Fiction Sanctimonious:- Stranded

‘Am I looking forward to this!’ exclaimed David ‘Davie’ Thornton.

Stretching out in the gunnery chair, he looked around the bridge of the Krait Mk II, ‘Sanctimonious II’. There was the usual uncomfortable shudder as the ship travelled through hyperspace. Duncan ‘Mac’ McTaggart was sat in the forward pilot seat, while their daughter, Mooka, relaxed at the fighter control station on the opposite side of the bridge.

Davie knew this new ship was far superior to the old Asp explorer. It had more firepower. It was faster. It could turn more quickly. There was the fighter bay, which Mooka could launch remote controlled fighters from, and the most important improvement, were the new living quarters. They were larger and much more comfortable. It was like they’d been upgraded to business class from standard.

However, there were times he missed the view from the Asp’s gunnery station, the familiar rumble of the engines, or even the smell of the coffee in the galley. For all of the Krait’s advantages, it couldn’t match the jump range of their old ship, which meant that journeys could take almost twice as long. They might be more comfortable during the trip, but it did feel that the galaxy had just got a lot bigger.
The crew had just finished a highly successful exploration trip to the top of the galaxy. They had catalogued hundreds of new worlds. So many in fact, that Davie estimated both Mac and he would be awarded the exploration rank of Elite. That is when they cashed the data in. Mooka would probably get a huge boost to her rating too.

He smiled when thinking about his ratings. It would be his first Elite rank and that would allow the crew access to somewhere they had never been before; the Pilot’s Federation home system of Shinrarta Dezhra.

To get this high above the Galactic plane, they’d hitched a lift on one of the new Fleet Carriers. These huge ships had the range to jump the hundreds of light years in a single jump. That range was required to reach the stars high above main disk of the galaxy. A stripped-down Anaconda could have made the jump up there, but only if they had taken the risky move to fuel scoop from a neutron star. The problem with that was, there were no neutron stars in the cluster they had just investigated. Without a Fleet Carrier to jump back, it would have been a one-way trip.

‘I do like it that the Carrier will take the strain,’ Davie announced. ‘We’ll be back before we know it.’

A thought occurred to him. ‘Hey, do you think we can name the star cluster up here “The Ramtops”?’

There was a snort from the pilot’s seat.

‘Yeah and next you’ll want us to fly to the bottom of galaxy just to check for elephants and turtles,’ Mac said sarcastically.

Davie was about to retort when the ship trembled as it left hyperspace. As Mac navigated around the star, Davie called up the system map. His blood ran cold. There was no carrier. Looking up nervously, he saw Mac’s shoulders tighten as the pilot realised the same thing. After a few minutes of flying, the Sanctimonious II dropped out of Frameshift around the same planet where they had arranged the rendezvous.

‘Aw Flux-Stains!’ Mac swore.

‘What do you want to do?’ asked Davie.

‘I’ve got no idea,’ muttered Mac.

‘Do the Fuel Rats have a Carrier?’

‘I don’t know if they’ve got one,’ replied Mac. ‘and even if they did, I don’t know if they’ll bring it out here just for a single ship.’

Davie called up the Galaxy Map to try and started to plot a way home. His stomach tied itself into an even tighter knot every time the nav plotter failed to find a route. It was always the same. The route stopped at a couple of stars 50 light years below them. The next closest batch of stars was another 300 light years beyond that. With the Krait’s 35 light year range, it was far too big for their ship to cross.

‘Nope,’ Davie reluctantly reported. ‘There’s a gap, there’s no way we can cross it.’

‘Right,’ sighed Mac. ‘Options?’
‘Could try for it in Frameshift?’ asked Mooka. ‘We’ve had the drive up to 300c!’

‘The frameshift is only for short periods of time,’ Mac explained. ‘The longest we’ve ever run it for is 2 hours.’

‘Urgh! The Hutton Run,’ Davie shuddered. ‘Two hours just for you to get a fluxing mug.’

‘So? I wanted that fluxing mug!’ Mac shot back. ‘Point is, remember how much we had to pay for maintenance after we docked?’

‘According to the computer, the drive would burn out after 3 days of use,’ Mooka sighed, looking up from her console. ‘We’d only get about nine light years.’

