A Dangerous Gamble: The Landing (Part 1)
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My guy received the prize, but I got bragging rights! People loved my story. Further confirming my abilities. The prize was an Imperial Courier.
For those that don't participate in the Dangerous Elite virtual reality world─an Imperial Courier is a ship. A space ship. A space ship of amazing value.
And I won it with my writing and the efforts of my guy telling me a little about his character he plays in the game.
The process was a lot like THE KING'S THIEF where a friend told me about the world, the characters he was interested in and the situation he'd like to see them thrown into.
While Dangerous Gamble is only 5K words, it won a freaking award! So, I consider this a worthy story. It's also going to be the last FREE story for a while. Excerpts of my other novels will still abound! But I think I've proven that my books are worth your time and money.
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Corran Antilles is having a bad life. Schlepping cargo for the Federation doesn't pay. Even worse, the corporate hauler assigned to him malfunctions inside Trevithick Station. Before Corran's ship-trouble costs him his life, he's able to land, but at the price of his job.
Down on his luck, with no money and no way to get home, Corran thinks he’s hit the jackpot when a stranger approaches and offers him the chance of a lifetime. But of course, nothing in the Federation is free, and there's always a catch.
A Dangerous Elite Fan Fic
© S.N.McKibben 2015
“HLR-4296, you are cleared for docking at pad thirty-eight.”
“Finally,” I moaned at the ever-so-gracious Trevithick control tower.
I pushed the throttle and shifted the HOTAS to line up with the toaster slot to get inside the station.
“Good girl,” I said to my hauler. She wasn’t acting up today. Well, it wasn’t my hauler. It belonged to Kingsley Enterprises—but someday, I, Corran Antilles, would own my own ship.
The joystick in my right hand became conspicuously loose and I pulled the stick up and out of its cradle. As I stared at the now useless control stick in horror, I tried pulling back on the throttle. No go. The handle was stuck. I tried jiggling the bar. No good. Oh crap. I was going in the space station with no brakes and no control stick. The blue lights of the tunnel entrance illuminated a one-way ticket to being blasted to dust. My hauler drifted upward as we sailed through the hall of light.
Button, push the button. Joystick still in hand, I depressed the vertical thrusters. Nothing. The control stick was completely separated from the panel.
“Why now?” Out of all the endless megameters of space, why did something have to break here, when I had only millimeters of room? A stream of severed wires sparked on my right side.
I dropped the stick in my lap and pulled the wires out from the panel. What the hell? Rust coated the wires splayed out in my hand. Wear and tear had caused the malfunction. Hadn’t this thing been in the shop last week?
A layer of civilization occupied every available space inside the Trevithick dock and I was drifting ever closer with no way to stop. The ship maintained its forward momentum, and if I didn’t act fast I’d start hitting the walls and buildings inside the station. If I did enough damage they’d start firing at me. Who could blame them, with all those lives clinging to the walls? I’d become a Corran Antilles burger, if there was anything left of me at all.
A horrendous metal screech echoed inside the station as I passed the last of the lights going through the “mail slot”. Crap. No time.
I matched up two wires and squashed them together. My hauler started rolling in a slow spiral. No. Wrong wires. I held up the joystick and tried to stop the ship’s slow spin.
“It’s okay, it’s okay, I have time.” The station had some wiggle room. All was not lost. Just reconnect the wires and I’d have control back. Next, I twisted two blue wires together.
The nose of my hauler drifted up. Okay, now I had pitch. Instead of rolling into the corporate accounting office ahead, I was tumbling toward annihilation. No. No. No.
“I get my paychecks from there! Wings off the accountants!” I pushed the rudders back and forth, back and forth, at the exact moment my pitch turned away from the building.
Luckily, the thrusters were on low and the initial inertia kept me on a steady pace forward. But if I didn’t get a handle on it, my thrusters would have me going every which way.
In an acrobatic fly-by the nose of my hauler tapped the edge of the Kingsley building. Panicked faces looked right at me as I heard over the comm, “HLR-4296, please maintain a direct course to pad thirty-eight. This is your first warning.”
“Fuck!” Along the walls, gun turrets followed my ship’s progress. Fantastic. My feet pushed faster. Pitch and yaw, pitch and yaw. I got the ship to stop spiraling, but now my nose was making little circles as my hauler drifted upward. The opposite direction of pad thirty-eight.
I hooked up two white wires. Vertical thrusters lifted me higher.
“Ahhhh!” I positioned the joystick as if it were still attached to the base and pushed the attitude thrusters to go down. We did. Too fast.
“Crap.” Flight assist was still on. I flipped it off and finally felt a little more in control of the plunge of death.
My hauler pointed down and twirled. To keep from crashing nose-first I yawed left and right with a little bit of upward pitch. Finally, she straightened.
