10 Oct

Full burn

Ship's log, 13:16, 20 April 2214
Location: Netix City Spaceport, Dyne
Status: Landing approach

 

Coordinating our landing on Dyne has been tricky at best. There isn’t much Judiciary presence in this system but they still have an outpost here, like they do on all of the colonies. They’ll still have plenty of personnel on the ground, but most of their ships have been called away to help with Earth, leaving only a single scout-class warship patrolling the system: the Marionette.

It crossed my sensor range yesterday. It might be scout-class but it’s still nearly twice my size, and packed with Judiciary weapons. I can’t get my new configuration fast enough.

In the meantime, I plan to stay out of its sensor range by keeping the planet between us. It might not even have me on its list of ships to keep an eye out for, but I’d rather not take that gamble. Especially not after this landing.

We had to time our descent into Dyne’s atmosphere carefully. When the Marionette had slipped around the curve of the dark planet on its patrol fourteen minutes ago, I heated my hull in a rapid entry vector. Port Authority at the spaceport facility outside Netix City bleated at me with alarm, but I’m cool enough now to set down on the landing pad. There’s only a little steam curling off me from my punch through the low clouds.

The docking clamps are about to close on my nose. Time to request an immediate dust-off. I can hear the Port Authority staff sighing and I can’t tell if it’s annoyance or relief.

Meanwhile, the captain is letting the rest of the crew in on the plan. Only Cameron and Rosie know what our intentions are in landing today, and they’re waiting in one of my rear cargo bays for us to set down.

 

Docking clamps engaged.
Sublight engines disabled.
Thrusters disabled.
Weapons disabled.

 

I still hate that. But Elliott insisted that I reinstate the docking protocols fully, so I have. I am, momentarily, stuck here.

No time to waste: my outer airlock is open and the ramp is stretching for the scarred mesh of the landing pad.

 

Location: Bridge

STARRY: (standing beside the captain’s chair) Docking clamps engaged, captain. We are landed.

CAPTAIN: (nods at her) Good work, Starry. Are we prepared?

 

He means are we prepared to depart immediately. It’s not like him to skirt around an issue like this and it worries me. Just what has he been discussing with Cameron?

 

STARRY: Transmitting request now. Chief Cameron and Rosie are about to depart.

CAPT: Good. (He looks around at the people gathered in the Bridge. Of the rest of those on board, only Elliott, Cirilli, and the Lieutenant are not present.) We will be taking off as soon as the SecOffs are cleared.

(Expressions around the room register surprise and, in a couple of notable exceptions, outrage. Swann frowns but otherwise seems unmoved.)

DR VALDIMIR: Wait, only those two are leaving the ship? I thought we were staying to collect parts!

CAPT: We’ll wait for the parts in orbit, and collect them and our people when they’re all ready.

EBLING: Why weren’t we told about this? We thought we’d be able to do our own business here.

CAPT: It was a last-minute change, for security. We can’t afford to be caught in dock again, especially not by that Judiciary ship patrolling the system. We’re only staying docked for as long as is strictly necessary.

 

That’s not the only reason, I’m sure of it. If that was true, Cameron wouldn’t have asked me to secure all the internal doors while I was in-atmosphere. I’m effectively locked down inside; the only reason no-one has noticed is that it’s standard protocol for everyone to be seated during entry and landing manoeuvres. If anyone tries to get up and leave the Bridge now, they’ll discover a new restriction.

I have orders to stay locked down until I’m back in orbit. Which means they’re worried about someone on board trying to get off. But who?

 

DR VALDIMIR: But there are things I need to get. Equipment, medicines…

CAPT: If there’s anything you need from the planet, you can transmit requests to the Chief and she will organise them for you. Starry, you have her on comms?

STARRY: We should be careful with transmissions, especially once she’s inside the city-dome and we have to rely on the city’s relays. But yes, we can reach her right now.

CAPT: (to the doctor, not unkindly) Then I suggest you collate your list and transmit it immediately.

DR VALDIMIR: (huffs and waves a hand to bring up an interface before his chair. The movement is sharp with irritation.) Fine, fine.

EBLING: (opens his mouth to speak and snaps it shut again.)

CAPT: Any other requests?

(Heads shake slowly around the room.)

STARRY: We have clearance to take off in ten minutes, captain.

CAPT: (nods) Good. Any sign of the Marionette?

STARRY: Nothing yet.

 

Soon, we’ll scurry back into orbit where the planet can shield us.

From the drift of ships out there, we might not be the only ones staying mobile in case of trouble. Probably not the only ones here for illegal reasons – the pirates did put us onto the contact here, after all – so I guess the dip-and-drop-off is a common tactic.

I suppose it’s also easier on the docking fees, but I get the impression that money is the least of our concerns right now.

The doctor is flicking me the list to transmit to Cameron: it’s mostly new cybernetic components and standard medications. He’s stocking up; he knows things are going to get dangerous for us. I thought the Lieutenant was whole and working again, but from this list, clearly some of his cybernetics still need work. He hasn’t complained once, though.

I wish I could say the same about my crew. Elliott has been feeling well enough to gripe about being stuck in Med Bay and he only stays because the doctor and I make him. Lang Lang went down to visit him a couple of days ago; she saw how restless he was and helped to arrange a crew card game around his bed. He didn’t win so easily without the drones’ help but he did okay.

