Insidae, Pt. 1
Travels of the Starfire is a chron series covering the journeys of a salvage vessel in the galactic outback , an inhabited but sparsely traveled and thinly patrolled region of the galaxy, which is controlled loosely by the Stellar Confederation.
However, this hold is tenuous at best and pirates, warlords and criminals all make their home among the backwater colonies found in the area.
The crew of the Starfire is a mixed lot, as might be expected.
Their captain, Marcus Carey , inherited the ship from his father, Ben Carey. He and his crew make a modest living, both salvaging vessels and doing some irregular trading between planets.
Responsible for the care and keeping of the Starfire is the Engineer Jules Bisping , a friend of the late Ben Carey, and something of a mentor figure to his son. He is a capable engineer, and is assisted by Amy , an advanced android recovered by Starfire from a derelict freighter near the Parin star system. Amy is clearly sentient and is treated as such, she elected to stay on the Starfire of her own volition.
Unfortunately, Amy is not exactly sure where she came from, her earliest memories are of being reactivated on the freighter from which she was recovered by its wirehead captain.
A reptilian alien named Chikar serves as the tactical officer of the Starfire, handling it's shields and weapons. Chikar never shirks his duties, and is a very disciplined and orderly fellow.
The first officer of the ship is Amara Var , an Evarian who joined up with Starfire after their former first officer was killed in a tragic accident planetside. Amara is quite capable in her role, and is a good friend of the captain.
Lastly, a roughly humanoid robot, D-12 , is remotly controlled by the ship's computer, and is used primarily for loading cargo. It is not sentient.
Thin, lumeniscent lines condensed from blurs on the surface of the biocrystal display of the sensor console.
"Looks like ships. A whole lot of them."
Amara Var, the first officer of the salvage vessel S.S. Starfire, reached over and pressed one of the controls on the console. It responded with a cluster of somewhat cryptic text.
"Yep - Varium, titanium, aluminum, traces of galvenite, magnesium, and paranalium."
She continued, examining the readout.
"And they're dead in space?" Asked the captain of the vessel, Marcus Carey. It was a fascinating situation, and not one that occurred often.
"No sign of energy emissions or transmissions whatsoever."
"Sir, do you think it could be a raider trap?" Queried Chikar, the reptilian tactical officer of the ship.
The captain thought a moment, watching the pinpricks of indicator lights pulse and blink on among the controls and display screens of the ship's small but efficient bridge.
Raider and pirate traps for salvage vessels were not unheard of, but it was not generally a trick favored by them as salvage vessels were unreliable prey.
The captain broke his silence.
"Amara, are there any ships in the area?"
"Other than us and the disabled vessels? Nothing. We spotted a Evarian patrol ship about an hour ago, but it was moving at at least 65c so it's long gone."
Amara pressed a control, initiating a long-range tacyhon scan.
It came up negative, they were alone.
The captain nodded.
"Alright. Increase scanning of the area, I want to know the instant we have company."
He turned to Chikar.
"Chikar, charge the lasers and raise shields as soon as we go sublight."
The alien made the subtle facial tic that corresponded to a nod for his race.
"We're investigating the ships, captain?" Amara inquired, seeming somewhat surprised.
"We've been running a little in the red lately, and a find like this could raise our fortunes considerably. Besides, if there are pirates, we're ready for fight or flight."
"I'm not so sure of that anymore." She replied.
She mentally recalled their run-in with pirates a week ago in the Karat system. It had left them with a damaged hyperspartal drive system, and were it not for the kindly assistance of a passing freighter, it would have taken them six months to get back to the space port.
It a universe where it still took weeks to travel between inhabited systems, even at speeds of up to four-hundred times that of light, being stranded in the space between worlds was still among the most terrifying thoughts that haunted the minds of the crews of starships. This applied doubly for those in the galactic outback, where ship traffic was far less dense than in the cosmopolitan heart of the galaxy.
"What kind of ETA can we get on those ships?" Asked Marcus to the skeptical first officer.
"About ten minutes at 25c, give or take." She replied.
"Very well, take us there at 25c. That should be just enough time to get a boarding party ready."
The young captain walked to the corner of the Starfire's control bridge, and pressed the communicator pad.
"Marcus to Jules."
"Yes captain?" The voice of Jules Bisping, the Starfire's engineer, asked.
