Friday, 18 August 2017

Zoology ~ Episode Twenty

(All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.) 

Twenty


'Two tickets for the hottest show in the five galaxies!' Mentor slaps Edwear's head with two thin silvery digibillets.
'I though we were just having dinner to discuss my options?' Edwear dodges the tickets as Mentor tries to hit him again with them.
'Where is the fun in that!' Mentor grabs him round the shoulders and propels him to where his maglev bike is floating gently above the rail feeds in the plaza. 'I feel it my duty to exploit this opportunity to spend company cash on a good night out. It's all part of the recruitment budget, so why not? And, you will not believe who we are going to see. Come on!'
Edwear is aware Mentor is dressed head to foot in a beautiful shot black and emerald green suit. His hair has some kind of green sparkle to it and his nails, cowl-tie and shoes are a striking orange. 'Shouldn't I change?' Edwear glances down at his now-crumpled work clothes. 'It's been a long day. And my girlfriend could come too. She works for Alimentorum, you might know her, Kainya?'
The last thing Mentor wants is Edwear getting a chance to try and contact his so-called girlfriend. Kainya, the name doesn't ring a bell with Mentor but it doesn't matter, spy names are rarely real. 'Sorry, Eds, can I call you Eds? This is a recruitment perk and I can only apply it to you, especially if she's already Alimentorum personnel. Now, I thought about the clothing thing and there's a cleaneasy right next to where we are heading. No time to argue, or we'll miss the show!'

Mentor guides the bike, block after block, across Yum-Yum City, deep into the night as the planet turns. After a while, Edwear stops trying to work out where they are and then, as they draw to halt outside a small, well-lit cleaneasy, he recognises the sprawling hump of a large building looming behind the narrow thoroughfare. The Rink. Mentor has tickets to The Rink.

Inside the cleaneasy Edwear steps into the narrow air-cleaner and waits as he travels through the automatic cycle of damp air, nano-soap magnets and a blast of dry air. At the far end of the air-cleaner he steps off, clothes and hair fresher than before. Mentor is busy feeding scads into a fashion vending machine in the corner. 'Finished.' Edwear announces, none too impressed with his now fluffy hair.
'Good! Here, hair slick and a little finishing touch!' Before Edwear can stop him, Mentor runs a digital slick-comb across his hair.
'I can do that!'
'Clearly not. Look, much better!' Mentor points to Edwear's reflection.
Edwear looks in the nearby reflecting wall and sighs. Mentor has restyled his hair to look more.. well, more like Mentor's. 'And this is for you!' Mentor drapes a soft, black, iridescent scarf across his shoulders. The fabric ripples and falls, catching the light and reflecting it as though made of a million crystals. 'Liquid jet, woven. Looks good. Time to go and catch the show!'

The Scintilla is empty apart from a small army of clean-bots and techanoids. Kainya picks her way through them carefully checking each berth and deck all the way to the flight deck and then throws herself in the Captain's chair. It's an easy steal. The controls look pretty standard but navigation will be an issue. She could do with a crew. Or at least a crew member. An image of Edwear pops into her mind and Kainya has to grudgingly admit to herself his company knowledge and area of expertise would be useful. She messages him and waits for a reply, familiarising herself with the controls of her new ship.

The Rink was an ice rink, once home to the legendary holo-hockey team 'The Y Stars', champions of the Galaxy League for six consecutive years until the water ran out and a Five Galaxy ban on ice rinks, swimming pools and water parks was put in place. Now it had reinvented itself as a nightclub, gambling hall and concert arena for the super rich. Tonight, the multi award winning music duo Zombie Turns Two is headlining, famous for their fire dancing routine. Hot tickets indeed.
Mentor and Edwear find their reserved table just behind the safety glaze and order several rounds of shots. Looking around, Edwear can recognise some very famous people. 'Isn't that Scint Bourbon over there?' he asks, fame-struck.
'Probably, look if you want to name all the famous and rich here, go ahead but personally, I wouldn't bother. Relax, eat, drink, enjoy the show. Its what I'm going to do.' Mentor smiles his brilliant smile which manages to include Scint Bourbon in its warmth. She raises a glass to him and returns the smile.
'Do you know her?' Edwear asks.
Mentor shrugs, 'Do now. Shh, the show's about to start.'
The lights dim and out across the old rink smoke starts to billow in twisting ropes to the roof, lit with sparks of violet and silver. Somewhere a drum begins, then another and another until the whole building is shaking to the beat and a lake of flames spreads out across the floor as Zombie Turns Two leap from its midst and the music takes over.
Sometime during the show Edwear's messenger bleeps but before he can find out who it is, Mentor grabs it and drops it into a drink but Edwear is too drunk to care and he laughs loudly instead, just before passing out. Mentor sighs and looks over at Scint Bourbon and winks. If he has to be here tonight babysitting Edwear for the company, he might as well make it pay and super rich single ladies pay very well.
The wink works and Scint wanders over. 'Let me buy you a drink, my dear. It seems your friend is a little worse for wear.' Scint eases her considerable height into a chair next to Mentor and orders another round of shots.

