From the Flight Log of Freighter Pilot Camdon Rod
I wouldn’t have known there were X-rays being emitted by Conlon’s Object if Cepravez hadn’t moved its jump point to the outer system. Technically Conlon’s is a dwarf planet, but when it was discovered centuries ago using a standard, ground-based optical telescope, the hunk of rock wasn’t deemed worthy of even that status, at least by Manx Conlon, the astronomer who first located it.
Oh, by the way, my name is Camdon Rod and I’m the owner/operator of the jump freighter the Ginger’s Regret. The Regret and I have been through a lot together, particularly since I discovered she was haunted, and by the real Ginger no less.
Of course, that’s practically nothing compared to some of our adventures like being hijacked in interplanetary space and me falling in love with a ghost.
But the part about falling in love can wait. It’s waited for a while now. It can wait a little longer.
Ginger and I had been hired to haul Nepotrix to Cepravez Three, specifically to Corne Corp’s Finzon cracking station on the western coast of Kipon continent. Nepotrix is a catalyst used to produce Finzon, which is the primary source of fuel used in their transportation industry. They can’t synthesize Nepotrix locally so they have to have it brought in. Fortunately for Corne Corp, a little Nepotrix goes a long way, so they only need fresh supplies about once every quarter.
I don’t know why they can’t use a more standard fuel. I think it has something to do with their biosphere, but I try to stay away from those kinds of discussions.
The reason I’ve jumped into the system so far away from Cepravez has to do with the cyclical transit of the Kolber asteroids, a group of thousands of bits and hunks of iron, nickel, and other unremarkable ores that cruises through the inner solar system once every decade or so. It would be impossible to sweep an area of enough of them (all of them) to make a safe jump zone, so Cepravez just moved it outward, way outward.
They don’t get a lot of traffic, so I must be the first ship to jump in since the change. This is the first time the jump zone was placed close enough to Conlon’s for any pilot to pay attention to it. That’s why I’m the one who discovered the object emits X-rays.
Lucky me. That means I have to do at least a preliminary scan of Conlon’s, since by contract, all commercial spacecraft are to report any unusual astronomical phenomenon we come across. Then I’m looking at a transit time of weeks to get to Cepravez on space norm engines plus getting through the Kolber shower.
“Ginger, I’m changing course to do a flyby of Conlon’s to see what we can see. Can you handle the X-ray scan of the object and store the data for later transmission to the Consortium?”
I like working the Outer Regions of Consortium space because it keeps me as far from all those corrupt politicians and corporations as possible while still letting me make a living as a freighter pilot. Unfortunately, you can never get away from them entirely.
“No problem, Cam. I’m on it.”
Her voice is coming from the comm system this time, but she just as easily could have answered me out of thin air, or even have manifested herself in what looks like her original body, like the painting of the gorgeous, buxom, scantily clad redhead on the side of my ship.
Thanks to a really peculiar accident she had about fifty years ago, the one that killed her, she is now somehow the soul or spirit of the ship. You might even say that the Ginger’s Regret is her body with the computer and all its interlinking systems as her nervous system. Technically, she could pilot herself, but we’ve managed to forge a pretty good working relationship since I bought her last year.
We almost forged more than that, but that’s another story.
“What do you have, Ginger?”
“Conlon’s is on its closest approach to its sun and the ice on its surface is melting to form an atmosphere. According to these readings, the solar wind is stripping away and reacting with the atmosphere producing X-rays.”
“Unusual, but not startling, Ging. Store the data and we’ll transmit it to the Consortium after this cargo run. Might as well send a copy to the pin heads on Cepravez, too. After all, Conlon’s is in their system.”
“Don’t let the Consortium hear you say that, Cam. They think they own half of everything.”
“They just about do.”
Then I noticed it. “Ginger, why are we going into orbit around the object?”
“Don’t look at me, Cam. I didn’t…”
“I can’t look at you. I can’t even see you.” It’s sort of a joke between us. I’ve heard about silent partners before but she’s literally my unseen partner, well…most of the time.
“Is this better?”
I heard her voice from directly behind me and swung my chair around to look at her. Normally she dresses in crew overalls, pretty much the same as I do, except her curves are a lot more attractive. This time was different.
“What the f…?”
The last time I saw her like this was months ago, and that was only for a few minutes. It was after the hijacking of the Regret was resolved, we finished our cargo run and returned to Marconii.
I was in my cabin and was just turning in for the night when I saw her silhouetted by the light coming from the head. She was dressed in a see-through nightgown and nothing underneath but warm, succulent flesh.
“Hello, handsome. Like what you see?”
