The PMV Full House, a Jongleur class light cruiser, entered the jump point going to the Vindale system.
Jolan could hear voices echoing down the hall from the engine room. They had left the door open.
“Are you sure, man? We still haven’t figured out if there are any side effects. It killed all those NPCs in our last test run. There’s gotta be a reason these things are shielded.” said Polar, the chief engineer.
“That’s why we didn’t bring any with us this time. If you die I’ll pay for your buy back. We need the speed to catch up. Do it.” said Gumbo, guild leader of Aces High and captain of the Full House.
“You’re the boss. Transferring power and bypassing safeties now.” said Polar as he got to work.
The specialized shielding around the light cruiser that all Weave capable ships used flickered and went out. At the same time, the ship sped up.
Gumbo walked out and headed back toward the bridge.
Jolan walked in and watched the engineers at work. Polar and two of his assistants were at work monitoring the system.
“What’s this about bypassing safeties?” asked Jolan.
“Don’t worry about it.” answered Polar, “We’re just adjusting the Weave drive to go faster.”
“Huh? I thought there was only one speed on the Weave?” said Jolan.
“There was, until I figured out how to go faster!” announced Polar.
“Sweet. You figured it out on your own? That’s badass, man.” said Jolan.
Polar beamed, excited to talk about his accomplishment. “You just have to bypass the safeties on the drive! I cracked the code to get into it. It, uh, might be dangerous, though. In our test case, all the NPCs died pretty quick. You shouldn’t feel more than a bit nauseous, I think it’s a secret player-only feature. The faster you go, the more it affects everyone. You can really crank up the speed if you disable the shielding too, but it makes the symptoms a bit worse.”
“Wow. So how fast are we going?” asked Jolan.
“I don’t know how to measure it. Really fast. What takes everyone else ten days, we can make it in five! I think I might be able to crank it even higher with the shields down like this, but we’re already going fast enough to catch our target on the other side.” said Polar.
“You talk to the captain more than most. Who is our target, anyway? How did we figure out where they’re going?” asked Jolan.
“Some human NPC. Boss man deployed a scanner at all the jump points and used some kind of system to figure out where the one dude who scanned as human but didn’t show in the player counts jumped out at. I think they used the in-system player count with ships jumping in and out along with the bio scan of each ship as it left the system?” said Polar.
“Oh. So we don’t actually know who we’re looking for?” said Jolan.
“We know it’s a small cargo ship, only one to leave for Vindale in a three day window. We should pass them right before they exit, then we can take them out and claim the bounty. I’m sure it will work, Gumbo hasn’t ever led us wrong before.”
“I got her now.” thought the man, an average looking human with a short beard, messy brown hair with a faint reddish tinge, and green eyes, “Right where I want her…”
“Call.” said the woman. She was a short, only about 4’6”, with striking silver eyes and her brown hair styled in a pixie cut. She also had neatly combed, short fur all over her body – a Rastlin.
“Read ‘em and weep, sister! Full house!” said Cian.
Vanna smirked, laying down four kings and sweeping the pot to her side of the table. They were playing with a collection of nuts and washers, and Cian had just went all in and lost.
Cian stared, dumbfounded. “But… How?! How are you so good at poker! I taught it to you three days ago!”
“Beginners luck. Guess this means you wash the dishes again. Wanna play trader’s fortune next? I’m sure we can find something else to bet.” asked Vanna with a smirk.
“No! You’re even better at that game. I still don’t understand the rules. I’m gonna go read some more.” said Cian.
“Okay. Have fun! Don’t forget the dishes!” said Vanna, smiling.
“Yeah, yeah. Captain Dishwasher, here I go.” said Cian, walking over to do the chore before he forgot.
The last ten days had been boring. They were still hurtling through space, traveling on their ship, the LT Equinox, along the connection between Kiana and Vindale – properly referred to as Threads on the Weave. Cian spent the first few days resting in bed, recovering from his near-death experience. The rest of it had been spent reading history and science books, helping Vanna make repairs and tweaks on their ship which he hardly understood, and losing badly to Vanna in every game he could come up with.
It turned out they had cards pretty similar to what Cian was used to, so he had suggested they play a variety of Earth games – from Poker to Gin Rummy to Go Fish. And Vanna had somehow picked all of them up and won. Repeatedly. He had won maybe one in four games, mostly when she was learning. It was even worse when he played Vanna’s games. She had introduced him to Trader’s Fortune and Walk the Void. He barely understood either, and lost every game.