‘Which brings us back to the Fuel Rats,’ Mac said.

‘Ah,’ Davie said.

‘Ah?’ replied both Mac and Mooka together.

‘I don’t think we’ve got a Rat Phone* on this ship,’ Davie admitted.

‘What?’ Mac cried out. ‘You can’t be serious!’

‘Pardon me for being thick,’ interrupted Mooka. ‘But what is a Rat Phone?’

‘The “Rat Phone” is a special piece of communication equipment that people can use to call the Fuel Rats anywhere in the galaxy,” explained Mac. “The Fuel Rats, being the nice people they, give out these free comm units at any station.”

“Whoever had this ship last didn’t appear to pick one of these up,” said Davie sheepishly.

Mac screwed his face up in frustration and rubbed the back of his neck.

‘It’s not your fault,’ replied Mac. ‘I’m the commander, it’s my responsibility to check.’

Mac sat back in his seat and blew out a lot of frustration.

‘What do you think our contingency be?’

Davie shuddered at the thought. They could be stuck here for years. Just praying that a Carrier would venture up here.

‘We found an Earth-like world about 20 light years away,’ Mooka said calmly. ‘We could use that as a base of operations?’

Davie admired his daughter’s ability to stay cool under pressure. He wished he could project that level of self-control sometimes. ‘That sounds like a plan to me,’ said Mac. ‘I say we should hold position
for the next week or so, just in case the carrier comes back. If there’s no Carrier, we start looking for a place to put down. You two OK with that?’

Mooka nodded straight away.

‘Well, I can’t think of anything different,’ grumbled Davie, realising that there would be no credit windfall or no Elite Rank for the foreseeable future. Especially when he had a vision of all three of them, living in mud huts on a deserted island, desperately waiting for a contact alert.

***
‘Capital ship jump signature detected,’ Mooka announced over the internal communicator.

Davie was out of his bunk and running to the bridge, as fast as his mag boots would let him. With each of them taking eight-hour watches, to make sure there was always someone on the bridge, the activity was a welcome relief to the boredom and tension of the last three days. Once on the bridge, he began to strap himself into the gunnery station’s seat. Mac came running through a couple of seconds later.

‘How long?’ he asked as he ran to the pilot’s seat.

‘It should be coming through in a moment,’ Mooka replied.

Davie could see a swirling smoke-like distortion appear ahead of their ship. He could feel the air around him start to vibrate, turning into cracking sounds which almost deafened him. Up ahead, the stars seemed to warp into clouds of swirling smoke. Then, as if something had ripped a hole in the centre of the vortex in front of them, a pointed helm of a ship began to emerge.
Slowly, as if it was clawing its way out of hell, the front section materialised, and the vortex of distortion seemed to widen as the flight deck forced its way through. Finally, the bridge and engines emerged from the clouds as if pushed through a hole too small for it. With a final cracking sound, the portal of swirling smoke dissipated, and the stars returned to normal. The huge Carrier was in front of them, as if it had always been there.

Davie sighed in relief when the throbbing sounds stopped and the air pressure seemed to equalise. He made a mental note not to be this close to any capital ship jump in the future. The size of this ship was overwhelming. At more than three kilometres long and over seven hundred metres wide, it dwarfed even the largest Federal Battlecruiser. It needed the space just to have the eight huge landing bays on the main flight deck, with smaller flight decks along its sides.

Davie quickly scanned the readouts. This was the Drake Class fleet carrier ‘Shananigans’, the same Carrier which had dropped them off here. Davie could feel the tightness in his shoulders ease off for the first time since they had arrived in system. They were going to get home.

‘Sanctimonious to Shananigans, we’re glad to see you,’ Mac said into the communicator. ‘Thought you might have forgotten about us.’

‘We had been diverted to pick our owner up,’ replied a voice from the carrier. ‘He does pay the bills after all.’

‘Well, we’re just relieved that you’re here now. Requesting Docking Permission please.’

‘Denied Sanctimonious!’

‘What?’ Both Davie and Mac exclaimed together.

‘I said I’d give you a lift out here,’ replied a different voice over the communicator. ‘Never said anything about taking you back.’

‘It’s bad enough you stranded us here for three days but now you’re just here to gloat that you’re not taking us back?’

