Over the past couple of months, we’ve been seeing more and more about CIG’s progress on character customizations, which has also yielded glimpses of the female avatar. As a woman that “plays” her character in games and writes fiction-like tales about my adventures, having a female avatar is paramount. Even with the limited customization, we’re likely to see initially, I’m delighted about the prospect of selecting and customizing a female avatar.
As I’ve said before, my journey in MMOs is always a personal one that manifests itself as blog posts, stories, and pictorial vignettes. Seeing a representation that I picked and suits my tastes is an important element. Thus far, I’ve been using my EVE avatar as my character’s likeness. It will be great to finally create her first iteration in Star Citizen.
When I’m doing the logistics included in my short stories, I endeavor to make them factually accurate according to the current configuration of the ARK Starmap. I, of course, use my own tool, the Route Planner on Aly’s World because the ARK Starmap doesn’t actually return all possible paths. I could figure it out manually using one of the maps various other content creators have made but you might be surprised to know how many paths there are between two star systems.
Doing research for Journey to Stanton, it finally hit me that you can’t arrive at all UEE systems without traveling through unclaimed or dangerous ones. This may become problematic for players seeking a PVE focused experience. For example, getting my character from Tanga to Stanton required that she travel through at least one unclaimed territory. As such, it’s a potentially more dangerous star system.
In a scenario for another story, it finally dawned on me that large ships simply can’t reach all destinations. I suppose that’s like “Duh!” but the realization hadn’t set it yet, as someone who owns larger ships. To date, we don’t know the actual size criteria for small, medium and large ships to correspond with the jump point sizes, other than the Freelancer is supposedly the largest in the “small” category.
These size limitation will require lots of logistics planning for ship captains. Not only will it determine where you can’t take that ship but it impacts the number of star systems you must traverse when you can only utilize medium or large jump points. This, in turn, translates into more travel time and fuel costs. I would also think that traversing more star systems increases the probability of running into an aggressor.
I was researching a story involving the 890 Jump and was planning to have Helios as one of the ports of call. Only to realize that depending on how the 890 is classified in terms of jump point size, it might not be technically possible. Helios only supports up to medium sized ships. So while there are 893 possible routes to get from Sol to Helios. That’s an insane number, isn’t it?? You can’t get there with a large ship. You also can’t start in a UEE system and get to another UEE system only passing through UEE systems.
I’m intrigued by the impact jump point sizes will have on travel logistics. AND how the community will react to those limitations once the realizations hit. Are any of your plans likely to be impacted by ship size? What will you do if your ship can’t go through the gate required for your ultimate destination? I can think of a couple of things, neither of which will be quick or convenient.
Without a doubt, the Drake Herald is the small career ship I’m most excited about flying. There isn’t even a close second anymore. This ship and my fascination with it, speaks loudly about how I often play MMOs.
Confession time, I solo MMOs and I profoundly enjoy doing so. I know. I know. This preference is anathema to more traditional players. I don’t ask or expect the game mechanics to be changed to accommodate me. I don’t kick people in teeth for inviting me to do group content. I’m not antisocial. What I am is on a journey that is best served alone – a good bit of the time.
I like doing my own thing, at my own pace, enjoying the story that evolves in my head. I often take the scenic route versus the fastest. I like to figure things out for myself versus looking them up on the internet. I want to enjoy the ride not hurry to max level. I need downtime after work and family responsibilities and then, I have the time and desire to do content with others. But I will always leave time to end a gaming session doing something alone.
All that said, I have a large fleet of multi-crew ships that excite me more than the Herald. I can’t wait to travel the ‘verse with family, friends, and org mates. I look forward to the group shenanigans we’ll invent. However, when it comes time to do my own thing, I plan on doing that in the Herald.
As a professional in the Business Intelligence field for many years, first as a practitioner and now as a senior product manager, I’m fascinated by the idea of being an Info Agent. I’ve always believed that information is power with the ability to make or break. I’m curious to see how the mechanic will be employed in Star Citizen. Although my natural alignment is chaotic good, I’m willing to at least stretch into chaotic neutral during my adventures.
I like that the Herald can be run solo and that’s the plan for the most part. However, it’s equally great that I can take a friend along if someone’s interested and I have the time. Equally compelling is that the ship can also serve a reconnaissance and/or electronic warfare role in group operations. It’s the best of all worlds in flexibility – solo, duo, and group opportunities. Here’s crossing fingers, eyes, and toes, that the mechanics are implemented well. This is likely the first career I’ll pursue in the released game. As a career, I think the output has the strong potential to inform other careers such as science, exploration and resource collection which benefits a wide variety of other ships. What’s your favorite small career ship? What career do you plan to take on first when Star Citizen releases?
I consume a lot of science fiction and fantasy content. Books, audiobooks, movies, cable shows, and podcasts are staples in my entertainment collective. In recent years, I’ve become enamored with narrated drama podcasts because they’re serialized, designed to be consumed in small bites and can be enjoyed while performing other tasks.
My Star Citizen content takes on many faces, two of which are narrated fiction. CIG’s fiction that I record from their Discovered series and my own fan-fiction on Nightbus. On several occasions, I’ve considered dramatizing these in the style of old-time radio to produce what’s now being called audio drama, by amping up dialogue aspect, collaborating with others for voice-overs, and including meaningful sound effects. It would take considerably more work to produce the show. It’s time I barely have but the idea wouldn’t let me alone.
I knew that I wanted to write a story that continued Cami’s tale from Chop Shop and move the story closer to the star system we all know the most about – Stanton. I also wanted it to be a different listening experience than the first time. After much consideration, I decided to dip a toe into the audio drama realm by including different narrators. This would make the production more complicated so I tried to simplify that by keeping the audio for each person in a single block. Hence the strategy of writing the story from four distinct perspectives. The story/script is now with all of the character narrators. I’m excited to see how this all turns out. Depending on the response I might continue this particular story in an audio drama format, as a trial. You can read the short story, Journey to Stanton, in the Fan Fiction section on Aly’s World.
Note from the Author: This story is an experiment of writing a short piece of fiction that will be narrated by multiple people, each telling the story from their point of view. Look for the narrated version in Star Citizen NightBus Episode 7. You may want to read Cami’s initial story, Chop Shop, before continuing.
My eyes do not see, alike reflection gazing back at me. More than just reversed, it twists and turns from circumstance of birth.
Cami was in the captain’s quarters aboard Gray Jaw. The gentle hum of the ship enveloped her, its life force rumbling through her bones. Gray Jaw was parked in its stationary position at the top of the upside down horseshoe alignment of Jimmy’s other Starfarers, each connected to the next by makeshift platforms. Together, they acted as a refueling station and tradepost for the inhabitants and transient workers in Tanga’s asteroid belt.
Cami studied the holographic star map she was using to plan her trip to Stanton. The glowing blue orbs representing Tanga and Stanton were raised above the surrounding star systems. Wispy green lines floated in the air between them, illustrating the available jump points. Gnawing at her lip, she studied her options.
She looked up when she heard the door slide open. It was Jimmy. He was dressed in a utilitarian black jumpsuit, the upper half hanging open around his waist. His black T-Shirt had his company’s logo of a shark devouring a spaceship in the upper right corner.
“How’s it looking?” His voice was deep and raspy belying his youth.
“Pretty good. Several options.”
“I’ve made it through those parts a few times no problem,” he offered. “Question is how fast you need to get there versus taking a longer safer route.”
“Exactly what I’ve been thinking about. No matter what, I have to pass through unpatrolled space.” She used her fingers to illustrate the options. “Once if I take the longer route through Terra. Twice using the shortest route through Pyro.”
Jimmy came up beside her. “I’ve done both safely.” He rubbed at the stubble on his chin. “Do you have fuel for a longer trip?”
“I’ve got my cybernetic eye implant surgery covered but I’d have to postpone fixing the AutoDoc on medbay two.” Unconsciously, she poked a finger under the patch across her right eye and scratched around the empty socket. The phantom itching and pain had subsided over the last year. These days, it only flared up when she was anxious.
Jimmy flopped down in the high-backed chair at his desk. He crossed his legs ankle-to-ankle on the edge of it and leaned back. Like its owner, the room was sparse and neat. The bed inset into the wall was made. The storage cabinets against the far wall closed and secured. No personal items on display. “Nyx is the litmus test and you need to fly through there regardless. If it’s quiet good chance Pyro is too. Those two act like Siamese twins most times.”
“That’s been my experience. I don’t go that way often. Supplies too pricey. But I hear stories.” He stood up and pointed to the locations on the star map. “When you exit from Breman into Nyx don’t move until you’ve done a good sweep. The interference from the Jump Point will mask your ship if you stay within its signature. Do a directional scan toward Castra and then Pyro. Pay particular attention to unlicensed ships and the direction they’re going. Also, run a deep scan for deployable objects like interdiction devices and EMP snares.” He pulled a mobi out of his back pocket. “I’ll send you the common signatures for those. You can upload the info to your scan database. If the path to Pyro is clear immediately quantum there. If not, head to Castra.”
Cami nodded her head. “Like having the option. If there’s trouble, I’ll take the longer route and skip the repair supplies.” She gave Jimmy a warm smile. More confidence in her voice she added, “Thanks for the tips.” She turned off the star map and the holographic image blinked out of existence. “Structurally the ship’s in good shape. I’ve done small repairs here and there when I could. I can’t say as much for the A.I systems and weapons. They’re old as dirt and not something Rasa paid much attention. A simple assisted landing doesn’t work.”
Jimmy chuckled. “He was old school. Flew everything on manual. Plus it’s a salvaged Freelancer he cobbled into a medical ship for the living space. I suspect A.I. systems and whatnot were beyond his reach.”
Cami agreed. “Luckily they’re not systems I need regularly.” She exhaled “Damn – I miss him.”
The statement hung in the air between them. Jimmy sat back down and his eyes were unfocused as he spoke. “Same. He was a good man. I remember the first time he came over to do trading. He was a cheap old git. He’d help anyone he could but he’d haggle you down on a price to the point you were almost paying him to take it.”
They both laughed and the lump in Cami’s throat eased. Rasa had started as the stranger who’d fixed her up after the accident that had claimed her eye, offered her a home, and new life. He ended as a father figure who’d taught her a trade and left her everything he owned. “He went peacefully which is what you want. But…” Her voice trailed off.
“The suddenness of it. Yep. We were all shocked.”
“I – I didn’t get to say goodbye. Be there so he wasn’t alone.” Her voice cracked. “He’s with his family now which was all he really wanted anymore. “
“True, he spoke of them often.” Jimmy blew out a breath that vibrated his lips. “Worlds keep spinning and so must we.”
“True enough.” Shaking free of the memory she said, “I better get going. Heading out after I get some sleep.”
“Anything happens, you call and we’ll be there double-time! Enough around here owe you. Fixing them up even when they can’t pay. Don’t know why you think you need to change yourself. Fine like you are.”
Cami smiled and self-consciously touched her eye patch. “Thanks. I’ll be back before you know it.”
“Give me a shout when you’re heading out.”
“Will do.” Cami gave Jimmy a mock salute, turned on her heels and left.
A blue-gray sky framed the horizon. Sherman, the city in the sky, sparkled through a ring of puffy clouds encircling its home, Mount Ulysses. Below, the denizens of Castra buzzed to life, their crescendo reaching deafening levels at the Covalex Shipping Hub.
A battered and aging Hull B was docked at Covalex departure gate E101. Workers with hover-carts scurried beneath it like feeding a queen bee. The pilot, a middle-aged man with a growing paunch and an affable smile, was sitting in the cockpit.
Silas looked out the left side of the cockpit at the departure status for E101 — again. “Hurry the hell up,” he screamed at the display. He gnawed on his fingernails and craned his neck to see how many workers were actively transferring goods to his ship. “This place is insane. Should have known the trade office would be a clusterfuck of queues. Now, this!”
He regretted going to the Trade and Development Division before queuing up to retrieve his contracted load. This was his first trip to Castra and his first time buying goods on the side for resale. He’d greatly underestimated the crowds and lengthy process of purchasing goods on credit. “Shit. Hope I haven’t completely cocked-up.” He wiped his sweaty palms down the front of his shirt. “Had to try something,” he reminded himself. He could barely make the next payment on the ship as it was. His stomach twisted in knots remembering the high alert message he received demanding payment or they’d seize the ship in five standard earth days. This was his livelihood. Without it, the rest of his life would slowly unravel. Resentment bubbled to the surface. “Fuckers,” he spat, “not like I planned on being sick.”
Things had been going well for Silas up until he’d been hospitalized. He wasn’t rolling in credits but he was holding his own. That ended abruptly when he suffered acute renal failure. The synthetic replacement surgery and recovery had required a four-week hospital stay. During that time he’d lost a majority of his customers. On top of that, he now had medical bills and overdue payments on his squalid one-room apartment and his ship.
Silas needed this to work! The combination of this new contract to deliver goods for MicroTech and his scheme to sell goods on the side would give him a sliver of breathing room. But it was all contingent on getting the top payment from every delivery. Which meant his delivery of OptiGlas to MicroTech had to be on time. If not, they’d reduce his fee and all of this will have been for nothing. He started chewing his fingernails again. The repossession clock was ticking.
Silas checked the cockpit dashboard for the hundredth time, monitoring how many of the ship’s cargo spindles had been filled and secured. Three of the four cargo rods flashed green. “Almost there, baby! The price I got on this surplus is going to put us over the top when we resell it on ArcCorp.”
He pulled up the ship’s route planner and tapped in his new estimated departure time. Silas’ eyebrows arched up to his receding hairline. “Shit, that’s not going to work.” Using his original flight plan of Castra to Hadrian to Terra to Stanton would put him at MicroTech several hours late. Nervously, he tapped in the command to see alternate routes.
The planner displayed four options. The fastest being Castra to Pyro to Stanton which would get him to MicroTech with an hour to spare. “Damn it.” He flipped open the mini mobi he wore on his wrist to check the latest security bulletin for Pyro. He waited as the report scrolled down the screen.
“Hmm, only yellow warnings. Let’s check these out.” He reviewed the details of each warning. “Intermittent outages at a single comm array.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Doesn’t sound too bad.” Decided he said, “Gotta go for it at this point. Let’s do this!”
The ALL SECURED light flashed on the cargo status panel. “Yes! Time to get moving.” He used the external cameras to take a cursory glance around the outside of the ship and engaged the [STAND CLEAR] signal. A siren sounded, warning others that the Hull B was taking off. In a single fluid motion, he applied vertical thrust and raised the landing gear. When he was sufficiently above the station platform he locked in the coordinates for the Pyro jump point and engaged the quantum drive.
Silas relaxed into his seat as the drive roared to life. For a split second the ship seemed to slip backward, collapsing into itself before ricocheting forward, pinning him in place.
The opening of the Pyro to Stanton jump point tunnel was a vortex that gaped wide. Inside, diffused white light streaked its opaque curved and twisted form. The walls undulated and pulsed, lethal as a cobra.
Keokuk slammed the button on the cockpit controls to open comms again. “This is my last offer,” he growled. “Jettison the cargo and be on your way.” He paused before continuing. “Taking out my turret was a lucky shot. Don’t push it. I can still blow you to dust.” The crackling of static was the only reply he received. He pounded his fist on the dash. “Stupid cargo haulers. Dumber than a crate of rocks!”
