Farlost, Episode 41
“We’ve done the impossible twice today,” Lou Montagne said. Her voice echoed across C&C, and she knew it carried across all of HHL-6, and reached every ear travelling with her. “A killer storm couldn’t kill us. FTL was Certain death. Only, we’re not dead.” Lou looked around. Rose Okoro and Stan Renic watched. Lou smiled at them and saw them straighten, smile back. She turned to Beacham. He waved, distractedly. “Hallelujah!” he barked, but gave her a genuine smile and a nod before diving back into his screens. Lou’s throat tightened, remembering the look in Ed Dwyer’s eyes when that first rock snuffed out the light that lay behind them. “We’ve lost friends. We’re far from home. But we’re still alive, and we’ve met-“ she paused. “We’ve met amazing…people. And we’re going to beat the odds one more time.” Beacham turned back to his screens. Rose and Stan’s smiles faltered. Lou sighed, and looked up and out the window, letting her eyes catch the glitter of ships clouding space near the spikes of the Thorn behind them. “You don’t need the inspirational speech, about meeting new forms of life, advancing human understanding. You’re living it. You’ve seen the Thorn, the ships, the incredible beings. All amazing. Breathtaking. World changing. But right now we all need to do our jobs, even if that just means buttoning down and waiting. Panic can kill us before anything around these parts ever gets a chance.” She waited a moment, then laughed over the line, letting her focus, her dedication to them, her faith in them color the laughter. “Nothing’s beaten us yet. We’ve gone through hell and we’re still here. Let’s keep it that way. Man your stations, no matter what comes. We’ve got a plan, we’ve got the training, and we are going to pull this off!” She took a deep breath. “Remember your training. Stick together. We’ll talk again when we’re in the wind. C&C out.” She tapped the microphone off. Not bad for a first rousing ship-wide address, she thought, as she reached back with a trembling hand to buckle into her seat again. She hoped to hell her first emergency address was also her last. “Status!” she called out. Beacham talked out over Okoro, and Lou held a hand up to her nav officer to let the civilian speak. “Well, you haven’t asked me for a miracle in a while,” Beacham said, crossing his arms and looking pleased with himself. “So I tho ught I’d remind you I’m still in the business.” Lou raised an eyebrow and waited. Beacham tapped on a screen. “Say hi, Daisy.” “Hello Commander Montagne,” said the strangely warm but inhuman voice from all around. Lou’s eyes narrowed. The voice seemed different from when she’d heard it before. How? she wondered. “I must correct Doctor Beacham,” the voice announced. “I am not precisely Daisy. I am, however, an exact digital pollination.” Warning bells climbed up Lou’s spine. “Beacham?!” she queried, her voice low and dangerous. Beacham took no heed. “It might take me a day or two to, you know, learn an entire alien language and begin upgrading… whatever Daisy is.” “You possess genius Doctor Beacham, however your improving on my design remains unlikely,” Daisy called out, with obvious humour and skepticism. Beacham ignored the interruption. “So since we’re up against it,” he waved his hand in the direction of the Thorn. “I had her send me the program interfaces she designed to control The Betty, improved ‘em a little, and showed her where on Six to stick a copy of herself.” Lou gripped the arms of her chair, eyes widening. “You injected an alien computer virus in our systems?” gasped Okoro. “Essentially correct, Nav Officer Rose Okoro, Employee ID October-228653.” Daisy replied, while Beacham floated there nodding, now looking even more smug. “Interfacing with your systems directly has increased the odds of a successful dock and turning maneuver to eighty-seven percent.” “Gave her the keys to the kingdom,” Beacham crowed. “Pretty goddamn impressive hack!” The C&C was utterly silent. Until Lou laughed. Beacham frowned. “What? It was pretty goddamn impressive!” “And after we dock and execute the course change?” Okoro snapped out at the man. “How do we, uh, weed her out?” “You’re welcome,” Beacham called petulantly out to Okoro. “And, we don’t remove Daisy. We can’t. Well, we can ask her to leave, but she’s already rewritten half the systems on board. For the better, might I add?” He shrugged. “If she doesn’t want to leave, we won’t get her out.” Lou laughed harder. She gasped for breath, waving Okoro silent. “He’s right, Nav. We’re all in. We better hope we’re philosophically compatible with our neighbours on the Betty, because we’re just about getting married to haul ass get out of this ugly thing’s gravity.” She waved back and up, toward the Thorn. Lou snorted again, just as Arnel Villanueva’s voice sounded in the air. “First officer to C&C. Now en route with Officer Taggart.” His breath pushed air explosively as the man leaned too close to his suit mic. “Sanders cleared Taggart for active duty. Officer Pruett will escort Burkov and Dr. Sanders to the Cellar.” Taggart could be heard on the line, muttering “Yeah, just as soon as the doc decides on the best meds for VP Crazy Pant—“. The line clicked off, muted from the far side. Montagne almost laughed again. She liked hearing that resilience in Taggart’s voice. She still didn’t understand how, but ‘the lights’ did something to him: now, he could see things, know things the rest of them couldn’t, and it had messed him up. He sounded like Taggart again, even knowing more than he should. Her gut instinct said to trust Taggart, trust Captain Travis and trust whatever the hell Daisy was. Why not? She’d trusted Beacham. That’s why they were