Fiction Fragment Friday

I never expected to write a sequel to Bickering. When I wrote it I assumed it was just an amusing one off story I would never return to. Then I recorded it for Chapter 14 of the Bite Size Tales Podcast. Returning to the story I found now enjoyment in it. Recording it also let me try out some new audio editing techniques. It made me love the story more.

When I sat down to write this weeks story I had an idea that needed a small ship that could be run by a single person. If I had not recently recorded the story in audio form I’m not sure if I would have bent my new story to fit those characters the way I did. I had though and I knew that they were returning for this tale.

I did not expect story progression for the characters. As the story wrapped up I made some realizations and came to the conclusion that the story was moving forward a bit. I had a completely different ending in mind than the epilogue final paragraph, but it felt right. I don’t think I am done with this universe and suspect you will see more of them in the future.

“Steven, I’m picking up an emergency beacon.”

I spun my chair to see the display screen.  Beverly, my ship’s AI, was displaying the available details on the beacon.  It was a small ship that was leaking radiation badly.  Thankfully the leak was coming from the engineering section on the opposite end of the ship from the docking ring.  We could safely dock and provide assistance.  My only concern was that it was not broadcasting name or registration information.  That could just be due to system damage, but it did set off some red flags.   

“Open a communication channel to them.”  I waited for the tell-tale green light to pop on indicating that the channel was open.  “Come in unknown ship.  This is The Quickwind, what is your status?”  

The response came back broken up and a bit difficult to understand.  “So glad to see you Quickwind.  I had an explosion in engineering right after I jumped in.  My engineer is dead, and the ship AI is offline.  I thought I was dead.”

“Well, I don’t know if I can help with the ship or not, but if not, I can give you a ride.  I’m approaching your docking ring now.  Quickwind out.”

I moved the ship around to an approach that wouldn’t buffet the ship with radiation.  The shielding should have been enough, but I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks.  It wouldn’t do any good to attempt a rescue only to die of radiation poisoning in the process.  I just hoped the pilot hadn’t taken on too much radiation already.  My systems showed the environment on the other side of my airlock as normal, but I had put on a protective suit just to be safe.

“Alright, put your hands above your head and no sudden movements.”  The man on the other side of the lock was holding a blaster in his right hand. He motioned towards a seat at one of the computer consoles.  “Go ahead and have a seat there and put your hands behind the chair.”  I did what I was told and felt restraints slip over my wrists.

“I don’t have any cargo of value, and no one is going to pay a ransom for me.  Whatever you are hoping to gain here it isn’t going to work.”

“Do you have any idea how much the reward is for smugglers?”

“No, but I’m not a smuggler.”

He put his face right in front of mine.  “You might not be, but I am.  I’ve got a real valuable cargo onboard, but my ship was spotted and I’m never going to be able to safely dock with it.  That’s where you come in.  See the bounty is just as good for a dead smuggler as it is a live one.  I’m going to take your ship and use it to deliver my cargo.  Then I’m going to turn in the footage of destroying my ship and claim my own bounty.  Double pay day and a clean ship to boot.”

“Minor problem with your plan there.”

 “What’s that?”

“The Quickwind doesn’t have any weapons and it’s owned by the company I work for, not me.”

He reached down and hit a few buttons on the console.  “Well then we’ll just have to improvise.”  I could see that he was setting the ship’s engines to overload.  This normally wouldn’t be possible, but it looked like whatever trick he used to spew radiation into space required all the safety measures to be disengaged.  That included the ship’s AI if it had one.  “There, now I’ll just claim the informant fee for the video of the already damaged ship exploding.  My new ship won’t be as clean as I would like it, but scrubbing the serial numbers will just be a minor inconvenience.”  He laughed as he left me alone on his ship while he crossed through the airlock back into mine. 

I had maybe fifteen minutes tops to find a way out.  The restraints were too tight and seemed to loop around the base of the chair so I couldn’t slip them over it.  My shoulders wrenched in pain as I struggled trying to get some sort of leeway.  I could see the overload building on the displays in front of me.  I expected him to come back any moment for his cargo and if I wasn’t free by then it would be too late.  That was when I felt a small tug on my pants.  I looked down to see a maintenance robot by my feet, and it was one of mine. 

From a small internal speaker, I heard the voice of Beverly.  “Would you please stop moving so I can cut your restraints without slitting your wrists in the process?”  Her voice conveyed a new level of annoyance and trust me living with only her for the past few years I had heard her annoyed before. 

“Yes ma’am,” I said and quit moving.  I could feel the restraints loosen as the robot started cutting through them.  “How did you know I was in trouble?”

“Well, I’m not an idiot for starters.  I kept your commlink active so I could hear your conversation.  Second, if you weren’t, I don’t exactly think you would be letting some stranger try to deactivate me.”  I made a mental note to have the invasion of privacy conversation with her again but knew that an example of it saving my life was not exactly going to help prove my point.  My arms burst free from the restraints, and I quickly started typing away at the computer.  “What are you doing?  Get your lazy butt moving and come rescue me.”

“I’m coming, hold on.  I need to do something first.”

The screens came to life and a loud male voice came over the speakers as the ship’s AI came back online.  “You good for nothing….  Oh, wait a minute.  Who are you?”         

“I’ll explain later.  Right now, this ship is building to an explosion.  Can you stop it?”

“Of course.”  I could see the screens rapidly changing as the AI once again took control of the ship. 

“Good, now check the inventory.  Are there any weapons onboard that I can use to even the score with your owner?”

“He is most certainly not my owner and no there are no weapons other than his personal blaster and the mounted cannons that I’m aware of.”

I stood up and headed for the docking port.  “Send a message to the closest station requesting assistance.”  This was when I realized that my maintenance bot was not following me.  It had dropped into automated mode and was making minor repairs around this ship.  “Oh, that’s not good.  Hold on Beverly I’m coming.” 

I heard the sound of a blaster coming from the bridge of my ship.  As I ran through the ship I could make our cursing and the sound of fire suppression systems.  There on my bridge the intruder was being sprayed with foam.  I could see one maintenance robot had been blasted to pieces, but another scurried away carrying the blaster. 

While he was distracted, I tackled him to the floor.  I’m not a trained fighter, but I’ve been in a brawl or two in my day.  I suspected this man knew more about violence than I ever would so the fight needed to be fast and end before he could use that experience against me.  Thankfully he was caught completely off guard as Beverly had been assaulting him with every system she still controlled. 

Most AIs would not be quite so aggressive, but she is something special.  Neurotic, obsessive, and prone to holding a grudge.  Also, as I had learned recently, she cared a great deal about me and that was its own kind of motivation.  She was something special.   He might be a better fighter than me, he was also alone, and we were a team.  He never stood a chance. 

The reward for catching the smuggler and turning his ship back to its original owner was quite considerable.  So good in fact that I was able to purchase the Quickwind from the company.  I couldn’t afford the operating expenses after that, so I had to keep working for them, but I owned the ship and that was a start.  Someday I could rename it and strike out on my own, but I would not be alone.  Buying the ship was my way to guarantee that Beverly and I would be partners forever.