The short range of the GRV was once again working against them. Despite broadcasting for a solid three standard days, radiowaves could only travel so fast. There was no reason to put a sublight frequency communications array into a ship built to operate within a single solar system. Without the ansible, the beacon had to rely on sending a signal that could only travel at the speed of light. But unless it was interrupted or was lost in the noise of other radiation, the signal should soon be making its approach to the edges of whatever solar system they found themselves in.
Calrose sat in the small mess of the ship doing the math in her head. Imagining every few hours just how far the signal had reached by now. With a gate in the system, there had to be someone nearby. Gates were rarely built or continuously maintained in systems that wouldn't use them. They were autonomous constructs that could operate without the help of a sentient being for quite some time, but it was unnecessary to have one where it wasn't being used to help Republic species traverse the galaxy.
Arabel entered the mess from the small passageway that lead to the front of the ship. Between the mess and the cockpit were the main computer terminal housing and the head. The purple skinned numan must have just come from the head where a small serviceable shower was located. Arabel ran a thick towel down her wet locks. Undone from their usual braid, her hair was like a cascade of red and Calrose always wondered how any human could handle having so much of the stuff.
The captain subconsciously touched the shaved sides of her head. Arabel plopped down onto the bench beside her. The GRV wasn't a luxurious vehicle. It had a reasonable amount of space for a crew of up to four humanoids. Larger species like the krahl or jurraga would have had a harder time, but for the three of them, it was well within tolerable. They took turns in the single shower and when they really felt crowded in they each had their own spaces on the ship. A communal quarters behind the mess held four bunks for sleeping, but most of their free time was spent together in the mess.
The room held a table surrounded on three sides by benches attached to the wall. Opposite of that was a suite of machines and pantries that held plates, utensils, and the food-synth. The synthesizer took up most of the wall and even more was hidden behind the panels of the pantry. Inside were containers filled with raw nutrients and ingredients that the machine could use to create numerous dishes that fit the nutritious requirements of any of the Republic species.
Jett stood at the machine waiting for it to finish. It hummed and whirred behind the wall panels as it assembled together food like a three-dimensional printer. It couldn't recreate every dish with award winning flair, but there were a few dishes that most travelers could find tasty. It was a blessing for every small ship that couldn't afford the money or space required for proper cooking. And nowadays, even well lauded chefs used food-synths to some degree in their kitchens.
"I have the remaining engine bays cycling power between the thrusters and the peak drive. It gives us no added mobility, and while it does use some of our fuel reserves, it is much more efficient on the power cells when it comes to trying to keep the rear of the ship warm." Jett rubbed his hands together for effect, but it was actually much more comfortable in the ship than it had been even a day earlier.
"Thank you," Calrose said, returning her thoughts to the room and her blank gaze to her bowl.
"How long until someone responds to our signal?" Arabel asked, still attending to her wet hair.
"If there is anyone in the system and they care to help, I would imagine they are on their way by now," Calrose answered, but after speaking she found herself once again questioning if anyone was out there at all.
A bizarre smell filled the mess.
"Oh!"Arabel exclaimed, standing up with a look of pure disgust on her lilac features. "How can you eat that stuff?"
Jett just smiled and sat down at the table. The two women stood and moved for the door.
"What?" Jett looked anything but apologetic. "You two should broaden your palette. There is more to eat than just human cuisine."
"There are also things humans just shouldn't eat," Calrose looked at him. She raised an eyebrow as he raised a spoon of brownish-red jelly to his lips. She turned and left before she had to see him eat it.
- - -
Calrose sat in the pilot's chair blankly looking out into the blackness of space. It was most of all she had done for the past two days. Arabel and Jett had a handle on what could be done with the ship. Her job simply became sitting in the cockpit and hoping someone would come for them.
Hours before she had pivoted the ship to face the unknown distant planet. A small green and orange disc she could easily cover with the nail on her smallest finger. At this distance, spectral scans could at least tell her the composition of the atmosphere. It appeared to have a Class I atmosphere, filled with heavy dose of nitrogen and hydrogen. But there was enough oxygen to sustain even the weakest species of the Republic. Of course, none of that mattered when the planet was so far away that they had no chance of reaching it on the still functioning thrusters.
Calrose stared at the miniature orb hanging in the dark. The only words that came to her mind weren't particularly helpful. She knew a number of languages. The most wide spread dialects were required knowledge at the Academy. Humans could struggle through most, their soft mouths well adept at mimicking sounds. Kheprilictic was the most commonly spoken language across the stars. Created by the Khepriloi millions of years ago, it was a simple language to learn. Outside of the xenophobic regions of the Heritage League and its ilk, Kheprilictic was the native language of most humans. The stars are almost infinite in number and the cultures that develop under each of those suns are nearly incalculable, so it is possible that billions of humans grow old and die having never learned Kheprilictic, but odds still stand that most humans speak it. It was common ground for the species of the Republic, allowing them to communicate all those millennia past. Kheprilictic was just a useful language to know. If you wanted your child to grow up and experience any culture other than their own, you made sure they learned Kheprilictic.
