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Fighter Training Revelations

Echo-1: Part 16

Space is stupendous and can have a humbling effect. To ponder that we are just one small part of one small galaxy amongst countless others in a seemingly limitless universe, can make one feel simply minuscule, nearly meaningless. For dominant species accustomed to terrestrial life, this can bring about a sense of confusion and even despair. On the other hand as a sentient being moving among the stars, one also gets the feeling of actually being the universe experiencing itself. We are the eyes and ears of the galaxy, its epic marvel is experienced by us. Not that I had any ears anymore, but I could still take in the monumental great silence of outer space.

Floating in my robot suit fixed inside my space fighter, I gazed out at the countless stars. They were all so far away. The blackness of the negative space between them seemed at once not to exist and at the same time to consume all.

I was having a moment of feeling utterly alone when my two twin robots started to sing little electronic songs. Their melodic tunes were like a soft Mozart piece played on a Moog synthesizer. I leaned back in my Robo-Com suit and felt very comforted and happy. It was a beautiful universe, so quiet, so peaceful, so sublime.

“Thanks guys.”

Our little space moment was interrupted by a camouflaged man-tank climbing around on the outside of the ship. He jumped free and was floating in space next to us when two of the remote ships whizzed by. Death fired his jetpack up and went sailing after them.

“Let’s see what you can do.”

A laser blast struck my fighter and sent me tumbling. That was the first time I saw the sheer magnitude of the Banga. Her huge mass sat stark white against the blackness of space. She kept passing my field of vision as I spun. Another blast hit my fighter, this time adding a gyroscopic twist to my out of control spinning. There was a sun and a solar system near by. It’s brightness shined at me every second rotation. Banga, blackness and stars, Banga, Sun, small planets, Banga, blackness and stars, Banga, Sun, small planets, repeat, repeat, repeat. I was completely disoriented. The third blast sent me spinning like a top.

“Power failure.” “…Switching to backup,” chimed the twins droids.

The fact that this was a live fire training exercise finally dawned on me. Engage thrusters, level fighter, throttle forward. The tracking system showed a remote ship coming around for another pass at me. I tried X’s move from when we were racing in the Robo-a-gogos. I dropped my fighter in space, went in full reverse below the droid ship, which flashed by above me firing into empty space. I hit all three thrusters and put myself in a position behind it. Left, right, up, down, increase speed. It moved like a fly trying to avoid a swatter.

Small and fast, the droid ship changed direction constantly, but I was on its tail. My fighter was equally agile and quick. I learned its handling quickly. The droid ship must have anticipated it would not be able to lose me. It turned around and faced me, while still simultaneously racing away and constantly changing direction. My intuition told me it was going to fire on me. Power dual cannon. Lock. Fire. I saw the red glow of the droids weapons start as my shots hit it. There was a large explosion and I flew right through it. The small bits of metal left behind tinged off my ship’s hull. I looped back around engaged the fighter’s vacuum and sucked in all the debris. I was an environmentalist on the battlefield.

“Hands, I knew you were the type to save the world.”

X was laughing over the fighter communication system and of course, she played music. This time it was Queen, the Flash Gordon soundtrack. I hadn’t heard those songs in years.

“Hands! Ahhh, ahhh, he’ll save every one of us!” X sang.

I understood why X liked to play music, it really added to the excitement level. The screaming laser beam guitar sounds filled the silence of space. She maneuvered her fighter alongside me and we flew in formation down along the mountainous white cliff that was the port side of the Banga. Lock parallel flight path.

Ahead of us, I could see light rays that seemed to be coming from the side of the ship, but as I focused in I could see it was Dr. Death running along the outer hull firing some kind of blaster rifle at one of the droid ships. He was hitting it, but only marring the surface. He continued running and diving out of the way of the droid’s return fire. As we were about to overtake him the droid ship exploded. I vacuumed up the remains.

X fired her grappling hook landing gear and snatched Death right off the surface of the Banga. She retracted it and Death was riding hanging off the bottom of her fighter. She accelerated beyond attack speed and for a moment I just saw the triple stack of blue thruster jets trailing behind her. Engage full thrusters, match speed and trajectory. I followed suit and was back next to her flying in formation.

