Employment

Deno was panting as he crested the hill, the path had taken all sorts of directions and they were all uphill, and his pack only seemed to get heavier as he went, not lighter. He hoped that this town he was heading to was worth it. He had been told there was work for the local Lord, he had been walking through the forest for five days now, and going up all these hills using game trails was almost more than his city on a plain upbringing could cope with. He did question in his mind why there were no roads though these hills if there was a town, surely there would be trade, and he could not see horse and cart using these trails. His own foolishness had put a stop to his life there, he would be more careful about what he said about Munta when a priest was close by in future. He looked down the valley and could see a scatter of buildings – but not enough to call a town, there were maybe five in total, but he could see there was a road heading away from it in the other direction.

He was in need of a warm bed off the forest floor, so he hoped that there would be someone willing to let him use a stable for the night. It took him two hours to stumble down the side of the hill and he arrived at the little hamlet after the sun had dropped behind the hill line. He was in luck, he could see one of the buildings had a sign hanging above a door, grapes and barley. He slowly walked up and pushed the door open, there was a small tavern with only three benches, only one of them had anyone sat, it was occupied by a group of five men; a small thin, almost skeletal man stood from his perch near the large open fire pit.

“Hello stranger,” his voice was a deep, low growl, the group turned as one and watch Deno as he closed the door behind him. The smoke in the room gave it a dark murky light, the stench of rotting food and reeds on the floor was over powering, he swallowed to stop himself from retching.

“Do you have any food and ale?” he asked, trying not to let his fear show and come though his tone. There was something about the way the men at the table were looking at him, he could see they all had swords leaning on the table next to them.

“A copper for both. Ale and the last of the broth.” said the innkeeper, he waited while Deno fiddled with his purse and got one of his last coppers out, Deno could feel the eyes of the other men on him as he did so, as he handed it over the coin was almost snatched from his hand before the little man scuttled away and returned with a mug and bowl after a few moments, there was a chunk of stale looking bread floating in the broth. They were almost thrown onto the shoddy looking table where Deno had sat with his back to the wall, making sure he could see out into the room, something made him feel uneasy here, but he couldn’t work out what it was. He sat eating what he’d been given, the taverns in Celith would have thrown this to the dogs rather than serve it. He took a sip of his ale and leaned back into the wall and he felt the bench move and wobble as he did, he would have to ask about a bed for the night when the innkeeper came back.

The door slamming woke him from his doze, he could see someone in a dark hooded cloak, a large hunting dog at his side, standing and making no move to take a seat. The five men at the other table hastily hunched in on themselves and made to take no notice of this new customer and his hound. Deno could feel something, he wasn’t sure what, emanating from the hooded figure. A presence.

“My Lord!” the little innkeeper almost screamed as he hurried over to the man.

“Kelpt, you weasel.” The intensity of the voice behind the hood had the innkeeper pull back a pace, “You five” he pointed at the men at the table, a gloved hand emerging from the folds of his cloak “Leave. I don’t want to see your kind here again, bandits and thieves have no place in Enkull. You have been told before, next time you are here you will be hunted down like the game you are. My men are in need of some sport. They grow restless and impatient.” As if to emphasise the point the sound of a group of riders could be heard outside. The five scrambled up and made to leave, “Leave your swords here.” commanded the figure, “honest men have no need for them.” There was a draft as the door opened and the men ran out, though the door Deno caught a glimpse of at least ten mounted men, sat waiting. The figure turned back to the innkeeper, “Kelpt – if you give those bandits food and shelter again we will burn you out.”

Kelpt stuttered “But My Lord, I was scared for my life when they came, had I not they would surely have killed me!”

“Send your boy to me next time!” It was then that the figure seemed to notice Deno, “Stranger. Welcome to Enkull, you are welcome if you are honest, not if you are scoundrel. Which are you?”

“I am a disgraced scribe my lord. Traveling looking for a new life.” Deno paused, he didn’t know exactly who this man was other than he commanded fear.

“Kelpt,” said the figure, “Give him board, and send him to me in the morning.” He turned to leave, “We will speak again stranger, I have need of a scribe.” and he was out of the door and the sound of horses faded into the night.

The directions Kelpt had given had been clear, follow the path down the valley for ten miles, ford the river and turn to the left. Keep going and he would soon find the town of Crogent, on the side of the lake.

Deno had not been prepared for the size of the town, it almost rivalled Celith, he could see the walls and beyond the large keep that sat atop a hill in the centre, overlooking the town, the lake and the valley.

