Kolovraty, Lyran Commonwealth
17 August 3039
The door to his quarters slid open with a faint hiss, and Garadun stepped inside with his cat carrier in his arms. After the door closed he set the carrier on the floor and opened it. His two kittens, Wasp and Stinger, hesitated for a moment and then slowly crept out, looking around and sniffing.
“It’s okay, sweeties, it’s our old room,” he said and reached down and stroked them. This eased their anxiety and they began exploring. Garadun glanced around the cabin and sighed. His luggage hadn’t been delivered yet, but he wasn’t in a rush. Plenty of time for that later. Months, in fact.
The Fighting Fusiliers had completed their contract and finished their tour of duty garrisoning the world of Kolovraty. It had been highly successful. They had obliterated two groups of raiding pirates and made a lot of good friends with the Innsbruck Militia, the small local military unit. Kolovraty’s ruler, Duke Josef Sheridan, was sorry to see them go and said they’d always be welcome back. The Fusiliers were heroes.
Now the plan was to head into the Deep Periphery and go treasure hunting. That meant months and months of being out in space, jumping from star to star. Months of nothing to do but kill time. Months of boredom. Months of being cooped up on a ship with dozens of other people. This was not going to be fun.
Garadun did not, as Cera would say, cohabitate well. He needed his privacy and personal space. He’d had roommates on a couple of occasions in years past and it hadn’t worked out. The only roommates he liked were cats. The journey from Galatea to Kolovraty the year before had taken two months and he’d been very thankful when they finally landed and he’d been given his own quarters at Innsbruck Barracks, the local military base. Now they were headed into deep, uncharted space with no idea as to when they’d be getting off the ship. From what he understood, best guess was at least three or four months to reach their destination. Which was something like four hundred light-years away, maybe more. Assuming everything went well and they didn’t get lost.
It wasn’t that he had a problem with his cabin. Distant Memory was a Tramp class JumpShip which had been built in the final years of the Star League and was a marvel of lostech. It was, literally, a royal ship. It belonged to the Grosvenors, Lyran nobles who could trace their lineage back over six hundred years. Distant Memory was not only technologically advanced but also extremely luxurious in its accommodations. It had to be because it was the Grosvenor family home, as much as the estate on their homeworld of Pencader. The cabin Garadun and his kitties had been assigned had wood panelling on the walls, carpets on the wooden parquet floor, and was filled with antique wooden furniture; including a bed, not simply a bunk. It had its own small washroom which was equipped with a real shower. It was very luxurious to say the least.
No, the cabin wasn’t the problem. Nor did he suffer from claustrophobia or Transit Disorientation Syndrome, TDS for short, more commonly called jumpsickness. No, his problem was having to share the ship with so many other people. He needed friends as much as anyone and enjoyed spending time with them. But when it came to living space, then he wanted, needed, privacy. Not easy on a spaceship.
“Bugger,” he said, with feeling. He stretched out with the book he was currently reading and tried to relax. Twenty minutes later there was a knock on his door.
“Come in,” he called and sat up. The door opened and Cera strolled into his cabin, a big smile on her face.
Cera Kuroda was his very best friend in the whole galaxy, not to mention his partner and lancemate. She’d been born and raised in Kobe, the Draconis Combine district of Solaris City on Solaris VII, known as the Game World. She was of pure Japanese blood: very dark brown eyes, long silky black hair dyed with plenty of dark brown highlights, a slim yet shapely figure, and a lovely face he never tired of looking at.
“So what’s up?” he asked, putting down his book.
“Wanted to come and see you,” she said and sat beside him.
“Here I am.”
“Are you all right?” she asked, seeing his expression.
“Hai, I’ll be okay.” He leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees. “Just not looking forward to all this time in space.”
“Is that all?”
“What else is there?” he said, frowning at her. “You need more?”
“Sorry. I thought it might be something other than your usual privacy thing.”
“I don’t know. Girl trouble, maybe?”
Garadun smirked, shaking his head. “Look, just because Ian and Sayuki are getting married, and you and Marie are now an item, doesn’t mean I’m suddenly longing for a woman. You know me better than anyone. My life doesn’t work that way.”
“Shigata ga nai.” He gave her a smile. “So how‘re you and Marie?”
“Wonderful,” she replied and let out a happy cry and jumped to her feet. “Oh, Gar, she’s amazing! I mean, the sex is incredible! She’s so beautiful, you should see her naked, and I mean, like…” Cera spun around with a huge grin. “I’m dating a supermodel! Can you believe it? Me! Me, Cera Kuroda, dating Marie Coriveau.”
“I’m happy for you. You deserve her.”