Kainya's bleeper pings with an unavailable at this time alert from Edwear's messenger and an ad for The Rink. Typical Edwear, he never switches off advert-tracking. So, Alimentorum had given him a ticket to the Rink? Not bad for a journey worker. A delicious thought pops into Kainya's mind and she initiates the Scintilla's ion-engine and plots in the coordinates for The Rink. She would pick him up from there.

More episodes soon...

Previous Episode

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Zoology ~ Episode Nineteen

(All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.) 

Nineteen

Edwear tightens his grip around Mentor's waist as the maglev bike abruptly halts in the drop-off plaza for Newtrishia Mission Control.
'And here we are, at your work, don't forget, I'll pick you up here at?...' Mentor quizzes Edwear as he reaches inside his jacket and retrieves a card call. Edwear nervously slides from the back of the bike to the ground and takes the card proffered to him. 'I'll be finished by 19.30 hours.'
'19.30 hours it is. Now, if you need to contact me beforehand, use the card, it's untraceable, otherwise I'll see you here, tonight. Better go, drawing a crowd!' Mentor smiles and winks conspiratorially at Edwear, then zooms off leaving Edwear and half a dozen of his co-workers staring after him and the bike. Edwear, noticing the crowd, tucks the card call into a pocket and heads into work, his mind full of the memory Mentor's perfume.

Kainya stands at one of the viewing platforms for Sayonara Space Port. Below her, the docking bays stretch out, busy arteries full of supply ships, personnel transporters, luxury cruisers and cut-price galaxy hoppers. At her side she turns the trackercom over and over in her hand. Today, she has a choice. Report back to Alimentorum and collect the reward for the information and then, either continue with her life of espionage or retire on the proceeds from the trackercom information, spending the rest of her life looking over her shoulder, waiting for Alimentorum to silence her. Or she could sell out to NewTrishia and disappear for good. Then she would be on the the run from them all, until her money or luck ran out. What in the five galaxies was there else to do? Somehow, since breakfast, trying to figure it out had led her here, to a viewing platform.
Far below her a luxury space yacht moors up. A sleek, inter-galaxy cruiser complete with dark energy laser drive and an impressive arsenal of weapons. It piques her curiosity and Kainya locates a viewing vista information screen and taps in the dock number. The ship is listed as 'The Scintilla' owned by 'Scintillator Entertainment'. Kainya raises her eyebrows slightly at the name, clearly there is money to be made from hack-chat lines and feelie flicks. Scint Bourbon, one of the richest women in the five galaxies, had made her scadillions out of a simple bit of code which allows users to superimpose their own faces onto characters in holographic films. That and the hack-chat lines. A sort of speed dating over a network of pay-to-use channels. An algorithm which jumps you from caller to caller every three minutes. Scint Bourbon poured her money into making sure she paid minimal intergalactic taxes, one of the super rich whose off-world assets were hidden well away from the Corporations.
The Scintilla is a beautiful machine. You could travel the Universe with that ship, all you would need is a set of co-ordinates and... Kainya stops turning the trackercom in her hand. In her mind another option is forming. An option where she gets to control her own destiny. She drops the trackercom back into her pocket and reaches into her jacket and pulls out the modified tranquilator, checking it is fully charged as in her mind an altogether different kind of plan for her future is forming.

