Butterfly Effects

Malacca Elevator Station, Main Ring
Spaceport Level
Geostationary Orbit
22,236 Kilometers from Earth
May 2219

The wide open corridor came to an abrupt end in a cavity of twisted metal. A starship had engaged its warp drive while still inside its hangar bay and gutted everything around it as the warp field turned the adjacent areas inside out. Clean white LED lights glared harshly on portable magnetic stands, lighting the ruined corridors in a bright, sanitary glow that highlighted every bit of human misery that had taken place within.

UN Special Investigator Bartholomew Morrow floated serenely at the edge of the corridor, staring into the gaping wound in the deck with its view of the stars beyond. The station wasn’t spinning, it had been spun down after the battle in an attempt to prevent further damage coming to the ruined structure. He pursed his pale lips and pushed off the edge of the hallway, sailing slowly across the void rent through the decks.

The stars shone with a hard brilliance through the gash in the hull, but Bartholomew ignored them, his mind was focused on matters closer to hand. Following the deaths of the Senior Undersecretary to the Executive Administration, the Junior Undersecretary to the Executive Administration, the Senior Defense Secretary to the Executive Administration, the Secretary of the Navy, the Secretary of the Marines, the Senior Secretary of the International Space Agency, the Junior Secretary of the International Space Agency and the Senior Administrative Representative to the United Nations Security Council, the UNDF had spent several days hopelessly flailing around like its head had been cut off. In a way, it had been: the Secretary General still lived, but the majority of her senior staff and all of their aides had been struck down in the opening volley of the battle for the Malacca Elevator.

Those first days after the battle had been dark; with the chain of command weakened, admirals and commodores had done what they thought best at the time; given their heightened state of fear and suspicion following the attack, that had led to more than a few deaths. Sol was teetering on the edge of war as the UN drunkenly threw fists in every direction.

A new senior undersecretary had been recruited to fill the void left by Gideon Churchill’s demise, and she was rushing to fix gaps in the senior command structure, but it was taking most of her time, and having their center of operations gutted made recovering from the personnel lost that much more difficult.

One of the first things that Fairuzeh Najafi had done after assuming the position of Senior Undersecretary, was to bring Bartholomew in from UNIBRA to oversee all investigations into the Malacca Elevator Station attack. She wrote him a blank check for his clearance levels and gave him authority to assume command of any Interpol or UN affiliated Exopol units he needed pursuant to finding and apprehending the criminals responsible for the Malacca tragedy.

His feet caught on the far side of the gap in the corridor and the magnetic locks in his boots activated. He took a knee to shed excess velocity then quickly stood again, striding down the corridor. Ahead of him was a small knot of Interpol agents and crime scene investigators, clustered around a heavily damaged airlock and a large number of white outlines marking the former locations of human bodies.

Bartholomew clasped his hands behind his back as he strode up to Burke Iwata, senior UN crime scene investigator for Interpol. Burke was the top forensics expert as well as being in charge of all system-wide forensics. He typically didn’t do field work; the Special Investigator was coming to believe it was probably a coping mechanism for dealing with the deaths of many of his colleagues. However, he couldn’t let the man get distracted by the minutiae, they had to look at the bigger picture.

“Burke,” Bartholomew said into his suit microphone. The senior crime scene investigator held up a suited hand in a gesture of pause, huddling closer to a digital forensics expert. They had hooked up a tablet to the remains of a docking clamp computer and were going over the registries and event logs line by line. Bartholomew keyed into their suit channel and listened to them work.

“Do you have it? The Special Investigator wants something concrete.” Burke’s voice asked over the channel.

“I’ve got it,” the digital forensics expert responded,  “It tried to self-destruct when the computer was isolated from the network, but that file purge failed because the computer also lost power at the same time. I’ve been able to reconstruct about half the program so far.”

Burke whirled on Bartholomew, making eye contact through the glass of their suits, “We’ve got something here.”

Bartholomew raised an eyebrow and motioned with one hand, “What did you find?”