Cera blushed and bit her lip. “I’m acting like an idiot, aren’t I?”
“Not a bit. You’re acting like a young woman in love, that’s all,” he said fondly. “I’m glad for you, sweetie. I really am. Marie should feel lucky, too. You’re an amazing catch. You’re a supermodel too, y’know. If you’d had a career as one that is, instead of being a Solaris ‘Mech jock. You’re as beautiful as any of them.”
“Domo arigato gozaimasu,” she said and gave him a hug.
“So what about Isabelle?” she asked, flopping onto her back on his bed.
“What about her?”
“She‘s not seeing anyone and I know she’s so your type,” she said, grinning. “Asian, pretty, short and slim, small breasts, cute little ass.”
“And fifteen years younger than I am.”
“Pfft. Age doesn’t matter. Besides, you’re not old.”
“But I’m still me and that means women ain’t interested.” The bitterness in his voice was burnt out, with no vehemence. He was simply stating facts.
Cera frowned at the ceiling. “It’s not fair.”
“Still not fair. I’m tired of not fair. You deserve some love, dammit.”
“Not in my cards,” he said, then smiled when Stinger came up to him with a little cloth ball in her mouth. He took it and tossed it across the room. She ran after it.
Cera sat up. “Then we get you some new cards.”
“Look, just let it go, okay?” he said wearily. “Every time you get a girlfriend you do this. I know you’re happy. I know the sex is great. But wishing me to have a girlfriend as well doesn’t make it so. They’re not interested.”
Cera let out a sound that was part anger, part frustration and part anguish, then got up and slapped the door button. The door swished open and she left in a huff. Stinger came trotting back with her little ball, so he tossed it for her again. Wasp ran after it as well, and there was a scrimmage for possession.
“Least I got you,” he said, smiling at his kittens.
Two hours later Garadun was on the ship’s bridge with Alexandra and her teenage sister, Elizabeth. Alexandra Grosvenor was a beautiful young woman with creamy skin, blue-grey eyes, long, pale golden hair and a slim, lovely figure. Elizabeth looked very much like a younger version of Alexandra; although her hair was a darker shade of blonde and her eyes were blue instead of blue-grey.
Garadun was a man with a sense of history, which was why he’d asked to be on the bridge. Distant Memory had been nearly everywhere in the Inner Sphere and Periphery during her centuries of travel, had been through hundreds of star systems. But the ship was about to go where it had never been before: the Deep Periphery in the anti-spinward area of the galaxy, out beyond the Lyran Commonwealth’s borders. No-one in the crew or any of the Fusiliers had any idea what was out there, although there were stories. Space legends, really.
The rest of the gang were busy with other things. Even with jumpsickness medicine, Sayuki didn’t handle hyperspace jumps very well. She didn’t have full-blown TDS, but it still wasn’t fun for her. So she was trying to get some sleep in her quarters. Ian, her fiancé, was with her of course. Cera was off with Marie somewhere (probably having sex) and Sun-Lao, Laura, Erik and Isabelle were in the ship’s main lounge playing poker. The new astechs who’d joined the Fusiliers on Kolovraty (Darrel, Vic, Zoe, Gareth and Vivian) were getting a tour of the JumpShip, led by Jimmy, the Chief Tech, and one of Distant Memory’s crew.
“Ian told me you agreed to perform the ceremony for him and Sayuki, Captain.”
Captain Hamilton gave one of his rare smiles. “That I did, Mr Morr. A great honour, a very great honour indeed. I’ve never performed that particular duty before in all my years sailing the Black. I’m looking forward to it.”
“I think it’s so romantic,” said Elizabeth, gushing.
“They’re a wonderful couple,” said Alexandra happily. “I was honoured as well when they told me they wanted to be married aboard Distant Memory.”
Elizabeth giggled. “Chef’s beside himself. He has to make a wedding cake, cook the whole dinner for everyone, pick all the wine...but I think he’s thrilled.”
Alexandra looked at Garadun. “I heard the bachelor party got rather wild.”
“No more so than the bachelourette party,” he countered with a grin.
Elizabeth giggled again. “We had male strippers!”
“No need to go into details,” said Alexandra, blushing.
“So what’s our first stop, Captain?” Garadun asked, which earned him a grateful look from Alexandra for switching topics.
“Mr Calamy, show us our target star if you please,” said Captain Hamilton, stepping into the primary holotank, which was in the centre of the main deck. The bridge layout was a model of efficiency, aglow with hovering holograms and data displays by each of the eight bridge stations. Apart from ships belonging to ComStar, there were few, if any, vessels in the Successor States as advanced as Distant Memory.
