A Racetrack Chronicles One-Shot

Simon J. Dodd

The battlestar Triton, arriving at Libran.

Seventeen months before the Fall.

Scorpia has no moon. And so it had been into Libran's tiny outer-moon, Herse, that engineers contracted by Scorpion Shipyards had burrowed to create a dry-dock facility. The Triton had been built here, but today, she was merely visiting. The stop would afford Racetrack a few hours of liberty with which to visit her sister planetside—but duty before fun, she thought. And this was at least interesting duty.

It was the single-largest enclosed space that Racetrack had ever seen. The size of the outer-doors had been a hint as the Raptor approached the facility, but they had been directed through a smaller utility-access, and as they pulled through the last of several airlocks and antechambers, her mind rebelled at the sight. It defied belief. The far wall was some ten miles ahead of them; floor to ceiling, the chamber had to be a mile high. It could have swallowed the vale and fells that surrounded her hometown whole. With rough-hewn rock walls that still wore the scars of excavation, encrusted everywhere with protruding hatches, tanks, and structures of every kind, it looked more like an open-pit mine than a shipyard. And yet… Floating in its cavernous midst was a mercury-type battlestar, and behind that, what looked like the skeleton of a valkyrie-type. Each basked in floodlights that seemed to come from all directions—the chamber was so big that it was hard to pinpoint the sources—and was hugged by gargantuan metal arms that descended from a gantry aloft before splaying into a thousand branches that seemed to grow into the ships like parasitic trees.

"Gods, this is pressurized?" Next to her, Spitfire was dumbfounded—her mouth, too, ajar at the sheer scale of it all.

"Yeah. Partial press, anyway; about .6, .7 atmo, it's supposed t'be like a mountaintop."

"Holy mother of Zeus."

"It makes sense, if you think about it. I've read about it; just never thought I'd see it. The moon's small enough that the grav's negligible, too. It's perfect for construction, heavy-duty repair, that kinda thing. You can move something big around without a crane, and you don't need encounter-suits or anything bulky or confining to work on the exterior, just an O2 feed."

As the Raptor drifted closer, they could see that the Mercury's near-side flight-pod had been detached and floated separately, a few dozen meters off its mounts, seeming to twinkle from the cloud of workers and welding-torches floating around it.

"It's not the only one, I think Rice has one too, but this is the big—"

"Raptor 1098, harbormaster; please identify and confirm haul and destination." Crap. Lost in wonder at the view, she'd forgotten about that.

"Harbormaster, 1098; my call-sign's Racetrack, ECO is Spitfire. We are inbound from the battlestar Triton to the Agamemnon to embark personnel." She glanced back at her fares; two Captains, a Major, and a familiar-looking Lieutenant-Colonel wearing what looked like brand-new red trim—oh, it's Appleby! I knew she looked familiar!—shared the cabin. "Harbormaster, ah…" She gawked out of the canopy again and tailed-off, a little lost for words. "Help me out: Do I call the Ag's LSO or do you clear me? Do we just follow a standard landing-pattern or—"

"1098, I see you in the roster now, and I can clear you. Proceed headway-speed to the prow of Agamemnon's sta'b'd dorsal flight-pod and land on pad 1. Keep your eyes open and steer well clear of the portside, there's quite a lot of traffic in the dock."

"Wilco." She released Xmit, rolled the Raptor seventy degrees, and tapped the ventral thrust pedal to let them drift across the centerline and slightly aloft. She turned around toward the cabin. "If one of you wants a better view, there's standing-room for someone up here."

The Major and the Lieutenant-Colonel traded looks and hand-gestures. Either the former conceded or the latter won, Racetrack couldn't tell, and moved forward to look out of the canopy."

"It's Appleby, isn't it, sir?"

"Yes. Have we met?"

"Briefly. When me and her"—she nodded toward Spitfire—"started at Poseidon, you babysat our company while we were aboard the Triton for a couple of days."

Appleby glanced at Spitfire briefly, and smiled. "Ah. You're the Aerilan who threw up on every jump. I remember that. Told you we'd thrash it out of you."

"So you're gonna be, what, the Ag's second officer I'm guessin'?" Spitfire asked.

"Right. We'll have her out of here in, say, a month? Then a shakedown back over to Scorpion, a few more weeks rigging-out after that, then she'll be back out there." She returned her gaze to the ship as Racetrack corrected their drift and rolled level for approach.

"Harbormaster, Racetrack; would prefer hands-on approach, if you don't object?"

"Oh, here we go," Spitfire muttered.

The corner of Appleby's mouth curled up; "should I be worried?"

"Ensign Edmon'son's tryin' ta squeeze every ounce of experience out of this year."

"Hmm," Appleby squeaked. She reached down and patted Racetrack's shoulder; "good for you."

"Racetrack, harbormaster; without objection, proceed," the wireless squawked.

"Roger." Racetrack nudged the throttle open slightly for a moment. "Good for me, sir?"

"I've been pushing our new CAG"—she jerked a thumb toward the Major—"since we left Aerilon. The autolanding stuff's fine as a rule, but we're relying on it way too much. We need to be doing it manually much more often."

"That's easy to say when you don't fly, sir," the Major said, evidently listening.

Racetrack glanced back at Appleby's jacket; no wings.

"All due respect, sir," Spitfire said, "but the Major's got a point. Landin' on one of these things"—she motioned toward the Agamemnon—"at cruisin'-speed under thrust? It's not as easy as it looks."

"I've every confidence in our pilots, sir," the Major said, "but all the statistics say that autolanding's much safer."

"Yeah? What do they about how safe it is when it fails and you're trying to land with a raider on your six?" Racetrack asked.

"Exactly," Appleby said. "We're getting too dependent on machines; doesn't anyone think that sounds familiar at all?"

He shrugged. "It's been decades. I don't think they're coming back, sir."

"I—whoah." The Raptor shook slightly as it touched the pad, and Appleby braced against the bulkhead.

The Major golf-clapped. "Well done, ensign."

"Barely felt a thing," Appleby smiled, as the elevator began its descent. "Very nice. You said Edmonson, right?"

"Edmondson, sir."

"Hmm. You got you next assignment orders yet?"

"We're putting in at Scorpia in a few weeks; we'll get our assignments when we arrive. I'm sure they've made a decision, but not sure where we're going yet, sir."

"Might have to put in a request for you. Could use more like you."