5:34am, Bifrost, Alioth system:
The Daedalion Falcon was in a low, almost atmospheric orbit around Bifrost, a medium sized class II gas giant that lies some 7000 light seconds out from the burning, seething wrath of super heated plasma and deadly radiation, the intense blue/white glow of which all but a faint spec in the distance. Epsilon Ursae Majoris, more commonly known as Alioth, is the political and social capital of the Alliance of Independent Systems, and headquarters of Na’Ama Wing. Here, tucked into a tight, geostationary orbit at 6000 km, just on the edge of the day night terminator… we wait.
“Morning number one… anything?” Baiju jumped slightly as I drifted silently into the main bridge area, spinning round in his co-pilots chair. “Oh sir, you gave me quite a fright! Nothing to report, all systems green.” he replied, nervously laughing.
I sighed. “Ok, well, could you make me a brew before you hit the bunk? Looks like it’s going to be another fun filled day of staring at the sensors.”
“Of course sir” Baiju unbuckled himself from his chair and drifed toward the amenities station at the rear of the bridge. “Ethgreze tea bags running low sir” he announced after a few moments.
“Damn. Looks like we’ll have to call into Melbourne Park soon. Are you sure this will work Baiju?” I asked, clipping shut the straps on my command chair, securing myself firmly in position. There was a brief moments silence, only the gentle hum of the ships systems audible as the great blue gas giant rotated silently through the main window. “Yes sir. Plan here working.” he finally said.
“Ok, I trust you Baiju. Now go get some shut eye. I’ll call you if anything comes up.” The hot bag of Ethgreze floated past my head as Baiju replied “Oookay sir, goodnight sir.”
After leaving the Prism system and encountering a mysterious ship that seemed to be stalking us, Baiju analysed the heat signature and concluded that it was quite unique, but should he see it again, he would recognize it. And so, for the past 48 hours we both covered 12 hour shifts, monitoring each and every vessel that approached Melbourne Park, Irkutsk and Golden Gate. Our initial thoughts on leaving the Prism system were that we should avoid the major trade routes back to Alioth in an attempt to shake our tail. But after careful consideration, we decided it might be better to lay a trap for this mysterious ship and maybe ask the pilot a few questions.
So we plotted an exceedingly easy to follow course back to Alioth, calling in at every major star port along the way, making sure the Falcon was seen by as many people as possible. A course so easy to follow that Mal could have found us inside a week. After docking at Melbourne Park we stocked up on supplies before requesting docking clearance to leave, only we didn’t file a flight plan with control and so our trail would end in the Alioth system. If our stalker was half decent, they would soon track us down to Bifrost. It was just a matter of time.
The contact alarm echoed loudly throughout the bridge, startling me from my slumber, the orange contact on the scope flickering as it appeared in one place, then jumped slightly to the left and right as the sensors struggled to get a positive lock. I flicked the coms panel up selecting ship wide broadcast.
“Baiju” I yelled “Get your butt up here, our friend has arrived!” I immediately knocked the shields offline and engaged silent running, the lights on the bridge fading to a pale blue while outside the huge heat vents on each engine nacelle silently closed. Twisting the flight joystick I sent the Falcon into a slight port roll while at the same time shutting down thrusters, weapons, pilot lights and all none essential systems.
The Falcon tumbled slowly, Bifrost appearing and disappearing through the main window as we silently pirouetted the gas giant. With everything shut down except life support and sensors we would appear as floating wreckage or a humble asteroid to sensors. Any ships wanting to get a positive lock would have to be in close visual range.
Baiju strapped himself into the co-pilots seat. “Is it him?” I asked as he fastened himself in.
“Here looking sir”. Baiju typed away furiously at his computer, the jumping, flickering target on the scope getting closer as frost began to creep across the windows in the cockpit, the temperature dropping dramatically. He looked over at me, grinning like an idiot “Positive match! Heat signature identical to ship in Pwism system sir”.
“He’s pretty good I’ll give him that” I whispered, as if it would have any baring on our visibility to the approaching ship. “Not only has he found us, he’s managed to sneak up on us without us seeing him in supercuise!”
