Coals to Newcastle

It’s an unusual space cadet who does not dream of one day becoming both captain and owner of his own ship. When they reach the stage of sewing on their second officer’s bars most of them are more realistic Rod Lamner was one of the exceptions.
Omega, Rod’s home planet, gave up its independent space navy in favour of combining with the Federation’s highly efficient Combined Space Patrol. Rod had a choice of a lower rank and slower promotion in the C.S.P. or acceptance of the generous amount of severance pay nicknamed the ground hog’s tuition fee.
Though Rod had no intention of becoming a ground hog. he accepted the severance pay. sold his inherited family home, mortgaged himself to the hilt and realised the space cadet dream. Certainly the Buccaneer was no luxury liner she was in fact a very battered Class III freighter. Just the same Rod was both owner and captain. That being the case it was a very dejected Rod who called the six members of the crew to the ward room to inform them that the dream was ending.
Rod looked at the men who were his friends and crew and ran his fingers through his already ruffled shock of brown hair. His speech carefully prepared for the occasion, somehow seemed inadequate; he abandoned it and issued a flat statement, “I have called you together to ask if you wish to make this trip, which in all probability will be the Buccaneer’s last.”
Sam London, ships doctor, exobiologist with numerous other qualifications which, as with all crew members, enabled him to serve in various functions. Noted the signs of strain and sleepless nights in their captain. “What’s the problem Rod?”
“In a word, Money.”
“I understood our last trip paid of your debts.”
Rod hunched his large frame deeper into his chair. “It did. That’s the irony of it. I was badly advised I could have extended and added to my existing loan having made my regular payments and being in good standing. A new loan was something else, particularly in today’s financial climate. No one is going to make a loan on the expectations of a Class III freighter.”
“Where’s your problem Cap? You’ve got a hold full of paid up cargo and a fat buyer waiting for it on Sunset.” Teddy James called Lucky by the crew gave his cheery smile. A smile which was part of the charm that had won the Buccaneer many a good deal. Lucky a metallurgist and chemist was also the Buccaneer’s trader.
Rod found himself giving an answering smile despite his feelings. “The problem is that we have only just scraped through a not very rigorous port inspection. Inspections on Sunset are much more thorough and port facilities, repair yards and costs generally are high on Sunset. To be honest I had not factored that in that’s why I tried and failed to get a new loan.” Rod raised his hand to forestall a comment from his number two Jack Perry. “Yes I know Lucky can get a good price for our cargo but you know very well that there are essential repairs we will not be able to put off. When we have dealt with them, refuelled and taken basic pay there will be nothing left. If we don’t refuel and if we take the scrap value of the Buccaneer we can at least give you a bonus and cover the cost of your return home if you can’t get another birth.”
.Jack looked around at the rest of the crew receiving nods from them all. “Look I know that we have always left the finances to you and your planet side accountants but I wouldn’t be much of a number two if I was totally unaware that there were problems. In fact you mentioned that the late payment from the buyer on Corona caused problems. That navigational misfit you signed up,” That with a grin at Simon Lock to whom he referred “ Reckons we can swing round to Mechon after we leave Sunset on our present fuel load.”
“We have agreed to risk our pay on finding a haulage job on Mechon.” Lucky chimed in. “Sunset being a tourist planet every thing goes in rather than out so no chance of a cargo but on Mechon there’s a good chance. Buying and selling for ourselves instead of just hauling cargo for others has given us good times but we are willing to be hauliers again
Rod shook his head. “I can’t let you do that, chance cargos or hauling jobs either way too big a risk. Any way unless we do the refit we won’t be able to lift off from Sunset.”
“I’ve sorted that. My buyer has an orbiting warehouse, if we off load there he will deduct his costs for ferrying the goods land side but that’s a fraction of port fees.”
Despite Lucky’s infectious grin growing broader than ever Rod was still worried. “Still risky if we don’t find a job. While refit may be cheaper on Mechon so would the scrap value of the Buccaneer be. Jock has his family to consider and Spud ‘s fiancée may not be too happy at him taking risks.”
Andrew McCloud (usually called Jock) ships engineer was as ever economical with his words. ”Wife and I good investments, money put by.”
