24 Oct


Ship's log, 10:27, 25 April 2214
Location: Landing route, Dyne
Status: Atmospheric entry trajectory


Two and a half days. The trap has been propped open for two and a half days and there has barely been a sniff at it. I wish that was a good thing. I wish that made me feel better.

Two thirds of my security force is away. I’ve got a comms channel left open, as if by accident. I’ve got news feeds piping directly into the Mess Hall, so the whole crew knows that I’ve got data coming in, that there might be a chance to get a message out. I’ve kept the comms system as clean and unmonitored as possible; no-one could have known how closely I was watching unless they went hunting for it. I would have seen them fiddling with the code walls, seen them see me, and the trap would have closed.

Nothing. A couple of checks to see if the system was open but no queries about monitoring. No requests for an actual connection. Nothing!

And now here I am, heating my hull on re-entry, still waiting for the shoe to drop. The gleaming city-domes of Dyne bubble on the surface below me, beyond the haze of the upper atmosphere. Netix Port Authority is directing me to a landing pad half a continent away from this entry path. They’re careful to give us plenty of space to deal with atmospheric entry.

I’m inside the atmosphere now. The heat is curling off my skin in hissing clouds, leaving a streak across the sky behind me. I’m in a hurry: no time to sport around. No time to kiss the clouds and pull moisture into streamers, to flutter my engines into a tattoo against the air. There are no birds to startle here, and no time to do it even if there were.

Five thousand klicks from landing. My hull isn’t glowing any more. I leave my landing gear tucked away; I can enjoy being aerodynamic for a few minutes, at least.

Hold on. My comms system just burbled. Outgoing message; I relay it through my little invisible net and it’s scrambled on its way out. A clean acknowledgement message is returned to soothe the fears of whoever sent it.

It’s a coded message; data, not voice or video. And it came from Ebling’s quarters, from behind his privacy locks.

I opened the door two and a half days ago. He waited until the last moment to walk through it. He might have hoped that I’d be so distracted by landing protocols and manoeuvres that I’d never notice. Little does he know that while I might not have landed much in my short life, Danika racked up over a hundred in hers. These things are so rote and regulated that they might as well have a stream of hovering lights to guide us in. I have attention enough to spare for this.

I have to tell the captain but he’s on the Bridge for the landing. Lang Lang and Swann are there with him. I can’t let them know what’s going on.


Location: Bridge

STARRY: (standing by the captain’s chair, she frowns at the forward windows that are showing the view outside: Dyne rushing past below and the tilt of the horizon as the ship comes around the city-dome of Netix to line up with the spaceport.)

CAPTAIN: (watching the holographic display of their approach, in the centre of the room. He glances at the avatar.) You’re very serious today, Starry. Is everything all right?

LANG LANG: (looks around with some concern.)

STARRY: Landing protocols are all green, sir. No problems. (She glances at him.) I just don’t like having my people away from me.

LANG LANG: (smiles) They’ll be back soon.

CAPT: (nods at Lang Lang) Yes, they will. The Chief hasn’t reported any problems; it’ll all be fine, Starry.

STARRY: (sighs) I know, I know.


I wish I believed that. Oh, I’m sure that Cameron and Rosie can look after themselves, even among the metalheads. Hell, Rosie would fit right in. It’s not that. But also, it is. I have this one little processing thread that frets about them in the background, while most of my systems are churning over this transmission and all the dangers still on my decks.

How do I tell him?


CAPT: (glances down at a small, flashing light on the mini-console projected over the right arm of his chair. Two words appear for a second: Transmission Detected. He glances up queryingly at the ship’s avatar.)

STARRY: (meets his gaze briefly and nods.)

CAPT: (looks at the two in the room with him, then presses a query on his console: Identify. Two letters come up in answer: S.E. His lips flatten into a grim line when he figures it out: Ebling’s initials.)


He’s not surprised. I don’t think anyone will be. It’s going to take some time for me to decode the message Ebling tried to send, but I don’t think its contents will be a surprise either.


CAPT: Starry, make sure the Chief knows how to find us when we land.

STARRY: Of course, sir.


How to find us, not where. He means for me to tell her what I just told him. She needs to know. It takes nanoseconds to send a transmission to her; she’s waiting for us at the spaceport. Not long now.

Wait. This can’t be right. The transmission came from Ebling’s quarters, from behind his privacy locks. I’ve checked it fourteen times to be sure.

But he’s sitting on mid-deck. He’s right there in my sensors, has been for the last hour, going through Step data. Cirilli is sitting two metres away at her own station.

Dr Socks is in Med Bay, going over Elliott’s latest scans. Elliott is in his quarters, changing into fresh coveralls so he’s ready to go through the equipment when they start bringing it on board. The Lieutenant is in his locked quarters.

Everyone is accounted for. My sensor logs don’t lie and they haven’t been hacked. I’d know.

That’s it: I’m declaring a crew emergency and tearing down the privacy locks on Ebling’s quarters.


CAPT: (glances down at the mini-console when a red light appears, highlighting the ‘crew emergency’. He lifts his hand to initiate a response, but those two letters appear again: S.E. This time, they’re joined by a blinking question mark. He looks up at Starry.)

STARRY: (shakes her head, her frown deepening. She projects the sensor feed from the newly-naked quarters onto the console for him. The displayed room is empty.) Coming around to land now, sir.

CAPT: (scowls at the display, his lips settling into an increasingly displeased line.)


The message was sent from an empty room. Ebling is the chief suspect, but… should he be?

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8 Responses to “Sender”

  1. mjkj Says:


    Did somebody hack into Ebling’s room?

    I hope Starry will find the real culprit soon…

    *hugs Starry*


  2. Francisco Says:

    Is it someone who already has access or someone who knows more about computers than they let on?

  3. Marcus Says:

    More surprises and more surprises, this story has me as hooked as when I first found it.

  4. mjkj Says:

    Hmmm, maybe it was a timed message? Maybe Ebling (or somebody else) set it up to be send at a later time when he was not in his room…


  5. eduardo Says:

    I do not understand. If there was an acknowledgment from the other side the message was sent, wasn`t it?

  6. Francisco Says:

    eduardo, my reading of the situation is that, in their universe, systems usually automatically acknowledge receipt of message. I think Starry set her trap up to forge an automatic acknowledgement message so it looks as if it was sent successfully.

  7. WiggyJen Says:

    Curiouser & curiouser…

  8. Medic Says:

    If you think about it. Ebling is the one everyone suspects without much thought. Who better to make a patsy of when you want to hide what your doing. The transmission could have been set up weeks ago, like when Starry was busy with fixing Sol. A simple activation code is given and POOF, instant frame.

    Now here’s a question that will really upset people, did Ebling fiddle with sensor feeds before the trap was set to make it appear that he was somewhere he is not truly at?