9. Liar's Oath
Date: 137-993 through 144-993 Imperial.
Location: jump space, aboard the free trader Avarice Rewarded.
Jump was an anticlimax after the rush to get going. Fish spent most of the time playing video games -- Liar's Oath was a lower tech world and Luan had bought consoles as speculative cargo. Silea did her homework on the next system and played the flute. Many Luriani were musical, and she found plenty of time aboard ship. In the "evenings" she used radical measures to tear Fish away from his video games. Fish thought it was a pretty good trip.
Sir David learned, much to his shock, that there was more to cookery than noodles.
Luan studied. At first she studied space medicine, xeno medicine, allergic and respiratory conditions, and anything else that could go wrong on a planet hopping trip. Eventually she unwound, and began to read more about worlds and people as it sank in that she had a new life to come.
They had passengers. There were two students returning from university in cold sleep low berths; and in middle passage they had a couple of construction engineers who were going to supervise expansion work on the starport. They worked for the same company that was paying haulage on the sealants in the cargo bay. And there was a military man, an army captain returning home after a "consulting" stint on another world.
According to library data Liar's Oath (1021) UWP C4247A7-8 was a 0.5g moon orbiting the system's smaller gas giant. It had a thin/tainted atmosphere and about 40% surface water. The military dictatorship enjoyed the broad confidence of the 60 million inhabitants. Law levels were about average, e.g. wandering around with firearms was not allowed. Intrinsic technology was level 8, the beginnings of the space age, with higher tech imports.
The captain gave them a bit more spin on the place. The current boss was one major Alice Lakaii, whose government was more progressive and less corrupt than the military junta they'd ousted twelve years earlier. They were trying to boost the economy, starting by improving the starport, and they earned a bit of imperial currency to pay for this by hiring out soldiers trained to fight in hostile atmospheres like their own. The captain was one such starmerc.
Date: 144-993 Imperial.
Location: Liar's Oath system (1021), free space, aboard the free trader Avarice Rewarded.
The Avarice Rewarded came out of jump about half an hour early and found the stars and planets in their expected places. Silea locked on the geosynchronous beacon over the starport and received permission to land. She plotted a course, agreed it with Sir David and started the 2g burn. There was a tiny shiver as the ship's artificial gravity shifted to counter the acceleration.
Meanwhile, Luan did her rounds to see if anyone was jumpsick and the Fish communed with the engines. All was well, so everybody settled down for system transit.
They were 174 minutes in-system when an amber light began to flash on the comms console. Silea's eyes snapped to the traffic summary. Sir David, manning the comms console, verified the signal and hit the intercom switch for crew areas. "Bridge to crew, we have a signal GK ship in distress and we are investigating. Standby for manoeuvres."
"Got a bearing?" Silea asked.
"It's coming from the direction of the gas giant. It's faint, something's interfering." He punched his comms bearing into the ship's TMA system and continued working. "It's data, not voice. A looping signal. Short. I'm working on it, computer's trying to pull an average out of the noise. I'm pinging on radar. Can you roll up 30 clockwise 118 to give me a good aperture?"
"Roger. Programming... maneuvering." Again, the tiny shivers as ship's gravity compensated for the bursts of thrust. Silea looked at her TMA tracks. "Well, we're the only ship on anything like an intercept. We might get to it. Depends how fast it's going."
"Computer's cracked it. Oh... no wonder it's faint. They're inside the gas giant's atmosphere."
"What in the name of seaweed are they doing in there?".
"They don't say. Here's what I've got... It's the ship's computer talking, emergency program. Vessel identifies as the scout/courier Malfeasant. Malfeasant is on a ballistic trajectory, no engines, blasting out from deeper. Malfeasant has expended all fuel already and... cannot reach orbit. Crew not responding. The broadcast has looped for 84 minutes. Looks like it was blocked by atmosphere while they were deeper."
"They used all their fuel" said Silea. "Whatever happened, they rigged a blast trajectory and the recorded message. They must have hoped someone would come and get them."
"That implies there's somebody alive to go and get. But they aren't talking... The ship's broadcasting telemetry with the message. Here, put these in TMA." He fed her a string of numbers.
Silea studied her trackers again and started working plots on the nav software. "We could intercept, barely. But we'd be inside the atmosphere. Pressure at that depth is... significant... but within our tolerances. We might have fifteen to thirty minutes alongside as their trajectory tops out." She paused, and kept her eyes on the console as she asked "Are we going for it?"
"Of course we're..." Sir David came to a halt as his face turned sour. He'd been flying tiny scout ships all his life. "Passengers. We've got five passengers. That's probably more than the crew of Malfeasant. If they're alive at all... Can we risk our passengers on a rescue?" He went quiet for a few seconds, and slowly turned to look at Silea.
"Go on," she said, "I know it's coming." 
"Sorry. Do you think we can do it, without 'unreasonable risk'?"
Silea tapped buttons and made a verbal log entry. "For the record, pilot estimates that we can attempt an intercept on the distressed vessel Malfeasant within the atmosphere of Honora without undue risk to passengers and crew. We must evaluate the chances of a boarding and rescue as we close. Mission should abort if the risks become too great."
Sir David gave her a grateful look.
"Go on, start getting ready" she told him as she punched go on the intercept plot.
 Interstellar law requires that assistance must be rendered to any distressed vessel, unless this would unduly endanger the rescuing ship. It also says that a ship with passengers shouldn't play dice with them. The Avaricious are under no obligation to assist Malfeasant, and are possibly sailing a bit close to the wind by doing so. Silea, who has studied for her merchant officer's exams, knows all this and Sir David is an old enough hand to know it too.