“This was the docking bay that the UNDF Mercy Given was docked to,” Burke said, motioning to the airlock,  “Her current commanding officer was alerted to the attempted boarding action and broke free of the dock with point defense lasers.”

“They couldn’t undock because the computer systems on the clamps were down right?” Bartholomew asked him, going over the timeline they’d established.

“Worse, the clamps actively resisted their attempts to break free, a program was inserted into the clamp computers by the network mainframes that changed all the docking codes one minute after the kinetic weapon strike,” Burke explained, “That code was designed to wipe itself after the battle was over. The only reason we know about it is due to incomplete deletions on damaged equipment.”

“So the hackers propagated hostile code into all the systems before taking down the network?”

“That’s just it,” Burke answered, “They didn’t take down the networks. This program was inserted into the clamp computer one minute after the blackout began on the timeline.”

Bartholomew’s eyes narrowed, possibilities running through his mind, “Come with me with,” he motioned to Burke with his hand and turned to stride off down the corridor without bothering to see if he was following.

“How do you suppose they did it?” Bartholomew asked Burke over the suit channel.

“What? Take over the networks?” Burke asked him.

“Dozens of military grade firewalls, smart system monitors, quantum encryption, enough metaphorical digital weaponry to fight off Mars, whose entire government could be described as a digital weapon,” Bartholomew said, “And the Free Sky Tribe got through all of it. How do you suppose they did it?”

“They must have some truly superhuman hackers,” Burke offered with a shrug. They both knew the Free Sky Tribe were the ones responsible. “Why? what did you think?”

“I think I need to pay a visit to Taoudenni,” The Senior Investigator replied, “I need to check on someone.”

 

Pacifier Class Scout Battlecruiser
UNDF Mercy Given
Circular Orbit
900 kilometers from Earth
May 2219

Maeve O’Donnell awoke with a start, bolting upright and finding herself in an infirmary bed somewhere. It was clearly aboard a ship, but Maeve had no idea what ship or who had pulled her out of space.

“Hello?” She croaked nervously through parched lips, summoning a nervous looking senior grade nurse.

“Captain you’re awake,” the small rounded woman said to her, “that’s great news, let me fetch the doctor, and I’m sure Lieutenant Commander Eisley will be pleased to know you’re conscious.”

“Lieutenant Comman…Where am I? Is this the Mercy Given?” Maeve asked, “The last thing I remember, I’d been thrown off a piece of the station and activated my emergency transponder.”

“It is,” the nurse confirmed, as she helped Maeve sit upright, “We pulled you out of space a day ago and you’ve been unconscious since then. You were floating out there for over twenty hours, you’re lucky to be alive.”

“Get me some water as well please,” Maeve instructed, her voice still cracked and hoarse.

“Of course,” the nurse soothed her, “I’ll go fetch Dr. Modi.”

“How many died?” Maeve asked in a low but decisive tone, freezing the nurse in her tracks at the edge of the small curtained partition. The nurse turned back towards the captain, opening and closing her mouth uselessly.

“How many?” Maeve demanded again.

“Twenty-eight thousand confirmed casualties, “The nurse confessed, “and forty-one thousand missing and presumed dead.”

Maeve closed her eyes. A deep, boiling hatred had taken seed inside of her, ready to be unleashed in vengeance, “Thank you,” Maeve said softly, “Please go fetch the the doctor and Lieutenant Commander Eisley.”

Maeve listened to the sound of the nurse’s footfalls fade away as she scampered off quickly. The Mercy Given was a much larger vessel than the Leyte Gulf, designed to support a long term solo scouting mission and thus sported a small spin gravity ring embedded into the superstructure. Maeve hadn’t gone over the deck plans on the Mercy Given before the attack started, but she assumed she was in the ring by the renewed presence of up and down.

The thought of her old ship caused Maeve to wonder what had happened to the Leyte Gulf in the attack. Had she survived? Had the attackers made off with her? She thought of poor Katie, cut down in the ruined station.