Cian ran the dishes through the dishwasher and put everything away. There wasn’t much with just the two of them, and the dishwasher was super efficient – it blasted off the food with water and spit it back out completely clean and dry a few seconds later. At first it seemed strange, having a full kitchen and running water on a ship in space, they even had showers – but Vanna had explained how the life support recycled the water and pressed any waste into hard pellets that they could dump when they landed next. Apparently it made a good fertilizer; and space ports collected it, sanitized it, and shipped it out to agricultural centers.
Cian looked at his character sheet, the one remaining reminder that everything he thought was real might still be a game.
|Name: Cian Kemp|
|Total Experience: 104125/105000|
Traits: Iron Will
Character Points: 5
Basic Energy Equipment: 8.4%
Combat Reflexes: 26%
Knife Fighting: 4.7%
Mental Projection (C): 27.4%
Mind over Body (C): 36.5%
Polearm Fighting: 8.3%
Psi Defense (C): 24.2%
Psionics (C): 27.5%
Small Arms: 7.7%
Starship Engineering: 34%
Starship Piloting: 3%
Unarmed Combat: 3.9%
He had gained a lot of skill in Starship Engineering from helping Vanna. He quickly recovered from his injuries a few days before, but still had to keep taking mineral supplements. His nanite levels had been regenerating at about 5% a day, and he still wasn’t sure what to think about that revelation. The whole nanite thing definitely put his experiences thus-far into a new light, and it neatly explained the fast healing that ‘players’ experienced. But it provided way more questions than answers.
Cian lay back on his bed with his tablet, skimming a particularly gruesome section of “The Layman’s Guide to Faster than Light Travel: The Weave and You” for the third time this week.
…which is why Weave drives are shielded. There is still no cure for Weave Fever, nor is there any guideline on how much exposure is safe. Most die within days of exposure, while others survive entire trips seemingly unscathed. It has been suggested that genetics has an effect on this, as in cases of passenger ships losing shielding during a jump it is common to see related members being among the few survivors. What follows are select pictures of victims of Weave Fever and some of the few survivors. Should you notice these markings or the previously mentioned symptoms on yourself or others during a jump, you should immediately stall the jump and run diagnostics on your Weave drive.
Cian quickly skipped over the pictures. The poor souls in the pictures were covered in bloody blisters and black bruises. Even some of the survivors looked nearly dead, with white sightless eyes and red rashes across their bodies. A few looked completely normal, albeit with vacant stares and signs of mental trauma – watching everyone else die probably did that to you.
Cian closed the book and opened a history book that Vanna had given him, which was apparently banned in Dromon space, “The Enslavement of a People: The Greatest Humanitarian Crisis of our Age.” He had read most of it already. It told a brief story of a huge war between all the races – the Boralans and Dromon on one side as the BDA (Boralan Dromon Alliance) and everyone else – Erisians, Celdurans, and Rastlin – on the other side as the United Systems.
It read like a history of WW2, except the bad guys won. The book seemed to assume that readers would know the details and didn’t go very deep into it, instead discussing the aftermath – mostly focusing on the Celdurans. The Dromon conquered and enslaved the Celdurans and the Rastlin. With the help of the group Vanna had mentioned before, called The Heralds of the New Dawn, the Rastlin broke free of them after 22 years – but it took 22 more years before someone killed the Dromon ‘God-Emperor’ and freed Celduras – the Celduran home world. Slavery was still legal on Drom, the Dromon homeworld, and a lot of Celdurans and other species were still slaves there today. It definitely didn’t paint the Dromon ‘Peacekeepers’ in a good light.
The last of the book was mostly praising the heroism of the Celduran people and stating that they would soon ‘Rise Again’ and free their brethren on Drom.
Cian sighed and switched over to a game app. It was a silly time wasting idle game where you pushed a few buttons and watched as fleets got built to go off and fight the Pa’Ran Invasion. There wasn’t any way to lose, and it boiled down to watching numbers go up, but Cian was bored. He looked at the time. Just a few more minutes of this and they would be in Vindale, but then he had another day and a half just flying through space till they got to Spriggan Station.
“Hey Cian, get up here. You don’t wanna miss your first Weave exit. We’re only fifteen minutes out.” called Vanna over the ship’s comm.
“On my way.” said Cian, putting down his tablet and heading toward the bridge.