“Our destination.” He pointed to a red-orange ball hovering in the air. “It’s a red giant, thirty light-years beyond the border of the Periphery March. This is uncharted territory for us, Mr Morr. Distant Memory has never been out this way before.”
Garadun nodded. “For everything there is a first time.”
“The way you said that, it sounds like a quote,” said Alexandra.
“It is. It’s from a science-fiction film from the late twentieth century.”
“I really have to start digging into that library of yours,” she said, amused.
“By all means,” he said amiably. “What’s mine is yours. You too, Lizzie.”
“Thanks, Gar, that’d be neat,” said Elizabeth.
“All right, Captain Hamilton, let’s be underway,” said Alexandra.
“Yes, my Lady,” he said, saluting crisply. “All stations: give me a go no-go for jump.” One by one, each officer chimed in and gave the go for jump.
“Mr Blakney, lock course into the nav computer.”
“Aye, Captain, locking course into nav computer.” Blakney’s heart was racing with excitement. This was a real first and no denying.
“Mr Mowett, charge the K-F drive.”
“Aye, Captain, charging K-F drive.”
“Mr Mathews, are we clear and free to jump?” Captain Hamilton asked.
“Aye, Captain, we are clear and free to jump,” Mathews replied, who was the ship’s First Lieutenant. “No-one out here but us, sir.”
“Course locked in, Captain,” Blakney supplied.
“K-F drive charged and on-line, Captain,” Mowett added not long after.
“Sir, all systems report green,” said Mathews. “She’s ready to jump.”
“Very good, Mr Mathews. Mr Allen, sound the horn.” At his command, a loud claxon sounded across the bridge, simultaneously being rung throughout the ship as well as on board Shearling, the Union class DropShip which was attached to one of the JumpShip’s three docking collars. It was followed by two more blasts of noise. Captain Hamilton put his hands on the railing before him.
“Prepare to jump the ship… Jump!”
“Aye, Captain!” said Mathews. “Jumping now!”
Power surged from the JumpShip’s batteries and into the Kearny-Fuchida drive’s field initiator, which generated an expanding field of energy that spread out in a sphere until it encompassed the entire vessel and the DropShip attached to it. With a massive burst of electromagnetic and tachyon radiation, a rip was torn in the fabric of space-time and the ship was instantly sent through hyperspace to arrive at the zenith jump point of its target star some thirty light-years away.
“Status, Mr Allen,” said Captain Hamilton, now very serious.
“All boards are green, sir. Jump completed successfully,” Allen reported. “And there are no other vessels in the vicinity,” he added, visibly relieved.
“Begin scanning the system,” said Captain Hamilton, stepping out of the holotank. “And double-check for any other vessels. We can’t afford to get bounced, not out here in the Deep. I want to know about every planet and asteroid.”
“Aye, sir. You heard the Captain, lads. Let’s get a picture of where we are.”
Several minutes later it was confirmed that there were no other JumpShips at the jump point, and none in the system at all as far as they could see. With no obvious threat around, Captain Hamilton ordered the jump sail unfurled.
“How long to recharge the batteries?” Garadun asked.
“This is a red giant, Mr Morr,” Mathews answered. “Classification M8 III. Once the jump sail is deployed, it should take us about 209 hours to recharge.”
“We won’t be performing any double-jumps while we’re out here,” Alexandra told him. “We can’t risk jumping into a system, and then encounter hostiles with no way of escaping. The lithium-fusion batteries will only be used in an emergency.”
“Makes sense to me,” said Garadun.
“So what now?” Elizabeth asked. “I heard Sun-Lao’s running a poker game.”
“When you’re eighteen you can play poker for money,” Alexandra told her.
“Awwww, come on, Alex! Please?”
“No. And I believe you have some studying to do, don’t you?”
“Being a ‘Mech jock ain’t all blowing stuff up, kiddo,” said Garadun, grinning. “But you’re Cera’s apprentice, so it’s up to her.”
“No gambling,” said Alexandra firmly.
“I’ll play a hologame or something.” Elizabeth slumped off the bridge.
Alexandra rolled her eyes. “Teenagers.”
“You were one not so long ago yourself,” Garadun observed, giving her a wink. “But she’s a good kid. Smart, too. She’s learning quickly.”
“Elizabeth’s always been very bright,” said Alexandra proudly.
“Well, I’m gonna grab some sim time,” he said, slapping his hands together. “Piloting a Stinger is a huge change from a Hunchback. Still not used to it.”
“Care for a sparring partner?” Alexandra inquired.
“That’d be great,” he said and offered his arm, which she took cheerfully.