The crew of the ‘Inquisitive Surveyor’ mentally take stock of the path traveled before requesting departure clearance from dock control at Polo Harbour. Unlike so many of the prior solo expeditions, the structure of Distant Worlds 2 offers a clear distinction of purpose with the next phase of the discovery looming. For those that choose to pay attention to FleetComm, be they seasoned explorer or recent flight school graduate, the start of stage two heralds new challenges. The path ahead will not suffer the ill-prepared lightly. As a fleet we are strong. However when it truly matters, and time is of the essence, we may only have our own whits, resources and cunning to keep us from the confines of an escape pod.
Before departing Waypoint #1 and the Pallaeni system, there was a deliberate and month long stock-pilling of materials necessary for synthesis of tools and supplies. While in hindsight stage one of the expedition has offered many opportunities to collect materials, there has been contention for resources at some of the publicized locations. Straying away from the main route, making use of the new Full Spectrum Scanner and Detailed Surface Scanner, has revealed many opportunities to top up some of the galaxy’s rarer materials.
Nonetheless, departure from Polo Harbour signals an end to the luxury and facilities offered by star ports and outposts. Word has spread through the fleet that construction of the new starport near Sagittarius A is underway, but it is not clear exactly how operational it will be prior to our arrival. So for now, at least, we are that what we depend on. Watching the other ships in the fleet break away from the grasps of the planet’s gravity well, I wonder how many of the novices among us are aware of the what lies ahead and the challenges it brings with it. At the end of the day, though, all this is in sharp contrast to the complete absence of facilities outside of the Bubble in the time prior to the Colonia Initiative. Who knew the passing of an artificial and somewhat arbitrary measure of progress would make me so introspective?
In contrast to the previous week, though, the route ahead has offered the true freedom to explore. A prompt departure from Polo Harbour affords us the opportunity to make significant early progress against the flight plan. Our proximity to the galactic core provides a cornucopia of neutron stars, black holes, nebulae and planetary nebulae to visit, scan, measure and admire. There are, in fact, man systems with neutron stars as their primary stars. I wonder why I have not previously encountered an adequate collective noun for neutron stars.
Fairly early into this week’s route we encountered the Jade Ghost Stellar Remnant system of Byoi Ain WE-R e4-913. It’s eerie glow worthy of it’s name. A notable mix of scientific discovery and observation of surface geological features, compared to the poetic majesty of the rare hues seen within the system. It is truly breathtaking. At the same time it is ironically typical to have something so awesome so early in this week’s route. Whatever time advantage we obtained in our prompt Polo Harbour departure is soon eradicated.
Continuing along the flight plan we pass near and through a number of spectacular nebula before a prolonged stop in the Dryoea Flyi II-S e4-6870 system, as know as The Gardens of Shangri-La. It is within this system that I have my first recorded encountered with electrically charged Lagrange Cloud. My curiosity takes the better of me and I knowingly put both the crew and ship at risk to observe this phenomenon. The ‘Inquisitive Surveyor’ takes multiple direct hits from the storm but show no noticeable sign of direct damage from the strike. It is unclear as to whether luck or rigorous ship engineering is attributable for the outcome. My first officer takes a moment to remind me that the ship launched fighter would be the appropriate craft should I wish any future hazardous maneuvers.
The Lagrange Cloud proved to be the only deliberate attempt at ship disruption, but that did not prevent the occasional unplanned attempt. While observing the Fosforon nebula, the Anaconda jumped into the Leamiae SA-B c15-304 system and was greeted by a very compact trinary star formation. This time it was definitely more a case of luck when I chose to evade to port as that turn did not take us directly into the heart of one of the secondary stars. Once again this encounter validated the point I had been trying to make over a glass of Lavian Brandy with some fellow Commanders. That point being the unknowns of exploration perfectly justify fitting a heat sink launcher aboard.
The remainder of the week provided further opportunities to peer down the throats of Black Holes by nudging up against their exclusion zones and dodging the ejection cones of Neutron Stars when exiting hyperspace. I know the rest of the expedition fleet is in the immediate area but I’ve not encountered another Commander since leaving Polo Harbour. Hopefully the coming week will offer the opportunity to travel with some other members of the expedition. It will certainly not, however, provide the navigation computer any rest from the strain plotting routes through the densely packed galactic core.
