Friday, May 2, 2014
This week’s story is inspired by the EVE Online universe created by CCP. If you’re looking for a sweet space-based MMO check them out.
The proximity alert screaming in his audio implants brought the command pod around him to life. Lights, screens
“Come on, kid, wake up!” the old spacer leading the convoy shouted over the com. “We’re about to go in for our run.”
Rykin scowled. “I wasn't sleeping. And you can stop calling me that! I’m no kid. I’m twenty-one.”
A cackle of laughter told him what the spacer thought of that.
“Sure, kid. I’m positive you’re not a sixteen year old runaway who thinks he’ll get a little pod time before trying to join up with the fleet. Or are you contemplating working for one of the cartels?”
Rykin’s stomach filled with ice. He’d taken a highly illegal gene ager before applying to the Corp. It had literally shaved four or five years off his life, but it had been worth it. Technically he was only sixteen, but to a DNA scanner he was at least twenty, and the scanners were what mattered. Still, the old coot flying lead had figured him out completely without even being on the same ship. It terrified him.
“Nothing to say, hm?” the voice prodded. “Didn’t think so. Now, close up. We’re going in for a close brush with the star’s corona. Switch off your afterburners and transfer power to your shield hardeners and boosters. We’re going to be catching more radiation here in a few seconds that most fighter jocks get shot at them in a lifetime. ”
Rykin forced himself to comply. He felt threatened. He wanted to run or fight but he could do neither. If the flight lead knew he was underage why hadn’t he reported him? Or maybe he had? Maybe he was waiting to blackmail him? He swore. He’d used what little money he’d had to finagle his position with the Corp hoping for exactly what the man had suggested: experience in exchange for ridiculous danger and pathetic pay. If it worked though, he could become a real capsuleer—powerful, rich, respected and immortal. And he’d have something few rookies could claim: years of experience flying through dangers even the rashest pilots would consider foolhardy.
The sky-swallowing mass of the star continued its violent tumult of fusion. A streamer of superheated gasses and hyper-dense star matter blasted up from the surface. Rykin’s instruments told him it was moving at a pace of hundreds of thousands of kilometers per second but even at those titanic speeds, he saw the plume of matter and energy slowly dragged back down into the inferno of the sun’s surface. That close to the star’s mass, nothing escaped. Nothing. Not unlike the life on the streets he was desperately trying to break free from.
“Close formation. Soon as you feel the tug, drop your payloads and bugger out,” flight lead commanded. “Let’s all get home this time.”
, controls blazed every color in the rainbow. He touched the alarm kill-switch with his mind and the sound blaring against his auditory nerve instantly stopped. The floor to ceiling view-port shifted out of sleep mode opaque to active transparent. For an instant his eyes were dazzled by the massive inferno of the star that heaved and blazed a few million kilometers away.
The whole massive ship, all 13.5 million kilograms of it, shook like some giant pugilist were hammering the hull with invisible fists. Heat tolerance and radiation scales pegged out in the red. Warning klaxons screamed. Rykin’s shield indicators, despite being double reinforced began to creep down towards depletion. The boy sweated despite the fact that he knew the command pod wasn’t getting any hotter. All he could see outside was the boiling brilliance of the star and the string of industrial ships plunging ever deeper into the massive gravity well. He felt the invisible force tugging and he adjusted his pitch up, away from the surface of the sun.
“Damn it, kid! Don’t fight it or you’ll burn out your engines and fry,” the flight leader barked. “Let your inertia do the work.”
Rykin swallowed hard. He knew the old man was right but it was terrifyingly counter intuitive. He dropped the nose of his hauler. The sun seemed to writhe and pulse beneath him, eerily silent.
“Approaching drop point. Stand by!”
Mentally he reached out and brought up the cargo bay controls. They popped up, green over the riot of warning lights and panicked displays filling the pod. He poised his mind over the “jettison” option.
“We’re in the red zone, dump it!”
He punched the command and vaguely he could hear the muffled whump as seven thousand, six hundred and eighty cubic meters of compressed industrial trash was forcibly evacuated from his ship’s massive cargo hold. The scow, shuddered and jerked. The other ships likewise heaved as their payloads deployed. Dropping the waste close enough to the star that it would be dragged down far enough to be instantly incinerated within a hours kept law-enforcement from spotting illegal dumps. It was dangerous, but a heck of a lot cheaper for the corp than recycling the waste, disposing of it properly or paying the fines for generating surplus garbage.
“Ahead full. Let it slingshot us out!” Flight lead shouted and Rykin punched up his engines. Millions of pounds of thrust kicked into action. The ship responded sluggishly. The star seemed to creep up towards him and he reached again for the pitch controls but this time he held back. He held his breath, and then, as if his ship had passed through some cosmic layer of taffy he sensed the star slackening its grip. The engines ceased to labor—at least, as badly as they had been. His shields were starting to recover. He breathed a sigh of relief.
The sun passed below him and the cool, black void of space returned to his view port. He’d made it.
“Oh crap! Incoming!” someone shouted over the com. "It's the cops!"
“Jump!” Flight Lead screamed.
A dozen red crosses, some tiny, some thick and bold flashed in Rykin’s field of vision. His heart skipped a beat, then another as the readouts finally recognized the tiny specks in the distance as CONCORD. Two of the trash convoy were in the right alignment and zipped away, leaving Flight lead, Rykin and two others trying to alighn. Rykin reached for the jump controls with his mind when the flashing red crosses turned solid. They’d locked on. He saw the missiles come whipping in, trailing bright plumes of exhaust and the deck heaved under him. A moment later four warp jammers scrambled his jump computer into a useless block of silicate and metal.
A voice crackled on the local channel.
“Stand down industrial convoy. You are in violation of interplanetary dumping laws. By order of CONCORD your pilot’s licences suspended until further notice.”
“Well, kid. You win some, you loose some,” Flight Lead said with a snigger--he'd be running on a forged license in a few days. Rykin didn't have the connections or money for that. He forced the bile bubbling at the back of his throat down. It couldn’t be… his career couldn’t be over already.
But he knew it was.