Sitting in the cockpit of his Mark II Bulldog Star Rider, Emmett was growing impatient. The Outer Colonies Express Faster Than Light (FTL) Train was already running late when it finally took off from Mars. The delay in his clearance to leave the giant vessel would cost him valuable time to get down to Emerald cove. His job as a Ranger was on the line if he couldn’t pick up the new shipment of Aetherium. Already he had been stuck in the service for 8 of his 27 years. It was the only job his skill set allowed him to do without becoming an outlaw, or to go unemployed. He would be damned to a lifetime of servitude if he went too long without keeping up on his debt repayments. Just as Emmett was seriously considering taking off without clearance, his comm screen flared to life, showing a frazzled young woman rubbing sleep out of her eyes. “Bulldog 4-5, this is tower, ya hearin’ me, Mr Graves?” said the weary traffic controller in a thick New Harmony accent. Emmett picked up his transmitter. “Yeah tower, I hear” he said, his Old Detroit accent echoing in the confined space of the Rider’s cockpit. “Sorry ’bout the delay there, Mr Graves, we was havin’ trouble with yer hanger bay door, damn thing wasn’t responding any of our to test commands. That’s all sorted now, just telling ya to seal up yer ship, and we’ll have ya off this rust bucket in a jiffy” said the controller. “Rodger that tower, over and out” Emmett replied.
Emmett put the transmitter down as sweet relief flowed through him, and he went through his pre-flight checks again. His oxygen recyclers were fine. The Aetherium FTL drive hummed its characteristic hum as it spooled up for the short jump to Emerald Cove’s atmosphere. The Bulldog’s dual Aetherium-spitting rotatory cannons were primed, and the atmospheric engines were ready to be switched on at a moments notice. Before he could stop himself, his eyes glanced too far to the left of his instrument panel, and landed squarely on his idle data pad, still displaying a total Galactic Bank balance of -56,976 credits.
He winced, trying to forget the number and how it had forced him to leave Earth and his parents to become a Space Ranger to try pay it off. As a kid, Emmett had been tricked into thinking of the Rangers as hero’s of the stars, always there to get the “bad guys” and protect those less-than-fortunate people who worked on the frontier. However, what he didn’t see as a kid was that the Rangers were mostly just glorified, EarthGov-owned odd-jobber’s, poor souls who lost all they owned and more, and had to submit to EarthGov employment to pay of their debts. As a Ranger, Emmett’s career consisted mostly of transport jobs that were too small for the huge Space Train’s to justify landing on a planet, or military actions too menial for EarthGov’s mighty Battle cruiser’s and Carriers to take care of, like one small time Bandit, who had owned a rickety Star Rider, still armed with gunpowder weapons. It would have been funny how fast he had gone down to the Bulldog’s Aetherium cannons if Emmett couldn’t here the outlaw’s screams of terror over the comm’s as he plummeted into Titan’s orbit. He hadn’t done anything like in the old Saturday-morning Vid’s back in the day, like blowing up the huge pirate base’s hidden outside of solar systems, too far for even radio signals to find, or participated in the rare Solar system-vs-Solar system civil war’s. But, as long as he paid off his debt before he reached his 40’s, Emmett felt he would be fine without such experience’s.
As the Bulldog finally lifted off the deck of the Train, the hanger door opened to reveal the dust-bowl of space-rock called Emerald Cove. The first scouting teams to land there called it such because they had high hopes that terraformers could turn the world into a luxury garden world, lush and vibrant with life. When veins of Aetherium were found, however, any notion of anything but ripping apart the world to suck it dry were swept aside. A small town had set up to mine and process the vital mineral.
The Bulldog’s Aetherium drive finally hit it’s highest note as Emmett coasted out of the belly of the giant Train and into the black of space, leaving the metal behemoth behind. As soon as he cleared the vessel, the Train’s locomotive glowed with the characteristic cyan glow of an Aetherium FTL drive, and then shot away faster that light could move. Pressing a flashing blue button, the Bulldog’s own Aetherium bubble enveloped the craft, violently shoving it away from space into the atmosphere of Emerald Cove, roughly depositing it over the endless desert. The flight lasted only a second. Where there was once a picturesque view of the planet from orbit, there was now only the yellow landscape stretching out below him. The Aetherium drive had cut his travel time down from 8 hours on his booster engines to almost nothing.
Emmett gazed out at the sandy sea in front of him, seemly unending to the eyes. It usually relaxed him, being on the job, but today was different. He was late to the colony as it was, and he needed to contact them. He picked up his transmitter. “Emerald Cove mining Colony, this is Ranger Bulldog 4-5, you guy’s copy?” he asked. There was a long pause. No response. he tried again. “Emerald cove, Bulldog 4-5, are you receiving?”. he waited. Still nothing. “Goddammit Emerald Cove, come in! I’ll late gettin’ here as it is! Someone pick up the Goddamn phone!” He snarled in frustration. Colonies were always supposed to have at least 1 person assigned to radio duty, no matter what the situation. It suddenly occurred to Emmett that maybe the colony couldn’t reply. An icy dread ran down his spine, and he spun is chair around to the weapons console, slapping his hand on it to verify a weapons activation. 2 Aetherium-shooting rotary cannons came to life in their cradle underneath the cockpit, sliding out from the underside of the ship with deadly purpose. 12 Sparrowhawk Mk 8 Hunter-killer missiles awoke from of hibernation mode, primed to kill.
Emmett gunned the booster engine’s, their soft, background hum growing to a roaring, howling crescendo of power. The Bulldog, true to it’s name, was a brutal machine when it wanted to be. The ground beneath it sped away faster than Emmett could see. He had only gone to combat speed a few times before in his career as a Ranger. Each time seemed like the first time. The usually quiet, reliable, trustworthy Star Rider streaked through the air like an unchained Fury, on it’s way to drag the sinner’s down to the underworld. Every second ticking by felt like an hour. Anxiety pulsed through Emmett with every heartbeat. He prayed that he was wrong, and that the colony was only having a comm’s issue. As the Rider tore through the sky with, it’s main console chimed, indicating that the settlement of Emerald Cove was approaching over the horizon. Emmett pulled the throttle back, slowing the Rider down from ludicrous speed to merely very fast. As high as he was flying, he could see the small town appearing just as far as the eye could see. As he strained his eyes, he thought he could make out an abnormal amount of smoke coming from town. Suddenly, a target lock appeared on Emmett’s HUD, indicating flying vessels without EarthGov-approved ID’s. That only meant one thing out here, in the black reaches of deep space, far away from the Battle-Train’s and War-Rider’s of EarthGov, and it was exactly as he feared. A cold anger gripped him as hard as he gripped his control stick, turning his knuckles white with the exertion. “Pirates” he rasped, and stabbed his firing button.