What squashed all my hopes and dreams that night was an urgent comm message telling us that her husband Oberlin Phie had died of DeSalle’s disease. He was an old, old man. Ginger would be young forever, or at least for as long as the Ginger’s Regret exists.
I don’t know what their relationship was like, but she grieved for Phie and we haven’t talked about that night since. It’s like it never happened, and if that’s the way she wants it, it’s fine by me.
I know what you’re thinking. Earlier I said that I loved Ginger. I do, at least I think I do. That’s why I’ve dropped any mention of what happened on that night. I figured the reality of Phie actually being dead killed whatever she was feeling for me.
So why is she doing this now?
“Ginger, are you nuts? You’ve got lousy timing.”
I turned back to the main console and sure enough, we’d entered close orbit around Conlin’s. Our shielding would protect us from the radiation for a while, but not forever. If we stayed here long enough, not only would it kill me, but it would do irreparable damage to the Regret’s electronics.
I felt her wrap her arms around my neck from behind. If I hadn’t been so scared, her warm, soft skin would have distracted me from just about anything.
“Would you knock it off, Ging? I don’t have manual control of the ship. We’ve got to break orbit and get out of here.”
I’m frantically doing everything I can think of to trip the manual override to the nav controls and helm while she’s nuzzling my neck, kissing me with those moist, full lips. A certain appendage with a mind of its own starts to grow, much against my better instincts.
I spin around again to face her, which makes her let go.
“Ging, it’s got to be you controlling the ship. The computer’s fine and so are the manuals. What’s going on?”
She responds by seating her lovely derriere on my lap and pressing her two abundant breasts against me.
“I’m what’s going on, lover boy.”
She kisses me full on the mouth making me go crazy with a confusing combination of lust and panic.
She’s solid. I mean, I can feel her weight on me, against me, and I sure as hell felt that kiss. I grab her by the waist and push her off of me.
“Stop it! This ship is in trouble and I need your help!” I’ve never yelled at Ginger before, but I can’t figure out why she’s acting like a sex-crazed teenager.
“Fine! If that’s the way you want it!”
She’s gone in an instant. No, I don’t mean she walked out of the control cabin. She just plain vanished.
Dammit! Now what do I do?
In orbit for ten hours now. I can’t figure this one out. How am I supposed to save my life, save both our lives, if I can’t regain control of the ship? The Ginger’s Regret is rapidly becoming my regret.
I am such an idiot. I know what I’m going to do.
Ginger, as much as I call her a ghost, isn’t supernatural. This isn’t magic, it’s science, it’s just very weird science and there’s a lot about how Ginger can be here that neither of us understands.
Somehow, when the Regret jumped to hyperspace on that fateful day when Ginger was still EVA after repairing the jump nav controls, in the instant the jump initiated, it did two things, at least this is what I figure happened.
Ginger’s body was instantly vaporized, but the quantum strangeness factor of how jump engines work and what hyperspace does to a ship managed to fuse her neural pattern, basically everything Ginger was besides an organic body, into the ship’s systems. She’s basically a secondary energy field being emitted by the ship, which is part of the reason she can manifest a physical form inside the ship and sometimes outside, maybe several meters.
Like I said, it’s very weird science.
That field can also control any ship system as long as it’s automated, that is, any system controlled by the computer.
The manual override switches in the control cabin don’t work because she’s blocking the signals that would normally tell the computer “hands off” of navigation or communication. But what if I crawl into each of the systems I need to fly this bird and cut off computer control at the source?
That’s what I’m doing now. I’ve already unplugged navigation from the computer. I’ll have to do some old-fashioned number crunching but I’ve been around long enough to know that you can’t always trust your computer, so I know how to do the math myself.
I’m on my last job now. Helm control. I need to be the one and only pilot of the Regret, at least until I figure out what went wrong with Ginger.
I’ve got an idea about that too, but first let’s get our asses out of here.
“What are you doing, Cam?”
Her voice is coming out of the comm system. I can’t see her. Glad she’s not physically here. These crawlways are really narrow. I can barely fit. Two people, if I can call Ginger a person, would be impossible.
“Oh, just a little maintenance work, Ging. Nothing to concern yourself about.”
“You’re at the juncture of service tunnels J-14 and 27-B. I’ve been watching you disengage computer control to navigation and propulsion. Now you’re doing the same thing to helm control.”
“That’s right, Ginger.” I open the access panel located on the bottom of the tunnel below my face. Man, is it hot in here. “I need to get us away from Conlon’s before we both fry.”
“What if I don’t want to leave, Cam. What if I want to stay here with you?”