“Yes sir, velly good pilot sir” Baiju whispered back.
“Let’s see how close he’s willing to get”. The flickering blip danced around on the scope, rolling from one side of the display to the other as the Falcon continued to slowly pitch and roll toward Bifrost’s upper atmosphere. “We should be able to see him soon” I said, peering through the frost on the main window.”
“Heat levels at 70% sir” Baiju announced.
“Just a little closer Baiju, I don’t want to lose him again!” A small chink of light reflected off something metallic about a kilometer off our port bow. I briefly fired a retro thruster to stabilize our rotation, trying to make out the approaching shape in the distance.
“Heat levels 78% sir” replied an increasingly anxious Baiju.
“Come one… come on… on my mark Baiju…” Orange flashing lit up the forward instrument panel while the message ‘Warning: Heat Levels critical!’ flashed across every screen on the ship.
“Sir!” Baiju was now more than a little concerned.
‘Warning: Taking heat damage’ cried the automated ships warning system.
“Just a little closer….”
‘Module Malfunction!’ Red flashing lights replacing the orange warning lights. ‘Warning: heat levels critical!’
The target was now just 300m away. “NOW Baiju!” He thumped the override command for silent running, the huge heat vents hissing and groaning as they bellowed the Falcons excess heat into the frigid cold expanse. Shoving the throttle hard forward I quickly brought the Falcon’s dormant systems back on line as she shuddered and lurched forward, the huge engines filling the cockpit with a deafening roar.
“Target range 280 meters. Weapons systems on line.”
“What is it Baiju, I’ve not seen anything like it?” The Falcon swung hard round, sparks and flame shooting out of her primary exhaust outlets as she quickly reeled in the fleeing vessel.
“Unknown sir… maybe Diamond Back sir!” The Diamond Back was Lakon’s new compact exploration/combat vessel and hadn’t been released to the general public yet. “Let’s see if we can’t get a better look shall we… target his drives Baiju!”
The twin pulse lasers flashed bright orange as a salvo of intense heat and light ripped across the gap between us in a fraction of a second, the Diamond Back’s shields resonating bright blue as they desperately tried to absorb the energy. Just three shots later and they gave up completely.
“Drives at 46% sir” yelled Baiju above the roar of laser fire and engines.
The Diamond Back, now aware he was unable to outrun us, began some heavy evasive maneuvers, twisting and banking hard as it tried in vein to shake the relentless onslaught of the Falcon.
“Why isn’t he firing back?” I shouted at Baiju, not really expecting a reply, our prey now banking hard in a massive arc, thrusters shooting sparks and shards of molten metal as the twin pulse lasers on the Falcon continued to pound its rear.
A bright flash temporarily blinded us as one of its triple engines on the let go, exploding into a thousand pieces as a few short seconds later the Falcon pierced the debris and smoke. “Gotcha” I cried as the stricken vessel slowed to a crawl, sparks and smoke billowing from its wounds.
“Sir, we are being hailed!”
“About time! Put it through on speaker Baiju” I replied, easing back on the throttles, guiding the huge white mass of the Falcon in just below and behind the limping Diamond Back. “Lock missiles onto target. If he so much as farts….”
“Roger sir. Missiles locked. Patching hail through now sir”
The Diamond Back… Lakon’s new compact explorer/combat vessel.
The coms crackled “…arius, don’t shoot!” The voice sounded eerily familiar.
“Identify yourself pilot.”
Static hissed over the speaker from the damaged ship. “..ave.. s me, Da… ont shoot”
“Can you clean that up Baiju?”
“Yes sir… hang on sir…” Baiju played with the signal for a few seconds. “Try now sir”
“I say again, identify yourself pilot!” I fired a couple of warning shots across the bow of the smoldering Lakon.
The speakers hissed loudly before growing silent “Darius… it’s me. Dave! Don’t shoot, I have information about Pepper!”
