I thought I was getting a good deal on information. A black hole. Guaranteed way to bring me a good distance for little to no fuel cost. The Korvax I dealt with never told me it would damage my ship and leave me broken in the middle of a battle between the Vy’Keen and the Gek. Freighters and ships firing in all directions and me caught in the crossfire. The pirates won, and after they’d plundered the capital ships they turned their sensors in my direction. I wasn’t far enough away. I couldn’t run fast enough, I could barely fight. Eventually they got bored and backed off. Lucky me. By the time they turn back I’m in an asteroid field. Drifting and waiting. I wonder if the Korvax laughs at me behind that mask. If they do laugh.
I wake with a start and panic as I realize I fell asleep at the controls. Again. When was my last full night’s sleep? A few turns of my head tell me that I’m still floating in space, still in the asteroids, still alive and still safe. I clear my throat and glance at my readouts. Shields at 23 percent. Check. Warp Reactor Theta, Tau and Sigma down. Check. Pulse Engine fuel at 10 percent. Checkeroo. Weapons drained, hull damaged and the internal temperature doing nothing for the smell emenating from my body. Check, check and check. Good. Everything is normal. Well, as normal as it can be for now. For weeks I’ve been hiding in these asteroids and so far no more pirates have found me. Thankfully. Those Gek did a real number on my ship. Hell, I haven’t seen another ship, period, in about a week. I’m far enough from a starbase that most scavengers wouldn’t risk the distance from resources that will power their ships. And to that point, there isn’t much to see out here. Just floating chunks of rock that turn out to be either Iridium or Copper. Great if I want to make a quick amount of credits but useless at powering my ship. Who would have thought I’d have trouble finding iron out in space?
I unhook my harness, wincing at the metallic grinding that vibrates in my ears. That should probably be fixed too. Maybe after the warp drives. And the core. And the crack in my cockpit window. Craning my neck to work out a kink is when it happened. I barely recognize it at first. The faintest glimmer of light from the sun bouncing off of it seconds before my ship’s sensors pick it up. The right-most console lights up, an exclamation mark flashing as an alert sounds.
“Distress signal detected.”
Normally I might find the idea of an exclamation mark so far from home pretty funny. I might have a philosophical thought or two about the similarities of symbols and their meanings among intelligent species. Except now I’m back to panicking. Distress signal detected. Shit. I don’t dare attempt an active scan. For weeks I’ve been so careful, I don’t need to give myself away now. Despite everything I’m still breathing and I want to keep it that way. Distress signals usually mean one of a handful of things. A few pirates after a freighter, a lot of pirates after a freighter or a freighter is somehow broadcasting after pirates finished it off and looted to their hearts’ content. A fourth option, which I’ve only heard about, is as a decoy to draw in more ships so that they can be ambushed too. At this point I’m not close enough to see anything of it except the occasional flash as the ship drifts through space, seemingly dead. Well, except for the signal. I can’t make out other ships, which only means they aren’t in my field of vision at the moment. It can still be a trick to draw me, or anyone else, in closer. I take a deep breath and try to calm my mind. I need to think this through.
If the asteroids hide me, and they do, someone is going to have a hard time picking up that freighter on the other side of them. Between that and the interference from the sun it’s probably hidden better than I am. No ships have come to or from that general area since I’ve been here. I’d think eventually a party would be sent out to scan for people nearby. Finally, I’m desperately low on the essentials and that freighter should at least have something I can use if it has power for a broadcast. Right now the desperation is just bad enough for me to be a little stupid. Stupid can get me killed, but it could also save my life. I take one long, deep breath and sink back into my seat. I let all the terrible things that could happen to me between now and reaching the freighter pass through my mind and nod. Okay, it’s time to get moving. I reach for the controls, slowly turning my ship in space. My radar beeps as a new possible destination is now in view. The engines rattle me in my seat and groan in protest as I accelerate. Thrusters. One more thing to add to the list. My HUD springs back to life although blinking out every few seconds, letting me know it’ll be about 30 minutes to the freighter by the time I reach maximum thrust. I’m just edging out of the asteroid cluster I was in when my eyes start to feel heavy. I shouldn’t sleep, not now. Something this stupid should be documented. It’ll give me bragging rights if I come out of it alive and don’t hide from every other sentient race in existence. Okay, stay frosty and things will be just fine.
Fifteen minutes later I’m woken by the proximity alarm. Apparently I entered another cluster in my travels and I’m staring at the business end of a very large space rock. My heart immediately pounds in my ears as I grab for the controls. I grit my teeth as I attempt to maneuver the ship around this copper giant and the next right behind it. The alarm keeps sounding as I bring myself around to yet another obstacle as I frantically try to avoid the third collision of the day. More appear, detouring my path, yet I manage to avoid them. After what feels like the ride of my life, I see the freighter in front of me again and clear space all around. My heart is racing and my breathing is rapid, but somehow I did it. As the ship regains its course a deep creaking fills the cabin. Breaking noises from all directions of the hull as the ship settles from the stress of the sudden high speed maneuvers. My eyes tense shut instinctively as I grab onto my seat, waiting for the ship to be torn apart as I’m exposed to space. I need to start keeping my suit on more often. If I live. The creaking eventually stops and all I can hear is the pounding in my ears. I slump forward, putting all my weight on the harness anchoring me to my seat. My breathing slows, the pounding fades and my heart stops threatening to explode. I laugh a little to myself as I lift my head to examine my HUD once more. 12 minutes to the freighter. Well at least the trip has been interesting so far and I’m pretty sure I’ll stay awake for the rest of it.
As my body starts to relax I look at the glass in front of me. Not the HUD, but what it’s projected onto. That crack I reminisced about earlier, does it look bigger? No, it’s in my head. That thing has been there for… What the hell was that? I hold my breath and listen. There it is again. It sounds like…egg shells breaking. I watch in horror as the crack expands just a little bit. There’s no racing heart this time. No rushing sound in my ears. Maybe my brain accepts that this is it. Maybe after pirates, unknown space, radiated, burning, frozen and toxic worlds this is how I go out. A crack in the glass that will seal my fate. Unseal it, actually. I glance at the HUD. 10 minutes to the freighter. My eyes turn to the readouts. I square my shoulders as I press the button on my navigation panel to power up the Pulse Engines.
‘Warning. Ship integrity compromised’.
I let out a harsh breath and grab the controls. Chuckling as the growing power in the engines reaches max levels.