27 Mar

Terrorist

Ship's log, 14:52, 30 June 2214
Location: Feras orbit, Lambda 1 system
Status: Sublight transit

 

The pieces are set. I have almost reached one edge of the parking zone, high above Feras’s metal surface, while a squad of five fighters weave their way through the traffic towards me. There are charges hovering between us, sprinkled among the sleeping ships. They’ll be woken up soon.

The location buoys along the edge of the zone bleat at me, telling me my place. I ignore them; I’ve got far bigger things to worry about.

 

Location: Bridge

(The captain and SecOffs are at their posts on the Bridge, each with a holographic display wrapped around the front of their chair, teeming with information. In the centre of the room, the main hologram shows the curve of Feras, the layout of the parking zone in orbit above it, the locations of the charges, and the incoming fighter squad.)

CAMERON: Brasco, line up a firing order on the charges. Closest to the fighters first, and then random.

ROSIE: (frowning at her console) Random? Oh, so the trail doesn’t lead directly to us?

CAMERON: Exactly.

CAPT: Chief, I’m not getting any useful readings on these fighters. What are we up against?

CAMERON: Latest generation fighters, Raptor-Hawk line from the look of them. Model’s not coming up on the system. Laurence?

HALF-FACE: (shakes his head) I don’t recognise that configuration.

ROSIE: Me neither. Is that a third set of wings?

HALF-FACE: Must have added more for manoeuvrability.

CAMERON: And for weapons. It’ll be a military-only spec.

STARRY: (tilts her head and narrows her eyes at the hologram) They’re familiar…

CAMERON: I checked your databases, Starry.

STARRY: No, they’re not in there, but I know that config. That’s the Raptor-Hawk 760.

CAPT: If it’s not in your databases, how can you identify it?

STARRY: (looks as puzzled as he does for a moment, then she blinks and her expression clears) Because I’ve flown it. Well, Danika did. She tested them.

CAMERON: You know what they can do?

STARRY: (grinning) Yup. And I know what they can’t do. Danika broke four of them before they asked her to stop trying.

CAPT: Good; we’ll need that.

HALF-FACE: Fighters are a couple of minutes out from the first charge.

ROSIE: Got some weird activity from the planet here.

STARRY: (smile fading) Yes, I’m picking up alerts. They’re signalling a… (She trails off, staring at the portion of the hologram showing the curve of the planet’s metal surface.)

CAPT: Starry, what? What are they signalling?

 

Oh no. It’s happened. It’s started, truly started. And we are one less. At least one.

My captain. John. I don’t know how to tell him.

 

CAPT: Starry!

STARRY: (gaze snapping to his face, she looks at him helplessly.)

CAPT: (expression clamping down grimly) Evacuation. There’s an internal emergency. (His tone is flat; he doesn’t have any doubts about what has just happened.)

STARRY: (quietly) Yes. I’m getting reports of explosions from inside the planet, near the core.

ROSIE: Is that where the labs… (She looks around at the solemn expressions on the Bridge and doesn’t need to complete her question. She shuts up and turns back to her console.)

STARRY: They’re scrambling emergency personnel and evacuating a sector of the colony.

HALF-FACE: Fighters are a minute and closing.

 

Cirilli is dead. I know she was in there, grimly locking the doors and making sure that she could finish what she set out to do there. Destroying the lab she worked in for forty years, everything she put together with her own hands and energy. Her project, her life. Perhaps it’s fitting that she went down with it.

Then why does it ache? Why do I feel sick to a stomach I don’t have?

I can’t tell if Wide Load and Lang Lang were with her. I don’t know if she prayed before she pressed the button. I don’t know if it hurt.

She was the closest thing to a mother I had. I’ll never see her again.

There are spurts from vents on Feras: releases of smoke and pressure. They’ll be trying to suck the air out of the affected area to put out the fires.

Three ships that were manoeuvring in to dock are turning around; they’ve been waived off. No room for refugees when there’s an internal emergency; no-one to deal with more people added to the mix. Those already docked are powering up for a rapid departure, abandoning the surface of the fake planet.

Already, I can hear the comms channels lighting up with chatter as ships demand to know what’s going on. Some of them are running low on supplies for the people they have on board.

We’re making a bad situation worse. All those people, crammed into ships and fleeing from their broken home, only to come here to find us destroying bits of their refuge…

I can’t think about that now. Focus, Starry.

 

CAPT: (rubs a hand over his face, then sweeps his hair back over his shoulders and frowns at the hologram) Chief?

CAMERON: (watching the captain warily, she nods and moves her hands over the console projected before her) Charges are primed and ready. Brasco?

