Excerpt

Flying Scrap

The Komi System is located just over two thousand light years from Sol in the part of the galaxy Terrans call the Orion Spur. First inhabited by the Nubra as a remote outpost almost a thousand years ago, it sits unremarkably along the so-called Void that makes up the Draxon/Nubra border.

Its main port is an obsolete but practical cylindrical starport near the fourth planet of the system, rotating on its central axis to provide artificial gravity. Pragmatically named Komi Station, it had been in orbit for hundreds of years, been repaired, renovated, and upgraded countless times, and yet somehow to all aboard, it had always remained the same station.

It had seen the rise and fall of nearby governments and survived long forgotten wars. It had seen generations of people born, grow old, and die within its rotating hull.

But in all that time, it had never seen anything quite like what floated a dozen kilometres away right now.

The Nubran traffic controller on duty had just started his shift, drinking his favourite stimulant from a bag. Station Control was located directly under the massive central portal ships came in and out of a thousand times a day. As a result, it had almost zero gravity. Despite its centuries-spanning history, it seemed the budget had never had enough to install proper grav pads. You had to get close to the station skin before you could enjoy a drink from a proper cup.

It was his job to keep things running smoothly, and make sure some hotshot in a Wasp or racing ship didn’t try screaming through the same time a giant Molossis transport lumbered out. Cleaning up drifting ship debris was a pain in the ass for maintenance. It got everywhere.

He’d just given a long range survey vessel clearance to leave when a blip on the sensors appeared. Dragonfly class. A Draxon ship.

The controller was slightly more attentive whenever Draxon ships came by. This station lay on the border of the Void, after all, and even though there hadn’t been a border dispute between the two species in centuries, there was always that fear in the back of his mind that it might not always be that way. It was hard to trust a species that had a caste-based hive mentality, even if they did look similar to his own people.

It was hardly unusual to see a Dragonfly out here, however. Just about everyone in space started off with one. The unimaginatively named Draxon Shipyards mass produced Dragonflys on an unbelievable scale, flooding the market. They undercut the competition to the point where you’d be crazy not to use one of the tiny multipurpose ships to learn the ropes.

Ground huggers sometimes compared it to a gateway drug, getting aimless kids to lose their heads in the stars instead of focusing on what was important back home. Dirt farming or whatever they did.

No experienced pilot would be caught dead in a Dragonfly outside of a secure system, though, considering them little more than toys. But one false move in their fancy, state-of-the-art pride and joys and they could end up back in a Dragonfly all too soon.

Now one of these ubiquitous wedge-shaped toys was drifting towards the station, but far too slowly.

The controller secured his drink to his chair and hailed the ship. “Komi Station to approaching Dragonfly, what’s your status?”

When he got no response, the man checked the ship’s registration and hailed him again, this time using the ship’s name. He had to check the name twice to make sure he saw it right.

Was that a Terran name?

He hadn’t seen many Terrans, even though they were only a couple thousand light years from what was left of their homeworld, but he knew all about them.

Bucket o’ Bolts, please respond.”

Still nothing.

He turned to the external cameras and zoomed in. The small ship—well, small by ship standards, it was still the size of a decent planetside apartment —was still heading for the station, but with a few noticeable anomalies.

First off, it had no canopy. The reinforced cockpit, transparent but almost as tough as the ship’s hull, had blown out. The ship was covered in carbon scoring from pulse cannons, and parts had been shredded by kinetic fire. One of the main thrusters had been reduced to scrap, and its opposite side didn’t resemble a wing so much as a stump. It was a miracle this thing was moving at all. A thin blue jet, no doubt a maneuvering thruster, was barely visible at the back of the ship, nudging it forward.

The second anomaly was that it had no pilot. The controller zoomed in on the busted canopy, but no pilot, living or dead, could be seen. There was also no pilot seat. They must have ejected and left the ship to drift here on its own.

Before he could call Search and Rescue to get a tug to bring the ship in, he received a crackle of static over the comms.

