02 Nov

Blind spot

Ship's log, 10:41, 25 April 2214
Location: Landing pad 25D, Netix Spaceport, Dyne
Status: Landing

 

Landing gear extended.
Landing manoeuvres complete.
Docking clamps engaged.
Powering down...
Sublight engines offline.
Thrusters offline.
Weapons offline.

 

I am landed. My systems are winding down and I’m preparing to unlock my outer doors.

Outside of me, pale sunlight streaks through the heavy atmosphere and illuminates the clutter around the landing pad. Crates and boxes and strangely-shaped packages are stacked up, waiting for me. Their combined mass looks bigger than I am, and yet, I know that it will all fit inside my cargo bays. Automatic calculations outstrip my assumptions and assure me that it will be fine.

There are people gathered in a gap between the crates. I know the familiar shapes of my SecOffs, even though they’ve got helmets on against Dyne’s inhospitable air (it’s breathable, but only just and not recommended for long periods of time without lung implants). I’m not sure who the other two bodies are. They’re all watching me land, faceplates turned towards me, and I can’t tell if they’re talking on a low, private comms band. The dust settles around my feet and the people all shift their weight, preparing to move.

Inside of me, there’s a traitor, waiting for something to happen. Deeper inside, I have a captured message, rolling around and around in my coded hands as I try to pick my way in past its protections. The acknowledgement returned by Dyne’s relay system gave me no clues about who it was for. I’m trying to trace the address tagged on it without giving away my intentions, but I’m having no luck so far.

And I still don’t know who sent it. How could it have been sent from an empty room? Did someone trigger it remotely? Set it up on a timer? How would they know when we’d be in landing manoeuvres, when there was no way for me to know when the Port Authority would let me in? Did they hack in from wherever they are now and fake the message’s source?

No. No hacking; I’d know. There wasn’t any traffic like that through my systems, and no comms traffic passing through my decks, so they weren’t using a private network to do it. They must have set it up in Ebling’s quarters beforehand.

They. Who?

 

Location: Bridge

STARRY: Captain, we’re down. Major systems disabled.

CAPTAIN: (nods and rises from his seat) And our people?

STARRY: Outside, waiting for us.

 

They’re moving now. I’m extending the ramp from Cargo Bay 3 at my rear; it’s one of the largest bays, and I’ve emptied it of everything else so we can get all the new gear inside. I don’t want to unlock the doors, though. I don’t want to let them inside, or what’s inside out. I have a row of red flashing lights in my head and I can’t see anything else.

 

CAPT: (watching the avatar) All right, let them in.

STARRY: (frowns at him unhappily) Acknowledged.

CAPT: Make sure you’re monitoring all local comms traffic, in case the Judiciary noticed us landing.

STARRY: Scanning all traffic, sir.

 

He doesn’t mean to watch just for the Judiciary. He wants me to look for any sign of trouble coming our way. It could be colonial law and it could be someone else. I should have noticed earlier: that message wasn’t going to the Judiciary outpost on Dyne. Not even a local office. Private address. A cover for something. Pirates perhaps? Kess hired them and she already got us, so they don’t need me any more. But do the pirates know that?

Cameron and her escort are at the base of my ramp. Rosie steps up off the landing pad’s mesh, but the others hang back. I wish I knew who they were and why they’re here.

I don’t want to open the airlock, but I have to.

 

Location: External, Cargo Bay 3

(The airlock doors hiss as they open and the cleaner gas of the ship’s atmosphere escapes. Filling up the entire airlock are the two heavy drones, Big Ass and Wide Load.

At the base of the ramp, the four people turn to look. The drones spin their hands and attachments, whirling metal as if making a point. Then they compact themselves down to a smaller shape, folding in all of their bristling equipment to make themselves more portable. Big Ass takes the lead down the ramp, trundling towards the group at the bottom at a brisk pace, with Wide Load close behind him. The four humans step out of the way and watch them go past. Behind them, the airlock is suddenly empty.)

 

Okay, maybe I was showing off a little. My boys sound like they’re grumbling, but that’s just their tracks on the landing pad’s mesh. I can’t help but wish that they had their weapon attachments already, but those parts are in the equipment crates they’re about to ferry into my cargo bay.

These upgrades can’t happen soon enough, and yet I don’t want it to happen at all.

There’s movement on my decks. The captain asked me not to lock the internal doors down this time; he wants me to let the pieces move into place. He’s heading to the cargo bay now, as is Elliott. My engineer is still pale but the doc says he’s well enough to verify the cargo. Swann is following the captain, and… wait, is everyone going to the cargo bay? How can I tell who’s being suspicious if they all go?

Oh, Lang Lang is staying on the Bridge. She’s deep in calculations and oblivious to what else is going on. I’m not sure what she’s chasing down but it looks interesting and… focus, Starry. The pieces are moving.

