“Mmm?” Sensor Technician Abioye said, mouth full of instant ramen.
“That.” Sensor Technician Alezeev responded, purposefully tapping a finger against his monitor. “I know our sensors aren’t the best, but, this doesn’t look like normal traffic patterns.”
Aboiye sighed and placed his cup ramen to the side, waking up his console. It was the “midnight” shift on Reach, so the relative skeleton crew was doing relatively appropriate spooky things; checking inventory levels, unloading cargo, monitoring power systems, life support, ignoring the yotttabytes of spam messages from other ships and stations in-system, yanno. #justshipthings. Whereas the captain was more interested in getting his hands on physical technology to help close the gap, there were other ‘soft’ goals that needed to be accomplished – primary among them being sucking in as much data as physically possible for the wonks and skunkworks back home to digest. This data could be anything from “here’s how civilian cargo ships are painted and their number scheme” to “Here’s the layout of a colony world” to “So we saw some pretty neat satellites on the way back…” – really, it was bringing in everything they could because nobody knew what bit of random information would lead to the next breakthrough.
This, of course, meant monitoring air traffic on the part of the planet they were orbiting.
Aboiye furrowed his brow as the mass of very fast ships descended to an uninhabited section of the new Human colony. He idly overlaid that traffic pattern over the more standard pattern they’ve developed over the past few days, and…
“Yeah. Yeah, that’s not right. Chatter?”
“Seems like an emergency broadcast.” Alezeev said, his hands moving over his console in practiced ease. “…yeah. Yeah we need to escalate this.”
– – – –
Admiral Smalls was having a good night, which meant that something was going to go wrong. The thing that went wrong(tm) occurred around 2AM ship time, and around 2:15 he found himself hastily dressed and on the Bridge with a Big Gulp of coffee in one hand and an open line of communication to his other ships’ captains.
“So, from what my technicians are telling me – roughly 40 minutes or so ago an emergency broadcast went out to all first responders to handle an incident within the Human district of Silver City, more specifically section G-7-4. Reasons why I woke your asses up – #1, nobody from administration has contacted us, which under our settlement treaty they’re supposed to. #2, This was, according to our count, a response of roughly 180 ships.”
“Does Silver City even have that many first responder ships?” Captain Edward John Smith murmured, looking over the report on screen.
“No. From what I can tell, they not only pulled from other settlements, but they pulled … I guess you could call it their version of SWAT.” Admiral Smalls answered, sighing. “But, there’s more.”
“Joy.” Captain Joseph Hazelwood smirked, taking a sip of his drink.
“Human section, massive reaction of emergency services, pseudo-military deployed, no coordination or communication with us – already, these are issues. What I’m about to tell you is currently secret, as it involves an ongoing investigation, but. Someone from my ship was apparently transmitting data, unauthorized. The Person I Was Talking To has been informing me that the data – which was actually structured data and not a glitch in our own systems – was sent to the local galactic network node that led to an access point that doesn’t exist, and apparently contains no data.”
There was a pregnant pause as each man raced through a couple dozen scenarios, their expressions sinking rapidly.
“So. A mole?”
“Saboteur.” Smalls said, matter-of-factly. “We’re still collecting information, but. Our … bank accounts aren’t connected intergalactically, GRC’s shifted into Dollars so, no money can exchange hands. Nothing that’s come up from planetside’s had contraband, so no physical goods either. Anarchist, maybe.” With a flick of his wrist Admiral Smalls pulled up and shared various shipping manifestos; nothing out of the ordinary popped out.
“Maybe the last shipment had something?”
“Raw material for holographic units that I personally approved, plus an Interocitor for multifunction basic construction.” Smalls responded, taking another sip of his coffee. “And that landed, safely, about 15 minutes ago and began offloading.”
“This is some bullshit.” Captain Hazelwood said, scrutinizing some reports of his own. “I don’t like this at all.”
“No, neither do I. That’s why I want you to deploy Zero-One.”
Hazelwood quirked an eyebrow. “… a hot drop?”
“Not hot, no, but I want it down there. I’ve already ordered clearance on pads 03 and 05 for the next 48 hours, so as long as Zero-One is on the ground it can buy us some time.”
“Begging your pardon, Admiral, but. It’s one thing to have a paperwork snafu; it’s another thing to deploy military equipment with no indication.” Captain Smith interjected, scratching the stubble on his cheek. “Should we wait? At least phone home?”
“I’m not advocating a hot drop, John. I’m saying that they deployed defense forces to a remote human sector en masse and then scattered, that not a few days prior we had a saboteur send something to somewhere, and no one from their administration is telling me anything. Did one of our citizens commit an atrocity… or was this a kidnapping? We’re in the dark here, and time is not on our side. We’re not deploying all of La Chancla’s payload, just Zero-One. It’s more of a… statement than anything else.”
“If you fuck with us I swear to God I’ll kill us all?”
Admiral Smalls raised his mug in a gentle salute. “Now you get it.”
