Looking for stray wrecks was a lonely business. Jack swatted the Twiggly wrappers that had floated in front of his face. Probably time to clean up some of this mess, he thought. It wouldn't be such a problem if he had the artificial gravity switched on, but then it would be much harder to get around. Being a paraplegic is a bitch if you’re on a planet, but not so much of a problem if you stay in space. As usual, Jack treated his handicap as a problem to be solved, and his uniquely designed suit had custom micro thrusters and an IFCS. It was more form-fitting ship than spacesuit, and had proven to be a life saver on multiple occasions.
Sadly, the lack of gravity made it hard to keep pets. That was Jack’s one regret, and during the long, lonely stretches piloting his Reclaimer his thoughts sometimes drifted to this subject. In fact, he was currently thinking about possible engineering solutions to the problem of potty training a Banu Castaer in zero-G. That reflection did not last, however, as his attention was suddenly grabbed by an alert on the Nav Computer.
The message flashed repeatedly until Jack dismissed it with a quick touch of the cancel button. The contact was at extreme range, and could be anything. According to the readout it had no IR signature, but an extremely faint EM emission was detected - hence the attention given to it by the Nav Computer. More importantly, it was not moving.
Was it a trap? Normally this is exactly the kind of signal that Jack would ignore, but a combination of his current debt level and the possibility that this might be a jump point was all the convincing he needed to alter course. If it was a jump point, he wouldn’t be able to chart it. Not in his Reclaimer. He could however mark its location and return with something more suitable. If it was a jump point, it wasn’t surprising that it had remained undiscovered, since this system was uninhabited.
Jack brought the Reclaimer to a stop two kilometers from the contact. The signal was slightly stronger now, but nothing was visible on radar. No ships, no asteroids… Nothing. Jack allowed himself to become cautiously optimistic, and launched a drone.
The image sent back from the drone was disappointing. The only objects that it could see that weren’t his Reclaimer were the usual tiny points of light given off by enormous balls of incandescent plasma at even more enormous distances. Jack wound up the image resolution to maximum, and that’s when he noticed it. In a particular direction, some of those points of light seemed to shift position, almost imperceptibly. It was like watching something through a shimmering column of hot air. Jackpot! He had found a jump point!
After recording its location on his mobiglas, Jack sent the probe closer to try to determine the size of the jump point. He ran the numbers three times. Shit! Barely large enough for an M50. Sure, a good jump drive could tickle it open a bit more, but it was never going to fit a decent sized hauler. That’s assuming it didn't spit the pilot out at high speed in the middle of an asteroid field. Still, depending on where it went, it might be useful for couriers and smugglers, and still worth some money. If charting proved successful, he would get a lot more for it at a private auction than he would from the UEE. Pity about giving up the naming rights, but you can’t have everything.
That’s when his 100,000 UEC probe suddenly decided to stop working.
Jack stepped through the airlock and into the void. Two minutes later he had reached the probe, still cursing the fact that he couldn’t afford preventative maintenance. Fortunately the problem was obvious. The lack of any active display on the probe indicated that the problem was with the power supply, and after spending some minutes replacing the power cell the unit sprang back to life. Jack clipped his mobiglas onto the probe and ran the standard diagnostic and initialisation routines. Finally it was fully restored, and he was about to unclip his Mobiglas when his blood froze. A three word death sentence had appeared in his comm stream: “So long, sucker!”. Jack spun around. His Reclaimer was gone.
People react in different ways to stressful situations. Some panic, some become aggressive. Jack started thinking. He had enough pure oxygen for 8.3 hours. His suit was not fitted with an oxygen recycler, since that space had been commandeered for his IFCS. Nobody was going to rescue him. He was nowhere near any active space lanes, and the system he was in was uninhabited. If he didn’t think of something, he was going to suffocate. Slowly.
A crazy idea started to form in Jack’s mind. Every mobiglas is equipped with a copy of the Galactic Encyclopedia. Although only the condensed version (stripping out the full spectrum 3D holograms had reduced the size to only 730TB), it still contained all the same information as the reference version, albeit in a less friendly format. Jack searched for information on jump drives, and found a comprehensive article on the charting of the first jump point, including a copy of the actual software used. If he could modify the device interface, he could run the software on his mobiglas, and make it work with his suit’s IFCS and the sensors on his probe. He set to work.
Only 3.7 hours left. Jack’s hastily cobbled together software, paired with his mobiglas, IFCS and probe, were about to attempt the impossible. He was using the mobiglas, still attached to the probe, to display sensor information and record thruster activations. He had rigged the software to read the inertia sensors in the mobiglas, so he could control his suit thrusters by manipulating the probe. Pity no one’s here to record my heroic death, though Jack. He gripped the handles on either side of the probe, started the software and headed into the jump point.
Jack had no idea what to expect, having never charted a jump point before. Even if he had, he felt pretty sure that being safely wrapped in a sturdy spaceship would make it a much tamer experience. As it was he didn’t have to wait long to find out. After an initial period of acceleration, the turbulence began. Focussing on the mobiglas display, Jack manipulated the probe to keep the circles displayed on his mobiglas as concentric as possible. It was a simplification of the original software design, but the best he could do with what he had.
After what seemed like an eternity, but was in fact only three minutes and twenty seven seconds, Jack was forcefully ejected with numerous bruises and a dislocated shoulder. Checking his mobiglas, he saw that in that time he had jumped all the way from Hades to Terra.
With 3.6 hours remaining, Jack turned on the distress beacon in his probe. He decided that he wanted to name the jump point after all.