Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Just 17


"Alright you miserable weasel bothering fuck twats, time for you to start earning your keep. At long last I may add" Sergeant Gumelar animatedly paced at the front of the briefing room. "We have a Lanark-Horishmo co-owned probe crash landed on Europa. Intel identifies it as a pirate action, with three hostiles located close to the crash site, armament unknown. We are the closest intervention ship and you have been invited to tender for the recovery of the probe and nullification of the pirates. ETA is four hours and twenty three minutes. The AI has requested that formal tenders be submitted within two hours and fifty seven minutes." she stared at the three marines in front of her, "Well what are you waiting for people? MOVE MOVE MOVE"
Gumelar smiled as the three marines got in each other's way as they attempted to exit the briefing room. It felt good to finally see how they'd perform under a real scenario. A scenario she couldn't have planned better herself. A gentle clean up operation. Any luck the pirates would put up some resistance, see how the marines react to that, but not so much resistance as to threaten any real damage to the drones or tac-suits. 
Mason had shot off in the direction of the machine shop, presumably to get the polymer synthesis facility warming up for her little plastoid army. Sully headed towards drone control at a jog, with Fuller easily keeping pace. 
"This is my big chance Sul" the big marine declared "Reckon I can tender under you and Mason, show that I've got it when it really counts. Reckon Gumelar will give me another shot when she sees me operate in real life"
"You think?" Sully asked, slowing down a little - it didn't take long for him to start to get out of breath. "And even if you do win the tender, which you won't as I have this one covered, but say you did, do you really want to turn things around with Gumelar?"
"Would make for a slightly less unpleasant final voyage even if she sticks with the plan of giving me the boot. Plus I just once want to knock that slightly condescending smirk off her face. You know the one I mean? The one that says 'always knew you were a failure', can't stand it"
"I know the one alright. Probably deliberate of course, honed over the decades to annoy recruits into better performance"
"Well it works" they'd reached the hatch to the drone control room, Fuller ducking to make his way through, Sully close behind. 
"Hi guys" Brook was already in the room, leaning against the central data projector. 
"Hey Brook" the two marines chorused "What you doing here?" Sully added as he began calling up drone specs, blueprints and technical details scrolling in the air in front of him. 
"Just some general maintenance, you know, the usual"
"Uh-huh. Nothing to do with being nosey then?" Sully briefly turned to her, raising his eyebrows, before returning to the data displays.
"What? Me? Never" mock indignation "But being as you mention it, was is the, er, tender?"
"Pirates have crashed a LH probe on Europa" Fuller answered from across the room, his own display of various drones orbiting around his head, as he manipulated potential load outs with quick hand gestures. 
"Wow, your first proper job. My little marines are all grown up!" 
"And we're gonna show Gumelar a thing or two" said Fuller, dragging an image of a large ballistic weapons pod onto a small drone. The projection flashed red and the big marine cursed under his breath. "Getting the weight balance right for VFM is a predictable pain in the arse though. How you doin' Sul?"
"I got a trick or two up my sleeve" Sully was working on the basis that Mason would go for the same setup she'd run on Hebe, the six lightly armed plastoids. He had their weight and cost spec pinned to one side of the projection in front of him, enabling to contrast his own possible load outs. 
"Is, er, Gumelar tendering for this one?" asked Brook.
"Nope, it's all ours" replied Fuller "She wants to see how we measure up. Plus we only have the three drop ships, so we can't all tender anyway". The marines wouldn't find out who won the tender to the last moment as the AI used complex algorithms to compute its preferred option. This meant that all marines tendering would load up on a drop ship each with their packs, but only the victor would be launched. 
Brook frowned, scratching her forehead with the end of granddad's crowbar. Was this the real reason Gumelar wasn't tendering, or could it be part of a wider plan to do with the ship AI? She hadn't had time to do any more investigation, but something didn't feel right here. 
"Do you guys trust Gumelar" asked Brook after a few moments contemplation.
"Odd question" Sully stopped his work with the data projector and turned to face Brook. "What do you mean?"
