A nycomb named Carci works a dead-end job as a mechanic at the Yagurn mining colony. Yet, she maintains the dream of one day travelling amongst the stars.
This piece was written for TNT Dragon‘s birthday.
2421 words | 10 min
Yagurn might be relatively near Lednah, the homeworld of the Nycombian spacetrade kingdom called Neastia, on the galactic scale – but it was a mining colony nonetheless. Nothing of note ever happened on Yagurn. When not working, individuals occupied themselves either with electronic entertainment, their social herds, or wandering the spaceport.
Carci herself was drawn to the spaceport. The sheer variety of beings from other galactic civilisations, with such an assortment of forms and colours, was considered ugly by many of her kind. But she found it more interesting than the half-equestrian half-avian forms of her kind, all various shades of grey. What purpose did getting lost in fantastical worlds hold, when there was so much out there – taunting her from just beyond reach?
She loved to speak to spacefarers, nycombian and alien alike. Through their stories, Carci could feel almost as if she was an adventurer, travelling the galaxy – despite being trapped here, continuing the trade of her parents and their parents, fixing equipment and now ships. At least her current job provided her with the benefit of living on the space station, rather than the colony below. She had been reared down there, but life up here was measurably better, getting first access to imported goods before the rest was transported to the surface.
Her hooves clapping against the metal sidewalk, she approached the port control personnel gates. The guards, clad in a metallic armour from flank to upper shoulder and standing behind bulletproof glass, recognised and waved Carci through before she could even present her identification card. Their armour was only loosely fastened, worn only out of regulation. Their weapons lay on the rack behind them, and they only gave the screens in front of them a cursory glance as she passed through the scanners. Nothing of note ever happened on Yagurn.
Entering the cavernous room of the shipyard commons, the raucous cacophony that had been steadily growing over the course of her trip hit peak volume. With a feathered hand, she reached into one of the satchels hanging off her equine lower half and lifted out a pair of headphones. She turned them on, then slid them over her ear holes.
She had saved up for the better part of a solar cycle to be able to afford these noise-cancelling headphones, but they’d certainly been worth it. These top-quality gadgets made both visiting the spaceport and doing her work so much easier. On the outside, they detected sound while, on the inside, they emitted calculated sound waves. The intention was to destructively interfere with the noise and general hubbub of the crowds, while constructively interfering with distinguishable voices or sounds the AI deemed to be important. It even had built-in instant translation features that linked with her tablet, allowing for faster communication than before.
The commons had become a market of sorts, with semi-orderly lines of stalls filling the centre and lining the walls. Carci wandered it, picking up snippets of conversation here and there whilst scanning the crowd for someone who looked like they might have a good story.
After some time, she spotted a white fluffy thing that stood above the crowd, also seemingly searching for something. Brief glimpses between others in the crowd revealed that it stood on the back of a nycomb, granting it the height required to look over the crowds. Glancing at the time on her tablet, she decided that she had long enough before her shift started. She began to walk in that direction – which soon caught the attention of the creature. As she approached, it sat down sideways, while its friend turned sideways so that it would be facing Carci.
“Hello, I am Captain Turcean. And this is Fertul – my first mate.” The little one gestured to the nycomb, who bobbed his head in greeting.
“I am Carcila, but you can call me Carci.” She looked at the bipedal creature. Judging by the visible parts, its entire body was covered in a pure white fur. Its face was muzzled and topped with two big, pointy ears. The strangest part was the eyes, each of which held two pupils. This creature was a tariek. A fairly common sight, but by no means did this disqualify them from having interesting stories.
“Your uniform tells me you’re part of the station’s maintenance crew, but your eyes tell me you’re looking for a story.”
“You are correct. I am off-shift currently. You appear to be looking for something or someone?”
“Right now I was just looking around, but I am in need of crew.”
“Fertul and I have gotten a little tired of doing simple short-distance trading. Looking to expand my operations.”
Fertul made an affirmative whistle. “A sharp mind and a good eye, this one. Makes deals I would never have managed.”