Calrose had been raised speaking Kheprilictic. It was the native tongue of her mother and father, and was widely spoken by the non-humans in her culture. As she got older, her mother taught her other languages. It was little more than a hobby for her mother, but she wanted big things for her little Rebecca. Calrose excelled at Bantolic, though she was blown away by the sheer number of dialects Jett knew. She even took to Salacean, though, like most humans, she stumbled over certain words that really needed that deep nasal tone that only Salacean physiology could master. Her true favorite was learning the languages of her ancestors. As useless as the languages had come to be, the strange words and grammatical structure of the languages of Earth enthralled her. She often found herself thinking in those languages, the words so easily coming to her tongue. It was easily her favorite source for profanity, knowing full well that the words would often go misunderstood, lessening the risk of offending anyone.
Profanity was often a quick clue about where someone grew up. An entire room of various species could all be chatting in Kheprilictic, no one sure what culture or background that individual may have. Kheprilictic was a great equalizer. But it was severely short on bad words. The Khepriloi had abandoned ideas of the taboo or profane millennia before humans even evolved. With no sense of dirtiness attached to the scatological or sexual, and no gods to blaspheme, their language just had no profanity to throw around. This was never a problem for the Krahl. Krahl languages, such as Krahlic or the rather formal Krahlten, was a challenge for anyone outside the reptilian creatures and their subspecies. It was rare to find a non-Krahl who was well versed in either language. But the hulking reptiles had more bad words than they knew what to do with. Over time, many of those words found their way into the languages of other species. But if you grew up on a world more influenced by the Bantonians and their languages, you might reach for a Bantolic curse when you stub your toe.
But for Calrose, it was archaic human tongues that sat in that profane corner in her mind, waiting to be used. Words that easily came to mind as she thought about her ship, floating helplessly out of reach of that little planet. Waiting for whomever intercepted their distress beacon and thought it worth checking out. Charity wasn't uncommon in the universe, but she knew that the greater odds sat with their rescuers coming with a heavy price tag.
She sighed loudly, unsure if the exhale was purely out of boredom, exhaustion, or the enormous weight she couldn't shift from atop her shoulders. She knew she wasn't entirely at fault, but the deaths of hundreds still weighed on her conscience. The fate of two more seemed even heavier. It was the duty of a captain. Her crew were her responsibility. In her youth she had dreamed of such a role. Ready and willing for such great responsibility and trust. Now over thirty-six standard years old, she was shocked how much trust and responsibility came with being in charge of a garbage truck.
She reached for her, now cold, cup of tea. A light flashed on her display causing her to start, nearly tipping the small mug over. The alert continued to blink of the screen in front of her. The blinking pronouncement stated that a signal was incoming. As it increased in strength and clarity, more information was displayed.
'Incoming Message,' the readout scrolled. 'Distress Signal Frequency Response Ping.'
Calrose pressed a few commands into the control panel acknowledging the pinged signal. She sat breathless. The distress signal sent out by the GRV would travel at the speed of light until intercepted. The recipient then needed to send out a response telling the original sender that someone received it. This electronic back and forth would continue until a proper connection could be made. It felt slow and archaic, but it was necessary when ansible communication wasn't possible.
Another response ping came in, much quicker than Calrose expected. That meant that whomever got their message wasn't far away.
"Jett! Arabel!" Calrose called over the comms, "you better get up here, we are about to have some company!"
Another warning light flashed this time proceeded by, 'Incoming Message: Open Frequency Communication.' It was a request for communication.
Calrose opened the datapacket. The screen lit up with information packed in with the communication request. Arabel climbed up the ladder from the lower deck, while Jett came in through the door leading to the mess and quarters.
"Civilian Transport: GN2SP Wendin-class hauler," Calrose read from the screen. "The Dasaq'wen."
"What does that mean?" Arabel asked plopping into her seat.
"It's Krahlic," Jett replied, leaning against the back of the captain's chair so he could easily see over her shoulder.
"It means 'graceful bird who cannot fly'," the captain clarified.
"How the hell do you know that?" Jett laughed.
"It's from an old Krahlic proverb my father used to always say. Though, to be honest, I am pretty sure even he didn't know what it was supposed to mean." Calrose smiled softly before returning to the screen. "They aren't too far out, depending on how fast their ship can move, they could be here within the next ten hours."
"It will be nearly that long before even our long range scans can tell us anything about the ship," Arabel reminded them. "But since we can't do anything whether they are friend or foe, it really doesn't matter."
"Well I supposed there is a quicker way to find out," Calrose stated, flipping a switch that cleared away one of the monitors. A solitary line of text blinked. 'Open Frequency Communication: Awaiting Response'. A moment later the screen refreshed to the image of a ship interior a few blurry figures moving about in the background. At the center of the screen was a large female Krahl staring back at them.