The view from the bridge was breathtaking. The glow of the threads had increased as they got closer to Vindale. Glowing, ethereal threads surrounded the ship, pulsing with light. Cian thought it might be like what flying inside a gigantic bundle of fiber optic cable would look like. Beyond the threads was a sea of eerie blue fog with pinpoints of light visible in the distance all around. They were rapidly approaching a huge glowing nexus and several smaller nodes in the distance. They would exit the Weave soon – the gravity well of the Star would destabilize the drive and force them out.
“So the big glow is the planet, right?” asked Cian.
“Yep. And the smaller ones are smaller inhabited locations. Spriggan Station is one of them. There are some asteroid bases and a couple of moon domes here too. More people live off planet than on here. Vindale Prime isn’t quite a wasteland world, but it’s close.” said Vanna.
Suddenly another ship zoomed past them in a blur.
“What the hell?!” screamed Vanna. She was tapping away on the console and checking the stats on their Weave drive. She looked worried.
“What? Is something wrong?” asked Cian.
She checked something on the screen before answering, “Yeah. That shouldn’t have happened. Our drive is working normally. Shield is still up, their wake didn’t affect us. I don’t even think they had their shield up!”
“Is going faster that unusual?” asked Cian.
Vanna gave him a bewildered look, then explained, “I sometimes forget ya don’t know this stuff. Weave drives are heavily regulated for a damn good reason. The shield that keeps us alive is tricky. Go too fast and radiation leaks through. Someone passed by you? The wake from their shield can make both of your shields fluctuate and even fail. Best case is only a little radiation leaks through and can give you a real bad time. Worst case the shield fails and people die. That’s why all drives are set to go at the same speed and adjust Weave displacement by just enough to hit different lanes for going and coming. They did a lot of testing to figure out the best speed, the fastest speed that’s sustainable and doesn’t result in leaks. All the drives are supposed to be hard coded to follow that speed to prevent the shit that just happened. They were going at least twice as fast as us. At that speed, with no shield? Everyone on that ship is dead or dying.” said Vanna.
“Oh. Wow, that’s not good. That looked like a big ship.” said Cian.
“Looked like a cruiser or destroyer. Our scanner didn’t get a good read on it. Three minutes to Weave exit and we’ll see.” said Vanna.
“Is this Weave fever thing contagious, or just a form of radiation sickness? I read some of that book you gave me.” asked Cian.
“I don’t know. Weave drives have been hard coded for a long time, it hardly ever happens. It really aint studied anymore. I think it’s just radiation, but I’ve heard of first responders and medics getting sick. Might be residual in the ship or on the people for a bit. A cruiser would be worth a good chunk of change in salvage, but tryin’ it might get us killed.” said Vanna.
“Oh, I didn’t mean salvage. I thought maybe we could help any survivors.” said Cian.
“Right, of course.” said Vanna. A minute before they entered Vindale, Vanna started working at the controls. “Just in case…” she said.
“What?” asked Cian.
“Oh, just me being paranoid. You might wanna strap in.” said Vanna. She finished inputting a series of commands.
Cian clicked his harness in right as the ship lurched and dropped out of the Weave a few seconds early, shaking and rolling a bit to the left.
They came out of the Weave a few million kilometers away from the cruiser. A few seconds later, a huge explosion went off ahead of them. They had barely avoided flying right into the explosion, timed for their exact exit time from the weave. The cruiser was on the opposite side of the explosion, facing them. It was directly in their path toward Spriggan Station, but still far enough out that they could barely see it.
“Shit. They must have followed us. How did you know?” asked Cian.
“Paranoid. How are they still alive? Some Weaveborn tech nonsense?” said Vanna, working quickly at the controls.
The Equinox’s engines engaged and the ship zoomed away from the light cruiser.
The light cruiser’s engines came to life seconds later, and the chase was on.
“Damn. Knew I shoulda spent more time tweaking the engines. Even if we can maneuver around them to get a good flight path to Spriggan, there’s no way we can outrun them all the way there.” said Vanna.
“What can we do?” asked Cian.
“Ships got a few tricks, but we aint standing up to a military ship. We got upgraded shields, gauss turrets, and a military grade point defense controller, so we might weather their missiles. But we can’t beat ‘em in a race to Spriggan. This ship’s got juiced engines, but the military hardware is just better. We can’t maintain this speed more’n a few hours, tops. Even if we did, the officials might not help if you really got a bounty on ya. There, I got all the power we can spare rerouted to the engines for the best burn we can expect outta them. We got a few hours of fresh air ‘fore I gotta turn life support back on, but if we live that long I’ll count us blessed.” said Vanna, working frantically at the controls while she talked. The cockpit doors closed as every door in the ship was secured.