Ted Murphy inevitably called Spud served as Load Master and cook with a passion for cooking much appreciated by his shipmates. They swore he could turn an old boot in to a tasty meal. “My lass understands the ups and downs of space life. Any way where else would I find a crew that liked Irish stew?
Irish stew being the one dish that Spud failed to make to any one’s liking, his remark caused laughter all round. With very little more discussion Rod accepted his crew’s wishes. “Right then as it seems we are all agreed let’s get lift-off underway.”


During lift-off the Buccaneer behaved like the perfect lady she could sometimes be. The month that followed whilst they cleared the system was of untroubled routine. As they reached the point where they would transfer to hyperdrive, Rod noticed a feeling of tension. He couldn’t put a finger on the cause of that tension except that it emanated most strongly from Lucky and Simon. With Lucky he knew the cause. The youngest member of the crew showed a slightly thick skinned happy go lucky nature to the world. Rod was aware that underneath Lucky had the over active imagination that often led to transition sickness.
Simon Lock was a different matter. In one of his rare moments of ill humour Spud had accused Simon of being old womanish. Certainly Rod knew the navigator to be meticulous in all his actions but he seemed to be running more than his normal number of checks. He watched Simon running yet another exercise programme through Nanny (an affectionate nickname given to all navigator’s computers derived from the earliest model’s initials) and decided that she must be the source of his unease.
“Problems Simon?”
“All green Captain.” With that Rod had to be content. He knew from experience that Simon was not the man to report feelings, only facts.
Transition in to hyperspace went normally and the tension appeared to ease. The only problem ever encountered in hyperspace was boredom. True there were rumours of ships failing to emerge from hyperspace, as none of the Buccaneer’s crew had first hand knowledge of such they were unconcerned by the rumours.
Lucky had every faith in Spud’s management of loading their cargos but never the less liked to inspect it prior to emerging from hyperspace into their destination system. He was just suiting up for his usual routine visit to the hold when the warning buzzer sounded. Return to normal space was signalled by a buzzer sounding twice with ten minutes between each buzz. Lucky knew just how he intended spending what remained of the ten minutes after he had strapped into his bunk. “Simon you wall eyed baboon, you’re two days off! I could have been caught in the hold you - -“
“All crew clear the intercom. Emergency state. Report direct.” Rod cut Lucky short, forcing him to seethe in silence while the emergency checks failed to show visible cause for the two day error.
Traditionally the moment when a ship emerged from hyperspace was greeted in silence. The navigator only reporting safe arrival after all crew members had seen the outside scanner view of the system for which they were heading. As the second buzzer sounded, the silence was one of tension, not anticipation; the reaction of the crew as they viewed the scanner was mostly one of puzzlement. It was Spud who broke with tradition and broke the silence. “If that’s the Elgar System out there, it’s surely changed a lot since I was last there.”
Rod’s quietly spoken, “Well, Simon?” stopped further comment. After a pause while he further consulted Nanny Simon reported, “It’s the Conrad system.”
Jack backing Simon’s work by searching their library on planetary systems said “Fourth planet is called Nordina, it has a space port and maintenance yards.”
“Captain I’ve isolated the trouble.”
“Do we need to land for you to clear it Simon?”
“I’m afraid so. I will need access to a larger specialised computer to clear a corrupted section of Nanny’s memory bank before entering new data.”
Two days out from Nordina the crew gathered on the bridge and gloomily surveyed the planet. Even Lucky failed to find hope in their situation. “Tell us again Jack.”
“All right, if you insist.” Jack shrugged his shoulders. “There has been little contact with the inhabitants, believed to be descendants of the earliest emigrants and explorers from old Earth. There is virtually nothing known about their social set up. Visitors are restricted to the space sport and accompanying living facilities The important factor from Doc’s point of view is that there are no recommended special health precautions.”
“Yes, yes, I meant the trading part.”
“There is a small trading post which deals in artefacts and preserved food items from a number of systems. It is run by a Sunarian They apparently discovered this planet. He will accept Galactic credits. The Nordinians will not. They will barter cargo for cargo and space sport facilities are charged against incoming cargo.”
“Look at it man,” Lucky moaned, “A planet of ice and us with a cargo of refrigeration plants.”
Spud tried to lighten the gloom a little. “Maybe I can sell them my recipe for Irish stew.”
