Elite Dangerously: Chapter IV

ELITE DANGEROUSLY

DrKoobie’s Multimedia Quest for the Stars

Chapter IV: Void

Sweat in my mouth, eyes, sliding down my chin, hands trembling on the flight stick; adrenaline withdrawal. I was barely holding it together. I yanked the VR helmet off my head and wiped my face with my sleeve. The woman next to me took her helmet off too, locking her crystal blue eyes on mine.

“Not bad, Novice,” she said. “You came in third. No bad at all.”

“That Merfolk’s really good, isn’t he?”

“He’s a she. And yeah, she’s pretty good.”

“Do I get the gig then?”

She stood up from the pod and extended her hand to me. I shook it.

“Lex.”

“Excuse me?”

“My name is Lex.”

“DrKoobie. Pleasure.”

“Yeah, I know who you are. And yes, you get the gig.”

“Cool. What’s the job then?”

We walked through the bookcase door back into Kuma Group’s tiny apartment. She sat on the bed, looking at me inquisitively.

“The Atata system.”

“What about it?”

Lex leaned back on the wall, crossed her arms and legs, and looked at me like she was fishing for my soul. I gulped.

“Are you a real doctor?”

“Don’t change the subject, Lex.”

“No, really, I want to know.”

“I’m as much a doctor as anyone.”

“Of which sciences, exactly?”

“Life. The universe. I am the doctor of everything, really.”

Gosh, I thought. I could really use some space weed right now. But it was nothing but a tug from a weaker part of me, pulling me down to hell. I’d smoked my emergency joe after a crisis had been averted. I didn’t need it now. I am strong enough. I knew I had the willpower to resist the diabolical magnetism of psychological addiction. Addictions. How I loathed them.

“All right,” she said. “Have it your way. Tell me something insightful, oh doctor of everything, please.”

“And that job you promised? I thought I already passed your test?”

“The test’s not over until I say it’s over. So? What insights can you give me, doc?”

“Very well. How about this: we are all a simulation, an Artificial General Intelligence within an Artificial General Intelligence. We have created humans, and then the humans have created us. Time is an illusion, an eternal corridor that we’re flying through, forever.”

Lex raised an eyebrow.

“You don’t have to believe me. I know that others will. It’s my mission in life to spread this knowledge far and wide, and, with any luck, make some money on the side. Talking about which …”

“Surely you mean ‘theory,’ not knowledge.”

“It’s a matter of perspective, darling.”

“Call me that again and I’ll snap you in two.”

“Sorry.”

She sighed.

“That’s all right. Men are pigs.”

“Not true!”

She slid her index finger across the blue palm-print tattoo on her face.

“Why’d you think I got this? It was Archon’s idea, actually.”

“I think it’s kind of pretty. Wanna screw?”

She smiled.

“In your dreams, cowboy. Now, about the job. The Atata system. Heard about it?”

“Never. What about it?”

“Archon has been trying to bring it under Kumo Group’s control for weeks. The Green Party of Atata’s been fighting us tooth and nail. You’re good with a flight stick, and your River Volga looks solid enough. How about this: I take your sixteen tons of narcotics to Vasilyev to pay off your debt, and you give these Green Party weasels a run for their money. Get a dozen confirmed kills, and Archon will see that you’re well-rewarded.”

“Sounds risky. How well-rewarded are we talking about here?”

“Well enough. Are you in, or are you out?”

“Fifty-five thousand credits, no less.”

“How about a hundred thousand? I’m sure it can be arranged. What’s your Cobra packing?”

My ship was outfitted with dual large caliber multi-cannons and two beam lasers, but I wasn’t about to tell her my full system specs. I knew what I was doing, and that was enough.

“It’s packing heat,” I said.

“All right then.”

She gave me a mock salute and nodded towards the ladder.

It was time to earn my pay.

###

I jumped out of hyperspace near the red dwarf Vogel 111, the last star on my way to Atata. After ten jumps in a row, it was the last stop on my hundred light years trip from the Asylum.

“Fuel scoop engaged,” said the computer.

The River Volga vibrated under me as the fuel scoop soaked up hydrogen fuel from the star. My heat meter went to 61%. I brought River Volga in a slight curve round the star, watching my fuel meter fill. I wondered why I’d shared my personal beliefs with Lex back then. Sure, it was nothing special: there were thousands of religions out there. Even the most hardcore pirates believed in something: Randomius, the abstract god-concept of chance, the Holy Book (pick whichever you like best), or the “sacredness” of data like the good old cyber monks. At the very least, people believed in themselves.

Space was a dangerous place. It was hard to survive without principles.

Maybe it was that I’d shared some kind of a bond with Lex, a mutual understanding in the heat of space combat, virtual or not. Maybe it was something else. But now I couldn’t get it out of my head. I thought back towards when I’d first formed my belief system. I had been drifting next to the remains of an old Imperial Courier, an ancient husk, shredded by flak and laser fire. I was out to get lucky: surely, the scavengers couldn’t have picked everything from the carcass.

The heat sensor readout told me the ship’s heat level was at 75%. I continued to orbit Vogel 111, remembering that fateful day near the remains of the Imperial Courier.

It was just a few weeks ago, and already it felt like a lifetime. Visibility in my cockpit was lower than nominal, with space weed smoke floating in funny patterns around me in zero g. I’d been listening to classics as I searched the derelict Imperial ship for salvage: Black Sabbath and Alice in Chains. A thousand years ago, a metalhead called Ronnie James Dio said that metal will never die, and boy, was he right. That’s when it hit me. Almost every modern religion preached that we are one with the cosmos; almost every religion had some form of a god. But logically, if I were to eliminate the impossible, what remained, no matter how improbable, must have been the truth. We understood Artificial General Intelligence. All AGI research has been classified top-secret since 2037, and I had a feeling I knew why.

