Hi, I’m a Jameson. I’m sure you know what that is, but in the unlikely circumstance that someone from a non-spacefaring background reads this journal, perhaps I should explain. A Jameson is a newly qualified Commander, fresh from the relentless production line of rookie pilots that is the Lave Academy. Not just anyone can get in, but let us be honest – pretty much anyone can, such is the demand for licenced fliers. Why the demand? Well, there is the sheer volume of interstellar trade of course, not to mention the requirements of the military and police forces. But the primary reason is the incredible mortality rate.
Space is a remarkably dangerous place. There are of course no official statistics to support this, but I would imagine that a sizable percentage of Jameson’s don’t survive their first 100 standard days in space. In even the safest system death can come in an instant. In the less stable locales packs of predatory pirates will pounce on a lightly-armed, unaccompanied freighter and show no mercy as they pick apart his craft with military-grade lasers, and all for just a few hundred credits worth of cargo.
I’m a decent pilot, but the thought of going out there on my own scares me. I did well at the Academy, obtaining a B plus at both basic and advanced combat training, but simulators cannot prepare you for the adrenal overload that must surely come from being attacked for real. I know it’s going to happen to me at some point - probably sooner rather than later. It is sobering to think one has spent around 1200 standard days training for a profession that is almost certain to result in death. Lave Academy, where the alumni are just particles floating in space.
So why do people do it? If the lure of piloting a craft is so great why not just fly an orbital shuttle, ferrying passengers and cargo between the surface of your home world and the massive Coriolis station orbiting far above? The answer is twofold – poverty or greed. Everyone who qualifies from the Academy – and almost everyone does – receives a brand-new, factory-fresh Cobra Mark III. It is a ship that excels at nothing, but performs satisfactorily in every aspect of spacefaring. One hundred and fifty thousand credits worth of ship, a sum far beyond the dreams of most surface dwellers, and it’s yours providing you meet the basic level of competency required to graduate. It is prize enough to make anyone forget about the dangers. It was prize enough to make me forget.
I soon remembered though. Running my hand over the sleek Duralium hull, my ship towering above me under the harsh unnatural light of the docking bay, all I could see was my own death. I shut my eyes tight, but the multi-coloured lights inside my eyelids danced and sparkled like laser fire in the void. I could feel my stomach lurch, and I swallowed down bitter bile, the fear of humiliating myself in front of the assorted docking bay workers and hardened spacers overcoming my rising panic at the thought of going out there, into space, alone.
I composed myself, ignoring the trickle of cold sweat running down my spine inside my pristine flight-suit, an outfit which marked me out as a Jameson, a novice, a victim. How many of the eyes – humanoid, reptilian, avian, feline - which I knew must be assessing me from every corner of the docking bay were pirates? It would only take one to follow me out of the station and follow me through witchspace to whichever system I chose to start my career, and he could destroy me at his leisure. Climbing up a short ladder onto a catwalk, I held my thumb against the sensor near the access hatch. The ship analysed my DNA, confirmed I was the registered owner, and silently the access hatch slid open, closing behind me without a whisper.
Mark III Cobras are large vessels, but the internal space is mostly occupied by engine and cargo hold. A small galley, a washroom, a sleeping quarter and a cockpit – this was to be my workplace and home. The Cobra is a ship designed by humans, for humans. Of course they can be configured for any of the spacefaring races – which ship manufacturer would want to restrict their customer base – but I was glad I wasn’t insectoid; there was hardly room to swing a mandible. I peeled the protective plastic sheeting from the commander’s chair, balled it up, tossed it behind me and sat down.
Immediately I felt more comfortable. Here was an environment I understood, somewhere which felt right. Countless hours in the simulators had prepared be for this moment, more than the few piloting, docking and combat exercises which had formed part of my final examinations. Even the smell was the same. I could hear the almost imperceptible hum of the life support systems, and I gripped the control pad between my still-damp hands. Maybe I was ready for this; maybe it would all be okay. I let the control pad slide back into its housing and swung my chair around to the ship/station interface terminal. There were mails from the GalCop Pilot Registration bureau with my license, from the GalCop Ship Registration bureau confirming ownership of my vessel and one from the Ship Sales office in Atriso which had delivered my ship. All junk, all useless to me.