He entered though one of the main gates, the arch was tunnel like in its fifty feet of depth. He followed the main road as it twisted round and steadily climbed up, it seemed to take him hours to come to the wall for the keep, here there were guards watching as people entered and left, making no move to stop anyone. Deno carried on, he approached one of them.

“Hi there,” he began, “I was in a tavern run by a man named Kelpt when a large fellow in a cloak came in, he said he had need of a scribe and I was to come here.”

The guard looked at him for a moment, “Seb! Get here!” a young lad of about ten came running, “Take this here man to the keep, he needs to see Chamberlin Treil.” The boy nodded and motioned for Deno to follow. He lead them into the keep by way of the servants entrance, there were chickens and pigs roaming about, pecking and snuffling, the hunting dogs did not seem to be interested as they sat lounging in the sun as it poked through the clouds. The door Seb lead Deno though took them into a dark hallway, there were doors off to either side, and they went through the third on the left, up a short flight of stairs where Seb knocked on a plain wooden door. It was opened several moments later by an aging man, short and stocky with pure white hair, he had a crimson robe tied about his self. “Yes?” he asked.

Seb nodded and indicated the Deno should introduce himself. “My name is Deno, I’m a scribe and I was told by a man in a cloak with a large dog to come here.” The words tumbled out, almost incoherently.

“Yes, I was told you might be coming, my name is Treil, I’m the Chamberlin for Lord Strivrut. Said he found you in a den of thieves and outlaws. Care to explain that? We cannot, will not, have thieves and outlaws working for the Lord!”

“I did not know that, I have travelled from Celith, I followed that paths that I was advised and ended up following game trails over the hills for five days, then last night – just as the sun was setting I came across the tavern that I met the Lord at last night.”

“Very well then,” He looked at the young lad – “Seb – thank you. Go back to the guard house.” the boy nodded and scurried off. “Come in Deno, come in and let us talk.”

Treil showed Deno into the chamber, there was a large writing desk, and a shelf with a whole ten books on them, along with some scrolls. A wealth of writing that Deno had not even seen in Celith. “Sit, please” said the old man indicating a chair, as he made himself comfortable on its mate opposite. “You told our lord you were a disgraced scribe, we can work round that, but only if there is not going to be trouble from it, are there going to be any relatives pounding on our door demanding we hand you over? Or will there be a Lords men marching here demanding compensate for us taking you in?”

“Neither Master Treil, I did blaspheme within ear of a priest and he did make complaint to my employer. I was thrown out and could not find anyone that would hire me in Celith. I left with just those things in my pack and spoke to people in taverns and following word did make my way in this direction.”

“Very well. We will have you do some small bits, our current scribe has taken to the drink and is no longer able to work, which has left me doing most of it. We will get you cleaned up and presentable.” Treil stood, “Follow me my boy,” Deno followed him out of the room, Treil paused; “Up that way is the Lords rooms, I will show you that later, this other way, and up the stairs on the left is where you will be sleeping, with the page boys and other servants. There is a wash house out the back. Food is what is left from the main meals, you will know when and where – all of the others will kinds of pull you along. First we will go and see the cook. She always has a long list of things we need to send for.” Deno followed along, and for the next two days was handed about from the cook to the blacksmith to the armour to the kennel master. He found the pages did not speak to him much, the other servants spoke briefly, giving nothing way. He was the outsider, he could tell everyone that worked in the keep was either born here or related to someone else.

Around mid-afternoon on his second day one of the pages told him that Treil wanted him in his chamber.

“Well Deno, you look smarter clean!” Said the old man as he opened the door. “Come in. Lord Strivrut has a task for us.” Deno entered and saw who he took to be the lord sat, relaxed, legs crossed and arms folded, looking to be asleep. Treil turned to the figure in the chair; “My Lord, our new scribe is working out well, his letters are well formed and he is quick with the quill.”

Lord Strivrut stood, “Can you ride Deno? We have to travel, I need to take a scribe with me.”

“Yes My Lord. Not well but I can stay on a horse.” Deno mumbled with his head down.

“Treil, make sure he has supplies, we leave at first light.” and the Lord marched out of the room.

The next morning Deno was awake early and made sure to carefully check the ink block and quills that Chamberlin Treil had given him, then he slowly unwrapped and stared at the fortune in parchment he had also been given. He carefully rewrapped it and stowed it in his pack. Stepping lightly he made his way to the courtyard where everyone was gathering before leaving. He was given a horse by one of the stable hands and stood waiting for a signal to do anything.

