They are Smol: Chapter 4

So we’ve had some things happen, if you’re too good to click those fresh links I made for you/can’t be bothered to browse dank memes AND explore the galaxy (I’m lookin’ at you, /u/luckytron.) then here’s the long and short of it:

  • There are Jornissians, who are snakes in space
  • There is Caroline, a human
  • They are both on a space plane
  • The plane is stopped at space customs because they’re afraid the plane is gonna pull a JFK Jr.
  • The special operations teams are there to help you, please comply.
  • There might or might not be some other shenanigans going on

Let’s find out.

————————————————————————————————————

“No no no no no oh no-“

Caroline was doing so well just a few minutes ago, and then everything went to shit. She had no idea why the movie was stuck on a 15 second loop, just that no matter what she did she couldn’t get the terminal to cut the program. She tried closing the program – nothing. Alt+tab didn’t even pop open a window, her task manager laughed at her, and unplugging the terminal only caused it’s internal fission battery to kick on.

Even the ctrl+alt+win+cmd+option+del+space+F7 self-destruct did nothing.

This was not just a problem, it was a Problem, with a capital P. As part of their initial, peaceful cultural exchange package the Jornissians (as well as every other member species of the Senate) had given humanity a package of media that showed their interstellar neighbors in the best possible light. In the Jornissian package, there was a movie that had sweeping battles like the classic LotR movies – the early 00’s ones, not the 20’s cyberpunk rom-com ones – and yeah, the Office of Interstellar Harmony had…edited it, granted. They edited everything. But it wasn’t malicious! Honest! It’s just there to stop you from freaking out too hard about, well, life on a spaceship surrounded by real apex predators. It was something to make them seem less dangerous and more approachable; nothing more, nothing less.

The OIH and most spacefarers agreed, however, that it would be a very bad idea to show those apex predators that you’ve edited the shit out of their best cultural artifacts to make them seem cuter, while alone with them in the vast emptiness of space. We’ve seen that movie – hell, we’ve made that movie, and we know how it ends.

It ends badly.

“Fuck. Time, I- I need time. I can fix this, I can fix this.” Caroline muttered to herself, kicking off the wall to her work storage locker. Gripping the handle she pulled, both opening the door and tugging her forward into the locker itself. “I need time, oh God I’m already up shit creek…. Oxygen mask, ok, pressure tank – got it, promethium levels topped – uh, torch torch torch” Caroline wholesale scooped out buckets of nuts and tools, causing a snow-globe of easy-to-lose parts to cascade off the walls of her room.

Click. Click. Cli-FWOOSH

With a manic grin, Caroline floats to the door, blue-flamed torch in hand, welder’s mask upon her head.

————————————————————————————————————

The Bridge was silent, save for the furious background noise of work. On a 3D hard-light projection, the ship Celestial Scale, indicator lights spreading throughout and within it’s surface.

In his perch, Admiral Var’Shrak, watching his best soldiers do their jobs.

“<Diamond, this is Ruby Squad. Engineering is clear, degaussing and powering-down drive. 5 minutes.>”

“<Diamond copy, over. Resistance?>”

“<Negative. Confusion, but full compliance. No contraband, no weapons.>”

The comms engineer turned to the Admiral, waiting for his orders.

“<Continue as planned.>” Admiral Var’Shrak shifted in his perch, uneasily. As his orders were relayed to Ruby Squad, yet another indicator of the Celestial Scale turned from a fierce and urgent green to white.

“<Sir, permission to counsel?>” Vice-Admiral Ressasi pinged, her grizzled face appearing minimized on-screen.

“<Granted.>”

“<This makes no Harsak-crushed sense. I would say we’re darting into a trap, but everyone seems to be a loyalist.>”

Var-Shrak grunted in acknowledgement. “<Engineering, Navigation and Life Support – all taken without a shot fired.>”

“<A shot fired, sir, or a door barricaded, code changed, or even a single arm raised in defiance. Hell, we didn’t even have to broadcast an IFF diffuser – none of the crew weapons are even out of their lockers, save for the security teams.>”

“<We still haven’t taken security, howev->”

The Admiral’s Comms officer broadcast yet another update to the Bridge, interrupting him mid-sentence: “<Emerald squad has taken Security. All weapons surrendered, full compliance. No contraband.>”

Var’Shrak shared a pointed look with his subordinate. To her credit, Ressasi tried to hide her smile. Tried to.

“<Continue as planned.>”

Another green dot turns white.

“<…have we processed THE CAPTAIN yet?>” Var’Shrak questioned, his Vice-Admiral looking at something off-screen.

“<Affirmative. Again, Loyalist – she, as well as all other gem-tier officers, were apparently reporting to a fire caused by overcrowding in some Junior Officers’ room.>” Ressasi chuckled, softly. “<First tour always had one idiot.>”

“<Mmm. But why every officer?>”

“<That’s….hmm.>”

Var’Shrak turned his complete attention to his Vice-Admiral, responding to the call of his Comms officer only with a hand gesture. “<Found something?>”

“<I’m going to share this with OSI before I pass it up->”

“<Humor me. It’s not an official report yet.>”

Vice-Admiral Ressasi hummed. “<Logs report a cascading failure-to-report warnings up the chain, per protocol. Started with a drunk, which, fine. Captain… apparently stormed the Junior Officer’s room in full suppression kit.>”

Well that wasn’t normal.”<Over a drunk?>”

“<Officially.>”

“<And that’s the best she could do? ‘There was a drunk, so I show up in full riot-suppression gear…to combat a drunk.’>”

“<Yep. Then the fire happened. No casualties. Sapphire Squad has sifted through the debris – just….bog standard alcohol and a few vid screens. Yet again, no contraband.>”

“<Is she related to anyone onboard? Covering up someone else’s trail?>”

“<Negative.>”

Admiral Var’Shrak, 80 year veteran of The Fleet, subduer of pirates, lover of the people, was stumped.

