Starbug 1 (Story)

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Myk arrived in his little green Mini Cooper S, as we'd arranged, at the largish modern barn that I'd managed to rent from a friend of a friend of a friend to house my latest, and likely greatest, little 'Wave project. It had put me even more deeply in 'Dane debt, but it would be well worth the effort.

"Hey Myk," I called as he got out of the car, that we'd 'Waved a few months ago and called StarJumper, even though it had never seen a single star minute.

"Hey Jeph. What the hell are we doing out here, anyway?" He looked around. We were in the plains of Colorado, well north of Denver, so there wasn't a lot to see except a lot of rolling fields, the far off mountains, and the occasional shrub of far off tree groups.

"I'm getting ready to do what I said I'd do, Myk, when I got that can of goop at the convention."

"Oh shit, Jeph, you aren't..."

"Can't stop me."

Myk sighed. "Yeah, guess not. Especially since you've even stopped coming over for the bike rides. So... what is it?"

"Here, follow me." I led him over to the side door of the 'barn', and inside. The lights were out, only the telltale leaks around the doors providing any sensation of the space inside.

"OK, big dark room," he grumbled. So I hit the lights. And he gasped for a moment, lost in the awe of what I'd wrought.

It was large as Earth built Fencraft go. Sitting on four landing legs that looked almost too spindly to hold up its mass, most of it made up of three large spherical sections that had started life as large industrial tanks. The forward one had two large windscreens set in it, looking almost like lazy eyes. The center had some antennae, and a large hatch on the right side. The back one had two large turbine engines poking out the top, over a deck, and the bottom of that had two opened doors and a ramp leading inside.

Past that, it was painted a particular shade of Vegetation Green, and big white letters in Microgramma Black Extended proudly proclaimed the vehicle to be Starbug 1.

" you built a Starbug..." he said, still somewhat stricken. " do know you're likely to crash in it, right?"

I snorted. "Well, it was the only vehicle that, even with Nene and Geo's help, that I could build here without attracting undue attention from the authorities that would also enable me to stretch my legs." I slapped a hand on one of the legs, which thankfully didn't attempt to lean in this time. "Besides, it didn't really crash all that often. C'mon in, I'll give you the grand tour."

We went ahead and parked StarJumper inside the little hanger bay that I'd only half grudgingly given the space for inside, and I showed Myk around. The aft section was three decks full, although the uppermost was basically two engines bolted onto a flat spot that we'd cut into the large storage tank that made up the base hull. The center deck of that was a cargo bay, and the lower deck was the tiny little hanger, barely big enough to house two full size sedans.

The middle section was two full decks, plus some leftover. The main deck was the common room, with tables, chairs, and a miniature galley, but also with a tiny little workshop wedged into the back that could be sealed off from the rest of the ship. The upper deck had two cabins, each double occupancy, with a single refresher unit of sonic shower and low flo toilet unit.

The forward module was filled almost entirely with the four person cockpit, and computer and navigational equipment, mostly a collection of stripped and rearranged used laptops for the consoles, and larger desktop computers 'waved into something resembling a central computer core. This, I'd taken some pains to ensure that it wouldn't develop an AI spontaneously, mostly because I'm not sure how intelligent Holly would come out if he/she manifested.

We quickly settled into seats in the cockpit. Myk was looking understandably nervous. In fact, he'd completely failed to notice that the seat he'd chosen was currently the one kicking out bits of peanut shell and masticated toenail clippings. I'd given up after a day on the idea of excising whatever it was that was generating them. Nene took up the operations officer position right behind me.

"So, where are we planning on going for this little test flight?"

"Well, I was planning on us going to Cheyenne. If we make it in one piece, we can go to Godfather's Pizza up there and have a congratulatory pie, then come back to Denver and drop you off before I head up to space."

"And if we don't make it one piece?" Myk asked.

"Well, either we'll have less than a minute to get to our cars... or we'll be pretty flat before we know we're in trouble."

Myk groaned at that one. "Way to put me at ease, Jeph."

"I try. Nene, are we ready?"

"Turbines are green, Jeph. Geo is reporting that the power plant is rumbling smoothly, and in fact, he's kinda bitchy about it." She pulled her earpiece, where I could just hear the astromech's squealing tones.

"Right. Prepare for liftoff." I flipped the hold switches to OFF, and lifted the wheel a bit. The ship wavered a little bit, and we all got that curious floaty sensation you'd usually get on a boat on the water. "Open the pod bay doors."

Nene ticked the little garage door opener velcroed to her console, and the large warehouse/barn/ door ahead of us rolled to the side, giving us a door out to the wild blue yonder. I'd done the measurements, it was a tight fit but we'd pull it off. I carefully nudged us in line, and pulled back the throttle control to the first notch.

Or, at least, that was the intent. Instead, it stuck, and then slipped, and went to the third notch, and we shot towards the door like a solid shotgun slug. On top of that, the wheel decided it wanted to slip ever so slightly to the right. The end result was a resounding bang as we clipped the edge of the door on the way out... not enough to really cause us any problem, but with some violence that made us grab at our restraints.

"Well, that was damned odd... Nene?"

"Checking... no damage, Jeph. Any idea what that was?"

"No." I moved the throttle a bit, and the wheel seemed to not be pulling any longer. "I certainly hope that wasn't a quirk we'll have to deal with. It felt like Starbug wanted to hit the edge."

"Told you the 'Wave was a bad idea," Myk muttered under his breath. I didn't bother shooting him a look, we'd had that discussion before about it. Mostly after we'd waved StarJumper.

