It was the 13th of January 3302 and the fringe colony of Pallaeni was bustling with activity.
Bakewell Point was simply crowded and overrun. The facilities were used to cater to a couple of traders, explorers and rogues, the occasional bounty hunter and also one or two Federal Security crews for a day or two. It just wasn’t a Capitol station but an outpost. And now dozens if not hundreds of explorers and scientists had come from all corners of the bubble to this very place. The bars had soon run dry and so had the shops. The black market was already booming and consequently FedSec was tightening system security.
The Distant Worlds expedition was in its last stage of preparations. DW Operations had chosen this backwater system as gateway to the first one or two waypoints and the goal was to have as many explorers go off as simultaneously as possible. One of the reasons for this was that some Federation politician had called the Explorers Association a bunch of amateurs and semi-professional hobbyists. You can’t do worse than hurting an explorer’s pride and motivation to go out there so the concerted departure was also like saying ‘up your shaft!’ to whoever made that stupid statement.
This, and the fact that more and more folks had returned from the Core and from beyond the Sagittarius Shadow and told of its splendors, set the stage for this expedition, the biggest coordinated endeavor since maybe the era of the generation ships.
And Andrew had decided to be a part of that endeavor. Since the word was already out that Bakewell had run dry he and Araan had packed up their provisions, installed an additional fuel tank and a second Hutton Mug holder at the co-pilot’s side. Then they said their farewells (to whomever) and boarded their Asp Explorer, the AGS Intrepid.
Right now they pulled her into low orbit over Pallaeni, maintaining position above Brook’s Point and opened a channel to DW Operations. ‘Final preps order’ was out six hours ago and they wanted to do some last tests with their new Scarab SRV.
“GK-GK. This is Alpha Golf Sierra Zero One, Callsign Intrepid. Fleet Roster Two Sixteen in geostationary orbit awaiting Wing Beacon for landing. Good to be here, folks.“
“Roger that, Intrepid. This is Commander Masakari. We have you on our scanners. Lock onto Fleet Roster Seventy Niner. You will get a signal asap. Welcome to the party. Waiting time for resupply is currently 145 minutes.“
“Affirmative. We brought our own stuff, so no need.”
As soon as Andrew had received the wing locator beacon he brought the Intrepid into orbital flight. As the countless impact craters and rough mountains passed by they saw another ship or two approaching their landing zone: Brook’s Point, a flat plateau near one of the bigger craters the planet had to offer. Coming below five kilometers the sight was breathtaking:
The ridge was filled with ships. As the Intrepid descended for landing it passed a long row of Anaconda-class exploration cruisers. Beside them some provisional shelters had been erected and a large antenna and comms relay sat on top of what must have been an improvised command center. Opposite to them there was a wing of Asp Explorers that were currently in maintenance. Fuel pipes ran from the ships’ hulls back to three large tanks that were located out of the way towards one of the cliffs. Then there were some more exotic ships like an Imperial Clipper or two and near the command center a heavy duty T-9 was serviced by their crew. It was curious to have a heavy trader with them but the ship had been modified considerably to serve as a mobile HQ and communications relay. Rumour had it two reporters from Wasp Radio were coming with them, which was good news.
Despite entering the night phase the ridge was bathed in the light of a dozen and more ships and the high intensity floodlights that made up the landing zone’s perimeter. Like busy little ants, SRV’s were driving across the range and people in their bulky spacesuits were moving to and fro. All in all, Brook’s Point rivalled a minor spaceport; as did the traffic.
Just when you started to become accustomed to the hectic scenery another ship arrived with its thrusters ablaze and (seemingly) roaring, while another took off and sent a shockwave across the ridge as it entered supercruise from a dangerously low altitude.
Finally, DW Operations made one last and desperate attempt to put a bit of organization and control in place: “All right everyone! This is Operations, we are at T minus two. Fuel and Rock Rats are on the move, make sure you log into their mission comms and set your frequencies accordingly. And just check your waypoints again, we’ll have a long stretched treck up to Shapley One. There will be wings up all the time so don’t be shy. You have two days. Enjoy the ride and see you all at the Fine Ring.
Fly safe Commanders and may the winds be at our backs!”
A minute later comm channels were flooded with the loud and songlike countdown of nearly a hundred explorers: “Five! Four! Three! Two! One! Go!”
Another minute later all that was left from the spook were the blueish thruster trails zigzagging the night sky over Pallaeni and the provisional shelters that now weren’t needed anymore.
“Distant Worlds 3302” was on its way.