This bit of narrative is based on an experience I had recently in Elite: Dangerous. I’ve never written hard sc-fi stuff like this, so please forgive any flaws and inconsistencies with the technological side of things.
It was supposed to be easy.
I picked up a quick, low key hauling job that required the transfer goods from one outpost to another. Easy money, especially with both outposts located in the same system. It was the clearest definition of “milkrun” if there ever was one. Mindless work, but money is money. Money I needed to finally break free from the monotony of hauling cargo and venture deep into the unknown. To fulfill the romanticized dream of travelling far away from civilization to explore the beauties our vast universe has to offer. That’s where the real money is.
So here I am, transporting the finest ale this side of the spiral arm and everything looks good. Systems are green, supercruise is at optimal speed, and the nearby sun at my back. I glanced at my scanners and note the distance to my destination. At a mere two thousand light years away, I should be there in about five minutes. I relax, kick back, and stupidly close my eyes for a brief moment of shut eye.
Suddenly, an alarm blares and my displays flash bright red. The sultry, sexy smooth voice of my ship’s computer (customized, of course) speaks the words that makes my stomach drop. Interdiction Alert. My Sidewinder’s on-board computer springs into action and displays the optimal escape vector I need to follow in order to keep me safe from the spacefaring asshole coming after me. I frantically grab the stick and lower my speed in order to execute a tight roll that will align my nose with the blue cross-hair that superimposed itself onto my cockpit display. I grit my teeth and feel the g-forces push me into my seat. I’m flying too fast and can’t make the turn in time. Before I know it, I’m pulled out of supercruise and left floating in deep space.
I suppose, in the end, it’s my fault. I got careless. This was a simple gig and I let my guard down. How was I to know some punk was looking to cause trouble? I let out a sigh and away the inevitable holdup. A ship pulls into view in front of me as my ship’s comms crackle to life.
“Well, hello there!” my antagonist said, his voice light and sardonic. With his ship in range, I activate my scanners to see what I was dealing with. I breathe a sigh of relief. A low rank thug, Galnet attributes his rank as “Harmless,” which makes me think this is just some punk kid with a hand-me-down (or stolen?) ship trying to make a name for himself. Still, this is no time to lower my guard. That’s how I got into this mess in the first place. I try the tough guy act.
“Look, kid. I haven’t got the time. I’m late for a delivery and you’re in my way.” The other pilot laughs and brings his ship close enough to mine that the red proximity warning pops up on my screen. “I ain’t no kid, man!” he bellowed with effort trying to sound more dangerous than he appeared. “What you haulin’?”
“Nothing you need to concern yourself with, friend.” I start weighing my options. At this close distance, I can see inside the other ship’s cockpit. The pilot of the Sidewinder in front of me has his helmet off, exposing a ridiculous, multi-colored haircut. His Sidewinder is covered is a sloppy red and white paint job that look like a hasty imitation of one of the local pirate gangs. No doubt this character had a bark far worse than its bite. Lost in my immediate thoughts, my computer speaks a warning. SHIP SCAN DETECTED. Ah, hell.
“Woo, boy!” I could almost see the kid lick his lips. “Why don’t you just go ahead and drop that booze for me? Or else!”
I try to reason with the kid. “Or else what, kid? I told you I don’t have time for this.” My hand hovers over the weapons system panel. “Let’s the both of us turn around and go our merry way.”
The engagement begins quickly. The Sidewinder has the advantage because its weapons were deployed the minute it came into view. The kid starts firing a few shots across my nose and a blue hue fills my visions as my shields absorb the cannon fire. I thrust the throttle forward, bracing for the sudden burst of speed. Taking my own Sidewinder into an evasive roll, I deploy my own hardpoints and target the opposing ship. The kid fires several shots and makes purchase, weakening my rear shields. The kid’s good, no doubt there. I roll tight to the left and pull the stick back, stepping into the all familiar dance of ship to ship combat. To the casual observer, dogfights such as these look like a dog chasing its own tail as both ships move in circles in order to catch one another from behind. To my suprise, the kid is giving me a bit of an education. Perhaps he’s not all talk after all.
It takes me longer than I’d care to admit to fall behind the other pilot. Transitioning all power to my weapons, my pulse lasers rip through the Sidewinder’s shields and I start going to work on his engines. I am deliberate with my strikes because I don’t want to kill the dumb bastard, just spook him a bit and teach him a lesson about respecting other pilots. My attack appears to have the intended reaction as the kid’s flight pattern grows more erratic and panicked. It isn’t long before I hear him signing a different tune.
“Hey, man! Cool it! OK! STOP! Shit, keep your piss swill, man.” I fire a few more at his left engine to conclude the lesson. With one good working engine, the kid could limp to the closest outpost in a day or two. Quicker if he swallows his pride and calls for a support hauler. I allow myself to laugh at his expense.
