The Madness out of Space
Captain Daniel Harrison woke from sleep as a warning claxon rang through the merchant starship Celeste. His starship. Rising from the thin pad that passed for a mattress, though it provided little more comfort than a soft rock, even in the slightly lower than earth norm gravity produced by the ships generators. Harrison recognized the claxon now and breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t the proximity alert. That didn’t give him time to relax though, because the alarm he was hearing was to indicate their fast approaching exit from hyperspace. Everyone aboard the Celeste had roughly ten minutes warning to strap themselves and any loose possessions down to something solid. That gave Harrison about a minute to dress, and around seven minutes to make it to the bridge in order to safely strap himself in without too much worry of being thrown across the room.
Slipping on his good jumpsuit, Harrison bolted from his quarters. Seven minutes may seem like plenty of time to get from his quarters to the bridge, but the Celeste was no small ship. After humanity had managed to discover faster than light travel, and set up colonies on distant planets, it had quickly been decided that the most cost effective way to transport goods between them was to use large ships, really large ships. Vessels capable of supplying an entire colony in a single trip. These ships were never made to land, they were built in space and were supposed to stay there, and they managed the loading and unloading either through a space station, or through the use of large shuttles capable of atmospheric entry and exit. The Celeste was one of those big ships, containing two large holds that would have made Noah’s ark seem a bit cramped when they were empty.
A person could reach any area of the ship on foot, but if they wanted to get there in a timely manner, they generally used the magna rail tram’s that ran from one end of the ship to the other. Four trams in all, one for each side of the ship once you counted up and down as sides, something that could easily be the case in space even if the artificial gravity let you ignore the fact.
As a stroke of luck had it, the tram was in the station Harrison entered, saving him a couple minutes of expected wait time. When the tram came to the nearest bridge stop, Harrison only had a short way to go and a good four minutes to get there and find a seat. An unexpected rumble shook the ship as Harrison entered the bridge. This was followed by a heaving lurch that flung him across the room to slam painfully into the base of his command seat. The ship was wrenching its way out of hyperspace a good two and half minutes ahead of schedule.
“The blasted idiot that put those hyperspace coordinates in had better have just died, because otherwise I’m going to space him!” Harrison swore as he picked himself up from the ground, nursing his shoulder. “Someone get me a damage report, and some idea of if we made the Gales system or not.” He added as Gomez, his second in command, helped him into his seat.
“You’ll know when I do Captain.” Replied the on duty communications officer.
“Are you alright Captain?” Gomez asked, “I can have medical send someone over.”
“No need. It’s just a bruise, and some jarring that I can get checked later.” Harrison said.
“Early reports are starting to trickle in Captain.” The communications officer announced. “The hull held, though engineering recommends having some of the joints examined in dock for stress fractures. Thankfully the inertial dampeners caught most of the stress, or we’d all be paste on the walls. Patrov says the cargo’s held in hold one, he’s got Gwen and Carlos on their way to examine hold two. Medical just sent in a report stating they’re getting a few cases of broken bones in, but mostly nothing serious.”
“That’s good to hear. Now what about our location.” Harrison said.
“Looks like we dropped in a few hundred light minutes short of our target, but I’m getting some strange readings from the direction of the Gales system, our coordinates might not have been off.” The navigations officer replied.
“You’re not just saying that to save someone’s hide are you?” Harrison growled.
“No Captain, the gravity reads are all wrong. I’d say we weren’t in the right place if star placements didn’t say otherwise.” The officer replied.
“Could our sensors have been damaged on arrival?” Harrison asked.
“It’s possible, engineering would have to confirm, but my readings in other directions are all coming in fine aside from an above average debris content in the area.”
“Are we in any danger?”
“No sir, nothing so large that the shields can’t deflect it.”
“How long before we can get a look at the system, the light may be a few hours old but it might tell us something?”
“The computers should have that compiled momentarily, I’ll bring it up on screens.”
At first, the image that appeared only looked like a standard star scape. Then the image zoomed in on the location of the Gales system, hundreds of intricate sensors picking the light apart to form a visible image several thousand times more focused then that of the original view.
“Are we sure this is the Gales system, I’ve been here before and the star was rated as good for several millions of years, also there was another planet or two?” Harrison questioned.