"You think she'd ever put you in danger?"
"Er, that's kind of her job. We are marines, danger is sort of what we do"
"You don't think she'd betray you?"
"Betray? What in the solar system are you on about Brook?" Sully looked a combination of surprised and confused.
"Sorry Sul. It's just, it's difficult to explain, something just isn't right with Gumelar"
"A lot isn't right with Gumelar, she's a nasty bitch, but I am at least confident that she is our nasty bitch"
"I guess" Brook looked down "Just, just be careful on this tender. Please"
"Sure" Sully playfully gave Brook a punch on the arm "You cool?"
"I guess" Brook attempted a smile. 
"In any case, Sully's gonna be safely tucked up on board while I run the tender" Fuller had his back to them on the other side of the room, but had obviously been listening. 
"You wish big man, you wish" Sully returned to his display, leaving Brook to ponder. 
She wasn't, however, able to ponder for long, interrupted by the large airlock through to the drone store starting to cycle. 
"Visitors" remarked Fuller, although continuing with his tender procedure. 
Brook did a quick mental calculation of who was where on the ship to work out who it would be coming out of the airlock. Her shoulders sank when it became obviously who it was going to be. A light above the airlock glowed green and the hatch opened. Out stepped Si. 
"Afternoon meat-heads, oh, and a groupie" he sneered at Brook as he started to remove his vac-suit. 
"You are always welcome to remove you vac-suit on the other side of the airlock you know Si" Brook replied icily. 
"And to what do we owe the pleasure of your company?" Sully interjected before the tension between Si and Brook could intensify any further. 
"Had to make my ladies pretty for our guests. Now I can relax and watch while you fuck up the tender"
"Guests?" Sully looked up at Si. 
"Yup. What? You didn't know?" now both marines and Brook were looking at Si questioningly. He smiled, enjoying the sensation of having knowledge that they weren't privy to. 
"Didn't know what?" asked Fuller.
"The other ship. It's further away from Europa than us, but is coming in hard. You weren't expecting an easy tender were you?"
"Other ship? Gumelar never said anything 'bout no other ship. Shit" Fuller wasn't happy at the extra competition. It was rare given that there weren't all that many intervention ships in a lot of space, but if two or more were within feasible distance of a tender, then both or all would be invited to bid. 
"That's odd" Brook had locked a questioning gaze with Sully. 
"Gumelar probably didn't know" Si shrugged "The other ship was doing its best to stay hidden, not transponder or radio signal. Even our own ship AI was denying its existence till I ran an extra scan or two. You can't get a drive signature that large past me. Gumelar maybe, but not me"
"Why would our ship AI not notice it?" Brook had to swallow her pride in lowering herself to ask Si a question.
"Noticing it and deeming in worth the effort to share the information with us meat sacks are two different things in the AI's mind" another shrug "Now if you'll excuse me, I gotta go settle in for this evening's entertainment. You reckon the culinary drone can do popcorn?" The hatch out of the drone control room swished open and Si climbed through into the rest of the crew quarters. 
“I don't like this guys. Another ship that no one told us about?" Brook hugged herself in nervous thought.
"Nah, Gumelar probably knows all about it. Just wants to see how we react" Sully reasoned. "Could even be a bonus for us if Mason still doesn't know" he returned to his data displays. 
"Fuck Mason. We're up against other marines. They're probably fully accredited as well, think we were the only ship running trainees this time out. The AI factor that kind of shit in to the VFM?" Fuller spoke quickly, now facing away from his displays and towards Sully and Brook. 
"It's probably in the algorithm somewhere. No point fretting though" Sully replied "Sounds like we're the closer ship and if they're burning as hard as Si said, then we have a big advantage in initial energy cost. In fact, sooner we get submitted, sooner AI tells those other pricks to stop shitting fuel and leave one of us to get on with it"
"Why would they burn so hard for a simple clear up op?" Brook wondered aloud.
