A Serial Saga Of Those Maverick Spacers Known As Rocketbillies And Their Moonshine Powered Rockets
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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.
Explore more stories from the Rocketbilly universe at:
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Rocketbilly 2315.80 - - The Great Bootlegger Challenge of 2315
"Without all that water, there's a great reduction in mass. Combined with all our other innovations, it's the fastest ship we've ever built," said Professor Leitraum with even more than the usual pride in his team's latest technological construction. "It's a true breakthrough. A revolution in transportion. Bootlegging will never be the same."
For the first time, I had a shot at realizin' my long term dream: to build and fly the fastest rocket in the universe. This one just might be it. Starting with the all-tritanium substructure and ending with this latest shedding of liquid mass, it was a game changer. It would have to be.
The Starshine Sector had all but declared war on us with their multiple entries to The Great Bootleggers Challenge. For all their cryin' bout how our Rocketbilly culture had a sappy affection for pioneer attitudes and retro technology, they sure seemed eager to show they could smuggle moonshine on par with us. Moonshine - or Starshine, as they called it in their sector - fueled both our rockets and our spirits. Ethyl alcohol and liquid oxygen rockets, engines and turbines powered our vehicles, our bots, and our electric grids.
To make their grudge match extra grudge-ier, the Starshine Sector bet a disputed region of space containing several hundred worlds on the outcome. A disputed region that happened to contain the site of my big mining and artifact claim. Also the homeworld of my twin princess girlfriends. The primitive tropical island jungle world Ophelia 27.
As a favorite to win, I felt the whole mass of our collective Rocketbilly Pride weighin' down on me. If a Rocketbilly didn't win the Bootlegger Challenge, what would that say about our status as space moonshiners? The Rocketbilly Worlds would suffer our first ever loss of territory. My prospecting claim would be lost and the princesses' royal governance would be upended and replaced with a typical Starshiner technocracy.
This ship - and its contents - were a step far forward in the Rocketbilly art of bootlegging. Yes the gravito-inertial shield was specially tweaked. But it was how we had shaved off weight here and there throughout the sleek machine that made it unusually light. Even before its special cargo. Then there were the nitrous boosters. They would feed extra-rich, reactive nitrous oxide into the combustion chambers for more push. This was an absolute dragster of a ship!
Crowds of race fans streamed by it. They paused and their jaws dropped in awe. Even standing still my ship seemed to be breaking some speed-like limit. Instinctively, folks knew they was in the presence of a vehicle powerful and potentially historic. My chest swelled with Rocketbilly Pride.
I put on my cyberhelm to check the latest race stats and odds. With mere minutes left til the start, the lineup seemed complete:
Five entries from the Starshine Sector. Military ships, stripped down for speed and disguised to resemble civil freight traffic. Their crews looked highly trained and disciplined. Motivated and single minded. They was here to strike a defeat against the Rocketbilly Worlds that would be no less devastating if it had been conducted by them warships with their original guns.
Perhaps in their cleverness them Starshiners could find alternatives like this for all warfare. If so it would be organized and administered by their massive "think tank" mega-computers. Rule by the digital yoke of computers. Somethin' no self-respectin Rocketbilly could ever submit to.
In the cyberhelm I studied the betting odds on the wagerchain.
The odds of one of the five Starshine Sector ships winning was hoverin' round 40 percent.
I was the Rocketbilly favorite. Some had the odds of me winnin' bout 25 percent.
Next behind me with a 12% chance of winning was industrialist racer magnate Tor Cratergold. Tor was a honorable racer with a expensive, top-built rocket. But ole Cratergold weren't half the racer he was a prospector so I didn't agree with them odds an didn't figure he was much threat.
My hated nemesis Stamos Craw was given only a 9% chance to win but I knew better. You wouldn't find a more sneakier ruthless snake than ole Stamos. I could only tolerate his presence peaceably for the good of Rocketbilly solidarity. Me an him didn' mix. We combusted. We weren't oil and water. We was ethyl alcohol and liquid oxygen. One spark to ignite and we was at it.