“Um… Komi Station? This is the Bucket o’ Bolts.” Even through the translation, the controller recognized the pilot’s accent as Terran. “I’ve been informed you’ve been trying to contact me.”

Been informed? The Dragonfly was a single person ship. He might have been taxiing someone who didn’t mind cramped accommodations, though. But where were they? Not the cockpit, that was for sure.

“Komi Station to Bucket o’ Bolts, we’re preparing to dispatch Search and Rescue to your position. Acknowledge.”

“At your prices? Forget it! I’ll take my chances shoving her in on my own.”

Shoving? He couldn’t possibly mean… The controller switched cameras to one that might show him the back of the drifting Dragonfly.

Sure enough, the reason there was no pilot or seat in the cockpit was because the pilot was using their ejection seat’s emergency thruster to slowly push the ship towards the station.

The controller looked around the room for his supervisor and waved her over. “Um, ma’am? You need to see this.”

He started recording from every camera angle possible. This was definitely going into the year-end holiday gag reel, along with the footage of the police shuttle that accidentally hit its boosters inside the station and bounced around like a rubber ball.

His supervisor arrived and assessed the situation. Most people would laugh at this, but she was the humourless sort.

“We had reports of raiders in system. ProSec drove them off. Run the ship registration, make sure they’re clean.”

The controller was way ahead of her. “They are. Must be one of their victims.”

The supervisor nodded and contacted the pilot. “Bucket o’ Bolts, this is Komi Station. Return to your ship and await SAR. Acknowledge.”

The radio crackled. “Sorry, lady. I barely got enough credits to pay for the landing pad, let alone a towing fee. Look, I’ve been told I’ve lined her up right and on this course I’ll just slide on through the slot.

He’s been told? By who? There’s no one in the cockpit.

Just then, the controller realized that the Dragonfly had made some slight course adjustments using its maneuvering thrusters. But how? Even if the pilot could somehow still control the ship from his ejection seat, he had no way to visually tell what he was doing. For all he knew, he was pushing the ship towards the sun.

The supervisor leaned over and studied the Bucket o’ Bolts projected flight path. It checked out. She sighed and grumbled something about male pigheadedness being a universal trait.

“Be advised, pilot, if your ship threatens the safety of this station’s facilities in any way, it will be destroyed. I advise you again to let SAR assist you and take out a loan on the costs.”

“Relax. My hull might be scrap, but the docking computer is working fine. She just needs a bit of forward thrust, is all.”

Well, that sort of explained it. If the docking computer was still functioning, it could compensate for the station’s rotation, something this lunatic in an ejection seat could never pull off on his own. But it was highly unusual for a pilot to go to this much trouble to save a ship, and a Dragonfly at that. How desperate did you have to be to try salvaging what was literally the cheapest interstellar ship in the galaxy?

The supervisor rolled her eyes and looked at him like this was all his fault. “Crazy Terrans. I don’t have time for this. I’ve got a convoy from Hopa coming in and that delegation from the Senate to provide escort for. You deal with this. If it looks like he’s going to crash into any of the buildings, turn his ship into even more scrap. Then bill him for the cleanup.”

“Understood.”

To his surprise, that turned out not to be necessary. The thrust from the ejection seat was minimal, but it built up, until he was going about ten meters per second. Then, as he got close to the circular energy barrier, he maneuvered his seat ahead of the ship, right to the nose, and started to slow it down.

All the while, the ship’s docking computer managed the vertical and lateral thrust. Once inside, it lowered itself down onto the designated landing pad, which by now was surrounded by emergency crews. The controller switched cameras for a better look.

The Bucket o’ Bolts came down like a feather, a textbook landing that would have been deemed too slow and cautious on any functional ship, but for a ship in this condition was downright reckless. Once it was secured, the controller noticed a number of credit chips exchange hands between dock workers and rescue crews alike.

The ejection seat, now spent of fuel, dropped to the platform. But seeing as it was only a fraction of a gee at that level, the fall didn’t amount to much. The Terran pilot unbuckled himself from the seat as the platform lowered into the hangar, but took the time to face station control and give him a salute before he disappeared.