Thursday, 15 November 2012

Part four: probing


"Woah, this a big one" said Milton staring up at the lifeless drone.
"Even uglier than you" added Nita. She was surprisingly calm for being in the presence of a merciless killing machine, but she knew how good her new intrusion programme was.
"Shut up and take my picture" Milton had managed to sit up with his back against the cupboard, attempting to smile, although the weight of the gravity was making his jowls sag.
"Ok, hang on" Nita managed to get herself in a position so that her view took in both Milton and the drone. Picking the camera option from the menu brought up in her iris display, she took the picture. "Done" she told Milton.
"Cool. Send it over" he replied, and she pinged it over "ohhh, that's a good one"
"I ever told you that you're a screwball?" Nita had began to crawl back to the hole. 
"Well there goes any chance I share my fortune with you when my e-book sells; Adventures across the solar system: The dashing space pirate" Milton was gazing into the middle distance "Just wish I could see the looks on the faces of the conglom execs when I release it" he barked a laugh, the effect of the gravity on his lungs giving it somewhat of a rasp.
"Come on, we need to get a move on"
"I'm right behind you"
The acceleration stabilised at a little over 3g as the transporter completed the slingshot. This meant that they had to work their way over to a different hatch. Jumped out the one that they'd entered by, would see them smeared over the protruding ion drive. 
Eventually they reached a suitable exit, but had to use a small hand jack to lift the weight of the hatch. Milton came close to losing a finger when they dropped it back down, launching into anther grumpy tirade. They slid their way to the edge of the hull. It was difficult to get a frame of reference to work out how quickly they were now travelling in the dark of space, although that was probably a good thing lest Milton discover just how many thousands of clicks an hour they were moving at. 
Linking a thin tether between their hips, they pushed off the hull. Milton had pushed of a little harder, so they span in the zero g, the transporter looking like it was rotating quickly above them. The sensation made Nita feel sick. It made Milton actually sick, the muffled splattering noises transmitted across their secure link. Eventually the ship, still under acceleration, disappeared from their view. While they were still flying at a significant speed, they were no longer accelerating. They were alone. 
"Where are they?" demanded Milton, voice muffled by the vomit on his vac-suit microphone. 
"Shouldn't be too long, I've activated my transponder" Nita looked around. Although she trusted Chen, floating in the vastness of space with only Milton for company, she didn't half feel vulnerable. "We were late getting off the ship. It'll take time for them to get to us"
"Wouldn't be surprised if they left us here" grumbled her companion in infinity. "They got the gear, and the profit splits better between two than four. Bet Chen and that fat bitch Tenyon are laughing their asses off at us right now"
"Shut up Milton" frustration crept into Nita's voice.
"Hey, you think he's banging Tenyon?! Would make sense why they're always sending us over. Dirty fucker. Still whatever floats your boat is what I say"
"SHUT UP" Nita barked. She couldn't stand Milton talking about the captain like that. 
Silence descended for a minute or two, but Milton couldn't keep it up.
"It ain't fair that they always send us to do the hard work though" he said "Then the captain goes and claims the largest share. Plus we have to give a 15% cut back to the loop, what the fuck is that about?" 
"You benefited from the loop's cut back before you joined the crew, so you can't moan 'bout it now. Also, the captain plans the ops, you reckon you could have pulled off what we just did?"
"I could if that cheap ass bastard would buy us a couple of rail guns. He's some kind of hippy, not wanting to arm ourselves. Every other fucker out here is packing"
"Precisely why we don't" she rolled her eyes, although the motion was wasted on Milton in the black of space "You honestly think a couple of poxy rail guns are gonna let us go up against a fleet of drones?"
"They would if I was piloting" 
"We'd be a small dent in the side of a large asteroid if you were piloting" Nita muttered, but Milton wasn't listening. He was too busy making shooting noises while pretending to fly a space ship. Nita sighed, and ran another check on her transponder. Where are you captain?
