On The FastTrack

The FastTrack station on the top floor of the Admiral's offices looks a lot like a subway station. When Doc and Steve arrive, they find themselves amongst a body of Indigo-clad officers milling about, waiting for the next train.

"Gonna catch the game this afternoon?" asks one of them, idly.

"Which one?" Doc asks.

"Haha, which one!" snorts the man, who adjusts his magnifying specs. "The Freeball game. You know, red shirts versus yellow shirts?"

"Ah, yes. How could I forget."

"I'm bettin' on red this trip. That Alphred MacDonnel may be a ringer, but hot damn can he smack those balls. You ever freeball?"

Doc resists a snicker. "Occasionally."

"Yeh, I freeballed a lot in school. Never got me any notice, even though I was a starting thruster."

"Sorry to hear that."

"Hey, you got a little brains in your hair."

Doc swipes at his head, feeling around for anything disgusting. He knocks a slimy bit of something out of his bangs. "Thanks," he says. He looks at the small spot of blood on his fingers before wiping them on his already stained uniform. I need a shower, Doc thinks. A sonic shower, with bleach.

"No problem. Happens to everyone. Well, not everyone, just the ones that survive, and even then only sometimes. You get the idea. I mean it never happened to me, it's just that it's not an entirely uncommon occurrence. Getting brains in your hair, I mean. Pirates, was it?"

"Three of them."

"Three! Well, good for you surviving that! Excuse me," he coughs as he decides to wait for the train somewhere else.

The train arrives, mercifully. Doc and Steve get on last, taking seats far from anyone else. It's a lot like a subway train, except there's only one car, no driver, and it doesn't smell like sewage, just bureaucratic taint. The seats are at first comfortable and welcoming but then sink in to the cold, hard chunk of congealed support gel.

The ceiling dings and the doors close. The train rockets off down a dark tunnel, maintenance lights blurring across windows. The train comes to a stop in a heartbeat. A sea-foam of white and indigo uniforms splashes into the car. The lights streak again. Thirty seconds later, the foam washes back, and the process repeats its self.

The FastTrack trip takes some time.

Doc has to relieve the monotony. "I can't believe the size of this place."

"It was carved out of an asteroid," Steve replies. "Well, more like extruded. They melt down a dense iron asteroid, or in this case several, shape the superstructure magnetically, infuse it with carbon, then dip it in Titan's atmosphere to cool it down."

"So it's almost a whole planet?"

"Well, think of it more like a whole city, about the size of Manhattan, except one giant, porous hunk of city."

The track takes time.

The trolley stops. The door lights up a lavender circle. Doc and Steve disembark. The stop is within a series of alphanumerically labeled hallways and overpriced concession stands, much like an airport. Doc and Steve follow the little purple circle of light hurriedly, as if late for a flight.

The Starboard Bay is a cavernous kilometer tear in the side of this hollow asteroid, symmetric to another port-side. The floor is twenty stories below them. The ceiling is up thirty more. The purple circle leads them up a spiraling mezzanine overlooking the parking garage of thousands of bourge-mobiles all hovering in a geometrically arranged pattern.

The purple light leads them further up the mezzanine to a glass elevator, which takes them closer to the ceiling. Up here is a smaller shelf of the bay, inset and well beyond the line of sight from outside. The Interceptors are on the deck in formation; five groups of four, each backed by a commanding gunship not mentioned on the brochure. It strikes Doc as something a bit more than a defensive force.

The purple light leads them on a path they wish they had a car to take, or at least bikes. Doc toughs it out, but Steve needs a breather.

"God, why didn't I buy those jetboots?"

"Do you really need a reason not to buy jetboots?"

"$20 billion dollar vacation cruise?"

"Point taken."

They continue the hike up the spiraling mezzanine. The Fighter Bay is busy with technicians cleaning and preparing their ships. The lead group in the formation has the largest, heaviest armed and armored gunship of all of them. Steve and Doc head for it.

A violet-uniformed captain is tearing apart one of his mechanics. "Whadd'ya mean you can't install a modular expander? Damnit, I want that field modulation unit up and running before lunchtime. I don't care what you have to pull. Tear out the CO2 converters if you have to. I'd rather ride around in a monkey suit than wind up with hot plasma in my ass."

The mechanic goes away and the Captain turns his attention to the approaching visitors. He's far from a clean cut uniformed officer. He's wearing a leather jacket over his grease-stained uniform. He's face is covered in a forest of stubble which looks to have been burned down by the unlit cigar he turns in his mouth.

"What the hell do you want?" he asks, blowing a small dustcloud of unfragrant ash.

"We're looking for Captain Autopilot," Doc answers.

"And why the hell would she want to see you?"

"The Admiral has cleared us to ammend her medical report. We're missing a few x-rays."

"X-rays? Really?" He grows a tight smile, as if it's the best thing he's heard all day. "Autopilot!" he calls into his collar. He listens for a moment. "You're grounded, that's what." Another pause. "Got a couple'a meds down here say you don't have your x-rays." He almost laughs at what is surely some swearing on the other end. "Well, get down here and talk with them about it. You ain't flyin' until you get this cleared up." He seems to be ignoring more comments as he returns his attention to Doc and Steve. He smiles at them. "She'll be right with you boys." He makes another collar call as he turns to leave. "Ritchie? You're flight leader until urther notice. Get on station."

Doc and Steve wait around the command gunship. The technician earlier chewed out returns with a hovercart full of tools and equipment. He begins tearing into the side of the ship with a loud pneumatic ratchet.

"What the fuck is all this about? My records were signed off by Admiral Spaaz himself!" They hear from behind them, surprising them over the ratchet racket. Doc and Steve turn to see Veronica standing behind them. Her expression turns to total surprise as she recognizes them. "You?!"


Doc said...

"I can't tell you how glad I am to see you Captain Autopilot! Is there somewhere we could talk for a few minutes? I think can clear this up very quickly and you can return to duty."

Take her aside and swap stories. This is what I know and where I've been, the short version, but mostly what has become of her? Where's the Brother Pear? Is she okay? Can we help?

After that make plans to meet later at our room. Then head there and sit down with the five of us, preferably sober, and talk about our options.


ERR said...

Sorry about the delay, I keep getting side tracked and the post seems to be growing into three seperate ones. I'll have some more story soon.

Doc said...

When you get the chance. No hurry.