"We're investigating some disabled vessels. Met me in the airlock in five minutes with Amy and D-12 for a boarding team."
The captain relaxed and glanced at the starfeild before the bridge windows. All he heard was the drone of the atmospheric recycler.
"Still no sign of any other vessels?" He asked.
"Okay. Amara, pick one of the ships when we get there and dock with it. You have the bridge."
Captain Marcus turned and exited the through the ship's bridge doors, and found himself walking down the cramped hall that stretched the length of the ship.
The captain stopped at the alcove that housed the door of the tiny room that was his home aboard the ship. Pressing a thumb pad, he unlocked the door and pulled it open.
He walked through the open door and the computer turned on the lights, illuminating the room in a soft white glow.
"Computer: Record Ship's Log, M.S.V. Starfire."
The monotone of the computer's synthetic voice responded that it was now recording.
"Ship's log, 3/129, nine hours. We have detected a group of evidently disabled ships in the space ahead. We are now headed for them at 25c. Amara and Chikar are both concerned about a raider trap, and since such is not unheard of I have ordered the precautions of coming out of hyperspace with our weapons charged and shields up. Computer: Append terse ship statistical data and end recording."
Bending down, he opened cupboard beneath his bed and removed his helmet.
Placing the item under his arm, he left the tiny room and headed for the airlock, wondering what awaited them.
Engineer Jules Bisping stood in the small air lock, holding a multicomp. The versatile device beeped in response to his prodding it, and displayed a graph.
Amy, how long has it been since the reveium atomizers have been repolarized?
Sixty-nine days ago, I repolarized them while cleaning the lateral intake manifold. Came the reply from Amy, standing across the airlock.
Our elemental lithium emissions are up twelve percent in the last month. Its at eighty ppt. I think we need to think about replacing them...
Amy nodded. I concur. The atomizers should not be putting out amounts that high of uncombined lithium just sixty-nine days after being repolarized.
The conversation was interrupted by the swish of the airlocks inner doors. They parted to revel Captain Marcus.
Hello captain Marcus, said Amy.
Hi. Jules, hows the battle of the lithium emissions going?
Still rising. We think were going to have to replace the reveium atomizers.
There goes another kilocredit...
Amy replied to the captains statement on the cost of new atomizers.
Given the current rate of magnetic degeneration in the atomizers, the resulting inefficiency, the rising price of Reveium fuel in this area, and the cost in time and effort of repolarizing the atomizers frequently, the cost of not replacing them will outweigh the cost of replacing them in three months.
Very well, I guess well add another item to our shopping lists when we put in to post on Paradas next week.
The voice of Amara came over the airlock intercom.
Approaching disabled vessels in four minutes, captain. Still no sign of any other ships.
Time to suit up. Said Marcus as he opened one of the airlocks lockers and removed the envirosuit from it.
Thankfully, technology had advanced to the point where the suits were not terribly uncomfortable. Only a touch stiff.
The captain locked the seal ring of his helmet, and activated the transmitter.
"Hear me?" He asked.
"Yep," replied Jules, from just behind him in the airlock.
"The communicator seems to be working for me, as well." responded Amy, the android assistant engineer.
The voice of Amara from the bridge broke over the communicator.
"We're approaching the largest wreak now, captain. We're sublight, ETA thirty-six seconds."
"No pirates?" Asked Jules.
"Not yet. But we're reading normal atmospheric pressure in that ship, and limited power. We seemed to have been unable to detect the energy source from long range. That's rather unusual... it seems odd for a ship like this one to have stealth shielding."
"Okay, keep us posted. Marcus out."
In a few moments, the welcome sound of the Starfire's docking clamps mating with those of the stricken vessel filled the airlock. The boarding party watched as the pressure indicator changed from the red reflecting the vacuum of space, to the pleasant cyan hue representing normal pressure.
Marcus reached out, and pressed the door control. The door obediently parted and reviled the dark and foreboding interior of the ship within.
The group stepped through.
Chikar looked out the bridge windows at the silhouette of the massive derelict against the starlight. No lights illuminated it, save for what little light spilt out from the Starfire's portals, and the dim light of a billion distant stars. He looked at his console. Laser system charged, shields engaged.
"It does not seem right."