The Scintilla is in dock to be re-provisioned and deep-cleaned and a steady stream of clean-bots and techanoids are on the docking bay. Kainya threads her way through to the lone security guard, leaning up against the ship.
'Hi, nice ship, mind if I look inside?'
The guard laughs. 'Over my dead body, lady...'
'Okay then.' Kainya pulls out her tranquilator and fires, evaporating the guard mid-laugh into a small cloud of cinders. Nearby a clean-bot pulls up short and, noticing the ashes, changes course to sweep them up. Kainya kicks it out the way and steps inside the ship.

Prices are rising. So far so good. Consignor Edwear Linnet feels as though any minute now, the whole of the mission flight team at Newtrishia will turn and accuse him of corporate treason. He tries to steady his nerves, rattled by Mentor, the thought of a new job and the maglev bike ride. Surely everyone saw him arrive this morning? But prices are up, the competition have not yet caught wind of SATAN's Alpha Q7 mission. Price falls are good indicator of investors trying to ditch stock in preparation for the next new commodity to arrive from outer space. So far, the markets are holding.
Senior Consignor Pia Rabette feels as though something has escaped her attention this morning and so, in an effort to track down exactly what it is, she begins her routine round of the mission flight team early. At Edwear's console station she is about to walk past when something catches her attention. 'Linnet, how are the figures?'
'Buoyant. No stock dip yet, Senior Rabette.'
'Good. Good.' Something seems different about Consignor Linnet. She can't quite work out what. It's only walking away she realises what it is. He's wearing a perfume. Since when did they start paying consignors enough to afford perfume?
Edwear watches Rabette walk away, the sharp scritch of her heels across the floor shredding his nerves. Without warning she suddenly turns and stares at him, eyes narrowed, brow furrowed. Edwear jumps and looks back at his figures. She is, without doubt, the scariest person in the five galaxies.

Back in her cubicle overlooking the mission control floor, Pia Rabette wonders if there is something in Linnet's AlphaQ7mission she has overlooked. His choice of pilot, after the previous poor results in Alpha Q6, is questionable. She knows the consignors like to work with the same teams, give pilots a chance to redeem themselves if mission yields are poor but... Could he be running a bigger game she's managed to overlook and be engineering a downturn in profit yields? Was he in the pay of one of the Food Ethics Lobbyists? Or a foodstock broker? Or worse. Could he be in the pay of Alimentorum?
On her console, she calls up the file logins for the AlphaQ7 mission, looking for security protocol breaches, unusual consignment details, last minute changes, anything to indicate a way for Linnet to gain an advantage but everything seems in order.
Once a mission is authorised by the Newtrishia Exploration Initiative (NEI), the quadrant of universe chosen for exploration is given for consignment to mission control where a consignor will pick a Pilot and ship. The Pilot then picks his team and, in the interests of security, the NEI computer chooses the galaxy the mission will travel to. Only the pilot is present for the NEI hologramaptix presentation. No one at Newtrishia knows which galaxy is picked until the first Solar System Claim arrives back from the Pilot. This compartmentalisation of information is the most efficient way to prevent security breaches but it didn't stop disgruntled workers looking for ways to cheat the system.

Senior Consignor Pia Rabette cannot find any reason for concern over Consignor Edwear Linnet's work other than he smells too rich for a journey worker today and today, that's enough for her to raise a doubt. She places a call to a private security detail to tail him over the next few days then turns attention to the BetaQ12 mission.

Next episode..

previous episode


Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Zoology ~ Episode Eighteen

(All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.) 

Eighteen

'What's going on?' Harp finds Aliya in front of the pressure door to Truro's berth.
'I'm trying to get our stowaway to answer.'
'No, I mean the alarm is early. Our shift shouldn't be for another seventy minutes.'
'Beyond my pay grade. Truro! Unlock the door or I'm going to cut through the hydraulics!'
'Do you think they've found something?'
'No, you think? I'm counting to three! ONE...'
'Which one's the pilot's berth?' Harp glances up and down the passageway, wondering whose berth was whose.
'He doesn't sleep down here. His berth is up near the flight deck. TWO!'
'Well, do you want me to hold the lift for you?'
'THREE!' The door to the berth slides open and Truro glowers at them both. 'I'm trying to sleep!'
'No one sleeps through the shift alarm call. Come on, we are wanted in the galley.'
'But I'm still in my sleep-suit!'
'Well, if you'd answered me the first time, you would've had time to change. Let's go!'
Harp smiles at Truro as he holds the door back on the lift but she simply glowers at him and marches past, turning only to scowl at them both from the corner.

