“Rise and shine, team!” Pedro called into the intercom stalk to emphasise the computer’s tinny-voiced nagging. He pushed the stalk back into its cradle and pulled his chair round with his other hand to begin flipping the interlock switches for the jump drive. Out the corner of his eye he noticed a figure slinking into the bridge: a glossy, purple skinned Zalmade with the species’ distinctive bottom-heavy look and a familiar furtive air.
“Hi Ayo.” he greeted the ship’s botanist in her native tongue, doing his best to replicate the glottal stops and tongue clicks that were considered polite in Zalmade.
Ayo made her way up to the pilot's deck. "Hey Pedro..sorry to bother you, but what's going on?"
Pedro opened his mouth to respond, taking a second to remember the Zalmade word for mayday. As if on cue, the intercom clicked, and the captain’s voice broadcast over the speakers in their customary artificial timbre.
“[CALM]. Attention crew of the Falcor.” For reasons best known to themself, the captain had chosen a high, girlish vocal set for their working body. Although he was used to it now, Pedro was still glad that during his job interview captain Zya had not been au fait enough with humans to wonder why he was suppressing a smirk the entire time. “Zyaust-jecant speaking. Prepare for FTL jump. Report when you are ready. When we all are, engage the FTL drive, pilot. [DISMISSAL]. The beacon is most probably for a ship that has run low on fuel or suffered engine damage. [ASSURANCE]. All we will need to do is tow their ship to our destination.”
Pedro, who was still sitting frozen with his mouth open and one finger raised, shrugged and pointed instead at the speaker. “What they said.”
"Right nevermind that is my question answered..." Ayo slunk back awkwardly and made her way to one of the side seats in the corridor, where she was soon joined by their resident celebrity - who had chosen garish pink pajamas for the occasion.
“Good evening, Ayo.” said Skylar Hart, in that delicate falsetto voice that most people only got to hear over the hyperwaves. “Looking pretty as always I see."
"Sickbay ready and standing by," doctor Brz'tek Sirc reported from her usual post, her quiet voice barely registering on the intercom. Pedro didn’t wait for a response from Tink. She’d be ready in the engine deck just below, with omni-tool in one hand and one of her secret stash of nutri-paste tubes in the other, and - more than likely - cursing his name, his face and the parents who had had the bad manners to spawn him after he had woken her up.
“[CALM] Pilot, we all appear to be ready.” captain Zya’s machine voice broke across the intercom. “Engage the jump when ready.”
“Copy that.” Pedro responded as he punched in the last codes of the startup sequence. “And the monkey flips the switch.”
Beyond the panoramic arc of the bridge windows, space twisted, beginning to swirl and dance in surreal colours. Pedro clenched his stomach out of habit, bracing against the slight jolt before the jump drives engaged and the view exploded into the flat white of stars rushing past.
The count ticked down through the interface puck at his temple, and he braced again as the auto-nav dropped them back to sunlight three kilometres abeam of their stricken target, gas jets slashing from the Falcor’s bow to match course and speed. The hull camera screens gave them their first view of the distressed ship: a long, sweeping wing hulled in obsidian black, but with crushed and tattered ends that spoke of some nasty damage.
It registered a steady, residual heat bleed on the thermal cameras, but almost nothing in the way of power. The alien ship was dark, derelict, dead.
It was not a design that Pedro recognised, which wasn’t necessarily remarkable, but the database queries scrolling down the side of the display indicated that the Falcor couldn’t place it either.
Don’t get excited. There’s a million sentient species in the galaxy, and the shipyard won’t have wasted memory space uploading them all to a hauler like the Falcor.
“Okay, let’s move.” Pedro urged the others, lowering his grav-couch and sliding down onto his feet.
* * * * * *
Magnetic tethers held the two ships together, spinning slowly as the Falcor’s running lights glittered off a thousand tiny pieces of debris, trailing from the obsidian ship like hagfish tailing a carcass. Pedro felt them plinking off the fishbowl helmet of his exo-suit, the vacuum of space turning the sound hollow. He glanced up and watched the air and integrity monitors projected onto his visor settle back to green before thumbing his jet controls and pushing him the final hundred metres to the alien ship.
“Gravity’s gone.” he remarked as he drifted between exposed metal struts, projecting like ribs from the open hull. “But I’m reading atmosphere in the interior.” He checked the readouts on the panel strapped to his arm. “Cold, but survivable for most sapients. There might still be someone alive in there.”
He reached out with a stunted arm, and used it to pull himself under an obstructing beam. It was difficult to tell if the spar had been dislodged by damage, or if the species that designed this ship just really hated right angles. As he moved beyond the comforting glow of the Falcor’s running lights, he tapped the side of his helmet, splashing the corridor with white light from his suit torch. Glassy shards twirled in the airless compartment, and a purple liquid was leaking steadily from a split hose, bobbling away in small droplets. Ahead was an oval alcove that ended in what looked very much like a door, with a spiral wheel-lock.
“I think I’ve found a way in.” Pedro reported, tilting his helmet so that the crew still on the ship could get a better view through the camera mounted below the torch. “I’ll close it behind me to keep the air in. Let me know if the comm-link stays steady.”