If she’d had her way, the Rival Bay would have been en route to Light Point within the week. It wasn’t that simple. The swirling tail of the Whirlpool Galaxy, as it was known by old Earth astronomical charts, was farther away than convenient. Subconsciously, perhaps, Crimson had been purposefully trying to leave it far behind. And while Jumping from one galaxy to another usually took years, jumping from the wrong side of a galaxy to the other could be nearly as bad. String Jump Generators erased time debt accrued in space travel, but didn’t erase time. Leaving the ominous corner of the Whirlpool as far from her relative position as from her mind had come back to bite her titanium tail. Gator was right: she didn’t like backtracking. But this was different.
But Jump Drives didn’t run on nothing. They were powered by semi-self-charging, living crystalline batteries called bristolite, a quirky mineral harnessed by the Kladerine Collective, and bred en masse for conducting some of the most reality-bending activities in the universe. It wasn’t quite time travel; but if arriving somewhere without paying your weight in time counted for anything, it kind of was.
Bristolite was declared dead by the Interstellar Quorum of Medical Science and Biology, despite its viral-like behavior. Self-replicating faster than perhaps any other rock in the universe, the minerals were living in the same sense that stalactites and stalagmites were, continually shaping and growing. When charged with concentrated energy bombardments from the Kladerine’s they flourished beyond imaging into a reflective power source sufficient to bend the universe. Or something like that.
Rival Bay had two bristolite batteries; and Gator and Crimson had paid dearly for them. In only 1, 117 years they would pay off their ship loan. When they were old and gray (or Crimson was dead and Gator had reached the ripe old age of 320 [average life expectancy of Megladyte’s being 360 or so]) they had a plan re-mortgage the Rival with a partial service-debt company shipping colonists or something. In another 500 years, Gator’s descendants could have the Rival Bay to themselves, if it had survived, a full 300 years early. Of course by then the Rival would be so antiquated it would be nearly useless. Maybe Gator’s grandkids could sell it for spare parts. They were amazed the Third Intergalactic Trusters and Loans LLC. EIF. had signed the contract.
Fortunately the bristolite batteries tended to recharge, or reform themselves, before Crimson’s wanderlust compelled them to jump star systems again. A single battery could last 200 years, with sufficient time to rebuild between modest Jumps. But an extended Jump like that of Khibarra to Light Point? They’d need at least six. No one in the crew had that kind of cash stashed in their mattress. Since the power to motivate a String Jump Generator was also enough to wipe out a large planetoid, it also cost about as much. It’s okay, Ceres, Crimson’s Mindframe thought, I’m not a planet either.
Fortunately, as they’d seen, Khibarra was rife with wanted criminals. So despite Crimson’s aversion to delay, Rival Bay lingered in-system for another five months. Chief Police Inspector Rullorrg tossed them every bone he could. When asked if he could fund their taste for the most expensive escaped convicts, he merely chuckled, and flicked his nose tentacles ironically. “The Force doesn’t have the funds to staff itself properly, but the rewards come from other people’s pockets. Stay as long as you like!” Shaak-Rom, and a few others on board, began to refer to their rapid-fire results as the Swell of Justice. Even on-planet the crew became known at the Rival’s, and carried a certain fearful admiration among the otherwise frontiersy locals. The Law was coming to the Old West; if only Crimson’s Mindframe would stop dredging up Earth I holo-dram theme music for some celebrity named John Wayne.
But buying four planetoids was still out of the question.
One day, as they dropped off another convict for detention on the steamy surface of Qualvana, a satisfied Rullorrg keyed in the security code and fished out the correct payment chips. “I’d’ve expected you to be in some fancier clothes by now!” he said, glancing up without lifting his chin.
“Not really my thing,” grumbled Crimson, through her ventilator.
“Still, can’t complain with the income. Whatcha’ savin’ for?”
“System Jump. Big one.”
Rullorrg’s tentacles shifted side to side as he chewed on that. “Not that we mind the help; you bunch have boosted my department’s morale more than triple-paid overtime. But if you wanna’ skip system, the best way is with living cargo. Passengers.”
Crimson’s metal insides tightened. “Also not my thing.”
Rullorrg shrugged, as if to say, Not my business. But he busied himself tapping the payment chips together and prattled absently, “’Course, you can kill yourself looking for decent paying passengers among the rich and bored… but mostly Resettlement Agencies are the way to go. If you’re a big vessel…”
After another week Crimson pulled Shaak-Rom, Cort, Braevel, and Keffler into the Circle once dinner was finished in the Mess. Cort hopped up on the faux white-leather upholstery and hunkered as only a rodent could. “What’s up, Crims? You never finished dinner.”
She ate. She just didn’t usually stick around to the end. She remained standing while the others took places on or beside the reupholstered sofas. “We’re not making enough credits bagging scum. I want you four to look into resettlement agencies. What kind of cash can we get from anyone headed our way?”
“Passengers?!” Keffler barked like an old dog waking up from a bad dream. “Crawling around our ship?” the grizzly human looked about to wheel his mobility chair around, and drive out the air-lock merely at the suggestion.
“We have the space,” Crimson growled.
“Yeah but not the atmosphere! You can’t load Gortassa on here! Even if we sealed off the crew quarters, the atmo leakage alone would kill off my plants!”
“That’s what you have to figure out.” Crimson replied, her voice an even angry.
“How many are you planning to transport?” asked Shaak-Rom, the honor-bound, red-skinned, striped-horned martial artist who had oozed his way into becoming ship security.
Crimson thought it was obvious. “We have space for 300.”
Keffler nearly blew his floppy gardener’s hat off. Braevel merely shifted uncomfortably in his water suit, even though his translator remained contrarily cheerful, announcing, “The infirmary is not equipped to for that many people!”
She stared around the circle of grumbling crewmen, “Well figure it out! How would we do it? We need a high price; only cooperatives can pay. With minimal damage to my ship!”
“Geez, Crims,” Cort scratched behind his ear and looked at his long nails, “We’re talking about completely changing everything around here. We just got Shuttle Bay 2 set up for mission simulations… but I guess we could keep all the luggage in the cargo bays…”
“We’d have to feed them!” Keffler complained.
“It’d be like having an entire town on board,” bubbled Braevel’s translator, through his sealed suit.
An epistle to Ancient Earth I’s Christian sect in Corinth called patience a spiritual virtue. Crimson didn’t have it. “Make it work. Unless you’ve got a personal stash of bristolite you’re planning to share.” She turned on her robotic heel and stalked away.