THE BEAUTY OF EXPLORATION (PART I)
06 DEC 3304 Deep Space (Thailae NO-B c16-35) Heading back to the Alliance Space
After some tens of transport missions for the Alliance factions in Alioth my ranks rose and soon the Pilots Federation promoted me to Merchant and the Alliance started to consider me an ally. Alas, that did not get me any significant contacts or clue about how to reach the Council of Admirals in Garden City. They will never concede an audience to an emerging independent merchant pilot. I needed a new plan. And then, I saw it. I was in a landing platform in Irkutsk overseeing the refuelling of the Pallas when an incredibly elegant and nimble white ship flew over me and landed on the nearby platform. It was a Dolphin, a small luxury passenger liner manufactured by Saud Kruger. I know that the wealthy imperial patrons fancy a lot this kind of ships, but they are not such a common sight in Alliance space. And that gave me an idea. I thought that maybe I could build a luxury limo business inter Alliance space stations. That way I might attract VIPs with connections in the Alliance Defence Force and, perhaps, get an audience with the Council of Admirals.
I found a dealer in Irkutsk shipyards willing to sell a Dolphin, bought it and outfitted it the best I could for taking luxury passenger transport missions. I decided to keep the original white elegant painting design and call it the Ariadne, bride of Dionysus the god of hedonism and wine. Perhaps I should acquire some Lavian Brandy to offer to my passengers. Welcome to Jav Marlo’s Luxury Shuttle, may I offer you a drink to make your trip more enjoyable.
The Ariadne in Irkutsk
I took some businessmen from Donaldson in Alioth to Vizcaino City in STF 1774, and I was back to Donaldson, looking for another easy fast shuttle service when I was approached by a man that did not look like a VIP who asked me about my Dolphin’s jump range. His name was Peter Mays and he was a famous explorer working for the Independent Constitution Party, a democratic faction of the Alliance that controls some of the stations in Alioth. He and two of his men needed transport to a planet that was more than 8.000 light years away in the Flyeia region and none of the local independent pilots were willing to take them there. They were offering just 7 million credits for the trip. That was a lot more that I was never paid for a mission before, but far not enough for all the risk and the time that would took to reach that system. It could take us a week to arrive there. I could make much more money taking short range transport missions on that time. And besides, I have never been out of The Bubble before. It was crazy, a bad deal, above my skills and my rank, but I accepted. And the reason was that Peter Mays offered to mentor me in exploration techniques during the trip.
So here I am. In the black. Heading to a system 8.000 light years away, in my first trip out of the Bubble, flying in a short range Dolphin luxury shuttle that can barely jump 20 light years. And despite everything I am enjoying the experience. I know that for any seasoned explorer this trip may feel like popping to the corner shop, but for me it is my first adventure out of civilized space. According to Universal Cartographics, just 0.0076 per cent of the Galaxy has been discovered. Even with the introduction of the new frame shift drive technology fourteen years ago, it will take thousands of years to map the whole galaxy. Peter Mays, my passenger, says that we are living now the golden age of galactic exploration. And that you can find undiscovered systems just 1.000 thousand light years away from The Bubble. And then it happens. I jump to Praea Euq WG-H b51-1, upon arriving I activate the advance discovery scanner of the Ariadne, I wait for the HONK, check the system map and there it is: an untagged star with no commander’s name on it. It is just a red dwarf in a valueless system that just contains another brown dwarf. But it has never been tagged. Peter Mays is amused by my excitement. He says that is unlikely that any commander will find this system before we return, so I will be able to sell this exploration data to Universal Cartographics and tag the star with my name. It is a scoopable star, so there are chances that some commander stops here in the future. I contemplate the red glare of the star and fill of pride while I imagine a commander refuelling his ship in this system after a long range mission in the void while he reads in his nav map: first discovered by Commander Jav Marlo.
The Ariadne in Praea Euq WG-H b51-1
The days pass as we advance, slowly but steady, towards Fleia region. The Ariadne has two passenger cabins, one luxury and the other first class. I give the luxury cabin to my passengers and take the first class for myself. I must say that it is quite a change. Being used to the living quarters of my Type 6 and my Cobra MKIII with its lack of luxuries and tiny bunks, this is a totally different way of travel. I even have some Lavian Brandy to indulge myself. I should not get too much comfortable or I will soften.
After the discovery of my first star, now I want to explore and tag any new system we jump into, but our schedule is tight. Besides, Peter Mays explains to me that many systems are not worth exploring, and that I should aim mainly for the high-metal content terraformable worlds, the water worlds, the ammonia planets, the Earth-like worlds and some gas giants, instead of trying to scan any rocky moon I find. I think he says that because I have spent the last hour scanning every stellar body I found in the Praea Euq KZ-B B54-2 system. Looking at the system map I thought that one of the planets may be a water world, and I was right, alas Commander FLYBOYBS found it before. I lock the next system in the nav map and prepare to engage the frame shift drive when the sensors catch an unidentified signal. That is weird so far from The Bubble, so I decide to take a look. It is a deteriorate transmission. I jump out of supercruise and find the debris of an unidentified small ship. Among the remains adrift there is the source of the signal, a small survey data cache. Peter Mays says that we should collect it and bring it back to civilized space, maybe there is a clue about what happened to the destroyed ship or valuable exploration data. Or perhaps an explanation of why Commander FLYBOYBS scanned just the water world leaving the rest of the system and its star unexplored.
The Ariadne collecting a small survey data cache
Peter Mays explains to me that Universal Cartographics pays depending of the star type you can discover, being the most valuable the neutron stars, the black holes and the incredibly rare Wolf-Rayet stars. Bad idea. Now I want to see them all. Wolf-Rayet stars are very difficult to find and it will mean a big detour to visit one, but neutron stars are far more common and easy to find trough the nav map. Besides, a pilot with the skills to surf its jet cone can overcharge its frame shift drive and multiply its jump range by four. The problem is that this practice is incredible difficult and dangerous as it inflicts a huge stress for the ship’s internal systems and it damages the frame shift drive. So, let’s give it a try. We search for a nearby neutron star and find Drojia VL-J d10-18, a system discovered by Commander Pygoscelis that just contains a beautiful neutron star asking to be surfed. I cut impulse power as soon as I jump into the system because Peter Mays says that the huge magnetic field of the neutron star can be treacherous and expel us out of supercruise in an instant without noticing. I take a moment to contemplate the beauty in front of me. A tiny blue star with such a huge mass that it cannot retain it and it is expelled to the space in the form of whirlwind plumes that creates a huge turbulence. Beautiful and deadly. I brace myself, take a deep breath and head for the jet cone. I approach swiftly, one quarter impulse, and soon find myself merciless spinning in the turbulence of the cone. The huge force expels me out spinning out of control. It takes me a couple of seconds to recover, but Peter Mays is yelling me: -NOT ENOUGH, TRY AGAIN-. I enter into the cone again and this time I cut off the impulse as soon as I am in the inside. I let the Ariadne spin at the mercy of the spiralling forces surrounding her and suddenly the cockpit voice assistant says: - DANGER, FRAME SHIFT DRIVE OVERCHARGE BEYOND SAFETY LIMITS-. This is it. I wait for the turbulent forces to expel me out of the cone, I take some distance and open the nav map. That is amazing, I can lock stars 90 light years away for my next jump. Here we go. 3, 2, 1… ENGAGE.
The Ariadne in front of Drojia VL-J d10-18