Skipjack by MarkHirst ()
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The Candor district harbours a small number of worlds, but between them has the full range of climates and ecosystems imaginable. Unique amongst them is Seven Sisters, a world with no landmasses save for a few ephemeral volcanoes and fragments of polar ice.
The story goes that its tumultuous seas and featureless horizons have shaped the psyche of the people that live there. Since there are no fixed points on that world, its people are wanderers by nature, free to drift about as the mood and currents take them. Their culture and technology is shaped entirely by an aquatic existence, making the people themselves natural swimmers and enthusiastic consumers of fish, processed krill, and all manner of shallow water vegetation. They are masters of marine megastructures, creating huge surface and subsurface habitats built from underwater minerals, mined with great skill and minimal damage to their precious aquatic food resources.
This peculiar attachment to water has also shaped their craft, both on the surface, in the air and in space. Whereas there is a common assumption that most spacecraft can use open water as a refuelling point for hydrogen at a pinch, the denizens of Seven Sisters have designed their craft to be natural inhabitants of the marine environment, with purpose built control surfaces, powerful integrated hydrojets, and strengthened armoured hulls and seals to permit deep diving. It is these flying submarines that are so 'de rigueur' on Seven Sisters, which hold such a fascination for smugglers, movers of small cargos, and other nefarious operators from across the district.
I'd seen a few Skipjack freighters in my visits to Candor Spaceport, and most with few exceptions were decidedly 'low rent', a term that often described the people that owned them too. Although these ships were usually second hand and crewed by the local brand of low life, there was usually an engineer or pilot recruited from Seven Sisters, familiar with the procedures of running an effective underwater operation, and loading and unloading a ship at sea.
As the Skipjack landed on the main platform at Tellurium East, I could see through my binoculars that this particular ship had been sitting in water for some time. While the seawater had evaporated away, colonies of barnacles clung doggedly to the lower hull, biding their time till the day when this ship finally returned to space and blasted them away with heat and friction. After a short while the crew disembarked, and they looked as neglected as the ship. Only the company man stood apart in his neat suit, scanning the metal deck no doubt for me.
I'd sent my party away as soon I could. An urgent satellite call to the starport had brought Daddy's private flyer to the old mine in less than an hour, and my earnest warnings about the Sansica Corporation's near destruction by the Lazloi convinced them that there wasn't any bounty to be collected. They would be safe by their anonymity; the corporation didn't know about them, but it definitely knew about me as I had made the radio call for help. As they lifted away towards Candor City, I struck out from the old station into the forest, and found a vantage point to observe who might come.
That cautious instinct paid off. Aside from the company man and the tall lithe figure of the Seven Sisters pilot, all of them were mercs or hired thugs of some kind, and each of them packed a gun and an attitude I could see from two miles away. Beside me, the blue pebble marked the new comers and their ship in fine detail, but it wouldn't stop them finding me for very long. They had an anti-grav flyer and probably used thermal imagers that would easily pick me out from the cooling landscape as nightfall came.
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Less than two hundred yards away was the entrance back into the mine, and its darkness amongst the fading light had a curiously comforting feeling. It was likely that the mercs would come here soon, following the heat trail I had already made. While my hunting rifle would help, I wasn't going to have a stand up fight with these mercs, but underground with this artefact might give me the advantage I needed. So with extra provisions and warm clothing taken from the station, I headed inside and down towards the enigma below, knowing that the mercs were sure to follow. -- Mona Asuridanavan, in the Candor wilderness Skipjack is an original model created in Hexagon 1.21, textured in Photoshop. Stonemason Greebles and Warehouse district buildings. Rendered in Vue 6 Pro Studio. Thanks for looking, comments appreciated.