“Scribe! Good to see you!” Lord Strivrut strode over, “Got all your supplies from Treil? Good!” He didn’t wait for a reply before talking on, “We have a short ride today, only about ten leagues and we will be at the fort of Lord Lamogue, he’s getting on a bit but he mentored me when I was younger. We will be going to council and will require your services as soon as we arrive there.”

“Yes My Lord.” said Deno as Lord Strivrut walked away and spoke to one of the guards.

It was a small party that left Crogent, along with Lord Strivrut and Deno were five guards, a stable hand and a single page, they went at a brisk trot and covered the miles quickly. The roads were good and clear either side for at least ten meters. Deno asked the stable hand who rode beside him why that was.

“There was bandits, and our Lord took action when he inherited, oh ten years ago when his father passed, the Lords mother was killed by bandits a week after see, and he took it badly. He had the roads cleared and then went and destroyed a lot of the little bandit holes and the like. The local merchants like that as it makes their journeys easier, quicker and safer so they don’t mind the taxes to pay for it.” The hand returned his attention to his horse. Deno rode in silence for the rest of the journey. Other than his brief introduction he had spent no time with the Lord and did not know what to make of him, he looked to get on with his men well, Deno just assumed with him being new it would take some time before he gained the Lords favour.

The arrived at the fort of Lord Lamogue an hour past noon and Deno followed Lord Strivrut as he was welcomed into the keep.

“This is my new scribe.” Lord Strivrut was saying as Deno caught up with them at a nondescript door. “He seems solid and reliable, honest about his background when asked.”

“My Lords” Deno managed to mumble out as he followed them through the door. He made himself comfortable out of the way, he had a slate and chalk with him to make notes before committing to parchment.

“What’s so urgent Lamogue?” asked Strivrut, “Your messenger didn’t give me any details.”

“It looks like Palaidh is making noises. He’s hired an army from the southern guilds – my spies say close the twenty thousand men.” Strivrut nodded at this information, Deno was gobsmacked – he didn’t know you could get an army that large. Lamogue continued, “We are not sure his target yet, but we are sure to be on his list somewhere. I have more spies heading there now, I’m investing my best men on infiltrating his command structure. It’s a long way from Durent to Brichreake and I’m hoping the odd waylaid messenger will come to our aid. I need you to go back into the world Strivrut. We need to know what he’s upto, even if it does not involve us directly, anything that man does is our responsibility.”

“I will head to Brichreake, if he is hiring that’s where I need to start, if I go anywhere near Durent he’ll know we are taking an interest. I’ll take a couple of men with me, it’s time I paid a visit to Briackle, it has been a few years since we last spoke. He may even still owe me a favour or three.

Incoming – pt. 2

This is part 2 of an ongoing series, please read part 1 here first.

Captain Ruiz sat for the next briefing, not that there was any new information. There had been no new ships arrive in the system and no new information from the station, so Earth may well have blown itself out of existence.

He sat back in his chair looking at his XO, Lieutenant Commander Ruggier, who sat opposite. They were in his state room, away from the bridge crew. They would find out what they faced when they made contact and not before, the same as ever. Ruggier grunted and put down the manual he had open. The one that stated for “First Contact Only” in big red letters on the cover.

‘Anything useful in there?’ asked Ruiz.

‘No Sir,’ answered Ruggier. ‘About the only thing it says is try and not get annihilated by any new intelligence we meet. Almost all the other pages say at the commanding officer’s discretion. I’m sure they’ll change it after our first contact. If we survive.’ He had a small smile cross his lips as he said the last.

Ruiz nodded; it sounded like he’d read it correctly then. It was up to him how to handle this, and it would be him that would take the fall if all went wrong.

***

They were less than an hour from the expected scan pickup point when the computer screens lit up, detecting something moving towards them at high speed.

Ruggier was only seconds behind the scan techs in working out that whatever was incoming was not going to be a first contact. It was a fleet from Earth. A big fleet from Earth. They weren’t sending any ident signals but the computer system confirmed that the scan profiles matched ISA data.

Ruggier was on the comms with them as he was signalling hurriedly for someone to find Captain Ruiz and get him on the bridge.

As Ruiz rushed to take his place, all of the screens locked and switched to the ISA logo – a simple planet with an old style sailing ship next to it.

‘Comms down, Nav down, Weap down’ yelled Ruggier, ‘System lockout initiated. Awaiting confirmation.’