Katie had always been optimistic but level-headed, compassionate and good on her feet. Maeve had put years into grooming the young woman into a future officer, and having that future cut short in such a violent and brutal fashion hurt Maeve in a deeply personal way. The sixty thousand dead was a number, it was meaningless, an abstraction. But Katie had been real, she was a person, she’d been alive one moment, discussing plans, talking, worrying about the strange earthquake that had knocked out power and network communications. And then the next moment, she was gone, or more accurately, she was all over the corridor. But she was gone, she stopped being a person, they’d reduced her to chunks of meat.

Maeve had spent a long time on the spacelanes, she’d seen the sort of rot that could set in and drive people to horrific acts of barbarism against their fellow man. But the speed, coordination, and ferocity of the attack caught even Maeve off guard. She’d seen a civilian ship firing point defense cannons out of shipping containers and the soldiers had been armed with high-powered weapons and enough breaching charges to tunnel straight through the station. The planning that must have gone into their feat, to catch the United Nations so thoroughly off guard and ransack one of their most central installations, Maeve would have called it impossible had she not witnessed it first hand. The timing of it all as well, coming so close on the heels of the release of the information on the Reshapers made Maeve really suspicious for some reason she couldn’t identify. She knew about apophenia, but something about this situation didn’t just feel like synchronicity.

Doctor Ritesh Modi hustled into the partition, breaking Maeve from her train of thought, “Captain, it’s good to see you’re awake,” He said as he began powering up various diagnostic equipment that was monitoring Maeve and checking their readouts. The young looking Indian man was a flurry of motion as he checked her pulse, temperature, and a host of other attributes.

“Yes, yes, she said brushing off the formality. “Who attacked us?”

“The Free Sky Tribe,” the doctor replied absentmindedly as he slapped a brace over Maeve’s arm and took her blood pressure.

“Anton Hellas?” She asked skeptically, “Really?” The Free Sky Tribe were violent rabble-rousers, they sent people explosives and stirred up unrest, but launching a coordinated combined arms strike on a military space station seemed like a sudden and massive escalation of their abilities.

“That’s what they tell me,” Ritesh mumbled, still focusing on checking over all of Maeve’s vitals.

“That makes no sense, they blew a chunk off the damn station, where did a bunch of violent political activists get a weapon capable of that?” She questioned him.

“My dashing good looks may make you think I’m some sort of tactical genius, but I’m in fact just a Doctor, you’ll have to ask Lieutenant Commander Eisley about that,” he teased with a smile.

“She’s on her way here?” Maeve asked.

“I sent Nurse Goldstein to fetch her,” he explained, stepping back from the bed and crossing his arms, “You’re still severely dehydrated, and you have about seven new and interesting forms of cancer that are being treated. I want to keep you in here on the IV for another day and then you can get back to the bridge. You’re lucky, your suit had run out of oxygen by the time you were picked up but it doesn’t seem to have caused any change in your brain patterns from the scan on file. There’s probably no permanent damage but we want to be cautious just in cases like this, take things slow.”

“Sixty thousand people are dead, I should be on the bridge right now,” she retorted.

“They’re dead,” he reminded her,  “there’s nothing you can do for them, and their ghosts can wait a day for their vengeance, you are not to get out of that bed.”

“Can I at least have my phone, then, so I can keep working?” She almost begged.

“That would sort of defeat the purpose of having you stay here and rest,” he replied, still smiling slightly, “Which I am going to insist you do after you finish your talk with Lieutenant Commander Eisley.” He handed her a cup of water which succeeded in cutting off her rebuttal long enough to gulp down the entire cup.

She gave him her best I am the captain of this ship look, she could muster in her present condition, but he merely chuckled.

“Captain you’ve been through an extreme event. People die from things half as severe as the trauma your body took. You had blood pooling in your head and feet from your rotation for hours. You were overheating in the suit and sweat yourself into dehydration. Your air tank ran out and could have caused brain damage, and on top of that, you were exposed to a high level of ionizing radiation from your proximity to the battle in space. You’re lucky to be alive, sit down in that bed.” His voice suddenly grew stern as she tried to shrug off his explanation and climb to her feet. She froze like a deer in the headlights at being scolded like a little girl.

