It was just out of reach. Blurred words and symbols danced at Morris on the edge of his vision. A strange, tinny but muffled repeating musical chime reached his ears.
The strength in his arm drained away, the wall seemed to pull at his wrists magnetically and pin them. The force pulled his head back against the wall in the same way. However much he fought against it, the pull dragged his gaze towards Hania’s lifeless pale face and vacant eyes only a few metres away.
What had she done?
“Come on Euan! My nanna could have made that jump faster!”
Jenifer’s Eagle rolled out in front of Euan’s ship. He liked that the little ship was instantly willing to point where he wanted. But unlike his old T6 it felt like flying a hyperactive, easily distracted kid. You had to concentrate the whole time or you’d find yourself being melted by a star or your vision suddenly blacked out by an errant, uncharted asteroid.
Euan thumbed open the narrow band wing channel.
“I’m used to plotting the next jump during the charge. I looked up and she’d spun off target. She’s a lively minx this.”
Jenifer let out an amused howl.
“Haa! Banksy. You can take the boy out of his T6 but you can’t take the T6 outta the boy! You just have to show her a good time and she’ll treat you right. Show some manners though, these gals ain’t like our Condors. This old madam is at least three times as old as me!”
“I’ll wine and dine you at chez Lakon and then you’ll know what a good time is Jen!”
A two tone warble interrupted Jenifer as she opened her mouth.
Euan dragged up the contact panel while holding the nose just above the star’s corona.
“She’s made the jumps fast Jen. Are you ready?”
“Check, I’ll meet her and drop for unwrap.”
Euan continued to fill the tanks. Jenifer would refuel the Condor this time and he would take the next round.
“Fuel Scooping Complete”
Euan jumped as the computer voice interrupted his plot of the next jump. It had only been working half of the time, this was the first time it had spoken anything about scooping since they’d booted her up two days ago.
They were two thirds of the way through the course. At this rate they were in with a shot at arriving in the top twenty, but their advantage would come from the low handicap of using the tiny Condor with it’s miniscule fuel tank as the race ship.
“Euan, need a hand here. Drop on my beacon.”
Euan veered away from the star and deselected the jump.
“Check, dropping in three.”
The Lakon Type-6 was a solid ship, a cargo hauler seen across the core worlds shipping everything from tinned fish to priceless narcotics. Many small navies used the ship as a resupply ship, one or two others even used them as command and control centres if they were unable to afford an Asp or Keelback. Today she was running as a mix of pit stop, fuel barge and fan club wagon.
“Two minutes to next jump, strap in folks”
Morris began the pre jump warm-up as everyone below scrambled happily into harnesses, still chatting animatedly about the other race competitors.
Jola called up from her seat in the companionway.
“Morris, ve are ready. Let’s go and meet our little star!”
Hania let out a deep breath. She’d not realised she had held it for so long. The last few minutes seemed like hours. She pulled back the engine power to zero and lined up on the bright yellow fuel line trailing behind Jenifer’s Eagle.
“There was two of zem. Diamondback and I think Viper.”
There had been no other ships doing this route. All the other competitors had gone for larger jump ranges with big scoops and tanks to get to the finish first. Their route should have brought them out of the way of everyone else, but these two had followed her for two jumps.
“On za last jump I dropped out of supercruise and jumped here. Zey couldn’t af got a clear scan on my wake or day vould be ere now!”
“You catch that Euan?”
Hania sounded breathless but surprisingly composed. Innocent pilots don’t just change course and follow a ship for fun. Either they were a competing team trying to take them out or pirates interested in the galaxy’s only hyper-jump capable Condor.
“You’re doing great Hania. We have twelve more jumps to the end. It’s a cake walk from here. Morris and the gang are two jumps ahead. I’ll jump with you until we get there, Jen will go ahead and scoop now.”
Jenfier’s voice came quietly in over a private link.
“Diamondbacks following her? Someone’s out to piss on our campfire and they wont give up after two jumps. She don’t even have any damn guns!”
Hania pulled away from the fuel pipe.
“Bucko Jen. Don’t vorrey about me, nothing can touch me in this firebird, free slaves don’t fear what we leave behind us.”
Euan’s console signalled the other two ships jump drives charging.
“Euan. All the systems for the next ten jumps are anarchies. I’ll bet you a dinner date we get gate crashers.”
The three ships snapped out into the jump..