Ruiz nodded, every recruit was taught what this meant; everyone knew all they could do was sit back and wait. It meant their ship was talking to the incoming ships, and it thought it was outranked. Designed as an anti-mutiny system, it was implemented after the separatist wars over fifty years ago. All personnel knew it existed, yet no one ever expected to see it in action. It could only mean that something had gone wrong on Earth.

The main screen flickered and switched to show a stern face.

‘Captain Ruiz’, she said, ‘I am Admiral Jeana Tryphosa-Heyman. Please have your ship join in formation. We will then proceed and hold 100k from the station. You will be briefed. Out.’

All the screens returned to normal. Ruiz paced impatiently while he waited for the official order come through.

‘Confirmed order sir.’ The com tech flicked the order to Ruiz’ private screen.

‘Helm, join fleet, position rear left flank. Co-ordinate with the other ships to confirm distances. XO. Signal confirmation to the fleet and then meet me in five.’ Ruiz stopped sharply and marched off the bridge.

Ruggier watched the Captain’s back, held straight, head high. But there was something else about the way he moved as he left the bridge, something that Ruggier could not put a name to.

Ice Age – Man. Life

The man returned to the cave with the kill – it had been an easy one. Not that he would let on that it had been easy. The other men, the woman and the young looked to him to be strong. His woman would have a new fur. They had food – what did it matter it was easy for him?

He sat for a moment – listening, he was sure he had heard a noise, a loud noise. He carefully laid down the kill. He would skin and finish tending to it once he had settled. Slowly he crept out, just enough to take a look and make sure that there was noting close by. He swung his head from left to right, and he could see in the distance a glow, like fire.

The Bow and Dragon

Joe sat back in his saddle, he knew the dragon was in the area. Not just because the local town folk had told him so; there had been signs that he was getting closer, as he had travelled over the last three days. The local wildlife had been more skittish, huddling together more than they would elsewhere and there had been bare patches in the clearings where grass and wildflowers were struggling to regrow after some unknown event.

He heard a noise above him; looking up he could see the large shape of the dragon soaring overhead. The large wingspan held steadily as the dragon glided through the air. Its tail stretched out behind, long and straight, ending in a point like a spear. There was a twinkling of deep green black where the sun washed over its enormous scales. Joe could just make out the horse dangling from the large powerful claws.

He turned his horse to trot in the direction the dragon had flown in. They carefully made their way up into the foothills of the large mountain range that shadowed heavily over the countryside.

Joe snacked on a squirrel he had shot down with his crossbow, his aim had been true for once and he had not wasted any of his precious supply of bolts. He did not know where he would be able to get more if he ran out.

The second day of following the trail he saw the dragon overhead again, he guessed it was going out in search of another meal. He spent the day moving slowly though the sparse trees on the foothills, and he could feel the air getting colder as he moved higher.

The night’s prey for the dragon sounded to be someone’s cow, there was a distant moo coming from above.

After three days, moving higher above the tree line, he saw the cave entrance by chance alone; he could have searched the mountains for years and never found it. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a slightly different shade of rock. Had he had been walking even half a foot to either side, he might have never seen it.

Overpopulated

They were stood in a line, waiting to be audited to make sure they were suitable to go to the new world. It would be a long trip, frozen while the ship flew through space. For thousands of years they would sleep while the ship travelled though the stars to their new home.

The line was a good mile long, there were a lot of people hoping for the new life, to escape the life in the war-torn and vastly overpopulated solar system. Each family unit had been told they could take one backpack of personal belongings, and Joe was carrying the one for him, his wife Sandra and their fifteen year old daughter Rachael. They were assured that all the clothes and other items they would need would be provided.

They had made the journey to Sol Station 1, and the section they had put the lines in was kept at a warm summer temperature of three hundred Kelvin, they were all stood in their tee-shirts and shorts, there were water stations at regular intervals of the passageway they were stood in. They just hoped today would be the day they made it to the front of the queue, this was their tenth day in trying.

As they slowly progressed up the line they were asked by one of the guards how things were going. Joe nodded and she passed along to the next group – a gaggle of five, the two parents and three children within the strict age limits allowed – over the age of five and under sixteen. The mission had been long in the planning, Joe had first heard about it while Sandra was still pregnant with Rachael. There had been stories that the rich had donated billions to the project in the hope they would not have to go through the selection process, thankfully for the normal person this had not happened, and in the line was the full range, poor homeless beggars and some of the richest people in the solar system, forced to give up their riches to take this voyage.