Frustratingly for all the crew aboard the 'Inquisitive Surveyor', week 5 of Distant Worlds 2 has felt very much like exploration by the numbers. This is not a criticism of the route planning committee for this expedition, but rather purely a function of the distances involved in this weeks itinerary when including all the points of interest off the main route as well as a voluntary excursion to Colonia. At roughly 4,800 LYs each way, the long overdue return visit to Colonia involved an additional 100 jumps to an already lengthy navigational plan.
While a few of the systems along the way offered their fair share of undiscovered or unmapped ammonia, water or Earth-Like worlds; most of the jumps this week offered little but icy rock filled systems with the occasional gas giant. On the whole, the noteworthy systems were the documented points of interest, which robs the experienced explorer of the surprise that stems from the great unknown. Depending on the next few waypoints, we made find ourselves taking a necessary diversion in order to fulfill the need for fresh discoveries.
Throughout this week's points of interest there are numerous Neutron and White Dwarf star formations, as well as many impressive nebulae in both the main and minor excursion routes. Being in the galactic neighbourhood makes passing by any of these points of interest which lay off the main expedition route seem almost criminal. As such, we plot a course through all the main and off route points of interest that this week's navigational data packet has to offer, which provides the opportunity to diverge paths with the main expedition route in order to make some sweeping loops along the designated points.
Notably absent this week has been any Stellar Phenomena, which really does nothing more than balance out the abundance of NSPs encountered the previous week in and around the 'Collection of Wonders'. There were undoubtedly opportunities to validate existing discoveries, however I appear to have gotten out of the habit of frequently checking the Codex for nearby biological and xenological reported sightings, and expect this oversight has led to some missed opportunities in the past seven days.
We have also been remiss in the time spent planet side this week, with the briefest of visits to the Polonium Fields and other geological features within the Clockwork Rings planets of the Byaa Ain QA-J c11-144 system. The short duration of feeling even a faint gravitational field was offset by the highly successful surface extraction of various rare raw materials, which will be very beneficial for injection synthesis should the need arise to make some extreme length FSD jumps later in the expedition.
The fleet rumour mill is abuzz with chat that the next leg of the expedition will turn towards the galactic core and its incredibly densely packed star field, offering the potential opportunity for interesting discoveries. We shall see once the next fleet navigation data packet is received, but for now it's time to hear the tales from other members of the expedition as we fraternize the bars and clubs at the Polo Harbour Planetary Port.
This part of the weekly log is usually full with recitations of noteworthy experiences. However on this occasion there is an exception. For words ….. words can only do so much. They can convey a meaning; attempt to provide a poor approximation of the truth; a misstatement, misunderstanding or misinterpretation; or, as in this case, be completely inadequate.
You see the cynics among us would look at a tourist beacon called the “Collection of Wonders” as a piece of navigational click bait to elevate a particular system from the insignificant and mundane nature of the surrounding stars, burdened with their rocky and icy entourage. Indeed, a bold claim given the number of nebulae in this region of the galaxy. However, in this instance, wonder does not begin to capture the breath-taking majesty of the Skaude AA-A h294 system, which boasts scenes of spectacular rarity and the raw destructive power of nature. I’ve been to many parts of this galaxy, and witnessed things most people could not even dream about; but this ….. this is truly worthy of its moniker.
I’m sure there are many sights ahead of us on this expedition. Some of which I’ve seen once before while traversing the more notorious parts of the galaxy. However, if my ship were to fail and my Remlok not deploy, I can drift frozen in the eternity of space content that I have witnessed something truly wonderful. There are words, many words; and yet sometimes they are not enough. Instead you are directed to view this weeks image archive.
In stark comparative brevity, the remainder of the week can be summed up by a sharp increase in the number and diversity of encountered stellar phenomenon; as well as a rise in the threat to life that comes with more neutron and white dwarf stars together with the various black holes strewn throughout the expedition route.