ROSIE: Ready on your word.

 

Focus. We are one less, but we are still alive, and we have work to do. Cirilli gave her life to make this work and we’d better make it worth it.

 

CAPT: (nods.)

CAMERON: Brasco, now!

ROSIE: (grins and activates the pattern setup on her console) Aye aye, ma’am.

 

Internal Comms

STARRY: Everyone lash in; it’s going to get a little rough.

 

My crew are tense but they’re ready for this, too. Elliott is watching my readouts down in Engineering, waiting for the first emergency to need his attention. Likewise, Dr Socks is watching the health monitors of the crew. Safety harnesses secure my people to their stations, while my boys spread out across my decks in case they’re needed.

The first charge detonates, and all hell breaks loose in the parking zone.

 

Location: Bridge

(The central hologram shows the shockwave from the first explosion and the uneven responses of the ships closest to it. They all immediately power away from the source, at varying speeds and angles, partly to ride the wave and partly to avoid any debris that might be coming towards them.

A freighter comes close to wiping out a courier. Two tankers scrape perilously close to each other. The neat arrow-shaped formation of fighters shatters as they break off, scattering around the chaos. Reactions ripple visibly through the parked ships as engines come online and vessels seek to make room for those who are fleeing.

A second charge explodes a third of the way along the parking zone, creating a new nugget of movement that flows out in all directions. It’s obvious that the two patterns will collide in a few seconds.)

 

Ships everywhere, and I’m forced to dodge around a scout trying to squeeze out of the side of the parking zone. I kick my engines into action, zipping and weaving across the halo of movement. Maybe the fighters will lose me in the confusion. Maybe they won’t.

The system is bursting with comms traffic: ships demanding an explanation; the Port Authority trying to regain control over the flight paths. The Port Authority is trying to get the ships to stay where they are and the ships are all telling them to fuck off. No-one wants to explode.

 

External Comms

FERAS PORT AUTHORITY: All ships, all ships, please maintain assigned positions. Do not break formation.

SHIP 1: Are you kidding me? Something just blew up over there!

SHIP 2: Does anyone know what that was? Report!

SHIP 3: It was a ship.

SHIP 1: No, it was a location buoy.

SHIP 4: We’re under attack!

SHIP 2: Panicking isn’t helping!

SHIP 5: HEY, WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING.

F.P.A.: All ships, all ships, please hold positions. We will evacuate the area, but we need you all to remain calm.

SHIP 1: Calm? What the f–

SHIP 6: Get out of the way!

SHIP 3: Don’t crawl up my ass!

F.P.A.: Please hold your positions. We’re evacuating the area and will get to you.

SHIP 7: What the hell is going on?

SHIP 4: It’s a terrorist attack.

SHIP 8: It was an accident.

SHIP 4: We’re under attack, I’m telling you!

SHIP 9: Stop panicking!

SHIP 4: Don’t panic?! Are you kidding?

SHIP 8: Keep calm and fly straight, you stupid f–

 

On the outside of the parking zones, ships are peeling away, making for more distant orbits in an orderly fashion. They’re overtaken by their brethren fleeing the site of the explosions. They haven’t noticed that there’s no real damage yet, not from the charges themselves. Two ships bumps wings and shed debris into the void, spinning and pinging off hulls. Sparks spit and gases vent. More shouting, more confusion.

Terrorists. I guess that’s what we are today. Explosions inside and out. Fear and panic, and the threat of death. We’re using their fear as a tool, but fear is not the end we’re looking for. We’re doing so much more than that.

We didn’t come here to kill. We came here to save lives. We came here to save everyone, but I’m not sure they’ll ever believe us. It doesn’t matter; we’ll know. And maybe one day we’ll tell them the truth and they’ll listen.

In the meantime, I’m dodging between the cargo pods of a freighter and trying not to get squished in the hurry to get out. Four explosions gone now and even the ships at the far end of the parking zone have broken position. Vessels scatter in every direction. Rosie hurries the last few charges along, so they detonate while there are still ships close enough to be freaked out.

There are six ships who aren’t following the pattern and are cutting through the traffic rather than being caught up in it: five fighters and me.

 

Location: Bridge

HALF-FACE: I’ve got suspicious movement in quadrant three.

CAPT: What sort of suspicious movement?

HALF-FACE: (frowning at his console display) A ship heading to dock. Starry, can you clean up the data?

STARRY: Coming around, but the fighters are in that direction. I’ll do what I can.