It took two long hours for one of the distant stars to slowly resolve itself into their rescue ship. Two long hours of Milton moaning, predicting their imminent doom. It took another 15 minutes of close manoeuvring for the ship to match their velocity and get close enough for them to grab on to. Another 15 minutes of Milton complaining that he could fly it better. Then a further 5 minutes while the airlock cycled and they could take off their vac-suits. A further 5 minutes of Milton moaning about all the sick that dripped out of his helmet and down his overalls. 
Nita's smile was broad and genuine when Chen finally welcomed them back on board as she and Milton sipped coffee in the mess room. That he was someone other than Milton was a big bonus, but there was something else in her smile too. Feelings. She shook her head, stupid girl.
"You didn't think the plan worked?" asked Chen, a disappointed frown across the parts of his face not covered in beard or hair. Hurt in his eyes. 
"Hmmmm?"asked Nita, shaken from her contemplation of the captain.
"You were shaking your head, looked unhappy about something"
"What? Oh! No, sorry, was thinking about something, er, else. Plan worked good"
"'Part from the bit where you left us with our asses hanging out in space for five hours" interrupted Milton "And the stupidly high g that transporter was pulling. My lungs still hurt."
"It was closer to two hours, but, yes, well, sorry about the wait and the gravity. There wasn't another way" Chen explained.
Milton muttered something about rail guns, but Chen ignored him and turned back to Nita.
"You're ok though?" he asked.
"Sure, just a bit cold" she sipped the still steaming coffee for effect. The captain had the ship slowing at an easy 0.5g so she hadn't had to drink from one of those annoying flasks. Chen was thoughtful like that. 
"Your scripts ran perfect. We got two full containers, high quality ore too"
"Well, er, thanks" she started to blush, idiot girl
"You see, that's what I don't get" Nita was almost grateful for Milton's interruption. Almost. The downside being it did mean another ill-informed tirade was incoming. "If this_amazing intrusion script was sooo good, how comes we only got two containers, eh? Why not empty the whole fucking shebang? Sell it and live like kings. Way I see it, you boffins lack ambition. Not like me, I think big. It pays to listen to old Milton" he sat back with a smug look on his broad face.
Nita and Chen shared a glance, both with eyebrows raised. Whose turn to deal with the stupid questions this time?
"Whole transporter shipments going missing tends to raise a few eyebrows" began Chen.
"AI don't have eyebrows" Milton actually looked pleased with himself for coming up with that rebuttal, Nita groaned. 
"But they do have their intervention ships prowling around out here. Last thing we want is a tender on us."
"That's where the rail gun idea comes in" Milton wasn't going to give up easy.
"Rail guns find it tough to track drone interceptors which can change course at 30g. You whined enough at 3g so I can't see you outmanoeuvring them" Chen continued. 
"You sound just like her" a disparaging nod at Nita.
"That's because she knows what she's talking about"
Nita was on the verge of blushing again, so spoke in an effort to maintain her cool.
"Plus, if we did clear out the transporter, (a) how the heck are we going to shift it all in this little thing" an open handed gesture to the small repurposed loop habitat resupply ship they were sat in "and (b), who do we know that can take a couple million tonnes of ore off our hands with no questions asked? We tried dropping that much on the Kinshasa boys and they'd freak the fuck out"
"The Kinshasa boys are small fry. S'all about ambition" replied Milton after a few seconds of silence, as if that was an answer in itself. Nita shook her head, and reached for her coffee. But Milton wasn't finished with his bright ideas. "Why go after fucking ore at all? Even once refined it's still worth jack shit. We should hit one of the big fancy zero g factories, get ourself some high tech equipment. Bigger profit, you see?" he slowly enunciated the last few words as if he was talking to simpletons. 
"You want to hit a heavily guarded factory, usually to be found within spitting distance of the lunar or Mars conglom shipyards where they build all range of nasty contraptions?" Chen asked with a single eyebrow raised. 
"Why not? Thought you said the intrusion scripts were good?" Milton shrugged.
Chen looked to the ceiling in exasperation. Having to explain the difference to Milton between ambition and suicide would be just too painful. The captain looked like he might be about to give it a go, when he stopped, then frowned, before tapping his ear.
"Say again Tenyon, and broadcast it ship-wide, I want the others to hear"
Tenyon, who was sat in the depths of the ship monitoring what passed for the bridge, switched her transmission to all crew members. 