The line shuffled forward. They would see there were only about five families ahead of them. It was only just gone three in the main shift so they would have a very good chance of getting though this time. They shuffled again not long after and by four they were the next to get called.

Joe showed the guards their documents, watched as they were checked and then all three of them held out their hands for the verification. There was a sharp jab as the machine took is genetic sample to test against birth records. They waited for what seemed like an age; the agent dealing with their check seemed uninterested – Joe knew the guy had probably done hundreds of these in the last few weeks.

The agent nodded and took the backpack. He emptied it out into a tray and rifled though the few items they had. There was an old photo of the three of them when Rachael was a baby, a hand written note and a few other personal items. He grunted and tipped the tray back into the bag.

They were waved through and met by another guard.
“Hi, my name is Susie, I will take you through the last part of your appraisal for the new world. As you have got this far you have done better than a lot of people, but we still have to make sure and then have you in the right area, the wake up times will be staggered so that there can be a place for everyone to live. Based on your education and current employment we have you as a priority for wake up, to assist with the construction of housing and air processing and for the incoming colonists. Your daughter will of course wake at the same time, we will not be splitting families.

Susie went through their lives, what they did and assigned them another queue to join. This line was moving faster, they could see the transports ahead ready to take them to the departure area. There was a roar and vibration through the deck as something launched from the station, out of sight.

Joe handed the backpack to a guard who tagged it as they boarded the transport. They managed to find a seat and then watched out of the window as it hurtled round the station, seeing the businesses flying past on their last tour of the Sol Station 1.

The medic at the large colony ship was friendly, she ran a final check on their ID and instructed them to strip to underwear before they could get into the travel chambers. Clothes deposited in a bag and tagged with their ID they clambered in, Joe looked to his left and then right at his family, as the chamber closed and he slowly went to sleep.

Red Wine

Ali had had enough for the day, all of the customers coming through the station didn’t understand why her product was so expensive compared to the stuff they could get from the large store down the precinct. The wine she sold was true, proper wine made from real grapes, grown in real soil, with real sunlight, not the synth rubbish most people thought of as wine.

This upset her in that no one out here really got it. They had the spare money – most of the people living on Altic Station were rich; they were business owners or ship captains, but the majority had never been to earth.

There was a beep on her personal comp, a message from her business partner – who she shared the running of the little empire of 500 transport ships, and numerous outlets across 10 worlds and 50 space stations.
The wine shop on Altic was the current head office for tax reasons.
Being a new station they were offering good incentives to lure people out here, and they had – much to the annoyance of some of the large guilds that ran the other stations.

What Altic hadn’t expected was a large shipping company to uproot and setup it’s hub here. There had been much hand wrangling from station control when the sudden increase in ArjRen Shipping owned ships started docking, and when Ali and John had pretty much bought half the docking ring for their exclusive use there had been much consternation from the then station master. This had further upset the guilds – the move had cost them billions in revenue from docking and maintenance that major shipping supplied.

The message from John would not make the new station master happy. Due to the increase in “piracy” on ArjRen ships, John had gone and hired a merc group to provide security. And by hired he meant – so the message said – purchased – and he was going to move their base of operations to Altic too. His message went on to say that he had intercepted messages that one of the guilds had been hiring mercs.

The guild that was doing this most was the one that ran the station where ArjRen had been based for the last 200 years. Xenum Station was one of the major hubs, but they imposed heavy taxes on all goods transferred through their station – because there had been no alternative. Alric had never meant to be that alternative – it was too out of the way. except an explorer ship had recently found a FTL point in the system that linked it back to Earth, shaving a mere 5 jumps and 3 weeks off the journey. Altic was now better suited to reach the newer systems and stations, the exploration companies were out in droves searching for more points and angles from the system. Looking for other links, and always the potential for intelligent life.

The next call that came to the office was from the station master.
‘Hi Ali – we seem to have 30 of your ships incoming. They are showing as armed – can you confirm the details I’m sending you please?’
She shook her head and opened the attachment that John had sent and compared it to the list the station master sent over. ‘Yes I can confirm they are all our ships. Due to the increase in piracy we have taken the decision to arm some of our ships. The loss of life has become unacceptable.’
The station master agreed to let them dock as long as any weapons were put under seal before the ships came much closer. Ali was not sure she could get them to shut down the weapons but told the station master she would do what she could.

She was cursing John and the little warning she had given – the timing of the warning – if the message had been delayed by an hour what would have happened!

An hour later all of the warning klaxons went off on the station.

