"Does it still work?" I asked looking at the strange plane. I had never seen one of its kind before. I guessed that it must be some kind of ancient cargo-hauler from a time before voretx rectors took hold of the universe allowing to twist material pretty much instantly from one place to the other within a solar system.
"Yes." said Kanno "She still flies." still looking at the craft his eyes gazing intently at a point in the distant past.
"She?" I asked Kanno was old fashioned even for an ancient. I hadn't ever heard anyone talk of their transports in the second person outside of stories set in the Golden Age of Expansion. Surely Kanno couldn't be that old. I looked at him more closely. However apart from the museum and his inexhaustible cache of practical knowledge there wasn't anything showing that he was older than his mid twenties.
"Yes. Every once in a while you will come across a ship that is special." his eyes clouded over even more, he shivered a little as he spoke. Being so close to his memento being actively asked questions about it pushed him back into his past, igniting his memories. "This ship was my first." His smile broadened radiating centuries of deep comfort. "I rescued her." his eyes twitched around following the action of his adventure long past.
"From what?" I asked. People in this state usually were so distracted by their vision that one had to either follow them into their vision, an option that was clearly out of the question, this was something you only ever shared with your closest friends or you had to gently coax the details out of the people.
"Have you ever heard of the Republic of Xhanuoe?" he asked looking me in the eyes for a brief moment.
I shook my head. "No."
"It was far away. Dissolved a long time ago." his smile turned melancholic. "That was a wild place. Back then the Republic was pushing a lot of radical ideas, trying to really form a new society adjusted for the infinity of space. Built on the principle of a constant forward momentum. That was a great time to work as a freelancer. I'd been a prospector back then already. Around that time I was travelling with Livi and Kesley two mercenaries I had hired for protection for a mission who in the end decided to hand around seeing that my job always brought me into trouble and them into the thick of it. And of course Polyhex our 'scientist'." Kanno snorted.
"Polyhex? A nebulan?" I asked.
"Yes." Kanno said chuckling shaking his head. His gaze now firmly focused on the past. "Can you imagine that? The Nebulan War was hardly a century over. There was still a lot of extremely bad blood on both sides and Polyhex was always such an easily incensed fellow."
"Literally or figuratively?" I asked remembered then one time Pentyl had burned a hole in the door to my flat on Dead End when I had stumbled back to intoxicated for the door to recognize me.
"Both! And he was a great nebulan scientist!" he said his eye locking with mine again for a moment, building a bond on our shared experience with the nebulans peculiarities.
"So," I said "he was pretty sit at organoid science."
"Yes! He was usually busy studying us while being utterly worthless at any kind of task even a first year student could have handled. Be he had other abilities. So instead of going for the usual research assignments we tended to go for the Quasar Burst pile." Kanno stood up making a sweeping gesture stressing the peculiarity of their situation back then. The 'Quasar Burst' pile was still in use among prospectors today describing missions that were usually some shade of crazy, supposedly named after the Quasar Burst network that once upon a time had distributed news to the universe that were working hard to to out do the works of fiction of that time.
"Those were really exiting times back then. I still remember that one time when..."
"... you got your ship?" I said trying to gently steer his train of thought back to the original topic.
"Right. We were on a mission on a planet with no official name. It was designated Junkyard 17 as it was one of those planets which had reached some form of high tech civilisation but never made the leap to the stars. One of those that dies a sudden death after its civilisation crashes. This one had the added bonus that people had discovered the planet and used it as a convenient dumping ground to get rid of their own trash turning it into a sphere of corrugated metal and broken synthetics."
"What were you doing there? A disposal run?" the most desperate of missions. Dumping someone else's junk for a bit of money.
"No. Even worse. We were there on a stage zero claiming expedition."
"You were prospecting a junk-yard planet for resource recovery?"
"And colonisation." Kanno added.
"That's utterly crazy." I said.