Keokuk knew he was half bluffing. Blowing up the Hull B he had pinned in the narrowed part of the Pyro to Stanton jump tunnel wouldn’t get him what he needed – the cargo it was hauling. If he backed off now, the whole operation was at a loss since his ship had taken damage. He cursed under his breath again, wondering what kind of fool was risking his life for cargo digitally marked as being owned by MicroTech. Surely, it was insured. The Hull B pilot would lose the payout but it’s not the end of the world.
“C’mon dumb ass. Let’s get this over with,” he shouted into the void. Keokuk rechecked his weapon status. Three of his four Tarantula GT-870s were operational and he had plenty of ammo left. Ammo he didn’t want to use. What he did want, was for this idiot to give up the cargo and go away. He wasn’t sure how long his mates would be able to keep the comm array servicing this end of the tunnel disabled, preventing this prick from calling for help.
A thought suddenly hit him. He wondered if he’d taken out the Hull’s comms preventing the pilot from responding. “That would suck.” From his ship’s position, slightly lower than his target, he couldn’t see into the cockpit even at maximum zoom. For all he knew, the pilot wasn’t even in the cockpit anymore. Perspiration rolled down the sides of his face. The faulty temperature controls on his EVA suit allowing condensation to build up on the faceplate of his helmet.
“Fuck it. Giving this clown one last warning then I’m blowing him to smithereens, cargo or no cargo,” he grumbled. “Screw them and the UEE. I gotta eat too.”
Keokuk seethed with anger remembering how the UEE had actively encouraged families to settle in Lier to establish mining colonies. He and his family had risked everything for the opportunity to start fresh and build up a business of their own. It was hard work and long hours. After three years of back-breaking mind numbing labor, they started turning a small profit. The trouble in Lier began a short time after.
A socialist group called the Outsiders quickly gained popularity. Within a few months, they’d staged a coup and seized control of the local government. It happened so quickly most residents didn’t realize what was occurring until it was too late. Once in power, they started confiscating private property and businesses for the common good. Or so they said. Instead of mounting a defense, the UEE abandoned the system, leaving the citizens who’d settled there at the mercy of the socialist government that was forming.
“Gutless assholes,” he spat. “Me and mine gotta eat and get up enough to get the hell out of there for good.” Keokuk hammered on the dash to open comms again. “Final warning. You got five minutes to drop all the cargo or Imma blow you out of this tunnel.” His voice dripped acid. “Next thing you hear gonna be Tarantulas in your face!”
Joys are his to wear. Mistakes his to bear. Speck of the same creation. Birthed from a shared womb. I owe him. He owes me. We owe you.
Lacking the functionality to fly her ship on auto-pilot, Cami meticulously followed the Pyro-to-Stanton jump tunnel coordinates she’d downloaded from Jimmy’s star map. She was a couple thousand meters away from the most difficult part of traversing the tunnel. She mentally prepared herself for the drastic narrowing of the route while it simultaneously did a vertical dip and slanted to a 45-degree elliptic shape. “Just take your time,” she reminded herself as she reduced speed. Up ahead she could see the undulating tunnel begin to narrow. “You got this.” She rotated the ship to match the skewed oblong shape of the contracting passage ahead. The Freelancer passed through with little room to spare. “Sweet. Stay focused.” Checking her radar she saw two ships ahead. “Nooo – stupid radar.” As she approached, her distance from the ships ahead decreased, as though they were standing still. “Don’t flake out on me now. That can’t be right.” She thumped on the radar panel. As the two ships came into view, an emergency communication request flashed.
“What the?” Spooked by the alert, she tipped the throttle too far to the left, losing her wing alignment within the precarious path. “Shit!” She reduced thrust again and readjusted the ship’s rotation. Cami had no idea who could be trying to contact her or why. She wasn’t even sure how. She’d noticed a few minutes ago that long range comms had died halfway into the tunnel. Has to be a ship inside,” she thought. “I’m a registered medical vessel. Wonder if someone’s hurt?” She took a moment to consider, half hoping whoever it was would stop trying to contact her but they didn’t. “Well hell!” Unnerved, she accepted the incoming request.
The voice coming across the comms was shaky and talking fast. “This is Captain Silas Martin of the Roving Wreck, Hull B class carrier requesting assistance. My ship is disabled 1.5 kilometers ahead of you. I’m under attack by a pirate Freelancer. Requesting immediate assistance! I say again, requesting immediate assistance!”
Cami’s mouth fell open. Was this guy for real? Her forehead started throbbing – instant migraine.
“Mayday! You there?”
“Yes — I don’t see how I can help. This is a medical ship. Give them whatever it is they want.”
“It’s just one guy. Greedy bastard wants the full load or he’s threatening to destroy the ship and the cargo.”
Her voice rising Cami replied, “Are you crazy? Give it to him!”
“He’s bluffing. No money in it for him if he does. I’ll lose everything if I surrender this cargo.”
“Better that than your life. Don’t know what you want from me. I can’t call for help either. Only have short range comms available.”
“We’re in the narrowed part of the tunnel facing each other. He can’t turn around and I destroyed his turret.”
“If you come up behind and open fire at the same time I do…”
“You’re out of your freakin’ mind!” Cami’s blood turned to ice. She could feel her heart hammering. A blinding pain ricocheted in her right eye socket. She swallowed down a mouth full of bile. “Not helping you attack someone! For all I know, you’re the aggressor. Get real! Besides, this is a registered medical vessel. Abiding by UEE conventions I can’t…”
Silas screamed. “This nut is going to kill me. You gonna just wait to pick up my corpse?”
Cami shouted back. “He won’t if you give him what he wants.” Cami worked to calm herself. “You said so yourself. Don’t be a fool. Give him the cargo!”
“This is all I have. He might as well kill me. I’ll lose everything anyway.” Silas bit back.
Remembering how trapped and hopeless she felt during the civil war raging on Charon III, she tried reasoning with him. “Look, I know it feels that way. Like it’s this or nothing but I’m sure that’s not the case. I’ve been…” Before she could finish another comms request flashed. “What now?” Cami had a sinking feeling about who was on the other end of the incoming request. She accepted it. Figuring it was better to be informed than not.
“This is Keokuk of the Endor warning the approaching medical class Freelancer to stay clear. I don’t engage service vessels. Mind your business and you’ve nothing to fear.”
Cami was somewhat relieved but this seemed to corroborate Silas’ story that he was being attacked. That made this Keokuk person a criminal even if he followed the polite conventions of war. Anyway, this wasn’t a war, it was piracy.
“Thank you for that.” She hesitated. “But what you’re doing is a crime. Why not let this guy go and we can all be on our way safely.” Beads of sweat formed on her brow. She clenched her hands in her lap to stop them from shaking. “Comms could come back any second and there’d be two ships calling for help. Stop now. No harm, no foul. Let’s all get out of here in one piece.”
“If that idiot took the time to contact you then he’s not taking me seriously. Think he just signed his own death warrant,” Keokuk replied.
Cami grimaced, fearing she’d said too much. “What? Wait. No! I didn’t say that. I mean, I can see the situation for myself and you contacted me.” Panic rose in her chest like a specter, stealing the air from her lungs. Shit! Had she unwittingly escalated the situation??
A cruel chuckle emitted from the comms speaker. It was loud and the echo reverberated around Cami’s cockpit. “Don’t take me for a fool,” Keokuk spat. “His time’s up anyhow. It’s my cargo or it’s no one’s cargo.” He laughed again. “You gotta nice voice. Probably a nice person. Don’t make me kill you too.” The comm connection closed.
Cami stared at the closed connection status. There was a throbbing pain behind her right eye socket. Her hands were shaking violently as she reached to re-open comms with the Hull B.
“You-You there?” No reply. “Look you better hand over the cargo. He’s not playing.”
The comms speaker crackled. Then a distorted reply. “You spoke to him?” Silas asked.
“He’s dead serious! PLEASE just give him what he wants. It’s not worth…” Before she could finish, Cami heard the roar of weapon fire. Horrified, she froze, her mouth hanging open. The slow and measured boom of ballistic cannons echoed in the narrow tunnel. She quickly set her targeting system to lock onto the Hull B. Its forward shield was quickly depleting and the ship was taking damage. Although it was shooting back, its rapid fire laser cannons pelting the Freelancer’s shields, the Hull B was not going to win this fight. Its midsection was billowing smoking and spitting sparks.
Cami was immediately transported to her childhood of being trapped in the chaos of a civil war. She’d lost both her parents before the age of five. Her life at the orphanage had been grueling and precarious. They had basic services when local repair crews could fix them. They ate when supply ships could make it through. Over the years, fewer tried. She grew up believing that this war was her only future until a kindly old couple offered to smuggle out as many of the teenagers as their ship could carry. They’d declared they were old, tired and things were too dangerous to come back again. As much as they hated to stop including the orphanage on their trade route, they didn’t have a choice. They had their own family to worry about.
The resounding hit of a missile shook Cami out of her reverie. The mid-section of the Hull B was completely engulfed in flames. The Freelancer’s left wing and weapon were gone. She wondered if perhaps, this was all he had in the world. His last stand against the encroaching dark. “Like eight teens being dropped at a space station with bedrolls and two days of rations,” she whispered to herself. Without having intellectually committed to a course of action, her instincts took over.
Cami cycled her target lock to the Freelancer and slowly advanced. She wasn’t wearing an EVA suit and there wasn’t time to put it on. If her hull was breached, she was dead. She had no missiles. She wasn’t even sure her Behring laser cannons would fire. Bound to this course, she inhaled and opened fire.
Space, a vast silence echoed back at him swallowing his soul. His listening ear poised for reclamation, defamation, accusation, examination. Leaked, hacked – kept or sold.
A short distance away, Huyn watched local security route pirates camping the Stanton side of the Pyro jump point entrance. Hornets protecting their nest, security ships buzzed in and around their opponents, exchanging warning shots and occasional direct fire.
Huyn sat in the cramped cockpit of his Drake Herald. Instrumentation, data cores, sensors, transistors and other technical devices lined every available workspace. Color-coded indicators flickered at varying intervals. A light show that only a trained information agent or hacker could decipher. While waiting, he amused himself by eavesdropping on the communication channel used by the Stanton security teams. Having a conversation with himself, the hazard of long periods alone in space, he repeated fragments of what he heard. “Everything under control. Target two and three bugging out. Heading to reenable the comm array.” Hyun saw two of the Hornets fly toward array #126. This was followed by radio silence that coincided with a focused fire exchange between the remaining Hornet and a Buccaneer.
The Buccaneer was moving at top speed trying to circle strafe the Hornet. But the Hornet pilot wasn’t having it. He kept changing speeds and trajectory while returning fire. Suddenly, the Buccaneer’s left wing was on gone. “Oh — shit,” Huyn said to himself. “Time to give up kid.” A second later the Hornet landed a volley of direct hits, blasting the Buccaneer into an expanding ball of orange-blue flame, white smoke and spinning ship parts. Huyn shook his head. “Well, that was stupid. Never understand some folks.”
When things settled down, Hyun was the first of the waiting ships to approach the jump point. The Herald, with its bug-like shape, hovered at the entrance. A ball of dread formed in the pit of his stomach. No matter how many times he went through them, Hyun never became acclimated as some did, to the gut-twisting sensation of entering and exiting a jump point. “Nothing for it. Let’s get this show moving.” The inner coordinates were already stored in his navigation system, allowing him to use auto-pilot. Hyun pressed back into his seat and closed his eyes for what should be a very quick ride through the serpentine tunnel into Pyro.
The ship slowly approached the vortex until it was sucked in and began traversing the light streaked tube of interspace. Huyn was about to relax for the remainder of the ride when sensors blared and his ship A.I. came alive. “Warning front collision. Increasing forward shields.” His eyes popped open. “Emergency brake applied. Warning front collision.”
Huyn braced himself. “What the hell??” His head slammed the back of the pilot’s seat as the Herald came to a full stop. Ahead, in the narrowest turn of the elliptic shape of the tunnel, there was a smoking wreck of ships. A decimated Hull B was between him and the spinning fuselage of a Freelancer. Dozens of metal crates floated around the two ships. Furthest away from him, he spotted another Freelancer. This one had the markings of a medical ship. Its turret and the right wing were on fire. Inside the cockpit, electrical sparks flashed like lightning.
Hyun had never seen a three shipwreck inside a jump tunnel. Of course, he’d heard of wrecks happening. Unskilled pilots traveling through one for the first time could fall victim to the precarious turns and sudden dips. But three ships?? Ship A.I. should have warned the approaching vessels of the wreck or — something!
As he reached to turn on his comms to alert the Stanton-side security agents, he wondered if this was the result of something else. Pirates were known to roam Pyro and would pass through here into Stanton. But who stages an attack inside a jump tunnel?? “Damn, you’d have to be pretty desperate,” he tutted to himself. “That or fucking crazy.”
Welcome to the Star Citizen NightBus, a quirky mixture of fact, fiction and opinion. I’m your host, Alysianah from AlysianahsWorld.com. There are only two show topics this week since both are rather lengthy. Alpha 3.0 Planetside Content and the conclusion of The Exterminator. You can hear part one of The Exterminator in NightBus episode 5.
Please sit back, relax and enjoy.
The Nightbus is existing statis. Please secure all personal items. Departing the station in 3…2…1
THE STAR CITIZEN EXPLORER PLAY STYLE TAKES FLIGHT
I gaze as far as the eye can see and I can go there if I please.
With the coming of Alpha patch 3.0, Star Citizen backers will be experiencing what I’m dubbing Explorer 1.0. It’s our first taste of seamlessly moving from space to a planetside location and back. Our first look at a free-roaming borderless planetside location. Where if you choose to, you can walk, fly or run the full circumference of a world. No barriers. No invisible walls.
In Richard Bartle’s classification of player types, I’m predominantly an Explorer. In Marczewski’s Hexad, I’m a Free Spirit and Philanthropist combo. I play MMOs to experience someone else’s vision of a fantastical world. Share stories about my adventures and help others along the way. I revel in turning what was provided to everyone into a unique experience that speaks to me and of me. I want to excel at the things that delight me most – crafting, trade and the economy. The content coming in Alpha patch 3.0 is the first beacon of light for my particular playstyle.
Our journey from deep space to a planet will be entirely under our own steam. No magic portal system handwavium lives here. From Port Olisar, I will request one of my ships and depart. Using the upcoming in-game Starmap, I’ll be able to choose a destination and quantum travel there, much like we can today, except that planetside locations will also be available. If I prefer the slower route, I can simply point my ship in the right direction and go.
As seen in the Gamescom 2016 demo, your ship will transition from space flight to atmospheric entry, and finally to atmospheric flight. This will be a seamless transition. No loading screens. Content will be streamed to your client as needed. After descending into the atmosphere you can put down at a designated landing zone or free roam, and land anywhere The only game controlled landing we expect to encounter, is if you deviate from authorized approach lanes, in densely populated cities. Beyond that, fly to where your desire leads.
