Swift

The Journey Home

I’m stressed beyond belief. My eye is twitching, the throbbing on my temple tells me my blood pressure has peaked and the veins in my forehead must be bulging. My sweaty palms grip the control wheel desperately, ready to make tiny adjustments at a millisecond's notice. I muse to myself, “Was that coffee I drank such a great idea?” On one hand, I am hyper aware. On the other hand, I’m hyper aware and every little thing is stressing me out.

I steer my little shuttle through the busiest parts of the system. Here, gravity fluxes send asteroids, from giant ones that dwarf my tiny shuttle to ones nearly as small as my passenger, hurtling through space in unpredictable ways. Sometimes they pile up at a complete stop and jam up the works. My passenger is a small quadruped from the outer systems with shaggy fur. He’s very upset by the journey today, but my shuttle’s translator program has malfunctioned. I cannot speak or understand his language, which is a piercing howl that curdles my blood. It only adds to my blood pressure spikes. There’s nothing I can do for him for now until we reach our destination.

And so we continue onwards. A large asteroid hurtles off course and collision is imminent. I tighten my grip on the wheel and eye it suspiciously. At the last moment, the unpredictable gravity fields divert the asteroid back to its' original path. The gravity fields are the real problem. The computer helps us visualize them by imposing red lights on the heads-up display. Red lights ahead mean trouble. And in this part of space, there are a lot of red lights. I see one up ahead now. The asteroids are piling up in front of it. I slow the shuttle’s speed and come to a complete stop. Surrounded by asteroids now, but everything is stationary. Our arrival will be delayed.

Eventually, the gravity fields will ease and the asteroids will hurtle forward at unpredictable rates of speed. The younger ones, heavier with various chemical compounds, will surge forward at breakneck speeds. Should a shuttle like mine be in their path their speed only increases. The old ones (we call them “grey hairs” around here) will lumber forward, usually blocking the path of the young ones. What is unbelievable to me is that there are so few smashes. Somehow the gravity of the larger asteroids repel the smaller ones, regardless of their age, and smashes only happen occasionally.

I was in a smash once. It wasn’t bad, everyone was okay, but that shuttle was rendered useless. It drifted lifelessly onto a barren planet. First, the Authorities came. They said I had “bad equipment” and pointed to my aft thrusters, which had been badly damaged in the smash. This particular shuttle was a very weird foreign model, driven only by the forward thrusters and stabilized by the rear. There was no way that those rear thrusters could’ve been damaged or worn except for during the smash. Of course, the Authorities didn’t really care, and they called a tow vehicle to come scrap my shuttle. I had to wait on the desolate world for hours (seemed like days) while a friend came to get me.

My unpleasant reminiscing is relieved by the gravity fields easing and the asteroids begin hurtling forward. In front of me, a grey hair is lumbering forward. Beside me, a tiny young one rockets forward like it has FTL drive. Behind the young one, others begin moving forward to fill the void and accelerate. Some swerve behind me to get in the faster path, nearly smashing us to pieces in the process. I’m still stuck. I squeeze the wheel and consider releasing a torpedo. Then I remember that I am out of torpedoes. I curse the useless hunk of rock in front of me and wait for an opening to appear beside me. I tilt the wheel right and the shuttle begins spinning. I land in the open space and mash the thrusters and we are clear of the grey hair. Just as we get up to cruising speed, another red light. The gravity has shifted again and everything has stopped. The grey hair slowly approaches and stops just off our left side. Arghh!

My passenger has lost it. He howls, squeals and shrieks. I have no idea what it all means. Thankfully, we are approaching the “Highway”. Here the Authorities have cleared the gravity fields, allowing asteroids and shuttles to move freely at high rates of speed in one direction. After what seems like hours (really only about 20 minutes) of endless gravity waves and red lights, we finally get onto the Highway. Now we encounter the next problem: my cheap little shuttle, with no torpedoes and a tiny hybrid electron/carbon engine system is no match for the high-speed shenanigans that occur on the Highway. Here, the asteroids move at near light speed. Smashes happen all the time. At certain times of the year there are so many asteroids on the Highway, they create their own gravity fields and red lights appear even here.

My useless little hybrid shuttle zips in and out of the asteroids, just trying to survive. I zig and zag, bob and weave. The coffee is definitely helping out now, but my passenger is crying bloody murder. His is an unpredictable species. Very friendly, but very willful and sometimes moody. When he doesn’t get his way he will tell you about it. Normally, I would just let him show me what he wants and we can forgo all of these piercing vocalizations. We communicate well enough and he has a pretty happy life, but not when we are in the shuttle.

After hurling ourselves down the Highway for 30 minutes or so, we are nearing our destination: our home base, the ship Independence. For now, Independence is docked at a spaceport and we make this epic journey, defying death every day each way to work and back. But Independence is being upgraded to be, well, independent, and next week she will launch on her own and take us exploring new systems. And we won’t have to dodge asteroids anymore, at least not this type of asteroid.

I dock the shuttle quickly and leap out. I might even slam the door a little and mutter, “Stupid Prius.”

I open the rear hatch and my passenger leaps out. He lunges for the grass and relieves himself. “Oh, I guess you needed a bathroom.”

He responds by looking at me and muttering, “Stupid human.”

“At least we CDA*, right Hastings?"

*CDA is a shuttle driver term from the outer systems. “Cheated Death Again!"


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4 comments

  1. Having navigated the n-space you describe myself on many occasions, I can only applaud your courage, skill and stamina. Well done, Captain and crew!

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    1. Thanks Sionna! It sure can be scary out there!

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  2. FYI...when you start feeling that the young yahoos are reckleslly driving at the speed of light you are "officially" old! Sensory perception is the first thing to dull!

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    1. Haha, I won't deny it! We're old and surrounded by yobbos!

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