A to Z 2016 : GRAVITRON

Captain Tony J. Carver maneuvered his craft out of a triple barrel roll, hoping to be lined up with his assailant, but he was still the quarry. Worse yet, he was detecting three more incoming bogies ahead of him. He was confident he could take them all on if he could just shake his current pursuer. Whoever it was, they were good. Likely a professional bounty hunter who had heard there was a price on his head, singing to the sweet tune of one hundred million Rupees — the only universal currency worth a spit and a shake — and thought he could bring in the elusive Captain Carver. It was obvious to Tony that the bounty hunter had a built-in cloaking unit on his ship. It was the only logical explanation for how that space cowboy would have gotten the jump on him.

Thinking about tunes made Tony wish his modular jukebox was working, but it had been on the fritz for months now. He slapped it on the off chance it would suddenly spring to life, but nothing happened. He sighed. Just never had the time to invest any money into the repair. Not when he needed those sonic thrusters, a new landing gear, and more firepower for situations exactly like the one he was in now.

If only he could get behind his attacker before the newcomers were on him. Whether they were working with the bounty hunter or not, he didn't know, didn't care. Space was his frontier, the stars and vast emptiness he called home, and there wasn't a pilot this side of the galaxy that could put him down. Him and his ship.

Captain Carver and Gravitron. An intergalactic dynamic duo. His ship hadn't let him down once, not once, since he bought it from a scamming junk dealer just past the Advent Asteroid Belt. Sure, he got a sweet deal, but the pile was all but functional. Tony put a lot of work, heart, and soul, into his baby. But before all that it needed a name and named it he did. Gravitron, after an old amusement park ride that existed on the now desolate rock known as Earth. A ride he was never allowed on because he was either too small, too young, or both. There was always an excuse. But now he had his own Gravitron and he could "ride" it whenever he felt like it.

His assailant lobbed some sporadic shots his way, but they were easy to avoid. There wasn't as much laser-blasting as one might expect from a dogfight, but he knew why. Unfortunately for all the clownshoes coming at him, he had heard the details of his bounty over some radio chatter. That scumbag dealer he bought Gravitron from had heard about how sweet his ride was now and claimed that it was still his ship and that he was hijacked at gunpoint. Tony couldn't believe it. What a dirtball. The saving grace was that the ship had to be returned intact, meaning no lethal weaponry.

So now he had to deal with all these yahoos crawling out of the woodwork, trying to collect on a bounty that Captain Carter knew would never be awarded to anyone, when all he wanted to do was cruise through this specific quadrant of space. Whichever quadrant it was. Wait, which quadrant is this...?

"What quadrant is this?" Captain Carver asked out loud.

He heard a robotic voice starting to answer, when all of a sudden there was a flurry of blasts from the three ships ahead of him. Startled, he pulled up, just barely avoiding their gunfire, noting that his original cat and mouse chase was also still in progress. There wasn't any time to outrun anyone anymore, however, as now all five ships were locked in combat.

The new batch of enemies definitely weren't with the bounty hunter, he could tell from the emblems on their ships that they were a military unit. Most likely mercenaries. Knowing that they would attack his original nemesis in attempts to eliminate any competition, he thought he could by himself some time. Tony and the bounty hunter finally split paths, each drawing the attention of the new assailants. He was lucky enough to have two come for him. That was fine, three could play that game.

"What was that?"

The robotic voice answered back again, "We are in quadrant six two dash four one nine of the Centurion system."

"The Centurion system? But isn't that one of the most unstable systems known to Mankind?!"

"Indeed it is, Sir. I tried discussing this fact with you, but you insisted that sleep was more important at the time." Captain Carver snorted, but then conceded almost immediately, nodding his head, remembering the conversation. "According to my sensors, there's a class M star just moments from collapsing."

Tony's eyes widened in shock. "Collapsing?" he yelled in disbelief. "Define moments."

"In T-minus thirty-five seconds and counting. Thirty-four seconds. Thirty-three seconds."

"Are you kidding me, man? Why wouldn't you tell me this before getting anywhere close to here? You know how much I hate supernovas!" Tony attempted to barrel roll again, but those he was engaged with refused to fall for overshooting, keeping behind him. The two attackers took a few shots, but he knew they were purposely missing. He imagined that the crew hadn't entirely thought through the process of how they planned to get the ship back in one piece, especially while being piloted.

"Thirty seconds. Your exact words were 'do not disturb' if you happen to recall. Twenty-seven seconds. Twenty-six seconds." He did. He technically had no one to blame but himself for his current predicament. That star wasn't far enough out and the blast would be devastating. Not to mention the aftermath. "How would you like to proceed, Captain Carter?"

"At the ten second mark I want you to cut the thrusters and transfer all power to the shields, do you understand?"