A TRAVELER’S GUIDE: SETTING EXPECTATIONS FOR ALPHA 3.0 CELESTIALS
In order to create and continually populate CIG’s ambitious universe, they’ve developed technology for procedurally generating planets, painting biospheres, controlling weather effects, day/night cycles, dynamic lighting and the construction of modular surface outposts. Players will be play-testing the results of all this new this technology for the first time in Alpha 3.0. This is probably one of the reasons that the surface locations in the upcoming patch are three moons and a planetoid sized asteroid. By and large, these aren’t the types of locations you’d expected to be populated with dense cityscapes. It’s an alpha. They need to refine and test the tech’s core abilities first.
That said, there is diversity among the locations themselves:
In addition to exploring these three Crusader moons, two new mission-givers will be introduced. Miles Eckart and Ruto, both of whom made appearances in the GamesCom 2016 demo. With cargo hauling, trade, inventory management and grabby-hands arriving in the same patch, I’m certain we’ll see a diverse set of missions on planet surfaces and in space.
Given that this is a sandbox game, we can’t neglect the infinite opportunities for players to create their own fun – impromptu planetside PVP warzones. Dragonfly cannon races ala pod racing in Star Wars. Ground vehicle races using the Ursa Rover which will be available for the first time. And lots of RP type shenanigans.
Haters will denounce the release for starting with the moonscape type locations. I believe that you walk before you run. A slew of new tech is being rolled into Alpha 3.0 for play testing. I think we’ll enough on our hands to help test and bulletproof without the complexity of vast cityscapes.
Although space exploration is why I backed Star Citizen, I’m an MMO Explorer at heart. I enjoy seeing the sights and sounds of strange new worlds. I delight in finding quiet out of the way places. I’m fascinated by poking around the dwellings and artifacts of those worlds, discovering what they say about that supposed culture. Alpha 3.0 is where that journey begins for me.
BHAG – BIG HAIRY AUDACIOUS GOAL INCOMING
To augment the procedural generation of planets and modular building sets, CIG will also be hand-crafting many zones to ensure that the universe feels unique and varied. Many have dubbed these efforts Hero Zones. One such zone has been included in the Alpha 3.0 schedule as a stretch goal. Meaning, if it’s ready, it’s in. If not, it doesn’t hold up the release.
The BHAG Zone for 3.0 is the inclusion of Delamar and its Levski landing zone. We saw a video of the landing zone quite some time ago and expected it to be added last year. However, CIG’s improvements to their development process with new technology and systems, sometimes means that completed content has to be reworked to fit the new standard.
Delamar and it’s landing zone will be added into the Alpha using sleight-of-hand. It’s not actually located in the Stanton star system, which is where the persistent universe alpha takes place. Delamar’s home is Nyx, an unclaimed star system populated with Anti-UEE activists, political radicals, and criminals.
For testing purposes, it will be temporarily placed in the Stanton star system. I’m crossing my fingers this zone makes it into 3.0. There’s cool lore about the subculture living there and the opportunities that can be found IF you’re willing to go off the beaten path into the underbelly of the beast. I’m no criminal but hey, it’s all in the name of testing.
I can barely contain my excitement. With this one patch, CIG breaches the siloed play testing we’ve experienced thus far into a unified game. There’s lots more coming in Alpha 3.0 – commodities trading, cargo hauling, true piracy targets and a reason to actually be a mercenary, all which I’ll discuss in NightBus Episode 7.
THE EXTERMINATOR PART 2 OF 2: You can read the conclusion of The Exterminator here.
That wraps up another episode of the Star Citizen Nightbus. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you have, please considering subscribing to my channel and giving this episode a thumbs up. For more game commentary, lore, reviews, and other Star Citizen coverage, including mobile-friendly easier to read version of the official ARK Starmap data, please visit AlysianahsWorld.com. Be sure to register on Aly’s World for an exclusive Monthly Newsletter.
You can also support my videos, Alysianahsworld.com and my Star Citizen fiction efforts through my Patreon. A big thank you to my current subscribers. Your sponsorship is greatly appreciated!
If you haven’t created an account yet on RobertsSpaceIndustries.com, you can earn 5K in-game currency when the game goes live by using my referral code when you do and I’ll also earn some in-game goodies. You’ll find my referral code in the show notes.
This is Alysianah signing off until next time. Be kind and fly safe!
The Nightbus has arrived. Please watch your step while departing. Re-entering stasis in 3…2…1
John slipped from shadow to shadow until he was across the aisle from habicube A19. To prevent the security system from locking them out of the room, the delinquent guests had placed a metal object at the base of the sliding door to keep it open. His pistol locked and loaded, he crossed to the other side, flattening himself against the wall to the left of the door. He heard an argument brewing inside.
There were two distinct voices. The man’s voice was agitated and traveled from side to side as if he was pacing. The woman’s voice was hushed and seemed nearer to the door. Her responses were clipped and defiant.
The man, “We to find a ride outta this rat trap. That bitch is starting to smell.”
“We need a plan before you get us killed,” the woman replied.
“Don’t have much time. Room money’s run out. Someone might be on the way already even in this dump of a station. Need to get moving.” Resolved he said, “Yeah, let’s get moving.”
“Pass. Rather take my own chances.”
“Suit yourself. I’m better alone. You’ve been useless anyhow,” he replied.
She laughed at him with a hint of loathing. “Too bad you can’t fly a ship even if you manage to steal one,” she said smugly.
“There is that. Guess that means you’re coming with me.”
“No, I’m not,” she replied mutinously.
“That’s not sounding friendly,” John thought to himself. Sensing that the scene he was hearing play out was about to escalate, he leaned forward to peeked through the door opening.
The room was steeped in filth. Empty food and beverage containers littered the floor. The woman had her back facing the door. She was in stained and perspiration soaked halter top and jeans. Her brown hair was cut short and plastered to her scalp. The man was tall, lanky, bald and wore a what looked like a prisoner’s uniform. He was standing in the far right corner next to the bed inset into the wall. Blood soaked sheets covered a lump on the bed.
“You wouldn’t have made it this far without me. I’m calling the shots.” The man raised a pistol toward the woman, a broken handcuff swinging from his wrist.
John had a clean shot if he could quickly thrust his hand in the opening. He hesitated for a moment considering his options. As though the man’s sixth sense of being watched had kicked in, he turned his head in John’s direction and their eyes locked.
The man pivoted his weapon in John’s direction and leaped toward the door. Whether to close it or grab the woman as shield John couldn’t know. What he did know was he couldn’t let this door close. John thrust his hand through the door opening while simultaneously dropping to the ground and began firing. The muzzle of the Gemini flared and smoked with each recoil. The woman who’d been standing fell to her knees screaming. Had she been hit? Couldn’t worry about that now. John pulled back using the door as cover.
Continuing to advance, the man screamed obscenities as he was hit. “Not taking me. Fuck you. You’re gonna die!”
John kept firing. Inside the room, blood splatters rained like confetti. Inches away from him, the man’s body finally fell forward, his skull hitting the slab floor with a sickening crack.
John vaulted to a standing position. He pressed his shoulder through the door forcing it open while reloading his pistol. “Station security,” he said with authority. Training his pistol on the women he shouted, “Don’t move.” Looking down at her, he doubted she’d move. She was in a ball sobbing hysterically.
When the woman calmed down enough to speak, John asked her name. She didn’t answer immediately. Leaning against the wall opposite here, he waited patiently for her to respond.
Trying to regain her composure and pointedly looking away from the corpse on the floor she said, “Diane. Diane Shea.”
“What happened here? This guy kidnap you?”
Diane’s pupils were dilated. Black orbs in a milky white sky. It never occurred to her to lie. Her voice was unsteady as she spoke. “No. Not really.” She wiped at the mascara stained tears leaving black tracks down her face. “We were on a slave ship headed to Kins.”
Incredulous, John replied. “Wait. What? Nah, not legal in UEE space. Not even to transport. Going to have to sell me something else sister. Tell me straight and I’ll be straight, that’s my motto.”
“I was in Yulin with… Guess you’d call him my boyfriend. Guess I knew he was running a scam. He was taking bets on Sataball. Things didn’t work out. We ran up a bill at the hotel we were staying at and he skipped out on it and me.” Her voice trailed off.
“He left me there sleeping. I couldn’t pay it. No one to call to ask to pay it.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Sentenced to three months indentured service.” She inhaled deeply and shook her head back and forth. “Like that shit wasn’t bad enough the assholes transporting us decided they could get more for the women if they sold us on the black market instead of transporting.”
The pain in her voice was too authentic to doubt. John eased up and prodded her gently to continue. “Kins huh. How’d you get here?”
“Ronnie,” she glanced at the corpse on the floor then averted her eyes again. “Hatched a plan to get us all out if someone could fly the ship.” She paused, transfixed by the blood on her hands. Suddenly revolted, she began scrubbing her palms up and down the front of her jeans.
John’s voice broke her out of her trance. “And?”
“And I can…fly a little. Enough to get us in the air anyway. Autopilot somewhere safe.”
Diane took it as disbelief. She briefly looked up at him. “I’m a dropout of many things. One of those being civ flight training.”
Diane explained that when they realized the ship was stopping for fuel in Stanton, they hatched a plan to lure one of their two captures into the female holding cell. Lara, an unlicensed prostitute who’d been snatched, volunteered to be the bait since she was dressed for the part.
Things hadn’t gone to plan. The guard was small but put up a huge struggle. After someone had grabbed his key and let Ronnie out of his cell, he’d killed the guard. Things went from bad to worse after rushing the cockpit ended in a standoff. Hoishee was hit and died instantly. The pilot bio-locked the controls while returning fire and quantum jumped to here.
Diane’s voice was steadier. “We think he also called for back up. Ronnie said we needed to run and take our chances so we did. He grabbed what he could on the way out – anything we might be able to sell quickly. Lara was hurt. I found the medkit and a coat to throw over her to hide the injury.”
“How many of you were there?” John interrupted.
“Four. Me, Ronnie, Lara, and Hoishee.” Diane cupped her face in her hands. “No one was supposed to die. Just wanted to get out of there.”
John looked at the bloody bundle on the bed. “That Lara?”
“Yes. Ronnie sold what he’d grabbed to rent this room and get some food. I tried… did what I could but I’m no medic. When we couldn’t stop the bleeding I gave her all the pain meds to — to stop her screaming. It was making Ronnie crazy. He started shouting and threatening to drag her off and dump her.” A shudder ran through Diane from head to toe. “I gave her all the pain meds in the kit and held her hand ‘til she was quiet.”
“You mean until she was dead.”
“Yes.” Diane’s legs were starting to cramp. She stood cautiously, raising her hands up when she saw John put his hand on the pistol protruding from his waistband. “What happens now?”
“There are dead people here. Someone has to answer for that. The ship you arrived on could still be here. More dead bodies.” He shook his head in disgust. “When you’re looking for trouble, you find it, I always say.” John looked Diane up and down seeing if she had any pockets. “You armed?”
“No. Never had a weapon. Was lookout in the cargo hold. I saw what happened in the cockpit on the remote camera.” Pleading in her voice she said, “I just wanna go home. Can’t you just let me go? They were going to…” Bile rose in her throat. She clamped both hands over her mouth and swallowed it back down. Wrapping her arms around herself she said, “It’s not right what they were going to do.”
“No, it’s not right. Fucking scum.” He spat. “Delinquent checkout for this room was logged for a security check. There are bodies here that have to be accounted for.”
“Do they what?” John asked.
“Have to be accounted for?” Diane asked meekly.
John rounded on her. “You were looking for trouble and found it. Don’t you think Lara’s family deserves to know she’s dead? What about this Hoishee person. I don’t know what Ronnie’s story was but he might have someone who’d like to know the same.”
“He was a drifter and a thief. This was his third stint doing time he said. Got no tears for him.” Deflated, she exhaled a sigh that completely emptied her lungs.
“Look, under the circumstances, you’ll probably be set free after the investigation.”
“After this kinda scared to take my chances. Know what I mean?”
John knew exactly what she meant. Everything would be hearsay about who’d done what. A lawyer friend once told him that if there’s a body, there’s a trial. People feel safer if someone’s feet are held to the flame when there’s a corpse. In this case, though, the ship logs could validate the story of being picked up in Yulin and a destination set for Kins that was later altered, diverting them to Stanton. But the deaths within the Stanton jurisdiction – they’d want someone’s hide for those. Right or wrong, examples were often made to make the next person think twice.
“I feel for ya kid. Having fun-n-games turn to this.” He flipped open his mobiGlas and set the status of the eviction request to completed. He’d finish the official report later. For now, he wanted to prevent anyone else from being assigned the case since he was already on site. John turned his thoughts to the unpleasantness ahead. He’d have to secure the prisoner and take her planetside for processing. Turning to Diane he said, “I’m going to have to cuff you.” He saw panic in her eyes. “I am NOT going to hurt you.”
“Don’t do this.” she pleaded. “It’s not right. Not my fault,” she said her voice rising. “Fuck those guys. If we hadn’t stopped them, they were going to sell us!”
“You’re right. Absolutely right but it’s not my job to make those judgments,” he said moving forward cautiously. “Live right and it’ll be alright. Just doing my part of the job. Local authorities will do the rest.”
Diane dropped her head and her shoulders sagged, resigned to her fate. When John was in front of her and about to ask her to turn around so he could cuff her, a thought occurred him. Where was he taking her? Grim Hex was in the Crusader vicinity but not managed or policed by that corporation. His official contracted work on Grim Hex was to evict delinquent guests and prevent damage to the functional habicubes. This situation no longer fits that scenario. Diane was certainly willing to leave and wasn’t that always his first course of action? Mutually beneficial agreement to vacate? He couldn’t imagine the ream of paperwork associated with reporting this situation. Damn it, he’d be planetside for hours and that’s after figuring out where to take her.
He reached to pull handcuffs out of his back pocket but paused mid-action. “Can you get out of here if I let you go?”
“What?” Diane looked up in confusion.
“If I cut you loose can you get off this station? Anyone you can call for transport?”
Diane brought a hand up to her mouth. Thinking, her eyes darted back and forth. Finally, she said, “No — not really,” dejection in her voice.
“Shit.” Exasperated, John said, “Can’t leave you here. Will end up in more trouble or worse.”
Grasping at straws Diane offered, “I can find work real quick or work for a seat on a ship out of here.”
“This isn’t that kind of station. Little to no work here but lots of trouble. Is only a few steps away from anarchy.”
“Oh. Should have guessed. Little we saw, the place is a dump.” An idea occurred her. A small ray of hope. “Could you maybe help me? I’d find a way to pay you back. I swear.”
“Not really my thing. I like to keep things simple. Don’t ask favors. Don’t do ‘em. Keeps everything on a level playing field.”
“Oh. I see. Well then so just let me go. I’m not your problem.”
John considered this option. He wondered how he’d feel if the next he heard of her, she was a corpse on Grim. Or worse. He did believe there were things worse than death out in the cold black of space. “Even if you find work, you wouldn’t earn enough to pay for a place to stay while saving to get out of here.” He didn’t mean to direct it at her but there was a bit of agitation in his voice. This was becoming the opposite of keeping it simple. And he had other work requests to process.