Craw would absolutely engage in sabotage or conspiracy to take me out of the race. Just to take me out of the race, whether it helped him win or cost him some. He simply hated me and my guts in the same way that I instinctively couldn't abide him or his.
"Lightnin' " Raybeam Reynolds had it in him to beat me if the Rocketbilly Gods smiled on him. In the world of bootleggin' he was no poser. Rocketbilly thru and through. Knew all the tricks. He an I got on real good off the racecourse, but in competition we had no time for pleasantries.
Then there was Vector Ann, an ex bounty hunter apparently tryin to rebrand herself as a smuggler. Vector Ann's presence bothered me. Somethin bout it didn't sit right. I'd seen her round and knew her as a fighter, not a racer. She had like 5% chance to win.
We had another competitor who wasn't even in the race. But he'd sent his regards. Said we'd never make it through to Terra with a drop. Old Earth was his sworn mission to protect and he would. Revenue Agent Korg, from the looks of his holo-message, had been furiously lifting weights and practicing his stern scowl during the last few months. He'd been in training for the big bust. The winner of the challenge would be him, he let us know. Best we not even launch.
To hell with Agent Korg! If he inserted himself in the competition, he ran the risk of being made to look foolish. I'd be happy to oblige.
Suddenly there was a riot of color on the view of my cyberhelm. A disturbance in the data. All the betting odds went haywire. They shifted around like crazy as a last addition was made to the racerchain: the Starshine Sector flagship "Nebulation."
A triangular stealth ship with massively upgraded rockets, specially converted for fast smuggling with all the vast and latest tek wuju of the Starshiners' mega-advanced industrial empire. They'd converted one of their fastest stealth spy ships into a bootlegger just to win this. Like I figured, this was a new phase of defacto war and here was their secret weapon.
The new odds strongly favored the "Nebulation" to win. It shimmered in and out of visibility, dropped on and off the radars. Showin' off its electrophotonic skin. Its chameleonlike ability to mimic not just the empty space behind it but to give the visual and scanner impression of its bein' any one of dozens of different types of ships. Freighters, utility ships, recreational skiffs, even a very convincing space cop car complete with subspace strobe.
It hardly seemed to be in the correct spirit of the challenge. What bootlegger had the top state-level resources at their disposal to build them the world's greatest stealth smuggling ship? How did that do honor to our shine runnin' heritage!?
My hotrodded dragster of a smuggling ship was suddenly of no interest to the fickle crowds as they crowded around to ooh and ahh at the massive hulking "Nebulation" that suddenly towered above us all. Praise the spirits' fire, that ship would be able to haul some tonnage! Enough to inebriated dozens of worlds! I grudgingly admired the Starshiners' technical achievement.
But there was little time to ponder cultural differences between the Rocketbilly Worlds and the similar worlds of the Starshine Sector. Rocketbillies and Starshiners both had their attention here, at this moment, in realtime, on this legendary event. A race I had to win. 3D Holocam VR was transmitted across the cosmos on the blessedly entangled quantum network. Fans would truly feel they was in the race as all our ships had holocams in their cockpits.
No time to reflect on technical details. We lined up on the starting line, landed on the stadium tarmac, and cut off our engines. Bowed our heads in a moment of reverent silence for fallen spirit runners throughout time and space. May their cargo be proofed high!
The huge military stealth ship Nebulation, crewed by over 200, hulked over us making our mighty ships look like fleas. But even the smallest flea was a smuggler ship capable of carrying 1 million gallons of moonshine. That was the minimum required load. A load that had been filled by the race's sponsor. Some newcomer who was already transporting a huge share of all genuine Rocketbilly or Starshine alcohol that found its way into the core worlds of Old Space. He would have his folks waitin' just past the finish line to offload everyone's cargo and distribute it in smaller loads. He'd ship it throughout the old Earth system and the Milky Way, wherever Old Space Empyrean civilization reached. Those coreworlders who dared could then buy a souvenir of forbidden freedom and get em a taste of that rocket fuel spirit.
