“Get to skrippo red light district as soon as you can. We have lots of upgrades, missions, variety of different security and employment systems plus some good trade runs.”
The message was unusually verbose. And not a single mention of his damned Aardvark. Too good to be true? I looked around the inside of Kidman Hub from inside my Viper. I’d been parked inside here for three days, not even stepping outside my ship for what I’m sure would be a very disappointing cantina.
“Branglal,” I muttered, leaning over to bring up the Galaxy Map. “It’s gotta smell better than this place.”
When you visit a few hundred systems a year, you begin to realize just how insignificant everything is about every system. Oh, your system has a gas giant, tipped on edge, with rings that span for two full light-seconds? Was it anything like the 10 I passed on the way to get here? A nebula, you say? Spans half the night sky? Might be the same one where I earned over 250,000 credits in bounties last month. The light from their exploding hulls might even reach you in a few dozen years. Look close, you might see me puking.
Space stations try to be creative with the stock federal crap they’re built out of, but the still look all the same. With all the hubbub about not conforming, you’d think Indies would do something interesting, but nope, same ol’ boxy blocks of nickel and iron. With dozens of spacers like me coming and going every day, there’s no motivation to do anything unique. Just get us in, give us our services, take our credits, and tell us not to knock into the walls on our way out.
Stations do have their own smells, however. Sure, there’s the same hot metal and machine oil and ozone smells in all of them, but when you’re used to everything being exactly the same, it’s the subtle differences that reach out to you.
Russell Ring had undertones of barbecued meat. Pleasant, compared to the algae-based food you get used to eating, until you started wondering if someone got fried working in the ventilation system. Another station’s air smelled like a swamp just after a rain. I’m betting their O2 generators were old as helium and spewing CyanoB into the intake (a big federal no-no!), but it was refreshing until I started visualizing CyanoB growing on the inside of my ship.
There was one station, in a refinery system, that had a floral smell that was constantly waxing and waning, almost overpowering at times. I liked to imagine some smuggler in the bay next me, trying to cultivate orchids to sell on the black market, unable to contain his joy for his own merchandise, constantly opening his secret container for a whiff, inadvertently releasing the tell-tale odors into the station’s air system. Fools like that get caught.
And then there’s Kidman Hub, which smells like a pile of wet clothes, moldy and filthy. Like the others, the scent isn’t dominant, just a subtle undertone that no one else on this dismal heap even notices, but it made me gag the first time I connected up to this dump, and I can never fully get the smell out of my nose or my attention.
The thought train brings the smell to the forefront of my consciousness and I nearly gag again. Holding it back, I look at the route path to Branglal.
Twenty-seven jumps. Not awful. The same neighborhood, in astronomical terms. I zoom out a bit and Eravate jumps out at me from the sea of star systems. Damn Eravate. I’ve been headed away from that system for years, and here I am just a handful of lightyears away from it again. sigh
Having no other real options, I decide to unplug from this moldy stinkhole and head out for Branglal. No one will be there, I’m sure. There’ll be no welcoming party or celebrations, just another goose chase of big dreams and false hopes, but at least this Kidman Hub stench won’t be there.
A few flicks on the UI controls and the station machinery around me whirls into life. Umbilicals disconnect and my Viper’s air systems kick in, starting to scrub Kidman Hub out of my breathing air.
The lifts pull my ship out of the hangar bay into position under the pad. I settle into my seat and cinch the acceleration straps tight.
Twenty seven jumps.
The pad opens and my Viper is lifted to the surface.
“Variety of different security and employment systems.” What does that even mean?
The ship jostles as the lift comes to a halt at the surface, and then hops again as the restraints are opened. Adrift again, I fire the thrusters and point my tailpipes at Kidman Hub.
In a few minutes, the mass lock clears, and I fire up the FSD. As the drive charges, I notice I can’t smell Kidman Hub anymore. I take a deep breath, the Viper leaps into hyperspace, and Kidman Hub is fully scrubbed out of my life.
The 27 jumps were as uneventful as they always are, except for an unusual string of scoopable stars. Once I realized I was hitting a pattern, I counted another 10 stars in a row. The Golden Brick Road of the galaxy, leading me to Branglal, home of opportunities and “some good trade runs.”
Of course, that same road also leads to Khelma and Kidman Hub, so I guess it’s a good thing Dorothy went that way and not the other way. Where’s my Scarecrow?
There are few sights that catch my eye anymore, but close binaries and bright blue As and Bs always give me a sentimental pause. I catch a few of each on the way to Branglal.
When I jump into a binary system that has an A or B, I’ll circle round it a bit, soaking it in.
Before I know it, Branglal is on my HUD, just lightyears away. I line the jump up, but feel the slightest of hesitations. Will this be a new start? Or has my past followed me along the Golden Brick Road, dragging Kidman Hub’s stench with it?
The jump complete, I find myself staring at a single unremarkable M-class star. Scoopable, warm, stable, but meh.
Nav panel actually shows a Skripochka station, probably named for some famous explorer. Adventurers never got paid well, but big things, important things were named after them. They just had to die for the honor first.
As I orient towards the station, my brain, always searching for patterns in the stars, finds a recognizable one in the system depictions on the HUD, and I smirk.
“Red light district, eh @Bogusheadbox?” At least he has a sense of humor.
I supercruise to the station, not impressed with the stream of lights coming to and from. A popular station means more amenities and conveniences, but it also means more traffic, more people, more…smells
The station itself is a non-descript blocky mass, one of those dodecahedrons that look like it dropped off the end of an assembly line and rolled to a stop in orbit around the nearest mudhole. The traffic controller is the typical no-nonsense uptight type, reminding everyone who hails that they need clearance before they can dock. The delivery is overdone with that mandatory snotty tone. As if some space traveler is going to hop a few hundred light years just to sneak in to her garden of filth. sigh
I set down on pad 13 and request hangar access. It’s immediately granted and the ship shudders as the pad clasps the landing gear and pulls it below.
As the ship drops into the depths of the station, I relax the acceleration straps and sit up in my seat, ready to unbuckle once the lift has secured the ship in place. I’ll browse the station news and latest Gal Net propaganda updates once I get some water and a ration.
The ship bumps to a stop and I can hear the umbilicals connecting. A few seconds later, the whirring of fans bring Skriprochka into my cockpit. I close my eyes and inhale.
Like most first connects, I have to take a few deep breaths before I can isolate the station’s unique contributions to the breathing air. Machine oil, metal, ozone, yes, yes, some heavier elements, maybe beryllium? Definitely some tungsten and osmium in the air, maybe someone had a load of heat sink ammo get zapped? But what’s that other undertone? It’s coppery and … crisp and fresh at the same time.
It’s not until the fifth or sixth breath that I identify it, and flop back into my chair.
“Nachos?” I inhale again, deeply. “Nachos.”
“@Bogusheadbox, you sure now how to pick 'em.”
At least it’s better than Kidman Hub.