Rocketbilly 2315.77 Beautiful Day To Sell Some Cargo
A Serial Saga Of Those Maverick Spacers Known As Rocketbillies And Their Moonshine-Powered Rockets
Author's Note: This space opera is inspired by a dream I had where I was blasting into space on a moonshine powered rocket. Going planet to planet, living free - - as a moonshine powered Rocketbilly. Cause when you're a Rocketbilly, whether you're drinking up or blasting off, you're always powered by that same ole moonshine.
As traders, explorers and prospectors, Rocketbillies exist within a highly decentralized star-spanning economy where the primary consumable - moonshine - can be produced almost anywhere that you can grow fruit or sugarcane to ferment. Where there is life, there is moonshine, as the Rocketbillies say.
I am proud to debut this serial space opera, as it is written, here on our own decentralized frontier - that "space" we call Steemit! I hope you enjoy.
It was a beautiful day to sell some cargo. Fact is, I needed to move some fast. Trexxa station was an expensive place to loiter and I was broke again. But I couldn't leave yet cause my ship needed maintenance. Now more dock fees had come due. The dockmaster kept prowlin' by lookin' in. Probably dreaming of me defaulting for good this time and him gettin' all the cargo.
I'd promised the twins a big meal at the rotating restaurant soon. Not just that they were princesses back on their homeworld, but I wanted to treat them right and show 'em the town. So far I'd had to put things off. I had to make something happen.
The mining claim was delayed indefinitely - "Nebular security" holdup. I'd sold all the moonshine I'd brought but it didn't bring the credits it should have. Somethin' was wrong with the moonshine market. Price was way too low. Behind the scenes things weren't right, I could tell.
So I set up in front of the ship's cargo bay and started putting cargo up for bids on the auctionchain. An RG-57 mech-bot would fetch each item and set it beside my chair, then I'd list it. The bidding was fast and bots were arriving to pick up sold items but it hadn't added up to much yet. There was a lot of walkin' traffic, folks lookin' to buy cargo fresh off the dock fore it got auctioned.
This kid come up lookin' things over. Shifty eyed, nervous. He grabbed a set of warp wrenches and ran.
I ran after him but he was faster. Up some alleys away from the main dock and his lead growing. Around a corner he went and I lost sight of him.
When I rounded the corner he was in a parking lot by some closed bays, just standin' there. It made no sense, there were plenty directions he could've run.
Overhead was a rumble and a big black luxury aircar descended. Supreme executive type, with bulges and curves concealing expensive modifications I could only guess at. It settled to the street next to the kid, and he dropped the warp wrenches like he didn't care about them.
Rear passenger door opened and an old man in a fine suit got out. He handed something to the kid, who backed away warily. I demanded answers.
"My name is Yamagachi. I apologize for the manner of our meeting." He waved away the kid, who ran off. "A man in my position must be discreet in dealings and movements."
"Your recent rocketbike racing antics are the talk of the town. I need a driver who can go where I can't. To deliver a message. I'll pay well."
I shook my head. "You mistake me for a courier." I turned to leave.
"5 million bioncreds," he said, and I froze.
"That's a lot of bioncreds. What's the message?"
"My daughter Suzika has become mixed up with an unsavory group of rocket modders, bikers, racers, moonshine junkies and tab poppers - you know the type."
"Maybe I am the type." I said, edging closer. I tried to see better into the vehicle but the tint was too dark.
"Precisely. And you have a temporary local fame among these cretins."
My fist clenched. I was interested in the bioncreds, but I would only take so much.
"Suzika wanted my help in supplying her frivolous racer friends with fuel - a petty matter unworthy of my interest. Hypergolic fuels are a tiny market, aside from their use at the power plant. No profit to be made. She is living among these racers now and won't answer my calls. Deliver my message tonight and when delivery is detected by the chain, 5 million bioncreds will go to your account."
"Something big is happening. I don't know what, but my sources are never wrong."
"Nice car you got there."