still alive. Speaking of which, she turned to Beacham, where he floated quite capably, pirouetting between two work stations to maximize his screen area. She shook her head. The good doctor seemed to forget what a klutz he was, once he was absorbed in a task - or two, as he was now, recalibrating his light show and monitoring their trajectory. Or, she wondered, was that now, monitoring Daisy, monitoring trajectory. Thinking of Beacham’s physical and mental acrobatics brought Lou’s head back around to the crisis at hand, and she swiped and tapped on her screen, calling up Travis and Gruber and ‘throwing’ their signal to the fisheye monitor in the centre of C&C. A fisheye view of the Betty’s bridge appeared on several monitors ringing the C&C. “Captain Travis, Engineer Gruber, your transmission is being displayed to my senior command staff, and they’re all up to speed.” The scarred but handsome Captain nodded. “Hello C&C,” he called out. Gruber laughed and scratched at his ragged white beard. “They’re babies! Well, except for the injun.” Beacham stiffened and turned. “How many degrees do you have, old man?” he shouted back. Gruber laughed harder. “Yeah. Babies!” Lou waved Beacham down. “Dirty hippy santa claus,” he muttered, then just glared. “What can you tell us about these ‘Boomer’ ships?” she asked. Captain Travis opened his mouth to answer, but Daisy’s voice cut him off - both the version on Betty and the version on Six. “Boomers are attack vessels. Essentially barbell-shaped torpedoes, the craft possess heavy shielding at either end to withstand the kinetic energy released by thermonuclear pellets which are ignited immediately behind or in front of a heat shield. Utilizing atomics to quickly achieve and brake from very high velocity, a small crew housed in the middle is kept safe from the effects of the velocity inside a nearly incompressible liquid environment.” “The boomer crews’ lungs are filled with liquid so they’re not smeared into paste by acceleration or deceleration,” Travis explainednb. His face was dark. “The trip still messes them up, but they’re fed a cocktail of drugs to keep them functioning until they accomplish their mission.” Lou opened her mouth to ask, but Gruber anticipated her question. “It’s a one way trip,” the old engineer said. “They’re kamikazes. Their nestmates will be elevated in rank, social status, food allotment, mating order.” Captain Travis cleared his throat. “They’re a blunt object, but effective. They keep most ships they reach from escaping until the rest of the Guard can arrive. They’ll decimate a crew, sabotage engines, but leave most of the tech intact.” Lou saw the logic in it. She already understood that this place, wherever they were, was resource poor. Killing the crews was probably just cost-effective for this ‘Guard’. She had a sick feeling there was nothing like the Geneva convention around these parts . “What the hell’s gonna come out of that pod?” Stan asked. Lou turned to quiet Stan…and saw Rose slip a hand over his where he held onto her screen mount. He looked down, read her face, and fell silent. Travis and Gruber both stepped back, and behind them Lou could see a cylinder of light, inside which shapes were coalescing. She felt one eyebrow rise, betraying her surprise. It was a hologram tank. Easily the best resolution she’d ever seen and over ten meters wide. “I’m also transmitting this to your pilot Rodriguez out at the tram. I hope she’s receiving, but eight minutes ago backscatter from several satellites dropped by the boomers began to interrupt our tightbeam transmission. The crew can tell her all of this, anyways.” “Just watch,” Gruber said, uncharacteristically softly. in the holo an image of a room full of cylindrical cargo containers appeared. A blue light flared rhythmically. There was no sound. A human, and two other figures -something like upright, eight foot tall lobsters, Lou’s mind filled in- all wearing what appeared to be bulky black armour and holding long poles -rifles, Lou’s mind guessed again- took up kneeling positions facing the wall behind the cargo. Two more humans and two more things that looked like mannequins made up of bark and leaves and vine, all wearing armour and carrying the pole weapons, took up position just below the camera angled high up on a wall, facing the cargo. “A boomer can contain up to six troops,” Captain Travis replied, as the cargo in the hologram shook, and piles collapsed into rubble. Something hard had just hit the wall. “Initial scans now show we had nine incoming.” Gruber interrupted. “Three exploded en route. No surprise there, they’re powered by nukes for god’s sake. Usually only half make it to the target.” His voice got quiet. “That’s usually enough.” Lou leaned forward in her seat. The door hissed and Arnel and Taggart coasted in. Both men watched the monitors silently, as red outlines appeared on the wall. The air seemed to waver with intense heat. Several of the cargo pods exploded, and white steam obscured the view. Behind the cloud there was an explosion. Metal hurled through the steam, levelling half the defenders. Something long and thick, like a boa snake, whipped through the white mist. “They’re loaded up with anti-rads, of course, but also strength maximizers, and microscopic machines to repair damage and keep them moving,” Gruber said casually. “It’s an ugly kind of nano tech, does more harm to a body than good over time, but in the short term it creates…” Several more tentacles appeared through the fog. Then a massive black shape pushed through. Whipping black tentacles larger than a man. Ugly mouth full of glassy fangs like cruel knives. More bodies fell as the creatures fed. “Monsters,” Lou gasped.