"I said, Captain, that we got a distress signal from back on the loop" Tenyon's voice said from their ear receivers. 
Nita's stomach lurched, her coffee fell off the side of the table with an echoing clatter; the ship was changing direction. The captain was the only one with a bio-link to the ship controls, he was changing course, increasing the acceleration. 
"We got any details on it? Casualties?" Chen demanded.
"We, ah, er. It's tight-beamed at us, but flagged as an emergency" Tenyon sounded unsure. 
Nita was confused, emergency signals were usually broadcast wide-beam to alert the most possible potential rescuers. Chen must be equally confused, as he hurried off towards the bridge. Nita and Milton gave a quick look at each other, then set off in pursuit. 
The bridge of most space ships, unlike the majority of their fictional counterparts, was small and normally relegated to the bowels of the ship. Small because much of the ship function was either carried out by AI, or could be controlled by a human from anywhere on board. Relegated to the bowels because it offered them a little more protection in case of emergency and because there was no benefit from having them near the hull; no windows in space. 
Indeed, the four crew members couldn't fit in the bridge of this ship all at once. Especially when Tenyon was ensconced in the only chair, a roll of flesh hanging over the arm rests after she'd wedged herself in. Chen lent over the rear of the chair, while Milton had barged his way to their side. Nita lurked in the hatchway. 
A projection display glowed in front of the chair, allowing for a wider field of view than an iris augment alone. A red cross slowly span in the display, the emergency signal. 
"You sure it's from the loop?" questioned Chen.
"I ain't thick" Tenyon sounded offended "It's got the right data stamp and I traced back the signal" 
Nita had the unpleasant but familiar sensation of pressure building in her eyeballs, the ship was accelerating further. Wouldn't be long till Milton was complaining. 
"Ok. The crash vats preped?" Chen asked.
"Sure" replied Tenyon.
"Ew, no, not the vats. Let's just go a bit easier heading back" Milton's face was a picture of displeasure. 
Nita didn't say anything - wouldn't want to contradict the captain - but she shared Milton's unhappiness. Crash vats could be found in pretty much any vessel that carried humans and might need to manoeuvre or accelerate at high g. So sort of essential on a pirate ship.
The vats were full of the same unpleasant smelling oxygenated gloop that could be found in the marines' fancy tactical-suits. But the crash vats weren't mobile, and looked more like coffins. They were not generally popular with crew members as a result. No one forgot their first time 'breathing' the gloop while trapped inside as the ship darted around. 
"Ok people" Chen spoke across the sulking Milton "Let's head to the vats"
"Hang on!" Tenyon urged. Chen's face dropped at the prospect of another dissenting voice, while Milton perked up at the prospect of an ally. 
"It was an order, Tenyon" Chen had stood to his full height, chest out.
"No, wait, there's a message coming through. An e-cast from the loop" Tenyon looked up at the captain excitedly.
"Put it on the projection" Chen ran a hand over his beard.
"Sure thing" the red cross in front of Tenyon blinked out of existence.
And was replaced by Lloyd's face. 
"Hey guys, you gotta come see this!" behind the wide eyed face of the systems analyst there was a figure performing some kind of celebratory dance. It looked like Kel. "That fucker Alcubierre, one of his probes is coming back!" Lloyd’s transmission finished
"Alcumbi-what?" Milton puzzled.
"That's the fucker that interrupted my massage the other day" said Tenyon huffily. 
"Are you ok captain?" Nita had a look of concern, Chen had gone very quiet "You know this Alcubierre bloke?"
"What? Er, no" Chen shook his head uncertainly "He's long dead. The probes are named after a theory he developed a century ago"
"Fucking boffins" Milton had lost interest.
"It's what first got me into science as a kid, those probes being sent out. Pretty much the only positive thing the congloms ever did for science. The search for life outside of our galaxy."
"Wow" said Nita, seeing the emotion in Chen's eyes was causing those stupid feelings to surface again, twisting a knot in her stomach. Well, the feelings and the renewed increase in thrust gravity. 
"Get to the crash vats" ordered Chen.

No comments:

Post a Comment