Pandora 0.5

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I watched every second of takeoff. There were small round windows in Mr. Spock's spherical sides, and I sat by one, my nose practically pressed to the glass. As Mr. Spock's powerful thrusters engaged, pushing us away from the planet's surface, my heart sped up. My pulse pounded a drumbeat, a chant: freedom, freedom, freedom. I'd longed for the freedom of space most of my life, and now it was right before me.

Up we went, powering through the atmosphere and then out again, out among the stars. I bit back a laugh. Wraith dwindled beneath us, quickly changing from planet to small, bluish ball, smothered in heavy, swirling clouds. Those clouds had earned it the name Wraith, for it seemed almost ghostly against the black backdrop of the universe. If it weren't for this solar system's bright, young sun, Wraith might well be unlivable.

"I hate getting off this planet," Aki grumbled. "All these damn grav-tracks."

"It's the commerce and tourism," I said quietly. "Wraith has to import a lot, and we have all sorts of rich and famous people living here. People don't like the idea of only one grav-track for all that traffic."

Aki snorted. "It's perfectly safe. It's an entire planet, after all."

"What the rich want, the rich get," I murmured, leaning my head against the frame of the window.

A moment of silence followed my words. Then Aki and Captain Chui began speaking in low voices, discussing star maps and nav-routes. I reached down, trailing my fingertips over the bars of Marbles' and Cake's cages. We're finally free, guys. Finally.

I don't know how long I sat there, wrapped in the wonder of all those stars spreading out around us. I couldn't believe I was here, sitting in this beautiful, gleaming starship. If I wanted, I could look over and study the star charts, displayed on a screen to Aki's right. I could explore the interior, smallish though it was, study instruments and controls I had only seen before in simulation.

"...should take that one," I heard Captain Chui said. "The queue isn't bad, it shouldn't be more than fifteen or twenty minutes until sling."

At that I turned, my excitement skyrocketing again. Slingspace! Yet another thing I'd only experienced via sims.

I'd heard stories once, that a very long time ago, when the people of Ancient Earth were still colonizing their own solar system, they believed FTL travel was impossible. The brightest physicists of the age had declared FTL in contravention to the laws of physics, and in a sense, they weren't wrong. Slingspace was transdimensional travel, not faster than light, but the end result was still that it got you from point A to point B faster than the speed of light, and that was what mattered in the end. Suffice it to say, there'd been some egg on some faces when the Starsystems Alliance had shown up.

Of course, slingspace had its quirks. Unlike realspace, slingspace had drag, which tended to up the danger quotient a bit. Though I had a feeling Aki could handle it just fine.

"Um..." I began, hoping I wouldn't sound like I was interfering. "You could go with Delta 5. There usually isn't a queue. A lot of people don't like to use it because it's so small and requires a lot of skill to get a powerful enough sling."

"Hmm." Captain Chui studied the star chart. "We could do that. We'd still be able to get onto our chosen course from there."

"Works for me," Aki said. "All right, little pup, you strap yourself in good. First sling is always a bit of a surprise."

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