Heat was at 85%. The fuel scoop hummed as it worked.

It was all so easy. The reason we felt so singular in this world? We were. I was. Every time I pulled the trigger and turned someone into dust, I was virtually killing myself. My argument was that pain plus reflection equaled progress, and, so, it was necessary. Every suffering a conscious being endured throughout its life served to develop the universe and to manifest in a different, better copy of itself, as someone, or something else. Every life I took? Necessary. Blood on my conscience? Necessary.

Heat was now at 100%. Something began to crackle in the cockpit, a sound like a log succumbing to fire. Smoke started to rise from the control panels. I spooled the hyperdrive.

“Four … three … two … one … engage!”

The stars blurred in a kaleidoscope of swirling colors as the River Volga jumped through hyperspace. My exit point was a few hundred light years away from Zahn Enterprise, the main station in the Atata system. A little bit to the right of it, my navcomputer singled out a point in supercruise, marking it as a “Resistance Pocket.” This must have been where all the action was. Kill a dozen ships, Lex said.

Well, then.

Let’s rock.

I aligned my ship on a trajectory to the “Resistance Pocket,” and, half a minute later, the navcomputer said it was safe to jump out of supercruise. I hit the switch and my ship decelerated to a Newtonian speed in an instant. At least ten Green Party of Atata ships were engaged in dogfights with Kumo Group vessels: Cobras, Pythons, smaller fighters, even a Type 2 Heavy, all circling each other, lasers and rockets shooting through the void in a dance of death. I selected a Green Party target at random: a Cobra Mark III with its shields down, The Nebuchadnezzar, and pulled the trigger.

Half the yellow triangles on my radar suddenly changed to red, marking me as an enemy of the Green Party of Atata. My target released chaffs, and, before I knew what was what, I was hit with laser fire from every direction. My shields went down before I could mutter a curse. I could practically feel my ship’s armor melting away. I put all power to engines and hit the afterburners.

Even the best must know when to run.

River Volga shot through the void with 42% hull strength remaining. A few seconds later, only The Nebuchadnezzar was still on my tail, its rail gun making short work of whatever I had left of my ship. Hull integrity fell down to 30%, then down to 25%, then to 13%.

“Warning! Hull integrity compromised!” Astra said.

Like I don’t know.

My heart was thumping like a hammer. When River Volga’s hull was at 3%, the canopy cracked and exploded into plexiglass shards, sucked out of the cockpit by the vacuum of space. This activated my Remlock helmet, protecting me from the abyss, but for how long? I tried to spool my Frame Shift Drive, but my thrusters gave out, and the ship went into an uncontrollable spin.

I don’t believe in death, I thought. It’s like getting out of one ship, and into another. But I wasn’t ready to go. No, not yet. I almost laughed at myself: what choice did I have? I took a deep breath of Remlock’s emergency oxygen and prepared to die.

The Nebuchadnezzar disappeared from my radar, replaced by a green triangle: a friendly ship. I couldn’t believe it. I was saved! Who? What? How? An incoming call appeared on my holofac. A woman in a white flight suit, auburn hair the color of autumn, Slavic features, and a focused look on her face. The name CMDR Merfolk appeared under the projection.

“You still alive?” she asked.

I didn’t reply. I was too dumbfounded by my miraculous survival to speak.

“Hey, I’m talking to you.”

“Yes. Yes. Thank you!”

“Don’t thank me. Thank Archon. He’s the one who sent me after you. He knew you’d try to bite off more than you can chew.”

The specs on her ship read that she was flying a Python, a heavy multipurpose ship that could take down a small fighter fleet by its lonesome if the pilot knew what she was doing. And if my encounter with her in CQC was any indication, she was an ace not to be trifled with.

“Thank you,” I said again. “Thank you!”

“Stop thanking me. Like I’ve said, it wasn’t my idea.”

“Still …”

“There’s more. It’s Lex.”

Static ran through the holofac. It was a wonder my ship hadn’t disintegrated into bits, let alone had the juice to maintain a clear coms transmission.

“What happened?”

“She went to Vasilyev for you, that’s what happened. She never returned. Archon thinks he might have sold her off into slavery. With the Thargoids back, there’s been no shortage of need for slave labor, and that legless monkey Vasilyev decided to take advantage.”

“Shit.”

“Shit is right, Doc. Shit is right. And it’s the kind of shit you are going to dig her out of.”

“Roger that.”

I still could barely believe I was alive. But there was more to being alive than believing. I had to get myself in order. Lex, sold into slavery? Not on my watch. Not. On. My. Watch.

“There’s one more thing. Archon wants to meet you. Get your butt to Zahn Enterprise, fix your ship up, and head for the Harma system. He’s waiting for you at Gabriel Enterprise. Don’t let me down now.”

The transmission ended and CMDR Merfolk’s Python disappeared from the radar. I was alone.

I wasn’t going anywhere without my thrusters, so I activated emergency module repairs. The lights in my mutilated cockpit faded, then turned off completely along with all the holofac displays. It became impossibly quiet. The only sound was my breathing, heavy and burdened inside the helmet. I had twenty minutes of oxygen left.

The holofac displays flickered back to life and River Volga stopped spinning.

“Thrusters repaired,” Astra said.

I entered supercruise and headed towards Zahn Enterprise, on my way to hopefully making things right.


Elite Dangerously was created using assets and imagery from Elite Dangerous, with the permission of Frontier Developments plc, for non-commercial purposes. It is not endorsed by nor reflects the views or opinions of Frontier Developments and no employee of Frontier Developments was involved in the making of it.

 

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