Daniel looks up from the object he is examining as Harp, Aliya and Truro arrive in the galley. As Truro draws closer she can see what the object is and points to it. 'You got tracked.'
'You know what this is?' Daniel asks, holding the object up for the three of them to see.
'Yeah, limpet tracker.' Truro shrugs her shoulders. 'So what?'
'We found it on the hull. On the spot where you two pulled the space junk from. We think it must have somehow hidden on it after we left Sayonara. Unless you put it there Truro, before we left.'
Truro snorts derisively at his accusation. 'And where would I get the scads for a tracker like that. It's a quantum device, military grade. Used by spies not space drubs. You got a problem, pilot and it ain't me.'
Daniel knows Truro is right. The tracker is more than likely from either a corporation spy or a freelancer, hoping for a big payday. Whoever it is hardly matters. What matters is Alimentorum probably knows, or soon will know, where in the universe they are. And that is whole different game plan.
'I've woken you all up early so we can help get this solar system scanned, logged and claimed ASAP. Then we move on, try and stay ahead of Alimentorum for as long as we can. I'll give you five to grab some food.'
'I'm going to go and change...' Truro turns to leave.
'I said I'll give you five to grab some food. If you can't be bothered to get dressed in your own time, Truro, you are certainly not doing it on company time.'
'But...'
'Argue and I start docking scads. I'll see you all on the flight deck in five.'


'We need to move the ship now.' Cressida stands in front of Daniel, hands on hips in an attempt to convey she will not be moved from her position.
'I know, Cressida, I know. But we are still waiting on the final scans of the system before we move on.' Daniel instinctively rubs his skull in annoyance. 'I am not losing this system to the competition...'
'Not out of the system. Into the system. We need to hide in there just long enough to see if we are being followed. Once we've claimed the system, we can move on.'
'Hide from them?'
'Ambush them!'
Daniel stares at Cressida in surprise for a moment and then smiles. He had forgotten her fierce nature. That need to win, at any cost.
'And then?' He asks, interested to see what her plan is, how far she will go.
'And then ... take whatever measures necessary to ensure the safety of this crew and the mission.'
'Measures?'
Cressida sighs impatiently at Daniel's questioning. 'We need to move now.'
Daniel reflects for a moment. Cressida might just have a point, ambush or not, hiding inside the system might give them a window of time required to finish the task in hand before whoever sent the tracker arrives. He nods in agreement with her and heads to the where the rest of the crew of the Saturn Anne II are working around the mapping desk.
'We are going in. I need a navcom route to a hidden safe zone in the system where we can wait out the arrival of trouble while finishing the scans. Any ideas?'
Yume and Grove both look at each other at the same time with the same thought.
'Pilot, we have mapped the largest gas giant and, at first we thought it was a phage-planet, solid interior..' Grove starts and is interrupted by Yume.
'It has a relatively inert interior. Safe enough for us to travel into.'
'Hide inside the planet?' Daniel stares a the view screen with the boiling gas giant filling the view. 'Inside that planet?' he points at the storms roiling around the equator.
'We go in via one of the poles. The gas spectrum is well within this ship's capability to withstand and, once in, we are hidden from view, at least.' Yume adds. 'It is one of the planets we have tagged for geo-exploration anyway.'
Daniel turns abruptly on his heels and heads for the navcom. 'Inside the scary gas giant it is. Everyone buckle up, we are heading into... does it have a name?'
Yume is about to give the new numerical designation when this time Grove interrupts him. 'Gyre.'
'Gyre?' Both Yume and Daniel ask at once, but Grove just shrugs his shoulders.

Daniel plots a wide course sweeping up into the north pole of gas giant and then, checking the crew are strapped in, fires up the thrusters and heads the ship straight for Gyre.

Next episode...

Previous Episode

Friday, 4 August 2017

Zoology ~ Episode Seventeen

(All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.) 