 

It’s hard to get clear readings when the system is so full of transmissions, emissions, movement, and ships bleating their idents at the top of their antennae. It’s no accident that three of the fighters are moving across between me and that wayward ship, though. It can’t be.

The Lieutenant is right: the movement is suspicious. Six of us are fighting to stay within the bounds of the parking zone while all the ships flee outwards, and those ships attached to the planet are detaching and heading out as well. But this one is heading inwards, to the colony, to those rapidly-emptying docks.

Feras closed all docks when the bombs went off in the lab, and natural instinct and logic says that open space is safer than the colony right now. To go against all of that… they have another motive. Another directive.

It’s the back-up ship. It has to be. It’s a scarred old tug, all engines and grapples, except I’ll bet that most of its engine space is taken up by datastores. What else would make it head into the mouth of trouble? Could there be a ship stuck in the dock that needs to be hauled out? I’m not picking up any cries for help, and surely they wouldn’t bother moving something so damaged when the explosions weren’t anywhere near the surface?

My SecOffs seem to think it’s the ship we were hoping to flush out and I’m inclined to agree. Especially with those fighters coming around in front of it. I bet on the inside of that dull, dented hull, it’s shiny and full of the most advanced technology. Is-Tech’s secret, brimming with backed-up data for all its most precious projects. I squint and scrape a name out of the morass: Narwhal.

 

CAPT: That has to be the one we’re looking for. Chief?

CAMERON: (nodding) Looks like it. I’m not seeing any other candidates.

CAPT: Starry, get us over to that ship.

HALF-FACE: Fighters are converging towards us, captain. Weapons ports open.

 

Ships fleeing all around me. Quarry flashing its white tail in front. Fear has done its job: we know what we needed to know.

But now there are fighters in the way and they’re ready to start shooting. There are still civilian ships around us and they’re baring their teeth, ready to take a swipe anyway. Willing to do what it takes to stop us, collateral damage be damned. I’m just one little ship.

But they have no idea who they’re up against.

I’m a tubby scout and they’re built like sharp needles, but out here in the void, that doesn’t mean much. I’ll lay odds that I’m a better pilot than anyone they’ve got in those cockpits. I’ve got the brain of their loony test-pilot, after all; the one they called in to do the unexpected to their ships.

I remember how much fun Danika had when she was running that fighter model up to its limits. She pulled every manoeuvre she knew and a few she made up. It had an inertial dampening issue that kept cropping up under certain conditions. I wonder if they ever fixed it….

They don’t know what we know. They think Danika is dead and gone. They think I’m just some fat little scout-class with a troublesome crew.

They’ve got no idea what we can do.

 

CAPT: (watching the ship’s avatar) Starry?

 

I’ve already lost one of my people. I have another unaccounted-for. A part of me is missing. I won’t lose any more today.

I’ll keep my crew safe. It’s time to fight and make Is-Tech sorry for lying to us. For burying the consequences of what they asked us to do. For turning me away when I asked for help. For disowning me. For sending weapons at us.

 

STARRY: (steps forward, her hologram shimmering around the edges. The avatar’s pilot-shipsuit changes, morphing from casual and comfortable to form-fitting and functional. It extends up to her jawline and down over her hands, encasing her completely from chin to toes. A ripple works its way down the projection and the avatar’s outfit solidifies into the hard lines of a SecOff’s battle armour, the dark blue of the fabric becoming metallic and the gold seams melding into outlines of the armour’s plating. Her head remains bare, haloed by short, choppy hair, and she lifts her chin.)

 

It’s finally time. Today, I’m a battleship.

 

STARRY: (eyes narrowing at the orange arrows moving through the central hologram, marking the fighters’ progress) Let’s do this.

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4 Responses to “Terrorist”

  1. Marcus Says:

    To quote the Joker. “And here.. we.. go..”

  2. Kunama Says:

    I need a w00t option.

  3. Francisco Says:

    Thinking about that part:

    “I remember how much fun Danika had when she was running that fighter model up to its limits. She pulled every manoeuvre she knew and a few she made up. It had an inertial dampening issue that kept cropping up under certain conditions. I wonder if they ever fixed it…”

    I agree, I wonder. 😉 It all depends on whether the person/department receiving the reports dealt with it as “potential threat in a battle” or “situation unlikely to occur in real life”.

  4. mjkj Says:

    Wow…

    …now to wait a week for the fight scene…

    Great update. I wonder why Starry is so sure about Cirilli’s demise. It is likely she that she died, no question about that — but Starry sounds too sure about it…

    mjkj

    .
    PS: Typo suspected:
    “Two ships bumps wings…” => bump