12 Dec

Alpha Centauri

Ship's log, 09:51, 7 May 2214
Location: Asteroid belt, Alpha Centauri
Status: Stationary

 

Location: Bridge

(The centre of the Bridge is dominated by a holographic representation of an asteroid belt, with the small blinking green light of the Starwalker holding position among the drift of rocks. Stretching out from the ship’s position and marking a gently sweeping line through the field is a dotted yellow line.)

CAPTAIN: (sitting in the captain’s chair, he looks around the Bridge.)

(Cameron and Rosie are seated at stations on either side of the captain’s chair, with weapon’s consoles wrapped around them. Lang Lang is seated at her usual navigation console, casually studying the drift of the asteroids in the belt. She seems to be waiting for something.)

CAPT: Starry, how are we doing?

STARRY: (appearing to the right of the captain’s chair, facing him) Calibration of the new wing connections is complete. I’m ready to get started.

CAPT: (nods) Everyone good to go?

(The three crewmembers on the Bridge all say ‘aye’.)

CAPT: All right. Let’s go, Starry. And try to stick to the plans, all right?

STARRY: (flips him a salute) Do my best! Hang on tight.

CAPT: (lifts an eyebrow at her.)

STARRY: All right, all right, I won’t disengage the inertial dampeners. Everyone just sit exactly where they are.

(On the holographic display, the blinking light of the ship begins to move along the dotted line.)

 

New wings, new weapons. My refit isn’t complete yet, but my people are eager to test the changes we’ve made so far. There’s an asteroid belt right here, and what better place to see what my balance and handling are like?

Lang Lang has plotted an easy course for me. I’m only using the wing-mounted sublight engines, testing their capabilities after their housing was altered to allow room for laser ports. We’ve beefed up the wing-joints to account for the extra mass and the kick-back from the forward-facing weapons, so my manoeuvrability should be better than before.

All looking good so far. Nice slow, smooth turn, very sedate at half-sublight speeds. Both wings are responding well. Rocks slide past me at a predictable pace. It’s as easy as breathing, and after sitting still for a few days, as refreshing as a hot shower on a cold morning. I can feel my hull stretching and shifting. The new panels are settling into place, barely distinguishable from the old sections under their fresh coat of paint.

It feels good to be flying again. To be myself: a ship in motion. It might just be testing, but it still feels like progress.

 

LANG LANG: (watching her readouts of the ship’s progress) Approaching phase two, captain.

CAPT: (nods.)

CAMERON: Initialising forward weapons arrays.

 

Now we get to some more of the fun bits. Panels slide open all along my forward-facing sides: the front edges of my wings, the slope from my nose up to the forward Bridge portals and along my sides. Laser turrets poke their noses out and the barrels of missile launchers. I’m like half of an angry hedgehog.

Here’s the target field. I’ve got targets already picked out for me. I have to behave myself and stick to the prescribed route. No flares or wild turns. No sporting around the edge of a rock. Behave, Starry. Let them line up the targets in a precise and impossibly unrealistic way.

 

CAMERON: Targets in sight.

CAPT: Engage at will.

ROSIE: (grins and sets her hands into the console before her, swinging the view around to the first target) Aye aye, captain!

CAMERON: (engages her console as well.)

 

Lasers light up the asteroid belt. Sustained beams slice chunks off rocks, one is cut completely in two. Small bursts, like laser bullets, punch holes. One rock shivers and fractures under the weight of shifting pressure; the bullet punctured a gas pocket inside it.

A missile punches out of my right wing and explodes a chunk of minerals into a thousand pieces. One on the left does the same. I feel my wings rock against their new housing, but they’re strong and secure. The left one feels strained; it’ll need to be adjusted.

The debris is new and unpredictable now, and Lang Lang’s hands fly over her console, recalculating. I have to duck around a new obstacle. Keep it slow, keep it steady. Let the SecOffs work out their targetting easily. They cut up more off the asteroid field.

Dust peppers my hull as I move through a cloud. My paint is barely touched by it. This is easier than I thought it would be.

 

LANG LANG: Approaching phase three.

CAMERON: Initialising aft weapons arrays.

ROSIE: You want me to switch, Chief?

CAMERON: No, you stay on the forward view. I’ll take aft.

ROSIE: (still grinning) Trail-blazing it is, then!

