Sminglenauts 2: Arrival
Desperate bands of last-chancers, Deadnauts, take on suicide missions for the slim chance of getting out alive with a payoff that will make it all worthwhile. I created some decidedly unwholesome Deadnaut versions of some Twitter friends. Lets see how far they get before they die horribly, shall we?
The Smingleigh Independent Salvage Company Ship Earl Grey’s frame creaked alarmingly as I pulled back on the levers to bring us out of six months of stardrive. The lights on the control panel smeared into a chromatic flare in the dark flight compartment as one of the reality induction coils dropped slightly out of sync. I sighed with relief as stars reappeared on the scope. The switch to deploy the antenna armature clacked as I threw it, heralding protests from vacuum-frozen machinery above my pod. The old girl was overdue for a refit, but money was short after a failed expedition to Sector 5J, by all accounts an almost fully mapped safe sector. I had thought to try to scrape up a little easy money, and found nothing but already-explored hulks, until the last. I try not to think about what happened to the previous band of Deadnauts I sent out; I still can’t eat spaghetti without violently throwing up.
I locked the control panel and lit my pipe, filling the flight compartment with the rich smell of my favourite blend. The ventilation system wheezed up to full power to vent what it detected as an atmospheric contaminant, and I gave it a good-natured rude gesture. I smacked the communications system until it beeped to confirm it had locked on to Earth’s FTL communication beacon. Handshake across the light years. The mission recorder spooled its precious data-laden tape into a cartridge and ejected it with a clunk. I inserted it into the transmitter and pushed down the button marked “SEND”. A compressed screech-whine of data transmission. A single beep to confirm upload. The cause of humanity, advanced by my efforts and the lives of my Deadnauts, represented by my bank balance.
The prospector unit ticked softly to itself as cameras all over the hull examined the space nearby and reported their findings. A dozen of the faintest points of light were scrutinised, analysed, and considered each second.
One of those dots turned out to be more interesting than a cold comet. Cyclical variations suggested a flat-faceted object rotating at a constant speed. More sensors turned to examine the distant object. Powerful telescopes dilated their irises to drink in more photons. Gradually, the Earl Grey’s prospecting module gathered more data points, noting position, course, composition, mass, tachyon resonance, and a hundred other factors I didn’t even know the name of. Electronic circuits whittled down the possibilities until it had enough to make it worth alerting me.
I raised an eyebrow at the screen full of incomprehensible figures and waveforms the ship was showing me, and grunted in assent as I accepted with the ship’s opinion that it was something worth investigating. I pulled a retractable lead from the prospecting module and plugged it into the communications console, then pushed the “SEND” and “QUERY” buttons together. The modulator burbled softly as it encoded for transmission. My bank balance ticked down slightly as data processing fees were deducted, but the response was worth it.
I swiveled my chair in the Command Pod, undogged the hatch, and walked the length of the ship to the Deadnaut bay, absently tapping the floor with my stick. The five stasis pods standing along one wall showed strong vital signs as I threw the master switch and filled the sleepers’ veins with wakey wakey juice. Five blood-curdling screams. I strode down the line, hauling up the pod covers and stepping aside to avoid the inevitable torrent of vomit from each one in turn.
“Good morning, Deadnauts!” I sang, cheerily. I’d just finished six months awake in this cramped bucket, driving them to their next engagement, while they had been loaded aboard my ship already in their sleep pods, and slept through the whole journey without aging a day. I saw no reason to coddle the sleeping beauties. “Clothes and personal effects are in the lockers on the far wall, the shower is the door on the left, and the head is on the right.” Five miserable faces peered back at me in incomprehension. “Briefing is in one hour,” I informed them, turning on my heel and leaving them to their shared misery.