The Vessel: Chapter 6

The ship sailed through the stars in its persistent journey to get to Terran space. Through the small time Marle spent on the ship she felt that something about Travis didn't quite add up. Something about him... just his overall personality that just didn't sit right. Who would program a computer that so much as cared how she felt? Why program it with the illusion that its 'feelings' could get hurt? She couldn't be sure. She just knew that she was in space, alone with a computer to serve as a... friend I guess?

In a short moment later the ship slowed to a stop. Marle felt the momentum cease to be, and she made her way for the bridge. The viewing screen on the bridge showed the appearance of a cylindrical space station up ahead. It was a simple, cookie-cutter design that, according to instrument readings, about 170m by 85m, with a landing platform about every thirty-four meters.

"Travis, what's going on?" Marle asked outloud. After a brief moment the ship nigh made himself known on a panel nearby the front of the viewing screen.

"Its just a routine stop," Travis replied, "We are about to enter Thak space, and I need to provide clearance before I can fly in their space, else I get flagged for trespassing and they send military ships after us. There's nothing to worry about. Did this with the old crew."

"For the good that will do," Marle uttered under her breath.

"I beg your pardon," Travis asked innocently.

"Its... its nothing," Marle dodged the response.

"Its nothing invasive really," Travis reassured, "All I have to do is submit a code to them to and they place a tracking signal on me, and merely follow my ship's sensor signature to make sure that I am in fact just passing through and that jazz. Its fairly routine."

"Alright, if it makes them feel better," Marle replied.

"You don't believe its effective?" Travis asked, "I mean, the Thak are a sheltered race and that... can't say I think that's right in anyway but nothing I can do about it, though the tech itself is intended to keep unwanted ships out of there space... ships that conduct piracy or trafficking, or smuggling prisoners... and such a culture would have a high number of bullshit prisoners..."

"Yeah, the Terran Federation has something like that," Marle spoke, "Freighters, Transport ships, and military ship on authorized duty had to have tracking chips placed on their ships to curb piracy."

"Oh really?" Travis ponder in curiosity, "Been too long. So, how does that work...?" The scowl on Marle's face was all the answer he needed. "Oh... sorry Marle."

Moments later a message in some strange guttural language was being transmitted through the bridge speakers. "Its a bot asking to identity ourselves... I've sent a signal in binary..." There was a pause. More of that language, and more of Travis telegraphing what was going on: "Its asking for a code... and if this one is still valid..." another pause, and more strange-speak and more Travis, "code rejected, what? Again, must have been a binary blip."

The process repeated itself thrice before the guttural language came back in shrieks. "Dammit," uttered Travis, "the code... must be out of date... don't think it can be brute-forced."

"So, do we risk it?" Marle asked, "The Phoneix-Belle might be able to fly fast enough..."

"They got some pretty fast ships of their own," Travis replied, "and lasors... lots of lazors, and long-range particle cannons, harvast bots..."

"Ok Travis, you've made your point," Marle sighed and sat on the chair by the helm. She had no idea how to fly a ship: she was an engineer, and not a Terran-Federation trained one. Travis would have to do all the flying that was needed.

"You think if we asked them they would grant us passage?" Marle enquired, "I mean, unless we were going for a pit stop or something in the system."

"Not a bad idea," Travis replied, "Course, they have had 'experiences' with us. Its how I had that code in the first place. Oh well."

"Oh dear god," Marle rolled her eyes, "what kind of shenanigans did the last crew engage in?"

"Well, there was the time a group of Thaks wanted us to take them out of the system, while smuggling 'vapours' for poltiticalla," Travis began, "they gave us the codes, and there we were, being smugglers for them and various surrounding systems..."

"Wait... what?" Marle interrupted him.

"The Terran Federation has problems... this area of space became unreachable as many of the races and systems here formed alliances to keep the Terran quote-unquote 'plague' out. During the standoff... that I believe is still ongoing, many Terran vessels found themselves cut off. Communications don't even reach this far, so the crew gave up and well... did whatever."

"I see," Marle's face pinched into itself.

"Oh, Marle... don't be mad at me," Travis spoke, "it was mostly getting political prisoners and the occasional drug lord out of certain sectors and into others, alongside sensor scans and some fast piloting... we weren't raiding anyone: I don't think the crew would have stooped that low, dear god."

"The though that you had anything to do with piracy..." Marle snarled.

"We had been abandoned - the captain felt abandoned," Travis spoke solemnly, "it felt like we were given up on, I felt a little abandoned, though I did suggested returning to Terran space, as far as it was.

"Mind you we were this far out in space for a reason, and that was my fault, in a way. I was an experiment, and one that we didn't want to be discovered prematurely."

"So the crew abandons their loyalty to the human federation?" Marle asked snottily.

"I don't think they ever cared that deeply for the Terran-Federation in the first place," Travis replied, "They just wanted out.

"Like it matters now. Going around will take forever and going through would be suicide, so we need the updated codes."

Marle sat in silence. The gutteral gibberish came onto the intercom. "They're saying 'hurry up or get out...' I think," Travis translated, "hard to say with translation algorithms."

A tense silence filled the room. They both knew that boding too long would get them blasted out of existence, and at the same time the most direct routes where through the Thak spacial territory.

Finally, Marle spoke: "Can we ask them for the codes? Any of them?"