I was halfway back to my lab when a courier came running down the hallway calling my name. He pulled up short, bent with his hands on his knees as he spoke between ragged breaths. “Your presence is required on Broadside.”
“You know, sir, it’s customary to salute an officer,” I criticized.
He snapped to attention, his right arm coming up in a salute. “Yes, ma’am! Sorry, ma’am!”
I lasted two seconds before my charade failed me and I burst out with laughter. “Stop! Stop! Put your hand down, silly.” Ah. I was in one of my mischievous moods. Good to know. The poor boy didn’t know what to do, his hand came down slowly but the fear never left his face. “Oh, don’t look at me like that. What’s your name private?”
“Ann- Annabelle, ma’am.”
“Annabelle. Nice name.” I let the grin on my face speak for itself. “And would you drop the formalities, I reserve those for people I dislike.”
“Yes, ma-“ I cut him off with a silent glare. “Yes, Zeitha.”
“Great! Annabelle, walk with me.” I started back off down the hallway; it didn’t take long for Annabelle to match my pace.
“Eh, Zeitha?” I turned my head to face him. “Would you mind calling me Andy? I’m not too fond of Annabelle.”
“Andy it is! Andy, is there any particular reason you didn’t contact me through the radio?”
“We tried, but we couldn’t get through.” Oh! I had forgotten to switch it back on.
“And they made you run after me! Typical Navy. Right. Message received Andy. Transfer the details of the shuttle departure to my datapad and then run off to the canteen.”
Confusion spread across Andy’s face. “The canteen?”
“Mhm. If you get there in the next 20 minutes you can still renew my mid-day meal code. I suspect you’ll find it much more attractive than the Synthecubes you’re used to.” A quick code exchange later and I was left alone, bound for the shuttle bay. The trip between the Spirit of Atlantis and Broadside was mostly uneventful. I saw a couple of new faces, but nothing else was worth archiving to memory.
I was greeted by Science Officer Williams and a small entourage of armed guards. “Zeitha, I see you’ve somehow managed to worm your way back on my ship.”
“We both know I wouldn’t be here given the choice,” I replied coldly. The two of us stood there in silence. One of the escorts shuffled awkwardly, while another faked a practised cough.
The corners of my lips betrayed me and curled into a passive smile, which in turn caused Williams to break his act. We shook hands and Williams took the lead guiding me further into the ship. The look of confusion on the guards’ faces was priceless.
“I’m sorry to have to bother you; we’ve been having some trouble with the stabilisers. Hopefully, you’ll have more luck than I have.”
“I’m happy to have a look, but we both know the stabilisers weren’t designed by me. Where is Adams? I thought he was assigned to the Spirit of Ire. Why not call him?”
“Assigned to one of the patrol boats recently.” He paused. “Crazy fool wants to get some pictures in before the alien vessels are destroyed in the upcoming conflict.” It was difficult to argue with that. For all accounts, the alien ships were beautiful in design and I doubt there would be much time to take pictures in the thick of combat.
It took me only a moment to realise I had zoned out again.
“Zeitha, are you ok? You’ve been here for barely 10 minutes and you’re already zoning out. I thought they put you on new meds for that?” Williams asked gently.
“Yeah. Fine.” I rebutted.
“I think- “
“I don’t care what you think!” I pinched the brow of my nose. “Listen. I’m here to fix your problem. Not to be interrogated. Understood?” I could see he wanted to argue, but we both knew I was in no mood to listen. It wasn’t long until he gave up and changed the subject.
We made small talk for the rest of the journey. Anything personal in nature was shut down quickly, so instead, we kept the conversation aimed at the terrible maze-like designs of the ships, the awful food, and the lack of intellectual company.
Upon reaching the control room I stifled a laugh, eliciting eyebrow raises from my nearby company. I looked Williams directly in the eyes, as deadpan as I could muster. “Mine is bigger than yours.” Williams rolled his eyes and sighed dramatically. He proceeded to swipe his card, allowing us access inside. Most would have missed it but I saw the smirk at the corner of his mouth. I was happy to see I hadn’t destroyed the goodwill between us.
The control room was cold. Somewhere between 285 and 290 Kelvin, to be precise. Inside, 3 small terminals were embedded into a central spire that fed into the Magnetic Acceleration Cannon (MAC) externally mounted to the ship. Off to the side, smaller machines hummed quietly, feeding information to other areas of the ship. It was commonplace for each MAC to have multiple rooms dedicated to separate functions.
“May I?” I asked, mostly out of courtesy. My hands had already opened the central spires’ vent before a reply could be given. I placed the stabiliser on a nearby surface, tapped the back of my neck twice where I had inserted a custom-made biochip months ago, and found my vision replaced with that of a virtual interface.