"These ships. Their presence. We are not more than four days from Evar. Why hasn't anyone ever detected twenty floating disabled ships?"
"I have no idea. It seems unusual and more than a little suspicious. But, for all we know, they showed up yesterday..."
"I just checked - it is not likely. Galvenite has not been used in a alloy with Magnesium for seventy years, whereas the hull materials for some of the craft use modern alloys that have only been available in the last four years, and then only in state-of-the-art Confederation vessels."
"Then we're looking at what is evidently a slow accumulation of ships over a long period of time?"
"I think so. And that is why it is extremely unusual that it has remained undetected. Also, do you think it might be prudent to inform the captain?"
Her reply was interrupted by a signal from the comm system.
"Amara, you there?"
"D-12 just stopped working. Froze up solid."
Jules voice replied to the first officer's inquiry.
"The hyperspartal communications link between D-12 and his computer brain on the Starfire is broken. I can't reestablish it - Amara, can you run a diagnostic on the comm router?"
Amara swiveled in her chair to one of the consoles, and entered a series of commands into it. The computer outputted the results. She gave a quizzical look at the odd report.
"Jules, it says all hyperspartal communications are being blocked. The ship's computer has lost contact with the galactic hypernet, too - it's not just a problem with the link to D-12."
"Is their broadband interference?" asked Marcus.
Amara pressed more of the touch-spots on the screen.
"Unclear. According to the error log, it says that it simply can't receive or transmit hyperspartaly."
"Keep on the lookout. And send Chikar to come get this robot."
Chikar got up from his seat. "On my way, captain."
Marcus touched the wrist control, severing the comm link with the bridge.
"Jules, help Chikar with D-12 when he gets here. Amy and I will go and have a look in the cargo bay."
Jules looked up from his handheld multicomp, which was presently hooked into the side of the inert labor robot.
The captain looked further down the hall that had adjoined the airlock. The headlamps of his helmet only lit a few meters into the dense darkness, the depths of the dead vessel eating up the illuminating beams.
"Amy, which way to the cargo bay?"
Amy pointed to the left, down one of the dark corridors.
"That way to the main cargo bay of this vessel. A smaller, secondary cargo bay is also in that direction, but much farther down the corridor and two decks above this one."
"Lead on then."
Marcus took up behind Amy as she walked in front and proceeded down the narrow corridor, and into the darkness that receded in the glare of her envirosuit's headlamps.
The stars in deep space were always an awesome sight. Alone on the bridge, Amara looked out the wrap-around windows of Starfire's presently darkened control room. Almost infinite tiny pinpricks of white were spattered on the inky blackness of space, uninterrupted by any weather, rings or moons as might be the case for a planet-bound observer.
Suddenly, there was only blackness. The stars faded instantly out of existence.
Amara shoke her head in disbelief.
Then, she realized what was happening. Or at least she formulated an explanation.
"Computer, untint bridge windows."
"The bridge window tinting is not active."
"Yes it is - I can't see a thing out them!"
"The bridge window tinting is not active."
"Are you sure? Run a diagnostic on the tinting mechanism."
Amara waited barely a moment before it stubbornly replied.
"The bridge window tinting mechanism is operating normally but is presently inactive."
Amara took a closer look out one of the side windows. Sure enough, she saw a tiny glimmer of one of the Starfire's navigational lights. Suddenly, the previous shock was replaced by confusion.
"Computer, if the bridge tint mechanism is not on, where did the stars go?"
"There are no stellar objects are visible from our present location."
"Where is our present location?"
"Relative to what?"
"Coordinates are relative to the S.S. Starfire."
Odd. Why was it referencing it's navigational position relative to itself?
"Why that choice of reference point?"
"No paragon pulsars detected."
Stars do not simply disappear. Amara knew this for a fact, as did almost any member of a civilized species. She turned to the scanner console, hoping for some answers. According to the machine, the only things in the area were Starfire and the derelict ships that had drawn them here.
"Computer, direct a Tachyon pulse from the scanner at Evar 3, and measure the return time."
"Computer, has the pulse returned yet?"
"No return Tachyon pulse detected."
"Unable to ascertain cause for lack of return pulse."
Amara was stumped.
"Amara to captain Marcus."
"Captain, you there?"
There was no response but the occasional beep or pulse from one of the consoles on the bridge. Only silence.
