29 Jun

Lay down your king

Ship's log, 11:42, 6 February 2214
Location: Gienah system
Status: Malfunction

 

Everyone outside of Med Bay is asleep now, slack and drooling on my decks in the grip of an indiscriminate gas. An antidote protects those still awake and crouches inside syringes in their pockets, waiting for injection. I’m stabilising my position and reactivating all my systems; there’s nothing actually wrong with me. My halls are eerily quiet.

There are two dead bodies in my Med Bay. One of them belongs to me, to my crew. His heart is splattered on the wall. I didn’t even notice the moment he was hit.

Pay attention to those still alive, Starry. There’s still a lot to lose. The clock is running, and no Stepping through time can avoid these encounters.

 

CAMERON, ROSIE and ELLIOTT: (in Med Bay, they are waiting for the door to open, shifting their weight. Elliott in particular is making an effort not to look at the bodies on the floor.)

STARRY: The last ones are down. You are good to go.

CAMERON: (nods) Door please, Starry.

(The door opens to reveal Waldo waiting on the other side. The drone whirrs at them, then shifts back out of the way to let them out.)

CAMERON and ROSIE: (scan the corridor carefully, then exchange a nod and split up.)

ELLIOTT: (steps out a couple of seconds later and turns to follow Cameron.)

WALDO: (trundles inside Med Bay and hesitates, scanning. There are captive collars in his hands with Is-Tech’s logo on the side, from storage lockers in the cargo bays. He moves to the closest unconscious pirate and clips a collar around her neck, then turns to the other one.

Once both bound pirates are secure, he turns to a bed and pulls a sheet down off it. He whirrs over to the third pirate near the door and lays the sheet over the body.

His head turns towards the rear of the room, where Maletz lies in a stasis field, but a bleep interrupts him. He untwists himself and turns to the pirates again, to scan them more closely.)

 

My job is to coordinate the drones now. The big boys are bringing the supplies up out of the cargo bays, while Waldo and Casper go around putting collars on pirates and removing whatever weapons they can find. The four of them meet up to swap stolen guns for fresh collars. My tiniest fellas are heading for the Bridge, each bearing a syringe.

My three active crew have split up into two groups. They’re jogging, moving with caution even though the gas knocked everyone out. You never know when someone has biochemical defenses. Dr Maletz assured us that the compound he chose would get through any countermeasures, cybernetic or genetic, but my SecOffs aren’t taking chances. They’re checking corners and scanning the bodies in the hallways for neural activity.

Maletz. Mustn’t think about him now.

Mid-deck and the Bridge: those two places are where everything is converging. Waldo is following Rosie up to mid-deck with collars; everyone else is heading to the Bridge. Bit and Byte will get there first, closely followed by Cameron and Elliott. Wide Load and Big Ass bring up the rear.

Movement detected. Inside the Bridge. Elevated pulses and fluttering eyelids. Two pirates. The Lieutenant. Dammit, he’s half metal; of course a biochemical attack wouldn’t keep him down as long as it’s supposed to.

 

STARRY: (voice only, in the hallway leading to the Bridge) Two pirates coming awake, Chief.

CAMERON: (coming to a stop before the door and tilting her head) Where?

STARRY: Lieutenant in the captain’s chair; guard by the portside defense station.

CAMERON: Conscious?

STARRY: In a few seconds at most.

CAMERON: (nods and looks over her shoulder.)

ELLIOTT: (waits behind her, and lifts his eyebrows at her glance.)

CAMERON: Let’s go.

 

Bit is already dropping from a vent to the floor and ticking his way across to the captain. Byte is a half-second behind him on the other side of the Bridge; he turns for Cirilli.

Half-face is moving, groggy and rubbing his face with one hand. He gags at the taste in his mouth and squints, trying to marshal his limbs into movement. The Bridge door opens and Cameron comes in, weapon up. Elliott ducks inside and down behind the curve of a console; he’s not armed. The Chief scans the room, strafing towards the captain’s chair.

On the floor, Bit has injected the captain. John’s stirring. Byte is doing the same to Cirilli. Get up. We need you, get up.

Half-face has seen the movement and is reaching for his forearm interface. The collars– Cameron is on him: she smashes his right hand down and catches him across the metal side of his head with the butt of her gun.

