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   Chapter 3 No.3

Black Sunrise By Christina Engela Characters: 5838

Updated: 2018-06-30 12:02

It did occur to him that perhaps he'd gone to the wrong Academy – the guys in the Space Fleet always had more interesting stories to tell at the spaceport bars. You know, tales about the dude who got vaporized in a plasma accident in the engineering section, or the fella who got turned into a blob of weird space jelly by some alien virus – or the time someone flew a starship into an astor-field at warp four by mistake (they were still trying to find the black box on that one). The Imperial Space Fleet's recruiting office sure didn't go around advertising 'Join up, see the universe, meet interesting aliens and die screaming', but it was known there were risks involved. It was part of the job after all, and yet somehow, they still got recruits signing up in droves. Yes, indeedy – the stories were far more interesting than his – took a load of ore to Gorda, took a load of mining equipment back to Tordrazil. Took a load of Florpavian Flame-birds to a zoo on Deanna, took a load of machinery to Salus. Picked up and dropped off a few passengers on the way. Still, Florpavian Flame-birds were a risky cargo… and damned tricky to transport – which is probably the only reason he'd had any entertainment at all on the last trip.

Two months ago, his previous cargo-master was accidentally incinerated by a female Florpavian flame bird with a bad case of hiccups. The female of the species is widely known to be way more stable than the male – chemically stable, that is – perhaps similar to most other species. The male birds, on the other hand, just tended to hiccup and then explode unexpectedly. As a result, almost all Florpavian Flame-birds transported would be female, unless the males were suitably sedated – I.E.: transported in a cryogenics chamber, preferably lined with lead and concrete.

Even that little – er, flash of drama had only provided temporary relief. All Bran had to do was fill in a few reports about the incident, send a few emails – and the Company took care of everything, including insurance and funeral arrangements (matchbox and postage). He also made a mental note to stay as far away from Florpavian Flame-birds as possible in future. The more uneventful his job was, he'd felt initially, the safer it was going to be for him. Well, so far, so good. He was safe, but bored. But he was safe. He was far more likely to live long enough to spend the money he made from this rather lucrative gig. Who the hell else got paid what they did for the amount of actual work? Seriously.

Money – now, money's important! Other than politicians who got paid to fool themselves into thinking they actually ran the Terran Empire, he couldn't think of anyone. Well, except maybe the crews of other Bannor class ships. A few more years of this lark and he would be able to retire before he even reached 30. Then he could really start living. Until then, he was stuck here aboard the SS Nowhe


Thing is, he really, really didn't like doing nothing much. After a while it got really boring. It wouldn't be long before he would start talking to the potted plants on the rec-dec. Trouble was one of them would actually talk back to him. It would talk. He didn't like talking plants; it made him doubt his sanity a little more than usual.

Through the huge observation windows, each spanning at least ten feet and almost reaching the deck and ceiling, he could see the star-splattered universe outside. Even through triple layers of alloyed plasti-steel, it reminded him of an ant's view of the inside of a shower nozzle. They were about to enter the next system where they were due to stop for a brief layover. An artificial voice, not unlike that of an insane dictator, sounded over the intercom.

"General - announcement. (Pause) We – are - now – entering – the – Ramalama - System. (Pause) E–T-A – Deanna – orbit – 23 – hours - 6 - minutes. Thank - you."

"Wise ass machine, " he murmured just as the sphere of one of the outer planets crawled into view. The swirl of multicolor cloud patterns created the impression of the last work of a mad artist with an illegal habit who was surrounded by too many sharp objects.

Oh – before he forgot – the Duval had a passenger. One passenger. Yes-sir-ee-Bob, a bona fide passenger. A woman, bless her heart. A bit stuck up, though – kept pretty much to herself, didn't talk much. Cute platinum blonde type, figure any man would go weak-kneed for. Boarded at Salus a month ago, bound for Deanna. Just about time for her to be leaving, then.

The transitory object of Captain Johannsen's present frustrations was currently enjoying the respite offered by the rec-dec. It was a pleasant recreational facility, roomy, well decorated, ambient lighting – the whole trip. Potted plants were arranged on a stand in a semi artistic manner in an attempt to create an atmosphere conducive to relaxation. There was a little fountain lost somewhere among the cluster of potted vegetation. It didn't gurgle. This was probably because of a blocked pipe, she thought. A decent fountain ought to gurgle or at least go splish-splash. This one did a fair imitation of a bowel movement.

Her name was Cindy-Mei Winter, and she had once thought that life in space was going to prove exciting. This isn't the most appropriate word to describe space travel. It's dangerous out here. It's cold and cruel. Consequently, the less excitement there is, the longer you're liable to stay alive. These thoughts looped through her mind like a roller coaster as she watched the stars settle back into the inky black curtain of space through the large windows. A voyage through some undiscovered systems, a little exploration, she had thought originally – perhaps a few alien encounters? This is just the sort of hopeful attitude of one who is just begging to be proved wrong.

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