by Christopher W Gamsby
I felt anxious and restless and those feelings grew every day. I was now 23 HPY and the universe pulled me to distant planets and stars. One day I was returning from mining the heridium, iron, and nickel that our multi-tool station used to fabricate the basic components we routinely used to patch broken ships when I saw my parents flying by with a broken down wreck on their skiff. The ship was sitting in the overgrowth that surrounded Homestead when I arrived home. It was almost like they sensed my unease and they brought me the broken down vessel to keep me nearby for at least a little while longer. I might have just headed to the trade post and hitch-hiked with the first transport that would take me otherwise.
I started examining the ship and it didn't seem anything special. The cockpit was the furthest forward section of the ship with a pair of twin lasers flanking the pilot's compartment. Two small pods just large enough for a person to comfortable sit or lay down connected to the cockpit's rear. A rocket thruster connected to the back of each of the sleeping pods. Each thruster stretched about 10 meters. Since the bulk of the thruster tunnels was nothing but empty space, ion isolation containers like the ones fastened to the living pod's walls affixed the insides. The long ship had stunted wings attached to the front of the thrusters near where they connected to the sleeping pods. The pilot's compartment, thruster import breaches and exhaust ports were a luminescent red which offset the rest of the ship's matte white finish.
A meter wide gouge completely penetrated through the starboard hull between the pilot's compartment and sleep pod. I opened the pilot compartment's hatch, but luckily the powered down control panel remained undamaged. I jumped inside and scoured the sleeping pods, but flames burnt away any signs of the previous occupant. I jumped out of the cockpit and inspected the turbines and engines. The isotope containment cells were surrendered to the ship's parent company per international salvage regulations, but they could easily be replaced. Black soot singed the turbines at the exhaust ports and a light grease covered the fuselage at the exhaust intake manifold.
My parents and I spent weeks fixing the ship well enough to restart the control panel. My parents told me not to start the engines until they could run diagnostics, but after a few days of waiting I grew impatient. I snuck out of the living pod in the middle of the night and accessed the ship's main control panel. The dash-light brightened the night's bitter cold darkness. I've spent my whole life fixing and patching these ships, but the swirl of multi-colored gauges may well have been glyphs of some cryptic language. I pressed the closest imagine and a light in the cockpit illuminated. The light turned off with a second press. I just pressed buttons until something interesting happened. At first lights flickered and turned off. I opened some kind of journal that displayed all the nearby planets. The dark small dark planet was probably the Lonely Darkness, which has no day because it's forever caught in the shadow of the Barren Archipelago which was a large blue planet.
I shut off the log screen and continued pressing buttons. Despite the sound dampening cockpit the turbines kicked on with an amazingly loud whirl. I opened the hatch and a deafening sound beat the side of my head. I jumped to the ground below and wandered behind the ship. Blue and yellow flames shot from the turbine exhaust. Father told me that crude rockets from the past used fire to move back and forth, but I was amazed that such a thing still existed. I looked toward the living pod and father came sprinting from the door waving his hands back and forth over his head. He was probably shouting something, but I couldn't make out any sounds over the engine's screams. He ran to the cockpit and shut down and turbine.
I was going to comment on the age of the vessel and its unique fire based engines but my father coughed a diatribe on recklessness. He was shouting something about an explosion, destruction of Homestead, me dying, nuclear fallout, and a slew of obscenities. It was always difficult to understand him when he was upset.
A few days later father and mother ran diagnostics on the ship's system and we reconstructed the vital systems, take off thrusters, and main intraplanetary propulsion. In other words I could take off and fly around Perfection's surface but without a functional warp drive my ship would take a year to reach the closest planet, let alone another solar system. According to father I needed a gravatrino ball before traveling to another planet and I needed an upgraded warp module to achieve faster than light travel needed to go to another solar system. Since the ship could fly I went to the local trading post to buy a gravatrino ball.
I took off but was so nervous that the ship lightly shook due to my unsteady hands on the main flight controller. After I reached the upper limits of Perfection's atmosphere, I hit the throttle and the ground became a blur of brown, green, and red. X lived at the post I was traveling to, and I hoped to get a chance to see him while I was there. X is what I call the Krovax I met one day in the Cactus Forest. X isn't really his name, but a Krovax's name doesn't translate well into my native language. The Krovax aren't born like people of my species, where a father and mother come together to make a singular offspring. The Krovax are 'calculated' when a sample of certain traits are randomly compiled from a mass of Krovax donors. The calculated offspring is then named after the donor which is most similar. According to X his real name roughly translates into 9rkt563-X. That was way too difficult for me to say, so I started calling him X and he liked that so much he just called me P.
Posts have a strange layout compared to most structures on Perfection. Usually a building is accessible from the ground and you land your ship nearby. A trading post is little more than a terminal surrounded by a series of landing pads suspended far above the ground. You must land on the pad and walk in to the terminal, since there are no stairs or elevator leading to the terminal from the ground. I suppose that jet packs are so common in space travel, that they felt there was no need to enter from the ground. Maybe ground creatures can do so much damage to incoming ships that they just decided to prevent them from entering. I don't really know, but I guess it doesn't matter.
I lowered altitude and decreased speed as I approached. The trading post's computer seized control of my ship and brought me in. The landing pad's series of shapes spun, whirled, and hissed as my ship lowered to its surface. After I touched down the pad spun so that I faced into the terminal and my cockpit hatch popped open. I jumped down and moved from the clear skies above the landing pads to the covered sitting area of the terminal. A trading post's mainframe automatically queries your stores and reports your available goods to the trading pads carried by all the merchants lining the outer paths. The merchants checked their pads as I approached but immediately ignored my presence since I had no valuables to trade. After watching the ebb and flow of commerce for a few minutes, I mustered my courage and approached a Krovax waiting near his vessel.
“Do you have a gravatrino ball?”
The Krovax stared me down with a disgusted flash of his visor. The Krovax said something in his most well known language, but I couldn't understand, so I waved my hands in sweeping gestures trying to signal a sphere and spoke louder. The Krovax became incredulous and handed me his trading tablet. A series of pictures with common pictorial numbers covered the small screen. I tried deciphering which pictures could be of a gravatrino ball, but there were several round objects and I've never actually seen one before. I looked through the list pretending like I recognized everything but I was hopelessly lost until X arrived.
“P what are you doing here?”
“X, I'm looking for a gravatrino ball, but I have no clue how to say that to a Krovax and don't know what it looks like.”
X faced the Krovax merchant and in a split second the lights on their face masks flickered back and forth.
“The gravatrino ball is 40,000 credits.”
I was brokenhearted because 40,000 credits was going to take months for me to raise mining ores in my spare time, but at that point what choice did I have?