Casper is there with one of my collars. He lives up to his ghostly name: no-one sees him arrive. The Lieutenant is reeling from the blows and suddenly there’s a click around his neck. He grabs for it, but four metal hands hold him to the captain’s chair. He growls and grits his teeth but I don’t need to shock him; he’s contained.

The captain is getting to his feet. His jaw is tense as he fights through the fog of drugs warring in his system.

He hasn’t noticed the pirate getting up behind him.

 

STARRY: (appearing on the Bridge) Cameron! Portside!

CAMERON: (spins and drops to a knee, weapon coming up.)

STARRY/CAMERON: Captain, down!

PIRATE: (lifts his gun.)

BIT: (launches himself at the pirate’s face.)

STARRY: (blinks over to stand between the pirate and the captain.)

CAPTAIN: (throws himself back down to the floor.)

PIRATE: (shouts when he sees the tiny drone arcing towards him, little metal legs flapping like wingbones. He brings his gun up but a shot from Cameron clips his shoulder, ruining his aim. His body armour absorbs the damage and he squeezes off a few concussive rounds.

Then Bit is on him, scurrying up to wrap legs around his head. Tiny hands beat at the top of his skull. The pirate screams and sacrifices his gun in favour of trying to claw the thing off his face.)

 

Cameron wastes no time in putting him down; she aims for his neck and blood sprays my bulkhead. Bit barely escapes with all of his legs, skittering sideways off the body.

He missed. The pirate’s shots took out a couple of console projectors, but he missed all the people on the Bridge. They’re okay.

Elliott is sneaking forward with his device to deactivate the pirate collars – Cirilli first, as she’s closest to him. She has the sense to stay down until the SecOff is done with her job. The captain is getting up more cautiously this time.

Rosie is arriving on mid-deck. Waldo is following her, a collar in one hand and a spare gun for the SecOff in another. The other half of my science team lies sprawled over their stations, with their two guards slumped on the floor near the door.

Rosie checks the neural activity of the guards first to make sure they’re still asleep, then moves on to give Ebling and Wong their antidotes. She’s a little more stabby about administering the shots than is strictly necessary but they’re too unconscious to notice. It’s only a couple of seconds before they’re stirring; in the meantime, Waldo has collars on both of the pirates. Rosie returns to them to pilfer weapons, tucking choice items into her belt and thigh straps and handing the rest to the drone.

 

EBLING: (slurring) Wha’s going on?

ROSIE: (grinning over her shoulder) Inmates are taking over the asylum.

EBLING: Oh. …shit.

WONG: (pushing himself to sit upright, groaning) This is how you get us free?

ROSIE: Yeah, you sleep like princesses while the rest of us do the heavy lifting. (She waves a hand at them, rolling her eyes.) Don’t get up, it’s fine, really.

WONG: (shakes his head slowly to clear it) Nnh.

 

One of the pirates must have chemical defenses; he’s coming around. Damn them and their built-in countermeasures! His pulse is rising, pulling him up out of the drug-induced slumber.

 

STARRY: Rosie, the pirate to your right. Coming awake.

ROSIE: So? He’s got a collar on.

STARRY: So do half my crew.

ROSIE: What does– oh. Right.

 

All the pirates are wearing collar controls; it will only take one of them to trip the emergency killswitch to take out everyone still wearing one of their collars. That’s why they’re supposed to be unconscious until we’re done. Elliott is still on the Bridge, removing Lang Lang’s, and he has the only key to get them off.

I hate killswitches.

Rosie is casting around for a restraint mechanism. Waldo taps her on the shoulder to get her attention and offers out a coil of insulated wire and a pair of cutters. She grins and turns to bind the pirate’s wrists to his thighs. Forearm interfaces mean that lashing his hands together is a bad idea, and people have been known to use their tongue to manipulate the interface in an emergency. Tying him to himself like that isn’t exactly standard protocol but should solve the problem.

Back on the Bridge, the collar stakes have switched: my crew are freed and pirates are wearing mine. The Lieutenant’s wrists have been bound to the captain’s chair to keep him out of trouble. He’s glaring at the captain but he hasn’t said anything; he’s smart enough not to have to ask what just happened.

Casper is on weapons detail, collecting from the pirates and giving to the heavy drones squatting at the back of the Bridge.

Elliott has finished there and is now jogging towards mid-deck. Just two more collars to remove.