“You’re a pretty good pilot, kid.” I say with an equal amount of good humor and sincerity. “No sense in letting those skills go to waste by making a complete fool of yourself.” I could almost hear the kid seethe. “Tell you what. I’m supposed to deliver this freight to an outpost on the other side of the planet. Meet me at the bar and we’ll talk shop. Hell, I’ll even pay for your drink.”
The pilot’s eagerness betrayed his tough front. “Sure, whatever, man.” I reset my ship’s power distribution and start warming the engines. The kid starts moving his own ship in the direction the outpost, struggling to keep the wrecked vehicle to stay on route. I must have done more damage than I thought. Before I can initiate my Frame Shift Drive, my scanners pick up the arrival of three Eagle Mk. IIs with Federation markings. They must have detected our little skirmish and flew out to find out what was going on in their backyard. “Shit,” I say to myself. “It’s the cops. Hey kid. Be cool, okay?” Before I could react, my chimes in. SHIP SCAN DETECTED. A low, husky voice breaks through the ambient noise of my cockpit.
“State your business, pilot.”
“No problems here, officer. Just on a delivery run.” I try to keep calm. I heard rumors that some Federation patrols have a zero tolerance for the type of shenanigans the kid had pulled on me. “I was just treating junior, here, to a little sparring match is all.” The trio of ships finished their scans and moved to the crippled ship in front of me. For some reason, I am treated to a conversation clearly met for the other pilot.
“Pilot James Vorren. Our scans indicate you performed an interdiction with the intention to commit theft of property. Power down your ship and submit to our authority immediately.”
I watch as the trio of Eagles close in. Maybe some time in the tank will clear his head a little. I reverse my engines to put some distance between myself and the ongoing police action. What happens next makes fills me with dread. The kid, the stupid, dumb, idiot kid makes a break for it. At least, he tries to. Left with only one operable engine, the his attempt to flee looks pretty pathetic as it hobbles away. The leader of the Eagle squad barks, “Stop your ship immediately or you will be fired upon.”
“Hey, kid! STOP!” I shout but it doesn’t do any good. The warning was just a formality.
The Federation is strictly against this kid’s behavior. He should have known better. I say that only to make myself feel better as I await the inevitable. In a last ditched effort, the Sidewider tries to ram one of the patrol craft flanking it and that’s all the cops need to justify their swift brutality. It’s a small mercy that the work is quick. Their guns rip through the Sidewinder’s bulkhead like cheap aluminium. Debris flies away in every direction until an errant shot makes purchase with the ship’s power reactor, the subsequent explosion illuminating the area. My stomach churns. The kid could have stood a better chance if I hadn’t shot out his engine. But that’s life. Flying out into the vast infinite of space is dangerous work. He knew that when he pulled an interdiction. This is a dangerous game we play and its kill or be killed. Again, I keep telling myself that to not feel like a fucking monster. The heavy voice of the officer in charge shakes me out of my thoughts.
“Thank you for your cooperation, pilot.” The man said. “We detected the interdiction and monitored your skirmish. As a victim of the former James Vorren’s illegal activities, you are free to carry on with your business.”
“Great,” I reply sarcastically.
“You might be interested to know that Vorren had a bounty registered against him. A substantial amount, I might add.”
“You don’t say? How much?” I hate myself for asking.
“24,000CR. He must have really pissed someone off.”
“Hey, kids today. Right?” Just give me the fucking cash and let me be on my way.
“Given your assistance in helping us bring this criminal to justice, the full bounty will be credited to your account. You may claim your payment at any Federation outpost or starport. The Federation appreciates your assistance and cooperation. Have a nice day.”
And just like that, the trio of Eagles speed away to save the day for someone else. I sit in place for a moment, letting the gravity of the situation take hold. One of my computer screens flashes a line of blue text alerting the transfer of the bounty’s credit. I glance at the wreckage of the Sidewinder with the stupid paint job and stupid kid at the helm. He’s nothing now, just traces of scorched atoms floating an in endless black void. This wreckage exists as his memorial, yet no one but me will understand its significance. Other pilots? His tomb will show up on their scanners as an unidentified signal, filling passersby with the hope of finding premium salvage.
Salvage. The word sends a jolt through my body, springing me to life. I instinctively deploy my ship’s cargo scoop and scan the wreckage in order to locate anything of value. Hey, don’t get me wrong, 24,000 credits is good money but why not take the effort to earn a little more? My scans come up empty and I feel disappointed. Ah, well. Like I said, 24,000 credits is good money. I spare the wreck one more glance before it’s back to work. I’ve wasted enough time out here and I’ve got a delivery to make. I look beyond the destroyed ship and spot the familiar outline of an orbital outpost. It’s close enough that I don’t have to use up the fuel for supercruise flight.
24,000 credits and extra fuel. I guess it was my lucky day after all.