And finally this week, even with a expedition of this scale, it’s quite possible to feel isolated from the rest of the fleet. As such it’s always a lift out of solitude when you encounter another commander. There are times you can never be quite sure who that other pilots federation member is going to be. In the surprisingly unoccupied departure space over Sacaqawea Space Port there was a brief fly-by from a fellow Hutton Trucker. Someone who was definitely on the wrong side of Diso. Lave’s Head of Health and Safety and Radio personality Cmdr Eid Leweise. Have a Lavian Brandy on me and good luck with next week’s narrow band telepresence to the Orange Sidewinder. At least you’re not having all your molecules disassembled, scrambled and reassembled to make the broadcast. o7
On January 27th 3305 we depart Omega Sector VE-Q b5-15 and make best possible speed for Eagle Sector IR-W d1-117 which lies at the edge of the 2,500Ly radius around Pru Aescs NC-M D7-192 or waypoint 3. The first day of travel is a rapid succession of long range jumps and stopping by many of the documented points of interest along the route. Reaching system Pyramoe PM-X b33-6 we head in supercruise to planet A2A and decend to the surface exiting the glide at sub-light speeds. It’s possible to see from high orbit that the rumors about this planet are true with vast tall mountain ranges towering above the planets surface like extended fingers determined to touch the nearby sources of light. The Anaconda twists and turns between the 20km plus peaks while my first officer’s inner geologist questions what monumental force could create such a towering range of cliffs and peaks. Putting the controls in station keeping we wander around the spacious flight deck taking the opportunity to appreciate these spires from every angle that the generous curving windows of the flight deck offer. Dizzy with the scale of the sight before us the computer wrenches our concentration back to the present by emitting a piercing chirp as a reminder of the other opportunities that await along the route.
It’s not long before we arrive at system CD-23 14350 and admire the galaxy while it’s engulfed in the blue white light of the main star. Everything here radiates that particular band of the light spectrum and the white markings on the hull of the ship are iridescent and crisp from being bathed in such a glow. With a single long range jump the tendrils of hyperspace depart to reveal the NGC 6629 Sector SU-O b6-3 system and the amazing yellow Lagrange cloud and the metallic spheres that dwell within it. The shear vibrancy of the cloud is an equally bright but also stark contrast to swimming blue of the previous system. Pouring over the scanner displays it takes a considerable amount of time before I notice fellow Hutton Trucker Cmdr Keldwan has pulled up nearby to appreciate the spectacle before us. With a hearty “For the Mug” and obligatory ‘o7’ we depart on our respective course to the next point of note on the expedition route.
After the impromptu meetup we head over to our last stop for the day at the Eagle Sector IR-W d1-117 system and the Eagle’s Landing Planetary port, where we are warmly welcomed with the assignment of the ’07’ pad. After a wonderful nights rest outside the confines of the ship, the navigation is reset to economical jumps and a number of partial waypoints are set which will eventually lead to arrival at the Rohini system and the Eudaemon Anchorage outpost. This was a tough period of the trip and surprisingly so considering we are yet to pass beyond the boundary of the Inner Orion Spur. There was nothing notable to report and the were occasional interruptions in the control transmissions from the Pilots Federation. The mediocrity of the systems inevitably led to loss of pilot concentration and the ship experienced what would be the first of two incidents of star crashing damage so far this expedition courtesy of a brown dwarf and then subsequently a white dwarf. Apparently the more exotic classes of star are the subject of my helm fumbling on this trip.
The mood aboard ship is lifted and the pilot’s attention sharpened as we near Flyiedgiae QN-T d3-17 and the rumoured Quantum World, as a series of different systems are encountered which are notable for various reasons. System Nyeajaae AB-V d3-84 proves to the largest system (in terms of astronomical bodies) that has been encountered by this crew on the Distant Worlds 2 expedition so far, consisting of 60 stars and planets on the scanner. Soon after the Nyeajaae WA-E d12-17 system starts a run of previously undiscovered water worlds and the angle of approach affords us the opportunity to appreciate star rise over planet A5.
The highlight of the week, though, is undeniably the discovery of a large pristine ringed water world of a significant 26 times mass of the planet Earth and notable 2.64 gravity, in the Nyeajaae BO-E c26-2 system. It boasts an argon rich atmosphere and unsurprisingly water geysers. While performing detailed mapping of the planet the ship passes through the ring system just as the primary star was cresting the planet’s horizon. I call an ‘all stop’ and just appreciate the view for a few hours as a stark contrast to the mundane nature of the majority of other systems visited this week. The ship makes automatic and occasional positional corrections when an ice based asteroid strays too far into sensor range. Given the crew is made up of members who usually trade goods when not out exploring the universe, they are perturbed for a short while at the thought of missing the fleet arrival window at waypoint 3 but such feelings are swiftly assuaged by the raw natural beauty of the star caressed ice rings and the giant water world which lies beyond the protective barrier of the cockpit canopy. We are all reminded of why we embarked on this expedition in the first place and assign the fleet schedule to its appropriate relative priority among the wonders of the galaxy.