The sponsor - Reil Tranx of Tranx Industries - took great offense at my refusal to let him fill my tanks, or participate in his offer of a lucrative post-race cargo-offload. I had my own special load that I was bound to deliver, Bootlegger Challenge or no, and its completion could mark a new stage of Bootlegger evolution. After me puttin it like that he couldn't argue. But he was pissed.
The command was given to start our engines and prepare for launch! I felt as much as heard the cracklin' rumble of rockets roaring to life and bein' throttled to idle. Mixtures was tweaked and temperatures in the systems raised. Countdown to launch commenced. 5... 4... 3... 1...
Jamming our throttles full stop forward we unleashed explosive clouds of fire beneath our machines and tilted up to ascend into starry sky. The acceleration was ferocious, even with the gravito-inertial dampeners reducing them in the cockpit by better than 98%. My eyes felt buried in the back of my skull. Holy shinesmoke, this rocket was fast!
The Starshine Sector ships fell in behind the Nebulation and began gravito-inertial drafting.
I shot ahead but when I backed off the throttle to a cruise speed, Tor Cratergold came up right behind me. We slingshotted around the ole moon Stellon an I let him pass me. Then tucked in right behind him to draft off his grav shield. So close I had to back off lest the flames of his rockets burn my front end.
Stamos Craw came up and started playin' bumper ships. My ship was only lightly armored and wouldn't hold up to much of that abuse.
That's when the 4 regular size Starshine Sector ships came wheeling over in a corkscrew attack formation. Providin' cover as their massive sistership the Nebulation passed over us behind them. Guns weren't an officially sanctioned part of the race. But them Starshine Sector ships began firin' off chaff, flares, and garbage drones that impacted smartly at the short distance. Damage was bein' done.
Me an the other Rocketbillies returned a volley of the same type of junk. Including message rockets, cargo drones and cargo rockets. I saw that one of my special programmed utility drones done made it to the hull of the Nebulation.
The Nebulation began to sweep through our fleet with a "communications laser" powerful enough to vaporize tritanium. Six giant ports slid open on its flanks, preparing to release hordes of kamikaze drones.
At that moment good ole Lightnin' Raybeam Reynolds come in on 'em an slung a big load of garbage at them ports, hittin 'em exact. No tellin' what was in that garbage - radioactive? Incendiary? It caused the ports to glow brightly from within and the drones swarmed around the ports like confused and angry hornets.
Then come Vector Ann passin' us all up as we squabbled.
I figured it was time for me to ghost, so I mashed the accelerator and followed Vector Ann toward the lime colored 5 stars I had noted as a good star reference for this leg of the race.
Soon we came to the first jump gate and transposed millions of light years in seconds. We had started near Raytona in the Starshine Sector. Now we was in Rocketbilly Space. One more jumpgate would put us near the finish line in Terra orbit - Old Earth.
Vree! Vree! Vree! An alert sounded in my cyberhelm. A distress signal from just ahead.
It was Vector Ann. I was able to pull alongside her ship and let her board without losin' much speed.
She was vague about the nature of her ship malfunction and she needed to use the restroom. I watched her on the security cameras bypass the bathroom and perform a hasty inspection of my cargo holds and corridor panels. When she returned she saw the security camera screens replaying her actions and she knew she was busted.
"Where's all your moonshine? Is it in those crates marked Space Dust?"
I told her she was in no position to be askin' questions. She said she was in the race to chase a bounty. She thought it was me but now she knew it wasn't. Someone was smuggling mass quantities of fake moonshine into the core. Delivering it in fancy bottles that look like genuine Rocketbilly artisan work. The bounty's identity was unknown but the price for their discovery and capture was high. Intel from her corporate contacts said the bounty was involved in the Bootlegger Challenge.
Vector Ann advised me to drop her off on a rocket scooter and she would intercept the next racer who came along using a distress signal. And in that fashion she would continue to search ship to ship til she found her bounty.
Seemed like a mighty squirrelly plan. But Vector Ann was famous as a fearsome and fearless, ultra legendary ex-bounty hunter. Unconventional, yes. Crazy, yes. I guessed it was part of her magic. "I thought you quit bounty hunting," I told her.