Seventeen

Grove Jones squares his shoulders inside his spacesuit and tries to calm his racing pulse. He had worked in hazardous environments before but never walked in space. He stares at his hands in the suit gloves. How is he supposed to operate with these on? Daniel is still giving Cressida a rundown on protocol should anything go wrong and Grove tries flexing his fingers to judge dexterity. Not good. He sighs and then notices an extra gloved hand appear by his. It is followed by the rest of Cme, camouflaged to blend in with his suit.
The Xenograft leans in close to Grove and whispers through his still open visor. 'Ship name-called you. Ship likes you.'
'Name-called?'
'At port. She feels your mind when you pat her.'
'When I...what?'
'At Sayonara spaceport. You talk with ship's mind name when you operate.'
'Cme, are you saying the ship can talk?'
'You heard name-call.'
'In my head... a name.'
'Ship is my home..hope for no explosion.' For a moment Grove forgets his own fear, picking up on a deep well of sadness in the Xenograft.
'It will be fine, the ship will be fine. This object, it is very small and the ship's outer hull will self-seal. I will be quick and I will make the operation painless. OK? You will still have your home.'
'If ship dies, I die.'
For the first time, Grove sees Cme for what it is. A strange hybrid of human biotechnology and animal DNA, forever enslaved on board the Saturn Anne II. Neither human nor monster, but the hybrid result of some monstrous concoction of human scientific vanity to so irrevocably tamper with a life. Grove growls an answer hoping to cover his emotional anger at the Xenograft's predicament. 'I've got this. I'll look after Annie for you.' Grove covers Cme's hand with his but it is already gone and he is left alone near the hatch, holding his own hand, talking to himself.
'You ready?' Daniel's words over the suit intercom make Grove jump.
'Yeah. Ready.'
'Better close your visa then.'
Daniel starts to open the inspection hatch as Grove slams his visor shut, hearing it lock reassuring, all the time trying not to say the word forming in his mind. Annie.

Daniel stands on the outer hull of his ship and stares out at the solar system unfolding in front of him. Nearby Grove is setting up a small operating tent over the spot where the object is located, sealing the sides so nothing can escape into space. There is no room for two inside the tent and so Daniel decides to travel as far as his tether will let him over the surface of his ship, scanning with a possum for any other tracking devices.
One of the gas planets looms large over the stern of the ship, its orbit affording a strange optical illusion, making it seem close enough to touch. Across the surface, storms of boiling violet vapour race and around it spins a belt of asteroids. A hot Jupiter? He would check what kind of planet it is with Yume later, now is not the time for sightseeing and so, reluctantly, he turns back to his inspection of the hull, trying not to notice the planet in the reflective curve of his visor.

The tent springs into shape as Grove shakes it from its bag, the coiled memory metal mesh ballooning into a geodesic shape just large enough for him and his small surgical equipment bag. It magnetises itself to the inner hull and, once Grove is sure it is secure, he crawls inside as best he can, trying not snarl up the tether, his suit and the equipment. He uses a small palm possum to locate the exact site of the tracker and selects a wide bore auto injector to administer a dose of anaesthetic. Just before he injects the outer hull, he hesitates and instead places a hand on the hull and says silently in his mind. 'Annie, you have some kind of foreign object under your skin I need to remove.'
His mind is filled with a feeling of warmth and the hull beneath his suit glove ripples slightly.
'I won't worry Grove, you have my back.'
The voice in his mind is both alarming and reassuringly familiar and then Grove realises something, did the ship just made a joke about him being on the hull?
Could a biosynthetic spaceship become sentient enough to not only communicate but crack jokes based on previous conversations? Grove lines up the auto injector and presses the plunger, he would have to run a full diagnostic of the ship on the next shift, try to find how this latent intelligence in the biosynthetic parts of the ship could suddenly manifest itself but for now, he had an operation to perform.
Grove works swiftly, slicing with a surgeons skill through the hull's skin and locating a small, circular device attached, limpet-like, on the metal substructure beneath. Without a better idea of how to remove it, Grove takes a small, flat bladed scalpel and with one deft move slices under the object, flicking it off the ship's hull. It flies up and hits the tent wall, ricocheting around until Grove traps it in a static bag. The ship's biosynthetic skin is already healing and Grove takes a moment to check it knits together completely before letting Daniel know he has the tracker.








Zoology ~ Episode Sixteen

(All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.) 