The week begins with a survey of the geological surface signals on planet 7B of Omega Sector VE-Q b5-15 system. There are rich deposits of Polonium scattered around a few of the locations and it provides an opportunity to increase the stocks of materials required for a premium FSD injection. At the end of the exercise there is now enough materials to perform 39 premium injections, compared to the six iterations worth we had aboard when we departed way point one.
The next day we set out to scan all the PW2010 systems in the PW2010 Super Cluster, which takes the better part of a day. One thing is for sure; the brilliance dampening qualities of the cockpit canopy have a hard time repressing the multi-spectral bombardment that these stars produce. At the end of the day we all complain of headaches and decide that the best course of remediation is to crack open one of the canisters of Centauri Megi-Gin we have aboard. Let's just say it's restorative effects were short lived.
Suspecting we were likely leaving the Inner Orion Spur region within the next week, we decided to see how many of the reported star types we could confirm before way point 3 was announced and set about putting on some noticeable wear and tear on the ship (integrity and appearance are already languishing at 21%). It becomes a fun pastime for the week and provides an opportunity to take the confirmed astronomical bodies in the region up from 35% to 84%.
Prior to returning to way point two, the first officer and I agree to drill complex navigation plotting (something we have not indulged in for a while as we recently focused on frequenting the paths more traveled within The Bubble). Plotting a course as far as possible directly below Omega Sector VE-Q b5-15, I test my manual navigation skills on returning to less sparsely distributed space as the navicom winces and splutters at it’s inability to plot a suitable route back to way point two. It proved to be a worthwhile exercise as my manual route plotting skills were definitely rusty and it took some time before a navigable path was identified which didn’t dead at some random system. As the galaxy slowly swirls overhead it feels deceptively safe at this remote point, while the planets in the system are bathed in the radiant glow of a neutron star.
As we make our way back to way point two we hear of rumored discoveries in the nearby Trifid Sector DL-Y d157 system. I realize the term nearby is subjective and can appreciate that 850Lys may seem imposing to those pilots who choose not to explore the galaxy. However, the trip proves worthwhile as that nearby system boasts three notable stellar phenomenon. In turn, each of which contain a Lagrange Cloud with its own distinct hues, as well as collared pods and other organic structures. Visual records of these confirmed discoveries can be found in the image archives.
After that, overwhelmed from the encounter and exhausted from all the travelling of the week, we plot a course back to Roald Landing in the Omega Sector VE-Q b5-15 system to get some well deserved rest before details of way point three are announced to the fleet.
On January 15th 3305 we arrive at HR6164 and the navcom bleeps to notify the flight deck of an official tourist beacon in the system. Some of the crew have heard tale of 'The View' and express a desire to go see it; but after doing some back of the napkin calculations factoring in the 3.3G high gravity surface, we abandon the idea due to concerns that even the engineered 5D thrusters on the Anaconda will not prevent significant hull and module damage and lead to the early termination of the expedition for this particular crew. However all is not lost as planet 'ABC 2 a' proves to have an abundance of biological and geographical surface sources which are home to many rarer grade materials. Before we know it, a full day has past scavenging the various locations and the crew decides to press ahead with the expedition, but not before making a carefully controlled fly by of the private tourist installation adjacent to the third star in the system - a neutron star. While the location and view are spectacular, no-one aboard this exploration vessel is naive enough to think that the tourist installation wasn't towed in place or built at this location with a notable loss of life resulting for maneuvering in close proximity to the gravitational forces or the neutron star.
As we progress along the route of notable points of interest the decision is made to drop to sub-light speeds to fully appreciate the beauty of the double ringed earth-like world in the Blu Thua GI-B b55-2 system. What a rare marvel it is to behold. However no sooner had we arrived it was time to press on to ensure a timely arrival at he second official waypoint.
The remaining points of interest are visited in quick succession, with appropriate time for awe and reverence of the nature's destructive forces circling the event horizon of the Black Hole at Thor's Eye. We arrive at Omega Sector VE-Q b5-15 on January 20th 3305, some two days after the start of a Pilots Federation event to collect materials to build an outpost near the galactic core. The mining outpost is bustling with activity and we dock long enough to sell any exploration data which has been acquired along the route. Departing quickly in order to not impede the mining prowess of many members of the expedition, the crew commit proposals to paper and place them into a remlock helmet to determine the course of action for the remainder of fleet mining endeavor and a short list of exploration goals is devised for the week ahead.
