The lights are flickering and dim, the gravity is off, and the air tastes funny. I think half the ship is depressurized. The ship's drive is dead, the thrusters are dead, the main reactor is dead, the backup reactor is dying, weapons are long since dead, the comms are dead...
Soon, I will be too.
Before I die, though, I'm going to tell you all the crazy crap that's happened. Yes, you. I know you're just an audio recorder, but maybe you'll have someone to tell it to yourself. Maybe they'll even listen to the whole thing.
About three weeks ago (I think), I got my paycheck. I dropped a few percent of it into my "new ship" balance, as I do with every paycheck. That's nothing new. What was new, however, was the mail I got a few moments later.
Notice: Sufficient funds to purchase item 228761.
What does this mean, you ask? Well, I've had my eye on a certain ship. It's an old corvette from a few hundred years ago. It came from a war halfway across the galaxy, and was one of the few ships not outright destroyed. Supposedly, it limped over here before the last of its crew died, and then crashed into an asteroid. A scrap shop owner two or three jumps over spent a decade or so bringing it back up to speed. I, a simple miner, should have had no chance of buying it (and no business owning it), but it seems that the ship had... issues. Nobody kept it for more than a year; it's been bouncing around the market.
About two years ago, it landed here.
I've always fancied a change of pace. All this boring mining is starting to get to me. I go out for days at a time, watch some dials go 'round, and then dump it at one station or another. There's really nothing to it, except when some pirate gets a bright idea. Then it's a brief moment of excitement, flying my little "deterrent" drone, and back to boredom. I enjoy the drone far more than the mining, but it's far too small to do any kind of dedicated bounty hunting with.
Enter the corvette.
The moment I got the notification, I placed a buy order on the ship. About three hours later, I received another bit of mail:
Buy Order Fulfilled
Pickup at: Mayfly Shipyards, bay 27
Even though it was well into my sleep cycle, I caught the local personnel shuttle straight away.
Looking back, I wonder why I was so eager.
When I came into the bay, the ship was covered. "To keep the space dust off," the attendant told me. The cover came off with a flourish, its folds straightening as the fibers were charged.
I had seen pictures, of course, but they did not do the corvette justice. The hull was beautiful. Its lines were sleek, its thruster ports subtle, and its hardpoints asymmetric in just the right way. The crushed side had been restored such that it was indistinguishable from the rest of the hull. Neither scratch nor "space dust" defiled the shining plates.
I boarded the vessel. The interior was just as wondrous as the hull. The ribs arced almost organically. The hatches swept open smoothly. When I got to the cockpit, I was struck with the elegance of the seat and controls. My old mining subfreighter's rude toggles and dials were a far cry from the smooth buttons and displays upon the corvette's console. I booted up the ship's computer, which had been upgraded since the restoration to allow a single person (e.g. me) to control and maintain a ship which was designed for a dozen crew. A log of test results spooled down one of the screens.
Loading OS... Done
Performing Preflight Checks
All segments continuous
All very impressive. The shipyards don't keep the ships armed, which is why the thing was throwing an error, but I could rectify that quickly enough; basic guns were well within my "outfitting" budget, especially since I would be leasing out my miner. The operational drive, thrusters, and shielding was plenty for me. From what I'd seen, the shield alone was enough to absorb the lighter pirates' civvie arms, and the drive was fast enough to run away from anything big enough to hurt. If need be, the comms were powerful enough to call for help from halfway across the system.
I requested a disembark from the yard, which was granted with uncharacteristic alacrity. The mooring clamps released, and I pushed the corvette out of the slipway on maneuvering thrust. Once clear, I put the main drive in gear and sped out into the black.
The ship felt like a glove. It was responsive, but not jittery. It pointed exactly where I wanted it, exactly when I wanted it. The drive plume did not fade for kilometers behind me as I threw the throttle to the stops and drove the ship to its limits. The blinding speed proved too much for me, though, and a close call with a small freighter convinced me to slow down.
