(All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.)
The loading bay computer systems respond to the unique space suit signatures of each of Cressida's team as they arrive. A cavernous space, the bay houses a fleet of utility space vehicles, from heavy armoured all terrain rovers to swift vertical jump jets and marine bathyspheres; an army of research and retrieval vessels marching in ordered rows towards the pressure curtains. As the team move through the bay, lights and systems click into life, waking the fleet from the slumber of standby. Truro tries to name as many of the machines as she can but the scale and complexity of some leave her baffled and in awe. For a moment she tries to reckon up a cost for such equipment, catching a glimpse of the chasm of wealth separating drubs like her from the Corporations but is interrupted by Cressida's voice inside her space helmet.
'So, are we all here? Good. I'll be as brief as possible, we have no time to waste, stealth and speed are key.'
Cressida pauses and surveys her team. Truro, Cme, Grove and herself. 'We'll use a trawler, should get us as close as possible to The Scintilla without being detected. Cme, you and Truro can get one ready for launch, attach a limpet drop pod and some grapnel. Grove, with me to the armoury.'
Truro follows Cme down the line of vehicles to where three trawlers are suspended from their hydraulic loading mounts. Cme nudges Truro and points to the nearest trawler, 'This one.'
Truro stares up at the soft, matt black exoskeleton of the trawler, trying to work out its full shape and dimension. Light is absorbed by the surface armour of the craft and even her eyes slip off the sides. The ship, a domed wedge shape, seems barely big enough for the four of them. Truro reaches out a hand to touch the strange armour but somehow misses and she stumbles forward in her suit awkwardly. She pulls her self upright and asks Cme, 'Why's it called a Trawler?'.
'Trawls for signals, any noise indicating intelligent life. Camouflaged, like me, so no one sees it. Quiet, runs on moonbeams.'
Cme turns and grins at Truro. ' It absorbs light and converts it to energy, like a leaf, even reflected light of a moon. Stand back, I program in drop pod.'
Truro moves out of the way as Cme quickly types in the codes for a limpet drop pod into a nearby terminal for the loading bay's computerised system. Off in the deep recesses of the bay, a picking crane drone finds a drop pod and moves it across the floor network to the trawler and attaches it to the underside of the craft. Then Cme indicates to the side of bay. 'Grapnels kept over here.'
Grove and Cressida reach the double doors leading to the armoury where her security clearance is picked up by the loading bay computer system. The doors slide open to reveal the brightly lit interior. Along one wall are rows of tranquilators, ranging from hand held stun guns to mobile vanguard canons. Large entity trank-canons, flares, electronic nets, snares and mist traps, a glittering display of knives, machetes, electrostatic charge pikes and a selection of mining blasters and laser cutters cover the remaining walls. Grove stares at the display. The nitty gritty of dealing with dangerous creatures in unknown environments is spelt out loud and clear in this pristine room, bristling with weapons. Cressida finds the cabinet she's looking for and opens a wide drawer. Inside are a set of precision hull cutters with their remote controls. She grabs a couple and then points to the mid-range tranquilators, 'Grab four, just to be on the safe side.'
By the time they reach the trawler, the drop pod is in place and Cme and Truro are attaching the grapnels, long cables with grappling magnets, to the underwing of the craft.
Daniel sits at flight control and presses the intercom for Cressida's space suit. 'Can you hear me?'
'Affirmative, Pilot.' Cressida's voice is calm. 'We are about to board the trawler.'
'Good. We'll monitor from here but maintain communication silence during the reccy.'
'Will let you know when we are ready to launch.'
Daniel pulls up the live feed from the loading bay and projects it onto the viewscreen and watches as the team climb into the cramped cockpit of the trawler, wondering just what is happening on The Scintilla.
'We've located the ship, it's hiding in the shadow between the twin planets, Harp has sent the co-ordinates to the trawler's computer. It will take you about three hours to reach it.'
Senior Pia Rabette pauses momentarily to square her shoulders and straighten her jacket before she knocks lightly on the opaque glass doors of the Newtrishia Directorate Boardroom Suite. It is only a few hours since she raised the Bounty Notice but somehow, she is here, outside this door, summoned long before she'd had a chance to write up her report.