His chest puffed out in pride. "A Trygott Viscana, supreme edition. All options factory installed. Cannonproof glass and impervium armor plate. Fully autodriving and space capable. Many special features. One of only 100 produced, the only one in this nebula."
"OK," I said, "50 million bioncreds - and this car."
He stiffened and frowned. There was a long pause.
"Ashtang! Bring it!" A man in dark suit and shades stepped out. A bulge in his jacket made me suspect a gun. He reached into the other side of the jacket and pulled out a bulky padded envelope which he stepped forward and handed me.
"Ashtang tried to deliver the message but could not get close." Ashtang gritted his teeth and anger flashed in his eyes. Yamagachi withdrew a touchpad, gestured across it a few times, and placed it back in his pocket. "We have a deal. Payment is on the blockchain. There will be a rocketcar race tonight in the industrial sector on the north end of town at 8pm. Don't fail me."
They got back in the aircar and lifted away.
Back at the ship the twins stood out front waitin' for me. "We're going with you. Don't bother trying to stop us." They was psychic. Not crazy psychic, but they saw stuff. Like out of the blue they'd say things that later came true. Or they'd know bits of things they ought not know.
They gave me that look, the green of their eyes glowing tritium-like. I didn't argue.
After sunset we prepped the rocketcar for racing. Unbolted cargo pods to save weight and checked the accessories - grappling hook, chaff and flares, seatback parachutes, obstacle cutters and the rest. The survival kit, prospecting tools and distilling kit we wouldn't need, but I left the mech-bot onboard.
We cruised high up near the dome, getting a view of the whole city. The air swarmed with traffic below us, then got sparse as we neared the north industrial zone. I circled but was confused when I saw no big racer scene. Just a few aircars in a wide open area. They looked like racecars, so I landed there.
I'd barely gotten out of the aircar when I had guys up on me demanding a passcode. I told them I was there to race, knew racers, was a racer, lived to race, and my girls were racer girls too. The twins nodded and, I hoped, used some of them psychic powers to smooth things over. No such luck!
"I recognize you. You're that loco rocketbiker from the net. That was some funny shit. But you're in the wrong place, you need to leave NOW. This is local business. The racerchain's closed, nobody races without a passcode and no more passcodes gonna be issued."
I started to protest and plot my next ruse but he pulled out a baseball bat. "No more words. Goodbye."
I looked around but others were pulling out weapons. Out of the sky came a silver aircar with a widebody kit and booster ports. It looked familiar.
A gullwing door opened and I saw the pilot smile. Then he grimaced as he stepped out. Had to force another smile. It was my ole Rocketbilly compadre, Ted Vasques.
"Jake!" he said, staggering towards me. "I'd hug you but I've got some blood going. Why you here?" His shirt and jacket were drenched in blood. It was dripping. Whatever happened was fresh.
The others standing around seemed unsurprised, unfazed, and uncaring.
"Lookin' for a race. I expected more of a scene. These are my girls Treena and Katreena."
He nodded at them.
"Let's get you to an autodoc."
He shook his head. "Almost racetime. Ain't no normal race. It's a turf war. Club versus club. Winner takes all of Trexxa station. Losers can convert or leave. Or take up golf."
He looked all around. "Where's Wildcat and Sarah?"
"Word on the street is they ain't gonna make it," smiled the guy with the baseball bat. "They forfeit. We got our three racers right here." He nodded toward three expensive and fast looking rocketcars and their drivers.
"Give us a second alone" I said, and they stepped away from us.
"You can't race, man! You're about to pass out."
"The racechain's set. If nobody races on our side, we lose the town. It was this or all out war. This is gonna save a lot of lives. It's winner takes all. Wildcat and Sarah were just gonna block for me..." He swayed unsteady.
"Give me your passcode. I'll race for your club."
He was going to disagree, but his knees buckled and he fell to the ground. Reached in his pocket and handed me a data chip. "You win, you get a free membership to the club - my treat. You lose, we got no more club."
I pulled my rocketcar up next to the other 3 racers as the last seconds counted down. Jets of cryo coolant hissed and spewed.