Hotel

There was little for it, they were stuck in the cheap sleazy hotel for another night. The Captain that had offered them a place and had then changed his mind less than five minutes before he had been due to close the hatches,  had thrown them off the ship….but had kept their gear, well what gear they had managed to get on board. They still had their personals in kit bags.

Kat swore again. She had given up thinking and just used what ever words sprang into her head. Sal just laid back on the bed, this wasn’t the first time this had happened to her, but poor Kat – her first time out riding round the stars and this happened.

They were in a dank, dark room barely three metres by four, there was a corner shaped off for the bathroom, and two beds, one down ether side with just enough room to squeeze between. The light flickered, giving a buzzing noise as it did so.
“I have enough to get us drunk” Sal said, growling from the left bed.
“Ok, let’s go do that” Kat managed to eke out between some new swear words; she was sprawled on the other. Sal didn’t know where the younger woman – if you would call a sixteen year old drop-out a woman – had learnt some of her vocab.
“There was a bar three doors down,” Sal was thinking of cheap booze, and the hotel would cost more if they used the vending machine in the corridor outside. “Might meet some people too.” She was also ever hopeful. How she had managed to keep that after ten years ship hopping she didn’t know. She hoped that Kat would keep it too.
Kat looked at her; the young eyes that Sal had first seen three months ago as she had been told to take the new girl in and show her the ropes on the clapped out tin can that they had been riding on? Those eyes had a dullness to them that hadn’t been there before. A tiredness – after just three months, Sal didn’t think Kat would take to this life long-term, and if she did there would be drugs involved and all the nasty side that she had managed to keep out of – she’d heard of some girls whoring out to the entire ship to pay for passage when they didn’t want to work. Sal shook her head, she wouldn’t think of that, she liked Kat and would keep her under her wing and try to keep her together – keep her sane and out of trouble.
After a quick visit to the small bathroom to freshen up, they made sure that the room was secure, then headed out and down the docks. There were a lot of people stumbling about in the artificial twilight, staggering really, going between the bars and clubs. Cheap booze and cheaper drugs were common out on the far reaches of the Confederation; the local enforcement companies played both sides and sold more of the drugs than any of the drug dealers. They only went after the dealers when they started to cut into their profit margins. Sal knew they needed to find a ship heading back towards the League of Trade, where the stations and the planets cared about the safety and wellbeing of the general populace, where the stations didn’t dim the lights at mid shift – making a dangerous life more so.

As they entered the bar Sal took a good look round and pulled Kat to the empty table she’d seen towards the back; there would be no age checks done here, but best keep her out of plain sight if she could. It would be easy, more of the dingy twilight in here, there was music and the general din of people crowded together.
Looking at the automenu by the table she punched in an order for a bottle of vodka and two glasses and waited for them to arrive. She looked round the room and made a note of everyone there, clearly not a high-flying bar, and it would be doubtful she’d find the type of captain in this place that they needed to get them to safer places. Tomorrow she would start looking properly, going to the jobs system and seeing if any positions had been posted. But tonight they would get drunk and Sal would make sure Kat got back to their room safely and unharmed.
She paused her musing when the waiter brought their drink – he looked at Kat, paused for a moment and then emptied his tray onto the table.
She watched him as he made his way back to the bar.

Nineworlds 2013 Short 2

The second of my bits from last years Nine Worlds can be found here:

Don was sat in his office. his accountant was sat on the opposite side of the desk, Don cold see he was trembling. Clearly aware of why Don had called him into the office. Tue office with the plastic sheeting on the floor.
‘So.’ said Don, ‘You see we have a problem.’
The accountant nodded.
‘We see to have a mismatch in the amount of product coming though.’ The accountant nodded again. ‘Someone has slipped up. this should have been hidden.’ Again the accountant nodded. ‘You know how important the Heroin Donation Program is. How it preps our next generation of paying customers.’ The accountant nodded again, Don thought he was starting to look like one of the nodding dogs you found in the back of cars. ‘You know how my project runs. You also know how much the others would hate for it to be discovered. How much my police friends would hate it. How much my doctor contacts would rebel.’ The accountant nodded again – Don was starting to hate his little bob of the head. Is this the only response the man could do? Did he not know how to speak to people? How being like this was the worst thing he could be doing right now?