I slowed down to stationkeeping, and browsed the market for a set of reasonable guns. The selection was pretty sparse; nothing much between drones and installation-sized batteries. They don't do much in the way of shipboard weapons at home. I eventually found a few of the appropriate scale and bought them. It took a little work to shoehorn them into the corvette's antiquated hardpoints, but I left the station with a full set of very nice particle beams.
Naturally, the very first thing I did was take a bounty contract. Some pirate was extorting a local shipping firm. They finally saved up enough cash to place a worthwhile bounty on him. It was only a few hundred limms, but I figured it would be an easy contract.
I flew out to the pile of asteroids rumored to contain my target and fired up the scanner. Almost immediately, I found the peaks corresponding to the drive signature released with the contract. I hid behind a particularly large rock, watching the radiation bouncing off of its neighbors. A shipping convoy registered a flight path nearby, and the pirate's drive signature jumped sharply. I knew he was positioning himself for an ambush, so I dragged myself along the surface of the asteroid with the compactor beam. It was slow, but quieter than my thrusters. His bow peeked around the surface of the asteroid just as my own disappeared behind. I warmed up the guns in the shadow of my asteroid. As the convoy approached, I saw the pirate's drives light up. I scanned the comms frequencies in search of the pirate's usual ultimatum.
The comms panel beeped. "Eject your cargo pods or you will be fired upon," the pirate said cooly.
"Oh-okay!" the captain of one of the freighters replied shakily.
I would have fired immediately, but the particle storage rings were not populated yet. It was imperative that the pirate be destroyed in one salvo, lest he take a freighter down with him.
"What's taking so long?" The pirate's voice was low with suspicion.
"We've experienced a jam," the captain said. Though he tried to stay meek, the pirate picked up on the veiled defiance in his voice.
"You're stalling!" he declared.
I edged out around the rock. An alpha strike would do me no good if the pirate fired first. My weapons panel buzzed, signaling a "soft" lock on passives. The turrets gimballed about to the pirate's approximate location.
The pirate's active sensors peaked. "This is a trap, isn't it? Where's the ambush?"
The game was up. Full rings or no, I had to take the pirate down before he fired on the convoy. I flicked the actives on and set the guns to "fire at will."
Half a second later, my scanner overloaded as the particle beam splashed over the pirate's shields. The shields collapsed almost instantly, and the hull put up almost no resistance. The beam cut straight through the ship. One of the myriad rocks shattered from the sudden thermal stress. The reactor detonated. A sound like rain announced the arrival of its debris.
My weapons console buzzed: storage rings depleted.
I busied myself with the matters of recovering from the onslaught. I rebooted the scanner and shook the comms array clean of metal droplets. The freighter captain congratulated me as the convoy accelerated away.
I awoke from a cycle-and-a-half sleep. If it wasn't for the date on my tablet, I would have thought I'd dreamed the whole episode. But no, when I checked my balance, there it was: paycheck, new spaceship and equipment, bounty... and a whole lot of celebration.
Oh, and what's this? Forward pay for a contract I don't remember taking?
It was an exploration contract. Go to a place, take some pictures and a rock or two, and bring them back. Simple, really.
The massive payout spoke otherwise.
A hundred thousand limms.
Now, this meant one of two things: Either the target was really hard to get into, or it was really hard to get out of. Unless times have changed by the time you listen to this, you'll know that it is both.
It took me three hours just to convince the corvette's guidance computer that the included coordinates were a place the ship could go, and another two for it to plot a course that actually got me there. By the time my ship took its third circuit around the whole warp rail network, I started trying to terminate the contract. Now, contract termination is not really a thing that happens, so I gave up after an hour or two and sat through the absurd course wondering what the hell
I'd drank the night before. If I'd known what was waiting for me at the end of it, I would have turned right around, and damn the legalities.