Coming into pad thirty-eight from a slip, I let her drift and lowered the landing gear. Another humiliating metal screech bounced off the walls of the space station. I turned and winced to see I’d hit the platform tower of the landing pad.
“Sorry!” I hit the vertical thrusters, which were working only intermittently. Going in sideways was not the intended strategy for a ship that landed from a dead drop. Nor was the landing spot ideal for coming in at a sideways glide. Not with a tower and buildings surrounding the pad.
The landing gear hit solid ground. A horrendous metal scraping that seemed to go on forever was probably making everyone in the station deaf.
My ship’s thrusters started pushing us toward the Zorgon Peterson outlet.
“Damn it!” I pulled on the thrusters. “Stop, already!”
The control was still stuck. Crap. I was done. All that effort to become a blazing ball of fire. If I didn’t stop soon I’d go crashing into the building after semi-landing. My thrusters sputtered. All engines powered down. The whine of my hauler indicated I’d run out of fuel.
Over the comm an operator said coolly, “HLR-4296, docking complete.”
A wave of dizziness set my ass back in my pilot’s chair. Breathe. I picked up the joystick and looked at it once more, wires and all.
A tap from outside the hull reverberated through the ship. Exhausted, I pulled myself up, taking the joystick with me. Sparks protested as the wires separated. Dragging my feet to the bay doors, I hit the button to let the station team collect the cargo. Dragging my hand over my face, I tried wiping off my fatigue.
“Hey, Corran,” the team lead smirked at me. “Hell of a landing.”
“Up yours, Trip.” I handed him the joystick. “Here, have a present.”
“What the… hey, why’d you rip the control stick out?” Trip turned the controller around in his hand.
“I didn’t!” My voice echoed over another ship’s blasting thrusters. I clambered down the ramp, needing a drink. “Someone needs to repair this ship.”
Trip leaned against the frame, letting his guys do all the work. While he blathered on, men in Federation uniforms drove full dollies in and out of the cargo bay.
“Wasn’t this thing in maintenance just last week?” Trip was close to accusing me of causing the problem. Just like every other jack-hole in this place, he was looking out for number one. He tossed the joystick towards me. Out of reflex, I caught it.
“Hey, man, what am I going to do with this?”
Trip crossed his arms and watched his guys haul out loads of boxes. “Not my duck.”
“Well, it isn’t my problem either. I’m not maintenance.”
“No, you just wreck ships and stations.”
The click-clack of heels with an attitude rounded the corner. Ourora Kingsley was headed this way. Trip and his men scrambled to get the cargo out.
“Sorry, man, wish I could talk.” Trip picked up a dolly and started helping the guys pull freight. They all beat feet in a hurry to escape The Wasp coming straight for me. Ourora Kingsley was CEO of Kingsley Enterprises. She was technically my boss, and she toted a reputation as a prim, cruel man-crusher with a side of good business sense.
Because she was looking and walking toward me, I stood my ground. Albeit I had the sudden urge to pee, but I suspected she evoked that response in most people.
Cold, dark eyes with about as much warmth as a black hole stared me down. With pointy glasses and an hourglass figure, accentuated by a tight dress suit, she could turn heads. But she was a Grade A queen wasp. A nasty piece of work to whom I now had the pleasure of explaining the damages to the ship and the station. In more ways than one, I felt like bait. No one lingered. Hell, no one was around. Everyone had scattered as soon as the click-clack of her heels came within hearing range. No fuel trucks, no repair guys, no docking officials, and no Trip or his team.
“Corran Antilles.” The echoing heels stopped and the woman stood three feet from me. “You’re late.”
“There was a complication.”
“I’ll advise you that destruction of company property is deducted from your wage.”
“It just came off in my hand!” I waved the joystick at her.
She tracked the control stick’s every motion. “That too will come out of your last check.”
“What? It’s not my fault you don’t maintain the ship!”
“It was scheduled for maintenance five days ago and passed inspection.” She adjusted her glasses.
“The only thing that saved me was the fact that I hardly had enough fuel to make one round.”
Ourora’s dower expression never changed. “There are no excuses for your subpar piloting.”
“Subpar?” I sent the joystick skidding down the landing pad. “If you want subpar, take a look at the ship.”
“You should see the control tower, Mr. Antilles, or the station’s access corridor.” She pointedly eyed the tread marks on the pad where I’d landed.
“None of that was my fault.”
“Corran Antilles, on the grounds of your constant tardiness, and the damage done to this station and company property, you’re fired.” She turned and sauntered back the way she’d come.
“How am I supposed to get back home?” I railed.
“That’s your problem.”
“Great,” I muttered. “How much of my measly pay is left?”
“None, if you don’t return the pilot suit you were issued,” she said over her shoulder.
I looked down at my ratty over-clothes. The standard-issue pilot suit peeked from behind the many holes of my dirty shirt and worn pants. Still, if there was a wear and tear competition between my overalls and the ship I used to drive, the hauler would lose.
Part 1 End
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