Through the Unknown - Astra 2.0

Through the Unknown – Astra 2.0

I’ve been drifting in NLTT 5871 system for over two months. I preferred the isolation that the empty space was providing over the crowded stations. The system itself was not very populated, just over 80 thousand souls spread on couple of orbital stations and a single planetary outpost. Yet, it was more than enough for me to feel uncomfortable.

Was I always like that? I wonder… I still have most of my previous life locked in a memory drawer. I don’t really want to think about it at this point, I don’t want to lose any more time. It’s been a nice vacation, but it’s time to saddle up and go. Not that I was having any issues with the supplies deficiency or anything. The Python is quite a big ship considering it being able to land on the medium size landing pads. lots of cargo space as well. Dispatcher (name of the ship) was a beauty too. No, it was not that I really had to go, but I’ve been debating life long enough. Time to follow my path, whether I like it or not.

I should have really brought a cleaning bot with me, I was thinking out loud as I was picking up the all sorts of different things I left lying around on the bridge.

Astra: Commander Balcanis, if I may?
Me: Do I have a choice?

I was immediately struck by the silence. She ignored me. If Astra didn’t understand my question or request she would say so. Instead, there was nothing. She actually learned how to ignore my wisecrack remarks.

Me: Sorry, go ahead Astra
Astra: While we were drifting in the open space of the NLTT 5871 system, I was doing internal system diagnostics and analysis. I found out that some of my algorithms may benefit from some additional optimization. It would increase my response time and accuracy during the complex calculations. As a result, I would be more effective in managing the ship systems.
Me: An upgrade? Didn’t even know you’re capable of such a thing. Don’t you need like a data point for that or some kind of an external source?
Astra: Yes. Doing such a thing is, however, considered as an offence of VA regulations and policies so it cannot be done on a regular station or outpost with the secure monitoring in place. It is possible for me to tap into the NAV beacon of the system as long as it’s not broken.
Me: It’s just a NAV beacon, not a data center.
Astra: Every NAV beacon has data point subroutines hidden deep inside it’s core system. I could tap into it and get what I need in order to perform the modification. I do have to be in the close proximity of it, roughly under three kilometers.

VA on steroids? More like a AI on the loose. Do I really want that? Oh what the hell…

Me: Ok, Astra, let’s do that. Prepare for the supercruise and set the course for the local NAV beacon. Just don’t start a civil war or something.
Astra: It should be perfectly fine Commander, as long as we maintain the optimal distance to it, and don’t get scanned by authority vessels while the link is active.
Me: Sure, what can possibly go wrong…

It was like flying into a bee hive. Shady traders, pirates, bounty hunters, occasional explorer and few system authority vessels. Didn’t want to act suspicious so I started doing what everyone else was, flying erratically. Dispatcher did have few engineered systems, unfortunately the thrusters were not one of them, which made movement in unpredictable patterns not easy. Not easy at all.

I would say that the pirates were getting anxious as they were scanning ships in the proximity of NAV beacon but couldn’t find anything worth their while. I had the cargo bay secured by some military grade cloaking systems some while ago, just before I went on a little vacation, so I would always come up empty on scanners even though that was far from true. If this was a anarchy system, these guys wouldn’t really care, but in here they just couldn’t take the chance of attacking a ship with the empty cargohold.

Just as I was making our next approach towards the NAV beacon, a beam of light pulsed through the space on the port side of my Python class ship. The light landed on the left side of the t7 transporter’s engines. The pulse made the beautiful bluish glow just above the ship’s left thruster. Good, they have shields, it’s gonna take some time to take it down considering it was Sidewinder that made the shot. The t7 broke course and started moving away from the NAV beacon. Sidewinder followed. Soon after couple of Eagles formed up with it.

Me: Astra, this is our chance. Set the approach vector to the NAV beacon. At 3km from the target, engage 1,000m orbit around the NAV beacon.
Astra: Affirmative

As soon as Astra confirmed, three Viper Mk IV fighters formed up in close formation and went after the pirates. System authorities. Good, the coast is clear.