“That’s not your problem. You think I was headed to a luxury hotel? Sleeping in a stairwell is better than that.” Diane flinched when John suddenly took two strides and was suddenly next to her. When she realized that she wasn’t his target, she moved out of his way.
John entered his authorization code into a keypad on the door. A small panel slid open revealing an LCD display. He accessed the room’s status sheet and set the occupancy rating to “non-functional” | cause “Safety hazard. Air purification unit irregularities” | access permissions “security and maintenance only”. He closed the panel and turned to Diane.
“I’ve set the room to inoperable until it’s been repaired. I’ll call the local Search and Rescue Authority to collect the bodies. After that, you can stay here while you work on getting off the station.”
Diane’s mouth fell open. “Really? How much time does that give me? How long til a repair crew shows up?”
“Forever. Nothing gets repaired on Grim Hex. The company that owns these Habicubes collects revenue that’s readily collectible and that’s it. No maintenance crews. Shops are locally owned and maintained. But I don’t advise overstaying your welcome. Lots of trouble to be had, especially on this strutt.”
A small bit of relief came over Diane’s face. She closed her eyes and inhaled. When she opened them, she looked into John’s eyes and tentatively reached for his hands. John let her grab his hand and give it a shake. “Thank you. I won’t be trouble. Will be out of here as fast as I can.” She crossed her right hand over her heart. “Trust me. I’ve learned a scary lesson. Outta here as soon as I’m able.”
To her, he said, “Sure thing. Do right and it’ll be alright. Remember that okay?”
She nodded her head in agreement. “How will I get in and out?”
“Going to take you to a friend of mine. Nice woman. Get you a meal and maybe she has…” He looked at her blood and dirt stained clothes. “Something you can wear for now. In the meantime, I’ll get you a keycard that will access this habicube. With any luck, the bodies will be clear before you come back. Hopefully, an acquaintance of mine is working Search and Rescue today. I’ll slip her their names. Corpse retrieval team will clean up biofluids. That’s a public health hazard. For the rest this mess, you’re on your own.” John opened his mobi. “You know Lara’s full name or anything that might help ID her?”
“Lara Billingsley. Think she was a runaway from way back. She mentioned earth several times.”
“Sorry. No. Hoishee was pretty quiet the whole time. Calm compared to me and Lara. She didn’t say much. Got the impression this wasn’t her first run-in with being detained by the Banu.”
“What about the ship you were on? Need to see if it’s still here.”
“Was a rigged up Cutlass Black. Had the name Vipers Den painted on the outside. I heard them mention holding up in Spider after they’d collected on us.” The horror of the past events washed over her, raising goose pimples on her flesh. Hugging herself Diane said, “Sorry, that’s all I know.”
“It’s a start. C’mon lets get you out of here for a while. I’ll flag the bodies for emergency pick-up to move things along.”
Maggie looked up from wiping down the bar to see John walking through the door with a bedraggled young woman at his side. Maggie recognized the jacket the woman was in, as the one she’d seen John wearing earlier. “This looks interesting,” she mused to herself. When the pair reached the bar she said, “Didn’t expect to see you back here today.”
“Wasn’t part of my day’s plan either, Maggs. This here’s Diane.” Turning to Diane he said, “This is Maggs. The friend I was telling you about.”
“Rated a friend already?” Maggs said. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“You are and it’s meant to be one.”
Maggie smiled. She was instantly charmed – again, even though she felt a request for a favor coming. “Nice to meet you, Diane.”
“Same,” Diane said in a low voice.
“I kind of need a favor, Maggs.”
“Happy to help if I can.”
John relayed the events that had happened since they’d last spoken. He hoped the retelling of it and the choices he’d made wouldn’t offend her. He was glad not to see any condemnation in her expression as she listened. Unbeknownst to John, Maggie would never have reacted that way. She’d been around too long and had seen too much to be shocked by what he’d told her. In fact, she was happily surprised that he’d decided to help Diane. It didn’t seem in character for him to skirt the law, being the man of specific values and dictums. She was glad he’d bent his rules this time.
Maggie showed Diane into the employee restroom to clean up and change into a pair of overalls she kept in her office. She made her a plate of food to eat now and an extra to take with her. She suggested Diane eat and rest a bit in her office while the rest was being worked out.
John and Maggie were sitting at the far end of the bar having a drink. “You did the right thing, I think,” Maggie offered. “I can give her couple hours a day of work in exchange for food or credits. Whichever she prefers. Will also put the word out with folks I trust.”
“You’re the best, Maggs.”
“You’re a good guy, John. People told me you were and they were right.”
“You mean good guy as in violating my contract by falsifying the condition of the habicube? Getting a stranger a keycode to live there free? Lying about how I know the dead girl’s name?” He shook his head thinking about what he’d done.
“Life’s not always black and white, John.” She interrupted his ready reply. “I know. I know. You have your way of doing things. That’s all well and good when it’s possible.” She put her hand on his shoulder and waited until she had his full attention. “You are a good man, JJ. In this situation, it was the right thing to do.”
John smiled and shrugged his shoulders in acquiescence. “If you say so, Maggs.”
“I do. ‘Cuz even good people paint outside the lines sometimes.”
My weekend started on Thursday. I’m taking time off for some family activities. During any downtime, I’ll be working on the conclusion to The Exterminator, which debuted in Nightbus Episode 5. Yesterday evening I did something rather unnerving – for me at least, that will be shared on Monday. I’ll give you a hint. Tyler from Cloud Imperium Games was involved.
After The Exterminator, I’ll be revisiting Cami from Chop Shop, whose story was told in NightBus Episode 3. The narration of the story will be a collaboration that I’m very excited about orchestrating. I’ll be writing the story specifically to support three different character points of view. I’ll discuss more as I get closer to finishing the content. For now, here’s a teaser for the conclusion of The Exterminator.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reorganizing the content on AlysianahsWorld.com to meet near-term plans. I will be writing more about Star Citizen, what I’m doing within that community, writing more fiction and getting back to my blogging roots. I felt it was necessary to reorganize how my articles are grouped and categorized to support these changes.
For the hardcore followers of Star Citizen’s development, there’s no lack of available topics. For me, it was about finding the time to research and produce the type of shows that bear my personal signature, which takes a lot of time just for that, much less blog or author other articles. Now that things have settled down in my world, I have more time for my longest running hobby – gaming and writing about my gaming. I hope you’ll stay tuned for more.
This week’s episode of Nightbus takes on some drama, theory crafting, tidbits and new fiction.
Welcome to the Star Citizen NightBus, a quirky mixture of fact, fiction and opinion. I’m your host, Alysianah from AlysianahsWorld.com. This week’s show are:
The Nightbus is existing statis. Please secure all personal items. Departing the station is 3…2…1
With planetary landings on the horizon, conversations have started within the community, speculating on the methods CIG might utilize for planetside node harvesting in Star Citizen.
Every MMO that I’ve played, and I’ve played every AAA MMO that’s come to North America over the past 20 years, has utilized surface level node collection. The one exception being SOE’s Landmark which — well, in the end, didn’t materialize into the planned MMO, Everquest Next, so perhaps that one doesn’t even count.
By surface level nodes, I mean objects that appear directly on the surface of the visible terrain. Even when a node is inside a cave, it’s on the surface — you can see it. There’s no digging below terrain you’re standing on.
I don’t have a problem when games only employing surface level nodes. They’re easy to find and access, which makes harvesting a more casual affair. Depending on the concentration of nodes needed to support the player-base however, surface nodes can clutter up the landscape if not done very well. And require very unnatural looking zones of heavy density of nodes to support large-scale collection.
While digging below the surface wouldn’t bother me, I’m fine with surface-only. I enjoy harvesting casually while I explore. Finding resources below the surface necessitates more intent than aimlessly meandering and picking up whatever you happen to see. Or opportunistically harvesting while you’re traveling.
I’ve recently seen high concentration surface level nodes only done very well. Unlike most other MMOs using surface nodes, BDO doesn’t use visual cues that can be seen from a distance. You can’t tell if an element is a harvestable node until you’re right on it. And the nodes themselves – ore, plants, trees, etc., look like any other part in of landscape. This results in a natural looking environment that doesn’t break your immersion or call your attention to “fake thing here” when you’re not trying to harvest.
In BDO, I explore while harvesting because you have to mingle in with the environment to know if you can gather an item. I enjoy walking along the furrowed rows of a farm along side NPCs maintaining it, looking for vegetables to harvest for cooking recipes. Chopping down trees in a nearby wood while seeing if there were any quest mobs in the area. Or vice versa.
So while I’m open to surface only, beneath only or a combination, I found BDO’s surface only implementation quite compelling and natural. Do you have a preference? What game have you played that got it just right?
For more interesting facts, check out the Star Hangar Facebook page. I’ll include a link in the Show Notes
If you’ve subscribed on Alysianahsworld.com, you know that in my May newsletter, I expressed my thoughts on the whole Referral Program contest kerfuffle. The short version is that something that was initially billed as an exciting restructuring of the program does not a one time contest make. I was expecting a permanent enhancement to the program aka restructuring, that all backers could work toward over the lifetime of their referral activity. Who thought a timed contest with a short duration was going to excite most of us, was sadly mistaken. The game development is in alpha, yes. But it’s time for marketing and communications raise their game out of alpha mode.
Ben Lesnick of CIG, posted a reply in a thread on Spectrum that addresses some of the concerns expressed by a part of the community. Why they showed referral codes of some, concerns about it being timed event that most can’t reach and why the new backer push with such a harsh new player experience, among other things. Net-net is that they appreciate the feedback and are going to work on improvements in the area of new player experience and it appears they’re going to extend the time to allow us “regular folks” a chance at the lower tier items.
While it’s good to see a direct response and some action. It’s sad that this sort of misstep happened in the first place. It’s as if they don’t know this community at all or worse, they don’t perceive the disconnect between what they say sometimes versus what they actually do. I’m sorry but we shouldn’t be having these kinds of disconnects at this stage of the game.
DO NOT USE MARKETING SPIN when communicating with the backer community. Save that for potential customers when the game goes live. Save that for interviews. PLEASE SPEAK PLAIN LANGUAGE TO US. This will greatly reduce the unnecessary drama that inspirational letters from Chris won’t always be able to solve. Stop using that and conciliatory messages afterward as a crutch. Please please, get it together and consider vetting this stuff outside the circle of people working on it. Perhaps they’re too close to it and can’t see the pitfalls that other CIG staff who interact with the community might have before the cat was out of the bag.
If you haven’t seen Ben’s response, check the Show Notes for a direct link.
That wraps up another episode of the Nightbus. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you have, please considering subscribing to my channel and giving this episode a thumbs up.
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Audio version available on YouTube: Star Citizen Nightbus Episode 5
“John James, plain name, simple life,” John introduced himself. Followed by “Or you can call me JJ. I’ve no preference.” He reached across the bar toward Maggie and gave her hand a friendly shake.
Maggie immediately warmed to his disarming smile. Was it a trick of the light or were his eyes sparkling? “On drugs more like,” she thought to herself. Shit! She might have to find someone else. But he’d come so highly recommended. She stepped from behind the bar to join him on the other side.
Maggie was in her late fifties with spiky gray hair she kept long on the top and cut close on the sides and at the back. The lines on her face aged her beyond her years. But the fact that she’d been a beauty in her youth was evident.
Maggie and John were standing at the bar of Maggie’s Red Dragon pub, a popular hangout on Grim Hex. The public space was a large rectangular room divided into distinct quadrants. The decor was a cheap gaudy attempt at the Asian Revival design that had been popular two or more decades ago. Circular black and white rice paper chandeliers with missing panels hung from the ceiling. Scarred wooden dragons acted as vertical beams, the blood red paint chipped and faded. A rumpled threadbare gold and purple lotus patterned carpet was spread across the floor.
Maggie pointed to the areas as she described them. “I’ve got just the one room here as you can see. Pool tables there.” She pointed to the back left corner. “Card tables there.” Back right corner. Pointing to the front half of the room where they were standing,“Up here is all dining.”
John absentmindedly scratched at the three days of stubble on his chin as he listened. He didn’t say anything so Maggie shrugged and continued. Pointing to a door centered on the wall behind the bar she said, “Back there is the kitchen, my office, and restroom.”
“Just staff?” He asked.
“Yeah. Public restrooms too much trouble. Kept finding empty syringes, vials. That Black Widow crap smells like a rotting flesh. Vagrants sleeping, couples fucking — you name it.”
John laughed. He could imagine that and worse. “Hex customers aren’t known for their manners.”
“Drug busts in the men’s room. Last of it for me. Walled it off from this side and renting it out as a commercial stall on the other. Young kid doing tats out of the space. Name’s Ronnie. Seems like a good kid. Pays on time. Customers welcome to eat, drink, ‘n party here. Take care of their other needs elsewhere.”
“I’ve walked through some of those elsewheres,” he joked. “No entrance on this side to the tat place?”
“Nah. Registered as a separate location. This work is only for here.”
“Okay. Cool. It’s really just the one room then. Kitchen looks secure,” he said pointing to the hand scanner on the door. “The glass opening bulletproof?”
“Yep, had that installed last year. So this the kind of job you take? I know you’re bounty but was told you take freelance stuff too. You came highly recommended just wasn’t sure this is your thing.”
As was his custom, John diligently tapped notes into his mobiGlas. He preferred the palm size translucent version. It fit easily into his pockets – pants or a jacket. He especially liked that if necessary the display could be enlarged into an interactive holographic image.
Noticing that Maggie had stopped talking he looked up. His smile was genuine and raised his cherub-like cheeks high on his face. Dark curly hair rested on his forward just above a bushy unibrow that arched gently over gray eyes. “I do most any security work on contract if I can fit it in comfortably. If I can’t, I’ll refer you to someone.” He continued tapping in notes. “No point in stressing to squeeze it.” Looking up he said, “Or stressing you if I can’t be here when needed.” His face back on his mobi, “I like to keep it simple. Works best that way.”
Maggie nodded her head, still uncertain if that meant he was taking the job or not. “Okay…”
“John James, plain name, simple life, is my motto.”
“Uh sure,” was all Maggie could think to say again.
He closed the mobi and gave Maggie his full attention. “Looks like I can fit you in. Friday and Saturday from 10 PM until close which is?
“Right!” He walked away from Maggie to survey the space himself. “I’d like to install security cameras in each section.”
Maggie walked toward the card tables where John had wandered over to. “How much does that cost?”
He chuckled. “My expense if we can agree I can take emergency calls when the place is quiet.” He saw her eyebrows arch up and smiled. “Only local — emergencies. I discount for the time I’m out.” He sauntered back toward the front and leaned on the bar. “Cameras are my eyes and ears. Also, solid evidence if you need if you insist on pressing charges. I prefer to work things out in other ways but here, you’re the boss.”
With concern in her voice, Maggie asked, “You expect that to happen often? Being away during my shift?”
“Never know. Just a precaution. This is side work for me. Filler. Routing pirates and vagrants are my main meal ticket. I’m a senior security and bounty contractor for Hurston, Crusader, and ArcCorp. I get first dibs ‘round here so that’s my priority. If I don’t take a gig, I lose it and eventually, get bumped down the ladder for new work.” His tone was light. His voice even.