"What you know about 'simple'?" Sully asked with a slightly bemused smile. "I've seen you and simple, it normally involves that sodding crowbar" 
"Ok, I'm not a fancy expert in marine operations, but you got to wonder where the VFM is in them trying to get here so quick when there's already a closer ship, given that the margins on a probe recovery can't be all that massive in the first place"
"Margin? You some kind of AI economist now?" Sully attempted to deflect.
"She has a point though" Fuller chipped in, both he and Brook now looking at Sully. 
"Why you staring at me? Who knows what the other ship is up. Even if there is another ship, it could just be Si yanking our chains. All we know is that we have to deposit our tenders in..." quick flick of eyes "less than an hour. So if you'll leave me out of your little conspiracy theory, I got a tender to win" and with that he emerged himself again in the data display. 
Brook and Fuller stood in silence for a few seconds. 
"I should, er, probably get back to it" Fuller pointed a thumb behind himself at his data projection.
"Sure, I got places to be anyway" Brook lied. She didn't have anywhere else to be, with engineering duties assigned to the drones and the still moping Phelps. The plan had been to investigate Gumelar's evil plan a bit more, but with the upcoming tender, she wasn't sure how best to proceed. The other marines wouldn't thank her for exposing the Sergeant while they had their bums hanging above Europa in the drop ships. 
Slowly walking down the corridor away from drone control her thoughts turned to Si. He was still sort of a suspect, even if whatever was going on felt more like Gumelar's MO. She pinged a location request to the ship AI for him, see what he was up to. The ship plan that came up in her iris augment showed him being down in the crash-vats. Made sense, he'd probably want to have his space-drones (or 'ladies' as the sexist berk insisted on calling them) out and about with the other ship around; it being standard practise to control the drones from the relative calm and safety of the vats. 
It was always a sort of a drone-controller willy waving contest whenever two intervention ships came close to one another. Controllers that would not formally be in a combat situation (intervention ship on ship combat was exceedingly rare given how costly it was) would do the modern equivalent of joust. Drones would dart around the ships, performing complicated manoeuvres, often in formation, while the two controllers would try and put each other off with their hacking and subversion skills. The ultimate prize was to "flip" or gain control of a rival's drone and would assure substantial bragging rights. To Brook, it all seemed terribly childish, but each to their own. She shrugged. 
A contact request popped up in here iris augment. Before she could accept or reject it, Si's gurning face popped up in front of her eyes, causing Brook to recoil. 
"You looking for me?" he asked.
"Ugh, how did you over-ride my communicator augment? And how do you know that I pinged a location request?" Brook spoke out loud in her annoyance, rather than sub-vocalising it like most people did with iris to iris communication. 
"Why ask questions you aren't intelligent enough to understand the answers to. What did you want? I'm a busy man" he asked irritably.
A thought occurred in Brook's head.
"You know what Si?" she asked, a smile at the corners of her mouth "You've pretty much just answered it for me"
"What the hell you on about?"
"Why asked questions that you aren't intelligent enough to understand the answer to?" Brook replied.
Si just scowled, then his picture blinked out of her vision, communication link broken. 
The number two suspect just made it back up to top spot. Si had the ability and the arrogance to try something as audacious as hack the central ship AI. It must also be how he found out about the other ship before the rest of the them. Probably all some kind of power trip for him. 
Mind you, breaking through a wall to the AI hub, was that really Si's style? Wasn't that just a bit too, well, hands on for him? Gah! Something still didn't sit right. Brook scowled, causing the approaching Billington to jump, emitting a small mewing noise.
"Oh, sorry Billi...ington, didn't see you there" 
"That is ok, Brook. Is everything well, with you?" Billington attempted to regain his composure, a hand smoothing down his comb over.
"Yeah, I'm alright, er, thanks" Brook went to move past him.
"You should not let Si bother you so much"
"Sure, good advice. I gotta go do, er, engineering, er, stuff" Brook headed off down the corridor, an uncomfortable feeling in her stomach. 
Billington watched her go. 
He smiled. 

No comments:

Post a Comment