Cian felt weightlessness for the first time as the ship’s artificial gravity switched off. He reached to secure a few things that were floating around the cabin.
“Damn. I’m not giving up yet.” said Cian as he turned the radio to the emergency channel. “Mayday, mayday. This is the LT Equinox. We are under attack by unknown assailants at the Kiana jump point. Please assist. I repeat, this is the LT Equinox. We are under attack at the Kiana jump point by unknown assailants. Please send help. Over.”
An answer came a few seconds later. “LT Equinox, this is Spriggan Station. We detected the explosion. We have a patrol vessel in your area. You’re being pursued by a light cruiser? Can you provide any information? Over.”
“Spriggan station! This is the LT Equinox, the cruiser passed us in the Weave and we were attacked immediately upon exit. We are carrying supplies bound for you, we have no knowledge of our attackers. We’re keeping ahead of them for now, but our engines won’t take this speed for more than a few hours. Please advise.” said Cian.
“They’re jamming us. Scrambling our sensors too. Directed interference. Powerful system, to target us from this range.” said Vanna.
“Think they’ll send help?” said Cian.
“Don’t know. If they even have any patrol craft this far out, that light cruiser is probably too much for one to handle alone.” said Vanna.
“Okay. Anything you can do to make the engines last long enough?” asked Cian.
“Probably not, but I’ll try. Take the helm. See if you can plot a course past them, you can track the source of the interference as them. I didn’t see a second ship. If we’re lucky they won’t intercept our course and we might get a good course toward the station. I just wish we knew which direction the patrol ship is in.” said Vanna. She left the bridge and headed back toward the engine room.
Cian took over the helm, trying to chart a course to Spriggan Station that didn’t end with them being shot to pieces by the cruiser.
The next few hours were spent in tense silence. The cruiser set their course to intercept any attempt at getting closer to Spriggan Station and Cian kept picking up speed and adjusting his course to stay ahead. They ended up skirting the edge of the system. Every little bit he had to correct his course to dodge railgun rounds – the ship was firing on them even from the extreme range.
At the end of the fourth hour, the engines were still holding and Cian could hear Vanna cursing from the other end of the ship. He had outmaneuvered the cruiser and had a clear shot at Spriggan Station, but they would have to maintain the high acceleration for two more hours and then pick up enough speed to stay ahead of the cruiser all the way to the station. Then they had to decelerate quick enough to keep them from catching up on the tail end of the trip.
The roar of the ship’s engines faded a bit.
Vanna walked into the bridge. “That’s all we got. What’s our status?”
Cian explained the situation.
Vanna sighed, saying “Good plan, but the engines are overheating. This is all we can get from ‘em if we want to have engines left at the end to stop.”
Cian entered the adjusted acceleration into the flight path and frowned. “If we take this course, we can almost slip by them, but they’re going to intercept us right there.” Cian said, pointing at the spot on the screen.
“Damn. That’s within missile range. Don’t see any other options.” said Vanna.
“Yeah. We’ll have to try it.” said Cian.
“Better cycle the life support. Gettin’ pretty stuffy in here.” said Vanna. She adjusted the engines back to a safe level and transferred some of the excess power to the life support system. It powered up and started cycling air. “Better suit up too. In case we take a hit and lose pressure.”
“Right” said Cian. The two of them changed into the stretchy, tight fitting flight suits with sealed helmets.
Two and a half hours later, they closed on the cruiser. Both ships were flying at extreme speeds relative to Spriggan Station. The Equinox was going faster, but they were on an intercept course that would put them within a hundred thousand kilometers of the cruiser.
Cian looked at the scan of the cruiser. It was wide and mostly flat on both the top and the bottom, tapered toward the edges. The rear was boxy with two main engines built into it. It had four turrets placed along the top, in two pairs on the rear and mid-ship. The front tapered down to a snub nose with two large railguns on each side. Both the port and starboard sides were lined with double rows of ten launch tubes – presumably for missiles.
The scanners flickered, showing other contacts on approach. Cian adjusted the resolution, trying to get past the interference. The signal cleared up and picked up other ships in the distance. A destroyer with two small frigates, a patrol fleet. The radio signal was still jammed, but they were on an intercept course.
“We have friendlies! They’ll intercept us within ten minutes.” said Cian.