Sixteen

Cressida braces herself against the wall, hands across her heart in the first position for defensive attack and waits. The sound is hard to define. A sort of scratching thud at intervals. Further away than she had at first thought, the sound is being amplified by the curved metal ceiling, like a steel pan. It makes it hard to work out which way the noise is coming from and so, without knowing why, Cressida quickly reaches up and raps her knuckles on the ceiling in reply. The sound, a metallic clang, runs away in both directions, along the corridor. Cressida waits, poised for the next scratching thud but there is only the sound of her pulse racing in her temples. She waits for another minute, tensed for a fight, then relaxes. It must be a mechanical noise somewhere. Stationary and not moving, just distorted by the strange acoustics of the hull. She is alone.
Cressida shakes her head and turns to check the next rib for a way out just as Cme steps out from the wall, its skin banded to match the ducts and cables. Abruptly face to face with the Xenograft Cressida jumps with fright. 'Cme!'
'Yes, Cme. Made you jump like Expedition Pilot. Nice one.' The Xenograft smiles at Cressida. 'Do you know it too?'
'What?' Cressida leans against the wall, trying to catch her breath.
'I know my ship. Know something's here.'
'Were you following me?'
'You here now. I am already here. Noise is there.'
'The noise? You hear it too?'
'Something's here.' Cme reaches up over the cabling and lays a hand on the ceiling. Immediately its hand changes to the metal hue of the roof. 'It didn't travel with us. Like a great trick! It has surprised us both, now.'
'Yes, yes, it has.' Cressida wonders just what it is Cme has found. She needed to get some kind of diagnostics up here and quickly if this is something from this galaxy. 'Cme, if we go and tell Daniel about this, can you lead us back here, to this point?'
'Yes, I know my ship.'
'Good... um,' Cressida suddenly remembers she has no idea which part of the ship's hull she is.' ..is there a quick way back to the flight deck?'
'Follw Cme.'

Daniel runs a hand over his head, feeling the soft reassuring bristle of hair under his fingertips, wishing he'd had another hour or two of sleep. They were right to wake him. He, Cme, Cressida and Grove are hunched up in an access rib up under the hull of the ship. There is very little to see, nothing has punctured or damaged the metal inner hull but Cme thinks there is something here. Something that found them after they arrived in this galaxy.
Grove looks up from the portable outboard ship schematics and diagnostics computer (possum) he is checking and grimaces. 'This is the spot Harp and Aliya pulled the space junk out of, they were pretty sure they got it all. The possum is reading something, a low-level power output. Something small. Not much more than a battery...'
'Small enough to be undetected by the outer skin, large enough to have a power source? Got to be some kind of a tracking beacon. Damn!' Cressida is annoyed Aliya missed it.
'Don't sweat it Cressie, trackers go with the mission territory. We need to get this thing inside in one piece and see if it came through the wormhole with us, or if it is tech from this galaxy. Last thing we need is an intergalactic incident because we've stumbled into civilization.'
'Highly unlikely, this far out in the universe, it's still too young for complex life and this a youthful solar system, planets are still forming.' Grove looks up from the possum and smiles. 'We've found no transmissions, space junk or satellites so far.'
'Yeah, well, so far we've just found a tracking beacon.' Cressida is doubly annoyed, firstly at Aliya missing a tracker and now Daniel calling her by the familiar name he once used long ago.
Cme cuts across them both, sensing the urgency in the pilot's voice. 'Skin grow back if you cut it out.' It reaches up to the metal hull and rubs it tenderly, the contac making the strange sound Cressida heard earlier.
'Okay, good plan, Cme. I could do with stretching my legs. Cressida, you can help suit up Grove and me and we'll go and retrieve this tracker now.'
'Grove? Better if I go, I've walked before.'
'But Grove is a large entity zoologist, I'll need him to surgically extract the object with the least amount of damage to the ship's outer skin and the tracker.'
Cressida is about to argue but then thinks better of it. 'And if it's an explosive device?'
'Well, then you and Yume will be in charge and the mission continues without us.'

Next episode...

Previous episode



Sunday, 23 July 2017

Zoology ~ Episode Fifteen

(All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.) 