SAFE DISENGAGE READY appears on the display. “Well that’s all relative, isn’t it?” I mutter to myself. “Please restate your previous command,” responds Victor, “Disregard previous command,” I reply, adding “and decrease auditory sensitivity to level 5”. Thumbing the appropriate toggle on the ship’s throttle, the Inquisitive Surveyor returns to sub-light speeds with an almost graceful shudder. The hull audibly vibrates as if to sigh at the relief of another successful velocity transition. The art of safe disengagement. Well there really is no art to it these days. The control panel gives you all the information you need to successfully complete the maneuver. Point ship at a navigation target and slow to a relative velocity which will not buckle your ship’s hull when crossing the threshold. The act of deceleration is at least safe. There are no guarantees on possibility of injury or risk once the transition is complete however, so I stand by my original statement; too nuanced in sarcasm for the cockpit flight assistant to understand, let alone appreciate.
After 6 months of helping the HotCol faction reposition their footing in Colonia, my return to the Bubble has brought with it a wave of jaded cynicism. As much as things have changed in my absence, they have equally stayed the same. The news feeds appear to be full of half truths, perverted twists of events with some footing in actuality so the masses will be accepting of message within. The Alliance appear to be heralding themselves as the saviors of humanity as they continue to deliver vessels and weapons capable of both withstanding and defeating that ancient race. I grimace at the mental focus required to avoid falling into the trap of reciting broad stroke terms like ‘enemy’, ‘aggressor’ or ‘foe’. History is often rewritten by the victors and I have to remind myself that, with the passing of time, today’s pilots are oblivious to at least fifty percent of the events from humanity’s first encounter with the Thargoids.
Dismayed, I had hoped the Alliance to be better than this, otherwise why would I have pledged them my support so soon after obtaining my pilot’s license. At the time the Federation and Empire were doing their traditional dance, a mixture of diplomacy, open aggression and nefarious activities. For now, at least, they are no longer squabbling over various territories and have ceased the posturing which accompanies the deployment of assets to acquire resources of some undisclosed strategic value. I have never trusted the Federation and likely never will, with their hands still caked in the biomass of humanity’s first alien encounter. So I find myself courting the Empire, as the lesser of the perceived evils within the galaxy. My loyalty will undoubtedly be challenged at some point in the near future, and my revulsion of humanity’s political process within the core systems will fling me out into the void once more.
My malaise is sent tumbling into the recesses of my mind as OTC comes over the comms feed with their usual greeting which manages to be both welcoming and threatening at the same time. I send a brief acknowledgement back to the station and indicate I do not require the assignment of a landing pad at this time. Reducing all forward momentum to zero, I set the ship’s thrusters to station keeping having positioned the Surveyor out of the main approach path to Borrego Orbital. My eye’s roam the control panel looking for an infrequently used toggle. Short on patience I instruct Victor to disable the Heads-Up Display, which he does with a dulcet chime to signify his confirmation of the instruction and completion of the act.
“Turn off all internal and external lights, including all the panels on the flight deck, but maintain power to the collision avoidance beacons,” not that your safety protocols would allow those warning lights to be disabled while undocked anyway! Nor do I wish to be charged with recklessly maintaining position or some other nonsensical violation dreamt up by some bureaucrat who has never flown anything bigger than his oversized desk. “Commander, if I completely dim the control panels you will not see the information displayed on them,” Victor responds, diligently exercising his safety protocols. It would appear I’ve reached the part of his programming developed by the Pilots Federation legal team.
“Oh Victor, you are so literal sometimes. What does the ‘A’ in COVAS represented? Don’t answer! It’s purely rhetorical. Be a good fellow and assist me by verbalizing any warnings that would otherwise be displayed on these panels.” I sometimes wonder about Victor. He is the product of a society which still cherishes it ranks and privileges. Part of me feels he would have a psychological fracture were he to be installed in a class of ship designed for small landing pads. Victor is quiet. Surely he couldn’t actually be sulking? I catch myself before I project more human emotion upon him. He is simply waiting for confirmation of my previous instruction given the manner in which it was delivered. “Victor,” I order, “disable all display panels, vocalize all messages severity warning or above, and turn off the external lights”. “Confirmed Commander,” came the response.