“We want to try something more adventurous. Explore further, gain more wealth. We’ve saved up, I’ve taken a loan, and bought a new ship. Most of our original crew stuck with us, but a bigger ship and deeper space also necessitates a larger crew.”
“Where do you plan to go?”
“I hope to eventually visit all major civilizations, but for now I have negotiated access into the space of the Hydrtal Confederacy.”
“Oh, they’re a good place to start. Good resources, respected tech, breathtaking views.”
“My dear, every planet has amazing sights. Some more than others, yes. But in the time my crew and I spend on planets, we’ve seen countless amazing things. And it never gets old.” The tariek held out its hand in a fist, the fingers curling downwards. An interface appeared mid-air. It was garbled and indistinguishable to Carci, but Turcean proceeded to prod at it.
Suddenly the hologram became clear, with Carci having just enough time to figure out that the settings application was open before Turcean closed it and opened a picture app. He beckoned Carci closer, slowly scrolling through a gallery of images. Pictures of environments, pictures of him, pictures of him with a recurring group of individuals that Carci could only assume was his crew. The crew was mostly tarieks and nycombs, but had a few hydrtal and several miscellaneous figures.
Carci recognized some of the locations from what she’d been told of and shown before, while others escaped recognition. Yet she could only dream of seeing places such as these. Or could she?
“You wouldn’t happen to be angling towards asking me if I’d like to join your crew?”
Fertul made an amused chirp. “She got you.”
“Yes. You seem to be yearning for adventure, and my mechanics have requested a new team member for the bigger ship. I was expecting to find crew elsewhere, but have no desire to turn down a bright mind with a desire to learn and see more.”
“I’m afraid that I can’t just up and abandon my current job to leave with a bunch of strangers.”
“Of course! We will remain docked here for three more Nycombian Standard Days while I negotiate a deal that’ll see me shipping some stuff back to tariek territory, before returning with more goods around 30 days later. You can take that time to consider the offer and, if you accept, give your employers enough warning to find a replacement for your position.” A pause long enough for Carci to take it in. “Before we leave, however, it would be best for both of us if you were to see my ship and to meet the crew. The mechanics and engineers especially. They’re the ones who’ll have my ear on whether to hire you or not.”
Turcean looked at her expectantly. “Yes, that could work. I still have time before my shift, but we would have to be brief. Just the introductions. I will be able to have the tour and interview after my shift.”
“Well, let us do the introductions then!” The tariek said excitedly. He swung his one leg over Fertul’s back, so he now faced the same direction as Fertul. As much as it made Carci uncomfortable to imagine being ridden, it showed the respect Fertul held for the little one. Plus, the furball risked getting trampled if he walked on the ground in crowded areas – such as these commons-turned-market.
Together, they headed to the docks. At the security gates, Carci quickly passed through the employee lane and had to wait for the other two who went through the normal gates.
Just after this, Turcean suddenly glanced towards the device on his wrist. A garbled hologram appeared, before he tapped it. “Hello, Ikrit. What’s up?” A pause, as if listening. “I’m just past the gates, on the way back to the ship. I’ve got a potential new member for your team.” “What!” Carci now noticed a small device hidden in the fluff of his upright ear. Far more inconspicuous than her own audio device. “You’re certain it’s not a malfunction?” “Of course, sorry.” “We will be there shortly.”
Both Carci and Fertul looked at him expectantly. “Best that we get to hangar 14 as soon as possible. I’ll explain while you’re galloping.” The two nycombs obliged him, and he explained: “The ship’s navicomputer detected an all-frequency distress signal from the king’s station in its orbit of Lednah, and then many more from the planet below it.” Carci noticed many others moving urgently through the hangar passageways. “In the time it took for them to make absolutely sure that the system was malfunctioning, distress signals began to be broadcast across two more systems.” A contingent of armed guards galloped past them in the other direction. They wore no armour – that’d be little use when manning a fighter craft. The station had several for defence, docked near hangar 1. “If the pattern continues, Yagurn will be next.”