"Amara to Amy. Come in please."
"Computer, is the radio system working?"
"The radio system registers as functional, but no network activity or feedback is being detected, and no digital audio packets are being received."
Amara requested a diagnostic from the console. As with the Hyperspartal communications system, it showed no active jamming, only an inability to send or receive.
"Computer, where is Chikar?"
"Chikar is in the airlock."
"Put me through to him."
"Chikar, this is Amara. You there?"
Thankfully, he heard her.
"Yes. Is there something?"
"Go get the captain and the crew right away - it's urgent. There's something wrong with the communications system and the stars - just disappeared."
"At once!" He replied.
Amara liked that trait of Chikar, and Danak officers in general. They did not question orders. She could have told him to tell the captain that the sky was falling and that the bridge was being invaded by zombie ducks and he'd have relayed the message without delay.
Finding herself with a few spare moments, she moved to the front of the bridge and activated the large searchlight mounted on the ship's nose.
A beam of intense, white light suddenly pierced the darkness and illuminated the side of the ship with which they were docked.
Amara guided its beam with the controls, allowing large, black letters on the ship to be exposed by the powerful light.
"Computer, load data files on the Artician League Vessel Insidae..."
"The door is jammed. Manually locked from the other side."
Amy looked back from the solid blast door ahead. In the light of their headlamps, they could see the markings indicating it was their quarry - the main cargo bay.
"You think we can get through?" Marcus asked.
"Not with our present equipment." The humanoid android replied.
Marcus examined the situation. Clearly, they would need an appropriate fusion cutter - or at least Jules' know-how to hotwire the system.
"Marcus to Jules."
There was no reply.
"Jules, where are you?"
Amy picked up her multicomp and studied the small screen.
"Captain, there is no detectable network activity. I can't connect with the ship's computer network."
"It seems so. And it has now effected our local high-frequency network with the ship, not just our hyperspartal communications system."
"Let's get back to the airlock then." Said Captain Marcus, as he turned about face.
Amy fallowed him closely as they retraced their steps back to their ship through the lambrethine passages. But in a few moments, the plan went awry. A massive blast door not unlike the one cutting off the cargo bay now stood in their way.
"Did I take a wrong turn?" The captain asked Amy.
"No. This door was open before, when we passed through this corridor."
"And how exactly did a door on a ship with no power close?"
"I don't know, captain. Perhaps it was manually shut from the other side."
"By who? Why would Jules shut the door on us?" He asked, confused.
"I don't think it was Jules. He is not strong enough to operate the manual mechanism on a door such as this. Of us, only D-12 or Chikar could operate it unassisted." Amy answered.
"That doesn't solve much."
Marcus gave a lenitive bang on the door, hoping to get someone's attention.
"It seems unlikely that we'll be able to break through this door, even with our weapons. I think we should head back and pursue an alternate route." The android suggested.
"Yeah. Where now?"
"Back this way, until we reach the first intersection."
"Lead on again, then."
Artician League Warship, Agila Class.
Sixteen scandium-boron laser turrets, 50 kilowatt. Two five megaton torpedo launchers, sixty torpedoes each. Complement of twenty Okra class fighters.
Crew: 120 crew, 1,600 soldiers, ç50 civilian specialists and passengers.
MISSING AND PRESUMED LOST SINCE 95/103
Last known Location: On patrol in Evar sector, outback.
Amara looked at the report with interest. At least, it was something to keep her mind of the fact that the stars themselves had just disappeared before her eyes, and that the ship had been cut off both from the galaxy at large and from it's own captain.
She pondered the readout, looking for any connection to the present situation.
Other than the fact that the ship had been lost for 26 years, neatly confirming the theory that the cluster of ships had been here for some time, nothing seemed to be forthcoming.
"Computer, display ALV Insidae's ship's log for 95/103."
"Information is unavailable at the present time due to the inability to connect to the hypernet."
"Is there any more information on the Insidae available without connection to the hypernet?"
She thought for a moment about what could have happened to the 1,770 people on the ill-fated ship. It was hardly helpless, the brief database entry made that clear. And if it had failed to escape from whatever force had blocked the stars and their communications, what hope would a humble salvage vessel have?
An idea struck her, and the inquired again of the computer.
"Computer, is there any available information on Agila-class warships in general available?"
