Appearing in Katharina Gerlach 2018 Advent Calendar behind door date 22 and the bonus ebook for subscribers of Cat’s Advent newsletter.
Titan Moon was a frozen ball of ice and snow. The atmosphere was breathable, but the planet itself was a harsh place to live year-round. Max was glad she had packed her thermal suit along with her normal winter wardrobe.
She hung from a jury-rigged swing dangling behind the left thruster of a modified T-Freighter she had dubbed, The Gypsy, trying to find the tiny pieces of asteroid that had brought them down in an emergency landing on the frozen seas of the Titan Moon.
Max volunteered to make an off-route stop in the Syntori System when she learned the Space Angels Relief Organization would not be making their annual Christmas drop on Titan, a central way-station for all incoming supplies to the system.
NovaCore had instituted a blockade sanctioned by the Federation of Galactic Governments on the edge of Free Space. The purpose? Discourage pirating along the trade routes they believed originated from the Syntori System.
The only ones diverted were the legit traders and spacers trying to enter, while limiting supplies to the planets that needed them.
Max grew up in that system. She was one of the few pilots skilled enough that could and had successfully navigate an unsanctioned space route through the asteroids fields that populated the system.
Unfortunately, even the experience had their mishaps.
“Peepers, bring me the hydro-extender and bot probe.”
A few sputters and beeps followed with one word in a high octave trill, “Cooold,” sounded across her suits COMM unit.
“Pretend you’re in deep space and set your thermo-shield on maximum. You know that jacket is not going to keep you warm enough.”
A series of complex beeps, tweets, and off-key notes followed. Peepers could say a few words in basic, but his vocal ability was limited. Mostly his language consisted of binary notes and his own unique communication song.
“I know Nina made it for you. I didn’t say not to wear it.” Max exhaled a white smoky breath that clung to the cold air. “BUT… you would have more agility without it. Clothing is not a necessity for MEC Droids.”
This elicited several outraged grunts, squeaks and sputters with a high trilled word, “Naked”, which made Max laugh.
“Like there is anyone out here to see you. Come on Peeps. I don’t trust this ice. We need to get moving before the sun drops.”
A few seconds later Peepers maneuvered into view, careful not to bump her with his anti-gravs wearing his Santa hat and Nina’s Christmas gift from last year.
It started to snow.
Max finished the last repair. She could not see the front half of the ship through the blinding white that blanketed everything. She paused tilting her head. Engine or thunder?
Max released the lock on the swing and dropped to the ground pulling the swing free of the ship. “Peepers, in the ship, I don’t like that sound.”
Not an engine. Local wildlife. Shoehorn deer the size of a small spaceship. The ground vibrated, and the ship rocked. There must be thousands. What made animals that big run? Hunters or a bigger animal?
Max tried to start the engine. Nothing. She jerked her chair strap loose sprinting to the ship’s thermo systems access hatch. The ship was stone cold.
The ship jolted. The spin catapulted Max into the open hatch before she could climb down. Scrambling to her feet she flipped open the thermo panel. No lights.
Peepers hooted above her. “Ships frozen. Thermo unit didn’t kick on.”
Maybe it was fortunate the tilting ship slammed her into the vapor filtration unit which hiccupped.
“I know what’s wrong Peepers. Cockpit now. Be ready to start the ship.”
She pushed her unease aside as she crawled into the tiny, snug vent space inching forward to the outside cluster spidering in multiple directions all through the ship.
She popped the access door to the exterior system. It was packed with snow. The sensors had not activated.
She melted a path for her arm along the wall to reach the manual expulsion leveler. It resisted.
The sudden tumble of the ship knocked her breath out, but the snug compartment held her in place.
Good fortune smiled again, painfully. The extra inertia helped move the level. Multiple successive loud pops sounded throughout the ship followed by gurgling gushes. It worked.
“Start the ship Peepers.”
A thunderous crack reverberated through the entire ship as she crawled out of the main hatch. Gravity fell away before sensors kicked on yanking her down hard. The ship dropped and then buoyed slowing the downward descent.
Peepers trilled frantically, in the cockpit, as he worked to control the ship. Max slipped into the pilot’s seat. They continued to sink below the ice surface into the planet’s oceans.
Once upon a time, Titan Moon was volcanic. There was a whole system of underground caverns and tunnels that now lay empty and cold. Max active the HoloMap.
She pointed to the dropping pin-light. “We’re here.”
She drew a line with her finger to a spot approximately 50 kilos from that light. “That’s the planets underground cavern system. And that… That is the extinct volcano. We’re heading there.”
Peeper’s chirp an agreement which gained three octaves as Max made a sudden hard-right shaving the protruding ice wall extending from the surface to avoid collision.
They dove deeper.
Max groaned. An underwater colony sat at the volcano’s entry point hosting the pirate signa.
The scout ship spotted them.
“Why do problems come in threes?” Peepers sing song lecture might have been amusing in different circumstances. He failed to understand redundant questions were not meant to be answered.
Max ignored him. “You have the phase cannon. Don’t fire unless they fire at us. The only way out is through the volcano.”
Once inside the belly of the volcano she made a hard-vertical climb with the scout ship on her six.
She thought she would shake’em veering through a narrow slot on one of the walls. She didn’t. Diverting into a side cave she activated the holomap calculating an alternate route out of the maze.
Course corrected… Or not.
Heart pounding, Max’s grip tightened on the control stick as her breath hitched, “Blast us an exit point Peepers. Now!”
They shot back into the volcano belly heading up.
The Gypsy burst into the open air of the Titan Moon. They carried toys, clothes, food and medicine. She was making this delivery.
The Hollow Mountains where the settlers made their refuge loomed before them. As the Titan Guardian Ship rose up from the ground the small scout ship cut out.
Max landed on the ship launch pad floating separate from the mountain as directed. A tractor beam pulled them inside.
The Christmas Eve festivities were well underway despite lack of supplies. The huge main hall tree was covered in ice preserved by a force field, and decorated with food ornaments, candles, and stick figures.
Giant deer roasted over open fires housed in a lava rock created venting systems that carried the smoke outside. A water distillery had been rigged to utilize the ice from outside to deliver a filtered and continuous water supply inside the mountain.
Every level was filled with beautiful surprising wonders, homes, and unusual wares. Families gathered in song and story.
The main event was the Christmas tale of the Ghost Pirate. Max was riveted by the tale, different yet like the Christmas stories of her childhood. The Pirate had replaced the Jolly Man.
Later Peepers played the clown acting out parts of the story with the children to make them squeal and then burst into giggles.
At midnight everyone moved outside to watch the ribbons of natural energy to the planet dance across the sky lighting up the nightly meter shower. A wonder unique to the moon.
The snow started to fall.
It provided the perfect framed adding to the illusion of a giant yawning skull descending from the sky complete with pirate hat. The black ship landed eerily quiet for a space vessel its ghostly motif covering the entire hull like a silent entity from beyond. Max finally understood.
The Ghost Pirate did not come as a thief in the night to this planet instead he was welcomed delivering a bountiful loot to a people in need.
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