 

Location: Cargo Bay 3

ELLIOTT: (tugging his belt as he hurries up to the internal doors. He’s the first to arrive of the crew.) Is it here yet?

STARRY: (appearing) First load is on its way up now.

ELLIOTT: How long until I’ve got stuff to check?

STARRY: A couple of minutes.

ELLIOTT: (pausing to squint at the ship’s avatar) Everything all right?

STARRY: Yes. No. Just, don’t rush in, okay?

ELLIOTT: What–

STARRY: (shakes her head) I can’t. Please, trust me?

ELLIOTT: (looking unhappy) Yeah, ‘course. (He turns and fiddles with his favourite scanner, as if it needs to be adjusted.)

 

Location: External, Cargo Bay 3

(At the base of the ramp, silent communications are exchanged between the helmets. The suit belonging to Cameron shakes hands with one of the strangers, then the two non-crewmembers head for the edge of the landing pad. Cameron and Rosie move up the ramp.

At the edge of the landing pad, Big Ass and Wide Load pick up a stack of crates each. They spin slowly and trundle back towards the ship.

At the airlock, Rosie stops outside and turns to survey the landing pad. Her hands lift the huge weapon hanging from a strap over her shoulder and hold it casually ready. Cameron steps into the airlock and the doors close to cycle her inside.)

 

Elliott has drifted off to a corner of the cargo bay. The captain is arriving, Swann on his heels. Ebling and Cirilli are arriving on the cargo level from mid-deck; they’re a couple of minutes from the centre of attention. The doc is heading down, too; he’ll be the last to arrive.

 

Location: Airlock 3, Cargo Bay 3

CAMERON: (while the atmosphere equalises) Situation report, Starry?

STARRY: (voice only) The message was sent from Ebling’s quarters but no-one was present at the time. I’m still trying to decode the package. Everyone except Lang Lang is on the way to the cargo bay now.

CAMERON: (cracking the seal on her suit) What’s Lang Lang doing?

STARRY: Navigation calculations. The usual. Who are those people outside?

CAMERON: Port security and customs. They’re here to monitor the loading.

STARRY: Is that normal?

CAMERON: (removing her helmet) Yes, especially when we refuse to use their loading equipment.

STARRY: Should we worry about them?

CAMERON: Just keep the drones on the straight and narrow, and it’ll be fine. It’s not that unusual. And lock the airlock behind me until I tell you otherwise.

STARRY: Securing outer airlock.

 

Location: Internal, Cargo Bay 3

(Just inside the airlock doors, Waldo and Casper sit quietly out of the way, scanning the empty space.)

CAMERON: (strides to the rear of the cargo bay to place her helmet aside, shaking out her hair briskly.)

CAPT: (entering, he nods to his Chief of Security) Everything good?

CAMERON: (nods at him) It’s in hand. And here?

CAPT: Nothing you don’t already know.

CAMERON: (glances towards the inner doors to the cargo bay and adjusts her weapons belt.)

 

Today, I am a chessboard. Sometimes I’m a piece, but on days like this, I’m just the playing field. I never feel like a player. I have to trust that the pieces will do the right thing. I can feel Waldo and Casper flexing their little hands as people arrive in the cargo bay.

Elliott is watching the proceedings nervously. I wish I hadn’t told him. I wish I’d kept him away from this. Just stay back, Elliott.

 

CAMERON: (taps at the holographic interface hovering over her left sleeve and watches data scroll past. She tags a particular nugget of information with a flick of a fingertip and it pauses.)

(The rest of the crew file in. None of them are speaking; they barely look at each other, even if they arrive together.)

DR VALDIMIR: (looking around the empty cargo bay) So, where’s all the stuff?

CAMERON: It’s on its way. We have something to deal with first.

DOC: (sighs) Is this going to take long?

CAMERON: That depends on who sent the message seventeen minutes ago.

(Everyone in the cargo bay turns to look at the Chief, and then glance at each other.)

CAPT: (resting a hand on the weapon holstered at his belt) Your help isn’t coming. You might as well step forward now.

 

I’m not the only one scanning the faces present to see who looks uncomfortable. The doctor looks annoyed but not in a guilty way. I think he’s irritated because whoever is responsible was careless enough to be detected. From his intelligence indexes, I think he’d be much harder to catch. Or rather, that’s what he assumes.

Cirilli seems nonplussed, as if she’s not sure what it all means. Her head has been elsewhere for days now.

Ebling is tense and uncomfortable. I can see Cameron flicking at her interface again; she’s going over the bio-monitor reports on the crew and the spike in Ebling’s readout is note-worthy.

