Outpost by name and outpost by nature I guess. I sat in the cafeteria of Pacheco Outpost with a breakfast of bacon, egg and beans. “You’re in luck” said the woman behind the serving hatch, “Only came in yesterday. Delivered by a trader from the Bacon Cats faction” The fresh produce was in stark contrast with the room itself. A lick of paint would brighten it up but you’d have to take a shovel to the layers of grease on the walls where the cleaner couldn’t reach or thought no one would notice! The furniture – utilitarian and ubiquitous in equal measure – had seen better days too with scratches deep enough to call valleys if you were a mouse. Someone had attempted to bring some luxury to one side of the cafeteria by fitting alcove seating along one of the walls – clearly recycled from an Orca passenger liner, it just didn’t feel right and was studiously avoided by the clientele.

The Waila system hangs on the edge of Human space above the drop off towards the Pleiades Nebula. The info system tells me there are 6000 souls here though how many are resident and how many are passing through I couldn’t tell you. Mining is the main industry and I eyed a group of miners gathered around another table, catching snatches of their conversation above the noise of the air plant. “Jossy had his ship shot from under him last week…” “The Empire should send more ISS to clear out the pirates.” “They won’t – We’re out of sight; Out of mind here.” “So… Jossy lost his ship? Rust bucket anyway!”… I tuned out and glanced around the rest of the room. On a table in the far corner I could see a young couple whispering – Imperial Slaves bound to a master until their debt is paid off, I wondered briefly what master would be employing them here. Then I concluded that they were probably on the run. With very few ISS about they should be safe here amongst the miners but they had run as far as they could go – there is nothing beyond Pacheco Outpost. They would have to find a means of income in the grey market that exists on the distant stations.

I’d arrived the previous evening (though Earthly times of day really don’t apply on a space port) – returning to Human Space after a two week trip out to the Helix Nebula. There’s money to be made in exploring if you can find new planets and stars that the Empire, or the Federation, can make money from. Top of the list are metal-rich planets and terraformable worlds. Any trip out there carries risks – running out of fuel being the most dangerous. There’s a rescue team who call themselves The Fuel Rats for when that happens, always assuming you can contact them and wait it out on life support only until they reach you. But you can collide with things, get too close to a star whilst scooping fuel or because you forgot to close the throttle when in hyper-cruise between systems. I picked up some minor damage when I got too close to a planet’s rings in the HIP 110107 system. Put it down to experience!

So, after docking, my first port of call was the maintenance office where I put in a request for repairs to the hull and systems. The kid behind the desk looked a bit young to be running the section. “Yeah, I scraped the underside on some rocks – so take a good look there please.” “Flying a bit low were you Sir?” Cheeky monkey I thought – “They sort of crept up on me” I replied. An older man in oily overalls, heavy boots and with welding goggles dangling round his neck, wandered in from the back room – “Python’s done – what’s next?” The kid, suddenly all business-like, tapped away at the terminal then asked “Name of ship?” “Humourist.” “Type?” “Cobra MkIII.” “Got you – Commander Anson?” “That’s me.” “Ok – no crimoff, no bounties, no fines – you run a clean ship Commander.” “Mostly” I said. The kid turned to the older guy – “Dad – you want to take a look at this one?” “Sure”, He gave me a wink and in a heavy stage whisper added “Kids these days!” I left the office happy that everything was in hand.

I wandered along a poorly lit corridor enjoying the ring of my boots on the companionway in the damply stale air. It was a pleasantly free experience after sitting in Humourist’s cockpit for 2 weeks solid! I was looking for the Cartography office – every station has one and Universal Cartographics will pay for any information you can give about systems that are not well documented. I found the office in a particularly dingy corridor with a sign outside that was flickering to the point of extinction.

As soon as I entered a small woman in a vibrant check jacket stood up from behind her desk to greet me. If the office was as gloomy as the corridor the jacket would have helped me find her but in the bright lights it was dazzling! The importance of a posting for UC staff is proportional to the distance from SOL and I guess that the Cartographer on Pacheco Outpost must feel that she’s landed a plumb job – so many explorers passing through with information from the systems beyond. After adjusting her black-framed spectacles, she offered her hand – “Cartographer Millard – What can I do for you?” A redundant question as the only reason for me to be in her office was to sell some mapping data! “Commander Anson” I replied and added “It’s bright in here!” “Oh yes… the corridor” she said, looking glum “Station maintenance is bad – they can’t get staff out here. I change the office lights myself. Haven’t seen a cleaner in weeks, so I do that too.” “Do you also take mapping data from distant systems?” I asked with a mischievous grin. Her face brightened perceptibly “Oh yes, most certainly! Let’s see what you’ve got.” She scanned down the screen of data I’d passed her. “No new systems here Commander, no bonuses, I mean… it’s all good info but… Hold on… What have we here!” I unconsciously leant forwards, waiting for clarification. “HIP 112962 – you’ve found two new stars that we knew nothing about and several planets. And one of them is a Water World with carbon life – eminently terraformable – Excellent work Commander!” By the time she had finished scanning through my data, there were new planet and star discoveries in 33 previously known systems and I was around 4.5MCr better off. She was ecstatic and I was pleased, so a good result all round!

I went off to get a few hours sleep in a cabin that could have doubled as a water feature with the amount of condensation running down the walls. It was good to get out of the G-suit and let my skin breathe on its own for a change! I could have dreamed bad dreams about lifeforms on distant planets eradicated in the name of terraforming and corporate profit but I didn’t lose any sleep over it – I have to make a freebooting living. Then I went to breakfast – which is where we came in!

Continued at https://2e0mca.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/waila-limbo/