“Then we’ll both die.” It’s hard to get my hand into the space around the cable connection. Damn. Just cut my hand. Nothing serious, but I hate bleeding inside the guts of the ship.
“I’m already dead, Cam. You know that. You call me a ghost often enough.”
I call her a ghost in my private logs. But they’re electronic and part of the ship’s systems so I guess she’s been reading those.
“It’s not nice to read someone’s private log, Ginger.” I’ve almost got the connection free. Why is it so hot? Is there something wrong with life support? Oh sh..!
“I want to be close to you, Cam. I want to know everything there is about you.”
“Why don’t you just ask like other girlfriends?”
“Am I your girlfriend, Cam?”
Got it. Now to crawl back out the way I came.
“I can’t feel the helm anymore, Cam. I can’t pilot the ship.”
That means I don’t have long. The orbit of the Regret will start to decay and it’ll be a race between dying on impact on the surface or radiation poisoning doing me in.
I’m out of the tube and back in the main corridor and figure Ginger will kill me before either of those things happen. I didn’t think to unplug her from the environmental controls. She’ll cut off my life support.
I know it’s cold in space, but she’s preventing the excess heat from the space norm engines from being bled out the ship’s cooling vanes, so it’s like I’m in an oven. Air’s thinner. Reminds me how much I hate mountain climbing.
Staggering toward the control room. I’m huffing and puffing too much to be able to talk. I can’t even ask her why she’s doing this.
“I love you, Cam. I want to be with you forever.”
I’m at the door to the control cabin. Manual controls only. I’m in.
“You said it once. If you die and I’m dead, we can be together forever and ever.”
Yeah, I said that once about her and Phie, but she reminded me that she’s a product of a fluke involving a hyperjump field and hyperspace, not things that go bump in the night. Phie’s dead and that’s that. Ginger’s dead and still here because of a one in ten million shot.
If I don’t take us out of orbit and find a way to restore life support, I’ll be as dead as Phie and Ginger will be alone for as long as the ship lasts, which right now, might not be all that long.
Seated at the console. Plotting new course. Cutting in thrusters and about to engage space norm drive.
“Cam. Camdon. Camdon can you hear me?”
No, I can’t. I’ve already passed out.
“Cam! Cam, wake up!”
I can hear her but it’s like she’s at the other end of a long tunnel. Is the room shaking? No, it’s me, or rather it’s her shaking me.
I open my eyes and she’s kneeling above me. I take a deep, long breath of beautiful, cool, reconstituted air. Delicious.
She smiles. I love it when she smiles.
“What…what happened?” I can’t believe the sound of my own voice, or what’s left of it. Rough, scratchy, like I’ve swallowed a desert.
She helps me up into the pilot’s chair then gets a bottle of water from the food dispenser.
I drink greedily with some of the water running down my face onto my chest. My overalls are soaked with sweat anyway, so it doesn’t matter.
“I…I had a problem.”
Ginger’s seated in the co-pilot’s chair next to me. She’s looking down, like a kid who got caught with her hand in the cookie jar, or a teen who got caught in bed with her boyfriend.
“The X-rays?” It’s the only thing that makes sense.
“Yeah. Remember when I told you that when we jump, I don’t experience it the way you do?”
“I remember.” I’m glad I can talk again without sounding like I have a mouth full of gravel. “I remember you could never describe what it is you do experience.”
“It’s hard to explain, Cam.” She’s looking me in the eyes now, but still has a guilty look on her face. “I experience hyperspace with senses you don’t have. Not even the ship has the senses I have.”
Now she’s scaring me. If she’s not just the ship but more than the ship, how far does that more go?
“Something about coming out of jump and immediately being exposed to intense X-rays affected the computer, or the metaphysical ‘me’ that has to do with the computer.”
“None of the automated systems were affected. They’re designed to operate in the presence of even a moderate exposure to radiation, at least in the short run. If they didn’t, we couldn’t travel in space.”
“But I’m not designed to operate correctly under those conditions. I can remember everything I said and did, but I couldn’t stop myself.”
She’s blushing. It’s kind of cute, but remembering that part myself started that involuntary inflation of a certain appendage again.
“It’s okay, Ginger.” I reach out and gently touch her forearm with my hand. She doesn’t draw away.
“As near as I can figure, I went kind of crazy. I’m sorry, Cam. I know you could have died.”
She looks down at her lap again. I take a finger, put it under her chin and raise her face so I can see it. There’s a tear rolling down her left cheek.
“It’s not your fault. You couldn’t help yourself.”
