Local connection set up. Location: Abraham Lincoln, orbiting Earth, Sol system. Timestamp 05:50 Nov 20 3302.
One final stretch of 12,000 light years lay between my and home. With only days remaining, I set my sights on an improbably distant star, with a tiny dot of blue orbiting it. This is the final log of Colonia and Back Again, in which I return to Earth and, hopefully, complete my rather insane mission.
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.
Looking at the 12,000 light years to cover, after having bridged the 10,000 straight from Colonia to Skaudai, seemed like it wouldn’t be too much of an issue. However, upon setting out on the final leg, I immediately started to see my average jump distance decrease. Averages slowly dropped from near 15 to barely above 14, with a 10.2 appearing quite early. Blue and white stars, so common close to the core, again became the exception rather than the rule and gradually faded into a rare treat. The shortest jump range I noticed for the rest of the trip was 9.97 light years.
I realized shortly after leaving that Skaudai actually sits a few hundred light years under the galactic plane, so my second 1,000 light year plot bright me up into the galaxy proper. Interstellar dust again obscured a lot of my vision of the galactic core, and, more surprisingly, was actually a dark band against the sky as I looked out toward my destination.
Knowing that I was on the last leg, seeing that jump ranges were getting shorter and thus the number of jumps getting larger, and generally getting nervous about the timetable made it so I actually made great time. I sailed past the Eagle Nebula with barely a wave; I took screenshots of some stellar oddities then continued on my merry way; I completed the entire ALfheim arc of Sword Art Online in one night.
The route started to get less linear as the Galaxy Map navigation was forced to take trips out at angles to keep a high jump range.
I finished the Gun Gale Online arc of SAO and had 1,100 light years to go. I watched an episode of Citation Needed then fired up the livestream. I invited people to watch as I neared Earth. Either I’d complete the mission, get paid, and walk away happy… or it would all come crashing down.
Signs of civilization started to filter in. First, an Unidentified Signal Source floating in space (which usually signifies the wreck of a ship or some other random encounter). Then, the HIP designation for a system (specifically, HIP 94296). Then the first actual named system I’d seen in a week, and the second in three weeks, Brabara. Then Wat Yu, a system I’d been to before. Then – two weeks, six days, and a few hours after setting out – Sol lay in my sights.
My hands were shaking, and my vision had slowly tunneled over the final few systems. I forced myself to take deep breaths. Even in Sol, even just kilometers away, it could all go so wrong. If I got scanned again, it could very well fail the mission. But in order to not get scanned, I planned on taking the smuggler’s approach – boosting through the mail slot into the station at a high speed so a scan wouldn’t complete – and with aim even slightly off I could end up as a 300 meter per second impact crater on the front of the station.
But there was nothing to do but approach. I exited supercruise to the side of the station and swung around to the front, requesting docking clearance on the way. Then I turned my nose to the station, took a deep breath, and boosted, then boosted again. I deployed my landing gear and throttled down. Calling out my actions to the stream and as a way to bleed off my own nervous energy, I entered the slot at a speed of 155 meters per second and directed myself to docking pad 24. I approached the pad rather fast but managed to keep myself from looking like an idiot. I lined up on the center of the pad, descended… then the station took control and set me safely on the pad.
I made it.
Ms. Kiara Müller thanked me for the ride and paid me the promised 61,920,000 credits (which in and of itself was in question as the developers decreased passenger payouts; the same mission goes for around 34 million now). I turned in over 8 million credits of exploration date resulting in a full-trip total of 30,737,124 credits – decently over 90 million on total trip income. At the end of it all I had over 136 million credits in the bank.
I’d been planning on selling my ship in order to help raise money for the Beluga Liner, but I was convinced, at least for now, to keep it. Its beaten and battered exterior told the tale of the fifty thousand lightyears and over three thousand jumps that had taken me from humanity’s cradle to its newest home and then back. My trip took nearly the full three weeks I was allowed, and actual time spent in-game exceeded 55 hours (after roughly adding up running time of everything I watched). I was thinking of joining up with the Christmas Carriers Convoy headed back out to Colonia in a few weeks, but… I think I’ve had my fill of the long-range stuff for now.
And… now what? My story doesn’t end here. This may be the end of Colonia and Back Again, but Elite: Dangerous is filled with so many stories. Stories like Kiara Müller’s, of adventures taken far and then back home. Stories like the Christmas Carriers Convoy. Stories of a galactic truck driver, carrying a cargo hold full of some material to some other place. Stories of pirates and bounty hunters, and stories of honest military men and women making an honest living fighting alongside the powers they believe in. Stories of explorers – actual explorers, not just a long-haul bus driver like I was – exploring the farthest reaches of the galaxy, going where no one has gone before and looking upon it with new eyes.
I encourage you to find your own story… and maybe, one day, I’ll be able to read it.
Safe flying, Commander.
Postscript: Elite: Dangerous allows players to submit news stories that will be published on GalNet, either across the galaxy and on the main GalNet page or in individual systems. The story of Kiara Müller’s trip has been published in The Sol Herald as well as, I’m told, somewhere in Colonia.