I sat, dumbfounded, mouth agape. I could see Baiju looking at me intensely in the corner of my eye. Could it be? I flicked my mike open “Challenge: Omega Prime”
The coms fell silent for moment. “Er.. hang on a second.. Bacon.. baco, no wait…Epsilon gamma.. er.. Andromeda”
Yep. Without a doubt, it had to be “For fuck sake Dave. Epsilon Tau is the response you’re looking for! We went over this like, a thousand times!
“Sorry Darius, you know I can never remember these things. Hey, any chance we could get to a station, I only have 3 minutes of oxygen left!”
“Oh shit, yeah, sorry about that. Golden Gate is the closest. Can you make it alright?”
“My engines are shot to hell, but yeah, I reckon I can make it. Meet you there” The remaining two engines on the Lakon glowed bright yellow as the ship slowly began to shrink toward the faint white dot that was the Golden Gate orbital, before a brilliant flash saw it make the jump to supercuise. The Falcon close behind.
After docking the Falcon Baiju and I headed down to bay 1 where Dangerous Dave was stood staring up at the damaged engines on his new ship. “So, what the hell’s going on Dave!” I said, slapping the great oaf hard on the arm “We thought you were dead!”
Dave grinned awkwardly “I was. Well, sort of. You know Darius, I’m going to have to replace the entire back end on this thing!”
“Shame. It’s a nice ship” I laughed.
“Was a nice ship.” Dave shook his head. We stood staring at each other before both collapsing in a manly embrace. “Good to see you again Darius!”
“And you Dave.”
“Come, sit down my friend” Dave gestured to two empty cargo canisters beneath the Diamond Back “We have much to discuss”
I sat down next to Dave. “You said you had news about Pepper? Where is she Dave?”
Dave wiped his sweaty forehead “I don’t know Darius. But I know were her ship is” Pepper had 2 ships. 1, was the Indefatigable, her battle hardened Anaconda. The other was Slipstream, her beat up, 57 year old Sidewinder.
“Yep. In a salvage yard down on Phekda” Dave reached into his pocket and pulled out a holofax. “I managed to get aboard her and recovered this before they stripped her down” He placed the small device in my hand. It was scarred and well used. On the side was what looked like writing.
“What’s this say Dave” I asked.
“Don’t know mate, couldn’t make it out.”
I squinted at the writing, but it was too small for me to read. I called over to Baiju who was having a nosey around the new Lakon. “Here, see if you can make this out will you” I tossed him the holofax which he caught with one hand.
He stared at it for a while, turning it over in his hands before holding it up to the light “Not looking like English sir. Maybe…” he paused, looking at his feet. “Maybe binary sir. Here checking.” He pulled out his communicator and started typing into it, Dave watching intently.
“Ok sir, not binary. Ancient Arabic sir. Here saying Orion Protocol.” Baiju threw back the holofax, Dave catching it with both hands like a child catching a beach ball.
“The Orion Protocol? Mean anything to you Dave?” I said, scratching my head.
“Nope. But we should fire it up. I tried already, but the power cell is borked. Maybe your Mr Baiju could breath some life into it.” Dave stood up, supporting his back with both hands as he stretched, groaning like the old man that he is. “I need some shut eye Darius. I’ve been on your tail for over a week now. You’re a hard man to follow!” He slapped me playfully on the back before heading over to the stair well. “I’ll be in a hotel in the habitat ring. Call me in 8 hours.”
“This is a Coriolis Dave. It doesn’t have a habitat ring.” He turned and smiled at me before heading up the stairs and out of the docking bay. “Whatever, I’ll be in a hotel.” I glanced up at the impressive looking remains of the new Lakon Diamond Back. How on Earth did Dave manage to get his hands on one before public release? And why was he following us? And what happened to him all those months ago? So many questions. I looked over at Baiju who was wielding an astro spanner menacingly at the gaping hole where an engine used to sit.
“Leave it Baiju, let the Lakon techs fix it. Let’s get back to the Falcon. We need to see if we can get this holofax going.” I handed him back the broken device and put my arm around him “Come on old mate, we’ve got much work to do!”