I walked past my shared memories towards the big heavy bulkhead leading to the bridge of the ship. A little world within a world. The main controls of the ship were all put in an extra durable shell that doubled as a rescue craft in case that one had to abandon ship. It had been just a little interplanetary skiff in the past but now it boasted a small hyper-drive able to jump a few dozen light years hopefully towards safety.
This was a part of the ship were I fought a fight against my own tastes and somehow lost. The main bridge was a large open room in the style of the great exploration ships of the Golden Age of Expansion. Made of wood and stone reflecting a time when the terranoids had spread like wild fire from their native galaxy into the infinity of space, their ships reflecting this expansion by replacing the industrial design of ships that had come before with opulent finely crafted works of art that spoke of the pride of a species that had overcome the last hurdle before becoming completely free, reflecting the giant leap it had done in tall the exotic materials it harvested from all the strange worlds it had claimed for itself.
I walked through the bridge only pausing shortly at the navigation table in the middle to download the navigation solution from the port authority. That done I continued past a opalescent crystal hatch leading to the stairs down to the cockpit from where the entire ship could be piloted by one person. This one was far more modern and practical in design. This was a place dominated by lights, and switches set into sleek synthetic materials. Still vintage this part of the ship was moulded around the designs of the Rouge Republics of old. The great if ultimately doomed social experiments that had led to a second wave of great exploration. This was partially my sign of respect towards Kanno who had made his name in that time and space but also because back in those days the engineers were using a lot of hardy mechanical partially because they didn't have anything better and partially because these parts while not the smallest or most elegant would take enormous amounts of punishment without breaking and where easily repaired. And a good design was a good design there were some things that simply didn't become obsolete. Despite all of our advancements the wheel was still doing its rounds in every civilisation.
Lastly these type of cockpits had evolved over centuries focused around lone explorers during the last time when this kind of exploration was still wide spread. At least as far as I was aware of. The universe is a big space after all.
I sat down in the captain's seat. Always a childish pleasure. I could never suppress a smile when I did this. Being the captain of my own ship somehow never got old. I felt the ships interfaces coming alive syncing with my mind opening up subliminal bridges exchanging information with the parts of my brain that had been expertly tuned over time to fly this ship. The command chair moved forward towards the dashboards which on their part bloomed towards me taking their flight control configuration.
What followed was one of my absolute favourite parts. I have to admit I had many favourite parts but this one was among the greatest of them with one exception. It took out the crystal key to the ship from my pocket. This part was among the most expensive addition to the ship after the installation of the pulsar reactor. Having an ignition fitted into the ship had required tons of redesign work and had probably cost the design of a few good palaeo-engineers. The key was made of clear crystal woven through with various impurities giving it its specific shape and composition. Even without a function it was beautiful glinting with a slightly unreal light.
I pushed the key into the ignition and with my grin growing broader turned it.
With a deep roar the main engine came to life sending tremors through the ship. The dashboard came to life its many lights and display starting to blink and flow through its start-up routines. Outside the lights of the ship flared to life while inside the ship the artificial gravity tightened up as it synchronized itself to the inertia-buffers as well as the repulsion field outside that made the ship float on its own power.
Feeling the pull of the tubes and hoses connecting the Void Dancer to the port of Dead End made me remember the time when...
"James." Pentyl's voice was soft, husky and very close to my left ear.
"First: don't reminisce and fly, that's how accidents happens. Second: if you take another trip down memory lane before we reach the Sentinel Fortress I am going to punch you. Hard."
"I've not been zoning out." I protested.
"You have not been able to take three steps today without going all glassy eyed today."
For a moment a pattern of redish waves flowed down in front of my in what was Pentyl's gaseous form of a nod. "You've been at it all day. I understand that the loss of Kira is taking its toll. But you're not going to be able to pull her out of your memories. No matter how hard you try."
"Right. Let's do this." I said pulling out my star charts. I opened a communications channel. "Portos, this is Captain James Steiner Gutierrez of the Void Dancer requesting clearance for take off."
"Acknowledged Captain Steiner. You are cleared to approach star-way 15-z. You are assigned an ascending departure vector."
"Roger." I gave the command to release all connections to the port. The supply lines fell off leaving a cloud of steam in their wake. In front of us the outer wall of the port dissolved leaving the shimmering veil of the hermetic field behind. I gently nudged the Void Dancer forward using only its repulsion field to taxi out of the port towards the star-way.
"Don't all those lights distract you?" Pentyl asked.
It took me a moment that she was talking about the indicators on the console. "Those are actually the instruments used to navigate the ship." I said.
"How do you do that you only have those two eye for seeing." she said deeply sceptical.
"We call it field of vision." I said. "I do have to admit though that I am amazed that in the pest people could pilot ships only using these instruments."
"How you made it into space will ever remain a mystery to me." Pentyl said.
While she was musing about the improbable twists of evolution that had taken us down from trees and up into endless space I focused on getting the ship into the star-way. I let my mind slide deeper into the perception field of the ship trying to get a feeling for the flows of gravity around us. Using repulsion fields was pretty straight forward when inside one dominant gravity field making them popular for just getting off planet. But once one was inside the gravit flow of several large objects things started to become tricky. Like say when you were near a planet, tethered to an orbital ring inside the gravity field of a star. If you wanted to make it really complicated just add several dozen ships using diving engines moving around just 'below' real space.
