The Third Way

Boundary Shock Quarterly #23: Tramp Freighter Captains

The sometimes-fearless crew of the fluxship Big Top has a new job: transport a passenger and their luggage. Sounds simple, yes?

They just have to get through fluxhole Severiano 5 before it collapses, keep things calm with a temperamental passenger, and deal with their astonishing number of carry-ons.

What could go wrong?

Strap in for space adventure!


"An attractive contract, Captain. Do we take it?" Murmurk held up his archaic tablet.

Captain Ariana Marlan Rumala had been re-reading the contract. It floated seemingly mid-air in her overlay vid, which was tuned to her Human gaze, so knew not to obscure anything else she might be looking at.

Which, at the moment, was the view of Gassam Solono Station, its great docking arms spread wide to welcome into its belly sublight and Flux ships that stopped to gather goods and passengers before going somewhere else.

But it was the bridge's diamond viewport that made her snort softly in disgust. It had taken Rumala until university space sciences class to realize just how expensive the damned thing was, far more costly than a typical ship screen, which would have been just as good. Probably better.


The diamond viewport was ostentatious extravagance, like the bio-teak detailing, garish gold trim, and murals splattered across walls and ceilings by the many famous--and stoned--artists her father had hosted on _Big Top_.

Her father, the prior owner and captain, had had expensive tastes. When he died he left her _Big Top_, but without a single credit to keep it going. A few contracts later and they were out of deep debt, but fluxships ate cash voraciously, and it was a near thing.

Rumala had a sudden image of her red-and-white fluxship rocketing through space, its mouth open wide to gobble up credits as they hissed by like tiny rocks.

Which, of course, they didn't. Credits were quiet things, arriving in accounts--when they came at all--with the dead silence of space itself.

"Captain?" prompted Murmurk in his low-timbered voice.

Rumala turned her gaze on her First Mate. He tilted his mottled pink head, his red, drooping eyes meeting her own.

"I'm day-dreaming about enough cash to cover maintenance and slush," she answered.

Slush, that rare, costly mineral mix the Flux drive needed to fold into superluminal dimensions.

"And the twins," Murmurk added.

The twins were Myndympar, one of only a few species who could navigate a fluxship through the superluminal dimensions. They were a significant expense, not merely because they were good, but because they were well-known. When it came to getting lucrative cargo contracts, reputation mattered.

Murmurk tapped his tablet with a long finger. "This contract would go a ways to paying our bills. Enough to give the crew planet-leave."

A success, to have enough not only for the essentials, but a little extra for everyone.

"That would be good." Rumala looked over the contract numbers again. They were very pretty. There was just one ugly part.

Murmurk spoke: "One passenger, exo-oxy-bio species Cresta Arcope, refugee from Beta Ala VII, en route to Retsepa IV. Unlimited luggage to holding capacity of the bay." He looked again at Rumala. "The offer is three times typical, Captain. Why?"

She took a breath, let it out slow. Keeping things from her crew, she had learned, was not just a bad idea. It was impossible.

All right, then: tell them. Let them decide.

"Crew to commons," she said, sending her voice ship-wide.



"This is an issue about those folks fighting to stay ahead of the
mortgage and the bank. To make enough money that they can fix
whatever inevitably breaks down, while still having food, fuel, and
air. Margins are thin and men and women have to rely on
themselves in order to survive, especially when the law sometimes
stops at the edge of the atmosphere."

--editor Blaze Ward

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