Ship's log, 13:14, 30 June 2214 Location: Feras orbit, Lambda 1 system Status: Sublight transit
I can’t believe we left them behind. Lang Lang and Cirilli, and my Wide Load. Members of my crew. The drone who is piece of me. They’re missing and I feel it, but I power on through the orbital lanes anyway. Because I’m a good ship and I have to do what’s best for all of us.
It’s almost like when Bit was blown up; one of my parts is missing. But every now and then I get an electronic bleat as if Wide Load is reaching out to me. Since I transmitted the updated orders, I’ve been too far away to pick him up properly. I can only hope that he’s able to carry out the new orders, even though I’m not there to guide him.
It’s hard not to strain my comms antennae to listen for him. It’s harder not to send a transmission burst back, just in case.
I’d swoop closer to the metal planet if I could, but we’re trying not to attract any attention right now. The captain has me weaving lazily through the orbital parking, quarter speed. Take my time, he says.
Don’t run from the wolf. It has teeth and eyes that home in on movement.
Cameron disappeared off the Bridge just after we broke away from the docking clamps. She dragged Elliott into Cargo Bay 4 with a couple of my drones, and they’ve been fiddling with my spare ordinance. She’s having Elliott adapt some of the missiles; from what I can tell, he’s recalibrating the targetting mechanisms.
I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing, whistling in the dark.
But I don’t think it’s working any more.
(It’s quiet; everyone present is intently watching the read-outs on their respective consoles. Three of the crew are at stations: Rosie, the ex-pirate Laurence, and the captain.)
STARRY: (appears by the captain’s right hand, facing him and looking tense) We’re being hailed by Feras Port Authority.
CAPTAIN: (looks up at her) What do they want?
STARRY: They’re saying we forgot something. We have a delivery waiting at our dock.
CAPT: (frowns) Don’t change course.
STARRY: Not a chance in hell.
ROSIE: I thought they couldn’t want to get rid of us.
HALF-FACE: It’s our chance to come quietly.
STARRY: (stares at the captain.)
CAPT: (gazes at her grimly) Tell them no. Be evasive if you can. And let the Chief know what’s going on.
The game is on. The players are all on the board and the moves have begun. We’re shuffling, angling ourselves, and so is Is-Tech. Testing each other. Probing defenses. Testing resolve.
It’s time to put our readiness to use.
Location: Cargo Bay 4
(Big Ass and his two mid-sized brothers are moving missiles around with patient whirring. Elliott is leaning over an open crate and sliding open the casing on a missile, while Cameron looks on.)
STARRY: (voice only) Chief, Feras are asking us to go back.
CAMERON: They made up some red tape to tangle us up?
CAMERON: They’re onto us. (She looks to Elliott.) You can handle this?
ELLIOTT: (without looking up) Yeah, because you were being so much help anyway. Go on, I’ll finish this up.
CAMERON: (nods and heads out of the cargo bay.)
STARRY: Port Authority, your message was scrambled. Please repeat.
FERAS PORT AUTHORITY: Please return to your assigned dock, Starwalker. You have an urgent delivery waiting.
STARRY: Urgent delivery? We received all our orders before we left.
F.P.A.: You must have missed one.
STARRY: There must be some mistake. Please return the package to sender.
F.P.A.: We didn’t say it was a package…
STARRY: What else are you delivering? A baby? We’re definitely not expecting one of those.
F.P.A.: No, it’s not a baby.
STARRY: Oh, good. That would be a horrible mix-up. Babies really don’t belong in docking ports.
F.P.A.: Yes, but that’s not the point…
STARRY: Very true! You should be calling medical personnel for a delivery like that, not a starship. I don’t have facilities for child birth on board. Or children. I’m not child-proofed.
F.P.A.: There’s no child, Starwalker.
STARRY: Oh. So why are we talking about babies?
F.P.A.: We have a delivery waiting.
STARRY: Oh, a package?
F.P.A.: Yes. A package.
STARRY: We’re not expecting any packages. Sorry, Port Authority. This isn’t the ship you’re looking for.
