Ship's log, 10:55, 25 April 2214 Location: Landing pad 25D, Netix Spaceport, Dyne Status: Docked and powered down
I have a blank spot inside me. A surge from a device overloaded my sensors and I can’t see anything inside Cargo Bay 1. I’m deaf and blind and senseless. It’s like they cut a piece out of me. The cables running to that sector tingle and spit. It’s numb and it burns at the same time.
Ebling and Swann are in that cargo bay. I don’t know which one of them did it. Right now, it barely matters. They put themselves in the dark; whatever took out my sensors also took out the lighting circuits.
Casper is making all speed to the inner doors of the cargo bay. Cameron is right behind him, her long legs about to overtake him. The captain is rushing down from the upper deck, where he was escorting Cirilli back to her quarters.
Outside, Rosie is heading casually down the ramp from Airlock 3, as if nothing is wrong. I piped the situation to her helmet comms and she’s making her way over towards Airlock 1 in case our captives try to break out there. But port security is lingering nearby to oversee our loading and we don’t want to arouse their suspicion, so she’s taking her time. Everything is fine; nothing to see here. My heavy drones are continuing in their ponderous work of hauling crates into my rear airlock. Nothing is wrong at all.
Location: Corridor outside Cargo Bay 1
CAMERON: (arriving) Starry, situation. (She still has her suit on and her helmet dangles from one hand, scooped up on her way here. She puts it on and activates the seal. There’s a faint hiss as the seal engages.)
STARRY: (appearing by the cargo bay doors with a concerned expression) Sensors are still down. I’m working to reinstate–
CAMERON: (from within her helmet) Any sign of someone trying to get out?
STARRY: (hesitates, tilting her head) I’ve got some activity on the airlock controls. They’re trying to trip the emergency release.
CAMERON: Can you stop it?
STARRY: (throws her holographic hands up) I can’t win! You want safety protocols, you don’t want safety protocols. I’m running interference, but there’s always a way to open a door eventually. I’ll buy you what time I can.
CAMERON: How long?
STARRY: Long enough. What are you going to do?
CAPTAIN: (arriving at a run) They mustn’t get outside the ship. We can’t afford for local authorities to get involved.
CAMERON: (grimly) Those authorities are exactly what they’re counting on.
CAPT: We need to end this, now. Is Brasco in position?
STARRY: Yes, she’s covering the airlock from outside. The ramp isn’t down, though.
CAMERON: Starry, on my mark, open these doors.
STARRY: (blinks and shifts back a step) Okay. Quietly?
CAMERON: (draws the weapon holstered at her belt and takes up a position to the left of the inner cargo bay doors) No, let them hear.
CAPT: (steps to the right of the doors, his weapon in hand too.)
CASPER: (trundles over to sit smack in the middle of the doorway, all four hands spinning to different attachments: welding torch, blades, pincers. The ship’s avatar stands behind his shoulder and he tilts his head back to look up at her.)
STARRY: (smiles at him grimly.)
CASPER: (lights his welding torch.)
(Along the corridor, doors and hatches click as the locks come down, shutting the rest of the crew out of the danger area.)
CAMERON: (nods) Now!
(The door snicks and whispers open, casting a bright white rectangle onto the floor of the dark cargo bay. There’s a soft scuffle, then the flash of gunfire. Laser pellets punch through the ship’s avatar and scar the wall behind her.)
STARRY: (looks down at her chest, where the laser passed through her, then she disappears, shattering onto the deck.)
CASPER: (surges forward into the cargo bay.)
CAMERON and CAPT: (duck low and slide around the doorframe into the room.)
I’m still working on bringing the sensors back up, rerouting network traffic, finding wires that haven’t burnt out. Some of the sensors are ruined, but I can get others back. I’m working on it, but I’m still blind. Still can’t see anything more than snatches and shadows.
I can hear them, though. Though the corridor sensors, through Casper’s. Scuffles near the airlock, hurrying boots against the deck, the rasp of breathing.
CAPT: (inside the cargo bay) Give up! You’re outnumbered and there’s no way out. Put your weapons down, now.
He hasn’t named who he’s talking to. He’s still trying to draw them out. Still playing because he doesn’t know the players yet. Cameron is being quiet, hoping they’ll forget her in the wake of the captain’s commands.
(There’s a sudden shuffling and a thud, followed by a squeak of protest.)
SWANN: (from near the airlock) I have him, captain! I have the little bastard.
CAPT: (using a crate marked ‘raw foodstuffs’ as cover, his weapon is trained towards the SecOff’s voice) Bring him where we can see him.
SWANN: (moves forward, dragging Ebling with him, until the light spilling in from the corridor falls on them. He has a cut above his left eye and blood down one side of his face. The scientist is on his knees and is forced to use his hands to keep up. Swann holds a handgun to Ebling’s head.)