Fifteen

To run the length of the ship is more like completing an obstacle course. The gangplanks and runways between decks are narrow, ill-lit and often blocked with equipment, cabling and supplies. Very little of the construction budget for this kind of tanker ship went on crew comfort. This was no space cruise liner or battle craft. This was a workhorse. A giant tug to haul whatever they found back to the five galaxies. The state of the art communications, navigation and wormhole laser technology ate most of the budget. The rest went on the cargo deck, the payload. As for the crew? Well as long as they survived to tell the tale that was fine by the corporation. If they wanted luxury, they could go work on a spacetel or holiday planet.
The Newtrishia Corporation had built a fleet of twelve of these ships. Arks to plunder the universe with and build one of the biggest corporations in the five galaxies. But when the corporate space tax bill became too big, they sold off the fleet to various shell companies, preferring to hire in newer ships to suit smaller, cheaper missions. As far as Cressida knew, there were only five of the arks left. Saturn Anne II, Neptune James I, Pleiades Seven, Alpha Orionis 10 and her sister ship, Betelgeuse.
Eight of Cressida's previous missions for Newtrishia had been on Betelgeuse and three on Orionis. Her training mission had been on the Saturn Anne I, nearly twenty years ago, one of the first of the Ark Class, long since lost beyond the edge of the universe and now, for her thirteenth mission, she is on a Saturn Anne again. Right back where she started.
She shakes herself to loosen up and stretches out her hamstrings as she tries to rid the images of her training mission in her mind. The heat. The pain. The scars on her shoulder blade twinge in memory at the thought. She shakes out again and knows running will make her forget, an endorphin buzz better than any pain medication. At least she knows Daniel is a good pilot. One of the best she'd worked with. Once, a long time ago, on the Orionis they had almost been close.
Cressida wonders if the technical specs for the two sister ships are the same. Only one way to find out, she grasps the handrail from the access tube to the next deck and starts to climb, it used to take her sixty minutes to run the Saturn Anne I all those years ago. Let's see how long it takes now.

Grove studies the read outs from the largest of the gas giants with increasing excitement. 'I think this one has a solid core.'
'Solid core?' Yume barely looks up from the mapping desk. 'Interesting.'
'Yes, the readings are showing a dense, planet-sized area in the centre. You know, this could be a phage-planet. The last phage-planet spawned hundreds of new lines of medical patents...'
'Hold on a minute. Do you know how rare a phage-planet is Grove? A gas planet has to engulf another planet with life already underway on it. Then the two planets, rather than destroying each other, have to start reacting at a bacteriological level, producing novel compounds to counteract each other. The chances of us arriving at a goldilocks system with a phage-planet is zero. Less than zero. Let's have a look at that data.' Yume snatches the data reader from Grove and sighs as he reads it.
'You are looking at gas densities, not matter. Not solid, just highly energetic.'
'Oh... sorry. More used to tracking data than composition data... How long will Cressida be?' Grove starts to pace around the mapping table and Yume, in annoyance replies tersly. 'I don't know, it's only been an hour. Here, do this instead. This is all the data we've collected so far. Run comparisons with SATAN's data base of known planets. See if anything matches then you can build up a possible list of entities we might reasonably expect to find.'
'OK, seems easy enough.'
'Exactly.' Yume returns to his mapping and Grove yawns, he had forgotten how dull off-world could be.

Cressida pauses at a junction, unsure which way to turn. The memory map she had in her mind of Saturn Anne I did not match Satan and she is well and truly lost. A stitch is beginning to bite into her side and so she tries some deep breathing to try and oxygenate her muscles, aware if she waits too long cramp will set in. The low, narrow passageway she is in, curves away into the distance, floor-strips only giving off ambient light. The ceiling is of curved metal while the walls are writhing ribbons of cabling and pipework. For a moment Cressida cannot place where in the ship she could be and then it occurs to her. She is in one of the access ribs for the inner hull of the ship. She must have gone one deck higher somewhere. She swears under her breath, these access ribs run bow to stern with only a few intersections between them. She could either turn back or carry on, depending how far along she is but just how far along is she?
A noise nearby makes her jump. What was that? Another stowaway? If she's in the access ribs, close to hull,  there is no way she could discharge a tranquilator even if she had one with her. But Cressida is suddenly very aware she is only in her running kit with a small breather mask strapped to her leg in case of a vapour pocket or zero gravity patch.
The noise is getting closer. She has a choice, she can run down this rib or dodge through to the next rib and double back, either way, she is running blind and running tired. Perhaps better to stay and face whatever it is.




Zoology ~ Episode Fourteen

(All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.) 

Fourteen

Grove wanders around the half-completed three dimensional model of the galaxy beginning to fill a large portion of the flight deck, watching its convoluted, scrolling shape and intricate billowing gas clouds slowly unravelling in front of him.
At the front of the flight deck, up near the navscreen, the pilot is briefing them on the last eight hours. Seems they missed quite a landing party. Stowaways, space junk, space walks. Cressida and Yume seem keen and so Grove leaves them to it and carries on with his restless pacing, past the holo-weaver, past the maincom and then back round again.

