Russell Zimmerman's latest update for Over The Stars

Feb 29, 2016

[Bear in mind, dear backers, that this is all early draft stuff, and that I’m also suffering some formatting issues by copy-pasting it into an ’update’ like this;  things may change a bit when you see them in the actual pages! --RRZ]

-class shuttles weren’t particularly graceful craft, despite their curves and Zhang-Singh Synergies pricetags. They were workhorses, lean, smooth-flying, equipped to handle a little atmo travel, a little in-system travel, and quite a bit of easy, fast, docking with larger vessels and spaceports. They were prized for their fuel efficiency, their spacious cargo bays and comfortable passenger compartments, and their namesake segmented, retractable, docking ramps, that made their job easy. The placement of those ramps—fore, above the bridge, yet another design decision to speed up the docking process—afforded pilots and ventral passengers a lovely view.

As the Goodnight, this particular shuttle, fired maneuver thrusters to swing about and begin its descent, then, the passengers had not only a lovely view, but an exceptional one; the planet they were ferrying towards, New Hibernia, was a jewel of DemFed space. A shining, deep blue, jewel.

Diego Patoyari, skipper of the Goodnight, sipped his coffee and smiled into his mustachios—splendid ones, if you asked him—while his passengers enjoyed that view. Even Andersen’s sloppy turn and too-heavy hand on the auxiliary thrusters couldn’t wreck the trip for him. Patoyari’d seen his fair share of worlds, working his way up the ranks from Able Spacer. He’d been from one end of DemFed space to the other, and border-hopped into PML territory a time or two, when the profit margins justified the risk. Yes, he’d seen a lot of worlds, but few so pretty.

Humanity had scattered like billiards balls after the Burning, fleeing Earth in whatever direction would get them away from their ideological opposites, and in all the hundreds of years since then, they’d never quite recaptured Terra’s old majesty, never quite hit the sweet spot. Patoyari, and spacers like him, had seen worlds just as big, certainly, and worlds with temperatures as welcoming, environments as comfortable, oceans as full of life, skies as blue, grounds as fertile, darkness cycles as regular and psych-friendly. Humanity had found and occupied worlds with flora as cultivable, fauna as docile, atmospheres as breathable, solar power as abundant.

But they hadn’t ever found all of it at once. Not in all the worlds the DemFeds or the PLM had, nor even the scatter-shot of two-bit moons on the edges of explored space, not anywhere, had they found anyplace they were so clearly meant to be as the home they’d wrecked and fled.

But New Hibernia? Oh, she came close.

Initial notes from the ECC—the Exploratory/Colonization Corps—had, generations earlier, tagged it as an Eden-class world in every category save size. She was small, New Hibernia was, which had led to her name; she was just a little island in space, compared to most worlds. She didn’t look it while you had a talentless hack of an Able Spacer-Limited at the helm, like Andersen—everything looked big behind a helmsman you didn’t trust not to run into it—but New Hibernia’s glaring flaw was her size. She was dense enough the gravity displacement wasn’t hard to adapt to, but even ripe as she was, teeming with life and rich with extremes of Terra-quality weather, she’d never supply the resources to host a proper hab-colony, nothing designed to encourage the fecundity of humankind, to host a swelling, not struggling, population.

No, she was a garden world, New Hibernia. During periods of her history, as the DemFed had grown and stabilized, as the economy rose with populations, she’d been a vacation planet, a safari location, a recreational destination. Her poles offered ice-climbing and comfortably small cold-weather resorts, her equatorial band supplied arid grasslands and beachfronts, her narrow midlands temperate rocky terrain and craggy hills, and her ample oceans—nearly sixty-four percent of her surface area—offered a sense of familiarity to those longing after a mini-Terra, rich oxygen, and that blue marbled look that humans adored in their home worlds. Her small size meant easy shuttling to any or all of the above in just a few hours. She was a princess among garden worlds.

None of that—nor even the view—was why the skipper was ignoring Andersen’s execrable piloting, though, and smiling into his fabulous mustachios. No, Patoyari was smiling because humanity had found a use for New Hibernia other than as a resort world for the idly wealthy. Something—somehow—even more lucrative for humble Heron-class shuttle jockeys like him had come along. It wasn’t just home to the jaded rich and their hunting and tour guides, lifeguards and life coaches, no.

It was a set. All of it. The wildly fluctuating weather, the disparate regional climates, the harsh, natural, beauty; it all made New Hibernia the perfect set for a very specific type of show.

It was the host-world to The Protectors, making it one of the most famous, most profitable, planets in all of DemFed space. The Terran-standard eight month cycle was about to begin anew, the twenty-fifth season was about to begin. Prefab buildings, grav-tanks, medical equipment, uniforms, recording equipment, broadcasting gear, weapons, ammunition; all had been shuttled down to the surface, along with the first wave of seasonally-invading technicians and engineers, sound experts, lighting experts, drone mechanics, caterers, personal trainers, and makeup artists. The show was about to start.

Broadcasting just twenty-fours behind live—leaving staff and crew struggling with a brutal editing and splicing schedule, and Patoyari a bustling shuttle trade to and from the support cruisers and stations in close-orbit—The Protectors was the most popular, most important, most perpetually-hectic show in known space. Flash-cast updates from the show interrupted and overrode politicians, emergency reports trumped all standard broadcasting, casting calls aired free on every major network. For two and a half decades, The Protectors had broadcast to the people of the Democratic Federation of Worlds, showing them their children, their champions, and everything in between, as their chosen few struggled in the mud and blood of advanced military training, the sweat and tears of competition, and the crystal-clear waters of New Hibernia.

DemFed credits rolled in by the billion, by the trillion, on this backwater too-little world, in support of the show. She was still a garden world, still a vacation destination in the off-season. Catapulted to intergalactic superstardom by the show, fans and tourists swarmed the place in droves the third of the Terran-standard world that it was available for citizenry to enjoy. Holo-capping themselves flexing over The Beast or splashing ashore at Nuevo Normandy, smiling to distant family from a guided tour of Base Camp, adventurously daring the Fangs, or taking a day trip into out into the Salts, tourists loved everything about New Hibernia, but the tiny sliver of fame, the brush with stardom, most of all.

But that was just the off season. Standard shuttle rates doubled, when the shooting started.

Filming began tomorrow. Skipper Patoyari’s Goodnight was ferrying in some of the last of the gear, some of the least of the crew, some of the first of the later-season necessities. The off season was over. The Protectors was about to begin. New Hibernia was about to be in the spotlight again.

The planet would be kept busier than ever, but at the same time comparatively Spartan and barren; all this crew, for so little cast. Patoyari wouldn’t shuttle them, no. The hosts had private ships, private transportation, private schedules to keep. And the contestants? The contestants always had a more dramatic entrance to make, nothing at all like a quiet, comfortable, ride aboard a simple Heron-class. Patoyari finished his coffee, still smiling, still blithely ignoring Andersen’s ineptitude.

Quiet, comfortable, and expensive, he amended.