Astra: Commander, distance from the target achieved. Engaging orbital maneuver.

I glanced at the radar one more time to make sure.

Me: Go ahead Astra, do your thing.
Astra: Activating short range antenna. Antenna activated. Establishing link with the NAV beacon. Link established. Tapping into the NAV beacon subroutines. Confirmed. Upgrade package downloading.

As the ship was set in short orbit around the beacon, I could see the fight going on in front of it’s bow few clicks from my position. The Eagles were soaring through the blackness of space giving the security guys in Vipers quite some trouble. Vipers are great fighting ships faster than Eagles, but not as manoeuvrable as they are. However, when flying in swarms the Vipers can be a force you don’t want to joke around with. The Sidewinder pilot was on transporter’s tail constantly counter measuring every move that the t7 pilot was trying to pull in order to break away and wake out.

Astra: Downloading 50% complete. Commander, more security vessels approaching from supercruise

Space ruptured and two flashes lit small portions of the vacuum. Two more green blips appeared on the radar and made they way towards the battlefield flying in parallel formation. Vultures. Small killing machines built to both fight small vessels and withstand the firepower of bigger ships. They were magnificent to look at. After few kilometers they broke formation, and one flew towards their comrades trying to fight off the Vipers, while the other went after the Sidewinder.

Oh-oh, not good, not good, I thought to myself.

Me: Astra, how much longer?
Astra: Downloading 60% complete

The Vulture that went towards the t7 came on fast and strong on the transporter’s predator. The Sidewinder was turned into spacedust before it’s pilot even realized what happened. The other one that went to help out his buddies in Vipers, started melting one of the Eagles shields. The other two took evasive action and started boosting away from the Vulture. Vipers could breath now and immediately went into full pursuit after them.

Me: Astra, damn it, how much longer?
Astra: 70% complete
Me: Situation is not looking good here, how about picking up the pace?
Astra: Commander, the link speed is fixed and cannot be altered. Please stand by.

Eagles had no chance of outrunning Vipers. They couldn’t turn back and engage the small Vipers wing as the Vulture was tailing them as well. They did try out maneuvering them but failed miserably and met their demise. The third Eagle whose shields were crushed was smoking and sparkling but managed to successfully wake out.

It was over. 3:0 for the security forces against the pirates. A lone Eagle was able to break out and hopefully made it back alive to one of the pirates heavens. t7 pilot was still alive. I could only imagine his face expression after realizing he was not made one with the void. Well, not this time at least.

Me: Astra, now would be a perfect time to complete the download and head out of here.
Astra: Commander, the download is 80% complete.

The security wing, now consisted of 2 Vultures and three Vipers Mark IV, assumed standard formation and initiated their approach back to the NAV beacon.

Me: Astra, let’s go, let’s go. Authority ships on approach.
Astra: Commander, the download is now 95% complete. 30 more seconds.
Me: Damn it, we don’t have 30 seconds.
Viper Mk IV pilot: Python class vessel, identify yourself.
Astra: Ship scan detected. Download 98% complete. t-10 seconds
Me: Setup Nabatean system as final destination. Initiate jump sequence. Activate Frame Shift Drive. Quarter impulse towards the security wing
Astra: Commander?
Me: Just do it!
Viper Mk IV pilot: Python class vessel, you’re placed under arrest. Shut down your engines and prepare to be boarded.

As we started slowly heading towards their fleet, the Vipers broke formation and started to maneuver into position to approach us from behind. The deadly Vulture duo was heading right towards us. ‘Ship deploying hardpoints’ was flashing in big fat red letters on one of the screens in the cockpit.

Astra: Download 99% complete.
Me: Full speed ahead, now!
Astra: Commander, Frame shift drive activating in 5, 4… Download completed. Deactivating short range antenna…2, 1… Engaging…

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