It was that moment that Lieutenant Commander Pandora Eisley walked into the room. The tall lanky Luna-born had a commanding presence, Maeve had to give her that.

“Dora,” Maeve smiled, “Please tell me what’s going on.”

“Captain,” The black skinned woman let out a breath at seeing Maeve awake, “I’m sort of amazed you’re alive, Doctor Modi feared you might never wake up when we brought you in.”

“Yeah, I’m still here,” Maeve responded irreverently, “What happened? Ritesh said that the Free Sky Tribe were the ones behind the attack.”

“They were,” Dora confirmed, “After we finished repelling the boarders…you’d gone dark by then, so we started responding to emergency signals by other vessels in the area, helping them fight off the hostile ships.”

“The Free Sky Tribe are a bunch of wannabe revolutionaries, where did they get the firepower to punch a hole through our space station?” Maeve demanded.

“From us,” she replied, “Investigators are still trying to determine how.”

“It just doesn’t quite add up,” Maeve insisted, “They were rabble rousers, when’d they become so organized? You sure it was them?”

“I saw them myself Captain,” Dora answered, “Most of them were just kids. They were wearing old industrial spacesuits and armed with surplus military gauss rifles. We have a few prisoners.”

“And yet they managed to catch us off guard enough to kill sixty thousand people,” Maeve said.

“And steal fifteen warships,” Dora added.

“Damn,” Maeve sighed, “Fifteen?”

“They attempted boarding actions on eleven others but were repelled. We have a few dozen prisoners and a few hundred of their bodies,” Dora cited as evidence.

“Why do this now?” Maeve asked, “I know all about their ideology, but what caused them to escalate so dramatically all the sudden?”

“At a guess,” Dora ventured, “It was the aliens being revealed.”

“What do the aliens have to do with their so-called struggle against capitalism?” Maeve queried. She had a similar suspicion but she wanted to get the other woman’s perspective on it.

“Chaos theory,” Dora replied with a shrug, “The aliens were the first stone that started moving on the mountainside, but once that rock went tumbling down, it set other stones in motion, which set others in motion, building, and building, and building, until it’s a landslide.”

“You don’t think the worst is over?” Maeve asked.

“I think it’s just beginning,” she answered.

 

United Nations Blacksite PC-26
Prison Compound
Taoudenni, Republic of Mali
Earth
May 2219

The Axolotl class dropship fell like a stone out of space and into the clear blue skies of a scorched and depopulated North Africa. Climate change had wreaked havoc upon the whole world, but the arid regions of the tropics had fared the worst. Rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall turned what had already been some of the world’s hottest and driest regions into dead zones, places where the air became so hot during the day that it was impossible to breathe, where hyperthermia would set in within minutes and death within hours.

It was in the midst of the killing heat, beside a long abandoned salt mine, that the UN had built a sprawling and partially buried prison compound. There were no fences or barbed wire, there wasn’t a need for them. A series of compact automated pillboxes surrounded the compound on all sides in a staggered formation, providing overlapping fields of fire in all directions. Between the automated defenses and the heat, escape was considered a death sentence.

The autonomous dropship fired its engines in a suicide burn as it cleared a faint wispy deck of clouds. It twisted on its four columns of fire and made a series of wide circles over the prison as it killed off excess velocity before finally swinging down to land atop the roof of the prison.

Bartholomew Morrow didn’t wear any protective equipment to shield him from the insane heat of the Saharan afternoon other than a black, wide-brimmed hat in a style that had gone out of fashion several centuries prior, and a pair of small mirrored sunglasses.

The guards stationed behind a glass observation panel on the roof looked at Bartholomew with a mixture of awe and fear as the tall, pale, Lunarian strode through the murderous sunlight and up to their door. The dropship continued to idle on the landing pad, waiting for him like an obedient pet.

The Special Investigator’s fingers twitched as haptic interfaces dumped maximum grade clearance authorizations into the computers of the guards and they hurriedly opened the door to the airlock, letting him in before the heat could do him any harm.