Eventually, they reached hanger 14. The ship was not as big as she had expected, but it was still bigger than any she had flown in. And it was well-made if the outside was anything to go by. The ship was a distinctly wyvenarian make, but Carci could make out some third-party upgrades – such as state-of-the-art hydrtal deflector shields and weaponry. Wyvenarian engineering and hydrtal tech. A potent mix.
“Captain!” a high-pitched voice shrieked. A tariek came sprinting from the ship, its tiny legs carrying it faster than should be possible. “The port authority is calling for all armed civilian ships to aid their fighters. Ikrit is prepping the ship for departure.”
“Did they give any indication of what we’re against?”
“No. I don’t think they know either.”
“Very well.” As they neared the ship’s ramp, he turned to Carci. “Do you want to come with?”
“If the station’s defence falls, so shall the station. I will hopefully be of use to you.”
He wordlessly nodded and Fertul embarked the ship, the doors closing behind them with a sense of foreboding finality. Carci followed them to the bridge. She got some glances from the crew, but they quickly returned to what they had been doing.
Turcean dismounted Fertul and began issuing orders while Fertul took a station at a dashboard near what was clearly the captain’s chair. Within moments, they had undocked from the station.
The ship swivelled, bringing into view a gathering group of ships. The nycombian fighter craft gathered in a formation at the centre, while a hodgepodge collection of various civilian vessels – both armed and unarmed – gathered around this, forming something akin to a blockade. All facing the direction of Lednah – the home planet of the Nycombs.
Turcean’s ship maneuvered towards this group, joining the outer ranks.
“Thank you, Turcean of the Leonem Album,” a voice came over the open coms with the port control tower, “and thank you to your crew.” Nothing more was said.
The dread in the air was palpable as all eyes turned to the tactical display above the table in front of the Turcean. It displayed a map of nycomb space. More and more distress signals ignited in the Telnah system, crying out for aid that could not come in time.
Carci closed her eyes and prayed to the gods of her ancestors.
A flash of light so bright that Carci could see it through her eyelids emitted from the centre of the space-barricade – reflecting off every surface on the bridge of the Leonem Album. At a shout from the captain, the ship swivelled around to see the wrecked remains of the Yagurn Station Defense Force. The fighters’ remains floated inside a massive cloud of glowing… something. Carci had no other way to describe what she saw other than some beast made of energy.
The defenders had barely enough time to decide on a course of action before a dense cloud of metal spikes materialized around it. With a sweep of energy-wings larger than the Yagurn Station itself, these spikes were sent hurtling in every direction – instantly shredding ships nearer the centre.
In the time it took for Turcean to order the shields to be set to full ballistic deflection mode, and for him to swerve the ship around as many projectiles as possible, most other ships made their last desperate decisions. Some turned tail and attempted to flee, others remained stationary and opened fire – resigned to their fates.
“All projectiles are passing right through it!” came a shout from a nycomb at one of the stations to the side.
“Ikrit, load those special torpedos,” Turcean spoke into his chair’s arm.
“Already done, captain,” responded a disembodied voice.
“Fire!” A series of hisses were heard over the comms. Projectiles Carci could not identify streaked past the bridge and towards the beast. As the first reached the energy cloud, the captain jabbed a finger at the hologram in front of him. The torpedo detonated in a reverse manner – an implosion drawing some of the beast’s energy towards it, rather than an outward explosion.
This caught its attention. Before the second torpedo could detonate – faster even than the blink of an eye – it was in front of the Leonem Album. Carci involuntarily took her last gasp of air as this beast loomed over them ere the ship was split in twain.
A rush of air, and then silence with the deathly cold of space. Carci knew she would freeze to death before burning up upon entering the atmosphere of Yagurn, but her final moments were dominated by two things. Fear for what fate awaited the Nycombian empire and the galaxy, and sadness that she had come so close to the life of adventure she dreamed of…