Seven hundred years ago... ish
In the darkness of space, silent spurts of shimmering blue-white flame erupted like tiny random geysers. Each fiery triangle lasting for less than a second of bright, purposeful life.
Their brief existence coincidentally serving to illuminate enough patches of the dark blue hull to determine the half disc shape and size of the thirty metre wide space ship as
it manoeuvred incrementally closer to the still invisible derelict somewhere in front of and below them.
As the distance closed the frequency and the positioning of the jets diminished until only the four nozzles on the forward rim of the craft minutely directed the blue Imperial Patrol vessel
to its destination.
Seconds passed and then the forward searchlights flicked on and picked up the scorched white hull, outlined in red. Not an Imperial ship then but maybe an independent trader.
A citizen of the Empire who had somehow gotten into difficulties or had maybe been attacked by pirates. But then the logo appeared. A corporate logo, not of the Empire but of the Federation.
Now, that was unusual. A Federation trader this deep into Empire space? The two crewmen looked at each other.
Then, as one, they reached up and touched the tabs on their helmets which activated the face visors and, by doing so, turned their flight suits into self-contained survival suits... just in case.
Suitably forewarned of the potential for threat, contact was made as the two hulls kissed together. A small hiss and amber lights on the airlock panel turned green.
Then rock, paper, scissors decided who would descend into the derelict and who would stay behind with their metaphorical finger on the equally metaphorical trigger.
The emergency hatch opened into the narrow corridor between the two small cargo holds that were specific to this class of trade ship.
The Imperial patrolman's eyes adjusted to the dimmed lighting.
His partner's voice responded in his earpiece.
"No. No, I don't think so." The patrolman tried to see further into the gloom of the hold. "It looks like the hold has been turned into some kind of workshop, maybe a lab of some kind."
"Okay. Be careful"
"Be careful. Yeah right." If this was a Federation ship then this whole situation was a potential diplomatic incident waiting to happen. And the rules were quite clear.
Under no circumstances do or say anything which may escalate the situation or show the Empire in a less than benign light.
Which meant that the patrolman's sidearm remained firmly in its holster. "There's nothing else here. I'm going for the flight deck."
"Roger that. Be aware that I am recording, so at least try and make your death sound remotely heroic"
Inwardly cursing his partner's ancestry,
the patrolman expertly pulled and propelled himself along the corridor until he was face to face with the solid looking door to the small cockpit he knew lay beyond.
Whatever might be waiting for him on the other side had him at a huge disadvantage in the zero gravity environment.
Any assailant with a gun would be firmly braced against the superstructure and have a clear shot,
while he would have to waste precious seconds working against the lack of gravity to even move out of the way.
Basically, if anyone on the other side of the door wanted him dead, then that's undeniably what would happen.
With this horrible outcome at the forefront of his thoughts, the patrolman exhaled to try and relieve the tension that had built up,
then he reached out a gloved hand for the big button boldly embossed with the one word. 'Open'.
The door slid sideways with a pneumatic hiss and the slight difference in air pressure between the corridor and the flight deck breathed a cloud of small debris and particulate matter into
where the patrolman stood. Glad the debris hadn't included anything lethal, he stepped into the cockpit.
The gunk in the air was everywhere and every surface glistened under a fine sheen of whatever was creating the cloud of minute droplets that he had walked into.
"Ok power is definitely on..." He paused as he stepped carefully between the two pilot seats. "... and we have two occupants, a man and a woman. They're not moving."
"Give me a chance ok?"
The patrolman took something from his belt and pressed it against the neck of the man occupying the commander's seat.
"The guy's unconscious. Sorry, the male. The male appears to be unconscious." He glanced at the woman and saw her chest rise and fall. "Looks like the woman is too.
" He looked back to the display on the device he was using. "Shit!"
"What is it?"
The patrolman turned to the commander's control board, trying to remember the layout of this class of ship. When his eyes found what he was looking for he was momentarily puzzled.
"What the fuck?"
"What?! What is it?! What's going on in there?"
"Relax. It looks like somehow the CO2 scrubbers got turned off. The guy has dangerously high CO2 in his blood.
" The patrolman made the necessary corrections to the life support settings, even boosting the oxygen for good measure.
He checked the woman over with the same device he had used on the man.
"The woman is the same. High CO2 in the blood... That's odd."
"What's odd?" There was frustration in his partner's voice. "You're supposed to be reporting for the record. You can't just say 'that's odd'."
"Yeah sorry. Hang on." The patrolman tweaked the device. "Ok, as well as high carbon dioxide in the blood, the female is also showing traces of various narcotics.
On top of that, this thing is telling me that she is borderline malnourished. She definitely needs to see a medico."
As he was putting the field medical diagnostic tool back into its belt pouch the patrolman found himself taking closer notice of the two unconscious figures.
The first obvious thing was that neither of them were wearing flight suits.
That in itself was strange but what they were wearing only deepened the growing mystery of why this Federation trader was probably illegally so deep inside Empire space.
The guy was not young. Not old, but definitely past the age for getting involved in the young man's world of the fast reaction times needed for space combat.
The woman, well, girl, on closer inspection, looked just a bit too young to be crewing anything more complicated than orbital shuttles or Daddy's yacht.
Both of them looked just so out of place sitting slumped in the seats of such a high tech and combat capable armed trader like this.
"You know what? I think these guys are Ethnicks."
Now he had actually said what he was thinking, everything started to make sense.
'Ethnicks' was the derogatory term used to describe the more primitive civilisations sometimes encountered during interstellar exploration.
Now the evidence for the patrolman's conclusion seemed to be all around him.
The flight control boards were a mess. Their configuration made no sense. Like some kid had been randomly flicking switches.
The clothes the two unconscious crew were wearing almost oozed local ethnicity. Natural fibres, belts made from animal hide, even sweat stains.
The weapon the man had hooked to his belt was some kind chemical propellant and solid slug device straight out of a museum.
Then there was the floating crap in the air. At first the patrolman had thought it was just spilled food and water. Now he rubbed his finger against his thumb. Nah, too viscous to be water.
Though his mind rebelled against the idea, horrible logic forced him to realise that he was standing in the middle of what was basically a thick cloud of vomit.
"Yeah. Definitely Ethnicks."