I woke from a light sleep to the quiet hum of the ship. A quick glance through the forward windows revealed little except the stars. I carried out my flight check routines. There couldn’t be anything serious or the ship would have woken me with alarms calculated to make the adrenaline kick in. The gauges all read normal and the lights showed clear apart from the galley overload which winked a sullen yellow – ok, so I was low on supplies. I knew that, so why did it always want to remind me. If it carried on annoying me I might rip out the cable and use it for the new belt I was starting to need!

I checked the gauges for the cargo hold – all clear. My cargo was safe and secure. And also disguised. The planets in the Canis system tend to look upon my cargo as contraband and would take a dim view of me were they to see through the subterfuge. The approach to my destination was a subtle one – we were drifting along in at a slow cruise. Not a sign of hurry and clearly visible with the lights on, looking for all the constellations like a ship on a legal trading run. The Humorist was, to all intents and purposes, just that although she did hide an unexpected turn of speed with engines that had not been fitted by her builders. Even so, she couldn’t out-run the marshals or the many pirates that lay in wait to prey on small vessels. I had hoped that the pirates would assume that I had nothing worth stealing with being so visible and that the marshals would ignore such a meekly law abiding ship – so far the gamble had worked and I hadn’t been forced to bare her fangs.

Despite our slow speed, I could now see clearly the rapidly approaching guard stations of Arclon and the planet itself beyond. I slowed slightly more – suggesting that I was perhaps expecting a signal questioning my intentions and was prepared to stop if requested. Sure enough I soon received the first transmission – “Identify yourself, ship and nature of your visit”. That was easy… No point in hiding our identity, they would have already found the ship from its signature in the database.

“The Humorist, Captain Anson and I have a freight consignment for Arclon Central Repository”. All freight inbound would go there (except for contraband items like mine but I wasn’t about to mention that).

The ship’s passive array started to wink warnings to me. We were being scanned, especially in the area of the cargo hold. I hoped they were seeing machine tools for the mining colonies in the mountains of the upper continent. It was a long hard look but when you’ve had as many wars with your neighbouring planets as the Arclonians have, you are always wary in case an approaching vessel isn’t quite what she seems.

“What is your cargo” – I was expecting that too. Fabricating a chain of trading to show the path of non-existent machine tools to my hold would have taken too long. I’d taken this assignment just two days previously and my cargo could not be kept in stasis for too many hours so it was a bit of a rush job which had increased the element of risk and jacked up my price.

“Haven’t you received the Manifest? – I posted it on Terrack two days back”

“We have no Manifest – what is your Cargo?”

“I have machine tools for delivery to Central Repository”

Silence again and more scan warnings from the passive array. To have come so far to fail now would be a very poor show but we were close now and I estimated I needed just another couple of minutes. I left the shields down. To raise them would also raise some eyebrows – well ridges rather than brows. The Arclonians don’t have enough hair to use it to shield their eyes. It would also drain my power reserves and I really wanted them for the engines. I did however check the main engine temperatures and flicked on the power booster switches.

The phones crackled to life again. This time the voice sounded more questioning – more sure that something wasn’t right, even over the translator, and the array started winking warnings of weapons coming on line in the now very close guard towers.

“Your vessel is too light to be carrying a cargo of Machine tools” “Again, What are you carrying and why have you no manifest”

Time had run out – act now or be boarded. I didn’t really fancy the second option. The penalty for carrying a Miekan female, into Arclon space, was likely to be severe beyond even my vivid imagination. I threw caution to the wind and the regulators into full forward. The ship twitched and for a fleeting moment I wondered if I had left the booster switches just a little too late. But then she surged forwards between the two nearest towers, accelerating rapidly and, following my inputs, cranked up and to the left. I doused the lights, upped the shields and the scanjam’s before shutting down the engines and pushing the nose down to allow the planets gravity to pull us in a gentle curve towards the lower continent and the planet’s bottom pole.

Stunned silence from the translator. If they wanted me now they’d have to send a ship to find me and I was running in almost silent mode. The towers were built to fight off battle fleets, not deal with naughty little boys like me and I fervently hoped that they would begin looking in the general direction I’d been going when I first broke through the cordon. I started to receive transmissions telling me to put my lights on, give myself up, along with promises to resolve the matter swiftly and with all leniency – Good, they didn’t know where I was.

We corkscrewed down through the planet’s atmosphere in a descent so slow that the ships skin barely registered any increase in heat. Below I could see the larger of two islands close to the bottom pole and the lights of some small towns. Then a set of lights in a distinct pattern appeared – my agreed landing point and the welcoming party were below. I fired up the environment controls for the cargo hold. We were going to need the right conditions in there now. With the gear down and bringing the Humorist to a hover I waited for the final signal that all was well below. Sure enough, there was the waved blue light from the apex of the vee with which I had aligned. We lowered gently onto the rocky surface scattering dust in all directions.

The ships computer told me that the atmosphere outside was breathable though somewhat on the thick side I released the stasis field in the cargo hold and I stepped out to meet a small delegation of Arclons. My paymaster, the Prince Ankoran, stood with his bodyguards and an elderly councillor. It was one of the bodyguards who spoke – “You have the female?” – His hand resting none too carefully on a sidearm of some sort.

“Yes” – I used the remote to open the doors of the cargo hold, hoping that the period in stasis hadn’t harmed the Lady Mierklana over the two day trip. It was several seconds and I saw the bodyguard tighten the grip on his sidearm. I’d have to watch him, in fact that was about all I could do – coming out armed might have been misinterpreted so I’d left my handgun inside. Then the lady appeared stepping somewhat carefully down the steps onto the surface and stumbling slightly, the effects of the period in stasis still wearing off. The Prince stepped quickly forward to take her arm and they embraced. In an instant it was apparent that their different species and cultures were not going to stand between them anymore than the strict Arclonian laws about off-world relationships.