It took nearly a week to arrive, even though the course eventually straightened out. I made use of the corvette's luxurious quarters (which originally held a dozen crew). At last, the location in question drew near. To the eye, it was just another patch of space: a few rocks, the usual nebulous surroundings. My scanner, on the other hand, was an entirely different story. Where once there was a lovely histogram, now only the word "FALSE" appeared. I should've turned around right there, but in my folly I persisted. I took the controls from my now-epileptic autopilot and guided the ship into the region. I turned the recording equipment I'd bought with the advance on, hoping to get as much information as I could out of this expedition.
The records are in my quarters, by the way.
As I pushed forward, the scanner's nonsensical readings expanded from a cone to a hemisphere. It was at about this time that visual also ceased to be sensible.
The sky before me was ripped apart. Behind it lay only darkness. As the last shreds of reality crumpled and fell like cloth behind me, the ship went dark. I don't know how long I sat motionless in the pure black. It could have been hours or days. All I know is that eventually the darkness ended.
It started as a tiny point of light. I didn't believe its existence at first, but when it grew to a section of sky, I knew it had to be real. As soon as the golden light was enough to see by I set about rebooting the ship. As I flipped the relevant switch, the systems came on instantly. The boot log came up with no errors. The sky wrapped me back up, shielding me from the hellish void.
It wasn't long before I realised that what came next was nearly as hellish. Crumpled hulls and assorted debris littered the area, fading indefinitely into the dust from whence the light came. I couldn't ascertain any gradient in the diffuse glow. Worse, my scanner showed three high-EM signatures coming straight at me.
I threw the particle beams into overdrive with complete disregard for stealth. The deck throbbed with the reactor's immense load as the storage rings filled rapidly. Everything the ship had left went to bringing the shields to full integrity. I burned harshly from the spot, deeper into the ship graveyard. The signatures followed.
As I dodged around the ruined hulks of vessels far larger than my own, I noted with dread that the signatures behind me were catching up. The storage rings finally filled, so I diverted everything I had left to the shield and propulsion.
I soon lost sight of the boundary between ship and flesh. The corvette responded as if it was a limb. I felt the dust flowing over the shield as if it was wind in my hair, the thrusters as if they were my fingers. I whipped the vessel around rocks, through holes, and past the scarred and torn surfaces of ancient capital ships. It was a joyous flight like nothing I'd experienced since flight school a decade ago.
But even this wasn't enough. The signatures came within range of the scanner's high-resolution band. The readings matched no drive technology ever prototyped. At last, I acquired a lock on the signatures.The turrets swiveled madly as I threw the corvette through the debris field. I knew I had no chance in the cramped graveyard; my turrets couldn't track that quickly.
With the contacts hot on my heels, I found a clearing of sorts and made my stand. I braked hard into the throat of a truly massive engine. As the contacts came ever closer, I pushed the storage rings to their maximum. I switched the scanner off, relying on the combat sensors exclusively.
The contacts finally resolved to hard locks. As I watched the dust blew around the wrecks, I fired.
A fraction of a second later, my passives were blind. The screen which formed my only visual link to outside snapped to pure white. There is a reason particle beams aren't used in-atmosphere.
Gradually the image cleared as the storage rings emptied. I watched the last vestiges of the feeble stream wash ineffectively over a solid wall of debris. Wondering if I'd missed, I brought the scanner back online.
I saw only two contacts behind the wall. I'd hit after all! But it wasn't enough to kill off one alien contact. If I wanted to get out of this, I would need to burn all three out of the sky.
I rebalanced the power to put a bit of charge back into the storage rings while still allowing me mobility. The shield didn't need much power when it wasn't actively absorbing damage or charging, so I cut it off almost completely. Once more I blurred the line between self and tool in my desperate rush for safety. I felt the thrum of the maxed-out reactor in tune with my own heartbeat. The ship's spine became one with my own. No algorithm could have flown the corvette faster than I did, yet still I gained no ground. Inexorably, the contacts drew closer. Finally, as I dodged a particularly nasty lump of debris, I saw them.