The flight deck embraces the twilight without. Much of the low level hum created by the light emitting systems subsides. What remains is the occasional firing of the thrusters to maintain the relative position of the ship to the orbital. The glow from HIP 114367’s primary star sweeps across the now dark instrumentation panels, reflecting off the polished surfaces and refracting through the translucent screens. The rotation of the orbital periodically bathes the cockpit in a soothing pale blue tone, mixing with the textures of the panels and canopy to create the sense of a waterless aquarium. The shadows of other vessels glide intermittently through the cobalt wash, offering glimpses of large lumbering beasts interspersed with the sleek lines of predators and the shoals of system authority patrol craft. Enough, I say to myself, realizing that these thoughts of water are my subconscious’s way of surfacing to remind me how long I’ve been navigating the stars without the luxury of port accommodations.
For now, though, my Anaconda class vessel is dwarfed by the swirling mass of the orbital, even at the range of the security zone’s border. Like two old acquaintances recognizing each other across a crowded public space, my ship and the starport face each other. Wondering whether each will remember the other and the shared past experiences. This is, of course, pure romanticism on my part; unless of course log files have been corrupted or maliciously altered. The last time I was here my reputation was without question. However now is not then. With destabilizing forces rife in this corner of the galaxy, innocent mistakes can be met with swift retribution from the system authorities. Zero tolerance is abound and once again reinforces my returning desire to be roaming the unexplored anarchy systems which lie beyond the Bubble.
Stricter security policies are not the only yardstick by which society can take the measure of a pilot. The Thargoid onslaught offers new ways to be judged and categorized. New heroes emerge as civilians are rescued from stricken stations, while others aid in the movement of massive amounts of resources needed to repair and re-operationalize the fallen. An arms race appears to have kicked off making use of other alien technology, the long term exposure to and implications we are yet to determine or even concern ourselves with. There are always those willing to take these new toys to whatever passes for this weeks frontline and send the menace back to whichever rock it decided to re-emerge from. If all these societal labels were not enough there are, as always, other schools of thought. The conspiracy theorists that talk of shadow organizations orchestrating the current threat as a distraction to something far worse to come. In contrast there are those that believe we have reached this point through one giant cosmic misunderstanding as a result of no common language reference between our two races. At least those who subscribe to this way of thinking are less scorned by society as a whole than those who are willing and eager to bury their hands in the proverbial sand, going about their business and their tiny lives as if nothing of significance was occurring.
With all these new behavior classifications, each human interaction is now layered with questions and subversive assessments of nature and allegiance. We must all be categorized; friend or foe, hater or sympathizer, opportunist or hero. This new lens muddies the already blurred lines which mark the edge of each social camp. That grey area separating each is not so fine and indistinguishable as it once was. Not all actions are mutually exclusive, and as always a pilot’s life is complicated. What comes next? How will I be measured? Should I even give a damn? Like many explorers before me I believe in the truth of my internal compass to navigate me safely through these times, and to do what is right and what is required. But for now that is tomorrow’s quandary as tonight I spend my first night outside the confines of my ship in nearly two years and see if any of the members of the Pilots Federation graduating class of 3301 still hangout at the disgraceful excuse for a bar on red sector sub-level C.
“Victor, resume normal flight operation”.
“Affirmative Commander”. That’s not relief I hear in his voice is it?
“OTC this is Commander Bow Lof Petunias aboard the Faulcon deLacy Inquisitive Surveyor designation HOT6X7 requesting permission to dock.” I broadcast on a non-protocol wide spectrum just in case some old friends are in the neighbourhood. Grinning to myself that at least you can’t get fined for spamming local comms.
“Greetings Commander. An Ally like you is always welcome here.” Music to my ears. If nothing else it means less paperwork. “Please proceed to landing pad 42”.
“Acknowledged control. I’ve initiated the docking sequence and am in the approach pattern. Please advise all smaller vessels to yield to my approach. HOT6X7 out”.