"Well, it appears to be fine." I aimed us towards Cheyenne, and opened up the throttle. Not all the way, I didn't want to annoy the farmers with sonic booms. We proceeded for a bit, I was watching the miles count by on the little GPS unit I'd glued to one corner of the console.

"Jeph... I'm picking up a couple of aircraft, closing in."

"Any idea who, Nene?"

"Looks like a couple of jet fighters. The radar profile is all wrong for Fen craft. And they're moving too fast to be civilian."

"Wonderful, must be the welcoming committee, so to speak. Put anything military frequency looking on the loudspeaker, and patch the radar through to the screen up here." Nene fiddled with it, and the radar paint popped up, showing two little red specks on it… and I realized, not much else. And they were closing pretty fast. A little blue label came up on one of them saying 'LCK DTCT', which meant they'd gone for a missile lock on us. That is came complete with a loud pinging noise that was the audible cue I'd decided on.

"Attention, unidentified aircraft! You are conducting an illegal flight, and are hereby ordered to land at the nearest airport and surrender yourself to authorities. Be aware that we are authorized to open fire if you do not do so."

I groaned. That patrol flight, despite our relative proximity to a major Air Force and National Guard facility, had gotten onto us pretty quickly, despite the fact that I'd been trying to fly us reasonably low and through fairly unpopulated areas. Yes, I'd gotten a pilot's license, but I really didn't want to advertise exactly what it was that I was piloting, especially since I hadn't registered the craft with the FAA. I picked up the ham radio microphone that I had clipped to the console, and clicked it on.

"Patrol flight, this is Starbug 1. What is it about my private flight that is illegal?"

"Ahem, Starbug One, you are proceeding with an unauthorized flight in what is currently restricted airspace. I repeat, you will land immediately, or we are authorized to open fire and force you down."

Myk stage whispered something to Nene, "I want off. Right now." He looked a bit upset. "Being accosted by the military was not what I had in mind when I agreed to come on the test flight." Normally, he was pretty unflappable, not quite Jamie Unflappable, but even this was a bit past, otherwise, he'd have thought it through.

Nene was obviously a bit more level headed at the moment, as she responded, "What, you can't be serious, they'd shoot you down before you got like half a football field from the bay doors." I toggled the PTT button again.

"Hold on a moment, we're having a rather serious discussion here about whether or not you're planning on shooting us down or not if we offload a passenger," I stated calmly into the microphone. I didn't expect it to really work, but I had to try. I wasn't intending to be shipped off while someone disassembled Starbug 1, or even worse, Nene and Geo. But Myk was another matter.

"Not likely. I repeat, you will begin landing immediately or we will open fire, acknowledge!" was the reply back.

"They sound pretty damned serious Myk, are you sure you wanna go out in StarJumper?"

"Well, moving into space wasn't what I had…" he started to say, as I heard the ping of the radar paint become the buzz of the alarm as the little radar label went red and read 'MSL DTCT'. I waited half a second, then yanked the wheel over, making the 'Bug tilt alarmingly for an instant.

"...HEY! They SHOT at us!" Myk exclaimed as he saw the contrail of the missile zoom past the 'Bug's windscreens, barely evaded by the quick last minute twitch. "Never mind dropping me off!" he exclaimed.

"Nice of you to see reason," Nene replied dryly. "Jeph, they've locked on to try another bout of Galaga with us!"

"Fuck this," I grumbled, and yanked the throttle all the way back even as I made Starbug 1 stand on its end. My seat slammed into my back as the engines went to 100% atmospheric thrust, and we could all hear the oddly muted 'bang' as the ship slammed through the sound barrier with all the subtlety and grace of a bowling ball tossed through a pane of plate glass. The radio was a sudden chatter of 'holy shit' and 'fucking goddamned' from the pilots of the jet fighters as we took off from them, quickly climbing to, and exceeding, their flight ceiling. It wouldn't have stopped them if they'd have decided to fire another missile at us, but thankfully they decided to break off rather than risk another loose missile.

Soon enough, the sky outside the windscreen darkened to black, signifying our achievement of orbit, and the edges frosted up. I unbuckled my harness, rotated the seat (which decided to make a rather intense squeaking noise as I did so), and wiped my hands down my face until they covered my mouth in an Optimus Prime mask made of fingers.

"Well, that was a fucking mess of a flight test. So much for pizza."

"Damn straight... I... damnit, I'll be upstairs," Myk spat out, and he left the cockpit, and I heard him climb the stairs to the modest quarters at the top of the middle module. I stood up, almost to follow him, then I slumped back into the pilot seat, resting an elbow on the armrest, and doing my best facepalm on that hand. The sigh I let out must've been heard on Venus.

"Jeph... it wasn't your fault," Nene said.

"No, I know... damnit, he wasn't supposed to come up with us, you know that. We'd talked about it when the 'Wave hit the scene... he's Fendane, this life wasn't what he wanted." I straightened, turning back around and punching up the radar picture of our plot of Earth orbit. "Any more indications of why, to put it crudely, the air superiority boys got their panties all twisted up into a pretzel?"

Nene glanced down at her console, not really bothering to comment on my colorful description, and pressed her Uhura earpiece deeper into her ear. "Some... looks like someone tried to get a group in Wisconsin who somehow got an old Russian space shuttle. They managed to hightail it while we were preflighting, and... yeah, thought so. They grounded all air traffic, and there's some chatter, part of it among some other contacts that are bouncing around trying to evade, that they're trying to get as many 'waved craft as they can before word gets out."

"Wonderful." I sighed, even more deeply. "Guess Myk's not getting back any time soon. Odds are they're gonna crack down, and crack down hard, on the 'Wave."