‘Not without some incentive!’

Davie closed his eyes in resignation. He knew what was happening.

‘How much?’ Mac sighed, obviously coming to the same conclusion.

‘It’s not that bad,’ the voice continued. ‘A donation of 1000 tonnes of Tritium would suffice.’

‘We don’t have any Tritium,’ Mac said flatly. ‘We’re an exploration vessel, not a rock grinder.’

‘Oh, that could be a problem then,’ continued the voice, who’s tone was making Davie’s fists itch.

‘Mind you, you could purchase Tritium from our marketplace at a very competitive rate.’

He interfaced with the Fleet Carrier’s systems to see what they were selling Tritium for. Normally that commodity would sell for about forty thousand credits a tonne, meaning they would need forty million credits to buy the demanded amount. He felt his jaw go slack when he saw the one hundred percent mark-up. This carrier was demanding eighty million credits.

‘Competitive Rate huh?’ replied Mac.

‘I’d like to say so,’ the voice continued. ‘Can you see any other Carriers around here to give you a better offer?’

‘What if I say that we can’t afford the full price to get us home.’ Mac said hesitantly. ‘But we can pay for hundred tonnes of Tritium, just to get over that huge gap below us.’

There was a pause over the communicator.

‘That would hardly cover our costs to come up here.’

‘You’d lose even more if we decided to try our luck with the Fuel Rats,’ Mac countered.

‘But...’ Davie started to interrupt but shut up after seeing a glare from Mac.

‘200 tonnes and you have to cash in your exploration data here.’

Davie made a cutting motion to attract Mac’s attention.

‘Let me consult my crew,’ Mac replied.

‘Fine, Although I feel should warn you, I’ve started the jump prep and this Carrier will be leaving in fifteen minutes,’ the voice finished smugly.

The communicator switched off with a click. Mac and Davie exchanged glances, knowing they had been played.

‘Why say the Fuel Rats?’ Davie said urgently. ‘We don’t have a Rat Phone!’

‘They don’t know that,’ Mac snapped back. ‘It’s the only way I thought to get his price down.’

‘Oh,’ Davie said, realising that he’d almost given the game away.

‘We’re going to have to cash in the expo data to afford those prices,’ Mooka observed. ‘And you only get 75% of what we would have had if we’d reached home.’

‘I know,’ replied Mac. ‘But what choice do we have?’

‘I would prefer the one jump and flying back under our own steam,’ said Davie. ‘There are still unexplored systems on the way back to the bubble that we can catalogue them and cash in.’

‘I agree with Davie,’ said Mooka. ‘Besides, we still get the exploration rank increase, even if we lose the money here.’

‘That’s fine,’ said Mac. ‘I was thinking along the same lines. Just bites me that we’re going to lose so much money on this trip.’

‘Seems to me that not all pirates need guns to rob you blind,’ Davie said.

‘So true,’ replied Mac. ‘But once we dock, we lock the ship down. We don’t leave this ship and they don’t come aboard.’

‘Not even to the Bar?’ Davie said, shocked.
‘Especially to the Bar,’ Mac said urgently. ‘We’re taking enough of a risk making this jump with them as it is.’

‘They might try and shoot us down, so we don’t spread the word about this scam of theirs,’ Mooka observed.

‘Oh, hadn’t thought of that,’ commented Davie. ‘You know Mooka, sometimes I worry that you can think that way.’

‘But she’s right,’ Mac interrupted. ‘As soon as the carrier has completed its jump, we undock and burn for the next star before they try anything else. Agreed?’

Mooka nodded in agreement and Davie having thought about it nodded with grim determination. With that, Mac flipped the ship to ship communicator on.

‘Sanctimonious to Shananigans, we agree to your terms and again request permission to dock.’

‘Glad you came to your senses, Santimonious,’ the oily voice replied. ‘Docking permission is granted.’

The Sanctimonious II moved, almost reluctantly, to its docking pad. Davie took a deep breath and force himself to calm down. This was probably going to be the tensest jump they’ve ever made.


Author's Note
This was supposed to be my entry for the writing competition but I just couldn't get it down to less than 500 words.
*The 'Rat Phone' is really a substitute for the website that Cmdrs use to call for help.
 
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