GalNet connection set up. Source system: Colonia. Recipient system: Sol. Ready to transmit. Timestamp 06:15 Nov 11 3302.
Here it is – the final outbound leg, two fuel depots to go and then… the fringes of the galactic core, and Colonia, await.
I have three weeks to bring a passenger 22,000 light years away and then back again. I have next to no long distance experience and don’t have a good ship for it. This is an Elite: Dangerous adventure.
Once in space, it becomes obvious that my previous use of the term “The Milky Way” for the splash of brightness in one corner of the sky is becoming woefully outdated. The core is becoming so indistinct that it’s beginning to feel more like a large, dazzling nebula – dust and clouds and billions of stars, no longer just a single band of coherent light. There’s less space dust in the way as well. The phrase “into the black” is often synonymous with deep space, but the term feels woefully rural in here. We country bumpkins can’t imagine how bright deep space is with so many stars so close together.
Strike Witches has finished and I’ve started watching Appleseed. Two thoughts: I’d forgotten how PS2 the character models and animation in this movie are, and I hate to say it but I had a moment where, after twenty-four episodes of Strike Witches, it was weird watching a protagonist who wore pants.
I’m starting to see a lot more blue stars out here. They’re still somewhat spaced out, and there are plenty of cooler yellow and orange stars as well, but red stars seem to be a thing of the past now. These big stars – particularly O and A class stars – are so big that my fuel tank is typically full while I’m still swinging around it and in the corona. Maximizing available time to cram in as many jumps as possible is forcing me to break my habit of diving deep into the corona on every star, and probably even skipping scooping a few.
After a while I got close enough to plot a course to the fifth signpost system, but apparently it’s a sparse region of space – it took almost a minute for the computer to plot a course of scoopable stars, and the course got… loopy at the end. I’ve checked the mission status; Ms. Müller is still happy, as am I, but we’re now past the halfway point in time. I’m going to have to try even harder to make it back to Sol on time.
As I neared the fifth signpost, two things happened. First, I finished Appleseed and switched to its sequel, Ex Machnia, with sufficiently PS3 level graphics and models. Second, I belatedly realized the reason for the interdiction excitement I’ve been having – I must have something in my cargo hold, given to me by a passenger just before leaving the bubble. It’s nothing I needed and having cargo actually makes NPC pirates spawn, so out the hatch it goes. Sorry for polluting this uninhabited system; may the cargo container eventually fall on a planet and seed life to it. From the system-by-system log I’m keeping: “…hopefully I won’t have any more pirate trouble.”
I docked at Gagarin Gate uneventfully. (That’s not how narratives work!) I sold off more exploration data (2,047,098, totalling 10,317,062 Cr) and took a minute to look at my battered ship. White paint has worn away to the dull metal beneath and my ranking emblems are wearing off.
A word on Pilot Federation ranks. On the right you see the Combat rating of Mostly Harmless, in the middle my Trader rating of Broker, and on the left my Explorer ranking of Trailblazer. I try to keep them all updated to my highest rank (though if I rank up to Novice in combat I may hold on to Mostly Harmless – hoopy froods know why), but I actually ranked up to Pathfinder in the exploration track at the first or second stop along the way while selling off exploration data. I’m already more than two-thirds past that so I fully expect to hit Ranger by the time I get back – putting it higher than my Trade rank, which I consider to be my primary profession. Of course, 62 million from a passenger contributes to that, so… maybe I’ll rank up there, too.
My next stop is in a nebula so distant that it doesn’t seem to have a name, and which looks to be very crowded. I jetted off and enthusiastically made my way. Appleseed Ex Machina finished and I threw in Appleseed Alpha – haha just kidding, that one’s garbage. I started watching Space Battleship Yamato 2199, and over the course of the next couple nights actually streamed the trip live and watched it with some friends online, which was a fun experience.
This close to the core, once you’re an AU away from the star the light from the core is almost more than the primary star in the system itself. What would it be like to live on a planet this close to the core? Is there a nighttime? Do you get heat on that side of the planet comparable to what you get from your own sun? And what if the ecliptic is in line with the galaxy’s – for half the year your nighttime faces toward the core, for the other half it faces the rim. What wild seasons would such a planet have? Is it even possible?
This sort of thing filled my view for the rest of the trip. No more loopiness – straight lines, 14+ light years a jump, maximized distance over time. The approach to the nebula (which doesn’t even have a name, near as I can tell) contrasts nicely with the approach to the Lagoon Nebula.
Docked at Polo Harbour, sold 2,243,921 in exploration data (total: 12,560,983). No offense, Polo, but the only thing making you special is that the next stop is Colonia. I took back off immediately, leaving the settlement behind.
I pretty much stayed on (figurative) autopilot the rest of the way in. You can’t tell from the angle I’m taking Galaxy Map screenshots at, but this last leg is 4,500 light years – almost as long as the approach to Eagle. I’m hoping for it to be less, ah, eventful though. I made sure to stop at Eord Flyuae ZV-Q c7-93, though, and get some video. It’s among the closest I’ll come to the core, as the jaunt from the sixth signpost to Colonia actually runs tangent to it.
Now, my autopilot isn’t to say that I didn’t catch a few interesting sights along the way. Some nice bright O class stars, a tight clustering of a bunch of different class stars. Selfie! Then moving on. Until I got to Eol Prou RS-T d3-710, and instead of a sector name and alphanumeric destination for my next just, I saw just, “Colonia”. It’s been over a week and a half since I saw a properly named system. I fired up my video recorder again (and will post that at the end of this entry) and headed in.
On entering the system I honked my Advanced Discovery Scanner and made my way for the Jaques Visitor Beacon. I was sorely out of practice approaching a spacebound destination and couldn’t keep my speed right, instead slowing down way too much, but finally dropped. There was Jaques Station in front of me, and just beyond it the beacon, a Beluga peeling away from it. I scanned it, and Kiara Müller lets me know that she’s ready to turn back to Sol. Anticlimactic, really.
I went in to dock at Jaques and my “week and a half since civilization” showed through again as I scraped my belly entering the station. Shields took it though, so no damage, and finally I set down on a landing pad and just had one of the most cathartic sighs.
I sold 2,823,336 credits of exploration data (nabbing myself an unexplored star system on the way) for a total of 15,384,319… and a rank up to Ranger. Add this to the 62 million for safe passenger return, and this whole trip is in and of itself only just shy of Beluga money. I can nearly taste it. Add what I already had in the bank and the sell value of the Orca and I’ll be well on my way to outfitting it.
Fortunately ship sales price isn’t affected by distance flown. I’ve gone well over 25,000 light years what with all the macro zig-zagging between fuel depots and micro between systems, and it’s showing every parsec. Where the Trailblazer patch once shone proudly, you can now see that there’s… some sort of Pilot Federation patch on it. You can’t even make it out as exploration, let alone the specific rank.
Next time I log on, it’s headed back out the mail slot of Jaques and back home. Back to where the mission began; back to where humanity began. Back across the cosmos, to Earth.
See you soon, you blue marble you.