance. Such is the tedium of space travel on working ships.

Then, without any sound (only to be expected in a vacuum really), a sleek, silvery blur blasted out of this hole at a respectable fraction of the speed of light, slowed down and set a course for Timothy. Seconds later, another black sphere appeared several km from the first sphere. Another smaller but even sleeker, even more silvery blur blasted out of the second black sphere on a black background at an even more respectable fraction of the speed of light, increased speed, and headed for the first, slower, and less impressively silvery blur.

As the two got closer, intense beams of blue light shot from what seemed to be the front tip of the smaller blur, lanceing their way through space at the larger blur. The larger blur promptly began to spin, weave, duck, and dive in such intricate and fiendish patterns that, had there been any spectators, they may well have been cheering at the sheer artistry and audacity of some of the maneuvers that the larger blur executed with such grace and finesse.

"YER BIG PANSEY!", a voice shouted aboard the aforementioned freighter. The hairy legs competition had been forgotten and the crew were now glued to the vidi screen where the battle was being relayed to them.


"Twenty creds say that the smaller ship gets it's ass kicked.", a voice said.

"You're on cap'n", replied another.

Eventually, the bigger blur got into a position to shoot it's own purple beams light at the smaller blur. But each time it's spears hit, a glowing red sphere enveloped the smaller craft and dissipated the energy of the beam.

"Well cap'n, get yer money out. That falcon's got shields, and its too fast for the janitor to get a good enough shot at it to penetrate 'em", the first mate told the grizzled figure next to him, who smiled knowingly.

Deadlock ensued. The small blur got more hits, but every time it's blue light made contact with the large blur, a red sphere would also envelope it also and dissipate the energy. It's target would then skillfully dodge out of the beams path before any damage could be inflicted. The big blur would score a hit occasionally, but the small blur was just too small and too fast to get a long enough shot to penetrate and do damage.

And then the moment came. To gasps of "Nutter!", "Prat!", and "Twerp!", the larger blur had turned to a collision course for the smaller blur. This time, both fired their beams of light at one another. Neither attempted to get out of the path of the high energy rays, and after a couple of seconds, both shielding spheres were glowing white and on the verge of collapse.

By now, both were travelling too fast to escape collision. Both combatants knew this, as did the crew. And it was then that the larger blur acted. From the vidi screen aboard the freighter, what seemed like a small sliver of metal detached itself from the blur, accelerated to an even faster speed than the blurs and exploded in a blinding flash on the shield of the target, destroying the shields. This let the purple beams of the larger blur rip at it's enemy, which almost instantly exploded.

The larger blur flew on, going through the fireball and debris of it's ex-enemy, executed a curt about face and headed for Timothy. On board the freighter, there were mutters as credits changed hands between the crew.

Then main doors to the rec. room opened with a pneumatic hiss. The crew silenced and looked up in surprise. In the doorway stood a bearded giant of a man, face smeared with grease and a big grin, he wore a pair of blindingly bright bermuda shorts and a small rain forest on each of his legs.

"Am I too late?", he asked the crew.

The sword class trading ship was designed with frontier use in mind. In civilised systems such as Sol, pirates were all but extinct. But out on the boundary systems between inhabited and uninhabited systems, where settlements were new and governments unstable or non- existent, pirates reign.

These pirates were the scourge of civilisation. The kind of people who would not only sell their mothers for a quick credit, but also their father, uncles, aunts, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, granduncles, grandaunts, nephews, nieces, and any combination of the aforementioned. Not to mention that bloke they met on the beach resort on Jasper a few years back with whom he had a couple of drinks at the hotel, but tried to avoid for the rest of the 2 weeks because, not only was he tediously boring, but he was also in advertising....

On safe routes, multi-thousand tonne freighters could move massive quantities of goods, albeit at a sedate pace - but at big profits simply because of the volume of the sales. But in a frontier system, such a large ship would soon attract a swarm of pirates. All of them intent on blowing it's hull apart and scooping up any cargo pods held within. Eager to make a quick buck and appearing faster than you could say, "This week's special offer! Free squadron of Hawk jet fighters with every Malaysian Dam purchased!"

And so, Schwartz Astronautics Ltd, began production from their sword class trading ship on Deimos. It had a fully laden weight of around 120 tonnes. Much, much smaller than previous trading ships, but with the speed and agility that would allow it to evade the more heavily armed pirates while providing the ship with the capability of taking on the smaller, faster but lightly armed pirates.

