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Jun 20, 2020

This month's patron-funded story is "Dino Space Pirates" by Stu Chebooch, narrated by Nobilis Reed.

The ship hung derelict in space. Puffs of gas escaped intermittently from the hull. Its drive engine lay ripped open, inner parts exposed. The fuel had long since evaporated.

Inside the hull, two people were working. “Crap,” said Marianne Vega. She pushed back from the machine she had been working on, holding out the soldering iron. “There's hardly any battery power left. This will keep life support going for another few hours. Maybe five, if we're lucky.”

Peggy Terrid took the soldering iron and put it back on the work table. It clattered slowly in the low gravity. “How about a distress call, Captain Vega?”

“No good,” she replied. “The hyperwave fried during our last call. If anyone had heard us, they'd be here by now. It was a war zone, after all, we're the last thing they'll be thinking about. We could send radio waves, but they won't be received for months. We'll be long dead. Us and our 25 passengers.” She looked at the soldering iron. “We may as well turn off the rest of the gravity. Divert everything to life support.”

As Peggy packed up the tool box, Marianne Vega placed a hand on her shoulder. “Dismissed, Lieutenant. I'll be on the Bridge. Do as you see fit.”

“If it's all the same, I'll be there with you, Captain,” Peggy replied.

Captain Vega made it to the bridge before the gravity cut out. She strapped herself into her Captain's chair. Eighteen adults and their children had put their trust in her to get them out of the war zone. “It should have worked, damn it,” she muttered. “One lousy stray shot.”

Peggy Terrid came onto the Bridge. “Gravity out in two minutes,” she announced, then took a seat at the navigator's station. The gravity lessened, then went to free fall. The lights dimmed. Captain Vega drifted, then began to doze. 

Minutes passed, and rolled into hours. Her head drifted to one side in the microgravity, weightless. Her eyes blinked, then squeezed open. A red light was blinking on the console.

“Peggy...” she started. But Peggy was already on it.

“Incoming signal, Captain,” she said briskly. Her swiftly moving fingers activated the console.

Captain Vega straightened in her chair. “Full lights. Onscreen.”

“Ahoy, the ship!” called a voice.

“Dinos...” Peggy said in a low whisper.

“Captain Skraark of the Free Wind,” he announced. Reptilian skin covered a massive face. The nose protruded from a combined mouth and snout. His crest extended well above his head. The scale of the other ship was hard to discern from the viewscreen, but Dinos were usually over eight feet tall.

Captain Skraark waved a scaly hand. The claws on his fingers extended for several inches and looked very sharp. “What is your status?”

“See for yourself,” Captain Vega replied.

“Yes. Yes, we have,” he replied. “We actually came in for salvage, then noticed a faint signal of active life support. How many are you?”

“Twenty seven,” she replied. “Two crew, the rest passenger. What do you seek?” she asked.

“We offer the usual deal,” he replied. 

“I've heard of your terms,” she responded. 

“Well then,” he went on. “If you agree to the deal, then find your volunteer.”

“I just want to be sure that my passengers will be safe.”

“Captain!” he exclaimed. “We traders...but we have our honor. None of our species has ever reneged on this deal.” 

“Screen off,” Peggy announced. She swiveled her chair to face Captain Vega. “You can't be serious! I've heard Alliance soldiers talk about! Death here on the ship would be better.”

“I might choose that for myself,” said Captain Vega. “And accept your choice as well. But there are twenty five other people counting on me.” She pulled her clothing to make herself as formal as possible. “Screen on.”

Reluctantly, Peggy pressed the controls to reactivate the communication link.

“Captain Skraark, I accept your offer,” announced Marianne Vega stiffly.