Swann’s reaction is flat. Not even the flutter we might expect from a professional SecOff hearing about a serious security issue. He must have an implant that controls his bio-rhythms, which makes him a professional liar. I don’t like the implications of that. Not even Rosie with all her various implants has that kind of control. She’s too honest to think she’d ever need it. But Swann does.

Cameron skipped right past his readouts as if they’re not important. Should I say something? What if he does something stupid and dangerous? What if he freaks out?

Cameron’s too busy looking at Ebling. I don’t know what to do.

 

CAPT: This is your chance to step forward and own up to it.

(Silence reigns. Glances move around the cargo bay, but that’s it. Outside, the heavy drones wait patiently at the closed airlock doors.)

CAPT: I’ll take that as a no. Chief?

CAMERON: The message was traced back to Ebling’s quarters.

EBLING: (blurts) What? But I wasn’t even there! Captain, you can’t–

CAPT: Chief, do your thing.

CAMERON: (nods) Swann, take Dr Ebling to Cargo Bay 1 and secure him there.

SWANN: (draws his weapon and gestures at the irate scientist with it) Yes, ma’am. Ebling, move it.

EBLING: But… you can’t! I couldn’t have sent it if I wasn’t there!

SWANN: (claps a hand on Ebling’s shoulder and shoves him towards the corridor) I said move it.

 

Off they go. Ebling is stumbling and starting to sweat. Swann looks smug, but I get the feeling that he enjoys pushing people around. Cameron and the captain are exchanging glances, waiting for something, and the doctor has picked up on it; his eyes narrow. In the corner, out of the way, Elliott is shifting his weight uncomfortably. He keeps fiddling with his scanner as if it’s a weapon he’s trying to aim, but he doesn’t have a target.

The inner doors swish closed behind Ebling and Swann. Pressure in the cargo bay eases, except for Cameron. She’s as tense as ever.

 

CAMERON: Starry, when they’re inside the cargo bay, lock the doors behind them.

STARRY: Lock them both in?

CAMERON: (grimly) Yes.

STARRY: (nodding, wide-eyed) Will do.

 

Both of them. So she does suspect Swann after all. All right, I can lock them in. It should only be minutes before they realise, before Swann tries to leave.

Doesn’t this put Ebling in danger? What will Swann do to him to try to prove his innocence, or to try to get out?

 

DOC: (regarding the Chief curiously) And the rest of us?

CAMERON: Try not to get run over by the drones when they bring the gear in. (She looks to the ship’s avatar and nods.)

CAPT: (agreeing) Let’s get the loading done.

 

That’s my cue to open the airlock and let Big Ass in with his load. His brother will wait outside until the airlock is clear, place his burden in it, then trundle off to get more. They should get everything inside over the next hour. The cycling of the airlock means that no-one can slip outside without me knowing; I’m never completely open to Dyne’s acrid atmosphere.

Everyone is moving back to give the drones space, or forward to start scanning the crates for the goods. The doctor is interested in the supplies he ordered and Elliott is interested in… well, pretty much everything else. Cameron and the captain are standing off to the side, comparing notes in hushed voices. They seem satisfied with how it turned out.

The only one not moving is Cirilli. She’s gazing at the closed inner doors as if she’s wondering why she can’t see Ebling any more. Like a piece just fell out of her world and she doesn’t know what to fill the gap with.

So much has been chiselled away from her lately. We’re going to destroy the project she spent her life building. Now her colleague has betrayed her and she’s questioning everything he’s ever told her, everything she’s ever given him.

I complain because I’ve been betrayed several times in my short life – and even before I was born – but it has been so much longer for her. Forty years. I can simulate it, but I can’t quite understand what that’s like.

 

STARRY: (stepping to the captain’s side, she clears her throat softly.)

CAPT: Starry?

STARRY: (inclines her head towards Dr Cirilli, who is standing alone in the cargo bay.)

CAPT: (exchanges a glance with Cameron. They nod, and he moves off towards the stranded scientist.)

 

The captain will look after her. He knows how to handle her, and Cameron can oversee the loading of our equipment. Our suspects are locked up, we’re safe. We’re… uh oh, Swann has realised that he’s locked in.

 

Location: Cargo Bay 1

SWANN: (pressing the door controls again) Starry, what’s going on with the door?

(Behind Swann, Ebling is kneeling and bound in the middle of the cargo bay’s floor. The single red light of a captive collar blinks under his chin.)

STARRY: (voice only) Chief’s orders, Swann. You’re to stay here and guard Ebling.

SWANN: That’s not what she said. Open the door.

STARRY: I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t do that.

SWANN: My name’s not Dave. Open the door!

STARRY: I’m checking. Please stand by.

 

I don’t know how long that will satisfy him. He’s looking around for another way to get out. I’m going to send Casper up there to keep an eye on– oh shit.