Scanning the device, I was once again reminded of the shoddy design work that had gone into its creation. Don’t get me wrong. Adams was a genius and the device was far ahead of its time, though I suppose this was partly due to the Quinoth ship we had salvaged. However, like most in the Terra Accord, the device was tacky. It did not allow room for modification and lacked the compartmentalization to allow for easy screening or maintenance. It took me three scans to locate the issue. A smaller device, no larger than a centimetre, was tacked onto one of the inside chambers. I didn’t have the tools to perform maintenance here and I certainly wasn’t going to use someone else’s.
“It looks like there’s a foreign object embedded within this device,” I remarked. Williams was understandably surprised and pulled closer to inspect the device. “There’s no use looking; it’s tiny really. Excellent craftsmanship. Before you ask, no, I can’t fix it here; I’ll need to bring it back with me. I presume you have a spare?”
“We do, but it hasn’t been tested.” Of course, it hadn’t. “I’ll arrange to have it transported over and installed.”
“Good,” I nodded my head agreeably.
“Don’t you think we should be the ones investigating that device?” Williams remarked.
“With all due respect, you couldn’t even detect the problem. How do you plan on fixing it?” It was a rhetorical question. I knew Williams would struggle to answer and that was my opportunity to head to the exit. He followed close behind.
“Your report indicated the trouble had started occurring under a week ago?” I asked. He nodded in affirmation. “Great. Then either this part was added during assembly, which, given the timeframe of the interference, is... unlikely.”
“Or you have a saboteur on your ship. All your logs are intact except for a record 5 days ago that seems to have mysteriously gone missing. Have fun with that information.” He stopped. As did our escort. A verbal attempt was made to slow me down, but I kept walking toward my shuttle. I heard an exchange of voices, with Williams and most of the escort headed towards the bridge. One of the younger soldiers chased after me and tailed me in silence. A reasonable precaution. They weren’t allowed to interfere with my business, but they sure as hell wouldn’t allow me to walk around by myself after that news. Not that it bothered me. It was very easy to get lost on this ship.
I entered the single-seated shuttle and headed back to the Spirit of Atlantis; it didn’t take long for my short-range receiver to buzz with activity. I rolled my eyes and pushed the button for audio-only, awaiting my very predictable scolding.
“Zeitha, it’s come to my attention that you’ve made claims of Broadsides stabiliser being tampered with, and-“
“Yes, yes. The device appears to have some foreign object embedded inside it. Not human, or at least so my scans indicate.” Ironhound seemed annoyed at my interruption. Good!
“There have been some calls that you may be the saboteur that you speak of. Have you got any evidence to support your case, seeing as you didn’t hand the device in for an independent scan?” He asked inquisitively.
I let out a laugh; practised, but not entirely fake. Ironhound appeared to take insult to that too. “Oh, my dear beloved admiral. First of all, if I were the saboteur, you wouldn't have found my work. Second, you would be so much more fucked than you realise.” I paused. “I assure you I’m not the saboteur. I’m bringing the device to my lab to perform an autopsy. Whatever I find will be in my report.” I didn’t wait for a reply; I closed the communication channel and prepared for docking.
Rather expectedly, I was once again greeted by an armed guard who escorted me to my lab in a most grandiose fashion.
The stabiliser proved quite easy to dismantle, and soon enough I had it; a small device certainly mechanical in design, but also, biological? Upon examination, it appeared to have tiny flora integrated throughout; the design was beautiful and far more captivating than it should have been, and without a doubt, alien in design. I made a mental note and forwarded it to a running log I had subconsciously opened up.
Now in hindsight, you shouldn’t tamper with alien technology unless it’s in a controlled environment. But that rule was for simpletons. Or so I thought. I took out a pair of tweezers and attempted to remove the alien device. Upon contact, an electric current ran up my arm, causing my interface to glitch, quickly shifting from its normal blue hue to an overpowering green. The device sparked in controlled combustion and, for the briefest moment, I could have sworn I saw the word “Integrated” flash up.
My interface had returned to its natural blue. And… Well… I didn’t feel any different. I ran a full diagnostic and kept active monitoring throughout the scan. Three times I repeated this and each time the results came back unalarming.
The device must have had some neural feedback defence, or… something. Hell, if I knew. One thing was for sure. I certainly wasn’t going to find out now.
I checked my log and was surprised to see I had been motionless for some three hours. Ok, yeah. Panic. I could feel a full-on episode rising and would have welcomed it with open arms if I hadn’t been interrupted for the third time today.
“All hands to battle stations! I repeat: All hands to battle stations!”
This was proving to be a very taxing day.