– – – – –
“[Can you just-]”
“[Look that can’t feel good-]”
“[All I’m asking you to do is-]”
Zngrer-of-Drgrabgh sighed as the [Human] flopped the other way, acting less like a living sentient and more like a sack of dirt. Once she identified herself there was a tremendous amount of squirming, which at first Zngrer assumed was to get comfortable in her grip; granted, combat suits were not exactly built for exterior comfort, and her suit’s AI was programmed to [Human] tolerances so as to avoid harming the relatively fragile creature.
Then came the biting, which, ok. Different people act differently in a panic, and it’s up to the responder in charge to manage panicked civilians. So far, so good.
But this? This was just annoying. However, she’d take this annoyance over the other [human]’s obstinance.
Speaking of, she turned to the other human half-tucked away in a mix of harness and netting.
“[Are you alright?]”
“AM I BEING DETAINED?!”
Zngrer sighed. “[No. Again, we’re from the government-]”
“AM I FREE TO GO?!”
“[Considering we’re traveling at a height that would almost certainly kill you if you left the craft, no.]”
“THEN AM I BEING DETAINED?!”
Zngrer frowned and opened a line to her pilot. “[Are we there yet?]”
“[You’ve asked that 10 times in the past 10 minutes. What’s going on back there?]” Szreshnstrst chuckled, tilting the craft slightly to bypass some obstacle his crew was blind to. “[They pestering you with questions or something? Not calmed down yet?]”
“[Just… Please. Are we there yet?]”
“[We’ll get there when we get there. Central’s still re-routing some of the emergency craft that are late to the show, and we’re clearing out a corridor for us to slide through. I’d say… another 20, 30 minutes?]”
Silently Zngrer passed the floppy [human], who was absolutely awake but not helping in any way, from one arm to the other. Accomplishing this task, she looked at the second [human] who had seemed to only burrow himself deeper into the netting.
“AM I FREE TO GO, OFFICER?!”
“[. . . Please, ancestors, take me now.]”
– – – – –
“[So… just… I guess… here?]”
Wiggles began to scratch at the bottom post of a pod, her claws making light but otherwise ineffective furrows into the metal.
“Maybe, but what about the bolts themselves?” Sofia asked, kneeling to get a better look at the foundation of the Pod. The Pod itself was just an oblong egg-shaped capsule with a seamless door that slid open, revealing an interior of memory-foam like padding, emergency rations, and a few other communication options and sensors that would alert authorities to anything from the pod being used, to if there was a medical emergency, to if – God forbid – the pod ran out of snacks. The pod’s door was open and waiting, but Tipo insisted that he not let go of Abuela until the pod was disconnected and it was “safe”.
The fact that Tipo was snuggling Abuela was not lost on anyone, least of all the roughly 2-dozen patrons who ended up leaving the bar and following the group across the street ‘nonchalantly’.
Being an oddity was acceptable; they were outside the Human district after all.
… the selfies with a sleeping Abuela were a bit too much however.
“[I don’t think we have the tools here, if I’m being absolutely honest.]” Persimmon said, idly tugging at a bolt. “[These things were purpose-built to withstand some abuse from us – no offense – so they’re going to be impossible to claw out of the ground.]”
“[I mean, we could try really really hard-]” Wiggles suggested, her clawing speeding up in pace but producing no further progress. “[Or, I don’t know. Steal a welding kit from somewhere. I got a cousin that’s a fabricator-]”
“But that’ll probably take a few hours or longer, right?” Sofia said, chin resting in her hand as she continued to think. “At that point we might as well set up camp back at the cafe-”
“[That’s a good idea-]”
“[Yeah that’s fine we’re ok with this-]”
“[I can keep the shop open late for you if you’d like!]” Cheery piped up somewhere in the back around the chorus of other Jornissian approval-noises.
Sofia frowned and turned towards her daughter. “Well? Anything bouncing around up there?”
Luzita shrugged, and half-smiled. “Just one idea.” She said, pointedly looking at the impromptu hydra surrounding her grandmother.
– – – –
“Ok! Lift with your knees!”
Luciana facepalmed, groaning into her hand, as the hydra of Jornissians exchanged confused glances. The idea was simple, in theory; Have each sapient wrap around the base of the pod. Much like how a one-fingered grip is weaker than a five-fingered grip, one xenos pulling at the pod would be ineffective. But 5? 10? 27? That stood a chance.
The Hydra-turned-maypole shimmied into place, and after a few complaints as to who was pinching whose tail and who should be on top or on bottom, the group intertwined.
“On Three! One!”
A few flexed, rolling their spines in anticipation.
The pod did not so much come off of it’s base as it was launched a couple dozen meters into the air. The group watched it’s lazy arc in the sky, and flinched slightly as it landed with a crunch on the concrete, doing quite a bit of damage to the sidewalk below. One of the crowd slithered off to check on the pod itself, and gave an enthusiastic wave of his arm after a cursory check.
“. . . That counts!” Luciana clapped, breaking the silence. “Thank you all very much for your help! This is really, really good news for us-”
There was a heavy sound of aircraft as a squadron of sleek, jet-black ships flew overhead, making their way to the same tower that the Aleman family’s livestock was being held at.
“But that’s probably not.”