Shifting

I didn’t finish this yesterday. I started it, but then I got myself sidetracked by games on the phone and lost track of time. I’ve been itching to write some Sci-Fi stuff, so this is. It’s technically from a prompt last week. I had hoped to do some catch up, but that’s seeming unlikely now. I like the ideas here and may use them in future stuff.

ReTelling A Folk Or Fairy Tale

This is one of my favorite prompts of all time!

The prompt

Re-write a fairytale

<– Write Below This Line –>

(Inspired by The Little Engine That Could)

“This is a routine trip. I’ll be home in a week.” That’s what Frank told his wife, nine days ago when he left. Things were not going well, and this was no routine trip.

The problems started as they passed by the asteroid belt. Dispatch told him the crew in the nebula would take care of him upon arrival.

When they arrived, late, at the Kuiper platform things took a turn for the worse. Their assigned jump-ship left without them. The backlog to get on a regular transport was somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 years. Unfortunately the problems with the ship got worse and meant he had no choice but to travel to the nebula. There was no returning to the inner system with leaks like these. The secondary market for transport wasn’t cheap but dispatch authorized him 100 million credits. The problem was his cargo, water.

Water has always been known to have unique properties on Earth. It gets really weird in jump-space. In smaller quantities it seems fine. Organisms and small amounts of drinking water make it just fine. Any free liquid water over about 20 gallons in a 6 foot sphere starts to exhibit strange properties that get more dangerous the larger the water source. There were entire jump ships lost early on due to this. Over time some methods were discovered to allow transport of large quantities of water. The problem is that the methods are difficult, the equipment specialized, and the results not always good. The current successful transport rate was estimated at around 99.99999% for non-water transport. There hadn’t been an incident in almost a decade, but nobody wanted to claim it had been completely figured out. Even now, in the 25th century, engineers remembered the RMS Titanic and avoided absolute claims. For water transport the success rate was exactly 89% and hadn’t wavered for over a decade.

Frank spent the better part of a day and a half trying to get a water transport with no luck. The most common response he received was “The percentage’s aren’t favorable right now. Check back in a month.” The problem was that he didn’t have a month. The colony he supplied relied on external water. They would be on lowered power and limited rations by then. If his shipment failed there wouldn’t be time to get another one.

As Frank priced out purchasing an old jump-ship and attempting the trip on his own he got an incoming comm request. “Hello, this is Frank.”

“I hear you have a water shipment?”

“Yes, I do. Who is this?”

“My name is Lacey and I think I can get you there.”

The name didn’t ring a bell for Frank. He was sure he’d talked to every water capable second-tier and third-tier jumper at the platform. “I haven’t seen you on any of the water registered lists. Is there something I missed?”

“No. I’ve seen your activity. The only options you have left are the smugglers on the black market. None of them will agree. Water is a high risk operation with where the percentages are right now. The black market is sticking to the much safer and more profitable animal market due to restrictions at Kearth and Gearth right now. Nobody’s going to risk ferrying your water to the nebula.”

“So why haven’t I heard of you then? You obviously know I’ve exhausted all water capable jumpers and am looking for my own equipment.”

“I’m new and I can get you there in my ship.”

“What size is your diamond cube?”

“I don’t have one.”

Frank couldn’t speak. Before the diamond cubes water delivery success rates were around 30%. “Excuse me?”

“I have something new. 100% success rate. I’ve tested it myself on loads up to 100,000 gallons.”

“100,000? Is that supposed to mean something? I’m carting the standard 500 million gallons here. I was looking at multiple trips on the secondary market but I can’t support that many.”

“One trip.”

“What?”

“One trip. 5 million credits.”

“That’s impossible. The lowest price for a single trip, even on the schedule, is 10 million credits.”

“If you want to pay me 10 million credits I’ll take it, but my expenses aren’t that high, 5 million will be more than enough.”

Frank thought about it. The only diamond cube he’d seen on the market right now was an old 500,000 gallon one. Between that and the jump-ships he’d seen with the rest of the gear he would need it would cost him almost 250 million credits to make a single trip, with barely any water. His wife would kill him if she knew he was thinking of piloting a jump-ship on his own too, it was a skill he’d not acquired. “You’re sure this is safe?”

“100%.”

“Alright, where do we load up?”

“I’ll take half the credits up front and meet you out at departure point EX-57 in two hours.”

EX-57 was the furthest official launch point from the platform. It would take the better part of two hours just to get there. “EX-57? Two Hours? Fine. Listen here Lacey, if you’re ripping me off you better believe I’ll find you.”

