The top for the bottle of rum rattled somewhere under Vin’s pilot’s seat. That was going to annoy him every time it clattered.
He was currently parked in his loading bay, staring at a sidewinder stuck in a rotation just above his landing dock. The latest set of updates to ship systems had landed at the end of the week, just as he returned from shore leave and he had eagerly taken the transport truck to his allocated sidewinder.
“OK, guys, I know revenge is sweet, but this is silly,” Vin muttered to the maintenance robots. He was beginning to regret the soldering iron incident now.
Back at the Thargoid, he had spent a few hours with Solo running through the new ship systems and exchanged frank remarks about the system glitches.
That aside, the first sortie had blown his mind. For years, he’d been able to look out of the viewports on the slowly rotating Coriolis stations and only seen the exterior through the wireframe viewscreens. Jumping from the testing launch station to the pilot training area he had throttled back and just stared.
The new station design was just stunning. The armoured hull of the polyhedral shape was dull but reflected the nearest star with an occasional gleam. Sitting in the centre of one face, the old letterbox that he was used to now glowed invitingly and the tramlines indicating the approach channel gently welcomed him in.
The new ship’s computer now had a voice. The accent annoyed him, but it was nice to have information arriving at his ears without having to stare at side panels.
Slowing to a crawl, he had switched to his left screens, tapped through to the station and requested docking clearance.
A new indicator had appeared over his radar, giving him 9 minutes to land.
“No worries… Vin is in the box…”
Throttling up to 25%, he matched the rotation of the station and lined up with the thrusters – compared to days of old, this was easy.
He had waited as he passed into the box for the auto-parking systems to drop him into a bay when a thrumming noise had accompanied his entry into the station interior…..
The space was vast. Parked at intervals around the rim were sidewinders, anacondas and a roadway circling the entire space with trucks scuttling like rats.
The station controller had allocated him Pad 13 – the HUD duly obliged by highlighting it for him and he drifted (on pain of execution for speeding) towards the pad. 200m away, the voice had come back over the comms.
“Pad allocation error, await further instructions”.
“You’ve got to be kidding me… Cleared for landing, Pad 13”
“The penalty for loitering is destruction, please move away.”
The rotational correction had failed and the tower from the next pad had ground into his hull.
“Request urgent docking clearance, station control.”
“Please await instructions, loitering is an offence, please move clear.”
“Please proceed to pad 2.”
After weeks of practice with the new flight controls, he had spun on the spot and looked back toward the letterbox. Pad 2 was now lit up ready for him.
Pad 2 had aborted. Back to Pad 13. Pad 13 had aborted. Back to Pad 13.
“Sod it, station, control, I’m landing, ready or not.”
He had dropped the sidewinder neatly onto the pad when the station control took over his systems and lowered him into the maintenance bay.
The whole experience was a world away from the fire and forget docking he was used to. Back in the day, all you had to do was hit the letterbox without mashing the ship into the side and station systems did the rest, scooting you into a bay deep in the interior with no natural light and only some maintenance bots for company.
He had selected to launch back from the station when he spotted the first of the ship system problems. A spinning cobra blocking the bay exit, lit up by the orange glow of station warning lamps.
Time and again he had gone back to the pad to test the new jump systems and time and again, ships blocked the way. He could see frustrated pilots in the cockpits gesticulating wildly and hammering at the controls.
That was when he had opened the rum. He wasn’t the only one – Solo had given up and changed out of his flight suit, keeping stranded pilots company on the radio comms.
Most of the test crew were now down in the Thargoid, moaning about the systems. Vin began to think that half of them wouldn’t be happy, even with a large cash win at the station casino…
Finally, the station systems cleared the stranded ships and he was able to make it back out into space. Powering up the hyperdrive and selecting a nearby asteroid field, he sat back for the countdown and wondered if the half bottle of rum was a good idea.
As the drive hummed into life and sounds distorted, he had time to put his thumb over the open top of the bottle before a sound like a ship sized spud being shot from a giant pipe reverberated around the cabin and he was pushed back into his seat.
Holy crap that sounded good.
The ship popped into normal space just outside the asteroid field that they had all been using for testing and he dropped into usual flight mode.
They’d made plenty of changes to the ship systems. The biggest was in the control for the maneuvering thrusters. Switching more power to the engines made a huge difference to the turning circle and he took a bead on one of the mining drones.
Twin pulse lasers arced out and lit the shields of the drone up like a dome around the soon to be stricken Sidewinder.
“Holy smoke, they’re shooting back!”. He shouted at the bobble head on the dash as he boosted past the drone and spun a 180 with the flight assist off.
Dropping power to the shields and dumping a heatsink to bring the lasers back online, he tore the shields off the drone. Just like skinning an onion.
The ship’s virtual environment sounds started a metallic thunking as his lasers pulsed into the hull of the drone. A second dump of a heatsink and he watched it detonate satisfyingly, dropping dummy cargo containers into the void.
The new scoops were another area that varied from the old systems. Popping the scoop open brought up a virtual heads up for the cargo. Inching forward, he kept it aligned until a solid clang indicated that the cargo was aboard and he throttled up for some more.
Having stocked up, he swigged on the rum and bashed in the co-ordinates to head back to the station.
“Oh, foxtrot oscar.”
The station entrance was blocked by a bugged drone again.
He promised he’d be nice to the next maintenance drone. Just in case.