The skids touched down on the landing pad, engine fans blowing red and brown debris in the air. It wasn’t so much of a landing site as it was a patch of barren ground. Then again, most of the planet was pretty much just that. This particular system had become popular after terraformers were able to create a few large bodies of water and Earth-like weather cycles over one of the northern sections of the planet. Shortly after, hotels and palm trees sprung up over the terraformed section, thrusting Tab Kabelac into the spotlight as the hottest vacation resort in the galaxy.
There was a time when terraformers worked relentlessly to create machines that would change entire planets, but there were too many variables involved. No two planets are alike, as no two areas of a planet are alike, and to create a single machine specific enough and powerful enough to change an entire planet – the effects can be devastating.
Multiple Terra Units were created some 25 years ago, to test on an uninhabited planet in a remote system. Scientists worked to create nine different units, each one designed for a specific geographic region, and more importantly, to work together with the adjacent units. Terra Units create an “umbrella effect” over the area they process, adjusting the specific conditions of that particular area. Because a unit is working with different variables than the adjacent terraformer, the units clash on the edges of the umbrella, creating turbulent effects where umbrellas overlap. When scientists were able to create a system of units that work together, they were sent immediately to a remote, uninhabited planet to be tested.
Interest in this technology had not been limited to humans. Ierki had been monitoring the expansion of Earth colonies for nearly a decade before extending a handshake. This was the first contact mankind had with an intelligent alien life, and mankind, eager and naïve to establish a relationship, embraced them with open arms. That is, until the Ierki learned of the multiple Terra Units and decided they needed them a lot more than the Colonies. The Ierki launched a swift attack on the group of Terra Scientists and their small military escort, and stole the units. It was to their own detriment however, as three months later they were activated on an inhabited Ierki planet, causing catastrophic earthquakes that killed two-thirds of the planet’s population. Somehow the blame fell back on mankind, and the next 15 years were spent in war.
When the Terra Wars came to an end, Earth colonies and Ierki abandoned the idea of large-scale terraforming as a moral choice. Single units were still allowed however, with government approval. Tab Kabelac was a desolate rock in the middle of a business system until the approval for a Terra Unit came through. Vast, blue lakes were created with waterfalls, sandy beaches and grassy plains to compliment the new tropical conditions. Shortly after the formation was complete, every entrepreneur and gold-digger in the galaxy wanted in to build a hotel, restaurant, strip mall or bar on any corner they could squeeze one. On the surface, Tab Kabelac is not without its glamour. It also has its seedy side, although the authorities are largely ineffectual. As long as tourism is up and business is good, the government turns a blind eye to everything else. A lot of illicit business is done in Tab Kabelac. Aside from that, it is truly paradise. Many Ierki also vacation here. Their money is welcome. Thousands of tourists visit daily, making it the perfect place for anonymity. It also helps if one can keep their vehicle from being identified and logged, which is why this landing strip 20 clicks out of the umbrella was preferred.
The racer’s engines shut down and the hatch popped up and slid back with a hiss. As if on cue, the door to the small shack at the edge of the landing circle opened and a burly looking man appeared in the doorway, a liver-colored pointer at his heels. He stepped out toward the ship, marveling at the sight.
It was one of the latest models of its kind, and if he had to wager a guess from experience, a prototype. She had a jet black body with a silver streak and judging from the shape, the fastest Skipwing yet. At least, it used to be a Skipwing. There was no telling what they would have modified, and nearly impossible to tell with the naked eye. The pilot climbed out of the cockpit and the hatch slid back into place.
“Don’t get too sentimental, because you can’t keep her.”
The man turned to the pilot and snorted, “You really know how to crush a guy, don’t you, Tarin?” The pilot grinned and nodded.
“So, tell me what you’ve done to her.”
Jaydi Tarin turned toward the Skipwing. “You’ve probably noticed that this is a prototype. She’s faster than the previous Skipwings and a bit different body-wise. We’ve repositioned the thrusters,” she pointed, “to allow for better maneuvering in space. There’s also extra shielding – three different shields hammered together.”
“Three? What’s the third?”
Standard shielding on civilian craft is designed to protect from general space debris and radiation. Anything modified above and beyond standard shielding is illegal, but a very lucrative business. The first two shields were most likely to protect against energy-based weapons and smaller grade mass-weapons such as the Poor-Man’s-Bomb, a wicked solution to strong energy-weapon defenses. Comprised of miscellaneous shrapnel and any explosive substance in the center, the mass-explosive known as the Poor-Man’s-Bomb magnetizes itself to a ship’s hull. When it explodes, the shrapnel rips a hole in the side of the vessel. The size of the hole doesn’t matter, as long as there is one – and as anyone who has lived in space long enough knows, holes and space don’t mix. These mass bombs are usually detonated remotely, although in the past couple of years some of them have been fixed with back up timers, in case your target is able to calculate and execute a jump out of the remote’s range. But these were the only serious dangers to protect against, even outside of the government-sanctioned planets. Unless…
“Tractor beam deflectors?” he asked, incredulous.
Jaydi didn’t confirm it, but she didn’t deny it either. He whistled. “I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. Tractor beams are becoming more and more common, especially outside the colonies.” The military had experimented with tractor beam defenses during the Terra Wars. As far as he knew, they hadn’t abandoned the program when the war ended. High-powered boosters would also be required to escape a beam, something above and beyond what was available to the average consumer. He had no doubt that the Skipwing was cleverly concealing her secret. That, and a sophisticated weapons system he knew was sure to be installed. It was little wonder as to why this group was known as some of the best Modifiers in the galaxy. He turned back toward the small structure at the edge of the landing circle. “Come on inside so we can gear up.”
Jaydi nodded, giving the dog a friendly pat. “We need to check in anyway, before the Exchange.” She turned and followed him into the shack.