F.P.A.: You must return to the dock immediately to sort out…
STARRY: We’re on a tight schedule here. Sorry, we simply don’t have the fuel to double-back and fix your clerical errors. Please return to sender and ask them to message us with the full details.
F.P.A.: That is not good enough. You must…
STARRY: What was that? Sorry, Port Auth–. Too mu– –terference, yo– should g– –cked, bec– we don- –ive a –it.
F.P.A.: Starwalker, what’s going on? Your message is breaking up. Starwalker? Please respond.
Let’s see how long the ‘lalala, we can’t hear you’ defense lasts.
Meanwhile, Cameron is heading back to the Bridge and Elliott is continuing his work in the cargo bay. Big Ass, Waldo and Casper are lining up the recalibrated missiles inside the airlock. I’m not sure I like where this is going.
CAMERON: (strides in, her bootheels clipping sharply against the decking) Captain, we have a new tactic to try.
CAPT: What is it?
CAMERON: We didn’t count on there being so much traffic in the system, but we can use it to our advantage.
CAPT: (frowns tensely, not liking the sound of that, but he nods at her to continue.)
CAMERON: I’ve got Monaghan recalibrating some of our spare ordinance. We can lay them in the parking zones and set them off to cover our movements. No-one will be able to follow us through that kind of chaos.
STARRY: (stares at the Chief of Security) Those are civilian vessels! Full of refugees!
CAPT: (holds a hand up to silence the ship’s avatar) Chief, she’s right.
CAMERON: (shakes her head and settles into her security station’s chair, one hand automatically gesturing to pull up the security reports) No, not targetting the vessels. Monaghan is setting the missiles to avoid any targets; they will only detonate with enough space around them to explode safely. It’s the chaos of the ships we want; not actual destruction.
CAPT: (relaxes slightly) That could work; they’ll react to the explosions even if there’s no immediate damage. Starry, what’s the status of Feras? Are they still talking to us?
STARRY: Yes, though they think we can’t hear them. I think they’re getting the idea that we don’t want to talk to them.
CAMERON: (paying more attention to her console’s readouts now) Where’s the Judiciary ship?
STARRY: No sign of it since we undocked. Its semi-regular pattern should have it on the other side of the planet right now.
CAMERON: We’re not going to have a lot of time before it comes back around. If we’re going to do this, captain, we’ll need to do it now.
HALF-FACE: (frowning at his console and tapping to focus his scan) I’ve got some ships coming this way from the planet’s polar docking ring. Starry, can you identify them?
STARRY: Adjusting sensors. They’re small, fighter-class. Too far to tell more yet.
CAPT: Coming this way?
STARRY: (frowning) Yes.
CAPT: (exchanges a look with Cameron) Then we’d better lay these charges before they get here.
Fighters. They’re tiny machines, all engines and explosives, with a pilot wedged in the middle. They’re the most manoeuvrable kind of ship there is. I count five: an entire squad, just for me.
I haven’t had to go up against one of those yet, let alone five. This should be interesting. Time to extend my wings to their fullest span.
Location: Cargo Bay 4
STARRY: (appearing beside Elliott) Captain wants to know how much longer you need.
ELLIOTT: (jumps, glancing up at her) Fuck, Starry. (He scrubs at his hair.) Uh. Couple of minutes on this one. Six ready to go. How many more d’you need?
STARRY: (pauses, looking off into space) Chief says that that should be enough. No time for more.
ELLIOTT: (blinks) Things about to get interesting?
STARRY: We’ve got fighters incoming.
ELLIOTT: (turns back to his work) Lucky we’ve got a crazy ship, then.
STARRY: (grins) Oh, they have no idea. (She disappears.)
ELLIOTT: Just try not to break yourse– (He glances up, realises that she’s not there, and shakes his head. With a sigh, he turns back to his work.)
STARRY: Chief, what kind of pattern do you want for these charges?
CAMERON: Random. As spread out as you can make them.
HALF-FACE: We don’t have a lot of time before those fighters are on us. They’re entering the far side of the parking zone.
STARRY: They’re slowing for the traffic. Not on combat approach. But he’s right.