Maggie came to stand beside him. “I don’t know. I had trouble a few days. Is why I started asking around.” She wrung her hands. “It got pretty bad. I need those hours covered. Place is rowdiest then. Station’s been seeing more traffic lately. Some looking for work or to shop. Others for trouble.”
He reached out and took one of Maggie’s hands. He patted it like they were old friends. “I hear ya. Totally understand.” Humming quietly to himself he flipped open his mobi. “Let me shoot you a couple names. Either one of these will do just as well.” He returned to humming while he scrolled through his contacts. “Neither are A level cuz they’ll have the same problem as me. Local corp work comes first.” His head bobbed slightly to the tune that only he could hear.
“Oh, I hadn’t realized. I just asked around about who’s best…”
“That’d be me,” he said absentmindedly. “Here we go. Try…”
Maggie cut him off. “Several said you’re the best and actually a good guy. Everyone said that — good guy.”
“I try, Maggie dear, I do try. I keep it simple. Live right. It’ll be alright. That’s my motto.”
“Well if you think it will work…” She hesitated. “I’m up for giving it a try.”
He looked up and graced her with the full force of his penetrating gaze and smiled. “Trust me, it’ll be fine. Wouldn’t steer you wrong. Do no harm is my motto.”
Maggie caught her breath. “Well damn, “ she thought to herself, “His eyes actually do sparkle.” To him, she said, “Send the contract and I’ll authorize it.”
He pointed his mobi at Maggie and swiped his finger from it to her. “There you go.”
“Oh — sorry, don’t have a mobile one. Will pick it up off the one in my office.
“Can you start this week?”
He extended his hand and Maggie accepted it. “Sure can. Will install the cameras on my first shift.”
She hoped she wasn’t blushing. He was too young for her. He wasn’t even particularly handsome. “But there’s something about him,” she decided inwardly.
“Pleasure doing business you with Mags. Off to do my rounds.” John slid his hands into his jacket pockets and sauntered toward the exit. Over his shoulder, he added, “Don’t hesitate if something comes up before then. You’re one of John’s now. I’ll come as quick as I can.”
Maggie patted the sides of her hair and wiped gently at the edges of her eyes as if that could erase the heavy crow’s feet nesting there. “Okay. Sure. Thanks.” Her voice cracked on the last and John gave her a knowing look. She turned away, her cheeks flaming.
“Now for the main event,” John said to himself. He checked the work queue on his mobi to verify the habicube eviction request he’d received earlier was still active. It was. Maggie’s pub was at the back of Hex-D, one of the cleaner struts on the space station. The work request was in Hex-A, the worst area. The quickest way there would be through the tunnels.
The tunnels, as they’re called by locals, are a network of secured maintenance routes burrowed into the giant asteroid turned mining station and housing exchange, now a self-governing powder key. A handful of legit merchants had stayed after the Imperial Green mining operation pulled out. Having invested all their life savings in establishing businesses here, they couldn’t afford to pack up and run when the mines dried up and the criminal element began infiltrating the station, trying to secure a foothold in Stanton.
Industrious opportunists stayed too. They squatted in available spaces, installed personal generators and opened for business. Imperial retained control of the functioning self-service habicubes and continued to collect the revenue. But everything on the station was an “as is” situation. No maintenance or repairs. When things stopped working on Grim Hex, they stopped working forever.
John whistled as he made his way to the closest maintenance tunnel. He unlocked the massive vault-like door with his access code. As the door retracted, he ducked his six-foot-four stocky frame through the opening. It was pitch black inside. He pulled out the flashlight he kept clipped on his belt.
With no maintenance crews on the station, lighting in the tunnels was spotty. A good distance ahead, he could see a pinprick of yellow light flickering. He panned his flashlight around him and forward to get his bearings. The jagged walls of the tunnel glistened with sweat. Rusted pipes overhead lead the way forward. They hissed angry pockets of steam from cracked wounds. John started walking, his boots echoing every footstep.
Although it would be a reduced payout, John hoped the occupants had voluntarily vacated by now. The request was two hours hold. He’d get his 25% fee for swiping in at the location as evidence he’d checked it out. It would be easier for everyone if they were already gone.
Persuading vagrants to depart on their own was his preferred solution. Convincing would-be pirates to vacate the area with words or by force was better than disabling, capturing and hauling them planetside for processing in his book. “Everyday flying free above the rock is a good day,” was his motto.
Seasonal supplies and the mandatory annual physical required by his contract were the only times John went planetside. He was impatient waiting at the medical facility. He fidgeted waiting in line at the surplus warehouse where he bought non-perishable food supplies. He grunted trying to maneuver around the [other customers] picking through clothing haphazardly tossed into “Final Sale” bins. The streets were the worst, especially on ArcCorp. The teeming throngs of yackers brushing by and bumping into you at every turn. It made his skin crawl to be scurrying among them on the anthill.
John was almost at the other end now. He could see the door clearly from here. He pulled his Gemini L86 from the back waistband of his pants and checked the magazine. It was full. He reached down and grabbed a fresh magazine one from the bottom right pocket of his cargo pants. He put away the flashlight. Just before stepping through the exit, he slid the pistol into his right jacket pocket and the fresh mag into his left.
He emerged from the tunnel and waited until the door locked behind him. Strut A was quiet. Fewer people than not normal around. He wondered why but kept moving. He nodded to a group of guys decked out in grunge gear, hunched around a fist-sized glass vial full of red smoke. “Red Alice”, he mused to himself. A popular psychotropic drug that caused temporary paralysis when overdosed. Just beyond the group of men, was the metal grated staircase to the next level. John took the steps two at a time then turned left into Strut A’s shanty town. A dead end of the lowest rate habicubes, fronted by first-come-first-served cardboard sleeping spots and perfumed in urine. With no merchants on this side, there was no one to complain or pay for security to keep the place civil.
The cube he was looking for was second to last on the left. As he approached, he saw a bloody trail leading to the door. Drops of blood on the gray slab floor like bread crumbs. A bloody palm smeared on the door frame. He eased his pistol out of his pocket and moved into the shadows along the opposite wall.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Audio version available on YouTube: Star Citizen Nightbus Episode 3
White hot lightning exploded inside her head. Or at least, that’s how it felt. Cami screamed and convulsed. Pain rippled through her like a jackhammer. She bucked violently. Rough hands tried to keep her still. She felt someone shove something between her teeth. All around, sensors blared, voices yelled and the klaxon boomed. She wanted to die.
She felt a sharp jab in her left arm. Instinctively, she rolled her head in that direction but… She couldn’t see. It was like staring into the sun from one eye and nothing from the other. Slowly a small measure of her pain receded. Her limbs felt heavy. The voices around her quieted. She was weightless and floating away. Wait. No, being carried. Cami tried to reach out but her hand flopped back down like a dead fish. She felt someone take her hand and squeeze it gently, before folding it across her chest. When darkness came for her, she wanted to resist. To tell Death calling him was a mistake. The pain was manageable now. She fought to stay conscious but her eyelids were like lead. Her world faded black.
Cami moaned. She could feel every beat of her heart as a pile driver behind her right eye. The vision from her left eye was blurry. She tried looking around only to realize her head was being restrained. She blinked a few times and her surroundings came into focus. Using her peripheral vision, she could see that she was in a makeshift medbay aboard a ship. The wall racks and wenches on the ceiling gave her the impression of it actually being a retrofitted cargo bay.
There was another medical cot with an autodoc to her immediate left. A stained curtain separated the two beds but they were drawn back. Across from her, she saw chipped and scuffed ship components painted bright yellow and the once white MISC logo, now gray and faded around the edges. Familiar with the layout, she knew that the storage containers bolted along the wall were blocking the Freelancer emblem. The medbay…cargo bay…whatever, sounded hollow, like being inside a tin can. It echoed the faint sounds of a monitor chirping out the rhythm of her pulse. The equipment in her field of view looked dated and dingy – held together with plexi and cable ties. A basin of blood soaked rags was on a metal tray at her feet.
She heard a mumble a short distance away but couldn’t see anyone. She tried to speak but it came out as a croak. “Wh-where…”
A man in a rumpled khaki jumpsuit hobbled into view. He was hunched over, age bearing down on him. His brown face was cracked like old leather. “Awake?” He clapped his hands together and nodded. “Rasa very happy see this.” His smile was genuine.
Cami tried speaking again, “Where am I? Wh-what happened?”
“Accident them say,” Rasa replied. “Came rushing. Nearly knock off orbit docking fast n reckless.” He tutted under his breath as he moved to read Cami’s vitals on the autodoc display. “Four carried you on stretcher. Had you topped off with Ops for pain. Surprised you lasted from Tanga. Near jump I guess.”
Cami’s reply had the halting cadence of someone trying to remember a dream – or nightmare in this case. “We were – I think. Lots of bottom feeding miners in Tanga. Harvesting fast, chasing heavy metals.” Her voice gained more confidence. “I was clearing a jam from the pul-pulverizer. Piece of shit barely worked. Usually take the raws over to Gray-Jaw, Jimmy Chi’s reclaimer for processing. This shift we were trying to stay out longer – make a few extra creds each. Luther and I were at it with rods, trying to clear the input tray. It started grinding and then there was a high-pitched squeal.” Cami shuddered. “Fragments spun loose and …” She started inhaling in short shallow burst as if suffocating.
Rasa, still standing near the AutoDoc controls tapped a button then moved to stand beside her. She felt an icy coldness creep up her arm that had the IV. Her body began to relax. The rising terror on her face melted away. “Rest. Over now. Be good soon. Can go home.”
He smiled down at her. “Yes.” He nodded several times. “Eye socket cleaned, stitched and gave plasma. Need patch few weeks.” He patted her hand. “But is good. Yes, can go home next day.” Enthusiastically he added, “And have change!”
“Change?” Cami struggled to keep up with what Rasa was saying but she was being tugged down into the darkness.
As if giving good news he said,“Yes, I do fair prices. Friends leave your share and add a bit extra, they say. Help you straight.”
Cami replied in a small voice. Her tongue heavy in her mouth. “But my – my eye? Fixed?” She went to lift a hand to it, only to realize they were strapped to the bed.
Rasa sighed. “Is gone. Ruptured. More force you dead.” An alert sounded. Rasa checked his mobi. “New patient.” He plucked at his overgrown salt-n-pepper beard while reading the details. “Quick fix. You rest.”
In a monosyllabic tone he said, “ Bed 2 – Curtains.” As Rasa stepped back out of the way, the curtains around Cami’s bed began closing.
She tried to shout but it came out as a whisper. “Wait… Please… Don’t go…. I need…” But it was too late. The curtains swished into place around her, blocking her off from the rest of the room. Her eyes closed to the step-slide-thump sound of Rasa’s retreating footsteps.
When Cami woke again, she was propped up in the bed with the curtains open. The bed next to her was empty but there was a stainless steel cart of beside it. Surgical tools, stained bandages, and used syringe lay on the top tray. Minus the restraints, she gingerly probed the area around her right eye. A wad of gauze was pushed into the eye socket and secured with medical tape. On top of that was an eye patch. She winced when her fingers skimmed the skin around the bandage. It was taut and hot to the touch. She looked up when she heard the cabin door swoosh open. It got stuck on the first attempt. She saw Rasa step back and then forward to try again. The tired look on his face brightened when he noticed she was awake.
“Good. Good. Let’s see.” He walked over to Cami’s bedside, his progress hampered by his left leg. It trailed behind until he pulled it forward with a quick jerk. Examining her injury, he lifted the patched and poked at his handy work. “Is good. Very good work,” he praised himself.
“Ouch!” Cami tried to pull back from the less than gentle examination.
He glanced at the AutoDoc. “Sorry, pain meds wore off. Can give one more dose.”
“Yes, thank you.” She sighed in relief. “Look, I need to have a replacement put in. How much does that cost?”
Rasa chuckled and shuffled over to the other medbay. “You got change but not that much.” He sprayed the bed with a potent antiseptic smelling foam before wiping it down. The task made more laborious by his hampered gait and limited reach. “Get home fine for now,” he grunted while he cleaned.
“There is no home. I can’t work like this.” she said, gesturing to her missing eye. “No papers for Breman. No work but mining in Tanga. Everyone pulls double duty on salvage and miners. No one’s going to hire me gimped.”
Rasa gathered up the used surgical instruments and placed them in a vial filled with blue liquid on the lower half of the cart. He balled up the bandages and chucked them into a nearby recycler. Sounding winded from the effort, he gingerly lowered himself on a nearby cushioned stool and swiveled to face Cami. “Be runnin?” he asked but didn’t wait for a reply. “Tanga. Breman. No one checkin’. No one wants these parts but lowers workin’ these rocks and folks like Rasa doing services,” he said, tapping his chest.
Cami looked away. “I can’t make it out here. If you know this place like it sounds, you know everyone is replaceable. Many waiting to take the next job. No one’s going to hire me.” She turned back to Rasa who was watching her intently. “Take all I have left. I’ll come back with more. I promise!” Looking around for her personal items she said, “Sell my mobi! It’s a decent one. Can get by without it.” Grasping at straws she added, “I’ll sign on with you a few weeks. Pay it off.” Gesturing around she added. “Place looks like shit.” Belatedly she added, “No offense. I can fix things and make minor repairs.”
Rasa sigh. “No need. Just hanging on ‘til gone. Sorry young one. No creds to even buy what’s needed not counting Rasa fee.” Cami dropped her gaze to her lap where her fingers were at war with the bed sheets.
“Friend have fuel station nearby. Lots come for supplies too.” Pointing aft he added, “We go. Can set beacon there a couple days. Ask about work. Rasa know the good ones.”
Cami’s voice was flat – dejected. “Sure. Thanks.” Resigned she asked, “Can you at least tell me what I need and how much it cost?” She didn’t know Rasa but her gut told her that he could be trusted. “This way I don’t get robbed when the time comes.” She tried for a smile but the edges of her mouth barely moved.
Rasa reluctantly agreed. “Sure. Need sleep first. Come back soon.” It took him two attempts to stand up from the stool before slowly making his way out of the cabin.
Cami tried to quiet the panic inside her chest. It had taken her two standard earth years to find a spot on Rally One, a trio of independently owned ships that worked together mining and salvaging their way through backwater systems like Tanga. Decent captain, crew and fair split on profits weren’t easy to find. She was assigned to the Orion but occasionally helped out on the Reclaimer and Prospector. Her dream was to someday buy a salvaged Prospector to restore over time and captain her own ship. She knew saving up that much alone was a long shot. Even so, she allowed herself to dream. It kept her going when profits were low and stomachs empty. When the shifts were long and the ship cold trying to conserve fuel.
Even with the ups and downs, the Rally organization had a good reputation among the low tier miners and salvagers. There was a line of people waiting to take her spot and Rally One couldn’t afford to hold it for her. She knew this and didn’t resent it, even though it made her gut twist to think about. They had families to feed. She just had herself. But the idea of finding a new spot was terrifying. Alone out in the black was a dangerous place. She wasn’t afraid of being hungry as much as she was the potential for violence. She’d fended off attacks a time or two, barely escaping. The memory made bile rise up in her throat.