She shook her head. "It's like a bad habit. A bad relationship..." She plunged out into the starry void and went rocketin' off on that dinky little rocket scooter. I wished her good distillations and wondered if I was fallin' in love again.
Vreep! Vreep! Vreep! The cyberhelm showed the Nebulation overtakin' me at high speed. Damn them! I was screamin' along at what should have been the fastest cruise speed of any known smugglin' rocket! An here they went to pass me like I was slow. The Nebulation got its speed not from better rockets or lighter weight, but from a next generation gravito-inertial field. With its mass reduced a higher percentage than my grav shield would do, the Nebulation was able to go faster with less thrust. The principle by which we was able to travel quick among the stars had been ruthlessly turned against me!
I jammed a four finger combination onto the control panel and up popped the status of my special programmed utility bot on the Nebulation's hull. It had completed its infiltration of their network. I thumbed the GO! Switch.
The alien crypto-virus embedded in the utility bot flowed through the Nebulation's main control circuits, shuttin' everything down. It would take them several minutes to regain control. I waved as I cruised past.
An incoming message caught my eye. From one REVENUE AGENT KORG. Some Empyrean-crazed anti-bootlegger commando glory hound out to make a name for himself. By deprivin' core humanity of the elixir of the stars which they craved.
I flicked the message open and his holo-image appeared in my cyberhelm.
"Jake Argo! You are hereby instructed to pull over for cargo inspection. It's the Great Bootlegger Challenge of 2315 and you are officially out of the running and presumed busted. Some cold time in a prison on Terra should break your Rocketbilly spirit!"
Them words was chillin'. But I weren't layin down an the race was far from over for me.
Korg's gun-bristling Revenue Ship uncloaked nearby. Its superior stealth field had tricked all my scanners. I had no sign of it til it shimmered into visibility. Hatches on the ship popped open and grappling hook guns emerged, swiveled towards my ship.
A SQUAWK and sudden chaotic data and traffic cluttered my cyberhelm view.
Multiple iridescent traces from incoming gun and missile rounds was headed our way courtesy of the Nebulation. Energy bolts hit my ship and the Revenue Ship both.
Korg got on the general holochannel and bellowed. "Cease fire! This is an Empyrean Revenue Ship. I'm Revenue Agent Korg and you are ordered to pull over for inspection!"
The only response from the Nebulation was a noticeable increase in gunfire.
Korg pounded his fist on a console before him and sparks flew. "Are you crazy!?
The Nebulation's commander came on the holochat. "You should have minded your own business Korg. You should have played ball!"
Korg turned towards me. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend... For the moment. Are you in?"
"In" I said, giving a triple-finger command on the console which triggered the special programmed utility drone's self-destruct charge. It blew a gaping hole in the side of the Nebulation.
A large panel slid back along the top of the Revenue Ship. Missile racks emerged and unleashed their load.
The Nebulation released space commandos who converged on Korg's Revenue Ship. Korg released even more of his own commandos from his ship and the many trailing cop ships. A wagon train of blinkin' red an blue lights into the starry distance. All them Empyrean law folk was eager to get into the fight!
I was eager to win. I dumped all the cargo drones, space markers, flares, and garbage I had in the direction of the Nebulation and slipped away to a patch of clear starry sky.
My ship's rockets was undamaged, but my hull had taken a pounding. That severely degraded the effectiveness of my gravshield. Cut my top speed by 50%. My ship was no longer the fastest ship in the sky.
Apparently the other ships from the Starshine Sector had never made it past the tangle of my special programmed bot's data bomb. I thought it was hilarious that with all their fame in tek smarts, they fell prey to a simple computer virus. Well, not so simple really as it was reverse-engineered from ancient alien cryptos by Professor Leitraum and his team at Rocketbilly U.
Tor Cratergold had dropped out due to a faulty turbopump. His was no doubt a high maintenance machine intolerant of true racer conditions.
That left Stamos Kraw, Lightnin' Raybeam Reynolds, and myself as the front runners.
Jockeyin' for position and grav-drafting each other, we zoomed through the last Jump Gate. Millions of light years and just a few blurry seconds away, we was in the old Terra system. The Core of the core worlds. Old Earth loomed ahead. The Great Bootlegger Run of 2315 would soon have a winner.
