Vin had woken up in Zelada’s medical centre, not quite knowing where he was. The nurse attending him was a little too butch for his liking, but that probably went with being called “Bob”.
The last thing he had remembered was a couple of weeks ago. He’d been in the Thargoid with the regulars when things had all become a little interesting.
A couple of the alpha test commanders had taken it upon themselves to start an “anything goes” approach to testing and returned to the station to find a contingent of other pilots in varying states of disarray and wearing what could only be described as scorch marked suits waiting for them.
The deck hands had cleared them all out of the way of the incoming ships and everyone had retreated for a shower before heading to the debrief and then the bar.
As usual, the Thargoid had been its usual seedy self, full of far too much testosterone and horse manure being shovelled by the cartload. The screens dotted around the seating area were alive with feeds from the various test areas, showing ship after ship being turned into scrap metal.
The disagreement had started as a simple one, but there were a group of the beta test pilots in one corner – the vocal kind for whom their turn in the test rigs couldn’t come soon enough. Shortly after the first punch was thrown between the alpha test crew, they stood up and pulled various heavy looking ship parts from under the tables and began to lay about them.
Luckily, Vin’s corner of the bar was a little more relaxed and private as he watched them all go at it hammer and tongs. As long as lives weren’t being lost, Frontier (who ran the station with some fairly relaxed rules) had declared that until the police arrived and the station was adopted into the local area of space officially, the testers had a free rein to do as they pleased.
After the fourth pint of imitation pale ale, Vin’s bladder had enough and he glanced up toward the sign for the bar’s head. He had weighed up the risk of getting embroiled in the fracas against the potential for having to use the bar’s spittoon as a pot and the pressure from his bladder had won the argument.
Halfway across the room, he heard “B*rd privileged Alpha” and the lights went out. His chin hit the table and he knew nothing else until “Bob” woke him up giving him a sponge bath in the medical centre’s bed.
“Mate, you took one hell of a knock to the head….”
“Tell me about it. How long have I been out?”
“Couple of weeks. The station’s neurosurgeon had some major reconstructive work to do. Don’t be surprised if you have a hangover for a few days.”
“All fixed, though? Nothing any more broken than it was before?” Vin wasn’t that concerned – he had already counted limbs and checked under the blanket to be sure his undercarriage was still there.
“Good as new, but you’ll have a proper scar on the back of your skull. Might be a bit uncomfortable should you need to use the remlock.”
“Oh, that’s reassuring.” Vin wondered whether it was possible to even leave the station these days without needing one. “What’s new?”
“Plenty.” replied Bob, not glancing up from his tablet. “The paid up beta testers have been let loose in the flight sims. No one allowed out in a real ship yet, but after the fight spilled out into the wider station, Frontier unveiled a few hangars full of test rigs for them to keep everyone quiet.”
“Reasonable enough…. The last sim test I did was stable enough not to be frustrating.”
“Anyone get busted?” Vin could think of a few of the usual suspects that might have benefited from a day or two in the brig.
“Not a one. Still fighting over it. Factions popping up all over the place. Your buddy Solo was in here a few times since you went under. Sounds like he has a target painted on his afterburner now. A few of them got together to put up some fabricated scenarios and check things out and it went down like a lead balloon with a few of the other crews.”
“Each to their own. Not going to choose sides. Any news on an updated setup for the testing? New ships? More stations?”
“Buddy – they’re having enough trouble with the problems you lot have found already. Going to take them weeks before they’re ready to let you loose. Rumour has it that they’ve bought a few more stations and there have been carriers full of dummy cannisters making regular runs to Zelada.”
“Any news on whether Zelda sill has a job?”
“Zelda?” Bob looked confused. “That knock to the head lost one of your a’s?”
“Whatever her name is. Crazy docking lady. Seems to enjoy using me for target practice in station.”
Bob snorted his coffee all over the tablet screen at that point. “She’s still there. You should hear what she has to say about you jockeys and your big swinging egos.”
Vin stepped up from the bed and promptly realised that the backless gown was less than stylish. Little draughty, too.
“Bob” handed him his flight suit and indicated a screen he could dress behind. Two weeks in a bed and despite the auto-stim for his muscles, Vin felt like he needed a good stretch.
“Hangar still where I left it?”
Bob didn’t look up. Vin stepped out of the clinical white infirmary back into the usual dimly lit passages of the station.
Back at his bay, he was happy to see that the Cobra was still there and kitted out much as he’d left it.
A note was stuck to the hatch.
“Dude…. The credits are being reset when they move to the next phase. My advice – spend them…..”