YC120 Pod & Planet Fiction Contest - Hyperheuristic

I wake up, thankful that it’s from a dreamless rest rather than a waking nightmare.

It’s hard to sleep these days, being wired day and night, and the only place I can sleep without the constant singing of the stars is out of my pod. But these pods are… difficult for me to remove myself from. I don’t like doing it for any longer than I need to.

The channels were empty save for Lee, patiently waiting for me to appear in the voice channel with him.

I popped in without any fanfare, and waited to see if he’d speak up. When he didn’t, I released a loud squawk, hoping to startle him. No dice. He wasn’t actually active.

Lee came back shortly, and found me waiting. He attempted on me what I had on him, and I was rattled with his less than modest level of ear rape, sending his homegrown auditory hallucinatory programs just to spook me. “Damn it, Lee!”

His laughter was infectious as he mellowed out with the absurd level of sensitivity on his input device, halfway across Forge. “Got ya. Get on here.” Longest held friend in this world and he’s still a jackass sometimes. But I’d never trade him for anyone else.

“Yeah yeah, save the ewar for the Trigs.”

I scheduled this session months in advance, and we had cleared out all else. Most sessions were spontaneous, but today we had business.

“So what have I missed?”

“A few good runs in the Sacrilege, but only on Agitated sites. I’m not trying the Fierce sites yet till I test it on sim.”

“Good man, Fierce sites were hell if the Drifters showed up, and that test was a month ago, so who knows what has been added since ARC did their passes. Thank the Virtues for their dedication to science.”

“That’s three to four ewar cruisers and a battleship, right?”

“Yeah, lost a Vigilant that way on sim. Lot easier to test when everything is fabricated.”

“How much was it?”

“Something in the realm of 120 to 150 mil. Not cheap, least for me.”

“So you’re using a Stabber instead?”

I finally cleared the dust from my camera lenses and my ship came into view. A long, narrow and rusty shank, with solar panel gills and a smattering of guns and missile launchers all over the hull. Ugly, but cheap, and fast. Minmatar construction at its basest.

“As if you’re one to talk, you egotistical goldfinger.” He spouts the word of God, flies ships covered in gold, and shoots righteous lasers. What else would you call someone like that, except eccentric?

“Oh, don’t even go there.”

None of this was serious, unlike most people’s interactions these days, but it was a good way to catch up. “So let me see that Sacrilege fitting.”

He sent me the fitting schematic for it and I was thoroughly impressed. 80% resistance across the board and a healthy 20,000 armor points, with not one, but two armor repairers, and plenty of energy to feed them before he runs out. I wanted to whistle over the link, but that would have hurt him with the sound being too high pitched, so I did it to the side, hoping it was quiet enough that he could hear the appreciation in my voice while not getting hearing damage.

“That’s not bad. But you’re using HAM launchers.”

“So what are you using, then?”

“Rapid lights on a Gila. HAMs are too big to hit drones for their size, and the ammo size means you’ve got less space in the hold for salvage.”

“Share fit?”

I sent the link to my design. He sent back a different one, covered in expensive equipment the likes of which I’ve never been blessed with to see myself individually, let alone together.

I sputtered a bit. “With an almost 2 billion price tag? Never in my eternal lifetime.”

“That’s all I’ve seen.” I could sense a shrug in his tone. “Expensive, but it can run a Chaotic with a good enough pilot.”

“I don’t doubt that, but damn.”

I was already in space, flying to meet him, carrying a filament device in tow. That was my ticket to the big leagues, trasure from an untouchable spot, from the deep, safe and secure until it came out with me and became free game for anyone in the system.

“Why not use the Gila you’ve got?”

“I’ve heard rumors that sometimes your last abyssal deadspace timer you had carries over to the next site you try to complete if you didn’t take a breather. That means even if you could complete it, you have less time to do it, and you’re more likely to die. I don’t know if it’s the filaments being faulty or a purposeful design flaw to discourage us from using them, but it’s why I take breaks to drop off my spoils and rearm.”

“■■■■ me.” He breathed, his expletive kept private by my link with him. Despite being Amarrian, he was one of the less religious types, which made him an oddity.

“No thanks,” I retorted, my response to the exasperated breaths of the Amarrian on the line. “It’s happened to me twice on sim, no harm there, but I swear it happened to me once in a different Gila and that’s why I do them after a relaxation period, and in a cheap ship just in case it doesn’t work.”