“Special inspector, what can we do you for y–” the taller of the pair had started to say before Bartholomew cut him off with a hand gesture.

“I’m here to ensure Kamay Alcoseba remains a prisoner of this facility,” he said softly, “I won’t require assistance, I already know where she’s located.”

“Investigator Morrow, with all due respect, no one has ever made in more than five hundred meters from this building after an escape attempt,” the shorter of the guards offered nervously, “And we’d know if someone tried, we uh,” he fumbled before just admitting it, “We have a betting pool, see how far an escaped prisoner will make it before the heat or the gun turrets take them out, the current record is four hundred and six meters.”

Bartholomew dismissed the pair with a look of barely restrained disgust and stalked off down the corridor.

He passed through several more manned and automated security checkpoints before entering the desired wing of the prison and making his way to the cell of former pragmatist Kamay Alcoseba.

He input his authorization code into the smart-glass wall of the cell and turned it from opaque to transparent. Kamay was a small, dark-skinned woman with short brown hair and intensely green eyes. She huddled under the prison blanket in the thrall of some unpleasant dream. Bartholomew felt himself breathe a sigh of relief that his worst fears might not be true, but he refused to relax his vigilance and opened the door to the cell.

The girl mumbled something in her sleep as Bartholomew closed the distance in one long stride and prodded her into wakefulness. She instinctively shrank back into the corner of her cot as consciousness returned to her, but her eyes grew wider as she realized who was standing before her.

“Investigator Morrow,” she said quietly, making eye contact with him and cocking her head inquisitively, “What brings you to my humble abode?”

Bartholomew studied the girl critically, “Give me your hand,” he told her.

She looked at him, confused for a moment, and looked at her hand.

“Yes, let me see your hand,” he said, grabbing it away from her. With his other hand, he retrieved a small metallic cuff from his pocket and clipped it around her wrist. She yelped as a series of needles bit into her skin and the field scanner went to work. It should have displayed everything from her DNA and blood type to current hormonal levels but instead, it merely threw up an error state. Bartholomew felt his blood run cold. Despite his attempts to maintain a straight face, he knew by the sly grin Kamay was wearing that his expression had betrayed him.

She looked at the bracelet with curiosity, then looked back at Bartholomew, “Oops,” she said, “I guess so much for that.”

Bartholomew began to reach for his gun the same moment the bomb in the android’s chest exploded.

 

Marathon Class Starship
UNDF Leyte Gulf  FSV Emma Goldman
Docked at IRDSV Bahar Min Al-Barzakh FSV Vladimir Lenin
1.86 Light Years from Sol
June 2219

Not every colony ship bound for the stars during that first slower then light push into the unknown had been funded by a planetary scale government. Many smaller independent governments, nation states, freeport stations, religious orders, and ideological sects also funded their own expeditions to the stars.

In 2102, the Islamic Republic of Emirates launched the Bahar Min Al-Barzakh to escape the increasingly inhospitable conditions of the Arabian Peninsula. The vessel was designed from the ground up as a holy relic of their faith. A grand mosque unlike any that could have been constructed on earth dominated one end of the starship’s spin gravity drum, and her hull was covered from nose to stern in the religious iconography of the faith. Only the most devout pilgrims were permitted to join the voyage they began to Sirius those long years ago.

Their effort was not to be though. Forty years after launch, a blight spread through the drum, and the ecosystem collapsed. Starvation, unrest, and eventually a complete breakdown of order on the vessel whittled down its occupants until none remained. The Bahar Min Al-Barzakh became a tomb ship, a ferry for no one but the dead.

The ship remained dead and empty for decades with the automated systems upkeeping the long dead husk of the colony as best as they could without maintenance. High efficiency and low-maintenance fusion reactors powered on the lights and brought a day-night cycle to a shattered and desolate muddy plain studded through with abandoned towns and forests of dead trees. Seasons passed, rains fell, and the colony remained dead and empty, home only to bacteria and insects.