I swiped the mail screen shut, and activated the Ship Registration interface with a blink. This was a simple process, but perhaps the most momentous for any Jameson – the naming of ones ship. All the way through the academy this had been a constant topic of conversation. Most of the guys had fancied themselves warriors, and favoured bloodthirsty names like Electric Death and Interstellar Vengeance. I won’t lie to you reader, I was just the same. But now, sat in the cockpit of my ship such flippant suggestions seemed childish, foolish even. I knew that I wouldn’t be seeing my home world for a long time, possibly – probably – never again. I wanted to take a little bit of it with me. So when prompted I spoke the words, loud and clear but with a lump in my throat – “Forests of Lave”.
Now I would never be far from home. My ship, this inanimate hunk of metal built strong to withstand the rigours of space would always smell of the damp loamy soil of my arboreal home world. Here, in this cockpit, even in the lifeless expanses of space I would always be able to hear the birdsong from the forest canopy, and see the tree grubs rooting around in the leaf litter. This was home; this was the Forests of Lave. I blinked back tears, and wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. Activating the trade screen, I ordered the cargobots to load my ship with three standard canisters of Liquor and Wine. Every Jameson did the same I imagine; it was almost a rite of passage. Lave is a rich agricultural world, its economy geared towards providing the more industrialised worlds with the basic necessities of life while they churn out the luxury items, computers and machinery on which our civilisation depends. It was the bread and butter of every independent trader like myself; it was the daily grind of the commercial spacefarer.
With a start I realised that my pre-flight preparations were complete. There was nothing left to keep me here, docked in the safety of the Coriolis station which had been my constant companion throughout my childhood down on the dirt of Lave. It had twinkled above me, an intensely bright star which had captured my imagination, and led me on the path which had ended here, with me toggling the comms link open and saying “Lave Traffic Control, this is Forests of Lave. Standard time 2084004:21:41:45. Request permission to launch”
A moment of silence, then the reply – crisp and clear as if the Traffic Controller were sat next to me:
“Forest of Lave, this is Lave Traffic Control. You have permission to launch”
I felt my hands tighten on the armrests of my command chair as I focussed on the launch icon and blinked. Slowly my ship began to move, first swung from her docking position by the large Berthing Armature, then a gentle shake as the armature detached and the powerful tractor beams of the docking hanger moved my vessel into position in the launch tube. A green light blinked in front of me, and I eased the throttle on the control pad up to half ahead. There was a slight sense of movement, and the walls of the launch tube passed by on either side, above and below. Ahead the first set of hangar doors opened and my ship eased through. They closed behind me and the second, final set opened. I could see Lave at the end of the launch tube, beautiful as ever.
Then I was out, I was flying. I had done it before of course, during training runs around the heavily policed space around the Coriolis station, but this was different. This time I was alone.
“Forest of Lave, please clear the station approach as soon as possible”
The voice came as a shock, and I fumbled my control pad.
“Copy Forest of Lave” I said as I eased my ship around to starboard, out of the approach lane. I passed a little Krait called Classical Way, inbound to the station and altered my course to follow another outbound ship away from the station to prepare for my witchspace jump. It was a Cobra Mark I, a vastly inferior predecessor to my own ship. It was called Gangster’s Final Shot V, and I smiled wryly to myself at the pompous name. The Mark I Cobra was scarcely fit for service, and this one was adorned with a comically aggressive name. ‘Gangster’s Final Shot V?’ I thought to myself, ‘What happened to the other four?’
I blinked open the navigational interface, and set my course for the only destination any Jameson ever considered. Agricultural to Industrial, Lave to Zaonce. I set the view screen to show my starboard side, for one last look at Lave, before initiating my witchspace jump. I watched the countdown on the bottom of my view screen count down from fifteen. As the numbers hit zero, my stomach simultaneously lurched to both my knees and my throat. The stars expanded from tiny pixels to fill the screen, and my eyes rolled to the back of my head. I was in the tube, flying through witchspace. I was going to Zaonce.