Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Tran adjusted the grapples on the Canbarro reactor core slung under the ship from the relative comfort of the cockpit. He balanced the load as close to center as possible, making sure to clear the four point vertical thrusters he’d need to get both the ship and its cargo into orbit.

“There’s a significant risk of seam failure at this gravity and load.” The ship’s AI had been warning of all the things he was doing wrong since he’d commissioned the ship from Tanzana. He missed an AI he could relate to more than he ever thought he would.

“Just power up, dial the warnings down to catastrophic failure only, and let’s get off this junk heap.”

Tran buckled himself in, rotated the contoured acceleration couch back until he was looking straight up into the black night sky and felt the rumble as the engines struggled to haul double their rated mass upwards against the gravity of the salvage planet.

“There’s a significant risk…” Tran cut the AI off in mid sentence.

“Unless we’re about to implode, shut it.”

The rumbling increased, the ship vibrating towards a harmonic resonance that he was sure wouldn’t be good. Just as the whine of the engines seemed in near perfect harmony with the groaning of the ship’s space-frame, they reached escape velocity, and Tran felt the crush of acceleration as the ship won its fight against gravity and streaked into space at an alarmingly increasing rate of speed.

“The risk of seam failure is decreasing,” the ship piped up, “however there is a significant risk of collision with a planetary high orbital.”

Tran just shook his head, and left the AI to pilot to the starting coordinates for the next leg of their journey. He closed his eyes and allowed the enveloping acceleration couch to hug him into a much needed sleep.

“We’re at the designated coordinates,” the AI waking him with monotone precision, “we’re stationary,” it continued, “there is a significant risk of collision with a fast moving mass while we have no momentum to transfer into evasive maneuvers.”

It wasn’t just that he missed an AI he could relate to, he was actually starting to hate this one. How could one hate something this primitive?

“Line our ass-end up with the Alpha-Ten station, and confirm our distance. We should be three days out assuming top speed and accounting for launch and acceleration.”

“That is correct, and our… ‘ass-end’… is lined up with Alpha-Ten.” Tran smiled at the pause. Maybe he was getting to this primitive pile of junk after all.

He’d run through this moment a thousand times since their escape from A-Ten. He had the time and the distance burned into his memory, the pursuit, the Drey ships lighting up his own, and the moment where all he could do was jettison his Canbarro’s core and eject in the other direction to what he hoped would be safety.

Rolling the Captain’s couch upright, he stared into the void ahead of him, then pushed the throttle fully forward and watched the distance he’d set on the console start to count down. His mind replayed the past for him, his eyes twitching at the incoming weapon discharges he could still smell, his hair prickled on his body at the memory of their wake. As the counter closed in on zero, he fired the cargo lock charges and dropped the scrapped reactor core like an anchor in space, the micro-explosions separating the massive core from the nimble ship save for the tethering line stretching out between them.

At zero, Tran remote detonated the core, the explosion triggering the containment systems on the core-shell itself, the resulting singularity stopping the imploding mass dead in space. The remaining slack in the tether took up in an instant, and holding, whipped the ship in a punishing arc downward until, at exactly ninety degrees down in the full wash of the imploding core, Tran and his ship blistered through the tear in space-time that rippled out beneath it.

Just as quickly, the tether was floating free, cut off from it’s other end. The explosion, the core, everything was simply no longer there.

“Imminent threat has been… the danger no longer registers on… there’s a ship ahead,” the AI stumbled before settling on something relevant in the sudden unexpected absence of everything that had been in its scope just moments before.”

“Grapple that ship, lock onto to power and data and open a comms channel.” Tran surveyed the lifeless and battered bulk of a familiar vessel drifting off their bow.

The ship reoriented itself and made a surprisingly smooth landing on the wreck, and Tran immersed himself into the dataline to find a familiar presence prickling at the intrusion.

“Tran? It’s about bloody time!” He struggled to keep his composure as he replied.

“So I’m a little late, I only had to rip a hole through space-time to get here!”

She laughed. “Nice crate, any attachment to the bitbox flying her?”

“Not even a little. Migrate your punk-ass kernel off of that boat and demote this unremarkable little shit.”

He could no more understand how he could have such strong feelings for one AI as he could understand hating a lesser one, but here he was having literally bent time to get back to her.

“Get a move on then,” he grinned, “and be forewarned, if I hear the words ‘significant risk’ even once, I’m tossing you out the airlock.”