“This is some heavy depopulation.”
Tarou quietly muttered before the stargate to his destination planetary system. Back at the gate near Alba Station, there were enough vessels to fill the entire space, but now he could see no more than 10 ships in all.
“The Peta System… ah, it’s one of those so-called abandoned mining system, it seems.”
Maar did a quick search of the neural net on her display. As a question mark floated over Tarou’s head, Koume let out a mechanical voice.
“Mister Teirow. It is just as the words may imply. A star system originally colonized to excavate the belt, but that eventually lost its value once the metalliferous veins ran dry.”
“Belt… Ah, you mean an asteroid belt? I heard they were easy to work on due to the lack of gravity.”
“That’s true when it comes to certain ores. Though there are some where the existence of gravity increases efficiency. Those ones are mined on normal planets.”
On the two’s explanation, “I see,” muttered Tarou.
“Mining out the asteroid belts, I don’t know what to say at this point… ah, let’s see. They mined it, processed it, and made a station on the spot? Just what scale of construction is that?”
Tarou looked over the neural net site Maar sent over. He confirmed the ship was steering itself by a program before collapsing face-up into his seat.
“If we’ve gotten to a level where we just excavate small stars, the natural resource market doesn’t look too profitable.”
As he said that, Tarou stared at the star projected on the display. There, “You must be joking,” Maar continued on.
“Common metals aside, the value of laser metals is increasing year by year. They’ve already mined everything dry in the center of the empire, so they have to be brought in from the outer reaches.The price is soaring at a ridiculous pace.”
At Maar’s explanation, Tarou started to ponder. “Meaning,” he said.
“If you mine them in the outskirts, an’ sell them in the center, you cn make a fortune? If it’s just transporting them back, we might be able ta get a piece ‘f the pie… though there’s a limit to what our ship can carry. You think we can carry something valuable like gold?”
“Yeah, I wonder. They make for quite a sum, so I doubt they’ll leave transport to someone without credibility. If you want to go that route, it’s best we mine for it ourselves, but the major companies have already snatched up all the mining rights.”
“Ah, as I thought… I kinda saw it coming.”
Tarou gave a jovial laugh. Maar turned him a curious expression.
“No, I was just questionin’ it all the while. See, you said the outer reaches are like a country at war. Why would they discard a place like this without any inconveniences, and make their way to the end of the world? I’m sure it’s not just resources, but you can find untouched mountains of profit all around the outside, right?”
On Tarou’s words, “Correct,” said Kooume.
“You are perceptive at times, Mister Teirow. As you inferred, through the outer reaches spreads the dreams of all forms of get-rich-quick schemes. The problem lies in how you have to protect the resources and rights you obtain by your own hands.”
“The at times part was unnecessary, Koume-chan. By the way, about the self-defense part, when it really boils down to it, what does everyone do? It’s clearly impossible to settle it with our company alone. Is there an alliance we can join?”
“You really are perceptive from time to time, you know? It’s quite common to link arms between companies to carry out work. A union. There are companies like Gigantech that can manage on their own, but that’s a small minority. Though honestly, I haven’t the slightest idea what’s going on in the outer reaches of space.”
“A corporate secret, eh… well, if they spread the method, everyone’d imitate it, so it’s obvious. By the way, the from time to time part was unnecessary, Maar-tan.”
Tarou said as he pointed his index finger at Maar.
“Ah, looks like the Jump Drive is starting.”
“I was ignored!?”
The haze of dispersing lights.
His very existence wrapped in a hazy sensation.
Alongside the scattering light, his being transfigured to something resolute.
“Uwah, you threw up again!! Hey, dude, you haven’t gotten used to it again?”
Tarou twisted his body at the discomfort that assailed his whole, turning to the rubbish disposal chute as he expelled the contents of his stomach once more.
“No, I’m much better than I was first time aroooooouuughhh!!”
“Erk, talking or spitting, please choose one…”
“Hah, hah… if I could choose talking, I’d have done it long ago. My stomach’s already spewing up on full auto… could this be this true auto-bilot? How anoooyourrghhh!!”
“No, why did you put your body on the line to say something so stupid…”
Tarou spit up his stomach’s contents, which no longer consisted of anything but gastric acid, before trudging back to his seat.
“You called it jump sickness, did ya’? Dammit, I don’t know what cosmic powers created this universe, but they added one thing too many. Hey, Koume-san. When will I get use to this?”
Wiping up the stomach acid Tarou expelled with the towel in her hands, Koume spoke.
“There are some individual differences in the speed at which one overcomes jump sickness, but in most cases, they can get over it after three or four times. But Mister Teirow, what you are experiencing appears to be several times heavier than a normal case. It seems one is generally only supposed to feel a light nausea.”
