It’s time again, dear readers, for a challenge from the terrible mind of Chuck Wendig!
This week’s assignment? A story title generated at random from two lists of words. A story written to match that title. 1000 words or less. I came in right on the nose with this one, and am awfully pleased with the results.
And in the interest of fairness, here is proof of my random rolls for the words I got.
Here’s “Starship Rider”:
“And there she is, Mr. Drevin. The Starlance-005. Fastest warp bike ever made.”
I whistled as my hands found her cold, smooth surface. I caressed her as if she were a new lover, tenderly but eagerly, exploring every curve and surface. I was in a hurry, but you didn’t rush this kind of thing. I bent low, my eyes gazing across her gleaming, stainless surface, my breath fogging the duranium plates that made up her exterior. Flawless.
“Frankly, I think you’re a little nuts. But then, I think all you rocket jockeys are.”
I smiled and turned towards the sales rep.
“Nuts, huh? Can’t say that’d be the first time I was accused of that,” I said, then chuckled. “Don’t imagine that’s a real great sales tactic, though.”
The rep, Cho, I think his name was, laughed.
“Buddy, I know your type. Twelve hells, I could probably tell you that riding that thing would cause a plague on three random core worlds and simultaneously cause your mother to sprout horrible, life-altering warts, and you’d still swing your leg over that crotch-rocket and ride. No…I don’t have to sell these, friend. You do that for me.”
I laughed too, sincerely, despite my hurry. Because he was right.
“May I?” I asked, gesturing towards the lady. Cho gave a nod, and I swung my leg over, settling down into the saddle.
A little nuts was probably right. Warp bikes were insanely dangerous vehicles, and they barely qualified as that. They were little more than a warp drive fitted with handlebars, a saddle, a few control pedals and panels, and an ionic force-field generator. Support systems were as minimal as possible. Magloks to hold your atmo-suit. Molecularly-compressed oxy tanks to keep you from suffocating. A micro-fusion reactor to power the beast. Handlebars to steer it. There was no shortage of people who thought anyone stupid enough to magnetically attach a nuclear-powered rocket between their legs deserved the likely very short life they got.
Especially when there were comfortable transports around. Reliable star barges, shuttling to every populated planet in the galactic system. Nice. Safe. Slow. It was that last word that killed it for me, though. Can’t have slow. Even if that term is extraordinarily relative. Even the slowest transport traveled several times faster than light through warp space, but for a guy like me, that still wasn’t fast enough. A warp bike, though, was a starship of a different color. They were the fastest man-made objects in space. Nothing could out accelerate one, not even the top of the line dart fighters employed by the Republic peace keepers.
Granted, a bike had no weapons, no amenities, no place to rest, eat, or shit. All it had was a whole lot of speed. You couldn’t go far on one. Short jumps between systems, with regular refueling. Ancestors help you if you ran out of juice and fell out of warp somewhere off the shipping radar. There was also the need to find a place to do things like resting, eating, and so forth. Even with all that, though, even with having to stop and sleep and lose that travel time, they were still magnitudes faster than any other ship known.
And that was exactly what I needed.
I spared a glance to the skies. Clear, getting dark. It wouldn’t be long now. Cho and I wrestled verbally over the price for a short while. The final price was still ludicrously high. Starfighter high, maybe a bit more. I could have gotten him lower, but I knew I was running out of time as it was. My appreciation of that fine hunk of machinery had been a waste of time I probably couldn’t afford, but I let my baser instincts get the better of me. Besides, it’s not like they were going to be around long enough to collect on my debt.
The paperwork took too damned long, and I was beginning to get antsy. I thank the ancestors that Cho read that as eagerness to get starborne, but twelve hells, I wished he would hurry it up. Finally, he had a contract in hand and a smile on his face. I signed it, rapidly, my scrawl taking up a quarter of the page. No time for neatness. Cho escorted me to the sales lounge, helped me suit up into an acceptable atmo-suit.
Outside, the sky was dark. Any time now.
Cho ran out with me as I rushed over to the bike, opening one of the tiny storage bays and stuffing what few belongings I had into them. The sales rep beamed like a proud new father, and for a moment, I felt kind of bad for him.
Or would, if he’d let me leave already!
“Hold up, Li!” he cried. We’d taken to using first names by this point. “You’re forgetting something!”
“What?” I asked in exhasperation.
“A christening!” he laughed, pulling a small bottle of terrible champagne from his pocket. “You know it’s bad luck to fly without a name! What will you call her?”
I hopped on to the bike, my legs locking into the magloks as the atmo-tubes clicked into the air tanks. I looked to the sky.
“Harley,” I decided. “Her name is Harley.”
Cho smiled, and brought the bottle back in an overly dramatic swing.
The sky filled with flashes of light.
Too late – I thought about warning Cho but it was too late. And a warp bike was a one person ride.
They descended planet-side quicker than anything I’d ever seen. A thousand stars, tens of thousands of planets, and we’d never found another sentient race.
Until three cycles ago.
I’d burned out my last bike getting here. I’d barely escaped then.
“Sorry, Cho,” I said, kicking the warp drive into gear. Entering warp in atmo is dangerous. Ludicrously so. I had no choice. They were here. I had to get to the core. Warn the Republic.
I hoped I could ride fast enough.