1 - Phaben Point
"Come in! Come in!" Second starwatch officer, Banuggi, waited tensely by his console, sweating. He'd just disturbed star-sergeant Dreksin. Dreksin was a stickler for formality and procedure, and Banuggi lived in fear of his tongue. There were certain times of the day when the star-sergeant was busy with administrative duties; times when he should only be disturbed in case of dire need. But procedure was procedure. There was still no reply from the starship approaching Phaben Point.
Of course, Phaben Point was also manned by commercial interests but, apart from a couple of newly colonised, outlying systems; Oighunii system was the end of the trade road. Even the 'oid belts were slim pickings so wild-cat prospectors turned their noses up at Oighunii system. That would change once Oighunii II was ready to go, but that was a long time off; the planetary seeding teams on Oighunii II had years of work to get to that point. In practise, EarthGov-u military monitored all incoming traffic and stop-overs; after all, it was mostly theirs.
Oighunii was a sparse system, four times the size of Sol's. The sole starpoint in it was Phaben Point which orbited the outer-most gas-giant, Oighunii V. Slocum Physics meant that Phaben Point, and thus visiting starships, were kept well away from Oighunii II, which was still being terraformed. The Slocum effect was generated by starships as they re-entered normal space. it couldn't penetrate to ground level but its backwash tended to degrade the upper layers of atmosphere of nearby planets. You couldn't shield planets so you shielded your starpoints and kept them well away. As the only starpoint, Phaben Point doubled up as stellar docks and trade point for this system.
"They're not answering sir." The scrawny faced young cadet, not long out of inner system training school, began his recognition protocol again.
At the other end of the com, a bored star-sergeant flicked through an edition of 'Terraforming - Nature's Way'. He moved his fingers through the 3D enhanced display to trigger the voiceover again. The image was projected by a thick fibre, lying on his desk. This time, in a clumsy movement, his cuff brushed the fibre. The image flickered and cut-out.
"Damn!" He'd give that recruit extra shifts! How could he check out new colonies when his recruits were so dopey, they couldn't even hail an incoming! The rate this was going on how would he ever finish the article, let alone the mag. Never mind it was 6 months out of date.
Even with Slocum Physics, space travel took too long. Earth, over 160 light-years distant was the best part of half a year space travel. Of course the route took in trade ports and such; places that couldn't be skipped in the fragile network that held twenty-fourth century mankind together. The year was 2372 Mankind, to be exact.
Of course, it'd be many years before the star-sergeant had earned enough points on his commission to apply for duty on one of those fancy colony-type worlds. If ever.
He ran his forefinger along the spine, urging the 3D image to spring to life. Uppermost in his mind were the three bikinied beauties who postured as the voice-over told its tale.
"Savour the sheer delight as dusk turns to night on the palm-ridden beaches of Folens 4."
Where was it at? Folens 4. Now there was an idyllic paradise. A planet, painstakingly doused by ice-meteors over four decades back and brought to fresh, clean life. Absolutely no local forms. Doubtless, those three beauties were just brochure material, but he could dream.
Star-sergeant Dreksin was interrupted by his cadet again. "Sir, sir. Unexpected power surge from incoming..."
The com message cut-off, part way through. Star-sergeant was too busy being fried by an energy wave of unknown signature to note any breach of protocol.
In space no one can here you scream, but sometimes the tortured atoms sing.