A gamma wind was blowing and energetic particles bounced off the hull like hail. Phaedra adjusted the compensators using the control cluster on her Spark-44 Recon Corvette. “Picking up some chop,” she said. She was flying point in the arrowhead formation with her four squadmates on her rear flanks at right angles from each other. The nebula was thick and golden before them. And beyond its veil? Well, that’s what they were here to find out.
“I’m feeling the same,” said Kolt. “Think we’re getting dipped?” Dipping is what they called short-burst test signaling; just enough to find out if you want to commit to further investigation. The more you pry, the more you expose yourself, so you test the waters first. You dip your toes in.
“No,” she said confidently. “Might as well be looking for the moon in a mineshaft with that spread pattern. I think it’s naturally occurring. Just stay alert.” Phaedra tried to keep it light. Flying the Spark-44’s always put them on edge. They were more accustomed to PTU-Brimstones: terawatt repeaters, grav cannons, and six AI-guided monopole scudshells. They’d never had a need for any of it, but security blankets come in lots of shapes. Meanwhile, the Sparks had…well, they had a big canopy. At least the view was nice.
They flew in wide arcs, skirting closer and closer to the nebula itself without breaching its border. At last, Phaedra was satisfied. “Check your boards. Setting a rally point here. We’ll split up on 72’s and take it out to a megaklick. Take your dips and report back in. Copy?” They all confirmed, and then they were each on their own.
Truth be told, she found it unnerving too. Sparks moved fast and traveled far, but the humanity of knowing there isn’t another soul for hundreds of thousands of kilometers can make even the most experienced pilot’s head spin. She pushed her little ship forward, extending the magscoops deep into the stellar breeze until the inertial stabilizers began to protest. Pretty soon she’d be back with the Flotilla, safe and sound. And until then, the view really was nice.