“Don’t know if it matters. We’re too close, there’s no way we can get outta weapons range before they get a target lock and fire missiles.” said Vanna.
“You said we have a military grade point defense system, right? And you’re an amazing pilot. We can do this.” said Cian.
“They’re firing missiles. Engaging point defense system. Visors down, switch to internal comms.” said Vanna. She pulled the visor down on her helmet.
Cian pulled his visor down too, engaging the seal and pressurizing his suit.
The hatches opened, exposing twenty large launch tubes on each side. A volley of forty anti-ship missiles streaked out of them, rapidly reorienting to target the Equinox and approaching at slightly different angles. The tubes closed shortly after firing. At the same time, the front mounted railguns fired. Four huge slugs flew through space at high speeds.
The Equinox’s combat computer beeped, showing the projected direction of the rounds. The radar showed the missiles with their speeds, showing the countdown of 01:09 to their approach – just over a minute.
Vanna deftly piloted the ship around the railgun rounds. Thirty seconds later, Vanna avoided another volley.
“Uh, how many of those can our shields take?” asked Cian.
“Direct? Zero. If one goes off near us the shield will soften the blast waves and stop the fragments from tearing us apart, but they’re firing serious warheads at us. Those things can crack battleships. Our armor is paper. They want us dead.” said Vanna.
Then the missiles were in range. Hidden hatches opened and eight gauss turrets popped out of the ship. The coils energized and began rapidly firing at the approaching missiles. A flare system engaged in between the engines, launching decoys in all directions as Vanna corkscrewed the ship to fool the missiles’ sensors. A bloom of chaff emerged from a third system, sending thousands of tiny bits meant to confuse or disable the missiles by impact.
The volley thinned as it approached. Thirty. Twenty. Ten. Several of them went for the decoy flares. The last missile exploded right next to them, rocking the ship and causing the shield to flicker out. Bits of debris pelted the ship, sounding like rain on a metal roof.
“Uh, we lost shields?” said Cian.
“Already on it. They’re cycling, thirty seconds till they’re back up. I’ll try to avoid the debris.” said Vanna.
Less than a minute later, another volley of missiles fired from the cruiser.
“Uh, they just fired more missiles.” said Cian.
“Two minute reload time.” remarked Vanna.
Forty more missiles approached. The countdown was only 00:55 now – they were closer. The point defense system worked to get a lock on each of their flight paths.
This time, one of the gauss turrets stopped firing after a few seconds.
Cian looked at the readout. “Crap, one of our turrets is down. It says jammed?”
“Debris hit it. Looks like it damaged the reload mechanism.” said Vanna.
Tense seconds ticked by as the volley thinned. Thirty, then twenty, then ten as the missiles closed. The gauss turrets repeatedly cycled between firing and reloading, the coils glowing from the heat. The ship rocked as several were caught in one explosion as a warhead was triggered against some of the chaff. Two went for the decoy flares.
The radar only showed two left, but the countdown read 00:05. They swirled, honing in on the ship from opposite sides and narrowly avoiding the gauss fire. The gauss turrets clicked, switching to reload. One of the last gauss pellets nicked the engine on one of them, causing the missile to careen out of control, spinning away from them. The final missile homed in on them. 3, 2, 1…
Vanna punched a button and the ship spun and lurched, afterburners pushing them to dart in the opposite direction. The tight harnesses were the only thing keeping them in their seats.
Cian nearly blacked out as their inertia overwhelmed the ship’s dampeners. He instinctively used Surpass Limits to up his endurance and agility to keep lucid.
The missile darted past them and the gauss turrets finished cycling. They opened up again, hitting the missile dead-on as it maneuvered to turn. The explosion rocked the ship again.
Just then, four more railgun slugs came up on the scanner, heading straight for them.
Vanna was dazed.
Cian took the helm, firing the engines back up just in time. Three missed, but one narrowly clipped the ship. The shields did their job, deflecting the round, but shorted out in the process. The ship rocked violently and spun. More debris pelted the ship as it wobbled and righted itself.
Vanna shook off the disorientation, punching at more controls. “Damn. Can’t do that one again, we busted three struts and melted the port engine coils. That slug shorted the aft starboard shield emitter, I can get them back but that side will be weaker.”
Cian checked the point defense system. “Looks like we lost three more gauss turrets!” said Cian.
“Adjusting course. We’re pulling away from them now, but I don’t know if we can take another volley.” said Vanna.
A minute later, forty more missiles streaked toward them. 01:03…