The Bright Black Sea, p.1C. Litka
Original Manuscript Edition
The Bright Black Sea
Captain Wil Litang Adventures Volume One
Volume One – The Captain of the Lost Star
Volume Two – The Enemies of the Lost Star
Volume Three – The Ghosts of the Lost Star
Copyright 2015 – 2016 Charles Litka
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Volume One – The Captain of the Lost Star
Chapter 01 Captain (Acting)
'You'll see my ship safely – and profitably, mind you – around and back, won't you, Litang?'
Captain Fen Miccall's voice was faint, barely heard over the hum of the machines he lay under, keeping him alive.
'We've done it often enough, Captain,' I replied. I'd circled Azminn's planetary belt twenty-nine times and some of my shipmates had made the voyage more than a hundred times.
'An evasive answer,' he whispered, watching me with half closed eyes.
'Ah, yes,' I had to admit.
'Yes, it's an evasive answer, or yes, you'll see her around?' he asked, summoning a ghost of his old fire. Well, it was his beloved ship he was entrusting to me – Neb help him...
Nothing to do but, 'Yes, I'll take her around and return her to you – with a profit – in six months,' adding, with all the confidence I could muster, 'I promise.' Neb help me...
'Do that, Litang,' he said faintly and closed his eyes.
'Get well, Captain,' I muttered, and began to edge away. 'And fair orbits, Sir.'
'Fair orbits, Captain,' he whispered and started to cough, gasping for breath.
We left him behind 37 hours later. All the healing technology of the med-center failed to keep Fen Miccall on this side of the event horizon – dying less than a day later, after a long and eventful life, his actual age lost in his hidden past.
May you live in interesting times is an ancient curse – said to go back to Terra itself. As curses go, I thought it innocent enough, until Miccall appointed me acting captain and times got interesting.
I'd been the Lost Star's first mate for five years and, like most first mates, I'd a master's ticket tucked away in my sock drawer for the day in the (distant) future when I'd be offered a ship of my own. So when old Captain Miccall's heart suddenly gave out, my acting appointment might've seemed a simple matter of course, filling in until his heart and health could be repaired and restored. But it caught me completely off guard.
You see, my predecessor at first mate, and mentor, Illynta Tin, was still on board, semi-retired as one of the pilots. With nearly 150 years of service in space – ten times mine – I had assumed she'd be appointed acting captain. And if not her, one of the half dozen old hands with as many or more years in space, who also, no doubt, had the required Guild ticket in a drawer. So when I was offered the berth by Captains Miccall and Vinden, the ship's co-owners, I was taken aback, but hadn't the courage to decline.
Oh, I could do the job, at least aboard the Lost Star. As Captain Miccall's fiery energy waned, he'd left more of the day-to-day running of the ship to me, so I knew what needed to be done. And I knew the crew would carry on just as they had under Captain Miccall. Running the ship was not an issue. Rather, it was the sudden burden of being solely responsible for it, the crew, and its profits which made times interesting for me. Life and death decisions would be mine now, rather than Miccall's. And while I'd no reason to expect anything but a routine passage around Azminn's planetary belt, it was space travel, after all, and things can happen. I was far from sure I was ready for that burden.
Still, as I said, turning the berth down required more courage than I could summon and so I became Wil Litang, Captain (Acting) of the Lost Star. A day later, I took the Lost Star out of Calissant orbit bound for the planet of Redazle, one of the 21 planets in our star's human-habitable planetary belt.
Azminn is one of nine stars in the Nine Star Nebula. The nebula was formed when the Ninth Star, a super massive giant star flung off much of its mass before trying and failing to go super-nova. It collapsed into the black star – the Ninth Star – leaving a super dense lens-shaped nebula of gas, asteroids and eight daughter stars, each surrounded by dense rings of planets. In all, the eight stars governed by the Unity boast 211 human inhabited worlds. In addition, there are said to be hundreds of human inhabited planets within the drifts – the vast gas, dust and asteroid shell that makes up the Ninth Star Nebula.
I managed to find Redazle, and make orbit, without incident. Two radio-packets from Captain Vinden awaited us. The first reported Captain Miccall's death. It seemed that his body, with more than 200 years and countless adventures behind him, was too old and worn out to be repaired by the machines of the med-center. The second, reaffirmed my acting appointment until our return to our home port world of Calissant, where presumably, though politely left unsaid, a more senior member of Captain Vinden's Night Hawk Line would be given permanent command of the Lost Star. Which, at the time, suited me just fine – the sooner I could hand over the captain's responsibilities and return to my comfortable berth as first mate, the happier I'd have been.
