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[M - G02] Autofreight

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Location: G02 - Freegate

Tags: Vehicle, Spaceship.

Chapter 15: Autofreight.

Her breath had never felt so loud… Or so deep. Conserve your air she told herself. The adrenaline made it hard. She was sat still but her body was in survival mode… Panic. High above the bright white pearl of Freegate, in a quiet and lonely orbit, just far away enough to touch the blackness and silence of deep space, a solitary Quadstar drifted gently, the planet below and the debris-like specs that were the hive of orbiting Human and alien activity visible through to large dome-like cockpit windows… It was beautiful… The round concave window giving the lone occupant a deceptively wide view of open space and the sheer vastness of even this small section of the Galaxy… Yes, it was beautiful… And scary as Hell.


Over the previous two hours, Yseult had run through all the options a MANTIS agent in a stolen armed Octan fighter had. There was MANTIS activity on Freegate and plenty of it, but with Octan recently taking control, how close could she get in a fighter? Her mission was covert, even MANTIS didn’t know she was there. She could go to Octan… She has the ship to get there, but what then? She’d heard that Octan didn’t keep prisoners; just took their belongings as a fine and turned them loose. Why pay to keep a criminal when you can profit from one? But that was non-corporates - the contractors and workers who broke the rules… True or not, those rules won’t apply to me.. She thought. I’m with MANTIS now. She thought of approaching an independent vessel but with talk of spiders and Dust Demons… Could she take the risk?

Her thoughts turned to the GATE drive: If Octan found it will they know what it's for?.. Will they be looking for me? Presumably the missing Quadstar had been reported by now, the fight on Donwarr was so long ago. Her attention was caught as an ominous black outline drifted slowly into the bright light of the planet below. By its relative size and position, it eclipsed a significant portion of the illuminated planet. While it wasn't as big as the Jade Sun. the external containers' black clean finish made their size difficult to gauge but it was clearly an old AutoFreight unit of some kind: Harking from the pre-GATE era when trans-Galactic travel was a long and dangerous business, Unmanned freight avoided the risks associated with an occupying crew. The containers were massive to reduce trips and black to make them harder to detect for potential pirates. Only the colour-coded lines belied any information about them at all: Greens for biomass, blues for water and so on. Fitted with GATE drives, they were still used… A big box floating in space… No-one to look… No-one to notice. Yseult recalled her mission on Donwarr: the escort. How had he followed that small freighter through the anomaly?.. She suddenly realised. Of course!


The large Autofreight unit was underpowered for its size, using multi-orbit slingshots to get up to speed efficiently. Before the anomalies were discovered, ships like that used slipstream to travel between the stars but while smaller types of vessel like the Speedy Owl or Shire class used raw power to reach slipstream velocity, larger bulk vessels took their time using the planet's pull to gain speed. The same is still true today in respect of reaching the anomaly, it's just easier and the freighter might do it in two orbits rather than five. Yseult's only hope was to intercept the freighter, unnoticed and latch on, riding it back to… Well, Lesser Drigo hopefully. If not… One crisis at a time, she thought.

Even with her transponder off, there was no way to maneuver to the freighter without being noticed. She began running calculations through the Quadstars navigation software. Monitoring the freighter, she estimated its course… She was a long way off and… Two blips emerged from behind the freighter. She looked down to the planet, barely making out two black flies buzzing protectively around it… An escortWith MANTIS transponders. As the freighter needed slingshots to reach the anomaly, she hoped they were just there to safeguard it around Octan space: The two megacorps had taken up positions on opposite sides of the planet and tensions were rising. Perhaps when they neared the anomaly, the escorts would back off. That’s my chance. But it would be a high powered dash. She set the computer to monitor the freighter’s time to the anomaly compared to her own at full burn… If the first got smaller than the second, she wouldn't be able to reach the freighter before it entered the anomoly. Right now, with only life support active all she could do was sit in the pale glow of the planet’s light… and wait.


The next time the Autofreighter passed it was much closer and well on course for the anomaly. Yseult wished for a moment she’d lowered her orbit; she could have latched on now with time to spare but then she glimpsed the two buzzing flies… still there. She wasn’t after a firefight, especially not against MANTIS. She calmed herself; there would come a moment when she would have to make a move or it would be too late. Not yet, not yet. Once the freighter was ahead of her, Yseult began to power up the Quadstar. One system at a time so as not to cause an energy spike for any listening ears. She tracked the freighter: it was ahead of her now. Not much time. She started the engines, as easy as she could and held the throttle. Her breath deepened, she tensed her arms to stop the adrenaline from shaking them. An alarm sounded: the timings had equalised… She looked at the two escorts – still there. Could she really fly towards them, a fighter at full speed? Was she afraid? She was losing time. You have to do it. You have to.