EBLING: (is unbound and no longer wearing the captive collar. He looks like he has been smacked in the mouth: his teeth are bloody.)
CAPT: Did he get the drop on you, SecOff Swann?
SWANN: Yes, when the lights went out, captain. Little fucker made a break for it.
EBLING: He’s lying! Me, get free on my own? He’s trying to blame it all on me, when he did it! The message, the lights: it was him, captain, I swear.
CAPT: A likely story, from both of you. Who am I supposed to believe?
SWANN and EBLING: (both start protesting at once, with escalating volume.)
We’re on the knife’s edge. I have no data to tell me which one of them is to blame: the scenarios all wind up equal in my calculations. The captain’s expression is grim and giving nothing away. I don’t know what to do, but it’s not up to me. It never was.
Their voices are rising, trying to be heard. The captain’s aim hasn’t wavered away from the pair. Something is about to break. Something has to give.
(A laser pellet abruptly punches out of Ebling’s abdomen, quickly followed by a second one that sprays blood from his chest onto the decking.)
CAPT: (ducks down behind his cover.)
EBLING: (silent and shocked, he topples forward onto his face.)
SWANN: (shouts with surprise and leaps off to the side, away from the line of fire.)
CAMERON: (strides out of the shadows of the cargo bay towards Swann, gun muzzle glowing.)
SWANN: (swings his weapon around towards her and rapid-fires.)
CAMERON: (ducks and rolls out of his line of fire, sliding around the corner of a box.)
CASPER: (grabs Swann’s wrist.)
SWANN: (struggles to pull his arm free) Chief? Thank you! You got him! You–
CAMERON: (slips out from her cover and shoots Swann through the throat and head in quick succession.)
SWANN: (slumps to the deck. His free arm splays to the side, and a second gun rolls from his hand.)
CAMERON: (considers first Swann through the faceplate of her helmet, then Ebling) Clear, sir.
CASPER: (releases the mercenary’s arm and moves back.)
CAPT: (striding over and holstering his weapon) Both of them?
CAMERON: (steps over to Ebling and crouches so she can slip a gloved hand under the hem of his shirt. There’s a soft tearing sound, and she draws a small, nasty-looking weapon out from under his shirt. It is shaped to fit neatly into the palm of the hand and had been taped to the small of his back.) Yes.
CAPT: (sighs heavily) It’s over, then.
CAMERON: (rises and removes her helmet) Looks that way. (She winces as she shakes her hair free and props her helmet against her hip.)
CAPT: Any damage, Chief?
CAMERON: (looks down at a scorch mark on the sleeve of her suit) Nothing serious.
CAPT: (nods) Check in with the doctor anyway.
Both of them. Working together, knowing that only one of them would likely make it. Knowing that alone they’d never be able to do it. Relying on us to make a choice; relying on us to make the wrong choice.
Both of them.
Location: Cargo Bay 3
ELLIOTT: Starry, what’s the matter?
(Big Ass is patiently ferrying crates from the airlock over to where he’s building up neat rows of equipment, sorted by type. The doctor is standing near the inner doors, leaning on the wall and fiddling with the holographic interface projected above his right forearm. He looks bored while he waits for his goods to be brought inside.
Elliott is in the middle of scanning the crates in their neat lines, comparing his readings of their contents to the manifest. He has paused and is frowning at the ship’s avatar, who is standing nearby with a stricken expression.)
STARRY: (blinks at him) What?
ELLIOTT: What’s wrong?
STARRY: I… nothing. Nothing to worry about, it’s all fixed now.
ELLIOTT: You sure?
STARRY: (forces a smile) Yeah, sure. (She turns to face Dr Valdimir.) Doc, Cameron needs you.
DR VALDIMIR: (looks up with surprise, then his lips twitch knowingly and he heads out of the cargo bay.)
ELLIOTT: (regards the avatar with a frown.)
STARRY: (nods towards the airlock) More coming in for you.
ELLIOTT: (glances around at Big Ass. When he turns back, the avatar is gone. His frown deepens, but steps forward to scan the crate that the heavy drone places in front of him.)
All fixed now. Nothing to worry about. We got those who would have betrayed us and the locals are none the wiser. Outside, everyone thinks I’m just a ship, nothing special, nothing to worry about or profit from.
Inside, we know better. But my people are safe.
Location: Cargo Bay 1
CAPT: (leaving the cargo bay) Starry, get them into cryo.
STARRY: (standing by the inner doorway) Yes, sir.
CASPER: (starts picking up the weapons discarded on the cargo bay floor.)
Freeze them; that will make it all better. That’ll clean it up. I wish I believed that.
My people are safe and there’s blood on my decks again.
STARRY: (looks at the laser scars on the wall opposite the doors to Cargo Bay 1, where gunfire had passed right through her. Then she disappears.)