October 24th, 4233
Hyperspace – nearing Curare
United Terran Concord
CSS Prince Henry
“…can’t take the sky from me.”
Abigail Worthstrum gritted her teeth, digging her fingernails into her console. “Shut. That. Fucking. Vid. Off.”
Nigel Goering looked up in surprise. “I thought you liked this series.”
“I did. The first seventeen times. But, you know? You’ve been playing it for a month now and I swear to God if you don’t turn it off, I’m going to gut you, the actors and the motherfuckers who created it.”
“I think they’ve been dead for-”
“Then I’ll dig them up, piss on them and bury them upside down. Okay?”
The communications officer turned off the movie. “Thank you,” breathed Abigail, checking her readouts. Prince Henry was just coming up through Beta now, preparing for emergence into realspace. The Nav officer was practically shaking with excitement; she’d been cooped up on this tub for over three weeks and cabin fever was setting in bad. Most modern ships had a variety of ways to keep their crew and passengers from going stark raving insane; gymnasiums, pools, theaters, rec decks – the larger liners even had amusement parks. Prince Henry was not one of those; it was a family legacy handed down to their skipper from his father and to him from his father. While Benedito Costa might treasure every rivet and bolt on his ship, Abigail would kill just to get that cheap bastard to splurge on something for the crew’s benefit.
Of course, Costa saw a crew as a necessary evil at best and a money-gobbling hindrance at worst. Abby knew if it were up to him, he’d replace her – and everyone else – with an AI system. Until it flipped a bit and plowed itself into a star. So, she had job security – at least until he found someone as good as her willing to work cheaper. She knew he checked the employment offers on every planet, too. More then one hand had returned from leave to find his or her belongings waiting outside the ship, a pink slip stapled to them.
Abby sighed; putting up with her asshole of a captain was just one cross she had to bear, but it was a pretty big one. With so many ships running the hell away from the front lines, there were plenty of opportunities for a skilled navigator, some that paid more then this gig. Of course, ‘something’ always came up that prevented her from applying or being on-time for the interview. She’d been tempted to jump ship more then once, but she needed the money. She couldn’t sacrifice this job, no matter how much it sucked, just for a chance at another.
And what jobs were available in the Grey Zone, she didn’t want. None of the systems had an economic pot to piss in even compared to the Empties. Most of the planets here made their living by stealing from each other and – when they thought they could get away with it – the Concord. The area had been a haven for League raiders during the war and the Empties still had many allies here; much of the populace blamed their present condition on the Concords and their megacorporations, who, ironically were actually not at fault.
“Crossing into Alpha,” she announced as the freighter shuddered. She didn’t know why she bothered; it was only her and Nigel on the bridge. Employment law demanded that all civilian command-level personnel got extra pay while on bridge duty and Costa, cheapskate that he was, tried to limit that to the bare minimum possible. Brian, their Sensor man, was probably already on his way, forbidden from being on the bridge during hyperspace travels. Costa reasoned that aside from the occasional wake of another ship there was nothing to see and thus, the presence of a sensor officer was unwarranted.
The captain himself couldn’t be bothered for something as unimportant as a hyperspace emergence and was probably somewhere on the lower decks chasing some tail. Costa liked them young, naïve and too insecure to report his ass. He knew better then to try it with Abby; once when he got too insistent, she’d threatened to cut his balls off. If she hadn’t, her wife would have.
All I need is enough in the bank that I can afford to take off and get a good job, then if I play my cards right, I can get into GalTech’s fleet. They’re always looking for experienced technical crew. And the pay sure beat what she was getting now. But the megacorps didn’t hire freelancers without some shining references. So, the plan was to save up, get a better job, get references, get hired by GalTech, rake in credits and go on vacations with Sherry to places where the dress code was minimal, the water was crystal clear, the beaches were sandy and the drinks were served by topless cabana girls.
The bridge doors hissed up and Brian stepped onto the deck, wobbling a little as Prince Henry pulled itself up towards the alpha barrier. The sensor officer scratched at the peach fuzz on his chin; his efforts to grow a ‘distinguished’ beard was a never-ending source of amusement for her and the other officers. She’d swore to herself that if he ever did manage to accomplish his goal, she was going to sneak into his quarters at night and shave it off.
