After returning from my last exploration trip to the area around the LBN 623 Nebula, I decided to buy a Lakon Diamondback Explorer. So I stored my Cobra III, Humourist, at the HIP 8859 system (not too far from my home of HR 783) and stripped out the advanced scanner and surface scanner. I then configured the Diamondback for long range exploration – which entailed visiting a number of local systems to get the necessary modules in addition to the scanners which I refitted in the new ship. Once configured the Diamondback has a jump-range of 33Ly’s – 10 more than the Cobra in my chosen configuration. But one thing I will miss about Humourist is her top speed – 435m/s – The Diamondback is 100m/s slower. That’s about the same speed as Humourist in full multirole configuration! All of which means that I will have to be very wary of pirates when I return with my scanned data. Apart from greater range, one of the selling points in favour of the Diamondback is how rugged it is and how cool it runs. It wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve been wafting smoke away in Humourist’s cockpit after scooping a lot of fuel from a star 😦 The other thing I wanted to introduce to my exploring was landing on planets – that’s where the ruggedness comes in. As a ‘retired’ IRL pilot I have a very healthy respect for Cumulograniticus – hills and mountains that you can accidentally fly into – so while other Elite: Horizons players rushed to embrace the new ability to land on floating bits of rock, I’ve been a bit reticent – only landing at a couple of planetary bases. The other thing that Horizons introduced was the Surface Reconnaissance Vehicle (SRV). I wanted to get a feel for the new ship, so I didn’t fit one for this trip but I will for my next outing! A ship should have a name – To me the Diamondback looks a bit like a cubist’s small bird and having painted her in desert sand livery I decided on Rosefinch.

So, I’m out in the black, deep below the Galactic plane again – currently around 1000Ly’s from Earth. It’s a good place to discover new systems that no one else has seen before without travelling very great distances. Here’s a typical large single star system from that region…SWOIWNS HV-D C2 System
You will notice that I have highlighted the 12th planet – a Gas Giant. You may be wondering what it looks like when you’re close to the rings…
Rosefinch at SWOIWNS HV-D C2 12 with the Milky Way
Rosefinch climbing away from the rings of SWOIWNS HV-D C2 12
How about planet landings – well you can’t land on Gas Giants and currently you can’t land on worlds with an atmosphere so the choice is a little limited. Any of the planets with a blue arc in the system map can be visited. Over in another system, SYNUEFAI QE-D B56-0 (apologies for the unimaginative designations but it’s hard to find individual names for 400 billion star systems), I found a rather enticing High Metal Content planet with craters very much like Tyco Brahe on our own moon…Approaching SYNUEFAI QE-D B56-0 A 1
…I tried landing in the smaller of the two but I couldn’t find any suitable ground…Investigating the Crater - SYNUEFAI QE-D B56-0 A 1…Notice how hazy it is down there in the crater and the nasty rocks that could make for a very bad day at the office if you collide with them! I gave up on that one 😦

Then, in the next system – SYNUEFAI PE-D B56-0 – I visited the 3rd planet – another High Metal Content world. This time I was able to land successfully in a medium sized crater…
Approaching crater on SYNUEFAI PE-D B56-0 3
Rosefinch inside the Crater on SYNUEFAI PE-D B56-0 3
Rosefinch departing the Crater on SYNUEFAI PE-D B56-0 3
…That was fun! Note the brown streaks in the rocks – possibly ferrous compounds to be found there?

So now I’m on the long drag back to HR 783 with my data – Not sure how long it will take to get home.

Continued from Contact unexpected…

Tiredness crept over me by mid-evening. There was no sign of Jenckque so I left the Ax-cellar-on Bar and returned to my quarters in the docking bay area. I watched the Galnet newsfeed for a while; catching up on distant skirmishes between clans and factions. It was all rather remote and I gave in to tiredness, ditched the day clothes and collapsed into bed. I slept fitfully, ill-defined dreams preventing deep sleep. In the small hours I awoke to a feeling that someone was outside my door but as much as I strained my ears I could only hear the background sounds of a busy star port at night. After a while I fell asleep once more and remembered nothing more until I woke at around 9:15 local. My head felt heavy and my eyes were sticky but I forced them open and swung myself out of bed. I had a long and uncertain day ahead.

The bars and restaurants wouldn’t open until 13:00 local – the station was on a Sol-Standard 25 hour day. I caught some breakfast in the crew area. There were a few other pilots there along with some maintenance staff but no sign of Jenckque. I was a bit concerned – We’d had roughly the same distance to travel and he should have been here by now. A quick check on Humourist satisfied me that there was no damage from the previous day – they hadn’t got through the shields before I was out of range. Then I went off to check the bulletin boards and security office for any arrivals news. The desk officer in Security shook his head – “No pilot of that name registered inbound.” He said. With nothing else to do I went up to the main promenade area of the station to do some window shopping.