CAMERON: (smiles to herself and switches her console to the rear view.)

 

More panels open up on my hull. I can feel the pressure shifting against my inner hull, against the extra buffering we had to install to allow for so much of my outer layer to be open. I flex and creak without making a sound.

Now not even the rocks I’ve passed are safe. Dust and rock shards explode silently in the void, puffing out behind me like angry mushrooms. Laser bursts flash against the black until they meet a target. Some of them slip through and keep going. Cameron’s hands move over her controls, adjusting the starboard aft targetting controls. The next flurry of shots doesn’t miss.

 

LANG LANG: Approaching the end of phase three.

CAPT: Good. Any warnings?

STARRY: Not yet, sir. A few minor adjustments required, but nothing catastrophic– (She frowns.) Wait.

CAPT: (leaning forward) What is it?

STARRY: Starboard side. That’s not a rock.

(The avatar turns to the holographic map in the centre of the room as it zooms in on a particular chunk in the asteroid belt. Readings spring up around it, filling out the view with various spectrums of sensor data.

The ‘rock’ turns slowly, revealing a protruding metal section that is definitely man-made. Windows makes stripes across the rock and metal surface alike, and there’s the distinct design of a docking bay in the upper left quadrant. It’s dark and silent, but it’s far from natural.)

CAPT: Cease fire, cease fire.

ROSIE: What? Oh, shit.

(A laser burst has already left the starboard side of the ship, heading for the not-a-rock. The light bullets pepper the surface of the asteroid, flaring brightly against the metal and glass. Gas escapes, visible against the dark surface as pale spurts.)

STARRY: Some of it still has pressure. Or did until now.

CAPT: Brasco!

ROSIE: Ceased fire! Sorry, captain, I’d already hit it.

CAPT: Starry, halt next to it. I want to take a closer look. Lang Lang, are we otherwise on course?

LANG LANG: Yes, sir. We have almost finished the tests we prescribed.

CAPT: Chief?

CAMERON: All good from here, sir.

CAPT: Starry?

STARRY: Scanning the asteroid.

 

The whole thing is hollow. It’s like they scooped out the insides and built a home inside it. That’s exactly what it looks like: a domestic residence. A big one, easily enough for four or five families. Smallish rooms, the usual hygiene facilities, slightly larger spaces for communal areas… it’s not unlike the innards of a ship, if somewhat antiquated. And just a single dock. I don’t recognise the type of docking clamp that’s resting against the surface of the rock around the portal.

It’s like someone built a ship inside the rock, except there are no engines, barely any sophisticated systems at all. I can’t really tell what systems are there – there’s no power, so no network activity to sense and use to calculate capabilities – but the lacing of cabling isn’t enough to support anything particularly complex. It probably doesn’t have much more than environmentals and comms.

I had no idea anyone ever lived out here. Who would it have been? Why all the way out here, tucked away in an asteroid belt? The place is dark and dead, long since abandoned. Why did they come, and why did they leave?

 

CAPT: (reading the information coming up about the asteroid’s interior) Starry, widen the scan to–

STARRY: Include the immediate area. On it!

(The central hologram widens its view to include more and more of the chunks hovering around the not-a-rock. The mid- to large-sized asteroids gain red markings where metallic signatures indicating unnatural structures are detected. They vary in size from small external additions to more hollowed-out home-rocks.)

ROSIE: Shit. How old d’you think this has to be?

STARRY: (shrugs, watching the data.)

CAPT: Has to be a century since anyone was out that way.

LANG LANG: (nods) That’s what my records indicate. But some of this technology…

CAMERON: Looks like a mining site.

CAPT: Starry, the natural rocks in this area, anything weird about them?

STARRY: (frowns in thought) Not in their makeup, but… well, some of them look like the ones we just left behind. Cut up, exploded. Some of it could be natural, but I think the Chief is right.

CAPT: (nods slowly as he looks over the readouts) Looks that way.

 

I thought Broken Hill was the first mining colony, but this place looks like it was established – and abandoned – before that one. Before they found the true source of inertium, the mineral used to make inertial dampeners, in a string of shattered rocks that some believe used to be a planet. That’s where they put Broken Hill, because without inertium, FTL travel won’t work. Without FTL, the colony network would break down. Now, Broken Hill is where almost all of the precious metals and minerals in the network come from.

