The Corvanta 800

Stan stared in disbelief as alien ship after alien ship joined him at the starting line. His small rocket was dwarfed by a battle cruiser off his port bow. Thankfully, his craft’s obvious military disadvantage

Stan stared in disbelief as alien ship after alien ship joined him at the starting line. His small rocket was dwarfed by a battle cruiser off his port bow. Thankfully, his craft’s obvious military disadvantage was more than compensated for by its powerful engines.

At least he hoped it was.

As the last ship pulled into position a voice came over the communications network. “Ladies and Gentleman,” the computer droned monotonously through the translator. “Welcome to the ninth galactic-annual Corvanta 800.”

Stan pulled up a star chart for the region. The Corvanta races were legendary, not just for their incredible payouts, but because the only information the Corvantans gave out about the course prior to the race was the location of the starting line.

The translator whirred to life again. “This is an engine only race. Please refrain from destroying any competitors as ships caught firing a weapon will be immediately disqualified. The race will begin in thirteen….”

Stan tuned out the voice as he made a quick preflight check of his systems. The main engine was already warming up, and the maneuvering jets were primed. Content, Stan strapped himself to the chair and pulled down his goggles. The display flashed to life, giving him a digital representation of his ship’s sensor readings.

A few seconds later the translation unit made a high-pitched beep indicating the start of the race.

A handful of ships zoomed away in half a dozen different directions. It was a risky maneuver, if they chose the right direction they’d have a sizable lead, but if they chose wrong, they’d be extremely behind.

Stan turned his maneuvering jets for a full reverse and eased the main engine to life. His rocket shuddered, but stayed in place. A yellow structural warning flashed across his display. If the Corvantans didn’t tell them what the course was soon, the pressure would tear his ship apart.

Finally the translator beeped again. “The course will begin here at Corvanta Six, circle the Tuvor Black-hole, pass through the Ianwe Nebula, and end at the Corvanta Two space station.”

Stan switched off the maneuvering jets, and his ship rocketed forward. A quick adjustment to starboard and he revved the main engine to full power, blasting off toward the Tuvor Black-hole. He watched with pride as he passed ship after ship.

But he couldn’t celebrate just yet. He’d seen at least two ships head in this general direction before the course announcement.

And the battle cruiser was still close behind him.

As Stan’s rocket approached the black-hole, another small ship was just beginning its turn. They had opted for the safest route, staying well outside of the gravity-well.

Stan nudged the accelerator up a notch and aimed for the shortest path his sensors indicated he could survive. The pressure in the cabin rose. He switched on the maneuvering jets to keep from being dragged off course.

The structural warning flashed on his display again.

He cursed. “Just a few more seconds.”

The warning changed to orange as he reached the turn. Stan cut the maneuvering jets and pushed the main engine to the max. The rocket shuddered but shot forward.

The gravity from the black-hole dragged his ship around, swinging it toward the Ianwe Nebula.

Spots swam across his vision as Stan cleared the Tuvor Black-hole. He closed his eyes and shook his head to clear them.

When he opened his eyes they’d resolved themselves into ships. Two were behind him: the small ship on the outskirts of the black-hole and the battle cruiser still on his tail.

The third was still ahead of him.

Beyond that was the Ianwe Nebula, a gigantic opaque cloud in Stan’s sensor-vision. Once he entered it his instruments would be useless, he’d have to navigate by hand.

Stan was glad to see that he was gaining on the ship in front of him, another one-man rocket, but they would still get to the nebula before he did. He pulled his goggles up so his eyes had a chance to adjust.

The nebula glowed an iridescent mix of greens and blues. At first, it was too bright to look directly at, but Stan’s eyes attuned quickly. A small black silhouette neared the edge of the expanse of color.

A flash of harsh red blinded Stan for a second. Alarms beeped frantically around the cabin.

When Stan’s eyesight evened out again, the blue-green nebula had shifted to an angry yellow-orange and the ship in front of him had been reduced to debris.

He pulled his goggles down again. The Ianwe Nebula was still an unreadable cloud, but his sensors could detect the charging weapons on the battle cruiser.

Stan fired the maneuvering jets, narrowly avoiding the same fate as his competitor.

His display went dark except for the orange structural warning as the rocket entered the nebula. Stan pulled the goggles off in time to see another flash of red.

He made a few minor course corrections so the battle cruiser couldn’t extrapolate his flight path from the last sensor readings, and pushed his engines as hard as he could.

The yellow-orange light filling the cabin made even the manual instruments hard to read, but Stan trusted his instincts.

Suddenly, the nebula gave way to open space.

A Corvantan Destroyer loomed directly in Stan’s path. He fired the maneuvering jets and spiraled away from the battleship. And toward the Corvanta Two space station.

Stan tried to cut his engine and drift in, but it didn’t respond. There was barely time to brace himself before the rocket collided with the station.

Stan awoke to a Corvantan rescue crew prying his cockpit open.

One jabbered something, but the translation unit was too badly damaged to interpret.

Stan coughed and looked up at the alien. “Did I win?”

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