Trying to steer clear of painful memories she focused on the present. She wondered how much “change” she had left and how long it would last. She knew how to stretch it. That wasn’t new. Unfortunately, she also knew that the local Tanga teams were full. That is, any crew she’d even consider. Her vision blurred as a trail of tears ran down one side of her face. She dashed them away. “There’s no crying in space.” She reminded herself.
When Rasa came back he was carrying a disposable tray with two containers on top. He still had dark circles around his eyes. Was he hunched over a bit more? He sat the tray on Cami’s lap. She picked up the containers one at a time and read the labels: Purecleen water with electrolytes and protein cubes. Space rations.
“Been five days. Tubes gone. Need start eating,” Rasa explained.
“We exam for cyber replacement.” Managing her expectations he added, “Just to see. Okay?”
Cami perked up a bit. “Yes. Please.” She set the tray beside her when she felt the bed begin to recline.
Making his way to the AutoDoc he continued, “After we head to fuel depot couple days and see.”
“Thank you – really.” Cami reached out and touched Rasa’s sleeve. “This isn’t your problem. I appreciate the help.”
“S’okay. Had family. Wife. Two kids. Hope someone help them before was over.”
“Over?” Cami hesitated. “Are they gone?”
“Yes. Lost all in Caliban. So few escape attack. Wife and daughter medics. Son captain in military. Me surgical assist.” He let out a long sigh, completely emptying his lungs. “Confusion during UEE retreat. Were separated. They never made out.” Rasa wiped at the corner of his eyes. “Will join in next life.” A sad smile on his face. “Soon.”
Cami was at a loss for words. She was missing an eye. Clearly not the end of the world, she tried to tell herself. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that in her case, it was. “Sorry for your loss,” was all she could think to say.
“Me too.” Rasa turned the AutoDoc on. When the status indicator went from yellow to green he said, “Eval Right Eye Replace” To Cami he added, “Hold Still. Eyes closed.” A head restraint extended from the medbay headboard. It cupped the upper port of Cami’s head and applied firm pressure, clamping her head in place. Cami laid still, her hands rigid at her sides.
The scanning unit positioned over the top of the bed whirred to life. “Initiating scan 1. Evaluation for cybernetic eye replacement”. A light blue beam swept up and down and side to side on Cami’s face. “Skeletal frame complete. “Initiating depth scan.” Two mechanical hands descended from the scanner. The metal skeleton fingers clicked as they moved. Each finger had probes for fingertips, wires looped from one joint to the next. Hovering a couple of inches from Cami’s face the scanner repeated. “Initiating depth scan.”
Cami heard a pop and a clang that echoed through the medbay. The spindly metal fingers splayed and groped like a crab caught by its shell, as they struggled to reach Cami’s face.
Rasa cursed under his breath. “Stupid scanner.”
Cami’s eye popped open. “What’s wrong?”
The AutoDoc chimed in. “Error initiating depth scan…”
The hands continued spasming over Cami’s face. She tried sinking further back into the pillow or turning her head but no luck. She couldn’t move without tearing her scalp. “Wait – turn it off.” Starting to panic she grabbed the head restraint with both hands trying to move.
“Is fine. Stop. Hurt yourself.” Straining, Rasa reached up and fiddled with a few screws and wires. He groaned from the pain of extending his back as he worked. “There” he sighed.
“Error initiating depth scan. Canceling request in 10…9…8…”
Rasa used the bed rail to support his weight as he walked to the opposite side of the bed and repeated the adjustments to the scanner. The cancellation countdown stopped.
“See? Fixed. Relax and close eyes.”
Cami looked at him skeptically. “You sure?”
“Yes, close eyes.” To the AutoDoc he said, “Continue scan.”
The AutoDoc whirred back to life. “Reinitiating depth scan.” The appendages lowered, placing sensors at exact points on both sides of her face – temples, brow and around her eye sockets.
Cami winced when she felt the pressure around her bruised eye socket. But she kept as still as a corpse. After a few seconds, the scanner retracted and announced that the depth scan was completed. Rasa told the AutoDoc to “Show holo”.
A wireframe holographic image of Cami’s face floated below the scanner. Rasa used his hands to twist the hologram in his direction. He spread his hands over it to increase its size. After reviewing it at different angles, he thumped the areas around the right eye, making the other elements disappear until only the damaged eye socket remained. Rasa told the scanner to display the dimensions. Numbers with lead lines pointing to various parts of the hologram appeared.
The Autodoc had retracted the head restraint when the scan was over. Cami pushed up on her elbows watching in wonder. She’d never seen someone use a hologram up close and was fascinated. “How does it look? Can it be replaced easily?”
“Can not the question. Cost is.” He replied. He commanded the Autodoc to send the dimension data to his mobi. He scanned the open market for a synthetic eye replacement that fit Cami’s measurements.
He knew the most affordable option would be an eyeball replacement made using a 3D bioprinter but even those didn’t come cheap. Lesser organs were more reasonably priced – blood vessels, ears and such, but the complexity of the human eye kept the price out of reach for most civilians.
When the mobi returned a price, Rasa’s eyebrows arched up to his hairline. He grunted, “Hmph.”
“What? How much?”
Rasa leaned in and let Cami see for herself. She caught her breath. “Oh. Wow.” There was nothing more to say. No favors to ask. It was completely out of her reach. A feeling of despair settled in her belly.
“You dress. We go refuel station couple days and see.”
Resigned Cami said, “Sure. Thanks for checking.”
It felt good to be up and around at least. Rasa had given Cami all of the personal belongings the Rally One crew had brought with her. She thought about trying to artfully cover the eye patch with her hair then decided against it. This was her new reality. Instead, she swept the shoulder length brown curly up into a high ponytail.
The Bremen fueling station Rasa used was privately owned by a man named Jim Haven. It was an “add as you go affair”. Fuel dispensaries formed an unevenly spaced arc around the back of battered Starfarer. The day they’d arrived, she’d seen the Starfarer carefully back its way into the arch to refill the dispensers. Once in place, customers looking buy supplies were allowed into the cargo hold to see what Jim had available. Rasa had left the ship to talk to Jim and others he knew. Putting out the word that he had a patient that needed work. No one had, or knew of anything, being available.
On the second day, Cami decided to quiet the nervousness in her gut by fixing a few things in the makeshift medbay. She’d asked Rasa if he had any tools. He’d pointed her to a container with a variety of rusted tools, cables, wires and plex-guns scrambled together in a heap. She spent an hour sorting out the contents and cleaning the tools before replacing the wiring and bolts on the scanner and fixing the cabin door that stuck when it slid open. The work hadn’t erased her sense of loss and concern, wondering what she was going to do next but it had passed the time. She was sitting on her medbay eating a bowl of soy noodles when Rasa came in. He clearly had something on his mind. “Bad news no doubt,” she whispered to herself.
Rasa rolled the cushioned stool over to Cami and sat down. “No luck. We tried.”
“I know and I appreciate it very much.”
“Need return my spot – is where customers come.”
“Understand.” She looked around the cabin noting where her things were. She’d gather them and get off here. Maybe pay for a ride to a busier location. “I’ll get my things and get off here. I’ll try to…”
Rasa put up his hands for her to wait and cut her off mid sentence. “You come with me. Stay.” Tapping his chest he continued. “I teach. You help. And fix things.”
Cami’s mouth fell open. She was at a loss. Was he serious? “Stay? Here?” It was tight quarters and no privacy in the sleeping berths. She could sleep in the medbay when no patients were here. It was safe. He was kind. It would give her time to figure things out.
He nodded. “Not hardly much pay. But have bunk and food and safe. Is safe.” He stopped speaking, breathing and closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again he said, “Rasa tired. Am waiting join family in next life.”
Cami heard a sense of peace in Rasa’s voice when he talked about being ready to join his family. So sure in his beliefs that he would. The calmness he radiated washed over her. “How can I possibly? I’m not a medic.”
“Do AutoDoc service only when Rasa gone. Go place where is less fee but more work. You young. Can do.” He smiled. “Leave if find better. Til then is home.” Gesturing around he said, “You keep when Rasa go. Scavengers don’t deserve. You have.”
Her mind was racing. Was he for real? Why do this for her? No one had offered her so much since the elderly couple had smuggled her and 5 other teens out of the state-run orphanage on Charon III. They used to deliver supplies a few times a year. However, the increase in attacks and bombings made up their minds to drop the route altogether. On their last trip, they’d offered to smuggle out anyone willing to go. Fairly poor themselves, they’d had little to offer but this chance at freedom. They’d dropped the lot of them at a space station in Tyrol with a few credits each, a sleeping roll and a few days of cubed protein rations. Those first few months had been terrifying. In some ways, more so than the civil war raging on Charon.
Cami returned from her reverie wide-eyed and dumbstruck. She found it hard to speak above the lump in her throat. “Are you sure? You don’t have someone else to leave this to?”
“No. All lost. All gone.”
Cami slid down from the bed and crouched in front of Rasa. Taking both of his hands in hers, she said, “Yes, I would like that. I will do all that I can to help.”
They were both crying now and not ashamed. Cami swore to herself that she would repay this kindness. She would help him. She would fix the ship. And she would learn all that he wanted to teach her. In time, he could just rest. She’d do it all and take care of him.
A different kind of future blossomed in her mind’s eye. Joy swelled in her chest and rung in her ears. She would repay this gift to Rasa and forward to someone else somewhere someday.
Audio version available on YouTube in the Star Citizen Nightbus: Episode 1, Episode 2 and Episode 4
ArcCorp Area 18 | Sleep Pod Barracks #21
Fog laps at the edges of a dimly lit street. Debris turns to mush in shallow pools of rain. Vermin scurry, snatching morsels from overflowing trash bins. A neon marquee flickers intermittently then fades to black before restarting. Letters scroll by identifying Pod Barracks #21, a row of nondescript cement towers. You’re asleep inside sleep pod 16. Over the hum of the air recycler, you hear the rat-a-tat of raindrops pelting the pavement. Ugh, just what you need. Your chest rumbles when you breathe. You shiver and wipe beads of sweat off your forehead.
You’re asleep inside sleep pod 16. Over the hum of the air recycler, you hear the rat-a-tat of raindrops pelting the pavement. Ugh, just what you need. Your chest rumbles when you breathe. You shiver and wipe beads of sweat off your forehead. “Not yet. More sleep.” Exhaustion drags you back under. Your eyelids clamp shut. Heavy as a stone, you plummet into blackness. Time stands still until…
BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. A loud beeping ricochets around the pod. You flay a hand over your exposed ear as if swatting a mosquito. Yawning, your wits begin knitting themselves back into place. Alarm clock!
You groan. Your stomach grumbles. From muscle memory, you whack the button on the panel overhead. Ahhh, sweet sweet snooze. Curling into a ball, you grab a fistful of blanket and drift back to sleep.
Precisely fifteen minutes after hitting snooze for the second time, your sleeping pallet begins vibrating. Muscles and joints protest. You groan but can’t afford to be late. Gingerly, you roll over onto your back, turn off the alarm and flip on the lights. You take a moment to wake up more fully and gain your bearings.
You’re in a stark white claustrophobia-inducing fiberglass tube. Pinpricks in the ceiling cast diffused light. Cubbyholes of varying sizes line the curved side walls. Your UEE Citizen dog tag and mobiGlas are in the cubby closest to you. Yesterday’s uniform and work boots are in a heap at your feet. You peek through the slatted window behind you. Dawn is creeping up over the horizon. At least it’s stopped raining – for now.
Propped up on an elbow, you grab your dog tag and slip it over your head and clip your mobiGlas to your wrist. You inch toward the pod’s entrance by sliding on your butt. Before deactivating the door lock with your heel, you check that your PJs are still snapped shut. The pod door hisses as it retracts. You scoot into a sitting position, your legs dangling out over the edge of the sleeping pod. Your slippers are hanging on a nearby hook. You mindlessly put them on while rummaging in the wardrobe inset into the wall on your right.
You hop down into the growing throng of residents preparing for the zero-five-hundred shift change. They’re in various states of undress. You nod ‘morning to familiar faces, fellow transients, and low-wage workers at an industrial facility or loading dock here on ArcCorp. You check that you have everything you need to get going. A bathroom kit is wedged under your right arm. Work boots attached by their shoelaces are slung over the opposite shoulder. A freshly laundered uniform is on a hanger in your right hand. When you turn to head toward the restrooms, you see Naomi. Punctual to a fault, she’s already dressed in the drab and common olive colored jumpsuit you all wear. Waving a hand back and forth, you croak out her name – once…twice.
It takes her a moment to figure out who’s calling her. When she realizes it’s you, she smiles and heads your way. “What’s doing?” Her voice is light and cheerful. Curse her, it’s too early to be chipper.
“Not much. Heading to the salt mines.” You hold up your uniform as evidence.
She laughs. “Ouch, still shuffling crates?”
You nod in disgust.
Her mouth puckers as if tasting something sour. “Damn. Short on experience but you’ve got certs.”
You’re seized by a coughing fit as you’re about to reply. You have to clear your throat a couple of times before you can speak. “Tell me about it.”
As your coughing continues her face takes on a yikes look. “That sounds nasty.” She mockingly takes a step back. “Taking anything?”
“Didn’t want to spend the creds. Trying to get outta this dump. At least get a real room.”
She laughs. “You and me both!” She adopts a more serious tone. “Still salty I never got moved to the shift manager dorms like my contract says. But who the hell am I going to complain to here?”
You rub your throat which is starting to burn. “Exactly.”
“I don’t push ‘cuz it could be worse. We dropped a hundred freshies last week. No warning.” No free ride off-world like their contract says. They’re basically screwed.” Punching you on the shoulder she adds, “These days steady creds, couple meals and a bed is the dream.”
Pointedly looking around, you reply with disgust, “Yeah… it’s the dream alright.” Inside you’re disappointed with yourself and situation. Most of all, your stupid choices that landed you here.
Naomi’s voice pulls you out of your reverie. Checking her mobi she says, “Better get moving. Don’t be late. I’ll catch you later.”
You nod in agreement and turn to walk away. Over your shoulder, you call out, “grub later?”
“Sure – meet you at G after the shift.”
The wait in line for an all-in-one restroom cube was less than five minutes. With the exception of a small mirror above the pull out washbasin, the interior and all of the fixtures are made of stainless steel.
You use the pull-out toilet to relieve yourself. The smell of the disinfectant used to make you gag but you’re used to it now. You wash your hands, face and splash water under your arms. That’s as good as it’s getting today. Brushing your teeth, you take a good look in the mirror. Bleh, you look exactly how you feel. Your cheekbones are more pronounced, body leaner and arms more defined. Wide-eyed wonder has been replaced by dark rings of harsh reality. You run a hand through your severely short haircut. It suits the new you that’s evolving. You aren’t the same person who eagerly waved goodbye to parents, a comfortable home, and a scholarship because “I need adventure in my life before settling down! C’mon dad, I need to see more than this planet. There’s a universe to explore!”
Unfortunately, having your business associates steal your ship, stranding you on ArcCorp, wasn’t the grand adventure you had in mind. No way gonna message home for a hand-out. And couldn’t hit up friends either, all of whom were at university with tight pockets of their own. You’re better than these first few mistakes. Pointing a finger at the reflection in the mirror you assert, “If granny made it out here on her own, so can I!”