“I look forward to meeting you Frank.”

As Frank approached EX-57 he started to worry. There was no cargo pod in sight much less a jump-ship. He scanned the radar and the darkness of space, looking for any bright spot to indicate light. Exactly 1 hour and 59 minutes from the time he went off coms his system chirped. A small ship was approaching, fast.

“Unknown ship this is Frank Vellar, water skif 3928 bound for the nebula. Identify yourself.”

“Frank, you’re early. I did say I’d meet you here in two hours.”

“Lacey. Where’s your cargo pod? Your jump-ship? You should know that I have rudimentary defenses that will slow you down enough for the authorities to respond. I also have nothing of particular value, just water and an old water skif.”

“I told you I have something different. Prepare your docking clamps. I’ll need us attached to get started. I also access to your ship’s computer.”

“You want access to my bank account and a blood sample while you’re at it?”

“Read only is fine and you can limit me to system monitoring capabilities if you’d like. I need precise weight, composition, and performance data.”

Frank activated the docking beacon. “I’ve let my wife know I’m on the way now. She knows we’re departing from this point and has a watch in place.”

CLANG!

“Honestly Frank, you are one of the least trustworthy people I know.”

The hatch whooshed open and the air took on a slightly sweet smell as the two ships atmospheres mingled. A dark-haired young woman, mid-twenties at most, poked her head in. “Nice to finally meet you Frank. I’m going to do a walk-through of your ship while the computers talk and work out the trip details. We should be ready in about 30 minutes. Where will you be taking the trip from? I suggest the pilots chair, right there.”

“Why wouldn’t I be in the stasis bed?”

“You’d miss the trip. Whatever though, if you want to sleep through the trip feel free. It’ll be a short nap though.” Lacey moved past Frank and into the bowels of his ship.

Frank hadn’t heard of anyone but jump-pilots staying awake for the trips, and most of them spent the bulk of the trip in stasis. The average jump lasted the occupants 38 hours. As he puzzled over this Lacey came back.

“Everything looks good. So, you plan to sleep for three hours or watch the show?”

“Three hours? The show?”

“Yeah. The trip is only about 15 minutes but it takes two hours to build the field and another 30-45 minutes on the other side to dissipate it.”

“The field?”

“I told you, I have something different.”

An hour later Frank split his attention between the screens and the window. “Are you sure this is safe?”

Lacey’s ship emitted some kind of glowing string that wove itself around the two ships in complex patterns. The string constantly shifted colors and the readings from his sensors were unlike anything he’d ever seen in his life.

“I told you I could get you there safely in one trip, and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

As the string covered more and more of the view the patterns started to shift even more dramatically. Frank felt he was watching the birth of a star, the death of another, a black hole swallowing them, planets exploding and coalescing. “What is this?”

“The ship is building our shift pattern.”

“Shift pattern?”

“Yes. I told you this was something new. We aren’t jumping. The only people jumping water right now have no choice in the matter. The percentage has been trending up a little too long and some major failures are expected to even it back out. We’re shifting.”

“Why doesn’t everyone else do this?”

“It’s considered experimental. Hence the reason we’re on pad EX-57. Especially with a shift field this big. It’s fine though, we’ll be there soon.”

The string almost completely wrapped the ships and the patterns visible accelerated to a pure white light as Frank looked on.

“Almost there Frank. This next part is going to seem a little, um, weird.”

“What do you -” Frank’s voice was cut off as the string completed wrapping the two ships. The patterns suddenly froze, mirroring what was around them as if they had gone transparent, but not quite. Something wasn’t right in the view. Everything slowly took on a blue hue, the violet, then black. Suddenly Frank felt as though every cell in his body was stretched long and thin, pushed flat, stretched again, and dropped back to normal. The outside view came rushing back from black to purple, through blue and green, right past yellow and red to black again. Frank heard a scream, then heard laughter. Suddenly everything got very still feeling again. Frank felt pressure all around, as if he was pushing out in every direction. As the pressure lifted the nebula came into view, slowly spreading out from where he sat. It had an unreal tinge of blue to it that slowly faded. Suddenly everything flashed white to black and a thin line started peeling around the ships.

“Aren’t you glad you didn’t sleep through that? It never gets old.”

Frank was shaken and confused. “What just happened?”

“We shifted. Visual confirmation already happened. When the field gets down to around 75% we’ll be able to establish radio coms with the nebula platform. I told you I’d get you here safely.”

Frank passed out.

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