'It's like having a caged tarantagon in the room.' Yume gestures with his head towards Grove.
'He'll be alright. It's the nature of the beast with him. Don't forget, he's used to being in hazardous environments, dealing with extreme creatures. He comes across as a loner but once on-planet, you'll see, he'll be a team player. His resume is exemplary.' Daniel hands Cressida the log key.
'Not convinced.' Yume replies.
'And this Truro, what's the deal with her?' Cressida asks, slightly annoyed to have missed all the action.
'Stowaway. Normally I'd confine her to quarters but I've put her on the payroll. She has an interesting skill set which could come in handy. I've put a tracer in her so you'll know where she is at all times and tasked Cme with keeping an eye on her.'
'Skill set?'
'Taught to fight as a child by the infamous Mistress Ban.'
Cressida whistles, impressed for once.
'Anyhow, at the moment I've placed her on my shift rotation. Aliya is sorting out a berth for her as we speak. So, you three are free to start mapping the planets of this solar system and work out which is the best place to start. I want to clear this system ASAP so we can start exploring the galaxy but until the holo-weave is finished, this is home. Any more questions? Good, then I am off for some shut-eye. See you in eight.'

Daniel nods an acknowledgement to Grove as he passes him on the way to the deck lift and Grove replies with half a smile without interrupting his step. As Grove nears the front of the flight deck, Yume waves him over.
'Stop the pacing and help with this.'
Cressida sits in the pilot's chair, feeling it mould to her shape and inserts the log key into the maincom. 'OK, I have the maincom. Let's get to it! Who wants to see where we are?'
Grove reaches Yume near the navscreen just as Cressida hits reveal and the real-time view from the viewdeck is projected up on the navscreen. Grove stops in his tracks as the solar system expands in front of them.
Yume reels off what he can see, methodically logging the planets in succession. Sun. Twin planets with meteor field. One, two, three gas giants. Asteroid belt... It suddenly occurs to him Grove is no longer pacing but standing transfixed by the view. He gestures to Cressida to notice who raises her shoulders in a shrug. 'So, a scad for your thoughts, Grove. You seem intrigued by our new home.' Yume asks.
'Hmm? Oh yes... yellowish sun, still quite young. Looks like the asteroid belt might be spawning planets. Likelihood of life is small, quite literally, doubt there's much in the way of sentient life but the twin planets, the gas giants, it reminds me of... '
'Great!' Cressida's sarcasm cuts through his sentence. 'Non-breathable atmospheres, my favourite!'
'Reminds you of?' Yume ignores Cressida's comment.
'The first solar system.'
Yume stares at the view. Grove is right. A young solar system. Before Old Earth. At a time when Earth and her satellite planet Theia are about to impact. Twins battling against gravity. The young gas giants, enormous and violent. The star, still tinged violet, smaller, fiercer. Like a snapshot of young first solar system.
'A goldilocks system.' Yume surmises.
'Yeah, exactly.' Grove turns and grins at Yume, a huge, all-encompassing grin, full of optimism and enthusiasm, catching him off guard. Yume hadn't imagined Grove to be the kind of person to grin.
'Goldilocks?' Cressida asks.
'Good for life. Not too hot, not too cold.'
'I have no idea what you two are talking about.' Cressida replies. 'What scans do you scientists want to run first? I want this up and running so I can do a perimeter run on the ship.'
'Perimeter run?' Grove asks.
'She, quite literally runs the length and breadth of the ship.' Yume smiles, 'Far too much like hard work to me.'
'You should try it, Yume, might help you find your six-pack.'
Yume snorts and pats his stomach. 'Quite comfortable as I am, I'm sure they're safe in their somewhere.'
Cressida turns to Grove. 'It's a ten kilometre run if you're interested.'
'He's got scans to do.' Yume points to the mapping desks.
'The ship's fine anyway. perhaps another time.'
'Yeah, well. I'm not taking your word on that. I'll see you both later, I'm on the intercom if you need me.'

Grove doesn't know why he said that. It made no sense, how in the five galaxies would he know whether the ship was OK or not. But somehow, he does know. The ship is just fine, thank you.

Next episode

Previous episode