In an effort to keep the content fresh around these parts, below is an excerpt from a recent space-western-comedy-thing I've been working on.

This chapter was written while I was travelling between Amsterdam and Berlin by train earlier this year.

Damn those trains are fast.


APPROACHING PROXIMA GATE - DROPPING TO SUB-ENGINES

The announcement woke Silas with a start.

He'd stretched out and rested his feet on the cockpit console soon after leaving Forte Shipyard. He pawed at his grubby black stetson he'd strategically balanced between forehead and chin. Silas removed the hat, dropped it on the console, then threw his arms back in a comically large stretching motion.

"Martha, eta to horizon" he said, stifling words through a yawn.

ETA 12 MINUTES

He looked at the console through bleary eyes for a little while, taking in the ship data fed to a small screen. Without much thought, Silas placed his hand on a once-was-white mug, dry brown rings coated its inside walls.

He stood up, caught his balance, then made a b-line directly to the dispenser unit at the rear of the cockpit.

"Coffee, give me a cup of black lightning."

The dispenser churned, Silas could hear the sounds of bubbling water behind the wall panel. He sat his mug on a small metal plate below an opening. A silver nozzle shot out and fired hot fluid into the waiting vessel.

Silas picked up the mug, turned and unconsciously brought it to his lips.

PAH! Silas loudly spat across the cabin. "What the hell is this? Plain hot water? Are you trying to kill me?"

COFFEE RESERVES DEPLETED - AN ORDER WILL BE PLACED AND DEDUCTED FROM STATION STORES DURING NEXT DOCKING CYCLE

"Sheesh... we got anything stronger?"

SHIPS TEA STORES ARE CURRENTLY AT NINTEY-EIGHT PERCENT

"You know..." Silas started, briefly sniffing the cup of hot water "...you might be smart for a virtual intelligence, but I'm going to have to teach you a thing or two about..."

On the primary screen a large ring appeared, flanked by several control structures. Dozens of small craft short-range craft zipped about the Proxima Gate area, most were security escorts and local merchants, but a few were longer range one or two person craft.

Silas sat at the console placing his cup over its regular stain and watched the ships dance around in open space.

"Approaching Vessel, this is Proxima Gate Authority. State your designation, destination, and submit for cargo scan." An audio feed announced. By regulation all ships that pass through the Proxima Gate were checked for outstanding fines and scanned for contraband before being allowed to depart.

"Control, this is Silas Byrd of the trader ship Doubletree, we're headed through Proxima and out into the rim territories. Dampeners offline, ready for scanning."

Silas flipped a few controls and the Doubletree slowed to a crawl, he knew without active dampeners he was vulnerable but a faster pace could tear the ship apart from sheer inertia. Not something Silas was willing to happen to a craft he'd lost so much blood and sweat for.

EXTERNAL SCAN DETECTED

"Yeah Martha, I know." Silas said.

Absentmindedly, Silas began flicking between images of systems and stations beyond the gate in the planetary rim. He'd have to refuel on the other side somewhere and thought he might as well make it worth his while to find some extra cargo to haul.

A notification flashed up as the gate authority contacted him again.

"Silas Byrd, during routine scanning an anomaly in your drive core has been detected. Please power down your engines, your ship will be led into our inspection dock."

"Wait a minute, what anomaly?" Silas protested.

"Fluctuations in your drive core signature require further investigation. You will be denied departure and fined if you do not submit."

"Hey I've got a schedule to keep, its something that can wait, cant it?"

"Mr Byrd, the articles of stellar gate travel are quite clear. Any ship found to not operate within nominal tolerances will be impounded pending furth..."

"Yeah yeah ok, no need to drone on, I hear you." Silas interrupted, "Powering down. Just don't keep me long will you."

On a touchpad Silas placed two fingers and slid them down towards the edge of the console. The regular hum and throb of his ships engines slowly faded and fell silent. He wasn't ready for the lack of shipboard sounds, they'd been a constant for the last few years, the familiar sound of home.

"This is gate impound vessel delta, confirming power down. Prepare for towing."

The cup of hot water Silas had rested on the console rocked a little as the small one-man craft nudged the front of the Doubletree. Dull thuds sounded through the cabin, the impound vessel clamps locking onto the hull. He winced a little, hoping the front end of his ship was still intact.

Outside, the local space was buzzing around the interstellar gate. The gate drew long strips of shadow in the light from the nearby Proxima star. Service businesses had popped up not long after the gates construction years ago, everything from repair yards and mod shops to restocking points, and commodity market traders all which surrounded a queue that stretched from the gate horizon to the port authority. The gate itself comprised of a large ring with two outgoing departure lanes stacked either side of two incoming lanes. Each of the lanes could hold several small fighters, or up to three stellar freighters at a time. For larger vessels the gate could be switched to transit mode to accommodate their sheer size, although it was a rare site at Proxima these days as most large ships had their own long range jump capabilities.

The inside of the Doubletree grew darker, shrouded by the shadow cast from the gate as it approached the inspection dock. Through the smokey plexiglas of the inspection dock Silas could only just make out the silhouette of a few of the largest vessels hanging in Proxima space. The Doubletree sat motionless for a moment, still... calm. Silas picked up his hat, placed it on his head with practiced ease, and stood up. He moved toward the entryway door, grabbing an overhead rail with his left hand and prepared to be boarded by the maintenance crew.


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