Jack made a half-hearted attempt to respond to Spud’s effort. Yes, why not, then Sam can sell them the antidote. That should at least get us the use of a computer.”
No one mentioned the thought uppermost in all their minds. The side trip to Mechon would definitely be out.
While they were making their final entry orbit Sam further searched the onboard libraries and information consoles. It seems that the Nordians were a peaceful people , some what cold and distant like their planet. They were prepared to trade and would help ships in distress. How ever they preferred to be left alone a wish honoured as apart from the Sunarians their system was virtually unknown. Apparently the space port had been started as a base for exploration and colonisation by the Sunarians before they discovered the inhabitants.
Rod sought permission to land and received the go ahead via the unmistakeable tones of a Galactic translator machine. A machine that could make the warmest personality sound cold and uninviting.
As instructed they secured ship, disembarked and waited for the transport that was to take them to the terminal buildings. In spite of their protective clothing the men shivered, as they peered through the icy swirling snow into a seemingly featureless landscape. Almost immediately a vehicle came to a halt beside them and a stocky fur clad figure emerged.
The man gave a cursory bow and to their relief addressed them in clear concise Galactic. “Permit me to introduce myself. I am Relth. I am instructed to take you to your quarters and to those who will do business with you.”
The bus like vehicle was warm and comfortable and travelled swiftly on its caterpillar treads transporting them to an equally cosy building. The rooms they were shown to while not opulent were infinitely more luxurious than the cramped quarters of the Buccaneer. The lounge dining room was equipped with a console that would allow them to order up local foods or to purchase foods more suited to their home world tastes from the Sunarian store.
“Does any one fancy trying the local cuisine which seems to be based on a marine animal and seaweed?” Spud was not surprised to see the head shakes and hear the negative grunts from his fellows. “Right! Actually I should be able to rustle up something decent from the store if we have enough credits available, Cap.” That with a questioning look at Rod who had just entered the room having previously left with Relth to talk with his superiors. “The food preparation area may be small but it is quite sophisticated.”
“Sure Spud, go ahead. The Nordians politely inform me that they do not deal with ship’s captains only the company traders. It seems an owner-captain is a new species to them. So it looks like it’s down to you Lucky. Be careful, there is no telling how they will react when they find we have no suitable cargo for them.”
Lucky shrugged, “I guess they will treat us as a ship in distress which we surely are.”


After a far from cheerful meal the escorts arrived to show them the port facilities and for Lucky to assist them in inspecting the cargo. Sam had asked if he could look over the medical facilities. His escort, like all the Nordians at the port, spoke excellent Galactic. Sam and escort were so engrossed in conversation that Sam barely noticed when their routs diverged. Spud elected to stay in the lounge to use the Store console, planning future meals and purchases. Jack also stayed behind to attempt further research of their enigmatic hosts
When all but Lucky had returned to the lounge they were so busy exchanging enthusiastic comments that they did not notice his absence for a while.
“This place is ever more of a mystery,” Jock the man of few words was practically burbling. I have never seen such well equipped maintenance and repair shops before. They allowed me to try out equipment far in advance of that on Omega which is one of the best equipped ports in the galaxy.”
“They have all the soft and hardware that we need,” Simon was equally enthusiastic.
“Their medical facilities are first class. Though they have limited knowledge of the special needs of travellers from some systems. It seems visitors other than the Sunarians are very rare but….” Sam broke of in mid sentence “Problems Rod?”
“I was wondering about Lucky, surely he should be back by now?” There was a sudden silence. Not only concern for their missing member but also for their remembering that in their enthusiasm for the port they had forgotten that they had no way of paying for its facilities. Before any one could comment a rather dejected looking Lucky entered the lounge.
Mercurial Lucky’s demeanour changed within seconds as he punched the air in obvious jubilation. “I’ve done it. I have sold refrigerators to Eskimos.”
“What on earth does that mean?” Sam was not the only one puzzled by Lucky’s expression.
“That’s a centuries old expression about the ultimate sale. Cap what would you say to a complete overhaul for the Buccaneer, plus all fuel and stores for the next destination of your choice?”
“I would say the local brew must be very potent or that you have been at Doc’s medicinal brandy.”