A list of search results popped up on the data display. She selected the most promising of the possibilities.
Agila Class Warship
A large Artician vessel, equipped for long range patrol and border protection...
Scanning the article, she found what she was looking for.
...onboard food generation and life support systems capable of sustaining crew indefinitely...
Something must have happened to the crew, or else they'd still be here, trapped aboard their ship. If only she knew what.
Chikar looked at the huge door that stood between him and his goal.
"And it was not closed before?" He asked Jules, who was standing beside him, interrupted from the repair of the ailing labor robot.
"No. The captain took Amy and went that way a few minutes ago, while I stayed here and repaired D-12. The captain called you to help with it, and while you were getting suited up and I was working on this, someone closed it. I didn't hear a sound - but then I was pretty absorbed with this. I didn't even think anything was the matter until you showed up."
"Is the captain trapped behind there?"
"There might be another way back. But I wo..."
Suddenly, Chikar could no longer hear Jules' voice. He could see the engineer's lips moving through his helmet, but there was no sound.
Chikar looked at the wrist panel for his communications system. It was blinking with a red error light.
He saw Jules similarly look down at his own communicator despondently. Another equipment failure. This time, the Suit-to-suit communicators had gone.
Jules had reasoned that it was only a matter of time before whoever was playing with them disrupted the frequencies used by their local suit transmitters as well. If it was pirates, why were they being so dramatic? He didn't like where this was heading - it seemed unlikely it would be pleasant.
The engineer picked up his multicomp and typed a message. He held it before Chikar's faceplate.
Let's go back to Starfire and get what we need to cut through the door
Chikar motioned affirmatively and fallowed Jules back to the door leading to Starfire's welcoming airlock.
"So much for this alternate route'." Marcus grumbled, looking at another solid blast door standing between him and Amy and the Starfire.
"It seems most unusual - this door was also open when we passed here previously."
"I'll call Jules... Maybe he's already down at the other door cutting through."
The captain pressed a control on his comm.
"Marcus to Jules - you there?"
There was nothing but stony silence. He tried again.
"Marcus to Jules, can you hear me?"
As no reply was forthcoming, he motioned to Amy.
She did so, to similar results as Marcus' attempt at communication.
"Amy, are their suit communicators being jammed now?"
"Ours seem to be functioning normally, yet evidence indicates that neither Jules nor Starfire can hear our communications. It is therefore possible for that to be the case, although it seems very unusual for the jamming to be so selective."
Marcus nodded. Natural forces were almost never selective...
"We might as well head back to the first door. That's probably where they'll be, when they cut through and come looking for us. We don't want to keep them waiting..."
The walk back to the door cutting off Amy and Marcus from the Starfire would have been rather repetitious and uninteresting, were it not for a most curious development.
"It seems the cargo bay door is now open." Amy observed.
"This is becoming progressively more odd." Said Marcus, as he aimed his helmet lamps to penetrate the gloom of the expansive bay beyond the now-open blast door guarding the cargo bay. The beams passed a few meters in, but did not bring anything significant to light.
"Are we going to investigate the cargo bay?" She asked.
"Seeing as no-one seems to be cutting through to our rescue right now, I don't think we have anything better to do."
Amy fallowed Marcus past the door into the cargo bay. They found themselves on a long catwalk over an immense, long room, which was home to large racks stacked with cargo crates. Some of the racks bore combat vehicles, seemingly as ready for planetary deployment now as they were when the ship was commissioned.
"Any readings on the contents of those crates?" Marcus asked, eager to assess their finds.
Amy lifted the multicomp and attacked a sensor probe from her tool belt.
"Some of the neared boxes contain something comprised of noble metals, with considerable amounts of silicon and germanium. It looks like electronics."
She walked over to the side of the flimsy guardrail and pointed the sensor over the side, out of the dampening effect of the metallic path on which they stood.
"There's some more electronics below us, and it looks like some polymer material - mostly Polycellulose Garobromide and - some organic matter."
"What kind? Food stores?"
"No-" she said, as she adjusted the sensor. "- the organic readings are consistent with a humanoid."
"As it is not moving in the slightest, it would seem so. And it is possible that the polymer material may be part of a uniform, it is used in Artician military clothing."
"Let's go have a look."
