I said that mission would be a bad idea, a 0.22Ly dive from Alpha Centauri to Hutton Orbital, ALONE. with my demons, HA.
I hear the last cycles of the engine turn over as Gormongander powers down. Hear the groan of her body as the heat dissipates and her hull contracts. There is a lot less hull than there was when we left.
As the blood pounding in my ears gradually eases off, I start to hear the other sounds in the ship. Alarms. Every module has taken a hit, hull integrity is down to 7%, 70% of all ammunition gone, cargo hatch flapping like a broken limb.
But worst of all, now I knew the memories were still there. Still so vibrant. If the last 12 months haven't scrubbed them from my brain, nothing will!
Yes, we all know Alpha Centauri is chock full of pirate'y goodness, but as long as you blast out to Hutton Orbital soon enough they don't have a hope of catching you. They mainly focus on the shipping lanes to Al-Din Prospect, even then Gormongander is prey that they normally decide to leave well alone. But even a small fox will pay attention to a sheep that acts out of place or stumbles around. All hunters can sense a weak member of the heard.
Well, I fell into Alpha Centauri, buzzing, in 2 hours I would be back up to a million credits. Last time I had that sort of cash I was a different man in a different life, the life where I had many ships (most of which I reminded myself where still out there waiting to be reclaimed). Fired up the discovery scanner, entered codots into the Navcomp, set engines to 80% and reached for the first bottle, mmmm scotch. I paused thought to myself a moment and then huffed a large bump of Stardust before I took my first swig. I felt the chems enter my bloodstream and go charging around my body and then up into my brain where they exploded into huge tuffty clouds of cotton wool. The whole universe became a little softer and a little more muffled. The whole universe became easier to ignore. This was what I needed just my own soft little world. At this point I had only been cruising for about 20 mins.
There is something I didn't know. I had never, and I mean never, been alone like this before. Truly, truly alone in the dark with just my thoughts. What I didn't know is that these chems, my little friends, have a dark side. Yes yes, they make the outside universe easier to ignore, but if you don't have a distraction, they start to work on the things inside your head that you have been ignoring for years. They bring them to the surface and make them real.
I began to get a bad feeling the third time I looked over my shoulder into the dark interior of my ship thinking to myself "whatwasthat?"
The next time the feeling crept up my spine I ignored it and took a deep swig from my bottle, wait this was vodka wasn't I drinking scotch. I looked around, there was an empty bottle rolling about on the floor. How long had I been flying? I was about to check the chronometer when I heard something behind me.... Was that somebody crying? Was that a woman crying? I heard the sniffle and I knew it, I knew her, I knew where and when this was. My worst nightmare. I turned around to face that awful day. The memory of the blistering sun blinded me as I turned and entered my demons. A distant thought told me my legs buckled in a far-off place, and there was a dull ache in my head where another me in another place bounced his skull off the floor of Gormongander. She held her hands out full to the brim with tears and showed them to me, I knew what was coming, she lifted her face to look at me and as she did I was lost...........
"SHIP SCAN DETECTED!"
My eyes flew open. I was face down near my bunk. Coppery taste of blood on my tongue, awol tooth rolling around my mouth.
"Surrender your data commander, my employers are paying me a lot to make sure that data does not reach its destination. But that doesn't mean you have to die!"
"We have been watching you for 3.5 hours now, we know you're not ok. So just hand over the data packs and we can leave you to deal with whatever issues you have in there."
They always talk to much, if I was him the job would already be over. But he had blabbed and gloated, so now I was back at the con and the animal inside awoke. My hardpoints deployed and my ship came fully alive. Gormongander was the world serpent, an ancient, ancient deity that was said would bring about the end of the world and she unfurled herself here, now. For this poor soul, it would be. Farewell pirate Lord 'Gailard'. As my beams hit his shield 4 new heat signatures appeared on my nav screen, the beast inside howled with joy (what a great day to die) I, on the other hand, was still trying to get the metaphorical wool out of my eyes. Full pips to weapons, 2 pips to engines, throw into reverse in the blue and let loose the hardpoints, this all happened automatically. Don't worry boys you all get a piece.
Then I was hit hard! He had a plasma accelerator.
So now here I was, docked and landed at Hutton Orbital, 3 hours later than planned, only 7% hull left and untold mental scarring. It was gonna take a lot of gear to calm me down this time. Thankfully all the excitement had meant I didn't have to think about the memories.
But on the bright side I now had five bounties to cash in that would cover repair costs, and I had the payout from the data delivery to collect, then back to Sol in the morning. I smiled all day and told everyone interested to hear the tale of how I took on Lord Gailard. That night however, deep in the bowels of Gormongander, I sobbed myself to sleep while she warmed me by here power plant.......
I'll be fine tomorrow.