The Vessel: Chapter 1

This is Travis of the Phenoix-Belle, your signal has been received and I am towing your pod onboard. Please remain calm as I mean you no harm.”

This phrase echoed through the escape pod in a calm male voice as she felt a jerk to indicate that she was moving at a different direction and velocity than she was before. It wasn't long before she found herself peaking through the viewing panel and saw a large shiny vessel out into the blackness of space. Marle appraised such a thing to be a scout ship which would likely have a crew of about five to twenty people.

The tow was going to be a bit, but Marle couldn't sink back into the half-asleep and half-shaken state she was in for the past few days... days she had to survive on dried rations and relieve herself through a sealed 'flap' against the pod's interior. All while the memory of how she got here kept running through her mind. The deaths of the men onboard and the undetermined, but likely horrid, fate of Chaffer... poor, sad, Chaffer, on Fra'getta.

"Agian, this is Travis of the Phoniex-Belle. I apologize for the ship having a silly name, the crew named it, not I," Travis rang up again, "I have your pod in tow now, and I want confirmation of your status before you enter the docking bay."

"Course," Marle hailed back, "I'm feeling weak from eating emergency food for..." she looked at the internal clock and jumped in shock, "five days, but I'm alright other than that."

"Well, that's good to hear," Travis replied, "I've got plenty of room for you here, its a small ship mind you... bigger than an escape pod of course, but it isn't exactly a Varson Warship* or a Terran transport shuttle**... have you seen those things... holy shit."

There was something about Travis and his sweet voice that make Marle feel at ease. It was hard to not picture him to be a sweet but silly looking Terran male, closer to adorkable than dork. She was deeply curious as to who she ran into now that the ship was getting closer and closer.

She watched in anticipation as the docking bay door opened and the escape pod was slowly maneuvered inside. The pod was straddled onto the bay floor before the door closed behind her. It was a tight fit, as this vessel was not designed to haul ships, but about ten second after feeling the pod drop as the room pressurized and the artificial gravity kicked in, she got this hail:

"This is Travis letting you know that the bay is pressurized and it is safe to open the escape pod door... or is it called a hatch? Well, you know what I mean."

Marle giggled a bit before opening the pod hatch and climbing out, finding herself in a cramped bay. She looked around, and approached the door leading to the rest of the ship and looked for a button to request that the door be opened, as was custom for entry a ship while in mid-flight.

While doing this she ignored a horizontal panel on the floor next to the door. This panel started to glow with a bright light that Marle couldn't ignore and she stared at it, and watched as the light took holographic form and resembled a rather dorky looking fellow in a uniform.

"Well, welcome aboard miss," the man in the holograph said, "I'm Travis, you are on the Phoneix-Belle and I wish you welcome."

"Nice to meet you... I guess," Marle replied in a puzzled tone, still unsure of what to make the ship's... wait what was he?

"By the way, who might you be?" Travis asked.

"Marle," she replied simply.

"Ah Marle... that is such a nice name," Travis replied in a giddy fashion, "Its nice to meet you, yes it is."

"Travis, where are you?" Marle asked in curiousity, "All I see is your holographic projection."

"Oh, well, that is rather interesting to explain," Travis replied in a tone of something talking while thinking, "the bay door should be open, there and up the ladder is the habitation level... take the room at the end of the level... the explanation is rather complicated and I would like you to be comfortable."

Marle opened the door from the docking bay to the rest of the ship. From there was a ladder as Travis promised. From the ladder she could go downward... which from the sound of machinery and pulsing plasma she knew was the engine room. There was also upwards, two levels if she was correct, and straight ahead which likely lead to other rooms. As Travis instructed she climbed the ladder to the habitation level, which was where the sleeping quarters of the crew were.

Once on the intended level she walked down the hall to the sliding doors that rested there. She pressed her hand on the touch panel that rested next to the door and after some beeping the door opened. Inside she seemed astonished at what she saw.

The room was big by living quarter standards with a high-end cot on the end and a desk and chair ensemble where a personal computer would sit. The room had the usual cleaning station and that, but Marle couldn't help but wonder if she was in the quarters of someone important... like Travis maybe.

Course, something that she found disquieting as she walked towards the desk was simply the silence of the ship. She had came from a ship with four other people and was use to the sounds of four other people over the intercom or walking about. This ship could comfortably support eight people and all she could hear was the sound of the engines as they powered up, powered down, and hummed.

Also, where the hell was Travis? She got the odd feeling that she was sitting in his room, I mean, why else would he direct Marle to this room, which she figured was the captain's quarters? Wasn't Travis the captain?

Wait, Travis never said he was the captain. He never said he was an anything... but where was the crew?

At this point of her thought processes she notice another one of those panels by the desk on the side adjacent to the bed. As it did last time it lit up in the form of Travis.

"Hello," Travis spoke in a chipper tone, "I think you are wondering why here? Well, take a seat, this is going to be a long description."

Marle took a seat at the edge of the bed. She looked at him with contempt as she did this. "Why can't you show yourself?" she asked him, "What do you have to hide?"

"Oh Marle, it isn't that at all, I promise," Travis replied quickly and with superficial sorrow, "Please, just let me explain. If you don't like it afterwards complain then, just please hear me out."

"Alright," Marle replied with a nod.

"Ok then," Travis began, "You see, I'm a ship Nigh, an experimental one. I'm not a member of the ship's crew: I am the ship itself... its intelligence.

"A horror befell the original crew... oh it was the saddest day of my life. A strange form of space madness came over them and by the time I could act it was too late. It was bacterial warfare... oh don't worry, I had the ship decontaminated long before you came aboard, still, the captain had beheaded himself in the engine room, another officer hurled himself out into space, and two more officers fought to the death. The last one went into a rabid frenzy and dropped dead. It was too late when I figured out what happened. All I could do was eject the bodies into space and decontaminate the interior. I've been crewless ever sense.

"When I heard the distress signal my heart just jumped... well... in a matter of speech... yeah... I mean, its nice to have company, even if just a guest. I can fly the ship on autopilot, but it was too quiet, you know?"

"Travis, don't get your hopes up," Marle replied, "I don't plan to stay aboard for that long. Just long enough to get into Terran space and home."

"Figures," he replied. He sounded a little sad. "Still, you will be needing a ship, and you are far off from Terran space, I mean, you were adrift at a fast speed, and no friction to stop you."

"Well, for what its worth, thanks," Marle spoke, "It means a lot that you rescued me."

"By the way, what happened to you?" Travis asked, "I mean, I don't think I got your story of how you ended up here."

There was an uncomfortable pause. Marle looked to her feet as Travis looked on expectingly. The memories of what happened, the pirate attack and the murder/kidnapping of the crew she was assigned to, were all so fresh in her mind. She shock her head and broke the silence with "I... don't want to talk about it."

"Alright then," Travis replied, "So, plot a course for Terran space?"

"Yes," Marle nodded, "Please.

___________________________________

*The Varson are a race within the known universe that use a stratigy of having these massive ships under the impression that such a thing would scare off their opponents. Their warships would therefore resemble small space stations.
**The humans (terrans) have build large bus-like ships that can carry up to 10,000 normal sized humans comfortably.