Of particles and pirates

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Long gone are the days of old, when space exploration required years of sowing and decades of reaping. The Van Raamsdonk principle changed everything. Unwinding the space-time weave took tremendous amounts of energy, but antimatter reactors were up to the job. They proved pivotal for the construction of the first quantum gates. In essence, inducing the entanglement of origin and destination produced a wormhole that dwarfed light years.
Colonies were built, and Humanity prospered. Tales of vast riches that awaited those who dared to venture into uncharted territory spread like a pandemic. Millions jumped at the promise of a fresh start on distant worlds, fleeing from the scarce land and resources that rising sea levels and 12 billion earthlings entailed. Sadly, it was all a pipe dream, diffused across the media by industries seeking cheap labor.
The real money was in mining, which was obviously dominated by large economical entities. The Ore Federation and the De Beeks Group (DBG) were the biggest players in this field. Soon, as in all lucrative enterprises, greed took hold; dispute over highly coveted asteroids, planets and moons quickly turned sour, and unsavory tactics were employed to gain control. Piracy abounded, so bottom line-conscious individuals were quick to put it to ‘good’ use – bounties were discretely advertised on certain commodities, ranging from intel on recent discoveries of valuable ore deposits, to the hijacking of minerals in high demand.
Among the most (in)famous marauders of the deep black sea were Julian Cleese, an ex-Royal Space Force pilot turned disgruntled miner turned occasional corsair, and Barbara Rawls, a quantum cryptographer with an MIT degree who had fled Earth after hacking the Agency’s mainframe – formerly a duo, they parted ways after what their respective crews called the “HeLa” incident. Both their tempers tended to ignite when the other one was mentioned.
Aboard the Cheeky Damsel, Julian’s ship, news of yet another outbreak of L-virus on Genus12 raised eyebrows, albeit asymmetrically; they were all aware that big pharma used outer rim worlds to test their new vaccines, inoculating some (un)lucky few, who had front row seats to the demise of their loved ones and acquaintances. “Someone needs to put an end to these endeavours”, Julian sighed, “Be on the lookout for PharmaCare’s quantum signature, Henry” – “I will”, the kid replied. Henry had taken over Barbara’s job as the ship’s decrypter, an essential trade for any group looking to cash-in on sensitive secrets or intercept shipments in transit. A college dropout, he had always preferred video games over real-life ‘games’. All quantum folds produced ‘creases’ in the space time fabric, upon which one could piggyback someone else’s wormhole – if the mission was worth it; this entanglement was also part of a decrypters’ job, some called them quantum navigators because of this. Countless things could go wrong, but the quiet mind was not part of a pirate’s perks.
Downtime was usually spent on Artemis E, one of the moons of Gaia, in the Victor galaxy, a binary system. Victor sat on the axis of a highly sought route, since the first diamond-cored planets were discovered a few light years away.
As Barbara looked at the docking station her eyes rolled immediately after seeing the Damsel was also there. Not crossing paths with Julian was almost impossible, since there was only one half decent bar there. And she needed a drink after that last mission.
Suddenly, her ships’ comms link started beeping – it was one of the Federation’s agents, who usually had mouth-watering bounties for her: “Make it quick, I’m thirsty”, she quipped – “I have a good one for you”, the agent obliged, “but it is urgent” – “How urgent?”, she said, while leaning forward – “A million credits of urgency”, she heard back.
The assignment gave her pause, during which she wanted to steal another look at the Damsel, but it wasn’t there anymore; relief and regret flooded her, like a schizophrenic reaction to Julian’s departure, but were quickly overshadowed by the impending profit: “Oh well”, she said to herself, “if I don’t go now, I’ll regret it a million times over”. So she plotted the course and aborted docking, much to the disappointment of her crew, who were yearning for something other than space rations to eat – but she was the captain.
Once they arrived near the wormhole’s window location, a red light flashed in her HUD – the solar flares were unusually violent, even for a binary system. Windows only lingered for a couple of minutes, so she had to make up her mind: “Fortune favours the bold”, she thought, “hope it pays and protects them as well”.
After checking the spin correlations, she fired up the auxiliary antimatter reactor, and penetrated the window. A bright flash ensued, as it always did, but this time she noticed there was a violet hue to it. Moments later, her instruments went crazy, with five, six different alarms going off. Panic tried to set in, but she knew the worst case scenarios included self-annihilation and dematerialization, none of which envolved lasting pain; not a moment too soon, the alarms silenced themselves, so she checked the ship’s universal positioning system coordinates, and they were on par with the data the agent gave her; the only odd thing with that picture was a strange looking cruiser on an intercept course. Her reaction of hailing the nearby ship was anticipated by the beep of an incoming comm link – “Yes?”, she enquired, puzzled – “This is Barbara Cleese, of the Wishful Thinker, shut down your engines and prepare to be boarded”. Stunned, but acting on self-preservation, she complied.

About the Author: 
Failed footballer and future (failed) biotechnologist