YOU HAVE ONE KILL REMAINING UNTIL LEVEL THREE.
This was the last thing the computer
said in its calm, feminine voice, before it immediately died. Funny moment for it to tell me that.
I was on my back, lying on the floor directly behind my little scout ship's pilot seat, with my hands embedded in the bottom of the engine status console. I was trying to fix the hyperdrive's flow regulator, a delicate process considering that one extra particle of antimatter here or there could blow a hole the size of a grapefruit in the side of my ship. Doesn't sound like much of a problem until your head gets sucked through it by the rapid depressurization and you end up wearing the side of your ship as an immense charm necklace.
I was also painfully aware that I had the authorities on my tail and that hiding in this dust cloud wouldn't save me forever. It's a bit ironic, actually - I'd be perfectly safe until I turned on my engines, at which point the drones they'd positioned outside the cloud would lock on, spiral in and blow my ship (and me) to bits as they watched from their cruisers further afield.
I'd be perfectly safe, that is, assuming of course I figure out how to live without breathing as I'd had to shut the life support systems down with the engines. My backup power had died thirty seconds ago with the computer's last message. I've got about 20 minutes of oxygen left in the cabin, give or take a few minutes.
I sit back and groan. If I'd had power this would be easy; the computer told me as much before grinding to a complete and utter halt. If I'd had the power to take care of one last kill on the guild's list I would only have to wait until it was approved by central command (an agonising few seconds) before all sorts of new and wonderous advances were automatically downloaded and installed into my ship.
What the hell, I think to myself, You're only young once, kiddo. Go for it. I reach up farther under the console and find the hyperspace drive ejection lever, close my eyes, and pull.
The mechanical and chemical ejection systems shoot the hyperdrive core out the back of the ship. It reaches the edge of the cloud where the low-power magnetic fields that keep the antimatter in check attract the attention of the drones. They quickly converge on it and detonate in a fireball that catches the closest patrolling cruiser totally off guard. Its fuel lines rupture, its engines lose integrity and implode, bits spinning off into the void. Finally, as though staying in one piece was simply took too much willpower, the ship drifted apart in hundreds of directions at once.
I wait impatiently for my upgrades from central command. I'd only managed to take out one of the two cruisers and the last thing I needed was for them to come barging into here, particularly with me in my state (crippled) and they in theirs (pissed).
Finally, a message comes through. Lights come up across the control board with a message blinking at the top.
LEVEL THREE REACHED. BATTERY POWER RESTORED. SHIP IMPROVEMENTS DOWNLOADED AND INSTALLED. PRESS LARGE GREEN BUTTON TO CONTINUE.
I don't press the button; I smack it with all my might as the second cruiser comes hurtling out of the darkness behind me. My ship reacts like a pro; a pair of fuzzy dice drop from a compartment in the upper bulkhead as a new message scrolls under the other, still blinking one.
QUANTUM DRIVE NOT AVAILABLE UNTIL LEVEL FOUR. YOU HAVE 80 KILLS UNTIL LEVEL FOUR.
Not that I had time to absorb any of this; I was too busy dying to care.