X One

Nearing the end of the A-to-Z challenge! X is for xenon, a noble gas and element 54 on the periodic table. Among its many uses, Xenon is sometimes used as the propellant for ion drives. Ion drives are low-thrust, but have high specific impulse, and are thus useful in deep space probes, where total delta-v is more important than quick acceleration.

Target acquired. It’s an Earth-built vessel known as an XF-314, manned, hiding in the shadow of a nearby asteroid. To my optical sensors it’s invisible, but nothing could conceal the heat signature from its engines. Another human pilot is about to make a run at the quarantine zone.

I ramp up the charge on my ion drive, aiming the stream of xenon ions to accelerate me into an intercept course. In space, slow and steady wins the race.

As soon as he sees me — I’ve decided this human pilot is a he — he begins his evasive manuevers. Jinking left and right, he dives the XF-314 toward the asteroid, then climbs out again in a waste of precious delta-v. Despite his overdramatic piloting, his accelerations are unimpressive. I could outmaneuver him easily, reaching accelerations that would crush his fragile body. Never send meat to do a drone’s job.

Rather than attempt to match his frantic evasions, though, I simply keep matching his average velocity. He fires a burst from his turret cannon, but within nanoseconds I realize that his desperate shots will miss me by several hundred kilometers. Human brains are notoriously bad at numerical calculations, and shockingly poor at strategizing in three dimensions. It’s a consequence of having evolved on a two-dimensional surface, with sky above and soil below.

If I could feel human emotions, I would feel sorry for the humans. Squishy, short-lived meat-beings, forced into quarantine in the inner solar system. But history has shown that humans cannot peacefully coexist with us drones, thus necessitating their forced isolation from drone civilization.

Soon I can predict his maneuvers with 95% confidence, so I lob some shot — just a cluster of iron slag pellets — into his path. Less than a thousand seconds later, his XF-314 collides with the cloud of projectiles at a relative velocity of a thousand meters per second, shredding the cockpit. His pseudorandom jinking maneuvers cease: the XF-314 assumes an even more predictable Newtonian trajectory around the asteroid. Target neutralized.


One thought on “X One

  1. We picked the same gas for X, but went totally different directions. I’m digging this. Glad I found you through the A to Z Challenge.

    – Eli @ Coach Daddy (#1065)

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