Marcus headed to the nearest of several ladders that led to the floor of the bay below. It looked stable enough, so he took hold of its rungs and descended to the underbelly of the great room. Amy unhesitatingly fallowed, holding the sensor unit.
"Captain, from this position I'm reading more humanoid tissue and uniforms."
Marcus responded as he finished his downward climb and stepped onto the metal floor.
"About how many bodies?"
"I'd say four, perhaps five." Said Amy, as she removed herself from the ladder and aimed the scanner directly at the source of the reading.
Marcus took a few steps forward and stopped. In the murky area in his vision where the light of his headlamps blended with the dark, lay a body. It was clothed in a Artician uniform, and it looked like an Agilian man.
The captain stepped a little further to examine the unfortunate soul.
"What happened to him?" He asked.
Amy walked forward and knelt down next to the Agilian, allowing her a closer look.
"He has been shot in the head with a plasma weapon. From the thermal emissions, he has not been dead for more than fifteen minutes."
Marcus swallowed at the pronouncement.
"Fifteen minutes? This ship isn't as uninhabited as it looked!"
"And at least one of its inhabitants is presumably homicidal." Amy added.
"Thanks for reminding me." Replied Marcus, as he removed his weapon from its holster. Better safe than dead.
"Are there any more bodies?" He continued.
"Yes, over here." The android replied, as she walked ahead further down the bay.
In a few moments, she gave her prognosis of the situation.
"These people were all shot with plasma weapons, within a similar timeframe. And they are all armed, clearly they were atleast aware of the possibility of being attacked."
"Couldn't they just have been security officers?"
"No, their uniforms are not consistent with such a position. They would not normally be armed in the normal operation of an Artician capital ship."
Waving the sensor probe about the wound on the head of one of the victims, Amy vocalized another observation.
"These wounds seem to have been inflicted by a standard issue navy Plasma Repeater."
"You mean that they were shot by other personnel from the ship?"
"Yes, or by someone who had one of their weapons, in any case. Perhaps this is the result of..."
The sharp whoosh of a plasma shot cut off her sentence suddenly. A purple packet of superheated, expanding gas shot past the two of them.
The muzzle flash of the weapon's discharge briefly illuminated a humanoid form standing in what was darkness a few meters from their position.
Amy drew her weapon and backed around behind some crates as Marcus rapidly located a similar spot to provide cover. More purple bolts flew at them, striking the crates and making their coverings red-hot.
Marcus reached out and returned fire, the yellow beam of his hand-laser instantly striking the lower torso of their assailant. The being seemed utterly undeterred by the fact that the laser blast had drilled it rather well, and it shot a spread of purple flame at Marcus' position as it ran forward.
Firing again, the captain saw as the bolt hit the attacker right between the eyes, and yet, it did not fall. Marcus frantically ducked to the side as more deadly purple bolts rained on his former position.
Amy fired on the menacing being, her near-perfect aim landing an ideal shot through its chest. Finally, it fell, landing almost ontop of the captain.
Almost too scared to speak, Marcus mumbled out a few words of thanks as he looked over the remains of their attacker. It was a human man. A moment later, he elaborated.
"I shot that thing clean through the brain and he didn't die!"
"That is decidedly inconsistent with normal humanoid behavior."
Although her precise voice did not show it, even Amy was unsettled by the nature of their assailant.
"No kidding. Is he an android?"
She considered the possibility.
"No, the body emits inferred in the normal fashion for a humanoid. This is rather worrying. The shot that killed this person was through the heart. Wounds to the body - which would normally cripple the victim with pain - seem to not have effected his actions. What is more, you shot him in the head. Judging from the angle of the wound you inflicted, this would have ended his ability to attack you instantly, but yet he continued to fire until I shot him. This suggests that he was not using his brain in an immediate, conscious sense."
"I don't like that."
"Nor do I. Someone was manipulating this person as a puppet from remote control."
Marcus shuddered at that thought. Something controlling this person to come in here and try to kill them with a plasma repeater...
"I think we should get back to the door," suggested Amy.
He could not agree more.
Marcus walked after her, giving a final stare at the body. He was beginning to seriously regret the decision to investigate these ships.
Note: This thing isn't finished, it's here for testing. I didn't think anyone would see it, but I guess they did. Go ahead and play with it if you like, it won't hurt anything.
Rate This Chron: