Henry double checked the ship's systems after the successful phase jump, the engineering displays infront of him didn't show any anomalies. The phase drive was already starting it's automatic cooling cycle.
"There she is... hard to believe she's still green." My uncle spoke in a hushed voice, probably just thinking out loud. I looked up from my console and gazed out the viewport. A beautiful blue and green world floated in the silent void before me. Bright cities and flashes from lightning storms could be seen dotting the dark side of the planet. A yellow G2V class star rising above the distant horizon.
Earth, Capitol of the Terran Union.
Henry stood from his seat and motioned for my to replace him at the helm, I partially expected this. Today was my fourteenth birthday, and as luck would have it, Henry had received a cargo contract earlier this morning. Being here was a blessing, considering that the alternative meant sitting around at a dull and ill-planned party with a horrifyingly bad cake prepared by Em's loving hands. I adjusted the seat and restraints to better accommodate my smaller body. A small voice began to protest.
"I can't believe he would trust you in that seat."
Henry smiled and leaned against the back of the pilot's seat, Alice sat in the navigation officer's seat, tightly holding onto an stuffed toy, she never went anywhere without her white rabbit. The sneaky little blonde had stowed away in the Y.B.R.'s cargo bay moments before we sealed the hatch. We weren't surprised to she her here, Alice was a guilty of many counts of being an uninvited guest, whether it be aboard ship or station.
"I wouldn't worry so much young'n, its not like Dorothy hasn't dealt with a few hundred tons of iron ore on her own before." The old took off his headset and gently shoved the oversized equipment over my ears. I had gone with Henry on almost every job for the past five years. Most of that time was spent as a simple passenger along for the ride, but more recently my role had begun to change. I had become a useful, and only, member of the crew. Simple repairs and jobs around the ship were now my responsibility. I was however concerned by Uncle Henry's choice on the matter. Could it mean that his age was finally starting to catch up with him?
"Alright "Captain", whats the job?" Henry tapped lightly on the earpiece clinging to my head.
"Three hundred tons of iron ore, shipment to be delivered to Tonawanda Corp's Tau-7 Orbital Manufacturing Plant, geo-synchronous orbit above Sweden." I replied, adding a mockery of a salute.
"Cut the salute, this ain't the navy. The war is long over dear... I doubt you'll become a famous fighter ace."
"Besides!" Alice added. "You're too much of a whackadoodle! They wouldn't let you near a fighter!"
"Meanie!" I jerked the controls and suddenly rolled the Y.B.R. over, the sudden movement tore Alice's plush bunny from her grip. She scooped him off the deck quickly and shouted at me.
"That all you got? Bring it on, greasemonkey!"
"Hey!" Henry's raised voice silenced the fight in an instant. "Stop arguing or I'm not going to GIVE you Yellow Brick Road when you get your license!"
My eyes lit up. "You really mean it?!"
I was about to leap out of my seat and hug my uncle when we were interrupted by a thick Scandinavian accent.
"Yellow Brick Road, this is Tau-7, please vector to 23.63.57376 and reduce speed for docking."
I adjusted the microphone's position and tried to sound as official as I could.
"Affirmative, transmitting cargo manifest."
"...Yellow Brick Road, delivery of three hundred tons of methane is confirmed. Proceed to the outer marker and hold."
A voice over the wireless snapped me out of my memory. Sat-dock was only a hundred kilometers away.
"Yellow Brick Road, this is Saturn Traffic Control. You hearin' me Dorothy?"
I straightened in my seat and glanced over my control panels.
"Yeah, sorry, was just thinking about something..." I gave my reverse thrust a few solid bursts to slow my approach. The distance closed fast, how lucky I was that it's orbit should bring it within spitting distance of Kansas today.
"Sending docking codes, I brought your methane all nice and chilly."
There was a pause as the traffic control officer verified my clearances.
"Sweet deal, your codes have cleared. Please proceed to the outer marker and await further instructions. Welcome to Sat-Dock and have a pleasant stay."
"Thanks, outer marker and hold, affirmative." I adjusted my trajectory and applied more braking thrust, looks as if this job with go faster than I thought.
The Saturn Dockyard impressed me the first time I ever saw it, and still does to this day. I wasn't just another orbital colony or distribution hub, it was a marvel of modern technology. Large transparent domes housed numerous terrestrial ecosystems, although they were for a few had been set aside for scientific study several others served as public parks. I'd been to them all, they were supposed to make travelers feel more at home on trips between planets, too bad for me the feel of cold metal was what home felt like. Since my parent's untimely demise I've only been back to Earth a few times, only a handful of those did I actually go down to the surface. It felt too alien to me.
Below the domes and a few rotating Stanford Torus habitat rings was my destination. Massive hanger bays, loading docks and open-vacuum racks contained the construction of space-fairing vessels and even a few small stations. A full quarter of humanity's fleet had been constructed here. a few passenger liners and some orbital transports were hanging around. Strangely I didn't see any military vessels, normally the T.U. had a battalion here for policing and other governmental dirty work. The only trace of military activity was from a shipyard constructing a new frigate. Beyond that, civil traffic was all over the place, anti-collision lights flickered all about me as freighters danced about the massive space station.
"Optical approach granted, try not to break anything this time..." The traffic controller must have remembered my last landing here, he had offered me floss to help pick the forklift I'd run over out of my teeth.
Long rails of green lights flashed in sequence to help guide me in, I was already perfectly lined up but decided to flaunt my skills behind the controls. I yawed Yellow Brick Road ninety degrees and drifted sideways into the hanger, followed by an unpleasant grinding noise as the landing struts skidded briefly across the metal deck. I could almost feel the aggravated glare of the control tower.
Within a few minutes I waiting patiently in the cargobay, the life-support systems were nearly done depressurizing the lower half of my ship. The green light on the controls signaled equal pressure to the exterior of the hull, which in this case was non-exsistant. A couple of button pushes later and the pressure door began to retract, followed closely by the lowering of the boarding ramp. The dock's foreman was already waiting to lecture me on flight safety. I wasn't really surprised to see Bill, in fact I should have expected him to be here.
"You could have killed someone here... that said, nice flying." His frown inverted. "How's Em and Henry?"
"Pretty much the same as last time. Getting older, trying to stay busy."
Bill was married to Em's sister, I suppose that would make him an uncle of sorts. He gestured at the vast cosmos only a few dozen away. "You see that Trondheim sittin' pretty over near your place? Well I've got a dilemma and your timely arrival could solve it."
I didn't like where this was going... I frowned at the thought of doing any job that involved the Union. Even if you do a good job they just treat you like shit, if you do a bad job they treat you even worse.
"I've got a bunch of crates here that need to be shipped as soon as possible, according to the labels its computer hardware but from the weight I'd say its more likely to be replacement auto-cannons. The next scheduled tug won't be leaving for another half hour, but since you're going that way would you mind taking the load?"
The thought of fancy new weapons being in my cargobay was a nice treat, but it turned sour when I reminded myself who the client was. "...just add this to what you already owe me." Looks like I'll be losing that bet to Tomoko...
"Great!" He quickly waved at a dockhand with a power-loader, both of which soon disappeared into the Y.B.R's cargobay. The unloading and reloading of cargo wouldn't take long.
"Again, you owe me for this..."
"Yeah, I know how you work, signature here please." He handed me a tablet computer and stylus. I quickly signed the manifest. "Give my regards to the family."
I didn't bother to respond.
I sat and stared at the bustling loading area from the Y.B.R's dining area on the top of the vessel, there was also a kitchen, a small medical bay and a few storage compartments up here. I'd only used the med lab a couple of times but it'd proved useful on both occasions, so I always kept it stocked... same with the kitchen.
I sipped my hot chocolate and scanned the channels of the local Saturn television stations, I'd heard that Earth used to have similar broadcasting, but with many more channels. Out in space there were only a few available. I was browsing planetary and moon weather readings when a message came through the radio from Bill, I switched the galley's terminal over to the communications systems, a label displaying "SOUND ONLY" appeared.
"Hey Dorothy. We're all done, everything has already been cleared so you can just seal up and head out."
I stood and stretched. "Thanks Bill, see you next cargo run."
The line went dead.
I switched between the ship's systems display to remotely seal the hatches and the security monitors I'd rigged in the cargo bay. Nobody tried to dive into the ship's closing door at the last second. I'd already had enough trouble with stowaways in my past.
After the quick thermal scan I made my way back to the control deck and restarted the engines. My bulky vessel lifted effortlessly of the deck and slide into open space. After a quick check of the traffic I opened the throttle until I was once again racing though the vacuum of space at lethal speeds.
A few ships were heading the same general direction as me. Most vessels stick to the main shipping lanes... too bad that would take me an hour out of my way. Shortest distance between two objects is a straight line and the only curve I'd have to make is half an orbit to the other side of Titan. The planet loomed large in my viewports, nearly blocking them completely. Its simple yellow colour scheme was actually kinda pretty. I flipped over to the shipping traffic's frequency and listened in, a habit of mine. With my big girl on autopilot and plenty of time to spare, I leaned back and relaxed for a moment. The sounds of my ship and the chatter of pilots was a sort of soothing melody.
I'd heard lots of strange things on these channels over the years. The Saturn gravity well was full of mining outposts and trade ports, meaning there was always a sizable amount of ships near the planet. But I heard something stranger than normal, it just didn't sound right. It was a faint crackling noise, like something was interfering with the radios.
Curious like a young cat, I held an earpiece hard against my skull and scanned the radio frequencies, listening to the random chatter. I closed my eyes and waited for something interesting to pop up....... something did.
Amidst the idle chatter, way point codes and static I heard something rather odd, I even flipped the channel on and off a few times just to make sure the system was actually working properly. A far distant ship's transmitter was throwing out static, a frantic voice in what sounded to be Chinese , then....a faint scream, quickly cut short by silence.
I ran the transmission through the computer and targeting array, it had come from the far side of Titan, bouncing off a communications satellite.
"Yellow Brick Road to anyone on this channel, did anyone else hear that?" I hoped that I only imagined the whole thing.
"Titan Shuttle three-three-eight to Yellow, we heard it too, but don't have line of sight on the source. Anyone on the other side of Titan able to shed some light on this development?"
Several ships called in, they were all equally clueless.
"Hello? Is this thing on?" A familiar voice crackled through the wireless.
"Winter? What are you doing on this channel?! The T.U. will track your transmission!"
"Nevermind that shit! Run, turn around and run!" He sounded oddly panicky. "...you'll never believe me if I told you, just turn one-eighty and burn hard!"
I was just starting to orbit Titan when he spoke, I looked away from the sensor displays and was able to spot the far off glimmer of my home... My initial confusion quickly became a paralyzing terror. Behind the Kansas was a strange glow, it took me a moment to realize what it was. A micro nebula, a normally benign cloud of space-dust or ionized gas was expanding like a shockwave towards me. Static electricity lit the cloud in bright flashes... it looked like hell itself. I checked the forward sensors, it was only a thousand kilometers away and closing fast! There was no way I'd make it home before the Kansas was enveloped, it was only seconds away.
The vessel shook violently as I pulled the throttles into full breaking thrust. I punched the frequency of Kansas' Control Tower into the radio as fast as my fingers could move.
"Dorothy to Kansas Control, what the hell is that thing?!"
A familiar voice answered, it was Tomoko.
"Your guess is as good as mine! Whatever it is it's trashing everything in it's wake! I... wha?!" Screaming technicians and tower personnel rose up above the static, then... nothing. I looked up from the sensor readouts just in time to see the faint dot of my home against the red glow vanish in a bright white and yellow flash...
My gaze shot back to the sensors, only to be greeted by depressing confirmation, the Kansas' sensor signal vanished. No wreck, no escape pods, not even debris....... it was just gone.
My family... my friends...................... my home.............
I spun my ship around on a reflex and gunned the throttle, but even with my engines at full burn there was no way I could outrun the wave.
I began to cry, like I used to just after my parents died.... I guess it was my turn.....
I wasn't going to let some cloud of charged particles be the end of me!
My last chance to escape lay in the Y.B.R.'s onboard Phase Drive. It may have only been an old L33-t HAX drive but it was still in perfect working order, I used it regularly and it'd never failed me once. The only flaw I could think of was a small meteor had impacted the targeting system a week earlier, I was still waiting for a replacement part.
Without a properly working targeting system I could very likely end up inside Old Sol or a nice soft rock but at this point it didn't matter where I jumped to, just as long as it wasn't here.
I quickly input a target coordinate for Phobos as the demonic cloud approached, the first number that came to mind. The navigation systems flashed green and the clock began to run backwards. The drive would take thirty seconds to charge, the initial shockwave would be on me in twenty.
If all went as planed, I'd end up in Mars Orbit. I braced myself and closed the viewport blast shields. The ride was about to get bumpy... I closed my eyes and hoped for the best...
I could feel the ship shake from the buffeting of static discharges against the hull. The roar was like a gigantic, deafening tiger mauling a helpless animal. I began to count along with the clock in my head.
A sudden jolt made me stop, it felt like I'd lost my main engines. The lights inside the ship flickered as the power systems directed everything to the jumpdrive's firing system. By now the miniature particle accelerator was at full speed and the phasic discharge system was ready. Just as the drive fired, a massive discharge struck the Y.B.R. into a tumble, everything shorted out. I fell forward, smashing my head against the navigation console. As my eyesight faded into unconsciousness I felt the familiar white flash of instantly jumping through the space between space.
I was safe...
When I regained consciousness I found myself floating freely near the control deck's ceiling along with a box of donuts. While I was out, I had the same dream about my parents...
"Damn seatbelts really were worth twenty credits a set..." I said to myself as I looked around the nearly pitch black cockpit.
Moist droplets clinging to my skin told me I was probably bleeding, though the stinging sensation on my forehead probably would have been a better indication. I pushed off from the roof and floated gently over to the pilot's set. As I had suspected, the restraints had snapped under my weight.
Restarting the gravity plating and lights were my first priority, I was immediately hit in the head by a honey cruller.
I next examined the nav panels. Though it was a little glitchy and covered in my blood, it displayed a successful jump, my first bit a good news. I used the bottom of my dress to wipe some of the blood away.
I let myself smile a bit, the display showed a successful jump to...
My jaw dropped in disbelief.
The navigation chart displayed the chilling phrase "Position unknown, unable to calculate."
I quickly retracted the blast shields but had to protect my eyes from the bright natural light that flooded into my ship. As my eyes slowly began to adjust, I couldn't believe what I saw. Before me was a lush green world with deep cerulean oceans. My brain immediately thought Earth, but my memories of Terran Geography classes quickly dispelled any hope that I was in a charted system. Something else felt out of place, the space around the planet was lit by an emission nebula, a light blue that almost seemed like a cloudless day on Earth. The world orbited a binary star, and the world itself orbited a dark blue gas giant, and the moons that I could see were just as habitable and green as the planet they orbited.
I had always been taught that Earth-type planets were a rarity and only two others had been found, these were too perfect to be terraformed... I was defiantly not in the Terran Union anymore.
I quickly dashed to the engineering console to review my navigation logs, hoping that I may be just outside of the explored regions of space. However... according to the computer... I had jumped far beyond the reaches of known space. So far in-fact that it was still crunching the numbers.
I fell to my knees, overcome by shock.
"W-what the hell is happening to me?!"
I looked back at the blue planet that hung above me.
"...Is......is this a dream?"