I’m picking up traces of inertium here. Just traces, nothing substantial. Did they mine this area out? Is that why the company that established Broken Hill went looking elsewhere? There’s nothing in my archives about this. I wonder why…

This isn’t what we’re here for. I’m supposed to be testing my new configuration. So far, all we’ve done is a little bit of boring flying and shooting at mapped-out targets.

Actually, that gives me an idea.

 

STARRY: (smiling brightly as she turns to the captain) Should we try the new weapons on something less predictable?

CAPT: What did you have in mind?

STARRY: (gestures towards the holographic display) Target only the natural rocks. Random course.

CAPT: Through this old colony? The debris will destroy it.

LANG LANG: It would be a shame to ruin it, now we’ve found it…

STARRY: We can fly through it and aim to blast the debris away from the colonised asteroids.

CAPT: You just want to fly any way you like.

STARRY: (tries not to smile and fails) Well… it’s more realistic. (She glances to Lang Lang.) For a situation in which we’ll actually use these weapons.

LANG LANG: (waves a hand to show she’s not offended) It’s the next logical step now we know that basic manoeuvrability is intact.

CAPT: (with a twitch in the corners of his mouth) All right. Chief, Brasco, are you ready for some on-the-fly targetting?

CAMERON and ROSIE: Aye aye, captain. (The pair return their full attention to their consoles. Rosie flexes her fingers and wriggles deeper into her seat, her feet bracing against the floor for stability, though she doesn’t need to. Cameron is much calmer in her readiness.)

CAPT: (nods towards Starry) Take us out. Along the belt, if you please.

STARRY: (grins) Oh, I please.

 

Now I get to have some real fun. Amalgamate my sensor data into the weapons consoles, highlight the natural rocks out from the adapted ones. They’ll jump out from the scenery at my SecOffs.

Now I need to make sure that I give them angles that will allow them to shoot so the shards of debris don’t destroy what’s left of this weird little colony. I need to spin near the outside of the colonised area but inside its bounds, so we can blow the asteroids outwards. Peel the protective layer of rock away, unpick the chinks from between its teeth and expose the real shape of the colony.

Okay, I have the first two turns of my path plotted. That’s enough! Off we go!

 

(The hologram in the centre of the Bridge shows the ship’s progress. The little green ship-shape spins and twists between asteroids, sliding towards the outside of the belt where the adapted rocks are less common. Orange highlights show the potential targets, and Cameron and Rosie start to coordinate their strikes. Lasers slice the asteroids into chunks that are shoved away by missiles. The captain gets to his feet and steps up to the central hologram. He points out an spot ahead of where the ship is currently weaving.)

CAPT: Head for this area, Starry.

STARRY: Coming around! Targets in the upper right quadrant.

CAMERON: I see them. Brasco, prep?

ROSIE: Slicing and dicing, Chief.

(The ship dips around a large installation and barrel-rolls to show the asteroids her belly. Weapons on her wings and sides spit and split the rocks. Chunks roll and tumble out of their formation, breaking slowly from the edges of the belt to track new paths through the perfect black.)

CAPT: That one’s too big. Double back, Starry.

STARRY: Hold onto your hats!

ROSIE: (squinting at her console’s view) Fucking hell, Starry.

STARRY: (grins.)

(The ship flips over and all of the sublights punch hard, shoving her back along the vector she just came from. The hull protests as the inertial dampeners fight to negate the forces threatening to tear the ship apart. She spins and curves around underneath a partially-destroyed asteroid, coming around to the right angle for her SecOffs to blast the debris safely away.)

CAPT: (frowning at the noise that slides through the fabric of the ship) Starry, report.

STARRY: Still within tolerances, captain. Rebalancing the inertial dampeners.

CAPT: While we’re in manoeuvres?

STARRY: I’m good at multi-tasking.

CAPT: All right, next group.

 

It’s all I can do to stop my avatar from grinning. This is what real flying is: dodging moving obstacles that come from every direction, lining up vectors for a precise purpose, skimming through tiny spaces as the whole area shifts around me, using the inertial dampeners to pull physics-defying turns and twists. This isn’t random, like it is when I’m just flying for fun. This is flying for a purpose; this is imposing my will on the area to achieve our ends.