Through bouts of coughing, you slide into your jumper and put on work boots. You chuck the paper slippers in the recycler and ball up your PJs. Dressed in a clean uniform you feel a bit better. You stop by your sleeping pod to grab a plastic laundry bag. The front of the bag is stamped with your UEE ID barcode. You shove yesterday’s uniform and PJs into the bag. Heading toward the back entrance, you drop it down the laundry shoot. Bracing yourself for the weather you exit the barracks.
Towering industrial buildings box you in on all sides, stealing the meager sunlight of an overcast sky. The air is thick with moisture. You shiver as a clammy breeze snakes down the collar of your jumpsuit. You check your mobi. Good – just enough time to make a quick trip to the Area 18 Med Unit. As much as you loathe spending the credits, you can’t see how you’ll make it through the day without something. You mutter to yourself as you approach the Area 18 Medical Unit. “Better not be crowded…” Tan walls, shiny floors, and uncomfortably bright lights. They’re all the same – medical facilities. A twinge starts in the pit of your stomach as you enter the triple-wide sliding glass doors. They hiss and whomp as they retract.
You wrinkle your nose at the potent antiseptic smell. Instantly, your mind is transported to five years earlier when you and your parents were frequent visitors to the hospice facility where your grandmother had been placed. Days turned into weeks of visiting every day. Watching — and waiting for her to die. She’d lived to a ripe old age. Feisty and fearless, roaming the galaxy in a souped-up science ship with granddad. She even kept at it after he was gone. Seeing her crippled and deflated by age was hard to watch. The remembered loss grabs you by the throat, threatening to suffocate you. The pain of it, as lethal today, as it was then.
Throw the throng of people milling around while waiting to be seen, you spot the QuickMeds dispenser across the waiting room and sprint to it. Eyes front, you block out everything around you except the display case. Your nose pressed against the glass, you scan the medicinal options. “What the hell? This is crazy.” You contemplate not buying anything. You can tough it out another… Before you finish the thought you’re seized by a hacking cough that near doubles you over. That seals it. You can’t afford to be dismissed from the shift altogether. “Freakin’ spacelane robbery!”
You choose a moderately priced antibiotic and a low priced cough suppressant from the QuickMeds LED display. A 60/40 mixture stem should do it. After confirming your purchase and authorizing payment, the dispenser begins to whir. You hear faint metallic clinking noises. You anxiously tap your fingers on the glass while watching the progress meter inch toward ‘Ready’. When it’s done, a metal drawer slides open from the bottom of the dispenser. You grab the package and go. On your way out the sliding doors, you pop the top off the stem, exposing the head with its pincushion of needles. You quickly jab it into the left side of your neck. Wincing you say, “shit better work.”
Walking briskly through the growing crowd of pedestrians, you arrive at loading dock J42 with a few minutes to spare. You hurry up the stairs, turn right and swipe your ID to open the security gate. A Freelancer MAX is parked on the landing pad. Quasar is painted with gold metallic swirls encircling the letters like a tornado. You recognize the ship and it’s Captain. He unloads cargo here a few times a week. Being that this landing pad is for smaller cargo vessels, the Quasar is the first of many Freelancers you expect to unload today. There will also be the occasional Avenger or Hull A. But in these parts, the boring Lancer is king.
You’re not a fan of the Lancer’s design. With its elongated forward cabin, slightly bigger than the neck on which it rests, the Lancer has always reminded you of pictures you’ve seen of tortoises found on Earth. Not an attractive shape for a ship in your eyes. But you ain’t going to complain by starting with a small one today. You walk forward to join coworkers who are standing around Zone Manager Rodrick. You put on your work gloves as Rodrick begins speaking. He’s a no-nonsense ex-military guy with a booming voice.
“Listen up!” He waits for silence. “We have a newly registered Connie arriving on platform J45. It’s going to take a bit longer to process her through. To stay on schedule I’m going to switch things up.”
Rodrick checks his mobi before continuing. “I’m leaving a few of freshies here to process the MAX. It’s business as usual.” He points over his shoulder to the man standing by the ship’s cargo bay. “You all know Captain Chuzen.”
You look to where Rodrick is pointing to see Captain Chuzen talking in a huddle with his crew.
Rodrick checks his mobi again and begins calling names. “Bryony as cargo inspector.” Wait. What? That’s you! You hesitate. When you don’t move, Rodrick looks up and calls your name again. Coworkers standing nearby give you the “Are you stupid? look”
You gain your composure. “Sir… Yes, Sir, I’m here.” You separate from the crowd and walk forward. Thomas, the actual inspector for J42 gives you a “What the fuck?” look as you go by. You shrug your shoulders in his direction.
Rodrick calls out the rest of the assignments. Thomas has been assigned to lead the team processing the new Connie. Damn, you’re jealous of that one. You’d rather be unloading crew, getting a chance to see inside the Connie, than leading the team processing a tortoise.
When all’s said and done, you have three cargo movers assigned to you. Rodrick hands you the Inspector mobi and says, “You know your way around this right?”
You nod your head. “Yes, Sir.”
He continues. “The ship’s manifest, travel log and cargo list are loaded. I want this done quickly.” He makes eye contact with the others in the group. “An Aurora CL is scheduled to touch down in 30. I want the MAX gone before it arrives.” Everyone nods their head.
As Rodrick is about to step away, Thomas comes forward. “Sir, I think I should stay here to make sure this is processed quickly. I can walk Bryony through it and join the J45 team right after.”
Rodrick looks surprised but not annoyed by the interruption. “Bryony can handle it. I need you with the other team. First time processing is a full inspection, as you well know”, he says in an admonishing tone. “It’s gonna take more time and I’m not having my schedule jacked over it.”
Thomas starts to speak but Rodrick cuts him off. “Is there a problem?”
You look at Thomas quizzically wondering, “What’s your problem?” There’s a long silence. Thomas’ eyes cut toward the MAX. You and Rodrick both notice and look in that direction too.
“No, nothing. Just trying to make sure regular customers get good service.” Thomas replies.
Rodrick claps Thomas on the back. “Captain Chuzen’s not goin’ anywhere. He’ll forgive us a hiccup or two.” Looking pointedly at you, he adds, “But that’s not going to happen is it?”
You stand up a little straighter and add a little bit of base to your voice. “No, Sir! It’ll be like clockwork, Sir.”
“Excellent” Rodrick slaps you on the shoulder and walks away with Thomas trailing behind.
Scanning through the manifest you notice a discrepancy between the ship logs and its approved route plan. The log shows an unscheduled stop in Cathcart. “Probably just an oversight. Last minute change of plans,” you shrug. Around you, the team is preparing to unload the cargo. Joey, a hefty bald guy in his early thirties, is hoisting himself into a mech suit to handle the heavier crates. The suit hydraulics hiss and clank as he stretches and retracts the arms, and tests rotating the hand clamps. The other two, Rhon and Alya, grab hover carts for the smaller crates. The platform vibrates under your feet as Joey lumbers toward the Freelancer. You head toward Captain Chuzen.
You approach the Captain of the Quasar, your hand extended in greeting. His meaty hand grabs yours and gives it a quick shake. Captain Chuzen’s hair, wide sideburns, and beard are all immaculately trimmed. His hands are callous free with manicured nails. No bruises, no tats mar his skin. If not for the Quasar jumpsuit, you’d mistake him for the office type, not a space trucker.
“Morning Captain. I’m Bryony. I’ll be overseeing your inspection and unloading today.”
Captain Chuzen’s staring off in the direction Roderick and Thomas went. “Where’s Thomas going? He usually handles my ships. He keeps it quick and simple. Suits are schedule.”
“He’s helping Roderick with a new Connie coming in on LZ J45.” Adding more confidence to your voice you continue. “We’ll get you done as fast.”
Distractedly Captain Chuzen replies, “Sure kid. Let’s get moving.”
“Excellent.” Flipping through screens on the inspector mobiGlas you continue. “One thing to clear up first.” You raise the mobi up so Chuzen can see the display. “There’s seems to be a discrepancy between your ship log and your approved flight plan.” You gain the Captain’s full attention. But his only reply is a grunt.
You continue. “Yes, it’s showing an unscheduled stop in Cathcart. Ship appears to have docked at Spinward for roughly 2 hours.” Hesitantly you add, “I think that’s part of your company’s no-fly zone regulations?” Rethinking how that might have come out you say, “Not that it’s our business. We just have to perform a different kind of inspection for ships with stops outside of UEE space.” Chuzen’s eyes narrow and his silence makes you nervous but you press on. “’Cuz of… the kinda… of stuff happening there. Robberies. Hijackings and uh — contraband.” Emphasizing this isn’t an uncommon situation you say, “Not a big deal on our end. Just different forms and takes a little longer. But we can still get you out of here in about the same time as usual.”
Captain Chuzen is staring you up and down like sizing up an opponent. You don’t want to be his opponent. You just want to get this done quickly. Beads of sweat start forming on your forehead as the silence stretches out. Are the meds wearing off?? You wipe your forehead on the back of your sleeve. Clearing your throat you suggest, “Maybe you had an emergency? If you can state the reason and add it to your official logs, I can re-sync and get the inspection started.” Pointing toward the ship you add, “We’re already starting to unload. This really isn’t a big deal.”
Like flipping a switch, Captain gives you a wry smile, puts his arm around your shoulder and pulls you in close. You’re not pleased by the gesture which violates what you consider your personal space. But you go with it since he’s talking.
“You see kid it’s like this.” He continues in a conspiratorial tone. “Sometimes when we’re ahead of schedule we like to take a break. Blow off some steam. Stretch our legs. Have something other than space rations. “ His tone is nonchalant. “We may wander off course for a bit of recreation.” He steps back and waves his hand in an “it’s not big deal” manner and concludes, “No harm. No foul.”
You’re surprised they could get away with that undetected. I mean, it’s in the ship logs. That’s how you know that they went to Cathcart. You scratch your head in confusion. “But that stuff shows in the ship logs?”
“Not by the time we go back for inspection,” he laughs. “Forgot to take care of it before hitting Stanton. In more of a hurry than usual.” He flicks his thumb off the end of his nose and winks.
You’ve got no reasonable response to that explanation. Like what the hell? “But…” He cuts you off.
“You get paid extra to unload ships faster? Or extra creds for playing inspector on my ship today?”
“See what I mean! Me and the boys stopped in Cath for a bit of a stretch. Have a real meal planetside. We don’t report it ‘cuz we don’t want anyone getting the idea to add more stops on our route. Beaners love “more work same pay” thing, stiffing civs like you and me.”
Your throat is starting to itch. You want to cough but Captain Chuzen is leaning in too close. You’d cough right in his face. Another beat of very uncomfortable silence follows as you hold back your cough and really have no idea what to say.
“Not even your job. You want the hassle of more forms to complete?”
You clear your throat and swallow the urge to cough. “Not really. Haven’t seen those forms before myself. Above my pay grade.” There’s an echo resentment in your tone.
Chuzen seizes on it. “See what I mean. That’s my point exactly! More work, same pay.”
That last bit got you thinking that maybe he’s right. You nod your head slowly at first. “You’re right.” A little something extra for today could replace what you spent on meds this morning, get more to help sleep better tonight or a full meal., Is that really too much to ask? But you’re sure nothing extra is coming for acting as inspector on this ship. Shrugging your shoulders you concur, “like you sad, Not my real job anyway.”
Captain Chuzen claps you on the shoulder. “What’s your ID kid? I’ll shoot you some cred as a thanks.”
It’s tempting but you know that’s strictly against regulations and could cost you your job if anyone found out. Shit as it is, it’s still a job and it’s the company that should be compensating you for doing the extra work. Shaking your head you say, “No. Not necessary. Let me hurry up with the interior inspection then I’ll validate the off-loaded cargo and get you on your way.”
Relaxed and jovial Chuzen replies, “Great. Going to stretch my legs and throw one back at G-Loc. Buzz me when you’re done.”
“Sure thing. Won’t be long.”
Walking up the rear ramp into the primary cargo bay, you nod as you pass Joey. He’s busy stacking three crates precariously on top of each other. You wonder what he’s about when you notice that Alya is coming up behind you.
Alya’s the new kid on the dock. For a quick second, it stings that no one tries to get your attention anymore. Then you remember that you don’t want that kind of attention anyway. Alya’s still into being who she was before she landed here — the ass end of Stanton. Well near it anyway. From what you’ve heard, Hurston is even worse with its pea-soup smog and a shortage of living accommodations. Rumor has it workers have resorted to sharing sleeping tubes. You pull a face at the mere thought.
You turn your attention back to Joey. “If that falls and gets damaged you better have another gig lined up. Rod will have your ass. ”
Joey laughs and raises his voice unnecessarily. “I got this kid. Gonna help you do it in record time. You know I’m the best mech operator we got.”
You watch Joey glance to the side to see if Alya is paying him any attention. She’s not. She’s stacking smaller crates on the hover cart, scanning them as she goes. A lock of hair falls forward and blocks her view. She tries pushing it behind her ear but that’s near impossible with the oversize padded gloves she’s required to wear. She gives up in a huff after three attempts. You chuckle, remembering when that was you.
Realizing that Ayla isn’t going to pay him any attention, Joey’s resumes his normal speaking voice. “We do this super fast and maybe Rod gives you this zone. Stick Thomas elsewhere.”
While it would be music to your ears if they officially bumped you up, why would Joey care? You ask him. “Nice for me. Why do you care?”
Maneuvering himself down the ramp he replies, “I ain’t gonna get it and something about ole Tommy boy don’t sit right. Count close and see what you make of it.”
You’re not a fan of Thomas yourself. He’s always hunched over like he’s trying to fold in on himself. And there’s something about his eyes. They’re shifty, always darting around like a trapped rodent. Beyond that though, you don’t know of any wrong he’s done. And what did Joey mean by that last comment? Count close? You want to ask him but he’s out of earshot now and there’s no time waste. You’ve got a job to do and just enough time to do it.
You do a perfunctory scan of the main and secondary cargo bays, swiping the radar wand across the walls, ceiling and, floor as you go. When the door to the crew cabin swishes open, you’re surprised by the cleanliness. The bunk beds inset into the walls on each side has been made – more or less. The random personal items stashed in the cubbies look neatly placed. You’re instantly jealous of the personal Spectrum LCDs hung above each bed. You’d kill to have one of those to pass the evenings with when your creds are low and your stomach is grumbling.
Continuing to move forward, you notice that immediately after the berths, there’s a toilet shower combo on one side and a cramped single counter kitchenette on the other. Standing in the middle of the aisle, you can almost touch the door to the commode and the food prep station on the other side. That must make for interesting situations. You thought your accommodations were small. You’re not eating and shitting within arm’s reach. But the truth is, you’d switch places in a heartbeat to get outta here. You continue casually scanning your surroundings. So far the ship has a clean bill of health. No illegal substances detected. You expect to encounter the same as you enter the flight deck.
When the door opens onto the flight deck you stand there for a moment taking it all in. You remember the pride and elation piloting your own ship. And this is not too shabby. Not too shabby indeed. You might not like the look of the ship from the outside but the interior is winning you over.
