October 27th, 4233
United Terran Concord
Captain Moira MacLean dug her fingers into the back of her neck, massaging the muscles there. Hyperspace gave her headaches. She’d taken aspirin three hours ago, but there was still a dull throb in the back of her skull; there always was. She could count herself lucky; out of the fraction of a percent of humanity that had adverse reactions to travel in hyperspace, the worst she suffered was headaches. Psychotic episodes had been known to occur, but only in rare cases and with multiple triggers.
Moira consoled herself with the thought that Ramillies only had two more hours to go. Her command was an elderly battleship, assigned serve out the last of her functional years patrolling the Grey Zone and maintaining a Concordat presence. The Navy ran several lighter groups through the Grey Zone out of Gryphon Peak, but Ramillies was their heavy hitter. Despite the thumper’s age, it still outgunned nearly a third of the Grey Zone planetary militia’s all by itself. Kept the Greys and their Empty associates in line. Moira herself didn’t have any particular love for either; during the League War, her homeworld had been victimized several times by Empty raiding fleets and raiding forces hired from the League’s pocket. Those fucking savages called it ‘asymmetric warfare’. Moira called it terrorism, murder and war crimes.
Currently, Ramillies was on a long elliptical loop through the farthest boundaries of the Grey Zone, about to head back to what passed for civilization, but MacLean wanted to buzz Curare. It never hurt to remind the rabble who was in charge.
“Emerging from hyperspace now, captain. Entry point within 63% accuracy.”
Moria nodded. “Welcome to Nightshade, ladies and gentleman. Another deep dark hole for Empties and pirates to hide themselves in. Next on our itinerary, the lovely frontier trading post and wretched hive of scum and villainy known as Curare.”
“If only we had some concrete,” her second in command quipped.
“None of that, but what’s in our magazines should do just as well,” Moira replied with a smirk. “Anything on sensors?”
“Negative traffic, ma’am. Only reading a single freighter, mid-sized. She’s approaching the hyper limit now, moving like a, ah, brick out of hell.”
Moira’s lips twitched in a small moue. They’re too far away from our position to have seen us coming. “How long until they reach the limit?”
“At current acceleration, thirty-four minutes. We can overhaul them in twenty-three.”
There was no reason for a civvie to be running like that, not in an empty system. “Move to intercept. Communications send a hail through; identify us and inquire if they need assistance. Operations, put us on Yellow Alert. Sensors, keep an eye open.” MacLean thought for a moment. “And prep a hyper drone.”
“Sending signal now: Attention unknown vessel, this is UTCNS Ramillies. We have you on our sensors; do you require assistance? Respond, please. Ramillies, clear.”
Abigail sagged into her chair as if her spine had just turned to rubber. She’d never been so happy to see a Concord ship in her entire life. “Nigel, send them our ID back and tell that yeah, we want to declare a big fucking emergency.”
“Just a second,” Benedito snapped from the captain’s chair.
The helm officer bit back her first instinct which was to tell Costa to shut the fuck up. He’d been whining about her ‘usurping’ his authority ever since they’d jumped into hyperspace back in Curare. Oh, I’m so sorry that I didn’t wait for you to put it back in your pants before getting the ship out of a system that somebody just fucking nuked! “Yes, sir?” she asked with exaggerated deference.
The sarcasm wasn’t lost on Costa and the taller man narrowed his eyes. Abby didn’t think she’d have a job after this. Pity. “Have you forgotten that the export fees for our cargo weren’t paid?”
That’s going to be Billy’s fault; blame the purser, not the asshole who ordered it. “Yes, sir. But with all due respect, this is something that we should report. And practically speaking… it’s pirates and smugglers that don’t respond to Concord summons. If we don’t answer, they’ll come after us.”
“We’ll be across the hyper limit before they can catch us,” Costa sneered.
Brian looked up from his station. “No, we won’t, skip. We’ll be in their missile range ten minutes before we hit the limit. If we don’t answer, if they think we’re smugglers or worse… they’ll fire on us.”
Benedito ground his teeth over each other, then nodded. “All right. All right, dammit. Hail them back.”
+analysis: highthreat unit detected+
+imperative: highthreat must continue to believe massivethreat forces in operation in region. probability of detection by threatvessel minimal. highthreat will act in accordance with preferential strategy+
+primary objective: accomplished+
+status: locus buoy dispatched to inform secondary killfleet body+
+secondary objective: shifting tracking to highthreat vessel. probability of detection greater. probability of locating highthreat forward base greater+
Fallen Idol shifted course, coming about as it centered itself onto a new vector.
Moira’s mouth was dry. The images coming from Prince Henry were of low quality, even for a civilian ship, but there was no mistaking what she was seeing. Curare was gone, as were its millions of colonists. Of the attackers, there was no sign. But one didn’t have to go very far down the list of people who had the capability and desire to wipe out entire planets, did one?
Still, it didn’t make sense – what value did Curare have? Of course, the answer to that was what value did Tebrinnin, Unicorn Set, Kevin’s Folly or any of the other worlds the Lefu had bombed into ruin have? “Order Prince Henry to follow us,” the captain ordered. “As soon as the hyper systems are ready, I want us on a course to Gryphon Peak. We’ve got to warn the fleet.”