"Aren't you going to switch off those repulsors?" Pentyl asked making herself comfortable in the driving back-seat.
"Nope." I said trying to feel the subtle ripples in the flow of gravity to push the Void Dancer towards star-way 15-z. "We need to move out into the green zone before I can engage our drive. To much traffic below the surface today."
"Why don't you use the small hyper-drive you have installed to get us out there?" she asked.
"How do you know about the hyper-drive?" I asked trying not to get to distracted as I balanced the ship against the sub-dimensional currents crashing against the port.
Pentyl did one of her optical shrugs. "I'm pretty much everywhere apart from the room with that milk-foam machine..."
"Right." I still had to get used to her right now making up part of the air in the entire ship. "Well the hyper-drive is mostly intended as an emergency device, it is calibrated to move the evacuation skiff and changing the power-source is a pain in the arse. Using the repulsion field is quicker and far less of a hassle."
"If you say so..." said Pentyl.
I said so and I meant it too. Once we had cleared the spoke and the orbital ring I very carefully started up the thrusters of the Void Dancer.
"Compress me solid and ignite me into a star!" Pentyl swore. Even as a gas she felt the sudden constriction of the inertial dampers trying to prevent just that as the ship suddenly accelerated to nearly the speed of light in only a few seconds. A really good pilot could use a repulsion field to ride a gravity stream for some impressive accelerations. I called it the wet soap in clenched fist effect.
"0.9 c." I said. "Who needs a hyper-drive now. We'll be at the edge of the green zone in about two hours and that's the point where things will get really interesting." My comment was emphasised by a further tightening around us as the ship was shoved several light seconds of course by a passing diving ship.
"This is already quite interesting enough for me." Pentyl said through clenched molecules. "Do you know that despite the forcefield your hull is distorting?"
"Yes I can feel it." the skin of the ship was undulating under the forces exerted by gravity and acceleration. A pleasant feeling not unlike the stream of air when one flies an open craft. "It's all perfectly fine and the ride will get smoother the further we move away from Dead End."
About two hours and some very choice expletives from Pentyl later we reached the green zone. According to the data given to me by Portos there were no sub-dimensional ships anywhere near us that I could accidentally blow back into normal space here so I was finally free to engage the faster than light drive. The ship instantly became more stable. The slight crushing feeling exerted by the inertia damper vanished and the hull felt solid again.
"Finally." Pentyl said. "I hate it when the dampers do that."
"Oh the most exiting part is yet to come." I said as I shifted my mind into the navigation system of the ship. In front of me a pretty but for the moment rather pointless three dimensional star map appeared. I showed one star Saint Saviour and apart from that a lot of nothing with a fine glowing line arcing into the dark. Saint Saviour lay very much in the middle of nowhere. It was a star that had either lost its galaxy a very long time ago or had never had one to begin with. The closest galaxy being 12 million light years away.
I concentrated on our course. The first few millions light years were easy enough. There was only Hadalag slightly in the way but we could comfortably curve around it. The most problematic bit was one half way through where we had a galaxy cluster over one hundred light years long that we had to wave through. After that our course was not as densely packed as before but that made it extra tricky not to hit anything, the irregular intervals of star fields followed by empty interstellar space made it hard to concentrate.
"Are you reminiscing again?" asked Pentyl.
"No I am calculating our course. While we will be able to punch cleanly through any planet of star once we get going neither we nor what ever we hit will survive that encounter. Something I think we might want to avoid." Once I was done determining a course I let the board computer go over it adjusting for innumerable factors that would slightly change the course of the ship and to re-calibrate obsolete positional data. Once that was done I triple checked it by pushing my mind along the entire route feeling it out, adding more distance to stellar objects here, passing a bit closer to a super massive black hole for that extra kick of velocity there, the usual pre-flight tweaks.
"OK. Done. Ready to go Pentyl?"
I activated the navigation computer that projected our path of flight into my field of vision. Right now it filed the entire cockpit but as we increased in spead it would narrow down more and more showing how to fly towards our destination.
I shifted around for a last time making myself comfortable.
What came next. That was my most favourite moment of them all.
I pushed the physical accelerator of the faster than light engine forward. We pushed out of the Saint Saviour system towards the light of distant stars. The darkness in front of us filling with the light of suns that had until now been to faint to be seen. Slowly space in front of us turned into a shining field shifting first into blue then into the purest white as the Void Dancer ground into the light barrier. No the engine really came to life its deep throated roar filling the entire ship. The hull now felt like a liquid flowing with our direction of flight.
"This... this is..." Pentyl said.
"Fantastic isn't it?"
"I... what is this...?" there was a hint of panic in her voice.
"Pentyl, have you ever broken past the light barrier before?" I asked now slightly worried.
"Yes..." she said with a breathless voice. "But never... never like this."
"Oh shit." I said.
And then reality shattered.