And then, in 2204, Anton Hellas stole his first starship. He’d stolen a lot of ships over the years, but never anything with faster than light capability. The Martians sicced their navy on him and he led them on a merry chase across Sol while he tried to find a place to stash the ship.

After months of digging through old historical records and reconstructing the demises of several dozen ill-fated colony missions, he settled on the Bahar Min Al-Barzakh as the perfect candidate for a hideout and began moving people and supplies there. He renamed the colony ship the Vladimir Lenin, and over the years it came to be the embodiment of the revolution.

The Free Sky Tribe had brought plants and animals back to the drum, cured the lingering effects of the blight, buried the colony’s dead, and turned the drum green again. The towering religious structures became the main headquarters for the Free Sky Tribe and were rapidly defaced with graffiti and propaganda by inspired feeling revolutionaries.

The Vladimir Lenin was held up as an example of what could be achieved through collective action, cooperation, and mutual aid among fellow Spacers. The idea of the Spacer tribes had been around since the Gravity War, created by the writings of Professor Soto Ishihara when he formalized the Open Sky Movement. But aside from the highly successful communal settlements on Triton, the tribes were simply an idea, an abstraction from basic cultural and anthropological knowledge. But aboard the Vladimir Lenin, Anton had made a true spacer tribe, in every sense of the word.

Margaritifer was proud to be a member of that tribe. She was proud to wear the Canis Major constellation tattooed around her eye that meant she had drawn blood in battle, and it was that sense of pride that kept bringing her back to the brig of the ship that had once been called the Leyte Gulf and was now called the Emma Goldman.

“Hi Henry,” She said softly, running her fingers across the armored glass plate that formed the external wall to the cell.

The cell’s occupant, Henry Osborne, the ship’s former captain, was used to her visits by this point. She’d been the one to put a gun to his head, to break the standoff on the bridge and take him captive, and some part of her wasn’t yet content to stop gloating about it. Eli had told her she might end up being captain of this ship someday, and as she stared down at the ruined man who had once been captain, she felt a grin spread across her cheeks.

Henry himself had long since stopped responding to her attempts to antagonize him. His captors had mostly left him alone after locking him in the cell, sometimes even forgetting to bring him meals. He had a feeling they were going to shuffle him around, sit on their hands, and look the other way when he happened to float out an airlock one day. However, he’d been told repeatedly that he would get a trial, and that was something he was somewhat looking forward to as the circus he was sure it would be.

“Not going to talk?” She asked him, leaning against the glass wall. Henry remained in the bed, hands clasped together in his lap, staring up at the ceiling. He really had no animosity towards the teenager. She was a brainwashed kid who’d been handed a gun and told to go kill the bad people who had hurt her and her family. He felt bad for her, strange considering their respective sides of the glass but Henry had granddaughters older than the girl before him.

“What would you like me to say?” He asked her softly. He didn’t move, but his eyes turned to meet her own. Margaritifer peered through the glass, considering the small pale man with his wiry black hair.

“You could apologize for the crimes you’ve committed,” Margaritifer said after a moment of consideration. She had no authority to speak on his behalf, either in favor of his life or his death, so she was mostly bullshitting. She wasn’t sure what kept bringing her back to to the man, but she knew that she relished the defeated, haunted look in his eyes.

“And what crimes would those be?” He asked her sincerely.

“You’ve supported and adhered to a system of governance that is inherently oppressive and in fact causes millions of deaths every year. You use weapons and violence to assist in the enforcement of the status quo. Your organization aids in suppressing the direct actions of workers fighting for their liberation, and you directly supply firepower and legitimacy to our oppressors.” She confidently counted off his list of crimes on her fingers. She knew he was guilty, everyone knew. He was guilty by virtue of his type, and his type was obvious.

“All of that huh?” He allowed a note of amusement to thread into his voice. If the anticipated kangaroo court in any way resembled the teenager’s current ravings, then he was going to be struggling not to crack up during the proceedings.

“You think this is funny?” She snarled. “We’re going to throw you into space you know?”

