(All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.)
To run the length of the ship is more like completing an obstacle course. The gangplanks and runways between decks are narrow, ill-lit and often blocked with equipment, cabling and supplies. Very little of the construction budget for this kind of tanker ship went on crew comfort. This was no space cruise liner or battle craft. This was a workhorse. A giant tug to haul whatever they found back to the five galaxies. The state of the art communications, navigation and wormhole laser technology ate most of the budget. The rest went on the cargo deck, the payload. As for the crew? Well as long as they survived to tell the tale that was fine by the corporation. If they wanted luxury, they could go work on a spacetel or holiday planet.
The Newtrishia Corporation had built a fleet of twelve of these ships. Arks to plunder the universe with and build one of the biggest corporations in the five galaxies. But when the corporate space tax bill became too big, they sold off the fleet to various shell companies, preferring to hire in newer ships to suit smaller, cheaper missions. As far as Cressida knew, there were only five of the arks left. Saturn Anne II, Neptune James I, Pleiades Seven, Alpha Orionis 10 and her sister ship, Betelgeuse.
Eight of Cressida's previous missions for Newtrishia had been on Betelgeuse and three on Orionis. Her training mission had been on the Saturn Anne I, nearly twenty years ago, one of the first of the Ark Class, long since lost beyond the edge of the universe and now, for her thirteenth mission, she is on a Saturn Anne again. Right back where she started.
She shakes herself to loosen up and stretches out her hamstrings as she tries to rid the images of her training mission in her mind. The heat. The pain. The scars on her shoulder blade twinge in memory at the thought. She shakes out again and knows running will make her forget, an endorphin buzz better than any pain medication. At least she knows Daniel is a good pilot. One of the best she'd worked with. Once, a long time ago, on the Orionis they had almost been close.
Cressida wonders if the technical specs for the two sister ships are the same. Only one way to find out, she grasps the handrail from the access tube to the next deck and starts to climb, it used to take her sixty minutes to run the Saturn Anne I all those years ago. Let's see how long it takes now.
Grove studies the read outs from the largest of the gas giants with increasing excitement. 'I think this one has a solid core.'
'Solid core?' Yume barely looks up from the mapping desk. 'Interesting.'
'Yes, the readings are showing a dense, planet-sized area in the centre. You know, this could be a phage-planet. The last phage-planet spawned hundreds of new lines of medical patents...'
'Hold on a minute. Do you know how rare a phage-planet is Grove? A gas planet has to engulf another planet with life already underway on it. Then the two planets, rather than destroying each other, have to start reacting at a bacteriological level, producing novel compounds to counteract each other. The chances of us arriving at a goldilocks system with a phage-planet is zero. Less than zero. Let's have a look at that data.' Yume snatches the data reader from Grove and sighs as he reads it.
'You are looking at gas densities, not matter. Not solid, just highly energetic.'
'Oh... sorry. More used to tracking data than composition data... How long will Cressida be?' Grove starts to pace around the mapping table and Yume, in annoyance replies tersly. 'I don't know, it's only been an hour. Here, do this instead. This is all the data we've collected so far. Run comparisons with SATAN's data base of known planets. See if anything matches then you can build up a possible list of entities we might reasonably expect to find.'
'OK, seems easy enough.'
'Exactly.' Yume returns to his mapping and Grove yawns, he had forgotten how dull off-world could be.
Cressida pauses at a junction, unsure which way to turn. The memory map she had in her mind of Saturn Anne I did not match Satan and she is well and truly lost. A stitch is beginning to bite into her side and so she tries some deep breathing to try and oxygenate her muscles, aware if she waits too long cramp will set in. The low, narrow passageway she is in, curves away into the distance, floor-strips only giving off ambient light. The ceiling is of curved metal while the walls are writhing ribbons of cabling and pipework. For a moment Cressida cannot place where in the ship she could be and then it occurs to her. She is in one of the access ribs for the inner hull of the ship. She must have gone one deck higher somewhere. She swears under her breath, these access ribs run bow to stern with only a few intersections between them. She could either turn back or carry on, depending how far along she is but just how far along is she?
A noise nearby makes her jump. What was that? Another stowaway? If she's in the access ribs, close to hull, there is no way she could discharge a tranquilator even if she had one with her. But Cressida is suddenly very aware she is only in her running kit with a small breather mask strapped to her leg in case of a vapour pocket or zero gravity patch.
The noise is getting closer. She has a choice, she can run down this rib or dodge through to the next rib and double back, either way, she is running blind and running tired. Perhaps better to stay and face whatever it is.