Arriving in Jornvan's planetary orbit a month later, we heard whispers that the system's Import-Export Exchange Market on Pinelea was a bit unstable, something not unusual. Interplanetary trade is inherently unstable. This time, however, it was said, in hushed tones over strong drinks in the dark dens where ship's captains, agents and shipbrokers gather, it was really unstable.
This instability is a result of Unity policy. The Unity, which governs the worlds of the Nine Star Nebula, requires that planets maintain their interplanetary import and exports strictly in balance. This policy prevents older, wealthier, and more populated planets from carving out economic empires within the Unity. Whatever advantage this has in securing political stability, it means that interplanetary trade is anything but stable, since any change in the exports or imports of one planet, every crop shortfall, change in fashion, or rise or fall in demand ripples through the entire interplanetary trade forcing every planet to re-balance their trade. The Import-Export Market serves to dampen these ripples by quickly finding new exporters or importers to step in to take advantage of the disruptions. Occasionally, however, these small ripples combine to form a rogue wave of disruption that knocks interplanetary trade completely out of its orbit – sometime for years. These disruptions are tolerated because interplanetary trade accounts for only a thin sliver of a planet's total economic activity, which is little comfort to a spaceer out of work and none to a tramp ship's captain trying to find enough cargo to produce the promised profit.
Arriving in Sanre-tay orbit – 93 days out from Calissant – we found a radio-packet awaiting us from Min & Co, our shipbrokers and accounting firm. It informed us that Captain Vinden had been killed in a needle-rocket racer accident and that we we
Adding to this blow, was the fact that the Import-Export Market had indeed collapsed under the weight of a series of economic upheavals on half a dozen planets sending a tidal wave of collapsing trade spreading around the planetary belt from the Pinelea quarter.
Outbound from Calissant we'd been ahead of this economic tidal wave and our business unaffected. Sanre-tay lays on the opposite side from Pinelea in the planetary belt, so we now had to sail back towards Pinelea and Calissant and into this black hole of trade. It didn't take long to find that the inbound cargoes we normally collected were either much reduced or non-existent.
And to make everything even more interesting, Min & Co sent word that as a result of this catastrophic trade decline, the Ministry of Death was paying off Captain Vinden's ships as they returned to Calissant rather than risk losing credits by keeping them in operation – a fate I couldn't avoid, though I tried. I spent an extra month tramping amongst the planets between Sanre-tay and Saypori, taking any opportunity to make a little profit for as long as possible. Eventually, however, I had to take on board the much reduced inbound containers of our old customers – we'd need them again, someday – and with delivery deadlines looming, turned the Lost Star for home and the beach.
If there's a platinum asteroid in this drift, it's that I now have something interesting to write about. I've long wanted to write a plain and unadorned account of the life of a spaceer aboard a tramp ship in the 40th millennium of the Nine Star Nebula Unity. The problem is that the life of a spaceer – at least in the planetary trade I'm familiar with – is perhaps a little too plain and unadorned – one planet-fall much like every other, one passage little different from the next. (Which, I might add, is the way you want them. You don't want excitement in space.) But now, by setting this life against all the interesting events of the last four months and the uncertainty of the future, I can, perhaps, craft a story of sorts.
I intend to avoid spicing up my account with the familiar myths and memes of the Nebula. You'll not find lawless asteroid miners from the deep drifts, cut throat pirates, ruthless smugglers, deadly assassins or homicidal robots blasting their way into this account. I've no intention of tossing in drift dragons, ghost ships, quantum storms, black matter reefs, or any of the other nonsense invented by old spaceers and space fiction writers to enliven their tales. I've worked aboard space ships for twenty years and have yet to be able to spin such a yarn without first adding the disclaimer, I once knew an old spaceer who claimed... And just to be clear, that's as close as I care to steer to pirates, drift dragons, sinister robots and the like. I believe I can paint an interesting picture of life and work within the tiny, restless world of interplanetary ships without resorting to fiction.
But enough palaver. I'll launch my account from Belbania orbit – 175 Days out of Calissant orbit – with what I've come to think of as “The Belbania Affair”.
The Bright Black Sea by C. Litka / Actions & Adventure / Science Fiction have rating 3.8 out of 5 / Based on15 votes