“We’re going to pull away from the Banga to draw out the battle droid ships, clearly you get the whole flying in formation thing. The main thing to remember out here is that the Banga’s engines are full on and not stopping, so you don’t want to get too far behind her or you’ll never catch up again. You dig?”

She fixed her heading on the star of the distant solar system and we rocketed forward across the surface of the Banga and off the starboard bow.

My fighter was tied into the Banga’s sensor array. I zoomed in on the distant solar system. The ship’s computer fed the details directly to me and I displayed them using the fighters holographic imager. A bright white giant star centered the system with fourteen or so orbiting bodies and a massive asteroid field. The inner planets where smoldering balls of scorching hot iron and lead. Two planets orbited in the habitable zone and both had an atmosphere. The closer one, Varan, was a swamp, muggy and hot with high nitrogen levels, like Earth at the time of dinosaurs. Most of the planet was covered in shallow water with massive rainforest jungles on the higher ground. It was endlessly raining, though there was a band of desert just above the equator that circled the planet giving it a kind of tan stripe.

The second habitable planet, Varanidi, orbited further out and was mostly an ice world locked in perpetual winter with one main land mass surrounded by a partially frozen ocean. The next planet out was a gas giant with two sets of rings. It looked like a giant atom or Saturn with rings going in two directions. The gas giant’s gravitational pull destabilizes the ice world making the frozen ocean surface heave and crack. There was a great abundance of sea life under the ice.

The system was the ancestral home of the Varan people, a race evolved from reptiles. The Varan are known for their love of deep space travel. Early on they colonized the second ice planet and went through a fundamental change. They adapted their cold-blooded bodies to cold temperatures and developed an antibody that acts like antifreeze in their blood. They’re known to be able to withstand the vacuum of space with minimal damage, it slows them down and they will go into a state of hibernation if they stay out in it for more than a week.

Early attempts at space travel by the Varan left manned ships stranded in space. Later when they were found, the crew was curled up like potato bugs and floating in a state of perfect suspension. They were thawed out in a few days and came back to life. They would generally shed their entire skin after the hibernation sleep and be no worse for wear and tear. They suffered no brain damage and retained perfect memory. Considering the deadliness of space they have a hell of a survival mechanism. This made them natural risk takers when it came to space travel. It still takes more than 20 years of travel in any direction to reach another system, so the Varan not only took to the stars early, they also took to long flights early.

The Varan home planet had a large population of elders that live in a primitive fashion, at one with nature. It’s become a type of retirement planet for old space travelers that want to return to the wilds and hot jungles. Varan has a small moon with a base on it containing ships for any transportation needs to and from the planet. The Varan Moon is also the seat of their government.

On Varanidi, there are two large modern cities. One on the coast and one on the snow covered mountain tops. They run a galactic fishery and deal in specialty items from the frozen sea. They do this as a means to maintain their control of the system, but the shipments are minimal. This had the result of making the Varan ice lobster one of the most tantalizing delicacies among the foodies of the stars.

Past the gas giant there was an unstable mix of planets that have been colliding with each other over millions of years giving the system an impressive asteroid belt. It glowed and reflected the sunlight with the sparkle of diamonds in space. To the thrill of shiny object lovers everywhere, the Varan asteroid belt contains literally billions of metric tons of pure uncut diamond. Some of their early ships were made out of diamond. They looked amazing but ultimately didn’t have a lot of privacy. You can still find a diamond scout ship here and there being traded in various black markets. Though not considered the most cutting-edge ships, they still fetch a high value in many galactic sectors. Beyond the asteroid belt there are a couple more planets, dead rocks in space.

We would be passing by the system in two days.

I had muted the intercom while I was learning about the area of space we were in, the light was blinking like crazy. I opened the channel to the blaring sounds of electric guitars. X has something she was dying to tell me.

“They’re taking the bait, droids hate to be ignored. Let’s cut around and dive at the ship head on. We’ll cruise over the surface and give Uzi a fly by.”

“Vronsky will be glad you checked out the ship from the outside.I love that guy. You know that he introduced me to Jonas, sorta. I was in Malibu shooting some bike chase scenes for this movie and it had been raining. I met some guys who kept talking about swimming with whales and sharks. It seemed like a really cool thing to do. So I went out with them in this hired boat. The crew wasn’t too happy about going out in the rain and choppy sea, but anyway, there ended up being a school of sperm whales out there. I jumped in for a free dive and guess who was there, Vronsky. He had his giant whale dick out and he was fucking this whole school of females. Don’t tell him I told you that.