The flight deck contains four high back cushy seats, perfect for long hop travel. There’s one for the pilot, co-pilot and two additional passengers. The Quasar’s been around the ‘verse a few times but the components show very little wear and tear. They’re substantial — meaty, like an oversized breakfast. You check the time on your mobi – still 15 minutes to spare.
You step down to the pilot’s seat and survey the instrumentation. You wistfully glide your hand above the controls. Feeling a bit audacious, you slide into the pilot’s seat. The dash is massive with slots for personal storage — beverage holder, small firearms, whatever. The field of view reminds you more of a ground vehicle or passenger transport vessel but you sort of like it. The struts are thick and blocky which makes sense for an industrial ship with a reputation of long reliable years of service. Definitely a step up from the Aurora that you got swindled out of, leaving you stranded on ArcCorp, scrapping for survival. A call comes through on your mobi. You almost jump out of your skin!
You answer it. “Bryony here.”
It’s Joey. “Cargo’s in transport hangar.”
“Great. It’s a go here, coming out.” You exhale. Time to hop back to it. You walk briskly through the cabins, your footsteps echoing in the now empty ship. You break into a jog when you hit the rear exit ramp.
You head over to the transportation hangar. Just a fancy name for the section of the landing pad that has a protective tarp over it and is reserved for pickups. Two ArcCorp trucks are standing by to collect cargo and transport them to their next destinations.
Joey, still in his mech suit is standing by the first stack of cargo. “Record time,” he brags. “Stacked, scanned and Trans ID’d. Needs your sig and it’s done.”
“Cool! We killed this with time to spare. Thanks!” You mock bump fists with his mech hand. As you quickly survey the piles, you notice one of the crates is a good distance from the rest. Rohn and Alya are approaching. You point to the lone crate. To no one, in particular, you ask, “Why’s that one way down there?”
Alya shrugs. Rohn and Joey look at each other.
Joey answers. “That one – blue Big Box crate always goes there. Thomas has us separate it out for special delivery.”
You screw up your face and cock your head to the side. “Really?” You don’t recall having seen that in the past. “You sure?” Rohn and Joey nod in agreement. That seems odd. Big Box is one of the more expensive and secure storage containers from Stor-All. They’re tough specialty crates. With a titan-grade metal exterior, a ribbed body skeleton and a cushioned super-reinforced ablative rubber interior. They’re used for fragile important cargo.
You scan through the Quasar cargo manifest. Nothing but common ship components and raws. You don’t see anything that would warrant the Big Box. Worse you don’t see the container listed in the inventory. So why is it here? Why is it being set aside?
Noticing the consternation on your face, Rohn shrugs his shoulders. Even through the padded jumpsuit, he looks starved. As if a sudden breeze would blow him off the platform. “Been doing this for months Bry. That crate from Quasar always goes there. You just never noticed. Don’t ever operate the mech suit or come up here to talk to Thomas while he’s doing the final sign off. It’s legit according to him.” He points a thumb over his shoulder. “Just go with the flow. We’re done with time to spare. Let’s catch a quick break.”
Rohn had a point. If you call it now, you’ll beat the best unloading time for the Quasar for the quarter. But something is itching at the back of your brain. “Sure, you all take a break, I’ll call it in.” You check your mobi. Ten minutes left to spare. You watch the team walk away, chatting among themselves. Joey is pulling up the rear clomping along in the Mech suit.
Just before entering the Employee-only habicube that’s next to the platform steps, Joey turns back to you. He puts his hand up in the air with his fingers splayed open and then starts folding them down one by one. You flip your hands palms up and shrug. “What??” Slowly he pops each finger back up. Then it hits you — he’s counting. Oh. OOOOOOOH. Your eyes bulge. When he realizes you get his meaning he shoots you a thumbs-up and you do the same in return.
Like puzzle pieces, things falls into place, forming an uncomfortable idea. An unscheduled stop. Thomas and Captain Chuzen’s concern about who’s doing the inspection. An unlisted crate set aside for special delivery. “Well… Fuck!” you curse under your breath. “Really? I need this shit?” Then again, it doesn’t have to be my problem if it’s been going on for months. You can sign off and it will be business as usual.
You walk over to the container. It’s only 2 feet by 2 feet. Too big to sneak past passenger security but small enough to fly under the radar of someone carting it off. You pass over it with the scanner. Nothing detected. You use your temporary inspector code to fiddle with the settings, changing it to a high-grade scan. Still nothing. They could be using scan protection tech.
Taking the few extra credits Chuzen had offered, is sounding good about now. But are you that desperate? You note the chills are slowly starting to return as the meds you took this morning wear off. Still — aren’t these the same kind of people that tricked you into disengaging your ship’s transponder code before stealing it and dumping you here? If Chuzen and crew ever get caught, it will be too easy to trace if he’s ever made payments to ArcCorp personnel. That’s not the kind of mess you want to be mixed up in. Sign off and mind your business. Whatever’s inside is eluding detection by the equipment you’ve been given. Wash your hands of it. Maybe Roderick will suggest a little something be thrown your team’s way for beating the standing record. Anything – any little gesture will help you out.
On the inspector mobi, you access the cargo authorization file for the Quasar. You tap it once to display the inspection outcome section. You press your thumbprint in the Inspector authorization code slot. You inhale and hold your breath as your finger hovers over green indicator for “inspection passed”. Your heart thuds in your ears as your finger is poised to tap green. At the last second you slide it over and press “yellow” – failed and “red” possible contraband detected. Feeling lightheaded you back up and flop down on the nearest crate.
Head in hands you ask yourself, “Why Bry, why?” But you know the answer. Right is right and wrong ain’t. Your mobi emits the three beat signal for priority message. It’s from Roderick. It reads On my way with security DO NOT MOVE! “Fuck me!”
You’re alone, sitting at a table in the back left corner of the G Loc, a popular bar in Area 18. Well, the only bar actually. You have a raggedy cap you grabbed out of the lost and found at work, pulled forward to obscure your face. The orange murky lighting helps you to fade into the background. Your eyes unfocused, you stare at the holographic menu hovering above the table top. Music is booming and your leg is shaking but not in time with the song blaring out of the speakers.
Every time you notice the doors open, you crane your neck looking for Naomi. Damn, she’s usually punctual to a fault. Another group of loading dock workers saunters in. You look away and slouch down into your seat. Area 18 is a big place but news like yours travels quickly. Never in years in a million years could you have anticipated Roderick’s reaction or what had ensued when he arrived with security in tow.
Caught daydreaming, you’re startled by the sound of someone flopping down into the seat next to you. It’s Naomi. Relief washes over you. Then you notice she’s staring at you with an OMG look on her face. Clearly, she’d already heard — something.
No hello or preamble. “What the frak happened?” She asks in a hushed tone. She leans in waiting for a reply.
You slouch back into the chair shaking your head. “So you heard.”
“Pretty sure most have. Went to your sleeping cube. Saw goons hanging outside your door. Then remembered we were meeting here.”
“Well that sucks. Not much in there worth having but still…”
She looks like she wants to shake you silly. “Well — what the hell happened??”
You inhale. “I’m actually starting to think that I’m a drama magnet,” you say with a wry smile.
That puts a small smile on her face. She crosses hers and leans back into the booth. “Just might be.”
“Probably already know that I got assigned as temporary inspector on J42. Things were going good. Finished early. Except for 2 hiccups. Unplanned stop in Cathcart on the ship log and unlisted container.”
“New ship? Crew?”
“Nope. Regulars. Initially fell for the excuse for the unscheduled stop.”
Naomi shrugs. “It happens. Crew has things to do that aren’t necessarily the company’s business.”
“Flying the company’s ship?”
Another shrug. “On time. Cargo intact. Who cares?”
“Yeah, I can get with that. Was willing to let that part slide. Right up until I’m told that setting aside a particular container is a routine thing. Something Thomas manages as a special request.”
“Oook, now we’re moving into shaky territory.” She agrees.
“But this is ArcCorp. Who cares? Not like the Corp is doing us any favors.”
“True, there’s that. I’ll give you that and I nearly let that slide too. It’s ArcCorp, where fucking the likes us over, is on someone’s daily to-do list.” You lean forward, more intensity in your voice. “What happens if today of all days, that special delivery gets policed in transit and they backtrack to the inspection?”
The possible ramifications dawn in Naomi’s eyes. “You’d be fraked is what.”
You nod in agreement. “And then some! So at the last sec I called it in.”
“Still don’t understand how you ended up fired for it?” Her mouth slants down and she has a sore look on her face. “Ain’t right.”
“I’m okay with how things turned out – in the end anyway.”
You explain how Roderick had arrived in a near rage with a team of security. Joey, Rohn, and Alya were coming back just as Roderick had shown up. Security put all of you in handcuffs and rushed you off the platform. You were frantic not understanding what the hell was going on. When you tried speaking to Roderick but he told you to shut up until you were spoken to.
You unconsciously rub your wrists. “It was scary and embarrassing being dragged across Area 18 until we reached the security building.”
“I bet. So what happened?”
You continue your tale. You’d each been placed in a separate security holding cell. While you were anxiously waiting to speak to someone – anyone, you saw them marching in Thomas in handcuffs and then the crew of the Quasar a short while later. They hadn’t been in restraints and in fact, seemed to be talking in a carefree manner with Roderick.
“My stomach hit the floor when I saw Chuzen prancing in full of confidence and Roderick seeming to eating it up.”
One by one you saw your team escorted into what you realized later was an interrogation room. You were the last to be taken in and pushed none too gently into a metal folding chair across from desk with two people on one side of it. Roderick and a security officer. You explained what you’d seen and done in painstaking detail. You were questioned about your actions repeatedly. When they’d had enough, Roderick asked the security officer to leave the room.
Once it was just the two of you, Roderick’s face softened. He removed the handcuffs, pulled his chair next to yours and sat down with a sigh. “Rough day kid and you done good.”
A look of extreme confusion had covered your face. “I – I don’t understand what’s happening.”
“We’ve had a drug smuggling problem for quite some time. We could occasionally catch the users but not break into the cartel managing the operation or how the narcs were arriving.” Smiling he said, “You just gave us our first break.” He stood up and paced the small room while he talked. “I doubt ArcCorp would even care if not for the accidents caused by narc’d up workers. It messes with their safety rating and slows down production.”
“I’d heard about two guys losing a limb on the large engines assembly line.” Scratching your head you say, “Last week wasn’t there construction worker who dropped a scaffolding down 8 stories over where they’re building the Galleria?”
“Yeah, got the whole project temporary put on hold until the safety investigation is over. Stuff like this costs the company hundreds of thousands of creds per incident and it’s adding up quickly these days.”
“Oh” is all you can think to say. You’re still shaken by what’s happened.
“This whole dragging you all in here is for your own safety. We think the group working out of here is rather sophisticated and we’re after the big fish. We’re going to be able to nail Chuzen but we need to find who they work for and who else is falsifying inspections. I want to protect you four so here’s what we’re going to do.”
At this point, Roderick sat down next to you again. He dropped the managerial tone and spoke to you like a friend. He explained that he was going to have your inspection findings scrubbed from the record. He’s going to claim that he and security had come by to do a spot audit and found the crate, which by the way, was filled with vials of hallucinogen class narcotics.
He’s going to say that since it was your first time inspecting a shipment you were late and hadn’t gotten to validating the off-loaded cargo. For their own protection, your team was being given a company paid transfer to another Arc facility with a 2 weeks bonus pay. He’s leaving Thomas in place even though they know he’s on the smuggler payroll. But now that they know that, they can use him to catch the next crew that comes in and then they’ll nab him.
“Wow, umm okay. But don’t you think anyone will catch on?”
“They make think something is up at first but once a few months go by, they’ll be bold enough to restart their operation. Plus now we know what to look for at the other landing zones and can update the security procedures accordingly.”
“What if they don’t use Thomas again? Seems like he gets off the hook.”
“We’ll be keeping him under close surveillance,” Roderick said with a smile. “He’s not conspiring with them for free. Likely used to the extra income. Even if they don’t seek him out, he’ll no doubt contact them for more work.”
You nod your head in agreement. “Gotcha.” Nervously you ask, “What about me? Do I get the 2 weeks bonus and transfer option?” Your gut twists. You want off this rock but if it just means dropping you on another where you have to start over? That’s not sounding so great. At least here you have a couple of friends and Naomi. The idea of slugging it out alone again is depressing.
“No, I have something different for you in mind.”
You stop for a moment to gauge Naomi’s reaction. Her mouth is gaped open and her neck craned forward in rapt attention. You wonder if she’d miss you as much as you’d miss her? She has such an easy way about her. She makes friends easily. Always liked and well respected. You on the other hand — no so much. You’re private, quiet and often prefer the company of the ideas spinning around in your head, than conversing with others. You keep the friends you gain but don’t gain them very often which is by choice. You miss home, your friends off at university and now you’ll miss the few you’ve gathered here too. You sigh.
Naomi kicks your foot under the table over your sudden silence. “No stopping now!” She exclaims, “what’s the plan for you?”
“He’s worried that the cartel would come around asking me questions and might not be that nice about asking ‘em. They just lost a lot of creds having that crate confiscated.”
“Those goons outside your door,” Naomi whispers.
“Exactly. So I have to get gone too but with a different kind of bonus.”
Her eyes widen in surprise seeing the smile on your face. “How much?” she says in a near shout.
“Shhhhhhhh!” Noticing the couple at the table next to you glance your direction, you pull the cap down lower over your face.
“Oops — sorry.” She giggles and her excitement is infectious.
You’d been trying not to be too excited least the rug get pulled out from under your feet. And you’d miss Naomi unless…
You lean across the table toward her and show her your UEC balance on your Mobi. She gasps in response, her eyes growing wide. Now you’re smiling too and giggling like a child.
Whispering she says, “That’s leave for good money.” In awe, she adds, “Start over money. Wow!”
“Or ship for two money?” You let the question hang in the air.
Naomi’s eyes bug out and her eyebrows arch up to her hairline. “Me? You’d take me?”
“Of course! I wouldn’t leave you behind. You’ve been a good friend to me.”
“What would we do? Where would we go?”
“What do you want to do? We can decide together.” Your stomach twists waiting for an answer. You want her to come, to help her out of this place. But you also have selfish reasons. You don’t go back out into the black alone. You’ve got more advanced skills than Naomi but she’s got the life experiences. In your mind, that would be a great mix.
Naomi leans back into the booth. “I need a drink and you’re buying,” she says with a smile. “Holy shit!”
She sounds happy. Does that mean she’s coming? “That mean you’re in?” you ask outright.
“Oh yeah, I’m in!” She nods several times for emphasis. Her eyes dart side to side as if working out a problem in her head. “Maybe we get you off here tonight and lay low somewhere cheap to make plans.”
Relief washes over you. “Sounds good to me!”
With a wry smile, Naomi asks, “Ever been to Terra? It’s the most expensive ticket outta here. But lots of resources to figure out what you want to do next. That money won’t get you setup in place like Terra but can get all the supplies you need for whatever…”
You correct her. “The supplies we need.” The idea of it makes you giddy and lightheaded.
“Yeah. What we need.” She laughs. “Holy frak, I can’t even… Holy shit, we’re outta here!”