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A Bitter Compromise (A Sci-fi Short Story)

By Sameer Al Harbi (12-A),

Portman’s Trading Company, was a leader in off world trading (mostly on the account of it being the only one operating in the Lun system). Fame and glory awaited those who would fly under its colors. Captains would dare treacherous space voyage through hundreds of light years to bring rare goods back home from across the galaxy. Some could visit unseen exotic planets while others could sight-see on earth; all while making huge profits. The truth however as often is, left something to be desired.

Captain Han Dougly was the newest captain of the company and until a few hours ago was sincerely looking forward to his first voyage - a relatively short and easy trip to a nearby system that would pay exceptionally well with no real dangerous space to cross. What Han didn’t know was that Outav-7, the planet he was required to dock at, had a few issues that the company “failed” to mention. Steve Menson, Data Analyst of The Hornet was naturally the first to notice that something was off.

“Captain take a look at this” said Steve handing Han a report with the title ‘Orbital Mechanisms’.

“There is nothing on here,” said Han. “The sensors must be malfunctioning.”

“This badly?” said Steve. “If that were the case this would be a pile of gibberish. The fact is, there is nothing in orbit.”

“But why would they not have anything? Media? Defense? You are saying that the orbit of Outav-7 is completely empty?”

“Exactly,” said Steve.

Captain Han was at a loss. Just then Bob entered onto the deck with a clearly worried expression. “They are not answering our requests to dock! This could be a sign of aggression!” Noticing Steve, he quickly added “Why haven't you sent me the orbital report?”

“You do know that unless you want us to destroy half a dozen probes and satellites, I will need that report to land.”

“Help yourself!” said Han, handing him the report. Bob glanced on the sheet before sneering, “Is this some sort of joke?”

“Not really” said Steve. Bob wasn’t particularly thrilled by this response and was preparing to say something before being interrupted by Juda, the ship's medic.

“I’m receiving a transmission,” she said blankly. All three turned to look at her. “What possible transmission can you be receiving?” said Steve. “Yeah.” added Bob. “The entire spectrum is blank.”

“Radio,” she said. “It's an ancient piece of the spectrum that was commonly used for media back in the 20th and 21st century. I got a replica receiver when I visited Earth the other month.”

“So, what you are saying is that someone is communicating with you in a dead format that no one in galaxy is using?” said Han.

“Absolutely, is that so hard to believe?” “In fact, I bet you’ve been unable to spot a single piece of modern space infrastructure.”

“How would you know th-?” said Bob folding the report.

Han interrupted them both, “What did the message say?”

“Coordinates.”

Everyone but Juda looked puzzled.

“Obviously this is a non-space faring civilization that is looking to strike a deal and considering their nonstandard communication protocols must mean we may be one of first to ever land on their planet,” she said.

“A newly discovered species?” said Steve in wonder.

“This may prove difficult.” said Han.

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The Hornet gracefully landed at the specified coordinates in a bland and barren desert of bleached rock. In the distance, a large brick building and what looked like a rudimentary turret could be seen through a thin green mist while a couple of humanoids and large steel containers stood closer to the landing site.

The entire crew were on edge as they put on their atmospheric regulation suits and walked out onto the cold hard rock. As dictated by Portsman Trading regulation, the entire crew walked out leaving the ship unattended as a sign of peace. Han could almost swear that the strange humanoid creatures looked just on edge as they were.

Han approached the group of aliens who all looked heavily armed except one who stood a small bit ahead of the group. “Great.” thought Han. “So much for a sign of peace.”

“Greetings!” said Han, “I come as a representative of the Portsman Trading Company.” He stopped abruptly. The Aliens stared at him and Han stared back severely confused on why he wasn't being understood. At that moment, Han received a transmission from Juda:

“They don't appear to have any sort of universal translator.”

“Great.” thought Han. “Why are we here again?”

A great noise broke out that very instance as one of the great containers were opened. Han glanced at his alien hosts whose expression hardly changed and sighed before walking over to take a closer look at the container. Inside were neatly stacked bars of silvery material. Han turned on his transmitter:

“Bob take a look at this, I think the hassles of this trip might be worth it after all”.

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A few hours after The Hornet landed it once again took off. This time with a large store of platinum. The trade wasn’t easy as neither really knew what the other wanted and technological barriers allowed only simple barter to take place.

“To be honest, one ton of platinum for a bunch of odd ends around the ship isn’t that bad,” said Juda.

“It definitely could have been worse,” replied Han. “At least we didn’t accidentally anger them into shooting us down.”

Han entered the deck and stared mindlessly into the green atmosphere. The lone star that Outav-7 orbited shined brightly as the ship slowly gained attitude. A bit too slowly.

Bob entered the deck looking flustered. “Remember how I said that I needed that orbital mechanisms report?” said Bob. “Well I still need it for the hyperspace jump calculations.” Han’s expression took a worried look. “Why would we possibly need it for the jump? There’s unlikely to be any interference from the planets infrastructure nor the planet itself.”

“Unless-” Bob said.

“We can’t jump because the planets gravitational force can’t be neglected in this case nor can we directly measure the variables needed through the Hornet’s equipment.” completed Han.

“We’ll need to maneuver out of orbit and jump somewhere further off.” added Bob.

“Which will take days.” said Han. “Our resources will hardly be enough. “To make matters worse, Steve entered the deck and announced that they were being targeted by two missiles which were sent by Outav-7’s inhabitants. “Can’t we out maneuver them?” said Han now deeply worried.

“Not before we can leave the atmosphere. We must find a way to jump now!” replied Bob. Han wasn’t happy when he realized what this meant and said, “If we can lower our weight to what it was when we jumped into orbit on our arrival, can we jump out.” Bob’s face took a grim expression. “We can drop the Platinum, but we must jump before we reach the atmosphere. That's risky to say the least.”

“Then do it. Do it anyway and announce it to the crew.” said Han.

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The orbit of Lun-5, the main stopping point for all visitors and a central hub for the entire system, not to mention the headquarters of The Portman’s Trading Company was a sight to behold. The planet was surrounded by a net of interconnected hubs that provided all the services anyone may need. For the crew of the badly mauled, The Hornet, this large and complicated net with tiny docking stations was their savior. The ship on jumping through hyperspace gained great physical injury due to the surrounding atmosphere that had tagged onto the ship.

Within a few seconds of arrival, the ship was towed into station by automated emergency crafts stationed around the planet. The crew of 4 emerged mostly unharmed and deeply dissatisfied. Bob carried the one bar of platinum that he refused to drop.

“Well this is fantastic.” he grumbled.

“At least we are alive,” responded Juda half-heartedly. While the crew were trying to put themselves in order, they were approached by a floating droid that had the Portman’s company logo and the individuals initials it was representing.

“Seems like they weren’t friendly after all,” said the sphere. “I was hoping you could be able to strike a quick deal with these newly discovered species that our company found; it shouldn’t have been this hard! What a disaster!”

“Why didn't you tell us all this before?” said Han trying to contain his anger.

“Well obviously this was an unexplored market that we could make use of before anyone from other systems found it. That information was classified.” said the Droid.

“I see, thanks for the easy job, Boss,” said Han coldly.  

Source Link: February Newsletter (2018-2019)