“I know,” he sighed, his eyes returning to the point above his bed that he’d been staring at previously.

“Yeah, you just keep ignoring me,” she sneered sarcastically, folding her arms in front of her chest, “But your day’s coming soon, judgment for your crimes against the spacer people.”

He said nothing, and Margaritifer floated off, bored of the old man. She pushed off his cell door and drifted down the corridor, slipping out of the small brig and back into the main hall.

The Emma Goldman was a constant riot of activity. As soon as they’d made the jump to warp and escaped the battle at the Malacca Elevator, the celebration had started and it had yet to end. She passed teenagers getting drunk in the corridor, a group placing freeball in a mess hall, and even a couple having sex in a nest of crates and containers.

She ignored all of it and cycled through the airlock into the main hangar deck of the Vladimir Lenin. The huge airlock atrium was covered in opulently carved religious symbols, texts, and scenes that Margaritifer didn’t understand in the slightest. She floated down the length of the gallery, which its overly decorated airlock hatches, and approached a crowd that was forming near the access ramps to the drum.

Somewhere around the core of the crowd, a standoff was taking place between two groups that Margaritifer couldn’t quite identify. She pushed off a wall and used the inertia to shove past some of the outer onlookers, trying to see through the gaps in the bodies. She collided with Becca Ivanova and the other girl whirled on her, ready to throw a fist before she realized it was Margaritifer.

“Oi! Watch it Mags, be careful or I lay one in you,” The teenager scolded her.

“What happen?” Margaritifer asked, gesturing towards the center of the crowd.

“Dunno,” Becca admitted, “Some fight, I see three teeth go flying.”

“I hear,” a man neither of them knew but who also bore the marks of a warrior around his eye said to the two of them, “I hear some boys get an idea to take a ship and go earn some more glory for themselves, the boss ain’t happy.”

“Folks getting antsy, wanting to get back into the fight,” Becca said, “I can’t blame them, I wanna claim some Martian teeth.”

“The boss has a plan,” Margaritifer assured her, “He always has a plan.”

The fight in the center of the crowd was escalating. There was the sound of a bone breaking, and the crowd collectively gasped as a single shot rang out through the gallery. The crowd pushed back off itself in an attempt to back away from the escalation, but the people behind them contained their retreat. Margaritifer shoved forward as people pushed the other direction and came to the edge of the crowd with Becca close behind her.

Anton Hellas and several heavily tattooed warriors stood in the center of the group. A huge blob of blood was pooling in front of Anton’s face from a newly shattered nose and the body of another warrior was drifting across the clearing, trailing droplets of blood in its wake. Three of the high ranking warriors held captives in chokeholds, while they struggled futilely against the most elite soldiers of the Tribe.

“I understand your frustration, my brothers,” Anton said condescendingly to one of the men being restrained, “The injustices in the world are many, and the urge to act is strong. Not in weeks, not in days, now. I understand well this struggle.”

He paused and his eyes swiveled towards the crowd, “But we will have order!” He roared, “We have to work together if we want this revolution to stand a chance. You are allowed to leave if you feel we’re not doing enough, that is your right. What you are not allowed to do is take one of our ships with you.”

Margaritifer realized that the group Anton had been fighting had pulled open an access panel and were trying to hack the door controls to release the clamps on their ship. The panel remained open, but Anton stood defiantly before it, daring any to challenge him.

The crowd continued to back away as the excitement seemed to be passed, allowing Margaritifer to push closer to the scene of the action.

“Whatcha gonna do with them, boss?” She heard someone in the crowd call out to Anton.

Anton turned and considered the men being held captive, their eyes were wide with terror as Anton’s malice burnt away their pride and left them gibbering messes of fear.

“I should toss them outside in a suit and let them walk to Sol if they want to strike it so badly,” he spat venomously, making one of the conspirators wet himself.

“But I will not do that, my brothers,” he said, patting one of them on the cheek, “We will need men like you, in these days ahead. You are so quick to rush back into battle, but your hour is coming sooner than you know,” He turned away from the scene of death and violence. “Throw them in the brig,” he ordered, “And get that body cleaned up.”