‘I believe,’ Said Don ‘That you know this, that you planned this. You knew that the accounts would be audited – that the others would see the mismatch in product. Fortunately for me, you are not the only accountant working for me. My other accountants have fixed the problem, chased it down in such a way that we have placed the issue and loss of product to you. You are now responsible for the program. And it is you who will answer the hangman. You will be going out tonight and being on the front line of the program.’

The accountant nodded again.

Nineworlds 2013 Short 1

I have now typed up one of the bits I wrote at last years Nine Worlds – there is some more to come in the next little bit, and there will be some more good stuff coming out of this years convention. If you are able I highly recommend visiting!

Jess wasn’t sure what was happening. She had woken up to the ship shaking and rattling round her. She groggily slipped out of bed and into her uniform; she smiled, or was it a grimace, at it. Japanese school girl with a red neck scarf. She wasn’t sure what the navy had been thinking when they did the uniforms. Obviously something not right with that…

Just as she started dressing the alarm klaxons went off, the short burst followed by three longer ones – the alarm for space rock. There should not be any space rock anywhere near their location. As first helm she had plotted the well-travelled route herself. Either someone on the third shift had messed with the helm computer or something had happened – neither of those were good options. She knew third helm – he would not do anything with the program – not unless something serious had given him cause.

She ran down the corridor, she saw the other main bridge crew ahead of her. She dropped into her seat as third helm gracefully moved himself out of the chair. Jess plugged in her jack – that special cable helms had that connected them directly to the ship. Letting use the speed of the brain to give commands – eliminating the seconds taken to process moving limbs to move a lever or press a button.

The display came up on her bionic eyes – projecting directly into the retina.

She could see it was debris; she took the ship under control and changed her left eye to have the display from the scan. It was showing the size of the chunks, the composition, and the note from the scan tech that the debris was from a ship, there was evidence of cannon fire – and data was still coming in. there was an alert showing that weapons were online and ready if they found a target.

The captain sent Jess the order to move the ship out of the debris field and to hold position in a safe location. This was where they were meant to be, to meet a contact. Jess knew what that meant – illegal cargo. It didn’t bother her – she sometimes found it odd that the navy was involved in this – but she knew that the corruption was rife. She knew that almost all captains of lone ships were involved in some way.

She gently moved the ship out, all the while one thought on the jump command – pre-set to take them ten light minuets out from their current position.

She kept an eye on the scan data; she saw the notes suggesting the debris was of the ship they were due to meet.

There was nothing showing yet on scans for what had happened, Jess was carefully holding station now – she had nothing to do while the scan techs scoured space – looking for anything, any change, any sign of ship activity.

They pulled in something, Jess guessed at the flight recorder of the other ship. She watched the scan screen as the data was going into it. Still no contacts in the area. There wouldn’t be – while well-travelled – this route was normally taken in jump – they had dropped out in the middle of nowhere. They were between systems, in the dark where few ships had the engine capacity to jump back out of again. It made the list of potential attackers very small. The navy, or one of the few large pirate ships – which were captured Navy ships. The onship jump generator was a very closely guarded military secret. The name of the debris changed in the scan data – it was the ship they had come to meet. The Renascence – a Navy destroyer; the sister ship to their Radison.

The captain came back onto the bridge half an hour later; he had been looking at the logs and recordings from the Ren. He had the look of a man betrayed, pushed over the edge. Jess didn’t want to know what he had found in the recordings but she was sure she would find out in the not too distant future. ‘Coms’ said the captain, ‘We need a secure channel to the area commander on base X153Y.’ ‘Yes sir!’ replied the little old man that had coms this shift/ Jess could see him working his console, talking to someone when he got an answer.

Jess saw him transfer the com to the captain – who was using his implanted computer to communicate. Jess was sure she would be moving the ship any moment now.

When the captain finished he was red faced and clearly very angry. ‘Helm. Set course for base F15X3. Best speed.’ ‘Sir!’ Replied Jess – they had been called to their own base – not the local one. Jess set the course and as required with all trips to base she sent the flight plan ahead; informing them of the expected arrival, the point of entry and trajectory.

Jess let engineering know they would be jumping – gave the, five minutes to make sure all was ok with the drive. The countdown reached zero and Jess sent the command to jump. The ship lurched just as the thought was sent; the scan screen blurred and adjusted as the Radison entered jump – it showed two ships approaching where they had been, weapon fire had brushed their hull. Where had they come from? There had been no sign of entry, no results on the very active scan they had been using the previous hours. She guessed scan would be having a word with the captain to explain what he had missed – Jess looked out of the corner of her eye and could see the sweat already forming on his forehead, the hurried tapping as he was going through all the data again – looking for the thing he had missed.