I jammed my accelerator full forward. Combustion chambers' temperature rose into the red and kept going. Them rockets would take full burn for seconds, not minutes. Then they'd melt. I pulled ahead of the others and into the lead. The others dropped in behind me and were pulled forward by my gravity wake.
Word came that the huge flotilla of Empyrean cops had overwhelmed the Nebulation and taken it in tow. Revenue Agent Korg and his fleet were headed our way at top speed.
With the other Rocketbillies grav-drafting behind me, we zoomed like a meteor towards Terra. The Revenue Ship and its growing flotilla of space cops followed, a trail of flashing holo-lights and broadcast sirens. Smaller revenue and cop ships was joining in to take part in the massive bust that seemed inevitable. We was all low on fuel by then. Once we was out of fuel, we could easily be grappled and parked by the police towing ships. They could pull our ships apart panel by panel at their leisure.
There was a huge jolt and my ship shuddered and creaked. Stamos Craw had shot a grappling spear through my rear superstructure, miraculously missing my rocket nozzles. But he had a solid grip and was reeling me in.
Most likely he aimed to use the cable retraction to sling past me at the critical moment, passing through the finish line just ahead of me. Some would call it cheatin', others would call it clever. In bootleggin' an in true Rocketbilly racin' it's anything goes. That's understood. I weren't goin to waste time lookin for a referee to appeal to for penalties.
I steered my rocket thrust sideways and got our two ships spinnin' at either end of Craw's grapplin' tether. Faster and faster we spun.
Ligtnin' Raybeam Reynolds tried to pass us but his maneuver was ill-timed. He got whacked hard by Craw's ship and went spinnin' off to the side. That's the last I seen of him til after the race. He was out.
Me an Craw was near to blackin' out from spinnin so fast at the ends of that cable. Inertial dampening field or no, this was a centripetal survival test I struggled to survive. Facing outward strapped in my seat, all the blood was being pulled into the front of my body, my hands, my face. Felt like my eyeballs was gonna be pulled outta my head. Hands was tinglin'.
I saw the approaching finish line glowing like neon in my cyberhelm and judged my moment real close. Saw the timing, took the shot. With my debris cannon I targeted the cable - and missed! My window of time was closing to complete this maneuver or lose the race.
I shot again - missed!
Blotches of purple darkness were spreading across my field of view. I was blacking out.
I had plenty of ammo, but only time for one more shot. With no other options I maintained my best aim and pulled the trigger again.
Like a squib of red flame, the cable was hit and parted into two pieces.
I was flung over the finish line while Craw was tossed to the side.
VICTORY! My cyberhelm became a riot of color and communication. Congratulations and tributes flowed in from throughout the cosmos. The Great Bootlegger Challenge of 2315 had broken all viewership records. The Twins, my beloved princesses from a idyllic tropical beach planet, blew me kisses.
But the saga weren't over. Nor was the show. Coasting on fumes, we could only surrender as Revenue Agent Korg an his hoards of Empyrean law enforcement commandos grappled us and towed us all for inspection. I noticed they even had Vector Ann's ship in tow. I guessed they aimed to search us all at the same time. Probably craved the prospect of the heavy ratings their search would likely create as it was rebroadcast again and again for days. The Great Bootlegger Challenge was always big news. Showing it being busted, in realtime, in lush holographic 3D, that would be beyond news. A full-on spectacle.
We was all brought down to Old Earth. To a broad, flat, scraggly desert area of Old Australia. Reddish dust and sand blew in a gentle breeze. Some curious kangaroos approached and milled about.
Korg lined up all the competitors' vehicles and lined up each crew in front of their vehicle: Me, Lightnin', Craw, Vector Ann, the other Starshine Sector ships, and the huge Starshine Sector military stealth ship the Nebulation.
Somehow Tor Cratergold had slipped away after his turbopump malfunction. I wondered if it was according to some plan of his and he was already out deliverin' his cargo.
Korg gave the order and his Search And Retrieval agents fanned out and began cargo inspection and ship disassembly. Then Korg, surrounded by his personal ultra-elite SAR team, approached my ship.