The rules weren't much. We had to go to the city center and touchdown on mainstreet. Then to the westside through a hover ring high up near the dome. Straight down to another ring 200 feet off the ground, near the base of the power plant. That was the finish line. "Just make sure when you go through that last ring, you're not going too fast to pull up before you hit the ground," Ted advised, "200 feet goes by real fast."
I kissed the twins and they went with Ted in his car on autopilot. He was nearly unconscious. Everyone was already by the finish line at the base of the power station, waiting to see who'd win. Someone there had a mobile autodoc in their airvan and hopefully Ted would be OK once he got to it.
The racechain countdown reached zero and we zoomed off, lighting the ground like day with the glare of our rockets.
There was some bumpercar action right away and my left fender came loose so I had the mech-bot crawl up there and weld it back into place.
The other cars accelerated away from me, faster with their hypergolics. But once the repair was complete I hit my afterburners and passed 'em.
Speed was less of an issue as we neared the city. It was all about dodgin' obstacles. Aircars, drones and air surfers were everywhere - swarming like gnats as we descended into the saturday night glow, haze and chaos near the surface.
A delivery drone bounced with a klang off my windshield, leavin' a big crack. I nearly hit a dopey lookin' air longboarder who thought he was really stylin' on the nose of that thing. Til he saw me coming and, by his expression, saw God or the grim reaper one! I clipped the back of his board with my tailfin and he went spinnin' away, danglin' at the the end of his kook strap.
We all did our touch and go on mainstreet then accelerated back up, jukin' and dodgin' all types of obstacles and vehicles. One of the others hit an airtruck and garbage went flying everywhere. But they emerged from the debris field and shook off most of the trash with a spirallin' barrel roll.
Soon the upper hover ring was in sight with all 3 other racers ahead of me. I had lots of fuel left so I knew I could win. I accelerated up towards it with a tap of my afterburners, waved and smiled as I passed the first of 'em.
He didn't like it! So much so that he fired twin autogun cannons and at that range, could hardly miss. My main gas tanks were riddled with holes and bein' under pressure, the moonshine spewed out through them holes. Forming a cloud behind me and coating his aircar.
There's racin' and there's vehicular combat. There's a difference. This was supposed to be a race. But he'd crossed that line and I was obliged to give him what he asked for. I released several salvos of flares which ignited the cloud of moonshine vapor with he and his car in the midst of it. His car emerged blackened and smoking and pulled away to the side, unable to continue. I figured he was probably gaggin' on smoke and fumes, looked like the car had switched to autopilot.
I still had enough fuel with my reserve tank to finish the race. Whether I'd be able to keep the throttle high enough to win was unknown.
As I came aside the next racer he engaged cutter blades that swung out on robot arms. He maneuvered over me trying to get the arms to cut into my cockpit. I engaged my own cutter blades that rose from arms on my car's fenders, and the blades battled each other. Maybe his were smarter or better at duelin' cause they cut both my blades off. Then they sliced side panels loose that flapped in the wind, threatenin' to rip off and take vital components with 'em. I'd had enough.
I flipped upside down and activated a large sawblade that came out of a slot on the bottom of my car's chassis. Ramming into his car with a simultaneous side-slide, I cut the front of his hood clean off. His car drifted away trailin' sparks and he bailed out. In a spirit of good sportsmanship, I hoped that he was wearing a parachute or liftbelt. I sent the mech-bot forward again to weld up the flapping panels.
Nearin' the top of the racecourse I increased my thrust and came aside the last remainin' racer. We were zooming straight up. He slammed into me, crunchin' my mech-bot just as it was repositioning and didn't have a good grip. The bot was busted into many pieces and knocked away. Then me and the other racer turned around in a sharp arc and dove through the upper hover ring. I guessed the mech-bot pieces would probably hit the dome before they fell back down.
