We were somewhere around Pallaeni, on the edge of the bubble, when the gravity began to take hold.
“What’s wrong with you!?” Gonzo asked, his irritation highlighted by the flashing red dash lights and wailing warning sirens.
Before I could answer all 370 tons of the newly purchased Krait Phantom came slamming to a sudden halt, dropping from supercruise as a shower of sparks rained across the cockpit.
“I don’t see no visitors beacon anywhere, do you?” I asked, waving my hands to clear away the vapour clouding the controls. “The fleet should be around here somewhere too-”
“Of course there's no beacon here you idiot,” My co-pilot sputtered. “If this is how you’re planning on flying this trip, do me a favour and just toss me out the airlock right now!”
As I considered granting his request, I had to agree that this was not an auspicious start to an 18-week journey across the galaxy.
Perhaps I should have put the new Krait through its paces and got a feel for the ship beforehand, but we were already running behind by the time the decision was made join the new Distant Worlds Expedition.
It wasn’t my intention to go at first, but when Her Imperial Majesty calls, a Duke must answer.
“I’m a blasted Duke, Gonzo! While you’re in the service of the Imperium you had better show some damn reverence.” Technically that statement is incorrect, something my co-pilot wasn’t about to let me even pretend to forget. His eyes narrowed as he screwed his mouth into an inscrutable scowl.
“Ex-Duke. If you stayed less blasted, you might actually still get to call yourself that. If it wasn’t for me-” Gonzo’s lecture was abruptly cut short by an incoming hail from a system authority vessel.
“SHIP SCAN DETECTED” Chimed the Phantom. The silence in the cabin was deafening as Gonzo and I shared a nervous glance.
Gonzo’s abilities as my attorney made up for his lack of piloting skills, as I’m sure his planned harangue would have hammered home. But considering what we had stowed away in a hollowed out section of the cockpit bulkhead, even his skills would have been sorely tested if this scan went into too much detail.
“All clear Commander,” The system authority vessel announced over the comm. “You looking for the Distant Worlds Fleet, or just testing your heat sinks out here today?”
My co-pilot smirked.
“Reporting for duty with the Imperial Propaganda Ministry,” I answered. “Always good to stress test a new machine before a long voyage - see what she can tolerate.”
There was a noticeable pause from the stooge in the authority vessel. I could feel his thumb hovering over the hardpoint deployment switch as he weighed our lives against the Piloting 101 sin of flying too close to a star.
“You’re late,” He had decided to let us live, despite my egregious offence. “The expedition got underway yesterday. Good to see that The Ministry keeps itself as well informed as it’s people.”
With that jab, the Viper MKIV turned away and began charging its Frame Shift Drive. My co-pilot and I simultaneously exhaled in relief.
“Alright then, let’s get going. And if you’re not heading for the airlock, why don’t you grab a little something from the hatch?” I suggested while finally pivoting away from the blinding inferno and out towards the black.
“You want to invite our friend?” Gonzo asked mockingly as he rose from his seat. “Preferences?”