CAPT: Then we should step it up and make the most of the time we have. Starry?
STARRY: (saluting) Laying eggs at top speed, aye aye sir.
Enough of playing nice. Enough of pretending like nothing is wrong. My boys have seven adapted missiles in the airlock on Cargo Bay 4 and the inner doors have sealed Elliott safely inside. I open the outer airlock doors and nudge myself sideways. Big Ass places a bomb in the void and it hovers in place as I move away from it. I flip over and around a freighter, dive for the lower portion of the parking zone. Another bomb tumbles out into weightlessness. Tiny spurts of its thrusters place it squarely between the closest ships. I swoop around and start working away from the fighters.
They’re still taking their time. With so many civilian vessels around, they won’t risk anything in this area. If they fire at me, they’re likely to hit someone else. They’ll try to angle me out into the open or pressure me with threats. Right now, they’re pretending to be a standard patrol squad.
They look new, like their paint is still wet, and I’m not picking up any particular markings. Not Judiciary, then; possibly fresh off the assembly line and being run in before delivery. Can’t quite tell what model they are from here; too much interference on sensors.
Cameron is looking antsy about this. We knew it might be a possibility.
Four bombs laid in place. No-one seems to care about the things I’m leaving behind; they probably think I’m just littering. It’s not like other ships don’t eject waste, even though there are edicts against it because it’s a hazard. There’ll be a cleanup drone through here soon.
But not soon enough.
CAPT: (tensely watching the hologram in the centre of the Bridge, which shows a portion of Feras’s curving side and the layout of the parking area.)
(The bulk of the projection shows regimented layers of ships, stacked neatly atop each other. Orange arrows trace the weave of the incoming fighters and little red dots pulse where the adapted missiles have been placed. The Starwalker is a bobbing green light, like a playful fairy dancing through trees.)
CAPT: Chief, has there been any sign of that backup ship yet?
CAMERON: No obvious candidates yet, sir. In this traffic, it’s going to be hard to spot. However, we might be able to identify it once we set off the charges.
CAPT: You think they’ll move to protect it?
CAMERON: (tilts her head to the side in a moderating gesture) Perhaps. If they don’t, it’ll move to protect itself. My guess is that it’ll stand out from the crowd.
CAPT: (nods) Makes sense. Starry?
STARRY: I’ll be tracking the movement on all sensors, but I’m gonna be a little busy flying once the proverbial hits the fan. Unless you can give me some parameters other than ‘weird’, I’ll need help.
CAMERON: Brasco, Laurence.
HALF-FACE: Keeping an eye out for weirdness, yes ma’am.
The captain is already thinking about the next step in our plan: locate and destroy the ship that houses Is-Tech’s off-planet backups. It must be in this system, because it docks every day or so to take the latest uploads. But its identity is a closely-guarded secret. It could be any ship from the Judiciary cruiser we’re hoping will stay out of the fight as long as possible to the old junker dragging space debris out of the parking area. If it was up to me, I’d pick the junker; being part of the scenery would be an advantage for a ship housing a secret.
If it was up to me. I’m already moving on in our plans, right along with my captain and the SecOffs who have their eyes on the next threats, as if we haven’t left people behind on the artificial planet. We have crew lost somewhere in its corridors, in its layers upon onion layers of labs, offices, workshops, storerooms, accommodations, shops, factories, testing yards, construction sites, cranes, and docks….
I’m a ship. I can’t forget; I keep them in my calculations, just in case. I might have to come back for them. I might have someone to come back for. I’m too far away to hear Wide Load but I know he’s in there somewhere, trying to carry out my orders. I’d feel if he had been deactivated. Wouldn’t I?
In the meantime, we do what we must.
STARRY: That’s the last of the charges laid, captain.
CAPT: All right, bring us around to the far side of the zone.
Off I go, as fast as I dare without alarming the ships parked around me. Putting space between me and the fighter squad. Leaving a line of red globs between us, like a trail of poisoned breadcrumbs. Follow me, I dare you. Gobble up my leavings.
They’re sliding through the traffic like tiny, toothy sharks. But it’s okay.
I’m ready for them.