Straight down we dove. Pieces of torn bodywork started peeling off as the air pressure increased. He edged ahead by a car length. We passed 500 miles per hour and I was starting to feel ground rush as we neared the lower hover ring that was the finish line. I wondered about my stabilizer fin, the torn, sawed and missing body panels, and all those machinegun hits. I remembered what Ted had said about making sure I didn't go through that last ring so fast I wouldn't be able to pull up.
I jammed the afterburners to maximum and felt a roar of energy as extra fuel was dumped into the exhaust plume. I pulled ahead and we went screamin' through the ring with me in the lead. I'd won. The racechain had no doubt already registered that fact and granted me and my club turf rights to the whole station.
But all that seemed remote as the ground rushed upward to devour me. I cut the power and pulled up but it wasn't goin' to be enough. My opponent bailed out but I knew he'd be challenged to slow down enough with his liftbelt before deploying his parachute. Simply openin' the parachute at nearly 600 miles per without slowin' down first would be suicide.
I was a racer, not a skydiver or base jumper, and I'd take my chances behind the wheel. I felt oddly detached. Images from throughout my life flashed through my head in the split second before impact.
WHAM! The rocketcar's bottom collapsed with a sickening jolt and I skidded across the ground at hundreds of miles per hour. Solid fuel emergency retro rockets fired automatically and I blacked out as they subjected me to hundreds of g's, divided of course by the dampening effect of the gravity shield. I woke back up having stopped. I'd torn through the side of a large warehouse and come to rest within. A surprised group of two dozen men stood around a huge pile of hypergolic fuel cannisters. Among them was Yamigachi's henchman Ashtang.
I stepped out of the rocketcar, dizzy but nothing broken. The giant pile of fuel cannisters had electronic packs at its base. Ashtang was coming towards me.
"If I didn't know better" I said, trying to sound more stable than I felt, "I'd say those were explosive charges. Enough to blow the whole power plant sky high..."
From the opening my impact had torn in the side of the warehouse, race club members were coming in. Including Yamigachi's daughter Suzika.
Ashtang grabbed Suzika and put a submachinegun to her chin. The other men with him drew guns and knives.
"That's right," he said. "With the powerplant destroyed in a hypergolic fuel explosion, the public will support moonshine as a safe alternative."
"You intend to take over racing!" said Suzika.
He nodded and smiled. "And the moonshine, parts and betting that go with it. I've already got agents applying pressure to those markets, stockpiling moonshine at low prices. In the wake of this disaster I'll push your father aside and take control of it all. You were right, racing and moonshine are the future..."
A sudden bang tore the roof followed by secondary clatter as pieces of the mech-bot rained down. Everyone looked around in confusion.
I rushed Ashtang and jammed the gun out of the way while sweepin' Suzika to the side. I held the gun away while punchin' him in the face. He went limp and still I continued to pummel him. Then tore the gun out of his hand and threw it to the side.
By now a huge group of racers had entered the warehouse. They wielded wrenches, boards, bats and alloy knuckles. Ashtang's men put down their weapons and stepped back.
Suzika confronted them. "Wise decision. When my father hears of this you'll be glad for whatever mercy you can salvage from this treachery!"
I told her I had a message from her father and handed her the padded envelope. She opened it and withdrew a black ring with a red dragon bordered in gold.
"My father's ring - our link to ancestors who ruled a small piece of Terra back when it was called Earth."
Several of Ashtang's fellow traitors dropped to their knees and bowed. "We serve you now!" one blurted out.
"You will answer to me now!" she corrected.
The twins arrived and reported that Ted made it to the autodoc OK. He was sedated and sleeping but would be alright. We looked over my wrecked rocketcar. It was totalled, there would be little to salvage. I said it didn't matter and checked my wristcom. The 50 million bioncreds were already in my account.
We strolled out holding hands.
"You girls hungry? There's this rotating restaurant not far from here that serves lobster from Terra."
They agreed eagerly.
"We'll need to get a ride" said Treena.
There was a rumble overhead and I recognized the sound. "No we won't," I said. "I've got a new ride now."
The black Trygott Viscana luxury aircar descended and parked itself beside us...