Jess would have preferred he was watching if they were being followed into jump – even though everyone said it was impossible – she was convinced you could do it. She had a theory – not that she had any ready way of proving it right now, she would need to talk to her friendly scan second sometime. See if she would help – if they could prove it the navy would only benefit.

Carefully she slipped her copy of the scan screen to the feed – using the various little hooks she had in the system, fuzz. All she got from it. Fuzz. She let the feed slip back to what she was being given by scan first. It would be another couple of hours before they dropped out of jump. The main crew went off shift and second came on. She left a message for scan second to investigate things for her. They would catch up when they were both off shift together next. Jess left the bridge and headed to the galley for food. A quick snack meal, nothing hot and a quick drink of water. She then stopped by the gym and did her required workout; humanity still had issues with muscle and bone loss while in space. Once she had finished that she headed back to her cabin, time to get some sleep and out of her uniform.

She slipped back into her pyjamas and into bed; she knew things would either be calm or mayhem when they dropped out of jump.

This time the klaxons actually woke her – no tell tale shudder thought the ship to give her those seconds to wake up. She was bolt upright, it was the GQ alarm. She checked the clock – they would be about an hour from dropping down from jump. She ran though getting dressed and was on the bridge in less than two minutes. She was the first of the main crew to make it, and the second captain looked relived to see her. She slipped into her seat and plugged into the ship. She pulled the ship scan to her screen – and it wasn’t the fuzz she’d got before. This time there was a very clear indication of two ships close – too close – and they both showed to be ones from the wreckage site. ‘How do we have scan?’ she asked. Second scan replied, ‘I was fine tuning some of the sensors – doing general maintenance – and this is what happened when I pressed a hidden option.’ She smiled and shrugged. ‘Is this real? It’s not a ghost from our last scan data?’ Jess wanted to be sure. She had to know if she was going to try any kind of manoeuvre as they dropped from their jump.

The captain entered and was given an update by his second. He looked at the second scan as first came in. ‘Second scan keep position. First scan – stand down.’ He turned and left the bridge, looking defeated and deflated.

Jess prepped her commands; she prepped an emergency jump drop. Everything she could think of. As soon as they hit normal space the ship was going to start some very erratic manoeuvring.

Incoming – pt .1

It was a slow shift in traffic control, there had in fact been a slowdown in incoming traffic for the last three shifts. And the computer had noticed.

Dave was sat at his command station when he got the alert from the computer. It also sent him a splurge of news that it has sucked from the few ships that had docked. And it had highlighted some disturbing things. At least the computer thought they were disturbing.

Dave was inclined to agree with it. They all indicated that Earth had gone crazy.

This wasn’t the normal level of crazy that happened on a semi regular basis, this was full on someone had turned the planetary defences on all of the orbiting stations crazy.

The news didn’t say what had caused this. But Dave knew. Everyone that had served on the line knew.

There was something about serving on a spaceship for several years at a time that didn’t agree with some people. And the hyper jumps for FTL didn’t help; they put a lot of stress on the human body. Dave knew – his navy career was in tatters because he had problems with FTL. The fact he had even been given the command he had was an indication that he was not long in uniform.
‘Sir!’ yelled one of the scan techs.
‘Go ahead Jim.’
‘There is something big coming out of FTL at system edge, the relays have just sent us a high priority warning.’
‘How big?’
‘Big sir, they haven’t sent an ident sir. They have flagged at unknown ships with a possible first contact warning.’
Dave tapped into his console to lookup the regs for first contact; in all human space history they had never been used. There was another ten hours before the ships were within range of the station, at least they – whoever they were – hadn’t come in close to the station. Although that could have been a bad thing too – why draw out the issue?
‘What navy ships are in system?’ Dave asked the room.
‘Just the Destroyer Marvellous Infinity.’
‘Get the skipper on the com please.’ Dave brought up the details of the skipper while the com tech did as he was asked.
‘Captain Ruiz on com for you sir.’
‘Captain – this is station master Kirby. We have an unidentified ship or ships at ten hours out. Please prepare for possible hostile action or first contact.’
‘Do you have any information on them Station Master?’ Asked Ruiz.
‘Not at this time – we got an auto alert from the relays. I will pass on more info as and when we get it.’
‘Understood Station Master. Infinity out.’
Dave relaxed a little. A destroyer wouldn’t be much good if it was an invasion. But it could at least send a signal probe out towards Earth and hopefully warn them of anything that happened.