Returning to the Bubble from five months of the self imposed isolation that was the SpyGlass 3 exploration expedition, I was filled with an unfounded confidence that this corner of the inhabited galaxy had changed for the better. Even when you are deep in the void, the news feeds are there to keep you appraised of the shenanigans that passes as human politics. In an overly optimistic mood I dock the Cantankerous Astrolabe at Mansfield Orbiter in Eplison Indi, buoyed along by the prospect of co-operation and partnership between the superpowers of the Federation and the Empire. I could not have been more wrong.
To the ignorant and uninitiated it appears like a new era in galactic diplomacy but its a falsehood derived from political grandstanding and the basest of human needs, survival. For months explorers, the curious, the speculative and those with ulterior motives have been discovering ancient alien structures. There are rumors of federal military capital ships being disabled. Before that there was a spate of pilot’s being ripped from Hyperspace by unknown alien craft that we now believe to be the Thargoids. To my cynical mind all the posturing is nothing more than fear, that most primeval of emotions.
Behind all the headlines, the familiar forms and shadows of the political classes leach into the spaces between the lines. The exchange of information feels ice thin, and I’m not talking about the same frozen depths you experience on those distance planets. Its all a charade of epic proportions. A slight of hand and the movement of huge pools of resources across space as a distraction to the underlying intent. Whatever that intent may be, as that remains a mystery to me as well as many of my trading and exploration drinking buddies. I’m cynical but I’m not a military strategist. If I was I wouldn’t be eking out a living in all the hustle and bustle of a large Federal system. I’d be strolling around the corridors of an Alliance military installation where the pomposity of the Empire and the harsh practicalities of the Federation are absent.
So we are back to this all feeling like a giant shell game, where new allies are standing shoulder to shoulder for today, at least, but when the first beam is emitted I suspect that old divisions will quickly resurface.. The truth of each encounter and skirmish being massaged by those who want to bend and twist history for their own benefits. To be the victors. No, not simply the victors. The altruistic moral high ground victors while hiding the master manipulations behind their back. It’s a question of trust and I have none left. At least not in terms of those who deign to consider themselves as acting in humanities best interests.
There are those I can still trust. My bartender, my wingman and the loosely coupled ideologies of the Hutton Orbital Truckers Cooperative. For the rest the galaxy, staying out of firing range will be sufficient for today. The mask of a patriotic galactic citizen will sit tightly across may face, broadcasting compliance to this new synthetic political reality and hopefully keep the majority of the lightly inquisitive minds away.
Who am I kidding? Back in the Bubble for less than a week and already the nuances of governed space are eroding the visual bliss of the deep void, where the cancerous tentacles of the politically motivated whither and die by the absence of the malleable masses and historical dominion. Still my last expedition was profitable enough that I can now cross the stars in the grandiose expanse of an Anaconda’s flight deck, avoiding the personality claustrophobia when sharing an Asp Explorer with the collective of artificial ship systems. Maybe a new ship shakedown is order. The opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the Hearth and Soul Nebulae has alluded me so far. It would be the perfect expedition length to work out any kinks in ‘The Gelid Accumulator’. Before I realize it, my left hand’s muscle memory has already activated the departure request control.
The Bubble should not burst between now and my return. Let the unnatural calm before the storm hold and continue provide the illusion of stability.
Every flight deck is the same. This, of course, is within reason and accounting for manufacturers own flourishes. The simple practicalities of Lakon Spaceways vehicles compared to the exotic richness and sleek lines of Gutamaya ships. Nevertheless there are certain core elements to flight deck controls. Their use and implementation comes down to nothing more scientific than personal preference.
Ever since obtaining my Pilot’s Federation license, this particular commander has enjoyed and swears by the precision of an antiquated QWERTY keyboard and a pointing device for all things flight, trade, combat and exploration. My fingers dance across the keys activating, attenuating, disintegrating and propelling various controls and systems. I could, and probably have, done this is my sleep more than once.
In a galaxy swarming in variables, transitions and inconsistencies the one constant of the Milky Way would be this commander’s love of the skip’s keyboard. However this last weekend my perception of flight was changed irrecoverably by a fellow trucker, CMDR Daman1122, after discussing our most perilous tales of combat. I was convinced I would never change, standing stubbornly against the tidal swell of the other members of the Pilot’s Federation. However my eyes have been opened to the subtleties of the H.O.T.A.S. control system. I now glide through star systems, executing grandiose arcing turns which eclipse the orbit of the stars and planets of the SpyGlass III exploration mission. The old muscle memory has given way to new graceful movements that flow as one with the path of my Asp Explorer. The Cantankerous Astrolabe and I are more connected than ever before as we communicate through the pressure and feedback of the new control system.