"I'm going to tear your ship apart piece by piece, Argo! Save us both some work and tell me where you hid the moonshine!"
"Call it ethyl alcohol," I said dryly. I was being broadcast holographically across the cosmos in real-time, my hands bound in front of me with huge alloy handcuffs. Some victory party.
The race sponsor, Reil Tranx, showed up in a luxury bulk galleon ship, unescorted. He stepped out warily yet strode up like he was takin' command. He tried to take Korg aside but Korg waved him off.
The first results of Korg's agents' inspections was bein stacked outside the ships. All except mine. Crates and cargo containers and bulk liquid carriers filled with bottles from dozens of artisanal worlds clearly marked "XXX,' "Rocketbilly Moonshine," "Fuel-grade Starshine," and so forth. Colorful bottles looking almost like country souvenirs.
Vector Ann yelled out and stomped her feet. "Them's the fake moonshine! Factory imitations of real Rocketbilly folk crafting!"
Race Sponsor Reil Tranx spun on his heel and dashed towards his ship.
"My bounty!" Vector Ann yelled and withdrew a net gun from her backpack. Somehow she must have picked the lock of her alloy handcuffs. She fired the gun and a green glowing plasma net engulfed Tranx and brought him to the ground.
Korg looked at all the fake moonshine arrayed around each ship. From the Nebulation his agents brought data files showing how and where the bottles, labels, and fake moonshine was really produced. Korg cracked a smile.
"Are you ready for this, Jake?"
I shrugged, unwillin' to yet play whatever cards I might have left.
"Tranx Industries has been producing low-grade ethyl alcohol in a lab right here on Terra and having it shipped to the Starshine Sector where it's re-labeled in fake bottles as authentic Rocketbilly. They resold it here on Terra, often re-using the same bottles."
Reil Tranx smirked and said, "It saved on recycling."
Korg waved for him to be taken away, scribbled on a signing pad and yelled after him,"Where you're going you'll get to do plenty of recycling!" He turned to me. "Now let's get down to business. Where on your ship is the moonshine hid."
I just shrugged. I had nothing to say to him.
"Tear the ship apart! Bring in more mech-bots to hurry it up." he commanded, angry.
Half an hour more of tearin' apart and they'd found nothin'.
Korg changed his tack. "You're racing in The Great Bootlegger Challenge and all you're carrying is a full load of Space Dust? You wouldn't have any moonshine hidden in amid all these space dust tanks would you?" He drew a glistening curved tactical knife and ripped into the side of an aluminum cargo container by my ship. Greyish dust poured out. He sifted it in his hand and scowled.
An Empyrean agent holding a scanner approached. "Commander Korg, we have scanned all the dust and found no containers of liquid within them."
I finally allowed myself to smile. "Guess you'll be releasing me now from these restraints," I said, holding the alloy cuffs forward.
With no evidence of infraction on my part he had limited choices. He''d already achieved a major bust that day. "Next time," he said, unlocking my cuffs. He signaled his men to move out and they let me an my ship depart. The others they let go soon after, cept of course Reil Tranx and all them Starshine Sector folks that was in on the fake moonshine operation.
I went to a nearby refueling depot and took on full tanks of gas. Earth ethanol is weak fuel by our standards. But it'll burn if it's all you got. Get you from point A to point B.
Everywhere I went over the next few weeks, everyone wanted to know how it felt to have won. And where did I smuggle that legendary hooch that everyone was ravin' about? The shine I claimed to have brought with me on that race?
I would pull up a few cargo tanks of my Space Dust and show them how this weren't no random prospectin' samples of asteroid dirt. I praised Professor Leitraum and his team at Rocketbilly U for their chemical engineering prowess. Explained as best I could how the chemical equation worked. How by addin' the H2O of water to the magic powder I had brought, moonshine was produced. Yes, I explained, we had perfected dehydrated moonshine.
We could now transport alcohol as a powder. Until the Empyrean caught on to this new trick, we would flood the core worlds with hundreds of trillions of dehydrated gallons of that good ole Rocketbilly spirit.