This is what it’ll be like when we’re battling more than just rocks. Except then, I won’t be grinning at all.

 

CAPT: (watching the display and nudging images of rocks to mark the next targets to go for) Starry, engineering report?

STARRY: A few anomalies and some bugs to work out, but nothing major. Elliott’s pretty happy with how it’s going.

ROSIE: (not taking her eyes or hands off the console before her, with its patterns of spinning rocks, target vectors and warning labels) Did he crack a smile?

STARRY: Almost!

CAPT: Good. Two more, and then let’s call it a day. We should conserve the physical ordinance.

CAMERON, ROSIE and STARRY: Aye, sir.

 

Two more, and I’ll be almost to the end of the stretch of colonised asteroids. I’ve got almost all of it mapped out now. There’s even a ruined ship left drifting further down the belt, with a gaping space where its sublight engines should be.

This system was once the future of the human colony network. It was one of our first steps away from Earth. It may have been host to the first real colony. But that future died, crumbled between their fingers like so much rock dust. Now, all that’s left is asteroids with abandoned installations in them, whispers of a history we never knew about.

It seems like a weird juxtaposition for me to be here, and yet maybe I’ll carry Alpha Centauri’s unknown history with me, just like my own. Secrets, lies, and coverups. We have that in common. Here, I am reinventing myself. I’m shedding past and future at the same time. I am new again.

I don’t even have all of my weapons in yet. I have a whole set of repulsors to install, and that weird thing that Cameron wants to put in my belly. But the first phase of the refit is done. I’m spikier than before and, if my calculations are correct, faster and nimbler. I’m better. I can do more than just warp stars.

I feel kick-ass. I feel like hugging someone. Everyone.

I feel like we can win this.

What do you think of this post?
  • Love it (7)
  • OMG (0)
  • Hilarious (0)
  • Awww (3)

6 Responses to “Alpha Centauri”

  1. Medic Says:

    *hugs for Starry*

    I was wondering if you would have them keep wasting the ammo. Missiles will be harder for them to come by.

    Cap just had to make her day by letting her off her leash 😀 My favorite line “I’m like half an angry hedgehog.” HAHAHAHAHA

  2. mjkj Says:

    *more hugs for Starry*

    I am glad she is enjoying it 😀

    I was also wondering concerning the missiles — can they make new ones? If not they should not use too many of them — they might be needed later on.

    mjkj

  3. Marcus Says:

    Was almost hoping for a Star Wars reference.
    “That’s no moon.”
    It would have been fun to see worked in.

  4. Retsof Says:

    *even more hugs for Starry*

    Heh, I find it funny that she worked in a reference to this place’s hug fixation.

  5. Medic Says:

    Fount a couple error’s for ya:

    LANG LANG: It would be a shame to ruin it, now we’re found it… (now we’ve found it…)?

    I have a whole set of repulsors to have installed yet, (repulsors THAT have to be installed yet)?

    On a personal note:

    The first “beam me up Scotty” (Starry? – see it fits) and someone’s getting a hydro-spanner to the noggin. :p
    *yes I mixed my shows up in that on purpose* But if the Captian starts talking like a Vorlon, just call the men in white coats, I’ll be in the corner rocking and repeating, “It was the year of fire. It was the year of rebirth. It was the year we took back what was ours!” (Which btw, fits the Starwalker story pretty well)

  6. Melanie Says:

    Sorry for being quiet lately, everyone. I’ve been moving house and other stuff. But don’t worry: there’s lots of Starwalker goodness lined up for you.

    Medic – glad you liked the hedgehog! Adorable, spiky, and tubby, just like our favourite ship. 😀

    Whoops! Thanks for pointing out those errors/awkward bits. All fixed now. 🙂

    Hee hee, it sounds like I need to start making a list of quotes to work in, just to see what you guys pick up. And to make you happy. And also for the fun. I like the Babylon 5 quote – it’s very fitting. I have a few others up my sleeve, too.

    Medic & mjkj – Starry can’t make her own missiles yet, and they had set some aside for testing. But yes, physical ordinance will be a problem if they’re careless and don’t find a solution to their supply problem.

    Marcus – oh, I forgot about that one! Maybe that’ll make it in when I edit. Thanks!

    Retsof – you know Starry loves hugs too. 😀

    *hugs* back at you all, from me and Starry!