My sincere thanks to CMDR Daman1122 for this game changing opportunity. Now onward, and the second star to the right to complete the trilogy of the SpyGlass mission.
August 12th 3303. Five Hutton truckers are relaxing in a bar, gorging themselves on real food and sipping cool beer. In other words doing what truckers do when not running commodities across the galaxy and dodging pirates. The conversation turns to experiences of combat and soon it is my turn to share the story of the day I lived to tell the tale…..
It was just another day of shipping products from one port to another a few systems away. I had a low yield cargo aboard and really shouldn’t have attracted the attention of the curious or greedy. Just the same the flight deck was soon swamped with klaxons warning of interdiction by one craft from a wing of three ships, as I watch three solid markers edge closer to my position on the ship’s scanner. My Asp Explorer makes for a great little blockade runner but three onto one is a high stakes game that I have no interest playing that day.
I twist and turn the controls of the ship to wrangle out of the grasp of the Frame Shift Drive Interdictor and head towards a nearby planet, knowing that in the past the greedy fingers of pirates do not want to run through the dust that covers the surface. It’s an evasion protocol that has served me well in the past but today is a different day. My pursuers follow me into the planet’s gravity well as I attempt to keep the descent rate of the ship out of the critical zone and avoid slamming into the planet’s surface. I drop out of supercruise and start my orbital glide at break neck speed, hurtling towards the ground in the same way that sperm whales generally don’t.
The flight suite strains to offset the g-force that my flight path is exerting on my seemingly fragile body and I juggle between tracking the other ships, keeping my ship off the deck and finding some geographic structure that would even the odds. My mind takes this opportunity to wander, because now is the perfect opportunity to expand the scope of the tasks at hand, and recalls a combat flight school or entertainment video (it get’s blurry around the edges of fact or fiction) recommending using ground cover. I glance a natural trench formation off to the port side and turn the ship harshly in a hope to put some rock between my Asp and the persistent foe.
Exiting the glide the afterburners are engaged and a chaotic ballet ensues as I steer the Asp through random weaving maneuvers, grasping madly for the shelter of the trench. Suddenly the ground beneath me drops away as if indicating a readiness to eat my ship and I whole. Cover awaits and my pursuers realize my strategy and let loose beams which burn bright blue where they intersect with my shields. Maintaining power to systems and engines I plunge into the canyon, hugging the surface when concentration allows and avoiding outright crashing when it doesn’t.
Adrenalin pumps around my body as I dart around corners hoping to circumnavigate the planet in the shelter of the canyon. But it’s not to be and my luck runs out about the same time as the canyon wall comes to an abrupt end, and I’m hurled onto the target range that is the open surface of the planet. My ship whirls wildly as I attempt to keep the weakened shields from impacting with the ground and for a short period I am presented with a fortuitous event where one of my pursuers is directly in my targets with a heavily depleted shield, which I guess is a result of not so successfully navigating the high cliffs of the canyon. I let a volley fire go forth from the ship’s multi-cannons and a sidewinder explodes before me.
There is little time to celebrate as I still have two other craft to deal with. My only hope is to boost and outrun my opponents. Open combat will likely see me thrust into an escape pod and waking up in a nearby starport. I must evade and escape the mass lock of the planet’s surface but each time I try to jump my shields and hull are pounded. As if all this wasn’t enough the communications panel is flashing messages from friends asking why I was not sinking cold ones with them at the bar. I curse them for not getting a pilot’s federation license and being here to help in my defense.
Little by little I am able to edge away from my pursuers thanks to some engineered thrusters and some weight modifications. Time passes and eventually the signals on the scanner reach towards the outer range markers. Now is my time to escape. I find a nearby system that I can plot a high wake route to that is in line of sight of this side of the planet. Escaping the mass lock my shields begin to glow as my ever present peddlers of fear attempt to intercept my escape vector. My hull begins to register hits but it’s too late and the ship is enveloped by the distortions of light that signal the transition into hyperspace.
The ship needs a bit of work and I need a shower. Three hours have passed since the start of the evasive descent to the planets surface. My flight suit reeks of adrenaline infused perspiration and a trip to cubicle 3 is definitely required. The day has not ended in an escape pod and the Asp has another tale to tell.