SAFE DISENGAGE READY appears on the display. “Well that’s all relative, isn’t it?” I mutter to myself. “Please restate your previous command,” responds Victor, “Disregard previous command,” I reply, adding “and decrease auditory sensitivity to level 5”. Thumbing the appropriate toggle on the ship’s throttle, the Inquisitive Surveyor returns to sub-light speeds with an almost graceful shudder. The hull audibly vibrates as if to sigh at the relief of another successful velocity transition. The art of safe disengagement. Well there really is no art to it these days. The control panel gives you all the information you need to successfully complete the maneuver. Point ship at a navigation target and slow to a relative velocity which will not buckle your ship’s hull when crossing the threshold. The act of deceleration is at least safe. There are no guarantees on possibility of injury or risk once the transition is complete however, so I stand by my original statement; too nuanced in sarcasm for the cockpit flight assistant to understand, let alone appreciate.
After 6 months of helping the HotCol faction reposition their footing in Colonia, my return to the Bubble has brought with it a wave of jaded cynicism. As much as things have changed in my absence, they have equally stayed the same. The news feeds appear to be full of half truths, perverted twists of events with some footing in actuality so the masses will be accepting of message within. The Alliance appear to be heralding themselves as the saviors of humanity as they continue to deliver vessels and weapons capable of both withstanding and defeating that ancient race. I grimace at the mental focus required to avoid falling into the trap of reciting broad stroke terms like ‘enemy’, ‘aggressor’ or ‘foe’. History is often rewritten by the victors and I have to remind myself that, with the passing of time, today’s pilots are oblivious to at least fifty percent of the events from humanity’s first encounter with the Thargoids.
Dismayed, I had hoped the Alliance to be better than this, otherwise why would I have pledged them my support so soon after obtaining my pilot’s license. At the time the Federation and Empire were doing their traditional dance, a mixture of diplomacy, open aggression and nefarious activities. For now, at least, they are no longer squabbling over various territories and have ceased the posturing which accompanies the deployment of assets to acquire resources of some undisclosed strategic value. I have never trusted the Federation and likely never will, with their hands still caked in the biomass of humanity’s first alien encounter. So I find myself courting the Empire, as the lesser of the perceived evils within the galaxy. My loyalty will undoubtedly be challenged at some point in the near future, and my revulsion of humanity’s political process within the core systems will fling me out into the void once more.
My malaise is sent tumbling into the recesses of my mind as OTC comes over the comms feed with their usual greeting which manages to be both welcoming and threatening at the same time. I send a brief acknowledgement back to the station and indicate I do not require the assignment of a landing pad at this time. Reducing all forward momentum to zero, I set the ship’s thrusters to station keeping having positioned the Surveyor out of the main approach path to Borrego Orbital. My eye’s roam the control panel looking for an infrequently used toggle. Short on patience I instruct Victor to disable the Heads-Up Display, which he does with a dulcet chime to signify his confirmation of the instruction and completion of the act.
“Turn off all internal and external lights, including all the panels on the flight deck, but maintain power to the collision avoidance beacons,” not that your safety protocols would allow those warning lights to be disabled while undocked anyway! Nor do I wish to be charged with recklessly maintaining position or some other nonsensical violation dreamt up by some bureaucrat who has never flown anything bigger than his oversized desk. “Commander, if I completely dim the control panels you will not see the information displayed on them,” Victor responds, diligently exercising his safety protocols. It would appear I’ve reached the part of his programming developed by the Pilots Federation legal team.
“Oh Victor, you are so literal sometimes. What does the ‘A’ in COVAS represented? Don’t answer! It’s purely rhetorical. Be a good fellow and assist me by verbalizing any warnings that would otherwise be displayed on these panels.” I sometimes wonder about Victor. He is the product of a society which still cherishes it ranks and privileges. Part of me feels he would have a psychological fracture were he to be installed in a class of ship designed for small landing pads. Victor is quiet. Surely he couldn’t actually be sulking? I catch myself before I project more human emotion upon him. He is simply waiting for confirmation of my previous instruction given the manner in which it was delivered. “Victor,” I order, “disable all display panels, vocalize all messages severity warning or above, and turn off the external lights”. “Confirmed Commander,” came the response.
