The Dark Wheel

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The Dark Wheel

The Dark Wheel , a novella set in the elite universe and distributed with the original boxed elite game, expands upon the universe Robert Holdstock outlines in the Elite manual and introduces many new concepts.

It introduces the Ryder family, Alex and Jason. Alex watches his father die at the hands of an unknown Cobra pilot and almost dies himself in the process. His journey for revenge takes him to several places, including the fabled Tionisla Orbital Graveyard and into the hands of the legendary Dark Wheel organisation.

Cast of characters

Though plot caution is intended, there may be spoilers:

Jason Ryder: commander of the Ophidian class trade ship Avalonia. Killed during the destruction of his ship by a pirate. Had a secret life as an Elite combateer.

Alex Ryder: Son of Jason Ryder. Survived the destruction of the Avalonia and dedicated himself to seeking revenge on the unknown pirate.

Elyssia Fields: a clone from the "clone world" Teorge. Rafe paired her with Alex because she was an excellent pilot but could not claim the honours of that for herself due to her clone status.

Rafe Zetter: a former friend and business partner of Jason Ryder's. Also a senior member of the Dark Wheel organisation.

Patrick McGreavy: a shady trader and associate of Rafe Zetter. Often trades in illegal goods or exotics. Has a known base on one of the stations in orbit around Xezaor.

What is The Dark Wheel?

The Dark Wheel is a secret organisation about which very little is known. They are known as dream chasers or legend seekers, since many of the stories about them involve them searching for legendary places or artifacts.

One of the legends they chase is the planet Raxxla. It is fabled to be a gateway to other universes, or at the very least a portal to somewhere else in the galaxy. Many parties actively search for Raxxla, but no-one has ever found it.

Controversy

Cody: A very personal opinion: [heresy]I have never regarded The Dark Wheel as canon![/heresy]

Smivs: ... Didn't you once say you'd never read it?

Cody: Yep, that was me. I never had the novella (or the manual) with my BBC Elite. A few years ago, I found it on Ian Bell's website and set about reading it... basically, I thought it was rubbish, and it didn't fit the game I saw before me at all, so I abandoned it after a few chapters. I believe B&B had minimal input, if any.

(Cody & Smivs (2012))

Is The Dark Wheel part of the Elite/Oolite lore? On the one hand, the novella came in the boxed set with the original game. But on the other hand, there are a number of glaring discrepancies between the novel and what one finds in Classic Elite. One such is the lack of planet earth and Sol in Classic Elite, but which is mentioned throughout the novel:

  • Lave, like any other planet, ... was a living, evolving world, and there were folk down below to whom that world was everything that Old Earth had once been to the Human race. Protection. Mother. Home.
  • And of course, there were advertising Droidships, their catchy light displays blinking out information about ROHAN'S REAL EARTH ALE WITH HONEY, or KETTLE'S CLONE-YOUR- OWN FUNGAL CURES.
  • In SimCombat Alex had often built up a success and survival score that had awarded him the simulator's highest accolade: a victory roll over the mock-up of the old Earth city of London.
  • ...the plethora of myths and romantic stories that filtered back from all corners of the Universe: fabulous cities, parallel worlds, time travellers, even planets that appeared to be the old 'heaven' of Earth legend.

And the mechanics of jumping through Witch space are also very different:

  • Now you're with the Faraway Orientation Systems Controller; FOSC—or SysCon—sets you up for the big jump. You're going to cover maybe seven light years in a few minutes, and you might think that's a lot of space to get lost in, but that isn't how it works. Faraway is a tunnel, like any other tunnel. Inside that tunnel is the realm called Witch-Space, a magic place, a place where the normal rules of the Universe don't necessarily work. And every few thousand parsecs along the Witch-Space tunnel there are monitoring satellites, and branch lines, and stop points, and rescue stations; and passing by all of these are perhaps a hundred channels, a hundred 'lines' for ships to travel, each one protected against the two big dangers of hyperspace travel: atomic reorganisation, and time displacement.
  • Jump on your own through hyperspace, across more than half a light year, and you'll be lucky to make the same Universe, let alone your destination. You might emerge from Witch-Space turned inside out (which is not a pretty sight). You might be stretched in all the wrong angles, and although the ship keeps travelling, that jelly mass of broken bone and flesh inside the cabin is you.
  • Then the go-signal for entry to the Faraway tunnel flashed on, accompanied by a gentle audio prompt.
  • Around the entry point to Witch-Space is always to be found the biggest cluster of transit vessels, most of them moored in groups at orbital buoys while mechanics and repairmen crawl over them, checking and servicing their external systems. At such a point in any advanced system like Lave you'll see every ship of the line, every type, subtype and artificially mocked-up version of every snake-ship ever built.
  • The Ryder's own vessel was a relatively harmless Ophidion, capable of two hyperspace jumps, armed very basically, set up, really, only to destroy imminent dangers, like asteroids, meteoroids, or 'crazy craft', the name given to vessels that were out of control, or ridden by juveniles out for kicks.

Author

Robert Holdstock 1948-2009

The Dark Wheel has claimed him.

Abstract

A young man narrowly escapes from the murder of his father at the hands of a mysterious bountyhunter. Pennyless, he nevertheless vows revenge...

OXPs

There are a number of .oxp's which recreate some of the elements of The Dark Wheel within Oolite.

  • Lore Collection (Classic Elite) (2021) includes the relevant oxz's from the Expansions Manager to help transform Oolite into a lore-laden Elite (but see the wiki page for details of unincluded oxp's)
  • Dark Wheel Cobra (2011)
  • Lave OXP recreates the planet texture, the moon, schools of trainee pilots & the advertising droids. (2005?)
  • FPO Lave recreates the planet texture for the enhanced graphics of Oolite v.1.90 (2020) - included in Lore Collection
  • Tionisla Orbital Graveyard (2021) - included in Lore Collection

Download: read it here!

The novel is hosted by Ian Bell: read it here