Kanno's grin just broadened. "Isn't it? That's why we took it. Cost us barely anything. We could keep what ever we found there and could take with us and if the mission yielded anything leading to planetary recovery or even a colony we'd get 0.005% royalties."
"Royalties?" I asked my eyes growing wide as my mind considered the implications. Especially with so large a cut.
"Yes. We were also told to go look for survivors of the cataclysm that had befallen that planet who might help us uncover the secrets to its now lost technology."
"That is the most ridiculous thing I have heard in my entire life.", a long life filled with ludicrous things, "Would it not have been easier to invest into a straight jacket for the one giving you the mission?"
"Probably. But those were other times back then. It was really a magical era. It's the crazy missions that have the greatest payout when they work."
"And did it work?"
"Of course not. But we also had another reason to go there. Our ship the Skipper was always just one dive from breaking apart. That's also where the name comes from. The diving engine was unstable kicking us out into real-space ever so often. So we flew like a well thrown skipping stone to the junk-yard world mostly hoping to find some spare parts to our ship. We did pretty well out of that run. While the world was just a giant pile of rubbish there were some choice parts to be found down there thanks mostly to the exotic senses of Polyhex.
After getting into a spot of trouble with another party of scavengers who were objecting to our right of exploitation and a tactical retreat we found ourselves inside
a crashed cargo ship we found lodged deep within an ancient pile of rubble. It must have crashed there from orbit. And there we found her." said Kanno pointing at the Void Dancer. "Looking a bit worse for the wear but mostly intact."
"So the freighter crash-landed on the planet and still had a working aeroplane within it? Why did the people aboard not use it to gather supplies?"
"Aeroplane?" Kanno looked confused snapping back to the present for a short moment.
"Yes?" I said.
"The Void Dancer is a space ship you idiot."
I was to surprised to be offended. "That thing," I said pointing at the Void Dancer, "is a space ship?"
"For fucks sake... kids these days." Kanno said exasperated and with a bit to little irony for my liking. "Yes that over there is a space ship. It will also fly in most gaseous atmospheres and hydrospheres. It's even stellar hardened letting it withstand the corona of all but the most ferocious stars for up to 36 hours."
I didn't know what to say to that. On one had that claim was clearly preposterous on the other hand Alejandro Kanno was a legend among prospectors, he hardly would lie about his ship... "But does that not make it even stranger that it was inside the ship, unused?" I decided to follow the most sane train of thought open to me.
"No because most of the people died during the crash and the few survivors were trapped within the ship unable to escape before the air ran out." Kanno said. "Besides the Void Dancer is a sun-jumper."
"It is a sun-jumper. An ancient ship class."
"How do you jump suns?" I asked slightly confused.
"Sun jumping. How do you do that?"
"I was getting there." Kanno said. "Back in the most ancient past we solved the secrets of travelling faster than light before we knew how to produce enough energy to actually power these engines. The sun-jumpers were the first ships to cheat their way past that problem. They would fly to the star of a system and syphon the power of the sun directly into the drive, allowing them to jump from sun to sun."
"Oh. That's kind of clever." I said and after short consideration. "And also fucking dangerous. I would not want to hang around so close to a star for a prolonged time."
"No. It is very dangerous. But back then people would take the risk just to reach further into the infinity of space. Well. So there we were standing in front of this ancient ship with an empty tank. the people inside the freighter did not make it out in time but one of the technicians managed to leave behind a psychic imprint of himself containing enough information for us to be able to notify his next of kin and the knowledge of how the Void Dancer works on a basic level. The imprint told us that even if he was to die the Void Dancer was a good ship that had been fulfilling its duties for a long time. He wished that maybe one day at least the ship they were transporting back to be upgraded would continue its voyage through the stars."
"How did you get it off the junk-yard?" I asked.
"With great difficulties. Antique or not we were not going to leave a faster than light ship behind that was legally ours to take. This lead to another much more violent confrontation with the other scavengers. They destroyed half of Polyhex, almost killed Kesley who had to auto-crystallise to save his arse, I lost my left arm almost bleeding to death while setting the Skipper on a collision with the scavenger ship. Only Livi came out of it mostly unharmed but she felt like she now had a loaded fate making her paranoid from that day on.