The window shopping became real when I spotted a casual jacket that I liked in Oakes and remembered that I needed some more under-suit disposables too. While I was paying for these I noticed two pilots standing outside the store opposite. They weren’t actually looking at me but then again, there was something about the way they weren’t looking at me that I found disconcerting. One glanced in my direction and then they moved off. By the time I left Oakes they had disappeared into one of the other shops or down one of the arcades off the side of the main promenade. Everyone else seemed normal – just station staff, other pilots, husbands, wives and even children going about their daily lives. I wandered back to my quarters and dropped off my goods before heading for the bars and lunch.

I knew Jenckque would look to find me in a bar when he arrived. I looked in at the Ax-cellar-on but decided it was too large and too busy – we might miss each other – so I looked for somewhere smaller. I found a place called Dayzie’s in a quiet arcade. It was quieter, smaller and boasted home cooked food. A chat with the tall lady behind the bar revealed that she was Daisy, the proprietor. “Is it always quiet like this?” I asked. “Gets busier late evening but steady regular customers during the day.” She replied and added – “We let the larger bars attract the rowdies with loud music and cheap drinks. You’ll get a peaceful drink here.” She recommended a dish made from mushrooms indigenous to the Zagoro system and when I looked dubious, reassured me “They’re actually quite filling – a bit like a synth-steak pie but with galaxies more flavour!” I acquiesced and took my drink to a table by the wall to wait for the food.

I’d finished the mushrooms – they were everything she’d promised – and was sipping my drink with one eye on the newsfeed and the other on the door when a very tall flyer walked in. “Hey Jaxon!” Daisy greeted the newcomer – “Hi Dais’, the usual please.” He would have got my attention on height alone but the thing that caught my eye was his sidearm. Most pilots and quite a few other people out here wear a sidearm. I wear a light-weight but quality laser-pistol as an aid to peaceful negotiation when trading goods of dubious provenance. Some people wear their sidearm as a fashion accessory. I’ve seen ladies with sidearms that were chosen more for the way the holster belt accentuated their curves than for any use it might have in a fight! But this guy’s sidearm – well, it wasn’t a sidearm: More like a Cannon. The barrel would have been down below his knees if he wasn’t so tall! It was clearly a heavy projectile weapon and I guessed that made him either a mercenary or a bounty hunter.

Daisy and he exchanged some chat and some eyes while she served him then he glanced around the room and approached my table – “Ok to dock?” he asked and was almost seated before I’d nodded my head. “Noo here” he asked, humorous accent and all innocence… “Yes”. He pulled out a handpad and started scanning it. “So whatchyer doin?” I wondered briefly if he was ‘Doin’ the anger causing course! “Passing through” I responded. “Explorer? Right?” – I was starting to get a little fried by now and about to chew his ear when he turned to look me direct in the eye… “Sorry, I’m a bounty hunter here and you are not what I need – times are bad – no bad guys for a couple of weeks. I’m getting hungry and short of excitement too! In fact – don’t think I’ve seen a visitor soo clean!” Then he apologised for not introducing himself – “Should have given my name – Border, Jaxon Border” I looked him over – it took quite a few seconds – he was big! His clothes would have looked big on a bear! He was also telling me something like the truth – I’ve had enough dodgy dealings in the past to know when something smells right. “Anson” – I offered. He looked at me closely for a second or so and then… “I guess I’ve no need to ask for a second name?” he said. I shrugged and let him run with that. So when he asked me “So why are you still here? – usually you explorers sell your data and run off out there again”, I gave him the truth. “Waitin’ for a friend.” We spent an hour or so talking over my predicament – the missing Jenckque, the pilots who seemed to be watching me, the unprovoked attack as I flew in. He was that sort of person – I told him the lot and his ears must have been bleeding by the time I finished.

“I may be able to help” He said – “Give me a while – meet you back here Lunch tomorrow?” “Ok” I said and he left. I spent a couple more hours into the evening watching the door and saw no sign of Jenckque. My pilot ‘friends’ popped in but left after a quick drink. With the station closing down for the night I crept back to my quarters and crashed out – note to self…”Mushrooms good – Local Ale too strong!”