The flight deck embraces the twilight without. Much of the low level hum created by the light emitting systems subsides. What remains is the occasional firing of the thrusters to maintain the relative position of the ship to the orbital. The glow from HIP 114367’s primary star sweeps across the now dark instrumentation panels, reflecting off the polished surfaces and refracting through the translucent screens. The rotation of the orbital periodically bathes the cockpit in a soothing pale blue tone, mixing with the textures of the panels and canopy to create the sense of a waterless aquarium. The shadows of other vessels glide intermittently through the cobalt wash, offering glimpses of large lumbering beasts interspersed with the sleek lines of predators and the shoals of system authority patrol craft. Enough, I say to myself, realizing that these thoughts of water are my subconscious’s way of surfacing to remind me how long I’ve been navigating the stars without the luxury of port accommodations.
For now, though, my Anaconda class vessel is dwarfed by the swirling mass of the orbital, even at the range of the security zone’s border. Like two old acquaintances recognizing each other across a crowded public space, my ship and the starport face each other. Wondering whether each will remember the other and the shared past experiences. This is, of course, pure romanticism on my part; unless of course log files have been corrupted or maliciously altered. The last time I was here my reputation was without question. However now is not then. With destabilizing forces rife in this corner of the galaxy, innocent mistakes can be met with swift retribution from the system authorities. Zero tolerance is abound and once again reinforces my returning desire to be roaming the unexplored anarchy systems which lie beyond the Bubble.
Stricter security policies are not the only yardstick by which society can take the measure of a pilot. The Thargoid onslaught offers new ways to be judged and categorized. New heroes emerge as civilians are rescued from stricken stations, while others aid in the movement of massive amounts of resources needed to repair and re-operationalize the fallen. An arms race appears to have kicked off making use of other alien technology, the long term exposure to and implications we are yet to determine or even concern ourselves with. There are always those willing to take these new toys to whatever passes for this weeks frontline and send the menace back to whichever rock it decided to re-emerge from. If all these societal labels were not enough there are, as always, other schools of thought. The conspiracy theorists that talk of shadow organizations orchestrating the current threat as a distraction to something far worse to come. In contrast there are those that believe we have reached this point through one giant cosmic misunderstanding as a result of no common language reference between our two races. At least those who subscribe to this way of thinking are less scorned by society as a whole than those who are willing and eager to bury their hands in the proverbial sand, going about their business and their tiny lives as if nothing of significance was occurring.
With all these new behavior classifications, each human interaction is now layered with questions and subversive assessments of nature and allegiance. We must all be categorized; friend or foe, hater or sympathizer, opportunist or hero. This new lens muddies the already blurred lines which mark the edge of each social camp. That grey area separating each is not so fine and indistinguishable as it once was. Not all actions are mutually exclusive, and as always a pilot’s life is complicated. What comes next? How will I be measured? Should I even give a damn? Like many explorers before me I believe in the truth of my internal compass to navigate me safely through these times, and to do what is right and what is required. But for now that is tomorrow’s quandary as tonight I spend my first night outside the confines of my ship in nearly two years and see if any of the members of the Pilots Federation graduating class of 3301 still hangout at the disgraceful excuse for a bar on red sector sub-level C.
“Victor, resume normal flight operation”.
“Affirmative Commander”. That’s not relief I hear in his voice is it?
“OTC this is Commander Bow Lof Petunias aboard the Faulcon deLacy Inquisitive Surveyor designation HOT6X7 requesting permission to dock.” I broadcast on a non-protocol wide spectrum just in case some old friends are in the neighbourhood. Grinning to myself that at least you can’t get fined for spamming local comms.
“Greetings Commander. An Ally like you is always welcome here.” Music to my ears. If nothing else it means less paperwork. “Please proceed to landing pad 42”.
“Acknowledged control. I’ve initiated the docking sequence and am in the approach pattern. Please advise all smaller vessels to yield to my approach. HOT6X7 out”.
“It’s all about the 400B in 34c” was created using assets and imagery from Elite Dangerous, with the permission of Frontier Developments plc, for non-commercial purposes. It is not endorsed by nor reflects the views or opinions of Frontier Developments and no employee of Frontier Developments was involved in the making of it.