He shoved slightly off the corpse and pushed through the crowd, making for the ship he’d claimed for himself, a battleship that had been known as the UNDF Art of War and was now called the FSV Leon Trotsky. Margaritifer was left floating in the emptying atrium, silently going over Anton’s words in her head, her eyes alight with wonder.

 

Autonomous Cargo Drone
Lighthorse FI-1986
Hyperbolic Stellar Warp Trajectory
1,500 Kilometers from Europa
June 2219

After one hundred and nineteen days in a warp tunnel, the Lighthorse dropped gently back into the rest of the universe. It flipped itself nose for tail as the computer recalculated its position and fired the engines, decelerating the drone ship down from its hyperbolic warp trajectory. It dropped it into a parabolic capture orbit around Europa, allowing the frozen world to snag it with its gravity.

The drone finished its capture burn and coasted into an elliptical orbit around the icy ocean moon. Its transmitters and antenna arrays connected with the Europan Republic’s satellite communications network and routed itself a connection to the Fabrique Intersolar server network. The drone confirmed its identity with the mainframe and dumped the digital portion of its cargo into the company servers.

It would take the drone and its payload of rare earth metals several hours to slingshot around the moon and rendezvous with the company’s Andrea L. Athabasca Memorial Station, but its data raced on ahead of it.

The narrow AI in the company server farm unpacked the data from the Lighthorse and began distributing it to appropriate channels. Emails were forwarded onward to family members across Sol, company transcripts and bookkeeping auto-updated themselves as the systems added the Lighthorse’s load of metals into the company ledger, and instructions to and from various stakeholders and division heads were shuttled around in milliseconds.

The AI didn’t notice anything unusual about the data, it wasn’t programmed with any sort of linguistic processing, so the AI saw nothing odd with the massive data packet flagged by Zephyr Athabasca to be sent to the Excursion Branch of the Tartarus Accord. It simply interpreted the instructions and sent the data onward to George Rathmore, the highest ranking member of the Excursion Branch the smart system had an email address for.

George was sitting in his office in Annwn City, sipping coffee and gazing out over the domed skyline, idly wondering if physically forty-five was too young to consider a reasonable age for a second anti-senesics treatment when the email from Zephyr arrived in his office computer.

George was the senior corporate correspondent for the Europan division of the Excursion Branch of the Tartarus Accord. He maintained communications lines between Excursion and all the various corporations now operating ships in interstellar space out of Europa, which, given their favorable tax status relative to the other nations of the Accord, was most of them.

Most of the communications were short and cordial, but affairs between the corporations could sometimes become heated if they stepped on the government’s or each other’s toes in the course of their operations. George had a sort of perverse love for drama of that sort, it kept him busy and made his life interesting.

Seeing Zephyr’s email pop up on his system caused him a small moment of excitement as he realized it was in all caps. But it was the content of the title that sent his eyebrows racing after his receding hairline.

ALIENS IN HYADES it read, and its source was Zephyr Athabasca, CEO of Fabrique Intersolar. He knew Fabrique was operating mining ships in that area as part of some sort of pipe dream project and his curiosity was sufficiently piqued that he opened the file then and there.

The centenarian felt his blood run cold as he looked through the images and videos that had been included in the file, along with a lengthy description of the loss of a starship to alien strip mining. Zephyr didn’t know the name of the creatures her people had encountered, but George did. He recognized the images almost immediately, the design of the alien ships, it was something he had seen on the news repeatedly. Hell, since the Martians had released the story, it was all anyone seemed to talk about anymore, in comparison even the massive terrorist attack on the Malacca Elevator had barely generated ripples in social media.

George checked the date of the message. Zephyr had launched the Lighthorse from Aldebaran five months ago. She’d found the aliens everyone was looking for, the ones everyone was rioting over, the ones that it was feared planned to dismantle the solar system. And it was in the last place anyone was looking, out from the galactic core, instead of in towards it.

There were Reshapers in the Hyades.

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