“Fair call.” He conceded the point.

I pulled up the filament device on a new window, ready to use it. Lee and a few others were waiting at the warp landing to keep anyone investigating me away and protect me from anyone bold enough to attack me in high security space. I had been jumping the entire course of the conversation since I linked to him.

“I’m ready.” The chatter was over. The edge creped into my voice.

“Understood. Proceed to activate the Agitated Electrical Filament,” he responded in kind.

The warp crawled by, and I finally appeared in the abyss. I took in everything, looking at all the readouts for only a split second to see if anything was amiss.

The overview had a red serrated arrowhead on the top. Range: 57 kilometers. Signature: battleship. Name: Charybdis Tyrannos. Faction: Drifters.

My perception of the outside slowed to a crawl while a shot of adrenaline in my chest flowed outward with a satisfying cool.

I was lucky these filaments showed Drifters weaker than the real ones, since those instantly destroyed anything within 100 kilometers of them. I started a lock as it turned to face me, sleek, angular, and far beyond my scope in tech.

Get under its guns, orbit at 500 meters. Deploying drones.

“Charybdis Tyrannos, 57 km. Engaging. Drones out.”

Two little x’es popped in next to my ship and darted towards the Enemy, buzzing around like tiny armored gnats shooting 25mm bullets at the abomination of a ship.

The strength of the Drifter was slowly dropping, but not fast enough to beat its regeneration. I took in the effective stalemate as the shields were damaged enough to kick in more than if they were almost full, leaving my drones in a state of limbo between breaking the shields and being bested by them.

Must engage closer. Range: 25 kilometers. Maximum missile launcher range requirements and autocannon falloff range requirements met. Firing.

Both weapon stacks fired away, the missiles streaking out of the launching pods and the bullets streaming angrily towards the Drifter, leaving pockmarks in its armor and scorching the paint off with directed blasts of guided metal.

I was now on top of it, too close for it to hit me with its weapons, traversing so slowly they couldn’t track me accurately. I had it on the ropes.

It died within a minute of repeated poundings and I reported my success. “Drifter down.”

“Proceed to next pocket.”

I recalled my drones to the drone bay and reloaded my weapons, just as I saw the flash of a warp-in.

“Hostiles on grid.”

The overview had two red triangles on the top, and at first I felt confident. Range: 30 kilometers. Signatures: cruisers. Name-

My thoughts stopped cold as I swallow dry the pill of reality.

Name: Vedmak. Faction: Triglavians.

“I’ve got two Vedmaks on grid, going into overheat.”

“Take it slow, Maha,” his pet name for me. “Then bash them hard.”

Triglavians, or Trigs, were new, and something of an unknown, even more so than Drifters, and oftentimes Drifters fought Trigs in places like this. An Enemy fighting an Enemy, and both powerhouses in their own rights.

The Vedmak was an open shape, three long and wide pylons surrounding a blood red core, a so called naked singularity, a power source of some kind. It looked like a tiny star, or an eye, staring straight at me, with each arm bearing a sphere, unconnected physically to the ship. Both fired, the spheres lighting up like the cores in the middle, with a stream of particles grazing my ship. The pylon arms opened up and the cores in the middle of both ships grew larger, a sign that their damage was increasing.

The longer I let them hurt me, the more damage they do. This is not a race of endurance I can win.

I hammered at the weapons keys and the drone deployment button, targeting the closest of the two as I focused my fire.

They were repairing themselves, the other Vedmak glowed and was sending over a spiraling web to his friend, a repair module. I couldn’t kill them faster than they were killing me.

Then three more warp-ins popped up. Small triangles. Range: 20 kilometers. Signatures: Frigates. Name: Damavik. Faction: Triglavians.

Great. More Trigs.

This was getting out of hand, and internally I already accepted my loss. This was not possible to win against. I was going to die or run out of time.

“More just showed up. Trig frigs, I’m toast.”

My weapons stopped running, having been set to overheat, damaging themselves in a frantic run to beat the Enemy. I didn’t stand a chance, there was nowhere to run to.

I wasn’t about to tell Lee my ship was about to die.

But he found out as soon as my ship went up in a fireball and my ears were filled with static. I woke up in a cold sweat from a living nightmare. Lee saw the kill mail and he started chortling.

“What was it you always say? Trust in the rust?”

“Yeah, sod off.”

That made him laugh harder.

Not again. I will prevail. Perseverance, young capsuleer.

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