The display in her Quadstar changed as two small blips peeled off. They’re backing off! Her right hand had already pushed the throttle lever to maximum and a bright trail of exhaust plasma streamed from behind the Quadstar’s engines as it powered forward. She gained on the freighter rapidly, angling the fighter slightly towards the planet to shorten the route. She would have to adjust for that later but she needed everything just to catch up. She monitored the freighter. Closer, closer and the escorts: Where were they? She widened the scope on her navigation screen… Both of them were pulling a hard turn back towards the freighter… no, back towards her. Yseult’s left had tensed on the flight-stick. Her index finger brushed the trigger as she tried to tell herself she was ready to use it. If she didn’t make it to the freighter, a fight would ensue.


A voice came over the A-com. “Unidentified vessel, this is Watchdog nine; you are on our scope. You are in MANTIS controlled Freegate orbit without authorisation. Power your vessel down and prepare to be escorted to the surface. If you resist, you will be fired upon.” They’re too far away. She told herself, but the blips were coming round fast. She watched their arc – nowhere near as tight as a Quadstar could pull but they would be on her soon. The freighter loomed much closer but her time to GATE entry was still too high but not by much. “Unidentified vessel…” The voice repeated the earlier instruction. Yseult ignored it, a vocal blur on the periphery of what really mattered. The gentle dive had given her extra speed, now she had to get back up again. Normally she would just pull up but that would divert thrust from forward motion… She couldn’t afford that. The lift engines she realised. The antigravity repulsors worked the same as with her hoverbike, a small centrifuge of anti-plasma distorting space-time outwards. The amount needed to reverse the curvature caused by a planet at surface level was significant but up here. It should barely be anything. Activating the lift repulsors, Yseult applied power and the Quadstar began to move back into a higher orbit. The shortcut had given her speed and saved time but she wasn’t sure how much. The new manoeuvre confused the computer’s estimate. After a few seconds, a new figure appeared; desperately close to the freighter’s, its timer ticking down a mere fraction before Yseult’s. Alarms sounded as Yellowish-green streaks blasted past the Quadstar. The escorts. They were almost on her, closing from either side. The freighter, only seconds ahead. She was still gaining. Five seconds. She rolled the Quadstar 90 degrees. I won’t catch it she realised. But it was too late, she was going too fast and a tenth of a second after the freighter disappeared… so did she.


Inside the anomaly, the gravitational eddies and currents buffeted the small fighter like a fly in a hurricane. Yseult wrestled the controls. Every anomaly was different inside; age, distance and the amount of space-time that had leaked in from outside all affected the length and difficulty of the journey. With no GATE drive, it was only a matter of time before her ship was torn apart. She was so close to the freighter, but close was no good. Trying to maneouver the Quadstar directly was useless. Inciting a barrel roll, Yseult sent the fighter out and round as tight as she could, knowing that there wouldn’t be enough room to complete the roll; there was a freighter in the way. But that was the point and Yseult accentuated the roll to make the Quadstar hit the side of the huge container floor first, the magnetic floor grappling on. Please hold. Please hold. Alarms and warnings were blaring from the impact… but it held.


Thank you for reading. Any and all comments and criticisms are welcome.


Judges: Do not judge the full size Quadstar or the escort ships (they are Professor Thaum's from last week which I used as a tie-in)

Tower detail (rear)


Front view in display setup:



Thank you.




Edited by LucByard
Text pasted in all over the place!

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An astonishingly well written story, I am looking forward to the next episode. I love the big black boxes and the greebly support frame, it looks fantastic in that first shot. The shot of Yseult looking out the window is excellent too, so evocative.

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On 11/28/2016 at 0:36 PM, robuko said:

An astonishingly well written story, I am looking forward to the next episode. I love the big black boxes and the greebly support frame, it looks fantastic in that first shot. The shot of Yseult looking out the window is excellent too, so evocative.

Thank you robuko. I've learnt a huge amount writing for AG so I'm glad people are enjoying it. I'm also enjoying trying to use photography to make the stories more engrossing too (when I have the time to do the compositing).

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Incredibly captivating story. Reads like a scifi novel! The big freighter is great with all of the details contrasting with the large smooth block shapes.

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On 11/30/2016 at 3:52 PM, Kodan Black said:

Incredibly captivating story. Reads like a scifi novel!

Thanks Kodan. That means a lot to me as I'm currently working on a sci-fi novel and when I discovered AG, I hoped it would be a good chance to hone my story-telling craft while building the things I love the most... 'Spacey things' :classic:.

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