Schwartz Astro packed the sword with all the latest technology. You could get it in models which had flashy letters like XL, GTi, XYZ, and so on after it. Not that they they really meant much, but everyone agreed it looked really expensive and impressive. No one asked what these _actually_ _meant_. (According to inside sources, the XL model of the sword has a pilot seat that is a FULL 2 INCHES wider than the normal model, but their PR man denied this and maintained that it was actually meaningless and put there to make the ship look more impressive for an extra 500 creds).

But they overlooked one major hurdle to selling these ships. Those who even considered a career change from, say city slicker or manual worker with lots of spare cash, to a trader on the frontier routes would think 'what does frontier trading entail?'. Well its all about dealing with lots unpleasant people who are out to get rich - the police. Then having to travel through uncivilised, pirate infested space with no one else for company - since the sword was a one person ship and anyway, people with a death wish rarely occur in pairs. And at the end of the day, the pay may be quite good, but is it worth being shot at on a regular basis for?

Most people thought not. So not many were sold. And since their production had been halted for the last decade, what had occurred since then was a process of survival of the fittest. Swords were almost impossible to sell because of the lifestyle associated with them, and since no new swords were being built, those sword pilots not up to the rigors of the life had fallen foul of pirates, leaving only those with the wit to survive.

Because of this, over the years, sword pilots had earned the respect of their older peers - younger pilots just thought they were antisocial traders who couldn't afford to buy a larger ship. Experienced space equivalents of old sea dogs knew better. If there was sword that found itself knee deep in shit, you could expect it to clear up the mess. Hence the obscure nickname of Janitor.

The Lady Jane's main engines stopped and the auto pilot allowed it to drift at hundreds of km per second as the blue green terraformed planet of Timothy came into view. Occasionally, side and vertical thrusters would kick in to correct for direction changes caused by the gravity of the moons and the nearby gas giant. Behind it, the red sun of Barnard was just creeping into view - making the gas giant into a stunningly beautiful crescent and bathing the sword in its glow.

Jane was a typical sword class ship. About 60 metres wide, 35 long by 10 thick. It resembled an oval discus sliced in half, but with stylised lines which served no purpose but to make the ship look good. This particular craft had as many battle scars as the next sword, i.e. a lot. It also had sharks teeth painted on the front flanking curve plates, a big blue irate looking cartoon rabbit standing like a human with a speech bubble saying 'You do realise that _This_ _Means_ _War_' from it on the front upper plate. And a sign painted on the back saying 'If you can read this, you're flying too close'.

Linus city, capital of Timothy, population of 12 million, jokingly referred to as the cultural centre of Timothy. By some curious quirk of fate, or some kind of psychological attraction to the names 'Timothy' and 'Linus', its real claim to fame lies in the fields of accountancy and hair care.

The official survey of federal planets of 3520 found that the population breakdown of the city was thus: 40% hairdressers, 30 accountancy, 10% electrical/electronics industry (7% of which make pocket calculators. The rest make hair driers), 10% others.

Some argued that Linus was the most boring place in the known galaxy. The counterargument did not disagree with this, but said while the place was undeniably "as dull as a wet haddock", you had to admit that at least the people who make the place so boring have the best kept and most interesting hair within 200 lightyears.

Steve Purcell. Trader and mercenary, stepped out of his ship, the 'Lady Jane'. Linus city was one of his favourite haunts when he felt threatened. Though his career of trading on the frontier, he was able to suss out how threatening a settlement was merely by it's 'feel'. A city of accountants and hairdressers did not send his instincts for danger on alert.

But right now, he did have a reason to be careful even in this relative haven from crime. Dealing with the mafia on Ruby had been a big mistake.

"It'll be a cinch", they said, "Just carry this package to Io depot, where our counterparts are expecting you. You get 5000 creds now, another 15000 on arrival. Just don't ask any questions". It just occurred to Purcell that an extra 20,000 creds would be enough to upgrade his drive system.

So, like the prize mug that he now felt like, he jumped into the Sol system with the cargo and headed for Jupiter and the mining colony on Io. The moons of Jupiter and Saturn supported many such colonies, but the relatively low pay of their police and their godforsaken location made them the gateway smuggling into the population centres on earth, mars and venus.

On docking with Io depot, Jane had been granted docking permission unusually rapidly. And he was met as he stepped out into the bay by two burly but extremely well dressed 'guides', who 'requested' his presence at the house of 'der boss'. And promptly knocked him out cold.

"Zeese diamonds are synthetic", said the diamond expert in an austrian accent as he looked up through an eyeglass at the tall, threatening, mafia boss type person who stood next to him. All diamond experts in the employ of organised crime seem to speak with an austrian accent, even if their native tongue is serbo-croat.

