Sunday, June 26, 2016

Bark: Elite: Dangerous - The Loneliness of the Long Distance Explorer - Epilogue

LTT 4961: 291 days since departure from Conway City

With Andromeda's hull having both the durability and appearance of a scorched patchwork quilt, Mya had taken an executive decision and decreed that we should bypass all but the most profitable first discoveries and make our way back to Alliance space as quickly as possible. It took us a little over a month to reach the fringes of the Local Bubble and we timed our final run into LTT 4961 to coincide with the early hours of the morning, Galactic Standard Time, when any self-respecting privateer or pirate surely would have drunk themselves into a catatonic, alcohol-induced stupor. The Coriolis starport of Conway City was a welcome sight, its cyan blue lights burning brightly in the umbra cast over the station by the nearby volcanic planet it orbited. The short supercruise jaunt from the nav beacon had passed without incident, and the traffic controller welcomed us back politely when we signalled for permission to dock on pad 28, the very same pad we had left from.

Mya landed the Asp Explorer with just a barely perceptible jolt on the docking pad. I ascended the ladder from my station as Mya had Andromeda withdraw into the hangar bay, where the ship could be repaired and refurbished by the station's expert technicians. I stood behind Mya's right shoulder, holding onto her acceleration chair for support as she ran up the Universal Cartographics interface on the HUD.

"So, how much did we make?" I asked, resisting the temptation to take a seat on the armrest of Mya's chair.
"It'll take a good while yet for UC to download all the data from the discovery scanner." Mya said, resigned to a long wait. "You might as well get changed into something more comfortable. When I've finished the upload I'll take you out and buy you breakfast."

It was almost lunchtime before I heard Mya whoop with joy, her voice echoing all the way from the flight deck into the engineering bay, where I was switching the FSD and power plant into maintenance mode, so that they could be repaired by the station's service crews later that afternoon. I limped back to the bridge as fast as my weakened right leg would allow, to see Mya dancing enthusiastically around her acceleration chair.

"Well?" I raised an eyebrow at her expectantly.
"33.7 million." Mya leapt into my arms, practically knocking me to the deck. "But that's not the best part. I've been promoted to Explorer Elite!"
"Congratulations!" I kissed Mya and let her lead me on a waltz around the ship that ended in her stateroom.
"Screw breakfast. We're going out to celebrate properly." Mya declared, stripping off her flight suit and digging through her wardrobe for something appropriate to wear. "Give me a few minutes to get dressed."

Half an hour later, we were back in Perla's Palazzo, our expedition ending where it had began, nearly ten months ago. To complete the sense of symmetry, both Mya and I were wearing the same clothes, eating the same food and drinking the same wine as we had during that first meeting, though the nature of the conversation was very different. Instead of planning an expedition, we were planning a wedding. Before embarking on our Grand Tour, Mya and I agreed to meet each other's families and hold the ceremony on Mya's home planet, Wicca's World in the Alioth system. I dreaded what kind of reception my parents - both staunch supporters of the Federation - would get at the very heart of the Alliance, but they would have to restrain their political vociferousness if they wanted to attend the wedding. The second reason why the symmetry of the occasion wasn't quite perfect was that by the end of the meal we had drunk five bottles of wine, rather than three, somewhat compromising the possibility that we might be able to do something useful with the rest of the day. Mya paid the bill and we made our way slowly, but unsteadily back to the docking bay. When we got out of the lift from the station's commercial concourse, Mya turned left instead of right.
"Mya? Just how drunk are you?" I asked, tugging her gently to a halt with my arm looped through hers. "Bay 28 isn't that way."
"We're not going to Docking Bay 28." Mya turned her head to fix me with a mischievous gaze, her voice mildly slurred. My internal danger sense immediately started sending out urgent distress calls.
"We're not?" I asked doubtfully, unnerved by Mya's tipsy smile.
"No. We're going to Docking Bay 19." Mya said, taking both my hands in hers and walking backwards to tug me along with her.
"Why? What's in Docking Bay 19?"
"Our ship."
"You had Andromeda moved?"
"I don't understand."
"You will in a minute." Mya told me enigmatically, her smile getting wider and wider across her pretty face. It was the most terrifying thing I'd seen since facing down Zhukov's Fer-de-Lance from point-blank range at Sagittarius A*. "Remember when I told you that grandfather gave me an endowment on my 18th birthday?"
"From his memorial trust fund, yes." I nodded. "To help you kickstart your career. You used it to buy your first ship. An Adder, I believe."
"Well remembered." Mya stopped to give me a quick peck on the cheek in congratulation, before continuing to tug me along the access corridor. "I didn't quite tell you everything, though. That's not the only thing I used the money for."
"This doesn't sound ominous at all."
"I also bought a share in a mining co-op franchise. These things go in and out of business all the time, so a 50% share was quite cheap, but high risk, because it's difficult to tell how profitable a particular ring system is going to be."
"Where was the franchise based?"
"Delkar 7." Mya said, her brown eyes sparkling.
"The biggest source of platinum, palladium and painite in the Alliance." Mya nodded as we came to a stop outside the access hatch to the hangar for Docking Bay 19. "The franchise was... quite profitable."
"How profitable?" I asked dryly.
"See for yourself." Mya stepped back to the bulkhead and opened the airlock to the hangar with a retina and fingerprint scan. I couldn't believe my eyes when the hatch rolled open. I tottered uncertainly into the hangar, dwarfed by the ship inside.
"Oh my god. Mya, this is yours?" I turned back to look at her, my mouth agape. I looked back at the ship and blinked. At over 150 metres long, 62 metres wide and standing 32 metres tall, this immense spearhead of a vessel oozed power, status and solidity. "Mya... just how much are you worth?"
"A tad over 840 million." Mya said casually as she stood at my side and wrapped an arm around my waist. "Just over a quarter of that is tied up in this beauty. She's brand new. Straight out of the Faulcon DeLacy shipyards."
"It was my dream to fly an Anaconda." I smiled, before turning to look at Mya. "There's just one problem... It's pink."
"Desert Sand." Mya corrected.
"Pink." I repeated, adamant.
"When you can afford your own Anaconda, you can pick the damn colour." Mya said warningly. "My ship, my choice of paint job."
"Seriously, though? Pink?" I asked, getting a playful smack across the back of the legs for my trouble.
"I'm not changing it." Mya giggled, kissing my cheek. "How do you fancy the Grand Tour now, Petr?"
"In that? When do we start?" Elated, I kissed Mya back, hugging her tightly in both arms. "Though, umm, doesn't the Anaconda fly best with three?"
"We'll just have to work on a third crew member." Mya replied suggestively, before kissing my lips so passionately that I never wanted it to end.
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