And that was when we discovered that the Void Dancer had a true faster than light drive."
"Really?" I said looking again at the metal beast dominating the centre of the hangar with new found respect. And fear.
"How did that first journey go?" I asked.
"Bad. We hardly knew what hit us. But going beyond the speed of light lets you travel very far, very fast. So at least it did not take us long to return back to our base of operations. Of course we nearly crashed into the planet."
"Turns out that real faster than light drives don't drop out of hyperspace or anything but decelerate back into reality."
"Ouch. How did you survive?" I asked.
"By being lucky enough to crash into the ocean and not onto the continent. That's also how we found out that the Void Dancer can also operate underwater."
"So did you manage to get Kesley back?" I asked becoming aware that during the story the ship in front of me had slowly turned from an ancient air cargo lifter into a ship of legend. Somehow I had the feeling that it was now filling out much more of the space of the hanger than before.
"I... I can't remember." Kanno said. He turned around facing the Void Dancer again, his face clouded by confusion. "I guess we did. I have many memories of him. Some of them aboard the Void Dancer so we must have saved him... somehow."
"Do you remember what became of the others? Livi and Polyhex?" I asked.
Kano stood there staring at the ship concentrating hard, trying to remember. Finally he shook his head. "I don't know. I can't even remember why we stopped working together. Just that one day I was working alone again." His smile had faded away leaving behind confusion and loss.
"Did you come to see me for any particular reason or did you just want to hear an old man reminisce about the past?" he said trying to force himself back into the present.
"I wanted to ask you about a claim." I said feeling that my request suddenly seemed rather insignificant. "There is a group of islands that a few friends and I'd like to stake a claim on. We think we can turn that spot into a special place."
"I thought you were looking for a ship, James." Kanno said.
I forced a feeble smile through a decent workout. "I did look."
"What changed your mind?"
"The price tag. Right now it's a sellers market for ships. Not a good time to invest in one."
"Very sensible of you." Kanno said making it sound like an insult.
"I have no choice. Also those islands look good. I was here to talk about the price. If you cut us a good deal we will be able to build something special at that place."
"And what about your ship?"
I shrugged. "It will have to wait. Once the development of the islands yields results we will be making money, then it's just a matter of time. I'll recoup my investment and ship prices will eventually drop. Everybody wins." I was trying to sell that idea as much to him as to myself.
Kano looked at me for a while saying nothing. I did not dare interrupt his thoughts afraid that any kind of intervention would make the situation worse. He then turned back to the ship looking at it. His eyes glazing over again as the memories washed over him again. A bitter sweet smile dawned on his lips. He stood there for a long while just starting at the Void Dancer while I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable.
"I want half of your resources." he said.
"That is a very generous offer!" I said a bit to amazed at the low prize for the claim to ask why he just wanted half of my resources. "We can afford to pay you more and you can have a cut of our profits. We don't want preferential treatment."
"I was not talking about the claim." Kanno said. "I'm talking about here." he pointed to the ship. "You give me half of your resources and I give you my ship."
"What... I... I couldn't... no..." I stammered.
He turned back around fixing me with his eyes that were perfectly focused on the present again. However his sad smile remained.
"Look around you James. Look." he slowly waved his arms around gesturing all around him. "Don't you see it. Here is an ancient ship, built to travel to the furthest corners of the universe. A bit dilapidated perhaps. Certainly not state of the art but perfectly space worthy. A formidable ship with a great history stuck inside a cargo freighter surrounded only by ghosts." the sadness spread from his lips to his face.
"Take the ship James. I am settling down here for good. Leaving her here is wrong, this ship needs to fly and so do you."
"But all your memories..." I protested.
"I will try to cling to them. If they can't survive with one less memento they can't have been so important to begin with."
"It's OK. It's time to let go."