I hadn’t noticed until then that the crew doesn’t do that any more. There used to be a poker game once a week, back when Danika was alive. I remember how much she enjoyed them, laughing and competing with the crew. She even got the captain to play a few times. But since I was born, I’ve hardly seen any of them pick up the pack of cards.

Gathered around Elliott’s bed, with little Byte dealing, my people laughed and bet, won and lost. They played for snacks, and it was hard to keep track because they kept eating their winnings. I think Swann was the overall champion; he was definitely the most smug when the game finished.

Swann isn’t so smug now; he seems disgruntled by our current plan. At first, I thought it was because he had to stay behind and look after the ship, but now I’m not so sure. Considering his reaction to the captain’s announcement again – he seemed as surprised as the rest, if that frown was anything to go by – it must be more than that. He didn’t know what Cameron’s plan was, not all of it. She didn’t trust him with the whole plan and now he knows it.

I’d be upset if I was him, too. I trust Cameron with my hull and my crew, and I get nervous when she has long, private talks with the captain. She has been doing that a lot recently. Now, it’s obvious that she doesn’t trust one of her own people. I can’t help but wonder who else she’s keeping at arm’s length. How many more of my crew will betray us? It’s happened before and our situation is trickier than ever now.

It’s hard not to look at Ebling when I think about that. He clearly wanted to get out here and do something, but what? Did he really have ‘personal’ stuff to do?

I know that Cameron is watching him. I see the sensor log requests coming through my systems. It’s hard not to run algorithms over the access requests to see what patterns emerge. It’s especially hard when I’ve been betrayed before and want so desperately to stop it happening again.

I almost want to let Ebling off to see what he does. Then I’d know; we’d all know. I want an answer, not more questions to feed into my scenario simulators. I want to stop building watchdogs to patrol my systems, looking for the next sign of subterfuge.

I want my crew to love me as much as I love them.

Right now, Ebling is sitting grumpily on my Bridge with his arms crossed. He has been the most openly disgruntled of my crew, the easiest one to focus on. But the real dangers have never been the obvious ones. Tripi, Levi… we never suspected them, not until it was too late. How do we spot that kind of thing earlier? Suspect everyone? Lock them all in a room and see who breaks?

The person who should be the most dangerous to us is shut in my guest quarters: Lieutenant Laurence, our captive pirate. He hasn’t given us a whisper of trouble. Is he really as accepting of his position as he seems, or is he just lulling us into a false sense of security? Some instinct in me, some spark deep within my braincopy, says I can trust him. Logic says I can’t afford to.

Both sides of me despise the uncertainty. I want to put my engines on full burn until all the dark places are washed with light.

We’re going to have to sort this out before long. We can’t be at war inside and outside at the same time. Something has to happen, and soon.

 

External comms

NETIX PORT AUTHORITY: Starwalker, you are cleared to depart.

STARRY: Thank you, Port Authority. Starting take off countdown.

PORT AUTHORITY: Acknowledged. Safe flying, Starwalker.

 

I don’t actually have a countdown timer. I just wait until the docking clamps disengage and then kick the hell out of here as soon as there’s no chance of tearing something off.

Rosie and Cameron are well clear. They’re in a shuttle-car, speeding towards the Netix city-dome four klicks away.

I wish they’d let me send Bit with them, but the Chief wouldn’t allow it. Standard comms are enough, she says. I feel like I’m leaving them naked.

 

Docking clamps disengaged.
Engines online.
Thrusters online.
Weapons online.

 

STARRY: Clearance received and docking clamps disengaged, captain. We’re outa here.

CAPT: (nods) Good, let’s go.

 

Here I go again. My sublights fight with the local gravity: it’s a little heavier than Earth-standard but nothing they can’t handle. The pad is flushed with painfully bright blue-white light, and superheated air shimmers behind me as I streak away from the landing pad. I leave a pale, temporary scar in my wake across Dyne’s grubby air.

As much as I’d like to, there’s no time to sport through the clouds or to enjoy the feel of the atmosphere on my hull: it’s straight out to the black for me. There, I’ll flick my systems down to their minimum and ride along in a quiet orbit, waiting for my people to be done with their work.

There’s a ring of rocks and dust around this system’s second planet. I wonder if the captain would let me go flying through it if I asked him nicely. I can hide just as well over there as here, right?

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6 Responses to “Full burn”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Awww…

    Poor Starry is so worried *hugs her*

    I hope she can get some fun soon (like playing in the asteroids / the ring of the other planet 😉 )

    *looking forward to the next updates*

    mjkj

  2. Francisco Says:

    Starry had better be careful. If her playful nature is known by the judiciary, playing in the rocks may give her away.

  3. anonymus Says:

    hi
    Thanks for the new chapter

  4. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – yes, I think dodging rocks would be good stress relief for her right now. 😉

    Francisco – very true! Would it be easily-spotted ‘suspicious behaviour’?

    anonymus – you’re welcome! 🙂

  5. eduardo Says:

    Just thanks for the nice chapter.

  6. Melanie Says:

    You’re welcome, eduardo! Glad you liked it. 🙂