 

CAPTAIN: (on the Bridge) Starry, report.

STARRY: (voice only) All pirates contained. Two dead. Six crew freed. Two remaining and one… one casualty.

CAPT: (frowns) Who?

STARRY: (quietly) Dr Maletz.

CAPT: (bows his head) How long until we’re secure?

STARRY: A few minutes.

CAPT: (nods and regards the Lieutenant thoughtfully.)

HALF-FACE: (glaring) You just threw away any chance of Hunt letting you live, you know.

CAPT: He won’t get the chance to make that choice again.

HALF-FACE: (snorts.)

 

Something isn’t right on the Bridge. I can’t put my finger on it; the data scrapes at my nerves but I can’t pinpoint the right segment. It feels wrong.

Checking sensors again. Something in the vital signs. Half-face, Cirilli, Cameron, the captain, and Lang Lang: all showing as awake and active. One pirate dead, no signs at all. Three remain asleep, their biorhythms steady. One of the three has a pulse running higher than the rest, but it hasn’t changed since she went down.

Checking logs. Byte is running over to scan her for neural activity.

Elliott is climbing up to mid-deck. Almost there.

Oh shit. Shitshitshit. Her pulse didn’t change when she fell under the gas. She has an artificial heart; I can’t tell if she’s conscious or not. Something must have tripped me to her. What was it? She’s not moving. Her lips are closed, not slack like a sleeper’s should be. There, in the log, twenty seconds ago: her fingers moved.

She’s awake.

I make my avatar appear and point at her. No words in case she hears. Everyone turns to look. Cameron and the captain move around to flank her, both armed. Byte climbs over her boot, crawling up to take readings, but she hears the boots.

She snaps into motion like a snake, twisting to grab for her interface. No! I spike her through her collar; her body arcs in pain. Shots pound at her armour. She’d scream if she could. Concussive impacts make the air shiver and break bones.

We all stop at once. She slumps and silence is a shock to all of my sensors. She rakes in a breath. Her eyes find the captain and she grins. There’s blood on her teeth. Metal bones show through the torn skin on her hands. She coughs up more blood; she has some soft places inside and they’re torn too. Her heartbeat hasn’t changed.

She’s dying. Didn’t manage to trip the killswitch. Did she? She’s too broken to move. So why is she grinning?

Another cough and her eyes glaze over. Too much damage and no-one tries to save her. The captain and Cameron exchange frowns. Cirilli wears one too. Lang Lang’s mouth makes an appalled ‘o’ shape. Half-face looks as pissed off as ever but not upset.

There’s screaming on mid-deck.

Something clicks and falls off her belt. The buckle? No, something else. A device, programmed to come off when she died and…

 

CAPT/CAMERON: (back away from the device.)

BYTE: (chases after it as it rolls across the floor.)

HALF-FACE: (leans forward so he can see, then immediately struggles against his bindings) Daisycutter!

STARRY: GET DOWN!

BYTE: (jumps at it.)

 

Nononono! I can’t stop it! Byte is too late; it’s already bouncing into the air. People are falling in slow motion; I yank up the gravity to help. Heavy drones move forward, but so slowly.

The device hovers a metre off the deck. The captain is grabbing Lang Lang and pushing her down. He’s still standing, and it’s–

No, JOHN!

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13 Responses to “Lay down your king”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Wow…

    …another casualty – and what is a daisycutter?

    I just hope the captain will make it…

    mjkj

  2. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – a daisycutter is a type of bomb/weapon. They detonate at head/chest height in a horizontal plane (imagine a weapon that cuts the heads off daisies).

    I’ll describe more clearly when Starry has stopped gibbering and is a bit more together (meaning: next post!).

  3. Targetdrone Says:

    woah, daisycutters on a starship? these pirates sure love to live risky…. (whats with all the aritficial gravity or lack thereof (depending on circumstances) these things could be a nightmare when they uncontrollably bounce around)

    would have been more sensible for starry to reduce gravity to make the daisycutter jump overhead….. ๐Ÿ˜›

    but good chapter again, loving it as allways

  4. Targetdrone Says:

    on a sidenote … melanie, what you describe sounds more like a bouncing betty than a daisycutter

    the former is a mine/explosive device jumping up, whereas the daisycutter is a bomb detonated above ground (to clear landing zones and stuff) without creating craters…

  5. Retsof Says:

    Oh…. crap.

