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   Chapter 2 No.2

Black Sunrise By Christina Engela Characters: 6389

Updated: 2018-06-30 12:02

From his vantage point in the basement, Gary Beck had a good view of his prey. Or at least, a good view of his feet. The rest of him could only be in so many places. The knotholes in the floorboards had come in handy: one he was aiming through, the other had the muzzle of his ten-mil in it, aimed upwards at Corrigan. It was a 10mm Jupina Black auto, one of the finest handguns known to Human-kind. Well, to Beck anyway. He didn't have to warn Corrigan – after all, the man was trying to kill him. But Beck had a conscience – and anyway, dead men are a lot harder to carry than live ones.

* * *

It was the dawn of manned spaceflight. Well, okay – more like just after midmorning. The Terran Empire had been around since – well, a century or so ago, and more colonies were being established every year. Tordrazil was one of those planets that any average citizen of said Empire had probably never heard of. At least, not unless they were investors in the Beljan Interstellar Mining Company, and if they were really studious about reading the company prospectus and cared where their minerals came from. Said company specialized in deep space mining operations. They were the largest, having a fleet of mineral survey ships and loderunners almost an eighth the size of the Imperial Space Fleet, which as you can imagine, was pretty darn big. If there was a demand for it, Beljan Interstellar would be out there digging it up. Tordrazil was their latest operation, and of necessity, it was on the fringe of then explored space.

TR424 Duval was a loderunner for Beljan Interstellar, Bannor class, equipped for long term deep space. The Bannor class ships required little maintenance. Fully automated, Duval had a remarkably long fuel endurance, which meant it could be out for years at a time, much to the consternation of the small crew – but more about that a little later.

Bannor class loderunners were not to be taken lightly. One look would convince you that you were facing megatons of hi-tech transport. With a length of 4.3km and a beam of 800 meters, it would be a gross understatement to call such a vessel a mere 'loderunner'. In its five major holds, Duval could carry enough food supplies to feed a whole colony for several months. Duval was a profitable ship, which was just as well, because the Bannor class didn't come cheap.

This one was only eleven years old and had done the regular Samor – Barantis run for the past five years. Transporting ores and metals was one thing, but sometimes there would be open spaces in the cargo holds – and management didn't like open spaces. Open spaces were bad for business. Open spaces in the payload could result in another open space in the crew manifest, so to keep management happy a portion of Duvals' space would be assigned to carry items dispatched by private individuals. Her cargo manifest currently boasted 80 superkegs of export-quality Samorian sherry, industrial equipment and three hundred used crop-tender droids sold by a farmer on Aldoria because they kept getting stuck in mud. Well, hey, everybody knew tracked droids didn't perform too well in mud anyway. Everybody except, apparently, the Aldorian farmer

– and Aldoria wasn't known as the mud planet for nothing. Crops didn't grow well in the mud either – except for Hessian Chill Weed, which could grow almost anywhere (but Duval's Captain, Bran Johanssen, suspected that would be part of the problem).

Aside from all that, she was carrying about a million tons of titanium ore to the heavy industries on Gorda. All told, that would take care of their traveling arrangements for the next year or so, pretty much.

Being captain of such a vessel was not a stressful job, despite the sheer size of the thing. Everything was automated, and this meant that this behemoth could be efficiently handled by a far less seasoned captain. Besides, hiring mature skippers with actual experience would cost real money. And hey, the computers ran everything anyway – and that's how Bran Johannsen enters this story – as a fine young inexperienced graduate of the Merchant Space Academy in Mars City, who only got his Executive Officer's ticket four short years ago.

Everything was automated, from navigation to engineering. Even transport fees were negotiated with Head Office via the internet. No negotiating skills were needed on the part of the crew whatsoever. Despite the automation, insurance companies still wouldn't insure fully automated ships unless they had at least a token crew aboard, so that's what he and the other eleven were – a token crew. The small crew of twelve was only there in case – gods forbid – something went wrong. And at least, if something did go wrong – gods forbid – and horribly so, the company would only have to answer for the loss of a mere twelve people.

Captain Bran Johannsen, 25, sat back and relaxed. The observation deck was nice and quiet. Deserted would be a better word. It wasn't half bad, being a passenger on his own ship, especially considering he was getting paid for it.

The rest of the theoretically expendable crew was either sleeping or eating – or both – in various amusing combinations. Only five would be on duty at any particular time – two on the main bridge, one in medical, one in cargo control and one in engineering. The computer would handle everything as far as navigation and management was concerned. All they had to do was be there and watch and to give the occasional order. He couldn't help feeling he wasn't needed. Perhaps this was for one obvious reason – he wasn't. This was not good for his ego, this not feeling important gig. Sometimes he felt like a stowaway on his own ship. The dreams weren't the same anymore. They had the tendency to become worn out through all the editing and reediting and sometimes, the complete redrafting of the script.

He had joined the Company four years ago and found himself posted to the Duval. At first it was great – then boredom struck. There was no excitement anymore. After a while, the sheer thrill of a huge space ship accelerating to beyond the speed of light became as dull as a ride on a Mars City bus. Even the regular girl in every call-port provided little excitement (with the possible exception of that girl on Salus. He remembered her husband as a violent, unfriendly man who had recently taken up shooting at him).

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