The Galactic Dart is a Centurion-class cargo ship. It is small, only 50 meters in length, and - as its name suggests - is shaped like a chrome-plated, oversized dart, with four powerful Syntax Motors plasma-core thrusters strapped to its rear. Right now, the Dart is 500 astrometers from Beta Sigma Alpha II, the second moon of planet Beta Sigma Alpha. It is cruising at a speed 0.50 times the speed of light. At this particular moment, it is also under attack by space pirates.
Captain Max Charlton, the Captain and sole crew member of the Dart, swore. Loudly and repeatedly.
Another control panel above Captain Charlton exploded, showering sparks onto the pilot below. Afraid of what he would see, Charlton looked up to assess the damage. The microthruster controls were gone.
Captain Charlton swore again. Not because of the damage to his microthrusters - he had done several hundred landings without them, and he was confident that the damage would be covered by his Solar Farm Galactic Marauder Insurance package. He swore because he had a delivery to make in eleven minutes, and if these pirate keep up their assault, he might be late. Cosmic couriers were a dime a dozen, but Captain Max Charlton was no ordinary interstellar delivery man. He had never missed a delivery, and he was never late. He was, in a word, the best. It said so on his business card.
The Captain specialized in an extremely rare commodity. His unique cargo made his business extremely profitable. It was also the reason why the Galactic Dart was being tailed by two stolen military-grade gunships, both intent on on stealing the cargo that sat in the Dart's climate-controlled cargo bay and lowering Captain Charlton's customer-satisfaction ratings.
Charlton gripped the Dart's joystick. He had no intentions of having his customer satisfaction ratings lowered. He trust the control stick to the side and squeezed the trigger, putting the Galactic Dart into a spin and unleashing a volley of high energy photons from the rear cannon. The deadly bursts of energy collided with one of the pirate ships, ripping apart its shields and opening its hull to the cold vacuum of space. The ship exploded into a silent ball of flame.
Captain Charlton glanced at the dashboard clock. Eight minutes. The Dart was still 357 astrometers from Beta Sigma Alpha II's atmosphere. The Captain pushed the throttle to full as another volley of lasers hit the Dart's shields. A calm, female voice came over the ship's PA system.
"Warning. Cargo refrigeration system offline. Warning..."
Charlton's response was par for the course: more swearing. Several warning lights flashed on the dashboard as he unbuckled himself from the pilot's seat and sprinted 25 meters to the cargo bay. There was a reason Captain Charlton's customer-satisfaction ratings were so high. The cargo bay doors swung open as the Captain entered the hold. A quick inspection revealed his cargo was intact. The refrigeration system, however, was not. The cooling core had literally been turned inside out by the last laser barrage. The Captain checked his watch. If Charlton had seven minutes, he could have restored refrigeration long enough for him to make his deadline.Unfortunately, he only had five. He was going to have to improvise.
The Captain dashed back to the cargo bay door. Before leaving the cargo bay, he whipped his MagnaPhaze 2000 pistol out of its holster and fired at one of the liquid nitrogen tanks lining the hold's walls. The negative-several-hundred-degree coolant spilled out of the tank, bathing everything it touched in a layer of nitrogenous frost. Charlton ran back to the cockpit, strapping himself into the pilot's seat. He glanced at the dashboard, which gave him mixed news. The good news was that the Galactic Dart was less than a hundred astrometers from the atmosphere. The bad news was that he still had a pirate ship hot in pursuit.
Also, he only had four minutes.
Praying that his Galactic Marauder Insurance package was comprehensive, Charlton diverted all power to the engines. He had a delivery to make. The Dart rocketed into Beta Sigma Alpha II's atmosphere, the pirate ship still right behind. Captain Charlton was still unsure of how he was going deal with that inconvenience.
An idea crossed the captain's mind. Pulling a small red lever on the Dart's engine controls, he smiled.
"Jettisoning secondary fuel tank..."
A small explosion separated the Galactic Dart's bulbous reserve fuel tank from the outer hull. The tank spun as it fell backwards away from the Dart, right into the path of the pursuing pirate ship.
Captain Charlton smiled. He loved it when something exploded in the atmosphere. It was always more satisfying when he could hear the fruits of his labor. But his satisfaction was short-lived: he only had two minutes.
The Dart's destination was a small, Neovictorian-esque house 200 kilometers away. Charlton aimed his ship toward the landing strip in front of the house and smiled. He had this in the bag. The Captain flicked the landing switch.
The landing gear did not extend. Charlton swore.
The Dart's chrome-plated exterior collided with the ground, tearing a long trench into the landing strip. Control screens exploded into sparks and small shards of glass as the sound of tearing metal rang in Captain Charlton's ears. After what seemed to be an eternity of skidding, the Galactic Dart came to a halt.
An elderly voice broke the silence. "Max? Is that you?" Captain Charlton looked out the now-shattered cockpit window to see a wrinkled, leathery woman in a pink floral dress in the doorway of the Neovictorian estate. She began hobbling toward what remained of the Dart.
Captain Charlton glanced at the dashboard clock. It was shattered. He then consulted his somehow-intact wristwatch.
He smiled. He was right on time.
Charlton undid his seatbelt and stumbled out of the Galactic Dart's ruined cockpit onto the torn tarmac. He worked his way around the wrecked ship, surveying the damage as he made his way to the rear cargo bay door.
His smile grew. Solar Farm would definitely cover this.
"Hello, Mrs. Galltrax," he began, as he opened the cargo bay doors. A cloud of nitrogen poured out of the ship as the Captain entered the hold. When he emerged from the gaseous mess, he was holding two cases, each containing a dozen bottles of white liquid. "I have your milk order right here."