The wall of debris behind me left me with no doubts. The ships used the wrecks of their myriad victims as shields. If I had chosen a projectile weapon, I would have been out of luck.
The bisected hull of a fighter flashed out from the cloud. I twisted around a huge monolithic plate. Even as the fighter crashed against the plate, an unrecognizable lump of ship followed. I felt it scrape against my shield as I jinked away. The hail of metal only picked up its pace as I dodged objects from before and behind. Desperately, I hooked around the hull of a battleship with the compactor beam. At last, the storage rings filled. Once more I aquired a hard lock with the sensors, shut the scanner down, and fired into the wall. I was blinded again, my shield tingling with the backscatter.
When the static cleared, I was greeted with the lovely sight of a chunk of debris hurtling straight at me. I turned to burn, but it was already too late. The lump crashed directly into my shields. The breath was driven from my lungs as the ship's spine was crushed by the overloaded shield generator. Errors flashed on the console. One of the turrets was gone, another was cut off from its storage ring, and two out of three of the remaining guns had lost contact to the computer. The burnt-out shield generator was probably bouncing around somewhere deep within the ship. Propellant leaked from the massive wound on the dorsal surface. Several attitude thrusters were inoperable. The gravity generators had burnt out trying to counter the acceleration. The drive and most of the thrusters were still intact, as were the reactors, so I fled to the best of my ability. Only one target remained, but I couldn't evade long enough to charge the remaining particle beam. I looked for a place to make my last stand.
I sighted the wreck of a gigantic capital ship. Its thick armor and structure would hopefully stand up to the alien's bombardment. I just had to get there before my attacker broke my ship.
A chunk of spacecraft clipped the corvette's hull, scraping the comms array clean off. Another smashed one of the drive nozzles. The main reactor died somewhere along the way. The corvette was in sorry shape by the time I limped into the ruined carcass of the capital ship.
And then, just as I was pulling a chunk of superstructure to seal myself in, I crushed the barrel of my last operable gun against a girder.
Yep. That's right. The reason you've found my dessicated corpse in here is because I ran into something. After all that fancy flying, I managed to forget all my training.
I unstrapped from the seat and made my way as best as I could down to the damage control station, in the vain hopes that I could restore the connection to the remaining guns. The mess in the shield generator's compartment put that idea down sharpish.
The generator was in three pieces. One was embedded in the main power conduit. The data cables were smashed to unrecognizable pulp. The casings which should have protected them were now floating loose in the compartment. I didn't have the skill to do surgery on the spinal cord of a spacecraft, so I closed the compartment silently and climbed back along the corridor. The scanner was still picking up the last ship. Escape was still not an option. The last thing I had left was salvage, and the puny damage control welder-cutter was grossly insufficient. Besides, this was a capital ship, not a carrier. Anything of use I found would neccessarily be absurdly large and completely useless to me, especially without a proper reactor.
I suited up anyway, dragging the ship close to a wall on the compactor beam. I cut through a frozen hatch in the wall of the propellant tank and found myself in a huge vessel.
I explored the ship, but I couldn't find anything I could take back. The damage control compartment I found was completely empty. The machine shop was dead, since the capital ship's reactor was out of commission. I found some spare rations in the galley, but they were unpalatable. I've been looking for anything useful for the past two weeks, and found nothing. Gradually, systems on the corvette have been dying. It's a race between life support and the backup reactor, at this point. I welded the corvette to the side of the tank, to keep it from floating off. Poor thing'll probably never fly again.
That alien ship's still out there, by the way. Bloody thing has nothing better to do than toss stuff at the hull. It tried to open my hidey-hole earlier today, but I welded the hole shut.
Well, it's been nice getting to know you, but my head is starting to hurt. Final log of some poor bastard miner who thought he could fly a warship, end.