“Star charts confirm it, this is the Gales system Captain.” The navigations officer replied.
“Bring us in cautiously, I want a better picture of the current state of things without getting killed. Earth gov and the stellar patrol are going to want a report on this, whatever it is.” Harrison ordered.
Even with the scanners focused, the Gales system was still too far away to pick out more than major details. As it stood though, Harrison wasn’t expecting to like what he would find. The systems star was an agitated red mess, far unlike the healthy star it had once been, and most of the image was blurred not only by distance but also debris, likely the remains of at least one of the inner planets that Harrison remembered from his last visit to the system.
Nearing even the edge of the system took a while, while hyperspace allowed for the travel of amazing distances in a matter of days or weeks, once out of hyperspace there was only so fast you could go, and when it came to the immensity of space, even travel above the speed of light could take time.
An hour and a half later, Captain Harrison returned to the bridge after a meal and shower. The Gales star system was much nearer now, and Harrison could see many more details as the Celeste’s scanners sorted the detectable data. The Gales system had been home to the Actori terraforming settlement, stationed on the second planet from the sun. Now it was the first planet in the lineup, and it resembled little more than a ball of molten slag, not likely to be housing any survivors. The settlement had owned a space station that had served as a trade hub as well, that looked to be completely gone, obliterated down to its component parts by whatever force had wrecked the system.
Other planets in the system had also been effected by the destruction. The third planet from the sun had been a gas giant with two large moons, now the gas giant was a raging ball of fire like a mini sun in itself, Harrison couldn’t tell if the moons still remained or not, but the asteroid belt just out from the third planet seemed larger and more dense than Harrison remembered, likely having been fed by planetary remnants.
Other than that there was just the planet Kefirs, This planet appeared much as it had before, a frozen dust ball, devoid of water or ice, leaving little more than dust storms and rock, if the planet had been effected by the destruction, it wasn’t particularly noticeable except that the storms that ruled its surface might have been made worse.
“Captain I’m reading a faint distress signal emanating from a cluster of debris we just passed.” Announced the communications officer.
“Survivors?” Harrison asked.
“I’m not sure Captain. The signal’s pretty weak, we’ll need to swing around for a visual to confirm.”
“Alright, bring us around then.”
“We’re having some trouble getting a solid fix on the signal’s source Captain, Whatever it is, it’s small and running cold, I don’t think it’s a manned vessel.”
“It could be a satellite, Captain.” Gomez said. “Though if it’s out this far, it either drifted a long way from the colony, or else it’s one of the stellar patrol’s watch satellites pulled further in system by the gravitational fluctuations from the star. If that’s the case, we might be able to pull the black box and find out what happened here. We’ll need to use one of the shuttles to bring it aboard though.
Harrison nodded his approval before giving the order to launch a shuttle and pick the object up. Gomez had worked with Harrison for several years now, and Harrison trusted his judgment, especially when it came to matters like this. Before signing on with the Celeste, Gomez had been a member of the stellar patrol himself. Harrison didn’t know much about that part of Gomez’s life, the man rarely brought it up, but he had proven particularly knowledgeable at times. All Harrison really knew was that Gomez had been in on a bad op and had left the patrol afterwards with a dishonorable discharge. That didn’t matter to Harrison so much, the man had proven stable and reliable at all times, and he knew his equipment.
Gomez also seemed to possess an almost supernatural sense for picking up on a situation before it could develop into trouble, be it a piece of machinery going, or a bad deal. One particular moment that came to mind was when a less reputable client had thought to take their order by force rather than trade, Gomez had picked up on something being off even before Gwen their trade master had asked for their payment. Gomez had tipped Harrison and the others off without the other side noticing, and so when the client signaled some hired hands to take them by surprise, the ambush turned into a firefight. A firefight that ended quickly once Gomez and Gwen dragged the client with them when they dove for cover and made him a deal for his life.
Those sorts of trades didn’t happen too often, but space was a big place, and since the stellar patrol couldn’t watch it all 24/7, some people occasionally got the itch to play pirate from time to time. Things like that were why Harrison and many members of his crew open carried small arms during any transaction.
“Shuttle’s found the target and made the grab. She’ll be waiting at the dock by the time you arrive.” The communications officer announced.
“Well let’s go see what we’ve got shall we.” Harrison said to Gomez as he turned to leave.