 

Location: Cargo Bay 3

STARRY: (appearing next to Cameron) Chief, I just lost sensors in Cargo Bay 1.

CAMERON: (scowls and jogs towards the corridor) Get Brasco to airlock 1 and tell the captain.

STARRY: On it.

 

Cameron isn’t surprised. She knew that one of them would try something. She’s prepared: I have to take comfort in that.

I can’t tell whether Ebling or Swann blacked out my sensors. One of them must have a device that overloads the circuits but I didn’t see them trip it. Could be in a pocket, or maybe built into an implant, though that would be dangerous.

The sensors will come back up in a couple of minutes. But now I have a blank part inside me. I’m blind, like I have one eye closed. I need to know what’s going on in there. I need to know which one of them is responsible.

And we need to catch them before they escape.

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10 Responses to “Blind spot”

  1. Melanie Says:

    Sorry for the delay on this one, everyone! It has been a hellish week. Thanks for your patience, and please be assured that this is the last post for a while that will go up late.

    Next week’s post is already written, and there are a lot more in the works. I’m aiming to have plenty to entertain you with over the weeks to come! Let the writing continue. šŸ™‚

  2. mjkj Says:

    Thank you for posting, Melanie, I was wondering what had happened that there was no update šŸ™‚

    So, it seems it is both Ebling and Swann that are trying to interfere.

    I hope Starry will survive it undamaged…

    mjkj

  3. Francisco Says:

    Melanie,

    I have to echo what mjkj said:

    It’s nice to see an update but it’s even more satisfying to know that you’re OK. I had decided that, if there was not a post today, that I’d drop you a line asking if you were OK.

    I knew that the chances were that you were just busy.

    mjkj,

    I think it was only one of them that betrayed the crew but, given the situation, I suspect that the traitor’s persuaded the other one that their best chance is with him.

  4. josh Says:

    What IS lang lang doing on the bridge anyway?…

  5. Retsof Says:

    Good to hear from you Melanie.

    I really hope my Plot senses are wrong here, because they are pointing at Elliott…

  6. Melanie Says:

    Thanks for your understanding, guys. You’re the best. šŸ˜€

    Life kinda exploded a bit for me recently. I’m in the middle of a big change-over at work, my family and I have just decided to move house, and I’m organising a month of writing activities for National Novel Writing Month, including a weekend trip for 30+ people to an island. Crazy? Yes, definitely. But the worst part is hopefully over with now!

    The good news is that I’m writing Starwalker for NaNoWriMo, and powering ahead with it. It’s all going well so far!

    In answer to your speculation: all good questions and guesses, and I’m not going to give anything away just yet! You’ll find out the answers next week.

    Except josh: you’ll get your answer a little bit after that. šŸ˜‰

  7. Kodes100 Says:

    “I’m sorry Dave I can’t do that.” Hahahaha!
    The whole chapter is great but the quote is priceless:)
    Well done.

  8. Salrissa Says:

    Wow. Well, Lang Lang could be relying on her work being so boring Starry won’t pay attention to what she’s doing and she’s been slowly slipping back doors in. Yes, the way it’s written Elliot could be involved. But most tellingly, no-one told the doc *when* the message was sent, but he immediately knew he wasn’t in his room when it was sent? Yes, he’s up to his eyeballs in whatever is going on.

  9. Andrul Says:

    @Kodes100: Yes, it’s nice to know Starry is up on her classics.

    @Salrissa: Actually, the captain gave the exact time frame as 17 minutes previously. It is interesting to note that Ebling knew immediately that he wasn’t in his cabin at that time without referring to a watch, but it does muddy the implications.

    @Melanie: As always, I’m loving it! Please keep yourself healthy so we can continue to get our regular fixes. And keep up the references to old sci-fi novels. Maybe you could work a reference to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics or Anne McCaffrey’s brain ships (I love Helva!) in at some point. And until I mentioned it it never even occurred to me that Starry/Elliot draws a good parallel to Helva and her brawns.

  10. Melanie Says:

    Kodes100 – glad you liked it. šŸ˜€

    Salrissa – ahahahaha.

    Andrul – thanks! I try to work in little references every now and then. šŸ™‚ I love Asimov’s work (the name of the company is actually derived from his name: Is(aac)Asimo(v)). Considering the work ahead of them, I can see some 3-laws/zeroth-law pondering in Starry’s future.

    I adore McCaffrey’s brain ships! Helva was one of the inspirations for this series (and the particular person/brain/ship setup was one I avoided as a result, because I didn’t want to reproduce it). Starry hasn’t quite got to singing lullabies to Elliott yet, but who knows, right? šŸ˜‰ (Helva was The Ship Who Sang, for those who don’t know the series.)