“Ueh, so I’m special. I shouldn’t ‘ave asked… wait, what? Isn’t somethin’ strange here?”
“This isn’t the first time something’s been strange with you.”
“No, not that. Where are we? What are all those floatin’ rocks?”
Thinking it was his usual nonsense, Maar made an unconcerned face, but confirming his serious expression, she immediately initiated a wide range search.
“Hah!? Wait, did the jump fail? We’re quite a ways before our destination gate.”
On Maar’s panicked voice, Tarou confirmed the scan results as well.
“The former asteroid belt zone… the mined-out leftovers ‘s what it is. Maar, leavin’ the detailed scan to you.”
Tarou took a glance at the countless rocks floating around the display, starting up the anti-debris laser. After receiving the detailed scan results from Maar, he began burning away the rocks in the way of their route.
“No large structures around. Koume-san, the jump drive was a system to leap from stargate to stargate, wasn’t it?”
On Tarou’s question, Koume responded from her ship system checks.
“Affirmative, Mister Teirow. The Jump Drive is actualized by the forceful ‘attraction and repulsion’ of two separate stargates. This is just a hypothesis, but perhaps some abnormality has come out in the destination gate.”
“I see, so we were unlucky… is this sort of thing common?”
“Negative, Mister Teirow. The probability of a failure is approximately 1 out of 10^15. Given the number of stargates, it really is a rare occurrence.”
Tarou raised a groan at the information coming in. Even to a newbie space traveler like himself, he could understand well enough that he was wrapped into an abnormal situation.
“Hey, Teirow, can you get in touch with any other ships? It seems these chunks of debris are mostly heavy metals, so our call signs and scans aren’t going well. Be careful of impact.”
Maar spoke in an uneasy voice. Tarou opened his BISHOP, and looked over the contact list of call signs coming in from around. From them, an absurd amount of noise-filled replies were coming in at once.
“This’s quite a number… alright, let’s take a sample. Huh? That’s no good. There’re over 20 ships here.”
Tarou recalled the ten-odd ships in the stargate as he began eliminating entires from the continued scan results. Repelling the pointless noise, and cutting out the diffused reflections and other unnecessary streams of information.
“28… to hell with it. Koume, there are around four that are undoubtedly ships, so could you open up a communication line with all of them?”
“Understood, Muster Teirow. Putting 4 online in order of proximity.”
Just as Koume finished speaking, the voices reached his ears.
“… Oh, it got through? This is call sign B112.”
“… Th…… ca… ign C111. I repeat. This is call sign C111.”
“Call sign C164. This is call sign C164.”
“Oy, the hell’s going on? This is call sign D024. Can you hear me?”
Alongside the noise hurting his ears, word came in from the 4 closest ships in the neighborhood.
“This is… um, what was it again? Ah, right. This is call sign Root. This is call sign root. It seems our jump drive failed, could everyone give me their positions?”
On Tarou’s words, replies of, “Give me a second,” came in one after the next. After some time passed, the information on each ship came into his BISHOP.
“Hmm… so that was the signal of that ship… this one’s the reflection of that signal… in that case…”
Based on the signals coming in, he began eliminating signals from the scan data with even greater accuracy.
“Please stay online. I’ll send you our scan data right now. Though there are a few unknowns, at the very least, I think we’ll know where we are in relation to one another.”
“This is C111, information received. Your ship is equipped with a fine analysis device. Our analyzer’s no good. Can we leave temporary command to you?”
“This is Root. Um, let’s go with that for now. Though our analysis is set to super manual here.”
“This is C164, out expected course runs too close to C111. Can you tell them to take evasive measures?”
“This is Root, understood, C164. C111, please change your course a bit towards us.”
“This is C111, understood, Root. Though a bit is a bit vague. Requesting definite number.”
“Um, Koume, could you please… C111, I have sent the coordinates. Maar, another scan please. No matter how many times I calculate it, I get 28.”
Tarou suppressed his hands shaking from the tension of all this unfamiliar activity as he examined the information being sent in.
“I kinda took up command, but I have no clue what I’m specifically supposed to do. Can’t the other ships talk amongst themselves?”
Was there any way he could escape responsibility, thought Tarou. To that, Maar said, “I think that’ll be difficult,” and continued on.
“Even this ship, if we didn’t have your information processing, we wouldn’t be able to see a thing. I’ve been wondering it for a while now, but is your head–”
“Help us!! It’s WIND! There’s WIND in this field!!”
The moment Maar was about to say something, an interrupting scream came over the signal. Tarou’s shoulders perked up in shock as he exchanged a glance with Maar.
“Mister Teirow. The calculations that led you to 28. Could it be that was not a miscalculation?”
On Koume’s words, Maar gulped. Tarou saw it in the corner of his eyes as he let out a shaking voice.
“Enemy vessels… there are enemies swarming about!!”