The bodyguard drew his sidearm and I tensed, expecting the worst. You enter into this sort of trade and you never know for certain how it will turn out. The Prince extended his arm…

“No Enkor – He has delivered as he promised” Then to the elderly councillor “Edra, please pay the Captain as agreed and arrange for his safe departure” I took that to mean that he shouldn’t let the bodyguards mug me once the Prince’s back was turned . Not that my payment would be any use to them – diagrams, schematics and parts to vastly increase the capabilities of the ships engines were really only of use to me and then only when I’d found somewhere quiet on another world to get the work done. And it certainly didn’t mean stopping the guard towers from shooting at me on the way out – that was way beyond the scope of a minor Prince of Arclon.

The Prince and his Lady began slowly walking away. The bodyguards eyed me in a manner that suggested disappointment and a wish for a further meeting in less congenial circumstances. The elderly councillor approached me with an infotab that I took to have the necessary diagrams. He walked stooped as if he carried the weight of a small planet on his shoulders and I guessed that he had been burdened with the task of setting this exchange up on pain… well let’s just leave it at that shall we?

Everything was in order. The diagrams were there along with details of where the parts for the modifications could be found – they had been pre-shipped off world for my collection. And so, we parted company and I again ran the gauntlet of the towers, approaching the line in silent mode and coming as close as possible to the side of one of them before once more throwing the regulators fully forwards and bursting through the line to perform a jinking evasive run. Some of the blasts were close but they quickly lost interest – whatever I’d been doing was already done and they really couldn’t be bothered. They drifted back to the long tedium of waiting for the battle cruisers that never came.

Seven days out and heading for my collection point, though not too directly – it never pays to go directly in space. People get to know where you’re going and might decide to be there waiting for you. Even so, I began to get that feeling that the hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end. A warning, a gut feeling, that someone is following me. Who, I don’t know – Marshals perhaps, or maybe pirates? I guess I’ll find out when they get close…

After taking the Team photo I retired to the bar to cool down – Boy, was it hot out there on the pitch! I put my ears on and listened to some music while watching the Olympic events on the TV. Whilst I have enjoyed watching many of the different sports during the past three weeks, I didn’t want to get involved as I would have to tear myself away again in under an hour. I am, after all, on duty!

In the fullness of time Del showed up followed closely by Dave and Web Martin. A quorum of the regulars – the chat about the match could begin. I think we all look forward to playing Ware – It’s become an annual event in recent years and is usually fairly but strongly contested. The first half was very even although by half time some chinks were showing in the Ware defence and Anderson, Leon and Mark Henry had all gone close without stretching the Ware keeper or his net. Ware had some good breakaway attacks too, one of which was thwarted by a last ditch tackle by Danny Neils’.

Tap In
Anderson prepares to tap it in – as the keeper struggles to get back Marcus watches on.
We had to wait until 10 minutes into the second half before Marcus, having lured the keeper to the right of the area, found Anderson in the centre with a low pass for a simple tap-in. Marcus himself might have had one from the edge of the area but dragged his shot just wide as three defenders closed him down. Leon then had an attempt blocked by a defender from close range as he ran onto a through ball and subsequently felt that he might have had a penalty when he was tripped in the area a few minutes later but the linesman didn’t see it and the ref probably ruled it as six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. On the 70th minute, Anderson doubled his total with a run into the area and a well struck shot, low and to the keepers right to give the home side a 2 goal lead.

Leon Takes The plunge
Leon takes a Tumble
It being a friendly the ref then decided to offer the hand of friendship to Ware, awarding a penalty on the 75th minute after a collision in the box which it looked like the defender couldn’t do anything about. A bit harsh but we’d better get used to it because that’s in line with the sort of decisions that were given against us many times last season. A response was called for to regain a 2 goal cushion and Josh might have scored in the 80th minute with a speculative shot from the corner of the area but it took a deflection from a defender and struck the crossbar. Max had a good effort that scraped the top of the bar on the 86th minute but the goal wouldn’t come.

In a minute of injury time, the final seconds of the game, the ref awarded a second penalty to Ware – this time a fair shout for a trip. It was left to Ware’s Shane Wyllie to level the scores from the spot. A draw then and the only real positive we could take from it was that we scored our goals from open play.

Now a complaint to some of the younger players… A number of you (well one for certain) have had your hair removed prior to the match – this practise should cease forthwith as it makes it very difficult for me as cameraman to recognise who I’m photographing (especially as I’m still getting to grips with who some of you are in the first place!).

It’s that time in the year sadly when we learn of departures – indeed the whole of the non-league scene is about players moving around just before the new season kicks off. It was announced after the match that Ola, Ross and Max would be leaving us. I know we wish them all well for the future as they seek better playing opportunities elsewhere – nobody likes spending too much time on the bench or in the reserves. The departure of Ola is particularly sad as he is one of our own and we’ve watched him grow from a raw kid with ability into an intelligent skilful player who always gives the lot for the team when he’s on the pitch. In the closed season we’ve also lost Gary Burrell. Out for most of last season with a foot injury, he’s moved on just as he returns to full fitness – not sure if that’s a permanent move.

But as players go, so others come in. Jon Docker and Sam Berry have joined whilst Ajet returns from a season away in Kosovo. Now that is an issue for the cameraman – his Mum gets very upset when I don’t take a photo of him 😉 I dug this photo out of the archives from 2011’s friendly against Ware – there is Ola with Ajet defending as Murat (then a Ware player) looks to find a way into the box… Seemed a fitting way to close this post.

Murat, Ola and Ajet
Murat, Ola and Ajet