“Seriously though it’s all ours for just two of the refrigeration plants. The Nordians seemed puzzled and not very interested when I showed them our cargo. As soon as I showed them the manuals they were obviously excited and poured over the technical drawings as if they were the most fascinating things they had ever seen. Providing Jock will go over some of the engineering details with them the deal is agreed.”
“Hardly my field but no real problem.”
“I don’t know how you did it but well done.”
Lucky held up his hand to silence the relieved and congratulatory comments. “Wait there is more. A cargo is included in the deal.”
“What sort of cargo?” Jack was surprised his searches hadn’t thrown up much information but he couldn’t imagine that there was a suitable cargo for them on Nordia. “The Nordian sculptures and art works are much prized by the Sunarians but their trade is well established we don’t stand a chance there.”
“No, it’s this.” Lucky held up a frond of seaweed. “Or rather the product of this. It seems that apart from eating the stuff the Nordians treat it in a number of ways and use it for many purposes. They showed me around their chemical plant One treatment produces a type of resin which somehow seemed familiar to me. Something to do with the smell during the processing. That’s why I have been away for so long I took some up to my lab to test it.”
“I can’t imagine that there’s a market for a seaweed resin.” Spud’s look of disappointment was mirrored all round.
“Oh but there is. What do the tourists on Sunset always wish to take home with them? I’ll tell you, holographs of their holiday. What is used in the manufacture of the best holograph blocks? A chemical that is only obtained from the planet Betram and thus expensive. This resin contains a very high percentage of that chemical and will be easily isolated from the other components. In exchange for the two refrigeration plants as well as repairs etcetera we can have virtually all the cans of resin we have room for.”
Six of the seven man board of directors of the newly formed Buccaneer Galactic Traders Ltd were seated round the table waiting for the seventh member. Rod feeling somewhat uncomfortable in the role of Chairman of the Board Opened the meeting “First order of business would seem to be apologies. Mr Theodore James requests that the meeting start without him. Oh to hell with all the formality Lucky says he’ll be late as he’s caught up dealing with a tricky but worth while buyer.”
“Pity the buyer,” Spud grinned, “I’m still trying to figure out how he got his buyer on Sunset to accept a part cargo delivered months late.”
“Actually I’m glad he has not arrived yet,” Jack looked around the table, “I need your opinion as to whether I should tell him my latest findings on Nordinia.”
“Let the lad enjoy his triumph a while longer. He’ll see for himself soon enough. Personally I believe the three way trade he has set up with Sunaria to be a triumph. If Lucky wishes to believe that selling refrigerators to Eskimos is his best deal ever I won’t spoil it for him with facts.” Sam received nods of agreement.
“Actually I know.” Unnoticed Lucky had entered the room. Firstly, the Nordinians notion of trading is unique in the Galaxy. Take only what you need exchange for what the other needs. Secondly they are gifted engineers but again in a unique way. They do not originate but once shown a device of any type they can replicate it and improve it. They only needed two refrigerator plants one for each of their population centres By now they will have better versions. Thirdly Nordinia has a somewhat peculiar and lengthy orbit round its sun. For most of that orbit it is a planet of ice, for a shorter period much of the planet becomes a steamy swamp.”
“Oh, when and how did you find out?”
“Most likely before you did Jack. While setting up trade with the Sunarians who are almost as insular as the Nordanians. Considering they were once intent on exploring and colonising their present attitude is odd. Any way they do trade with a number of systems and I suggested they update the Galactic information base on both themselves and Nordinia.”
“Why you, you! I’m speechless . All that crowing about selling refrigerators to Eskimos “ Spud positively spluttered.
“Well actually I have just gone one better. Buccaneer II is now commissioned to take a cargo of timber to Ramsey.”
“What is so special about that?”
“Ramsey’s main export is timber! That dear Simon is what a centuries old trader saying calls, ‘Carrying Coals to Newcastle.”


For several years I have enjoyed meeting with fellow poets and poetry lovers every other Monday at the Bear in Wantage. There we discuss both our own work and that of other poets both well known and obscure. Many of the poems in the category Wantage Poetry Club were first presented at the Club. That category dedicated to friends in the Club contains the poems which I have not as yet published in a collection.


Copyright © 2013 by Pamela Boal. The moral right of the author has been asserted. All right reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval systems, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.

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