This is Warren. Eliza Gauger and I had been vaguely kicking around the notion of adding to our five-piece DEEP MAP PILOTS series, under the subtitle XFL – eXtended Flight Log. And then Eliza wrote and drew what follows, yesterday, just for the hell of it. So here it is. You can find Eliza at tumblr and @3liza.
You can also buy the DEEP MAP PILOTS pieces as posters or postcards. And now, Eliza:
DEEP MAP PILOTS: XFL
Kuiper homesteading program, 2176 AD: start life anew in the off-off world colonies. Smiling posters, Leyendeckeresque, urge the new generation of hopeless intelligentsia to never go home again; There Are No Jobs, anyway, so bootstraps yourself right out of Sol and claim your slice of the diamond studded garter of our mother system. Join the space cowboys, rolling in the deep. Billions of ice and mineral bodies are loitering unclaimed in the deep system! The United States Federal Homesteading Office is prepared to award low-interest loans to every hopeful who has the cojones to shuttle hop to Styx Station 14 and hire a charon to buzz them into the denser regions of the Disk–maybe the site of a recent collision’s debris field, or the rumored location of a really big body, maybe a comet or a big iceball–the kinds of tips you pick up in mining canteens a little farther in, from men too old or too smart to go after it themselves. It’s the closest you get to a sure thing, and its better than trying to claw a smaller, surer claim away from someone who got there first, in one of the already-plumbed regions. You’re sick of neighbors. So you cram into the tug with the stinking pilot who doesn’t bother learning your name (he learned his lesson about that early on), clutching your Homesteading Kit™ in your lap and your scanner on top of that, and he flies you out in the direction of your choosing until you tell him to stop, and lets you out.
The kit’s autodrills will bite into almost anything, kicking up little jets of dust or vapor. You pick something mostly spherical, a few meters across, an object the scanner tells you is made of something that won’t shatter if you hollow it out, and when the drills are done they ping your HUD and you squeeze yourself, in your long-haul sumo suit, into the tunnel they dug for you. The homesteading kit’s cabin bladder is rubbery and flexible, some kind of self-repairing plastic, about as thick as a gym mat. It unflops fatly into your rock’s empty belly, and when you find the airlock attachment you stuff it through best you can into the hole, pull the long neck (like a balloon) back out into space, and then turn around and climb inside, pushing your canisters and flashlight ahead of you. You’ve heard this is when most of the freakouts happen, the rubber cabin bladder and the sumo suit and the vast, vast emptiness all pushing in on you at once–people can’t handle it; tear their suits off, scream into long range channels, kick off from their rocks and throw their kit components away from them, one at a time, just to get some extra velocity in the direction of "home". They never make it, of course.
The atmo canisters strain at their leashes, gouting oxygen and your other favorite gasses, and gradually inflate the bladder from a body bag into something like a "room", but you wait many minutes after your HUD gives you the go-ahead before you dare to take off your helmet. Your ears pop painfully, your sinuses empty, the smell of new plastic is almost overwhelming, but you’re breathing. Exhausted, you decide to rest before you set up your rocket crawlers and dashboard. The silence is deafening, but it means you aren’t hearing leaks, and the wet throb of your heart in your ears keeps you awake for a long, long time.
Art and text © Eliza Gauger 2012