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Starship Driver

Adventure begins, where our Galaxy ends!

By Eric WolfPublished 2 years ago 6 min read
Starship Driver
Photo by Guillermo Ferla on Unsplash

I was born without limbs. By this admission, I seek no pity, for I have mastered my profession, without them. Today, I am, likely, faster than anyone whom you have ever met — though not faster than some of the acquaintances I have made! The distances I have traveled should fit to boggle almost any Concordance citizen.

Sounds like a riddle, Captain Bunnag might quip— though, she must know me better than that. Posing mental challenges is not a forte of mine — even for the amusement of my shipmates. Indeed, my very nature is to provide solutions to mysteries. This has proven to be a great boon to my profession, for I ply space-lanes in the unwelcoming void.

My prospective new department head, Chief Drive Technologist Otierno, had worked with her for two of Earth’s solar revolutions. Focusing upon the task at hand, the overall job, came first, as always. He had advised me, at our first encounter, not to concern myself overmuch, with our skipper’s demonstrable instinct for humorous speculation. For him, such an outlook was a product of training — for myself, it was a matter of Essence. I had reached the literal center of power, aboard this latest star-spanning vessel, with that priority all but etched into my cognition.

Most propitious was my arrival, aboard Bunnag’s latest command. “She” (the vessel, not our captain) was classified an inter-system freight hauler. Despite that label, the vessel that Bunnag had christened Sotāpanna (a Buddhist term, its meaning was “Stream Winner”) had undertaken “cargo runs”, transporting a growing list of unlikely ladings, to Concordance worlds. In one trip, this ship bore colonial families and their habitat-construction materials; the next saw “her” conveying automated celestial-survey equipment.

“You’ll earn your purple, in here,” Mister Otierno assured me, on the day of my installation. “No question about that. New professional goals? Stronger engine core required.”

Some of our technicians smiled, recognizing this reference — I did not. I filed for a clarification.

Otierno directed my attention, with detectable pride, to the so-called badges, worn by his experienced crew members. “We are not,” he said, “just crooking the space-time Unity, to our positional advantage — our charge, as constituent elements of of the Tachyon Mercantile shipping company, is to leave a mark — like a bruise — signifying that we have existed, and roamed the cosmos.”

Unsatisfied by this poetry, I consulted with the ship’s lexicon. Purple was once associated with royalty on Earth; it had a literal connotation of, well, power. It fit us well; I grasped the poetry. I hoped to pass my audition, for there were other candidates for my position. Bunnag, Oterno and the main brain of the ship, an A.I., interviewed each potential new "crewmember"; I was most grateful to learn that I had been their choice to come aboard for a tour of duty.

Sotāpanna had no lone “master and commander”, relying upon both Otierno, to master the vessel, and Bunnag, to command her personnel, in achieving a mission’s objectives. I could sense no deficit of cooperation between them; as we performed our duties in the Propulsion sphere, she presided over the ship from its command center, which star-sailors called a Bridge. Our skipper was not predisposed to interfere with our shipwrights; as a “perpetual student of spatial industry”, to use her parlance, she took an interest in our work. Like a mathematical puzzle, we overlapped our efforts to form one larger endeavor, as several smaller triangles or squares might combine to form larger ones, on a mathematician’s display. We acted in rhyme, compressing each dimension, so to speak, into the following one.

Basking in the radiance of DX Cancri, a dim red sun, just 11.8 light-years from our home port, Sotāpanna was a ship in search of a voyage. Besides my senior colleague (Otierno), Grbić (Health), Schlender (Sciences) and Priddy (Trade) took stock of our prospects for immediate employment. Most of the full ship’s Drive team campaigned for a shore leave, and Mister Otierno felt he could not begrudge them, as they had “earned a reward” for their performances on their most recent assignment. I agreed with this position, but alas — as the new one aboard and as an essential component of the vessel — I was to remain aboard.

As for the Tachyon Mercantile: our most common employer had failed to intrigue us with a latest update of prospective jobs. As we were empowered by trading law to take on outside job offers, in between interstellar runs for the company itself, this left Bunnag free to act on another option.

“Scientific bounties” were an attractive, if quirky, source of revenue, for those space crews willing to undertake them. The skipper had passed up several opportunities in her previous tours of duty, having evaluated them as being too consumptive of time and energy and/or too perilous for the ship’s complement. This was not a case of cowardice, but of wisdom, I was to ascertain. However

This time, she happened upon the line item in her morning newsletter, “Captain’s Progress” (issued from our company’s headquarters, on Iapetus), that should prove too attractive to ignore. Its call to action tantalized her on-screen:

“We know that the Milky Way begins with a super-massive singularity, Sagittarius A, acting as its heart. Where does the Galaxy END?

Earth’s solar system circled the galactic center of this “Milky Way” in its Orion Arm, from a distance exceeding 27,140 light-years — “give or take a hundred,” Schlender joked. Even so far from the heart of our island universe, Sotāpanna was also a prohibitive distance from the outermost stars of our spiral arm. We could not hope to return from such a journey, given our ship’s limited resources and the brevity of human existence.

The distance to the upper edge of the flattened disk of the Milky Way was far more feasible to traverse. Charting a perpendicular course would allow us to exit the disk — venturing into a surrounding “halo” of stars — after crossing a few hundred light-years.

Bunnag informed all the department heads: “We’re going to take a look ‘up on the roof’ of the White Elephant’s Way.” She had learned this poetic description of the galaxy as a child, in her native Thailand.

I was to discover that it was a sure sign of her good spirits, when she spoke in non-technical jargon; she was often consumed (non-literally) with ship’s business. Her plan: take the ship “north” of the galactic plane, to penetrate the galactic halo for a survey probe.

Can you do it?” she asked, and department heads awaited my answer. I ran a series of calculations. My presence aboard her ship, though secured, could be rescinded, if I were found to lack sufficient job competence, and I had to demonstrate how we could manage the flight without a dire loss of ship's power. Environmental conditions were of primary importance, of course. Yet I learned almost immediately that the proposed flight plan, if implemented, threatened to overextend both our energy reserves and our renewable materials, i.e. food. Otierno handed me a list of scenarios for achieving mission objectives, and informed me of certain items that we could not tap for the final flight.

I could not make the mission succeed "on paper". We simply lacked the power to operate onboard systems for such a sustained voyage, without tapping the unsanctioned reserves. To remain onboard this ship was my goal; I could not risk incurring the skipper's wrath by disobeying orders, but I saw no way around limitations on what I could do. So -

I prepared a number of possible mission plans, one of which made use of the forbidden energy, the rest of which did not.

Rejection, even unemployment, seemed the certain outcome. I summed up my final presentation of a workable plan, which I hoped would please the skipper and her team leaders, thusly:

It is equiprobable that we will reach our destination, skipper — and that we will return to Earth port safely.

I expected to be removed from duty. There followed a moment of suspense, almost unbearable, even for me. "I suspected you would work out," was the skipper's only response, uttered as her lips betrayed just the slightest hint of a smile. "I wondered if one of you 'candidates' would do what had to be done with the resources on hand. I need heroes down in my engine room."

All was right; all was effectual. I could make Bunnag, Otierno, and the rest of our ship’s company proud (not to mention, rich) with my solution.

I am a Wreaker-class Series 23:31 sentient star-drive core, my friends — and I wreak purple, upon the inky infinitude.

© Eric Wolf 2021.


About the Creator

Eric Wolf

Ink-slinger. Photo-grapher. Earth-ling. These are Stories of the Fantastic and the Mundane. Space, time, superheroes and shapeshifters. 'Wolf' thumbnail:

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