Three organised crime groups still existed in the Sol system. Over a millenia and a half, the Yakuza and Triads had become the trendsetters in the latest fashion for mindlessly evil and/or megalomaniac bosses of huge, multiplanetry crime syndicates - making even the plain navy anorak briefly fashionable after one boss was forced to use it in a disguise from the police.

But in over 1500 years, this mafia boss was still wearing an immaculately pressed, superbly made suit. This boss was also not very happy with the sparkling stones that the package contained. Steve knew that when one is the cause of unhappiness for a mafia boss who is occupying the same room as you with half a dozen, also immaculately dressed but much more heavily built henchmen guarding all the exits, one is up a certain creek without a certain implement.

"But, But", Steve stuttered,"I was just told to bring it to you! I know nothing, I am but an expendable pawn of more powerful people".

"Tough", the boss replied with an evil grin.

"But I have a wife!", he lied, "And a family! And my silver haired mother relies on the money I send her every month! Not to mention a pet rat who needs to be fed twice a day!".

"Not good enough".

"Mercy! Please, please, please, please. _Preeety_ please with sugar and syrup and almonds and those little multicoloured candy thingies.. erm.....".

"...Hundreds and thousands...", one of the guards said helpfully.

"..YES!... hundreds and thousands on top, and even Venusian chocolate if it turns you on!". Steve sagged. He could see it now. Surviving 15 years on the frontier to be killed so close to the birthplace and bastion of civilisation.

"Oh, alright then", the mafia boss relented, "you have 5 minutes headstart before I send my best assassins after you. From 10 seconds ag......"

But Steve was already half way down the street heading in the direction of the space port.

"The Milky Way's Armpit, best darned watering hole this side of the spiral arm". So went the large sign that hung outside one of many yuppie bars in downtown Linus city.

Inside, locals and tourists and mingled. Everyone seemed to be wearing pink - a fad brought on by the hairdressers. All but one. This person stood out like a sore toe in a hammer on nail ergonomics tests laboratory.

This person was dressed in a long, brown leather coat. His hair was shoulder length and unkempt - almost a civic offence in this city. Designer stubble, adorned his face - the kind that living alone on a starship for weeks on end seems to promote.

The man sat alone at the bar. Seeking no attention and getting none. Just him, a glass and a bottle of whiskey. He seemed deep in thought, pondering what to do. Like a man on the run, occasionally, he looked up to appraise everyone else in the bar. And returned to the refuge of his thoughts afterwards.

"Friend ?", a pink clad man seemed to have plucked up the courage to speak to him, "Cheer up, its the weekend!"

Steve looked blearily up at the stranger, who beamed back, carefully examining steve's face and expression.

"C'mon! Get up, and wake up! Its the weekend!", the stranger exclaimed, arms outstretched.

"Bloody capital radio DJ", Steve muttered as he got up and wearily put his hands in the pockets of his massive leather coat in a gesture of apathy.

"Yeah!", the stranger enthused, "now die" - he hissed as he reached behind his back and drew a blaster.

There followed a thunderous boom and a 'thud' as the pink clad assassin fell to the ground, a charred circle decorating his chest.

"Shit...", Steve said to himself as he looked at his coat. A massive, smoking hole now appeared where the right pocket had been to reveal his hand holding a small blaster.

"Shit...!", he exclaimed while running out of the bar as it occurred to him that that was probably one of many assassins on his trail and on this planet.

"How'd he know????", a tourist asked the barman as the leather clad figure disappeared down the street.

"What? That there was something suspicious about the dead guy?"


"Oh, thats easy. That hairstyle of his went out with the stoneage..."

"JANE!", Steve shouted as he leapt into the control room, "We gotta get out of here..."

"Why?", replied the ship's computer, "Whats the hurry? Someone trying to kill you?"


"Oh, alright then... I'll just warm up the engines".

"Plot a course and jump route to Jasper, we'll have to make a few more jumps, but we should be safe once we get to the frontier..."

"Safe? On the frontier?..."


"You mean no one on the frontier would try to kill you specifically, but no one would give a damn for your life if they could make a quick credit out of your death.."


"Okay, just give me the word, and we can be on our way. Nice threads, by the way".

Days later, aboard the luxury star liner 'Starfish', a young couple stood hand in hand, content in each other's company, staring out into the blackness from the observation deck - the planet of Jasper presenting a crimson crescent to them in the light of the red sun it orbited as they contemplated the vast infinity of space.

And the woman then said, "Oh look darling! Isn't that a 500m radius sphere of almost perfect blackness thats suddenly appeared on a background of almost perfect blackness about 2000 km away! Yes! Can't you see? That tiny round black silhouette on a black background!"

Ambrose Poons