“Anyway, I was blown away by all this and, like the fool I am, I swam up to them. I could’ve easily been smooshed by the whales rolling around with each other in their sex-crazed whale orgy, but Vronksy took me under his side and protected me from the crushing mass of the fuck fest. I guess I kind of cock blocked him a bit, but he still took me safely over to the boat. I climbed on him and hugged him like you’d hug a giant redwood and told him I wished I could stay with him forever.

“Apparently, he was supposed to be looking for interesting human profiles in the simulation, not just getting it on with all the female whales. So get this, he looks up my profile and tells Jonas about our interaction. The very next night, I had this dream about Jonas and then I woke up on the Banga. I’ve been in reality longer than I was in the simulation, it’s home. And there she is…”

I could see X nodding her head at me and pointing to the ship.

As we came about, I really saw the ship as a whole. The Banga floated in space a colossal white monolith. It slopes to the battle bridges on top and bottom. At the back third of the ship, there is a huge sphere, like a small moon was stuck midway through the hull. Only the top and bottom sections are visible, the rest is consumed by the outer structure. Inside the dome was the supernova dark matter containment unit, with enough energy to power the ship for ten thousand years. Behind the sphere, the ship gets bigger and chunkier and breaks into the three engine sections. Similar to the fighters, but set up horizontally, three giant thruster engines run across the back of the ship. It was impossible to tell from the outside that a Mediterranean sized ocean was held within. There was a forward battery of cannon and more placed around the huge hangar doors on both sides of the ship. The Banga really was massive. It shone like a white giant with a tail of bright sky blue trailing behind. She’s actually rather elegant for her scale.

Trust me when I say almost everything is beautiful in space, especially from the cockpit of a speedball fighter craft.

Correct course, opposite mothership. Once we started to head toward the ship, it approached with incredible speed. Before I even saw the first droid ship Dr. Death launched out from under X’s fighter. His jetpack threw him directly into the path of the droid ship, which he proceeded to tackle in space. The remote ship was firing in all directions. Death was hanging onto its wings and disrupting its ability to fly correctly.

“Fire the landing gear!”

Engage grappler, target droid ship.

X and I fired our grappling legs and they sunk into either side of the droid ship. Cut starboard. Death let go and we veered off in opposite directions ripping the droid ship in two. The explosion illuminated the surface of the Banga turning it even whiter. I was circling around to vacuum up the debris when the last droid ship rocketed through the flames firing at Dr. Death. He managed to dive out of the way.

I did a notch up and down move that felt like being on a roller coaster. Then set myself in a head-on collision with the droid ship. I opened fired tearing through one of its wings. It shot to the left and X, rather than shooting it, rammed it with the side of her fighter sending it spinning out of control. 360 corkscrew spiral, re-engage enemy lock. I readjusted and followed Death’s tracer fire. Engage cannon, lock. Fire. The last droid ship was destroyed. X sucked up the refuse.

With Dr. Death taking the lead we sunk into a perfect triangle formation and skimmed the deck at top speed. Align delta pattern, match speed and trajectory. We raced along the length of the Banga. It was rocketing in one direction and we were going the opposite. When we passed the battle bridge I could make out the glow of Uzi’s red eye looking out the window. It zipped by like a blur even with my enhanced vision. I swear I saw him smirk.

Our live fire mission was over and I assumed it was a success. We were coming up on the dome and I could sense the dull thud of the drive even in space. We raced up the dome and Dr. Death signaled by putting his arms out in a T. He stopped and was standing at the peak of the dome. He gave us the radio silence hand signal. The Flash Gordon soundtrack ended and X and I slowed and hovered at the apex of the ship.

There, far below, hiding in the wake of our engines was a rusty shoebox of a ship. It reminded me of a rectangular rusty metal Richard Serra sculpture I had seen once in New York. The vessel was about the size of a Brooklyn brownstone townhouse and about the same shape. I immediately thought of one thing: Pirates.

{ Part 1 ~ Part 17 }

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Sci-fi short stories to inspire your inner rocket building, planet-hopping, astrophysicist space pirate. 🚀

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