“<What would prompt a captain of a navy vessel to lie to an inquisitor on a possible mutiny-suppression squad. No, it’s not a full lie; what would cause a captain to burn her own vessel in space?>”

“<That’s what I’m going to pass to OIS… but I’ll bet you 5 credits on this: It was an unapproved vids or holo-experiences parlor, run out of a Junior Officer’s quarters. So large no gem can have full plausible deniability.>”

“<Run a full check on her finances?>”

Ressasi looks offscreen. “<….done.>” Her face falls slightly, and Admiral Var’Shrak correctly guesses her next comment.

“<Nothing out of the ordinary.>”Ressasi sighs. “<If anything, she saves too much of her credit. She could redeem for a decent sized planetoid by now… or a couple thousand acres on a garden planet.>”

“<Hmm. 5 credits for me, then.>” Var’Shrak murmured, looking idly to the almost-completely white icon’d ship.

Almost.

“<What’s the progress on Amber Squad?>”

There was a minor flurry of bridge activity, before the Admirals’ Comms officer responded. “<Full Compliance, no contraband, still en-route.>”

Hmm. Well, once this was cleaned up maybe he could invite this [Human] [Caroline] to a meal. He’d only seen media of [Humans], after all, and if they were going to start joining his people amongst the stars it would do him well to learn more about them, and to apologize for what must be a harrowing and confusing experience.

‘Besides,’ Var’Shrak thought, ‘Maybe she could shed some light on this situation.’

—————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Caroline was smart.

She knew this, because of her paranoia and because her daddy always told her so – if they actually were out to get you, then you’re prepared and ready for anything! And if they’re not, well. You’re still ready, just in case.

She had just finished welding her door shut when she heard what sounded like a few 500lb rubber zipperteeth being pulled closed in the corridor outside – with some various hiss-purr-shouting thrown in for good measure.

This meant one of three things:

(1) A V8 Murderbot on tank treads.

(2) A kill team sent to murder her. Possibly with their own murderbot. Or maybe they were the murderbots.

(3) There is no three what are you doing FIX THE MOVIE SAVE YOUR LIFE

“aaaaaAAAAAAAAAA” Caroline opined, kicking off from the door into the now-smokier room, oxygen mask working doubletime to stop her from passing out. With bare hands she gripped the terminal and started performing the ancient and secret mechanicus rite of percussive maintenance.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Pressed firmly against the floor, the operative looked down the corridor. He was in no danger – the ship wasn’t equipped with EM warfare modules, the cloaking armor (that looked nothing like a soft pillow, to the eventual dismay of Caroline) masking his presence along the visible spectrum, and heat-wise he only looked a few tenths of a degree above ambient.

“<KEYRING this is SPOTTER. Hallway is clear. Be advised, odd heat pattern midway. SISTER not visible.>”

It was precisely because he and his squad have been in no danger during this entire operation that everyone was spooked. Before every mutiny scramble, everyone prays that it’s a false alarm – but it never is. For there to be an actual false mutiny alarm….

…well it just doesn’t happen.

“<Copy SPOTTER. GRANITE, FOAM, move up.>”

Two more operatives, very obviously NOT in cloaking armor, slithered down the corridor – the rubber treads on their armor allowing for omnidirectional grip and stability, but also utterly destroying any pretense of stealth. With shoulder-mounted kinetic launchers, pack-charged plasma throwers and spreaders and kinetic-force generators, GRANITE and FOAM weren’t meant to be quiet.

They were meant to kill everything.

“<FOAM here. SISTER’s door is clear. Looks like warping, no combat damage or distress. Possible barricade.>”

“<GRANITE here. End of corridor is clear, intersection clear. We’re good to go for evac.>”

KEYRING slithered down past SPOTTER, and it was only when BREWER tapped him on the back did SPOTTER turn to point his weapons down the corridor where they came from.

“<I don’t like this.>” BREWER muttered, taking up position behind a bulkhead

“<Mmm.>”

KEYRING made his way to SISTER’s door, connecting his suit to the door command console. Outwardly he was immobile, but inside his helmet his eyes scanned over reams of data. Door access times, setup codes, maintenance codes, use logs, biometric data…

“<[Caroline]?>” KEYRING yelled to the door, announcing everyone’s presence. “<[Caroline], Ma’am, we’re here to escort you out, ok? Our weapons aren’t for you, they’re for your protection – you’re not in any trouble, we just want to make sure you’re safe.>”

Nothing was unusual on his visor. At least, nothing was unusual until he tried to open the door, was met with the all-white code acceptance and the damn thing didn’t move.

“<SPOTTER, thermals.>” KEYRING commanded, and SPOTTER moved silently to the door, letting his sensors work it over.

“<….FOAM was right. I’m detecting rapidly cooling heat lines around the entire door – from the inside. Weld, most likely.>”

KEYRING hesitated for a moment at the news – but it was enough to speak volumes to the rest of the squad.

[Caroline], codenamed SISTER, the only [human] on the ship, was the only one in possible danger.

“<FOAM rip me a hole. Squad, Ready suppressants.>”

“<Sir yes sir.>” And in one swift movement FOAM reached out, sunk her gauntleted hand into the metal door, and pulled.

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