“I know, but…”
“But nothing. You’ve saved my butt plenty of times. Today, I got to return the favor. I guess when we started moving away from Conlon’s and the level of radiation decreased, your head started to clear.”
“Yes. Like I said, I remember everything I did. I just didn’t have any control. When I finally came out of it, I restored life support.”
She looked at me with those intense pale blue eyes. “I’m so glad you’re alive.”
We both got stuck in a really awkward moment. I decided to make it even more awkward and hugged her. She put her arms around me for a few seconds and then she wasn’t there anymore.
It’s not exactly that we avoided each other on the long, slow trip to Cepravez, but what time we did spend interacting was strictly ship’s business.
When we got to Cepravez and unloaded the cargo, I had to spend a week or so in therapy to counter my exposure to X-rays. That, and a little bit of Styxian Spice and I was good to go. Before the discovery of Spice, I could have counted on losing ten years off my life span because of the cellular damage caused by the radiation. I didn’t even have to pay for the treatments. Corne Corp figured they owed me one.
Guess my luck’s holding out.
I had the Regret’s systems checked out. Class A diagnostics, the works. She’s in good shape for the most part. Had to replace one of the computer processors that was damaged due to prolonged X-ray exposure, but other than that, the ship pulled through fine.
It was going to be a long trip back to the jump point.
“I suppose I owe you an explanation.”
Ginger and I were in the control cabin. The course back to the jump point was auto-engaged, so there wasn’t much for us to do. For some reason, Ginger was making herself more available.
“You don’t owe me a thing, Ginger.”
“I think I do. You must think I’m crazy, even when I’m not crazy.”
I’m a pretty smart guy but I don’t always show a lot of sense, especially about women, so I decided to keep my mouth shut and let her talk. Keeping your trap shut when a woman wants to talk was about the only piece of useful advice my Dad ever gave me.
“I know you must wonder about that night. The one when I was in your cabin dressed like…”
She’s blushing again. I think I am too, but I make myself just sit there, looking at her, hoping I seem like I’m genuinely listening to her, which I’m really trying to do.
“Then we get the news that Obie died and I pull back from you. You must think I’m crazy.”
“What happened…I mean between you and him?”
That was probably a stupid question but she rolls with it.
“Well, after I died…after Obie found out I was still around, we were both kind of freaked.”
The kid has a talent for understatement. I can’t even imagine how I would have reacted with I were either Phie or Ginger.
“At first, he didn’t want anything to do with me. Guess I can’t blame him. But it was a shock to me, too. I needed him, really needed him, and he wasn’t there.”
She’s crying but this time I don’t try to touch her.
“After Obie delivered that last cargo run, he took us to that slum asteroid and set up a trading post. He took good care of me…of the ship. We eventually made our peace, but we never…I mean I, we could…I could manifest physically, at least for a while.
“But he never touched me, even when he could.
“Obie still loved me, but he never got used to what I’d become. He loved me, but his wife was dead. He loved me and I was still alive, but I wasn’t the woman he married.
“That’s why he picked you. He’d talked with a lot of potential buyers for the Regret, but you’re the only one who measured up. He couldn’t get used to me but he understood me, what I needed. He knew I needed a pilot who could get used to me. You’re the only one, Cam.”
I’m sitting there thinking I should probably be flattered, but all I’m feeling is a tremendous burden. I hate thinking of Ginger that way. She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, but sometimes she’s the worst, too.
Her husband couldn’t take what had happened to his wife, so he pulled away. He took care of her, but Phie stopped being Ginger’s husband the day she was vaporized. He pulled away from her when she needed him the most. Now she needs me.
I take her hand in mine. She grips back. She smiles a little and I smile back.
I stand up and slowly pull her to her feet. Then I embrace her. She puts her arms around me tight and softly cries into my chest. This time she doesn’t disappear.
It’s going to be a long trip back to the jump point. We’ll have plenty of time to get to know each other.
Maybe I’ll even find out why Phie named the ship the Ginger’s Regret.
I read Pluto is Apparently Emitting X-Rays and that has Us Questioning Everything Again a few days ago, and it became the “hook” upon which I hung the latest story about Camdon and Ginger. I needed a way to peel off the barriers between the two of them. Hopefully the pseudo-science I employed works well enough as an explanation.
There are several previous adventures of Camdon Rod. If you haven’t read them, start with The Last Flight of the Cynnabar Breen. There’s a link at the bottom of the story that will take you to the next one, and so on. Eventually, you’ll get back here.
The next part of the adventure can be found by going to Tuning In. No one is supposed to experience anything during the instantaneous jump through hyperspace. So why does Camdon Rod start hearing things?