  6. mjkj Says:

    Ok, thank you for the explanation ๐Ÿ™‚

    I hope Starry can think of something to divert that blast…

    mjkj

  7. brightlilim Says:

    Oops…that didn’t go to plan! I guess it would make sense that the pirates would have some kind of counter-countermeasure, a kind of weapon that would make a counter-takeover very pricey in terms of lives lost. What I find fascinating is that Half-Face didn’t appear to know about it; he’s probably not going to survive the resulting attack, yet he didn’t look pissed off about her dying. They obviously have individual “extras” over and above the standard pirate-issue weaponry!

    Nice complication!

  8. Melanie Says:

    Targetdrone – the daisycutter was hovering (under its own power), so Starry probably didn’t know what affect changing the gravity would have on it!

    Hmm, yes, I thought bouncing betties were land mines, whereas daisycutters are deployed bombs. I guess this one is more like a smooshing of the two (‘smooshing’ is a technical term; alternatively, ‘lovechild’). It’s designed to deploy itself to the middle of an area, ascend to about a metre off the ground, and detonate in a horizontal plane. Maximum people-damage.

    I like the name ‘daisycutter’. It’s not quite as playful as ‘bouncing betty’.

    brightlilim – Yes, Half-Face didn’t know about his crewmember’s little emergency device. Pirates are naughty! Tsk!

    Glad you liked. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Targetdrone Says:

    @Melanie – Whatever floats your boat i guess… we are in the future here, there’s no indication some guy in weapons design didn’t come up with an Mk68 ‘Daisy Cutter’ bounding grenade ๐Ÿ˜‰

    just saying that using such a device triggering on the owners dead is a bad form for anyone working in a team ๐Ÿ˜‰ think, 3 people taking cover in a firefight, one takes it to the head…. *plink* *roll* *bounce* *BOOOOOM*
    ;P

  10. Belial666 Says:

    At least it’s not a laser warhead.

    You know, the “take a nuke or antimatter bomb and surround it with lasing rods” thingy. The lasing rods would focus the gamma radiation of the nuclear explosion instead of it dissipating fairly rapidly. Sort of a nuclear shaped charge, only more so.

    And given that the current smallest nuke we managed with 1968 tech was only 40 pounds and was the size of a shoebox, I really don’t want to think what future R&D types could come up with.

  11. Targetdrone Says:

    well.. the problem with nukes is, no matter how advanced all the tech is, you still need a minimum weight alone for the fissionable material to reach supercritical state… so you’re at best looking at some 6-8kg of fuel alone with an implosion style weapon… add to that the high explosives and other stuff, youre looking at at least 18+ kg for a warhead… so nothing too practical to carry around ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. Belial666 Says:

    Not quite.

    Inertial containment is the practice to blast the surface of a spherical piece of fissionable or fusion fuel with evenly spread but intense x-ray or gamma-ray pulse. The surface absorbs the energy and is immediately stripped of electrons, turning into a nice plasma bomb, precisely shaped to compress the rest of the sphere by inertia alone and acheive fission or fusion temperatures.
    With current technology, we’ve managed to acheive inertial fusion on pieces of fuel as large as the head of a pin. Add superconductors and far more advanced laser technology and you can make a fusion bomb really, really small.

    Secondly, there’s magnetic or even gravitic compression. Given superconductor technology, one can create a magnetic field strong enough to force fission or fusion by compressing the fuel through magnetic containment. Current technology in this field is still experimental but someone who can manipulate gravity (let alone EM fields) could do it much better.

    Last but not least, antimatter. You can (theoretically) semi-safely suspend antiprotons in a fullerene matrix. By then breaking the matrix, you force the antiprotons into contact with protons, resulting in mutual annihilation and a rather big boom. There is no limit in how small or how big you can make the bomb; only how much material you can produce.
    The problem is that a fullerene-antiproton matrix would be about as unstable as nitroglycerin and have explosive power of a couple hundred megatons per kilogram.
    Our advances with that kind of setup are purely theoretical at this point though.

  13. Melanie Says:

    Targetdrone – Oh, I agree that a team player shouldn’t have a death-kick that hurts the team. Definitely bad form! If she wasn’t dead, she’d be in so much trouble, with pirates and Starry alike.