“Any word from our captain?” Nigel asked, taking his feet off his console.
“No, I think he was giving one of the greens a tour of the ship.”
“Let me guess – Elevator Malfunction? Or it is the Accidentally Locking Door?”
Brian shook his head. “I think he’s going with Random Power Outage.”
The comm officer snorted. “You know, I was watching some old movies and the guy trying to get the girl always ran out of gas ‘coincidentally’ on Lover’s Lane. It offends my sensibilities and my gender that our boss is taking his cues from such tired clichés.”
Abby smirked. “I think you’re just jealous that he gets more action then you.”
“Excuse me, I can get all the action I want and I don’t need to court a sexual harassment suit to do it.”
“No, just indecent exposure and lewd behaviour,” Brian smirked.
Nigel groaned, burying his face in his hands. “I thought you weren’t going to mention that.”
“Whoa, whoa – what’s this?” Abigail demanded. “You’ve been holding out on me?”
“You never told her?” Brian asked, feigning incredulity.
“You tell her… you tell her and I swear to God, I will break into your quarters every morning, drag you out of bed and shove your face into a bucket of hair-removal cream. That chin fur you want to grow to keep from being ID’d in every bar? Yeah, that will never happen.”
“Crossing into realspace… now,” Abigail announced, checking her readouts. “Reversion complete, we’re in Curare. Setting a course towards the planet now. Your turn, Nigel.”
“Sending query to traffic control. It’ll be a good few hours before we hear back.”
“Plenty of time for you to tell me what I’ve been missing.”
“No, no way in hell.”
“If you don’t,” Brian grinned. “I will.” Before the indignant Nigel could respond, Brian frowned. “Hold on. This is screwy.”
“Nigel, check comm traffic.”
The other man frowned as he looked over his readouts. He adjusted some controls, his frown deepening. “That can’t be right. I’m not picking up anything on the local bands. Not one thing, not even on the distress frequencies.”
“I know – I’m not reading any traffic either. We’re pretty far out and our sensors aren’t that good, but we should be seeing something.”
Abby chewed her lip. “I’m not liking this. I’m prepping a course back over the hyper threshold. Brian, grab Ops and start powering down our other systems.”
“Think about it – there’s nothing and no one here. Curare’s a trade point. There should be chatter, other ships in the area. What does that tell you when neither of those things are around?”
Nigel didn’t want to be the one to bring it up, but he did anyways. “Shouldn’t we wait for the captain?”
“No, not if there’s someone around here. Pirates, a rival raiding clan – hell, maybe it’s the Lefu. I don’t want to get picked off while we’re waiting for his majesty to grace us with his presence. I’ll take the heat if it’s nothing.”
“I… I don’t think so.” There was something in Brian’s voice
“What?” Nigel and Abigail demanded at the same time.
Brian looked up at them both, his face white. “The planet…” He brought the image up onto the main viewscreen. Abigail felt her jaw drop open, her knees shaking. She grabbed the Navigation console to steady herself; it was the only thing that kept her from falling.
The planet was gone. No, not gone; it was still there, but it was ruined, like an orange crushed in someone’s fist. Its surface was scarred and molten, oceans boiled away, atmosphere ignited. There was no sign of cities or roads or crops or any of the seventeen million people that had lived there. Country-sized craters marred Curare’s face, the wounds so deep that they glowed with exposed magma chambers, volcanoes still spewing ash and molten rock into the murdered sky.
“An… analysis shows some of those impact sites are multiple kilometers deep,” Brian said in a small voice. “Al… also picking up a denser debris field where Hemlock should be.”
“We have to get out of here,” someone said. It wasn’t until she noticed that the ship wasn’t moving did Abigail realize that it was her that had spoken. “We have to get out of here now.”
She slumped back into her seat, pulling Prince Henry as far and as fast away from the system as she could.
It and its crew watched the threatvessel vanish out of its reach. An acceptable outcome. Interrogation of files and survivors had indicated this was a hub world; another threatvessel or highthreat unit was sure to arrive eventually.
+contact: evaded into farspace+
+possibility of detection: null+
+next target: selected+
Its name was Fallen Idol and it was a killship of the Mulkari. It would serve. It would fulfill. It would destroy.