By Brendan Moore 2001.
So dangerously beautiful.
A soft, electronic chime sounded in my left ear, signalling an open comm.
A female voice reported, "Patrol's over Rover. Rejoin formation and we'll head back home."
"Yay!" I replied in a small voice.
We've spent the last three days scouting the planets of this system, and a cramped cockpit isn't the most comfortable way to travel. I couldn't wait to get out of the scout-fighter and into the open suburban deck of the Generation Ship, and I sorely needed to be with my mate.
The Generation Ship, also known as an Ark, is a monstrous construction that was originally built to take a civilization of earthlings from Terra to a very distant inhabitable planet. Seeing as the distance from Terra to anywhere is pretty far, even at Light Speed, it would take more then one or twenty generations to get there, therefore, the name. It's a speculation that there were four or five other Arks that set out from Terra to populate different sectors of space, but no one knows anything else about them anymore.
This particular Ark has been travelling in a direction everyone's forgotten for the last 200 years. Luckily, the ancient builders of this wonder knew what to expect, so it has schools, libraries, training facilities, factories, housing areas, and basically one whole deck built up like a city, another like the countryside, that kind of thing. In other words it's like a small, flat, fast-moving, self-sustaining, metallic planet… it's very ingenious.
Also, every twenty, fifty, eighty light-years or so we stop at a planetary system and us scout-fighters are sent out to check up on the place and report anything, like life or a habitable planet. A lot of the time we find nothing and have to move on to the next system, and so far that's happened two or three times, like now for instance.
As the squad of six scout-fighters neared the hanger, our squad Captain suddenly veered away to travel along side the Great Ship. Like sheep, we followed and I opened the comm. to ask what was up.
"New orders have come in. There's an asteroid cluster in the way and we've gotta help pave through it."
"But I thought the Ark was equipped with weapons for that reason?"
"Yeah, but there's smaller rocks that it can't track, so we're in. Follow and wait for further orders. Over."
The comm died and I spotted the asteroids. They were huge, but a lot weren't very big. This was going to be fun, it was about time we got to test the weapons on these things.
Now there's no such thing as air in the vacuum of space, so I had to imagine what sound the rather large laser on the front of the Ark made as it charged up and lanced out at a dangerous-looking rock, turning it into a lot of less-threatening little rocks or a cloud of non-threatening dust.
The comm opened. "Listen closely guys," it crackled, "the Ark's been set to shoot anything within ten clicks in front of it. Problem is, it can't target anything smaller then five metres in diameter, so that's our job. I'm warning you to stay more than eleven clicks in front of the Ark at all times.
"OK, let the hunt begin! Split up, and anything in the way that's smaller then five metres, destroy it."
Everyone fanned out ahead of the Ark and found some effective target practice.
After attacking a few other deceptive rocks, I was getting adventurous, and whenever I blew up an asteroid I'd fly though the short-lived aftermath.
Shoot. Bang. "Woo!"
Then one rock I targeted didn't blow up. My little laser punched a neat little hole through it, but that was it. I tried to veer out of the way, but I couldn't turn fast enough and the rock tore at my left flank, putting the Safety Override into Total Engine Shutdown and I was left to float around.
"Great…" I said and let out a low growl.
Before I could report the damage, another rock ran into me and the warning came up that communications were destroyed.
I let my head thump the console and I let out an annoyed noise. "It just keeps gettin' better."
Just then another warning came up and I mumbled to myself, "Now what?"
"Report Emergency." I commanded the on-board computer.
*Large Object On Collision Coarse.*
"What?" I growled as my head jerked up, "Is radar operational?"
"Well bring it up on radar!"
The screen flickered for a while, then the recognisable shape of something big flashed at the top. The shape was the Ark, and I was right in front of it.
I took in a heavy breath. "Oh, smeg."
The Ark was twenty clicks away, which gave me some time to try anything to get out of its path, even though that time was only going to be 5 minutes.
I quickly punched in the override command to turn off the Emergency Engine Shutdown and tried to start the engines while scratching at a nervous itch. It was either nerves or those bloody parasites again.
The engines kicked in, then spluttered as a fuse sizzled out of existence.
I hit the panel and shouted, "Aarrr-… Damn!!" If an anthropomorphologist were listening they would have been pleased. Even though it was a great chance that they weren't, I still did my best to act as though their progress was getting somewhere.
I couldn't think of anything else to do, apart from sit there and watch oblivion slowly head towards me, its Red Lance of Doom striking down opposing rocks very effectively.
The Generation Ship was nearing ten clicks away as my ears lay back and I whimpered.
"This going to really hurt."
* * *
Once the Generation Ship was through the asteroids, the squad leader ordered her wingmen to dock and head for debriefing. Once she landed, she waited for the rest of her squad. Only four of the five others landed and headed for debriefing, as the fifth seemed to be taking his time, not surprising to her as it was pilot Rigger who hadn't returned yet, and being a canine sapiens he was probably still chasing some rocks. A playful nature was one of those things anthropomorphologists couldn't breed out of them.
Half an hour later and he still hadn't returned. The human Captain was getting impatient, and then a message arrive on her personal comm. Pilot Rigger and his scout-fighter had been destroyed in an accident with the Ark's defence laser. His black-box was being collected, and the re-play will be in an hour in the main projection room.
The Captain released a shuddering sigh, repressing tears for now. Rigger was her favourite pilot, and close friend. He would be sorely missed by her, and his family. Probably by her the most. She stored the message away and went to debrief her squad as the hanger doors ground shut.
Life on-board went on, and the Ark went into Light Speed, heading for the next star system some fifty years away.