Story continues here…

While Anson Two-Two waits on Axon Station in the Zagoro system for his friend Jenckque, I have been out in ‘Humourist’ exploring again. That’s the joy of sharing a ship between the real me and my alter-ego Anson. He can be in one place while I go about my business somewhere else. My business on this occasion being to improve my Explorer status hopefully to the next level and just one step below Elite. The last two expeditions had taken me to the Helix Nebula and to the Binary stars 104 and 107 Aquarii. This time I hadn’t chosen a destination from my star atlas but picked on a random system below the plane of the galaxy in the general direction of the Pleiades Nebula – HIP 16388. My thinking was “Let’s see what catches our attention on the way.”

Halfway to HIP 16388 I found Gorgonea Tertia on my right hand side – don’t go reaching for your medical dictionary, it’s one of the 4 star systems that make up the Gorgon’s head in the constellation Perseus. So I decided to take a look and subsequently found Gorgonea Secunda adjacent. ‘Secunda produced my first Neutron star discovery. There I was closing on this star and it’s not activating the detailed surface scanner… I realised, almost too late, that this was a tiny object as stars go! If I’d carried on moving in at the speed I was going a nasty accident would have ensued  I was as close as 35 Light-seconds before the scanner kicked in – Most stars can be scanned from thousands of light-seconds away!

Now, as I was off my original route, I decided to look around for other potential destinations and spotted a purple fuzziness and a dimmer yellow smudge over to the left of my original track. Careful investigation of the galaxy map allowed me to identify the purple as LBN 623, the Gamma Cassiopeiae Nebula. That seemed like a good object to take a look at so I plotted a new course that would take me across the star fields between Human space and the Pleiades. Along the way I’d try and work out what the yellow smudge was.

When travelling outside Human space fuel for the ship is obtained by scooping Hydrogen from the Corona of Main-Sequence stars. Other star types can’t provide fuel, so it’s no good hugging a Brown Dwarf or a T Tauri type because they won’t return the love! The commonest stars found in most of the galaxy are Red Dwarf’s or M-Type stars, which is good because they are on the Main-Sequence. If all this talk of Main-Sequence has left you confused, take a look at the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram of star types which may help. The key point is that Main-Sequence stars are in the H to He conversion part of their lives and thus have free Hydrogen around them. You might also want to read about Stellar Classification.    The big problem for explorers flying around the outer regions of the galaxy is that you can meet star fields out there which have no Main-Sequence stars in them. The wise explorer always keeps one eye on the stars along the plotted route and the other firmly on the fuel gauge. The third eye is used to check the scanner and enjoy the scenery 😉 On the run across to LBN 623 I encountered one such star field and needed to do 16 jumps without refuelling to cross it. Fortunately Humourist, my Cobra mkIII, has big tanks and is quite fuel efficient so it did not present a major problem. But people do get caught out and then need to be rescued by the Fuel Rats!

So, there I am running towards LBN 623 which is becoming more sharply defined all the time. But whilst three of my eyes are doing the normal routine things the fourth is checking out that yellow smudge. It too is becoming more defined – It now looks like a yellow star with a massive ball of haze around it. I’m intrigued… I arrive at LBN 623 and enjoy its beauty – definitely ‘Pretty in Pink’! Then I turn my attention towards our yellow friend. Again, lining up the galaxy map as best I can, I find a possible candidate in HIP 4894 – a very large G Type star (similar to our Sun but much larger). So I set a route to that system. I won’t know if I’m right until I get there.

Jack-o’-Lantern, Will-o’-the-Wisp, Robin Goodfellow, Puck… we all know who he is don’t we. A Faerie spirit who enjoys playing pranks on travellers in the dark of night. He sets his lure – a light among the trees to entice the unwary from their true path. And he leads them on… approach the light and it seems to move further away. So you follow on and the light never gets any closer. The traveller at best finds himself lost or may stumble into a bog or ravine. Remember the Dead Marshes in Lord of the Rings? “The tricksy lights. Candles of corpses… Don’t you heed them! Don’t look! Don’t follow them!” So it was with my yellow ‘lantern’. I got to HIP 4894 only to find that I was no closer (Very nice star by the way!)

Now, finally, I became suspicious. Galactic objects that never seem to get any closer are usually very distant! Once again I turned to the galaxy map and using the ever present Andromeda Galaxy and the object’s apparent relative position, I started moving from distant star to distant star in the general direction within the 3D representation. It took a while but eventually I spotted a faint nebulosity on the map that I was able to home in on. From the angle it looked like a circular haze with a more solid centre. The Cave Nebula! I tried plotting a route but I couldn’t – somewhere in between there is an area where the stars are more than 23Ly’s apart. I’ll need a ship with better jump range than the Cobra if I want to go there. Jack had led me a merry dance! Here is a cockpit view of Jack-o’-Lantern and some shots of Humourist around LBN 623.

LBN 623
In the Pink, LBN 623
Under LBN 623