The glass clears to reveal the interior, a small reception space. The door slides open and Pia steps over the threshold. Under her feet, the thick wool carpet gives slightly and sound is muffled in its dense fibres. The lighting is warm, soft and inviting and from somewhere unspecified a voice greets her. 'Pia, welcome. Please take a seat and wait, we know you are here.'
The Newtrishia Corporation's Head Office consists of three interconnected buildings. Mission Control, Sales and Finance and the Directorate. The buildings are old, in one of the first quadrants of the city to be built. The Directorate building itself is one of the oldest on YumYum City, an understated high rise of flat, grey, pioneer blocks.
Pia sits on the edge of the couch. The real leather squeaks slightly as she moves, and she runs a hand across it, to remind herself of the old, cracked surface. The reception space is small, square, plain. Just two sets of opaque glass doors, the couch and a large company logo on the opposite wall.
Pia waits, wondering what is going on behind the other set of glass doors.
The Directorate sit around a virtual table, each a holographic projection from wherever they happened to be in the Five Galaxies. Seven people in charge of Newtrishia Corporation.
Seven, so there is never a deadlock on a vote. Each in charge of a division; Sales, Finance, Mission Control, Marketing, Corporate, Resource and Logistics. Erica, Dovald, Votive, Luc, Asim, Collier and Rain respectively.
'The easiest way to clean up this mess is to dispatch a restoration unit. They can't have got too far. We can write off the ship, it's an old Ark class, it owes us nothing.' Dovald is rarely interested in inter-corporation intrigue. 'Cut our losses. We still have a slew of other galaxies of interest in that sector.. Do we know which one they are in?'
'I will not let you destroy the Saturn Anne II. Newtrishia cannot simply keep 'losing ships' because it's a conveniently quick solution to a problem. The ship is old but the crew are some of our finest. We need to protect them.' Collier indignantly interrupts.
Votive sighs and expressively opens her hands wide, including all of them in her gesture. 'Arguing is not constructive in this situation. The facts are obvious. Pia has lost control of this mission. We either replace her or get her back on track. The Bounty Notice will have already been picked up. Sooner or later a hunter will work out Edwear is no longer in the Five Galaxies along with Mentor, Kainya and Scint Bourbon.'
'Scint Bourbon is involved? Scintillator Entertainment?' Asim groans and shakes his head. 'In that case, we definitely can't use a restoration unit. She is too high profile, not to mention the cost of the settlement on her life insurance. How did she get caught up in this?'
'No one is killing anyone. My source at Alimentorum made it clear that this is still very much a kidnap situation. Their operative, Kainya has, for some reason, gone rogue and they think Edwear is the reason. Scint and her ship were to hand and her ship is capable of intergalactic travel.' Votive shrugs her shoulder. 'My source thinks they have followed the Saturn Anne II across the universe for some reason. Maybe for a huge ransom, play Alimentorum and Newtrishia off against each other.'
'And your source is?' Dovald asks. Unhappy at being denied his opinion. Votive deflects Dovald's question, she is not about to reveal the Controller contacted her directly.
'My source is from Alimentorum. They have lost contact with their operative and contacted us when they saw the Bounty Notice. This is footage of the kidnap.' Votive leans forward and activates the video message from Alimentorum. Over the virtual table the footage of Kainya grabbing Edwear, Mentor and Scint Bourbon from the Rink plays out.
'So Alimentorum know where we have sent the Saturn Anne?' Erica asks.
'No, we don't even know where the Saturn Anne is. Only Pia has that information at the moment.' Votive pauses.
'Pia and, presumably, this Kainya person.' Erica adds.
'Yes, Kainya might well have tracked our ship, or she could just be out there, somewhere beyond the Five Galaxies.' Votive tries to get back on track. 'I want to get Pia to grasp this situation and get it back under control. We'll tender the bounty notice to one of our hunters, keep it in house. I'll liaise with Alimentorum. It is in both our corporate interests to keep this whole thing quiet until we can ascertain just exactly what is going on.'
'So we can leave it with you to clean this up?' Dovald can see a way to wash his hands of the whole thing.
Votive nods, 'Yes, Dovald. I shall take responsibility.'
'Good. It is, after all, one of your missions. I vote in favour.' Dovald raises his hand and the other six all follow his lead.
One by one, the holographic projections switch off until only Votive remains. She selects a different roomscape and presses the intercom to the Boardroom Suite. 'Pia, please enter the Boardroom now. Thank you for waiting so patiently.'
Next Episode soon...