"Yes, Sir. Twenty seconds. Preparing to cut thrusters and transfer all power to the shielding system. Eighteen seconds."

Captain Carver blocked out the dogfight, the bounty hunter, everything and focused on his AI companion's voice. When reaching ten seconds, Gravitron announced the initiation of his commands and in unison he engaged a switch marked "Supernova Refraction Shield", activating a supplementary shield enhancement he had just recently installed. For such an occasion. This wasn't his first supernova rodeo.

He watched out his cockpit as the two ships chasing him raced by, probably confused by his ships sudden loss of speed, before his entire view disappeared as his ship was wrapped into a dark cocoon. There was nothing but blackness. It was hard to tell how long he sat in silence. It felt like forever, but eventually his ship was throttled, shaking violently as the shields attempted to stave off the supernova's assault. Even though the barrier began to crack and pulse varying dull shades of red, no alarms sounded, no communication from the ship's AI system. Gravitron had done exactly as he ordered.

The shaking began to subside and soon there was nothing but silence again. Eventually, when feeling certain the event was over, Captain Carver manually reset the overrides and booted the AI system back up. Slowly the shields dispersed and he could assess the outcome. Tony and his ship were alone. He felt sad for the lives of the other pilots that were extinguished by the supernova, knowing they were essentially duped into hunting him down by a greedy junk dealer. But in space, sometimes it's kill or be killed.

He only had that brief moment to reflect before a loud, swooshing sound erupted all around him and the ship suddenly lurched. Then it lurched again and it was obvious that the ship was slowly being set into motion, although he wasn't the one in control.

"Gravitron, hey buddy, what's going on out there?" Tony attempted to engage the thrusters, but they were non-responsive.

"You know."

He did know. The aftermath. A black hole. The one thing he was afraid of in the entire star-riddled Universe. Panic was beginning to set in as none of his dashboard utilities would work. Every button he pushed, lever he flipped, resulted in no change. It was as though the entire piloting system was dead.

"Did we suffer too much damage from the supernova?" Tony wasn't sure if he was imagining it, but he was certain they were picking up speed. "And what's that unbearable noise?" It was so penetrating he had to cover his ears.

"Damage was minimum, but the gravitational force of the black hole created from the star's collapse is abnormally strong. Source of noise unknown," Gravitron informed him.

"Abnormally strong? Unknown? Well that's just great, glad I can count on you, Gravitron!"

"You're welcome, Sir."

Captain Carver couldn't see the black hole, but he knew it was there, just as he knew they were being sucked right into the middle of it. He wasn't familiar with how long the whole process would take, but there was a serene sense of irony. Captain Carver, explorer of all frontiers, would be making his final journey into the truly unknown. There was no documented information about what existed on the other side of a black hole, if anything. And even if there was something, could anything survive the trip?

The stress and anxiety of dying was already eating at him, he thought he heard his name called. Maybe the gravitational fields were making him hallucinate. Maybe he just felt he was too young to die, especially in such an obscure way. No glory, no honor, just sucked into some invisible drain. No one would ever know. Tony knew he wasn't psyching himself out when it felt like Gravitron was being pulled faster and faster towards their ultimate demise.

It was only a matter of time before another legend was lost to time and space.

Suddenly the piercing noise wavered and began to drift away. As it did, the ship's forward throttle slowly lost its strength, eventually coming to a complete stop. Completely motionless.

"Captain Carver, are you there, Sir? Systems are indicating that there are no lifeforms aboard."

The ship's AI waited exactly fifteen seconds for a response as it was programmed to do, until it repeated itself. Again, there was no response. Gravitron began initiating a specific chain of sequences, triggered after a third non-response, shutting down its systems one by one, shifting over to standby mode.

*     *     *

"Anthony James flippin' Carver! How many times do I have to tell you to stop playing with the vacuum? It's not a toy!" His mother's tone wasn't as menacing as she tried to make it sound. "I've already told you, if you accidentally get one of your little, precious ships or action figures sucked up into it, that's it, it's gone! And I'm not buying you a replacement." He didn't believe her. "Now get downstairs, honey, dinner is ready. I tried calling you down."

"Okay, mom." Anthony stood up and gave his mother a hug, head resting on her stomach, and she returned his squeeze. "Saved by the dinner bell!" He looked up at his mother, who was shaking her head in bewilderment at his statement, and giggled.

As mother and son left the room, heading downstairs to their meal, something left behind waited. A small, grey spaceship made from cheap plastic rested on the carpet just inches away from the hose of a vacuum cleaner. The plastic ship had very few distinguishable marks except one. The word "Gravitron" written jaggedly along its side in black marker.

Its cockpit was empty.

Gravitron waited on standby until Captain Tony J. Carver returned for their next adventure.


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